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Biomass is a Common

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Published on FEASTA on July 3, 2017

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by Patrick Noble

The mass of life is composed of countless interconnections. It flows between species and between generations of each species. Nevertheless, all those flows are tributaries to a final optimum Major Sea of Earth’s biomass.

Let’s consider a human community (house- hold/parish/village/town/city/nation state/world) as a communal biomass flowing between generations. Let’s also consider that communal biomass flowing through its living terrain – from species to species – increasing in speed, or diminishing in speed – sometimes sequestered in a dry plain of motionless, lifeless physics – but for our purpose, always ending, in a final, optimum mass – the Minor Sea of those particular community inter-connections.

Here’s a thing, which it may be wise to keep in mind – no one knows what life is.

Here’s another – Once upon a time, there was no life on Earth and it shall be so again.

Here’s yet another for those who falsely equate carbon cycles with life cycles – After all life has gone, carbon, or the energy derived from it, will always remain.

Carbon and life cannot be inter-changed for the purpose of climate (atmospheric carbon dioxide) calculations.

The central consideration for atmospheric carbon dioxide projections is not the mass of carbon. It is the mass of life.

This leads me to some other very simple propositions.

1 – If we bury life in a “carbon sump” or in an “embedded carbon structure” then we have diminished a life cycle. We have not taken carbon from the atmosphere and sequestered it in terrestrial mass. Rather, we have diminished the power of life to regenerate. We have weakened photosynthetic carbon capture and some linear solar energy. In the process, we have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and diminished the mass of life.

It is plain that if we bury all life, we end all photosynthesis. A carbon sump is one stepping stone (metaphor well chosen) towards the same.

2 – If we burn life, we diminish life (as in a carbon sump) and we also release combustion gas, to the same degree as fossil fuel. It follows that burning biomass has a greater carbon dioxide effect than burning fossil fuels.

3 – Life has expanded to an optimum mass, despite its gradual (occasionally sudden) sequestration in peat bogs, coal gas and oil reserves and other fossil rocks (calcium & so on). Atmospheric carbon dioxide has been more or less Gaia regulated, despite those sequestrations, and despite volcano and forest fire. Nevertheless, points 1 and 2 remain true. It follows that the linear solar contribution gives leeway for both some “embedded structure” and for some biomass burning.

Of course, we need timber for building houses. Sunlight provides leeway for growing timber trees. It also provides a little leeway for some domestic heating.

Only within that leeway can we call properly-managed forestry, “renewable forestry”.
Bear in mind that even within that leeway, our wood chip boilers and woodstoves have slightly greater carbon dioxide effect than fossil fuels. It follows that within that leeway, we’d do better to burn coal, gas and oil, while managing agriculture and forestry for maximum, optimum, photosynthetic biomass.

This writer thinks that the unexpected rapidity of climate change has been caused by the academic consensus that non-land-use-change biomass burning can be entered in carbon budgets as carbon neutral. Had the consensus given the burning of timber and arable crops the same carbon dioxide effect as fossil fuels, then I propose that climate predictions would be far less optimistic than at present.


Burning either biomass, or fossil mass within that more or less safe counter-balancing solar leeway presents a social problem. That burning must be at “pre-industrial” levels and I suspect at less than that. UN figures put world population for years 2015 at 7.349 billion, for 1800 at 1 billion and for 1600 at 580 million.

By 1600 in the UK, forest cover had been stripped to far less than today because of a rapacious demand for house and ship timbers and for domestic fuel. By 1680 coal had prevented economic collapse.

Today, we can hope that electricity will arrive to prevent current economic collapse. Most accept the folly of burning fossil fuels to produce that electricity. Plainly, burning biomass to that end, must be the pinnacle of folly.

But also, consider this – my benign Ash-scented woodstove – with timber from “sustainable” local woods, or hedge-rows, makes my house-hold one of privilege. If I claim the privilege, then I remove that privilege from others. If I claim to live within the solar leeway, then I have enclosed a common by my right to deny that solar leeway to others. Imagining that the world population in 1600 was largely “pre-industrial”, I tentatively project that only 1 in 3 house-holds in the world can be permitted a domestic coal, or wood stove today. (imagining a house-hold of 4)

That figure of 1 in 3 families holds only if we burn nothing at all for both transport and electricity generation. In any case, there is wildly insufficient acreage in the UK to grow biomass for the current population’s domestic heating. 1 in 3 for the world, may prove closer to 1 in 30 households for the population density of the UK. Our problem is not burning fossil fuels, but burning any kind of fuel. Our problem is burning.

We have wind, water, solar and (if we think we can trust an amoral monopoly supply) nuclear sources for electricity generation. Then, as we’ve explored in previous articles, direct traction from wind and water for factories and work-shops. We can remove energy demands of transport by removing the need for transport – that is by living as we’ve always lived until very recent history – with both work and pleasure but a step, or cycle ride from our doors – and then we can have a vibrant international and far more egalitarian trade by sail power.

There is hope. Living within our ecological means returns economic choices to the ingenuity and dexterity of citizenship – technologies and tools may be devised less behind intellectual property walls and more in quiet garden sheds, fields and work-shops. Attempts to green current ways of life (supplied by irresponsive, irresponsible monopolies) are roads to climate chaos and despair.


Plainly, biomass is a common. It is the primary common. Moreover, the greatest mass of bio lies in that thin layer of top soil on which all economies depend and which some, including this writer, have enclosed as their own and called fenced property.

Plainly, since the greatest city is only ever an emergent property of the efficiencies of fields, if we can grow enough food, then all the rest can follow. Economic biomass, including mass of humanity, food, and materials (timber, paper, fabrics and so on) flows back and forth, between species and between the generations of species we call an ecology.
Let’s consider some fields.

Regulating the speed of life is the whole art of husbandry. It is also the whole art of durable settlements. Crops flow into a biomass of people and must flow out again to the fields which produced those crops. Shorter & smaller cycles flow through gardens and allotments.

The whole agricultural metabolism of towns, fields, gardens and the cultural techniques to connect them is complex, evolved and evolving. The trial and error of husbandry, cuisine, transport and emerging trades are what we call an agriculture.

Gazing across a patchwork of fields, I can see that speed presented in the deepening or paling green of rotations. The colours reveal the velocity of life as it travels between species – the deeper the green, the faster the flow and so the increase of biomass.

Lazily copied from A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2014.

Consider two fields which have been provided with an optimum allotment of wastes to maintain their fertility. If I return a larger share to field one, I’ll receive a high crop yield, but some of that waste will be mineralised by soil fauna and not taken up by the crop. Nutrients will be lost as gas to the air and as minerals to water courses.

Field two will receive a less than optimum biomass and the crop yield will fall
Optimum crop yield for both fields – field one, plus field two will be lower than the total yield had wastes been divided equally.

We can see that story of two fields replicated across farms, parishes, regions and nation states. Human nature being what it is, some will appropriate more wastes than others – increasing their farm yield (& bank balance) but reducing the optimum yield (& bank balance) of the community as a whole.

That is a classic tale of the tragedy of the enclosures.

As uncertain weather patterns likely with climate change increase, so communities will become more anxious to achieve maximum, optimum food supply. To achieve that, wastes (sewage, green waste, food waste, processing bi-products and so on) must be divided strategically. They could be administered rather like water rights in Mediterranean communities, or the rotation of medieval strip fields.

The following is also copied from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Some commons to be restored into the fabric of my midsummer night’s dream– roads, market squares, harbours, soils, water, biomass….

But all other commons are as nothing compared to commons of biomass. Just as towns, roads and trades are emergent properties of agriculture, so agriculture emerges from the flows of biomass between species to and from human cultures.

Biomass cycles from field to city and back again. That flow is obviously a common and a common good if managed by good common law.

The cabbage I sell in the market place has common biomass, but also the value of being a cabbage.

So, I ask for a cabbage price to pay for the labour of producing it. To value a common is to enclose it. My valued cabbage is an enclosure valued at my labour value.

But the sewage and waste leaf produced from the cabbage must return to the common flow of biomass. Unless a biomass equivalent is returned to my field, I cannot grow as many cabbages in the future, because the fertility of my soil has been diminished by one cabbage.

So, the common produces value (enclosed common), but common law asks for that value to be returned, so that the common can keep producing value and so that succeeding generations can continue to provide themselves with cabbages.

In effect, I can as good as “own” a field without owning its soil, biomass, or water. These are commons to be protected.

It is accepted that commoners own the means to the responsibilities of the common.

This brings me to a current and highly unpleasant (dis- convivial) fashion amongst those who happen to have land property. It is the claim of carbon sequestration as virtue. Those who don’t own land property can claim no such virtue. This fashion is taken to extremes by those who are fortunate to control a grass paddock or two. They need do nothing in particular – just walk the boundaries and claim carbon dispensation – perhaps to set against, let’s say a holiday flight… Meanwhile, much of UK’s large grass acreage would provide better economic, ecologic and photosynthetic contributions in its natural state – that is as woodland.

Carbon property is as destructive as land enclosure – both command rent (or dispensation) without social return.

(I don’t like the term sequestration for soil fauna, whose biomass flows variably between plants and animals and back. It is appropriate for the stillness of fossil strata, peat bogs and embedded structures)

A few years ago, a grower claimed that his large inputs of compost removed enough atmospheric carbon dioxide to justify bi-annual holiday flights. He based a lecture tour on this assertion. He provided a composting site for local green waste and I’m sure, made very good compost and distributed much of it not for himself, but others. Nevertheless, in any enduring culture, that green waste should have been returned to a great many more fields and farms. The sequestration/holiday flight balance is nonsense.

I mention the above, because those sequestration claims have not been challenged. The suicidal claim by IPCC and the Paris Accord that burning arable and forest biomass can be accounted carbon neutral, remains similarly unchallenged.

These are no small errors. The correction is central to the maintenance of human cultures.

(September 2016)

Featured image: wood fire. Author: Iuriatan Felipe Muniz. Source:





Water Commons Thinkery Report

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Published on FEASTA on June 27, 2017

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A Thinkery on Water Commons was held in UCC on Friday, June 23rd. This event was jointly organised by Feasta’s Water Commons group and Orla O’Donovan from UCC, Patrick Bresnihan from TCD, and Kevin Flanagan. There were a total of sixty participants. The event was over-subscribed with quite a number of people therefore unable to attend. The Thinkery was however recorded for video and this should be available in a month or two.

The following is a very brief Report on the event. There were five parts to the Thinkery, each of which lasted an hour.

The first part was facilitated by Roisin O’Gorman from the Theatre Department of UCC. She guided participants in a bodily exercise designed to enable us connect with the water within us. We are after all composed of at least 50% water. This was a very calming exercise which also involved challenging our dominant metaphors of field and space in favour of water metaphors such as flow, pool, lapping and so on.

Next, Patrick Bresnihan led a dialogue with Miriam Planas who is a leading figure in the Barcelona movement Aigua es Vida and is a member of the European Water Movement. Her contribution explored the campaign in Barcelona to reclaim popular control of the local water supply from private, corporate interests. A central concept in this is the principle of ‘Re-Municipalisation’ which has become a very important political principle in many parts of Europe. The idea is to get municipal authorities, which are subject to democratic authority, to re-take ownership of the water supply and distribution. A significant spur to this has been the very high number of people whose water supply has been cut-off by the private corporate providers due to non-payment of fees. In this sense, re-municipalisation offers one model for commoning water.

Orla O’Donovan then facilitated a dialogue with Marco Iob from the Italian Forum of Water Movements and the European Water Movement. He reported on the highly significant popular political campaign in Italy to ensure public ownership of the water supply. This centred on the principal of water as a public good and not as a commodity to be bought and sold in market conditions. This campaign culminated in a popular consultative referendum in which more than 50% of the Italian electorate voted in favour of the public control of water. This democratic mandate has however been so far ignored by the Italian government and mainstream political parties.

From left to right: Roisin O'Gorman, Patrick Bresnihan, Mark Garavan, Marco Iob, Orla O'Donovan, Myriam Planas, and Chas Jewett





From left to right: Roisin O’Gorman, Patrick Bresnihan, Mark Garavan, Marco Iob, Orla O’Donovan, Myriam Planas, and Chas Jewett





Mark Garavan next dialogued with Chas Jewett who is a Lakota-Dakota indigenous American from South Dakota. Chas placed her nation’s concept of water within the wider narrative of deep oppression and genocide of the indigenous peoples of the American continent since the European Conquest 500 years ago. She gave searing personal testimony of systemic abuse and violations of native people. Chas was a leading organiser of the recent Dakota Pipeline protests. These protests have mobilised native resistance and brought many native young people to political engagement. In this way, she ended on the hopeful note that indigenous perspectives offer a crucial cultural resource for how we might connect with the natural world and its multiple elements and energies.

Some of the participants and presenters at the Thinkery

Finally, a highly engaged discussion took place among the participants. It is impossible for me to do justice to this. Key themes however were:

¬ Our collective responsibility to protect our water and planet
¬ How commoning water offers the optimum mode to achieve this as neither corporate nor State interests can be fully trusted to act in support of the people’s interests
¬ How it is important that we move beyond a management-oriented and ‘othering’ attitude towards water and ask questions such as how do we relate to water and accommodate ourselves to what water itself wants to do
¬ How we must recognise that water is not just ‘without’ but also ‘within’ – the water within us connects us to the water without and everything flows together

The event was a genuinely inspiring and hopeful experience. Johannes Euler from the Feasta Water Commons group travelled over from Germany to participate. We hope to build on this event with further gatherings and proposals in the near future.

Mark Garavan, Co-ordinator Water Commons Group






Climate: Limits and Opportunities for the New Economies

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on June 2, 2017


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A post by Ilaria Perissi, from her blog "Systems". Ilaria is a researcher at the University of Florence, Italy, currently working at the EU "MEDEAS" project aimed at modeling material fluxes of the EU economy. 

by Ilaria Perissi

In a previous post titled Information, Energy and Human development, I concluded saying that we don’t know what will happen to our society if the planet will be overheated. I don’t have the answer, and maybe I will never have it, but I have surely been gaining new insights on what has been the influence of the climate on the history of civilisation, and what could be its role, if there is any, into a more equitable future and a sustainable society.

I start exactly from this last point: how are we now imagining a future civilisation?

We need a new source of energy that should be renewable (in the way we do not risk total depletion of it, at least till the sun will shine), also thinking about a new economy not based on an intensive exploitation of fossil fuels. That would represent a powerful tool to make a step forward to a better future. But, recently, interesting currents of thought are emerging in the economic scenario promoting alternatives to the incessant growth that already in the 70's revealed, thanks to the study of ‘Limits to Growth’, the weakness of continuing this economic vision on a planet with a limited carrying capacity.

One of these currents is the ‘Circular Economy’ (CE) that proposes a greater resource productivity aiming to reduce waste and avoid pollution, including the shift from fossil fuels to the use of renewable energies, promoting the role of diversity as a characteristic of resilient and productive systems, so that it represents an interesting way out from the limits of the present ‘Linear Economy’.

Another idea is the ‘Degrowth Economy’ (DE) that not only is based on the previous pillars of the CE, but it is also a new philosophy of lifestyle. The DE affirms that prosperity can be of better quality and more equitable for all the humankind even with fewer materials things, abandoning the frenetic rhythms of today's life and harmonising the economy production according to the natural cycles (and I completely agree).

We can grasp from the previous description why this current is called 'Degrowth': it simply pushes in the opposite direction of the widespread concept of 'Growth' economy, whose prosperity is based on the increasing demand of always new goods and services.

To be more precise, 'Degrowth' refers to the lowering of the indicator called Gross Domestic Product (or GDP), that measures the economic performance of a system according to, in simplified terms, the number of goods and services it can provide. Therefore, the DE assesses that more valuable prosperity is possible if we consistently lower the value of this indicator, in particular in those countries we call ‘Developed Countries’, that stand out for their very high level of GDP in comparison to the world average. DE underlines also that this difference in GDP exists because there is a huge gap, both in economic and development terms, between the North and the South of the planet. The predominance of the North holds hostage the South's socio-economic system, slowing down also its potential alternative trajectories toward a better life.

Look at this paragraph, extracted from the very interesting book 'Degrowth: Vocabulary for a new era':

The message is clear and the reality too: the condition of the South of the Planet is very different from that of the North of the Planet. The DE aims at re-equilibrating this difference, conquering a new welfare for all the humans based on more equity and environmental justice. Mumble to do it?



Usually, when we want to change something in any situation, it is a good idea to check some facts in the past, probably the reasons of the existence of certain things in the present have their roots in history.







Thus, when, in the past this predominance of the North economy started, was it due to random factors or are there any facts/evidence in the history of civilisation that advantaged the North in comparison to the South?

