Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Bargain with the Archdruid

My anomalous position as a writer and speaker on the future of industrial society who holds down a day job as an archdruid has its share of drawbacks, no question, but it also has significant advantages.  One of the most important of those is that I don’t have to worry about maintaining a reputation as a serious public figure. That may not sound like an advantage, but believe me, it is one.
Most of the other leading figures in the peak oil scene have at least some claim to respectability, and that pins them down in subtle and no-so-subtle ways. Like it or not, they have to know that being right about peak oil means that they might just pick up the phone one of these days and field an invitation to testify before a Senate subcommittee or a worried panel of long-range planners from the Pentagon. The possibility of being yanked out of their current role as social critics and being called on to tell a failing industrial society how it can save itself has got to hover in front of them in the night now and then. Such reflections tend to inspire a craving for consensus, or at least for neatly labeled positions within the accepted parameters of the peak oil scene.

I can only assume that’s what lies behind the tempest in an oil barrel that’s rocked the peak oil end of the blogosphere in recent weeks, following the publication of an essay by Permaculture guru David Holmgren titled Crash on Demand. Holmgren’s piece was quite a sensible one, suggesting that we’re past the point that a smooth transition to green tech is possible and that some kind of Plan B is therefore needed. It included some passages, though, suggesting that the best way to deal with the future immediately ahead might be to trigger a global financial crash.  If just ten per cent of the world’s population stopped using fossil fuels, he noted, that might be enough to bring the whole system down all at once.

That proposal got a flurry of responses, but only a few—Dmitry Orlov’s, predictably, was one of those few—noted the chasm that yawns between Holmgren’s modest proposal and the world we actually inhabit.  It’s all very well to talk about ten per cent of the population withdrawing from the global economy, but the fact of the matter is that it’ll be a cold day in Beelzebub’s back yard before even ten per cent of self-proclaimed green activists actively embrace such a project ,to the extent of making more than the most modest changes in their own livestyles—and let’s not even talk about how likely it is that anybody at all outside the culturally isolated fringe scene that contains today’s green subcultures will even hear of Holmgren’s call to arms.

Mind you, David Holmgren is a very smart man, and I’m quite sure he’s well aware of all this. An essay by David MacLeod pointed out that the steps Holmgren’s proposed to bring down industrial society are what he’s been encouraging people to do all along.  It occurs to me that he may simply have decided to try another way to get people to do what we all know we need to do anyway: give up the hopelessly unsustainable lifestyles currently provided us by the contemporary industrial system, downsize our desires as well as our carbon footprints, and somehow learn to get by on the kind of energy and resource basis that most other human beings throughout history have considered normal. 

Still, a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse; as far as I can tell, Holmgren’s essay hasn’t inspired any sudden rush on the part of permaculturists and peak oil activists to ditch their Priuses in the hopes of sticking it to the Man. Instead, it veered off into debates about whether and how “we” (meaning, apparently, the writers and readers of peak oil blogs) could in fact crash the global economy.  There was a flurry of talk about how violence shouldn’t be considered, and that in turn triggered a surge of people babbling earnestly about how we need not to rule out the use of violence against the system.

It’s probably necessary to say a few words about that here. Effective violence of any kind is a skill, a difficult and demanding one, and effective political violence against an established government is among the most difficult and demanding kinds. I’m sorry if this offends anybody’s sense of entitlement, but it’s not simply a matter of throwing a tantrum so loud that Daddy has to listen to you, you know.  To force a government to do your bidding by means of violence, you have to be more competent at violence than the government is, and the notion that the middle-class intellectuals who do most of the talking in the peak oil scene can outdo the US government in the use of violence would be hilarious if the likely consequences of that delusion weren’t so ghastly. This is not a game for dabblers; people get thrown into prison for decades, dumped into unmarked graves, or vaporized by missiles launched from drones for trying to do what the people in these discussions were chattering about so blandly.

For that matter, I have to wonder how many of the people who were so free with their online talk about violence against the system stopped to remember that every word of those conversations is now in an NSA data file, along with the names and identifying details of everybody involved. The radicals I knew in my younger days had a catchphrase that’s apposite here: “The only people that go around publicly advocating political violence are idiots and agents provocateurs. Which one are you?”

Meanwhile, in that distant realm we call the real world, the hastily patched walls of peak oil denial are once again cracking under the strain of hard reality. The Royal Society—yes, that Royal Society—has just published a volume of its Philosophical Transactions devoted to peak oil; they take it seriously.  Word has also slipped into the media that in December, a select group of American and British military, business, and political figures held a conference on peak oil; they also take it seriously.

Meanwhile, air is leaking out of the fracking bubble as firms lose money, the foreign investors whose wallets have been the main target of the operation are backing away, and the cheerleading of the media is sounding more and more like the attempts to boost housing prices around the beginning of 2008. The latest data point? Longtime peak oil researcher Jean Laherrere, who (let us not forget) successfully predicted the 2005 peak in conventional oil production well in advance, used the same modeling techniques to predict future production from the Bakken Shale. His call? A production peak in the fall of this year, with steep declines after that. He’s the latest to join the chorus of warnings that the fracking bubble is merely one more overblown financial scam moving inexorably toward a massive bust.

Of course we’ve been here before. Every few years, the mass media starts to talk about peak oil, proponents of business as usual look nervous, and those in the peak oil scene who are inexperienced enough not to remember the last few cycles of the same process start talking about the prospects of imminent victory. (Yes, I made that mistake a while back; I think we all have.) Then the walls of denial get patched up again, the mass media scurries back to some comforting fairy tale about ethanol, wind power, biodiesel, fracking or what have you; the proponents of business as usual go back to their normal blustering, and peak oil activists who got overenthusiastic about predictions of imminent triumph end up with egg on their faces. That’s standard for any social movement trying to bring about an unwelcome but necessary change in society. Each time around the cycle, more people get the message, and a movement smart enough to capitalize on the waves of media interest can grow until it starts having a significant influence on society as a whole.

That final step can arrive on various time scales; a successful movement for change can see its viewpoint filter gradually into the collective conversation, or there can be a sudden break, after which the movement can still be denounced but can no longer be ignored. Glance back through the last few centuries and it’s easy to find examples of either kind, not to mention every point between those two ends of the spectrum. I’m far from sure if there’s a way to tell how peak oil activism will play out, but my hunch is that it may be closer to the sudden-break end of the spectrum than otherwise. What lies behind that hunch isn’t anything so sturdy as a headline or a new study; rather, it’s something subtle—a shift in tone in the denunciations that The Archdruid Report fields each week.

I don’t know if other bloggers share this experience, but I’ve found that internet trolls are a remarkably subtle gauge of the mass imagination. There are some trolls who only show up when a post of mine is about to go viral, and others whose tirades reliably forecast the new themes of peak oil denial three or four months in advance. When some bit of high-tech vaporware is about to be ballyhooed as the miracle that’s going to save us all, or some apocalyptic fantasy is about to become the new reason why it’s okay to keep your middle class lifestyle since we’re all going to die soon anyway, I usually hear about it first from trolls who can’t wait to let me know just how wrong I am. It’s an interesting fringe benefit of a blogger’s job, and it’s alerted me more than once to trends worth watching.

It so happens that in recent weeks, some of the criticisms I’ve fielded have struck a distinctly new note. I still get the classic cornucopians who insist I’m babbling pessimistic nonsense and of course we’ll all be just fine, just as I still get the apocalypse fanboys who insist that I’m ignoring the fact that the doom du jour is sure to annihilate us all, but I’m now seeing a third position—that of course it’s a crisis and we can’t just go on the way we’ve been living, a lot of things will have to change, but if we do X and Y and Z, we can keep some of the benefits of industrial society going, and I’m being too pessimistic when I suggest that no, we can’t. Maybe everyone else in the peak oil scene has been getting these all along, but they’re new to my comments page, and they have a tone that sets them apart from the others.

To be precise, it sounds like bargaining.

I don’t imagine that anyone in the peak oil scene has missed the discussions of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of coming to terms with impending death—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—and their application to the not dissimilar experience of facing up to the death of the industrial age. Many of us can look back on our own transits through the five stages, and I’ve long since lost track of the times I’ve heard people at a peak oil event roll their eyes and mutter the name of one of the stages to whomever is sitting next to them. For the most part, though, it’s been a matter of individuals going through their own confrontations with the death of progress at their own pace.

Maybe this is still what’s happening, but I wonder. For a very long time, even among peak oil activists, the prevailing mood was still one of denial—we can solve this, whether the solution consists of solar panels, thorium reactors, revitalized communities, permacultured forest gardens, supposedly imminent great turnings of one sort or another, or what have you. After the 2008-2009 crash, that shifted to a mood of anger, and furious denunciations of “the 1%” and an assortment of more familiar supervillains became much more common on peak oil forums than they had been. The rise of apocalypse fandom has arguably been driven by this same stage of anger—suicidal fantasies very often get their force from unresolved rage turned inwards, after all, and it’s likely that the habit of projecting daydreams of mass extermination onto the future is rooted in the same murky emotional soil.

If that’s indeed what’s been happening, then bargaining is the next stage.  If so, this is good news, because unlike the two stages before it or the one that follows, the stage of bargaining can have practical benefits. If a dying person hits that stage and decides to give up habits that make her condition worse, for example, the result may be an improved quality of life during her final months; if the bargain includes making big donations to charity, the patient may not benefit much from it but the charity and the people it helps certainly will. People under the stress of impending death try to strike bargains that range all the way from the inspiring to the absurd, though, and whether something constructive comes out of it depends on whether the bargain involves choices that will actually do some good.

If this stage is like the ones the peak oil scene seems to have transited so far, we can expect to see a flurry of earnest blog posts and comments over the next few years seeking reassurance in a manner peculiar to the internet—that is, by proclaiming something as absolute fact, then looking around nervously to see if anyone else agrees. This time, instead of proclaiming that this or that or the other is sure to save us, or out to get us, or certain to kill us all, they’ll be insisting that this or that or the other will be an acceptable sacrifice to the gods of petroleum depletion and climate change, sufficient to persuade those otherwise implacable powers to leave us untouched. The writers will be looking for applause and approval, and if that I think their offering might do some good, I’m willing to meet them halfway. In fact, I’ll even suggest things that I’m sure to applaud, so they don’t even have to guess.

First is conservation. That’s the missing piece in most proposals for dealing with peak oil. The chasm into which so many well-intentioned projects have tumbled over the last decade is that nothing available to us can support the raw extravagance of energy and resource consumption we’re used to, once cheap abundant fossil fuels aren’t there any more, so—ahem—we have to use less.  Too much talk about using less in recent years, though, has been limited to urging energy and resource abstinence as a badge of moral purity, and—well, let’s just say that abstinence education did about as much good there as it does in any other context.

The things that played the largest role in hammering down US energy consumption in the 1970s energy crisis were unromantic but effective techniques such as insulation, weatherstripping, and the like, all of which allow a smaller amount of energy to do the work previously done by more.  Similar initiatives were tried out in business and industry, with good results; expanding public transit and passenger rail did the same thing in a different context, and so on.  All of these are essential parts of any serious response to the end of cheap energy.  If your proposed bargain makes conservation the core of your response to fossil fuel and resource depletion, in other words, you’ll face no criticism from me.

Second is decentralization.  One of the things that makes potential failures in today’s large-scale industrial infrastructures so threatening is that so many people are dependent on single systems. Too many recent green-energy projects have tried to head further down the same dangerous slope, making whole continents dependent on a handful of pipelines, power grids, or what have you. In an age of declining energy and resource availability, coupled with a rising tide of crises, the way to ensure resilience and stability is to decentralize intead: to make each locality able to meet as many of its own needs as possible, so that troubles in one area don’t automatically propagate to others, and an area that suffers a systems failure can receive help from nearby places where everything still works.

Here again, this involves proven techniques, and extends across a very broad range of human needs. Policies that encourage local victory gardens, truck farms, and other food production became standard practice in the great wars of the 20th century precisely because they took some of the strain off  overburdened economies and food-distribution systems. Home production of goods and services for home use has long played a similar role. For that matter, transferring electrical power and other utilities and the less urgent functions of government to regional and local bodies instead of doing them on the national level will have parallel benefits in an age of retrenchment and crisis. Put decentralization into your bargain, and I’ll applaud enthusiastically.

Third is rehumanization. That’s an unfamiliar word for a concept that will soon be central to meaningful economic policy throughout the developed world. Industrial societies are currently beset with two massive problems:  high energy costs, on the one hand, and high unemployment on the other. Both problems can be solved at a single stroke by replacing energy-hungry machines with human workers. Rehumanizing the economy—hiring people to do jobs rather than installing machines to do them—requires removing and reversing a galaxy of perverse incentives favoring automation at the expense of employment, and this will need to be done while maintaining wages and benefits at levels that won’t push additional costs onto government or the community.

The benefits here aren’t limited to mere energy cost savings. Every economic activity that can be done by human beings rather than machinery is freed from the constant risk of being whipsawed by energy prices, held hostage by resource nationalism, and battered in dozens of other ways by the consequences of energy and resource depletion. That applies to paid employment, but it also applies to the production of goods and services in the household economy, which has also been curtailed by perverse incentives, and needs to be revived and supported by sensible new policies. A rehumanized economy is a resilient economy for another reason, too:  the most effective way to maximize economic stability is to provide ample employment at adequate wages for the workforce, whose paychecks fund the purchases that keep the economy going. Make rehumanization an important part of your plan to save the world and I won’t be the only one cheering.

Those are my proposals, then: conservation, decentralization, rehumanization.  Those readers who are looking for applause for their efforts at collective bargaining with the forces driving industrial society toward its destiny now know how to get it here. I’d like to ask you to step out of the room for the next paragraph, though, as I have a few things to say to those who aren’t at the bargaining stage just now.

(Are they gone?  Good.  Now listen closely while I whisper:  none of the things I’ve just suggested will save industrial civilization. You know that, of course, and so do I.  That said, any steps in the direction of conservation, decentralization, and rehumanization that get taken will make the descent less disruptive and increase the chances that communities, localities, and whole regions may be able to escape the worst impacts of the industrial system’s unraveling. That’s worth doing, and if it takes their panicked efforts to bargain with an implacable fate to get those things under way, I’m good with that.  Got it? Okay, we can call them back into the room.)

Ahem. So there you have it; if you want to bargain with the archdruid, those are the terms I’ll accept. For whatever it’s worth, those are also the policies I’d propose to a Senate subcommittee or a worried panel of long-range planners from the Pentagon if I were asked to testify to some such body,. Of course that’s not going to happen; archdruids can draw up proposals on the basis of what might actually work, instead of worrying about the current consensus in or out of the peak oil scene, because nobody considers archdruids to be serious public figures. That may not sound like an advantage, but believe me, it is one.


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Derv said...

Great article as always JMG, and I agree wholeheartedly with your three recommendations. One question does come to mind, however, and it's one that you yourself put there: both rehumanization and decentralization are forms of increasing resiliency, which almost always involve a trade-off in decreasing efficiency.

In other words, when you decentralize and rehumanize, you are losing economies of scale in a big way and creating a number of redundancies. That seriously impacts efficiency. So if anything, these last two would likely increase the overall energy used, not decrease it.

Now, that could be "paid for" by conservation, and regardless it is absolutely a good idea from our perspective (as there will be no miraculous recovery of the industrial world), but how would it be justified to them? Based on the benefits to unemployment and decrease to systemic risk? Other than those two, I really can't see how the last two would be supported by the bargainers.

Either way, I'm all for enacting them on every level we can.

Babylon Falls - Tasmania. said...

Once a week I read your posts and shave my crystal balls, meditate and get a clearer vision of the big picture. Posts like this one though, touch, ever so lightly on the micro issue of me and my neighbourhood. That's what interests me most... that and how to keep my sons from being press ganged into decline wars. Thanks for your blog.

Grebulocities said...

There's an article in Forbes that calls shale oil promoters charlatans, and then goes on to lay out accurate information on peak oil, declining net energy, and the possible end of growth in the near future. I'm not sure how often accurate articles about peak oil appear on mainstream financial websites, but it could be a sign that the consensus about fracking giving us unlimited oil and gas is beginning to, ahem, fracture.

Richard Larson said...

I'm with you Archdruid. And I don't believe anyone in the blogisphere I've been reading is willing to waste a decade+ in jail, because any such violent action is going to make any difference whatsoever, in the direction of this government, which in my view is already heading straight to that backyard you mention.

I would also like to make it clear my Permaculture forest garden is for me, and those close to me. In no way am I under any illusion that most of the people are in any way interested in saving themselves, let alone this current society. Please make a note of this!:-)

One other method you should think to encourage is lowering the cost of shelter and land, and what it takes to turn them into life/self-sustaining places. Since it is impossible to pay everyone a wage high enough to afford the current pricing model, as jobs are in decline, is going to work - which brings us back to David Holmgren, I suppose.

Cherokee Organics said...


Well done and exactly 100% correct.

A couple of days ago (after another heat wave day here), I sat down to read that particular essay from David Holmgren and thought his proposals sounded not too unreasonable.

Then whilst supping on a homemade lemon cider (14% thanks to my lady, the master brewer here), I read a response to the essay and was so overwhelmed with disbelief that I almost at the same time had an apoplexy and spat lemon cider all over the keyboard and screen. I could not believe my eyes. Apparently the reasoning of the response went along the lines of, David's wrong because we’re going to have a fast crash, so it doesn't matter anyway.

A poorer civilisation (either resources or energy) didn't even cross the authors mind, unless of course it was used to prop up the argument proposing a fast collapse scenario.

Anyway, a deep breath later and I too came to the conclusion that the response was just words and it was the real world responses that were of importance.

I understand that once a civilisation has exceeded its resource base and carrying capacity, then without new inputs, it must conserve to maintain business as usual or it will contract. The concept isn't rocket science, but few are willing to accept a hands on response to the situation. Whilst still other people believe that people and the authorities will sit on their behinds and do nothing in the face of any sort of crisis.

Anyway, ranting aside, this week coming up promises not a single day below 30 degrees Celsius. Did I mention that winter was 2 degrees Celsius above the long term average, but here's the kicker: Summer has been just below 3 degrees Celsius above the long term average. Well done everyone.

Here's a YouTube update of life at the farm here during the current heatwave:

Farm Summer Update 2014 Heatwave

Keep warm up there in the North! We'd gladly take some of that cooler air.


Flagg707 said...

Speaking of people who no longer "...have to worry about maintaining a reputation as a serious public figure. That may not sound like an advantage, but believe me, it is one..." any news out there on Matt Savinar since he transitioned from Peak Oil poster child to his astrological efforts? I know he has an active astrology site but just curious if he is even allowed near an ASPO meeting or do all right-thinking peakists still cross to the other side of the street when he approaches?

I have him to thank for my own journey through the five stages of Peak Oil Grief (and, tangentially, to finding this site, among others).

Ken Valderrama said...


Raymond R said...

Great post - I especially liked the comments on the poor understanding that some commentators have of violent actions to change the system. A simple look at the news should disabuse them of any romantic notions they may have about revolutionary violence and if that isn't convincing, we have plenty of first hand witnesses to the reality of violence among our refugee community

Luke Boyd said...

Hi John Michael,
I love the idea of divining through interpretation of the whining of trolls. Do you understand them as trolls for hire or as simply expressing a collective unconscious that hasn't surfaced and/or been identified by marketers yet?

Bill Pulliam said...

Rehumanization, finally I have a convenient (though kinda long) word for it! Now when someone asks why I mow with a scythe and have no desire to borrow their rototiller, I can tell them I am rehumanizing. Because that is exactly why I do it. I need to know that I can do these things without gasoline if I choose, or no longer have the choice. Not that the word is likely to be understood... is this a new coinage, or just something I have missed before?

As for the introductory paragraphs, I need to ponder those before I ca formulate a comment. So much there.

Shining Hector said...

Seeing as this is a recurrent theme for you, ever consider another paradigm? I'm familiar with the whole five stages of grief thing, but it's an essentially passive therapeutic model. Appropriate since it's so often associated with the terminally ill. You just kinda sit there and watch and be supportive, but that's not really your objective. You want to push people to change, not lie down quietly and accept the inevitable.

Another model I was taught that for times when you're actually planning on taking a more active therapeutic role, the stages of change are more appropriate. Pre-contemplation <-> contemplation <-> preparation <-> action <-> maintenance. Granted that's more for a tangible goal, like stopping a self-destructive habit, but isn't that what we're really talking about anyway?

Pinku-Sensei said...

When I describe the viewpoint of ecological economists to my students, I take great pains to point out to them that one of the central tenets of the philosophy is that the current way of doing things is not only unsustainable, but irredeemable. It can't simply be reformed; it must be scrapped.

I also point out that voluntary scrapping is out of the question. The Earth Liberation Front isn't going to lead a revolution; they're basically glorified vandals for a cause. As described in the Oscar nominated documentary "If a Tree Falls," they were also the subjects of the largest domestic terrorism investigation U.S. history and many if not most of them are now in prison.

Consequently, there are two ways to get a new system, build an alternative system and hope that people abandon the old one for the new one on their own, or wait (patiently) for the old system to collapse of its own weight. Some of the organic food people have been trying the former, in particular Joel Salatin. Even he recognizes how difficult that is, as one of his books proclaims "Everything I Want to do is Illegal." The latter seems to be the position of people like you, Kunstler, and Ran Prieur. Unfortunately, the key word is patiently, and Kunstler comes off sometimes like the hungry vulture saying "Patience my foot!" while Prieur has given up on the system falling apart during his lifetime. You, at least, have maintained some perspective about the process.

Also, you're doing both. Not only are you waiting for collapse, you are advocating building the alternative system so that when people can no longer depend on the current way of doing things they have someplace to go. Other than the early adopters, they certainly won't do it without a major breaking of their change resistance, such as price signals and underemployment.

Finally, even the environmental economists, who agree with you and others that sustainability, resource depletion, and pollution are central problems but think that the system is reformable, can get behind your criteria for a bargain. Conservation has been recognized as the number one way to prolong a resource and is much more effective than increasing supply. Decentralization has also been getting attention for the past few decades, but requires more effort and has more resistance from entrenched interests. Finally, rehumanization is one that runs against the cult of progress. That's the one that Salatin and the rest of the alternative food production people have been butting their heads against for decades. It's the most difficult and will continue to be long after the cult of progress has become a cargo cult.

Thijs Goverde said...

One of the most significant impacts reading 1493 has had on me was to instill in me a certain peace of mind about the whole 'bring-the roof-crashing-down-upon-ourselves' solution to our predicament. The book mzde me realise that you can do this quite easily and non-violently in four simple steps: 1. go to Brazil, 2. collect as many SALB spores as you can, 3. go to South-East Asia, and 4. infect as many rubber plantations as you can.
Takes some planning, but it's feasible within a month or two. A few years later, industrial society will have a very serious problem and acute problem.

As if it needed more of those...

This idea has made my mind more quiet in two ways: I now feel that if I should ever become convinced that a fast crash would be a good idea, I could just go out and try to create one (well not anymore now, talked about it on teh webz - duh!). Plus, if people start boring me by arguing in that direction, I have now thought of a way to say 'Well quit yabbering and go have your crash, if you must'.

I sort of imagine it would be interesting to see people suddenly switching their position and start arguing against (this particular way of) bringing down the System.

Bill Pulliam said...

Heck with it, I can't organize all those thoughts into one coherent essay, so I'll just ramble. The things that leap to mind as I read the opening of this essay.

There's no Schadenfreude to be had in a global financial crash, no matter how tempting it might be to think so. It's all Schaden without the Freude. The actions that will be taken in response to it will be designed to salvage what is left for the powerful, leaving the rest of us even more destitute. It encourages panic, not well-thought out change. Besides, why try to trigger it by some scheme that has no chance of succeeding? It'll happen on its own. It always does.

So then it's on to old-fashioned anarchy,is it? Throwing bombs and monkey wrenches into the system? Again, why bother? It'll come down regardless in its own manner and time. But there's a more fundamental thing here. Violent uprising will happen when "the system" reaches a point that enough people are in bad enough circumstances that they feel it is literally worth dying in the effort to fight against it. And I mean dying horribly, mangled, bloodied, burning, in agony. And worth inflicting that same thing on others, who are no more "guilty" than you are yourself. Until that seems to large numbers of people like a reasonable risk, forget about your armed uprisings.

And then when we reach this point...? Well, thanks to Bareorge Obusha's long war we have raised a generation of young men who have experience with guerilla combat, making do with resources on hand, and homemade explosives. By and large these young men are not active in peak oil and other "green" circles. Their interests lie elsewhere. So who might they decide to label as "enemy" and who as "friend?" Not really clear at this point. And not being idiots, they are not gonna tell us in advance.

