Agriculture

Antifragile Food Systems

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 10, 2016

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"The alpha person at a gathering of "high status" persons is usually the waiter. "

 

  In the film, No Escape, Owen Wilson and Lake Bell's characters play a stereotypical USAnian couple, Jack and Annie Dwyer, cast abroad like fishes out of water. He is a corporate engineer in charge of putting a water plant into a fictional Southeast Asian country. She is the dutiful wife, bringing along to the temporary assignment two young children and their favorite kitchen appliances.

 

 

 

When civil war suddenly erupts before they have even gotten past jet-lag and they find themselves in an urban killing field, hunted by machete-wielding guerillas who are really angry about the way Jack's corporation has stolen and monetized their water rights, they must run for their lives, which they do for the next hour or more of screen time.

 

 

 

That's the plot, but the film is less about why the couple got into their predicament or why this small country has decided to murder all its foreign tourists than how Jack and Annie and their children absorb the changed circumstances, adapt to their precarious situation, and do what it takes to survive. Theater audiences are rooting for them, despite their complete lack of preparation.

 

 

 

In Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb distinguishes antifragile from words like robust or resilient by saying that when something is antifragile, it benefits when things go bad. Taleb is a recovering Wall Street quant trader. He understands hedges and shorts, and indeed, wrote the textbook on dynamic hedging in 1997. His subsequent books, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007) redefined at how traders look at risk and how people should think about risk in life choices.

 

 

 

If Jack and Annie had read either Fooled by Randomness or The Black Swan, they would not have been thrown into such profound stupor when the country they had landed in suddenly dissolved into anarchy and savage brutality. These things, or equally unpredictable things, are to be expected, even predicted.

 

 

 

Antifragile goes a step beyond and asks how one can be prepared to benefit from Black Swan events. Taleb gives the example of biological and economic systems. Efficiency and optimization are the final stages of succession — a mature ecology. They are also fragile. Inefficient redundancy is robust. Degeneracy is antifragile. The early sere following some disturbance is filled with fast-growing, thick-stemmed "weeds" that require few soil nutrients or supporting microbial diversity. If there is not much sun, too much wind or rain, poorly suited pioneers will fall aside and those better selected will dominate.

 

 

 

Fragile systems hate mistakes. Antifragile systems love them. Postmodern thinking, almost completely divorced from nature, is built on a scaffold of prior delusions. Medieval Europe, grounded in a theological storyline that is unwavering (like hard-core Evangelical Christianity or Sunni Islam) is more robust. But the pre-European Mediterranean seafaring cultures — pantheistic, surrounded by random dangers and ubiquitous risk (pirates, police states, conscription, volcanoes) and utterly free enterprise, was antifragile. People in that time exchanged rites and gods the way we do ethnic foods. Like Silicon Valley, ideas and gods failed fast, failed often, but occasionally winners emerged.

 

 

 

Taleb casts this into mathematical metaphors: the fewer the gods the greater the dogma and higher the risk of conflict and loss. For atheists n=0; Sunni purists n=1; monophysites n=1-2; Greek Orthodoxy n=3-12; pagans, wiccans and most native peoples n=infinite. Whose religion is more fragile and likely to occasion bad things happening?

 

 

 

Jack and Annie Dwyer are in the fragile, corporate employment class. They are pampered. They did well in school. They don't need to know a word of the language of the country they have been sent to. They complain if there is no a/c in the room or the limo doesn't arrive on time. They are intellectual tourists. Their antifragile counterpart is a slacker — fläneur is the word Taleb uses — the creative loafer with a large library or an X-box. Taleb says the alpha person at a gathering of "high status" persons is usually the waiter.

 

 

 

Engineering and corporate middle management are fragile professions. Financially robust professions in the run-up to ponzicollapse would be dentists, dermatologists, or minimum wage niche workers. Antifragile jobs in the overtopping and onset of decline are payday check cashing tellers, taxi drivers and nomadic fishermen. The Roma, living parasitically at the urban edges of European cities, are antifragile, but have vulnerability to travel restrictions. When Sweden closed its border crossings and started doing screening of incoming migrants, Denmark had to follow or risk being swamped with migrants denied entry to Sweden. Holland, Germany and France did the same. This is not a good thing for gypsies, but they are resilient enough to make do with one country at a time and antifragile enough to exploit weaknesses in border security and even turn that into new opportunities and enterprises.

 

 

 

What is an antifragile food system? This becomes especially important as we enter an era of rapid climate change and civil disintegration. A decade ago in "From Foraging to Farming, Explaining the Neolithic Revolution" (J Econ. Surveys 19:4:561-586, 2005), Jacob Weisdorf at the University of Copenhagen reviewed the main theories about the prehistoric shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture. The transition, also known as the Neolithic Revolution, was necessary precursor for capitalism, industrialization and the monotheistic religion of economic growth. Hunting and foraging societies were egalitarian and communal. Farming and herding societies are vested, competitive and hierarchical.

 

 

 

The Neolithic Revolution augured slavery, which began as agricultural serfdom and abides today as the "jobs" system. Taleb opines that in the days of Suetonius, 60 percent of prominent educators (grammarians) were slaves. Today the ratio is 97.1 percent and growing.

 

 

 

Charles Darwin in The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868) said:

 

The savage inhabitants of each land, having found out by many and hard trials what plants where useful … would after a time take the first step in cultivation by planting them near their usual abodes…. The next step in cultivation, and this would require but little forethought, would be to sow the seeds of useful plants.

 

 

 

Did it really take several million years for our upright hominid ancestors to get the idea they could domesticate plants and animals, or had they known that much longer and invariably decided it was a bad idea?

 

 

 

One hypothesis is that the extinction of large herding animals by Paleolithic hunters led to farming. This is discounted by the fact that the loss of the former did not coincide with the gain of the latter, either geographically or chronologically. Another theory is that we were forced into farming by population pressure, but that is countered by the fact that the first domestications took place in resource-abundant societies. Moreover, dietary stress would have marked the skeletons of foragers and studies have failed to show any nutritional stress immediately prior to plant domestication.

 

 

 

Another theory is that the rise of agriculture came from ‘competitive feasting;’ the idea that culinary diversity conferred social status and therefore resulted in competition to create delicacies. Let's call this gourmetgenesis. Unfortunately for foodie anthropologists, it appears that early domestication unambiguously consisted of a small number of important staples rather than appetizers, pastries and confections.

 

 

 

Those who study the evolution of consciousness suggest that the shift may have occurred, with or without sacred plant intervention, about 10 millennia ago when the brain had a hundredth monkey moment and, like Kubrick's apes before the shiny monolith, transformed bone shillelaghs into plows and space stations.

 

 

 

More recent work suggests that climate shifts not only contributed to the Paleolithic large mammal extinctions and may have caused psychedelic mushrooms, vines and cacti to extend their ranges and abundancies, but also permitted more reliable predictions about weather, which allowed crops to be grown more consistently.

 

 

 

Some ancient Greeks thought that this process was cyclical, and that eventually good weather would lapse and we would return to hunting and foraging. Medieval Christianity embedded the meme that the process is linear, an inexorable progression of human civilization from brutality to refinement.

 

 

 

Weisdorf notes:

 

Farming [is] still assumed to have been clearly preferable to foraging. But, in the 1960s, this perception was to be turned upside down. Evidence started to appear which suggested that early agriculture had cost farmers more trouble than it saved. Studies of present-day primitive societies indicated that farming was in fact backbreaking, time consuming, and labor intensive.

 

 

 

In the 1960s, "a picture began to emerge that showed that foraging communities were able to remain in equilibrium at carrying capacity when undisturbed." Where the ratio of population to productive land area is favorable, foraging generally provides greater return on labor invested than tilling and herding. Once the ratio becomes unfavorable, tilling and herding are not only more effective, but necessary. To any foraging society, therefore, two disciplines are required. They must regenerate land resource and restrain population growth. Soil fertility sí, human fertility no.

 

 

 

In Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems in a Changing Climate (New Society 2015), Laura Lengnick gives her take on the progression from foraging to pastoralism to agriculture:

 

Foraging and the early farming systems that followed it propose very different solutions to the same basic question facing all animals: How best to allocate the available time and resources to acquire food? All things being equal, animals (including humans) tend to solve this effort-allocation problem by maximizing the capture of calories, protein and other desired foods in a way that yields the most return with the greatest certainty in the least time for the least effort. Moderate, reliable returns are usually preferred over fluctuating high returns. It turns out that, for a long time, foraging was a good solution to the effort-allocation problem facing early humans. But climate change changed everything.

 

Lengnick, Resilience Design Criteria for Agroecosystems
Lengnick describes the strategies employed by native peoples of North America. They foraged and hunted, sustainably used irrigation, amended with fish scraps and animal manures as fertilizers, rotated grain and legume crops and selected and improved their seeds. She looks at the Mohawk, Cherokee, Mandan and Hohokam as representative of the North American Northeast, Southeast, Northern Great Plains and Southwest. She then turns to the practices brought by European colonists, before and after the arrival of petroleum, modern machines and chemicals. Regional specialization continues today, based more on industrial infrastructure than soils or suitability, but climate has thrown in a monkey wrench, much the way it did 8-12,000 years ago.
 
From the summer of 2013 through late winter 2014, Lengnick interviewed 25 award-winning sustainable producers from across the United States. All had been farming in the same location for at least 20 years, many for 30 and some for 40 years or more. Many expressed concerns about the path the food system has taken over the last 50 years and their frustrations with scientific, economic and regulatory policy. Listening to their stories is like sitting around a campfire with two dozen Joel Salatins.

 

At the Happy Cow Creamery, artisanal dairyman Tom Trantham told Lengnick,

 

Really, we see some drought and hot temperatures every year. This year (2013) is the first year that we haven’t really had a drought. This year it has been really wet. We had the rain, but we also didn’t have the sun, so we had two big problems. I’m 72 years old, and I’ve never seen as much rain in a year in my life, anywhere. It really affected my crops. Our hay was 9 percent protein. It would normally have been 18 or 20. Like I say, never in my life have I endured that much rain.

 

 

 

Lengnick, Resilience Design Criteria for Agroecosystems
Lengnick's distillation of their advice is sage. Produce food as part of an ecosystem. Adapt by going back to letting nature do what nature does best. Lengnick calls this "adaptive management," but what she is speaking of is what the UN has been calling "eco-agriculture, and it contains a suite of tools and practices that not only provide greater food security but can, scaled quickly enough, undo the worst of the Fossil Age's climate karma.

 

 

 

For Lengnick,

 

Functional diversity and response diversity describe the capacity of the agroecosystem to maintain healthy function of the four farming system processes (energy, water, mineral, community dynamics) and other ecosystem services. Functional diversity describes the number of different species or assemblages of species that participate in agroecosystem processes to produce ecosystem services. Response diversity describes the diversity of responses to changing conditions among the group of species or species assemblages that contribute to the same ecosystem function. Agroecosystems designed with high functional and response diversity have the capacity to produce ecosystem services over a wide range of environmental conditions.

 

 

 

Like Taleb, Lengnick identifies the fragility of monocultural, industrial farming practices:

 

 

 

Appropriately connected agroecosystems will build relationships that enhance functional and response diversity. Many weak (i.e., not critical to function) connections are favored over a few strong (i.e., critical to function) connections. Agroecosystems that rely on a few strong connections for critical resources reduce their resilience to events that disrupt those connections; in contrast, many weak connections enhance response capacity.

 

 

 

In permaculture, we speak of harmony and stress and some see those as opposites, but in a more tantric Buddhist interpretation they can be viewed as a symbiotic pair. Stress is the bending of a system away from its natural pattern, making it fragile. Harmony is the restoration of balance and connections, inherently antifragile. Natural succession is a cycle of disturbance, experimentation, and equilibrium. There is no steady state, there is only the constancy of change.

 

 

 

In another month we leave for Belize to teach the 11th annual Permaculture Design Course at Maya Mountain Research Farm (seats still available here). Personally, it will be our 50th time instructing the standard 72-hour Design Course. We often say, when we teach in such places, it is not the people that are the instructors there, it is the land. In this case it is land that has been refined, articulated, complexed and restored to if not the Paleolithic model, then to a Neolithic transitional stage, where both domestic and wild systems co-exist in a riot of cascading productivity.

 

 

 

If the Dwyer family had taken this workshop, or read Lengnick's book, they would not have been caught by surprise when their world of modern illusions suddenly dissolved. They would probably never have gotten into that situation to begin with.

 

 

 

 

Drive to Death

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 23, 2014

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So We Drove On Toward Death: The Casual Madness of Civilization

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

The Road
Cormac McCarthy

An annual report is about to be released by The Millennium Project which is titled, “State of the Future.” This report examines global problems and their potential solutions. In discussing the report, chief scientist of NASA’s Langley Research Center, Dennis Bushnell, has said that humans need three planets to sustain themselves. I had previously read a statistic which claimed that if all humans on Earth had the lifestyles and consumption habits of the average American, that we would need over five Earths to sustain the global population. That tidbit was more of a warning about the American “way of life,” whereas what Bushnell is saying is a more direct, we are running out of shit right now, sort of statement.

The entire ecosystem is crashing,” says Bushnell. “Essentially, there’s too many of us. We’ve been far too successful as the human animal. People allege we’re short 40-50 percent of a planet now. As the Asians and their billions come up to our living systems, we’re going to need three more planets.

Far too successful? This choice of words, while not surprising, is quite indicative of the logic of the civilized mind and its human-centric bias. Imagine for a moment, you’re a scientist studying a colony of rats living on an island, and that these rats eat so much that they are destroying their habitat. Imagine that these rats have, in their rapacious quest to eat, destroyed the trees and killed many of the other species on the island. Imagine that after running some calculations, you recognize that these rats are going to require not one, but two more islands worth of resources if they are going to survive, and that if they don’t acquire this new resource pool, their population will crash and potentially be wiped out. In writing your assessment of this rat colony, would you choose to describe them as “successful?” I think you might be more likely to use terms like “foolish,” “short-sighted,” “parasitic,” or “suicidal.”

No, modern humans aren’t “far too successful,” as a species. The dominant culture — because not all people live this way — is far too stupid to understand that it is “eating the seed corn” if you will. Not only are the people who live under the dominant culture destroying tomorrow’s resources to get by today, they are by and large too stupid to even enter this possibility into their self analysis. The fact that Bushnell and any of his ilk would with a straight face suggest that what humans need are more planets, as opposed to needing a massive overhaul of how the dominant culture operates, is frightening. The casual madness of this recommendation demonstrates that the overriding belief within the dominant culture is that everything is hunky-dorey; what people within industrial-civilization are doing on a daily basis is absolutely OK. It’s not the activities of global industrial capitalism that are the problem, no, the problem is that God just didn’t start us off with enough stuff!

Machete your way through the brambly facade, and the core premise within this assertion — even though it would seem contradictory based on the data being reported — is that civilization works.

As an anarchist, I have often attempted to persuade people that we do not need police, prisons, armies, politicians, even money or large scale societies. With near ubiquity, the response given to such suggestions is that they would never “work.” Some are not so bold as to claim never, but merely ask, “how would that work,” in a tone that clearly betrays a wall of disbelief. Before defending myself and my supposition, I have to draw back and lay out the unspoken premise: by declaring the unlikelihood of my idea’s ability to “work,” there is a presumption that the current way of doing things “works.”

Does civilization “work?” How would we define that? What are the primary goals of civilization, and are they being achieved, and if so at what costs? This question requires one to define “civilization” before even embarking on a quest to gauge its success. I think it is fair to assume that if you were to seek a common definition of civilization from laypeople on the streets, the recurring themes would likely surround the existence of arts, literature, philosophy, and surpluses of resources. Civilization is in this view, Plato and Leonardo Da Vinci hanging out in robes and Google Glasses, drinking wine in the park and thinking deep thoughts. The antithesis of this cartoon vision holds that the uncivilized would be anyone wearing warpaint and a loincloth while roasting a pig on a spit.

Caricatures aside, how can we academically define civilization? Writer Derrick Jensen devotes some time to defining civilization in his two volume work, Endgame:

I would define a civilization much more precisely [relative to standard dictionary definitions], and I believe more usefully, as a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts— that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from Latin civitatis, meaning city-state), with cities being defined–so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on–as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.

In his own efforts to define civilization, writer Aric McBay offers:

This common thread is control. Civilization is a culture of control. In civilizations, a small group of people controls a large group of people through the institutions of civilization. If they are beyond the frontier of that civilization, then that control will come in the form of armies and missionaries (be they religious or technical specialists). If the people to be controlled are inside of the cities, inside of civilization, then the control may come through domestic militaries (i.e., police). However, it is likely cheaper and less overtly violent to condition certain types of behaviour through religion, schools or media, and related means, than through the use of outright force (which requires a substantial investment in weapons, surveillance and labour). 

That works very effectively in combination with economic and agricultural control. If you control the supply of food and other essentials of life, people have to do what you say or they die. People inside of cities inherently depend on food systems controlled by the rulers to survive, since the (commonly accepted) definition of a city is that the population dense enough to require the importation of food.

Richard Heinberg in his critique of civilization wrote:

…for the most part the history of civilization…is also the history of kingship, slavery, conquest, agriculture, overpopulation, and environmental ruin. And these traits continue in civilization’s most recent phases–the industrial state and the global market–though now the state itself takes the place of the king, and slavery becomes wage labor and de facto colonialism administered through multinational corporations. Meanwhile, the mechanization of production (which began with agriculture) is overtaking nearly every avenue of human creativity, population is skyrocketing, and organized warfare is resulting in unprecedented levels of bloodshed.

If the reader finds a bias in these definitions, I offer this one from Wikipedia:

The term is used to contrast with other types of communities including hunter-gatherers, nomadic pastoralists and tribal villages. Civilizations have more densely populated settlements divided into social classes with a ruling elite and subordinate urban and rural populations, which, by the division of labour, engage in intensive agriculture, mining, small-scale manufacture and trade. Civilization concentrates power, extending human control over both nature, and over other human beings.

Some combination of the characteristics offered above, with room for nuance, forms my personal definition of civilization, and should be used insofar as understanding the question I posed above, “Does civilization work?”

To answer this, of course, we must also define “work.” What exactly is civilization trying to accomplish? High living standards for all members? Artistic greatness? This is almost impossible to measure as there are no set goals civilization is attempting to achieve and not set values by which it is trying to achieve them. It is likely more productive to approach this question by examining what civilization does. After all, to borrow a term from systems theorists, “The purpose of a system is what it does.”

So what does civilization do? What is accomplished by people living in large urban centers where the majority of their survival necessities must be imported and their waste exported? Well, for starters, the people within the cities do not have to engage in any of the toil required to aggregate the calories and nutrients to stay alive. These people are thus freed to do other things with their time. This begins to form the base of the hierarchy of work. Peasants do the heavy lifting in the fields while professional types earn higher incomes to engage in what they dub to be “skilled labor.” We are told all of this would come unhinged if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of professional decision makers; politicians and captains of industry who are granted the most influence and the highest incomes. Of course, there is a class within the cities who don’t earn high incomes, and they are generally relegated to laboring to support the “skilled laborers,” and other elites by manufacturing goods, doing janitorial work, preparing food, maintaining infrastructure, etc. In the modern world, all of the heavy lifting in the agricultural fields is no longer accomplished with human muscle alone, as the majority of the grunt work is performed by hydrocarbons, predominantly oil. The acquisition of this oil comes at a great ecological cost, from the deep wells in the gulf of Mexico to the war torn fields of Iraq to the decimated Niger delta. Anywhere on Earth where oil is being pumped out of the ground, there is death, be it human, animal, or entire ecosystems and ways of life.

Speaking of death, civilization seems to spread a lot of it around. From global and regional wars that scar the land and leave millions dead, to the constant emission of toxicity which has inundated the air, the water, and the soil with heavy metals, radioactive particles, and carcinogenic compounds causing cancer and disease. Around the world people sit locked in cages, tormented and dehumanized by their captors. In the US, where I live, the largest prison population on the planet is housed, we are told, to maintain the safety of those who participate in civilization according to the dictates of the “decider” class. If we ignore humans for a moment and try to tally the dead amongst our non-human neighbors, the task becomes nearly impossible. The best guess of biologists is that industrial activity is currently causing a mass extinction, and that upwards of two hundred species are being extirpated from the globe every day. Civilization, though it’s adherents would cite its peaceful and good natured virtues, is a bringer of death and suffering.

My critics will cry, “But death is natural; an unavoidable part of life. Absent civilization, death would not vanish.” To be sure, who dies, how, and why, are the key to what civilization does. The organizational framework found within civilization is hierarchical, and I would argue that this top down power structure is woven into the defining characteristics of civilization. With this hierarchy, power is held by a few and lorded over the many. How this is accomplished varies, but as McBay was quoted as stating above, access to food and other necessary resources is a primary component of this control. Civilization has had millennia to refine itself and to create a system for diffusing this “food-under-lock-and-key” scenario, mainly via economics. In this time civilization has been able to normalize its existence and to normalize the power dynamics by which few control many, and under which the ruling few have access to more resources than they will ever require, while the many have unmet needs. Religion, propaganda, nationalism, entertainment, myths of exceptionalism; all have served to sell civilization as a high and dignified way of existing, as well as to demonize alternatives to the civilized model, and to justify the slaughter of those who resist civilization’s advances.

Modern industrial civilization is global. The blur between the thrust of society in the United State, China, Russia, Australia, Brazil, India, South Africa, etc. is essentially the same. Cultures in these nations have their respective variances, but the general direction of human activity remains constant. The drive to acquire wealth by converting land and what it contains into some form of salable good is ubiquitous. The gains from these activities are held by those at the top of the hierarchy, while the overwhelming majority of the labor utilized to achieve those gains was performed by those at the bottom.

While the earliest civilizations would have been based in one or a few city centers which exploited an immediately surrounding region, as empires grew and technology allowed further and faster travel, the exploitation of far away lands and peoples became possible and profitable. Civilizations having merged into a global behemoth, the reality now in the wealthiest regions of the world is that resources and finished products from around the globe are widely available, and relatively, outright suffering is scant. This availability, this control of global people and places, is itself, wealth. By moving resources out of the regions they are born in, and by exploiting a global workforce, civilization has made it possible to extend the lives and drastically increase the comfort of some people at the expense of the lives, health, and happiness of others. Civilization is a con, a game of three-card-monte. It is the shuffling of resources to generate the illusion of plenty. It is the displacement of suffering from one people to another, and the shifting of ecological horrors from home to abroad. The net beneficiaries of this system are wont to ignore it, to never even question its basic functionality. They see images of the starving and dying a world away and ask, “Why don’t they move?”

