An Unplanned Break

SUBHEAD: This story is no longer just about the bees, but also butterflies, and even people.

By Andy Russell on 26 August 2014 for Autonomy Acres -

Image above: GMOs threaten bees and butterflies (Essentially food and life as you know it). From (

While the title of this essay may be tinted with a bit of doom and gloom, it is not as ominous as it sounds, and it is a fairly accurate description of the events and stories that follow.  For anyone who has followed this blog over the last five years may have noticed, I have gone through periods of consistent, productive writing, balanced out with dry periods of nothing but writers’ block growing up through the cracks of my mindscape.

While these droughts have been few for the most part, this last one has been pretty epic in scale!  The last time I sat down to write was back in February of this year when I continued with an ongoing series of essays about DIY homebrewing.

Since this last winter (the one filled with all of the Polar Vortexes) many things have happened here at the Dead End Alley Farm, and much of it would have made great copy for essays and DIY how – to’s here on the blog. I am not going to touch on everything, but I guess it is time for us to catch up on current events and happenings around the homestead and the world at large.

As I sit here in the afternoon shade with a cold beer in the outside office (a picnic table and some benches, and a hacked together arbor covered in wild grapes and honeysuckle) I am listening to one of the hens cluck away in pride or fear or some other emotion that only a chicken can know.  I can see bumble bees feeding on white clover and catnip, an overcast sky, and my old dog Harvey lying in the grass watching the world go by.

There are parts of our yard that are overgrown with weeds that should have been ripped from the ground long ago, and some of our apple trees (especially the big old one in back) are beginning to shed apples like drops of rain.  There is garlic hanging from the roof joists of my back deck and the tomato plants are overloaded with luscious fruit this year.

I have three hives of bees this season.  My pride and joy are the Carniolans that overwintered and have proven to be exceptional bees.  They are 3 deep with 2 honey supers (which translates to a very healthy colony that is making a lot of honey), a naturally mated queen (who may be the same one from last year, not real sure if they have swarmed or not this season) leads this tribe, and they are poised to enter this upcoming winter appearing very strong and healthy with adequate food supplies.

This spring I also purchased 2 packages of hybrid Buckfast bees that came up from Georgia.  Sadly one perished within the first week (dead queen), but the other one has shown to be a vigorous (if not a bit pissy) hive of bees.

At last check they were finishing up drawing out comb and making honey in 3 deep boxes which should be enough stores for winter. And throughout the early part of the year these Buckfast bees provided frames of brood and eggs to help strengthen my Carniolans, and have also helped out to create a third colony.

At the end of June I came across a local company, 4 Seasons Apiaries, that specializes in locally bred queens and nucs.  This is a huge deal for us in Minnesota, not only for the fact that it is hard to find northern bred queens anywhere, but because it was only 20 minutes from my house as the car drives.  I ended up purchasing a really dark queen for $28 and put together a split that was made up of two frames each of the Buckfasts and the Carniolans.

The jury is still out on how this hive is doing though.  The queen is laying eggs, there is brood (both capped and otherwise), and they are actually making quite a bit of honey, but their overall numbers seem low to me.  They will most likely be subsidized with honey from the Carniolans this winter in hopes that they will have enough food to survive the cold, dark days of the upper midwest winter.

While I cross my fingers in hopes that all 3 of my colonies will pull through and survive this upcoming winter, observation and common sense tell me that the likelihood of all 3 surviving is slim at best.  Current numbers from this last winters survival rate was anywhere from about 30-50%.  These are horseshit numbers when compared to 20-30 years ago when a beekeeper could expect close to 90% survival rate in their apiaries.

So the same story continues for the bees.  While the numbers of reported cases of colony collapse disorder have evened out (and possibly plateaued), bee losses continue throughout many parts of the world, but seem especially high here in America.

Why this is such a surprise to people baffles me.  Our modern – mono crop – anthropocentric ways of inhabiting this planet are not compatible with a diverse, living, natural world.  This story is no longer just about the bees, but also of the monarch butterfly, the oceans, the remaining old growth forests of the world, and even people.

Habitat destruction, climate change, slavery, edible-food-like-products engineered to grow with poison, industrial pollution, and profit – from – disease are all symptoms of the overarching cancer that is this modern day capitalist society. It has grown up around us over the last 300 years, the whole time was spent in a petrochemical party binge, and now that we are drying out we are starting to feel the hangover!

It is as simple as this – when the bees lose, we lose, and that is the road we are going down.  The world that we live in, regardless of your flavor of religion, or politics, or indifference is still ruled by cold hard facts established through observation and the scientific method.  The world is changing, mainly its’ climate, but also the make-up of its varied populations.

Every day the Earth loses another creature, another plant.  The last of manifest destiny is completing itself as the few remaining “wild” people are driven from their forest homes, and the blood of ethnic genocide still waters the tree of “Liberty” for those of us in the privileged world .

This spring my family experienced climate change first hand.  For some naive reason I thought we were insulated from climate change here in Minnesota, but was I wrong!

Starting towards the end of May and going through towards the end of June, we received upwards of 15 inches of rain for the month, with a lot of this rain coming in bursts of multiple inches in short periods of time.  At some point a sewer line about a block and a half away from my home could no longer keep up with the amount of stormwater entering the system and literally collapsed in on itself.

This blockage led to my whole neighborhoods’ sanitary sewers backing up and we had upwards of 14 inches of sewage water in our basements!

Lets just say it was a real shitty and smelly problem to clean up.  To add to the mess, the city that I live in is not claiming any real responsibility for the sewer collapsing.  They are saying that the amount of rain that we received is to blame (because no one could have predicted that we would ever get that much rain in such a small space of time), and it is not their problem that the sewer wasn’t designed to handle that much water.

This situation is a good illustration of the intersecting problems of failing infrastructure and its ability to deal with the symptoms of climate change.

Not only is it bad enough that our infrastructure is falling apart and failing throughout the country, climate change will only hasten the collapse of these systems that we take for granted.

As there is less and less money to spend on domestic infrastructure projects and basic preventative maintenance, and the ever increasing threats of unstable weather conditions loom closer on all of our horizons, our roads and sewers and all the other systems that make modern lifestyles possible will be challenged and frequently overcome by a force far greater than themselves.

What is the quick take away from this conversation?  That as we face the future of a world that struggles to adapt to a changing climate with far fewer cheap resources on hand to work with, we can no longer rely on the long term support of our governments to solve these problems or to even help clean up the messes that ensue.

Just think back to hurricanes Katrina or Sandy (or any number of other climate disasters that happen regularly around the world) and you have all the evidence that you need to show government ineptitude when a climate-crisis strikes.

Most of the collapse will be slow and unnoticeable except for those places directly affected by whatever natural disaster decides to strike next.  But with each changing season, and every new climate change induced disaster, bit by bit the comfort and convenience that we are used to will begin to erode away.

As long as we keep spending our resources, whether that be gold or oil, in a way that denies climate change and resource depletion, we will find ourselves in a world that is an empty shell of the one we now know.

If I were a religious man I may start praying extra hard right now, but thankfully I let science rather than superstition guide my life.  Critical observation and the ability to make rational decisions based on the facts is important.

Not just for a nation or a civilization, but also on the personal and family level.  I think if there is anything I have learned, is that when we can look at problems on multiple levels, do the research that is needed to educate ourselves on these problems, and then make decisions based on these observations to correct the problem, we can do a lot just in our own lives to change the course of events, and add a bit of resiliency and human spirit back into our everyday lives.

As briefly mentioned here in other posts, a year and a half ago I quit a long time job of mine in favor of one that affords me far more free time.

The trade off has been huge, and sometimes quite challenging.  This has been my second summer off, and my first full season as a partially self employed, full time stay at home dad.  It has probably been the most eye opening, and sometimes hardest role I have ever had to play.

Being use to the role as the main breadwinner in my family for so long and then giving up that economic control is not easy, but a lesson that I urge you to all try at some point in your life.  After these last few months of being at home with the kids, I have a far greater appreciation and respect for the work that my wife (as well as all you other moms out there!) has done over the last 8 years.

Child rearing is the hardest thing I have ever participated in, but I am glad that I have had the chance to dive in full time.

