I wanted to post this story for the same reason many of you probably come to TAE on a regular basis: we come not just to expand our understanding of finance, but to connect with like-minded individuals and not feel so utterly alone. Because honestly, there aren't that many of us. Sure, one might believe everyone's a "doomer" after spending a bit too much time reading finance blogs.
But the truth of the matter is, almost no one I meet anywhere, no matter what level of intellect or education, no matter what occupation, from finance to oceanography, not a one that I encounter in the real-rather-than-the-virtual world seems to be remotely aware of the risks inherent in the current system. Like my sisters.
Now, the first time I tried to raise a few alarm bells with my loved ones was when Dad sold off the family ranch to my youngest sister. It's not a particularly productive ranch. It's in a cold, rugged and beautiful part of Canada. I love it with all my heart. But at the time of the sale, it was grossly inflated in value, along with the rest of the real estate bubble.
At the time, I had only recently become aware of just how precarious our world's financial ponzi scheme had become. So, I tried to persuade my family that we should take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to make out like bandits and preserve some capital for a torrentially rainy day. Bad move on my part, apparently. Somehow it all came off looking to them like I was some heartless profiteer who didn't care about family history or the desires of my siblings.
My warnings went unheeded, and my father sold my sister the home for a bargain according to the going rate of the day but clearly far too much considering my view of the future. That sister, sadly, has hardly spoken to me since. Nevertheless, I've told myself that when the day comes and she has to leave the house behind (it's hard to imagine the place as anything but a ghost-town-in-the-making), I will be there for her however I can.
I thought I might have better luck with my older sister. She's a single mom with a baby, living an over-extended lifestyle in the Big City. I feel she has even more to worry about. It's hard to be very adaptable when you're raising an infant in a concrete jungle--the thought that fragile supply chains suddenly make life difficult for her haunts me. So, I try to gently raise my concerns again. Very cautiously mind you--I know my reputation in the family now seriously colours my advice.
In fact, I hate bringing it up. But I tell myself it's my moral obligation. I love her little boy like he's my own (weirdly! as a gay guy without any intention of having children, I avoid the sticky creatures on the bus like they're infectious!). I start by talking a bit about how weird everything is in Europe, eh. And how I've read things might even get worse. Yes, yes, my sister agrees--poor Greece is really screwed!
Aha, that's an opening, and I try to pry it wider--I continue: you know, it really does concern me, I mean how we're facing the possibility of some catastrophic failure in the financial system like nothing we've faced in our or even our parents' lifetimes. If ever there were a good time to put some food and cash away, this is it, I say.
Her response is downright curt. "I'm starting to get very concerned about you Skip. You seem obsessed. You can't stop talking about the end of the world." I go quiet for a moment. To be honest, I feel downright embarrassed, I really do. Is that how I sound? Like a raving lunatic? I realize that's exactly how I sound to someone who hasn't even begun to understand that the things we thought we knew about money and the state of our world are really, really quite wrong.
You see, it isn't that we're not on the same page--we're actually in completely different books. I try to back-pedal: I reiterate that I'm just very concerned, and there's no harm in taking a few precautions. I tell her I'm actually still having a great time in life (essentially true). And that I think that it could all turn out for the best (maybe the environment will be saved and we'll have a healthy reassessment of our societal values). But I'm now fully aware of the fact that she can't hear me.
I'm trying to be the canary in the coal mine, but my sister thinks I'm just plain cuckoo. I hang up the telephone feeling a million miles away (maybe because I am--I moved to the South Pacific a few years ago). I'm afraid I'm too far away from her to help, not just in physical distance but in point-of-view. There's just no bridging that gap, and it breaks my heart.
I don't try to bring this stuff up with friends anymore either. It seems to have no impact at all, even though I think of myself as being a fairly persuasive advocate when I believe in something. The gulf is plainly too wide. Maybe my words to my sister will help her react faster once things start falling apart in earnest. Just maybe she won't be as in denial as her neighbors and friends, because I helped plant a seed. I hope so, for her sake. I feel helpless to do much more than be there for her when the time comes.
But I'm just not going to talk about it anymore. Not with anyone, I don't think..
By Jan TenBruggencate on 1 July 2011 for Raising Islands -
Image above: Hurricane Isabelle breaches an Outer Banks islands off North Carolina. From (http://www.seathos.org/earth-day-2012-the-top-5-threats-to-our-oceans-part-two/).
With the lack of aggressive action on climate change over the past decades, continued sea level rise is now essentially baked in, ocean and climate scientists are saying.
A study in the journal “Nature – Climate Change,”a new study argues that there’s little we can do now to prevent dramatic sea level rise.
Even with an aggressive program of controlling greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels will continue to rise based on our past misdeeds, write researchers Michiel Schaeffer, William Hare, Stefan Rahmstorf and Martin Vermeer. Schaeffer is from the Netherlands, much of which is below sea level, where accurate modeling of sea conditions is taken seriously.
He works with the Environmental Systems Analysis Group of Wageningen University and Research Centre in Holland. His co-authors are climate researchers from Germany and Finland.
Their message: A 50% change that sea levels will be a couple of feet (75-80 centimeters) higher than 2000 levels by 2100, if we can hold warming below 2 degrees Centigrade. And it will keep rising, they argue, to more than 8 feet by 2300.