Take a look at the following picture:

Figure 1. Chronology of the most important ancient civilizations.

All the most ancient cultures were born in the North hemisphere.

I started to think this fact can not be ‘only’ a coincidence. Why civilization and the economy historically have progressed more in the North than in the South? Could this mainly due to a ‘physically different ‘ space instead of a ‘conceptual different space'?

I think so…The economy is made by humans exchanges, interactions, cooperation: all these conditions in which humans live and lived in the past determine the economy and the characteristics of their civilization (Here, I refer to 'civilization' as the attitude of humankind to dominate the environment according to the fundamentals of rationalism). In particular, the capacity to produce (manufacturing) and the capacity to distribute (transport) are the foundations of any world economic system.

Let’s start to examine which could be the macroscopic differences, in terms of the capacity of transportation and productivity, between North and South of the Earth.

First, we are terrestrial creatures, we move more easily by land than by sea. Also many domesticated animals that have been crucial for transportation, hunting, agriculture and so on, are terrestrials too. Take a look at the following picture:

Figure 2. The surface extension of emerged lands.

As we can see in figure 2, between the parallels – 60°S and + 60° N, i.e. in a climate that is not polar, the available land is much larger in the North than in the South.

Thus, an important macroscopic physical difference between North and South of the planet is the extension of emerged lands in temperate zones.

Moreover, the South portion of emerged lands is fragmented in 3 continents: South America, Africa and Oceania: if we move in the direction West- East (W-E, or vice-versa) we note that these three portions of land are at a distance of several hundreds of kilometers of water. Thus, any civilization born in the South would expand preferentially along the N-S direction.

Quite different is the availability of movement W-E in the North hemisphere. Here, Asia and Europe cover the largest portion of Northern emerged land. It was in these two continents that the most ancient civilizations in the history of humankind were born: China, Egypt, Greek, Romans and others, as already shown in figure 1. Probably, the presence of the Mediterranean sea, that is an almost ‘close’ sea in a temperate zone, permitted the development of navigation techniques and the development of commercial trade routes in more safe and protected areas.

We can summarize saying that the larger the available surface of emerged lands, the more there are possibilities of creating a network of connections and more are it possible to develop cities and manufacturing centers.

So, you will say that today the problem of the trade connections have been overcome by technology, so let’s say that the oceans or the extension of emerged lands don't represent any more serious obstacles in exchanging goods or information also in the South hemisphere.

But there is another problem, if you note, that still remains: along the N-S pathways (meridians), in any point of the globe, we had/have to face with a change in the climate conditions (figure 3).

Figure 3. The figure shows a rough, but significant split, of the three climate zones of the planet: polar, temperate and tropical zones.

Thus, I go back to the opening question of the post: did the climate have any impact on civilization? And could it be related to the productivity of the human beings?

There is an interesting book, ‘Civilization and Climate’ by E. Huntington, that for the first time examined this issue at the beginning of the 1900s.

Huntington, as himself reports, had the mission to investigate: “step by step, the process by which geologic structure, topographic form, and the present and past nature of the climate have shaped man's progress, moulded his history; and thus played an incalculable part in the development of a system of thought which could scarcely have arisen under any other physical circumstances."

I admit I haven’t yet read the entire book but if you search accurately in this treatise you can find that the author clearly reports that the temperate climate is the best environment for the development of civilization, under several points of view. And figure 3 shows that the portion of temperate climate zone in the North of the globe is decisively larger than in the South one.

Here, as one of the examples that reinforce the thesis of the author, I just report the following graphs, from his book:

This figure reports the main temperature in which a man, employed in a factory job, is able to reach his best performance in terms of productivity, intended as the best combination of mental and body energies. This temperature it is around 50 °F or 10 °C.

More recent studies assess that, in an office, the ideal temperature for mental activities is around 20-22 °C, and it makes sense: we probably need a warmer environment to reach the optimal mental-body energy combination to work in an office in which we stay sitting almost all the time. And we are sure enough that these average values of temperature are typical of the temperate climate zones.

The book from Huntington offers several more interesting examples, worth thinking about. It simply reveals that the human activities, and even the moral issues, still depend upon Nature. And this is a positive aspect, the author says, because it gives us the opportunity to correct our behaviour, knowing that there are climate physical conditions to take into account, even in planning a new economy.

Especially in a Degrowth Economy, the relationship between our body energy and the climate is, probably, the most important to keep in mind if we want to achieve more equity in the opportunity of future sustainable development for all the cultures, independently of the latitudes they are.


What I would like to point out with these ideas, is that the productivity of humans, on which civilization and economy both rely, have been and still remains highly conditioned by climate.







The North and the South of the planet are different environments, have different availability of space and climate, i.e. a mainly physical differences, that, reasonably, have affected the history of the world economies with an active role in originating the inequalities we are observing now.

Changing our economy implies to face these climate diversities, maybe now more than in the past, to image a future more equitable civilization as it is described in the vision of a Degrowth Economy, or another new desirable more equitable Economy, that I think, we need so much precisely ‘now’.

The message of Huntington is full of hope, he concludes his treaty saying: ‘If we are able to conquer the climate, the whole world will become stronger and nobler”.

But something is telling me…that we are going exactly in the opposite direction. The domain on climate risks to go out of our hand, and for this reason, the climate issue remains, in my opinion, the most urgent problem to face to leave a dignified human legacy to the future generations.

The Joke

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Published on Convivial Economy on January 19, 2017

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It is a great joke, that the deepest commons have been passed on in daylight, unnoticed by thought police, secret police and dragoons.

No disguise, samizdat, remembered whisperings; no underground… These commons are bequeathed in a code that anyone can read – elegance of architectural design, fine lines of a boat, laughter and tears extracted by good verse and prose…

Ancestors speak and are heard, in spite of ephemeral yet despotic newspeak of a particular time. The soul of culture – liquid notes of blackbird, the blue bell wood in sight and scent, stitchwort and campion guide a lane to unspoken tenderness of generations, settled in one ecological space… – generational echoes – once heard, become rites of passage to adulthood and personal mortality. Become the echo, and we may claim a birth right – to be human, despite the coercion of power. A spade, chisel, needle, shuttle… well-sent, are enough.

Subjects of tyranny have called to the echo; to natal soil; to the vivacity of it; unseen by defilers and so undefiled. Yet it is not esoteric – the code is egalitarian – and simple – a pub chorus – hop gardens and barley fields apparent in a pint glass – touched shoulders imply Mesolithic ancestors brushed past too – a nod and a wink from Orwell’s Moon Over Water, or Falstaff, babbling of green fields, or from the curled sliver of oak from the careful and quieter stroke of the plane… expressed in the wood. And as Orwell also noted – subjugate a people and you must first remove their history. (That was the cue for Mr Rupert Murdoch and his tamed politicians)

All this is ordinary – the mysteries of nature are perennial to all times and so the mystery is an ordinary mystery. The mystery of skill is ordinary and perennial too. What is marvellous is ordinary.

Belonging – longing – of course we are dispossessed, commons are enclosed, means to livelihood removed; that stroke of the plane denied; responsible contributions denied…. Nevertheless, inherited human senses remain. The social impulse remains. Our companion – the mouse in the prison cell, is beauty – a shaft of moonlight through the bars. I don’t much like that last, but let it stay for an ancestor, while detention centres close steel doors and torture my ridiculous and fallible imagination for a while…

Everyone is sometimes the butt of the joke.

And the deepest part of every established religion is also inherited – it is where ancestral voices – the holy blissful matyr for to seeke – that had them holpen when they were weake – evoke the common. Older shrines and springs gain Christian names and chapels are built where people would have gathered, in any case.

If we reverently list the names – Dowland, Monteverdi, Bach, Haydon, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert… or similarly of painters, poets, or philosophers, then we should understand the impulses that built those earlier passage tombs, where ancestral bones were displayed. Ancestral commons over-rule the temporal imposition of personally-convenient rule. Will any music exceed the extra-ordinary expression of both beauty and truth in Monteverdi madrigals, or those late, Beethoven quartets? Of course, not. Some music may match them and join the chamber tomb of ancestral pleasures. Why should tombs be solemn memorials, and not archives of pleasure? Chamber tomb music – submerge to emerge to what’s perennial, resilient, common, sad, funny and deep.

And devotion to – and gratitude for – place and for an ancestral cultivation of it – a fitting and elegant arrangement of fields or houses, is not nationalism. If we think of commons, then nationalism evaporates. Nation states have come with violence of enclosure. Such violence is always ephemeral, insensitive and – stupid. Property and borders are ephemeral and stupid.

These times house an epic drama. Ancestral commons are ineffective in today’s political conversation, though they remain effective to guide our own good behaviour. We’ll not bring good sense to Theresa May by performance of Beethoven’s op. 135. Even the old balance of church and state was long ago sacked at the Reformation. Theresa’s high heels; Boris Johnson’s tossed locks fit neither a chamber tomb, or church. They click and strut polished corridors of tax-haven UK towards… – a balance of political influences – who is in? Who’s out? How will Mr Rupert Murdoch respond?

Earth’s atmosphere is unbalancing, natural resources vanish, a casino of usury and rent expands at precisely the rate that real economic assets are stripped and real people suffer – but that is only partially at the hands of administrative and corporate power.

Those things are by what we ordinary people do, one by one. We commute from an impossible suburbia, in an impossible family car, for a wage to pay rent, or mortgage in a property casino, which so exhausts our self-respect that we must holiday by impossibly profligate jet aeroplane (using idly-accumulated property value)– all – and it is in plain view – to remove a civilised future from our children. That is what we do.

We consume too much for the future to withstand. We know we do it. We say that we are coerced to do it and are trapped. So, we lobby the coercers, we donate a subscription to Friends of The Earth, or Greenpeace and sign petitions to governments and corporations. Yet, we exist. We cause climate change, while governments and corporations do not – they are abstractions. They have not the physics to cause climate change. They are voices in our heads, coercing us to behave badly.

For most of human culturing, people have behaved more or less properly by the guidance of ancestors – by proper use of the gift of inheritance. I propose that until about 1500BC (late Bronze Age), ancestors would have a larger influence than kings. Since then, and until the Reformation, they’ve probably had an equal voice. Today, where influence rides, they are unheard. It is time that we listened again. It is probable that the first impulse towards property enclosure was to silence ancestral voices – that is, the power of social commons.

As I began, the joke is that the voices remain in past trials and errors that produced the near perfect shape of a tool; the lovely balanced arch of a simple river bridge and there, in a shock of surprise, we may come upon evidence of a living ancestral representative in skilfully-pruned rows of orchard trees.

There’s currently a publishing production-line of affected footpaths into dialects of nature. They win literary prizes. Happen, there’s now’t awry fossicking in the liminal – but people drop such code words, twitch an eyebrow, pause, as if to say – I have the code, though I’ve not the tweed, or stout brogues. I’ve mooched in the Edge Lands – the good lands before climate change. Enough! Culture is what we do. That is the joke. Those books scoot the surface meniscus among other enclosures and prizes. There is no eclectic society of the commons. Ordinary is best – it is also, the deepest.

Of course, when we square up to our tormentors it can only be on the shallowest ground. The words, or bombs which pass, though often devastating, do not have meaning, because the powers live in an ephemeral world of personal advancement, where points scored, points lost, bombs restrained, or bombs dropped have become the meaning. Actually, only powerful ancestral commons can properly restrain a tormentor. Violence to answer violence has been temporarily effective, but is always improper – and is generally followed by further violence.

The tormentors are the voices in our heads. If we listen, then we’ve ourselves to blame. The ancestors endure – they are in our souls – the voice of our hearts. Even so, the tormentors of these islands have also endured – Bronze Age Brutus (of legend), Iron Age Caesar, early medieval William, reformation Henry VIII… then, Tony Blair, Theresa May… Here’s the thing, ancestry apparent in a terraced hillside, or a folk melody, lie in too deep a strata to encounter those on the surface. Of course, Teresa could sink though the accumulated layers of herself to find that common humanity. It is probable that she does – outside politics, but unlikely within.

Without, or forgetting those deeper strata, we are incomplete – and so liberated to misbehave. We can consume without guilt, while suggesting that a cast vote in the ballot is a good enough substitute for personally-proper behaviour.

That deeper moral is neither masculine nor feminine, yet it can be fierce. If we attend to it, we attend to our pre-enclosure inheritance – the inheritance to act – to shoulder, in our passage of time the duty to maintain the good life. We have what we need – that is ourselves. It is very ordinary – we need experience and judgement. No-one else can supply those things – not the latest research paper – nor dignified press releases by authorities in their fields… With regards to crashing casinos and climate change we know what we have to do without advice – we must live within our ecological means. Only I can know precisely how I live.

The continuation of culture is expressed in us as we come to adulthood. First – Is how I live replicable in the lives of my children? Second – Is how I live, similarly possible for my neighbours?

The first considers how an economy settles its ecology. The second, social justice. The difficulty is that as soon as we consider those very simple questions – the answers to which are no and almost certainly no – we enter the complexity of our life lived with others. At the depth of our being, we become less an individual of the species and more the species itself.

Some decisions are easy – Should I cancel the holiday flight? – Yes.

Should I stop shopping in super markets and instead, look for proper shops and trades’ people? -Yes.

Should I farm/garden organically? – Yes.

Should I buy electricity generated by wind, hydro and solar power? -Yes.

There are no (or very few) obstacles to deciding yes in those four cases. Remember, that failure to various degrees is pre-written in all adventures. All those yeses also lead to happiness.

If we have surplus money, then happy decisions should become easy – shares in, or donations to an energy scheme, sail-trade venture, land for allotments, or corner shop, pub, library, post office…

Should I instead, hoard my wealth in the rising value of property and rent? – No. That decision is easy.

Should I buy organically-grown food? – Yes, but I may find none nearby and my current wage may be insufficient.

Should I ditch the family car? Yes. But I may have no public transport to my distant work-place and can find no work nearer to home.

Should I cancel my business flight? – Yes, but that means, I may be sacked.

Such yeses remain true. They are also imperative. We should choose to be sacked. We’ve not the resources to power suburbia, the family car, aviation, profligate agriculture and so on. Those things not only contribute to climate change, they will also lead the current monetary casino to an impossible fantasy land and so collapse and with that collapse – economic and social collapse. We could argue that hastening collapse will reduce its eventual magnitude, but I think we should be urgently building a community network which is disconnected from that casino – one formed enough (by our contribution) to emerge alive from beneath the rubble. Collapse will come. We must also divest our lives from the causes of climate change.

Much can only be achieved in cooperation with others and so personally simple decisions mingle with the highly complex. But social systems are always complex, and so in finding complexity, we are at the entrance to a road to finding our way.

The ancestral joke is that we have inherited an understanding of right and wrong. That is intrinsic. By that inheritance, we form social systems. It is the bond.

How do we form a whole social system – its economy settling nicely inside its ecology? We don’t. Everyone does. Where economy meets ecology, is precisely where a tool meets its materials – that is by the fingertips and grasp of one pair of hands – that is – one’s own intelligent hands. My work is the most critical work, because it is mine. Everyone else must think the same. I listen, learn from others and so on, but the application is mine. All the other goings on of culture are in trust – about which we can put in a pennyworth – in gossip, admiration, even disapproval. But the complexity is beyond us – or should be, if we trust. The trust is inherited, accepted and then, in turn, bequeathed. Culture flows through the metabolic and nervous systems of ourselves. There is no one else. At adulthood, we take the trust. Our species has evolved, less by advantageous individuals, and more by advantageous groups. We are hard-wired to altruism.

Flocks packs and herds have leaders and so we’d be foolish to think that we can avoid human leaders. The thing about human leaders is that they are not supposed to hold tools, or to undermine the success of those who do. It is a perversity of our time that they do hold tools and undermine the success of tools. (oil monopoly, land monopoly, information monopoly) They are supposed to oversee the order of a social system, in which all the rest maintain the culture.

I caught a small voice through a chink in time.

Take back your tools – as quietly as is possible, remove them from the incompetence of parliaments and boardrooms. You are adult. If you live well enough to claim it, then the rows of skulls in my chamber tomb have space for your own. But it is your children, faced with a future that you have made, who may, or may not, place you there.

We Need Peace

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 8, 2017

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I am deeply saddened by mans ability and desire to harm his fellow man in more heart wrenching and cruel ways. I personally have seen nothing but the best of times relative to much of  humanity, having lived in a free, safe, peaceful and prosperous society, and yet I fear the worst of times lay ahead for all mankind. We have indeed seen some of the best of humanity and a lot of the the worst of humanity on display this week.

It is already hard enough as a parent to come to the rational conclusion that your children will inherit a much worse future than I inherited from my parent, let alone think of the possibility of seeing one of then reduced to a shattered bloody pulp by the meat grinder of war we all too often embrace.