A tirade against the ills of civilization is old hat for me, and certainly, there will be readers who think me unfair. Education, invention, medicine, art, sport, and so many other examples of the benefits of civilized life are likely hanging at the fore of my critics’ minds. Absolutely, these are components of civilized life, but not exclusively so. What education or innovation or medicine or art look like and how they are distributed may look different under civilized and non-civilized paradigms, but in no way are they monopolized by the former or absent from the latter. Under a civilized paradigm, the arts, sports, education, medicine – these all become the realms of professionals to a great extent, whereas for the non-civilized these are communal and regular components of daily life.

I don’t want to trade blow for blow, comparing civilized diets to non-civilized, modern medicine to herbalism, etc. I would rather here move onto the costs of the civilized model, for if civilization has its benefits, and if it has its purposes, and if it is doling these benefits and achieving these goals, we must then ask, “are they worth the cost?”

Calculating the costs of civilization is a monumental task, and doing so with any sort of scientific accuracy is likely beyond my capabilities. As a purely philosophical exercise, I would like to briefly address the issue by looking at a handful of categories.

First, there is the ecology. It is inarguable that civilization is detrimental to ecology and always has been. As human animals, we are not necessarily a net deficiency to our habitat, despite the absurd claims of those who would like us to believe that to live is to harm, so we should absent-mindedly live it up. Hunting, fishing, and even small scale planting are not necessarily destructive to an ecosystem. Sinking mine shafts, leveling mountains, damming rivers, trawling the oceans, spewing industrial waste into the atmosphere, clear cutting forests, razing prairie, laying concrete, mono-crop planting, stripping topsoil; these are all massive ecological harms, which if undertaken with an ever increasing rate become systemically cataclysmic whereby species are driven into extinction, habitat collapses, and the damage is irreparable.

Can civilization exist without such activities? Surely pre-modern civilizations did not utilize all of these methods? In fact, every pre-modern civilization did exploit the resources they had access to with what technology they had available. The forests of the middle east were leveled by the earliest civilizations, creating the barren land that now exists there. The Mesopotamians irrigated farm fields to grow great surpluses of food, until the build up of silt in their canals and salts in their soil destroyed their agricultural adventures and led to their collapse. The Greeks and Romans viciously deforested the Mediterranean basin, and the resulting topsoil loss has prevented a recovery in the region. The Maya similarly brought about their own doom by deforesting their region for agriculture and the production of lime concrete. The collapses of all pre-modern civilizations have an environmental component. By seeking to use agricultural bounty to temporarily increase their populations and thus their power, early civilizations created inescapable paradigms dependent on infinite growth. Modern civilization is no different, just more adept at avoiding early onset collapse through innovation.

Ecological costs are probably the most in dire need of attention, but costs in human misery are not to be ignored. In this vein, there is the obvious misery generated by civilization and its processes: those killed and maimed by war, those whose DNA is damaged by industrial toxins resulting in cancers, those who subsist in poverty globally, those in prison, those who are persecuted, those who are slaves, those who have their hereditary land stolen, those who are victims of genocide; these are the billions who clearly suffer, these are the billions who make possible the comforts and abundance enjoyed in wealthy nations.

But let’s not stop there. Inside the gates, the people who are beneficiaries of the pillaging of the wild suffer in ways they recognize and in ways they don’t. In the United States, one in five adults are taking a psychiatric drug, either an anti-depressant, an anti-psychotic, or an anti-anxiety prescription. Ten percent of the population suffers from clinical depression. Thirty percent of the population abuses alcohol. Numbers on recreational drug use are harder to come by. Add in those addicted to shopping, eating, sex, gambling, and pornography, and it is likely safe to say that about half of the American population is either depressed, burdened with anxiety, or has some debilitating habit of escapism. Can we blame them? What does the majority of life in the United States consist of? Working a job over which you have relatively little control, where it is likely your creativity is stifled, and from which you do not directly benefit? This consumes forty if not more hours of a person’s life every week. Commuting to and from this job and accomplishing the unrecognized shadow labor of preparing for this job, from taking clothing to a dry cleaners, dropping children off at day care, or even shaving, means that considerably more time is robbed from one’s life to serve the economic system.

Life in this civilization brings a large set of medical risks as well. Despite the illusion of abundance, most of the food the population has access to is derived from a handful of ingredients, primarily corn, wheat, soy, and beet sugar. The production of these crops en-masse is economically efficient, and therefore they have become the foundation of the western diet. The hand maiden of this poor nutritional foundation is tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Cancer will affect one in two men and one in three women in the United States, and the number of new cases of cancer is set to nearly double by the year 2050.”

Despite the myths we are imprinted with about the greatness of civilization, the reality is quite ugly. For a select few, the benefits and wealth and power granted by this particular organizational system are incalculable. For most, participation in civilization is comprised of boredom, obedience, servitude, and depression while daily spinning the wheel of fortune to see if they will be one of the unlucky ones who is stricken with cancer, all the while slowly degrading their body and masking their unhappiness with drugs, deviant behavior, or plain and simple escapism into fantasy.

Should I even begin to assess the misery associated with maintaining full compliance with the state and its bureaucracies which is a must if one wants to avoid court rooms, prisons, and police?

Though I was born to middle class parents, on my own, I eke out an existence in near poverty. This is partly by choice, in that I am clever enough to acquire a higher income, but I cannot burden my conscience with what such a pay grade would ask of me. For myself and the people in my region who also get by on small amounts of money, it is clear that we are not thriving in civilization, but artfully navigating it, succumbing to some of its pratfalls while skillfully parrying others. Ours is one of innumerable subcultures and informal economies that dot the landscape globally. Examples abound of squatters, homesteaders, hobos, punks, drug dealers, communes, scrappers, monks, travelers, and the myriad others around the Earth who hope the eye of Sauron doesn’t ever draw its focus on them.

Here in the cracks and dark corners alternatives to civilization simmer in the primordial soup of human consciousness. Too few to outright revolt with only the occasional exception, there are people who retreat to something similar to what I would dare call the natural state of human organization; tribalism.

No, civilization does not work, not if the definition of work includes caring for all equally and stewarding our habitat with humans and non-humans many generations to come genuinely considered. Ignoring the monuments to the egos of psychopaths, from pyramids and temples to skyscrapers and particle accelerators, civilization leaves nothing for the future. Civilization is a cannibal, greedily devouring any concept of tomorrow for a grotesque spectacle of largess today, which is only enjoyed by a select few. The ceremonies and titles of today may look and sound different than those of the Aztec or the Persian, but the macabre reality behind the pomp and circumstance is absolutely the same, only scarier in that the rate and ability of modern civilization to churn up the living world before melting it on a spoon for an ephemeral high is exponentially greater.

Civilization needs three planets, according to the scientists. Civilization is running out of fuel for the furnace, and the holy men are telling us that it is not time to abandon the machine; despite the misery, despite the servitude, despite the disease, despite the poverty, despite the extinction, despite the necessity of death – we must take this organizational system beyond our planetary borders, as missionaries of madness because we know nothing of humility or grace. Because we’re too afraid to admit we have made a mistake. So we drive on, lost and running out of gas, because we’re too damn proud to turn around.

Suggesting that there is another way for humans to organize without hierarchy, without massive population centers that require the exploitation of outlying areas, without violence and control; this is not utopianism. It is suggesting that we look at how human beings existed for the majority of their time on planet Earth, and asking that we take from that wealth of knowledge the best ideas, and that we ask of ourselves a willingness to adapt to life without the benefit of some slavery far away, some suffering we can ignore, some set of dying eyes we can avoid looking into. It is asking that we live where we are, that we find a concept of home, and that we welcome the challenges that life presents while refusing to solve them on the back of someone else’s misery.

They will say that “we cannot go back.” They will say pastoral lives where we are intimately connected to our community, human and not, are impossible, unthinkable, insane. Then they will say, “we must begin to live on Mars.”

Cuba: Figuring Out Pieces of the Puzzle

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on May 26, 2015

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Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

Cuba is an unusual country for quite a few reasons:

  • The United States has had an embargo against Cuba since 1960, but there has recently been an announcement that the US will begin to normalize diplomatic relations.
  • The leader of Cuba between 1959 and 2008 was Fidel Castro. Fidel Castro is a controversial figure, with some viewing him is a dictator who nationalized property of foreign citizens without compensation. Citizens of Cuba seem to view him as more of as a Robin Hood figure, who helped the poor by bringing healthcare and education to all, equalizing wages, and building many concrete block homes for people who had only lived in shacks previously.
  • If we compare Cuba to its nearest neighbors Haiti and Dominican Republic (both of which were also former sugar growing colonies of European countries), we find that Cuba is doing substantially better than the other two. In per capita CPI in Purchasing Power Parity, in 2011, Cuba’s average was $18,796, while Haiti’s was $1,578, and the Dominican Republic was $11,263. In terms of the Human Development Index (which measures such things as life expectancy and literacy), in 2013, Cuba received a rating of .815, which is considered “very high”. Dominican Republic received a rating of .700, which is considered “High.” Haiti received a rating of .471, which is considered “Low.”
  • Cuba is known for its permaculture programs (a form of organic gardening), which helped increase Cuba’s production of fruit and vegetables in the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • In spite of all of these apparently good outcomes of Cuba’s experimentation with equal sharing of wealth, in recent years Cuba seems to be moving away from the planned economy model. Instead, it is moving to more of a “mixed economy,” with more entrepreneurship encouraged.
  • Since 1993, Cuba has had a two currency system. The goods that the common people could buy were in one set of stores, and were traded in one currency. Other goods were internationally traded, or were available to foreigners visiting Cuba. They traded in another currency. This system is being phased out. Goods are now being marked in both currencies and limitations on where Cubans can shop are being removed.

I don’t have explanations for all of the things that are going on, but I have a few insights on what is happening, based on several sources:

 

  • My recent visit to Cuba. This was a “people to people” educational program permitted by the US government;
  • My previous work on resource depletion, and the impacts it is happening on economies elsewhere;
  • Other published data about Cuba.

The following are a few of my observations.

1. Many island nations, including Cuba, are having financial problems related to dependence on oil. 

Dependence on oil for electricity is one of the big issues affecting Cuba today. Island nations, including Cuba, very often use oil to produce much of their electricity supply, because it is easy to transport and can be used in relatively small installations. As long as the price of oil was low (under $20 barrel or so), the use of oil for electricity is not a problem.

Figure 1. Cuba's energy consumption by source, based on EIA data.

 

 

 

 

Figure 1. Cuba’s energy consumption by source, based on EIA data.

Once the price of oil becomes high, the high cost of electricity makes it difficult to produce goods for export, because goods made with high-priced electricity tend not to be competitive with goods made where the cost of electricity is cheaper. Also, once the cost of oil rises, the price of imported food tends to rise, leading to a need for more foreign exchange fund for imports. In addition, the cost of vacation travel becomes more expensive, driving away potential vacationers. The combination of these effects tends to lead to financial problems for island nations.

If we look at current Standard and Poor’s credit ratings of island nations, we see a pattern of low credit ratings:

  • Cuba – Caa2
  • Dominican Republic – B1
  • Haiti – Not Rated
  • Jamaica – Caa3
  • Puerto Rico – Caa1

None of these ratings is investment grade. Cuba’s rating is the same as Greece’s.

Cuba’s credit problem arises from that there is an imbalance between the goods and services which it is able to sell for export and the goods and services that it needs to import. As with most other island nations, this problem has gotten worse in recent years, because of high oil prices. Even with the recent drop in oil prices, the price of oil still isn’t really low, so there is still a problem.

Figure 2. Cuba balance of trade. Chart by Trading Economics.

 

 

 

 

Figure 2. Cuba balance of trade. (In US $. 000,000s omitted) Chart by Trading Economics.

2. Cuba has a low-cost arrangement for buying oil from Venezuela, but this can’t be depended on.  

Venezuela is Cuba’s largest supplier of imported oil. The recent drop in oil prices creates a problem for Venezuela, because Venezuela needs high oil prices to profitably extract its oil and leave enough to fund its government programs. Because of these issues, Venezuela is having serious financial difficulties. Its financial rating is Caa3, which is even lower than Cuba’s rating. Cuba uses its excellent education system to provide physicians for Venezuela, and because of this gets a bargain price for oil. But it can’t count on this arrangement continuing, if Venezuela’s financial situation gets worse.

3. Neither high nor low oil prices are likely to solve Cuba’s financial problems; the real problem is diminishing returns (that is, rising cost of oil extraction).

Cuba finds itself in a dilemma similar to that that the rest of the world is experiencing–only worse because it is an island nation. The rising cost of oil extraction is pushing the world economy toward lower economic growth, because the higher cost of oil extraction is in effect making world’s production of goods and services less efficient (the opposite of growing efficiency, needed for economic growth). The extra effort needed to extract oil from deep beneath the sea, or used in fracking, makes it more expensive to produce a barrel of oil, and indirectly, the many things that a barrel of oil goes to produce, such as a bushel of wheat that Cuba must import.

Figure 3. Cuba's oil consumption, separated between oil produced by Cuba itself and imported oil, based on EIA data.

 

 

 

 

Figure 3. Cuba’s oil consumption, separated between oil produced by Cuba itself and imported oil, based on EIA data.

If the price of oil is low, Venezuela’s financial problems will become worse, increasing the likelihood that Venezuela will need to cut back on its low-priced oil exports to Cuba.

Also, if the price of oil remains low, it is unlikely that Cuba will be able to increase its own oil extraction (Figure 3). The recent decline in US oil rigs and production indicates that shale extraction in the US (requiring fracking) is not economic at current prices. Cuba’s onshore resources also seem to be of the type that requires fracking. Thus, the likelihood of extracting Cuba’s onshore oil seems low, unless prices are much higher. Offshore, none of the test wells to date have proven economic at today’s prices.

Conversely, if the price of oil is high enough to enable profitability of oil extraction in Venezuela and Cuba, say $150 barrel, then airline tickets will be very expensive, cutting back tourism greatly. The cost of imported food is likely to be very high as well.

4. One way Cuba’s problems are manifesting themselves is in cutbacks to entitlements.

Back in the early 1960s, Fidel Castro’s plan for the economy was one of perfect communism–the government would own all businesses; every worker would receive the same wages; a large share of what workers receive would come in the form of entitlements. What has been happening recently is that these entitlements are being cut back, without wages being raised.

Wages for all government workers are extremely low–the equivalent of $20 month in US currency. This was not a problem when workers received essentially everything they needed through a very low-priced ration program and other direct gifts, but they become a problem when entitlements are cut back.

Each year, each Cuban family receives a ration booklet listing each member of the family, each person’s age, and the quantity of subsidized food of various types that that person is entitled to, based on the person’s age. Other items besides food, such as light bulbs, may be included as well.

Figure 4. Ration booklet being explained by one of tour leaders.

 

 

 

 

Figure 4. Ration booklet being explained by one of tour leaders.

The store providing the subsidized food keeps a list of foods available and prices on a blackboard.

Figure 5. Ration price list on wall of store we visited.

 

 

 

 

Figure 5. Ration price list on wall of store we visited.

One way that the standard of living of Cubans is being reduced because of Cuba’s financial problems is by cutbacks in the types of goods being subsidized. Also the quantities and prices are being affected, but the average wage of $20 month remains unchanged.

5. Another way Cuba’s financial problems are manifesting themselves is as higher prices charged to Cubans for goods not available through the ration program.

Since 1993, Cuba has had a two currency program. Cubans were able to purchase goods only in stores intended for Cuban residents using Cuban pesos. (This situation is similar to a company store program, in which a business issues pay in a currency which can only be used on goods available in the company story.) A second currency, Cuban Convertible Pesos (“CUC”), pegged 1:1 with the US dollar, has been used for the tourist trade, and for international purchases. Cubans were not allowed to purchase goods in businesses offering goods in CUCs.

Now the situation is changing. Goods in stores for Cubans marked in both currencies, and Cubans are permitted to purchase goods in more (or all?) types of businesses.

The change that seems to be occurring in the process of marking goods to both currencies is that goods as priced in Cuban pesos are becoming much more expensive for Cubans. Cubans are finding that their $20 per month paychecks are going less and less far. This is more or less equivalent to value of the Cuban peso falling relative to the US dollar. This decrease is difficult for international agencies to measure, because the prices Cubans were paying were not previously convertible to the US dollar. The big impact would occur in 2015, so is too recent to be included in most inflation data.

6. Another way Cuba’s problems are manifesting themselves is through low traffic on roads.

How much gasoline would you expect a person earning $20 month to buy, if gasoline costs about $5 gallon? Not a lot, I expect. Not surprisingly, we found traffic other than buses and taxis to be very low, especially outside Havana. Figure 6 shows one fairly extreme example. The three-wheeled bicycle in front is a popular form of taxi.

Figure 6. Example of low traffic on road. This road was not far from Havana.

 

 

 

 

Figure 6. Example of low traffic on road. This road was not far from Havana.

If a person travels away from the Havana area, transport by horse and buggy is fairly common.

 7. As a workaround for Cuba’s for falling inflation-adjusted wages of government workers, Cuba is permitting more entrepreneurship.

Certain workers, such as musicians and artists, have always been able to earn more than the average wage, through programs that allowed these workers to sell their wares and keep the vast majority of the sales price.

Now, individuals are able to form businesses and hire workers. These businesses generally pay wages higher than those offered by the government. Many of these businesses are private restaurants and gift shops, serving the tourist trade.

In addition, many individual citizens try to figure out small things that they can do (such as sell peanuts, pose for photos, or sing songs) to earn tips from foreigners. The amounts they earn act to supplement the wages they earn working for the government.

Other new businesses are in the food production sector. We met one farmer who was growing rice, with the help of twenty workers he had hired. The farmer used land that he had leased for $0 per year from the government. He dried his rice on an underutilized two-lane public road. The rice covered one lane for many miles.

Figure 7. Rice laid on road to dry.

 

 

 

 

Figure 7. Rice laid on road to dry.

The farmer sold most of his rice to the government, at prices it had set in advance. The farmer was able to pay his workers $80 per month, which is equal to four times the average government wage.

8. Cuban citizens and its government are concerned about the country’s financial problems and are finding other solutions in addition to entrepreneurship.

Cuban citizens are concerned, because with only $20 month of spendable income and higher prices on almost everything, they are being “pushed into a corner.” The vast majority of jobs are still government jobs, paying only an average of $20 month. There aren’t very many ways out.

In order to make ends meet, it is very tempting to steal goods from employers, and resell them at below market prices to others. We were warned to be very careful about changing money, because it is very common to be shortchanged, or to receive Cuban pesos (which are worth about 1/24th of a CUC) in change for goods purchased in CUCs.

One legitimate way of increasing the wealth of Cuban citizens is to increase remittances from relatives living in the US. Legislation making this possible has already been implemented. Estimates of remittances from the US to Cuba range from $2 billion to $3.5 billion per year, prior to the change.

Another way of increasing Cuban revenue is to increase tourism. Selling services abroad, such as sending a Cuban choir to perform for US audiences, also acts to increase Cuba’s revenue. Getting rid of the US embargo would help expand both tourism and the sale of Cuban services abroad. This is no doubt part of the reason why Cuba, under the leadership of Raul Castro (Fidel’s brother), is interested in re-establishing relationships with the United States.

9. Most of Cuba’s accumulated wealth from the past is depleting wealth that requires continuing energy inputs to maintain.

Cuba has many fine old buildings that are a product past glory days (sugar exporter, tobacco sales, casino operator). These buildings need to be maintained, or they fall apart with age. In other words, they need the addition of new building materials (requiring energy products to create and transport), if they are to continue to be used for their intended purpose.

Cuba now has a severe problem with old buildings falling apart from decay. I was told that three buildings per day collapse in Havana. With a chronic shortage of energy supplies, Cuba has been able to use these buildings from past days to give themselves a higher standard of living than otherwise would be possible, but this dividend is slowly coming to an end.

Likewise, fields used for growing sugar or tobacco are assets requiring continued energy investment. If the Cuban government were to stop plowing fields and adding fertilizer to restore lost nutrients,1 nature would take care of the problem in its own way–acacia (a type of nitrogen-fixing shrub/tree) would overtake the land, making it difficult to replant. The fact that the Cuban government did not keep adding energy products to some of the fields is a major reason the Cuban government is now leasing land for $0 an acre. Quite a bit of the land formerly used for sugar cane needs to be cleared of acacia before crops can be grown on it.

Even Cuba’s famed 1950s vintage autos are a depleting asset. Replacement parts are needed frequently to keep them operating.

The illusion that Cuba could afford to pay owners for the value of property appropriated by the Cuban government in 1959 is just that–an illusion. The wealth that was available was temporary wealth that could not be packaged and sent elsewhere. Sugar cane and tobacco had been grown in ways that depleted the soil. Furthermore, most workers had been paid very low wages. The buyers of these products had reaped the benefits of these bad practices in the form of low prices for sugar and tobacco products. It is doubtful whether Cuba could ever have paid the former owners for the land and businesses it appropriated, except with debt payable by future generations. It certainly cannot now.

10. I wasn’t able to find out much about the permaculture situation in Cuba, but my impression is that the outcome is likely to be determined by financial considerations.

Subsidies can work reasonably well, as long as the economy as a whole is producing a surplus. Such a surplus tends to occur when the cost of energy production is low, because then it is easy for a growing supply of low-priced energy to boost human productivity.

Now that Cuba’s economy is not faring as well, the government is finding it necessary to start evaluating whether approaches they are taking are really cost effective. More emphasis is placed on entrepreneurs producing goods at prices that are affordable by customers. Thus, an entrepreneur might operate a permaculture garden. My impression is that permaculture will do well, if it can produce goods at prices that consumers can afford, but not otherwise. Consumers who are starved for money are likely to cut back to the very basics (rice and beans?), making this a difficult requirement to meet.

11. Cuba has done better on keeping population down than many other countries. 

If we look at the population growth trends since 1970, Cuba has done better than its nearby neighbors in keeping population down.

Figure 8. Cuba population compared to 1970 estimates, based on USDA population estimates.

 

 

 

 

Figure 8. Cuba population compared to 1970 estimates, along with those of selected other countries, based on USDA population estimates.

In fact, Cuba’s 2014 population per square kilometer is low compared to its neighbors, as well.

Figure 8. Population for Cuba and several nearby areas expressed in population per square kilometer.

 

 

 

 

Figure 8. Population for Cuba and several nearby areas expressed in population per square kilometer.

