Collapse now. Avoid the rush!

SUBHEAD: Let go, let yourself fall into the deindustrial future. It’s difficult to think of anything more frightening, or more necessary.  

By John Michael Greer on 6 June 2012 for the Archdruid Report - (

Image above: "The Fall of Rome" in 476AD preceded the Middle Ages that lasted for 1,000 years. From (
I’m not sure how many people outside the writer’s trade realize how much of writing is a cooperative process. That’s as true of those of us who write late at night in the privacy of a silent room as it is of the more gregarious sort of writer, the kind you can expect to find in a crowded cafĂ©, surrounded by voices and music and the clatter of street noises coming in the door: every writer is simply one voice in an ongoing conversation that includes many other voices, some living, some dead and some not yet born.

As I write this week’s post, for example, it’s difficult not to notice some of the other voices in this particular conversation. The bookshelf an easy reach to my left has a row of brightly colored trade paperbacks by some of my fellow peak oil authors—William Catton, Richard Heinberg, Jim Kunstler, Sharon Astyk, Dmitry Orlov, Carolyn Baker and more. Close by, the rolling brown landscape of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, all ten volumes, confronts the twin black monoliths of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, while Giambattista Vico’s New Science offers an ironic Italian commentary from one side.

Other shelves elsewhere in the room contribute other voices: biology and ecology textbooks from my college days; appropriate tech manuals from the Seventies brimfull of unfulfilled hopes; old texts on the magical philosophy that forms the usually unmentioned foundation from which all my thinking unfolds; and a great deal more. Poets, as often as not, these days: Robinson Jeffers, William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot. Without the contributions of all these other voices, the conversation and thus my contributions to it would not be what it is.

Still, there are times when the conversational nature of what I’m doing becomes more obvious and more direct than usual, and one of those happened the weekend before last, at the Age of Limits conference I discussed in last week’s post. One of my presentations to that conference was a talk entitled "How Civilizations Fall;" longtime readers of this blog will know from the title that what I was talking about that afternoon was the theory of catabolic collapse, which outlines the way that human societies on the way down cannibalize their own infrastructure, maintaining themselves for the present by denying themselves a future.

I finished talking about catabolic collapse and started fielding questions, of which there were plenty, and somewhere in the conversation that followed one of the other participants made a comment. I don’t even remember the exact words, but it was something like, "So what you’re saying is that what we need to do, individually, is to go through collapse right away."

"Exactly," I said. "Collapse now, and avoid the rush."

Outside of that conversation, I doubt I would have thought of the phrase at all. By the end of the conference, though, it was on the lips of a good many of the attendees, and for good reason: I can’t think of a better way to sum up the work ahead of us right now, as industrial society lurches down the far side of its trajectory through time. Longtime readers of this blog know most of the reasoning behind that suggestion, but it may be worth walking through it again step by step.

First, industrial society was only possible because our species briefly had access to an immense supply of cheap, highly concentrated fuel with a very high net energy—that is, the amount of energy needed to extract the fuel was only a very small fraction of the energy the fuel itself provided. Starting in the 18th century, fossil fuels—first coal, then coal and petroleum, then coal, petroleum and natural gas—gave us that energy source.

 All three of these fossil fuels represent millions of years of stored sunlight, captured by the everyday miracle of photosynthesis and concentrated within the earth by geological processes that took place long before our species evolved. They are nonrenewable over any time scale that matters to human beings, and we are using them up at astonishing rates.

Second, while it’s easy to suggest that we can simply replace fossil fuels with some other energy source and keep industrial civilization running along its present course, putting that comfortable notion into practice has turned out to be effectively impossible. No other energy source available to our species combines the high net energy, high concentration, and great abundance that a replacement for fossil fuel would need. Those energy sources that are abundant (for example, solar energy) are diffuse and yield little net energy, while those that are highly concentrated (for example, fissionable uranium) are not abundant, and also have serious problems with net energy.

