Conservation Education

SUBHEAD: Molding the agents of positive change and then offering them economic bondage.

 By Nathan Dunn on 5 June 2012 for Nature Bats Last -  

Image above: Christopher McCandless (the subject of movie 'Into the Wild") takes his final self portrait before dieing in the wilderness of Alaska. He holds a note that reads; "I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!" From (
It is hard to know where to begin, as there have been so many fits, stops, and starts. In keeping with the tradition here, I will offer several biographical notes. My first summer after high school was spent with an organization called the Student Conservation Association (SCA). After spending five weeks in the wilderness with a pick and a shovel, I hope that the place made a greater impact upon me than I did on it. I suspect that the place really does not miss me at all.

After several weeks, a man was sent out to check on us. He found us to be seventeen and sitting around a campfire supper talking about the city. He suggested that rather than our practice of building an ever-greater fire to entertain ourselves that we might turn our backs to only enough of a fire to keep warm. That way we could take the opportunity to look out upon the wilderness. We were still close enough to converse. 
“The fire constantly changes, but not in any meaningful way. It is the same any place that you go. Is such a simple, destructive thing really so interesting as to be the center of attention here?”
I met another gentleman a few weeks ago and related that experience to him. He works for a Presbyterian youth group and shared with me that his goals are to have a similar impact upon youth at just the right time in their lives.
“In fact we have a sister group in another, um, less timid church that uses the motto: Ruined for Life!”
The SCA experience established a distinct marker in the course of my life. At that signpost I was ruined for empire. I did not really know it then and neither did anyone else around me. My parents signed the waivers and such things that were necessary, but they had no idea. I returned to them skinny and they could see that, but they had no idea how hungry I was.

My mattress was strangely peculiar, so I slept on my camping pad beside the bed. The grocery store seemed shiny and surreal. I could not imagine what compelled the decadence of more than 120 varieties of cereal. Oatmeal is great and there is simply no other water that tastes like fresh glacier. Ruined.

There are these snarky voices everywhere in the city though. They do not sound like old growth forests. Surely you have heard the sounds. “Well, but how will you make money then? We are concerned about your future, son. What do you mean you won’t own a car?” Everything that I found myself doing was in direct contradiction to protecting what had replaced most of the feelings I found associated with the word home. “Why are you so negative? Your sister didn’t have a problem finding a job! We must attack Iraq.”

I bowed to societal convention. If formal learning was virtuous and college meant success in life, then Sallie Mae was right there ready to help me. I stared at the catalog and the course offerings. I took the personality tests. I went to the college and career center. I just had to write down all of the things that I was good at, and suddenly I would have this resume thing to give to people. I would be off and running, making money. All I needed was an apartment and a steady supply of bad food that also came in boxes. So began the accrual of interest on my account.

I can still remember the picture in the career manual under the heading the computer labeled me. Forestry Technician. There was a black woman cutting a tree down while wearing a hard hat. (Oh, we have come a long way, and yes we can!) … Associate’s Degree Required, $19,000/yr. “Hmm, so I cut trees down and they pay me $19,000? Surely there must be some boss in the picture.”

I spent at least a week, maybe a month, reading those books. The woman at the center couldn’t help me to figure out how to make enough money to have a family, even while being the boss of the lady that cut trees down, especially since I wanted the lady to not cut the trees down. She did not look forward to any more questions, but assured me that I NEEDED to go to college. I just had to figure out some classes I could pass, and then I could list them as accomplishments on the resume.

Somebody would give me a job. I would help people and nobody would yell at me. Lucky for her, I caught on. I suspect that the place really does not miss me at all.

It was pretty obvious that I was never going to be the boss in the picture, at least not because I was good at chemistry or genetics. Looking at what I could do, and what equaled a degree, there was this thing called Conservation Biology. The classes even looked exciting. I could imagine the work it would be, but I was going to make a difference, I was going to do something about it. The feeling was tremendous, like finally knowing that I had found my way to a trail that was going to lead to the parking lot. I could drink the last of the water in my canteen and know I would not die. I was going to finally be sustainable. A man with a job has spring in his step.

I was taught things like how to manage deer and ducks for wealthy hunters to shoot, but also deeper theoretical things, like that there is this thing called population dynamics. We read from a book called The Economy of Nature. So, births minus deaths equaled recruitment, and this thing called carrying capacity was the result of environmental resistance. Otherwise, you were dealing with things like bacteria and on the fifth day, or so, of incubation the toxic byproducts and lack of food killed all of the organisms. “So, as you can see class, we are not knee-deep in bacteria.” I wanted to ask questions like, “But why don’t human populations follow these natural laws?”

They had just taught me that the entire field of Conservation Biology was a result of academics like themselves realizing that for all the studying they had done and all of the forestry technicians they had created, nothing was being meaningfully conserved. In fact, they were cataloging the extinctions, and some old British guys knew that was the best they could do before they did.

Malthus was almost right, and this other dead-white-dude, Jevons did not think it was possible to grow more vegetables than you ever thought possible, but that really, the more we conserve, the more we consume. Time and time again that could be demonstrated, so, you know, a revolt was necessary. It would be on the exam. I studied these concepts inside and out, night and day.

The computer label on the personality test must have been changed. I would no longer become a forestry technician boss (Wildlife Biologist), but a Conservation Biologist. The department was first the School of Renewable Natural Resources, then the School of Natural Resources, and finally the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, just during the time it took to earn a degree.

Things were getting done and society was better off for all of their taxpayer-funded tenures. I wanted examples. Proof. I wanted to read the journal articles that explained this and cite them in my writing. That was required by the rules. That was an “A” grade. With insistence that my questions were not getting answered and the ability to speak the language of the institution, it was revealed to me that I am not much fun at parties anymore. I suggested that things do not improve when a mountain lion is shot with a tranquilizer dart and forced to wear a computerized collar.

I was sent places like the Dean of Students for, you know, talking out of turn and stuff. My attitude was a definite problem, not the lack of examples, and I was advised to change my major to find happiness. Recruitment of debt-addled students might have been interrupted or even undermined if business as usual was in fact, business as usual. Lucky for them, I caught on. I suspect that the place really does not miss me at all. Sallie Mae still sends me love letters.

There I was, ready to be the change I wanted to see in the world. I volunteered to be molded into the agent of positive change and offered economic bondage for the opportunity. Though still willing and paying diligently, I do not really care about the cost or what I might earn. $19,000 would be just fine at this point. Any place where I apply for work rejects me for being a big-time college grad, or not having a Master’s. Comedy is tragedy. I serve coffee to professors and administrators. I look for inklings of how to proceed. I frequent Nature Bats Last.

I keep looking for a sign that tells me I am not walking down a dry wash, but a true trail leading to the parking lot. As long as there are glaciers, I will feel at home, but my canteen has run low. There are several parking lots and I haven’t got a car parked in any of them. Here IS home.

I know that people earning the equivalent of $30,000 per year are in the top 1% of earners worldwide. We are the 1%. Even economically impoverished, I am wealthy beyond measure. Aldo Leopold said that the challenge we face is to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.

We seem mindlessly unable to find a way to make do with what we have. If that is not the challenge we face, then tell me what the problem is really. WE do face a life or death matter, and I do not mean to trivialize it, but it is in our minds. No spirit, or science, or administration will intervene. We have to see it for that, a state of mind, and have the will to wake up in the morning, to not commit suicide, to face the wilderness and to make it a wonderful day. Stark honesty does not inhibit happiness.
Perhaps what Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac (1949) should be mentioned:
Conservation is a state of harmony between men (sic) and land. Despite nearly a century of propaganda, conservation still proceeds at a snail’s pace; progress still consists largely of letterhead pieties and convention oratory. On the back forty we still slip two steps backward for each forward stride
The usual answer to this dilemma is “more conservation education.” No one will debate this, but is it certain that the volume of education needs stepping up? Is something lacking in the content as well?
It is difficult to give a fair summary of its content in brief form, but, as I understand it, the content is substantially this: obey the law, vote right, join some organizations, and practice what conservation is profitable on your own land; the government will do the rest.
Is not this formula too easy to accomplish anything worth-while? It defines no right or wrong, assigns no obligation, calls for no sacrifice, implies no change in the current philosophy of values. In respect to land-use, it urges only enlightened self-interest. Just how far will such education take us? An example will perhaps yield a partial answer.
No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions. The proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it. In our attempt to make conservation easy, we have made it trivial.

