Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Patience of the Sea

I've commented here more than once that these essays draw their inspiration from quite a variety of sources. This week’s post is no exception to that rule. What kickstarted the train of thought that brought it into being was a walk along the seashore last weekend at Ocean City, Maryland, watching the waves roll in and thinking about the imminent death of a good friend.

East coast ocean resorts aren’t exactly a common destination for vacations in October, but then I wasn’t there for a vacation. I think most of my readers are aware that I’m a Freemason; it so happens that three organizations that supervise certain of the higher degrees of Masonry in Maryland took advantage of cheap off-season hotel rates to hold their annual meetings in Ocean City last weekend. Those readers who like to think of Masonry as a vast conspiracy of devil-worshipping space lizards, or whatever the Masonophobic paranoia du jour happens to be these days, would have been heartily disappointed by the weekend’s proceedings: a few dozen guys in off-the-rack business suits or cheap tuxedos, most of them small businessmen, skilled tradesmen, or retirees, donning the ornate regalia of an earlier time and discussing such exotic and conspiratorial topics as liability insurance for local lodges.

That said, a very modest sort of history was made at this year’s session of the Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of Maryland—as the name suggests, that’s the outfit that supervises the local bodies that confer the degrees of Royal Master and Select Master on qualified Master Masons in this state. More precisely, it’s one of two such bodies in Maryland. Back in the eighteenth century, Masonry in the United States split into two segregated branches, one for white and Native American Masons, the other for African-American Masons. Late in the twentieth century, as most other segregated institutions in American life dropped the color bar, the two branches of Masonry began a rapprochement as well.

Merger was never an option, and not for the reason you’re thinking.  Both branches of Masonry in the US are proud organizations with their own traditions and customs, not to mention a deeply ingrained habit of prickly independence, and neither was interested in surrendering its own heritage, identity, and autonomy in a merger. Thus what happened was simply that both sides opened their doors to men of any skin color or ethnic background, formally recognized each other’s validity, and worked out the details involved in welcoming each other’s initiates as visiting brethren. Masonry being what it is, all this proceeded at a glacial pace, and since each state Grand Lodge makes its own rules, the glaciers moved at different speeds in different parts of the country.

A couple of years ago, the first time I was qualified to attend the state sessions of the Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters, I voted on the final stage in the movement of one particular glacierette, the establishment of full recognition and visitation between the two Maryland Grand Councils. My vote didn’t greatly matter, all things considered—the resolution was approved unanimously—but I was still happy to be able to cast it. I was equally happy, at this year’s grand sessions, to see the Most Illustrious Grand Master of the historically African-American Grand Council welcomed to the other Grand Council’s meeting with the traditional honors, invited to the East to address the brethren, and given a standing ovation at the end of his talk. Of such small steps is history composed.

When somebody gets around to writing the definitive account of how the two branches of US Masonry healed the old division, this weekend’s session will merit something between a footnote and a sentence if it gets mentioned at all. I seriously doubt the historian will even notice that one of the attendees came a day early, stayed a day late, enjoyed the quiet pleasures that an uncluttered seashore and a half-empty resort town have to offer, and figured out a detail or two about the trajectory of industrial civilization while walking along the beach on a cloudy afternoon, as a stiff breeze blew spray off the long gray rollers coming in from the North Atlantic.

All in all, it was a propitious place for such reflections. America just now, after all, has more than a little in common with an October day in Ocean City. Look around at the gaudy attractions that used to attract so much attention from adoring crowds, and you’ll see many of the same things I saw along the boardwalk that day. The space program? It’s boarded up for the duration like any other amusement park in the off season, though the plywood’s plastered with equally garish posters announcing coming attractions off somewhere in the indefinite future. The American Dream? The lights are shining on the upper floors and big flashing neon signs say “OPEN FOR BUSINESS,” but all the ground floor entrances are padlocked shut and nobody can get in.

The consumer products that fill the same pacifying function in American society as cheap trinkets for the kids at a seaside resort are still for sale here and there, though many of the shops are already closed and shuttered.  The shelves of those that are still open are looking decidedly bare, and what’s left has that oddly mournful quality that shoddy plastic gewgaws always get when they’ve been left on display too long. The one difference that stands out is that Ocean City in late October is mostly deserted, while the crowds are still here in today’s America, milling around aimlessly in front of locked doors and lightless windows, while the sky darkens with oncoming weather and the sea murmurs and waits.

But that wasn’t the thing that sparked this week’s reflections. The thing that sparked this week’s reflections was a stray question that came to mind when I abandoned the boardwalk to the handful of visitors who were strolling along it, and crossed the sand to the edge of the surf, thinking as I walked about the friend I mentioned earlier, who was lying in a hospital bed on the other side of the continent while his body slowly and implacably shut down. The boardwalk, the tourist attractions, and the hulking Babylonian glass-and-concrete masses of big hotels and condominiums stood on one side of me, while on the other, the cold gray sea surged and splashed and the terns danced past on the wind. The question in my mind was this: in a thousand years, which of these things will still be around?

That’s a surprisingly edgy question these days, and to make sense of that, I’d like to jump to the seemingly unrelated subject of an article that appeared a little while ago in the glossy environmental magazine Orion.

The article was titled “Peak Oil Fantasy,” and it was written by Charles Mann, who made a modest splash a little while back with a couple of mildly controversial popular histories of the New World before and after Europeans got there. Those of my readers who have been keeping track of the mainstream media’s ongoing denunciations of peak oil will find it wearily familiar. It brandished the usual set of carefully cherrypicked predictions about the future of petroleum production that didn’t happen to pan out, claimed on that basis that peak oil can’t happen at all because it hasn’t happened yet, leapt from there to the insistence that our very finite planet must somehow contain a limitless amount of petroleum, and wound up blustering that everybody ought to get with the program, “cast away the narrative of scarcity,” and just shut up about peak oil.

Mann’s article was a little more disingenuous than the run of the mill anti-peak-oil rant—it takes a certain amount of nerve to talk at length about M. King Hubbert, for example, without once mentioning the fact that he successfully predicted the peaking of US petroleum production in 1970, using the same equations that successfully predicted the peaking of world conventional petroleum production in 2005 and are being used to track the rise and fall of shale oil and other unconventional oil sources right now. Other than that, there’s nothing novel about “Peak Oil Fantasy,” as all but identical articles using the same talking points and rhetoric have appeared regularly for years now in The Wall Street Journal and other pro-industry, pave-the-planet publications. The only oddity is that a screed of this overfamiliar kind found its way into a magazine that claims to be all about environmental protection.

Even that isn’t as novel as I would wish. Ever since The Archdruid Report began publication, just short of a decade ago, I’ve been fielding emails and letters, by turns spluttering, coaxing, and patronizing, urging me to stop talking about peak oil, the limits to growth, and the ongoing decline and approaching fall of industrial society, and start talking instead about climate change, overpopulation, capitalism, or what have you. No few of these have come from people who call themselves environmentalists, and tolerably often they reference this or that environmental issue in trying to make their case.

The interesting thing about this ongoing stream of commentary is that I’ve actually discussed climate change, overpopulation, and capitalism at some length in these essays. When I point this out, I tend to get either a great deal of hemming and hawing, or the kind of sudden silence that lets you hear the surf from miles away. Clearly what I have to say about climate change, overpopulation, and capitalism isn’t what these readers are looking for, and just as clearly they’re not comfortable talking about the reasons why what I have to say isn’t what they’re looking for.

What interests me is that in the case of climate change, at least, there are aspects of that phenomenon that get the same response. If you ever want to reduce a room full of affluent liberal climate change activists to uncomfortable silence, for example, mention that the southern half of the state of Florida is going to turn into uninhabitable salt marsh in the next few decades no matter what anybody does. You can get the same response if you mention that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is so far advanced at this point that no human action can stop the drowning of every coastal city on the planet—and don’t you dare mention the extensive and growing body of research that shows that the collapse of  major ice sheets doesn’t happen at a rate of a few inches of sea level rise per century, but includes sudden “marine transgressions” of many feet at a time instead.

This discomfort is all the more interesting because these same things were being loudly predicted not much more than a decade ago by affluent liberal climate change activists. As long as they were threats located off somewhere in the indefinite future, they were eagerly used as verbal ammunition, but each of them vanished from the rhetoric as soon as it stopped being a threat and turned into a reality. I noted in an essay some years back the way that methane boiling out of the Arctic Ocean, which was described in ghoulish detail over and over again as the climate change über-threat, suddenly got dropped like a anthropogenically heated rock by climate change activists the moment it began to happen.

It’s still happening. As Arctic temperatures soar, rivers of meltwater are sluicing across the Greenland ice cap and cascading into the surrounding oceans, and the ice cap itself, in the words of one climate scientist cited in the article just linked, is as full of holes as Swiss cheese due to meltwater streaming through its innards. While climate change activists insist ever more loudly that we can still fix everything if only the right things happen in the next five years—okay, ten—well, make that fifteen—the cold gray seas off Greenland aren’t listening. The only voices that matter to them come from the roar of waterfalls off the waning ice cap, the hiss of methane bubbles rising from the shallows, and the hushed whispers of temperature and salinity in the dark waters below.

Glaciologists and marine hydrologists know this, and so do a significant number of climate scientists. It’s the would-be mass movement around climate change that has done its level best to pretend that the only irreversible tipping points are still somewhere in the future. They’re not alone in that; for a good many decades now, the entire environmental movement has been stuck in a broken-record rut, saying over and over again that we still have five years to fix the biosphere. Those of my readers who doubt this might want to pick up the twenty-year and thirty-year updates to The Limits to Growth and compare what they have to say about how long the world has to stave off catastrophe.

That is to say, the environmental movement these days has become a prisoner of the same delusion of human omnipotence that shapes so much of contemporary culture.

That’s the context in which Charles Mann’s denunciation of the peak oil heresy needs to be taken. To be acceptable in today’s mainstream environmental scene, a cause has to be stated in terms that feed the fantasy just named. Climate change is a perfect fit, since it starts from an affirmation of human power—“Look at us! We’re so almighty that we can wreck the climate of the whole planet!” —and goes on to insist that all we have to do is turn our limitless might to fixing the climate instead. The campaigns to save this or that species of big cute animal draw their force from the same emotions—“We’re so powerful that we can wipe out the elephants, but let’s keep some around for our own greater glory!” Here again, though, once some bit of ecological damagecan no longer be fixed, everyone finds something else to talk about, because that data point doesn’t feed the same fantasy.

Peak oil is unacceptable to the environmental establishment, in turn, because there’s no way to spin it as a story of human omnipotence. If you understand what the peak oil narrative is saying, you realize that the power we human beings currently claim to have isn’t actually ours; we simply stole the carbon the planet had stashed in its underground cookie jar and used it to go on a three-century-long joyride, which is almost over. The “narrative of scarcity” Mann denounced so heatedly is, after all, the simple reality of life on a finite planet.  We had the leisure to pretend otherwise for a very brief interval, and now that interval is coming to an end. There’s no melodrama in that, no opportunity for striking grand poses on which our own admiring gaze can rest, just the awkward reality of coming to terms with the fact that we’ve made many stupid decisions and now have to deal with the consequences thereof.

This is why the one alternative to saving the world that everyone in the mainstream environmental scene is willing to talk about is the prospect of imminent universal dieoff.  Near-term human extinction, the apocalypse du jour ever since December 21, 2012 passed by without incident, takes its popularity from the same fantasy of omnipotence—if we human beings are the biggest and baddest thing in the cosmos, after all, what’s the ultimate display of our power? Why, destroying ourselves, of course!

There’s a bubbling cauldron of unspoken motives behind the widespread popularity of this delusion of omnipotence, but I suspect that a large part of it comes from an unsuspected source. The generations that came of age after the Second World War faced, from their earliest days, a profoundly unsettling experience that very few of their elders ever had, and then usually in adulthood. In place of comfortable religious narratives that placed the origin of the universe a short time in the past, and its end an even shorter time in the future, they grew up with what paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould usefully termed “deep time”—the vision of a past and a future on time scales the human mind has never evolved the capacity to grasp, in which all of human history is less than an eyeblink, and you and I, dear reader, no matter what we do, won’t even merit the smallest of footnotes in the story of life on this planet.

Growing up on the heels of the baby boom, I experienced all this myself. I read the Life Nature Library about as soon as I could read anything at all; by age six or so I had my favorite dinosaurs, and a little later on succumbed to the beauty of trilobites and the vast slow dances of geology.  By some blend of dumb luck and happenstance, though, I missed out on the sense of entitlement so pervasive among those born when the United States was at the zenith of its prosperity and power. The gospel of “you can have whatever you desire” that Barbara Ehrenreich anatomized so pitilessly in her book Bright-Sided found no answering chord in my psyche, and so it never bothered me in the least to think that a hundred million years from now, some intelligent critter of a species not yet spawned might gaze in delight at my fossilized skull, and rub its mandibles together to produce some equivalent of “Ooh, look at that!”

I’m far from the only one these days who sees the unhuman vastness of nature as something to celebrate, rather than something to fear and, at least in imagination, to try to overcome through overblown fantasies of human importance. Still, it’s a minority view as yet, and to judge by the points made earlier in this essay, it seems underrepresented in the mainstream of today’s environmental movement. The fixation on narratives that assign the sole active role to humanity and a purely passive role to nature is, I’ve come to think, a reaction to the collision between two potent cultural forces in contemporary life—the widely promulgated fantasy of infinite entitlement, on the one hand, and on the other, the dawning recognition of our species’ really quite modest, and very sharply limited, place in the scheme of things.

The conflict between these factors is becoming increasingly hard to avoid, and drives increasingly erratic behaviors, as the years pass. The first and largest generation to follow the Second World War in the developed world is nearing the one limit that affects each of us most personally. Thus it’s probably not an accident that 2030—the currently fashionable date by which humans are all supposed to be extinct—is right around the date when the average baby boomer’s statistical lifespan will run out. To my mind, the attempt to avoid that face-first encounter with limits does a lot to explain why so many boomers bailed into evangelical Protestant fundamentalism in the 1980s, with its promise that Christ would show up any day now and spare them the necessity of dying. It explains equally well why the 2012 hysteria, which made similar claims, attracted so much wasted breath in its day—and why so few people these days are able to come to terms with the reality of scarcity, of limits, and of the end of the industrial age and all its wildly overblown fantasies of self-importance.

The friend of mine who was dying as I walked the Ocean City beach last weekend was born in 1949, in the midst of the baby boom, but somehow he managed to avoid those antics and the obsessions that drove them. As a Druid among other things—he was one of the very few people I’ve known well who received more initiations than I have—he understood that death is not the opposite of life but the completion of it. When he collapsed at work a few weeks ago and was rushed to the hospital, his friends and fellow initiates in the Puget Sound area took up a steady vigil at his bedside, and kept those of us out of the region informed. The appropriate ceremonies prepared him for his passing, and another set of ceremonies are helping the living cope with his departure.

A thousand years from now, in all probability, nobody will remember how Corby Ingold lived and died, any more than they will remember the 2015 annual sessions of the Maryland Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters, or this blog, or its author. A thousand years from now, for that matter, fossil fuels will be a dim memory, and so will the Greenland ice cap, the Florida peninsula, and a great deal more. It’s just possible, though very unlikely, that human beings will be among those dim memories—we rank with cockroaches and rats among Nature’s supreme generalists, and like them are remarkably hard to exterminate. Whether or not human beings are there to witness it, though, waves like the ones that rolled onto the beach at Ocean City will be rolling over the sunken ruins of Ocean City hotels, just as they rolled above the mudflats where trilobites scurried six hundred million years ago, and as they will roll onto whatever shores rise up when the continents we now inhabit have long since vanished forever.

The sea is patient.  It has outlived countless species and will outlive countless more, ours among them. Among the things it might be able to teach us, on the off chance that we’re willing to learn, is that the life of a species, like that of an individual, is completed by death, not erased by it, and that its value is measured by the beauty and wisdom it experiences and creates, not by the crasser measurements of brute force and brute endurance.


Degringolade said...

After reading this, I wish I could have had the privilege of knowing Mr. Ingold.

Ryan Orbell said...

Beautifully expressed. Thank you.

jonathan said...

jmg- you have captured the ideas of human arrogance and the role of the ocean that alfred bester expressed so brilliantly in his great short story "adam and no eve". we may succeed in ending our own existence and even that of every other thing that walks, crawls, flies or swims but as long as there is salt water and bacteria, life and evolution will go on. as george carlin pointed out in response to environmentalists who insisted that humanity was destroying the earth; once we're gone, the earth will shake us off like a bad case of dandruff.

Kim Mundell said...

Beautiful words. Thank you

Ben said...

JMG - Always a pleasure to read your prose. Having spent some time in Ocean City, both recently and in years past, I know the grey October North Atlantic clouds you describe. The rhythm of the waves do lend themselves to meditation, don't they?

Well said.

Jon said...

Thoughtful. Intelligent. Meaningful. Challenging. These are all words I've used to describe your posts. This one is beautiful.

Mark said...

From William Carlos Williams:

There is nothing to eat,
seek it where you will,
but of the body of the Lord.

The blessed plants,
and the sea, yield it
to the imagination

intact. And by that force
it becomes real ...

Alex said...

Excellent post as almost always!

I grew up on the Life Nature Library too. Wonderful books. There was an amazing efflorescence of educational books circa. 1955-1965 and my parents spent too much money on them. You can still find them in used book stores and library sales.

Hell we had a mineral and fossil collection, and neighbor kids referred to our house as "the library". This all with Dad working and Mom staying home and 5 of us.

Well, I guess it was fun. Then came the steep toboggan ride downward that was the mid-late 70s and 80s, and onward. I am very lucky to not be street homeless now. And I am chipping out this missive on barely viable internet like it's cuneiform.

John Michael Greer said...

Degringolade, he was the person who introduced me to Druidry -- an astonishingly talented man, as singer, musician, mage, masseur, priest, ritualist. I think something like half the occult and Neopagan scene in the Puget Sound area is in mourning right now.

Ryan, you're welcome and thank you.

Jonathan, I remember that story! That said, even lacking bacteria, give the ocean a couple of hundred million years and away we go.

Kim, you're welcome and thank you.

Ben, this was my first ever visit to the Atlantic coast -- I grew up within easy reach of the North Pacific, which is a very different ocean. Someday I'd like to spend a good part of the off season close to the Atlantic.

Jon, many thanks!

Mark, thank you for that! I haven't read anything like as much Williams as I should.

olduvaiguy said...

"If you ever want to reduce a room full of affluent liberal climate change activists to uncomfortable silence, for example, mention that the southern half of the state of Florida is going to turn into uninhabitable salt marsh in the next few decades"

Or Bayside in Portland Maine.

I live now by something I got from Amy Seidle at at a Bioneers workshop in Montpelier VT a few years back... Finding joy in the midst of the Great Unravelling.

So I spend my time dancing instead.

And don't mistake the failure of some to support your POV JMG, it's just that for years I've not really had much to add.

Though it would be nice to hear4 how Lakeland came around to make the decisions it did.

be well

Samwich said...

Extremely topical article. I've just received the latest issue of National Geographic, which is a special extra-long Climate Change issue. As one might expect, they're still harping on and on about reducing emissions and going solar, as if the only reason one might not burn gas is personal choice, rather than lack of supply. They have, at least, dumped some of the rhetoric you usually hear- they admit the Earth is warming, that there will be serious damage to ways of life and that it's unavoidable.

The rest of it is very much as you describe the mainstream: (though what's more mainstream than NatGeo?) Climate Change is unavoidable, but not un-mitigable. Technology- stratospheric aerosols, orbital mirros, carbon accumulators, big solar farms along with trendy "belt tightning'- smaller homes, LEDs, urban rooftop gardens and bicycles and electric cars will maintain our current lifestyles. Lots of hopefulness about 'steering a global transformation'. They hold up Germany as an example of a First World Country that is making the 'renewables' conversion, though apparently the transition is made somewhat difficult by the fact that Germany still has some industry. I suppose once we get rid of those nasty factories and foundries the electric cars, LEDs, wind farms and solar panels will spring out of the ground. And be transported to site by a free trade bamboo freight bicycle.

Mark Hines said...

