Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Era of Dissolution

The last of the five phases of the collapse process we’ve been discussing here in recent posts is the era of dissolution. (For those that haven’t been keeping track, the first four are the eras of pretense, impact, response, and breakdown). I suppose you could call the era of dissolution the Rodney Dangerfield of collapse, though it’s not so much that it gets no respect; it generally doesn’t even get discussed.

To some extent, of course, that’s because a great many of the people who talk about collapse don’t actually believe that it’s going to happen. That lack of belief stands out most clearly in the rhetorical roles assigned to collapse in so much of modern thinking. People who actually believe that a disaster is imminent generally put a lot of time and effort into getting out of its way in one way or another; it’s those who treat it as a scarecrow to elicit predictable emotional reactions from other people, or from themselves, who never quite manage to walk their talk.

Interestingly, the factor that determines the target of scarecrow-tactics of this sort seems to be political in nature. Groups that think they have a chance of manipulating the public into following their notion of good behavior tend to use the scarecrow of collapse to affect other people; for them, collapse is the horrible fate that’s sure to gobble us up if we don’t do whatever it is they want us to do. Those who’ve given up any hope of getting a response from the public, by contrast, turn the scarecrow around and use it on themselves; for them, collapse is a combination of Dante’s Inferno and the Big Rock Candy Mountain, the fantasy setting where the wicked get the walloping they deserve while they themselves get whatever goodies they’ve been unsuccessful at getting  in the here and now.

Then, of course, you get the people for whom collapse is less scarecrow than teddy bear, the thing that allows them to drift off comfortably to sleep in the face of an unwelcome future. It’s been my repeated observation that many of those who insist that humanity will become totally extinct in the very near future fall into this category. Most people, faced with a serious threat to their own lives, will take drastic action to save themselves; faced with a threat to the survival of their family or community, a good many people will take actions so drastic as to put their own lives at risk in an effort to save others they care about. The fact that so many people who insist that the human race is doomed go on to claim that the proper reaction is to sit around feeling very, very sad about it all does not inspire confidence in the seriousness of that prediction—especially when feeling very, very sad seems mostly to function as an excuse to keep enjoying privileged lifestyles for just a little bit longer.

So we have the people for whom collapse is a means of claiming unearned power, the people for whom it’s a blank screen on which to project an assortment of self-regarding fantasies, and the people for whom it’s an excuse to do nothing in the face of a challenging future. All three of those are popular gimmicks with an extremely long track record, and they’ll doubtless all see plenty of use millennia after industrial civilization has taken its place in the list of failed civilizations. The only problem with them is that they don’t happen to provide any useful guidance for those of us who have noticed that collapse isn’t merely a rhetorical gimmick meant to get emotional reactions—that it’s something that actually happens, to actual civilizations, and that it’s already happening to ours.

From the three perspectives already discussed, after all, realistic questions about what will come after the rubble stops bouncing are entirely irrelevant. If you’re trying to use collapse as a boogeyman to scare other people into doing what you tell them, your best option is to combine a vague sense of dread with an assortment of cherrypicked factoids intended to make a worst-case scenario look not nearly bad enough; if you’re trying to use collapse as a source of revenge fantasies where you get what you want and the people you don’t like get what’s coming to them, daydreams of various levels and modes of dampness are far more useful to you than sober assessments; while if you’re trying to use collapse as an excuse to maintain an unsustainable and planet-damaging SUV lifestyle, your best bet is to insist that everyone and everything dies all at once, so nothing will ever matter again to anybody.

On the other hand, there are also those who recognize that collapse happens, that we’re heading toward one, and that it might be useful to talk about what the world might look like on the far side of that long and difficult process. I’ve tried to sketch out a portrait of the postcollapse world in last year’s series of posts here on Dark Age America, and I haven’t yet seen any reason to abandon that portrait of a harsh but livable future, in which a sharply reduced global population returns to agrarian or nomadic lives in those areas of the planet not poisoned by nuclear or chemical wastes or rendered uninhabitable by prolonged drought or the other impacts of climate change, and in which much or most of today’s scientific and technological knowledge is irretrievably lost.

The five phases of collapse discussed in this latest sequence of posts is simply a description of how we get there—or, more precisely, of one of the steps by which we get there. That latter point’s a detail that a good many of my readers, and an even larger fraction of my critics, seem to have misplaced. The five-stage model is a map of how human societies shake off an unsustainable version of business as usual and replace it with something better suited to the realities of the time. It applies to a very wide range of social transformations, reaching in scale from the local to the global and in intensity from the relatively modest to the cataclysmic. To insist that it’s irrelevant because the current example of the species covers more geographical area than any previous example, or has further to fall than most, is like insisting that a law of physics that governs the behavior of marbles and billiards must somehow stop working just because you’re trying to do the same thing with bowling balls.

A difference of scale is not a difference of kind. Differences of scale have their own implications, which we’ll discuss a little later on in this post, but the complex curve of decline is recognizably the same in small things as in big ones, in the most as in the least catastrophic examples. That’s why I’ve used a relatively modest example—the collapse of the economic system of 1920s America and the resulting Great Depression—and an example from the midrange—the collapse of the French monarchy and the descent of 18th-century Europe into the maelstrom of the Napoleonic Wars—to provide convenient outlines for something toward the upper end of the scale—the decline and fall of modern industrial civilization and the coming of a deindustrial dark age. Let’s return to those examples, and see how the thread of collapse winds to its end.

As we saw in last week’s thrilling episode, the breakdown stage of the Great Depression came when the newly inaugurated Roosevelt administration completely redefined the US currency system. Up to that time, US dollar bills were in effect receipts for gold held in banks; after that time, those receipts could no longer be exchanged for gold, and the gold held by the US government became little more than a public relations gimmick. That action succeeded in stopping the ghastly credit crunch that shuttered every bank and most businesses in the US in the spring of 1933.

Roosevelt’s policies didn’t get rid of the broader economic dysfunction the 1929 crash had kickstarted. That was inherent in the industrial system itself, and remains a massive issue today, though its effects were papered over for a while by a series of temporary military, political, and economic factors that briefly enabled the United States to prosper at the expense of the rest of the world. The basic issue is simply that replacing human labor with machines powered by fossil fuel results in unemployment, and no law of nature or economics requires that new jobs can be found or created to replace the ones that are eliminated by mechanization. The history of the industrial age has been powerfully shaped by a whole series of attempts to ignore, evade, or paper over that relentless arithmetic.

Until 1940, the Roosevelt administration had no more luck with that project than the governments of most other nations.  It wasn’t until the Second World War made the lesson inescapable that anyone realized that the only way to provide full employment in an industrial society was to produce far more goods than consumers could consume, and let the military and a variety of other gimmicks take up the slack. That was a temporary gimmick, due to stark limitations in the resource base needed to support the mass production of useless goods, but in 1940, and even more so in 1950, few people recognized that and fewer cared. It’s our bad luck to be living at the time when that particular bill is coming due.

The first lesson to learn from the history of collapse, then, is that the breakdown phase doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems that brought it about. It doesn’t even necessarily take away every dysfunctional feature of the status quo. What it does with fair reliability is eliminate enough of the existing order of things that the problems being caused by that order decline to a manageable level. The more deeply rooted the problematic features of the status quo are in the structure of society and daily life, the harder it will be to change them, and the more likely other features are to be changed: in the example just given, it was much easier to break the effective link between the US currency and gold, and expand the money supply enough to get the economy out of cardiac arrest, than it was to break a link between mechanization and unemployment that’s hardwired into the basic logic of industrialism.

What this implies in turn is that it’s entirely possible for one collapse to cycle through the five stages we’ve explored, and then to have the era of dissolution morph straight into a new era of pretense in which the fact that all society’s problems haven’t been solved is one of the central things nobody in any relation to the centers of power wants to discuss. If the Second World War, the massive expansion of the petroleum economy, the invention of suburbia, the Cold War, and a flurry of other events hadn’t ushered in the immensely wasteful but temporarily prosperous boomtime of late 20th century America, there might well have been another vast speculative bubble in the mid- to late 1940s, resulting in another crash, another depression, and so on. This is after all what we’ve seen over the last twenty years: the tech stock bubble and bust, the housing bubble and bust, the fracking bubble and bust, each one hammering the economy further down the slope of decline.

With that in mind, let’s turn to our second example, the French Revolution. This is particularly fascinating since the aftermath of that particular era of breakdown saw a nominal return to the conditions of the era of pretense. After Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815, the Allied powers found an heir to the French throne and plopped him into the throne of the Bourbons as Louis XVIII to well-coached shouts of “Vive le Roi!” On paper, nothing had changed.

In reality, everything had changed, and the monarchy of post-Napoleonic France had roots about as deep and sturdy as the democracy of post-Saddam Iraq. Louis XVIII was clever enough to recognize this, and so managed to end his reign in the traditional fashion, feet first from natural causes. His heir Charles X was nothing like so clever, and got chucked off the throne after six years on it by another revolution in 1830. King Louis-Philippe went the same way in 1848—the French people were getting very good at revolution by that point. There followed a Republic, an Empire headed by Napoleon’s nephew, and finally another Republic which lasted out the century. All in all, French politics in the 19th century was the sort of thing you’d expect to see in an unusually excitable banana republic.

The lesson to learn from this example is that it’s very easy, and very common, for a society in the dissolution phase of collapse to insist that nothing has changed and pretend to turn back the clock. Depending on just how traumatic the collapse has been, everybody involved may play along with the charade, the way everyone in Rome nodded and smiled when Augustus Caesar pretended to uphold the legal forms of the defunct Roman Republic, and their descendants did exactly the same thing centuries later when Theodoric the Ostrogoth pretended to uphold the legal forms of the defunct Roman Empire. Those who recognize the charade as charade and play along without losing track of the realities, like Louis XVIII, can quite often navigate such times successfully; those who mistake charade for reality, like Charles X, are cruising for a bruising and normally get it in short order.

Combine these two lessons and you’ll get what I suspect will turn out to be a tolerably good sketch of the American future. Whatever comes out of the impact, response, and breakdown phases of the crisis looming ahead of the United States just now—whether it’s a fragmentary mess of successor states, a redefined nation beginning to recover from a period of personal rule by some successful demagogue or, just possibly, a battered and weary republic facing a long trudge back to its foundational principles, it seems very likely that everyone involved will do their level best to insist that nothing has really changed. If the current constitution has been abolished, it may be officially reinstated with much fanfare; there may be new elections, and some shuffling semblance of the two-party system may well come lurching out of the crypts for one or two more turns on the stage.

None of that will matter. The nation will have changed decisively in ways we can only begin to envision at this point, and the forms of twentieth-century American politics will cover a reality that has undergone drastic transformations, just as the forms of nineteenth-century French monarchy did. In due time, by some combination of legal and extralegal means, the forms will be changed to reflect the new realities, and the territory we now call the United States of America—which will almost certainly have a different name, and may well be divided into several different and competing nations by then—will be as prepared to face the next round of turmoil as it’s going to get.

Yes, there will be a next round of turmoil. That’s the thing that most people miss when thinking about the decline and fall of a civilization: it’s not a single event, or even a single linear process. It’s a whole series of cascading events that vary drastically in their importance, geographical scope, and body count. That’s true of every process of historic change.

It was true even of so simple an event as the 1929 crash and Great Depression: 1929 saw the crash, 1930 the suckers’ rally, 1931 the first wave of European bank failures, 1932 the unraveling of the US banking system, and so on until bombs falling on Pearl Harbor ushered in a different era. It was even more true of the French Revolution: between 1789 and 1815 France basically didn’t have a single year without dramatic events and drastic changes of one kind or another, and the echoes of the Revolution kept things stirred up for decades to come. Check out the fall of civilizations and you’ll see the same thing unfolding on a truly vast scale, with crisis after crisis along an arc centuries in length.

The process that’s going on around us is the decline and fall of industrial civilization. Everything we think of as normal and natural, modern and progressive, solid and inescapable is going to melt away into nothingness in the years, decades, and centuries ahead, to be replaced first by the very different but predictable institutions of a dark age, and then by the new and wholly unfamiliar forms of the successor societies of the far future. There’s nothing inevitable about the way we do things in today’s industrial world; our political arrangements, our economic practices, our social instutions, our cultural habits, our sciences and our technologies all unfold from industrial civilization’s distinctive and profoundly idiosyncratic worldview.  So does the central flaw in the entire baroque edifice, our lethally muddleheaded inability to understand our inescapable dependence on the biosphere that supports our lives. All that is going away in the time before us—but it won’t go away suddenly, or all at once.

Here in the United States, we’re facing one of the larger downward jolts in that prolonged process, the end of American global empire and of the robust economic benefits that the machinery of empire pumps from the periphery to the imperial center. Until recently, the five per cent of us who lived here got to enjoy a quarter of the world’s energy supply and raw materials and a third of its manufactured products. Those figures have already decreased noticeably, with consequences that are ringing through every corner of our society; in the years to come they’re going to decrease much further still, most likely to something like a five per cent share of the world’s wealth or even a little less. That’s going to impact every aspect of our lives in ways that very few Americans have even begun to think about.

All of that is taking place in a broader context, to be sure. Other countries will have their own trajectories through the arc of industrial civilization’s decline and fall, and some of those trajectories will be considerably less harsh in the short term than ours. In the long run, the human population of the globe is going to decline sharply; the population bubble that’s causing so many destructive effects just now will be followed in due time by a population bust, in which those four guys on horseback will doubtless play their usual roles. In the long run, furthermore, the vast majority of today’s technologies are going to go away as the resource base needed to support them gets used up, or stops being available due to other bottlenecks. Those are givens—but the long run is not the only scale that matters.

It’s not at all surprising that the foreshocks of that immense change are driving the kind of flight to fantasy criticized in the opening paragraphs of this essay. That’s business as usual when empires go down; pick up a good cultural history of the decline and fall of any empire in the last two millennia or so and you’ll find plenty of colorful prophecies of universal destruction. I’d like to encourage my readers, though, to step back from those fantasies—entertaining as they are—and try to orient themselves instead to the actual shape of the future ahead of us. That shape’s not only a good deal less gaseous than the current offerings of the Apocalypse of the Month Club (internet edition), it also offers an opportunity to do something about the future—a point we’ll be discussing further in posts to come.


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Debra Johnson said...

JMG - My first post. I'm an occasional reader, altho my husband, August, often reads and/or discusses topics from this blog. He will send you my email address separately. Here is my entry for the short story contest about 1000 years in the future. - Debra Johnson

peakfuture said...

"That’s the thing that most people miss when thinking about the decline and fall of a civilization: it’s not a single event, or even a single linear process. It’s a whole series of cascading events that vary drastically in their importance, geographical scope, and body count."

Or, in other words, "It's just one damn thing after another."

Collapse is underway, for sure; what still continues to amaze me is how long things have continued the way they have, especially in the financial sector (the "anti-gravity of financial policy"). People who talk about collapse don't believe collapse is going to happen? Talk about cognitive dissonance!

Not having kids of my own (but having much younger cousins, nieces and nephews), your comment about "faced with a threat to the survival of their family or community, a good many people will take actions so drastic as to put their own lives at risk," strikes a major chord.

My own stab at guessing when things will have changed in the US (without a physical catastrophe) will be something like a suspended/delayed election (shades of the 2000 election, but worse). JMG posited in _Twilight's Last Gleaming_, a runaway constitutional convention; any other fractal scenarios anyone can come up with? Capital controls on cash?

Were there any folks in France, or during the Great Depression, who really recognized this fractal arc of history (or was it really something only able to be seen afterwards)?

JoHio said...

What is your read on the "post traumatic" effects of said collapse on the psyche of the society? Do you think that there will be a plucky community "We can overcome" response, or do you see a rise of savagery and inhumanity where the strong brutally enslave the weak?

Pinku-Sensei said...

I began to wonder what delayed your post, then told myself that I should expect no less on the last full day of a Mercury Retrograde. Besides, your entries are always worth waiting for and this one was no exception.

It looks like I was right about how the Age of Dissolution would correspond to the First Turning/Recovery of Strauss and Howe. Things look like they've returned to normal, but it's a completely new normal. That's happened twice before in the U.S., once after the Civil War and Reconstruction and again after the Depression and World War II. Each time, the most important issue of the crisis was solved, more or less, but the unresolved issues formed the seeds of the crisis of the next cycle. That's what I expect of this crisis, too. As long as we have a representative republic with single-member districts and first-past-the-post winners, Duverger's Law will prevail and your prediction of a "shuffling semblance of the two-party system" re-establishing itself will come true. That's the "new normal, same (not) as the old normal" part. On the other hand, if the beginning of the coming step down doesn't knock the U.S. out of the position of global hegemon, the handwriting is on the wall and China or some other major power eventually will. The data breach blamed on the Chinese shows either that they are actively trying now or that the fear of their doing so is causing them to be used as a scapegoat. In the long run, it doesn't matter which.

As for "the central flaw in the entire baroque edifice, our lethally muddleheaded inability to understand our inescapable dependence on the biosphere that supports our lives," I suspect that will be one of the unresolved issues of the current crisis. We're already seeing disruptions in the food system as acute as Bird flu in the U.S. leading to the deaths of 47 million poultry and counting, leading to egg shortages and price hikes. The solution has been to import eggs from the Netherlands. Without a global transportation system and refrigeration, that's a fix that will go away. In the long run, even the agricultural experts at Texas A&M predict a global food shortage by 2050. We should be so lucky as to last that long.

I R Orchard said...

Thanks, John, you've jogged my conscience as to what my response is to be: scaremongerinng diletent in one shape or other or someone prepared to sacrifice all and do what needs to be done for my grandsons & beyond. Have I the courage?

David Webster said...

I've been checking in all evening waiting for this blog entry. Having my fill of doom porn, I greatly appreciate and gleefully anticipate your writings. Since my last and only previous comment months ago, I have applied my self to three preparedness tasks. The first is to learn to use the Versalog 1460 slide rule that I acquired online complete with the excellent instruction manual "Versalog II Slide Rule Instruction Manual and Applied Text" by George John Zanotti. What hours of enjoyment and research I've had in renewing my understanding of the problems the slide then assists in solving. Heck I even got sidetracked into the Khan Academy courses in calculus when Zanotti began applying the rule to differential equations. The cracks we can wiggle through to a whole new world of wonder!

The second task is learning morse code. I've finally found a use for my gifted iPad. A free app for teaching code using the Koch method is finally paying dividends. This has been the most difficult of the tasks partially as a result of a bad start. My advice to any others who would learn this is to start with a 26 character speed and a 15 word per minute overall speed. You are then learning rhythms with no chance of a cruch of a mental look up table. I'm not near as bright as I look and after six months I've mastered only 27 of the 43 characters at this speed. But it's a daily ritual as predictable as breakfast and it feels good. My goal is to be able to words, even phrases much as we do when we speak.

The last task is one I've just started and that is to build a simple radio from scratch. I finally found an instruction manual that promises to teach me. But the spring gardening chores have this project on hold. Winters are long here in the interior of BC, so the project waits on my workbench until then.

I credit this flurry of activity and the resulting sense of purpose to your writings and encouragement. I've even introduced a friend to your blog who has in turn all of his adult children reading it. He too has been motivated to act and is now the proud owner of a pair of bolt\ chain cutters. He figures that in the future there will be a lot more locks and will be ready for them. It's a start.

John Michael Greer said...

Debra, welcome to the conversation -- and the contest.

Peakfuture, in late 1920s America there were quite a few people who figured out well in advance that the result of the bubble was going to be a whopping depression -- Galbraith's The Great Crash 1929 documents some of them. Of course they were dismissed as hopeless naysayers peddling pointless doom and gloom. I don't happen to know whether they had many equivalents in 1780s France, though Talleyrand noted at the time of the Diamond Necklace scandal in 1785 that it might overturn the throne. (A good many historians have suggested that he was right, at least to the extent that the scandal finished off whatever remaining credibility the French monarchy had left.)

JoHio, okay, now please take a moment to notice how exactly your two options match the standard Hollywood cliches about catastrophe. The answer, of course, is none of the above; people in collapse situations generally act like people in every other situation, that is to say, with the mixed motives and unpredictable responses for which our species is generally noted.

Pinku-sensei, "return to normal" is only one of the ways the era of dissolution can unfold. It can also take the shape of a prolonged period of business as unusual, as (for example) the US from 1937 or so until the 1950s boom. As for the end of US hegemony, that's happening so quickly right now that I don't think there'll be any need to worry about delay. I suspect future historians will consider 2015 the year that the cracks gaped wide -- between the accelerating failure of US stealth interventions in Syria and Ukraine and the rise of the new Chinese-led AIIB bank, the writing is right there on the wall.

IR Orchard, that's a question a lot of us need to be asking ourselves right now.

David, delighted to hear it. If you're not aware of it already, you might want to check out -- lots of useful info and mentoring on radio construction and use available there!

Repent said...

Just a few short years ago, I was completely hooked on the Western scientific narrative about perpetual progress, the impartial rational mathematically functioning universe. Now this has changed for me.