Abundant fossil fuels currently provide an "energy subsidy" to alternative energy sources that make them look more efficient than they are—there would be far fewer wind turbines, for example, if they had to be manufactured, installed, and maintained using wind energy. Furthermore, our entire energy infrastructure is geared to use fossil fuels and would have to be replaced, at a cost of countless trillions of dollars, in order to replace fossil fuels with something else.

Third, these problems leave only one viable alternative, which is to decrease our energy use, per capita and absolutely, to get our energy needs down to levels that could be maintained over the long term on renewable sources. The first steps in this process were begun in the 1970s, with good results, and might have made it possible to descend from the extravagant heights of industrialism in a gradual way, keeping a great many of the benefits of the industrial age intact as a gift for the future.

Politics closed off that option in the decade that followed, however, and the world’s industrial nations went hurtling down a different path, burning through the earth’s remaining fossil fuel reserves at an accelerating pace and trusting that economic abstractions such as the free market would suspend the laws of physics and geology for their benefit. At this point, more than three decades after that misguided choice, industrial civilization is so far into overshoot that a controlled descent is no longer an option; the only path remaining is the familiar historical process of decline and fall.

Fourth, while it’s fashionable these days to imagine that this process will take the form of a sudden cataclysm that will obliterate today’s world overnight, all the testimony of history and a great many lines of evidence from other sources suggests that this is the least likely outcome of our predicament.

 Across a wide range of geographical scales and technological levels, civilizations take an average of one to three centuries to complete the process of decline and fall, and there is no valid reason to assume that ours will be any exception. The curve of decline, to be sure, is anything but smooth; it has a fractal structure, taking the form of a succession of crises on many different scales, affecting different regions, social classes, and communities in different ways, interspersed with periods of stabilization and even partial recovery that are equally variable in scale, duration, and relevance to different places and groups. This ragged arc of decline is already under way; it can be expected to accelerate in the months, years, and decades to come; and it defines the deindustrial age ahead of us.

Fifth, individuals, families, and communities faced with this predicament still have choices left. The most important of those choices parallels the one faced, or more precisely not faced, at the end of the 1970s: to make the descent in a controlled way, beginning now, or to cling to their current lifestyles until the system that currently supports those lifestyles falls away from beneath their feet.

The skills, resources, and lifeways needed to get by in a disintegrating industrial society are radically different from those that made for a successful and comfortable life in the prosperous world of the recent past, and a great many of the requirements of an age of decline come with prolonged learning curves and a high price for failure. Starting right away to practice the skills, assemble the resources, and follow the lifeways that will be the key to survival in a deindustrializing world offers the best hope of getting through the difficult years ahead with some degree of dignity and grace.

Collapse now, in other words, and avoid the rush.

There’s a fair amount of subtlety to the strategy defined by those words. As our society stumbles down the ragged curve of its decline, more and more people are going to lose the ability to maintain what counts as a normal lifestyle—or, rather, what counted as a normal lifestyle in the recent past, and is no longer quite so normal today as it once was. Each new round of crisis will push more people further down the slope; minor and localized crises will affect a relatively smaller number of people, while major crises affecting whole nations will affect a much larger number.

As each crisis hits, though, there will be a rush of people toward whatever seems to offer a way out, and as each crisis recedes, there will be another rush of people toward whatever seems to offer a way back to what used to be normal. The vast majority of people who join either rush will fail. Remember the tens of thousands of people who applied for a handful of burger-flipping jobs during the recent housing crash, because that was the only job opening they could find? That’s the sort of thing I mean.

The way to avoid the rush is simple enough: figure out how you will be able to live after the next wave of crisis hits, and to the extent that you can, start living that way now. If you’re worried about the long-term prospects for your job—and you probably should be, no matter what you do for a living—now is the time to figure out how you will get by if the job goes away and you have to make do on much less money.

For most people, that means getting out of debt, making sure the place you live costs you much less than you can afford, and picking up some practical skills that will allow you to meet some of your own needs and have opportunities for barter and informal employment. It can mean quite a bit more, depending on your situation, needs, and existing skills. It should certainly involve spending less money—and that money, once it isn’t needed to pay off any debts you have, can go to weatherizing your home and making other sensible preparations that will make life easier for you later on.