John, My condolences to you for your friends passing. I know how it can hurt, as I watched my Dad pass a few weeks ago at a hospice in Spokane, Wa. I watched as his body systems shut down one by one, and your post this week reminded me that what happened with your friend and my Dad is what is happening to our industrial world. I read Catton's Overshoot and he made the point that when life was forming on this planet, the highly toxic carbon that was in the atmosphere had to go away before life could develop. It was only after it was safely stored away deep in the earth in the form of coal and petroleum that oxygen breathing life could flourish. It occurs to me that for the last 100 years or so we have been feverishly working to reverse that and release all that carbon back into the atmosphere through burning it. It is now creating the very hostile environment that existed then. It would have been better and smarter to have just left it in the ground where it belonged. Like your friend and my Dad, our world systems are beginning to shut down and all we seem to be able to do now is just standing by helplessly and watch it happen.

Repent said...

A descriptive masterpiece, but sad essay!

I have the feeling, and it was the emotional message of your essay that you too are coming to terms with your own aging and decline.

I'm sorry for your loss of your friend, we each grieve in our own ways, a walk on a quiet beach on an October day suggests the somber mood of grief. Its sad that all of the forms of the world must pass, and there is no permanence in anything but the rolling of the cold waves, or the crisp bite of the winds. It's sad, but it is real.

Also, I was guilty of prejudice about the Freemasons in my own day, silly really. The vanity of all the immaterial things that people take so seriously to argue about. Surely the Freemasons are just like anyone else, ordinary people trying to make their corner of the world a little bit of a better place.

I'm reminded by your essay of Ecclesiastes-

"Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

3 What does man gain by all the toil

at which he toils under the sun?

4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,

but the earth remains forever.

5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,

and hastens to the place where it rises.

6 The wind blows to the south

and goes around to the north;

around and around goes the wind,

and on its circuits the wind returns.

7 All streams run to the sea,

but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

there they flow again.

8 All things are full of weariness;

a man cannot utter it;"

(Best wishes in your time of trial)

Thomas Prentice said...

I needed to read this and so I thank you: "the life of a species, like that of an individual, is completed by death, not erased by it, and that its value is measured by the beauty and wisdom it experiences and creates ..."

Ceworthe said...

Sorry for your and the Puget Sound Neopagans' loss. Wonderful reflections, beautifully written.

rabtter said...

Now I've got a whole new idea to mull over. Completion.

John Crawford said...

Interesting to hear the Masonic orders are finally talking with each other. Nearly 40 years ago I had the unfortunate task of deciding whether to stay with the order or leave. My wife and I became a bi-racial family when we adopted from the Dominican Republic. The Masonic order at that time was a bit less tolerant and knowing my son would never be accepted I understood could never, with honesty, fulfill my commitment to Masonry I chose to move on. Unfortunately that tolerance has not yet spread to my Midwest region so any hope of healing that long open breach will likely not be possible in the time left until I return to the good earth.

Your post was especially thoughtful and I rank it among the best in your now long run. Thanks for your thoughts, they rang true.

James M. Jensen II said...

I'll echo what others have said: this was beautiful. Thank you.

I'm sorry for your loss.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John-Michael,

That was both sad and beautiful at the same time. Mr Ingold, as do you, have my sympathies.

The ocean is a powerful force and I asked you the question that I did over at Galabes because I travelled to see the sea last weekend and what I saw worried me (much as you are also worried). Because I rarely see the ocean nowadays living so far inland as I do in the mountains and forests, I was shocked to notice just how far the sea had reached back into the single dune that separates the ocean and that remote township over such a short period of time since last I was there. The results are in and they're not good.

As you have desired some time apart from the blog world, I did not reply to your response last week about the pathologising of various people’s concerns. It may be that even if the powers that be wanted to achieve that goal of pathologising, they may not be able to achieve it. I draw your attention to the chatter in the financial press here that apparently the company Valeant Pharmaceuticals is shaping up to be the next big Enron and you know how that ended. That may not be reported over your way, but the news is not good - unless of course you were about to be pathologised...

The other thing to note down here in economics is that the banks appear to have taken the role of monetary policy onto themselves as two of the big four banks here have lifted their interest rates on mortgages. And do you know what is worse? There are articles in the paper saying that the $37 to $50 a month additional cost for average household mortgages of $300,000 - in their words: "Doesn't matter". I'm so gobsmacked that I don't know what to think about that observation, but I reckon it actually does matter...

But then the pièce de résistance was that apparently despite the massive decline in commodity prices for our iron ore exports and at the same time also volume reductions, BHP (a massive mining company) has apparently decided that it may borrow to pay dividends. The BHP Chairman Jac Nasser was quoted in the article as saying: "he was not afraid to go further into debt to maintain the progressive dividend, which is designed to ensure US dollar payouts never go backwards"

All I know is that the circle of time keeps on spinning and we get such a short ride. I see the signs of decline in real wealth and that decline is slightly worse with each passing year and the reliance on debt seems to be slowly increasing - which is an anathema to me. But then my views seem to be in the minority...

I wish your friend a peaceful end.



PS: There's a new blog entry up: THE EDITOR STRIKES BACK - which is a play on Star Wars. A lot of the blog has Star Wars in jokes and gags - I thought that it was funny! - but it is about the most unfunny topic of deer damage in the orchard. Pollution in the sky from the recent bushfires is producing amazing sunsets. The bees are getting toasty again as summer approaches (did I mention that even more weather records are getting smashed on this continent?). Tomatoes are planted out. There are cool photos of the slowly ripening fruit on the trees. And there is a video showing a walkthrough of the super duper ultra-cool chicken enclosure. It is good stuff.

Chris Smith said...

My condolences on losing your friend.

And well put that when climate change predictions come true, those same predictions are disappeared from polite discourse. Whistling past the graveyard ...

jansprite said...

Echoing the above comments, I too thank you for the beautifully worded post and the thoughts you've shared. I love the shore -- the tides and waves always uplift my soul, just reading your words had the same effect, actually -- and October is my favorite time to go to Ocean City, although it's been several years since I was there (I grew up east coast, and never quite got to see the Pacific, although I made it as far as Puget Sound.) I hope you were also able to get to Assateague Island, to me it's magical, especially to camp there.

ChemEng said...

Mr. Greer:

Thank you for a moving and thoughtful piece of writing.

This week I was reading a history book to do with the Roman Empire. It struck me that we know absolutely nothing about the overwhelming majority of people who lived at that time. And even those with names familiar to us, Julius Caesar say, we do not really know anything about them as people. When we are are gone we are gone.

I attend communion at our local Episcopal church regularly. The priest often ends with the words,

Life is short,
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who
make the journey with us.
So… be swift to love,
and make haste to be kind.

Those are words that could be said by people of virtually all faiths and traditions. We none of us know with certainty what will become of us — but we try to be humble and to do the best we can while we are here.

Nicholas Carter said...

Our works decay and disappear but God gentlest works stay looking down on the ruins we toil to rear.

Walter Smith
I'm sorry your friend is dying.

Jim R said...

Nice meditation. It resonates with me as well, unlike so much of 'mainstream' culture these days.

When I was young, Life had a series of issues about molecular biology. I recall one on the Krebs cycle -- they make biology students memorize it now. They remember it long enough to take the quiz, and it is quickly forgotten. It was interesting and new then. They were just working out how information is encoded on DNA molecules.

A thousand years ... prediction is hard, especially about the future. I also lean toward a low-ice, high-water planet, but it could go the other way. We still know very little about the dynamics of our nearest star. And that star may have been crucial to the beginnings and endings of ice ages. The next couple hundred years, we will probably have humans consuming every green/living thing they can find, but biodiversity can return quickly on a thousand-year time scale. (wildlife around Chernobyl has rebounded, demonstrating that human settlement is more destructive than Cesium-137 and Strontium-90) I think humans will be present, but in very diminished numbers -- 'civilization' is much harder to extrapolate. Will they have fire, the wheel, pottery, zymurgy, metallurgy, electricity? I don't know.

NomadsSoul said...


Condolences on the passing of a friend and your homage to his life and memory.

When I ponder the universe, one of my favorite poems of time and sea is Enigmas by Pablo Neruda.


You've asked me what the lobster is weaving there with his golden feet?

I reply, the ocean knows this.

You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent bell? What is it waiting for?

I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.

You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?

Study, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.

You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.

You enquire about the kingfisher's feathers,which tremble in the pure springs of the southern tides?

Or you've found in the cards a new question touching on the crystal architecture
of the sea anemone, and you'll deal that to me now?

You want to understand the electric nature of the ocean spines?

The armored stalactite that breaks as it walks?

The hook of the angler fish, the music stretched out in the deep places like a thread in the water?

I want to tell you the ocean knows this, that life in its jewel boxes is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure, and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the petal hard and shiny, made the jellyfish full of light and untied its knot, letting its musical threads fall from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.

I am nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead of human eyes, dead in those darknesses, of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes on the timid globe of an orange.

I walked around as you do, investigating the endless star, and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked, the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.

btidwell said...

Bravo, Mr. Greer! Writing like this is why I read you ever week.

Love & Light to you and Mr. Ingold

Bruce Port Byron said...

Are we but are collective fantasies? When we remove our fantasies what is left? Is it even possible for most of us to believe- that the last fantasy- a belief that humans are somehow special- is just a strange and likely self exterminating quirk? Can our ability to even recognize this possibility be dismissed as nothing special?
Is it only left for everyone to choose the number and types of fantasies that let us temporarily function , with varying definitions of success ,in "this world"? You have shown the problems of removing the fantasy of religion by replacing it with science and its derivative fantasy known as progress. Are we each left to pick and construct our "world" from mysticism, nihilims, science and various fantasies? I don't ask you answers I ask only to continue to do what you do so well--- make me ASK the questions.

gjh42 said...

Your wisdom was very timely this week. My best friend's father, a legend in the Adirondack trapping community among others, passed Tuesday, and I think your concluding words will be of comfort.

M said...

Thanks again for your writing, and for dipping into deep time. The empty seashore can do that. For me it is more provocative than gazing at the night sky. Maybe because it engages all my senses, and because after all I came from the oceans, not the sky.

The contemplation of our short little ride on the wave of geological time, rather than being something to flee, is exactly what will give us succor even as we go about our daily tasks.

I read that piece by Mann shortly after it came out, and left a comment, a part of which included this idea of looking outside this year, this decade, this last century or two. It was brought up in part to address the absurd notion that just because something didn't happen in 2007 or 2014, that means the idea of limits is somehow false, or we'll outrun it, or I really don't know what the guy was thinking! But really I included it in order to put things in the perspective of deep time, where these bigger issues such as the end of cheap energy and the decline of civilization, stripped of politics and isms and the denial du jour, can be more deeply understood and appreciated and, yes, accepted. (I also took him to task for his notion that future inhabitants of Australia would not run out of gasoline because... they could simply convert coal to gas!) Here's the pertinent excerpt:

Second, and ultimately more to the point, is Mann’s total lack of perspective in terms of time. We are talking about a couple of hundred years since humans started monkeying with fossil fuels on any significant level. In geological time, that is absolutely…essentially nothing. What’s amazing is not that many of the people who made the startling prediction that oil is finite were off by a decade or a century as to when it would peak, but that Hubbert was so close in his estimates.

Zachary Braverman said...

Excellent post. "Completion" is a good word too, but I've always liked "culmination" for what death is to life, as opposed to its opposite.

Regardless, your bird's eye ruminations are some of my favorite things to read, as are the reasons why my parents' generation (the boomers) has such a massive and bewildering sense of entitlement. This is something that is unfortunately all-too close to home for me, as it has large negative ramifications for my own life and my children's.

tawal said...

Thank you very much JMG for the lovely essay. I was reminded of what one of my teachers said: We are but grains of sand...but that we are, grains of sand...that is unfathomable.
Blessings, tawal

steve pearson said...

JMG, Thank you for the post. It comes at a very opportune time for me.
I have spent a fair chunk of my life, on and off, in the environmental movement and have always been amused by the human presumption that we could destroy the world, and of course we could save it, especially if we were to contribute generously to the environmental organization in question and buy the appropriate green products.The idea of saving the planet through the purchase of a $100,000 Tesla is the most delightful irony.
The impending death of your friend strikes a close chord at the moment. One very old friend, one cousin and the father of another friend have all died in the last month. I am about to make a rather sudden, unplanned trip to the UK to spend some time with a very dear cousin, who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.I have always recognized death and considered it the completion of life, but sometimes one feels its cold breath on the back of one's neck more than at other times.
Our contemplation of death brings to mind a poem I love by Maria Tsvetayeva, a Russian woman who died during WWII.
The wind is level now,
The earth is wet with dew,
The storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet.
And soon all of us will sleep under the earth,
We who never let each other sleep above it.

Greybeard said...

Dear JMG,

Like others, I thank you for such a beautiful piece. The idea that death is the completion of life is one of a set of concepts on life that I tried to explore in my degree 20 years ago interviewing nurses (including hospice nurses). I was shocked to find that none of the ones I spoke to understood this so you comments about environmentalists denial of the tipping points rang very true.

On a similar note, I have just finished reading (finally) your Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth which I am heartily recommending to everyone.

Kieran O'Neill said...

My condolences for your loss.

I'd note that the Dark Mountain Project is aiming fairly explicitly at rewriting narratives (especially environmentalist ones) to give nature its rightful place relative to humans.

Albatross said...

Hello Mr. Greer,

Your blog is a great inspiration. Good work. Great work. (Me being a regular reader since 2011.)

My sympathies to you and your good friend. I'd like to share with you a very fine poem by Dylan Thomas, whose main topics seem to be love, life and death. "Poem on His Birthday" Here's the last verse from it.

I hear the bouncing hills
Grow larked and greener at berry brown
Fall and the dew larks sing
Taller this thuderclap spring, and how
More spanned with angles ride
The mansouled fiery islands! Oh,
Holier then their eyes,
And my shining men no more alone
As I sail out to die.

Poem on his birthday Text of the poem.)

Some months ago a very, very, good friend of mine died of multiple cancers ... such is life. As I did grieve, and as I then went into a deep meditation this poem surfaced in me and I felt a strong urge to set it to music. Doing that blew away my sorrow. Poem on His Birthday (A 15 minute song, for them who have ample time. I'm no pro, this is my amateurish rendering of this great poem.)

ed boyle said...

I often feel I have a connection to what you write. A day or two ago I was trying to research a point about yoga and googled the name of its foremost expert, Georg Feurstein, only to find he had died at 65, like your friend, but 3 years earlier. Among active yogis of longstanding he must have had a similar place as your friend had to your community. Just before I turned on my tablett I thought how egoistic we humans are as dolphins are out there probably smarter than us, with no coontrol over their future. We have no empathy with others in our environment. Our religion demands loving our neighbour but it should go much further. An open heart chakra is probably necessary to grok nature. Our culture encouages selfishness and civilization encourages a human centered response. I once read that trees have a consciousness, they remember the people who pass by each day. Life neccessitates a magnetic field so that is more fact than new age fantasy. Empathy is a feeling of magnetic fields, ie. auras, which biological beings have stronger proportionately by far than planets for example. Increasing empathy, i.e. love, means increasing our aura strength through spiritual praxis. Essentially only St. Francis of Assissi, the pope's namesake, was a true environmentalist among christian saints, through heart not head. Trying to convince people to change is useless as the heart has a much greater magnetic field than the brain. We have to open our hearts and that of others.Ideology and rationalist modernism are failing as they overlook the heart. To continue my comment from last week, atheist congregations give little solace in time of decline, as Roman religion gave little to the poor then. There is certainly a cyclical backlash by my children's generation, and even my very skeptical self, against new age mumbo jumbo, but the basis of a mass spread deeper spiritual praxis based on east and southern asian techniques among the massesin the west, to replace, supplement, christianity is undeniable. If the cyclical concepts of these religions take hold in the West, replacing linearist human based doctrines, then a great step will have been taken to altering our human condition. If what perhaps originally taught gnostic christian doctrine was, similar to East Asian practice, breaks through to the masses, then perhaps an awareness of the sacred heart of jesus in everyone, feeling universal love like st. Francis by opening this chakra could stop our downslide into barbarism.

I have in this year had much intensive opening of my chakras after 20 years practice. One gets bored, jaded, cynical as in a marriage and then something happens. Going to a higher level through crisis, as in prigogine's open systems theory, is very real. Emotional stress due to physical activity, social stress and turmoil forces us to become more or go under. Personal transformation is a sort of evolution, one person at a time. But as each tree feels us passing by, so does each dormant, unawakened person feel those with a stronger heart chakra, higher magnetic field passing by, and that has its effects. I fear however too little, too late though to save civilization. I see the seeds of a new christianity post rome for the new dark ages though.

Karim said...

My condoleances to you and the families and friends concerned.

Your piece is beautiful and moving. It is the acceptance that we must all go and be utterly forgotten eventually.

A few days ago I was contemplating a National Geography map of the universe (and I must say that NG really does maps exceedingly well) and the vastness of space really captivated me.

Just like the near incomprehensible complexity of life forms on our planet.

And the deep, deep mystery of consciousness.

And how we are so inextricably linked to everything.

And that however insignificant we are compared to the near incomprehensible vastness of space and time, the Universe still created us, by off chance or by intent, who knows!

Nevertheless and either way I sincerely believe to the very core that it is a moral duty for us to do the best we can with what we have where we are.

Celebrate and contemplate our existence in this Universe and on this planet, do good and be gone!

I can subscribe fully to your natural philosophy!

barry_NZ said...

There is an element of straw-man argument in this piece. Yes there are environmentalists that fit the picture you paint, but most are fully aware that resources are finite and that growth can't go on indefinitely.

It is not a desire to believe in human omnipotence, but a desire to avoid despair that stops mainstream environmental groups from publicly stressing the imminent environmental collapses. It is a lot easier to motivate people when the task seems achievable. When talking about climate change, if you tell people that there is a 30 - 50 year lag in the system that means that action now has no discernible effect in our lifetimes, then it is easy for them to just turn off and drive off in their SUVs.

Also; environmental collapses, when they happen, (even sudden disasters like Chernobyl) are made to look manageable. Distance and the fact that there is only so much news value in bleak means that optimism gets an excessive share of reportage.

Nobody likes Cassandras.

jean-vivien said...

There is something to the sea in winter - a vast emptiness, yet quite full of something else, ready to host the daydreams of the lone wanderer. Its immensity is compounded by its simplicity, which still makes it welcoming. The memories of the people who left after summer somehow renders their absence more vivid than their past presence. As one fills the landscape with one's own mental images, a secret of existence is revealed - to us humans, absence can be beautiful, too, a manifestation of the great mystery of life.
Absence is an affirmation of presence, in direct touch with those mysteries.

Peace to you, your loved ones and the memories of those you mourn.

jean-vivien said...

... and since by definition absence can not be consumed as a customer good, it is pretty much underrated in our global Western culture. There is probably more to this underrating than just economic sense : some hidden, unspeakable fear, probably. Yet think of all that could have been saved, whose presence would paradoxically still be filling the world today, if we had valued absence a little more ! Too much presence can destroy a lot of things, even in the sea.

FiftyNiner said...

Somewhere in the middle of reading this post I was put in the mind of the final paragraph of "Wuthering Heights": "I lingered around them under that benign sky and watched the moths fluttering among the heaths and harebells, and listened to the quiet wind breathing through the tall grass, and wondered how anyone could imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."
Although I put it in quotes, this quotation is the final words of Wuthering Heights which I am calling from memory from at least fifty years ago, and is probably "off" in some small way.
It is the mark of a great writer to move his reader at the moments of his deepest reflection.
You make us wonder if there will ever in "deep time" be any(one) to reflect on the fact that we were ever even here on this beautiful blue orb that we call home. Man so seeks "stasis" for the natural systems he has always known, while being incapable of admitting HIS agency in their complete and utter destruction.
It is sobering to contemplate that within a few short hundreds of years or less that the sea will have covered the graves of myself and all those I have loved. But the sun will shine bright over the ocean and the earth will abide.

Keith Hackwood said...

Thank you JMG, fittingly graceful elegiac words for a good friend, and a time gone hopelessly askew

Puts me in mind of the work of Martin Prechtel and in particular this man, Stephen Jenkinson (aka Griefwalker): an eloquent witness to the madness of dying in a time that does not beieve in death.

tom peifer said...

