Saturday, June 9, 2012

We're Losing Altitude

Recent news of dire straits on the environmental front are not news to many, but that it comes from a collection of esteemed scientists makes it something that people pay attention to. What they are pointing to has an analogy that might further illuminate the predicament we are in. Imagine a small plane, the kind with props. It is a commuter that carries maybe eighteen people including crew. It has a maximum takeoff weight. Every passenger is weighed along with their baggage. The baggage is stowed, the workers careful to balance the load. The pilot stares at the manifest and adds up the different weights. The plane is exactly at its maximum payload. The passengers are allowed to cross the tarmac for boarding. The copilot stands at the stairs. Along the tarmac are bars of gold. Each passenger is aware that the plane is at maximum payload, but each one figures that their single bar of gold will not bring the plane down. Surely the engineers built in a margin of safety.

You know the rest of the story. The plane roars down the runway. At that point where it should lift--no-- leap into the air, the wheels seem stuck to the rapidly shortening runway. The pilot panics, throwing the throttles forward, adjusting the flaps for maximum lift and the plane does lift, but shortly thereafter it stalls. The plane slides sideways as its forward momentum carries it towards the trees. In the last seconds, each passenger strokes their bar of gold, fervently believing that they will be the one to survive this crash. But the plane cartwheels into the trees and bursts into flames. All are killed.

We are those passengers with our bars of gold. This gold could be actual gold or a car or a computer much like the one I'm writing this essay on. It could be your tupperware, the air-conditioning in your home, the shopping cart you stole to haul aluminum cans for sale. It could be your Reeboks, your jeans, your eyeglasses, your bread.

In fact, it is everything that oil or any form of modern energy has touched including solar and hydro and geothermal. Anything, everything that is not created by natural processes that you yourself did not pick up and pop into your mouth for sustenance is in fact one of those gold bricks that are bringing down our little commuter planet better know as Earth. And, I think that metaphor of Earth as commuter planet is very apt. We treat it like a vehicle that is transporting us to some wondrous future point where everything will finally be perfect. Someday we will have enough goldbricks that we can finally stop and be perfectly happy. Even as the planet is being destroyed, we pick up gold bricks.

I have news. We arrived 2.5 million years ago. In fact we never left except in our addled minds when we invented agriculture and began the relentless high-speed march of human destruction. For two million years we evolved in place. We were part of the world's largest ongoing recursive breeding/scientific experiment ever. As the environment changed, we changed. But we did not start really destroying the planet in earnest until we invented agriculture. From that point on, our lot was the destruction of our local environment followed by a move to fresh lands which we promptly started destroying. As Derrick Jensen said, "Forests precede us and deserts dog our heels."

Now, many will get all worked up instantly and drag out the tried and true distractors that help keep us ignorant and locked into the destroyer paradigm: "Well, you're writing on a computer using the Internet," "What about medicine?" "You would have us kill billions?""We are too smart for this. We will fix it." "Quit spoiling the party for the rest of us," "I have children," "I recycle," "I ride a bike," "I give money," "I vote," "I" "I" "I"..............................................

Can you hear the flatline? None of these arguments matter. Like the Zen Buddhist master who tries relentlessly to get his student to understand that thoughts are not the thing, I try to do the same. All of your complaints and arguments all ignore the one startling fact. The planet is dying. All the bars of gold in the world will not stop that. In fact, the bars of gold are exactly the problem.

Instead of working to fix that one small patch of ego concern that you are fixated on over all other things, try to see the larger picture. Trying to save the car culture with solar power is insane. To recommend that one use cloth shopping bags instead of plastic is nuts. To continue to advocate for growth to create jobs is bat-shit crazy. To continue teaching young people the horrible, tragic lies of our industrial culture is like putting a shotgun barrel in your mouth and your children's mouths and your children's children's mouths.

We need to reverse population growth aggressively. That means the use of random sterilization of children at birth. That means paying money, lots of it, to people who voluntarily get sterilized. It means emptying the cities. It means localization. It means a national education that teaches the basic principles of a sustainable planet. The details will vary by microclimate, of course, but everyone should know that gold bricks are truly bricks of shit flavored with arsenic. It means we need to let the planet rest from its being raped for 10,000 years.

So, what I'm saying is, you don't have to kill yourself (though, if you are an American, it would be the equivalent of seventy third worlders, I'm just saying.) In other words, do all the small stuff, but whatever you fucking do, do not believe that that absolves you from acting to destroy the planet killer for one second. Shrink your footprint to as close to nothing as possible, then join the revolution. The Earth needs you. And when I say Earth, I mean every last living creature needs you, not some cartoon Madison Avenue image that is easy to dismiss.

Finally, to those of you who might have stumbled on this blog and have read this far and who are now puffing up their manly chests and making ooga, ooga noises while they prepare to tell me that I'm a communist or fag or some such unbelievably stupid shit like that, just stop. Stop. The planet does not give a rat's ass for what you say. If the planet continues on its current trajectory, you and all your small-brained kin will die except you will be too stupid to realize that you did it to yourself. And, I will not get any joy out of the fact because so many lives that are worth two nickels will have been killed because of your evil shit. Get back on your boat and crack a beer. Stop being a dick.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mommy? What's a Fascist?

I have often wondered how people could sit by and watch fascism develop within their country. The Germans did it. The Italians. The Chileans. The Spanish. And, now, the Americans.