We would not even recognize the coastlines of our great-great-grandkids . The islands would be significantly smaller as the ocean washes much higher on their shoulders.
“Halting (sea level rise) within a few centuries is likely to be achieved only with the large-scale deployment of CO2 removal efforts, for example, combining large-scale bioenergy systems with carbon capture and storage,” write Schaeffer and his team.
The globe needs to not only stop rising CO2 levels, but to drive CO2 production to negative levels, if sea level rise is to be slowed. Without that level of effort, imagine even larger rise.
The authors concede that the science of sea level change is still evolving and that there are many uncertainties—but they point out that current estimates are more likely to be low than high—thus, it could be worse than they now estimate.
“Physics-based models attempting to predict the combined contributions from thermal expansion, glaciers and ice sheets are not yet mature and underestimate the (sea level rise) observed in past decades,” they write.
There’s a fair amount of other alarming science out there. One piece is that sea level rise isn’t uniform across the oceans, and one group of researchers suggests that the northern Atlantic coast of the North America will see higher rise than other areas. It attributes this to salinity, currents, changing gravity and the Earth’s rotation.
“(Sea Level Rise) rate increases in this northeast hotspot were ~3-4 times higher than the global average,” write the authors of a paper, “Hotspotof accelerated sea-lkevel rise on the Atlantic Coast of North America.”
Add storm surge, and they predict serious vulnerability for harbors and coastal cities.
It doesn’t help that the popular media are screwing up the story. One big component of global sea level predictions is whether and how quickly the Greenland glaciers melt. Two recent pieces on the same day, May 3, 2012, had these contradictory headlines.
“Greenland’s ice melting more slowly than expected.”
"Greenland's glaciers melting faster, say scientists."
If you only read the headlines, you’d think those stories were contradictory. They’re not. The first one just says the glaciers are melting scary fast, but just not at breakneck speed. It says they’re not melting fast enough for 6 feet of sea level rise in the next 88 years—just 3 feet.
Well, three feet is enough to erase virtually every beach we now know in Hawai`i, to put much of coastal Honolulu underwater, to push Hilo and Hanalei Bays deep inland, to have significant impacts on coastal Kihei.
Have you visited a missing beach in Hawai`i?
If you visit the shore at all, you know the scenario. Where there used to be sand, there are rocks. Where there used to be palm trees and heliotropes, there’s water. Where kids used to build sand castles, there’s ancient sandstone washed by waves.
And that's just what's happening now.
Here is University of Hawai`i coastal geologist Chip Fletcher's famous progression of what happense to Waikiki under three feet of sea level rise--think street surfing.
Ea O Ka Aina: Wailua Beach Erosion 6/13/12
By Matt McDermott on 29 June 2012 for TreeHugger -
Image above: Small portion of the mammoth, and still burning, Waldo fire in Aspen Colorado on 6/29/12. From (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Latest-News-Wires/2012/0627/Waldo-Canyon-fire-reaches-epic-proportions-video).
I'm a day late to this image above and the social media outrage around it, but I've been thinking, and unfortunately ExxonMobil's CEO is right. That's the unfashionable thing to say in green circles, but he is right.
Humanity has spent its time on this planet adapting. Both adapting the world we inhabit to meet our needs, on various timescales and over various areas of the globe, as well as adapting to the local conditions under which we live.
And, we will adapt to climate change.
But nevertheless, the statement is obfuscation of the highest order; it is literally true but contextually entirely false. And it is there where it's deep insidiousness resides.
How many humans the planet can support in a world that is 2°C, 3°C, 4-6°C warmer on average—with all the ecosystem, biodiversity, agricultural changes that brings—is a very much open question. The odds are solidly in favor of far less than it now does, just because of climate change, ignoring resource overconsumption and population growth.
Which is all to say, that while humanity will adapt to a climate changed world is true, there is no doubt that climate change will create, in comparison to today, let alone a pre-industrial, lower population world, a world that is less bountiful, prone to more extremes of temperature and weather in many places, less fecund—and since we're talking about human adaptation, more difficult to live in and less conducive to human civilization.
The thing in Rex Tillerson's statement that is so mind-numbing egregious to me is the apparent full public blindness to the fact that this is the world that we are creating, that humanity is creating largely because of the products that Tillerson's company produces. It's made worse by the fact that Exxon has historically, and currently, funded countless organizations that attempt to sow doubt about this fact, apparently solely to enrich themselves.
SUBHEAD: Canada's Stephen Harper is George Bush without the foreign wars - just the war on Canada itself.
Image above: Opening illustration from "What is Harper Afraid Of?" series by Franke James. From (http://www.frankejames.com/debate/?p=11818).
[Note by source Katie Gelfling: Here is a political comic/visual animated essay by Franke James about the tar sands, First Nations tribes, the loosening of environmental regulations, and Prime Minister Harper. Be sure to visit her site (http://www.frankejames.com/debate/?p=11818). There have been a lot of pro-tar sands ads in movie theaters and television, so I think it's important to try to understand what is not being said. The real controversy of lowering environmental standards and their potential impact is being hidden so that the public won't notice that the costs are being externalized by the oil companies onto them. I know only a little about the tar sands, so this opened my eyes about some of the issues up in Canada. I hope more folks in Canada wake up and it makes a difference. Stephen Harper is basically George Bush without the wars, and like the US, Canada has a large rural population whose livelihoods depend on resource extraction.] By Franke James on 3 March 2012 for FrankeJames.com - (www.frankejames.com/debate/?p=11818)
Video above: Animated video of "What is Harper Afraid Of?" by Franke James. From (http://vimeo.com/43432620).