For me the hardest part has been balancing time between time actively spent with the kids, chores, and coordinating our CSA.  The CSA we run is small.  2 full shares, and 2, ½ shares, but it gave me a nice chunk of cash in the spring and early summer for things like groceries (I can’t grow cheese cake!) and gas money.

That cash is gone now, so my new endeavor is working on a business plan that expands out from the CSA in other directions to increase my summer cash flow for a few more months.

Eventually I hope to start making a bit of money by raising bees to sell, starting a small plant nursery, and I am also exploring some options for teaching classes.  Using outlets like the public library system, community education, and space at my local co-op,

I am hoping to put together a selection of classes that will include introductions to beekeeping and Permaculture, and also a tree grafting workshop each spring.  I am in the early phases of research and planning, but I hope to teach my first official tree grafting class this upcoming spring (contact me if you are interested in hosting a class).

I guess when I really sit down and think about it, my ultimate long term goal is to not have to ever work a full time job again, unless it is for myself.  I am not scared of hard work, but it comes back to the fact that I am no longer alright selling my time to some asshole when I am fully capable of doing something(s) I am passionate about and generate an income for myself at the same time.

Is this selfish?  Maybe, but I am okay with that as well.  I have begun to realize more than ever most people are just clueless drones.  Who after years of taking orders, and numbing themselves with TV, processed food, and fanatical beliefs in fairy tales can no longer truly take care of themselves or make desicions that impact their destiny.

As it stands, with humans being prisoners to their own creations and all,  I do not have a lot of hope for humanity right now.

If you follow David Holmgren’s work Future Scenarios, we are most likely entering into the Brown Tech future.  A world where we will continue draining the Earth of its fossil fuels, destroying the last of the wild lands, converting more and more  of that land to desertscapes of monocrops, and the further erosion of our shared cultural heritage, modern Homo Sapiens have perfected the art of extinction.

It is a bleak future.  One that leaves less and less room for those of us who seek freedom and justice.  It is a world that has been reduced to cultural poverty by traditions and tragedies alike.

It is a world where all life on Earth has been reduced to interchangeable and disposable parts in the pursuit of Progress.  It is a world filled with death and injustice, but it is also falling apart.

Whether humans can survive this collapse of our own making is yet to be determined.  It will be hard, but even the strongest rock is defeated by water and wind in the end.  It is in these cracks and fissures that we can seek our refuge.  The spots forgotten about and overlooked.  The areas where literal and figurative weeds grow.  The edges.  The TAZs where humanity still flourish.

Go on hikes.  Hunt mushrooms.  Raise bees.  Raise Kids.  Bake bread.  Love.  Hate.  Grow some carrots.  Chop some wood.  Pull some weeds.  Laugh.  Hug a puppy.  Cry.  Resist!  Grow.  Take a nap.  Rise up!  Read a book.  Lend a hand.   Take notes.  Have fun.  Fish.  Visit a friend.  Hug your mom.  Plant trees.  Be human….


American population implosion

SUBHEAD: The brutal impact of the end of growth on an economy that depends on growth to function at all.

By John Michael Greer on 28 August 2014 for the Archdruid Report -

Image above: Welcome to Fabulous  "Las Vegas 2069", an illustration by Phil McDarby. From (

The three environmental shifts discussed in earlier posts in this sequence—the ecological impacts of a sharply warmer and dryer climate, the flooding of coastal regions due to rising sea levels, and the long-term consequences of industrial America’s frankly brainless dumping of persistent radiological and chemical poisons—all involve changes to the North American continent that will endure straight through the deindustrial dark age ahead, and will help shape the history of the successor cultures that will rise amid our ruins.

For millennia to come, the peoples of North America will have to contend with drastically expanded deserts, coastlines that in some regions will be many miles further inland than they are today, and the presence of dead zones where nuclear or chemical wastes in the soil and water make human settlement impossible.

All these factors mean, among other things, that deindustrial North America will support many fewer people than it did in 1880 or so, before new agricultural technologies dependent on fossil fuels launched the population boom that is peaking in our time. Now of course this also implies that deindustrial North America will support many, many fewer people than it does today.

For obvious reasons, it’s worth talking about the processes by which today’s seriously overpopulated North America will become the sparsely populated continent of the coming dark age—but that’s going to involve a confrontation with a certain kind of petrified irrelevancy all too common in our time.

Every few weeks, the comments page of this blog fields something insisting that I’m ignoring the role of overpopulation in the crisis of our time, and demanding that I say or do something about that. In point of fact, I’ve said quite a bit about overpopulation on this blog over the years, dating back to this post from 2007.

What I’ve said about it, though, doesn’t follow either one of the two officially sanctioned scripts into which discussions of overpopulation are inevitably shoehorned in today’s industrial world; the comments I get are thus basically objecting to the fact that I’m not toeing the party line.

Like most cultural phenomena in today’s industrial world, the scripts just mentioned hew closely to the faux-liberal and faux-conservative narratives that dominate so much of contemporary thought. (I insist on the prefix, as what passes for political thought these days has essentially nothing to do with either liberalism or conservatism as these were understood as little as a few decades ago.)

The scripts differ along the usual lines: that is to say, the faux-liberal script is well-meaning and ineffectual, while the faux-conservative script is practicable and evil.

Thus the faux-liberal script insists that overpopulation is a terrible problem, and we ought to do something about it, and the things we should do about it are all things that don’t work, won’t work, and have been being tried over and over again for decades without having the slightest effect on the situation.

The faux-conservative script insists that overpopulation is a terrible problem, but only because it’s people of, ahem, the wrong skin color who are overpopulating, ahem, our country: that is, overpopulation means immigration, and immigration means let’s throw buckets of gasoline onto the flames of ethnic conflict, so it can play its standard role in ripping apart a dying civilization with even more verve than usual.

Overpopulation and immigration policy are not the same thing; neither are depopulation and the mass migrations of whole peoples for which German historians of the post-Roman dark ages coined the neat term völkerwanderung, which are the corresponding phenomena in eras of decline and fall.

For that reason, the faux-conservative side of the debate, along with the usually unmentioned realities of immigration policy in today’s America and the far greater and more troubling realities of mass migration and ethnogenesis that will follow in due time, will be left for next week’s post.

For now I want to talk about overpopulation as such, and therefore about the faux-liberal side of the debate and the stark realities of depopulation that are waiting in the future.

All this needs to be put in its proper context. In 1962, the year I was born, there were about three and a half billion human beings on this planet.

Today, there are more than seven billion of us. That staggering increase in human numbers has played an immense and disastrous role in backing today’s industrial world into the corner where it now finds itself.

Among all the forces driving us toward an ugly future, the raw pressure of human overpopulation, with the huge and rising resource requirements it entails, is among the most important.

That much is clear. What to do about it is something else again. You’ll still hear people insisting that campaigns to convince people to limit their reproduction voluntarily ought to do the trick, but such campaigns have been ongoing since well before I was born, and human numbers more than doubled anyway.

It bears repeating that if a strategy has failed every time it’s been tried, insisting that we ought to do it again isn’t a useful suggestion. That applies not only to the campaigns just noted, but to all the other proposals to slow or stop population growth that have been tried repeatedly and failed just as repeatedly over the decades just past.

These days, a great deal of the hopeful talk around the subject of limits to overpopulation has refocused on what’s called the demographic transition: the process, visible in the population history of most of today’s industrial nations, whereby people start voluntarily reducing their reproduction when their income and access to resources rise above a certain level. It’s a real effect, though its causes are far from clear.

The problem here is simply that the resource base that would make it possible for enough of the world’s population to have the income and access to resources necessary to trigger a worldwide demographic transition simply don’t exist.

As fossil fuels and a galaxy of other nonrenewable resources slide down the slope of depletion at varying rates, for that matter, it’s becoming increasingly hard for people in the industrial nations to maintain their familiar standards of living.

It may be worth noting that this hasn’t caused a sudden upward spike in population growth in those countries where downward mobility has become most visible. The demographic transition, in other words, doesn’t work in reverse, and this points to a crucial fact that hasn’t necessarily been given the weight it deserves in conversations about overpopulation.

The vast surge in human numbers that dominates the demographic history of modern times is wholly a phenomenon of the industrial age. Other historical periods have seen modest population increases, but nothing on the same scale, and those have reversed themselves promptly when ecological limits came into play.