For the vast majority of people, it probably needs to be said, collapsing now does not mean buying a survival homestead somewhere off in the country. That’s a popular daydream, and in some well-off circles it’s long been a popular way to go have a midlife crisis, but even if you have the funds—and most of us don’t—

if you don’t already have the dizzyingly complex skill set needed to run a viable farm, or aren’t willing to drop everything else to apprentice with an organic farmer right now, it’s not a realistic option. In all likelihood you’ll be experiencing the next round of crises where you are right now, so the logical place to have your own personal collapse now, ahead of the rush, is right there, in the place where you live, with the people you know and the resources you have at hand.

Now of course the strategy of collapsing ahead of the rush is not going to be a popular thing to suggest. When I’ve brought it up, as of course I’ve done more than once, I’ve inevitably fielded a flurry of protests, by turns angry and anguished, insisting that it’s not reasonable to expect anybody to do that, and how can I be so heartless as to suggest it? Fair enough; let’s take a look at the alternatives.

One alternative strategy that gets brought up now and then has at least the advantage of utter honesty. It has two parts. The first part, while the benefits of industrial society are still available, is to enjoy them; the second, when those benefits go away, is to die. Often, though not always, the people who bring up this option have serious health conditions that will probably be fatal in a deindustrial world. I have no quarrel with those who choose this path; it’s an honest response to a very challenging predicament—though I admit I wonder how many people who say they’ve chosen it will be comfortable with their choice once part one gives way to part two.

The problem with most other proposed strategies for dealing with our predicament is that whatever they claim to do in theory, in practice, they amount to these same two steps. Consider the very widely held notion that advocating for some alternative energy technology is a workable response to the twilight of fossil fuels.

I have no quarrel, again, with people who are actually doing something concrete to get some alternative energy technology into use—for example, the people whose enthusiasm for the Bussard fusion reactor leads them to build a prototype in their basement, or to help fund one of the half dozen or so experimenters who have already done this—but that’s rarely what this approach entails; rather, it seems to consist mostly of posting long screeds on the internet insisting that thorium reactors, or algal biodiesel, or what have you, will solve all our energy problems.

As Zen masters like to say, talk does not cook the rice, and blog posts do not build reactors; with every day that passes, despite any amount of online debate, more oil, coal, and natural gas are extracted from the planet’s dwindling endowment, and the next round of crises comes closer.

In the same way, those who put their hopes on grand political transformations, or conveniently undefinable leaps of consciousness, or the timely arrival of Jesus or the space brothers or somebody else who will spare us the necessity of inhabiting a future that is the exact result of our own collective actions, are not doing anything that hasn’t been tried over and over again in the decades just past, without doing anything to slow the headlong rush into overshoot or the opening stages of decline and fall.

Check out the glossy magazines and well-funded websites dedicated to portraying "positive futures" and you can find the same sort of thinking taken to its logical extreme: soothing pablum about this or that person doing this or that wonderful thing, and this or that deep thinker coming up with this or that wonderful idea, all of it reminiscent of nothing so much as the cheerful tunes the Titanic’s band played to keep the passengers calm as water poured into the hull.

There’s quite a lot of money to be made these days insisting that we can have a shiny new future despite all evidence to the contrary, and pulling factoids out of context to defend that increasingly dubious claim; as industrial society moves down the curve of decline, I suspect, this will become even more popular, since it will make it easier for those who haven’t yet had their own personal collapse to pretend that it can’t happen to them.

The same principle applies to the people who donate to environmental causes and put solar panels on their roofs in the same spirit that led medieval Christians to buy high-priced indulgences from the Church to cancel out their sins. T.S. Eliot countered that sort of attitude unanswerably when he described salvation as "a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything".

What we’re discussing belongs to a much less exalted plane, but the same rule applies: if you’re trying to exempt yourself from the end of the industrial age, nothing you can do can ever be enough. Let go, let yourself fall forward into the deindustrial future, and matters are different.

