Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Waiting for the Millennium

Part One: Peak Oil Goes Mainstream

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that one of its central projects early on was an attempt to deconstruct the most deeply entrenched set of myths industrial culture uses to define the future. To borrow a phrase from Carlos Castaneda, the myth of progress and the myth of apocalypse were worthy opponents, and I hope the confrontation with them was as educational, and occasionally entertaining, to my readers as it was to me. I’m pleased to say, though, that the dubious choice between a future of endless progress toward some technocratic Utopia and a future of sudden cataclysmic collapse into some romantic Utopia has lost much of its grip on the peak oil scene.

That’s not to say these particular narratives have gone away completely. I don’t recall the last time a week passed without at least one message in my inbox claiming that I’m all wrong and humanity will keep on marching onward and upward to a destiny among the stars, and at least one more claiming that I’m all wrong and industrial civilization will blow itself to smithereens at some vague but imminent point in the very near future. Still, such comments no longer make up most of the responses to each week’s post here, as they once did. The Archdruid Report was only one of many voices in the conversation that midwifed that change, of course, but I like to think that it helped.

That shift needed to happen, not least because today’s peak oil movement may be standing on the brink of a momentous shift very few of us are expecting. For just over a decade now, since the first peak oil activists blew the dust off M. King Hubbert’s predictions and realized that they made a great deal more sense than the easy optimism of the cornucopians, people concerned about peak oil have daydreamed of a future when the rest of the world would finally get around to noticing that you can’t extract an infinite amount of oil from a finite planet, and that technological, economic, and social arrangements predicated on endless supplies of cheap oil might be a good deal less clever than they looked. Very few of us, though, have really taken that possibility seriously, which makes it all the more ironic that peak oil may be on the brink of going mainstream in a big way.

Place the peak oil movement in its context and the dynamic is hard to miss. Fifteen years ago the idea of peak oil was so far off the radar screens that serious books on energy published by academic publishers – Janet Ramage’s Energy: A Guidebook (Oxford University Press, 1997) is a good example – no longer remembered that oil production would crest long before the last barrel was pumped out of the ground. Ten years ago the peak oil movement was the outermost fringe of the fringe, a tiny network of retired petroleum geologists and engineers crunching numbers to predict the timing of an event most experts claimed would never happen. Five years ago the first really good books on the subject – Kenneth Deffeyes’ Hubbert’s Peak, Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over, James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency, and a few others – were in print, and denunciations were beginning to issue forth from pundits who, until that time, had considered the peak oil movement to be beneath their notice.

Over the last year or so, the journey from fringe to mainstream has shifted into high gear. Peak oil has become a known quantity in the financial media, with a growing number of market pundits treating it as a real and inevitable phenomenon; blue-ribbon panels of various kinds are advising various governments that they really had better start paying attention to the future of petroleum; the US military has given dwindling energy supplies a place high up on the list of imminent threats to America’s security; even the world of haute culture, so often last in line to notice even the biggest changes sweeping through society, has been served up with a jumbo helping of peak oil courtesy of the Dark Mountain Project. All that remains is for the political leaders of an industrial nation to start talking about peak oil, and to judge from some of Barack Obama’s recent press conferences about the BP oil spill, that day may not be too far away.

What will happen then? It’s interesting to note that slightly muted versions of the two mythic narratives I discussed earlier in this post play a large role in speculations about the impact of peak oil going public. Some people – not many of them, but there are some – still cling to the hope that the people of the world’s industrial societies will take a deep breath, face up to the challenge of peak oil, and rescue the project of progress and the hope of brighter futures ad infinitum. Others, rather more of them, are convinced that a public announcement that the age of oil is ending will result in mass panic and the collapse of public order in an orgy of rioting, looting, and target practice with live ammo.

My guess, for what it’s worth, is that neither of these is particularly likely. A great deal depends on the circumstances, to be sure, but I suspect the first reaction will have a good deal in common with the oil shock of the 1970s, when the United States passed its own Hubbert peak and a nation used to limitless cheap energy had to face shortages and soaring prices. When that happened, some people buckled down and got to work; others panicked to one degree or another, though the rioting mobs of survivalist fantasy were in notably short supply; still others dismissed the entire thing as a Communist, liberal, conservative, or Fascist plot – I don’t think anybody but the Amish missed being blamed for the energy crises of the 1970s – and something close to a majority just shrugged or grumbled, according to temperament, and muddled through.

In the midst of these disparate reactions, a great deal of constructive work got done, and it’s arguable that even now the alternative energy scene hasn’t caught up to the point that the leading edge of the appropriate technology movement had reached when funding cuts and ultracheap oil brought the boom down on the whole thing in the early 1980s. If we get a similar muddle of disparate reactions, another round of equally constructive work is potentially within reach. Of course there will probably also be another round, on a larger and louder scale, of the debate between the myths of progress and apocalypse mentioned earlier in this post, and there will doubtless be plenty of flailing as people work their way through the five stages of peak oil – those are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and getting off your rump and doing something, in case you didn’t know.

Still, it’s also uncomfortably possible that we could also get something a good deal more destructive than what emerged out of the Seventies. For all the troubles of that decade, energy resources were still relatively plentiful and the economies of the industrial nations were far less topheavy with financial hallucinations, profiteering, and outright graft than they have since become. The limits to growth were in sight, but they had not yet begun to clamp down hard, and energy researchers could reasonably trace a curve of transition that could get the world’s industrial nations to sustainability without massive social and economic trauma.

That possibility was foreclosed when the leaders of the major industrial nations embraced short term politics instead of meaningful planning in the years right after 1980. At this point, the resources that might have powered a transition to sustainability have been burnt to fuel one last orgy of conspicuous consumption, and the consequences of that final spree, combined with epic economic mismanagement and a good solid helping of chicanery and outright fraud, have tipped the industrial nations of the world over into what promises to be a long and difficult period of economic malfunction.

When familiar myths fail and life gets difficult, in turn, the results rather too often include a form of collective flight into fantasy well known to sociologists and students of history. Think of cargo cults, Ghost Dancers, Americans waiting in a suburban Chicago backyard to be taken off the planet by the Space Brothers, and every other example you recall of people responding to a difficult situation by a leap of faith to a farther shore that didn’t happen to be there. Now think about it again, remembering that this time the motivating factors may well include the symbols and slogans and passionate hopes that matter most to you.

The standard jargon for phenomena of this kind is revitalization movements. They happen when a society is hit by repeated troubles that cut straight to the core of its identity and values. In such times, when existing institutions fail and the collective foundations of meaning crack, there’s a large demand for some new vision of destiny that will make sense of the troubles and offer a way past them to some brighter future. The economics of popular belief being what they are, that demand very quickly finds an ample supply.

Revitalization movements, like new cars, come with standard features and a range of optional gewgaws that can be added on to suit the tastes of the buyer. The standard features include a thorough critique of the existing order of society, which is meant to show that the troubles have occurred because either the people who have suffered from them, or some other group that’s to blame for them, have misbehaved and are being punished; a vision of a Utopian future that will arrive right after the troubles if the right things are done; and a straightforward plan of action to make the transition from the troubles to the Utopian future. The problem is that the plan of action can’t actually deliver the goods; that’s what defines something as a revitalization movement rather than, say, an ordinary movement seeking social change. Revitalization movements emerge when all the practical options for dealing with a crisis are either unworkable or unthinkable.

The optional features range all over the map from the harmless to the horrific. A focus on purification, for example, is one common optional feature, but purification can mean a great many things. In the Native American revitalization movements of the twentieth century, for example, it usually meant abstaining from alcohol and other toxic products of white culture, and did a great deal to help First Nations communities begin to recover from the ghastly experiences of the previous century. In the European revitalization movements that sprang up in the wake of the Black Death, by contrast, it usually meant getting rid of Jews and other social outsiders who were blamed for spreading the plague, and helped lay the foundation for the witch hunting mania of the following centuries.

It seems uncomfortably likely to me that such movements could be set in motion by the emergence of peak oil as a publicly acknowledged crisis. Tendencies in that direction are already welded firmly in place in popular culture across the industrial world. The Sarah Palin supporters who turned “Drill, baby, drill” into their mantra du jour are engaging in incantation, to be sure, but there’s more to the slogan than a comfortable thoughtstopper; a great many of the people who mouth it believe with all their heart that all we have to do is drill enough wells and we can have all the petroleum we want, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get those wells drilled. That plan of action can’t deliver the goods; they might as well be out there with the cargo cults, building mock airfields on isolated Pacific islands hoping to bring back the DC-3s full of K-rations and cheap trade goods that landed on a hundred archipelagoes during the Second World War. Still, that’s not something they are likely to grasp any time soon; mere reason has essentially no power against a nascent revitalization movement.

The shift from incantation to revitalization movement is under way on the other side of the political spectrum as well, though it hasn’t generally gotten as much traction yet – a reminder that in America, at least, the ideologies of the left these days tend to be favored by the still relatively privileged middle classes, while the working classes that favor ideologies of the right have gotten the short end of the stick for decades. Still, the tendencies are there. Watch the conversations on most reasonably active peak oil forums, and you’re very likely to see people insisting that all of us, or at least a chosen few, can make the transition to a brighter future if only we follow some plan of action they are eager to share. In those conversations, the seeds of the revitalization movements to come are putting out their first tentative shoots.

If those seeds sprout and blossom, keeping a clear mind amid their heady perfume will be a more challenging task than I suspect most of my readers realize. What sets revitalization movements apart from the more incantatory activities of the true believers in progress or apocalypse is that revitalization movements actually buckle down and do something, and tolerably often, at least some of the things they do are worth doing. Hope is an intoxicating drug; hope blended with opportunities for apparently constructive action is an even stronger one; add the emotional lure of belonging, the promise of mutual support and encouragement, and the rush that comes from dropping ordinary concerns for the single-minded pursuit of a shared ideal, and you’ve got an addictive high that’s hard to resist and harder to quit. That’s why revitalization movements so often gather large crowds, and proceed to follow out the consequences of their internal logic to its furthest extreme, no matter how catastrophic the consequences might be.

In the present case, they could be catastrophic indeed. I think most people know in theory about the destination of the road paved with good intentions, but revitalization movements that go awry have a bad habit of putting that theory into practice. Next week, I’ll explore those uncomfortable possibilities in more detail, and in the process, show how the magical thinking that underlies revitalization movements could be put to use in much more constructive ways.

For the moment, though, I want to pass on the counterspell against incantatory thinking that I mentioned at the conclusion of last week’s post. Like the magic spells in fairy tales, it comes with a taboo that limits what you can do with it. The taboo is this: you can use it to guard yourself from incantations, if you think about it and understand it, and you can pass it on to someone else who’s ready to receive and understand it. If you give it to someone who’s not willing to accept it, though, it will cause exactly the flight into incantation and fantasy it’s meant to prevent. Here it is:

There is no brighter future ahead.

Keep it secret; keep it safe. We’ll talk more next week.


BrightSpark said...
Wow. Stunning analysis. I've detected the possibility for a cult of revitalisation to emerge out of transition towns, but I believe that is dependent on the individuals within it. All that focus and energy on achieving consensus around a few ideals may be negative in the long run, and lead to cult-like behaviour. But I think on the whole that transition towns as a way of thinking will probably be more positive than negative - it's just that it's not necessarily set up to function as a organising group because the ambit of activities is too wide. I found that in my experience setting one group up, and now that I have delved further into the philosophy of these things, I'm quite pleased it did fail and people went their separate ways, but continued with their same activities.

The real worry of course is what becomes of the various evangelical cults - they have the organising power and the base of current members, and perhaps throw in few inflammatory readings from say, the Book of Revelation, and there's trouble. Poor old America, where the density of protocults seems to be a bit higher than elsewhere.

6/9/10, 10:56 PM

Janne said...

6/9/10, 11:21 PM

Vic said...
Can you tell if someone is ready to hear it? I've muttered it on occasions when it cried out to be said which can happen often in conversation. I haven't kept it secret and "there is no brighter future ahead" can be a liberatory thought for some.

6/9/10, 11:37 PM

Datamunger said...
Here's a good example of peak oil in the mainstream. A billion$ brokerage firm has just released a report entitled, "Dangerous Exponentials" which lays the whole doomer argument in detail.

Available here with coverage in The Economist

6/9/10, 11:42 PM

Charles Frith said...
There's nothing here I haven't thought about in my own rambling way though I would add that the universe is not only stranger than we suppose. It's stranger than we can suppose.

Though for the time being I'll be giving local collective action more serious consideration.

Good post. Feels good to move on from arm waving.

6/10/10, 12:17 AM

team10tim said...
Hey hey JMG,

Revitalization movements are what worry me most about peak oil. The way I see it a substantial number of people are going to interpret the fall of Rome not as the predictable consequence of an unplanned energy descent or the bursting of a global credit bubble but as the end of the world or some nefarious plot by the U.N. or the liberals or the neocons, etc.

The United States currently consumes a quarter of the world's resources but it only has 5% of the world's population. The readjustment that is coming from peak oil and the popping of the global credit bubble is going to be a huge psychological shock to many. When they find out that: There is no brighter future ahead. it is going to send some of them through the 5 stages of grief. Those aren't the people I'm worried about.