I am not a religious person; I am an atheist who sees no evidence of a gods; yet I daily wish for intervention from any source either natural or supernatural to this most horrendous self inflicted malady of man, and indeed all life on earth. Were I a believer  I would pray for peace. I am not, so I sit here late at night at my computer and it hope for sanity instead.

On the eve of another deadly day I ask all of the people who read this to tell me what I can do to help untie the knots of war we seem to be tying. Every day I see the politicians pulling on the rope making the knots tighter, urged on by the ignorant, injured or profiteers of such wars.

It is not right.
It is not just.
It is not fair.
It is unethical and immoral to condone, encourage or ignore.

War is planned by the old, directed by the middle aged and paid for by the young with their lives.
Anyone who has seen first hand the demonic vision that is modern warfare would do all in their power to to extinguish the mere spark of a conflict before it could ignite the tinder and kindle the flames of war.

Mankind needs to find a way to peace. I am an ex-soldier who is lucky enough to not ever have to put my military training in to practice. Please believe me, we do no want war.

We need peace.

Edwin said it better than I ever could.

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y'all
War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Ohhh, war, I despise
Because it means destruction
Of innocent lives
War means tears
To thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives
I said, war, huh
Good God, y'all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again
War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, it ain't nothing
But a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
Ooooh, war
It's an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die
Aaaaah, war-huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again y'all
War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, it ain't nothing but a heartbreaker
War, it's got one friend
That's the undertaker
Ooooh, war, has shattered
Many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can't give life
It can only take it away
Ooooh, war, huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again
War, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, it ain't nothing but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there's got to be a better way
Ooooooh, war, huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
You tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it
War, huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it

The Dysfunction of Civilization

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Published on R/COLLAPSE on March 21, 2017

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The collapse of civilization quite frankly isn't half as interesting to me as the dysfunction of civilization is. The main elephant in the room is that this drastic increase in our standard of living might have led to material wealth, but it has merely lead to an epidemic of miserable dysfunctional people, kept alive by a government that's expected to use technology to fill the gaps created by a society that has started to fall apart. I think rather than staring ourselves blind at oil decline rates and sea ice statistics, we have to consider the possibility that civilization may fall apart simply because it manages to make people so miserable that they refuse to participate.

You can look at the suicide and drug overdose rates to see that our society is not functioning well. The terrorism and mass shooting epidemics we face are simply subsets of the suicide epidemic, expressed in a different cultural framework. In some subcultures you post on 4chan before you go out and kill yourself, in some you write a manifesto, in others you imagine yourself to act out on a religious obligation.

It used to be the case that when you got sick, you got better again, or you died. Today people get sick and spend the rest of their life in a state of impairment. They might have missing organs, they might be stuck in a wheelchair or they might be in chronic pain. A cynic might say that the solution we found to the technological unemployment crisis was to make people so sick that they can't work, thereby creating jobs for the rest of us who need to take care of them.

In the old days, you found a boyfriend or a girlfriend, someone got pregnant, a shotgun wedding resulted and you spent the next sixty or seventy years together. That's how my grandparents were married, the marriage might not have been perfect, but I can't say that I'm under the impression they were worse off as a result. If the relationship really wasn't satisfying, you'd keep it up for the outside world and you'd secretly agree to have an extramarital affair.

If you had some very unfortunate health condition you might spend the rest of your life alone, but most people managed to get their shit together. Even my grandfather who lost his leg as a kid in an accident simply managed to get married, had a bunch of shitty jobs that required zero education and could afford a nice house with a garden where he raised three children and lived out the last sixty-five years or so of his life. Try doing that now.

Look at today's society and you'll see young people have sex with the same person for a few months, anxiously making sure that no pregnancy results with state of the art contraceptive methods, move on to the next partner because the previous one didn't work out, then eventually find themselves unable to genuinely fall in love again and spend their days alone. Others are for whatever reason unable to enter a relationship. Many grow up staring at smartphones and other screens and as a result never learn to interact with others.

If you read Michel Houellebecq's book "Whatever", you'll notice his thesis that our society is saturated with sex because we're secretly tired of it. I'm friends with good looking girls in their twenties who spend their weekends poledancing. You'd imagine these would be loose girls perhaps, but nope, I had one of them admit recently that she's never even had a relationship and fills that gaping hole in her heart with this girl-power clique of superficial hypersexuality. I'd love to say this is a joke, but it's not. Go to Japan and you'll find record numbers of people in their thirties who have simply resigned themselves to lifelong celibacy. These are people who would have been married with children fifty years ago.

We think of pole-dancers and girls in thongs, covered in tattoos and piercings as hypersexual beings, but they're the opposite. People puff up their emptiness. Even if they still have sex, they separated sex from the consequences and unequal power dynamics imposed upon us by nature and as a result it can no longer be called sex, it becomes something entirely different. It has as much to do with sex as a plastic Christmas tree has to do with photosynthesis. The new image of hypersexuality is not Miley Cyrus, it's Michelle Duggar. Women like her live lives drenched in a kind of sexuality that permeates throughout their lives rather than being confined to the bedroom, whereas the women I date are forced to dress like men due to hygiene requirements in their workplace.

Birth rates are falling because young people today are completely unable to enter functional relationships with each other and develop a sense of financial stability. In the world of upper-middle class young white people, you spend until your late twenties "studying", with a year or two in between where you travel around the world or visit Africa to help out the orphans there because you need something on your resume. Then eventually, you just dedicate yourself to your career. Children? You get a Chihuahua to fill that vacuum and you tell yourself some convenient story you read on some hip online magazine about how children are bad for the environment.

The future was supposed to be exciting, but I can't reach any other conclusion than that most people I see are thoroughly bored with the world they live in. They tell themselves that they're "busy", whereas in reality they spend five or six hours a day watching TV/Netflix/some other screen because they're emotionally exhausted from profoundly boring jobs. Your grandparents had to keep themselves entertained through social activities. They might visit the local pub, they would go fishing, they would play card games with each other, they didn't have a TV to keep themselves entertained with. In the 90's young people still went to clubs, but most discotheques in my country are now struggling to survive.

You remember your grandparents with the aura of respectability they had when they were old, but they lived wild lives when they were young too. Wilder than yours, I'm willing to guess. That's another thing worth noting. In every aspect, Millennials like me seem extremely well-behaved compared to generation X and the Babyboomers. Teenage pregnancies are at record lows, alcohol use by teens has gone down, crimes committed by young teenagers have gone down tremendously too.

How did that happen? Well, in reality, we just had the life spirit drained from us. That primal will to live and thrive that leads us to violate social conventions is gone. The friends I talk to are depressed and will claim that they don't want relationships with others, that they're happier single than they ever were in a relationship. The girls I talk to are frightened by the prospect of going out to a club to dance, because they envision the girls there will be better looking than them. They'd rather sit at home and stare at cat-pictures on the Internet than act like young people.

Generation Y is doing pretty terrible, but generation Z seems to have hit rock bottom. You can read the news about eating disorders, self-mutilation and all these other problems, but I'd like for people in their sixties or seventies today to simply tell me if this is how young people were back when you were young. These problems are not a normal part of youth, they're new. The studies we have show that mental disorders like anxiety and depression are far more common than they were in the thirties to fifties, when we still had a functional civilization. Look at teenagers today and you'll see how they seem to think it's hilarious to send me_irl memes back and forth about how they think of themselves as pathetic losers who would rather be dead. Again, that's not normal.

Today's young people spend until their mid-twenties jumping through hoops, with the message in the back of their head that if they miss any of them, they're fucked. Bad grade in high school? You're fucked. Dropped out of high school? You're fucked. No extracurricular activities to put on your CV? You're fucked. It continues all the way as they try to get into the most prestigious unpaid internship. Meritocracy has turned your life into a never-ending rat race. Regular normal children today suffer more anxiety than psychiatric patients did in the 1950's. If you think it's bad now, wait until the next step follows, where we start genetically testing children to figure out where their skills lie, like they do in China.

In the old days, you could accept that you're born as white trash and that you'll live an average existence similar to that of your parents. If you were born wealthy, nepotism would ensure you wouldn't be publicly humiliated if you failed to get your shit together, you'd have an uncle in management somewhere or your father would know someone who can set you up with something. Today everyone can theoretically accomplish anything and as a result nobody can ever be content with anything. In the words of Sylvia Plath: "Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing."



Another Roaming Rant

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 9, 2016


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Even a flippantly lala land observer of the news such as myself must cede that the precarious balance of globalism has tipped as the balance of net benefit gains for core industrialised countries goes negative for the average citizen.  Countries are reacting (Brexit, Trump, Italy, Finnland ect) accordingly and concern mounts that the far swing right towards nationalism could upset global trade, economic growth and social orders.   

Most in the doomer crowd point to resource constraints to growth to explain the observable fracturing.  They need to explain why US and total industrial GDP hasn’t faltered, why we have an oil surplus, and have yet to witness anything like a food shortage.

I’d like to argue that real issue revolves around not properly distributing and integrating the information that made the 3rd and now 4th industrial revolution possible.  That information is obviously the science and math.  But its not more science or math classes that we need or needed, its an accessible mythos that embodies science.  Failure to do this has left science fractured and owned by industry.  It has become an elite priesthood like the roman catholic church and obeys its master. 

Carl Sagan was probably the prophet of this line of thinking,

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

We are well on our into his feared nightmare.  People truly do not know how to even distinguish obvious fictions from fact and the results are growing disastorous case in point

We are deep into science fiction dystopia territory.  We uncovered the power of a stars and we lacked the will as people and as a democracy to understand.  We choose to be passive consumers instead.  This is the reason we can not negotiate for real wages, we no longer make essential contributions to the industrial operating system and so can not bargain effectively.

And at root of this all are disoriented people imprinted with lies, stone age mythologies and cold standardized tests.  All of this may not be an accident…but I digress.

Every age prior had its mythos by which everyday people can view the world through the new lens enabled by that technology.  That we broadly do not is the obvious and massive issue of our time.

The advances of technology are made by an increasingly consolidated few and outpace perhaps at an accelerating rate what the population can absorb .  A science mythos would have broadly distributed these shifts and people could have reacted.

Doomer mythos are but one of countless mythos that arise in the vaccum of a mythos that contains the actual information pertaining to the system we are dependent on.  They may come in many flavors but almost all contain some sort of nostalgic longing for simpler times past, be it the agrarian/hunter gather cross found in perma”cult” ism , or the christian survival revival lot, or even perhaps the now ultra popular revival of Trumps empty MAGA cult with whsipers of restoring the 1950’s era of mass industrialism.

This is all rather ironic, that the central issue of our time in the information age is potential death by misinformation.  The core battle IMO for the 21st century will not be fought over, energy, water or food but over perceptional control.  Those blinded by greed and power will use the tool of misinformation in unfathomable ways to play our ignorance and subsequent fears and desires like a fine tuned fiddle.  The antidotes will be facts and deep scientific understanding of the underlying systems which seek to program those unwilling to program themselves.

The war is of course well underway, and the first rounds do not look good at all for humanity. …

A Long History of Mass Extinctions

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 3, 2016


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Peter D. Ward is a paleontologist who has authored a number of books for the general reader, often on the subject of mass extinction. His most successful book was Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (with Donald Brownlee, 2001). His latest is, A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth (2016). For this book, Ward’s co-author is Joe Kirschvink, a prominent geobiologist. Through three hundred and fifty-six pages, they survey the three and a half billion years of Evolution, drawing largely from recent scientific papers. Rare Earth and A New History of Life serve as bookends to a very pessimistic conclusion: Fermi’s Question (aka his Paradox) is not paradoxical at all. That our species even exists is the non-supernatural definition of a miracle.

The ‘radical thesis’ of A New History of Life consists of three interconnected themes:

-Planetary catastrophe has been the principal driver of Evolution.

-Radical changes in the concentrations of three simple gases, oxygen, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere or the oceans, dictate the fate of Life.

-Ecosystems perish and novel ones emerge because of these events.

Now to our story, thus far:

4.567 billion years ago (now that is a neat mnemonic!), two rocky planets in nascent orbits around our Sun crossed paths into collision. Their dense cores of iron and nickel melded together within what became our Earth, while a halo of vaporized rock condensed into our companion Moon. Rare Earth contains a list of vital consequences that result from this single astronomical accident. Some that I recall from it:

-The Earth received a disproportionately large metallic core, one that provides a very strong magnetic field that shields us from cosmic radiation and breaks the solar wind.

-With that core the Earth acquired an extra dose of uranium and thorium, and the internal heat from that boosted radioactivity has intensified and prolonged its geological transformations. In contrast, the Moon received very little of this fissionable material and has long been geologically dead. Moreover, the mass of the Moon formed largely from ejected silicate rock, and the loss of this lighter material from Earth has made its crust relatively thin, which permits plate tectonics and continuous volcanic emissions.

-The collision knocked Earth onto a tilted axis, which creates the seasons of each year and influences longer cycles of climate.

-Planets can wobble, and the relative large size of the Moon stabilizes Earth’s orbital axis.

-The Moon has progressively slowed Earth’s rotation to lengthen its day. It stirs the ocean’s tides, and gives illumination to the night.
In the absence of these phenomena, Life on Earth would be very different.

A recent paper offers another significant hypothesis

Earth's carbon points to planetary smashup

"Research by Rice University Earth scientists suggests that virtually all of Earth's life-giving carbon could have come from a collision about 4.4 billion years ago between Earth and an embryonic planet similar to Mercury."

"… a new answer to a long-debated geological question: How did carbon-based life develop on Earth, given that most of the planet's carbon should have either boiled away in the planet's earliest days or become locked in Earth's core?"

In the beginning, The Big Bang created the Heavens. Eight billion or so years later, a colossal accident created the Earth, and it was good. Catastrophe appears to be the Mother of Us All.

From astro- and geophysics, we move to biophysics, and the actual Creation of Life. This pathway of biochemical synthesis may always remain unresolved, but in A New History of Life Ward and Kirschvink find favor with Life’s possible origin on the planet Mars. In this scenario, ancient Mars provided the right environmental conditions to jumpstart primitive cells, which then traveled to sister Earth as ejecta from asteroid collisions. If true, this would be another addition to the Rare Earth hypothesis – the fortuitous proximity of a seedbed planet.

Whatever Life’s origins, it found an Earth little like ours. The most critical difference was the atmosphere. Currently, it is primarily nitrogen and oxygen, with ‘trace amounts’ of water vapor, carbon dioxide and argon. The primordial atmosphere was nitrogen, methane, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and water vapor, with near total absence of oxygen. It is important to note that the intense greenhouse effect of this ancient atmosphere existed with a much fainter solar output. As the Sun ages, its output of energy grows, and will eventually boil Life on Earth away.

In the absence of free, molecular oxygen, the metabolism of the original life forms used sulfur. There is speculation that the first microbes were chemoautotrophs that consumed the hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide that spewed from thermal vents in the ocean floor, with the clear irony being that those gases are extremely toxic for much of present Life. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a gas released by volcanic activity, and the original photosynthetic pathway used it instead of water (H2O) as the requisite donor of electrons. Photosynthetic sulfur bacteria still exist and they remain very consequential.

A billion years might have elapsed before an alternative a photosynthetic pathway evolved, one that substituted water for hydrogen sulfide. These emergent cyanobacteria then had a twin advantage for evolutionary success. First, while hydrogen sulfide is relatively scarce, there were vast oceans of water, the feedstock of their oxygen-based metabolism. Second, the free oxygen that their new model of photosynthesis produced as its by-product would directly kill their sulfur-using, anaerobic competition. That free oxygen is highly toxic to hydrogen sulfide using organisms, and vice versa, is a key part of the second major theme of Ward and Kirschvink.

With the appearance of oxygenated photosynthesis came the first, and perhaps greatest, of Earth’s Mass Extinction Events — the Great Oxygen Event, or Catastrophe. Not only did the oxygen makers drive the original, sulfur-using microbial ecosystem to near extinction, their exuberant growth drew down (in as little as a million years) the high carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s atmosphere, converting it to a layer of organic detritus on the ocean floor. The free oxygen also reacted with methane, scrubbing this more potent greenhouse gas from the atmosphere as well. In those times of a cooler Sun, the greatly diminished greenhouse effect allowed the oceans to freeze, almost completely solid. Co-author Kirschvink was the first to formulate and name this second phase of mass extinction. He called it Snowball Earth.

