Monday, June 22, 2009

Good Reads

Some good reads well worth the time:

An article on the Transition Initiative in the US which includes an intro to Peak Oil and opinions from several different sources. One of the best articles on the subject that I've read to date.

Sharon Astyk's ruminations on 'where we live' -- the global markets we rely upon and the consequences of long-distance living.

James Kunstler, in his weekly address "Clusterfuck Nation," explains with his typical acerbic wit why we the economy cannot return to 'normal.' We've been borrowing from tomorrow and tomorrow is finally here:
The US economic situation is going to get a lot worse. Many more people are going to lose incomes and chattels and will suffer, and the moment will arrive when they will direct their anger outward. They need to be told two things: that the borrowed-against future is now here, requiring very different behavior; and that those who received lavish payment for looting the American future unlawfully will be subject to due process of law. So far, nobody has even been fired, let alone officially investigated.

And a plug for Greg Craven's book, What's the Worst That Could Happen?, available now for pre-order! What makes Greg's book different from all others out there is that Greg doesn't try to tell you what to think. His book is about looking at the debate on global climate change from the perspective of risk management, and he offers guidelines on how to evaluate for yourself the information that bombards us from every angle. Plus, Greg is funny.:D He has written an easy-to-read alternative to the academic tomes that weigh down the bookstore shelves. Buy a copy for yourself and one for a friend! (Or buy one to donate to your local library . . . !)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Newsreel, June 2009

Some interesting stuff in the news these days.

The US Global Change Research Program has presented to Congress and the American President a 190 page paper entitled ‘Global Climate Change Impacts in The United States.‘ If you are still wondering whether or not global climate change is real, or whether or not it is anthropogenic, the answers are here. This paper includes the most up-to-date, most thorough answers science has to offer. And if you are wondering if and when and how that might affect you, this paper addresses that, too. Well worth a read. Or if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, you can browse the colorful graphics.

Of course, admitting there is a problem isn’t the same as solving it. Where to begin? Well, there’s the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill. Hummmm. Seems Monsanto (one of my all-time favorite moustache-twirling villains) and Dow Chemical (okay, I have more than one favorite!) are pulling some behind the scene shenanigans to promote poisoning of the earth and cornering the entire world’s seed stock as carbon off-sets worthy of subsidies. Lex Luthor would be proud!

In the meantime, we’ve had another shooting in Pensacola. It seems a certain mobile home park got behind on its water bill and so the more than 100 residents (who have been paying their rent all along – which supposedly includes utilities) had their water cut off. No water for over a week and the sewers were beginning to back up. Well, a local church decided to help out. They came over with water, food, and giving hearts. In the midst of this community bonding, a 17-year old from a neighboring town showed up. He had a beef with one of the residents over a stolen wallet, so he shot him in the face. The victim has since died.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a few days later some deputies responded to a call for assistance with a young man who was having a seizure at this very same mobile home park. Somehow, someway, their K-9 dog got out of the sheriff’s car and attacked the patient’s mother, sending her to the hospital with multiple bite wounds. Police aren’t sure how the dog got out of the car, but suggest that the woman aggravated the situation by reacting inappropriately, “’It didn't help that she was hysterical,’ Roy said.”

Bottom line is that if your water is cut off, your sewer is backing up, your neighbor is shot and killed during a church cook-out, your son is having a seizure, and you are being attacked by a police dog, by all means don’t get hysterical!

I am struck by how readily a trigger gets pulled. I am struck by the callousness of the water company and how readily they turned the water off. I am struck by how easily things can go awry when deputies overreact. I am struck by the ‘blame the victim’ attitude of law enforcement. I am struck by the one ray of light in this story – the church members who showed up to offer relief.

I am concerned about the number of guns in this country. I am concerned that hardship brings out the worst in some people. I am concerned that this story is only the beginning . . .

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dear Abby

I’m still not a huge fan of Dimitry Orlov, although if Sharon Astyk were to market “I’d do Dimitry Orlov” bumper stickers, I might buy one just because it’s such a great insider joke.

