Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Secret of Herding Cats

Granted, it was the season for giving, but I’m not at all sure that justifies the extraordinary Christmas present Dr. David Shearman has given the climate change denialist movement. Readers of mine who haven’t yet heard of Shearman need not worry; they will be hearing far too much about him in the months and years ahead.

Shearman, for those who haven’t encountered his name yet, is an Australian scientist who has a long string of publications in the field of global warming to his credit, and who had an active role in the Third and Fourth Assessments issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international scientific body tasked with sorting out just what our tailpipes and smokestacks are doing to the Earth’s climate. He is also the co-author of a recent book, The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy. In this book, he argues that democracy is incapable of dealing with the global climate change crisis, and therefore needs to be replaced by an authoritarian world government with the power to force people to do what Shearman thinks they ought to do.

Those of my readers familiar with the long and inglorious love affair betweeen a certain class of Western intellectual and the totalitarian end of the political spectrum already know what to expect from Shearman’s book, and they will not be disappointed. Shearman and his co-author Joseph Wayne Smith argue that “authoritarianism is the natural state of humanity” (p. xvi) and that people who agree with their views ought to form “an elite warrior leadership” to “battle for the future of the earth” (ibid). They propose the manufacture of a new eco-religion out of the green movement and New Age movement in order to “provide social glue for the masses” (p. 127), and spend a chapter discussing the training of “natural elites” to provide his imagined regime with “ecowarriors to do battle against the enemies of life” (p. 134). It’s all laid out in quite some detail; very nearly the only thing Shearman and Smith fail to mention is what symbol will go on their warrior elite’s armbands.

I wish I could say I was surprised by the publication of Shearman’s book, or the fact that the Pell Foundation sponsored its publication. The craving for unearned power that has afflicted intellectual idealists since Plato’s time has cropped up tolerably often in the last few decades of green activism; the substantial popularity of David Korten’s profoundly antidemocratic The Great Turning is only one sign among many. Still, there’s a difference of some importance. It takes a careful reading of Korten’s book to notice how his division of humanity into “developmental stages,” which just happen to equate to political opinions, morphs into a claim that political power ought to be monopolized by those who share Korten’s own background and views. Equally, The Great Turning is as coy about the methods Korten’s would-be elite will use to enforce their power as it is about the reasons why giving that elite unchecked authority will solve the world’s problems. Shearman and Smith have no such qualms; their totalitarian daydream is right out there in the open.

That in itself points straight to the false logic at the core of The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy. What failed was not democracy but climate change activism, and the stunning political cluelessness on display in Shearman’s and Smith’s book is a central reason why.

One wonders what on Earth Shearman was thinking when he sent the manuscript to the publisher. Did it never occur to him that people who disagree with his views would read the book, and make abundant political hay out of it? They have, dear reader, and it’s a safe bet that they will, as hostile reviews of The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy are already showing up on conservative websites. To be fair, it would demand superhuman forbearance for them to steer clear of what is, all things considered, a climate denialist’s wet dream: a book in which a significant figure on the other side ‘fesses up to an authoritarian agenda extreme enough to support even the wildest accusations of the far right. Climate change activism is already reeling from a nearly unbroken sequence of body blows in the political arena, and an even more serious loss of public support; by the time the climate denialists finish working it over, using Shearman’s book as a conveniently blunt instrument, there may not be much left of it.

It’s worth glancing back over the last decade or so to get a sense of the way this book fits into the broader process by which climate change activism ran off the rails. In 2001, despite fierce opposition from business interests and right-wing parties generally, it was very much in the ascendant, and some form of regulation of carbon emissions looked like a done deal. Opposition from the White House and well-funded think tanks notwithstanding, the movement to limit CO2 emissions could have become the sort of juggernaut that extracted the Endangered Species Act and a flurry of other environmental legislation from another conservative Republican administration thirty years earlier. That it did not was, I think, the result primarily of three factors.

The first was the astonishing political naivete of the climate change movement. All through the last decade, that movement has allowed its opponents to define the terms of public debate, execute a series of efficient end runs around even the most telling points made by climate science, and tar the movement in ever more imaginative ways, without taking any meaningful steps to counter these moves or even showing any overt interest in learning from its failures. Partly this unfolds from the fixation of the American left on the experiences of the 1960s, a fixation that has seen one movement after another blindly following a set of strategies that have not actually worked since the end of the Vietnam war; partly, I suspect, it’s rooted in the background of most of the leading figures in the climate change movement, who are used to the very different culture of scientific debate and simply have no notion how to address the very different needs of public debate in society that does not share their values.

This latter point leads to the second primary factor in the failure of the climate change movement, which is the extent that it attempted to rely on the prestige of institutional science at a time when that prestige has undergone a drastic decline. The public has become all too aware that the expert opinion of distinguished scientists has become a commodity, bought and sold for a price that these days isn’t always discreetly disguised as grant money or the like. The public has also been repeatedly shown that the public scientific consensus of one decade is fairly often the discarded theory of the next. When you grow up constantly hearing from medical authorities that cholesterol is bad for you and polyunsaturated fats are good for you, and then suddenly he medical authorities are saying that polyunsaturated fats are bad for you and some kinds of cholesterol are good, a certain degree of blind faith in the pronouncements of scientists goes out the window.

Part of the problem here is the gap between the face institutional science presents to its practitioners and the face it shows to the general public. In the 1970s, for example, the public consensus among climate scientists was that the Earth faced a new ice age sometime in the not too distant future. This was actually only one of several competing views aired privately among scientists at the time, and there were spirited debates on the subject in climatological conferences and journals, but you wouldn’t have learned that from the books and TV programs, many of the former written by qualified scientists and most of the latter featuring them, that announced an imminent ice age to the world at large. It’s become fashionable in some circles just now to insist that that never happened, but the relics of that time are still to be found on library shelves and in museums. When I visited the Museum of Natural History in Washington DC a year ago, for example, the exhibit on ice age mammals had a fine example: an illuminated display, prominently located, explaining that scientists expected a new ice age sometime in the next millennium or so. An embarrassed staff member had taped up a makeshift sign next to it announcing that current scientific opinion no longer supported that claim, and the display would be replaced sometime soon.

The mental whiplash caused by sudden changes in scientific opinion, each one announced to the public in terms much less tentative than it generally deserves, has played a larger role in hamstringing climate change activism than most of its supporters may find it comfortable to admit. Notice, though, that the uncertain nature of scientific knowledge didn’t prevent the passage of the Endangered Species Act or a baker’s dozen of other environmental initiatives in the Seventies; in fact, the scientific community was far more divided over ecological issues at that time than it is about climate change today. That was arguably a benefit, because it forced proponents of environmental protection to approach it as a political issue, to get down into the mud wrestling pit with their opponents, and to address the hopes, fears, and concerns of the general public head on, in terms the public could understand and accept. By and large, climate change activists have not done this, and this is an important reason why they have been so thoroughly thrashed by the other side.

Still, I’ve come to think that a third factor has played at least as important a role in gutting the climate change movement. This is the pervasive mismatch between the lifestyles that the leadership of that movement have been advocating for everyone else and the lifestyle that they themselves have led. When Al Gore, after having been called out on this point, was reduced to insisting that his sprawling mansion has a lower carbon footprint than other homes on the same grandiose scale, he exposed a fault line that runs straight through climate change activism, and bids fair to imitate those old legends of California’s future and dump the entire movement into the sea.

In order to cut CO2 emissions to the levels that would be necessary to prevent drastic climate change, many details of the modern American lifestyle have to change – not sometime off in the future, but right now. The automobile needs to become much less pervasive than it is today; even an electric car has to get its electricity from somewhere, and for the time being, that “somewhere” is going to be a power plant that burns coal or natural gas. Air travel needs to become a very occasional luxury at most. The McMansion with its cathedral ceilings and blind disregard for energy efficiency needs to give way to much more modest structures. Energy efficiency needs to become at least as central to daily life as it was during the last round of energy crises.

None of these changes were in any way out of reach. The American people accepted equivalent shifts with tolerably good grace in the Second World War, and then again in the Seventies. The crucial factor in both these previous cases, though, was that the people who were advocating them were generally also doing them themselves. Simple as it seems, that’s the secret of effective leadership; people will respond to “come with me” a lot more readily and enthusiastically than they will to “go that way.”

That’s also the secret of herding cats. I long ago lost track of the number of times I’ve heard people in one or another corner of the activist scene throw up their hands in despair and describe the task of organizing people to seek some form of change or other as being like trying to herd cats. In point of fact, herding cats is one of the easiest things in the world. All you have to do is go to the place you want the cats to go, carrying with you a #10 can of tuna and an electric can opener. The moment the cats hear the whirr of the can opener and smell the fragrance of the tuna, they’ll come at a run, and you’ll have your herd exactly where you want them. Now of course that strategy assumes two things. It assumes that you’re willing to go to the place you want the cats to go, and it also assumes that you have something to offer them when they get there.

That sums up what has been one of the most critical problems with the climate change movement: it has been calling on the world to accept a lifestyle that the movement’s own leaders have shown no willingness to adopt themselves, and thus have been in no position to model for the benefit of others. That’s left the movement wide open to accusations that it means its policies to apply only to other people – accusations that have not exactly been quelled by the efforts of various countries, the US very much included, to push as much of the burden of carbon reduction as possible onto their political and economic rivals. I trust I don’t have to spell out how such suspicions will be amplified by Shearman’s cheerleading for exactly the sort of authoritarian politics in which some people’s carbon footprint would inevitably be more equal than others’.

All these points are profoundly relevant to the core project of this blog, for many of the weaknesses I’ve traced out are also found in the peak oil movement. That movement has no shortage of political naivete, and it has plenty of spokespeople who mistakenly assume that their professional expertise – significant as that very often is – can be cashed in at par for influence on public debate. It also has its share of leaders who are perfectly willing to talk in the abstract about how people need to ditch their autos and give up air travel, but insist that they themselves need their SUV for one reason or another and wouldn’t dream of going to the next ASPO conference by train. These are serious weaknesses; unchecked, they could be fatal.

Of course there are other, critical reasons why a certain degree of political sophistication, a recognition that expertise is not enough to carry public debates, and a willingness to embrace the lifestyles one proposes for others – and especially the last of these – are essential just now. The most important of those reasons is that in terms of industrial civilization’s energy future, it’s very late in the day. It’s late enough, in fact, that it’s possible to start talking about the specific point in time when catabolic collapse begins in earnest here in the United States. I’ll be discussing that in next week’s post.


Simon said...
As I sit here watching the rainfall in northern australia, and getting lashed by wind and rain in Tasmania, I have been pondering the climate change subject over the last few days.

I am not all that sure that Shearman is wrong in his hypothesis about the natural state of mans affairs, but what I am sure of is that if it comes to pass it those who wind up with the power stick will wind up using it to maintan their own position far beyond the time when the climate related issues have been resolved (if they can be).

At some point the mass of humanity will get jack of being held down and revolt, and we will go around the track again.

It is IMHO a very good bet that those who are running the tracks for the train wreck we are headed for will be the ones who wind up with the power stick that gives them control of our new green future.

On a local level the naivete of the green movement is on full display as they engage in negotiations and partnerships that give legitimacy to some very dodgy operators, both political and business, simply by electing to engage with them. What they do not seem to realise is that sometimes it is better to let things fail, that way the sheeple cannot be confused about whether the billy cart we call "democracy" is functional or not.

1/12/11, 10:35 PM

hoss said...
I separate people into 2 groups. Those that want to coerce others and those who believe in free choice. Unfortunately in my observations those who want to control others in some way or other are in the majority and usually have a big blind spot to their belief system.

1/12/11, 10:54 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
The building constructed to house the Institute of Ecology at the U. of Georgia (rather literally the House that Odum Built) was designed with a spacious seminar room, a big glass-walled courtyard, and lots of glass partitions and open spaces to create a space that would foster interaction and discourage isolation. It also had one of the highest energy consumption rates per square foot of any building on the campus.

Our feces outgas no olfactorally active volatile organic compounds...

1/12/11, 10:54 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Simon, the interesting thing historically is that the people on top of the heap when a civilization goes into terminal decline are most often the first ones up against the wall. It's the security guards they hire at minimum wage who end up on top first, after their employers suffer mysterious weapons-related accidents. Then it's the armed and hungry immigrants from the other side of the nearest border. Rinse and repeat, until enough social stability returns that means other than all-out violence are used to settle who runs what -- and that usually takes a number of centuries. If I were in today's industrial elite, I'd be scrambling around looking for some way to keep things propped up as long as possible!

Hoss, I tend to think that every one of us has both sides to our personality, and what decides between them is pretty complex.

Bill, I think you just earned a gold star for sheer euphemism. I wish I could say I was surprised, but I've seen way too many examples of the same kind of architecture -- literal as well as metaphorical.

1/12/11, 11:12 PM

Jason Heppenstall said...
Excellently put JMG. I used to edit a small green-focused newspaper in Spain. It did moderately well, in that people were willing to rally around it on certain issues.

The problems, however, started when it was taken over by a miilionaire who issued edicts from his mountain estate. The articles about the environment were interspersed with articles about exclusive wine estates and luxury property developments. His reasoning was that he could 'draw people in' who would never have encountered 'green' issues before.

Needless to say it was a fiasco, and the fact that the newspaper calls itself 'green' at all has become a source of irony that only the current editor cannot see.

C'est la vie!

1/12/11, 11:57 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Err, g'day JMG,

Well the secrets now out, we have our share of nutters down under too you know!

However, for those who are climate change deniers, they need only look outside the window I'm now looking out of, right now.

I'm not sure if I've ever explained it, but I live in a cool temperate tall eucalypt forest at around 700m above sea level in the southern part of the continent. There are some lovely 19th century gardens around here inspired by the cool climate.