Bill Pulliam said...

Final thoughts (blogger comment length limit hit...)

And now to the imminent "return" of peak oil, after the fracking "glut" subsides. I have to wonder, if we are really in such an energy boom, why did one cold spell suddenly give us a major propane shortage? And an aside about this "Polar Vortex" nonsense. The news media have somehow sold us on the idea that we were the victims of something exceptional and unprecedented, "The Polar Vortex," I guess to make us feel better about our inability to cope with it. Well to this, I say, "pllllllllt." The "polar vortex" is a quasi-permanent feature of the Earth's atmosphere -- actually two of them, one at each pole. Same for every other planet that has an atmosphere. What we experienced was a "sudden stratospheric warming" event, a.k.a. an SSW. This happens when the polar vortex *weakens*, breaks up into a jumble of smaller vortices, and lets the cold air it previously had neatly corralled in the polar region spil out into the lower latitudes. So we did not experience a "polar vortex," we actually experienced a breakdown of the polar vortex. AND, it is in no way anything unusual. A SSW happens in the northern hemisphere in slightly more than half of our winters. Got that? Every other year, even a bit more. And the severity of this particular cold outbreak overall has been on the order of a 3-10 year recurrence interval. It's not remotely on par with the Great Freeze of 1985, when real (not made-up "wind-chill") temperatures went below minus 20F at stations as far south as Tennessee and Kentucky.

Sorry about the meteorological rant, but it has a purpose. I have to think that we need to convince ourselves that this was something exceptional, because we were barely able to deal with it. It's not possible that it was a run-of-the-mill climate deviation yet it stressed our power grid and fuel supplies perilously close to the breaking point. Because that would suggest that we are weak and vulnerable. Which we can't be.

So the "return" of peak oil after the Bakken goes bust... that is just scary no matter how inevitable it is or wherever you stand ideologically. It hits you in your wallet, sure, and in your stomach, your access to health care, your livelihood. It hasn't been fun, and it's not gonna get fun. And it's coming whether we cheer for it or against it.

Avery said...

Science seems to be on the Archdruid's side, not on the side of "imminent catastrophe" or "extinction by 2030". Here's how the Royal Society puts it:

Based upon current evidence [...], we estimate that around 11–15 mb per day of non-conventional liquids production could be achieved in the next 20 years at costs similar to or higher than today’s ‘marginal barrel’ at approximately $90–120 per barrel (figure 16). This would justify the IEA projection (figure 15), but only if crude oil production remains on a plateau over that period and NGL production expands as anticipated. If crude oil production falls, then total liquids production seems likely to fall as well, leading to significant price increases and potentially serious impacts on the global economy.

In combination, the papers provide a sobering picture of the challenges ahead. Most authors accept that conventional oil resources are at an advanced stage of depletion and that liquid fuels will become more expensive and increasingly scarce. The tight oil ‘revolution’ has provided some short-term relief, but seems unlikely to make a significant difference in the longer term. Even with a more sanguine view of global supply prospects, the large scale, capital intensity, long lead times and constrained potential of the various mitigation options point to the need for a coordinated response.

So, we have a long and leisurely walk down Hubbert's Peak ahead of us, with a decade (give or take) until the enormity of how many resources we have depleted becomes apparent. Keep the lemon cider flowing.

John Michael Greer said...

Derv, good. The advantages gained through rehumanization, though, aren't limited to resilience; it's also a matter of shifting from concentrated nonrenewable energy sources to more diffuse and more renewable ones, since human beings are fueled by the latter rather than by the former. This blast from the past might help put that into perspective a bit.

Babylon, glad to hear it. If you run into a press gang, you might take this piece of traditional Irish advice.

Grebulocities, okay, I'm impressed. If Forbes is starting to let honest talk about fracking into print, we're getting very close to crunch time.

Richard, the price of land will go down when people stop trying to use it as a store of abstract value -- which is to say, when enough of the current accumulation of imaginary wealth evaporates that the value of land consists of what can be done with it, rather than how much one can (theoretically) get from selling it. That's going to have to wait a bit yet -- though not indefinitely.

Cherokee, good heavens, don't waste good lemon cider on the keyboard! I strongly encourage drinking something of lower quality when reading the kind of nonsense you mention. ;-)

Flagg, that's an interesting question. I suspect a lot of people in the serious-figure end of the peak scene prefer to avoid being associated with him; for my part, I'm not so burdened, since archdruids are taken no more seriously than astrologers.

Ken, thank you.

Raymond, an excellent point.

Luke, I don't think they're hired flacks, no -- my guess is that trollomancy works because trolls don't think, they just spout whatever stirs their emotions, and so reflect the rock-bottom lowest common denominator of collective consciousness.

Bill, it's a brand new coinage. I've been fishing for a term for the deautomation revolution that'll be shaping the next century or so of economics, and finally found one I prefer.

Hector, understood, but the paradigm I'm using has a couple of crucial dimensions that yours lacks. On the one hand, we can't stop the industrial age from ending, any more than a terminally ill patient can stop dying; it's of vital importance, it seems to me, to acknowledge the limits of our ability to change what's happening, and avoid the kind of fantasies of entitlement that lead so many people these days to insist that we can just imagine whatever future we want, and then get it.

The other dimension is in some ways subtler. The corrosive sort of pseudo-positive thinking tha Barbara Ehrenreich dissected in her recent book Bright-sided likes to insist that grief, like other difficult emotions, is a bad thing that (at most) should be put to some therapeutic purpose and then replaced with smiley-face feelings. Even in the best of times, that's shallow, and when things are genuinely painful and hard, it can be hugely damaging. It's crucial, it seems to me, to allow ourselves to grieve over what is being lost, and what is going to be lost, in the very harsh future ahead of us. It's not enough to mentally decide what to do and then do it; rather, it's by facing the grief, the bitterness, and the terror, accepting them as necessary parts of life, and going on, that we can gain the courage and other nonrational strengths we're going to need to tackle this mess.

John Michael Greer said...

Pinku-sensei, the cult of progress is already a cargo cult; the promises it makes are no more likely to be fulfilled than those of John Frum. That said, I won't disagree -- rehumanization's the challenging one, which is why it needs to be talked about and brought back into the picture over and over again, until it sticks.

Thijs, excellent! It's always entertaining to get somebody blathering about how great things would be if the whole system were to crash, and then stop them in mid-spate by pointing out something they could do -- whether that consists of spreading a rubber tree pest or, say, getting rid of their SUV and McMansion. The backpedaling is a sight to behold.

Bill, good. The claim that "we" can cause a vast financial crash is simply a way of redirecting the entire issue into the same sort of daydream territory that balding middle-aged men inhabit when they imagine themselves with rock-star charisma and an 18-year-old poptart clinging to each arm. It's not real, and nobody actually believes that it's real, but it's a way of distracting oneself from those awkward moments when you realize that the life you hate is the product of the choices you've made and are continuing to make.

As for the "polar vortex" nonsense, you get tonight's gold star with plastic icicles and a little plush polar bear, for a dose of meteorological reality. We're going to hear a lot more of the same kind of nonsense as things proceed. Just because the climate's shifting doesn't mean that the shifts can't be blown out of proportion to excuse our collective failures.

John Michael Greer said...

Avery, it's not that science is on my side, it's that I do my best to stay on its side -- rather than the side of apocalyptic fantasy! As for the lemon cider, definitely, as long as it doesn't flow onto Cherokee's keyboard and screen... ;-)

Crews said...

John Michael Greer,

In my personal life I have taken many steps to redefine my understanding and values, as a happily downwardly mobile middle class young person. I have also found a more spiritual calling to Buddhism thanks to you and your writings! I have turned a career towards Biochemistry( diminishing marginal returns) to a more grounded focus in Forestry with the natural flows of sunlight. I want to thank you for a wonderful past year and half of eye opening and life changing experiences reading your blog. I feel as if I have developed "The Eye of the Archdruid." Which as with all powerful things, both a curse and a blessing.
In my time and experience I feel I have developed a complementary picture of continuing deindustrial future. There are two issues which I feel are of great importance, that are only occasionally touched upon in this blog (and perhaps for good reason?).

Violence, Competition and the Spectre of Forceful coercion.

Of course you acknowledge the most explicitly violent of the four riders. However, I would like to better understand how local vacuums of power contributed to personal and group level security and freedom? How do the warlords of a broken country rise to power? A good wizard had to have a good understanding of battlefield tactics in medieval times so it follows, shouldn't a modern green wizard not also have an understanding of risk, self defense and weapons knowledge? If Argentina or other countries, farther down the per capita energy curve, can tell us anything it is that robberies, kidnappings, extortion and many other crimes may become quite common.

The massive problem of systemic health issues

Soon after the peak of classic lowland Maya civilization the populace became afflicted with a variety of health conditions. One of them being Porotic-Hyperstosis from Anemia. Long before the fields of maize withered and died due to a combination of depleted soils and drought, the Mayan diet shifted from diverse to very narrow as agriculture intensified from swidden methods to more intensive raised beds. This led to only a few poor nutrient content crops available to the Mayan people.
The obvious parallel is the epidemic of diabetes, heart disease and cancer in America, perpetuated by an increasingly fragile diet of intensely processed carbohydrates loaded with added sugar and preservatives. More and more poor Americans are turning to cheap soy, corn and wheat products mixed with vegetable oil and sugar for their daily nutrition. The stealth inflation in the declining quality of food has riddled modern Americans with too many once rare conditions to count. Depression and mental health issues, autoimmune diseases and other multi-factored diet related illnesses will make it much more difficult for many people to live a retro lifestyle that requires a fair amount of hard mental and physical work in harsh and unforgiving elements. A rising tide of plain batshit crazy people are being held back by a crumbling system of prescription anti-depressants, painkillers and other psychotropics.
If the future is here but is simply not evenly distributed, does it look like the worst parts of inner cities and small towns? If so, its not that pretty, and I wonder if it will even have a decent "look" much less a decent "life" to it?

-Robert Martini

Joy Hughes said...

I am all for decentralization and getting in as many solar panels as we can while the infrastructure exists to make them, rather than pushing the crash along any faster than it has to go.

Philip Steiner said...

@Bill Pulliam, @JMG - instead of "rehumanization", how about rehabilitating Luddism, not in the reactionary, machine-smashing anarchsitic popular sense, rather in its more positive, original sense, as a movement by working people to reclaim the dignity of human labour from the mechanical grasp of automation?

Its short, easy to form into a moun, a verb or adjective, and despite its negative overtones, it could be co-opted to John's idea, in the same way that the gay community reclaimed "queer" and made it a label of honour. So the next time your neighbour offers his gas-powered root tiller, just say "Thanks, mate, I'll just ludd along with my scythe today!"

das monde said...

Funny, doesn't it look like globalization elites are implementing Holmgren's Crash on Demand already? The financial crisis has left significant population portions cut from advanced perks, and the process is deepening. Whole Mediterranean countries are forced to cut consumption, while Ukraine (and Syria, Egypt, Iraq?) are experiencing downsizing by violence. South America, Eastern Europe are gradually turning back to feudal institutions, while Cuba, North Korea, Africa are scarcity laboratories for decades already. Joyful growths in the Far East are clearly unsustainable - further predictable crashes are coming. Those games of economic reforms and predictions, polar or consensus politics, of achievements and failures, individual responsibility and “earned” indulgence are playing out nicely, no?

wall0159 said...


It was my comment last week that you referred to "bargaining" (tho perhaps not the only one). It may or may not be true, but I actually feel like I'm coming there from the other direction (ie. my views are less negative now than they were 2 years ago). I've been reading your blog for about 5 years, and have found it very helpful. I essentially agree with your thinking, but I'm not convinced that industrial society is yet doomed. It is certainly looking grim though -- particularly in the US.

I have written a space bats entry. It's very unexiting, and I understand if you don't want to publish it, but it outlines my best guesstimate at what the future holds for today's young adults:
(ps. any thoughts from anyone about the story are most welcome -- it's my first since school ;-)

Paul Konasewich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I would not be too sure that you will not see your own Senate-subcommittee-hearing-moment (or the like), dear Archdruid. History has an interesting way of working it's (may i call it?) magic.
Whatever happens, it will probably take time.

On a different note: I personally struggle with the bargaining behavior you describe. I tend to tell myself a story that I'll work real hard or found a "flippable" business to get my pile of cash and buy a bit of land (and perhaps an ocean-worthy sailboat -- having dear ones across 3 continents is of concern).
While these plans are potentially (no more, no less) valid, they also serve to distract me from other suffering I accrue and time wasted not learning useful skills in husbandry, because of life choices I have made: City-dwelling and itinerance.
Cracking those nuts is a very personal process which is taking way too many years. But it is the years it takes.

I am quite grateful for your interesting and well-put writing as accompaniment! I don't think I've skipped a post in years.

jean-vivien said...

I live in France in the biggest city without directly using much fossil fuels myself - never drive a car myself, travel by train, hardy need heating in my accomodation... and yet I constantly rely on other people doing it for me : somebody has to drive me home when I get to the train station, or the water I get from the tap requires energy to arrive... and my job totally relies on a high-tech industrial civilzation.

Stopping completely to use FF is a dangerous delusion, first acknowledging how much you rely on others doing it for you would be a sane first step towards any appropriate bargaining.

One thing that will NOT be threatened by the lack of FF, on the contrary, will be leisure : I do theater, martial arts... all of which require little FF. On the other hand, the lack of free time to enjoy it WILL be a serious threat to even the least dispendious forms of leisure.

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...


oddly enough, your trollmancy fringe-benefit is one that also accrues to those who run financial/investment websites. They find that both the number and emotional intensity of fanatical troll attacks coincides rather precisely with market turns. That is to say, trolls are the best indicators of "market sentiment" reaching such a fever pitch that whatever price trend is generating such extreme emotions cannot be sustained and will reverse.

Market watchers try to keep an eye on various pieces of the financial puzzle and "market sentiment" is traditionally the most slippery of those pieces. It's extremely difficult to get a good read on it, unless you happen to run a financial website and thusly have access to the live feed of raw troll-venom.

However, I believe you are the first to give a name to the skill of interpreting such live feeds :)

Ilkka Nykänen said...

If rehumanisation is indeed the meme that needs to be seeded to our collective consciousness, then I suppose it would help if we could somehow help people to rehumanise their own lives. With this I mean restoring low-tech skills to the everyday life. Once people begin to feel the empowerment it gives them, perhaps the idea of a more collective shift on a macro level will begin to seem more acceptable.

You can lift that weight. You can mend that shirt. You can bake the bread you eat. You can memorize all the numbers you want. You can take responsibility of your life and not surrender it to technology, the entertainment industry and other corporate interests.

I have no heroic deeds to display, but at least I think I get the idea and have taken some modest steps. I write a blog (Finnish only), though I rarely post, on the topic of memory techniques in the hopes of sharing some of my work with those in my language group. I hope that I could spark an interest to this skill that is very much at the heart of the rehumanisation project. I owe my own interest on the subject to your article on the Art of Memory that I read years ago. The Internet is full of useful material, but the methods do not always transfer smoothly to another language. Thus my modest contribution.

Robert Magill said...

Entry: 'Return of the Space Bats!'

The SIXPACK Colony Experiment

In the middle of the twenty-first century, roughly four decades after Ralph Nader’s ‘novel’ suggestion, the super- rich decide the time has come to save the day (and what remains of civilization). The Euro has collapsed, followed in short order by the dollar and the commissars in China are barely holding the renmimbi together. Growth, that shibboleth of generations of progress touts, has ceased. A handful of powerful, like-minded tycoons...

Robert Magill said...

I'll be 83 this year so the prospect of life in prison (torture is a different matter) is not terribly daunting; could be just a fortnight. So, despite your wise caveats; take this NSA ! Maybe we can stick it to the man. In the best possible way, of course.

How Our Republic was Finally Rescued From Itself /or
50 Men, Women and Children Save our Bacon.

...Secret Plan: Your Eyes Only. Need-To-Know Established. Emergency use only! Not to be attempted until things get so bad nothing else is feasible. The basis of the Secret Plan is to use racism against racism. To do this, start by recruiting 50 individuals, one from each state. They must be 15 years or older, of either gender, no maximum age, providing they are athletic and capable of running, jumping etc. They are to be recruited individually and must have zero knowledge of each other. Do not recruit persons exhibiting racism, homicidal tendencies or who exhibit personal grudges against anyone. One other recruitment requirement; the candidate must be of obvious African descent, preferably of dark complexion.

Here's where it gets messy...and bloody. ...

Nestorian said...

I can see your point about not having to worry about being taking seriously as a public figure being an advantage. I have long regard you, Richard Heinberg, and Nicole Foss as the three best commentators overall in the Peak Oil pantheon. However, I must say that I have been disappointed to see Richard gingerly step away from some of the more radical and controversial opinions he gave in his early "Party's Over."

The single most noteworthy example of this is his quietly backing away from musings in that book about who he thought was really responsible for 9/11. But I think the shift I am referring to in his recent writings is both deeper, more subtle, and more pervasive. And it's disheartening to see him no longer fully speak his mind.

As for Nicole, I don't know whether she has any aspirations to conventional respectability; but I do think we are FINALLY in the very early stages of the catastrophic world financial/debt-bubble collapse that she, following the Pythagorean math-based wave theorists at, Robert Prechter's outfit, has been predicting as imminent for some years now.

The timing problem, as I see it, is principally due to Prechter's dogmatic allegiance to the idea that stock market movements COMPLETELY lack exogenous moving causes. In a recent issue of ELLIOT WAVE THEORIST (November, I believe), he both affirmed this dogma once more, while complaining about its contradictory opposite in practically the next paragraph - to wit, that the Fed's quantitative easing has completely distorted market movements.

But what is he complaining about here other than QE as an exogenous market mover? If he were only to let go of his dogma and to integrate the reality of some measure of exogenous causality into the Elliot Wave picture, then I think the Elliot Wave types would enjoy their not infrequently remarkably accurate financial predictions far more often than they do now.

(This applies to Peak Oil too, by the way: Prechter scoffs at it, and thus also dismisses it, by way of corollary, as a potential exogenous cause impacting market movements.)

DE said...

JMG, yet another sane, insightful and helpful post. Your point about rehumanization reminds me of Charles Lummis in his book Radical Democracy: "How and when a people prospers depends on what they hope, and prosperity becomes a strictly economic term only when we abandon all hopes but the economic one." We're not just antidemocratic but inhumane -- even moving into "cruel and unusual" territory -- when we value efficency over the lives of human beings.

Kathy Johnson said...

This post will be extremely helpful as I walk a certain emotional and intellectual tightrope. Thank you, JMG.

RPC said...

I'll have to go back and reread Holgren's essay. I thought he wasn't stating that "If just ten per cent of the world’s population stopped using fossil fuels" the system would collapse. My interpretation was that he thought that if ten percent withdrew from the financial system it would crash. This withdrawal could consist of nothing more than using one's savings or (deity forbid) retirement accounts to pay off one's debt. He might be right, too; the system is VERY brittle. But I worry about the loss of rights, let alone privileges, that the resulting emergency might engender.

Master Oogway said...

Speaking of polar vortexes, have you noticed the Arctic weather lately?

Bill Pulliam said...

Within the metaphor of the dying patient, we are looking for several things. First, we need palliative care to alleviate, as much as possible, the suffering during the final period. This would include transitional technologies like PV solar that are not going to last forever but that can help in the long decline. We must recognize that suffering cannot be entirely eliminated, however. Once all reasonable treatment measures have been exhausted, we just need a comfortable place for hospice care. And we need to have the affairs in order so that the dying patient can leave a legacy for its survivors; within the metaphor, this means knowledge and resources to go on after the patient has died.

Remember also that it is not humanity that is dying, it is industrial civilization. Humanity will still be around after the patient is gone.

LarasDad said...

From a link within the Forbes article that Grebulocities posted:
(talking about Tim Morgan's "Life after Growth")

He points out that the wealth of the world today exists because of cheap energy. When cheap energy no longer exists, the wealth disappears and our standard of living declines. We need to adapt to a lower growth future now.

It’s an eye opening book because Morgan makes a real point that debt is an advance claim on food and energy. Food and energy are analogs. Food is energy and energy is food. There will be less in the future and they will cost a lot more money. The one issue pretty much everyone agrees on is that there is far more debt in the world than can ever be repaid. It’s interesting that governments around the world entertain the interesting theory that they can borrow their way to prosperity. That’s going to blow up soon as reality bites into our fantasies.

This form a gold-bug blogsite, no less !

William Church said...

Bravo John, great post once again.

I grew up running the hills and streams and rivers of my youth holding a shotgun, a rifle, a flyrod, a sack full of ginseng... or whatever. As as adult I still love to do these things. I also love to talk about all of them and frequent a few of the net hot spots of outdoor enthusiasts.

Unfortunately I have run into quite a few far right types who are so dissatisfied with the direction of the US and its government that they almost salivate over the prospect of a full blown civil conflict to "take back" what they feel has been taken from them. I have tried in vain to explain how futile and stupid this kind of talk and attitude is. People in this fantasy land cannot be reached they can only be avoided and shunned.

IMvHO, the most useful things that can be done regarding our current energy situation are either very personal or very political. And just as you and I have been taught as Masons, improvement as a man (or woman) comes with hard work and discipline. You make a "better world" one "better man" at a time.

It isn't as romantic as civil conflict or sudden apocalypse or revolution with their heroes and villains and just causes and whatnot. It takes hard work to learn new skills and new ways of thought and action. But it works. Takes a long time but it works.

No need to tempt the Grim Reaper. Unless we can adapt and find new solutions (and, tbh, get blessed with some very good luck) he'll be busy enough.


M said...

Speaking of appearing before hostile government committees, I wanted to mention Pete Seeger's passing. I live in the same Hudson Valley town as Pete did, and had the pleasure of chatting with him several times. Pete's outlook on life embraced the qualities you mention here. He was also admirably consistent in his principles throughout his long life. Even if he did nothing more than give that testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee, he would be an example of a hero in my book--a word too often misused.

In terms of the seven technologies you mentioned and the three policies or techniques mentioned in this post, I'm trying to figure out what kind of jobs that can support a family these might translate to. As families fall out of the "middle class" one at a time, what can they turn to? Not manual agricultural labor on any scale at the moment. What are the specific transitional jobs that make sense on the early part of the slope down? It's getting scary out here.

Karl said...

One other thing about this week's weather - I saw a photo gallery titled "10 photos from Atlanta that totally look like a zombie movie".

Except that, well there were no zombies. In fact people were generally helpful and adapted as they could, including sleeping in the aisles of the closest supermarket. Wonder if that sank in to any of the people writing the headlines.

William Church said...

BTW, I read that article mentioned by Grebulocities yesterday. He is starting to get it, he is SO close. Give him another few years and he'll be where my favorite economics guy was 7 or 8 years ago. It is called Peak Cheap Oil and he coined the phrase.

This theory comes as close to explaining reality as any I have come across. It also has the added bonus of having a hard date when it occurred. I believe that was 1994 though I would have to check.

It may not be as glamorous as the standard Peak Oil theory and some of the apocalyptic story lines you get with it. But it is just as chilling. The long term implications are immense.


zaphod42 said...

I have noticed that people often engage in a conversation by saying they are not going to join. Is this what I am seeing here, vis-a-vis activist musings about violence?

Maybe... and maybe I just joined with you. I have noticed that non-violent protests of late have provoked violent response, and so wonder whither we travers...

Enjoyed the post, as always. Bargain, bargain - I think I am well into depression, as I have found myself appologizing to my grandchildren more fequently of late.

Best wishes to get through the coming decade and 'interesting times.'


Varun Bhaskar said...

Hey JMG,

So this is my second time commenting on your blog, and I can honestly say I've been through the stages of grief. I kinda reached the acceptance part a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, in my first post I said I was working on a project that will help me contribute to this community. I've been slowly chipping away at it and even though it isn't ready I decided to introduce it to the archdruid community. Mostly because that guardian article isn't the only one I've seen about high-level government meetings on this topic.

My project is a digital newspaper called View on the Ground.
View On The Ground - An open source intelligence co-operative of researchers and writers. We track global patterns concerning political, economic, environmental, and social instability and how they affect you locally. Our purpose is to inform, educate, and train those of you who want to become more engaged and effective citizens in your community.

If you go to that link it'll be pretty obvious that they website isn't ready, but we've starting putting material up. Read the "about us" section to get a better idea of what we're doing!

Anyway, I hope that this project will be helpful to all of you. I'll keep chipping away at it.



latefall said...

@ Derv

I used to look for highly efficient solutions as well.

And I'd say efficiency and resiliency are not opposites. But as you say at some point they will in conflict.

However if you look at the bigger picture/longer timescales these things tend to converge again quite often...

latefall said...