For a bit more confirmation that "Peak Oil" is not dead......with all due respect to Mr. Mann whose book "1491" is well worth reading....I heartily recommend the following article:

Many will recognize the name Robert Hirsch whose DOE report on Peak Oil is still a useful reference as to the difficulties of 'transition' to anything other than the 'bubbling crude' that came to become the lifeblood of the brief fandango whose melody grows fainter by the day.

Steve Bull said...

"...the delusion of human omnipotence..." is certainly alive and well in many aspects (if not all) of our culture. I see it particularly in the realm of economics where we have a small cabal of 'wizards' believing they can control the complex, dynamic system of global finance and money. I agree that it is likely far too late to recognise that the emperor has no clothes and our hubris has led us down a dead-end path that, like all societies/civilisations before us, ends in 'collapse'. Being what it is, cognitive dissonance will likely prevent most from recognising the inevitable even when the water is swirling about their feet...

brett rasmussen said...

Mr Charles C. Mann almost had me, for a while there I was becoming quite enamoured with his story about the history of oil production, but as JHK put it he is "a skilled writer". Yes he writes beautifully, but these propagandists are all the same no matter how skilled, when the time comes to deliver the punchline, the facade drops and the true nature of the lie is revealed. The skill at that point went missing. Some of the comments made reading the dreary article worthwhile, I especially liked the "around the world in 80 days" reference.

For what it's worth, I feel your pain. In 2002 I had the misfortune of watching a slendid bloke Kevin Christopher crash in 21 days with metastatic melanoma, he didn't quite make it to 40, but we had a party for him anyway a couple of weeks early and he died 4 hours later. "They shall grow not old, as those who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, or the years condemn."

Long time reader, first time commenter, hoping you long continue this great work.

Tony f. whelKs said...

There's nothing like the enormity of the sea for crushing vain illusions of human omnipotence or significance. Even Homer knew that Poseidon would not be mocked. Like the abyss, the sea gazes back into all who gaze upon it.

It's a pity that so many who do cross seas, do so in silver flying tubes and don't get that close-up personal experience of it. It's a different beast when you crawl across its face in a fragile bubble. Seawater is a potent solvent to hubris.

Can I also add my condolences for the loss of your friend and mentor? It's been bit of a sombre week here also, as I had to don the black tie and bid a farewell myself earlier. Walking to the chapel through leaves falling as heavily as a snow-storm had me thinking of endings, and seasons, and cycles. Things we tend to forget in the bright days of summer.

The leaves at least will form new humus. Let's hope the autumn of our civilisation paves the way for new life, too.

Lawfish1964 said...

I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico. Ever since 1966, I've been spending as many weekends as possible at a charming little limestone cottage down there. It seems endless and unchanging, looking to me almost exactly as it looked to me some 45 years ago. However, I've noticed recently that all the docks on the bay side of the peninsula seem to be almost swamped at high tide, at least the ones that have been there since I was a kid. The newer docks are built higher above the water. To me, that is a solid indicator of sea level rise. Those docks were never close to being swamped when I was a kid.

Your post also stirred other thoughts about that splendid place. In 2005, after a major hurricane came through, a fossil bed emerged near our cottage and we began finding shark teeth and other fossils (puffer beaks, dolphin ear bones, dugong bones, etc.). I have carefully arranged the fossils in various displays for all to see. Yet I can't help thinking that in a thousand years, some surviving person will be wandering a similar beach and find those same teeth, not knowing that a thousand years earlier they had been found by me and carefully arranged.

Your latest essay contest got me thinking about what that place would be like a thousand years from now. I started a story, but it turns out I am no fiction writer. I envisioned a gulf coast emerging from sea level rise as the climate healed and the seas receded and the old landscape emerged again. Would there be any evidence of my little cottage? More sinister thoughts occupied my mind. Would people find human remains from cemeteries inundated by the sea? Would people collect those remains and display them as I displayed the remains of the inhabitants of that beach that preceded me? One of my friends who also collects artifacts once found a human mandible from about a thousand years ago and he proudly displays it along with arrow-heads and spear points.

I have always intended that my body be cremated when my life is complete. I wonder now whether I wouldn't rather end up as a curious display in some future being's home.

Odin's Raven said...

Do you expect the Greenland icesheet to be the equivalent of the Storegga Slide which caused the tsunamis which finally sank Doggerland? If so, surely much of the water will spill over Lakeland. The world may bear the loss of southern Florida with relative equanimity, but surely not... Lakeland!

Brian said...

"By some blend of dumb luck and happenstance, though, I missed out on the sense of entitlement so pervasive among those born when the United States was at the zenith of its prosperity and power." What a great statement!

I have often wondered why I and a few of my friends had that same dumb luck and happenstance to make us free of the crippling sense of entitlement and the paralyzing fear of death that drives most of our kind. I have, since reaching the age of reason, understood bone-deep that humankind is just another species that will come and go as so many have in the past. I don't find that fearful (though I do suffer moments of existential dread) but, instead, rather exhilarating. And while I feel an immense sadness at the sheer amount of destruction we are capable of, at the damage we will do in our passing (and sometimes immense joy in the beauty and altruism we also occasionally make), my only real sadness comes from the knowledge that I won't be around to see how everything finally turns out.

I'm also sad to see that Charles Mann can't face some of our reality, because I really enjoyed 1491.

Great post!

Mark Boenish said...

This was a beautiful essay. Thanks so much for your explanation of Mr. Mann's article in Orion magazine. I purchased that issue and was perplexed by the inclusion of that particular article. I asked my wife "how can a magazine that publishes essays by the likes of Paul Kingsnorth publish a piece of doggy do do like this?". Now I know.

Apostolic Mason said...

Brother Greer,
May the Great Architect provide peace for you and your friends as you mourn.

His spirit to God - His memory in our hearts - His body to the earth.

Robert Carran said...

I value beauty, wisdom and experiences, but I'm guessing the sea is pretty much indifferent.

Richard Green said...

JMG, my condolences on the loss of your friend.

Such a beautiful piece of writing, thanks for helping me start my morning here in NYC with the appropriate perspective. Right from the title, I immediately thought of Robinson Jeffers poem, Carmel Point:

The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rock-heads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.—As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

On the cover of Time magazine this week: "Unlimited Energy. For Everyone. Forever. FUSION.... by Lev Grossman"

It is amazing how much crap like this gets trotted out.

zaphod42 said...

John: What a beautiful tribute to your friend. Thank you so much for sharing as you deal with your grief.


kayr said...

My condolences for the loss to you of such a friend and mentor. Your post was beautiful.

Renovator said...

The sea is indeed patient. It can be at once most tranquil and then again most powerful and awesome. To me, the ocean is the ultimate solution. One of the planet's natural "recyclers". A life completed gives to a life begun.

There is a connection amongst all things as you have so often pointed out. We ignore such wisdom at our own peril.

Laylah said...

Thank you for this post; it feels very personally timely for me, as my last two grandparents passed this year, one of them only about a week ago. You write compellingly and beautifully about endings and the work of facing them. There's a melancholy comfort to this post, in the same way that there's a melancholy comfort to looking around the cubicle farm of my office and seeing what it will look like to Trey sunna Gwen long after I'm gone.

My condolences on losing your friend -- no matter how well we understand that sometimes it's time for someone to go, they still leave empty spaces behind.

Patrick said...

"If you ever want to reduce a room full of affluent liberal climate change activists to uncomfortable silence, for example, mention that the southern half of the state of Florida is going to turn into uninhabitable salt marsh in the next few decades no matter what anybody does. You can get the same response if you mention that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is so far advanced at this point that no human action can stop the drowning of every coastal city on the planet—and don’t you dare mention the extensive and growing body of research that shows that the collapse of major ice sheets doesn’t happen at a rate of a few inches of sea level rise per century, but includes sudden “marine transgressions” of many feet at a time instead."

I'm a first-time commenter, so apologies if this comes off slightly unpolished.

There are times, Mr. Greer, I think you're brilliant (I think "The Ecotechnic Future" and "After Progress" easily rank up there with the writings of Lewis Mumford, Christopher Alexander, Wendell Berry, the Dark Mountain Project and the Limits to Growth studies in terms of quality and importance). There are other times I think you're exasperating - usually with your almost visceral dislike of "the Left".

But I have to admit, you're right on the money here, and I've been running into this in person recently. Many here would probably consider me far too optimistic/soft-hearted/etc in that I find hope and inspiration in the kinds of things that are being advocated by, say, Naomi Klein and The problem, though, is that I also have found a lot of value in what Paul Kingsnorth has been saying and doing. I personally think I'm much more optimistic - "the end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world, full stop" and all that. But it seems like a lot of people I know are under the influence of some malign, fairy tale-like spell that causes them to believe that there are only two choices for the future - absolute annihilation or reliable iPhone updates forever. I attended one meeting in the basement of a local church of very well-meaning, dedicated people who, when they asked a little about me and I told them the Cliff Notes version of what I've just described, looked at me as though I had just dropped a Snickers bar into a public swimming pool. I'm honestly not exaggerating by much - the silence got a little awkward. I've also had some communication with a spiritual director, someone very well-versed in the liberal side of Christianity (the work she recommended deified "evolution" (always directional, of course) and Progress to an occasionally creepy degree - it was like the anti-"After Progress"), who seemed to have a similar response. Family members, too, who are dedicated, environmentally-conscious people, who aren't affluent but give of their limited resources and time to do the right thing (in an NPR-approved way)... it's the same thing: if we just vote in the right people and get the right, rational policies in place, everything will be okay. There's no hint of any awareness of limits to reason or anything like that, or even the possibility (I actually gave one person a short book based on the Massey Lectures by John Ralston Saul which condenses his argument against the use of rationalism in the West that he made in the '90s in "Voltaire's Bastards", and the reaction was less denial than, again, complete incomprehension).

ChemEng: Are you in East Lansing, Michigan, by chance? Because that sounds awfully familiar.

Patrick said...

By the way, I think you'll find the comments on Charles Mann's piece in Orion interesting, starting with Richard Heinberg's (too bad about him; his book "1491" was brilliant and apparently has had a lot of staying power, while the sequel, "1493", which was a kind of neoliberal creation myth, has sank like a stone...).

Helix said...

I have a friend who is a long-time resident of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We often discuss climate change and the denial thereof. He says that the beachfront streets are often flooded at high spring tide (called "King tides" in Florida). Once the flooding penetrated the wealthy neighborhoods, the climate-change deniers suddenly came to their senses.

Our conversations usually move on to humanity as a whole not being willing to do much about it. Everyone looks upon climate change with dismay, but people aren't going to stop driving their cars, and they all want the lights to come on when they flip the switch and the air conditioners to kick in when the temperature in the living rooms hits 78 degrees. They're not going to stop going to the grocery store where they buy food that took 10 calories to grow and deliver -- calories largely obtained from fossil fuels -- for each calorie on the plate. And more to the point, "they" are "we". So it looks like we're just going to deal with the consequences.

Even if the rank and file wanted to reduce their carbon footprint, they would find it difficult to do so, because the elite sure don't, and they're calling the shots. The developed world's infrastructure, economy, and culture are all aligned to induce large-scale use of fossil fuel energy. Zoning codes enforce a division between commercial and residential areas in most places. Thus cars are a practical necessity for many people. The cost of living is set by a corporate-based economy, making cottage industries uneconomic, thus forcing most people to engage in that economy on corporate terms. And in most places, any sense of local community is long gone, rendering its inhabitants almost totally dependent on that corporate-dominated economic system for survival.

Yes, of course it is possible to escape this system, at least to some extent. But given the current TV-enforced culture, it is an exceptional person who will be able to do so. The status-quo is enforced through a whole array of incentives, constraints, and penalties.

So IMO, we're just going to live with the consequences. I believe that climate change is survivable. I'm not so sure whether humanity's response to it will be.

TJ said...

I am still visiting with family after laying my Dad to rest. Yours were perfect words that touched my life at the perfect time, giving body to thoughts and feelings I have been struggling to express. Thank you.

s/v Kintala

simon.dc3 said...

My condolences on the passing of your friend, JMG.
Thank you for an obituary that helps us all reflect together on a completed life and on the rest of existence.

Regarding the piece by Charles Mann. If you didn't quite catch the sneering at, and ridicule of, Peak Oil in it then listen to it in the voice of Orion's Managing Editor Andrew Blechman interviewing Mann on the piece. Brings us images of what Dr James Hansen must have dealt with when muzzled on his views on Climate Change by a George Carlton Deutsch III in NASA's Public Affairs Dept appointed by Dubyah for this very purpose.

sv koho said...

Remarkably well written essay, JMG, which put me in mind of Ozimandias:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away"

John said...

This week's post touched a few nerves with me. For starters, there's a seaside village a bit further up the coast where I used to spend summers as a kid. Like you, I've gone there and witnessed the vast architectural tumor that has sprung up and wondered how long it would be before it all disappears and nature reclaims the land.
When you described your friend's passing, that also rang a few bells. Like him, I was born in 49, and like him I collapsed at work a few years ago. When my wife arrived at the hospital they told her not to expect to see me again. Somehow (through sheer perverseness, according to my wife) I survived the surgery. There's nothing like going eyeball to eyeball with the Grim Reaper to hone your understanding of life and death.
Since then I've come to the conclusion that a lot of maladaptive human behavior stems from an inability or unwillingness to accept that death is a part of life. It seems we have as much difficulty dealing with a finite lifespan as with a finite planet.
If you'll excuse my morbid curiosity, what did your friend die of? It would truly be a bizarre coincidence if he had the same ailment I had.


patriciaormsby said...

Condolences to you, JMG, and congratulations to Mr. Ingold on an illustrious life, ending with with many successes and mobs of friends! As my late aunt remarked at my father's funeral, "He sure could pack a church!"

I loved your analogy of the current American economy as a resort in the off season. Really vivid, with a sadness that haunts dreams. Japan is quietly going through its own "off season," and living in a depopulating rural town, the off-season sense of abandonment applies here, but if I could tolerate the Tokyo environment long enough to get a sense of things there, I would probably find it crowded and...? Frenetic? Used to be, but now with everyone gazing silently at smartphones, I wonder. People talk of the "walking dead," but I don't know if that's an exaggeration or not. Out here, though, the abandonment of farm fields gives one the impending sense of doom of an unusually low tide with fish flopping about. Time to bolt for high ground!

Oh, and I love trilobites! Those dear little coin-sized beings made of shale. I was so sad to learn that none of them outlasted the Permian. But I found something that looked really similar, tadpole shrimps, in the pothole pools of southern Utah. Their habitat is restricted enough to make them vulnerable, but they are adapted to such a harsh environment (the pools are completely dry a lot of the time), that unless we find and destroy all of the pools, they might just outlast not only climate change but us as well. Now, to me, that is a happy thought.

I had an interesting insight recently. When I am just drifting off to sleep I often wake up with really oddly disconnected thoughts, that just seem to be random. But what I came to realize a few days ago was that my mind, set free, is taking one concept and matching it with other concepts that happen to be lying about, and if there is a match, it goes, "Ah-hah" and then tries developing the match a step further. If I wake up in the middle of this, it seems to be a bunch of nonsense that my mind is placing importance on, and most of the concepts go skittering off like garden gnomes behind various plants, but I can typically grab one or two before they disappear, the ones my mind was focusing on at the moment. I think that may be why we sometimes wake up with a sudden insight. The mind, set free like that, goes through hundreds of permutations like that trying to make connections. I've heard it said that sleep is important for consolidating memories, and that may be part of how that happens. Or then again, maybe this was just some random stuff.

Aron Blue said...

That was a very beautiful piece. Your friend sounds so special - another role model, like yourself.

This blog is such a comfort to me and many others, I'm sure, because it helps support the life decisions I have made, that some people in my life think are a little... strange. But I think right now it is more important to live joyfully than it has ever been. Many people know in their gut what work makes them fulfilled. For me, it's music, of course. For my dear friend, it's motherhood (and the flak she took for that is the content for another comment!). For another friend, it's having people over so he can feed them. He is never as happy as when his table is full.

We as humans have a bizarre baseline ability to get along with each other - I believe that with all my heart. I believe in the human family - my family. We have the wisdom to get through this humbling experience. It's our job to gain, share and spread wisdom, maybe we could even call it a sacred job at this point. I want to know that feeling when it's my time to go - that I did my job.

Leo Knight said...

Thanks for this. It reminds me of Shelley's "Ozymandias." ...look on my works, ye mighty, and despair...

Some time ago, I found a rather flawed book, " Deep Future," by a paleoclimatologist. He gave an overview of climate changes in the past, and his projections for the future. All that carbon won't just magically vanish if we all start riding bicycles. Geoengineering fantasies to the contrary, it will remain until natural processes fix it again.

Myriad said...

My condolences for your loss.

William Zeitler said...

I too was thinking about Ecclesiates 3, particularly the verse...

"4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever."

...noticing that it doesn't say 'humanity abides forever' but that the EARTH does... hmm...

Axel Benz said...

Very Off-topic (but I see no other way to contact you or Chris Martenson):

I stumbled on a German translation of your interview with Chris Martenson ( on a German website, which is decidedly right-wing extremist.

I came across the website ( because the author quotes you every so often in the comments of a German Internet magazine ( - a magazine wich is really worth reading, but whose comments are being flooded right now (with the discussion on the refugees) more and more with extremism.

Don't get me wrong: I don't mind seeing your ideas being endorsed by someone who is politically on the right wing (my liberal friends consider me being conservative), but this guy is disgusting.

I asked him if the translation of the article was approved by Martenson but I got no answer (

Goldmund said...

John, this is an exceptionally beautiful and heart felt post, thank you. I've always had that sense of "deep time" you described so well, even as a young child, and would often imagine what my suburban neighborhood might have looked like when roving bands of native peoples moved through it, or dinosaurs tramped across the spot that would one day be covered by my bedroom. I also had recurring dreams of wandering through abandoned cities, decayed and depopulated, and never found comfort in either the giddy, industrial religion of progress or the apocalyptic religion I was taught to believe in, with its angry god of vengeance. I found comfort instead on my solitary walks through the remaining, undeveloped patches of wild nature where one might still find frogs and salamanders, and mourned when these patches were eventually paved over. Today I live a stone's throw from the Mississippi river, which is not an ocean but has in common with it the inability to be tamed by humans, though the army corps of engineers has tried mightily and repeatedly to do just that. That river, as Mark Twain observed, will always do what it wants to do, and today there is a movement to treat her with a lot more respect than as a conduit for barges and raw sewage. That's a movement worthy of my participation, long after I and my generation are forgotten. Anyway, the friends I have always felt closest to all share this sense of deep time, and although I've never met you, only know you through your writing, you feel like a close friend to me as well, one who tells me not what I want to hear but what I need to. So thank you again for the work that you do and my condolences for the loss of your friend.

peakfuture said...

What a great commentary on a friend who has passed from this world.

You wrote, "By some blend of dumb luck and happenstance, though, I missed out on the sense of entitlement so pervasive among those born when the United States was at the zenith of its prosperity and power."

Perhaps more than dumb luck and happenstance; *something* or *someone* must have set you on that path. This is one of the things that seems to be so critical going forward; how do you convince others of the true nature of our environmental/economic/energy reality?

Another way I ask this to many folks (say, here at the ADR and elsewhere) is, "How is it that the incredible cognitive dissonance that so many others can live with is rejected by you?" Maybe someone has done some sort of study on this; how do people lose that "cognitive dissonance filter"?

Perhaps for me it was reading _The People's Almanac_ at an early age. How have people here lost their "cognitive dissonance filters"?

peacegarden said...

Beautiful, beautiful, JMG…the loss of a great friend, the Atlantic relentlessly breaking , the idea of death being the correct destination of life, deep time…had to wait till my tears dried to respond.

As always, thank you for being yourself and sharing that with us.



Glenn said...

Not particular to this week's topic, but of general interest to this group and perhaps the other blog. Anyway, it seems that a UK study indicates church choirs are on to something when it comes to community building.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Urban Harvester said...

This is really beautiful JMG. Thank you for this.

Urban Harvester said...

My condolences for your loss.

Andy Brown said...