• Nathan Dunn lives for a living in Tucson, Arizona. He is an active member of his community and neighborhood laborer. He enjoys music, sculpture and distance running. Otherwise you might find him at the coffee shop, farmer’s market, or driving his grandmother to the doctor. He is an avid gardener. Some of his best friends are chickens. He still hopes to one day be offered forestry technician work focused upon agricultural and wilderness issues of concern for society.

Credit Crunch

SUBHEAD: The financial liquidity crunch iis crashing the operating system for industrialization. By Nicole Foss on 4 June 2012 for the Automatic Earth - ( Image above: Jack Whinery, homesteader, and his family in their dugout shelter of a log home in Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. From (

2008 was a practice run, or a warning shot across the bow, compared to what is coming over the next few years.

2008 did not demonstrate what a liquidity crunch really means, but this time we are going to find out. As with many aspects of financial crisis, Greece is the canary in the coalmine, demonstrating what happens when liquidity disappears and it ceases to be possible to connect buyers and sellers or producers and consumers.

As we have said before, and for a long time now, money is the lubricant in the engine of the economy in the way that motor oil is the lubricant in the engine of your car, and you know what will happen to your car if you drive it with the oil warning light on.

Greece stands on the verge of an energy crisis caused not by lack of energy, but lack of money within the energy sector. This will become a common refrain throughout Europe and beyond in the coming months and years. Loss of liquidity has a cascading effect on supply chains, causing them to seize up.

For a long time, money will be the limiting factor, and finance will be the key driver to the downside, just as was the case in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Resources will remain available, at least initially, but no one will have the means to pay for them during a period of economic seizure. Harry Papachristou has this for Reuters:

Greek power regulator warns of energy meltdown

Greece's power regulator RAE told Reuters on Friday it was calling an emergency meeting next week to avert a collapse of the debt-stricken country's electricity and natural gas system.

RAE took the decision after receiving a letter from Greece's natural gas company DEPA, which threatened to cut supplies to electricity producers if they failed to settle their arrears with the company.

Greece is seeing a similar dynamic unfold in relation to pharmaceuticals. Reimbursement arrears from the public sector payment system are building up, pharmacies can no longer offer credit, and people are going to have to pay up front for medicines or go without. Many will be going without. Masa Serdarevic writes for FT Alphaville:

Greece: when the drugs run out

The country's pharmacies are owed 500m by the state-backed healthcare insurer, according to reports. From next week patients will have to stump up the cash for their medicines upfront, and then claim a reimbursement from the National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY).

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that a) medicines tend to be very expensive, b) so paying for them may be very difficult for a lot of people, especially pensioners. And c) if the EOPYY is having trouble paying the pharmacists, it's unlikely to find it any easier to reimburse individuals.

In recent months pharmacies have promised to halt credit to patients unless they get paid, and the EOPYY has thrown some money their way. But its arrears are rapidly rising and clearly the pharmacists can only provide so much credit.

Government attempts to reduce their cost burden are only making matters worse. Parallel trades are developing, with medicines priced artificially low in Greece being sold elsewhere for more. When arbitrage is both possible and profitable, it will happen. Naomi Kresge reports for Bloomberg:

Greek Crisis Has Pharmacists Pleading for Aspirin as Drug Supply Dries Up

The reasons for the shortages are complex. One major cause is the Greek government, which sets prices for medicines. As part of an effort to cut its own costs,Greecehas mandated lower drug prices in the past year.

That has fed a secondary market, drug manufacturers contend, as wholesalers sell their shipments outside the country at higher prices than they can get within Greece.

Strained government finances only make matters worse. Wholesalers and pharmacists say the system suffers from a lack of liquidity, as public insurers delay payments to pharmacies, which in turn can't pay suppliers on time.

Reimbursement fraud compounds the drain on the country's health resources, Richard Bergstrom, director-general of European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, said in an interview. Drugs shipped elsewhere yet submitted for reimbursement to public insurers as if they had been prescribed to patients cost Greece more than 500 million euros a year, Bergstrom said, citing figures he said he got from the Ministry of Health.

In a later e-mail, Bergstrom said he had personally seen packs of drugs with Greek reimbursement stickers on the market outside of Greece, suggesting that exporters were reimbursed and able to ship the packs abroad.

"If the pack is exported, the exporter is obliged to 'cancel' the code, a bar code, by using a black pen," Bergstrom wrote. "But this is not monitored."

Greece's problems are going to increase the more a currency reissue is seen as probable.

Image above: Jack Whinery's youngest daughter, Wanda, in the garden next to their dugout log home Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. From (

Already Greek citizens are delaying payment of taxes, on the grounds that they may be able to pay later in heavily devalued new drachmas. This, of course, worsens the ability of the Greek government to meet its obligations, causing a greater shortage of liquidity and strengthening the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

The political risk resulting from the new round of elections - a referendum on austerity measures -is a major stumbling block. Brinkmanship of this kind heightens market insecurity and therefore fear, and fear is catching. Greek political opportunists are holding the members of the eurozone to ransom, threatening to stop making debt payments if future tranches of support are not forthcoming. From Martin Straith at the Trendletter:

Greece's Syriza Threatens to Stop Paying Their Bills.

According to recent opinion polls, Tsipras' party is poised to win the most votes in repeat elections next month, bettering its surprise, second-place finish in an inconclusive May 6 vote that left no party or coalition with enough seats in parliament to form a government.

Tsipras says that, if push comes to shove, Greece can manage on its own. By not paying its debts, the country will have enough cash to pay its workers and retirees. He also proposes cuts in defense spending, cracking down on waste and corruption, and tackling widespread tax evasion by the rich..

The craziness in Greece doesn't end here. The government has been having trouble getting the citizen's to pay their property taxes, so they decided to bundle the property taxes with the electricity bills, since the citizens were more inclined to pay those bills. The government had hoped to raise 1.7bn-2bn from the levy in the fourth quarter of last year.

But a massive unions-led civil disobedience movement against this "injustice" scuppered that and a ruling that it was illegal to disconnect people's electricity supply for non-payment sent the collection rate even lower.

Now the power company is not getting the revenue from the electricity bills and it has now had to be bailed out by the government to avert a nationwide energy crisis.

In addition, international insurers are suspending coverage for shipments to Greece on the grounds that the risk of non-payment is unacceptably high. This will compromise the ability of Greece to obtain all manner of imports.

Top insurer pulls cover for exports to Greece

Trade insurers have been reviewing their Greek exposure ahead of the country's June 17 general election, seen as a potential trigger for a euro exit if victory goes to parties that oppose spending cuts agreed under a European bailout deal.

"It's a watershed - everyone's watching what happens and trying to make contingency plans," said Richard Talboys, head of political and trade credit risk at insurance broker Willis.

"There are smoke and flames coming out of Greece but we don't know if it can be put out, or if the Greeks will pour oil on it by voting against restructuring and austerity."

Reduced availability of insurance cover for exports to Greece will likely make it harder for manufacturers there to source imported components and materials, said Vincent McCue, trade credit client team leader at insurance broker Marsh.

"The trade credit insurers are saying if, as a result of the election a government comes to power that is committed to overturning the austerity package, even the very best of companies in Greece will no longer be able to pay their debts as they fall due," he said.

