Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Whisper of the Shutoff Valve

Last week’s post on the impending decline and fall of the internet fielded a great many responses. That was no surprise, to be sure; nor was I startled in the least to find that many of them rejected the thesis of the post with some heat. Contemporary pop culture’s strident insistence that technological progress is a clock that never runs backwards made such counterclaims inevitable.

Still, it’s always educational to watch the arguments fielded to prop up the increasingly shaky edifice of the modern mythology of progress, and the last week was no exception. A response I found particularly interesting from that standpoint appeared on one of the many online venues where Archdruid Report posts appear. One of the commenters insisted that my post should be rejected out of hand as mere doom and gloom; after all, he pointed out, it was ridiculous for me to suggest that fifty years from now, a majority of the population of the United States might be without reliable electricity or running water.

I’ve made the same prediction here and elsewhere a good many times. Each time, most of my readers or listeners seem to have taken it as a piece of sheer rhetorical hyperbole. The electrical grid and the assorted systems that send potable water flowing out of faucets are so basic to the rituals of everyday life in today’s America that their continued presence is taken for granted.  At most, it’s conceivable that individuals might choose not to connect to them; there’s a certain amount of talk about off-grid living here and there in the alternative media, for example.  That people who want these things might not have access to them, though, is pretty much unthinkable.

Meanwhile, in Detroit and Baltimore, tens of thousands of residents are in the process of losing their access to water and electricity.

The situation in both cities is much the same, and there’s every reason to think that identical headlines will shortly appear in reference to other cities around the nation. Not that many decades ago, Detroit and Baltimore were important industrial centers with thriving economies. Along with more than a hundred other cities in America’s Rust Belt, they were thrown under the bus with the first wave of industrial offshoring in the 1970s.  The situation for both cities has only gotten worse since that time, as the United States completed its long transition from a manufacturing economy producing goods and services to a bubble economy that mostly produces unpayable IOUs.

These days, the middle-class families whose tax payments propped up the expansive urban systems of an earlier day have long since moved out of town. Most of the remaining residents are poor, and the ongoing redistribution of wealth in America toward the very rich and away from everyone else has driven down the income of the urban poor to the point that many of them can no longer afford to pay their water and power bills. City utilities in Detroit and Baltimore have been sufficiently sensitive to political pressures that large-scale utility shutoffs have been delayed, but shifts in the political climate in both cities are bringing the delays to an end; water bills have increased steadily, more and more people have been unable to pay them, and the result is as predictable as it is brutal.

The debate over the Detroit and Baltimore shutoffs has followed the usual pattern, as one side wallows in bash-the-poor rhetoric while the other side insists plaintively that access to utilities is a human right. Neither side seems to be interested in talking about the broader context in which these disputes take shape. There are two aspects to that broader context, and it’s a tossup which is the more threatening.

The first aspect is the failure of the US economy to recover in any meaningful sense from the financial crisis of 2008. Now of course politicians from Obama on down have gone overtime grandstanding about the alleged recovery we’re in. I invite any of my readers who bought into that rhetoric to try the following simple experiment. Go to your favorite internet search engine and look up how much the fracking industry has added to the US gross domestic product each year from 2009 to 2014. Now subtract that figure from the US gross domestic product for each of those years, and see how much growth there’s actually been in the rest of the economy since the real estate bubble imploded.

What you’ll find, if you take the time to do that, is that the rest of the US economy has been flat on its back gasping for air for the last five years. What makes this even more problematic, as I’ve noted in several previous posts here, is that the great fracking boom about which we’ve heard so much for the last five years was never actually the game-changing energy revolution its promoters claimed; it was simply another installment in the series of speculative bubbles that has largely replaced constructive economic activity in this country over the last two decades or so.

What’s more, it’s not the only bubble currently being blown, and it may not even be the largest. We’ve also got a second tech-stock bubble, with money-losing internet corporations racking up absurd valuations in the stock market while they burn through millions of dollars of venture capital; we’ve got a student loan bubble, in which billions of dollars of loans that will never be paid back have been bundled, packaged, and sold to investors just like all those no-doc mortgages were a decade ago; car loans are getting the same treatment; the real estate market is fizzing again in many urban areas as investors pile into another round of lavishly marketed property investments—well, I could go on for some time. It’s entirely possible that if all the bubble activity were to be subtracted from the last five years or so of GDP, the result would show an economy in freefall.

Certainly that’s the impression that emerges if you take the time to check out those economic statistics that aren’t being systematically jiggered by the US government for PR purposes. The number of long-term unemployed in America is at an all-time high; roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure is falling to pieces; measurements of US public health—generally considered a good proxy for the real economic condition of the population—are well below those of other industrial countries, heading toward Third World levels; abandoned shopping malls litter the landscape while major retailers announce more than 6000 store closures. These are not things you see in an era of economic expansion, or even one of relative stability; they’re markers of decline.

The utility shutoffs in Detroit and Baltimore are further symptoms of the same broad process of economic unraveling. It’s true, as pundits in the media have been insisting since the story broke, that utilities get shut off for nonpayment of bills all the time. It’s equally true that shutting off the water supply of 20,000 or 30,000 people all at once is pretty much unprecedented. Both cities, please note, have had very large populations of poor people for many decades now.  Those who like to blame a “culture of poverty” for the tangled relationship between US governments and the American poor, and of course that trope has been rehashed by some of the pundits just mentioned, haven’t yet gotten around to explaining how the culture of poverty all at once inspired tens of thousands of people who had been paying their utility bills to stop doing so.

There are plenty of good reasons, after all, why poor people who used to pay their bills can’t do so any more. Standard business models in the United States used to take it for granted that the best way to run the staffing dimensions of any company, large or small, was to have as many full-time positions as possible and to use raises and other practical incentives to encourage employees who were good at their jobs to stay with the company. That approach has been increasingly unfashionable in today’s America, partly due to perverse regulatory incentives that penalize employers for offering full-time positions, partly to the emergence of attitudes in corner offices that treat employees as just another commodity. (I doubt it’s any kind of accident that most corporations nowadays refer to their employment offices as “human resource departments.” What do you do with a resource? You exploit it.)

These days, most of the jobs available to the poor are part-time, pay very little, and include nasty little clawbacks in the form of requirements that employees pay out of pocket for uniforms, equipment, and other things that employers used to provide as a matter of course. Meanwhile housing prices and rents are rising well above their post-2008 dip, and a great many other necessities are becoming more costly—inflation may be under control, or so the official statistics say, but anyone who’s been shopping at the same grocery store for the last eight years knows perfectly well that prices kept on rising anyway.

So you’ve got falling incomes running up against rising costs for food, rent, and utilities, among other things. In the resulting collision, something’s got to give, and for tens of thousands of poor Detroiters and Baltimoreans, what gave first was the ability to keep current on their water bills. Expect to see the same story playing out across the country as more people on the bottom of the income pyramid find themselves in the same situation. What you won’t hear in the media, though it’s visible enough if you know where to look and are willing to do so, is that people above the bottom of the income pyramid are also losing ground, being forced down toward economic nonpersonhood. From the middle classes down, everyone’s losing ground.

That process doesn’t continue any further than the middle class, to be sure. It’s been pointed out repeatedly that over the last four decades or so, the distribution of wealth in America has skewed further and further out of balance, with the top 20% of incomes taking a larger and larger share at the expense of everybody else. That’s an important factor in bringing about the collision just described. Some thinkers on the radical fringes of American society, which is the only place in the US you can talk about such things these days, have argued that the raw greed of the well-to-do is the sole reason why so many people lower down the ladder are being pushed further down still.

Scapegoating rhetoric of that sort is always comforting, because it holds out the promise—theoretically, if not practically—that something can be done about the situation. If only the thieving rich could be lined up against a convenient brick wall and removed from the equation in the time-honored fashion, the logic goes, people in Detroit and Baltimore could afford to pay their water bills!  I suspect we’ll hear such claims increasingly often as the years pass and more and more Americans find their access to familiar comforts and necessities slipping away.  Simple answers are always popular in such times, not least when the people being scapegoated go as far out of their way to make themselves good targets for such exercises as the American rich have done in recent decades.

John Kenneth Galbraith’s equation of the current US political and economic elite with the French aristocracy on the eve of revolution rings even more true than it did when he wrote it back in 1992, in the pages of The Culture of Contentment. The unthinking extravagances, the casual dismissal of the last shreds of noblesse oblige, the obsessive pursuit of personal advantages and private feuds without the least thought of the potential consequences, the bland inability to recognize that the power, privilege, wealth, and sheer survival of the aristocracy depended on the system the aristocrats themselves were destabilizing by their actions—it’s all there, complete with sprawling overpriced mansions that could just about double for Versailles. The urban mobs that played so large a role back in 1789 are warming up for their performances as I write these words; the only thing left to complete the picture is a few tumbrils and a guillotine, and those will doubtless arrive on cue.

The senility of the current US elite, as noted in a previous post here, is a massive political fact in today’s America. Still, it’s not the only factor in play here. Previous generations of wealthy Americans recognized without too much difficulty that their power, prosperity, and survival depended on the willingness of the rest of the population to put up with their antics. Several times already in America’s history, elite groups have allied with populist forces to push through reforms that sharply weakened the power of the wealthy elite, because they recognized that the alternative was a social explosion even more destructive to the system on which elite power depends.

I suppose it’s possible that the people currently occupying the upper ranks of the political and economic pyramid in today’s America are just that much more stupid than their equivalents in the Jacksonian, Progressive, and New Deal eras. Still, there’s at least one other explanation to hand, and it’s the second of the two threatening contextual issues mentioned earlier.

Until the nineteenth century, fresh running water piped into homes for everyday use was purely an affectation of the very rich in a few very wealthy and technologically adept societies. Sewer pipes to take dirty water and human wastes out of the house belonged in the same category. This wasn’t because nobody knew how plumbing works—the Romans had competent plumbers, for example, and water faucets and flush toilets were to be found in Roman mansions of the imperial age. The reason those same things weren’t found in every Roman house was economic, not technical.

Behind that economic issue lay an ecological reality.  White’s Law, one of the foundational principles of human ecology, states that economic development is a function of energy per capita. For a society before the industrial age, the Roman Empire had an impressive amount of energy per capita to expend; control over the agricultural economy of the Mediterranean basin, modest inputs from sunlight, water and wind, and a thriving slave industry fed by the expansion of Roman military power all fed into the capacity of Roman society to develop itself economically and technically. That’s why rich Romans had running water and iced drinks in summer, while their equivalents in ancient Greece a few centuries earlier had to make do without either one.

Fossil fuels gave industrial civilization a supply of energy many orders of magnitude greater than any previous human civilization has had—a supply vast enough that the difference remains huge even after the vast expansion of population that followed the industrial revolution. There was, however, a catch—or, more precisely, two catches. To begin with, fossil fuels are finite, nonrenewable resources; no matter how much handwaving is employed in the attempt to obscure this point—and whatever else might be in short supply these days, that sort of handwaving is not—every barrel of oil, ton of coal, or cubic foot of natural gas that’s burnt takes the world one step closer to the point at which there will be no economically extractable reserves of oil, coal, or natural gas at all.

That’s catch #1. Catch #2 is subtler, and considerably more dangerous. Oil, coal, and natural gas don’t leap out of the ground on command. They have to be extracted and processed, and this takes energy. Companies in the fossil fuel industries have always targeted the deposits that cost less to extract and process, for obvious economic reasons. What this means, though, is that over time, a larger and larger fraction of the energy yield of oil, coal, and natural gas has to be put right back into extracting and processing oil, coal, and natural gas—and this leaves less and less for all other uses.

That’s the vise that’s tightening around the American economy these days. The great fracking boom, to the extent that it wasn’t simply one more speculative gimmick aimed at the pocketbooks of chumps, was an attempt to make up for the ongoing decline of America’s conventional oilfields by going after oil that was far more expensive to extract. The fact that none of the companies at the heart of the fracking boom ever turned a profit, even when oil brought more than $100 a barrel, gives some sense of just how costly shale oil is to get out of the ground. The financial cost of extraction, though, is a proxy for the energy cost of extraction—the amount of energy, and of the products of energy, that had to be thrown into the task of getting a little extra oil out of marginal source rock.

Energy needed to extract energy, again, can’t be used for any other purpose. It doesn’t contribute to the energy surplus that makes economic development possible. As the energy industry itself takes a bigger bite out of each year’s energy production, every other economic activity loses part of the fuel that makes it run. That, in turn, is the core reason why the American economy is on the ropes, America’s infrastructure is falling to bits—and Americans in Detroit and Baltimore are facing a transition to Third World conditions, without electricity or running water.

I suspect, for what it’s worth, that the shutoff notices being mailed to tens of thousands of poor families in those two cities are a good working model for the way that industrial civilization itself will wind down. It won’t be sudden; for decades to come, there will still be people who have access to what Americans today consider the ordinary necessities and comforts of everyday life; there will just be fewer of them each year. Outside that narrowing circle, the number of economic nonpersons will grow steadily, one shutoff notice at a time.

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, the line of fracture between the senile elite and what Arnold Toynbee called the internal proletariat—the people who live within a failing civilization’s borders but receive essentially none of its benefits—eventually opens into a chasm that swallows what’s left of the civilization. Sometimes the tectonic processes that pull the chasm open are hard to miss, but there are times when they’re a good deal more difficult to sense in action, and this is one of these latter times. Listen to the whisper of the shutoff valve, and you’ll hear tens of thousands of Americans being cut off from basic services the rest of us, for the time being, still take for granted.


1 – 200 of 226   Newer›   Newest»
Doctor Westchester said...

The Lower Hudson Valley Green Wizard Meetup was held on Sunday, May 4, 2015 in Red Hook, NY. It was delightfully successful with a dozen or so people showing up. The group had a nice mix of ages, from people in their twenties to a couple in their eighties. A number of the younger people were farmers. The conversations were wonderful and there was a strong sense that people wanted to meet again.

Andy Brown said...

You've made much of the myth of Progress and I agree that that is central to the self-image of "Western" civilization. When it comes to the US, I think an equally powerful myth has been that of the Meritocracy - that success and failure is a product of virtue and personal industriousness. As Progress fails, so too does the myth of the Meritocracy. When it collapses - and it is failing - all bets are off when it comes to cultural and political continuity.

Dave Zoom said...

Before the days of piped running water and sewers the population of any given city was around 30 000 ,any more and their pollution of the water supply tended to keep the numbers down ,cutting the supply to thousands is a public health nightmare ,dysentery and cholera are third world deseases coming to a city near you .....

latheChuck said...

There are two other aspects of the "not paying the water bill" story. First, if your neighbors tell you that they haven't paid their bill in months, and the water keeps coming, do you feel like a chump for paying your bills? Some stories have reported that, when the threat of cut-off is serious, the bills DO get paid again. On the other hand, to have running water is such a part of modern life, that (when the threat is serious) friends, neighbors, and relatives find a way to pitch in to support those who really are unable to pay.

And don't forget the irony that many people drive their drinking water home from the grocery store in boxes of single-serving plastic containers, even though they could get comparably safe water for 1% of the cost, directly from the tap. Some of these may want nothing but The Best for their precious children. Some may be suspicious of the safety of public-utility water. And some of these people be the same ones who've had their tap water shut off.

John D. Wheeler said...

I suspect the smart elite solution would be to encourage people to "collapse early and avoid the rush", or, to put a more positive spin on it, to "go off grid" and "become more self-reliant". But, I think the cliche that most applies here is "as you sow, so shall you reap": the elites have done their best to create a culture of dependency, and people in such a culture do not respond well to suddenly being cut-off.

Al Sevcik said...

Snatching away access to drinkable water and to sewers promotes the spread of disease. I’m betting that governments will soon discover that either the water stays on to each home or public bath houses will have to be provided. As for electricity, do cities really want entire neighborhoods lighted by, cooking with, and heating with candles, kerosene and the like? Who will pay for the firemen? As you have pointed out again and again, the US is not ready for this. It could get ugly.

winingwizzard said...

I posted previously as Oilman2, but Goofle locked me out of my own acct - so Winingwizzard will do fine.

I work in the oil industry - all over the planet for decades. I can relate tales of depletion, show where the figures lie and explain why Peak Oil is here now, and Cheap Conventional Oil Peak was about a decade ago.

What I will tell you is that MANY of my peers have bought farms and rural property and made sure that there are unregistered water wells on them. They have built small retirement farms away from metropoli (?) and been working to make them self sufficient prior to their final exit from the oil patch. Some are in Costa Rica, Belize, Ecuador and other spots - many more are here, tucked away far from interstate highways.

You see, while we don't talk about it much, we all see the train wreck in slow motion. Shale drilling IS a huge bubble, including gas (see Art Berman's website). We have all told our kids that this will be the last oilfield generation (the 4th to be precise and Strauss-Howe-ish) of any significant size. Which is why my kids are in other professions.

California/Nevada/Arizona are all in for a big change soon by way of Mother Earth - the whisper may be heard there sooner than many expect if there is not a change in the jet stream. With us heading for a very weak solar cycle, this is very much an uncertain prospect. The southern hemisphere is hitting new low temps in their winter right now - we may well be in for the same.

There is no telling what waste-water injection wells will do to overlying aquifers - and the country is now rife with these wells from the fracking craze. It is these and not the fracking that are the cause of localized quakes. It may be leakage from these disposal wells and poorly cemented oil wells that forces certain areas into potable water shortage in the future. This potable water shortage has occurred already in West Texas, back in the early 1990's, from oil exploration.

In short, between economic craziness, natural events, solar cycles and short-sighted policies for certain industries - the valve could well be broken before it is turned off in many locales.

And it ought to be mentioned that water is the fastest means of subduing ANY mammalian creature - a few days without water and delirium sets in...

FiftyNiner said...

I just today mailed payment for last month's water--$34.32! this was for usage on two meters of less than 3000 gallons each, therefore the minimum amount due.
Actually the amount of use in total was less than 2000 gallons because we have become very aware of how much water we were wasting.
We lived through almost two weeks without water when Hurricane Ivan hit us several years ago. I did not miss the electricity after a few days. (The silence in a non-electric world is at once jarring and beautiful!) However, I missed the water immensely. My brother had had the presence of mind to store up plenty of water for drinking and cooking, so that was not a problem, but not having sufficient water for personal hygiene was exasperating.

This post put me in the mind of thinking that I will call the water well company and see what it would take to refurbish our deep well and fit it with an old time hand pump. Even if we don't use it for drinking water it would be great to have it for laundry and gardening.

Each day I am alive I feel that my impulse to avoid life in any large urban setting was correct.

Only 2% of the water on the earth is fresh water and the thought of using that most necessary of resources in such a wasteful practice as fracking is confirmation that the politicians at all levels are as senile as the plutocrats who finance them!

Cam said...

Thanks John, what I don't understand is what it takes for people to look up from their phones, tablets etc and take action? I'm not hoping for it, just wondering what is the breaking point?

PRiZM said...

This post makes it clear the many implications that have been noted in previous posts.. at least for me.

What do those people who cannot pay their water bills do? How do they recover from this situation?

As I've mentioned before, I'm currently living in China, almost 5 years now. It wasn't a bad move, considering the continuing downward spiral the US economy is in. I've met several other Americans we came here to China because they couldn't find a job that allowed them the lifestyle they wanted in America.. I've come to the realization that I'll be like those people unable to pay the water bills.. being unable to afford paying back my modest student loan, I'll probably never be able to own a house. Dealing with these harsh realities is difficult. I really can't imagine what it would feel like perhaps having to live similar to the gypsies.

Thanks as always for continuing to write and keep our minds focused on the problems we are and will be facing. I've read all your posts, but I'm not recalling to mind any that discuss the psychological issues of coming to terms with the stark realities that we will have a very different life than what many of us have dreamt about. I'd be grateful for any pointing in the right direction for dealing with such problems.

John Miller-George said...

Waving an iPhone at this post will not make it go away!

Many Thanks, JMG

patriciaormsby said...

I've forgotten when it was that we hit peak energy per capita, which you mentioned some time ago, but I recall it bringing a sort of feeling in my bones.
It was when I was a teenager that I first encountered the American brand of "optimism," but it gave me a sense of cognitive dissonance, though we were not blessed with that term yet in those days, neither with "depression," which was the state that "optimism" provoked in me. I was living in a community in which the majority strongly believed in great faeries who would ensure that whatever negative signs we were seeing (which were all for the glory of God, by the way), would not get out of hand and doubters would be duly punished for their gloominess. Aside from that laughable culture, though, my overall impression at that time was an almost imperceptibly slow decline overall, with great advances being made in some ways, and people focusing on those and blinkering out the rest.
Immigrating to Japan 30 years ago gave me a new perspective. There was an overall boost during the bubble years, and though that has faded, I don't get quite the sense of cognitive dissonance that I did in the States. That is despite the fact that the majority of people I know here seem to inhabit a sort of children's book land, upon which they most decidedly do not want reality to intrude. They are not actually denying that decline. In Japan's case, though, I suspect the change will be sudden, and try as I may, I have no way of predicting how this society will break down.
My annual visits back to the States (now curtailed) gave me an interesting fast-forward overview. I'd visit several cities and rural towns and talk to people of various social strata. The overall picture was one of a desperate battle against steady decline, resorting to crass commercialization, pyramid marketing schemes and various new religions claiming to boost people's chances of success.
I hope something nicer will emerge from the ashes.

Pinku-Sensei said...

As a resident of the inner northern suburbs of Detroit, I have a front row seat on all the features you described for Motown. In one case, I even got on stage or the playing field, as I joined a protest against the water shutoffs, the same one that the article in The Star that you linked to showed. That worked, after a fashion, as a few days later Detroit suspended shutoffs. Still, it was only temporary, as you described, for water shutoffs resumed two months later. Those shutoffs are no longer in the local news, as they aren't new anymore and the bankruptcy they were part of is over. Just the same, they're happening, and it's up to the foreign press to report them as the domestic outlets have moved on.

As for closed malls, I have one literally next door to where I teach. It was only a few months ago that the closure of Northland Mall was approved. Northland Mall was one of the oldest, if not the oldest suburban shopping malls in the U.S. That has been a long time coming, as the mall has been in decline since 2001. That makes it no less a sad sign of our times, as shopping malls are closing all over the country. Speaking of which, there is another mall north of me near Pontiac that's been closed for years. Its claim to fame is that it has a circus elephant buried in the parking lot. It would be too fitting if the deceased pachyderm had been white, but such was not the case.

As for the residents' reactions to all this, they had an opportunity to raise Michigan's sales tax to pay for road, bridge, and highway maintenance on Tuesday. They declined overwhelmingly. The measure was defeated by a 60% margin, 20% to 80%. That's the greatest drubbing a state ballot measure has ever received in Michigan. In contrast, marijuana legalization is being favored by a majority of those polled. My take is that Michigan voters subscribe to Freewheeling Franklin Freak's philosophy--"dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you though times of no dope."

Goldmund said...

I had heard of the water crises in Detroit but not Baltimore. I'm wondering now what role this had to play in the recent civil unrest there, which on the surface was about police brutality in the African American community but whose roots I'm sure run much deeper than this.

Peter VE said...

Another sign: in Florida, building officials are enforcing code provisions that make it illegal to live in a home not connected to the utility systems.
When they start enforcing the same code in Baltimore, Detroit and your town, the explosion will come. That's some catch, Catch-22....

exdeadguy said...

