Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How Not to Play the Game

It’s been more than a year now since the theme of “green wizardry” became central to the posts here on The Archdruid Report, and I’ve pretty much covered the first two of the three themes I mean to discuss before it becomes time to shift the conversation elsewhere. We’ve discussed organic gardening and its associated arts, and we’ve discussed homescale energy production and conservation. At this point, before we go on to the third leg of the tripod, which used to be called “recycling” thirty years ago and deserves a more robust name now, I’d like to step back for a moment and talk a bit about strategy.

Yes, there’s a strategy underlying the selection of projects and possibilities I’ve been discussing here. The focus on Seventies-era organic gardening, appropriate technology, and the like is not merely a matter of nostalgia for a time when America seemed to be on the brink of taking its future seriously, before it collectively took the coward’s way out, nor is it simply a recognition that we don’t have a lot of time left and would be wise to concentrate on options that have already had the bugs worked out – though this latter may well be a point worth making. Rather, by some combination of prudence, prescience, and sheer dumb luck, the toolkit of ecotechnic options pieced together by the backyard farmers, basement inventors, shoestring-budget nonprofits and local government initiatives of that time happen to be very nearly uniquely suited to one of the dominant features of the future ahead of us.

To understand the way this works, it’s going to be necessary to look at some of the least welcoming features of that future, and that in turn is going to require a look back at a vision of history I first sketched out here years ago, and developed in more detail in the pages of my book The Ecotechnic Future. That look is going to require close attention to some of the least pleasant features of where we’re headed as a society. Unwelcome as that may be, it can’t be avoided, for it’s precisely as a response to the more troubling dimensions of our future that the strategy I have in mind has its place.

The fast version of the take on the future I want to discuss divides it up into four overlapping phases or periods, labeled according to the basic modes of economic production that predominate during each one. The first of these, the one in which most of us grew up and to which nearly all current political, economic and social thought is attuned, is abundance industrialism. This is the phase in which the supply of goods and services available to people in the world’s industrial nations by and large increases with each passing year. Yes, I know, it’s heresy to suggest this, but my take is that what drove that increase was not the growth of human knowledge, or any of the other comforting mantras offered by the publicists of science and industry over the last century or so. Rather, what drove it was simply an exponential increase in consumption of the Earth’s finite reserves of fossil fuels.

With the arrival of geological limits to fossil fuel production, we enter the second phase, scarcity industrialism. This is the phase in which the supply of goods and services available to people in the industrial nations peaks and begins to contract. According to mainstream economic doctrines, that can’t happen, which may be one of the reasons why we’ve become so good at ignoring it. Few people notice, for example, that most of what’s for sale in supermarkets is a little smaller and a little more shoddily made with every passing year, while the price stays level or creeps upwards; few people talk about the disappearance of scores of once-common services – try to get a perfectly good shoe with a worn heel repaired in most American cities nowadays – or think about the way that municipal services always seem to contract while the cost always seems to expand.

All these are part of the same process, the rise and fall of scarcity industrialism, which ends when the level of goods and services being produced drops below the level needed to support any kind of industrial system at all. After that come salvage societies, which no longer have the energy per capita that would be needed for industrial modes of production at all, and concentrate on extracting value from the legacy left behind by the industrial past. Later on – probably some centuries later – the salvage era winds down as the salvage runs out, and new societies depending on natural, renewable resources take their place. In a fit of optimism, I labeled this latter phase the ecotechnic era, and suggested that it could potentially see some amount of relatively advanced technology supported on a truly sustainable basis; I still think that’s possible, though it’s going to take quite a bit of work now, and even more in the centuries to come, to make it likely.

Still, it’s the age of scarcity industrialism that deserves close attention right now, since most of the world’s industrial nations are somewhere along the trajectory that leads there. It’s tough to make predictions, as Yogi Berra once pointed out, especially about the future. Some of the main features of developed societies in the age of scarcity industrialism aren’t too difficult to predict, though, partly because equivalent processes have happened before, and partly because some nations right now are much further along the trajectory than others and provide a useful glimpse ahead.

The role of social conflict is one of the features that’s fairly predictable. In an age of abundance, the easiest way to deal with social conflict is to buy off the disaffected. That’s how industrial societies over the last century came to provide welfare for the poor, mortgage guarantees and college grants for the middle class, subsidies for farmers, tax breaks for businesses – name a group that’s had enough political savvy to organize and raise a ruckus, and you can just as quickly name the arrangements by which they were paid off to minimize the risk of disruptions to the system. That was politically feasible in an expanding economy; even when the shares of the existing pie were grossly unequal, the fact that everyone could have at least a little more each year made those with smaller slices willing to work with the system in order to get their cut.

In an age of scarcity, that easy option no longer exists, and social conflicts heat up rapidly. That’s the unmentioned subtext for much of what’s going on in politics on both sides of the Atlantic just now. The middle class, who shrugged and turned its collective back when the working classes of Europe and America were thrown to the sharks thirty years ago, are now discovering to their horror that they’re next on the list, as the rentier class – the relatively privileged fraction of industrial society that makes its living from investments rather than salaries – struggles to maintain its prosperity at everyone else’s expense. (The middle class did exactly the same thing when it had the chance – ask any impoverished working class family in Pittsburgh or Glasgow – so sympathy cards sent their way may be misplaced.) The gutting of social safety nets, the slashing of salaries and benefits, and the impoverishment of millions of previously affluent people are part of that process, and lead to a rising spiral of social conflict that may well push a good many nations into crisis or collapse.

Not, it’s probably worth noting, into revolution. It’s an interesting detail of history that revolutions rarely happen in ages of decline; the classic recipe for revolution is an extended period of economic improvement for the bulk of the population, followed by a standstill or a reversal. (The government of China would do well to take note of this.) In times of decline, the class and group solidarity essential to an effective revolution dissolves into a scramble for slices of a shrinking pie, in which your own peers are usually your worst enemies. Mind you, social hierarchies get fed through a blender in times of decline; the former holders of wealth and power tolerably often end up starving in alleys if they don’t simply get their throats cut, while sufficiently ruthless individuals from well down the ladder can climb right up to the top. Sill, the general trend in ages of scarcity is that the circle of people who have access to wealth and privilege narrows step by step, leaving most of their former peers to scramble for scraps or to claw their way into the charmed circle by fair means or foul.

Now it might in theory be possible for a country to extract itself from this kind of spiral descent into the kind of social conflict that normally ends in some form of authoritarianism. The chance that the United States will manage such a last-minute save, though, is pretty slim at this point if it exists at all. We’re already seeing even the most basic services provided by local government slashed to a degree unequalled in the industrial world; what remains of a social safety net that was already an embarrassment among developed nations is pretty clearly headed for the chopping block; the machinery of government in state houses and Congress alike is jamming up as pressure groups of every kind launch increasingly frenzied efforts to cling to wealth and influence at everyone else’s expense. The "health care reform" pushed through by the Obama administration, a political absurdity meant to prop up a faltering medical-pharmaceutical industry by mandating that people who can’t afford health insurance have to pay for it anyway, is as good an example as any.

It’s not a pretty picture, and it’s unlikely to get any more attractive any time soon. Still, it’s important to understand why societies in decline so often plunge into this sort of self-defeating spiral. One of the major problems faced by any society in decline is the almost universal unwillingness of such societies to deal with the fact that they are indeed in decline. It’s a problem rather than a predicament; that is to say, it has a solution; but the solution – accepting that the glory days of the past are over, and that the new and unwelcome reality of contraction and limitation will be around for the foreseeable future – is normally accepted only after every other imaginable response or nonresponse is tried out, and found wanting. A rising spiral of absurd beliefs, grandiose projects, and violent political passions is a standard part of the evasive maneuvering that goes into avoiding that one necessary step, and we’ve got plenty of examples currently, of course.

Here again, though, we’re dealing with a problem rather than a predicament, because there’s at least one way out of the trap I’ve just outlined. The declining years of a rich and powerful society resemble nothing so much as a game of musical chairs in which, in the end, all the chairs will be taken away. What’s the winning strategy in a game in which everyone inevitably loses sooner or later? That’s a simpler question than it sounds: the way to win is not to play the game.

And that, in turn, is what we’ve been talking about for the last year: how not to play the game.

The struggles of the age of scarcity industrialism will focus with increasing bitterness and intensity on access to the remaining benefits of industrial society as we’ve known it – above all, the cheap abundant energy that powers automobiles and planes, keeps wall sockets supplied with electricity, brings foodstuffs and consumer goods from around the world, and provides the context and the income for jobs in the increasingly overlapping spheres of business, government, and the military. The struggles for these things, if historical equivalents are anything to go by, will focus on certain geographical and social battlefields and have increasingly limited effects anywhere else. Those who turn their backs on the things being fought over, and distance themselves from the battlefields, have a very good chance of staying clear of the resulting difficulties.

That’s what the green wizard toolkit is meant to do. Those who have a place in the country or can get one won’t have any need to depend on a faltering corporate food system for their daily meals; those who focus instead on the small-city approach will be able to supplement sacks of bulk grains and legumes from the farm belt with produce from a backyard garden, amplified with henhouse and/or rabbit hutch as circumstances permit. Those in either situation who know how to insulate and weatherize, and provide the small amount of energy they need from homescale sources, will be able to ignore the decline of the electrical grid. Those who learn how to get the things they need from salvage, instead of relying on global supply chains fed from rapidly depleting resource stocks, will be able to stand aside as what’s left of the global economy circles the drain and goes down it. Those who do these things, teach these things to neighbors and friends, and help build local networks of mutual exchange and support, will be creating the social frameworks of the next stage of the future – the stage of salvage societies – within the crumbling skeleton of the old industrial order.

Now it’s common enough, when a plan such as this is suggested, for people to insist that it’s all very well and good, but the government, or the corporations, or roving hordes of zombies, or somebody else equally colorful and convenient will inevitably come and take it all away. That seems logical, but it only seems logical because the people who suggest it haven’t grasped the implications of the toolkit I’ve been suggesting here. That is to say, they haven’t noticed that the lifestyles that are possible when your food comes from a backyard garden, your heat comes from a wood stove, and your job comes from refurbishing salvage of one kind or another, are not comfortable middle class American lifestyles, or anything like ithem.

What we are talking about, to borrow a phrase from Henry David Thoreau, is voluntary poverty. The founders of the modern movement of "voluntary simplicity" backed away uncomfortably from the noun in Thoreau’s phrase, and thereby did themselves and their movement a huge disservice; it’s all too easy to turn "voluntary simplicity" into a sales pitch for yet another round of allegedly simple products at fashionably high prices. The concept of voluntary poverty does not lend itself anything like so well to such evasions. The idea, Thoreau’s idea, is to deliberately embrace being poor, in every material sense, in order to avoid the common fate of being possessed by your possessions.

That’s a valid choice at any phase of history’s wheel, but it takes on a great deal more importance than usual in an age when being anything but poor makes you a target for practitioners of involuntary poverty who are fixated on scrambling over you on their way back up toward a fading vision of extravagant wealth. This is why monasticism works so well in the declining years of civilizations and the dark ages that follow them, for successful monastic traditions invariably embrace strict poverty. Having nothing to steal, they don’t need to worry about thieves, and a traditional habit of choosing locations well away from the centers of wealth and power is also worth noting – Monte Cassino in Italy, the Shaolin Monastery in China, and Koyasan in Japan, where St. Benedict, Bodhidharma, and Kobo Daishi respectively founded three of the world’s great monastic traditions, were all more or less in the middle of nowhere when the first simple dwellings were erected there.

What most Americans do not know, and have no interest in learning, is that it’s possible to be poor in relative comfort. (One of the advantages of a writer’s career, with its traditional slow start, is that I had ample opportunity to learn this.) The central secret of green wizardry is that one way to be poor and comfortable is to learn how to work with nature, so that natural processes take care of many of the needs you’d otherwise have to spend money to meet. The appropriate technology movement of the Seventies was predisposed to develop along this path by its roots in the Sixties counterculture, which however briefly and inconsistently held up the ideal of voluntary poverty to a mostly baffled consumer economy. Where most of today’s chatter about solar technology focuses on grid-tied PV systems, vast arrays of mirrors in the Nevada desert, solar satellites, and the like – all things that can be built only in an economy of abundance with resources to spare, and thus are useless in the future we’re facing – the equivalent talk in the Seventies as often as not focused on homebuilt solar water heaters, bsolar ovens, and other things that could be cobbled together in a basement out of salvaged materials, and thus are relevant to our time and the time ahead of us.

It’s quite possible that some of the things I’ve been discussing will end up being used in monasteries during the dark age that follows the decline and fall of our civilization. Still, that’s for the future to decide. The present concern, at least for me, is getting these things remembered in time to make it through the next forty or fifty years of crisis, the next step down on the road to that future dark age, as America’s global empire comes unglued and a nation used to living on a quarter of the world’s energy supply and a third of its industrial products gets to learn what it’s like to live on a great deal less. If the things we’ve been discussing here get pulled out of the dumpster where America puts its unwanted heritage, and are put to use by people who aren’t terrified of the concept of voluntary poverty, the Benedicts, Bodhidharmas, and Kobo Daishis of the future will at least have the option open to them, and so will a great many less exalted individuals whose lives could well be made happier and better by the application of a little ecotechnic knowledge and a few pieces of highly appropriate technology; and so, dear reader, may you.


pasttense said...
The record temperature for June 29 in Cumberland, Maryland (where JMG lives) was 100 degrees back in 1943. I am curious, JMG, and those here who follow him, as to how you would handle this temperature (unlike those of us who are quite soft and spoiled--who would turn on the air conditioner).

6/29/11, 9:08 PM

Draft said...
I wonder about an unstated assumption you make going from abundance industrialism to scarcity industrialism. That is that we can't stabilize at some reasonably high level - maybe not peak abundance industrialism, but something close. The Limits to Growth studies showed that stabilizing to a high level was possible in certain scenarios.

Staniford and others like him suggest that the annual decline rate of oil production will be gentle enough for us transition away from oil - and stabilize - without being thrown headlong into scarcity industrialism. Also, he argues that peak oil problems are less imminent, and again has good reasons (Iraqi production, OECD efficiency). I've tried to pick apart his reasoning on both points, and I can't.

6/29/11, 9:22 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Pasttense, we've had temperatures in the 90s already this year, and plenty in the last two years since we moved here; in southern Oregon, where I lived for four years, temperatures well over 100 were common every summer. How do I handle it? First, the human body is surprisingly good at dealing with heat -- we evolved on the east African plains, you know -- and if you don't weaken your body's resilience by using a/c all the time, it's not actually that hard to acclimatize to summer heat. Care concerning hydration and salt intake also helps -- and if it gets miserably hot and humid, I can always spend the afternoon working on a project in the basement, where it's a good deal cooler.

Draft, it's not an unstated assumption; I've discussed the reasoning behind it repeatedly. I'd point out here that we're already showing signs of early scarcity industrialism -- oil prices tripling over the last seven years, large sections of the Third World facing crippling energy shortages, and the spiral of political dysfunction I discussed in this week's post, among others. The Limits to Growth scenarios that allowed for stability at a high level presupposed changes that haven't happened, and in the current political climate, won't happen. As for the annual decline rate, Stuart's estimates are on the low end, and not well supported by evidence from, e.g., the North Sea. For these and other reasons I think expecting stabilization is past hoping for, and scarcity is fairly close.

6/29/11, 9:38 PM

nate said...
you are spot on about the working class getting thrown under the bus and it is moving up the ladder. Corporate fascism will render most of us as surfs and the best option is as you say not to play the game. Excellent insight


6/29/11, 9:55 PM

Guilherme de Baskerville said...

Since you seem to be getting close to a "finish line" of some sort on your current topics, I wonder if you planned on turning your attention to less US-centric topics sometime in the future. If not, I would suggest it to you. I know it might be something you have no interest in doing (in which case, no problem), or that you feel less secure in exploring, but I would like to see some of your toughts in that direction.

It seems to me that, even though 90% or more of the global population these days can be said to be living in some variant of a capitalist/industrialist society in which fossil fuels are used, urbanization is either high already or rising, etc, there are MAJOR differences not only between First World societies and their Third World counterparts, but between countries inside the blocks themselves.

You're always saying that dissent in opnions is going to be necessary in order for the people of the future to experiment and find solutions that work for them. I wonder what you would say about different responses to our current global situation from different countries/regions. For example, some countries are betting the farm on nuclear power (France, chiefly), others are more or less commited to keep doing whatever they are doing atm(mostly coal, nat gas and big hidro, I suspect) and never giving a second thought about it, some others are investing heavily into big renewable projects (big wind, big solar), etc.

There is also the question of different conditions. Let's take for example, Asia and South America. Asia is badly overpopulated as it is, it's degrading it's ecosystems faster than anyone else (China and India particularly) and there's some scary possibilities of a population crash if some of the global warming scenarios happen (water shortages in the river systems that depend of Himalaya snow runoff, for example). South America, on the other hand, has a very different set of circunstances, including smaller population, better acess to water and some other resources and possibly better renewable potential (in solar, hidro and wind capacity). So, it would seem that preparedness for the future in both continents would take very different paths.

That's not even talking about social/political differences.

I know your area of expertise is the US, this is an english language blog and all, but I bet there's a substancial minority of your readers (like myself) who are NOT americans and would like even a superficial analysis, from you, of areas outside of north america.

6/29/11, 10:45 PM

Publius said...
Great post, as usual.
Here in Minnesota, we are being faced with the likely prospect of a shutdown of state government, starting Friday. The Governor, Mark Dayton, refuses to accept a state budget that only cuts spending and does not raise taxes at all on the wealthiest Minnesotans. The Republican legislature refuses to consider a budget that raises taxes one iota, and only wish to decrease spending.

The shutdown will cut off child care for the poor, services for the mentally ill. Even state parks will be shut down: everything but essential services, whatever those are, will cease.

What is eery is the lack of concern among my peers: barely middle-class office workers. In fact, I hear nothing but contempt for what the government provides.

Interesting. The social conflict is heating up, and I see very little empathy for those with less than the citizen observer I talk to. Something ain't right.

My main goal continues to be to learn skills, grow the garden, tinker, and try to convince our landlords that it's a good idea to raise chickens. They are convinced that their daughter is afraid of animals, so I've been trying to figure out how to bring it up.

It's going to be an interesting, hot, and for some, hellish summer.
Thanks for providing moral support and great ideas.

6/29/11, 11:04 PM

risa said...
I like Staniford a lot because he looks at data cleanly, by which I mean if it does not agree with his preconceptions, he checks the math again, and if it comes out right, he changes his preconception. I have confidence in JMG's analysis, and I have confidence in Staniford, by which I mean I think he may eventually agree more closely with JMG.

We do not have a basement,and we do get heat waves, though fewer than elsewhere (it has averaged below normal for two years in a row in the Willamette Valley); our method of dealing with triple digits with our wooden house is: insulation above, below and all around; attic ventilation; squirrel cage blower drawing cooled air from crawl space beneath house; exterior shades on south and west facing windows (burlap bags at 50 cents apiece) white exterior paint; WHITE ROOF. The white roof (we used Mobile Coat) helps the most while we wait for our shade maples to mature. It's cool to the touch in all weathers, hence longer lasting. A summer day may be 100 outside but only 80 inside, a twenty degree difference to which we can easily acclimate. And we are retired old ladies over sixty.

In 35 years together with wood heat, solar hot water, a garden, and high albedo, we have never needed air conditioning and, using the low-cost lifestyle we learned in the Seventies, are debt-free.

Try voluntary poverty for fun and "profit!"

6/29/11, 11:56 PM

Nuffnuff said...
I have to agree with the druid here, as is so often the case. Here in Melbourne 40 degrees (metric degrees) is not uncommon for several days at a time. The nights can be difficult (wet sheet helps immeasurably) but days come and go. I've never had a/c. All the windows and blinds are closed fast to keep the heat out.
Heat is largely a head thing; once you're in the zone, it's just business as usual.

6/30/11, 12:20 AM

My donkey said...
Voluntary poverty is already my basic lifestyle, so I'm not afraid that some group or entity will "come and take it all away". My big concern is that we will eventually be forced at gunpoint to give up our voluntary poverty and become involuntary slaves.

For example, I imagine a future in which we -- as subsistence farmers in a small community -- will be getting along nicely minding our own business in a localized, self-sufficient way when one day a group of a thousand soldiers on horseback appears out of nowhere and announces "We are in control now; do as we say or die." They then force us to work twice as long on twice the land area in order to support them, while they sit in the shade sipping lemonade and occasionally cracking the whip to keep us in line.

How could a master-and-slave scenario like this be prevented?

6/30/11, 12:26 AM

Lizzy said...
Thanks, JMG - an interesting and insightful post, as always. Here in the UK we are seeing exactly the things you describe about scarcity. Local government is doing less (eg garbage collection, which they dress up as being 'better to encourage recycling') for higher fees; public-sector unions are out on strike today, fighting reductions in their pension benefits; petrol is rising in price, home supplies of gas and electricity are rising in price; and so on.

My big problem is that I can't persuade my family about what's coming. I am sort of stuck here.

Also, Mr Greer, how will we get your excellent missives when power supplies start to fail, the internet is disrupted?

6/30/11, 1:12 AM

Sixbears said...
I'm 53 and remember the 70s back to the land movement well. Still practicing what I learned back then and still have some of the out of print books of the time. That knowledge is more useful to me now than it was to me then. I've been cherry picking what technology I use ever since.

My dad once said that he never knew anyone work so hard to live the way his grandfather lived. The kitchen cook woodstove really amused him. What he doesn't understand is that it's much easier for me to gather a few sticks to cook dinner than work at a job to buy propane.

Few of my generation seem to have kept the ideas alive. However, I'm constantly working with people in their early 30s. They seem to get it. We gift each other what we all need, be it materials, labor, tools, food, or friendship. They understand gifts and barter much better than us baby boomers.

They choose their technology. I've friends building a house in the country. Right after installing a basic solar electric system, they put in high speed Internet. It was more important than not having to poop in a bucket or drywall. The 'net is their connection to the world and a source of income for them.

Quite a few of us are already well into the salvage economy. Most of the materials for my rocket mass heater project is coming from salvaged materials. It's all a matter of letting me friends know what I need. They want to gift those things to me, since I've gifted them other things. It's almost tribal. We take joy when our friends are making a go of it.

It pains me that I've other friends who suffer more than they have to. They are still trying to get by in a paradigm that's dead. They feel that if only they can get enough money, they'll be comfortable. To do that, they ignore friends and family who could help them be comfortable and happy right now.

Keep up the good work.

6/30/11, 1:52 AM

Colleen said...
I attended a Transition Town presentation this past Monday here in Western North Carolina. Aside from getting to hear Nicole Foss speak, one of the evening's highlights was a local mountain fellow's show-&-tell about water rams/ram pumps. I was so excited to see one and to hear he has a neighbor who has one that has been in constant use for over 100 years.
I had learned about ram pumps in my Ecotechnology class at the Institute for Social Ecology back in 1988 and was glad to see it is a "living" technology still in use here in the mountains. All most equally exciting to me was having a local share this info with a room full of "from aways". One of the reasons I moved to WNC in the mid-90's to await peak oil was access to a culture with living memories of life before electrification. I think it will be quite gratifying to see the "backward" mountain ways respected again.

@pasttense- I agree with JMG about the body acclimating to heat with minimized exposure to A/C. I have not had A/C at home in over 15 yrs. Some thing you can do to stay cool include hanging out under shade trees, napping during the heat of the day, putting your feet in the "crick" or other water, putting wet cloths on your wrists and/or back of your neck, spritz yourself with water, etc. Someone reminded me recently that poorer residents of DC (where I was born) are sometimes seen with towels that have been in the freezer draped over their heads as a means to keep cool while walking around.

6/30/11, 2:11 AM

olvidadorio said...
I recently talked to two students of economics from Georgia (the country), staying here in Germany, who were rather embarassed to tell me that the main exporting business sector in their country is scrap metal, salvaged from soviet-era industrial sites. I should have congratulated them for being ahead of the times.

6/30/11, 2:24 AM

Ralph said...

I thought you might like to know that your ideas are already happening, appropriately, on the small scale.

A contributor to the powerswitch site, (UK based peak oil site) used to be an oil industry investment advisor. She was green by conviction, driving a smart car and living in an eco-development. Eventually she abandoned this lifestyle, tried life on a canal boat, and a rural smallholding, but then progressed to your logical conclusion and became a Benidictine nun.

She writes the comminity blog,

and needless to say she is promoting the traditional poverty and self-sufficiency and hard work in the light of her limits to growth knowledge. I am sure she is familiar with your work too.

