Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Future's Further Shores

Last week’s post on the future of the peak oil movement seems to have been timely. In and around the unraveling of global economic and political structures that accounts for a growing share of the evening news – Eliot’s “cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air” have plenty of equivalents just now – quite a few figures in the peak oil scene have begun reorienting themselves to a world in which the coming of peak oil has stopped being a preoccupation of the fringe and become one of the simple and inescapable realities of our time.

This is not to say that all these reorientations are well advised. Sharon Astyk, for example, has proposed aligning the peak oil movement with climate activism; in the abstract, this is a logical idea, but in the real world it’s an invitation to disaster. The climate change movement has science solidly on its side, to be sure, but it’s proven hopelessly inept in dealing with the decidedly unscientific worlds of public relations and politics; climate activists have time and again allowed their opponents to define the terms of the debate, and relied on the prestige of science to make their case at a time when that prestige, already at a low ebb, is continuing to wane. Their opponents have not exactly been slow to take advantage of these missteps.

At this point we’re thus probably going to have to wait for the first major climate catastrophe to hit the industrial world before any of the world’s major polluting nations will be willing to change their ways. Aligning peak oil with the failing climate activism movement won’t change that, but will make it easier for the political establishments of the world’s nations to ignore peak oil for another few years; worse still, it might teach peak oil activists the same bad habits that have scuppered what was once a formidable climate activism movement, and produce similar results a second time around.

Rather more disturbing is Michael Brownlee’s recent manifesto calling for a new "Deep Transition" movement unique to the United States. Now of course the label "deep," when applied to any set of ideas, is a not very subtle way of calling the competition shallow, but there’s more going on here that that bit of one-upsmanship. Those of my readers who are familiar with the current flutter in alternative dovecotes around the rollover of the Mayan calendar in 2012 may notice a recognizable flavor in Brownlee’s prose; from the hammering on apocalyptic imagery to the sweeping vagueness of its proposed response – not omitting references to "the Sacred," that convenient catchall for the religious irreligiosity of our age – there’s nothing in it that would be out of place in the writings of yet another millennarian New Age sect.

Regular readers of this blog are aware that I have serious doubts about the Transition movement, but it has at least an even chance of doing some good as the industrial world stumbles through the opening decades of its decline and fall. Those mass movements for collective redemption that sociologists call "revitalization movements" are another matter, for the only thing that exceeds their emotional appeal in times of collective crisis is their futility in practice. Rob Hopkins’ measured response to Brownlee’s manifesto made the same point in a typically understated way; it’s to be hoped that people involved in Transition here in the US will listen.

I’m glad to say, though, that not all the reorientations under way are as misdirected as the ones I’ve just cited. A much more promising example is under way at The Oil Drum, which seems to be waking up to the fact that it’s become the de facto go-to place for quality peak oil information, and is adjusting its public presence in response. I find it particularly interesting to watch that adjustment in action, because one of the things the TOD community appears to be distancing itself from is me.

Witness the discussion in the Drumbeat comments a week ago, where a number of TOD regulars weighed in at some length about their discomfort with the phrase "green wizard." That’s exactly the sort of thinking TOD needs right now. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, during which it provided what was quite literally the world’s best media coverage of the crisis and response, the Drum has a reputation to maintain and a global audience to address. I would not be the least surprised if ten years from now, the premier peak oil journal in print – the sort of peer-reviewed quarterly that every serious thinker in the field has to have on his or her bookshelf – is published by the nonprofit that runs TOD, and draws some of its best authors from the stable of bloggers that currently keeps TOD stocked with cutting-edge analyses and up-to-date information.

That isn’t the kind of project that would benefit from being associated with an archdruid who promotes green wizardry. Still, as one of the participants in the discussion pointed out, neither my audience nor my strategy are the same as theirs. A viable movement responding to the crisis of peak oil needs its sober websites packed with facts and figures, phrased and presented in terms both acceptable and compelling to the political and business elites who wield so much influence nowadays; still, that’s not the only thing it needs. It also needs a broad penumbra of individuals and small groups who are willing to explore those possibilities that don’t happen to appeal to men in business suits. The benefits that respectability brings to The Oil Drum would be wasted there; what’s needed, rather, is a willingness to pursue options outside the fashionable ideas of the moment. In a trajectory of that kind, a desire for respectability is a hindrance, and the wry embrace of an identity society as a whole rejects – for example, "wizard" – has quite commonly helped.

I’m pretty much restricted to such an approach, as it happens. It still surprises me how many people think I use the term "archdruid" as some sort of marketing gimmick, when it’s not exactly a secret that Archdruid is my job title, as head of one of the several dozen organizations that emerged from the 18th century revival of Druid nature spirituality. I try to wear my religion lightly in contexts where it’s not specifically relevant, such as this one, but it doesn’t take much searching on the internet to figure out that some of the beliefs I hold are not going to qualify me for respectability any time in this age of the world. The fact that The Archdruid Report was originally started with the intention of talking about peak oil and the future of industrial society to other members of the Druid community just adds spice to the resulting stew.

Still, a strategy of dissensus – the deliberate pursuit of radically different and even contradictory possibilities – is not simply a counsel of convenience for those who don’t have any other choice. If we’re to meet the crises ahead with even the smallest hope of something other than total failure, the options that need to be explored cannot be limited to those that the current political and business elites – the people whose decisions by and large got us into this mess, remember – happen to find acceptable. The resources that those elites can bring to bear are important, and need to be directed into anything that can be made acceptable to them – the rebuilding of the US rail system comes to mind as a very good start – but the options that can be made acceptable to today’s elites will only contain a small fraction of the options that need to be put to work.

That assertion doesn’t require belief in any deliberate conspiratorial intention on the part of those elites, by the way. The elites that mostly run today’s industrial societies, like their equivalents in every other human society, have a deeply conservative streak under whatever surface layer of fashionable radicalism may be popular at any given time. They have the positions of influence that they do because they have the educations, hold the opinions, and think the thoughts that their peers, and more particularly the immediately prior generation of their peers, considered suitable to their roles. In a society that’s more or less sustainable, this is a powerful source of stability; in one that’s stumbled into an unsustainable human ecology, these same pressures for elite conformity can make it next to impossible for anyone in charge to think about the world in any way other than the one that’s making disaster inevitable.

This is where dissensus and the deliberate encouragement of the eccentric, the improbable and the rejected come into their own. We are far past the point at which an organized, society-wide program to deal with the crisis of industrial civilization is possible – as the Hirsch report pointed out five years ago, that had to start twenty years before the peak of petroleum production, which puts that hope a good quarter century into the realm of might-have-beens – and even if the option still existed, the political will to make it happen simply isn’t there. That means that aiming for flexible ad hoc responses cobbled together out of whatever resources come to hand is probably the best option we’ve got. Focusing on those possibilities that can be done on a shoestring, and maximizing the total number of these that get tested in the immediate future, is therefore a crucially important strategy right now. Even if most of those efforts fail, this approach will likely yield the largest number of useful options to mitigate the crisis in the short run and manage some degree of recovery later on.

This logic has at least one implication that probably won’t sit well with many of my readers: that people should be encouraged to pursue projects that, according to the best current evidence, have little apparent chance of succeeding. That’s a necessary consequence of a dissensus-based approach, though; as Charles Fort used to say, "It is by thinking things that schoolboys know better than to think that discoveries are made." The one caveat that has to be added, though, is that anyone advocating any such project actually needs to be doing something about it.

The Bussard fusion reactor makes a good example. It’s a modest variation on the Farnsworth fusor, an interesting laboratory curiosity dating from the 1950s;. It’s fairly consistently proven able to fuse small numbers of hydrogen nuclei into helium, but there’s no good reason to think it can produce anything like as much energy as it uses up. For several years now the Bussard reactor has nonetheless been cited over and over again by people on internet forums as a reason not to worry about peak oil – that is, to use a terminology suggested in an earlier post, as a lullaby.

Still, there are a modest number of people – according to recent media reports, around a dozen – who have built Bussard-style devices in their basements and achieved nuclear fusion, confirmed by neutron detectors. None of them are producing net positive energy at this point, or anything close to it. Still, I have the utmost respect for these people; they’re putting their money, as well as their time and energy, where their mouths are. If there’s any chance that Bussard was right, this is how we’ll find out.

The flip side of this is simple enough: if people want to come to a peak oil blog (or anywhere else, for that matter) and insist that the Bussard reactor is going to save us all, the appropriate response is, "Are you building one?" If they are, well and good; if they’re chipping in as much as they can afford to help cover the expenses of someone who’s building one, that will pass; otherwise, they’re singing lullabies and may be disregarded.

The same principle can be applied to any other proposed response to the crisis of industrial society. If it’s viable as a basement-workshop project, then anybody who intends to promote it online or elsewhere had better be building one. If it’s too large, complex, and expensive for a basement workshop, it’s probably going to be too large, complex, and expensive for a civilization caught in the jaws of fossil fuel depletion, climate instability, and economic unraveling. There are some exceptions – again, the rebuilding of America’s rail system comes to mind – but in that case there are still ways to contribute, at least to the extent of the cost of a round trip ticket now and then.

This is one of the reasons why I’ve limited my focus in these posts on green wizardry to things that I do myself, or have done in the past and am gearing up to do in the future as soon as funds and time permit. The kind of SUV environmentalism that waxes rhapsodic about all the things everybody else ought to do for the environment, while doing few or none of them, is not a viable response to the crisis of our time. I’m willing to open my mouth about energy conservation and organic gardening, appropriate tech and antique tech, doing without and doing with less, because these are things that I do myself; I’d hardly offer myself as any kind of paragon of virtue – there’s much more that I could be doing – but I’m not going to advocate what I’m not willing to do.

On the other hand, if somebody’s actually out there putting some proposed response to the test, they ought to be given the benefit of the doubt, not to mention the respect due to anybody who’s trying to live up to their aspirations. I would extend that rule very far. The biodynamic agriculture devised most of a century ago by Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner, for example, combines quite a few very sensible steps – Steiner’s the place where modern organic gardening got the idea of raised beds, for example – with some things, such as planting by astrological influences, that most people reject out of hand these days. I know people who use Steiner’s methods, and they seem to get good results; if planting by the stars and mixing weird herbal concoctions into their compost helps them grow organic food crops and keep people fed during the times to come, more power to ‘em.

In the weeks to come these posts will be transitioning from food, the first of three themes in the Green Wizard project, to heat, which is the second. While that’s happening, though, I’d like to offer a friendly challenge to my readers, and especially to those of them who are working with green wizardry: choose something improbable that you think might just offer a possible response to any of the aspects of the crisis of industrial society, and get to work on it. If that involves piecing together a Farnsworth fusor in the basement, good; if it involves learning planting by the Moon, good; if it involves – well, whatever it involves, if it appeals to you, get on with it. Don’t leave it to someone else; do it yourself, because that’s the only way it’s going to happen.

Passion can’t be legislated, and the sort of passion that led, for example, Gregor Mendel to spend years crossing pea plants to tease out the secrets of heredity is what we need right now. At worst, you’ll be able to draw a line under an unhelpful approach so that resources can go elsewhere; at best you may just provide the world with some small but valuable piece of the puzzle of survival. If we’re to reach the future’s further shores with any of the more useful legacies of the last three centuries intact, that willingness to take personal responsibility for making things happen is one of the things we need most right now.


Richard said...
An embrace of an identity that society as a whole rejects, that's something I'm all about. Although I haven't agreed with everything you've said, I can say that you've influenced me quite a bit in the last couple of years from reading your blog and several of your books. In some cases you're writings have caused me to consider ideas I'd never thought of before, in other cases I had some of the same ideas but your perspective articulated them better than I had. So few people really think outside the box of cultural conditioning. For just a couple examples, I'm so sick of those self-proclaimed "skeptics" who have just as set belief system as a baptist preacher, and on the other hand of some new-agey types who won't even put up with any rational analysis of anything.

12/8/10, 8:44 PM

Katie said...
Very interesting post, as always. An improbable possibility, you say? Well, I have been meaning to look more closely at homeopathy--it fits nicely into that "just might be crazy enough to work!" slot in my head.

Do you have any advice on opening conversation about...well, any of the overlapping issues here? Most of my family members are staunch believers in the status quo, and trying to express that I think the whole world is messed up...hasn't exactly gone well. I've considered emailing one of your articles, but I can't seem to find a good "beginner" one.

12/8/10, 9:54 PM

miltonics said...
I would love to see some ideas about how to heat a third floor apartment in the city with a bricked up fireplace. I'm thinking either some sort of rocket stove mass heater or just bailing on the place...

12/8/10, 9:57 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Richard, if you did agree with everything I said, I'd question your common sense!

Katie, I've used one offshoot of homeopathy -- biochemic cell salts -- as a good half of my home health care for most of three decades. Yes, I know it's impossible for them to work; hasn't stopped them yet. If that's what calls to you, go for it. As far as conversations, that's the single most common question in Peak Oildom, and I don't know of anyone who has an answer. Those who won't hear it won't hear it.