"Human Resources" sounds so quaint now. The company I work for calls us "Human Capital".

Thanks for this post and showing how the theoretical future of last week's post has already begun to take shape.

And a huge thanks for the blog as a whole in addition to all your other writings/projects. They provided the impetus for a wonderful meet up in the Hudson Valley last weekend of like-minded individuals.

Blueback said...

Your point about the retail sector and dead shopping malls reminded me rather forcefully of a disconcerting experience I had last weekend. I have an older used car, which I drive maybe once a week at most. Most of the time, I walk or ride my bicycle and I live within walking or cycling distance of most places I need to go, so I rarely ever drive anymore. I would get rid of the car altogether, but public transit is such a wretched joke in most parts of the USA.

There is a huge shopping mall on the other side of town, which I haven’t been to in 2 or 3 years. The mall was built around 25 years ago. That was back before I moved to the city where I now live, but I had relatives in the area so I used to visit on a regular basis with my parents and siblings when I was a teenager and I remember seeing it being built during a visit to my great grandfather, who lived on a hill overlooking the site. When I moved to town, the mall was doing quite well and there were very few vacancies. The last time I went there a few years ago, the mall was clearly struggling but most of the storefronts still had tenants.

Boy was I in for a rude shock last weekend. I was driving through that part of town on another errand and decided to stop by the old mall out of curiosity. I was amazed by what I saw. Most of the storefronts are now empty. Hardly any of the tenants from a few years ago are still there and most of the remaining tenants are ones that weren’t there a couple of years ago, suggesting a huge amount of turnover in the last few years. The old Sears is now a movie theater and the only one left in a city of 35,000, because all the others except a boutique “theater-pub” have closed. At least we still have three traditional theaters, including the one at the local junior college, but they are struggling as well. The food court, which used to have more than a dozen eateries only a couple of years ago, now has one. The rest are all covered with sheetrock like most of the storefronts. The place looked like an Old West ghost town or a set from some cheesy B movie about the zombie apocalypse. I was absolutely floored.

The following day, I went down to the nearest major city with my girlfriend. I could not believe the number of dead strip malls with no tenants. I remember listening to one of Jim Kunstler’s podcasts where he talked about the tanking of the retail sector and how many urban areas in America are filled with dead strip malls, but its quite another thing to see block after block of them. Of course, as Kunstler pointed out, America is ridiculously overbuilt on retail floor space, which is no surprise since shopping has become a sort of ersatz religion for most Americans, including a great many of those who consider themselves to be “Christian conservatives”. Kunstler noted that the US has something like 20 square feet of retail floor space per capita, while most other industrialized countries have 4-5 square feet of retail floor space per capita. Moreover, many traditional retailers have been driven under by having to compete with the likes of Amazon, Mall-Wart and Costco, but still it’s an amazing thing to see just how quickly the retail trade has gone downhill in the part of the country where I live.

The funny thing is, this is a part of the Pacific Northwest which is far better off than Detroit or Baltimore. Catabolic collapse? To paraphrase Caribou Barbie, “You Betcha!”

Eric said...

Thanks for this. I often ponder the ways that I can collect and process my own water supply. Whichever option I look into, it means using a lot less than what comes from the city so easily.

Here is the link to my story from more than 1000 years hence. Sorry I left out the link last week:


Mickey Foley said...

For all Archdruid fans in the Mpls./St. Paul area, I moderate a weekly ADR study group on Sundays at 3pm at Bob's Java Hut in Uptown Mpls. Scope the deets on Meetup.

Jay said...

I've had good results (at least relatively) explaining what's going on this way: Technology can be thought of as two dimensional. One dimension is complexity, and the other dimension is energy availability. Technology is still becoming more complex, but the amount of energy we have available has (at best) plateaued.

After people have a while to get their heads around that, you can move on to the bit where maintaining complexity requires energy.

peakfuture said...

Baltimore and Detroit are going under; but for the elites who don't live there, that is an apparent aberration.

What about cities like Boston, SF, Washington, and New York? Which one might be the 'last one standing', literally and/or figuratively?

Living in the Boston/Cambridge area, or in SF, the techies and the university folks think that everything is fine. How could universities that have existed for hundreds of years, with multi-billion dollar endowments, cease to exist? Real estate prices (and college tuition) continue to soar, no matter what, and business-as-usual must continue! The government folks in the DC area may think that their jobs can never go away. Wall Street paychecks will never end, and will continue to drive the NYC economy and region.

Which one of those cities might be the first to go the way of Baltimore and Detroit? Detroit hit a peak population of 1.8 million residents in 1950, and was 700,000 in 2010; Baltimore had 950,000 in 1950, and was 637,000 in 2007. Will population be a good weathervane to this process, or will there be other markers?

How about Las Vegas or LA? If the water stops flowing (and not because they haven't paid their water bill), that might make Baltimore and Detroit look good.

Some of the elites have raised warning signs; this is a classic:

... although the author doesn't seem the kind of guy who thinks the Internet will end one day.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Well, we are on our own well here in Washington State. of course it is powered by electricity that comes in on wires from somewhere (like Grand Coulee Dam?) And since hydropower is better than coal-fired boilers that produce steam that runs turbines etc etc, we are much much bettah! than the poor suckers elsewhere!
Did I miss anything here? I wonder if I did. Oh yes we live 12 miles out of town and have a Prius! Yessss! We are saved, until s@@t happens.

Thanks, Druid, for the headsup!

Jim of Olym

Gwaiharad said...

Meanwhile, the recently-elected governor of Texas has apparently gone off the deep end, with his insistence that some upcoming military exercises are in fact an attempt to place the entire state under martial law. A lot of people who voted for him are probably regretting it right now. You speak of the senility of the elites - I'd say he's providing a perfect example.

Bruce Port Byron said...

If anyone here needs to see the finances of the fracking bubble laid embarrassingly bare find David Einhorn's presentation at the Sohn Conference. A detailed, calculated and impassioned broadside and wake up message to the invementl community from "one of their own." Stunning in how that community has to have their "nose put in it" to even have any awareness of their duplicity.

Blueback said...

Speaking of rising discontent, growing suspicion of the government and the long march towards insurgency, have you seen the angry reaction towards a military exercise called “Jade Helm”?

The author of this blog post states:

“Start watching the video and gauge the tone and tenor of the residents and then consider that this is the heartland of the US.

SOCOM messed up bad.

I don't know if it was arrogance but they totally miscalculated the response to this massive exercise. The US military has lost the heartland. I've been hearing about a recruiting crunch and when they allow females in the infantry its gonna get worse (add that to the rest of the social engineering going on and I expect bonuses to be bigger than ever soon).

How do they fix it? I don't know if they can.”

Remember we were talking about how the US government has been laying the grounds for a possible counterinsurgency campaign here at home? To a great many Americans, this looks an awful lot like a training drill for just such a counterinsurgency campaign and there are a lot of people in Texas and the Southwestern US that are both concerned and mad as hell about it. The Governor of Texas was so concerned that Jade Helm might be used as a cover for something more nefarious that he actually put Texas military and law enforcement agencies on alert while the exercise was going on. Again, consider that this has historically been the most patriotic and pro-military part of the USA. All I can say is, wow!!! Also, notice the man wearing the AK-47 tee shirt, featuring a Russian weapon traditionally associated throughout the world with insurgency, guerilla warfare and armed revolt. Talk about a failure of mimesis!

It’s starting to look like that insurgency you and a lot of other people have been predicting would break out in the South and/or the Mountain West could be a lot closer than we expected, especially given the ham-handed stupidity of the government exhibited here and in other incidents like the Bundy Ranch, Rudy Ridge and Waco. Between incidents like this and the growing anger of African-Americans over extrajudicial executions by the police, we could see those tectonic plates shift in a hurry. After all, who would have predicted the storming of Bastille even a few weeks before it happened?

Cherokee Organics said...


This is really weird and a little bit eerie because today I ventured off to the local supplier to pick up my order for another water storage tank. You can never have too much water storage you know. This might sound like a bit of an advertisement, but the 4,000 Litre (about 1,060 gallons) water tank costs about $750. It refills from the sky for free too! Some of the bills that were mentioned in the article were many times that price.

Now before anyone bores me silly with legal arguments saying: oh no, you can't collect rain water - the state owns it! Well what do you reckon your gardens are doing when they receive rain water? Get a grip people – if the state can’t supply it, then they can hardly fine you for having your on storage! It wouldn’t be a good look…

That amount of water storage is not much at current usage levels, but I'll tell ya what, if you're thirsty and have no other access to drinking quality water then that stuff is priceless.

And I have to pay the annual water bill that turns up here despite having no assistance or supplies from that lot whatsoever. Talk about a wealth pump! Grrr!

The shutoff of basic supplies to a large percentage of an urban population is a move by the wealthy to retain their existing privileges in a system with declining wealth. It is a very dangerous game to play as it may actually galvanise opposition to that system in a large pool of people who may otherwise not having anything else in common. They would be far better to drive a wedge between the different groups and supply the basics and get them to fight amongst themselves. That major cut off is not a smart move at all from a long term strategic consideration.

Oh, did anyone happen to notice that the lady in the article living in the rental apartment building whose owner had not paid the water bills was working a 15 hour day regularly. The article sort of ignored that little matter and instead of focused outrage on the fact that she may indeed have no access to water in the near term after working such a long day. Is it just me or does anyone find that mildly surreal?

I agree with both of your points in that they reflect how the real world works.

Before running water and sewerage, diseases like typhoid and cholera were endemic because people simply disposed of their wastes as cheaply as possible. I suspect that other cracks will appear in the shutoff story down the track.

Incidentally wouldn’t it be cheaper to supply water than social workers? Just sayin…

Humanure is a good fertiliser and alternative disposal methods may have a long term silver lining for the soils. Still, back in the day a lot of people and night-soil workers used to dump the effluent into the nearest river.

If running water and electricity were a human right (whatever that means and I suspect that it is an emotive word) then everyone would have access to them. They are an economic provision and they all come at a cost.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Building walls. This week I'm racing the weather spirits that seem to want to pour rain on my yet to be completed wood shed (just got some of the roof up yesterday) and firewood. The whole shed is made from recycled and downgraded steel and it is very professionally done - if I may say so myself! More thoughts about the most sustainable fuel of them all - firewood. You can see how big some of the trees are here. Mushrooms are going off tap too (no pun intended). Plus I show more stuff and photos about how the house was built here. All good fun stuff and some very cool photos.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Just thought of something else! I recently had cataract surgery and it was apparently controlled by some kind of gizmo that was electronically operated. Also ALL the medical records at the eye doctor were on screen and not paper.
when that system goes, so go all the records of all the patients.
My naturopath OTH has only stuff she fills in with ink. My old doc whom I fired had only a screen, possibly due to current legislation or rules demanding electronic records. When all that good stuff goes, so go all our medical histories....Oldsters like me might want to get printouts so we have some recourse when thing go silly.
Jim of olym

Shane Wilson said...

Sounds like water catchment might not be just for the environmentally conscious any more.

escapefromwisconsin said...

One comment I've heard from people who like to justify the lavish lifestyles and sybaritic excesses (and tax cuts) of the uber-rich is that "they are the beta testers for the lifestyles the rest of us will someday enjoy." Wow. How can argue with that level of cluelessness? You can see why they think that - after all, once upon a time only rich people had plumbing and refrigerators and now look at us! In 1930, fewer than 10% of farms in the US had access to electricity. By the mid-1950s, almost every farm in the country had electricity. But now it seems to be a zero-sum game with Chinese expansion coming at the cost of U.S. contraction - and the former is slowing down considerably as of late.

You might find this illuminating, Wikipedia has an article on shrinking U.S. cities:

And, somewhat related, Why Scientific American's Predictions from 10 Years Ago Were So Wrong.

Strovenovus said...


Yes, it all seems hopeless-- hopeless, that is, if all that can be seen is our industrial civilization now tipping well past its (vain)glorious peak and crumbling away.

Yes, I acknowledge that denial runs rampant as millions of eyes staring into screens are counted. Yes, I admit that so many who are still "gainfully" employed are merely intermediaries clawing against the downward spiral, living on borrowed time with increasing unease.

Still, isn't the time for warnings now long past? Hasn't the barrel already been caught by the swift and inevitable current?

We are gathered 'round another barrel, not only to warm out hands and stare into the flames with you, but to try to discern the shapes of things that might yet be forged from coals before they are finally cooled, or perhaps to rake still hopeful shapes from the ash that is to be.

What might one day sprout up from the charcoal, and how we might help help that leaf unfold is of ever greater importance.

But first we must find a way through the flames. What do you say? Where do you see salvation?

Cherokee Organics said...


Oh yeah, forgot to mention this. At the bank recently, the terms and conditions for accessing funds held in term deposits have been tightened considerably. It has always been a difficult - but not impossible - thing to break a term deposit, but now it seems as if financial hardship - which has to be declared - is the only valid reason to do so. A truly fascinating move on their part. They explained it to me - as if I were a 2 year old - that the change was made to ensure that the banking system continued to stay strong. If they were any other industry, they'd be chanting the oft heard mantra: "This move will be good for consumers". What a truly fascinating time that we live in.



D.M. said...

We must have been on the same thought wavelength, as for a while now I had been thinking the same of why we have human resource departments as opposed to human being departments.


It is interesting to hear some of the news coming out of my home state. Did not know about the vote to raise sales tax.

N Montesano said...

Cherokee Organics said "Now before anyone bores me silly with legal arguments saying: oh no, you can't collect rain water - the state owns it! Well what do you reckon your gardens are doing when they receive rain water? Get a grip people – if the state can’t supply it, then they can hardly fine you for having your own storage!"
Ha. Of course they can. There are, in fact, laws against rainwater catchment in some western U.S. states. Not the one I'm in, but we have our own set of Byzantine rules. Like this one: you can store rainwater catchment for farm irrigation, but only so long as it doesn't touch the ground. If, say, you put it into a pond not completely lined with plastic, then it becomes groundwater, and you no longer have a legal right to it.
Sure, people can fight back with illegal use. Just as long as they don't get caught ...

Andrew Crews said...

JMG and readers,

I would be interested to see what real energy per capita figures look like when the energy industry portion of use is subtracted out from them? I would suspect we would have an alarming very obvious trend on our hands.

I have also been thinking about the interesting way the collapse scene has drawn concerned investors. I have been thinking the most successful investment schemes to direct non-discretionary income will be to invest in your neighbors. Your neighbor is down on hard times with a few kids, buy them some groceries for a few months. That family and their kids will never forget it, and may return the favor in some in the years ahead. When it comes to socialization and a gift economy the one thing that is essential is the chance of reciprocity. In a world where people are moving to a new city to a new job every few years, it often doesn't make sense to invest the time and effort to make a good friend. As collapse hastens this relationship will change dramatically via limiting mobility, sunk cost of housing keeping people in place, gas/car/insurance price increases. I have often thought of schemes where these gold-bug typeinvestors should be sinking their savings into small villages in central and south america, paying for basics and upgrades, then moving there to retire. I am sure the village population would help support and accept such a generous patron into their community.

Also as far as populations an apocalyptic fantasy's it is interesting how exponential functions operate very well in the other direction. For instance with 400 million people approximately the population of the United States, it only takes a population growth rate of negative 4% per year to give us a population of 54 thousand in 50 years. This is around the US population in 1880. 4% per year is rather grim with 4 people dying out of 100 every year but it is hardly apocalyptic. The Limits to growth model that has proved highly accurate doesn't even predict something this grim.

Humans are really not naturally capable of perceiving changes on larger time scales. It is something that must be learned and trained. I know I am just repeating your points in a different context, however, every time I check your facts with logic, they seem to work out. It is almost like they were arrived at through logical conclusions themselves.

In summary how do you think one can fight with both rhetoric and religious appeal the very destructive memes below?

1. If the rich were forced to have their wealth redistributed we could return to progress as usual.

2. A vast conspiracy of banks and "elite" are holding us down for their own sick end.

3. Any reflection on the past is an image of barbarism.

(In some ways I am myself resurrecting a "noble savage") The original meme is actually much different from the contemporary version. The contemporary version is worth looking at in my opinion.)

Avery said...

It seems to me that the 21st century is going to be one long game of musical chairs.

Right now, the music is moving at a pleasant speed, and it's only an abstraction to me that some people very far away are short some chairs. Even though I've read extensively from this blog, it is still difficult to imagine that there's about to be a shortage of chairs in my area. I'm an introvert, but I'm young and I've got a bit of a competitive spirit; if the game is still going on, I want to keep on winning. It's only when the music speeds up and the going gets tough that I'll realize what I should have been preparing for.

steve pearson said...

I was thinking about water cut offs that involve more than payment or non payment of bills. Many towns in the San Juaquin Valley of California rely on individual wells for their domestic water supply.Most of these wells go down 100 or so feet. With the current drought, which may well be the new normal, agribusiness is is running wells down to 1,000 or more feet and pulling up water that has taken 100s of thousands of years to fill the aquifers.Not only is this draining the aquifers, but collapsing them so that the next 100,000 years may not have anywhere to fill. Most of these wells are costing into the 100s of thousands of dollars. There is no way that home owners or renters, many of them poor agriculutral workers, can afford these prices.One can buy bottled water for drinking, cooking & tooth brushing, but not for bathing, dish washing,toilet flushing, etc.
In Australia, one can rent the trailer, buy the water to park a water trailer on ones land. I don't if this is possible in CA, or if most of these people could afford it or have room to put one. Forget about water catchment if it doesn't rain any more or they can barely afford today's food: the new totally fracked rural poor.
Cheers, Steve

Abelardsnazz said...

Another thought provoking and unsettling post. I've been wondering: that besides energy per capita providing us with economic development, in part at least, it also provides us with social development? Do fossil fuels = democracy, female emancipation, abolition of slavery, gay rights etc.

The future you paint, of mass cutting offs of services to an ever-growing proportion of the population, would require a much more rigid and authoritarian state than you've got in the US today.

Jo said...

I live in Tasmania, Australia's poorest state, similar I guess to the Appalachian region in the US. There are quite a number of towns here which do not have potable water, either contaminated with e.coli due to the state being unable to manage small town water catchments, so that these towns are on permanent 'boil water' alerts, or from heavy metal contamination from mine tailings. This was once considered to be a temporary aberration, but it is now becoming clear that these 'third world conditions' are here to stay. Luckily, there are no restrictions on private water collection here, and many people have water tanks. Others rely on trucked-in water. The state is rapidly running out of money for education and healthcare, and can only seem to find funds for building sports stadiums (shades of Roman circuses?). Our Prime Minister has recently decided to close dozens of remote Aboriginal communities in northern Australia, declaring their preference for living on the land they have occupied for 40,000 years as a 'lifestyle choice'. So no more water, electricity or health care for remote communities.

This is clearly the thin end of the wedge, with rhetoric and euphemisms for 'we are running out of money' abounding. On the back of this week's announcement of a new record low interest rate (2.25%) the Treasurer implored Australians to use this opportunity to borrow lots of money, describing the record low rate as 'fertiliser for investment'. Which was brave, considering the obvious retort..

Ondra said...

Dear JMG,

thanks for today's post.
Many things came to my mind while reading it.
First was a title of an article in New York times about difficulties with reconciling middle class identity with middle income reality...
Then, few days ago, I read this article about hot new investment opportunity in the US, the trailer parks.

The last thing is the not often mentioned fact that relatively good economic situation of the families in the past was supported by more stable marriages than we have today - at least here in central Europe. If couple gets divorced, and if they have children it is the better, then the ex-partners are sort of economic stimulus. They must buy many things twice instead of once, they spend more on commuting, on food and I don't know what else. On the other hand functioning family can support many of its needs off-market. In this view the surge of "patchwork families" and "plastic parenthood" etc. in last decades makes good sense as a part of last round of exploatation of market potential. The costs are to be paid in the future, as usually.


Jason Heppenstall said...

As utilities get shut off in major towns and cities I wonder if the resulting stench on the wind will attract one or two of those unwelcome horse men. Having recently had to clear out a smallish blocked drain myself (that will teach me not to allow cement dust to get washed into it) I have to say that the prospect of sewage systems backing up on a large scale fills me with dread. If this were to happen I don't think I'd want to hang around in a city for too long.

Speaking of blockages and effluent, you might have heard that there is an election here in the UK today. All the results indicate that there will be no overall winner and that parliament will be 'hung' (alas, this is only an expression, for the time being). People are getting pretty worked up about it all but as a long term reader of the ADR I am able to look at it all from a somewhat more philosophical angle. The well-off, who generally vote Tory, are doing their level best to ensure the remaining spoils of the economy continue to flow into their own pockets, while the less well off demand more money for health, housing, schools etc. It's lining up to be an epic battle, but of course there will be no winner.

I've actually formed my own political party - the Peak Oil Party (POP) - under the slogan "Vote for us for a slightly less worse future than the others will give you" (please deploy irony protection equipment when reading).

Jason Heppenstall said...

Speaking of the death of American manufacturing and urban decay ... I'm delighted to discover that I seem to have an iconic abandoned steel plant named after me in Pittsburgh.

Heppenstall: a study of urban decay and abandonment

Johannes Roehl said...

There is another structural problem: Sewer systems are by now often too large-dimensioned in cities or regions with declining populations. It seems that to work properly a certain amount of water has to flow through them, otherwise they get mucked up and need additional servicing or the provider has to flush them with more water to get the muck out. So independent of the actual amount of water used the costs go up with declining population because the infrastructure is too big.

Scotlyn said...

Re maintaining infrastructure grids, a data point. A major petfood company in Ireland(with a significant reliance on frozen storage) has suffered a three-day power blackout (not fixed as of this writing)due to an incident involving vandals stealing electric poles and cables. (the salvage economy of the future hastening the demise of the "expansion" economy of the past??)

@Goldmund & others. One direct link between the reduction of the middle class tax base and police brutality in cities such as Baltimore, St Louis and Detroit is that an increasing portion of city revenues are composed of fines for minor misdemeanours levied on the poorer, and especially (for hosts of deep historical and cultural reasons) the blacker citizens. (one article I read cited an average figure of $322 per household collected in that way from poor neighbourhoods in St Louis).

Such people know in their bones that the main purpose of "community policing" is to extract from them, in as heavy-handed a way as policemen can get away with, much needed revenues for the city. Thus the strong incentive of city officials to protect members of the force from being held accountable for excessive use of force in their revenue collecting activities.

Another "externality" - middle class flight from city tax bases has one reckonable cost in black lives.

nuku said...

Hi Chris, Re the change in early withdrawal of term deposits which now requires 31 days notice in addition to the interest rate penalty:
Most major NZ banks are branches of Oz ones, so the change applies here as well. I recon it is to prevent a “run on the banks” when the next financial meltdown happens.
Here in NZ, a recent banking regulation allows the govt to freeze your bank account and only allow you access to a small amount of your funds for day to day living in the event your bank gets in trouble. This is known as the “haircut.” You are then deemed an unsecured creditor and get to stand in line for whatever crumbs are left after the bank is “restructured.”

Scotlyn said...

PS - I just found a link to local coverage of the grid theft story.

Apparently power was restored yesterday (my "grapevine" hearsay version of the news was not as accurate.

Unknown said...

