Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Scaring the Students

As my friends know, one of my favorite pastimes is scaring the bejeezus out of college students. When I teach about peak oil, usually none of them know beans about it. Understandable, of course. Their minds had been fattened on the main corporate media teat, so their mental map is as far from reality as it could possibly be. Initially, these students are apathetic at best when told about looming problems, but as the class wears on, they begin to see, through their own research, that something is up. They gain a certain sobriety. This is the same sobriety that youth in pre-industrial societies adopt when they come of age. They realize that life is serious business. But that is not what the mainstream wants them to know. In the United States, the primary function of the media is to inculcate and maintain an adolescent mindset for as long as possible in its captive consumer audience.

The bosses want children--for us to remain at the mental age of a child.

Children are easy to push around, to frighten with nonsense, to control. In fact, those young consumers readily take on the role of prison trustees, doing the job of the corporate wardens, making everyone toe the cultural line, the product story du jour. In an infantilized society, the perceived and promulgated social structure is upside down: The youth appear to control everything. The consumer web is geared towards capturing youth early, branding them like cattle. The "cool" youth are unaware that they are merely the shock troops for the corporate culture machine. Corporations do not care what your clothes, hairs, makeup, tattoos, or shoes look like. These do not change anything. ZERO. They only care that you buy it from them. So what is the cheapest way possible to create a new fashion? Let the captured youth produce it for you. Then co-opt it and sell it back to the lovely lambs.

Meanwhile, the actual social structure is one of total control from the top down, from the corporate masters down to the lowest of the low. No one is allowed to live outside the system without major hassles. If you are merely homeless, you live off the detritus of the corporate machine. Try to live off nature. Not much out there, and for the most part, people are clueless as to how to proceed. In other words, because of that long education at the hands of the corporate-educational system, they are fit only to be a wage slave. Let's say you want to live "off-the-grid." Guess what? You still have to earn "money" in order to pay property taxes. That means participation in the system. If you wish to keep the basic corporate lifestyle, you must buy the industrial gee-gaws that it requires. That means you continue to participate in the system: You need imaginary reality scrip, better known as money.

Is there escape? I think there is, and it revolves around the reformation of the youth culture. Should the young come to perceive that their inheritance consists of a pocketful of carcinogens and a dying planet, they will become very sober indeed. They may even become violent. Go figure.

We've seen the initial stirrings of youth in Africa and the Middle East attempting to throw off their shackles, and we are seeing the first nascent stirrings of exactly the same thing in Wisconsin and on Wall Street. The corporate media will ignore these events or downplay them in the hopes that it will go the way of the hula hoop, an innocent fad that youth will soon outgrow. But there is a difference. After the hula hoop, we still had billions of barrels of oil to burn. We still had cheap and easy growth. Young people had a career in the belly of the beast to look forward to, a comfortable living. What can they look forward to now?

Can those good old days, those days of wanton planet killing with no seeming repercussions, continue? Will the people put down their disagreements and head back to the failing corporate paradigm for long?

No. Not for long. The world is unravelling, and those students with their new found sobriety are going to do something. What? I do not know. Go on a fifty state killing spree? Maybe. Downsize and localize. Perhaps. Attempt to reform the unreformable in order to keep some semblance of the toxic paradigm alive? Who knows.

What I do know is that the dream killing, world eating, indigenous people murdering corporate culture will not go down without a fight. They will attempt to enslave, kill, torture, and poison all dissenters right up until the last corporate person goes down. And when that happens, all that will be left is an adult world full of sober people. These people will not scare easily.

Friday, July 29, 2011

On Being, Friends, and Happiness

I'd just like to say that I've been blessed. Not many people get an opportunity to meet so many brilliant, thoughtful, kind, and wonderful people as I have, primarily through my association with Kirby's.