Like many, I have become disenfranchised with the narrative that I was brought up with. It seems so cold, disheartening, and incomplete. In searching for a new narrative with which to live my life from. I've walked down many roads that I would never have dreamed of entering even five years ago. I've considered new age religion, I've crossed cultural and personal boundaries in trying out psychedelics, I've considered the occult and other fringe ideas. Things have changed so much that if I was to go back in time and met myself ten years ago, the fellow wouldn't recognize what I have become.

Surely, as the religious head of the Druids of America you've likely expected that some of your readers would tune into your thinking, and even consider 'converting' to becoming druids? (Not that I'm at that point right now) Still it has occurred to me that attracting a popular following to Druid culture is at least a partial personal motivation for writing this weekly blog.

There is an old story of a Zen master who lived at the top of a mountain, who would offer to teach anyone who asked of the Zen knowledge and practices that he performed. One day a warrior king approached him and sought to know Zen, and like all others, the Zen master welcomed him in. The warrior king sat at his table and the Zen master began his teaching by pouring the warrior a cup of tea. He filled the warriors cup to the brim, and then allowed it to overflow, on to the table and on to the floor. He kept pouring and eventually the king shouted, 'You fool, your spilling the tea onto my garments'! At which point the Zen master stopped and told the warrior king that his mind is like the tea cup, overflowing. That he could not teach Zen to someone who's mind is already full, and that he should only come back when his cup was empty.

This was me in many ways. I'd say my cup was full, but now it's empty and I'm looking for a new way of being. However there is such a great amount of 'bad ideas' out there in society right now that I don't know where to begin? Take the fellow in the video below, he believe in a combination of Christianity, Buddhism, new age religion, scientific quantum probability and what have you..., yet he is fully convinced that his way is right. Where to begin in pursuing a new narrative?

Cherokee Organics said...


The only thing I wonder about collapse is whether there is enough time to build a practical response to the runaway boulder which I know is somewhere far off but still careening down the hill doing a fair bit of damage to things in its path. There is no chance of stopping the runaway boulder at all, but it is possible to redirect its path off to the side and away from here. Massive wildfires can be approached with a similar strategy.

Mind you, I don't expect goodies as a result of the actions being taken here. Goodies are an end point anyway so shouldn't really be a proper goal for anyone, I'm looking for future local energy flows when other people have difficulty accessing the declining centralised energy flows that they've become so used to.

Rodney Dangerfield, Caddyshack - nuff said. Some amusing and memorable quotes but overall it makes for very uncomfortable viewing. Some films translate well across time, but that was not one of them.

Very amusing: "the sort of thing you’d expect to see in an unusually excitable banana republic." I'm still chuckling to myself about that one. Nice work.



PS: There is a new blog entry up Ripped off where I reveal exactly how I was taken by people whom I'd known for years. The conclusion I took from that experience is to be wary because people are catabolising social capital in order to maintain their own wealth. Not good. I'm preserving heaps of olives. More firewood has been stored for the winter. More concrete stairs were constructed. Tomatoes are now pretty much at the end of the season (it is early winter here) and I show the solar power system statistics for the week. That winter solstice is fast approaching. Plus more house construction stuff. Lots of cool photos too.

Ben said...

It would be remiss not to point out that some habits have to die very hard. As you pointed out, the charade of Emperor of Rome continued to the time of Theodoric and his puppet Romulus Augustulus. But I might go one further in point out that, in name at least, the title was resurrected for the benefit (?) of Charlemange a few hundred years later, and lasted, in name at least, until the aforementioned Napoleonic Wars.
Are we that doomed to repeat ourselves? Doe far future American get to look forward to the crowning of some Divine American Monarch at the shores of Potomac Bay? Will that fool claim he (or she?) plans to turn back the tide and raise DC from under the ocean?
I'm sure some future Voltaire will point out that the Divine American Monarchy is none of the the above, right? Maybe around the time his (or her) civilization reaches their first era of pretense?

Zoroaster Extropius said...

Unless I'm missing something, it doesn't seem like you've provided an actual definition of what the era of dissolution is. What's the most general form of dissolution?

If the motto of the era of pretense is 'There's nothing wrong! Shut up!", what would be the motto of the era of dissolution?

k-dog said...

"People who actually believe that a disaster is imminent generally put a lot of time and effort into getting out of its way in one way or another."

So you say; but with limited options and desperate circumstances taking time and effort to get out of the way of the thundering storm of chaos and collapse on the horizon may be impossible. For the Long-Term Unemployed collapse is not a pretence. Collapse they may not understand; it is already experienced by them as day to day pain. A fact of life that coexists with another fact of life. There are still people doing quite well to whom goodies of the extractive pyramid flow freely. People in this category should they understand collapse deserve your censure, they imagine a Dante’s Inferno / Big Rock Candy Mountain fantasy.

If someone unemployed is lucky enough to climb out of being socially cast out and not having any resources. Say by getting a dream job; their situation is still like a survivor from a sinking ship. Plucked from the ocean into a lifeboat the first thing to do is get warm. Time and effort to get out of the way of collapse must wait for some. Collapse happens, but before planning for the far side of collapse, the near side of collapse and immediate circumstances may be quite enough to worry about.

There is a historical side to collapse; but the reductions in population you describe will not just happen like words on a page. There will be tragedy and pain along the way. There will be no promised land at the end of our collapse journey. No land of milk and honey awaits. All that awaits is a chance for simple survival. Getting out of the way may be hard for someone already experiencing the effects of the era of dissolution. Business as usual for some and pain and suffering for others. All at the same time.

Jo said...

I have been thinking for some time now of your solution, proposed last year, to voluntarily collapse back to a previous era's living standards, to help us prepare for life ahead, and to reduce our resource use. I have taken some steps - more serious food gardening, learning some crafts so I can make rather than buy some of the 'stuff' that I need, buying older technology second-hand to simplify my life. In order to expand my pool of ideas of what might be possible I have started a survey of the novels published between 1890 through 1950s in my bookcases. When reread as anthropological studies, they offer a fascinating window into living better with less.

From Nevil Shute characters who routinely bicycle an hour each way to meet up for picnics and fishing, to Anne of Green Gables who chops the heads off chickens between being overly dramatic and quoting lots of poetry, and who also lives, perfectly happily, in houses without running water until her late twenties, to Agatha Christie characters who attend to the beehives in their back gardens in between murdering their neighbours, it is such an insight into what may soon become the 'new normal'.

I think this exercise is most useful, because it illustrates that life without all our 'goodies' can go on and be rich and various and interesting, and that living without cars, electricity, phones or running water doesn't mean we will all become vagrants or barbarians.

Thanks for the continual reminder that there are more than two options for the future; continued technological progress or descent into complete chaos. I for one am happy that learning to knit socks and braving up to keep chickens and make cheese, whilst still reading poetry and solving murder mysteries are another option for my future..

fudoshindotcom said...

I don't think I've said it yet, but you've provided us a coherent and useful way to understand what's happening. The importance of that cannot be overstated considering the gigantic amount of manure currently being shoveled out as "Appropriate responses", mostly by the corporations intent on selling their disaster preparedness products. Spending every penny on a fully stocked concrete bunker with two dozen firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition makes perfect sense, except if you built it in California's central valley. Constructing a medieval type castle in Florida, complete with catapult, as one "Prepper" did may seem reasonable, until rising sea level leaves them ankle deep in alligators.
I am not picking on "Preppers", but on the stomach-churning manner said corporations exploit their concern regarding a worrisome future. Providing an antidote to that, as You do with Your posts, is worthy of many gold stars.

If the decline occurs fast enough You just might find Yourself wielding a great deal of influence whether You want to or not, and before You decide to preemptively abdicate, please consider the amount of harm tin-pot despots tend to cause.

John D. Wheeler said...

With regard to the people who talk about collapse but don't really believe it, I think you kind of left out one major group (although it is a kind of self-regarding fantasy): those who imagine the collapse will be precisely the kind they want. Those who enjoy gardening look for a famine; those who want to train with guns expect war; heck, there may even be people who enjoy knitting sweaters so much they talk themselves into believing in a coming ice age.

Agent Provocateur said...


First let me apologize for using math analogies in what follows, but it is just how I think.

The issue, or me at least, is determining the speed of collapse. The ability to do so is confounded by the fact that collapse, measured by whatever metric one chooses, is expected to be fractal like and step like. Being “fractal like” just means that the curve looks the same independent of scale – just like stock market graphs for a month look much the same as for a day.

If you are in the middle of things, this is very disorienting.

Basically the steepness of the curve is obscured by random jittery noise. Only when you step back and look at it on a long time scale of decades and centuries will one see the overall shape of the curve and then be able to label it using your schema of Pretense, Impact, Response, and Dissolution.

Being fractal, each step down will also contain its eras of Pretense, Impact, Response, and Dissolution but on a smaller time - and likely geographic - scale.

I expect the question for me to be always, “How far down are we going this time?”. There is no clear answer except, “Not all the way. This is going to take time.” Having some idea of the extent of the next drop is important for planning to surf one's way down. For instance, I'm banking on small engines being useable and maintainable in the short term. If they won't be, I'll be cold and hungry for real.

“Collapse now and beat the rush.” is good advice, but the pressing issue for those capable of responding to it is, “OK, but collapse how much?” There is a long way from here (a fully industrial life style) and say whatever end point seems most likely to you on whatever time scale you care to choose. If I restrict my time frame to a decade or two, I'm guessing low tech small engines (stuff I can repair myself - assuming the parts are still available) and plenty of hand tools seems a good bet for now. Does this sound about right?

This sort of planning is crucial for those, like myself, with children. I'm still straddling the fence on career advice for my kids. All the issues of values, expectations, hopes, fears, entitlement, unresolved desires etc. come lumbering out of their dank caves in one's subconscious when discussing direction for children. Its not some intellectual game when you try to give good advice to those you love. So I followed last weeks discussion along those lines with interest.

All I've come up with is very practical education (trades and the basic – i.e. real and enduring - professions) seems to be the ticket for now vice say a full commitment to pottery, archery, animal husbandry, and gardening. Should trades/profession fail, the kids can always come home to pursue pottery, archery, animal husbandry, and gardening. Again, does this sound about right for now or am I being too sanguine?

omerori said...

I very rarely watch TV, let alone commercials. One of those rare times happened a few days ago, and I was really surprised to see an ad for the "[Israeli] national initiative for fuel alternatives". I ran and looked it up on the web, and found this:

So, it seems that there are people up there who recognize that oil is getting rarer, and (somewhat narrow-mindedly...) try to plan for alternatives. They're focusing on transportation, and the solutions they're cultivating are mainly biofuels, natural gas, and electric engines. They're even preparing the masses via TV ads!

I thought you might be interested to know.

Ares Olympus said...

I'm grateful for big picture efforts like this, while seeing how hard it is for any of us to grasp what luxury we live in compared to a century ago, and its harder still to imagine regression in our comforts with clearly necessary world population dropping in the following decades after hundreds of years of growth. Only the end of fossil fuel burning allows that honest prediction, whether climate change or resource depletion.

I participated in a Meetup last Sunday, and the overall struggle was on necessary but always insuffient individual responses to an unknown smaller future. I continue to take the view that "debt avoidance" is the best short term response, both for thinking creatively how to live with less, and also to not get too used to a lifestyle you can't hope or want to defend. And if you can avoid debt yourself, AND manage to have more income than you need, then you can help others avoid and reduce debt and lifestyles that support it.

But it almost seems like you have to start a RELIGION to decide who is seriously committed to facing a "live simply so others may simply live" and set down some ground rules that gives people from youth to young parents to older parents to empty nesters to retirees and all places to participate while not abandoning all their dreams.

Ares Olympus said...

Here's a list I copied from Wendell Berry, an honest attempt for action during "noncrisis" times where we have choices, while we've lost 20 years since he wrote it. I wonder how his thought have change since?

The whole idea of "community" has gotten more diffuse in our communication connected world where you can spend a majority of your time interacting with people far from you. Still, given a lack of a central agreement for any local community what steps to take, it seems like you'll always need a subcommunity within your immediate community (5-10 miles?) who are willing to act together.

The Catholic workers might be the only subcommunity that I've seen seriously acting on their beliefs, with a religious focus as necessary. But they just give me courage that self-sacrifice for the least of us is always there if we want to see the needs of others as more important than our own.

by Wendell Berry
From a speech delivered November 11, 1994 at the 23rd annual meeting of the Northern Plains Resource Council.

How can a sustainable local community (which is to say a sustainable local economy) function? I am going to suggest a set of rules that I think such a community would have to follow. I hasten to say that I do not understand these rules as predictions; I am not interested in foretelling the future. If these rules have any validity, it is because they apply now.

Supposing that the members of a local community wanted their community to cohere, to flourish, and to last, they would:

* Ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?
* Include local nature -- the land, the water, the air, the native creatures -- within the membership of the community.
* Ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.
* Supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting their products, first to near by cities, and then to others).
* Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of "labor saving" if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any other kind of pollution or contamination.
* Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products in order not to become merely a colony of the national or the global economy.
* Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm or forestry economy.
* Strive to produce as much of their own energy as possible.
* Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community, and decrease expenditures outside the community.
* Circulate money within the local economy for as long as possible before paying it out.
* Invest in the community to maintain its properties, keep it clean (without dirtying some other place), care for its old people, and teach its children.
* Arrange for the old and the young to take care of one another, eliminating institutionalized "child care" and "homes for the aged." The young must learn from the old, not necessarily and not always in school; the community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.
* Account for costs that are now conventionally hidden or "externalized." Whenever possible they must be debited against monetary income.
* Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.
* Be aware of the economic value of neighborliness -- as help, insurance, and so on. They must realize that in our time the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, leaving people to face their calamities alone.
Be acquainted with, and complexly connected with, community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
* Cultivate urban consumers loyal to local products to build a sustainable rural economy, which will always be more cooperative than competitive.

flute said...

A very good description of things to come, as usual, Mr. Archdruid! And thanks for an interesting five part outline of collapse stages.
I've just got a minor comment...
You say that the USA will decline to "most likely to something like a five per cent share of the world’s wealth or even a little less".
Considering that the wealth available to most areas of the world will also decline sharply, and considering that the resource base of the USA is still larger per capita than for many other areas of the world (that is when counting only renewable resources such as farmland, forests and running water), I think the USA's share of the world's wealth will probably still be larger than five percent.
Though there will of course be huge differences between different parts of the USA. The southwest will probably drop down to a very low level (cf. poor parts of Mexico), since it is so dry, whereas the northwest and the northeast will fare much better.
The drop in wealth will of course be extremely drastic for a currently affluent area as the USA, but as I said this will apply to most of our world.

donalfagan said...

One example of pretense seems to be how so many people proclaimed the end of racism when Obama took office. Though I don't see it fracturing the nation, a racial conflict looks more and more likely. Juan Cole reposted this TomsDispatch article about the threat of China based on Mackinder's geopolitical model, which I think you discussed some time ago.

I recently learned that Tim Curry had suffered a stroke and while playing his songs in my head was inspired to do an energy depletion version of I Do The Rock, which seems like a good anthem for pretense:

Caryn said...

JGM, Thank You again.
Some of your essays leave me very frightened at the urgency needed to prepare. Others, like this one are curiously comforting in an odd way. That's probably just me and my coming to grips with my family's planning, step by step.
I think what you're saying is that due to the fractal nature of the overall collapse, these 5 stages will be experienced again and again, by different fragments of society, some will go through it repeatedly. Some are going through the latter stages now. I suppose it's oddly comforting, because it's harsh, but more realistic.

On Another note:

Just had a root canal today. Very sore, but not nearly as excruciatingly painful as it was for weeks before with infection eating inside and outside of my tooth.

So for those wondering what their kids might learn, might go into to make a living and a life during and after the decline - especially for those who are not inclined or talented in farming or animal husbandry - Please, please please, let's encourage some to go into dentistry! (I'm encouraging mine now!) Modern, high tech and of course holistic medicine and dentistry. I would have sold my soul this past week to get rid of that pain. We will NEEEEED homeo- medical, herbalist-pharmaceutical and dental experts. Please!!

nozulani said...

Dear Archdruid,

Long time follower, first comment. It will be off-topic but:

"I’d like to encourage my readers, though, to step back from those fantasies—entertaining as they are—and try to orient themselves instead to the actual shape of the future ahead of us."

I'm well aware of the trajectory of the planet as far as I'm concerned and agree with you. I used to have hopes about helping my community prepare for the imminent regression, seeing this as an important responsibility. Yet, I have trouble motivating myself now, due to not being able to let go a couple of fixations and disappointments in my personal life, and this makes me paralyzed, unable to orient myself. Do you have any recommendations that I can read or try, that may help me leave things behind?

Yupped said...

Lovely, thank you. I particularly enjoy these sequences of posts explaining the narrative and logic of collapse in various stages - it takes a chaotic and confusing process and explains it clearly. But stepping back into my day to day reality after reading I'm right back in the chaos and confusion.

I still have one last toe in the waters of mainstream business life and was last night at a dinner with some healthcare industry execs for an IT project I'm working on. The collapse-related data point I took away is that there is strong awareness by these movers and shakers that the current system is deeply unsustainable and can't be reformed; but they retain deep confidence in their ability to keep it all going in some way and to continue their careers anyway. It doesn't add up, but I see this time and time again- people who know abstractly that something is unsustainable, but nevertheless continue to act like it can be sustained. Very few seem to exit the stage in advance of the curtain coming down.

It seems easier for people to react to specific situations (eg. I lost my job or home, and now face a real personal collapse) rather than trying to anticipate in advance what collapse could look like and trying to position for it. The latter takes imagination and the willingness to risk stepping out and being wrong about the details. I've already made a series of errors, since I became "collapse aware", in terms of how I thought it would all play out. And it does make one feel a bit silly sometimes. So I do have sympathy with people who can see the storm coming but won't take shelter until it actually hits. Building useful skills may be the best thing to do - even if you decide not to change your life much until you have to, just knowing how to, say, garden at scale, will be very helpful once you actually have to react to collapse in the particular.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

JM, what is it about your - and Dmitry O's - writings on this matter which makes me laugh out loud regularly, despite the ultimate awfulness of the topic? Can't just be the mordant, hilarious style-strokes, can it? Anyway, LOLz galore! Thanks.

beetleswamp said...

I'll never listen to Big Rock Candy Mountain the same way again. Where can I send some Old Rasputin for you to try?

Spanish fly said...

"That’s the thing that most people miss when thinking about the decline and fall of a civilization: it’s not a single event, or even a single linear process. It’s a whole series of cascading events that vary drastically in their importance, geographical scope, and body count."

Weather forecast for the next 100 years:

There won't be a single s**t storm, there will be a fine and continous drizzle of poo with some casual cloudbursts of brown stuff. Umbrellas up, please.

Tommy said...

It seems to me that articles like this one are certainly becoming more common:

Although the Guardian article focuses on the economic stratification factor of civilizational collapse, the study it is based on seems to have arrived at a scenario very familiar to the readers of this blog.

Sébastien Louchart said...


"Were there any folks in France, or during the Great Depression, who really recognized this fractal arc of history?"

You may want to read "The Old Regime and the Revolution" by Alexis de Tocqueville but, being born in the early XIXth, he was not a direct witness of these events.

As JMG pointed, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord might be the best witness. He's served three kings, one emperor, one republic and various civil oligarchies as a diplomat.

He wrote "Mémoires ou opinion sur les affaires de mon temps" (I don't know if this has ever been translated in English). It's a sum in four parts, the first two cover the Revolution and the Empire.

Hope this helps.


Nice post. It makes me think again about the Revolution in new and refreshing ways especially when my country is one the verge to experience another one. You're right. We, French, are really good at that. It's time for me to read again the whole serie. Cheers.

Kutamun said...

Gday Zoroaster , if i understand The Good Archdruid right , the motto of the era of dissolution would be " all the above , rinse and repeat ", until like Nietzsche , we collectively fling ourselves across the square and cuddle the poor dead flogged horse , sobbing and mumbling incoherently ........" mutter , ich bin dumm ". This scene has recently been rendered into a film , you know , in 2011 " The Turin Horse "

Denys said...

Reading you long enough to know that "it's different this time" doesn't fly. I can't help but wonder though if it is because of this great social experiment of public school. We were all so well trained to pledge alligeance, take orders from teachers, be sorted and ranked by ability, follow rules no matter how inane to get a grade, and sit under fluorescent light 8 hours a day. We were trained to be a human cog of the industrial machine.

So as the industrial economy breaks down even further, then what? Less and less human cogs are needed each year that passes. I'm not sure people will just go about their lives pretending all is OK when they can no longer get recognition from having a good paying job. I see them signing up with anyone who promises them a purpose, pay and status. Not necessarily gangs, but something that will make neutrality hard to keep. I don't know what form it takes. Something different?

Mister Roboto said...