Listening right now to Australian State Television (ABC) running a series: The Super rich and Us.

It explores precisely the points you make about wealth transfer upwards.

asr said...

Interesting that Detroit began it's sewer system in 1836 while Baltimore was one of the last American cities to have one. It's sewer system is exactly 100 years old.

Allegedly the system will be "rehabilitated" by next year. Highly unlikely.

Chester said...


Great post -- I love when you pick your head up from your granular arguments and go big picture.

What's interesting to me, at least when you bring up Baltimore and Detroit, is the differences between the two.

On the one side is Detroit, where the retreat of social services has essentially left parts of the city as a Wild West -- where people pay for their own street lights and trash pickups and either hire security or buy guns to protect themselves. On the other is Baltimore, where white cops from states to the north are brought in to actively harass and repress the city's poor black population.

Which strategy is more likely to be employed in the urban landscape of the post-fossil economy? Indifference or repression?

aunteater said...

The more I read your blog, the more I think that my youthful visits to "developing" countries will turn out to be the most valuable education of my life. I spent about a year, cumulatively, in places where safe, piped-in drinking water was not a thing (hot water? forget it!), electricity was unreliable, and the internet was just a thing you used just to check the news back home and send email, from the cafe on the next block. And there is hardly a day I do not want to go back for another visit.

My friends there spent a lot of time visiting neighbors and relatives and going to church. They taught me how to do laundry by hand, clean house without a vacuum cleaner or a mop, and do all my cooking at home without an oven or a refrigerator. None of them had cars. And I learned a little bit about how to live graciously and comfortably on a tiny fraction of the resources I use back home in the US.

The problem is, it's a huge fight to try to emulate those things here. I want so badly to have LESS crap in my life-- to have almost no furniture and *stuff*, like my friends, just so that I can make the housecleaning quicker and less resource-intensive. But there's a lot I can't do, because we are so *&*%^ car-dependent. From my home, there is no church, relative, or place to buy food within bicycle range. One must have a car. And a big freezer.

Changing that distance is our next big project.

Leo Knight said...

Since I live near Baltimore. For a while, we seemed to have a major water main break every week. Many of the mains are close to a century old. I recently met a friend who lives in New York City, who told me of a gas explosion caused by a line of similar age.

A significant amount of the overdue water money in Baltimore is owed by businesses. Landlords who don't pay compound the problem. This mirrors the tax situation in the city. The downtown is full of glittering buildings and equally glittery people. Yet many of the corporations and non profits that occupy downtown pay little or no taxes.

Lawfish1964 said...

It's interesting that you point out an economic water shortage in places like Detroit and Baltimore, where the lack of water, for many, will be due to the inability to pay for it. Meanwhile, on the west coast, Lake Mead has reached a level not seen since 1937, when it was being filled. If the drought in the west continues for another year, the water will be gone, period.

Imagine the fury of people who have the means to pay for water at any price, but can't get it because it's simply not there. In a few short years, the lights in Vegas will go out due to the lack of power from Hoover Dam and the lack of potable water. But Lake Mead supplies at least 3 states that I know of with water, all of which are, in their native states, deserts.

It's one thing to have to catch rainwater or drill a well to get water; it's quite another to be forced with the choice to either abandon your home and move where the water is or die. When that happens, look out!

Chloe said...

I find it by turns fascinating and frightening the way people's expectations shift without their even being aware of it. We're all familiar with the mantra of "it can't happen here", but nobody ever denied that one little thing can't go wrong, or another, or another... And then by the time "it" happens (food banks or water cut-offs or war), it seems so natural that people are halfway to forgetting they ever said "it can't happen" or that life was completely different ten or twenty years ago.

It happens in bits and pieces not only within a country (as between the well-off of, say, Manhattan and the people falling off the map in Detroit) but between them. It's always hard to gauge the mood in other parts of the world, but I get the impression that things are at once more broken-down (e.g. mass water shut-offs) and a lot more entrenched (bigger houses, bigger cars, steeper student loans, air-conditioning everywhere, miles of wasteland suburbs...) in the USA than in most of Europe. One of the differences, I think, is in the awareness of the real issues facing us: people *are* starting to speak up here about the impossibility of infinite growth, the way the media frames narrative to define what is "important", and the breakdown of infrastructure. It's glimmerings of clarity at best - most people doing the writing don't seem to have made connections between apparently disparate events or understand the underlying causes, and it's not affected the mainstream paradigm yet - but it's there, and it's showing up more often in more visible places. On the street, too: apparently unlike most of your readers, I find I'm more likely to get a thoughtful nod than a blank stare if I bring up the topic, and it's generally agreed that "Americanisation" is a thing to be avoided (and was that true fifty years ago?)

Today in particular is a case of "Don't mind me, just living through history". Ten years ago the Scottish National Party were a joke; today they look set to sweep Scotland in the UK general election. It's generally agreed that Scotland - which has been content in the Union for over three hundred years - is, if things continue on their current trajectory, likely to declare independence within a couple of decades. (This, like the continuing implosion of the EU, fits a general pattern of smaller communities and localisation with decreasing energy availability, and the deer-in-headlights response of the UK elite, who have completely failed to grasp this or practically anything else about the situation, has been entertaining to watch.) I can only say I'm glad to live somewhere still capable of effecting (some) change through the processes of democracy, and with a decent chance of seeing a peaceful rather than violent breakdown. The UK might be about to fall apart, but when the tipping point is reached the USA - for all your own elections next year look set to be another two-horse popularity contest, for all that things might hold and economists claim recovery for another five years or ten - is more likely to burn. And when it comes, people will be sure that this is where things have been heading for years (will have forgotten "it can't happen here"), even if most of them still won't understand why.

Mary said...

Cherokee:"It is a very dangerous game to play as it may actually galvanise opposition to that system in a large pool of people who may otherwise not having anything else in common. They would be far better to drive a wedge between the different groups and supply the basics and get them to fight amongst themselves. That major cut off is not a smart move at all from a long term strategic consideration."
They've relied on the wedge driving for decades, if not centuries. They no longer need them. Why do you think local police depts. have been militarized? As per George Carlin, the curtain has been removed. We are facing the brick wall.

Tom Ford said...

Once I went on a 10-day Outward Bound trip in the mountains of South Carolina. Trips like these, all you and your group has is what you can carry. No tents, just plastic sheets. Oatmeal and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We got lost after a couple of days and it snowed 10-inches. We hiked and we hiked for days, trying to find our way out. We were cold, wet, dirty and we smelled like sweat and wood smoke. We finally made it out and when I got back home, I will never forget the miracles I encountered -- electric lights that flicked on with the touch of a button. Hot water that sprayed out of the shower head with the twist of a knob. The amazing bounty of food contained in the refrigerator -- all clean, cold and fresh. Clean sheets and a soft bed to lie in. To this day, 40 years after the fact, I think of those 10 days often and remind myself that just with these few amenities, that I live like a f**king king compared to the conditions endured by the majority of humanity throughout history and even today in large parts of the world.

Andrew A-J said...

I think it important to remember that plumbing not only brings water to your house, but also transports all your waste "away." Not only that, but plumbing manages storm runoff and natural water resources as well. When municipalities are unable to keep abreast of maintenance needs, expect polluted water resources and flooded basements along with dry taps.

Also, although the electrical grid may be easier to fix in some cases as the infrastructure is above ground, it is also more vulnerable to damage from natural weather events. When public utilities start to struggle under normal conditions to maintain the mammoth amount of cable strung to power our lives, imagine what will happen after a tornado, fire, ice storm, etc. I imagine service restart times after such events will increase dramatically and for outlying areas may become permanent.

I don't think panicking and going off grid is the right solution, neither is gluing yourself to your screens and humming quietly in a corner. For myself, I try and learn about my current local infrastructure and how things were done prior to fossil fuels. I want to know what will fail and where so I can avoid polluted water sources (storm sewer overflow outlets) in the event that I have to source drinking water from somewhere other than the tap or store. When things do break down that we can't fix, infrastructure from the pre-fossil fuel era offers a guide for where to put our energy for any new projects. In my city, for instance, there was a large canal, since filled in, that provided hydraulic power for a substantial industrial sector. It would not be easy to dig out such a canal again, but withdrawal is a great motivator and it was done once already so it is possible! My civic forebears also dealt with massive contamination issues in the same river and conjoined lake, something that will undoubtedly become an increasing reality as chlorination and long distance pumping become more burdensome on society. It's probably a good idea to know that this is a reality and to have some idea of how to address it instead of letting half the population die from loosened bowels.

Ian said...

While I can't speak to the water issue in Baltimore, the one in Detroit seems to be something a bit different than how I have seen it portrayed here.

I don't mean this as a criticism of your basic point about the general shifts going on, but I think that you are be cherry picking facts here because it fits the story you want to tell.

In this case, that story fosters apathy in a situation where political will has genuinely lead to some improvement.

Talking to some folks recently come out of it and digging even a little past the snippet view of this Star news coverage, it seems like the lion's share of the problem can be located in a network of issues.

Largescale failure of the water company to do basic resource management (like shutting off water to abandoned houses which take as much effort as shutting off water to occupied houses), the city's bankruptcy being used by banks to push control of the city into increasingly private hands, and an interest in the real estate of the city by foreign investors paints a somewhat different picture than simple resource decline.

Add to that the political failings and corruption that led to the bankruptcy, only a portion of which can be laid at the doorstep of manufacturing's decline.

Decline is only part of what is going on. The rest is an almost cancerous invasion of the what, for the lack of a better word, I will call global capitalism. The decline may be basically entropic and not much to be done about it, but the global capital is something that might still be checked here and there.

It might be worth keeping that in mind, because it can still make an unholy mess of things before it starves itself of air. Puttign the spotlight on water rights in Detroit is one of those things and it has made some positive shifts.

Not great ones, but I would hope you would recognize the virtues of small changes that have also motivated increasing communalization. That's groundwork for positive futures through decline.

nrgmiserncaz said...

@Exdeadguy - "Human Capital" now seems quaint as "we" (I say we as I'm a manager) have just jumped ahead and started calling our employees "Resources". We use them as such too! If they ask an employee (oops, sorry - I meant Resource) to get on a plane on a moments notice and go to the Pacific rim for three weeks and they say "no". Well, they usually don't last long.


k-dog said...

Psychologically Americans see the poor as invisible irrelevant tragedies who are responsible for their own condition. Along the same lines those well off consider their success due to their own hard work even if they have never worked a day in their entire life. It makes no sense, it is illogical and wrong headed, but this attitude is not the result of self examination or examination of any other kind. The attitude that we make our own success and that anybody can do it is a meme that is an essential part of the American character and is propaganda that is pushed at everyone in our culture every day.

"If there's one thing I know from my own life, it's that with hard work and hope, change is always within our reach." - Barack Obama

The laws of nature and the particular circumstances one finds themselves in are irrelevant to the attitude and are ignored. The hard work meme discards reality and forces a particular kind of stupidity on any brain afflicted with the meme. Evidence which contradicts it is ignored which is what happens with any deeply held attitude fueled and maintained by emotion and without evidence. The attitude kills empathy for the meme both forces and allows the affluent to ignore those who have their water cut off because they must in some way be responsible for their predicament. This could be entirely untrue but the attitude cares not.

In America we are raised not to see ourselves as a thread in a greater social fabric but as independent bolts of cloth each responsible for all our successes and all our failures. To think otherwise is blasphemy despite any and all evidence to the contrary. Our social structure depends on it and social structure will be defended even if it kills us.

Yupped said...

25 years ago, in the UK, I worked in the water utility sector. At the time, there was much visioning and excited talk about fully automated transmission and service delivery infrastructure, with all equipment controlled digitally from a central control center, automated delivery and shut-off valves, meters wirelessly connected to the billing systems and no need ever for site visits. It was an exciting technology vision, but I didn't think it made a lot of economic sense. And then I changed jobs and moved on.

Last year I sold my home, in a still affluent area of the northeast US, and was entertained by the water shut-off procedures. A real-life service person came to do the shut-off, working with the same old water meter that we'd had turned on 15 years ago, connected to the same 160 year old iron pipe that serviced the house from the street main. So, no flying cars yet and no robo-plumbers either, it seems. But the service guy was able to take a photograph of the meter reading with his iPhone, so some database somewhere is happy at least.

Progress in the virtual world is so much easier than real life.

Paul Steer said...

Allow me to wade in to the discussion about the legality of water catchment in some U.S. states. I live in on the West Coast of North America where it rains a lot. Still, water-retrictions are imposed from June through September, which coincides with the driest time of the year, July/August, which also coincides with prime growing season. Fortunately, about 8 years' ago I installed what I thought was a used, above ground swimming pool, capacity 33,000 liters. Little did I realize that it was actually a resevoir/water-catchement system! Now, with kids grown, I have lots of water to offer to my garden plants during the dry months of the year. Perhaps this is hidden-in-plain sight strategy might be found useful by others?

SamuraiArtGuy said...

As we discussed at the last Age of Limits at Four Quarters, we did indeed yank the roots from the NYC area and relocate to a semi-rural location in Berkeley Springs WV. Megastorm Sandy was a rude slap and wake up call for many folk. As the electricity was off for may urban folk for an extended period, that immediately threatened the constant influx of food, water, electricity and (mostly fossil) fuel that the NYC region is painfully dependent on.

Low income and working class people living in hi-rise projects in Coney Island and the outer boroughs with no power and their ground-level physical plant ruined by seawater flooding, were also without heat or water - in a northeastern NOVEMBER, for weeks. Meanwhile, the elite enclaves in Manhattan were all back to "normal," shiny and tidy with a fresh coat of paint and buff of polish. Screw "those" people out there in the warrens who can be ignored without consequence. Many of those places are still a shambles, and there is a good chance they will NOT be rebuild by any institutional authority, the resources and political will (or leverage) is just not there.

Was happy to ditch the region.

Decline is most certainly in progress if you're paying ATTENTION. The elites are now very blatantly and vocally defending a complete severance of any responsibility to the greater society in favor of their own power and privilege. But in a emerging post industrial era (not society - there will will be nothing planned or intentional about this ) internally dependent and cooperative communities will be critically important. We can't all be subsistence farmers. Tho' the cultivation (Heh - "cultivation") of those largely forgotten skill sets is definitely a good idea. In the Lakota traditional world, they use the phrase "Mitaquye oyasin" which is loosely translated as "we are all related." The deep awareness of the inter-dependencies and interconnectedness of all things was critical to their tribal life and survival.

It's a lesson.

asr said...

Not only do many downtown businesses in Baltimore not pay taxes, but they receive nice subsidies from the impoverished city government.

Economic "development" often equals corporate theft

Clay Dennis said...

The interesting thing about water shutoffs to urban neighborhoods is that from an engineering/cost standpoint it is the absolutely wrong thing to do. For nearly all water systems( except for desalination based ones) most of the cost is in the water delivery infrastructure ands its upkeep. Cutting off inner city customers who can't or don't pay doesn't really reduce any costs but if they stay shutoff it reduces the revenue of the system. Also the costs per person of water delivery systems in urban neighborhoods is much lower than the cost per person of water delivery systems in the suburbs or exurbs because of the greater distance between dwellings.
The logical ( but unlikely) way to handle the utility systems in a declining economy is triage them from the outside in. Cut off the water/sewer/roads/fire/police in the most dispursed areas in the outer rings of metropolitan areas and get the shrinking population to move in toward the center. But these outer areas are where the money and power reside so such an approach is unlikely. Yet another reason why the road to decline will be steeper than it has to be. The elite and the population living on fantasy island are too senile and short sighted to make the right choices.

This also derectly relates to the end of the internet. Many of last weeks' posters proclaimed the ways that it was technically possible to make the internet work in the age of scarcity. But just as with water/sewer systems the hard choices to acheive the technicaly possible will run-aground on the back of decisions to retain the status-quo as long as possible.

gaias daughter said...

A bit off topic, but I wanted to share this bit of appropriate tech with you and your readers. This young woman created a window box from leftover pieces of greenhouse panels that she had lying around. She found that it not only helps heat the house, but if used with the window shut, is a convenient, efficient solar oven. If this has already been posted, please accept my apologies.

Unknown said...

Winingwizzard, thank you for confirming what I've known viscerally for decades. I was in Gillette Wyoming in the early eighties long enough to learn enough about oil.

As to water. I departed Las Vegas area a week ago. I'd asked one too many Hendersonites about their home equity when whatever happens to lake mud happens and was let go from a dead end job.

Whatever. . .

The flip business as usual attitude there fails to conceal the anger and rage. It ramps up every day.
The level of backstabbing and dishonesty is off the charts as these folks grasp at anything to deal with the inevitable.

I spent every penny to relocate to a non urban (and yes, thats exactly what I mean) location with adequate water. I had no job. That didn't matter.

Due to focused intent, I was hired on the spot at the first place I asked for work for more money than I'd been paid in that filthy dying, desert dump.

I'm not saying this is a solution fit for everyone, only that right now the purest integral intent is pretty much what it's gonna take to pull us through this mess we may or may not have created.

Rain Waters

LewisLucanBooks said...

Salutations, Mr. Greer - So much for the decline of the cities. Now, maybe a post on what rural decline is going to look like?

Even though I only live 20 minutes from "town", I have no cell phone reception, here. My landline is down, again. The "phone" company doesn't seem very interested in tracking down the problem. I suppose the Net will go next.

I was letting out the chickens, this morning, when it kind of hit me. OK. The landline is going to go and then the Net. Breath in, breath out, deal with it. Relax.

Water (too long to go into) has also been a problem, here, for the last 6 months. Seems to be fixed, now, but I'm sure a rain catchment system is in my future. Breath in, breath out, deal with it. Lew

kwm said...

"the only thing left to complete the picture is a few tumbrils and a guillotine, and those will doubtless arrive on cue"


Travis said...

Regarding the exploiting of workers, and the way it's moving up through the ranks to the higher-paid workers, I noticed a trend at my last corporate job. It seems they are relying less on automation for many tasks. My theory is that a robot has to be paid for overtime labor, while a person does not. Fiddling with labor laws are giving them a better return than using our once-abundant fossil fuels.

Richard Johnson said...

It would seem that Chicago may be preparing for its turn on stage in this drama.

Also, if you want a quick preview as to one way the decline may present itself, take a look back in time to the self-declared state of "Forgottonia" from the 1970s.

The focus then was on transportation infrastructure primarily, which is an increasingly fragile sector of our economy. As we see an increasing neglect of infrastructure we could see more "Forgottonias" sprouting up around the nation.

buddhabythelake said...


This post is of particular interst to me, as I work at a municipal utility (though not one of the size or scope of the aforementioned cities). I consider it something of a mission to provide these basic services to the public at cost and work hard to do so. However, being in the industry, I can also see how challenging the future is going to be and have been pushing hard for us to develop our "home-grown" capabilities to the extent that we can.

The first ever national QER (quadrennial energy review) was recently published by the feds. Reading between, one can see the shadows of which you speak so eloquently:

Ric said...

Your mention of the lovely name for what used to be the Personnel department reminds me of a favorite cartoon from the New Yorker some years back. The scene is below-decks on an ancient galley, with all the poor wretches chained to their oars. The other person in view is the stereotypical hairy-backed overseer, towel cinched around his waist and whip in hand. His cell phone has just gone off, so he answers cheerfully: "Human Resources!"

Ruben said...

@Unknown (Deborah Bender)

Apologies for a late comment, I was traveling last week, and so did not keep up with the conversation.

re: soft-tissue plant grafting.

The amazing Jean-Martin Fortier grafts tomatoes, and earns a significant chunk of his very high farm income from them.

Review: The Market Gardener. Summary: Excellent.

I googled "grafting tomatoes" and got a good list of reasoning and how-tos.

Hello... said...

yes! i agree with PRizM on the question of the mass psychosis going on now. it's freaking 'elders' (around age FORTY+ is considered "elder" now once you see how tech is finished with their own 'human capital.'

but in san francisco, us on the bottom are fighting each other for scraps of slave jobs and slivers of apartments (some of those oversized victorian closets and pantries go for rent as bedrooms here).

technology and social disconnection has turned people into zombies here. it's creepy as hell how fast this has caught on. it's the internet troll come to life in all its brutal "screw you" glory.

so yeah... people have gone insane. and i've always been the "crazy art chick" before. no one does the math on this so-called "sharing" (whoring) economy, where everything is for sale, but for less than minimum wage when you factor in actual time/expenses.

so please do talk about the madness of coming to age during tinder and all this grossness.



Mark Angelini said...

"chirp, chirp, chirp!"

"what's that?"

"ah, nothing... just a canary."

*swipes at (allegedly) smartphone*

44bernhard44 said...

I'm from Germany and I've been following this blog for about 5 years now. Reading about the poor people of Detroit and Baltimore reminded me of a documentary about the US I've watched with my neighbour. It was about the american southwest; I remember they've been to Lousiana but can't remember the other states they visited. I do remember my neighbour's reaction to the views and general state of infrastructure and buildings though: 'This doesn't look like the richest nation on earth' he said, 'this looks more like a third world country!' He knows what he's talking about, too: he has been travelling to several countries in Asia and South America including Venezuela,India, Laos and Vietnam.
I have informed myself about peak oil,resource depletion and possible collapse for several years now and as a consequence I'm trying to implement some of the measures you've described in your 'green wizardry' blogs on a small farm here. My neighbour is no 'doomer', although he is aware of some of these issues since I don't leave him a choice and keep telling him about it from time to time, and he was quite shocked to see the state of affairs 'with his own eyes'; I think many people in industrialized countries outside the US think everything's still fine there, and finding out otherwise may be very unwelcome indeed.

Gregory Baird said...

Hi, JMG. I became familiar with your work a few months ago, and I have enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for doing what you do.

Last year, I wrote a comment on a discussion thread that amounted to something resembling "crash now and avoid the rush." I deemed it as a reclaiming of personal capital, taking it away from those who wield it to the world's undoing.

Since then, I have "unplugged" in a number of ways (and plugged in alternatively to simplified and, as you often point out, more interesting and rewarding ways). One thing that I jettisoned, was on-line commenting, so my very appearance here is a little like an alcoholic on Step 4 and a half wandering into a bar.

Several times recently (via recorded interviews), I have heard you quip: "What do you call an economist who makes a prediction? ... Wrong." I was thinking about that in the context of your work, and several parts of your most recent writing (May 6) motivated me to write. I do so with respect and friendship, but to ask you to consider somewhat of a critique.

I offer you this: You are an economist, and you make predictions. (I tend to agree with your assessments and your predictions, but I am taking issue with your comment about economists.) Like any economist, you analyze, evaluate, assess, and advise on matters of the movement of capital through the system that distributes resources and energy through our society (i.e., the economy). That you make predictions is abundantly clear.

Identifying an economist is a little like identifying pornography – I know one when I see one. I strongly suspect when you poke at economists the way you do, you are actually targeting the talking heads – the corporate and institutional cheerleaders who are really just street walkers for the cabal of multi-national corporations, crisis bankers, and their legitimizing store-front men in Washington. That’s all well and good, and I agree wholeheartedly with that targeting.

I do not pursue a quixotic mission to defend all economists nor some kind of sanctity for the marble halls of academia, rather what I think is important is that we allow space for true economists to evaluate and advise from a position of respect (as you would respect a blacksmith or farmer or bakery owner – as they, also, are all inevitably economists themselves).