Though my part in the bar ended in 1993, it still is a touchstone for me and, I believe, one of the birthplaces of a flowering of artistic and intellectual fervor that burst forth and continues throughout the city. Every day I see people who were touched by Kirby's, and I marvel at its impact. Their continued success and engagement in, and earnest appreciation of life cheers me on, makes me see the beauty around us. I will never be able to repay that community for the many engaging hours of conversation, laughter, drunken revelry, poker, spades, amazing bands (thanks to Jake Euker), and bizarre activities that will someday fill a book.

Today, I will sign books at Kirby's. I will be terrifically happy if only a few purchase a book, but that is not necessary for my real happiness. Just getting to see the people who I've known these many years is wonderful.

I would like to thank everyone who posted their best wishes. You have made this a life worth living for me and others.

Thank You.

Thank you so much for being.

Richard Davies

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Rabbit Hole in the Desert

In a pair of recent posts, "Galactic Scale Energy" and "Can Economic Growth Last?," physicist Tom Murphy asserts that, on a finite planet, unconstrained growth, whether it be growth in energy use or economics, is a doomed proposition. Because it comes from the standpoint of physics, his thinking is not subject to the fuzzy thinking of politics or imaginary sciences like economics, it is rooted in precisely what can be done and for how long before the realities of our physical world destroy our fanciful dreams.

With that in mind, follow me down the rabbit hole as I examine the plain as day facts that will inevitably inform our futures. First, we know with dead certainty that the route we are now taking is suicidal, given Tom's analysis. There are really only two questions: Do we fight this insanity with every option available, or do we wait for it to sort itself out?

Each of these can be broken down into smaller subsets. The first requires one to agree as to what we are fighting for. Ideally, we would be fighting for the most sustainable outcome. If we are merely substituting slow growth, and hence planetary destruction, then we are obviously still on the unwanted path. So, given entropy and the gradual dissipation of all metals upon which industrial civilization is based, it would seem that following a path of "sustainable" industrial civilization is a non-starter. The next lower level of "civilization" would be pre-industrial agricultural civilization. As Jared Diamond has shown, this level of civilization is as damaging as industrial civilization, with the dubious distinction of taking longer to destroy its environs. Look at the Middle East; where forests once grew, we see desert. Listen to Plato, who laments that the forests of Greece were disappearing rapidly due to population growth. Do we want to turn every corner of the earth into desert? That leaves pre-agricultural "civilization." I reluctantly use that term because, like Jensen, I adhere to the definition of civilization as an entity that must import resources to survive. Pre-agricultural societies did not import resources. They lived in the environment.

So, we need to return to a pre-agricultural society. Is it possible? Well, should we fail to try, the only question is will there be any of the human species left to return to that level of existence. In other words, we essentially can let things play out from whatever starting point we choose.

We can let it play out from here and simply not try, and that will lead to spectacular human tragedy in the form of privation, starvation, war, disease, and planetary destruction.

We could consciously go back to an agricultural civilization and slowly suck the life out of the planet, creating deserts as we go, going through famine after famine, until we are again herding goats in a hardpan desert beneath a scorching sun.

Or, we could consciously shoot for a pre-agricultural society based on planetary and other species' needs using what little cheap energy we have left to build and train that society based on local conditions and projected climate change patterns, with an eye toward maximum adaptability, redundancy, and fairness. This route by no means suggests that we are out to save everyone. That will not be possible. It means that we are out to save the biome known as planet earth where many thousands and millions of species are at our mercy.

We will end up at a point where all the extraction based technology is gone. That is certain. The only question is, "do we want to do this the easy way, or the hard way?"

Monday, July 25, 2011

Out in Paperback!!

Holy cats! The book is out in paperback and I can hardly restrain myself. The photo represents what I expect everyone to be doing at the book signing after a few beers and other adult beverages. You must bring your own anti-gravity boots.