6/30/11, 2:56 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
To John Michael Greer,

I must take issue with you because you have laid bare my own personal plans for an orderly retreat on your blog.

Oh well, the cats out of the bag now.

It’s strange, but many people that I know have said that I am living the life. However, very few of them would like to (or possibly could) do the level of work required to live this particular life. It’s hard work, really. The other thing that I’ve become aware of is the big risk factors which are sickness, injuries and unfavourable weather. At the moment, they can be worked around, but if deindustrialisation kicked in they could be very problematic. I’ve just set up a herb garden and once I’m less busy will look into medicinal herbs.

I’m halfway through your book “The wealth of nature” and must say that I am enjoying it immensely as it confirms my own world view. However, this morning I had an insight which I wanted to share with you.

As part of my professional and personal life I have occasion to perform free or volunteer work on a regular basis. I’ve always seen this work as building social currency. However, I’ve noticed that the majority of other people do not see it this way. A majority of people tend to see this free work performed for their benefit as having little intrinsic value even though it has a commercial value. I’ve often wondered about this issue.

Then whilst reading your book I came across your idea that people confuse money with wealth. This idea had never occurred to me and started me thinking that maybe because people had not paid for those services with money, they put no value on the services provided by myself free of charge for their benefit.

This is an alien point of view to me as I see wealth in social currency, but I can see that I’m in the minority.

Incidentally, I’ve observed that social currency has a much higher value with people in rural areas than with people in urban areas.

What do you think about this?

Also, a neighbour who has bee hives has suggested a barter of fruit for honey – his honey is really good as we bought some off him last season. I also appreciate the work his bees do in my orchard and vegie beds and he obviously benefits from the pollen provided to his bees. He has also suggested maybe setting up a bee hive in the food forest here. How would you recommend that I work out a suitable exchange for honey and fruit given that money won’t be exchanged? I’m unsure and would really appreciate some advice.



6/30/11, 3:00 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi pasttense,

It can get up to 115 degrees around here with winds coming from the centre of the continent. Look up Black Saturday on Wikipedia about the 7th February 2009 bushfires to get a feeling as to what it was like.

You don't need airconditioning, when I was a child back in the 70's, most people didn't have it. What did happen was though that the very young and the very old tended to fall off their perches during these times. As they say on the back of some red neck utility vehicles here, "get like concrete Australia and harden the .... up" - well they've got a point.

Well made, well insulated houses do not need air conditioning it is at best a luxury. The houses that are made today are a disgrace as they are designed to be mechanically heated and cooled. Not good.

I only know of a single person in all of my experience with renewable energy who runs an air conditioner powered solely from solar power and even then, they are reluctant to use it. Say goodbye to air conditioning should the grid ever fail.

Sorry dude, but you hit one of my pet topics.



6/30/11, 3:02 AM

Lee Borden said...
Thanks, JMG, for inspiring us to embrace the term "voluntary poverty." The statement I make (that my friends and family are tired of hearing) is that when I was growing up (I'm 58), success was about making a lot of money. In the era beginning now, we will come to define success as the ability to be happy while making little or no money.

And I second your statement about becoming acclimatized to the heat, by the way. My wife and I live comfortably without air conditioning in central Alabama, where the normal high temps are in the mid-90s. We're careful to drink lots of water, and we're fortunate to have a little home that gets no direct sun in the summertime. But our main coping strategy is that we get used to it. It's really not that hard.

6/30/11, 3:50 AM

Wandering Sage said...
excellent post, as usual. I would like to say that even those who embrace voluntary poverty can be vulnerable to others who have not embraced it, but find them selves in poverty nonetheless. Where else are the rednecks on the next hill going to go when their tv shuts off?

Wandering Sage Wisdom

6/30/11, 4:04 AM

phil harris said...
... Yes, I know, it’s heresy to suggest this, but my take is that what drove that increase was not the growth of human knowledge, or any of the other comforting mantras offered by the publicists of science and industry over the last century or so. Rather, what drove it was simply an exponential increase in consumption of the Earth’s finite reserves of fossil fuels. ...
All good points JMG.
Regarding finance, five percent per annum return on 'wealth' always looked dodgy - I remember as a young man realising that it tied somehow with exponential growth. (The '70' rule; 5% growth of anything means doubling about every 14 years)
Had similar personal apercu in early 1980s that we had found more and more different ways to use coal (this was Britain), then we were doing the same with oil and then NG. Had even broken through the ancient barriers on agriculture this way.
I kind of realized the financial system was just a way of doing the trading math - a very dodgy system of boom and bust, but the US lessons from Depression, and the post-WWII settlement in Europe had helped keep up industrial employment. Employment seemed a way of distributing (as you say) enough of the largesse out of the hands of the simply greedy, and actually enlarged the market for goods. (Tricky otherwise realizing the "economies of scale". Can't sell mass-produced goods so easily to slaves or impoverished workers.)
Really not sustainable though - see 70 rule. We (World) were not going to become Americans. Then we got the Reagan and Thatcher led burn-off.

I like your recommended large bag of oats etc. and ditto legumes, plus the garden or urban allotment as we call the latter in Britain. We grow Scotch Curly Kale almost year round at a British 55 - 56 deg North, as well as Spinach and are lucky enough to have orchard and soft fruit(wonderful foods; heart and cancer healthy; check USDA nutrients data sheet for mineral and vitamin density of Spinach and Kale per 100 kCal). Keeping your health in old age should seriously help.

Monasticism come-back? Still integrated with Buddhism in Ladakh. See interesting book Himalayan Buddhist Villages: Environment, Resources, Society and Religious Life in Zangskar, Ladakh. See review at Expensive but cheaper in UK.
Interesting as a family as well as societal strategy.
Gosh - I made this too long, but again, good stuff JMG.

6/30/11, 4:24 AM

Alexander Ac said...
Hi John, actually, Stuart goes even further and writes:

15 years after their oil consumption peaked, places like Italy, Germany, and Japan are pleasant and civilized countries to live in. So while peak oil certainly means higher oil prices, more economic weakness, and more stress on many individuals, it doesn't have to mean the end of life as we know it.

why is that that especially physicists have such hard times with systems thinking?!

For one thing - Japan and Germany only sustained their deflationary period thanks to exporting their industrial products at the expense of others.

Italy will not be "nice place" for much longer either, as we see in Greece.

But than, I am not a physicist, just a (system) ecologist with not many publications.

As usual, great post, thanks,


6/30/11, 4:31 AM

Luke Devlin said...
Living in Glasgow, I think you're spot on when you mention the post-industrial collapse in cities like ours, and others elsewhere including in America, have suffered.
In many ways, the catabolic collapse has already happened in large parts of industrial urbanity.
Thought you may be interested in this project here that both looks to our indigenous heritage, and looks to the future to try to heal this:

6/30/11, 4:46 AM

Thijs Goverde said...
@pasttense: I have never lived in a house with AC. Yet I am quite soft and spoiled - whenever the temperature hits 25 C, I more or less stop functioning.
Which is in itself a well-tried, ancient way of coping: having a siesta in the shade, or in a well-insulated house.

Well, maybe I'm not all soft-and-spoiled; I'm quite happy at -10. Unfortunately that doesnt seem to be the way we're heading.

@ JMG: EH!?!? The European monasteries were anything but poor. The monks themselves, yes, but not the monasteries. Any halfway capable viking could tell you that. The monasteries survived, not because of their chosen poverty, but because they changed the rules of the game from 'take what you can' to 'kill a monk and go to Hell- we're holy!'
The European monks were only safe when the vikings were conveniently converted to Christianity.

(I sometimes suspect that you've a bit of an agenda on the subject of this sort of spiritual meta-gaming, but that's neither here, there nor anywhere)

And the US not on their way to authoritarianism? IANAL but from what I hear, The Present POTUS has a taste for unconstitutional warfare (Libya) unmatched even by his predecessor.

I cannot help thinking that the worlds last drop of gasoline will be burnt in some military vehicle, probably in the act of keeping down its own country's populace.

6/30/11, 4:51 AM

Luke Devlin said...
And here, one of the 20th century's most authentic prophets of voluntary poverty, Dorothy Day:

"Precarity," or precariousness, is an essential element in true voluntary poverty, a saintly priest from Martinique has written us. "True poverty is rare," he writes. "Nowadays religious communities are good, I am sure, but they are mistaken about poverty. They accept, admit poverty on principle, but everything must be good and strong, buildings must be fireproof. Precarity is everywhere rejected and precarity is an essential element of poverty. This has been forgotten. Here in our monastery we want precarity in everything except the church. These last days our refectory was near collapsing. We have put several supplementary beams in place and thus it will last maybe two or three years more. Someday it will fall on our heads and that will be funny. Precarity enables us better to help the poor. When a community is always building, enlarging, and embellishing, there is nothing left over for the poor. We have no right to do so as long as there are slums and breadlines somewhere."


6/30/11, 4:59 AM

Fleecenik Farm said...
On our homestead we are working on a project we like to call. "Closing the Loop'. Essentially, we are trying to look at interconnected systems that support each other and maximizing their potential. I began to think of this process as I was preparing my soil for our first garden at this new home. the question became," If I could not buy lime, or a handy PH test then how would I be able to ensure the best soil fertility I could?" I have learned a lot about potash, how to read what the soil needs by the plants that grow on it. Initially, this thinking started with soil, but as I pursued this line of thinking I began to see that the loop should start and potentially end on the homestead. This means what would once leave the homestead now needs to find a use on the homestead. So when an old clothes drier stopped working we 1) did not replace it. 2) took it apart. 3) The outside metal was used to patch the body on my husbands 71 VW bus. 3) The inside drum made a lovely planter. It was large and had really good drainage. I grew pie pumpkins in it. 4) Any small hardware that we could salvage off of the machine we did. 5) We keep a small scrap pile on the homestead now in case we can find a need for any of the other parts along the way.

It is in this way that we are trying to minimize the amount of outside resources we need to use and save our money for those things that we need to spend it on.

6/30/11, 5:02 AM

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...
Good stuff! I'm still a little hung up on running two parallel systems.

Until the old system poops out it makes sense to me to take advantage of the abundance and waste to build the the foundation for the next phase.

It takes most of my time to keep the wheels on with the weather and all (especially this year).

Building a root cellar has been on the drawing boards for the past year, but not a shovelful of dirt has been moved.

Livestock make a lot of sense in a wet year, but take time to manage and I still have the root cellar to get done. And then there is the bicycle powered barrel washer to clean up all those potatoes...

If you could address how to add new 'enterprises' when (hang on. I have to go move the water. It took longer than I thought. A good sized gardener snake got in one of the lines and couldn't make the turn up the riser and out the nozzle.) even a modestly self sufficient life takes a ton of time and labor.


6/30/11, 5:13 AM

Planner said...
Great post, JMG. I appreciate the historical perspective you apply; it sets you apart from others writing on our collective situation. I find it somewhat comforting that you doubt the likelihood of revolution; this would only exacerbate the difficulties we'll face.

After reading each of your posts I feel compelled to share these perspectives with my friends, family, and neighbors. However, prior experiences along these lines prove embarrassing, awkward, and unconvincing. It's funny how two people can look at the same set of facts and come to different conclusions on their meaning and implications. For what it's worth, it's comforting that there are others such as yourself and readers of your blog who share my concerns.

As for myself, I'm resigned to play musical chairs here in the big city. I've assessed my situation and am recognizing how difficult it will be for me to prepare in the city. It seems that you all in the smaller towns may have an easier time preparing. However, I fully embrace the psychological dimension of the challenges of the future. As the Band of Horses's song "Funeral" proclaims, "At every occasion I'm ready for the funeral." So when the music stops and I'm left without a seat, there will be no grieving: I will merely do what's 'next'.

6/30/11, 5:25 AM

Andy Brown said...
Thank you for an inspirational essay (literally, etymologically a deep breath or uptake of spirit). The thing I have enjoyed about your particular style of doom mongering is your respect for the human ability to muddle through. Some of the real doomers will be right about marauding hordes, well, because those things happen (are happening now, if you happen to live in the Congo, Somalia or East St. Louis). But for the less unlucky, things are going to be a lot less dramatic and a lot more banal. All we can do is prepare to take advantage of whatever luck comes our way.

6/30/11, 5:43 AM

The Unlikely Mage said...
As someone who is practicing minimalism I like the idea of voluntary poverty, and it hits on something that has bothered me about other minimalists. They're still dependent on the current system to maintain their lifestyles.

I've been trying to separate myself but it's been very slow-going. Georgia clay is ROUGH to work with for a garden, so much so that I'm thinking of switching focuses to earthen construction and hope I can barter food for buildings while I figure it out.

6/30/11, 5:55 AM

GHung said...
The first two comments suggest something I've been aware of for some time now: most folks in the spoiled west are woefully unprepared for any transition to voluntary poverty, what to them will seem like abject poverty. While their bodies may adapt to natural swings in temperature, their psyches and certainly their structures will have a tougher go of it. Unaware of the exceptionaly high level, historically, at which they have lived, this never-the-less, will be the benchmark, the high watermark from which they will judge their conditions going forward. Voluntary poverty requires acceptance.

Those of us who have embraced a certain level of poverty and simplicity, and indeed find this 'meager existance' preferable, are the ones who will stabilize at some reasonably high level.

6/30/11, 6:09 AM

Robo said...
Morris Berman, author of "Dark Ages America", is an expatriate American writer who moved to Mexico to live a modest life in a land of relative poverty. I'm sure most of his friends and family scratched their heads when he made that decision. However, one of the recurring themes in his books is the future need for the very same monastic lifestyle of voluntary poverty that you mention here.

This idea is a very hard sell for most Americans, who have been conditioned to believe that the luxuries and indulgences we have enjoyed for the past few generations are a permanent condition, rather than a transitory one.

Across the street from our place is an old farmhouse which is currently being offered for sale on a parcel of 30 acres that includes a full complement of outbuildings and a nice barn. Built in the 1860's as a fairly upscale residence and occupied until very recently by an elderly couple, the premises are worn but quite livable by the standards of the 1930's, which is apparently the period in which the house was electrified and plumbed with a single bath and kitchen sink. There is a gas-fired forced-air heating system which appears to have been installed in the 1950's.

It's been on the market for quite a while.

Aside from issues of price and financing, I'm sure that most prospective buyers who tour the house are horrified by the 'primitive' living conditions that the old place represents, notwithstanding the fact that the previous occupants lived there for their entire lives without apparent injury.

While the place could certainly benefit from modern thermal insulation techniques and a good scrubbing and painting, there is nothing unhealthy or dangerous about it.

Up until very recently, the typical old house of this type would have been purchased only with the intention of a total strip-down to the bare framing, followed by a complete 'rehab' with all new materials, mechanicals and granite countertops.

Nowadays, for most potential buyers, that several hundred thousand dollars worth of rebuilding would be prohibitively expensive, so they politely back out the door and ask the realtor to show them another more 'modern' house.

That's too bad, because that old place represents a perfect opportunity for the kind of "voluntary poverty" you're talking about here. It's a fully-built and functional farmstead with tillable open land, ready to go for another generation or two. All it needs is a family who can be content with one bath and an iron sink and who are willing to wear sweaters in the wintertime.

It would be nice to have neighbors like that. I hope they come along soon.

6/30/11, 6:12 AM

Jonathan Feld said...
A thought on the unraveling of the American society...Two recent articles (Bloomberg and Newsweek) quoted the Finance Minister of China. It is unfortunate that our education system does not teach enough critical reading and history for the majority of americans to see the reality behind his his words (however politically correct he attempted to be). He stated that China would more or less bail out Greece and that China would back and support the EU and, by extension, the euro even if it meant a redistribution of economic tools. Given that this has happened each and every time a 'top dog' nation has fallen and a new dog has risen, one can easily infer that China is telling the world 'don't rely on the U.S. China now holds the economic power and, by extension, is poised to assume the #1 position in the world.' I suppose we can only hope that some country will still see value in America (as we did in Britain when we saved their economy by parking our boats off of their shores during WWI) and save us from the messy and extremely uncomfortable decline faced by Spain, France, Italy, and many others!

6/30/11, 6:51 AM

Susan said...

We just got your books from Amazon, and I am about half-way through The Long Descent. It will take some time to fully digest all of it (I have some questions and minor quibbles, but I'll keep them to myself at least until I finish both books and go through the older posts on this site). You seem to be one of the only people out there who is being even remotely realistic about our future prospects.

We live in Arizona, where there is too much heat and not enough water, but we have been living without air conditioning for a couple years. In the warm months, we open the doors and windows at night, and suck in cool air with a pole fan, then close everything up and pull down the shades to keep it (relatively) cool during the day. In the winter we open the shades to let in sunlight during the day, and keep all the windows caulked tight, etc, and set the thermostat as low as it will go, and dress accordingly. As a result, we've saved a ton of money on our heating and electric bills, even though our house has practically no insulation to speak of. We all do what we can...

We've been growing lots of our own vegetables in raised beds (and under Eliott Coleman style row covers), even though we don't have much room in our yard. My husband built a bunch of self-watering containers from a design we found at, and we've been having pretty good luck with our tomatoes so far. This is mostly a learning experience, as you have suggested, so that we will be able to (hopefully) be self-sufficient in food in a few years, when we really need it.

Our ultimate goal is to move back east, after our youngest kid graduates from high school, to some place like Michigan or Missouri, where we can buy a few acres of agricultural land, build an energy-efficient house, with a greenhouse, and raise some goats and chickens, etc. I've had it with big cities and suburbs and traffic and the materialistic rat race that we're all stuck with, so the sooner it all falls apart, the happier I will be (should I be careful what I wish for?).

So, the idea of setting up shop in a small town near the Mississippi River or on Lake Michigan might be a good long-term plan, especially if sailing ships turn out to be the main form of transportation. That makes a lot more sense to me than moving up to Idaho with all the hard-corps survivalists.

6/30/11, 7:01 AM

Susan said...
A friend of mine who practices Jin Shin Jyitsu has turned me on to medicinal herbs. It occurs to me that specializing in growing such plants might be a relatively high-value enterprise in a future in which the existing health care system has collapsed (currently, we do not have health insurance, so we're sort of ahead of the learning curve in this regard).

After my husband builds me my underground passive solar farm house, he wants to build a small wood-working and metal-working shop. Right now, this sort of activity is nothing more than a hobby for him, but in the kind of future that you are predicting, that's the sort of thing that could turn into a money-making enterprise (assuming there is still such a thing as money).

He built a small windmill (for only a few dollars) using scrap aluminum and a salvaged alternator, and thinks he might be able to do stuff like that as a part-time side job if the grid goes down. He loves to tinker with stuff, which is usually a good thing.

Our youngest son wants to be a gunsmith when he grows up, and is planning on learning that trade after high school. He seems to think there is a future in that particular specialty. My husband already knows what kind of windmill-powered, belt-operated lathes he wants to install in his shop, and says he knows how to make gunpowder the old-fashioned way... I don't think Homeland Security needs to know about this, do you?

Oh, and speaking of the salvage society of the future, a typical suburban tract house covered with aluminum siding will contain several hundred square feet of the stuff. Cut and shaped and polished, a thousand square feet of highly reflective aluminum could concentrate enough sunlight to boil water for a small turbine, or melt small batches of lead for home-made bullets, or solder pieces of copper together, or... Well, you get the idea. Maybe all those stupid suburbs will turn out to be useful after all.

6/30/11, 7:02 AM

Susan said...
My Donkey:

That's why we want to make our own guns, bullets, and gunpowder. That whole Second Amendment thing was originally designed to give regular citizens the ability to defend themselves from a tyrannical government (the thousand guys on horseback).

Besides, if anyone is going to be cracking a whip around here, it's going to be me. As my husband has been trained to say: "If Momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!" ;-)

6/30/11, 7:09 AM

DIYer said...
It will be an interesting decline to watch unfold.

In the monasteries you mention, history was painstakingly recorded on parchment with quill pens and homemade ink. For at least the first part of this decline, we'll have microprocessors. And the Internet Protocols are designed to be robust even on an unreliable network, even though it's likely that the massive server-farms will close down early on. (The Internet ≠ The Web)

On a side note, after following your Lehman's link, I now get Google ads for Lehman's everywhere I go :-)

6/30/11, 7:17 AM

GHung said...
@ Colleen: I'm sure you've seen the UNC production "Mountain Talk" (clip), filmed near where I live, mainly about the dialect of the southern Appalachains. Besides the discussions of speech and their Scotch/Irish heritage, there's quite a bit of discussion of how these folks lived before TVA, roads and rural electrification, and the opposite transition from the one we're discussing here. In one interview (wish I could find the clip) one woman discusses how they lived, that it was hard at times, but the thing she said that really stuck was; "We didn't even know we was poor until the government came in and told us we was..."

Too bad so many of her generation have passed. I was lucky enough to listen and learn much of what they knew, some of which has been preserved at places like The John C. Campbell Folk School, near here (has become a bit too mainstream/elitest for my taste, but a valuable resource), and in the Foxfire books (my brother worked on these while at the school there, @1970).

I've built a couple of ram pumps that worked quite well, though they're a bit noisy and slow. No worries; I have patience and the sound lets you know it's working..

6/30/11, 7:29 AM

Andy Brown said...
I had an anthropology professor who took the long view of human history, and he believed (or at least I took from his lectures) that there were a very few unifying moments where some set of humans took a step that was so compelling that pretty much everyone had to come along. The Pleistocene fluorescence being one (was it language, social organization, some technological tipping point?). A more recent, local one might be whatever it was that sent the bearers of the Indo-European languages across Eurasia. Obviously, the breakneck charge through agriculture, empire-building, urbanization and the Age of Coal and Oil is the latest and possibly most thorough. But the normal state of human existence, once the moment passes, is to settle back into all the muddled diversity that culture and environment allow. Should be interesting.

6/30/11, 7:50 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Colleen -- One of the first things that struck me when I moved here was that all the local hillbillies knew how to make ram pumps, and none of the local "green living" people seemed to have ever even heard of them. We've been using one for 9 years to pump our water from spring to gravity-feed storage tank. Ours is like the third ramp pump that has been hooked up to the same spring over the years.

6/30/11, 7:52 AM

Petro said...
I left a "lucrative" lifestyle years ago, and my friends/family have looked at me askance... although that is evolving, as the facts on the ground clearly are.

The scare quotes on "lucrative" are intentional. To highlight another aspect of "voluntary poverty" is there is much actual poverty in the securing of wealth in days like these.

One does not have to be a "believer" (and I am not) to appreciate the unburdening that accompanies one who is not enriching oneself at the expense of others.

Also, a note to those who are worried about enslavement - systematic oppression of human beings is actually quite resource-intensive. The would-be slavers are subject to the same pressures as the rest of us, with the added burden of social ill-will on their heads - no small matter.

Thanks for the incantations, JMG!

6/30/11, 7:57 AM

bcwoodcarver said...
Americans will never revolt as long as they are supplied with cheap food, cheap booze, and cheap entertainment.

6/30/11, 8:37 AM

dr-beowulf said...
@My Donkey -- Well, if the soldiers are sitting in the shade sipping lemonade, it should be easy enough for those humble subsistence farmers, who know the local weeds and wild plants pretty well, to slip a powerful laxative, or hallucinogen (or both, for extra comedy value) into the lemonade. Then everyone picks up their very sharp scythes and machetes and such, and melts into the surrounding forest. A few deadfalls and pungee sticks, plus close knowledge of the local terrain, should help shake pursuit -- no helicopters, reconnaissance drones, or night-vision goggles in a post-industrial world.

OK, it might not be that simple -- but in history, there are various ways that an exploited peasantry has used to get back at their overlords.

6/30/11, 8:51 AM

humblebumble said...
This is all very useful stuff. practically and philosophically speaking, it's very important knowledge in order to be prepared for the future, and retain a decent standard of life without taking from others.

I myself have yet to own a house or land, but am studying for a degree in textile design and busy learning as many skills in that area as i can, while also teaching myself basic electronics by building audio synths, knowledge which will no doubt come in useful someday when i have to build an electrical system for my home. also, spending all the spare money that others spend on alcohol and expensive holidays on tools and home-production machinery (textile machinery and more normal tools), i hope to slowly build up the resources and knowledge to make a decent life for myself and anyone who cares to pitch in and help me.

reading this blog is good for reminding me of the path that i have chosen and what it's all for in the end (though there is no end)

6/30/11, 8:54 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Good morning JMG and hello to all--

Reading with great interest. Admire your ability to garden, think and write all at once (I know, I know, think while gardening, research and write when it's too dark to garden--or some such).