Wealthy English settlers originally built their hill stations hereabouts to escape the summer heat and diseases (cholera and typhoid) of the recently established city of Melbourne.

They are obviously now long since dead and also for a reality check, I'm on the more down market heavily forested end of the range!

One thing they did leave though was good rainfall records which date back to around 1870. Last year (2010) was the wettest on record by a fair margin (a bit over 1,400mm or 55 inches).

The year before this (2009) had the hottest day on record after a prolonged heat wave which resulted in the Black Saturday bush fires (check Wikipedia) which were devastating and covered a huge area.

It's still too early to tell, but this year might just top last year for rainfall. I'm currently on the tail end of a massive tropical storm and it's dumped just shy of 200mm (or 8 inches) of rain here already this week, with more predicted.

Also for readers outside Australia, you may not be aware but our third largest city (Brisbane) has been evacuated for days now due to floods.

It is mind boggling. Global weirding is so appropriate a descriptor.

I can see a couple of kangaroo's outside with a joey and they look bedraggled.

The ground is saturated and I know of people who run orchards where quite a few fruit trees are dying because of the damp.

One of the vulnerabilities in our current food production processes is that it requires a consistent climate. With global weirding though, consistency is not something to take for granted, certainly not here anyway.

I agree with you regarding the difficulties of getting people's houses in order before demanding others to do so. Hypocrisy is simply sad as it otherwise defeats the message and is so easy to uncover.

The difficulty with the message of energy reduction and conservation is that it is so unpalatable to people living and/or raised in Industrial society used to consuming far beyond their needs.

My house is in order.

I don't worry too much about things as nature will sort it all out anyway.

Good luck!

1/12/11, 11:58 PM

Kevin said...
Yep, Shearman's book sounds like a disaster all right. I guess pretty soon terms like "ecofascism" will be much bandied about, what with such a conspicuous example on display. Not good.

If Shearman is right in his assessment of humanity's normal condition, I'd prefer that my society practice an unnatural democratic polity, not revert to some kind of Hobbesian "state of nature" with jackboots.

The Left in the USA do seem to be stuck in a 60s paradigm, not only tactically but sometimes also in terms of the issues they choose to focus on. But the greatest sin you attribute to many climate change activists is the last, which might be uncharitably described as hypocrisy.

One thing I am wondering is whether you feel that there are already unmistakable signs that catabolic collapse is underway in earnest in the United States.

1/13/11, 12:50 AM

Robin Datta said...
"Simple as it seems, that’s the secret of effective leadership; people will
respond to “come with me” a lot more readily and enthusiastically
than they will to “go that way.”"

"Go that way" is not leadership: at best it is directorship.

1/13/11, 12:52 AM

Galeandra said...
I haven't read widely on the reasons for which the climate debate has apparently been won by the denialists or the conservative carry-on-as-we-are brigade, if that’s what you mean by saying that climate change activism has ‘run of the rails’.
I thought the IPCC was still on track, though the failure to meet targets and to undertake meaningful changes on a nation-by-nation basis was disappointing and concerning, but I think your analysis is a bit unfair on the leadership/strategists of the various green movements .In fact, I think you've set up some straw men for an enjoyable tilt which no doubt gave you some pleasurable exertion but not much more.
For a start, who exactly are we talking about? Al Gore gets stick for choosing to live as he does, and Shearman writes a book outside his area of expertise. So what? Your analysis is a tad short on relevant examples other than these.
The rocks which are sinking the climate activism ship, to twist your metaphor a little, are political cynicism, greed or fear. Hardly any of us ( by ‘ us’ I mean that odd 25% of global population who own and consume about 98% of global resources- and yes, that statistic’s a guess not a googled factoid) want to change, to really change. In addressing climate, we are, after all, dealing with an issue which affects the absolute core of the modern citizen's sense of self-hood, the power to earn and consume.
And power in our societies largely resides with those who succeed within the economic paradigm that prevails. Even if we are looking for sustainability in our personal / community lives and operating with regard to the triple bottom line of economy + society+ environment, we often still fail to grasp the truth recently highlighted by Suzuki: both economy and society are subsets of environment.
The ‘deftness’ of the denialist opponents has been seldom apparent to me. Perhaps you could elucidate? I’m left so far with an impression of blunt dishonesty and downright distortion or lying at times, along with the mis-application of huge economic and social power by lobbyists and interest groups. But then, from afar, I never cease to be amazed at the phenomenon that is America, and I suppose that for most of the twentieth century, America is what we beyond the pale all wanted to be.

1/13/11, 1:49 AM

Jason said...
Enjoyed this post, all agreed.

As to this:

It takes a careful reading of Korten’s book to notice how his division of humanity into “developmental stages,” which just happen to equate to political opinions, morphs into a claim that political power ought to be monopolized by those who share Korten’s own background and views.

... I'm guessing you didn't get around to reading Ken Wilber yet?

Don't forget Gore reads him.

I'm sure some spiritual-philosophical underpinning is coming from Wilber. The sequence is:

1. Divide humanity into developmental stages.

2. Abrogate to yourself the power of determining who is at which stage.

3. State how much better those at a higher stage are (including yourself of course.)

4. Get pissed off at the stragglers for ruining your party.

With people like Korten and Jensen around, the Shearman agenda is an easy step 5.

1/13/11, 3:44 AM

paul said...
JMG, this will be a rushed an relatively unedited comment, so I hope I am clear about my meaning. But in any event, it is about probably one of the greatest struggles I have as I try to determine how to live my life in the years to come. OK, here goes:

I understand your point about leaders of the green movement not leading enough by example. Clearly, Al Gore does not need to live in a mansion, however green. But take someone like Bill McKibben who spends the majority of his life on the road, preaching about the need to tackle the issue of climate change. He is an inspirational figure. I felt particularly inspired after seeing him speak recently. Should he simply hole up in his home in Vermont and inspire others simply by the lifestyle he leads? I feel that if those in the green movement practiced what they preached 100%, they would simply become relatively invisible.

Again, this is a rushed response and the words don't seem to be flowing from my brain, but I just worry that simply leading by example is not effective enough for such looming issues as climate change, peak oil, peak water, peak topsoil, etc.

It is a conundrum, in my head, but nonetheless, I continue to search for an answer.

1/13/11, 4:30 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Jason, there's plenty of that here in the States too, of course. Too much on the left (and of course nearly everything on the right these days) has the fundamental subtext of making sure that one or another privileged group keeps its privileges.

Cherokee, no argument there. Whatever the fine details behind global climate change, it's happening, and the consequences will not be good. This is one of the reasons why the failure of the climate change movement is so embarrassing -- they've had plenty of raw material to work with, more than the ecological activists of the Sixties and Seventies had, and they've done so little with it.

Kevin, I'll be answering that last question of yours next week!

Robin, true enough, but it's far too much of what the green movement has had.

Galeandra, it's one of the constant bad habits of failing movements that they treat criticism of their mistakes as attacks to be shouted down rather than opportunities for learning. Of course you can insist that climate change activism had no responsibility for the humiliating defeats it's suffered of late, but does that actually help?

Jason, I know I need to tackle Wilber's stuff in detail one of these days, but the little I've read of his work has been so discouraging that I haven't done so yet.

Paul, the problem is that preaching doesn't work unless it's backed up by example. That doesn't require holing up in a cabin in the woods; McKibben could as well do speaking tours by train, which has a tiny fraction of the carbon footprint of air travel, and doing that would have given him a much stronger position from which to urge others to do the same. It could have been done so easily!

1/13/11, 5:02 AM

Fleecenik Farm said...
When my youngest son, now 4, was just an infant we ran into a friend at the recycling depot at the local state University. He is a climatologist who had just come back from his most recent trip to Greenland. When we asked him how long it would be before we saw serious changes in our climate. His response was," By the time your son is ready to start school."

When I think of all that has happened in this really short period of time; economic collapse, the first major shocks in the price of oil, extreme weather events, I often think about this conversation.

I don't hold out much hope that anyone will really stand as a leader to address the challenges we are facing. The price of oil will increase, we will face another food crisis, the flood waters will rise. All the while those who are supposed to be leaders will point their fingers or lay their palms out for payment or throw their arms up in the despair.

Meanwhile, I'll learn to make a solar cooker, plant my rows, save my seed.

1/13/11, 5:23 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
All visions of large-scale centrally-organized futures have at their cores an implicit assumption of sufficient energy availability to maintain these huge-scale systems. For those who believe that we can just plug-and-play alternative energy sources in and continue our march up the KWh (GWh, TWh...) mountains into an energy-liberated future, I suppose this makes sense. But in the real world where the laws of thermodynamics still apply, this seems unlikely. So is there really a danger that these totalitarian systems will ever be implemented? Or is the bigger problem that they will stir up trouble, hog dwindling resources, and and lead to more struggle and strife during the inescapable energy decline?

My feelings about the lack of success in climate change activism are pretty straightforward. I think the biggest problem is that the rewards to the individual are too ill-defined and too far off. Environmentalism offered immediate tangible rewards -- cleaner air and water, for example. Same with feminism, civil rights, and other great social movements of the 20th Century. Never forget that all those movements had long roots going back long, long before the 1960s; they did not spring full-grown out of Sputnik's flank. Its a common failing of my generation to think that the 1960s-1970s were a great beginning that we brought on, rather than a great culmination of decades (centuries) of hard work by many generations of our forbearers. Climate change activism presented sacrifices to be made in exchange for improvements to a hypothetical possible future; it offered nothing people could really sense as an immediate tangible reward. I guess that fits the cat food metaphor -- there was no can, just a loud screeching machine.

I think the big error was making climate change a stand-alone be-all and end-all rather than keeping it in the over-century-old established traditions of environmentalism. There are MANY adverse ecological and societal impacts of rampant fossil fuels use; climate change is only one, and probably one of the most intangible and easily refuted by propagandists. Yet all these others seem to be lost now in the mass mind.

Of course, peak oil and its corollaries will gradually bring a natural end to this, but it won't be a controlled or easy end. But, that seems to be the option we (as a global economy) have selected.

1/13/11, 5:34 AM

Pops said...
Thanks JMG,

I've been reading and kibitzing about PO for at least a decade and in all that time, the one question that is repeated more than all the rest is:

"How much time do we have?"

The unspoken part is not 'how much time to change', mind you, but 'how much time to not change".

I wouldn't expect the wags to be any different than the onlookers in wanting to rack up as much mileage as possible before the Hummer turns back into a pumpkin.

1/13/11, 5:45 AM

Andy Brown said...
Well, Scientists' ability to predict the future and interpret the present went up against the entire logic, inertia and power of the status quo - up against every materialist value that serves as bedrock to the global consumerist economy - up against the accumulated expertise of a century's worth of marketing and propagandizing - and they didn't succeed in turning the juggernaut.

That failure was, as they say, over-determined, and laying too much of the blame at the feet of Science (and its activists), I think could delude people into thinking that if we'd only been a little more articulate or a made a few different decisions, or chosen our allies better, we could have brought on Ecotopia. Maybe, but personally, I think that's a stretch. (The economic and political stakes in the Endangered Species act were orders of magnitude lower.)

I'll grant that we are not in as good a position as we ought to be for whatever salvage operation is going to be needed as things founder, but that's why I'm on board with Green Wizardry. It's not trying to turn the juggernaut, (a project which might very well require the kind of beast Shearman fantasizes), but instead looks toward the surviving and the rebuilding.

1/13/11, 6:00 AM

Robo said...
Surely some of us fact-based folk have observed how successfully the faith-based tribe has advanced its political and economic agenda over the past three decades.

In spite of inconvenient truths.

Dr. Shearman has apparently come to the pragmatic conclusion that authoritarianism is the most efficient way to implement an effective response to the ecological crisis.

It works so well for the opposition.

1/13/11, 6:06 AM

Rhisiart Gwilym said...
OFONOAVOC! Sorry Bill, I just have to steal that one and try to start getting it to be a new companion to LOL, OTOH, IMHO, ETC. Too good to waste......

Incidentally, JM, being the change I want to see has gained me a certain grudging reputation amongst the more AAPA (awake-and-paying-attention) people around here; the folks who are already supporting CSAs, flying less/not at all, driving less/not at tall (and in cars so small they'd make USAmericans blink), and so on. But amongst the majority -- who are still blindly rushing into buying the latest model of sucker-trucks (SUVs) here in Britain, and generally living as if they believe that the 'little temporary economic downturn' really has now turned the corner -- I'm either invisible, or just on oddball recluse who seems to carry the idea of voluntary simplicity a whole lot too far.

Their awareness not yet quite ripe to see clearly the vast changes, and the urgent preparations for them, which are now confronting us more and more relentlessly, perhaps?

1/13/11, 6:41 AM

Jim Brewster said...
Probably it's our system of capitalism, rather than democracy, that is incompatible with climate action. That could be analyzed on so many levels you could write several volumes, but two dimensions immediately come to mind that make it a bit of catch-22. First, it takes real energy to get a message in front of the masses, and those with accumulated wealth have the easiest access to this kind of energy. Second, personal wealth, or the illusion thereof, carries its own cachet and prestige in mainstream society quite apart from any real merit it embodies. That's why salesmen and politicians and suburbanites are always trying to keep up appearances. Of course, there are countervaling virtuous associations with poverty and disadvantage, but they are seldom so strong or consistent. What percentage of the population will be swayed by a dirty hippy hitchhiking around -vs- a well-groomed Al Gore stepping off his private jet? Even in the 60's the young dirty hippies mainly appealed to fellow young dirty hippies. Beyond that it was a short-lived pop culture fad, and the real ideas only filtered slowly into the mainstream as the hippies themselves grew up and replaced their elders as the mainstream.