When I was a kid, the ultimate enemy, other than the bully down the block, was the Nazi. This cruel and malevolent force filled with cretinous fiends would just as soon toss a baby into the air and catch it on a pitchfork in the name of nationalism as brush their teeth. They were despicable. Despite the desire of many to paint the Germans as a people who were completely deranged, my young mind could not believe that every single German was happy with a regime that was so evil. And, of course, not every German was such a monster. But the victims, many of them, were Germans--Germans who were branded not German, the other, the lower creature. Yet, enough people turned their heads, closed their eyes and often willingly and enthusiastically participated in the mayhem. Why?

Is it simple tribalism? I don't know. I wish I did. The next question is what do we do about this rise of fascism? The progressive left counsels that we not greet violence with violence because we become no better than those who impose violence upon us. I then think back to what ultimately helped destroy fascism in history and I see it is war. It is resistance. Very few, if any, repulsions of fascism occurred with only the voices of the people. World War Two was an orgy of violent action that only came about after Fascist countries had already killed millions through death camps and cleansing operations. While it is clear that the companies which profit from war were clearly behind a great deal of the impetus for war, and it is true that those same companies could care less about the motivations of any of their customers, the fact is, it was violence that destroyed the fascist movements of the mid twentieth century.

One must ask, then, will countering violence with violence in the early stages of fascism hinder it or help it? Unfortunately, I believe that violence to counter fascism will lead to more fascism because fascists have only one tool in their toolbox and that is violence. Like Hitler, they will seize upon any act of violence against their authority as reason to apply more violence. We know this from history. Many of the false flag operations of history were developed to justify a fascist response. Agents provocateur are rife within the Occupy Movement: cops and soldiers and spies who are all throwing brickbats in order to justify escalation of violence across the spectrum of peaceful dissent.

What to do? Now, before some creepy right-wing shitbag grabs what I am about to say and uses it out of context, I will right here say that the following is not a call to suicide-bombing by anyone anywhere. One of our greatest tools is the rise of complete video coverage of every event and the Internet as broadcast medium, as long as it remains open. With constant live-streaming and posting, every time some cop throws a punch at a peaceful protester, a journalist, or a hapless stander by, that video becomes the equivalent of a peaceful suicide bomb. Peaceful protestors and, increasingly, journalists are putting their bodies in the mine-field of the police lines. They trigger the cops who are essentially human suicide bombs. The cops do not die; however, they go on to explode over and over. One never knows when a cop will grab the cord on his suicide vest and explode. Who knows? You may be guilty of the heinous crime of using the sidewalk. Bam, cop explodes wounding three.

If this incident is captured on video, it affects more than those who are hit and those who do the hitting. (Make no mistake, the police suffer psychological injury as well--at least the sane ones do.) It shows people the facts on the ground, much like television did during the Vietnam War, when it was a responsible, fact-oriented enterprise. The government, and that includes the Obama administration which is coordinating this suppression, is hell bent on clearing journalists from the operating area and on conducting operations, where possible, at night to forestall those who might document and post their crimes. They know the power of exposure. They know that when people see the inherent unfairness and cruelty manifest in a fascist government, that the people will rise up and hang them from their heels. But, that may take some time.

The truth is, the majority of Americans are completely out of the loop. They know that things aren't as good as they used to be, but they buy into the propaganda that applying more of the same will somehow make it all better--for now. The news they get is biased and completely untrue, and due to the gutting of the Fairness Doctrine by Raygun, it is likely they will never get the truth from the four to six media conglomerates that control 95% of everything that hits the average American's brain pan. The corporate media that they watch is tilted to the corporation's viewpoint. They watch one station and one only and without the Fairness Doctrine, they will never be in danger of receiving the opposing view. In other words, even though they are fixated on how evil the socialist government is, according to their TV personality, they will support their glorious government when they fight the socialists and anarchists and jihadists on the streets.

But, like Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and Spain's fascist era, these cruel people will continue to apply the only tool they know, violence, and they will eventually affect those brain-dead people who are for now comfortable. As each new group of aggrieved people take to the streets, a new level of violence is enacted to suppress them. This causes collateral damage to friends and relatives and the ranks of the anti-fascists grow.

Now, having said all that, I have bad news. It seems that the fascist impulse is hard to kill. A year or two after WW2, a survey indicated that better than fifty percent of French people felt that violence should not have been used to overthrow Hitler.

Really? It is to weep.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do We Need College?

Do we need college?

I think not. The main purpose of college is not to create large groups of people who are capable of thinking independently, this is disproven on its face by the fact that most people are unaware that industrial civilization's main purpose is the destruction of the planet.


Yes. A simple examination using the basic skills that colleges purport to teach will lead inexorably to this fact. Most of the professions that require a degree are either directly or indirectly involved in the perpetuation of the industrial paradigm. Name a degree that doesn't. Perhaps those few scoffed at degrees such my own, an MFA in creative writing, come to mind. "Do you want fries with that burger" is the usual taunt leveled at me by other minions of the Planet Destroying Machine (PDM). Perhaps those whose degrees are involved with fine arts, dance, etc. may seem to not be supportive of the PDM, but the truth is, they all support the PDM in some fashion or degree.