The people I'm worried about are the one's who are going to adamantly reject the message as false in favor of a simplistic ideology like drill baby drill. These are the people who will start revitalization movements. The problem is that there is no place in their world view for peak oil. They have been immunized against reality.

The classic example is Galileo's trial by the Church, but other more destructive cases pervade history. I can see religious groups blaming the country's problems on homosexuals or political groups blaming immigrants in the same way the Inquisition or the Nazis blamed their troubles on witches or Jews. The thought process is highly resistant to facts and impervious to reason.

I don't believe in the cornucopian fantasies anymore than I lose sleep over the Mad Max apocalypse. What worries me is that belligerent simpletons are going to turn this country into a living hell after a deep depression like Yugoslavia, Weimar Republic, USSR, etc. Or as J.R.R. might have put it: The revitalization movements rising power threatening to plunge the world into a Second Darkness.

6/10/10, 12:29 AM

Kevin said...
"There is no brighter future ahead."

This is stoicism with a vengeance! Not that you haven't said it before.

I well remember that in the 1970s it was possible even for smart people to have hope for a better future. When the rightward political turnabout came in 1980, I like many others thought we were merely in for four to eight years of regressive politics. Even when Bush I came into power, we optimistically predicted that eventually "the pendulum would swing" back toward reason and sound policy. Certainly we never dreamt that watershed would prove to have such far-reaching and permanent consequences, so fatal to our aspirations for a better world: the end not only of the hope that America might in time become a just social democracy, but of the basis of our industrial civilization itself. Would that we had done more to prevent this!

I can see the immense appeal of a revitalization movement. Getting busy on a better future - even just a better future than might otherwise happen - can be most inspiring. But clearly the "Hope" of Obama's campaign slogan creates expectations on which neither he nor anyone else will be able to deliver, except as a will 'o the wisp leading into nasty bogs.

I see a distinct possibility of very unpleasant social consequences. In the United States we've always had a tendency toward one form or another of witch-hunting, from Salem to Senator McCarthy. I suspect bad news for whoever happen to be the most unpopular and vulnerable groups in the near to medium future, and perhaps beyond.

"Keep it secret, keep it safe."

And do NOT use it, for any reason! Not even if it makes you feel invisible to the incipient spectral zeitgeist.

6/10/10, 12:43 AM

jean-vivien said...
Thanks a lot JMG.

With our history of faschism, communism, dictatorships and bloody changes, your words are worth listening to here in Europe.

6/10/10, 1:57 AM

Wordek said...
“There is no brighter future ahead.”
“Keep it secret”

Thats gotta be the oddest attempt at keeping a secret I have ever seen.. No way are you getting my PIN number!

PS. Now I wish Id used John Frum for my screen name. Prince Philip perhaps? … kinda sounds like a racehorse though

6/10/10, 3:23 AM

sofistek said...
Although I think you got that incantation right, I personally believe that there is a chance that it's wrong. Wouldn't a way of life more attuned to the rest of nature be brighter? If so, isn't there just a chance that such a future might be waiting somewhere down the line, for some of us? Certainly, I'm starting to extract myself from the primary economy, as per previous articles from you, and feel a lot happier doing so, so I can imagine a brighter future right now (though I know it's going to get very tough for some while).

As for the apocalyptic scenario, I'm not so sure it can be easily dismissed. I don't think history can be a good guide for a society that is so far removed from those of the past, with the power of the mantra of technological progress, the entrenched Mother Culture (as Daniel Quinn might put it) and feelings of entitlement. Who's to say how even a small fraction of people might react to their comfortable world collapsing and their aspirations being dashed? With so many people in the world's various societies, even a tiny fraction can have a big influence. I'm not arguing that either extreme scenario is likely, only that one is impossible and the other is possible.


6/10/10, 3:53 AM

joanhello said...
Thank you, Mister Archdruid. That was wonderful.

I can see all too well how a revitalization movement of the left would play out. One of the deep dark secrets of many who participated in campus activism during the Vietnam War years is this: the shouting crowd and the passionate belief that we were present at the creation of Paul Kantner's "new continent of earth and fire" (i.e., a transformed society based on love and pleasure, throwing off the chains of materialism, hierarchy and Puritanical sex-negativity) gave a better high than any drug out there. Given a chance to experience that again, especially when the other choice is a de-glamorized life of hard slogging physical work at an age when physical work is getting more difficult, large numbers of us can be expected to run toward it, even if we know on some level that we'll be making Neil Young's choice: to burn out rather than fade away.

6/10/10, 4:04 AM

andrewbwatt said...
That's a pretty mighty counterspell for shutting down the progressivists, who insist on a bright and energy-rich future.

But it could be read as apocalyptic by the apocalyptic crowd.

And one does need to be prepped for it by hours and hours, if not months and months, of other reading.

6/10/10, 4:38 AM

Zin said...
Thanks again for another insightful post. There is a degree of comfort to know that not everyone has gone completely insane.

The revitalization movement concept is spot on. And until the full impact of the current crisis takes hold in the middle class we won't see the full ramifications of that.

The best advise to anyone who can see the cliff edge approaching is to turn the attention inwards and do the necessary work to keep oneself calm, centered and healthy. For it is only through clear thought and adaptation that we are going to be able to navigate the choppy waters ahead.

6/10/10, 4:52 AM

DC said...
Wow! Guess I am the first to comment. That is a first indeed.

I am wondering if Western culture will ever go beyond the conflicting dichotomy of our ways. That is the old Manichean understanding of the world between light and dark forces battling it out in the human psyche.

It follows the mantra of polarizing beliefs between an unending progress in to an undetermined future and the destruction of our ways because of our "magical" and "psuedo" interpretation of our planetary existence.

Great reference to Carlos by the way. He was the first to really challenge me and my own Manichean understanding of life on earth when I was younger.

I am eager to read next why our future is not so bright that we do not have to wear shades! LOL

6/10/10, 5:19 AM

John Michael Greer said...
BrightSpark, the personal equation is always the crucial one. It's possible that a revitalization movement, even a highly toxic one, could emerge out of the transition town movement, or that a relatively harmless one could emerge out of the current evangelical scene -- or vice versa, of course.

Janne, thank you.

Vic, it's meant to be a liberating thought.

Datamunger, thanks for the link! This is most interesting.

Charles, I don't claim to be saying much of anything new -- just adding things to the conversation that haven't always been brought into it before.

Tim, keep in mind that there are also people who will accept the message and then insist there's a way out of the crisis. Some of them -- perhaps many of them -- will come from the Left rather than the Right.

Kevin, good! I'm not sure how many other people caught the reference.

Jean-Vivien, I'm actually less worried about Europe than America, precisely because you've got plenty of recent historical evidence that movements of the kind I'm discussing can go down very dark paths. Americans tend to be blind to that possibility. Still, it could affect either or both continents.

Wordek, didn't you know that the whole point of a secret is that it attracts attention? The Masons have been using their secrets as their number one advertising tool for 300 years, you know.

Tony, the phrase is a spell, not a prediction; it's meant to immunize against a particular kind of delusional hope. Of course there will be better days in the future as well as worse ones; right now, though, careful attention to the hard reality of the downside might just stave off a real mess.

Joan, bingo. This is exactly what I'm talking about.

Andrew, the apocalypticists are just as deeply into a bright future as the progressivists; the former just expect mass dieoff first.

Zin, exactly. I'll be discussing that in more detail in posts to come.

DC, one of these days I need to do a post on ternary logic -- a way of thinking that focuses on finding ways out of dualistic traps. I don't know that our culture will ever give up its habit of binary thinking, but individuals certainly can.

6/10/10, 5:43 AM

nancy said...
Oh JMG, I stumbled upon Peak Oil back in 2004 and have been through all the stages and out the other side, with the exception of your always inspiring writings via a quick glance at Energy Bulletin. Hence a couple of weeks ago I discovered the Dark Mountain Project which I was sorry to have to miss, and now I discover that is simply haute culture whatever that may be, (but I suspect it is something I should have scorned), Then this week I discovered FourYears.Go. ( and the Steady State economy boys and I found myself infused with hope and inspiration. Those hopes are duly dashed now but I am muttering my incantation. "There is no brighter future ahead" Until next week.

6/10/10, 6:05 AM

pfh said...
Still, though it’s valid to say "there is no brighter future", it needs to be a first step towhad helping people understand the real problem.

For hundreds of years every barrier people removed to having a “brighter future” (eg. ever grander energy use displays) resulted in making the next barrier easier to remove. Our environment really did work that way, for a long time.

Now that reversed, of course, and for every barrier we run into an ever more daunting set of new barriers appears. *Hey, it's only natural*, is what we should be saying too, over and over, as well as "Hey, there's no brighter future".

In fact nature has other ways of making “brighter futures” than just burning more and more energy to consume by leaps and bounds. We all talk about those too. Our society's confusion is in having inherited social, political and economic models of how to live on earth that are unresponsive to change, and have come to directly conflict with living on earth.

I have a nice paper on this basic dilemma for the scientific method. Or way of conceptual thinking and modeling for environmental systems doesn't tell us when their environments will change, and how to anticipate the need to change models in a timely way...! It'll be published in Cosmos and History (the philosophy of science journal) this month. My web copy is:

6/10/10, 6:09 AM

Fleecenik Farm said...
I have to agree with Bright Spark to a degree with regards to the transition town movement. Insofar as I have observed that those members of our local transition town are well meaning folks from a certain demographic in a region that is deeply entrenched in the old paradigm. However, some of what they are trying to accomplish will be long lasting even if their organization is not. They are focusing on winterizing homes, offering support to local farmers, questioning rural transportation systems and at the very least introducing peak oil into the local culture.

6/10/10, 6:26 AM

Twilight said...
"There is no brighter future ahead."

I think implied in this is the ending "for us". Maybe at some future time, for some distant generation that we can never know, there will be a chance for a life that is more in tune with the environment and more fulfilling than what we achieved with fossil fuel and industry.

How then to cope when one has children and naturally want them to have a good life? I believe that even in a time of chaos, there can still be times of beauty, joy, love, and happiness, and with luck times of relative calm. We need to adjust our expectations for what a good life is, and understand that even without the gross material comfort we've assumed is normal that life can still be worth living. They'll just have to make their own way, with as much help as we can give.

But the point is that it is not about us - we cannot know or control how or if it will work out, we can only do our best to prepare - your previous posts on saving knowledge are an example.

To work hard for a distant goal with no short term feedback will be very difficult for a people immersed in instant gratification. It will be very, very hard for such a world view to compete with the visions of a bright future that will be sold with all of the marketing tools we've invented. Has that been done before, and if so how?

6/10/10, 6:51 AM

Jim Brewster said...
Great post again!

I wonder if any of the possible revitalization scenarios you allude to include stupid rich guy schemes like geoengineering? After all, E. F. Schumacher said, "The greatest danger invariably arises from the ruthless application, on a vast scale, of partial knowledge [...]."

One of the consolations of peak oil is that so many massive projects, many already under way, literally won't have the steam to continue, though they could do a lot of damage before they are grounded.

On a completely different topic, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on RepRap, a sort of cottage manufacturing concept that mixes technology with decentralism.


6/10/10, 7:03 AM

pgrass101 said...
My biggest fear is that the United States will try to use its military might to seize oil supplies in Venezuela, or other Central/South American countries much like the failed attempt to seize and install a puppet government in Iraq. I can see this happening when so many Americans refuse to believe or adjust to a lower energy poorer future and the politicians follow their (our) lead to an “easy” short term solution rather than facing reality.
Jimmy Carter tried to have Americans face reality about our energy consumption, and took real steps to reduce our energy consumption and wean us off of cheap petroleum, and look what happened to him. I fear that the American public (especially here in the ultra conservative deep-south) will not readily accept that the version of the “American Dream” that has been sold to them since the 1960’s is now unattainable. I fear that the population will seek to lash out at someone and since the South has a history of violence and falling under the sway of demagogues that we will see this again.
I do not fear a Mad Max collapse, but I do fear the reaction of the local population when their way of life that they are accustomed to becomes unattainable. I can think of no other region that so embraced the car culture more the deep south with an exception of the southwest and the loss of cheap personal transportation is going to be painful in these areas.
I do have hope that the US, is to broke to sustain or even embark on a military campaign of the scale necessary to secure a foreign powers mineral wealth. But we only have to look to 1930-40’s Japan to see a nation that viewed short term gains from military action to secure resources as being beneficial, to warn us of a possible future that the US could embark on if that is the direction that our populace decides to take.

6/10/10, 7:38 AM

Loveandlight said...
As you probably recall, I tended to orthodox primitivism for a while. I don't anymore for a number of reasons, but if I were to boil those reasons down into a soundbite, it would be that OP is a Comprehensive Ideology, and the way that things really happen tend to leave ideologues eating history's (or her-story's, if you like) dust.

That said, the OP narrative informs my critique of what is happening more than any other single distinct narrative, and I think they are likely right about nearly as many things as they are likely wrong. And I think the ones that are learning real primtive survival skills (as opposed to sitting around on the Internet being bitter and full of hate) are indeed doing something valuable and useful that hopefully they will be able to teach to other receptive individuals in the uncertain future.