Miltonics, a rocket stove could burn the place down if not carefully handled. I'd look into the possibility of a new place to live, preferably with a fireplace.

12/8/10, 10:13 PM

Garden Manager said...
With a great deal of agony I have followed the bickering in the "peak oil community" over what strategy is valid or viable. I have also observed the posturing for recognition, the usual vanity and much else. For this reason, my regular reading in this arena has pretty much been reduced to The Archdruid Report. To my mind, it is the only voice of sanity and balance left. I read it not so much for advice or because I want to be a "green wizard" (which for the most I already am). I read it as a weekly reprieve from the rest of the insanity that surrounds me.

But it also seems to me that my distaste for the bickering, which I also encounter in my own small community among the many dedicated "localization" advocates, indicates another more fundamental skill that needs to be added the green wizard's toolbox: the ability to get along with other human beings. This is the problem that I have been working on "in my basement" so-to-speak. If we don't learn how to get along with each other in our real geographically defined communities, I believe we are going to be toast. No set of technical skills is going to make up for that.

So, here's to encouraging some of you other "inventor" types out there. Maybe you could apply yourselves to this problem - at least, with some of your time and energy. It needs a lot of attention!

Wishing us all good luck in muddling through this mess!

12/8/10, 10:19 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Oy, I just tried to read Brownlee's "Deep Transition" essay... it is utterly hip-deep in newage, and seemingly devoid of any actual well-defined original thoughts, just a mish-mash of stuff that has been percolating for decades (which makes it a perfect mate to permaculture, I suppose!). The almost-incomprehensible Thomas Berry and the slightly-less-incomprehensible Michael Fox may be suitable foundations for a neo-secular-newage-spirituality, but not so much for a redesign of economy and society...

Here in out own little Tennessee Transition Town I think reality might be starting to settle in on the "green is gold," "financial permaculture" tack the Transition Initiative has taken. A depressed local economy, interestingly, remains just as depressed when you put the word "green" in front of it. The demonstration projects sit there doing not much, their booths at the street fairs are all about trying to sell things to people who don't have jobs. I won't be surprised to see stirrings of an evolution towards other directions.

What is going to motivate change at the individual and community level here is this local economic reality, not concerns about global phenomena. A flood or a drought may or may not be attributable to rising atmospheric CO2, but it does not make the immediate connection in people's guts: "Dang it's hot this summer. That makes me wanna drive less and ride my bicycle more, and turn my air conditioner off at home!" Not hardly. But energy that is either more expensive or less affordable because of building poverty (or both) makes the direct connection -- "Kids, turn that dang A/C down, we can't afford the electricity! Go ride them bikes down to the creek if y'all are too hot! No you can't take the 4-wheeler, we can't afford the gas for it either!" And these sorts of things will also directly push people towards community changes and responses. People do have an innate desire to help others, and when everyone is having trouble this makes people figure out how help everyone and each other out. This will happen regardless of how the Peak Oil Movement aligns and defines itself.

Re: The Oil Drum.. indeed I go there for data, analyses, and commentary based around trends, forecasts, and numbers. And I like seeing the "hard numbers" from a variety of directions, including various "informed, reliable, scientific" sources who reach antipodal conclusions. Those of us who have actually been active research scientists understand instinctively that this is where the interesting stuff happens -- in the places where we disagree, concerning the things we do not entirely understand, about which we still don't know much. Established facts are boring. The process of discovering and debating new information is the good stuff!

I hadn't noticed the comments in the drumbeat about your "branding" (yech). Actually they were nicer to you about that than I would have expected from such a techie and academic crowd, and they seemed quite positively disposed overall to your actual IDEAS. And even if they are going to address it as a "branding" issue, maybe they should look at box office receipts for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the "Harry Potter" sept... er, octology versus those of "An Inconvenient Truth," and then re-evaluate where the minds of the great masses might come down on that issue...

12/8/10, 10:29 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Manager, well, finding a way for everybody to get along sometimes seems about as likely as getting a Bussard reactor to produce positive net energy, so if that's your improbable quest, go for it! ;-)

Bill, yes, I was thinking of the relative sales of J.K. Rowling and J.H. Kunstler, myself, but it amounts to much the same thing...

12/8/10, 10:43 PM

julienz said...
Garden Manager re getting along.

I wonder if the experience of my home education group is a model. I have home educated my children for almost 12 years. Our city has a relatively small group of families - over the years it has fluctuated between 80 and 120 families. We need critical mass to get things done but all we have in common is a desire to home educate. Almost everything else is a difference - we go from fundamentalist Christians through to atheists and beyond, we have different goals for our kids, we have different incomes, houses and eating habits but we have do a strong single purpose organisation.

I would like to share some comments from a parent who after 23 year of home educating gave her farewell to our group.

"Keep strong to the ideals, hopes and dreams that started you in this road in the first place. Remember that each child is unique - the 'path' and rate of progress will be different for each - try not to compare. Keep on regardless - it IS worth all the 'blood, sweat and tears' because along with these, there will be joys, successes and huge fulfillment. Over the years I have learned that it is important when you step back from
an active role in an organization, to take your hands off and not criticize the new ways and directions that emerge from new leadership. This is right
and what needs to happen in an organization. I have not been in an active leadership role for a number of years now. As I leave, I would really love to remind you all of a couple of fundamental principles that we had in our minds when we set up the group - and that I am certain are still relevant now.

We were pioneers and as such we all participated in organising events, our attitude was one of ; "I want this experience for my children, how can I go about setting this up and perhaps sharing it with others" Hold on to this attitude, it is great training for you and a good example for your children. It also spreads the load in the organization.
We worked really hard on building up our reputation in the community - with good behaviour, courtesy and manners - showing interest and asking intelligent questions, while in public. Organisations loved having homeschoolers visit because they could count on them being a pleasure to have - this is worth working hard on. We always focused on working together on our common ground. We have always been open to all homeschoolers and as a result, we are a very diverse group. We don't agree on many things and this is fine. But there is always some common ground to focus on and this is where our strength is. This has been a wonderful legacy left to us by our first coordinator. This principle has kept the unity in this sometimes wildly diverse group through the years - please keep hold of this. "

The lesson I have taken from being a part of this group is that you don't need to be friends to be able to cooperate and get things done. As long as you treat otherssensitively as my colleague has said "with good behaviour, courtesy and manners " you can achieve a lot.

12/8/10, 11:59 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

I'm unsure that peak oil is really all that mainstream a concept.

With the US$ being slowly abandoned around the world the Australian dollar (AU$) has almost hit parity with the US$ (ie. one for one). I read last weeks comments with people in the US bemoaning fuel prices in excess of US$3.00 per gallon. Over here you'd pay $4.92 per gallon (3.785 litres at AU$1.30 per litre). I've seen prices at around AU$1.50 per litre (that's US$5.67 per gallon), yet we're still here, eating and driving.

So what are people doing? They're buying smaller vehicles, with smaller more efficient engines. They're also moving to the usage of diesel motors in larger vehicles. The European's have been at this game for longer than we have.

People are not rioting, they are adapting. Rioting may come later...

Sadly, few people here would even be aware of the concept of peak oil. It is still very much a fringe concern. That doesn't mean that it isn't happening or won't affect everyone, it's just that a haze of apathy has settled over the land.

I'm in the process of building an unusual low energy requiring house. It's an experiment, I don't know whether it will work or not, although it appears to be so far. The strange thing about the process is that when I initially sought advice from those who are in the alternative building fields, I was told that it would be a waste of time and materials. I pushed on regardless and am getting closer to completion.

When I look at a housing estate I wonder how well they'll survive peak oil. Not well I suspect as the houses are designed to be mechanically heated and cooled. I read last week that 70% of houses here have an air conditioning unit. I also read in a separate article that last summer, the electricity grid was at failure point as it had reached the limits of generation capacity.

Bill is spot on when he writes that it won't be until people can't pay their electricity bill (or don't have supply) that they'll consider doing something different.

One of the things that I learned from the design and building process is that cultural conditioning is very strong and it takes a great deal of persistence and effort to challenge or overcome - it is not for everybody.

My prediction is that it won't be until oil supply is drastically reduced or unaffordable that people will change their ways.

We should stop wasting time on energy sucking arguments, committees, work groups, plans etc. and get on with the task at hand.

Good luck!

12/9/10, 3:47 AM

Zach said...
Manager, well, finding a way for everybody to get along sometimes seems about as likely as getting a Bussard reactor to produce positive net energy, so if that's your improbable quest, go for it! ;-)

Well, this is another area where the perfect is very much the enemy of the good.

On the one hand, as a Christian, it's an article of faith that everybody getting along perfectly won't be achieved in this age -- there will always be wars and rumors of wars, and temptations, and that cranky neighbor down the street who is mean to you for no apparent reason. (Of course, persons of other or no faith may find this obvious too.)

On the other hand (also again as a Christian, this isn't limited to us, but it is part of our tradition), we know that there are better and worse ways of getting along with each other in this broken, fallen world, and that grace is available if we ask.

So: don't expect Utopia to break out, but it is reasonable to expect that people can get along better than cats and dogs if they will.

This will be another one of those crucial Peak Oil / Long Descent skills. And it can seem as quixotic as Bussard reactors and Green Wizardry!


P.S.: My word verification for this entry is "flogress" (which I read as rhymes-with and opposite of "progress"). What an apt word for this blog!

12/9/10, 4:14 AM

dandelionlady said...
I've thought for a while that for some of us, finding those passions, those weird things that drive us is actually the exciting and fun part of all this craptastic peak oil stuff. It seems to me that anyone can start thinking about doing whatever it is that they do in a more sustainable way, the field is wide open!

I'm primarily an artist but I also study herbalism, gardening, shamanism and druidry, and so that's what I work on. I chose to learn linocut block printing because it's very low energy and low tech. Eventually I want to move into wood block printing and making my own inks because then I can source my materials locally as well.

It's a process, and we have a little time here where we can mess up and it's okay. My garden can fail and I won't starve, my business can be in the red and I won't lose my house. I intend to take what little time I have and fill it with useful and interesting pursuits that may help in the long run.

I think one of the most important things anyone can do is take a stand where they are and lead by example. Talking about how important and good it is to live a low energy lifestyle is great, but doing it and being a force for positive change is so much more important. Actions speak louder than words.

12/9/10, 4:47 AM

Jason said...
Good to see the scene's direction being laid out so nicely. I dislike the hokey term "Green Wizards", so I don't use it, but I get what it stands for as far as pursuing the practice is concerned. And 'deep transition'... yikes. In partic. NB the point about 'joining onto' climate change, please let's not. :)

12/9/10, 4:51 AM

Jim Brewster said...
Another timely and most relevant post, m'lord! I've often observed how the virtues of outward dissensus also apply internally. I am a graduate-level scientist and confirmed skeptic, and also a Neo-Pagan practitioner and shaman. There are plenty of inconsistencies between what I "believe" -- what makes rational sense to me -- and what I have experienced and am willing to work with as ad hoc reality in certain aspects of my life and activities. I try not to take either extreme too seriously, and if need be Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung can usually help me find a bridge.

One of my hats is as host/receptionist/cashier for a booth of tarot and palm readers at a Renaissance festival. Does tarot make rational sense to me? Not particularly, but I recognize the power of looking at things from unorthodox perspectives, and that sometimes, as Fritz Perls said, you have to be out of your mind to come to your senses. I think it's this loose engagement with fluid reality that allows me to sincerely and successfully "sell" divination to both skeptics and believers. I also think, to take up your challenge, I should learn more how to do tarot readings myself.

Many Rennies, SCAdians, and LARPers can relate to this approach. Rather than an escape from reality, it is a perspective on the multiplicity and complexity of reality, and how to effectively move through it.

12/9/10, 5:29 AM

Pops said...
Yes, I think it's past time to make a move.
We are where many said we'd be: too distracted by the effects of higher energy price to make any easy systemic change away from cheap energy - many of us have already been knocked too low too make an successful personal change.

My guess is most who read about peak oil on the internet still secretly hope for the energy fairy to pull the Next Big Thing out of her ear and make everything all right. They don't want the Jones' to think they've gone off the deep end right before the methane hydrate (or whatever) economy explodes on the scene.

The JIT world we live in wasn't a product of some DARPA project, it self-organized around cheap energy as individuals saw a niche and took a leap. We each need to find a new niche, make a plan and get to work.

12/9/10, 5:30 AM

jewishfarmer said...
Actually, John, you got my point backwards. I didn't suggest that we ally with the climate movement (which I point out is dead in the first few lines of my article, so why would I do that?), I suggested that climate activists ally primarily with the peak oil movement, allowing the PO movement to provide a new framework and a new message for achieving common goals. I suggested that they've failed and should try and work with us, because they've failed to manage their message.

As for respectability, I have the distinct fear that you may end up far more respectable than you'd like, John ;-). Wizardry, Druidism, all that stuff doesn't seem to be stopping you from becoming the intellectual elder statesman of the "now what" part of the peak oil movement. You can run, but you can't hide

12/9/10, 5:31 AM

nutty professor said...
How I am enjoying this conversation! Something reassuring here, which is why I always return to your blog, consistently, instead of others. Thank you.