The bigger picture is that economy and ecology are twin systems of the same meta-system of sustaining life (or, when gone awry, destroying it). I have written before that economy and ecology are an elegant marriage and a devastating divorce. Ecology concerns the movement of energy and matter through life systems. Economy concerns the allocation of energy and matter (resources) in the face of demand (sustaining life). Both concern the "house" (eco) and both concern life energy and matter. When ecology and economy are divorced, they destroy each other.

Like sexuality, we have a spectrum from street walkers and their pimps (mass-media economists and the cabal that they serve) to sacred intimacy between a married or otherwise committed couple (the natural economist and the common weal). Casting aspersions on economists broadly is like placing exploitative sex in the same category as true intimacy – the same physical act is performed, but with vastly different motives and results: one is transactional and exchanges money for exploitation, the other is life giving and life enhancing … the analogy to exploitative economics vs. natural, sustainable economics is strongly self-evident.

JMG, while I suspect there is a bit of “just having fun” with your quip (and targeting those economist street walkers who deserve every bit of it), I believe that respect for true economics (that which recognizes and otherwise promulgates that economics should be life sustaining) is essential in the world that we pursue.

Gregory Baird
Atlanta, GA

Michael McG said...

Thank you as always for your stellar analysis and unique view.

Snip from referenced article cited by JMG “lack of running water is a major red flag for a social worker to declare a home unfit,” Gouldener said.

This is a penultimate statement on inter-mediation transfer and consumerism. By consumerism I mean something like Saturn eating his young.
I wonder what the capacity for taking on all these children by the State is. What the costs would be? Likely far in excess of systems ability with a cost far exceeding the cost of water.
By inter-mediation transfer I mean shifting or substitution of one item to another, water to social services.

This is starting to look a bit like the Irish Potato Famines in Ireland 1800 s.

Who says there is an end to Progress?

Does a decline in the consumer economy include self consumption starting at the periphery and working to the core?

Perhaps. I believe it is high time we get a new agency involved to handle all this nonsense, the Department of Homeland Security is resource rich now and should be redirected to handle these issues.

BTW I’m up to 1800 words on my story now, had to go back to build out context yesterday as the story started to break down integrity wise (much like you call out in today’s post of current prioritization).

Writing this fiction is a tough challenge but a great learning experience.
Thanks again for the challenge.

Unknown said...

Denial of the shutoff of service to the legions of poor suggesting 50 years from now everything will look like the dream of a past era. How very odd. Living in an area of poverty I see this frequently. Not just the shut off of utilities but the slow train wreck of failing City services. Just a few weeks ago a family member observed raw sewage bubbling up out of a manhole cover in the back alley. Now one see the City employees, daily pumping from the failed lift stations in the area the waste water which used to flow to the treatment plant in pipes. Similarly the City finances to make any meaningful repairs to such a system are gone. The only assets for the municipality are vacant unpaid tax properties and delinquent utility accounts. To disconnect a home is possibly a slow form of suicide as it just blights more areas of the small city. The original installations were made a generation ago using Federal Grant programs long gone. Now we have ‘drug’ houses what we used to call flop houses where bags of uncollected garbage accumulated in the yard, broken down vehicles lay in the street and dead bodies of the addicts are removed from time to time by emergency personnel. The future is now.

FLwolverine said...

@Pinku-Sensei - I think the No vote on Proposal 1 (raising the sales tax to finance road improvements) was mostly evidence of voters’ disgust with the current legislature, which doesn’t have the courage to raise the gasoline tax and other vehicle related user fees because they are afraid of voter and (more importantly) contributor objections. And this proposal had a lot more things than just road improvements folded into it. I don’t think much of our current governor, but at least he laid out a proposal two years ago that would have (as I understand it) put the burden on those who use the roads and not entangled the funding with the school aid fund, the sales tax, and a bunch of other things. Perhaps if the proposal had been simply to raise the sales tax with all the proceeds going to road improvements, it would have had a better chance.

I just wonder if Michigan voters will ever figure out that they are the ones who elected these ultra-conservative, anti-government, anti-tax, term-limited idiots, and that they (the voters) are getting what they voted for.

And did you notice the proposal by the pro-marijuana people? “Legalize marijuana, tax it, and use the proceeds to improve the roads.”

@Cherokee Organics - re laws against collecting rainwater: water law developed much differently in the American west than it did in the east or in other former British colonies, so you can’t assume that the common law principles (or common sense principles) you are familiar with have any application in the western US. It’s a whole different thing.

FLwolverine said...

@Peter VE said “Another sign: in Florida, building officials are enforcing code provisions that make it illegal to live in a home not connected to the utility systems”. This is a little misleading. Tracking through the link (to a facebook post) you provided, back to a blog post:

and an Al-Jazeera article:

it seems that the homeowner lives in a populated part of Cape Coral and was obtaining electricity through solar panels and water through rainwater - although she was still using the city sewer system (apparently without paying for it) until the City cut her off. When the City tried to require her to hook up to public utilities, the court said she was not required to be connected to the electric system but would need to be connected to the public water system (and presumably sewer system), although she is not barred from collecting and using rainwater for all or most of her needs. Sorry, but to me this makes sense as a matter of public health and safety in these particular circumstances (Florida - currently in drought, populated area, no viable alternative means of waste disposal).

However I do agree that wide scale attempts to enforce a city code like this where water has been cut off for non-payment is a potential detonator in a place like Detroit.

shastatodd said...

bbbut... you forgot to mention how the new "sexy tesla batteries" will save us... sigh.

heather said...

For some reason, Jo's comment about 40,000 year old Aboriginal communities being "closed" by the government gave me particular chills. I wonder if, as more US cities go the way of Baltimore and Detroit, the populations will be treated to the same sort of resettlement "encouragement" that has previously been offered (for different motives) to Native American groups and other indigenous people around the world?

I have a friend who has been chewing my ear about the Jade Helm operation for some time, and suspects that the government is planning to actually stage or incite some sort of insurgency incident as a pretext to herd everyone into certain urban areas where major multinational corporations can then control and profit from the peoples' access to, well, everything, and surveil them more easily. (I gather that this is related to the Agenda 21 meme, though I have not investigated any of the ideas further.) I have essentially mentally dismissed these conversations with my friend as conspiracy paranoia, but you can see how media events such as the Texas governor's statements add fuel to her fire.

Ironically, I share some of the ideas from this blog with her in return. I'll bet she also thinks, "What a crackpot!" about me. Good thing we can bond over homeschooling, gardens, and chickens, or we probably would totally write each other off. As the Archdruid would encourage, we tolerate our dissensus and benefit from our common interests. And time will tell whether either, neither, or both of us are nuts.

--Heather in CA

Justin Patrick Moore said...

A lot of good articles are to be found on the Art of Manliness website. One of the older articles I found interesting tied in with the conversation on this blog, the voluntary adoption of older technologies and lifestyles. The editor of the site Brett McKay focuses on the 40's and 50's. One of the points he made in the article linked below was of especiall interest: how the Renaissance came about after the Plague and in-fighting of the Catholic church when the intellectuals and artists etc., of the time turned their minds back to ancient Greece as a source of inspiration.

For what it is worth Brett is a Freemason also. Some of the tech promoted on his website are old school safety razors, fountain pens, and the idea that making something which lasts is a good thing...

Renaissance Man said...

A good data point from the client state to the north was the Alberta election result Tuesday. The most reliably conservative province just elected a Socialist government. (It felt a bit like waking up in a Twilight Zone episode).
The plethora of professional pundits are now dissecting the minutiae of the campaign and voter behaviour in their eternal search for meaning. They utterly miss the point: the economy is tanking & people know it despite rosy official declarations; Alberta effectively dropped every other viable economic subsystem before the altar of oil & gas and until the price fell last year they could still pretend they had a viable economy.
The only opposition was the Wild Rose Party an ultra-conservative TEA party version of Conservative Party that is not a realistic vision of a viable future, but rather a collection of irate attitudes prompted by the vague anxiety caused by the cognitive dissonance between official claims and experienced economic reality. That cannot hold together for long and it didn't present a viable, realistic option. Still a popular choice, tho'.
The Conservatives who have governed for more than 40 years have recently acted as if they were entitled to their fiefdom, which was tolerated until things went sour.
So voters elected the third option: something completely different.
Ontario voters did the same thing 25 years ago during the late 80s downturn. Unfortunately, the NDP then enacted doctrinaire policies developed by and for an expanding economy at a time of contraction and were duly punished at the polls and political turmoil has ensued ever since.
I hope the Albertans fare better.
But it appears to me that in desperate economic times new alternatives thrive: The CCF appeared during the Great Depression. The Fascist Parties of Europe got traction after the first world war, as did the Socialist / Communist parties. Of course they had been around for decades, but were on the fringes. Kind of like the saying that if you're really desperate and someone suggests jumping off a bridge, you won't say, "That's crazy," you'll ask, "How high?"
So I see your prognostications (the general outline, not any specific event) from several years ago are now unfolding, just as feared.

daveykwavey said...

For any of your other readers who are interested, Richard Heinberg's post from last year, "The Gross Society", is a great exposition of this problem you are pointing out, the energy needed to get more energy.
All of us are petro-beings. All our lives are spent in wholly built environments interacting with wholly synthesized objects. All these unlikely arrangements of atoms was accomplished courtesy of fossil fuels.
If you eat a vegetable that you've grown on a patch of dirt near where you sleep, you escape the petro-life a little bit. But mostly, the thing that is absurdly labelled "The Economy" is nothing more than all the ways we clever humans have figured out how to extract and use fossil fuels. If you have a "Job", you have been granted permission to operate a few buttons on this combustion machine, and given the means to combust a bit on your own,too.
If The Economy is the sum of all of our Jobs in the petro-life, then perhaps a good measure of unemployment is simply the fraction of fossil energy needed to extract more fossil energy, the inverse net energy ratio.

Shane Wilson said...

I'm not really sure that what you're saying particularly counters JMG'S post. To me, the corruption, incompetence, and exploitation you describe is part and parcel of the senility of the elite.
I just wanted to second what you said, Chris, about the importance of water catchment and composting toilets as solutions to the needs of clean water and waste cycling/disease control and prevention. It's important to remember that the 1st composting toilet was designed in response to a cholera epidemic in London. I know Detroit has a thriving community garden program using its huge surplus of vacant properties. Perhaps they could install community composting toilets and water catchment showers and basins onsite for the communities. If it's being done in Haiti and other 3rd world countries as a means of disease control/containment and soil enhancement, then surely it can work here in the U.S.

gildone84 said...

I was in Detroit very recently with fellow churchgoers. We met with some people from the Boggs Center and got a tour of the east side of Detroit. To my surprise, one of the things we learned was that the water issues in Detroit go much deeper than simply poor people not being able to afford their water bills (although that is, without a doubt, no small part of it). Here are some of the things we learned:

* Detroit has the highest water rates of any major city in the Great Lakes region.
* Suburbs buy water from the City of Detroit at state-mandated discount rates.
* Because Detroit has de-populated and there is so much infrastructure necessary just to get the water to the suburban borders, and because water has to be sold to the suburbs at discounted rates, it is Detroiters who have to bear the brunt of all of that infrastructure cost.
* Water is being shut off to entire neighborhoods, not just house by house, even though there are people in those neighborhoods who are not behind on their water bills and never have been.
* Land in poor neighborhoods like those on the east side is being snapped up by real-estate speculators. Even the famed GM Packard plant in Hamtramck that closed in 1955 has been purchased by a South American billionaire.
* If you look at Detroit’s Master Plan, there is an obvious correlation between the neighborhoods where water shut-offs are occurring and the development ambitions of the City.
* The City has taken to attaching water bills to people’s property tax bills, so when the water bills can’t be paid, they can foreclose on the homes.
* Long story short, what’s going is an attempt by the City and the wealthy people in the shadows of the City government to deliberately push poor people out of the neighborhoods they want to re-develop. They don’t care where they go or even if they have the means to go, they just want them gone.

Ed-M said...


Yes, Baltimore is one of those cities that could soon go belly up, despite the gentrification going on. Anybody can go on google maps, zoom in on one of the more "vacant" neighborhoods, and in street mode view whole blocks of rowhouses that are not inhabited by anybody, except squatters of course. Some boarded up, some blighted and open to the elements.

New Orleans could get that way soon, despite its present cachet as a "hip" city, and the attendant gentrification and the issues that follow in its train, due to the oil price collapse and its impact on state finances (which have been mismanaged for the past seven years). But right now things are quite bubbly here, putting NO in the same league (well, almost -- we still have blighted 'hoods) as SF, NYC, Boston and DC.

Cherokee Organics said...


As I was on the train yesterday, I sort of realised that the timing for the Baltimore shut off could not have been much worse. Riots on the street one week, cut off their basic supplies the next. It seems sort of like a tit for tat action on the part of the authorities, or the sheriff driving the drifters out of town.

There are an awful lot of drifters and that sort of action has a long history. I wonder where they expect them to go? Down under people don't move around as much as you do in the US, it is very unusual to move far from your town of birth, yet you guys seem to think nothing of moving across the continent.

Incidentally, the article used a word to describe a group of people in a tone that I was vaguely uncomfortable with. The word was emotionally loaded and was: "The poor". The way that the word was used in the article made me feel very uncomfortable as if it were somehow their fault. Ouch. Didn't Jesus have something to say about that particular group of people? Aren't you living in a out and proud Christian country? I'm sure I read something about that, somewhere...

Gotta bounce as I'm trying to beat the rain today and install the rest of the roof on the new firewood shed (and hopefully get some firewood into it too before it gets too wet).



PS: Thanks for the replies people and I will respond to them tomorrow.

Leif Christensen said...

This is all well and good, knowing how and why we're circling the drain, and the whole 'collapse now and avoid the rush' idea is probably the only good way through the muck ahead. But how does that help us? There's plenty of people, myself included, who have a hard time seeing how we'll be able to make the transition. We simply don't have the means.

It seems like being in a broken wheelchair on train tracks. You can hear the train coming, see the smoke getting rapidly closer, but it won't make any difference. If you don't have the means to get off the tracks, knowing a train is coming isn't any help.

Now if that train analogy were to happen in real life, you might have a good chance of some concerned citizen dragging you off the tracks.

That's a lot harder to do with civilizational collapse. People who might otherwise help you are:
1. Living so well off that they don't see the train, or
2. Don't have the means to get themselves off of the track, let alone help, or
3. Have already established communities and don't want to take on ballast as we get closer to impact

So for the rest of us, without the money to get land and without a community to help us, what's to be done? There's nowhere to run to, and even good corporate jobs will be hard pressed to keep food on the table before too long.

Are we stuck with the Smith & Wesson retirement plan? Join a hungry mob? It may be easy to think about being a salvager or a blacksmith way down the line, but I'll die of hunger long before those things are able to put food in my belly.

Sure, some folks run farms that don't need mechanized energy. I can't afford to start one, let alone learn how to be self-sufficient on it.

What can we do?

John Michael Greer said...

Doctor W., glad to hear it.

Andy, true enough -- they're twin myths, too, both claiming that those (societies or individuals) who happen to be on top deserve their status and privileges.

Dave, there are four solutions for overpopulation, and they ride horses. Listen carefully and you'll hear the hoofbeats.

LatheChuck, it'll be interesting to see how all this plays out. I'm far from sure that the people in question are buying much bottled water...

John, one of the problems with having a senile elite is that the smart solutions are exactly those that nobody's willing to try. It would be a brilliant move for the wealthy classes to try to foster an ethic of self-reliance among everyone else, so the rich can monopolize the remaining fossil fuels and their products. Will they do it? I wouldn't encourage you to hold your breath...

Al, exactly -- but those are exactly the questions none of the people in charge are asking.

Wizzard, let's just say you're not the only person in the oil industry who's told me that.

FiftyNiner, in your place I'd get that well refurbished at once, if not sooner. That's a crucial bit of personal infrastructure to have in place.

Cam, as I noted in a previous post, you can't wake someone up if they're pretending to sleep. A lot of those people will keep staring at the screens, pretending that they can make the world go away, until the darkness swallows them for good.

Prizm, the people who can't pay their water bills will join the swelling ranks of economic nonpersons in America, squatting in abandoned housing, scraping by -- or not -- by whatever means come to hand. I'm not a counselor and so don't have any psychological advice for you, but you might find it useful to read memoirs of people who survived the Depression and the Second World War, or any other historical period of collapse and impoverishment.

John, thank you for getting it.

Patricia, interesting. I admit I was wondering how the Japanese were dealing with their own accelerating decline. Here in the US, as you've noted, it's not pretty.

Pinku-Sensei, a friend of mine who's in the process of fleeing Michigan said much the same thing!

Goldmund, in both cities there's a massive tangle of issues that nobody is addressing, and few are even discussing. Decline is like that.

John Michael Greer said...

Peter, nah, it'll just increase the number of people living illegally in abandoned housing. There's a lot of that in most US cities already.

Exdeadguy, you're welcome and thank you! "Human capital"...okay, that's even worse.

Blueback, yes, I've seen the same thing. Ironically, the Appalachian mill town where I live has fewer dead strip malls than the well-to-do cities within easy reach, and the local mall is still more or less viable; when you've already contracted as much as Cumberland has, there isn't as far to fall.

Eric, got it -- you're in the contest. Please put in a comment here marked "not for posting" with your full name and email address, so I can get in touch with you if your story is chosen for the anthology.

Jay, interesting! I'll have to try that gambit.

Peakfuture, good question. There are a lot of other cities that will be hit before Boston and SF, but their turn will come. My guess is that SF is going to be hammered when the current tech bubble pops, so it may go before the others -- but we'll see.

Jim/Auriel, I'd make sure to have a manual backup on that well, just in case...

Gwaiharad, I'd file that one under "crisis of legitimacy" rather than "senility of elites" -- my guess is that so many people in Texas fear the federal government that if the state government didn't do something like that, the locals would up and start shooting at the federal troops.

Bruce, do you have a link for that?

Blueback, exactly. I see the Jade Helm exercise as partly field training for domestic counterinsurgency operations, and partly a show of force meant to overawe the locals. Clearly the latter isn't going according to plan. I'm not going to try to guess when the first risings will start, but your point about the Bastille is well taken.

Cherokee, er, Australia and the US don't have the same legal system, you know, and Western water law in the US is a thing unto itself, with its own courts. The people who've told you that it's illegal in some US states to collect rainwater are quite correct -- you might want to check out this website, which gives a state by state summary of the laws.

Hello... said...

regarding Ondra's link on trailer parks being the new investment opportunity, it is reminds me of Lily Tomlin's quote, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

this is so incredibly heartbreakingly sick and cynical, it seems like heads are BEGGING to be put up on posts. everything in America is turning into a constant state of "EEEEEW" or "you've GOT to be kidding me."



p.s. and sorry about the swear word earlier, John Michael Greer. I didn't mean any disrespect. i lose myself. it's a wonder i'm not in jail yet over here.


Thomas Prentice said...

From COUNTERPUNCH: Titanic Stock Bubble Fueled by Buyback Blitz

"The Fed’s uber-accommodative monetary policy has created an environment in which corporate bosses can borrow boatloads of money at historic low rates in the bond market which they then use to purchase their own company’s shares. When a company reduces the number of outstanding shares on the market, stock prices move higher which provides lavish rewards for both management and shareholders.

Of course, goosing prices adds nothing to the company’s overall productivity or growth prospects, in fact, it undermines future earnings by adding more red ink to the balance sheet. But these “negatives” are never factored into the decision-making which focuses exclusively on short-term profits.

US corporations have essentially been issuing record levels of debt and using a significant chunk of their earnings and cash reserves to buy back record levels of common stock.” (“Buyback Bonanza, Margin Madness Behind US Equity Rally”, Zero Hedge)

It’s worth noting that “highly rated U.S. nonfinancial companies” are now more leveraged than they were in 2007 just before the crash.

No buybacks means no 5-year stock market rally. Period. If it wasn’t for financial engineering and the Fed’s easy money, stocks would be in the same general location as the real economy, circling the plughole, that is.

You say slowly - perhaps 'with all deliberate speed' - as water shutoff notices go out while Mike Whitney proposes fast and continuous: circling the drain.

I suggest a different analogy: like the jeep falling through the tree in Jurassic Park, -- sudden collapses, momentary illusory sense of stability, rinse and repeat ;)

Maybe this might wake up some of the narcissistic technophiliacs?

John Michael Greer said...

Jim/Auriel, just one more reason why your naturopath will still be in business when the mainstream medical industry in the US has gone messily bankrupt.

Shane, where it's legal, it's a very good strategy.

Escape, I somehow managed to avoid hearing that claim before. The rich as beta-testers for the rest of us -- oh man. It's just possible that we've reached Peak Malarkey!

Strovenovus, oddly enough, I'll be talking about that a good deal more as we proceed.

Cherokee, fascinating. I'm not surprised -- they've got to know that bank runs are on their way, and are getting ready.

DM, the phrase "human resources" has always made me think of Soylent Green.

Andrew, good. I don't know that it's possible to fight those memes, nor is it necessary; those who believe them, believe them for emotional reasons -- always the main drivers of scapegoating -- and will continue to believe them no matter what. My take, at least, is that it's more important to work on the alternative -- collapsing now, ahead of the rush, and demonstrating that it's possible to live a decent and humane life with minimal dependence on a failing system -- and let the counterexample speak for itself.

Avery, that's a good metaphor. In your place, I'd reflect on why it is that staying in the game has whatever appeal it has.

Steve, that's another issue, and one that will likely be a massive factor in the decade or so immediately ahead. More on this in an upcoming post.

Abelardsnazz, not at all. You don't have to impose a dictatorship to shut off the water of people who can't pay their bills; the system we've got now can do it perfectly well. In fact, the more people get forced out of the system into economic nonpersonhood, I expect to see an increasingly sharp division between those people who are still in the system, and who live increasingly regimented lives under 24/7 surveillance and loyalty testing, and those who aren't, who will be left to their own devices as long as they don't obviously threaten the narrowing circle of the system. Toward the end, very large regions of the US are likely to become ungoverned zones, outside the last fraying bastions of the industrial age, and the people in those zones will have to worry about a lot of things but federal and state governments won't be among them. More on this in an upcoming post.

Jo, that does indeed sound like the wave of the future. I hope that Tasmanians are figuring out how to meet their own needs without help from the government.

Ondra, okay, if we're starting to get giddy claims about fortunes to be made via no-doc mortgages on trailer parks, it's time to hit the panic button.

Jason, a British friend tells me that the only way she'll be satisfied with a hung parliament is if it's a public hanging. By all means get your Peak Oil Party out there in time for the next election; given the way that Britain's former two-party system has fallen apart, you might just get somewhere with it.

Taoist_Sage said...