It’s difficult to think of anything more frightening, or more necessary. "In order to arrive at what you do not know"—that’s Eliot again—"you must go by a way which is the way of ignorance. In order to possess what you do not possess, you must go by the way of dispossession." Which is to say: collapse now, and avoid the rush.

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


Roach & Gecko Stealthiness

SOURCE: Steve Peters ( SUBHEAD: Roaches, geckos and now robots can flip under a ledge and disappear in the blink of an eye. By Robert Sanders on 6 June 2012 for UC Berkeley News - ( Image above: Roach after making flip over edge of ramp in a fraction of a second. From original article.

New cockroach behavior discovered by University of California, Berkeley, biologists secures the insect’s reputation as one of nature’s top escape artists, able to skitter away and disappear from sight before any human can swat it.

In addition to its lightning speed, quick maneuvers and ability to squeeze through the tiniest cracks, the cockroach also can flip under a ledge and disappear in the blink of an eye, the researchers found. It does this by grabbing the edge with grappling hook-like claws on its back legs and swinging like a pendulum 180 degrees to land firmly underneath, upside down.

Always eager to mimic animal behaviors in robots, the researchers teamed up with UC Berkeley robotics experts to recreate the behavior in a six-legged robot by adding Velcro strips.

The UC Berkeley team published the results of the study on Wednesday, June 6, in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Graduate student Jean-Michel Mongeau of UC Berkeley’s biophysics group said he and his colleagues first noticed the roaches’ newly-identified behavior while studying how they use their antennae to sense and cross gaps.

“As we made the gap wider, they would end up on the underside of the ramp,” Mongeau said. “To the naked eye, it wasn’t clear what was happening, but when we filmed them with a high-speed camera and slowed it down, we were amazed to see that it was the cockroach’s hind legs grabbing the surface that allowed it to swing around under the ledge.”

“Cockroaches continue to surprise us,” said Robert Full, a professor of integrative biology who 15 years ago discovered that when cockroaches run rapidly, they rear up on their two hind legs like bipedal humans. “They have fast relay systems that allow them to dart away quickly in response to light or motion at speeds up to 50 body lengths per second, which is equivalent to a couple hundred miles per hour, if you scale up to the size of humans. This makes them incredibly good at escaping predators.”

Surprisingly, the researchers discovered a similar behavior in lizards, animals that have hook-like toenails, and also documented geckos using this escape technique in the jungle at the Wildlife Reserves near Singapore.

“This behavior is probably pretty widespread, because it is an effective way to quickly move out of sight for small animals,” Full said.

Full’s group then teamed up with the robotics group led by Ron Fearing, UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer science. In Fearing’ s lab, graduate student researchers Paul Birkmeyer and Aaron Hoover attached Velcro to the rear legs of a small, cockroach-inspired, six-legged robot called DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod). It was able to reproduce the same behavior as seen in roaches and geckos.

“This work is a great example of the amazing maneuverability of animals, and how understanding the physical principles used by nature can inspire design of agile robots,” Fearing said.

Mongeau and Brian McRae, an undergraduate bioengineering major, analyzed the mechanics of the ninja-like maneuver and discovered that the cockroach, an American cockroach (Periplaneta americana), wasn’t merely falling over the ledge. It actually ran at full speed toward the ledge, dove off, then grabbed the edge with its claws – sometimes using only one leg – and swung like a pendulum under the ledge, retaining 75 percent of its running energy.

This pendulum swing subjects the animal to 3-5 times the force of gravity (3-5 gs), similar to what humans feel at the bottom of a bungee jump, Mongeau said.

Full looked at trapeze artists as well as other animals to find a comparable behavior, and found only one well-studied similarity: the tree-swinging behavior of gibbons.

These studies of cockroach and lizard behavior are a hallmark of Full’s biomechanics teaching laboratory, where undergraduate and graduate students put animals through their paces to determine how they walk, run, leap and maneuver. Recently, Full and his students discovered that geckos use their tails to remain upright in midair, stabilize their body during leaping and even steer during gliding. Now, they are focusing on other body parts – abdomens and appendages such as antennae and legs.