1/13/11, 6:45 AM

Evan said...
I think one of the major issues here is that, at this point, movement-building of any sort is probably going to fail from the get-go. The only movements that seem to be gaining ground are those that have the financial backing of big business... somewhat like this Tea Party phenom.

Shearman's ludicrous claims notwithstanding, I think there may be something to the notion that centrally planned authoritarian governments are more able to deal with society-wide crises than so-called democratic ones. I think of Cuba's example of dealing with their mini-oil crisis as being a response impossible to replicate in the US simply because of the political gridlock associated with trying to keep up some semblance of democracy.

But it is interesting that almost any "solution" I hear proffered for peak oil typically relies on the idea that the US will go on a "war-footing" as it did in WWII and devote all its energies to doing what's necessary, making sacrifices, etc. But in reality, the US has not left a "war-footing" since WWII. It's only this war-footing puts that energy into expanding and maintaining an overlarge empire.

Too, there is quite a vast difference in people's attitudes today than those of the populace in WWII. Coming from the Great Depression, and already use to poverty, making sacrifices for some kind of national goal was not out of the question for our parents and grandparents. But the generations that came after WWII don't have that experience of poverty under their belts and don't understand the kind of sacrifice that would be necessary for any kind of "Big Project" to mitigate the effects of peak oil or climate change.

I think this is where the heart of the matter lies, the US is full of softies like myself who have a sense of entitlement about their lives and are unwilling to give them up. I see this in all the movements at large these days, whether it's Tea Partiers wanting their God-given right to the McMansion/SUV lifestyle or climate activists wanting their Gaia-given right to Solar Panels, Fair Trade Coffee and Hi-Speed Internet.

Basically what all this comes down to is you can't have a successful movement whose primary goal is learning how to become poor. The entitlement culture of America prevents this. And for those who recognize the necessity of voluntary poverty, well, they're like Paul comments above: they become invisible.

The only kind of movement to voluntary poverty that might have a chance at swinging some converts seem those of a religious or spiritual type that give poverty the virtue and dignity of monasticism. But religious feeling in the US is so tied up with high technology with churches like stadiums serving up Jesus-fries on the jumbotron, that I wonder what's left of the possibilities for a religious answer. But then again, the collapse of an empire is, as Christians should know from their own history, fertile ground for fledgling religious movements to catch fire....

1/13/11, 6:53 AM

Sue said...
I haven't read "The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy", but clearly, I must. Dr Shearman does fabulous work inspiring the Australian medical fraternity to be more active on the issue of climate change as it impact on our present and future and it would be a great pity if the only impact of this book is to paint him as a dictator-in-waiting.
Many of us become doctors because we enjoy changing the course of an illness, and our current lifestyles and political system could easily be seen as an illness. Australian politics is primarily driven by opinion polls and corporate funding. Hurrah for democracy! I imagine readers in the USA might recognise our system...

Surely we should not hold our tongues for fear our comments be taken and twisted by those who wish to discredit us?

Yes, I should read the book before I comment - but I'm too busy gardening, and cycling to work, and researching solar ovens, and rearing my children by hand.

1/13/11, 6:55 AM

Glenn said...
"It’s late enough, in fact, that it’s possible to start talking about the specific point in time when catabolic collapse begins in earnest here in the United States. I’ll be discussing that in next week’s post."

If, of course, the net is still up next week. How fast does this process go, Pardner?

Yeah, I know, I've read your books. Couldn't resist the dig though. Like Peak Oil, the picture may appear in better focus in the rear view mirror.

Marrowstone Island

1/13/11, 6:56 AM

Robo said...
About those cats..

How can the the strenuous and austere post-peak lifestyle be made attractive enough that they might be tempted to adopt it before it's forced upon them?

It will take some real marketing genius to make an ecologically responsible civilization seem yummy to a herd that was raised on Friskies and Meow Mix.

Especially if there won't be any tuna.

1/13/11, 7:01 AM

Lamb said...
It seems so funny to me (in a sad-funny way) that those that want to declare what we "should" do vis-a-vis ecological responsible behavior, are so frequently in favor of authoritarian measures to ensure we WILL follow their dictates. Yet so many of them do not follow their own supposedly "higher standard" of behaviors.
This book by it printed on paper? Was the paper, binding, etc all from recycled sources? If not, how many trees had to die? How much oil was used to print the paper and bind the book? How was the book delivered to the retail outlets?
Does Shearman live off-grid and use public transportation 100% of the time or walk or bike?
Does he grow his own food?
You get the picture....
I have absolutely NO respect for someone (regardless of their education or career background)if they do not "walk the walk" while preaching to me what I should be doing!
I expect Shearman does not live off-grid and raise his own food. I would wager that he does not own a solar oven of his own making.
Yet he is so eager to let the light of his nova-like intellect shine down on us poor peasants so that we can see the way to a brighter future with him and his like minded ilk at the helm...
As for authoritative governments...
I'll be the freedom fighter with far more firearms and ammunition than is reasonable (in most peoples opinions, heh!).
We redheads can be dangerous when riled....

1/13/11, 7:51 AM

tickmeister said...
Little chance of getting the majority of humanity to do anything that they see as adverse to their immediate comfort. Consequences be damned.

Not a big deal as I see it. The climate has gone everywhere from steaming hot to frozen cold long before humans stood up on two feet. I expect it will do it again. At most, we might nudge it one way or another.

The looming economic collapse, which I think will materialize, will do more of the things climate activists favor than even a green dictatorship. Elites still do as they please in dictatorships, as noted with the ever present Mr. Gore. Thus the exceptions granted by the green dictators will minimize their effectiveness.

The unfortunate fact is that all we as individuals can do is adapt as best we can. Even if the entire human race went on a rampage to reduce CO2 emmissions, we don't know enough to be sure it would be to our advantage. Might bring on an ice age, might do nothing, might make things worse.
Nobody is as smart as they think they are, which is the basic problem with dictators.

As for me I will emulate the Buddist monk and continue to cut wood and carry water. The wood fends off the -13 temperature outside, I will pour the hot water on the chickens' feet to get them off the roost and they can drink what is left over.

1/13/11, 7:53 AM

Gary said...
I’ve been wondering if finally we are at the point where climate change is happening much faster than cultural change can happen. Back at the last election cycle, I was about to go out and talk up my favorite candidates with my neighbors and wanted to have a few of my favorite “graphs” on hand to make points. The first thing I printed out was one of those long time series of ice core data showing the temperature records for the last 800,000 years. I find it compelling, because it shows these sudden rises in temperature and then gradual declines into ice ages. It’s hard to see these very unsymmetrical changes without invoking a very dynamic climate mechanism.
The thing is, this data is only a decade old. For many of us who care about these things, its soaked into our understanding, but what about the many people that don’t get past the sports section in the paper? When did they start teaching enough climate science in high school that the average high school graduate could comprehend a dynamic climate? Do they yet? When I was in school, sure the glaciers came and went, but only on ageless time scales. Chaos theory was not yet developed and we lived in a world of gradual change. Gradualism pervaded biology as well, with Darwinian evolution. The world we lived in did not change quickly and would never change quickly.
I can’t think of comparable evidence that does a better job to shake up the idea of gradualism than the ice core records. Maybe now it’s part of what we teach our kids, but I suspect that two thirds of the adult population remain in the gradualist world they were taught, unprepared for the reality of a nonlinear one.

1/13/11, 7:58 AM

Robert C. Guy said...
'If only I could make people do a thing.' 'We could force them to do this.' 'They should press them to do that.' and all of this forcing of people to force them to conserve energy and the environment. Every exertion of force of any kind requires energy; they are interesting things to want to do. I have thought Masanobu Fukuoka (author of the One-Straw Revolution for those who may not know of him) was a very interesting person ever since I first heard of him about a year ago: "how can i NOT do this?"
My fiancee lives in a small utility-style apartment but she enjoys small pets so she has two friendly rats who keep her company and appear curious with every fiber of their tiny being in absolutely everything she does when she is around them. They are small, quiet, eat little and take only maybe a few minutes a week to clean. I enjoy them but I rather prefer a pet who is also an ally. On a farm of sufficient size perhaps the kind of dog who keeps an eye on things, in a home in certain climates a cat may hunt the mice or detrimental insects. In a house my family rented in Florida the cat would regularly catch and eat any palmetto bugs or lizards that sneaked in; if you haven't lived in places like those parts of Florida then you may not know just how prolific little lizards can be and the quick flying cockroaches are quite adept at coming in uninvited. Even now in my own apartment I keep a pet fungus. Granted fungi aren't very energetic to watch but they are attentive listeners (long in ear, short in word), don't cost much to feed and taste delicious in a variety of cooked food. Yeast is conveniently cheap in the grocery store but a dish of the right kind of food and water will attract pet yeast, the kind that participate well in baking, as fast as ally cats. Yeast for baking and brewing are rather ancient allies of humans. You don't have to force the yeast to grow there. you only support it when it is in need. I wonder how often people are convinced that an item or situation must be forced into being primarily because they have forgotten or never observed the ways they could align themselves physically and in their actions with the channels flowing in the natural world. At least how to align themselves in a way which is supportive and participatory rather than extractive and detrimental in order to fulfill their needs. Perhaps it's not a matter of how to live a fulfilling life, maybe it's just more occasions of the desire to stand on the lives of others and make believe that since they are there, above other people, held up by holding others down, that they are like the hills or mountains.

1/13/11, 8:07 AM

Twilight said...
I don't think anyone's grand plans will survive the coming chaos, and the grander they are the more true that will be. That's what collapse means - the inability of a society to control its destiny. So there is no need to get worked up about such stupid plans as Shearman's, as they will probably have no big impact either way on how we were going to respond.

For me, the link between climate change and peak oil (more generally resource limitation) is that peak oil is the only force strong enough to create any significant limitation on our ability to damage the climate. It will do so chaotically and will be immune to our plans.

Peak oil would be the only thing that gives me hope - if I didn't know better that is. In other words, peak oil will likely be very bad for me and those I love on a personal level, but it is the best possible thing for the human race.

We can still predict in general terms what is coming, but not accurately in details or in timing. This is why it makes more sense to put one's efforts into learning the universally applicable skills for survival in the resource constrained future that we can see in general terms, rather than making big plans to save the world. That includes absurd fascist fantasies.

1/13/11, 8:14 AM

Candee said...
For as long as the internet lasts, the alternatives to all the Peak Oil, Transition Town,alternative energy,back to the land people flying and SUVing all over the place are things like e-mail,blogs,podcasts,webinairs,skype, etc. not to mention trains, busses to get messages across and get around.I'm amazed people don't think of these things more. After the internet goes, there are things like letters,newsletters books,magazines that could be sent around and even shared to cut down on the amount of paper used. There were conventions in the times of horse and buggy. There are/have been other ways of communication,and blindness to this amazes me as much as if I go to a restaurant and their computer is down,everything stops, as if they had never heard of something called paper and pencil and walking it over to the cook/chef...

1/13/11, 8:21 AM

Zach said...
Very nice analysis, JMG.

Oh, my -- Christmas present indeed. As you describe it, the Shearman book will definitely cement the notion for many that climate-change activism is really a watermelon.

Why a watermelon? Because it's Green on the outside, but Red on the inside...

The aura of hypocrisy is a big deal. I've lost track of the times I've heard / read "I'll treat this 'climate crises' as a real crisis when I see the people advocating it treat it as a real crisis." Not walking the talk does set off people's active volatile organic compound detectors...


1/13/11, 8:48 AM

GHung said...
In all fairness to the climate change movement, and responding to the comparisons to the environmental/endangered species movement, the current climate change bunch are operating in a different environment.

The earlier movements were aided by voices that demanded the attention of the masses, the Jacques Cousteaus who offered up amazing eye-candy video while quietly warning us of our environmental misdeeds. These stories have become diluted and corrupted by and for those that would suffer losses resulting from change they don't control. Their ability to buy and sell consent is virtually complete, as is their ability to foist faux-democracy corptocracy upon the mesmerized masses.

Success in herding cats goes to those with the biggest, tastiest can of tuna and the loudest can opener. Self-determination has been supplanted by mass-deception.

I find any discussion of 'democracy' or even constitutional republicanism futile when my democratic aspirations must compete with corporate personhood and a populace programmed by fallacy.

Keeping my hopes very local, seeking shelter from the storm.

1/13/11, 9:16 AM

kjmclark said...
Thank you Robo. I'll grant that Shearman mucked up. But we have no inducements that people will accept. They have decided that McMansions, Suburbans, and cheap flights to sunny places are what they want. I have a lot more respect than to think you don't some ideas for how to herd these cats, but frankly I expect to be utterly disappointed with your suggestions.

The solutions to this problem will come down to some climate catastrophe that no one can ignore (and the floods in Australia aren't sufficient), enough economic hardship to force people to change, scarcity of fossil fuels and corresponding outrageous prices, *AND* alternatives. I'm already living the low-carbon alternative lifestyle, and much as it makes me happy, nothing short of all of the above is going to convince the people I deal with on my winter bike commute to join me.

1/13/11, 9:23 AM

Hal said...
P(fascism) ---> 1.00

P(worldwide ecofascism) ---> 0.00

For my part, I live a pretty austere life, but not because I think anyone is going to follow me toward the bitter tuna. I gave up on that notion following a couple of decades of standing at bus stops in the rain, watching the spoiled and powerful drive past in their Lexuses, and about a half-decade before I heard the term, "peak oil." Now I do so because it's just the life I want to live. It makes me feel better to not be part of the mess.

But to some, I suppose I fall far short of the ideal. I drive a smaller 4WD pickup, and plan to buy another tractor to replace the one that burned up in my barn last month, as well as the mowers, air compressor, trailers and other tools that makes a one-man boutique farm viable. I'm not willing to hamstring myself when the rest of society shows no inclination to do their part. If the small increment of mitigation created by such sacrifice would aid in the survival of a villager in Guatemala or be invested in alt energy research, it would be worthwhile. But the manifest fact is that it would far disproportionately be used to extend some recreational SUVer's weekend.