Next you might challenge the thought of the PDM. Why, I say, I say, without this precious industrialized society, we'd be suffering from bad teeth, poor nutrition, violence, and a lack of stuff. Total horse shit, but that is what is likely to be said. The truth is, the nasty truth that many spend untold hours trying to debunk, is that prior to agriculture the diseases of "civilization" simply did not exist. For further information I highly recommend Lierre Kieth's book "The Vegetarian Myth." Many people cite low average life span as proof of the terrible life that hunter-gatherers endured. This also is fabricated, a matter of statistical prestidigitation. The truth is, when Europeans came to the America's they were short, diseased, and suffering all the diseases of civilization. The natives were tall and healthy, until, of course, they contracted the diseases foisted on them by the Europeans.

Minor digression over. The PDM is easy to spot. Why is it destroying the planet? What makes me think this? Simple. What is the main objective of our industrial economy? Growth. You hear it all the time. "We must grow the economy." "We need more jobs." Next, consider the following statement: WE LIVE ON A SPHERE. This has dramatic repercussions. First, it means that we have finite resources. It means that we can only extract and disperse energy and materials for only so long before it all collapses. This is the easiest truth to apprehend. (Sorry, economists. I did mean to talk over your heads.) So, growth means an ever increasing need for energy and materials. That means ripping it from the Earth, which means the destruction of the planet.

If the goal is to perpetuate the species beyond another hundred years, then the PDM is not the way to go. Industrial society and its corollary of infinite growth will lead to the death of our species and many other innocent species as well. The planet will still go round and round for a very long time, but it may do so without the sound of human laughter.

Do we need college? Not as currently configured. What we need are schools that prepare us for a no- to reverse growth world. Engineers must become de-engineers, trained to help us disassemble the dangerous and poisonous elements of our society such as nuclear facilities, operating and abandoned mines, waste dumps, junkyards, cities, and chemical plants. We need agricultural schools to become permaculture schools. Doctors need to treat the whole person with herbs and natural practices and to, above all, teach people how to avoid contact with industrial civilization. Doctors need to teach how to avoid having children using common herbs. The arts need to tell the truth about planet killing and stop serving as the propaganda arm of the PDM. And, finally, economists need to find a new trade. Their "science" is merely the art of counting the imaginary chits that make the PDM go. In a society without constant growth, there is only one type of economy and that is the gift economy.

How do we escape the grinding wheel of "higher education?" We won't. As long as we live in the expert society driven by people telling us expert lies and us believing those lies because we have been taught to embrace the daddy authority figure for so long that to contradict daddy would cause severe cognitive dissonance. No, the society at large will force march us all to our doom in order to propitiate the PDM. And many of you will feel very smug about the whole thing as you dust your degrees and puff your chests feeling your solidarity with the PDM's expert class. You will engineer the railroad routes, design the cattle cars, study the psychology of frightened masses in order to move them without fear of rebellion, you'll work out superb computer programs to track everyone as they move through the PDM, and you'll design wonderful killing machines and ovens. And, as you pat each other on the back and as the final days of the human species come to pass, you will no doubt write plaintive poetry bemoaning the loss of the golden age of industrial civilization.

I know in many people's eyes, I am a heretic. I've bitten the PDM's all giving hand. What I wish I could do is wrap a massive cord around the PDM's leaden feet and ankles and cause it to trip and crash to the Earth, splintering it into a million pieces. So far, there are few college courses on killing the PDM.

Maybe next semester.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


We are in the land of hair-triggers, walking on tip-toe past a picket of weaponry aimed at our heads and hearts.

One interesting trigger comes in the form of credit crunches in Europe being staved off by creative money creation and bizarre money swaps that seem like a game of musical chairs. This game, however, is rigged in a unique fashion. Instead of someone finding themselves standing without a chair and thus out of the game, the rules have been bent and we now find chairs occupied uncomfortably by several asses. It is only a matter of time before one of the occupants squirms a bit too forcefully and knocks off one of the participants. 

We are on a precipice at the moment regarding Iran--a big trigger. There has not been as substantial a buildup of military might in the region since the invasion of Iraq. Advanced aircraft are being positioned in the United Arab Emirates. Aircraft carriers arrive in the region. Preparations are underway throughout the region. Even news organizations are preparing for war with Iran by deploying into likely hotspots like Israel. But there are hopeful signs such as resumption of talks with Iran seen as having a more serious attitude towards negotiations, no doubt the result of economic sanctions and military pressure. 

The war drums are being beat by the media and the ever present hawks in the government. Nowadays, nearly everyone in the Congress is a hawk by virtue of the sly strategy of placing arms manufacturing plants in as many congressional districts as possible, thus tying local jobs to elections. Let us be absolutely clear: war in the Middle East has nothing to do with terror, real or imagined, patriotism, democracy, freedom or any of the other only too easily mouthed oily boosterism phrases that pass as thinking in this Wall Street captured world. It has to do with the industrial-military complex. It is a money machine. The United States has become so intertwined with this monster, that to remove the cancer would kill the patient. The military employs 2,316,000 active duty, reserve, and civilian personnel. Currently 12.7 million are unemployed--eight percent. To add that 2.3 million of military related jobs to the unemployment roles would be catastrophic because the knock on effect would result in another 3-4 million people losing their jobs in support roles. We have become a military economy. 

Of course, there is the peak oil trigger. I think a better name would be "peak everything" as Richard Heinberg notes in his book of the same name. Oil peaked in 2007 0r 2008 depending upon how you rig the figures. Coal will peak in a few years and perhaps has already peaked in 2011. Metals are peaking and though we have mega tons of scrap lying in trash heaps and landfills, the truth is, with a peak in energy, the ability to refine and smelt and reuse metal will decline along with the raw resources. 