Whatever the specific factors and forces that drove the population boom, then, it’s a pretty safe bet that the underlying cause was the one factor present in industrial civilization that hasn’t played a significant role in any other human society: the exploitation of vast quantities of extrasomatic energy—that is, energy that doesn’t come into play by means of human or animal muscle.

Place the curve of increasing energy per capita worldwide next to the curve of human population worldwide, and the two move very nearly in lockstep: thus it’s fair to say that human beings, like yeast, respond to increased access to energy with increased reproduction.

Does that mean that we’re going to have to deal with soaring population worldwide for the foreseeable future? No, and hard planetary limits to resource extraction are the reasons why. Without the huge energy subsidy to agriculture contributed by fossil fuels, producing enough food to support seven billion people won’t be possible.

We saw a preview of the consequences in 2008 and 2009, when the spike in petroleum prices caused a corresponding spike in food prices and a great many people around the world found themselves scrambling to get enough to eat on any terms at all.

The riots and revolutions that followed grabbed the headlines, but another shift that happened around the same time deserves more attention: birth rates in many Third World countries decreased noticeably, and have continued to trend downward since then.

The same phenomenon can be seen elsewhere. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the formerly Soviet republics have seen steep declines in rates of live birth, life expectancy, and most other measures of public health, while death rates have climbed well above birth rates and stayed there.

For that matter, since 2008, birth rates in the United States have dropped even further below the rate of replacement than they were before that time; immigration is the only reason the population of the United States doesn’t register declines year after year.

This is the wave of the future. As fossil fuel and other resources continue to deplete, and economies dependent on those resources become less and less able to provide people with the necessities of life, the population boom will turn into a population bust.

The base scenario in 1972’s The Limits to Growth, still the most accurate (and thus inevitably the most vilified) model of the future into which we’re stumbling blindly just now, put the peak of global population somewhere around 2030: that is, sixteen years from now.

Recent declines in birth rates in areas that were once hotbeds of population growth, such as Latin America and the Middle East, can be seen as the leveling off that always occurs in a population curve before decline sets in.

That decline is likely to go very far indeed. That’s partly a matter of straightforward logic: since global population has been artificially inflated by pouring extrasomatic energy into boosting the food supply and providing other necessary resources to human beings, the exhaustion of economically extractable reserves of the fossil fuels that made that process possible will knock the props out from under global population figures.

Still, historical parallels also have quite a bit to offer here: extreme depopulation is a common feature of the decline and fall of civilizations, with up to 95% population loss over the one to three centuries that the fall of a civilization usually takes.

Suggest that to people nowadays and, once you get past the usual reactions of denial and disbelief, the standard assumption is that population declines so severe could only happen if there were catastrophes on a truly gargantuan scale.

That’s an easy assumption to make, but it doesn’t happen to be true. Just as it didn’t take vast public orgies of copulation and childbirth to double the planet’s population over the last half-century, it wouldn’t take equivalent exercises in mass death to halve the planet’s population over the same time frame. The ordinary processes of demography can do the trick all by themselves.

Let’s explore that by way of a thought experiment. Between family, friends, coworkers, and the others that you meet in the course of your daily activities, you probably know something close to a hundred people.

Every so often, in the ordinary course of events, one of them dies—depending on the age and social status of the people you know, that might happen once a year, once every two years, or what have you. Take a moment to recall the most recent death in your social circle, and the one before that, to help put the rest of the thought experiment in context.

Now imagine that from this day onward, among the hundred people you know, one additional person—one person more than you would otherwise expect to die—dies every year, while the rate of birth remains the same as it is now. Imagine that modest increase in the death rate affecting the people you know.

One year, an elderly relative of yours doesn’t wake up one morning; the next, a barista at the place where you get coffee on the way to work dies of cancer; the year after that, a coworker’s child comes down with an infection the doctors can’t treat, and so on. A noticeable shift? Granted, but it’s not Armageddon; you attend a few more funerals than you’re used to, make friends with the new barista, and go about your life until one of those additional deaths is yours.

Now take that process and extrapolate it out. (Those of my readers who have the necessary math skills should take the time to crunch the numbers themselves.) Over the course of three centuries, an increase in the crude death rate of one per cent per annum, given an unchanged birth rate, is sufficient to reduce a population to five per cent of its original level.

Vast catastrophes need not apply; of the traditional four horsemen, War, Famine, and Pestilence can sit around drinking beer and playing poker. The fourth horseman, in the shape of a modest change in crude death rates, can do the job all by himself.

Now imagine the same scenario, except that there are two additional deaths each year in your social circle, rather than one. That would be considerably more noticeable, but it still doesn’t look like the end of the world—at least until you do the math.

An increase in the crude death rate of two per cent per annum, given an unchanged birth rate, is enough to reduce a population to five per cent of its original level within a single century. In global terms, if world population peaks around 8 billion in 2030, a decline on that scale would leave four hundred million people on the planet by 2130.

In the real world, of course, things are not as simple or smooth as they are in the thought experiment just offered. Birth rates are subject to complex pressures and vary up and down depending on the specific pressures a population faces, and even small increases in infant and child mortality have a disproportionate effect by removing potential breeding pairs from the population before they can reproduce.

Meanwhile, population declines are rarely anything like so even as the thought experiment suggests; those other three horsemen, in particular, tend to get bored of their poker game at intervals and go riding out to give the guy with the scythe some help with the harvest. War, famine, and pestilence are common events in the decline and fall of a civilization, and the twilight of the industrial world is likely to get its fair share of them.

Thus it probably won’t be a matter of two more deaths a year, every year. Instead, one year, war breaks out, most of the young men in town get drafted, and half of them come back in body bags. Another year, after a string of bad harvests, the flu comes through, and a lot of people who would have shaken it off under better conditions are just that little bit too malnourished to survive.

Yet another year, a virus shaken out of its tropical home by climate change and ecosystem disruption goes through town, and fifteen per cent of the population dies in eight ghastly months. That’s the way population declines happen in history.

In the twilight years of the Roman world, for example, a steady demographic contraction was overlaid by civil wars, barbarian invasions, economic crises, famines, and epidemics; the total population decline varied significantly from one region to another, but even the relatively stable parts of the Eastern Empire seem to have had around a 50% loss of population, while some areas of the Western Empire suffered far more drastic losses.

Britain in particular was transformed from a rich, populous, and largely urbanized province to a land of silent urban ruins and small, scattered villages of subsistence farmers where even so simple a technology as wheel-thrown pottery became a lost art.

The classic lowland Maya are another good example along the same lines. Hammered by climate change and topsoil loss, the Maya heartland went through a rolling collapse a century and a half in length that ended with population levels maybe five per cent of what they’d been at the start of the Terminal Classic period, and most of the great Maya cities became empty ruins rapidly covered by the encroaching jungle.

Those of my readers who have seen pictures of tropical foliage burying the pyramids of Tikal and Copan might want to imagine scenes of the same kind in the ruins of Atlanta and Austin a few centuries from now. That’s the kind of thing that happens when an urbanized society suffers severe population loss during the decline and fall of a civilization.

That, in turn, is what has to be factored into any realistic forecast of dark age America: there will be many, many fewer people inhabiting North America a few centuries from now than there are today. Between the depletion of the fossil fuel resources necessary to maintain today’s hugely inflated numbers and the degradation of North America’s human carrying capacity by climate change, sea level rise, and persistent radiological and chemical pollution, the continent simply won’t be able to support that many people.

The current total is about 470 million—35 million in Canada, 314 million in the US, and 121 million in Mexico, according to the latest figures I was able to find—and something close to five per cent of that—say, 20 to 25 million—might be a reasonable midrange estimate for the human population of the North American continent when the population implosion finally bottoms out a few centuries from now.

Now of course those 20 to 25 million people won’t be scattered evenly across the continent. There will be very large regions—for example, the nearly lifeless, sun-blasted wastelands that climate change will make of the southern Great Plains and the Sonoran desert—where human settlement will be as sparse as it is today in the bleakest parts of the Sahara or the Rub’al Khali of central Arabia.

There will be other areas—for example, the Great Lakes region and the southern half of Mexico’s great central valley—where population will be relatively dense by Dark Age standards, and towns of modest size may even thrive if they happen to be in defensible locations.