Not to be negative ner nothin. I'm just glad Shearman's vision is so unlikely. I'd much rather be fighting the Tea Partiers than having them as my only allies.

1/13/11, 9:54 AM

DaShui said...
Greetings Archdruid Greer, Happy early Chinese New Year!

I'm sorry for my off post, but I feel I must share this with you (y'all).
Last month, By accident I got to have dinner with a strategic planner from Chevron, who is just back from working in Africa. I assumed she being an energy insider must have a well thought out opinion on peak oil. I said to her, "Archdruid Greer preaches that soon we will all be wearing hemp loincloths, and jousting on mountain bikes armed with leaf spring crossbows. Whose harem will you belong to?" Ok. I did not use those exact words but, after I said peak oil she looked confused and became defensive.
Here are the 3 opinions she gave me in a minute and a half.
Answer #1: Peak oil can be put off indefinitely because of increasing efficiency and deep water drilling.
Answer #2: Peak oil makes as much sense as saying peak soybeans.
Answer #3: When the Saudis talk about leaving oil in the ground for their grandchildren, it means the peak is here.
So one can dispel the myth that insiders (privately)have any more clue than the rest of us about where we are going.

1/13/11, 10:15 AM

RPC said...
An electric can opener!?

1/13/11, 10:34 AM

Mark Angelini said...
Well stated!

This reminds me of a passage I read recently from the I-Ching, "Where men are to be gathered together, religious forces are needed. But there must also be a human leader to serve as the center of the group. In order to be bale to bring others together, this leader must first of all be collected within himself. Only collective moral force can unite the world..."

And, never reading Korten's book, I had no grasp on his ideas. I've only known of him through reading a few copies of Yes! magazine. They've featured some pretty decent articles, but something in me sensed that the publisher's had yet to grasp the practices they are espousing -- just using them as fodder to draw in donations. Just a random thought...

1/13/11, 10:51 AM

TRW said...
This is my first post. I just want to thank all of the people who posted on this blog for their thoughtful and stimulating comments. I learned a lot.

First, I worry about arguments that start from the premise of "the natural state of man" being anything--as if the various iterations and constellations of human culture have ever been in a static state. Our "natural" state seems only to be that we seek each other out for community (however defined and for a wide variety of reasons--economists and sociobiologists protestations not withstanding). The dynamics of the relationships forged in community are variable. I can't think of a totalitarian society that was efficient in addressing social and/or material crises. Stalin's attempt to modernize the Soviet Union was deadly, but not efficient--nor was it particularly successful. Authoritarian regimes are fairly good at making trains run on time, but not at addressing structural problems within their societies.

But the point someone made about the those in the climate change and peak oil movements' inability to connect with a larger audience is much more about how it has triggered fears rather than engaged people's hopes and aspirations. Facts are only incidental to politics, unless mobilized in the right way.

1/13/11, 11:00 AM

Lynford1933 said...
JMG et al. Not to worry, Shearman’s book cost $49.95 USD on Amazon and the rating (though only by four people) is a terrible ‘one‘. Further, to show what sort of trash it is, the used price is ~$15.

Gore’s Nobel Prize for his environmental stand is equivalent to Obama’s Peace Prize as he sent more troops to Afghanistan. Neither event escaped the public’s awareness. It is obvious a self sufficient monastery will never get either Nobel.

IMHO a turning point for the climate change argument was the Chinese Olympics. The place was so polluted they had to ’clean’ the air before the games. This is an authoritarian government with the ability to order constructive climate changes but have a different agenda. Millions saw the problem and thought, “Why should I clean up my act and give up what I like when 1.4 billion Chinese and their government doesn’t give a damn.” Individual efforts against that kind of competition is kinda like pissing in the ocean and expecting the tide to come in.

I believe the Green Wizard concept is a move in the right direction but the name will never get serious national attention. “Oh hey, all us Green Wizards will form the Green Wizard party and get elected.” (LOL) Most of us Green Wizards are spotted green. Of course national recognition is not the goal and as a TLAR engineer, I thoroughly believe in the idea of one person at a time making a difference in their limited community. Though to date my conversion of friends and neighbors to Green Wizardry has been miserable.

I hear this has been the worst winter since 19XX or 18XX. What caused those winters to be so bad? Worst flood in XX years. What happened that time? The confusion between “Climate” and “Weather” is serious. How can one believe in global warming when they are up to their neck in snow … what(?), I can‘t hear you because my ears are froze.

BTW: Believe in Peak Oil? Real, out of the ground, crude oil peaked in 2005 and $147/barrel in 2008 did not exceed it much and then only for a month. It is very possible that financial melt down, peak oil collapse, TEOTWAWKI will occur before climate change has its ultimate devastating effects of +5C at which time the human race may be extinct. Now that’s a happy thought. Cheers. Lyn.

1/13/11, 11:08 AM

Robb Davis said...
You state: "Partly this unfolds from the fixation of the American left on the experiences of the 1960s, a fixation that has seen one movement after another blindly following a set of strategies that have not actually worked since the end of the Vietnam war"

Could you explain a bit more what the "strategies" are? I mean this sincerely. I would like to understand this better.


1/13/11, 11:20 AM

Don Plummer said...
Kevin wrote:
"One thing I am wondering is whether you feel that there are already unmistakable signs that catabolic collapse is underway in earnest in the United States."

I can't speak for John, of course, and I don't know what he's going to write in next week's column, but here are some signs I have noticed that indicate that catabolic collapse has begun:

1. Infrastructure is beginning to crumble with no real way to pay for repairs. Part of the (borrowed) federal stimulus money was used for infrastructure repairs, especially roads and bridges. But in order for repairs to be sustained indefinitely, costs need to be paid up front. For highway repairs, the gasoline tax was the chief method of finance. But fuel-tax revenues no longer cover the costs, and aren't likely to in the future as Americans continue a downward trend in total miles driven and as cars burn less fuel than before. And no politician is going to propose increasing the fuel tax, especially with costs on the rise as they are now.

2. States and local governments are increasingly resorting to gambling and similar so-called "creative" ventures as a source of revenue.

3. Increasing dysfunction across the board. Things just don't work as well as they used to, from public education to air travel to our government. Expect this phenomenon to increase as things get further out of control.

4. The whole incivility phenomenon that has been discussed since the shootings in Tucson on Friday. We no longer know how to relate civilly to each other, especially when we disagree.

I'm sure I could come up with others if I thought further, but these are the big things I see.

John, you have me intrigued with your comment about being able to know a specific date and time when collapse begins. I can't wait to read next week's post.

1/13/11, 11:22 AM

gsanford said...
I think this post of late falls into a pattern I've seen in which doomers, having been depressed by Climategate, Nopenhagen, and the mid-term elections, have decided to turn the knives onto themselves.

Go to Rob Hopkins' site and see TTers pile onto Mike Brownlee for daring to speak in apocalyptic terms about the future and the need for more of a whole-life transformation to be able to deal with it rather than soft-balling the NASCAR neighbors with potlucks. You'd think Mike Brownlee is Rush Limbaugh the way he was skewered--for saying things most of us deep down recognize as true, but don't have the guts to speak outside of doomer circles.

The subtext is that we really COULD have a huge culture-change if we only were better communicators, better salesmen. Grab a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.

What would be too terrifying to imagine is that maybe the people we're trying to reach just can't be reached.

In fact, Greer's two books and his Green Wizardry project seem to come to that conclusion. So it seems a little unfair for Greer to take potshots at activism when his preferred approach is to encourage us to stop being outspoken Cassandras and tend to our private little gardens and our passive-solar cookers. You know, to take the hint and lay low until the frogs start boiling in the pot and come knocking for advice.

That's not to say there aren't misguided movements, and anything that advocates literal eco-fascism (of which I would not lump David Korten into, BTW) is worthy of a rebuke. But then so is the far more damaging ambient culture of BAU and morning in america as demonstrated by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the rest.

But it's far more attractive to attack your ideological siblings, because at least they're going to be paying attention to what you have to say. The right-wing have already tuned us out completely unless they are lobbing cheap derision our way.

So to me this is really an ominous trend. This sort of finger-pointing wouldn't be taking place if there was any sort of progress being made.

I just think we're far less likely to get anywhere if we fracture off into a million pieces, all blaming each other for our failure to move society from its suicidal course.

1/13/11, 11:51 AM

Ric said...
I'm not sure I have commented before, though I have admired your clarity, scope, wit, and literacy for some years. So I don't criticize out of general opposition or irascibility.

But (you knew there was a "but" on the way), your references to 70s ice age expectations are half-baked and ill-informed.

Scientific opinion on the subject was certainly less mature and more diverse than it is today, but even in the 70s, there was an incipient but unmistakeable consensus forming that anthropogenic warming would dominate the coming decades. The biggest splash about a coming ice age was in Newsweek, not scientific journals.

You can find ample references at RealClimate, passim, and a carefully buttressed and well-weighed roundup by William Connolley et al, The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus. (Link from WC's Wikipedia entry, and free copies here and there I'm sure.)

Feel free to make points about public perceptions and the general press, but do professional scientists the courtesy of distinguishing their contributions from those of journalists, or (much worse) hacks and axe-grinders of dubious integrity. You make a stab in that direction with a somewhat confusing distinction between scientists' public and private views, but the views cited by Connolley are found right in the mainstream, peer-reviewed literature. We're not talking about barroom mutterings that they later wished they had had the prescience to make public.

And no one ever should encourage or tolerate the atrociously false (yet constantly propounded) balance between, on on hand, a minority of 1970s scientists who did in fact tentatively propose that another ice age might arrive soon (in geological time) and, on the other hand, the current very strong overall agreement on anthropogenic global warming, in a now much larger and better-researched scientific field.

Executive summary: even in the 70s, science mostly expected CO2 would win out and warm us. It has and will.

1/13/11, 12:01 PM

R D said...
I have read your blog for some time now and several of your books are in my bookcase. But I have often wondered why I find your work so compelling. After all, I am a technologist. I love machines as much as you love organic gardens, and I find catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) as laughable as you find it compelling.

This essay answered my question. You look at the world in broad perspective, and you are not afraid to acknowledge things that go counter to your sense of fair play. This combination of broad (and deep) intellect and a willingness to describe reality, no matter how ugly, is what makes your writing so compelling. You succeed in converting information into knowledge, and more than occasionally, into wisdom.

Your insights into why the CAGW movement is failing helps me understand why society is marching off the peak oil cliff when there is enough fissile material sitting in stockpiles and waste pools to power the world for hundreds of years.

Will Shearman’s book really hurt the CAGW movement that bad? Maybe not, the wheels were already coming off. Is he wrong about authoritarian government being more efficient? No. When people organize to get things done, they form hierarchical structures, not democratic ones. Who would want to get on a democratically operated airplane?

Anyway, keep up the good work. Ecology is very important, too important to be distracted by CAGW in my opinion. There is much for the ecology community to contribute as society transitions from unsustainable to sustainable. Your Green Wizards movement is a great start.

1/13/11, 12:20 PM

Sean Strange said...
Well given a choice between a “democratic” long descent into poverty and diminished technology vs. a shiny high tech authoritarian regime, I’m pretty sure the large majority of people are going to choose the latter. It’s the underlying myths that decide the issue; if you believe technological civilization is the only route to an unlimited future among the stars and have that as your highest aspiration, you will sacrifice almost anything to maintain your civilization.

The problem is not that our technological civilization is inherently bad, but that it needs a larger cosmic vision beyond global capitalist consumerism to survive. Such a perspective has been available for many decades, at least since the Apollo project, but it just hasn’t been widely adopted. Go back and watch Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” or his warnings about the greenhouse effect from decades ago, or read what Fred Hoyle was saying in the 1960’s about our “one shot” at advanced civilization given our rapid exhaustion of planetary resources. This is the perspective that I favor, rather than accepting a disempowered society with the contracted worldview of previous centuries.

With a cosmic perspective and our scientific knowledge, there is good reason to believe we can solve our resource extraction problems. If we must sacrifice a few notions of democracy and freedom inherited from some long-gone 18th century American milieu along the way, then so be it. The larger myths of cosmic “manifest destiny” are ultimately more powerful than capitalism or even democracy, and seem to me to be the most attractive alternative to a long descent into a dark age, meaningless consumerism or theocracy.

1/13/11, 12:22 PM

Yupped said...
So this winter we've moved from heating the house with oil to using only a wood stove. This is probably something many other commenters here have done, but it still bears noting what a lot of work is involved in this one, in theory fairly straightforward change in lifestyle. In practice, lots of stacking and moving and loading and lighting and cleaning and on and on. And we even had a pick-up truck bring us the hardwood.

I'm happy to have done it, and I'm feeling all good and resilienty having done so. But, man, what a lot of sweat and toil. I don't see how any politician or movement leader could sell the benefits of doing it, really, no matter how much tuna they have to spread around on wood stove credits. And I just can't see Al Gore stacking his own fuel.

Follow me is certainly better than do as I say. But my sense is that every individual or family that makes some serious changes will do so for their own reasons, either a little at a time, or all at once, or not at all. It's going to be wild. And hard to lead with any leadership approach.

1/13/11, 1:16 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

You are again spot on.

The climate change movement has failed because they are asking someone else to carry the load at some time in the future. The unspoken thing is that if this occurs then they'll be able to go on living their lives without too much inconvenience. People see through this elitism. You can't cheat nature.

It really highlights the flaw in the Industrial worlds obsession with individualism. We can't all be special.

It's a bit Monty Python really, "we're all individuals!" hehe!

There is something really weird going on with the climate, I do not doubt this. There is no doubt in my mind that it is related to human activities.