There followed a pulse of such Cryogenic Extinctions. Each time the planet froze up, so did the cyanobacteria, which permitted the carbon dioxide from volcanoes to accumulate and increase the greenhouse effect. But with each thaw, the cyanobacteria bloomed again, plunging the planet back to Snowball. The authors think it took 200 million years to establish a more stable carbon cycle, where microbial scavengers metabolized the dead material from the ocean bottoms and respired it as carbon dioxide to sustain a warmer planet.

However, in that shallow, warming ocean, the usurped sulfur-based organisms then resurged and retook Earth from their oxygenated rivals, by turning the oceans and atmosphere toxic with rising concentrations of hydrogen sulfide [search Canfield Oceans]. For a period stretching from two to one billion years ago, oxygenated life remained suppressed. Green and purple sulfur bacteria dominated the warm oceans; their hydrogen sulfide wafted high into the atmosphere and reacted with the ozone layer; high levels of ultraviolet radiation beamed through and sterilized the Earth’s surface. Throughout this time, the level of atmospheric oxygen was below ten percent, a threshold necessary for animal life. After searching its strata in vain for complex life, paleontologists dubbed this period as ‘The Boring Billion’. More pointedly, Ward and Kirschvink describe this long reign of the sulfur bacteria as the ‘Evil Empire’.

What brought the ended the Boring Billion? Perhaps it was the rise of the continents. Iron eroding from them and reacting with H2S in the oceans, precipitated out the sulfur as iron pyrite. Starved of their feedstock, the sulfur bacteria declined and the oxygen-lovers bloomed again. Two more Snowball episodes followed, but as a more stable carbon cycle became established, the level of atmospheric oxygen continued to rise, and the sulfur bacteria retreated into marginal niches, such as the bottom of the current Black Sea, where they remain today.

However, fabled Planet Gaia still failed to emerge.

The evolution of Life on Earth would continue from careen from one Mass Extinction Event to another. 635 billion years ago, the oxygen level rose high enough for multicellular animals to make their belated appearance. And it appears that these motile and hungry organisms caused the late Vendian-Endiacaran Extinction, by grazing away the former placid ecosystem.

New fossil evidence supports theory that first mass extinction engineered by early animals

The late Cambrian Extinction followed next, where most species of trilobites and many unique animal body plans were lost forever. An anomalous shifting of the Earth’s crust and mantle around its core and spin axis may have brought about this one, a theory called True Polar Wander.

Planet Earth may have 'tilted' to keep its balance, say scientists

Next came the Ordovician Mass Extinction, the first of the so-called ‘Big Five’ events. Mainly, this wiped out tropical species, by a combination of planetary cooling and great changes of sea level. The cause might have again been geological, another episode of True Polar Wander, but recently has come an alternative explanation: Complex plants were moving onto dry land.

Weathering of rocks by mosses may explain climate effects during the Late Ordovician

"During the Ordovician period, the concentration of CO2 in the earth's atmosphere was about eight times higher than today. It has been hard to explain why the climate cooled and why the Ordovician glaciations took place. A new study, published in Nature Communications, shows that the weathering of rock caused by early non-vascular plants had the potential to cause such a global cooling effect.

"Although they do not have real roots, they affect the surfaces on which they grow: the release of various organic acids dissolves underlying rock minerals. This process of dissolution and chemical transformation of rock minerals is called chemical weathering. Non-vascular plants and lichens may considerably increase weathering rates of the rock surfaces on which they grow. This has important implications for the climate system, since chemical weathering of silicate rocks such as granite results in a drawdown of atmospheric CO2 and may therefore lead to global cooling."

According to Ward and Kirschvink, a more general mechanism for mass extinction now emerges.

"They [green and purple sulfur bacteria] can be thought of as the evil empire. And in the Devonian, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic and Middle Cretaceous, this empire stuck back…"

The Devonian Mass Extinction took three quarters of Earth’s species, in particular the marine animals. The authors speculate this is the first of what Ward has termed Greenhouse Mass Extinctions. The killing mechanism: increased volcanic activity strengthens the greenhouse effect, bringing planetary warming. As the difference in temperature between the poles and tropics diminishes, the prevailing winds and ocean currents stall. Unstirred, the oceans stratify, and at their bottoms, oxygen declines. There, the absence of free oxygen permits the sulfur bacteria to bloom, and the Evil Empire makes its toxic return.

The Permian Mass Extinction shows clear evidence of this scenario. This is the worst of the extinction events, with maybe 96% of species perishing – paleontologists refer to it as ‘the Great Dying’. Beneath a greenhouse atmosphere, ocean temperatures spiked to 40C (104F) and on land, reached 60C (140F). As the oceans turned purple with sulfur bacteria, the hydrogen sulfide erased the ozone layer and tinted the sky to a toxic shade of green. In both air and water, the hydrogen sulfide reached levels that were lethal to most animal life. In addition, oxygen levels plummeted to between ten and fifteen percent and stayed there for five million years. At sea level, that oxygen content was the equivalent to what we find on high mountain peaks, so that most land elevations above a thousand meters would not support complex organisms at all. The ‘Great Dying’ might have occurred over a mere fifty thousand years but it took ten to twenty million years for biodiversity to recover.

The next Greenhouse Mass Extinction was protracted, with two or three phases of killing spread over millions of years. This one ended the Triassic and extended into the Jurassic. The authors propose (as does a stubborn clique of paleontologists) that the dinosaurs were already dying out from this Greenhouse mechanism, when the Chicxulub asteroid struck its coup de grace and ended the Cretaceous.

In all, Ward and Kirschvink offer a list of Ten Major Extinction Events. We currently experiencing Number Ten, titled as the Late Pleistocene-Holocene Mass Extinction. They cite its duration and cause:

"From 2.5 million years ago to today – climate change and human activities."

Ten major extinctions and the inadvertent, destructive properties of Life itself appear as the principal cause of seven or eight of them. To James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis of a self-regulating Biosphere that maintains an Earth fit for life, Ward counters with his ‘Medea Hypothesis’:

"…multicellular life, understood as a superorganism, is suicidal; in this view, microbial-triggered mass extinctions are attempts to return the Earth to the microbial-dominated state it has been for most of its history. It is named after the mythological Medea, who killed her own children."

To characterize Life on Earth as a ‘super-organism’ with intentions is a stretch, but what is evident is that the Earth System is chaotic over long periods and its Biosphere frequently crashes, via the Greenhouse mechanism, to a more microbial ground state. In the fossil record, Ward and Kirschvink find evidence for more than ten such extinction events, of varying intensity. The last one came with the Paleo-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) of 50 to 55 million years ago. They surmise the causative mechanism was a ‘new assassin’—the catastrophic release of methane clathrates – which accumulate from the activity of methanogenic bacteria. Their colleague Francesca McInerney helped them to provide a description:

"…this event is highly relevant to us humans, as the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, about 12,000 to 15,000 gigatons, is roughly equivalent to what we humans are releasing over time by our industries and energy use. The temperature change caused [by] elevated greenhouse during the PETM made the world 5 to 9 centigrade warmer than it is now. The actual event lasted on order of 10,000 years. The plants that were present in her field area [now western North America]… were mainly plants that until the PETM lived in lower latitudes and thus at higher temperatures. After the event the old plants came back, as did the insects that were present prior to 10,000 years of literal hell on Earth. But not so the mammals. This event caused a wholesale change in the North American mammalian fauna."

If our Civilization proceeds on its current path, then several millennia in Hell may be the minimum we can expect. By the way, I myself am a North American mammal, as are most of the beings that I most cherish.

As much as the first animals, we know not what we do with our newfound powers:

"Although Darroch is studying events that took place 540 million years ago, he believes there is a message relevant for today. "There is a powerful analogy between the Earth's first mass extinction and what is happening today," he said. "The end-Ediacaran extinction shows that the evolution of new behaviors can fundamentally change the entire planet, and today we humans are the most powerful 'ecosystems engineers' ever known." [From ‘First Mass Extinction Engineered by Animals”]

That brings us to the third theme of A New History of Life: Ecosystems perish wholesale and different ones arise in their place. The mammal-like reptiles predominated before the Permian Mass Extinction Event. Afterward, Dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and the book details how they were better adapted than mammals to that hot world with lower levels of oxygen. In very ancient times, species of clams were the builders of the great marine reefs; long after these mollusks went extinct in hot, toxic seas, corals filled their empty niche. What is to build the next Great Barrier Reef? What is to replace us? The final chapter, under the sub-heading ‘The End of History’ contains a hint:

"A final prediction of Ward’s Medea hypothesis is that it should pertain to every planet with life, and that there is only one way out of this suicidal box that life creates simply through existing: intelligence. The intelligence to see the future. One such future is that our species expands its habitat first to Mars, then to the asteroid belts, and finally to other stars. Another future is that the carbon dioxide we are pumping into the atmosphere causes all the ice on Earth to melt, raising sea levels, slowing the thermohaline circulation patterns, bringing stagnation followed by anoxia to the ocean bottoms, and then into ever-shallower waters, at the same time liberating toxic levels of hydrogen sulfide to percolate out of every single ocean. In that future, only animals with very good gas masks will survive.

"History is an early warning system."

It is my opinion that humans are much too fragile, dull-witted and uncooperative to ever journey to other stars or even to settle Mars. I suppose the only intelligence that can replace us will be that of our machines – aluminum and titanium resist hydrogen sulfide better than flesh, electric motors run without oxygen, and silicon bonds are stable at much higher temperatures than those of carbon. Deus ex Machina, indeed.

To all of which, you may retort to me, as have others, “So what? That’s life. The dinosaurs were not missed, and neither will we be.”
The difference is that no other being has entered extinction fully aware of that finality; nor did it suffer the guilt of being complacent and complicit in the tragedy, no, in the crime and the sin of it all. So fuck all of you ‘minimizers’ and your shallow nihilism. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once gave such an attitude to one of his most cynical characters:

"I realized," said Trout, "that God wasn't any conservationist, so for anybody else to be one was sacrilegious and a waste of time. You ever see one of His volcanoes or tornadoes or tidal waves? Anybody ever tell you about the lce Ages he arranges for every half-million years? How about Dutch Elm disease? There's a nice conservation measure for you. That's God, not man. Just about the time we got our rivers cleaned up, he'd probably have the whole galaxy go up like a celluloid collar. That's what the Star of Bethlehem was, you know.”

"What was the Star of Bethlehem?" said the driver.

"A whole galaxy going up like a celluloid collar," said Trout.

Breakfast of Champions, pg73

This essay began with the proposition that our existence is so improbable as to meet the definition of a miracle. Humans have fought and continue to fight bloody crusades over worthless holy places. What are we willing to do to preserve this Rare Earth and the miracle of our existence? If you think it is already too late, I must confess that you may be right. My hopes now depend on whether this Civilization, this Evil Empire, will quickly meet with Collapse and that will open a narrow space, a pathway to survival. The theme of A New History of Life, taken up by this pretentious essay, is that we are the very children of Catastrophe. So here is my prayer:

O Mother Catastrophe, please hear us now, and grant your children a merciful intervention.

Fake Newz

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 1, 2016


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Fake News is news that has been made up and is completely untrue.  It is a waste of everybody's time, made worse by the mindless idiots on Facebook and Twitter, who spread it without thinking.

So some professor from a US university posted a list of "Fake News" websites on Facebook, but those on the list were mostly just anti-establishment websites, giving alternative viewpoints, not fake news. Prominent among the mistakes was RT , (formerly Russia Today), which is financed by the Russian State, and a genuine news site.  RT is comparable to the British BBC and Australian ABC news outlets, except that the latter wouldn't say "Boo" to their Prime Ministers, let alone the US President or Rupert Murdoch.

It has to be admitted that RT likes to publish all the things that the US Government would be embarrassed about, but that is what the US media ought to be doing as part of their job too, but don't.  RT also publishes what President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov are saying about world affairs, including the context and background of their statements, which is important to know if you want to express an informed opinion on world affairs.

Thus if you want to get a balanced outlook on current events, and only have time for 2 sites, then CNN and RT should be your first two choices.  They won't be the same, obviously, because they represent the two sides of the argument.

So naturally some of the genuine, but anti-establishment news sites also the on the list, objected.  The financial news site ZeroHedge was one of them.  They follow the Austrian School viewpoint on finance, as opposed to the Keynesian viewpoint, and are hence always anti-Federal Reserve, and pro-"a huge economic collapse is coming"and pro-Gold Standard. You don't have to be an Austrian economist to read ZeroHedge (I'm not one) because they do manage to dig up amazing facts and charts from official sources.  ZH heaped scorn and derision on the list, which presumably caused a twitter-storm amongst the shouting classes.

And thus a new meme was born – "Fake News" is no longer fake news, but anything that doesn't follow the US establishment line.

The list was quickly taken up by the Washington Post, that cheer-leader for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.  Remember the WMDs in Iraq, which were ever found ?  Who grilled Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Powell over that big lie, either before or after the invasion? – not WaPo, that's for sure.


WaPo cites the origin of the list as the website called, which has been hosted by GoDaddy since 21 August, and uses free BlogSpot blogging software, and doesn't give the names of any of the people involved.  You will find this on their Home Page:

We call on Congressional leadership, and the Obama administration, to:

    Immediately begin investigations to determine whether any U.S. government action or inaction has allowed Russia to manipulate the US domestic political process, and interfere in the 2016 election, through online propaganda.

    Immediately begin investigations to determine whether, by action or inaction, the American public has been deprived of related information that they need to vote in an informed manner.

    Work with our European allies to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT financial transaction system, effective immediately and lasting for at least one year, as an appropriate response to Russian manipulation of the election.


The first two points are silly, but understandable – "begin investigations" into blah blah blah, OK.  But the third is an immediate punishment for a guilty Russia.  Huh?  Aren't we going to await the outcome of the investigation before proceeding to punishment?  You know, "Innocent until proven guilty" and all that?  That's a bit like President Obama saying Osama bin Laden got "justice", when in fact he was simply assassinated and his body disappeared, which WaPO reported on but didn't question.


If you haven't heard of it before, SWIFT is an internet system which allows banks in different countries to exchange the necessary paperwork before and after the actual transfer of big sums of money, over secure channels.  The threat of being excluded from SWIFT, and hence being internationally isolated, is a very big stick indeed, and would likely lead to the instant start of WW3. 

At least, it would have if the Russians hadn't already written and implemented their own version of SWIFT, known as RosSwift.  It has been up and running for over a year, catering for Russian-to-Russian bank transactions, hence relieving Russia from having to worry about having their national inter-bank transactions being monitored by the US.  All it would take for it to become internationally operational would be the issuing of log-in credentials for RosSwift to foreign banks.  Presumably the Russians have decided, for now, not to split the world into 2 competing financial blocs, but they ready for it.

A moment's consideration should be enough for you to realise that the rest of the BRICS group, China, India, Brazil and South Africa would immediately join RosSwift, as would the CSO countries, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and other assorted hangers on like Syria, Iran, Philippines, Cuba, Venezuela – well over half the world's population.  The US couldn't sanction them all, so it would have to live with it.

Then you've got the problem of how the EU countries and Turkey are going to pay for their Russian oil and gas imports, unless they join RosSwift too.  And very soon you will see that cutting Russia off from SWIFT would be a HUGE mistake with endless blowback for the US, and that PropOrNot must be a complete bunch of idiots.

How do PropOrNot identify "Russian propaganda"?

There is a long list of ways that PropOrNot says it can tell if a website is a Russian propaganda site.  This one is quite instructive:


16. Appear to be effectively influencing public opinion in significant and very problematic ways, by promoting:
    Conspiracy theories about and protests against US military exercises,
    Isolationism/anti-interventionism generally,
    Support for policies like Brexit, and the breakup of the EU and Eurozone,
    Opposition to Ukrainian resistance to Russia and Syrian resistance to Assad,
    Support for the anti-vax, anti-Zika spraying, anti-GMO, 9/11-”truther”, gold-standard, and other related movements


Yes, if you believe in a peaceful non-interventionist US foreign policy, or supported Brexit like a majority of British voters did, or support a return to the gold standard, or are against Genetically Modified Organisms, you are a Russian propagandist !

The question is …

Getting back to WaPo, why would a news organisation with such an impeccable reputation for good journalism, choose to pick up this story from an anonymous bunch of idiots with a $10 web-site?  Perhaps because they are not a bunch of idiots at all, but a secretive cabal of war-crazed neo-cons, and WaPo have been given the establishment nod of approval to promote them. 

The implications of all this is that if a site regularly publishes articles which question US policy on its interventionist stance towards countries it doesn't like, or on going back to the gold standard, or on Brexit and the break-up of the EU, (all of which are common themes here on Doomstead Diner), then it could be branded a Russian propaganda outlet and some kind of sanctions applied against it.  This could involve lowering its ranking or removing it altogether from Google search results, and Facebook/Twitter news feed rankings, to outright closure.  Facebook has already announced that it is looking at modifying its news filters to try harder to eliminate fake news.