“All this must be put together into a complete package to understand what goes into these animals’ extraordinary maneuverability,” Full said.

Aside from helping scientists understand animal locomotion, these findings will go into making better robots.

“Today, some robots are good at running, some at climbing, but very few are good at both or transitioning from one behavior to the other,” he said. “That’s really the challenge now in robotics, to produce robots that can transition on complex surfaces and get into dangerous areas that first responders can’t get into.”

In addition to Full, Mongeau, McRae, Birkmeyer, Hoover and Fearing, the UC Berkeley coauthors include graduate student Ardian Jusufi from the Department of Integrative Biology. Hoover is now a professor at Olin College.

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, including the NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, a Swiss NSF Grant for Prospective Researchers, and the Micro Autonomous Systems Technologies (MAST) consortium, a large group of researchers funded in part by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory that is focused on creating autonomous sensing robots.

Video above: Film of roach, gecko and robot stealth maneuver. From Berkeley study. See ( .

Save Hanalei Farmer's Market

SUBHEAD: Should parking and permit issues close down a local food market that sustains Kauai residents? By Hanalei Farmer's Market on 6 June 2012 in - ( Image above: A view of transactions at the Hanalei Farmer's Market in 2011.From (

On June 2, the Hanalei Farmers Market was ended suddenly with no advance notice to the 56 vendors who depend on it to make a living. The leaders of Hale Halawai, the non-profit organization that runs the market, say the closure is due to "unresolved parking and permit issues." They also said they were threatened with a lawsuit by unnamed individuals in the community.

The closure of this marketplace would be debilitating for the people who share their locally-made treasures there: farmers, artisans, food vendors, and experts on Hawaiian culture. Consequently, these locals would have less income to put back into the community, creating ripple effects for everyone.

The Hanalei Farmers Market is a blessing to our island. It must be saved.

Click here to add your name to the petition to save the Hanalei Farmers Market.

To preserve the Hanalei Farmers Market and its invaluable contribution to the island of Kauai, the county would need to take the following steps:

1) Expedite the amendment of the current Special Use Permit and any other permits needed to enable the market to resume operations immediately. 2) Allow market guests to park in a designated area at nearby Waioli Park.
3) Keep the market open until these matters are resolved.

Again, click the link below to add your name, and then pass it along to your friends


–Hanalei Farmers Market

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Fragility & Collapse

SUBHEAD: Collapse happens slowly at first, then all at once. Exactly when is hard to predict. By Dmitry Orlov on 5 June 2012 for Club Orlov - ( [IB Editor's note: This is a long article (approximately 5,000 words. We have simply pulled three paragrphs to set the tone. For its entirety please visit the link above.] Image above: Passing over a fragile bridge in the interior of the Congo. From ( I have been predicting collapse for over five years now. My prediction is that the USA will collapse financially, economically and politically within the foreseeable future... and this hasn’t happened yet. And so, inevitably, I am asked the same question over and over again: “When?” And, inevitably, I answer that I don’t make predictions as to timing. This leaves my questioners dissatisfied, and so I thought that I should try to explain why it is that I don’t make predictions as to timing. I will also try to explain how one might go about creating such predictions, understanding full well that the result is highly subjective... ... It is something of a general property of things that things build up slowly and collapse quickly. Examples of this sort abound (buildings, bridges, dams, military empires, economies, supernovae...) ... And so, please don’t ask me “When?”—do your own thinking! I’ve given you the tools you need to come to your own conclusions, based on which you may be able to start your collapse early and get it over with quickly. .

Cap & Trade Works

SUBHEAD: Nine North-East states cut CO2 by 23 percent in first three years. By Stephen Lacey on 6 June 2012 for Think Progress - ( Image above: States participating in RGGI include the traditional northeast states (except Pennsylvania). From ( A three-year summary of America’s first carbon trading program was released yesterday. The news is pretty good for anyone who cares about reducing carbon emissions; it’s inconvenient for anyone hell-bent on preventing America from implementing a carbon pricing plan.