The nomadic herding folk of the midwestern prairies, the villages of the Gulf Coast jungles, and the other human ecologies that will spring up in the varying ecosystems of deindustrial North America will all gradually settle into a more or less stable population level, at which births and deaths balance each other and the consumption of resources stays at or below sustainable levels of production.

That’s what happens in human societies that don’t have the dubious advantage of a torrent of nonrenewable energy reserves to distract them temporarily from the hard necessities of survival.

It’s getting to that level that’s going to be a bear. The mechanisms of population contraction are simple enough, and as suggested above, they can have a dramatic impact on historical time scales without cataclysmic impact on the scale of individual lives.

No, the difficult part of population contraction is its impact on economic patterns geared to continuous population growth. That’s part of a more general pattern, of course—the brutal impact of the end of growth on an economy that depends on growth to function at all—which has been discussed on this blog several times already, and will require close study in the present sequence of posts.

That examination will begin after we’ve considered the second half of the demography of dark age America: the role of mass migration and ethnogenesis in the birth of the cultures that will emerge on this continent when industrial civilization is a fading memory. That very challenging discussion will occupy next week’s post.


Relying on Artifice

SUBHEAD: Once reality crashes through the thick constructs of artifice the opportunity to fix what is broken will finally emerge.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 27 August 2014 for of Two Minds -

Image above: Oil painting "Elephant in the Room" by Mark Bryant, 2013. From (

There's only one small problem with relying on artifice: we haven't actually fixed what's broken in the real world.

As I noted yesterday, we now game dysfunctional systems rather than actually repair them. Rather than fix the dysfunctional system of higher education, for example (as I proposed in my book The Nearly Free University and The Emerging Economy), students and their parents go to extraordinary lengths to game the Ivy league university admissions system.

Rather than actually address the structural causes of unemployment, we lower interest rates to zero and reckon the resulting financial bubble will fix unemployment (and everything else).

To avoid having to deal with unemployment as an issue, the unemployment rate is heavily gamed by counting marginal jobs (working 1 hour a week--you're employed!) and removing tens of millions of unemployed people from the work-force.

The primary tool of increasing prosperity is the expansion of asset bubbles that supposedly boost the wealth effect, an internalized belief that one is wealthier. This internal belief is presumed to encourage more borrowing and spending which is then presumed to lift all boats in the economy.

This is of course all artifice: the elaborately choreographed applications to the Ivy League, the massaged statistics designed to manage our perceptions of reality rather than address reality itself, and the selling of free money for financiers as a policy that magically helps everyone, even those far from the money spigots of the Federal Reserve.

How did we arrive at a systemic dependence on contrivance and artifice to manage problems? We have no choice. Why do we have no choice?

Because any attempt to actually fix dysfunctional systems necessarily steps on the toes of deeply entrenched vested interests that profit from the dysfunctional Status Quo-- interests who will devote every resource in their command to water down, co-opt, divert or defeat any reforms that lessen their share of the national income or their political power.

As a result, true reform of hopelessly dysfunctional systems is politically impossible. Since politicians are elected to give everyone more of what they want, politicos have no choice to but to game the dysfunctional systems via perception management and statistical sleight of hand to make them appear to give everyone more of what they want. Meanwhile, the politicos collect personal fortunes from the Elites and insiders benefiting from the dysfunctional Status Quo.

Artifice and perception management appear to be win-win: everybody seems to win if they see dysfunction as not just "the way the world works," but as a positive approach that benefits everyone in some fashion.

There's only one small problem with relying on artifice: we haven't actually fixed what's broken in the real world, and those dysfunctions continue to fester beneath the glossy surface of gamed statistics and happy stories we tell ourselves about how well everything is working.

At some point--the actual date is unpredictable, but 2021-2025 is as good a guess as any--the dysfunctional systems will break down and no amount of artifice, bogus statistics or perception management will mask the rot.

Once reality crashes through the thick constructs of artifice, faith in the Status Quo will be lost. At that fragile juncture of destiny, the opportunity to fix what is broken will finally emerge.


The Hail Mary Pass

SUBHEAD: In the meantime tend your garden, collect your rainwater, repair a bicycle, build a beehive and make some music.

By Juan Wilson on 27 August 2014 for Island Breath -

Image above: President Obama makes a Hail Mary pass at Soldier's Field, in Chicago, during a break in a NATO working dinner in 2012. From (

You might have thought that democracy, fair play and environmental concern would have a place in our society, but then you read the news. Here in Hawaii, and specifically on Kauai there is plenty of crap to worry about.

There is constant pressure for over-development with plenty of bad ideas that provide a constant background of battles to be fought: The scam of solar powered of Coco Palms Resort; the unsustainable Hawaii Dairy Farms project; the eco-unfriendly Hanalei River condo development by Ohana Real Estate Investors; etc... Note, the last two "moneymakers" are the work of Pierre Omidyar, the founder of Ebay who has his telescopic sights set on Kauai.

These kind of woes have been with us for decades. In the past it was usually the big property owners whose failing cane operations were pushing them into new ways to make money. Now it seems self-rule, self-determination and self-reliance are all under attack from multi-national corporations in partnership with our own government representatives. Here's three recent emerging stories:
  1. Judge overturns Pesticide Ordinance 960 (The hard won GMO regulation Bill 2491)
  2. Hawaiian SuperFerry talks Resurface (Again the plan for an Oahu invasion)
  3. Governor sells out Hawaiians on recognition (No surprise. Remember the PLDC)
It is obvious that democratic processes have broken down here on Kauai as they have in many other places. The Kauai ohana's hard-fought pushback on corporate and military intrusion is denied by "decision makers" somewhere else with eyes on converting our island to a suburb of San Diego, California.

Jobs Jobs Jobs
They always frame their case with the catch-phrase "It'll provide more jobs!" No thanks!

People are perfectly able to live a good life on Kauai without a "job". That's why the plantations had to bring in laborers from Japan, China, the Philippines, etc. Hawaiians did not want or need to work at a job like cane cutting to make a living. There was work all right: hunting, fishing, gathering fruit, planting taro -  but that wasn't a "job".

A person needs a "job" if , for example, they are paying high rent, have a new extended 4x4 truck, have a $200 a month phone bill, and can't keep their credit cards out of trouble... maybe two jobs.

What the "bad guys" mean when they say "It'll provide more jobs!"isn't that you will make more money at your job, so much as they mean new arrivals here will have new jobs so they can settle down on a new cul-de-sac and make the "bad guys" richer.

Popping Bubbles
It is beginning to look like the house of cards built over the gaping economic collapse in 2008 is teetering. Yesterday two surprising items popped. The Standard & Poors 500 Index closed over 2,000 for the first time in history. That same day former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke finally admitted that the economic collapse in 2008 was worse than the Great Depression of the 1930's. He said:
“September and October of 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression. Of the 13 “most important financial institutions in the United States, 12 were at risk of failure within a period of a week or two.”
So what foundation is the record value of the S&P built on? Is it the interest free loans to those worth trillions of to those failed financial institutions. It would seem so.
  • The rally is certainly not based on a future of secured energy for the USA based on shale oil and gas fracking activities that are evaporating like spit on a griddle.
  • The rally is not based on a solid future of food independence for the Big Ag corporations facing global warming, soil loss, drought and pesticide contamination.
  • The rally is not based on the export of American manufactured goods to the rest of the world (other than our weapons)
  • The rally is not based on the health of small town, Main Street, middle class businesses throughout the land.
The S&P rally is likely the last successful cattle-call to nervous investors looking for a safe place to put their money. Best to follow the insiders to the barn... and get milked. Oops! Another Ponzi Scheme! Who knew?

The Hail Mary Pass
As the economy slides further south we are likely to see the "bad guys" going after the few successful progressives with a vengeance. "It's their fault!" I fear that Gary Hooser, and Tim Bynum, the best elected representatives we have will be replaced by corporate shills and/or ignorant fools.

And as things go south we will see extraordinary and desperate efforts to keep the consumer economy going.  But the seasons change. It will never again be like it was. The energy and resources have been spent and we are facing a new climate as the dust and smoke settles.

A last second Hail Mary pass of "Smart Green Growth" won't win this game. The time for that was 1980 when we chose instead Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America". Such a play will only add to the mindlessness and shame we face as a species. 