On violence:
I like the way JMG stresses that you government is a tad ahead of your learning curve for using violence as an instrument (and dealing with it).
If you want to have a realistic chance you would probably have to band up with the number 2 or 3 (mafia, warlords) to get something done.
I you were still serious about organized violence I urge you to read a bit, e.g. here:
Favorite quote: "If you carry gun and brain at same time, you do not look for trouble too."

I agree with Thijs that it would not be too difficult to bring a nation or significant parts of the system down. But the result would be a massive loss of trust (misplaced as it is). And then what?
Your options would be more limited than before cause no one listens anymore. And you can't just pump trust out of the ground, the way we can do with energy at the moment.

Unknown said...

Jay here. I see considerable parallels between industrial society and my elderly diabetic mother. Indulgence (in sweets or energy, as the case may be) makes the situation deteriorate quickly. Restraint makes the situation deteriorate more slowly. But ultimately there's no way to turn back the clock; the question is more of rate than of destination.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- Story submission for your contest:

Isaac Hill said...

Great essay, as always. I've been waiting for you to address Holmgren's article since I read it. Though the discussion of the article is relegated to the first few paragraphs, I see his ideas resonating in the rest of your essay. For me, as a permaculturist, your three prescriptions are permaculture principles; conservation(david's 2d principle, catch and store energy), decentralization (sort of all through many principles), and rehumanization (5. use & value renewable resources and services, 9. use small, slow solutions.) I reckon your 3 are a little more succinct though. If I may, I believe that you are being especially sly in this report, not just for repackaging permaculture principles, but for putting the suggestion out there for the government to listen to you. ;-)



John in Cape Charles Va said...

"rehumanization"...I guess that is what my wife does when she tells me she doesn't want to use herbicides so John, go weed the gardens....

This doom stuff is hard work!


Enrique said...

John Michael,

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a front page article pointing out that companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell have spent hundreds of billions of dollars (more than $120 billion in 2013 alone) to develop new oil fields to replace rapidly depleting reserves, but the results have been disappointing to say the least and their production rates continue to decline. It’s behind a paywall, but here it is if anyone here has a subscription to the Wall Street Journal and missed it. If you don’t have a subscription, you may want to go to your local library and see if they have a copy or access to an online database like ProQuest. It’s well worth taking the time to read.

In fact, in today’s WSJ, there is a report that Exxon Mobil’s profits and stock prices have been declining due to their inability to maintain production levels even with heroic efforts to replace existing reserves. I am reminded of that GE ad that someone shared last in the discussion thread for last week’s essay. They commented that it seemed to them that the ad was a subtle attempt to prepare the masses for the reality of Peak Oil. I suspect that articles like the one I just cited represent a similar effort aimed at the business community and the corporate elites. The harsh truth is that no amount of wishful thinking, fracking, deep sea drilling, strip mining in Alberta or (to borrow a term from Kunstler) is going to replace the now-ending cheap energy bubble, while “drill, baby, drill” is just another lullaby that serves no useful purpose except to lull the herd to sleep. The fact that the corporate mass media and news agencies like the Wall Street Journal are starting to let the cat out of the bag is telling, even if they aren’t yet willing to use the dreaded P.O. word.

Justin Wade said...

"Rehumanize" the economy

That is a brilliant coinage on a lot of levels, and I would not be surprised if that catches on in the same way that "green" and "Steady state" have.

It also affirms a human-centric outlook on human economy, which depending on your doctrine, may or may not be considered a good thing. Doctrine is just a narrative though, should not get in the way of action.

The thing I love about your coinage above all others is that it throws into sharp relief the relationship between the individual and "the economy."

"The economy" is nothing more or less than the exchange of social and material capital, and this is a fractal definition such that no matter what context we delineate, global, local, national, household, political, etc., the fundamental nature remains the same.

So what is it to rehumanize the economy? It is to move more of one's interactions in the exchange of material and social capital from machine to human.

The environmental movement has lost on two fronts.
One is the delegation/deferral of personal responsibility to the abstract realm of entities and systems such that one's input into the system is the support one gives to a political party, and it is to that political entity the responsibility falls to change the system according to the individual's wishes. The problem with this is that political action is but a minor and relatively insignificant percentage of one's actual activity in the economy, even for the most dedicated.

When politics fail, the individual is left without hope and feels powerless. The problem is not with politics, it is with the mindset that conceives of democracy/politics into a value rather than see it as a finely tuned instrument or tool with specific and appropriate applications. The environmental movement defines and describes problems away from the individual, its principles have little application to personal context.

Rehumanize cuts right to the heart of the matter. So what is it to rehumanize the economy? Go through a checkout line rather than a self-checkout terminal. Read a book rather than a web page. Call a friend out of the blue and chat rather than go online. Bike rather than drive. Walk rather than bike. Talk rather than email. Where you have the choice, no matter what your context, push for interaction with humans rather than machines.
Grow your own lettuce rather than let the machines grow and harvest it for you.

All those actions one takes in the day amounts to their role in the economy, the idea of improving the ratio of human:machine interaction at any point is a direct, applicable action everyone can take to rehumanize their personal economy.

At an individual level, we all have the power to rehumanize our personal economy.

Good work, JMG!

John Franklin said...

Well said. Thanks for this.

anchyo123 said...

Thank you for the excellent post. I appreciated the humour :-) which is one of the only things that will keep us sane in the midst of insane behaviours.

The Primitive said...

Thank you for yet again another wonderful post JMG. I find it reassuring when I'm already following your suggestions.

Speaking of which, since the start of this new year, I've moved out of my very fancy suburb to a communal house out on the edge of town. It's the type of neighborhood that when I tell my coworkers where I live now, they look at me like I've suggested vacationing in Syria. We heat only with wood, grow our own food and poultry on the half acre the house sits on, and even compost our poop. It's been quite the change. With no TV, I find I spend much more time reading. I play music rather than listening to it (I've taken up the fiddle after 40). With another year, I hope to transition from my tech job to the much less lucrative, and much more enjoyable blacksmithing trade I now spend my weekends building. I now bike the 9 miles to work rather than drive. And while I'd admit I'm fresh to this new lifestyle, I have to say I've never been happier. It's easy to say that, but the emotion behind it are hard to convey over this medium. I don't think I would have got here voluntarily without you. Without your writing, and your blog. Thank you. I realize what I'm doing isn't going to really change anything of the future we face. While there is still a great distance to travel between where I am and where we will end up, I have never felt as at peace in life as I do now.

Bill Pulliam said...

Thanks for the gold star and add-ons! They look good on the mantle alongside the other seasonal decorations (at least in the astral plane...)

Philip said...

Another thought provoking post complete with comments of the same caliber. My SO teaches cob building using the workshop model so we have a constant troop of "greenies" of every view from primitivist to technofanatacist visiting our facility. Most seem to have what I consider a reality based idea of where we are at and where we are going but a very few actually embrace the idea of L.E.S.S. and the trinity of concepts put forth in this post.

Shining Hector said...

JMG - "It's crucial, it seems to me, to allow ourselves to grieve over what is being lost, and what is going to be lost, in the very harsh future ahead of us. It's not enough to mentally decide what to do and then do it; rather, it's by facing the grief, the bitterness, and the terror, accepting them as necessary parts of life, and going on, that we can gain the courage and other nonrational strengths we're going to need to tackle this mess."

True enough. It's important, though, to remember that the theoretical constructs are best seen as a useful guide, not a straitjacket. The human psyche still proves remarkably resistant to all the tidy categories we've come up with thus far to place it in.

The comical image of a well-meaning therapist working with a cancer patient still hoping for a cure but considering making up with an estranged child anyway comes to mind. The therapist keeps insisting that the patient hasn't moved to acceptance yet and therefore isn't ready to move on to the next stage of therapy, which is absurd of course.

Lots of people never really fully accept the hard truth, that's why you set more concrete, simpler goals. The picture-perfect ideal of an old wise soul fully aware their situation, at peace with the world and their loved ones, yadda yadda, is nice, but most of us would settle for someone who at least accepts the possibility a miracle cure won't come in the next few months and as a result is willing to plan for the worst. There's no reason that clinging to delusions about your chances of survival must prevent you from making up with loved ones, writing a will, making peace with your God, etc., which would be the ultimate goals anyway.

Likewise, what's the ultimate difference between two people with the identical descent-ready homesteads, skillsets, etc., one of whom accepts things will never get better and another who still clings to hopes that they will but is still prepared to weather the storm as a prudent protective measure?

Luckymortal said...

Holmgren, by any objective measure, has proven himself both extremely brilliant and successful.

But I recently had a chat with another very intelligent and successful gent who works for Google, and it became clear that company is positioning itself to take advantage of a major future "bubble" that Holmgren hasn't accounted for, and that Google believes will bolster the US economy for some time.

A good portion of our US economy for 60 years or so has been the famed "Military Industrial Complex." It has generated wealth by converting petroleum into a very valuable product: control.

The value that companies like Google intend to provide is to allow the MIC to continue to produce a newly improved premium version of this product with much greater energy efficiency and cost effectiveness.

The "personal data" industry is just getting revved up, with countries like India already turning over the public commons (privacy) to corporations the way drilling rights, air-waves and bandwidth have been turned over in the past.

For the MIC, this is a great "hedge" against both Resource Depletion/Climate Change as well as "troublemakers" like Holmgrens and Archdruids, as anything that could possibly be perceived as "resistance" just gives them another product to sell.

Of course, this will lead pretty predictably for enhanced suckiness for most of us.

But be assured that very smart people at places like Google have put a great deal of thought into how to keep the world financial system and the MIC afloat and profit luxuriously while doing it.

And the "Transhuman" movement, that many of us "human 1.0s" mock, is taken very, very seriously in the hallowed halls of Google. Saint Kurzweil, (who heads his own devision at G, now) has provided the MIC with a religious justification--no, a mandate--with its insistence that vast concentration of wealth is the only path to the promised land of immortality amongst the stars.

RPC said...

At the risk of sounding pedantic, in the lingo of the energy retrofit biz "insulation and weatherstripping" are efficiency measures, not conservation measures. They let you keep (pace Amory Lovins) hot showers and cold beer while using less energy. Conservation means cooler showers and warmer beer. Both, however, are needed.

Betsy said...

I'd like to add a fourth tool: voluntary population reduction. That would mean less pressure on our limited resources and fewer casualties when TSHTF.

Ruben said...

I think rehumanizing has some real potential as a meme, JMG. Especially if it can be linked in to unemployment and inequity in the mainstream press.

I have long said things like "We have taken all the skill and challenge from work and given it to the machines. All we have left for the humans is to push the button or pull the lever." So, I like the sounds of rehumanizing.

And I liked how Ilkka Nykänen said baking your own bread is rehumanizing our own lives. This is a very interesting angle on my Small and Delicious Life, Back to Basics, Urban Homesteading, or whatever.

John understood that scale when he talked about weeding instead of spraying herbicide.

Lots to chew on for me....

And I will speak against rehabilitating Luddism. From a communications perspective, humans like re-

It reminds us of rebirth. It is a touchstone of the Hero's Journey, whereas Luddism is impossibly tainted by misunderstanding. Now, I am a Luddite, and encourage everyone to read Rebels Against the Future by Kirkpatrick Sale.

But, again, from a communications perspective, it is very difficult or impossible to reframe a topic, it is better to just talk about your new frame. This is why politicians often don't argue, they just subtly and easily change the topic.

Better to spend that energy talking about new things, rather than waste it in a fight you probably can't win.

Isis said...

Hello Archdruid,

Do you have any thoughts about how to encourage or implement rehumanization? Would you tax automation and give tax breaks to those who employ humans rather than machines?

I also think that one reason for the ever-increasing automation is that as a culture, we (and I mean the industrial world as a whole) worship technology as if it were some sort of deity. A small data point. I recently read that Australia has declared war on sharks. (Or rather: it has decided to escalate its war against them.) From now on, they plan to preventatively kill any shark that comes close to a beach (within one kilometer, if I recall correctly). The reason for this is that in the past two years, 7 people have been killed in shark attacks. For comparison, I offer the fact that for the past few decades, over one thousand people have died in car attacks (I mean, traffic accidents) in Australia each year. But for some reason, no country in the world has passed laws allowing any car that comes within a mile of a human settlement to have its tires gunned down, and something tells me that no such laws will be passed any time soon. I'm saying that we, industrialized humans, are willing to sacrifice thousands of our fellow human beings to our machines each year, but sacrificing even just a handful of us to large predators is seen as completely unacceptable.

Please don't get me wrong, I have no desire whatsoever to be eaten by shark. At the same time, I quite frankly don't see why being killed in a car crash is any better than being killed by a shark. Furthermore, people who are not willing to take even the slightest risk of being killed by a shark need only refrain from swimming in the ocean, whereas if you wanted to eliminate all risk of being killed by a car, you would pretty much be required never to leaving the house. Now, I'm sure that proponents of the war on sharks would say that cars are far more important to human well being than sharks are. But then, that pretty much proves my point, doesn't it?

To go back to the topic of this week's post: if you want to rehumanize, you're not just up against "objective" cost-saving interests, you're also up against a mythology that worships machines. You might as well tell devout Hindus to eat their cows.

escapefromwisconsin said...

As I've stated before, all of these would be a good idea even if we had 10,000 years of oil left in the ground (which we don't)

GreenEngineer said...

OK, JMG, what exactly do you mean by "save industrial civilization"? I ask because once again I cannot figure out if you're being unduly pessimistic or simply realistic.

Does "industrial civilization" mean global capitalism and an average energy consumption of 300kWh per person per day (average in America)?

Or does "industrial civilization" mean that non-muscle energy sources are still generally available (though at a much lower intensity), machinery is common, and production of food and goods is performed at a scale greater than subsistence farming and small cottage industries?

It's a difference that matters a lot in terms of the human prospects for the next thousand years. Once thing I learned during my own stint as a farmer is that a small amount of technology and technological energy is incredibly useful, all out of proportion to its magnitude.

The practical difference between a little technology and a lot is actually much less important than the difference between a little technology and none.

HalFiore said...

I thought the whole hoo-ha around Holmgren's article was strange. You sort of anticipated it in your comments about Nicole Foss a couple of weeks ago, and soon thereafter, the flood-gates opened on the peak-oil bloggers mutual sniping society. Not saying you started it, but there seems to have been something brewing that came to the fore. Now you and everyone else get to see yourself on a Bate's groovy map and everything.

I also couldn't tell how advocating that as many people as possible pull out of the conventional market economy was any different than what he and every other permaculture and alt culture leader has argued since the 70s. I personally think there are more people somewhat aware of the energy situation than Orlov cites (believe it or not, folks, not everyone follows blogs) but the odds are that most of them are at least somewhat already pulled out of the most damaging parts of the economy. Greatly lessens their impact.

OK, I guess I'm rambling, too. No doubt I've been stuck in the depression stage too long.

VIS said...

JMG, I am a regular reader, though have never, to date, commentated. Thanks for the clear headed analysis, and realistic assessment of the sustainability/unsustainability situation. Two notes, unrelated to each other but related, possibly, to the post.
1. I read Brian Czech's bit on how "climate change is the wrong issue for environmental activists", and would agree that "Economic Growth" is a more substantial and useful topic to be active about. I see peak resources and climate change as two sides of one monster (growth). Further it seems the rehumanizing, decentralization, conservation steps would apply well to climate issues as well as peak oil issues. Question: Do you see any parallels in the general awareness of the climate scene to what you describe in this post as a possible shift toward bargaining? If these issues are moving along a cultural trajectory, is there any likelihood that worship of the great god Growth might be widely targeted to usher in a more comprehensive and integrated strategy to make the future less miserable?
2. Something you may enjoy checking out - siriusdisclosure - I think its a dot org. even more interesting the movie sirius (there seem to be a number of two hour sections on youtube, I have only watched a couple hours). The aspect of this documentation (its a bunch of "credible" witness testimony to UFO sightings/crashes - all military/scientist/engineer types) that I think you will find interesting is specifically this line of reasoning a. interstellar travel is occuring b. The technology to do this is based on physics beyond our current comprehension but involves something that Stephen Greer (I assume not a relative of yours) who is the honcho in charge of the website and movie calls "free energy" (basically claiming there is a way to tap the "energy of the vacuum") c. "they" (whoever the conspirators are) have managed to get their hands on this technology. d. "They" are hiding it from society because "they" are benefiting from our current fossil fuel use e. if this techonology could be generally accessed our problems of sustainability would be essentially solved.
As "credible" as the witnesses seem, and even having myself witnessed something that was sure UFO like at one point when I was younger, I would say I am agnostic on the reality value of the content of this site and movie. What is more interesting to me (though I will guess I could be wildly off base) is that this is excellent evidence of a real conspiracy regarding energy: On the one hand, if these witnesses are who they say they are, and are being fully truthful, the allegations about "free energy" might really be accurate. On the other hand if the witnesses themselves are somehow a hoax (which I wouldn't put out of the realm of possibility), then there is the question of who and why any person or organization would want to perpetrate a hoax that claims "free energy" exists.
I can't really wrap my head around it, but really think you might enjoy poking into the subject given your interest in peak oil and the belief systems surrounding it, not to mention science fiction.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Far too many thoughts swirling in my head to make a cogent reply to all of this so I'll summarise in two brief points:

1) Trying to push a system based on suicidal growth over a cliff seems like a bit of a waste of effort

2) I see that, just as house flies make excellent snacks for fish, even trolls can be upcycled for their resources

Jeff Snyder said...

JMG, great essay, thank you! I like your coinage of the new term, "rehumanization."

Enrique, fortunately you don't need a paid WSJ subscripton to see the chart of oil company increases in capital investment vs. decling production, someone tweeted it:

Click on the chart for a bigger version. The discrepancy between investment and production results is quite staggering, and this one chart alone not only significantly makes the peak cheap oil case, but bolsters the "triangle of doom" case long made by Steve Ludlum at See, e.g.,

jphilip said...

Personally I think that rehumanising is a great idea. However I`ve this nagging feeling that its not entirely going to work.

If energy to do a job using humans is less than machines then humans will be used, if not, machines will.

I don`t know what to make of automation from an energy point of view, embodied energy is hugh but how long is the lifetime? The equation is impossible to work out before but its easy to see how machines could make massive savings no sleep, training, growing up.

The technical capabilities are beginning to get unnerving. Talking of human intelligence equivalent by 2020, that is not far away.

You have stated that you use old computers so i don`t know if you can view youtube videos but if you can do a search for "petman camo" and then "big dog" just in case you think this stuff is confined to the lab, and that's from a few years ago now.

Automation is going from creepy to dangerous.

Bike Trog said...

One problem of winter conservation is how to get around on snow and ice without a car. I thought of studded bike tires, skis, snowshoes, sled dogs, etc. I'm too cheap to buy any of those retail, so I may try to make something, like taking the wheels off used skateboards. At retail prices, they're still cheaper than crashing a car and paying higher insurance rates.

SLClaire said...

I've read Holmgren's article and a few of the responses. Thanks for yours. It makes good points I didn't see in the subset of those that I read. Like other readers, I also like your three action items, especially re-humanization.

Here's another data point on the peaking of the fracking boom. Many of you may have heard the anecdote about the dentist who made money in the stock market. When asked his secret, he said that when his patients start to give him investment advice, he knows it's time to get out of the market and does so.

I just fielded an example for fracking in the form of longtime middle-class friends who live near the edge of a currently-developing fracking area. They told me and my husband about how they had analyzed the progress of development in fracked areas and how they want to get in on the coming boom in real estate. This is after they got in on the housing bubble and lost a considerable amount of money. My husband and I made gentle suggestions of caution but I suspect they fell on deaf ears.

Captcha: THE icecke. A reference to the recent weather here in the US?

Ruben said...

@Bike Trog

Eight Solutions for Riding a Bike in the Snow - BikeHacks

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, each of those is a large enough issue for a whole post by itself. Fortunately, I have those posts already scheduled. Stay tuned!

Joy, that's a reasonable strategy.

Philip, nah, that comes further along the process. First you introduce the appealing label; then you wait until the other side drags out the pejorative label, give them a little while to give it some currency, and hijack it. From then on you play a good cop-bad cop routine in which the people making moderate proposals use the appealing label, and those making extreme proposals use the pejorative -- except when you flip it around to mess with the other side's heads -- and you get the opposition so flummoxed about fighting those awful Luddites that they're willing to compromise, over and over again, with the advocates of rehumanization. Didn't your momma teach you nuthin' about metapolitical strategy?

Das Monde, it never fails to fascinate me that so many people on the blogosphere insist on blaming "globalization elites" (or whatever other scapegoats they prefer) for the normal working out of the early stages of decline and fall. It reminds me of blaming robins for the arrival of spring...

Wall0159, got it. If you could make a not-for-posting comment here with the name you want on the story, and an email address where you can be reached if it's accepted for the anthology, that would be great.

Paul, the C word has to come first. Any proposal for the future that doesn't start with using less simply isn't serious.

Unknown, understood -- a lot of people lull themselves to sleep with stories like that. Just now, that may well turn out to be a lethal habit. Shake yourself awake, and do what you know you need to do!

Jean-Vivien, I'm by no means sure that leisure time will be in short supply as decline gets going. The average medieval peasant worked much fewer hours than the average employee does in a modern industrial society. Enjoy your martial arts and theater work!

1ab, that's fascinating to hear -- I had no idea, as I don't frequent financial or investment websites. I wonder if it would be possible to put together a trollomancy website that tracked trolls on popular websites, and provided regular trollcasts of the future on that basis!

Ilkka, that's very good to hear! I've long thought that the Art of Memory is a crucial skill for the deindustrial future, in any language; if the Finns get there first, well, good for them. ;-)

Robert, got it. If you can drop me a not-for-posting comment with your current email, so I can put that on the story and contact you if it gets accepted for the anthology, that would be good.

Nestorian, Prechter's successfully predicted, what? Fifteen of the last three market busts? His methodology is interesting but it gives false warnings of imminent crashes far more often than not. Of course you're also right about his blindness to the awkward way the real world has of impacting the market...

CoCargoRider said...

Great post. I completely agree we in the US and maybe the world, cannot fathom the thought on conservation. We live in CO and I am always harping, this is a high desert and we should always have water restrictions in place, but it will never be embraced.

Bytesmiths said...

@Derv, you are correct that efficiency and resilience have an inverse relationship. That's a feature, not a bug!

If decreasing efficiency promotes re-localization and (John's term) re-humanization, so be it!

If you don't have enough fuel to cross the country with a reefer semi full of fresh vegetables, well, you're just going to have to get them from your neighbour.

Bill Pulliam said...

"Didn't your momma teach you nuthin' about metapolitical strategy?"

I see Appalachia is starting to rub off on you. Have you caught yourself reflexively using "y'all" in casual conversation yet?

"Any proposal for the future that doesn't start with using less simply isn't serious."

Amen brother! And I'm not even a christian! Suppose you heat your house with wood, and decide you want to rehumanize your firewood production by coppicing it using hand tools (rather than gasoline-powered chain saws). Unless you have already designed or modified your house so that it makes maximum use out of every precious BTU, you will find your project a dismal failure. Fossil-fuel based firewood is very cheap, dollarwise, per BTU. In fact it is the cheapest source of energy for home heating in these parts. So you can just chuck another log in the stove whenever you like. Not so with homegrown hand-harvested. Each log is precious, and if you aren't set up to get the most benefit out of every one, you are doomed. But... if your household does not eventually convert over so that it can function without fossil-fuel-harvested firewood, in the long run it is even more doomed.

Bytesmiths said...

@RPC, I'm with you. Holmgren didn't specifically say ten percent of us should stop using petroleum; he wanted ten percent of us to drop out of the economy.

I've been doing my part for over ten years, by making too little money to pay taxes. If a few more did this, things would fall apart quickly.

Bytesmiths said...

@Luckymortal, where will the energy come from to support this Kurzweilian future?

Let's for now assume that we somehow continue to support large, energy-sucking data centres and sophisticated computers and disk drives with greatly reduced energy, and the military has ready access to everything. How are they going to capitalize on that information without cheap energy?

If you accept that the base of the pyramid of civilization (energy) is going into decline, how can all these sophisticated things still balance atop that shrunken pyramid?

Glenn said...

"Bike Trog said...
One problem of winter conservation is how to get around on snow and ice without a car. I thought of studded bike tires,"

Buy the cheapest, fattest knobbies that will fit in your frames and fenders, then run short roofing nails or screws from the inside out. Pad the heads on the inside with canvas and/or heavy tape so you don't chafe the tube.

Fat tires give you flotation if soft snow is your problem. Home made studs deal with ice traction, though it won't be as good as slicks on dry pavement.