According to the program administrator of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) — a nine-state cap-and-trade market established in the Northeast in 2008 — average annual CO2 emissions have fallen by 23 percent compared to emission levels before the start of the program:

Average annual CO2 emissions for the three-year period were 126 million short tons, a 23 percent reduction when compared to the preceding three-year period, 2006-2008. Three-year average electricity consumption across the ten-state region declined only moderately, by 2.4 percent, between the same periods, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

CO2 emissions were collectively reduced to 33 percent below the annual pollution cap of 188 million short tons.

And the predictions of economic collapse and suffering ratepayers? Not happening.

The progress report follows a study from the Analysis Group finding that RGGI added $1.6 billion in value to the economies of participating states, setting up ratepayers for more than $1.1 billion in savings through improved efficiency and development of renewable energy. All this activity created 16,000 jobs in the first three years of the program.

“Five years ago, critics were saying climate programs like RGGI couldn’t succeed in the U.S.,” said David Littell, Commissioner of the Maine Public Utilities Commission and Vice-Chair of RGGI, in a statement.

“Now, we are seeing significant emissions reductions in the context of economic recovery as we switch to cleaner fuels and learn to use energy smarter. In fact, RGGI has allowed companies to stay competitive and reduce their energy expenditures to weather the recession and come out stronger.”

In April, Environment New Jersey issued an analysis showing that states participating in RGGI reduced emissions 20 percent faster and grew GDP twice the rate of the rest of the U.S. through 2009. However, that report was not a completely accurate picture of the impact of RGGI, as it only took into consideration the first year of the program.

RGGI is a very modest emissions trading market designed to reduce CO2 in the power sector 10% below 1990 levels by the end of 2018. Participating states include: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

When first implemented with bi-partisan support, administrators assumed it would lower utility CO2 emissions by as much as 35 percent compared to a business-as-usual scenario. However, administrators didn’t foresee such a dramatic drop in emissions so quickly.

The steep decline in utility-sector emissions occurred due to a decline in coal generation, a switch to natural gas, and the economic downturn. An executive at the Massachusetts power company National Grid explained that CO2 was falling because of the “effects of RGGI on top of that.”

The emissions picture is complicated and certainly different than expected in 2008. But the outcome — reduced coal use, lower emissions, and greater deployment of renewables and efficiency — is exactly what was intended.

It’s also the exact opposite of what opponents claimed would happen.

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed group at the forefront of spreading lies about cap and trade, absurdly claimed that RGGI would raise rates by 90%. RGGI’s impact on rates has been so negligible, pulling out the cost “would be like factoring in the cost of mowing the lawn at the power plant or factoring in the property taxes,” explained Seth Kaplan of the Conservation Law Foundation.

And last spring, a bill was introduced in the New Hampshire legislature that would have pulled the state out of RGGI. The legislation copied language from a “model” bill developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a “stealth business lobbyist” that helps large corporate interests write laws for a fee.

The ALEC-written language in the bill said that RGGI had “increased consumer costs for electricity, fuel, and food.”

After three years of experience, the data shows that RGGI has played a part in lowering emissions, helped businesses deploy more clean energy, and done so by adding very little upfront costs to ratepayers.

Once again, real world experience proves that absurd doomsday scenarios about cap and trade pushed by pundits and political disinformers are wrong.