The book is available at for 14.95 cash dollah. A mere pittance for what you get: a vastly entertaining read, a colorful cover with a special puzzle hidden in the obscure symbols, a fan for summer heat, fuel for winter chills, a weapon against your foe, a shield against the rude, a sunshade for any six by nine area of your person, and a massive coaster that will handle mega-steins of frosty beer. Yes, all that and there is probably more, limited only by your imagination.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Marching Like Mad

About three years ago, in a college class, I had a run-in with cultural illiteracy that I will never forget. It taught me a lesson, but one I only realized recently.

To set the stage, imagine an English 102 class at a medium-sized mid-western university. I'm attempting to make some sort of pointless point about some opaque essay the students were forced to read when I asked the students to name a dictator from the twentieth century.
Crickets. No eye contact. Maybe a bit of drool.

I gave a hint. "Ummm...think World War Two."

Shifting asses, thoughtful upward glances by the brown-nosers but still no answer ventured.
I lifted my index finger to my upper lip, raised my arm in the Nazi salute, and goose-stepped stupidly back and forth in front of the chalkboard.

Bewildered glances, reddened faces, little mouth Os, and wide eyes. Desks scraped back fractionally.


"Really?" I pleaded. "Really? Hitler. You've not heard of Hitler?"

When this initially happened, like many people teaching at this level, I was outraged. "How the hell can they not know about Hitler? Who do I call? What senseless teach-to-the-test moron in the "No Child Left Behind" gulag decided that Hitler should be dropped as a point of historical interest?"

I've told the story again and again, garnering support and nods of approval followed by similar stories of ignorance from my fellow instructors.

Then, I had an epiphany, one blistering Kansas day, when I'd begun the story for the umpteenth time and in mid-telling faltered as I realized that this bit of information, like a word repeated aloud rapidly for a minute or so, had become meaningless. Or, simply--common.
The truth is, we live not only in an era of dictators, both the sugar and shit-coated variety, but are at the end of a long chain of dictators running back to the beginning of agriculture. Looking at our horrific history, we can't swing a dead cat without hitting a psychopath in a suit (of armor).

What has "civilization" been other than a long chain of dictators stretching back to the first agriculturalists who arose from the welter of tribes in the fertile crescent some eight to ten thousand years ago to march across the planet killing the indigenous and the complexity of nature in the pursuit of ever more Lebensraum for the ultimate Reich.
Look at history and you will see a long list of dictators, conquerors, and tyrants: Thutmose III of Egypt; Cyrus and Darius the Great of the Persian empire; Philip II of Macedon; Alexander the Great; Hannibal of Carthage; Scipio Africanus; Pompey the Great; Julius Caesar; Attila the Hun; Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor; William the Conqueror; Ghengis Khan; the Crusades; Tamerlane the Great; the Spanish Conquerors; the English invasion of the Americas; Napoleon; Andrew Jackson, with his Indian genocide; James K. Polk, Mexican American War; William McKinley, the Spanish-American War and on and on. We need not note the big names of the twentieth century. I presume my good readers are familiar with that history.
My point in that woefully inadequate list is that all of "civilized" history has been nothing more than a series of brutal military adventures designed to take away either the lands of the indigenous or to take away the lands of someone who had already taken away those indigenous lands. Once the relative peace of the hunter gatherer era was broken, a free for all began where "civilization" immersed itself in blood while writing its own history, lauding its adventures as a series of just wars which were by no means merely land and resource grabs. Even now, we toil away at war in the Middle East claiming all manner of absurd reasons for our mayhem, from TERROR--to women are treated badly--to TERROR!! when we know that oil is the only reason we are really there.

So, can I blame my feckless class for not remembering a truly cruel dictator? When one realizes that these students are immersed in a world full of so many other cruel dictators who are not only treated as okay, such as the King of Saudi Arabia, but marvelous, like George W. Bush, it seems reasonable in a warped way that they couldn't identify a dictator if they bit them on the ass, locked them up for life, or gave them a lap dance.