And there is the climate change trigger. This is the wild card. Without a viable planet, how much we consume or don't becomes irrelevant. Many scientists claim that it is too late and that humanity will die out in the next hundred years. Harsh stuff. One particularly downbeat scientist recently recanted and admitted to being too alarmist. However, it is not too hard to find evidence that we are accelerating towards an environmental collapse. I feel this trigger has been pulled and can't be unpulled. 

So, there are a large number of guns on the mantle. And, as Anton Chekov said, if you put a gun on the mantle in the first act, it must be fired by the third. The question is when will one or more of these triggers be pulled and the damage incurred in earnest? As we are not working very hard at mitigating any of the potential triggers, I can only say that we are instead whittling away at the hairs, scraping away bit by bit, and simultaneously tightening the spring on the trigger. The room may not be filled with a cacophony of gunshots this year, but I would say that we are due for one within the five years. 

Interesting times, my friend.

Monday, April 23, 2012

It Ain't No God Damned Daisy Farm

Being a peak oil crank is more than a little interesting. You see, every day brings new messages, many of them contradictory. Some messages say that we are like a racing car that has blown a tire and is about to hit the wall at 156 miles per hour, and other messages say that everything is fine, that the car has the latest technology and even as it is traveling towards the wall, top-flight engineers are swarming over the car putting in new technology that will not only save us all but is really cool.

Among the messages that seem to indicate that we are about to enter a new golden age of technology driven bliss, are burbling squeebot ejaculations for techno advancement: the 20-year light bulb that lasts for more than 25 years, the revelation that investing in solar power gives the highest return on investment, James Cameron, movie mogul, has decided to mine asteroids, and the lithium air battery that promises up to ten times more power. These are only a handful of announcements made over the past few days. There are literally hundreds more. These paeans of tech worship come whipping at you like baseballs in a demonic batting cage and are packed with freakish giggling for the ever-so-exciting world of "hey-look-at-this-cool-shit" teenage techno-lust. If one were not capable of the even the slightest discernment, it would seem that we were about to drown in an avalanche of new stuff that used less energy, solved all our problems, provided 3-D holographic touch screens, flying cars, and quantum super computers, and promised unlimited growth because we were just that fucking awesome.

The fact is, I've been reading these science sites for as long as they were hitting the computer screen and even before that when you had to subscribe to Science News, a weekly ten to sixteen page color magazine printed on actual paper to find out the latest geegaw about to change EVERYTHING. Week in and week out I saw the promises, the over-hyped bullshit, the self-promoting crap that was designed mostly to garner more research money. How much of this wonderful tech made it to the big time? Probably less than three percent. But no one seems to remember that awesome gadget that never arrives. You know why? The average industrial age human does not want to see old news. They want the newest cutting edge tech porn available. It is not the actual device that gets them revved up, it is their feverish imagination. People who are into Star Trek are worshipping a technology that does not and will not ever exist, but do so because they anticipate it. They dream of it. They stroke themselves gently into that good night while caressing their made-in-China tricorder.

As the old saw goes, "Be careful of what you want, you just might get it." Who hasn't bought some piece of technology, thinking "Now that I have this, my life will be perfect," only to have a much better, new and improved geegaw come out invalidating your life-perfecting device and putting a new device out there for you to get a hard-on for?

What people do not seem to see or seek with equal enthusiasm are all the messages that detail the damage that all this new and old tech is causing to the ecosystem at an ever increasing pace: rising sea levels threaten hundred of power plants, climate change is a grave threat to our food supply, rains not enough to end drought in England, and radioactive sewer sludge is dumped in the open next to a high school in Japan.

For every tidbit of techno-triumphilist news,  there is a corresponding tidbit of "Oh, my fucking god" news that makes the trite consumerist techno-crap seem a bit disheartening to say the least.

My point is that even a hardened old skeptic like myself, immersed and trained in the ways of curmudgeonhood, can find himself, after a prolonged stretch of techno happy talk without a good leavening of counterintelligence from the dark side, sort of humming along with the happy harpies. "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood..." I begin to think, hey, what if I'm wrong? What if they are solving all these problems? What if they postpone the collapse for my short remaining time on this earth? What if the collapse doesn't come and we all become miners for Cameron Co. flying our dirty little mining ships between asteroids for a few dollars?

Then, inevitably, I remember that we live ON A SPHERE IN SPACE. I remember that any continuation of a paradigm that insists on growth is inherently insane. We have only so much water, so much land, so much metal, so much fuel, so much clean air, and so much species diversity. It is all finite. To use it, is to lose it. The minute you begin burning oil, it is depleting. Ditto water, land, air, etc. The seductive siren call of the ongoing pogrom that is known as science/ engineering/ marketing/ economics/ entertainment asks us to believe, to lust, to give up reason and embrace their ten minute fix of endorphins that dissipates in a puff of ennui.

So, I shake my head vigorously and make that wob bah duh, wob bah duh, wob bah duh noise that cartoon characters make when coming out of a trance and the rose tint fades from view and I see once again that not so pleasant thing known as reality. As a good friend says, "It ain't no godamned daisy farm."