This is a very serious development for all people with alternative views to the US establishment.

The List

And finally, here is the list.  How many of these sites do you want to hear from as part of your political discussion?


Syria: it’s all about pipelines

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on November 19, 2016


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I've just spent some time watching videos raving about how the war in Syria is all about pipelines – a Young Turks specialty as well as ZeroHedge.  Their idea is that the South Pars gasfield in the Persian Gulf (shared by Iran and Qatar) needs to get gas to Europe, and to do that it has to cross Syria, which has refused permission, hence Assad has to go. 

I also did the research on actual pipelines built and being built.  Pipelines are expensive things, and of course they get designed to have a certain capacity and no more, because it's more expensive – there is never any spare capacity just lying around waiting for more gas.

OK, so first we need the map, with South Pars to the Austrian gas hub on it:


The red line is the shortest possible route and takes no notice of mountain ranges in Turkey, Greece, Albania and the Alps in Italy-Austria.  It is 6,200 Km, and probably a lot more in practice.  The most efficient route from Turkey to Europe has been in planning for over 14 years.  First there was the Nabucco route, then that was dropped in favour of Nabucco West, then that was dropped in favour of Trans Adriatic Pipeline.  Work finally started on that last year, and although the project website hasn't been updated for 10 months, is presumably still going, with an estimated start date of 2021.

Although the Qatar pipeline would probably follow the same route after leaving Turkey, NONE of it has been designed and financed yet, let alone built.  The Syrian war isn't even over yet, and its outcome is far from certain.  But even if it results in a Russian-controlled West Syria and a US/Turkey-controlled East Syria, and peace breaks out soon (a very unlikely scenario), there are still 8 other countries to get on-board and the EU Commission too.  As a price for going along with all this, those countries will/may want a spur off the main line to use themselves.

An additional complexity is that both Russia and Iran want to send more gas to Turkey too, and the Russian South Stream project to Turkey via the Black Sea is quite advanced.  What happens next with the EU Commission is still very much up in the air.  No doubt Russia wants to sell gas to Europe just as much as Qatar does, but Russia has the added incentive of getting more energy control over Europe, which Qatar doesn't have.  This could be used as lever to ensure peace between Russia and Europe (the aggressive bastards ! ).  At the same time, Europe (and Big Brother) doesn't want to get even more dependent on Russian gas if it can help it, making Qatar's non-existent pipeline more attractive.

So would the US be fighting ISIS in Syria (and Iraq) when ISIS is already fighting Assad, if the main game was to get the Qatari pipeline through Syria as quickly as possible?  I just can't see it somehow.

Trump: on the way to “Scenario 3” and the end of globalization

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on Noveber 16, 2016


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Margarita Mediavilla and her coworkers have performed extensive simulations of the future using system dynamics models, (see here). One of their scenarios, called "Scenario 3," is based on the hypothesis of a return to national competition, protectionism, deglobalization, and the like. In comparison to other scenarios, Scenario 3 is the least expensive in terms of the energy required, but also the most environmentally damaging. And, with Trump's election, it seems that we are heading exactly in that direction. What else would you have expected? (UB)
 By Margarita Mediavilla
The victory of Donald Trump, as well as so many things that have been happening in recent years (the rise of the extreme right wing in Europe, the fall of Asian trade, the Brexit, the war in Syria and Yemen), shows that we are following the path of what we called Scenario 3. It could not be in a different way since our “scenarios” were narratives that we used to glimpse the future, and the energy told us that Scenario 3 was the most realistic one.





Scenarios are a quite common tool used by the United Nations and other international agencies to look at the future of humanity, they are used to group their reflections around coherent visions. We call Scenario 3 one of these archetypal visions that create the international agencies1 and we used in our studies that compare the available fossil fuels subject to peak oil with the expected demand of energy2.

Scenario 3 describes a future of regional competition and return to national sovereignty. It assumes that regions will focus more on their self-reliance, national sovereignty, and regional identity, leading to tensions between regions and/or cultures. Countries will be concerned with security and protection, emphasizing primarily regional markets (protectionism, deglobalization) and paying little attention to common goods, international environmental agreements, and cooperation for development. Scenario 3 describes a future of deglobalization and conflict, it and is, to a large extent, Trump's conservative discourse.

Other scenarios, such as Scenario 1, talk about economic optimism and high growth. The humanity is focused on achieving competitive markets and free trade that would, eventually, benefit everyone by correcting social inequalities and environmental problems. Scenario 1 is the scenario of globalization. There is also a Scenario 2, the one of green capitalism, a friendly version of Scenario 1, which gives priority to protecting the environment and reducing inequality, using technological advances, dematerialization, and the economy of services and information.

There is a fourth scenario at stake,Scenario 4, which consists of a friendly version of Scenario 3. In Scenario 4 there is a major change in values: society reacts against nonsense consumerism and disrespect for life. Citizens and countries decide to assume their responsibilities by being a green example for the rest. Although barriers to trade of goods are rebuilt, barriers to information tend to be eliminated. The emphasis is on finding regional solutions to social and environmental problems, usually by combining drastic changes in lifestyles with decentralized governance styles. Scenario 4 is the ecologist scenario, the one of local autonomy, cooperation and open-source, the closest to the utopias of the Degrowth movement.

The problem is that Scenarios 1 and 2 require a lot of energy, while Scenario is the one that needs less energy because it has less trade and less economic growth. Scenario 4 is also a low energy one. The bad news is that Scenario 3 is blind to environmental problems and leads to the war for resources because there is no lifestyle change towards an austere society based on renewable energy. Only Scenario 4 could be a minimally sustainable one because is the only one that invests in the energy of the future and does not grow a lot.

Trump's victory, like so many other things, shows us that the business as usual options are no longer what we used to call business as usual. We can no longer choose between neoliberal globalization or a slightly more social globalization of sustainable development. In a world where the energy is getting more and more difficult to obtain those scenarios that minimize energy consumption are the ones that have more probabilities of becoming true. Now the only possible options are Scenario 3 (neocons, right-wing) or those that could arise from Scenario 4 (anti-consumerist movements and ecosocialism).

The traditional political left parties should wake up and stop pursuing futures that resemble Scenario 2 and seek a slightly more friendly or greener globalization. Only the political options that are well aware of the planet's ecological limits can be a solid discourse against neoconservatives. In this moment we need to develop a political alternative based on anti-consumerist values, on the defense of the land and on the values of cooperation. Only this alternative can compensate self-destructive neoconservative tendencies that lead us to a dangerous competition for the resources in a planet that is going on a trend of constant ecological degradation.

Margarita Mediavilla teaches at  the School of Industrial Engineering of the University of Valladolid and belongs to the research group of Energy, Economy and System Dynamics (GEEDS) She is also engaged in the EU research project MEDEAS dedicated to modeling the energy transition in Europe.


1 Van Vuuren, D.P., Kok, M.T.J., Girod, B., Lucas, P.L., de Vries, B., 2012. Scenarios in Global Environmental Assessments: Key characteristics and lessons for future use. Global Environmental Change 22, 884–895. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.06.001
2 Capellán-Pérez I, Mediavilla M, de Castro C, et al (2014a) Fossil fuel depletion and socio-economic scenarios: An integrated approach. Energy 77:641–666. doi: 10.1016/

How the Nazis Won WWII

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Published on Reddit r/collapse on October 15, 2016


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Recently my sleep patterns have been a little messed up. This led to me waking up in the middle of the night last night and just lying in bed for three hours thinking about various things. Here are some of my thoughts. They are somewhat collapse related, so bear with me.

In the 1920s Adolph Hitler was a failing Austrian artist. In order to fix his life, he decided to embark on his greatest artistic project to date – he reinvented himself, spending many hours in front of the mirror in order to perfect a completely new image to the outside world. He turned this new man into the leader of a political movement that came close to complete global domination. In doing so, he associated with other like-minded individuals. In particular, Joseph Goebbels, who perfected the technique known as "The Big Lie", which he described as follows:

It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.

Naziism took a few very simple ideas – "Ubermensch", "The Jewish Problem", "Lebensraum", and molded them into an enormously powerful movement. If we view Naziism not as politics, with the goal of actualising these ideas, but instead as an artistic movement, a project that demonstrated how to motivate and control mass-movements in the media age, then I believe it was enormously successful.

Fast forward 70 years, and this new artistic movement, which we can perhaps call "Art-politics" is triumphant. Back in the 1930s, only the Naziis had the big lie, but now everyone is doing it. We have multiple different groups following this artistic movement and each creating there own artistic project with their own variations on the big lie. The Naziism didn't triumph politically, or militarily, but artistically. Their new creation, art-politics, has conquered the world.

Politics as it was once practiced, as an intellectual movement intent on finding the best form of governance, is dead. It has already collapsed. The days of Burke, or Marx, or Keynes, are long gone, and nowadays intellectuals are kept well away from the general public. Instead each party is an artistic statement, with no solid intellectual apparatus apparent.

None of these movements make the slightest sense under any cursory analysis. Where is the conservative answer to global warming and resource depletion? Where is the socialist answer to modern captialist globalisation? Where is the green answer for how 9 billion people can possibly live sustainably, or, if fewer people can be supported, how we can get from here to there without enormous suffering and conflict?

I am writing this from the UK, where we have recently had the Brexit referendum, a supreme demonstration of art-politics. The lie wasn't the yes campaign, or the no campaign. The big lie was the idea that the answer to a single yes/no question could possibly, either way, lead us to a coherent future path.

And yet we are almost all young enough that we have been brought up with these paradigms. We may go through a stage of flitting between them. They are all tremendously powerful pieces of art, which appeal to us on an emotional level. On a forum such as this, where most of us recognise that politics has failed, we still keep coming back to these movements, because we have nothing else. We echo their ideas even when we know they are wrong.

In a sense this represents a failure of democracy. In many intellectual movements, such as mathematics or the sciences, it can take many years of study in order to familiarise onself with current knowledge and actively contribute, but democratic politics isn't like that, in that any idea that cannot be explained over a short conversation with a guy in a bar, or summed up in a single short reddit post, is worthless. It cannot possibly present a single set of coherent answers, because to do so would make it far too complex to compete in a democratic space with the various art-politics movements.

So that leads me to where I am now, wanting to reject all the crap that dominates our modern intellectual discourse, and start anew, which is essentially a nihilist exercise. And yet nihilism isn't an answer, but merely a starting point from which answers can come. Arguably earlier political movements, such as communism, grew out of such a nihilist exercise. I feel a need to reach out and connect to people who think in the same way as me, but to do so seems essentially useless. It doesn't make any more sense for nihilists to group and work together than it makes sense for most atheists to attend an atheist church. The commonality simply isn't there.

For the time being, I feel that all I can do is study and learn more. Not necessarily about collapse, because in our current condition, collapse is inevitable, but about the human condition. Or something. I'm not sure. I just need to learn.



I Admit to Being Afraid of World War Four

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Published on Reddit r/collapse on October 14, 2016


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Most of you are too young to remember World War Three. They commonly refer to this as the Cold War, even though millions of Third World Peasants and tens of thousands of Americans and Soviets perished fighting it. I am old enough to have a vague recollection of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember my poor single mother piling canned goods, jugs of tap water and blankets on the back floorboards of an old Pontiac (I assume the trunk was full of other possessions), so that she and her five children could flee Houston for a West Texas farmstead. Someone talked her out of it, arguing that could be no escape from nuclear warfare. Looking back, I think her calculation was the better one. Anyway, I was almost five years old, and that is the first historical event I can recall.

In 1973, the USA went to DefCon 3, nuclear high alert, to bluff the Soviets from intervening in the Yom Kippur War. (In one version, the National Security Council did this without a direct order from President Nixon, the official Commander-in-Chief, as he was asleep.) That day, my high school was treating us to a showing of Dr. Strangelove. I had read about the high alert in the morning newspaper, and told a cute girl about it. She found the dark irony of that to be ‘cool’. I went on to learn about MAD, MIRVs and the nuclear triad. I gained enough understanding of it to be terrified of Ronald Reagan. We know now that he terrified the Soviets too, enough that they almost pulled the nuclear trigger – twice in 1983.

This morning, Microsoft fed me a version of this sensational news item.

Putin orders Russian officials' relatives studying abroad to return home, reports claim

Russia is ordering all of its officials to fly home any relatives living abroad amid rising tensions over the prospect of a new world war, it’s been claimed.

Politicians and high-ranking figures are said to have received a high-level warning from tough guy president Vladimir Putin, according to local media.

The reported call to return to the Motherland – which comes after Putin suddenly cancelled a visit to France – applies to all state employees.

Later that morning, I found this propaganda item:

7 Ways Russia Is Telling People to Prepare for War

With tensions between Russia and the United States at the highest since the Cold War, there have been some alarming signals coming out of Moscow intended to suggest the country is ready for war.

For the past few years, there has been a rising drumbeat of this war hysteria. The last Presidential ‘Debate’ shocked me by the constant invocation of Satanic Triad of Putin, Assad and Trump by Mrs. Clinton, and the moderators as well. At her age, she should have substantial memories of these brushes with Armageddon and of the related danger of McCarthyism too, but apparently, Mrs. Clinton is willing to risk nuclear war for sake of Aleppo and the hacking of some embarrassing e-mails. Age alone does not bring wisdom.

I am real tired of this shit.



Inman couple seeks backing for eco-village

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Published on GOUPstate on October 1, 2016


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Wendy and Aaron McCarty of Inman believe the lifestyle many of us enjoy today could be completely upended if a major disruption ever occurred in the energy grid.

They dream of building a self-sustaining eco-village, complete with energy-efficient geodome structures, vegetable gardens and bamboo stands, and self-made clothing and goods.

They hope to partner with local schools to teach students the dying trades of blacksmithing, candlemaking, looming and more, she said.

“We’re hoping this will bring in tourism — breathe new life into the community, and jobs,” said Wendy McCarty, an artist and photographer.

The couple has sought the support of local leaders, and needs about $1 million and a 100-acre property with a running stream to get the sustainability park project off the ground.

They’ve gotten moral support. Now comes the hard part — raising the funds and finding the right piece of property.

“It would be great to have this in Inman,” said Tom Plemmons of the Inman Area Chamber of Commerce. “I am proud they have tentatively selected Inman as a host site. I hope to help them turn this into a reality. The hard thing is turning from paper to reality. It takes a lot of hard work.”

The McCartys hosted a barbecue last week in Saluda, N.C., which was attended by local officials as well as the president of SUN (Sustaining Universal Needs) Foundation, the nonprofit that is working with the McCartys.

SUN’s mission is “to assist people and the society in general in transitioning off the fossil-fuel based economy that currently is winding down around us,” according to John Litter, president.

Wendy and Aaron McCarty of Inman believe the lifestyle many of us enjoy today could be completely upended if a major disruption ever occurred in the energy grid.

They dream of building a self-sustaining eco-village, complete with energy-efficient geodome structures, vegetable gardens and bamboo stands, and self-made clothing and goods.They hope to partner with local schools to teach students the dying trades of blacksmithing, candlemaking, looming and more, she said.

“We’re hoping this will bring in tourism — breathe new life into the community, and jobs,” said Wendy McCarty, an artist and photographer.

The couple has sought the support of local leaders, and needs about $1 million and a 100-acre property with a running stream to get the sustainability park project off the ground.

They’ve gotten moral support. Now comes the hard part — raising the funds and finding the right piece of property.

“It would be great to have this in Inman,” said Tom Plemmons of the Inman Area Chamber of Commerce. “I am proud they have tentatively selected Inman as a host site. I hope to help them turn this into a reality. The hard thing is turning from paper to reality. It takes a lot of hard work.”

The McCartys hosted a barbecue last week in Saluda, N.C., which was attended by local officials as well as the president of SUN (Sustaining Universal Needs) Foundation, the nonprofit that is working with the McCartys.

SUN’s mission is “to assist people and the society in general in transitioning off the fossil-fuel based economy that currently is winding down around us,” according to John Litter, president.

The gathering was attended by Inman council members Ray Rogers and Ginger Morrow McGuire and chamber members Plemmons, Bessie Fisher and Cliff Newmark. Also attending was Missy House, a representative with U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg.

Litter estimated it will cost $1 million to get the eco-village up and running, with more funding needed later as it grows.

Fisher, an experienced grant writer for Inman, said she could help by exploring grant funds.

Rogers said he was impressed by the proposal Wendy McCarty delivered to council earlier this summer, and he’s found a real estate agent to help her look for available land.

“I’m amazed they selected Inman as a prototype,” he said. “I’m glad she selected Inman to do it.”