Some folks like a ski instead of the front tire, but that's no good on bare ground, and reduces braking power in snow and ice.

Happy trails.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Duncan said...

Two points.
In an earlier blog post you railed against the brittleness that comes from a system that focuses on efficiency. I'm curious as to what you find the distinction between energy efficiency and energy conservation to be. I write about the issue frequently and it's a fine point to separate the two.
Second point. In regards to rehumanization, I think there is great value in the co-operative model for any number of applications - businesses, services, housing etc. I haven't seen you write much, if at all, about the power of the co-operative model and I wonder what your take on it is.

John Michael Greer said...

DE, true enough.

Kathy, glad to hear it.

RPC, I may have misread it -- always a possibility. The same point applies, though. The total number of people in the green end of things who will actually cash out their savings, pay off their debts, and stop buying products from big retail chains, as opposed to talking earnestly about these things, is small enough that any big round of layoffs has more impact -- and you'll notice that none of those have brought the system down. I wonder if it's occurred to Holgren, or to you, that the reason so many people are being dumped out of the global economy is that that's one of the ways the system is trying to stabilize itself...

Master O., I hadn't -- thanks for the update!

Bill, all good points. The whole family isn't dying, if you will.

LarasDad, hmm! That's astonishingly perceptive. Thanks for the heads up.

Will, it's the people like that who are most likely to pup a domestic insurgency here in the US, complete with roadside bombs, random killings, and the complete erasure of civil rights that usually takes place in such times. I've been watching the pressure build toward that for a good many years now.

M, no argument about Seeger at all. As for a profession, the thing to keep in mind is this: nobody is going to prosper during these times as someone else's employee. The notion of being hired by somebody for a job is so twentieth century! You need to find out what good or service you can provide, or learn to provide, that the people in your community and area value highly enough that they'll pay for it even in hard times. No, I don't have any more exact prescription than that, because it depends on your talents and the needs and wants of the locals.

Karl, funny. Nobody, but nobody, wants to talk about the fact that in most catastrophes, people are pretty generally helpful and kind.

Will, the funny thing being that some of us have been saying that all along. It's not that we just run out of A or B or C, or all of the above; it's that the costs of eeconomic growth (due to pollution and resource depletion) rise faster than growth, and eventually force the global economy to its knees. If I recall correctly, I used that phrasing in the very first discussion of peak oil I posted online, well before The Archdruid Report was started!

Zaphod, no, I'm not saying I won't join the conversation -- I'm pointing out the cluelessness of the people who are babbling about violence against the system. That's a contribution to the conversation.

Varun, glad to hear it. I hope the project goes well!

Luckymortal said...

Bytesmith: "where will the energy come from to support this Kurzweilian future?"

For the coming decades, it will come from increasingly expensive and dirty fossil fuels, mostly.

Don't imagine that the good folks at Google think that the great unwashed masses will be transported up into the heavens in the great singualarity.

All I'm saying is that they see the looming energy crisis, too, and they're prepping for it.

Personally, I don't buy their religion. Long term, there ain't the energy to power their man-made rapture.

But I think that in the short-term, they've probably made very good hedges. And what they're planning for is to profit from a future of energy and climate instability at the expense of... us "human 1.0s."

Ric Steinberger said...

I feel like I'm in all five stages of grieving at once. But when I'm focused on the bargaining stage, this is how I'm thinking - and I know it's far more silly than rational, but here it is:

Could we just "go back" a hundred years to the beginning of the 20th century, when fossil fuel energy use was far less per capita than today? My grandparents were children then and they seemed to have survived pretty well.... Ah, but fossil fuels then were much cheaper than today and there were far fewer people. And besides, fossil fuel extraction and distribution is totally different today and won't be able to scale down to a fraction of today's consumption. Oh yea: burning fossil fuels has become quite dangerous to the planet's climate.

OK, well what about 150 years ago, before crude oil was even used? Maybe, but there were far fewer people then - maybe 30 million in the US. And a substantial majority worked as farmers or in endeavors supporting farming. No modern sanitation - drink from the river, well or lake and hope for the best. Pee outside or in the chamber pot and use an outhouse. Can I have toilet paper? My bargain - Ok, if Abe Lincoln could live that way, maybe I could too (or my kids - I'm old now). And can I have a modern recycling toilet like a Clivus Multrum? No? Just asking...

So I convince myself - lacking much proof or even logic - that assuming the earth experiences a Malthusian human population die off and we end with maybe 10 - 25 percent of current population, could we still have aspirin, anesthesia, a few antibiotics if they still work, some sterile techniques in medicine, some means of treating river/lake water to kill off dangerous bacteria, maybe a little bit of electricity and lighting if I'm very good? A hand cranked generator like in WWII?

And then I realize: This is me asking some imaginary Santa Claus to perform a feat of magic and provide me and my family a "guaranteed" future - one where we don't die of starvation or epidemic and end up (our descendants, anyway) as Jefferson's small farmers or shop keepers.

And lastly I realize: There's no guarantees. I have to start somewhere, right where I am. I have to begin to conserve more, drive less, walk/bike more, waste less, repair instead of immediately replace, use less electricity, fly only when no alternative is possible (which means no more than once or twice a year to visit family). That won't be nearly enough, but it's a start and better than nothing at all. I have to talk to people about this without seeming preachy or especially political. I have to prepare for a dangerous future.

And then I remember A. N. Whitehead saying, "It's the business of the future to be dangerous."

John Michael Greer said...

Latefall, pretending to be tough and revolutionary is an occupational disease of the American left, mostly found among those who wouldn't know which end of a stick of dynamite to light. BTW, your four- (or was it five-)part post was way beyond what I allow here; please post it on a blog of your own, or some similar site, and put a link here.

Unknown Jay, that's a workable metaphor. There's also the question of just how unpleasant the dying process is going to be -- a responsible approach doesn't just prolong the inevitable, it can avoid some really miserable side effects of the disease.

Joseph, got it.

Isaac, I'll take your word about the permaculture principles -- I haven't studied that particular system. As for slyness, who, me? (Looks all innocent...)

John, yep, the less pleasant way of saying "rehumanization" is "getting off the sofa and using your muscles."

Enrique, yes, I saw that. That's the thing about bubbles of the fracking sort: it all looks good on paper until somebody has to make some money doing something other than selling slices of pie in the sky to a bigger fool...

Justin, thank you. I'd encourage you to use the word as often and in as many venues as possible!

John and Anchyo, thank you.

The Primitive, excellent! That's really encouraging to hear.

Bill, it's just one of the services I offer. As for the astral plane, I've become convinced that abiotic oil, thorium reactors, and all the other wonder whatchamacallits that are going to save us can be found on a related level of being, which I've decided to call the half-astral plane...

Philip, unfortunately, talk is cheap. That's why I tend to pay attention mostly to those who walk at least some of their talk!

Kevin said...

One feature I like about rehumanization is that I don't have to be an employer or a coop manager to practice it. All I have to do is get out my candle mold or pull a few silkscreens (possibly even using silk rather than synthetic screen fabrics) and I'm in the business of hand manufacturing for local and domestic consumption. One may not be changing society much in this way, but on a personal level It's somewhat empowering.

Personally I've been in the "depression" stage of the Kubler-Ross model for quite a while. When you've always yearned to be a Renaissance artist, realizing that instead you're on the cusp of a dark age is cold comfort indeed.

People who want to rush collapse seem to me to have an unrealistic idea of what that will involve. Or perhaps I should say I hope they do. For when collapse hits in a big way, that's when the human suffering will begin on a large scale, I should think, to people in societies that have been largely shielded from such hardships for a good many generations. It won't be pleasant, and so urging it on strikes me as not such a very aimiable attitude.

John Michael Greer said...

Hector, granted; the problem there is that I field emails literally every day from people who are clutching at one alleged miracle after another, and it's not uncommon for somebody who was babbling about thorium reactors one month to be yammering about algal biodiesel the next. Very reliably, too, it's only when they grasp that nothing is going to make the predicament go away that they stop clinging to miracles that someone else will supposedly provide them, and begin to grapple with what they, themselves, in their own lives, need to do.

I suppose, if you want an alternative paradigm, one that fits my experience more closely would be drawn from alcoholism and other addictions. Until your drunkard admits he really, truly does have a problem, nothing is going to change. The hard collision with peak oil reality I'm trying to foster here is a way of waking up to the fact that the problem is real, short of "hitting bottom" -- because the bottom in question is a long, long way down.

Luckymortal, I think it was Mark Twain who pointed out that a village can't prosper by having everyone pay to have somebody else in the village do their laundry. In the same way, the military industrial complex can't thrive all on its own; it functions solely as a way to make sure that those nations currently on top of the global economy stay there, and get access to ample resources. If the resources aren't there, none of that matters -- and the current military industrial complex, I'd suggest, is far too dependent on lavish energy and resource use to survive long into a deindustrial world. (I've already discussed, in past posts, the likelihood that the US military in particular is cruising for a very big bruising in the not too distant future.)

RPC, fair enough -- I'm using the jargon of an older time, which was when I learned this stuff.

Betsy, if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten. How much good has been accomplished by the last six or seven decades of endlessly repeated calls for voluntary population reduction? As I noted in my post, moral arguments for abstinence, of any kind, are among the least successful ways to motivate change.

Ruben, as I mentioned to Philip, rehabilitating a negative branding comes later in the game!

Isis, I have a fair number of ideas for ways to foster rehumanization, starting with changes in the tax code to stop penalizing businesses for hiring people and stop rewarding them for installing automation. Still, that's a long and complex post all its own; once rehumanization starts getting some traction, it'll be time to discuss those points.

Escape, good. You get tonight's gold star for catching one of the secrets of peak oil: the best strategies would be equally good even if peak oil wasn't an issue.

Agent Provocateur said...


As an agent provocateur, I feel honour bound to defend my profession by pointing out a fatal flaw in the argument of your radical friends from the past. They are quoted as saying “The only people that go around publicly advocating political violence are idiots and agents provocateurs. Which one are you?” First I must stress that his sort of talk is very counter productive to effective provocateuring and needs to be addressed as soon as it rears its ugly head. Nothing is more poisonous than the truth. I trust the friends of your youth did some jail time for their peaceful radical activities.

Now to address the flaw in their argument: The question “Which one are you?” implies a dichotomy. “... idiots and agents provocateurs” suggests no dichotomy. The question does not fit the premise. Applying your own recommendations with respect to dichotomies,we must look for a third way. We must turn the dichotomy into a trichotomy so to speak. Is is not possible to advocate violent and be both an idiot and an agent provocateur? I humbly submit this was more generally the case. But things have changed! These things evolve. We learn from our mistakes. Its not the 60/70s anymore.

Now (NSA please note just in case you forget whose side I'm on ... this is an occupational hazard), as an agent provocateur I do not advocate violence. Nooo! No, no, no ... that is old school. This just provokes an over reaction of excessive jail terms (10 years for $20,000 damage to an SUV anyone?), invasions (wait, when did those stop so as to start again?), torture (hmm, again), indiscriminate murder (well), and extrajudicial executions (well sort of new in their public nature). I think all parties can agree that in the end this does nobody any good. And it doesn't save the world.

No, I think we can all learn from the school motto of a character from a race of cowards in the Doctor Who episode, “The God Complex”, that reads, “Resistance is Exhausting”. That's new school. These are pearls of wisdom from an unlikely source. Anyone trying to destroy the system by vandalism, maiming people, or killing them needs to be less energetic and altruistic. I know, I know, saving the world is all very attractive but, like so much else in our industrial culture, its really just another luxuriant extravagance. We will all have more pressing matters to attend to soon enough when we have less luxury and so are less extravagant. Save your energy. Conserve. When the urge to get off the couch to save the world by some violent act propels you upright, resist and lie down again until the feeling goes away. If you must be energetic, grow some food for yourself by using your own muscles (decentralize and re humanize farming). These are radical suggestions!

David Holmgren got it right, and so do you JMG. I expect you all will be seeing some jail time for your radical activities. So will I of course. If an agent doesn't do a little time he loses his credibility. The difference is I'll get out discretely and very early. You fellas? I'm not so sure.

Great Post. Keep up the provocateuring! Maybe I can get you a deal to lessen your time. We'll talk. You're doing great work for the cause. The Castle has noticed your efforts.

P.S. Did I not say some time ago that “they” (the elite ... you know, the people who run things) already know about Peak Oil. When you see it in the Joint Operating Environment (JOE) document of the US military (2010), you know it old news.

Carl said...

A friend of mine who has just almost totally unplugged and relocated to a small self made doom boat wonders why I am doing almost nothing. A good question actually. Why? If you are ready to die why give up those bad habits anyway? If the end stage of cancer are eating away you life why give up smoking or eating high fat foods? Most of what we call civilization likely can keep running on 1/8 or 1/16 of the current energy budget. Sure we will be shedding population like gang busters, and the three processes you suggest will unfold one way or the other. I for one just wish for the continued production of pop corn and toilet paper. That is my final offer and it is nonnegotiable.

mr_geronimo said...

"As for the "polar vortex" nonsense, you get tonight's gold star with plastic icicles and a little plush polar bear, for a dose of meteorological reality. We're going to hear a lot more of the same kind of nonsense as things proceed. Just because the climate's shifting doesn't mean that the shifts can't be blown out of proportion to excuse our collective failures."

Same here in Rio de Janeiro. People are bitching about a hellish summer: BS! Is just a dry summer, it happens sometimes. What makes this summer hellish is the soaring cost of electricity, collective transport no longer having air conditioning and getting more expensive and european fashion in tropical summer.

John Michael Greer said...

GreenEngineer, I covered that in some detail in my book The Ecotechnic Future, and it's sufficiently complex that I don't propose to rehash the whole thing here. The very short form is that since we no longer have the time or the resources to build a sustainable technic society, and the one we have is tearing itself to shreds around us, we're going to go through the normal process of decline and fall, ending in a period several centuries long in which advanced technologies survive only in enclaves, or in the form of documents and relics from which technologies can later be reconstituted. (The technical term for such a period, as I suspect you know, is "dark age.")

On the far side of that period, there's every reason to hope that much more sustainable technic societies can be established. One of the high priorities for our time is thus getting as many sustainable technologies into as many hands as possible, and into enduring forms, so that the ecotechnic societies of the future have plenty to work with. The hope that we could skip the dark age and make it straight to sustainable technic societies, though, went whistling down the wind many years ago. At this point, again, we don't have the resources or the time to do that. That's what I've been trying to say all along, btw.

Hal, I wasn't just talking about Nicole -- as I'm sure you know, there's a whole subculture of peak oil bloggers who keep repeating the same failed predictions of imminent crash year after weary year. As for pulling out of the economy, well, if Holmgren's latest gets a few more people to do that, it's a good thing.

VIS, the UFO phenomenon was mostly invented by the US military as a cover story for ordinary aerospace tests. (I can't be the only person who's noticed, for example, that those black triangle UFOs came in right about the time the Air Force started testing its first stealth aircraft, which look like what?) If there's a new flurry of UFO sightings being announced by the usual credible witnesses, that means that there's something new being tested, which is not exactly a surprise. If you'd like to read more about this, I'd encourage you to pick up a copy of my book on the subject and see what you think.

Jason, the idea of dumping trolls into a recycle bin has its appeal!

Jeff, thanks for the links. This bears very close watching.

Jphilip, the computer industry has been insisting for my entire lifetime that artificial intelligences as smart as or smarter than human beings will be made in just another few years. They've been wrong as reliably as the fusion researchers. With regard to the differential sustainability of humans and machines, I'd encourage you to read the post I cited earlier; it's a much more complex matter than it looks.

Bike Trog, get some old books (pre-1980) on winter camping and the like; they very often have patterns that show you how to make your own snowshoes. When I was a Boy Scout, which was a while ago, we all made our own snowshoes, snow saws, and similar tools, and used them on winter campouts in the Cascades, building and sleeping in igloos and so on. So it can be done!

John Michael Greer said...

SLClaire, okay, it's time for the siren and the bright red flashing lights. When the same gullible dupes who got taken in the last bubble start plunging into this one, a crash is not too far in the future.

Rider, oh, it'll be embraced. When people turn on the faucet and get a trickle of brownish mud, you'd be surprised how fast they can learn.

Bill, I use "y'all" only for deliberate effect, or when explaining the second person plural to those who are trying to learn Latin. Still, it's a useful addition to the language; y'all might be interested to know that in Pittsburgh, they say "yinz" (a contraction of "you 'uns") for the same purpose.

Duncan, remember that efficiency always needs to face the question "efficient for what?" Conservation measures of the sort I mentioned, such as insulation, use more materials so that there can be less energy consumed -- thus your energy efficiency is being bought at the price of less material efficiency. There are always tradeoffs, and always ways in which an efficiency in one place involves a lack of resilience either there or somewhere else in the whole system; the goal is to put your vulnerabilities in places where they're least likely to clobber you.

As for cooperatives, I'm sorry to say that in my experience I haven't noticed any difference between them and other businesses.

Ric, exactly. You yourself, you personally, have to do something. You have to get moving, now. If you've grasped that, and gotten to work on at least one corner of the puzzle, your chances of coming out ahead -- and those of your family as well -- have just gone way up.

Kevin, excellent! It's exactly by rehumanizing your own work, and working for yourself to produce goods and services people want and need, that you'll have the best chance of a viable profession on the long road down.

Agent, funny.

Carl, then I encourage you to learn how to grow the kind of corn that makes good popcorn, and figure out how to make toilet paper out of readily available materials. Santa isn't going to bring those for you, you know.

Geronimo, just wait until you're getting an hour or two of electricity a day, at unpredictable times. We'll be lucky to have that much here in the US!

CoCargoRider said...

Very true, but it will be a forced education instead of an embraced one, which is the disappointing part.

artinnature said...

JMG, you really have a gift for boiling a giant vat of confusing data down to a tasty glaze of three easily understood and hopefully actionable responses.


Regarding tethered robots doing amazing (and admittedly creepy) things in laboratories, these always fail to impress me. Take way that tether (presumably the power source and a massive amount of computer control)and what do you have? A pile of expensive metal.

Technology is not energy. That tether speaks volumes about what is and isn't thermodynamically possible.

Take the most athletically capable human you can find, add a tether, and she becomes practically useless. Works both ways.

At least that's how I see it but I'm no expert in robotics, what do you all think?

Gauk said...

Bike Trog:
For wet, slushy weather regular knobby mountain bike tires work pretty well.

What's better than snow tires is conservation of travel - already having everything you need when the snow hits. In Radical Simplicity their family filled 10+ grocery carts of food for the winter, because heavy snows made the road impassible even by a 6-wheeled military vehicles with a plow.

wvjohn said...

A heartfelt thanks for today's blog. I have been trying to make

sense of what I perceived as a shift towards the direction of NTE in some of the blogs I follow. (Near Term Extinction for those who don't follow this topic). I have struggled to find my exact question, but today's post shows once again there is a middle way.

I am a son, parent, and husband. Coming to grips with and working my way through the various stages from all three perspectives is not easy and is likely never finished. I am fortunate to have a spouse who is pretty much on the same sheet of music.

That being said, I want to share a banter that my wife and I had the other night. This came after a long thoughtful conversation about the apparent trending towards NTE. As you have presented troll-scrying, may I present NTE humor.

Me: If you relly believed in NTE you would let me eat pretzels in bed.

She: I'll know that you really believe in NTE if I hear you eating pretzels in bed.

GreenEngineer said...


I read that book. I agree with your basic analysis though I'm not as certain as you seem to be: I'm not convinced that it is "too late" in any absolute sense; but I'm also not certain that is was NOT already too late the first time this whole thing came around in the 70's. Some of the critical elements are very long in timescale and just not well understood. (This most obviously includes climate change, but also impacts associated with shifts in the nitrogen cycle and long-term ecological impacts of land use decisions.) Without question, though, if any such transition was or is possible, it's much harder now than it would have been 40 years ago.

That said, I have to take issue with your framing of our societal prospects relative to when we start to respond. You have said in this post and elsewhere that we had a window of opportunity to transition to an ecotechnic civilization, and that window is now closed.

I assert that it is still physically possible, albeit unlikely, for us to make such a transition. It's possible, because we still spend about 90% of our resources on frivolous things which we could give up without ceasing to be an industrial or technological civilization, and because we waste a tremendous amount of resource chasing small marginal improvements in short-term gain. If we gave that up, we'd have plenty of resource - even now - for the things that matter (e.g. infrastructure).
It's unlikely, because it would require a whole lot of rich and powerful people (including most of what's left of the middle class - who are rich and powerful by global standards) to get a clue and make dramatic changes which would be scary and destabilizing and feel like sacrifice.

But here's the thing: that same statement could have been made equally well in the 70's, or the 50's, or at any time at least in this century. We never at any time had the resources to sustain the arc of development we were on; conversely, we could have stepped off that arc any time that a sufficient number of the rich and powerful decided that they wanted to.

Now it's much harder: more people would have to make that choice, and the technical challenges we face would be greater, with less room for error. But it's a difference of nature, not kind. We have never had the possibility of transitioning to an ecotechnic civilization without the buy-in of a critical mass of economically enfranchised people. That was true 40 years ago, and it's still true now. But your framing of the issue suggests that we have cross some kind of absolute threshold, and I just don't see the evidence of that.

John Michael Greer said...

Rider, oh, granted. Unfortunately the School of Hard Knocks is the only one with mandatory enrollment these days.

Artinnature, given that I'm cooking dinner while fielding these responses, that's a remarkably apropos metaphor!

WVJohn, pretzels in bed? Now that's kinky.

GreenEngineer, I'd encourage you to revisit the Hirsch Report. Their finding was that preparations for the peak of conventional oil production had to begin at least 20 years before the peak arrived in order to avoid traumatic impacts. The irony, of course, was that the report was published in 2005, the year that world conventional petroleum production peaked. Thus a strong case can be made that we are, in fact, well past a decisive threshold, and the resources and time no longer allow us (even if political, economic, and other real-world factors didn't get in the way, which of course they do) to undergo transition rather than collapse.

I'd also wonder what the point is of insisting that, well, yes, political and economic factors don't actually permit a transition to happen in the real world, but in theory, it's still possible! A fair number of tech-types make that claim, and I've long wondered what the point of it is. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

thrig said...

Thomas Piketty's text "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" has gained some noise, notably for apparently linking no-growth situations to high levels of inequality. He proposes a solution (global taxes on say the Nike swoosh and other such wealth) though—well, when elephants fly.

Still figuring out the post-modern Luddite part, myself.

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"I'd also wonder what the point is of insisting that, well, yes, political and economic factors don't actually permit a transition to happen in the real world, but in theory, it's still possible! A fair number of tech-types make that claim, and I've long wondered what the point of it is. Perhaps you can enlighten me"

I cannot speak for GreenEngineer, but he makes a valid point. Another way to put it is that what has prevented, what is preventing and will prevent a reasonably smooth transition to an Ecotechnic civilization is culture, society and politics; not technical impossibility. To which one might respond "what does it matter if the end result is the same". I would say that Truth matters for itself, and telling the truth is important. From a practical standpoint, it means as an individual I take as much advantage of what I might consider an appropriate technology as possible, and use what personal time and energy I have left building community, engaging in local democracy and doing my best to address the cultural, societal and political barriers as close to home as I can.

In other other words, if one recognizes where the problem actually lies, and where it does not; one may use one's resources where they will be most effective.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

LarasDad said...

Mr Archdruid, you may have a legal issue to deal with as a certain Mr Sumner (aka Sting) I believe holds copyright to the "rehumanize" phrase, ie. 1981's Rehumanize Yourself (a very Clockwork Orange ditty).


btw here's the youtube link.

Bill Pulliam said...

Well I can't speak for everyone (since your use of the plural pronoun means you were clearly addressing all of us, not just me), but yes I individually am familiar with "yinz." I haven't heard it in years, though; is it fading out? "You guys" seems to be swallowing most of those northern you-plurals like "yinz" and "youse."

What a weird language standard English is to have lost the second person plural.

The Croatoan 117 said...

Bill Pulliam said: "Well, thanks to Bareorge Obusha's long war we have raised a generation of young men who have experience with guerilla combat, making do with resources on hand, and homemade explosives. By and large these young men are not active in peak oil and other "green" circles. Their interests lie elsewhere. So who might they decide to label as "enemy" and who as "friend?" Not really clear at this point. And not being idiots, they are not gonna tell us in advance. "
I've been in the Army for 15 years and I have pondered how the veterans of the past decade will react to the long decent and the associated discontentment. You are correct that the average soldier isn't clued in to peak oil and generally cares about as much about it as most Americans. Planners at the Pentagon might be aware but they are about as relevant to the enlisted ground troops as an Ivy League professor's opinions on social mobility is to your local mechanic. How will it all play out? I don't know, but I try to read the tea leaves. The Infantry and SF units are comprised overwhelmingly of rural whites from the South and Midwest.
They love their guns and hate all things liberal. My guess is that they will direct their anger at whoever or whatever groups they perceive as liberals or anti gun lefties. Due to budget cuts our (the military's) benefits are slowly being whittled away one small bit at a time. I understand that this is simply part of the whole process of descent and accept it as such. Many of my peers do not feel this way or understand it. That is creating a growing sentiment that Congress has betrayed the military, so it is not entirely unrealistic to see their anger directed in that direction.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG and Will Re: antigovernment nuts and their potential for inciting real uprising...