The problem is, for the indigenous, their sustainable way of life that had lasted for tens of thousands, if not millions of years, has been crushed by the moral equivalent of Hitler, if he had been an ever-spreading evil that continues to kill and destroy up to this day, an eight thousand year old conqueror who has seen the Arawak Indians skinned alive, the Germanic tribes enslaved, the Cherokee force-marched to reservations, and the indigenous of the Amazon dying for oil.

They barely notice their shackles, let alone notice their world.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Immediate Results

Before civilization began its march out of the fertile crescent on its one-way mission of planetary destruction, humans lived seeking immediate satisfaction: food to eat, security of life, and social contact of the moment. Depending upon who you ask, that pre-civilization period lasted anywhere from 2.5 million years to 250,000 years--a very long period in any event. Whereas, agricultural/industrial civilization is a pinprick on the hide of history.

We still seek the immediate, but it is often the irrelevant, non-real side of life. That impulse to simply do what is available, no matter future consequences, is hard wired into our thinking, even if that means hurting the planet and thus ourselves.

But, hard-wired or no, we need to short-circuit that brain pattern, or we are in for a very short but hard trip to collapse. Some argue that it is inevitable, and others believe that the techno-fairy will tap its magic wand on our monstrous, pointy-headed society, magically taking us to that "NEXT BIG THING."

Oh, foolish people.

That "next big thing" is a pipe dream and a recipe for further destruction. Let's say we invent that mother of all techno-masturbatory dreams--fusion. What then? If we listen to the techno-philes, it is "Game over, we win." According to them, it means we get to keep going with business as usual.

Hmm. So, that means we will continue to pave the planet, cut down the forests, destroy the topsoil, use up the fresh water resources, and rape the oceans, except we can do it really fast now that we have all that cheap energy. Energy, free or not, does not mean the planet suddenly becomes an infinite supplier of all other resources. The cupboard will run out. Meanwhile, the population continues to grow. When we hit that next great wall of crisis that is all the worse due to the business as usual viagra effect of fusion, the number of people who will die due to a collapse doubles, triples, or perhaps quadruples. Oh my. So, it seems that encouraging business as usual is tantamount to encouraging a larger die-off. Would that be a war crime in the war to save the planet? How even more monstrous would we have thought Hitler if it came to light that his plans included breeding more Jews, Gypsies, and other "undesirables" in order to kill even more of them? What if he kept those people in large camps, called "cities" where they would build the machinery of their own future destruction?


Immediate results. This is not a bad thing if framed correctly by a reality that comports with that outlook. In other words, we want the good kind of immediate result: the satisfaction of planting a crop correctly, knowing that later in the season food will be available; cleaning up the rivers, knowing that years, if not decades from now, everyone will be able to drink from that river; encouraging ecosystems not only for their ability to share with us, but their ability to share with all. The results we seek will accrue to the next generation, and the next, and the next, and even maybe to the current generation. The result does not have to be an immediate tangible payout. It can be a payout in pride and satisfaction knowing that your acts are contributing to the future, to the seventh generation.

Do not wait for someone to tell you to do this or that. Just take the future by the hand and do what's next. Plant that native nut or fruit tree. Find a neglected spot that will support your life addition and plant it. If we all did this once a day, a week, or month, the world would fill up with life that then goes onto to provide more habitat and life, and it all grows exponentially until we live on a planet where we don't grow food, food grows.

We need this. While it would be fun to kidnap some environmental terrorist from the corporate world and make them pay somehow for their depredations, that act would only eliminate one small cog soon to be replaced by another. Now, I am not saying we should not fight the corporations in all ways possible (see Endgame by Derrick Jensen), but along the way, please attempt to add to the world every chance possible.