You pose a very intriguing idea here which if we had a proper perspective on history would probably be common sense. What so many people fondly look back upon as what one might call "The Era Of Normalcy" of 1946-1976 was actually just an outgrowth of a previous Era Of Dissolution where the fundamental contradiction of industrial capitalism had only been temporarily bypassed on not dealt with. But the rise of computer technology and petroleum-powered globalization during our current Age Of Pretense has brought this contradiction, namely the tendency of ever-increasing mechanization to make oligarchs rich but impoverish ever-increasing numbers of ordinary people, very prominently back to the foreground.

Andy Brown said...

Zoroaster asks what the motto of the era of Dissolution might be. I suspect it's something inspired by. "Uh oh. If we eat these potatoes we won't have anything to plant. Let's find something to eat." Getting across dearth becomes the focus of human attention and ingenuity - Big Picture be damned.

Carolyn said...

For those in the Twin Cities area (Minneaoolis/St. Paul), I invite you to join me this Sunday at 3pm for a discussion of the themes covered in The Archdruid Report. The meeting will take place at the Barnes and Noble cafe downtown on the corner of 8th Street and Nicollet Mall. Future meetups may be elsewhere; we're trying out a few different locations. Please RSVP at the group's page on Meetup if you can, so I'll know how many to expect.

Joseph Ashenbrucker said...

From the Onion: WASHINGTON—Saying there were no other options remaining and that continued intervention would only prolong the nation’s suffering, experts concluded Tuesday that the best course of action is to keep the United States as comfortable as possible until the end.

According to those familiar with its condition, the country’s long, painful decline over the past several decades has made it clear that the most compassionate choice at this juncture is to do whatever is possible to ensure America is at ease during its last moments.

“We need to accept the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have long—simply helping it pass that time in comfort is the humane thing to do,” said economist Danielle Martin, speaking on behalf of a large group of experts ranging from sociologists and historians to lawmakers and environmentalists, all of whom confirmed they had “done everything [they] could.” “Attempting to stabilize the country in its current enfeebled state would not only be extremely expensive, but it would also cause unnecessary agony as it enters this final stage. With how hard the nation is struggling to perform even basic functions, letting it meet its end naturally is the merciful decision here.”

Andy Brown said...

Yesterday, I asked my 17 year old son to fix one of our double hung sash windows. Both of the counter-weight ropes had broken. The whole process of taking apart the casing, replacing the rope, knotting things up - and really just appreciating the simple, elegant mechanics of a durable design solution - quietly taught him more than a month of surfing the internet could.

"Decline" is going to mean (eventually) a retrenchment to more sustainable designs and approaches to life. It would save energy to replace these windows and the removable storm windows with whatever high-tech double-paned construct is currently on the market, but I've stuck with the less efficient windows, because I can repair and understand them.

I believe in "fate", but not as an external, inevitable force - rather as the culmination of the hundreds of micro-decisions we make every day, based on our habits and inclinations. I'm not ready yet to make an abrupt leap to "collapse now and avoid the rush", but I'm trying to re-orient my fate toward decline. There is no brighter future.

Phil Harris said...

As a Brit / European I am not sure I should spend so much (more) time trying to understand USA except that trajectories of an industrial civilisation, which we are up to our neck in, can be seen in US recent history of the last 100 years and particularly that of the last 40. There are specific matters: our financial ‘industry’, let alone the stock market, is directly linked to the financial and general prosperity, or otherwise, of the US. Another ‘crash’ anyone?

I have just spent a little while with Population BulletinVol. 63, No. 2 June 2008; M A. Lee and M Mather U.S. Labor Force Trends. Those countries that have ‘mature’ industrial economies USA, W Europe, Canada, and Australasia demonstrate similar if not identical themes over recent decades, which supports I guess your JMG contention of built-in tendencies and indeed an inevitably trajectory.

We are all it seems dependent on being net importers of key World resources, the most obvious being net importers of energy / fuel, even the USA in these days of fracking. Additionally, Britain, but not W Europe as a whole has the dubious distinction of being a large net-importer of food (basic calories, protein). Even W Europe / EU must import the large part of primary protein, mostly Soya.

Like many others I puzzle what to do now for children and grandchildren, (and for a worthwhile role and activity for myself) and employment is of central importance because of the need to access money, let alone a job worth doing. And just as in USA this puzzle applies here to women even if they are rearing children where rearing children can only be ‘mechanised’ or ‘outsourced’ to a certain extent. There is an interesting section in the above article on ‘outsourcing’ and careers ‘at risk’. There is a list of so-called ‘knowledge workers’ increasingly affected by outsourcing, which gives pause for thought.

Phil H

Dave Zoom said...

IMHO the break up of the USA is inevitable , here in TX the Hispanic population already outnumbers the anglos , drive around and you will see as many Mexican flags as Texas state and US flags combined , spanish is becoming the states first language on the street but not yet in the political domaine ,though some "anglo" democrats lost to hispanic democrats at the last election , its intresting to watch the official Democrats try to explain why the official candidate lost to an unoficial one ( they voted for a spanish speaker ) .

Marc L Bernstein said...

As industrial civilization declines we will "lose our connection with our future" meaning that the human community will begin to lose touch with itself. Communities in one area will cease to know what is going on in communities far away. Globalization will reverse itself, not only in terms of the trade of goods and services but also in the exchange of information.

I was reflecting on just how much information "we" (a representative privileged individual within an industrialized nation) have about other nations. The United Nations has demographic data gathered from most countries of the world - economic, human population, agricultural, energy use, etc. The CIA also has accumulated an incredible collection of information.

Much of this global information will eventually be out of date. Some will be lost entirely. Hence the trajectory of civilization itself will have big gaps in terms of what one community knows about another. History itself will be irretrievably lost or destroyed.

Reading your weblog posts faithfully now for at least 4 years or so it finally dawned on me that the particulars of much of what we discuss we will never know, not just as individuals but as members of a society. The shape and trajectory have been made somewhat clearer though.

It's a melancholy and humbling vision.

Paul K. said...

The more I read alternative news sources, the more I chuckle about how they are often the only ones making sense these days. When the Onion writes "Experts Agree - Best Option Now: Keep America As Comfortable As Possible Till End" and then it's reposted on Zero Hedge, on the same week as this current series here, I realize that there is a whole group of us, off on the far edges of the party, well out of sight, thinking and talking about the future in a very non-mainstream way.

Paul Steer said...

I'm quite certain that many of us have heard this one before: "Once while St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing a row of beans, he was asked, What would you do it you were suddenly to learn that the Day of Judgement was nigh this very day? He replied, "First I would finish hoeing this row of beans."

As for myself, no matter what age or stage I find myself, I would hope to stay grounded, like the beans, and continue to tend them -- come what may.

shhh said...

this just in:

Dammerung said...

Um, what? Every job that a machine does that a human doesn't have to do frees up that human being to do something - anything - better. Any innovation that moves questions of raw survival further away allows for the development of creative arts, scientific study, religious contemplation, play, or whatever else people would choose to do with their time instead.

If only machines COULD do all the real backbreaking labor of the physical world. My boss used to make stained glass; now nobody can afford the privilege and she has to work as a corporate lower manager. One of my coworkers really loves clothes and assembling outfits - if machines did the tedious work I'm sure she could find ample employment opportunities by people wanting to construct a new wardrobe.

The idea that increasing industrial efficiency puts people out of work is unadulterated Keynesian silliness. The problem is that a corrupted financial sector and totally unbacked fiat money has prevented the gains of the past 100 years from being distributed outwards.

Not that any of this solves our problems... but I'd hate to see the coming generations brainwashed into believing that it's better to dig a hole with your bare hands than a shovel.

Paul K. said...

I'd like to echo what Agent Provocateur wrote, and say that I am going through a very similar thought process: "collapse how much, on what time frame?" I have several plan B professions bubbling in the background, and I am working to develop more awareness on dependency chains for the technologies we count on now. On a related note, I'm someone who's always lived near big cities (and my wife in big cities), and so although I've flirted with moving to the countryside, it's not in our plans. So I'm looking at how I can "make a go of it" while living in a major metropolitan area. Maybe I'm deluding myself? But I figure that large cities have been around for a long time, and so although things will get hard, there must be some way for me to make a living here, come what will.

Philip Bird said...

First time poster, reader for about a year.

After reading a few lines to the wife, she remarked how it seemed somewhat bleak. I responded, "Well, he's kinda like Gandalf, some would probably call him Gandalf Stormcrow - like Grima Wormtongue - but he tends to show up regularly when help is needed most." I think the wizardly comparison fairly apropos.

In continuing the Tolkien theme, I seem to recall how Tolkien felt that the greatest evil was the internal combustion engine. He saw industrialization dehumanizing, and made a number of comparisons between the orcs of Middle-earth and the industrial efforts of the day.

I teach junior high English in a inner-city school in Alberta. One of my greatest hopes mingled with some despair is the fate of many of the students I teach. They are being raised in first generation immigrant homes in hopes of grabbing part of the prosperity industrial Alberta has provided so richly for so long. Ironically, many of them are part of the first small waves of migrants - Chaldean Catholics by way of Syria, Eritreans from 20 year refugee camps, Sudanese boy soldiers, Filipinos, and many from Latin America (often economic refugees with ties to oil companies). I hope for a transition (or simply enough time) for many of these students to adjust to the new realities marching upon us.

On the other hand, in contrast of many of the harshest critiques of the province, Albertans have a very good history of banding together during tough times. We had a 100 year flood two years ago that had neighbor helping neighbor, and uniting the city behind a progressive mayor with a muslim background. And, there is a general blue-collar attitude of "git 'er done" that is more in tune with Midwest attitudes than "Texas North". These will provide some countervailing force.

Avery said...

Great comment above: "Basically the steepness of the curve is obscured by random jittery noise. Only when you step back and look at it on a long time scale of decades and centuries will one see the overall shape of the curve and then be able to label it using your schema of Pretense, Impact, Response, and Dissolution."

We're talking century spans in this series of posts. No one anyone does here will have a lasting effect on the age of dissolution. We can only vaguely imagine how long it will take and what will emerge.

Take, for example, the idea of the senility of the elites expressed here last fall. No one outside of the wackiest conspiracy theorist will dispute that the world's elites are dumbfounded by the imminence of decline and don't know what to do next. But there's so much uncertainty at play here. First, we have the fact that there are dozens of levels of "eliteness" both in terms of money and power. Some people have the ability to make over entire U.S. states in their image; others might only push for local permaculture initiatives. Second, we have the technocratic, libertarian obsessions of the new elites on the American West Coast. We can imagine a billionaire-funded private corporation descending on some remote part of the country, its employees wearing 3D-printed clothing and eating nothing but Soylent as they labor all day trying to keep America's broken infrastructure together.

The only thing we can predict about the future is that it's going to be unpredictable -- which is the same thing as saying that it's going to be a challenge. But the "progress" meme is going to take on an unbelievable variety of new forms before it finally dies in the age of dissolution.

Agent Provocateur said...



Let that read: Pretense, Impact, Response, Breakdown, and Dissolution.

jonathan said...

as you were publishing your essay, the onion was publishing this: Experts Say Best Option Now Is Keeping Nation As Comfortable As Possible Till End.
as my mom used to say-it's funny until somebody gets hurt.

Dave Zoom said...

Nice background to colapse here

Lawfish1964 said...

Another excellent and insightful post, JMG.

This whole series has me thinking of two things: 1) what do I do to leave the best possible legacy to my descendants? and 2) what do I advise my children to do? I realize last week's comments discussed the pros and cons of sending one's child to college here in the states. The comments were broad and varied and generally quite helpful. I am still of a mind to send them to college, but only under a full or nearly-full scholarship and under no circumstances will any debt be incurred. If it can't be done very cheaply, they'll have to do something else. I've even thought about advising them to sign up for a branch of the military in order to use the GI Bill, but with the hot wars that are going on now, the chances they'll be put in harm's way soon are a bit too high for my risk-tolerance level.

As far as my own legacy, I am taking advantage of the fact that I'm at the tail-end of being a boomer and making a decent living. 13 years to go to pay off the house and 6 or so to pay off the 30 acres of timber property. I hope to leave a viable homestead free and clear to my kids, already up and running where they can simply take over the gardening and chicken coop. I've also offered to deed them each a 5 acre parcel from the 30 acres gratis. Then they can build small, energy-efficient homes which they can pay off in 10 years or less.

We're all in a collapse-now mindset, and frankly, we enjoy it much more than the BAU mindset. We all participate in producing food and doing repairs on the house and other chores, such as cleaning out the chicken coop and keeping them fed. A fast collapse may do us in as we have some armament and less than 1000 rounds of ammo, but our neighborhood is protectable with some cooperation. A slow collapse would fit much better with my plan, but as you say, none of us knows how or how fast it will all happen, only that it will.

Agent Provocateur said...


Further to K-Dogs comments, some historical examples come to mind. When is was clear Jews in Germany were being targeted by the Nazis, only those with the resources (read money and connections) and wit (read knowledge and the will to apply it) were able to get out of harms way by emigrating. Similarly, as the Nazis approached Leningrad, only those with the resources and wit were able to leave the city before the siege began. Most people were tied to their location and circumstances by the simple need to get by. If wit is all you had/have, there were still things to do that might increase your chances of survival but your chances were/are still slim nonetheless.

This suggests a strategy a commenter remarked on some time ago: double down on your commitment to the system and do your best to ride it out. This may work if you are already well placed close to the sources of wealth and are strategic in your thinking of what part of the economy has some legs. So if you own business enterprises that are truly vital to the system, you may be best advised to stay the course. Similarly, I've seen people in a corporate environment who decided to place themselves more in the core part of the enterprise to avoid being laid off during a coming downturn.

Basically, if you are in, but have not built a war chest, get further in if for no other reason than to acquire the resources to “emigrate”. If you are out already, and getting in seem highly unlikely, all you have left is to make your own arrangements on the outside with what resources you already have.

The best case may be to play both games at once if possible. This is only really possible for those of largely “independent” means (i.e. reasonably assured income stream in the short term with little demands on their time and energy to maintain this stream). In most cases this means early retirees capable directing their resources and remaining energy to build an alternative life “outside” (i.e. “less dependent on”) a system that is failing.

Clearly, no one strategy fits all cases.

pygmycory said...

Just thinking of another example of a historical breakdown and dissolution series: the era after the english civil war. The Protectorate sounds a lot like a Breakdown era: Charles I's head has been removed, the monarchy abolished and England is under Lord Protector Cromwell (he's your talented despot). The end of Cromwell's Protectorate was followed by the Restoration of Charles II (son of Charles I who'd lost the Civil War and been executed). Charles II of England sounds quite a lot like Charles X of France in that they were both aware they were there on sufferance and managed to die of natural causes while still on the throne, but their successors weren't so careful and were removed.

In James II's case it was related to his religious choices (he was a catholic), and William of Orange and Mary were invited to take up the English throne, James fleeing. Due to the lack of deaths, this is sometimes called the glorious revolution.

Don H said...

Thanks once more John.
Of course the end of the species forecast is usually based on climatic catastrophe or a nuclear war. The global ecosystem is so complex that it is quite easy to believe that it will collapse once enough linkages are destroyed, but it is eaqually easy to deny it all claiming that the complexity makes it impossible to "know for sure". We can be certain that the global ec onomic ice berg is now rolling over but there will be survivors. I make an attempt to capture one optimistic 60 year long journey in my story: After the Last Day. It may not reach your standards of writing but I think I more or less cover much of what you describe. I think it has alread stimulated some previously unaware readers to consider the possibility of collapse and the struggle that will follow. If anyone is interested the story can be accessed through its web page:

Jim R said...

Just some idle thought here (only tangential to the present thread)

I wonder if that "world's last computer" wouldn't be more likely to be something like a Raspberry Pi (little single-board hobby computer) than the clunky old '80s desktop?

If there is a future period in which the internet equivalent of book-burning becomes fashionable (there are small hints of such a possibility already), and computers and computerized devices are seen as evil (we are seeing some misapplications now), the old desktops will be easier to find and destroy.

Also, there's a bit of recyclable steel in a desktop.

The tiny hobby computer could sit forgotten in a desk drawer for decades, and then simply come to life whenever someone can restore power, of which it uses very little. Any old display and keyboard and mouse, and it would be complete. Such things could easily fit in the same drawer.

I sort-of picture the old desktop creaking to power-on, and then trying to 'phone home' for updates, only to find that its proprietary software cannot be verified (no home to phone to), while the little hobby board does not trouble itself with such questions, does a little self-repair of its file system, and cheerfully springs to life...

Clay Dennis said...

Just before reading this weeks post on the Era of Dissolution I read a short child hood biography page of the great nobel winning chemist Linus Pauling. A disagreement with a couple of my friends as to where Linus lived in Portland as a child brought on this bit of historical research on my part. What struck me about the early life of this great scientist and his family ( he was born in 1900) was the very unsettled and mobile life of his family in the early years of the new century. Moving from one place to another in the state for job opportunities, business failures, fires, living with relatives and unexpected deaths seemed to mark his childhood.
If the technological period around 1900 is our first destination after the first or second stairsteps of collapse then this is what awaits us in the future. Among the other fantasies that many of us have about the future of collapse, one of them might be that we are going to hunker down and ride it out in our stable homestead with family and freinds surrounding us. But this may not be realistic for more than a few and perhaps the future we must be prepared for is one of movement, change, adaptation and recovery from one failure after another. In addition to downscaling our living standards to beat the rush later perhaps we would also be advised to work on our adaptability and resiliance. Even though a carefull reading of JMG's work warns us that we must be prepared for such a future, most of us raised in the paradigm of industrial civilization tend to aim our preparedness towards aquiring material goods and land even if they are canning jars and garden plots instead of guns and barbed wire. But if history is any kind of a roadmap perhaps the ability to abandon your home and move on with nothing but your skills and a few tools or books on your back is the best adaptation. Perhaps the other take away from this small window in to the past is that we should also nuture a dispursed network of friends, family , and allies that we can trust and fall back on when we need a place to stay after our home is burnt down by the local warband.

The other Tom said...

Many of the people I know are in varying stages of collapse, some deliberately and others from economic decline. The worst situation, in my opinion, is to be working long hours in multiple low paying jobs, trying to keep a last desperate foothold in a modern life. Sometimes it's better to just let go.
K-dog alluded to this: "but with limited options and desperate circumstances taking time and effort to get out of the way of the thundering storm of chaos and collapse on the horizon may be impossible."
It may be impossible because trying too hard to "make it" in a sinking economy leaves no time to think about the big picture, to read, to network and come up with alternatives. In trying to win today's battle, you lose the war.
I think there are millions of people trapped in this cycle of futility, of working too much to leave any productive time for themselves. They pour their energy into jobs that just suck the life right out of them, leaving them depressed and uninformed, and therefore even more ripe for exploitation.
So maybe there's another category of response to collapse: those who know their own place in the economy is collapsed but have nothing in their experience to suggest alternatives.
The people I know who have found some success, some quality of life outside the traditional economy, or on the edges of it, had the advantage of knowing a different way of life in their past, something beyond just having a job. They are already inured to the ideal of upward mobility and spent their lives learning trades, foraging, gardening, the things you can do for cash and barter. My own background of making up my own "career" instead of any traditional career puts me in this camp. So far, I've ridden the decline with a life that is interesting. I don't know about my future and am not implying that I have the answer. I just think that having the space to think and really talk to others about our conditions is crucial, and too many people don't have this time.
There is a lot of mythology that persists past its expiration date, about the work ethic in a purely exploitative economy. According to this thinking, the answer is always to work more, and it is sad to me when people trap themselves in this cycle.
I have a friend who works two jobs that both involve a lot of driving and working seven days a week. I am trying to convince her to quit both jobs, move to my small, walkable city which is cheaper, get rid of her car and all those expenses, and get by on one crappy job. Then she could take care of her mental and physical health. The library is still free.

Isaac Hill said...

I'm with Agent Provocateur right now, how far to collapse in what time frame? There's a range of possibilities to prepare for, from solar and wind power to survival skills, I'm focusing on the ones that seem like the best idea all around (and the ones that I'm the most interested in) like gardening, permaculture design, wildcrafting, alternative energy and such, but I find myself living in an area that is close to a nuclear power plant, which is supposed to be decommissioned soon, but who knows if it actually will be when people are more concerned about non-fossil energy... I'm maybe 10 miles away from it, but way uphill, across a river and upwind... at least I'm young and the skills that I'm learning and the biological information/seed stock that I'm collecting and growing can move with me for the most part. How concerned do you think I should be? At this point I don't have the resources to move. Otherwise, I'm in the Central Appalachians which should be a fine climate, but how far in advance to think? What's the time frame here?

svealanding said...

One thing I keep wondering about while reading your posts is how come you say it's not different this time. You mention nuclear plants and chemical factories, sure they can do lots and lots of harm but you repeatedly dismiss the apocalypse and that confuses me since I otherwise find your writings to be very insightful.

Maybe you implicitly mention this in some way but I believe this is actually the first time in history that we, humans, have the power to totally eradicate ourselves.