I can relate to what you're saying about incantations. I did notice that when the peak-oil message began to gain traction in many remote corners of the Internet in 2004, you could take it for granted that the Denial Incantations would come pouring forth in response in a fast and furious manner. Three years later in 2007, the intensity of such reactive incantations slowed to a substantial trickle. By early 2009, only the very ignorant (still a lot of people, unfortunately) and the biggest "Kool-Aid drinkers" took up such incantations with the same old zeal and enthusiasm. By early 2011 or 2012, I expect only the most delusional among the very ignorant will still be doing so. YMMV.

6/10/10, 7:44 AM

John said...
“There is no brighter future ahead.”

The hell there isn't!

I consider myself fairly realistic about the coming post peak oil era, and yet I'm optimistic. Not optimistic that we'll 'solve' this problem, but optimistic that we will adapt in such a way as to make life far more interesting and satisfying. Some examples;

I'm approaching retirement age but I will not be buying a condo in Arizona and sitting on a porch. I'll be tilling my garden and splitting firewood here in New Hampshire. I like that - it keeps me healthy and active.

For vacations (I just took one) I'll be staying home, working on hobbies, spending time with family, and for relaxation, walking in one of the most beautiful forests in the world (in my opinion anyway) and meditating on the beauty I find there. This is far more relaxing and spiritually uplifting than frantically running through some overpriced tourist trap buying every geegaw in sight.

I'll be using a lot less energy, but I will be proud and happy every time I find a way to do something with less energy or to generate my own energy from local resources. I'll be buying fewer consumer goods but making (or repairing) more of my own stuff, which I find more satisfying anyway.

I will revel in the cleaner air that will result from the burning of less fossil fuels, the better food that I grow myself or buy locally, and the closer relationships I forge with neighbors as we gather to solve common problems.

Yes, there will be hard times and challenges as there always are, but also great opportunities for happiness and satisfaction if we are wise enough to see them and work to attain them.

All that's required is a mental shift away from the myths of progress or apocalypse and toward the idea of accepting the world as it is (not as we would like it to be) and working with that.

Would you consider that magic? I do.

6/10/10, 7:51 AM

tristan said...
"Ph'nglui Mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."

Just trying to get a jump on my own revitalization movement.


6/10/10, 7:54 AM

theteemingbrain said...
This is one of the best blog posts I've read this year. Like everybody else here, I've been watching the mainstreaming of peak oil awareness over the past 12 months with great fascination, and I appreciate your insightful reading of it likely implications, John.

6/10/10, 8:02 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Things might get kinda interesting around here, considering we have in one small rural county a permaculture training center, a transition town, and a very large number of tea party devotees...

A similar incantation I sometimes remind people of when planning their financial futures: "You aren't getting any inheritance."

6/10/10, 8:02 AM

Ariel55 said...
Dear John, They shoot messengers, don't they? O.K., I have come this far following the cheery Archdruid. Now I shall try the counter-incantation. I suppose that you mean "me" and that the Heisner principle won't be able to be used as an individual escape hope. It is what it is. Back to the courage of the WW2 movies. Thanks, I needed that. Best regards!

6/10/10, 8:26 AM

Jen said...
Thank you, looking forward to the next post and hope it comes out before TEDx Oilspill.

6/10/10, 8:55 AM

Joel said...
Cory Doctorow's recent novel Makers was an interesting exploration of how the recently prominent high-tech DIY crowd and "post-scarcity economics" might produce a revitalization movement. The author seems to believe fairly strongly in both of those, and doesn't portray the consequences as too very bad, which is an interesting choice.

Unfortunately the book shows very little sympathy for those not committed to some sort of brighter future, even though it seems fairly realistic about the chances for such a future. The villain calls the movement a "scam" to undermine the reader's sympathy for him, but in the narrative it's clear that the movement could never have achieved its goals; I wonder how Mr. Doctorow's opinion of the economic situation changed as he was writing it.

At any rate, it's well worth the cost of downloading.

6/10/10, 9:49 AM

Glenn said...
--"There is no brighter future ahead."
John Greer

"All that glisters is not gold."
William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

"All that is gold does not glitter."
John Tolkein, Lord of the Rings

Hmm, I see a trend here. Not that the meanings are identical. But they are related, and I think, all true.

Marrowstone Island

6/10/10, 9:53 AM

Andy Brown said...
I think the powers that be would like to manage the depletion of oil, much like they managed the destruction of fisheries. There were no revitalization movements among most fishing communities because too many of the people who fished were either coopted as employees or else convinced that it was scientists and governments that were destroying the practice of fishing. (Enlisting regular fishermen and fishing communities in the fight against regulation!)

Already you can hear Congress blaming the EPA or climate change worriers for our oil and coal problems. Clearly there is going to be a huge effort to harness people's fury and fear into ways that help to cover and continue the extraction project until every community is run into the ground.

What I wonder whether they can keep a handle on it, or whether the kind of revitalization movements you talk about (which are by nature intractable) will take off. Or whether we can create something more constructive than either.

6/10/10, 9:57 AM

Journey School said...
"There is no brighter future"

Indeed, there is just "the future". A future with all its glories and miracles, and crimes and pain. Just like the present and the past. Our determination to see things in black vs. white and to fiercely choose sides between the two seems the biggest obstacle ever.

6/10/10, 10:00 AM

nutty professor said...
I waited all week for your troubling and delightful blog, and when I started reading I thought that you were about to inform us that you were signing off, for some reason! So tell us regular readers, what do you think will change with the Archdruid Report now that "Peak Oil" is going mainstream?

6/10/10, 10:08 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Well yes, exactly, thanks.

Love your incantation which to me, states the human predicament now and at all times, forever and ever, amen.

Your post reminded me of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. (Oh yeah, the French Revolution was supposed to fix everything, wasn't it?)

Most people are familiar with the beginning, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." but after reading your post, I remembered that it went on. I checked, and here is the more complete quote:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Every period just is, humans are flawed, the world is imperfect. Hopefully, individuals and groups move past despair and, if aware, work to help, not harm, given the circumstances.

Am reading Small is Beautiful.

6/10/10, 10:21 AM

bryant said...
It is interesting to me that your counter-spell is almost word for word what I tell my teen-aged children.

It seems cruel sometimes to dampen their hopes, but they are thinking about their future in a different way and making choices quite different from their peers.

They have had to put away their childish toys earlier than I did... sometimes I wonder if I am doing them any favors.

6/10/10, 10:29 AM

Luciddreams said...
It's synchronistic to me that you chose to speak about revitalization movements at this time. I wonder what you think of Michael C. Rupperts launch two days ago. Apparently he launched it early which makes me wonder about the sudden urgency for him to make that move.

I just read "Confronting Collapse," and I found it to be stunning to say the least. I also just read "The Long Descent," and have a copy of "The Ecotechnic Future" that I will begin reading today. I find your voice to be the most well rounded, logical, and realistic within the PO movement. I think you mostly stay on the middle road between the two mythic polarities. It is my spiritual belief (influenced mainly by Buddhist belief) that the middle road is always the best and most true.

My problem right now is that Ruppert seems to think things are more urgent than you. I have a hard time refuting what he thinks because of his track record and credentials. He seems to be someone who should be taken seriously. I wonder if maybe you could say a word or two about what he is doing? I would greatly appreciate you knowledge and advice. Thanks for being a sensical presence in the PO movement.

6/10/10, 10:31 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
About evangelical movements --

I my experience (and I live somewhere that there are about 50 times more churches than grocery stores), politically-minded evangelism is primarily a phenomenon of the comfortable suburban middle class. These are the same people who (demographically) make up the Tea Party They rest in the pleasant summit of the energy bubble, their material worries are whether they can still afford the boat AND the jet skis AND the gold wing, thought they may rant about hardship and rail against the government impoverishing them, they have no clue at all what real impoverishment might feel like. When their beloved handed-down-by-Jesus sacred "free market capitalism" actually begins to fail them and really hurt them, their tune will change. There may or may not be atheists in foxholes, but there are no libertarians in homeless shelters (though there are quite a few of them on food stamps; go figure). I expect those movements will gradually evaporate as people REALLY have to worry day-to-day about food, clothing, and shelter. They'll be too busy to spend their time protesting gay marriage. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect evangelism to disappear as a religious movement, but I think its days as a major plitical force are likely numbered.

6/10/10, 11:52 AM

sgage said...

you wrote:

"I'll be tilling my garden and splitting firewood here in New Hampshire. I like that - it keeps me healthy and active."

That was exactly my plan, right down to being healthy and active for many more years (I turn 55 this month). I have 15 acres in New Hampshire. I have a nice well-established organic garden and a few fruit trees, blueberries, raspberries. Laying hens and sheep. I used to cut my own firewood in my woodlot, skid it out with my wonderful horse, work it up, etc. And on and on - the whole package.

And then, in the Fall of 2008, right out of the blue with no foreshadowing whatsoever, I had a medical catastrophe (about which nothing can be done). On the very same day I was diagnosed , my beloved horse coliced, torsioned, and died. WTF? I was in shock for quite some time. Not so much feeling sorry for myself as just completely stunned, baffled and confused.

In one stroke, on one day, my plans were finished. I guess what I'd like to say here is "have a Plan B". I never thought I would be blindsided and laid low the way I was. We take so much for granted.

If you want to hear the Gods laugh, tell them your plans. :-)

6/10/10, 11:55 AM

MisterMoose said...
There is no brighter future ahead? If that is, in fact, true, then why not just grab whatever you want and simply kill anyone who might compete with you for limited resources? If that is our inevitable future, don't doubt for a second that lots of otherwise civilized people won't think such thoughts.

You can still have a brighter future if you simply enslave others and force them to give you the fruits of their labors. There may not be a brighter future for most of us, but those who are sufficiently ruthless and power-hungry will do just fine, thank you very much (That's why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, after all. They didn't just want access to the oil under Java and Sumatra; they needed it for national survival, and they had to eliminate the Pacific Fleet to ensure their supply lines).

But on a more philosophical level, if there really is no brighter future, then why should any of us expend any effort to improve ourselves, learn new things, try to start a business, or do any of the other things that people do in the expectation of having a brighter future?

If there really is no brighter future, then why not just live for today, have as much fun as you possibly can, and then push the nuclear button to put everyone out of their misery once and for all?

If there really is no brighter future ahead, then what is the point of having children, let alone grandchildren? Seriously, what is the point?

You damn well better keep this a secret! Once enough people figure it out, the resulting social upheaval will make even the most extreme doomer porn look like a sunday school picnic.

6/10/10, 12:01 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Here I go again with the rapid fire comments.

About Transition Towns and cultish revitalization...

While looking online to try to figure out WTF "Financial Permaculture" is, since it seems to be a cornerstone of the local Transition Town movement, I came across a disturbing thing.

In one of the figures posted as a product of one of their breakout groups from one of the plethora of meetings they have, I saw something mentioning "resistance from local community" as an obstacle. By "local community" of course they mean the people who built the town, whose names are on the creeks, hills, and street signs, and whose great-great-grandaddy and -gramma are buried here. One of the options for dealing with "resistance from the local community" appeared to be a suggestion to conceal and misdirect what the true motives of the TT/FP/L-M-N-O-P movement are.

Is this the way to a brighter future?

Oh, hey, how about, maybe, becoming A PART of the local community, building relationships with the folks already here who all seem to have the same last name, and maybe, just maybe, finding that once they know you and respect your personal integrity they might find your ideas at least tolerable and possibly even intriguing?

I may be (am probably) overreacting, but this little incident really creeped me out.

6/10/10, 12:23 PM

tom rainboro said...
An interesting post. Living here in Devon, England I could add some in-context comments on the subject of cults but I wouldn't want them published here!
Interesting to see that existence of 'Dark Mountain' has been noticed in the U.S. - but I didn't quite follow the reference to 'haute culture' - do you mean 'poetry'. (I ought to thank DM contributors for pointing me in the direction of John Clare whose poem 'Badger' touched me to tears (true art!).
Surely DM is the thing of a couple of London journalists and we in Devon don't take much notice of them - so why should you?
Even so I think the conclusion, following the DM gathering was that existing art forms - like our own folk music (references to Chris Wood,, not likely to be co-opted by revitalisation) had a lot to give and that it wasn't necessary to 'start a new movement'.

6/10/10, 12:30 PM

jcbradford said...
About three years ago, in the context of discussions about what was going on with WELL ( some of us had some discussions about whether WELL was essentially a kind of
revitalization movement, and at the time it was hitched to the "relocalization network" of Post Carbon Institute. This has
essentially morphed into Transition Network.

I basically agreed that WELL's
message and techniques matched a lot of those used in past
revitalization movements. And I was uncomfortable with some of the
New Age-ism creeping into the organization (e.g., holding hands in a circle and singing "We are the ones we've been waiting for" while a rancher from the community squirms beneath his big hat).

It is difficult to walk the line between being inspirational and
hopeful, which people seemed to demand, and giving an ecumenical
message based on facts and reason that said your way of life/our way
of life, is unsustainable and will come to an end.

Furthermore, people began creating an ingroup that "got it" to feel safe in the context of a wider society that shunned and mocked them. This was tricky since I wanted people to keep inclusion in mind, and yet the ingroup sensation was somewhat important for maintaining high spirits.

I look forward to the next essay.