Your essay this week made me think of some research I was doing a couple of years ago for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the course of interviewing visitors at the museum it became clear that people were having quite intense and discombobulating experiences brought on by the objects in the museum's collection. In particular, the sudden, visceral understanding that some human hands had crafted this amazing object in a place so distant in time, space and civilization - gave regular, everyday, unprepared people a sense of deep time - and showed them, maybe for the first time, that they were not riding the crest of a wave at the culmination of human history, but were just a mote within a larger history that was going to march on past us. It was simultaneously humbling and exciting to people, and something they hadn't been expecting when they went out for the day to an art museum.

It was a fascinating reminder of how powerful objects can be - even to break through the dominant narratives of a culture.

Swimmer said...

Very beautiful!

Yes: Death is not the opposite to life, and it feels very good to celebrate the unhuman vastness of nature. The tricky thing is that this also means that I, at least indirectly, must learn to celebrate the pain that nature (including humans) can cause me, even if it's going to kill me. Moreover I must also accept that I am very incomplete in terms of power to protect myself and my family. Although I know that you are correct about this, it's still a very uncomfortable situation (at least biologically speaking). And therefore I would like to hear what you would recommend me(us) to do in this paradoxical situation? To be very good at just accepting our limited powers, and learn how to not fight and still be successful?

Robert Mathiesen said...

Lew Welch once wrote

"On a trail not far from here
Walking in meditation
We entered a dark grove
And I lost all separation in step with the
Eucalyptus a the trail walked back beneath me."

and some years later he wrote

"This is the last place. There is nowhere else to go.
Centuries and hordes of us,
from every quarter of the earth,
now piling up,
and each wave going back
to get some more.
This is the last place. There is nowhere else to go.
This is the last place. There is nowhere else to go.
This is why
once again we celebrate the
Headland's huge, cairn-studded, fall
into the Sea.
This is the last place. There is nowhere else to go.
For we have walked the jeweled beaches
at the feet of the final cliffs
of all Man's wanderings.
This is the last place.
There is nowhere else we need to go."

I have long thought that the very best and last gift parents can ever give to their own children is the gift of their own deaths at the end of their alloted days. Only then, despite the unspeakable agony of severance, do their children become the eldest generation in the family and attain to the fullness of their own places in the long chain of life.

If a guitar string feels anything, it feels agony when it is stretched and released by the pluck, but then instantly ecstasy as it vibrates its note. Agony and ecstasy, terror and beauty are as two faces of the very same thing, which only our own limited senses perceive as two faces instead on one.

May the death of your friend be an occasion for wisdom; may the death of our species be an occasion for wisdom. Wisdom abides beyond all time and space, though we perish.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, my condoleances for the loss of your friend.

Even if in the long run none of this will matter, it is still fascinating how a human can achieve something during his or her lifetime that people are still influenced by their legacy after they're gone, for the better or worse.

As for your first close encounter with the Atlantic Ocean. Long story short: last year, from April 26th to June 4th, I traveled on a cheap, shoddy bicycle from my hometown in Eastern Romania to London, UK, where my mother was working at the time. I'm no "cyclist," I just did it for the purpose of seeing new places and meeting new people, not least putting myself back on track after dealing with two years depression.

Words can't describe how I felt that evening when I reached the Atlantic coast at Cayeux-sur-Mer in France. I set up my tent there, and just stared at the horizon for three hours until it got dark:

I know that it's technically the English Channel, but for someone who has only known the tideless Black Sea, that is the ocean in all its immensity. That's what I wanted to share. Also, this:

That's me with a family of organic farmers in Northwestern France. They hosted me for two nights and I helped around with some farm work. I don't know if I'll have the opportunity to do something like this anytime soon, so it's a privilege to have been able to meet all these wonderful people along the way. I arrived in London about the same time you had your speaking gig there. Being busy with family matters and all, I couldn't come there myself, but it would have been a nice way to wrap up this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. :)

Erik Buitenhuis said...

When do you think (Maryland) masons will start to admit women members?

SLClaire said...

My condolences to you on the death of your friend, and thank you for sharing your meditations with us. My father died three years ago this past Monday and it is the height of autumn here in St. Louis, so death and its way of making compost of life and using that to fertilize new life later on is much on my mind.

Here in the middle of the US, the vastness of the prairie stands in to some extent for the sea. A few weeks back my husband Mike and I drove up to Wisconsin to visit a friend. It was the height of the corn harvest. The vast summer sea of green that is the monocultured fields of the Midwest, the season in which we usually take our occasional drives to visit out of town friends, was now acre upon acre upon acre of tan-colored stalks of corn and broken-down stalks where the huge harvesters had done their work. Gazing out at it as the miles rolled by, I felt that sense of melancholy that your post evoked in me. Melancholy has its season too, and I think that without it, we miss the power and beauty of autumn and its essential work.

Greg Belvedere said...

My deepest condolences. This weeks blog had some beautiful moments and gets at why peak oil does not get mentioned enough even amongst environmentalists.

I have also noticed that if peak oil does get any attention in the mainstream press it usually takes the form of the kind "debunking" you have described; pointing out a few failed predictions while ignoring the fact that you can't extract infinite resources from a finite planet.

I share your view on death being a completion of life. I think people would do well to follow your closing words on both the personal level and as regards our species. Too often our culture sells us the idea that if we don't claw our way to the top of some social/economic pyramid we have failed. I'm reminded of a lecture by Manly P Hall that challenges this idea "Success is the accomplishment of the necessary." The lecture is on youtube for those interested.

Larry Hill said...

Yes....we may get our wish and have management of our atmosphere thrust upon us. How outrageously egotistical that we think we could actually manage to do this. Mars, apparently, had oceans of water. Where have they gone? What happened on that planet? I keep waiting for the Mars rovers to come upon the tip of a ruin or a glass bottle!

Grim said...

and so it never bothered me in the least to think that a hundred million years from now, some intelligent critter of a species not yet spawned might gaze in delight at my fossilized skull, and rub its mandibles together to produce some equivalent of “Ooh, look at that!”

Agreed. The thought of being a prized part of the collection of some future equivalent of a palaeontologist's collection pleases me greatly.

Matthew White said...

Great piece. One nitpick though, I think you're going to have to abandon the "conventional C&C peaked in 2005" line in the sand, that recently got crossed.

That being said, I don't think it matters too much in the grand scheme of things, as you make abundantly clear in the post.

Bill Blondeau said...

The Sea has clearly served you well this week, JMG, as it does many of us when we let it. The Sea, its depths, its waters, its unceasing motion, its immense antiquity, all beautifully frame what you've written here.

Your words are always well crafted to induce understanding. Post after post, year after year, you find ways to make new, deep, transformational thoughts take shape in the minds of your readers. It's a writing style that illuminates; very often, a style that leaves the reader just a bit smarter merely for having absorbed the way the words were composed.

This, I think, is why The Archdruid Report is successful both as an intellectual project and as the nucleus of such a passionate, thoughtful, decent community. This is what keeps us coming back.

Sometimes, though, there's something more. There are essays like this, and a few others, when you step beyond the disciplined craft of that expository style. It always seems to be a thing of inspiration. This is when you pull a remarkable array of musing and meditations on multiple themes and thoughts and stories together, and weave them into a braid of concept and significance. This braid is more than the sum of its parts.

But then there's something else, even more rare.

There are times, for the reader, when the surface of words opens up onto echoing depths of meaning. Meaning that surpasses intellectual clarity. Meaning that ventures into the poetic or the bardic.

"...the cold gray seas off Greenland aren’t listening. The only voices that matter to them come from the roar of waterfalls off the waning ice cap, the hiss of methane bubbles rising from the shallows, and the hushed whispers of temperature and salinity in the dark waters below."

Perhaps not this passage alone, but the entire tone and depth of this piece, has had its effect on many of the commenters. In an ordinary week you occasionally get a poem, or part of one, in the comments. As I write this, I have counted eight (including the bit from Ecclesiastes) in this week's comments so far. Poetry is the right language for this conversation.

I suspect that Corby Ingold, as you describe him, would have deeply appreciated this elegy. Inspired by the Sea, its depths, its waters, you have done honor to your friend.

To borrow an oddly apropos concept from a very different context: you have given water to the dead.

hcaparoso said...

Dear Mr. Archdruid,
Many condolences on the passing of your friend. It is so difficult to lose someone, especially suddenly, like what happened to your friend. I remember decades ago I was talking with my grandfather and I asked him what he thought happens to us when we die. He said, well, he wasn't a Christian like my grandmother, or like the way he was raised, but he thought when we die our souls flow together with the souls of all the others on the earth, the people and the souls of animals and plants, too. And they all flow together, like a river, down into an ocean of souls, everyone in the world, together. I found it quite comforting.
And many, many thanks for all the writing that you do for us. It is one of the thins I look forward to, every week.

jeffinwa said...

Thanks for this John, you break my heart and mend it with your writing. I love the way you combine your head and your heart in your sharings with us. I was born in '51 so the “completion” is something to contemplate these days. Not happy/sad (thanks Tim Buckley) but more sunrise/sunset.

I'm reading “Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm” by Stephen Harrod Buhner and it is helping me understand better the vastness of Life and Nature and how small our species part in it all really is; we're legends in our own minds only; just another brick in the wall and not a particularly important one at that but a brick none the less and entitled to share in the abundance that's offered. I'm honored and grateful that Nature allows me the bits of understanding I'm capable of grasping and as a clever primate I really can't help but grasp for more ;)

It's great to come home for these weekly visits.

Bruce E said...

I heard this poem just last week on a podcast, and it seems appropriate to your post:

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
"Excuse me, I have work to do."

― Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

Ian R Orchard said...

barry_NZ and Helix, thanks for your contributions to this discussion, I've clipped them as inspiration.
As JMG predicted obliquely, it does seem apparent that the spotlight shifted to Corby Ingold's passing rather than the Planet's or Homo sapiens'. A moving account to be sure, but far removed in my mind from the thought that West Antarctica is dog-tucker. I knew that there were possible problems down there but the tone of the linked article is "it's all over, Rover." The only bone of contention is no longer if, it's when & how much. Especially as both East Antarctica and Greenland are in the same choir.
Makes the fuss in Christchurch NZ over whether the potential of sea-level rise should be mentioned of coastal property LIMs all a bit pointless. We're on land similar to Florida, except that it's alluvial gravels rather than porous limestone.

Ed Ryan, CPA said...

Ah climate change. Consider the collapse of California (and SW US) real estate values that comes with a decades long megadrought due anyway according to tree ring studies and then magnified by climate change. Dreams of technology keeping this afloat have to eventually give way to the reality that all that real estate is worth exactly 0 without water. I think the collapse will be relatively sudden when the herd catches on and panics. It will be a global economic disaster when the 8th largest economy in the world suddenly goes to 0.

Tye said...

This essay reminded me of Loren Eiseley, whom I hadn't thought of in years. You go further and project that the way people are hard-wired to rise and fall as civilizations is amplified by the power of fossil fuels and the resulting industrial power to destroy habitat. Sometimes I wonder whether the human experimentation in drugs is a deep-wired attempt to alter our self-destroying 'wiredness'--and thereby survive.

Swimmer said...

Regarding some "environmentalist" and why they don't like to think about peak-oil: in Sweden a lot of money (millions of dollars) are now used to convert the timber-floating waterways to their natural state (to the condition when humans did not float timber, which means boulders all over and timber-logs stuck in the rapids). Why? Since Sweden plan to maintain its 210000km network of forest-roads forever! In my work as an environmental advisor I have started to discuss the fact that forest roads are expensive to maintain (the cost has increased by 5 times since 1998 and is now very significant in relation to the profit), and that future generations only will like water-way destruction if the future becomes very, very rich. My suggestion has been that the best strategy would be to keep the timber-floating waterways and optimize the fish reproduction (=progress in my world). But even persons that I know are concerned about peak oil, seem to stop thinking when they realize that they have to question the meaning of their day-job, and the projects that -- at the moment -- are supported by almost everyone, including the King and all politicians. The only ones that show resistance, seem to be some old timber-floaters and most owners of small-scale hydro-power stations, that in many cases are forced to remove their dams or construct very expensive fish-ladders (which of course only the very large hydro power stations -- that regulates the grid, and are to big to fail -- can afford). We are indeed getting more salmon in some rivers nowadays, and I partly like that, since I tend to celebrate "free nature", but at the same time I also know that the natural resource called salmon has never been easy to manage in the society, and that it never have been able to feed more than a few rich villages, at the mouths of the salmon rivers.

ChemEng said...


Not Michigan, I’m afraid (although my wife and I went to the northern part of the State recently for the first time, including Mackinac and thought it was very attractive; we very much enjoyed the trip). I live in central Virginia, not all that far from Mr. Greer.

I assume that you comment is about the blessing. I don’t know where it came from but it is a standard Episcopal blessing. Life is fleeting.

Regarding the reaction of people to environmental change I wrote a post recently ( in which I divided deniers into three groups

1. True (Dis)Believers;
2. Cynics; and
3. Bright Green Deniers

In the post I quote Mr. Greer at some length, particularly his phrase “There Is No Brighter Future”.

I draw an analogy between what is going on now and what happened in the early 18th century when they experienced “Peak Forests”. In response to their predicament (not problem) they went through the following process:

• Our forests are depleted and they cannot be replaced on a human time scale.
• There is a solution: coal.
• But coal is found in mines hundreds of feet into the earth and we live in a wet climate (northern Europe). Therefore the mines flood. This is a predicament.
• Necessity being the mother of invention Thomas Newcomen and others invent the steam engine to pump the water out of the mines. They power the engine with the coal that they have just mined.
• But now we have another predicament/problem. We cannot transport the coal on the wooden carts of the time — carts that have very thin wheels and that run on muddy roads (that rain again).
• But there is a solution. Let’s put the newly-invented steam engine on a frame, put the frame on wheels, put the wheels on steel track and — lo and behold — we have invented the railway and, coincidentally, the Industrial Revolution.

Could such a paradigm shift occur in our time? I haven’t a clue. But if it is to happen my money is on the cynics.

Stu from New Jersey said...

My condolences, John Michael, on the loss of your friend.

No one else has mentioned the coming Sabbat, so I'll wish all a blessed Samhain. One of the consolations of old age is that I knew so many of my ancestors (and my wife's) and my contemplation of them this Sunday will be all the more bittersweet because of that. They are still so real.

As you've pointed out so many times, one of our hardest tasks will be preserving the most important knowledge that these ancestors have acquired for us, at such cost. Recently I tried once again to broach this with a friend. His reply was not unfriendly, simply that he could not give up trying to stop the train wreck. At least the conversation was occurring in a brewing class, where both of us were improving our skills while making some really yummy porter (which I'll drink this weekend as a way of toasting mother, grandmother, etc.)

Helen Highwater said...

Here is a link to an article written by Jeremy Rifkin which was published in the Washington Post on July 31, 1988. It's entitled The Greenhouse Doomsday Scenario.

Unfortunately, very few people paid any attention to it. And now it is all coming true.

Raymond Duckling said...

My condolences for your loss and the pain of separation. By your portrait, Mr. Ingold sounds like a man who fought the good fight, and after finishing the race of his years he may now rest in peace.

p.d. Hope the Christian imagery is appropriate. It seemed appropriate and your previous writing makes me think you will not take offense, but please forgive me if I'm mistaken.

DeVaul said...

I'm glad to see that you have openly acknowledged the omnipotence of Nature over man instead of the other way around, which is why I paid little heed to the arguments for and against global warming. I saw in it a very clever move by corporations to shift people's minds away from doing something real (recycling, picking up trash, demonstrating in front of a factory dumping sewage into our drinking water, etc.) to doing nothing but talking, because that is all you can do when you decide to go to war against Nature itself.

The climate will always change, and we cannot assume that we are greater than Nature, for if we do, then so were the 90 percent of all species that died out before us because "they changed the climate".

You are right, of course, that when the climate does change (flooding or a new glaciation period, whichever), people will stop talking about fighting it because it is too late to do anything about it. I have just recently consigned myself to the fact that the 500 nuclear power plants that dot the planet will do massive, irreparable harm for millions of years and there is nothing we can do to stop it now. It is too late. It was too late the moment we built the first one.

It is a hard thing to accept, but all things die and sometimes they die because of their own mistakes. Humans may fall into that category, but Nature will continue because it cannot be destroyed -- one of the few things that I believe can truly say: "I exist, therefore I am."

May your friend find his way safely into the Other World and be at peace there.

William said...

I enjoyed your slightly melancholy post, as usual. (I am eager for more about the Lakeland novel, though.) I recently read a biography of Elon Musk that I was given. In addition to producing an apparently very good, definitely very expensive, all electric vehicle and a much less expensive technology (still very expensive) than the NASA complex to put satellites in orbit, his personal mission is to place a million human beings in sustainable habitat on Mars in the next three or four decades.

Aside from the immense and absurd resource requirements for this, I am fascinated by his reasoning, which is apparently, though not explicitly, that he expects humans to ruin this planet and kill themselves off, and he wants to build a Plan B for the human race. This seems to me to place an importance on species survival that I don't share. I also wonder why he expects that humans would perform better on the very inhospitable Martian planet than we have on this one. Sorry to be somewhat off topic, but I think this is related to the hubris and denial you describe in this week's post. But I'd like to read your interpretation of his plan. peace.

Dirk & Joh's Wildswan said...

Thank you John. Other than our "deaths" being a transformation as opposed to an end, I agree with everything you say. Blessings to your friend as he performs his transformation.

Unknown said...

A wonderful, thoughtful piece and thank you for your commentary on Mann's piece in Orion. Normally it's a magazine I enjoy, so it seems a mystery to me that it appeared there. Oh well.

In any case, I am sorry for your loss. Here's a Mary Oliver poem I read at my mother's service last year, and one of my favorites. I find it to be a beautiful combination of imagery, despair and hope and very inspiring.


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Tad in Maine

shhh said...

Succinct eloquence has its own temporal, ephemeral beauty. La olam, amen

zentao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ozark Chinquapin said...

I thought "1491" was a good read. Some of the stuff is controversial for sure, but Mann acknowledged in the book that there are still a lot of unknowns, and that the purpose of the book was to present to a broader audience some of the findings and ideas of the archaeological community that differed sharply from most people's image of the Americas before Columbus.

I later read "1493", and while there was a good deal of interesting information in that book as well, I also got the sense that Mann was really pushing an agenda more than in " 1491". I can't say it really surprises me that he's trying to debunk peak oil now, he's not the only one who seems to be able to be pretty clear-headed when discussing the distant past and faraway places but completely unable to look clearly at the present and scenarios for the future.

Whi I do give credit to the mainstream environmental movement for bringing some important issues to light in the past, in the present I'd say it's suffering from the same inability to cope with reality as so many other mainstream institutions. Mostly they've kept the old attitude of Man, conqueror of nature intact, just siding with nature rather than Humanity. Being a human with that way of thinking, it sets the stage for serious inner conflict as well as external. Believing that the only way to save nature is to restrain Humanity often leads to elitism and a fixation on top-down solutions which cause an inevitable backlash from those who think they side with Man over nature.

Those with different sensibilities who care about the health of the planet tend to work through other pathways than the mainstream environmental movement. A movement that discards the whole Man/nature dichotomy and instead looks for ways for humanity to live within nature will have better chances of appealing to a wider range of people, and I see that momentum building right now even though it's only on the edge of the radar if that to the mainstream institutions. There's no one word to describe the disparate threads of the movement at this time, and I don't think the word "environmentalism" will ever be the primary one because of the baggage that word brings along, but look at the increasing focus on human health as being tied to good food and a clean environment. I don't mean just acknowledging that "x and y may give you cancer in 30 years" but noticing the difference in day-to-day well-being. That has a potential to speak deeply to a wider audience than what the mainstream environmentalists are talking about.

Shane Wilson said...