I'm a long-time reader and first time poster. My reasons for finally posting is in regards to the comments about the "Jade Helm" military exercise in the Southwest this summer. I've noticed quite a few comments of the conspiracy sort about this being a veiled attempt by the government to impose martial law or take over state governments. Doubtlessly, it may come to that but I think the simplest explanation is that the government is pre-positioning it's military assets to avert chaos in the Southwest. And chaos is likely to happen this summer due entirely to the drought situation. Most people are not aware that Lake Mead is dropping dangerously down to where the first of many contingency plans will be activated. When it hits 1075 ft, water to Arizona and Nevada will be cut or rationed per water agreements long established. This on top of a worsting drought, bad winter snowpack through much of the southwest and the prospects of another extremely hot summer, the likelihood of people losing it for lack of water is almost guaranteed. Then you have to factor in the definite possibility of brownouts if not major blackouts as hydroelectric power is a major part of power generation in the southwest. The power output of the dams have been continuously declining for years due to drought conditions and will probably get worst this summer. Finally, as a major portion of the food in the US is produced in this region, expect food prices to surge this year and spot shortages of certain items. This, I think, is why the operation is taking place now and in that particular part of the country. For if not, it sure is an amazing coincidence.

John Michael Greer said...

Johannes, fascinating. Thanks for the info!

Scotlyn, power loss caused by theft of cables and other metal objects has become tolerably frequent here in the US, too. I expect to see a lot more of it as we proceed.

Unknown, hmm! I have no idea whether things like that make their way onto American network TV, but it seems unlikely.

Asr, if "rehabilitated" means "the city government's cronies got all the money they thought they could get away with taking this time," I don't doubt it at all.

Chester, Detroit is further down the curve than Baltimore. Repression comes first, then indifference.

Aunteater, exactly -- given the mess that's been made of the built environment here in the US, choosing a place where you can do without a car is a crucial step, and one that takes thought and research.

Leo, exactly -- that's the culture of corporate kleptocracy I've mentioned in previous posts. It's playing a massive role in the destruction of the system that supports the current elite classes.

Lawfish, yes, and that's going to be the theme of an upcoming post.

Chloe, exactly. The US is in one of those classic failed-democracy traps where every party that's able to get on the ballot is committed to exactly those policies that are making things worse; that might end in flames, it might end with jackboots and armbands, or it might end in other ways. Interestingly, though, I'd have said the same thing about Britain not that long ago: "New" Labor was to the Tories precisely what our Democrats are to the GOP, the same policies with a fake smile spraypainted on them. The current UK election is a reminder that such situations can change.

Tom, good. Now take the next step, and figure out how to live like a mere baron...

Andrew, knowing how an expanding city with ample resources in a prosperous nation solved those problems is not the same as knowing what you, personally, can do about them in a collapsing city in a nation in decline, you know.

Ian, yes, I figured I'd get some pushback from one or another segment of the "we can fix it!" brigade. Of course collapse is only one part of what's going on, but it's the part that defines the overall context with which everything else has to deal -- and as noted in my post, it's the part that next to nobody is dealing with. What you're calling "global capitalism" is simply the current version of the normal way civilizations decline, in which elite groups try to maintain their wealth and privilege by gutting the economic and social systems that support their power; fail to factor the role of decline into your analyses, and you're guaranteed to be blindsided over and over again by events.

Andrew H said...

I don't think it has been mentioned before, but has anyone read the latest article by Tom Murphy at 'Do the Math'. at-

The population can be divided up on the basis of 4 personality traits. Most of his audience appears to be drawn from only one set of the 16 possible combinations. He concludes :-

"As stated at the beginning, my impetus for all the 'Do the Math' work was to lay out a rational, quantitative foundation for why we should not take future growth/wealth/happiness for granted. We could really blow this thing. Our best hope, as I saw it, was to get people to acknowledge and accept the threat and thereby endeavor to make it go away. As with any 12-step program, admitting that there is a problem is step one."

"Failure to acknowledge what, to me, is a wholly plausible set of major concerns triggers a strong reaction on my part. How can we mitigate what we don’t acknowledge? Failure to acknowledge the risk serves only to solidify the likelihood of the risk, in my mind. Perversely, calling me wrong outright probably makes me more right. Saying I might be wrong, or even that I am probably wrong while admitting some chance of my being on target and acknowledging the enormity if so is just fine by me."

"This personality analysis helps me understand the scope of the challenge. It mostly serves to reinforce my concern. It seems we have a built-in impediment to preventive mitigation for unprecedented crises. At some level, it just makes me feel resigned: no hope in politicians, now no hope in human nature."
It would be interesting to see the results for a similar survey for the ADR."


John Michael Greer said...

K-dog, and those attitudes will remain fixed in place among those who are still part of the system until it does indeed kill them. Among those who are already moving toward the exit doors, voluntarily or otherwise, there are other possibilities, and that's primarily whom I'm addressing.

Yupped, true enough! That probably belongs in the "commuting by jetpack" file.

Paul, if you've got plausible deniability, by all means use it!

Samurai, of course we can't all be subsistence farmers, nor will most of us be subsistence farmers for several more generations -- the curve of decline isn't likely to be anything like so steep. Glad to hear you're enjoying your successful escape from Hagsgate, by the way.

Asr, these days, that's normally what it means.

Clay, many thanks for this. It's one of the consistent features of decline and fall that those who have the most to lose -- yes, that would be the elite classes -- inevitably make exactly those choices that guarantee that they're going to lose it all.

Daughter, many thanks for this! That's a very ingenious fusion of two good sustainable solar technologies.

Lew, I'll consider it. I think most of it could be summed up, though, in one simple sentence: "You're on your own."

Kwm, curiously enough, I was reading a book on the collapse of the Warsaw Pact states of eastern Europe in 1989 and 1990, and they said exactly the same thing. Do you happen to remember how that worked out for them?

Travis, fascinating. That's sooner than I was expecting to hear this.

Richard, I figure most US cities are taking numbers for their places in that line right now. Thanks for "Forgottonia" -- I hadn't heard of it before. There'll be lots of places in the future that will deserve the same name.

Buddha, thanks for the link. You're quite right, of course: read between the lines and you get an unnerving story.

John Michael Greer said...

Ric, funny! That's good.

Hello/Erika, I'll certainly consider another post on that -- won't be the first. I don't envy those of my readers who live in SF; it used to be a very pleasant town before the tech boom moved in on it.

Mark, good. Thank you.

Bernhard, even in the US, a lot of people have no clue just how much of this country has already entered the Third World. It's increasingly a matter of islands of faux-prosperity in a sea of increasing poverty and immiseration.

Gregory, I'm not an economist. An economist is someone who has a degree in economics and works in the field. The reason that I say what I do about them is that nearly always, when a person with an economics degree who's employed as an economist makes a prediction about the future, he or she turns out to be dead wrong. Do you recall how many economists during the housing bubble insisted that it wasn't a bubble and wouldn't pop? I certainly do, and so do a great many others; Nouriel Roubini, one of the very few who didn't, talks in an essay somewhere about trying to talk about the issue at an economics conference and getting the sound of crickets as a response.

I hear from time to time that this or that faction of economists has thrown off the shackles of conventional economic thought and is grapping with the realities of our environmental situation. Maybe I haven't been looking in the right places, but I haven't seen much beyond those claims -- not since the days of E.F. Schumacher, at least. I'll happily change my tune on the subject of economists, just as soon as I start seeing economic predictions from economists (as defined above) that are right at least as often as a tossed coin. I don't even require that from the whole field: a modestly sized group of economists who issue predictions that don't inevitably flop would be enough.

Michael, glad to hear about the story. I'll look forward to it!

Unknown, welcome to the deindustrial future.

Shastatodd, the thought of what Elon Musk would do to batteries to make them "sexy" is frankly stomach-turning...

Heather, my guess instead is that the cities will simply be the places where people have to go if they want the jobs and lifestyles that count as normal these days, and rural zones -- outside of those that are particularly well suited to agribusiness, until that goes messily bust -- will be left to those who can handle no services or police protection. More on this as we proceed.

Justin, fascinating. Thanks for the link; I'll check it out.

Renaissance, yes, I noted that. It'll be interesting to see if any of that new spirit starts cropping up south of the 49th parallel.

Repent said...

Even if you've banned me as a troll, I still think you are an unmitigated genius. This article again shines brightly!!

I recently purchased your book 'The Druid Magic handbook', from a new age bookstore in my area. On the door of the store it said 'No shoplifters and no energy vampires'. I asked at the front if they were joking about the 'energy vampires', and they said no they are real.

About a week later I was listening to a podcast by Guy McPherson's latest update on 'Near term extinction', and you were mentioned in the podcast as being a 'conservative thinker' who is finally seeing the light. I thought immediately that this confirms that you've gone from being on the fringe of society to being a mainstream voice of authority. To be denounced as a conservative thinker is the proof in the pudding:

I regret some of my recent posts, (which you did not publish). Please allow me to apologize again, and beg for reinstatement here.

John Michael Greer said...

Daveykwavey, unemployment as inverse net energy...hmm. I'll have to think that one through.

Gildone84, and of course it hasn't occurred to any of the local real estate interests that now that the auto industry is gone, Detroit has no viable reason to be more than the very modest farm town it was before the auto industry arrived. Still, that sort of cluelessness is far from uncommon among the rich these days.

Ed-M, I've been through Baltimore on the train, which runs through areas that look like bombed-out parts of Germany after the Second World War, so I ain't arguing. Once New Orleans stops being fashionable, no doubt the same thing will happen there as well -- if there's time for that before the sea rises...

Cherokee, good heavens, no. A Christian country? No, as I noted a while back, America is basically a Satanic nation these days, and the people who make the most noise about Jesus are way out in front in the Luciferian sweepstakes.

Leif, er, you might want to look through the archives, where I've discussed those points over, and over, and over again.

Hello/Erika, thank you. Tomlin's right, of course.

Thomas, yes, I've been following the buyback craze for some time now. A lot of the rich have basically been playing for time, trying to postpone the crunch for as long as possible, and propping up stock prices via massive buybacks are part of that. A really messy stock market collapse would not surprise me -- though of course that's been predicted before, and the Plunge Protection Team has always managed to stave it off so far. We'll see...

Sage, excellent. I don't know how much of it is the water situation and how much has to do with other reasons why the US government can expect chaos and a probable insurgency within US borders, but you're right that the timing is interesting.

Andrew, thanks for the heads up -- it's been too long since I've visited Murphy's site.

Blueback said...

“Lawfish, yes, and that's going to be the theme of an upcoming post.”

That wouldn’t happen to be your upcoming “Peak California” essay, would it? I fully expect we will get a flood of refugees from California up here in the Pacific Northwest in the not-so-distant future from that state, which is going to make for all kinds of interesting political and social tensions since Californians are widely disliked in many parts of Cascadia.

Also, you had talked about possibly doing a series about de-industrial warfare. Is that still in the pipeline? I would imagine that will be a very pertinent topic in the near future, especially given certain issues we have been discussing on this blog…

dagnygromer said...

I came across a great article I'd like to share with the Archdruid's readers:
The CEO of Exon Mobile admits "his company is in liquidation and he’s terrified his stockholders are going to find out.”
The article has some interesting peak oil links. Enjoy

Blueback said...

Another interesting piece of info I came across:

There has been some recent research suggesting that both Russia and the USA are likely to hit Peak Oil this year, even counting unconventional sources like natural gas liquids, deep water drilling and fracking. If one only counts conventional oil production, the USA hit peak in 2005, but has been able to prop up its oil production via fracking and deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Since nearly all of the recent gains in oil production have come from those two countries and oil production in the rest of the world has either been stagnant or declining, this would mean the global “total liquids” peak is likely to hit this year, with global oil production sliding downhill after that.

Kutamun said...

Read an interesting spiel the other day about quantitative easing which is that the institutions that lend out the fiat are not overly concerned if the principal is repaid ( as this was simply conjured out of thin air and handed to them by various governments ) , the aim is simply to get people to pay interest for as long as possible , as it is these repayments which are the real wealth they are seeking to absorb with their giant sponge ..

In australia , you dont have to stray too far off the beaten track to uncover the hordes of bankrupt and meth addicted lost souls who are being held in place only by the largesse currently afforded by skippy ozlands huge resources base . Lately some unhappy wanderers have been sighted straying into super rich elite green organic nirvana areas , but same have been quickly spotted and reported by our internet web based communications network ..

Local governments latest stunt is to make it compulsory to have a " green waste " bin for local residents at the cost of hundreds of dollars per year while the waste is sold to bio fuel and compost business rackets , while halving the garbage collections .. Pales in comparison to what the US is seeing but gives an idea of things to come i suppose ..

Started reading " after progress " , shaping up to be one of your best ! Cheers mate

Steven Monserrate said...

This is totally off the current topic but I wanted to get thoughts on the current Colonize Mars craze running through the media. I understand that it's part techno-utopian, part apocalyptic dream. But why Mars? Why not just try colonizing the Moon first? Is it because Mars is just far away enough that we can always talk about it without fear of having to "actually" go there?

PRiZM said...

JMG, thanks for the response. I understand your reasons for not being able to give "psychological" advice. I merely meant mentally, it is going to be a tough road for many, myself included, to deal with what seems a nightmarish reality when many of us having been living impervious to the realities of the world around us. Mentally tearing down the house of dreams that had been built, and building a new one is a lot of hard work.

Your suggestion to read about people who had lived in similar times of economic contraction reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago while visiting my wife's hometown of Vladivostok, Russia. There, many people who choose to live in houses, not apartments as most well-to-do do, they live without running water, or heat, and electric is basically only available for lights. I remember it really wasn't a terrible experience, and I was fascinated with how they refrigerated their food in the summer, and were so self-sufficient. There were even bottles, upon bottles of homemade wine, which we managed to make a huge dent in while eating amazingly delicious, hearty Russian foods.

Reading this makes me realize how comfortable and enjoyable it was... But after one day there, I was ready to leave to enjoy some other luxuries. I really have a lot of work to do.

Ray Wharton said...

I will recommend this post to a friend or two, very clear connection between current events and the turning of the great circles.

I am still dependent on utilities, but the projects that will first be back up systems and eventually autonomous systems and skill sets are maturing well. I commissioned a rocket stove be made by a close friend who is a potter, support his craft and getting the ability to cook off grid even when the sun is not shinning. I am preparing the composting capacity to not need sewage services, or trash services for that matter. Water is the most importatnt thing, I think that a rain catchment system would be too risky in my area, but the parts to make such a system maintained and (for now) otherwise occupied are already present where I am living. The ox is slow but the Earth is patient.

You cannot run too far out ahead of the pack, not in Fort Collins, this is one of the greatest third world America ignoring bubble currently inflated. It is impressive in a demented sort of way.

But I am making the right friends, focusing on people that take steady steps in a sensible direction and tend to give a wide birth to controversy when they can. There will be plenty of conflict with out me or mine fueling it, better to get working on being a support system for those who are least involved in the struggles that threaten to disrupt the lives of all. I see proto soup kitchens forming here: looks like a good customer to me!

Interestingly this season demand for CSA shares has dropped, not good, I wish I knew what was going on there... maybe lots of folks don't have money up front to pay for it or humility to talk openly about the payment options.

Found a long abandoned scythe, I have it most of the way to properly sharp, already it cuts good, even though it is poorly fitted to me, thinking of getting a nice Austrian blade, but I might just stick with this salvaged beast.

Growing lots of oyster mushrooms, surprised how eager people are for them, I gotta improve capacity once the weather lets up after the weekend. Shame that food production lags so long after changing capacity. There is so much stuff I should plant or start by last week!

Leif Christensen said...

I apologize for being flustered. This is all quite new to me. In the stages of grief, I'm somewhere between anger and bargaining.

I notice you have several books out. Although I do intend to go back through your archives, I'd be happy to buy a physical primer from someone who's obviously done his research. Which one would you recommend I read first?

heather said...

Gildone84, I guess, considering your comment, that the answer to my question about whether 'regular' (poor) folks might be treated to resettlement "encouragement" as our cities decline is yes! Didn't expect such a swift response... Hmmm.

Zachary Braverman said...

I realise this is considered highly non-PC, but the fact is there are both benefits and costs to a highly diverse country like the US. Compared to Japan, say, which is much more monolithic (which is both bad and good, in turn).

Anyway, one of the cons to a highly diverse society such as the US is that it's easy to pretend that what is happening to others will never happen to you. A black person in Detroit is just so far removed from a white person in CA or TX that they may as well be living in different countries. This makes it much easier for other kinds of people to pretend that shut-off notices will never come to THEIR world.

In contrast, people in Japan view themselves as much more of a cohesive whole, which means that what happens to one Japanese person tends to be much more immediately relevant to others.

Crow Hill said...

I don't like this recurrent use of the words senile or senility as though old people should necessarily be bad. What about the wisdom of the elders? The words Senate or Gerontes come from the word "old" in Latin and Greek. As we and our societies age we should rather look to make the most of old age. An example of old rulers as visionaries was recently given on BBC radio 4 where it was mentioned concerning Gladstone who in his eighties had insisted that the solution to Ireland's woes was home rule. The programme was asking whether one had to be youngish to make it to premiership in the UK. All candidates there to become prime minister are born between 1963 and 1971.

Jamie said...

I wonder if peoples refusal of the future to come on this blog (internet collapse etc.) and the flurries of denial about the Western World degrading to Third World conditions is more to do with a lack of imagination than anything else. It seems to me that in order to be able to see past the lights and sounds of the current extravagant culture and observe the weeds growing through the cracks it takes a certain amount of brain-use which a lot of people are unfamiliar with. Similar to how we've outsourced production, childcare, agriculture, waste, younameit to that place called Away, in my opinion a lot of people have outsourced their imagination as well. Perhaps we have Peak-lack-of-imagination?

thecrowandsheep said...

JMG, although many of your readers already knew, I didn't realize Radiohead's pyramid song is an ode to collapse until after seeing the video. Of course ;-)

Anyhows, Thom Yorke assures us "There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt."

woooooooooooooo woOOOwoooo woOwoo......

patriciaormsby said...

I am assuming from your picture that you are able-bodied. Even if that is not the case, certainly you have an intellect capable of learning skills that could help you be a part of a community.
I urge you to keep looking. Hanging around at Arch Druid Report is a good start. I am out in the boondocks, but I don't want to be out in the boondocks without anyone else who understands what is going on as times get rougher. I am in Japan, but I am certain that where you are there are people like me looking for people like you and a way to organize people with skills and knowledge into a community of the aware. I am beginning to think that in essence it will be a bit like organizing a company, except one in which we agree that the goal is not profit, but helping each other get by.
I have a new friend who has just moved out here and opened up an inn at which he hopes to provide natural educational opportunities for urban children. I am thinking of introducing him to a couple of community organizers among the foreigners of Tokyo, and then urging them to come out here and learn the skills of farming, while they can still keep a foot in their economic lifestyle in the city. Five years ago, they all said, "Ewww!" I'm not sure what they'll say today.
I would not be in a position to help you myself as things stand yet, but look around and you might find someone who is.
Don't give up!


Wizard of Tas said...

I haven't written a short story since high school, over thirty years ago. Enjoyed the exercise.


Fred said...

Another excellent posting, John.

Here in the little PA town where I live it’s like a fantasyland of business as usual. Southern Chester County where I live is still a very affluent area. But the cracks are forming. They just aren’t obvious.
The main street is now saturated with little restaurants; nine or ten of them. And the balance or retail activity is gift shops. It all looks pretty and nice and well off. I believe the local chamber of commerce actually hit their goal of creating a “quaint” retail environment to attract shoppers from the surrounding area. But forty years ago, there were “practical” retail establishments; a 5&10, a hardware store, a department store and several men’s and women’s clothiers, not to mention a couple of banks.

So….from where have all these new restaurants come? The restaurant business is one of the riskiest business propositions out there; probably a 90% failure rate. And a credit line to open and run a business doesn’t materialize out of nowhere. From where have these new, hopeful restauranteurs raised the collateral for their new ventures?...mortgaged their homes, staked their life savings? Inquiring minds want to know.

Of course, the new WalMart Super Center has made practical retail activity obsolete. And the off shoring of well paid middle class jobs has forced the former middle class to take the plunge into business ventures of the riskiest and least secure kind…..and all entirely dependent on discretionary spending.

But the American middle class has not yet been completely bled of all of its financial resources. It looks to me like the last remnants of savings and credit are being used to finance a final game of sole proprietorship for those who still have the fight left in them for the effort.

Leo Knight said...

Today, I had to ride the bus through downtown Baltimore. I hadn't been through the main downtown area in years, and I was shocked, but not surprised. Many of the smaller shops that I frequented when I worked and socialized downtown years ago were now closed and shuttered. A major showpiece, the Morris Mechanic Theater, a bit of late 60s brutalist architecture, is being demolished. Most of the surviving businesses are distinctly low end: tattoos, pawn shops, bodegas, etc.

A few weeks ago I went to the once thriving Lexington Market area. In my youth, a cluster of weird little stores, restaurants, etc. about half of them now stand vacant. Two exceptions: Grandma's Candle Shop and Grandpa's Candle Shop, two pre- New Age occult stores, soldier on, selling charms, lucky lottery number pamphlets, and fortune telling. Hope (or delusion) spring eternal.

David House said...

You need to stop using words like "elites" to decribe the corrupt criminals that are running American government.

Thug might be a better choice.

buddhabythelake said...


You've made references in several posts now of folks being pushed down the pyramid into "non-personhood". The parallel that immediately comes to my mind is the development of the latifundia in the latter years of the Roman Empire and the many servi that worked the lands (held by absentee owners of the upper class). These slaves (peasant landholders forced to sell first their lands then themselves) became the serfs of medieval Europe. Do you expect we will see ownership of human beings (or a functional equivalent) arise again?

Varun Bhaskar said...


We're already feeling the squeeze out here in Wisconsin. Two of my friends recently lost their jobs, my brother and sister-in-law are struggling to find work and will probably be headed back to Australia by end of summer, and I've seen tons of vacancy signs pop up on commercial real-estate in Madison and Milwaukee. Whatever the pundits are saying, the wheels are coming off this wagon.



Chloe said...


True, it can take you by surprise how quickly things change. Going by today's results, though (short version: Conservative majority + Labour gain have actually pushed England *closer* to a two-party system, while the SNP sweep Scotland) the only thing that's changed across much of the UK is that Labour is no longer smiling... (Apologies if the words "preaching" and "choir" come to mind in this next bit.) What you see is shifts at the periphery of the system first - regions that are at the edge of the system, that have a smaller population (so there's less inertia to overcome, it's easier for individuals to make an impact) and never had all the benefits of being part of the system compared to the core regions - hence Scotland, with a population of five million, moves faster than wealthier England, at fifty million, and both may well move faster than the up-to-now dominant USA, six times as big again. In this case it feels like a continuation of the breakdown of the British Empire with the loss of the colonies over the last century, and you can see the same pattern again in Europe (eg the rise of Syriza and Podemos).

I can't comment so much on the USA, so I don't know where to look for the pattern repeating in the same way I do for Europe, but you'd expect to see local shifts long before wholesale ones: there may well be breakaways (in spirit if not in law) long before whatever's left of the USA votes en masse for something other than the same old false promises. I get the impression the USA is rather further from becoming unglued, geographically speaking, than large parts of Europe (or "Europe" as an entity), but I might have a different take on the matter if I was actually living there. All the same - the divisions seem to be more internal than regional, and that along with the sheer number of people involved and the continuing relative comfort of large parts of the population (assuming the government/military machine continues to succeed in claiming enough resources to keep them in comfort), make me think that it's going to take a bit longer for a large-scale mindset shift to occur.

Marinhomelander said...

"Human Resources Departments?"

I suggest that corporations escape from that antiquated phrase and go with something more up to date.