Thus I would say that it is different this time, A full scale, all out nuclear war, between USA, Russia or China where all retaliatory strikes are carried out would be an apocalypse for humanity and probably all species, maybe with a few exceptions for critters like cockroaches.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of nuclear holocaust? Not worth talking about since it is what it is - the end?

Lawfish1964 said...

@Yupped and @Agentprovocateur -

I'm with you. I have no intention of quitting my job to collapse. I collapse on nights and weekends. In the meantime, I will hold onto this source of income as long as possible in order to be debt-free as soon as possible and to acquire enough real wealth (land, tools, precious metals, perhaps some solar panels, etc.) to be able to live without this income when it dries up. My job could last 15 more years or be gone in 3. I'm too invested in it to just give it up, and I need the income to bury the debt.

I have a number of contingency plans. Like if I'm out in 3 years, I'll have enough in my 401(k) to pay off the house. If I last 7, the house is paid off and the timberland and I've got some money to last me for essentials. If I go the full 15, I may have enough "money" to tide me over the rest of my life. But I plan on a very modest retirement.

Chuck said...

Yes, we could each of us write a book on how hard it is to both plan for a potentially difficult future and make a living and pay the bills right now (married, one income, five kids at home)... but optimism is one of the key ingredients for success. There is room for optimism in most models of change and we need to find it. Our 'collapse fantasies' are obstacles to genuine optimism. While it would be awesome if things fell apart and everyone found out how right I was all along!! (sarcasm), it would be so much better to have the skills, infrastructure, and lifestyle in place so that I could be a positive force in an time of trouble.

One thing I most appreciate about JMG is his constant examination of the various delusions we humans are prone to adopting in times of change. One assumption this blog seems to make is that the machine age will disappear with the energy base that it rests upon. I'm not convinced that this is a good assumption. While it is true that the increasing scarcity of cheap and abundant energy will bring dramatic changes, the chances that it results in a return to the horse and cart is pretty slim.
Machines, especially prime movers, represent too much advantage.

There is a middle ground for machines and technology, however narrow, between the eternal progress myths and the doomed to the dark ages fears. It likely rests on the materials of the 19th century and the knowledge of the 20th. Examples abound but I'm primarily promoting a frame of mind here.

Perhaps one optimistic approach to an age of decline is to think in terms of an 'appropriate technology' movement geared to 'adapt now to avoid the rush'. While the contrast between the lifestyles before and after cheap energy may appear drastic, 'collapse' is a frame of mind. Lets adapt.

Steve in Colorado said...

I thought this Onion article would be relevant to the discussion here:

I think the authors meant it to be satirical, but they may have been more accurate than they knew...

Anna said...

Just a couple of musings . . .

You mention "the list of failed civilizations," and I'm wondering, given the trajectory of *all* civilizations, whether we're talking about something that has "failed" or something that has merely "finished." I'm seeing civilizations more and more as (to borrow another phrase from you) merely stories we tell ourselves about who we are, but with a lot of concrete props and dramatic enactments . . .

I really appreciated your explanation that "the breakdown . . . eliminate[s] enough of the existing order of things that the problems being caused by that order decline to a manageable level." This is, then, the narrative piece that matches, in the equation from "How Civilizations Fail," nC(p)<M(p); the result is the conversion of capital to waste until (or unless) the remaining capital can actually be maintained by the resources available? And the further implication is that our current civilization is running the second of the two scenarios you illustrate in that essay, in which the demand for capital increases as supply falls *and* "C(p) tends to decrease faster than M(p)," resulting in the onset of a catabolic cycle? I'm not good with equations, and I'm worse at explaining them to others--but if this is even close to correct I'd appreciate knowing!

John Michael Greer said...

Repent, nah, I'm not the religious head of all American Druids -- not by a long shot. I'm the administrative head and chief bottle-washer for one of the dozen or so Druid orders in this country (and not the largest of them, by a long shot). As for whether I expect people to embrace Druidry -- well, it's been my repeated experience that nobody ever converts to Druidry; what happens is that people find out about it, do some reading, and say, "You know, that's kind of what I've believed all along, I just didn't have a name for it. I guess I might be a Druid."

Cherokee, exactly -- and none of us knows which way the boulder will bounce anyway. All we can do is try to get ready for as many possibilities as we can.

Ben, well, in my novel Star's Reach, set in a postcollapse 25th century, the more or less hereditary monarch of what amounts to the Midwest and shallow South (the deep South being deep underwater due to rising sea levels) is called the Presden of Meriga...

Zoroaster, as I noted in the post, there are various kinds of dissolution, thus various mottoes. In 1934-40 America it was "things will get back to normal someday soon," in 1815-30 France it was "everything's back to normal," and there are other variations.

K-dog, of course it's going to be messy. The point is that even as collapse happens -- and it's happening to a great many people in the US right now, of course -- there are more and less adaptive ways to cope, and for those who haven't arrived at that point yet, there's much that can still be done.

Jo, that's an excellent strategy -- I may quote you in an upcoming post, in fact.

Fudoshin, intellectuals in power are generally the worst sort of tin-pot despot. The kind of influence I want to wield is the kind that successful thinkers wield at their best: helping to define the terms of the collective conversation within which more practical people -- despots and others -- make their decisions.

John, that's an excellent point, of course.

Agent, excellent. Yes, these are all important issues, and there's no simple answer. I'd encourage you to make sure you have a few very basic skills -- for example, the ability to light a fire without matches, knowledge of makeshift shelters, etc. -- in case the bottom drops out completely in your area. After that, you choose whatever level you think is most likely to happen in your lifetime, and focus on that. Dissensus rules here as usual -- the more people choose different options, the wider the range of potentials for which there's some preparation on a collective level.

Omerori, thanks for the data point!

Ares, well, yes. Do you remember the posts I wrote a while back about how religion is the one reliable organizing force in a time of collapse? That's one of the reasons why.

Ed-M said...


63 comments already. Interesting post -- looks like you're describing the back side of the crisis / collapse. Doesn't help me now, since I'm pretty much squashed by the front side! 8-O

Anyway, this again ties into Strauss and Howe's cycle -- the denouement of the Fourth Turning or the beginning of the following First Turning. But you said the 50s Boom was the start of The Age of Pretense. So what does that make the Second Turning of 1964-1980, chopped liver?

Ed-M said...

Hello again, JMG.

Glad you touched base on two of the structural problems of Capitalism: the tendency to produce more goods than consumers are able to buy, to mechanize labor, making human workers redundant, which leads to either dependency on the dole or pauperization or both, and consuming all resources unto exhaustion. Plus we have the using up of the Earth's capacity to absorb our waste.

Now you may say that I forgot Socialism, but in practice it really has been a form of Capitalism: State Monopoly Capitalism.

jean-vivien said...

Here in the noble land of Ecnarf, getting by in the fair city of Sirap, collapse is a bit like an elephant happily running around and making loud noises in the Porcelaine store.
I am troubled because it is mostly remarkable by its silence inside the public conversation. But that silence is not so much an absence as it is the kind of deafening silence, when you notice that there are no sounds around you because the missing something is impossible to ignore any longer.
In other words, I feel it is weighing on everybody's minds, though most of us, even among the privilieged upper-middle class, are too busy pushing our daily cart forward to verbalize the big picture.

Maybe it is because we bathe in a culture which is less narrative than, say, the USA or England, and therefore we will not perceive the narratives described in this blog but rather a set of abstract problems (in economics, science and geopolitics).
It also has to do with the group behavior of humans : just like dogs, who act in sharply different ways between when alone and when in a pack, I feel that our individual worldviews do change when we are functionning in a group, like the office canteen or at a family dinner.
I am getting the feeling that when you talk to another person privately, it wouldn't be so difficult to corner her into accepting the concepts depicted in this blog, whereas not one person in their right mind would publicly acknowledge it.

So there we are, our feet deep in the mud of the Era of Pretense. Still, the generation of my parents has seen the last decades when a small provincial town would host a farmer's market with oxen-pulled carts. Hence it is yet another unmentionable of my times, that people would readily revert to a lower complexity lifestyle and it wouldn't be such a big deal. People are claiming the opposite in society, but in the case of France, I don't think the unspoken promise is just wishful thinking, we are still living under the great shadow of two world wars and the practical realities of collapse are not that hard to envision.

My guess is that there may not be an Era of Impact, just that everyone keeps worrying more and more about the future and each passing cycle of crisis will make it harder to conceal. And the use of Internet-based social media like blogs or meetups is one example of catabolic collapse : we use very complex technologies in order to plan for reverting to a set of much more simple tools and skills.

Ed-M said...

It's a good thing you're avoiding the high-tech double-glassed windows, Andy. Down here in New Orleans we have a wave of gentrification and as houses are built, rehabilitated or replaced, four times out of five the windows will be faux "double-hung": meaning the top sash is fixed, and the bottom sash slides up and down. Most of them look like trailer windows, even those from reputable manufacturers, like Pella. And I really think this development is dumb, especially in a torrid climate like the US Gulf Coast, where you need the top sash to open when there's no air conditioning!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Paul Steer--The great first century rabbi Johanan ben Zakai, who was primarily responsible for reorganizing Judaism and keeping it from perishing after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the utterly disastrous failed revolt against the Romans, said this:

If you are holding a sapling in your hand and someone tells you, 'Come quickly, the messiah is here!', first finish planting the tree and then go to greet the messiah.

More about this rabbi's life and teachings may be found on Wikipedia

Kutamun said...

I think some of the U.S armed forces might have already experienced what dissolution feels like , Far From The Madding Crowds . I just watched Sebastian Jungers excellent doco "Restrepo" about a platoon of US army trying to hold a remote valley in Afghanistan while at the same time winning "hearts and minds " . Some of the enduring images include ;
1 The ubiquitous plywood used to construct makeshift quarters , giving the impression of a small band of mariners being tossed around in dark and roiling seas ..
2 Killing one of the villagers cows with a big knife for a bbq .
3 Meeting with the red bearded village elders weekly , telling them " we want to create some jobs , we want to being wealth here and make you rich and powerful "
4 Responding to the elders complaint about people being shot in their fields " we need to move on from that , lets move forward and focus on the positives "
5 Getting attacked in their base five times a day
6 When not getting attacked , going out on patrol " to walk through the community " and getting ambushed and badly shot up.
7 after mistakenly killing a family with a misguided airstrike , landing a helicopter on the roof of the family home for the colonel " to apologise " to the remaining members .
8 . Calling in A10 and Apache strike regularly against fleeing tribesemen .
9 . Young soldiers spontaneously performing Madonnas "material girl " , while dancing seductively with each other .( seemed an odd choice for gen Y )
10 . Like Rome , Americas legions are comprised of men of all ethnic origin , russian , german , latin american , anglo , a real mixed bag .
11 the mysterious , wizened appearance of the afghan elders who liked like theyd seen it all before and seemed to at times almost feel sorry for these young fools in their midst with their Spartan "Thermopylae " motif .

In the end it was a psychological and spiritual massacre for these young fellas who seemed quite dissolute by the end ......despite endless protestations of "its all good "

John Michael Greer said...

Flute, you're assuming that the US will get to keep everything produced on its territory. Tell me, do the other countries of the world -- the ones who get to contribute to the vastly oversized share the US currently consumes -- get to do that at present? Their situation today will be the US situation tomorrow.

Donalfagan, I'm sorry to hear about Curry! Thanks for both links, though I'd rather do the Time Warp than the Rock...

Caryn, the question in my mind is whether there's anywhere you can currently study methods of dentistry that don't presuppose access to modern medical and pharmaceutical technologies. If not, a dental school degree may not be much help down the road.

Nozulani, that's something everyone has to find, or not find, in themselves. If I had a widely applicable way to get people off the sofa and taking action, we wouldn't be facing the crisis ahead.

Yupped, oh, granted. Most people are fairly realistic about things in their own lives -- it's on the grand scale that we like to revert to mythology.

Rhisiart, to my mind, a little mordant humor is one of the few things that makes our current situation bearable at all.

Beetleswamp, thank you, but last I heard beer can't be sent through the US mail! I'm quite familiar with Old Raspy, btw -- used to drink it all the time, and enjoyed it hugely, when I was still living on the west coast and could get it.

Spanish Fly, excellent! That first rate summary gets you this evening's gold star.

Tommy, well, yes, as collapse accelerates people do start to notice eventually. (Though the article you cited is more than a year old...)

Sébastien, yes, I had the feeling things were heating up on your side of the pond. What do you think will get torn down this time, in place of the Bastille?

Denys, well, what happened last time the industrial system broke down to the same extent? If you have trouble remembering, I'll offer a few hints: armbands, jackboots...

Gepetto Fresh said...

That was a great conclusion to this series of posts. It has me thinking about how truly bizarre it is that the break up of the U.S. is so utterly unthinkable to most Americans. This continent sized gift has existed as a nation for such a short period of time and has never truly been united by a single culture, no matter what "them good old boys" may claim.

Do you think folks' confidence in "a new american century" or even "an infinite american century" is the result of the strength of people's faith in our supposed values(democracy etc.) and exceptionalism(inventiveness, inherent goodness) or the strength of people's faith that our grip on the world is that tenacious that if our ship sinks even just little bit we're taking the rest of the world with us!

Keep up the great work!

John Michael Greer said...

Mister R., excellent! Yes, that would follow, wouldn't it?

Joseph, Paul, Shhh, Jonathan, and Steve, yes, I saw that. It's typical that these days the Onion has the news and the mainstream news venues offer hilarious parodies.

Andy, that was C. Wright Mills' definition of "fate," too.

Phil, importing necessities while exporting jobs -- hmm. How could anything ever go wrong with that?

Dave, thanks for the data point.

Marc, good, but look at the bizarre phrase you've used for the process: "lose our connection with our future." What on earth does that mean? I don't ask that rhetorically -- what "future" are we connected with via global media, which after all only shows us a sanitized, digitized, and processed vision of small portions of the present?

Paul, it's good advice.

Dammerung, you really need to lay off the Austrian theory and get our more. Sure, in theory, every job that's taken away by automation frees someone to do something else; in the real world, by contrast, since the people thus laid off have only such access to capital and education as benefits the already wealthy, the only thing they're actually free to do, in most cases, is to stand in unemployment lines or starve in the gutter. By the way, shouting "Keynesian! Keynesian!" at the top of your lungs only impresses those who share your economic theology; in the real world, as I pointed out in response to one of your earlier comments, all the problems you blame on Keynesian economics and fiat currency were just as bad in the last quarter of the 19th century, when the US had a strict gold standard and Keynes was still in school.

Paul, it amazes me that no matter how many times I can say that running off to the country is a bad idea for most people, people keep on thinking that I must be talking about running off to the country. That is to say, of course you can make appropriate preparations in an urban or suburban area, and there are real advantages to doing so-- as I've discussed at length in earlier posts.

Philip, I bet your winter weather reports are sometimes pretty bleak, too. I don't know that it would be any kind of advantage if the media in Alberta adopted a policy of never reporting on the approach of bad weather...

Avery, possibly, but it's also possible that the religion of progress could lose its grip on a fairly large fraction of the population without too much trouble, if things break the right way. That would be a major step in the right direction!

Ray Wharton said...

Opting out of the old religious game of Apocalyptic prophecy in a time when it is easier to market than Colorado real estate? Missing out on some big numbers for the AODA, still quality over quantity might be a good thought at this time. It takes some doing to not use the inherently fearful aspects of our collective future as a scarecrow when it comes down to it. I have certainly used it as such from time to time, but I think less often as time rolls on.

I am tied to the local food people in this community pretty tightly, hoping some of the sharper ones from it manage to be movers or shakers in some useful sphere, might get a roll as an adviser if the dice land box cars. Been questioning folks about adult education recently, feeling out what a niche might look like, and making other moves, trying to get positioned for the breaking of higher education. Lot's of folks could use a good education once their belief that they are educated, instilled by the University, gets measured against reality.

Right now I ain't too concerned about survival in a personal sense, too proud for that to be primary still... wonder how the shelf life on that pride is? Ain't got any kids, nor a wife to worry about, so I can afford it too. Here in Fort Collins there is some very good stuff happening in the local food movement, a lot of mindful people all knowing each other; and then there's the dozen myriad of 'wealthy refugees' who you don't see do much but eat, shop, and run or bike up and down steep things; each done in the most expensive way possible. If I were worried purely about survival I might, just might, be putting my eggs into the 'Lot' strategy, because I fear that this place could get very ugly having so far to fall, and such a large population of people who have never been poverty tested. Enough resources to fight over too, and deeply devided subcultures who currently do a good job pretending that each other simply aren't here. But I mentioned the local food movement here, and I think that I might be able to make a difference in that system. Take this farm (please!) its a good farm, the owners have deep roots in town, and we got some fine crops coming up, but there are also many forces and patterns present here which makes its survival far from certain if a crisis disrupts this region. I wish I were a mature Green Wizard, there would be something I could say about that stuff then, but as it stands my projects go up in smoke too often for my liking, and I struggle to put in as many hours in the fields I love as my friends succeed in putting into the jobs they hate. Isn't that weird? It ain't that I am lazy, I do work hard, but frustratingly I am too poor to work that long, I don't yet have the skills or the facilities to stay functional for full time field work. Just taking care of myself in my jankey farm camp is about full time, and alot of that is really dealing with loneliness of being the only human livestock on the farm. I choose that term for myself, livestock, 'consider the draft horse, he does not go to music shows nor drink craft brews, and yet is he not eager to work the land?' I have all the things a beloved livestock would need, and I want to learn that that should be enough, and to work with the strength of a ape and the sharpest wits I can hone. Still, don't you animal keepers know, never get just one of a herd animal? I wish those who have gifted me with meaningful work and the provisions to take to it would only gift another likewise.... HA well look at me ranting, guess I had something on my chest. I better make like Saint Frank and hoe a few rows of beans before dark, that will ease this tempest in me.

John Michael Greer said...

Dave, oh, man, that's funny. I wonder if that conservative website has any idea that the concept they're discussing -- the crisis of overproduction -- was formulated by Karl Marx.

Lawfish, sounds very sensible.

Agent, of course. When I say "collapse now and avoid the rush," I'm not setting out a specific series of steps -- I'm proposing a general change of direction, from pursuing the mirage of progress right over a cliff to beginning the process of scaling back down to sustainability. There are many ways to do that, of course.

Pygmycory, yes, that's another good example. The only reason I didn't include it (along with the Russian Revolution, among others) is that an essay sketching out all five stages with a decent collection of examples would be a good-sized book.

Don, thanks for this. Have you submitted a story to the current Space Bats short story contest yet?

Jim, good question. Lots of variables there...

Clay, that's a very good point, of course.

Other Tom, no argument there. That's one of the arguments behind the "collapse now" strategy.

Isaac, we're already in the collapse process. It's going to continue at various speeds and scales for the rest of your life, and for centuries beyond that. That's the thing so many people don't get: this is what collapse looks like; it just gets steadily worse, day by day, the way it has all your life.

Svealanding, I've already discussed that in detail.

Chuck, er, and where are these prime movers going to get the cheap abundant fuel supply that's made them economically viable? A diesel engine with no diesel isn't very useful, you know; a diesel engine whose fuel costs so much that it's cheaper to do the same work using human or animal muscle isn't much better.

Anna, and of course that's a good point; it would be more correct to say "dead civilizations," in the sense of civilizations that had finished their lifespan and been carried out feet first in the usual way. Your catabolic analysis, btw, is quite correct.

John Michael Greer said...

Ed-M, I'll leave such questions to fans of Strauss and Howe. As for socialism, please do forget it; as you've noted, the system doesn't change just because it's run by bureaucrats instead of corporate flacks.

Jean-Vivien, maybe so, but I suspect the impact just hasn't arrived yet. Wait until the elephant gets bored stomping on porcelain and shoulders its way through a load-bearing wall, and the roof caves in behind it.

Kutamun, I read the book -- well worth the time, too.

Gepetto, I think rather it's sheer blind panic at what a world no longer subject to US hegemony would mean, in very personal terms.

Ray, quality over quantity is essential for any spiritual movement that doesn't want to be coopted into yet another excuse for business as usual.

winingwizzard said...

My friends who are aware have termed this period we are entering "The Great Unraveling" in our conversations. This seems to fit, as it is not a revolution (but some will occur), and it is not blanket dystopia (but there will be some) and it is not Mad Max, but that could happen in places for a time as well. What is happening is systematic breakdown of some very complex systems, and the knock-on effects are highly unpredictable.

Resource limits, population limits, governmental limits - everything is hitting against the edges of the petri dish, albeit some harder than others. Forget globalism - it is inherently doomed and a distraction. Corporations? Not with folks (consumers-yech) poor from wealth concentration - distraction too. We are at the point of waiting for the actual events and ramifications, as the multiple collapses are baked in already.

I think preparing is very much mental, and letting go of your present is very hard to do, but necessary to embrace a new future. You have to stop watching the train wreck and start making something new. Physically, the rules are the same - water, food, shelter - and then you are picking electives. Once you have a plan for the core curriculum, then you go for electives.