One thing that many people would point to in the low population growth statistics is the high education of women in Cuba. This is definitely the result of Fidel Castro’s policies.

It seems to me that housing issues play a role as well. Cuba has added very little housing stock in recent years, even though the population has grown. This means that either multiple generations must live together, or new homes must be built. Cuba hasn’t provided a way for doing this (financing, etc). Under these circumstances, most families will keep the number of children low. There is simply no more room for another person in state-provided housing. No one would consider building a shack with local materials, without electricity and water supply, as a work around.

Also, US policies have allowed Cuban citizens who reach the United States to obtain citizenship more easily than say, residents of the Dominican Republic or Haiti. This has offered another work-around for growing population.

12. In many ways, Cuba is better prepared for a fall in standard of living than most countries, but a change in its standard of living is still likely to be problematic.

As we traveled through Cuba, we saw a huge amount of land that either was currently planted in crops, or that could fairly easily be planted as crops. We also saw many acres over-run by acacia, but that still could support some feeding by animals. Cuba is not very mountainous, and generally gets a reasonable amount of water for at least part of the year. These are factors that are helpful for supporting a fairly large population, if crops are chosen to match the available rainfall.

The Cuban population is also well educated and used to working together. Neighbors tend to know each other, and work to support each other through community associations called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

The problem, though, is that the changes needed to live sustainably, without huge annual balance of payment deficits, are likely to be quite large. Sugar production in Cuba began  in the early 1800s. Since that time, Cuba’s economy has been organized as if it were part of a much larger system. Cuba has grown large amounts of certain products (sugar cane and tobacco), and much less of products that its population eats regularly (wheat, rice, beans, corn, and chicken). Residents have gotten used to eating imported foods, rather than foods that grow locally. According to this document, the government of Cuba reported importing 60% to 70% of its “food and agricultural products,” amounting to $2 billion dollars, in 2014. Regardless of whether or not this percentage is calculated correctly, there is at least a $2 billion per year gap in revenue caused by eating non-local foods that needs to be closed.

In theory, Cuba can produce enough food for all of its current population, even without fossil fuels. Doing so would require changes to what Cubans eat. The diet would need to be revised to include greater proportions of foods that can be grown easily in Cuba (plantain, yucca, bread plant, etc.) and fewer foods that can’t. Many people would likely need to move to locations where they can help in the growing and distribution of these foods. Given the current lack of funding, most of these new homes and businesses would likely need to be built by residents using local materials. Thus, they would likely need to look like the shacks (without electricity or running water) that Fidel Castro was able to do away with as a result of his 1959 Revolution.

There might also need to be a reduction to the amount of healthcare and education available to all. This would also be a big let down, because people have gotten used to the current plan of free education and free modern medical care for all. Education and health care no doubt account for a big share of Cuba’s high GDP today, but Cuba may also need to bring down these costs down to an affordable level, if it is to have a sustainable economy.

Note:

[1] Alternatively, better practices might be used that involve crop rotation and permaculture practices. The effect would still have been the same–some type of energy, including a combination of human energy and other kinds of energy, would be needed to keep fields producing some kind of useful crop.

The Human Extinction Survey

SURVEY SUBMISSIONS TO DATE: 277

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on May 17. 2015

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05-24-human-extinction

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Discuss this Survey at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

human-extinctionEarly on when I began my journey into the World of Collapse, probably the biggest and most contentious issue that got kicked around on the Collapse forums and blogs was whether the monetary system would collapse in Hyperinflation or Deflation.  In fact here on the Diner itself this remains one of the most popular threads, with more than 30 pages of posts at this point.

Lately however, the Doom community has become more Doomerish, and what is being kicked around now is whether Homo Saps are bound for Extinction, not in some long distant future but in the Near Term.  In fact, some folks like Guy McPherson of Nature Bats Last are predicting this Extinction Level Event will occur as early as 2030, only 15 years down the line from present day.  Obviously, if you are in the process of going Extinct, the monetary issues pale before that one!  LOL.  For the purposes of this survey though, we will consider anything under a Century as "Near Term".

In an effort to get a better clue on what people think will occur here (and WHEN!?) as we move along the Collapse Highway, I worked up a little Survey utilizing yet another of the numerous Plugins I have installed lately to spruce up the Diner before I Buy My Ticket to the Great Beyond TM. 🙂

Before you take the Main Survey, if you haven't done so already here on the Diner, you may want to place yourself in on our Taxonomy of Doomer Types Survey.  If you have already done this survey before, don't do it again, it will skew the results.  I haven't got a way yet to stop Duplicates out by User.  I don't want to require email addys or any identification for these polls, as I think that would discourage readers from responding to them.

I came up with this taxonomy back in my days Blogging on The Burning Platform with Jim Quinn.  I had just 2 categories for it back then, now I am up to 4 with it.  Here's the old table though for some descriptions.  This goes back to 2011 BTW.

Topic

Doom Lite

Full Doom

 Dollar & Monetary System  We can fix the monetary system and rehabilitate the Dollar if we STOP PRINTING, feed Helicopter Ben to the Lions, Slash Spending, allow TBTF Banks to FAIL, Incarcerate the Criminal Banksters and use Precious Metals to underpin the currency.  The monetary system cannot be rehabilitated by any means, there will be a complete collapse of ALL Fiat money and financial instruments and commerce will for quite some time be mainly Barter.  PMs will only retain value in areas where there is a surplus of basic commodities.
Inflation, Hyper-Inflation, Deflation, Stagflation, DICK UP YOUR ASSFLATION WTF CARES ANYMORE?  WE ARE TOAST NO MATTER HOW IT COLLAPSES. WTF CARES ANYMORE?  WE ARE TOAST NO MATTER HOW IT COLLAPSES.
Energy To resolve our Energy problems, we must IMMEDIATELY begin building more Nukes, Drill Baby Drill for more Local Oil and build more Hydro Plants and Wind Farms, and eventually pick up the slack from lost energy from Imported Oil sources. Lost Energy from depleted Oil is Irreplaceable and it is far too late to stop an extensive Power Down throughout society which will halt most of our Transportation methods and bring down the Electrical Grid.  Our only choice is to prepare for a Low Energy footprint in the future.
 Goobermint  We can fix Da Goobermint if we Vote Out all the scumbag CONgress Critters and replace them with Honest Politicians who cannot be Bought who all demonstrate the Wisdom of the Founding Fathers and abide by the Constitution.  Said new Goobermint will be made much smaller with fewer Regulations and less Taxation, allowing Commerce to revive as the Free Market takes over.  Da Goobermint is inherently unfixable and corrupt and cannot be rehabilitated via the Ballot Box.  Only a Revolution can remove the current power structure, and the results of a Revolution will likely bring a new Goobermint as bad or WORSE than the current one.  The failure of the monetary sytem and energy systems will eventually render all large scale Goobermints unable to function, with the power vacuum filled by local Warlords and Dictators in most places.
Jobs We must stop the offshoring of Productive Jobs and rebuild our Manufacturing Base in order to build an export based Mercantilist economy with a Trade Surplus. The Industrial Model is FINISHED, even if we could rebuild Factories here in the FSofA, we wouldn’t have the Oil to run them anyhow, and there won’t be anyone here or abroad who could afford the products we build with them anyhow, because of the upward spiraling cost of energy measured in EROEI.
 Immigration  We must Seal the Borders and deport all Illegal Aliens and get FSofA Citizens to work at all the scut jobs at below Minimum Wage they currently fill to reduce Unemployment and reduce the liabilities of Aliens who are soaking up free Medical Care in the Emergency Rooms of our Hospitals.  We can TRY to seal the borders and deport the Illegal Aliens, but they will just be replaced by more home grown Citizens who are falling off the economic cliff and will be just as big a drain on the Medical System.  Besides that, at least on the Border with Mejico,  it will likely create an ever growing Shooting War with a Tsunami of Wetbacks seeking to escape an even worse situation in Mejico.
 Imperialism & Foreign Wars  We must STOP trying to be the World’s Policeman, bring all our Boys & Girls HOME and reduce the outrageous COST of maintaining the Big Ass Military.  As soon as we STOP running all our Imperialist adventures, we will basically be CUT OFF from the Foreign Oil still making its way across the Sea Lanes to our Refineries.  We also will crash just about the only type of “productive” thing we build here anymore, which are the Weapons of War and we will bring back a whole new crew of people to put on the Unemployment line.
 Free Shit Army & 30 Blocks of Squalor  We must end all transfer payments, all Welfare, Social Security and Medicaire which are all unfunded Liabilities we cannot afford.  Former Welfare recipients will be FORCED to go back to work and become Productive Citizens rather than Useless Eaters.  Old Folks will rely on their Savings and their Extended Families to take care of them in their dotage.  The minute we knock down all these social support mechanisms is the minute we turn into Egypt or Libya or all the rest of the 3rd World countries where the people with Nothing Left to Lose go BERSERK.  We don’t HAVE jobs these people could do, even if they were qualified to do any job, which they are not for the most part.  Most Old Folks have no savings, and the Extended Family died back in the 1950s for the most part.  The Medical Industry as a whole would COLLAPSE without Goobermint input, putting the Doctors, Nurses and Medical Records folks on the UE lines also.

China

 China will succeed long term because they are net creditors, have most of the Industrial infrastructure and have more Science and Math geniuses studying at Elite Universities.  China is TOAST because of outrageous Population Overshoot, a depleted Water Supply, insufficient arable land and insufficient local supplies of remaining Fossil Fuel energy.

 

FINAL

SOLUTIONS

 Boomers should be EXTERMINATED  Pigmen should be EXTERMINATED

 

The latest Compact Description of each of the new categories is below, and you can go HERE to take that Survey if you have not done so already.  However, don't navigate away from this page until you take the Survey below, which is much more comprehensive.

Tell Us How you Categorize Yourself

Cornucopian: You believe current problems are temporary and Homo Saps will eventually go Star Trekking
Doomer Lite: You believe we will have a Greater Depression, but eventually rebound from it
Full Doomer: You believe Homo Saps will undergo a massive Population Knockdown but will not go Extinct in this century
Uber Doomer: You believe Homo Saps will be extinct by the end of this century
 
Now, onto the Main Extinction Survey itself!
 
survey-saysAll questions in the Surveyl are Optional to answer, in fact even taking the Poll is Optional!  You're not required to leave any identifying information if you don't want to.
 
It may not appear to you that the form submission worked, because I haven't got the feedback page working yet.  However, trust me it does work! I tested it. I'll publish the Survey results after I get enough reasonably literate responses to it.  If you choose to write a really LONG answer to any question, I highly recommend that you compose it in a Text Editor on your own computer and Save It there before copy/pasting it into the Submit Box and hitting the Submit Button!  Just In Case.
 
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RE

The Cairncrest Farm Project

Off the keyboard of Edmund Brown

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Published on the Cairncrest Blog on January 29, 2015

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On Cairncest Farm, two brothers, Edmund and Garth, eat only what they raise/grow/forage/hunt themselves for an entire year. Join them as they blog about taking the local food movement to its logical and absurd conclusion.

Welcome to our year-long project. Over the coming year my brother and I are going to take the local food movement to its logical and absurd endpoint, and we’re going to blog about it. We’re going to grow all our own food for an entire year*. We’re kicking it off today with the onset of 2015. Several times a week we’re going to write about food, animals, vegetables, and other homestead related things. Obviously we did not decide to do this on a whim since we’re starting in the heart of winter and live in central New York. We began preparing for real last spring when we planted out our whole garden. We also co-own a farm and we have our own grass-fed beef. We have a small flock of chickens. We have some live pigs, but have never butchered one so we don’t have pork… yet.

I am the only member of my nuclear family engaged to live off hyper local food for a year, but as with any strict dietary proscriptions there are impositions on those closest to the ‘dieter’. I want to acknowledge my wife, Normandy, wonderful woman that she is. She is supportive of my harebrained scheme despite the burdens it entails.

From Garth:

A Lack of Surplus

For breakfast I ate (what else?) rutabagas with ground beef and sage. I find it interesting that I am still able to enjoy these simple ingredients so much even entering week five. True, I’ve turned on turnips, but they were on thin ice at the outset. Generally, I find each meal I eat immensely satisfying, and I haven’t been exceptionally hungry since the first week. The more difficult aspect is the prospect of my diet continuing in this vein, and perhaps even growing more limited, for months to come.

Which is to say, it’s still a huge stretch for me to imagine what it would be like if I was actually relying on the land in a life-or-death sort of way. It’s easier to focus on what I don’t have (I write as my wife grinds her coffee) than to imagine how deeply grateful I’d be for every last carrot if I was truly limited to my current stores. But I still try to imagine, as much as possible, what it would be like if the stakes were higher.

Knowing that I can go to the store if my health is actually in danger of being compromised has allowed me to be comfortable with a small margin of error. If the beets all rot next month I won’t starve. One certainty is that, if I was really living off the land, I would make a point of growing a lot more food. This excess would primarily serve as a buffer against any one particular crop having a low yield or even failing outright, but it could be fed to pigs to contribute to the year’s meat supply.  After all, one wonderful quality of a pig is its ability to store surplus perishables for later, delicious use.

Even if I consciously know that I have unlimited food potentially available, I’m not certain my body has gotten the memo. I haven’t lost any weight, but my basal metabolism does seem to have slowed way down. I’m wearing more layers inside just to stay comfortable, and my hands get cold when I go outside much faster than I’m used to. I’m not lethargic in that I have plenty of energy to go do chores and everything, but I do feel like I could sleep a couple hours most afternoons if I wanted to. Ed reports similar symptoms.

I’m curious as to the cause. My best guess is that, even though I’m now eating three meals a day where I used to eat two, my total caloric intake has nevertheless dropped. Onions, turnips, rutabagas, and even beets are not particularly concentrated sources of calories (less than two hundred calories in a pound, which is a large serving). This is good news for anyone who’s counting carbs, but it’s not so good if, like me, you generally eat noticeably more in the colder months and only feel capable of putting away so much tallow in a sitting. Potatoes are calorically dense, but, as I’ll write about soon, the crop this year was not what I’d hoped for.

Having an excess of food available has been such a fundamental part of life that I had hardly considered it in any but the most abstract terms. In truth, I still do have an excess, it’s just a much more limited one. So this is another reason that, if I was growing all my food year in and year out, I would grow extra and grow as wide a variety as possible – it would be nice to not have to work quite so hard to eat enough, and it would be a comfort to have more variety.

-Garth

Image Credit: Amy Gray

 

Rewilding, Dispatched

Off the keyboard of Peter Michael Bauer

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Published on Urban Scout on January 7, 2015

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For years now I’ve had a google alert set up for the word “Rewilding.” I like to check the pulse of how the mainstream is perceiving it, as well as the multiple permutations that it has taken between conservation biology, and humans returning to hunter-gatherer lifeways and culture (and the inevitable merging of the two that will take place at some point). I was surprised one day when I was alerted to a news article about a racehorse in Europe named “Rewilding.” For a long time I followed Rewilding’s success. Horse races are disturbing to me. Still, I wondered if it was a sign; should I “put it all on Rewilding?” In spite of the horrible animal cruelty of horse races, I loved getting headlines that began, “Rewilding Takes Clear Victory…” Was the universe telling me something?

http://geegeez.summumbonumltd.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Rewilding.jpg

One sad day I got an e-mail alert. Rewilding had been running full speed when his leg bones buckled and turned to jello. He fell under the weight of a useless leg and had to be euthanized right there on the race track. Upon reading this I burst into tears. I cried and cried. I was inconsolable. It was silly really. Yes, it was sad the horse died. Yes, it is sad that horses are forced into this kind of performance slavery for human entertainment. But beyond that, I had psychologically projected the essence of the rewilding renaissance into the success of a racehorse as though it were some mystical metaphor. For that reason, I was heart broken when Rewilding was dispatched.

Projecting an idea onto a specific set of sounds we call a word, in this case the cultural movement of returning to ancestral lifeways, I am always disappointed when the system kills it. Horse races by nature are disgusting and exploitive of horses. Just as civilization, capitalism, and empire are exploitive of humans, and their ideas. I am similarly heart broken when I see an idea as ripe as rewilding, as deeply needed as rewilding, grasped up, beaten into submission, and forced to parade around as something it is not in order for someone to make a dime. The meaning of rewilding maimed, destroyed, dispatched.

…Which is why lately I have been considering changing my name to Peter Rejuvilicious, culturally appropriating a folk medicinal practice that has been disproven by science, bottling it and selling it to wealthy white people with orthorexia for $250 a pop–and all the while calling it rewilding. In phase two of this new master plan, I will write an e-book that is just a rehash of every wilderness survival skills book out on the market. I will market it as the Survival Bible and call it “The Surbible.” Oh by the way, I just trademarked that. It’s now SURBIBLE™. It comes totally free when you subscribe to my spam service.

surbible

In case you can’t tell… that last paragraph was satire.

As more and more people over the last few years have begun using (and abusing) the term “rewilding,” I’ve been thinking a lot about the rise in its popular use as the latest buzzword. Nothing is more frustrating than to see people co-opt the term from the rewilding community and water it down (usually for their own commercial purposes). On top of that, I get insulted when I see people clearly copying my work and the works of other rewilding catalysts. It’s even more insulting when those people act like they invented the term, but don’t even understand where it came from, what it means, and fail to honor those who have been doing it for a long time.

In my collection of blogs Rewild or Die, I wrote briefly of how I came to the word rewilding. I didn’t go into much detail, but after looking at this I’ve realized how important lineage is to me, and so I feel the need to share it with you. When I found the word rewilding, it was a subpage on a (now-defunct) webpage (www.greenanarchy.info) of a particular anarchist ideology called Anarcho-Primitivism. The site described the concept of rewilding in a single paragraph. This paragraph described the entirety of the lifeway of rewilding:

For most green/anti-civilization/primitivist anarchists, rewilding and reconnecting with the earth is a life project. It is not limited to intellectual comprehension or the practice of primitive skills, but instead, it is a deep understanding of the pervasive ways in which we are domesticated, fractured, and dislocated from our selves, each other, and the world, and the enormous and daily undertaking to be whole again. Rewilding has a physical component which involves reclaiming skills and developing methods for a sustainable co-existence, including how to feed, shelter, and heal ourselves with the plants, animals, and materials occurring naturally in our bioregion. It also includes the dismantling of the physical manifestations, apparatus, and infrastructure of civilization. Rewilding has an emotional component, which involves healing ourselves and each other from the 10,000 year-old wounds which run deep, learning how to live together in non-hierarchical and non-oppressive communities, and deconstructing the domesticating mindset in our social patterns. Rewilding involves prioritizing direct experience and passion over mediation and alienation, re-thinking every dynamic and aspect of our reality, connecting with our feral fury to defend our lives and to fight for a liberated existence, developing more trust in our intuition and being more connected to our instincts, and regaining the balance that has been virtually destroyed after thousands of years of patriarchal control and domestication. Rewilding is the process of becoming uncivilized. -www.greenanarchy.info

Rewilding was about a new way of living, a new story to live by. I don’t know who wrote this beautiful paragraph, but thank you (If you find this page and contact me, I will give you proper credit if you so desire). On this site, there was a link to the (now-defunct) website, www.rewild.org. On their website, they had a definition of rewilding:

rewild v. to heal from domestication & rejoin the community of nature; redefining a relationship with nature on nature’s terms; to return an area to a more natural or wild state; to return a captive animal to its natural habitat.

Though I found this definition online, I believe it was first written by the people who wrote the zine Reclaim, Rewild, who also later created rewild.org. I believe these are the same folks who founded the Wildroots Collective, but am not sure about that detail. 2004 was a big year for human rewilding. Along with this zine, John Zerzan’s Green Anarchy Magazine published an issue dedicated to the topic. I loved this definition. However, it felt too long. I shortened it in a way that I would would encompass all of the main points. Also, it had no synonyms that would help people understand the word even more. I had a t-shirt with the definition of “unschooling” on it, that included a few synonyms to help people grasp the concept (my favorite was “auto-didact”). This gave me the idea to add synonyms to the definition of rewilding. The definition I came up with was this:

rewild, v : to return to a more natural or wild state; the process of undoing domestication. Synonyms: undomesticate, uncivilize.

My edits to the definition didn’t change the original, core idea. I created www.rewild.info (now living at www.rewild.com), an online forum for discussing rewilding. I put this definition on the “splash page“. At the time there were many bloggers venturing into the territory of rewilding. The three people who had blogs entirely dedicated to rewilding and who had written the most, were me (under the moniker Urban Scout), Jason Godesky (Tribe of Anthropik), and Willem Larsen (College of Mythic Cartography), later Wilderix (Rix White), Miles Olsen, and Penny Scout (Emily Porter). People started linking to the forum and within a few months there were many conversations going on about rewilding. Finisia Medrano’s web master linked up with us and all the hoopsters began influencing the direction the subculture was taking. Pretty soon the conversations became super “advanced” and we required new people to read up on rewilding before beginning to have conversations there, so we wouldn’t have to tread over the same ground, but could keep building on what we already had in order to go deeper and deeper.

It seemed as we went along, that the definition on the front page was too vague for people who were new. In one of my blogs I tried to articulate the definition to be more obvious to new people, and offered this:

Rewild, v; to foster and maintain a sustainable way of life through hunter-gatherer-gardener social and economical systems; including, but not limited to, the encouragement of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental biodiversity and the prevention and undoing of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental domestication and enslavement.

No one was ever happy with this, as rewilding is something so deep, and requires so much work undoing the mythology that our culture has pounded into our heads about indigenous and “primitive” people. This definition wasn’t meant to take the place of the simplistic one, but to augment it: un-doing domestication means abandoning civilization. Abandoning civilization requires a revolution. Rewilding is a renaissance that requires a revolution. It is a movement that addresses environmental destruction and social injustice simultaneously. This has been articulated by many rewilders, including myself. Though, for a couple years there, I, as Urban Scout, was the loudest proponent of rewilding on the web and in the press. Most friends of mine understood what I was doing with the persona of Urban Scout; hipsterfying the aesthetics of rewilding, but without sugar-coating or changing the ideology behind it–putting it in a shell that the mainstream would accept more readily. Those who didn’t get the satire sent me angry private and public messages. Kevin Tucker, a prominent Anarcho-primitivist (and author of For Wildness and Anarchy), wrote me this e-mail:

Scout,
You and the other ‘primitivist’ bloggers are fucking douche bags. I’ll give you credit for having a sense of humor, but then you err on that side. Trying to make rewilding just some new hipster shit is pathetic. You’re selling yourself and no one who will still be around in a few years will have bought it. Benefits for fucking fashion shows and dance parties? I imagine you might mean well, appealing to other hipsters or what-the-fuck ever, but you’re only making a mockery of yourself. Perhaps that’s your intent? Urban Scout is, after all, just a character right? Fucking PATHETIC. The rantings, daily affairs, and love life of a fringe blogger do not constitute a primitivist site. The sooner you realize that the better off we’ll be when the hype fades and y’all stop trying to co-opt valid shit.
For wildness and ANARCHY,
Kevin Tucker.