Good message from Thoreau--though I must point out he was supported by his family's pencil factory, for which he invented a more efficient way of manufacturing pencils and a new "lead" recipe. Still, he lived a life that stayed out of the game you're talking about. Emerson got mad at him for this.

A side note: Many of us Quakers (from whom Thoreau got some of his ideas/philosophy/ethics) live the "testimony of simplicity"--akin to "voluntary poverty" because tied in with a non-materialist ethos. Living as a Quaker is much like living as a member of a religious/monastic order, while also living and doing work "in the world." Maybe like being a Druid?

As Greg Reynolds points out, working in the two systems at once gets wearing, and less gets done on the sustainability front than one would like. My husband and I continually work at our projects and on moving down the power slope in large and small ways. Right now I'm looking for a good mortar and pestle so as not to use the blender so much. But we never get as much done as we should and there's this sense of urgency. (Not that I'm complaining that we have jobs, mind you!)

I hope networks will evolve--rapidly--so people can trade skills and know-how.

Also: does anyone have a good, substantive herb book to recommend? With trustworthy information and good recipes? Most of the ones I see are too general, too cutesy, or not clear about how or why each herb is good for which ailment. Much info I see could even be dangerous, judging from the scraps of botanical knowledge I do have.

6/30/11, 8:55 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Nate, most Americans are already serfs, for all practical purposes. What defines a serf, as opposed to a free peasant? The peasant owns his own land; the serf works on the baron's demesne, and has to depend on the baron for every necessity of life. Replace "baron" with "employer" and the only difference is that employers don't even give lip service to a code of chivalry.

Guilherme, I get that request about once a month, and my response is always the same: the last thing the rest of the world needs is one more clueless American telling it what to do. There are excellent peak oil authors and bloggers in Europe already -- I'm particularly partial to Ugo Bardi and Damien Perrotin -- so I'm hardly needed on that front; for that matter, based on comments you've made over the last few years, I suspect you could do a very good blog on these topics yourself. Remember that relocalization means, among other things, local production of ideas!

Publius, I'm not surprised. One of the hard lessons a lot of us are going to have to learn very quickly is how to deal with the absence of basic municipal services and the collapse of the social safety net; some of us will have to learn that sooner than others.

Risa, thank you for the tips and the encouragement!

Nuffnuff, exactly. Human beings got by just fine without a/c for close to a million years; it simply isn't that difficult.

Donkey, first of all, remember that that's the way most of us live right now. Between your employer and the government, you get a good deal less than half the value of your own labor. (The average medieval peasant worked fewer hours in a year than today's employees do; one day in three was a saint's day, thus a day off.)

Second, remember that we're not talking about a fast collapse; many of today's governmental structures will still be more or less in place until long after your time, or will be replaced by close equivalents, the way the Soviet government was replaced by the Russian Federation. Work with those structures to maintain basic public order, and you shouldn't have too much to worry about.

Lizzy, I'm already planning the post-internet form of the Archdruid Report, which will be a print newsletter/magazine mailed to subscribers. (Postal systems are viable on an 18th century technological basis, remember.) As that becomes more of a live option, I'll keep everyone posted.

Sixbears, I'm delighted to hear about the 30-somethings! That's very good news; this stuff has to find its way down the generational ladder.

Colleen, that's good to hear. Those "backwards" mountain ways are some of the best resources we've got just now.

Olvidadorio, you should indeed have done so! Still, they'd be better off if Georgia ws working on developing its own metalworking industries using salvage and scrap.

Ralph, that's very good to hear. Thanks for the info and the link!

6/30/11, 9:11 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Back to monasticism? If some of the most greedy, undisciplined and self indulgent people in the world don't like Poverty, they'll surely not welcome Chastity and Obedience!

6/30/11, 9:25 AM

One of the Remnant said...

"...the kind of social conflict that normally ends in some form of authoritarianism. The chance that the United States will manage such a last-minute save, though, is pretty slim at this point if it exists at all."

I think this ignores the fact that the US has been moving steadily in an authoritarian direction for some decades now, so it would not constitute a 'last minute save' - the gutting of things like the Posse Comitatus and the Insurrection Acts under Bush, and the further extension of PATRIOT Act provisions under Obama being some of the more recent examples, but the entire Cold War era provides plenty of others.

Rather than last-minute, it's a culmination of trends decades in the making, and long apparent.

The fact that governments at all levels are cutting social services has little to do with the ability and demonstrated intent to preserve 'core' authoritarian functions such as domestic surveillance and intelligence, control over financial transactions, hyper-militarized policing and asset forfeiture, ongoing war making, etc.

Yes, we see the government divesting itself of 'non-essential' functions - but it is retaining - and in fact expanding - all of the apparatus necessary to project power and control the populace.

One of the most in-depth (and most widely-ignored) investigations into one key aspect is the extensive series authored by Washington Post's Dana Priest (not exactly a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist) a couple of years ago: 'Top Secret America'.

The fact is that the US already IS, effectively, an authoritarian state, a reality masked by the rhetoric of the ruling class (as expressed thru establishment media) and abetted by the willful ignorance of its citizenry (still buying into that 'land of the free' mythos). Ours is a softer, gentler authoritarianism. So far.

Like Gulliver, our civil liberties (the free measure of which are the metric for authoritarianism) are not denied via massive and blatant totalitarian chains, but by millions of threads of oppressive bureaucratic laws, regulations, codes, and ordinances and the petty (and more and more often, not so petty) tyrannies required to enforce them. But the constructs needed for a full blown authoritarian state are in place, waiting. As social disorder increases, and elite panic begins in earnest, it seems likely that we can count on the activation of many if not all of those mechanisms. To 'instill order' and 'for the public good,' of course.

I think Thijs put it well:

"I cannot help thinking that the worlds last drop of gasoline will be burnt in some military vehicle, probably in the act of keeping down its own country's populace."

Verging on hyperbole, but its essence is, I feel, all too possibly very much on target.

We don't have to look too far across the globe to see this State impetus in action, after all, and imagining that 'it can't happen here' is just one more example of the denial to which this nation is so deeply wedded.

When it comes to cultural myths, IMO, among the most pernicious is this one: that the US government is largely a socially beneficent teddy bear. The reality is that is it a grizzly in teddy bear's clothing (that clothing currently rapidly disintegrating). Our blood stained history makes this grim point all too well.

IMO, to downplay the possibility of authoritarian rule in the US is to fall prey to this myth.

In summary, this is probably my one area of major disagreement with your vision of the future, JMG. Certainly, it makes your vision of a 'less than welcome' future even less so.

- Oz

6/30/11, 9:28 AM

Don Mason said...
JMG wrote: “Now it’s common enough, when a plan such as this is suggested, for people to insist that it’s all very well and good, but the government, or the corporations, or roving hordes of zombies, or somebody else equally colorful and convenient will inevitably come and take it all away.”

A long thread on (the site is currently being repaired; presumably it was counterattacked by irate zombies) describing survival during the Katrina disaster had some advice on how to move seamlessly through a society in collapse.

The person who was most likely to be able to pass unmolested through both military roadblocks and lawless, gang-controlled neighborhoods was a middle-aged or older white male with a few gray hairs who carried a clipboard.

This person was almost universally seen as being both harmless (although not totally defenseless) and useful (although not having lots of valuable possessions worth stealing).

He was seen as harmless: He wasn’t there to arrest or shoot anyone. He wasn’t there to steal anything. He was non-threatening to the existing power structure in the neighborhood, whether that power structure was legal or extra-legal.

He was seen as useful: He was obviously there to try to figure out how to make things a little better, or at least to keep things from rapidly getting a lot worse: to get clean drinking water in, or to get rotting corpses out. Both the military/law enforcement on the one side and the gangbangers on the other saw that this was to their personal benefit, and so people like this were usually allowed to move freely.

Businesses were not supposed to be open, but a car repair shop was allowed to stay open because the owner spent his entire day repairing flat tires, since everyone’s tires – law enforcement and gangbangers - were constantly being punctured by the debris in the streets. Since he was perceived as harmless and useful, he simply carried on his daily activities.

This seems like a good survival model for what’s coming: Be harmless (but not defenseless – here in Rockford, defenseless immediately makes you a target), and useful (having knowledge and skills that others need to survive, but without a lot of portable wealth to steal).

6/30/11, 9:34 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Chris, well, it's a good strategy! Rural people have to depend on their neighbors; they don't have the option of anonymity. As for bartering honey for fruit, it's a great idea -- you might want to read up on barter arrangements (there's a sizable literature). How much fruit for how much honey? That's called "supply and demand," or in barter terms, "How much fruit would you want for five gallons of that honey?"

Lee, thank you! As I recall, Alabama's very humid as well as hot in the summertime; if a/c isn't needed there -- and of course people lived there for many thousands of years before a/c -- it's not really needed anywhere.

Sage, true, but those rednecks aren't going to be able to get a working TV from you, now are they? Here in the Appalachians, I've found that a lot of "rednecks" are decent people and good neighbors, and I've already had quite a few conversations over the fence about how I get all those vegetables so early in the season.

Phil, not that long ago the big bags of grain and legumes, the allotment garden, and the working kitchen where food got put up for the winter were essential parts of urban life. They will be again, in the not too distant future -- and they can be again, right now, with huge advantages to those who get going!

Alex, well put. Oil consumption in isolation from everything else is a lot less important than the whole system of energy inputs, and much of the energy inputs into any prosperous nation these days are actually used to run Third World farms and sweatshops that produce products for export to the First World.

Luke, from what I've read -- I haven't had the chance to visit yet -- Scotland's former industrial and shipbuilding towns are Exhibit A in any discussion of deindustrialization. Thanks for the link -- I'll follow up on it -- and also for the Dorothy Day quote.

Thijs, Ireland was a major gold producing region in the Dark Ages and its monasteries ended up becoming unusually rich -- a mistake which, as you noted, cost them dearly. In most of Europe, that didn't happen until long after the Dark Ages were over, and there were repeated efforts to launch new monastic movements to reclaim the value of poverty, from the Benedictines themselves right up to the Franciscans.

As for the US avoiding authoritarianism, er, where did you get the notion that I said that was a likely option? I said exactly the opposite -- that it might in theory be possible to get out of the spiral of conflict that leads to authoritarianism, but that the US' chances of doing so were slim to none. I'll be discussing this in much more detail down the road a bit.

Fleecenik, excellent! You get today's gold star for inspired salvage. This is exactly the sort of thinking that smart farmers used to do as a matter of course a century ago, and smart farmers will again be doing as a matter of course a century from now.

Greg, the problem is exactly that you're trying to live two lives in the same 24-hour period. The time you put into maintaining your presence in the existing order is the time you don't have for root cellars, etc. This is why I encourage people who live in couples, families, etc. to see to it that at least one person has the freedom to stay home and work full time in the household economy; it's much easier to get things done, and it's also a good way to transition to using less cash and more labor to get what you need.

Planner, you can't change anyone else's mind for them, and the ideas I'm discussing here are literally unthinkable to most people in the industrial world right now. Since you're stuck in the machine, at least for now, you might explore what can be done in a dense urban setting -- there are things you can learn and practice, and skills you can pick up. Might as well get to work!

6/30/11, 9:53 AM

DPW said...
My senryu for today:

the less I claim as mine
the less I have to protect
alone on crowded streets

JMG - I really like your post today...especially the part about doing it because it's the right and appropriate thing to do (and good for you), not because it is the perfect thing to do or because it will "save the future". I appreciate your ability to find the common thread winding through the wisdom traditions. At your suggestion, and by a bit of used bookstore serendipity, I'm reading EF Shumacher's "Guide for the Perplexed". It's an amazing read...ties together so many useful pieces of philosophy from Advaita to Zen to Aquinas to more modern thinkers in a way that just nails it all. None of it is "new" to me, but the way he ties it together really works and gives me a new way of talking about some things that can often get too hippie-dippy for pleasant conversation.

6/30/11, 9:59 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
I can't keep up with all the posts recently, since the garden and building projects keep me too busy, but thanks for another great post, and I wanted to mention that PanIdaho has created a new greenwizards Circle, "Power" and is doing "Shelter" so we can pull together the discussions of these topics. I guess I'll have to ask for "Recycling" also! :-)

I had a wonderful time last weekend actually meeting some of the local greenwizards - Risa, Gordon, Shon - and we plan to meet again to "talk shop". Maybe others might check to see if green wizards live nearby - it's great to put names to blog posts!! I can't make the big NW Gathering this coming weekend, but hopefully someone will post a report on greenwizards eventually.

6/30/11, 10:11 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
"Redneck," as y'all should know, is a slander originally used by the middle class against those who still did manual labor (and hence got sunburned). It is part of the very long-standing tradition of despising those who make your lifestyle possible. Most of the things that people consider "trashy" like tube tops, shirtlessness, old cars, junk in the yard, etc. are things that come from being poor, at least in money terms: no a/c = more exposed skin, old cars = can't afford a new one, junk in yard = stuff salvaged and saved in case needed for parts, etc. This is a part of our cultural mythology that folks really should try to think a bit harder about. In fact, much of the stuff that "rednecks" get blamed for are actually projections from the middle classes down on to them. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a sadly prime example. Our professional class hero, Atticus, is trying to save the oppressed black man from the racist low class white rednecks. Except, all the racist institutions that maintained the black oppression in the south were actually created and enforced by the people of Atticus' class, not by the "rednecks." Blame those who support you for your own sins -- a grand tradition.

About a/c -- it always leaves me bemused when people think that hot and humid climates are challenging places for people to live. Not only is that the climate in which we first evolved, I suspect if you did the demographics you would find that the majority of the people on earth still live in those climates -- without air conditioning.

6/30/11, 10:11 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Andy, you're welcome! And of course you're right that some people will draw the short straw, as things unravel. It's just that not all of us will.

Mage, with dense clay you need huge amounts of organic matter. Compost everything and dig it in; when the leaves drop in fall, collect all you can, use them as a heavy mulch on top of your garden over the winter, and then dig them into the soil in the spring. Use raised beds to keep your plants from drowning, and run planks between the beds to walk on so you don't end up wearing ten pounds of hardened clay on each boot. You can get a first-rate garden on clay soil if you do this -- been there, done that, and enjoyed the vegetables.

Ghung, I'm going to be talking about that in a couple of weeks. The short form is that you're quite correct, the notion that people can't possibly live without (fill in the utterly unnecessary convenience of your choice) is going to be a fruitful cause of failure, suffering, and death in the years to come.

Robo, I wish I were in the market! It sounds like a great place.

Jonathan, good. Very good. You're paying attention, which is rare these days.

Susan, don't be too close to the Mississippi unless you like living underwater! Still, you're quite right that choosing a location close to natural transport corridors -- lakes, navigable rivers, passes through mountains -- is a good way to be sure you have access to trade.

Medicinal herbs and other low-tech healing methods are crucial; I don't have medical insurance either -- can't afford it -- so that's what we use. As for your son the future gunsmith, in your place I'd do everything possible to encourage him; that's going to be a highly valued trade in the years to come, and in fact it's a good income right now.

DIYer, I'm hoping to see papermaking and letterpress printing in those monasteries o the future -- those can be done with late medieval technology, and the impact on literacy and communication of the printing press was frankly much greater than that of the internet.

Andy, from my perspective that last burst of transformations runs a couple of phase shifts together. Agriculture dates from about 9000 BCE, along with empires and cities and reached a relatively steady state by around 500 BCE. The brief fling into fossil fuels started more than a thousand years later, and will be over shortly; I don't see it as a change analogous to the evolution of agriculture -- it's more like the invention of the war chariot, the innovation that sent the Indo-Europeans careening over so much of Eurasia, except that chariots stayed in use for a long time afterwards. Imagine an Indo-European expansion in which the horses all got worked to death and went extinct, maybe...

Petro, nicely put. In many ways, I have a richer and more comfortable life than a lot of people who earn five times what I do. It's just that they're not likely to see things that way!

Carver, remember that we're talking about the disintegration of the system that provides those things.

6/30/11, 10:13 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Humble, that sounds like a sensible strategy. Once the global economy comes unraveled, the US is going to have to start producing its own textiles again, and if you've got a solid background in textiles you may be set for a very good job.

Adrian, rather like being a Druid! I don't have any herb books to recommend right off hand; maybe some of the other commmenters have some suggestions.

Raven, no argument there. That's why I don't expect monasticism to become a major factor again until a lot of Americans get a lot of the nonsense knocked out of them.

Remnant, you're quite right -- this is one of the places where our visions differ sharply. To my mind, what we've got in America is a typical end-stage democracy, not that different from late Republican Rome or, say, pre-Mussolini Italy. All the things people use to justify claims that the country's getting "more authoritarian" have been going on at approximately their current pace since the early 19th century -- yes, that includes unconstitutional invasions of other countries and abuses of civil rights at home -- and only look new because most American social critics know next to nothing about their own country's history. Add to that a bad case of projecting the shadow via over the top "bloodstained grizzly bear" metaphors and the like, and you've got a thoroughly unhelpful view of where we're at, which -- as I'll be outlining in later posts -- is feeding the trends its proponents think they're fighting. More on this later.

Don, thank you! That's a good tip.

DPW, excellent! A Guide for the Perplexed is a brilliant book, one of the few works of popular philosophy to come out of that era that actually has some lasting depth to it.

Cathy, if you're out there doing projects, you've already gotten everything important that I'm trying to pass on. Delighted to hear about the local meetup, too -- that's a crucial next step.

Bill, true enough. These days, though, I know a fair number of people who embrace the term "redneck" with pride, and that's the sense in which I use the word.

6/30/11, 10:34 AM

Odin's Raven said...
However Green and self sufficient you try to be, the bureaucracy may not let you go free.
Here's an article about the authorities in Devon forcing people off their own land and into state-dependence.

6/30/11, 10:45 AM

Susan said...
Alexander AC:

"15 years after their oil consumption peaked, places like Italy, Germany, and Japan are pleasant and civilized countries to live in."

I did a year in France as an au pair, and traveled through Germany and Switzerland and England when I was young and adventurous. I loved the trains and the old architecture, but I have no desire to return there now, since their wonderful welfare states are starting to (as Maggie Thatcher famously said) run out of other people's money.

Friends in England have told me the most awful stories about the NHS and the huge number of militant Muslims who moved there and immediately went on the dole. The whole system is completely unsustainable, and it amazes me that it has held together as long as it has. The riots in Greece (as well as the recent unpleasantness in Madison, Wisconsin) are merely the beginning of a long collapse...

Greg Reynolds:

Maybe I can lend you my husband. He is very handy and I manage to keep him busy with the household stuff, maintaining the garden, etc. All it takes is time and money...


Where do you live? That farm across the street sounds like the kind of thing I'd snap up in a minute. We've rehabbed about a dozen houses, including an old Victorian that we lived in outside of Chicago for many years. Generally, we've found that older houses are more solidly built than newer construction, and make great places to live with a little fix-up.

Colleen, GHung, Bill Pulliam, et al:

Having done both, I'd much rather live among the rednecks and hillbillies than in an upscale suburb. If your house is on wheels and your car is up on blocks...


"Americans will never revolt as long as they are supplied with cheap food, cheap booze, and cheap entertainment."

Ah, but that's the point. When all that cheap stuff is no longer cheap, or no longer available at any price, you'd be surprised at just how revolting we can be...

6/30/11, 10:47 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Rednecks? Of course, that was what the Boers called the British soldiers.

6/30/11, 10:50 AM

Donal said...
Written early last night, but victim of ERROR 400:

I think it was Michael Moore in his book Stupid White Men that he advances the theory that the rise in the political power in America's south was the direct result of air conditioning. Before AC people didn't have enough energy to care!

Having spent childhood in numerous places with hot, hot summers and no AC I can agree with Mr.Moore. And I have little interest in again lying awake most of the night on top of sweat damp sheets waiting for those few moments just before dawn when it cooled enough to get a wink of sleep.

Which is one reason I now live on Vancouver Island where I just wore a heavy shirt to take an evening stroll with our appreciative free-range cat, who was just beginning his night shift. He'll get me up during his lunch break to pet him while he eats and purrs.

And I think that I would add the Taoists to Mr. Greer's list of monastic traditions which have explored voluntary simplicity without being impoverished of an intense, productive and satisfying life. I recommend John Blofeld's The Secret and Sublime: Taoist Mysteries and Magic, and especially the chapter on a distant monastery and the making of the landscape.

6/30/11, 10:58 AM

gordon said...
According to a CBS poll released yesterday, 39% of Americans believe that our economy is in permanent decline. This is up from 28% just last October. Both of these figures are more than I would have guessed. I think this is an encouraging sign that our fellow citizens are starting to wake up.

Of course, their reactions to this revelation will probably span the entire spectrum from panic to productive activity. Still, it is a start.

6/30/11, 11:07 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG -- of course. Like so many labels, it depends on whether it is used as an insult or an identity -- "the rednecks are gonna steal all my stuff" (they are lawless and untrustworthy) versus "redneck and proud" (not ashamed to be part of the working class).

Besides it is the bankers who are actively going about stealing all your stuff... or at least all your money.

6/30/11, 11:08 AM

Edde said...
Good afternoon, John Michael,

Vernacular architecture, that is, the way the locals built houses before cheap/easy energy sources, is a good place to start understanding how to live in 100+ degree heat and high humidity w/o AC. Try tall ceilings, plenty of cross ventilation, raised floor system with good circulation under the house, shaded windows, porches, etc.

We're moving more of our cooking activities outside the main living area to keep everything cooler (canning kitchen) connected via a "dog trot."

Folks might remember trees provide a micro-climate (cooler in summer, warmer in winter)so live near/under trees (ya gotta sweep your roof more often, though).

Minimize WEST sun, it's least controllable (avoid west facing windows, glass doors). Insulate, keep caulking around openings in good condition, paint siding a light color and have white or light colored roof covering.

And so on (naps, keep hydrated, etc).

I'm the house husband building the household economy. Couldn't be happier, more entertained, or more satisfied with life.

Excellent post - just received your treasure trove from New Society Publishers, light reading for the summer;-)

Best regards,

6/30/11, 11:18 AM

Twilight said...
Thanks for a clear and concise overview - perhaps I can get some people to read it that won't spend the time on the books. Hopefully I can get them to look at issues they presently do not wish to think about, and thereby allow me to begin withdrawing the foot that's still on the dock. I could act much more effectively if everyone were on board, but for now I must hold the boat and wait.

6/30/11, 11:40 AM

One of the Remnant said...

"Nate, most Americans are already serfs, for all practical purposes. What defines a serf, as opposed to a free peasant? The peasant owns his own land; the serf works on the baron's demesne, and has to depend on the baron for every necessity of life. Replace "baron" with "employer" and the only difference is that employers don't even give lip service to a code of chivalry. "

You could perhaps more directly replace 'baron' with 'government' since property taxes on land pretty much give the lie to the notion of 'owning one's own land' - after all, if you can be legally kicked off of 'your' land if, after purchase, you don't make additional periodic payments on it to someone, then it ain't your land, is it? In the old days, we called that banditry.

This has been the case since allodial title was replaced by newer, more easily compromised forms of title. I'd love to see allodial title make a comeback - societally upheld real ownership of the land that one actively works being a necessary prerequisite of individual liberty - and its absence indicating lack of same.

- Oz

6/30/11, 11:56 AM

GHung said...
@Adrian, some recomended herb books on my shelf:

Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook by James Green

What Herb Is That? by John and Rosemary Hemphill: covers culinary and medicinal uses, identification and cultivation.

Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth by Dr. Sharol Tilgner

On my wish list:

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments by Andrew Chavallier

Hope this helps :-)

6/30/11, 12:51 PM

Glenn said...

Was this weeks title a reference to the final scene in the 1983 movie, War Games, with Mathew Broderick, or just a nice coincidence?

Marrowstone Island

6/30/11, 1:45 PM

Nick Vail said...
As always, I am deeply appreciative of your voice and perspective.
Here is an a propos article that is quite inspiring that I think you will dig,
<a href=">by a western Buddhist monk on this important topic.</a>
Keep up the great work!

6/30/11, 1:48 PM

One of the Remnant said...

"All the things people use to justify claims that the country's getting "more authoritarian" have been going on at approximately their current pace since the early 19th century -- yes, that includes unconstitutional invasions of other countries and abuses of civil rights at home -- and only look new because most American social critics know next to nothing about their own country's history. Add to that a bad case of projecting the shadow via over the top "bloodstained grizzly bear" metaphors and the like, and you've got a thoroughly unhelpful view of where we're at, which -- as I'll be outlining in later posts -- is feeding the trends its proponents think they're fighting. More on this later. "

I'll look forward to these posts with great interest.