Below is a sample of a letter you can send to Prime Minister Harper.
The May 2011 report states that contamination of the Athabasca River is a "high profile concern". It cited recent studies which suggest that "elevated levels of pollutants near mining sites including hydrocarbons and heavy metals raises questions about possible effects on health of wildlife and downstream communities." The government report also said that current data cannot generate a "big picture" view of impacts on the ecosystem. And that "oil sands development will continue to put pressure on vulnerable species."
Surprisingly, Minister Joe Oliver -- the man who has travelled across Canada pitching the need to speed up Environmental Reviews -- said he'd never seen the secret government report and didn't know whether the fish from the Athabasca River were safe to eat. (When pressed, he admitted that he had heard about deformed and contaminated fish in the news.) See: http://www.frankejames.com/debate/?p=11818
Why is the government looking the other way? Is this 'environmental racism' as the First Nations contend?
Does this mean that poisoning downstream communities and wildlife, is just the "cost of doing business" in Canada?
The government and the oil industry need to be held accountable for the pollution from oil sands mining. Canadian taxpayers and oil sands investors are at risk of class action lawsuits if we look the other way.
Canada's environmental international standing will be dragged further through the proverbial mud as the federal government invites the oil industry to treat the natural environment in a manner similar to standards applied in developing nations to foster economic growth.
Tell the oil industry and the Harper Government that doing business in Canada must include protecting our air, land, water, wildlife and people from oil pollution.
Please stand up for Canada. Say no to irresponsible resource development. Keep our country beautiful from sea to shining sea.
By Matthew McDermott on 29 June 2012 for TreeHugger -
Image above: Trees dotting Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, Africa. From National Geographic (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/photos/savannah/).
When we think about the coming effects of climate change, this one doesn't top the expected list (at least not for me): New research published in Nature shows that by 2100 large parts of the African savanna could become forests.
The research finds that "a switch from savanna to forest occurs once a critical threshold of CO2 concentration is exceeded, yet each site has its own critical threshold. The implication is that each savanna will switch at different points in time, thereby reducing the risk that a synchronous shock to the earth system will emanate from savannas." (Science Daily)
Something which may seem reassuring report lead author Steven Higgins notes, but is still very very fast on a geologic timescale.
The research itself is pretty wonky, so read it at the summary above, or the original research at the top, but one very interesting practical implication for climate mitigation is raised by the authors.
They identify a belt of land across central Africa where if fires are suppressed it would encourage the transition from savannah to forest, and this would be an ideal places to sequester carbon in the forest, even if this belt of land will move over time.
By Jim Karger on 28 June 2012 for The Dollar Vigilante -
Image above: Hindenburg on the tarmac. The Nazis provided a better time flying than today's American carriers. From (http://explow.com/the_hindenburg_%28film%29).
By Ashvin Pandurangi on 27 June 2012 for the Automatic Earth -
Image above: Advice on deception can be deceptive. From orignal article.
It's the middle of yet another week in which yet another round of European wealth extraction (bloody rape) is underway... and yet another gaggle of speculating geese prove that they have no idea what the hell they're talking about or what the hell is going on around them... so... I'm just gonna take this opportunity to rant a little bit.
When the politicians, media pundits, corporate analysts and others start squirting out their verbal diarrhea about the economy, the financial system, the environment, energy trends, the political climate, the geopolitical situation, social issues and everything else that makes its way onto their teleprompters and scripts and reports, there is one common element throughout all of the incessant blather - deception.
That's not just a descriptive noun or verb I'm talking about, either - it's a Theory of Conduct. We must view everything they say or do from the standpoint of being DECEIVED with a capital D-E-C-E-I-V-E and D. None of those scoundrels can be trusted, because they either have a nefarious agenda of their own or are themselves being deceived by someone else with a nefarious agenda - call it a global circle jerk of deceivers and deception.
What these sheisters do is convince you that everything you thought you knew to be true can be substituted with their own MYTHS conjured up in corporate board rooms and hotel suites, bought and paid for with YOUR money. That's right - just like Joe the Dumbass and Jane the Lazy TOOL pay 100 bucks a month to watch no-talent ass clowns on America's Got an Infinite Number of Degrading Reality TV Shows every evening, they pay thousands of bucks every year to be convinced that their collective torture and rape is JUST ACES.
- You thought that taking on debt was bad and should generally be avoided - THEY told you that accumulating debt is the ONLY way to become successful and respected in this world.
- You thought that it was wrong to punish the victims and reward the perpetrators of a Class A Felony - THEY told you that it's the ONLY way to prevent an economic apocalypse and save your pension or your job.
- You thought that austerity for the struggling masses and bailouts for the filthy rich bankers would destroy the local economy - THEY told you that local economies MUST be destroyed for the long-term greater good of humanity.
- You thought that it was important for people to have sovereignty over their bodies and their own communities through elected and accountable representatives - THEY told you that sovereignty and democracy are obsolete artifacts of a stagnant civilization; a naive remembrance of things past.