The de-engineering of civilization is also important, and I'll cover that soon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Shifting Lines of Survival

This spring, I went out on a limb and set up a tomato garden with plants from a high quality nursery in California. The outlay seems outrageous between buying plants, special fabric pots, cages, fertilizer, soil, and the absolutely necessary water meter, but I felt confident that these high producers would pay for the initial outlay over the course of five years. The plants are growing beautifully and now range from three to five feet tall. It is July first, and we have yet to get a tomato.

Now, admittedly, the nursery did not want to deliver until mid-May, and a good thing with the wacky weather, featuring wild temperature swings, massive downpours, and crazy winds, but the plants did go in and soon blooms were popping on nine of the ten plants. But, out of fifty or so blooms, only about eleven set fruit. I'd read that tomato plants were self-fertile, meaning that each flower contained male and female parts, but to my fascination required a very specific condition before fertilization takes place--good vibrations. It seems that bees provide an ideal buzz, a little tickle that resonates at the exact right frequency for maximal pollen release which then falls onto the bee's butt for convenient delivery to the next flower. Aha! That's why a friend suggested beating the plant with a broom! And, you know, I hadn't seen many bees out there. Armed with this knowledge, I wandered through the tomato grove (is that right? grove?) and gave the plants a good shake and occasionally flicked a flower with my finger.

No fruit set.

I read more about the good vibrations, including a delightful tidbit where tomato farmers ambled through the plants with a vibrator specially designed for tomato sex. As I pondered the age old question about a universal frequency for proper vibratory stimulation across species, I came upon an earth-shattering and eye-opening piece of information: tomato plants generally fertilize best when nighttime temperatures range between sixty and seventy degrees.


Daytime temperatures here have been consistently in the high nineties to mid-one hundreds for the past few weeks. That, of course, drags the nighttime ranges up as well. I checked the forecast. Nighttime temps would be in the mid-seventies for the foreseeable future.

This struck me hard when I realized that shifting temperatures and increasingly wild weather will make the chances of survival through one's garden all the more difficult. I could only do so much to mitigate for temperature at night. I could water frequently for the daytime temps, but I could not drag the air-conditioner out to the tomato patch. I did toss a four inch thick layer of straw onto the cement on which the pots rest--I figure that accumulated heat that was released at night by the cement would further thwart the appropriate temps. The straw is reflective and should work.

But now, I ask myself, will tomatoes become a fall crop? Will new varieties need to be developed to adapt to this late season regimen--early heat and late cool weather?

These are the sorts of questions that we will not have the luxury of centuries of slow change and learning by observation. We need to experiment on a massive scale. We need smart people who want to be the new "scientists" who are more concerned about dealing with aphids than apps and particle accelerators.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nuclear Legacy, or "What the Hell Were We Thinking?"

The truth is that no amount of PR from the nukemeisters will make anyone with a scintilla of knowledge about the truly devastating evil that is the nuclear industry change their minds about using nukes.

What I am concerned about is the cleanup. Around the world, 436 nuclear reactors are burbling along, creating tons of waste that will ultimately be radioactive for 240,000 years, longer than some believe that modern humans have been around. When we reach the post fossil-fuel era, we will suddenly be faced with 436 sites that will require indefinite monitoring and protection for a quarter of a million years. Humans can barely see far enough to avoid traffic accidents. They can't see climate change coming or peak oil. They have the time horizon of their ancient ancestors who were concerned about the next five minutes and the space they could actually see.

How are humans going to be able to protect these sites?

Will we build fortresses around them? Establish priesthoods that take on a religious duty? Or, more likely, will they gradually become abandoned, becoming weird places where malformed children are born and strange diseases reign?

I see the latter as the ultimate result of our shortsightedness. These sites will not be properly cared for. The plutonium, uranium, cesium, strontium, etc. will be spread slowly across the landscape.

What will it be like? Imagine Chernobyl and Fukushima only 436 times over. Whole regions largely made uninhabitable. Of course, people and animals will inhabit these lands as they are now. The difference is that, unlike Fukushima and Chernobyl, future squatters will have no idea about the dangers they face. If we are lucky, a mythology will grow up around the plants filled with cautionary tales that warn of certain doom and monsters born to screaming mothers.