My condolences on the passing of someone so important to you. I identified with the post on so many levels. I'm so glad that you are an Archdruid, an occultist, and not a tame intellectual of the secular humanist bent because you've been able to stay the course and voice this truth while others have so disastrously strayed. Recently, I visited Club Orlov to find that he's fallen into line with the climate change argument, and that his savior du jour is none other than Vladimir Putin, apparently Vladimir Putin is now the one who will save us from catastrophic climate change. I'm so glad that you've stayed the course with your message of sanity, and I attribute that to the fact that you are coming at things from a totally different perspective as an Archdruid and occultist than the secular humanist intellectuals. As I'm sure you're aware, it can be a very lonely path, the path of peak oil and limits to growth. I just wanted to let you know that I've NEVER encountered anyone in person who "gets" peak oil and limits to growth, and the other topics broached on this blog. Every time I've ever broached the subject and discussed the things we discuss on this blog with someone in person, all I've gotten is incomprehension at best. I'll relate two anecdotes that reflect exactly what you've mentioned in this post. Recently, I spent (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend on an organic farm in Newfoundland. The farmer, who was in the same age range (Gen X) as me, identified as an environmental activist, with a corporate omnipotence bent. There was literally nothing we could discuss. The gods he worshipped (in no particular order) were: digital technology, corporations, international organizations, the US. I tried to walk him through a discussion of EROEI as to why renewables don't add up, or why the internet and digital tech was not sustainable or friendly to the environment, but it was no use. Same thing for some common sense as to why a country as bankrupt as the US, that can't afford to maintain its existing infrastructure, would not be able to afford to build massive infrastructure to pipe Canadian water to the parched US Southwest. Having been in this situation way too many times before, I realized that what I was dealing with was someone's religious belief in the great God Progress (and His countering Satan, Apocalypse) through His/Her many angels/demons, and that trying to counter religion with reason is a lost cause, so I shut down the discussion. He handed me some mainstream environmental book, but it only took two pages before I was able to tear apart all the binary/top down arguments apart and figure out that it was a waste of my time to read. What was interesting is that a CBC interview of Canadian Green Elizabeth May played on the radio one morning, and she was full of top down, non grassroots environmental solutions that I found tiring, and his response was that he though she was the most brilliant person he'd ever heard. I found that to be incredibly depressing. Interestingly enough, an excerpt of "After Progress" appeared in his copy of Adbusters, which I showed to him. The one promising thing that weekend, which I find encouraging, is my discussion with a younger woman who'd voluntarily given up her smartphone for a flip, who did not drive to work, and who seemed to be on the verge of "getting it". Again, I dropped your name. I'm finding that if anyone "gets it", the younger, the more likely.

Shane Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - Deepest sympathies on losing a friend and mentor to the tides of time and entropy, and a blessed Samhain to you. May his spirit be at rest before he returns, and his body return to the Mother.

John Michael Greer said...

I'm going to start out by thanking everyone who expressed their enjoyment of this week's essay or offered condolences. I appreciate each of your comments, but I hope you won't mind if I don't fill several comment screens with "X, thank you; Y, thank you; Z, thank you," and so on. Also, many thanks to everyone who posted a poem -- not least because the poets cited include quite a few of my faves. Much appreciated.

By the way, rereading my post, I realized I was unclear about one rather important point. Corby passed away peacefully on the evening of the 26th -- his 66th birthday, as it happens. So he's well on his way into the Unmanifest at this point.

On to specific comments...

Alex, for what it's worth, volumes of the Life Nature Library can be had these days for a couple of bucks apiece; if your situation stabilizes a bit, might be worth picking them up. I have a complete set, and find they make very pleasant late night reading.

Olduvaiguy, we'll get to that!

Samwich, typical. The mainstream media -- and National Geographic is nothing if not mainstream -- will be the very last to get a clue.

Mark, no, we don't have to stand helplessly by and watch it happen. We can cut our own carbon footprints drastically -- this isn't actually that hard -- and we can also engage in tree planting, composting, and other activities that take CO2 out of the atmosphere and put it in the ground where it belongs. Of such small steps is history composed...

Repent, thank you. I'd figured I'd pretty much come to terms with aging and dying, but the point when the first of one's more-or-less contemporaries kicks the bucket is definitely a reality check.

John, I'm sorry to hear that. It's always a challenge for any organization to live fully up to its ideals, and like so many others, Masonry has fallen short of that goal embarrassingly often.

Cherokee, I tend to see the rising ocean of debt and the rising ocean of salt water as parallel phenomena, and yes, both are profoundly worrying.

Jansprite, no, Assateague has been left for a future trip. I'll look forward to it.

ChemEng, those are certainly words with which I can wholeheartedly agree. Thank you.

Jim, it's entirely possible that the actions we take now may influence which of those things our descendants preserve. It certainly seems worth the gamble to me.

Bruce, then I'll ask another question -- each of us inevitably constructs a world. What other materials are there?

Gjh42, please accept and pass on my condolences.

M, nicely put.

Kutamun said...

Trying hard to always be auspicious , one sometimes finds the delicacy of life too delicious ;congress awhile amidst the roiling waves of these laws that have built up around humanity since time immemorial .
While a steadying hand upon the course of civilisation is sometimes advantageous , it is a fine line we all walk between this and self indulgence in the sensuousness of these times when all are overwrought , overwhelmed by the seriousness , the inevitability of the archetypal pattern that unfolds before us ,in due course .
Godspeed Mr Ingold

John Michael Greer said...

Zachary, I've been known to use the word "fulfillment" as well. As for the sense of entitlement, understood -- and it's all the more chilling that so many of that generation know perfectly well what they're doing, and don't care. How many times have you heard a boomer say "Well, at least I'll be dead before it happens"? I lost count long ago.

Steve, please accept my condolences. That's got to be harsh.

Greybeard, thank you. I hope it has an impact!

Kieran, why, yes -- that's why I've contributed to two of their anthologies.

Albatross, please accept my condolences -- and thank you for the music!

Ed, I don't think much of anything will stop our slide into barbarism, but anything that kindles a lamp here and there is a gift to the future. If a renewed and less hubristic Christianity can do that, I'll be glad to see it.

Karim, and I can subscribe equally well to yours!

Barry, for the last forty years the environmental movement has been going back and forth between two ineffective approaches -- sweet-talking people with utopian fantasies in order to get them to contribute to another rehash of repeatedly failed campaign strategies, and trying to scare the bejesus out of people with apocalyptic rhetoric in order to get them to contribute to another rehash of repeatedly failed campaign strategies. That's a major reason why environmentalism has been spinning its wheels ineffectually for those forty years. It's high time to try something else. I suggest honesty about our predicament -- "things are bad and they're going to get worse, but if we take action now we can still make things better than they otherwise will be" -- coupled with a recognition that change that matters has to start from the individual level -- "the personal is the political" -- ansd that the leaders, spokespeople, and organizations trying to midwife those changes have to lead by example, by slashing their own carbon footprints, taking the train instead of flying everywhere, doing without those six-figure executive salaries, etc., etc.

To judge by the extraordinary success this blog has had, if any environmental group adopts that strategy, they'll soon have more enthusiastic volunteers and more donations pouring in than they know what to do with. All such a group would have to do is give up the fantasy that a middle class developed world lifestyle is anything but the crass, absurd, and planet-wrecking extravagance that it is, and start encouraging people to change their lives instead of waiting for a lobbying campaign to do something.

Jean-Vivien, the value of absence is something the old Taoists understood well. I may do a post on it one of these days.

John Michael Greer said...

Fifty-Niner, I'd be happy if more of us would reflect on that while we're here in the first place!

Keith, thank you -- I'm not familiar with either of them, and will want to remedy that.

Tom, thanks for the link! Good to see that Hirsch is still on top of things, too.

Steve, I've come to see contemporary economics as perhaps the weirdest of modern cults, following a belief system utterly detached from the real world.

Brett, thank you. Yes, Mann is a competent wordsmith; as you noted, most propagandists are.

Tony, one of these days I'd like to cross the Atlantic on one of those freighters that does passenger service. I dislike air travel for a lot of reasons, but the isolation from the natural world is high among them.

Lawfish, I've heard that the Gulf coast -- and especially the Mississippi delta -- are right up there with southern Florida on the sharp edge of rising sea levels. Many thanks for the additional data point!

Raven, er, you might want to check your geography. The Lakeland Republic has no seacoast, and is many hundreds of miles from the areas that will be swamped if Greenland goes in a hurry.

Brian, I know! The only reason I regret my own mortality is that I want to see how the story ends.

Mark, please write to Orion and ask them that, in exactly those words. I think they need the feedback.

Robert, of course the sea is indifferent. That's why facing it and learning from it teaches us that nobody's keeping score to see whether we live longer or destroy more than any other species -- it's the subjective values of wisdom and beauty that we ourselves experience, and make, that are what counts, because we're the only ones keeping track.

Justin, the relentless pace at which it gets trotted out tells you just how terrified the true believers of the status quo are these days. If they weren't about to make a mess in their pants from sheer fright, they wouldn't be parading their faith in so shrill a manner.

shady said...

I too have spent a lot of time on the coast this week, but a South Pacific coast. Warm days, warming water and clean lines of swell rolling on. Living on the edge of a big city I can sit on a board in the water, look south and enjoy the view a National Park. My thoughts often turn to what the place would have looked like 1000 years ago, rather than 1000 years from now. Watching the waves spray over the rocks on a headland in the National Park it is not difficult to visualize it. It's also not difficult to imagine it could all look very much the same 1000 years from now.

Our recently dispatched Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, fronted the Margaret Thatcher Lecture in the UK and implored Brits and Europeans to resist the urge to "love thy neighbour". From a staunch and very public Christian this is extraordinary. If Christianity can be boiled down to any one idea surely "love thy neighbour" is it. But, there is the Christian former PM (also a former priest) insisting that to "love your neighbour" is a "catastrophic error".

It got me thinking about a post of yours some time back where you suggested that some Christians were in fact anti-christians. Their beliefs are actually the opposite of what Christ called his followers to do.

Can anyone make an argument for how rejecting the concept of "love thy neighbour" and being a Christian can be sustained?

John Michael Greer said...

Laylah, my condolences! I also enjoy considering Trey sunna Gwen's perspective -- there are times when it's the one consolation I can find for the relentless ugliness and crassness of our built environment.

Patrick, I've had identical experiences -- and trust me, my visceral dislike of "the Left" (which has been shaped by those experiences among others) is matched by an equal disgust toward "the Right" -- and I have conservative readers who are just as exasperated with me as you are! Thanks for the feedback, and the further data points.

Helix, since we don't know where the tipping points are, and we have no way of knowing just how much good any given positive action will do, it seems right to me to do as much as possible to reduce my own carbon footprint, and to pursue activities such as composting that actively return carbon to the earth where it belongs. I'd encourage you and others to consider doing the same.

TJ, please accept my condolences.

Simon, oh, I caught the sneering. It pervades the entire discourse of peak oil denial.

John/Jay, he had a severe stroke, followed by several others. There may have been some underlying pathology -- he was in increasingly bad health for the last few years -- but nobody seems to have been able to identify it.

Patricia, I'll have to check out tadpole shrimp. I've also mourned the absence of post-Permian trilobites; if anybody came up with a way to clone them from fossils or something, I'd donate, if only to have an aquarium with half a dozen scuttling around on the bottom. ;-)

Aron, the idea that each of us has a job to do in this life is something you'll find in the occult traditions I've studied, and yes, finding your job and doing it as best you can is the one goal I can think of in life that makes sense to me.

Leo, thanks for the reference. I've been considering writing a biography of Gaia, from birth to death, including the climatic and ecological changes we can predict for the far future, and it would be interesting to see how someone else spins that.

Axel, I certainly didn't approve it, but one consequence of putting something up for free on the internet is that it can end up being reposted in some very strange places. I have a moderately large readership on the extreme right -- I'm not sure how that works, but a writer doesn't get to choose his readers.

Goldmund, I've never seen the Mississippi south of Minnesota -- I should probably remedy that someday! -- but I'm glad to hear that there's a move on to give the Father of Waters the respect he deserves.

Peakfuture, that's a fascinating question, and one on which I'll have to reflect. I wonder if anyone else has any insights into it.

artinnature said...

A lot of us here feel about you JMG, the way you feel about your friend. I sense that a torch is about to be passed.

Shane Wilson said...

I totally forgot to mention that the miscommunication w/the activist/farmer in Newfoundland began with a question of "what is the most pressing environmental concern facing us", to which he responded "runaway climate change" with an apocalyptic scenario of a 50 degree Celsius Texas, and I responded Peak Oil/Limits to Growth. I attempted to engage him with EROEI as to why fracking and unconventional petroleum wouldn't pan out, but it was a lost cause, as well.
I should mention that even though this guy couldn't be led down a logical discussion of EROEI as to why fracking, renewables, digital tech/the internet was not sustainable nonetheless had no use for "woo woo, psycho crazy" biodynamics because it wasn't "scientific".

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, that's another point in favor of getting away from colored pictures on glass screens and going to see real things in the real world.

Swimmer, that's a subject for years of meditation and reflection, not for a quick answer on an internet forum!

Ursachi, what a marvelous adventure that must have been!

Erik, that'll happen when enough women join the branch of Masonry that admits women -- there's a lodge in Silver Spring, and many others elsewhere -- and demonstrate, over the long haul, that they're active, committed, and serious Masons. That's how the African-American Masons did it.

SLClaire, I've seen the same thing in the vast wheatfields of eastern Washington state, and agree wholeheartedly.

Greg, if Manly Hall said it, by and large, it's worth listening to and thinking about!

Larry, I'm waiting for one of the rovers to find a protest sign from a Martian environmental movement that was willing to do absolutely anything to save Mars, except abandon the lifestyles that were destroying it.

Matthew, I'll have to look at how he's defining "conventional production." I've seen a lot of weaseling around that definition.

Bill, thank you. Yes, I've noticed the outpouring of poetry, and appreciate it. Corby was a great reader of poetry -- I can, without the least effort, recall his deep voice reading Yeats aloud.

Jeffinwa, "we're legends in our own minds only" -- many thanks for that! A nicely turned phrase.

Ed, no argument there -- and it's not the only big economy that's in massive trouble as the climate shifts.

sgage said...


"Aron, the idea that each of us has a job to do in this life is something you'll find in the occult traditions I've studied, and yes, finding your job and doing it as best you can is the one goal I can think of in life that makes sense to me."

A line or two from Jackson Browne seems apposite here:

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive that you'll never know

Great post, great comments, great community. Many thanks, JMG, for making this place!

Thomas Daulton said...

Thanks for the bittersweet reflections on life there, JMG. A nicely written essay. Condolences to you.

Hope I don't spoil the mood by my frequent references to pop culture, but...
Right after reading your essay today, I was discussing seeing a movie with a friend. Vin Diesel's latest movie is supposed to be based on a D&D game he played in, but it's gotten bad reviews. I lamented with my friend, why can't anyone ever write a good D&D movie? We named off a string of bad ones. Then the answer hit me -- you touched on it here in this essay. The original fantasies which D&D, swords and sorcery stories are based on... the original ones all showcase a world that is not human-centric, far from it. That was the whole attraction of the original fantasies and legends, the sense of wonder of experiencing the world outside of human skulls. Whereas nearly the whole business plan of Hollywood today is to make audiences sympathize with one Hero, a lone ranger type man (very rarely a woman) who conquers nature or Evil or other men or whatever. Inevitably human-centric.

I've played in plenty of good D&D campaigns that were not human-centric, so that particular problem does not originate with the gaming source material. Until Hollywood changes its business model, I'm afraid that explains why fantasy-type movies out of Hollywood are invariably terrible.

Just a couple other random links related to this week's column: I thought this article -- "Are Humans Destroying Our Own Nest?" managed to capture some of the non-human-centric attitude that you are discussing, with its emphasis that seemingly trivial things (in the human view) such as bear poop and whale poop are key to the survival of entire ecosystems. But then the article falls flat at the end, exhorting us to simply "get serious about living _with_ nature, instead of at the expense of nature" -- without offering any suggestions. Concrete steps in that direction would probably leave most major-media readers quite cold.

Then here's a meme we're going to see a lot of, which plays right into the hands of the human-centric vision of control you discuss: Exxon Knew About Climate Change 40 Years Ago". The implication is that, if only mean ol' Exxon had been honest about climate change 40 years ago, everyone else would have made better decisions, and we'd all be living in a green Permaculture renewable solar-energy paradise right now. Isn't there some gawdawful long German word for the phenomenon of imputing to your past self more wisdom than your current self actually possesses?

Howard Skillington said...

It does seem that there’s a hidden fudge factor built into most predictions of near-term human extinction. (Let’s see: what year do I turn eighty…)

The risible part of this calculation seems to be the assumption that extinction is sort of like getting notice that your electricity will be cut off. You get to continue to enjoy your hot tub and your video games until midnight on the 31st and then a switch is simply thrown at midnight somewhere, and everything goes dark in that instant. You can tell that these people aren’t paying much attention to how going extinct is actually working for rhinos or snow leopards or the estimated 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird, and mammal that are already becoming extinct every 24 hours.

Any imaginable scenario for human extinction would require that a whole lot of catastrophic die-off take place well in advance of that final date when the last of our species succumbs and “extinction” becomes official. People who want to remain comfortable until they have breathed their last would do well to plan on dying well ahead of that terminus.

Ahavah said...

My condolences on the death of your dear friend. May his memory be a blessing.

nuku said...

@Tony and JMG
First to John, my empathy with you in the loss of your friend and mentor. As one who has been lucky to be present at both death and birth, I completely understand that they are 2 sides of the same experience of being human. As always, you put it so very simply and beautifully...
To John and JMG, as one who has put in many years voyaging in sailing boats, I would much rather arrive at a foreign port by sea than by airplane to a big city. There is something magical in the way the land rises out of the ocean slowly, in the smell of the land (each is unique), and the process of "checking in" is so different too, very personal.
Taking days/weeks to sail from one port to another gives one time to assimilate the experiences of the last place before encountering the new one. Modern airplane travel is just too quick. If we must have it, why not just roll the passengers in lying down on racks, fill the plane with laughing gas
until time to land?
I've not done freighter travel personally, but people I know say it is a good way to travel if one has the time. And not that much more costly than air travel.

John Michael Greer said...

Tye, human beings have been using mind-altering substances since prehistoric times, and many other living things do the same -- elephants and chimpanzees love to get drunk, for example. I figure it's just one of the things that hominids, etc., like to do.

Swimmer, I forget which American author said, "You can't make someone understand a thing if his livelihood depends on not understanding it." Peak oil tends to fall afoul of that effect a lot.

Stu, I've given up trying to stop the train wreck, too. Making sure the survivors have shelter, blankets, and beer sounds like a more useful approach just now!

Helen, thanks for the link. Rifkin does seem to have called it.

DeVaul, I've been critiquing the delusion of human omnipotence since this blog first got started, so it's nothing new! You're right, though, that a lot of people like to distract themselves from taking action by talking. It's also very popular to cultivate a sense of outrage about those bad people doing bad things somewhere else, as a way for the feelers of outrage to ignore their own complicity in the crisis of our time.

William, as I understand it, a human being who travels to Mars will live about three months after landing before cumulative radiation exposure kills him. Mars has no magnetic field to shield it from radiation; once you're outside the Earth's magnetic field -- which means starting not long after you leave Earth orbit -- you're getting blasted by gamma rays from the sun and cosmic rays from all over space, and the result is slow death by radiation poisoning. Human beings evolved on this planet, and we're only adapted to terrestrial environments; the sooner people get that through their heads, the less effort and imagination will be wasted on grand projects to send human beings to die horribly on lifeless, airless, radiation-soaked rocks elsewhere in the solar system.

Dirk, as I see it, whatever else happens thereafter, the death of the physical body is still an end, and deserves to be recognized as such.

Ozark, you may be right. Certainly I think that environmentalism as we know it has basically run itself into the ground, and something more concrete, of the kind you've suggested, may be what follows.

Shane, I know. I do happen to know, in person, people who get the reality of limits, but that's because I'm public about my views in print and on the internet, and people who've reached the same conclusion -- I sometimes think of it as "going sane" -- tend to seek me out. Outside of those limited circles, though, blind faith in progress uber alles is the rule.

Shady, there's no possible way to make those fit each other; the Gospels make it very clear that taking care of the poor, the helpless, and the vulnerable is an imperative duty for Christians (Matthew 18:6, 18:10, 19:21, 23:14, and 25:31-46; Mark 9:36-37, 10:21, and 12:40; and Luke 10:30-37, 11:41, 12:33, 14:12-14, 18:22, and 20:47), and Christ says in so many words that those who don't fulfill those commandments are going to fry in Hell for all eternity even if they spend every Sunday shouting "Lord, Lord!" (Matthew 7:21). I really think that in Abbott's case, the best explanation is the one I proposed a while back: he's a devout Satanist who, as a worshipper of the Father of Lies, claims to be a Christian while ignoring everything Christ taught. Maybe now that he's out of office he'll come out of the pitchfork closet...

alex carter said...