Maybe part of the problem I have with Dimitry is his off-hand dismissal of efforts such as Transition initiatives. As I see it, any movement toward a more sustainable, more resilient tomorrow is better than sitting around waiting for the sky to fall. We need positive visions of what the world could be. We need more bicycles, more gardens, more community. Okay, maybe reality will fall short of the plans that were made, but a step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction.

Or maybe I have a problem with him because he seems so sure of himself. I like writers who admit they could be wrong. Or maybe because he seems so ‘out there’ – so far out on the fringe that he risks 'kook' status and I’m trying to convince others that doomsayers such as he are not kooks but intelligent, well-informed, rational people who just happen to be really good at reading the tea leaves.

All that said, Dimitry made some salient points that I’d like to share.

In answer to the concern how long before TEOTWAWKI?, Orlov offers the following:

Now: end of growth, onset of permanent crisis.
The next decade: steep declines in the availability of fossil fuels; some of the natural realm left intact; some ability to make alternative arrangements.
The following decade: collapse of fossil fuel industry; natural realm largely destroyed; no ability to make alternative arrangements.

A fast collapse is the optimistic scenario. The alternative is a nasty ‘slow burn.’

The biggest risk of all, as I see it, is that the industrial economy will blunder in for a few more years, perhaps even a decade or more, leaving environmental and social devastation in its wake. Once it finally gives up the ghost, hardly anything will be left with which to start over. To mitigate against this risk, we have to create alternatives, on a small scale, that do not perpetuate this system and that can function without it.


It’s always personal. No one will inform you that collapse has happened; you will only know that it has happened to you.


There are two components to human nature, the social and the solitary. The solitary is definitely the more highly evolved, and humanity has surged forward through the efforts of brilliant loners and eccentrics. Their names live on forever precisely because society was unable to extinguish their brilliance or to thwart their initiative. Our social instincts are atavistic and result far too reliably in mediocrity and conformism. We are evolved to live in small groups of a few families, and our recent experiments that have gone beyond that seem to have relied on herd instincts that may not even be specifically human. When confronted with the unfamiliar, we have a tendency to panic and stampede, and on such occasions people regularly get trampled and crushed underfoot: a pinnacle of evolution indeed! And so, in fashioning a survivable future, where do we put our emphasis: on individuals and small groups, or on larger entities - regions, nations, humanity as a whole? I believe the answer to that is obvious.


I think that what makes us likely to think that technology will save us is that we are addled by it. Efforts at creating intelligent machines have failed, because computers are far too difficult to program, but humans turn out to be easy for computers to program. Everywhere I go I see people poking away at their little mental support units. Many of them can no longer function without them: they wouldn't know where to go, who to talk to, or even where to get lunch without a little electronic box telling what to do. . . .

There are people who believe in the emergent intelligence of the networked realm - a sort of artificial intelligence utopia, where networked machines become hyperintelligent and solve all of our problems. And so our best hope is that in our hour of need machines will be nice to us and show us kindness? If that's the case, what reason would they find to respect us? Why wouldn't they just kill us instead? Or enslave us. Oh, wait, maybe they already have!


Now, supposing all goes well, and we have a swift and decisive collapse, what should follow is an equally swift rebirth of viable localised communities and ecosystems. One concern is that the effort will be short of qualified staff.


We have a huge surplus of “factory-farmed humans” and a shortage of “free-range humans.”


It is an unfortunate fact that the recent centuries of settled life, and especially the last century or so of easy living based on the industrial model, has made many people too soft to endure the hardships and privations that self-sufficient living often involves. It seems quite likely that those groups that are currently marginalised, would do better, especially the ones that are found in economically underdeveloped areas and have never lost contact with nature.

But the best part of the whole article is Orlov’s ardent advice (this aside from his admonition to invest in land and bronze nails):
Conserve energy: get plenty of rest and sleep a lot. Sleeping burns ten times less energy than hard physical labor.

Save time: avoid living by a schedule. Choose the best time to do each thing. Work with the weather and the seasons, not against them.

Pick and choose: always have more to do than you ever plan to get done.

Have plenty of options: You don’t know what the future holds, so (don’t) plan accordingly.

Think for yourself: the popularity of a stupid idea doesn’t make it any less stupid.

Laugh at the world: make sure to maintain a healthy sense of humor.

Now that is much-needed advice -- advice I can even live with!