Humans have extreme difficulties with time - especially today when everything is instant. Things may happen quickly in a few locations, but this will literally take decades and generations. The inertia of what exists has to cease before change is preferred over clinging to an eroding status quo. Pain has to increase before humans can let go of the illusion of stability and seek new things. Everything unwinds at its own rate and with its own consequences - but the core requirements remain the same - water, food, shelter, same as ever.

It is this time-sense thing that makes it hard to collapse now, because all is slow motion. Tin-foil-hatters might make great friends, as we are trying to let go and just move on. Electives ought to be things of consequence for future generations - to enable the next climb up to be faster and sustainable. Just holding on to the concept of sustainability, even couched in a new-fangled religion or religious context, may be helpful. The younger bunch feels and senses it coming - and many are actually excited. Collapsing now feels better than waiting to see what happens next in DC or with the Kardashians...

Ken Barrows said...

Empires have dealt with cascading failure before, but this time there's the added factor of declining energy availability. 90% reduction in human population may not happen in 50 years but then again it may if few rise to the challenge.

winingwizzard said...

Just as an my thinking has changed and affects me today...

Got back from the deepest and most highly technical uranium mine in the world yesterday. All I could think of while there was "what a huge waste" - it was hard to focus on their issues when I know this place will be gone in a few years and it is only for profit and risks so much. The uranium would be let loose on the immediate area anyway due to the way it is deposited - but now, who knows where it will wind up.

I did what was asked, and yet I took my can of bear spray out at midnight, sat on a boulder next to a lake to listen to the wolves and watch the aurora. As men have done for eons and I was blessed to be able to do in my time.

Denys said...

And our educational system is based on the Prussian system so we are fracked. Jackboots and armbands coming to a town near me. A different sort of preparation needed for sure!

zentao said...

Hello John Michael,

I wanted to discuss China since I recently spent two weeks there. I was lucky enough to go with my partner who grew up on a rural farm in Sichuan about 2 hours drive from Zigong. We spent a week in the area and I think some of the commentary speaks to your recent series.

The family farm was a government decision for her parents - they were forced to settle there in the late 60's. The basic instruction was "grow enough food to support your family; any extra is your income." The fields had to be cleared and the house if made from bricks that were hand-made from the red clay soil that is so common.

I wonder what the reaction in NA would be if people were similarly instructed by the government?

He father and mother retired to the city (in a condo bought by my partner) 6 years ago. However, family and friends still live and work there. Most people in the area are at least in their late 60's up to early 80's. But they were very gracious to invite us to their front porch to enjoy beer and home-made treats. They were proud to show us their fields (which are probably 2-3 acres per household not including rice paddy) which are planted using some of the latest techniques such as plastic to keep weeds away and moisture in the ground. The 80 year old spent a lot of time showing us his 5 piglets which are raised for extra cash.

These people are so happy but still, they are now surrounded by abandoned farms. There are no young people to be seen...

However, my partners peers are certainly interesting. One, a very successful stock broker, kept saying "I just want to lose it all and go back to the family farm. That work means something."

I think China will need to send young people back to the farms just as they did during the cultural revolution. This area is a bread basket for China and is not landscape that can be factory farmed. So China may be a bellwether for the changes to come here - I think that they will react much sooner than the decaying structure here.

But the transition may not be that difficult for them. Interesting times, no doubt...

John Michael Greer said...

Wizzard, that seems like a workable strategy.

Ken, empires have dealt with declining energy availability before. The fall of Rome was driven in part by "peak slavery," and many agrarian civilizations have collapsed because their main energy source -- grain used to fuel human and animal muscle -- stopped being cheap and plentiful due to topsoil loss. As for 90%, that seems optimistic to me; I expect roughly a 95% decline over the next two to three centuries, as I've noted here before.

Wizzard, good. I hope more people start thinking "what a waste" when they see the latest frantic attempts at sustaining the unsustainable.

Denys, it's by no means certain the jackboots and armbands will end up in power; what's certain, I think, is that people will flock to some similar source of easy answers as things tighten up.

Zentao, fascinating. I hope some of China's young stockbrokers do head back to the family farm...

winingwizzard said...


I think people who are aware, such as many commenting here and reading your essays, need to do much more than think 'what a waste'. If you follow your genetic and ancestral imperatives, you should be actively finding your own way forward. Not necessarily for yourself as much as for your children, grands and beyond. If the population declines by 95%, I certainly think my genes should move forward (I am a tad biased, after all...)

We are looking at a world where there is a quadrillion bucks of debt floating around, nuclear weapons, weaponized viruses, 7 billion people and insufficient resources for the population to remain static. Sure - you can avoid having kids, but it flies in the face of what we are. It will be a competition - it is the nature of life. Bend or break, adapt or die. Foregoing procreation is not a survival strategy - look at every other life form on the planet.

As a father and grandfather, it is my DUTY and privilege to try and help my family. Letting them be blindsided by this, stick their head in the sand or other forms of ignorance to our situational environment should not even be on the table. There is a window of relative stability that is closing in these next few years and we should all be taking advantage of what we know, resources we currently have and all our learning.

If nothing else, a library of last century technical books printed on acid-free paper would be a giant step for any family in 200 years. And then you have to make the library to save it in, and it has to be made of stone, dry, bug free.... Things can be done now, and you simply need to believe in your own view of the future. We are all talking about 'common sense' here - the key word being common, because we all realize what the inevitable is or we would not be on your site. We may not all see the same demon, but we all see the dark shapes looming in our future.

Fight or flight are natural - rolling over and exposing your throat is a learned behavior. Sorry if anyone finds this offensive, but things are not as gray or complex as many seem to think. The primary problem is that change is terrifying to most people, as they have avidly avoided it their entire lives...

Lilith Aurora said...

Thanks for the end of another great sequence of posts, JMG.

I've been reading weekly, but comments are few and far between as I'm still desperately working through how else to collapse without taking off into the woods. The dilemma has resulted in a tendency to devolve into self-absorbed rants after reading your posts, which I'm grateful keep me thinking over how to respond to the situation, in my own way.

I don't think I am ever going to create my own farmstead or home economy (half of this is personal proclivity, half resource access - much of which is human!), but I might be looking into how to join one some day in the future and the prospect is daunting, given I feel like a stranger everywhere.

I do wonder how much of the "population bust", as you term it, will be due to suicide, drug abuse, and murder. Suicide and murder have always been around, but designer drugs are a most troubling prospect, as can be inferred from the situation in Russia with "krokodil": how many people already dealing with substance abuse problems (or never thought about it before? :() will resort to these kinds of "cheap high" poisons once economic crisis hits their part of the world. If you haven't heard of krokodil, look it up, it was introduced to poor heroin addicts - is apparently insane in its addictive power, and gives users a life expectancy of 1-3 years. It's already been found detecting spreading rapidly to other parts of the world. Imo, it makes meth look harmless.
One thing that can definitely be expected is for impoverished, extremely miserable masses to seek an escape of some kind. I don't think it will be easy to watch at all.

N Montesano said...

@Caryn; ouch. I have no words of wisdom about the future of dentistry, or, really, any of the themes discussed here, but do have a suggestion; next time, you might try eating oregano twice a day until you can get to the dentist. It's a powerful antibiotic, according to a study by Cornell University. This spring, I used it to reduce my husband's pain from a tooth abscess to a bearable level, until he could get a root canal done. We used fresh, but I don't think it matters if all you have is dried. Thyme is another alternative.
As for preparing, I don't know anyone, including spouse, who's on this boat with me -- though at least he does like doing things for ourselves. I just keep sharing extra vegetable starts, trying to get people to garden, cook and preserve, even if only on a very small scale, so they'll have at least a little practice at doing, and thinking about it. And trying to learn more myself. Currently struggling to figure out larger-scale gardening. Farming, and presumably gardening, cause desertification, over some millennia. Permaculturists argue that keeping the ground in green mulch helps prevent that. In Cascadia, green mulch is a welcome mat to slugs and voles. So is any other cover, such as straw, assuming you can even get your hands on organic straw. The main alternatives I've seen suggested are dust mulch (isn't that a contradiction in terms? But it works! At least for deterring those particular pests. And for dryland growing), and plastic "mulch" -- gah. Gardening is one darn thing after another, too. But at least you get to eat some of the things. I do want to run off to a farm, mostly because I grew up on one and miss it. But the finding is proving tough.
Back to trying to figure out what I'm doing...

William Zeitler said...

>the central flaw in the entire baroque edifice, our lethally muddleheaded inability to understand our inescapable dependence on the biosphere that supports our lives.

A succinct list of those 'fatal flaws' would be instructive! Yours (above) belongs at the top of the list and is a fabulous start. One I would add is that the Achilles heel of democracy is that it's only as good as the voter pool. When giant swaths of our voting majority can't find the U.S. on a world map, they of course are going to elect vapid leaders to 'represent' their profound ignorance and denial.

PRiZM said...

Zentao, JMG, and all,

China is a fascinating subject, especially with their seemingly quickly rise to power, and their quickly changing lifestyle. I've been living in China for almost five years now and I would say that lifestyle in Chinese cities is not that different than in America and most other Western countries, with the number of cars on the road increasing daily, and a large populous of people glued to and hugely influenced by electronic entertainment.

The 1960s Cultural Revolution was riding on the coattails of a big change in China after decades of fighting which had left people unsure about their futures, and not with luxuriant lifestyles. Forcing people onto farms where they could ensure food would be put into their mouths was probably something many were willing to do.

Move forward to the future now, where many of the young kids I teach call each other farmers as if it is an insulting term, and one realizes that forcing them back to a lifestyle that their families lived 3 or 4 generations ago would result in uprising. Most young people don't know how to farm, and most young people would rather lounge about their parents house until they get the opportunity for a white collar job.

A few weeks ago a lot of discussion in the comments was on revolution. From some reading I did because of the discussion, and probably as noted elsewhere on this blog or in the comments, one of the precursors to a revolution, in the East or the West, is to force a drastic change in lifestyle on a people. China, like the USA, would likely face revolution if the young were enslaved into farm labor like your wife's family were, until such a time as living conditions make working a farm look appealing.

Sébastien Louchart said...

Hello JMG,

Honestly, I don't have any clue about the very details of the possible uprising. What I can tell is that France will almost certainly experience increase in civil unrest in the few coming years. Not because of the internal politics, though but from external events.

My guess is that some other european countries could experience the same.

First, there is a constantly growing questionning about the political framework of the European Union and its german leadership. It's happening in Greece, in Spain and, funnily enough, in the UK but for reasons that are totally different.

The eurozone is going to be torn apart soon. Even some of the most zealot of the proponents of the EU integration talk openly about the exit of Greece from the eurozone. This event would start a political withdrawal from other countries like Spain and maybe Italy and France.

There is a lot of mutual mistrust between the elites and the people. I'm not teaching you anything there :) But it has been put up to eleven by now.
For instance, more than 75% of the French distrust the President of the Republic and agree he's incompetent. Although the Prime Minister remains quite popular for now. Some bills have been passed about overall state security by data interception and analysis. This is the French NSA to make it short. So, here also, the state is spying on the citizens and the citizens are dreaming of pitchforks. What could possibly go wrong?

For now, it's just boiling gently under the lid. Add another energy/financial/what have you crisis and the lid would blow.

KL Cooke said...


" Juan Cole reposted this TomsDispatch article about the threat of China based on Mackinder's geopolitical model"

The article in question presents a seemingly realistic projection of the end of U.S. global hegemony. But I would not expect the U.S. to slink away quietly into Third World obscurity. Rather, I see a strong possibility of the so-called leadership then presiding over the accelerating decline taking the position of the proverbial homicidal jilted lover. "If I can't have her/him then nobody can," regardless of the consequences. Thus bringing about nuclear WW III.

One hopes that rational minds prevail. But what evidence is there of rational minds currently guiding such matters?

DesertedPictures said...

I'm reading your blogs and I'm kind off stunned how well you can applie these 'phases' to another (simpler crises). Look at the Eurozone: There are legions of people that say that it's impossible that Greece will leave the Union (age of pretense?). Now that it's a possibility they say that it doesn't matter; we will all benefit and that other Southern European Countries will never leave the Eurozone because they are so different.

Now: I'm not claiming Greece will certainly leave; they might get a deal. But if they do it will be because the EU gives at least some concessions. And if they do that (for a lot of valid geopolitical concerns), no matter how much of an 'isolated case' it is, how long will it really take for another country to demand the same treatment.

The EU has changed incredibly in the last couple of years (more power for the ECB/more power for the commission). If it hand not the Euro would have gone bust by now. But everyone in charge is pretending it's just small adjustments, nothing really changed, and member-countries will get more power back in the next couple of years. I like the EU, but even I don't believe that for a second.

Gabriela Augusto said...

Dear JMG,

Whereas human extinction seems extremely unlikely to me, I do think our situation is much more like the Roman Empire of the II century, or the X century AC in the Bronze age civilizations. We live in a economic system that is extremely complex, extremely unsustainable and extremely vulnerable.
Complex systems are not only a fractal nature as you often mention, their are also extremely unpredictable and uncontrollable. We have done all we could to maintain the system exhausting natural resources and consuming all the options of those born after the seventies. We are now trying to patch the huge holes in the system with bureaucracy that will only make things worse and this engineered economic depression coupled with the grow of the "virtual economy" to spare the "material economy" for a little while longer. It could work, the hundred years economic depression to drive us back to a sustainable economy, if enough resources were still around and if, as the XX century taught us,prolonged economic depressions were not sure path to war.
That said, I totally agree with you, but I expect something big geographically for the next one or two decades, after what borders will be rearranged and new institutions emerge, very different from those we have now.

MP said...

JMG – I just wanted to mention something on your response to Paul about telling people that you don’t advise people to go out to farms/the countryside even though people insist that’s what you’re saying. I was of the same opinion as Paul a few years ago and even stopped reading your blog! I started reading again mid-last year or so and I was able to understand what you were saying. My husband can’t understand why I went back to reading your blog and why it seems so influential for me (along with the commenters). I told him – when you read the blog, you read with what you bring with you. It’s like I couldn’t read your blog without putting a subconscious sheen over everything and therefore not understanding what you really were saying. He’s unconvinced at the moment, but I speak with him about all the topics that are discussed here and he’s completely on-board with it all. I’m very grateful for that!

Also on your comment about Druidry not being something you convert to, yes, that seems very true for me. When I tell close friends about my practice of Druidry, I say, I’m studying Druidry. For me it’s like saying, I’m studying the world around me and within me. How does one convert to that? It’s a lifelong practice. Of course, studying and hanging out with Japanese Buddhists for 8 years (who were very friendly with Shinto) does ease the way in for a person.

Lawfish1964 said...

I think the collapse of Easter Island makes a very neat parallel to what we're facing as a planet, with the exception that things happened a lot faster on Easter than they will on the planet as a whole. The Easter Islanders continuously cut down the native trees for fuel and building materials, just as we relentlessly pull crude oil out of the ground. As they exploited this abundance of resources, their population grew and there was an age of abundance. This was when the Moai were made, pure symbols of power and decadence. A very neat parallel to our skyscrapers.

Then one day, the trees ran out and the topsoil had been so degraded that it was no longer possible to grow enough food to feed everyone, much less wood to make fire to cook it. There must have been a rather quick era of pretense, followed very quickly by the remaining stages, until the island devolved into cannibalism and the long era of dissolution.

The same thing is happening to our global island but on a much longer time scale. The oil won't simply stop coming out of the ground one day and arable land won't simply cease to exist. It will happen over decades and generations as @WiningWizzard says. But the processes should be very much the same.

Martin B said...

On post-collapse dentistry: My stepfather used to work on the mines in Ghana in the 1950s when it was still called the Gold Coast. He had a gold filling which he said was done by a local dentist who cleaned the cavity then packed it using gold leaf and a tiny little mallet and tamper.

At the time I thought it was one of the tall stories he was fond of telling, but now I think he was telling the truth.

Lou Nelms said...

When do you think the faith in economic growth, information and technology as the APC ("All Purpose Cure", or acronym for aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine) will begin to severely erode in the public mind? This seems to be the thread that is aiding in binding this unsustainable fabric of living far beyond limits (unrecognized or sloughed off by most).

Collapse to me is best viewed as our passage into a gauntlet of scarcity, real and manufactured. The very skewed distribution of the rewards of capitalism we see now seems to be of the more manufactured kind which could set off a chain of events leading to and exacerbating real scarcities. The inability of highly complex hierarchies to manage this with world populations at 7 billion is very telling of how they will work with 9 billion people.

The thought that we will converge into this gauntlet with a higher level of cohesion is pretty damned delusional. My own analogy is "BBs through the bottleneck". What emerges on the other side? Like the great extinction events in earth history, our best interests for life on earth would be a great divergence of cultures and nature. But until then, it will be cornucopia before the flush. Most people of the enterprise man machine will simply be caught with their pants down and react defensively. Prophets of collapse of whatever measure are not the flavor of the good times rollers.

Thomas Prentice said...


To all the technology-will-save-us worshipers, here's something from some outright capitalists:

"Apple and Google spent more on legal fees</a (largely for patent fights) than on research and development. This bad trend portends even worse, because we are near the end of Moore’s Law. Intel is now producing chips built on its new 14-nanometer manufacturing process, supplanting its older 22-nanometer technology. Intel CFO Stacy Smith says the company has “an early look” at seven nanometers, but is not willing to discuss the next milestone, five nanometers, about twice the size of a strand of DNA. After that, *** humanity will have reached the physical limit of micro-circuitry.***


Bob Patterson said...

The unraveing of MIchigan -

jean-vivien said...

It's a bit strange to read the words "Banana Republic" applied to my own country... Believe me, this is not how History books would put it here ! And definitely not how History is taught here.
Sébastien, would you please care to elaborate about what makes you think a revolution is brewing here ? I really get the opposite feeling, even though that feeling may have chosen to ignore quite a few realities witnessed in my personal life or in the news... I didn't think of our suburban riots as "a revolution brewing", but maybe it is a little naive on my part. Asking this question is a bit like opening a can of worms. And what do we do once we've opened the can ? The worms aren't going to run away just because we'd want them to...

Clay Dennis said...


This weeks post made me think about my own attitudes towards collapse. I am guilty of some amount of collapse wish fulfillment. As an urban cyclist I definetly hope ( realistic or not) that the next stage of collapse will drastically slim the heard of fossil fuel and battery driven motorist on the streets. Like any cyclists I have had my share of run-ins with careless, incompetent or malicious drivers and much of this is wish fullfilment. A recent crosswalk sting by Portland Police supports my opinion of car drivers and perhaps shows we are further down the road to collapse than many think. In a 4 hour period they issued the following citations ( in a middle class area too).

– 18 Failure to stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian
– 14 Operating a vehicle while using a mobile communication device
– 7 Passing a stopped vehicle at a marked crosswalk
– 2 DWS [Driving While Suspended] (violation)
– 1 DWS (Misdemeanor)
– 1 Careless Driving
– 2 Failure to obey a traffic control device,
– 3 No operator’s license
– 1 No proof of insurance
– 4 Driving uninsured
– 1 Failure to drive within lane
– 1 Operating without proper fenders or mudguards
– 1 Expired registration tags, 1 Obstruction of vehicle windows
– 1 Speeding
– 2 Failure to register vehicle
– 2 warnings

In addition ,my hope for the collapse of happy motoring is driven by my knowledge of climate change, impervious surface caused by roads and parking lots and the entire suite of externalities caused by the automobile. I realize that this next step down will cause untold hardship and may even claim me in the swirl of disease, famine, and violence that may ( or may not) accompany it. But I do try and put my emotional wish fulfilment on the back burner when making important decisions. At least mine is more realistic than those that hope that collapse will only effect those of the opposite ( fake) political party or racial group.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Concurrently with, and extremely relevant to, these posts I've been reading Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century, by Geoffrey Parker. I'm not done yet, but recommend it as a historical analysis with relevance for modern and future times. Has anyone read this?

If not:
The Little Ice Age had civilization-altering effects. Parker gives a deeply and broadly comprehensive overview of a century full of climate-change-driven weather extremes (droughts, floods, extreme cold, failed harvests) and their results, including famine, disease, more wars and revolutions than in any historical period, and global depopulation by a third. He focuses on Europe, but includes Asia and Africa as well. The quotes he gives from people writing at the time are very affecting.

If a reader wants to know just how war, disease and famine cut birthrates; or how endless wars immiserated the villagers forced to give tribute and supply soldiers; or how the extreme pollution and crowding of London and other big cities turned them into population sinks dependent on constant in-migration for stable size; or how bad royal policy caused misery and upheaval--or any of a host of other relevant topics, such as what happens when the supply chains break down, it will be found in this large but quite readable volume.

One takeaway for now is that, as our host maintains, no matter where you are collapsing there will be misery, the politics will be dicey, and climate disruption and environmental degradation have vastly more power than our global civilization has yet faced up to. Yet, the total results were not entirely predictable--great art, music, writing, the beginning of the scientific method, a reconfiguration of the ideas of democracy and human rights all emerged out of the dreadful conditions.

peakfuture said...