Interestingly, you may have mischaracterized my arguments, inasmuch as I am largely in agreement with what you say. I would speculate that you hear quite a bit from conspiracy theorists and such, and may have tossed me in that bucket.

Having done years worth of shadow work myself (and continuing along this path), I completely agree that projecting the shadow explains much about our current society. In this case, my critique comes not from the unconscious, but from the rational, based on some years of intense study of history and politics, including works on the US by Zinn and Chomsky, who I think offer well informed politico-historical analyses which underscore your point that this is not a recent innovation. In fact, this is one of the basic points I labor to make to people who I tend to find as oblivious to history as you.

In fact, the only thing with which I disagree here is the notion that erosion of civil liberties has not dramatically accelerated over the last few decades (I think it has), while as you note having been present throughout US history, arguably starting back with the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 and extending forward from there.

And while the grizzly bear metaphor may be over the top, I think this is in fact the proper use of metaphor when emphasizing a point - that being, perceiving the lethal as its opposite often leads to unpleasant outcomes. Over the top metaphor has its place, methinks.

As for 'bloodstained', I think any reading of US history demonstrates it's a fair and accurate depiction, as many peoples from Native Americans, black slaves, victims of 'manifest destiny' all the way to citizens of the Philippines, Dresden, Hiroshima, Vietnam, Iraq, etc would attest. I doubt you would disagree with this.

- Oz

6/30/11, 2:04 PM

One of the Remnant said...
@ Bill P

Great point about the disparagement of rednecks. Kunstler is one of the primary perpetrators of that kind of knee jerk and unwarranted disdain in peak oil circles. It appeals to cultural biases and class preconceptions which go deep.

I think a great antidote to this mindset is the writing of a guy I consider to be one of the greats - just died a couple months back - name of Joe Bageant, 'progressive redneck with a conscience', and one of the more insightful and incisive thinkers around, for my money. Just a couple of examples:

Understanding America's Class System


Redneck Liberation Theology

Personally, I think the guy was brilliant.

RIP Joe.

- Oz

6/30/11, 2:22 PM

One of the Remnant said...

"Now it might in theory be possible for a country to extract itself from this kind of spiral descent into the kind of social conflict that normally ends in some form of authoritarianism. The chance that the United States will manage such a last-minute save, though, is pretty slim at this point if it exists at all."

Just read your response to Thijs' comment:

"As for the US avoiding authoritarianism, er, where did you get the notion that I said that was a likely option? I said exactly the opposite"

I read your initial post in the same way Thijs seemed to: it can be read as meaning the opposite of what you meant - therein lies, I think, the confusion that prompted my initial comment and, perhaps, Thijs' also. Sorry for the confusion. Text can suck.

I'm clear now that you think we are in fact headed for authoritarianism. I think so too.

- Oz

6/30/11, 2:32 PM

Matthew Heins said...
What the U.S. -pretty much across the social board- needs is a nice Depression or otherwise Severe Cruddly Era (as it will look from within) that will look to Ecotechnic historians like a short, sharp shock.

Something just bad enough and long enough to really shake the cobwebs out of folks heads', but not so bad and so long that total collapse occurs.

Sort of a Goldilocks Collapse, if you will.

This way we can go the way of Britain and just say "Oh yes, dismantle the Empire? Of course, of course, been meaning to do it for AGES!" and get on with a normal, healthy "decline" into scarcity industrialism.

Keeping in mind that the underlying causes of "decline" in energy and -almost as certainly- complexity is inevitable and will be a relatively slow process, I still say that the next 100 years can be better for the U.S. -and the world- with "just" the ASAP voluntary dismantlement of U.S. Empire.

Counter-examples to the status quo must be on hand and functioning well when the collapse comes to become the potential seeds of a new way of living.

This is the greatest, short-term, social impact of Green Wizardry and other personal sustainability approaches in my opinion. The political demagogue or the Corporate shill will win the day for certain if the People have no other guide to turn to. If they do have other guides, the matter is uncertain again.

Since folks generally don't get on with me, I'll be practicing my Green Wizardy in secret, and publicly proclaiming my love of the demagogues -to help guide folks in the right direction. ;)


6/30/11, 2:40 PM

rbtp said...
Not playing the game is hard. My wife doesn't want to stop playing. My community is unaware or indifferent that there is a choice in the matter. They think it's "cute" that I ride my bike everywhere and like to garden. Most don't have a clue why I do it.

I know I shouldn't play. I don't want to play. I undertand what not playing looks like. But how do I NOT play the game. It is really a question of social and family pressures.

6/30/11, 3:29 PM

Cloud said...
@ Robo

Myself and several people I know personally would love to have a farm like what you describe here. But as practitioners of not-entirely-voluntary poverty due to career choices, none us can afford property. I think the idea that 'no one wants a house like that' is on the list with 'no one wants to do manual labor' as part of the collective mythology that keeps middle class America in line with The Program. The 'There is No Alternative' program followed by so many of our friends and family who can't bear to listen to us talk about voluntary poverty and opting out of The Program. Society has put a low price tag on our career choices for more reasons than I'll probably ever know about, but short of inheritance or land reform (pray and get busy on that one!) none of us will be your neighbors anytime soon, even though you might like having a wildlife biologist, a farmer, a ranch hand and a weaver nearby. Don't fall for the 'no one wants to live that way', it could be that it's just the people with enough $ to be in the market for property who don't.

6/30/11, 5:00 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Raven, there are ways to do the thing. Knowing what you can get away with in any given area, and what people will and won't accept, is an important part of the process, whether or not bureaucracy is involved.

Donal, well, if the Pacific Northwest climate suits you better, then by all means. Moore, like most northern liberals, does a fine job of forgetting that the South was a major force in US politics until 1861. As for Taoist monasticism, of course! I didn't happen to recall the name of any of the founders of major Taoist monastic lineages while writing, is all.

Gordon, I don't think most people in the political class -- or, for that matter, most middle class Americans -- have begun to think about what's going to happen once the majority of ordinary working class people in this country come to the conclusion that they really have nothing left to hope for from a continuation of business as usual.

Bill, I'm recalling some of the very colorful (as in unprintable) things said about bankers in the wake of the Great Depression. Did you know that to this day, bank employees who apply to join the Grange are automatically refused membership?

Edde, I hope you enjoy the books! We've got the advantage of lots of trees around our place, and are learning the tricks of venting and natural cooling. It's been pretty confortable of late, even with daily highs in the 80s and low 90s.

Twilight, it's a heck of a challenge, no question. Remember that belief in progress is a religion, and people cling to it with all the desperation of any believer in a dying faith.

Remnant, medieval feudal land tenure was on essentially the same terms as those you're denouncing; you had to fulfill whatever duty your fief owed to your overlord, or he could chuck you off it. Of course governments retain final rights over property, and have the right to assess taxes to pay for public costs; I don't see that as the horrible abuse you apparently do, as I value things like fire departments and public libraries.

Glenn, I didn't see the movie, so it was apparently a coincidence.

Nick, thanks for the link!

6/30/11, 6:00 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Remnant, yes, I think we're headed toward authoritarianism, but not the way I gather you do. It's not a matter of the continuation of present trends -- by any objective measure, the level of authoritarian behavior from the US government is less now than it was during any decade in the first half of the 20th century, for example -- but precisely as a function of the delegitimization of a flawed and faltering system by people who insist on labeling it in extreme terms. It's very much like the end of the French monarchy in 1789; so many people became convinced that the ancien regime was the worst possible government, and that anything that replaced it would be a change for the better, that they backed the rise to power of radicals who proved them wrong in the most definite possible way. More on this later; in this discussion, it's arguably off topic.

Matt, I think you're underestimating the economic impact of the collapse of US empire. In resource terms, it's the exact equivalent of every one of us taking an 80% pay cut, effective forever. That's going to hurt; I don't see a way to avoid malnutrition and bitter impoverishment for literally millions of people, including quite a few who are currently among the privileged classes. Still, as you say, it's going to happen, and we had better get to work on ameliorating it.

Rbtp, I hear that fairly often, of course. I wish I had an answer to it, but I don't. It's reminiscent of The Pilgrim's Progress, where the main character realizes his city is going to be utterly destroyed, but nobody else -- including his wife and children -- is willing to listen. The best advice I can offer is not to push it on other people, who won't listen no matter what you do; if you have to remain in the game for the time being, take up a "hobby" that will teach you skills for life after it ends.

6/30/11, 6:00 PM

Craig said...
"Chop wood, carry water." Says it all. What else is there to do?

6/30/11, 6:29 PM

Nick Vail said...
Here's a little more clean version for those at home:
NYT Article on climate change by a western Buddhist monk.

6/30/11, 6:56 PM

Robo said...
@ Cloud

I understand that the dollars to buy the land and the desire to work it are often mutually exclusive. Here's hoping that you and your friends can come up with a solution to this problem, wherever you are. You would be a great bunch of neighbors to have in any community.

6/30/11, 7:16 PM

beneaththesurface said...
I have been thinking about your post all day. While I never have explicitly described my lifestyle as embracing voluntary poverty, it closely describes what I’ve done since I graduated from college a decade ago. I have survived on near or at poverty level income during most all of my adult life. I specifically chose to work just part-time in the formal economy because it gave me time to do things important to me: cooking, food preparation, studying/reading, household work, writing, music, volunteeer work of various sorts. While this type of informal work may not boost me up a “career ladder,” it is personally enriching.

During the 2008/2009 recession it was interesting because if it weren’t for reading the news and talking with certain people, I would have never known that things were so bad financially in the country. It didn’t affect my spending levels because I spend at a very low level anyway. I didn’t have to worry about my investments because I choose not to invest in the stock market. I didn’t have a mortgage, and I had no debt. And my job situation was pretty stable, but if I happened to have become unemployed, I had several years worth of savings to live off of if I had to. So having chosen voluntary poverty, it made me much more resilient to larger economic turmoil going on and actually less likely to become poor in an uncomfortable way.

One of the many advantages of this lifestyle is that one is able to actually appreciate occasional unessential items. For example, I eat out in restaurants rarely because I or my housemates cook meals at home. But the occasional time I do eat out becomes a novel experience that I try to savor, unlike how it is for certain city-goers who eat out every day. I don’t purchase much beside basic food staples, utilities, rent, and public transit fare, but the occasional extras I buy I really treasure. The most latest example is your book “The Wealth of Nature”!

In other words, the child who gets candy once a year enjoys it way more than the child who gets candy whenever she wants!

On air-conditioning:

I have gotten along well living without air conditioning in all the places I’ve lived (except my college dormitory might have had it). I think having grown up living without air conditioning in a place with hot and humid summers made me used to it. Now more often than not, I find air conditioning annoying, because it’s hard to go from a cold inside out to a sharply contrasting hot outside. Currently I live in DC and while it can get pretty hot on the 3rd floor of the rowhouse where I live, it is not unbearable. When it approaches 100 degrees, I sometimes resort to using a fan, or I just go to a cooler part of the house. If it gets uncomfortable, I remind myself that the effects of air conditioning on society/environment are way more uncomfortable than what I’m experiencing.

Today on the bus I was noticing a high number of DC professionals wearing thick pants, long shirts and ties, some wearing tuxes. Only in an air-conditioned workplace would you want to do that in the summer. Such a waste that so many have to bring a sweater to work to not shiver in the air conditioning while it’s in the 90’s outside. I’m all in favor of doing away with 99% of the air conditioning, even in the city (with a few exceptions such as hospitals, where elderly live, etc.) I find it ironic that air conditioning is one of the things contributing to global warming/weirding, which then causes people to use air conditioning even more! Something is not right with that picture.

6/30/11, 7:29 PM

ruraldream said...
Ugh - I wrote a nice, coherent reply to pasttense, and then the internet ate it.

Coles notes version - there are lots of options, some obvious, some not.

Don't cook in the house. Also, don't run your computer or vacuum or other heat-generating appliances.

Design your home for cross breezes and to have the eaves shade the windows from the summer sun, then augment that effect by closing the blinds in the daytime.

Wear a hat and drink lots of water. Make sure you get enough salt. Sweet caffeinated drinks like sweetened black tea or coffee also seem to help for some reason.

Use evaporative cooling. Put a wet cloth on your neck to cool down. I have gotten through 35-40 (Celsius) nights without even a fan by using a damp dishtowel as a bedsheet.

Siesta during the hottest parts of the day.

Move your bedroom to the basement.

I have used all of these techniques, both at home in Canada (where summer temps can hit 35 - 40 or more Celsius), as well as on travels through Egypt, Portugal, Jordan, and other such hot countries. The hottest day I have ever lived through was 49 (around 120, I think), and I walked over 15 kilometers that day to see some ruins. I was fine, though I drank over 5 liters (more than a gallon) of water.

There are lots of low-tech ways to deal with extreme heat. I am sure there are many more than I have listed here, and I am also sure they work in the US just as well as they do in Egypt or Portugal or Canada. It is just a matter of discovering, or re-discovering, them, which I think is part of what JMG was talking about in his post today...

6/30/11, 7:30 PM

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...

The problem is that in the current world it takes real cash money to buy concrete, rebar, and cement blocks. Add in property taxes, wages and taxes, seeds, fuel, water, etc. to produce food for several hundred people and you run out of barter options pretty quickly. Put a mortgage on a piece of property on top of all that (renters are toast) and a lot of us have to deal with the world of commerce.

We have to deal with the world as we find it while making a good guess what the future might bring.

Dropping out is not a viable option. This is a tough problem. Please think about it.


6/30/11, 7:42 PM

Ruben said...
JMG, I had a thought for the snail mail The Archdruid's Newsletter...

Rather than mailing it out from Druid HQ, keep riding the declining internet for as long as possible. Set up local re-publishers who print off the pdf and see that it gets put on the library's periodical shelf. This will establish a network of people who can start providing local content--Green Wizard meet-ups, a story about so-and so's salvaged solar hot water heater, and the like.

Just as you said about writing about the European context, there is a lot of different North American context. I really don't need to hear about strategies to battle hot and humid summers, for example....

6/30/11, 7:51 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Craig, true enough. I'd probably add "shovel compost, spread caulk" to that, but the point's the same.

Beneath, excellent. That's basically been the way my wife and I have lived since we left college and got married -- there have been some bumps in the road, and of course as a writer I do get to share a bit in the ups and downs of the economy, but it's been a lot easier weathering them from a standpoint of having few expenses and thus few worries.

Ruraldream, always type your responses on a notepad program and then paste them! Saves a lot of repeated work.

Greg, I didn't say you should drop out completely. I said that if you live with other people, one person in the household should consider dropping out, in order to be able to get the household economy up and running. In many cases a family is financially better off with one income than with two, since the costs of maintaining that second income and the lost opportunity for producing real wealth at home more than account for the second income. Not everyone will be willing to accept the lower income in order to gain those benefits, of course, and not everyone lives with other people, but it's an option that deserves more attention than it gets.

6/30/11, 7:56 PM

beneaththesurface said...
@Chris, Cherokee Organics

“As part of my professional and personal life I have occasion to perform free or volunteer work on a regular basis. I’ve always seen this work as building social currency. However, I’ve noticed that the majority of other people do not see it this way. A majority of people tend to see this free work performed for their benefit as having little intrinsic value even though it has a commercial value. I’ve often wondered about this issue.

Then whilst reading your book I came across your idea that people confuse money with wealth. This idea had never occurred to me and started me thinking that maybe because people had not paid for those services with money, they put no value on the services provided by myself free of charge for their benefit.”

I’ve contemplated similar issues too. I live in a very career-oriented city, and it’s not uncommon to get asked, “What do you do?” I have learned to answer this question honestly and respond with what I do with my life, both paid and unpaid work (and not even mention which is paid vs. which is not). When I start mentioning that I cook, or write, or whatever, it’s common for people to ask, “Oh, where do you work?” or “What kind of job do you have?” In other words, “work” is assumed to be only paid work and if it’s unpaid, it isn’t of value and not worth being in an answer to the question of “what I do.”

It’s particularly funny because some of the work I do is both paid and unpaid, but when I do the same type of work that I get paid for sometimes as unpaid work or as a labor exchange for a service received, suddenly it’s not looked at in the same way, but the actual work I’m doing is no different!

Growing up, my mother did not have a job in the formal economy but yet worked just as much or more than people with full-time paid jobs—raising children, cooking meals, going to town council meetings, volunteering. I think she sometimes resented how people and society didn’t value her work, simply because it wasn’t paid.

6/30/11, 8:08 PM

GHung said...
@ Greg: "Dropping out is not a viable option".

I recommend you reexamine "viable" (and "dropping out"). How viable is your current situation going forward? If your plan is 'que sera, sera', that's your choice. live with it.
Question: What makes you and your's different from those who've made 'dropping out' a viable option? Just askin'...

Remnant and JMG: Gosh,, get a room. [with respect]

Keeping my nose to the grindstone....
(pardon the idioms [idii?]).

6/30/11, 8:53 PM

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...
To contribute my ha'penny on various topics:

Re: heat and humidity. I lived for a number of years in Singapore, which has plenty of both heat and humidity. Money was very tight, so even though I lived in a modern apartment with a/c, I rarely turned it on. Luckily, it was a 60s-designed block, when the architects still used traditional principles of designing so as to catch breezes. I adapted fairly quickly, and it wasn't a problem. People may be interested to read more about traditional Malay architecture as well.

On simplicity and voluntary poverty, plus monasticism, I highly recommend this online documentary about Buddhist hermits in the mountains of western China: Amongst White Clouds.

I've purchased a number of books on herbal medicine recently, though I haven't had time to go through them in depth:

- Western Herbs for Martial Artists adapts Chinese herbal medicine to western herbs, and tries to connect them to peer-reviewed medical assessments.

- James Wong's Grow Your Own Drugs is rather better, and is an entertaining guide to growing medicinal herbs and flowers, along with recipes. The companion book, A Year with James Wong is also good.

7/1/11, 1:04 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hey Bill,

Apologies for the red neck utility vehicle comment I really meant no offence. The term over here is not used so I'm ignorant of the cultural meanings, history, baggage and usage. I was trying unsucessfully to create a mental image.

I would have called the vehicle a BNS warrior and you would have had no idea what I was talking about, so I'll give you the gift of some Aussie cultural knowledge.

A BNS refers to a Bachelor and Spinsters ball which is a country thing here. Basically it's a massive get together for young people to get together, drink, bands, get messy etc. It's usually held in a paddock too.

I've noticed a vehicle thing though. There seems to be some sort of right of passage with these things in arriving to the ball in a utility vehicle that looks something like this:,r:0,s:61&biw=1920&bih=934

Anyway, I hope this is not too far off topic.



7/1/11, 1:42 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hey Unlikely Mage,

Rough soil. Hmmm. Add lots and I mean lots of organic matter: Food scraps; Poo; Weeds; Mulch; Compost and then hey presto - No rough soil.

Compacted clay is usually a sign that the soil has been seriously abused at some point in the past.

The soil here when I started was like concrete - no kidding. I've committed to write a series of articles about soil, food forests etc. once my solar power series has finished. Will let you know when it's available on the web.

Remember, other people's waste is your treasure!



7/1/11, 3:06 AM

Rialian said...
===Agreed on the the need for someone in the household to work on the home economy and stay about. If you do not take such a step, it is rather unlikely that anyone in the household will have the extra energy to DO anything.

===Since my escape from a very toxic work environment last December(the social ecology of services to assist others has been getting more insane since I started back in the mid-90's.) we have actually made a decent amount of headway into the STARTING of getting our household up to snuff.

===We were just chatting with some neighbors on the need to have someone doing this...they would be nowhere near af far along if they did not have one of their daughters taking on this role (and doing an amazing job at it, I might add)

7/1/11, 5:20 AM

GHung said...
Colleen mentioned hearing Nichole Foss at a Transition Town meeting (Asheville?). I couldn't justify the drive, but caught her this morning: Nicole Foss joins Jim Puplava on Financial Sense Newshour via TAE, from June 30th: The nuts and bolts of why we're headed into the mother of all depressions and the implications.... highly recommended.

While at TAE, you may want to read Ilargi's latest on the bilking of Greece.

7/1/11, 5:24 AM

hawlkeye said...
I never knew the granges disallowed bankers; another fine reason for their revival. I now have, for the first time in my life, political aspirations: to obtain a seat on the membership committee.

When my CSA farm begins to attract too many applicants, I'll also be following their admissions policy, and adding pharmaceutical salesmen, slum-lords and attorneys to the no-call list as well. And condo-developers.

Occupational determinism: If you've been a very bad leech, then no soup for YOU!

7/1/11, 5:49 AM

blue sun said...
Every summer you hear stories of the elderly who die in their city apartments during a blackout because the air conditioning went off. "Oh, what helpless victims!" the media wails. Meanwhile they are found footsteps away from a working bathtub. Ignorant perhaps, but clearly not helpless. If they had enough strength to turn on the faucet and step into a cold bath, they had enough strength left to survive.

The problem I see in academic and corporate America, where I've spent all my life, is that there is no respect for natural cycles. There are fast times, and there are slow times. The culture that focuses on production at all costs has no respect for the slow times. In 100-degree Farenheit weather, without air conditioning, the body adapts naturally, but naturally means slow. You can't do as much work. Sometimes nature dictates when you take a rest. But Oh No, says our culture, we have no patience for that! Turn up the A/C and get to work!

At home is a different story. Sorry, but I really have no patience for my fellow wealthy Americans who don't understand that you can live in 100-degree Farenheit weather without air conditioning. Haven't you ever been to summer camp? Really, people! (OK, perhaps I am too harsh on ordinary Americans. I have been thin and in good health all my life. I have never walked a day in an obese person's or a sick person's shoes, so I don't know what it's like to experience heat from that perspective.)

Then again, how can I expect ordinary Americans to live without it? Our military, supposedly our hardiest men and women, are spoiled by the softest living the world's ever known. Here's a headline:
Air conditioning for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan costs $20.2 billion a year
Keeping troops cool costs more than NASA's entire budget, says NPR.

A year?!! More than NASA's entire budget?! I mean, it's WAR, people! This ain't a vacation! Can't our bravest suck it up just a little?! I mean, this is the kind of waste that should make people want to set themselves on fire in front of the Capitol building! I'll suffice to jumping up and down and screaming.

The bottom line is this. Our energy usage is not a technical problem, its a MORAL FAILING.

7/1/11, 6:08 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Thank you very much for the herbal book recommendations. I'll get hold of them this summer.

7/1/11, 7:00 AM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
Re not playing the game:

I'd like to suggest to all that if there is some kind of sustainability group in your town, that you show up at meetings and help out. It will help you meet some like minded folks, and it's a good way to get green wizarding ideas into wider (local) discussion.

I was at my town's sustainability group meeting last night to discuss the completion of the town sustainability plan: do they have the clear view of descent I do? No, but one main topic of conversation was house insulation and energy use reduction. A member of local government was there who said that the town is working on starting a composting system as part of reducing the waste stream and improving the soil.

I was able to remind folks (including many representatives from other community organizations, so the message may spread) that reducing energy use means JMG's acronym LESS, and changing personal habits, not just installing a geothermal heat system. So that became a part of the overall discussion.

I'm sure a lot of readers are already doing something like this--it's just a way of helping our communities figure out ways to manage the descent, and we here have a lot to offer.

Re household economy: even one spouse working (for money) only part-time as I do gives more time for projects. Ideal in my book would be if my husband also worked part-time--there'd still be money coming in, but more time for teamwork at home.

p.s. My grandpa was a redneck--As a small child I used to marvel at how creased and leathery his neck was. He taught me how to look out for rattlesnakes and that growing your own food is a good idea--and my grandma taught me to sew and crochet.

7/1/11, 7:38 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Remnant -- thanks for the link; I'll check it out. For myself, I am happy to describe myself as having gone hillbilly, another word used similarly to disparage the rural poor and agricultural class (though I don't know its etymology). Though I enjoy reading him, Kunstler's blatant class- and region-based elitism really puts the damper on his credibility for me. Well plus the fact that he is always predicting imminent disaster far worse than what actually comes to pass...

JMG & working in the basement on hot days -- Also after you get thoroughly acclimated, which you should be getting close to coming in to your second summer, non-strenuous tasks outside in the shade can be tolerable enough even when it is in the 90s. There's good reason that the shirtless shadetree mechanic with his head under the hood of some old pickup truck is one of the icons of summer in the rural south.

Ruraldream -- at the very least highlight your text and copy it before you click "publish." That way if it gets eaten you should be able to just reopen the page and paste it right in.

7/1/11, 7:54 AM

One of the Remnant said...