I’m certain he is still proud of it to this day, and wouldn’t mind me reprinting it here, as he has assured me in the past that his friends sometimes come to my blog “for a good laugh” at my expense. Kevin didn’t know me personally or see Urban Scout as an expression of authenticity because he didn’t understand the satire. I always thought that they mostly hated me for aesthetic purposes. I didn’t look like one of them; I was a “hipster.” Back then I would throw this kind of thing back in people’s faces. I turned his e-mail into a Madlibs-style contest, in which the winner of my choosing would receive a signed photograph of yours truly. I’m not posting this here to drudge up old drama. I don’t really care about this anymore, and I understand his frustration and anger.

He was wrong though. I didn’t co-opt rewilding. Co-opting implies changing the meaning behind something for your own purposes. I was just giving rewilding a superficial change, a quasi-hip facelift. Not an ideological one. Now, though, I think I actually understand where their frustration with me was coming from. The hipster culture I was appealing to is centered around an obsession with novelty. This is part of our culture at large, but was especially true (and still is) of hipster culture. Urban Scout (from the audiences perspective) was simply just another novelty to be consumed, like Jack White recording an ICP album of Mozart covers. Urban Scout, the hipster, made rewilding appear as a novelty. Seeing this now, I understand why those who hold these ideas close to their hearts, were pissed off. In spite of this, many people were able to see through the hipster facade and satirical aspects, and understand the sincerity and deeper meanings of rewilding. In fact, a graduate student from Indiana, that I had never met before, wrote a dissertation on how activists use language to recruit people. She included a chapter on “Anarcho-primitivism” and wrote this:

In these mock-mainstream encounters, anarcho-primitivists revel in the contradiction between mass media spectacle and primitivist sentiment. By using blogs, YouTube, and red carpet events, they acknowledge the success of corporate, technological strategies of “selling” ideologies, and they insist that their anti-technological perspective can best be spread through the media that they hope to destroy. When they announce their simultaneous love and disdain for E! Entertainment Network’s brand of consumerism, primitivists produce a critique of the media while guarding themselves against co-optation. Because they produce slick, shiny promotional materials, the mass media has no need to alter the anarcho-primitivist message if it wants to sell it. Urban Scout can therefore have quite a bit of say in his own public representation. As long as his images look professional and corporate, they will appear as he created them.

In 2008 I compiled my “Philosophy of Rewilding” blogs into a book called Rewild or Die, but didn’t publish it officially until 2010, all the while adding updates to the book. In 2011 I finally went on a West coast book tour. During the tour my car was totaled by people who were angry with things I had written in the book and on my blog. Originally I thought that it was anarchist vegans who were mad that I wrote about veganism in my book. The reality is that I don’t know the exact person who did it, so blaming members of a subculture seems counter-productive. The point of mentioning it here, is that it shocked me. I wasn’t born with a thick skin. On my blog I acted as though things didn’t bother me, but they did. I realized that life in the lime light, and one where I am inciting people to total my car, is not the one for me. After my book tour I basically stopped blogging altogether and I’ve spent the last few years creating Rewild Portland, a local non-profit dedicated to creating a rewilding community in my home town of Portland, OR. Rather than be snarky on the internet, I’ve been sincere in person (and a little snarky).

(A side note to this, is the problem with commercializing aspects of rewilding at all, including my non-profit Rewild Portland. For example: charging money for classes, books, information, community, etc. That is a related matter, but is the topic of a whole other conversation. If you are interested in continuing that conversation, join in on it!)

Others published works as well. Finisia Medrano published an auto-biography (Growing Up in Occupied America). Willem Larsen published a collection of his blogs (College of Mythic Cartography). Rewilder Miles Olsen, wrote a book Unlearn, Rewild (New Society, 2012) and used the definition I created for the Rewild Forums in it. Miles’ book is great, and he was one of the first people to contribute to join the Rewild Forums and shape the conversations there. You should definitely check out his book if you haven’t already.

Many of us who made this initial online push for rewilding haven’t had time to pay much attention to the online world of rewilding for the last two or three years. The rewild forums quieted down for a while without a core group of people driving conversations. We had all talked about it enough, and went to work to rewild our lives in the physical world.

In the last year or so there have been a few websites popping up with people claiming to be “rewilding” but gutting the meaning of it, and using it as a new buzzword for anything “Paleo.” It has been confusing, because some are even using the word as a synonym for just going on a hike in “nature.” As if “returning to a more natural state” simply means sitting at the base of a waterfall for 15 minutes a day. It’s even *more* confusing when you look at the most commonly known definition of rewilding, and that is actually conservation rewilding, which explicitly excludes humans (also off-topic but interesting, and is probably the origin of the term in popular use). Human rewilding is the kind we are referring to.

A couple of these people have even become internet famous through modern internet marketing campaigns, seemingly plagiarizing cherry-picked elements of the conversations from the Rewild Forums. All the while, failing to give any of us any credit or linking to any of the websites. Lineage is important to follow because it keeps people on track with the growth of a movement. What is most disturbing about this trend is that it mis-directs what rewilding means from the larger subculture of rewilding, and attempts to close it off in a vacuum of self help routines. Though these sites may add to elements of rewilding culture, they do not add to the rewilding culture overall, but in fact are reducing it by deluding the goal from walking away from civilization (and/or dismantling civilization) to simply taking in a breath of fresh air at the park, or walking in synthetic “barefoot” shoes. With free e-books on things like, “10 Simple Things You Can Do To Rewild Your Life” none of which include returning to a hunter-gatherer way of life, or challenging the pervasive hierarchical culture that is destroying the planet. Rich people have always been more active in nature, now they get to be smug about how healthy they are for it.

It is strange that these people would use the word rewilding, without doing some research. Google “rewilding” and the rewilding wikipedia page and rewild forums are in the top hits. These websites are businesses. It’s hard to imagine they did no research into a word that they would be using as part of their brand. The wikipedia page of rewilding is listed under a subsection of anarchy. Yet these sites have no ties to the driving analysis that begat rewilding, or the culture surrounding it. It is hard to miss that there is a radical foundation to a topic, even with minimal effort. One of the reasons I take major offense to this (other than lack of credit, changing the frame and goal) is that tacking the term “rewilding” onto a capitalist venture of “self-help,” that only benefits the rich (and mostly white), is simply bad publicity for the rewilding movement. People who are doing actual rewilding (the kind that benefits the entire planet, not just a muscle grouping in your abs) such as: planting back wild foods, assisting Natives in land reclamation, bringing these skills and ideas to communities of color, and communities with economic disparities, will be discredited. It’s bad publicity because it makes it look to the general public as if rewilding is just something for self-absorbed, rich, white people, who just want to look good naked, rather than a cultural movement for all people to reclaim an ancestral lifeway of serving the earth through the tending of the wild–with any means necessary. It’s the intention, the goal, that is important here.

You don’t go to a tree sit to climb trees, you go to a tree-sit to stop a logging operation. There is a purpose beyond self. Rewilding, like tree-sitting (protecting wild spaces by any means necessary is another aspect of rewilding) is rooted in a purpose beyond the self. So, the idea of “rewilding yourself” is a misnomer. Rewilding isn’t about YOU. You’re mental and physical health are important… just as breathing, eating, and sleeping are important. Rewilding isn’t some narcissistic, masturbatory meditation, health, or fitness program. It’s about serving the community of life and the land, in the face of Empire.

These people are climbing trees for fun and calling it tree-sitting. Yes, climbing trees is important for participating in a tree sit, but it’s not the goal. There are people on a facebook page for one of the websites that ask “Why is the wikipedia page for rewilding listed as a subsection of anarchism.” This is akin to “Wait, I didn’t know we we’re learning to climb trees in order to stop a logging operation?!?” It is clear from statements like these that the meaning of rewilding is being lost of these people. Anti-civilization, anti-empire, and anarchy (in the general meaning of a “stateless” culture that self-governs) are at the root of rewilding. Rewilding originated from social and environmental activism, not the survival skills world, not the dieting world, and not the new age meditation world. The core of rewilding has always been about planting back seeds (actual seeds) for a future beyond our own. The children of our future (if there are any) won’t care how good we looked naked, they will care if we planted food for them to eat. Of course, we need to take care of ourselves in order to do awesome rewilding stuff like planting back seeds on the hoop, so nourishing traditions are things we need to focus on, but they are not the reason for the season.

I would say that if your objective is to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the fullest extent possible, then you are rewilding. If you are just doing paleo diet and going camping to feel healthier, that is not rewilding. I didn’t make up this definition, though I have played a role in crafting the culture that surrounds it. This is just what it means to the culture of people who are attempting to walk away from civilization and create something new. Why do definitions matter? People must have a shared reality in order to work together in that reality. I once got into the most insane arguments with a man who refused to share reality with me, claiming that “nothing is real” and that “there are no such thing as facts”. These arguments looked like little more than philosophical masturbation to me, than practical thinking for taking actions to create a sustainable planet. While I agreed in the philosophical sense with him, it didn’t help anyone to make choices in the real world.While I don’t believe in the concept of “facts” I do believe that we need to have shared observations of reality. We can observe that agriculture destroys the soil. If we can’t have that shared reality, we can’t work together to change our subsistence strategy to one that builds soil. Similarly, if we can’t have a shared reality of what it means to rewild, the word might as well mean nothing at all. The more we clearly define an idea, the easier time we will have using it for practical purposes. If you don’t have “planting back” the land (reciprocal land management strategies) listed as the main “fundamental” of rewilding (the main thing that separates indigenous lifeways from civilized), then you haven’t been at it very long and are just bringing the same concepts of civilized mentality-> rendering the term “rewilding” into just more of the same. For this reason, it is easy to tell who is new to rewilding and who has been at it for a long time based on where they put their emphasis. Agricultural civilization takes more from the land without giving anything back, whereas “hunter-gatherers” give back more than they take. A simple example of this is taking a single Camas bulb from the ground, but planting dozens of camas seeds in its place. Newbie rewilders tend to emphasize primitive skills, foraging, and enact the individualistic “mountain man” cliche, which is missing the whole point of rewilding. Foraging is not rewilding. Foraging, while planting back the seeds of the plants you are foraging, and under the threat of Empire, is rewilding.

The last chapter in my book was called, “Rewilding: a Term to Throw Away.” In it I spoke of how the word could change over time to become something else, and lose sight of the goal. The vision is what is important, not the word. We were rewilding before “rewilding” was a word to describe rewilding. It doesn’t really matter if these people continue to run the word rewilding into the ground. If people are alive in 500 years, it’s because they will have returned to a hunter-gatherer way of life. In the moment though, as someone trying to prepare people for the changes we are experiencing by uniting them under a common term, it is really, really annoying.

The Evolution of Governance

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

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Published on Question Everything on September 24, 2014

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The Evolution of Governance

Previous posts in this series:

  1. How Does Nature Manage Complexity?
  2. Systems Science and the Political Economy
  3. Governance of an Economy
  4. A Sapient Political Economic System

A Brief History of Evolving Social-Economic Governance

In the blog post, Systems Science and the Political Economy I tried to show how the concepts of economics, social organization, and the political process are all intertwined and based on extended physiology — the interactions between the physiologies and psychologies of eusocial beings. I started with a primitive social system where the participants were starting to specialize by talent in the production of tools or services that were needed to keep the group successful and fit. As Adam Smith had long ago recognized, specialization and cooperation is the key to success of the whole enterprise (this latter observation was expressed in his lesser referenced book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments). In this post I would like to run through a brief recount of how social and economic governance has evolved through history. There is a single caveat to make: all of this history is based on the fact that the decision agents involved in both the general social organization/economy and the governance structures have been humans and only as sapient as the species had evolved in the late Pleistocene.

In all likelihood early sapiens formed groups based on extended families. These groups were small, maybe twenty to fifty individuals across all ages. They were hunter-gatherers with a still relatively primitive set of tools consisting of digging sticks, stone blades and axes, and possibly thrusting sticks (spears). They may have scavenged meat more than hunted it but they had mastered the use of fire for cooking and hardening wooden shaft points. They probably built temporary shelters but were primarily nomadic, at least over a large territory, following food opportunities. This was the milieu in which we imagine the first specialists emerged. Certain individuals were good at chipping rocks, others good at finding root foods, etc. Men were probably the primary hunters and as tools like throwing spears and later bows and arrows improved we suspect certain individuals tended to excel in the hunt while others were good at butchering. If we can extrapolate from contemporary indigenous peoples’ organizations then the tribe was guided strategically by the wise elders, a council group, with perhaps a headman providing tactical leadership for hunting and conflicts with other groups when they occurred. I consider this as the root form of governance that evolved along with and because of human genetic evolution. Language was an integral part of this evolution as the organization of a primitive market of specialist agents undoubtedly required significant communication to coordinate activities. Aside from the time-to-time conflicts over territorial disputes, groups interacted with one another to trade special goods and especially brides to ensure against inbreeding. The main form of interaction within the group was cooperation even while that between groups vacillated between competition and cooperation (trade). Thus logistical management was probably minimal since all individuals could easily see everything that went on within the tribe and each individual’s behavior was guided by a strong moral sense of what was best for the group.

This root form persisted even after the discovery of horticulture as a process. Originally tribes, probably driven by climate changes in Africa, started settling in year-around camps where they could be assured of water and good soils. Effectively they were still tribes and they still tended to generate specialists, but now doing farming instead of hunting and gathering. Note, however, this was not a universal phenomenon. Some tribes in more arid areas remained nomadic and reliant on herding of ungulates for a living. These tribes would evolve a governance form that was more suited for a more demanding and constrained lifestyle.

Early agriculture was wildly successful and tribal villages grew into larger many-family units. As the Mesolithic age transitioned into the Neolithic and later the Bronze age tools were evolving rapidly. The plow, drawn by oxen, for example, revolutionized agricultural practices and provided for an explosion in food production and, consequently, populations. With increasing complexity and decreasing transparency in terms of the work of specialists, the need for logistical management arose as did a class of ‘managers,’ such as the granary manager and the scribes who accounted for the volumes of grains and other food stuffs stored for future consumption. The need to protect farmlands and villages also called for some of the stronger men to become warriors from time to time. They needed weapons (built by specialists) and supplies when needed. Thus the interface between logistical and tactical management for protection was established. The same was true for trade with more distant settlements. Someone had to organize the trade excursions and then manage the artifacts and foods to be traded. Coordination management emerged as a class of people who did not get directly involved in the on-going production of food or the crafts that produced the artifacts needed to produce food and support daily living. The beginnings of a layered hierarchical management system emerged from the need to coordinate many specialized work processes and coordination specialists emerged from this structure. The bureaucracy was born.

The question of strategic management is not easily discerned. As with the above described tribal organization, a council of wise elders and a headman or chief whose primary duty was to implement the strategic decisions of the elders may have morphed as the needs for tactical and logistical management grew more prominent. Once permanent villages were formed, in essence the strategy of life became fixed. Grow food to feed the population, protect the land, and seek out alliances for trade and protection purposes. The wise elders probably devolved into the function of advisors as opposed to leaders. The role of the headman evolved into that of mayors and later kings. They took more power as leaders and eventually “law givers.” The beginnings of autocracy and authoritarian rule vested in one individual were at hand. This is the point in cultural evolution when the selective forces that had favored increasing sapience were reduced. The selective forces for ruthlessness and power seeking from competition between the various coordination level managers for the leadership job took over. Most often, history tells us, the top dog was the one most honed in military capabilities. As regional populations grew and put pressure on the land, competition for resources (soil in particular) came to be a permanent pattern of interactions. Thus military men gained the skills in leading.

This new framework for organization was incredibly successful. Within a seemingly short time small villages gave way to more elaborate towns and cities in key environments (e.g., Egypt and Mesopotamia). The age of civilizations and empires emerged and the complexity of life exploded. The surrounding farm villages and the farms themselves were somewhat unaffected by this transition in terms of daily life. But of course they became subservient to the city centers that now needed resources brought in from the surrounding land. A more elaborate military was needed to protect the towns and surrounding lands. Tactical management was raised to a new level. For some reason, however, logistics management in its full form never advanced beyond the issuance of currencies and collection of taxes, which are not really serving the economy so much as making the bureaucracy possible. Even as cities grew in complexity and workshops became increasingly opaque to their customers, the governing class left the logistics pretty much to the marketplace. They could get by with this approach only because the vast majority of humans are inherently motivated by cooperative moral sentiments. The proportion of cheaters was (and still is) relatively small by comparison with the cooperators and the instances of dispute could be managed by a magistrate judiciary. Occasionally truly egregious disputes and wrongs needed to be referred to a “higher court”, but for the most part the marketplace remained reasonably self-regulating[1]

Rather than governments taking a direct hand in logistic management, by assisting the direct regulation of interprocess transactions and distribution of resources, a different, non-governmental form of logistic management emerged from the practice of sequestering excess foodstuffs for later consumption and as insurance against a bad harvest. Once abstract monetary tokens came into widespread use, they rapidly began to represent stored wealth and a new institution, the bank, arose as a means for sequestering these tokens. The idea that bankers should receive their income from a portion of each savings account was probably the first version of managing that resource. But very soon another practice came into existence. As with granaries that stored seeds and from which seeds could be borrowed, for example, to start planting a new field (an investment in the future), banks started lending small amounts of stored money to finance new trade ventures. And just as the granary needed to be paid back in full (with possibly a small increment more), the bank could charge a fee for the use of the money — interest payments. But here is where the twist came in. In order to convince the people saving their “wealth” in the bank that this practice was sound, they paid the savers a small fee for keeping their money in the bank and thus available to the bankers to make loans. This was the first foray of the monetary system into logistics (as described in A Sapient Political Economic System as the origin of “monetary policy.”) Banks loaning money out to borrowers effectively creates second-order money because it is cash that is supposedly existing in two places at once. It is both in the bank at least on the ledgers, and in the hands of someone else being used to buy things. If the savers want their money back, the bank would have to rob Peter to pay Paul, take out more money from other peoples’ deposits to restore the full amount of the account that is being withdrawn. The obvious risk is that if everyone wanted their money out at the same time the bank would not be able to give them their full due unless it could turn around and quickly pressure the borrowers to pay them back. Messy business.

This basic pattern worked pretty well most of the time. The banking industry achieved full status as an institution and with due prudence became respected and trusted. But then, banks struck an unholy alliance with governments. They started loaning money, for example, to finance armies and navies for war efforts. Those loans could only be paid back if the wars were won so those were risky business deals. In any case bankers became influential in government affairs (see, for example, The House of Medici) and, indeed the financial machinations of bankers and those of political heads of state became extremely intertwined and remain so down to the present. In spite of numerous downturns and failures, the banking industry seems to have survived quite well. The next major “innovation” in financial management came with the invention of bonds and stocks. Capitalism is basically a set of ways in which an investment class, those with the financial resources, can lend their “excess” wealth, or what would have been called savings, to new ventures, not unlike the loaning of seeds to start new fields.

As I wrote in A Sapient Political Economic System even today governments do not engage in true logistical management, preferring and believing that markets can solve all of those pesky distribution problems more efficiently than can people. This belief emerged and evolved into its current “free market” version as a result of the observations made by Adam Smith regarding the mythical “invisible hand.” Indeed, Smith was noting that there was a logistical function that seemed to be taken care of by self-interested parties working out trades in an open market setting. Smith’s observation may have hit on an underlying truth about coordination even as it has been lost on those eager to use this observation as an excuse for maximizing profit taking. In one sense Smith’s observation, made in much simpler marketplaces, is basically true, if the decisions are left strictly to people to make when all relevant information is available to them. But as I also pointed out, with proper scientific-based methodologies and an appropriate objective function those decisions could be based on facts-of-the-matter and not human opinion. Better still, with sapient agents there would be little question as to the efficacy of logistical decisions.

The notion of a free market being the solution to all problems has been reinforced by the the failures of so-called planned economies. The few attempts that governments have made to “plan” an economy have ended fairly disastrously. The former Soviet Union comes to mind. China was going down the same road but has recently morphed from a communist state to a modified capitalist state with somewhat less planning and a good deal of new knowledge gleaned from watching the progress of the West and the failures of the Soviet Union. But even in the modern China we have evidence of the failures of their approach to logistic management. For example, China has a horrendous commercial real-estate bubble (as well as a private bubble) due to poor planning.

Evolution of a Sapient Socio-Economic Management System

If human socio-economic hierarchical management were to have evolved in ways that reflect a more “organic” form, what would be different between what was described above and some kind of “ideal”? This is an exercise (possibly in futility) to try and discern how such a system might be obtained. As a starting point, assume that there will be a reset of civilization. And not just to a lower technological civilization but to a very low technology collection of tribes. Let’s consider what a future evolution of society might look like. Furthermore, let’s consider what that evolution might look like in the case where the social agents, the people, have evolved greater sapience[2].

I suspect that the main difference at the operational level, the level where people are attending to daily life and production of goods and services will come from something that might look like altruism but is actually the result of desires to cooperate and to do what is good for society. The profit motive will have been reduced back to the need to make and save a small profit as a buffer against bad times. Indeed, when the larders are full and account for the average demand during those bad times, the producers of goods and services may elect to back off of volume and/or price. Volume could be adjusted based on demand/need and price could reflect the actual costs of production. There would be no premium to collect to take advantage of fellow tribespeople. Every producer would consider the whole of the society in setting prices and availability based on actual costs and availability of inputs. These are morally-motivated decisions and not profit-motivated.

Operational level management is primarily concerned with quality aspects of products and services. Just as craftspersons of old cared about their reputation and thus paid careful attention to quality details, sapient producers would monitor their outputs for quality sake and make adjustments to maintain or improve that quality. But a big difference is a subtle shift from concern for reputation to keep sales up to concern for the customer’s capacity to find value in the product or service. In other words this too looks a bit like altruism but is not because the producer is not compromised by performing the necessary acts. Indeed, both producer and customer are enhanced as a result of the synergy afforded by the product or service. Society is better off as a result of a qualtity product being used, possibly to construct another quality product.