6/10/10, 12:39 PM

Nebris said...
On a related note:

It was actually just below this post on my blog list.

6/10/10, 1:03 PM

joanhello said...
One more quibble: a right-leaning working class combined with a left-leaning middle class is a configuration that varies from region to region and is completely reversed in some areas of the country, particularly where the well-off are white and the working class is not. I'm talking here about attitudes regarding the structure of society, the trustworthiness of the market economy and suchlike matters. On sexual issues the working class is liable to be conservative because, where the mainstream economy doesn't provide material security, people depend on the traditional extended family for their social safety net. Nevertheless, about 80% of Hispanics and African Americans generally vote with the queers and the abortion providers, whom they abhor, because they know which side their bread is buttered on.

6/10/10, 1:56 PM

Danby said...
Re: revitalization movements. The Tea Party and Evangelicals are neither one suited for a revitalization movement. The Tea Party is not a single thing. It is mostly a coalition of libertarians, conservatives and small-business people that have banded together, despite their widely disparate views on almost everything else, to try to regain some sanity in government spending. They see the current course, started by the TARP bailouts, as a certain path to financial destruction for the country.

Evangelicals, even though they do, by and large, have a common set of beliefs, don't even come close to having a common agenda. While any revitalization movement that comes from the conservative Right will have an Evangelical or at least Christian shibboleth or three, Evangelicalism (or Fundamentalism or Catholicism, or Mormonism) will not be at the core of it.

The likeliest spot such a movement could arise on the right is the pro-war, anti-Islamists. Indeed, they are halfway there, and seem to have a unique ability to get their agenda implemented in practice.

As far as movements from the Left, I see three likely bases. The 1st is the Global warming movement. It has everything in place, a convenient scapegoat(SUV owners and the American Middle Class), a comprehensive solution (Cap and Trade) and a proven inability to engage in rational discussion or question their own premises.

The 2nd is the anti-Israel (excuse me, pro-Palestinian) Left. The 3rd is the one-world government supporters. While they have the needed pieces, I don't see them getting sufficient traction to be able to implement their preferred policies, at least in the US. I'm sure if you look around you will see many more.

6/10/10, 2:50 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Nancy, there's a place out past hope and despair; head for it.

Phil, exactly! We learned to expect a brighter future from the experiences of an age of increasing energy supplies; now that we are entering an age of contracting energy supplies, we need to reshape our expectations to fit. Thanks for the link, also.

Fleecenik, one of the reasons I'm loath to criticize the TT movement too harshly is precisely that some of what they're doing is very helpful.

Twilight, you get today's gold star. Exactly; most futures, even very harsh ones, will doubtless contain bright moments; and what we can do, once we've given up the fantasy of a better world ahead, is to try to make sure those who come after us have a better shot at happiness than they might otherwise have.

Jim, geoengineering gives me nightmares. Imagine BP getting the contract to do some vast project... As for Reprap, I'd be much happier to see people learning to make things with their own hands!

Pgrass, that's one possibility, though our invading Latin America would probably have the same effect as Russia's invasion of Afghanistan -- basically laying out the welcome mat for political and economic collapse. It's an interesting question (in the sense of the Chinese curse) whether the US gets bogged down in a foreign war or a domestic insurgency first.

Loveandlight, for what it's worth, I have no objection to the people who are out there learning survival skills and going to the annual Rabbit Stick meet. It's the ones who use neoprimitivism as an incantation that tend to get on my nerves. You're right that the rate of incantatory thinking in the peak oil blogosphere has been in decline for a while; we'll see what happens as the rest of the world catches on.

John, thank you for proving my point. Heh heh heh...

Tristan, good. No doubt robed cultists are gathering in Louisiana right now, chanting "Tony Hayward Neblod Zin."

Bill, things may be very interesting indeed. A collision between two or more competing revitalization movements can get colorful, in any number of senses.

Brain, thank you.

6/10/10, 3:14 PM

spottedwolf said...
Heh heh heh heh heh heh .....little bro...I couldn't have said this better !!

I want you to know John...I contained my purpose in blogworld to the idea of self and left the "collective greater" of these considerations to such as yourself, for I'm a far better 'teacher' of human-ness than sociological dynamics.

But I must share words I've used in parallel...."the road to hell is paved with good intentions"....

This old 'classic' has long seemed to matter who I help here and now, somewhere else, my helpful intention will be hurting someone....some way...somehow.

Our mother said this many times when I was a kid,"be careful of what you do for others...for they may long resent you for it."

6/10/10, 3:39 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ariel, the courage of those old World War II movies is a great place to start!

Jen, it'll be out on the morning of the 17th.

Joel, is it available in print form? I don't do e-books, they give me a headache.

Glenn, good! You should add the constant (and constantly ignored) adage of the alchemists: "Our gold is not the common gold."

Andy, I think they're already losing their grip, largely because of listening to too many economists. The question is what will rise to fill the vacuum.

Journey, good. Very good.

Professor, I use the number of comments to this blog as a gauge of its position relative to the mainstream. As the number of comments rises, I move further out. If peak oil becomes mainstream, expect to see quite a bit of stuff I haven't thought I could get away with discussing here.

Adrian, I don't usually give out two gold stars in one day, but you just earned one. Exactly; human beings are, well, human, and thus unable either to build or to inhabit either a perfectly good or a perfectly evil society.

Bryant, good. Very good. They need to know; they're coming of age in a very troubled and bitter time.

Lucid, Ruppert has been calling for imminent catastrophe since before I started The Archdruid Report. He gets a lot of things right, but I think he's internalized the myth of apocalypse too much to see just how ragged and prolonged the downslope is going to be.

Bill, that's my take as well. It's worth remembering that the megachurches are entertainment centers; they attract people who want to be entertained, not people who want an authentic connection to the divine, and people who want to be entertained are not exactly prone to becoming zealots.

Sgage, ouch. I hope your plan B is coming together well.

Moose, this sounds uncomfortably like the attitude of the spoiled child who responds with a screeching tantrum when he doesn't get the ice cream cone he wants. You can't have the future you want; no matter what you do, at this point, your future is going to involve fewer choices, fewer comforts, fewer privileges, and a lot more deprivation and hard work than almost anyone in the industrial world is willing to imagine. If we buckle down and get to work, we might be able to preserve some things of great value that might otherwise be lost forever, and we might be able to make the world somewhat less harsh for our descendants. That's the best hope I can offer. If it's not enough for you, then that's the way it goes.

Bill, when you find out what "financial permaculture" is, please drop me a line offlist with the details. The olfactory presence of a common rodent is making itself evident...

Tom, I've got an essay in the first Dark Mountain anthology, so I do pay a bit of attention to them!

JC, oog. The point where everybody starts holding hands in a circle and singing thoughtstoppers is the point where I'm out of there. Still, your point is a good one; a lot of the raw material of future revitalization movements is already all over the place.

Nebris, yes, I saw that. An Iran-style theocracy in post-Saudi Arabia would certainly liven things up!

Joan, oh, granted -- the political crazy quilt in the US is much more complex than the very rough generalization I sketched out.

Danby, you know, I've never actually met anybody who favors a one world government; they mostly seem to exist these days as an imaginary replacement for Communism on the part of the old-fashioned right. As for revitalization movements, I don't think the Tea Party is there yet; there would have to be quite a bit of drift and the rise of a prophet-figure to make that happen -- though it might well do so. As for the others, well, watch the liberal middle class, where the New Age standing in circles and singing stuff JC mentioned above is standard practice. All that's needed there is an ideology, and it wouldn't have to make any more sense than "Drill, baby, drill."

6/10/10, 3:49 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
I live in a small, conservative place. A small town in Western Washington. My incantation, that I drop into the local mix from time to time is:

"Civilizations end. Empires fall."

It's a real show-stopper. PS. Just re-read Brin's "The Postman." Great doomer porn.

6/10/10, 4:33 PM

Meg said...
Those who have a why can endure any how. - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

It feels strange to begin a comment about human happiness with a quote from Nietzsche.

This is what I take away from it: in order to thrive, humans require a goal to pursue. We need to feel we are moving towards something desirable, even if we never quite get there, or get there and are disappointed (in which case we simply find a new goal). We find hope, motivation, and inherent satisfaction in the act of pursuit.

The modern goal of achieving social status through accumulating wealth and goods has passed it's sell-by date. Soon those who pursue it will need a new goal to replace it, and that need is as significant a part of their predicament as the need for food or shelter.

Revitalization movements are appealing because they do precisely that - give you a new horizon to chase. Any competition they face will have to do the same - offer people a future worth working towards, however difficult. Like the Nietzsche quote says, people can tolerate hardship more easily when they believe it is towards a worthy end.

I understand the sentiments behind 'there is no brighter future.' But it sounds as though it is saying that there is no future worth pursuing, which I know is not what you think nor what you mean it to convey.

I also think it overlooks how people process disappointment. The man who, after suffering a career disaster, talks about spending more time with his kids is a modern cliche. The person who, after being maimed by accident or illness, talks about how they have grown as a person is another. Their future is not brighter, so they redefine 'bright' to suit their purposes.

I suspect that the 'spell' which succesfully counters the revitalization movements will tap this tendency - will get people to look at a realistically poor and difficult vision of the future, and somehow see in it something more worthy of pursuit than the pipe-dream offered by the next guy.

6/10/10, 5:49 PM

madtom said...
On "the road to hell . ." I've always felt that an alternative meaning needs to be superimposed on the conventional one, so that the adage becomes like an optical illusion seen both ways at once.

The meaning I think is under-appreciated is that the road is paved that way because of all the good intentions that have been dropped there.

6/10/10, 8:04 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Best as I can decipher, Financial Permaculture is a lot of thick obfuscating jargon that pretty much just means "developing a sustainable local economy." I believe by including the word "financial" that they are specifically committing to ensuring the continuation of money and finance indefinitely in the post-peak-oil world; I guess they want to maintain something more sophisticated, erudite, and classy than that icky old stuff like "barter" and "trade for work." Surely we have progressed beyond those old worn out concepts! Their principles and jargon are thoroughly rooted in late 20th century American market capitalism.

They conducted an experiment in a "local currency," or so I learned from their web site. To my wife and me it just looked like a $10 off coupon that was supposed to be valid at any member of the local chamber of commerce; but no business we presented it to would take it. We had no idea that we were part of a cutting edge experiment in Financial Permaculture that was being monitored by a worldwide audience.

I realize I am being way too sarcastic here; these are for the most part very well-intentioned people and many of them have even had us in their homes as guests. But they are so wrapped up in a world view and jargonistic style that to me is simply Corporate America with a green twist. As some around here have been quoted as saying, "Green is Gold." I suppose I also should not scoff at their workshops, ranging in price from $500 to $2200, where you can "learn how to create financially and ecologically sound businesses that regenerate the full living community in [your] life-place." After all our local economy can use the cash influx. But still, look at that description and its emphasis on "finance" and "business." Is this a new way of viewing society, economy, and productivity? Not to my ears.

Perhaps you attract what you put out: The flagship tenant in the new "Ecoindustrial Green Business Park" proved to be a ponzi scheme and evaporated in to thin air without ever hiring a single employee. A nice fellow who moved here from New York to work there is now pushing a hot dog cart around the Tractor Supply parking lot -- really good hot dogs, I might add! And the Ecoindustrial Park is still vacant; it's even more empty than the other regular ordinary Industrial Park that was built a decade or two ago on the south side of town.

I repeat -- does any of this really sound like a new way of doing anything? To me it sounds more like attempts to preserve all the things we are far too familiar with -- money, careers, investments, employer-employee relations, corporate organization, etc.

Just one small example of what has happened in one poor rural Tennessee county since peak oil became mainstream here.

6/10/10, 9:03 PM

wylde otse said...

Some time ago I was at a fall fair type music craft festival. One corner of the fairground was painstakingly set up like a thatched African village. I was amazed how I reacted at the (fake) kids et al and people peacefully squatting about.
Inexplicably I felt at peace - a deep satisfying peace. The illusion was good.

I realized that a lot of material wealth is not a barometer of well-being and happiness, at least not of itself.

The rat-race may in fact have cheated/tricked many for unrequited manufactured desires.

I get a sense of hope despite all the warnings of the impending ' bust cycle ' in your works. I have a funny feeling most of will not only be fine, but enjoy life in a fuller more immediate way.

Our secret.

6/10/10, 9:46 PM

MisterMoose said...

You wrote, "This sounds uncomfortably like the attitude of the spoiled child who responds with a screeching tantrum when he doesn't get the ice cream cone he wants."

Actually, it sounds like how a lot of people might react once they realize there is no hope of a brighter future for them or their posterity. Without hope, as almost any philosopher could tell you, the rules of the game change significantly. Some people will give up in despair, or even commit suicide, but many (maybe even most) will react with some kind of violence, either taking limited resources from others or trying to protect their property from others.

This sort of behavior has been going on since the beginning of recorded history, and it appears to be part of the nature of human nature.

You wrote, "You can't have the future you want; no matter what you do, at this point, your future is going to involve fewer choices, fewer comforts, fewer privileges, and a lot more deprivation and hard work than almost anyone in the industrial world is willing to imagine."