I actually am not especially worried about them on the large scale. Most of the people who talk like that are living a lifestyle that would be entirely overturned by real instability. It's talk and bluster, and is nothing new at all. They have too much to lose. Too many of them are settled into middle-aged and middle-class comfort to really want change. Or they are complete backwoods cloistered sociophobes who would never join anything. Maybe some windmill-tilting here and there.

The ones I keep my eye on are the disaffected, unemployed, and young. Historically, those have been the ones you went to if you wanted soldiers for your guerilla army. Now they are just taking potshots randomly, often at each other. I'm not sure what if any "cause" might ever draw their focus. But if one does... an ear to the winds is advised.

Cathy McGuire said...

Another wonderful blog! I agree on all three, especially rehumanization - I am so sick of dealing with computers and automation that I'd even welcome surly humans! ;-)

And decentralization won't lead to more energy use - I have noted sooo many mistakes made because centralized processes get screwed up and have to be redone all the way along the line... I'd bet that many small energy plants or manufacturing plants or farms would actually save energy, because mistakes couldn't be multiplied infinitely...

@Cherokee, that video was impressive! An amazing spread you have down there! Give us the recipe for the lemon cider!

onething said...

Heck, we're coppicing and didn't even know it. Sometimes, you cut a tree for some reason, and you think it's dead, and then a year or two later it starts to sprout.

Brad K. said...


Thanks for the post. I wonder, though, if feudalism wouldn’t be a better approach than rehumanizing. Consider taking on servants or workers as dependents (a fealty relationship) rather than employees. One of the profligate aspects of the industrial age the will have to end, the notion of a mobile workforce. Of course, in widespread use, this approach would approach removing people from the money economy. .

@ The Primitive 9:26 am,

You said, " I realize what I'm doing isn't going to really change anything of the future we face. " I think what you are doing is basic, fundamental change.

Raising children is how we transmit our culture, our values, practices, routines, and character, into the future. Where you are and what you are doing establishes a cultural background, examples of character, and craftsmanship that cannot help but impact those that see and interact with you -- and how they raise their children. You cannot help but impact the future, unless you huddle in a solitary cave.


@ Betsy 10:32 AM

You said "I'd like to add a fourth tool: voluntary population reduction. . ."

I absolutely reject this argument. It has never worked -- except to make things worse.

The foremost means of communicating values to the future is raising children. Stop raising children, and your voice dies with you. Those that disagree with you will raise their children, with a proportionately larger voice in what happens next.

I think we can learn to live in a resilient manner that makes one better adapted to raise our children to flourish in whatever comes next.

@ GreenEngineer 11:46 AM
You said "OK, JMG, what exactly do you mean by "save industrial civilization"?. . does "industrial civilization" mean that non-muscle energy sources are still generally available. ."

I think of the end of the industrial age as losing daily access to things made or produced more than 3 miles away. Some things will be lost forever, others available weekly, monthly, annually. The means of communication will fall to scavenging and lack of repair, as will the energy grid, and most all transport systems.

But unless we forget about sanitation engineering and health standards, we shouldn't face a shorter life span. With closer family and community interaction (and fewer banal distractions from mass media and electronic social networking, we needn't fear being less content, either. It won't be easy getting there -- change is measured in pain, after all, hence the grief components.

@ Bike Trog 12:48 PM,
You said... "One problem of winter conservation is how to get around on snow and ice without a car." Two thoughts. First, you are still thinking of a mobile civilization, that you need transportation to get to (remote) shopping, employment, and home. Second, walking still works, for the most part. As do oxen, mules, ponies, goat and dog carts, and rickshaws (the rehumanizing approach ;-)

Henry Ford demonstrated parallel counter-rotating screw-finned barrels on his tractor and Model A, on snow, grass, and dirt. The videos on the internet (I lost the location) show quite the ATV.

@ Derv, One of the tough parts of talking about efficiency, is failing to define what resources you intend to conserve. Making efficient use of my time while working doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with efficiency in growing tomatoes in my garden, writing blog posts, or feeding hungry people – or efficient conversion of man hours to cash flow at Monsanto.

@ Duncan 2:56 PM, You said... ". . distinction between energy efficiency and energy conservation . . ". For me, energy conservation is to use no more of the resource, energy, than is needed. Energy efficiency is accomplishing a given task using as little resource, energy, as possible. Efficiency presumes keeping the same objective. Conservation does not, considering all demands on the resource.

John Michael Greer said...

Thrig, thanks for the heads up -- I'll check it out.

Glenn, the difficulty I see is that it feeds into a very common bad habit among the technically minded -- the habit of seeing technical problems as insulated from their social, political, economic, and ecological context. The whole system must be considered when assessing a proposed technical fix!

LarasDad, I'd happily buy him a beer so we could discuss the matter.

Bill, if I understand correctly, it's become a matter of local pride in Pittsburgh; I don't know whether it's still in use elsewhere. A lot of languages end up doing odd things to their pronouns: what are we to make of German, in which the same pronoun is the third person feminine singular, third person plural, and polite second person singular and plural?

Bill, it's the young, recently discharged, jobless, and hungry who need the closest watch. More, much more, on this in a couple of weeks.

Cathy, it's an interesting question whether minimizing big mistakes would save more energy than the lack of economies of scale would lose. In either case, though, it would be a lot more resilient and flexible in a time of crisis.

Onething, no doubt it was somebody noticing that, oh, twenty thousand years ago that got the whole technique started.

Brad, feudalism has an ingredient you haven't mentioned: violence. At the center of the feudal system is the capacity to organize and conduct violence in a lawless age. I'll be talking about that in quite a bit of detail later on this year, when the new sequence gets under way.

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"Glenn, the difficulty I see is that it feeds into a very common bad habit among the technically minded -- the habit of seeing technical problems as insulated from their social, political, economic, and ecological context."

No argument from me. But, you come across as a bit of a technophobe. You might easily make the opposite mistake and oppose or fail to use what could be a perfectly useful technology that might have helped you survive. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I've read your claims to appropriate tech cred. Being of the same generation, I have a bit of experience there too. But it doesn't hurt to keep an open mind. Not so much that the wind blows through your ears though...


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

steve pearson said...

JMG, Thanks for yet another wonderful post.
one small comment would be that Jean Lahrerre's peak Bakken date is on the near side. the consensus on Ron Patterson's, which,by the way, is probably the best peak oil site, seems to be 2016 or 2017 with plateau to 2018 and then a rapid decline.I guess the salient point is that these dates are only 2 or 3 years apart.Even the state of ND says 2018.
The main thing that could bring it down sooner is the investors pulling out. Shell is majorly cutting back there, the arctic, etc. to keep their share prices up.The people who made money on the light tight oil, as they now call it, were the ones who got in early & flipped the leases, not the ones who are drilling.
I suspect every army on the planet is now aware of peak oil, certainly UK, US, German, Australian.I discussed it 5 or 6 years ago with an Australian army officer. They were very aware of it then.
A few years ago my daughter was working on a bio-fuel project. Some of her colleagues were working on an algae fuel project for the air force. It works. if you had an air force of one plane & flew it once a week, you would be fine.
Interesting times.
Cheers, Steve

Cherokee Organics said...


Good advice about the lemon cider. It is very hard to stick it to the man one demijohn at a time, if I then spit it all over the keyboard and screen. hehe!

I'd have to suggest that rehumanisation involves the production of lemon cider for sure.

I trust that yourself and Bill don't think that I'm either whingeing or exaggerating about the record breaking heat waves here. I try to provide links to the weather statistics here from time to time.

Records stretch back over 150 years here, so they are statistically valid and it is not just at this location, but pretty much right across the entire continent. Sure, heatwaves are a regular feature of summer Down Under style, but each year they are slowly getting longer and hotter with the occasional very extreme event chucked in just because it could.

It is akin to decline really, in that each year things are a little bit worse. It is sort of like the environment matching the human systems decline, perhaps? There is something tickling my brain about that thought in relation to feedback loops and also a natural upper limit to the more extreme end of natural resources / ecosystem exploitation. Dunno.

Hi Avery,

Don't you go spitting lemon cider here mate. hehe!

On a serious note, you could make this stuff in a bucket it such an easy recipe.



Cherokee Organics said...


Oh yeah, forgot to mention that I recently read a historian commenting that the term "sustainable" had been perverted in recent times to mean merely "survival". A tidy observation on a truly misused and abused word.

Hi Cathy,

Thanks very much. I'm sure your place is looking pretty good during the growing season too.

The heat shuts down plant growth during January and February here and then, all being well, you get a mini spring from March to May. I recently wrote an article that gives a bit of background to some of the activities here and will post a link when it is published.

I'll try to get onto the Green Wizards website and provide a recipe. The website doesn't like me as it kept junking my password and then not sending me a new one when requested. Unfortunately, I have a low tolerance for information technology hassles.

The cider is good stuff and I promise you'll never look at a lemon tree the same way again! Historically lemons were quite a valuable food crop, but people turn their noses up at them nowadays. Reclaim the lemon!



deedl said...

I wonder if you think if there will ever be a civilization again. Lets assume you are right, the great decline comes and in a few centuries we will be back to medieval feudalism or anarchie whatever you envision.

Will there ever grow a new civilization on this substrate? I think history shows, that this always is an option that can happen. If you think that this is in principle possible, then on which resources will this civilization be build, since fossil fuels are gone? what are the key technologies this civilization has to master to make use of their resource base?

The question now is, can we skip the dark ages? can we today make the transition to the civilization that masters the art of sustainability?

I agree totally with your three key features of implementation. Especially food is a key resource that has to be produced locally with higher human input. The next key is housing. This has also to be implemented with local resources and low energy needs for maintaining the internal temperature.

Of couse we will have to drop a lot of transportation of both goods and persons. There is little potential in energy efficiency, so there will be a reduction. And of course we will drop a lot of now known technologies concerning combustion engines.

What we want drop is the technological complex of electricity and information technology. It is a tool to powerful. And the resource input is small compared with other things we do today. Hardware can be produced quite decentralized, as long as you stick to the interfaces and software a the greatest example of a good produced by human labor and distributet in as many copies as you want with almost no additional input.

Call the result whatever you want, i would still call it an industrial society, since it still would be a society based on science and technology.

Besides that it is of course always convenient to argue with a very prolonged decline, since the far distant future is something none of us will ever see. So it is easy to make claims that can not be proven or disproven in anyones lifetime ;) Isn't the prolonged decline a doomsters bargaining approach?

latefall said...

@Luckymortal to a degree

Thanks for all your comments! I believe this is much related to what my 4-part comment would address. Since you already seem to be spiralling in on it I may be able to say it more succinctly.

Forget "destiny" and determinism. Imagine the future as a "possbility space" that is defined by the distribution of energy, matter, and very importantly: trust.

Now this is not a "homogeneous grey blob". And the current state of it is also not terribly important. The first and second derivative of time (how it changed form last week or last year to today - and how this change is different from the change seen in the previous year - cf Jared Diamond).

Now two concepts become very important: self ordered criticality (SOC) and percolation.

SOC is so to say what makes the "climate and weather patterns" of human activity reinforce themselves. This leads to remarkably stable configurations ("the system"), especially with highly capital intensive activities.
Less so with things like digital communication or narratives (because appeal is enough for multiplication). Of course mass media, google, etc. are in the SOC game as well and do their part - but until recently the economics of the imaginary world were not in their favor. Now google is probably trying the corner the market of the imaginary world (cf Luckymortal).

The narratives of the world equal a catalyst for trust and are immensely important. Trust has a very real effect on the material world. It largely determines how your get from "possibility state A" to "possibility state B" if it is at all physically possible. It can also allow a system to be pushed in the direction of a desired state that it may not be physically able to achieve (and maintain cognitive dissonance when there).

Narratives increase or decrease the resistance of societies to do certain things (overcome gradients, activation energies). Control of narratives is just as important as energy and matter for maintaining the SOC state. Wearing ties, corporate HR departments, taking on "responsibility", rigging quarterlies, "ponzi schemes", deciding to comment or troll, agree or disagree openly, you name it.
Ultimately you need to figure out how to make certain narratives appear or disappear effectively. What JMG is doing in my perception is to snipe at large cognitive dissonance bubbles with a bb gun.


latefall said...


"Their" problem: percolation

Imagine you put conductive material into a bucket of non-conductive oil.
There is almost no conductivity until at some point the conductivity rises a couple of magnitudes with only a tiny pinch more conductive material. Percolation (or flipping point) reached. Forest fires are another example. This is going on all the time and is a totally underrated phenomenon because it is not easily analytically described.
Also looking at individual snapshots or big pictures doesn't help much. For this you need to identify "canaries in the coal mine" (maybe troll comment tones) and watch them develop.
However a large portion of the world (and to a degree rehumanizers and their social ecosystem) such as developing nations, or mafias of the world are mostly off google's radar. So there's a problem. Especially when changes happen in the matter/energy dimension google used to be fairly blind to it. (Now they bought this thermostat company...)

The other problem is "global weirding". Freak (but not new) events such Katrina or the Arab "spring". When those happen on a non-localized dimension they may not be contained in time. Gangnam style was to "the (digital) system" as the moon landing was to the mil ind complex. I have talked to bilionaires about this, and they are thoroughly not amused. Of course it wasn't so scary as it happened in their partners sandbox, but it sure illustrated a business model for youtube.

I believe these people with (subjectively) much to lose are very aware that the "global weirding" is just a change in power ratios (current system to possible alternatives) and also where that is headed. What they lack is a business model that will make them come out on top (or close) after the flip in narratives. Give that to them you have trilions at you beck. And I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually comes down to the deal that JMG proposes. It's a poker game though. It may have to wait until the mil ind complex is disillusioned and the cards are on the table. Unfortunately you already have too many narratives for how this is going to play out in the US.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG and Croatoan -- I wonder if these young vets will align with the traditional Right? It's not at all unlikely in the near future we will have primarily republican control of the federal government, and we already have one-party republican rule in many states. I think their ire might be directed at the entire system, left, right, and center. If they get hungry enough, they might even go for an "Eat the Rich" mentality, which would put them diametrically opposed to the traditional right. But I really wonder if it could ever be directed into a "movement?"

I know, I know, we'll get to that...

JMG re: pronouns, personally I think it is time to lose the apostrophes from "yall" and "yalls" and accept them as widely used (if non-standard) pronouns, not contractions. One could even question if they are still non-standard in American English, considering that the three most recent U.S. Presidents have all used them, though Obama turns his "yall" on and off as he code-switches. Yall use is definitely expanding since it is widespread in African American speech, and racial segregation in language in the U.S. is rapidly dissolving.

Luckymortal said...

JMG, I don't expect the Military Industrial Complex to last long into energy scarcity.

But, the ARE very aware of the problem. They are not in as much denial as you might think.

They do have plans to remain relevant, at least for the next 5 years in which Holmgren thinks we have a %50 chance of causing a meltdown large enough to reverse climate change.

I think you're right about the general direction we're headed in, but, unfortunately, I don't think (and I'm not sure you do either) that we'll see a collapse large enough to save us from some VERY bad consequences of the industrial oil orgy.

I simply submit Google and its plans to remain afloat on a "personal information as control mechanism" economic bubble as evidence that the MIC is at least resilient enough to keep wasting and polluting through the coming decade and probably well beyond.

William Church said...

@ Bill Pullman, TheCroatoan, & JMG: ~Most~ (though certainly not all) of the guys I see spouting this jive are ex-military. They seem to harbor a steadfast belief that those in the armed forces agree with them, by and large, and would not interfere. Needless to say I think it lunacy.

But it is troubling when even steady, well spoken guys you know and trust tell you that the divides are too deep to be bridged. That it is simply a matter of time until the nation is split up.

All that aside, I have to say that when national policy such as trade, immigration, industrial policy, etc are being used as weapons by one group against another we have reached a point of danger. Vital trust in institutions is replaced with a trust that they system is going to put the thumb screws to you.

In the end fairness does matter. We've made things far worse than they needed to be just simply by having one segment of the population declare economic war on another. It has been so long since I heard a politician speak of national self sufficiency that I cannot remember it.

@ Green Engineer: I must confess that I am sort of the opposite of a "green" engineer. I make my living in the engine business. So I have a career built upon efficiency, power, durability, that sort of thing.

I wanted to let you know that I also believe that there is a ~chance~ things will avert the harder scenarios laid out here and elsewhere. There is also a ~chance~ that what John has laid out is nowhere and noway a worst case.

Energy is SO vital to our lifestyle, shoot, any lifestyle, that the implications of even a moderately increasing long term cost for it are huge. And, of the many types of energy, that portion used for transportation are THE most vital.

And even if we had sufficient energy other than petro that we could readily lay hands on for an eternity it is a monumental task to shift a suburban, segmented society like ours into something more efficient that runs on this other source. The costs associated with such a change are massive and daunting.

We like to talk about fiction and sci-fi at times around here and one passage that keeps running through my brain is from "World War Z". Where the head of the agency tasked with getting the US on a war footing said "Ours was a postindustrial or service-based economy, so complex and highly specialized that each individual could only function within the confines of its narrow, compartmentalized structure. You should have seen some of the “careers” listed on our first employment census; everyone was some version of an “executive,” a “representative,” an “analyst,” or a “consultant,” all perfectly suited to the prewar world, but all totally inadequate for the present crisis...."

As a hands in the mud engineer I just cannot get that out of my head when I think of the future. The way we allowed ourselves to believe that we could offshore and outsource vital skills w/o consequence is one of the most breathtaking blunders I have seen in my lifetime.


My donkey said...

In November 2011 the government demonstrated its ability to handle public violence when police in riot gear forcefully broke up Occupy camps in several US cities. This over-the-top show of strength seemed to say, "We're prepared to crush any level of violence you might be foolish enough to attempt".

Protestors had no reason to doubt that statement, especially after witnessing the death of protestors in the Middle East and North Africa during the ongoing Arab Spring conflicts, so that was the end of it.

Besides, when you're protesting your inability to afford a new cellphone AND a tropical vacation every year, even the most disgruntled consumer realizes it's not worth risking his life.

RPC said...

"I'd also wonder what the point is of insisting that, well, yes, political and economic factors don't actually permit a transition to happen in the real world, but in theory, it's still possible! A fair number of tech-types make that claim, and I've long wondered what the point of it is. Perhaps you can enlighten me."
Here's an analogy: let's say you're a young teen and your father is an obsessive gambler. You watch him repeatedly place bets (tech stocks, real estate, fracking) that you know are doomed to failure. You know he's going to end up getting thrown out of his nice house and onto the street. But IT DOESN"T HAVE TO END THAT WAY. Two bets ago he could have stopped, regrouped, and ended in a smaller house; last year, an apartment; even now, at least in a trailer park. This is subjectively a VERY different experience from, say, a natural disaster putting him (and you) on the street. So you're going to react very differently to the friend who tells you you're likely to end up on the street anyway, so you might as well prepare for it.
Does that help?

Michael Dowd said...

John Michael,

Last week I had lunch with Carolyn Baker and Michael Brownlee in Boulder and we all shared our admiration for you and the invaluable role you're playing in the world today.

This is, as usual, a masterful post.

I look forward to meeting you in person as Connie, my science writer wife, and I continue promoting sustainability and sanity across North America.

We'll be cheerleading and supporting The Great March for Climate Action throughout 2014 -- from LA to DC, speaking in churches and colleges along the route. The books we're selling after our programs, which is how we support ourselves, include The Long Decent, The EcoTechnic Future, and Apocalypse Not.

Thanks for keeping us in gas and food money, as long as it lasts.


~ Michael

Enrique said...

JMG said: As for a profession, the thing to keep in mind is this: nobody is going to prosper during these times as someone else's employee. The notion of being hired by somebody for a job is so twentieth century!

Damien Perrotin had a great essay on that very topic a while back…

JMG said: Bill, it's the young, recently discharged, jobless, and hungry who need the closest watch:

Quite true. Having a lot of homeless, recently discharged and disaffected veterans can be a big source of instability. In European history, the end of major wars was often accompanied by a big upsurge in the amount of banditry and piracy as newly discharged soldiers and sailors with few if any other options used their skills for less noble purposes. Or consider that the KKK was founded by a group of bored, frustrated Confederate veterans and that the first Grand Wizard was no less than General Nathan Bedford Forrest. And let’s not forget the role that angry, unemployed veterans in Weimar Germany played first in organizations like the Freikorps and Stahlhelm and later in the rise of National Socialism.

The US government seems to be aware of this issue. There was a report issued by the Department of Homeland Security that listed discharged veterans as a group that needs to be watched as potential source of political extremism and terrorism, but there was also a huge political backlash by people who felt the Obama administration was demonizing and unfairly stereotyping military veterans.

Duncan said...

JMG, I guess the context of what cooperatives are and have done in each area are contextual. I come from the Prairies in Canada, a place with a fairly strong cooperative tradition (second only in North America to Nova Scotia). I recently visited New York and coop was a dirty word as apparently it's a way for the ultra-rich to keep undesirables out of a building.

And while cooperatives aren't perfect I bank with a credit union, live in a coop and get my electricity bill from a coop. These services are undeniably more member focused and as a result, better organizations because of it. While any coop is only as good as its members a one-member, one-vote structure is more democratic than almost any other type of governance. And while we're being pragmatic it's also one of the most effective ways to run a needed service or dispense excess wealth. I'd encourage you to look into the possibilities of coops.

GreenEngineer said...

@Glenn: I do believe that the truth matters for itself. More relevantly, I believe that the first step to solving a problem is to correctly understand the problem. Most of the time that we spend collectively problem-solving, we're either looking at the wrong problem (usually a symptom rather than a cause) or we're misunderstanding the problem.

@BradK: I like your definition of the "end of industrial civilization". The three miles is arbitrary, of course - it could be 5, it could be 20. But it's not 100.

@JMG: I'd argue that my position (which can be mistaken for that of a technocornucopian, but is not) is actually what you want to see: technical professionals acknowledging the that predominant challenge of our age is not primarily a technical problem.

Specifically, my position has been that we already have all the technology we need to make the transition to an ecotechnic future, if we choose to value such a future over our short-term convenience.
Conversely, we will NEVER develop technology sufficient to continue with business as usual. In the absence of a cultural shift, technological civilization will fail.

In that context, worrying about whether we are past the "point of no return" (whatever that means) seems kind of useless. Insisting that that's the case, if it drives people away from internalizing that key insight, is counterproductive at best.

Having this perspective lets me differentiate worthwhile projects (ones that will create resilient infrastructure) from worthless ones.
It also lets me act to change perspectives. I work for one of the best green HVAC firms in the country, but my colleagues are technocornucopians. Over the course of the last five years, I've slowly been helping them shift their perspective; if this process is effective, it will hopefully help direct the work our firm does into more worthwhile directions.

I am familiar with the Hirsch report. But I think that he underestimates our flexibility and adaptability. We'd need 20 years lead time to avoid disruptions - and lo, the disruptions are here. Remember that in 2005 most people though that $100/bbl oil would kill global capitalism all by itself. Disruptions are one thing - the cascade failure of technological civilization is quite another.

In any case, I'm still curious to hear you address my question about your framing of our prospects now vs in the 70's. The barrier, then and now, was cultural change. That fact seems far more important than whether we have cross some nebulous and necessarily uncertain point of no return.

steve pearson said...

Just to add to yesterday's comment: this morning published latest EIA oil production figures. Without US, world production is in decline.All US growth is in Baaken & Eagle ford. so if those peak late this year or 2015, 16 or 17, there we go.

wagelaborer said...

I hate to admit that you're right, but when I mentioned on Facebook that our house rule is to turn the heater on only when the house temperature goes below 50 degrees, it was 2 Greens who accused me of being fanatical. Seriously? I have longjohns.
One day a doctor mentioned to me that her electric bill that month was $800. I could not understand how she could possibly have used so much electricity. I have the same electric company, and my bill that same month was $80. And I have a lot of modern conveniences. We can surely conserve much, much more than we do now.
Have you ever read Buddhist Economics? He pointed out many decades ago that we have so much labor power available that we really don't need any more labor saving machines.
And since the 60s, our energy use has tripled and our "productivity" (firing workers for more machines) has also risen.
Last week you talked about advances we should keep. I would add composting toilets to the list. We need to stop using fresh water to dispose of nutrients we could return to the topsoil.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, I'm not a technophobe at all. I enjoy tinkering with electronics, am decent with a slide rule, and look forward to being able to afford to install a solar water heater with all the bells and whistles on my roof. What I'm not is a technolater -- that is, a worshipper of technology, who puts his hope of salvation on the fantasy that somebody somewhere is about to build the machine that will save us all.