"However, my partners peers are certainly interesting. One, a very successful stock broker, kept saying "I just want to lose it all and go back to the family farm. That work means something."

I had a short stint on Wall Street (1. What can I say, I was young and impressionable! 2. No, I didn't make "bleep-you" money!), and the reason above is pretty much why I left. When I'd be out and about at that time, I found myself saying "I used to be an engineer, but ...," and it always rang hollow. After a few conversations like that, it was apparent I had to leave.

Lets hope that happens in the US as well.

Philip Bird said...

Thank you for the reply!

"I bet your winter weather reports are sometimes pretty bleak, too. I don't know that it would be any kind of advantage if the media in Alberta adopted a policy of never reporting on the approach of bad weather"

I've got farming in my blood, and my grandfather, who recalls the days of horse-drawn harvesting, says that Alberta tends to go through 7-10 year cycles, and that larger cycles of 30-50 years have happened in our family's history (including the Dirty Thirties).

We are *apparently* moving from a wet cycle into a dry, but what's interesting to me is that we experience as extremes. This year is dry, one of the driest in the past few years. Smoke from forest fires in similarly dry British Columbia make a kinda of fog that can blot out the sun. Not much is made of climate change in the general media. Conservative heartland out here. But weather is a practical pastime, ironically.

Our winters are harsh, and where I grew up even harsher than in Calgary where I teach now. I can recall checking checking calves at night as a teenager in a February with -45 celsius (-50ish Fahrenheit) windchill. We have to check every hour when it's like that - the ears freeze off first, and sometimes the calves just don't get up. We'd put them in the barn with the heat lamp after we found them in the corrals. That was before my dad pushed the season the bulls were out to later in the year.

We experience more extremes in weather these years, from my lived experience and observation as a Millenial. In Calgary we say: "don't like the weather? Wait five minutes."

The farm is a marvel of light industrial technology, and I often think, when I'm not teaching in the city, about all the externalities and risk the farm is facing. I'm on the fence about going back to work on the farm. But at least the option is there.

Phil Knight said...

One thing that I think unites the US elite with the Roman elite is that they both have a characteristic hairstyle. Whereas the Romans had the close-cropped "Caesar cut", the USA has what I call an "imperial bouffant". This is an ultra-clean luxuriant mop of, depending on the age of the owner, grey-flecked black hair, or black-flecked grey hair. John Kerry's hairdo is archetypal, as is Mitt Romney's.

This kind of hairstyle seems to be a deliberate status-marker, as clear a signifier as a Bourbon wig.

Aron Blue said...

What a great series this was. I truly appreciate your worldview. It just makes so much damn sense.

I was chatting with someone at a barbecue recently. He said he was considering moving to LA. I mentioned the drought. He said, oh, California will be fine.

I said, why do you think so? I'd like to know.

And his eyes went blank. Because it will be, he said. And then he laughed a little nervously.

Clark Harris said...

I am curious what 5% of current consumption looks like. Do you know of any charts/sites that show what sustainable consumption looks like? I know we have a while before we get there, but it would be nice to have a map of our destination.

Michael McG said...

It’s been 11 ½ months for me in Collapsing to avoid the rush.

Over that time I’ve earned and lived on about 1/40th of the income and energy I used to (about $4K last year). I no longer have a car, have lost about 20 Lbs of body weight and get by on about 1500 calories per day.

I took over an abandoned house in a poor neighborhood, fixed it up and moved in. That was scary and fun!

I can do many more push ups and pull ups than before and also get a few miles a day walking in so physically I am in much better shape.

Announced by a flash grenade at 2:00 P.M. in concert with a SWAT team the police raided the drug house across the street yesterday. I’m hoping whomever replaces them in that ecological niche is as good as they were.

I have decided to try and get back in the BAU race while still living in high austerity, accumulate whatever resources I can, move to the place where my Space Bats story takes place in an attempt to set the stage for it to happen.
In the meantime I’m writing a Lessons Learned for myself about the (Crash now to avoid the rush)experience. The thing that stands out most for me now is the loss of social status particularly with friends and family.

In today’s world there is nothing like a healthy 6 figure income and the power you wield to earn it to garner respect. The loss of my former generous patronage has been a blow to many as I’m sure the change in my habits have been puzzling to those in my former social circles. Eye opening to me on who I can count on and what I am valued for.

Thanks for proposing this challenge (Crash now to avoid the rush) JMG, it was a great learning experience. My story is still left to be written on getting back into BAU world ( I may be considered to Batty now) , still working my Space Bats entry and have a nice collection of 10 other short story/skits suitable for stage performance.

Thanks again for sharing your intuition and views, I appreciate you greatly.

Bob Patterson said...

Given the choice of cultural, legal, oil/economic, life support and political failures, it seems to me that the political arena is where things are breaking down first. This appears to be intertwined with economic failures at the local and regiopnal level. All the assumptions to fund towns, cities and states are breaking down. After all THEY cannot print money and have to be more responsive to voters regarding taxation than the Federal government. And the Federals seem to be loath to offer any assistance.

The "bailout" of 2009/2010 seems to have created two tiers of recovery - A.) Financial institutions and B.) the rest. Imagine for a moment that intead of TARP, etc. to bailout the banks, an alternate program was followed. The government offers low interest, long term loans to any mortgage holder (1998-20010). In addition, the banks are required to mark down these mortages by 30%. This would have kept a lot of people in their homes and helped the banks. BUT it would not have helped the banks regarding derivatives. That would have left the banks in pretty bad shape, but been the fir solution.

EntropicDoom said...

Thank you, this week's posting. it is very well written and clearly stated. My father graduated from high school in 1929. The family had had a tough life and had knocked around in the teens and 1920's living, at one time, on a wheat ranch in Eastern Washington where the old man repaired equipment. It was not an easy time for the family and the 30's got even worse. There were many, many people out in the country side doing farming jobs because most farming was powered by animal and people power. Tractors and powered harvesters were just coming on.

To transition back to a more agrarian way of life from where we are today will be difficult for many to process. The mental and physical strain will be too great for many alive today who expect a life of middle class plenty forever.

Back then, at the Grange Social on Saturday night, hundreds would show up having walked for miles or having ridden in a wagon drawn by horses over unimproved dirt roads. Socializing off farm was special. People existed with few possessions and no coins in their pocket. The life in the country was hard and when my father graduated into a terrible job market he was prepared for continued hardship. The NW wheat ranches had hard working people, some recent immigrant families. That gave them a cultural model that went back to the beginning. Everyone was expected to work, which also meant growing extra garden food. Kids worked, did well in school and helped in the garden. Boys were expected to hunt and fish on the side for meat with whatever tools were at hand.

What we are approaching is a zeitgeist change where our present privileged attitudes will have to re-conform to a new reality. Our thought patterns cannot remain as they are now, in the present age of oil powered plenty, with our entrenched expectations of personal enrichment. Our inner dialog will have to change. We cannot demand to see someone in “customer service” when there is no food in the stores.

Dick Cheney said: “The American way of life in nonnegotiable,” when asked about getting by with less oil and trimming back. Yes, it will not be re-negotiated, our old way of life will be eliminated. Imagining the era of dissolution as a personal experience is hard to picture or anticipate. It can be likened to the difference between living on the streets forever instead of crashing at your folks for the night. A wet card board box instead of your parent's couch. The difference between a rock hard life and some easy mooching. So much of our cultural support system is going out of whack and incapable of helping people get by in desperate times, that a drastic attitude adjustment for all of us will be the first critical step.

The old wheat ranch ethic may slowly reemerge, but it will not be an automatic shift in values and attitude from today's “me” to tomorrow's “we.” People will have to work hard on it together as a community, in whatever location they find ourselves. We will have to reestablish sharing values and work with crowds of diverse strangers.

Imagine a future with acute food shortages, deep cold and no electricity, gas or fuel. Imagine limited health care. Most institutions will be over loaded and the economic system will not quickly adjust to the loss of our present forms of energy, money, society or employment. Even a return to the land will have high hurdles to scale. Widespread knowledge how to grow food has been lost along with much of the available, fertile earth close to urban areas. The way people relate to each other and how strangers work together on any team effort is dismal in our culture.

We are like a giant marching band that has never played together, doesn't know the tune and is out of step. Did I mention the horse patrol up ahead? Watch where you step. How we adapt and learn to work together will determine much of our happiness.

”Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." – Samuel Johnson.

Ed-M said...

@Bob Patterson -

That's an excellent article; everybody should read it. Michigan Gov. Snyder is doing exactly what George Carlin predicted: they've stopped serving the food and drinks, they've turned on the house lights, and they've raised the curtain exposing the brick wall in the back of the proscenium, revealing once and for all that democratic governance -- heck, representative republican governance -- has been a scam and a sideshow all along.

And those rural white people up in Alpena, they think THEIR town won't get taken over by a manager appointed by an authoritarian state official? HAHAHA.

winingwizzard said...

Several comments about farmers and farming above.

Everyone is not a farmer today, but in a few generations most will be by necessity - which is how things used to be. Farming is work, and 2-week or month long vacations don't exist as Nature doesn't wait. If you are averse to foul smells, hot entrails, calluses on your hands or sweating - then you might want to think about what you WOULD BE WILLING to do as the future becomes the present.

Most farmers would love to have a real hardware store or a local sawmill or a dry goods store within a half-day ride. But NONE of those exist today in the forms needed by farmers. There will be opportunities even in the slide back to normalcy, with the big-box stores closing and globalism failing, because people still have needs.

Teachers are going to be sorely needed - but not the type we have today. As the scavenging and recycling madness begins in the next generation or so, who will know what to do with the remnants? If there are no drug companies, do you know an herbalist? If gas costs $50/gal - then what can you do with a scrap car? Anyone ever used an anvil here? How does one patch PVC pipe?

Just thinking...

zentao said...


I think the comments on China are very interesting...

I will say that I feel very lucky to have participated in the visit. My partner introduced me to quite a number of her friends; they all met in university. Most grew up in the same environment that she did: on a farm out in rural areas (mostly Sichuan province). They all mentioned that they feel they are doing their kid (although one has two children) a disservice by not providing a solid foundation in very basic knowledge such as growing food. However, many also said that they are torn since they are presently sending kids to extra university tutoring all weekend and there is simply not enough time for teaching farming.

But at least they are thinking about it...

I was also lucky in the very candid nature of the discussion. Since they have known each other for so long they did hide commentary. Many mentioned that they are well aware of what their government does (hell, many regularly travel to NA and EU so they see things developing here) and that they all simply work around this. So much economy there is straight cash that it is very straight-forward to assist those who are friends with funds that are completely outside of government control. Also, they are all self-reliant for both money and property - amazing how many farms may be abandoned but the deed is certainly not MIA...

On another note, I have linked to Martin Armstrong before but I think his posts are quite salient. Particularly some of the latest where he discusses very recent home-grown currencies in the USA. I think his view is a good commentary on a number of your posts...

His general blog postings:

donalfagan said...

I was also dubious about whether China's rail network was a tactical advantage against the US, but I found it interesting nonetheless. I think the rail network will be a great asset eventually. Nukes, of course, will ruin your whole day.

Caryn said...

JGM: Thank You for your reply.

"Caryn, the question in my mind is whether there's anywhere you can currently study methods of dentistry that don't presuppose access to modern medical and pharmaceutical technologies. If not, a dental school degree may not be much help down the road."

Hmmm, yes and no. I have to disagree here, in the broader sense. I think there is still a lot of translatable and useful knowledge that we really don't want to lose, and that is not common knowledge to most of us today; mainly intricate understanding of how the systems of the body, (or in my immediate case the teeth and gums) are supposed to work, and what 'basically' needs to be done when they don't.

No doubt, there are a lot of high tech solutions today that simply won't be possible in a post-Industrial age.
Martin B's telling of the Ghanian dentist tapping the tooth open and filling it with gold flake is very heartening to me; as is N. Montesano's info about oregano, (note to self- getting some today!!). Not all, but a lot of vital things can and are being done without electric drills, x-rays and a distracting TV on the ceiling.

I've always been of the scavenger mind-set: I hate to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Don't like to throw the rubber ducky out either. Heck! Is that bathwater still warm? I can wash the dogs with it then sprinkle it on the plants!!

**What we'll really need is knowledge of medicinal herbs and plant properties, like the pre-christian witches and mid-wives, (and Druids?) to bridge the pharmaceutical gap. That combined with medical knowledge discussed above would be a GREAT asset.

Thanks, again.

Nicholas Carter said...

If I may be so bold as to provide the requested summary:
In the era of Pretense, people pretend nothing is wrong with BAU.
In the era of Impact, no one can deny the fault line in BAU, but people pretend they can fix the problem with more BAU.
In the era of Response, people try to change any part of BAU that doesn't actually change the problematic parts of BAU.
In the era of Breakdown the BAU falls apart.
The era of Dissolution is the form of a new, often closely related, BAU.

Caryn said...

@Zentao and PRiZM:

China's future is a real wild card isn't it!? From what I see here on the ground - the rapidity of growth and westernization / complexity has made a combination of completely willfully helpless, work-averse 'Little Emperors' and 'Little Empresses' and OTOH masses of people who will go through collapse largely untouched because they never got to go through the bubble to begin with! But most fascinatingly to me - SO many people I've seen and known who are a bizarre melding of the two. Beverly Hillbillies - Asian Edition. (I could provide volumes of crazy interesting anecdotal stories on this. (Although I'm not knocking them: I've also picked up a lot of great 'living with LESS' tips from people here, both rich and poor.)

Additionally, a draconian governmental body bent on controlling and shaping China's future as a whole, completely willing to steamroll individuals if need be; and an entrepreneurial and unruly populace that HAS never and WILL never trust them or behave and do as they are told, who will nod politely, then get around the rules if at all possible, (and it's quite often possible!). For most of it's history, China has not been an actually united country. Even under the heaviest oppressions of the communist party, (when it truly was communist), outer provinces were really run by local strong-arm authorities and the central communist government quietly accepted that as long as those local 'warlords' did not openly flout CCP official authority. They just took on the title of 'Mayor' or 'Provincial Governor' and kept on running the place as they had before.

"The mountains are high and the Emperor is far away".

On the issue of farming however: That IS very worrisome as historically, most provinces have never been great at sustaining their own populations. I don't know enough to speak authoritatively on it, but I've read in several sources that much of our land is simply not that arable. Can only hope that modern soil enrichment and best practice or permaculture farming techniques and knowledge can improve that. (?) Doubtful, eh? I really don't know. Maybe you can shed some light on this.

latheChuck said...

Re: "automation produces unemployment". Here's a take on the effect of automation that I don't see reflected in the usual debate. The usual debate seems to be between those who say that "automation produces miserable idleness in former workers" and those who say "automation frees workers for better happy labor". There is a third possibility. Since automation makes more goods for less labor, there will immediately be some labor displacement. But because there are more goods, the displaced labor (after a generation or two, perhaps) finds new jobs which enable them to acquire the cheaper goods. These new jobs may be in entirely new industries, such as the sport-industrial complex, or the available labor may expand old labor categories, such as retail sales (including prepared food, fast and slow). The problem, as I see it, is that secure occupations employ a shrinking fraction of the population. By "secure", I mean jobs which provide the necessities: staple foods, energy, and water. But the new occupations all support discretionary consumption, so these jobs can go to zero demand as quickly as consumer psychology turns against them. Civilization got along just fine without cable television (or its modern descendant: broadband Internet), and consumers could abandon them overnight. As long as there's enough production of necessities to go around, job-like ways will be found to control their allocation. But when the necessities get scarce, we'll find out which careers are discretionary.

Consumers can defer purchases of clothing, shelter, and transportation for a few months to years, but eventually the old necessities wear out and must be replaced.
Some level of financial services is probably necessary, but probably not CNBC. (That's cable TV cheerleading for the financial industry, for those who don't recognize the acronym.)

Sadly, most of the vendors that I see in our local "farmers' market" are discretionary: hand-thrown ceramics, wood craft, prepared food, decorative items. They're talented, local, earnest, and low-tech, but not necessarily resilient.

Bruce Jia said...

Have you heard of Musk's latest venture of the hyperloop?

KL Cooke said...

"The tiny hobby computer could sit forgotten in a desk drawer for decades, and then simply come to life whenever someone can restore power, of which it uses very little. Any old display and keyboard and mouse, and it would be complete. Such things could easily fit in the same drawer."

If the gizmo is built without electrolytic capacitors.

Dwig said...

One of the syndromes to be expected in highly stressed areas will be people who suffer "inner and outer chaos". This syndrome can be studied in many places in the present-day US; just find a few veterans who've experienced traumatic experiences in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

I just ran across a website that startled me, and also gave me a glimmer of hope: the Mindful Warrior Project. (The link is to a page giving reactions from people who attended the program.)

Programs such as this can help reduce the destruction and violence by breaking the "positive" feedback loop that amplifies the damage. Learning healing mindfulness, and the art of teaching it to others, could be a very useful skill in the times ahead (and it can be learned and used at any age, and doesn't require physical strength).

Candace said...

I was curious about stats regarding energy consumption, I found these charts. Hopefully I've understood them correctly. I've tried to summarize.

Electric power consumption (kWh per capita)

In 2012
Iceland.     52,374 population access to electricity 100%
Canada.      16,473 population access to electricity 100%
United States.    13,246 population access to electricity 100%
Australia.   10,712 population access to electricity 100%
Russian Federation   6,482 population access to electricity 100%
Cuba.  1,327 population access to electricity 100%
   divided by 365
Iceland.  143 kWh a day
Canada.  45 kWh a day
United States.  36 kWh a day
Australia.  29 kWh a day
Russian Federation.  17.7 kWh a day
Cuba.  3.6 kWh a day

I believe Cherokee Chris said once that his solar powered system generates 5 kWh a day.

Oil Consumption per Capita - World

Oil consumption per capita (bbl/day per 1000 people) 2012
Canada.  64
United States.  61
Iceland.  56
Australia.  44
Cuba.  16
Russia 15

Natural gas consumption per capita - World

Natural gas consumption per capita (cubic meters per person) 2012
Russia.   2,906.  (1047 Therms)
Canada.   2,405
United States.   2,177
Australia.   1,200
Cuba.   105
Iceland.   0
    divide by 365
Russia.   7.96.  (2.8 Therms)
Canada.   6.59
United States.   5.96
Australia.   3.29
Cuba.   0.29
Iceland.   0
FYI -  1 unit Natural gas m3 = 0.36 Therms (That's the measurement used on my bills).

A couple of articles that used these stats noted that countries in colder climates use more energy for heating.   Iceland has a great deal of hydroelectric and geothermal electricity production.  Writers claim that because of the cheap energy Icelanders are not very prone to using conservation.  I didn't really feel that was  a good explanation of petroleum use.  They noted that a main industry is commercial fishing and developing industries in metal, particularly aluminum.  It was noted that about 1/3 of the electricity  is used by industry.

It's hard to know what will be available for how long and where. I don't know if aiming for Cuba level consumption is too optimistic, but it would be a st arting point. My Green Wizardry is moving me in that direction, but I'm definitely not there yet.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi N Montesano,

As a suggestion, if you have too many slugs then perhaps I'd suggest that you critically look around at your environment and ask what eats slugs? I grow a lot of shrubs which provide shelter and housing for the small birds here and they eat all manner of garden pests - in fact they do most of the pest control for me and spend all day everyday doing so. Slugs and snails escape from my worm farm sewage system all of the time, but they rarely make a living "on the run" because they get eaten. A build up of pests generally indicates a deficiency of predators and that is something you might want to think about addressing. Small birds often suffer horribly due to lack of habitat and shelter. People don't generally consider planting small dense shrubs because it takes up otherwise valuable garden space, but someone has to otherwise you end up living in an artificial environment. Any artificial environment ultimately takes more energy and resources to manage, but can have some serious advantages too.



Andy Brown said...

@winingwizzard, you make a good point about the services that people are going to need. My grandmother ran a general store in the mountains of Pennsylvania from 1950 through the 1980s. The little crossroads village actually had three stores when I was born, though I only remember two. And by the end of the 1970s there was only hers. Roads were good, gas was cheap and most people worked in town anyway, so there was no need for anything there except as a convenience store. Once they took the post office from the store, it was pretty much done.

But when roads aren't good, gas is expensive, and people are thrown back on their more local resources - then the person who can solve the problems of getting, transporting and marketing the things people require will play their role again.

patriciaormsby said...

@Winning Wizzard, actually, there is no biological imperative that any individual person's or organism's genes survive. There is certainly competition to be the one whose genes are passed on. This is fine, and if you think you've got a shot at it, then what the heck! I wish you and yours success. But even a slowly reproducing species such as ours has its celibates and whatnot, who opted out early on for various reasons and devoted themselves to leaving legacies of different sorts. I have a cousin who was a Catholic nun, obviously never married, but now she has the time to write a family history. She is transmitting the knowledge of our family rather than the genes. Her genes (and mine for that matter) are well represented in dozens of other very nice people, some of whom have decided kids are right for them. I hope to share knowledge to help some of those survive. This is one of the real advantages of Homo sapiens.