The drawn-out, yet inevitable, Greek exit from the eurozone is prolonging the agony, while leaving the country open to being asset stripped. The same process has played out many times before, but humans are resistant to learning the lessons of history and applying them to their own situation.

What is beginning now, or more accurately resuming now, is already familiar to the citizens of Russia or Argentina. We can expect payments to dry up, notably public sector obligations. In Russia people went to work anyway, despite being paid months late, if at all, because they had much less dependence on liquidity for rent and utilities.

In Greece (and later elsewhere in Europe and the West in general) this dependence is far greater, and the impact of the loss of liquidity will be far worse as a result.

Europe is at the epicenter at the moment, but contagion will ensure that the dynamic will spread. In the European context, we are likely to see the liquidity crunch currently focused on the periphery spread to the center. Initially the center appears to be perceived as a safe haven, but probably not for long as the systemic risk associated with the single currency becomes increasingly apparent.


Give me that doom time religion

SUBHEAD: Many people alive today may already be in the midst of industrialism’s fall and not even see it. By Erik Curren on 4 June 2012 for Transition Voice - ( Image above: To deal with the scary bits of an economy facing collapse, a campground in the middle of the forest will put you in a different frame of mind than a hotel conference center.From original article.

To deal with the scary bits of an economy facing collapse, the middle of the forest will put you in a different frame of mind than a hotel conference center.

I don’t usually think of people interested in peak oil, climate change and economic collapse as particularly religious. “Spiritual” maybe — Sufi dancing and Lakota Vision Quests are OK and agnosticism is better. But peak preppers are usually not the kind of folks you’d expect to see in the pew on Sunday at First Presbyterian.

The Age of Limits conference held at the end of May offered some new insights on how religion, as an organized institution, could play a key role in helping mitigate the collapse that the conference’s speakers think has already hit many parts of the world, including much of the U.S.

Though at this event, neither religion nor collapse were what they used to be.

The speakers, collapsitarians all — Dmitry Orlov, John Michael Greer, Gail Tverberg and Carolyn Baker — apparently weren’t born again while reading the Book of Job and didn’t hear the voice of God while fasting during Ramadan. As to the mother of all religious organizations, the Catholic Church came up only as the example of an institution that has outlasted the rise and fall of empires and nations and even today seems to enjoy great immunity from legal prosecution (pedophilia crisis, anyone?).

To paraphrase Orlov, if you want the government and your neighbors to leave you alone in the future, especially in America, then start a church. And that’s just what the sponsors of the Age of Limits conference did.

Been collapse, done collapse

Anyone whose idea of the end of industrial civilization is The Road — a post-nuclear hellscape where survival depends on canned goods or, failing that, cannibalism — or even a gentler version with plenty of salvage such as The Book of Eli or Mad Max, would’ve been disappointed to hear that the coming economic and political unraveling is likely to be gradual and hard to assess while it’s happening.

Indeed, many people alive today may already be in the midst of industrialism’s fall and not even see it.

Greer, author of several books including The Ecotechnic Future and The Wealth of Nature, explained that he relocated a few years ago from Oregon to Cumberland, Maryland (pop. 22,000) because the latter’s economy had already collapsed in the mid-seventies, when most of the mill town’s factories shut down. So the population has already gotten used to dealing with tough times. And, if it’s true that the littler they are the softer they fall, then Greer thought that a small city nestled in the mountains far from any metro area should be as safe a place as any to ride out the coming storm.

Greer encouraged conference attendees to follow his example and “collapse now and beat the rush,” making collapse sound more like down-shifting or embracing simple living than prepping for the attack of mutant zombie bikers.

Dmitri Orlov, who wrote about the collapse of the Soviet Union as a model for the unraveling of the American empire in Reinventing Collapse, talked about how rich people are quietly moving out of the U.S. to what they see as safer redoubts abroad as “rats abandoning a sinking ship.”

Orlov, who also spoke at the event about his experience of living on a boat full time, encouraged the rest of us to follow the billionaires’ example and apply for second passports from countries such as Belize that offer them cheaply. That way, we can still get the hell of Dodge even after fascism descends on Washington and we all end up on the No Fly List.

Yet, Orlov also counseled conference attendees that the riches of the future won’t be hoards of gold or even a shed full of well sharpened gardening tools but instead the people you know who can offer you help and protection in the tough years to come.

Forget solar, start gathering tubers

Surprisingly, for a retired actuary living in suburban Atlanta, Tverberg, known for years on the Oil Drum as Gail the Actuary, was perhaps the gloomiest about the future prospects of humanity after oil. Was this because she seemed to lack an interest in religion held by the other speakers?

Tverberg spoke compellingly and without any Tea Party moralizing about how excessive debt will torpedo economic growth. She also argued that no combination of substitutes will be able to power globalized industrialism after the fossil fuels run out. Unfortunately, after making this sensible point, Tverberg could not resist passing along exaggerated attacks on a variety of renewable energy sources. Often heard in the peak oil doomosphere, complete dismissals of solar and wind power as entirely ineffective and unreliable are not supported by the facts.

Photovoltaic panels or micro turbines used in small-scale, distributed applications — that is, ten kilowatts on your home rooftop rather than ten megawatts operated by your electric utility — are especially promising to power a more localized world beyond oil. Based on the experience of my day job as a solar power developer, I tried to point this out to Tverberg. I also tried to correct some of her errors of fact — solar panels need neither a special roof nor lots of maintenance, as she claimed — but she was having none of it.

Perplexingly, Tverberg also claimed that the option of reverting to a farming lifestyle was off the table for future generations because our generation’s industrial agriculture has already depleted the world’s topsoil beyond repair. She was obviously unimpressed by (or unaware of) the successful efforts of sustainable farming experts like Wes Jackson to restore agricultural lanscapes.

Tverberg concluded that only hunting and gathering would sustainably support humanity in a future beyond oil, making her perhaps the doomiest speaker in a group not known for its vulnerability to rainbows and unicorns.

Time to meet your Baker

Drawing on the wisdom of previous hunter-gatherers around the world, Baker, author of Navigating the Coming Chaos: A Handbook for Inner Transition, led conference attendees in African chants to invoke the aid of male and female energies of the universe. She also explained what traditional rituals to initiate youth into adult life have in common with each other and what they can all teach people today as we make the transition to a very different kind of future after industrialism.

In perhaps the event’s only positive nod to the teachings of mainstream organized religion, Baker offered a poem, “Passover Remembered” by Alla Bozarth-Campbell, as advice and inspiration:

Pack nothing. Bring only your determination to serve and your willingness to be free. Don’t wait for the bread to rise. Take nourishment for the journey, but eat standing. Be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind — fear, silence, submission. Only surrender to the need for the time — love justice and walk humbly with your God. Do not take time to explain to the neighbors.

Orlov and Tverberg were heavy on doom but light on consolation — each making me feel very dejected if somewhat better informed — Greer and Baker offered more answers, whether practical like the appropriate technologies from the 1970s that Greer has collected as “Green Wizardry” or Baker’s toolbox of spiritual practices to keep you from slitting your wrists worrying about collapse.

Not just old school, but Old Testament

But the conference’s host and his impressive venue were perhaps the highlights of the event for me, offering an tangible example of a way to turn fears of collapse into a plan for survival.

I wasn’t able to understand exactly what Orren Whiddon did with computers between the time he read The Limits to Growth in the seventies and when he dropped out of the corporate rat race in the mid-nineties to buy the 180 acres of Allegheny mountain shell flats in an isolated area of south-central Pennsylvania that would become the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary.

A solid man more than six feet tall dressed in jeans held up by leather suspenders and sporting a prophetic beard, Whiddon looks as unlike a corporate vice president from Office Space as you can imagine. These days he’s more about low-tech, refusing to open a Facebook account while encouraging Four Quarters visitors to turn off their smart phones and enjoy a technology fast while they’re his guests.