The problem of the nuke plants is an extremely long-lasting problem, and it is not the only such problem. Thousands upon thousands of mine sites which require constant fossil energy to run water pumps to keep the mines from filling up and spilling their toxic contents across the landscape are waiting for the energy to dry up and the slow seepage of heavy metals across the earth to begin. But that will be fodder for another post.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Froth on the Sewage

While it would be nice to believe that my blogging about the coming crash will somehow compel or spark a revolution whereby one person reads my blog and then that person tells two others and they tell two more until, like an uncontrolled nuclear reaction, a vast number of people suddenly "get it" and march upon civilization and make it stop killing the planet and therefore all of us.

The problem is, of course, we are civilization. We are not on the outside looking in, except in our intellectual fantasies. We are the meat and marrow of the planet killing juggernaut. To be not part of it, would mean giving up all energy except that of the sun. It would mean walking away from all of our harmful practices: non-local resources, the repair of failing tech, non-personal entertainment, electronics, and well, you name it. If we could all simply walk away, out into the woods, the prairies, the swamps, the mountains, anywhere that is away from poison world, we could live off that landbase, if only at a subsistence level, then we could save the planet in one fell swoop. But we know that cannot happen.

The primary problem is the lack of skills. Not one person in one hundred thousand could claim to have walk-away skills that would serve them for the rest of their days. No, the truth is each one of us in a certain unique environment that requires rules be obeyed implicit to that unique environment. Those living in the large cities will suffer greatly without the land to grow their food even though some claim that all one need do is plant all the available green spaces and the rooftops for a wonderful cornucopia to be had by one and all. The problem is that the 12 million people of the New York area need on average 2000 calories per day. Without boring you with the math, that works out to twenty-thousand square miles of perfectly managed farmland to feed New York alone. If you have not been to the East Coast, you would discover that it has become to a great extent one vast city comprised of 112, 642,503 people. That means that that would need 187,000 square miles of perfectly managed farmland within that local area. No cheating through import! This, of course, assumes that all of the calories go towards only people and not traction animals or chickens. It means millions upon millions of people hand-tending their gardens.

Think of the logistics. Think of transportation: water, food, fiber, building supplies, people, animals, fuel, and well, everything. Each road means less farmland. Each foot path means less farmland. Each shed for tools, each home for a local farmer, each plot of land set aside for fuel production means that 187,000 square miles must be expanded. If we decide to use traction animals, then we need to grow fodder! By the time it is said and done, we will need to double the square miles we need (at least).

The point is a person living in New York will face certain problems related to starvation as surely as someone living in Phoenix where water is a huge problem. If we must move all of the people who live in untenable areas such as the Southwest, which includes such metropolises as Los Angeles, into areas which might support them, then we have a serious problem.

Ultimately, we need to calculate the number of calories needed and the land area required to produce that amount. Using the current numbers from the CIA factbook (a source that is bound to be on the high end), after making conversions and calculating per capita requirements, each person needs 1.2 acres to just gain the food stuffs we need. We have 1.6 acres per person available. Many would sigh with relief at this point and move on, but that would be a mistake. You must remember that this is a system that injects billions of pounds of fossil fuel energy into the ground in the form of anhydrous ammonia (made from natural gas) in order to fertilize what has become a largely sterile ecosystem. As one farmer I interviewed said, "Without the input of fertilizer, diesel to move the machinery, pesticides, and herbicides, I would go from 50/60 bushels of wheat per acre to maybe 7 bushels."

It is more than land that supports us, it is cheap fossil sunlight.