No, it ain't. But, at least it's real.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Being a Peak Oil Pest for the Future

While listening to NPR this past week, I heard a lawyer talking about the chances of George Zimmerman, who gunned down Trayvon Martin for the unforgivable crime of toting a handful of Skittles, getting an unbiased jury. It seemed to me an impossible task. Who could not know about this reprehensible murder? It saturated the media and still is popping up as new events and information emerge. But the lawyer quickly jumped in and said, au contraire my friend, you would be surprised at how many people are absolutely clueless as to events not just national but extremely local. The lawyer went on to say that they rarely had to go outside of even small towns to find clueless jurors. At first I was taken aback, but soon thought about my run-ins with people who are not my friends or coworkers (smarties, professors, and admins), and I realized that most people are utterly ignorant about almost every major issue.

Now, I don't mean the cretinous people who watch Fox News, they are not so much informed as, um...., misinformed. No, I'm talking about the majority of people who receive no news at all--not local, national, radio, newspaper, blog, billboard, or word of mouth. Thinking back to the many classes I've taught to both younger students and the returning student, the lack of awareness these people have about almost any issue is striking. I even had one class, an entire class, who had no idea who Adolf Hitler was. Now this general lack of an informed populace, on its face, is enough to make one weep or wince, but when you think of its effect on the dissemination of peak oil information, the ramifications are stupefying. If most people are unaware about Trayvon Martin, a media firestorm topic flogged to the nth, then how likely are they to be aware of peak oil. Furthermore, how likely are they to ever be informed? Perhaps not until the nation is in flames and the rubes can't fuel their Hummers and DodgeFordRamalamadingdong trucks in order to drive fifty miles to see some country western act at the motor speedway.

The sad truth is people we are trying to reach are not in the loop. In clueless town, the television never sees a news programs. The computer is not available or is used for porn, lolcats, Facebook, and poker. The newspaper does not arrive. The radio is tuned to the local Clear Channel monopoly station. Quite simply, unless the police travel about with loudspeakers making specific announcements, these people will not know about peak oil until they are involved in a food riot. "You hear about peak oil?" he said with his chin steadying a stack of Ensure cartons. "Oil? Are they going to get some gas down at the station?" she said, clubbing an attacker with her varmint rifle.

The effect that such willful ignorance will have on how people react if a Black Swan event shuts off the Strait of Hormuz can only be assumed as negative. Riots are fueled by rumor. Without an informed public, the chances for social unrest can only be magnified. If students can riot for something as trivial as a football game, rioting due to extremely expensive/non-existent fuel seems a certainty. Perhaps that's why Homeland Security is planning to buy 2,717 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. Nothing better to keep the rioters down than a combat vehicle tested in Iraq.
So, despite the many, many blogs and websites devoted to informing the public about peak oil, the message is unlikely to get out beyond the palisades of the peak oil community. Truth be told, I believe that the community of those in the know is limited, perhaps a few hundred thousand, with many peak oil sites getting the majority of their hits from the same group. I know I travel the same peak oil sites day after day.

It comes down to this. The only way this can reach a critical mass and breach the main stream media's defenses is for each and everyone of you who are in the know to tell someone about peak oil. I mean tell one new person every day, every single damned day, all of it. Each semester I make each of my classes write their research paper on peak oil. I show the "End of Suburbia," and they're hooked. I assume that, on average, they each inform at least two people about what they have learned. That's a total of 225 people. I also like to make a pest of myself by interjecting in bars, restaurants, theaters, and parties whenever someone says something that can even be remotely associated with peak oil. For example, someone says, "Of course, I wash my car and it rains like crazy that night."

I respond, "Better enjoy that while you can."


"Washing your car. Chances are you won't have a car within two to five years."

"What are you talking about?"

And I'm off to the races. Usually what follows is an interesting conversation where I see a complete neophyte raise all the typical questions and solutions that people devoted to the industrial paradigm offer, and I get to shoot down all of their "save the car" responses all over again. It's great fun.

So, get to work. Word of mouth is the only way that the masses will get the message. Drop the shy routine and strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.

"Hey, have you heard about peak oil?"

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Peak Oil Reversalist: The Latest Denialist Meme

I came across a blog entry at Hipcrime which takes Stuart Staniford's 2008 commentary and runs with it. Staniford asserts that peak oil will cause industrial farming to grow instead of the usual peak oil theory that high prices will force us back to our agrarian roots and out of the cities. Essentially, this Hipcrime writer is basically just another denier, much like a global warming denier. The premise put forth is that, according to basic peak oil thought, rising oil prices will drive up production costs and thus make food more costly, causing to people head out from the cities into the countryside to start a bucolic life as a farmer. Hipcrime and Staniford go on to say that we have since had higher oil prices (a point that must be examined in and of itself), yet we have not seen this phenomena of people heading out to farm for themselves, struggling industrial farms, and small farmers making more money. Instead, industrial farms have gotten larger. Thus, peak oil leads to more industrial farming.

Well, not to put too fine a point on this, I've rarely seen such a fractured case of reasoning. Essentially, they fail to understand the difference between small farms that do not use industrial tools and those which do. Plus, they misunderstand efficiency and the way it works in a society captured by the industrial system.