Whiddon, who traces his family roots back to Texas in the 1780s, is a practical visionary, but less like Steve Jobs than Moses with a bit of Sam Houston thrown in. Drawing inspiration from the “plain people,” Christian Anabaptist groups like the Amish and Old Order Mennonites who consciously decided to drop out of a mainstream society they saw as corrupt, Whiddon has a plan for his self-described “hippie church” to become a force for peak oil resilience in a sea of complacent but doomed consumers.

Just like Jesus Camp but without the Jesus part (or the cultish brainwashing), Four Quarters is in fact registered for tax purposes as a non-profit religious congregation.

Its grounds are an open-air church hosting installations across the usual range of New Age spirituality, from a shrine to Ganesh, to a sweat lodge, to what appears to be a life-sized recreation of a Stonehenge-type druid stone circle. Along with regular services to mark new moons, Beltane and other spiritual days, throughout the camping season the center offers programs such as “SpiralHeart Reclaiming,” “The Body Tribal” and “Drum & Splash.”

But there’s nothing touchy-feely about the way Whiddon and his board of elders runs Four Quarters. Full-time residents are required to live under strict rules, including the merging of their finances, in a lifestyle that Whiddon calls monastic and which requires a commitment to an ascetic counter-cultural lifestyle that hearkens back to Whiddon’s other inspirations, the Benedictine brothers and the Buddhist sangha.

Doom with a view

The center’s mission, aside from providing support for “Earth-based religions,” is similarly straight-edge: to help prepare for the collapse of industrial society by serving as a “lifeboat” for eight or ten residents on site while spreading the gospel of peak oil prep to a larger audience through conferences like this one.

Accordingly, Whiddon has made many plans for the peak-ocalypse, including starting ventures on site that will make money today and may also serve a much lower tech economy in case today’s money economy becomes only a memory.

Four Quarters’ first business is a winery that produces half a dozen different flavors of mead, a mostly-sweet alcoholic drink made from honey which staff generously served up during evening social events.

The center’s second venture, a machine shop outfitted with solid American-made metal presses from the mid-twentieth century, has begun to meet local demand for spare machine parts. Residents have already started on the center’s next business, a large greenhouse.

In the future, Whiddon thinks the greenhouse will feed the residents while the other businesses will offer goods for trade. The machine shop could help Four Quarters’ mountain neighbors, already well provisioned with firearms, to keep their rifles and shotguns in working order after repair parts stop coming in from Asia. And of course, there’s always a market for wine, especially when times are tough.

In a part of the country that hosted the Whiskey Rebellion just after the American Revolution, Whiddon predicts that booze and guns will be a winning strategy for a future economy that could be something like it was in George Washington’s day.

Meet me at the river

Even before signups for the event nearly doubled Whiddon’s projections and helped the conference to break even financially, Four Quarters had committed to holding two future annual events along the same lines.

Next year’s event, Whiddon told me, will focus even more on solutions and practical activities that people can undertake in their own communities to prepare for the changes of the next twenty years.

After taking a dunk in the property’s cool running creek between sessions, it came home to me just how much more this conference was about than PowerPoint presentations. I hope I’ll be able to make it back next year.

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Limitless Wisdom in he Age of Limits 6/03/12 Ea O Ka Aina: Rumbling of Distant Thunder 5/30/12 Ea O Ka Aina: Sustainable Living as Religion 5/30/12 Ea O Ka Aina: Ponzi's End 5/28/12 .

Welcome to the Wormhole

SUBHEAD: The "global slowdown" is a compressive collapse of a system plagued by deception and massive cross-defaults. By James Kunstler on 4 June 2012 for - ( Image above: "Wormhole" animation by Eric Lindahl. From ( Now we get to the really fun part of the global unwind where even money flowing into supposedly safe havens turns, presto change-o, into an evaporation of wealth, and all of the lawyer-lobbyists who ever double-parked on K Street in the sorry history of this frantic era will not avail to contain the demons of their own design.
The world is waiting to re-learn an old lesson: that untruth and reality exist in an adversarial relationship. Sad to say, there isn't enough legal infrastructure in the world, nor enough time, to pass judgment on all the lies and misrepresentations that burden the current edition of what passes for civilization. This goes especially for money matters, where currencies, certificates, and contracts actually have to represent what they purport to stand for. When those relationships fail, as they have been doing for some years now, everything falls apart.
This is what comes of evading the enforcement of norms and standards and of running exchanges without clearing operations. The response to this mischief in deeds such as the Dodd-Frank so-called financial reform act only heaps more hyper-complex untruth on the smoldering compost of prior intentional falsities. It all seems so hopelessly abstract that even thoughtful citizens can't muster the means to object until that magic moment when, say, the supermarket shelves go empty or nobody will accept the green paper cluttering up your billfold.
For all the epic volume of blather on the Internet and elsewhere, few have even remarked on extraordinary passivity of the vulgar masses in the face of having their future looted out from under them. The ethos of the penitentiary must have saturated the zeitgeist wherein you are expected to just bend over and take it good and hard where the sun don't shine and then you are rewarded with a baloney sandwich. At least that's been the theme since 2008.
The way things are lining up, though, it might be a whole different story when the two political parties convene this summer for their nominating rigmarole. I remain convinced that these fatuous rites will meet with disruption. Of course, both parties deserve an equal dose of citizen-generated shock and awe. Both parties need to be rebuked, humiliated, and probably dismantled so that this country can get on with the business of trying to become civilized. Charlotte, NC, (the Democrats) and Tampa, FLA, (Republicans) are the venues for these dumbshows. I hope to be there running a pitchfork concession.
Meanwhile, as what many observers call a "global slowdown" reveals itself to be a compressive collapse of faith in a system plagued by deception and pranged by massive cross-defaults, political uproar will rage through Europe and set the stage for emulation in the USA. Angela Merkel made a funny over the weekend: something about constructing a European fiscal union. That has about the same chance of happening as Mrs. Merkel becoming a pole dancer when her party gets tossed out of leadership not many months down the line. All the nations where people wear clothing are in desperate trouble. Their debt problems are insoluble and they're out of accounting tricks. Events are running way ahead of institutions and personalities.
Speaking of which, what dogs me more and more every day is how come Jon Corzine is still at large six months after mugging MF Global's customers, and what is the status of JP Morgan's "London Whale" fiasco now that the news media have conveniently stopped following the story. Have the losses blown past $5 billion? Or is that just one little tuft of yarn which, when yanked, will unravel the entire skein of world banking? Well, it's party season in the Hamptons now and the gentlemen responsible for these misdeeds are busy nibbling the sea urchin roe and cucumber tidbits, I suppose, and it would be unkind to ask them to testify before a congressional subcommittee or, jeepers, a grand jury.
Ever wonder what it might be like to live in a world without consequences? Well, you've had a good look at it for more than a couple of years. How did it work out? What did you get away with? And how do you plan to hang onto it?

Agent Orange War on Weeds

SUBHEAD: The War on Weeds in support of GMO crops will fail, leaving the cost on others and the environment.

 By Kurt Cobb on 3 June 2012 for Resource Insights - 

Image above: They said it was safe back then. A Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange. It was a 50:50 mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, and was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. The 2,4,5-T used to produce Agent Orange was later discovered to be contaminated with 2,3,7,8-T, an extremely toxic dioxin compound. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.
From (

Modern agriculture and modern medicine go hand in hand. And, perhaps one of the best-known ways they interact is the use of antibiotics. If we humans get an external infection, we can now easily reach for topical antibiotics to kill the infection without harming ourselves. And, of course, we can take oral or injected antibiotics for internal infections.