At the coordination level the question might be posed: If everyone is so cooperative and morally-motivated by their interactions in transactions, wouldn’t the market be sufficient to provide logistic coordination? And it is likely that with agents who are more discerning and honest in their communications, the likelihood that the marketplace could serve as a sufficient medium for logistics is probably high. But only as long as the complexity of the web of buyers and sellers is relatively simple and the nature of products and services is also relatively simple. At the stage of social evolution where the farming community is the mainstay of society, then this condition probably holds and simple marketplace mechanisms along with the above mentioned cooperativity and motivations of the agents would lead to efficient and satisfactory outcomes. This is what Adam Smith observed in Wealth of Nations, at least in terms of the workings going on in the lower echelons of commerce. Unfortunately, higher forms of financing and obfuscated transactions were already developed and starting to negatively impact those lower echelons even in Smith’s time. Just at the start of the Industrial Revolution, the bankers and lack of state-based logistics management were deepening the wedge between the rich rentier-capitalist classes and the poor working class. The moral sentiments that Smith also wrote about were fading.

Recall the main tools of logistic management, the budget and the accounting system? The evolution of a true hierarchical cybernetic system would involve the employment of these to help producers and consumers regulate themselves at the operational level and maximize cooperation. For the society, the maintenance of a global accounting system would allow all members to have information about the costs of everything and the prices that reflect fair trade. Something akin to a financial accounting system would let everyone know and understand the state of the whole community. With that knowledge, sapient agents would be able to adjust their activities and expectations. In the early agricultural days, and even before in the hunter-gatherer stages, everyone in the tribe knew very well what the status of the whole tribe was with respect to food and other resource supplies. Everyone got complete visability when it came to the stores of those resources. They could then individually take whatever action would be necessary to do their part to maintain or improve the status of the group. A global accounting system, not just for the governing “agencies” but for every operation within the society, would provide this same sort of information for more complex systems.

I imagine that at some point, as societies do grow within the limits imposed by the carrying capacity of the environment and by the availability of energy, there would need to be a function devoted to summarization and interpretation of the accounts. The information load from an accounting system, even for a moderate sized company requires a controller and financial managers to monitor the assets, liabilities, and equities as well as cash flows of the whole enterprise. Similarly, budgets relating to the whole community, the activities of individual producers and consumers would be employed to plan for resource allocations. Unlike planned economies such as tried in communist countries, budget development is not a strictly top-down process. Each operating unit provides input based on their operating experiences and the trends they see. For example, a producer may note an uptick in demand for a specific product and project the continuation of that demand increase. They would request additional resources to meet the demand and the budgeting process would ascertain the feasible allocations of resources given those requirements. The logistics coordinator would have to make decisions about actual allocations and their timing. But they would not simply decide one fine morning that making more “tractors” would boost the manufacturing sector of the GDP which would look good when reporting to their superiors. An approach to logistical management has simply never been tried in any economy. Yet it is the necessary form of management needed to deal with the kind of complexity found in societies beyond the simple village.

Higher sapience would make this kind of management possible simply because people would not feel they have to hide anything. The sentiment of proprietorship and secrecy about what goes into production would be much minimized. Thus agents would be willing to participate in accounting reporting (cost and financial) and would be happy to have comprehensive information about products and services. However, the major driving sentiment behind a sapient logistic management system would be the a priori willingness, even desire, for all participants to cooperate for the good of the whole. Today, perhaps due to cultural aberration and pressures to conform, most people are primarily interested in maximizing their own situation. Fewer in number, but still enough to make things really bad, are those who hold that same sentiment and are perfectly aware that doing so will harm others, yet they do not care. Nothing could be further from a sapient mind.

The form of tactical management would be as described in A Sapient Political-Economic System. But how would it evolve as societies evolved to greater complexity? Tactical management of a small community starts with attending to the state and trends associated with the community’s environment. The very first problem is how to grow enough food to maintain the health of the community. But other issues include finding building materials for shelters and materials for making other tools. Under the assumption of a reset of social evolution with small communities and those are spread out, and with the members of communities having some greater level of sapience, it is not hard to imagine that the tactical issues of interacting with other societies would be trade of goods and genes. However there is also the trading of information that would need special attention. If one group is experiencing stresses, say due to poor harvests, they might share this information with the other groups nearby. They might find out that those other groups, too, were experiencing stresses. Then, the groups might find ways to symbiotically cooperate to find synergies that would help all through the rough times. At minimum they could agree to spread out further apart to lessen the total human load on the environment. Of course I am not saying this would be easy, but more sapient minds would be more likely to seek cooperative solutions than resort to violence. More sapient minds, armed with knowledge about how the world works, would be in a position to find solutions. More sapient minds, remember, are strategic as well as morally-motivated. They would be less prone to the US-vs-THEM psychology that dominates our weaker form of mind.

Of course there is always the possibility that clusters of less sapient communities will have survived as well. Such communities are more likely to resort to violence in acts of desperation. Thus tactical management will also necessarily include military-like approaches for protection. There is nothing about higher sapience which precludes self protection. So, until or unless the lower sapient groups die off (due to unsuccessful competition with more sapient groups) the construction and maintenance of military capacity would remain part of the tactical management process.

What would be different is the role that strategic management would take in all tactical affairs. Agents tasked with tactical management (e.g. monitoring the health of the environment and the activities of potential enemies) would necessarily consult with the those tasked with strategic management — the wise elders or, in the case of smaller communities, the wise leader. Strategic management is always concerned with the state and trends of the world around the community. They also keep themselves informed of the state and trends of things within the community, the logistics and operations. They know and think about the strengths and weakness of the community and the threats and opportunities in the environment. Their job is to wisely guide the activities, both logistical and tactical, for the long-term stability and maintenance of the community.

Where do wise elders come from? Or a wise leader? If you read my working papers on sapience, especially about the evolution of sapience you would recall a discussion of the statistical distribution of sapience strength. In the extant population I conjecture that the distribution is not the ordinary normal curve but is quite skewed toward the low end of the scale. That is, the mean sapience level (like an SQ) is relatively low, with a rapidly declining tail off toward the high end. This is the result of the newness of the traits involved in integrated sapience. Given enough time in biological evolution and a continuance of selection factors favoring sapience, the curve would eventually tend toward normal (bell shaped). Well, if our reset populations are somehow more sapient that is what we would expect to see. And there will always be a minority (but a non-trivial one) of individuals who are much higher in the distribution just as there are people with higher IQs now.

The Key to a Hierarchical Cybernetic System

The key is good inter-module communications and veridical models for making control adjustments. Because no communication channel is perfect, there is always noise and ambiguity, nature learned a long time ago how to build communications systems with clever coding and redundancy. We humans have learned to do the same, but we low sapient humans have also managed to inject noise and ambiguity to hide reality from others we see as competitors (or suckers) and to hide from reality ourselves. We know how to do it right we just don’t have the guts to do so. At every turn we can rationalize obscuring the truth by believing that everyone else does so and we are just protecting our own interests. In a sapient society, a wiser people would understand the importance of reliable and complete communications. Unlike in the game of “Telegraph” where everyone laughs about the mangling of a message passed on by whisper from one person to another wiser people would work hard to ensure the fidelity of messages they handle.

This is not merely true within the marketplace but up and down the hierarchy of management. Workers would not hide mistakes from their coordinators for fear of punishment. They would be wise enough to realize that it is important to report problems so they can be fixed. They would have no fear because they also realize their coordinators are wise enough to understand that mistakes happen, things go wrong, and that it is not in anyone’s best interest to punish anybody when they do.

Similarly, the models of the subsystems used to make decisions must be as close to reality as they can economically be made to be. Models that are not sufficiently complete or riddled with ideological beliefs(such as the neo-classical, neo-liberal economics we mostly rely on today) that do not correspond with reality are worse than useless. They cause damage. In our current population of sub-sapient people beliefs in models of governance based on totally unfounded ideologies (and they are all pretty much this way) are the cause of our current crises in government, politics, and economics. They are the reason that our civilizations are collapsing in front of our eyes. Sapient beings learn from mistakes and that learning turns into more precise and/or accurate modelling of the processes that need to be managed. Models become more veridical as the system evolves.

Ultimately, and I realize I repeat myself, a true hierarchical cybernetic system depends on the sapience of the decision agents at all levels in the hierarchy. While there may still be a statistical distribution across levels of sapience and intelligence, this need for all to be sufficiently wise in their judgements also implies a more egalitarian social fabric. Just because an individual is performing the role of strategic decision maker does not mean that that individual is “worth” more in material rewards for doing their job. Is this socialism? Is this the feared plague that is the antithesis of capitalism? Well yes and no. Egalitarianism among sapient beings is not the same as rewarding a lazy sub-sapient just because he is breathing. Higher sapience implies greater sentiments of responsibility and effort applied. Only if every participant in society contributes to the good of the whole can there be a true hierarchical cybernetic system. And only if the latter is achieved can there be a sustainable form of society and culture.

I called this posting “The Evolution of Governance.” Many readers may have noticed that I then described what sounds like a “designed” governance system. However, I claim that even human designs are the result of evolutionary process. From the earliest times of Homo sapiens humans have tinkered and tested technology and organizations. The governance systems that have emerged over the history of man, especially since the advent of agriculture, show that these were merely experiments. So it is the same with the current experiment in liberal democracy and capitalism relying on an all-knowing market. This too is an experiment and one that has proven disastrous even as it produced untold material wealth.

If humans can make it past an evolutionary bottleneck and if the average level of sapience can be boosted then the next experiment, built from what was learned by this last one and knowledge of hierarchical cybernetics should be an improvement. In some sense mammals and birds can be viewed as a kind of brain/mind organizational improvement over dinosaurs. But it took a major global calamity to give them the chance to emerge and evolve further. I take comfort in thinking that the next round of governance evolution, based on increased sapience and hypersociality will demonstrate the same kind of improvement in form and function. Nothing is “perfect,” only better than what came before.


Footnotes

[1] I forgot to mention in that previous post the role of the law, especially contract law, in helping to ensure transactions are conducted fairly. Their are laws mandated by Congress and there are laws that are subject to interpretation by the courts and the enforcement evolves according to the history of application. While these laws seem to be in place to regulate fairness and thus reinforce cooperation, they are not actually part of a logistical management framework. Rather they seem to be compensating for the lack of sapient-based cooperation that would preclude cheating and the taking advantage of others due to higher levels of empathy, etc.

[2] Some readers will argue that perhaps sapience can be improved by learning or being influenced in childhood by being in a sapient community. Perhaps it will not require neo-Darwinian evolution to produce a more sapient group. That is indeed possible in my opinion. Certainly by comparison with the state of affairs at present even slight improvements in morally-motivated judgement would make a substantial difference. Coupled with an effort to maintain that knowledge of how the world really works that we have gained through science, it is conceivable that educating for wisdom would contribute significantly to a morally-motivated society. Then, as with all biological-cultural coevolution there would exist a return to the selection forces that gave rise to and promoted sapience in the first place. For purposes of this discourse either education for wisdom, or some directed selection for greater sapience will have similar effects.

An Energy-Related Reason Why US Healthcare Outcomes are Awful

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on September 9, 2014

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Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

Back in January 2013, the US Institute of Medicine published a report called U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. This poor health outcome for US citizens is in spite of the US spending twice as much as a percentage of GDP on healthcare as other high-income nations.

As an example of the problems the US has, the report showed the following exhibit, pointing out that the US has made much smaller advances in life expectancy since 1980 than other high-income nations.  The US is now seventeenth of the seventeen countries analyzed in male life expectancy, and sixteenth out of seventeenth in female life expectancy.

Figure 1-6 Female life expectancy at birth

I am sure I do not know all of the reasons for the US divergence from patterns seen elsewhere, but let me try to explain one energy-related reason for our problems. It has to do with a need to get a wide variety of nutrients at the same time we need to balance (Energy In) = (Energy Needed for Life Processes), in a period of time when the food we eat is increasingly of the “processed” variety. There may also be an issue of eating too much animal protein in our food mix, thanks to today’s ability to ramp up meat production using grains grown and shipped around the world, using fossil fuels.

An Overview of Energy-Related Modifications to Food

If look at primates in general, it is pretty clear that all of the nutrients such animals need come prepackaged in the food that they gather with their limbs. They get the level of exercise they need from gathering this food and from their other daily activities. They have a pretty good balance between (Energy In) = (Energy Needed for Life Processes), without any special effort.

We humans have been modifying food for a very long time, dating back to the days of being hunter-gatherers. Our earliest changes were successful from the point of making humans more dominant. They allowed us to grow larger brains and allowed human population to grow.

The changes made in recent years, thanks to abundant fossil fuels, seem to be excessive, however. The new processed foods are often missing necessary nutrients and fiber, providing mostly empty calories. It becomes a balancing act to get enough of the right nutrients without filling our bodies with calories we don’t need. Some foods (juices, added sugars, very finely ground grains) are sufficiently different from natural foods that our systems don’t react properly to such food. Also, the exercise our body was expecting is often much reduced.

The way our current system works, the food that is closest to its original form is hardest to ship and store, so tends to be highest-priced. The most calorie-dense, over-processed food tends to be cheapest. As a result, the least-educated people (who tend to be poorest) tend to be most damaged by our poor food supply. According to one study, at age twenty-five, men with less than a high school education have a sixteen-year shorter life expectancy than men with a graduate degree.

Remaining Years of Life_prbOf course, at least part of the problem is the disproportionate lack of health care of less-educated US citizens. There are no doubt effects related to feeling like second-class citizens as well, because of reduced work-opportunities for those with poor educations. But having to work around a poor food system with an inadequate income is an issue that likely plays a major role as well.

How Did Humans Develop Larger Brains?  

There is a popular belief that eating meat made us human. While meat eating may have played a role, there seem to be other factors as well. National Geographic in an article in the September 2014 issue, The Evolution of Diet, observes that modern day hunter-gatherers typically get about 30% of their calories from meat. When meat supplies are scarce, they often live for long periods on a plant-based diet. The article says, “New studies suggest that more than a reliance on meat in ancient human diets fueled the brain’s expansion.”

The point National Geographic mentions is the one I have brought up previously–the theory advanced by Richard Wrangham in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. It seems to be the ability to control of fire, allowing humans to burn biomass, which set us apart from other primates. This allowed us to cook food, and in doing so, allowed the food to be more easily chewed and digested. Reduced chewing time freed up time for other activities, such as making tools. Nutrients could be more easily absorbed from cooked food. The fact that the food was easier to chew and digest allowed chewing and digestive systems to shrink, and brains to increase in size. It probably also made it easier for more human children to survive.

Furthermore, we now know that some other primates eat meat, so humans are not unique in this regard. Chimpanzees even hunt animals for their meat. National Geographic reports that baboons eat birds, rodents, and even the young of larger mammals, such as antelopes and sheep. But meat makes up only a small share of their diet. We also know that when monkeys are fed a diet that includes very much meat, they gain weight and experience degenerative diseases like humans.

Food Processing: A Little of a Good Thing vs. Too Much of Good Thing

The experience with cooking some food back in hunter-gatherer days shows that a little help in getting more nutrition from foods can be helpful. Plant cell walls are made of cellulose. Cooking vegetables helps break down these cell walls, making nutrients more accessible. There are other ways of processing food–pounding meat to make it more tender or using a blender to chop it into fine pieces. Humans have been milling grains for a very long time.

But it is easy to overdo the processing of food, especially with the help of fossil fuels. Grains can be ground very finely, far more finely they would have been ground, years ago. Sweeteners of various types can be derived from sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn, and added to products of many types. Parts of fruits and vegetables that are deemed “less desirable” such as skins can be removed, even if these parts have a disproportionate share of the nutrients in them.

There is even a second order kind of change to the food supply that can be put in place. For example, before recent “improvements,” cattle ate a mixture of grasses and digested them in their four-part stomachs that are designed from that purpose. Now cattle are being fed all kinds of foods that are not suitable for their digestive systems, including corn and dried distillers grain, a byproduct of making ethanol from corn. There are many other shortcuts taken, from hormones to antibiotics, so as to produce more meat at less expense. Our bodies aren’t necessarily adapted all of these changes. For one thing, there is much more fat in the beef, and for another, the ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids to Omega 6 fatty acids is badly skewed.

There is the additional issue of whether plants actually contain the nutrients that they did years ago. Many of us have learned Liebig’s Law of the Minimum, which states that plant growth is not controlled by total amount of resources available, but by the scarcest resource. In other words, a plant needs all of its nutrients–just adding more of the most abundant nutrient isn’t good enough. But Liebig’s Law of the Minimum doesn’t remove all deviations in nutrient quantity. Plants will still grow, even if some of the trace elements are present in smaller than the usual quantities. Adding fertilizer (or even crop rotation) does not entirely fix this situation. We still end up with soil that is deficient in some micronutrients. This situation tends to get worse with time, as our sewer systems send human wastes out to sea.

In recent years, we have been hearing more about the role intestinal bacteria play. The processing of our food is especially likely to remove the less digestible portions of our food that these bacteria depend on for their nutrition. This adds yet another dimension to the problem of food that deviates from what our bodies are expecting us to eat.

Thanks to fossil fuels, processing of all kinds is cheap. So is adding sugar, artificial colors and artificial flavors to help cover up deficiencies in the original crop. The shortcuts farmers take, including heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides, are ways to produce food more cheaply. The food we end up with is inexpensive and convenient, but doesn’t necessarily match up well with what human digestive systems are adapted to.

What Kind of Exercise Do We Need? 

The story I keep reading is that we need a certain amount of high-intensity intermittent exercise to help our bodies operate as they are intended to. Running for even an average of five or ten minutes a day is said to reduce cardiac causes of death by 30% to 45%, and to increase overall life expectancy by three years. We can easily imagine that hunter-gatherers quite often needed to sprint from time to time, either to avoid predators or to catch potential prey. The finding that human beings need short bursts of high intensity exercise, such as running, would seem to be consistent with what our ancestors did. We also can’t sit for long periods–something our ancestors didn’t do either.

How about strength training? One thing that occurred to me when I visited India is how unnatural it is to have chairs to sit on. Much of the world’s population, even today, sits on the ground when they want to sit down. Needless to say, people who don’t sit on chairs get up from the floor many times a day. This is a type of fitness training that we in this country miss. We in the West also don’t squat much–another type of fitness training.

Even with the beneficial effects of exercise, some researchers today believe that food plays a more important role than exercise in obesity. (Obesity is linked to ill health and shorter life expectancies.) A recent study by Herman Pontzer and others compared the energy expenditure of the Hazda hunter-gatherers to Westerners. The study found that average daily energy expenditure of traditional Hazda foragers was no different from that of Westerners, after controlling for body size. The body seemed to compensate for higher energy expenditure at times, with lower energy expenditure at other times.

Conclusion

It seems to me that our appetites don’t work correctly when we fill ourselves with overly processed foods that are lacking for essential nutrients. We don’t stop eating soon enough, and we quickly feel hungry again. In part this may be from eating foods highly processed foods that would never be found in nature; in part it may be because the foods are missing the micronutrients and fiber that our bodies are expecting. Low-income people especially have a problem with such diets, since diets rich in fruits and vegetables are more expensive.

Many people believe doctors can fix our health problems. Looking across countries, diet and public health issues tend to be much more important than the medical care system in the health of a population. With most chronic health conditions, doctors can only take bad health situations and make them somewhat better. High rates of illness and increased mortality remain, similar to what we see in the United States.

Many of us have heard about the so-called calorie restriction diets of monkeys. This is a misnomer, in my view. In at least one version of it, it is a comparison of monkeys fed a low calorie diet that provides a wide range of nutrients found in vegetables, with a diet typical of Americans. If, in fact, we humans also need a wide range of nutrients found in vegetables, we should not be surprised if we have similarly poor health outcomes.

NYT 31aging_graphic_lgAccording to the graphic, Owen, 26, is affected by arthritis. His skin is wrinkled and his hair is falling out. He is frail and moves slowly. His blood work shows unhealthy levels of glucose and triglycerides. Canto, 25, is aging fairly well.

I personally have been eating a diet that is close to vegetarian for twenty years (heavy on vegetables, fruits and nuts; some fish and diary products; meat only as flavoring in soups). I also cut way back on processed foods and foods with added sugar or corn by-products. When I first changed my diet, I had a problem with arthritis and was concerned that I was at high risk for Type II diabetes. I lost weight, and my arthritis disappeared, as did my blood sugar problems. In fact, I rarely have reason to visit a doctor. In many ways, I feel like Canto on the left.

As I pointed out at the beginning of the post, we need to get a wide variety of nutrients at the same time we need to balance (Energy In) = (Energy Needed for Life Processes). Back in hunter-gatherer days, this was easy to do, but it is increasingly difficult to do today. Besides cutting back on processed foods, eating a diet at that is low in meat may be a way of doing this. Studies of people who eat mostly vegetarian diets show that they tend to have longer life spans. There is also direct evidence that diets that are higher in animal protein tend to shorten life spans. These findings don’t necessarily correlate with studies of what works best for losing weight, which is what most people are concerned about in the short term. Thus, we are deluged with a lot of confusing findings.

Food and health problems are issues that tend to strike a nerve with a lot of people. I can’t claim to be an expert in this area. But stepping back and looking at the issue more broadly, as I have tried to do in this article, can perhaps add some new perspectives.

Attack of the Zombie Plants: World War A

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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Just when you think it’s safe to go near the water, you start feeling dizzy. Thanks, algae. (Photo by Dave Shefer/Flickr)

Just when you think it’s safe to go near the water, you start feeling dizzy. Thanks, algae. (Photo by Dave Shefer/Flickr)

First published at The Daily Impact  September 3, 2014

 

Along most of its coastline, in its bays and estuaries, and in many of its rivers and lakes, America is under mounting attack by another enemy of its own making — toxic green algae. It’s like a bad horror movie, with the slime sprawling across vast reaches of water (so much that it’s visible from space), eventually covering beaches and burping a neurotoxin that is deadly to earthlings. As a movie, it wouldn’t get past a concept lunch in Hollywood today (Hey, Arnie! It’s been done, okay?) but it is raising real dread — not the fake movie kind — from California to Florida, from the coast of Washington to the coast of Ohio. Yes, Ohio.

First let’s be clear about the primary cause of algae blooms. It is the excessive and incautious use of fertilizer by industrial agriculture, compounded by the excessive erosion that results from industrial practices. The Big Ag lobby has browbeaten almost everybody into mentioning, when they talk about algae blooms, the contribution of city lawns, insufficient sewage treatment and storm runoff. But the size and extent of the blooms, nationwide, tracks over many years with the increasing “consumption” of fertilizer. Actually, if it was consumed, by the plants it is intended for, there would be no problem. But when too much is applied, or it’s applied at the wrong time of year, it washes off, and is consumed by algae instead.