Patricia Mathews said...

Here's a very good look at the Era of Dissolution in the American Civil War Era, which I now believe to have lasted from 1860 (possibly 1858) to 1877. Note the attempts of the losing side to return to antebellum BAU at any cost.

Tom Christoffel said...

So, collapse is the new growth.

Cathy McGuire said...

@ Caryn: There's a companion book for "Where's there's No Doctor" called "Where There's No Dentist" and it's full of low-tech ideas. Meant for so-called "third-world countries", it's a good primer, and I treasure my copy (though I'd have to be in bad shape to try to replace a filling with concrete).

The yardwork has kept me from commenting yet, but as usual, a great post and wonderful comments!

Bob Patterson said...

JMG - this was a great series. How about a new one focused on "What went wrong". You could start at 1955 and note all the opportunities to change our course. Chart the couse of major steelmaking (see the book "Anmd the wolf finally came"), major unions, major finance, societal changes, etc. It seems that FDR was able to cage the wild animal of savage capitalism, but somehow, it got unleashed. Just an idea.

Violet Cabra said...

After moving to a new house without internet access and devoting myself to my studies I've been unable to participate here at ADR, still I've been reading the weekly installments with keen interest.

For those who are interested in the study of herbalism as a means to help prepare for the deindustrial future ahead of us I'm delighted to share an herbal first aid protocol I've been working on

Sébastien Louchart said...

That's true, "banana republic" can't really apply to the Third Republic ;)I'm with you on this one.

Regarding my own statement, I might have been a little lyrical but my own feeling is that the brewing revolution will not been as bloody as the other ones. What I have in mind is a quiet revolution with just people starting to believe in something else than politics, mainstream economics and the like. When I say the lid would blow, I mean that our so-called ruling elite could eventually face a vast movement of disobedience from the civilians. Like being in charge of a bunch of people and not being able to give them orders because, well, they just don't care about you anymore. We're just at the beginning of it but I know more and more people who are disengaging themselves from the system and who find new ways to live accordingly.

winingwizzard said...

@ Patriciaormsby
I have often wondered what might have happened if some of the celibate or preferentially single had chosen otherwise. Who might have been born that changed history? Who might have met/married another that set their footsteps on another path? Whose heart may have been changed by a spouse or lover that sent them down a different road??

I am NOT saying it should be everyone's imperative - that would just be grossly egregious, as each of us have our own choices, and thus unique destinies - but having kids and grandkids has made it an imperative for me. I feel honor-bound to try and give them what I can to make their lives better, to see them forward. It may sound quite tribal and primal, but it is what I feel. Denying those feelings is part of the current morass of the species, IMHO.

The current Unraveling and coming mess only add impetus to those feelings. I can hear the sands of my life moving very acutely, and I want to help my own in ways I feel I can - because our current shifting reality is one that has been in my head for 40 years. Thank you J. Blish, P.K. Dick, R. Heinlein, G.R. Dickson and so many others...

winingwizzard said...

@ KL Cooke -

You are so right - I had an Osborne computer with 64K RAM that ran on CPM OS. I fired it up 10 years ago and heard the "pop-pop" of the power supply instantly. It only cost $5 to fix, but where does one find capacitors after the fall?

winingwizzard said...

@ latheChuck

I think even referring to people as 'consumers' is misleading - that is an ancillary function, even if it is the source and reason for commerce.

When people cannot make enough to exist, they do not simply die or hide themselves away. They have nothing to lose socially and that changes behaviors drastically. The 'sports-industrial complex' is not sustainable except in periods of economic largesse; have you thought about how many people are employed by digital occupations that would be unemployed without internet and TV? It is everyone that makes or sells or codes or supplies power to or maintenance for internet and digital services - easily hundreds of millions of people - a tsunami of folks without a thing to do or a way to feed their children. We are fortunate, job-wise, that the internet and digital is still expanding...

I disagree with 'financial services' being of high necessity as well, especially after Dissolution. All we really need are stable monetary options and usury returned to an offensive behavior. I have yet to see where Wall Street or FTSE or TBTF financial operation actually PRODUCED something. Their livelihood consists of garnering interest and skimming percentages of profits from their clients, and it has always been that way. I have had clients send me extra money for doing a good job for them, but my bank has only offered me a toothy smile and a lime flavored tootsie-pop to hold my money while they lend it to others to make much more themselves.

winingwizzard said...

@ zentao

On my trips to China, it has been evident that people have long been adjusted to doing as they need to, IN SPITE OF government edicts, especially in the provinces. I do think cash transactions facilitate and allow the flexibility for this. And that is why there are trial balloons floating around the planet about 'cashless society'. But cashless would collapse black market and drug operations in any country that enacted it - not to mention internet required universally. That smells of another crazy techno-dream to me.

My feeling is that many of the problems we encounter with government regulations, permits, edicts and silly laws is restricted to cities of 50,000 or so - it is not readily evident here in the backwaters of the USA, nor is it evident in Sichuan or Yunnan backwater towns I have spent time in. Much of the world seems to work this way to me.

winingwizzard said...

@ Cathy McGuire

I had a guy in Indonesia replace his filling with a blob of JB Weld before, biting down on wax paper to fit it into the cavity. It stayed there for a month, until we got back to the US. His dentist told him, "Well, it sure as hell worked, but let's just fix it correctly..." I always wondered how long it might have lasted!

August Johnson said...

JMG - I swear this reads like some fiction I've read recently!

U.S. Poised to Put Heavy Weaponry in East Europe

RIGA, Latvia — In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries, American and allied officials say.

The proposal, if approved, would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence.

PatriciaT said...


Andy Brown said...

Montesano, I’ll echo Chris that you need some slug-eatin’ allies. I was experimenting with hugelkultur and while it hasn’t exactly panned out for the plants yet, the garter snakes love it. Between them and the toads, slugs are scarce at the moment.

Caryn said...

@ Cathy and Violet:

WOW!! Thank You so much! very helpful.

Dwig said...

Here's an unusual response from academia: LOCALIZATION PAPERS: Some psychological aspects of responding to emerging biophysical limits. Excerpts:

The University of Michigan's 10th president, in an inaugural address, said that universities are responsible for training and research that serve current economic and cultural needs. That was predictable and uninspiring. What was said next is fascinating. A public university also, "has a fundamental responsibility to be critical of society's current arrangements and to entertain, construct and test alternative visions." Now that is a radical and exhilarating thought. These localization papers take up this responsibility.

These papers have several goals: Helping us get to a downshift moment where we accept the coming resource descent. Helping form responses that plan for, motivate and maintain a wholesome and durable existence under a descent. Pre-familiarizing ourselves with living well within local ecological limits. In short, exploring the need for, and features of, an urgent transition.

Some of the publications (links on the site):
* De Young, R. (2014) Some behavioral aspects of energy descent: How a biophysical psychology might help people transition through the lean times ahead. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1255.
* De Young & Princen (2012) The Localization Reader - Adapting to the Coming Downshift. The MIT Press
*De Young (2010) Restoring mental vitality in an endangered world. EcoPsychology, 2:13-22

... and JMG is on his blogroll, along with other familar names.

Steve in Colorado said...

@Clark Harris

Hi Clark, that is an interesting question, at what level of resource consumption will we stabilize and what will it look like. Unfortunately the question becomes even harder to answer since there are several factors in play, all of which are moving (independently for some, and with co-dependence for others).

I'm guessing you pulled your 5% number, from share of the world's population that lives in the US (if not, please correct me). Not an unreasonable starting place, but in a collapse environment, the other components which will weigh in perhaps more so that relative population levels are: are those resources local or imported, what is the general world-wide (and local) level of available resources, what is the state of local economy, and what is the state of long distance transportation. No doubt there are other factors too.

Many possible answers as we bounce down the slope of de-industrialization. We could end up continuing to consuming 20-30% of the world's extracted resources in the future, but that level may well be 3-4% or less than what we have available now due to a global decline. Or we could bring our consumption in line with the size of our population, but that still does not guarantee sustainability, if the world as a whole is extracting at unrealistic levels.

Too many possibilities for an accurate prediction (IMO), other than to say most likely less than we have today. Perhaps too, one can likely bet that your standard of living will once again depend much more on the local resources (people, agricultural, mineral, energy, etc) available to you than on access to paper wealth, as it did for much of history before this recent era.

Doctor Westchester said...


Thank you for this series of five posts. These posts and their comments have answered and clarified a number of questions and issues I've had that were difficult for me to formulate as distinct questions.

I would put in a vote for making this a book. I recognize the research issues in doing so might make it too demanding to write. If so, perhaps it could co-written with someone who might be able to do much of the heavy lifting? Could there be a history or related discipline doctorial student use much of it as a thesis, suitably rewritten in two versions to fit both academic and non-academic needs? For their sake, I would hope they would not be taking out loans to do this! Just a thought - hope it's useful.

wiseman said...

It only cost $5 to fix, but where does one find capacitors after the fall?

You think we will come to a situation within your lifetime where you cannot find capacitors ?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Andy,

Thanks and I respect the work that you do too.

Hi winingwizard,

Hope you are enjoying those grapes? You are correct, farming does not wait for nature and when you have livestock, it is very difficult to take time away from the the farm. On the other hand, the hours are usually far less than what the average office fauna has to deal to.

PS: uPVC pipe is ridiculously easy to repair - if you have the repair parts, primer and glue. If you are after a challenge, try fixing or repairing polyethylene as that is a true nightmare - nothing sticks to that material!



latheChuck said...

winingwizard: I'm afraid I didn't explain my point clearly enough. I wasn't trying to say that "all is well; people find work in new industries (like sports-industrial complex (SIC)). I was trying to say "the appearance of prosperity is only skin deep, because people find work in new industries (e.g. SIC) which are inherently fragile."

It's been made temporarily feasible by the cheap energy that allows the mass migration of sports teams and spectators, the leisure time that people can squander watching sport performances, and the discretionary consumption that supports advertising.

You and I are, fundamentally, in agreement.

latheChuck said...

A quotation from the Rich & Clueless, from the Washington Post (June 14, 2015) article "In California, rich can rationalize water use instead of rationing it", by Rob Kuznia.

"It angers me because people aren't looking at the overall picture," Butler said. "What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our hose on four acres?" Ms. Butler pays about $800/mo. for water.

It looks to me as though Ms. Butler's "overall picture" extends over no more than her four acres. From time to time, I wonder whether "those people who don't understand the crisis" really exist. I mean, they aren't among MY friends. But then I read this kind of thing.

latheChuck said...

Jim R: You might awaken a Raspberry Pi from a long slumber (with or without replacing capacitors), and find that it's ready to ... do what? Draft a memo on the optimum time to plant the beans? Calculate the amount of manure for the fields? Convert the hand-drawn coldframe plans into AutoCAD? Control a packet-radio relay station (there you go! But only if there are peers ready to communicate.) Seriously, what would you use a RP for, if it were the last computer on Earth (or even the last type of computer on Earth)?

latheChuck said...

Re: solar power. I had 21 panels of 250W "peak" output power installed on my home in Maryland. They went into operation on December 24. Since then, they have produced slightly more than 2.5 MWh of energy. This has driven my electric meter backwards from around 800 kWh to around 240 kWh (production exceeded demand). We also use natural gas for heating (space, water, and clothes-dryer (when not dried outdoors)).

Daily production has ranged from essentially zero (under snow) to about 33 kWh, with 20-25 kWh being typical under partly cloudy skies.

With purchase incentives taken into account, we're on track to break even in 7 years.

I'm making no particular comment on these figures. They're just data.

Extend, or End? said...

Two assertions in this piece point out the most important question for me:

"[...] I haven’t yet seen any reason to abandon that portrait of a harsh but livable future, in which a sharply reduced global population returns to agrarian or nomadic lives in those areas of the planet not poisoned by nuclear or chemical wastes [...] and in which much or most of today’s scientific and technological knowledge is irretrievably lost."

"What it does with fair reliability is eliminate enough of the existing order of things that the problems being caused by that order decline to a manageable level."

How do we now, or our progeny address the 430+ known nuclear plants and the 30k+ nuclear weapons existing on the planet, along with their concomitant cooling, storage and maintenance requirements? This level of manipulated uranium was only able to be produced within the industrial paradigm and infrastructure.

Unless and until we have appreciable dialogue and take action upon this issue, most other planning or action taken towards navigating through and beyond these times are secondary for me. When we have a "Thermonuclear Monarchy", as presented by Ms. Scarry, even if Goldfinger doesn't press the button, his toys of doom remain a ticking time bomb and when electrical grids are lost, supply chains don't deliver diesel fuel for backup generators and the 72 hours supplies of fuel at the nuclear and weapons plants are exhausted, we may not find any inhabitable space remains, above or underground.


Bob Patterson said...

Nevada to nend orgaic food program -

gjh42 said...

About the "prime movers" and their advantage when fuel is not practically available:
A libertarian friend recently posted about an article critical of Bernie Sanders, which said in part
"No one could figure out this thing called wealth creation because, quite frankly, there was very little of it to observe. That’s what was so captivating about the Industrial Revolution. All kinds of people were suddenly getting richer, and not by grabbing other people’s stuff. Wealth seemed to be actually expanding."
I commented: Odd how that coincided with the beginning of fossil fuel extraction in a massive way. Could it be that the sudden availability of more concentrated energy than was ever around before allowed natural human ingenuity scope for doing what it always wanted to do?
To which she replied that she thought it was the enlightened political thinking that freed creativity. I think I finally got her thinking about the real fossil energy basis for the industrial revolution, though. One person achieving awareness at a time, though on facebook that can be multiplied by the number of viewers...

N Montesano said...

@Chris and Andy; those are good thoughts; thank you. We have native slugs, but also a lot of imported ones; this region is slug heaven. Most people resort to hunting and killing them; I can't bear to, (terrific farmer material, yes?!) and we also object to the very-commonly-used slug bait. Some things do eat them, such as opossums, but due to our terrier, our yard is not a good place for opossums. I don't know whether any make it up from the river to the farm property I'm renting for the large garden; they'd have to get through various pastures, past various dogs.
There is a saying here; 'You don't have a slug excess; you have a duck deficiency.' Lol. I like it, but haven't so far been able to sell spouse on my need for ducks. Not for lack of trying! I hadn't thought about wild birds taking their place.
Our suburban back yard is in fact a small bird haven, which has not stopped it from also being a slug haven -- though I don't, here, tend to have things nearly as riddled with slug holes as the cabbage was; perhaps there's a connection here I hadn't seen. It should also be excellent garter snake territory, but I haven't been seeing nearly as many in recent years. I don't know if they're just hiding, or something has changed for them.
My new large garden, home of the slug-riddled cabbage, unfortunately, is, as mentioned, on someone else's land, so I don't have control over providing bird, snake and opossum habitat. Perhaps some more sunflowers, and some amaranth would help attract birds.
As for voles, well, for those there are dogs, which in my experience cause more damage than the things they're chasing, and raptors, for which you have to have tall trees or poles -- fine, again, if it's your own land.
But I've noticed that farmers and gardeners more experienced than I have the same problems with green cover.
All good things to consider for the future.

winingwizzard said...

@ latheChuck


winingwizzard said...

@ Cherokee Organics

Mine is Hummingbird Hill Organics - farm, that is. We just use gentle heat and sort of smear an overlay patch on PE - like a hot patch on an inner tube. It seems to work as long as the pressure isn't too high...

My point was actually that most people have no clue how to repair even PVC - I have watched amazing idiocy take place in suburbia...LOL

winingwizzard said...

@ wiseman

read my comments above - no, not in my lifetime. But during my grandkids lives they may be harder to get. It all depends on how much chaos reigns. We all know that with 7 billion folks supported by oil, and oil is at least 50% gone in 100 years, we are looking at gone in a hundred, especially with better extraction methods.

So, no - not my lifetime but I am well past halfway to centenarian...

Ed-M said...


There are only 400 or so nuclear power plants on the planet, and much fewer weapons plants. Each one will only need an exclusion zone of 20 km (12 mile) radius. Total contaminated area about 400 to 500 square miles.

Chernobyl did not contaminate all of Ukraine and Fukushima hasn't (yet) contaminated all of Japan. So, chill.

Ed-M said...


I've recently found The Great Books of Western Civilization in our central public library. I hope one day to be able to conserve a copy or two of all 32 volumes and add it to my library, which is now in storage due to the kindness of relatives.

Don H said...

My story Legacy is already submitted to the contest.
I found the above discussion of dentistry fascinating. In my novel, After the Last Day that covers the 60 years after a global ecomonic meltdown,I present a dentist in Port Huron Mich., nicknamed "Hambone". He was a Prof at the University of Michigan who fled internal conflict in the enclave of survivors at Ann Arbour. At Port Huron he set up a dental clinic in an abandoned muffler repair shop because, amongst other reasons, they had access to some solar PV that could power the air compressor. All of this will only be possible in the 'salvage phase' after any collapse. The sequel, that I am working on now, is set about a century later when most of the old salvaged technology has broken down. But, it will still be a world of uneven organisation with some small industrial enclaves struggling to live in a technical world surrounded by those learning to live on the natural loop.

Cathy McGuire said...

@ Extend: How do we now, or our progeny address the 430+ known nuclear plants and the 30k+ nuclear weapons existing on the planet, along with their concomitant cooling, storage and maintenance requirements? This level of manipulated uranium was only able to be produced within the industrial paradigm and infrastructure.

If it were me, those places would be priority for solar panel/battery backup power, such that if the grid went down, there was a local source of shut down/ maintenance power. Another option is the water that constantly pours through - they need that for cooling, so they're usually located near a river or coast, but I wonder if there's any way to channel that as waterwheels to create power? Just enough to keep them offline safely.

The weapons will be useless once the underground bays won't open due to power failure... it's actually a bonafide miracle that we haven't suffered from them so far (except for Hiroshima and Nagasake - and the testing sites), so perhaps our miraculous luck will hold... in any case, that's something we here can't do much about, so better to focus on what we can do - don't use nuclear power as an excuse to do nothing. JMO.

Caryn said...

N. Montesano:

One more thing for slugs if you haven't tried it is sprinkling broken egg shells on the soil around the plants. It's been working for me, although my tiny terrace garden is not really comparable to yours from the sound of it. Apparently the broken shells are too hard for them to slither over. it cuts their foot, so they stay away.
We do get giant snails and slugs, even on the upper floor balconies, (29 floors up!) of the apt. building.
It may work for you also. :)

Lou Nelms said...

"Poor land makes poor people and poor people make poor land."

Consider the impact on earth's remaining resources and biodiversity should billions be weaned suddenly from the teats of capitalism, governments of law, and dense sources of energy. Not likely we would become better conservationists, better stewards in the fall.

How we descend from peak growth, peak oil, and peak prosperity will largely determine our impact on earth. That in large part we have reached near peak with a very lame land ethic will largely shape how we care for the land on the decline. Especially when the base of environmental services from natural ecosystems has already been severely compromised in the rise up the growth curve. And with growing pressure on remaining biodiversity even before we enter into the gauntlet of scarcity. In many ways much economic activity has risen to substitute for declining environmental services. The decline already in progress has been in many ways masked by inputs of more fossil energy and capital. Keeping the wheels on this maladaptive beast is very costly. When the wheels come off before we have built this illusionary bridge to the future (with the miracle of natural gas!) all bets are off.

Poor people make poor land and poor land makes poor people. No ark for a wild Noah anymore. Nor even a domesticated one. We got on the wrong boat from the get go.

Lawfish1964 said...


You said, "There are only 400 or so nuclear power plants on the planet, and much fewer weapons plants. Each one will only need an exclusion zone of 20 km (12 mile) radius. Total contaminated area about 400 to 500 square miles.

"Chernobyl did not contaminate all of Ukraine and Fukushima hasn't (yet) contaminated all of Japan. So, chill.

Only? As in we're only going to have about 400 Chernobyls or Fukushimas? This is reason to "chill?"

wiseman said...

Ok. I would add 3-4 more generations to that. That's my gut instinct and I am about half your age.

winingwizzard said...

NUCLEAR stuff...

Just thought I would throw this out there: a few years ago when searching for uranium, a certain mining company geologist discovered a "natural meltdown". This was caused by ore being dissolved in water and then concentrated when precipitated out in a large fracture cave. It reached critical mass and melted - sometime in the past - without any help from humans. There do exist ore bodies with 35-50% natural concentrations of U-238 (Cigar Lake is the most recent find).

My best guess is that, like Chernobyl and Fukushima, there will be contaminated zones where spent fuel rods are doing their "new natural" thing - cooling and releasing energy to revert to a stable state. As far as I am aware, current governments and powercos have NO plans in place that assume they cannot get fuel. They do not think in terms of societal or even supply chain collapse.