Any efforts the "bad guys" with the big money do now should be aimed at mitigating the environmental catastrophes we have created and avoiding the ones that are on the way (like safely shutting down the world's 500 or so nuclear power plants while we can).

In the meantime tend your garden, collect your rainwater, repair a bicycle, build a beehive and make some music.


Japan's Environmental Catastrophe

SUBHEAD: Very striking results show radiation injury to whole ecosystems with significant implications for Japan.

By Timothy Mousseau on 22 August 2014 at Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan -

Image above: A healthy adult pale grass blue butterfly. See image below for mutation. and a mutated variety (bottom) with shriveled wings. From (

At 3:15 in
  • Dr. Timothy A. Mousseau, Professor of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina: There’s been some developments in the last year or two — especially in recent months — that really bring some sense of urgency to sharing some of these latest findings… Hopefully this will be of some relevance to the people of Japan, as well as people that might be visiting Japan in the coming years. My concerns of the past few months stems from the fact that there’s a growing number of scientific studies concerning radiation effects on plants and animals from Chernobyl, but also from Fukushima. These have clearly demonstrated impacts — injuriesto individuals, populations, communities, and even whole ecosystems. These findings have significant implications for the recovery of contaminated regions of Japan.
At 22:00 in

  • Mousseau: These next figures are really, really important, and this really was the motivation for speaking today. These are the results from 4 years of data, so starting July 2011, and we just did the last count last month here in Fukushima. This graph shows very, very strikingly the total numbers of birds drops off with radiation in Fukushima in a very consistent pattern. There’s no evidence of any kind of threshold of radiation level below which there’s no effect — very consistent from over the years, with the effect increasing though time. The effects on species richness or biodiversity are even more striking, dropping off with increasing radiation… Very, very striking patterns of results… So what does this all mean? I would suggest that what it means is that, contrary to governmental reports, there’s now an abundance of information demonstrating consequences — in other words, injuryto individuals, populations, species, and ecosystem functions, stemming from the low dose radiation due to Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.
Image above: A adult pale grass blue butterfly exhibiting signs of mutations due to radiation in Fukushima, Japan. See image below for mutation. and a mutated variety (bottom) with shriveled wings. From ( 

At 30:00 in
  • Mousseau: The point today is that as far as we can tell so far, there does not seem to be any dramatic difference between the effects of radiation in Chernobyl versus the effects of radiation in Fukushima. I think that is one of the take home messages.

  • At 38:00 in
      Elaine Kurtenbach, AP reporter: I’m assuming this has ecosystem wide impacts… Are you extrapolating… that perhaps part of the reason why the number of animals is decreasing is because the entire ecosystem is affected by the radiation?Mousseau: …To the issue of global ecosystem effects, yes, I think the only conclusion you can come to from the increasing body of evidence of Chernobyl is that all components of this ecosystem seem to be affected, from the bacteria in the soil, the fungi in the soil, all the way up to the top predators… they are all connected of course. As we pick away at the various components of the ecosystem, we have not found any particular components that don’t seem to be affected in some way.

  • Video above: Prof. Timothy Mousseau's presentation at Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. From (

    Heading towards the sidewalk

    SUBHEAD: When the fracking bubble bursts we'll realize the universe is under no obligation to provide us will all the energy we want.

    By John Michael Greer on 20 August 2014 for the Archdruid Report -

    Image above: Sad homeless man lying on sidewalk and smoking a cigarette. From (

    Talking about historical change is one thing when the changes under discussion are at some convenient remove in the past or the future. It’s quite another when the changes are already taking place.

    That’s one of the things that adds complexity to the project of this blog, because the decline and fall of modern industrial civilization isn’t something that might take place someday, if X or Y or Z happens or doesn’t happen; it’s under way now, all around us, and a good many of the tumults of our time are being driven by the unmentionable but inescapable fact that the process of decline is beginning to pick up speed.

    Those tumults are at least as relevant to this blog’s project as the comparable events in the latter years of dead civilizations, and so it’s going to be necessary now and then to pause the current sequence of posts, set aside considerations of the far future for a bit, and take a look at what’s happening here and now. This is going to be one of those weeks, because a signal I’ve been expecting for a couple of years now has finally showed up, and its appearance means that real trouble may be imminent.

    This has admittedly happened in a week when the sky is black with birds coming home to roost. I suspect that most of my readers have been paying at least some attention to the Ebola epidemic now spreading across West Africa.

    Over the last week, the World Health Organization has revealed that official statistics on the epidemic’s toll are significantly understated, the main nongovernmental organization fighting Ebola has admitted that the situation is out of anyone’s control, and a series of events neatly poised between absurdity and horror—a riot in one of Monrovia’s poorest slums directed at an emergency quarantine facility, in which looters made off with linens and bedding contaminated with the Ebola virus, and quarantined patients vanished into the crowd—may shortly plunge Liberia into scenes of a kind not witnessed since the heyday of the Black Death.

    The possibility that this outbreak may become a global pandemic, while still small, can no longer be dismissed out of hand.

    Meanwhile, closer to home, what has become a routine event in today’s America—the casual killing of an unarmed African-American man by the police—has blown up in a decidedly nonroutine fashion, with imagery reminiscent of Cairo’s Tahrir Square being enacted night after night in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.

    The culture of militarization and unaccountability that’s entrenched in urban police forces in the United States has been displayed in a highly unflattering light, as police officers dressed for all the world like storm troopers on the set of a bad science fiction movie did their best to act the part, tear-gassing and beating protesters, reporters, and random passersby in an orgy of jackbooted enthusiasm blatant enough that Tea Party Republicans have started to make worried speeches about just how closely this resembles the behavior of a police state.

    If the police keep it up, the Arab Spring of a few years back may just be paralleled by an American Autumn. Even if some lingering spark of common sense on the part of state and local authorities heads off that possibility, the next time a white police officer guns down an African-American man for no particular reason—and there will be a next time; such events, as noted above, are routine in the United States these days—the explosion that follows will be even more severe, and the risk that such an explosion may end up driving the emergence of a domestic insurgency is not small.

    I noted in a post a couple of years back that the American way of war pretty much guarantees that any country conquered by our military will pup an insurgency in short order thereafter; there’s a great deal of irony in the thought that the importation of the same model of warfare into police practice in the US may have exactly the same effect here.

    It may come as a surprise to some of my readers that the sign I noted is neither of these things. No, it’s not the big volcano in Iceland that’s showing worrying signs of blowing its top, either. It’s an absurdly little thing—a minor book review in an otherwise undistinguished financial-advice blog—and it matters only because it’s a harbinger of something considerably more important.

    A glance at the past may be useful here. On September 9, 1929, no less a financial periodical than Barron’s took time off from its usual cheerleading of the stock market’s grand upward movement to denounce an investment analyst named Roger Babson in heated terms. Babson’s crime?

    Suggesting that the grand upward movement just mentioned was part of a classic speculative bubble, and the bubble’s inevitable bust would cause an economic depression.

    Babson had been saying this sort of thing all through the stock market boom of the late 1920s, and until that summer, the mainstream financial media simply ignored him, as they ignored everyone else whose sense of economic reality hadn’t gone out to lunch and forgotten to come back.

    For those who followed the media, in fact, the summer and fall of 1929 were notable mostly for the fact that a set of beliefs that most people took for granted—above all else, the claim that the stock market could keep on rising indefinitely—suddenly were being loudly defended all over the place, even though next to nobody was attacking them.

    The June issue of The American Magazine featured an interview with financier Bernard Baruch, insisting that “the economic condition of the world seems on the verge of a great forward movement.”

    In the July 8 issue of Barron’s, similarly, an article insisted that people who worried about how much debt was propping up the market didn’t understand the role of broker’s loans as a major new investment outlet for corporate money.

    As late as October 15, when the great crash was only days away, Professor Irving Fisher of Yale’s economics department made his famous announcement to the media: “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”

    That sort of puffery was business as usual, then as now. Assaulting the critics of the bubble in print, by name, was not. It was only when the market was sliding toward the abyss of the 1929 crash that financial columnists publicly trained their rhetorical guns on the handful of people who had been saying all along that the boom would inevitably bust.