So. Back to the premise. Getting the word out is unlikely. We, the community of anti-civ people and animals, are so few in number that we are like the froth on the sewage pond. We've seen the light, but our efforts to communicate what we've seen to the depths of bullshit that most people live within will likely go unheard or unheeded. More than likely, we will not be heard until it is plain for everyone to see, and at which point it will be too late.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New Review of The Heirloom!

Here is a great review by Amy Crawford!

Amy writes, "The Heirloom takes an innovative and very effective approach in dealing with current potential outcomes, if society continues down the road it's on.

A well written novel, interesting characters and believable scenarios. It grapples with the reality of life. We live in such a fantasy world of "I want it to be this way". .. but what happens if the "foundation" falls out. i.e. not just expensive fuel.. but NO fuel; what then?

This is not a downer storyline where the story line is "no one will listen, the world is falling apart". It's much more interesting than that. Instead there are solutions but our protagonist resists the new reality... just as most of us would.

If the "worst happens" what are the possible outcomes, and what are the alternatives. Because the "future" IS unknown the author hints at possibilities.

But underneath it all, the core issues and realities are look squarely in the face, and dealt with. The whole time I was reading the book I kept thinking, "Yes! someone's finally put the whole picture together!" I woke up in the middle of the night and had to get up and go finish reading... it definitely held my interest every moment of the way."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Getting the Message Out

In an extraordinary rebuff of the planet destroyers, the graduating students of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA sought an alternative to Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil and noted war criminal in the battle to save the planet, as a commencement speaker. After negotiations with the school, the students brought in Richard Heinberg to speak directly after Tillerson. Heinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

This move is all the more interesting as WPI is a leading engineering and technology school. When one of the premier Planet Killer Universities finds itself in the odd position of its students rising up and demanding that a prophet of civilizational collapse speak at their commencement, you have to wonder what will happen next? Cats and dogs sleeping together? G. W. Bush admitting he was not only wrong but should be prosecuted for war crimes? That Newt Gingrich doesn't sound like an amphibian dental disease?

This all begs the question: what does this mean? Do these students understand the technological trap we've fallen into six thousand years ago and now see the light and wish to return to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, or will they continue the destruction of the planet but with a lesser technology, a smattering of smart grids, recycling, and french fry grease to power itsy-bitsy cars? While I applaud their audacity in the face of their indoctrination at the hands of a tech school, I find it hard to believe that they are willing to give up the planet-wrecking cudgel of technology.

In the brilliant, forward-looking minds of these young engineers and scientists, I suspect that they see not the elimination of killer tech but a "refinement," a subtle series of adjustments that will allow business as usual to proceed but with a seemingly sustainable engine of "new" technology to power our lifestyles. Among the many technologies I would imagine they see continuing would include the computer. For them, the computer represents a "smart" use of energy, something that is part of the solution, rather than one of the world's most pernicious problems. But it must be eliminated, or rather, it will suffer slow death, compared to its meteoric rise as the grid collapses in small gradations. Without server farms sucking down the equivalent of a Seattle's worth of electricity, the computer becomes a stand alone curiosity, no longer attached to the huge web of pseudo information that has come to supplant true experience. Another point of refinement will be the automobile. While it is not fair to paint all of these graduates with the same brush, I will bet that there is a gradation of autophilia in their hearts that will manifest itself in the form of various "super" cars that will get increasingly great mileage.

But that is exactly the problem. The resources must still be mined and moved and shaped and assembled, all of which requires energy. The destruction goes on albeit with a sweet veneer of techno-green. If you play out the formula to its natural and inevitable end, we end up at the same place--planetary destruction. Like the spiderweb cracks that race across your windshield when a rock thrown up by a truck smacks it, the web of necessary precursors reach back and forward into time. Need plastics? Where do we get them? Oil? Natural Gas? Do we use corn fed plastics? How do we plant the corn? By hand? Harvest? By hand? No. Machines. Lots of machines. Do the machines magically appear or are they made? Does it cost energy to make them? What do we make them out of? Metal? We have to mine the metal. That takes large machinery. It must be made. We need metal machines that melt and refine the metal. Machines to shape the metal, from ingots to sheets to wire. We need roads to deliver the metal. That means asphalt and concrete. That takes oil and plenty of energy. In other words, we need a pre-existing oil-based manufacturing base in order to build the "alternative" future. And, we need constant maintenance of the base.