In agriculture, antibiotics are used on livestock, in part because the drugs enhance growth and in part to prevent disease in close conditions typified by confined animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs--in which animals live so crammed together that they are constantly exposed to an array of infectious agents.

Now the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chen, says that we are facing a world without antibiotics because of increasing antibiotic resistance brought on by overuse. Increasing antibiotic resistance is actually old news; but the idea of living wholly without antibiotics is really the news here.

That's the medical model applied to animal agriculture. But the same model is being applied to crops. In the medical model pathogens identified as the cause of a disease must be eliminated. Of course, there are plant diseases. But they tend to be treated through a much more wholistic approach than human and animal disease. The emphasis is put on prevention since treatment, once a plant is infected, is very difficult. So, the general approach to plant diseases doesn't exactly fit the medical model.

Instead, if we look to the farm field as the subject to be diagnosed and treated, we can see right away what is considered an infection: weeds. Weeds are considered the equivalent of pathogens in the farm field, something that must be eliminated because they drain the vitality (i.e., lower the yield) of the crops in question.

And, this is where a parallel problem is arising. The genetically engineered crops of the 1990s were designed to allow herbicides to be used for chemical weeding while the crop is growing since the crop itself is genetically engineered with resistance to the weedkiller. The most popular combination has been Ready Roundup soybeans and Ready Roundup herbicide.

Now, however, the weeds are evolving and, just as insects do, becoming immune to the chemicals used to kill them. The solution apparently is to go back to old herbicides for weed control such as 2, 4-D which comes out of the 1940s. So much for Ready Roundup (which is a trade name for the weedkiller glyphosate).

[IB Editor's note: 2,4-D, (along weith 2,4,5-T) is a prime ingredient of the infamous Agent Orange that was used in the 1960's to deforest millions of acres of Vietnam, and was blamed for many illnesses, birth defects and deaths. Those living on Kauai shouldrealize that Dow-AgroScience has thousands of acres of land used for developing GMO crops on the west side that will likely be used in open field tests of various cocktails that will the include 2,4-D pesticide.]

But 2,4-D is difficult to use when crops are growing since it can kill both the weeds and the crop. To solve this The Dow Chemical Company, the world's major producer of 2,4-D, has now created corn that is immune to the company's herbicide. Many farmers and environmental groups are opposing the increased use of 2,4-D because of its toxicity, its ability to drift and fall on areas where it's not being applied, and--you guessed it--the fact that it will inevitably result in superweeds that are resistant to 2,4-D--thereby rendering that herbicide less and less useful.

In the same manner, drug companies have developed new antibiotics through the years to combat the resistance problem. But at least they were developing new drugs. In the case of Dow Chemical and the Monsanto Company, the leading producer of genetically modified seeds, both are reaching back to the past. And, this points up a very interesting disconnect between the path of the drugmakers and that of the agricultural chemical manufacturers and seed developers (which are usually one and the same).

Herbicides appear to be a tougher sell to regulatory authorities than genetically modified crops which--so long as they do not act as a "pest" themselves--sail to approval under the doctrine that they are "substantially equivalent" to other crops. Of course, such crops aren't pests themselves; they just create new kinds of weeds that become a giant headache for everyone else.

The point here is that the agricultural chemical and seed producers are not developing new weedkillers which would require enormous research, regulatory approval and then capital expenditures to build the necessary factories. They are taking the easier route of implanting resistance to their existing herbicides into crops. So you can forget about a new generation of herbicides that might be less toxic or quicker to break down in the environment.

Image above: The effects on the ground of spraying Agent Orange was horrific to the small farms and villages growing food in Vietnam. From (

Of course, this war on weeds is one that we cannot win. Weeds in a farm field are not an infection. They are part of natural succession, and farming, as ecologist William Catton Jr. once said, is "a war against succession." (Succession, you'll recall, is the progression of any ecosystem toward its climax or stable state.)

There are many better ways to control weeds on the farm including crop rotation and the planting of cover crops. Neither have the deleterious effects of the relentless chemical applications central to the war on weeds.

But that approach wouldn't enrich the agricultural chemical giants who figure they can make quite a bit of money--while pushing the costs off onto others--between now and the time they and their allies in the farming community lose this pointless war.


Limitless Wisdom in Age of Limits

SUBHEAD: We gathered this weekend on the land of Four Quarters Inter-Faith Sanctuary to consider Peak Oil. By Carolyn Baker on 29 May 2012 for Speaking Truth to Power - ( Image above: Gaia tends to things in painting "Sanctuary" by Paul David Bond. From ( One mile north of the Mason-Dixon line in Southeastern Pennsylvania, nearly 200 people from the US and beyond, gathered this weekend on the land of Four Quarters Inter-Faith Sanctuary to consider Peak Oil, climate change, and economic meltdown—and the collapse of industrial civilization. On this Memorial Day weekend, we not only “remembered” how we got to this watershed in our planet’s journey through the time and space, but concluded almost unanimously that this event must become an annual occurrence.

From John Michael Greer we heard the extraordinary, novel slogan: “Collapse now, avoid the rush,” as he imparted both scientific and esoteric realities regarding the collapse of empires, sprinkled with inimitable Greer wit and wizardry. Gail Tverberg, or “Gail The Actuary,” shared her technical and financial expertise by connecting the dots between Peak Oil and global economic meltdown.

Brilliantly, former CIA analyst and Peak Oil author, Tom Whipple, dispelled mainstream media’s fantasies of the “wonders” of hydraulic fracturing andUSoil “independence.” Dmitry Orlov who lived through the collapse of the Soviet Union and has written extensively about parallels between that collapse and the one which theUSis now experiencing, once again revealed uncanny similarities between the demise of both empires. In addition, he shared his experience of living on a sailboat as preparation for collapse and stepped into new territory by offering an atypical Orlov workshop on “Sustainable Living As A Religious Experience.”

I was invited with great skepticism by conference director and Four Quarters founder, Oren Whiddon, to present two workshops on emotional and spiritual preparation for collapse. Despite my attempts to reassure him of my disdain for “New Age nausea,” he remained cautious until he heard my presentations and the overwhelmingly receptive response to them which once again revealed the insatiable hunger that I have been witnessing all over the nation and the world for support in finding meaning and purpose in the experience of industrial civilization’s demise.

Throughout the weekend we were superbly fed on every level by a gracious, tirelessly hard-working Four Quarters staff as we confronted heat, humidity, pests, and ferocious late-spring rain storms. Meanwhile, all presentations took place in outdoor pavilions where each group was “embraced” by immense groves of trees and melodious song birds. In my opinion, we could not have chosen a venue more harmonious with the spirit of this conference.

It is now clear that collapse-aware individuals from myriad locations are eager to have an Age of Limits conference available to them annually, and to this end, Oren and Four Quarters are already planning the 2013 event. What is equally clear is that two days are not sufficient for offering all that the collapse-conscious community is calling for—thus, next year’s conference will probably be extended to three.

I am buoyed beyond words by the enthusiasm I witnessed this weekend and the awareness that has erupted in the five short years I have been writing about collapse. Moreover, I am particularly gratified by the hunger I see among people preparing for collapse for extensive training in spiritual and emotional preparation.

Ironically, some 150 years ago, before and during the Civil War, this swath of Pennsylvania land provided former slaves with a unique moment of “free at last” as they crossed the invisible marker drawn by those historical surveyors named Mason and Dixon. This past weekend, a sentiment of “free at last” palpably permeated the Age of Limits conference as we came together and spoke of things which for many, are impossible to discuss in other venues. But freedom does not constitute completion of all that collapse imposes on us. What it does do is inspire us to dig deeper and work harder. Fortunately, this is not the end, but just the beginning, and as I have so often said, you can have all the infinite growth you want—on the inside.

