Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Planet of the Space Bats

As my regular readers know, I’ve been talking for quite a while now here about the speculative bubble that’s built up around the fracking phenomenon, and the catastrophic bust that’s guaranteed to follow so vast and delusional a boom. Over the six months or so, I’ve noted the arrival of one warning sign after another of the impending crash. As the saying has it, though, it’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings, so I’ve been listening for the first notes of the metaphorical aria that, in the best Wagnerian style, will rise above the orchestral score as the fracking industry’s surrogate Valhalla finally bursts into flames and goes crashing down into the Rhine.
I think I just heard those first high notes, though, in an improbable place: the email inbox of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), the Druid order I head.

I have no idea how many of my readers know the first thing about my unpaid day job as chief executive—the official title is Grand Archdruid—of one of the two dozen or so Druid orders in the western world. Most of what goes into that job, and the admittedly eccentric minority religious tradition behind it, has no relevance to the present subject. Still, I think most people know that Druids revere the natural world, and take ecology seriously even when that requires scrapping some of the absurd extravagances that pass for a normal lifestyle these days. Thus a Druid order is arguably the last place that would come to mind if you wanted to sell stock in a fracking company.

Nonetheless, that’s what happened. The bemused AODA office staff the other day fielded a solicitation from a stock firm trying to get Druids to invest their assets in the fracking industry.

Does that sound like a desperation move to you, dear reader? It certainly does to me—and there’s good reason to think that it probably sounds that way to the people who are trying to sell shares in fracking firms to one final round of clueless chumps, too. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal (available outside the paywall here) noted that American banks have suddenly found themselves stuck with tens of millions of dollars’ worth of loans to fracking firms which they hoped to package up and sell to investors—but suddenly nobody’s buying. Bankruptcies and mass layoffs are becoming an everyday occurrence in the fracking industry, and the price of oil continues to lurch down as producers maximize production for the sake of immediate cash flow.

Why, though, isn’t the drop in the price of oil being met by an upsurge in consumption that drives the price back up, as the accepted rules of economics would predict? That’s the cream of the jest. Here in America, and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the industrial world, four decades of enthusiastically bipartisan policies that benefited the rich at everyone else’s expense managed to prove Henry Ford’s famous argument: if you don’t pay your own employees enough that they can afford to buy your products, sooner or later, you’re going to go broke.

By driving down wages and forcing an ever larger fraction of the US population into permanent unemployment and poverty, the movers and shakers of America’s political class have managed to trigger a classic crisis of overproduction, in which goods go begging for buyers because too few people can afford to buy them at any price that will pay for their production. It’s not just oil that’s affected, either: scores of other commodities are plunging in price as the global economy tips over into depression. There’s a specter haunting the industrial world; it’s the ghost of Karl Marx, laughing with mordant glee as the soi-disant masters of the universe, having crushed his misbegotten Soviet stepchildren, go all out to make his prophecy of capitalism’s self-immolation look remarkably prescient.

The soaring price of crude oil in the wake of the 2005 global peak of conventional oil production should have served notice to the industrial world that, to adapt the title of Richard Heinberg’s excellent 2003 summary of the situation, the party was over:  the long era in which energy supplies had increased year over year was giving way to an unwelcome new reality in which decreasing energy supplies and increasing environmental blowback were the defining themes. As my readers doubtless noticed, though, the only people who willing to grasp that were out here on the fringes where archdruids lurk. Closer to the mainstream of our collective thinking, most people scrunched shut their eyes, plugged their ears with their fingers, and shouted “La, la, la, I can’t hear you” at the top of their lungs, in a desperate attempt to keep reality from getting a word in edgewise.

For the last five years or so, any attempt to talk about the impending twilight of the age of oil thus ran headfirst into a flurry of pro-fracking propaganda. Fatuous twaddle about America’s inevitable future as the world’s new energy superpower took the place of serious discussions of the predicament into which we’ve backed ourselves—and not for the first time, either. That’s what makes the attempt to get Druids to invest their life savings in fracking so funny, in a bleak sort of way: it’s an attempt to do for the fracking boom what the fracking boom attempted to do for industrial civilization as a whole—to pretend, in the teeth of the facts, that the unsustainable can be sustained for just a little while longer.

A few months back, I decided to celebrate this sort of thinking by way of the grand old Druid custom of satire. The Great Squirrel Case Challenge of 2015 solicited mock proposals for solving the world’s energy problems that were even nuttier than the ones in the mainstream media. That was no small challenge—a detail some of my readers pointed up by forwarding any number of clueless stories from the mainstream media loudly praising energy boondoggles of one kind or another.

I’m delighted to say, though, that the response was even better than I’d hoped for.  The contest fielded more than thirty entries, ranging from the merely very good to the sidesplittingly funny. There were two winners, one chosen by the members of the Green Wizards forum, one chosen by me; in both cases, it was no easy choice, and if I had enough author’s copies of my new book After Progress, I’d probably just up and given prizes to all the entries, they were that good. Still, it’s my honor to announce the winners:

My choice for best squirrel case—drumroll, please—goes to Steve Morgan, for his fine gosh-wow sales prospectus for, ahem, Shares of Hydrocarbons Imported from Titan. The Green Wizards forum choice—drumroll again—goes to Jason Heppenstall for his hilarious parody of a sycophantic media story, King Solomon’s Miners. Please join me in congratulating them. (Steve and Jason, drop me a comment with your mailing addresses, marked not for posting, and I’ll get your prizes on the way.)

Their hard-won triumph probably won’t last long. In the months and years ahead, I expect to see claims even more ludicrous being taken oh-so-seriously by the mainstream media, because the alternative is to face up to just how badly we’ve bungled the opportunities of the last four decades or so and just how rough a road we have ahead of us as a result. What gave the fracking bubble whatever plausibility it ever had, after all, was the way it fed on one of the faith-based credos at the heart of contemporary popular culture: the insistence, as pervasive as it is irrational, that the universe is somehow obligated to hand us abundant new energy sources to replace the ones we’ve already used so profligately. Lacking that blind faith, it would have been obvious to everyone—as it was to those of us in the peak oil community—that the fracking industry was scraping the bottom of the barrel and pretending that this proved the barrel was full.

Read the morning news with eyes freed from the deathgrip of the conventional wisdom and it’s brutally obvious that that’s what happened, and that the decline and fall of our civilization is well under way. Here in the US, a quarter of the country is in the fourth year of record drought, with snowpack on California’s Sierra Nevada mountains about 9% of normal; the Gulf Stream is slowing to a crawl due to the rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheets; permanent joblessness and grinding poverty have become pervasive in this country; the national infrastructure is coming apart after decades of malign neglect—well, I could go on; if you want to know what life is like in a falling civilization, go look out the window.

In the mainstream media, on the occasions when such things are mentioned at all, they’re treated as disconnected factoids irrelevant to the big picture. Most people haven’t yet grasped that these things are the big picture—that while we’re daydreaming about an assortment of shiny futures that look more or less like the present with more toys, climate change, resource depletion, collapsing infrastructure, economic contraction, and the implosion of political and cultural institutions are creating the future we’re going to inhabit. Too many of us suffer from a weird inability to imagine a future that isn’t simply a continuation of the present, even when such a future stands knocking at our own front doors.

So vast a failure of imagination can’t be overcome by the simple expedient of pointing out the ways that it’s already failed to explain the world in which we live. That said, there are other ways to break the grip of the conventional wisdom, and I’m pleased to say that one of those other ways seems to be making modest but definite headway just now.

Longtime readers here will remember that in 2011, this blog launched a contest for short stories about the kind of future we can actually expect—a future in which no deus ex machina saves industrial civilization from the exhaustion of its resource base, the deterioration of the natural systems that support it, and the normal process of decline and fall. That contest resulted in an anthology, After Oil: SF Stories of a Post-Petroleum Future, which found a surprisingly large audience. On the strength of its success, I ran a second contest in 2014, which resulted in two more volumes—After Oil 2: The Years of Crisis, which is now available, and After Oil 3: The Years of Rebirth, which is in preparation. Demand for the original volume has remained steady, and the second is selling well; after a conversation with the publisher, I’m pleased to announce that we’re going to do it again, with a slight twist.

The basic rules are mostly the same as before:

Stories should be between 2500 and 7500 words in length;
They should be entirely the work of their author or authors, and should not borrow characters or setting from someone else’s work;
They should be in English, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation;
They should be stories—narratives with a plot and characters—and not simply a guided tour of some corner of the future as the author imagines it;
They should be set in our future, not in an alternate history or on some other planet;
They should be works of realistic fiction or science fiction, not magical or supernatural fantasy—that is, the setting and story should follow the laws of nature as those are presently understood;
They should take place in settings subject to thermodynamic, ecological, and economic limits to growth; and as before,
They must not rely on “alien space bats”—that is, dei ex machina inserted to allow humanity to dodge the consequences of the limits to growth. (Aspiring authors might want to read the whole “Alien Space Bats” post for a more detailed explanation of what I mean here; reading the stories from one or both of the published After Oil volumes might also be a good plan.)

This time, though, I’m adding an additional rule:

Stories submitted for this contest must be set at least one thousand years in the future—that is, after March 25, 3015 in our calendar.

That’s partly a reflection of a common pattern in entries for the two previous contests, and partly something deeper. The common pattern? A great many authors submitted stories that were set during or immediately after the collapse of industrial civilization; there’s certainly room for those, enough so that the entire second volume is basically devoted to them, but tales of surviving decline and fall are only a small fraction of the galaxy of potential stories that would fit within the rules listed above.  I’d like to encourage entrants to consider telling something different, at least this time.

The deeper dimension? That’s a reflection of the blindness of the imagination discussed earlier in this post, the inability of so many people to think of a future that isn’t simply a prolongation of the present. Stories set in the immediate aftermath of our civilization don’t necessarily challenge that, and I think it’s high time to start talking about futures that are genuinely other—neither utopia nor oblivion, but different, radically different, from the linear extrapolations from the present that fill so many people’s imaginations these days, and have an embarrassingly large role even in science fiction.

You have to read SF from more than a few decades back to grasp just how tight the grip of a single linear vision of the future has become on what used to be a much more freewheeling literature of ideas. In book after book, and even more in film after film, technologies that are obviously derived from ours, ideologies that are indistinguishable from ours, political and economic arrangements that could pass for ours, and attitudes and ideas that belong to this or that side of today’s cultural struggles get projected onto the future as though they’re the only imaginable options. This takes place even when there’s very good reason to think that the linear continuation of current trends isn’t an option at all—for example, the endlessly regurgitated, done-to-death trope of interstellar travel.

Let us please be real:  we aren’t going to the stars—not in our lifetimes, not in the lifetime of industrial civilization, not in the lifetime of our species. There are equally  good thermodynamic and economic reasons to believe that many of the other standard tropes of contemporary science fiction are just as unreachable—that, for example, limitless energy from gimmicks of the dilithium-crystal variety, artificial intelligences capable of human or superhuman thought, and the like belong to fantasy, not to the kind of science fiction that has any likelihood of becoming science fact. Any of my readers who want to insist that human beings can create anything they can imagine, by the way, are welcome to claim that, just as soon as they provide me with a working perpetual motion machine.

It’s surprisingly common to see people insist that the absence of the particular set of doodads common to today’s science fiction would condemn our descendants to a future of endless boredom. This attitude shows a bizarre stunting of the imagination—not least because stories about interstellar travel normally end up landing the protagonists in a world closely modeled on some past or present corner of the Earth. If our genus lasts as long as the average genus of vertebrate megafauna, we’ve got maybe ten million years ahead of us, or roughly two thousand times as long as all of recorded human history to date: more than enough time for human beings to come up with a dazzling assortment of creative, unexpected, radically different societies, technologies, and ways of facing the universe and themselves.

That’s what I’d like to see in submissions to this year’s Space Bats challenge—yes, it’ll be an annual thing from here on out, as long as the market for such stories remains lively. A thousand years from now, industrial civilization will be as far in the past as the Roman Empire was at the time of the Renaissance, and new human societies will have arisen to pass their own judgment on the relics of our age. Ten thousand years from now, or ten million? Those are also options. Fling yourself into the far future, far enough that today’s crises are matters for the history books, or tales out of ancient myth, or forgotten as completely as the crises and achievements of the Neanderthal people are today, and tell a story about human beings (or, potentially, post-human beings) confronting the challenges of their own time in their own way. Do it with verve and a good readable style, and your story may be be one of the ones chosen to appear in the pages of After Oil 4:  The Future’s Distant Shores.

The mechanics are pretty much the same as before. Write your story and post it to the internet—if you don’t have a blog, you can get one for free from Blogspot or Wordpress. Post a link to it in the comments to The Archdruid Report. You can write more than one story, but please let me know which one you want entered in the competition—there will be only one entry accepted per author this time. Stories must be written and posted online, and a link posted to this blog, by August 30, 2015 to be eligible for inclusion in the anthology.


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David said...


I am excited to see that you are holding another Space Bats challenge. I have a story that I began, but never completed, for the previous one and it just so happens that it satisfies your new criterion...

Regarding your observations of lifestyles, modern choices thereof, and the systemic impacts of said choices, I admit to giving much thought to these points of late. Not only in terms of resource use and depletion, but also in the social networks (or lack of such) characteristic of today. My mother-in-law is now in hospice. She lived alone about two blocks from our house in this small WI town we call home. This past winter, I shoveled her driveway before heading off to work each morning after snowfall. Now, because of her medical needs in these last days/weeks/months, she is in a facility (but still here in town, which is good). I went to visit her today after work, the first time I'd been to her new place since she'd been moved there from the hospital earlier this week.

I confess to mixed feelings. Walking through the hallways, as nice as the facility is, and intellectually acknowledging the need for places providing trained 24/7 care, I could not help seeing a storage place for people waiting to die, somewhere to put them out-of-the-way of the busy world, which cannot stop to deal with folks who have now ability to provide any useful service any longer. And yet, I am too part of that same system, even as I try to mitigate its influence.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Cue the chorus of comments on the latest comic, titled "Squirrel Plan".

sgage said...

@ JMG,

I might just take a whack at this one...

Pinku-Sensei said...

"The contest fielded more than thirty entries, ranging from the merely very good to the sidesplittingly funny."

It pleases me to read that my entry was at least "merely very good." Based on the winners, especially "Hydrocarbons from Titan," which is straight out of Arthur C. Clarke's "Imperial Earth," adding power from pee to my energy from sewage proposal wouldn't have made any difference. That written, congratulations to the winners!

Doctor Westchester said...

Any Green Wizards and/or readers of JMG’s blog in the lower Hudson Valley of New York State or in and around New York City who might be interested in getting together please send your email address and location to doctorwestchester42 at Google mail. The lower Hudson Valley can be considered starting in the Bronx and going just south of Albany, NY (around Hudson, NY). If you are in the Bronx, please note whether you want to be considered as NYC or LHV or both. People in the greater NYC metro areas on Long island and New Jersey are invited to be part of the NYC meetup. Depending on the response, meetings may be held in the LHV, NYC or both.

Thomas Daulton said...

Another day, another body blow to our concepts of normalcy and common sense... selling fracking shares to Druids!! No wonder everyone feels like that character in the Hitchhiker's Guide who put a label on the inside of his front door warning that the insane asylum was outside.

This week I was struck by the realization that mostly our Taintor-esque theories of complexity and collapse just boil down to The Generalized Peter Principle: "Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails."

Apropos of last week's discussion of the View from Outside of Science, I just now stumbled into this blog entry by the redoubtable Adam Curtis: "The Vegetables of Truth". The whole blog entry is worth a read, but one interesting portion is to note that a huge amount of effort spent on quote-unquote "Science" these days boils down to nothing more than statistical analysis. We are not discovering and understanding things these days so much as counting tally-marks. As Adam Curtis points out, and any honest scientist will admit, statistical correlations by themselves can never tell us the "why" of things. When one's imagination is limited -- as JMG explained earlier, our society takes great pains to replace our wide-ranging imaginations with controllable prosthetic ones -- then the benefit that one derives from statistical correlation analysis is sharply limited to only what you can already imagine. The failure of science has in some ways been engineered by the economic and oppressive dictates of a society desperate to cling to the status quo and avoid change. Thus we have put statistical blinders upon science, limiting its vision to an actuarial one. Of course the "science" of economics went down that road a long time ago.

Varun Bhaskar said...


1000 years later we should be mostly past the human induced climate change, right?

John Michael Greer said...

David, I'll look forward to your story! Condolences on your mother-in-law; that's got to be difficult.

Unknown Deborah, that would be this one, presumably? ;-)

Sgage, glad to hear it.

Pinku-sensei, as I said, it was a very tight contest. What gave Steve's entry the winning edge to me was the way he wove so much of contemporary cornucopian stock-selling rhetoric into his press release, pushing it just that little bit further than it goes in the media -- at least yet. Yours was also a contender, btw.

Thomas, I hadn't thought of applying the Peter Principle to collapse, but of course you're right. Many thanks for the link to Curtis' blog, also.

John Michael Greer said...

Varun, things should have stabilized by then, but at a hotter temperature with higher sea levels. Add a few millennia if you want all the excess carbon dioxide to have been sucked back out of the atmosphere.

John D. Wheeler said...

First installment of People of the North: The Long Night -- Set several thousand years in the future, after the effects of anthropogenic global warming is starting to wear off.

Cherokee Organics said...


Nice to hear that you read David Eddings too! Although, now that you've mentioned your cheeky name substitution technique, I’m beginning to see the series in a whole new light. hehe! Very cheeky and very amusing. The second series of his books were a very similar story to the first series, so you may not have missed much. Same, same, but different is an apt review.

Unsolicited representations are usually made by organisations trying to unload worthless paper whilst that paper is still apparently worth something. Yes, I can well imagine that the AODA's endowment fund is heavily tied up in fracking stocks seeking high yields! hehe! I did advise you to diversify your holdings earlier, so don't blame me when it goes belly up. hehe! Sorry, I'm just being silly.

Congratulations to Steve and Jason - both very excellent entries and I applaud their efforts. I still smile remembering the image of the dodgy Lego robot on the sea shore bravely facing the incoming waves. Too funny. Well done both of you!