The small farmers that Hipcrime and Staniford refer to are those small farmers who are still indentured to the "traditional" farming methods developed since the thirties which places a farmer in thrall to the bank. The farmer borrows money to buy seed, property, chemicals, fuel, and equipment which then must be repaid in a market where everyone is fighting in a race to the bottom. The irony of more "efficient" farming (that should really be read as more reliant on cheap finite energy) is that it creates more product which drives prices down. Those shrinking prices then lead to a race for more "efficiency": GPS guided tractors, satellite analysis of fields, the use of drones to examine fields, arbitrage in the markets by farmers to control variance and so on. Each of these "advances" leads to another bout of crashing prices. When prices crash, small farmers must cash out. These farms are absorbed into megafarms.

However, if you look at farmers who walked away from their servitude to the banks, you see profitable farms with far better profit margins than the industrial farms. On top of this, they enrich the soil, improve the watershed, and produce as much or more higher quality food than any industrial concern could hope to create. Two quick examples are Polyface Farms and Green Pastures Farms. To get a good understanding of these two prime examples be sure to check out their videos: Mob Grazing with Greg Judy and Polyface Farms Pt. 1. And, remember that these two instances are competing against a brutal fossil fueled behemoth that uses all the advantages of monopoly to rig regulations, force small producers out of markets, and on and on, yet these small producers are making a profit. Imagine if they were not being hounded by the agricultural version of the Death Star. As you can see, if Staniford and Hipcrime were to select successful farms which opted out of the industrial indentured servant model, their theory would be shot down in two seconds, and they couldn't have that, right?

So, what you see is two "thinkers" setting up straw men and then mercilessly whacking them with a cudgel.

Another face of the efficient argument relates to inherent waste in an oversupplied system. Joining their straw man army is their statement that peak oil theorists believe that an agricultural system that has almost completely turned itself over to the industrial model will somehow roll over and die should fuel prices become too exorbitant. No peak oil theorist offers this. Look at simple efficiency--not that of industrial farming, which is only as efficient as the cheap energy allows it to be (no cheap energy, no industrial farming). What most people don't take into account is that cheap energy breeds inefficiency. When you have piles and piles of cheap energy laying about, there is no incentive towards efficient use of your industrial tools. But, once fuel prices go up, the vast mountain of potential fuel savings through efficiencies finally become economical--but only for a short while, because everything has its limits. We will reach or have already reached the limits to squeezing all of the efficiency we can out of the industrial farming system. For Staniford to say, look, the industrial farms didn't quit just after peak oil or even start trending towards more manual labor, is like expecting the Titanic to hit the iceberg and then ten seconds later be on the bottom of the ocean.

They cite high oil prices that should be driving industrial agriculture to its knees. They aren't that high, not for what you are buying--a vast force of energy slaves. You must also look at the price of oil adjusted for inflation. The average inflation adjusted price of a barrel over the past 12 years is $56.52 per barrel. That is not that bad. We are offshoring our woes to third world countries by pricing them out of the market thus forcing them to give up their oil to the market without firing a shot. At home, demand destruction forces people to choose between driving and eating thus keeping us in a recession. And, because of these two forces, we are seeing the markets adjust. The idea that prices have become so extraordinarily onerous as to force people to head to the bush to grow beans is ludicrous, and it is even more ludicrous to then point to that simple fact as evidence that we will not ever get to that point and that we will enjoy, as James Howard Kunstler so adroitly puts it, "happy motoring" and "cheese doodles" forever.

I can see why some people do what they do: Hipcrime seeks controversy to gain readers and notoriety and Stuart Staniford is the scientist looking at an elephant with a telescope. The problem with many scientists and engineers is their need to constrain variables, the reductionist mindset, which prevents complex thinking. But is this bizarre and irrational attack on peak oil really helpful? On a planet that was on the fast track to desertification from the moment man invented agriculture, the idea that we should be saving the souped up version of that destructive lifestyle seems a bit counterproductive. Why not just admit that we took a wrong turn? Why not use what's left of the cheap energy to de-engineer ourselves back to a truly sustainable point? Why won't they do this? Hubris, I suspect.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Apocalyptic Thinking

Eric Curren recently reviewed The Last Myth: What the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us about America by by Matthew Barrett Gross and Mel Gilles for the Energy Bulletin detailing the author's history of the apocalypse as a recent phenomenon that has been largely a matter of entertainment rather than correct, scientific thinking. The authors say that “This overreliance on the apocalyptic narrative causes us to fear the wrong things and to mistakenly equate potential future events with current and observable trends.” They offer three common sense questions to test the apocalypse waters: “Which scenarios are probable? Which are preventable? And what is the likely impact of the worst-case model of any threat?”

The thing is, despite the definitions offered by the authors, any event, such as global climate change that has the potential to destroy the current human friendly environment, may seem a trifle apocalyptic. The trouble is that many people who wish to lessen the potential impact of evolving threats, without denying the scientific accuracy, seem to latch upon the idea that humans will likely survive in some numbers even in a worst case scenario. The presumption seems to be that all of humanity must die off for an apocalypse to be declared.

If we look at typical definitions of the term, there are two basic meanings: the complete destruction of all human life, also known as the biblical version of apocalypse, and the lesser apocalypse definition which seems so...ummm...inferior in scope. I am not a religious man, so though the biblical definition is something that I can appreciate in its finality, I cannot take it seriously due to its requirement of a higher power as instigator. The need for an invisible sky god's input before it can be called THE APOCALYPSE makes it harder to judge. The second sense is the definition that I am more comfortable with. It merely claims a disaster on a very large scale. I think we all can agree that peak oil and climate change will be disasters on a very large scale.