How we might be saved

SUBHEAD: Can a single species of tree significantly reduce hunger, unemployment and deforestation? By Jon Letman on 6 June 2012 for IPS News - ( Image above: Dr. Diane Ragone, director of the Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kauai, holds a flat of tiny Ma'afala breadfruit trees before shipping overseas. Photo by Jon Letman in original article. Researchers and scientists behind a surge in breadfruit activity are optimistic about its effects in the tropics. Over the last decade, a handful of nonprofits and NGOs have accelerated efforts to test, grow and distribute breadfruit trees with the idea that this versatile, nutritious, fast-growing member of the mulberry family has enormous untapped potential to improve food security and local ecosystems. Breadfruit proponents from Hawaii to British Columbia, the U.S. Midwest, Central America and Europe have stepped up efforts to expand the tree's presence in the Caribbean. Breadfruit, a staple in the Pacific Islands for thousands of years, has been popular in the Caribbean for over 200 years. What's different about the trees being introduced today is that they are a Samoan variety called Ma'afala (mah-ah-fala), previously unknown in this part of the world. Ma'afala was selected as optimal for mass propagation and distribution because it has the highest protein and mineral nutrition (iron, potassium, zinc) of 94 varieties studied, and is widely considered one of the tastiest of varieties. All the Ma'afala grown and distributed in the Caribbean today originates from the collection at the Breadfruit Institute, part of the Hawaii-based National Tropical Botanical Garden. Breadfruit Institute director Dr. Diane Ragone, who manages the world's largest and most diverse breadfruit collection on Maui and Kauai islands, partners with Dr. Susan Murch, a chemistry professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Okanagan. Ragone began collecting breadfruit varieties for conservation and research in the mid-1980s and has worked with Murch to develop micro- propagation protocols for elite varieties that are then mass- propagated by U.S.-Germany-based Global Breadfruit. The tiny Ma'afala trees are then purchased by organisations which introduce the plants where they are most needed ― in places like Jamaica, Honduras and Haiti. More jobs, cleaner water and better food One organisation encouraging the growth and consumption of Ma'afala is the Agro-forestry Regional Nursery (ARN) Foundation of Haiti. ARN works on the premise that local food security, employment and healthy watersheds and forests are interrelated. With the capacity to grow one million trees per year, the foundation aims to improve the condition of Haiti's watersheds, nine out of 10 of which ARN co-founder James Kishlar says are polluted by humans and animals and the effects of deforestation. Including breadfruit as part of a suite of food-producing trees like mango, avocado, citrus and banana has environmental benefits while providing much-needed food and jobs. By adding Ma'afala to Haiti's crop base, ARN aims to increase agricultural diversity and extend fruit-bearing periods since different varieties produce throughout the year. "Diversity is what we're trying to get back to, not monoculture," says Kishlar. Another nonprofit distributing Ma'afala is the Chicago-based Trees That Feed Foundation (TTFF) which is distributing breadfruit trees to school, hospitals, orphanages and for use in public spaces in Jamaica. TTFF works closely with the Jamaican Ministry of Agriculture, which receives the tiny trees upon arrival in the country and transports them to a nursery where they are grown out before being distributing to independent farmers who can receive up to 25 trees at no cost. In Haiti, TTFF has formed an alliance with a Port-au-Prince orphanage which is growing trees in a nursery until they are large enough to be given to partners. Since 2009, Trees That Feed has shipped over 12,000 Ma'afala trees, almost 3,000 to Haiti in this year alone. As more trees bear fruit, founder and chairperson Mary McLaughlin expects commercial farmers who can afford them to purchase trees and help increase interest and demand. But breadfruit, which is easy to grow and remarkably prolific - a single tree can easily yield 200 kg or more of food a year - has a short shelf life. Mature fruit must be consumed quickly and during fruit season there can be a glut. Gluten-free without the glut One way to address this is by drying and milling breadfruit for flour which is gluten-free and can be preserved for later use in secondary, value-added food products. The flour, which has a shelf-life measured in years, can be used for breads, cakes, porridges, and other baked goods, says Dr. Camille George, an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas' (UST) School of Engineering. George is also a board member with Compatible Technology International (CTI), a Minnesota-based nonprofit that designs and distributes simple technologies that can be used to fight hunger in remote and rural communities. Currently UST and CTI are distributing their own breadfruit processing equipment for producing flour in Haiti and elsewhere. George says, "I'm trying to come up with new, innovative ideas of how to engineer for the majority of the world that really has been neglected by mainstream engineering." Trees That Feed has begun purchasing grinders and shredders designed by CTI and will help establish "factories in a box" that can be set up almost anywhere. "We feel very strongly at Trees That Feed that we have to lead the way in every aspect," McLaughlin says. "We are generating excitement, making people want to plant breadfruit trees, helping feed people, create jobs and benefit the environment." By advancing interest in and use of breadfruit flour, McLaughlin says, there's more need for harvesting breadfruit and growing more trees. She sees a bright future for breadfruit in the Caribbean. So does UBC's Murch who thinks breadfruit is already beyond a tipping point. With the in-vitro Ma'afala breadfruit on the market and being circulated around the world (in 2011 one thousand Ma'afala saplings were hand-delivered to Ghana), the number of trees, the desirability of growing those trees, and a broader awareness of breadfruit as an under-utilised crop, not just in the Caribbean, but around the tropical world, is accelerating greatly. A second Samoan breadfruit variety - Ulu fiti - has already gone through virus screening and field testing protocols with memorandums of understanding established between interested parties. Next comes distribution and educating the public about the environmental, social, dietary and culinary benefits of growing, eating and selling breadfruit in its various forms. Greater interest and understanding of the trees, the Breadfruit Institute's Ragone believes, means more breadfruit will be planted in the ground and filling the kitchens and markets throughout the tropical world and that, she says, can only be good. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Breadfruit - The Tree that Feeds 4/25/12 Ea O Ka Aina: One Harvest from Chaos 2/15/11 Ea O Ka Aina: Plant a Breadfruit Tree 3/31/10 Ea O Ka Aina: Breadfruit Recipe Experiments 11/15/09 Island Breath: Ulu - The Breadfruit Tree 12/21/06 .