When you write in this week’s blog of the failure of the imagination, I must confess that realisation only dawned on me the other day that with near zero interest rates, your government can effectively keep printing money for quite a while - until its poker bluff is called - because the cost of servicing that debt is negligible. It would have been far wiser for the decision makers to have poured that money into infrastructure projects - whilst those tokens were still worth something - but then that act may well driven inflation and caused a loss of wealth in the big end of town. Sad - a truly lost opportunity. I suspect that they are well aware of that outcome, it isn’t like it hasn’t happened before. Keeping prices down keeps the rabble in check – for the moment anyway.

You know, I'm not very good at fiction. I tend rather to write about the things that I see and do in the real world and I barely have enough time free for that. I went out today and picked up some seconds and down grade steel for the new wood shed. It is amazing how cheap this stuff is - get it while you can is my thinking and build for the long term.

The fracking thing here (coal seam gas) is slowly getting toasted too which is good news.



PS: The new blog entry is up: Rats that eat cars. Yes, this is a true story as a rat ate certain critical components in my vehicle. Who'd have thought that was even possible? Anyway, the rats are starting to get the upper hand here and I'm pondering long term solutions to this and how best to live with them. My money is on the rats long term as they show true intelligence and cunning. The blog also has photos of some of the beautiful coastline to the south west of the farm which is under threat from rising ocean levels and storm surges - not that the locals seem to notice - although it is sort of hard to ignore as you can see in the photos? Dunno. Also autumn is planting time here so there are all sorts of things going on with plants. Excavations for the wood shed have also continued too. Lots of good fun stuff and cool photos.

patriciaormsby said...

No comments yet? It took me forever to read through your post today, because I kept stopping and composing stuff in my mind.

I'll have a nice entry for your challenge worked up in a few days. I'm writing the second half of a novel, and I thought I'd put up a chapter--but it's set in 2045. OK, so then I thought, look back on the legacy of that novel's outcome. Bingo!

The second half of your first paragraph this week is so quotable !And that got me thinking too.

To those of us who have been watching the collapse of industrial civilization unfold, it has been like watching a car accident in slow motion. We see the driver's head go through the windshield in 2008 (Lehman shock), and he goes rolling onto the pavement later that year, with the ambulances arriving very quickly, where the medics immediately start applying treatment--not anything that would actually save his life (to hobble on as a cripple in his declining years), but to make him appear to be healthy (QE). His family (the US public) gets wind of this and protests, but are ignored, as treatments profitable to the hospital are applied repeatedly. We are told that he is doing very well, with the rigged machinery showing a healthy pulse and other vital signs, and never mind he's on artificial respiration. The inevitable signs of decay keep showing up, with intermittent bloating and deflation.

If the press were still functional, we would have a fiasco reminiscent of Terry Schiavo. Instead, we have Photoshopped images of him on crutches, smiling; and quotes from him on his progress. We are told that our prayers will help his further recovery, and his family believes that if we all pray heard enough, a new medicine will come along that will really help him.

Robert Suchanek said...

Always enjoyable! I'm just a simple student of anthropology with a current fascination with archaeology. Of course I do appreciate an earth centered perspective since that is mostly how H.sapiens has managed to get by.

Cathy McGuire said...

I'm so glad to hear the series is continuing!! I've been enjoying the 2nd book and looking forward to the 3rd. And wow - 1,000 years feels like a stretch to my mind... glad you gave us ample time to muse on it!

The fracking stuff is getting so ridiculous right now. I hear the game may be up at the end of this month,when the first quarter reports are due... but the stock market took a tumble today, perhaps in anticipation. I'm a bit worried, since I'm having to fly back east on the 29th to help take care of my aging mother... I'm hoping no sudden financial plummets prevent my getting back to the PNW!

Speaking of which, the first PNW Gathering of Green Wizards was a great success! I've posted a report and photos over on the forum - and I'm glad to see other areas trying to start more. I'm heading down to a Eugene gathering this Saturday - maybe we're finally hitting critical mass!

And I just can't resist a followup to my report about the fuss re: the Portland Airport carpet: Carpet to lead the annual Starlight Parade Bread and circuses, anyone??

And my novel continues, if you don't mind my mentioning it.

Moshe Braner said...

A day or two ago I ran into a news report that said that miles driven by Americans increased several percent in recent months, presumably due to the lower price of fuel. I am NOT bringing this as a counterpoint to JMG's statement above that most people are now too poor to do just that. On the contrary: this bit of news proves wrong those who have been saying that the decline in miles driven in recent years was due to young people losing interest in driving, since after all they've got smartphones and social media. Bzzz! As soon as oil prices declined, driving IS up. The catch is that with the temporarily low price, well below costs, oil extraction is plummeting. When the oil market gets "rebalanced" again, prices will rebound and driving will decrease again. And those who bought a guzzler now will be sorry (and drive even less).

John D. Wheeler said...

LOL, as soon as I posted my previous comment, Varun's came through....

@Pinku-Sensei, I'm glad you posted about making electricity from urine, that was my number 1 idea... number 2 was injecting pure oxygen (purox) into sewage that had been raised to a supercritical temperature, at which point the solids would burn. As long as the waste stream was at least 20% solids, it would be self-sustaining, anything more would produce excess energy.

Both of these are based on solid science but nutty economics. They may produce net energy on a marginal basis, but they would require a major infrastructure overhaul that would negate any benefit for a very long time -- except, the effluent from the purox process is sterile, which is why it was originally developed.

The most intriguing proposal I've come across is using the differential in osmotic pressure between saltwater and freshwater. You could use that to draw water into towers, and then release the water through electric generators. There, the problem is you are consuming fresh water, and there aren't too many areas next to salt water that need electricity and have an abundance of fresh water.

Wizard of Tas said...

I've been reading recently about helium running out (commercial quantities) in about 20 years. Some tech will suffer (MRI and Hadron, etc.). And it makes me realise that a realistic story set 1000 years in the future would be striking for the missing elements, not just oil, and the elements that might gain a positive ascendency. Plastic might be valued as an important 'scrap' material, resulting in plastic smiths, every bit as much as there might be the ubiquitous blacksmith.

Pitty I'm not a writer.

Dorda Giovex said...


It is actually hard to say. In the best case as JMG stated the world will have temporarily stabilized in a new normal state starting to reabsorbe co2 (That is equivalent to say it will be at "peak climate change"). In the worst case something like the Permian Extinction will happen again with several chained waves of die off happening. At the time life was almost wiped out from the face of the planet and almost all oxigen in the atmosphere burned. For 100000 years afterwards there is no trace of life in rocks, then reappeared taking 1 million years to get back to "normal" with completely new species. (Among them dinosaurs).

If I am not wrong a lot of the oil we are burning comes from the corpses which deposited on the bottom of the ocean during the "Great Dying" of Permian.

beneaththesurface said...

I'm excited that you're hosting another story contest, that it will be an annual activity, and that with the Aug. 30 deadline, we have little longer period this time to work on it (I felt rushed during the last contest). At this point I don't have any good ideas that have passed beyond the vague, but I still hope to attempt writing a story for this contest. The 1000+ years restriction definitely makes it more of a challenge, but an intriguing one. I found that even imagining a story occurring in a place 40-50 years in the future (my After Oil 2 story) was challenging.

I found many of the other stories in the first two After Oil anthologies thought-provoking, and I thank the authors for their contributions.

One observation I (and two others to whom I gave one) have about the published anthologies so far is that the majority of authors--and main characters in the stories--are male. I'm not invoking blame, for I think this is simply a reflection of the fact that many more men entered the contest than women. But still, I do admit that I would like to hear more women's voices in post-petroleum fiction anthologies. Therefore, I encourage more women writers who read this blog to enter the contest for After Oil 4.

John Michael Greer said...

John, delighted to see it -- will you be turning that into a story for the contest?

Cherokee, the only hedge funds that are of interest to Druids are those that invest in hedgerows -- though I'd probably put in a good word for a fund that invested in hedgehogs as well. Those car-eating rats are probably the wave of the future; we'll know that we're in trouble when they no longer limit themselves to eating the tasty bits, but haul away the metal to sell for scrap.

Patricia, I'll look forward to your story. As for the accident metaphor, the only thing I'd add to it is that the patient proceeded to climb back into a newer, faster, and even more unsafe car, and the sound of squealing brakes is being heard as another hard encounter with another windshield approaches...

Robert, a knowledge of past cultures and extinct civilizations is highly useful just now, you know!

Cathy, I don't mind at all. You've got a publisher lined up for that, don't you, once it makes the transition from blog posts to print?

Moshe, of course -- but you'll notice that so far, at least, the increase in gasoline consumption hasn't been enough to make prices go up. It's fascinating to watch a classic overproduction crisis unfold in so textbook a manner.

Wizard, why not give it a try? You might surprise yourself.

Beneath, quite a few of the stories in After Oil 3 have female protagonists, but you're right that women are still underrepresented in the field of deindustrial SF. I would be delighted to see that change; all it'll take is more women writing stories for these contests, and more authors of any gender exploring a wider range of stories and characters -- which is what I'd hope to see as this fairly new field of SF begins to map out the territory ahead of it.

faoladh said...

Pinku-Sensei: I'm afraid that it turns out that your proposal is not inventive enough.

John Roth said...

Does your ban on magic extend to the types of magic that are actually practiced and discussed on your other blog, or only to the types we seen in current fantasy and comics?

r_df34 said...

The ten million year figure for the lifespan of h. sapiens might be a bit optimistic. The only hominid that came close to that is h. erectus, at about 1 million years. Most hominids have lasted less than 500,000 years, and neanderthals only about 300,000 (although we had something to do with that...). Considering that h. sapiens is already 200,000 years into its journey, I would be surprised if we had another 200,000 years to go. H. sapiens is also a terribly destructive and rapacious species, which pushes our chances down considerably.

FiftyNiner said...

@ David,
I just went through the same anxieties and emotions that you are feeling when I had no choice but to put my mother in a nursing home for the last 46 days of her life. We also had hospice in the nursing home, so mother had "eyes" constantly checking on her around the clock. I had never spent any time in a nursing home other than a short visit to someone. I must say that I was immediately impressed with the way the nursing home was run and the unbelievable dedication of the staff.
It became evident that by contrast to the comfort of the patient which is the goal of the nursing home staff, the staff in a hospital is focused on treating the narrow set of symptoms and getting the patient out the door.

The nursing home is completely open to the family of the patients around the clock. Entry is gained by a code that has to be entered on a key pad by each door. This open access to me is essential. Alabama has had a law for many years now that no physical restraints of any kind can be used on patients in nursing homes. This came about because of some abuses that had occurred.

The point of all this, though, is that if you are going to go into a nursing home this would be the right time. I do not see how the system can be maintained a decade or two into the future and beyond. The cost here is around $6200 per month and the awesomely dedicated caregivers are not the ones making the big bucks. There will not be people to hire for these jobs so the whole system is economically unsustainable.

My mother left school after the seventh grade in order to become the "primary caregiver" for her beloved grandmother who was dying of cancer in 1944/45. In the future, we may have to return to caring for the aged and infirm at home which has been the pattern throughout most of human history.

LarasDad said...

@ Thomas Daulton - thank you so much for the link to Adam Curtis: "The Vegetables of Truth".

I would implore everyone reading these comments to view the blog link, particularily the video clip about the Chernobyl aftermath - absolutely, utterly, amazing footage !

Gaianne said...

Congratulations, Mssrs. Morgan and Heppenstall, on some truly stunning work!


Beatrice Salmon-Hawk said...

Why oh why (she wailed, tearing her hair out and covering herself in ashes) are the British always following the US? The UK government is all excited about that new thing called fracking...the French parliament BANNED it, it must be bad, you idiots! As to the policy of telling us zero inflation is a GOOD THING.... You are quite right, JMG, Marks laughter is audible at every level! Another splendid post, explaining, clarifying as ever. Must get going with that short story and wipe pictures of Amazonian women having taken over civilisation from my mind, it has been done afore methinks! A most excellent challenge.

Scotlyn said...

Re your recent fracking fund sales pitch, it seems to me absurd that prudent folk think it the prudent thing to do in preparation for retirement to put money into funds from which they themselves are forbidden to withdraw, and then put same at the disposal of gamblers.

My husband derives entertainment from laying tiny, intricate bets at our local bookmakers, where they are quite honest about the fact that you're highly likely to lose it, and they don't treat the laying of bets as "prudent." If only the stock market were as honest!

donalfagan said...

You are spot on about purchasing power. A truck totalled our ancient but reliable accord, so I've had to give our sputtering sunfire to my wife - we live apart so she can care for her mother - and rely completely on the bike. I just don't see the wisdom in going into further debt for another car.

Tom Whipple is still expecting that LENR and hydrinos - a theorized state of the hydrogen atom - will provide endless power to save us.

I had this odd thought that a serious enough war might prolong the fracking bubble, if only temporarily.

Scotlyn said...

@David, we minded my husband's uncle at home for the last ten years of his life, the last three of them characterised by increasing dementia. I felt very fortunate to do so, as my children were small and I wanted them to understand the dimensions that a more extended family might encompass, the way that we all take turns being cared for and caring, over time. But, this was mainly possible because both husband and I were able to earn an income from home. The removal of productivity from the domestic sphere is what has produced the need for so many families to outsource caring (paying too much for poor substitutes)... Perhaps bringing useful production back into the domestic sphere will re balance this?

Mean Mr Mustard said...


I'd certainly be in the line for buying a copy of The Squirrel Case Anthology (Vol 1) - maybe one of your publishers (with permission of all the talented writers concerned) would consider collating those 30 stories?

I'm mulling an idea for 1000 years hence. Need to get my storytelling fundamentals in good order, though. At least I can get hopefully sound advice on developing plot lines and so on from this here internet...



Tasha T. said...

Ah, synchronicity!

I'm actually working on a short story right now about two neighboring semi-nomadic tribes.

One abhors the "Rejected". It's unearthly material that neither rots in the soil nor sinks in the rising waters. That which chokes the goats and burns black and noxious.

The other worships the "Everlasting". An other worldly material which lives forever, succumbing neither to earth nor flood. That which holds back the water yet lets in the light. It defends itself from flame with holy miasma.

We ancients know it as "Plastics".

squizzler said...

Amusing as your fracking sales pitch is to those "in the know", my experience is that those trying to sell you a product down the phone never make the effort to find out about your business or organisation before calling. Mailshots, even less so. I'd be as glad as anyone to see the back of "fracking", but your story says more to me about lazy selling techniques than anything else - anyone who bothered to do cursory search on druidism would know that they did not have the right product to sell.

That being said, the Church of England, still a wealthy organisation - was found to hold stocks in certain outfits whose practices were very dubious to the Christian ethic - the problem with a large organisation with clever money men working in their own silo to maximise the savings of the church. Hopefully the bad publicity incurred has led to more oversight of the management of their savings!

Now for the real reason for posting: I was waiting for the discussion to turn again to the importance of narrative in opening people's minds to peak oil before mentioning a book that played a very formative role in mythinking, and perhaps helping make me receptive to the "Archdruid report" when I eventually found this blog. That would be Mark Chadbourne's Age of Misrule trilogy. Whilst not a contender for your space bat challenge, it had a lot to say to me about coping with the collapse of modern industrial civilisation. Essentially the creatures and gods of ancient lore return and as magic regains power, technology fails, and the heroes swashbuckle their way through the transition. The prologue is particularly worth quoting at length:

And now the world turns slowly from the light. Not with the symbol clash of tanks and guns, but with the gently plucked harp of shifting moods and oddly lengthening shadows, the soft tread of a subtle invasion, not here, then here, and none the wiser. Each morning the sun still rises on supermarket worlds of plastic and glass, on industrial estates where slow trucks lumber in belches of diesel, on cities lulled by the whirring of disc drives breaking existence down into digitised order. People still move through their lives with the arrogance of rulers who know their realms will never fall. Several weeks into the new dark age, life goes on as it always has, oblivious to the passing of the Age of Reason, of Socratic thought and Apollonian logic.
No one had noticed. But they would. And soon.

Scotlyn said...

@ David, just to amplify my last, I want to say that I am strongly empathising with your "mixed feelings", although perhaps my comment may have come across unintentionally as "more-virtuous-than-thou". If so, many apologies.

The thing is, you are lucky to have had your mother so close, unlucky to have come up against the crisis that removed your choices and preferences in the matter, and pained by it. For that my many sympathies.

We, too, came up against that kind of crisis two or three times and it could have gone either way. In all cases of him needing the care of others, the care itself was professionally excellent.

I suppose the point that your "mixed feelings" paragraph evoked for me was this. We grew to be aware that so long as Paddy was in our care, he remained connected to his personal history, his idiosyncrasies, his individuality, his place of belongingness to THIS particular group of people.

As soon as he was in the care of even the best, most professional of carers, all of that fell away, and he became one of many mouths to feed, bodies to wash, sheets to change, tasks to tick off the list. A wholly different care by definition, and one not very suited to the lifelong emotional and spiritual and familial needs of a person.

Anyway, that may not be the most eloquent, I hope you understand, and I salute your love and care in the teeth of a society that does everything to make that impossible to live out to the fullest.

KWohlmut said...

Greetings, I post sometimes on ADR using a pseudonym, but this is my given name. I have a story to enter, which I conceived many years ago. Your previous Space Bats contest inspired me to finish writing it. But the first draft was way too long and I was too prideful to cut it down... until now. By handing me an invitation on such a silver platter -- (my story is set eight thousand years from now) -- you prompted me to finally swallow my pride and cut it down to your requirement. Please give a read to my story, "The Perils of Power". Thanks!

Jason Heppenstall said...

Wow - I'm honoured to have been joint-winner of the Squirrels competition. Thanks to those who voted for me - there were lots of great entries and potential winners. My entry received a further accolade by being re-blogged on a serious renewable energy forum by someone who clearly didn't quite realise it was all a prank.

Incidentally, the picture of the eponymous hero in the article isn't actually a PhD artificial intelligence pioneer, I pinched it from an advert for a tattoo removal site.

SMJ said...