The problem though, is that it gets down to the simple fact that we are being asked to do something that is not being done on a community wide basis.

Do people want to stop or reduce using their vehicles? - No

Do people want to stop taking cheap flights? - No

Do people demand better more efficient smaller housing? - No

Do people want to eat food produced locally and in season and/or preserved? - No

We haven't addressed these questions. I have the beginnings of the understanding as to how hard it would be to live as a subsistence farmer and it is both difficult and risky with little room for error.

It's still raining (around 230mm now) and the kangaroo's are back again eating the grass from the worm farm trenches. They are wet and miserable looking, but they are eating there because after days of waiting out the rain, they release that if they don't eat they'll starve and this place has the highest return on nutrients for the energy invested by them. It's an appropriate metaphor.

Individual responses are all we have left in the time available.

Good luck!

1/13/11, 2:08 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Bill,

Couldn't have written better.

That's the exact reason why I don't worry about totalitarian regimes. If they pop up, they'll be short term at best.

My advice is to accept and blend and they'll go away. Any large scale central regime won't have the energy to enforce much or for very long.

By the way, I think I'm one of the few around here to still have electrical power because of the storm...

Good luck!

1/13/11, 2:32 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

A lot of comments suggest that they now in fact have a democracy. At best we have a representative democracy where we outsource all the hard questions.

At worst (and this is where I think we are) we have a plutocracy. I believe this to be more apt as the vested interests seem to be running the show!

Good luck!

1/13/11, 2:39 PM

beneaththesurface said...
Yes, I strongly agree that it is important for activists who are advocating larger policy/cultural changes to embody those changes on the personal level (at least to the extent one can) as well. I really dislike the false dichotomy between the importance of personal vs. societal change in activist debates--I think both are important and inseparable.

Which relates to another thought... After going to the ASPO conference this year, I filled out the online evaluation, and one of my recommendations was for organizers and participants to work to make the conference itself better reflect the values of the peak oil-aware. Such as: Finding a way to reduce the energy consumption of the conference space (the Hilton hotel probably is not ideal in this regard), actively encouraging train and other less energy-intensive ways of traveling to the conference, perhaps looking into local food suppliers for meals, etc. Yes, I know it's easier to criticize than to actually make those changes happen, but I'd at least like to see some sign that the ASPO conference is "walking the talk" to some extent. It doesn't have to be perfection.

To ignore these concerns makes it easy for anyone else to say, "Why should any other conference or gathering be compelled to consume less energy, if ASPO itself is not even making such a effort?"

One other question: I try to "walk my talk," even though I'm not perfect. Flying is one thing I feel bad about--I have definitely reduced air travel in my life, but have not eliminated it altogether. I know one can get around by train on this continent. But are there any alternatives to occasional air travel overseas that are less energy-intensive?? (I think I once heard that sometimes regular cargo boats offer space for a few passengers...that might be an option). I'm just wondering if others have any answers to that question or whether I should just assume that making a decision not to fly means making a decision not to ever travel internationally again...

1/13/11, 3:22 PM

klee said...
You have included a bit of conventional wisdom that is not supported by the evidence. There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that we were entering a cooling period (although that is a commonly cited narrative by climate change deniers). Even then the scientific consensus was that increased greenhouse gases from human activity would warm the planet.

Please see this study from the American Meteorological Society

1/13/11, 4:15 PM

Richard said...
I agree your reasons for the failure of the climate change movement are part of the issue, but I think an even more important reason for its failure is because the vast majority of people won't willingly make major changes to their lifestyle. A good number of people can be convinced to do things like recycle, buy more efficient appliances, and other baby steps that don't take up much of their time or any major change in lifestyle. Then they believe they're "green". Only a few of those will consider such things as living in a smaller space, even though downsizing has advantages other than just energy efficiency, you don't need to maintain as much space either. Even fewer will go forward with things that require a decent amount of actual work.

I run across this repeatedly, and I'm mostly among people who claim to be environmentally conscious. I'm certainly not perfect myself, but I do have a much smaller environmantal footprint than the average American and am growing quite a bit of food. Still, the vast majority of people I talk to about these issues won't actually put in work toward goals of greater sustainability. This includes most peak-oil aware people I know, even though they know it's in their self-interest as well as the interest of the environment.

Sharon Astyk wrote a great bost about this subject a while back, at

James Hansen, the climatologist, has said that he used to think action on climate change would come about the same way as action on the ozone hole, once the science was in, policy changes would follow. He didn't realize the crucial thing, that phasing out CFCs didn't require major changes in the American way of life, and restricting CO2 emissions to a meaningful extent certainly would. The endangered species act and other legislation passed at that time did force some in certain professions to make major changes, but still didn't threaten the average person's American dream.

My personal feeling is that until a major crisis comes, peak oil activism will likely fail just as climate change has, even if peak oil does become a more well-known issue, simply for the reason that peak oil is even more at odds with our cultural myths than climate change. Once a major crisis hits, I'm talking something in America at least as bad as the soviet collapse, then people's attitudes will change in some way. The problem, as has been mentioned before on this blog, is that those attitude changes once crisis hits have a good chance of making things worse, by blaming a scapegoat, supporting a charismatic leader who promises to bring back the old days, which at best would be just a plain failure, and at worst could turn out to be another Hitler.

1/13/11, 5:38 PM

Cathy McGuire said...
Excellent post! I’m sorry to hear that there’s any more tinder for the denialists’ flames, but not surprised… I think it’s human nature to want to “just stop arguing and get it done”… and many otherwise good humans fall into that trap often in their lives (including me). But it doesn’t work, and not only because power corrupts (though that is true) – if you don’t have consent/cooperation of the “masses” who have to live/work in a system, the inefficiencies (ie: passive resistance) erode too much of the forward motion.

That said, I’m annoyed at all those who decry professions of “authoritarianism” while simultaneously abandoning their own responsibility in a government or culture. Ditto those who flay the frustrated leaders who start to cut short debate, but who don’t recognize the same tendencies/actions in themselves. It’s only when we can compassionately see that the other guy is much like us that we can find ways to guide a process (speaking as one who has done a lot of conflict resolution for others, but who is also prone to hissyfits more often than I want to be.)

Your comments about the naivete of the climate change movement is well taken, yet I wonder if anyone who truly recognized the power of the other side would have had the guts to even start the movement?? Kind of easy to say after the fact that they didn’t recognize the power of industry and the wealthy, but maybe they did, and because they didn’t have the same power, they used whatever power/methods they had.

…it has been calling on the world to accept a lifestyle that the movement’s own leaders have shown no willingness to adopt themselves…

I agree with some other comments that the fact that capitalism gives power and thus “a loud voice” to those with wealth and mainstream success means that those who do try to set an example (versus just preaching) are de facto dropped from the discussion! That is only on the national/global level… in individual communities, I think such examples are working in many places. And it seems that you are discounting the cities like Portland, Eugene & Corvallis, OR that are making significant changes (bike friendly, public transport, advanced recycling including food, etc.)… it’s true that people are moving much too slow compared to the rate of change needed, but OTOH, in order to get a group moving in the same direction, it’s often necessary to slow down and help them keep up with you… I don’t know the answer to that conundrum. The other issue is that living a simple life takes so much time/effort/physical presence (in the garden) that there’s not as much left to give lectures or “lead” any kind of movement (at least for me).

The saddest part of climate change discussion is that the change is coming at us like a juggernaut while those who try to point it out are told they are “strident” and “hysterical”. At a certain point, those in the know may stop talking and just run for whatever shelter they think they can manage!

I love your solution to herding cats! Yet, of course, that is saying that the cats choose to “follow” you because they want something you’re handing out. And they will leave as soon as they are satiated… The one thing I see that I have to offer my wealthier, more suburban friends is peace of mind – they are really starting to notice that I am calmer, less caught up in the craziness of culture, and I have a life that is rich in nature and in peace… I don’t know if they can/will make the mental leap as to why that’s so, and I don’t like to proselytize.

McKibben could as well do speaking tours by train, which has a tiny fraction of the carbon footprint of air travel

Have you seen Ran Prieur’s latest series comparing various forms of transportation? He has trains not much more efficient than planes, though his scales have more sociological aspects than pure carbon footprint… just thought I’d point out the link… I’d be interested in your thoughts about it.

1/13/11, 5:57 PM

Cathy McGuire said...
@Pops: "How much time do we have?"
The unspoken part is not 'how much time to change', mind you, but 'how much time to not change".

Oh – such a good point!! Those asking are often not those who are already in the thick of the change/downshift. The answer I try to give, gently, is – “none”. That change is already needed; that as much change as you can practice/learn will give you that much advantage when the brown stuff hits the windmill.

OTOH, I and many of my friends are recognizing that recycling and other token gestures are just not doing much in the overall equation – that’s why I’ve shifted my message to “practicing flexibility” – reuse rather than recycle, just to practice using what is at hand; learn how to adjust to no power, no food in shops, etc. – to give yourself a bit more awareness… it’s like fire drills – the repetition allows one to act quickly and correctly if a crisis happens.

(PS - have been having many problems uploading my longer comment; hope it went through)

1/13/11, 5:58 PM

Bobby said...
Wow, I have never heard of this Shearman cat but I can only imagine the firestorm this book is going to cause within conservative circles. When I think about the declining position of the climate change movement, I can’t help but think that part of the problem also can be blamed of the fact that ideologically (in the U.S. anyway) the movement aligned itself too closely with the political left and the Democratic Party from the start. For all of the good information made public in Al Gore’s documentary, the movie also provided the right with a lightning rod to direct their criticism against. Like you said, it is part of the whole notion that elites want everyone else to change while they go on living their lush and lavish lifestyle. Simply put, who is Al Gore to tell a Kansas farmer who has been tilling the land his family has owned for six generations how to live a sustainable lifestyle?

The flaw with the alignment of the movement almost solely to the left wing of the American political spectrum is that it alienated a fair number of supporters on the opposite side of the aisle. In so-called “red” state across the United States you see individuals that are in no way aligned with the climate movement adopting and in fact living the sustainable lifestyle that this planet needs to adopt in a hurry. These are the folks that run organic farming operations in the Shenandoah Valley, preserve their own food, and generally operate outside of the corporate-capitalist paradigm. These are also the same individuals who have a deep disdain for our reliance on foreign oil and they are the same sportsmen who want the hunting grounds that they shared with their fathers and grandfathers to be protected for the next generation. I read an article not too long ago in the NY Times (unfortunately I couldn’t find the link to the story) about an individual somewhere in the Midwest who was worried about climate change. Given that he lived in a very conservative town, he knew he couldn’t make any changes by taking a traditional scientific-based global warming approach with his town council. Instead he approached it from the perspective that if the town was able to go off-grid, it would really stick it to foreign oil interests. The support for his idea was overwhelming and sometime last year the town set up a solar farm for all of its power needs.

As this case shows, in the proper context, a fair number of American conservatives could have easily been won over to supporting notions of a simpler, more sustainable existence that would ultimately begin addressing the larger problem of climate change, but they were ignored, and in some cases even chastised. This reminds me of a sign that hangs in the local tractor supply store where I live. The sign simply reads, “It’s tough out here.” Yet, I highly doubt the esteemed leaders of the climate change movement have any idea how tough it can be to get up at 4 AM to start on the chores necessary to keep a truly sustainable existence.

1/13/11, 7:09 PM

scratchmarc said...
I hope the activists don't take too much umbrage at your tough love approach, JMG. Shame that the old torch had to be fumbled instead of passed, though. I supposed it's just as well, in that the new small voices in the wilderness who do actually adhere to the methodical mantras will have the last survivalist laugh... if we all mind our peas and cukes, that is.

I found it telling that the same large gun clip the Tuscon shooter used was now flying off the shelves, how's that for human nature? Maybe the wisdom of green wizardry can eventually ameliorate that sort of mindset.

1/13/11, 8:06 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Fleecenik, that sounds about right. More on this next week.

Bill, oh, granted, there are many other factors in the failure of the climate change movement, going right down to the core narratives the movement embraced. I don't think it could have succeeded as well as its supporters hoped, but I think it could have done some good.

Pops, good. Very good. That's exactly what people want to hear -- "how long can we put off changing?" -- and again, I'll be addressing that next week.

Andy, a movement doesn't have to bring on Ecotopia to have a positive impact.

Robo, you need to get out and meet some of the people you're lumping together as "authoritarian." That sort of blanket label of a very complex movement isn't really productive, you know.

Rhisiart, I suspect that those people to whom you're invisible are doing their level best not to see you. Pop's point -- that a lot of people are basically engaged in bargaining maneuvers, trying to find out how long they can put off the changes they know they're going to have to make -- is very relevant here!

Jim, I'm not sure that it's useful to insist that the movement failed because of (insert system here). There have been plenty of movements for social change that succeeded against far longer odds.

Evan, it's an interesting question. The thing that gives me hope is that I've spent the last five years saying, basically, that we're all going to have to learn to be poor, and somehow that message has caught on to an extent far exceeding my expectations. I'd say let's try launching such a movement, and see where it goes.

Sue, once you become a public figure, it's part of the job description to pay attention to how your public statements might impact the movement in which you're active. A failure to recognize that is part of the political cluelessness I mentioned.

Glenn, stay tuned for details!

1/13/11, 9:02 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Robo -- "How can the the strenuous and austere post-peak lifestyle be made attractive enough that they might be tempted to adopt it before it's forced upon them?"

Maybe that's not quite the right question to ask. Sticking to the metaphor (and stretching it REALLY thin...), perhaps we now have a bunch of cats who are gorging on caviar in milk sauce with fresh mouse gravy, and all you have is some crummy old tuna. Of course they'll ignore you now. But, when the caviar runs short, your tuna will start to look a lot more tempting, especially if you have figured out how to catch it yourself so you can keep providing it over the long haul. Then the cats will likely swarm to you.