A couple of Eurotrash Ministers can tell you that they have come up with yet another bailout plan to avert financial meltdown and fill your life back up with rainbows and happy thoughts, while emptying out your pockets and your bank account, and you immediately go back into a culturally-induced coma. That is, of course, until your 9 to 5 Boss tells you to pack up your shit and go home for good, or your financial advisor tells you that your net worth just cratered by 25%, or your trusted bank sends you a polite letter saying you're in default on your mortgage and the roof over your kids' heads has already been scheduled for auction to the lowest scumbag.
Then you wake up and realize the better part of your life has just been one pack of deceptions after another, all setting you up to ultimately do whatever you are told by your Slave Masters and accept your miserable fate without so much as a peep. And it's not just you who will end up SUFFERING for your lack of even ONE freaking ounce of critical thinking and due diligence in that malignant brain of yours - it will be everyone around you, including your family and your closest friends.
So take a deep breath... and re-learn how to read, and to comprehend, and to think critically and to be motivated for the Truth. Tell your family and friends that there is more to life than being endlessly DECEIVED, and more to life than being used like square of toilet paper by the DECEIVERS who just finished taking a massive dump on their heads. Take a shower... use a lot of shampoo and soap... scrub yourself down... towel off... and THEN get your mind right. And get very comfortable too... because the Truth can only win out over the Deceptions over the long-haul, and WE - me, you... all of us - are only just getting started here.
By John Michael Greer on 27 June 2012 for the Archdruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/06/cussedness-of-whole-systems.html)
Image above: This is what happens if we miss achieving a acceptable 3rd world economy. Detail of painting by Jeff Gillette in his "Dismayland" series of Daisy Duck taking a dump in a slum sewer. From (http://hypebeast.com/2010/04/jeff-gillette-dismayland-exhibition-recap/).
There’s an interesting divergence between the extreme complexity of the predicament that besets contemporary industrial civilization, on the one hand, and the remarkable simplicity of the failures of reasoning that have sent us hurtling face first into that predicament, on the other. Nearly all of those failures share a common root, which is the inability—or at least the unwillingness—of most people in the modern world to pay attention to the natural cussedness of whole systems.
Those who hold the other view, for their part, aren’t debating. With embarrassingly few exceptions, instead, they’re merely insisting at the top of their lungs that peak oil has been disproved by some glossy combination of short term factors, speculative bubbles, and overblown hype about the future, and can we please just get back to our lifestyles of mindless consumption and waste?
That’s the model that underlies most of today’s peak oil analyses. It’s a good first approximation of the way that oil production normally rises and falls over time on any scale—a well, a field, an oil province, a country—provided that external factors don’t interfere. The problem here, of course, is that oil production doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and so external factors always interfere. It helps to rephrase that last point in systems terms: the production of oil takes place within a whole system and is always influenced by the state of the system.
That’s why at best, the history of oil production from any given well, field, oil province, or country only roughly approximates the ideal shape of the Hubbert curve, and many real-world examples stray all over the map in their wanderings from the zero point at the beginning to the one at the end.
Tolerably often, in fact, the same predictions get recycled from one year to the next, with no more attention to the lessons of past failure than you’ll find in one of Harold Camping’s Rapture prophecies. Even among those who don’t go that far out on a limb, the notion that global production of petroleum ought to start dropping steeply sometime soon is all but hardwired into the peak oil scene.
Overall production of liquid fuels, though, has remained steady and even risen slightly, as high prices have made it profitable for unconventional petroleum and a range of petroleum substitutes—tar sand extractives, natural gas liquids, biodiesel, ethanol, and the like—to be poured into the world’s fuel tanks.
The same is true of genetically engineered plants—one of the ugly little secrets of the GMO industry is that one insect species after another is doing exactly what Darwinian theory says it should, evolving right around the biotoxins released by Monsanto’s supposedly pestproof Frankencrops, and chowing down on the otherwise unprotected buffet spread for them by unsuspecting farmers—and of any number of equally clueless tinkerings with natural processes that are blowing up in humanity’s collective face just now.
That’s what’s been happening with global liquid fuels production. As the rate of conventional petroleum production peaked and began its decline, the countervailing processes took the form of rising prices, which made more expensive sources of liquid fuels profitable, and kept total production of liquid fuels not far from where it was when conventional oil peaked in 2005.
The wild swings in price since then have provided the thermostat for this homeostatic process, balancing the ragged decline of conventional petroleum and the equally ragged expansion of substitute fuels by influencing the profitability of any given fuel over time. In its own way, it’s an elegant mechanism, however much turmoil and suffering it happens to generate in the real world.
Each year, therefore, as more of the liquid fuels supply is made up by tar sand extractives and other substitute fuels, larger fractions of the annual supply of energy, raw materials, and labor have to be devoted to the process of bringing liquid fuels to market, leaving a smaller portion of each of these things to be divided up among all other economic sectors.
To describe this process as demand destruction is an oversimplification; a dizzyingly complex array of factors, ranging from the TSA’s officially sanctioned habit of sexually molesting airline passengers, on the one hand, to shifts in teen fashion that are making driving uncool for the first time in a century on the other, have fed into the decline in oil consumption; still, the thing is happening, and it’s probably fair to say that the increasing impoverishment of most Americans is playing a very large role in it.
Within the simplified model that resulted, it became obvious that limitless growth on a finite planet engenders countervailing processes that tend to restore the original state of the system. It became just as obvious that the most important of those processes was the simple fact that in any environment with finite resources and a finite capacity to absorb pollution, the costs of growth would eventually rise faster than the benefits, and force the global economy to its knees.