"Human Commodities Departments"

Here in the environmental Whitetopia of Marin County we fortunately have our own reservoirs that are almost full and a municipally owned non-profit water supply.
Water for a family of four, plus large garden, costs about two dollars a day, quite a bargain.

Greywater watering system? Of course.

Marinhomelander said...

Appropriate technologies?
(As long as their are P.E.T.E.
soda bottles being produced)

Ditch water, or I guess filtered sewage if that's all you have, can be sterilized by putting it in a clear, not colored, label free, P.E.T.E. plastic soda bottle, cap on, left in the sun for 6 hours, or two full days if cloudy.

This kills all the bacteria and viruses in it via ultraviolet light from the sun. Doesn't remove the bad taste or chemicals though. It's called the SODIS system and is a Swiss invention.

Roger said...

I agree that a self-serving elite is only part of the problem. Even if systemic financial fraud and the offshoring of tens of thousands of factories wrecked the life prospects of millions of people and created gigantic and unsustainable imbalances, the problem is how you un-do all this.

Hate to say it but in my estimation it's not going to happen. What's done is done. And so the golden era of American middle class prosperity is over.

The Chinese elite know full well that they sit on a time-bomb of expectations of a Chinese multitude that have had their fill of poverty. They know that even their notoriously un-squeamish military won't be a match for more than a billion enraged people. Besides, in the event of mass insurrection, the man in uniform will get rapidly sick of shooting his own country-men.

So those offshored factories are not coming back from China. They mean jobs for many millions of Chinese. Given that the viability of the Chinese regime depends on those factory jobs, Beijing, which has never shown any inclination to play fair, certainly isn't about to play fair over this. Shareholder rights? Rule of law? Sez who?

Besides, our elites are so blinded by immediate self-interest as to preclude any possibility.

How about a re-build of America's industrial infrastructure? IMO, no chance. It's more fun and glamorous and maybe more profitable (for now) to gamble on Wall Street.

So, is this sucker going down? You bet, and the oligarchs will ride this sucker right down to zero. Just like 2008 they'll crash the system again without blinking. Never mind the odd cautionary voice among them. Those few will be ignored.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

I believe I first heard of peak oil around 2005 and looking at the bell curve, it appeared that we had maybe 30 more years of oil. Walking past marinas in the Oakland estuary with my wife and seeing acres of gleaming white plastic boats I would mutter, 30 more years, 30 more years. Whenever I heard complaints about traffic, I would mutter, 30 more years. My wife eventually became tired of my mantra and I stopped chanting it out loud.
A few weeks ago I realized that ten years had passed and my mantra should now be twenty more years.
Actually, more recent analysis of peak oil has shown that industrial economies don't wind down smoothly as the Hubbard bell curve shows but rather more raggedly and toward the end, more precipitously as collapsing sectors here and there fall on and tear down other parts of the economy in their freefall descent.
Meanwhile, forecasts in the press always assume growth as usual with no recognition that quite possibly we might be on the downslope of a bell curve.
Just yesterday some friends stopped by and we were talking about traffic congestion getting on and off our small island in SF bay and that by 2035 it was supposed to be completely unmanagable unless we built more bridges. So I said, in twenty years we won't have gas to drive cars so no traffic problem. Apparently I must have been mumbling because nobody in the room heard what I said and just kept on talking as if I hadn't said anything. Mentioning the end of oil in polite company is equivalent to farting in church. You can do it with impunity because everyone will pretend it didn't happen.

Jeff Snyder said...

JMG, thanks this is a really good post. I really liked the way you highlighted the disconnect between the blanket faith that it won't happen here and faith in the future with the "isolated incidents" that are just happening here and there. This all too human psychology would be a major lolz fest if it weren't so disheartening.

Leif Christensen,
Your predicament is probably the norm and it's painful trying to find a way to some sort of resilience in our debt-servitude, property ownership world. "Collapse now and avoid the rush" is dark humor and contains an important truth, but it is too glib by half if intended as actual advice. One can't just go off and do sustenance farming in "rurl" America and expect to make it work among the meth-heads, massively unemployed, TV-addled, and obese-populated crashing local economies. You still have to have some way to make $$ to pay the taxes and buy some necessities, and that isn't going to happen while learning to farm.

If you are in the U.S., over at the Doomstead Diner, they have created a tax-exempt organization, Sustaining Universal Needs (SUN) that is trying to pioneer a model for building small intentional communities. They are trying to obtain sufficient funding to launch the first project in N.C. If you read the prospectus, SUN offers life-time access to a sizable acreage of land and a "long house" for community use (but not residence) along with a relatively small number of like-minded people. I think the minimum investment for you and up to three other family members is $10,000. You still have to provide your own residence, but that can be a temporary structure (e.g., an R.V), and you can come and go as you please. As buy in prices go, that is pretty low. We need more efforts like this and maybe people trying different ways to bring in people with skills who don't have the cash capital to set up their own homestead. Not a lot of pre-packaged solutions out there, I know, but then, even having a homestead in the boonies may not be the "optimal" solution for the next 30 years anyway. No one knows.

Nm Mm said...

Yes, coming to terms with the whole concept is not an enjoyable process. I would reccomend JMG's The Long Descent, for a more detailed primer. Green Wizardry is another useful one. Also some of Sharon Astyk's work, such as Depletion and Abundance.
Here's the summary, though: Get your house well insulated, to the extent doing so is affordable. Learn to garden. Learn to preserve food. Start thinking about how you would manage various daily tasks without an abundance of electricity; how you might manage heating or cooling, cooking, etc. Where your water might come from. Where food is available, other than the grocery store.
The goal isn't to become some entirely self-sufficient survivalist. Personally, I garden, cook, preserve, start my own seeds, etc., and would have quite a struggle if the power were to go off tomorrow. Many of us would, probably most. But there are a lot of things you can do that would make such a scenario easier and more comfortable. Probably you can't provide all your food yourself -- even our much touted pioneer ancestors were buying salt, baking soda, flour, etc. But you Could substantially supplement your diet, and reduce your dependence on the store. (Plus, it's fun and the food tastes better).
If the house is well insulated, it requires less heating and cooling, which saves money now, as well as being much more comfortable, if the power goes out -- which it does all time, due to storms, or idiots running into power poles.

Denys said...

Thank you for posting that link to Satanists in Christian churches blog post you wrote. It was one of my favorite posts you ever wrote because it rang true from what I observed in our evangelical homeschooling world. Actually all your posts are like that - once I read them, it is so shockingly obvious that the thing you wrote about exists, I can't "unsee" it anymore.

For those not wanting or unable to use water for toilets, this couple wrote an excellent article on a year using bucket toilets. Lots of details and practical advice

Nm Mm said...

On reflection, using "idiots" was unnecessarily rude. I was thinking of a couple of specific scenarios, but that hardly encompasses every crash involving a power pole. I apologize.

LL Pete said...

JMG, I hope this is not off topic, but since you are talking about the American people, how can it be?
I know you don't watch television (or at least that is my impression), but I think you should.
At least for one solid month, or at a minimum one week, get cable and tune into what America seems to have become. Immerse yourself.
How is it that Americans have not become sick to death of this celebrity and wealth worshipping culture of spectacle, ceremony, awards, costumes, posturing and posing and smack talk. Maybe you don't know how bad it has gotten. I assure you it is far, far worse than you remember.
And if the celebrity preeners were not bad enough you have the reality shows where the point seems to be to get the absolutely worst and most dysfunctional American families and parade them in front of the world for their 15 minutes of fame.
It's not even embarrassing anymore, it's horrifying.
If you think this is just a rant don't post it; I won't be offended. But I think I was Camille Paglia who wrote that you can't ignore and you can't escape popular culture. I wish I could.

Leif Christensen said...

Thanks, Nm Mm, Jeff. I'll take a look at those books.

I've just been living in apartments with friends on the cheap, and I've been planning on moving onto a boat long before I ran across this site. Even though boat maintenance can be expensive, you're still saving a lot of time and money over an apartment if I do most of the maintenance myself. Especially because I'll be in walking distance of work, so I won't need to own a car. And learning a barterable, untaxed skill is never a bad thing.

After saving up enough money, if things last that long, I'm hoping to get some land. Back in Norway, I have some family who run farms and have a business building traditional homes up in the frozen mountains, so I bet learning from them would go a long way up here in WA. It's not perfect, but it's a solid plan. And even without impending impact, that type of living is just a better, healthier, more peaceful way to live.

I'm certainly open to suggestions though. I don't pretend to know all the answers.

Candace said...

Thought this post over at the Automatic Earth fit in with the tenor of the past few weeks.

@ Jeff. "Collapse now and avoid the rush". does not mean just running off to rural areas, it means do what you can where you are.

My suggestions for reading: The Long Descent, The Ecotechnic Future and Green Wizardry.

Caryn said...

Thanks, JGM:

I read this a few days ago and it's taken me awhile to digest. Hard hitting stuff. I guess it's one of those 'can't see the first for the trees in the way' kind of things. The forest being simply - the times we are living in. Even for some of us who know this is happening - it's a hard slap to hear, then wake up and see how far along we are down that slippery slope.

One thing I want to question /interject that I think is related, but would like to hear what you and my fellow commenters think is this:

What about the prison-industrial-complex? What role is the for-profit prison system, the school-to-prison pipeline and the now ubiquitous private companies handling court fines and fees playing in all this?

From far-away Hong Kong, (so please correct me if I'm off-base for you on the ground there in the USA), I read & watch the US news and am constantly reminded of Jean Valjean in 'Les Miserables'. Could there be a burgeoning serfdom/slavery labeled 'inmate-labour' using much the same system as was used in France in Hugo's day? I've read that in some states the laws against prison labour to outside entities have been abolished.

If so, this would directly answer Cherokee's bafflement as to why folks in CA don't just ignore a silly law of putting up a rain barrel. Because 1) as people have already said - The American Southwest has a history of taking their water-rights very seriously, but 2) scoffing at any laws could get you entangled in the net of never-ending fines and fees to a private collector or even land you in jail in the even tighter net of prisons. It's not like jay-walking in NYC in the 70's. From what I see, It's a well-laid trap.

It would also answer Buddhabythelake's comment (paraphrasing) - "with 'nonpersonhood', will we revert to some for of slavery/serfdom?" IMHO absolutely. Yes. IMHO, If history has taught us nothing it should have taught us that humans will do this to each other at every opportunity.

jean-vivien said...

I remember reading one of our generous host's posts, where he explains that when the government of an Empire is faced with the uncontrollable rise of warbands, then it takes on hiring the warbands. Now here is what I just read on Reuters, and it seems that the US govt must be reading the Archdruid's Report to guide them on foreign policy haha
US Army starts training Syrian fighters

Once again, what could go wrong ?
Same old, same old...
There is a nice French song about the current state of the U.S.A. as a nation's place in the world :,_My_Fair_Lady

The Empire is failing to fix things abroad, while things come apart at the seams in Ferguson and Baltimore. The riots are beyond political discourse : looters are more interested in stealing HD TVs than making bold ideological statements. This is looking terrible from outside the US... Not sure if many people get it from here. The fall of an Empire will drag much in its wake, and I dread what it will do for us in Europe. I dare hope it will free up resources for Europe to strive, but given the latest election in the UK, and in Greece, I am afraid the Europen project is also toast. At least the way the wealth pump currently works from the South to the North.
The idea of nations taking independance (see Scotland) or leaving Europe (see Britain and Greece) is not even taboo any more.

Caryn said...

One more note:

A few people mentioned how crazy is it that the elites seem to feel so entitled, seem to think they deserve the advantages they have, (and of course this misconception is at the base of their senility or blindness to see the big picture of the economy and system that props them up and also of how it is failing):

There is an interesting study from Berkeley indicating this sense of ownership or entitlement and deserving whatever life has either thrown at you or handed to you on a silver platter - IS what you deserve.

"Does money make you mean?"

This is a TED talk by the author of the study, but there are more articles on it, if anyone is interested. I know there is a lot to disagree with, particularly in his scientific method. It's soft science/social science and may be impossible to quantify. Personally, I agree with his findings as it just shows, well, every single scrap of anecdotal evidence I've seen in my lifetime of both rich and poor, and I've known a lot of both.

The thing is: re: my earlier comment about the prison-industrial complex and the potential for a new serfdom; It fits in nicely with this 'deserved' world view. A return to Dickensian work-houses or Hugo-esque unpaid/ minimally paid prison labour propping up an economy doesn't upset the balance or the facade of "You are where you should be", " you got what you deserved".

Doctor Westchester said...


More signs of the time? The term "Motherfracker" has appeared in a Reuter's article. This article was on David Einhorn's takedown of the oil shale industry at the annual Sohn Investment Conference. He was referring to one particular shale oil company. However, the term "Motherfracker" is starting to show up in other places as well, like ZeroHedge and Resilience.

What is the chance that you might have make the term off limits here sometime in the future? Currently, we can only dream of the possibility.

Grebulocities said...

I've previously remarked about the use of "human resources" as an example of unintentional honesty coming from the corporate world - they obviously see humans as no different from other resources like oil, iron ore, or what have you.

I've mentioned this to several people, and the response I usually get back is something about how they think it's a silly euphemism designed to sound better than "Personnel" or "Staffing". Most other people I've met seem to associate a positive connotation to "resource" and think that being called a resource is a good thing. What sounds absurdly dystopian to us may actually sound positive to most of the public, which may not be a good sign...

jonathan said...

the shut off valves may be whispering but the broader trend of which water shutoffs are the just the most recent manifestation, is roaring. increasingly, a large swath of americans are being reduced to the same status of non-persons as the residents of some foreign countries. the irreducible necessities of shelter and adequate food, electrical power, fuel, medical care and now water are beyond the reach of millions. to me, that's the most telling aspect of the current situation in the u.s. if an invading army cut off civilians from food, water, shelter and medical care it would rightly be regarded as a war crime.
the united states has gone to war against its own population. little surprise then that the police in our poorest neighborhoods act like an occupying army.

Jo said...

PriZm and Leif, absolutely it is scary contemplating a future that is different to what we have always known - however what we are facing is similar to what billions in the world live with every day. I grew up in the developing world (missionary kid) which was kind of an inoculation in that I know first hand that it is possible to live a happy and meaningful life without utilities, as long as you have family and community. Human beings are so resourceful.

What I think helps is to look at the next ten years like this - imagine you keep living like you are today and in ten years you lose your corporate job and there is essentially no welfare system to fall back on any more. Basically, it's like the Depression all over again.

Imagine the same panic and helplessness you are feeling right now, but tomorrow you have no income.. that is the fate waiting for many, many people over the next x number of years.

However, think of the parallel universe in which in those ten years you spend nothing on consumer doodads so you can pay off your mortgage. Imagine you have adapted your house and garden to hand powered and solar technologies, have ten year old fruit trees, have chickens and home grown veg. Imagine you have learnt to cook and preserve food from your own land and local wasteland. Imagine that you have developed a really efficient rocket stove that locals are beginning to ask you to build for them. Maybe your home grown, home made condiments are also locally legendary. Imagine you have developed a network of similarly talented and capable friends. Now imagine you lose your corporate job tomorrow. Will your level of panic be the same? Of course not, because you have a year's worth of preserves in the cellar, a garden full of food, little need to use utilities, and the beginning of an alternative career building rocket stoves and selling condiments, and a community of supportive buddies.

This is the gift that TADR is handing to us. A heads up for a better life, which incidentally will soften the hammer-blow of the full force of a brutal future.

So sure, take a little time to grieve and worry, then plunge into action, which is a great antidote to anxiety:)

Ruben said...

@Lief Christensen

I think JMG's The Long Descent is absolutely required reading.

For you, after that I would skip to Green Wizardry. Then read Mystery Teaching of the Living Earth, then the Ecotechnic Future.

While you are doing that, read all the Primers over at The Automatic Earth. And since you are interested in boats, read Dimitri Orlov's posts on living on boats.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I heard something on the radio Friday afternoon which was closely connected to this week's blog entry. It was on a PBS network noncommercial radio station, an interview with a journalist about his recent book on the politics of California's water shortage. I tuned in late and didn't catch his name or the book title.

There are three major differences between water demand in the current California drought and the last multi-year drought in the 1970s. One is of course massive water consumption for fracking. Another is that the population of the state has nearly doubled. The third is that orchard and vine crops like wine grapes and tree nuts have become more lucrative than row crops. Row crops are replanted every year and in dry years when fields are fallowed, the farmer loses the return on the crop but saves on seeds, labor, fuel, water etc. Trees need some water every year whether it rains or not, otherwise they die. Many orchards and vines are not productive for the first couple of years after they are planted, so you can't just fallow an orchard or a vineyard when it doesn't rain.

The big federal and state water projects are not delivering much water to farmers because some of what's left is set aside for wildlife and city dwellers. The big farmers who planted almonds and pistachios for export a few years ago are drilling very deep wells. Rights to underground water are not regulated in California. These deep wells deplete the aquifers and cause the land to sink, but the immediate result is that all the shallower wells in the vicinity go dry.

There are a lot of hamlets in the southern half of the Central Valley that were settled by small farmers a couple of generations ago. Their water comes from shallow wells, and the wells are dry now because their rich neighbors drilled much deeper wells. They have no water for crops. They have no water for bathing, cooking or drinking. They have no water, period. They are buying bottled water and trucked in water. These water delivery systems were set up to get the people through a temporary emergency, but the powers that be are starting to realize that a longer term solution is needed.

What solution would that be? Requiring the owners of deep wells to share a small amount of their water with their neighbors? It is to laugh. No details were given on the show, but the solution being imposed is to red-tag the houses of the people whose wells have gone dry. You don't have any water to flush your toilet; therefore your house is unfit to live in; move. Never mind that these people's houses and land is the only wealth they have and that the resale value is nothing if there is no access to water.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Not long ago some commenters were discussing practical bicycle design. I stumbled on an interview with the owner of an urban bike share company and learned that the business model of such services makes them good places to develop sturdy, easily maintained utility bikes. The brief comments section argues for and against solid tires.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG, N Montesano, FL wolverine, Caryn.

At the risk of annoying all of you - as well as the many that read and did not reply: Do you not live in the land of the brave and the land of the free?

It is worth pointing out that a legal system is merely a social arrangement that has developed over a period of time to govern the behaviours of individuals that live within the jurisdiction of that system. It is most certainly not fixed in stone; otherwise the legal profession would be out of a job!

It is also worth noting that a legal system can sometimes actually respond to crisis and occasionally even provide protections for the individuals that live within its jurisdiction. Is that not what happened in the aftermath of the social and economic disaster that was 1929 based on the lessons learned during that period? Often it takes a crisis for such an outcome though and it is usually after the dust has settled rather than a proactive policy.

I apologise for using quite provocative language to elicit a response about the rainwater harvesting issue, but those continuing responses have boggled my mind on many occasions now. I strongly suspect that people hang onto the: oh no, it is illegal to harvest rainwater because the state owns it – meme / response because it abdicates responsibility from that of the individual to the state that is imposing the laws for their own purposes.

Now I don't understand the historical considerations behind that - from my perspective - very unusual restriction and accept that there are cultural differences.

However, it seems very unusual that despite an ongoing serious drought, changes to rainwater harvesting laws in urban areas at least are not even on the table.

The reason that I point out that is because rainwater harvesting systems are completely paid for by the end user. The water authorities are missing out on a chance to charge a permit fee for such systems. Most urban runoff is completely wasted and ends up in the ocean. Heck, they can even be a fashion statement to some extent for the outwardly environmentally conspicuous, but at least they’ll do some good.

I point those facts out because to me as an outsider, your laws make absolutely no sense in the face of an ongoing and serious drought in the western states. It is enough of a problem for people to consistently raise it here in this forum.


Cherokee Organics said...

Who knows, but even your law makers would possibly consider bipartisan support for action that costs them nothing and makes them look like they are actually doing something in the face of an ongoing crisis.

Eventually a community can actually outstrip their water supplies. This almost happened here during the last serious drought and parts of this continent are still – even today - suffering a very serious and prolonged drought. It is no joke.

It is also worth mentioning that there is not even a consistent application of the rules across your country and this may reflect many historical and vested interests - but it still does not change my basic arguments.

One of the great benefits of maintaining your own rainwater harvesting systems is that you cannot hide from the environment that you live in. I survive entirely on rainfall here, which can be very variable and often fail during extremely hot summers for months on end. And despite that the garden is thriving, the orchard is thriving, and the wildlife is also thriving and they use this place as a haven during those conditions.

To my mind, if you cannot survive on stored rainfall alone and your centralised supply is of a concern, then you obtain more water storage tanks, use less water, have access to a permanently running stream or get the heck out of there. In accepting that limitation of relying only on stored rainfall though, you can begin to truly live within the area that you find yourself.

For if you don't accept limits to your consumption and you abdicate responsibility for that supply to someone else then you will never mature.

It is also worth noting that over here we have a great deal of trouble with wells (we call them water bores) during droughts because you are only ever as good as your neighbours who may decide - unbeknownst to you - to pump the ground water dry for their own purposes. Such systems only work when there is a great surplus of groundwater to draw from in the first place or there is a common understanding about its use.

I now feel that I have adequately stated my case and I will sit down quietly and consider your responses – if there even are any.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Mary,

Thanks for your explanation.



Cherokee Organics said...


It is fascinating to be confronted by that reality at the bank. I'm watching things here closely to see how it goes. The property market has gone into over drive and that is usually a sign that it doesn't have more legs left in it. The prices people are paying for housing is now bordering on mildly insane as much of it appears to be speculative and I doubt that people can re-pay the debt. However, I have been wrong before on such matters, so am taking a wait and see approach. It is scary though.

Too funny! hehe! Luciferian sweepstakes is an absolute tea spitter! Very amusing, but often it is very true that those that whom proclaim strong dogma's often have the most to hide and they're usually up to some sort of mischief in public toilets...



Iuval Clejan said...

Both in the community I started in Atlanta and the one I live in CA we (well, not everyone in CA) are not dependent on utilities. We have water from rain and heat from wood. We use a bit of propane for outdoor cooking in summer (so as not to overheat our cabin), but could easily do without it. I should make or buy an outdoor cooking rocket stove. I am also working on a thermal solar project that would provide a second source of heat. We also have a pond that should last at least two years with no rain at current water usage for irrigating our veggies and cattle.

The biggest problem is the fact that the land where most of the economic activity happens will get sold by current owner and we can't afford to buy it. We hope the new landlords are friendly to us and charge rents commensurate with how much work they do for us, not how much they own. Have we passed Peak Empire yet?

Yif said...

Progress is still happening. All the Californian coastal cities are building big desalination plants so they will be drought-proofed. The power for the desalination plants will come from hydroelectricity supplied from Lake Mead. Oh, there I go, thinking like a senile elite again !

Ed-M said...

JMG, I've been on the same train in 2011. But what's really astonishing about Baltimore is that one can find boarded-up and blighted derelict properties sitting right across the street from properties so valuable, one must be wealthy in order to live in them (ex: Park Ave north of Franklin St).

Now in New Orleans you can see the remnants of bombed-out neighborhoods (some gentrifying, others languishing) from the Expressway going northeast out of the city.

Shane Wilson said...