Newmark said he believes the McCartys could succeed in drawing more business and tourism to Inman. “I’m certainly open to ideas,” said Newmark. “I’m excited because Wendy is so excited. Her enthusiasm is so infectious. I want to learn more.”

The McCartys think communities should start becoming self-sufficient — free of fossil fuels and powered by the sun, wind and water, and able to grow their own food and make their own goods.

“We aren’t preppers,” said Aaron, a professional landscaper, referring to doomsday survivalists who build underground shelters stocked with canned food and guns. “And we’re not hippies.”

Residents would produce their own food, including meat and vegetables, cider, bread, cheese and butter. They could even generate income by producing enough to sell.

“It will be as self-sustaining as possible,” he said.

The farm would not be totally devoid of modern conveniences. It will have electricity — generated by sun, wind and water — and plumbing.

In fact, the inside of a geodome home can be built with all the amenities found in any other new house.

“Even the Amish are dependent on many industrially produced farm implements and tools, as well as industrially produced milled lumber,” Wendy McCarty said.

Plemmons said the idea of a self-sufficient community isn’t new to Inman. In the years before automobiles, residents had to be self-sufficient, he said.




Peak oil by any other name is still peak oil

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on September 8, 2016


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One of the most compelling charts I have ever seen is the “Growing Gap” chart that used to appear in every ASPO Newsletter. This is the one from the last ASPO Newsletter, written by Colin Campbell and published in April 2009.
Since then, more than seven years have passed, and peak oil has disappeared from the mainstream press headlines–almost. On August 29, Bloomberg published a story alerting to the fact that conventional oil discovery has reached a 70-year low. It published a very interesting chart, using data provided by Wood Mackenzie, the oil consulting firm, to show that fact. Unlike the ASPO chart, Bloomberg's chart only goes back to 1947, the year before Ghawar was discovered.




I thought I would reproduce the “Growing Gap” chart using Wood Mackenzie's data.


Neither Wood Mackenzie nor Bloomberg make public the data behind the chart, but I used a digitization program, WebPlotDigitizer, to extract data from the chart. The results are not perfect, of course, but give a good enough estimate. One must keep in mind that discovery data are not precise and may have a significant margin of error.


In order to obtain conventional oil production, I subtracted US tight oil production and Canadian tar sands production from the EIA's global crude plus condensate number. I know I must also subtract the extra-heavy production from the Orinoco Belt, but it is hard to find data for it. In any case, this is a very good estimate. According to data gathered by Jean Laherrère, the Orinoco extra-heavy production is only around 1 Mb/d today.
The following chart shows the digitized Wood Mackenzie conventional discovery data and the production data described above. According to the data, since 1980, when the gap between production and discovery began to appear, humanity has extracted about 47 percent more conventional oil than it has discovered.
And the following chart shows a three-year moving average of discovery, to replicate the ASPO chart. Notice that discovered volumes are generally larger than Campbell's data, but the drop since 2011 is more precipitous than he anticipated.
According to the Bloomberg story, this shortfall in discovery will be felt 10 years from now, when it begins to “hinder production.”

Peak oil by any other name is still peak oil.

Reflections on the Twilight of the Age of Oil (Part II)

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on July 15, 2016


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Part 2 – Enquiring into the appropriateness of the question

Let’s acknowledge it, the situation we are in, as depicted summarily in Part 1, is complex.  As many commentators like to state, there is still plenty of oil, coal, and gas left "in the ground".  Since 2014, debates have been raging, concerning the assumed “oil glut”, concerning how low oil prices may go down, how high prices may rebound as demand possibly picks up and the “glut” vanishes, and, in the face of all this, what may or may not happen regarding “renewables”.  However, in my view, the situation is not impossible to analyse rigorously, away from what may appear as common sense but that may not withstand scrutiny.  For example, Part 1 data have indicated,that most of what’s left in terms of fossil fuels is likely to stay where it is, underground, without this requiring the implementation of  difficult to agree upon resource management policies, simply because this is what thermodynamics dictates.
We can now venture a little bit further if we keep firmly in mind that the globalised industrial world (GIW), and by extension all of us, do not “live” on fossil resources but on net energy delivered by the global energy system; and if we also keep in mind that, in this matter, oil-derived transport fuels are the key since, without them, none of the other fossil and nuclear resources can be mobilised and the GIW itself can’t function.
In my experience, most often, when faced with such a broad spectrum of conflicting views, especially involving matters pertaining to physics and the social sciences, the lack of agreement is indicative that the core questions are not well formulated.  Physicist David Bohm liked to stress: “In scientific enquiries, a crucial step is to ask the right question.  Indeed each question contains presuppositions, largely implicit.  If these presuppositions are wrong or confused, the question itself is wrong, in the sense that to try to answer it has no meaning.  One has thus to enquire into the appropriateness of the question.”
Here it is important, in terms of system analysis, to differentiate between the global energy industry (say, GEI) and the GIW. The GEI bears the brunt of thermodynamics directly, and within the GEI, the oil industry (OI) is key since, as seen in Part 1, it is the first to reach the thermodynamics limit of resource extraction and, since it conditions the viability of the GEI’s other components – in their present state and within the remaining timeframe, they can’t survive the OI’s eventual collapse.  On the other hand, the GIW is impacted by thermodynamic decline with a lag, in the main because it is buffered by debt – so that by the time the impact of the thermodynamic collapse of the OI becomes undeniable it’s too late to do much about it.
At the micro level, debt can be "good" – e.g. a company borrows to expand and then reimburses its debt, etc…  At the macro level, it can be, and has now become, lethal, as the global debt can no longer be reimbursed (I estimate the energy equivalent of current global debt, from states, businesses, and households to be in the order of some 10,700EJ, while current world energy use is in the order of 554EJ; it is no longer doable to “mind the gap”).

Crude oil prices are dropping to the floor

Figure 4 – The radar signal for an Oil Pearl Harbor
In brief, the GIW has been living on ever growing total debt since around the time net energy from oil per head peaked in the early 1970s.  The 2007-08 crisis was a warning shot.  Since 2012, we have entered the last stage of this sad saga – when the OI began to use more energy (one should talk in fact of exergy) within its own productions chains than what it delivers to the GIW.  From this point onwards retrieving the present financial fiat system is no longer doable.
This 2012 point marked a radical shift in price drivers.[1]  Figure 4 combines the analyses of TGH (The Hills Group) and mine. In late 2014 I saw the beginning of the oil price crash as a signal of a radar screen.  Being well aware that EROIs for oil and gas combined had already passed below the minimum threshold of 10:1, I understood that this crash was different from previous ones: prices were on their way right down to the floor.  I then realised what TGH had anticipated this trend months earlier, that their analysis was robust and was being corroborated by the market there and then.
Until 2012, the determining price driver was the total energy cost incurred by the OI.  Until then the GIW could more or less happily sustain the translation of these costs into high oil prices, around or above $100/bbl.  This is no longer the case.  Since 2012, the determining oil price driver is what the GIW can afford to pay in order to still be able to generate residual GDP growth (on borrowed time) under the sway of a Red Queen that is running out of thermodynamic “breath”.  I call the process we are in an “Oil Pearl Harbour", taking place in a kind of eerie slow motion. This is no longer retrievable.  Within roughly ten years the oil industry as we know it will have disintegrated.  The GIW is presently defenceless in the face of this threat.

The Oil Fizzle Dragon-King

Figure 5 – The “Energy Hand”
To illustrate how the GEI works I often compare its energy flows to the five fingers of the one hand: all are necessary and all are linked (Figure 5). Under the Red Queen, the GEI is progressively loosing its “knuckles” one by one like a kind of unseen leprosy – unseen yet because of the debt “veil” that hides the progressive losses and more fundamentally because of what I refer to at the bottom of Figure 5, namely were are in what I call Oil Fizzle Dragon-King. 
A Dragon-King (DK) is a statistical concept developed by Didier Sornette of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, and a few others to differentiate high probability and high impact processes and events from Black Swans, i.e. events that are of low probability and high impact.  I call it the Oil Fizzle because what is triggering it is the very rapid fizzling out of net energy per barrel.  It is a DK, i.e. a high probability, high impact unexpected process, purely because almost none of the decision-making elites is familiar with the thermodynamics of complex systems operating far from equilibrium; nor are they familiar with the actual social workings of the societies they live in.  Researchers have been warning about the high likelihood of something like this at least since the works of the Meadows in the early 1970s.[2] 
The Oil Fizzle DK is the result of the interaction between this net energy fizzling out, climate change, debt and the full spectrum of ecological and social issues that have been mounting since the early 1970s – as I noted on Figure 1, the Oil Fizzle DK is in the process of whipping up a “Perfect Storm” strong enough to bring the GIW to its knees.  The Oil Pearl Harbour marks the Oil Fizzle DK getting into full swing. 
To explain this further, with reference to Figure 5, oil represents some 33% of global primary energy use (BP data). Fossil fuels represented some 86% of total primary energy in 2014.  However, coal, oil, and gas are not like three boxes neatly set side by side from which energy is supplied magically, as most economists would have it.
In the real world (i.e. outside the world economists live in), energy supply chains form networks, rather complex ones.  For example, it takes electricity to produce many products derived from oil, coal, and gas, while electricity is generated substantially from coal and gas, and so on.  More to the point, as noted earlier, because 94% of all transport is oil-based, oil stands at the root of the entire, complex, globalised set of energy networks.  Coal mining, transport, processing, and use depend substantially on oil-derived transport fuels; ditto for gas.[3]   The same applies to nuclear plants.  So the thermodynamic collapse of the oil industry, that is now underway, not only is likely to be completed within some 10 years but is also in the process of triggering a falling domino effect (aka an avalanche, or in systemic terms, a self-organising criticality, a SOC). 
Presently, and for the foreseeable future, we do not have substitutes for oil derived transport fuels that can be deployed within the required time frame and that would be affordable to the GIW.  In other words, the GIW is falling into a thermodynamic trap, right now. As B. W. Hill recently noted, “The world is now spending $2.3 trillion per year more to produce oil than what is received when it is sold. The world is now losing a great deal of money to maintain its dependence on oil.”

The Tooth Fairy Syndrome

To come back to David Bohm’s “question about the question”, in my view, we are in this situation fundamentally because of what I call the “Tooth Fairy Syndrome”, after a pointed remark by B.W. Hill in an Internet debate early last year: “It is interesting that not one analyst has yet come to the very obvious conclusion that it requires oil to produce oil.  Perhaps they think it is delivered by the Tooth Fairy?”  This remark vividly characterised for me the prevalence of a fair amount of magical thinking at the heart of decision-making within both the GEI and the GIW, aka economics as a perpetual motion machine fantasy.  Unquestioned delusional beliefs lead to wrong conclusions.
This is not new.  Here are a few words of explanation.  In 1981, I met US anthropologist Laura Nader at the Australia New Zealand Association of the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) Congress held that year at University of Queensland in Brisbane.  We were both guest speakers at seminars focusing on Energy and Equity, and in particular on how societies actually deal with energy matters, energy crises and decide about courses of action.  The title of her paper was “Energy and Equity, Magic, Science, and Religion Revisited”.
In recent years, Nader had become part of US bodies overseeing responses to the first and second oil shocks and the US nuclear energy industry (she was a member of the National Academy of Science's Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems, CONAES). As an anthropologist, she was initially taken aback by what she observed and proceeded to apply her anthropological skills to try and understand the weird “tribes” she had landed into.  The title of her paper was a wink at Malinowski’s famous work on the Trobriands in 1925.  
Malinowski had pointed out that: “There are no people, however primitive without religion or magic.  Nor are there… any savage races [sic] lacking either in the scientific attitude or in science though this lack has been frequently attributed to them.”  
Nader had observed that prevailing decision-making in the industrialised world she was living in was also the outcome of a weird mix of “Magic, Science, and Religion” with magical and mythical, quasi religious, thinking predominating among people who were viewed and who viewed themselves as rational and making scientifically grounded decisions.  At the time I was engaged in very similar research, had observed exactly the same kind of phenomena in my own Australasian fieldwork and had reached similar conclusions.
In my observations, since the 1970s the prevalence of this syndrome has considerably worsened. This is what I seek to encapsulate as the Tooth Fairy Syndrome.  With the Oil Peal harbour, the unquestioned sway of the Tooth Fairy is coming to an end.  However, the imprint of Tooth Fairy thinking remains so strong that most discussions and analyses remain highly confused, even within scientific circles still taking economic notions for granted. 
In the longer run, the end effect of the Oil Fizzle DK is likely to be an abrupt decline of GHG emissions.  However, the danger I see is that meanwhile the GEI, and most notably the OI, is not going to just “curl up and die”.  I think we are in a “die hard” situation.  Since 2012, we are already seeing what I call a Big Mad Scramble (BMS) by a wide range of GEI actors that try to keep going while they still can, flying blind into the ground.  The eventual outcome is hard to avoid with a GEI operating with only about 12% energy efficiency, i.e. some 88% wasteful current primary energy use.  The GIW’s agony is likely to result in a big burst of GHG emissions while net energy fizzles out.  The high danger is that the old quip will eventuate on a planetary scale: “the operation was successful but the patient died”…  Hence my call for “enquiring into the appropriateness of the question” and for systemic thinking.  We are in deep trouble.  We can’t afford to get this wrong.
Next: Part 3 – Standing slightly past the edge of the cliff




Bio: Dr Louis Arnoux is a scientist, engineer, and entrepreneur committed to the development of sustainable ways of living and doing business.  His profile is available on Google+  at:






[1] As THG have conclusively clarified, see



[2] The Meadows’ original work has been amply corroborated over the ensuing decades.  See for example, Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows, 2004, A Synopsis: Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, The Donella Meadows Institute; Turner, Graham, 2008, A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality, Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion, CSIRO Working Paper Series 2008-09; Hall, Charles A. S. and Day, John W, Jr, 2009, “Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil” in American Scientist, May-June; Vuuren, D.P. van and Faber, Albert, 2009, Growing within Limits, A Report to the Global Assembly 2009 of the Club of Rome, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency; and Turner, Graham, M., 2014, Is Global Collapse Imminent? An Updated Comparison of The Limits to Growth with Historical Data, MSSI Research Paper No. 4, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne.



[3] Although there is a drive to use more and more liquefied natural gas for gas tankers and ordinary ship fuel bunkering



Reflections on the Twilight of the Age of Oil – part I

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on July 12, 2016


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This three-part post was inspired by Ugo’s recent post concerning Will Renewables Ever ReplaceFossils? and recent discussions within Ugo’s discussion group on how is it that “Economists still don't get it”?  It integrates also numerous discussion and exchanges I have had with colleagues and business partners over the last three years.


Since at least the end of 2014 there has been increasing confusions about oil prices, whether so-called “Peal Oil” has already happened, or will happen in the future and when, matters of EROI (or EROEI) values for current energy sources and for alternatives, climate change and the phantasmatic 2oC warming limit, and concerning the feasibility of shifting rapidly to renewables or sustainable sources of energy supply.  Overall, it matters a great deal whether a reasonable time horizon to act is say 50 years, i.e. in the main the troubles that we are contemplating are taking place way past 2050, or if we are already in deep trouble and the timeframe to try and extricate ourselves is some 10 years. Answering this kind of question requires paying close attention to system boundary definitions and scrutinising all matters taken for granted.


It took over 50 years for climatologists to be heard and for politicians to reach the Paris Agreement re climate change (CC) at the close of the COP21, late last year.  As you no doubt can gather from the title, I am of the view that we do not have 50 years to agonise about oil.  In the three sections of this post I will first briefly take stock of where we are oil wise; I will then consider how this situation calls upon us to do our utter best to extricate ourselves from the current prevailing confusion and think straight about our predicament; and in the third part I will offer a few considerations concerning the near term, the next ten years – how to approach it, what cannot work and what may work, and the urgency to act, without delay.

Part 1 – Alice looking down the end of the barrel

In his recent post, Ugo contrasted the views of the Doomstead Diner's readers  with that of energy experts regarding the feasibility of replacing fossil fuels within a reasonable timeframe.  In my view, the Doomstead’s guests had a much better sense of the situation than the “experts” in Ugo’s survey.  To be blunt, along current prevailing lines we are not going to make it.  I am not just referring here to “business-as-usual” (BAU) parties holding for dear life onto fossil fuels and nukes.  I also include all current efforts at implementing alternatives and combating CC.  Here is why.   