As every other sector of the economy is dumped into that hopper, in turn, the demand for liquid fuels goes down, because when people who used to be employed by the rest of the economy can no longer afford to spend spring break in Mazatlan, or buy goods that have to be shipped halfway around the planet, or put gas in their cars, their share of petroleum consumption goes unclaimed.
The one exception is the financial sector, since increasing the amount of paper value produced by purely financial transactions involves no additional capital, resources, and labor—a derivative worth ten million dollars costs no more to produce, in terms of real inputs, than one worth ten thousand, or for that matter ten cents.
Thus financial transactions increasingly become the only reliable source of profit in an otherwise faltering economy, and the explosive expansion of abstract paper wealth masks the contraction of real wealth.
When systems theorists explain that the behavior of whole systems can be counterintuitive, this is the sort of thing they have in mind. It’s quite possible that as we move further past the peak of conventional petroleum production, the consumption of petroleum products will continue to decline, so that when the ability to produce substitute fuels declines as well—as of course it will—the impact of the latter decline will be hard to trace.
Ever more elaborate towers of hallucinatory wealth, ably assisted by reams of doctored government statistics, will project the illusion of a thriving economy onto a society in freefall; the stock market will wobble around its current level for a long time to come, booming and crashing on occasion as bubbles come and go; meanwhile a growing fraction of the population will be forced to drop out of the official economy altogether, and be left to scrape together whatever sort of living they can in some updated equivalent of the Hoovervilles and tarpaper shacks of the 1930s.
For that matter, the people who are insisting in today’s media that the United States will achieve energy independence by 2050 may just turn out to be right; it’s just that this will happen because the US will have devolved into a bankrupt Third World nation in which the vast majority of the population lives in abject poverty and petroleum consumption has dropped to a sixth or less of its current level.
By Doug Hanvey on 26 June 2012 for Transition Voice -
Image above: Sand escaping through your fingres. From original article.
We spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and treasure in imposing our will on nature … dreaming of permanent solutions, monuments to our ambitions and dreams. But in periods of slack, decline, or collapse, our abilities no longer suffice for all this management. We have to let things go. – Ernest CallenbachThis summer, I’m on an odyssey to five unique intentional communities and ecovillages, including the original hippie commune, Virginia’s Twin Oaks, and two communities in Missouri, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and Possibility Alliance. The latter is so off-grid that it doesn’t even have a website.
I’m on a quest for knowledge and experience for my own personal and professional Transition project, the founding of EcoDharma College – which, if all goes as planned, will fuse a Buddhist meditation center, trade school, intentional community, workers’ cooperative, organic farm, and permaculture demonstration site into one organic entity.
The curriculum will blend Buddhist meditation with Transition-related reskilling in a community-building context. Given likely energy depletion, economic contraction and environmental collapse, it seems to me that any attempt to teach spiritual and practical lifestyle skills is worth trying. I also feel that the inner work of “letting go” central to Buddhist practice is an important and as yet unsung accompaniment to Transition and reskilling work.
I’m hoping that my journey will lay to rest one particular question: Do I personally have what it takes to transition away from my comfortable middle class lifestyle?
This is likely to involve much more contact than I’ve yet experienced with the challenges of agriculture and the outdoor life – physical labor, dirt, poison ivy, and my least favorite of nature’s plenitude, ticks.
Put another way, Do I have what it takes to let go?
Industrial civilization is here to stay, right?Sometimes it seems that, like the evil dwarf Alberich who sets into motion Richard Wagner’s vast opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, the movers and shakers of industrial civilization are demonstrating that they too are willing to forswear their own highest human potentials (love, compassion, justice) for power, control, and most of all, money.
For the rest of us, for whom stealing the Rhinegold and forsaking love for absolute world domination is not an option, the world that beckons us during these lazy post-peak oil days is ripe for our spiritual engagement.
In my experience, a spiritual practice can provide a sense of stability and tranquillity in the midst of an increasingly unhinged world. We clever humans tend to misperceive the world, because our perception is distorted by our concepts and beliefs – the shoulds and oughts and will be’s in which we invest so much emotional energy – and which are often at odds with the world as it actually is.
Worse, we become attached to our beliefs, even if it is those beliefs (and nothing else) that make the world seem a crappy, stressful, threatening place. For unknown reasons, it’s the human condition to cling to what we know, rather than to let go into the world as it is, without our beliefs about it, or demands upon it.
Attachment to our beliefs and our way of life defines industrial humans, as it has throughout human history.
What is new, though, is how rapidly our global civilization and natural environment is changing, and therefore how thoroughly we’re being challenged to let go of what we know and what we’re used to.
This, then, is the inner work of Transition: Questioning and letting go of the comfortable beliefs and unquestioned assumptions – conscious or unconscious – that we take as gospel truth, and that cause us so much stress (especially when the dissonance between them and reality-as-it-is becomes too obvious to ignore). For example:
- Industrial civilization is here to stay.
- Human progress is unstoppable; technology will save us.
- For the economy’s sake we must continue to extract and burn fossil fuels.
- I must find (or keep) a job in the money economy – if I can’t, I’m doomed and/or a failure.
- My children need these advantages today, even if they may hurt their futures tomorrow.
- Why waste time building community and getting to know my neighbors? We probably wouldn’t like each other anyway.