Can't you please, please, put a mailing address somewhere on your page? I'm on the internet so seldomly, and with such poor quality, that I'm shifting back to physical mail.

I think more and more people are going to do this.

Just a PO Box would do.

As we head further into the decline, the good old US mail is going to be more of a thing again. Hell the guy I work for is in tech and he still reads the newspaper each morning and pays bills by mail whenever he can.

Dwig said...

This essay, especially the word picture of your walk along the shore, and your reminder that species, as well as individuals, have finite lifetimes, reminded me of Loren Eiseley's essay "The Star Thrower". There's a lot of resonance between your essay and Eisely's, including the personal sense of loss, and a coming to terms with a gradually unfolding picture of a "timeful" world in which we're only a small part of a grand picture. (He used Darwin, Einstein, and Freud as a frame to build his picture, with a few nods to Goethe.)

Speaking of which, it sounds like you have much to celebrate in your mentor/friend's story that's just completed. A walk along an autumn shore is quite a good way to integrate and honor the life and the transition.

(Interesting that this essay evoked so many memories of beloved writings by so many commenters.)

As to the all-too-common environmentalist fantasy, I'm painfully reminded of it whenever I hear or read about "combating climate change" or similar locutions. Even among the people I work with, who are engaged in useful endeavors to grow communities and increase local resilience, I find myself having to hold my tongue, fearful that expressing the full import of what I see will put me "beyond the pale". So, as with all of us, we do what we can, where we are, with what we have to work with.

As an antidote to the "omnipotence" of humanity, I wrote the following a while back:
Unfortunately, a popular misconception of “the environment” is that it’s something “out there”, symbolized by a matronly woman in a flowing white robe, garlands in her hair, sitting under a tree with furry creatures scampering around her feet. This leads people to ideas like treating “saving the environment” as a separate activity from the normal activities of the nation and the economy, as though the choice were either/or, and we could sacrifice the environment without harming anything else.

In fact, the environment (more accurately, the ecosystem) is all around us at every minute; we stand on it, breathe it, eat it, drink it, and excrete into it. In fact, our very bodies are part of it; every atom in your body has been elsewhere in the environment, and will be again. Everything we do impacts it, and its workings impact us.

For convenience, I’ll use a different feminine symbol to represent the global environment, borrowing the name that James Lovelock has given us: Gaia, from the Greek goddess of the earth. Gaia is billions of years old, and will continue to live for billions more, long after we’re gone (can you imagine a billion years?). She’s a tough old lady, and has survived several mass extinctions. Biologists are finding evidence that we humans are causing another one. Gaia will survive this one too; within a million years or so (not long by her standards), life on Earth will again be thriving and growing in diversity.

We humans, however, may not be part of that picture. At the least, we and our descendants will be dealing, for many decades to come, with the consequences of our actions and those of our ancestors. However well we do this, the environment familiar to our descendants will be significantly different from the one we know. Given this situation, we will be wise to stop fighting Gaia, stop thinking that we can dominate her or somehow live apart from her. We will be far better served by acknowledging her as our master, and learning her ways, in all their complexity and subtlety. We, and our descendants, will fare much better by devoting ourselves to work with Gaia, accepting the limits to our activities that she places on us, and reaping the benefits of our alignment with her ways.

John Michael Greer said...

Artinnature, thank you, but Druidry's odd that way. When I think of the Druids that have influenced me, living or dead, none of them ever filled anyone else's shoes, nor was I ever tempted to try to be their kind of Druid rather than my own -- and that goes for Corby among many others. Maybe it's just that Druidry attracts eccentrics -- and we've had some world-class examples of those -- but we seem to be much better at lighting our own torches than picking up anyone else's...

Shane, "logic" and "reason" these days, in mainstream circles, don't mean what the words literally mean. A thing is "logical" and "rational" if it matches a set of claims about the nature of reality backed by by certain influential groups in our society, even if those claims aren't supported by the smallest scrap of reason or evidence, and it's "illogical" and "irrational" if it disputes those claims, even if it has reason and evidence on its side. I discussed this over on the Other Blog in two posts, one on the howling logical fallacies generally used to prop up today's "rationalist" ideologies, and the other on the way these are used to dismiss reason and evidence when those point in inconvenient directions. That's why the guy in Newfoundland couldn't think through a logical argument about net energy but was sure that biodynamics is "irrational;" to him the word "irrational" means "doubleplusungood" and nothing more.

Thomas, that's totally fascinating. I played D&D quite a bit back in the day, and you're right -- the games that really worked were the ones in which the human (or humanoid) characters were picking their way through a landscape, or a cavernscape, that was the opposite of anthropocentric: I suppose "monstrocentric" would be a good description. Nor were the parties of dungeon crawlers in these adventures out to save the world or what have you -- their goal was mostly to go in and try to get out alive. Maybe that spirit is worth cultivating again!

Howard, excellent. Yes, and of course that's exactly the point -- they're trying to evade the gritty reality of decline and fall through fantasies of instant annihilation.

Nuku, thanks for that! I hope to give ocean travel a try someday.

Alex, if you want to put in a comment marked "not for posting" and include your email address, we can talk about mailing addresses. I get so much spam and junk mail already, I don't want to encourage more of it.

Tony said...

If you are considering writing a biography of Gaia, I heartily recommend the book "Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History" by Donald E Canfield for the story of our air and how it's been tied up incredibly intimately with the things that live here, and the transformations that have occurred in it.

jbucks said...

"Aron, the idea that each of us has a job to do in this life is something you'll find in the occult traditions I've studied, and yes, finding your job and doing it as best you can is the one goal I can think of in life that makes sense to me."

What do those occult traditions say about 'finding your job'? I've spent the better part of 10-12 years trying many different 'jobs' to figure which one is the one I should be doing, frustratingly to no avail. Not only is this off-topic, but it's far too deep a subject for a blog comment to handle, but any quick references for further reading may help!

@sgage: thanks for words from Jackson Browne!

jean-vivien said...

I can only note a duality between your vision of Retrotopia, which is engaging and imagined very close to us in the future, and this vision of deep time, which is a lot more unsettling.
This leads one to question two things : which is more real to us ? That is surely a divergent question. And which is more demanding ? That is not.
The supposed NTE events are basically a good way to abstract away the more immediate and pressing demands of the former to jump back into an abstraction of the latter.
The vicious twist is that since the latter is impossible to bear or follow, it eventually amounts to a good excuse to do nothing, or it makes war look almost more bearable than thinking about deep time.
Think about all the young people now, and pick a vision you would like to give them as a present. I think Retrotopia would fit the bill quite nicely since it embodies two of the things young people desperately crave for : an imaginative vision (cf D&D), and a challenge/role-models to look up to (D&D again).

Regarding D&D, and the spirit of entering an adventure to just survive, this may embody the spirit of the hunt : an activity that engages mind and body together, and redefines metaphysics in a pretty immediate and tangible fashion.
This may explain part of the appeal of tracking (Tom Brown Jr and Co) as well as of neoprimitivism. Deep down there is a sense of deep time, the notion that since human civilization is a transitory process, one might as well jump back to a primitive lifestyle which is truer because we assume it is the only way to live without industrial civilization.
I can see a form of abstraction there : this line of reasonning would work to connect one with their descendants... maybe a few thousand generations into the future ? It would spare them the trouble of caring for the much more immediate and pressing demands of the few generations just coming down the road.
On a more comical note, I don't know why, the image of a really "high tech military blimp" (a huge ridiculous white zeppelin) run loose dumbly floating above a lot of private properties suddenly seemed very grotesque. I know it wrecked quite a few gardens in the process, which makes me sorry for their owners... But it reflects some unspeakable aspect of contemporary realities in a timely fashion.
Go, blimp, go !

Mark Mikituk said...

Dear John,

I am far from having read all your writings, but among those I have read, this was one of the most beautiful, poetic, and inspiring pieces I have read. I thank you with all my heart.


Sherril Bowman said...

Regarding Peakfuture's question - maybe it's just the way some folks were born.

Shane Wilson said...

Speaking of personal responsibility, a while back, I mentioned that my dumbphone died, and I tore it into a million pieces. I'm finally eligible for an upgrade, so I bought a no contract, basic, "senior" flip! I'm so glad to not be on contract, so that when I decide to go "full Lakeland" and depend on rotary landline, I won't have anything stopping me!
Second, I don't think I will replace my car. I totaled it earlier in the season, and, considering that's not the first time that happened, that I think my carbon footprint is already as large as I'd like it to be, and not wanting the expense of a car anymore, I'm seriously thinking of not replacing it and liberating myself from automotive dependence.

Brent Mills said...

Here is a hilarious clip of my comedy hero George Carlin that imo captures the sentiment of this essay perfectly. And this was before climate change was much of a thing! JMG, I think your and George's thinking is remarkably alike on many matters.

(In case the link doesn't work, you can copy and paste from here: )

Odin's Raven said...

OK, I thought a really big wave from Greenland might travel through Hudson's Bay and wash over the fairly low lying landscape into the Great Lakes. If its just going to sink a swamp on a coral reef it hardly seems worth bothering about.

However, if not by ice, maybe by fire. How about the collapse of the volcano of Cunbre Vieja on La Palma? That's expected to generate a huge tsunami which would be bad news for the Atlantic coastlands, although Lakeland would be safe. Perhaps Mr. Carr will have a tale to tell of how they coped with this disaster?
Cumbre Vieja

NickVictoryofthePeeps83 said...

I've loved your blog for years. Thanks for this post. One of, if not the BEST, post you've ever published

mallow said...

Sorry for your loss JMG.

About your response to Aron - how do you find out what your job is, and who gives it to us? Or is that a question for the other blog?

Helix said...

JMG, Thanks for your response to my post. Actually, I have led a rural lifestyle, worked from home, and have farmed, gardened and composted for many years. This is perhaps because I grew up on a farm quite close to where you live now, so this lifestyle always came naturally to me.

However, I have occasionally flown on airplanes. And of course, such trips end in a descent, usually near a large city. It was in looking down on such an environment a while back that it dawned on me how different my lifestyle -- and presumably my outlook -- is from the vast numbers of people living in such places.

And so while I personally aspire to a small carbon footprint and can take steps to keep mine small, I don't it's realistic to think that the typical urban or suburban dweller is going to come up to speed on that any time soon. Both their living circumstances and the media environment in which they live conspire to herd them into a high-consumption lifestyle.

Which is not to say that the effort shouldn't me made, especially on a personal level. But it will be an uphill project for our society as a whole, and we may need to experience some harsh realities before the message sinks in.

Patricia Mathews said...

Meanwhile, Mam Gaia improves on the wild and feral canids back east:

Sounds like quite a critter! And maybe closer to the primordial dog before humans started breeding them for useful traits and friendliness?

Ed-M said...


My condolences on the loss of your friend. I'm sure when he passed, a lot of social fabric tying his social communities together went with him. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, I know it's very difficult to replace or replicate what has been lost when someone passes.

On that Orion article by Charles Mann... what was he thinking?! He's got a very fine string of oil cassandras crying "wolf" and then literally jumps to the conclusion that we will never, ever run out of oil. He reminds me of the reaction of the villagers in the story, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, who ignored the boy once the wolf actually showed up, and (with his wolfine friends) gobbled up all the sheep. But I love the commentariat, though! They jumped all over him, beginning with Richard Heinberg, who was first!

Roger said...

JMG, I've seen much the same sort of thing as yourself with respect to people that consider themselves environmentally aware.

My own take on the situation is that there's no real seriousness with these guys because, as you noted, they are well to do. That is, their way of life, what they consume, is completely at odds with what they preach. Simply, they don't want to give up their comforts.

There is commonality in behaviour. The environmental set scorn people of a "conservative" (for lack of a better term) mind-set for voicing dissent about just how settled the science of climate change really is. Up here Stephen Harper occupies a dis-honoured place in their demonology.

Yet I'm having trouble discerning any differences in life-style between people on opposing sides of the argument.

I've seen it up close. Challenge one of the affluent, preening sophisticates (who talk a lot about climate change) about their gas guzzling van or SUV and you'll get something like this: I have to get my kids to hockey practice.

Or, for example, this: this is Canada and it snows and I need the Denali.

To sum: my kids' interests come first. Full stop.

A former Liberal Party government signed onto the Kyoto Protocol. And then took NO action on it. Yet it's these same people that condemn the Harper government for pulling out of the accord. I'll give Harper points for consistency at least on this.

See, JMG, there was no action taken and there never will be because the Canadian people will not stand for it. Not for a second. Symbolic measures, yes, substantive measures, no chance.

Suburban hockey moms will put their foot down and that will be the end of it.

daelach said...

@ JMG: Regarding "Satanic" traits in Christians - just have a look at the history e.g. of the Catholic church, that has never been any different. It's decades ago that I last read the Bible, but I don't recall inquisition, torture, burning heretics, killing heathens, blessing arms, bloody crusades and living a rich Bishop's life to be part of Jesus' teachings. Christianity by and large already embraced what's evil by Jesus' standards many centuries ago.

Not that this would be really different for Jesus' own god himself. His first commandment is one of jealousy, and the Bible legend has it that this god (and not Satan) was responsible for the first genocide aimed at exterminating any dissidents. Christians believe that their god made them an image of himself. Evil in disguise? Maybe, but if so, the whole thing is rotten to the very core of it.

Btw, I had a laugh at the thought of you being an evil space lizard. Everyone knows that evil space lizards, just as all other reptiles, don't grow beards. (;

Varun Bhaskar said...


Sorry for your loss. Your druid friend will have much company as all the plants head over the river for their seasonal hibernation. Good company for a druid to make the trip with, isn't it? :)

It was a beautiful reflection on the sea, strangely brightened up my day. There is something nice about accepting that death is merely a continuation of the process of life, it makes the world seem more level and balanced. No matter what we do, no matter who we worship or don't, emperor or peasant, we all end of up the same.

What's not to love about that?



Cherokee Organics said...


Exactly, they are very parallel phenomena.

The rising oceans (and/or thermally expanding oceans) are indicative of a warming biosphere with a far less stable climate than previously, yet we as a species are attempting to maintain our expected energy usage, resource usage and current pollution outputs with more people every single year.

The rising debt levels are indicative of a decline in real wealth as most individuals and pretty much every other entity and organisation is attempting to maintain their perquisites and standard of living.

The costs are piling up and it is not as if they can possibly go away somewhere else - like to Mars or somewhere else like that (or how about Jupiter!).

I'm heading into the big smoke today by train to attend the first Melbourne Green Wizards meet up and that should be fun.

I like the country trains too, however for some reason when they laid out Melbourne (and it was surveyed by a sensitive surveyor way back in the day - everything is in a really nice neat grid format) the only space left available for the trains (which were a much later invention), were the mud flats south of the city. They reclaimed those mud flats and built a truly impressive metropolitan and country train network. Unfortunately, to be mud flats they have to be next to a river, which is actually a salt water estuary. All up that means that the whole station is probably only a little bit above current sea levels. I do like the country trains though and Southern Cross station is an impressive and very quirky bit of architecture...

Just for your interest too, the tomato seedlings are getting more productive and hardier every year (I've saved the best seed for the past four years now). A big rainfall is expected here today so I got up early and planted out the seedlings in their beds but before I was completed the thunder boomed and the heavens opened so I got quite damp completing the job - no point wasting good rain though. It might be useful for you to note that as well as getting hotter and drier here, it is also at the same time subject to bouts of increasingly heavy rainfall which stretch right through the continent drawn from the Indian Ocean way up in the tropical north-west - it is an impressive storm.

When I think about the future, I reckon at some point rather than adaption to rising sea levels and declining real wealth there will instead be dislocation (it is the cheaper option after all). Certainly, I can imagine having to absorb local climate refugees here if things get bad enough. During the Great Depression, most people stuck it out with their families where they were, but some people hit the road too - the swagmen - looking for a feed in return for work. Certainly there is a lot of work to be done.

Speaking of the future and given that we are currently in the time of emerging legends (i.e. an unusual and extraordinary time for humans) do you ever wonder what a figure like the Merlin would do today?

I think I understand your story as you are disseminating knowledge, teachings and narratives. I get that. I headed out into nature to see what it required of me. But I worry a bit because I'm not seeing a lot of extraordinary stories about the place and basically I feel that it is because the dominant narrative has such a great hold on people. I actually seriously worry about the day it can no longer deliver and there is no way to ignore that unpleasant reality. It’ll certainly produce a few shock waves! It has never really had much of a hold me because I sort of understood from a very young age that things can go horribly wrong at short notice and without warning - but most people don't share that experience in developed countries. Dunno.



M Smith said...

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remember'd how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

- William Cory

Jo said...

JMG, I am sorry for the death of your friend and fellow sojourner. It seems that death came to a man who had discovered and lived his vocation, and left his life well-loved and well-mourned. It is all any of us can ask for. But so hard on those left behind.

On the subject of being unwilling to face the realities of the future, I recently read Galbraith's 'The Great Crash' on your advice. There was one line in particular which jumped out at me, "In these matters, as often in our culture, it is far, far better to be wrong in a respectable way than to be right for the wrong reasons." (Ch 5)

I am afraid that you are that prophet, crying out in the wilderness, right for all the wrong reasons, reasons such as insisting on finite nature of growth, the reality of resource depletion and the impossibility of maintaining our present lifestyles. You are just no fun at all! 'Successful' environmentalists have learnt that being respectably wrong is SO much better for their careers. Or possibly they really can't face the truth of the future, so are misleading themselves as well as the general public in order not to become gibbering wrecks. There is only so much reality most people can stand.

@peakfuture - I have put some thought into this subject of how I have avoided cognitive dissonance. I grew up as the daughter of Christian missionaries, part of a first-world enclave in the midst of a recently-colonised traditional society struggling to come to terms with a post-industrial world (PNG). This in itself causes serious soul-searching in anyone even slightly thoughtful. My parents were very committed to social justice, and my father also taught us the value of logical thinking from a very early age. That both his children then grew up to critically evaluate our religion and leave the church should really not have surprised him so much..

The second huge influence on my thinking was studying sociology at university. I could not get a handle on what it was even for until about a year in when I realised it was essentially a tool for examining how society works, at which I embraced it enthusiastically.

All of these experiences - being taught the basics of logic, living as an outsider in the society I grew up in, learning how examine my own society as if I were an outsider, and wrenching myself out of the religion and lifestyle that generations of my family have lived, have helped me to be able to face a future reality which may be different to the one I live now, and indeed, to try and reconcile my lifestyle with the way in which I believe it is fair and right to live.

I think also that living in a traditional society where material possessions are few but community and tradition, art and culture are rich, has removed the fear of 'living with less' that dogs many of our 'first-world' societies.

Here is my hunch for the groups of people who manage to live without cognitive dissonance. I think they would have had experience of being outsiders - maybe due to their class, gender, religion or cultural group. And yet this experience hasn't left them as victims, or scurrying to try and blend in to the society which has marginalised them - I am guessing that there has probably been support somewhere - family, religion, philosphy, mentors - who help them along the path to meaningful action within the context of their being able to critically evaluate the society they live in..

I think that being a member of the powerful elite of any society makes it so much more difficult to be critical of it, or to entertain any possibility of change. The amount of psychological investment in maintaining the staus quo is enormous, let alone any other consideration.

I would be fascinated to read other thoughts on this subject..

pygmycory said...

I'm sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. That is hard.

Your comments on the environmentalists who are very 'status quo' is all too familiar, as my Dad and Stepmother visited me a couple of weeks ago. They resemble that remark, though it was more the social aspects of decline that we disagreed on. They expect me to look and act in a middle-class manner and I don't see why I should.

It isn't just that it's expensive; it's that I don't see the point in emulating something unsustainable. I also find myself deeply angry with that social class, because I see them as a bunch of frauds who are doing harm to others while insisting that they are somehow superior to those that don't have what they do. That means my main desire is to turn my back on the whole system and walk away. But I can't, because just like everyone else I'm all tangled up in the system.

High class twit
Harms many people.
"Oops", he says.

Jo said...