1/13/11, 9:26 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Robo, I'd point out that a lot of the cats in question are sick of the kibble they're getting, and might indeed be up for a change of diet.

Lamb, have you read Karl Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies? I suspect you'd like it; his attitude is fairly close to yours, and he backs it up with impeccable scholarship and some very fine prose.

Tickmeister, no argument there.

Gary, that's an excellent point. Despite recent shifts in some of the sciences, the old uniformitarian bias remains very strongly fixed in place in our culture as a whole; it feeds into the delusion -- there's no gentler word for it -- that insists on seeing nature as a passive context in which humanity provides the only dynamic factor. One of the things those ice cores show is that climate changes far larger and faster than anything the IPCC is talking about have happened many times in recent geological history, without human involvement; we may set off another round, granted, but nature is perfectly capable of wreaking havoc all by herself!

Robert, excellent! I had a pet rat at one point in childhood -- a smart, endearing pet, clean and affectionate. As for pet yeast, the kind that produce beer are particularly friendly... ;-)

Twilight, I'd say that resource limits are a subset of the wider set of limits to growth, which also include what happens when you dump too much of a pollutant (say, CO2) into the environment. Anthropogenic global warming is a self-limiting process all on its own; pursued far enough, it'll trigger changes that will cause collapse all by themselves. So in a very broad sense, there's no need to worry.

Candee, well put. I'd be happy even with such modest and convenient steps as taking the train!

Zach, exactly. That's the secret weapon of every successful social change movement; if you live the change you want to bring about, that demonstration of sincerity is the best possible publicity.

Ghung, Jacques Cousteau was adept at exactly the image management and public relations skills the climate change movement hasn't learned. Any movement could do a lot worse than study Cousteau's methods.

Kjm, start from those assumptions and yes, those are certainly the results you'll get.

1/13/11, 9:48 PM

Glenn said...
Re: Failing Infrastructure.

Some of you may remember that in Gulf War One (1990), the U.S. was so short of merchant shipping that we had to charter Russian Bottoms (term for ship in the biz.)

How many of you will be as surprised as I was to learn that for the past two years the U.S. has been chartering the Swedish icebreaker ODEN to open the channel for the supply ships into McMurdo Base in Antarctica?

Our two Polar Class Icebreakers are both in the yards, one until late in 2011, the other until 2013 (she was actually decommissioned for a while.) The remaining, newest breaker, HEALY is booked solid.

This is beyond mere collapse of Empire. This is failure to operate as an ordinary functioning nation. A continental power that hasn't got enough merchant capacity for wartime logistics or icebreaking capability to support it's own bases is truly dysfunctional.

Marrowstone Island

1/13/11, 9:53 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Hal, the point isn't to pursue an ideal but to do what you can. If that involves a tractor just now, that's what it involves.

DaShui, and an early "gung hee fat choy" to you as well! As for the strategic planner, if that's what passes for strategic planning these days, I think we can write off the oil corporations.

RPC, excellent! I was wondering when somebody was going to call me on that. ;-)

Mark, the Changes are a good starting place for any strategy. As for Yes! magazine, well, I'm not a fan; a friend of mine used to joke that the magazine I would like would be titled Probably Not!

TRW, for a first post that was a heck of a good one. That last point is crucial -- a successful movement for social change must engage hopes and aspirations rather than fears. Failing to do that amounts to failing, period.

Lynford, that's excellent news. Thank you.

Robb, that would take a book rather than a response to a comment! If you'll read a good history of the 1960s protest movements, compare them to the climate change movement, then contrast the lot to the more sophisticated approaches the right has been using for the last thirty years, I think you'll be able to fill in the blanks yourself in short order.

Don, stay tuned...

Gsanford, obviously I disagree. Mind you, I'm also one of the people who's criticized Michael Brownlee, and for good reason.

Ric, you're forgetting one detail: I was there at the time. During the late 70s and early 80s, I was fascinated by the possibility of an incipient ice age, and read a great deal on the subject -- including quite a few books written by people with Ph.D.s in meteorology and the like. It wasn't just a matter of the media, although it did appear there; it also appeared in such public venues as the Smithsonian, and in plenty of books written for public consumption. I note with some interest that you avoided my comment about the difference between the way science operates on its own turf and the way it presents itself to the public; if you want to claim that the global cooling issue was purely for public consumption, I won't argue, but that simply reinforces my point, which is that the gap in question has badly weakened the prestige of institutional science in recent decades.

1/13/11, 10:16 PM

John Michael Greer said...
RD, thank you!

Sean, I think you're mistaken -- not in suggesting that people won't accept an authoritarian society, as of course many of them will, but in thinking that that's a viable alternative to the descent into a dark age. Rather, it's part of the transition there.

Yupped, yes, it's hard work. You're doing it, and many other people are doing some equivalent of it, partly because it makes sense to you, and partly because other people -- whom you may not think of as leaders at all -- have shown you that it can be done. That last is the kind of leadership we need most right now.

Cherokee, I hope the roos make it. As for democracy, this is what democracy in practice looks like. No, it doesn't look a lot like the pretty pictures, but since this is the way every democracy in history has functioned, maybe we can use the word for the reality rather than the fantasy!

Beneath, no argument about ASPO. There's a weird disconnect sometimes between the nature of our conversations and the environment in which they take place -- and of course this blog is an example: using the internet to talk about the coming of an age where there will be no internet. As for air travel, that's a challenging question to which I don't have easy answers. I do the vast majority of my travel to speaking gigs on the train, but not quite all; I've never had an overseas gig, and if it ever happens I'll want to be able to weigh the benefits against the inevitable costs to the planet.

Klee, yes, I've seen the study; see my comments above. I'm reminded of Winston Smith, who remembered that Oceania was in fact once allied with Eurasia.

Richard, this is the logic behind the Green Wizard project. If there are a fair number of people who pioneer a constructive personal response to peak oil and the end of the age of cheap energy, they will be in a position to model useful responses for other people as things come unglued.

Cathy, the fact that some communities have in fact taken positive steps to cut their carbon emissions and phase out energy waste is one of the good things to come out of the movement. As for trains, granted, they're imperfect, but it takes one heck of a lot less fuel to move a passenger car along a track than it does to keep a plane suspended in the air at 30,000 feet!

Bobby, dead on target. One of the ways that the existing political system keeps itself glued into place in the US is by convincing everybody that every issue belongs to either one or the other party; this allows the parties to co-opt the energy that flows into the issue, while preventing anybody from actually organizing for political changes that would upset the partisan apple cart. Global warming is simply one victim of this good cop/bad cop scam.

Scratch, I don't expect them to listen much. On the other hand, if people in the peak oil scene do so, they might learn a few helpful lessons.

1/13/11, 10:36 PM

SophieGale said...
My cat's weird: couldn't care less about tuna, but comes running when I grind coffee beans! And I have to fight her for cinnamon rolls with sour cream frosting.

And maybe there's our lure: The Perc Oil Cafe--stop by for free coffee and cinnamon rolls (baked right here in our own solar oven, and we'll tell you what steps you can take now to eat better, cut your fuel costs, and stay warmer for less money. Set up "shop" in church basements, and community centers. Get a booth at the farmer's market.

We are primates, after all, not cats, and we tend to communicate better when we all have food in our hands.

1/13/11, 10:41 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, I'd also point out that a lot of those cats are starting to catch on that what's being billed as caviar and cream is actually cheap kibble sprayed with flavoring agents, and it's given a fair number of them indigestion. A meal of good plain tuna may start sounding very appealing to some of them!

Glenn, thank you for those details! I'd also point out that a little later this year, for the first time since the beginning of the 1960s, the US will have no manned space travel capability at all. We'll be relying on Russian capsules to get our astronauts to the ISS. Think about that for a moment...

1/13/11, 10:42 PM

Loveandlight said...
Shearman sounds like one of Eric Hoffer's True Believers. Whether the True Believer is all about communism, fascism, transhumanism, primitivism, fundamentalism, or skeptic-scientism, their whole state of mind is more about their issues than about the issues. In the immortal words of Mr. Natural, "'Twas ever thus!"

1/14/11, 4:35 AM

Glenn said...
"for the first time since the beginning of the 1960s, the US will have no manned space travel capability at all. "

I had noticed that. As a child of the '60's I was raised on the dream of the "High Frontier". But, whether one believes that humanity only had one shot at getting off this rock and has blown it; or that it was never possible, it's pretty clear that no one's going into even low earth orbit in a generation.


1/14/11, 6:47 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
I wonder how many of your readers will remember who Winston Smith is...

So in keeping with the media trend of making puns on "apocalypse," would the catabolic collapse be the Catabolocalypse?

Re: cooling in the 1970s. I was there, too; there's no doubt that indeed there was a lot of media attention and popular perception that the globe was in a long-term cooling trend an an ice age was coming. Thing is, during the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, the globe WAS in a cooling period by most measures available at the time. Long-term natural climate cycles were just starting to be worked out -- the ENSO pattern wasn't clearly identified until 1969, the PDO, AMO, AO, etc. were not understood until the 1980s and 1990s. So the existence of a multidecadal cooling trend was known (and real); the reasons for it and future implications were speculation. Regardless of what the scientific thought might have been, the public mindset was about cold and ice ages, not heat and global warming. Throw in some volcano weather and the nuclear winter studies in the 1980s, and this is what was on the mind of the person on the street. My wife was recently cleaning our her mothers hoarder house, and found lots of big cans of kerosene. She said only half jokingly that her mother had gone through a period of getting prepared for the coming ice age.

Right now there is no scientific doubt that we are in a global warming trend, just as real as the cooling during the mid 20th Century. And there is no real scientific doubt that increasing CO2 will ultimately lead to long-term warming. Just as there was no real doubt in the 1970s that ultimately there would be another ice age. But connecting the pattern of a few decades to the expected pattern for coming centuries and millennia is a difficult and often tenuous proposition. All that alphabet soup of atmospheric and oceanic oscillations, plus the solar cycle, plus other (as yet unidentified in many cases) influences make this hard to do on a year to year or even decade to decade basis.

And just for fun we now have the Arctic Dipole, a seemingly new pattern not seen before the mid Twenty-Aughts, giving us hot arctic and cold in eastern North America and Europe. A sign of the apocalypse, or just something rare but natural that has not been previously noted? It's fundamentally a matter of opinion and judgement at this point, not hard indisputable fact.

1/14/11, 6:55 AM

GHung said...
I've never been very good at herding cats but I'm a pretty good fisherman. Some fish will bite every time, whatever the bait. Some fish never bite. Some fishing holes are very productive (think your local sustainability group), though these are hungry fish, willing to take a chance. Other holes are full of fat and happy fish; well fed and content enough to reject even the most special bait. I usually float through these holes, dragging a line in case there's one fish there having a bad day. Peak fishing time is short. While I have good days and bad, I always reel them in gently, one at a time. I've thought about casting a net but that isn't my style.

I introduced a relative to this blog; he's a conficted conservative academic, a fence sitter who refuses to get off. He seems to want it both ways and has said, if I'm right and things get bad, he'll adopt my methods and humbly submit to a life of toil.

He's read this blog some, though he doesn't quite get the point of the "Green Wizzard" thing; "Greer's casting a net, though I doubt he's catching many fish." I explained that, IMO, Greer is casting seeds, knowing that some will grow into something useful. In their own time these plantings will cast their own seeds, the foundation stock for whatever comes. He now refers to the Archdruid as "Johnny Wizzard Seed".

His family is now busy building a nice camping site and shelter on the property they own adjacent to mine, mostly with local materials from their forest. They are also planning a garden in their excellent bottom land. I'm more than glad to help, one seed at a time.

Patience and perseverance seem to work for me. Methinks that the climate change community (out of perceived neccessity) has become impatient and have cast their nets too wide.

1/14/11, 7:15 AM

dltrammel said...
With the Right and most especially the religious Right being such prime examples of the need to impose their vision on others, even by force if necessary, its easy to think they have a lock on the concept but that personality trait isn't restricted just to them.

Bob Altemeyer has written extensively on the "authoritarian" mindset, and for those who want to read more, visit his website at

His research grew out of studies conducted after WW2 which wanted to find out how people could willingly let someone like Hilter rise to power and do the things he did.

The monster in my bedroom closet is that when the BIG ONE of climate catastrophe does happen, and wakes the masses up to what's happened, there will be waiting in the wings a "prophet" who will promise to lead us.

RPC said..."An electric can opener!?"

Heaven's I assure you my cat knows the sound of my manually operated handy dandy, P-38 can opener and comes running when ever I use it to open a can of tuna.

1/14/11, 7:28 AM

JRB said...
@Bobby: I think this article is the one you were looking for: In Kansas, Climate Skeptics Embrace Cleaner Energy

1/14/11, 7:37 AM

Robo said...
Perhaps I was a little too cartoonish in my previous comments on this topic. However, outside of deeply reasoned discussions like this one, that kind of broad, stylized language gets the most response from general audiences and is the stuff from which most widely-held public opinions are formed and affirmed .

A hard lesson lesson learned from nearly forty years of working in the mass media, but inappropriate here, so I will restrain myself in the future.

1/14/11, 7:45 AM

hawlkeye said...
For most of my adult life, the only vehicle I've owned is a pick-up truck. And for most of that time, I've known that driving around is a crazy way to live. But burning up inside the oil bubble is what we're born into; pull up, fill 'er up, and git down the road, same as my grandpa did (prices adjusted for inflation, ha!). How can we ever truly walk the talk if we're born driving?

Many times I've helped the eco-vegan bicyclers move their stuff into storage, brought them a yard of compost, or car-pooled us all to the job-site. I always have to ask for gas money, and don't always get it. Hmmm. Who among us is REALLY walking?