"by any objective measure, the level of authoritarian behavior from the US government is less now than it was during any decade in the first half of the 20th century, for example"

I'll very much look forward to reading your arguments in future posts on the subject, and drop the subject for now, but only after noting that the growth in the size of the Federal Register - one objective measure - doesn't support the above contention. ;-)

- Oz

7/1/11, 8:00 AM

One of the Remnant said...

"Some of the main features of developed societies in the age of scarcity industrialism aren’t too difficult to predict, though, partly because equivalent processes have happened before, and partly because some nations right now are much further along the trajectory than others and provide a useful glimpse ahead."

In light of this, seems like it would be an interesting exercise to track which developed nations sit where along this curve and how this plays out over time.

Not sure exactly what metrics to use, however, to do such tracking objectively, aside from social unrest, which itself is not easy to measure, and which tends to manifest in ways idiosyncratic to the culture in which it arises, making it problematic as a comparative predictor.

Greece and Spain, perhaps Portugal, Ireland, Italy soon? Maybe Belgium, too? Hard for me to imagine riots in the streets of Antwerp, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

I suppose another way to use this insight is to posit that it will be when the most stable developed nations - e.g. Germany, the US, Australia, Canada - begin to experience serious social unrest (beginning with large demonstrations in the streets), that we'll be able to state definitively that the age of scarcity industrialism has begun in earnest.

Other metrics might be to watch the average unemployment rate, or perhaps the average debt-to-GDP ratio - one would not wish to use the bogus, fraudulent numbers generated by current governments
, but honestly calculated numbers - as measured across the 'developed' world, if one could figure out a good way to decide what constitutes the 'developed world' these days.

I would expect such metrics - social unrest, unemployment, public debt - in the context of such a world to be correlated, in general. I wonder if any systems dynamics folks have run this calculation?

Of course, all of these metrics could potentially be obscured by, say, throwing a major war or two into the mix here and there. But wars consume resources and the basis for goods and services much faster than normal, so that would only decrease the duration of the first phase and pull in the start of age of salvage, wouldn't it?

Whatever the case, positioning oneself to not play the game is clearly 'the only winning move'...

- Oz

7/1/11, 8:50 AM

trippticket said...
From pasttense: "The record temperature for June 29 in Cumberland, Maryland (where JMG lives) was 100 degrees back in 1943. I am curious, JMG, and those here who follow him, as to how you would handle this temperature (unlike those of us who are quite soft and spoiled--who would turn on the air conditioner)."

With a 12.6W PV panel powering a 15" attic fan in an old farmhouse designed before HVAC, and a little 70s appropriate tech invention called a "backbone." And we do it in south Georgia, where triple digit temps are common, for 1/3 of every year, and so are humidities in the 75% class, not in relatively temperate Cumberland, MD.

Given a couple of years to do so, the human body can adjust to just about anything. Although I imagine Mr. Greer took great care in selecting the place where he would ride the slide, benign climate being somewhere near the top of the list of considerations. Just a guess.

7/1/11, 8:51 AM

Twilight said...
It occurs to me that the salvage society is likely to be a dangerous place, and not simply the danger of working around sharp and heavy stuff. When I look around at the object around me I often consider how they might be reused, and one of the things I've noticed is just how specialized they are. Automobiles are certainly one large class of object that will be salvaged, and they're an example of high specialization. While I've no doubt that people will become very inventive in re-purposing, when you look at an automobile there is not all that much that is useful as-is. Alternators, lamps, seats, some pumps, wiring and connectors, panels and windows of simpler shape, a few bearings and shafts, stuff like that can be re-used. But much of the rest is not easy to do much with.

That means that it must be salvaged for the raw materials. In addition to requiring more energy, this presents certain problems based on what those materials are. There will be certain high strength steel alloys that can not easily be worked at forge temperatures. But perhaps the biggest issue is toxicity. Much of the metal has coatings, and then there is all that plastic. What will it be used for? Some may be shredded and reused, but I cannot help but believe that most of it will either end up distributed into the environment on land and the in the sea, or it may be burned for heat. Either way there will be a huge amount of toxins released into the environment that are presently somewhat contained. There are likely to be a lot of people tearing apart stuff that they have no knowledge of, releasing all kinds of toxins where they take it apart and where it is taken to.

Incidentally, whenever I see the phrase salvage society I cannot help but think of those pictures of the shipbreakers in Asia that cut up old ships with mostly hand tools and little protection.

7/1/11, 10:08 AM

Jan Steinman said...
"Now it’s common enough, when a plan such as this is suggested, for people to insist that it’s all very well and good, but the government... will inevitably come and take it all away."

It's "common enough" because it's already happening. A family in Devon, UK is thrown off agricultural land they own because the local council decided they weren't producing enough food.

I don't need to remind people that the Food Safety Modernization Act (formerly, SB-510) gives the US Food and Drug Administration powers of warrantless search and seizure against any who use "unapproved farming methods" (Permaculture?) or "unapproved seeds" (seed saving?). Under former Monsanto executive Michael Taylor, the FDA is already flexing these muscles, shutting down (among other things) a winery in Wisconsin for claiming elderberries are good for you and a herd-share dairy in Pennsylvania (where raw milk is legal) for distributing raw milk to an FDA under-cover infiltrator who then transported it across state lines.

HT Odum (and Joseph Tainter, et. al.) teach us that complexity is a function of energy. I don't see "not playing the game" as viable until the government becomes so energy-starved that it can no longer enforce the persecution of those who refuse to play the game. Because "playing the game" is now mandatory.

In a country where the Amish are at risk, all of us who seek voluntary poverty need to keep a low profile for a while.

7/1/11, 10:42 AM

One of the Remnant said...
@ carp

Thanks for the link to the doc on Buddhist monastics! Love this stuff. Other links are really useful as well - the number of resources that I've been able to access thanks to links in the comment section over time has been tremendous - always much appreciated. My library has grown accordingly, and in very useful directions.

@ hawlkeye

"Occupational determinism: If you've been a very bad leech, then no soup for YOU!"

ROFL - yer a bona fide CSA share Nazi! :)

Don't forget to add 'C*Os of Fortune 500 companies' to your list... ;-)

@ Adrian

"I was able to remind folks (including many representatives from other community organizations, so the message may spread) that reducing energy use means JMG's acronym LESS, and changing personal habits, not just installing a geothermal heat system. So that became a part of the overall discussion."

That's an enormous contribution, IMO - changing the mindset being far more significant than kicking off a composting or home insulation drive, important as those may be. Nice work - hope it takes root.

@ Twilight

" the salvage society is likely to be a dangerous place..."

Very true - a point that JMG makes in his 'Star's Reach' story when discussing the ruinman's trade. Also, a point that Fukushima has made abundantly clear, inasmuch as lots of nuclear meltdowns seem at this point baked into the cake.

BTW, not sure if you've read it, but William McDonough and Michael Braungart go into a LOT of detail in this regard in their Cradle-to-Cradle, one of the more significant books in my personal evolution of thinking about sustainability.

- Oz

7/1/11, 12:39 PM

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...
@carp who jumped

Thank you for the herb book recommendations. I'll take a look.

7/1/11, 12:40 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ghung, er, either the phrase "get a room" no longer means what it did during my misspent youth, or you have a very strange idea of how I ought to deal with disagreement. It's "idiomata," by the way.

Carp, many thanks for the recommendations -- especially the book on western herbs for martial artists. My spouse makes a very nice dit da jow, but it includes some exotic ingredients that aren't going to be easy to get when global trade starts sputtering.

Rialian, good. I've come to think that getting at least one household member out of the money economy is one of the keys to this stuff.

Ghung, I enjoy Nicole's stuff, but it's probably worth noting that she's been insisting for years now that we'll be in the mother of all depressions within a few months. I think she's got the right idea, but the wrong time frame.

Hawlkeye, that's something that happens when societies go into crisis; a lot of lifestyles that seemed like a sure thing at the time become a massive liability.

Blue Sun, you're quite right, of course. Mind you, nobody anywhere is going to want to deal with that unless they've already figured it out, and changed their own lives, but there it is.

Adrian, nicely done! Sometimes all it takes is one voice...

Bill, I'm getting there, but there are still times when going down the stairs and getting to work on a project in the nice cool basement is about the best way I can think of to spend a hot, muggy afternoon.

Remnant, er, you might try instead the number of illegal wars per decade or the frequency with which federal troops were used against peaceful demonstrators. The Federal Register? You're reaching. Still, all in good time. As for metrics, yes, that's one of the challenges.

Trippticket, thank you! Very nicely put. I can't say that my wife and I were thrilled about the prospects of moving to a place with hot humid summers, but the growing season and annual rainfall were right, and that 70s-era invention you mentioned, well, that was assumed. Fortunately, it's cool and pleasant on summer mornings, and the sun takes its time getting around to the patio I use for martial arts practice.

7/1/11, 1:00 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Twilight, that's exactly what you should be thinking of -- a lot of the economy of the salvage society period will be that kind of low-tech disassembly of rusting hulks of one kind or another. (Imagine a defunct skyscraper being cut up that way, for example.) Yes, it's going to be risky and difficult; nobody ever said the future we've made for ourselves was going to be fun.

Jan, there are tens of thousands of people practicing voluntary poverty in Britain; you managed to find one who got into trouble for violating local zoning regs. There are hundreds of thousands of people doing it in this country; you managed to find a couple who fell afoul of the FDA's latest witch hunt. So? You can insulate and weatherstrip your home, plant a backyard garden, put solar water heater panels on your roof, cook meals in a fireless cooker, cut your expenditures, eliminate your debts, free up at least one member of your household from the money economy to work at home, and do all the other things I've been talking about for the last year, and the government won't hassle you at all -- in fact, in many states they'll give you tax breaks and grants for some of it. If you want to trot out anecdotal evidence to argue for doing nothing, by all means, but please make it relevant to the proposals that I'm actually making.

7/1/11, 1:06 PM

Kieran O'Neill said...
JMG, I think you might enjoy reading Neal Stephenson's Anathem. It's science fiction, and doesn't directly address peak oil, but Stephenson does an excellent job of fleshing out what a future scholarly-monastic order designed to last a few aeons might look like.

7/1/11, 2:20 PM

sofistek said...
Nice post. It made me wonder again about the not infrequent news reports about poverty around the world. I think it's defined as something like living on less than $2 per day. For some years now, I've felt that such a simple definition could result in a misconception about how many people are living in misery, as distinct from living in poverty. Yes, in a consumer society, $2 per day would be tantamount to living in misery but if the poor aren't living in a consumer society, or not trying to live a consumer lifestyle, $2 per day may seem like more than enough.

I'm not saying that the statistics about poverty aren't concerning, only that the statistics tell us nothing about whether some of those "in poverty" are happy being in that position.

Of course, if all of those "poor" people could become green wizards, then what a fantastic world it would be to have so many poor people in it.

7/1/11, 2:53 PM

Steve said...
For "Not playing the game," we're doing okay. While still having both of us employed (one full time, one part time), we still manage to do a lot of home economy building in the off hours. We also have plans to cut back on our formal economy participation in the next few years (provided it doesn't happen spontaneously). I appreciate the urge toward voluntary poverty, and I am finding plenty of other people in my age bracket (30 +- 5 years) who are doing similarly.

For the clay soils, here's a bit of advice that feeds many birds with one seed:

On the one day a week that I drive 7 miles to work instead of taking the bus, I make several stops to collect from the urban waste stream. Coffee grounds can be found out back of every starbucks, and they help neutralize my soils' pH. The weekly free newspapers get replaced every Thursday morning, so Weds evening is a great time to empty a couple of their boxes for compost browns and worm bedding. Bike shops have the best cardboard boxes for mulching garden paths, since two layers will hold back the bindweed for at least 6 months. On the way home from work is the architectural salvage resale yard, the scrap metal recycling drop-off (which is unattended most of the time), and a couple of farmstands that have cheap strawbales and spoiled hay depending on the season.

With any luck, by the time it's prohibitive to drive to work (if I still have a job), my clay soil will be rehabbed with plenty of free "waste" and a few good truckloads of horse manure.

7/1/11, 3:21 PM

Sean the Mystic said...
Hello Archdruid! I know you’re well educated in occult philosophy, so I wanted to run some ideas by you which are very relevant to the issues you discuss here.

In certain schools of occult thought, "white magic" or "the right-hand path" means the submission of the subjective universe to the inherent mechanical and organic patterns of the objective universe, while "black magic" or "the left-hand path" is the exercise of the subjective universe's Will to Power over the objective universe. The extreme examples of the right- and left-hands paths today are the Primitivists and the Singularitarians, respectively, but this division has probably been around from the beginning.

The modern West is an example of a left-hand path society; we are governed by essentially Satanic ideas such as individual freedom, the total subjection of the natural world to the Will, the transcending of all limits, the breaking of all established rules, the violation of the cosmic order, etc. This explains why to the more traditional cultures of the world, we truly are the "Great Satan".

Personally I'm more sympathetic to the left-hand path values than the traditionalist, naturalist and collectivist right-hand path values. As I see it, a person needs to choose sides, and either accept individual freedom and constant, disruptive change, or choose the traditional, restrictive but stable values of the hunter-gatherers, whose cultures went unchanged for millennia. The “Satanists” have clearly had the upper hand for a long time, but that may be changing. While I’m skeptical that humanity can attain godhood and do believe that there are limits to what we can achieve in this universe, I would never want to draw a line and say “Enough!” or adopt a fatalistic attitude toward the future.

Anyway, do you agree with this general formulation? You seem to be much more in the white magic school which is against “disturbing the universe” and in favor of the Druidic or Taoist “go with the natural flow” way of thinking. Is this a fair assessment of your philosophy?

7/1/11, 3:23 PM

Steve said...
To the question of crop rotations (I think from last week's post):

There's a great book that goes into detail about many types of crop rotation from around the world, called "A History of World Agriculture." It's dense, but it explains different methods and crop types for different regions of the world throughout history. Well worth a read for folks interested in broadacre production rather than backyard gardening.

7/1/11, 3:25 PM

Ruben said...

For other things to do with old cars, check out the Open Source Machine Tools which use the factory-built accuracy of engine blocks as a foundation for a lathe and milling machine.

7/1/11, 3:43 PM

Don Mason said...
Jan Steinman wrote: "A family in Devon, UK is thrown off agricultural land they own because the local council decided they weren't producing enough food."

After reading the article, it appears that the ordinance in question may be an attempt to prevent suburban sprawl, where people build a house on cheap agricultural land out in the country, but commute to far-away jobs in the city.

Before moving to midtown Rockford, I served for seven years on a land use planning commission in a rural township, and had to vote on some very contentious rezonings concerning this sort of issue.

Large scale agriculture (e.g., row crops) is currently like a factory without a roof: lots of huge machines, noise, dust, toxic chemicals, smelly fumes, and general industrial-era craziness.

When people from the city build a house next door, they soon start complaining about these issues. They also start demanding city-quality infrastructure and services, but the area doesn’t have a sufficient tax base to support that higher level of governmental service delivery: new roads for the additional cars, and new schools for the additional kids, and more police to handle the additional crime.

So many jurisdictions have tried to develop anti-sprawl ordinances to preserve our limited (and rapidly shrinking) prime agricultural land from “encroaching wedges” of urbanization.

It appears that the Masons (no relation that I know of) ran afoul of the ordinance because they were attempting a primarily residential use in a zoning district that was attempting to preserve agriculture.

Like the old real estate saying goes: “You don’t buy land, you buy the zoning.” You buy a bundle of legal rights that permits certain uses, but prohibits other uses.

People commonly pay a low price for Ag-zoned land, and then want to use it for something else, which would have cost them a lot more money if they had bought residential or commercial or industrial zoning. In other words, they want to get more zoning rights than they paid for.

You can’t blame them for trying; but on the other hand, you can’t really blame society for saying: “No, we can’t afford to let you do this. We can’t afford to lose any more prime Ag land to foundations and driveways and decks and swimming pools. We’re going broke trying to pay for all these sprawled-out roads and schools and jails and teachers and librarians and police officers that additional people like you are going to require. This is Agricultural zoning, not Residential, and this petition is greenscam. Just adding a little backyard garden and a PV panel to an auto-dependent McMansion doesn’t cut it out here. You can easily do household-scale fruits and vegetables and chickens and rabbits on a 50’ x 150’ lot in the city, and still have room left over for your house. But out here we’re doing serious, large-scale row-crop farming to produce serious, large-scale surpluses of food because the world is soon going to be starving to death, and you guys in your BMW’s tailgating our slow-moving farm tractors and beeping your horns is not making our job any easier. Sorry. Petition denied.”

Land use is complex, and modern zoning laws haven’t worked out very well, in my opinion.

But zoning is literally “the law of the land”. So you may be able to finesse the law a bit, but it’s best not to run into it headlong.

Unfortunately it looks like the Masons ran into it headlong.

7/1/11, 4:12 PM

DIYer said...
HT Odum (and Joseph Tainter, et. al.) teach us that complexity is a function of energy. I don't see "not playing the game" as viable until the

Jan, this is the one place where my opinion differs a little from JMG, Tainter, et. al.

The microprocessor many of us casually carry around in a cell phone is a sort-of wild card this time around. I don't think there is an analogue for it in the collapses of previous empires. It manages to embody a mind-boggling amount of complexity in a package the size of a grain of sand, and one that can run on a small battery for a week before recharging. So in that sense, we are supporting a much higher level of complexity now than previous civilizations could manage with paper and bureaucrats.

While I agree with JMG that this industry will also succumb to collapse, I think there will be some effort to keep them in production. That remnant production is kind of a wild card, since these little electronic wonders have the makings of some superb and subtle tools of control, suppression, and organization. For a while, at least -- I think perhaps a couple decades. Of course when this element of complexity is removed, the relocalization step that follows will be all the more dramatic.

With all that said, I still think it's worthwhile to pursue any degree of energy-independence we can muster in our current situation. I'm sorry to hear about that family in England, perhaps they should hit up the same coucil that evicted them for the charity they will now require. As for the corrupt global corporations, I take their extreme antics as a sign of weakness. While they probably won't quietly fold next week or anything, I don't think they will make it very far down the next catabolic step.

In a country where the Amish are at risk, all of us who seek voluntary poverty need to keep a low profile for a while.
-- I very much agree with that statement, by the way.

7/1/11, 4:27 PM

dltrammel said...
As for keeping cool without electricity...

Bruce The Druid said several posts back in the comments section...

"I recall reading an article about life in Palm Springs before air conditioning. Since daytime temperatures in the summer could reach 120 degrees, night time temps would still be over a hundred. So the challenge was keeping the heat out. But since most houses still got unbearably hot, the solution was the "submarine" This was a half tube of wood and sheet metal construction with a bunk inside for a bed. Canvas was then stretched over the roof. A soaker hose was placed on the ridge line, I believe. A short time before retiring for the evening, the canvas would be drenched in water. As the water evaporated in the desert air, the "submarine" would lose 20 degrees or more, enough to make sleeping comfortable. A second drenching was often needed to keep things cool."

The idea of using pure evaporation as a method of cooling intrigued me so I did a test today.

I was able to get a 12 degree temperature drop in about 40 minutes with a very crude set up. Unfortunately that seems to be the limit of cooling, because further wetting didn't produce any further drop.

I've posted pictures over on the Green Wizard Forum.

7/1/11, 5:38 PM

One of the Remnant said...
@ DIYer

"The microprocessor ...manages to embody a mind-boggling amount of complexity in a package the size of a grain of sand, and one that can run on a small battery for a week before recharging. So in that sense, we are supporting a much higher level of complexity now than previous civilizations could manage with paper and bureaucrats.

While I agree with JMG that this industry will also succumb to collapse, I think there will be some effort to keep them in production."

The problem I see with this hypothesis is that it's not the processor technology alone which affords the tremendous power, but rather the coupling of that technology with networks, both wired and wireless.

Which means it's not one industry - the semiconductor industry (in which I worked for 14 years) - that would need to remain viable (and this is a tall order in itself when one considers the raw materials it consumes [including truly astounding amounts of fresh water] and the toxic chemicals and rare earths required by the fabs), but rather several, including the wireless and wired networking industries and all that those require, and all the other supporting technologies (like battery manufacture) to keep the whole thing going. Leibig's Law of the Minimum applies most severely the more complexity inherent in the technology.

IIRC (my son has my copy), it was in the EcoTechnic Future where JMG discussed this issue, and the very good example he used was of slide rules vs electronic calculators. The former being amenable to construction by a woodworker of sufficient skill, the latter requiring numerous parallel complex technologies to produce.

There is a further consideration as well: you are posing this as an issue of utility - that the *uses* are so beneficial that we will wish to keep the technology going for as long as we can. But - the business model of technology tends to rely upon a large number of users to reduce the per unit and per use costs. In an age of economic contraction, the number of users will ineluctably decline - as many simply cannot afford the technology, and this sets up a vicious cycle of increasing costs as the number of users decrease - which causes the costs to rise further, and # of users to drop further, etc. So the economics of the thing - which benefited from increasing energy flows throughout society when those were available - now reverses and sets into motion the opposite effect when they are not. Feedback loops are like that.

So as much as many people (especially including the military) may *want* to keep semiconductor technology available, it's just not in the cards. In fact, I expect it to be one of the earlier casualties, regardless of its utility, due - ironically - to exactly that which makes it so useful: it's innate complexity and dependency on support infrastructure.

- Oz

7/1/11, 5:41 PM

One of the Remnant said...
@ Don

"But zoning is literally “the law of the land”. So you may be able to finesse the law a bit, but it’s best not to run into it headlong."

Yep - we've discussed the inanity of zoning boards before - looks like they struck - blindly - again. The letter instead of the spirit of the law often wins when bureaucrats are in charge.

The lesson for real estate purchase: location, location, location - in this case, a location outside the reach of a zoning board.

BTW, this is nothing new - one of my heroes, Michael Reynolds ran headlong into the Taos zoning board when he invented the earthship system and created a community of these self-sufficient, food growing, sewage processing, eco-friendly residential structures there. He even found his architect's license revoked. That story is told in a very entertaining and informative documentary called 'Garbage Warrior' - trailer here.

- Oz

7/1/11, 5:51 PM

Stephen said...
quote="Not, it’s probably worth noting, into revolution. It’s an interesting detail of history that revolutions rarely happen in ages of decline; the classic recipe for revolution is an extended period of economic improvement for the bulk of the population, followed by a standstill or a reversal. (The government of China would do well to take note of this.) In times of decline, the class and group solidarity essential to an effective revolution dissolves into a scramble for slices of a shrinking pie, in which your own peers are usually your worst enemies."

This seems contradictory you say times of decline rarely lead to revolution, but the beginning of the age of decline comes as a slow down and reversal of the preceding growth vus fitting your ideal parameters for revolution.

7/1/11, 7:17 PM

sruggieri said...
Mr. Greer,

Thank you for another insightful and inspiring post. I'm always impressed (and humbled) by the quality of the comments from this blog.

I was particularly struck by your comments regarding monastic lifestyles.

For the past eight years I've made it a point to escape to a cloistered Benedictine monastery for a week of retreat from the insanity of modern life.

Each year, when I return home from the monastery, I'm convinced that St. Benedict was an organizational genius. The monastery kitchen alone, is an absolute model of efficiency – everything has a purpose and nothing, NOTHING, goes to waste.

At the beginning of the week they provide each guest with one linen napkin rolled into a personalized wooden napkin ring. You are expected to use that same napkin all week– folding and turning it as needed. At the end of the week that napkin pretty much tells the story of everything you've had to eat. :) I tried instituting a similar practice when I returned home, but my wife and kids threatened to have me committed :)

In my 'green wizard' library, alongside my Foxfire and Rodale books, there's a copy of "The Rule of St. Benedict," and "Roberts Rules of Order." Strange bedfellows?

On another note, I'm mindful that Francis of Assisi (the original hippie) rejected the values and materialism of his time and sparked a breathtaking movement toward 'voluntary poverty' whose first followers were disenchanted privileged youth. Perhaps, today, within one of those gilded gated communities in America, something similar stirs.

7/1/11, 7:43 PM

DIYer said...
I wouldn't really call it a hypothesis, we are speculating here. Extrapolating based on current trends and historical records.

And, I must give JMG credit for knowing more about the historical records than I. I believe his speculations are eventually going to amaze folks with their accuracy.

What I am saying is that, due to the utility of the technology, I can picture large arrays of PV panels (a sister technology) and storage batteries devoted to keeping this one thing alive. Eventually they'll run out of indium, or brigands will steal the copper wire.

But I can imagine an effort being made.

And the Internet is not the Web. It can run (e.g., packet radio) without the big server farms. Even if the packets are forwarded by druid monks armed with quill pens, the architecture is quite resilient.

7/1/11, 8:42 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Kieran, thanks for the recommendation -- I'll keep it in mind.