Hello JMG

There are many instances of civilisations suffering greatly during collapse, and our current civilisation seems to be following the same pattern. Are there any instances of large-scale suffering being successfully minimized during collapse? Have there been any civilisations which provide best collapse practises to adopt, rather than just mistakes to avoid?


jonathan said...

selling shares in fraccing companies to druids sounds like something that could have come out of the mouth of george carlin. i hope he can see what's happening on earth from his perch wherever he may be, probably with a sardonic smile.

Mister Roboto said...

Here in America, and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the industrial world, four decades of enthusiastically bipartisan policies that benefited the rich at everyone else’s expense managed to prove Henry Ford’s famous argument: if you don’t pay your own employees enough that they can afford to buy your products, sooner or later, you’re going to go broke.

In the early days of my being on Facebook, I had on my "Friends" list a trio of very Kool-Aid-drinking reactionary rich-kids from my boarding school days. The thing I remember most about them is how willfully not-cognizant they were of how the way the upper crust is hoarding the country's wealth is driving the country on all levels to certain bankruptcy and penury. And what I truly remember is the disingenuous throbbing, moaning, aching butthurt with which they would react to any information or opinions that this collective class-narcissism was destroying our society. Needless to say, eventually "de-friending" the lot of them was one of the biggest Internet-favors I have ever done myself. I feel I should also mention that the thing that has me posting a lot less political stuff on Facebook, is that the appalling ignorance of white working-class people has made me just give up on the idea of mitigating our oncoming problems with political measures.

Leo Knight said...

Years ago, our local free newspaper had a cartoon of a prospector and his son digging through the remains of a landfill. The old man cries, "Eureka! We've hit Styrofoam!" That seems more like years or decades from now, not millennia, but maybe.

MP said...

JMG - I didn't know if you saw this gem from The Jacobin (sort of Left wing journal) about the glut of oil.

It is a beautiful misunderstanding of peak oil and actual economics:
"What of peak oil? The Energy Information Agency (EIA) recently estimated that in 2015, the US will reach an oil production level of 9.3 million barrels per day — a mere 300,000 barrels shy of the 1970 zenith that peak oil proponent M. King Hubbert famously predicted in 1956.

It is possible that the massive boom in fracked “tight oil” from shale formations will “reset” US peak oil nearly fifty years after it supposedly occurred. But peak oil proponents consistently underestimate the capacity of capital to revolutionize the technical capacity to profitably access new deposits."

Oy vey. It was peak of conventional oil that Hubbert was speaking about (even Wikipedia admits that!) but completely misstating an argument is par for the course in the article.

They then go on to do what has consistently not worked with regards to dealing with climate change - a call for scaremongering: "climate crisis is so dire that it will take nothing less than a “war-like” mobilization of the public sector (state planning, punitive taxes, and massive subsidies for clean energy) to shift our economy away from fossil fuels."

What I find interesting is that both the Left & Right can only scaremonger. They have no imagination so can't think of a way to try to really communicate with people as human beings. They can only bully and manipulate.

Patricia Mathews said...

Lifestyles: a couple of odd notes from Albuquerque. First, since my electric bill came to an even $20 this month, I decided to read it in detail. Actual usage, $10 + change. "Service Charge" - (to keep the grid running)$5. The rest, various fees & taxes. No, I don't have PV and don't live off the grid. But there is good natural lighting where I sit to read, and my water heater, house heating, and stove are all natural gas. So maybe the energy usage is just being shoved elsewhwere.

Then, I was idly googling for WWII-era home front data for personal reasons and came across the civilian gasoline rationing figures: 3-5 gallons/month. 5 gallons is nearly a fill-up for my little 1998 econobug. Tried it on 3/8 of a tank and 5 gallons put the gas gauge hard against Full. Will start tracking usage by filling up at the same time every week, but I'd be surprised if the car takes any more than 5, and probably less. AND - due to arthritis, slow walking, and deadlines, I am still using the car as a prosthetic!

For what that's worth.

Mark Rice said...

The xkcd comic Squirrel Plan is the perfect illustration for the squirrel case challenge.

Dammerung said...

The economic system of the United States is not, and hasn't been for 100 years, capitalism. Capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with a government-managed monetary regime; centrally planned interest rates that misprice risk/time; or a debt-funded war machine that terrorizes the world seemingly at random.

John Michael Greer said...

John, there's no ban on magic -- please read the rules again. The ban is on magical or supernatural fantasy. As long as the portrayal of magic in your story remains within the laws of nature as currently understood, having characters who practice magic, divination, or the like in the course of the story is as reasonable as having characters who engage in farming or hunting, say, or who worship gods or spirits. Magical practices have been pretty much universal in human culture so far, and will doubtless be so in the millennia to come.

R_df34, nah, I specified the genus, not the species. It's entirely possible that H. sapiens won't make it for too many millennia to come, but I'd look for the emergence of new species of the genus Homo from relict populations of H. sapiens in isolated refugia, as normally happens in the course of evolution.

Beatrice, if you want to do a story about Amazon warriors a thousand years in the future, by all means -- a new twist on an old theme can still be the basis for a good story. As for Britain's lapdog behavior, as I noted in my book Decline and Fall, that was the price Britain paid for being bailed out by the US in 1942: we took your empire, and afterwards, you took our orders. Sorry about that...

Scotlyn, you might be amused to know that in the state of Oregon, advertisements for the state lottery have a label on them saying "Not for Investment Purposes." It's probably necessary, American cluelessness being what it is.

Mustard, alas, most of the submissions used graphics lifted from the internet, and getting permission for those would be costly. I'll look forward to your story.

Tasha, I'll look forward to yours, too!

Squizzler, oh, granted -- but it made such a good anecdote! Thanks for the book recommendation; for reasons mentioned in the latest post to my other blog, I don't have a lot of patience with the way fantasy fiction these days misunderstands and misuses magic, but I'm always ready to be surprised.

KWohlmut, now that's what I call a fast response! Thank you; you're in the contest. Please put in a comment marked "Not for Posting" with your email address, so I can get in contact with you if your story ends up being chosen for the anthology.

Jason, that's too funny.

SMJ, I don't know of any examples of civilizations managing a controlled descent. Empires do it now and again, and the normal mechanism is to accept the contraction of the empire rather than fighting it -- but a whole civilization? Not to my knowledge. That in itself might make a basis for an interesting story, you know!

Jonathan, I always figured he'd been welcomed to Limbo...

Ed-M said...


Well I didn't get the opportunity to write up my deus ex machina paddlewheel scheme due to the tyranny of the urgent absorbing all my available computer time -- I either use a library computer or my iPhone at a wifi hotspot -- but I'd like to nest it within my short story.

The.story title will be something on the lines of: "When the Interstates Electrified," which would be quite amusing to the denizens a thousand years hence.

John Michael Greer said...

Mister R., the cluelessness of the privileged is usually one of the most important forces that drives societies and civilizations into history's compost bin. From what I've seen of the current examples, we've got a world-class case here in 21st century America.

Leo, what will they be digging for millennia from now? Might be the seed of a story...

MP, yes, I saw that, and rolled my eyes -- one more example of the way that the Left is far more conservative, in the strict sense of the word, than the Right these days.

Patricia, thanks for the news from the trenches.

Mark, it is indeed. Check out the second comment on this post... ;-)

Dammerung, you might be interested to know that Marxists are just as insistent that the Soviet system wasn't "really" socialism.

sgage said...

@Dammerung said...

"The economic system of the United States is not, and hasn't been for 100 years, capitalism. Capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with a government-managed monetary regime; centrally planned interest rates that misprice risk/time; or a debt-funded war machine that terrorizes the world seemingly at random."

Oh please, who do you suppose manages the government? Who do you suppose benefits from its policies? Who do you suppose benefits from the war machine?

daelach said...

@ JMG: I doubt that the stock selling company targeted your order on purpose; I'd rather guess that they used their usual spam mechanism. The business case for spam is based on the fact that a single spam message costs next to nothing, and that can only be achieved by using spam bots. Probably they had a bot crawling the web for email addresses (or bought some million email addresses) and launched the sales spam without a thought. Just as also women get spam emails asking them whether they wouldn't want an enlargement of a certain body part which they lack by definition.

So while it is a remarkable synchronicity, a fracking stock spam email in a druid order's mailbox does nothing to prove that the fracking industry is going down. All it proves is that bots are able to find your email address. Note that I don't deny that the fracking industry is crashing since there are lots of OTHER arguments that rightfully support that conclusion.

A funny remark on the squirrel contest, there's a real company that would have had good chances to win - which should raise the bar for stories considerably, I guess. They want to use a balloon filled with helium for lifting a wind turbin to 600m altitude because there's more wind up there.

Take a laughter here:

kayr said...

As for women writing deindustrial stories, I would like to draw everyone's attention to, in my opinion, one of the best. Ursula K. LeGuin's Always Coming Home. Most of the stories with the story are told from a woman's point of view too. I reread this one on a periodic basis. I highly recommend any of her other stories as well.

John D. Wheeler said...

@donalfagan, if hydrinos are what I suspect they are -- proton-muon pairs -- then they are almost as good as a source of energy as antimatter reactors. Which is to say, the big problem is getting the fuel, because in the case of muons, they decay in about 1/500th of a second. If that weren't bad enough, while they catalyze fusion reactions at room temperatures, they tend to be lost after about 100 reactions; however, it takes about the energy of 500 reactions to create a muon, which is like an electron but 207 times more massive. So unless you can find a reliable source of muons, it's definitely a squirrel nut case.

And oh yes, while I'm never quite sure how long my stories will be when I start them, if it does end up being within the requisite length, I do plan on putting the "episodes" together and submitting People of the North as an entry in the contest.

Greg Belvedere said...

I just want to double check that the story I have in mind will meet guidelines before I start writing. It seems like it should, but "measure twice, cut once." I have in mind a story about someone from our time finding themselves 1000 years in the future. On the one hand it does not seem to fit the guidelines, because it seems unlikely cryogenics would ever be that effective. On the other hand, it seems to fit in the guidelines, because it it involves sci-fi technology that does not serve as a dei ex machina that lets people dodge the consequences of growth. Instead, it will show the gap between this person's expectations of the future and the reality. The recent techno utopian proclamations of a certain silicone valley billionaire are the inspiration for this.

Patricia Mathews said...

Report from the trenches #2:The heating unit on my faithful old steel-carafe coffeemaker quit the other morning. I got out my stovetop/camping coffee pot and made coffee on the stove. The cream of that jest is that I have never in my life made coffee while camping, since I never learned how to make a fire. That was for the adults and/or the menfolk. Any menfolk who happened to be around, even now. It turned out well. Somewhat like cowgirl coffee, but it seems I like it that way.

I couldn't see guests or my family taking very well to stovetop cowgirl coffee (younger generation coffee snobs)and mentioned it - and have been bombarded with suggestions to get a French press coffee maker! No electricity needed, no filters, works anywhere you can get hot water. Which indeed I will try.

Much easier, more portable, and more sustainable than my antediluvian drip pot. Amazing.

wagelaborer said...

I keep all my Facebook friends. It helps keep me informed on what the latest propaganda is.
Today, someone posted that the USA can not only be self-sufficient in oil, it can export the "excess" in order to balance our trade imbalance. How? By fracking, of course!
Someone else responded to news of the drought in California by proposing we build a pipeline to California from Lake Michigan, and use the water power to power the pumps. Your perpetual motion machine, reinvented.

dltrammel said...

Here is one place for the writers to start:

Map if all the ice melted

This is from National Geographic and figures a 216 foot rise in sea level.

Funny thing, doing the search for this map, I came across a couple of websites that claim that the sea level rise might be even more, something in the neighborhood of 260+ feet.

Given that, my favorite city of St Louis, Missouri, Midwest US, may well become a port city of the Bay of Mississippi.

Hope that sets some ideas in everyone mind for 1000 years in the future.

Matt Wallin said...

I've been watching some of this insanity with regard to the financial markets and the zero...or negative interest rate policies. As Cherokee notes, this will allow the servicing of government and private debt to continue longer that a rational person might believe. One might expect, and the pundits lead you this direction, that with all this free money being wished into existence and injected into the economy, that the spectre of deflation would not continue to loom and that the world economies would be stimulated to growth. In the beginning, I wondered why they didn't spread the money to the class of people who would spend it (a la "Helicopter Ben" Bernanke), rather than invest it. The rich, who have actually been the recipients, have for the most part, just 'invested' this money. I've come to believe that the false axiom that I had been laboring under in my musings was that the goal actually was to stimulate the economy and keep inflation at the desired 2% range. I've come to believe that the reason that all this stimulus has gone entirely to the rich is precisely because they don't spend it, because they 'invest' it. Their investments make no claims on the physical world, they simply add to the digital 'tally' that these folks hold claim to and allow them to maintain their position and status. If this stimulus money were distributed to the less well off, that money would immediately be converted into claims on physical resources, that would cause a raft of serious repercussions in this resource constrained world. This reasoning has led me to believe that the increasing inequality that we have been experiencing is in large part driven by the need to prevent aggregate demand on real, physical assets from increasing, while maintaining the status quo and servicing the debt based monetary system that is the basis of the power and status of the wealthy. The fact that things have now reached the point of an absurdity like a negative interest rate, lead me to the conclusion that this shell game has very little time left in its hourglass.

Sean Adam Boucher said...

As a disclaimer, this doesn't have a whole lot to do with your weekly post, but it's been on my mind and I wanted to voice it!

Hi, Mr. Greer, I'm a fairly new fan of yours—I've been learning about peak oil for maybe 8 months and following your blog for a month or two. I think I finished The Long Descent last month, or the month before. I very much like your take on the basket of predicaments facing industrial society—your voice is one of the only that strikes me as being entirely realistic and rational about what lies ahead.

I'm currently a post-secondary student in Massachusetts, and one of the courses I'm taking is all about labor studies—unions, working conditions, and inequality in industrial society. It's been a good class overall; nothing groundbreaking ideologically, but it's interesting to learn a little bit about the nuts and bolts of organized labor. As you might expect, resource depletion and blowback from the natural world, as you and the peak oil community are so eager to discuss (and as I'm so eager to listen to) are not mentioned in the course, and never have been. Understandable in a course that focuses on the relationship between owners and workers, but regardless, it got me thinking a little bit.

As somebody who was first politicized by reading Noam Chomsky, the concepts of privilege, exploitation, and oppression are nothing new to me. They certainly resonate. However, the narrative from the far-left doesn't often seem to incorporate mention of the ideas that might be found on The Archdruid Report about why so many people are suffering right now. For the most part, this suffering is chalked up to the use and abuse of power relations, and that makes a lot of sense to me. But after listening to both this narrative and yours (“yours” as a placeholder for the greater sphere of ideas you and other peakists work with), a certain amount of cognitive dissonance starts to creep in. I mentioned my labor studies course because this is probably the time of week when the dissonance really kicks in full-throttle nowadays, as somebody who has been almost exclusively interested in the peak oil story as of late (and who hasn't been reading as much Chomsky, for example).

So, my question is this (and I apologize for the long buildup): where should we draw the line between systemic exploitation and the turbulence caused by the three E's when analyzing the current set of dilemmas pressing down on the non-privileged masses? I have no doubt that both play important roles, but I've been having some difficulty synthesizing these two perspectives into one cohesive outlook. Have you written about this specific intersection in the past? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks a lot,

avalterra said...


My wife might be interested in submitting - she is an author and novelist. What type of contractual and financial arrangements do you make with the contributors to the anthologies?


James said...

JMG, as you are interested in the "progress" of the F-35 fighter, I thought you'd find this link interesting.

Ed-M said...

Space Bats may have visited Moscow, because the head of the Russian railway commission has proposed a superhighway from London to New York through Russia.

Carl said...

Dear JMG, besides California having the hottest winter in record, the lowest snow pack on record, it now looks like we only have a years worth of stored water. This is not an idea by some crackpot, but a UC professor and NASA water scientist.
Looks like we're up a dry creek without a paddle. Nor Cal is in a little better shape, but I'm looking at places back east this summer.

John Michael Greer said...

Ed-M, I'll look forward to your story.

Daelach, oh, granted, but it makes such a great anecdote! Thanks for the real-life squirrel case, btw -- that's definitely a classic.

Kayr, granted, but as much as I like LeGuin's work -- and she's been among my favorite F&SF authors since I first read the Earthsea trilogy at age 11 -- I'd like to see plenty of other women writing their own stories. Perhaps you'll contribute a story?

John, glad to hear it.

Greg, hmm. I'd tend to say no -- remember that you have to keep the cryogenic facility powered, supplied with spare parts, etc. for a thousand years, which is quite a feat, and then you'd also have to have people on the other end of the process with the knowledge base to thaw your sleeper out in such a way that he or she ends up alive, rather than fatally freezer-burned or what have you. If you can make a case for some such thing without resorting to handwaving or unobtainium crystals, I'll reconsider -- but I'd rather see something that sticks a little closer to scientific fact.

Patricia, remember that the occasional off topic comment is welcome, but a series of them might be better suited to the Green Wizards forum.

Wagelaborer, oog. These people would be easy pickings for some fanatic in jackboots...

Dltrammel, many thanks!

Matt, exactly. If all that hallucinatory money were to start chasing real wealth, we'd have hyperinflation in no time -- thus the various gimmicks to keep it safely confined to paper of various kinds. The question is how long that can be kept up as the supply of real wealth continues to decline.

Sean, that's a topic for an entire post, not just a brief comment -- and I'll consider it. The very short form is that the more severe the actual shortfalls become, the more frantically the privileged struggle to claim an unfair share of what's left, and the more extreme the imbalance in the distribution of wealth becomes. I've written on this in a number of previous posts, but it probably deserves another look.

Avalterra, yes, I should have said something about that, shouldn't I? The contract is a standard book contract, with an equal share of the royalties on the book's sales going to each author whose story is included in the book; there's no advance, but my story in volume 1 has already brought in more than I'd have gotten from all but the top end of SF short story markets, and it'll keep on paying royalties until the book goes out of print.

James, thank you. It looks as though Twilight's Last Gleaming was actually too optimistic on that score.

donalfagan said...

@John Wheeler, hydrinos are supposed to be a lower energy state than the currently accepted ground state of hydrogen, so I don't know how the increased mass of a muon would fit in to that. Here's a discussion:

Sean Adam Boucher said...

Hi, John, thanks for the quick response. It's appreciated!