    That’s a remarkably common feature of speculative bubbles, and could be traced in any number of historical examples, starting with the tulip bubble in the 17th century Netherlands and going on from there. Some of my readers may well have experienced the same thing for themselves in the not too distant past, during the last stages of the gargantuan real estate bubble that popped so messily in 2008.

    I certainly did, and a glance back at that experience will help clarify the implications of the signal I noticed in the week just past.

    Back when the real estate bubble was soaring to vertiginous and hopelessly unsustainable heights, I used to track its progress on a couple of news aggregator sites, especially Keith Brand’s lively HousingPanic blog.

    Now and then, as the bubble peaked and began losing air, I would sit down with a glass of scotch, a series of links to the latest absurd comments by real estate promoters, and my copy of John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929—the source, by the way, of the anecdotes cited above—and enjoyed watching the rhetoric used to insist that the 2008 bubble wasn’t a bubble duplicate, in some cases word for word, the rhetoric used for the same purpose in 1929.

    All the anti-bubble blogs fielded a steady stream of hostile comments from real estate investors who apparently couldn’t handle the thought that anyone might question their guaranteed ticket to unearned wealth, and Brand’s in particular saw no shortage of bare-knuckle verbal brawls. It was only in the last few months before the bubble burst, though, that pro-bubble blogs started posting personal attacks on Brand and his fellow critics, denouncing them by name in heated and usually inaccurate terms.

     At the time, I noted the parallel with the Barron’s attack on Roger Babson, and wondered if it meant the same thing; the events that followed showed pretty clearly that it did.

    That same point may just have arrived in the fracking bubble—unsurprisingly, since that has followed the standard trajectory of speculative booms in all other respects so far. For some time now, the media has been full of proclamations about America’s allegely limitless petroleum supply, which resemble nothing so much as the airy claims about stocks made by Bernard Baruch and Irving Fisher back in 1929.

    Week after week, bloggers and commentators have belabored the concept of peak oil, finding new and ingenious ways to insist that it must somehow be possible to extract infinite amounts of oil from a finite planet; oddly enough, though it’s rare for anyone to speak up for peak oil on these forums, the arguments leveled against it have been getting louder and more shrill as time passes.

    Until recently, though, I hadn’t encountered the personal attacks that announce the imminence of the bust.

    That was before this week. On August 11th, a financial-advice website hosted a fine example of the species, and rather to my surprise—I’m hardly the most influential or widely read critic of the fracking bubble, after all—it was directed at me.

    Mind you, I have no objection to hostile reviews of my writing. A number of books by other people have come in for various kinds of rough treatment on this blog, and turnabout here as elsewhere is fair play.

    I do prefer reviewers, hostile or otherwise, to take the time to read a book of mine before they review it, but that’s not something any writer can count on; reviewers who clearly haven’t so much as opened the cover of the book on which they pass judgment have been the target of barbed remarks in literary circles since at least the 18th century.

    Still, a review of a book the reviewer hasn’t read is one thing, and a review of a book the author hasn’t written and the publisher hasn’t published is something else again.

    That’s basically the case here. The reviewer, a stock market blogger named Andew McKillop, set out to critique a newly re-edited version of my 2008 book The Long Descent. That came as quite a surprise to me, as well as to New Society Publications, the publisher of the earlier book, since no such reissue exists. The Long Descent remains in print in its original edition, and my six other books on peak oil and the future of industrial society are, ahem, different books.

    My best guess is that McKillop spotted my new title Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America in a bookshop window, and simply jumped to the conclusion that it must be a new release of the earlier book.

    I’m still not sure whether the result counts as a brilliant bit of surrealist performance art or a new low in what we still jokingly call journalistic ethics; in either case, it’s definitely broken new ground. Still, I hope that McKillop does better research for the people who count on him for stock advice.

    Given that starting point, the rest of the review is about what you would expect. I gather that McKillop read a couple of online reviews of The Long Descent and a couple more of Decline and Fall, skimmed over a few randomly chosen posts on this blog, tossed the results together all anyhow, and jumped to the conclusion that the resulting mess was what the book was about.

    The result is quite a lively little bricolage of misunderstandings, non sequiturs, and straightforward fabrications—I invite anyone who cares to make the attempt to point out the place in my writings, for example, where I contrast catabolic collapse with “anabolic collapse,” whatever on earth that latter might be.

    There’s a certain wry amusement to be had from going through the review and trying to figure out exactly how McKillop might have gotten this or that bit of misinformation wedged into his brain, but I’ll leave that as a party game for my readers.

    The point I’d like to make here is that the appearance of this attempted counterblast in a mainstream financial blog is a warning sign. It suggests that the fracking boom, like previous bubbles when they reached the shoot-the-messenger stage, may well be teetering on the brink of a really spectacular crash—and it’s not the only such sign, either.

    The same questions about debt that were asked about the stock market in 1929 and the housing market in 2008 are being asked now, with increasing urgency, about the immense volume of junk bonds that are currently propping up the shale boom.

    Meanwhile gas and oil companies are having to drill ever more frantically and invest ever more money to keep production rates from dropping like a rock Get past the vacuous handwaving about “Saudi America,” and it’s embarrassingly clear that the fracking boom is simply one more debt-fueled speculative orgy destined for one more messy bust.

    It’s disguised as an energy revolution in exactly the same way that the real estate bubble was disguised as a housing revolution, the tech-stock bubble as a technological revolution, and so on back through the annals of financial delusion as far as you care to go.

    Sooner or later—and much more likely sooner than later—the fracking bubble is going to pop. Just how and when that will happen is impossible to know in advance. Even making an intelligent guess at this point would require a detailed knowledge of which banks and investment firms have gotten furthest over their heads in shale leases and the like, which petroleum and natural gas firms have gone out furthest on a financial limb, and so on.

    That’s the kind of information that the companies in question like to hide from one another, not to mention the general public; it’s thus effectively inaccessible to archdruids, which means that we’ll just have to wait for the bankruptcies, the panic selling, and the wet thud of financiers hitting Wall Street sidewalks to find out which firms won the fiscal irresponsibility sweepstakes this time around.

    One way or another, the collapse of the fracking boom bids fair to deliver a body blow to the US economy, at a time when most sectors of that economy have yet to recover from the bruising they received at the hands of the real estate bubble and bust.

    Depending on how heavily and cluelessly foreign banks and investors have been sucked into the boom—again, hard to say without inside access to closely guarded financial information—the popping of the bubble could sucker-punch national economies elsewhere in the world as well.

    Either way, it’s going to be messy, and the consequences will likely include a second helping of the same unsavory stew of bailouts for the rich, austerity for the poor, bullying of weaker countries by their stronger neighbors, and the like, that was dished up with such reckless abandon in the aftermath of the 2008 real estate bust.

    Nor is any of this going to make it easier to deal with potential pandemics, simmering proto-insurgencies in the American heartland, or any of the other entertaining consequences of our headfirst collision with the sidewalks of reality.

    The consequences may go further than this. The one detail that sets the fracking bubble apart from the real estate bubble, the tech stock bubble, and their kin further back in economic history is that fracking wasn’t just sold to investors as a way to get rich quick; it was also sold to them, and to the wider public as well, as a way to evade the otherwise inexorable reality of peak oil.

    2008, it bears remembering, was not just the year that the real estate bubble crashed, and dragged much of the global economy down with it; it was also the year when all those prophets of perpetual business as usual who insisted that petroleum would never break $60 a barrel or so got to eat crow, deep-fried in light sweet crude, when prices spiked upwards of $140 a barrel.

    All of a sudden, all those warnings about peak oil that experts had been issuing since the 1950s became a great deal harder to dismiss out of hand.

    The fracking bubble thus had mixed parentage; its father may have been the same merciless passion for fleecing the innocent that always sets the cold sick heart of Wall Street aflutter, but its mother was the uneasy dawn of recognition that by ignoring decades of warnings and recklessly burning through the Earth’s finite reserves of fossil fuels just as fast as they could be extracted, the industrial world has backed itself into a corner from which the only way out leads straight down.

    White’s Law, one of the core concepts of human ecology, points out that economic development is directly correlated with energy per capita; as depletion overtakes production and energy per capita begins to decline, the inevitable result is a long era of economic contraction, in which a galaxy of economic and cultural institutions predicated on continued growth will stop working, and those whose wealth and influence depend on those institutions will be left with few choices short of jumping out a Wall Street window.