Sofistek, that's an interesting point. A lot of poor people outside the industrial West, and some within it, are very good at getting by comfortably on very little; at least some of what I'm saying isn't news to them.

Steve, it's good to hear that other 30-somethings are getting into this. We may yet be able to make some things happen.

Sean, to my way of thinking the "right hand path" vs. "left hand path" distinction, like most binary divisions, is simplistic to the point of being hamhanded. The relationship between the self and the cosmos, like any other relationship, can take many other forms besides "B submits to A" and "B dominates A" -- not least because B is a subset of A, and in no real sense separate from A. From my point of view, for what it's worth, neoprimitivists and singularitarians are both chasing minor variants of the same failed tradition of apocalyptic utopianism -- they disagree about details but share the same terror of history and the same delusion that the human condition will go away if they just believe hard enough.

Steve, thanks for the reference!

Dltrammel, excellent! You get today's gold star for actually putting the idea to the test.

Stephen, the US plateaued in real terms quite a while ago, and has been in decline since the Seventies. The Sixties was our end-of-prosperity revolution.

Sruggieri, not strange bedfellows at all. The Foxfire Book teaches old but still very effective ways of doing things with minimal technology. So does the Rule of St. Benedict. As for a new Francis of Assisi, that would be a very good thing indeed.

7/1/11, 8:43 PM

hadashi said...
John Michael, I enjoy reading every word you write, so don't take it amiss when I say that I glean as much of a windfall from the comments of your readers as I do from your weekly post. I expect that you too are fertilized by the material that finds its way to your blog (I wonder what percentage is weeded out). There is a wealth of talent, intelligence and insight in your community of readers, and wish every one of them - as well as you - well.

Whoops, I not that hot at 'word verification'. Better copy what I've written in case the ghost gives up . . .

7/1/11, 9:21 PM

Goat Path said...
I don't know how to thank you enough for your solid leadership in these difficult times. I have been preparing for scarcity since 2008 when I first heard the turn "peak oil". This year a farm in the snow belt has become available through family connections. Neither my husband or my grown children are near prepared to move there, but I am. We would have to move from our spacious suburban home (that is taxed at a rate of $7200 a year, and hopelessly energy inefficient) to a small 2 room log cabin, built by my aunt, heated with wood. The more I think about it, the more it seems prudent to make the move. My husband is dying of a stress-related disorder and might recover if he quits his job but he is addicted to the internet and can't think clearly. I would have to go there alone and hope that my family follows me. I hope to find the resolve to do what needs to be done to save my family. Your leadership has given me the strength to make a realistic plan which will proceed in the next month.

7/1/11, 10:09 PM

GHung said...
I was out lashing up a tripod with some Tulip Poplar poles (another great coping tree) and it occured to me that I learned this basic skill in Boy Scouts. I'm not sure that it's been brought up, but the Boy/Girl Scout manuals, certainly the ones I grew up with, hold a wealth of instructive knowledge (like this about basic stuff most folks nowadays are clueless about: proper knot tying and rope work, first aid, fire making, outdoor cooking, proper and safe sharpening; survival skills for dummies. The list is long- see my link above. The best thing about the Scout Handbook and manuals is that they were compiled as an instruction set to allow kids and teenagers to become proficient in many skills, basic and not so basic. Some of the original handbooks of appropriate technology, editions where/are published for different countries and cultures, teaching skills appropriate for same. Look for vintage copies from the '50s and '60s.

My manuals were lost, so I think I'll go shopping.

7/1/11, 10:27 PM

tOM Trottier said...
Fossil fuels aren't the only scarcity - there are many resources which are getting more scarce or expensive to exploit.

However, fossil fuels are currently essential to how resources travel from source to processing to consumer. So scarcity of portable fuel will make all other resources more expensive.

While you may say, "Those who turn their backs on the things being fought over, and distance themselves from the battlefields, have a very good chance of staying clear of the resulting difficulties," it may be harder to do. seem to be emphasizing firearms for protection, among other strategie, not only to survive vs nature, but vs all competitors.

A Green Wizard solution only works if you have sufficient space for a garden. What will all those do who live in apartments? They won't just die off peacefully.

The need for firewood has devastated many societies. Witness Easter Island.

So we need conservation, not just for ourselves, but to attract and convince others that a less frenetic energy/resource-intensive life is preferable, individually, and for all. This will aid a soft transition to a more conservative lifestyle that still supports science and progress.

We also need our governments to move in that direction, taxing the bad things disproportionately and funding projects in order to move our creaking civilization towards a better future.

Like it or not, individual efforts, while good, are not enough. You need to push your politicians to make better decisions, from the local level up to the UN, that anticipate a more local, less energy-intensive future.

@Phil Harris - One more thing to consider. With climate change, there will be climate change. If the gulf stream stops, northern europe will likely reenter an ice age even as southern europe bakes. No more Scotch Curly Kale at 55°N.

@GHung - you can be poor without knowing it.
Do you and your children have good teeth? Good health?
Are you always hungry, or have periods of hunger or sickness?
Do family members die young?
Do you have good schools? Good books? Good libraries nearby?
Do you see a good future for yourself?
If not, you are poor, whether you know it or not.

Future conservation: some things are getting more "conservative": LED lights; more efficient computers and appliances; higher-yielding crops; trickle watering; electric/hybrid/diesel cars, etc. Perhaps declining energy use is approaching more deliberately.

7/1/11, 11:28 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hey DIYer,

Sorry, but I have to agree with remnant. Just because it's a good technology doesn't guarantee it's future.

I can give you an example of how it may work based on my own experience. My house is on off grid solar and I'm in a rural mountainous area so the grid power goes out all of the time (I don't notice though).

Anyway, most of my neighbours know that I'm on off grid solar, yet during these power outages no one (yet) will actually ask for assistance with all of their little gadgets (which incidentally also contain semi conductors).

Without power, all of those devices are useless, regardless of any good will or intention.

As to large scale PV solar power plants and batteries, it's just not going to happen. The reason for this is that compared to grid connect coal sourced electricity, it is uneconomical. It is twice as expensive to install an off grid solar power system than it would have been for me to connect up to the grid.

In addition to this, over winter I have had to ramp it down to between 2.0kWh to 2.5kWh per day usage and the system uses 0.4kWh itself every day just to operate. How does this compare with your own households usage?

By the time people look to large scale solar PV generation schemes it will be too late. Most people aren't yet at the stage where they see that the compromises required to live with something like solar power are actually an advantage to them.



7/2/11, 1:50 AM

Eshonti Grey said...
Wow, I don't know where to start! I'll try and make this as short as possible.

Just thinking out loud here, so lack of continuity is possible.

Playing the wrong game has been my catch phrase for some time now with alot of my friends that even care
to talk about this subject (some simply cannot get by on much less due to living on the same playing field as their income, if not beyond it). Getting your life designed around needing MUCH less money to get by on has been
a plan I've had in motion for some time, and now I'm starting to really see this new vision bloom! It's been rather rewarding seeing my ideas and intuition on how life can be without needing so much extra..... everything, and how much time is left for pleasure, thought, and actually particpating in LIFE without all the rat race nonsense being part of the equation. It starts with a plan, a dream, a means to the dream, and some up front hard work to make it happen. More on this to come.

I'm a oil painter (artist) that had a full time corporate job for 2 years, but was layed off 8 months ago.(life's never been better!) My wife and I bought a house 6 years ago, a beautiful old home (over 100 years old) in southern Louisiana for a great price, it needed work, but very liveable with a lovely back yard and a nice front yard with the classic la. wrap around porch (plenty of growing room). We made sure the mortgage was realistic for us up front, even in times of no work. Simply, if we couldn't "wing it" on our own ideas for making money to pay for it, we couldn't afford it.

But my "plan" was to aquire the house, get the house fixed up, pay off most if not all our other bills (truck, motorcycle, credit cards, etc.) and basically quit our jobs (she's a teacher of 7 years now), and wing it. Also, a couple years back, I started saving money to actually enjoy this "coast time" so I wasn't worried about making money or losing my job, and could feel good about my plan and enjoy myself. But that was the "point" to even getting this corporate job I speak of, it had a purpose, provided some future lovely down time, and most importantly..... wasn't thoughtless cruise control without an end! Now, that this has been accomplished, the world has really seemed to open up. I'm painting more, spending more time with my wife (she's off for the summer!), and having fun not spending a bunch of money on silly stuff. When you don't need so much money to get by on, the value of your dollar seems to have an incredible exchange rate on it's own....even in these increasing living rates.

Had a bought a newer car (Hey, don't us working class deserve nice things! LOL!) , mine is 11 years old, or decided to simply keep collecting things on credit or extra cash, I would be in a financial pickle. Instead, I've started a garden and am collecting herbs, help friends on their projects, see family, talk to my dogs and plants all day, cook more, sleep more , daydream , little yoga, read... you get the idea.

So right, the wrong game is the game designed to not have a winner or some type of finish line. It just keeps going on and on, a maze with no trees or self helping clear thinking allowed. My savings won't last forever, and before they start to run short you can bet I'll be doing some new and fun odd jobs to make our rather simple financial obligations ( I do have practical craft skills) , and I hope to learn new things, meet new people , and get some excercise and sun outdoors all at once. Quite simply, if you can make your money getting excercise and some sun all at once, there's just two more less bills to pay..... the gym and the tanning bed. LOL! I think alot of stuff can work this way. The way my life is now with most of the financial overhead out of the way and needing less..... the air seems cleaner and my brain has had time to fire in the right direction, even if it means I'll make alot less money, I can assure you there is more grace in my steps.

7/2/11, 4:19 AM

Nature Creek Farm said...
Voluntary Simplicity, Voluntary you see a trend emerging here, Scully? Sooner or later, we have to realize that it isn't how little we consume, but the RATIO between what we consume and what we give back. Yes, reduction is extremely important. It allows us to make our contributions to the future usefulness quotient with less overall impact, but we cannot forget that in order to exist in the long term, we must contribute more than we take. Being frugal or sustainable isn't sustainable unless we create something to make up for random events. Civilization probably started from the concept of food storage for 'bad years'. What is humanity storing to make up for 'bad generations' that is greater in magnitude than the resources we are consuming? Belief in humanism doesn't help, because it fails to accept that humans aren't all they are cracked up to be.

7/2/11, 5:31 AM

RainbowShadow said...
May I please interject, John Michael Greer? My apologies for bothering you again, but you did seem to find my comments productive so far...

I actually can see where Remnant is coming from. Of course, unlike him, I actually do know a great deal of medieval history, as well as early American history, so I agree that these trends are not new, as you say, and that we certainly are not uniquely evil.

But I do have some worries about where the U.S. is headed. I am not, however, talking about "the Powers That Be," or whatever.

My worries come from the opinions of the masses of Americans themselves.

I have been reading a great deal of news articles, for example, of police officers responding to minor infractions with force and violence, such as handcuffing a girl for doodling "I love Abby and Faith" on her desk, or the most recent incident of 20 police officers mobbing a single young mentally disabled teenager because they didn't like the way he spoke to them.

It's not the police officers in those incidents who worry me. You get these sorts of incidents in every country; I understand that. The endless SUPPORT they got for their actions by many of our American peers, on the other hand, DOES worry me.

The same thing happened when it was revealed that we tortured people abroad in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. What was the response of our countrymen? That the torturers were "heroes!"

This is the factor I'm not sure you've addressed. It is the masses who worry me, not the bankers or the police, because the masses of our country seem to make endless excuses for clear-cut cruelty.

So while I too think Remnant goes way too far in his critique, do you think I might have a point in that, given how as a country we keep re-casting torture and violence "as a good" instead of "as an evil," we may have more to worry about from the actions of the American people than we do from the actions of the bankers and the police?

As always, thank you very much for reading my comment, whether or not you think I added anything to the discussion.

7/2/11, 5:37 AM

aaaaaaaaaaa said...
What we need is some sort of revolution. Unfortunately the word revolution means "people starting to act in public as they have the impression that after the revolution their live will be better". As to your saying "not to play the game" this time revolution is about "having a more uncomfortable live after a revoution" so some sort of retrolution. It is absolutely impossible to bring this conecpt into the minds and hearts of the people. This can only change when publicly the politicians admit that "the future will be worse than the past". That will also open the way for "retrovolutionary ideas", better known as resilience.

7/2/11, 7:42 AM

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...
Let me try again by way of a little background and an example.

When I walk out my backdoor, I'm at work. We have a small organic vegetable farm that was the result of thinking about the energy crunch in the 1970s.

There are about 30 acres in a 4 year rotation, about half of which are in soil building crops. About 30% of the other half is producing seeds for the green manures, cover crops, small grains (oats, barley, wheat), flour corn, dry beans, and peas. We eat a lot of our own food year round.

There are 5 more windows in the house that need to be replaced with energy efficient ones. We burn wood for supplimental heat. I have infloor heat in my greenhouse, infloor solar heat in my workshop, and drove my pickup truck about 750 miles last year. Excluding a motorcycle trip to BC last year and deliveries, I logged about 3000 total miles on all my vehicles.

All my grandparents were farmers. Subsitance farming was something they knew a lot about. They also sold products in the marketplace. Like them, I have no real interest in subsistance farming.

Now to the example of the difficulty of running two parallel systems.

If I continue to make my living farming here and decide to switch to horses I would need about 6 horses. Coincedentally, there are stalls for 6 horses in the (circa 1900) barn. Those 6 horses need to purchased and fed every day.

I can either buy the hay and feed or I can produce it myself. Buying it seems kind of dumb since I live on a farm. To produce it I need to take about 25% of our land out of roatation and make hay and grow additional oats.

On average (considering soil building and production) those 8 acres produce $20,000 of net income in my current system.

I can't grow the additional oats and hay without a tractor - horses need to be fed from day one. Producing the feed takes time and I'm not currently finding time to get everything done (see the comment above about the root cellar). I think my wife would like me to have a little bit of a social life too...

If I skip the horses, I can run my tractors all year on about $1500 worth of gas and oil. Parts can run as much as $2500 if I had to rebuild the motor (every 15 years or so) or as little as $500 for new tie rods, a battery, rebuilding the hydraulic pump, or whatever little things need to be taken care of. So say it takes $2000 a year to run the tractors.

When I'm not using not using it, the tractor stands in the barn and needs no attention. Horses need feed and water everyday. There is a fair amount of responsibility to owning livestock.

There are lots of other examples (and excuses), but at this point I think you can see where I'm going.

To make a realistic transition work, I need to add a new production system and then run both of them in parallel, when the cost of the current system is much less. In addition it is folly to count on a new system to be reliable and resiliant.

The opportunity cost vs. the actual costs are probably greater than 10:1. It should be noted that no one pays more because my costs of production are higher.

I have been working on this for a while, but progress seems painfully slow. Thoughts ?


7/2/11, 10:16 AM

Don Mason said...

Re: Land Use

Your use of your land can have a profound effect on your neighbors, and their use of their land can have a profound effect on you. So historically, all societies have developed rules – written or unwritten - about the use of land.

Modern zoning and building codes usually reflect what your neighbor – modern society – thinks is rational. So since modern society’s rationality is questionable, sometimes those rules make a lot of sense, and sometimes they don’t.

For me personally, the worst place to try to build or rehab a house would be a golf course subdivision of McMansions that is governed by a homeowners association run by nitpicking busybodies. But that’s just me. For some people, that’s exactly what they're looking for: tight enforcement of strong rules that prevent their neighbors from doing something that could negatively impact their life, like allowing children to play in the children’s own front yard or other horrific acts unsuitable for cultured, sensitive eyes.

If you want the fewest regulations, then you’re going to end up living on what “Chief Bison” Jim Dakin at bisonsurvivalblog calls “junk land”: rugged, infertile, little rain, remote in Nevada. It works for him, but not for everyone. (He’s currently looking for “wife #5”)

For my wife and me (after 25 years, she’s still “wife #1”), the best location regulation-wise is in the middle.

We haven’t really had any major regulatory problems here in Rockford, and we’re only 5 blocks from City Hall. Some inconveniences, sure; but nothing catastrophic. The rules exist, but due to economic constraints, enforcement is often lax.

In terms of sustainability/survivability, the current regulations have permitted us to do most of what we’ve wanted to do: blow in more insulation, plant fruit trees and grape vines, build a 6-foot-high chain link fence around the back yard with thorny raspberries at the base to discourage the crack heads from exploring, etc.

We may eventually do chickens, but they are currently banned (although Rockford does have extensive regulations on raising pigeons). So I’d have to get a revision to the local ordinance passed (add another species, basically).

The best approach to changing regulations is to find another jurisdiction that is permitting whatever you want to do, and then just copy their legal boilerplate and bring it before the appropriate committee. Here’s Cleveland’s ordinance that now permits backyard chickens and other farm animals within reasonable limits (scroll down a bit to Sec. 347.02):

And then go to work: “People in China have chickens in their back yard. People in Cleveland have chickens in their back yard. But here in Rockford, we’re falling behind! We need backyard chickens to remain globally competitive. We can’t allow a backyard chicken gap to develop... "

7/2/11, 10:54 AM

beneaththesurface said...
This comment/question is a bit off-topic from this week’s post, but I’ve been curious lately...

JMG, from your books and blog posts, you seem to acknowledge that humans have overshot their carrying capacity and that it’s likely human population will decline significantly this century. You’ve mentioned that you think the long-term carrying capacity for the human species is significantly less than the current human population. It also seems apparent that you think (as I do) that the issue of overpopulation is not an isolated issue and is interconnected with lots of other issues in a world that largely ignores the limits to growth.

However, I have never heard you say any of your opinions (at least in any direct way) about what options you’d encourage both individuals and societies to take to humanely reduce population. I would be interested in knowing more of your own thoughts regarding population (especially on the level of what actions can be taken). Do you advocate that people seriously consider having less or no children? What policies do you think would be both fair and address overpopulation? If you were so inspired, I think I would enjoy reading a blog post on this topic from you sometime. I admire the maturity and style of your writing, and I think your voice would encourage higher quality discourse on this topic.

The main other peak oil writer I really follow and admire besides you, is Sharon Astyk, and she writes about the population issue. I’ve appreciated the complexity and questions she has put forth that add to a high quality of discussion, beyond the polarized, simplistic, and judgemental statements that people sometimes make regarding overpopulation ( such as “Overpopulation is the root cause of all problems” or “Any additional child born makes the world situation worse” or on the other end, “Any concern about overpopulation is racist.”)

7/2/11, 11:08 AM

One of the Remnant said...

Regarding past civilizational declines, do you know of examples of civilizations which were as heavily dependent on the tertiary economy as we are today?

Just found myself wondering if there might be a correlation between weightings of the three economic modes, and what the declines look like.

Might it be a reasonable hypothesis that a civilization whose general well being and prosperity is more heavily reliant on that most ephemeral of the three might be susceptible to a more precipitous decline than those less so?

- Oz

7/2/11, 2:47 PM

jamesjde said...
Mr. Greer,

I have been reading your blog for some time now and this is a general comment about your hypothetical vision for the future.

Namely, that based upon my own life experience, I can't help but find it all a bit on the fanciful side.

In spite of spending the better part of the past year walking pretty much everywhere (up to four mile one-way distances), virtually everyone else (really everyone else between ages 18 and 65) is still motoring along; hundreds if not thousands of vehicles pass me by during every walk! And at home, I hear the nonstop sound of the traffic 'ocean' from the nearby Parkway (that's a type of death-trap freeway with very narrow lanes and no commercial vehicles); just the endless whush and roar of motor vehicles at least 18 hours a day.

Not to mention my most recent experience which really makes your new 'Dark Age' thesis seem far out. I have been offered a position at a very obscure college that's 9000 miles away. They will be paying to transport me via four jumbo jets and I'll be living on a very small island that is completely dependent on diesel oil for cargo ships, electricity, and pumping water; and yet there are over 6000 people there who do seem to manage.

I hope this is not construed as overly critical. At home, I do grow a small garden and I find the idea of living in a small town and having a real community very appealing. I guess it wasn't meant to be - at least not here. Here in the U.S. of A. it's just a grinding suburban death surrounded by millions of unhappy, money chasing, car-dependent people.

7/2/11, 4:19 PM

Twilight said...
Regarding zoning, I must disagree with those who tar all zoning efforts with the same brush. In actual practice, when one lives in a world with other people there are often good reasons why you should not be able to do whatever you want with "your" land. Usually those who complain the loudest at the imposition are the first ones to howl when someone else asserts the same right.

While there are often stupid zoning rules, and even the ones that made sense at one time may need to change now, good zoning has been a huge benefit in places where it has worked.

My father worked for years since the 70's to preserve agricultural land in the township where they live. There are many factors at work, but through all of that effort that township is a real gem now. Not too long ago someone did a video from an old Piper Cub flying into the township, and when it crossed the line the developments just STOP. There is a lot of great prime farmland there now that does not exist in the surrounding area, along with the very highest quality streams.

By contrast I lived in a neighboring township for a while, which when I moved there was a rare gem too with its old small farms intact, and I too worked to preserve it. But we failed, as the oldtimers were convinced they were the best stewards and needed no zoning. Then they all sold out for a song to a rich local boy developer and now there is nothing left of it. And we escaped to a rocky old hillside that was a poor man's hardscrabble farm in a township with good zoning and stewardship.

The people who live in my parent's township in the years to come will live much better for the zoning laws he helped enact. If that trampled on someone's ability to take every last bit of the wealth of nature on "their" land before they left, well too bad.

7/2/11, 5:05 PM

TwyliteFlyer said...
I was originally going to send you a note to see if you'd seen this or had any comment on it...

Then as I was reading the other comments, the topic of A/C came up, and I couldn't help but think about something my husband told me about his first few nights in Afghanistan, at topic for which a lovely segue was provided by Blue Sun. Of course, it's summer there too, and 40+ degree days are normal. But he is having to use every blanket he brought at night because the A/C is turned up so high in the barracks that the cold is making it hard to sleep. And this is coming from a man who has been known to have the bedroom window open in -30 to keep the room at a good sleeping temperature.

Not only is this a waste of money and energy, but it does the soldiers a dis-service. They are not being given the opportunity to acclimatize to the heat. And I would posit that it's not the soldiers being too wussy to suck it up, it's the PTB that figure they want to make everybody comfortable, not realizing how counterproductive they are being.

I find this story an interesting departure from what my Dad experienced when he was in Egypt in the late 70's. At that time, they were given blood thinners to help them acclimatize. We've gone from one extreme to the other. Interesting what 30 years can accomplish.

Another great post. Keep up the good work.

7/2/11, 9:26 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Hadashi, thank you! I've been consistently impressed by the quality of most of the comments here.

Goat Path, if on reflection, you decide that's the right thing for you to do, by all means do it. Relocation's still an option, but it won't be an option indefinitely.

Ghung, funny you should mention that. I'll be talking about a slight variation on that resource in a few weeks.

tOm, have you actually been reading the posts here? Most of the points you've raised have already been dealt with at length, including what apartment dwellers can do for the time being.

Eshonti, excellent! Thank you for your story -- I suspect a fair number of readers here will find it useful and/or inspiring.

Nature, a good point. Thank you.

Rainbow, I'd point out first of all that there's nothing even remotely new in the habits you've described. You might do a bit of research and find out how Americans by and large responded to the Palmer Raids and the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden, for example. That being said, yes, you have a point; the absence of a collective moral compass, combined with the demonization of government that people like Remnant have turned into a national fetish in recent years, is doing yeoman work setting the stage for the demagogues who will promise to free us from the tyrants in Washington DC, and then teach us all what the word "tyrant" actually means.

Aaa, you might want to be careful about words such as "absolutely impossible" when applied to human beings. They have an annoying habit of disproving such claims.

Greg, thanks for clarifying. I wish I knew an easy way to get everything done that I want to get done before things get much further down the slope of decline; if I had one, I'd share it with you; but the only option I know of is just to keep on slogging.

Don, the "backyard chicken gap" is going to find a place in my permanent vocabulary. Thank you!

Beneath, as I see it, population is an effect rather than a cause. We've seen -- for example, in the former Soviet Union -- that under the kind of stress we're likely to see over most of the world in the years to come, birth rates can drop like a rock and death rates rise, to the point that you can expect to cut population in half by 2100; my working guess is that that's what's going to happen to the population bubble, as the resources that drove it go away and decline sets in.

7/2/11, 10:04 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

I was thinking about the comment from DIYer which I responded to as it gave an insight into a common stumbling block in peoples perspectives. I'll try my best to explain the insight, but well...