As a quick note, is there any quick way to find previous posts on the subject? I'd like to check them out. If there isn't a method, no worries.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Unknown said...

With the technical/astronomical advent of spring, even if the weather hasn't cooperated, we've seen the return of a number of spring birds which were accompanied by a ?murder? of crows in the neighborhood. Am tempted to try to make friends with them with a few jars of peanuts.

I'd like to see someone write their story about the ascendancy of the crows or ravens as the next tech society or not so tech society and see what that looks like, per some comments of JMG in a past post imagining the future through various leaps of orders of magnitudes of years.

I'm more of a paint pictures guy than write fiction so I doubt I'd ever get it done, but I'd like to read it.

Diana Haugh said...

Sigh People who can't write like Jack Vance shouldn't try but there's no holding some folks back from making fools of themselves
The Last Days of Woolaburra is ready for your reading pleasure or displeasure as the case may be at

John Michael Greer said...

Ed-M, those space bats do seem to be fluttering in a lot of high-tech belfries these days -- or maybe it's the squirrels.

Carl, in your place I'd get out as soon as possible. Once it really starts sinking in that the drought is here to stay, and the exodus starts, any real estate you own in California will very quickly become impossible to sell. I'll be talking about that in an upcoming post.

Sean, I don't know of an easy way to do it -- it would take me a while to find the relevant posts, and I wrote the things!

Unknown, why not give it a try? 2500 words isn't that much work, you know.

Diana, folly or not, you're in the contest. Please drop me the usual comment with a current email address, so I can contact you if your story gets chosen.

Kaitain said...

Speaking of American boondoggles, the US House of Representative voted to send weapons to Ukraine, which the Russians have warned would be considered an act of war. And this time, it’s not just the Neocons that are pushing this; this is a bipartisan act of mindboggling stupidity with plenty of pseudoliberal Democrats on board as well.

In response, the Chechen government is saying it will send military aid, including weapons, to Mexico and to Hispanic separatists in the Southwest US, which is former Mexican territory that was seized in the 1840’s and which the Mexicans still claim is rightfully theirs. The following is an official press release by the speaker of the parliament of the Chechen Republic:

He writes:

“The Ukrainian state arose out of the Soviet Union. It was together with the Ukrainians that Russians, Jews, Georgians, Chechens, and Armenians rebuilt that post-war Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Not one American dollar was spent of the development and rebuilding of Ukraine after WWII. Since ancient times, Moscow and Kiev built the state together; to this day, Russians and Ukrainians are fraternal peoples.

From this it follows that the US has no business advising Russia how to conduct itself with neighboring and friendly people. The supply of weapons to Ukraine will be viewed by us as a signal to act accordingly. We will begin delivery of new weapons to Mexico to resume debate on the legal status of territories annexed by the US, namely the American states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and portions of Wyoming.

We reserve the right to hold conferences in Russia, Mexico, and America with agendas about the liberation of these states from the US, and the supply of weapons to the partisans there.”

And finishes by warning the US government:

“Russia is too big a bite for you. Chill.”

We have discussed on this blog the very real likelihood that foreign governments will start bankrolling and sending weapons to insurgents and dissidents in the United States in response to all those “color revolutions” and rent-a-coups sponsored by the CIA and NGO’s with ties to the US political and intelligence establishment. We have also discussed the likelihood that countries like Russia and China are already stirring the pot by pushing anti-government propaganda aimed at right-wing dissidents in the US and EU. It looks like the Russians and their allies are starting to openly hit back for all those color revolutions and rent-a-coups by openly backing both Hispanic separatists and right wing dissidents in the United States. One wonders what other groups the Russians, Chechens and other Russian allies others are aiding as well.

When I read this, I had a real “oh, crap!” moment. It looks like the blowback is coming home to roost and its going to be nasty. What comes around goes around, and I think that Americans are not going to be very happy being on the receiving end of all those dirty tricks our government, military and intelligence community have been playing aboard.

So add this to all the other nasty consequences coming down the pike as discussed in this post and others. To paraphrase Guillaume Faye, America is facing a convergence of catastrophes, all self-inflicted. Hold onto you hats, ladies and gents, its going to get really rough…

SLClaire said...

To add another data point on how the decline is playing out: you may not have heard that here in Missouri, the MO Dept. of Transportation will not have a sufficient budget to pay for continuing to maintain all of the road network that it currently maintains by 2017. Forget any money for new construction projects at all. If it hasn't already begun or the money already been budgeted, no new construction at all by MO DOT as of 2017. By then the entire budget won't even be enough to maintain the current network that MO DOT maintains!

MO DOT's plan to address this is to designate a fraction of the network, those roads that connect the biggest towns to each other and to other places out of state, to be maintained so as to preserve them in reasonable condition. Of the rest, they'll get the occasional patch, but will mostly be allowed to slowly deteriorate. I think it's the best they can do since they haven't been able to get extra funding from any source, including MO voters.

So far, I haven't seen any evidence that ordinary people in MO have heard or understand this. MO DOT keeps pointing it out in its email blasts, but it's been drowned out by chanting of La, La, La, I can't hear you by the general public. We'll be traveling along literally as well as figuratively rough roads in the great state of MO before long.

Congratulations to the Squirrel Case winners! I remember how much I enjoyed their contributions. All the ones I read were very good indeed; those two had just that extra bit of close-to-the-truthness to make them stand out.

Shane Wilson said...

@ Beatrice,
Well, there's Nigel Farange and UKIP, that would pivot the UK away from the U.S. towards Russia. Lol.
Regarding NIRP(?) and how long it could last, I think people underestimate the ability or desire of Russia, China and other BRICS eager to change the world order to intentionally go in and pop the bubble. They certainly have the means, are ascendant and realize it, and are increasingly assertive on the world stage. It will come to that eventually, a Suez moment for the U.S., same as Eisenhower threatened to destroy the pound if Britain didn't stand down.

Tidlösa said...

Perhaps somebody already pointed this out, but here goes...

I bet NOBODY in the "Crazy Energy Solution Contest" thought of what actually happened: the fracking industry tried to sell shares to John Michael himself!


Frack! I should have thought of that one...

JMG, perhaps you could considering giving a price to the poor clerical worker who had to mail the AODA the proposal? Say, a copy of "Future´s Distant Shores"...


Tidlösa, Sweden

Karl said...

You mentioned in the blivet post that any executives of the blivet company would live upstream.

I would add lobbyists to that.

Here is a story about Patrick Moore, who was apparently with Greenpeace and now is with Monsanto. He had previously said that the company's herbicide was safe to drink, and then the interviewer told him they had a glass full in the studio for him, and he ended the interview.

Tidlösa said...

If only... ;-)

The real story comes in the second part of the article...

Greg Belvedere said...

Thanks. You pretty much summed up why I did not write the story the last time around. I think for a setting so far in the future a character from present time would make it more complicated to write anyway, especially given the constraints of a short story. Perhaps I will give the contest a shot if I can find the time and inspiration hits. Thought the idea of Elon Musk waking up in a future that looks nothing like the one he expects amuses as much as his regular statements about the coming techno utopia.

Btw, I read Star's Reach recently and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I look forward to checking out some of the anthologies as well.

Michael McG said...

Breaking the grip of conventional wisdom? I’ll give it a shot by way of writing a story but have little hope in any significant change coming about other than perhaps generating some well needed laughter.

I believe that large scale complex systems have a life force of their own and a strong desire or tendency to survive unchanged in core structures. Heck even little tad bits of such systems have an uncanny ability to persist well beyond sell by dates.

While redoing the kitchen in my new old house last year I happened to find an unopened box of Hostess Twinkies long fallen behind a cabinet drawer. I estimated it to be at least 40 years old.

Though not partaking, when opening a package of these cake encrusted cream filled jewels and dissecting one, it appeared to be as fresh as the day it was made.

It seems the chemical food industry has ways around entropy; perhaps the Twinks still have millennia or so before they starts to crumble, perhaps this same technology can be applied to a larger scale so that things never change? I will never know but true believers in the “Everlasting Twinkie” may one day find out.

Perhaps that is a good start for my story a thousand years hence…

Thank you for sharing your thoughtful inspiring views in writing and getting me off my duff to write and start a new religion.

“Chew your Twinkies well!”

BTW the correct response to the greeting above is simply “Chomp”.


KJB said...

I thought it was interesting when I came across an article published today by the website Cracked. (if you are unfamiliar, Cracked is a website which posts articles that often mix information with comedy, aimed primarily at young adults). The article, “4 Iconic Parts of Suburbs That Are Going Away Forever”, points out issues occurring with suburban life.

At first I was surprised that a comedy website had written an article about this; however, the more I thought about it the more I realized that there has been a general increase in these sorts of information/opinions among my generation. Gardening is becoming more popular. I’m meeting more people whom have an interest in antique stores, flea markets, garage sales, and dumpster diving. John Green, the author influential among teens and young adults, commented in a vlog about the unsustainability of our current path. In a time when the youngest generations are generally considered glued to screens, it’s fascinating to see this growing minority start to take shape.

I’m curious if you have also noticed this trend in the younger generations. If so, how do you think it will influence the decades to come?

Robert Mathiesen said...

Carl, New England has plenty of water still, many rural small towns in the region still self-govern by means of town meetings (run under Robert's Rules of Order), and many small-town schools are still very good. Stay away from the New England cities, though.

The real problem with relocating to a small town in New England is that it's relatively hard to have a career while living in one. The older pattern of working at a bit of this and a dab of that to get enough money for taxes, etc., is still an option, but hardly an appealing one for any person used to a well-off life style and steady employment.

team10tim said...

Hey hey all,

Here are some resources regarding sea level for the contest. If all the ice melts it puts sea level 60-70 meters above present. Here are two maps for exploring what that would look like in the area where your story is set:

If the water gets high enough it could reopen the Isthmus of Panama which closed around 4 million years ago and gave us the ice ages.

Have fun.


The other Tom said...

To jump ahead 1,000 years really unleashes the imagination. I can see a dim outline of some things humans would have to think about.
When children explore the woods, they'll find some ancient stone walls and foundations, and maybe some plastic shotgun cartridges and bottles. If there are any archaeologists around, this may be the cave art they ponder.
The local ecosystem is likely to be something we would not recognize. It would be the same landscape of rivers and hills, with a new array of flora and fauna living on it. All over the northern hemisphere, species have been migrating north, so we can only expect this to continue. This is a sad legacy, to erase entire ecosystems from living memory. A New England forest may resemble the coastal North Carolina of today.
I've been wondering, JMG, wouldn't it be especially disturbing and sad to a Druid, to change the whole cast of characters in a nature based religion? It would be like losing all your friends. Sure, you can make new ones, but it is a terrible loss. (Forgive me if this belongs in the other blog)
If humans make it another 1,000 years, once they've found their way to a stable, locally resource based system, it would have to be a very conservative society, I think. I don't mean conservative, like contemporary "conservatives" defending a rapacious system of plunder. I mean conservative, as in deeply skeptical of every huckster and demagogue who will lead us to something bigger and better. The burden of proof needs to be on those who want a sustainable life to change, not on those who stand in the way of "progress." It seems to me that a religion and mythology based on local nature would make people tremendously resistant to some Ayn Rand hero leading us to the next catastrophe. (I feel kind of ridiculous stating the obvious to an Archdruid, but I'm just thinking out loud)
A matriarchal society might be more skeptical of the warrior ethos and the general fascination with all things military. I have noticed that, in our present age, women are more opposed to military adventures than men, minority women most of all. In the run up to the invasion of Iraq, every woman I talked to was vehemently against it. They were thinking of externalized costs, like working class young people being disabled for life.

John Michael Greer said...

Kaitain, I'm not sure whether to laugh or to hide under the bed. The US continues to act as though blowback only happens to other countries; I don't think it's occurred to anybody in Washington DC that revenge is a dish best served with vodka and zakuskii.

SLClaire, a lot of other states are doing that more or less surreptitiously at this point. I wonder how much of the decline in gasoline consumption is because the rural road network is already coming apart.

Tidlösa, I'll see if the office staff saved the email! Still, it was addressed to the order I head rather than to me in particular.

Karl, thanks for that. Funny how none of the people who insist that this or that or the other product of industry is perfectly safe are willing to put that to the test themselves.

Tidlösa, oh man. That's funny. Were you reading the US news during the last days of the housing bubble in 2008? This same sort of hopelessly delusional hype was being splashed around then, too; it seems to be a normal phenomenon of a bubble about to pop.

Greg, that's why I'm willing to reconsider if you can work out the science; the thought of a story where Elon Musk has to face the real future is enticing, no question!

Michael, the fact that Twinkies are eternal is good evidence to me that they're food for the spawn of Cthulhu rather than for human beings, so your Twinkie cult may just be one of those sinister cabals Lovecraft wrote about...

KJB, it's crucial that some young people get it, and are picking up skills (such as gardening) that will actually mean something as the deindustrial transition picks up speed. Those whose only skills involve manipulating data on a screen are going to be very hard put to it to get by.

Tim, many thanks! Remember, too, that stories can be set at any point more than a millennium from now; if you want to put your story in a future ice age, or what have you, go to it.

Tony said...

@Greg, regarding getting one of the Musks of the world to face the real future:

Imagine some kind of mountain hideout, far from anywhere people are likely to go on a regular basis. Put Our Hero in some kind of cold sleep, temperature regulated by underground airflow rather than a refrigeration system, rather than freezing them. More like hibernation. Drip into their blood something that gets automatically distilled out of some kind of algae ecology exposed to the light.

He is found and noted for what he is, and revived according to instructions found in the hideout. Having stayed under much longer than anticipated, the shock to his system is immense and he has only hours to live, but the historians of the day are itching for a chance to talk to him, and they do it.

Wizard of Tas said...

I'd be tempted to have a go at writing the short story, but find I'm unable to believe that humans will live another thousand years. I don't see climate change as insurmountable, nor a nuclear holocaust.

Plastic, I believe, is the elephant hiding behind the artificial potted shrubbery concealing the gun that shot Colonel Plum in the library.

Every piece of plastic in every house, car, factory, and not a few libraries. Think that the plastic bag that just blew by, to one day confuse an ocean surfing turtle, is a crime against nature? We don't live in the great pyramids. By the time a thousand years has notched entire walls into concrete dust, just about every building we've ever seen, and the many more we haven't, will have disintegrated to a point where most of the plastic we've ever extruded will be flying wherever global warmings super winds can carry it.

Plastic islands are already forming in the foaming. A thousand years and we might be talking hdpe/per/pvc continents. Can imagine it will be healthy for the marine ecosystem. And that sickuation won't be conducive to our continued consciousness.

Nope. Just can't imagine it.

Shane Wilson said...

Man, ouch, that's bad. I remember driving the interstates in Mo. 20 years ago and how bad I thought the condition was. Not good.
you should compost the Twinkies as an experiment. If they won't break down in a compost pile, then they won't break down at all.
I'm going to be as gentle as possible about this, but the biggest issue with New England and the Northeast in general is the culture. I know you don't see yourselves this way, but people in the rest of the country, particularly the West and South, positively see red when dealing with you and your culture. You all come across as abrasive, rude, and even combative. Secondly, you all come across as very closed and cold to outsiders. I know you all get defensive about it, but it is how you are perceived. Culturally, New England and the Northeast seems a very difficult place to break in to and assimilate in to. I imagine that is why there's been so much outflow of people in this area during the late 20th early 21st century. Of course, people now no longer have the luxury of living where they want, based on superfluous reasons like pleasant climate and mild winters. Now people have to live in places capable of supporting them. Our two largest states will be virtually uninhabitable, with Florida submerged and California dehydrated. It's not going to be pretty.

pyrrhus said...

Darn, I was too busy to forward my brilliant Oil Pipeline from Europa scheme for the contest....

hapibeli said...

While reading "Walking in the Woods and Water" by Nick Hunter in 2011, as he traversed Patrick Leigh Fermer's footsteps from 1933.
This stuck out at me as I considered my daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter's plans for a self sustaining farm in upstate New York
The lines about capitalism rang true. I know that there have always been animosities there for centuries, back to Roman Imperial times, as well as other conquests, and capitalism, through the EU is just another.
As this was in 2011, I'll need to dig out what has happened since his book was published.

“ This was a notable difference from Hungary, where left-leaning people I'd met generally saw the EU as a counterbalance to nationalism, but it (the Romanian's lifestyle) was rooted in Romania's peasant culture and evils like Ceausescu. These young, modern, urban people were intensely proud that country dwellers still raised their own crops, ploughed with horses, made their own wine, butchered their own pigs, produced their own cheese, and retained some knowledge of how to harvest traditional medicines from the forest; this culture was threatened by EU regulation and the free-market ideology espoused by their government...
Now people in Brussels are saying these pigs should be sent to an abattoir, where a pig can be killed by electricity. What's the point of that? Is it better for the pig? And the peasants must pasteurise their milk, buy a license to sell it to their neighbours, they won't be allowed to sell tuica juice from the cherry tree in their own garden.
Our government is embarrassed by the fact that we still have peasants here, said Alexandria. They think it's backward, primitive. They are trying to force us off the land so foreign multinationals like Monsanto, can grow modified crops here.
They are trying to make us dependent, to take away our freedom, so we can be controlled.”

John Michael Greer said...

Other Tom, prehistory fascinates me. I know that not that many million years ago, very few of the animals and plants I know grew where I now live, and not that many million years from now, the same will be true. All things, including species and ecosystems, are transient. That doesn't happen to upset me, though I can see that it would upset some people; for me, the forms pass but the flows and the deeper patterns remain, and it's those latter that speak to me most clearly.

Wizard, there are already microbes evolving to eat plastic, which is not surprising: complex hydrocarbons have a lot of chemical energy. Give it a thousand years, with the extraordinarily rich pickings we're leaving behind, and I doubt a single scrap will be left.

Pyrrhus, you snooze, you lose!

Hapibeli, and they were quite right, with one exception: the EU didn't want to turn eastern Europe into western Europe; it wanted to bleed eastern Europe dry via the usual wealth-pump gimmickry to keep western Europe afloat. I don't envy the EU when payback time arrives...

Kaitain said...

Ironically, I had just recently started re-reading the Elric of Melnibone series by Michael Moorcock. Seems singularly appropriate given current events…

Carl said...