As I sit here the news reports are blaring about Wikileaks hackers. I know you don't like timelines, but do you have any sense of how long much longer it will be that all of us are able to gather here online? I will sure miss this community one day...

12/9/10, 6:07 AM

Michael said...
Thanks for chiming in before I did jewishfarmer. I read your essay exactly the way you just described and was about to try to correct JMG on that point.

Both of you are becoming the thought leaders in this realm (IMHO) and I hope you both keep on keeping on.


12/9/10, 6:56 AM

An Eaarthly Planner said...
I enjoyed much of your post today, JMG. I'll let the parts that didn't stew a bit to see what comes up, if anything. I particularly liked your tolerance of crazy projects, whether or not you think they have any likelihood of success, so long as the advocate is actively pursuing that work. I echo those thoughts here. And yes, that was a shameless plug for my Lancaster-based blog.

Here's one of my current favorite quotes, which seems relevant:

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."
~Martin Luther (1483-1546)

12/9/10, 6:58 AM

The Lorax said...
Mr. Greer,
Your post this week was well timed to offer some inspiration. Last week, I put in my resignation at my current place of employment, where I was making use of my B.S. in bioprocess chemical engineering by aiding in the industrial manufacture of clad metal plates used in oil and chemical production infrastructure. As a newly married 27 year old who over the past two years has been becoming fully aware of the various energetic, environmental, and financial limits that our global industrial economy is now bumping up against, and who has cobbled together a home-made nature-based spirituality from my Catholic roots, I faced a maddening cognitive dissonance going to my place of work every day. The feeling here is that whatever talents and skills I may possess would be better suited in working to some way help deal with the change that is coming rather than to help destroy ecosystems and hang on to the last threads of a dying system.
I had to put together a 30-slide powerpoint presentation about the limits to growth and sit my parents down in front of the computer to convince them that there is legitimate reason to believe the world is changing, and that leaving my cushy engineering job is not insane - thankfully they came around. So, I’ve got my parents’ 75 acre farm, a strong background in the physical sciences, a library of nearly 50 books about a wide range of topics from natural building techniques to forest gardening and biointensive agriculture, a passion for working outdoors within nature, and a desire to learn about, experiment with, and spread the word about local, ecologically sane, fossil-fuel free, and democratic ways of obtaining life’s necessities. I haven’t the slightest idea where this will take me, or if I’ll make a difference or succeed, but I can say that I’m looking forward to the adventure!
So, I’ve already taken up your challenge to walk the talk, and I’m excited to get to work.
(NOTE: With having some money in the bank, a wife who holds a teaching job and who understands and shares my passions, and essentially free land, I realize that I’m in a unique position to devote a great deal of my time to this type of work, and I’m extremely grateful.)

12/9/10, 7:08 AM

Twilight said...
I have to admit that when I first read the term "Green Wizard" I groaned because it seemed too hokey. Then I laughed. I think so much of successful adaptation is accepting and embracing change, and worrying too much about one's image gets in the way of that. If we keep thinking and acting the way we always did, the way social forces push us, then how do we change?

At this point we desperately need to seek other paths and different ideas - not to say we accept them blindly, but rather give them careful consideration. If the idea of reading the thoughts of a Grand Archdruid or sharing ideas with some Green Wizards makes you feel uncomfortable, that is just because society is pulling you back toward that limited range of behaviors and actions that are deemed "acceptable". And down that road is only more of the same.

I have tried to intentionally cultivate a habit of thinking differently, of living differently (sometimes only in small ways), of being able to give fair hearing to ideas that are not sanctioned by society. In time, you lose the feeling of shame or embarrassment, you find there good things to be found on paths less traveled, and learn to value non-conformity and eccentricity. But it's a never-ending process and one must continually challenge oneself - so bring on the strange and the weird, and let's see what might be found there.

12/9/10, 8:00 AM

Bob said...
JMG: Another excellent post. First, your discussion of "men in suits" is of course relevant to all of my friends criticizing Obama from the left because he caved on the tax cut debate. While his spinelessness is evident, I am not so sure he cares about helping the poorest people in America MORE than he wants to get reelected (which seems insanely unlikely today, but I digress). More important is the larger topic: Although I've read your thoughts on dissensus before, I had always couched it (in my mind) in political terms. I was prepared to tell another commenter not to "waste her time" with homeopathy, because my brain rejects it completely. But re-reading your post and seeing YOUR response to her shook me into greater wakefulness. We need dissensus both WITHIN and ACROSS systems. My notions of science, reason, truth, etc. need to be challenged both by others, AND BY ME. So, while there are many reasons to ACT NOW, and stop just talking and talking, one of the reasons is that thinking TOO HARD about what will be more likely to succeed (what is the MOST PRODUCTIVE use of my time?) leads to self-editing, doubt, and paralysis. Scientists told us for years to eat our meat and potatoes, then margarine instead of butter, then to eat bread instead of fat. They were "wrong," but who knows what we'll be told 10 years from now (besides, head for the hills, I mean). Scientific truth has huge value in our world, but it has real limits, and other kinds of truth (spiritual, moral, personal, anecdotal) have to count as well, especially since I am not an expert in all areas of scientific thought, but mainly because scientific "truth" (as opposed to actual truth) got us into this mess, so our trusting it exclusively to get us out of the mess will get us more of the same, and we will deserve it. I keep meaning to get to your book on polytheism (free time is another commodity that would appear to have already "peaked"), as I suspect it would shake me loose from my quasi-religious attachment to the scientific method once and for all. Plus, witnessing you and Sharon Astyk interact playfully is always fun.

12/9/10, 8:26 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Hello JMG & everyone else.

Most interesting post. Herewith a riff:

Having never been able to join movements, and having difficulty thinking in categories, because more of a "weaver," or associative thinker, I tend to think of our predicament in terms of "all of the above." Peak oil/climate change/biodiversity loss/overpopulation are interrelated parts of a whole (duh!), so I read around, widely, and try to understand different modes of thought and worldviews--official and non-official. So much is about competing views of reality--a bunch of blind persons touching different parts of an elephant.

Educating oneself, pursuing green wizardry projects, reducing one's own carbon footprint, getting to know neighbors, forming a strong social network--these together work on everything at once.

Of course, if we lived with proper attention to what our role should be as part of the biotic community, "all of the above" wouldn't be so much of a problem. So it's being forced on us, or will be.

Haven't read Brownlee. Don't have much patience with ideological arguments. Don't know much about Druidry and will look it up.

For me as a Quaker, the question of how one lives, or how one should live in relation to the material world inevitably takes on a spiritual/ethical/philosophical dimension. Friends have a long history of accomplishing things from outside the mainstream--which isn't to say we haven't got our own mainstream and also conflicts, being human and living in the world as we do.

There continues for me a strong feeling of existing in several realities simultaneously. For example, sometimes I'll see an ad for a car, or hear on the news that--yay!--car sales are up, or hear people discussing the relative merits of various car brands...oh no, I'm behind the looking glass again.

As Czeslaw Milosz wrote at the end of "A Song on the End of the World,"

"...As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world."

I sometimes use this poem in class when discussing climate change and peak oil.

Hope this isn't too long.

12/9/10, 8:47 AM

Robo said...

Back in the late 70's, listening attentively to Jimmy Carter's speeches, I thought things were going to turn out all right for the USA. The President was acknowledging the obvious, the country was going to get smart about energy, and we were all going to be more modest in our expectations.

Of course, Jimmy was an eccentric exception to the political rule; an accident of history. Ronald Reagan and his successors have struggled to maintain the comforting illusion of perpetual growth under which we still huddle, but that fabrication is wearing thin, and for most of us it's getting scary.

Don't worry! Mom and Dad will make things better. Let's sing a song of recovery! Sweet dreams.

These days our personal and public media spaces allow many of us to inhabit childlike realms of activity and relationship almost every minute of our waking lives. It's so easy to ignore the real world revolving just outside the view of our glowing screens. The dream world can be so bright!

The big ideas we imagine, publish and discuss endlessly are not so easily solidified into objects and actions. The real world is hard work. Always there is failure, fatigue, discomfort. Everything takes so long and costs so much more than we thought. Actual farming is nothing like Farmville.

Our dreams must embrace reality, not deny it. Mom and Dad can't help us. We need to wake up.

We need to grow up. Can we do it in time?

12/9/10, 9:26 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
Another good post! I agree that the time is past for large-scale solutions – the powers that be are entrenched and actively striving for BAU, and most of the people are following. So the solutions will be local and piecemeal, and it’s impossible to say if that will be enough.

At this point we’re thus probably going to have to wait for the first major climate catastrophe to hit the industrial world before any of the world’s major polluting nations will be willing to change their ways.

IMO, we’ve already had several. Europe is again freezing, and so is Florida and the South. One of the Marshall Islands is currently in danger of being completely drowned – unless your idea of “major” is even bigger than all these! More likely it will take climate change hitting home… I’ve actually had a lot of climate change deniers start to grudgingly admit there might be something to it, whenever our local weather gets wild (and it has been in the past couple years) – so it’s one of those individual “show me” situations.

But I agree that it’s not a good idea to align w/the climate change groups – if the world coped with peak oil by significantly reducing usage, that would also help climate change, and would be “alignment” enough.

Still, as one of the participants in the discussion pointed out, neither my audience nor my strategy are the same as theirs.

Not completely true – I check both sites daily and I’ll bet I’m not the only one. But certainly the strategies are different. And that’s fine.

choose something improbable that you think might just offer a possible response to any of the aspects of the crisis of industrial society, and get to work on it.

I’ve been mulling that over for a while, since I want to be helpful, and yet don’t have the strength and stamina of many people. Another challenge is that my inner skeptic shoots down most ideas before I can start on them. I will continue to look into what I could try – this year I’m gonna track the local weather and the success/failure of my garden mitigation techniques. (The weather here is getting wilder, and people are already commenting on increased difficulty w/gardens). It will help me, and possibly be of use to the community at some point.

12/9/10, 9:44 AM

blue sun said...
Regarding Katie's question about "conversations," its a long slog. For those of us with family members in denial, we're all in the same boat.

A few years ago I gave The Long Descent to a very close family member. When they asked me "if Al Gore approved it," and I said no, they read a few pages to humor me and promptly gave it back (sorry JMG).

My strategy has been to provide small doses. Every January I give everyone I know something brief (but poignant) to read; maybe a page or two from Kunstler, or an excerpt from the Hirsch report. I'm trying to at least crack the door open a bit, but I don't know if it's working.

One resource I've discoverd is Kathy McMahon, a psychologist and counselor, who has a blog Peak Oil I've listened to podcasts of some of her speeches you can download there. For me, it's very reassuring to hear that others have the same frustration; she commonly counsels "peak oilers" who have family members, and even spouses, in denial.

Can't say it's helped me convince mine, but at least I don't feel so alienated. That's why JMG's advice is so spot on: forget about who's calling you crazy, shut up, and just keep doing what you're doing. Eventually they may even pick up a shovel and pitch in!

12/9/10, 9:45 AM

Harry J. Lerwill said...
Over the years I've tried to nudge my current employer towards a localization as a marketing strategy. Over the last year that's taken off.

CBS outdoors allows us to put up the "buy local" message on any unused billboards. We now have over 800 billboards encouraging people to spend their money locally.

It's a small step and doesn't eliminate the need for more personal activity, but getting any business to take a step in the right direction is a victory.

12/9/10, 9:58 AM

blue sun said...
Regarding Garden Manager's topic of getting along, I like how Kathy McMahon put it (yes, I'll cite her again).... in the inevitable re-localization of the coming decades, we're going to have to once again get used to living among people who annoy us. It occurs to me that many of us today are singing "lullabies" in that regard, and "living on the internet" as a "ritual" to avoid that fact, in much the same way as we use hybrid cars as a ritual to reassure ourselves that we're saving the world. Many of us want to believe that we can have a perfect community, and only associate with people who are like us, and think we can do it by spending our time in a virtual community.

Much as it would be fun to fantasize about living in a beautiful village powered by sustainable agriculture and populated only with the regular readers of this blog, its not going to happen, and even then we wouldn't all get along. I can't resist quoting Wendell Berry from a 1973 interview in Mother Earth News. When asked why he decided to move back to his small hometown, and how he decided it was a suitable community, this was his response: " community is suitable. There's plenty wrong with them all. I could construct an airtight argument for not settling in my own community. [But] the fact is that I'm spending my life constructing an argument for being here."

Again and again, it keeps coming back to the same fundamental reality--peak oil and its associated problems aren't technical in nature, they're cultural. Gandhi said the earth has enough for man's need, but not for man's greed. What more needs to be said?

12/9/10, 10:05 AM

Lynford1933 said...
I have changed the name "Green Wizard" to TLAR Engineer. TLAR = That Looks About Right. 1950-51 we studied slide rule with three digit accuracy. "824" could be any number so you had to know what was about right. One case 10K looked about right so the real number was 8,240. Another case about 1 looked right so the real number was .824.