The way I've justified driving my truck is by using it as a fertility building tool. I've hauled many tons of manure and compost to dozens of garden sites and held the tender fledgling hands of many a sprouting wizard. And I scowl at their silly Prius; how can you haul tools or anything stinky in that?

By creating the most astoundingly beautiful, prolific and inviting gardens, it's possible to pop the bubble, to turn "drudgery" into fitness, convert pasty dirt to sweet soil, render cubicle droids back into human beings.

Maybe that's the true magic; dis-spelling (un-casting?) the delusion that all the sprayed kibble is tasty. Tastes like Kool-Aid to me, but that's all they know. Was it Buffy St. Marie who said something like, "pity the person who craves wine when they could have water." Can your cat metaphor get any more mangled?

As long as it's possible, I'm using my vehicle to demonstrate ways to live without a vehicle, which sounds preposterously hypocritical, but that's the nature of our conundrum. If I just packed up and holed up, who could I help? If you quit blogging, how many potential wizards would languish in dormancy, stuck in either bargaining or outright denial?

That said, I'm sure the last gallon of gas I ever use will be in the tiller, not the truck.

Good luck! (You rock, Cherokee)

1/14/11, 7:47 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Sophie, that's a fascinating strategy, well worth testing.

Loveandlight, it may be time to call Mr. Natural out of retirement!

Glenn, I'll be doing a series of posts on this a little later this year. That ought to put the cat among the pigeons good and proper.

Bill, thank you for a solid dose of scientific realism. Thing is, I have no trouble believing that dumping massive amounts of CO2 into an already unstable global climate system is going to cause massive problems, and I find the arguments of the denialists very weak; it's just that in this one case, they've got hold of a bit of actual history that a lot of climate scientists like to insist didn't happen.

Ghung, I like that! "Johnny Wizard Seed" will certainly do.

Dltrammel, my guess is that there will be all kinds of prophets, most of them at cross purposes to one another. At this point American society isn't unified enough to march to a single beat.

Robo, not a problem. A lot of people get caught up in the hyperbole of the net.

Hawlkeye, my guess is that a thousand years from now, most villages will have something like a truck -- as in, one of them per village -- which is powered by some biofuel or other and does heavy hauling. It'll probably look a lot more like a Tin Lizzie than a modern vehicle, though, because the parts will be made by hand. The problem with contemporary technology isn't that it's "evil," simply that it's been designed and implemented with complete disregard for the hard limits of a finite planet; some of it, at least, will eventually be reengineered to work in the real world.

1/14/11, 8:42 AM

Bobby said...
JRB- That's exactly it! Thanks so much for providing the link. My Google-Fu was not working too well last night I suppose. Thanks Again!

1/14/11, 9:46 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Thanks for your thoughts about the animals here. They are doing it tough as we finally ended up getting 250mm of rain with more predicted towards the end of the month. The sun is out now and it's not dissimilar in feeling to the Amazon. This is now the second biggest monthly rainfall total in 140 years.

People don't think terribly much about the animals, but the wombats, wallabies and kangaroos are all welcome here and encourgaed as they keep the grass down and spread fertility right through the garden, orchard and surrounding forest. They also help in the distribution of seeds.

They need the help too as recently one of my neighbours accidentally ran over our adult wombat and you could see the impact that had here over the next few weeks. We've started feeding her offspring every day and it's now looking pretty healthy. I can see one big benefit of peak oil...

Good luck!

1/14/11, 3:46 PM

Jax Hilton said...

Thanks as always for your insights and presence on the net. Also for your availability and personal responses to questions.

I have a problem. that relates to this post.

What is the motivation then?

I had a crazy conversation about life, climate change etc with someone 10 years ago and the philosophical ramifications of it are still with me - and i think have to be in the back of everyone's mind...

If the world became a pile of sludge bereft of life - whose to say that this is not OK? If this happened, you'd have no choice but to be OK with it.

The question of Meaning - is huge. Meaning will always be something we create as humans, and often as individuals alone. The world it seems is benevolent and will take whatever we can throw at it - if were not here, what does it matter?

So what is the motivation then? The sales pitches that have been made: a deeper connection with nature, you should live a low energy life out respect to it or to Gaia, you would die if you don't do it, the green wizardry lifestyle is the divine manifestation of emptiness, etc etc haven't worked on the masses, they've heard them all. They still continue to build their mcmansions in the floodplains even after they've been hit twice in 40 years. We'd be messed up if we went about trying to change people's motivations.

seriously, what does it matter that i spend all my time saving money, all the while destroying the atmosphere, to buy my powerboat and mcmansion on the riverfront - seems like people will go to all kind of lengths to help me manifest this way of life.

and who am i to say that this is ultimately wrong?

we're all applying our own meanings to this life.


1/14/11, 6:48 PM

Jim Brewster said...
Hawlkeye, my guess is that a thousand years from now, most villages will have something like a truck ...

This did send my mind on a bit of a tangent, thinking about the pros and cons of different post-peak solutions for hauling stuff around. I'm thinking that we have a decent foundation stock of Asian elephants on the North American continent, and they will be worth breeding for various purposes now fulfilled by heavy machinery: transport, demolition/construction, agriculture, defense, entertainment. Of course they need constant feeding while a diesel engine only "eats" when it is "on," OTOH routine maintenance will be less problematic for beasts of burden. I envision guilds of elephant breeders and handlers on a traveling circuit bringing their beasts where their services are needed and forage is available.

The third solution would be the kind that erected Stonehenge and the pyramids: mass humanity plus engineering expertise. This one is simplest in many ways but requires a formidable combination of incentive, inducement, and/or coercion to pull off at any significant scale.

1/14/11, 9:06 PM

Joan said...
@ hawlkeye: beyond ignorance, the eco-vegan bicyclers have no excuse. Bicycle trailers that allow one cyclist to haul up to three hundred pounds do exist and have make possible businesses like:

These are the people who took away my trash when I lived in the same town with them, and they also have the contract to empty the sidewalk trash barrels downtown. They went through a bit of a crisis a couple of years ago when gas prices got to $4/gallon, making them competitive with the big trucks; the conventional trash hauling companies challenged their dump permint. They work year 'round, and this is Massachusetts we're talking about. They also run a bicycle repair training service and a small bulk food buying club. And if you click on "Gear Tips" in the left-hand column, they'll tell you how they dress to cycle outdoors in adverse weather.

1/14/11, 9:55 PM

mbauwens said...
Dear John,

Where in the Great Turning did you read the call for authoritarianism?

His list of proposed political principles seems altogether democratic, see:

Political Principles:

* Right to vote

* Public financing of elections

* Voting integrity (no Diebold)

* Nonpartisan election administration (duh)

* Direct election

* Equal media access

* Open debates

* Equal representation (proportional representation, instant runoff voting)

* Political rights for people (i.e. not for corporations)

1/14/11, 10:14 PM

Don Plummer said...

Your mention of the icebreaker ships as an example of failing infrastructure is an excellent example. It's the kind of thing most of us don't think about or are even aware of. I wonder what other infrastructure problems are out there that go unreported, given that most infrastructure is like the icebreakers--things we take for granted and don't even think about.

The governor of New Jersey recently cancelled a partially completed railway tunnel project. That was the kind of thing we Americans would do as a matter of course. Now we don't seem to have the wherewithal to complete these kinds of projects.

I'm wondering how long before the Pentagon quietly begins closing some of those military installations we operate in the far-flung corners of the world.

1/15/11, 7:49 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Hawlkeye,

Thanks mate!

Much respect.

1/15/11, 2:32 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
I usually eat a banana a day. Have for years. Last week I stopped by the store and there were NO bananas. There is this big stair step display unit where usually there are hundreds of "hands" of bananas. I came around the corner into the produce section and it was entirely empty!

It gave me quit a turn. For a second or two I'm thinking, "It's here! Oh, no! I'm not prepared!" By the time I got to the check stand I forgot to ask what was with the bananas. But I keep thinking about that panicky moment.

For me, I think a better mind-set to strive for, rather than panic is adapt. Look for alternatives. Don't panic. One of these days, maybe soon, the bananas will be gone.

1/15/11, 2:59 PM

Lance Michael Foster said...
Johnny Wizard Seed and this blog and the range of responses reminds me of the parable of the sower:

Mark 4-
3 Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

4 And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

5 And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:

6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.

8 And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.

9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

1/15/11, 3:13 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Cherokee, I'm sorry to hear about your wombat!

Jax, well, that's always the question, now isn't it? Why do the right thing, when it's inconvenient and doesn't have an immediate payoff for the ego? There are a lot of good answers, but I'll let you find your own...

Jim, elephants are an interesting possibility; still, there's much to be said for trucks.

Joan, that's an extremely promising data point. Thank you for passing it on!

Mbauwens, now go back and read his long discussion of developmental stages, in which Korten goes on at great length about how everything wrong with the world is caused by people at the wrong developmental stage (that is, people who disagree with him) having access to power.

Don, when the US starts catabolizing its empire, we've hit the steep part of the slope.

Lewis, keep an eye on those bananas. That's another marker -- when imported products start going away unpredictably, we may be in for rough times in the near future.

Lance, good. He that hath a mind to think, let him think.

1/15/11, 3:28 PM

Don Plummer said...

"Yes, we have no bananas,
We have no bananas today."

Sorry, I couldn't resist. :)

1/15/11, 4:01 PM

Petro said...
JMG, I come here for clarity, and you do not disappoint. Great analysis, and the cats metaphor is excellent!

As for air travel - I think if we made the process really odious, like strip-searches and porno-body-scans at the terminals, then we could really turn the tide on...

...oh, wait...

1/15/11, 4:51 PM

Don Plummer said...
This brief report from the BBC seems to bear on this week's topic:

1/15/11, 5:42 PM

Roy said...
There are a few ideas that escape me. For one, a totalitarian "Green Government" might seem like a good idea, but forcing people under the thumb of authoritative administration would cause a few unexpected problems. For example, did you know the north eastern Minnesota mining companies have basically fueled America's need for steel? With a green government, those mines would have to go, since they consume billions of units of energy. (A large mining truck gobbles a gallon of gas per hour.) The miners would lose their jobs, suddenly the whole North is at a loss. That is one scenario, but imagine what it would do to large scale industry? People are dependent on the jobs available to them, even if it is only mining.
Secondly, Democracy is powerful, and to even consider giving up our free speech and certain choices might just be counterproductive. Wouldn't using force to command also be counterproductive of a green movement? The production of arms requires huge amounts of energy, resources, and people. The maintainability of an army to control the masses is solely dependent upon industrial power and economic power.
Third, yes global warming exists, but it is a natural cycle. Would it seem the slightest bit egotistical as the human race to think that because conditions will become difficult for us that we must become ecologically conservative to try to prevent the inevitable cycle of the Earth itself?
Ultimately all the questions have a combining summation. Would it be better to just burn up all of our fuels as quick as we can to force people to modify to the situation by natural means(resource depletion)? Or should we try to take a bunch of energy junkies off their dosage so that they will live in constant temptation knowing that they can still have that "luxury high"? What is the real problem here? Politics? Science? Economics? Sustainability?

1/15/11, 7:47 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
Re: The icebreakers. Yes, I agree the infrastructure is going to heck. I see articles about thousands of miles of rural roads being allowed to go back to gravel. I think it was The Archdruid in his book who likened it to a film running backwards. An image that has stuck with me.

We're in for another round of flooding (Washington State). Once again things will be broken and once again things will be repaired. Maybe. Our county is pretty well broke and at some point it will be "sorry, we just don't have the money."

But, back to the icebreakers. Sometimes, I think it's because of privatization or out-sourcing. I find it disturbing that when you go to the US Post Office site, when you click on postage or shipping on line you are shuffled to a private company. Same with the on-line tax filing. Very disturbing.

1/15/11, 11:09 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi JMG and all,

The rains this week have given me much time to read, write and think. Being able to stop for a while and have a look around and assess things is good for your creativity.

I was thinking about your reference to a "Thin Lizzie" type truck and thought it might be worth mentioning about a project I've got going on this year. I don't know whether it will work but...

My vision is for an electric cart. It came about because I can't justify the cost of a 4x4 tractor that can cope with the slope on my site (which is around 13 degrees).

So, I'm going to build an electric cart with an aluminium frame, 24 volt sealed lead acid batteries, a control box and a 300 watt bicycle motor. The tray will be made of timber (or poly - I was maybe also thinking of those trays which quad bikes tow, plus using their tyres). All the parts are pretty cheap and I can also plug it in to a cheapie solar 2 x 80 watt panels and solar controller (which I've already got). Pretty cheap and very reliable. It's also scalable.

Electric is more suitable than ethanol, because it doesn't require a complex machine shop or high levels of tolerances and could even be made out of scrounged parts (even the batteries if you went for flooded lead acid).

It will have to wait for winter (here) though.

I had to go to a Catholic christening ceremony this morning and took the opportunity to read parts of a delightful book called "Soil Food". Time well spent I think and also slightly irreverent! I understand enough of the Druid's history and feel a bit of sorrow for what may have been.

To Jax Hilton,

I don't think there is much reason for our existence beyond reproduction of the species, but if we don't look after the biosphere well enough it will toss us out of it. When you're looking for motivation, perhaps you should consider this motivation enough. I don't have children, but most people seem to.

To Lewis Lucan Books,

Your reference to bananas put me in mind of a situation here a few years ago when a tropical cyclone wiped out the banana growing plantation areas in Australia (on the east coast). I think bananas ended up costing $5AU a kilogram (about 2 pounds for almost about $5US). The plantations eventually grew back and I pay about $1.40/kg now.

However, I'm not sure people understand that the floods have wiped out a lot of both our grain and vegetable growing areas. It will be disturbing just how much our fruit, vegetables and grains end up costing this year. Especially with everything else going on around the globe. Bananas may be off the menu again, who knows what else?