- I doubt I have the inner or outer resources it would take to change my circumstances to live more sustainably.
- I don’t want to look like I’m falling behind, or getting poorer.
- If I stick to the grind of my job in the mainstream economy, I’ll be able to retire comfortably, like my parents and grandparents.
On the farmIt’s my first experience living on a rural, farm-based intentional community (or any farm for that matter). Over the next two weeks I’ll end up learning and working at a variety of mostly manual, sometimes repetitive, occasionally physically arduous tasks, ending up considerably sweatier, dirtier, and more uncomfortable than in work as I’ve known it.
Perhaps, I tell myself, I’ve been habituated by my middle-class existence to take for granted dirt-free floors, shiny bathrooms, and spending my days comfortably sedentary. Perhaps I can let go of my attachments to those things, and get used to considerable physical labor, discomfort, and indoor dirt (though hopefully less dirt than at this particular community!).
Like all industrial humans, I’ve been habituated to artificial environments whose boundaries are defined by how they keep nature (dirt, rain…and ticks) out.
I’ve lived in these environments all my life. What would it be like to relax these boundaries? To allow nature back into my human environment, and to let myself back into nature, as a farmer or even hunter-gatherer (if it came to that)?
The immense financial and material investment required to artificially separate billions of human beings from nature is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. How much letting go will be asked of us?
Transition is letting goThe practice of religion involves, more often than not, clinging to teachings, sacred texts, and interpretations, moralizations, and beliefs about life, what is good or bad, and what might happen to me after death. The essence of spirituality is much simpler – it’s letting go. One of the first spiritual books I ever read repeated this simple fact ad nauseum, which at the time I found difficult to understand, and unpleasant to contemplate. Wasn’t spirituality about cool transcendent states? Transcendent states were much more appealing than letting go, whatever that was.
Letting go is a scary thing to the mind, the ego, to me as I think of (or think up) myself.
This is peculiar.
We all know that we must let go, eventually, of everything and everyone we know, and finally, of the self we think we are. What are we to do with that knowledge?
The mystic-sages from all the world’s spiritual traditions tell us to let go now, rather than later. Yes, freedom and peace and transcendence – the kind of things I thought spirituality was about – are genuine potentialities within us, but they are only found in letting go.
There’s a common misunderstanding about letting go – that it means renouncing people, things, or lifestyles. We might think that, in Transition terms, letting go means that I must sell my car, leave a relationship with someone who doesn’t get it, or abandon a way of life, middle class or otherwise.
Transition may require us to give up certain possessions and comforts. Relationships with those who are not on the same page may fracture; new relationships will be born. Yet the real work of letting go happens inside us. I may sell my car yet remain mentally or emotionally attached to it, thinking how nice it would be to have a car again, and of all the conveniences that having a car, my car, would bring me. But I can also do the inner work of letting go of my mental and emotional attachments to having a car before I sell it. Perhaps I’ll discover that it’s the right time to sell it. Or maybe it’s not. Either way, I’ll be a freer human being who has let go just a little bit more.
Can a civilization let go?Spiritual work is usually perceived as individual work, and from a certain perspective, that’s true. But what if, collectively, enough of us were to let go of the beliefs, assumptions, privileges, demands, and expectations that conceptually hold together so much of our Earth-destroying civilization? What if we did this work together?
What if we questioned the assumption that a decline in material wealth and energy use must lead to a decline in quality of life?
What if we let go of our beliefs about climate change and allowed our body and senses to inform us instead: Does this weather feel normal?
What if, on a planet in which the sustainable carrying capacity for human beings was exceeded long ago (and in which possibly dozens of species are going extinct each day due to our domination of the biosphere), we relinquished the privilege to reproduce ourselves with no thought as to the impact?
What if we let go of the assumption that such a massive transformation can’t possibly happen in time?
Not for sissiesI’ve decided that life on a farm isn’t for sissies. Fortunately, I think that a life that demands more physical effort, the learning of new skills outside my comfort zone, and the embrace of nature in all its wonder, is something that I’m ready for.
Except, maybe, for ticks.
After two weeks here, I (not without a great deal of mindful caution) have not discovered a single unwanted tourist. My fellow participant, Nick, hasn’t been so lucky. Not only has he found several of the evil things on his body, but one of the bites has developed a ring, a possible sign of Lyme disease. Nick heads to the doctor and returns with a bottle of antibiotics. (Thank you, industrial medicine.)
I ponder my aversion to ticks. What is it about them that’s so disturbing? And then it dawns on me. Of all the creatures that I know – even more than humans – ticks have the hardest time letting go.
By Mary Logan on 26 June 2012 for A Prosperous Way Down -
Image above: Locusts swarming in Africa. From (http://wisdomofthewest.blogspot.com/2008/05/some-swarms.html).
A century of studies in ecology, and in many other fields from molecules to stars, shows that systems don’t level off for long. They pulse. Apparently the pattern that maximizes power on each scale in the long run is a pulsed consumption of mature structures that resets succession to repeat again. There are many mechanisms, such as epidemic insects eating a forest, regular fires in grasslands, locusts in the desert, volcanic eruptions in geologic succession, oscillating chemical reactions, and exploding stars in the cosmos. Systems that develop pulsing mechanisms prevail. The figure above includes the downturn for reset that follows ecological climax. In the long run there is no steady state (Odum, 2007, p. 54).