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Rumbling of Distant Thunder 5/30/12 Ea O Ka Aina: Sustainable Living as Religion 5/30/12 Ea O Ka Aina: Ponzi's End 5/28/12


No Oil for Greece

SUBHEAD: The Greeks are finding it increasingly harder to get crude oil for energy from anywhere.  
 By SaraKent & Jenny Gross 0n 31 May 2012 for WSJ -  

Image above: Greek outnumbered by Persians faces death. Still from movie "300". From (
Greek refiners are finding fewer willing sellers of crude oil as suppliers wary of the country’s economic situation avoid doing business there, people familiar with the situation said. The issue extends beyond the supply of crude oil to oil products that are used for fuel, heat and power generation and are essential for industrial activity.

A trader described people in the market as “completely reluctant” to deal with Greece, amid concerns over customers’ ability to pay for oil, as rising fears that the troubled country could be forced out of the euro zone have dented sellers’ confidence, and with banks increasingly reluctant to supply Greek companies with credit lines.

A Swiss-based trader of fuel oil, which is used for power generation, said that his attempts to sell the product to Greece had been stymied two or three times in recent months after banks refused to back up the sales, forcing him to eventually abandon selling to the country altogether.

A third trader said not many companies can get finance to back up trades with Greece, and that in their absence major trading houses like Vitol and Glencore have stepped in to deliver. Unlike small oil companies that can’t afford to miss out on payments, Glencore and Vitol can cope with this risk, the trader said.

“If I miss out on a cargo, we report big losses which we can never make up,” he said. “They may have some possibilities of covering that risk, like exchanging oil.”

For much of last year and the beginning of this year Greece bought substantial amounts of oil from Iran at very advantageous credit terms, but Iranian state media reported in April that the country was cutting off supply to Greece as a result of unpaid bills, and in any event a European Union-wide embargo on the import of Iranian oil is set to come into force July 1.

Since then Greece had to rely on oil from other sources, including Libya, Russia and Iraq, even as the number of market participants willing to trade with Greek customers has dwindled. The Swiss-based trader said there is room for things to get even worse should Greece exit the euro zone.

It would be a “small disaster” for the oil industry there, he said. While Greek demand for oil products could be expected to fall by as much as 30%, people will still need to heat their homes and drive cars, he said.


Petty Stuff

SUBHEAD: Heading into the great wide open, I feel summer creeping in. It feels like Mary Jane’s last dance.

By Guy McPherson on 31 May 2012 for Nature Bats Last -  

Image above: From Tom Petty bowing at the end of a set. (
[IB Editor's note: We have removed the links to the Tom Petty YouTube videos (some with ads) that were under the bold italicized lyrics from original article. Go to original article to view them.]

Early in my life, I couldn’t help believing there was a little more to life somewhere else. Of course, I was seeking something grander in the usual, industrial sense. A few decades later, I finally recognize that there is a little more to life somewhere else, especially if that somewhere else is beyond civilization.

Now I fear we’ve said all there is to say, and that we will keep talking but not acting. At what point will we listen to our hearts? That’s what I need to know. Not knowing is turning me inside out.
Although we don’t talk too much about it, ain’t no real big secret what we’re doing to our only home. Mother Earth is screaming: Don’t do me like that! Yet we keep drumming away, the path of destruction in our wake obvious to all but the willfully ignorant. If Earth has memory, it’s not going to be easy to forget about us.

We often forget nature satisfies our every need. But when I look at the stars on a clear night I’m reminded she’s all I need tonight. And every night. For me, termination of the ongoing omnicide can’t come fast enough. Indeed, the waiting is the hardest part.

I got lucky. You got lucky. We all got lucky. We were born into this world, at this time in history. We are witness to the worst of times as the industrial economy drives 200 species to extinction every day, as human-population overshoot increases at the rate of more than 200,000 people every day, as we ratchet up climate chaos every day, as we destroy non-industrial cultures at an accelerating rate, as we wash soil into the world’s oceans, as we foul the air, as we pollute the water, as more than a billion people go hungry every day. But we’ll get to see the living planet make a comeback, too. If only we don’t come around here no more, weapons of mass destruction at the ready.

For my part, you could stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down. Actually, we’re already poised at the gates of hell, although the world’s governments and media have been protecting us from that news. Meanwhile, I’ll keep runnin’ down a dream that never would come to me, rolling on as the sky grows dark. Trying to save what’s left, before there’s nothing left.

The living planet is free falling. Our future, if we have one, will require considerable creativity and flexibility. Metaphorically, we’ll be learning to fly, as I’ve been doing for the last several years.
We’re heading into the great wide open. I feel summer creeping in, and it feels like Mary Jane’s last dance. There’s something in the air: We’ve got to get together sooner or later because the revolution’s here.

Video above:Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits, 1993. From (
[Author's note: The references to Tom Petty songs in this essay are presented in the same order they appear on the Greatest Hits album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Full album is here ( An earlier, self-indulgent attempt to describe my life in song is here (]

Pesticide & Water Quality Alert

SOURCE: Ken Taylor ( SUBHEAD: Monday Hawaii is set to change regulations on pesticides so they are categorized as pollutants. Weigh in on this issue.

 By Henry Curtis on 1 June 2012 for Life of the Land - 

Image above: John Deere pesticide rig used by Pioneer for use on food crops. From ( 

A recent U.S. federal court ruling established that pesticides must for the first time be regulated as “pollutants” under the Clean Water Act. Every state must now have a permitting system to regulate the use of pesticides discharged into water. Hawaii’s Dept of Health has just issued their plan and want to know what you think about it.
This gives Hawaii's citizens an opportunity to better protect Hawaii’s environment and our public health from pesticide pollution. Unfortunately industry and agency lobbyists got in on the process early and succeeded in inserting so many loopholes that Hawaii’s permit program largely fails.
DOH needs to know our community wants a strong program that protects the water we drink, swim and fish in, that we depend on to grow our food and sustain our fragile island ecosystem.

Please use the talking points in the example below to help you write your own letter, or copy, sign and send the letter below.


June 4, 2012 Clean Water Branch Environmental Management Division Hawaii Department of Health 919 Ala Moana Boulevard, Room 301 Honolulu, Hawaii 96814-4920

Attn: Docket No. R-1-12
Re: State of Hawai‘i Department of Health Proposed Revision of Hawai‘I Administrative Regulations (H.A.R.), Chapters 11-54 & 11-55 to Add a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Discharges from the Application of Pesticides to State Waters
As a concerned citizen I would like to see the NPDES revised rules amended, to request a closer scrutiny of what pesticides are being applied, their impact to aquatic habitats, and a more open disclosure to impacted communities, so that private citizens and communities can stay abreast of pesticide applications, and monitor their impact on sensitive aquatic habitats.
I am writing to endorse the following recommendations,
1. Strengthen the public’s right-to-know Strengthen the public’s right-to-knowThe public should be able to access on DOH’s website all notices of intent to discharge pesticides, pesticide treatment plans, and monitoring records. We have a right to know where, when and which pesticides are being discharged, so we can adapt our activities or use of that water, monitor impacts, comment and suggest alternatives ahead of time. We also want immediate notification of all spills and accidents. DOH’s permit allows applicators to keep most of this information to themselves.
2. Protect Our Drinking Water & Endangered Species Protect Our Drinking Water, Class 1 and AA waters, and Endangered Species DOH’s permit makes numerous exceptions to allow for the discharge of pesticides into our drinking water, our most protected class 1 and AA waters, and impaired waters. It also does little to ensure the protection of waters that may be critical habitat for Hawaii’s many endangered species. DOH should apply the strictest standards when any of these waters are affected
3. Require that applicators select the least toxic alternatives Only large applicators are asked to evaluate alternatives to pesticides, and they are given broad license to decide when and how pesticides should be used. DOH should set objective standards raising the bar for when pesticide use is allowed, with less toxic alternatives clearly favored and best practices to minimize harm detailed.
4. Strengthen site monitoring requirements DOH asks only that applicators do a brief visual “spot check” for impacts upon discharge, at the applicator’s discretion. Ambient water quality monitoring should be required before and after application for all discharges, and imperative for the most toxic pesticides, examining for the specific known and suspected effects of each pesticide.
5. Expand the range of pesticide users covered by the permit DOH’s permit applies its most stringent standards to a far too limited number of potential applicators; primarily those applying pesticides over 6400 acres or 20 linear miles. These mainland-scaled thresholds are too high to capture many of Hawaii’s most significant pesticide discharges. Know of a water body that doesn’t make the cut? Let DOH know about.