@Crow hill,
One of the first things to go, indeed, is ALREADY going, is the aging of Western and particularly American society. As the coming crisis hits, the first to go will be older people who are heavily dependent on the healthcare system to stay alive, and who grew up during prosperous and affluent times and and lack the resilience to deal with the tough times that the coming depression will bring. Many otherwise healthy older people will probably lose the will to live and develop complications and die from an inability to cope with the drastic changes society will go through.

The other Tom said...

I just returned yesterday from two weeks backpacking in the woods and am now catching up on the ADR. Except for a few times when I was near a road, the loudest sounds were the woodpeckers, the owls, and the wind in the trees.
I was thinking that an obvious way to get a jump on collapse is to cultivate only those interests and passions that require little or no money. Living outside, reading, writing, good conversation, will still be there even when we are poor. Even people who expect business as usual don't argue with me on this, so in this way I can stealthily help them collapse.
I've also been noticing a high correlation between TV watching and a false sense of security, or the belief that "it couldn't happen to me." Most of the people I have real conversations with don't have TV, because 1) it's better to spend limited income on what you really need, and 2) it's a lot more fun to watch TV at the tavern where we can collectively ridicule it. If I talk about pileated woodpeckers to a TV addict, they will invariably divert the discussion to a nature program they saw. TV seems like a reality prophylaxis, as if it makes people uncomfortable with direct experience.
I tested the idea that the internet may not be around forever last night on a few TV watchers and got the usual response. Then I raised this issue some off-TV people and we discussed resources, power grids, toxic waste, etc., without the automatic denial. Interesting.
@Caryn. I also have thought about the prison-industrial complex, as a trap for everyone who becomes poor. (At least poor in the traditional sense, as opposed to living with a light footprint.) I am hoping the expansion of prisons will eventually be limited by lack of tax revenue, as all the ponds dry up. There is a breaking point where they cannot extract more revenue in fines, court fees, etc. , when you can't get blood from a stone. In the meantime though, collapsing in place inevitably will involve violation of ordinances, and the art of avoiding attention or confrontation. I had a very chilling conversation with an acquaintance who is retired from the state police about this. He says that being poor will be just as dangerous as being black. (He is a black guy who knows rascism) He would say that being invisible is the best security.
I am not expecting outright, widespread slavery in the future only because it is cheaper to have wage slaves. Since everybody thinks they are "free" in a free market system, security is much easier for the elites. And when there are fewer jobs to go around it is easier to expel excess people than to enslave them.
I think keeping a low profile is important for a safe collapse.

Ed-M said...

@Unknown (Deborah Bender):

Redtag the houses that have no water? And expect the occupants to move? Are they serious??? Without water, the value of the property is basically nil, so its occupants can't move, even if they wanted to, because they can't sell the property! I suppose the end result will be entire towns and villages will become ghost-towns down there, with the inhabitants scattered hither and yon.

If we lived in a socialist country, mind you, deeper wells would have been drilled already. But we live in a corporate welfare state, so... these bone-dry properties will be cleared, the parcels assembled and the resulting tracts will be sold to those that have deep pockets. Rural renewal, I guess it'll be called....

N Montesano said...

Oh, you're right; the situation is nuts.
Here is a beautiful quote I found on the topic: "Water is a tremendously important resource in the western United States. For
approximately 150 years, water issues have been at the core of economic, cultural, and
political life in the region. Yet, despite the regional importance of water allocation and
management, and the tremendous investments in infrastructure and technology, water resource management in the American West is generally based on poorly conceived laws and policies. To the outsider looking in, the region offers a wealth of lessons—perhaps more negative than positive."
The laws are being challenged, and changed, all the time. We (well, some of us)here well understand the importance of water; this is a region where the water wars began in the 1800s, and they never really stopped, although they quieted down for awhile, before beginning to heat back up again about a decade or so ago. The climates of the various states are remarkably different, ranging from maritime temperate to desert, but it is climate normal to have no rainfall for months every summer. Historically, summer water comes from snowmelt, which fills the rivers and the reservoirs. The disaster hitting now is that there's virtually no snow. Rainwater catchment is going to have to become standard for people to survive, and it should have done so long ago. (Although lately, we've been having relatively dry winters, too.) So are graywater systems. Laws are lagging as far behind in this area as they usually do, but some useful changes have been made. My state now has an alternative building code, with (expensive) permit fees for things like graywater systems, and it allows rainwater catchment, although subject to some of the earlier-mentioned caveats. Water law here dates to the 1800s, and the water is overallocated. Some rivers are actually pumped dry. There's one in the town where I work that is largely dependent on effluent from the sewage treatment plant, for volume in the summer -- while farmers absolutely dependent on it, pump steadily out of it for irrigation. A bit mind-bending, a awhile back, to hear the city explaining to an activist that using graywater to irrigate city parks, instead of potable treated water, would be detrimental to the river. Just to pile on the irony, we've cleverly put a landfill above (literally; the trash is in a massive pile) the river, upstream from all those farm fields. On a bend in the river. In a region subject to subduction zone earthquakes.
It was just approved for expansion, over the vehement, years-long protests of local opponents. Now headed for a few more years of legal appeals.
California, a dry region, has been forced, via draining rivers, into a lush, verdant landscape that produces much of the nation's produce. Now they're in crisis. Not helped by the contamination of aquifers used for drinking water, by fracking effluent.
So, yeah, rainbarrels are needed, although I'm not sure how much they'll help the farmers referenced by Deborah Bender. Or the farmers dependent on riverwater for irrigation here, for that matter. This is a heavily agricultural area. The problem is just ... massive, and very, very hard to address. The infighting among competing users does not help the effort to come up with a more sensible system.

Shane Wilson said...

I wanted to agree with Chris. Civil disobedience and disregarding unjust laws have to become a part of the solution regarding sustainability as the senile elite crack down and become more corrupt in enforcing the status quo. We have to be willing to disregard the law. Collectively, we didn't stop drinking and selling liquor during prohibition, we didn't drive 55, I think we should find the gumption to break unjust unsustainable laws if we feel passionately about it.

عبد المنعم المشايخي said...

What a horrifying whisper, however we should not forget, it is raining.

tarotinateacup said...

It is difficult to comprehend the swift changes you talk about in America, and I'm left wondering, how long before similar scenarios develop over here (Australia).

I find myself, as a NZ citizen living and working in Australia, still amazed at the vast climatic differences between NZ and north coastal Queensland, where I've ended up (for work reasons initially, though now well and truly settled). One of those is rainfall, which falls abundantly in NZ, yet hardly at all over most of Australia. Even where we are, that is a tropical coastal region with heavy rainfalls over 4-5 months in summer, this year we've received less than half the average rainfall - and now that it is May, the next 6 months are the "dry winter" months so very little, if any rain, is expected. Out in the dry west, farmers and graziers are facing dire futures.

With good preparation though, one can certainly have enough water to make it through the dry winter and beyond, since we get 1600mm easily over 3 months in the summer: we have a large water tank and a bore supply. We are surrounded by bush land (not agricultural use) so the bore water is fairly safe (though the taste is still unfavourable). More importantly though, we are learning to conserve as much as possible, even with our dual water sources. Another water tank is planned next year, and I'm researching a compostable outdoor toilet, where the worms transform waste into compost for the garden.

One step at a time... Many thanks for your time and input into this blog, and everyone's comments which I enjoy savouring with a cup of nettle tea... Monica

Wizard of Tas said...

I saw a documentary some months back (available on YouTube) about a 70 year old woman named Agafya. In Russia, her family moved to the most remote part of Siberia before she was born to escape religious persecutions under Stalin (1936).

She's lived there all her life, refuses to move to civilisation. The last survivor in her family.

No mod cons. Up to her armpits in snow for part of the year.

Want to know what's possible, check her out. Makes me realise how easy I have it here in Tasmania. Cold, wet, windy... still easier than her life.

Caryn said...

Hi Cherokee;

Thanks for your explanation. I don't mind your humorous takin'-the-mickey style at all. You are very much appreciated here. I've also visited your blog and found it above my head, but trying to grasp- hopefully for my future understanding. Looking forward to the 2nd 1/2 of your story!!!

Personally, I don't live in the land of the free and the home of the brave (most of the time) anymore. That phrase actually makes me want to cry these days. As an expat - a foot in two worlds= confusion.
IMHO, Americans are no different than other cultures at their core. They've just had different experiences and expectations. Sure, when things get bad enough, not just abstractly, "I saw it on the news" bad, but "Hey! The tap's not coming on!" bad, they will break laws regardless of the consequences or risks. In China, we call that "breaking someone's rice bowl". They have no alternative but to fight to the death, because that's what they're facing anyway. It's a very foolish thing to do.

I think the stupor and inaction now, on taking things into their own hands may be because most Americans have no personal experience in living with real want and an indifferent or ineffectual (government) authority. It's just never been THAT bad in the living memory of almost any born-&-bred American.

I mean, we saw on the news the mess of New Orleans post Katrina, people on their roofs, people fainting from thirst in the Huston Astrodome, Fema trailers that stayed for years with little to no rebuilding….. 2 DAYS after the waters receded post- tsunami in Sri Lanka, peasant fishing villagers old and young, were on the beach gathering driftwood and scrap and rebuilding their homes. They were told to stop. They didn't. It would never have occurred to them to wait for help or meekly obey their indifferent authorities. (** in fact, they were told to stop because an investor wanted their 'abandoned' beach-front land to build a resort hotel and displace them, they were quite right to act quickly) They've always known a world in which there is no help. Today's Americans have never known a world without help, emergency services, some semblance of infrastructure a somewhat responsive governmental authority…. I remember a 60-minutes show about a NO resident who had seen the Sri Lankans on the news and decided "Hey! Why didn't WE do that?" "I'm going to DO that!" So she got busy organizing a grass-roots rebuild in her neighborhood.

I think that's the whole or at least the biggest point here in our gracious host's virtual living room: Wake Up! It IS happening! We can blame them for their own stupor, but up to a point, IMHO, as those powers that be and media circus is pulling every trick out of their hats to keep the populace in that stupor and inactive. I can't feel superior to them as it could easily be me there if circumstances had been different, and there will still be ways my family will probably be caught out when it all hits the fan.

On another note: I would bet a lot of the people buying up all that overpriced real estate in OZ are wealthy mainland Chinese trying to just park their money before it all blows up here too. Ni Hao! ;)

Myriad said...

When we talk about shutoff valves, I'm reminded of the protagonist in the F. Scott Fitzgerald story "Bablylon Revisited," who observes, "I did [lose a lot in the crash]... but I lost everything I wanted in the boom." It's painful to contemplate some of the things we've already lost, and are in danger of losing, "in the boom," which will make the consequences of those shutoff valves more acute.

A real-world case in point: a mile and a half from my house, there is a complex of three enormous commercial greenhouses, each one enclosing well over an acre. They have been unused for nearly a decade, and they're perpetually slated for demolition as soon as the owner of the parcel they're part of can finalize the funding. The plan is to cede some of the land to the town to use to straighten an adjacent road, and turn the rest into a development of McMansions. Whatever well-deserved fate eventually befalls the McMansions won't bring back the greenhouses.

The funding, though, keeps getting delayed by successive recessions and budget crunches. That that will continue to happen seems a pretty safe bet.

The greenhouses were last used commercially to grow roses. They're now filled with feral plant life including trees, sustained by rainwater through panes broken from petty vandalism. But there's enough intact glass to fully repair two of the buildings by cannibalizing the third.

I've walked or rode past them practically every day for years, but recently they've been on my mind (in ways that might bear discussion on your other blog). An already-lost treasure... or perhaps not. In most scenarios either I or the greenhouses or both will be long gone before any opportunity to have any say in their fate arises. Even if they came up for auction under real-estate market collapse conditions, taxes on the nominal land value, code compliance costs to put any of the structures to any use at all, and other costs would be well out of the reach of even a group of dedicated preservationists.

But if things go just right... or just wrong... maybe the greenhouses can be saved by the crash.

I can imagine squatting there, preferably with others, using my making-do technical skills to reclaim useful greenhouse space a little at a time, and hoping that whoever might be in a position to stop us chooses to help us in the endeavor instead.

I can spend some time in advance developing more specific applicable skills, but not much, because it's such a long-shot possibility. Next step: learning more via creative trespassing, under the cover of (genuine) photographic interest.

Ray Wharton said...


When I was growing up in the mountains of western Colorado, a tiny town named Collbran if you want to look at the plane I have in mind on a map, my Dad was the ditch rider. His job was to drive along the canal and turn the head gates, making water go where it was legally called; watching this I have some appreciation of the complexity.

You see the water infrastructure in the West, especially the mountains, is very sophisticated and was built over a long time, many Empires claimed and left the land and the water law was passed down with to the next guy. Today I have a good buddy living on the edge of the posh upper class bubble city of Fort Collins who farms with water rights granted by the King of Spain! The ditches were physically designed to fullfil the rights as written, so each new comer had to inherit the old laws simply because not doing so would involve very disruptive retrofits to the entire infrastructure. The laws and their complexity have built up over time still generally governed by a principle of seniority rules.

That's some old history, some new history is that my Dad was so good at his job because he is about the hardest person to stay mad at who has ever lived; just something about the way he is. Guns and well sharpened shovels were brought to bare over slight disagreements on how the ditch should be set on a given occasion. This is one of the reasons the laws are so complex, puts matters in the hands of a priesthoo,d if you catch my meaning.

You're not wrong that things can change, and its worth mentioning that many in the west do harvest and store water; but if they did they will still be wise to deny that anyone could lest an unfriendly neighbor google their internet posts.

My compromise? Practice the skills to do proper tank storage, have the equipment to do so brought in in the service of non water storage projects, land scape in a way that doesn't store water (technically) but might slow its leaving down to an negligible (but existent) rate.

Things could change, and I wonder how much of the infrastructure that makes this region livable will survive that turmoil. Alot hinges on that question.

Of course the last two weeks it been raining cats and dogs, never seen nor heard of anything like it. Everything is drenched and flooded with still water.

FLwolverine said...

Cherokee - now it sounds like you're just being provocative for the sake of bring provocative. I don't think anybody here was trying to use the existence of laws against rainwater harvesting as an excuse for not doing something. Several of us were just trying to tell you that, despite your personal incredulity, such laws do exist in the U.S.

Likewise, I don't think anybody here is going to argue with you about the importance of rainwater harvesting. I think that applying your ultimate test - if you can't survive on the available rainwater, then you should move - would result in an awful lot of people recognizing that they should move.

But what about changing laws that prohibit rainwater collection? I can't speak to that, not living in such a jurisdiction. As Tip O'Neill said, "all politics are local," so whether you can get a law changed is going to depend on a lot of factors that outsiders may not be able to judge. But there's an interesting post from the National Conference of State Legislatures (link below) describing recent changes in the laws of several states encouraging rainwater harvesting. (So maybe we're not as backward as you think)

There's also this interesting bit of information: we're not talking abut rainwater belonging to the State. "In some states, such as Colorado, previous water law stated that all precipitation belonged to existing water-rights owners, and that rain needed to flow to join its rightful water drainage. However, a 2007 study conducted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Douglas County determined that only 3 percent of rain actually reached a stream or the ground. Colorado followed-up by enacting two pieces of legislation, one allowing certain types of well owners to use rainwater and one authorizing pilot development projects."

So one of the claims against changing the law could be that the state is depriving existing water rights owners of valuable property rights - a taking that requires just compensation by the state. That kind of claim can throw a real wrench into proposed revisions if the law.

tstreet said...

Essentially, the whole world is in decline whether or not people realize it. And they don't. There does seem to be some lip service,however, that the poor are growing and the middle class is shrinking even if we do have what is defined as full employment. Does it count if you can't live on your wage?

Both parties think that we can just jigger with the economic system, leave all the basic power centers in place and move on. In the mean time, and regardless whether or not we are moving to Armageddon, we should share what is left.

I am not worried about the long term. I just take it as a matter of evolution that mankind will cease to exist at some point. We are speeding up the day of reckoning, of course, but it does not matter.

winingwizzard said...

@ Doctor Westchester...

Einhorn is not a very sharp tool. Most of the oil patch new that the fracking craze was a bubble, or a 'boomlet' as we call them. Horizontal drilling did the same, but could be done much cheaper - boomlet lasted longer and had better EROEI.

The whole fracking thing held unemployment at bay for a few years, and kicked the can down the road for a lot of leveraged folks. As it unwinds, there will be another bubble made somewhere. One reason for the TPP - it guarantees endless bubbles with corps writing the rules, which means endless paper profits and no taxation.

As usual, economic pundits should wear a Captain Hindsight shirt when they speak...

winingwizzard said...

@ Crow Hill -

The lack of familial structure is hurting everyone, but the lack of respect for the life experiences of "downslope" folks is also a big issue to me. It's SS, Medicare and Medicaid, all of which require you to be too poor to live in order to participate.

I always wanted an 'elder' to talk to when I was young so I might avoid being stupid or ignorant. I'm glad I can be that for some few younglings today.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi nuku,

Thanks for the information. I hadn't about the haircut rules over in NZ but the big four are in it up to their eyeballs over in the land of the long white cloud. They're making obscene profits here too.



Scotlyn said...

One more data point: European BCG vaccine shortage...

@Jo Missionary kid, eh? *waves* Now I know why all your posts resonate SO strongly with me!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lawfish,

I hear you and it may interest you to know that I chose this particular location because being on the side of a mountain range which receives reliable winter rain from the Southern Ocean helps with the inevitable drought that will happen again. It is worthwhile noting that an El Nino is predicted for this forthcoming summer.



Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
I can't resist a late comment on our British election.

The quirkiness of our parliamentary system means that a relatively few voters changing their voting allegiance in specific locations can exaggerate a result. Having said that, the +50 per cent vote for Scottish Nationalist Party is a mind boggling change. It seems the de-industrialisation of old Britain has finally caught up with our Labour Party. (If we had something more like SNP rather than UKIP south of the Border, there would perhaps have been a similar shift in the old industrial and urban areas.)

One commentator has said that democracy has failed the poor. My view is that the old view of life changes when irreversible decline sets in. Arguably we already have the obvious first instalment. By no means have we had a catastrophe yet, but our social democrat institutions - essentially post-war European model - no longer distribute / share power in useful ways.

We transferred our need for a replacement Empire, resources, finance and etc. to the USA hegemon and latterly significantly to EU. The more Britain now 'Americanises' attempting to find a new model, the tighter the screws will turn.

We could, perhaps stand a loosening or break-up of the UK within a reasonable EU-frame, but are not likely to cope at all with a break-up of both UK and EU - and the latter might well follow the former if we leave the EU.

We don't know who we are anymore. I'm British by the way, while it lasts.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Paul,

Exactly. People use those swimming pools here as fire fighting water too. What's going on in the US, do you lot lack imagination or something?



Walter Bazzini said...

"I suppose it’s possible that the people currently occupying the upper ranks of the political and economic pyramid in today’s America are just that much more stupid than their equivalents in the Jacksonian, Progressive, and New Deal eras."

You suppose it's possible; I suppose it's probable.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Shane,

Thanks. Humanure = fertiliser seems to me to be a no-brainer. The wallabies, wombats and kangaroos can't get enough of the greens that are grown in that stuff.



Shawn Aune said...


I love this post.

I have this odd desire to print off several copies of it and leave one every place I consume. ;)

Unknown said...

JMG and Commenters. If my memory serves me correctly the energy per capita on a world wide basis peaked in 1985 or 87. This was driven by rising population more than oil supply issues. Since then we have had increasing population with only a small increase in oil supply. Therefore the the current situation is worse. If you factor in the increased consumption of energy by the oil industry to produce oil the situation would clearly be worse. Bottom line is that energy per capita has been going down steadily for about 30 years.


Hello... said...

to the former self-described troll who posted as something like "Repent", i wanted to say that was beautiful what you did and said to John Michael Greer, and it gives me hope of a different soulful kind.

people hate talk of "magic" but we do cast our own spells, and we're living in a time of some dark black magic.

i like how Greer creates his world with rules and boundaries for freedom to be safe and kind. and "Repent" openly being humble and changing his mind and apologizing after Greer consistently refused to be baited to the lowest common denominator? WOW. that's so un-american now.

THAT is beautiful. / Thank you very much.

that is what is beautiful about "Repent" apologizing for disrespecting John Michael Greer's HOME. i love that.

this is all about knowing yourself, your boundaries, what kind of world and life you want to create, and constantly pruning and watering the energies you need to make that possible.

for example: us apartment dwellers can't run away to the country and grow food because we're struggling just to make this month's RENT.

we have to "depend on the kindness of strangers" more, i think, and learn how to create COMMUNITY again. whether we're in the trailer parks, stacked like cord wood in tiny apartments, or under the bridges.

i think different facets of society have different tasks, with what we each have.

so us city folks have the task of re-navigating humanity's communal insanity, while trying to hold onto reality.

it's one thing to get through your OWN existential crisis somewhat intact, but it's a whole other thing to deal with a society of extremely dangerous babies with guns, money, power.

i keep thinking of the red-headed boy on The Twilight Zone who'd have tantrums and turn his neighbors into half lizard squirrels.

Jujitsu indeed!

I have no answers. i'm at a loss on so much.

But that's why I find John Michael Greer welcoming "Repent" back without shaming or anything, so darn BEAUTIFUL. So much magic is always between the lines, the cracks.

That's where a lot of us live, anyhow.


-erika lopez

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

"I wanted to agree with Chris. Civil disobedience and disregarding unjust laws have to become a part of the solution regarding sustainability as the senile elite crack down and become more corrupt in enforcing the status quo. We have to be willing to disregard the law. Collectively, we didn't stop drinking and selling liquor during prohibition, we didn't drive 55, I think we should find the gumption to break unjust unsustainable laws if we feel passionately about it."

The whole concept of an "elite" needs very careful examination. And I don't mean to imply that there won't be an elite. Jefferson and Adams' letters debated who constituted the natural aristoi; in the world that is coming, the "elite" will have to demonstrate that ability in some other way than "consuming" planet earth and reducing those economically deleveraged beneath them to something other than "human resources" (serfs) or "human commodities" (slaves). Slavery will no doubt be tried again. Part of the glory of the Middle Ages was that it tried to wend a way out of the slavery-dilemma, where rich and corrupted and degenerate oligarchies sat around and had others do the jobs they depended on for their opulence, but wouldn't do themselves. The last straw was the army - when no more Romans were virtuous enough to at least serve as centurions and inspire respect in their barbarian recruits, the final death knell sounded. The Church recreated society by abolishing slavery and accepting degrees/hierarchy that were adjusted or local conditions. In the future, it will probably be those who carry this project even further (people who serve voluntarily and demonstrate the knowledge of how to embody that in teaching others) who reform a legitimate elite. Seed-savers, druids, protectors (paladins), will probably have a deeply geocentric tinge, but it will need to draw on the inherited wisdom of Tradition and adjust it for peculiar conditions, without losing purity.

buddhabythelake said...


You make an excellent point re the role of the prison system in the reinstatement of serfdom. Between penal slavery and debt slavery, there will be ample forces at work.

Given that there is a "natural" regression to the use of raw human labor to provide the upper classes with their wealth and comfort, I do wonder how long the euphemisms will be maintained. At what point will slavery/serfdom openly be named for what it is? Given our propensity for self-delusion, it may take a few generations.