Chicken and egg, my friend.

So, these wonderful baby engineers and scientists are all chomping at the bit to fix the technology problem with more technology. Yea!

So, while I appreciate the press coverage and the thought that enough students at a Planet Destroyer University got together to demand that this rather radical person in the form of Richard Heinberg be present to offer up a breath of truth, I cannot help but feel that people out there will think that these students have an alternative version of the tech problem that works better, and that is a problem.

Because it will not. The truth is we are part of a brief spike in technology and population, a tiny thin micro spike in the two million year history of humanity that will completely be forgotten in another micro spike. This aberration is at its peak.

We need the message to change, but we risk offering business as usual when what is needed is a clean break. Bless you Richard Heinberg and the students of WPI for telling us part of the truth. Let us hope that the rest leaks out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sitting on the Porch

One of the most pleasing activities I've ever enjoyed is sitting on the porch, wine glass in hand, tunes squawking from the tiny iPod amplifier, and simply watching the fire in the chiminea. It seems to be a bit old fashioned, but it is relaxing. And, depending on your age, this activity may seem anachronistic to the point of laughter, but many of the people I know, the artists, the writers, the musicians who are shaping local communities with local ideas are being seen more and more on each other's porches, playing music, talking softly about their day and all mostly under the age of forty and many in their thirties and twenties. Ironically, the ones who seem to see this as stodgy are in fact the older generations of the nineteen sixties and seventies.

Yes, the vast majority of Americans shift from theme bar to theme bar, ever seeking the best pre-packaged experience that money can buy, eyeing the fifty flat screens filled with generic sports, cheering for cheering's sake, going to movies showing the retread techno-triumphilist de jour, and then home to the local weather guy and his corny hand-off to the anchor team.

But that is going to change with the upcoming energy shortage. I have a feeling that the country will quickly become a nation of porch sitters. We will grudgingly leave the dark caves of our homes, the info-packed flickering screens forgotten as we find ourselves forging new relationships with our neighbors in light of fewer jobs, less money, more time on our hands, and an oppressive, cable/internet bill.

Hot summer days will be mitigated in the porch's shade and breeze because running the A/C will be far too expensive. Maybe the cooling unit will be turned on for the occasional party, an expensive treat for one's guests, or ran as a single window unit in the highly insulated bedroom during the sweltering nights. Maybe the sleeping porch will come back into fashion.

Perhaps the neighbors will stop by with baskets of eggs, pickles, tomatoes, jerked rabbit meat, or some of their famous blackberry jam, seeking a trade for your time, expertise, tools, leather scraps, or singing skills. As a node in the informal economy, the porch may prove extremely useful.

Security will also be part of the porch's domain. Every pair of eyes on the street means fewer strangers able to get into mischief. With a sinking economy, crime is likely to rise. People who can no longer fulfill their fake dreams of plastic riches through a growing economy, may try to keep the dream alive through ransacking their neighbors homes. As relationships and trust grow in the neighborhood, so will the sense of possibility. Fear will decrease as people come to believe that their neighbors have their best interests in mind. And, with that trust, a sense of an extended world will emerge, the sense that your land does not end at your property line but is connected by air, wind, and water, meaning that your pollution will not be spilled onto your neighbors' land or your own land, not because you, he, or she owns it and want to keep it pristine, but because any insult to a particular part of the land will be an insult to all of the land. The land is indivisible.

In this blog, I intend to talk about many things, but I wish above all to convey the sense that despite all that is coming down the pike, right smack at us, that localism must feel like the answer. We know it is the answer. We must feel it is the answer.