In marketing there's a concept that if you provide consumers with lots of choice with a relatively homogenous product, you can create a level of dissatisfaction in that consumer. The reason for this dissatisfaction is because of the variety of choice has instilled a feeling in those consumers that they may be missing out on a better product, when in reality there is not much difference. A good example of this is toothpaste, few people ask why there needs to be so many different varieties? Social conditioning tends to reinforce this too as people try establish their place in the social heirachy.

Marketers are tapping into a well of human discontent so that they can sell more volume and higher margin products.

There is a side effect to this though, in that because there is a perceived choice, people struggle to make a decision fearing that they may make the wrong decision. In effect they are looking for a perfect solution.

I've noticed that people on average are finding the process of making decisions to be more difficult as time goes onwards. I acknowledge that this is a sweeping generalisation and I haven't conducted research other than my own observation.

The simple answer to this conundrum (that I've noticed) a lot of people favour is the do nothing approach. Although I've said it before not making a decision is actually making a decision (I know it sounds strange, but if you think about it the concept is valid).

I saw this in the response from DIYer (and I'm not singling DIYer out as you can see this in comments across the board).

The thing is though, where this mindset fails is in the situation where there is no choice. Oil is one such example, as there is no exact replacement for it.

People's comments and indeed our societies response to this predicament tend to show that we are acting as if something else will turn up to save us when there really is no alternative.

This to me is why the business as usual mindset is so seductive to people because at the core of it is the bonus of being able to delay making any decision on energy. Sad and it will be our undoing.



7/2/11, 10:19 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Remnant, I've noticed that people who want to assign the status of villain to some group in today's society -- for example, the government -- quite consistently also want to imagine a fast crash. I suspect it's the influence of the old apocalyptic narrative, which requires both. That's a general response to your question; the specific response is that every civilization tends to rely more and more on its tertiary economy as it ages, but the differences in kind between various tertiary economies make it very difficult to quantify which does so more than others. The tertiary economy of ancient Egypt, for example, was theological; they used religious rather than financial incentives to determine who got how much secondary wealth. By the time Egypt entered its final tailspin, the structure was so vast that it all but defined everyone's life, but how do you quantify the comparative exchange values of a god and a derivative?

James, er, I'm scratching my head. You seem to be saying that since things are the way they are now, and haven't changed drastically in the last twelve months, it's impossible that they could be any different in the future. I don't think you could actually be claiming something that silly; perhaps you can help me out here.

Twilight, no argument there. Like any other set of laws, zoning can be abused, but like most laws, it exists for a good reason.

Twylite, thank you. This is why I've been putting so much time into talking about victory gardens and growing and preserving your own food; the system that puts food on the table across the industrial world is cracking under a dozen different strains, and I expect hunger to be a serious problem in the US within not too many years. As for air conditioning -- well, I don't know that I can add anything useful to the comments already made here.

7/2/11, 10:33 PM

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...
Envisioning dropping out is, as not a few have noted for as many different reasons, less difficult than actually doing so. It remains a worthwhile exercise though, to consider just how that might be accomplished should either necessity or desire recommend execution of the option. The greater the numbers even simply mentally prepared for such contingency, the likely fewer to succumb to the temptation for alliance with the cohorts of violent or extortive expropriation, and therefore the less their power and the damage of their depredations.

The iterative competition among certain losers for temporary possession of ever smaller slices of a diminishing pie is not the only game afoot. This week's counsel seems not so much about dropping out as tuning in. The more who can envision and embrace, and critically, inspire others to a life with L.E.S.S., the less the peril posed to the possibility of an eventual transition to ecotecnic stability by the futile scrambling for a seat at a fantasy banquet.

While clearly it is important to insulate against the effects of electric grid interruption, and ultimately by disconnecting; attempting to ignore any of the developing manifestations of economic production phase change is a misguided strategy. In fact, this forum is an invaluable resource for staying abreast of developments across the catabolic collapse spectrum. It could even be a game-changer.

Hawlk - take care with your determinations. While surely there are those beyond redemption, the very act of application would seem to be at least a step away from that which you find despicable; one perhaps to be encouraged by the example of your lenient consideration.

beneath - a keen observation. Though paid work is for me 40 hours a week, sleep is but 56, leaving 72. I do play, and relax; but I spend easily as many hours in unpaid work per week as I spend in paid employment. Which is more valuable is an open question as the salary enables much of the rest of the work I do, most of which is related to reducing my dependence on that very income. One day I hope to be free.

AAF - Common cause for Quakers and Druids seems simply natural.

7/2/11, 11:17 PM

One of the Remnant said...
@ RainbowShadow

"I actually can see where Remnant is coming from. Of course, unlike him, I actually do know a great deal of medieval history, as well as early American history, so I agree that these trends are not new, as you say, and that we certainly are not uniquely evil."

Wow, rather a presumptuous assertion on your part RS. In point of fact, I've studied history broadly for a number of years now, and in some depth. The notion that I must be an ignoramus if I don't agree with your analysis says something - but not about my grasp of history.

@ Don, Twilight

My issue is not with zoning regs per se - it's with the ham-handed enforcement of them and the bureaucratic mindset which pervades many zoning boards. That said, there are also some fundamental structural issues - such as a general bias against mixed-use neighborhoods - which are ill suited to a relocalizing world, and which we should not expect to change rapidly enough to keep pace.

The idea is that, as in so many other areas, the glacial rate at which new ideas are permitted into the system, which has been merely an inconvenience in the age of abundance, could well become lethal in an age of scarcity. I simply do not see bureaucratic regimes being able to deal with the overwhelming changes headed our way, and so I expect they will wind up becoming agents for doing damage to society.

An example: in Colorado, it is illegal for me to install a rainwater catchment system. When I lived in Arizona, it was illegal for me to setup a greywater processing system. The documentary about Michael Reynolds' earthships offers additional examples, and I encourage you to watch it. Because his houses did not require water, sewage, electrical lines, and thus were not considered 'standard construction,' his architect's license was revoked, and the subdivision he built was declared illegal. Real harm was done.

After all, when considering the good that zoning has done, one must also consider the harm.

- Oz

7/2/11, 11:53 PM

One of the Remnant said...

"the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden, for example.... the demonization of government that people like Remnant have turned into a national fetish in recent years"

The very firebombings you mention seem to demonstrate the 'demonic' actions in which government engage at regular intervals. It is interesting that pointing that out gets one labeled as a demonizer!

Government is a structure that concentrates and amplifies power. The ways in which that power tend to be used were captured quite accurately by Lord Acton, based on historical evidence.

To question whether centralized government as we know it is necessarily the best way for society to make decisions - as opposed, say, to a decentralized, localized neighborhood assembly model (which is what I advocate) - is not demonization, and so far as I can see does not set the stage for demagogues to take over. Quite the opposite in fact. Devolving decision making power to communities (i.e. implementing the principle of subsidiarity) seems to me to point the way toward avoiding the kind of authoritarianism that seems likely given current trends.

- Oz

7/3/11, 12:08 AM

Matt and Jess said...
As far as poverty goes ... I can't help but wonder what will happen to the foreclosure/homeless folks in the country in the future, as well as the apartment-dwellers and those who haven't really gotten a good start yet (us young'uns). I imagine sometimes the most hideous future where empty houses are kept under lock and key or bulldozed while many sleep under the stars nearby--those who couldn't afford to keep their giant mortgages, and those of us who never got a chance to really get something to keep. I think of Detroit, which i'm not really familiar with, but I know houses there have been leveled for the benefit of the banks' books. The ultimate absurdity.

I do hope that at some point reasonableness and compassion takes hold in our culture and a humane path is taken. I remember the old homesteads of the 1800s--work the land for ten years and it's yours free. Perhaps at some point it'll come down to people keeping abandoned houses in decent repair for a period of time--or perhaps producing a certain amount of food for the lot--and it'll be theirs.

And as far as the one person who questioned being able to both work and do work at home--JMG gave a great answer and I'd like to direct anyone interested towards a book, "Radical Homemakers" by Shannon Hayes. While I believe that much of the book is flawed, it does give a decent introduction to the reasoning behind why someone might want to stay home rather than have a two-income family.

7/3/11, 1:07 AM

galacticsurfer said...

yoga technique for cooling off above

yoga breathing technique for heating up below.

Indians were pretty poor and had extreme heat and in the himalayas extreme cold. These techniques are pretty ancient. Try them out and see if you can throw away the a/c of heater. I recall stories of tibetan monks sitting in snow for hours lightly dressed for instance. So even mechanical helps like wet twoels etc. are suprefluous if we just know how the body works.

7/3/11, 3:50 AM

galacticsurfer said...
I have done yoga for 16 years and developed my "energy body", i.e. so-called pranaor kundalini. Recently I have had less work hours and so intensified my yoga asanas and Tai Chi (more slowly so enrgy intnesifies) and on Easter weekend the hand and feet chakras opened immensely(similar happened 11 years ago to me initially but it was vey strong this time with hand and feet chakras spinning intensely). I recently did a two weeks practicum at a nursing home and discovered that the doctor who visits there practices avidly hands on healing. I had read a book on this by a phillipines master some years ago but it was not widespread then. Now it seems to have itnernational convetions with doctors involved, etc.

Linked article below on biomagnetism discusses scientific basis of biomagnetism and disese and healing using SQUID devices in scientific studies from 60s-90s.

I have no opportubity to practice this stuff myself but I know about this enrgy and was recently more interested as I read in a meditation book that human magnetic field is proportional to body size much greater than the earth's magnetic field(like aq thousand times). So stimulating this by good health techniques (food,exercise, prayer, medtiation) can keep us healthy without expensive medical. So called scientific materialism has hit its limits but releigion of dark ages tried to hinder private direct contact with "God", so to speak direct opening and use of our own energy fields for shamanic healing or so-called psi powers. However through recent scientific advances in measurements of biological fields we can see that biological life can maintain its own balance (happiness, health in total ecosystem and organism) by direct stimulation of own biomagnetismus(qui, chi, prana, kundalini). SO the future of the monks and society after collapse is less christian and more chinese, indian, but it has to be a mass phenomenon and not just a secret society of mystics as gnostic christians in caves as the whole earht is now at stake. We can't just opt out. Cheap mechanical living in poverty is one thing but a scientific "magical" spirituality is definitely the next step in any mass human development. The Chinese govt. say humans rights without material development is empty to rebuff western criticism. However "the pursuti of happiness" in material and democratic and purely intellectual religious beliefsf are all empty without understanding the basis of human life/spirituality/health, that is biomagnetismus. When people understand thsi materialismus and political power will be less important for them.

7/3/11, 4:34 AM

beneaththesurface said...
Your repeated points about the common tendency for people to put all the blame on elites echoes with my own feelings.

During the years Bush was in power, it really concerned me how so many people blamed all the world’s problems on a few elite people. I was certainly very critical of Bush and thought he was a terrible president too, but I also thought that the Bush administration’s actions and policies couldn’t happen just because of who was on top, but all the masses (including the many who despised Bush) going along with it in myriad ways. It’s one thing to be critical of elites, but it’s another thing when it becomes only blame--a way of avoiding personal responsibility towards actually living a life tackling of those problems oneself.

During the Bush years, I saw many bumpers stickers that said “Anyone but Bush.” I certainly had no admiration for Bush and I was glad to see his eight years end. But I find it problematic when people’s standard for changing society solely amounts to a lowly standard of having anyone replace an “evil” elite power. It then bothered me the way some were so enchanted by Obama as some sort of savior who could fix society. There’s actually a eery commonality between the opinion that a certain elite will be society’s savior vs. the opinion that an elite is an evil person solely responsible for destroying a society.

As for Obama, I’m no fan of a lot of his policies, though I wouldn’t say he’s “evil,” the way I hear some people imply in their political rants. If anything the Obama years has taught me is the vast limitations of putting one’s faith in a single elite to change society for you. This feeling even applies to third parties and my general ambivalence towards third party solutions towards political problems on the national level. While I may agree more with some stances of some third party candidates, I sometimes think the energy certain people put into third party campaigns (on the national level, at least) could accomplish more if used towards more practical community work of many kinds. And to me, there is no complete assurance that even a seemingly good third party candidate, in the small chance s/he got elected, would not be subject to the same forces influencing other elites.

This situation actually speaks to me of a feeling of powerlessness that evades our society and that sometimes scares me more than whoever is sitting on top. I think people have a lot more power than they realize. Yes, I agree that corporations have an unwarranted influence on life and politics in our society and I’m critical of corporate power. But I put blame not solely on corporations themselves but on all people who through their life choices are giving them that power—through supporting those corporations through buying habits, investing in the stock market, not being civicly involved in one’s community on whatever level, educating children not to be independent thinkers but mindless consumers, and generally not being honest with themselves and others in so many ways. I do not deny the importance of community and policy changes of certain kinds, but I do still believe in such an outdated thing as personal responsibility.

7/3/11, 4:36 AM

DIYer said...
I think we shall see an indication of whether the semiconductor industry receives extra support in the near future.

It is, of course, a tall order. Some of the required advanced technologies come to mind --
High vacuum;
Clean room technology, micron-size filtration;
Ultrapure water;
Liquid/exotic gases -- nitrogen, argon, silane, arsine;
Advanced metallurgy;
Fluorine chemistry;
Optics: far ultraviolet, x-ray, electron beam;
Ultraprecise positioning;
Control software.

And of course, associated low technologies --
Steel, especially stainless steel.
Organic polymers.
High temperature.

Following the recent calamity in Japan, something like a third of the world's semiconductor manufacturing is offline. We shall soon see if it gets restored.

If not, our little blog could go dark in a decade or less.

7/3/11, 5:44 AM

sruggieri said...

The term "reverse totalitarianism" comes to mind. I think it was the late great Joe Bageant who coined it.

The angry mob mentality scares me as much as the police. Meh. These days i've learned to keep my nose clean. I'm not going to make waves in a cesspool.

@Remnant and @JMG:

Regarding the debate concerning the extent of authoritarian rule – with great respect to you both, does it matter now?!?! We're drowning here and you're describing the water! (to borrow a quote from a movie)

If either of you fine men drag my drowning body to shore, I'll be forever grateful to you. After you resuscitate me and send me on my way, perhaps I'll have some time to consider just how I got in the water in the first place. Perhaps I'll discover the boot print of a soldier on my face. Or maybe I'll be angry at myself for not learning how to swim. Or maybe I was swept away by a tsunami and had no control at all.

My point is, we, as a society, are drowning now. Culturally and morally. We need to teach people how to swim in a cesspool then how to clean the water.

7/3/11, 6:16 AM

One of the Remnant said...
@ Matt and Jess

"I do hope that at some point reasonableness and compassion takes hold in our culture and a humane path is taken."

Seems to me this will not be a top down choice made by 'our' culture, but will rather need to begin at the community level, and hopefully propagate upward. In fact, it's not hard to imagine this as one of the central cultural battlefields of the age of scarcity. At an even more granular level, it becomes a matter of individual choice. Gandhi's 'be the change' quote seems relevant here.

@ galacticsurfer

"stories of tibetan monks sitting in snow for hours lightly dressed"

Excellent point - in fact, scientific studies show that Tibetan Buddhist monastics can even melt that snow. This brief video shows what a researcher from Harvard discovered - quite remarkable.

Even if we leave aside such utilitarian considerations, a widespread move toward meditation and other contemplative and mindful practices would be immensely beneficial at the personal, communal and societal levels in the age to come. Not least, because this tends to lead one toward a more compassionate way of being - which ties it into Matt and Jess' comment above.

Unbeknownst to many, Christianity includes such a heritage in the form of contemplative prayer - Christian mystics from St John of the Cross and Therese of Avila to Gerald May and Thomas Merton were perhaps closer to Buddhism and other meditative traditions in many ways than to modern-day mega-Christianity. So those who find Eastern traditions off-putting can find such practices available in their own Western traditions, if they are willing to study their own history, which to date - IMO - has been sadly neglected by many in the modern Christian church.

- Oz

7/3/11, 9:24 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Lloyd, I don't know that I'd consider this forum a potential game-changer, but I'm hoping that it will help.

Remnant, in theory anarchism -- which is what you're espousing, of course -- opens the door to a glorious new future of local, decentralized, non-coercive, blah blah blah. In practice? In Russia it paved the way for Lenin, in Spain for Franco, in Germany for Hitler...I could go on. As Edmund Butrke pointed out very sensibly a long time ago, it's remarkable how often the idealized futures held up as goals by ideologues give way to their exact opposite in practice.

Still, this conversation has gone a long ways off topic. I'll ask you to keep further rounds of government-bashing to yourself, or post them elsewhere.

Matt and Jess, I'm increasingly convinced that the most radical thing most people can do just now is scale back their participation in the money economy; having one ore more family members opt out of employment in order to work in the household economy is a critically important way to do that.

Surfer, that's an important point that can be generalized very far: the human body, mind and spirit have resources in them that most of us have never imagined, much less learned how to tap and use. All the world's pre-industrial spiritual traditions are largely about that fact, and have tools for doing things with it. More on this in a future post.

Beneath, very well put! "The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." This is why I keep on pointing out the extent to which people who blame the corporations, the government, the Republicans, the Democrats, etc., etc., for all the world's troubles are engaged in shadow projection.

DIYer, if it lasts a decade I'll be impressed. I'll keep the list posted about other options.

Sruggieri, you're right that that particular debate has outlived its usefulness. Still, there's a point to not encouraging the popular fetish for government-bashing: within ten years at the outside, as the world gets past the denial phase of its response to peak oil, many governments will be begging people to take the steps we're discussing right now -- as indeed they did during the Seventies. At that point, if we play our cards right, we may be able to multiply our efforts substantially during that window of opportunity. Recognizing that governments are resources that can be worked with is an important step in that direction. More on this later.

7/3/11, 10:11 AM

Cloud said...
@ Greg /Riverbend

Several thoughts come to mind reading your draft example;

use the horses to grow their oats, not another tractor

get one team and learn how to use them to transition gradually, who knows, you might learn to enjoy them

oxen are a good alternative for people without the patience to work horses, and are less expensive to keep

try a workshop like those offered at where you can learn about the animals and the variety of dual power machines (draft/petroleum) available and in use now

horses start even on the coldest mornings

and, you're not likely to run out of gas for your tractor in your lifetime, there's nothing wrong with using a tractor if you prefer one, and as someone who is priveledged to already have a working farm- quit freaking out!

7/3/11, 11:31 AM

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...
Well John Michael it has certainly changed my game, so we know there is more than just potential here. Specifically, your repeated fixing of blame as simply shadow projection has resonated. I can also see how that concept when taken to the other extreme can result in a martyr's ethic. Thus walking the talk is all well and good, but engagement of others, particularly where that might at first seem uncomfortable or difficult, must also be part of the process.

This late in the game a one conversation at a time strategy for addressing the obvious predicament is likely to fall far short, leaving many unprepared, confused and flailing, literally in the dark. Recognizing this, I look forward to your thoughts on available options for leveraging the latent organizational resources of government and other institutions.

7/3/11, 11:53 AM

Don Mason said...
@Greg Reynolds

Re: Mechanical Power vs. Muscle Power

Your analysis of your situation is excellent. I see why you’ve kept your operation running as long as you have: planning and hard work.

We’re in a vaguely similar situation here in urban Rockford: mechanical vs. muscle. We have two attachments for a walk-behind tractor (a tiller attachment and a snowblower attachment), but no power unit (the attachments are left over from when we lived in the country; the power unit and a sickle bar attachment stayed behind with the buyers of the property as part of the sale).

We want to gradually bring more of the nearby vacant urban lots into cultivation, and are debating whether to buy a power unit or to buy a draft dog (probably a Bernese Mountain Dog) and teach it to pull a few implements that I would have to cobble together (like a small plow and a cart).

We’re leaning towards muscle power because another purpose for the dog would be increasing our physical security (lots of home invasions here).

But in your situation, I would probably stick with the tractor until spare parts finally become unavailable at some distant point in the future. Adding half-a-dozen horses to your current workload sounds crushing. And you're not getting any younger.

For us, the food energy a draft dog uses when he’s not pulling a load would also go into maintaining a 24/7 security system that can deter, alert, and defend. But it’s unlikely that you could get a draft horse to do much else that is useful, like answer the telephone. (“You’ve never heard of a talking horse? Then listen to this: ‘I am Mr. Ed.’”)

Of course, of course. Mid-20th Century Hollywood goofiness aside, horses use up a lot of food energy just standing around being horses; and you have to use up a lot of food energy maintaining them.

Since it’s reasonable to assume that your fuel costs are going to rise, could you use part of the biomass you’re producing to make biofuel to run the tractor? Biofuels obviously are not going to power our whole automobile-based economy; but in your circumstances, homemade biofuel to run your vehicles until they just totally disintegrate might make sense. Could a biofuel crop fit into your rotation, or could you use an existing crop as the source?

Eventually horses and/or oxen will become major power sources on farms again. But in your case, biofuel might be more practical for however long you can keep your vehicles chugging along.

7/3/11, 12:34 PM

Ana's Daughter said...
@Blue Sun,

I can't speak for everybody, but this obese disabled person handles heat and humidity in much the same way thin able-bodied people do. Thanks to the autoimmune disease I have, I've been both fat and thin, and I've lived in hot climates during both bodily phases.

Basically, I use the skills I learned as a kid in the 1960s when a/c was rare and my family was too poor to afford it even had it been cheap and common. Windows open on the shady side of the house, windows and curtains closed on the sunny side of the house, double-hung windows upstairs left open at both top and bottom to establish airflow (and locked so housebreakers can't just waltz right in), washcloth baths with cool water at intervals, half gallon glass jars of herbal tea in the fridge for drinking after I've been outside in the sun and heat. I try to avoid going outside between noon and 5 PM, I dress in clothing which provides decent sun cover without being too heavy, and I wear a good, well-ventilated, wide-brimmed hat outdoors.

I do fine. I manage really well except when it's both very hot (over 90) and very humid (over 50%) --- and even then I do OK.

7/3/11, 12:44 PM

Mark said...
Not Playing on the Weekends....
I run a solar install business. This is our busy time of the year. Meanwhile back at the "farm" I'm working on resilience. I'd like to think it was smart of me to "plan" it this way but it's more because I don't have a choice right now. I've got three starting college in the fall and still have a mortgage to pay.

However, much of my free time (what's left anyway) is spent on resilience.

I've been adding to my hand tool collection. (Ebay is a great source for cheap hand tools that the oil economy has turned up its nose at)

Last weekend and this weekend I've made myself sore clearing three trees to expand my "garden" (it's really just a 144 sq. ft. patch producing radishes and with luck tomatoes, string beans, and peas but it has visions of abundance in its future).

The only power tool I've used on the tree work is the chainsaw. It, along with Maul, wedge and sledge hammer are helping me rebuild my muscle mass and my winter heat source. (perhaps you've heard that New England Proverb - Chop your own wood, it will warm you twice. Allow me to propose a new one. Chainsaw, haul, split, stack, bring inside, burn, clean out the ashes and your wood will warm you 7 times.)

So, in a sense, I am a weekend warrior, but my pace is frustratingly slow. I suppose it's better than nothing.

7/3/11, 1:55 PM

One of the Remnant said...
@ Greg

Don Mason wrote: "Since it’s reasonable to assume that your fuel costs are going to rise, could you use part of the biomass you’re producing to make biofuel to run the tractor?"

No idea where you are located, Greg, but I know some folks down in Costa Rica who grow jatropha for biofuels. One of the advantages is they can grow the trees on marginal land, which would not be usable for food ag. If you are in a situation to do so, you might be able to generate biofuels without sacrificing any of your arable land.

- Oz

7/3/11, 2:04 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

I think you might have missed reading my last comment.

The gist of which is that people currently have a supermarket of choices and it's seductive, because they think that the availability of options will continue on into the future. The problem really is that the choices available at the moment are really just a moment in time thing and are unlikely to continue. This is a sticking point for most people.

By the way, I've noticed that in the press here it tends to show that the Greeks are externalising their anger at their situation. This externalising tends to inflame the situation. They've had a history of accepting bailouts and not either increasing taxes or selling off the farm so to speak. This is not going to end well and may well spread from that country. What worries me more is that I'm starting to see articles saying that should they have a default it won't affect us much. Sounds like a PR exercise to me which makes me nervous.

PS: It's ironic because 've just finished the chapter "Appropriate Tools".



7/3/11, 2:52 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Remnant,

Please relax about the zoning thing. Enforcement is subject to the same constraints as everything else and legislation is worthless without enforcement.

I'll note that in rural areas here, enforcement of local by laws by the local councils is getting more difficult as time goes on which is giving land holders a bit more flexibility. This is no bad thing as some of the bylaws are ideologically driven and really make no sense.

Looking for flexibility from a bureaucrat is like looking for generosity from a banker. It's pointless.