Robert M, thanks for the advice regarding the NE. My wife hates the cold so I think Maryland is about as far north we'd go. We could live off savings and practicing LESS for a while. Though if we could both teach for 5 more yrs we could get some retirement.
Having an 11 and 13 yr old and a house complicates the issue. There is also a small chance that next winter could be above normal. Then I have to eat crow and I had my fill of crow after Y2K.
We are talking about renting a house somewhere back east but I could always do that next summer and it wouldn't be good to just leave it empty all fall and winter.
I've been losing sleep over this.

Donald Hargraves said...

@SLClair: It's happening already in Indiana, and in an Urban area to boot – The Cline Avenue Bridge over the shipping canal was closed and - amazingly - torn down due to having been built so badly that it was a risk to those crossing over it. I'm not betting on a replacement bridge being built myself.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Shane, you greatly oversimplify the reality of New England, which actually comprises at least four or five major cultural areas with very different historical roots and distinct characteristics, as different from one another as, say, the Low Country is from West Texas.

That said, the features you mention, to the extent that they are true, seem very attractive to me. I'm an introvert, and I just plain hate it when people are all warm and open and accepting with me before we get to know one another very well.

My wife and I left California (the San Francisco Bay area) for Rhode Island in 1967, and wild horses couldn't get us to live anywhere else, now that we have gotten to know the State and its ways, and have settled in. Its ways are not our ways, but that would be true anywhere we lived. There's a good and old tradition here of minding one's own business and expecting one;'s neighbors to do the same.

Myosotis said...

The first crusade isn't even a full thousand years away, just close to. So far, but not quite unimaginable distance.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks very much for letting me know what the rats were actually up to. There is still money in scrap metal and they were probably swapping their ill-gotten gains from that enterprise into meat or maybe even peanut butter? Who knows, I wouldn't put it past the rats: The look in their eyes says that one day, they'll be the boss. It is a bit disturbing, but then all things change.

I reckon rats would actually enjoy a good, solid and diverse hedgerow. It would be rat headquarters central - they'd have a party in there. How cute are hedgehogs - I've never seen one before. Mind you they look like the Echidna which are actually on the farm here and to be found nosing and digging about the place - they love any hot weather. As a fun fact: They're a monotreme and the only other one is the platypus! A very cool but not widely repeated party trick.

Yeah, well interest rates can't go up can they? That is why the housing market is going up too. Chasing yields, but it doesn't reflected in official inflation figures. Oh my, but aren't we all being played for fools. I reckon at this point in time, inflationary pressures (where a portion of the population aren't actively benefiting eg. housing) would cause a riot - the decision makers must be aware of that outcome? Maybe? It is a dangerous game to play on such a massive scale and I don't believe that there is a winning outcome for those that hold the preponderance of power and wealth - I find it to be quite strange that they could be so clueless.

Still, economics ranks second to military authority so maybe such a game can be played over the long term? I wonder if another culture has tried it before? I've never heard of such a policy in a major power, but you never know. The real problem becomes, how do you replace your military assets because sooner or later they'll need replacing or repairing or whatever. Ouch.

I personally would have gone for infrastructure and rode the inflationary pressures as it would have brought down asset (real and intangible) values - but then that would have caused a hit to their pockets wouldn't it? Silly, silly people. The rats would not have made that mistake.

Hi Matt,

Exactly spot on! Of course that is why we don't see hyperinflation when historically that is the outcome of such a policy. They talk about deflationary pressures here but house prices and lease costs keep going up as a certain small segment of the population is rent seeking. They'll put themselves out of business is what they'll do and at that point they'll discover that what they're holding are actually tokens.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Diana,

Big boots to fill, and we can only but try.



Dagnarus said...

I think part of the reason why the modern world is so squirrely about the question of energy is a failure to realize that we haven't been recognized the fact that we haven't payed our own way on the energy front for the last 300 years. After all if we were capable of power the world with fossil fuels before it's absurd to think that we are incapable of coming up with a way to power our civilization into the future. That is of course until you take into account that the majority of what went into running the world on fossil fuels was millions of years of geology which we had nothing to do with. I'm coming to the conclusion that part of the reason why were in the mess we are currently in is that we just can't really get our head around the the fact that most of what we do is reliant upon the operations of nature, which we can influence, but not control. More than this, at least in my own head, the easiest way to conceptualize that our ways of doing things is dependent upon the natural world playing along, is to anthropomorphize nature. This of course does not gel well with the idea that natural world is all just dead matter.

Tony f. whelKs said...

Hmmm, 3015 or later.. sounds like an exciting challenge.

I've been doing a quick bit of scenario-lifting research to set some physical bounds on my world (and it looks like a lot of fellow readers have been playing with the same interactive sea-level maps I have... I wonder if Google have managed to explain the sudden surge in 'interactive sea level map' search terms yet?)

About the only firm conclusion I've made from the various 'futurists' out there is that tobacco will go out of fashion. Let's face it, who has time for cigarettes when everyone seems to be smoking their shorts?

Must go, I think there's a leading character knocking at the back door of my imagination ;-)

margfh said...


"Regarding your observations of lifestyles, modern choices thereof, and the systemic impacts of said choices, I admit to giving much thought to these points of late. Not only in terms of resource use and depletion, but also in the social networks (or lack of such) characteristic of today. My mother-in-law is now in hospice. She lived alone about two blocks from our house in this small WI town we call home. This past winter, I shoveled her driveway before heading off to work each morning after snowfall. Now, because of her medical needs in these last days/weeks/months, she is in a facility (but still here in town, which is good). I went to visit her today after work, the first time I'd been to her new place since she'd been moved there from the hospital earlier this week."

As someone who had three disabled siblings live with my husband and me, had father and mother-in-law (now just MIL) and anticipate the return of one disabled brother this is a topic of great interest to me. I started a conversation on Green Wizards on Feb. 4th if anyone is interested in continuing.

sanguinesophrosyne said...

Late last year NY finally put a ban on fracking, leaving some apparently convinced fracking fluid indeed makes the grass grow greener in PA, now we have a budding secessionist movement.

I wish we could have reaped some windfall from the warmest winter on record, instead we only seemed to get plenty of windchill, and broke the record for most consecutive days below zero.

dltrammel said...

Here's one to make you laugh.

Your Life Is Going To Stink

"Your future is going to be hard…get used to it.

That’s apparently the message from 91-year-old billionaire Charlie Munger, for years the right-hand man of one of the richest people on the planet, Warren Buffett.

Munger, the Vice-Chairman of Berkshire-Hathaway (BRK-A), is quoted by Bloomberg as telling a gathering in Los Angeles that we should all be prepared for adjusting to a world that is harder…and that we can count on the purchasing power of our money to go down over time.

That may sound cold-hearted, but Yahoo Finance Columnist Rick Newman says no, it really isn’t.

“He’s spot-on and he’s not the only one saying this,” he argues. “Things have not been very good since 2000. We’re already in that period he’s talking about. That’s why six years after a recovery from a recession it feels like a recession to a lot of people.”

He's basically saying what we have been, that the age of easy living is over.

I did laugh at this:

“Right now it looks grim but there is a great future out there, and people coming of age today have more technology in the palms of their hands than they used to put a spaceship on the moon in 1969,” Task points out. “There’s got to be some benefit from that.”

We have more tech so we have to be doing better!!!

Varun Bhaskar said...


I will stick with the 1000 year time line. Hot weather and wetlands make for interesting stories.

Troy Sanchez said...

Consumerism will end up looking to future generations like wearing a novelty phallus costume. It is cumbersome, you can't see where you are going and the symbol of fertility is lost when you're kicked in the groin. Much like society's collective ignorance, debt serfdom leading to an inability to flip the bird at the boss and leave morally questionable employment and the loss of biodiversity and family bonding time.

Nastarana said...

Dear Shane Wilson,

I also will try to be nice, abiding as best I can by the Archdruid's rules and wishes.

I moved from the West Coast to upstate NY 5 years ago to be near grandbabies. The climate is atrocious, library services laughable and I can't believe I am living in a town with no bookstore. In addition, the town is roughly divided between persons whose ancestors came from Poland, Ireland and Italy. The Poles indiscriminately dislike everyone not Polish, the Irish don't speak to non-Catholics and the Italians run the place.

I love it here...because, those cold, insular northeasterners leave me alone. This town places no restrictions on what you can grow in your yard, although livestock is not allowed, a good idea considering our harsh winters. I can read any kind of abstruse book I like without someone accusing me of being a culture vulture wannabe. In CA, conservative Central Valley, anything I did for myself, from cake baking to sewing to gardening was bound to hurt someone's tender feelings. I could take salsa to the company picnic but not a home baked cake. If I was wearing a homemade shirt I must not tell anyone. Mow your own lawn and you are accused of taking income away from worthy immigrant yard services. I privately consider myself a refugee from what I call the conservative cultural conformity police.

Furthermore, this state, county and town support a level of public services which would be unheard of in wealthy California. I am retired and not in need of subsidies, but I am nevertheless grateful for the lack of roving bands of desperate homeless persons, for the fact that garden tools are not being stolen out of my yard, and for the absence of panhandling. And, despite the comparatively high property taxes which support those services, rents and house prices are far, far lower than anywhere on the West Coast, and, I might also mention, buses run till 11pm, also unheard of in any WC town I know about except for SF, LA and Portland.

Pohjanakka said...

The Florida ban on Cl***te C****e is not easy to keep:

Dammerung said...

I'm going to have to insist on my assertion in the same way one must insist that a bachelor is unmarried. Whatever you call America's current economic system, it in no way meets the criteria of capitalism.

Bill Blondeau said...


My current deindustrial story is the first of a series about 3 women who (after jumping ship in the swampy almost unendurably tropical area near what used to be Haiphong) will end up doing a reverse Marco Polo, traversing Central Asia from east to west. None of them is from a culture that knows the region. They don't know one another very well either... Amongst their adventures among the eerie relics and remains of the Roof Of The World, I'm looking forward to some very interesting discussions between them: religion, culture, sexual politics, systems theory, economics, geography, cartography, and celestial navigation (one of them works for the Imperial Icelandic Hydrographer's Office), history...

Also, they access and use the emerging technologies of mind in very different ways and for different purposes. (Admittedly, one of them is characteristically stoned - but still well worth the attention.)

Alas, they fail to clear this contest's bar. The story is very firmly set circa 2560 Gregorian. (In fact, one of the protagonists is the daughter of Dina Zemena of Cass Merides, a central character in The Borax Road Affair from After Oil 3.) I have no desire to try to dislodge a story, and a set of characters, that are so firmly rooted in the interesting soil of their time.

Why - why - golly. I guess I will need to start a new story cycle further along in the centuries!

I guess it will have to be about... hmm... well. Have to think about this...

(This is the narrative device known as "suspense".)

@DianaHaugh: High marks on The Last Days of Woolaburra! A good effort towards the Jack Vance style of dialogue, that manages to be stilted and energetic at the same time.

peacegarden said...

@ Patricia Mathews

Not only do French presses make excellent coffee, the glass carafes and each individual part of the “plunging” mechanism are replaceable! I won’t even bother to tell my sad tale of coffee makers gone wild…terribly made and non-fixable.

My son in law is a tech geek and insists on buying us gifts that we can’t bring ourselves to use (but that we make sure to have out when he visits), even though we asked all our children to just make/buy us something that we can consume (a pound of coffee, a plate of cookies, etc.) Please know we love him dearly and don't want to hurt his feelings.

Christmas, 2013, it was a Keurig. What a wasteful invention. I read that the inventor is feeling a little guilty about the environmental impact of all those little plastic pods.
That one is in the basement.

The stovetop cowgirl coffee sounds pretty good to me…I’m going to try that method to brew my roasted dandelion root…probably needs a good long simmer!



The other Tom said...

@Shane, Et all,
I feel obliged to weigh in on the Great New England Controversy, as a native who can add some context.
I grew up in a small town here, left after high school to live all over North America and then came back because I wanted to.
It is true that a newcomer will always be a bit of an outsider, and that people want to take their time getting to know you. The flip side is that if you are from here, it really feels like you are from somewhere, like it's more permanent and more something you can count on, compared to other places I've lived. I know people who moved here and eventually found their niche. It took a long time, and then they don't want to leave.
I would add that there are not only different cultural areas here, but the differences from town to town are distinct. I live in a small city 40 miles from where I grew up, and part of my identify here is the town I'm from. One of the first things you know about every new acquaintance is what town they grew up in.
It's not for everybody, but if you take the time to establish yourself here the connections feel very strong.

Ben said...

JMG, I went to hear Jared Diamond speak last night. He was talking mostly about the topics in his most recent book, which I'm sure is well-researched and interesting, but didn't have much to do with collapse. During the short Q&A, someone did ask him what he thought the chances were for the collapse of industrial society. He said he thought the chances were 51% in favor of industrial civilization surviving, 49% against. He said he thought the solutions to our most pressing environmental & resource problems are rooted in out decision making, since our problems are a product of that decesion making. I doubt many people in the audience connected the dots between their lifestyle choices and the larger issue.

pygmycory said...

Any objection to a story set in the former northern Canada? I'm thinking that the Mackenzie river basin looks like a very interesting place for a society in a warmer world.

SMJ said...

Hello JMG

So if there has yet to be a civilisation to manage a controlled descent, then what would you say is the best case scenario for this one?


C.L. Kelley said...

Carl - don't know if you're still reading this far down, but there are a few of us in the are between Belfast and Blue Hill in Maine - cheap housing and land, good community and long-term nonelectric infrastructure. Lots of opportunities to make your own job. Drop me a line in the comment box at if you'd like to hear more. This winter was the worst in living memory, and this Bay Area transplant did all right - don't let the snow scare you off.

Catoctin Mountain Mama said...


Many thanks for carefully fostering this little corner of the Universe. I have been lurking for about a year now and can't tell you how much I look forward to your weekly posts!

Your recent postings have lit a fire under me. Thank you.

Your warnings pushed me to finally acquire those quails, I had been thinking about for a bit. We now have 12 quail happily living in our tiny backyard in our suburban Northern Virginia neighborhood. Last month, for my 36th birthday, mu husband bought me a well-made quail cage and I couldn't be happier. We are now getting 5-7 eggs a day!

Other ways, recent postings and comments have inspired me.

I took a four day shoe-making class and made my own pair of leather turnshoes that should last me a few decades.

I finally rehydrated the brown rice sourdough culture, I had hanging around. My girls love the pancakes I have been making with the starter.

I have happily begun writing with a fountain pen. What a lovely tactile experience, I've been missing.

I signed up for a permactulure course that will start in May.

I dug out my Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Home Study Course and have begun completing the homework assignments.

When asked what I wanted for my birthday by my mother, I requested my grandfather's manual time.

Perhaps, if I can carve out some time, I'll write a story for this most recent contest. At least 1,000 years in the future? What a challenge. I love it!

Again, a heartfelt thanks to you and the inspiring community here!


peacegarden said...

@ Matt Wallin

Had to read out loud to my husband your succinct take on what has been happening on the financial front. You nailed it! We have been talking around the ideas you wrote about, but were never able to pull them together. Add that it was written so eloquently.

I don’t get to give out gold stars here, but if I could, you would get one.



latheChuck said...

Cherokee: I once had a family of rats move into my compost bin. (My mother had naively put some greasy bones into it. Until then, and ever since I evicted these, I have never seen rats around compost.)

I solved the rat problem with a simple snap trap, but the technique for using it isn't quite so simple. I baited the trap with peanut butter wrapped in cotton string (so it had to be chewed off, rather than licked). I set the trap out at dusk, and brought it back in just an hour or two later, empty or full. Never leave the trap out overnight! If you leave it out, you'll probably find the trap somewhere other than where you left it, with a few disgusting rat remnants.

If the rats are as smart as we suspect, they'll learn from their neighbor's unfortunate example to keep a wary distance from anything that smells like peanut butter.

Bring in the trap promptly, and the deceased rat is relatively pleasant to handle (with gloves, of course, in case of ticks, mites, fleas, etc.) And the rat's friends and relations won't suspect a thing. I buried them to fertilize the vegetables.

John Michael Greer said...

Kaitain, I wonder if you recall a post I did on exactly that theme.

Myosotis, exactly. A thousand years is peanuts when it comes to deep time, but it's far enough to force some degree of historical perspective.

Cherokee, the rats and the echidnas may be in cahoots, you know. ;-)

Dagnarus, bingo! You get tonight's gold star for stating the unmentionable difficulty at the heart of the myth of progress.

Tony, glad to hear it. I'll look forward to your story.

Sanguine, give it a couple of years, and those folks will be very glad they didn't get fracked.

Dltrammel, that's priceless. What he hasn't realized is just how badly his own life is going to stink -- well, until he ends up dangling from a lamppost along with his fellow one percenters, and thereafter the stink will be coming from a slightly different process.

Varun, by all means. I'll look forward to your story.

Troy, you know, that's got to be the most innovative metaphor for consumerism I've heard in a very long time, or possibly ever. I don't usually give out two gold stars in a single night, but this deserves one.

Pohjanakka, funny! Thanks for the link.

John Michael Greer said...

Dammerung, words take their meanings from context and usage, not from some sort of dictionary in the sky. Are bachelors unmarried by definition? I've known quite a few people who got their bachelor's degrees when they were married, and a few hundred years ago, "unmarried man" wasn't the usual meaning of the word. In the same way, the word "capitalism" is just a label, and it's a label whose meaning is inevitably contested and variable, over time and across different contexts.

Just as socialist countries in the real world inevitably pick up characteristics that aren't part of the Marxist definition of socialism, by the way, capitalist societies in the real world pick up characteristics that aren't part of anybody's abstract definition of capitalism. The distortion of the political process is one of those, because capitalism leads to increasing disparities of wealth, which allow the rich to buy elections and manipulate the political process for their own benefit. That always happens in a capitalist society, so it's a bit absurd to insist that a society that does that isn't capitalist!

Bill, exactly -- all you need to do is figure out what's going to happen to your Circumpolar world in another five centuries, and go from there. I'll look forward to your story.

Ben, if Diamond had pointed out the connection between the crisis of our age and the lifestyles of the people in the auditorium, he would have been booed from the stage. He was probably wise not to bring it up.