Steve, yes, I'm aware Laherrere's estimate is earlier than others. His methodology has proven quite accurate in the past, and so it seems likely to me that the peak in the Bakken will be earlier than others expect it.

Cherokee, no, I don't think you're exaggerating at all -- the data I get from online news media matches your reports. It sounds horrific.

Deedl, of course there will be civilizations again -- not just one, plenty of them. This is just the normal decline and fall of one civilization. As for getting past the dark age, again, I think we're well past the point at which that could have been done.

Bill, in a couple of weeks I'll be talking about where I see the disillusioned young vets gathering. As for the apostrophe in y'all, hmm. Y'all can still hear the apostrophe in the local pronunciation -- it's not quite pronounced "yawl" or "yall," more "yeall."

Luckymortal, oh, I know the military's thinking about this. The question is whether they can adapt current military tech and doctrine to the new reality faster than the new reality is arriving. So far, the results don't favor them. But we'll see.

My Donkey, thank you for getting it. You get today's gold star for a good clear summary of the realities.

RPC, now let's say that your hypothetical teen uses the conviction that ending on the street isn't inevitable as a way to excuse not taking the steps he needs to take in advance to survive the transition to the street. In that case, isn't the friend's advice far more helpful than clinging to a repeatedly failed hope until it drags him down?

Michael, glad to hear it. Will you be coming through Cumberland, MD on your way to DC?

Enrique, good. Yes, those were the examples I had in mind, too.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@Glenn of Marrowstone Island, about technophobia and the Archdruid:

In this day and age, a good measure of technophobia is a rather wise thing to cultivate, and the reason for this is very simple.

Almost all later 20th-century technology seems to be addictive -- sometimes more addictive, sometimes less addictive, but addictive all the same. [Indeed, efficiency itself is somewhat addictive, as is laziness.]

TV and computers are very strongly addictive, but even something as straight-forward as a power drill or a power lawn mower or a leaf-blower or a snow-blower seems to have something quite addictive to it.

Try to find a person with a power lawn mower, even a young and strong one, who would willingly own and use a lawn mower without an engine, or someone with a snow-blower who would happily shovel snow by hand, just for the beauty and joy and grace of doing so in a cold and silent morning world.

When I tell people that I only ever mow my lawn with an old-fashioned muscle powered mower, or prefer to use a hand drill over my power drill when I can, or that I stopped watching TV around 1985, I'm simply written off as a eccentric old man. When I try to explain why I do these things not out of any moral principle, but simply out of joy and delight in the work at hand and the freedom from constant stimulation, then I pass from "OK, he's eccentric" to "Ooo...kay, he's downright batty."

I might as well try to tell a junkie that his drugs may not be worth the candle: "does not compute"!

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"What I'm not is a technolater -- that is, a worshipper of technology, who puts his hope of salvation on the fantasy that somebody somewhere is about to build the machine that will save us all."

Technolater (perhaps technolator would be a better spelling?) -- Love it, almost covered my screen in mint tea! I'm with you there; to paraphrase the satire from Bored of the Rings,I distrust any technology more complex than a forge bellows or semi-automatic weapons. In reality, I'm most comfortable with devices I can repair at home from the scrap heap with hand tools. Hence this computer and our motor vehicles will be the first things to go in any decline.

Yes, it is well to be able to tell vaporware from appropriate tech. And sometimes, you just do less with less. When we can't afford to pay the electric bill, we'll collect more rainwater rather than pump from a 125' deep well, and boil a kettle to wash.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

John Michael Greer said...

Duncan, if you're living in a place where the local culture supports viable cooperatives, excellent. I'd point to your experience in New York City to suggest that it's not the cooperative form but the local culture that's the deciding factor.

GreenEngineer, no, I don't see you as a technocornucopian. You're in the middle of the bargaining process I discussed in this post, trying to find some set of actions that will allow some semblance of modern industrial civilization to continue in the face of its predicament. To my mind, the critical point that you're missing is that technology does not exist in a vacuum, and no, cultural change isn't the only barrier we face. The problem, as I've tried to point out (and as Hirsch and the original Limits to Growth study also pointed out), is that building the necessary infrastructure for a sustainable society involves very large investments of energy, resources, labor, and time; maintaining the infrastructure that supports industrial society as it now exists also requires very large inputs of all those same things; and at a certain pointy along the curve of decline, a society no longer has enough of those things to do both.

The example I've used in the past draws from Jared Diamond's essay on the Easter Island collapse. At a certain point along the curve of deforestation, the Easter Islanders will have had too few trees to (a) keep manufacturing the seagoing canoes they needed to feed themselves, and (b) allow the trees to reproduce themselves at a rate that would avoid the complete deforestation of the island. At that point they had precisely two choices: leave the remaining trees and starve today, or cut down the trees, build the canoes, and starve later on. All other choices had already been foreclosed by their previous actions.

My assertion is that we've passed the same point in our own curve of decline. It's not just political and social factors that are preventing a buildout of resilient infrastructure sufficient to preserve some aspects of industrial society; all but a trickle of our available wealth is tied up in trying to maintain the current system, and it's failing. Diverting enough to matter would bring the whole thing crashing down, which is why it won't be done or even attempted.

It's very easy, and very comforting, to cling to narratives of salvation at the eleventh hour, but as I commented to RPC above, that can serve as an excuse to avoid the necessary steps that will get something through the mess immediately ahead. I discussed that temptation in this post quite a few years ago, and in many posts since that time. Mind you, I expect that for the next half dozen years or so, you'll have any number of people enthusiastically agreeing with you, and no doubt all manner of impressive plans will be drafted to show how we really could, even now, pull out of the descent. That those plans will never be enacted, because the spare resources no longer exist to enact them, is just one of life's ironies. Meanwhile, when you get through that and through the depression that follows, I'll be waiting for you, and at that point we'll see what we can do together.

John Michael Greer said...

Ahem. Three good comments just got deleted because of profanity. Come on, people -- you know the rules.

Andy Brown said...

Hmmm. A post of mine seemed to show up momentarily and then disappear again. But I'm sure it didn't have any profanity in it . . .

Myriad said...

One step people can take that directly benefits conservation, and indirectly supports rehumanization and decentralization, is living in multi-generational extended households, either along traditional family lines or otherwise. Small households usually have to outsource or automate nearly everything, from maintenance of the house to child and elder care to, in many cases, preparing meals. A larger household (centralized, ironically, on the smallest scale) is better able to become an economically productive entity in an otherwise decentralized system. But also has present-day benefits, which is why extended households have never completely gone away in the U.S. Many immigrants to the U.S. manage their first decade or two that way, for instance.

Members of my generation and my parents' were eager enough to move away from their parents at the first opportunity, but at the other end of that stick, I've known few if any who have greatly enjoyed empty-nest life, especially when solitary care of an infirm spouse entered the equation. At the same time, mortgages and rents consume a huge portion of young people's incomes and energy.

This does, however, benefit of purveyors of numerous ad-driven "convenience" products and services. Perhaps that helps explain why, in the media:

- Young adults who live with their parents are portrayed as pathetic.
- Elders who need one of their children to care for them at home are portrayed as intolerably burdensome.
- Children spending time in the company of adults other than their parents is portrayed as sinister and dangerous.
- Older relatives (parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts) and their friends are portrayed as unlikable in various ways (prudish, bigoted, strange, etc.)
- The benefits small households do provide (privacy, escape from disliked in-laws, "peace and quiet") are extolled to the high heavens.

Besides the inherent physical economies of extended households (sharing shelter, tools, and fixtures), there are significant present-day tax advantages. Transactions within the household (informal exchange of cooking, child care, teaching, nursing, home maintenance, community participation, etc. for room, board, shared recreation, and gifts) are either non taxable or difficult to collect taxes on, compared with the same transactions with outsiders using cash.

That suggests that if a large number of people in the U.S. entered into extended household living arrangements by choice, it would be at least as subversive as Holmgren's scenario, as well as more practical in both short and long time frames. Of course, like Holmgren's prescription, it's not going to happen on any such scale, until driven by immediate need. However, it's an area were changing the narrative might help.

(Do I walk this walk? Only partially. Instead of a full-time job with half my earnings going toward rent or a mortgage, I'm self-half-employed and live rent-free in a family-owned (mortgage-free) house, in informal exchange for spending weeks at a time as needed assisting my mother and other relatives spread across several states, which my lack of full-time commitments gives me the freedom to do. We'd all be better off if we were all under one roof, but as things are so far, I can't decide that for them. That's an example of why changing the narrative could be important.)

jbomb said...

Have you every read the works of guy mcpherson and his blog nature bats last? His climate change summary says that we will be exinct by 2040! I once read a post on your blog which discussed climate change and the history of negative feedbacks. Do you know which blog post that was? Its difficult finding sources who are not climate change doomers or deniers.

Joseph Nemeth said...

You'd mentioned a return of Marxism.


GreenEngineer said...


I think you misunderstand. I've been through the depression and through the bargaining. My decision has been to work the problem as best I can; unlike (statistically speaking) most people, I'm in a position to influence the design of infrastructure both directly through my work and indirectly by influencing the thinking of other professionals.

I've examined the evidence for a certain crash, and I'm just not convinced. I can't say you are wrong, but I also can't say you are right. The error bars on my mental model are too big.

Certainly I understand how civilizations can undergo metabolic failure (of which catabolic collapse is a part), but I also know that all the historical examples of this phenomena are much simpler than the system we have now. Not that complexity begets security - quite the opposite, if anything - but it does make the system pretty illegible. You and I can both predict what will happen if society stays its current course, but I don't think either of us have more than heuristics to work with in terms of what is possible were the system to change course in response to a cultural shift.

What I do know, directly from my work on buildings and infrastructure, is that we are "wasting" far more energy and resources than most people (even you, I suspect) can appreciate.
I put "wasting" in quotes because it's not just a question of efficiency - that alone will not get us there, and will tend to compromise resilience. It's about what we choose to spend our resources on in the first place: The vast majority of our activities as a culture, including many of more most energy intensive ones, do nothing whatsoever to contribute to human welfare - they mainly exist to support one aspect or another of our collective delusions, or to aggrandize particularly powerful individuals.

Put it another way: The biggest difference between an energy-efficient building and a standard energy hog building (or worse, a "green" energy hog building) is in occupant behavior and expectations, not technology. That's my professional opinion and experience as a senior HVAC engineer who has won awards for his green building designs, so you can take that for whatever you think it's worth.

Your own writing on catabolic collapse describes the dynamic whereby a complex society undergoes partial collapse, and thus is able to maintain itself at a lower level of complexity which fits its new resource base. You have asserted that we cannot hope to follow that path, because our resource base is eroding too fast.

This is all basically correct and I agree in principle. But I think that you misestimate just how much resource could potentially be freed up in such a "shedding event". We do have a resource base which is not depleting. We're not doing much to access it, but its there if we're willing to make the investment. (Granted, if the EROEI of wind is actually 2, then we're done. Might as well give up now. But that's one study; other disagree. I don't think we have anything like the final word on what is possible in this arena.) If we shed enough overhead, and we don't insist on diverting the resources thus available to further efforts to maintain our illusion, we could make those investments.
That's why the fundamental barrier is social perspectives and cultural priorities, not resources or technology.

oneotaBill said...

Good afternoon, John Michael
I think that Wendell Berry and E.F.Schumacher would be disappointed if none of us challenged the alleged "loss of economies of scale" through decentralization. Those alleged economies are often the result of replacing human beings with machines with high embodied energy and copious energy consumption. The centralized, scaled up system, is less resilient, and, in a time of change, climatic, social, and economic, resilience has economic value. Ask those businesses destroyed by hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. So, we have to ask about Derv's specific "efficiency" goals. One hundred 20 acre farms producing food by labor intensive organic practices will produce more food, more economic value, and use less fossil fuel than the same 2000 acre farm producing corn and soybeans by one farmer and his family.

I must say, also, that your comment moderation gives the comments a civil tone that I much appreciate.

MawKernewek said...

I've been continuing to read Kim Stanley Robinson, I'm now about halfway through "50 Degrees Below" the second of the climate change based trilogy. Published in 2005, it mentions a CO2 level of 400ppm which is about where we are now.

As far as the Kübler-Ross grief stages go, there's a good deal of anger and bargaining going on as far as the response to climate change, at times it is suggested there is a neat technical solution to the dependence on fossil fuels and to climate change, but that it is politically blocked by Big Oil and Big Motor Industry. Not to mention the ethanol and carbon capture bubbles...

There is quite a prophetic theme on surveillance and data-mining, a concept of futures markets within the intelligence community on individuals and ideas, complete with virtual market agents etc. I wonder though if the degree of control that the powers that be expect through this is not also subject to diminishing returns, and may constitute yet another bubble - because one may gather and collate information but to translate that into control you have to do something with it, so it isn't a magic bullet in the absence of real power of action, which will depend on the usual political and economic factors.

Personally now, I reckon I'm somewhere around the depression stage, I'm not sure what the next step is for me personally, and the awareness that the way things are organised now has no long-term future, and there are no easy and neat fixes, but also that I don't expect a sudden collapse and probably early death, seems only to lead me into increasing doubt.

Brian Cady said...

I really like the latest post, because I think these three are the great opportunities for humanity, especially rehumanization (great term).
Rehumnization offers many benefits:
1) more jobs
2) less resource use, thus
3) less extraction damage, and
4) less pollution from resource use.


Nastarana said...

M Going forward, a reputation for honesty and workmanship may be your greatest asset. There are services for which I, and I would imagine others would be happy to pay well to any craftsperson who a. would not steal from us and b. would refrain from insulting us.

Some of those services are:

sharpening and winterizing garden tools

small engine repair. In particular, I am sure you could find a market, now while people still have money, for refurbished old irons, toasters, etc. If you could replace the hazardous old wiring and cloth covered cords with better wiring and newer cords I, for one, would love to have the better old irons and the older style of toaster. I would think there is a good future for anyone who can fix and repair useful items, from furniture to tools to small appliances.

ww said...

Re: your comment to Karl, I think two weeks go a commenter mentioned Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell. I reccomend it highly.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Bill Pulliam--We didn't lose the second person plural; we lost the second person singular, which is thou/thee/thine.

@Cherokee Organics--I wish I had heard of lemon cider before now. Last year my lemon bush produced more lemons than I could use or give away; now they are rotting on the branch and falling to the ground. What a waste.

If the drought continues (about two inches of rain since July, less than ten percent of normal), the tree won't bear this year, so I wish I had cider. Can you direct me to a recipe for the future?

Ares Olympus said...

John, a great list for bargaining good strategies - conservation, decentralization, and rehumanization, the last most open-ended.

I keep wondering how to organize locally. Next Tuesday are Minnesota political party caucuses and I'll be convening an Independence Party caucus which traditionally has 4-8 people who show up from diverse backgrounds, but what common ground can we find more than complaining?

I did a google search for old archdruid blogs on "membership" and found one 4 years ago:

I belonged to a Toastmaster club that was good practice for public speaking skills, and also attended a local rotory club meeting, nearly all retired men, more of a social lunch club, and their tasks seemed pretty tame - planning fundraisers for a local park athletics upgrades, and awarding scholarship funds.

Your old blog talked about Freemasons and its protective structures for members, something "unprogressive" in the modern world of individual freedom, but offers some hope for decentralization.

It also reminds me of the long conservative arguments "charity starts at home" and against "progressive" arguments that centralization of power and redistribution of wealth as a good way to express charity.

Decentralization reminds me Churchill's war cry "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat" which inspired people to common cause survival, until the danger was over, and then he was out.

So there's a game of competition, and decentralization or relocalization don't stand on equal footing when progressives want to pass everything onto the experts to optimize.

I keep going back to the idea of a local currency, dollar-hours, as containing a bridge - where "noneconomic" activity (local organization work that can see local needs) can be given some value. Local currencies make no sense if you have a $200,000 mortgage, but if you're debt-free and living in a church basement rent-free, you can afford to pay attention to a different level of human need.

At least that's the "good side" to explore to me as we slip down from "full employment" ideals of monetary relationships in all things of infinite economic growth.

Mark said...

Back when I'as a boy, in Indiana, I witnessed a small rural community, or maybe it was just a group of neighbours, disappear as my parents generation all moved away to the city. I thought Nine Mile Indiana was heaven - why would anybody leave? Well, because they could, because of cheap gas. In Spring o''67, tornadoes ripped down barns and homes across Indiana. Amish folk were all rebuilt in 6 months - everything. They just got together and did it. Two years later and more, Gentiles were still waiting for Federal Disaster Relief Money. which is to say, it was a matter of culture, what was the meaning of community? For lots of small farmers, cheap gas meant they couldn't afford to keep draft horses anymore. They had to get big or get out. Millions of small farmers got out because of cheap gas, after WW 2. It was a disaster - fatal - for small farms. Now that cheap gas is ending, is it also a disaster, or a blessing? It may not look like Grace, but then alot of the "progress" I've seen in the last half century looks like a slow motion catastrophe.

BTW, making toilet paper is easier than making good paper, and that's not that hard. Kind'a fun.

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, check again.

Myriad, a lot of young people in the US are moving back in with their parents, and it's not crashing the economy. It fascinates me to watch people insist that the thing the economy is doing to stabilize itself -- that is, forcing people out of the middle class and down into the poverty class -- is somehow going to destabilize the system!

Jbomb, has he moved the date to 2040? It was 2030 not too long ago. You might read this post and this one for starters.

Joseph, that's almost a year earlier than I expected to see that sort of thing in Rolling Stone. Seattle now has a Socialist on the city council, by the way, so we're well on track.

GreenEngineer, by all means go ahead and try to get some of that "waste" redirected to uses that you consider constructive! I'm not telling you not to engage in bargaining, for heaven's sake; the rule of dissensus applies here as elsewhere, and as I mentioned in the post, it's wholly possible that some good may come out of it. In the meantime, though, there's a lot to be done by those who are past that stage, and that's what I propose to talk about in this blog.

Bill, no argument there. It's quite possible that in the narrowest terms of energy efficiency, a centralized system scores higher than a decentralized one, but as you've pointed out, the other payouts of decentralization are far more important.

MawKernewek, I like the idea of peak surveillance! As for the depression stage, hang in there -- once you get out the other side, there are plenty of bright options.

Brian, thank you. Spread the word!

WW, yes, and I've read it, too.

Ares, when your party caucus meets, challenge them to think big. Remind them of the times in American history when what started as a small party caucus turned into a mass movement, and see who's willing to put energy into building organization, spreading the word, and getting more people to your next caucus, which should be in a month, in the back room at a not too expensive restaurant with beer. Make it a regular event, with speakers, discussions, and other interesting activities, and see where it takes you!

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, good. It can be a blessing, for those who recognize what's happening and position themselves to surf the waves of change. I trust you're figuring out how to do that right now.

dltrammel said...

Crew said: "A good wizard had to have a good understanding of battlefield tactics in medieval times so it follows, shouldn't a modern green wizard not also have an understanding of risk, self defense and weapons knowledge?"

As one of the people doing the reboot of the Green Wizard site, let me chime in here.

Yes, I personally believe a future Green Wizard should know those things, but JMG pointed out when we first set up the forum, that there there were many sites devoted to the harder side of the future and the topic of guns was a hot button issue with many people. He felt we were better off, not going there for now.

Like politics it's a discussion with strong feelings.

We'd rather be a place where Hard Right Wing Conservatives and Eco-friendly Left wing Liberals can sit down and discuss things that they both have in common; a good grown vegetable, a warm and well insulated home, a family and friends who can make it on LESS.

If the Green Wizard site can become that, a place where people can put aside their emotional issues for a while and learn together how to survive in a World Made Harsh, then we done this generation's part in the Green Wizard saga.

The next generation's part in all of it will be much harder, but I suspect they will learn by then that even if you don't like your neighbor's opinions you can still work with them to accomplish something for your shared community.

dltrammel said...

"I'll try to get onto the Green Wizards website and provide a recipe. The website doesn't like me as it kept junking my password and then not sending me a new one when requested. Unfortunately, I have a low tolerance for information technology hassles."

Cherokee, please post a comment to any of the blog posts on the new GW front site here

It doesn't need to be anything you want posted. This will give me your email address privately and I will contact you about sharing some of your observations.

We definitely want to make it easy for you to share your experiences with the people here. The new site is going to be much more user friendly.


Calm Center of Tranquility said...

@Ric Steinberger, I'm with you! Whenever I find myself getting depressed about the world in general, I find it helpful to bring it all back to me and focus on what it is I am doing and not what it is everyone else is doing - and the room for improvement, in my case, is still vast! If you truly want to effect change, the best way is by example. (Even my own sometimes unfortunate example of, "don't do it this way!")

JMG I'm going to disagree with your comment to Betsy that moral arguments for abstinence... are the least successful ways to motivate change, given that moral arguments for abstinance are actually the ONLY effective way to motivate change. I just read a wonderful book a few weeks ago (the name escapes me, unfortunately... I've read a lot of books in the last few weeks) that details exactly how communities worldwide have managed to deal with their unsustainable birth rates. Not all dealt with abstinence, but all dealt with changing the morals (or mores) of the culture at hand - the most stunning example was Iran which, in the space of a single generation, managed to drop its birthrate from around 7 children per woman to less than 2 today. (Today they're worried they're not making enough warriors and are trying to figure out how to raise the rate again). Of particular note was Japan, where women shared that once they had one (or sometimes two) child/children, they simply quit having sex with their husbands. The reason this is important is that once people accept a moral reason for change to occur, that change can happen relatively fast. (Of course, I think you realize this as well and were likely referring to individual moral arguments, not widely accepted cultural ones.)

This has significance when it comes to consumption. Were we in America, for example, ever to accept that lowering consumption rates was a moral goal, I think we would do it quickly, in much the same way people planted victory gardens in WWII. That, of course, is me being hopeful (which as a pessimist, doesn't happen very often). It's possible that we can only come through with flying colors in the short term (such as in the Good Samaritans in Atlanta's "zombie apocalypse") but when the challenge is for a lifetime, we will be less able - or willing - to comply.

I am looking forward to your future post regarding where our young, disaffected, potentially violent males with military training will be gathering with trepidation. I am afraid my own "last, best place" of North Idaho might feature on your list, given our somewhat substantial population of people carrying an awful large load of anger. I continue to work not just on pulling that mote out of my own eye, but in promoting community resilience efforts, because I love the people in my small town. But I do sometimes wonder what this place will look like when it becomes clear that we're not ever going to find ourselves coming back up out of this downward slide. Of course, our President made a point in his State of the Union to talk about how we're almost energy independent now and the future looks bright... so maybe I'm wrong. Or more likely, maybe we will never have someone with a powerful bully pulpit who's willing to rally the people to more realistic behavior in time to make any difference at all.

Cherokee Organics said...


No worries. Just thought I'd check because I do try and provide links to weather statistics where possible. The numbers are in and they're not good...

I hadn't read about the calls to violence. It is sort of an absurd call, because people forget to interpret motivations and/or learn from history.

Firstly, during the Great Depression - at least here - there weren't great violent uprisings. Most people were grateful for any and all assistance they received. Why don't people get that?

Secondly, about violence, what people tend to conveniently forget in their race to fantasy is that most people have families. People are generally unlikely to leave their families - this includes both military and civilians - to their fates whilst they go forth pursuing violent uprisings. People loudly spruiking such nonsense have generally been watching too many action films.

Now, the young, impressionable and unemployed are something else to be reckoned with entirely. Fortunately we live in a reasonably passive and sedentary society and that section of the population are ill equipped to engage in their historical roles as cannon fodder.

Personally, I'd make peace with them but, but our culture seems to be hell bent on selling them far down the river at a furious rate. The youth just don't get it yet, having grown up in a culture of perpetual growth. It must be a bewildering place for them.

PS: Not to stress, people I know don’t take me seriously either as I’m often irreverent. This is a badge of honour as I’m not sure I agree with their lifestyle choices!

Hi Deborah,

There's an old saying about turning lemons into lemonade. Frack that, when you could turn them into lemon cider. I'll post a recipe when technical issues and time permits. It is good stuff, much better than mead. A guy in South Australia made an absolute fortune from making the stuff. He's very irreverent, as you'd expect. The beverage was called "two dogs" (I'll say no more on the matter). He also managed to gain the attention of the authorities who implemented an Alco-pop tax specifically targeted at that market.



sunseekernv said...