Why we're doomed

SUBHEAD: GOP house adopts measure to halt light-bulb efficiency law and continue use of incandescent bulbs. By -Jim Snyder on 6 June 2012 for Bloomberg News - ( Image above: In its lifetime a single 26 watt fluorescent bulb will cast as much light as many average 100 watt incandescent. From original article.

The first phase of the federal efficiency standard, which was passed in 2007 during President George W. Bush’s administration, went into effect this year. It has become a symbol of government excess to Tea Party-aligned lawmakers, who say consumers should be able to buy the bulbs they want.

“People are sick of the government treading where it just doesn’t belong,” said Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican who sponsored the light-bulb amendment, which was added to a broader energy-spending bill.

Burgess’ provision was adopted last night by voice vote. A similar provision was in the spending bill covering the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, which was passed in the House in December.

“The law couldn’t be enforced,” Burgess said of his amendment in an interview. “‘We don’t need no stinkin’ badges. We’re the energy police.’”

A vote on the overarching bill was expected as soon as today.

Democrats, environmental groups and lighting manufacturers such as Fairfield, Connecticut based GE support the efficiency law.

Politicizing Bulbs

Blocking the Energy Department from enforcement might let unscrupulous foreign manufacturers push non-compliant products, including to bulk buyers such as builders. Those sales are difficult to track.

“Some in Congress are willing to put U.S. jobs at risk for political positioning,” said Joseph Higbee, a spokesman for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, a Rosslyn, Virginia-based group. “This is an example of a few politicizing light bulbs at the risk of American workers and the economy.”

Companies have retooled plants to make compact fluorescent lights, light-emitting diodes and a halogen version of the pear- shaped incandescent product that meets the efficiency standard. Some of the more efficient bulbs are made in the U.S.

Burgess said consumers should be able to choose for themselves which bulbs they want to buy.

“I’m smart enough to make my own decisions about the purchase of energy, and the government should not feel the need to do that for me,” he said.

$32.1 Billion

The underlying bill would spend $32.1 billion on energy and water-development programs, about $965 million less than what President Barack Obama requested, according to the House Appropriations Committee. It would put more money into fossil-fuel programs than Obama’s budget.

The president’s advisers said May 31 they would recommend the president veto the bill because of cuts to efficiency and clean-energy programs, including to the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy that funds innovative technologies, and language intended to keep Yucca Mountain in Nevada viable as a repository for the nation’s nuclear waste.

The House spending bill is H.R. 5325.


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?