Pygmycory, any corner of the world is fair game. The previous volumes have had stories set in Tasmania, South Africa, Iceland, and northern Britain, so northwest Canada isn't even particularly exotic.

SMJ, er, in case you haven't noticed, I've been discussing exactly that point at great length for almost nine years now!

Mountain Mama, delighted to hear it. To my mind, those are the kinds of changes that matter.

Stein L said...

While California's drought problem is certainly challenge, I don't think it makes sense to claim that the state has only one year of water left, without reservoirs being replenished soon.

It really depends upon water allocation. CA agriculture receives almost 4/5 of available resources. It then comes down to the economic impact of restricting water to agriculture in the state.
To my surprise, and that of everyone I later told of this, CA agri contributes only about 1% to the state's GDP. It does so while employing less than 4% of the work force in the state.
In other words, water resources will be reallocated in order to ensure that economic activity in the state outside agriculture continues. You may doubt those numbers, I certainly did. But the PDF at this link gives you all the stat's you require. This UC Davis detailed overview should be documentation enough. (Page 21 for the agribiz contribution to GDP)

Rather, one should ask how much sense it makes to grow water intensive crops in the desert. And it definitely doesn't make any sense at all to grow alfalfa in CA, for export as feed to Chinese cattle.
In fact, the exportation of agricultural products should also be considered export of water -- those greens, vegetables and cattle feed exports are full of water.

CA has to face the music on this issue, and the outcome doesn't bode well for today's profligacy with water resources, as exemplified by the CA agri-sector.

If agriculture was a significant part of CA's overall economy, then this would be a tougher knot to cut.

Tony f. whelKs said...

In considering this time frame, certain themes are already coming to mind for exploration, namely myth and memory. As has been said 'In Europe, 100 miles is a long distance; in America 100 years is a long time'.

I have no difficulty placing myself in a historical sweep of millenia. (Some) people here still hold strong views about Richard III, Robin Hood, or King John. We remain familiar with characters and milieus dating as far back as the story brief asks us to look forward, and this is transmitted through time by various channels. This raises a stylistic question, for as my characters begin to speak to me - or should I say sing? - I'm wondering whether it would be within bounds to challenge the narrative form? Specifically, my characters are emerging in the form of an epic poem intoned by some future skald. So, would a submission in the mode of a Gilgamesh, Iliad or Beowulf be considered, or would a more traditional prose narrative be preferred?

Dau Branchazel said...


I'm so glad to hear that the new competition is set so far in the future. Since 2009, I have been researching and character developing a novel set roughly two thousand years in the future in the south west of Western Australia.

I've decided after reading your latest post to flesh out a section of the story from a different POV and submit it here.

As to the topic of your post, the less important one, the one about the current collapse of society as we know it or something, in Australia we currently have the collapse of the mining boom, and mining magnate Andrew Forrest suggesting that the major iron ore companies essentially form a cartel to cap production to revert the dramatic drop in prices and save their, ahem, assets.

The reason for this drop in iron prices: over-production. Over-production used by magnates such as Andrew Forrest, Gina Reinhardt and Clive Palmer in our country to get filthy rich. They have all become so brazen in their self serving political fiddling (Palmer is actually a Federal MP) exclaiming loudly and often to know what was in the best interests of the country.

Obviously it was in the best interest of our country to extract as much as possible of arguably the most valuable ores mankind has ever managed to manipulate and sell it as quickly as possible. all the while try to lower local wages, extort indigenous land managers, fight tooth and nail against attempts at wealth distribution and and then send the nation broke.

Phew, I'm so glad for people like that, and they make make pretty craters too.

Cheers, guys

Shane Wilson said...

Thanks for the reminders about regional differences.
I would second JMG'S suggestion. A mere wet year does not undo the drought and the long term effects of global warming in California. Get out while the gettins still good!
I'll do a shameless plug for my region, the South. The South is one of the most diverse parts of the country, with immigration and African Americans moving back from other parts of the country. Many parts, including the upper South, have ample rainfall and are predicted to continue having ample rainfall as global warming picks up speed. The people are famous for being welcoming and hospitable. If you embrace the South, it will embrace you back. We have rich biodiversity. The cost of living and tax burden is among the lowest in the nation. Real estate prices are low. Since the U.S. is becoming a third world country, the South, as its poorest area, is best equipped to survive with flying colors. We've struggled so long that we're more resilient than wealthier regions. The South is used to dealing with unretractable problems like poverty, etc with grace and dignity. We make no pretence about a non existent, classless, egalitarian society, unlike some regions. We have a long history of resisting the dominant American culture, and are the most culturally unique area of the country. We are the spiritual home of the African American experience in America. As collapse happens, we don't have as far to go. We industrialized very late, so traditional, non industrial traditions are still alive in some areas, and not as far removed as areas that industrialized sooner. We have a deep and abiding tradition of being "our brother's keeper" which can seem stifling, yet in a future where community and connections will be more important, being able to depend on others and reciprocate in kind will be vital.

Shane Wilson said...

Speaking of California, I have a friend who's a California transplant who's enamored of this eco group out of Petaluma. I just turn a deaf ear to anything purporting to be "sustainable" in California, because there's nothing sustainable about living in such a fragile, arid ecosystem in an age of global warming. Talk about system blindness. Has anyone also noticed an uptick in California plate sightings in their communities in the last few years?

Ed-M said...


Our cat hunted down a rat and she chased it into our living-dining room, killed it and placed it at one of the dining chairs! She was so proud of herself, too.

So my SO took it and placed it at the base of our back garden compost pile. I happened upon it later and promptly buried it under more compost.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Carl: Head on over to the Green Wizards forum if you want to talk more about moving vs. adapting in place - there are lots of topics on that, as many of us are looking at our surroundings. You might even chat with GW's in the areas you're looking at - might help get specific info.

Dau Branchazel said...

Oh, and just to clarify, only one entry will be selected from a single author, but can a single author enter more than one story?

Just in case.

Carl said...

Shane,Cathy, CL Kelley, thanks for all the advice - it's really appreciated. I'll chk out GW forum, I'm registered. About Eco group in Peteluma, I know the one you're probably talking about as I've gone on some of their permaculture and chicken coop tours. They're pretty convinced that grey water systems will save us. While they are helpful, they only work if you have water to start with and at this point we're running out of that.

Shane Wilson said...

@ Stein l, Carl
The question to ask, is how much clout does ag have in the state government, the legislature? How much do they spend on lobbying and campaign contributions relative to other businesses? Their clout is a measure of their control of water resources. Secondly, as JMG has mentioned, the further into a crisis people get, the more committed people are to maintaining the status quo in the teeth of reality. Therefore, I expect business as usual to continue until crisis hits. Judging by the current actions, California is sleepwalking into a crisis. I've heard from people that ornamental watering was entirely suspended in droughts in the 70s and 80s that were not nearly as severe as this one. Therefore, even if you prepare as much as possible, setting up greywater and rain catchment systems, you still have to contend with all your neighbors that didn't. California is extremely overpopulated relative to its ecosystem's carrying capacity.

Ed-M said...

Donald Hargraves and SLClair,

Indiana and Missouri aren't the only states with infrastructure issues! In Boston, where I grew up, two very large bridges -- the Long Island Bridge and the Northern Avenue Bridge -- recently were inspected and found to be unsafe for any traffic whatsoever, even pedestrian traffic, and were promptly shut down. Now it looks like the city will have to spend about $100M to replace the two, $90M on the Long Island Bridge alone.

Long Island is where all the homeless shelters are, or "were", so guess which bridge will receive priority....

My head hurts!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Since some of the comments here are discussing the pros and cons of staying put or resettling in entirely different places, perhaps a link to an essay on another blog, "Thoughts on Settlement and Place" will be on topic. Its appended comments are mostly worth reading.

John Michael Greer said...

Stein, fascinating. I didn't know that agriculture had become that small of a fraction of the state economy, either.

Tony, it needs to be a traditional short story. I agree that people a millennia from now will be much more likely to prefer their stories as epic poems recited to the sound of some simple stringed instrument, but these stories are meant to be read by people today!

Dau, and of course the iron magnates haven't stopped to consider the likely consequences of their actions on the lives of their own children and grandchildren, to say nothing of their chances of being torn to bloody gobbets by a mob or the like. We get the same thing over here.

As for the multiple-story thing, that was covered in the contest rules: "You can write more than one story, but please let me know which one you want entered in the competition — there will be only one entry accepted per author this time."

Moshe Braner said...

Figuring out the impact on California of losing its agricultural sector is a slippery but intriguing challenge. We all know that "GDP" is a bad measure. Indeed, in the Wikipedia page describing the CA economy, a pie chart shows that the largest pieces of it are:
* education, health and other services 18% (paid for how?)
* real estate renting and leasing (i.e., people exchanging money without producing anything): 17%
* trade, transportation and utilities 16% (transporting what? some of it agricultural products, no?)
The same pie chart says that ag & mining together are 2% of the state GDP. But the same wiki page says that "According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California agriculture is nearly a $36.6 billion dollar industry that generates $100 billion in related economic activity." That would be about 1.8% of the state GDP, generating another 5% of the state GDP in "related activity".

Moreover, if the food from CA stopped coming, all of us will pay more for food (from where?), and Californians too will have to pay for food imported from elsewhere. Let them pay the prices we've been paying here in Vermont for produce from CA...

I also wonder how much smaller the CA wholesale ag products market is than the same products sold at retail elsewhere!

Dau Branchazel said...

Ha! Thanks. Hopefully my writing will outdo my reading skills.

Tony f. whelKs said...


Thanks for the clarification - I was wondering how I'd manage to squeeze some of the details into the poetic form ;-)

Rest assured, the poem will still be written and posted to my blog in due course, if anyone is interested.

This is going to be fun - my best friend has already fallen in love with the heroine ...

Tony f. whelKs said...

Ooops, forgot to add, this is where it all happens:,-0.5315&zoom=8&m=50&type=satellite

heather said...

Stein L, Carl, Shane-
CA is overpopulated, in denial, and headed for disaster, no doubt. As long as we are examining the knotty issue of agriculture, though, let's not forget to ask what percentage of people in the state *eat* the produce that is currently grown with pumped groundwater? What percentage of people in other states currently get a significant amount of their food from the rains which have apparently decided to stop coming? Those figures are no doubt eyebrow-raising as well. What happens when that end of the system starts to come unraveled?
--Heather in CA

Caryn said...

Wow, what a fun creative challenge. 1000 years hence; (barring another great extinction, which would be a very short and boring story indeed) to imagine the stair-step back 'up' as opposed to the stark-steps 'down' that we see coming. We know that some but not all of Greek and Roman technology survived and was expanded upon in the early Renaissance. Which of our current technologies would be possible and worthy enough to survive or reappear?

Sadly, I can't imagine a point in our collective future without warfare, unfair hierarchical social structures and enslavement/serfdom of some sort or other. We do seem to have a really hard time cleaning up after and providing for ourselves. If history is any indication, we humans generally speaking, will do just about anything to compel someone else to do it for us. I can't see this changing.

I wish I were a writer instead of visual artist considering this. I couldn't come up with a plot to save my soul, but deffo have some good concepts, (place setting, characters).

Would you accept a graphic novel approach?

Commenter /Submitters: Anyone want a visual collaborator or illustrations? :)

Bogatyr said...

Supping my morning coffee, I opened up the website of the Independent (one of the UK broadsheets) to find the leading headline informing me that Britain has become a nation of hagglers - and it usually works. This is a big change; haggling has never been a big part of British culture, to the extent that it took me a long time to get used to it when I moved to Asia. The article presents this change as a very positive thing, giving consumers a better deal.

The third headline tells us that Britons are struggling with debt in unprecedented numbers.

Of course, there is no attempt to suggest that the two might be connected. Could it be that the citizens of a developed nation are adopting third-world shopping habits because they're all broke? Lalalala let's talk about millionaire TV presenters and boy band members leaving instead. The party must go on!

The second headline, by the way, was about our National Health Service being forced to sell off property to developers in order to raise money.

Shane Wilson said...

Well, heather, it's a system, so I guess none of it goes unaffected. A friend and I were talking about the need to scale up local food production to compensate for current and future impacts of California drought. I'm thinking we're dealing with the difference between survivable vs not survivable, rather than good or bad. There's going to be fallout for everyone. There will be social implications of a humanitarian crisis. As JMG said, the opportunities for a good outcome were lost 30-40 years ago, now it's just crisis mitigation.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG - below is actually to your readership - it has been a while since I've indulged in a good old fashioned rant, so I thought I'd shake off a bit of dust and get fired up,

I must apologise in advance - for I'm about to crack it! No seriously, this should be a truly fine rant...

It was with much interest that I read the recent back and forth discussions / comments on your blog about the current drought in California. As a person who lives in a part of the world that is - and will be again - subject to the threat of a drought most years, it would be most useful to share some experience of that with the good people of California. (I was trying a letter to the editor mode of writing, but I believe I will now revert to another mode of writing!)

Wake the frack up people! There, I've said it and I feel much better now.

In even the worst droughts here, it does rain at some point during the year. Surely you all have roofs over your heads? Then collect the water that falls onto that roof and store it in a - woo woo high tech - water tank for later use. How hard can that be? Every inch of roof space here collects rainfall - best of all it does not require any ongoing energy as it is all gravity fed. If you have that rainfall flowing out into the local gutter and away from your house and property - then you have only yourself to blame when you and your garden go thirsty!

How much water do you need anyway? Most of you lot whining about this harsh cruel world probably use 20 times the amount of water that you actually need to survive anyway - there is a whole lot further you can fall before you're facing dying of thirst. Oh my azaleas are dying - how awful, it is a real tragedy! How long was that last shower? Did you really need to wash those clothes you wore for only an hour? Honestly people - get real! Did you even think to leave any water out for the birds, reptiles or insects - whom may actually know what it means to be truly thirsty because of peoples actions?

As to agriculture, well when top soil gets depleted of course plants require more water. As well as having lots of active biology, top soil also has a neat trick of holding water. What do you expect? When fruit, grains and/or vegetables are taken from a farm - of course minerals are disappearing from that farm. Do you people think that somehow Harry Potter (never read or seen) magically replaces those minerals? Most industrial agriculture doesn't replace the full spectrum of minerals lost - so every year a little bit more disappears. Then we flush them out to sea in our manure - just where we don't need them. Well done people!


Double Pah!

And when we speak of GDP, why is it that few people ask: why is possible that GDP is increasing when we actually produce less goods and services every year.

That's right, because we include Consumption in those GDP numbers. So when some company Down Under theoretically purchases management fees and interest from a related party company in Singapore (Chinese controlled?) or Switzerland (US controlled?) to hide away their actual profits and shift them off to a low company tax haven so they avoid paying local taxes (remember this is all theoretical, although it is worth noting that apparently related party transaction with Singapore, Switzerland and Australia exceed the real world trading of goods with China by a very considerable margin) - then those management fees expenditure are possibly counted towards the local GDP numbers. Seriously, I'd have to suggest that the Emperor is currently wearing very little clothes and possibly feeling a little bit chilly.

So when people say, agriculture is only a small percentage of GDP, then that may be true, but don't bet the farm on what GDP actually means because when it is stripped away of all the tomfoolery and skulduggery it doesn’t smell so well to me.


I feel much better now. Deep breath, hold and release. hehe!



Cherokee Organics said...


I'd never even thought about that. Echidna's salvaging during the day and rats at night. They split the proceeds 50/50. Still, I wouldn't trust the rats to stick to their end of the bargain, those trusting echidna's may one day hear the story: "some rats are more equal than others". They don't say "rat cunning" for nothing!

Hi lathechuck,

Many thanks for the excellent suggestion and story.

I have to be a bit careful with a snap trap because the dogs, chickens and local wildlife all could get into a bit of trouble. Not many of them could actively resist peanut butter and incidentally, I have been unable to plant peanuts here - which would otherwise grow very well - because everything eats them.



Carl said...

Chris, I get your point about water storage but what your missing is that we have 40 million people in CA. Almost all those people don't have a place to put a water catchment container. I live in a surburban lot and have 4 50 gallon barrels under drain spouts. I can't get a 1000 gal cistern into my backyard and city won't allow it in the front yard. Water table is 300 ft down so no well drilling. In the winter none of the water is running into the street, it all stays on my property and some of my neighbors too.
I can do all these things, like short showes, less laundry, not watering grass, but most everyone else isn't. Last night a left a note
On someone's door that waters their grass everyday, they're only suppose to water it twice a week.
San Fran gets all its water from a reservoir in the serrias that is very low. What happens if that doesn't fill up next year and keeps going lower till it is dry? They couldn't collect all the water they need.
That's what I'm worried about.

Roger said...

Selling fracking investments to druidical associations?

You've heard the expression, there's a sucker born every minute. You just have to find them.

Actually, suckers aren't that hard to find. Just go to any casino or investment seminar put on by your friendly banker. Maybe the bank's brokerage arm sells fracking investments.

You see, hope springs eternal. Even after all the financial mayhem of the past generation and the howling criminality and eyes-averted (or active) government complicity.

I suppose it's in the nature of people to hope. Especially when it comes to money. And bankers know this.

So easy to get suckered. They have these attractive and charming and well spoken people that butter you up and pretend to like you. And you start to think that, by virtue of the fact that you're in a room talking about investments with young people with shining hair and gleaming teeth, you're in an exclusive club and that you're much, much smarter than the shmoe who's not.

And hope springs eternal because people don't learn. I think it was Orwell that said people spend their lives not seeing what's right under their noses.

Learning is hard. If people do learn, it's by climbing over steep slopes of wishful thinking and denial. There's a lot of pain in that.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Cherokee Organics--I'm a native Californian and have lived in this state for my entire adult life (I lived a few other places as a kid). Californians are not totally unaware of what you have to say about freshwater and soil conservation. Most are not interested, but some people have changed habits and small steps are being taken in public policy and laws both locally and at the state level.

My brother and his wife live in a part of the state that gets its water from the California Aqueduct. I suggested some things their condominium association could do to reduce water use and they were totally uninterested. My county gets its water supply locally and is paying more attention. Homeowners can fairly easily install rain capture systems and landscape with less thirsty plants, but if you rent an apartment, which about half the population does, you can't even install a low flow toilet without permission.