I understand perfectly. In fact, I'm already there (having gone through unemployment, bankruptcy, and losing a nice house) and I don't like it one bit! I would do just about anything to improve my prospects and the future for my kids, even if smart people like you keep assuring me that all my efforts will be futile. This is also part of the nature of human nature.

What do people do when they face the realistic prospect of no brighter future? We have several examples from history. Millions of poor, hungry people left Ireland for an uncertain future in America rather than face the certainty of starving to death during the potato famine. Millions of refugees literally risked their lives in leaky boats fleeing from the certainty of no brighter future in places like Cuba, Viet,Nam and Haiti.

So, what would they have done if the land of opportunity did not exist for them to flee to so they could have a shot at a brighter future? If they had weapons they would use them, rather than let their children starve or be slaves of the State (this is why so many totalitarian governments like to confiscate the guns, you know).

With very few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of people will refuse to voluntarily choose poverty and servitude (at least, this is what the historical record tells us; what would lead us to believe that future history would be any different?).

People may have to accept such things if absolutely forced to, just as many people have done throughout history, but if you think very many people are going to go quietly into that non-bright future, you are just as unrealistic as the techno-cornucopians like Ray Kurzweil.

You wrote, "If we buckle down and get to work, we might be able to preserve some things of great value that might otherwise be lost forever, and we might be able to make the world somewhat less harsh for our descendants. That's the best hope I can offer. If it's not enough for you, then that's the way it goes."

Of course we can preserve things of great value! Among other things, many of us have been trying to collect old books that will provide useful info for living a self-sufficient life after the Google server farms go down. All I was trying to say in my post is that the probability of a peaceful transition to a post-fossil fuel world is very close to zero.

Peak Oil may have already happened, but the end of technical civilization is still a few years off, so we do have time to make a (relatively) successful transition. We just have to learn to resist the demagogues of all stripes who will try to lead us in bad directions. That, and try to overcome our own violent, greedy, fearful human nature...

6/10/10, 10:25 PM

spottedwolf said...
@ Moose.....I'd like to add after crusin' the comments that a "brighter future" is the perpetrator of the calamities that currently exist in all areas of the globe. It is the pursuit of security which creates a wake of calamity just a sure as calamity can lead to understanding. Look how long it has taken for mankind to become aware of universality....just nation to nation. There is no real reason to despair.

To understand the source-meanings of words like god, infinity, and lord can easily point to this fact. Did you know good sir...the oldest meaning of "Lord" as referred to in Genesis and noted in the margins of many bibles is "wind"? No more and no less when one examines and considers the anthropomorphic context of such. Wind brought both calm and calamity to those desert tribes much as it does to modern man.

There has never been a perfect world nor will there ever be one. There are...however....'islands of peace' that exist in all dimensions of quantum mechanics slowly certifies for the scientific mind....the same understanding which is reached by those who undertake the quest to understand existance. These places exist whether one is aware of them or not just as surely as life can be argued as 'extant'.

Believing this earth must rise to some utopic zenith...some nirvanic existance...disallows continuity... which is exampled in the natural order all around us. It is like worshiping a false idol. When you examine words attributed to the Biblical Jehova such as "I am both good and evil" you must consider the science of expansion/contraction theories.....for they exist in parallel meaning. Even the recent experiments with the small particle accelerator in the US is pointing out that there is something unique to existance by the specifics of attraction.

Falling into the state of survival ....exclusively..... completely subjugates consciousness Moose. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed my brother. It merely alters and changes through and of dimensions.

As old friend Bob Dylan once sang, "good and bad I define these terms...quite doubt...somehow...ahh but I was so much older then...I'm younger than that now".

Existance is one form or another and we are all just along for the ride.

6/10/10, 11:20 PM

tom rainboro said...
@Bill Pulliam
This links with your comments, I believe..

6/11/10, 12:23 AM

nancy said...
JMG, Twilight (your first gold star of the week) asked a question." To work hard for a distant goal with no short term feedback will be very difficult for a people immersed in instant gratification. It will be very, very hard for such a world view to compete with the visions of a bright future that will be sold with all of the marketing tools we've invented. Has that been done before, and if so how?"
Can I add to that question, does FourYears.Go. (( represent a brightly marketed revitalisation movement or a place of action to move to?

6/11/10, 12:44 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

You are spot on.

It simply is unrealistic to ask people to stop their addiction to fossil fuels. Renewables will fill the gap but they are no panacea. I look at it simply this way: 1,200kgs of gel lead acid batteries have a stored energy of around 30kW. My (not particularly efficient) backup generator can produce this same amount of energy for about 40 litres (10 gallons) of unleaded fuel. The fuel weighs about 40 - 50kgs.

Think about how much oil is involved in every aspect of the food chain. Everything from tractors, to harvesters to trucks. Long supply lines have brought many otherwise effective armies to their knees over the course of history.

Wake up everyone. There are no electric, hydrogen or fuel cell (as some of my mates argue) vehicles coming to save us all from our own apathy.

Improve the quality of your top soil first and foremost by whatever means and grow your own food. Don't forget the fruit trees!

There is certainly a future for all of us in some form or another. It may just not look like what you may think. Look at the third world for inspiration and you won't be too far from it.

Good luck!

6/11/10, 2:37 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Go Bill Pulliam.

Couldn't agree with you more. Join in as you may find the local communities more resilient and open minded than you think. People in cities are disconnected from both their food chain and their community.

Good luck!

6/11/10, 3:02 AM

Mike said...
Dig it again. I know realize why I like your work. With the doomers' and cornucopians' mythologies as starting points, everything else you write falls into place. And the cultural understandings of knowledge is one of my absolutely favorite topics to ponder on. But it's very difficult to talk about because most of us have a very hard time separating our own cultural understanding of knowledge from reality. A doomer has a hard time seeing doomerism as its own cultural construct and sees his doomerism as inextricable a part of the reality of resources.

6/11/10, 4:48 AM

Wordek said...

“DC, one of these days I need to do a post on ternary logic -- a way of thinking that focuses on finding ways out of dualistic traps. I don't know that our culture will ever give up its habit of binary thinking, but individuals certainly can.”

Maybe they can..... maybe they cant ….. hmmmmmmm.

Perhaps not so much a “giving up”. Theres nothing wrong with only two choices when a quick decision is required. Consideration, imagination and investigation are virtues when theres time to spare, but not when the horde are pouring over the hill hell bent on “gittin yer stuff” . I agree though that its a tearing shame that dualism seems to be considered our intellectual zenith. Question: Do you think the left wing or the right wing will give up the habit first? Heh ;)

Hi Danby

“Evangelicals, even though they do, by and large, have a common set of beliefs, don't even come close to having a common agenda”

Beliefs-shmeliefs. Its how well people look out for each other that determines how coherent a group remains under pressure. I doubt the mollycoddled evangelical leadership with their hi-falutin' sense of superiority over the common folk will be able to hold their positions very long into any uncertain future. The “closely held” beliefs, values and faith in ?whatever stuff? they peddle are nothing more than self indulgent luxuries.

“The 1st is the Global warming movement.”

What!?! Gimme a break. See above. Likewise with the others you mentioned. By the way, you missed mentioning the paid maternity leave with subsidised pre-school faction.

Look: The left and the right are both campfires surrounded by rings of people holding hands. The only thing that makes them any different is the song they're singing. Not one of them would know what to do if the fire went out. And you know what? The people who do understand fire wont go near any of them......... The gormless addlepated twaddle that passes for political discourse these days makes real people want to chunder their guts up.

Hi Bill

“there are no libertarians in homeless shelters”

Heres a recipe for making libertarians. Step 1 - Have baby. Step 2 –Swaddle and breastfeed until age 20. Step 3 …. no step 3 required.

Hi Moose

“then why not just grab whatever you want and simply kill anyone who might compete with you for limited resources”

Bernie Madoff made billions over 20 years, and you know why? He didnt take the food off peoples plates. He didnt steal their children. He asked nicely for their money and he got it. Until: Ever see the frankenstein movies? You have now shown yourself as ugly and viscous. Remember the villagers with the torches and pitchforks? Dont fall asleep my friend. Brutality begets brutality. So good luck to you. Me? I dont know you.

Revitalisation movements

If you think these will emerge directly from any current political or religious or whatever Xxxx-ology-osophy, you have not paid attention to the world around you. They will emerge when the human ability to adapt, survive and then prosper in whatever conditions are current is expressed. The only way that x-ologys-osophys have ever risen to the top is by parasitising on that hard won prosperity. This is how it really works. The king or priest of a bunch of starving ignorant peasants is just another starving ignorant peasant with a big hat waiting for a real king to come and take his throne.

Hi tom

“Surely DM is the thing of a couple of London journalists and we in Devon don't take much notice of them - so why should you?”

Because London is … you know ... LONDON! And hmm?.......Hey!...Got any cheese? ;)

6/11/10, 5:07 AM

das monde said...
I did not live fully aware in the 1970s, but I suppose that peak oil was not a very exotic topic back then. My impression is that many engineers, academics, intellectuals, politicians (whether in America, Europe, USSR or anywhere) were rather aware of the issue, and many of them knew those few books and analyses. I remember casual discussion of the topic in books or journals I read. The common assumption was probably that the issue will be addressed on time, that people are working on it. Oil companies may have had their won opinions and plans - but hey, BP was not that private and shamelessly profit-oriented before Thatcher, just as the other companies.

What changed in these three decades was not so much the people concerned with peak issues, but the deniers. Those few decades ago, even evolution deniers were relatively benign. It was tobacco companies that were advancing the rather juvenile art of denial. And then floodgates of corporate interest were open, and by the 1990s there was already a whole industry of denial - rather diverse, but mutually self-enforcing and focused. We should not forget that even the most stereotypic facets of self-interest take some time to evolve. There is ridiculously much projection of today’s cognitive cliches to rather different intellectual cultures of previous times.

As interesting question is: How much top-to-bottom internal logic is in these big shifts of economic and ecological thinking, as well as in those revitalization movements, Jew, witch or virgin burning? If you know the behavior of masses, wouldn’t anyone have good techniques to move (or not move) them? Would you necessarily tell publicly your knowledge, predictions and plans? A last compulsive consumption orgy makes sense if a short devastating chaos with your own survival to a long and relatively abundant peace on Earth are feasible. I probably asked here already, wouldn’t that be feasible?

But some revitalization type movements would be quite spontaneous, locally organized and locally targeted. I would not be fast to ridicule them. The mantra of good intentions pavements is too convenient to block people from trying their own way of dealing with obvious difficulties. We probably should know more about good intentions.

By the way, here is a picturesque perspective how deep BP was drilling. Quite a technological achievement. Will this be as far and as much as we ever get?

6/11/10, 5:43 AM

mxyzptlk said...
Mistermoose, scuttling the future because it's not brighter only makes sense if your value system prefers nonexistence to diminished existence. I believe you don't yet have an intuitive sense of your value for a harder, less rewarding future because you haven't seriously considered it; but when you actually get there you'll vastly prefer it to nonexistence.

6/11/10, 8:00 AM

straker said...
"I'm approaching retirement age but I will not be buying a condo in Arizona and sitting on a porch. I'll be tilling my garden and splitting firewood here in New Hampshire.
Would you consider that magic? I do."

Maybe it's not magic, but the fact is that you're a boomer who lived through the most profitable (per capita) period in history. So you were given a truly rare opportunity to bank your life savings into real estate and retirement. Most of us will not be so fortunate, no matter how frugal we are.

Statistically speaking, most of the people on this planet are hopelessly doomed. The average american far less doomed (unless you're buried in debt of course), and an elite baby boomer who invested well is most likely to shuffle off this mortal coil before feeling TSHTF.

So really, let's not extrapolate your individual case to imply that everyone is on the same level playing field.

6/11/10, 9:35 AM

KevinC said...
OK JMG, I hope you don't mind me asking you and/or the commentators here to show me how the following steps could not be used to produce a better (if not exactly "brighter") future:

1) Walkable, carfree Traditional Cities built the way all cities were built before the Industrial Revolution: Really Narrow Streets meant for people rather than cars, and buildings a few stories high.

2) Proven ecotechnic design: Passive solar, rooftop solar water heaters and/or gardens, Living Machine water treatment systems, etc..

3) Renewable energy. Though they are still at the prototype stage, I do not know of any physics that would prevent Kitegen kite-powered high-altitude wind generators or Magenn dirigible wind turbines from working.

4)Permaculture/Fukoka-style "no-till" farming areas around the cities and villages, and/or real wilderness producing wild meat.

5) A decent electric train system to tie it all together.

6)Measure "quality of life" by different (and less energy-intensive/more sustainable) standards than the size of our SUV's and televisions and freeway overpasses. Example 1. Example 2.

Why is this sort of thing impossible?

Captcha: Phisesse: The latest brand of pseudo-French shampoo.

6/11/10, 9:38 AM

straker said...
"On a related note:"

Anything sourced from iranian news isn't worth taking seriously.

6/11/10, 10:00 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Lewis, that's powerful magic. As for Brin's book, no argument -- he's one good writer.

Meg, granted, but a brighter future is not the only worthwhile goal that can be imagined just now, and some of the others have the advantage of being possible. More on this next week.

Tom, possibly, but I think that misses the wry point of the original: the nature of your intentions do not determine the effect of your actions.