As a TLAR Engineer I have built a solar food drier, solar powered golf cart, solar cookers, etc. The garden is raised bed and high density because TLAR. The house is highly insulated, peak everything is TLAR; the planet is finite. The well has a hand pump also because we may lose electricity and we do really need water here in the high desert. Peak oil is posted every day at the filling station, it has gone from $.25 to $3.49 (this morning) in my lifetime.

As a TLAR engineer, I too believe the term "Green Wizard" is a bit hokey; but I are one. :-)

12/9/10, 10:16 AM

William said...
I enjoyed your column as usual, JMG. Two notes struck me: it is valuable to get along in one's community. That doesn't mean unanimity about the situation, but gathering into small-like minded enclaves tends to close out new ideas and even encourage violence. Counter-vailing opinions help me clarify my own thinking, even when it doesn't change my conclusion, and they avoid a self-reinforcing eventually bitter cycle of resentment and exclusiveness.

The trash truck driver was at my door, angry this morning. I had called asking why the trash had not been picked up in about six weeks, and he complained that the bin wasn't [quite] full, and that it's inconvenient to drive out here to pick it up. Angry because I had asked why I was paying for non-existent pickup. I was angry in return, which is not constructive. I'd like peace, even with people with whom I don't agree. Can't always get it, but my anger doesn't make it better. I'd have done better to listen empathically.

I agree that we can't ally effectively with the Climate Change movement, and that they have been terribly ineffective in spite of solid science. Science is misunderstood (doesn't science produce iPad's?) and not believed by our uneducated American public. But the even bigger problem with the AGW community is that, as far as I can see, they suppose that with some tinkering with laws and regulations, we can maintain some semblance of business as usual. not bloody likely, IMO.

12/9/10, 10:19 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Julienz, excellent advice. Thank you for passing it on.

Cherokee, it hasn't hit Main Street yet, but the idea is no longer being flatly denied by every authoritative voice in the industrial world. That's the crack in the dam that will shortly unleash the flood.

Zach, I trust you're aware that I was teasing Garden Manager. Of course people can learn to get along, particularly once they get over the bad habits inculcated by the internet and remember that a bit of courtesy goes a long way. BTW, "flogress" is great!

Dandelion, exactly. You get today's gold star; leading by example is the only leadership that counts right now. The only reason so many people compare leadership in the alternative scene to herding cats is that they haven't learned how you herd cats.

How do you herd cats? You get to the place you want them to go, carrying an electric can opener and a #10 can of tuna. Once the sound of the can opener is heard and the odor of tuna spreads, you'll have your herd of cats right where you want them -- but that presupposes that you're willing to go there first and deliver the goods, which is of course what a lot of would-be leaders aren't willing to do...

Jason, excellent! I wonder if it's occurred to you, though, that one of the reasons I chose the hokey term is precisely because it's too hokey to make a respectable slogan, and so will force people who wand a respectable slogan to coin one of their own. Dissensus...

Jim, excellent. Unlike most skeptics, you've grasped that the questions "does X occur" and "why does X occur" are of different logical types, and that it's a fallacy to insist, as so many people do these days, that if the cause isn't known, the effect didn't happen! As for the SCA et al., I'll be discussing groups of that nature down the road a bit; lots of potential there.

Pops, exactly. Time to do something or get off the pot, so to speak.

Sharon, either way it's a bad plan. The climate people have the money, the name recognition, and the institutional momentum; they'd end up dominating any such hybrid, with predictably bad results. At this point I'm sorry to say that they're in a Tainter situation, where total collapse is probably the only way forward; thereafter they can start picking up the pieces from the grassroots, and be in a position to offer a response when the first wave of disasters hits.

As for creeping respectability, I know the treatment for that. Next ASPO conference I'll lead an auditorium full of people out of the hotel into the streets where we'll all bay at the moon.

12/9/10, 10:24 AM

Bob said...
blue sun,
I suspect (hope?) that many aspects of identity we cling to now (atheist, leftist, peak oil blog troller) will be gone half a century from now, or at least WAY less important than other aspects we may not give much lip service to (DIYer, happy to do more than my share, calm in a crisis, reluctant to steal food from neighbors, lazier than I'd like to admit). I will probably not care who you voted for in the last few elections if you are helping me fix my chicken coop, and you will probably not care who was late to the Limits to Growth party (worst party ever, by the way, present company excluded) if they are bringing carrots over to your house after yours got ruined by a clever critter. There may be some correlation with certain attitudes now and certain behaviors down the road, but they don't interest me all that much. I just want neighbors who are willing to work together when necessary, and I will assess their value as friends accordingly. I will also be extremely curious if I am able to feed my family and heat my home, while not succumbing to hypocrisy about everything I just wrote.

12/9/10, 10:25 AM

sgage said...
Wow, I had a totally different take on "flogress". More along the lines of...

Female tiger >> Tigress

One who flogs (female version) >> Flogress


12/9/10, 10:36 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Professor, good question. I'd encourage everyone to copy down the mailing address of the Cultural Conservers Foundation -- POB 914, Cumberland MD 21501 -- which will be the contact point for post-internet Green Wizardry, at least to start with; that way if the net goes down unexpectedly, we've got a fallback. My guess is that there'll be an interval of several years of increasing restrictions and/or net unreliability before things grind to a halt, but I could be wrong.

Michael, Sharon's my adopted kid sister, and we can be counted on to bicker entertainingly!

Planner, shameless plugs are fine, and apple trees are even finer. I'm reminded of the quote from Marshal Lyautey; when he instructed his gardener to put in a row of oaks along one of the drives on his estate, and the gardener reminded him that the oaks would take 200 years to reach maturity, the marshal said, "Then there is no time to waste; you must plant them this very afternoon."

Lorax, you're in an excellent position to get some serious work done. Go ye and do that thing!

Twilight, good. There's plenty of weirdness to look into; a fair amount of it is almost certainly crap, but it's nearly impossible to figure out which is the good stuff without putting it to the test. That's why I recommend the utterly unscientific approach of looking for something that ignites your interest and your passion, and going at it whole hog.

Bob, excellent. I certainly don't want to dissuade you from looking at the world according to the views of scientific materialism; that's also a piece in the puzzle, and the sciences themselves teach crucial skills that can be of use in a very wide (though of course not limitless) range of endeavors. Still, it's worth remembering -- as you point out -- that scientific notions change constantly, and the established truth of one decade fairly often becomes the outworn dogma of the next; it's also worth remembering, as I suggested to Jim above, that a phenomenon can occur even if the traditional folk theories concerning its causes don't happen to be accurate.

Adrian, I hear from a lot of people who are having the experience of inhabiting a couple of parallel worlds right now -- hard to avoid when so many people are living in what amounts to la-la land right now. Thank you for the Czeslaw Milosz quote!

12/9/10, 10:40 AM

Michael Dawson said...
Personally, I see two other problems with any alliance with climate change activism:

1. It's already largely owned by the SUV ecologists/forces of co-optation, and, as such, joining it means throwing good energy after bad.

2. Unlike CC, Peak Oil is as solid on the cause-analysis side as it is on the projection/prediction of future consequences. Climate change is loose guesswork on the latter topic. Heck, it might (not likely but certainly possible) be overlapping with the return of Ice Age, and hence wind up being a stroke of luck. Any honest explanation of CC needs to acknowledge the looseness/variability of its connection to the future.

PO, meanwhile, is utterly certain to mean the extreme restriction of industrial practices, and soon, for reasons that can be explained with great precision and confidence.

I prefer to keep a friendly door open to the better varieties of CC workers. I am pretty sure PO will overtake their cause in the next couple decades.

And, of course, the arrival the downslope of fossil fuels is in itself going to be a very solid answer to CC.

12/9/10, 11:34 AM

Andy Brown said...
Thanks for another thought-provoking post! I did want to challenge one of your ideas, here, though. I agree that an "alliance" between Peak Oildom and the climate change camp wouldn't work for various reasons. But I think the Peak Oil Community ignores them at their own peril. I think the Peak Oil people are primed to make exactly the same mistakes that the global warming people did. They are putting a lot of stock in the fact that they are right and all the facts align in their favor, and now that those facts are fully "public" and incontrovertible the powers that be will have to deal with it. I think they even expect to get some credit for being ahead of the curve on things, and maybe even be granted some influence on ways forward! Yes, the Climate Change people failed (with all those same "advantages" listed above), but now there is a set of scientist-activists that have come out of that crucible who are far more sophisticated about what it means to contradict the fossil fuel status quo. I think they can be a crucial resource if the kind of thinking that underlay the Peak Oil movement is going to have its say.

12/9/10, 11:43 AM

William Hunter Duncan said...
Reading Brownlee, the first question that comes to mind is, if you believe the situation to be so bleak, why bother trying to transition a town? If the bleakest of visions come to pass, no town will survive; only the craftiest, most skilled, most resourceful, strongest people. There may be towns where his vision will work. I live in Minneapolis where it won't.

As to your notion that it's up to the individual to experiment - I met a man this summer, an engineer who seemed certain I could heat my house with radiant heat generated from the sewer. We speculated at the time about a Great Escape-like tunneling from my basement. Anyway, I'm working on it. Not in the way we imagined, but I'll know soon whether it will work. As you are heading into a Green Wizard discussion on heat, and heat is such an issue here in Minnesota, I'll let you know how it goes.

William Hunter Duncan

12/9/10, 1:28 PM

Loveandlight said...
I would only just like to say that I continue to be impressed with your maturity and practicality of perspective. I can't help but think I would have made things much easier on myself if I would have had an eye-dropper's worth of your good sense when I was a twenty-something!

12/9/10, 2:46 PM

Eric said...
"...something that ignites your interest and your passion, and going at it whole hog."

Well, 2/3 hog in my case, but I have been fixated on bicycles for decades. So it happens lately that I have been making bikes that ordinary people can use to carry real loads:[email protected]/3098814422/

All from just doing more or less what I felt like doing for a few years.
I am so happy that you keep coming back to taking action in the real world. Even a dumb idea can be really informative if one follows it and pays attention.

12/9/10, 3:00 PM

Pat said...
Not sure what the confusion about green wizardry might be. I use this meaning from Google Answers:
"A wizard is a lore-master, especially of arcane
knowledge (hence such usages as "computer wizard"), as well as a
magickal practitioner".

A green one would be trying to pass along ecologically positive lore.

Why is that sounding weird?

Conversations with others - ask if they have thought about the issue of peak oil? If they have not, stop and let it go. If their response is yes, ask what they think? If it has no credibility with them, let it go.

I am consciously choosing how I spend my time and energy to achieve the most benefit. Each person will come into peak oil understanding in their own time. Who am I to decide for anyone but myself?

Ihave chosen to:
* try to grow heritage veggies, *save seeds,
*learn about dehydration for food preservation,
*rekindled my love of sewing and knitting,
*plan preserved food rotation, *prepare myself mentally and emotionally for greater self-sufficiency.
*actively look for kindred spirits without judgementalism and surprisingly, I am starting to find them now that I am searching.

I agree that large movements have their challenges and benefits and are easy targets of those opposed whether PO or other.
Small demonstrations that work are far more credible as I am finding.

I like the word dissensus which is the opposite of consensus and is not necessarily negative but rather another option to explore.
Just by using that word, one will trigger interest.

12/9/10, 3:20 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Robo, some of us will grow up in time. Many of those who don't may not live long enough to have a second shot at it. I wish the situation wasn't that harsh, but the conjunction of economic contraction, rising food and fuel prices, and a government hopelessly out of touch with its people makes willful avoidance of reality a potentially lethal mistake.

Cathy, what I mean by the next big climate catastrophe is one that exceeds Hurricane Katrina in economic impact and death toll. I don't doubt we'll see that in the next decade, but until then I don't expect much change on the climate front.

Blue Sun, Berry's point about community is crucial. Every community has problems; every community has potential; every community embodies a future that is waiting to be born, and just needs a midwife, or a critical mass of midwives, to make that happen.

Harry, that's a useful and underrecognized possibility -- trying to find ways, when that's possible, to leverage some part of one's existing job in useful directions. It's not always an option, and sometimes there are better things to do -- I certainly wouldn't discourage the Lorax from heading off to farm his parents' 75 acres! -- but it probably deserves more attention than it's gotten.

Lynford, if three decimal places of accuracy were enough to put human boot prints on the Moon -- and they were -- they're good enough for the tasks ahead. I hope you still use your slide rule!

William, good. I've been arguing for a while now that the climate change movement is hamstrung by its uncritical embrace of the fantasy of human omnipotence -- look how almighty we are, we can wreck the whole planet! -- and thus, without realizing it, feeds the very attitudes it needs to overcome.

12/9/10, 3:32 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bob, it's an interesting question. Typically, in the wake of major systemic crisis, old identities may fossilize in place or they may dissolve completely and yield to a new set of social categories. It'll be interesting to see how much of each of these we get this time.

Sgage, that would work; an ogress, after all, is a female ogre. Still, that would suggest that progress is a female progger, and I'm not sure that suggestion is safe for a family-friendly blog like this one... ;-)

Michael, no argument there.