Image above: Illustration of locust population boom and bust from (http://prosperouswaydown.com/principles-of-self-organization/energy-hierarchy/pulsing-paradigm/).
The aspect of resilience and panarchy that is most novel and significant concerns the “back-loop” phase when resisting structures and institutions start to break down or transform, releasing the chance for a renewed system to emerge. The many ecosystem examples are matched by many business examples where technology shapes products from sneakers, to automobiles, to electrical appliances.
At that moment, novelty that had been simmering in the background can emerge and be stimulated. And new associations begin to develop among previously separate innovations. The big influence comes from discoveries that, at that time, emerge from people’s local experiments at small scales, discoveries that can emerge at times of big change, to trigger bigger changes at large scales. That process highlights the keys for the future (Holling, 2009).
As a follow up to Dave Tilley’s article on renewable rhythms, and in celebration of summer solstice, I would like to discuss the idea that fossil fuels have allowed us to suppress or even ignore pulses of Nature and our own biorhythms. We have adopted artificial pulses of industrial production and consumption with attempts to create continuous growth.
Fossil fuels allow us to create a seamlessly, climate-controlled, homogenous monoculture that blurs night into day, and summer into winter. It even homogenizes trends, with everything always improving and going up without a break in the action. This separates us from Nature and creates the impression of invincibility. How does this invisibility present in our dominant culture, and what does it mean as our culture transitions into descent?
Up here in Alaska, the annual pulses are so great that it is hard to escape the reminders. Summer solstice is a special time in Alaska. In Anchorage, the number of daylight hours at solstice peaks at 18 ½ hours. Solstice is a reminder that the days are now getting shorter, and that we need to get a move on with things we plan to accomplish during the summer.
We begin to get 70 degree + days. The vegetables start to produce in the garden. Local markets are full of produce. It is a time of plenty, and comfort, and celebration. Picnics and potlucks abound. After solstice, the urge to go-go-go accelerates for some. Alaskans catch and put away salmon, and by late August the smell of high bush cranberry gives me a sense of restless urgency reflected in outings of berry picking and restless hikes in the high country. The Alaska State Fair in late August demonstrates the power of our summer sun and the prowess of our farmers. Brief fall colors, fall rut, and waning daylight bring the promise of winter. Seasonal pulses in Alaska are big, and there is no steady state. Excess light switches to not enough light very quickly, at a rate of over 5 minutes a day, and moods shift and behaviors change with the seasons.
Historically, seasonal pulses have been symbols of growth, fertility of death in multiple cultures. Older medieval cultures connected melancholy with a complex set of moral, religious, and emotional symbols and associations that created cultural order out of the seasons, and was even treated as a mark of distinction in 16th century Europe (Harrison, 2004). The seasons were connected to human behavior, moods, and rich symbolism regarding life and death in a number of cultures.
Winter was a season for rest, regeneration, and reflection. In the arctic and subarctic, Scandinavians and Alaska Native peoples have a much longer culture of adaptation to long winters than the dominant American culture, and they are much better adapted to the changes in light and the long winters. Diet adaptations to physical changes due to inadequate light include cod liver oil for Scandinavians and a diet of fish and muktuk for Alaska Natives. Calendars were oriented towards harvest, and seasonal harvest celebrations such as Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrated and honored seasonal changes with feasts, candlelight and storytelling. Stuhlmiller (1998) tried to explore Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Norway, and found that Norwegians did not medicalize their seasons, and considered the behavioral changes that come with the seasons as normal.
Norwegians’ seasonal experiences are embedded in a tradition of specific activities and attitudes, which precluded viewing seasonal change as a potential disorder as some Americans do. Scandinavians accept a certain amount of moodiness and insomnia as a normal seasonal adaptation, for example, and treat it with the cultural adaptation of exercising outdoors in the winter. The joke that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet is accompanied by a “palpable peer pressure to go out in the woods fairly frequently otherwise one is not really Norwegian . . . . If you go on a skiing trip through Norwegian nature, you are a good person. The moral undertone is there and cannot be ignored” (Reed & Rothenberg, 1993, p. 21, in Stuhlmiller (1998)).Some of that expectation can be seen in Alaska, as some cultural exchange with Scandinavia has occurred. Some of my friends nod in approval when I describe skiing activities outdoors in the winter. Our American fossil-fuel based culture not only smooths out the pulses using fossil fuel means, it medicalizes natural conditions such as seasonal adaptation, demanding that we SAD light our behavioral changes, or medicate them with antidepressants.
Is it prosperity to burn the midnight oil to finish work late into the night, in opposition to our nature? Do we then burn SAD lights or take pills in order to medicate our lack of adaptation to the seasons? Is sadness adaptive in some way, or must we always be happy? I have friends who can’t sleep in our sunlit summers without special darkening shades, eye-shades, and sleep medications. The sleep medications become addicting and can cause rebound phenomena, creating worse insomnia than originally experienced. And shift work is known to cause a number of physical disorders due to the alteration in biorhythms. Our industrial society creates unnatural patterns requiring unnatural treatment with strong medications. On our recent bike trip, headlamps were unnecessary. We naturally fell into rhythms of day and night without watches, alarms, or other digital reminders of sleep/wake aids (oh, except for the coffee).