Unlike JMG and many others, I'm moderately optimistic about how California is going to deal with endemic drought. Media awareness is high, our legislature isn't deadlocked, useful things can be done at every level of society, some measures don't require hugely expensive new infrastructure, and the problem is setting in at a rate that allows some mitigation. I see the mitigation happening.

Another reason I'm cautiously optimistic is that the population of California contains a lot of people who moved here to find work and will move out if they can't keep it (including immigrants from other nations). The state's population always falls during recessions. Those who remain will be less prosperous for sure, but there will be fewer of us. California contains several bioregions and the mountain counties are barely populated. No one really knows what the state's carrying capacity will be in the future.

Glenn said...

An important detail on California water use. 50% is left in stream, most of the numbers you see reflect how the other 50% is used. So, 50% goes into the sea, 10% goes to the cities and 40% to agriculture.

The southern San Joaquin Valley was semi-desert, and irrigation has caused salinity problems. It will, and perhaps the rest of the San Joaquin may, have to be abandoned as agricultural land. Many growers have switched from low water demand fruit to high water demand nuts which can be mechanically harvested and reduce labour costs (increased profits). This should be reversed, or better, dry land grain crops introduced.

The Sacramento Valley will remain agriculturally viable in all but the worst droughts. The Sierra are some of the highest mountains in the lower 48, and intercept any moisture coming their way and divert it to the Central Valley; that's why Nevada is so dry. Like many civilizational problems, there are good technical and behavioral solutions. The obstacles are, as usual, culture, habit and not thinking of whole systems.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

nuku said...

@ Chris
Re the rant about drought in CA: I've read that in some states of the USA it is actually illegal to collect water off residential roofs for the homeowner's personal use!! I believe that the states make the claim that all ground water belongs to it and that it has the right to allocate where the water ultimately ends up. I believe these laws were passed at the behest of the agricultural lobby who want control of ground water, even rain that runs off your roof which, if not collected by you, would end up in rivers or underground and could be then used by farmers. Take care, OZ could be next.

latheChuck said...

Chris/Cherokee- One reason that people in the western part of North America do not capture the rain that would otherwise fall on their heads is that it may actually be illegal to do so. I haven't read the actual laws, but the legal principle is that a rain barrel impairs the natural flow of water to those who have a legal right to the water. Rivers fed by melting snow in the mountains can run many miles across dry land, and no one is allowed to dam them. And, in a legal sense, a rain barrel is just another dam.

Here's a discussion of the issue in Washington state:

Patricia Mathews said...

@nuku - Yes. My nephew in Denver says that is Colorado state law. "All your water belong to us."

SMJ said...

Hello JMG

I'd say you've provided more detail on a worst case scenario than a best case scenario! But that's just my overall impression, not any kind of in depth analysis.


Brother Kornhoer said...

Archdruid Greer:

Here's an article not related to this week's post, but directly related to a theme - the US's over-reliance on air power - that you have touched on before. I thought your readership might appreciate it:

No offense taken, of course, if this is too-far off topic to allow through.

Annette Simard said...

Ursula has been my way of knowing that feeling ng humanity is the point.

I have a full shelf of her work which is well thumbed, and has been for years. I even occasionally reread Earthsea trilogy, which I think is her less valuable work.

All hail Ursula!

Phil Harris said...

JMG & Stein
Stein wrote: “To my surprise, and that of everyone I later told of this, CA agri contributes only about 1% to the state's GDP. It does so while employing less than 4% of the work force in the state.”

I think this is an important fact. Back in 2008 I found USDA data for an article I wrote for ToD that contained the following ratios. [Unfortunately the link to the original data is now broken. Even then the latest agriculture data I could find was from 2002. The dollar value of US GDP for 2002 is still available. GDP is changed since then but the ratios will not be so very different, although biofuel will now figure as a category for continent-wide numbers.]

USA, Gross domestic product (2002) was 10.98 trillion USD: Agriculture generated less than 2% GDP.
Quote from my USDA source “Valued at $200 billion in 2002, agriculture includes a wide range of plant and animal production systems… “ [From pie chart] slightly over half [money value] is provided by livestock, slightly less than a quarter by horticultural crops and, less than a quarter by primary production, grain and oilseed crops, Soya etc. (the remainder comes from cotton and other commodity crops).

Note that ‘primary production’ crops provide almost all the base of calories and protein that the US population depends on. For example, little of the meat you eat has obtained most or any of its calories and protein directly from grass/herbage. A significant proportion of grain and Soya is fed to livestock or exported.

The ‘inverted pyramid’ that is the US food system explains in part why gardening to obtain high-nutrition fruit and vegetables can make a difference to the family health (and budget) especially in transitional arrangements when money income is both low and precarious and food stores provide poor nutrition. (Check out health statistics for ‘First Nation’ enclaves across N America – they are very poor. Official handouts of food prevent starvation but promote ill-health.) This ‘inverted pyramid’ incidentally explains much of the “10 calories of fossil fuel needed for every calorie you eat”. True for USA, but a much more favourable ratio in much of the world.

Similarly and not unconnected, the ‘inverted pyramid’ for food has its much larger economic brother in the GDP family, i.e. fossil fuel, and in particular petroleum. Nate Hagens has a good video lecture on this latter point: see the little yellow chart 17 minutes into his long lecture, and see what happens when the cost at the base of the inverted fuel pyramid raises say from 5% to 10% of GDP. You potentially have just half an economy!

PS If anybody can update my 2002 data, I would be most grateful.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Carl,

I hear you man, but in a difficult and fragile environment where there is only so much surplus, you are only ever as good as the weakest link.

What you describe about San Francisco is simply a society in overshoot of their resource base. Even still they have plenty of choices: Use less, get water from elsewhere, build a desalination plant, encourage rainwater collection in urban areas. etc... Sao Paulo in Brazil is running out of water and that would be instructional for people to look at.

Resource bases have to reflect usage in the worst of conditions, not the best.

Hi Deborah,

If they're not interested, they'll go thirsty, but first they’ll whine a whole lot.

I guess so, but if renters go thirsty because there's not much water coming out of the taps (or mud comes out with the water as I've seen as a child) then they'll find they won't be getting any rent and the houses will be worthless. Just sayin...

I'm not so sanguine, because I reckon admission of the problem is a good step in the right direction. The powers that be here built a massive desalination plant and I'll tell ya, it cost a whole lot of cash. How are the finances going in California? Could they afford that infrastructure - it was in the billions here? And I'll tell ya what, that plant uses a whole lot of electricity.

Absolutely correct, no one really knows, but where do the migrating people go and how do they get there during a recession? Those are tough questions.

Hi Glenn,

Streams do not necessarily make it to the ocean. They may on your island, but if they are held for farm dams or over extracted they may just peter out before they even reach the ocean. During the last drought here the mighty Murray River did not even make it to the lakes at the end of its run before it hit the ocean and they turned very saline...

Well it also depends on the varieties of trees that they plant and the shading of those trees. Agriculture tends to get a bit frightened by a 20 foot tall lemon tree as they are hard to pick from, so they deliberately stunt their growth. However, too little shading and the trees let too much light onto the ground which increases soil temperatures and evaporation. That also leads to decreased future rainfall. Trees with too small a root stock are also a drama as they can't tap into natural ground water sources and constantly require watering during extreme weather – unless they’re deliberately stressed which drops fruit yields to nothing. You don't see grafted trees in a natural forest, you know. Just sayin...

Imagine if I said to you that you had to swap wheat for millet? What would be your response?

Hi nuku,

Laws are only effective if they can be enforced. Who is going to know if you have a rain water tank in your backyard and very few farmers collect water from urban runoff. That law sounds completely silly to me and there would be a riot here if that was attempted. There is no town water supply where I live anyway and never will be. Australia has a culture of backyard rain water tanks so it has been long established. I remember as a lad they tried to ban rain water tanks but it wasn't very successful.



Glenn said...


"Streams do not necessarily make it to the ocean. They may on your island, but if they are held for farm dams or over extracted they may just peter out before they even reach the ocean"

Now, go back, and read what I actually wrote. 50% is left in stream. Only 50% is impounded behind various dams to start with. Yes, the Sacramento, the Eel, the Russian, the Napa the Trinity & etc. still flow into the sea. Now, the Colorado, which meanders through and forms the borders of, many states and finishes through Baha California in Mexico is indeed overdrawn at all levels and does not usually reach the sea. But it is not an internal river in California. The government of the Golden State has at least been wise enough to _try_ to leave enough water for natural processes. One result has been the _beginning_ of a recovery of the Sacramento salmon runs.

So yes, I was differentiating between pulling 50% of the water out, and only blocking 50% to start with. When I use the term "in stream flow", it means just that.

On a side note, about rain water catchment. It is forbidden by statute in most of the U.S. west for all the reasons previously mentioned. Still, in Washington State (where I live) it is encouraged at the county level (Districts in 'Strine) for individual households and the law turns a blind eye (thank you Nelson) for anything smaller than a farm.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Shane Wilson said...

I didn't mean to single out Californians. I don't think they're any worse than the rest of the country at stumbling blindly into the predicament of our future. Most of the rest of the Southwest is similarly situated. They're just situated, along with Floridians and other low lying areas, to bear the brunt of climate change. Not everyone is pragmatic about choosing a place to live, either. People pick places for different reasons. Somebody may be so wedded to California that they'd rather die than move. And that can be honorable to some.

onething said...

I spent my formative years in the northeast, most of my youth in California, and then moved to the south for about 20 years. I have to say, that for me, the south comes in 3rd. Perhaps it is just what you get used to in your formative years, but I like being able to speak direct and to the point, meaning what I say and saying what I mean, getting responses and answers that are in the ballpark of reality. Of course, there are great people everywhere, but I did find it frustrating how difficult it is to engage southerners in conversations about anything that really matters, (and I admit that I am far more philosophical than most people) and also found them nearly impossible to make friends with. In my more critical moments I started to wonder if it wasn't so much that it was difficult to get to the real person beneath the surface but that surface was all they got. All of that is something of an exaggeration, as there were exceptions to all this, but neither is it true that northerners are strident all the time. In fact, if I didn't know the prejudices, in my last 3 visits to NY City, mostly Manhattan, I would say that New Yorkers are the most polite, civilized and helpful group of all.
Well, Appalachia is now my home; I'll never leave and I love the people.
To make coffee in a pinch, or forever, you can just use a small screen like those little ones with handles from the grocery store or dollar store, pour boiling water in your a cup with the ground coffee, and then let it sit a minute and pour it through the little screen/sieve. Basically, that is French press without the press. I had a glass one that I own one of metal that will last at least 2 or 3 hundred years, if you replace the sliding screen. But, you really don't have to bother with the sliding screen.

What I'm looking for is a quality wind-up timer, so I can quit burning things. You can get them for as little as 2 dollars. I had a digital one that had an issue with the on/off switch so that the battery got run down. Anyway, why be dependent on batteries? So, I started looking online for a good quality one. I'm willing to pay more. So far, though, it looks like they don't exist. I went through customer reviews on amazon for several that looked really promising, retro, metal bodies but not one got more than three stars. All were shoddy, many of the nice, more expensive ones failing to ring right out of the box. I suspect there is one company in China making the innards for all of them.

onething said...

Catoctin Mountain Mama,

What do you use for ink for the fountain pen? I have got several turkey and goose feathers set aside to make pens from.

Shane Wilson said...

As JMG has mentioned, collectively, we're committed to stomping on the gas as the brick wall approaches, so I'm expecting at least worse than normal outcomes. You're also assuming that people behave rationally in the face of a problem, and that's just not the case here in the U.S. anymore. The best we can do here in on an individual, family, small community basis, and assume a worst case scenario from anything beyond that. Also, I'm not sure about population distribution in Australia, but here in the U.S., our most heavily populated states are the most ecologically fragile, either due to drought or coastal flooding. Basically, during the last 50 years, there's been this wholesale transfer of population to areas least able to sustain people long (or even short) term

Glenn said...


"Imagine if I said to you that you had to swap wheat for millet?"

Having no experience of millet, I have no idea. To judge by the tenor of your question, you regard it as an inferior food. There may not be a choice for California in the near future. You can only grow what will grow.

I agree with (Unknown) Deborah. There will be an exodus, great or small, of non-native Californians. The writer, Wallace Stegner, did a good job of describing American Western culture. He was careful to differentiate between boomers and settlers, or stayers. The boomers, mostly recent immigrants from other states will leave. The settlers, mostly California born, will stay.

I'm a third generation native Californian. I left 30 years ago. Not because I was dissatisfied, but because I found the NW to be an even better place for me. I'm a small boat sailor; read, under 6 meter open rowing and sailing boats, both by budget and inclination. There are infinitely more satisfying places to sail open boats, without resorting to trailering right outside our local bay than there are in all of California.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Caryn said...

This might add to the California water discussion:

It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

"Nation's Largest Desalination Plant Goes Up Near San Diego". ((next to key hometown of Vista - in Carlsbad, CA))

The other Tom said...

The discussion of collecting rainfall off the roof and the fact that this practice is apparently forbidden in some parts of the West makes me think about all the other forbidden things we will be doing.
I realize water is a hot button issue in the west, an issue I think I'll pass on, but as our economy continues to decay more and more of our activities are likely to be in violation of some ordinance or law.
I do not advocate heedless individualism and killing all the lawyers but I think there's a big grey area where living with a light footprint means not being within every law but following the ideal of cooperation in a community based on laws.
This is already an issue for people living out of their cars, or discreetly shooting squirrels for dinner with .22 shorts, or foraging on land they don't own, working under the table, bartering, or a hundred other things that violate some ordinance or tax law.
As the economy unwinds there will be more people riding freight trains and trespassing because they have to live somewhere.
I have heard of condominium complexes where you can't dry laundry outside, and other ordinances which will be patently ridiculous.
I can only hope that neighbors can be reasonable and that police and other authorities can use some judgment. Maybe wishful thinking, but in some places it seems to be working.
My great uncle lived in the woods for several years during the Great Depression. He said quite a few people set up camps that were tolerated as long as they were good neighbors and policed themselves.
Let's hope people can get real.
I will soon be on a long backpacking trip which will involve stealth camping in "unauthorized" areas, and also some foraging. As I see it, my responsibility is to camp without doing damage, and to forage selectively, without wiping out colonies of plants.

zentao said...

I hope no one has a story that requires concrete...

Peak sand:

Yet another concrete example of externalisation...

Shane Wilson said...

@Glenn, Deborah,
Actually, California is one of the most native born states now, though the roots are still shallow (very few trace their roots back more than one or two generations) IIRC, California started losing domestic population in the 70s, but was buoyed by large numbers of international immigrants that kept it growing, but that reversed in the 90s and 00s when immigrants picked other states more. Of course, many Californians moved to other western states rather than moving back East (out of the frying pan, into the fire, particularly for other arid states) It's not going to be pretty anyway you slice it, eventually, they'll have to start fighting over water. When that takes place is anyone's guess.

FiftyNiner said...

As a native inland southerner in the lower south I can relate to what you said. So much conversation down here is about nothing, or about the three things that start fights: Football; Politics; and Religion, just about in that order. Oh, I left out Nascar!
It took me most of a lifetime not to take umbrage at people who think of the South as monolithic and the same everywhere. If any place in this country could be described as a "layer cake", culturally, it would be the South!
I have a friend here in the small town where I live whose family immigrated to southern California when she was an infant. She married out there and had two sons. After a divorce she met a married a man from here and they came back here to live. She told me that the hardest thing to get use to was that when she went to the grocery store or the bank everyone she met wanted to stop and talk to her. People knew who she was even though she did not know them. She said that it was disconcerting for a couple of years until she got use to it and now she says she wouldn't return to LA under any circumstances.
Everyone has to find the place to build a nest and settle down. Isn't it wonderful that we all don't want to live in the same place!

However, seventy-five percent of the human race lives within one hundred miles of the coast. I am just outside that limit.

heather said...

Hi Chris (Cherokee)-
Whew! I hope that rant made you feel better. I know it got me thinking. I greatly respect your personal experience carefully conserving water while growing food on a homesteading scale in a very challenging environment, but I think you've got the shoe on the wrong foot with regard to both the seriousness of the drought in CA and its importance to readers of this blog. I did some research to get some references for the scale of the problem, but am suffering great frustration with properly inserting the links with my ancient tablet, so I apologize for my sloppiness here, but:
According to a California Agricultural Statistics review (easily googled), this state produces 95 % of all the processing tomatoes grown in the US, 94 % of the broccoli, 99 % of the almonds and walnuts, 95 percent of the garlic, 94 % of the processing strawberries, similarly high percentages of many stone fruits, nuts, and other veggies...The list goes on. I think people in this country might notice if these became unavailable or soared in price, not to mention our export partners. This is also not to mention the grain and alfalfa that is grown here to feed animals, which we also tend to like to eat. A recent article, titled "The C-free Diet", concurs, sharing an analysis that if the drought becomes more catastrophic than it already is, our American diet is likely to become even more "expensive and grainy" than it already is. Worse, young and poor people tend to disproportionately eat fewer fresh foods when they go up in price, further weakening our most vulnerable.

Ok, so CA agriculture tends to be pretty important to people in the US, at least those who like to eat. So we better get on that water conservation, right? Well... According to the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences (Go Aggies!), which has a California Water Blog with a post entitled "Challenging Myth and Mirage in California's Drought", Australians do the best job of any prosperous economy with a dry climate in urban water conservation. Well done, you guys! If we did a similarly brilliant job here in CA, we would accomplish a net water savings equal to...6% of our agricultural water use. Hrrmmm. We're going to need a lot of water barrels... Agriculture consumes 80% of the developed water sources in the state. So we're not just talking about a few dead azaleas here, we are talking about serious threat to the diets, or at the very least the food budgets, of tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of people, which is not likely to be addressed successfully with shorter showers. Many farmers are getting zero water from their irrigation districts this year (no snowmelt from the bare mountains), leading them to pump instead from aquifers which are rapidly depleting. The ground is literally sinking in many places in the Central Valley as we suck the underground lakes and rivers dry. The same UCD water blog I cited above, claims that the only way to achieve a really meaningful amount of "net new water" for the state is to fallow several million acres of farmland, which well may happen soon as market forces do what they do.