Andy, the $64,000 question is whether the climate activists you've mentioned have learned from their experience. I've seen way too many examples of failed campaigns whose members insisted on doing exactly the same things the next time around, because that's the only thing their take on the situation allowed them to imagine doing. Mind you, you're right that the peak oil movement needs to dodge those same bullets, but there's more than one way to learn from a dreadful example.

William, now that sounds like something that a mad scientist would try. Excellent. Did I mention that we need mad scientists? We need mad scientists -- preferably equipped with solar powered life rays rather than the more traditional nuclear powered death rays, but we need 'em.

Loveandlight, if I'd had an eyedropper's worth of good sense when I was a twenty-something, I'd have made things much easier on myself, too.

Eric, 2/3 of a hog is a lot better than no hog at all. Many thanks for the link -- those are some seriously cool bikes.

12/9/10, 3:42 PM

Susan said...
Thanks, Archdruid, and Garden Manager too. As I was reading the blog this week I was thinking about how I need to become better at communicating and connecting with other people before I can do a truly helpful Green Wizard project. Guess what: becoming better at communicating and connecting might be a truly helpful GW project! Especially for confirmed loners like me.

Also, am I flogg(ress)ing a dead horse if I say that my word to verify, "adruera," kindasorta sounds like a female druid? But I've always been partial to "-trix" as a feminine suffix...

12/9/10, 5:30 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Bob at 10:25 -- what you describe is not just the future, it's the reality of present-day small-town and rural life. Getting along with others is the prime imperative.

A bit of a different topic, but relevant still.. a conversation I overheard between local ranchers in a truck stop (the old fashioned independent kind that is almost extinct now) in a small town in west Kansas about 10 years ago. They were talking about some fellow who liked to dress in drag and go to the bars in "the city" (Denver, maybe?). After a bit of talk, one of them said "You know, it's not that he's bisexual or whatever they call it --" Another rancher interrupted and said "Aw, shoot, nobody cares about that stuff anymore. I just think he's embarrassing his wife!"

It's not the politics, it whether you treat your neighbors and family with respect.

12/9/10, 5:37 PM

Doctor Westchester said...
After sitting in the bowels of some g-d awful upscale hotel for hours on end trying not to (too obviously) fall asleep, the thought of going out and baying at the moon sounds great!

12/9/10, 6:50 PM

Joseph said...
It seems to me as we are on a preset path. We are supposed to be in this oil crisis. It was pre manufactured. By the oil and bank elites I think for a kind of control which their pantent on oil products would produce.
More to the point though and on topic. There has been many findings in recent history that would suggest that are need for oil would have greatly been downsized. There is a dark cloud overhead seeking out and destroying all other possibilites but oil. Remember there is no money in infinite renewable energy.
This crisis will proceed until the downfall of the monetary system which will coincide with our oil crisis.
What about magnetic generators... I have always been curious if one could be built low cost. Also how much output could one get from such a device.
My close family has forseen this coming age. And have been preparing but as of yet havent actually got much done.
Seems to me it is expensive for a low income family to get off the grid. We also have been gathering materials for a home garden which i am excited to get into this next spring.
Is ecofriendly housing going to be easy with the downfall of are housing market? I fear only the rich and the ingenious will survive in are future. There has to be a better way.
Sorry if my words are darker than the other posts. I truly only wish for the human race to prosper and find peace.
You can visualize the light at the end of a dark tunnel. But they have planted mirrors on are path. Do we use the mirrors they have placed to hinder our path to the light. Or do we smash thier mirrors with all are might.
Find our own path we must. Or be traped in the tunnel which they would hope for us to parish.

12/9/10, 7:22 PM

Zach said...
Zach, I trust you're aware that I was teasing Garden Manager. Of course people can learn to get along, particularly once they get over the bad habits inculcated by the internet and remember that a bit of courtesy goes a long way.

I did notice that at first, but I think I lost track of it. Darn Internet, anyway...

I think it hit a nerve I didn't realize was sore, though. It would seem I have a bit of annoyance stored up at both the "if everybody would just have nice feelings and do ___________ we would have Utopia" crowd and their opposite number, the "people are just nasty @#$!'s and that's the way it's always been, so get over it -- what do you expect?" crowd.

Both are misleading simplifications of reality.

However, my annoyance doesn't really fix that, although it can and sometimes does prod me to wax pedantic in comment boxes. :)


12/9/10, 8:32 PM

Kevin said...
I like the idea of people doing things that can be tackled in a basement workshop. That puts it within one's reach.

It seems to me you're proposing quite a different sort of activity than hitherto. As best I recall, your prior suggestions generally involve individuals mastering proven, tried-and-true traditional crafts or skills that will enable them to survive economic collapse: gardening, carpentry, leather working, and so forth. But building reactors in one's basement or working on other experimental responses to energy shortage is not the sort of activity that guarantees survival to the one doing it. It's a long shot which, if successful, will benefit a local community or even society at large, but if it fails will have cost someone dear to no purpose from their point of view, other than the process of elimination of potential solutions that you have indicated.

Even if pursued by a group of people pooling their means, it implies a substantial surplus of time and resources beyond what is needed for mere survival, the sort of surplus that is likely to become ever scarcer as economies contract. So if people want grand solutions, or even modest ones, time would seem to be a critical factor: as you've reminded us often before, of course.

In the movie "What the Bleep" a string theory / membrane physicist
rhetorically poses the question "Can you build a universe in your basement?" His answer is that given the proper conditions Yes, you can. This may be encouraging to those back yard tinkers engaged in constructing Bussard reactors or other somewhat less ambitious tasks. I've always wanted my own alternate universe.

12/9/10, 9:04 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Pat, it sounds as though you've made a very good start on your own path as a green wizard. Good for you.

Susan, that does sound like a useful project. These days, though, the usual term for a female druid is, well, "druid." There are quite a few of them, too.

Bill, that's a great story! Many thanks for passing it on.

Doctor W., I admit to having had similar feelings more than once. Perhaps we should go ahead and organize a group howl next time around, and invite Congress...

Er, Joseph, the notion that whatever is wrong with the world is being caused by some malevolent group of people is one of history's all time bad ideas. I suggest you take a deep breath and consider the possibility that maybe we're just at the wrong end of a long series of mistakes to which all of us -- yes, including you and me -- have contributed at least a little. It's a much less claustrophobic world when you look at it that way.

Zach, I think I have you and most other people beat when it comes to waxing pedantic on the internet! Not to worry.

12/9/10, 9:05 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Kevin, good. Yes, that's one of the options that unfold from the green wizardry project. Most people will pursue proven options, as indeed they should, but I want to encourage those who want to set their sights higher to do so, and break new ground -- perhaps in a small way, perhaps in a larger one. I don't know if anybody's likely to build a universe in their basement, but it's entirely possible that people could come up with ways to live more successfully in the one we've got, and that's not a small thing, after all.

12/9/10, 9:09 PM

Kevin said...
Dandelion, it sounds like you've worked out a good balance between your art on the one hand and things like herbalism on the other. Or maybe you've got a passion for all these things, so that there is no "one hand, other hand" division. I'm an artist too, and find I have some difficulty forcing my attention away from the drawing board to other things that are more likely to put veggies on my plate.

I like your neologism "craptastic." It describes so many things!

Miltonics, I've considered the rocket stove in an apartment too. Unfortunately JMG's probably right about the fire hazard. Got to have a place for a chimney.

Although I have fantasized about building one on wheels that I could fire up on my back porch (which is floored with concrete), then wheeling it inside once the fuel is burnt and exhaust dispersed, and heat continues to radiate from the thermal cladding for hours afterward. This is probably an unworkable fantasy, but I'd sure like it if it worked.

12/9/10, 9:21 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi all,

A common theme in peoples comments is that there is the (sometimes unspoken) expectation that somehow we should all get along.

This point of view is contrary to all available evidence. If you look at housing estates they are designed to isolate the individuals and families. Look at the fences between neighbours, people not knowing (or talking to) their neighbours, people working long distances from their place of residence. You could go on, but it simply lacks social cohesion.

The majority of people must like it this way though as it is quite a common way to live in Western society. People see their neighbours as an intrusion into their quiet enjoyment.

Yet, such a divided community has no voice. It's an old tactic to promote division as people become more easily manipulated and controlled. It's the downfall of committees and community groups too.

It's easily done through a consumer culture because you're busy collecting stuff, showing it off and hoarding it. These actions do not promote a culture of community cohesion.

Should Western society break down, the majority of our housing stock will be useless and most likely recycled by enterprising individuals or groups. Something approximating a village or small town will be a viable community. You'll have no choice but to get to know your neighbours and learn to get along with them.

Good luck!

12/9/10, 11:29 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi all,

It might also be worth remembering that in the wider world where people live in high density, with low access to resources, they employ the tool of civility so that they don't end up killing each other over petty grievances.

Good luck!

12/10/10, 12:02 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi all,

The brain must be on overdrive today.

I've also noticed that people are commenting that they are struggling starting to take any form of action, or they blame their partners and/or family. The thoughts and concerns are there, but there's no substantive action.

Well, it may surprise some but, failing to make a decision is actually making a decision.

Most people think in terms of a dichotomy, which you can hear expressed something like this: "You're either with us or against us" or "it's either true or false". However, this ignores the obvious (and what I call) third way which is "do nothing". This is a perfectly valid path and sometimes leads to the best outcomes. Our futures are full of differing choices and paths.

However, with peak oil, I'd suggest that you at least learn how to grow some of your own food. The reason for this recommendation is that food will be the best value of exchange available - money will be worthless and labour will be cheap. No one can go without food for very long (3 weeks I think).

Good luck!

12/10/10, 1:18 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi JMG and all,

Must be bored tonight...

There's a good experiment you can do to see how you'd cope with an energy shortage scenario.

Simply try turning off your electricity at the mains switch for 24 hours and do not use your oil powered vehicle. See how you and your family copes. You'll quickly find out your vulnerabilities and how dependant you are on these external sources of energy that come from somewhere else. It's quite a wake up call.

For peoples info I live in an area where the power goes out all the time and am on solar off grid. This has consequences as I am only able to utilise 3kW/h a day which is not much by Western standards, but quite a lot by world standards.

It's worthwhile giving it a go. Remember to not leave too much food in the freezer (or don't open the fridge door at all during this period).

Incidentally it might be also worth remembering that electricity is only a fairly new experience in historical terms. We weren't always this dependant.

You might also work out: how far your nearest shops are; how can you entertain yourself; how do you feed yourself; what do you actually eat in the first place; do you have running water; and does you sewerage system work.

Good luck!

12/10/10, 3:21 AM

An Eaarthly Planner said...
Michael Dawson said:

2. Unlike CC, Peak Oil is as solid on the cause-analysis side as it is on the projection/prediction of future consequences. Climate change is loose guesswork on the latter topic. Heck, it might (not likely but certainly possible) be overlapping with the return of Ice Age, and hence wind up being a stroke of luck. Any honest explanation of CC needs to acknowledge the looseness/variability of its connection to the future.

PO, meanwhile, is utterly certain to mean the extreme restriction of industrial practices, and soon, for reasons that can be explained with great precision and confidence.

You are over-confident regarding the ability of Peakists (for lack of a better term) to predict the future. All one has to do is conduct an informal survey of posts in a blog such as this one, or on TOD, or anywhere else, to see there is a great lack of consensus on what exactly PO will mean, specifically. We can speak in broad terms, yes, but I don't see the "great precision" you reference, though I do see a heck of a lot of over-confidence in one's implausibly-precise predictions.

Regarding CC, you couldn't be more wrong. Whereas PO is much more of a socio-political phenomenon in its effects, CC is strictly physical. Maybe it would be helpful to think of this way: PO's input is physical (geological constraints), but it's output is socio-political-economic; CC's input is socio-political-economic, but it's output is physical. For CC, the physical outputs are modeled in extremely powerful computers that are getting more accurate every year. The only question there, from a socio-political perspective, is when will we stop our "inputs" of GHGs to the system, thus limiting the radiative forcing?

Saying CC is "loose guesswork" and might "[overlap] with the return of Ice Age" is so completely incorrect it's disturbing, especially with JMG's "no argument there" reply.

12/10/10, 6:56 AM

Richard Larson said...
More I am coming to the conclusion it is best to sit out the fight to come, which includes, advocating for government to take measures that will mitigate the collapse of the carbon economy. The people in influence only see the numbers (what passes for money), and the only emotion that comes out of the effort is agitation.

Taking care of oneself and immediate friends while trying to avoid the coming conflict will be hard enough. This is why "Green Wizard" is appealing and think will have a growing audience. Keep it up.

12/10/10, 7:35 AM

GHung said...
Thanks, Greer! Unlike some here, I think the term "Green Wizzard" is great. It's more positive than "Grim Wise Man", and lends appropriate trappings to what is, when stripped bare, very much the technical process of weaning ourselves, our culture, from the empty rewards of technological complexity.