7/3/11, 3:07 PM

Jason Heppenstall said...
All this talk of air conditioning has stirred me to comment. The peoples of north Africa had a fine way of cooling buildings by funneling air underneath them across pools of water, and then up into the building again. This might be a bit tricky to install in a modern apartment, but I'm quite sure it could be done with free standing buildings and a little ingenuity.

Modern air conditioning can be very bad for you - luckily I have never really needed to use it, living mostly in termerate climes. I met a man recently who worked for a notorious investment bank in Hong Kong. He said that living 24/7 with air conditioning was causing him and many of his colleages to fall sick with flu-like symptoms. If he didn't 'get out soon' (i.e into a non climate controlled environment) he feared he would fall sick and die!

So perhaps AC does have its uses after all ;-)

7/4/11, 12:20 AM

Red Neck Girl said...
@ Don Mason

One thing you might keep in mind, instead of a dog for muscle power, do you have a milk goat? You've got to feed the nanny and get her bred for her to freshen so I have a suggestion. Don't be in a hurry to butcher any little billies, go ahead and de-bud them but train them to harness. Goats have been used to pull conveyances for a long time. Abraham Lincoln's kids received harness trained goats and carts one year for Christmas. Todd broke up a party at the Whitehouse once by hitching his goat to a rocking chair and driving through the middle of a dance! You'll likely become the neighborhood sensation for awhile but if it works it works.

You might try Boer goats, they're meat goats and larger then milk goats, then you can always eat them if needed. Although the nanny will only give you maybe a gallon a day in milk. If you don't use all the milk for food you can make milk based soap or save the extra enough to make butter or cheese. And I know the butter process would be hard since goat's milk is naturally homogenized.

Just be cautious in regard to what the nanny eats, things like garlic, onions, horseradish or hot peppers come through in the milk!


7/4/11, 12:36 AM

hawlkeye said...
Thanks, Lloyd, point taken. My partially tongue-in-cheek discernment exercise was a quick novelty exploration of rough justice; I'll probably end up taking my own advice about asigning dignity to potential allies. Pull enough thorns from enough paws, and all the local lions will be my friends!

Btw, Cherokee, that's a keeper!...
"Looking for flexibility from a bureaucrat is like looking for generosity from a banker." Yaw.

7/4/11, 5:38 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
155 comments! Argh – you all have time or energy that I don’t! :-}

Voluntary poverty is how I’d been describing myself for a while, because as you suggest, JMG, voluntary simplicity has been co-opted by marketing. It now carries the idea of “perfect Martha Stewart simplicity” – and is a total fiction! (When that Real Simple magazine came out and all my friends raved about it, I felt ill.) And I am glad you are spreading the word that not playing the game is the only way to win… that’s what I concluded in these past couple years, when it became obvious that the US way of life is mostly ad-based frosting over a stale, nutritionless mass-produced cake.

A thought I had yesterday (stacking a cord of wood give lots of lovely thinking time) was that some of us might be pre-inclined to not play the game. I think I’ve always felt “safer” when I was physically able to verify my own basic needs. The more I became aware of how our society depends on a vast web of connections, the more uneasy I became. Growing/cooking food and being able to repair my house, my clothes and having tools I could repair just made me feel more comfortable. So green wizardry comes natural to me, and I think the first wave of green wizards might feel the same. I hope the next wave – those who come to it because they see the need, even if they don’t like these activities – will be able to adjust and eventually enjoy their new lifestyles.

And apropos one of your earlier posts, on managing with less stimulation – it’s tricky which comes first: I’ve found that without withdrawing from the massive stimulation of US culture, I couldn’t slow my mind down enough to think though whether I wanted a simpler life! There is a flat-out adrenalin rush that comes from living in over-stim (I know, I’ve lived in NYC) and you have to go through withdrawal from that (and it feels like withdrawal) before your mind is clear enough to see some of the things you, JMG, are describing…it’s taken me 30 years.

@sofistekFor some years now, I've felt that such a simple definition could result in a misconception about how many people are living in misery, as distinct from living in poverty.
I’ve been thinking the same thing every time I read that $2/day line – in fact, it presupposes that everyone is in the “money society” and 1) that’s an error and 2) that’s biased. As you say, depending on how connected you are to real wealth (natural resources) you might be fine on $2/day. When I tell my friends how little I spend, they are appalled and think I’m “starving”, but I’m living better & happier than I used to.

@Greg ReynoldsTo make a realistic transition work, I need to add a new production system and then run both of them in parallel, when the cost of the current system is much less.
This is the same excuse that the alternative energy critics are using – yes, it’s true that it will cost more initially, but the reasons for doing it are that the current system might fail, and might do so at a time when you simply can’t replace it!

@jamesjde – think “cracking ice” – it seems solid, until it’s not!

@matt and jess I imagine sometimes the most hideous future where empty houses are kept under lock and key or bulldozed while many sleep under the stars nearby-- That’s what happened during the Irish Famine – and probably will happen again in some places…
Perhaps at some point it'll come down to people keeping abandoned houses in decent repair for a period of time--or perhaps producing a certain amount of food for the lot--and it'll be theirs.
Some places already have squatters’ rights regulations… there are blogs that talk about that somewhat, though I’ve never researched it. Risky, but some are doing it.

7/4/11, 8:13 AM

DIYer said...
I expect the real reason this blog will shut down is that it will cost too much -- blogger will face declining ad revenue, datacenter costs will shoot up with electric utility prices, and they will start asking for higher fees, perhaps from all of us.

Of course you will have the choice of taking it to some other ISP, paying for bandwidth and server space, and fiddling with the software and database.

You will shut it down yourself as these unwelcome burdens take up too much of your (or all of our) time and resources.

7/4/11, 9:04 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
One again I feel I must remind all you folks suggesting nifty a/c alternatives based on evaporative cooling that these simply do not work in humid climates. Worse than being ineffective, they contribute to the real significant problem in these climates: excess moisture. The water rots your houses, destroys your books, turns your clothes green, and fills your house with mold spores that can give you nasty health problems.

They may be great in North Africa or Australia, but they are less than useless in Tennessee or Puerto Rico.

7/4/11, 11:33 AM

Don Mason said...
Wadulisi @RedNeckGirl

Re: Goats and Dogs

Thanks for the suggestion about using a goat rather than a dog for hauling carts, etc.

Our primary reason for getting a dog again (we’ve had a number over the years) is for physical protection. We live in a tough city (Rockford, IL has the 4th highest per capita rate of violent crime in America) in a tough area (we’re right at the angle in Rockford’s notorious ”Bloody ‘L’”), so we need a big dog for protection as well as for draft work.

We’re hoping that the dog (or dogs) can produce enough additional calories of food energy to justify their continued existence. With the human race facing widespread hunger and starvation, dogs are going to have to work again to survive. A lot of dog breeds – particularly those bred as cutesy companion animals - will probably go extinct. Some of the working breeds (Berners are one – it’s a general purpose farm dog used by Swiss dairy herders ) have a good chance of surviving by earning their keep, and making life easier for people on the other side of this fiasco we’re headed into.

You’re right that goats are extremely versatile: they don’t take up much space; they can eat just about anything (not that you want them to eat garlic, etc.); they produce milk and meat; they can haul a cart – and goats can be a formidable opponent if they take a disliking to someone.

Particularly if you don’t have the space and money for a cow – and most people don’t and won’t - then a goat or two is a good option. Goats should do well in the future.

But the bad guys around here wouldn’t look at a goat the same way that they would look at “a striking, tri-colored large dog” of 80 to 120 pounds that was bred to protect vulnerable Swiss farm families from the unemployed ex-soldiers and wandering sociopaths of former centuries. And since we already have those sorts of people in our neighborhood – and will probably see more of them in the future – we think that a dog will protect us better than either a machine or a goat(although all three do a good job of pulling carts).

7/4/11, 12:55 PM

LewisLucanBooks said...
@ Cathy McGuire - Stimulation; I first moved here from Portland, Oregon in 1981. To the town of Centralia, Washington (pop. about 17,000). I was here for about 5 months before I made a trip back to Portland.

I drove downtown, to meet a friend for coffee. I parked, got out of my truck onto the sidewalk, looked around and thought "Why are all these people running?" They weren't. My internal clock had just slowed WAY down. All the billboards seemed ... loud. Intrusive.

Now that I've been here 30 years, it seems loud to me here. But then, I seem to be a bit noise sensitive. The other day, a young lady was on the sidewalk in front of my store regaling two young men about the drama of her life. And it went on ... and on ... and on. I finally had to take a little break in the back room. Looking forward to my retreat to the boonies. I know it will not be perfect quiet, but it will be more quiet.

7/4/11, 2:15 PM

Steve said...
We live in a county with very strict zoning regulations, yet not quite enough money to do vigorous enforcement. We've managed to get away with plenty of things that fall in gray areas, mostly because we bought a fixer-upper in a working class neighborhood full of people who are too busy or polite to mind their neighbors' business.

Our neighborhood also has one of the first HOA agreements in the county (circa 1965), which explicitly forbids raising livestock. There are at least half a dozen chicken coops within a stone's throw of my yard, and we'll be adding another next year. Again, there's nobody bothering to enforce things, and people are respectful of neighbors and smart about the way that they work around the rules.

Also, I've observed that at least half a dozen towns and cities nearby have rescinded ordinances banning livestock within the last 4 years. The county has also started offering additional rebates and professional assistance with energy efficiency programs.

Since I live in Colorado as well, I'll point out that the state gov't has been changing rainwater harvesting laws, and they're currently studying the impact of lifting the ban on cistern and barrel storage. Of course, the cheapest, easiest way of storing your rainwater in the soil to grow fruit trees and shrubs has always been legal in CO. AZ also recently reversed many of their regulations prohibiting greywater use, largely thanks to the work of concerned, organized, and educated citizens. New developments are now REQUIRED to install greywater systems.

Don't count out the bureaucrats entirely. They're people with common sense, too, and they'll happily do whatever their boss pays them to do.

7/4/11, 5:35 PM

Kate said...
I like the title. To my mind it highlights the extremely heightened culture of competition that is modern Western society. As an example, it can hardly be a healthy sign when a riot breaks out simply because a sports team some people identify with loses to another sports team they don't identify with.

It's ironic that if you asked people seriously why we need to be so competitive many will likely concede we live in a world of finite resources. However, try to use that fact as a premise for fostering cooperation and the responses about resource availability begin to morph.


One thing I'd love to hear more of in the stories-we-tell-ourselves category are those that move a bit farther away from the belief that (most) people will never do this or that (power down, consume less, cooperate more, reduce dependency, wake up, etc).

I find it difficult to believe that telling ourselves and each other such things gives us the most options for building a more resilient future. Of course, I also don't believe we're *all* going to have a sudden mass epiphany where we all clearly agree on what that realistically means.

I do think none of us really know how much influence we can have as individuals and collectively. Not setting up so many self-defeating stances is probably more conducive to having less ideologically polarized discussions in the future. Just my opinion, but it comes from years of observing baby boomers evolve.

BTW, I mean this last comment in general and not specific to your blog community, Mr. Greer


7/4/11, 10:44 PM

Jason Heppenstall said...
Okay Bill, point taken about water cooled a/c in humid climes. Still, I imagine it would work quite well in places like Arizona.

I read an interesting article today claiming that 1 million people in Britain stopped driving last year because it had become too expensive for them (i.e. demand destruction). You can see the article here

The signs of resouce depletion are coming thick and fast now, from a friend who received a letter yesterday from the Spanish tax authorities explaining that they could not pay her a tax rebate 'because we have run out of funds' to a local council worker I saw last week figuring out which white stripes on a zebra crossing really needed painting and which didn't (usually it all gets painted).

Thanks again for a great thought provoking post. I'm with you on 'not playing the game', although I'm still searching round for a nice place not to play it in.

7/4/11, 11:27 PM

Cathy McGuire said...
@BillP ...all you folks suggesting nifty a/c alternatives based on evaporative cooling that these simply do not work in humid climates.

That is a great reminder of one of the basic principles of green wizardry: local knowledge and local skills! We are soooo accustomed to global or universal knowledge (one size fits all)that we often forget when reading all these great books or online sources that we have to spend time checking on how it works in our own environment. Which is why this "learning time" is so important to me! It takes a summer for me to see how my gardening attempts work; it takes a winter for me to see how my insulation works, etc. We have to get out of the "one right answer" mindset, IMO.

7/5/11, 6:34 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
@Lucan: I first moved here from Portland, Oregon in 1981. To the town of Centralia, Washington (pop. about 17,000).

I'm going through that now. I moved from Portland (which I thought was incredibly slow when I moved in, in 1985)four years ago, and now when I go back, I wonder how folks can put up with all the junk noise and visual clutter! And the crowds! LOL.
I sometimes worry about becoming so noise-aversive, but then I decide that it's so much more comfortable that I don't care if it's "nuts". I so enjoy my semi-boonie life now that I could never go back!

7/5/11, 6:40 AM

Tracy G said...
Thank you for repeating that, Bill. It's sad that the great Google glitch ate your dew point comments a while back. I thought your explanation was brilliantly clear.

It's not as swampy in Nebraska as in the Deep South, yet we do sometimes suffer major humidity problems here, as well. The summer of 2008 was a bad one. I lost a parrot that year. The pathology results were inconclusive, but the cause of death was a noncontagious respiratory condition, with aspergillosis as the most likely candidate. Our basement was very damp, and with mold beginning to visibly grow in several places. I wouldn't be surprised if our house was full of spores.

After that heartbreaking experience, I gave up and bought a dehumidifier. I run it only on days when the dew point is high enough that I begin to see condensation. It consumes almost as much electricity as a refrigerator. But that's the tradeoff I've made, for now, in exchange for not using much air conditioning. Our three remaining parrots (all older birds, adopted from rehome and rescue situations) have thankfully not become "canaries in a coal mine" for poor air quality in our home.

I wish there was a better solution. Maybe I've overlooked something. I'm certainly open to suggestions from anyone. I have concluded that intentionally bringing more moisture into the home isn't a good idea for us, though.

7/5/11, 9:33 AM

Harriet Cooke said...
The scenario you present as a natural flow from abundance industiralism to scarcity industrialism is probably correct IF we stay locked into the current debt based economic system of competition. However, this is not the only option and we will need tremendous political will of the people to construct a complimentary economic system with local currencies that can fund the needed work of decontamination and restoration of the environment, social services, as well as education of the populace about issues of sustainability, as well as funding research and development of decentralized sustainable and clean energies (which have trouble being funded and developed by a competitive economic system. Human capacity is here! and all evolves in time through the collective consciousness, the will of the Holy Oneness. May we all live to see the day when political decisions and social structure are formed out of the power of love, in place of the love of power. Good to meet you all :) b'shalom, Harriet

7/5/11, 11:25 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Lloyd, one of the reasons I started this blog was precisely to get past the limits of one conversation at a time; still, that's the place where deeper change is going to have to take place. Leveraging the resources of government -- well, that's a ways off yet, and we'll need to be ready to jump through the window of opportunity when it opens, because it won't stay open indefinitely.

Mark, it's slow work, under almost any conditions. I don't have anybody to put through college, and I still don't get as much done as quickly as I'd like -- a living to earn, and all that. Still, each positive step is better than nothing.

Cherokee, that's a good point, of course. Nobody wants to believe that the current supermarket of options could go away, slowly or suddenly, in the not too distant future.

Jason, air conditioning gives me bronchitis; that's one of the several reasons I don't use it. I suppose it could play a Darwinian role in the near future!

Cathy, understood! It's seemed to me for a long time that a great many of the people I know who live high-stimulation, plugged-in lives don't seem to be able to think; they can parrot slogans and sound bites, but try to get past that and you get either bafflement or an odd, brittle sort of anger. I've sometimes thought that media, electronic games and the internet are the drugs we use to numb ourselves to the point that we don't have to notice just how late it's gotten and how cold the wind has become.

DIYer, already there. When Blogger becomes pay-to-play, as it will eventually, or when restrictions of other sorts start narrowing down the internet, I'll shift to my own website for a while, as a transitional measure, while making arrangements to take the Report into the world of print media. Exactly how that latter works will depend on other details -- it may be a monthly column in an existing magazine, or it may be an independent newsletter with a modest subscription cost. I'll keep the list posted as that point comes closer.

Steve, that's good to hear.

Kate, there's a fine line to tread with regard to suggestions that "X is not going to happen." You're quite right that it can be an excuse for inaction, or for that matter a justification for doomer porn of various kinds. Still, it's fair to say that if something has been tried, and tried, and tried again, and has failed every time, holding it up yet again as a viable option for the present is probably not a good idea.

Jason, thanks for the heads up. That's very much worth hearing.

Tracy, I don't know how much use it will be in hot weather, but cast iron woodstoves suck moisture out of the air -- to the extent that in winter, a lot of people keep a kettle of water on the stove all the time to keep the air from becoming too dry. I'll keep an eye out for other methods.

Harriet, er, if you can tell me where to find that "tremendous political will of the people," I'd be glad to hear it. What I see is a very small number of people who are willing to admit that there's a problem at all, and a small fraction of that fraction willing to do something about it, while the rest insist that everything's just fine. While you're waiting for the appearance of the ideal society you've sketched out, by the way, won't you consider taking the time to insulate and weatherstrip your home, plant a vegetable garden, and decrease the burden you place on the living Earth? That way, whether or not Utopia shows up, you'll have done some measurable good...

7/5/11, 2:00 PM

Antony said...
Tracy G,
A co-worker of mine managed to jerry rig a dehumidifier using de-icing compound. He uses the Potassium (?) based salts, but I've heard of people using Sodium based as well. Here's the basics of how to make one yourself: . Eventually, the salt will dissolve, but I can't see why you can't rig up a solar dehydrating system for the brine, to deconstitute it back into water.

7/5/11, 4:32 PM

Tracy G said...
Thanks, John Michael! I probably wouldn't use a woodstove intentionally for that purpose (I can't even imagine how hot it'd be in summer with that going full blast!), but it's high on our wish list. My neighbor five houses away uses one and likes it. Mr. G and I are on a path that will likely take us to Michigan in a few years. I'm not sure we'll get a woodstove installed here before that happens. Regardless, I'll absolutely insist that we have one there.

Incidentally, I tried discursive meditation for the first time ever this afternoon. I followed the helpful instructions in your article at the AODA website. That's good stuff. :-) I just wanted you to know that I liked it very much.

7/5/11, 5:04 PM

idiotgrrl said...
Okay. Having already bought "The Wealth of Nature", thus being ineligible for the bundle, I finally bought "Long Descent" on my July book budget. Am looking forward to reading it.

7/5/11, 7:29 PM

SophieGale said...
A new word for the group from the Christian Science Monitor:

"Instead of bigger, faster, cheaper, Americans need a more fulfilling, satisfying kind of prosperity. The ancient Greeks called it eudaemonia – 'flourishing' – which means the pursuit of fulfillment, inspiration, creation, and accomplishment."

7/5/11, 9:06 PM

Les said...
@those looking for passive cooling alternatives.
One great example is in Bill Mollison's Permaculture Designers Manual.
Hopefully you've arranged your house on a sunward facing slope and have a bit of space behind.
Dig a 1.5 metre ditch up the hill behind the house & stick a largish diameter pipe in it.
Uphill, the pipe has a shaded opening to the atmosphere.
The other end opens into the house.
The sun facing side of the house has a black painted metal chimney coming out of the roof space or glasshouse. Chimney heats up, rising heated air sucks hot air out of house. Cool air drawn in through pipe.
Presto! cool house, no added humidity.

7/6/11, 5:01 AM

Tracy G said...
Awesome, Antony. I think the method described in that link, basically a container of hygroscopic material with drainage, would certainly be worth trying in the dampest corner. I'll give it a whirl before summer's end.

I sometimes remove two or more gallons of water per day from the electric dehumidifier, so going exclusively low-tech would possibly require a nontrivial amount of time and effort! As much as I hate to admit this, JMG makes a valid point about the advantages of at least one family member leaving the formal economy, which then allows for more optimal management the home economy.

Working only part-time provides me enough spare energy to muddle through at least some fun and useful projects in the home and garden. I'd hate to quit my profession altogether, though, as it's rather green wizardly in itself (as a massage therapist, I'm essentially a hands-on type of healer), plus I truly love it. My husband also has green wizardly full-time work as the assistant director of a nature center.

I guess we'll see what the future brings. It's certainly good to know how to manage, at least, if one or both of us finds ourselves out of what's considered by "normal society" to be a job.

7/6/11, 6:43 AM

idiotgrrl said...
The suggestions for dealing with dry heat were excellent and I've used most of them. Now, with monsoon season coming on, can anyone can tell me how to deal with Hot & Muggy in an ordinary residential neighborhood (long, deep backyard to the east, neighbors' driveways to the north and south, street side facing west) instead of Hot & Dry?

Pat in Albuquerque

7/6/11, 1:13 PM

John Rushton said...
"Remnant, in theory anarchism -- which is what you're espousing, of course -- opens the door to a glorious new future of local, decentralized, non-coercive, blah blah blah. In practice? In Russia it paved the way for Lenin, in Spain for Franco, in Germany for Hitler...I could go on. As Edmund Butrke pointed out very sensibly a long time ago, it's remarkable how often the idealized futures held up as goals by ideologues give way to their exact opposite in practice."

I saw this a few days ago, and wanted to come back to it. It is rather important, both in the specific and the general point. A large and significant number of the people who are now doing the deep and important work at the heart of your writings here were inspired directly by theoretical anarchism and called themselves anarchists during a dramatic revival of the ideology that occurred around 2000. As a result anarchist thought has had a major direct and indirect influence on every major social movement the left has been willing to associate with since then, including permaculture, peak oil, and Transition, and many of their associated outer circles of activity. I was one of those activists, and I still occasionally use the term today, though increasingly less often. In fact I do still believe that the values and ideals and arguments raised by anarchism such as mutual aid, non-coercion, anti-oppression and anti-fascism are valuable and enduring, and of relevance to a society in decline, and I am loathe to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, even as I have drifted away from organized anarchist circles and their attendant pathos and flaws.

Anarchists often argue that their presence in Russia, Spain, and other countries during periods of fascist ascendence is evidence of their relative strength in the face of tyranny, when compared to more liberal opposition parties. No association is ever drawn between their presence and the success of such fascist parties, even defensively, as if the idea never even occurred to anyone, so it caught my interest with some surprise. I would love to see you expound on that point, as I think it would not only be relevant to our own current national political stew, it would also be of interest to a large number of readers who are coming from the same perspective as myself.

7/8/11, 2:43 PM

bigghrunk said...
"There's a game out there, and the stakes are high. And the guy who runs it figures the averages all day long and all night long. Once in a while he lets you steal a pot. But if you stay in the game long enough, you've got to lose. And once you've lost there's no way back, no way at all." -Dalton Trumbo

7/8/11, 7:56 PM

Frank Chapeau said...
I've been positioning myself to take advantage of a shift towards the salvage economy and hopefully help others along the way. This is my little blog on the subject.

7/15/11, 8:30 AM

Joel said...
There are larger projects out there than wedding invitations. Gillian Welch's album, The Harrow and the Harvest, had an album cover printed in letterpress.

Also, feel free to contact me with metallurgy questions. My guess is that the old pans were cooled more slowly, leading to fewer internal cracks and larger flakes of graphite. The smoothness is down to the fact that pans used to be cast for subsequent machining, while with new ones, we're intended to cook on the as-cast surface.

7/18/11, 9:08 PM

DoubtingThomas said...
@Susan -- in response to this "Friends in England have told me the most awful stories about the NHS and the huge number of militant Muslims who moved there and immediately went on the dole."

Seems to me those friends you mentioned had bought in to the scaremongering rhetoric peddled by certain UK tabloid newspapers with decades of experience in conveniently demonising by preying on their readerships latent or overt prejudices in order to a) promote sales and/or b) promote civilian dissatisfaction in order to further their owner's business interests ( Rupert Murdoch springs to mind or the chap who owns the Daily Express ). The tragic thing is that tactic by those papers has being going on at least since the 1930s. Of course back then it was demonising the influx of Jewish migrants fleeing persecution from Germany. There are articles where you could almost compare word for word the rhetoric just swapping Jew for Muslim and get the story from 1930 to now.

The U.K. NHS has done well, but in recent years it has been deliberately underfunded in order to create "problems" and open the door to private healthcare providers ( who take money out of the system by way of profits ). The Muslim related part of that quote was just out and out lies. There was no "huge numbers of militant muslims getting dole money.".

Some people really do seem to get off on buying in to the lies peddled by certain types of media.

1/15/17, 8:40 AM