The energy cost of system replacement

What a great number of energy technology specialists miss are the challenges of whole system replacement – moving from fossil-based to 100% sustainable over a given period of time.  Of course, the prior question concerns the necessity or otherwise of whole system replacement.  For those of us who have already concluded that this is an urgent necessity, if only due to CC, no need to discuss this matter here.  For those who maybe are not yet clear on this point, hopefully, the matter will become a lot clearer a few paragraphs down.
So coming back for now to whole system replacement, the first challenge most remain blind to is the huge energy cost of whole system replacement in terms of both the 1st principle of thermodynamics (i.e. how much net energy is required to develop and deploy a whole alternative system, while the old one has to be kept going and be progressively replaced) and also concerning the 2nd principle (i.e. the waste heat involved in the whole system substitution process).  The implied issues are to figure out first how much total fossil primary energy is required by such a shift, in addition to what is required for ongoing BAU business and until such a time when any sustainable alternative has managed to become self-sustaining, and second to ascertain where this additional fossil energy may come from. 

The end of the Oil Age is now

If we had a whole century ahead of us to transition, it would be comparatively easy.  Unfortunately, we no longer have that leisure since the second key challenge is the remaining timeframe for whole system replacement.  What most people miss is that the rapid end of the Oil Age began in 2012 and will be over within some 10 years.  To the best of my knowledge, the most advanced material in this matter is the thermodynamic analysis of the oil industry taken as a whole system (OI) produced by The Hill's Group (THG) over the last two years or so ( 
THG are seasoned US oil industry engineers led by B.W. Hill.  I find its analysis elegant and rock hard.  For example, one of its outputs concerns oil prices.  Over a 56 year time period, its correlation factor with historical data is 0.995.  In consequence, they began to warn in 2013 about the oil price crash that began late 2014 (see:  In what follows I rely on THG’s report and my own work.
Three figures summarise the situation we are in rather well, in my view.
Figure 1 – End Game
For purely thermodynamic reasons net energy delivered to the globalised industrial world (GIW) per barrel by the oil industry (OI) is rapidly trending to zero.  By net energy we mean here what the OI delivers to the GIW, essentially in the form of transport fuels, after the energy used by the OI for exploration, production, transport, refining and end products delivery have been deducted. 
However, things break down well before reaching “ground zero”; i.e. within 10 years the OI as we know it will have disintegrated. Actually, a number of analysts from entities like Deloitte or Chatham House, reading financial tealeaves, are progressively reaching the same kind of conclusions.[1]
The Oil Age is finishing now, not in a slow, smooth, long slide down from “Peak Oil”, but in a rapid fizzling out of net energy.  This is now combining with things like climate change and the global debt issues to generate what I call a “Perfect Storm” big enough to bring the GIW to its knees.

In an Alice world

At present, under the prevailing paradigm, there is no known way to exit from the Perfect Storm within the emerging time constraint (available time has shrunk by one order of magnitude, from 100 to 10 years).  This is where I think that Doomstead Diner's readers are guessing right.  Many readers are no doubt familiar with the so-called “Read Queen” effect illustrated in Figure 2 – to have to run fast to stay put, and even faster to be able to move forward.  The OI is fully caught in it.
Figure 2 – Stuck on a one track to nowhere
The top part of Figure 2 highlights that, due to declining net energy per barrel, the OI has to keep running faster and faster (i.e. pumping oil) to keep supplying the GIW with the net energy it requires.  What most people miss is that due to that same rapid decline of net energy/barrel towards nil, the OI can't keep “running” for much more than a few years – e.g. B.W. Hill considers that within 10 years the number of petrol stations in the US will have shrunk by 75%…  
What people also neglect, depicted in the bottom part of Figure 2, is what I call the inverse Red Queen effect (1/RQ).  Building an alternative whole system takes energy that to a large extent initially has to come from the present fossil-fuelled system.  If the shift takes place too rapidly, the net energy drain literally kills the existing BAU system.[2] The shorter the transition time the harder is the 1/RQ.  





I estimate the limit growth rate for the alternative whole system at 7% growth per year.  

In other words, current growth rates for solar and wind, well above 20% and in some cases over 60%, are not viable globally.  However, the kind of growth rates, in the order of 35%, that are required for a very short transition under the Perfect Storm time frame are even less viable – if “we” stick to the prevailing paradigm, that is.  As the last part of Figure 2 suggests, there is a way out by focusing on current huge energy waste, but presently this is the road not taken.

On the way to Olduvai

In my view, given that nearly everything within the GIW requires transport and that said transport is still about 94% dependent on oil-derived fuels, the rapid fizzling out of net energy from oil must be considered as the defining event of the 21st century – it governs the operation of all other energy sources, as well as that of the entire GIW.  In this respect, the critical parameter to consider is not that absolute amount of oil mined (as even “peakoilers” do), such as Million barrels produced per year, but net energy from oil per head of global population, since when this gets too close to nil we must expect complete social breakdown, globally. 
The overall picture, as depicted ion Figure 3, is that of the “Mother of all Senecas” (to use Ugo’s expression).   It presents net energy from oil per head of global population.[3]  The Olduvai Gorge as a backdrop is a wink to Dr. Richard Duncan’s scenario (he used barrels of oil equivalent which was a mistake) and to stress the dire consequences if we do reach the “bottom of the Gorge” – a kind of “postmodern hunter-gatherer” fate.
Oil has been in use for thousands of year, in limited fashion at locations where it seeped naturally or where small well could be dug out by hand.  Oil sands began to be mined industrially in 1745 at Merkwiller-Pechelbronn in north east France (the birthplace of Schlumberger).  From such very modest beginnings to a peak in the early 1970s, the climb took over 220 years.  The fall back to nil will have taken about 50 years.
The amazing economic growth in the three post WWII decades was actually fuelled by a 321% growth in net energy/head.  The peak of 18GJ/head in around 1973, was actually in the order of some 40GJ/head for those who actually has access to oil at the time, i.e. the industrialised fraction of the global population.
Figure 3 – The “Mother of all Senecas”

In 2012 the OI began to use more energy per barrel in its own processes (from oil exploration to transport fuel deliveries at the petrol stations) than what it delivers net to the GIW.  We are now down below 4GJ/head and dropping fast.
This is what is now actually driving the oil prices: since 2014, through millions of trade transactions (functioning as the “invisible hand” of the markets), the reality is progressively filtering that the GIW can only afford oil prices in proportion to the amount of GDP growth that can be generated by a rapidly shrinking net energy delivered per barrel, which is no longer much.  Soon it will be nil. So oil prices are actually on a downtrend towards nil. 
To cope, the OI has been cannibalising itself since 2012.  This trend is accelerating but cannot continue for very long.  Even mainstream analysts have begun to recognise that the OI is no longer replenishing its reserves.  We have entered fire-sale times (as shown by the recent announcements by Saudi Arabia (whose main field, Ghawar, is probably over 90% depleted) to sell part of Aramco and make a rapid shift out of a near 100% dependence on oil and towards “solar”.
Given what Figure 1 to 3 depict, it should be obvious that resuming growth along BAU lines is no longer doable, that addressing CC as envisaged at the COP21 in Paris last year is not doable either, and that incurring ever more debt that can never be reimbursed is no longer a solution, not even short-term.  
Time to “pull up” and this requires a paradigm change capable of avoiding both the RQ and 1/RQ constraints.  After some 45 years of research, my colleagues and I think this is still doable.  Short of this, no, we are not going to make it, in terms of replacing fossil resources with renewable ones within the remaining timeframe, or in terms of the GIW’s survival.

Part 2 – Enquiring into the appropriateness of the question

Part 3 – Standing slightly past the edge of the cliff











[1] See for example, Stevens, Paul, 2016, International Oil Companies: The Death of the Old Business Model, Energy, Research Paper, Energy, Environment and Resources, Chatham House; England, John W., 2016, Short of capital? Risk of underinvestment in oil and gas is amplified by competing cash priorities, Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions, Deloitte LLP.  The Bank of England recently commented: “The embattled crude oil and natural gas industry worldwide has slashed capital spending to a point below the minimum required levels to replace reserves — replacement of proved reserves in the past constituted about 80 percent of the industry’s spending; however, the industry has slashed its capital spending by a total of about 50 percent in 2015 and 2016. According to Deloitte’s new study {referred to above], this underinvestment will quickly deplete the future availability of reserves and production.”





[2] This effect is also referred to as “cannibalising”.  See for example, J. M. Pearce, 2009, Optimising Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Strategies to Suppress Energy Cannibalism, 2nd Climate Change Technology Conference, May 12-15, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.  However, in the oil industry and more generally the mining industry, cannibalism usually refers to what companies do when there are reaching the end of exploitable reserves and cut down on maintenance, sell assets at a discount or acquires some from companies gone bankrupt, in order to try and survive a bit longer.  Presently there is much asset disposal going on in the Shale Oil and Gas patches, ditto among majors, Lukoil, BP, Shell, Chevron, etc….  Between spending cuts and assets disposal amounts involved are in the $1 to $2 trillions.





[3] This graph is based on THG’s net energy data, BP oil production data and UN demographic data.





Against Liberal (democratic) Capitalism: The Revolt of the Ignored

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Published on r/collapse on June 26, 2016

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Liberalism is the social system that makes Capitalism possible. Markets and private property have been intrinsic to nearly every form of Civilization (see the Incas as an outlier), but it was the creation of Liberal institutions that allowed full-blown Capitalism to proceed. Without guarantees of personal liberty, actual barons would have continued to rob the puny Capitalists, or some sovereign social consciousness might have prohibited their rapacious extractions altogether. The mark of true Liberal society is that no person of wealth need ever fear injustice.

Democracy was the final element of the complex and its addition came reluctantly. A simple mind, such as that of Ayn Rand, fails to understand the vital function of Democracy – that it diffuses away political power. Personal liberty is in jeopardy from any great concentration of power – political, religious or ironically, even economic, so Capitalism needs Democracy. But Democracy also holds that terrible potential – they call it ‘the tyranny of the majority’ – and so, Capitalists must diminish and constrain it as (democracy).

Reading this again, I do think it reflects the actual history of social development. For example, throughout East Asia and Latin America, authoritarian regimes were the vehicles for nascent Capitalist development. Liberal rights were slowly extended to an expanding Ownership while the masses were kept in brutal suppression. But while pacified workers are a necessity, a much higher value is found for them as a herd of avid consumers. That is the function of (democracy).

I am not anti-Capitalist for any ethical reason. It does offer greater freedom and a higher standard of living. But all of that will be irrelevant if Earth is returned to a condition that supports little else than microbial life.

Some theorists claim this system is an emergent property of human nature

In that regard, I think foremost of the neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama, who wrote a screed that was lengthened into a best-selling book. From Wiki:

…his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992), which argued that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle may signal the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government.

It was triumphant shout for the Fall of Communism. It was also a tedious read for its reliance of Hegelian philosophy, though it was interesting that at his conclusion, he feared Nietzsche might be right, and that liberal democracy (and Capitalism) might breed nihilism. It has, but more than that is its physical properties, as it can only accelerate the destruction of the Biosphere. I now see the bitter irony in his pompous title: This can be the end of history and the last of humanity.

I feel someone should do something to stop that.



A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of Nationalism.

Historians and pundits have touted the Fall of the Berlin Wall as the birth pang of a new Global Civilization, one organized as a supra-national system of Liberal (democratic) Capitalism. Some theorists claim this system is an emergent property of human nature and will be the inevitable culmination of history. This view ignores all of that aerial bombardment of great cities and Third World villages, and the threat of ever-greater bombs, that were the expedient means used to bring the opposition to Capitalism into submission. That aside, is it not wonderful that we all now enjoy the freedom to be Capitalists? Drive well for Uber and prosper.

However, there is a dilemma: This Global Civilization will quickly destroy Life on a Small Planet. A few entrepreneurs understand this and are planning a departure for Mars and the asteroid belt, but the rest of Our Ownership are in varying states of denial of this scientific certainty. Let us build summer camps for them atop the Arctic Sea Ice, where they might receive reeducation, with an emphasis on the laws of thermodynamics.

The only chance we have of slowing this ongoing Eco-Catastrophe is to disrupt this Global System, and while the farthest fringes of the Left understand this, the rest them have become worse than useless for that cause. As an example, Jill Stein, the current head of the Green Party of the USA, was a participant in a must-see documentary on the looming threat of human extinction, The Cross of the Moment. In the US elections of 2012, she and her Green Party received fewer than half a million votes, about a quarter of a percent of the electorate. I will be voting for her this November – nothing to gain, what else to lose.

If our democracies are useless, that is by design. To protect themselves against ‘the tyranny of the majority’, Our Ownership builds in safeguards against the popular will, an intricate complex of restraints and ruses. Sheldon Wolin has termed this as a ‘managed democracy’, even as ‘inverted totalitarianism’. This is a system to transform citizens with rights into consumers with needs.

In the Science of Civilizations, Brexit Is the European Union’s Reckoning

“One of the biggest problems is even though the EU seems democratic, the government is not democratically elected by the people of Europe, and therefore not directly responsive to the population,” says Turchin.

Recently, the Management of Democracy has suffered a series of notable failures, the latest coming when the (barely) United Kingdom voted in favor of leaving the European Union. The horror, the horror – live on television, as the vote totals mounted, most of the talking heads bore the expressions that they repress when reporting acts of mass terrorism. Was it a dread of financial turmoil? No, they must know that the Global Economy is already ‘struggling’, with investments so overvalued that most any shock could prompt a precipitous collapse, with derivatives tumbling like dominoes. No, what truly terrified them was the revolt of the English working class – those uneducated, xenophobic, economic losers that they have been able to manipulate or ignore for decades. Nationalism rears its head and Our Ownership screams.

Cue a notable Harvard and IMF economist:

Britain’s Democratic Failure

The idea that somehow any decision reached anytime by majority rule is necessarily “democratic” is a perversion of the term. Modern democracies have evolved systems of checks and balances to protect the interests of minorities and to avoid making uninformed decisions with catastrophic consequences. The greater and more lasting the decision, the higher the hurdles.

The other great failure in democratic management has been Donald Trump’s attainment of the Republican nomination for Presidency of the USA. As in the UK, the centrist conservative establishment greatly misjudged their ability to manage Democracy. The twin political pillar of American Capitalism, the Democratic Party, has better appraised the threat of revolt from the masses, and constructed a bulwark of unelected ‘super-delegates’ to block the nomination of any populist insurgent. Elsewhere in Europe, strange political collaborations in elections (the French Conservatives and Socialists against the National Front) or in parliamentary rule (the German Christian Democrats plus Social Democrats) are to allow no path for right-wing populists. Such movements have electoral success only in former Soviet Bloc nations where Liberal (democratic) Capitalism still has shallow roots.

All of this begs the question: Whatever happened to the former champions of the working class, the traditional Left?

In the USA, the Democratic Party made it a policy to ignore its largely white working class and created a new coalition of ‘enlightened professionals’ and assorted minorities. This chimera has enabled Clinton to prevail over Sanders and his following of ‘people-without-color’. How this coalition was built is recounted in Listen Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People, the latest book by the bona fide progressive author Thomas Frank. Do listen to his CSPAN Book Television presentation and discussion of the book. This bit of transcription comes from his conclusion, starting around minute 37.

…by abandoning them [the white working class] the Democrats made inevitable the economic desolation we now see out in the countryside of this nation…

…that leaves us with a choice this November… intolerance [Trump] versus inequality forever [Clinton]. Look folks, there has got to be a different way.

This book caps Frank’s lengthy attempt to understand why his white working class has consistently voted against its own economic interests. He now understands they do so because their concerns are irrelevant to the American political center, where neoconservative Tweedledum and neoliberal Tweedledee link arms to defend the Global Empire of Liberal (and democratic) Capitalism.

The opposition to Brexit was a very similar coalition: educated professionals, Scotland and Ulster, and the descendants of Imperial immigrants. Versus them were English traditionalists and a nativist working class. It was the forces of Globalization against English Nationalism. In the absence of ‘high hurdles’, English Nationalism won the vote. The British bookmakers had offered eighty to one odds against them.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the Truly Privileged and the Minorities are closing ranks to guarantee the election of the neoconservative, neoliberal Madame Secretary Clinton. Be then prepared for new military adventures and increasing inequality, if not forever, then for four to eight more years.

The American white working class now has a declining life expectancy, a historical privilege once suffered by the true Native Americans. Instead of sympathy, the pundits write sarcasm:

The incredible crushing despair of the white working class [OP user/triggerexpert]

If you're a working-class white American, in other words, it may seem as though you are stuck with a losing hand in a bleak zero-sum game: Minorities are getting richer. The rich are getting richer. They're all doing so at your expense, and it's difficult to imagine things being any different in the future.

That writer might have given some attribution to Mitt Romney, who said it first and better in this recent speech:

Demagogues on the right and the left draw upon our darker angels,” he said, “scapegoating immigrants and Muslims or bankers and business people.”