As a former deepwater sailor, it occured to me that sailors always give names to their ships, always refer to them as "Her", "She", and having endured more than a few awsome storms at sea I understand why. While a boat is merely a technological construct, when built and well crewed, a ship becomes a living entity that cannot survive the storm without the capable, and indeed caring handling of Her crew. She is the only thing between them and a watery grave. Therefore, She must have a name.

There was a time when rail locomotives were works of art as well as engineering marvels. Their builders and engineers gave them names as well.

My woodstove is an hierloom, beautiful soapstone, and has warmed my family for decades. It occurs to me that it should have a name. "Greer" perhaps ;-)

My point is that we are long past the point where we take our most critical technology for granted. We use it up then throw it away. Our relationship to all of our resources has become sterile. I posted on TOD a few months ago that, by the time it heats my house, I have handled each piece of firewood at least six times. I often think of the tree it came from as I load my little cart with wood on cold winter evenings. Each bit of wood is placed carefully into the stove (Greer?) with a bit of reverence. This connection to the warmth provided, what is technically a source of fuel, has importance. When these things become only a check to be written, a barrel of oil or a kilowatt of electriciy from far away, they become neccessary evils; little more. This is the "inappropriate" result of the sterile relationship we have developed with the gifts that Mother Earth has provided. As it always has, history is witnessing the consequences. JMG, thanks for providing context, the sort of trappings we will need to reconnect with what matters. Only when we begin to tell better stories and give better names to all things that sustain us will we become a capable crew for Spaceship Earth.

12/10/10, 7:38 AM

Richard said...
Eaarthly Planner, while the climate models certainly are from powerful computers, they still amount to an educated guess, becuase the climate system is so complex, with so many feedbacks. There is plenty of disagreement within the climate scientists themselves about all the effects of climate change, one example is James Hansen saying the IPCC estimate of sea level rise is much too low. The arctic sea ice has been melting faster than the models predicted a few years ago.

I tend to put more stake in paleoclimate findings as they're at least a state that the climate has been in before and not just a theoretical state. However even they are not a guarantee of what will happen this time, and the transition period that has stared and will last until the climate eventually settles into a new semi-stable state (likely past the lifespan of anyone now) is likely the trickiest of all to predict. While I am pretty convinced of certain things, such as the Earth as a whole getting warmer (although it's possible that changes in weather patterns could cool certain areas), downpours getting heavier, and the sea level rising, but even these it's very unclear how they'll turn out and what unexpected outcomes could happen.

It seems many in the climate change movement want to convince people they're pretty sure of the outcome because admitting uncertainty in they're view gives credence to the deniers. However, the deniers who use uncertainty as their argument are quite flawed as well, because the uncertainty could just as well make climate change worse than expected.

12/10/10, 2:12 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Cherokee -- the isolated nuclear household scenario you describe is an historical aberration associated with suburban affluence. Over the 20th Century people became more dependent on their employers and less dependent on their physical neighbors and local community, hence social isolation grew. It's not that people necessarily WANT to know and be known by all their neighbors, but under most circumstances, where the nuclear household is simply not viable, you HAVE to know and be known by your neighbors and community whether you like it or not. Hence the construction of all these social conventions that defuse, bury, and isolate tensions so peace can be maintained and work can get done. I know all my neighbors, they all know me, we all know each others business. I actually rather dislike one of them, and I suspect he outright hates me. But we get along. It's an inevitability when your life is lived close to home rather than in some separate urban economic hub.

Like so many things, it matters not one bit whether people WANT to know and learn to get along with their neighbors and local community. It's just like people who say "Ew, all that sweaty dirty manual labor doesn't sound like fun, I wouldn't enjoy that at all." So what? You're not going to have any choice in the matter, the other options won't likely be sustainable for long in a more energy limited society.

12/10/10, 2:49 PM

An Eaarthly Planner said...
Hi Richard,

There's actually a study somewhere, although I don't feel like searching out the citation at the moment, that shows that, as you say, most every model has been under-predicting the rate of climate change. Along those lines, the Royal Society (the world's oldest scientific body) recently published a special issue on "4 Degrees [Celsius] and Beyond", which was all about the likelihood (great) of 4C+ climate change, and its impacts. They also found that, under business-as-usual, that level of warming was likely as soon as 2060. It's fair to say that would be absolutely catastrophic for most every species on Earth.

Fortunately, business-as-usual is incredibly unlikely. I like to say that we're being saved by collapse.

Nevertheless, since you mentioned Dr. James Hansen, he's already shown in a seminal work that 325ppm (+/- 25ppm) is the maximum level of CO2 in the atmosphere consistent with the climate that civilization grew up with (based on paleoclimate models). Since we're already at 390ppm, we're already screwed, climatically-speaking, barring some massive effort at biochar carbon sequestration or something like that.

12/10/10, 8:23 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Cherokee, I hope you're posting these ideas over at the Green Wizards forum, where they'll be useful to others for longer than the couple of weeks any given comments page keeps being read.

Planner, I wasn't agreeing with Michael's characterization of climate change science as loose guesswork, but he's right that the climate system is far more complex than most activists seem to realize -- and there's actually quite a bit of evidence that we're headed into an ice age over the next few thousand years, though short-term global warming effects are likely to make the trip there a much more violent whipsaw motion than it would otherwise likely be.

Richard L., there's much to be said for sitting out the fight and just keeping on with some kind of productive project you can do on your own!

Ghung, you're welcome. Me, I have no trouble with the "wizard" label either, though admittedly when you've gotten used to "archdruid," "wizard" is not too exotic...

Richard, well put. I tend to put more faith in paleoclimate data than current models, which leads to some interesting conclusions -- first, that climate change tends to be much more drastic than the models suggest, and second, that the biosphere can roll with the punches pretty easily; whether human civilizations can do so is quite another matter, of course.

Bill, a nice note of realism. Thank you.

Planner, paleoclimatic data suggest that climate feedback loops routinely drive sudden, drastic changes in temperature -- check out the beginning and end of the Younger Dryas phase at the end of the last ice age around 11,500 BCE, when global temperatures dropped 15 degrees F. in less than a decade, stayed in the deep freeze for a thousand years, then slammed back up even further in another decade or so and launched the great melting of the continental glaciers.

Hit modern industrial civilization with a 15 degree F. change and its consequences, and it will collapse like a punctured whoopee cushion -- but you'll notice that the biosphere shed some megafauna, regrouped, and went chugging right along. I expect the same results this time -- and yes, I think it's possible we could get hit with the same scale of change, just as suddenly.

12/10/10, 8:48 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
A few climate change notes --

The Dryas periods were regional in their effects, not globally uniform. This is a very important lesson -- some regions can see much more drastic change and even in different directions. Last winter with the Arctic Dipole Anomaly (wiki it for details) was rather similar to the Dryas pattern - sudden dramatic cold focused on eastern North America and western Europe, triggered by a new atmospheric circulation pattern never before seen in the historical record. Meanwhile the rest of the globe remained hot and getting hotter.

The biosphere as a whole survives rapid climate change, but many individual pieces of it do not. In the "punctuated equilibrium" concept of evolution, long periods of relative stability are separated by short periods of rapid change. In these "punctuations" both evolution and extinction get kicked into high gear -- some things go extinct, others change and diversify rapidly, setting the evolution of new species in motion. Rapid climate changes are some of these punctuation events.

12/11/10, 5:14 AM

idiotgrrl said...
I looked at the Cultural Conservers page and it seems like a very good idea. Has anyone read Neil Stephenson's novel "Anathem"? Cultural conservation over a very, very long view.

I do want to take exception to the notion that the manuscripts were gathering dust in the monastery libraries. Most of them were being assiduously copied during the Dark Ages, at least in the libraries of Ireland and of Anglo-Saxon England, because the monks were well aware of what they lacked and needed to obtain. But there were times of cultural ebb even in the Dark Ages. Check out King Alfred's massive translation program (no, the first scriptures in English were NOT a Reformation-era project).

When in doubt, ask a medieval student.

12/11/10, 7:13 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Technical corrections about the Younger Dryas:

The 15F temperature swings were not global; those were the magnitudes of the shifts in the high northern latitudes, especially Greenland, Europe, and eastern North America. Cooling in the tropics was more modest, on the order of 5F, and not necessarily in synch with the actual Younger Dryas (i.e. may have involved a different mechanism and happened as much as 1000 years earlier). In the southern hemisphere the Younger Dryas does not appear to have happened at all. Antarctica warmed at an accelerated rate during the same time period.

More evidence from the paleoclimate that "global warming" does not mean warming all the time throughout the whole globe; global climate change takes complex patterns.

12/11/10, 8:17 AM

An Eaarthly Planner said...

According to NOAA, we're probably locked in to some amount of global warming for the next 1,000 years, at least. As far as heading into an ice age after that, sure, maybe, I'd have to take another look at the lit, but 1,000 years is already far enough for my personal time horizon.

Generally, it seems we're in agreement that the climate system is monstrously complex and that it would be best to cease tinkering with it. I've often characterized modern industrial civilization as the equivalent of the giant meteorite that killed the dinos et al, and not just with respect to climate change.

I guess, when we get right down to it, I'm not so much sad by the fate we've created for ourselves, but for the mass extinction we're bringing down upon the rest of the biosphere. While you are probably correct that evolution will rebuild biodiversity in the end, it is a sad thing to see so many hundreds of millions of years worth of it just wiped out for no good cause. And given that we're living on a middle-aged planet (~4 billion years, with another ~4 billion till our sun does something nasty to us), it makes the situation a bit more critical for those who like to take the long view.

Anyway, I suppose we've gone a bit off-topic.

12/11/10, 11:40 AM

Goat Path said...
Here is my far fetched plan- Lease 500 acres of prime suburban real estate- land that used to be farmland but is now conserved as open space. Ask neighboring ranches in New Jersey for 500 cattle, 500 sheep and 100 goats.

Do mob grazing (multi-species grazing)on the land, so that the owners of the livestock can sell them as "grass fed" meat. The owners of the livestock have to pay to get their animals "grass fed". I use that to pay the lease. It has been done before, so I know it is possible, but no one has managed around here (near Philadelphia).

Do I have experience ranching? No, I have two goats and my grandfather was a ranch manager on a 9000 acre cattle ranch. I have a full time job and I'm almost 60. My most powerful resource is a vision, born of meditation fed by the quietness of nature that I experience every day when I go to the woods with my goats and dogs.

My only real life experience has come from making my suburban farm- worms, bees, goats, raised beds (biodynamically enhanced). Eight years ago my home was a typical suburban home with a grass backyard. It has taken me 8 years to get this far! Will I succeed? probably not.

It is wonderful to get some encouragement to try to accomplish the impossible!

12/11/10, 12:33 PM

sofistek said...
I'm not sure I'd agree that the prestige of science is already low. It could be argued that the prestige of climate science is low (unjustifiably so, given the results of several inquiries, but that doesn't matter to Joe Public) but not science in general. But I can't see how even climate science prestige is "continuing to wane".

With extreme weather events getting more extreme, it may not be too long before most people genuinely do accept AGW, instead of just saying they do.

But I take your point, that the aligning of the two "movements" may not be in the best interests of one of them.

TOD producing the premier peak oil journal in 10 years time? I very much doubt it. I would expect the settling of our societies, to a lower level of activity and energy, (what some might think of as collapse) to be well underway by then. Peak oil will be an historical note, at that point though, if society holds together, there may be a place for some precise information on oil reserves and how they are being allocated/rationed.

Yours is a great blog and should be read by everyone, but it isn't. TOD has (I assume) a much greater readership. As such, it should address all of the issues that a decline in oil production affects, as it always has done. I feel that energy is but one small piece of the puzzle and should definitely not be taken out of context of the big picture. We need to re-engineer society, not just our energy infrastructure.

12/11/10, 1:39 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Bill,

Too true. I've suspected for quite a while, that there are people up here who know my business as well as, if not better than I do. Some of my city friends are horrified by the thought, but it's amazing how often if I need help with something (or advice) that help is available and not far away.

It's the one's up here that are disturbed by all that sweaty labour thing that I think will become tomorrows gimmes.

Good luck!

12/11/10, 3:48 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Apologies, but it is as much as I can do (at present) to read the post, all comments, plus make comments myself. The forum may have to wait for another day. Other commitments intrude.

I do appreciate the work that you undertake putting together these weekly essays.


12/11/10, 3:51 PM

Robin Datta said...
@ Garden Manager (and also @ William, Susan, Cherokee Organics) - this is not a complete solution, but may serve as a step in the right direction: Non-Violent Communcation, and also along the same lines: Language of Compassion.

@ Robo - "Jimmy was an eccentric exception to the political rule": he was one of the few (only?) presidents with a background in science and engineering, and this in an ethical and moral framework derived from his provenance.

Urban Dictionary: A progger is a programmer who usually has some experience under their belt. It's unusual for a web designer to be labeled a programmer, but anyone who scripts can be labeled as a progger.