The challenge, of course, will be how to maintain a degree of freedom in such a world. Neo-feudalism is not exactly palatable, but then, was our Enlightenment-driven democracy only made possible by the tapping of stored sunlight by the Industrial Revolution? It makes me think of what value systems will be most successful in the coming age.

Daddy Hardup said...

@ Phil

SNP stands for Scottish National Party (not Nationalist). Probably an important distinction, as it aims to be inclusive-civic-nationalist not exclusive-ethnic-nationalist. Otherwise a perceptive account, thank you. Still British too myself but preparing to bail out as English...

C.L. Kelley said...

Shawn - do it. I have done so a few times, my local cafe has a bit of a publications table. Particularly good essays that don't require a lot of ADR background get printed off (copied in to word processor for formatting with attribution, date and url at the top of the first page) and quietly left on the table. You'd be amazed by the people I see picking them up and obviously finding something that speaks to them.

Haven't worked up the nerve to leave something from The Other Blog, but one day I may. Had a fascinating conversation about narratives and the power of theater (as a separate entity from literature and the written script) for shaping the way we see the world as a culture today with someone in that very shop...

wiseman said...

I was going over some numbers over the weekend, and to me it looks like that the real tragedy in the west is not economic or energy related, it's social.

The number of children born to single mothers is staggering, couple that with 50% divorce rates and you have a time bomb ticking.

I mean governments and economic systems come and go all the time but societies endure it all and live through it and it's the family unit which allows this. Take that away and you have a society which will disappear with the current or next government.

However you don't write a lot about this, is it because you think this trend will reverse over the next couple of decades ?

Shane Wilson said...

Kinda unrelated, but I was watching RT's footage of Russia's 70th celebration of VE day, and I was blown away by it. Geez, talk about an ascendant, confident show. What really struck me was the bright, genuine smiles on the troops faces, recalling how grim footage of people in the late Soviet and early post Soviet period of my childhood seemed. You can fake a smile, but you can't fake this kind of confidence and enthusiasm. I don't know the last time I've seen a similar group of American troops as bright and enthusiastic.

Cathy McGuire said...

Another good post, JMG - I'm late in responding because I had to catch two bee swarms (and then recuperate - thanks for your help, August!) and work on weeding before our week of rain sets in. I have definitely seen the economic unraveling you mentioned - roads in many small towns are full of potholes, storefronts still stand empty (despite the proclamation of recovery) and food prices are unbelievable but inevitable given the various weather issues. And yet people are acting like the erosion isn't happening. Suburban friends are planning vacations in Europe and worrying about how to use their time-shares... I bite my lip and hope they don't find out the real conditions in the middle of some exotic vacation. I talk about abandoned malls in my novel (still going up at though not until a later chapter. I always found them spooky and wonder how the last few stores feel - who wants to walk through a mausoleum to shop?

But some places are starting to wake up and smell the ... toilet water?

Recycled Drinking Water: Getting Past the Yuck Factor

Just now, I can hear my neighbor trying to use a rented backhoe to dig up his garden plot - the joke is on him because those tank treads are compacting his soil beyond repair as he scrapes the bucket across the turf. Such ignorance is almost arrogant...

hapibeli said...

Another warning sign similar to the NICK HANAUER's " The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats" listed in an earlier comment.
JMG's " The senility of the current US elite" comes to light so simply through the beliefs of the proletariat.

hapibeli said...

To complete my post on the distrust of "the people" in any US Supreme Court decision;

Build community, learn skills that don't need cheap energy, have non pharmaceutical medicine training (homeopathy, asian medicine, herbal medicine, wildcrafting). Have transportation that won't rely on petroleum or electricity.
Don't believe in Government relief programs. Use them while they are here, but never expect them to be available.
Don't buy the hype.

Ed-M said...

Another externality, courtesy of big business, showing the economy isn't what it seems.

Big food and foodstuff corporations now are taking up to 120 days to pay their suppliers, even though they require their own customers to pay within 30. Many of these suppliers are small, even tiny businesses that can scarcely afford the delay -- they have their own bills to pay, and credit for them is tighter than for the big guys.

Mind you, this will all out in the form of higher prices at the retail end, something the end customer can scarcely afford, either.

Janet D said...

@ Shane Wilson & Chris

re: Civil Disobedience. I highly recommend, if you haven't already read it, reading Martin Luther King, Jr.s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." Get it in book form, ideally. Or listen to Paul Wheaton's (from podcast (he reads it out loud every MLK holiday).

Still spine tingling. And still so relevant.

Denys said...

I'd like to tack on to your observation of nuclear families, the fall apart of the extended family too. There are thousands of retired adults relocating to AZ and FL each year. Who would have ever thought the "over 55" community would be thing 30 years ago? Those retired adults who remain where I live in PA do weekly bus trips to casinos and other sites, play games together, go out to eat daily and have an incredibly busy social life. I rarely see grandparents with grandchildren when I am out running errands.

In our family both sets of grandparents removed themselves from the grandparenting role immediately when our first child was born. My parents moved to Florida and my husband's parents have an 7 day a week social schedule that requires us to book time with them 5 weeks in advance. I can get in my hairdresser easier.

Our family life now is nothing like we expected. Growing up both of us spent every Sunday night at our grandparents having dinner and sharing the same family stories over and over again. We even went on vacations with our grandparents along. Our children basically have no relationship with their grandparents and many tears have been shed about this and many arguments had, but I keep in perspective that so many children have it much worse in terms of family life. I've also learned that I am not alone in this dilemma as many children have no relationship with grandparents not just to the moving and social schedule, but also because of the divorce rate and relocation of families too. Its a crazy time to raise kids.

MR_X said...

Hello Mr. Greer -

Here is my entry for the latest anthology contest. I am still editing it, but the link will remain the same until the deadline:


Blueback said...

“Kinda unrelated, but I was watching RT's footage of Russia's 70th celebration of VE day, and I was blown away by it. Geez, talk about an ascendant, confident show. What really struck me was the bright, genuine smiles on the troops faces, recalling how grim footage of people in the late Soviet and early post Soviet period of my childhood seemed. You can fake a smile, but you can't fake this kind of confidence and enthusiasm. I don't know the last time I've seen a similar group of American troops as bright and enthusiastic.”

I was extremely impressed as well and agree wholeheartedly with your conclusions.

It seems to me that as America slides into the abyss, Russia has made a huge comeback. Oswald Spengler predicted that the next great civilization would emerge out of Russia and the world’s next great religious movement would grow out of Russian Christianity. More and more, I think that is yet another prediction by Spengler that turned out to be right on the money. A lot of other leading philosophers, historians and spiritual teachers from the 19th and early 20th centuries thought the same thing. David Goldman, who writes for the Asia Times under the pen name Spengler, wrote a column several months ago where he argued that predictions of Russia’s demise that were so common even a year or two ago were very much premature, much like the famous quote from Mark Twain concerning premature reports of his death.

Speaking of Russia’s newly found self-confidence and religious faith, have any of you seen this? The Saker is right; this is likely a harbinger of things to come:

You may also wish to pay close attention to General Shoigu in the future; he is one of three or four people who have been consistently mentioned as likely candidates to succeed Vladimir Putin when he steps down as President of the Russian Federation. When I was watching coverage of the Victory Day parade, I noticed that Shoigu, right after formally reporting to Putin and shaking his hand, walked over to greet Chinese president Xi Jinping. President Xi stood up and shook Shoigu’s hand as if they were friends and equals. I believe that General Shoigu is the odd on favorite be Russia’s next president and Xi is probably thinking the same thing as well.

I have a lot of friends who are ex-military or are military history/technology buffs who are really impressed with the new Russian armored vehicles that were unveiled, such as the T-14 Armata tank and the Kurganets-25 infantry fighting vehicle. The T-14 in particular is a radical new design that is a clean break with both the post-Soviet designs the Russians have been building so far and current Western designs. A growing number of military experts are saying that Russia has grabbed a major lead in armored vehicle design and technology:

Meanwhile, as Russia and China introduce impressive and innovative new weapons systems like the Armata, the Kurganets-25, the J-20 and T-50 stealth fighters, the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile and any number of ultra-advanced supersonic cruise missiles coming out of both Russia and China, we continue to piddle away our military resources on futile wars in the Middle East and wasteful corporate welfare schemes such as the F-35 and Littoral Combat Ship that probably never will perform anywhere close to spec. As one blogger and former Marine put it, “We're gonna get our a** whipped in the next war and the seeds of that failure are being planted today.”

Twilight’s Last Gleaming, anyone?

Janet D said...

Peak Insanity...wasn't that one of the terms someone came up with a few weeks back? I've had a spate of experiences in the last week that make me feel like we've hit that point.

For anyone who wants to communicate the concept of "externalities" to the uninitiated, I highly recommend visiting Industrial Scars, the web site of aerial photographer Henry Fair, who is featured in this month's Audubon magazine. He largely photographs landscapes from the air, documenting the immense damages wrought by industrial processes. It's not for the faint of heart and, definitely, a picture is worth 1,000 words. Fair, quoted in the Audubon magazine, stated, “The problem remains the same: People just don’t care, and I don’t know why.” He hopes to change some of that with his photography. I wish him luck.

I read last week that the U.S. auto market has come roaring back. Sales of SUVs and luxury trucks (average sales price of $42K) are leading the way, given that gas is so cheap. What's amazing is that the AVERAGE loan length is now well over 5 years - something like 69 months, with some loans approaching 80 months. Apparently extreme debt is now 'negative income'. I can't help but think what will happen when the price goes up to $4/gallon or higher again????

I listened to a speaker yesterday who serves as a chaplain to prisoners in our local county jail. He was detailing the financial difficulties inmates face in trying to turn their lives around - for example, to join the paying work crew while in jail, they have to pay $5 cash per day, but there are very specific rules (and punishments) about other people bringing them money (even from their own bank accounts), so some aren't able to pay and so can't work. If they have fines or other costs from their court cases (and many do), those fines accrue interest at 12% a year, with the end result being prisoners discharged with thousands of dollars owed due to loan fees. In some larger urban jails, over half the prisoners qualify as mentally ill. And so on. I've never been a softie for those in jail, but I came away with a much better understanding of how so many never escape the rabbit hole. It seemed so hopeless.

It seems the more places I look these days, the more I find Peak Insanity. You'd think more people would notice. I guess I'll end with a few song lyrics from my new favorite singer, Nahko in his song "Vultures of Culture"

"It's unbelievable, all the slow movin' people
And they could care less, just as long as they are comfortable
It's unforgivable, because the conditions now are critical
And whether or not you're ready we are now approachin' a pinnacle
It's difficult to say exactly what to do
But the change begins with me and I reflect it back to you"

Better go get some of that change going.....

druidgarden said...

A few stories from Detroit and the surrounding communities might be helpful here:

One "heat challenged" friend lives in Detroit with no running water (due to her copper pipes being stolen from her home when she was gone) and no central heating (due to contractors who have taken her money twice and ran). She keeps us updated on Facebook, showing how she's using rocket stove technology and melting snow in the winter to survive and keep warm. This is someone who has two part-time jobs, but simply can't afford to get the pipes replaced or the central heating unit replaced again.

The second friend does have running water and electricity, but does not have the funds to run the heat in the winter, and so "bundles up" and eats lots of soup, even during bitterly cold winters. She also has a job.

Another group of friends are, essentially, squatters who are unemployed and can't find new work, so they have taken over a block of houses and are working on making an intentional community there. Because they aren't legal residents, they can't get power or water. They are using rainwater harvesting, solar panels, and rocket stoves.

Even outside of the city, where I live, power is often a challenge. We routinely lose power for anywhere from several days up to nine days (the last nine-day power outage was last November--thank goodness for a woodburning stove). Practically every time a major storm comes through, we lose power. Because of the poor condition of the power grid, the storms come and the power company (DTE) gets overwhelmed and can't get everyone's power back online quickly. Some use generators--I just learn to live without. Neighbors who have been here a long time (like my next door neighbors who have lived here almost 40 years) tell me the power never used to go out like it does now.

People, especially those outside of the Detroit Metro area, or outside of Michigan don't believe me when I tell them this stuff. They tell me that nobody goes without power for 9 days in America. They tell me that nobody in the US lives without heat in the bitter winters. But its real, and its here.

Shane Wilson said...

I'm reminded of all the coverage a while back in the American media about how bad the economic sanctions were biting Russia, how weak the ruble was, and how fragile their economy was. I thought, "geez, for an economic basketcase, they sure aren't acting like it." I certainly wasn't fooled by the American press.
Thanks for the inspiring stories about people making it in the margins in Detroit. You all are leading the way for the rest of us. We'll all be there shortly. Thanks for the examples!

John Michael Greer said...

Repent, good heavens, no, I haven't banned you as a troll. We've had occasional disagreements, but it takes a fair amount to get banned here. I didn't get the recent comments you mentioned -- Blogger has gotten rather intermittent about comments of late.

Blueback, two for two. I'll be returning to the Dark Age America sequence shortly, for a little while, to fill out the rest of that project.

Dagny, thanks for this! The Daily Impact is well worth reading, and the remarks by the ExxonMobil CEO are priceless.

Blueback, yes, I saw that also. It really does seem as though a lot of chickens are coming home to roost in a hurry just now.

Kutamun, and of course the "green waste" business also makes it easier for the comfortable to continue to consume profligately while insisting at the top of their lungs that they're doing all they can. Gah.

Steven, excellent! Exactly; it's the exact equivalent of having a fantasy relationship with a movie star you know perfectly well you'll never meet -- that way, the fantasy never has to risk a collision with reality.

Prizm, well, there you are. The most important work really does have to be done inside our heads.

Ray, I know! It's very much a matter of finding as much time as you can to do what you can.

Leif, no apology needed -- I know this whole thing can be a lot to deal with. In terms of practical steps, my book Green Wizardry is a fair place to start; you might also visit the Green Wizards forum and take in some of the discussions there, which deal with practical issues at very great length.

Zachary, yes, as long as you don't notice the Koreans in Japan, who very definitely aren't welcome in that cohesive whole!

Crow Hill, "senile" doesn't mean "old," and I don't recommend trying to play that kind of self-righteous, more-progressive-than-thou language game here. It's neither useful nor welcome.

Jamie, good! Yes, and our prosthetic imagination is called TV. Throw yours into the dumpster today, and the benefits are considerable.

John Michael Greer said...

Crowandsheep, I didn't know that either, not being a music video fan. Thanks for the heads up!

Wizard, got it -- you're in the contest. Please put through a comment marked "not for posting,"
with your email address, legal name, and the name you want for your author's byline, so I can contact you if your story's selected.

Fred, yep -- the town where I live went through that same process twenty years ago, leaving defunct businesses of various kinds behind; the few survivors are going under now. It seems to be a standard part of economic collapse.

Leo, good heavens -- Grandma's and Grandpa's are still in business? That's good to know; they have a reputation in the hoodoo scene that goes well beyond the Baltimore area. It's a useful reminder of the kinds of businesses that thrive even in really hard times...

David, that sort of loaded language may make you feel good but it does nothing to help you communicate with people who don't already agree with you. Are you familiar with the concept of "defector syndrome" -- i.e., the way that radicals routinely pitch their arguments so that only those who already agree with them will listen? It's not helpful -- not if you actually want to make change.

Buddha, I doubt it. The last years of the Roman world were plagued by massive population decline and labor shortages, thus the prevalence of slavery and its transition to serfdom. We've got the opposite problem -- as we proceed down the curve, anyone who has the resources to provide a basic diet to laborers will have all the help he or she can use, and since wage slaves are cheaper than the other kind, I expect slavery as such to be relatively rare until the population decline has gone very far.

Varun, that's what I'm hearing from all over. I hope you're braced for the impact!

Chloe, granted, I was misled by the polls before the UK election like everyone else! The situation here in the US is very complex; my guess is that regionalization will follow, rather than precede, the implosion of the current national government and economic system, but we'll see.

Homelander, so long as a million or two refugees from the rest of California don't move in on you, sure, you should be fine.

Roger, it seems to me that at this point, the only possibility for any kind of rebuild will be after a good-sized crash, and it won't be a modern industrial society that will be rebuilt. More on this in an upcoming sequence of posts.

Wolfgang, I tend to think of the SF Bay area as one of the major epicenters of delusional thinking in the US, so it's not surprising that you're getting that kind of reaction.

Jeff, make time to laugh about it! That's one of the two great cures for being disheartened -- the other, of course, being constructive action.

wiseman said...

In India we are where US was 150-200 years ago. I hope we don't reach the stage you are in terms of family, it would be an utter disaster.

I read somewhere that the state is afraid of big families because they provide an anchor to the individual outside of the nation state-market economy axis and it's sounds true. Hence the need for state to intrude into personal matters through child protective services and such.

No wonder fertility rates are so low. There is no joy in raising a child any more if you have to do everything yourself and deal with a 100 different laws on child safety.

John Michael Greer said...

Denys, may I ask you for a favor, then? Please give the post on the GOP's "Christian" devil-worshippers as much additional circulation as you can. One of the core things that wrecked the GOP's crusade against gay marriage was the way that so many gay-bashing GOP politicians turned out to have boyfriends, or a long string of less durable gay liaisons; if those who preach LaVey's Satanism under the cloak of Christianity start being called on it repeatedly in public, certain kinds of nonsense might become much less common in the US.

LL Pete, by the same logic, I can't understand people who've had a frontal lobotomy without having one myself, and therefore I should run out and get one! No, I've got a better idea -- throw out your own TV, and ditch your other connections to pop culture. I don't care what Camille Paglia says; they're wasting your time and harming your ability to think.

Candace, thanks for the link.

Caryn, the prison-industrial complex is a government subsidy for corporations; I don't expect it to last long once governments start going broke. As I noted earlier, slavery flourishes where there's a labor shortage, either in general or for specific jobs; with seven billion starving people chasing any opportunity to stay fed, wage slavery is much cheaper.

Jean-Vivien, good. My working guess for Europe -- though admittedly it's just a guess -- is that it's going to go under once the mass migrations from the Middle East and Africa get under way. The current migrations are merely harbingers -- imagine twenty or thirty million starving people, many of them armed with the weapons of defunct armies or insurgent movements, streaming into Europe every year for decades to come. The mass migrations in the wake of the Roman collapse, again, are a good model.

Caryn, of course -- that's usually the rhetoric of a dominant elite, to borrow Toynbee's phrase. It's the rhetoric of those outside that narrowing circle, though, that defines the future.

Doctor W., I saw that! As for putting it off limits, not a chance. I hereby proclaim that as long as The Archdruid Report lasts, whether on the internet, print media, cave paintings, or whatever, the word "frack" and its derivatives, such as "motherfracker", shall always be welcome here. Dear readers, if you want to turn the air blue with profanity, here's an expletive you can use freely. I look forward, in fact, to the day when, in imitation of the famous Army sergeant on D-Day discussing the condition of a defunct jeep, the sentence "The fracking fracker's fracked!" rings out loud and bold. Take due notice thereof, and govern yourselves accordingly. ;-)

Grebulocities, wasn't it Sinclair Lewis who pointed out that you can't make a man understand something if his income depends on not understanding it?

Jonathan, exactly. Exactly.

Unknown Deborah, exactly. The farm families of California are about to become the Okies of the new Dust Bowl. More on this in an upcoming post!

Cherokee, funny. I seem to recall reading that some sheila ran up to Prince Harry on his recent departure from Australia and proposed marriage to him on the spot. Rather like your outburst here, really: brash, amusing, and utterly disconnected from the issues surrounding a complex legal reality with a long history behind it. I'll just repeat: it's not that simple, not for those who actually have to deal with the consequences.

Iuval, whether or not we're passed Peak Empire actually has very little to do with whether we've passed Peak Landlord -- one of the many things that using a catchall label such as "Empire" tends to obscure.

steve pearson said...

On the subject of permissible expletives,would Kochsucker be permitted?

John Michael Greer said...

Yif, funny! And the funniest thing of all is that's exactly the sort of nonsense we're going to hear at deafening volume as things proceed.

Ed-M, my sister-in-law, who lives in New Orleans, has mentioned that NO also has strips of very rich houses and strips of very poor tenements right next to each other -- it may be a commonplace of US urban nonplanning.

Other Tom, I've seen it too. That's one of the reasons I point out so often that watching TV damages your ability to think.

(Name I can't read), where is it raining? Not in most of California...

Tarot/Monica, is the source of your groundwater current precipitation, or is it fossil water from the last Ice Age? If the latter, you may be in trouble once agricultural interests start pumping it. That's one of the things going on in California right now.

Wizard, most human beings in most of human history have lived without any mod cons at all. A remarkably large number of them still found life worth living. Agafya is normal; we're not.

Myriad, that earns you tonight's gold star, partly because anyone who quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly in a discussion like this probably deserves one, and partly because you're touching on a point of immense importance. The boom, as you've noted, was not a good thing either, and the timing of the bust may spare quite a range of things that might otherwise have been lost. That may be worth a post one of these days.

Tstreet, human beings are one of nature's great generalists, right up there with rats and cockroaches, and not much easier to exterminate. Of course we'll go extinct eventually, but my guess is we've got a ways to go yet. Industrial society, on the other hand, is already toast, on its way to crumbly black cinder -- and that's the transformation that interests me just now.

Scotlyn, thanks for the data point. The sky is black with birds coming home to roost...

Phil, "while it lasts" is a good qualifier. National entities don't usually survive the end of an age of empire and the coming of an age of migrations.

Walter, I'm interested in exploring other possibilities, in that those will constrain what people who aren't idiots will be able to do.

Shawn, by all means. You won't be the first person who's chosen nontraditional ways to get these ideas into circulation!

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown Tomxyza, that sounds about right. Down goes the toboggan, faster and faster...

Wiseman, I don't see the tragedy of the West as being reducible to any one of its manifestations. Is the rise of single motherhood one of those manifestations? Sure. Are there many other things tangled around that? You bet. Whole systems are whole systems, after all...

Shane, yes, I noticed that. I suspect part of the reason those soldiers were so enthusiastic, though, is that they're issued weapons systems that work.

Cathy, glad to hear that the novel is proceeding well! I'm quite unexpectedly working on another piece of fiction myself -- may be something in the air. As for the guy with the backhoe, such arrogance is unquestionably ignorant!

Hapibeli, that's definitely one to file in the "crisis of legitimacy" folder.

Ed-M, thanks for the heads up. That's also a warning siren of a possible credit crunch building -- of which there are other symptoms right now, of course.

Mr. X, many thanks. Please let me know when you've finished revisions, so I can download a final draft -- and at that point, please also put in a comment marked not for posting with your email address, legal name, and the name you want to use on the author's byline, so the publisher can be in touch if your story gets selected.

Blueback, I wonder if the Saker would enjoy Twilight's Last Gleaming. If I had a spare copy, I'd probably send him one on the off chance.

Janet, I hope it is the peak. We could use a gradual plunge back toward sanity...

Druidgarden, many thanks for this. I hear similar things from other economically depressed (i.e., further along the curve of the future) places in the US, but it's good to have the details out here in public.

Steve, yes -- it doesn't include any actual obscenity, other than the obscenity of candidates for office whoring themselves out to a couple of greedy plutocrats, so it's fair game. I think we can probably generalize on this: clever turns of phrase that sound like profanity and make a point can be used here.

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 226   Newer› Newest»