@Cherokee (last week) bemoaning the lack of master teachers of organic farming…

Too bad you weren't at Esalen a little while back:

@Anybody who is interesting in becoming an organic farmer

You will want to read the article and maybe get in touch with some folks therein, there are apparently some family farms (of the organic type) where the kids don't want to continue - a possible adoption opportunity…

per JMG's initiative to preserve information, it was not so heartening to hear of elders with no youngsters to teach.

@Bill Pulliam

Maybe you could add something to on scything. I am interesting in whacking weeds without fossil fuels, including the plastic that goes into the line of an electric string trimmer.

@JMG - interesting with the Royal Society. When I get some time to read (and get over the sticker shock of $199 per issue), would be nice to see what the ivory tower crowd has to say.

Juhana said...

Conversation is going to be a big issue in the near future, I believe. First place to start is from the place where people live, from homes of the human beings. There are many refitting possibilities for old, sturdy buildings or energy-saving options for the new ones, as you JMG already know. As my friends are building this kind of solutions to earn their living and I am somewhat involved there also, it has been nice to see sane conversation methods making some progress.

Personally I have seen that such mundane things as double windows, double roofing and having thick insulation turning more porous outwards (brick wall inside and thick mesh plastering over gyproc slabs outside) reduces energy bills dramatically. If living space is designed to be open space warmed by gigantic hearth baking oven in the middle, much of the warmth is conserved. Double roofing with felt roof below and tile or plate roof above is plainly amazing with preventing heat escaping through top of the house - it's most vulnerable spot by far. Raised wood floor over gravel bed with ventilation both horizontal and vertical offering capillary break against moisture seals the deal. It makes your home sturdy and durable, with no build-in "self-destruction" triggers of current, totally insane fake-luxury building trend.

Water gets warmed inside boilers attached to ovens in the kitchen and the sauna. Surface water piping with some vents to permit breaks when regulations permit, so that when water freezes inside the plumbing during service failures (more common occurrence nowadays than before)you don't suffer such a huge water damages.

It is actually relatively "cheap" to build low-energy house here in the subarctic region. You just have to be ready to live in somewhat smaller space with somewhat more homework. Not a bad deal, I suppose. As global infrastructure unravels slowly but steadily around us, it is better to be poor in warm house with warm water available than in cold one. There are different shades of being poor, after all.

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...

I wish I'd heard of lemon cider a year ago. I have a lemon tree that produces a huge crop more-or-less constantly ... at one stage I was juicing six lemons every day for months and still giving away lemons by the bag. I'm sure all that lemon juice was good for me but it was hard to keep up with the tree.

Cherokee, interesting what you are saying about lemons as a food crop .. I was wondering about it myself, simply because the huge volume of food produced by this one tree really impressed me.

jphilip said...

Perhaps I wasn't clear, I was not talking about A.I but the hardware. They are saying that they can build a machine which is the computational equivalent of a human brain not in 40 years (i.e. never), like the fusion people, but in 8 years, namely before the next president has left office (assumeing two terms). That is more of a career destroying promise if you don't deliever, and should accordingly be given much greater creedance than anything uttered by the 40 year crowd.
Regards the previous post I say there were 1 or 2 flaws first you compare HAL to rosie really you should have compared HAL to a dozen Rosies, because hal does a dozen rosies work.
You then say hal will be sent to the knacker's yard because of the effects of growth (contraction will shortly after lead to no innovation, at least of the big industrial type, and very very low levels of equipment replacement) hal could last centuries.

Lets also be clear i'm not saying hal is going to replace all humans but it may fill certain niches some of which give cause for worry. (Military roles being an example) and how many niches is dependent on the energy equations which are unknown at present.

@ artinnature

100% agree with your comment, but you should have watched the second video. youtube 'big dog boston dynamics' do you see a tether I don`t.
It is thermodynamically possible.

latefall said...

re peak surveillance:
I would not be surprised!

Little anecdote concerning surveillance and technology:
To get one of the most powerful techs (pgp / gpg) into europe through export bans the code had to be written in a book.
That book was brought over and typed (maybe OCRd) and spellchecked manually till it worked.

I did some google trends snooping yesterday. The search term "survival" is gaining significant traction in many places...

Also the SHTFschool "global prepper report" was interesting many respects. There is much overlap between the perspectives seen there (Balkans) and here, including slow collapse.

latefall said...

@ Myriad, JMG

re destabilization

JMG, If I understood correctly you argue that pushing the middle-class into the lower-class would not destabilize the system.

I would like to disagree emphatically. Granted in the short term it relieves "energy burden" on the system. But often you will need to but that savings straight into the control side of the equation. And if you are running an "autoimmune challenged system" heavily dependent on fuel - it is a net negative.

And you eventually lose them to the competing mafia/corruption system.

When there's riots in South America the presidents there often have higher approval ratings than European presidents.
But when I go rioting in Europe as middle class I risk losing my job and significant amounts of wealth. When this will be perceived as "sunk cost" anyway - things will change...

John Michael Greer said...

Dltrammel, exactly. You'll notice that I don't discuss that in this blog, either, for similar reasons.

Tranquillity, the claim that moral arguments for abstinence are the only effective way to motivate change is, if I may be frank, absurd. Perhaps you'd like to look up the rates of teen pregnancy in those parts of the US that rely on abstinence-based education, compared to those that use less moralizing approaches to sex education. (Hint: where moral exhortations to abstinence are used, rates of premarital sex and teen pregnancy are much higher.)

The Japanese and Iranian experiences are much better explained by economic factors. The habit of telling people "You ought to do this because it's right" produces a nice warm glow of moral self-righteousness in those who use it, but it only motivates those people who already agree with you -- thus (for example) the total failure of pacifism and voluntary population reduction, two movements that have relied almost entirely on that approach.

Cherokee, we came close to violent insurgency here in the US during the last Great Depression; in the months before Roosevelt's inauguration in 1933, farmers in the Midwest were blockading roads and engaging in violence against banks and county governments who were trying to foreclose on mortgaged farms. Roosevelt's drastic (and arguably illegal, but effective) actions in the first hundred days of his presidency took the wind out of that, but if Hoover had gotten back in, it could have become very ugly very fast.

Sunseeker, I'd put the $199 into something more useful! I noted it only because it shows that peak oil is slipping past the barriers of denial again. (PS: Please read the note above the comments field about how comments need to be relevant to the current week's post. If you want to do a hostile review of one of my books, by all means post it to a blog of your own or some other online forum.)

Juhana, watch that spell-checker -- "conservation" and "conversation" aren't the same thing in English! That said, no argument at all with your comment; it's crucial to remember that it's possible to be poor in relative comfort and security.

Jphilip, not at all -- the computer industry has a long record of promising grandiose achievements in the near future and then not following through. That's where I got the term "vaporware," after all. With regard to HAL and Rosie, half a dozen Rosies may require more slumgullion but they don't have the extremely demanding requirements HAL does; as for HAL chugging along for centuries, er, I take it you don't have much experience with how fast industrial machines tend to wear out.

Latefall, thanks for the pgp anecdote! As for my assertion that beggaring the middle class is a stabilizing influence on the system, it's simply an extension of what was done to the working class a few decades earlier -- which, you'll notice, didn't have any of the dire consequences your model might predict. If you've got a system that can no longer meet all the demands placed on it, demand destruction is the logical response, and so long as you don't chuck everyone out the door at once, your middle and former middle class populations will be too busy competing with each other for the declining supply of middle class jobs to organize any kind of effective counterpressure. So far, it's working very well -- just as it did when the working classes were thrown under the bus in the 1970s and 1980s.

das monde said...

JMG: I did not say that the global leaders are definitely doing a crash on demand, if you read carefully. Nevertheless, they seem to be very confident with what they are doing (regardless consistent "results"), while any political or media opposition is remarkably sterile.

Roger said...

JMG, we must know the same middle class intellectuals. The idea of those clowns inflicting violence against "the system" makes me laugh. As laughable as those same people willingly making substantial changes to their comfy lives. Who are they kidding?

Like you say, effective application of violence is difficult and best left to those trained in its use. But that's the thing, there ARE millions of Americans trained and experienced in its use, not only ex military but also those currently serving. Maybe this is a case of overly imaginative paranoia but maybe there's another possibility that's maybe not so laughable.

I don't think it escaped the notice of American military officers, many of whom have been in the corridors of power rubbing shoulders with the "high and mighty", that these same "high and mighty" brought the USA to its disastrous state.

It's not just the calamitous condition of Washington, crippled by political factionalism and corruption and incompetence. It's the catastrophic state of the economy wrecked by an avaricious managerial class (not to mention 100 dollar oil).

The American tradition is for the military to take orders from civilian authority. But imagine generals and admirals whose patience finally comes to an end. When does the military, appalled at the progressively messed up state of the US and its duly constituted governing institutions, stop taking orders? When do the Joint Chiefs, goaded beyond endurance, take matters into their own hands?

Will we hear Pentagon knuckles rapping on Congressional foreheads? Will there be be-ribboned and be-medalled delegations politely "requesting" consultations with the President? Will hard-faced, impeccably uniformed officers pay visits to Wall Street CEOs to explain the facts of life?

Is the spectre, therefore, of "the system" as you call it, turning on itself with formerly loyal and docile military officials, backed by armed men, calling the shots?

DeAnander said...

"The half-astral plane" -- thanks for that jmg. If I had been drinking lemon cider I'd have lost my laptop. A meme that deserves to spread.

I think I've been through the K-R stages over the last 15 years, until now I feel a kind of weary resignation, combined with the cynical and selfish hope that things will not fall apart terminally during my lifetime (another 20 years to go if I'm lucky, er, unlucky?). I try to enjoy the good things about modern civ in moderation (even though "moderation" by modern standards seems like shameless wallowing); and I try to separate myself incrementally from the long supply lines from the industrial core.

This year we expand the garden and greenhouse a bit, and next year probably we put in a big rainwater catchment tank (while huge plastic tanks are still available and affordable). In the meantime I confess I enjoy watching a classic movie or a BBC nature documentary on the modest-sized flatscreen, in the lovely warmth from our modern, efficient wood stove. We don't take air travel vacations like most of our peers; we drive our small truck very few miles per year; but we do motor and sail around in small boats in the summer. The fact that our lifestyle feels relatively frugal illuminates the monstrous profligacy that is now the norm! My clothes come from the thrift store, and all our electronics is obtained as refurbs; but I still buy grapefruit. I'm bargaining, temporising, with the rate of decay; as the old saying goes about being over 40, it's all about managing the decline.

But underneath it all, to be honest, I'm still grieving for the false promises that were made to me in my youth, that bright shiny star trek future I was told was on the way; and I fear, I deeply fear, the possible onset of barbarism close to home. I know all too well that industrialism has always practised brutality and barbarism on its extractive periphery of course, that's what we call "colonialism". But I would rather be ruled by distant warlords in Ottawa than local, unpleasantly present and personal warlords from the nearest town. Not because it's morally better -- there's not much to choose between 'em -- big mafia vs little mafia -- but because it's less scary for me personally. That doesn't give me a great inflated opinion of myself, but it's the truth.

Some days I can take the long historical view and say, well, species rise and species fall. Civilisations likewise, but faster. We just happen to be alive "on the cusp of decline" as a previous poster mentioned. We don't get to pick when we're born, so this is what we're stuck with; and the process, the predicament, has been with us as long as we've been human. It may be that this great global folly we call industrial civ was baked in back at the Toba Bottleneck, when the few surviving hominids got such a head start after the thaw. Maybe the opposable thumb was the start of all our troubles. Or maybe it was language. Who knows?

In the here and now, in the day to day -- well, I keep working on local food security for my little island. I get to know my neighbours. I experiment with food plants. We do what we can, what we have the courage and energy for, what seems worth doing at the time, and wait to see what happens next. I am not the biggest fan of CS Lewis, but I make an exception for the Screwtape Letters :-) one of the best insights in it, iirc, is that the thing worth praying for is not to be delivered from all misfortune, but to have the resilience of spirit to retain one's dignity and values in the face of misfortune. I no longer hope for any salvation for industrial civ -- I hope for salvage instead, for the ability and courage to save something from the bouncing rubble.

latefall said...


"JMG, we must know the same middle class intellectuals. The idea of those clowns inflicting violence against "the system" makes me laugh. As laughable as those same people willingly making substantial changes to their comfy lives. Who are they kidding?"

I would want to differentiate here a little. I am not trying to argue the point of some social stratum living up to its potential, etc.

But please consider a few data points:
1. Mnning + support
2. Snoden
3. Tsnaev (thou shall not speak their names)

4. London
5. Banlieus

1-3 are arguably effective against the system. 3 was a thoroughly botched attempt (I could go into detail but fortunately OT). Even so consider the economic impact.

These were people that abandoned the dominant narrative.

4 stuck with the narrative. They looted the tools of their enslavement (TVs and phones). Nothing to fear. The student protests were also low risk (academia by and large is committed to the narrative/progress).

5 Banlieus. Not sure what it did for the system - polarize? But in terms of resources they sure were cost effective: BBQ-starter vs car + 1 night police patrol.

I believe within the US street protest is just unbelievably restrained/tame currently.
I think that is because the majority still believes the cost benefit ratio is just not in their favor if they switch to Plan C or D at this time (Plan A and B are funded by the same people and are largely interchangeable parts of "the system").

That is probably going to change.

Like cooling water where the molecules at some point realize that they better turn into an ice crystal. However if there is no template to attach to this can be pushed substantially below freezing.

At some point though the cognitive dissonance will have to give.
At some point people will realize that they (or their kids) are better of in a decentralized, sustainable configuration than in the fossil trap.

latefall said...

[email protected]

I really appreciate your comment but my (admittedly mostly outsider) perspective on the probability of a coup would factor in a other aspects.

You say:
"It's the catastrophic state of the economy wrecked by an avaricious managerial class (not to mention 100 dollar oil).

The American tradition is for the military to take orders from civilian authority. But imagine generals and admirals whose patience finally comes to an end."

I could not agree more with the first sentence.
But: it is gone and it is not coming back (in that shape/scale).

Not to belittle the armed forces, their training, etc.
What got them through the cold war was the bomb. It is (probably) not going to help very much in an internal conflict.
Their equipment is top of the line, but most of it is extremely brittle and ridiculously expensive.

They command a gigantic amount of resources and they are pampered in terms of resource to casualty ratio.

If there is any significant blue on blue, I would assume the changes on the material and psychological level would be drastic and irreversible.

It would probably leave the US significantly weaker on the international stage. Not to mention the historically rare potential for additional external destabilization.

I would be very afraid that this could leave the nation looking a lot more like Mexico or the Balkans, if things don't go really really well.

latefall said...


re middle class influence

I admit I hadn't thought so much of the 70s and 80s. And my specific example didn't involve the US. But I guess you have a point.

I would want to mention though that the capability of unflinchingly accepting economic failure within society in the US astonishes me.
The narrative still seems to be: "rightfully earned" / Calvinism(?)
combined with the "Religion of Progress" it is a powerful sedative I guess.

And of course the level of wealth and prospects used to be a notch or two above the Rest Of World.

To illustrate my train of thought a little better:
Think of the fruit seller in Tunis who lit himself on fire.
But also think of very large error bars.
I try to grok these events as a networked / associative / morphological thing.

BTW: What is the going definition of "industrial society"?

I do like the "localized" definition. Though I'd use something like "a day's march" radius.
But I feel some technological (mechanical? energy storage?) aspect would be required as well.

Does flintstone industry qualify?

GreenEngineer said...


Oh, I'll be around. I'm working on plan B skills in parallel - mostly small-scale urban ag stuff, plus basic mechanical work - the sort of thing that any engineer should be able to do, but most cannot. If I'm wrong and the crash comes faster and harder than I expect, then I'll just have to hope my skillset is valuable to folks who've spent more time investing in their own infrastructure. Not really worried about that, though.

Myriad said...

@latefall, JMG:

It appears that I expressed myself poorly. Of course moving back into your parents' house entirely in response to need (like any measure taken entirely in response to need) does not constitute influencing or getting ahead of events. I was talking about the possibility of doing it by choice, as a partial implementation of LESS.

Also, when I said that in the fantasy scenario of large numbers of people actually doing it by choice, it would be "at least as subversive" as Holmgren's scenario, I didn't mean to imply that I think it would actually crash the economy. For that matter, I don't think deliberately sabotaging the economy is a good idea to begin with (failing, as it does, the "is my objective readily distinguishable from that of a typical James Bond villain?" test).

Maybe the miscommunication stems from what I really mean by subversive. To me, subversion means building something. More specifically, building something independent of existing systems that are under (or vulnerable to) hostile control. Trouble-making is almost diametrically opposite.

Alexander Nelson said...


Of the proposals you wrote, it sounds much like the noted economic historian Carlolta Perez.
According to her, we could well head into a new Kondratiev cycle (that is, an era similar as the one in 1945-1975, Victorian boom and others) based on resource conservation. She takes a more "economic" outlook but your messages converge from different points of view.

Some excerpts:

"The change in the pattern of consumption has occurred with each technological revolution (...) What history teaches us, though, is that such changes take place, not by guilt or fear, but by desire and aspiration. For a green style to propagate, it must become the ‘luxury life’.
" The living styles of the rich favour exercise over ‘couch potato’ living, organic and gourmet foods rather than processed ones, natural materials, minimalist design, luxury solar panels, creativity and social interaction as entertainment and so on. (...) Major changes have small beginnings but at some point they take off and diffuse very rapidly."
(My comment: Being an avid reader of Scott Fitzgerald " The great Gatsby", the upper-class characters in Gilded Age 1920's New York do live a life many middle-class households would live some decades later, with cars, leisure travel and so on. These people didn't strive towards those things out of nothing.)

Another passage:

" The other debate that is sorely needed is about the relative roles of investment and consumption in reviving the economy. In the shortest term, consumption is the realistic target. But since, in the long run, it is investment that generates new wealth, the balance needs to be regained as soon as possible. Only new wealth will bring down the mountain of debt that is burdening individuals and countries (...) Overall consumption will grow across the planet following new investment and new jobs. However, continuing with the current pattern of globalization without drastically reducing energy and materials consumption in our ways of living and producing would require seven planets.

Paradoxically, this environmental constraint may yet be the saving factor for inducing massive innovation, sustaining economic growth, while also shifting consumption away from unsustainable lifestyles. There is an enormous wealth creating potential in facilitating a major overhaul of most products and production methods and a redesign of consumption patterns to stress quality, durability, low energy consumption, low or no emissions, recyclability, upgradeability etc."

My comment: Being (partly) an economist myself, I'd say it is very crucial with different messages but sharing the same content. Without doubt, if enacted, it would require all heads and all hands available - Just as in previous boom times we've had in history. In the current state of affairs, we instead tell people we're too poor to let them work, and the poorer we get, the less we can afford to work..

Mark Rice said...

I am trying to figure out if I am still in the bargaining stage.

The lifestyle I live now is still available to many many millions of us. I do a lot of fossil fuel intensive stuff. Everyone in our household still has a car. I fly across the continent once or twice a year. Almost every weekend I drive say 40 miles each way for recreation in beautiful parks.

But I know this can not last too much longer. It is only a matter of time before people like me will need to scale back.

I am not expecting a technology fix. I do not think say thorium reactors will come and save the day. Constructing some intermittent renewables such as solar or wind will not save this life style either.

I do not expect our political system to rationally address our predicament. The so called liberals seems clueless and pointless. The so called conservatives are clueless and nasty. The mainstream media outlets from Fox to NPR are blind to anything that does not fit neatly into a handful of standard narratives. Businesses are not likely to lead us out of this mess either. There is no chance of large scale proactive preparation for what is coming.

But maybe we have a reactive path to a less affluent future without a huge catastrophe. As we go from conventional oil to easier tight light crude to more difficult tight light crude, the price will keep going up. People will make long term decisions to reduce their consumption in response to higher prices. As the price of petrol rises, intermittent renewables will be profitable without subsidies. The price rises will encourage both conservation and humanization.

Behaviour will change in response to higher fossil fuel prices. I will not be able to fly across the country as much. We will not all have cars. But perhaps we can downsize reactively without catastrophe.

Is this denial or is it bargaining?

I see two very scary thing though. Our food supply is dependent on fossil fuels. The level of discourse keeps getting dumber and nastier. A graceful reactive downsizing is far from guaranteed.

James Eberle said...

What about this radical idea; what if 30% of the population decided that they would not go into any additional debt, and in fact paid off their existing debt. That would crash this system, as it is based on progressively expanding debt.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Glenn,

Reference of the week! Bored of the Rings was hysterical. National lampoon did a rip-off of Dune too which is highly recommended. Look, he pours beer with no head... hehe.

Please don't take this as being negative, but 125' is a long way down to draw fresh water from merely for household use. It takes a lot of energy to lift water up that head. As a comparison, the 20m lift (which is a bit more than half your lift) from the reserve water tank here takes about 1kWh for 6,000 litres. The house pump draws half that amount again and honestly, if I had to I could walk the water up the small incline in buckets.

Down Under we use rainwater tanks (as you may have seen in the video). Just as an observation, if the ground water table is that low, then I'd suggest that your trees may also be water stressed? I'd be interested in your thoughts on the matter. I don't really know but that is a deep well and it sounds sort of risky as you are dependent on electrical infrastructure.

The old timers here used to have windmills here which pumped water up to header tanks for cattle whenever the wind blew. Pity it also lifted the salt layer in the soils.

I'm well aware that in some parts of this country, over drawing of aquifers for irrigation has lowered their levels even in recent times. There was a fascinating cave in Mt Gambier in South Australia where you could actually see the decline in the water table level as it was marked on the walls of the cave. I’ve always considered that water scarcity would be a limiting factor to both population and agriculture here.

Dunno, but water is pretty crucial here and that depth sounds quite risky. I understand that it is quite common for people in the US to draw their drinking water from wells and this may have historical roots that I simply don't understand. It just seems really risky from an outsiders perspective.



Renaissance Man said...

Rehumanizing. A lovely coinage and so appropriate to return to more manual labours (I'm working with horses), that I, personally, find very much more rewarding and fulfilling than my day job, as automation is, of course, so dehumanizing.
Of course, it helps to remember that "automate" comes from the words "auto" meaning "self" and "mate" which means "screwing"...

Marcello said...

"Will hard-faced, impeccably uniformed officers pay visits to Wall Street CEOs to explain the facts of life?"

Roger, it is a well known fact among those who dabble in in military affairs that a significant proportion (as high as two thirds going by some reports) of american generals enjoy their retirement from the military in cushy corporate jobs.
These people are not going to jump at the chance of moralizing Wall Street at gunpoint. Even if they somehow mustered the inclination to do so they have no better skills than anybody else and while the military has a better reputation than other institutions it won't last long once they have to tackle insoluble problems. I suspect they mostly get that though I cannot be sure.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Calm Center,

Not to be rude, but how are you personally going on the children front?

Many people - like everything else - expect others to cut back on their lifestyle choices before considering making any cuts themselves. That is why they shout slogans such as “abstinence” so loudly. I doubt that it is an effective strategy, but it does give the impression of doing something when in fact the complete opposite is going on.

PS: I have a very clean conscience in this matter of children and I expect that you may find some of the population controls historically exercised by some societies to be quite repulsive.

Just sayin, if you can't walk the talk on this subject then perhaps it's best to not mention it as it comes across as hypocrisy. On the other hand you may go on the record as walking the talk, but I see very few people indeed following the path that you recommend in relation to population control.

In fact, I’ve noted of late that large families are being displayed as outward signs of wealth in this country.



MawKernewek said...

None of the enthusiasm for organic foods among the upper-middle class, changes the fact that the wealthy have a vastly greater resource footprint that the poor.

In the food arena, I guess that overall the air-freighted vegetables and exotic fruit have a bigger footprint than what they save by going organic. Of course those who are aware and committed to the green cause will avoid air-freighted foods, but these are still the minority.

It's not always entirely intuitive, have a look at the book "How Bad are Bananas?" for carbon impacts of various things. The earlier poster can probably still have his grapefruit for a good while longer.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the history lesson as I wasn't aware of those circumstances. Of course the drought would have impacted on the farmers defaults too. People forget during those times that farmers produce food and being a natural system the output is not consistent from year to year. During droughts here they load commercial farmers up with debt too. Not good.

I was actually thinking of the historical experience here, but we do have a different culture in some respects - possibly as a result of the establishment of the European settlement in the country as a giant penal colony.

Adelaide hottest February day on record

It was hot here today (41.5 Celsius), but even worse up north and west...