"For CC, the physical outputs are modeled in extremely powerful computers that are getting more accurate every year." Indeed, the 385 ppm atmospheric CO2 currently found are at the lowest levels in 300 million years, and very low compared to the 600 ppm to 2000 ppm in the age of the dinosaurs. Again, the most important greenhouse gas is water vapor, which accounts for 36% to 72% of the effect of greenhouse gases (as compared to CO2's 9% to 26%).

It is also recognized that we are currently towards the end of an interglacial period. Per Wikipedia, "The Earth has been in an interglacial period known as the Holocene for more than 11,000 years. It was conventional wisdom that "the typical interglacial period lasts about 12,000 years,"" although it also states "but this has been called into question recently ...... Predicted changes ....... suggest that the next glacial period would begin at least 50,000 years from now."

("4C+ climate change")"It's fair to say that would be absolutely catastrophic for most every species on Earth." It should not be neglected that in the time of the dinosaurs, the Jurassic and Cretaceous, the earth was about 10°C warmer than today.

"However, the deniers who use uncertainty as their argument are quite flawed as well" - and for this reason Climate Realists should give wide berth to both the denier and warmer camps.

12/12/10, 4:32 AM

Bob said...
Goat Path,
For what it's worth, I'm 42, have small but growing organic gardens and a chicken coop, and live just a few houses away from protected former farmland just outside Philadelphia (perhaps the same tract you envision/describe?). Maybe we can learn from each other, discuss your plan, and get rich in the process (not in the financial sense, of course, but in the ways that - as discussed many times in this blog - matter the most). If anything positive comes from the exchange, we can thank JMG and the gods of cyberspace for facilitating the connection. In any case, I'm glad to know of another Archdruid fan from the Delaware Valley. Also, I wasn't entirely clear about your post: do you actually walk your goats in the woods like dogs, or am I confused?

12/12/10, 7:47 AM

Byron said...
Fellow travelers and JMG. A most interesting discussion. On the question of communication my experience is that it is important for me to start with myself if I sense a communication problem. having a personal practice that helps me look at my own participation is most helpful. Currently I am using meditation and my relationship with my spouse. The best book and training material I have run across and used in the past for communication is Marshall Rosenberg's book "Nonviolent Communication". The book itself is useful but making a practice of implementation with another person or small group is really useful.

The bottom line is that it is clear to me that my improvement in communication, especially in groups has come from practice both personal and in groups. If one is interested in public speaking Toastmasters is a good resource.

Wow I enjoy this blog and its comments!

12/12/10, 8:27 AM

M.C.P. said...
It's my feeling that the limited effects of the Peak Oil movement have more to do with the premises of the people involved than with the suggestions being made. The Peak Oil Movement is full of people who believe that wealth comes from resources, not production. Its a belief that lost ground in the outcome of the civil war. I understand what you are saying regarding the politics behind TOD's distancing from you- however, I have to say that while I highly respect your intelligence, your ability to write, your critical analysis skills, and your insight, I think your premise is that without the resource of oil, we have no wealth. I've rad your past posts on the guy falling to an island with millions in his brief case and heard you ask the question, Where is his wealth now? As long as the people within the Peak Oil movement subscribe to this rhetoric, they will always be without much effect. Whether you like it or not, the people making decisions don't frame the problem of oil in the context of the isolated desert island scenario. They frame it in a scenario that looks at what is available around us and asks, how can human ingenuity process these resources to meet our needs. The needs aren't questioned because they are perceived as real. And as long as you don't perceive them as real yourself, the impact that you have will be severely limited (which is essentially your position, right? Don't find something else to take oils place, change your lifestyle and reduce your material needs. Am I wrong?)

I would like to see the Arch Druid Report begin by acknowledging the essential needs behind materialism, the direct connection between money and quality of life, and ask the question "how can we continue our growth?"

Until that happens across the movement, and you know this, the public will not take the Peak Oil Movement seriously.

-all due respect

12/12/10, 2:37 PM

Brad K. said...
@ Joseph,

You said, "Seems to me it is expensive for a low income family to get off the grid.

That is true - if your intent is to maintain the affluent-mimicking lifestyle that Wal-Mart and advertisers want you to lead.

Sharon at "Casaubon's Book" discusses ways to adapt to the ongoing changes, to find comfort and security even when the current trappings of microwave and central air become a wood-fired stove and extra socks around the house. (Sorry, Sharon, I know I put this badly.)

@ Goat Path,

MatronOfHusbandry and many others would recommend rotating your pasture. Divide it into smaller segments, and rotate the livestock according to the grass growth. Most estimates are that you can triple the amount of lifestock a given pasture can sustain without denying nutrition to animals or to the pasture.

Also consider where the animals will get their water, what you have to do about fencing, defending against complaints about manure runoff into water streams and sources, etc. Luck!

@ An Eaarthly Planner,

One comment about climate change. There has been an inordinate amount of money - and oil and other forms of unsustainable, fossil-fuel driven energy from electricity to diesel and coal - on predicting what happens to the earth under various assumptions (to my mind, "guesses") about what happens with CO2 levels. Yet one of the early premises has been that there is a "tipping" point - either to runaway heating or degenerating to an ice age.

I read a report that the Antarctic ice cap has melted by an astonishing amount. I see that the La Nina in the Pacific Ocean in 2007 was credited with "cooling" the atmosphere more than it had warmed in the previous century. So - what if the two are connected?? What if the melting Antarctic Ice is flowing out and surfacing as La Nina - and has been underway for decades now. The reports are that the La Nina forming now is much deeper than the last one.

Computers have a peculiar characteristic. They don't process truth. They process only "input". Computers don't have anything more to do with truth than the agendas and abilities of the people that create and use them. Computer models are built partly to investigate theories - but more importantly, to convert grant dollars into livelihoods.

@ Pat,

You said, "Not sure what the confusion about green wizardry might be."

As you point out, a wizard is a source of arcane knowledge. But the myth of Western civilization is that everything "sensible" can be sensed, has been investigated by science, and affirmed and understood by scientists and encoded in written libraries for reference to all. That is, every thinking person has access to all the information he or she needs.

Stating that there is one with access to lore that might not be a true, adjudged and reviewed reference - flies in the face of all that underpins so-called civilization.

A wizard is a corruption of all that is science and "civilized".

There is a modicum of risk that, depending how the transitions ahead fall out, that radical "us against them" mobs might pick their own beliefs as truth - and anyone deviating from their particular path as "deviant" and mortal enemy.

The term "green wizard" must be taken with a certain grave acceptance that we choose to take a path that differs from Modern America. Currently there is sufficient companion divergents that it might not seem too outre. But as the collapse progresses, don't be surprised that tolerances of "different" either solidify or collapse.

12/12/10, 5:01 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, the temperature figures I quoted for the Younger Dryas were based on isotope analysis of Greenland ice cores, which provide an (admittedly rough) average for global temperature based on evaporation from the oceans. Now of course those temperature shifts won't have been uniform globally, but a 15 degree F. average temperature shift globally is still one heck of a shift -- and considerably more drastic than the ones today's climate change activists are discussing.

Grrl, it was a figure of speech, granted.

Planner, okay, we're basically on the same page.

Goat Path, do it. Goethe said it best: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it. Begin it now!"

Sofistek, I think if you'll compare the number of people who accept statements by professional scientists as a matter of course today with the number of people who did so as a matter of course twenty or thirty years ago, you'll see the decline in prestige I'm talking about. As for TOD, well, your model of decline is obviously a lot faster than mine -- I expect journals to be being printed ten years from now.

Cherokee, fair enough.

Robin, thanks for the climate numbers! Mind you, a reversion to the mean in terms of global temperature would flatten industrial society like a hammer hitting a gnat, but the biosphere can clearly handle it.

Byron, thanks for the suggestions! I've also heard good things of Toastmasters, for whatever that's worth.

Mat, yours is a very common misunderstanding. Peak oil theory doesn't claim that wealth comes from resources rather than production; it claims that resources -- above all, energy resources -- are necessary to production. As Lynn White showed a long time ago, the fundamental measure of economic development is energy per capita, and when energy per capita declines, so does the level of economic development.

The people making decisions and the general public are caught up in a way of thinking that only makes sense in the context of ever-increasing energy supplies. Your insistence that economic growth has to continue is part and parcel of the same delusion. The point that has to be grasped is precisely that we have reached the end of growth, and the people making decisions and the general public alike are eventually going to have to deal with that. Until they do, no doubt you're right that they'll continue to ignore the peak oil movement, but the point at which the end of growth becomes impossible to ignore may not be that far off, you know.

12/13/10, 7:10 AM

An Eaarthly Planner said...
@ Brad K.,

There are a number of misconceptions in your comment. First, describing climate modeling as "guessing" is totally incorrect. Granted that scientists don't know close to everything about natural law, but they know a heck of a lot more than the average Joe -- so they're making educated guesses ;-). Which is definitely different. Climate models are based on our most current understanding about how the monstrously complex climate system works. If anything, they under-predict the likelihood of extreme warming because of our present struggles with incorporating global (mostly positive) feedback mechanisms.

Also, I have heard nothing about a possible "tipping" point sending us into an ice age, and I read a lot of the lit. Sounds like an internet myth, to me.

Re the current La Niña, it's interesting that, even as that cycling phenomenon takes hold (temporarily), and even as we are only now climbing out of the deepest solar minimum in over a century, this year is still on track to be the hottest on record.

Finally, your point about "converting grant dollars into livelihoods" is actually pretty laughable. I can think of many more enjoyable ways to spend one's time than sitting in artificially-lit rooms staring at computer monitors and trying to figure out just how much we've screwed up our environment. Not to mention being called before Congressional nincompoops every few months. Furthermore, and by way of example, the whole IPCC process is run by volunteers. So every climate scientist is donating vast amounts of their limited time to try to provide a rational basis for where we're at and where we need to get to. How is that contributing to their livelihoods, exactly?

If anyone is making money off of climate change, it's the fossil fuel industry, and it's the financiers who are salivating over the idea of a "carbon trading market."

12/13/10, 8:19 AM

An Eaarthly Planner said...
@ Robbin Datta,

You're confusing the issue. It doesn't matter that the dinosaurs lived in a much hotter climate. We, and every other species presently alive, are adapted to the climate of today. The rate of change of temperature is currently something like +0.2C per decade, which is around 10x faster than the rate at which most species can adapt. So, most species will go extinct under business-as-usual. And, in fact, it is widely recognized that we are in the midst of a mass extinction. In a few million years, I've no doubt that new species will evolve in concert with whatever climate exists then. But that is irrelevant.

Regarding water vapor as the primary greenhouse gas, it is true that H2O is much more powerful than CO2, but CO2 is still the "control knob" of the climate, as this paper discusses. H2O is highly variable year-to-year (not to mention day-to-day), while CO2 can persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years. To quote from that article:

CO2 is the key atmospheric gas that exerts principal control (80% of the non-condensing GHG forcing) over the strength of the terrestrial greenhouse effect. Water vapor and clouds are fast-acting feedback effects, and as such, they are controlled by the radiative forcing supplied by the non-condensing GHGs…

Without the radiative forcing supplied by CO2 and the other noncondensing greenhouse gases [CH4, N2O, CFCs], the terrestrial greenhouse would collapse, plunging the global climate into an icebound Earth state.

12/13/10, 8:21 AM

An Eaarthly Planner said...
...and finally, on the subject of connecting "the climate movement" with "the peak oil movement", whatever those two things actually are, I think it's clear there needs to be such a connection. This is one of the primary ideas behind the much-discussed Transition "movement". As anyone who has read The Hirsch Report would know, one of the "solutions" identified by Hirsch was coal-to-liquids. He had siloed his thinking and was proposing a solution to the problem of liquid fuels scarcity, without recognizing, evidently, the extreme danger such a program would pose to the stability of the climate.

And on the climate side, you have proposals to create global carbon markets, etc., that seem to be ignoring the likelihood of ultimate economic collapse stemming from energy scarcity and a consequent lack of interest in global problem-solving (or -creating).

So, whether Peakists are allied with climate activists probably isn't terribly relevant. But it is of the utmost importance that each group be aware of the conclusions of the other, such that they don't make hideous mistakes in their proposals.

Reminds me of a quote: "the chief cause of problems is solutions." (Eric Sevareid)

12/13/10, 8:29 AM

gsanford said...
Some select quotes:

"peak oil and its associated problems aren't technical in nature, they're cultural.

...maybe we're just at the wrong end of a long series of mistakes to which all of us -- yes, including you and me -- have contributed...

I'm not so much sad by the fate we've created for ourselves, but for the mass extinction we're bringing down upon the rest of the biosphere. While you are probably correct that evolution will rebuild biodiversity in the end, it is a sad thing to see so many hundreds of millions of years worth of it just wiped out for no good cause.

The people making decisions and the general public are caught up in a way of thinking that only makes sense in the context of ever-increasing energy supplies. Your insistence that economic growth has to continue is part and parcel of the same delusion.

What I've done here is extract some of the thought processes that lead people to want to understand the bigger picture of what's going on from more of a superego (right, wrong, guilt and virtue) or emotional level. What does humanity need to learn? Certainly something more than to scurry around frantically right before the clock strikes midnight planting victory gardens, not being able to piece anything together at a higher level about our predicament than the sad fact that the store shelves have just gone empty and the power went out.