Yes, pity and protect the poor bankers. Finally, there comes this opinion piece, which was the provocation for me to write this essay. This crap comes from a ‘resident philosopher’ at the Brookings Institute, a Democratic ‘think tank’, who bravely sallies forth against the white working class and in favor of a more manageable democracy.

How voters’ personal suffering overtook reason — and brought us Donald Trump

The economic foundations of their way of life were destroyed by the unforgiving logic of globalization, and then by the recession and its scandalously uneven recovery. The blandishments of the digital economy passed them by. Their current rates of alcoholism, life expectancy and suicide are now notorious.

[Pause your reading while he snuffles back his crocodile tears.]

Republicans have been indifferent to them because Republicans revere winners and they are losers. Democrats have been indifferent to them because they are culturally embarrassing (and because many Democrats, too, have had little time for losers). Now they finally command the attention of the country — they have been discovered — which is itself a victory for fairness in America; but a large portion of them have gained this recognition by debasing American politics with a desperate preference for a strongman. It is one of the lowest ironies of this low time.

[But you are not ignoring them now, are you?]

All the way at the other end of the political spectrum from the black aggrieved are the white aggrieved, and they are the ones playing with a terrifying fire. The people who support the white working class have been voting for Bernie Sanders, but the white working class has been voting for Donald Trump. He would be nowhere, and we would not be facing a grave historical crisis, without the enthusiasm of these despairing and deluded millions. It was inevitable that we would not escape the political consequences of our economic dislocations, but those consequences now include the darkest forces of reaction. These downtrodden demand sympathy, and they deserve sympathy, but they do not give sympathy. They kindle, in the myopia of their pain, to racism and nativism and xenophobia and misogyny and homophobia and anti-Semitism.

The accidental candidacy of the clownish Donald Trump ranks as a grave historical crisis? Screw you Leon Wieseltier, you have seen nothing yet. Three cheers for Brexit! Hip-hip-hurrah! On with the Collapse of this cynical and corrupt system! Or as Peter Turchin noted in the lead article:

“All large scale societies go through complex cycles,” says Turchin. “These usually end up in civil war or outside conquest, but sometimes the ruling class can manage to get their act together using the reform route.”

Our Ownership is incapable of reform. The cupboard is fiscally bankrupt and depleted of resources, so there are no bones to toss to the snarling dogs. Listen Leftists! If you lament this outcome, then you must do as Thomas Frank suggests and find another way. Seek some means of reconciliation with that once dear proletariat. Human survival depends on that.




Enjoying the Collapse

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Published on Reddit on May 29, 2016


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Abandoned Malls & Vaporwave

If I wanted to limit myself to posting profoundly insightful things, I'd have to post once a month perhaps. So, today I want to discuss something that simply happens to entertain me. I'm part of an age cohort that happens to remember the nineties, but only very vaguely so. We're the echo-boomers, born from around 1989 until 1992. During that period there was a small but significant spike in birth rates around the Western world. If you were to ask your parents however, they'd insist that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall had nothing to do whatsoever with your birth. So for us, our experience of the late nineties and its culture consist of vague unreliable memories and an abundance of toys. My girlfriend insists that she remembers how it was, despite being two years younger than me, but I struggle to believe her. I think she remembers hearing the echo of that culture in the early '00's, although it could be argued that's what I heard myself as well. Still, I have some memories, particularly, I remember an atmosphere of exuberance.

I personally think that I got an odd version of the 90's and turned into a rather odd person, because of the fact that my father got laid off from the government somewhere in the late 90's. At the time, if you lost your government job, the government would continue paying you a monthly severance package practically equivalent to the salary you used to earn, until you found a new job. The state traditionally takes care of its own people very well here in Europe. My father's job would probably put us in the upper-middle class bracket (if my mom would have a job too, but she didn't), but he hated the job and most of his colleagues. As a result, my father didn't really want to find a new job at first. My parents would earn some money on the side by selling scrap metal or participating in surveys, which was more than enough to get by. Then, after years of unemployment when it did become useful to find some extra money, it proved to be somewhat difficult.

I think this environmental upbringing plays a role in the fact that I'm not very interested in participating in the economy. I was quite proud of the fact that my parents didn't have to work and made no secret of it to the preppy kids I went to junior high school with who'd ask me what my father does, because they grew up with parents that based their self-image on their petty jobs and taught their children to do the same. Personally, I believe I got the best of both world. I have vague memories of economic excesses and did not have to suffer poverty as a result. When I became mature and began to think about the world, civilization began to horrify me, almost driving me into insanity. Now that I am an adult, I woke up from my slumber to realize that civilization has already started to fall apart. The signs are everywhere and even regular people are starting to notice them.

Ted Kaczynski claims in his manifesto that the atmosphere of the nineties was rather critical of progress. That's not what I remember. I remember corporate guru's, paid hundreds of euros an hour to give pep talks based on buzz-words to cubicle-concubines. I remember stock markets that were going to keep growing forever. I remember the end of history, as neoliberal democracy was going to conquer the whole world. I remember sitcom television series, where the main characters suddenly had more money than they knew what to do with and decided to invest it in ridiculous ventures. I remember good television shows and arty farty computer games. I even remember people thinking that diversity would make our nations stronger and allow us to enjoy experiencing exotic cultures. People thought that they had won, that the good times would last forever.

If I was born a few years later, I'd be a rather ignorant person, with no idea of what went wrong and how things used to be and what made people take the poor decisions they took. If I was born a few years earlier, I think I'd be a rather miserable person. I would have grown up in economic growth and become psychologically dependent on it. I'd be stuck somewhere with a petty job and I'd probably be in the prime of my life now and suffering the effects of the economic downturn, watching my hopes for the future fall apart. Never having hope or goals for the future meant I never had to suffer disappointment. Being an echo boomer means that I've never had any experience with the economy as anything other than a beast of burden that has broken its leg and struggled to pull the plow ever since. I don't remember how things used to be before temp-contracts and waiters with Phd's, all that I remember is tasting the fruits we used to harvest in those earlier days. Instead, I've somehow always known that I would have to live through the collapse and that regardless of what I do, I won't be prepared for it.

I can't deny that I'm surprised by how long they have managed to drag the process out. It's something that used to bother me, but I'm beginning to come to terms with it. I used to hope that I would be a teenager during the collapse, one day waking up to a catastrophe of Venezuelan proportions and living as a permanent nomad from that point on. I still think a fast collapse may be better, for a variety of reasons, but for me this situation works too. It's the difference between watching someone paint a landscape and wandering into an art gallery. I will learn to better appreciate things that future generations will take for granted. And believe me, there is plenty to appreciate out here.

Let us start for example, with the fact that you and me get to watch everyone's utopian dreams end in profound humiliation. We get to watch the babyboomers be confronted with the reality that they won't get to live like modern day aristocrats after retiring. We get to watch every technology that was supposed to protect us from the consequences of our own greed fail to deliver. And perhaps most importantly, we get to dance on the corpses of our predecessors. It's fun to watch how the shopping malls are gradually deserted and once busy streets now house only money laundering jewelers and second hand stores kept alive with government subsidies. For future generations, abandoned shopping malls with flickering lights overgrown by vines and mosses are a self-evident part of the landscape. For me, they're orgasmic.

The advertisements once meant to seduce us into consuming now serve as a source of hilarity, as we don't have money left to consume with. This led to perhaps the most beautiful thing of this decade, vaporwave. Vaporwave was made for a generation of people for whom prosperity is an unreliable childhood memory. It's the international anthem of every abandoned mall around the world. Nobody invented vaporwave, it simply emerged spontaneously as a collective hallucination of dementing patients who struggle to remember their childhood. It seems inevitable that capitalism will now aim to mass market this anthem of its own decay, like a cancer patient selling tickets to his own funeral. Some people feel upset about this, but I don't see why you should. It seems that we struggle to understand that there can be life after the peak. The Russians and the Japanese had to learn to accept this, now it's our turn. In America and Western Europe, the post-peak world began in the year 2001, when it became clear that we still had problems. The level of wealth we reached in 1999 will never be experienced again and we should be glad about it. What lies ahead now is a long descent, with bumpy plateaus that prove to be unsustainable and tend to be followed by rapid collapses. As of speaking, the bumpy plateau we've been on since 2009 is rapidly coming to an end.

My recommendation to all of you is to learn how to enjoy the decline. Abandoned buildings are a treasure trove of mysteries and sometimes even wealth. Do not become too physically attached to any place, as everything you see will disappear. Abandoned buildings will be destroyed, even as beautiful wastelands will be filled with new offices and shopping malls as a product of wealthy people's inability to accept that their way of life is coming to an end. When you find yourself mourning the ruins of today that are demolished to hide the decline, remember that the ruins of tomorrow are built today. If you ever doubt whether God loves us, remember that rising CO2 concentrations lower the light compensation point: The amount of sunlight needed for a plant to gain more carbon than it loses. As a result, plants of all kinds will be able to grow in places that would have been barren under our previous climate due to insufficient sunlight. An overpriced McMansion built today will come to house trees growing through its roof, their lives made possible by the abandoned SUV rusting away in the garage. After years of suffering through this mediocrity, what lies ahead for us is more beautiful than what we can begin to imagine.










Closed loop agriculture for environmental enhancement

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Published on FEASTA on April 26, 2016


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Returning biomass nutrients from humanure and urine to agriculture

Download full report (pdf document, 2.1 MB)


Closed loop agriculture is farming practice that recycles all nutrients and organic matter material back to the soil that it grew in. This forms part of an agricultural practice that preserves the nutrient and carbon levels within the soil and allows farming to be carried out on a sustainable basis.

Current farming practice (as shown in Figure 1) relies heavily on imported nutrients to sustain high production. We eat the food; and then the nutrients and biomass from faeces and urine are flushed away via our toilets. The sewage is treated, to a greater or lesser extent, to limit its potential to cause water pollution, and then discarded to groundwater, rivers or the sea. This practice requires high fossil energy inputs for fertiliser manufacture, causes pollution to our waterways, and strips organic matter from the soil which in turn reduces productivity, overall soil health and structure.

Most of the sludge arising in the EU is of agricultural rather than human origin, and this is returned to the soil as part of standard farming practice. Biosolids (treated sewage sludge) are also increasingly returned to the land. However, the process of sewage treatment reduces the potential biomass and nutrient resource available for recycling, so current practice still essentially wastes these resources, while adding to the pollution of our waterways. By capturing the nutrients that currently make their way into sewage, we can feasibly eliminate water pollution from this source. By composting humanure (and farmyard manures) and converting it to humus before application to the fields, the soil can hold more moisture and withstand erosion more effectively than when artificial nutrients or even uncomposted slurry or manure are used. Also, by incorporating humus into the fields the filtering capacity of the soil is maximised. Thus we can dramatically reduce our water pollution from agriculture as well as from sewage.

Note that manures from animals comprise roughly nine times the quantity of potential humanure (human manure) in Ireland. The management of this farmyard manure and slurry can be improved for energy generation through anaerobic digestion or can be composted for greater carbon sequestration. Other regenerative agriculture techniques may also be used for greater soil building and sustainability. However for the purposes of this report, the focus is upon returning the biomass and nutrients from humanure and urine to agriculture.

From a climate change perspective, agriculture is the greatest single source of greenhouse gasses in Ireland. In order to meet our international greenhouse gas reduction targets we need to explore every angle possible, and adopt every measure that works to lower Irish greenhouse gas emissions. Closed loop agriculture not only stops the waste of nutrients to watercourses as pollution, it can also reduce the high energy inputs needed for artificial nitrogen production and could go a significant way towards reducing overall agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Figure 1. Conventional farming practice

Figure 2. Closed loop farming practice.

Closed loop agriculture has direct benefits for biodiversity also, within the soil itself, in the aquatic environment, and within the context of climate change:

1. Soil ecosystems are amongst the most diverse on earth, hosting c.25% of all of the species on the planet1. A single gram of grassland soil may contain over one billion organisms with as many as ten thousand different species of bacteria and fungi2. Healthy soils are vital for biodiversity, human health and climate regulation. Our own species derives 95% of our food from the soil3, whether directly or indirectly. Closed loop agriculture can build a healthy soil ecology by reducing artificial nitrogen inputs and by returning soil organic matter.

2. The health of the aquatic environment and aquatic biodiversity in Ireland is directly related to protection from water pollution. Key indicator species such as the freshwater pearl mussel live only in high quality rivers and streams. High status water bodies have fallen in number from almost a third of all monitoring sites in the mid 1980s to under one fifth4. Clean water, free of pathogens and the chemicals added to kill them, is also vital for our own health and wellbeing. Closed loop agriculture can protect and enhance water quality by eliminating pollution from sewage and by returning agricultural nutrients to the land in a way that is bound up in humus, and thus more stable and resistant to erosion in field runoff.

3. Climate change has already had a significant impact on biodiversity. Many animal species on land, in rivers, lakes and seas have moved geographical ranges, changed seasonal activities and migration patterns and have altered abundances and species interactions5. The long term impacts on biodiversity may be devastating as temperature range movement outstrips the ability of plant species, small mammals and freshwater molluscs, for example, to migrate; as oceans face dropping oxygen levels and greater acidification; and as coastal and low-lying areas are lost to sea level rises (IPCC, 2014). Closed loop agriculture can help to reduce the degree of climate change by cutting back on energy intensive artificial nitrogen production as well as by sequestering carbon in the soil. It can also reduce the impact of climatic extremes by building healthy, humic rich soils which provide greater resilience to drought and flood conditions, both within the field scale for food production, and within the wider catchment scale for ameliorating flooding.

This report is set out in three sections, as follows:

Part 1 Nitrogen:
The impacts of artificial nitrogen manufacture on the climate, the impacts of its use on the soil, and the potential for closing the loop and reusing nutrients from human excreta to grow our food.
Part 2 Carbon:
The impacts of excess atmospheric carbon on the environment, the potential for sequestering carbon in our farms as soil organic matter, and the opportunities for adopting soil-building farm management practices.
Part 3 Implementation and Policy:
The methods of humanure and urine separation and recovery, overview of international best practice, current Irish policy and proposed policy amendments to facilitate closed loop agriculture in Ireland.

This project was facilitated with the financial support of the Irish Environmental Network under the Biodiversity Policy Funding package from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Footnotes for introduction

1. European Commission (2010) The factory of life – why soil biodiversity is so important. European Commission, Luxembourg.
2. Richter A, R Cramer, D O’hUallacháin, E Doyle and N Clipson (2014) Soil microbial diversity: Does location matter? In: Teagasc Research, Vol. 9; No. 3, Autumn 2014
3 FAO (2015) Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, Italy.
4 Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (2015) Public Consultation Document – Significant Water Management Issues in Ireland. DECLG, Dublin.
5 IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva, Switzerland.

Download full report (pdf, 2.1 MB)

Featured image: Running water. Author: Lynn Haas. Source:



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Floating Cities, Microbubbles and the Blue Acceleration"The human footprint is very large and there is little that has not felt its weight. "We t [...]

"The scale is building. Three point five percent is 260 million of us."Turns out McKibben [...]

"This is the second of a two-part look at the changes happening to our world that are far out o [...]

"Which would we rather — more electric cars or more octopuses? What do we do when reversing cli [...]

Thugs and Circuses: President Cobblepot's Season Finale"As the world watches, our circus moves to the floor of the Senate next week, pitting a real-es [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

What extinction crisis? Believe it or not, there are still climate science deniers out there. And th [...]

My new book, Abolish Oil Now, will talk about why the climate movement has failed and what we can do [...]

A new climate protest movement out of the UK has taken Europe by storm and made governments sit down [...]

The success of Apollo 11 flipped the American public from skeptics to fans. The climate movement nee [...]

Today's movement to abolish fossil fuels can learn from two different paths that the British an [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

In reply to Gail Tverberg. “At least six months” "That will definitely be a huge problem. It ha [...]

In reply to GBV. uh oh, Chris finally wiped that smile off his face. this must be getting serious. m [...]

In reply to GBV. wow... his picture no longer has a smiling face... is it a sign of things to come? [...]

In reply to Gail Tverberg. "A hospital in Central Beijing has reported 36 novel coronavirus cas [...] it's noteworthy that the serious/critical % of activ [...]

That is ... a good series. Covers a lot of different kinds of ground. Thanks! [...]

Whatever happened to Rosie Scenario when we need her? Moonlighting at the Department of Easy Solutio [...]

Everyone please relax. The oilmen and traders of Reddit have it all under control. There is no probl [...]

"Poverty is considered a money issue rather than a ‘values’ issue, so we have no civilization w [...]

Yes, my point is that at most we can make an individual response. There isn't going to be a sys [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

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Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

Climate change will continue to have a largely detrimental impact on the agricultural sector worldwi [...]

We investigate historical and projected precipitation in Tanzania using observational and climate mo [...]