    The last few years of meretricious handwaving about fracking as the salvation of our fossil-fueled society may thus mark something rather more significant than another round of the pervasive financial fraud that’s become the lifeblood of the US economy in these latter days.

    It’s one of the latest—and maybe, just maybe, one of the last—of the mental evasions that people in the industrial world have used in the futile but fateful attempt to pretend that pursuing limitless economic growth on a finite and fragile planet is anything other than a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

    When the fracking bubble goes to its inevitable fate, and most of a decade of babbling about limitless shale oil takes its proper place in the annals of human idiocy, it’s just possible that some significant number of people will realize that the universe is under no obligation to provide us will all the energy and other resources we want, just because we happen to want them. I wouldn’t bet the farm on that, but I think the possibility is there.

    One swallow does not a summer make, mind you, and one fumbled attempt at a hostile book review on one website doesn’t prove that the same stage in the speculative bubble cycle that saw frantic denunciations flung at Roger Babson and Keith Brand—the stage that comes immediately before the crash—has arrived this time around.

    I would encourage my readers to watch for similar denunciations aimed at more influential and respectable fracking-bubble critics such as Richard Heinberg or Kurt Cobb. Once those start showing up, hang onto your hat; it’s going to be a wild ride.


    Transitioning for All

    SUBHEAD: Diversification of the Transition movement indicates how prepared we really are to face the future.

    By Pamela Boyce Simms on 15 August 2014 for Transition US -

    Image above: From Aerial view of historic waterside buildings in a thriving part of Kingston, NY. From original article. More images there.

    In a recent critique, The Transition Movement: Questions of Diversity, Power and Affluence, the Simplicity Institute exhorted Transitioners to: 1) pay more attention to community power dynamics conditioned by the racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic stratification that shape relationships, and, 2) work to ensure that Transition isn’t primarily a pleasurable movement for predominantly white, educated, post-materialist, middle class small community people (learn more in an upcoming teleseminar with the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub). Acting on either suggestion requires courage and commitment.

    Transition groups are indeed for the most part, white and middle class. Transitioners in towns like Kingston where people of color comprise a full 35% of a population of 23,700, puzzle over how to racially and socioeconomically diversify their groups. The Simplicity Institute critique pointedly urges the Transition movement to self-observe, probe deeply, and determine, “Whose resilience are we concerned about, and to what end?”

    Climate change impacts us all. No particular group is exempt from the ravages of gale force storm winds, extended power outages, and drought-induced food shortages. Yet few Transition initiatives consistently focus on understanding the deeper community economic and power dynamics that generate their homogenous groups. How might Transitioners take up this extremely uncomfortable task? Should Transition be more explicitly concerned with social justice?

    First, Transition outreach planning might pose deeper questions than, “Why don’t people of color come to our friendly, welcoming potlucks?” Sincere interest in “Transition for all” compels groups to ponder as a baseline
    WHO has historically, and currently lives in which areas of our town and why?  
    WHAT social circles, institutions, economic engines and patterns drive commerce and employment in town?  
    WHERE, if at all do people of diverse ethnic, racial, age, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds intersect in town? 
    Transitioners might then conduct an internal inventory of their own motivations, skills-sets; emotional, psychological, spiritual/humanitarian resources and preparedness as they embark on any diversity journey of depth that values authenticity.

    Those who seek to Transition Kingston immediately note that like many towns, Kingston encompasses several distinct micro-environments that rarely intersect. Walkable Uptown, which witnessed an influx of “more stable” retailers over the past five years, exemplifies one dimension of a Transitioner’s localization dream. One can shop at the farmers market, get a haircut and aromatherapy massage, stop at the bank, visit the doctor and sample a variety of cuisines on foot.

    Vegetarian restaurants serve locally sourced foods, niche retailers abound, loft spaces are available in revamped industrial spaces, and one can find everything from grass-fed beef to exotic fair trade chocolates.

    Kingston’s Rondout area offers a scenic stroll along the city’s historic deep water dock. A holistic health center, galleries and waterfront restaurants hold out the promise of similar business and exciting real estate development opportunities to come.

    Image above: Boarded up windows on dilapidated buildings in Kingston's red Zone. From original article.

    A radically different economic flow pattern is operative in Kingston’s high storefront-vacancy Midtown area: the corridor which includes the “red zone” from Franklin and Broadway to Wall Street. Cyclical “tough on crime” raids in this part of town provide the economic fodder and foundation for the mortgages, purchasing power, and lifestyles of thousands of New Yorkers employed by Eastern, Shawngunk, Wallkill, Fishkill, Hudson, Coxsackie, Greenhaven, and Green Prisons to name but a few of many penal institutions and all of the attendant branches of the NYS criminal justice system.

    New Progressive Baptist Pastor Modele Clarke shepherds a Midtown Kingston congregation consisting of 80% “returned citizens,” that is, residents who have returned home following incarceration or drug rehabilitation. On certain blocks in Kingston’s Midtown there are only three addresses that are not under some form of legal supervision.

    As anyone who has attended an ENJAN (End the New Jim Crow Action Network) meeting at Pastor Clarke’s church can attest, the imperative that NYS prison beds must be kept full at all costs is widely recognized.

    The enforced economic contribution to the NYS economy of Kingston’s “red zone,” according to a white ENJAN activist who served five years in Ulster County Prisons, is an ensured cell-block head count. She posits that parole policies to which she is subject make it next to impossible to find meaningful employment (for which she is highly qualified) that would help halt the circular conveyor belt back into the system.

    As one of only four white women in her prison “pod” of 48 women, she knows the picture is exponentially more abysmal for people of color.

    The lasting impact of movements, whether environmental or social, hinges upon the extent to which the movement emerges from the ranks of those most deeply affected. Similar to the Transition demographic make-up, social justice circles in Kingston draw white middle class activists with connections to the Peace, Civil and Women’s Rights movements of the 60’s and 70’s. ENJAN meeting participants, for example, are overwhelmingly white.

    A practical reason for this might be that at any given point in time 50% of Midtown residents are on parole curfews and cannot be out of their homes after 8:00 PM to attend meetings.

    Further exacerbating the non-intersection of Kingston demographic circles, Pastor Clarke observes that middle class people of color diligently maintain the same distance from those struggling financially in Midtown as their white non-activist counterparts. How might Transition initiatives bridge chasms of this magnitude, mirrored in towns and cities throughout the country?

    Meanwhile, as climate change indifferently accelerates, resilience as measured by extreme weather recovery speed is extremely group specific. We’ve repeatedly seen throughout the state in the wake of Irene and Sandy, that electricity is restored much faster in networked neighborhoods with connections to resource persons who can turn on the lights, attend to the roads, and cut through insurance red tape.  
    How will Transitioners address the fact that:
    1. resource depletion and climate change will effect various groups in different ways?
    2. relocalization may not be equally as applicable to everyone?
    3. some people are more adaptable than others given aspects of change that have more to do with historical power than place?
    Diversification of the Transition movement is a litmus test that can indicate how prepared we really are to embrace a future transformed by climate change in which the old navigation coordinates will have evaporated. The degree to which we can calm the discomfort that often grips us when among people who appear to be radically different from us, is the degree to which we can truly deepen our resilience as we wade into the unknown.

    The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) will offer a webinar series entitled:"The Maturation of a Social Movement: A Regional Response to a Critique of the Transition Movement" on the Transition US website. The series will explore diversity in Transitioning among other issues raised in the Simplicity Institute critique. The first webinar session will be offered November 6, 2014, 2:00 PM ET. Register and be part of the conversation:


    The Permaculture Fail

    SUBHEAD: Permaculture could be a substantial portion of our food supply, but only if we work together collectively.