Fossil fuels allow us to ignore in part the natural lunar, solar, and water driven pulses. Schedules shift from solar/lunar to corporate/quarterly or business weekly/commercial or even political/every four years. In the winter, we light up the night, and create many large heated spaces to carry on activities such as indoor tennis that are perhaps better suited to summer. We ship summer fruits and vegetables from the other hemisphere, or we grow them with the assistance of fossil fuels.
We go to great lengths to clear roads of snow, and cart off the excess to large snow dumps so that we don’t have to modify our winter behaviors in any way. School is morphing into a year-round schedule, without attention to the seasonal calendar. Hot climates are made cool, and cold climates are heated to a homogenous, standard 70 degrees. We control floods and we irrigate droughts. Advanced weather forecasting allows us to safely flee hurricanes and hunker down in tornados or blizzards. We create ski slopes and water parks in the desert, and transmit a mall-oriented homogenous consumer culture to just about everywhere, at least in America. Music, language, food, and culture become uniform to the point of blandness.
The general pace of life is different, too. Just in time supply chains supply our every need whenever we want, quickly and efficiently. Behaviors are transmitted globally via the Internet, causing loss of languages and globalization of corporate culture. The internet also smooths diurnal pulses, creating a never-ending stream of information, extended work days due to connectivity, and no down time/rest/leisure from information streams and digital excess. Speech patterns are rapid and courtesies may be dispensed with in crowded urban settings in comparison to slower, rural cultures.
We escape winter by vacationing thousands of miles away from home, avoiding hardships that might build relationships that could foster community cohesion. We rejoice in uniformity in cruise and jet travel. Fossil fuels have allowed us to live in large populations in places like Phoenix, Dubai and Anchorage using adaptations that allow us to exert high tech control over Nature. Historically, small populations of Alaska Native peoples migrated seasonally in order to adapt to low energy ecosystems with extreme pulses of weather. Now we just apply a dose of fossil fuels to our pulses and smooth them out. One can even wonder at our obsessive focus on climate as a symbolic failure in being able to control the weather.
So what does the importance of pulsing mean in adaptation to descent? Relocalization will mean reinvigoration of regional differences. Alaska will lose its box stores and malls, and will re-acquire local markets, diversified zoning, and better adaptations to winter that are not based on fossil fuels. Places will start to look different economically, socially, culturally, and perhaps also biologically. People who cannot adapt will migrate away or suffer or perhaps die. Areas that were historically sparsely populated due to low resources may lose their populations.
For example, the aged and the young in some of our extreme urban environments such as Las Vegas, Phoenix and Anchorage who are dependent on electricity for cooling and heating will need to adapt in one way or another. As fossil fuels wane, we can adapt by recognizing and following natural pulses and responding to periods of growth, harvest, and regeneration appropriately.
Pulsing does not mean “end to growth” or “steady state” which is what is most often proposed as the alternative to growth. If our pulses stop, we are dead. What goes up must come down. Looking at a pulse and seeing only steady state is either optimistic cognitive dissonance or a bargaining stance of viewing the pulse through a narrow time window where Wile E. Coyote never has to fall. Natural ecosystems are organized around pulses of sun, rain, tides, wind, and storms. Pulses help to mediate predator-prey and host-parasite relationships, and may prevent overgrowth in systems by resetting feedback loops. These paired pulsing populations help to keep populations healthy. Pulsing maximizes power and is adaptive.
With the smoothing of nature’s pulses in industrial society comes complex bureaucratic structure that resists change. Forest fire tinder is allowed to accumulate for fear of fires, and we suppress wildfires because of overpopulated landscapes and the loss of natural ecosystems that would have absorbed these larger pulses from nature. We combat natural cycles such as spruce bark beetles. We channelize rivers to control for flood, and support unsustainable building of houses in floodplains and on barrier islands. We create just-in-time round the clock systems of operation that lack resilience.
We are intolerant of hardship and increasingly resistant to change, which creates more pressure on the existing system. Steady states are not adaptive—all systems pulse. Attempting to circumvent pulsing from systems prevents regeneration, lowers productivity, and creates rigidity and a lack of system responsiveness. We have incrementally added so much complexity while suppressing nature’s rhythms that we are vulnerable at all scales to the impact of large disorganizing societal pulses. Every move that we make towards more centralized, corporate control eliminates competitors and diversity. A system that promotes more and more growth creates overshoot that will be hard to dismantle without collapse.
Perhaps the most important meaning of the change that is required is the emotional acceptance of our renewed loss of control over Nature as complexity wanes in a lower-energy world. The control we have over our culture and the complexity that comes with it has created an obsessive fear of loss of control along with increasing intolerance for change. Our industrial society denies ecological and cultural roots of our behaviors, assigning biochemical causes alone to our behaviors, thus medicalizing what may be normal adaptive behaviors. Since we are separate from Nature, ecological connections and causation are denied. Many previous cultures used the image of the ouroboros snake to represent the cycle of life and the renewal that is necessary to sustain it. The All is One.
The end is the beginning–here is our chance for cultural evolution in our rebirth as we shed our old skins and rise anew. We’ve slid a long way from old cultural values that helped us to live sustainably within nature. We need a new compass to steer by for the dislocation that is to come. Chaucer was right, time and tides wait for no man. We need to regain and honor the rhythm of time and tides in new relocalized agrarian systems. Living in Nature’s pulsing paradigm will be messier, more diverse, less uniform, and more exciting.
Bring it on.