Garden variety algae is one kind of problem. Toxic algae is another. Generally, algae turns toxic — begins to emit a deadly neurotoxin — when three things happen to an algae bloom. It gets very large, very warm, and is infused with an extra-large amount of nutrients. Once upon a time those things didn’t happen very often. Now they do. Everywhere.

Along California’s Central Coast, dozens of beached, convulsing sea lions, many of which die, are being seen every day. Pelicans, having scooped up a beakful of contaminated fish, are falling dead from the sky. Many fisheries have been closed since April, when high levels of toxin were first detected — this year. “These blooms are getting more frequent and larger every year and affecting more and more animals,” according to Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.

A half million residents of Toledo, Ohio were told not to even touch their tap water for two days this month after an algal toxin was discovered to be present. An algae bloom had occurred near the city’s water intake in Lake Erie, miles from the shore. Officials sounded the all clear two days later, even though the algae bloom is still there. Algae typically cover enough of Lake Erie in recent years to be clearly visible from space.

Just off the west coast of Florida. the biggest red tide in ten years stretches over 4000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico, to a depth of 100 feet. A red tide is just another color of algae bloom, and like the others when it gets big enough and warm enough it starts oozing poison. This one has killed fish by the tens of thousands, and as it comes ashore its colorless and odorless toxin threatens larger animals including humans.

The Chesapeake Bay this year has one of the largest dead zones on record. A dead zone is a volume of water stripped of its oxygen by decomposing algae, which has flourished because of an oversupply of nutrients. This year, the 34th successful year in the war on pollution in the Chesapeake, the dead zone comprises a cubic mile of water in which nothing can live.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River is also one of the largest this year, dwarfing the Chesapeake’s problem at 5,000 square miles.

This problem is not caused by climate change, although climate change makes it worse by providing the algae with warmer water for longer periods of the year. The cause of this problem and of climate change are the same: rampant pollution by industrial interests that governments cannot or will not restrain.

The much-touted efforts to “solve” the problem of agricultural runoff — you will see estimates that billions have been spent in the effort — consist mainly of puffery: signs that say “you are now polluting an important watershed” and resolutions about voluntary programs (“you could stop polluting this watershed if you wanted to.”)

Meanwhile the slime spreads, and dies, and spreads some more, killing when it’s alive and killing after it’s dead. Until the people who stimulate algae blooms start going to jail for it, the algae will continue to poison America. Don’t hold your breath.

 

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

California Drying and Peaked Oil: Daily Impact Double Feature

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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Palestinian_refugees

This hasn’t happened yet in California (it happened in Galilee in 1948). But this is what it will look like on the Oregon border if the historic drought continues (Wikipedia photo)

California Drying: “We May Have to Migrate”

First published at The Daily Impact  August 1, 2014

The only category of drought higher than the one now assigned to nearly 60 percent of California (the USDA’s Drought Monitor calls it “exceptional”)  is “Biblical.” Three years in, there is no relief in sight — the much-anticipated El Nino pattern of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, which usually increases rainfall in California, has not materialized. It would take a full year of normal rain and snowfall to restore surface waters to normal levels. A UC Davis study just out finds the amount of surface water available to California agriculture has been reduced by 6.6 million acre-feet(yes, that’s enough water to submerge 6.6 million acres to a depth of one foot). Groundwater has been pumped to replace five million acre-feet, but the shortfall remains a jaw-dropping 1.6 million acre-feet.

It is, right now, one of the worst droughts in the history of North America. Bad enough, says Lynn Wilson, chair of the School of Arts and Sciences at Kaplan University and member of a UN delegation on climate change, that “we may have to migrate people out of California.”

Which immediately led to a post on the aptly named Lunatic Outpost ( I am not making any of this up) titled “UN panel recommends moving people out of California.”  In black transport helicopters, one assumes.  (For the record: Dr. Wilson’s UN service is not her day job, and her observation had nothing to do with the UN.)

But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you might not have to leave California. “Civilizations in the past have had to migrate out of areas of drought,” says Dr. Wilson, and although heroic measures can be expected before any such decision is reached, she says, “it can’t be taken off the table.”

Ominously, heroic measures are already being taken. Californians can now be fined $500 for washing their car or watering their ornamentals. Time to move to Phoenix. Oh, wait….

Like an earthquake far out to sea, the California catastrophe has raised a tsunami of consequences that has not yet reached the doorsteps of the rest of the country. Except for much higher prices for lettuce and, one assumes, arugula. California industrial agriculture produces half of America’s produce — fruits, vegetables and nuts — and to do it sucks up 80 per cent of the available water. (Which is why, when the drought gets really, really bad, the government cracks down on car-washing.)

With half a million acres of farmland idled for lack of irrigation water, with lettuce wilting and fruit trees dying, the hurt will soon spread beyond the region’s devastated farmers. Just this year, the California Farm Bureau estimates, the average American family should expect to spend $500 more on food because of the California drought. And next year, it’s going to get serious.

Next year, or soon thereafter, they are going to start running out of groundwater to pump onto their fields. And while the effects of that will be obvious and immediate, there’s more: they have already pumped so much water out of the Central Valley’s deep aquifer that the Sierra Nevada has rebounded upward by a half inch just in the last decade — six inches in the last century-and-a-half — and the massive San Andreas Fault has been twitching with unusual clusters of earthquakes nearby.

The UC Davis study went to great lengths to monetize the costs of the drought just this year to the state ($2.2 billion), to agriculture ($1.5 billion), and so on. But it may not be until we see the first battalions of climate refugees trudging across the Oregon border in search of rain that we comprehend the true cost of screwing around with Mother Nature.

________________________________________

Peaked Oil: Waiting for the Swords to Drop

Damocles learned that when you know about the sword up there, it’s hard to enjoy a life of luxury.

Damocles learned that when you know about the sword up there, it’s hard to enjoy a life of luxury.

First published at The Daily Impact  July 28, 2014

In the fable that bears his name, Damocles was unnerved in the midst of luxury and power by the threat of a single sword (representing the ever present possibility of failure) hanging precariously over his head. We, who because of cheap oil enjoy luxury and power in our ordinary lives beyond the imagination of the kings of old, live beneath a veritable forest of deadly blades, all of which are just about to fall. Unlike Damocles, we refuse to look up, let alone move out of the zone of impact. When they tell our fable, nobody’s going to believe it.

1. The Price Sword. The world is paying just over $100 a barrel for the 90 million barrels of oil it needs to get through a day. If the price goes any lower, it will be less than the cost of production from fracking, tar sands and deep ocean wells, which is where all the new oil is coming from. If we have to depend on the old legacy fields of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and the like, which are all in decline, the price will quickly go up, and when it gets much above $100, experience shows it will drive industrial economies into recession. So that’s two swords — one sticks you if you stand up, the other if you sit down.

2. The Demand Sword. The recession of +/- 2009 drastically reduced our consumption of oil, hence dropped oil prices and then kept them from rising as fast as they would have. As we recover, demand increases, prices go up, pushing us back into recession. As the masses of China, India and Asia have the audacity to try to live like us, with cars and air conditioners, they increase demand for oil, which increases prices, which makes it highly unlikely they will ever get to live like us, which, of course, we will soon not be doing either.  So this is really two swords, too — one sticks you if you step forward, the other takes a slice if you step back.

3. The Capital Sword. The oil bidness has done a very good job of not letting us see them sweat. But they are sweating. Not because they have to spend a lot of money to find and develop new sources of oil years ahead of getting them on line — that has always been the case. They are sweating because despite spending more and more on exploration and development, they are finding less and less oil. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard observed in the London Telegraph recently:

Data from Bank of America show that oil and gas investment in the US has soared to $200bn a year. It has reached 20pc of total US private fixed investment, the same share as home building. This has never happened before in US history, even during the Second World War when oil production was a strategic imperative.

This is of course otherwise known as a bubble, a stampede of money started by the irrational exuberance of the hydraulic frackers. It continues, amid talk of “energy independence” and “America Numbah One,” but not for long. Look around. All the shale operators are under water. Not a single major oil company is involved in the American Fracking Revolution: Shell was, but bailed at the end of last year after taking a $2 billion dollar loss.

The same situation obtains worldwide, for deepwater, Arctic, and traditional sources. Global capital investment by oil companies doubled in just eight years (2000-2008), is running near a trillion dollars a year, and is finding virtually nothing. The major oil companies have already, quietly, begun cutting back on their capital expenditures for exploration and development, which may be the scariest single fact about the oil situation today.

4. The Depletion Sword. The Achilles heel (Too many classical allusions? Okay, I’ll stop.) of the fracking business is the hideous decline rates of the wells. Traditional oil wells lasted for 20 years. These super-expensive, water-guzzling, radioactive and toxic waste-generating  babies last for five. That means if you’re an operator and you want to show your investors steadily rising production, you had better bring a new well on line nearly every year. The good times roll on, as long as everybody believes the good times will last forever. But it’s always amazing how fast a party that everybody wanted in on can disperse when it runs out of booze.

5. The Stock Market Sword.  With the country’s economy manifestly unrecovered from the Great Recession (or the Minor Depression, whichever you prefer), it makes no sense that the stock market is dancing in the stars, wearing silly hats and blowing on noisemakers while millions sink into poverty. That which makes no sense, collapses. Reality, it turns out, is not just a good idea, its a prerequisite for persistence. (See the Enron Bubble, the Savings and Loan Bubble, the Dot-Com Bubble, the Housing Bubble, and on and on….) So it is not only conceivable, but likely, that within the next few months a standard, garden-variety stock-market correction (the other word for it — “crash”) could suck all the money out of all the fracking plays, at once. Or, the dawning realization that we have been led up a blind alley by the American Fracking Revolution could trigger the market panic that finishes fracking. Either way, it’s a lose-lose scenario.

And to think Damocles freaked out at the sight of one sword.

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

Fashion vs Will to Power III

Off the keyboards of Steve from Virginia and RE

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Published originally in the Commentariat on Economic Undertow

Rockyfight

Discuss this Debate at the Economics Table inside the Diner

Steve from Virginia who publishes the Blog Economic Undertow and myself are old Internet Compadres who have been debating the root causes of Collapse for quite a long time now with each other.    It first began before we set up the Diner on his blog, I think my first posts on EU go back to around 2009, maybe 2010.

For the most part, Steve and I agree on most concepts Economic in nature WRT Industrial Civilization Collapse.  From Debt to Fukushima and beyond we are entirely on the same page.  However, Steve and I also have a FUNDAMENTAL DISAGREEMENT on the etiology or root causes of the disease human society is faced with in the waning years of the Waste Based Economy, which crops up anytime he advances his theory that the Progress Meme followed over the years here is based on what he refers to as “Fashion”, whereas I contend that this results from what I refer to as the “Will to Power”.

The most recent installment of this long running debate came in the Commentariat on EU, in Steve’s latest addition to his Debtonomics Theory, which has numerous installments itself over on EU.  We got into a similar debate which I published here on the Diner a while back as Underpinnings of  Industrialization II: Fashion or the Will to Power?

So, without further introduction, here is the latest keyboard Boxing Match between myself and Steve as to what REALLY drove the development of Homo Erectus to Homo Industrialis over the millenia the genus has been walking the earth.

Further thoughts on this topic welcome from all.

RE

Reverse Engineer

  1. I think what is missed here is that it is not really “Economics” per se that we are talking about, but a Monetary System designed to control Economics.In a monetary system, he who controls the issuance of Money controls the downhill flow of energy and all the resources that the money buys. In the words of Mayer Rothschild:“Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws”It is a lot of nonsense that the creation of the Industrial Economy is simply a matter of “Fashion”, as Steve often argues. There is a control paradigm in place that manifests itself through the monetary system. This is the Will to Power , manifest through control of a monetary system, Mayer Rothschild made this clear, and so have many others including Henry Ford.“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”The evolution of the Industrial Economy is an engineered thing, from the top down, it is not a result of “fashion”. It has been imposed on the population against its will in most cases, see the Luddites for this, not to mention about every 3rd World Nation that has had either Death From Above or Tanks rolling over their territory to coopt them into the paradigm and fork over their resources.Steve has a lot of marvelous insights into the nature of debt and the way the economic system works, but his concepts of “Fashion” as being a driving force in this are completely wrong, or misplaced, however you want to phrase it.The industrial economy evolved because it enabled more power to be accessed, and it has been controlled by a relatively small number of people since its inception going back to around the beginning of the Enlightenment in Europe, but really taking off with the invention of the Steam Engine.Bigger and better weapons enabled more of the world resources to be accessed by a small number of people who controlled these weapons of war, beginning with the Cannon, evolving today to Phantom Jets and Apache Helicopter Gunships.This is not “Fashion”. It is the WILL TO POWER.

    RE

    1. steve from virginia Post author
      RE sez: “All your base are belong to us!” Steve sez, “Turn that game off and go to sleep!”In a world where everything is ‘made up’ the will to power — even the power itself — is a fashion: an organized set of appearances. ‘Will to power’ is an indeterminate (macht) fancy that was expressed in mid-19th century philosophy (Schopenhauer). Other thinkers offered will to pleasure (Freud) or will toward greater understanding or meaning. All of this orbits around shared assumptions that reflect (fashionable) determinism and rapid industrialization (leverage).Within determinism, puny man becomes a God without any idea of what a God is or how to go about it. God and man are synthesized versions of each other, that is, looks like a God (image and likeness) while God cannot be anything but ‘like’ a man. Presume for a minute that God can only prove its own godliness by exercising power: God can only prove itself by destroying all humans because the last survivor might in the end defeat God … thereby disproving God’s reality. God here really has no power, it is are either an impostor or a monster with no sense of anything. Without God there is no such thing as power: ironically, when Nietzsche killed off God he killed off his own philosophy at the same time.Instead of power we have ‘real’ video games.The issue is whether determinism is a component of nature/biological evolution (Darwin). It is only for teenagers: there would be no life on Earth: the dominant form would end up destroying everything else (outcome of power). Since life has been on Earth for +400 million years, some other dynamic has determined life-outcomes besides power or will associated with it. If it is sexual selection (Darwin, Freud) then appearances matter (ability to choose partners). Most likely there is a ‘Will to belong’ or will to collaborate intimately.Put another way, even predatory animals operate within (power) constraints by necessity. A lion is always more powerful than a gazelle, the lion will eat a gazelle, never the other way around. A lion won’t invent a machine that gobbles up all the gazelles. After finishing off gazelles the lion won’t turn his machine on the zebras, nor will the lion burn the zebras up for fun. The lion has a built-in (genetic/behavioral) regimes that spares the bulk of gazelles and zebras so that there are lion-lunches into the foreseeable future. The same inhibitions prevent one group of lions from killing all the other lions. There are subtle and varying levels of interchange between prey and prey, predators and other predators so that each sustains the others … within ‘brutish’ nature there is a high level of collaboration and interchange. None of them have to have meetings …Don’t misunderstand, because determinism doesn’t function well with others does not mean the idea is without currency. Our Wile E. Coyote world, quivering in the air over a chasm, is a monument to determinism, ours is a big world with a lot in it to slay:There was a little girl,
      Who had a little curl,
      Right in the middle of her forehead.
      When she was good,
      She was very good indeed,
      But when she was bad she was horrid.There are few- if any balances in the human-American version. Winner-take-all or ‘will to power’; whatever term you please exists in the mind as an unhappy and unworkable abstraction … as a fashion. Nietzsche is right up to the point of how individuals respond to power’s appearances. We invented ‘will to power’ to explore the possibilities of machines, there is no other purpose but entertainment and perhaps seduction. What makes us ‘powerful’ are the forms that ‘power’ takes rather than the exercise of it: ‘helicopters, tanks and aircraft carriers’ appear more powerful than they really are (they are unaffordable liabilities).To exercise power is invariably self-destructive and counterproductive because power requires resources that are eroded by way of power’s exercise (US in Iraq and Afghanistan) or because no contestant has a monopoly on it.

  2. Tagio
    RE:It doesn’t have to be one or the other. If you read Pereleman’s “The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation,” you see a lot of support for your thesis that, at the beginning of the industrial era, people had to be forcibly divested of their historical rights in common property, forced out of the countryside and driven to the cities to become wage slaves. Though life was not easy, they preferred their subsistence + level of farming, hunting, gathering, and home economy (income from weaving and other skills), with its more natural rhythms, more leisure time and “togetherness,” to the “opportunity” to go to the industrial hubs and enjoy “the finer things” of life. Contrary to classical economists’ rosy picture that people voluntarily chose, as a reaction to the invisible hands of Mr. Market, to become workers for capitalists, Pereleman shows that people had to be forced into it. The “capitlists” of the time, who were busy divesting people of their historical rights in a common property (“primitive accumulation” aka theft) railed against the common people’s “laziness” and uncouthness, and their lack of desire for luxury and the finer things of life. However, the people at that time living through it clearly preferred remaining in the home-bound economy to becoming a machine themselves.Fast forward 200 years, however, and people are today basically completely mind-fu***d, can’t even see their slavery, and pursue, as fashion, the next great thing and the next after that. Yes, they are manipulated by the ad agencies, television, and the rest, but they are very easily manipulated. Whose fault is that? Whether you say it is the fault of those with the will to power who pull their strings for their own climb up the ladder in the system, and so are also completely captive by it, or the fault of the nudnicks too stupid to see that they simply are fashion-driven automatons with no will of their own, I’m not sure in the end it matters all that much. Steve is right that what is needed is a major, widespread cultural shift in perception.
  3. Reverse Engineer
    ” the dominant form would end up destroying everything else (outcome of power)”Take a look around, that is precisely what is in process.It took quite a bit of evolution to finally develop an organism which could so efficiently dissipate energy, to the point it threatens its own survival.Anyhow, the bottom line is that at no point could this “fashion trend” be resisted, because if you did resist you get bombed back to the stone age. Or mowed down by Muskets if you were an Aztec. etc.RE
      1. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, the honey always comes first, the rat poison, later. Very rarely is the order reversed and it invariably fails longer-term. See, ‘Vietnam’.
      2. Reverse Engineer
        Nonsense.The Rat Poison came first when the Conquistadores wiped out the Aztecs, and it came first when the FSoA Cavalry knocked down the Plains Indians.It also came first when the Brits took over India, and it came first when Gen. Smedley Butler made Venezuela safe for Standard Oil.In all those cases the paradigm was extraordinarily successful in taking what once were neighborhoods inhabited by either H-Gs or subsistence farmers and coopting them into the Industrial Economy.The folks with the superior weapons of War won the day. That’s not fashion, that’s Will to Power.The paradigm started breaking down around WWI, when just about everybody was similarly equipped with rifles and artillery. Then they ran into the problem that mechanized tanks and APCs don’t function well in the Jungle.In MENA though where mechanized war machines function fabulously well, NATO set up an armed camp and Puppet Regimes in the various nations around there, and for 50 years since WWII this served well to keep the populations under control and the Oil flowing outward for Happy Motoring here. Of course the whole neighborhood has been in a constant state of conflict through the whole time period, but there was enough Oil flowing outward to generally pacify the populations with enough food to eat, and yes Televisions too. However, even there, the Rat Poison came before the Honey, and Rommel, Patton and Montgomery were all quite successful rolling over the local populations, they only ran into trouble when they ran into each other.Large Military machines are the defining feature of all Empires, from the British Empire right back to the Roman Empire. If you want to screw around with the definition of “Fashion” and say they did this because it was “fashionable”, feel free to do so, but the fact of the matter is that this has nothing whatsoever to do with fashion, it has to do with the guy with the best weapons and biggest army runs the show, for so long as there are resources for that army to keep growing.When the resources run thin, the army collapses, and so does the State that runs it. See the Roman Empire, see the FSoA Empire.RE

      3. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, you are enamored of the forms that force takes rather than outcomes.The world is filled with humans because we like sex and the great theater that surrounds it, more than we like killing each other or its particular theater. There has to be a theater, because we are animals, our nature is not to kill but to simply live. Our theater contains the meanings that our activities do not possess on their own.We’ve turned our attention from killing humans to killing the greater world because we learned the hard way that there are few advantages to be gained from killing each other, that the attempt is counterproductive. If there is one consequence that unites every expression of force since the beginning of history it is futility.Humans appreciate the theater that force offers, but force itself produces mostly temporary gains that often immediately reversed. With force, function rarely follows form; it has its own self-contained dynamic. Obviously, there are exceptions; Spanish buccaneers did capture parts of the New World … but they did so on their own, without any direction from the Spanish government. A better outcome would have been gained had the Spanish set up trade with natives rather than stealing from them. As it turned out, Spain’s initial successes in the New World were more-than cancelled out by its failures in the Old: in fewer than a hundred years, Spain was reduced to impoverishment and irrelevance, it ceded much of its European territory and prestige, its government was bankrupted many times over. Across Europe, a quarter of human population was wiped out in pointless and useless wars funded with New World gold and Dutch paper. European wealth flowed east to China in exchange for junk, there was a hundred years of (hyper)inflation … the application of force was a European calamity on the scale of the great plagues of the fourteenth century No single political entity was powerful enough to have its way and bring order. The enterprise as a whole ended up a complete failure.It always does: as military empires grow their power is stretched thin, it becomes decadent. Empires collapse under the costs of their own power. Geographic empires are often just lines on a map, they are little but empty space. When this space is ‘conquered’ power is diluted. The North American plains Indians’ empire was feeble. It could not fill the empty spaces of its own domain with Indians as could the Americans with European immigrants. America could draw upon all of Europe; the natives had nothing but their own rate of reproduction. American West was won with railroads, plows and barbed wire, by farmers not by soldiers as there were too few natives to put up any sort of a large-scale fight.Empire cans rarely be gained by conquest, then only be held for the briefest time, and only then by answering wants rather than by fear of the conqueror. Answering wants is costly, it appears weak, but everything else is much more so. Conquest succeeds only if the conquered are afraid; if they refuse to fear, then what?You can say otherwise, but exercise of force is always a net loss. What matters is whether the various protagonists are able to bear them; generally they cannot. If the ‘function side of military purpose is non-functional or mal-functional (or delusional), what remains? The theater. There is nothing else.America has a massive military advantage over the rest of the world together … on paper. Its advantage takes forms that are pleasing to mechanical engineers and marketing managers, politicians and the media sphere. The theater of American military supremacy plays out on television sets and movie screens, during elections and patriotic holidays, in sports stadiums across the country … every single day. In reality, the US military is hollow and incompetent, like the Nazi- and Red Communist versions … and all the others since Alexander of Macedon. For all of its toys the Pentagon cannot beat dope-peddlers and Quran-thumping street criminals with sandals and pickup trucks. It cannot do its job because the job cannot be done.Absent function there is nothing but the form. There is no ‘third thing’. Form = appearances or fashion.http://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/how-social-movements-can-win-more-victories-like-same-sex-marriage