Bill, most interesting. I have a feeling that the space marked "financial permaculture" bears close watching in the future.

Otse, I wonder whether you'd have had that reaction to the real thing, rather than a staged and sanitized version of it.

Moose, of course people need some sense of purpose in their lives, some focus for their hopes. That does not have to involve a future that is better than the present; for most of human history, in fact, it has not done so, for the simple reason that for most of human history there was no brighter future ahead. My point is that we need to start thinking about other reasons to keep living than the delusion of perpetual progress.

Wolf, good. Here and now, in particular, the attempt to maintain a security defined as possession of an absurd amount of consumer goods is pretty much guaranteed to lead nowhere good.

Tom, thanks for the link!

6/11/10, 11:53 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Nancy, good question. All I know about them is what's on the website, but what's on the website makes them look like either a slickly marketed revitalization movement or a stalking horse for a political movement with ambitions. The world is not going to be saved in four years, that's for sure.

Cherokee, thank you for a breath of sanity. Life can certainly be livable in a future of relative impoverishment and socioeconomic contraction, but making it livable is going to require a lot of very unfamiliar work.

Mike, good. Very good. You get today's gold star. It's exactly the habits of projecting personal and cultural constructs onto the world of our experience, and thinking that those constructs are part of the world rather than a product of our heads, that has to be given up in order to make sense of the world we actually inhabit. There, I've just given away one of the central secrets of magic.

Wordek, very funny! The answer to your question is "neither -- it'll be a third faction entirely."

Das Monde, it's an interesting question how much of the great wave of denial that dominated the last thirty years or so was a deliberate Machiavellian move, and how much of it was a reaction motivated by nonrational factors on all sides, including those who were purveying the denials. I suspect the latter had a huge role.

Mxyzptlk, well put. I wonder how long it will take people to realize that there's something between the brighter future we've all been promised by our culture, and the fantasy of total annihilation that so many people see as the only alternative.

Straker, nicely and crisply put.

Kevin, sure, and if pigs had wings we'd all catch our breakfast bacon with butterfly nets. Neither you nor anyone else has the money, the resources, the time, or the political will to turn those pretty pictures into reality in a world already smack up against the limits to growth. This habit of trotting out visions of a lovely future, when we've long since flushed the opportunity to get there, is one of the least helpful forms of incantation in the peak oil scene just now.

6/11/10, 12:18 PM

PanIdaho said...
KevinC - what you are suggesting would require that we tear down to the ground the accumulated infrastructure of nearly our entire human civilization and rebuild it from the basement up!

I'll tell you what - you get out a calculator and some reference materials and try your best to tally up what it would take in time, materials, energy and funding to do what you suggest to just your nearest city of any size. Then, you figure out what it would take to process all the debris and pollution generated by this rebuilding. Then you figure out who is going to pay for it. I think you will see my point long before you hit the final total button.

It simply isn't doable. As JMG says, you'd make better odds betting on pigs to fly.

6/11/10, 1:18 PM

Joel said...
Absolutely. Tor will release it in paperback in a few months, but the hardcover is ISBN 978-0765312792.

They also have posted it as a serial, in case your headaches take a while to develop:

Makers, serialized

6/11/10, 1:29 PM

tom said...
I don't know if it counts as an incipient revitalisation movement, a counterspell, or an invigorating anachronism, but 'Keep Calm And Carry On' works for me!

6/11/10, 1:44 PM

spottedwolf said...
Moose..if your comment, as you assert, merely points to a transition which won't be peaceful...then I assure you are correct.....because physical life is and has always been of a violent nature. It cannot exist in the dimension we live by any other means of completeness. Even transitions which do not involve graphic violence such as rapine and murder....are still filled by all sorts of pestilence.

So like I for those 'islands of peace'....and teach your children of them while you teach them to survive.

Security....except through an illusive bedfellow.

6/11/10, 3:51 PM

Rick said...
The conservative victories of the 1980s were hardly "regressive". It is the neo-Bolshevik policies of the Democrats which are truly regressive and will push the US into being a truly miserable nation. Statist Republicans are no better, because statism itself is part of the problem. Watch your biases, people. Leftist, so-called "liberal" thinking is nothing new and certainly nothing helpful.

6/11/10, 5:27 PM

Kevin said...
Perhaps not precisely on topic for the week, but it might interest you to know I've received the following invitation from an organization claiming, among other things, that Sacred Geometry can solve our energy problems:

"At an established Sydney Institution, you can witness first hand what will revolutionize the carbon neutral fuel market. We are demonstrating the unique technology that produces hydrogen from water, which is cost effective, economically scaleable, not matched by any competition, uses small amounts of energy and creates no mess.

"It is reliable, durable, cheap to manufacture, and half the price of any other electrolysis process.

"You are welcome to come and see how it works, watch the monitoring process, and witness its durabily and flow rates

"The hydrogen is combined with CO2 to manufacture SOLANOL- our branded Ethanol"

Does this sound like energy snake oil to you? Remembering what I've read about hydrogen, it seems distinctly fishy, if not serpentine.

I also have a sure fire recipe for a brighter future. Remember that closing scene from Life of Brian? Look on the bright side of life!

6/11/10, 6:44 PM

MisterMoose said...

I think you misunderstand where I'm coming from. I am NOT advocating criminal behavior in the face of dwindling resources, and I certainly do not want to shoot anyone so I can take their food, or anything like that.

In a world of limited resources, the average quality of life is going to be inversely proportional to the quantity of life. In that environment, life really will be a zero sum game, and the only way to get a bigger slice of the economic pie will be to take someone else's slice. Or reduce the quantity...

Only as a last resort will most people willingly settle for less. They will exhaust ALL other possibilities first, and only then accept what Mr. Greer has told them is inevitable.

Currently, we can use fossil fuels to improve human productivity, which increases per capita wealth, which means that everybody can get a bigger piece of the pie without having to take it from someone else.

What JMG is saying is that the world of the ever-increasing pie is coming to an end. I agree that this is about as inevitable as it gets (unless someone develops hydrogen fusion or some other improbable technology).

All I'm trying to say is that, human nature being what it is, there will be lots of people who WILL engage in violent behavior when they realize that what we have now is as good as it's ever going to get. So, as soon as enough people realize that what JMG says is true, there will be large-scale unpleasantness...

Ask yourself a simple question: Why do people go to war? There may be racial or religious overtones, but almost every war in history has been fought over resources of one kind or another (liebensraum, oil, whatever). That's what happens when there aren't "enough" resources to go around, and it's been going on since before the beginning of recorded history. Do you have any reason to believe that the coming age of dwindling resources and falling standards of living will be any different?


Nonexistence is not an option, as far as I'm concerned. I have been - how shall I put this? - downwardly mobile for a couple years now. You know the difference between recession and depression? When my neighbors were unemployed, it was a recession... Anyway, you can take medications to "cure" psychological depression, but there aren't any pills that will cure an economic depression. I like to think I am simply ahead of the curve, and everyone else will be joining me in relative poverty soon enough.

We will all keep trying to do whatever we can to make the best life possible for us and for our kids, even if the best life possible is harder and less pleasant than what we currently have. Yeah, some people may give up and die, but most people will keep fighting (figuratively, if not literally) for as long as they are able, in order to get a bigger slice of the pie for themselves and their families. That's what homer sap does.

6/11/10, 9:07 PM

Red Neck Girl said...
I remember reading about Peak Oil when I was fresh out of high school. I thought at the time that I'd be better off finding a place back up in the mountains and building a homestead. It sounds ridiculous stated that way but since I already lived in those mountains I likely could have bought a place easily. The only problem being there wasn't a way to make a living without a long commute. Ever since that time I've been trying to save books and acquire skills I could use in that nebulous future.

I've never been one to love the company of people enough to WANT to live in a town but I've done a lot of that in my journey from then to now. Growing my own garden doesn't seem like a chore to me, canning would be the challenge!

Coming from parents that DID eat home grown during the depression and even had a cow and chickens, as a kid I asked my mother to demonstrate how to milk a cow. I think I can do that. I don't look forward to the muscle cramps! I don't see that kind of work as drudgery. A nine to five for people who consider you as disposable, that's drudgery!

Breeding and training horses and cow dogs for income, growing my own garden, a medicinal herb garden for human and animal, trees to provide fruit and oil for personal use and some trade, that's the correct way to live. Not zipping down the road in a climate controlled metal can, going to a large wooden box where you only see the outdoors from windows if any are available, parking your fanny in a chair and having 'entertainment' poured into your unresisting brain along with your daily dose of economic enticement/advertisements. This is living?

I have more fun on horseback, playing tag, polocrosse, penning cows or just taking a quiet ride, seeing more than anyone can possibly see from the windows of a noisy, moving car.

If I keep my head down on the stable and my mouth shut on my opinion about what's coming, keep my nose out of politics when it takes a hard, two wheel, screaming turn in the wrong direction and QUIETLY provide assistance to my neighbors when help is needed, me, my friends and the girls ought to make it. Living a good life and quietly prospering in ways society doesn't consider prospering now. If I can juggle those various events, like juggling a big knife, a couple of raw chicken eggs and a mask of conventionality we might do okay! Who could ask for anything more?

6/11/10, 9:52 PM

John Michael Greer said...
PanIdaho, exactly.

Joel, I'll wait for the book. Thanks for the info!

Tom, depends on how you use it. If you use it to stop thinking, it's an incantation. If you use it to keep going, while remaining aware of the hard realities of the situation, it's something more useful.

Wolf, well, yes.

Rick, the "conservative" victories of the 1980s, which were not conservative at all in any real sense, were profoundly regressive. They marked the death of the last scraps of authentic conservatism, replacing it with a borrow-and-spend ethos that inflated government to unparalleled scales and calmly passed the bill for it to future generations. They also marked the end of any realistic attempt to prepare for the end of the age of cheap energy. Both of those were disastrous; the latter involves the worst costs over the long term.

Kevin, that's 100% Doctor Fox's Genuine Arkansas Snake Oil, there! I'm the last person to dismiss the importance of sacred geometry; it's a profound and transformative discipline, but claiming that it breaks the laws of thermodynamics (which is what this claim amounts to) is like saying that the right mixture of chemicals will make two plus two equal five.

Moose, there are other things to live for besides the dream of endlessly expanding material wealth. Have you become violent in the course of your downward mobility? Neither have millions of other people. I think you're letting a certain class of apocalyptic fantasy shape your view of the future.

Girl, that last comment of yours -- "We might do okay. Who could ask for anything more?" -- is the kind of attitude that I expect to see replacing the fantasy of a brighter future as people come to grips with the end of the age of abundance. It's certainly a more productive attitude!

6/11/10, 10:19 PM

mageprof said...
MisterMoose wrote:

"If there really is no brighter future ahead, then what is the point of having children, let alone grandchildren? Seriously, what is the point?"

We live by the stories we tell about our ancestors; they give us what little wisdom and direction we have. Without them, it seems to me, we have nothing worth keeping.

In my family, we cherish more than 400 years of those stories. They do not tell us about ancestors who were noble, wealthy and powerful, but about those who were tough and ruthless, who hung onto life by the skin of their teeth, doing whatever it took to survive and endure, who hid in the shadows of the world more often than they walked its well-lit public roads. Almost to a man, to a woman, they succeeded. When times got really hard, they did not shrink even from serious crime -- and not once did any of them get caught at it.

As a retired professor of the humanities at an ivy-league school, I have an outward vernier of respectability. (This makes me very much the odd man out among my ancestors.) But it is just a vernier. Beneath the body paint of respectability, I am the descendant of my ancestors.

Just as they did whatever it took so that their children and grandchildren might survive, I will do whatever it takes to ensure that my two sons, my two dsughters-in law, and especially my granddaughter will survive and keep the stories alive.

My granddaughter will, in the natural course of her life, develop survival skills that I do not have, better suited to her times than mine. She is 8 years old, and I already see the heritage of her ancestors in her in that respect. She will have what it takes, and do whatever it takes, to survive, and keep the stories alive.

For me, MisterMoose, she is the point of my having had children. It is enough for me, as it has been enough for my ancestors, who are ever present in me and in my descendants.

6/12/10, 12:24 AM

Kevin said...
Re sacred geometry and arithmetical calculation, my friend the Duke of Bilgewater has quoted one of the sages on that very topic:

...and two and two is five, if you know how to work it right.

Mae West, My Little Chickadee

Which proves that thermodynamics can be fiddled if you have the right chemistry.

6/12/10, 1:03 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
What do statistics and history show about violence during economic retraction? Did violent crime rise during the last great impoverishment in the early 1930s, or did people peacefully put their heads down and get to work trying to figure out how to keep going?

6/12/10, 4:07 AM

Wordek said...
Hi das monde
Love that graphic! I remember being fascinated by the Trieste as a kid. Weird machine, the “subby” looking bit was full of petrol (for buoyancy not propulsion) and the people rode in the tiny little ball underneath.