There are a few issues I want to point out here. I am always amused by the intractable vanity of humanity. What is important is always us. Humans. Not the other multiple billions of species out there. We could give a damn about the 200 species going extinct every single day on average. As long as some of our destructive little group manages to pull through, then everything will be just hunky-dory. Hell, Curren even goes so far as to note, "As Gross and Gilles point out, even one of the worst catastrophes in history, the Black Death, had its upside. The bubonic plague outbreak did kill four out of every ten Europeans at the time. But those who were left behind found higher wages and plenty of cheap, empty land. And pretty soon, the beginning of the Renaissance." Golly gosh, all those millions upon millions were wrong to see the crumbling world as an apocalypse! The ones who survived got a really cool new outlook on the world! Hooray! It seems that if any people survive, say seven hardy, half-crazed scientists from McMurdo Sound, how can you call it an apocalypse? For those seven survivors, it is hardly an apocalypse, they seem to say. In order to better measure our species' personal apocalypse, I've come up with an Apocalypse Scale (For convenience I've color coded it for public dissemination):

Twin Towers of 9/11 Apocalypse: .00000926 percent of the world's population. Pink.
Second U.S./Iraq War Apocalypse: .00169 percent of the world's population. Lime Green.
Spanish Flu Apocalypse: 3 percent of the world's population. Dark Ultramarine Blue.
Mongol Conquest Apocalypse: 17 percent of the world's population. Murky Brown with Yellow Swirls.
Black Plague Apocalypse: 30 to 60 percent of the world's population. Black (what else?).
Mount Toba Bottleneck Apocalypse: ~90-95 percent of the world's population. Blinding White Light.

The next issue relates back to the 200 species a day that are going extinct. Isn't that pretty much an apocalypse right there? At the very least, it is an extinction event!! And that is not the only evidence pointing to a current apocalypse. In the United States, eighty percent of sampled streams contained drugs, hormones, pesticides, or other chemicals. Three-quarters of those streams contained more than one chemical. And, of course, we see the shifting growing zones indicating ongoing climate collapse. I know it's no blinding white light scenario, but the destruction of our one and only habitat seems a bit apocalypse flavored.

Next, there is the western-centric outlook evinced by so many who would put the deny in denial. You see, what is important to these people is not human culture or simple existence, it is the stuff, the machinery, the cars, and the freaking entertainment. Their mission is largely to save the car. Should we have to return to a pre-industrial world, then THAT they would announce as an apocalypse. 

Which brings me to my final point. What about those people who believe we need a good house cleaning? That what we really need is a swift crippling of the planet killing machine? What if you do not believe in the great science fairy and its claim to the constant mainline fix? Sure science invented asbestos insulation, but those boffins can clean that up. So what if science created estrogen mimics that permeate the ecosystem, we don't need all that wildlife. For the other species on the planet who are frantically dodging their own 200 species a day apocalypse, I'm sure the survivors will applaud heartily if we manage to bring on a human apocalypse.

I am no fan of equivocating oneself into a cul de sac of death. Let's be real here. If you render the planet, or even a large part of it, uninhabitable in the name of science, religion, or even human vanity, then you will have an apocalypse. But, the cry out there from the "level-headed" seems to be, let's wait and see which of this is really deadly and which is just so-so deadly. Let's get science on the case. Maybe they can fix it with more technology. Remember what Albert Einstein said, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." 

So, I think what we need is a better name for the ongoing downgrade of "civilization." The word "apocalypse" has too much baggage. How about Bobo the Wonder Collapse? Or, HOLY FUCK THEY ARE TRYING TO KILL US ALL!! Or, I'll Believe It When I See It?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Great Ad for "The Heirloom"

Duncan Crary of the Kunstlercast has, despite a ravaged throat, produced a pitch perfect ad for "The Heirloom." Of course, the Kunstlercast is a must visit site regardless of my literary ambitions. Every week Duncan and James Howard Kunstler, of "The Long Emergency" fame, get together to talk about the topic du jour and interview guests about the ongoing collapse of the industrial world. The show is lighthearted despite its weighty topic and has more laughs than moments of pathos. Between Duncan's interesting asides coming from a different generation and Jim's often hilarious wit bombs, the show is over all too soon, making one itch for the next episode.

The banner ad on the site looks great as well. I'm not sure what all I need do to get this book in front of people, but I'm doing everything that seems reasonable. Everyone I've met, except one crotchety old judge, has loved it, even the literary types seem to not hate it. I hope you will too.

But, of course, the irony lies in the collapse of civilization making an ephemeral project such as a novel about the collapse of civilization a seeming race against time. If you believe the fast crash crowd, then this is a silly gesture, and the energy spent writing would be better spent building a farmstead. If you believe the slow, economic stair-step crash scenario, then anyone still in the business of writing (or any venture) would face a steadily deteriorating audience, both in number and in physical, spiritual, economic, and mental health.

I must imagine that all of the peak oil prognosticators, pundits, and commentators, not to mention authors, both non-fiction and fiction, have at some point thought of the deep and troubling irony of both working within the system to get their voices heard, to build up their brand identity, to sell themselves and their products, and working to get out of a system that they may see in a range of lights from evil but doomed to awesome but doomed. Obviously, I am facing that right now.