    1. ellenanderson
      @Tagio “you see a lot of support for your thesis that, at the beginning of the industrial era, people had to be forcibly divested of their historical rights in common property, forced out of the countryside and driven to the cities to become wage slaves.”
      I think most people don’t understand that or accept it because of the anti-peasant narratives whose ultimate expression is found in commercials written by Madmen.
      Steve is quite correct that it could be otherwise without violating the so called “laws of human nature” so cherished by crackpots and evolutionary biologists. My grandparents were horrified by their grand children’s failure to turn off lights and all sorts of other wasteful habits. In the early days of department stores I have heard that the owners had to pay gawkers to look into display windows because it was considered unfashionable to stare – or to wish for things that you could not afford, for that matter.
      Plenty of people are revolted by what is going on in the world. Right now it is inchoate. Their revulsion has to get focused on what is responsible for this mess – not human nature but human choices that could have been made differently. There is a reason why usury was traditionally considered a sin, you know.
    2. Reverse Engineer
      Steve, you’re rewriting history to match up with your philosophical outlook.Whether the Spaniards would have done better to trade with the Aztec than mow them down is a moot point, they chose to mow them down. Regardless of what became of all the Gold they raided and their control over their colonial empire, in the end the South Americans came to live like Spaniards, Spaniards did not come to live like Indios.The next bit is complete fabrication:“The North American plains Indians’ empire was feeble. It could not fill the empty spaces of its own domain with Indians as could the Americans could the Americans fill the space with immigrants. America had all of Europe to draw upon, the natives had nothing but their own rate of reproduction.”-SteveIn fact, in pre-Columbian Amerika estimates are that there were 200M people living here. What killed them off was not a low reproduction rate, it was disease brought over by the first Europeans, smallpox, typhus etc. The Calvary did cleanup on the last few survivors of the epidemics.Once again, in the end Europeans did not come to live like Plains Indians, rather the few left came to live like Europeans, or else trapped in poverty on reservations by the Europeans. Did farmers forsce those folks onto reservations? No, the cavalry did that. That’s how come the farmers had land to farm on, the cavalry marched all the remaining prior residents off the land!Your claims completely contradict history, and merely reflect a philosophical outlook you have that military action is never productive, just destructive. Which in aggregate is true, but for the winners in a war its productive if they capture more resources at the expense of the losers.The FSoA military looks powerful because it sports a lot of big hardware, the problem is the ability to bomb a country back to the stone age is not the same as being able to hold and control it. This requires a lot of surplus energy, and complicity of local elites. The military itself will collapse because if its dependence on so much energy to run it. However, on the way up the hill, it was a very successful paradigm for the winners. That’s why the whole world is industrialized, not because it was a fashion choice.RE
      1. steve from virginia Post author
        Your thesis is unsupportable: “but for the winners in a war its productive if they capture more resources at the expense of the losers.” How can they do that? The costs don’t vanish, they are shifted toward those who can bear them, which in this case would mean the winners. USA bore the costs of destroying Japan and Europe, USA bore the costs of reconstructing Japan and Europe afterward. The US could bear these costs because it was industrialized and could turn American oil into money, it possessed (the balance of the world’s) organic credit. It could also (falsely) depreciate the rest of the world’s losses. If any of the countries had bothered to calculate the costs in advance there would not have been the war in the first place.Wars = consequence of egotism of mad men who cloak their psychopathy with ‘policy’.The problem w/ European colonies was (and is) that they cost more than they returned even without any fighting. Add fighting the the costs/losses were greater. England had a great empire because it was industrialized and could turn domestic coal into money; it could do so because had organic credit and could afford to subsidize the costs of both coal- and colonies. UK did not have industry because of its dominions, neither did the Soviet Union. Gains were fleeting, empires unraveled as credit ran out (USSR) or fell short of meeting costs (British Empire). Ditto the Spanish enterprise in the West, as it became a backwater after Western gold and silver ran low.As for the rest, I simply don’t agree.:)
      2. Reverse Engineer
        Au contraire mon ami, it is your thesis which makes no CFS.After the French & Indian Wars, Did Britain have more or less resources? They pushed the French out, and got rid of most of the Indians. Formerly stuck on a few rocky islands off the coast of the Eurasian land mass, the Brits now had all the juicy land east of the Mississippi and the French got stuck with the Frozen North in Quebec.After WWI & WWII, did NATO have more or less Oil at it’s disposal? They won the wars, they got to milk Elsie the Cow there in Saudi Arbia for 70 years since.Now, the losers of course were worse off here, the Indians were dispossessed of their land, the French had all their war debts and a few pieces of marginal land for their trouble. Over in MENA after the big mechanized wars, with the exception of a few Sheiks and Puppet Dictators, the rest of the population was worse off.In both cases, the land and resources were worse off, as once under control of the Industrial Machine began to be overutilized and gradually sucked dry to depletion.However, the winners did good for themselves, the Brits got to leave the little islands they were stuck on and expand across the Frontier, and NATO got hold of MENA to keep another 70 years worth of Happy Motoring going here in the FSoA.Wars have become non-productive in the years since because there aren’t any good resources left to win/steal here. Theft however is very good Bizness as long as the person you steal from has lots of good stuff, and was very good to the people running the War Biz all the way up the hill here. Just read Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket.”” Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people — didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump — or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.

        There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.

        Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.

        Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.

        Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.

        A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.

        Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren’t the only ones. There are still others. Let’s take leather. …”

        Now, on balance here, this cost the Taxpayers a lot more than this, but the Taxpayers aren’t the ones running the show. War used to be a very profitable Bizness for the people running the show. Less so now as resources are depleted, but you still do have taxpayers footing the bill while the Industrialists take home the profits.

        As should be obvious, this is a Top Down run enterprise, and has been so for a long time, likely to the dawn of Agiculture. It’s not Fashion. It’s Will to Power.

        RE

      3. steve from virginia Post author
        Will to Power is a slogan, it is clearly fashionable even as it fails.Resources simply are, they are generally depleted, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Whoever manages a resources tends to deplete it. The wise do not deplete their resources but husband them instead. The wise understand that someone coming along later might ‘discover’ some important use for a resource other than to eat- burn- or simply shoot the resource and let it rot.North America had less resources after the English arrived not more (not considering what was wasted prior to of their arrival). After a century or more of pointless wars both the French and English were bankrupted. Your supposition is that one group possesses a monopoly on waste, which is incorrect. What determines outcomes within modernity is access to credit; at the same time, whatever credit is diverted toward war-making is lost. Marching up and down the road or blowing something up is not remunerative. It is simply waste. Winners in war cannot create resources they can only change custody from one waster to another. The gains of a ‘winner’ are always counterbalanced by the losses of the ‘loser’. In addition there are the direct costs of the war itself.It’s one thing for a blogger to carry on about how wonderful determinism is as well as its inherence, but sadly, too many actual policy makers fall into the power trap and embrace the same illogic … Bush and now Putin. Pursuit of power is why the world is bankrupt, why it’s poised at the edge of ecological ruin. Will to Power is a myth; it has to be otherwise ‘power’ would succeed; after 500+ years of modernity there would be some evidence of success somewhere, instead the record is accelerating failures and exhaustion.I am doing a terrible job of explaining my own fundamental premise.
      4. Reverse Engineer
        Note: Actually the French government lost Quebec to the English Crown also, but mostly French speakers populated Quebec, and still do. The English Crown also held onto Canada substantially longer than they held onto the colonies in the now Lower 48. As we all know, the American Revolution occurred shortly after the French & Indian Wars, and put the USA squarely in the pocket of the International Banking Cartel, courtesy of Alexander Hamilton.RE
      5. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, you are arguing against yourself. If the UK/USA ‘won’ than how does that square with an ‘international banking cartel’?You aren’t going Alex Jones on me are you?
      6. Reverse Engineer
        Fashion is a Slogan too Steve.I already stipulated that the NA continent was worse off after the Brits arrived, so also worse off were the French and the Mohicans. The Brits however were better off, they got more space to expand into.SOMEBODY makes a profit off War, otherwise it wouldn’t be engaged in. Smedley Butler made crystal clear who made a profit off his career as a Racketeer for Wall Street.These are the folks who run the show, not puppet politicians like Obama-sama and certainly not you the Voter. These are the people who are most grossly infected with the Will to Power, and it profits them immensely to pursue the Bizness of War. They determine what is fashionable, and then they sell it to you. You have no choice in the matter. If you won’t buy it, they’ll bomb you back to the stone age or blow you off the face of the earth.RE
      7. steve from virginia Post author
        Britain did not ‘expand’ into anything. Britain is an island, it did not get any larger by way of any war.North America’s population increased due to immigration … from France, Italy, eastern Europe, Ireland, Africa, China, Japan, India; there are also natives and descendants from natives. What made it happen was three-masted sailing ships, not war. Regular steamship service accelerated the flow. Today there is more immigration from Latin America. Mexico has not invaded the US nor are they conquering it.As it is, there are more Mexicans in the US than ever; with no fighting, no battles, no idiotic ‘will to power’; only a willingness of millions to labor as near-slaves at the fringes of the US society. The prize is the slim chance … at better lives.Many if not most of the 17 – 20th century immigrants were escapees from the wars; exiles not victors. Immigrants did not win anything but their lives. What happened afterward had nothing to do with Britain’s or any other country’s ‘conquest’, certainly the British did not fight its wars in the West to gain better lives for those whom it considered as ‘trash’. Irish did not conquer Boston any more than Italians conquered Brooklyn or Polish Jews conquered Chicago. African-Americans certainly did not conquer anything and nobody conquered America in their name.British citizens have never been better off after any war, the costs of managing Britain’s silly empire were extracted from the citizens themselves … not immediately but as the debts became due-and-payable, from children and grand-children. Empire was an attempt to find 3d parties upon whom the costs of British borrowing could be shifted. How can a British citizen shoulder costs in a faraway place better than his- or her home? The citizen is the same regardless of place … or else they aren’t citizens at all! The non-British have slender means to carry any burdens, much less the debt burdens of industrial countries. How can a peasant farmer or porter retire or even service the debts incurred by a country such as England? The idea is absurd.I’ve been writing about this sort of thing for five years! Don’t you read any of it?Britain would have done better to trade (at lower cost) with natives rather than engage in wars with its European neighbors overseas. Britain’s massive navy was not cost-free. Nor was its (much smaller) army. Costs don’t disappear regardless of who edits them. They can be put off (by way of borrowing) but the act of putting them off adds to them: credit has its own very large costs.A warring nation cannot gain a free lunch. The ‘counterparty’ loses the lunch and that loss is registered against the winner’s gains. As such, there cannot possibly be a winner. It is physically impossible. There is only one planet, this is it, there are no other places against which the losses can be tallied.Fashion = appearance. You can call it a slogan but this is simply not true. We act on appearances as a component of natural selection, our desires and prejudices are geared toward them.Yes, there is war, yes there is determinism but as a fashion that has certainly outlived its usefulness.

      8. Reverse Engineer
        I read it Steve, I just don’t buy your reasoning on this stuff.We speak English in the US, Steve, not German, not French and certainly not Lakota, Navajo or Tlingit. As a result of WAR, not “Fashion”, the Industrial Culture was disseminated across the Earth.Similarly, Agriculture overran hunter-gatherer by virtue of War, not because hunter-gatherer thought agricultural living was more Fashionable.That this is overall destructive is quite obvious, however as mentioned by Smedley Butler who you completely ignore here, a few people who run this show profit enormously from it. Accessing the stored thermodynamic energy of fossil fuels enabled this bunch of folks to gain hegemony over the entire earth, and transform it into a waste producing industrial machine, via the War process.Such are the outcomes of the Will to Power.RE
      9. steve from virginia Post author
        RE:“I just don’t buy your reasoning on this stuff.”You don’t have to buy anything. I can’t make you understand, I can’t teach you anything. You can learn or not learn, that’s all there is to it.It is clear that if people don’t abandon the deterministic ‘will to power’ myth there will be unendurable consequences.
      10. Reverse Engineer
        You don’t have to buy anything. I can’t make you understand, I can’t teach you anything. You can learn or not learn, it is all the same to me.“Buy” is idiomatic in this usage, the idea is your ideas don’t make CFS to me so they don’t sell. Some folks have CFS, others do not. No argument I make, no speech from Smedley Butler will change your opinion, so we remain on opposite sides of the fence on this.It is clear that if people don’t abandon the deterministic ‘will to power’ myth there will be unendurable consequences.On that we most certainly agree.RE
      11. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, ‘buy’ is your idiom, not mine. Look at your preceding comment.If you adhere to a bankrupt ideology then anything outside of it will not make any sense, it will be incongruent. That is a failure indicator right there.As far as Butler goes, he earned the right to his own opinion but it is only one among many.I have seen the world’s most powerful military lose war after war at stupendous cost … lost to farmers, taxi drivers and plumbers’ helpers. And yet I have not lived long enough to see the United States win a war, that last, almost forgotten ‘victory’ ultimately being Pyrrhic. I’ve seen the other great military powers endure the same outcomes (USSR, Israel, China), the great empires collapsed (UK, USSR); the wannabe- or false empires ruined (France, South Africa, UAR, Russia now); the impulse to empire is exposed as nonsense as is the impulse to industrialize (Argentina).War is an activity like golf. Like golf, some people enjoy it but humans are not genetically predisposed to play golf. There is nothing innate in nature that compels one form or life to wantonly kill or wipe out other forms; to eat some of them, yes. Nature has learned over millions of years that eating all of one’s food supply ends badly for the killer. This is also true of humans. We are not genetically predisposed to be exterminators, or even predators; we aren’t strong enough, fast enough, we lack the ‘basic equipment’; not just teeth and claws but also the fundamental absence of fear that is possessed by other ‘real’ predators. Long ago we trained ourselves to be lions, but we did so imperfectly. We invented myths to keep us from running away when the large animals we wanted to eat turned to defend themselves.Humans don’t hunt and kill animals to survive any more, we grow animals on farms, they are killed by Mexicans working in factories owned by Chinese. Neither the Mexicans nor the Chinese have conquered anyone, they’ve made business deals. The closest most people come to our food-animals is safely within plastic wrap @ the supermarket. Nature takes the form of immaculate green lawns and our pets, ‘wild’ gathers at the bird-feeder or as cockroaches on the kitchen counter. Meanwhile, we recycle the obsolete myths that have long-since outgrown their usefulness, the myths that instruct us that we have an innate, biological urge to dominate everything else. We don’t. There is no economic necessity to it either. If you have been reading over here for more than fifteen minutes the major thesis is that the primary activity of our economy is to thoughtlessly consume resources and borrow to do so, this is another learned process, not innate. It is safe to say that no animal other than human acts to dominate everything; it is limits — not ambition — that is a genetic predisposition. Within this context, we aren’t heroes, we’re failures.Observable reality would bear this out. The fact that there is life on this planet at all is evidence that there is no such thing as ‘will to power’. It is a crazy idea by a minor German philosopher then plastic wrapped by another insane German philosopher. There is no evidence it exists anywhere but in the minds of these two as well as impressionable teenagers.Your argument tends to suggest a one-way dynamic: conquerors and victims. This false. There are would-be conquerors and those who successfully resist them. There is so little difference between the groups that the outcomes are a matter of random chance. Most attempts at conquest fail outright at stupendous cost, the small remainder succeed only until the conqueror is buried under accumulated costs associated with his victories … this leading to either defeat- or ruin over time. What leads to ‘success’ are non-military endeavors: improved agriculture and water management, less-costly distribution of information; emigration and the moderating impulse of religion.The efforts of the the great military powers of the past have experienced the same frustrations as current powers: partial, costly victories at best … more costly defeats that are rationalized away with slogans, ‘We’ll get ‘em next time’.The ‘next time’ always starts with a lie. Whatever you are trying to build on the lie RE, you are building on sand.

        Reverse Engineer
        OK, I can’t leave it alone. LOL.“Observable reality would bear this out. The fact that there is life on this planet at all is evidence that there is no such thing as ‘will to power’. It is a crazy idea by a minor German philosopher then plastic wrapped by another insane German philosopher. There is no evidence it exists anywhere but in the minds of these two as well as impressionable teenagers. ”“Observable Reality” is that there are ongoing Wars all over the world, and SOMEBODY is supplying them with Weaponry. For the people who do that supplying, this Bizness turns a terrific profit for them. Do any Nation-States profit from this? No, they all get to foot the bills for these Wars, while a small number of people collect immense profits from them.To the Robber Barons of the 19th Century, it made economic sense for THEM to have the land cleared of Natives and string Railroad tracks and Telegraph Wires all over the country, not to mention electrify it. You yourself have noted how well John D. Rockefeller did by finding ways to waste the oil he got control of through Standard Oil.For the rest of us, we got stuck with the bills come due on Rockefeller’s Will to Power. Not to mention Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and numerous others so infected.Japan was forcibly openned to trade by Matthew Perry’s Gunboats. The resources of MENA were accessed by virtue of force applied since WWII just about non-stop. Populations generally have not willingly accepted the destruction and rape of their environment, but by application of military force and coopting the Elite of all these neighborhoods into the game, Industrialization managed to overrun the entire world.

        If you want to, you can look at the expansion of Militarism over the Millenia as a growing Cancer, but it is very effective in doing what it is designed to do, which is dispense death and consume resources. It has also made a few people richer than God, and these folks run the political show through control of the monetary system. They issue the War Bonds. They buy the Politicians. You pay the bills.

        RE

 

So which is it Diners?  What has been the driving force sending Homo Sapiens down the Road to Ruin?  Is it FASHION, or a WILL TO POWER?

RE

Don’t Like Global Warming? How About Global Rioting?

Off the Keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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Ukraine-riot

First published at The Daily Impact May 29, 2014

The boiling point of a country is 210; not degrees on a thermometer, but points on a scale of food prices devised by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Reach that mark, and your population, on the brink of starving, will be in the streets kicking ass and taking heads. Pundits natter on about masses yearning to be free, loving democracy, spurning Islam, suddenly intolerant of dictators they were fine with for decades. In reality, the flame that lit the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War and the Crisis in Ukraine was a food price index of 210; and the same torch is spreading the flames around the world. The outbreak, according to Dr. Nafeez Ahmed (a security expert and writer for the Guardian of London), is a tsunami of civil unrest  “on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone [February] has seen riots kick-off in VenezuelaBosniaUkraine,Iceland, and Thailand.”

The Fahrenheit 210 hypothesis, to coin a phrase, was posited not by FAO but by the New England Complex Systems Institute. Its concerns were based on two things; the diversion of staple crops to biofuels production, and manipulation of staple-food prices by speculators. As useful as the index has been in explaining and predicting social unrest, there are additional factors that it does not take into account, and that cause it to underestimate the danger.

One is energy. As the costs of heating, cooling, transportation and production increase, the ability of families to buy food is diminished. At the outbreak of the current difficulties in Ukraineaverage income was about $185 a month and food took half of that, energy and housing another quarter. Ukrainian oil and gas production peaked in 1976 and the country now imports 80 per cent of its needs.  The price of natural gas, most of which comes from Russia, has quadrupled since 2004. If Putin succeeds in taking over this country he will find, as the Egyptian army has found, that victory can not only be hollow, it can blow up in your face.

Climate change is, of course, exacerbating the high costs of staple foods, with its associated floods, droughts and storms. But if the effects of climate change vanished tomorrow, the problem would persist and continue to get worse, because industrial agriculture can trash this planet without any help from greenhouse gases. A study out if the University of Nebraska last year concluded that despite increases in investment, expansions of acreage and applications of all the latest chemicals and hybrids, the output of industrial agriculture over much of the world has either flattened or started to decline. It’s a major reasons the FAO index has hovered around 209 for the past 18 months.

Global food prices spiked in 2008, 2011, and are expected to jump seriously in the year ahead. In 2008, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India ignited. In 2011, it was Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania and Algeria. Flames are visible now in China, Venezuela, Thailand, Syria, and elsewhere. After slow declines since the all-time high of August 2012, food prices have jumped four per cent this year. This according to the World Bank, which in its current issue of Food Price Watch worries openly about food riots.

Americans thus far are not much discomfited by the fact (most would not likely agree that it is a fact) that someone else’s end of the boat is on fire. But now, in this favored nation, pork (because of the deadly virus epidemic) and beef (because of the drought) and produce (ditto) and dairy products (ditto, again) are going through the roof. Yesterday an unemployed workman told me he’s eating nothing but salads now because he can no longer afford a pork chop.

Temperature’s rising. Can Fahrenheit 210 be far away?

See also: Peak Food. It’s Here.

USDA Report Foresees Collapse of Agriculture. 

Top Hedge Fund Guy Sees Worsening Global Food Crisis.

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

How to Destroy a Civilization

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on May 14, 2014

EasterIsland

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This is the third post of comments on the “NASA-funded paper” (a term that went viral) on societal collapse by Motesharrei, Rivas and Kalnay (MRK). In my first post on the subject, I noted some qualitative features of the model. In the second post I commented on the debate. Here, I am going more in depth in the structure of the model and I think I can show that the results of the MRK model are very general as they can be reproduced with a simpler model. In the end it IS possible to destroy a civilization by spending too much on non-productive infrastructures – such as the Moai of Easter Island (image above from Wikimedia, creative commons license)

Mathematical models may be a lot of fun, but when you use them to project the future of our civilization the results may be a bit unpleasant, to say the least. That was the destiny of the first quantitative model which examined the future of the world system; the well known “The Limits to Growth” study, sponsored by the Club of Rome in 1972. This study showed that if the world’s economy was run in a “business as usual” mode, then the only possible result was collapse.

This kind of unpleasant results is a feature of most models which attempt to foresee the long term destiny of our civilization. Not that it should be surprising considering the speed at which we are wasting our natural resources. Nevertheless, whenever these studies are discussed, they generate a lot of criticism and opposition. It is the result, mainly, of emotional reactions: there is nothing to do about that, it is the way the human mind works.

But let’s try to put aside emotions and examine a recent study by by Motesharrei, Rivas and Kalnay (MRK) on the destiny of human society that became known as the “NASA funded model” after a note by Nafeez Ahmed. The model has attracted much criticism (as usual) but it is worth looking at it with some attention because it highlights some features of our world which we should try to understand if we still think we can avoid collapsing (or at least mitigate it).