Yes, individual conservation action is absolutely a moral imperative and almost all of us have a long way to go with it, but it's not more than a drop in the bucket (sorry, couldn't resist) with regard to the scale of the problem. I don't think anyone here is claiming that this crazy industrial ag system is a good idea, but it's what millions of people currently depend on, and it seems to me that observing this sort of slow-motion crash is quite pertinent to the overall project of this blog. The sort of thing we all might want to get a "fracking clue" about.

But of course, that's just my perspective. (I hope this hasn't come off as a rant. I'd hate to open my mouth and put my foot in it.)
--Heather in CA

Brian Cady said...


Here's a link I thought you'd appreciate:

Ed-M said...

Glenn et al,

I'm a bit late to the water rights and damming prohibitions in the Western states, but I'll go out on a limb and presume that the county level would even permit family farms to impound water for their own agricultural use in your state, sonce the county governments seem to be looking the other way when it comes to smaller properties.


I've had that experience, too, with Manhattanites when I visited NYC back in 1997. Much friendlier people than those from Boston where I grew up. Of course I was born in Baltimore so I was never a New England Native! ;^)

Carl said...

JMG, I noticed on Sharon Arsky's blog that she's trying to sell her farm in upstate NY. It has 28 acres , 7 bd room , 100 yr old farm house and big barn. I know it's setup for goats. Check her blog if interested. She's moving with her large family (four foster kids and three of her own closer to Albany NY).
Too big of a place for me, but they do have water.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@onething -I picked up a Lux timer at our local department / variety store. It's a Lux brand. Made in China, yes, but it's been perking along for 2 years.

I checked out Lehman's, just out of curiosity. Looking at the reviews, it seems like one in four, fail. But, Lehman's has a very good return policy. Just out of curiosity, I checked their wind up alarm clocks. Also, all China made. About the same fail rate. Lew

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Re rainwater catchment and California producing most of our produce:

Here in the Chicago region, rainwater catchment is highly encouraged as a way to 1.) help ease the strain on storm sewers during rain events (when parking lots are built, cisterns are often put in underneath) and 2.) to help lessen water withdrawal from Lake Michigan for watering purposes. My husband and I got our rain barrels cheap through a county-subsidized program. The water conservation message is pertinent here and raingardens and rain barrels are seen as an aid to that.

Re California produce: a great deal of produce was grown in the eastern half of the country at one time. Now most Illinois farms are commodity/cash crop (corn 'n' soy) farms, though that is slowly beginning to change. Perhaps the California drought will help push expansion of the local food farming movement in Illinois and other states?

valekeeperx said...

Cherokee Chris and others,

RE California Water Situation, I completely understand the rant. I live in SoCal and work for a state agency that manages the water quality aspect of our water supply. I have a front-row seat and am face to face with the idiocy every day. You don’t know the half of it.

I really didn’t know that much about water management when I first started back in the early 90s. But, over the years as I’ve worked in and explored the water management system, I’ve been absolutely dumbfounded at the stupidity and hubris. Infrastructure and management systems were apparently built with an East Coast climate mindset. Instead of collecting and recharging rainfall runoff, flood control and runoff systems (built mainly before environmental actions of the early 70s) were designed to send flood waters to the ocean as quickly as possible. Larger river beds and stream beds armored with concrete and fenced off. At the same time, aqueducts built to move water hundreds of miles? Yes, it boggles the mind. Conserving water and being thoughtful? “How boring and tedious is that?” Just not sexy enough, not grand enough, doesn’t provide the necessary ego boost. Conservation and mindfulness are just too unaesthetic and pedestrian (nobody walks in LA), and besides it would require people to do something other than buy and consume.

In addition, there are several powerful and influential interests (land developers, farmers, ranchers, Chambers of Commerce, and the like) that can affect local, regional, and statewide decisions. Water managers are expected to provide the water needed to support the dream, not tell users that it might be a good idea to curtail their appetites or modify operations. Managers who do make such unappealing suggestions are soon looking for employment elsewhere. It wasn’t until this last dry period that ground water pumping in the Central Valley was finally required to be monitored! Still, some things have been done to address water supply (recycling, desalting), but many of those are energy-intensive. There are conservation districts and most water agencies have some form of public education and outreach. Rain barrels, drought-tolerant vegetation, shorter showers, etc. are all encouraged, but, so far nothing with any bite regarding rationing or cutbacks. As others have pointed out, about 80% of water use in the state goes to agriculture, including a significant amount of the water-intensive sort. Gods forbid we take a longer view or consider ecological factors.

Chris, you’re talking reason and common sense, but it always comes back to people’s belief systems. Who was it that said, “you can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into.” People didn’t come to America, and especially California, to be told “no,” to have someone talk to them about limits. What a buzzkill. They came here to hit it big, to live the high life, to have their tropical gardens and palm trees, and lush expanses of green grass…swimming pools with scantily clad people. This is the end of the rainbow and people want their pot of gold (remember, in California, gold was literally washing down out of the mountains) as promised in the advertisements. “So, don’t tell me about diminishing returns.” “Just have a positive attitude, dude. Chill. They’ll think of something.”

Sigh, what the frack, indeed. Another dry day nearer to that encounter with the brick wall.

latheChuck said...

Not quite on-topic, but too good not to share:

Onions, garlic, wine, and bile from a cows stomach cooked in a brass vessel... kills MRSA!

jonathan said...

re: water rights. western states in the u.s. base their water laws on the appropriative principle--first in time is first in rights. generally, you can't alter any natural water course since that would be an appropriation against the rights of another prior user. there is nothing new about this. it's been the law in the dry parts of the country for well over a century.
in most places, however, capturing roof runoff is perfectly fine.for,e.g. oregon's approach to roof rainwater harvesting see here:
use of groundwater is similarly regulated since groundwater has no boundaries. your well lowers the water level below my property as much as it does under yours.
in wisconsin people have been fighting plans for bottled water plants in various parts of the state for decades because of the adverse effects on groundwater levels and surface flows as well.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Glenn, Ed-M et al.,

I've read a little about water rights law in California. Riparian rights, meaning the right to take water from a flowing stream, are strictly enforced, go with the land title, and older-established rights take precedence over younger. It's possible to buy land with a year-round stream flowing through it and have no right to use any of that water. I don't know about restrictions on collecting precipitation that falls on one's own property, but I've never heard that you can't do it at all.

What happens in my county isn't very important. There are fewer of a million of us and most of us either work somewhere else or operate dairy ranches. However, we are a leading indicator of what prosperous West Coast liberals will spend money on.

In Marin County rain barrels are for sale at big box home improvement stores. They are not big sellers. You are supposed to install low flow toilets and shower heads in housing when it's sold, but enforcement is spotty. I expect water capture and reuse to be the next big thing here. Grid-connected solar power generation and organic food are the current big things, seen everywhere and readily available from many suppliers. Our district's representative to the state Assembly listed water use and policy as one of his main interests in the biography he distributed on a recent visit to town.

Local agencies and nonprofits have begun promoting groundwater
recharge and flood control via permeable pavement, swales, rain gardens and greywater systems, both as voluntary retrofits and mandatory in some new construction. There is going to be tax money and ratepayer money spent to improve and expand existing reservoirs, but it has to compete with deferred maintenance on roads, bridges, and sewers, and underfunded public pension plans.

There is organized resistance to building more housing in Marin, and water shortages are both a reason and an excuse for that. My water district tried to spend money on a fossil-fueled desalination project and got a lot of pushback. Their job has an inherent conflict of interest because the more effectively they promote water conservation, the higher rates they have to charge all users.

Shane Wilson said...

Thanks, Heather, for reminding us of the importance of ramping up food production outside California as the drought continues to get worse, as it will. Global warming has that pretty much baked in the cake at this point. The importance of California agriculture, which I agree is currently vital to feeding the country, isn't going to open up the skies and provide sufficient rainfall and snowpack. just another reminder of how unsustainable and non resilient our food supply is. Predicaments vs problems. This is part of the predicament of global warming in north America

Carl said...

@ Heather, thanks for the research on CA water usage regarding different crops. That UC Davis water blog sounds good too. I know some rice farmers are selling their water to So Cal water districts as they'll make more money that way. This will start to increase rice prices. This slow crash would be a lot more fun watching if I wasn't in the middle of it.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

I'm a bit short on time and will try to respond as best as I am able to - given that restriction:

Hi lathechuck,

It is always wise to consider the legal environment that you live in, but generally I don't know of too many farms that source their water from the run off from major cities. I'd have to suggest that that particular law makes little to no sense in an urban environment.

Hi Phil,

But if GDP as a metric can be gamed, then it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to me to use it as a comparative. Dunno.

Hi Glenn,

I'm not sure I understand the relevance of your point. Some rivers make it to the ocean and some don't. I accept that fact. Generally there are geological and economic reasons that that may be the case.

Those geological reasons generally stand in the way of dam building, pumping that water to another area or the inability to get that water into locations suitable for agriculture.

I still don't understand how your point is relevant to the discussion about agricultural production and was hoping that you could explain it.

A drought may be a short term event or a long term event and you just don't know. That is uncertainty, but there are areas on the west coast of South America that have not reliable rainfall for many millennia. I've seen the Nazca lines in Peru and I'll tell you what, it is dry. How do you know that the climate has shifted in your area and how do you respond to that awareness seems to be the unasked question here?

Hi Shane,

I was not singling out Californians either.



Scotlyn said...

I've noticed that there are increasing numbers of laws and ordinances against personal water collection, personal veg growing, personal animal husbandry, personal composting, esp of personal biowaste, personal feeding of personal food waste to personal domestic critters and wild ones, personal re-use and recycling of many resources, personal harvesting of fuel, etc.

Some of these personal prohibitions would be tolerable if they were part of a collective package aimed at protecting the commons for all, but mostly they are ways to prevent individuals from disintermediating or avoiding someone's paywall.

I have a feeling none of us will be able to find the wee unregarded nooks & crannies in which to live the LESSER life without being in breach of one or another such ordinance or law. So long as we do it unobtrusively we may hope to be tolerated...

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

Perhaps some of my responses re: the California drought have been misconstrued, so I will simplify my earlier post into point form:

- I deal with droughts here;

- Droughts are serious;

- People and farming can adapt to drought conditions if they have the gumption to do so;

- It is generally does not make economic sense in the short term to invest in drought adaption techniques;

- Droughts reduce agricultural yields;

- Agriculture is an issue that affects everyone - regardless of their station or location;

- I have only goodwill towards the Californian people;

- A difference in size is not a difference in type. Over reliance on agriculture from one area of the continent is an error;

- Long term droughts to my mind are indicative of ecological overshoot as they represent serious damage to a fragile environment;

- Not all rivers are suitable for use as either storage or extraction for agriculture due to economic and/or geological issues; and

- It may be a very big ask to relocate several million people.

I think that about covers all of the issues raised.



Shane Wilson said...

Here in KY, we've gone from a tobacco monoculture (with some corn thrown in) to a diverse agriculture, with lots of locally grown vegetables and other foods (the "KY proud" logo pops up quite a bit now). I wonder if this, and similar efforts elsewhere, explain why food prices haven't increased as much as one would expect, given the drought? Maybe we're already adapting.

Glenn said...

Chris said:

"I'm not sure I understand the relevance of your point. Some rivers make it to the ocean and some don't. I accept that fact. Generally there are geological and economic reasons that that may be the case."

Your initial remark gave me the impression you didn't know much about the California Rivers. I was trying to make the point that the State made a deliberate choice to leave some in stream flow; they had learned something from the Colorado.

"I still don't understand how your point is relevant to the discussion about agricultural production"

I left that part out, sorry. The major Ag. corps are going to lobby to tap the remaining in stream flow rather than reduce use or crop land area. It will be a huge fight, and they have lots of political clout. How it affects production is obvious, whether they can access the "unharvested" water and continue business as usual or not.

"A drought may be a short term event or a long term event and you just don't know."-- "How do you know that the climate has shifted in your area and how do you respond to that awareness seems to be the question?"

Fair dinkum. The Colorado River compact was made based on a river flow baseline from an unusually wet period of perhaps 40 or 50 years. More recent studies using various proxies and archeological digs seem to indicate we're near the beginning of another dry period in the Southwest similar to the one that ended the Pueblo civilization, even without global climate change.

If you really want to understand water in the American West in general, and California in particular, I'll make the same recommendation I've made to our host and others; read Marc Reisner's "Cadillac Desert; The American West and it's Disappearing Water". For extra fun, read "The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California" by Curt Gentry in 1968, it's a little dated now, but perfectly describes the state and it's influence up to the time it was published. And most of it's points about California's influence remain valid to this day.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Shane Wilson said...

Regarding western water law, I've been reading a book on water catchment/cisterns. In it are many examples from arid western states. So if the law does preclude catchment, it doesn't seem to be enforced, since people are doing it and publishing their examples, with names and info, in a book. They don't seem to concerned being afoul of the law.
Regarding western water law and water rights, my God, what an arcane clusterfrack! Geez, talk about something patently designed to create future violent conflict! What happens when the armed, parched people who desperately need the water go up against the established rights holders? Obvious Powderkeg!

Shane Wilson said...
Speaking of the devil...

heather said...

Ahh, Chris, I agree 100% with your factual points. I am going to call you, however, on your "quit whining about the drought, get a rain barrel and get a clue, boo hoo about your azaleas" tone. This particular drought may well be the beginning of the end of industrial agriculture in CA, with lots of social, political, and environmental implications. Ranting against those who comment with concern on it is less helpful than your very instructive examples of individual adaptation. I am striving to work toward your example on my own homestead, but still worry about the painful process of change for the masses. Maybe that's not helpful either, I guess.
--Heather in CA

7a688e80-b988-11e3-97eb-000bcdca4d7a said...

onething: In case Catoctin Mountain Mama doesn't get back to you before the weekly rollover -- here's the ink for your quills.

Collect a bunch of oak galls. (I read that other tannin-rich plant matter like pomegranate peels and unripe black walnuts will work, but I haven't tried them.) Add water to cover and simmer a few hours,then let the mess cool and ferment until it is moldy. Then strain it. Simmer iron filings or old nails in vinegar for a few hours. Strain, add the vinegar to the fermented liquid, and bottle immediately.

The ink initially looks pale when applied to the page but upon exposure to air a chemical reaction deepens it to a dark, permanent line.

Commercially this type of ink is available as "iron gall ink" or "registrar's ink", the latter because the Church of England required it for parish registries of births, weddings and deaths. It was the traditional ink of the West, from antiquity until the introduction of coal-tar dyes in the 20th century.

If you're not into kitchen chemistry see if you can find a local Civil War re-enactor group -- they may have someone who makes the stuff.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Two comments:

(1) Iron gall ink does tend to eat through paper in the course of many centuries. Carbon-based ink is better, and was widely used in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Recipes are not hard to find, and it's not hard to make.

(2) Shane, take a look at _The Milagro Beanfield War_, a novel by John Nichols and then a wonderful film. It highlights the same point you just made, and does so beautifully.

Thomas Prentice said...

RE: "...and new human societies will have arisen to pass their own judgment on the relics of our age."

I find this to be remarkably optimistic. I propose that we are at "Peak-Human" now and will be well into post-human in a thousand years, if not far sooner.

The Sixth Mass Extinction is upon us. A clever, crafty species, Homo sapiens has self-inflicted Human Extinction, and will take along 95% of the rest of the species unless fossil fuel finance capitalism is smashed, and smashed quickly or collapses -- with a push -- and collapses quickly.

That would be the deus ex machina -- shutdown or collapse of neoliberal empire capitalism would be the wild card intervention of sheer chance if not dumb luck (in lieu of skygods) for continued human survival on a possibly habitable planet well shy of Global Heating tipping points having been triggered with serious multiplier effects.

Meanwhile, Steve Morgan and Jason Heppenstall are pretty awesome indeed.

C.M. Mayo said...

For the Space Bats contest

"What Happened to Thelma: A Story of the Far Future"

C.M. Mayo said...

With thanks for considering.

Guillem mateo said...

John, i have a question about the challenge. We've been warned that "tours" are not allowed; the world must be showed through a real action happening on it.
However, i'm wondering if some kind of appendix or introduction can be attached to the tale, perhaps in the blog holding it. I'm thinking in a fragment of optional reading, not fundamental for the understanding of the history , but more helping to catch references and minor details the explanation of whom could make otherwise the tale to much dense. That could also leave more space for action.

anton mett said...

Just to clarify: did you mean factoid as is used in common culture to mean "little fact" or as its prescriptive definition meaning "fact that is untrue". Not trying to be picky, I just know you try to be precise in your language and this is currently a slippery word in American English.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

What if a story is best told in @ 1,000 words ? More would be just filler.

I will send you a synopsis on a separate message.

Best Hopes,


AlanfromBigEasy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlanfromBigEasy said...

A simple question.

Would a story be ineligible if

1) it was relevant and well told about events over 1,000 years in the future
2) focused on an evolution in human behavior (in my case, warfare)
3) was best told with only @ 1,000 words,

If so, I will not waste my time finishing the rough draft. I would like to know.


John Michael Greer said...

Alan, no, the word limits are firm. To my mind, less than 2500 words -- what usually get called "short-short" stories -- works for literary purposes but not for the sort of science fiction this contest is about, where the vivid and detailed imagination of an unfamiliar future is key.

Vanna Sigrid said...


A friend suggested I offer this short story.

Greg Dragon said...

Here's my humbling offering to the contest, though it's probably a little too post-apocalypse-lite for most.

Steve Bull said...

JMG, on behalf of all the fledgling authors out there, thank you for another opportunity like this.
You can locate my short story here:


Greybeard said...

Dear JMG,

Here is my offering:


John Michael Greer said...

Steve and Greybeard, got 'em. If you could each put through a comment marked "not for posting" with your email address, we're good to go. Many thanks!

Brian Bear said...

Dear JMG,
please find my entry here:

Many thanks for the opportunity!

Per said...

My story is called 3076.
It's at

Per Fagereng

aglehmer said...

Dear JMG,

Here's my offering for your consideration, Destination Antarctica!

I published it in two parts on my blog:

Appreciate the opportunity!

- Aaron Lehmer-Chang

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