PS In the interests of full disclosure, I still get in a car several times a week, and generally take up more than my fair share of planetary resources. Clearly, cognitive dissonance and I are still on nodding terms. What I am doing, however, is trying. The carbon footprint is getting smaller year-by-year, as the gap between what I believe, and what I do, is slowly closing..

Caryn said...

JGM: Many condolences on the loss of your friend, and congratulations to him on the completion of a life well lived, a job well done.

Thank You for sharing that beautiful, melancholic essay. It has obviously struck a chord with a lot of us, myself included.

And lastly: As two other commenters have asked; I've also spent much time trying to figure out what my 'job' is here in this life, at this time, on the planet. If you or other commenters have any suggestions on how to figure that out. It would be fantastic discussion.

Thanks, & Happy Samhain.

Ms. Krieger said...

JMG, I am so sorry to hear of the death of your friend.

I thought of you this week though, because of something hopeful: it turns out that the state of Connecticut's regulators are collaborating with scientists and engineers at the state land grant university to devise ways to reroute and save the infrastructure (roads, railways, electrical substations) from 'extreme storms and flooding' (they don't label it climate change, they just acknowledge the effects. This increases the funds they can get from the legislature. Nobody has to compromise on ideology.) And they're doing it intelligently, by working with the state 's natural topography of ridges that run all the way to the shoreline. Much of the infrastructure is currently at sea level, but none of it has to be moved particularly far to be 100' or higher. Could buy us a century or two of railways and roads..I was shocked at such pragmatism. And rather pleased.

John Michael Greer said...

Dwig, nicely written. It's comforting to hear plain common sense being uttered, at least now and again!

Tony, thanks for the recommendation; I'll put it on the list. One of the things that tempts me about that project is that it'll justify wallowing in books on earth sciences, which I love to read even without excuses.

Jbucks, I don't know that there's a simple way to go about it. I'm still working out the fine details of mine; I know that dumpster-diving in the back alleys of Western civilization to recover and recycle abandoned ideas, traditions and teachings is a big part of it, but that may not be all of it. I figured that out mostly by watching (a) what always seems to work out well for me and (b) what most consistently delights me, and the intersection of the two pointed me in the right direction.

Jean-Vivien, good. Retrotopia is very much a near-term, let's-take-action-now kind of project; it's the kind of thing that communities in North America could achieve, or begin to achieve, over the next fifty years or so, and cushion the long road down from industrial civilization in the process. Deep time is by definition the thing that no human being can affect at all -- and thus it's useful to alternate from one to the other and back, to spend some time focusing on doing what you can and some time accepting the limits of what you can do.

Mark, thank you!

Sherril, let's whisper this: human beings aren't actually all that smart.

Shane, excellent! As someone who lives in a southern town (five miles south of the Mason-Dixon line!) without a cell phone or a car, I can tell you that it's not that hard, and it also saves a lot of money and other resources that can go to better uses.

Brent, many thanks for the link. I'm not sure what it implies that an archdruid and one of America's great comics are saying the same things...

Raven, sure, or I could have them heroically fight off the attack of a giant space walrus with photon flippers. Sheesh. I find pointless cataclysms boring, you know.

Nick, thank you!

Mallow, I wish I had a simple answer to that question!

Helix, of course. Still, to my mind, the real test of character is whether you can still do the right thing even when you don't think it will do any good.

Patricia, thank you for this! That article made my day -- well, that, and some news about Star's Reach I hope to be able to announce sometime soon. It's a great source of delight to me to see good ol' Darwinian evolution creating a lovely new species of carnivore.

John Michael Greer said...

Ed-M, the Mann piece was a stunning display of paralogic, wasn't it? I really begin to wonder if too much internet, etc., is starting to deprive people of the ability to think at all.

Roger, and that's why the people who actually care enough to take action need to do so beginning with their own lifestyles, and leave the soccer moms to their fate.

Daelach, as Jung points out, constellating one side of a duality guarantees that you're also going to constellate the other side. I see that as the fatal flaw of the moralizing monotheisms; the louder you insist on the goodness of God, the more you guarantee that his followers are going to manifest the evil they've tried to exclude from the foundations of reality.

Varun, I once heard the word "maturity" defined neatly as the ability to come to terms with one's own death. That still seems like a good definition to me.

Cherokee, oddly enough, Merlin has been much on my mind of late -- partly because I've been rereading Nikolai Tolstoy's very thought-provoking The Quest for Merlin, but also because he lived in a time rather like ours, and took action in response to it. As for me, I'm good at a few things and much less capable at a vast number of others, and I've simply set out to apply the things I can do well to those contexts where I think I might be able to make a difference.

M Smith, thank you.

Jo, of course! I know perfectly well that I can never reach more than a very small minority of people, and that most everyone else will go stumbling blindly ahead toward a really rather unpleasant assortment of fates. That's simply the way things are. The fact remains that I can reach a certain number of people, and help them to learn certain conceptual and practical tools that might enable at least some of them to dodge those unpleasant fates and contribute something here and there toward the successor societies that will rise out of our ruins. To me, that's enough.

Pygmycory, understood. You can't walk away, but you can change things a step at a time, and the little changes add up -- especially as business as usual runs into the next round of mountain-sized speedbumps.

Caryn, since three people have asked that -- the Bellman's rule applies here! -- I'll consider a post on the subject.

Ms. Krieger, hmm! That really is promising. Thank you for the data point.

mr_geronimo said...

"While climate change activists insist ever more loudly that we can still fix everything if only the right things happen in the next five years—okay, ten—well, make that fifteen" That's because they became servants of the left. "The ice sheets are melting, what we gonna do? Communism!", that's their answer for all ecologial issues. As if communism, a bourgois industrial ideology that raped russian and chinese ecosystem, could do anything. The only thing they achieved is manking sure that when the assorted western leftists get themselves murdered either by eastern eurasians or "revolutionary conservatives" ecology will die with them.

They whored the science for political gains and now it`s too late.

John Roth said...

Re: jobs

I really have no better suggestion than what JMG has already said: what has worked out well and delights you. I tend to get some of that from meditation, and, for someone in the Michael Teaching I'd say "ask a channel," but that's not generally applicable unless you happen to know a reliable psychic or channel.

One comment on what JMG has said: the channeled jobs I've seen have generally been one or two sentences, with possibly a couple more sentences of expansion. Essence usually doesn't have detailed, multi-layered plans for a lifetime - it's more what it wants to explore. They've also usually involved working with people you've worked with in prior lifetimes, but not always.

Shane Wilson said...

Regarding future species finding my skull, not if I can help it! Regardless of the legality, I intend to be thoroughly composted when I die, and have a suitable tree planted in my composted remains.
I know it's a dark thought, but sometimes I just want all the stupidity and insanity silenced, to never have to encounter it again. Yes, I know that that silencing will come via the Fred Halliots of the world, in a Cultural Revolution, Terrors, Nazi, Khmer Rouge, etc, type ghastly scenario, but my darker side just doesn't care, it just wants the stupidity and insanity silenced...

margfh said...

My friends and acquaintances who would describe themselves as environmentalists seem to come in all shapes and sizes. From those entitled individuals as you describe to those who live with a very small carbon footprint. Most of these (if not all) are involved with either one or both of local environmental groups here in our county. One, The Land Conservancy of McHenry County primarily preserves and restores local natural areas both public and private. I find the "entitled" individuals more involved with this group as they own property and recognize the value of keeping it in it's natural state as much as possible. The other group, the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County has much more of a mix. This group was started decades ago by Quaker couple and was promoting recycling long before it became mainstream. Up to about 10 years ago they raised enough money through recycling that they had a staff of five. Now curbside recycling is required by county ordinance so they lost most of their income source and only has a staff of one now. In fact the Land Conservancy is a spin-off of this organization. The Quaker couple is now in their 80's and are a real example of people that walk the walk and much loved and respected by all members of the environmental community. On the other end of the spectrum is a couple who owns a fair amount of property that they are restoring back to an oak savanna and prairie who own a Tesla (and think that's part of the answer) and fly all over on a regular basis. Interesting all these folks attend many of the same events and get along well. Part may be that those who "get it" more and live lightly do not act "holier than thou" but rather are just an example to others. More and more people surprise me by offhanded comments that do indicate that they have a pretty realistic picture of the future and keep doing what their doing because it's the right thing to do while realizing that it may not make a difference. Others are in denial particularly regarding alternative energy sources and believe that electing liberal candidates will lead us on the right path. At any rate I do consider many my friends. Wouldn't be right to throw stones to those who for example think that owning a Prius makes it OK to drive more than necessary when I have a long way to go in changing my own lifestyle.

My condolences on the loss of your friend.

latheChuck said...

On the choice of a career: Too often, the first response to a student's question is "Well, what do you enjoy doing?" or "What are you good at?". Very rarely do I hear anyone suggest "Look around you. What does the world need? You can learn to do almost anything, once you decide what to focus on. You can enjoy doing almost anything, once you decide that it's important that someone do it."

As for me, reading Asimov's Foundation trilogy, the original Limits to Growth report, and a flurry of church teachings emphasizing Revelation gave me a visceral sense of un-progress. "Which ever way this goes," I thought, "electricity is a wonderful thing, and electrical engineering will probably help me support my community." Then again, I'd listened to my crystal radio since age 6, which led me in the same general direction. And it has been a good ride.

Conversely, I knew that I enjoyed playing my guitar, sometimes with a group of friends, but I was skeptical that the world around me would appreciate my performance, especially in a time of crisis. Distributed energy generation seemed like a much better goal, and it looked within my reach.

Ken Barrows said...

Charles Mann: If it weren't for access to lots of debt, peak oil would already be here.

Roger said...

Shane Wilson, we got rid of our car a long time ago and, ever since, we walk or use public transport.

The result? a hugely expensive pain in the backside went away, we lost weight and saved a ton of money.

Want to know what else? We said bye-bye to that monumental annoyance - the cable company. We spent about 7 thousand bucks on it over ten years.

I made a simple over-the-air TV antenna out of spare coat hangers and other odds-and-ends. Easy as pie.

More: we use computers in the public library. No home computer. No tablets, none of it. We spent our working lives going blind in front of computer screens. No way we'll them at home. My wife is more vehement about it than me.

My wife and I rent an apartment. Always have. No house, ever.

We could get into a long argument about owning vs renting or the merits of owning a patch of land and I could give you our life story but never mind. The point is, with 500 square feet, you won't accumulate a lot of crap. It keeps things simple. When you look at the time people spend on the stuff they own, it's more like the stuff owns them.

Last thing: we've never had a cell phone. Land line only. I know, there's downsides. But it works for us. A matter of personal taste maybe but I never wanted a bell in my pocket that anyone in the world could ring.

Tidlösa said...

An entire documentary (free) for those who love the "coywolf". ;-)

Anselmo said...

My condolences for the lost of your friend.

I consider especially valuable your assertions about the significance of the death and the value of the life.

Aron Blue said...

Caryn et al

Since I started the topic of finding your job (vocation maybe is a better word), I wanted to share a favorite quote of mine, from Proust's The Captive.

"All that we can say is that everything is arranged in this life as though we entered it carrying a burden of obligations contracted in a former life; there is no reason inherent in the conditions of life on this earth that can make us consider ourselves obliged to do good, to be kind and thoughtful, even to be polite, nor for an atheist artist to consider himself obliged to begin over again a score of times a piece of work the admiration aroused by which will matter little ..., like the patch of yellow wall painted with so much skill and refinement by an artist destined to be for ever unknown and barely identified under the name Vermeer."

Caryn said...

IatheChuck: "What does the world need?" Fantastic. Thanks for that. Very helpful, and you're right, it's not something that is often or ever asked, but could change the whole focus of the issue.

Thanks for replies, JGM & Aaron Blue. I think you both got this, but just to be clear, when I say 'job', (or vocation); I don't strictly mean what one does for financial sustenance, but what passion, what focus one works at in life.

So say, any one of us here or over at Green Wizards may pay the rent by working as a corporate secretary, because it pays the best and keeps us afloat out of our available regional options, but that is not our 'job-in-life'. Learning, teaching, practicing and sharing food gardening or useful crafts, or bee keeping or community organizing may be our thing, our vocation.

So perhaps the question is twofold. 1) how to find that purpose whatever it is. 2) if possible, how to translate it into paying the rent so one can stop wasting energy at corporate secretarial work. OK, maybe threefold: 3) how to recognize and enact change and transition if/ when one's vocational calling or passion seems to be shifting.

Mark Mikituk said...

JMG wrote: "Caryn, since three people have asked that -- the Bellman's rule applies here! -- I'll consider a post on the subject. "

- I am sure that would be a very interesting post indeed, coming from you, so I am adding my voice to said request, making it a quaternary!

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the book reference which is now slowly working its way down here (it takes about 6 weeks to arrive at the local Post Office which is still an amazing feat when you really think about it given where I'm located in this remote spot).

I first came across the Merlin character in the Mists of Avalon and the concept of a proper wizard operating on magic (aligned with your understanding of the word) as well as their own talents and wits, captured my imagination and has held it. The Merlin has never been far from my thoughts ever since because I reckon hard times breeds resourceful people.

Don't you ever wonder why the Merlin appeared at just the right time for the Arthurian tales? Like, what proceeding events produced that particular character? Was the Merlin the best of his kind or the Radagast the Brown of the day who was forced into a larger role? No disrespect intended to Radagast the Brown either because I always liked that character and anyway I spend most of days surrounded by the wilds of nature, so, yeah, well...

Incidentally, my earlier comment was no call to arms I can assure you - but I can see how it may have been understood that way. Sorry! I took your warning a few months back at face value about challenging the dominant narrative as it stands at present. I reckon the system is well set up to counter such approaches and so it would be a complete waste of time. Me, I'm good at some things too, whilst poor at others. It's all good and I've long since given up the challenge of trying to talk to people about issues such as resource depletion and declining real wealth. Mind you, I did offer today to have a public discussion about solar power - we'll see how that one turns out or whether anyone actually wants to hear about real limits. It's a tough message.



ed boyle said...
This long analysis is based on spengler's ideas and is necessary to understand czarist, soviet or putinist messianism as opposed too western "corrupt" imperialism in decline. Prmitive russia has the endless steppe as backdrop, as the anglosaxon powers have the oceans. This forms the worldview. Russia according to spengler is in the ascendant. A suprficial look at western capitalist decline vs. 'Eurasianism" could support this. Marxism took root in russia and then globally. Similar antiwestern movement as Eurasianism would be the next stage in Decline of the West.

How this fits into PO, GW, etc. I cannot say. With a bit ofcreativity we could see JMGs fictional world fitting intothis concept where respect for autonomy of countries and regions living according to own creed and system withoutconstant interference from outside power proclaiming 'universal values' would fit nicely. Tier systems globally. Putin style.

Shane Wilson said...
Off topic, but you really nailed it in Twilight's Last Gleaming. I don't think the Russians are in any mood to back down, not from the escalation in the area and all that they've deployed. Putin will not be too concerned about avoiding American casualties. My guess is it is game over for the US once the Chinese step in, which they will do if tensions escalate between the US and Russia.

Patricia Mathews said...

JMG - If I haven't said it before, thank you for that beautiful autumnal elegy and seaside meditation, with all its resonances and overtones. And thanks to all the readers of this blog who posted poetry, as well.

WesternNorthCarolinaFarmer said...

Excellent comment: "The life of a species, like that of an individual, is completed by death, not erased by it."

And if you believe in reincarnation, the start of something new.

Humbleness before Nature and God is something all humans need.

I really like your analysis of various topics such as this.

Taraxacum said...

Absolutely gorgeous writing. Thank you for this!

pygmycory said...

Projects are underway, but I really do struggle with anger and bitterness sometimes.

The family members I mentioned really aren't that bad when compared to others of their age and class - it's just that I don't understand how they can be so blind. They aren't stupid, and they are well-meaning. So why can't they see this? And why the near-vicious prejudice against people who grew up poor? They give to charity, but they definitely see them as less than they are, and the idea that I might identify with lower and working class makes them explode and demand that I do not think this! Do they intend to be prejudiced against Jesus and the apostles? There's no basis for this in our mutual religion.

Sorry for the whining. But the whole situation makes me feel bewildered, sad, and angry.

Glenn said...

pygmycory said...
{Snip!} "why the near-vicious prejudice against people who grew up poor?"

Because by their very existence they make a lie of the American Myth of Exceptionalism where we can all be middle class. That myth refuses to acknowledge that the existence of the rich requires that the rest of us be impoverished to a greater or lesser extent.

And they know that the rich will refuse to share to ameliorate the sufferings of the poor, which leaves? Yes, them, paying for the sins of their masters.

And yet the anger is aimed at the poor, not the rich. Because The Myth also tells them that they can be one of the rich some day. It's a lie, but they cling to it anyway.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Nancy Sutton said...

This view must have been mentioned before, but I like to see death as not the opposite of life, but the opposite of birth.

Hugo Costa said...

I think the most extreme delusion of human dominance is climate engineering and it is being seriously considered among many environmentalists. It seems that we always find new ways of trashing our planet even more. And, another sign that we're living in an increasingly delusional society pretending that everything's right (don't worry, be happy) are the fires in Indonesia that are causing more polution than the entire US economy and have been raging for weeks but have largely been ignored by the western media. Hundreds of thousands of people are getting potentially deadly respiratory ilnesses, fires are raising across 5,000 km, thousands of species will have their habitat destroyed, and yet we look away. In Europe, the discussion of the week is whether sausages are cancerigenous or not. And people saying that they wouldn't be happy if they didn't eat sausages.

When I try to slightly approach a person close to me about the course of our civilization, the first thought stopper is: somebody, somewhere made some doom prediction and was wrong. For example, my uncle saw a book that I was reading called "Life after Growth: How the Global Economy really works and why 200 years of growth are over". His comment? 'When I was young it was said that the oil would run out in the years ahead.' Who? It doesn't matter.It only matters the fact that he avoided thinking about the subject. And he is the typical leftist, 'rational' intelectual. I recently was in Southampton with my family (I live in England but come from Portugal). My step father saying that he thought that 100 years from now everyone would speak the same language: English. We talked and he joked that 100 years on we would sit at the same table and see if that was true or not. I mentioned that that place would probably be under water at that time ( Southampton is a coastal city). My mother said that we don't know the future, the climate is very dynamic, so sea level rise could stop at any time, and that 'they' said that Porto (my home city) would be submerged by 2000. I asked: who? ''People at the café." It appears that many people have selective memories to confirm their beliefs. Regarding energy, her thought stopper is that 'science is not static'. When I talk about history, she says that 'history is apart of the past'. And when the thoughtstoppers run out, she just stops thinking about the subject and forgets the whole matter. I find it incredibly difficult to argue with her.

Nevertheless, I hpe I may be able to her and some of my family. My parents have accepted surprisingly well my decision to study different types of organic agriculture (biodynamic, permaculture, agroecology, biointensive) and not going to university (I'm 17 years old). My father actually understood quite well when I talked to him about the unsustainability of our economy, our energy system, and when I compared our course to that of other civilizations. I find that people that have a fairly good knowledge of history are much easier to convince. I managed to convince a good friend in that way.

Varun Bhaskar said...


I made my peace with death ages ago, but most people I know would question whether that's made me more mature. ;)



pygmycory said...

Glen, I don't think it can be American exceptionalism in this specific case. They're British, spent decades in Canada and recently moved back to the UK. It's the same type of attitude, but it seems more like classic British class prejudice with a leavening of North-American middle-class entitled attitude.

Patricia Mathews said...

John - I did send a message earlier offering condolences on the loss of your friend and mentor, but it apparently went into the bit bucket. Sic transit electrons...

Then let me repeat my deepest sympathies on that loss. I know it much leave a hole in your heart.


Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Interesting comments about McHenry County. I happen to know your Quaker couple: they are mentors to all who know them, I think, and simply by living the way they live have educated and inspired many people. Truly "green wizards."

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Dear JMG,

Good Samhain to you, and a good time for passing for your friend, I think, perhaps. And an appropriate, moving post for this season. I spent today in remembrance of those I loved now gone--and the things they did in life, the wisdom I learned from them. Endings and beginnings, endings and beginnings again, an endless braid of years.

In the light,

Jo said...

Dear JMG, I am so glad you feel it is worth doing what you do, because we would all be the poorer if you quit!