Deadline: Monday, June 4, 2012
1. Be at the hearing: WHEN: Monday, June 4 at 9:30 a.m. WHERE: The 5th floor conference room at 919 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu.

Go to for video conference locations on Kauai, Maui and Hawai`i island.
2. Email your comments with subject line: Docket No. R-1-12
3. Mail your comments Clean Water Branch, Environmental Management Division State Dept of Health 919 Ala Moana Blvd, Room 301, Honolulu, HI 96814-4920. or fax (808) 586-4352
4. Pass it on Send these talking points to others you know care about protecting Hawaii’s water.

DOH, Notice of public hearing,

Notice from DOH and background docs:

Henry Curtis Executive Director Life of the Land 76 N. King Street, Suite 203 Honolulu, HI 96817 phone: 808-533-3454. cell: 808-927-0709


Gainful Unemployment

SUBHEAD: We draw inspiration from pre-industrial households and early American agrarian traditions.  

By Shannon Hayes on 31 May 2012 for Yes Magazine -

Image above: Detial of Louis Maurer's hand colored lithograph, "Preparing for Market",1856. From (  
 “Today, I will do one thing at a time.”

These are the words I’ve been saying to myself each morning lately as I leap from my bed. I mindlessly repeat them while working through:
When to teach homeschool lessons to my daughters, which emails I need to respond to, when I’m going to make soap, how much beeswax I need to rinse and render, when we’re going to photograph and upload our newest farm products to the online shopping cart, which websites need to be updated, whether I’m needed or not at the farm this day or this week, what spices I need to order for sausage making, whether I’ll find time this day to get the weeds out of the raspberries, if I’ve got enough change for this Saturday’s farmers’ market, when I’m going to get to the dairy farm up the road to pick up butter for making pate to sell, what needs to happen to complete the start up of our new yarn business, which essays and articles need to be written, how I’m going to steer my newest book into publication by September, which photographs still need to get taken for the insert, which presentations need to get written for the fall speaking season, whether or not the blueberry bushes need fertilizing, when I’m going to find the time to take the girls into the woods to gather ramps.
In short, as soon as I utter that morning promise, I begin the daily process of failing to honor it as I work myself into a frenzied whirlwind of activity. My life is unusual in that nearly every item on my to-do list is something that I love. But rather than being in-the-moment to enjoy these myriad pleasures, my brain rattles me into a frenzied state, where I am constantly distracted by what else I want to accomplish. Thus, even the act of perpetually doing things I love can leave me cranky, impatient, and difficult to be around.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Bob and I are creative people, unable to fathom a life where we would do one thing for a living. For the last decade, we have managed to carve out a livelihood for ourselves that matched our eclectic interests and our passion to produce beautiful things in harmony with the earth. We call it gainful unemployment.

One of my most important contributions to this adventure has been my ability to perpetually come up with new ideas and business schemes, ensuring that the income stream for our radical homemaking household was always diversified, and thus more secure. For the sake of writing this piece this morning, I sat down for the first time and wrote a list of each of our enterprises. We had 16 different ventures.

That makes for a pretty respectable livelihood for two adults who have decided to stay home full-time with their kids. My trouble is that my most important gift in managing a life like this—my ability to envision and implement new ideas while juggling existing responsibilities—is also my greatest burden. I have a brain that doesn’t rest. I lead a life that honors the rhythms of Mother Nature, but the frenetic pace in my head impedes my soul from resonating with her vibrations.

I don’t believe I am alone in this quandary. Radical homemakers are scrappy survivors who employ their creativity and ability to learn new skills to build a life outside the destructive confines of the conventional ecologically and socially extractive economy. I’ve been in many radical homemaking households that look like mine—full of chaos, creativity, self-imposed deadlines and interesting business concepts. This is who we are, and we are part of the foundation of a new life-serving economy.

We are on the frontier of something that is totally new. We draw inspiration from pre-industrial households and early American agrarian traditions for our way of life, but we cannot ignore the fact that we must revive these traditions while living in an electronic age; where business, learning and creativity can happen 24-7. There is opportunity in this union. There is also the tremendous hazard that we could take ourselves to a breaking point.

How I negotiate this union is an important matter. Finding the balance is critical to my health and enjoyment of my life. More importantly, it is going to be the best selling point for my children to trust their own unique talents and skills to make a life that harmonizes with mind, body, soul and planet.
Right now, for me, this means starting each day with that simple goal: to do one thing at a time. That is very difficult for me. I am learning that I must trust that what is most important will get done, that being present and mindful will enable me to generate as much productivity as I need, without the added brain chaos of trying to do two, three, five, or more things at once.


Whatever happened to $200 oil?

SUBHEAD: What happened to my forecast for $200 oil? Quite simply, the end of growth. By Jeff Rubin on 23 May 2012 for JeffRubinsSmallWorld - ( Image above: Artist’s impression of completed upgrade work on the M2 in Australia. From (

Four years ago, when I was still chief economist at CIBC World Markets, I forecast that global economic growth was on pace to send oil prices to $200 a barrel by 2012. In short, the argument was based on a supply-driven analysis that weighed the sources of future oil supply against the prices that would be needed to make the extraction and processing of that oil economically viable.

Since that call (which clearly hasn’t come to pass) received some attention at the time, it feels fitting to spend a few words discussing what happened to derail the projection. That particular analysis, unfortunately, didn’t adequately address the stifling impact that rising oil prices would have on economic growth. At the time, a constrained outlook for global production growth against a backdrop of runaway demand meant prices had nowhere to go but up. As subsequent events would dramatically demonstrate, though, triple-digit prices had a much more critical affect on demand than supply.

By the time oil reached $147 a barrel, the economic drag was more than sufficient to trigger a chain reaction of events—including spurring higher interest rates which pricked the US sub-prime mortgage bubble—that ushered in the deepest global recession of the post-war era. Instead of marching towards $200 a barrel, oil prices abruptly reversed course and plunged all the way to $40 a barrel.

The return of low prices was taken, by some, as proof that oil will continue to be as cheap and abundant as ever. As a quick return to the triple-digit range for oil prices indicates, however, that’s clearly not the case. My call for $200 oil was designed to underscore the massive cost of supplying the world with more than 90 million barrels a day. Then, as now, I stand by the analysis. Pumping out ever more barrels will require ever-higher prices. Just look at what happened when oil prices plunged. In Alberta’s tar patch alone some $50 billion in spending was either cancelled or postponed. The story was much the same offshore Brazil and in Venezuela’s heavy oil belt, a pair of locales that will play a vital role in meeting the world’s future oil needs.

If a mea culpa is in order, its roots can be found in the decision to underplay the demand side of the equation. Oil prices plunged to $40 a barrel after economic growth collapsed, taking global oil demand along for the ride. And that same movie is about to play out again. Recessions are already rolling across Europe. Economic growth in North America is lackluster, at best. Meanwhile, the specter of sovereign debt defaults in the euro zone continues to hang over global financial markets. Added up, it spells another sharp drop for oil prices not because fuel is abundant, but because once again the world can’t afford to stay out of a recession.

What happened to my forecast for $200 oil? Quite simply, the end of growth.