Good luck!

1/16/11, 12:55 AM

tom rainboro said...
I think I understand what you are saying, Jax.
Just because I believe that climate change is happening doesn't mean that I necessarily have much in common with everyone else who has that belief. They could be authoritarian or they could be libertarian. A belief in climate change doesn't necessarily unite us.
I'm also very wary of people and groups that try excessively hard to be 'media-friendly'. For a start, it usually implies putting some of your own beliefs aside. In the end the 'tail wags the dog'.
Unlike probably many posting here I do not see it as my 'duty' to some how save the human species. I like a good life for myself and my community and I will do what I consider right to allow that for future generations.
It seems to me that the 'comforts' of the fossil fuel age have proved overwhelmingly addictive to the human species. It doesn't matter how accommodating peak-oilers become, the media will always be able to point out that you are threatening to take those comforts away.

1/16/11, 3:30 AM

Candace said...
I think the book will just be seen as evidence to support the prognostications in this article
They seem to enjoy distorting the concerns of the many with the words of very few.

1/16/11, 11:07 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
@LewisLucanBooks I usually eat a banana a day. Have for years. Last week I stopped by the store and there were NO bananas

I had the same experience recently – but it was almost all the veggie section! The racks of most veggies were empty or part empty; there were huge (felt like) empty black bins in the fresh fruit section… I suppose they were just restocking, but since usually they do it at odd hours, to avoid just this kind of barrenness, it felt like “it has begun”… and in fact, this store basically halved their fresh produce section, back when gas was $4/gal – they tried to rearrange to cover, but I could see they were scaling down to avoid wasted expensive veggies… it might “start” like that, stores reducing supply as more people can’t afford fresh. (I live in a small, working class town).

1/16/11, 11:59 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Don, I thought of it too!

Petro, I've occasionally wondered if the US government's bizarre obsession with making air travel as unpleasant as possible might just be the one helpful step they'll take to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Roy, I don't think that it's a good idea. to start with.

Lew, I wonder how many people have considered the possibility that an industrial civilization could slide back step by step into medieval squalor by the simple process of "Sorry, we don't have the money for that" repeated often enough...

Cherokee, I'd say give it a shot!

Tom, I think a lot of people say "save the human species" when they mean "save the current privileges of the American middle class." Thus the unwillingness to actually do anything to save much of anybody if it involves cutting back on the aforementioned privileges.

Candace, until environmentalists get the political savvy to think about how their opponents will twist their words, that's going to happen.

Cathy, welcome to the new normal. We're on the brink of a food crisis right now, due to the impact of climate change on some of the world's major breadbasket areas, and spot shortages and rising prices for most foodstuffs are going to be standard for a while now. More reasons to plant that backyard garden!

1/16/11, 1:20 PM

GHung said...
Reading Cathy's post on produce, due to last week's snow and ice in the US Southeast, shipments to the local market were delayed and, once I finally got out I found many items were sold out, after just a couple of days; a good example of our just-in-time distribution system and its reliance on FF based transport. They were well stocked with catfood, I noticed ;-) The fresh produce was depleted and picked over, as was the animal protien section.

People joke about me being a canning jar hoarder. Canning is our primary method of preserving food and I've been getting less generous about sharing our bounty, especially with folks who don't can, as we rarely get the jars back. As our industrial, long distance food system becomes less reliable and more expensive I expect to become something of a canning jar nazi. Lids too.

Each year we can more than last, hoping to reach 100% of our off-season needs soon. My plan is to develop a solar canner, initially for hot water bath canning, eventually pressure canning as well. An upgraded solar dehydrator is also on the list.

How to herd the cats into bringing back my jars is going to require some thought. Funny thing is, folks are glad to return my egg cartons.

1/17/11, 7:23 AM

sofistek said...
Excellent point about the come with me strategy versus the go that way strategy. I despair that anything significant will be done to address either anthropogenic climate change or energy decline (or, indeed, resource declines, in general).

By the way, even a switch to electric cars in countries that have most of their electricity generated from renewables will not make much of a dent in oil consumption for some time, given the oil used in the manufacture of those vehicles.


1/17/11, 2:57 PM

Doctor Westchester said...
A couple of thoughts here.

On the issue of the idea of a new ice age coming being presented to the public in the 60’s to 70’s, it’s possible that what was being presented was the default, safe idea. Since it was well known by then that the earth had been sliding in and out of ice ages for the last couple millions years, it really be a no-brainer to assume that this would happen again. Especially, since we seemed overdue for one. Meanwhile, behind the scenes some young Turks are arguing something about carbon dioxide levels, whatever that means. Yes, unless you are in the know, that is not very impressive to the public.

By the way, I’ve wondered if the little ice age of the last millennium was going to the start of the next real one, but we were able to blow enough smoke with our little wood fires to stave it off until we could really get going with fossil fuels. Don’t know if the data could even remotely support this, but I find it an interesting idea.

In terms of what the new normal is, I’ve been having a discussion with a relative about “the new class war”, between government workers with their “high salaries and fat pensions”, and everybody else (except the elite). The libertarians are having a gleeful field day with this. Yes, a great, great number of our government workers are to lose their jobs, salary and pensions, which is sure to delight many. However, since none of the underlying financial issues regarding our economy (and not even considering the unfixable even deeper underlying resource issues) have been fixed, I wonder how many iron workers, electricians and construction workers are really going to like losing many of their customers who were still about to purchase their products and services?

The metaphor that comes to mind on this is that of a sick, probably terminally ill, man who has developed gangrene in one or both legs. The legs must be removed or he will quickly die. Doing so buys him a little more time at the cost of being crippled. I don’t think one should be gleeful at the idea of the amputation. The gangrene is a symptom of the deeper illness and stopping it will not cure the patient. (And for the libertarians – yes gangrene does equate to the high, but once considered middle class, wages and now unaffordable pensions).

It’s the blind men and the elephant all over again, few see the whole picture.

1/17/11, 5:54 PM

Candee said...
Carolyn Baker Quotes JMG here in reference to her new book on dealing with collapse:

1/17/11, 6:38 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
GHung -- just a note about shipping...

"Just In Time" shipping is nothing new in the realm of fresh produce, dairy, and meat, given the short shelf-lives of these items. It's always been the norm there. Cheap energy has just lengthened and speeded up the supply lines (with the additional effect of concentrating and globalizing what was formerly a dispersed, local activity). I've lived in the southeast for most of half a century; I can guarantee you that throughout that time grocery shelves have ALWAYS gone bare when the snowstorms hit! In the pre-fossil fuel transport era this issue would not have come up, because there would have not been any perishable produce on the shelves in winter, at all, EVER, regardless of the weather.

Not everything is a sign of impending collapse; sometimes it's just bad weather (and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar).

1/18/11, 9:04 AM

John LeDoux said...
Awesome article- I also appreciate the articulate and well thought-out comments. I'd like to pick up on the herding cats metaphor, with the observation that a prospective cat herder need not limit oneself to just one kind of cat food.

I suppose I'm an "environmentalist"- I'm an organic farmer who lives in a passive solar, high efficiency/ low -tech house, and my wife and I work from home. But I recognize that natural resource depletion and runaway government spending are two aspects of the same delusion. So when I offered to do a basic backyard gardening class for the local Tea Party group I'm involved with, I expected maybe 3 or 4 folks to show up... imagine my surprise when 65 very motivated and enthusiastic people filled the hall to capacity. And these folks actually built the gardens.
Were they all concerned about AGW, or lowering their carbon footprint? Hell no- but they knew bad times are a-coming, and place a high value on self -reliance, and were willing to take action on their own. My point is that their are many reasons to do a good thing, and what motivates one person may not work for another. As humans, we tend to foolishly write-off folks different from ourselves. But why make an enemy, when you can have a friend?

1/18/11, 10:45 AM

Kevin said...
Speaking of infrastructure breakdown, I have just learned that the city of Camden, New Jersey laid off a quarter of its civil service today. A harbinger of things to come, I fear.

1/18/11, 4:27 PM

GHung said...
Shout out to Bill P.

Born on Peachtree St., I know what you're saying Bill. Every time a snow or ice storm hits the South, the store shelves empty quickly. Now imagine this as a permanent condition.

As a student in Moscow, 1974, the butcher shop near my youth hotel was always closed. One day I noticed a long line around the block; a que of folks waiting patiently for their share of maybe 50 kilos of chicken, clutching a few kopecks in their hands. The clerk at the shop looked tired.

Go to your local Supermart, look around and observe what Americans are used to. Imagine how people will react when many of those shelves are bare, like during a snow storm in the South. Perhaps they find the store closed because corporate has decided that there isn't enough profit in their town. In the next town, people are lined up around the block.

There is no plan B for most folks. Methinks they don't understand how brittle our food system is.

1/18/11, 8:21 PM

SophieGale said...
Talking about bare shelves... There was a shocking report on NPR this afternoon: over 100,000 acres of citrus groves have been abandoned in Florida over the last few years. Real estate speculators bought up the groves, expecting a housing boom. Now, after the bust, the groves are breeding grounds for pests and disease, threatening surrounding groves. Also, citrus growers brought in exotic species of fruit, which came with their own pests.

It may take ten years to undo all the damage.

1/19/11, 4:01 PM

Jax Hilton said...
Thank you Cherokee and Tom for your direct comments regarding my post. And JMG, you definitely nailed it on the head with your response. You can't prescribe a motivation for anyone else.

To further clarify my point, since i blurted it out. its pretty uncool to try to convert anyone to your way of thinking, eg if you live with someone else, try making them do everything to way you want them to... or start thinking the way you do....? Its impossible. We all see things so differently. We all interpret everything in our own way.

But what i am really pointing to is that nature doesn't inherently have value. Just like the price of a car is determined only by what someone is willing to pay for it. Life is what you are willing to think and do about it. If you do nothing, well it just doesn't matter.

Being dead, or thinking about the next generation really hasn't affected me or moved me into living a sustainable lifestyle in the long term. It did, but i quit that.

i was living quite a sustainable life out in the sticks, but have moved back to the city where i was born, closer to my family. back to a job that has zero skill base. and would see me floundering in a peak oil future. In a way, i have departed from a permaculture way of life that i had for many years. Partly, due to this crisis of motivation and meaning...

i am just not going to subscribe to some particular way of living. Or choose some motivation. Like 'i am going to be green because (insert any cause here).' I like that my existence may not have any purpose and is essentially mysterious.

it not a nihilistic or apathetic vision, in fact, i spent 3 years of my life only meditating and find that i have come to a similar belief on life that many of the mainstream also live by. Life: it just is what it is.

So, questions of how to motivate people are think are a waste of time. And, i've quit many an environmentalist group because of this (possibly jusy perceptions) but group who get high and mighty about what they are doing. Leading by example, (by which i mean doing it for the sake of others following) is also a waste of time.

Just gardening. Just eating. Just living. Without any concern about its importance or significance, well that i can seriously dig. And, maybe this is what JMG and we're all talking about. i hope so, or i'll be exiting this blog too.

1/20/11, 3:12 AM

jksirmsdj said...
I have been in the green activism since the end of the seventies.
At that times the greens in the german parliament were laughed at: "Uh, they want to sit in their cave with a fire while we have nuclear powered cars."
So the greens turned in to consumerism and stated: Yes, we can it is possible to live like all of you do and do it in a green way.
Then the people laughed at them again "First You say we must reduce consumtion, now you say we can consume, you have no plans at all"

Another problem was that the early druid/hippie movement that was left over to form the green movement (brockdorf-> Gorleben) was heavily under influence of left communits ideology. The totalitarian idea always played a large role in the green movement. After the soviet empire failed the people laughed again "look, totalitarian regimes do not work, you can not force co2 austerity on us, it is more successful to have the free market do the work"
this lead to a marginalisation of the green movement.
Last year in copenhagen and this year in mexico I see the reports of democracynow telling me that there are thousands of activists from all over the world then I laugh again "did they all walk over water to get there? And these folks want me not to fly to my carribean holidays?"
The eco movement is dead baby, it is dead!
There now is a small revival as they are jumping on the topic of transparency.
And that is what brings us to the hitorical start of it all:
The global implications of peakoil and the global chessboard only came clear to many people wtih the rise of the internet. Still at the beginning of 2000 no one had access to cia secrecy documents and war games that in reality were going on ever since.
Iran-> mossadegh->shah->gas->nuclear thread ?
There exists a clear line in history and with the internet the people start to grasp the big picture. Anyway in the meantime the structures of our economies have already been altered in a way that for example as a regular worker it will never ever again be possible to buy land when he can not move to simbabwe or venezuela.
The elites have organised our reality in a way that we end up in a totalitarian slavery and slavery is the only concept that works in a time of no fuel, so for them we are right on track.
1974 btw was the date when kramer junction was opened.
Oh yes, there was a window of opportunity. It made me a strong warrior when I was young. It is a very sad story that with the fight against communism in the end all utopian ideas were cancelled out of our opportunities. (community garden in SF shut down by Ronald Reagan after the summer of love 1967? History comes out to be a joke in the rear window...)

1/20/11, 3:11 PM

MacroTech said...
I think that the example shown in this link is a perfect demonstration of leading by example... and it's fun.

1/25/11, 6:05 AM

M. L. Hudson said...
I take issue with your views of Korten. If you're read his new books and see what the BALLE networks are doing nationally-- they are a real beacon of light for a new economy, amounst all the Wall Street cannibalization. What I like about Korten, is he doesn't just talk, he walks. In a local living economy there is less centralization, so people are more empowered to grow their own food, produce their own energy, therefore you statement that the "political power ought to be monopolized by those who share Korten’s own background and views" is nonsense. Korten is also connected to the Living Buildings movement which is changing the green building industry for the better.

6/9/11, 4:49 PM