I do not know where the US stores spent fuel rods. If there is not a big cache of them in each power plant, then I agree there will be local hot spots eventually, if we have total systemic collapse. However, water tables are involved, and I have no idea about tritium concentrations and their effect on people drinking contaminated groundwater. The pile of a meltdown should stay in place, as the material is very dense and heavier than lead or tungsten. It is the water that concerns me, or airborne debris from explosive cooling as seen in both Chernobyl and Fukushima.

My solution was to go very far from any nuclear plant when buying my farm land. But again, this is unlikely to happen if there is a functioning government or MIC, even a local one. FWIW...

Extend, or End? said...

I'll neither "chill" nor subscribe to luck on the nuclear problem. From my vantage, if others don't elect to integrate this issue into their individual and collective plans and intents for humanity and the planet, then their models omit a key element. Perhaps my post was incomplete; decommissioning of nuclear across the planet must be priority one, if we seek to have any humans or other animals living on the planet in 100 years, or 1000. Many or most or all of the grids will go down at some stage and if the active nukes aren't cooled or the insufficiently packaged and stored nukes aren't mitigated, the contamination zones will be much more than 12 miles in most cases. The first action to be taken, the thing each may do, is admit the issue exists, because until there is a collective recognition, there will won't be political will power to press for solutions (as everyone kicks the can, screams not in my backyard to long term storage locations and generally worries more about coal plant pollution and fracking than they seem to about nuclear).

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@N Montesino,

(And pretty much anyone else with a garden)

Re slugs: I do not have that particular issue, thankfully, so can't give you first hand advice in that regard.

But as a backyard gardener, may I recommend Farming with Native Beneficial Insects from the Xerces Society? It gives advice on creating habitat for predatory insects such as ground beetles that eat slugs, along with other topics of interest such as creating pollinator habitat.

Much of the advice is aimed at farmers, but can be adapted for large gardens, and they also do give ideas for smaller gardens. I have followed many of the suggestions.

William Meisheid said...

A few thoughts:
Just in Time Delivery: Our system for supply of everything is so cascade susceptible that this problem is a bit new to the process. This is especially critical in food supplies.

Guaranteed Chip Failure: Almost all electronics that are chip-based will fail after a short life span (3-7 years) based on the metal whiskers problem related to the removal of lead from solder by government fiat worldwide. Some older electronics may survive but most stuff produced in the last five years will die of its own accord no matter how well maintained or if put aside for future use. This will make the transition away from electronics faster than most expect.

Radical Interdependence: We have become so interdependent that a cascade failure has few stopping points to mitigate a system collapse.

Just a few things most people are not thinking about that may cause the collapse cycle to radically shorter than Mr. Greer's arguments project.

Bob Patterson said...

Two appoaches to tech from my days in the Army (1972-75). The British army had intenive traning for its radio operators/repairmen. Everything from radio theory to working on almost every military radioset from the last 40 tears. They were taught how to re-wire and jury rig anything. As a result they could repair almost anything in the field given some wire and solder. Given three broken modern sets, they could make one operable one.

The US Army went another way. By the seventies, most recruits were not farm boys with lots of experience working on engines and vehicles. So all their extensive vehicle mechanic training revolved around a device called the low voltage circuit t6ester. But as I observed, most LVCT devices broke down quickly and you had whole motor pools where no one knew what to do, and vehicle parks full of non-functioning vechles (exacerbated by a complete inability to get spare parts). There was so much pressure from commanders to show operable vehicles, a bare chasis was called operable.

So, in a similar vein, go back to older, simpler tech (approprtiate tech), and you find low cost, easily fabricated solutions. For dentristy go back to pedal powered drills, for carpentry, check out the manual ways of "The Woodwright's Shop" (you do not need all those power tools they were shilling on "This Old House"). AS William Gibson says - basic tools will always be valuable. I recently read somewhere that GM was attempting to have a law passed to outlaw people working on their own cars.

Bob Patterson said...
pedal powered dentist's drill 1910

Bob Patterson said...

Foot power is a vital part of Appropriate technology. A wheeled cart intead of a lawn tractor, a scythe instead of a weed wacker. Just imagine all the machines that could be converted from electric motor to pedal power via a modified bicyce. Some examples:

Bob Patterson said...

I see many of the people posting here seem to reach a point where a material or component stymies attemts to substitute or reapir. It comes from not imagining a different way to do things. We have been conditioned to buy something or hire services to overcome problems It is the result of extensive brainwashing by TV, etc. and just not knowing any other way to do things. It was a similar situation when a lot of people tried to go back to the land in the 70's. Lucky people had neighbors , who took pity on them and showed them how to survive. Most just gave up. There is a wealth of knowledge in old books, like mechanics encyclopedias, books on husbandry, gardening (just don't use arsenic as an insectacide), Army/Navy manuals on carpentry and construction, etc.

BTW here is a link on how to make a nhomemade capacitor.
It is not pretty, but it works.

Bob Patterson said...

Repair PVC pipe? Cut an arched piece 50% bigger than the hole or split, apply PVC cement on the outer 1" of the underside of the patch. Apply patch. Whew! That was hard.

Janet D said...

@winingwizzard, JMG, others:

So one of my siblings is finally ready/open to learning about Peak Oil. However, he wants to "do the research myself", and asked me to send him some book and/or "reputable" websites. He is a ChemEng and a very smart man, so he can handle the details.

Does anyone have recommendations for the best resources for someone new to this to start?



Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Over the past quarter century more nations left the atomic weapons club than joined it; Russia and the USA have reduced their atomic weapons stockpiles at least twice. When bombs and warheads are decommissioned, an international agency takes custody of the enriched uranium, mixes it with low grade uranium, and gives the resulting reactor fuel away to various countries. A lot of nuclear power plants are using the free fuel.

When that fuel runs out, there will be a financial incentive for nuclear armed countries to convert more bombs and warheads to reactor fuel, either openly or clandestinely. Maintaining nuclear weapons in working order costs money. As a deterrent, there is little practical difference between a hydrogen bomb that you suspect is a dud and an empty bomb casing. France has a lot of nuclear reactors and no uranium mines; I bet they will do it clandestinely.

During the Age of Scarcity I think most weaponized uranium will be converted into reactor fuel. Abandoned nuclear weapons stockpiles will be broken into by thieves, and in the process of extracting and transporting the uranium and plutonium, the chances of accidentally creating a critical mass are pretty high. If a stockpile is abandoned, the chances of containers and casings failing in ways that produce a critical mass are low but not zero; rising over time as more containers fall to bits, falling when all the vulnerable stockpiles have blown up and the rest of the fuel is no longer capable of sustaining a chain reaction.

There isn't much we can do about enriched plutonium except to stop making it. It's good for fueling space probes, but not for anything on Earth.

Susan J said...

"It wasn’t until the Second World War made the lesson inescapable that anyone realized that the only way to provide full employment in an industrial society was to produce far more goods than consumers could consume, and let the military and a variety of other gimmicks take up the slack."

Nicely said.

So, the same willful ignorance adopted by many voters to accept campaign rhetoric as accurately framing the real issues, also lets them ignore the mathematics of consumerism, ever increasing corporate profit, and endless war. Lucky us.

Another phrase I admire: "a link between mechanization and unemployment that's hardwired into the basic logic of industrialism." I wonder how well this is understood.

Thank you for your devotion to these topics!

Jim R said...


I was merely nominating another candidate for 'last computer'. JMG had suggested, at one time, that it could be an old clunky desktop system.

As for what you could do with it, I suppose that depends on how far down the Maslow pyramid we have gotten, or how far down the Idiocracy curve. The forgotten RPi in my desk drawer has a copy of Mathematica on it. Will future people find mathematics useful?

I have no idea.

Koyaanisqatsi said...

I have heard enough about computers being carefully preserved and brought into the future as artifacts of the past, that I finally need to speak up. Speaking as an electrical engineer, I can name a long and far-from-comprehensive list of failure mechanisms that are pretty much guaranteed to take out every computer in existence over a shorter timeframe than you probably imagine. Yes, of course, there is the failure of electrolytic capacitors due to drying-up of the electrolyte. Also, if they are not in constant use, they need to be carefully reformed before use. Tin whiskers grow all by themselves in modern electronic solder and eventually form shorts, especially with today's tiny geometries. Corrosion is an ever-present phenomenon. Any electronic device that stores its operating code in a semiconductor is subject to a long list of ways it can be corrupted, and that would include, um, well, anything with a microprocessor or flash memory, which is um, well, everything. Stray cosmic rays will scramble that code, same for random alpha, beta or gamma radiation...just one particle due to random atomic decay and its all over for your device. Flash memory can only be erased and rewritten a fixed number of times before it's useless, in fact some processors have an internal function to find and fix errors in the background when they are operating, and have a 1-2% chance per year of irretrievably corrupted code if they are turned off. Then there are things that hurt semiconductors when they are warm and operating like electromigration...And I haven't even gotten into mechanical wear on things like disk drives.

Trust me, the chance of having any computer 100 or 200 years from now that is still operational is pretty remote. You'd have a better chance keeping a vacuum tube AM radio operational.

nothinginspace said...

Has anyone read "parable of the sower" by Octavia Butler? Any thoughts on the fictional Earthseed religion?

Scotlyn said...

A living cell is, itself, a temporary employment (enjoyment) of inevitably unsustainable levels of complexity made possible by sunlight. Catabolism is as important as metabolism for success in postponing its final collapse. Therefore, while others have found (or looked for) correspondences between your five stages and Kubler-Ross's stages of coming to terms with mortality, I am meditating on them as ways to understand how certain disease processes may work to bring the body to a new, less complex level of stable functioning that postpones death for a while longer.

@VioletCabra I had missed you.

Patricia Mathews said...

BOOK OFFER - on topic

Because of all the comparisons being made between this series of blog posts and Strauss & Howe's cycles of Crisis - Recovery - Awakening - Unraveling - Crisis, I am willing to mail my copy of GENERATIONS, snail mail, to anyone in the United States; and as soon as I mine John Xenakis' GENERATIONAL DYNAMICS for his medieval timelines, that one, too. In full awareness of the flaws of both. [No, Mssrs Strauss & Howe, the Glorious Revolution in England was an Awakening, not a Crisis; the English Civil War was the Crisis.]

Anyone who is interested can email me privately at Please note spelling: mathews is spelled with only one T. Spell it as most people "correct" it to and I will never get the message.

The book(s) will be sent media mail from Albuquerque, NM.


Bob Patterson said...

Bond markets are in turmoil.

If the prices of Treasury bonds collapsed, could the Fed go bankrupt?
My thought experiment is based on the accepted fact that the US govt. cannot go broke, because it can always print money.
It does this by floating Tresury securities. But if Tresury instuments go to zero in the markets, what can it do?
Sell the White House and lease it back? Sell Cape Kennedy? I think not. Would people accpt SADR's? I think
they would say "What is an SDR?"

Another interesting article-

Bob Patterson said...

As I have been told, the reason zero growth cannot function is that you cannot pay back the interest on the debt you owe. Well take out the interest and you eliminate the problem. Were the ancient tribes of the fertile cresent on to something when they banned loaning money for interest?

A note about not-for-profit companies. My ex worked for one and they were rolling in cash. And at the end of the year, if they were showing a surplus...everyone got a huge raise!

dragonfly said...

Ed-M: "There are only 400 or so nuclear power plants on the planet, and much fewer weapons plants. Each one will only need an exclusion zone of 20 km (12 mile) radius. Total contaminated area about 400 to 500 square miles."

OK, I'll do the math. You assert ~400 nuclear plants, and 12 mile radius exclusion zones. From A=PI*R^2, that's ~452 square miles per plant, or ~180000 square miles total.

So, while the future threat from un-decommissioned nuclear facilities may not be totally apocalyptic, your admonition to "just chill" rings rather hollow.

Cacaogecko said...

In reference to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the first came in riding a White horse, promising the best of all worlds (global capitalism and resource extraction),then disease and plague, then the Red Horse of War, (think Middle East) then the Black Horse of Famine, and finally the Pale Horse of Death. We're on our way!

Ed-M said...


How do you know the exclusion zones would be much more than 12 miles in most cases? I happen to know that with Chernobyl, the exclusion zone started teeming with wildlife about two decades later. Yes, I'm sure most or all the animals will get cancer, but for now it's a wildlife refuge.

And even if I were to concede the point, I doubt very much that the affected area would be greater than a 50 miles' radius. Let's see: 500 sites * Pi * 50 (squared) gives us about 3,800,000 square miles, roughly the size of the lower 48 United States.

But you claim this will cause NTHE or even NTE within 100 years, or at the very most, 1,000 years. While conceding that 3.8 million square miles of irradiated areas would be a huge stinkin' disaster, I really think it's a huge stretch to say it will likely cause humanity to become extinct.

And that's why I said "chill."

Ed-M said...


What I said to Extend. Plus, read what Winingwizard had to say about things nuclear. Yes, 400-500 Chernobyls or Fukushimas would be a huge mess, but since there have been natural meltdowns of uranium ore in the past, and we're still here, it won't be the end of humanity, much less the biosphere.

winingwizzard said...

@ Janet D

There is a defunct website called The Oil Drum. It was mothballed for many reasons, but mostly because the authors had proven it well enough but nobody was listening. At the same time, fracking was taking off and the whole "USA! USA!" fracking thing was cranking up. That might be a good starting point for him, and many of the old authors have newer blogs he might find useful. Another is Peakoilbarrel, but it is not going to catch him up - it's become more about catching the liars out.

The real issue is disinfo - there was and is a very well financed disinfo campaign, the published numbers from most countries with nationalized oil reserves are bogus and every statement by a publicly held corp is 'forward looking', which in many cases is daydreaming. Peak Oil is something that ends globalism - disinfo is their tool.

I have been in this business for almost 40 years and while Hubberts curve may no longer fit new industry practices, it is reality nonetheless - just shaped different on the downslope. However, in a hypercomplex world run largely by algorithms, the effects of oil expense are very difficult to ascertain. Hubbert was wrong, but only in the shape of the curve. Matthew Simmons was also, but only in his timing and expectations. We are in the bumpy price plateau scenario after the peak right now - nobody knows how this scene plays out, because the world has never even approached a resource wall before.

Jim R said...

latheChuck (et al),

Really, I think the 'last computer' will be like the last anything. Like the last Carolina Parakeet.

One day, at some time after most of them have fallen into disuse, someone looks around and wonders, where did they all go? And then through correspondence with people in other places, the fact eventually emerges that there are no more of them anywhere. Can't get parts for them, and they aren't as much fun without the www.

Could a big company like Google go out of business? That sort of thing has certainly happened before. If it does, that will be the end of The internet will still exist, but it won't be as interesting. Our worthy and learned host will then be faced with somehow hosting his own content, or finding another venue, or switching to packet radio, or printing on paper (gasp)...

OK, I shall stop now before getting to the "uninventing aluminum foil" stage...

winingwizzard said...

@ Koyaanisqatsi

Very appropriate - you hit most of the issues. Todays computers have compounded the issues due to the solder issue, multi-function chips and ever tinier chip architectures.

Now, I will share with ALL of you that I own a 1950's SW tube transmitter, amps and receiver that perform flawlessly at the flip of a switch or two. Yes - I do have to wait a few minutes for the set to warm up - alas. And remember we got to the moon with slide rules - but haven't gone anywhere during the digital age - navel gazing in cyberspace are we? (WEG)

winingwizzard said...

@ wiseman

Why 3-4 more generations?

ezab said...

You compared the five-stage model to “a law of physics that governs the behavior of marbles and billiards” and continues to work even when you apply it to bowling balls.

That image makes me want to study historical examples of societal collapse more thoroughly. I’ve ordered Tainter and the two-volume edition of Toynbee, which you’ve mentioned previously. In addition, I’d like to read a few books about specific civilizations – what we know about how and why they declined. I’d like more details in my mind, to fill out the general picture I get from the current series of posts. Could you suggest a few books that fill this need? Books someone who is not a specialist will enjoy reading?

(If you've already suggested this in previous comments, perhaps someone could share a pointer. I read all of the weekly posts, but I don’t always get to the comments.)

ezab said...

RE: "Where's there's No Doctor" and "Where There's No Dentist"
You might want to visit

In addition to those two books, they now have a total of 20 publications, all available for free pdf download. You might be interested in
A Community Guide to Environmental Health
Helping Health Workers Learn (which has tips about educational methods that would be useful for education on any topic)
booklets on how to make water safe for drinking and how to build safe toilets

ezab said...

TO: Koyaanisqatsi
I would like to pick your brains about “expected/possible life of old computers” at some time.... I have a special interest in preserving materials for the future. Is there any way to get in touch with you? Do you post on Green Wizards blog... ( ... is there perhaps a section there on this topic? I have been meaning to join the Green Wizards blog but haven’t found the time... I am a bit overcommitted ;-)

Bob Patterson said...

Texas nto build vaults and re-patriate gold

latheChuck said...

Janet D: The resource that comes first to my mind, for a technically-oriented adult, is "Do The Math blog".

latheChuck said...

As for "home-brew capacitors", we can do a lot better than a plastic medicine bottle wrapped (mostly) in aluminum foil. A capacitor is just two conductors separated by a thin layer of non-conductor. I've seen commercial capacitors which were little more than two strips of aluminum foil separated by two strips of waxed paper, wound together into a compact cylinder and dipped in wax to keep out the moisture. Aluminum foil, at some point, may be harder to get than gold foil, but either would work (or copper foil, though copper can corrode into a semiconductor, which would be bad in this application). Paper, beeswax... I think we're OK with those. Then, you need a way to reliably connect the foil layers to the wire leads to the rest of the circuit. We may be able to spot-weld the foil onto wire (as is done today) without too much energy, and salvage solder (lead and tin were used in ancient times).

But none of these improvised capacitors will provide the same performance in the same space as current products, so future equipment may be a lot less portable than we're used to.

Capacitors can also use air as the insulating layer, but then you may run into mechanical problems maintaining the proper spacing.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Bob Patterson--I'm definitely no financial expert, but I think you have misunderstood what the bond article is saying.

The Fed kept interest rates near zero for several years to encourage borrowing. Borrowed money circulating in the economy usually causes inflation. The Fed prefers moderate inflation to deflation. It didn't work right away, so the interest rates have been kept low for years.

The Fed now thinks that inflation is picking up, so it plans to raise the interest rate on Treasury bonds by the end of the year. Investors do not buy bonds that pay a low rate of interest if they think that by waiting a little while, the same amount of money will buy bonds that pay a higher rate.

When interest rates are rising, low interest bonds lose value. This is BAU.

Martin Cohen said...

On another topic: Bernie Sanders.

If he starts winning primaries and looks like he has a chance of becoming president, what are the chances that he will be assassinated?

My feeling is that they are uncomfortably high.

Somewhatstunned said...

A small reference point. Concerning the the relation between technology and unemployment, this was not a new idea to me and I've just bothered to fish out where I'd come across it before (in relation to growth rather than technology - but obviously closely related).

From Richard Douthwaite, The growth illusion, (1992):

"No government has yet openly admitted that the rise in unemployment is a global consequence of economic growth. However, the fact that governments everywhere attempt to solve unemployment at home by raising national competitiveness in order to steal work from less competitive producers proves that it is."

Denys said...

Whisper of a different kind of shut-off valve in California -
"All that is about to change, however. Under the new rules, each household will be assigned an essential allotment for basic indoor needs. Any additional usage — sprinklers, fountains, swimming pools — must be slashed by nearly half for the district to meet state-mandated targets.

Residents who exceed their allotment could see their already sky-high water bills triple. And for ultra-wealthy customers undeterred by financial penalties, the district reserves the right to install flow restrictors — quarter-size disks that make it difficult to, say, shower and do a load of laundry at the same time.

In extreme cases, the district could shut off the tap altogether."

How valuable is a $30million mansion if it doesn't have any water? It will be interesting to see if these homeowners are bailed out in some way by the state (they've already gotten tens of thousands per home for changing to drought tolerant landscaping). If they are paid for their homes, I expect pitchforks to be following them wherever they go.

Bob Patterson said...

A story from the Whole Earth Catalog (original). At an ancient univerity in England, there was an ancient, lovely oaked beam building called "College Hall". It had a dining hall in it and one day some students were up examining the workmanship of the beams, when they noticed a lot of wood beetles. Other people from the college were brought in and determined the beetles had made the beams structurally unsound. But where could the ever find trees big enough to replace the beams in modern Britain? They decided to ask the College forester for advice. He said he had been waiting for them to come around. Everyone knows oak beams get beetles, eventually. So when the hall was built a grove of oak trees was planted and each forester, down through generations was told, "Don't cut those trees, they are for College Hall". And so there were plenty of huge oak tress all ready for the job. A lesson in resource management lost on people today.

N Montesano said...

@Caryn and Adrian; thanks for the suggestions; will definitely look for that book. I've heard mixed reviews of the eggshells; should try it out. Slugs and snails at 29 stories up; good heavens. They are seriously amazing little beasts, however annoying. (A slug licked my finger once. It felt exactly like being licked by a cat. I've had kindlier feelings towards them ever since; it defused my horror of slimy things. Although I still don't want to touch them).

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