Goodbye to Bad Knowledge

SUBHEAD: What are the nuts and bolts of organizing a “small is beautiful” health system?

 By Dan Bednarz on 30 May 2012 for Health After Oil -  

Image above: Andy Lackow envisions the future of nursing in an illustration for Johns Hopkins Nursing Magazine. Not likely. “From (
A year ago I asked, “How to understand health care’s inability to recognize that modern society has reached the limits to growth?”[i] Since then I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to write on the urgent and bedeviling question, “What are the nuts and bolts of organizing a “small is beautiful” health system?” Here I want to lay the ground for exploring this second question while weaving in final comments on the first question.

One trouble with this second question is identifying and mapping the welter of dynamic forces at work. Equally significant, the question implies that we can rationally transition to an end-state of a viable health system. This may still be possible, but it becomes less likely the longer the current culture of over-consuming/toxic waste-dumping/unequally distributing finite and overexploited resources hangs on.

In the lower energy, resource constrained, ecosystem degraded/destroyed and environmentally hazardous world we are entering complex high-tech medicine will contract or collapse, and modern public health is challenged to reorganize –it actually must in some senses expand!- or collapse. Of this there is no doubt.

Socioeconomically, reaching the limits to growth means the impossibility of repaying accumulated debt and that massive unemployment will worsen under current institutional conditions. Politically we are witnessing governments not only caught up in a contraction of tax and revenue bases, but utterly failing and concomitantly repressing their citizens so as to maintain –and deepen- class inequalities and support for too big to fail private entities. This is the antithesis of resilience.

One looks in vain at mainstream health journals –JAMA, NEJM, The Lancet, American J. of Public Health, etc.- for discussion and analysis of how the thermodynamic, ecological, political, financial, and socioeconomic/class conflict predicaments in which humanity is enmeshed affect health systems. To the extent these issues are considered in these journals, they are treated separately –like boutique items- and as matters of risk management in the context of weathering the Great Recession (hoping growth will restart).

Virtually nowhere in these journals are the primal issues of protecting the health of the public and maintaining the viability of health systems in a wealth-destroying[ii] industrial economy so much as broached. For example, recent treatments of the health system collapse ongoing in Greece imply the cause is the so-called Great Recession that has led governments to choose to impose austerity. In realpolitik, the European Union, ECB and IMF are shaking their pepper spray cans to douse Greece as a (futile) intimidation of Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain. To posit austerity as a manifestation of a class conflict response to ecological overshoot in health policy analysis is to guarantee being ignored by “serious” analysts and policy makers, all of whom are devoted to incremental change and never questioning governments’ utilitarian pretensions. But this status quo framing of the issues will become irrelevant as Greece et al. are cannibalized to preserve current distributions of wealth, status and power –albeit to no lasting avail.

The health sciences fail to recognize that –like all modern institutions during the 20th century- they have expanded and become socially and technologically complex upon a foundation of natural resource abundance and the earth’s ability to absorb waste and toxic insults from modern society. This growth was anomalous, not irrepressible and infinite; indeed, it tracks in unison with the availability of fossil fuels, especially oil. Until recently energy was cheap and seemed limitless, as did other natural resources; climate change risks remain “political,” not corporeal and existential. The overexploitation of natural resources and population growth should be apparent and frightening, but they are not; and wastes and pollution continue to be –from a grossly misguided economic growth point of view- “externalized” or “discounted” for future generations to gag on.

What would the institutional leaders of public health, nursing and medicine do if they were to recognize that our culture is at the climax stage[iii] of resource consumption and beginning to enter the collapse/release phase of ecological overshoot? It has finally sunk into my being that they would view this as a threat to their grip on power, not as a spur to courageous action. They have one-track minds, which means no experiential knowledge, intellectual rationale, ethical foundation or incentive/reward structure to contemplate reducing complexity and conserving resources (efficiency is purposefully left off this list as inadequate and in many instances counterproductive). In fact, most will find the arrantly imperative ideas of massive conservation and complexity reductions abhorrent signs of failure –again, a threat to their power and sense of their legacy.

These leaders have been educated in inwardly focused decision sciences and socialized in the Game Theory version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, topped off with a heaping portion of Machiavellian bureaucratic politics. These bodies of knowledge are reflections of a social construction of reality that prevents them from considering, let alone coming to terms with thermodynamic and ecological realities that underlie the functioning of all modern institutions. The further we descend into crisis the less germane and more pernicious such socially constructed bodies of knowledge become.

Is this a hopeless situation? No, but it is a dire one because those with institutional power, who control the distribution of human and natural resources, lack the worldview (intellectual and experiential knowledge, ethics, sensibilities, intuition) to do the right thing.

To summarize, the current growth-centered paradigm in the health sciences –and modern industrial culture- produces knowledge and ethics designed for dominion over nature, social control exercised through class conflict and perpetual economic growth. This knowledge has always been absurd, but now it is bad knowledge because the natural resource base, waste sinks and ostensibly vast ecosystem services that allowed it to flourish have become limiting factors. On the other hand, reaching the limits to growth is the root metaphor of knowledge and ethics based upon a realistic appreciation of humanity’s place in nature. This is the good knowledge upon which to reorganize modern culture. Put differently, there is a mismatch between the institutional power vested in the bad knowledge of growth-based systems and the embryonic power of good knowledge organized around such metaphors as reaching the limits to growth and “Small Is Beautiful.”

Mutatis mutandis, a commenter on the world of philanthropy describes the dilemma of the health sciences:
“In the end, philanthropy wants the wrong thing. It may think that it ought to want what the lovers-of-nature want, but its actions reveal that, come what may, it loves other things first: the maintenance of its privileges, the survival of its self-identity, and the stability of the social and economic systems that made it possible in the first place.”[iv]

That’s enough about why those running the health sciences will lose their grip as the forces of nature destroy and then reshape human institutions. I am hopeful (well, it’s more like a spiritually sustaining fantasy) that health systems and the master political and economic institutions that control them deteriorate at the right pace to make our collective situation desperate enough that citizens realize that we’re in a post-growth world and take action before large-scale collapse occurs.

Other narratives are in competition with the end of growth/ecological overshoot one I’m proffering. They are typified, on the one hand, by a plethora of new books on how “in a few short years” all our energy, socioeconomic and environmental problems will be resolved by the market and technological breakthroughs and, on the other hand, by appeals to the divisionary and insidious scapegoating and xenophobic propensities of humanity.

Above all else, human adaptability and decency should not be discounted, especially as the phase change from climax to collapse –however dimly perceived or intuited- spreads the insight/gut feeling that there are no mainstream, incremental, conventional problems solutions for the gyre of predicaments we face. Bluntly, people do stupid, lazy, vengeful, wicked, self-destructive, self-interested and delusional things; nonetheless, they are capable of incredible feats of collective action, creativity, insight and survival. To oversimplify a bit, it all depends upon how they define the situations they are in.

The nascent paradigmatic and mythological revolution (a new social construction of reality) in health care and public health largely is coming from below and from outside, and not at all from the top. It is taking place in a larger context of the de-legitimization and failure of existing institutional arrangements. This paradigm shift is what I want to contribute to in future essays.

[i] Bednarz, Dan. “As health care fails, Part I: Power, knowledge and resistance.” Energy Bulletin, May 12, 2011.
[ii] It’s in one sense a fiction to speak of wealth destruction when money is involved because money is a claim on the goods, services, and material stuff wealth can purchase. Furthermore, wealth can be defined beyond the confines of monetary valuation.
[iii] Gunderson, Lance H. and C.S. Holling, Panarchy: Understanding Transformations In Human And Natural Systems. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. 2002.
[iv] White, Curtis. “The Philanthropic Complex.” Jacobin, Spring 2012.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Post Collapse Healthcare
Ea O Ka Aina: It's Not the Economy Stupid! 1/28/09 .