@Caryn, someone, who? where? said that what breaks your heart is where your passion is.. this is a variation on the theme of what the world needs, but narrows it down to an area you care deeply about.

This is something that is causing me intense heart burnings at the moment. Coming out of a divorce I have found a part time job which is stress-free and satisfying and has great hours for childcare, but it is NOT ENOUGH. It doesn't fill that need for pursuing a creative purpose. That doesn't mean I am going to quit my job, but it does mean I am going to be putting my new-found mental energy to work finding the niche where I can be useful and creative.

Tony f. whelKs said...


"Don't you ever wonder why the Merlin appeared at just the right time for the Arthurian tales?"

Oh, yes, I've wondered about the roots of the Merlin mythos :-) It's, erm, complex...

There's traces of evidence that it may derive from the pre-Christian Bardic tradition of the British Isles; there's a definitive slice of Jungian archetype in there; even hints at historicity. It's intertwined with other Bardic characters, such as Taliesin, too. Then there's also a certain degree of esoteric lore in the mix.

Like Arthur, Merlin is someone I would like to have been a real historical character, but can't put hand on heart and say that I am convinced. Even so, it's a character that holds sway over my imagination and personal mythos.

A good introduction to take you down the rabbit hole is a book I read years ago (but can't find on my bookshelf now, coulda swore I'd bought it....) by the current Count Tolstoy, called 'The Quest for Merlin'. IIRC he concluded there was a historical figure, probably in southern Scotland (though at the time that was a Welsh-speaking culture) in the 5th or 6th century. However, I'm fairly convinced such characters were part of a much older tradition. Anyway, a good place to start.

And if you haven't seen it yet, grab a copy of John Boorman's 'Excalibur' - Nicoll Williamson make a darn fine Merlin, IMHO ;-))

Nancy Sutton said...

To bolster your verification of Christ's actual message (and thanks for that! ;), you might also list all the scriptures where he indicates the evilness of 'wealth', including the 'Two Masters' explanation.

Karl Ivanov said...

My condolences on your loss.
My last remaining grandparent passed earlier this summer- I mentioned in a comment a few posts ago that your blog helped inspire us to revitalize her Alabama farm to the extent we could. She was an avid reader of your blog and books. We returned her to the living earth in a homemade coffin on her land, no preservatives added. Not always grateful for Alabama’s libertarian laws, but we were this time. Her body now feeds the trees she loved in life.

The thought that I one day would not exist, might be remembered by no one, used to bother me immensely. I felt a need to achieve something truly great, so that I would be remembered forever- if I didn’t, I would be forgotten and my life would be meaningless. Only the great ones, I thought, truly get to live past death.
I got past this with a few realizations. Science at the moment believes that since modern humans evolved (obviously not a definitive point, but a gradual process, but that’s besides the point in this case) around 109 billion individuals have lived. Surely my life is in the top 1% even .01% of all of the human beings who have ever lived by many measures- the resources at my disposal, comfort, knowledge, works of art I can experience- why not be grateful for that? And surely there are some amazing individuals in that 109 billion who are now forgotten. And those that by chance we do still remember- they are still dead. We preserve the works of Homer because they say something still relevant to us, but what do we know about the man? That world, and it’s understanding of his works, and the life he personally had (and some argue, as I understand it, that “he” was a group not an individual) are forever lost- regardless of the post-mortem fame of his work. Takes some growing up to realize whatever world you are living in- it will not last, and cannot be brought back.
So, if I cannot live forever, perhaps it is better to set about living the kind of life your Mr. Ingold lived, or for that matter my own grandmother- pursuing things they found to be of worth, and in the process becoming deeply meaningful people to those around them.

Urban Harvester said...

As I spent time meditating with my ancestors over this weekend, more than once I came to rest on my late grandfather. I have in part your eloquent post to thank as it reminded me that because of my rock-hounding forbear, my childhood imagination was populated by the trilobites we uncovered on the slopes of topaz mountain, by dinosaurs, evolution, and by trains and train engineers. So many times I complained at having to sit through his long expositions of the many layers of sandstone in the canyons of the Colorado Plateau and what they tell us of different ages, when I wanted to be off chasing lizards. But for both experiences I am blessed in innumerable ways. Thanks to his and my grandmothers efforts dragging my brothers and I out to the shores of Utah Lake to watch the migrating birds, I can express the appropriate level of abhorrent scorn for the most monstrous expressions of banality that are the endless scars of repetitive suburban dwellings and faceless office complexes metastasizing across the shores and foothills of what was once one of the most magnificent vistas in North America. He chided me at times for my naivete and lack of understanding of the reality of what he and his family went through during the depression and the second world war. It wasn't until reading some of your posts on Burkean politics that I could start to understand his conservatism, which always confused me. I think it confused his kids too, whose blind faith in the american dream and in our inevitable conquering of the environmental crisis is my inheritance. Fortunately another part of my inheritance was his Irish immigrant great grandfather who was a mystic, astrologer, poet, nurseryman and shoe-repairer, who has also been close to heart in recent years. Thank you for your work John Michael, it is most appreciated.

Urban Harvester said...

@peakfuture and Jo
Jo, I want to second your observations about cognitive dissonance. I have a small circle of thoughtful and philosophical friends who have worked their way through the cognitive dissonances of both Mormon Orthodox culture and the culture of the Religion of Progress. Some of us have come to feel gratitude through the sense of loss, deception or betrayal from our disaffection with our Mormonism, for the way in which it helped us to become more or less disentangled from the civil religion. This in part because Mormon orthodoxy can be so tied up with the myths of progress. I say 'more or less disentangled' because the psychologies of progress can be so pernicious and tenacious in their optimistic guises in both our psyches as well as in the psyches of those closest to us. It is a constant struggle bringing said psychologies to light. Many thanks to JMG for his work in elucidating and illuminating what is going on.

JMG, "Daelach, as Jung points out, constellating one side of a duality guarantees that you're also going to constellate the other side."
Could you point me towards where to read further on what he said about this?

solivagrant said...

pygmycory said...

Projects are underway, but I really do struggle with anger and bitterness sometimes. Sorry for the whining. But the whole situation makes me feel bewildered, sad, and angry.

I'm quoting you, pygmycory, because I'm going to do my best here not to sound like I'm whining, too. Your bewilderment and sadness, I understand, too well.

The ability of our species to deny astonishes me. I became aware of the reality of the sixth mass extinction last year, when I came upon the WWF report. Upon hearing that half of Earth's species have become extinct in my lifetime, I felt ever more strongly the need to share this profoundly shocking idea. I am generally extremely distrustful of anything that comes out of the mainstream these days, but while reading some of Bernard Lietaer's work on alternative monetary systems (because it's always seemed to me that the money system is at the root of our destructive behaviour), I read of a survey that was taken in the late 90s of a group of biologists. They were simply asked, do you believe we are living through a mass extinction event; 75% of them responded in the positive, and none had any financial motivation for stating that opinion. That convinced me that this is something that is really happening, so I have spent time talking with family and friends about this. A case in point; a large chunk of Indonesia is currently on fire, due to the forests there being cut down in order to make way for palm oil production. The fires are hundreds of kilometers long; they have produced as much CO2 as the entire US economy does anually in the space of 3 weeks; they are an annual event, and they are not even the largest source of CO2 from forest fires raging right now, given that huge chunks of Brazil are aflame, too. Yet when I try to speak about this to the people around me, and suggest that we actually do something about it (such as stop buying products that contain palm oil), I am met with howls of "but it's too much trouble", "I've always done it this way", and "But what difference could I possibly make?"

I've spent much of my adult life attempting to prod our species from its slumber, in my own small way, yet all I have ever met with is rejection, denial and apathy. I remember the day it became public knowledge that the BBC reported on the collapse of building 7 twenty minutes before it actually happened; I emailed everyone I knew with this information, hoping at least to spark a moment's clarity in some human's mind, yet the crickets continue to ring out there incessant, repetive bleat (to mix an animal metaphor or 2!)

It is heartbreaking to be a part of a species that is so insanely destructive that it is destroying an entire planet, and so utterly cowardly and craven that the response of almost everyone alive when given this information is to attack the messenger and carry on regardless. The only solace I have found in recent days has been in the work of Stephen Harrod Buhner; he has run with the idea of symbiogenesis and suggests that perhaps our species ecological raison d'etre has been to deliver bacteria into space, as a means of Gaia reproducing (bacteria being the underpinnings of all the more advanced, or rather what we would recognise as advanced, lifeforms), akin perhaps to a sort of reverse panspermia. There is some comfort in the idea that Gaia would not make such a huge mistake as to generate a species that would be responsible for her ultimate demise, and that indeed she has seen 5 extinctions in the past, but it is cold comfort for any kind of human future.

To the archdruid; thank you for your work, I came over your site today, and shall continue to read some of your insightful thoughts.

Karl Ivanov said...

Perhaps I am a little bit contrary to the anguish expressed here as far as human folly is concerned, while I don’t deny that it will and does affect my own life.
We are not the first species to take things out of the earth and rearrange them to suit our needs and build artificial environments for our own species use and comfort. Many on the green end of things seem to me to be horrified by such mega sprawls as New York City- but have you seen what African termites build? Or bees? Quite similar really. Take stuff out of the earth, rearrange it into a homogeneous environment built mainly to be hospitable to one and only one species, though other critters no doubt find ways to make use of termite mounds as they do of our structures.
And our current crisis? We had a mutation that happened to allow us to exploit a new resource- fossil fuels- and we proceeded to glut ourselves silly on it, and are now facing overshoot and collapse. Also hardly unique among life forms on earth. The Archdruid has, as I recall, given the example of yeast eating themselves to death in a wort, but as I understand that sort of thing can happen to life forms in all sorts of environments. And it’s not unique even to human civilizations. There once was rich soil along the banks of the Euphrates, till we figured out how to exploit that.
So to those who bemoan the things humanity does as “unnatural”- everything we are doing is completely normal and natural for a species to do. Take heart- if our achievements are actually no more unique and spectacular than many other species, and, “are impressive to us,” to paraphrase Mr. Greer, “principally because they are ours,” surely our flaws that we abhor are also not so unique or evil.
But they are ours to live with the consequences of. I would actually assert one more thing- we are not the only species that is egocentric- not the only species to give our own interests primary importance- as a matter of fact, I believe evolution tends to not be kind to species that don’t. So let us by all means be egocentric and use what powers we have to ensure the survival and prosperity of our species! Which is ultimately what learning to get by with less will hopefully allow.

BoysMom said...

While waiting for Brother Greer, may I suggest to those of you who are unclear about what your job is, that it is not a job in the nine to five sense of job. Rather, look at what needs most to be done, that you might be able to do, and do that first. One can do worse than to do the next right thing, and this concept that pervades modern society that each of us has some special calling . . . well, I think it is part of the creed of Progress: we are all special and shall be specially fulfilled by our jobs.
Of course, I am a mother (an often frowned-upon job these days) but for me, "Do the next right thing" has a certain charm. It's also functionally brief enough to impress on children, and has the great advantage of being as small as picking lettuce or washing dishes if that is, in fact, the next task you face.

Kevin Warner said...

So very sad to hear about your friend. By the sound of your description, he certainly lived his life and will live on in the memories of all those who knew him. As to whether he will be remembered in a thousand years time may not be the right question. It may be enough to be remembered in the here and now than some hypothetical descendants that will almost certainly not even talk the same language as we do now.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."

Friction Shift said...

I've seen several comments regarding the fires in Indonesia, which are being set to clear rain forest land for the production of palm oil. While some of the palm oil is used for baking cookies destined for Western markets (and Western arteries), in fact much of the oil is being converted into biodiesel. Malaysia's oil exports peaked in the early 1990s and since then the Malaysian government has been ramping up requirements for "sustainable" biodiesel content in domestic fuels.

It's just another example of how so-called "alternative" fuels are typically a con. Next time you see someone with a smug "Biodiesel: No War Required" sticker on their car bumper, ask them if they would consider wiping out entire ecosystems and indigenous peoples to be war. Because that's what's happening in Indonesia.

And a note to JMG: my condolences on the loss of your friend.

daveykwavey said...

Hi JMG, please, please, please do keep writing about peak oil, often. And whatever the hell else you want! I can't begin to thank you for all the thought-trains you've sent a-rollin' out of my station.
But why would any of your readers admonish you to expound less on peak oil, and more on climate change, overpopulation, or capitalism? One big thing that I get out of your writing is that the story of fossil fuel consumption is the story behind these stories, the thread that binds these three lurking "BADS" of the left-liberal worldview. Overpopulation? There's just no way to ramp up to seven billion humans in two centuries without industrial agriculture. Capitalism? There's just not much wealth to concentrate in the absence of machines that burn scads of energy, machines which themselves arise from a huge energy investment in a technology guild, later joined by science: humans freed from the dirty work of feeding themselves. And climate change? Any shred of wealth or cultural garbage excreted by industrial civilization is mirrored by a parcel of carbon dioxide destined to dart around the fast carbon cycle for a hundred thousand years. I get it: people just get mad at you for pointing out that No, we're really not all that special, creative, or smart, we've just been carried along by a torrential energy subsidy.
Today's post reminded me of a couple of posts from last summer, Dream of the Machine and Delusion of Control. One point you hammered home then was how the modern mentality is warped by the interaction with, and utter reliance on, machines. I point to this analysis to supplement your critique of the current state of environmentalism. As you say, it is precisely the modern experience of energy that leads to the hyper-delusional sense of control, choice, freedom, and hence, omnipotence. True, hubris is nothing new under the sun, but the planet-scale nature of this unfolding tragedy is pretty impressive.

Hubertus Hauger said...

JMG, I saw your pain and gratitude biding farewell to that mentor of yours. So I express my emphatie for how you are touched by his departure.
Connected with it, I see the meaning of life, or where JMG stressed at in particular, our pretentiuos self-importance. Reflecting about myself, I do not see, that I ever found or shall find a balance between that broad band ranging from hubris to minority-complex. And I never found that balance in someone else. All fellow beings around me are complex and twisted personalities. Exept mytological figures, like Christ, the Dalai Lama or JMG.
Becoming a balanced enlightened person, looks like another hubris too. I guesstimate, that we humans being extremist doesn´t border nature, we being her extremities. See the similarity! But balance there is. Evolution is doing that. What fits today succeeds! Yet tomorrow is another day.
All I try is, to ease down the anxiety of these multiple deaths in life, in order to loose my fear and go on courious and expextant into WHATEVER lies ahead.

234567 said...

Death is the end part of life - and there is no escape irregardless of transhumanistic dreaming. I am glad you had such a friend to enjoy, and that you both understand the whole of the cloth we are woven within.

I work in geology, and this gives me a nice comfortable place from where to view the world. Coastal transgressions and regressions are common tools for some of us - they are not random occurrences, but are very common. Sea levels go up and down constantly and we are in the midst of transgression or regression at any given point in time.

Having this familiarity with geology and time dilation, backwards and forwards, lets me imagine and see things differently. I believe that if the Tambora eruption did not get us, then whatever is coming is unlikely to, if for no other reason than sheer numbers today versus then. Nature never promised humans 'comfortable' - that is a self-generated and unreasonable expectation of living today.

Continents are always being eroded and rebuilt here on earth, at least as long as the heat within the planet is robust enough. Things on the surface erode and corrode - which is why they disappear after a few centuries unless they are very massive. A few millennia, and they are gone unless they are very massive and very solid and simple , IE pyramids.

I can envision a countryside where the thousands of oil wells dotting the world begin to be exposed by erosion - thousands of steel pipes jutting into the air. A time where pipelines are exposed - long steel tubes running this way and that across the landscape. Will the people living then know what they are looking at? Subways fill with water - they will one day be exposed as caverns to some people when the water levels drop during a dry or cold spell of a few centuries...

What happens when we have some serious volcanic activity, as in Pompeii? Will Denver one day be entombed in an ash layer? Because the entire continent has a layer of it from the last eruption of Yellowstone...

The world is built around coastal margins - where the food and transport issues are simplified. Coastal changes will disrupt this, but they always have - which is why the library at Alexandria is no longer there and ruins are underwater in Greece. But will it end mankind? Doubtful, as we are perhaps the most adaptive species yet.

People want to think tomorrow will be like today, even though all the yesterdays we look back on are not. I once saw an archaeology T-shirt that said, "Cataclysms Happen..." They do, but the nature of cataclysm is that it is not predicted.

Geologic time is a way for me to have perspective on what is happening all around us today - because while it seems tumultuous and crazy, it isn't when set in a geologic perspective. Things do seem crazy, but the level of craziness depends on your perspective, from where you are viewing the sweep and flow of things.

The planet absorbs it all, covering it in layers of mud and silt - archaeologists read these layers, and we are creating them for future archaeologists today. Paper will be eaten and dissolve, plastic will be crushed and degraded, metals will corrode and be subsumed. It is the way of things, in spite of fervent wishing, hoping and actions to preclude this end.

One needs water, food, shelter and fellows...the rest will sort itself out if your expectations can be realistic. We will all die - so it is important to enjoy your life and those you rub shoulders with - it was so even for a galley slave in Rome - so it is today.


Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Jo, @Caryn, @BoysMom and all discussing finding one's proper job/role in life;

I too would like to hear JMG's take on this subject when (if) he has time/interest.

Here is my story, since I've reached a time and place where I feel I am doing my proper life's work. The future may see changes in emphasis but not in content, I believe. In my experience there is a large component of spiritual discernment and ethical consideration required, besides the elements of situation, proclivities, affinities, talents, and so on, not to mention random chance.

So: in the 1990's I had two young children and a part-time job that was useful but not the best contribution I could make to living an earthcare-centered life, nor did it use certain tangible skills. I had an idea of what I wanted to be doing but not how to get there, since at the time I knew no one who was living the way our family was living. I did not work full time because I was raising my own children (not meaning to offend people who from necessity or choice use a lot of childcare services). This did entail financial sacrifice and voluntary frugal living. I have been fortunate enough to stay married.

Anyway, two things helped. The first involved engaging with the Quaker tradition of spiritual discernment and also seeking out role models. Perhaps more practically, I came across a book, Creating a Life Worth Living, by Carol Loyd. I have not looked at it in years, so now it might seem a new age-y self-help type of thing, I don't know. At any rate, though somewhat aimed at artists, anyone can use it. There are exercises that help one understand what one's "proper job" might be in a holistic, whole life, non-careerist kind of way. I, nature-centered and with a non-linear thinking style, found it useful at the time.

Years later, I can truly say I am living a version of and doing the things I envisioned those years ago. I know this is true not only because I have long kept a reflective journal, but also recently, when going through an old box of papers I found some of the materials from the exercises I did at that time. They were remarkably prescient.

This evolution did not proceed smoothly or easily. No life does. There were plenty of difficulties, side trips, distractions, a temporary pursuit of a wrong path and subsequent strong messages from the living earth (god(s), spirits of place) that it was indeed wrong and I'd better get my act together vis-a-vis helping the earth. Change continues, some of it uncomfortable or sad. But here I am, lucky and glad to be participating in this forum, and spending much time, in my small way, on what matters. Even my present paid job has to do with sustainability and resiliency. I've certainly learned much from JMG and forum participants.

I used what I learned from the book (and of course many other sources, some profound, some not) to help my children discern their own paths. They are now doing useful, creative jobs that are fairly low-paid but have future potential and can't be off-shored.

I thoroughly understand that even to be in the position of having some choice in the matter is remarkably fortunate in the general scheme of things. We continue to live frugally and as low-carbon as possible, semi-collapsed. I continue to practice my home-economy skills (spent Halloween putting up pumpkin puree for winter use, starting with pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving). Five species of bumblebee visited my garden this summer.

So that is my story.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Hubertus Hauger--You, sir, have created a T shirt motto.

Evolution: What fits today succeeds! [front]
Yet tomorrow is another day. [back]

Mark Mikituk said...

@Urban Harvester
Re your Jung question: I am sure JMG will give you his own answer, but I am currently reading Jung's The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, and I know it is mentioned and dealt with in there.

Hubertus Hauger said...

@ Unknown (Deborah Bender) "@Hubertus Hauger--You, sir, have created a T shirt motto. Evolution: What fits today succeeds! [front] Yet tomorrow is another day. [back]"

I am flattered ... :-D

Hubertus Hauger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.