Hi KevinC
“OK JMG, I hope you don't mind me asking you and/or the commentators here to show me how the following steps could not be used to produce a better (if not exactly "brighter") future:”

Looks good: You get it built and I'll be there in a shot. Oh wait …. Sorry …. Were you suggesting that other people will build it for you if you ask nicely?
Hell, give it a crack, who knows, you might just be lucky enough to live in a time when people dont put their hands over their ears and chant LA LA LA at these suggestions. So I suggest you go for it. Make it happen. Who knows, you might just be the guy that gets lucky. And if it doesnt happen you can always say that you gave it a red hot go. Theres no shame in failing that way.
I've gotta say though.... I don't think much of you're chances.

Hi Moose
“I think you misunderstand where I'm coming from.”
“I certainly do not want to shoot anyone so I can take their food, or anything like that.”
I dont believe I misunderstood, I was probably responding a tad theatrically though. In American and Australian folk history the outlaw tends to have a romantic mystique. However look closer and the outlaw was not simply a person who chose to live an “alternative lifestyle with multiple unorthodox income streams”. The outlaw was a person who had been declared no longer protected by civil society and viciously killing an outlaw by any means would get you respect and status in your community.
So your question was, “whats to stop anyone xxxx-ing whenever they please” My answer was the torches and pitchforks of those who have been xxxx-d. Personally I dont like the idea, it all sounds too susceptible to corruption and manipulation for my taste, plus theres all that icky pitchforking to do. But you did bring it up.

“the only way to get a bigger slice of the economic pie”
I had some economic pie yesterday.. Yeuchh!! tasted all numbery and the decimal points kept getting stuck in my teeth.

Ok .. economic pie. Here we go.

There is no economic pie anywhere waiting to be sliced. For most of us the way to get our taste of economic pie is to join in an ongoing pie making process. Now maybe the flavour of pie you are experienced in making is no longer popular. That happens. It sucks when you are standing on the side of the road trying to sell pie that no one wants. Everyones a b*stard when they turn up their noses at your pie. I know because I have been there as well. The bakerys I work in have changed so much that the way I make pie now is very different to the way I made pie 10 years ago. So you need to either help people whose pies are popular or think about manufacturing pie that will be in demand now and in the future. Thats not always easy to achieve, but by and large thats the way that people have always lived. The best way to get some pie, is to make some pie.

“there will be large-scale unpleasantness...”
There already is large scale unpleasantness. You dont want to go getting involved in any of that do you?

“Do you have any reason to believe that the coming age of dwindling resources and falling standards of living will be any different?”
Different from the rest of history? Probably not. People will be born and people will die. Sometimes you will be sick and sometimes you will be healthy. Someone will be rich and someone else will be poor. Someone will fart and everyone will laugh except for the person who is offended. Have I missed anything important?

6/12/10, 6:28 AM

DIYer said...
Thanks for the secret, JMG, I promise not to tell anyone ;-)

As for the Kubler-Ross stages, like someone else on The Oil Drum once mentioned, I pretty much just went straight to "depression" and stuck there. My longstanding faith in science & technology tells me it is pointless to bargain with a fact, or get angry at it. And the fact became clear shortly after being reminded of Hubbert's curve and first reading TOD back in 2005. Now I'm trying to figure out how and where a "not as dark as it could have been" future may be found.

Thanks for bringing your common sense to the discussion -- it's a precious item in short supply these days.

6/12/10, 9:53 AM

Goose said...
Thanks for educating me on the topic of "revitalization." Fascinating. I think there is a lot of this going on in the mainstream churches. And the cargo cult - first I've heard of that. How cool.

6/12/10, 12:10 PM

holly jean said...
It's good of you to deconstruct this dualism between the myth of progress & the myth of apocalypse. However, I don't see how the blanket dismissal of all revitalization movements makes sense. Revitalization: the etymology must come from vita, life. The belief in progress lost most of its traction during the past couple of decades: a death. Postmodernity has no life to offer: it is, in the words of Bruno Latour, "intellectual immobility through which humans and non-humans are left to drift." So the appeal for a story with some life in it is clear.

And why not work on collaboratively creating such a story? Certainly, ecofascism is one of many dangers. But is that any reason to stop writing stories? The mantra you suggest is problematic on at least two fronts: 1) it's politically suicidal; 2) a great part of the Majority World is already living in less-than-bright conditions, and who are we to presume we know the shade of their future (or to pretty much condemn them to a dark future by failing to do what we can to make it better?) I am sure the petro-elite benefits from your post-political stance proclaiming that the future will not be bright: it removes any political threat. People without ideals are not dangerous; people who don't believe in larger projects are no threat to power.

Ulrich Beck: "If you see an opposition between modernity and nature, then you see the planet too fragile to support the hopes and dreams for a better world. And then you will have to envision and enforce a kind of international caste system in which the poor of the developing world are consigned to (energy) poverty in perpetuity. The politics of limits will be 'anti'-- anti-immigration, anti-globalization, anti-modern, anti-cosmopolitan and anti-growth. It will combine Malthusian environmentalism with Hobbesian conservatism."

6/12/10, 2:45 PM

Patz said...
If we've all gotten this far in our thinking we don't believe in any kind of cornucopian resolutions, which leaves what manner of climb down will ensue.

There is a cohort of military who are "rapture ready." Given that they believe that chaos and violence signifies that the "end times" are upon us they are prone to want to hurry things along. (This is why those in the end times movement are so gung-ho on Israel's violent stance in the Mid East.)

I am agnostic about whether they will be a significant force in any kind of collapse, they're just another wild card in a deck full of them.

Once again I suggest that one can not rule out a violent, turbulent and destructive time ahead. Most people think the Rwandan genocide was a tribal rivalry but it was actually driven more by resource and food scarcity and it was awful.

And once again I oppose the term "doomer porn" as porn suggests some bestial pleasure from contemplating it. For me, and anyone else I know who thinks a dire outcome is possible, that is far from the truth.

6/12/10, 5:56 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mageprof, well put. My forebears in the paternal line were the nastiest cutthroats and cattle thieves in the southwest highlands of Scotland, so your ancestors and mine would have gotten along well.

Kevin, very funny!

Bill, heck of a good question -- I'll have to research that (or someone else could be kind to an archdruid and do the research for me!)

Wordek, you haven't missed a thing.

DIYer, I wish more people trained in science and technology knew better than to argue with facts! I hope to cover quite a range of ways to make the future less ghastly than it could be in future posts.

Goose, if you can find a copy of Edward Rice's John Frum He Come, read it -- probably the best book on the cargo cults, written from a position of profound empathy with the islanders.

Holly, the planet is too fragile for hopes and dreams for a better future, if those hopes and dreams include a promise of material betterment. Still, Beck's talk about a global caste system misses the core of the crisis of our time, because the resources to support the privileged lifestyles of the industrial nations aren't going to be there much longer.

If you're hoping for equality between the peoples of the industrial and the nonindustrial nations, you'll get it -- but it will be an equality on a Third World level of poverty, which is probably not what you have in mind. The insistence that this shouldn't happen, and therefore it can't, is one of the forms of incantation I've discussed here.

Patz, I've seen way too many people all but drooling over the prospect of apocalypse to agree with your dismissal of the phrase "doomer porn." You may be an exception to that, but it's definitely a common social habit these days.

6/12/10, 6:15 PM

KevinC said...
You guys seem to have gotten the impression that in talking about building a renewables-based Traditional City and rail infrastructure, that I'm saying "We can do it in four years: Go!" That's not what I'm saying at all. We built the current crappy, ecocidal built environment over ~70 to 100 years, and it will probably take a comparable time period to replace it. I never said that it would be easy, or that it would result in a Crystal Spires and Togas Utopia, only that it would result in a lifestyle that is arguably more pleasant than Suburban Hell.

When Red Neck Girl talked about creating a future that she feels is "brighter" (or better, more satisfying, happier) than a life of commuting from Suburban Hell to a Cubicle Borg job, I didn't see you guys saying, "Nooo! That's impooosssible! You have to be more miserable! Can't you at least starve or something?"

I'm guessing that's because her approach is consistent with the only alternative Americans can imagine to Suburban Hell and CARS CARS CARS: a return to Little House on the Prarie. Which is fine for those who want that lifestyle and can afford it.

Still, the vast majority of people can't go back to plowing the fields of the family farm behind oxen any more than they can paint their skin florescent blue and become Na'vi hunter-gatherers. I am still not convinced that they can't do what city people have done since Catal Huyuk, but with better plumbing and some wind turbines and trains.

Panidaho: Our current built environment is r-selected, built to get quick returns, not to last. It has to be continuously patched and propped up. Currently there are over 10,000 road work projects underway, with a budget of $26.6 billion. Source. is that possible? No one has any money or resources! Somebody get me a butterfly net, I want some bacon.

So, legacy built environment in the way: can it still be usable after oil?

Yes: Retrofit it as much as possible and muddle through.

No: Then it will have to be replaced or scavenged and abandoned anyway, and the people leaving it are going to want someplace else to live.

I live within a short drive from Taos Pueblo. This is a place that was built by hand, without a drop of fossil fuel, and has been maintained with hand tools for over a thousand years. That's sustainability. The people who live there are "poor" in balance-sheet terms, but they don't seem eager to leave. It's urban-dense (walkable, no CARS), and there's no reason something like it couldn't be scaled up to be a full-sized Traditional City with bath houses and restaurants and artisans and markets and a great night life.

So why, exactly, is it harmful to project something like that as preferable to Drill Baby Drill, followed by Mad Max, followed by The Road, followed by the Dark Ages (a.k.a. the unspoken Republican Party Platform)?

BTW, would you guys object if I cited your comments in full and unedited in more in-depth responses on my blog, with links back here? My first attempt to respond went over the character length and I don't want to bombard JMG with multi-part replies.

6/12/10, 8:18 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Kevin, I'm not talking about your chances of making something like that happen in the next four years. I'm talking about anyone's chances of making it happen in the next four hundred. I didn't criticize Red Neck Girl for her plans because they're realistic, while yours are not -- again, neither you nor anyone else will have the money, the resources, the time, or the political will to make that happen at any point along the curve of the Long Descent.

6/12/10, 10:12 PM

hapibeli said...
JMG,do U want to remove the commentor's name???

Anyone feel like going after this one?;

Commented on

POSTED BY: Lloyd E. Weaver, June 3, 2010 at 10:52 am

The transition away from oil to the next epoch of modern energy does require a more electrified society. But even more it also requires a dramatic change in the architecture of products and our politics. 1. For example, an airliner can go from 85 PMPG (passenger miles per gallon) to 250 by changing the architecture; no engine change is required. Impossible you say because it would be so done already. Not so. It does not necessarily follow that Airbus or Boeing know all, they do not. 2. Nuclear using thorium can get 75% of the energy from the reaction versus 5% for Uranium. Uranium for energy happened because we wanted the bomb, and the plutonium for the big one. 3. Elevated medium weight rail along our super highways with remote controlled modules can eliminate most long haul trucking and replace most short haul air traffic. Coupled with 250 PMPG airliners for long trips, you get the picture. And high-speed rail for passengers doesn’t have to be 200 mph; 110 mph (interstate maximum design speed) is good enough and maximally efficient making 500 PMPG rail modules very feasible, and all electric. 4. Clean coal does not mean sequestering CO2 because CO2 is no cause of global warming, but it does mean a new architecture for coal power stations, which we have heretofore refused to embrace. 5. Heat pumps can heat every home and increase comfort levels. 6. All 132 million-commuter cars can be EV’s, but not using the architecture of present designs we see evolving. And a bullet truck can double heavy haul truck fuel efficiency, improve stopping safety, and with their high streamlining greatly reduce small car buffeting. 7 Politicians are in the way of change. Either ahead of an election or immediately thereafter they plug the system full of pork spending to reward their buddies while failing to reform existing programs after they are elected. 8. One thing is certain, we can’t bully our way to oil supplies as Japan tried in WWII; that could result in an all out nuclear war. We are better off to change our product architectures (achieve serious energy efficiency improvements or full blown alternatives) and reform our politics rather than to fight wars over oil energy. 9. Change is inevitable, and there are always new problems to solve, and new challenges and opportunities for every generation. 10. The U.S. can survive peak oil without mishap, but we need to start pulling together as team to make it happen. Shale gas, oil sands in Canada, and clean-coal using existing coal reserves, wind and solar and biomass and a completely new (maximally efficient) architecture for all big energy using products will create our new energy futur

6/12/10, 11:45 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi all,

The doomers all miss several fundamental points.

During the Great Depression when unemployment hit 30% here, there was no mass die off of the population. Nor was there a massive increase in violent crime. The standard of living was simply reduced right across the board. People made do with less because they had to. The structures holding society together didn't evaporate either.

The other thing to remember is that people in Western societies during the Great Depression were on average quite a lot fitter and used to hard manual labour than they are today. Therefore:

I don't worry about rampaging hordes descending upon my orchard and vegie patch because they probably won't be able to walk the distance involved. Anyone who can walk the distance would probably be more interested in bartering labour for shelter and food. It's unrealistic to expect that they would be able to carry weapons for such a distance on the off chance that they stumble across a food source in some remote location.

I have walked 40kms in a day carrying a 22kg pack (as part of a many day walk) and am aware that it takes quite a lot of energy to undertake this level of activity.
It is a risky activity for a mass of people to undertake with an uncertain outcome. It would be hard for a leader to convince a large group of people to do it much less provide them with the resources with which to do it.

During the Great Depression people headed to the cities not the country.