    By Frank Aragona 21 August 2014 for Agro-Innovations -

    Image above: Painting "Collective Farm Market", 1936, by Fedot Vasilievich Sychkov (1870-1958).  Hewas a Russian and Soviet painter who specialized in paintings of jolly peasants. From (

    This is an excerpt from this week’s podcast where I argue that permaculture is failing.
    Sustainable agriculture faces a crisis. In many ways this crisis reflects the broader social and economic breakdown crisis that American families are facing today: economic hardship, social inequality, environmental degradation…all of these are reflected in 21st century agriculture. So now reader, I ask you these questions:
    • Why did you get interested in organics, permaculture, and sustainable agriculture in the first place? 
    • Was it because you felt you could be a part of transitioning agriculture into a new and sustainable model? 
    • Or because you romanticized about the agrarian traditions and lifestyles of a bygone era? 
    • Was it to prove a point, that there is a better way?
     Or perhaps you were born into a farming family, and wanted to carry on the legacy, like Kasha Bialas. Bialas describes the life of the 21st century American small-holder:
    I’m a single mom with a fifth grader to wrangle and I spend the bulk of my early morning and evening hours at the computer organizing our CSA farm share program, developing newsletters, making website changes, creating advertising fliers and recipe handouts, and occasionally doing the mom thing. My days are spent doing all manner of farm work.
    I will also ask you this: Do you think we are winning? Does the portrait Kasha paints, of lone crusader, struggling to keep her head above water, sound to you like a movement triumphant? Let me draw your attention once again to last week’s episode of Agroinnovations with Dr. Joe Kovach.

    While Dr. Kovach has demonstrated the possibility of earning $90,000/acre on a small scale, this demonstration comes with a number of critical caveats that Kovach himself identifies in the course of the interview. I have summarized them here for you:
    • The price discovery mechanism in the farmer’s markets conveys a marketplace of small producers competing with, and undercutting, one another instead of competing with supermarkets and industrial agriculture.
    • Kovach also states: “I don’t see how anyone makes any money in a farmer’s market.” He attributes this to very low sales volume relative to production and retail labor.
    • Some of the techniques he describes, like season extension, increase profitability for the individual farmer through offering normally non-available produce during certain times of the years at higher prices. Yet this competitive advantage evaporates when others adopt similar practices. In other words, individual tactical advantages do not necessarily translate to a viable alternative business models for the sustainable farming movement. Again, this is intra-movement competition.
    • Finally, Kovach says: “It’s a lot of work [to set up a polyculture like this]. The work is the deterrent. The other major deterrent is you cannot compete with the major grocery stores. Because our economies of scale and our agricultural system is so efficient, you can’t use polyculture to feed commodity buyers. You can’t do this on 5 or 10 acres. It’s tough to do it on an acre. But it’s also tough to compete with cheap oil. You can’t compete on price until gas skyrockets, which it may sometime, but now that is what makes it tough to market.”
    To be sure, I have great respect for Dr. Kovach and many others who are helping to show us the way. Nevertheless, these constraints, and the many others that I have shared with you today, paint a bleak picture indeed for the future of sustainable food. I ask you to consider the possibility that the permaculture movement is failing.

    The reason for this failure is that we have focused all of our energy on biological production techniques, many and most of which are sound, effective, and replicable, yet we have done so on top of a broken socio-economic model. If permaculture, or holistic management, or biodynamics, or any other such production or even decision-focused technique, was so effective, why then do we hear story after story of young farmer’s struggling, going into debt, working ungodly hours day after day, year after year?

    The only people with any peace of mind are those who have made some enormous sum of money in other endeveavours and have adopted farming as a lifestyle or a hobby, or the rock-star Salatin’s of the world who make a good portion of their money on speaking tours and books.

    I write this not to be discouraging or defeatist, but to impress upon you that it is time we started creating the socio-economic models that will make permaculture successful. We have many options at our disposal, including worker-owned cooperatives, labor unions, and collective bargaining agreements. It is probably fair to say some of these models have yet to be created.

     I do believe that permaculture could one day provide a substantial portion of our food supply, but only if and when we begin to work together collectively.

     The model of the rugged individual crusader, working her farm into the late hours of the evening, needs to be abandoned, as it has proven to be unmanageable and ironically enough, unsustainable. In its place, we must forge a new model of collective democratic action.


    Small Scale Farming

    SUBHEAD: Living in the green, I just hope we last the distance, and don’t lose the farm in the meantime.

    By Alice Miller on 15 August 2014 for Sustainable Food Trust -

    Image above: Alice Miller (left) and fellow farmers. From original article.

    My day nearly always starts with a reluctant rise into consciousness triggered by my churning gut. I can feel the adrenaline pumping before I open my eyes and when I finally wake up fully, I’m filled with a nagging anxiousness.

    It’s the farm finances that cause my stress. Six years ago, my husband and I bought a small ‘family’ farm of 23 acres and we have a thriving business on it growing organic, local veg – year on year, our turnover has grown. But despite this, we still live well in the red and my freelance income as a writer and consultant is critical to keeping us afloat.

    It is a deeply precarious existence, running a farm and working freelance – subject both to the weather and the vagaries of casual labour. This was recently brought home to me when one of my freelance contracts tanked unexpectedly and I realised in 8 weeks time, half my income would disappear. I felt relieved that I got a little warning.

    So, it was kind of nice – and kind of disturbing – to last week read the New York Times piece, ‘Don’t let your children grow up to be farmers‘. It turns the spotlight onto a subject that most of us want to keep in the dark – that sustainable farmers aren’t making any money. The economic viability of small-scale farming is next to nil.

    Everyone is dependent on outside income to make ends meet, and the idea of having a college fund for kids, or money for retirement is such a pipe dream we laugh at it. We all intend to work until we die. Or at least until we can sell the farm, which may be never. Read this bittersweet story of perseverance and drought posted on the National Young Farmers Coalition that was written up in the Washington Post. It doesn’t paint an encouraging picture of farm life.
    There are a lot of reasons that small-scale farming is a difficult business. For us, it’s because we bought land rather than renting it. We wanted stability because we were in our mid-forties and we had some capital to invest. But our business loan was vast – I can remember bursting into tears and sobbing when it was confirmed, partly from relief and partly from terror. I’d never been so far out of my financial comfort zone.

    Raised in a stable middle-class family, where we always had enough and never too much, I’ve worked since I was fifteen and, until we bought the farm, I always knew where my next pay check was coming from. Now, we live in a delicate balancing act, trying to keep within the overdraft limits of both our personal and business bank accounts. The people I work for freelance are used to my consistent request to be paid today, if at all possible, when I submit my invoices.

    Sustainable and small-scale farming operates on an uneven economic playing field. Farming subsidies are linked to size and long favoured industrial farming. There is little financial support for the environmental and social value of sustainable growers.

    The so-called ‘greening’ of the Common Agricultural Policy was so watered down by the NFU and other agricultural lobbying organisations loathed to make any concessions to sound environmental practice in farming, that it became pretty meaningless to those working sustainably. Despite all this, policy makers are increasingly arguing that small-scale sustainable farming already feeds far more people than industrial, and that is how we need to think about the future of our food.

    The UN’s 2011 Agroecology and the Right to Food Report, argues that we need to decentralise our food production so that crop failures in one part of the world – say rice in southeast Asia – don’t cause a price spike on the commodities market. Small-scale farming also uses far fewer resources, emits far less in the way of greenhouse gases and causes vastly less environmental destruction. But the engine of Big-Ag continues to make all the money.

    So why is there a small but growing movement of people going back to the land (realising that there are still many that never left it)? It’s sometimes seen as an upper middle-class lifestyle choice and while there are those who come into farming with money, most of us find that any money we had has been sunk into our operations.

    We persevere, hoping year on year, we’ll finally turn a genuine profit that provides a living, so that we can stop and focus on what we do rather than running out the door to that second job. I keep thinking we’re getting closer, but the bills just keep rolling in…

    Earlier this summer, we made hay. It’s a generally unpleasant job that leaves you exhausted and aching from lifting, sneezy from the dust and hay, and itchy all over, but there is something elemental about it. As I rode back on the trailer to the barn, the late afternoon sun shone down and I felt good.

    My husband likes to tease me about the list of things I didn’t sign up for when we bought the farm – I’m not shooting the bunny rabbits that are feeding in our polytunnels; I’m not running the muck spreader and getting covered in manure; I’m not having tomato seedlings in the bedroom (I lost this battle). But really, this is exactly what I signed up for.

    Because when I think about the environmental legacy that the 20th century is leaving to the children of the 21st century, I want to be able to say that in my own small and very localised way, I did what I could to change it. I just hope we last the distance, and don’t lose the farm in the meantime.