I think it's perfectly natural for people to feel the strong negative emotions that Mike Brownlee puts on display. But you get far more disturbing rhetoric from the likes of Derrick Jensen who has a big mindshare in the doomer community.

I think it's just as important for there to be direct engagement with these issues rather than to evade or casually disregard people willing to stick their neck out like Mike, or just willing to admit that that yes, mass extinction by our own collective selfishness and stupidity is emotionally traumatizing to contemplate!

If doomers don't put forward a frame by which to give collapse meaning, something a little more than the nose-to-the-grindstone issues of surviving through the winter on pickled kale and acorns, then certainly that eschatological frame will be filled in by others, probably resulting in a lot of violent scapegoating along the way as has been with past catastrophies.

If there is one thing I've learned from the Tea Party surge is that the first step to gaining mindshare is to be willing to offend. When your message is inherently threatening to the status quo, there's hardly a way to articulate it in a way that doesn't generate blowback.

But I think there should be more options than to either pander to mainstream mentalities who are heavily invested in the status quo, which I feel Transition is doing, or to completely disengage in the hope that at some future point the neighbors will come knocking to eat crow.

If Mike sincerely feels as he do, he has every right to express those opinions and it bothers me to see other doomers "sushing" him out when clearly there is far more we have in common with his ideas than the Hummer driving McMansionistas we seek to shield from his rhetoric.

There are going to have to be heretics out there who say unpopular things, and they will whether you or I like it or not, or whether we like their flavor of hellfire and brimstone. If BAU is an addiction, traditional concepts of carrot and stick may not apply.

For the same reason drug addicts often wind up Hare Krishnas, we may need some sort of spiritual or pseudo-spiritual intervention in order to get us to do what's both right and pragmatic for the future before it's too little too late to matter.

That's MY dissensus.

12/13/10, 10:47 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Not to beat the point too far -- there are multiple temperature proxies for the younger dryas period, the greenland ice cores show the strongest signature (actually even bigger than 15F), some others show no signature at all. del 18-O is several links removed from actual temperature (via fractionation in precipitation and ice accumulation, etc), as are all the proxies. Overall the aggregation of all the data indicates a rapid and very large temperature drop in the northern latitudes, especially Europe and eastern N America, and less consistent traces elsewhere. Australia-New Zealand data show no evidence of the Younger Dryas with "good confidence."

None of this changes your actual point, which is that extremely rapid and very large climate shifts have happened quite recently (geologically speaking) and yet, here we and the rest of the biosphere still are.

12/13/10, 11:02 AM

sofistek said...

To be honest I don't "expect" anything about the future. You expect journals (and, by implication from your previous comment on the topic, peak oil journals) to be being printed 10 years from now. I don't think anything should be expected and that is why I agree with your often mentioned urgency of stuff like green wizardry. If you see a fairly gentle decline in societal order, over the next 10 years (enough to allow various journals to continue to be published), then I don't see how that fits with the urgency message.

I think predicting the future is hard, which is why I don't expect anything, even if I can tell the general trend.

In your Long Descent, you talk about catabolic collapse as continuing steps down to lower levels of complexity. Each of those steps down could be viewed like a collapse, at least for some portion of society. I'm not sure, at all, that peak oil will be a journalised discussion topic in 10 years, though you could be right. My point is that all sorts of stuff will be going on then and academic discussions about peak oil may seem a bit superfluous.

12/13/10, 1:25 PM

Zach said...
JMG, re:

As Lynn White showed a long time ago, the fundamental measure of economic development is energy per capita, and when energy per capita declines, so does the level of economic development.

Is that the same Lynn White of Medieval Technology and Social Change? I'd appreciate a pointer to that work.


12/13/10, 1:38 PM

sofistek said...

"I think if you'll compare the number of people who accept statements by professional scientists as a matter of course today with the number of people who did so as a matter of course twenty or thirty years ago, you'll see the decline in prestige I'm talking about."

Have there been such surveys to do the comparison, or is this just your feeling?

"a 15 degree F. average temperature shift globally is still one heck of a shift -- and considerably more drastic than the ones today's climate change activists are discussing."

But isn't that a danger? Climate change may see a huge shift up in temperatures (up to 4 degrees C) by mid century, even without some tipping point, but that could cause local climate changes that are far greater, such as the shutting off of the gulf stream, resulting in plummeting temperatures. Isn't that a possible cause of the Younger Dryas anomaly? Climate change certainly has the potential to disrupt societies as much as peak oil, even if it is delayed by a few decades, compared to peak oil.

12/13/10, 2:58 PM

Joan said...
@ gsanford

For the same reason drug addicts often wind up Hare Krishnas, we may need some sort of spiritual or pseudo-spiritual intervention

This connects me back to Michael Brownlee. What I reconstruct from his essay is that he and his little cohort based on a farm in New Jersey have knitted together Thomas Berry's Great Work, Brian Swimme's Universe Story, ecopsychology, and several other influences and come up with something that is, in all but name, a religion. Brownlee is a convert to that religion, a True Believer, with all a convert's zeal, and he really thinks that this new not-a-religion will reach people that Transition and Green Wizardry and Orlov's New Age of Sail and all the rest have not, because it will give them a spiritual high better than the high they get from either the Abrahamic myth of being created to "be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and conquer it" or the secular myth of Progress. Maybe he's right but, to me, the whole thing smells a little too much of Unitarian Jihad to have really broad appeal. The Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping have a better chance, IMHO, because at least they know how to give an audience a good time.

12/14/10, 12:37 PM

SophieGale said...
JMG said, "I'd encourage everyone to copy down the mailing address of the Cultural Conservers Foundation -- POB 914, Cumberland MD 21501 -- which will be the contact point for post-internet Green Wizardry..."

I've been thinking over the past few weeks that it might be time to get back to writing physical letters on real paper--before the habit is completely lost! I've also thought many times over the last few months that GW might be the progenitor of an actual trading network--some time in the future, maybe a generation or two down the line. I see tools and spices, sundries and services, moving from wizard to wizard...

Real letters between members--if they wanted to get back in practice--might be the foundation of that network. Emails are truly ephemeral. Your grandkids will probably never have access to your printed emails, but they may have real letters, real correspondence. And if there is an actual "paper trail" between GWs what would that mean in the future? Can you imagine how impoverished we'd be if Washington, Admas, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln, etc. had relied on email?

Do I sound nuts? I don't have any answers. Just musing...

12/14/10, 2:01 PM

Cathy McGuire said...
@sofistek: If you see a fairly gentle decline in societal order, over the next 10 years (enough to allow various journals to continue to be published), then I don't see how that fits with the urgency message.

.. because it takes longer than 10 years to get good at this stuff! Speaking as someone who’s been gardening for the past two decades and is presently being humbled by the new soil/microclimate I’ve moved to, I think urgency and 10 years-still-networked isn’t a contradiction.

Also, I’d like to stick my two cents in about Nonviolent Communication (NVC) – while I agree with the theory that finger pointing doesn’t work as well as speaking more gently about one’s own experience & perception, I strongly disagree with the statement of the founder that this method works “on everyone”. I have had many experiences, using and watching NVC being tried on narcissists and those who are in fact not being truthful – it will not work on such people! (As I wrote somewhere else – imagine using NVC on some of our more egregious politicians and pundits – I self-censored on who I had in mind). The point being that if people want to understand each other and come to some shared perspectives, and are willing to be honest, then NVC can help lower the emotional charge to enable discussion. But if someone lacks empathy or is deliberately deceitful, what is the point of telling them “When you do X, I feel Y”? They don’t give a *darn*! And also, most of the discussion on this blog would be “ruled out” by NVC rules… apparently the stating of facts have to be couched by the statement that it is simply your perspective… and as a strong believer in data, I reject that requirement. So anyway, it’s something to be aware of.

12/14/10, 4:34 PM

Ric said...
A reason for hope:

Birke Baehr: What's wrong with our food system

More relevant to prior essays, but it made my day, so I thought I'd share.

12/14/10, 8:10 PM

22 Youth said...
Good post JMG. This story from todays local rag is the perfect example of why the climate change and peak oil scientific communities need to talk:

Snow machines, servicing international tourism, in 2090. Nothing like a comedic sugarcoat.

I think everyone, including the most active transition towns, are seriously underestimating the challenge of food. At 24 I'm removing myself from the full time workforce and embarking on a regenerative agriculture project with a friend. We've got some exciting plans in the pipe, and I'll keep the Green Wizards forum in the loop as the loop progresses. How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live, get out there!

12/15/10, 5:06 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Planner, awareness of what's going on in climate science is a very good idea for peak oil people, and for that matter everybody else. There's a difference, though, between the science and the advocacy that's grown up around it; the advocacy has been so inept, and so readily defeated, that the peak oil movement would be wise to keep its distance.

By the way, the ice age tipping point isn't an internet meme; I read about it in some detail in the late 1970s. The global climate is unstable in both directions, after all.

Gsanford, by all means follow your own dissensus! I may (and do) disagree, but Voltaire's comment remains apropos: "I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it."

Bill, that seems like a fair assessment, especially when it's remembered that to produce a proxy reading in the 15 degrees F. range, while the southern hemisphere was apparently stable, the temperature drop in the North Atlantic region must have been phenomenal. An equivalent event now would be an unparalleled cataclysm.

Sofistek, journals were being printed here in North America 250 years ago, at a time when a well-made oxcart counted as advanced transportation technology. Ten years from now, we're not going to be working with a pre-1760 technological basis, and there will still be a point to publishing facts and figures -- thus my suggestion about the future of TOD.

Zach, that's the one. I don't know the specific source; White's Law, which is what the principle was called, was much discussed when I was taking classes at the Huxley College of Environmental Studies in Bellingham, WA back in the very early 1980s.

Sofistek, there are surveys, and there's also the interesting point that the number of office visits each year to alternative medical practitioners in the US is significantly greater than the number of visits to practitioners of scientific medicine -- this even though alternative health care is pretty thoroughly persecuted in the US these days. As for the Younger Dryas, I'm not saying an equivalent crisis won't be a problem -- quite the contrary; I'm just pointing out that the biosphere will get through it just fine.

Joan, well, you put things a bit more strongly than I would, but I'm not at all inclined to disagree in terms of content.

Sophie, you don't sound nuts at all. Might be worth researching some of the ways that letters were used to connect groups of people in pre-internet times.

Cathy, that's fascinating. I've never really looked into NVC or its various equivalents -- I have a deep-seated dislike for attempts to restructure the organic process of human language in the service of some set of abstract ideals -- but your analysis certainly makes sense of some of the more unproductive features of the cant current in today's progressive scene.

Ric, thanks for the link!

Youth, no kidding. Still, I think it's a challenge that can be met.

12/15/10, 10:06 PM

An Eaarthly Planner said...
I don't want to get too sidetracked into this issue, but I feel a need to set the record straight re "tipping point into an ice age." Now, I'll grant it's possible for some extreme cold to result from global warming, if the Thermohaline Conductor (THC), which pulls warm water from the equator into the frigid North Atlantic (NA) and helps to keep Northern Europe and Canada warmer than they ought to be, gets slowed or shut down due to a dumping of fresh water into the NA. However --

-- since you brought up reading about the coming Ice Age back in the '70s, I dug through some of my notes and found the following:

There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age. Indeed, the possibility of anthropogenic warming dominated the peer-reviewed literature even then. ...The survey identified only 7 articles indicating cooling compared to 44 indicating warming. Those seven cooling articles garnered just 12% of the citations. (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, in an article titled "The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus")

The article goes on to describe how, despite the fact that the majority (87%) of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles pointed to warming rather than cooling, the media nevertheless played up the idea of cooling. There's an excellent chart depicting the number of warming, cooling, and neutral scientific articles, by year, here, and a discussion of same here.

12/16/10, 7:00 AM

sofistek said...
Very true, Cathy; it takes longer than 10 years to become proficient. I've been at it for only 18 months but I know I've got a very long way to go.

However, I don't think (though my memory is appalling) that JMG has used that as a reason for urgency and note that if peak oil journals are being published in 10 years then significant collapse is further away than that; let's say 15 years.

12/16/10, 12:01 PM

Jim Brewster said...
@Planner--I hope you don't mind, but I think this topic is a fine sidetrack! I remember reading something in the early 90's to the effect that the climatic state of the last couple million years or so (sorry I don't have precise numbers; could be off by a lot), that is the oscillation of glacial and interglacial periods, is a result of plate tectonics. To wit, the current location of Antarctica straddling the South Pole, and her separation from South America, allowed a novel and very strong South Circumpolar Current, which has many major influences on global ocean circulation and also allows the massive accumulation of continental ice. The melting or breaking of this ice would also have major effects, most obviously a dramatic sea-level rise. I don't remember all the feedback mechanisms, but it did talk about possible tipping point scenarios related to the Antarctic ice and to the circumpolar current. Anybody heard of this and have more concrete info?

12/16/10, 2:39 PM