For those who are on the "industrial society is evil but doomed end" of the spectrum, such as myself, the mere thought of all the paper needed to publish books, the metal that goes into the printers, the electricity consumed, the entire knock-on chain of industrial cause and effect, makes me cringe and fret that my little book is the anti-christ, that no one needs to read anything that light! Everyone should immediately buy a copy of "One Straw Revolution," or "Endgame."(Does Derrick Jensen wrestle with the same demons? Ruh-roh, I introduced a meta-irony loop by mentioning his book, "Endgame!")

What about books made of electricity? Unfortunately, these involve computers and all their rare earth metals, the plastics, hell, the aluminum for the Mac, the energy and the misery of the labor force. The ebook hardly seems a lesser evil.

What to do? I could opt for the cynicism du jour, both lamenting the state of the world and making knowing snarky asides. I could weep, wail, and gnash. I could take up arms. I could even fill out petitions and spend time with protestors.

But, after much thought, I've decided I will write and paint. These two things are what I do best and most enjoy. If any of my work inspires or impels someone to action or to a better understanding of the crisis, then I consider myself as having a life well spent.

For the enjoyment of anyone who has not seen my paintings, here is one from my upcoming show.

Thanks, and enjoy the book.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Radio Can Kill the Death Star

A recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has done more to undermine the rightwing stranglehold on media than anything since Limbaugh got called out on his slut comments. The ruling got rid of thousands of repeater station applications that have allowed the national wingnut media conglomerate a cheap way to spread their daily helpings of rightwing hate and misinfo without the bother of doing anything local, like actually reflecting the political and moral leanings of the community.

This ruling clears the way for President Obama's Local Community Radio Act signed in 2011that will allow local communities to set up low power FM radio stations without interference from the giant media conglomerates and their uniform messages of hate and wingnuttery. Imagine! Local people broadcasting local information for local people. The same old tired corporate playlists will vanish. Local artists will be heard.

But, most importantly, the beginnings of a local post oil network will be formed. The one thing about radio is its simplicity. Low power radio is decidedly low tech, relatively speaking. If you've ever built a crystal radio as a kid, you know what I mean. This is practically at the level of finding the right rock and a bit of wire and hooray! you have a radio. Of course, broadcasting will take a bit more technology, but the good news is that it lasts. Once set up, and if it is cared for, that radio equipment will last for decades.

What does that mean? In a resource constrained world, local people can get market information, weather warnings, local news about local events, and a sense of community. It also means that we will benefit by ridding the local community of the terribly divisive noise we get from the national fascist media. No longer will people from outside the community go unchallenged.

Every town and neighborhood in the country needs to set up a rudimentary low-power broadcast station, preferably powered by solar panels and batteries or even a windmill or waterwheel. With that distributed network of local stations, the centralized powers that currently choke the airwaves with garbage designed to keep the people uninformed and hooked on wingnut insanity will no longer have that power. This network will help prevent regionalism and tribalism from fracturing the country too quickly when the oil emergency comes.

Get busy! Find out how to apply for a low-power radio license. Apply. Do it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rats and Ships, Brokers and the Economy

In the past two weeks a couple of Wall Street insiders, one of which was particularly highly placed, came forward and blew their whistles. Wall Street is corrupt!!


What the headline should read is, "Wall Street Corrupt, Working Hand in Hand with the Government, Looting the Country, We've Always Known It, and the Rubes Don't Give a Shit."

That this group of craven berserkers are ripping out the economic heart of the country has been in plain view since 2008. The press can care less, and what coverage they give is not unlike their coverage of torture. They don't call it a war crime or even torture. It is enhanced interrogation. The coverage of the greatest economic crime of the millennia is similarly watered down--so much so that the government has treated these criminals to huge wads of cash and immunity from the perp walk. So, if we've been perfectly capable of ignoring and not reporting (Except for notable exception Matt Taibbi at The Rolling Stones magazine) the ever more disgusting revelations of massive fraud, theft, and chicanery for the past six years, why do we suddenly see this huge shot across the bow?

What may be happening is that someone who has been at the heart of the beast for some time and who has been witnessing this Grand Larceny with no qualms, finally saw something that scared even their black heart. Doesn't that send goosebumps up your spine? Imagine that, a Wall Street broker so disgusted that even they cry foul.

So, what is it that they saw? I imagine them finally getting up the nerve to sneak down that hallway where at its end pulses a breathing door, hellish red light streams from the threshold, smoke curls out, and strange guttural noises are chopped short by whip cracks. They open the door and see something so heinous, so frightening, that they know, finally know with certainty, that the jig is up and that they must tell someone before the beast is loosed. One of the traders mentioned a trillion dollars in hidden derivatives, something we've known about for some time with little coming of it, but he or she seems to think that the timer is off and running, that we are about to be overwhelmed.

Well, now what? Every responsible person with a voice has begged for an investigation. None came. Will we see a sudden and intense reflection on our sins? I doubt it.

The problem is, the rubes could care less and the powers that be know it. They know they have the hapless geeks by the short hairs, that the citizen rubes are only focused on day to day endorphin management through recreational shopping. But, hold on!! Wait a minute! Perhaps in knowing this only too well, they also know what will happen when the consumer binky is popped out of its pouting baby orifice and the hoi polloi no longer have that pacifier to quell the beast known as existential angst.

Riots! Crime, perhaps directed at the one percent! Taxes!! Real Taxes!!!! Rotten cabbages hurled at them as they roll by in the tumbrel to their destiny!

We can only hope so.