Good luck!

6/13/10, 2:20 AM

Ariel55 said...
Hello. I am also "crusin' the comments" (spottedwolf). And I am not so optimistic as I was, as I am witnessing the despair of my children in different aspects from the oil spill to economics to rumours of fixed sports games (I wondered where the Mafia was hanging out nowadays--where the money is--with the Banksters?) Somehow only John gives me fresh air to breathe...

6/13/10, 7:08 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I only have time for a couple of quick comments. One, I wonder if peak oil going mainstream will work about the same as global warming going mainstream: they make a thriller movie about it, people hear pundits argue it interminably and they tuck it into the back of their minds until the day they see "Plastic bottles $10; bring your own bottle, Free", or some concrete result, in their groceries. Two, having just hosted a thoroughly suburban relative of mine, next generation, I am more convinced that without revitalization movements, folks like her will simply cave in and give up! Even if the movements are little crumbs that distract them as they are (unconsciously) adjusting to the new norm, it might be what most people will need. Those who can look reality in the eye are few and far between (one reason I love this blog). I had a third thought, but it's escaped... maybe later.

6/13/10, 8:06 AM

PanIdaho said...
KevinC: the very best that can be expected, given where we find ourselves now and what we will have to work with in the future (dwindling resources, dwindling finances, dwindling energy, dwindling political will as people will be concentrating more on survival and conjuring back BAU than on moving forward) is that a few groups in a few select places may be able to gather the resources required to build some of what you envision as the solution.

Just don't wait for the government to do it for you or to pay for much of it, because at this stage, keeping bloated governments running, keeping politicians and their corporate cronies well fed with food, power and money, and expanding empire's greedy reach is fast consuming the vast majority of the resources we have left to work with. (The scary part is, we're actually flat broke by any reasonable reckoning, but we're creating huge amounts of debt, waging wars of many kinds upon other nations and taking unreasonable risks with the environment so we can keep pretending we aren't.)

Given this, individuals and small groups of like-minded folks "muddling through" together (as discussed in previous posts) will almost assuredly accomplish the vast majority of what transition work actually gets done as we slide down the other side of the Peak, and most likely without much help - if any - from their respective governments.

So, good luck and get to work! ;-)

6/13/10, 8:12 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
@Bill Pulliam:
I guess they want to maintain something more sophisticated, erudite, and classy than that icky old stuff like "barter" and "trade for work." Surely we have progressed beyond those old worn out concepts!
I think you just hit upon another hidden illusion of progress! Even the supposedly sustainable movement (which, as I see it, wants to move closer to the nature cycle, ie: not linear) has hidden biases toward the idea of progress -- "No, we're not going to recycle/return to older concepts, we have NEW, more progressive ones!" Sigh... how our human nature trips us up sometimes...

6/13/10, 8:12 AM

straker said...
"So why, exactly, is it harmful to project something like that as preferable to Drill Baby Drill, followed by Mad Max, followed by The Road, followed by the Dark Ages (a.k.a. the unspoken Republican Party Platform)?"

You can project what you like. Whether it's a likely projection or not is the issue. Hope for the best, but expect the worst.

6/13/10, 10:41 AM

Wordek said...
Hi KevinC

I have checked your profile links and I see you have written fairly copiously, so unlike myself any misunderstanding of your words is unlikely to be caused by careless or clumsy handed prose on your part. I have analysed the content and the language of your comments to my own satisfaction and considered various alternative responses. Now your first question does seem to be requesting a point by point refutation of every one of of your steps as an proof that the type of systemic transformation you envision is beyond achievement. Thats a big ask, and I'm guessing that the reason you have never seen beyond this vision is that no one has been able to provide adequate refutation in everyday conversation. I wont even try because: a- none of your ideas are inherently without merit in and of themselves, and b- fish like me dont suck that type of bait.

So rather than specifically addressing point by point the pros and cons of the list of proposals associated with your first question, let me respond only to the rhetorical structure displayed in your comments as a whole and answer your second question.

Q) “Why is this sort of thing impossible?”
A) Because of society

Enjoy your bacon

6/13/10, 4:34 PM

MisterMoose said...

Meanwhile, back in the "real world" we have opinion pieces like this in the Washington Post:

Big Oil can't get beyond petroleum

I'd love to hear your comments on this. It sounds like the big oil companies are planning on BAU for probably the next century...

6/13/10, 7:51 PM said...

You inspired me with your tale of passing the Extra Class exam with a slide rule; I took and passed my Technician class exam this past weekend.

Line of sight, radio signal strength, and so on will continue for quite a while into the future whether or not cell phones do. As long as the solar panels and batteries hold out, that is.

6/13/10, 9:35 PM

straker said...
"statism itself is part of the problem. Watch your biases, people."

So being a libertarian isn't a bias?

I think you'll find that libertarianism is not a panacea for ecological overshoot. It merely codifies the zero-sum game of lifeboat ethics.

6/13/10, 11:04 PM

straker said...
"During the Great Depression when unemployment hit 30% here, there was no mass die off of the population."

Sometimes I think people struggle too much to find analogues for collapse, and wind up with nothing but apples and oranges comparisons.

The great depression, and the Cuban special period or Orlov's end of the soviet union for that matter, should not be looked at as a literal dry run of collapse.

The parameters are different. We're not talking about a passing crisis. We're talking about a PERMANENT crisis. We're not just talking about the economy. We're talking about year-over-year erosion of oil supplies and the carrying capacity of the biosphere.

So don't be surprised if it's much worse than any faulty analogue from history.

6/14/10, 6:06 AM

John Bray said...
Reported on BBC today . . .

Mr Obama said he could not predict whether the nation would make a complete transition from an oil-based economy within his lifetime, but added that "now is the time for us to start making that transition and investing in a new way of doing business when it comes to energy".

"I have no idea what new energy sources are going to be available, what technologies might drive down the price of renewable energies," he said.

"What we can predict is that the availability of fossil fuel is going to be diminishing; that it's going to get more expensive to recover; that there are going to be environmental costs that our children… our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren are going to have to bear."

JMG: is that mainstream enough?

6/14/10, 6:20 AM

Kevin said...
It looks like the mainstreaming of peak oil that you've recently written about has just happened. I just read this quote from President Obama on the BBC website:

"What we can predict is that the availability of fossil fuel is going to be diminishing; that it's going to get more expensive to recover; that there are going to be environmental costs that our children… our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren are going to have to bear."

So it's now official.

He also says that "now is the time for us to start making that transition and investing in a new way of doing business when it comes to energy". Too bad that remark didn't come from a President 30 years earlier.

6/14/10, 8:26 AM

Maura said...
"There is no brighter future ahead".

Brighter is a relative term. There is the potential for a saner future ahead, trouble is that the vast majority of us in industrialised countries probably are not willing to accept the implications of this saner future.

Maura C

An ecologist since birth!

6/15/10, 8:59 AM

straker said...
"So it's now official."

Not as long as it's couched in vague language like that.

Obama has been saying "we can't drill our way out of this" for a long time, talking about his "friend" T Boone Pickens back during the election.

Look, it's an incremental step, but it's not a full admission of peak oil. He has to drop the euphemisms and coded language to come clean. That's assuming he really is as pessimistic as peak oilers, which I'm not totally convinced about.

6/15/10, 9:28 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Kevin: "Too bad that remark didn't come from a President 30 years earlier."

Did you mean this to be ironic? If not, brush up your history a bit. Our president from 1977-1981 in fact said quite a large number of similar things, established all sorts of government incentives for developing alternative technology, etc. The result? The people rebelled, horrified at the suggestion that America was not omnipotent and destined for never-ending explosive growth. He was out on his ass in the next election, the solar panels were ripped off the White House, alternative energy was pitched in the trash can, and it was "drill, baby, drill" on all fronts with ever decreasing regulation -- under four Presidents from both major parties spanning three decades.

The political winds in 2012 may be very similar to the ones that blew in 1980.

6/15/10, 9:36 AM

A said...
Mr. Greer, thank you for posting, and for delivering the promised antidote. I will search out others with whom I can use it freely.

Mostly I decided to comment because I'd like to add my voice to the number that stir you to post subjects further from the mainstream.


6/15/10, 11:19 AM

RPC said...
Kevin said, "Too bad that remark didn't come from a President 30 years earlier."

James Carter, 1977 April 18. See for the complete text. It's worth reviewing; Obama could do well tonight just paraphrasing the whole thing. We reacted by voting in Reagan. Oops.

6/15/10, 11:23 AM

Kevin said...
Straker, I suppose it's not a blunt admission of the true situation. But when he says "the availability of fossil fuel is going to be diminishing," that sounds like a description of a downward trend to me, with the implication that there was a peak of availability back in the past somewhere, and the rather obvious corollary that the slope will eventually bottom out.

Still, I'm sure you're right in the sense that when Obama says "I have no idea what new energy sources are going to be available, what technologies might drive down the price of renewable energies," he's not facing the fact that no new energy sources are going to be available and that in all probability nothing will drive down the price of renewable energies.

Bill, that history is exactly what I had in mind. Perhaps I should alter my statement to say "29 and a half years ago," because that is when Reagan came to power and it became Morning In America. We've been on a road of feckless consumption for essentially three decades. I well remember Carter's energy frugality policies about keeping the thermostat down, wearing sweaters in the house, and going solar. I also remember seeing a vanity license plate at that time which read "55 2 SLO." Unfortunately that driver got their wish, and so here we are.

6/15/10, 11:53 AM

Lance Michael Foster said...
JMG- I wanted to bring to your attention a book, _After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies_, which makes some good points and which may be of interest to you. One reviewer notes:

"The book, an edited work, seeks to address a gap in scholarship, to wit, where others have covered why and how complex societies have collapsed, there is virtually nothing on how some, not all, regenerate. The editors do point out that most collapses are not total, and something is left...

The combined authors posit a cycle of growth, collapse, and regeneration between ruralism and local autonomy, and urbanization with centralization of control.

In an excellent but not quite complete summary of the causes of collapse, the editors outline the following:

1. Fragmentation into smaller political entities
2. Partial or complete desertion of urban centers
3. Loss or depletion of centalizing functions
4. Breakdown of regional economic systems
5. Failure of civilization's ideology

They do not mention the latest and best explanation, that the more complex a society becomes, the more expensive it is to make incremental improvements in management, and the unaffordability of the always increasing cost for each always decreasingly effective improvement ultimately leads to implosion..."

6/15/10, 9:28 PM

spottedwolf said...
@ Ariel55.
Regarding the worries about our children...they will be dealing with whatever they deal with...the leftovers of our we've tried to "deal with" the leftovers of our ancestors domain. Its an old circle...a very old circle. All we can do is try to broaden their outlook and hand-me-downs of fear will only do to them what was done to us. Perspective allows objectivity.

PFH......right on man ! There is always future....and adaptability.

To all - Why is it so hard for humans to see that life offers no guarantees beyond experience ? If that simple fact is absorbed one finds the most powerful aspect of the 3 levels of control we learn in the 1st 21 months (+ or -) of life......the center....acceptance. These other two are 1st recognition and 3rd manipulation. The most important thing to use in changing times is the innate ability to adapt... and adaptation is a willingness to release old useless control mechanisms so we can adapt. Acceptance is the factor which increases both the former and the latter aspects.

6/15/10, 9:40 PM

Wordek said...
Hi Tinfoil

“ As long as the solar panels and batteries hold out, that is.”
Why not an earth battery? No sunny days required

6/16/10, 1:15 AM

Steve Salmony said...
Uncontested scientific evidence of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of Earth from Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel is available for rigorous scrutiny. According to peer-reviewed articles, human population dynamics are essentially common to the population dynamics of other great and small living things.

Comments on this scientific research are welcome from one and all. Thank you.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population, established 2001
http://sustainabilitysoutheast org/

6/16/10, 6:29 AM

spottedwolf said...
Well Archie :0))) ? yer doin' a fine job of stirrin' the ol' cauldron.....stay wit it...pun intended.

6/16/10, 2:18 PM

dg said...
Hello from Vancouver,

I sent a money order to Cultural Conservers a few weeks ago.

I hope it got you. Can you verify when it arrives. I might be able to track it from my end if it is lost or stolen.

[email protected]

6/16/10, 7:02 PM

sagesmoke said...
Great posting...really is on the mark; I have been thinking, reflecting, and writing these kinds of thoughts in my daily journaling for quite awhile; I have to do that, to keep some semblance of sanity, as I have no one, not one person in my life who shares these views. I have lost the few friends I had...some for 30-40 years, by trying to talk about these truths. They told me they could not deal with my 'negativity' any longer. So now I avoid conversation; which, sadly, isn't difficult to do at my age. No one is interested in anything I have to say anyway! The point for me, now, is to try and create some kind of livable life for the years left to me, (I'm glad there won't be too many!) in a place where I can live a slower life, hopefully close to bits of nature, and books! I'll keep my computer, there are a few blogs really worth reading, like yours. thanks again.

6/17/10, 11:59 AM

Joel said...
You're welcome!

You might also like this (related) brief blog post by Ran Prieur. Though he doesn't use these exact words, the meaning of the post is that Doctorow's faith in 3D printers is akin to confounding the planes.

6/17/10, 4:57 PM