Somewhatstunned said...

Re: exchange between JMG and Greenengineer

I'm following this with interest - one of the reasons my comments here are few and brief is that eventually someone else will make the points or raise that questions that occurred to me - often from a more authoritative knowledge-base than myself.

Thanks for thrashing this one out so thoroughly. I tend to think GE argument presents legitimate uncertainty and I take GE at their word when they insist they are not 'bargaining'. However, when GE says:

The vast majority of our activities as a culture, including many of more most energy intensive ones, do nothing whatsoever to contribute to human welfare ... the fundamental barrier is social perspectives and cultural priorities

GE has pretty much explained, inadvertently, why I think, on the whole that we are irretrievably in the soup. Although 'culture' can change, the way that type of change change happens is complicated, not fully understood and can't be insisted upon or directed with any degree of confidence. In other words, there are psychological and social limits to what is possible - they might be more obscure and flexible than the physical limits but they are there. Whatever remains technically possible, the politics are unlikely to be able to change fast enough.

In one sense, I don't need to take a stand on whether things are 'too late' - my own circumstances are fairly modest, and I'm working on the assumption that I might very well live to see 'interesting times'. I'm putting a lot of thought into what my 'choices' should be, given that I want to be helpful. But whatever I do choose (am choosing) should be equally useful under JMG's scenario or GEs possible future - which is rather one of the points you made in this week's post.

JMG, you might see me as 'bargaining' also - but actually it feels a lot more like the end of the depressive stage.

Kevin Pilsbury said...

In relation to Tim Morgan (formerly an analyst for Tullet Prebon and the author of the Forbes article) and his hypothesis that debt and fiat money in the financial system of today is nothing more than a call on future energy production, I found the following strategy insight written by him that I think many here will find very interesting:

And his own website expanding upon these ideas (although I have not had a chance to read through this in any depth):

Seems the ideas being discussed here are definitely starting to make their way into the consciousness of the financial world.

zmejuka-alexey said...

John Michael,

I would like to comment on your discussion with the GreenEngineer concerning lack or resources to change the infrastructure.

IMO, in your model of industrial civilization you miss the difference between countries that make up the civilization. I live in Russia, and from what I see now, there is enough resorces in this country to build new infrastructure. After the near collapse most of unneccesary institutions and infrastructure disappeared, so the society here doesn't spend money on it. Due to the high energy prices Russia is now rebuilding infrastructure and industrial complex. This cituation is going to continue several decades into the future.

In other words, Russia has 20 or more years before its own peak oil and it has time and resources to prepare to it.

On the other hand, peal oil is not on agenda here neither for public nor for politicians, so it is unlikely that anyone would start doing anything in that direction. We never had an oil shock here, therefore there is no initiative to prepare for it.

So, first problem for Russia is the lack of publical and political concern, second is the lack of relevant technologies. Though, I suppose given the initiative the technologies could be bought.

Best regards

MawKernewek said...

A little tangential to the topic of the post, but following on from some comments on data mining:

Can Twitter Predict Royal Baby's Name ?

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- Given that the Marxism schedule seems to have been moved up in the real world, I'll suggest it might be useful to turn your incisive pen to the subject of Marxism and socialism, in close proximity to what you have to say about fascism.

John Michael Greer said...

Das Monde, I'd suggest that several other explanations cover that far more plausibly.

Roger, I doubt it. There's a reason that Eisenhower, who knew the system up close and personal, treated "the military-industrial complex" as a single thing.

DeAnander, it's important not to ignore or sugarcoat the grief and the fear. Those are reasonable and appropriate responses to the predicament we're in. That you're taking meaningful, concrete action, to my mind, is what matters.

Latefall, almost everyone in the US is perfectly comfortable with someone else's economic failure! I do think we're going to see some explosions -- I've commented already on the very high likelihood of a major domestic insurgency in this country in the next decade or two -- but those will arrive only as it sinks in that things are not going to get better. More on this as we proceed.

GreenEngineer, I wouldn't worry about a fast crash -- though there may be some very fast lurches and bumps! As long as you've got your lower-tech plan B in place, though, no argument.

Myriad, that's an interesting definition of "subversive," though not necessarily a bad one. I like your James Bond villain test!

Alexander, when she talks about the wealth creating potential of the approaching economic transformation, as far as I can tell, she's barking up the wrong stump; wealth is ultimately a function of energy flow, and as that declines, so will the total wealth available to the economy. Still, it's interesting to see somebody inside the economic paradigm thinking in these terms.

Mark, as long as you're aware of those scary things, if it's bargaining, it may still have a constructive effect. A reactive response, at a time when most of the resources that could have facilitated a transition are long gone, may be little more than desperate crisis management, but even that might be better than nothing.

James, yes, and if pigs had wings we'd all catch our breakfast bacon with butterfly nets. Do you really think it's "radical," or useful, to make suggestions like that when you clearly haven't considered what would be needed to make them happen?

Renaissance, too funny. Thank you.

MawKernewek, I respect people who eat organic foods if, and only if, they either grow them themselves or buy them from local producers. Otherwise it's just one more form of conspicuous consumption.

Cherokee, exactly -- Australia was founded by convicts, America by religious fanatics. It makes for very different cultures.

John Michael Greer said...

Stunned, it sounds like acceptance to me.

Kevin, I read the Tullet Prebon paper, but didn't connect the name. Thank you for pointing that out! If the financial sphere is finally starting to grapple with this, that's good to hear.

Alexey, if Russia starts taking peak oil and the limits to growth seriously now, or in the next few years, it might have a much easier time of it. Do you see that as likely? That's an honest question; it's always possible, however unlikely, that a large nation that still has plenty of surplus energy reserves might figure out what's coming and make the drastic changes necessary to weather it. I see no signs that Russia, or any other country, is poised to do that, but I'm not there, of course.

MawKernewek, funny.

Joseph, I'll consider that. It would require a lot of reading, in Marx and some of the older Marxist authors, and also in their current epigones, and I'll have to find time for that.

Glenn said...

Cherokee Organics said...

"Please don't take this as being negative, but 125' is a long way down to draw fresh water from merely for household use."

No offense taken. We've given this a great deal of thought. The island we live on, for the most part, has an aquifer that floats on top of intruding salt water; well depth is pretty well equal to elevation. There are a couple of odd, geologically isolated exceptions; one property 2 miles North of us is right by the bay and yet has a 200 ft deep well. Well use is common here (as you say), in the Pacific Northwest it works fine. Our aquifer is recharged by the annual rain.

We use the water for the garden half the year as well as household use. We drink rainwater that we collect in a 55 gal. plastic barrel then filter. We are still building our tiny cabin (280 sq. ft.), but after it is done I want to save enough to solarize just the well with PV. A half or quarter H.P. DC pump with a gallon a minute capacity running only during daylight would give us adequate flow. No batteries, no inverter, only a couple of relays. But, should electricity from the mains become unavailable or unaffordable, _and_ we hadn't been able to afford the PV and pump, we would have to build a larger rainwater catchment. I'd probably build it as you do in Australia, concrete block, plastered inside and about 20K gal. capacity. We'd need more catchment area, and probably some smaller pumps to move the water around. But it's doable, our neighbors well is the same depth as ours, they used a hand pump for their first two years; we could hand pump rainwater if we had to.

Our trees are quite healthy, though not as big as on the West side of the Olympic Peninsula, in the Hoh Rainforest. We are in the rain shadow of the Olympics here and only get 24" a year. So far, it's been enough. Our well drillers log shows alternating layers of sand, gravel and clay. Water frequently "ponds" on the intermediate clay layers, so the trees don't have to reach 125 ft. to reach water. Our uphill neighbors inherited a 20' deep hand dug pioneer's well on their land. It has water in it year round, but acts more as a cistern and is easily overdrawn. They collect rain in two 2400 gal. plastic tanks.

I'd considered wind pumps as well as wind turbines for electric power. Our wind patterns are not reliable enough though. Lots in winter storms, little the rest of the year, and our site is too far below the ridge top. There is a fellow on Guemes Island, about 40 miles North of us who has wind turbines and solar PV. He lives on a flat, open island, Dutch landscape :) But has power year round from his system. Name is Ian Woofenden, and he writes for Home Power magazine.

Sea level rise will eventually put our well out of business, but there's no telling when. I'd guess as soon as 20 years, as long as a century. Hence my interest in cisterns.

"in some parts of this country, over drawing of aquifers for irrigation has lowered their levels even in recent times." {Snip!} "water scarcity would be a limiting factor to both population and agriculture here."

In the U.S. that's happening in the Ogallala Aquifer under Texas and Oklahoma, leftover from the last glaciation, I think. They're drawing it down with diesel pumps. At some point the falling water table will meet rising diesel costs. One farm at a time, the area will revert to dry land ranching with a consequential loss of food production and jobs.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Shane Wilson said...

New poster here. I'm curious as to whether there's an awareness of internet dependency in the peak oil community, and the need to develop and utilize more resilient, sustainable forms of communication before the internet starts to become too expensive, unreliable, or no longer "world wide" Considering other countries' concerns about American dominance of the web/privacy after the Snowden NSA leaks, the days of a less than "world wide" web are probably sooner rather than later. I was wondering if the attitude was more "we'll cross that bridge when it comes", or if thought is already being given to transitioning to more sustainable, resilient communication forms in peak oil circles? Personally, I think of the internet as a necessary evil, and have reduced my online presence/footprint quite a bit.

Glenn said...

(part 2)

Cherokee Organics said:

"I understand that it is quite common for people in the US to draw their drinking water from wells and this may have historical roots that I simply don't understand. It just seems really risky from an outsiders perspective."

Well, except for the Western Plains and the Desert Southwest, most of the U.S. isn't the barren desert that most of the Australian interior is. Wells are also usually considered by U.S. Public Health officials to be safer than surface water; our county does not require well water to be treated or filtered. Now in fracked areas, the wells are well and truly Fracked Up.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Roger said...


I think that the American military-industrial complex is pretty much toast. It's all over but the cryin'.

With all due respect to JMG (and President Eisenhower), I'm not so sure that the military industrial complex is a single thing. It looks to me that the industrial half of the complex - the manufacturing industries that formerly employed millions of well paid American workers who in turn paid the taxes that funded US military expenditures - is now on Chinese soil under the defacto control of the Chinese elite in Beijing and within easy reach of the Chinese military. And how long can the military half of the complex exist without the financial and physical capacity of the industrial half?

Productive capacity that was offshored to China by American CEOs for the purpose of filling their own pockets presumably could be converted, at least in part, to production of arms and munitions for the Chinese military in the event of war. And buck an hour Chinese workers slaving away in those factories don't pay taxes in the US.

The American managerial class interpreted "shareholder value" to mean that anything goes in service of their own monetary interest. The long and the short is that American CEOs, bandying this "shareholder value" absurdity, stripped their own country's physical and financial war-making capacity and delivered it to a giant, increasingly aggressive and historically aggrieved adversary.

Boneheaded or what? Is it just me or does anyone else see a huge national security problem? Has the US military brass pondered this? I wonder if the Chinese brass isn't just thunderstruck that all these industries just fell out of the sky.

As an aside, IMO this debacle by itself is proof that the "best and the brightest" don't go into business, notwithstanding the baloney propagated by Wall Street and Ivy League biz schools.

While we're finger pointing, it wasn't just money-men. American politicians too, in the triumphalist afterglow of the implosion of the USSR, the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the abandonment of communist certitudes by the Chinese ruling class, thought that if a little free enterprise was good then a whole lot more was better. Let the CEO's have at it!

But, as Latefall says, what's gone is gone. The question is what to do now. Maybe we shouldn't be worrying so much about the US M-I-C but rather their successors, the Chinese M-I-C.

Crow Hill said...

Myriad: Excellent idea: "One step people can take that directly benefits conservation, and indirectly supports rehumanization and decentralization, is living in multi-generational extended households, either along traditional family lines or otherwise...". The rest of the comments are very interesting including suggestions that negative ideas we may have about certain types of family relationships may have been suggested by those with an interest in boosting consumerism. I am thinking the same thing may be true about the criticism of anti-population boom discourse in connection with nature conservation. This may also have to do with the same commercial interests rather than anti-imperialism.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- Sorry, didn't mean to put more on your plate. I've come to assume you already know everything about everything.

Yes, that's entirely unreasonable. ;-)

I'm toying with the concept that Marxism extended American Capitalism. I know very little about Marx -- I'm a typical American in that -- but I've heard it said often that he predicted the self-immolation of capitalism, and if the RS article is accurate, he had it pretty dead-on. The problem is, he thought it would end a lot sooner than it did, and the critics say that means he got it all wrong and was an idiot: after all, growth capitalism and Progress go hand-in-hand, world without end, Amen.

What caught my attention in the RS article was the fact -- which I didn't know -- that progressive income tax is part of the Communist Manifesto, and that it influenced the adoption of progressive taxation in the US and elsewhere. If that's so -- and it seems plausible, the Manifesto was penned in 1848, and the first income tax in the US was in 1862 -- then given the strong position Marxism had in the US in the early 1900's, I wouldn't be surprised if a LOT of the New Deal came straight out of Marx. Covertly, of course: people do that when they "borrow" from tainted sources, kind of like a cat scraping sand over their business. I just don't know enough about Marxism or the history of the New Deal to know.

It would explain the rabid hate-affair that the political and religious right has with the New Deal, which seems otherwise inexplicable.

A bit of Marxism in the American system might have been just enough to stabilize capitalism for the half-century from the 1930's to the 1980's, e.g. the 70-90% tax on high income. Once the 1980's started rolling back the New Deal, normal self-immolating habits of capitalism would have reasserted themselves, and that certainly seems to be what I've lived through.

The irony of that, if true, and if we were not already drowning in irony, would be just too delicious.

I'm neither convinced enough of this tenuous hypothesis, nor interested enough in Marxism, to follow up on it. I don't see any particular hope in Marxism at this point -- it isn't going to "save capitalism", or our industrial society. Nor do I see it playing any real role in the long descent. I have better ways to waste time.

But you have commented negatively about a return of Marxism, and I was curious to know how you think that will play out.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Cherokee -
I'm not sure why the greenwizards forum is giving you problems, but I found your (3) attempts and I changed the password on the "Cherokee Organics" account, that uses "[email protected]" account - to the part of the email name immediately after the @ and before the . (hope that makes sense) and also upgraded it to "trusted user" so you can post. So I hope this allows you to get through (as you can see - I want that cider recipe! ;-))

MawKernewek said...

@Joseph Nemeth - there are quite a few similarities between cat politics and human.

I got "carbon rnteng" as the captcha. Normally I don't comment on this, it's clearly superstition, but with quantum theory you never know

A packet radio network based around something like the Raspberry Pi computer could probably do the trick as long as the facilities to produce adequate microelectronics for the computers. It is possible to build a computer capable of surviving decades in outer space exposed to radiation etc.

Steve in Colorado said...

JMG, thank you for as always a thought provoking essay.

I think the lessons of the commune movement in the 60's and 70's are equally applicable to PO community of today. There were quite a few back then who had issues with the mainstream lifestyle (thought it doomed and even evil) and "dropped out" to form what was to be a better way. As we all know, the commune movement fizzled out, with many of the participants eventually moving back into mainstream life, some with vengeance for the material possessions they had previously forsaken.

My take away lesson from that experience is that it is hard, maybe impossible, to keep people in a less comfortable, alternative lifestyle, as long as the mainstream lifestyle still seems to be viable. Yes there will be the devout few who are willing to give up the comforts, but most won't. Not until the illusions of the mainstream dream become all too obviously exposed.

I think the same dynamic is at work today with the PO community. It is a hard sell to give up your car, airplane travel, and all the other modern conveniences when those around you are not. Even if you know intellectually that it cannot last, and may even be morally wrong to continue using these things.

Instead of giving up our cars we drive hybrids or use bio fuels; we use recycled toilet paper; and adopt a slew of other compromises that dance around the problems we know are out there. But it will not be until all those conveniences are yanked away from us that collectively we accept what we have known and start looking for permanent alternatives.

I am thankful to you and the other PO commentators, for keeping the message out there (as unpopular as it may be at times). It will have an effect, I believe, but not as soon as would be desired. In the mean time, we each can do what we can to plan for a future.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Shane: I'm curious as to whether there's an awareness of internet dependency in the peak oil community, and the need to develop and utilize more resilient, sustainable forms of communication before the internet starts to become too expensive, unreliable, or no longer "world wide"
Head on over to and check out the ham radio section! Definitely thinking about low-tech scenarios! (Also- ask us regulars about how many paper books and printouts we have on these many resilience topics - and start checking out used book stores yourself!)

dltrammel said...

We are posting a list of the story entries on the new Green Wizard site here to lessen the workload for JMG.


BTW the first book got a review over on the Resilience.Org site.

You can add your link by posting either a comment here, which I'll add to the list myself as I have time, or directly at this post


Some good stories so far, congrats to the writer. Best of luck and can't wait to view more submissions.

Dagnarus said...

When I read the post was struck by the idea that from a certain perspective to be a green wizard was to be in a state of bargaining. I mean this in the best sense as while NTE's have accepted that humanity is doomed and their is nothing they can do the green wizard is conducted negotiations with nature in order to work whether ham radios can be brought with us through the long descent and if so under what conditions. It seems to me that acceptance without bargaining is unhealthy.

Dagnarus said...

@Alexander Nelson

What I read from Carlotta seemed reasonably standard for the alternative left. The understanding that we are using up the planets resources at a unsustainable rate doesn't really seem to be a hard sell there. It's when you try and link that with the lifestyles to which we have all become accustomed, rather than some corporate conspiracy to clear fell the Amazon for no good reason, that things get dicey. The idea that we can have an economic boom which simultaneously bring the third world up to our standard of living and simultaneously leads to more sustainable exploitation of scarce resources seems absurd to me. It brings to mind Jesus's parable about serving two masters. You can't serve both exponential growth and the sustainable use of scarce resources. Those who successful traverse the long descent are quite likely going to have to realize that accomplishing certain goals make the accomplishment of others impossible and that they will have to choose which ones are most important to them.

onething said...

Robert Mathiesen,

I do have a reel mower and I love it. When I use it, if my daughters happen to be visiting, they ask for a turn. If all I had was a regular yard, that would be all I own, but we've got some meadow and so we also use a mower.
Having just come back from a weekend at work, I was quite surprised that in the break room, while the TV was on and a blurb came on the news about how America is now the biggest oil and gas producer in the world, a guy turned to me and spoke about how we're going to run out of oil! A bit later, since I was reading Jared Diamond's Collapse, a woman asked me what it was about and I talked a bit about Easter Island, she also said, well, that is like our situation, and we're using up all the oil and we're going to run out! I was rather floored as I don't consider my coworkers in general or either of those two particularly likely to be aware of that sort of thing. Actually, it was just a couple of months ago that same woman crowed that America is going to become energy independent (she had heard some shale gas propaganda).

I'm finding the human situation depressing. Would be funny if not so tragic. Easter Island is surely a strange episode in the human annals. A people so isolated they may have forgotten that there was a world out there. How much did their complete lack of perspective blind them to the foolishness of their actions? Alone among the Polynesian peoples, they got into cremating the dead. This takes a lot of wood. They had a priesthood and an elite. Other than survival and ceremonies and such, what was there to do? Why, statue building. There were hundreds, all getting bigger as the centuries wore on, with platforms involving millions and billions of pounds of rocks. Until they no longer had ropes or wood to slide them on. They devolved into cannibalism and rage, ultimately pushing over their rivals statues and breaking them deliberately until none were left standing.
Yes, Easter Island is depressing, and a long descent perhaps is also depressing because what they had was a long, long descent. Less and less food and variety of food, fewer animals, no trees, fewer plants, poorer health. And, several other south sea islands were also experiencing erosion and were partially deforested. All those islands have been inhabited for somewhat more or less than one thousand years. Would they eventually all have reached the same state? At least on Easter Island, there were a few survivors, but on Mangareva and its two tiny trading partners, all died.
So Diamond points out that earth, also, is an island, isolated in the sea of space. It becomes a question of whether we can slowly deplete the earth or whether earth can fight back by knocking our population back far enough to recover. If I hope for a fast collapse, this is why.

Until recently, I was hoping for some free, clean energy, read about Tesla and others, and I do think it possible. After all, there is much we don't know about physics. But now I think that would be a curse. We haven't the wisdom to handle it; we haven't used wisdom in handling the one we have now, and giving more power to the unwise only allows them to do greater mischief.
That was the reason given by the alchemists for keeping their secrets.

Ruben said...


You may enjoy this take on Easter Island.

What Happened On Easter Island — A New (Even Scarier) Scenario : Krulwich Wonders... : NPR

Bogatyr said...

@dltrammel - Thanks for posting the link to the new Green Wizards site. As I'm sure you guessed, my comments on the thread of JMG's last article were based on my having been looking at the old site - so nothing I said is relevant. Oops - egg on my face, or what? So: sorry!

The new site looks great, and has lots of interesting content - congratulations!

Bogatyr said...

@Alexey: Hi there - where in Russia are you? I'm in St. Petersburg...

onething said...

@ Roger,

"Boneheaded or what? Is it just me or does anyone else see a huge national security problem? Has the US military brass pondered this? I wonder if the Chinese brass isn't just thunderstruck that all these industries just fell out of the sky.

As an aside, IMO this debacle by itself is proof that the "best and the brightest" don't go into business, notwithstanding the baloney propagated by Wall Street and Ivy League biz schools. "

It's a matter of what kind of best and brightest. There are different psychological types. Those who want only to make money have greed as a first priority, and are therefore by definition shortsighted. In America, this has become a national mental illness, defended as nonnegotiable. America is well positioned for this attitude, as we are not really a people in the same sense that most other nations are. I was watching a light action Chinese movie with subtitles, and at one point when the bad guy was about to do something horrible, a friend tried to restrain him and said that it would be bad for "the people." It is hard to describe but I don't ever recall hearing a sentiment quite like that in an American movie. When your culture goes back that far and has a shared history there is a deeply understood investment in its value. This is definitely also true of Russia, in fact it is particularly true of Russia; there is a Russian soul and to be Russian is to partake in that soul.
Sure, greedy individuals will certainly betray their countries for money, but that love acts as a brake which America pretends to have but does not have.

zmejuka-alexey said...

John Michael,

"a large nation ... might figure out what's coming and make the drastic changes necessary to weather it."
"Do you see that as likely?"

I doubt that general public in Russia would figure out what is going on before it is an accepted fact in western countries. As for the rulers it is a bit different.
On the other hand we have a long history of initiated from the top preparations, likt the Petr the Great reforms to catch up with European technology, or the communist's industrialization and Stalin's preparation for the second world war. So as soon as it becomes an accepted fact among western elites that the peak oil is the reality I'd expect that our rulers will fast catch up to it and begin some preparations. And general public will have no say in it, may be it would resist a bit, but not much.

Concerning the preparations, I can't know whether they are concious or not. Some of them, for sure, are dictated by geography and resources. And looking at part of them I wonder whether someone at the top understands what is going on.

I'll try to compile a short list.

1. Everything possible is done to extend the existing energy sources: Arctic exploration for oil and gas, nuclear stations building, gasification of countryside (I mean pipe gasification). There is also special prises equal to Nobel prize in money for scientific discoveries in the energy field.

2. Infrastructure that is built can easily last without oil. Cities are small, because it is too cold and central heating is economically viable. Villages are mostly gasified. Public transport can bring me to any part of a million people city in an hour. I have three shops, 4 schools in 10 minutes walk, and it is cimilar everywhere in Russia.
New electrified railroads are built, the old are well-maintained, IMO it is due to weather and our culture, as we cannot build automobile roads that last more than 5 years without big holes in them.

3. People are well able to look for themselves. Almost everyone has an organic garden outside of the city. Anyone who is older than 18 has experience in gardening, though it strted to change about 13 years ago.
This tradition comes from USSR, when the shops were empty and people had to grow and conserve a significant part of their food.

4. A push for conservation is recently initiated by the goverment, though I think it is due to high energy prices on the export market, and they want to make more money. Anyway the net result is that people have to conserve energy more.

5. There is no significant believe in high-tech as we are quite below the rest of the world in it. On the other hand we have pretty solid basic tech.

6. The population is not oversized. In 1812 Russia population was 40 millions, nowadays it is only 140 millions and growing slowly. We had several population reductions in the last century.
Carrying capacity is about 500 millions.

7. Add the fact that Russia NEVER lived better than now and has a potential to grow and solid military to protect itself.

I even can't tell what we can do more to make the transition to post industrial world more smooth. The only question for me what it will look like here. Is it possible to retain some electricity by using hydro? What about computers?
But all this question will become actual in 40 years or more.

Best regards

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