The MRK model has this specific feature: it divides humankind in two categories, “commoners” and “elites”, assuming that the first category produces wealth while the second doesn’t. In some assumptions, it turns out that the elite can completely drain all the resources available and bring society to an irreversible collapse, even though the resources are renewable and can reform the initial stock.

I think this is a very fundamental point that describes events which have happened in the past. As I noted in a previous post, it may describe how the Roman Empire destroyed itself by excessive military expenses (we may be doing exactly the same). Or, it may describe the collapse of the society of Easter Island, with a lot of natural capital squandered in building useless stone statues while putting a high strain on the available resources (the story may be more complex than this, but its main elements remain the same)

So, it looks like elites (better defined as “non productive elites”) may play a fundamental role in the collapse of societies. But how exactly can this be modeled? The MRK model does that using an approach that, as I noted earlier on, is typical of system dynamics, (even though they do not use the term in their paper). Not only that, but it is clearly a model in the style of those “mind sized” models which I had proposed in a paper of mine. The idea of mind sized models is to avoid a bane of most models – of all kinds – that of “creeping overparametrization”. Since, as a modeler, you are always accused that your model is too simple, then you tend to add parameters over parameters. The result is not necessarily more realistic, but surely you add more and more uncertainty to your model. Hence, the need for “mind-sized” models (a term that I attribute to Seymour Papert)

So, let me try to rework the MRK model; simplifying it a little and making it more streamlined. Instead of speaking of “elites” and “commoners”, let us speak of two different kinds of capital. One kind we call “productive”, the other “non productive”. Capital is the result of the exploitation of natural resources. “Productive” capital is the kind that leads to further exploitation and growth of the economy; the other kind is capital which is simply wasted.

Let me explain what I mean with the example of Easter Island’s economy, productive capital is the agricultural structure, while non-productive capital is the Moai building structure. Agriculture sustains people who cultivate more land. Moai building doesn’t do anything like that – it is a pure waste of resources and human labor. In our times, we can say that the productive capital is everything that exploits the available resources, from refineries to fishing boats. The non-productive capital is everything else, from private yachts to battle tanks.

So, can we build a model that includes these elements? Surely we can; here is a version of the model in the style of “mind sized” models. (done using the “Vensim” software).

The model is a streamlined version of the MRK model, where I added a “pollution” stock (missing in the MRK model) and where I simplified the productive cascade structure. It would take some time to explain the model in detail and there is not enough space here. If you want to go more in depth in this subject you can read my paper on “Sustainability” or this post of mine with the rather ambitious title of “peak oil, entropy, and stoic philosophy.” But, please, understand that the model, though very simplified, has a logic; what it does is to describe the degradation of the thermodynamic potential of the starting resources (the first box, up left) into a series of capital reservoirs which, eventually, dissipate it in the form of pollution. The “Ks” are constants which determine how fast capital flows from one stock to another. The arrows indicate feedback: we assume here, for instance, that the production of industrial capital is proportional to the size of both the resources and capital stocks.

Now, let’s go to the results obtained with some values of the parameters. Let’s take r1=0.25, k1=0.03, k2=0.075, k3=0.075, k4=0.05. The initial values of the stocks are, from top to bottom, 5, 0.1, 0.1, 0.01 – you may think of the stock as measured in energy units and the constants in energy/time units. With these assumptions, the model produces the same phenomenon that MRK had observed with their model. That is, you observe the irreversible collapse of the system, even though the natural resources reform, becoming abundant as at the beginning of the cycle.

You see? Producing and non-producing capital (which MRK calls “commoners” and “elites”) both go to zero and disappear. But note how the natural resources reform and return to their former value (actually higher than at the beginning!). This civilization had destroyed everything and won’t restart to accumulate capital again for a long, long time. Note also how these results depend on the assumption that non-producing capital cannot be turned into producing capital. It is maybe a drastic simplification, but it is also true that turning swords into plowshares is a nice metaphor, but not something easily done.

At this point, let me say that this post is just a sketch. I can tell you that it took me about 15 minutes to write the model; a few hours to test it, and about one hour to write this post. So, these considerations have no pretense to be anything definitive: the model needs to be studied much more in detail. When I have time (and as soon as I can fix my cloning machine) I would like to write a full paper on this subject (anyone among the readers would like to give me a hand? Maybe someone with a better cloning machine than mine?).

Nevertheless, even though these results are only preliminary, I think that the fact that the MRK results are so easily reproducible indicate that there is something there. They seem to have identified a feature that, so far, most models had neglected. Although you can always accumulate capital by exploiting natural resources, the final outcome depends a lot on how you spend it. The model tells us, for instance, that a popular recipe to “save the economy” by “stimulating consumption” may actually destroy it faster.

So, are we destroying ourselves because we are wasting our natural capital in useless tasks, from battle tanks to SUVs? (and lots of bureaucracy and an overblown financial system, too). Are we destroying our civilization by building these useless structures just as the Eastern Islanders destroyed themselves by building Moai statues? It is something we should think about.

Note 1: I think this model has a lot to do with Tainter’s idea of the “declining returns of complexity, if we take “complexity” to mean that lots of resources are used to build something that produces nothing. I already tried to model Tainter’s idea with a mind-sized model in a previous post of mine and I am sorry to see that Tainter didn’t like so much the MRK model. But I think it is mostly a question of different languages being used. If we work on communication, I think it is possible to find a lot of points of contact in the different approaches of modelers and historians.

Note 2. Doesn’t this model contradict the conclusions of my book “Extracted“, that is that our society is collapsing as a result of the depletion of mineral resources? No, it doesn’t. The parameters I used for the run shown here are chosen to reproduce the results of the MRK paper, which assumes that resources are fully renewable. You can run this model in the hypothesis that resources are NOT renewable, which is an assumption closer to our situation. In this case, the model will tell you that the system will collapse leaving unused a large fraction of these theoretically exploitable resources; the larger the more overblown the non-productive capital stock will turn out to be. This is something that I think is very relevant to our situation: we saw it happening with the financial crisis of 2008 and the next financial crisis, I believe, will generate again this effect. (h/t Tatiana Yugay)  

How Much is Too Much?

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on May 13, 2014

tractor

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

I’ve been doing rather a lot of manual labour recently—digging out a basement, digging out a pond and using the spoil from both to build a foundation for the poly tunnel on a sloping field. As I’m sure most of you know, doing work such as this is a great way to ponder things over: the body is occupied so the mind is free to roam. As such there are often thoughts drifting through my head that I try to file away mentally under the category ‘Possible blog topics’. Often, however, they are merely questions for which I have no answer.

One such thought occurred to me last week as I attempted to dig over a patch of turf and turn it into a small area for planting vegetables. Labouring away with a mattock, I first had to break the sod, then turn it over and break it up some more with a few more vigorous hacks. Then I had to bend over and pull out the various bits of grass and weeds before moving onto the next bit. When it was all done I had to break up the large clumps of soil and dig little trenches for the seedlings to sit in, and finally I had to put rabbit-proof fence around it and lay a slug trap (a plastic milk bottle, half full of beer, set into the soil). It was quite an effort, but by the end of six or so hours I had a nice patch of turned earth in which to plant some sweetcorn, peas, beans and turnips.

While I was doing this, in the next field over, a man turned up with a tractor. It wasn’t a quaint old-style tractor that you might see on a picture of an old farm—no, this was one of those giant modern ones that looks like an SUV on steroids. Indeed, it was so large that it was wider than the country lane leading to the field—which was only ever meant to be wide enough for two horses to pass—and I later saw that it had driven there with one wheel on the verge, leaving a trail of crushed wildflowers in the process. In a quarter of the time it took me to dig my little patch by hand, the tractor went over the entire 10 or so acres in the neighbouring field, turning and tilling the soil until it was a fine crumbly mixture, and then planting many thousands of potatoes in it.

Which got me thinking: how much energy is too much energy? From the perspective of the agribusiness that owns the land adjacent to mine, their method is obviously seen as the most efficient. After all, they no doubt have fleets of tractors, easy-flowing credit and lakes of pesticides to throw at the ‘problem’ of getting the land to yield a saleable commodity. My method, by contrast, is highly inefficient. For all the physical energy I put in, I’ll probably get back about the same amount in terms of calories—assuming the birds, rabbits and slugs don’t jump into the middle of my equation and eat my produce first.  In energy return terms, my method probably comes in at 1:1 or slightly less (although it would be higher if I were planting potatoes or other starchy crops).

But that wouldn’t be taking into account all the other factors that, in my opinion, make the low-tech human-powered method the more sustainable. Here are some of the things that I count as benefits, but which would not show up on the balance sheet of the agribusiness ‘farming’ the next field:

– I am not disturbing the soil too much. More and more research is showing that deep ploughing by machinery is ruining the structure and the content of soil. It takes years—decades even—for soil to find a healthy balance, and by violently disturbing it every few months we destroy the immensely complex communities of organisms that make soil soil rather than dirt. [Taking this further, when my poly tunnel is up I’ll be experimenting with no-dig gardening, in which the soil is hardly disturbed at all.]

– I am not killing too many earth worms. Worms are our soily allies. They turn decaying matter into worm casts, which is highly enriching for soil and plants. There are inevitably a few casualties even when digging by hand, but this is nothing in comparison to the millions that must be sliced in half by the tractor blades next door. And no, cutting a worm in half does not make two worms – it makes two halves of a dead one.

– I am getting exercise. No need to join a gym when you spend the day digging!

– It costs me almost nothing (I already own the land, the tools and the seeds) – which is very helpful as I have recently lost the only means of paid employment I had and every penny counts.

– I am fostering a deeper sense of my place in this particular ecosystem. Instead of seeing the land as something I can bludgeon into submission with chemicals and machines, I get to see it as it really is: a community of organisms working together to create the whole. I am but one organism within that rich community, and by working slowly and deliberately my mind has time to adjust to this reality rather than be shielded from it.

– The food will nourish me and my family far more than the chemically-raised mono crop being grown in the field next to me. My food is grown from organic heritage seeds, will be eaten fresh and won’t be packaged. The distance it will travel before it is eaten will be negligible.

– I am being part of the human community in the area. By working the land and growing food and fuel I will be able to swap it with others, or even give them some if they need it. By contrast, the agribusiness does nothing but take. None of the local people even know who is driving the tractors, who owns the business or where the money goes to. It certainly doesn’t end up in the local area.

I’m sure we could all think of other benefits, but the point is that ‘efficiency’ is not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to growing food. In essence, I managed to dig enough ground to grow some healthy and nutritious food for me and my family, and during the same time the man driving the tractor—probably earning minimum wage—earned enough to buy a few Big Macs (and the company he was working for probably earned a few thousand pounds to pay in dividends to shareholders or purchase some more distressed land from yet another broke farmer). I could summarise as:

Agribusiness: How many costs can we externalise so that the land earns the business maximum profits?
Me: How much money can the land save me, and how many other intangibles can it earn both for me and it?

In a nutshell, the agri-business is exploiting what remains of any integrity the land has at the expense of its longer term viability. By wrecking the soil structure, dousing it with chemicals and growing four crops per year (one crop of daffodils, two crops of potatoes and one crop of cabbages last year) the soil has been reduced to little more than a medium for absorbing chemicals and keeping plants upright in. What’s more, the field is being ploughed in the wrong direction, with the tractor driving up and down the contours rather than across them, meaning that every time there is a heavy burst of rain the local roads and streams are turned bright red with soil being washed away. This soon finds its way into the sea, and I saw a large bloom of red in the sea back in March as the soil was washed away.

But, in any case, why should the tractor driver care if the soil is washed away? He is probably a migrant worker and is being paid by the job, so the quicker he can get it done the better. He will move onto a new job in a different area the next day and there is no obvious reason for him to care about the damage being done to the land. He’s just doing his job, right? Who can we locals complain to about the soil that is being washed away if it is not ‘our’ soil and we don’t know which companies are responsible for this act of vandalism?

Yet all of this damage is possible because of cheap fossil fuels. Oil to turn into pesticides, gas to turn into fertiliser, oil to build and fuel the tractors, oil to transport and process the produce far and wide and oil to keep the economic model ticking over and provide a basis for leveraged debt-based growth to occur in order that giant agribusiness conglomerations can claim that this is the only efficient way of growing food.

So, the question remains, how much energy is too much energy and at what point does too much cheap energy begin to kill us?

JOBS

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 19, 2014

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The Big Newz last week on the Economic Front was the Jobs Report from the Bureau of Lies & Statistics, which now has the FSoA UE Rate down to a remarkable 6.7%!  We are doing FANTASTIC!  This is down from Double Digit UE Rates around 11% following the Financial Crack-Up of 2008.  Happy Daze are HERE AGAIN!

From Zero Hedge

Curious why despite the huge miss in payrolls the unemployment rate tumbled from 7.0% to 6.7%? The reason is because in December the civilian labor force did what it usually does in the New Normal: it dropped from 155.3 million to 154.9 million, which means the labor participation rate just dropped to a fresh 35 year low, hitting levels not seen since 1978, at 62.8% down from 63.0%.

And the piece de resistance: Americans not in the labor force exploded higher by 535,000 to a new all time high 91.8 million.

The jobless, laborless recovery continues to steam on.

ZH of course highlights the OBVIOUS canard being pitched out here, which goes to the Denominator in the Equation, who the BLS counts as UE and Looking for Work.  The UE measured rate by the BLS obviously went down tremendously as soon as Da Federal Goobermint dropped millions off from Extended UE bennies that were running 99 Weeks.  Once you have used up your Bennies, you no longer are counted as looking for a job, whether you found one or not by the time the bennies ran out.

At the same time, the “Labor Participation Rate”, the percentage of the population who actually has a Job continues to drop here off the map.  Are we expected to believe all these folks no longer need or want a job?

Part of the reason for this is Demographics.  Overall the population is aging, and more of the Boomers Retire each year, and at least for now can collect SS and whatever Pension is due them, at least if they were not working for the City of Detroit for the last 30 years.  However, we still do have Immigration going on, and we still do have homegrown young folks graduating from High School and College.  The percentage of either class of people able to find “Jobs” in our current economy continues to drop here, and their hopes for the Future drop with them.

Of course this is NOTHING compared to what is ongoing in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy these days, where Youth

Unemployment is reaching into the +50% category.  In a society where having a JOB to earn MONEY is essential if you expect to stay out of Prison or not live in a cardboard box on the street, I can’t think of any better recipe for Social Unrest than these kind of UE numbers.

http://hrackova.veronika.sweb.cz/in-spain-the-epicenter-of-europes-youth-unemployment-crisis-the-rate-has-soared-to-565.png

If you are older here and go UE, even if you are not QUITE yet eligible for SS, decent chance you have some savings to live off, or maybe a paid off McMansion you can sell and live off the proceeds in a trailer park while you wait for SS to kick in.  Or you can try and get SSDI a bit earlier than 62 for regular SS retirement FRNs.

http://nomoneynoworries.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/ss-disability.jpg

So there is still some Safety Net here for Job losses, which goes a long way toward explaining why we do not yet see the kind of social unrest already ongoing in Greece and Spain.  How long this can continue to play here remains an open question of course.

jobless_unemploymentSo, the bottom line here on all of this ongoing collapse nonsense revolves around the JOBS, which have been since the Industrial Revolution the means by which MOST people get some MONEY to then be able to buy food, pay Rent to the Rentier Class and buy energy with which to run the carz they need to get to work and participate in said Industrial Economy.  Jobs disappear, the ability to participate disappears with it.

What ARE the jobs of the Industrial Economy though?  Well, for a while during the early Growth Phase here in the FSoA, those jobs were Industrial Factory type work, as we provided hardware to run both WWI and WWII.  We had copious sources of local Cheap Energy to run the Factories back then, and besides that after destroying much of the Infrastructure in Europe in both wars, it needed to be rebuilt, providing a lot of work for Factory workers here in the FSoA, where nothing got Bombed.

During the Post WWII period also, the FSoA Industrialists began the largest Public Works project in the History of Mankind, the Eisenhower Interstate.  The reason was not to develop Commerce, although that came out of it as a means to Finance the project, it came from the realization by the Military arm of the Military-Industrial Complex that in order to move their Tanks and Hardware around this vast continent, they needed ROADS upon which to roll that hardware.

As a Young Lieutenant in the Army back in 1919, Dwight D Eisenhower had to move a Convoy across the old “Lincoln Highway”, which was really a Hodgepodge of paved and dirt roads, and the equipment they had got bogged down all the time.  Fuel stops were vitually nonexistent, so they had to have their own Fuel trucks travelling with them to stock up at the few fuel depots that existed at the time in the more majore motros connected toa Rail line.  It took WEEKS to make it across the country.

From the Illinois Dept. of Transportation website:

In late June 2006, a caravan of vehicles organized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) will travel across the United States from San Francisco, California to Washington, D. C. to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Interstate Highway System.

The AASHTO Anniversary Caravan of 2006 will follow Interstate 80 much of the way. It will be retracing, in reverse, the approximate route of a famous previous expedition, the Transcontinental Army Motor Convoy, which followed the Lincoln Highway across the country from Washington to San Francisco in 1919. PHOTO (ABOVE): Soldiers pushing a disabled truck during the 1919 Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy, Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 86-19-190

The remainder of this section will describe the 1919 Army Convoy; report on its three-day trip across Illinois and relate what the 1919 Army Convoy meant for the future of American Roads.

ORIGINS AND PURPOSES OF THE 1919 ARMY CONVOY

World War I (1914-1918) was the first large scale military conflict that employed vehicles powered by the relatively new internal combustion engine. Airplanes, trucks, motorcars, and tanks were used on both sides. However, they lacked the reliability, flexibility, and capacity for moving large masses of troops or equipment over long distances on inferior European roads. The vast majority of WWI military transportation on land was done by horses and railroad trains; nevertheless, by the end of the war, most military leaders saw the potential for increased use of motorized troops and equipment in military campaigns of the future.

The end of the war also inspired the leaders of the Good Roads Movement to resume their public relations (PR) campaign to convince the public to demand better roads from state and local governments. The PR campaign had been put on hold during the 1917-1918 period while America was engaged in WWI. Early in 1919, Lincoln Highway Association leader Harry Ostermann had persuaded the War Department to conduct a transcontinental motor convoy trip from the East Coast to San Francisco on the marked route of the Lincoln Highway.

The purpose of the convoy was two fold: 1) it was to be a training exercise and 2) a test of the feasibility of the long distance movement of military men and supplies by auto and truck.

From the Good Roads Movement’s viewpoint, the convoy was meant to produce positive PR by demonstrating that long distance motor travel was possible. It was also meant to heighten awareness of existing poor roads that comprised much of the Lincoln Highway and other roads in the Unites States. Return to Top

AN EPIC JOURNEY FULL OF CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Amid much hoopla, speeches and fanfare, a 76-vehicle combined “public-private” convoy, including 56 military vehicles, 209 officers and enlisted men, and dozens of private citizens took off from the White House on July 7, 1919. (LH/MAIN STREET, p. 83).

Later that evening, the convoy was joined by two, last minute volunteer Army officers. They were Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower and Major Sereno Brett, who were to serve as observers for the Army Tank Corps. PHOTO: Major Sereno Brett, Harvey Firestone, Jr., and Lt. Colonel Dwight Eisenhower at 1919 Army Convoy stopover at the Firestone Homestead, Columbania, Ohio, July 13, 1919. Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 70-520-3.

The convoy was to operate as if the country was at war and that an Asiatic enemy had destroyed railroad lines, bridges, and tunnels. They were also to act as if they would be traveling through enemy territory and thus, had to be self-contained and self-sustaining over the 3,250-mile route. Maintaining the illusion of being at war or being truly self-sustaining proved to be very difficult, as was the trip itself.

Among some of the military personnel, there was even doubt whether or not the convoy could actually make it across the continent. The vehicles were untested over long distances. Many sections of the Lincoln Highway were unimproved dirt roads. Finally, few military personnel; especially enlisted men, had much experience with motor vehicle driving or maintenance. Eisenhower later wrote that the trek was a genuine adventure. “We were not sure it could be accomplished at all. Nothing of the sort had ever been attempted.”

At first, in the East from Washington through Indiana, the roads were generally good but mechanical problems with the various vehicles and logistical problems slowed the convoy’s progress. Military discipline among the men also was “conspicuous by its absence,” according to one observer. About the familiarity of the men with operating trucks, Eisenhower wrote:

All drivers had claimed lengthy experience in driving trucks; some of them, it turned out, had never handled anything more advanced than a Model T. Most colored the air with expression in starting and stopping that indicated a longer association with teams of horses than with internal combustion engines. (EISENHOWER REPORT)

As the convoy (also referred to as the “train” by some) headed into Illinois and the West, road conditions along the Lincoln Highway presented serious challenges that often delayed and sometimes halted the convoy. The Highway ran on dirt roads through most of Illinois, but the weather was dry, so it was possible to cross the state in a few days. Of the roads between Illinois and California, Eisenhower, in his post-trip report wrote:

The dirt roads of Iowa are well graded and are good in dry weather; but would be impossible in wet weather. In Nebraska, the first real sand was encountered, and two days were lost in western part of this state due to bad, sandy roads. Wyoming roads west of Cheyenne are poor dirt ones, with weak culverts and bridges. In one day, 14 of these were counted, broken through by the train. The desert roads in the southwest portion of this state are very poor. In western Utah, on the Salt Lake Desert, the road becomes almost impossible to heavy vehicles. From Orr’s Ranch, Utah, to Carson City, Nevada, road is one succession of dust, ruts, pits and holes. This stretch was not improved in any way, and consisted only of a track across the desert. At many points on the road water is twenty miles distant, and parts of the road are ninety miles from the nearest railroad. (EISENHOWER REPORT)

In fact, one of the biggest problems was the poor state of the bridges along the Lincoln Highway. PHOTO: Army Truck testing the holding power of one of many small bridges crossed during the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy, 1919. Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 81-17-25.

Advance notice of the convoy spread and its arrival in towns along the Lincoln Highway were occasions for celebrations and plenty of speeches imploring listeners to demand more public funding for “Good Roads.” The convoy passed through 350 communities, and it was estimated that more than 3,000,000 people witnessed it along the route. Millions more followed the trek in newspapers and early motion picture “newsreels.” PHOTO: 1919 Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy on Review, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1919. Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 81-17-55.

The convoy did make it. Battered, but unbowed, the caravan arrived at the gates of Lincoln Park in San Francisco. However, it had taken until September 6, 1919 for it to reach its destination, a grueling sixty-two (62) days!

In November 1919, Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower wrote a seven-page report relaying the observations he made during the Army Convoy to the Chief of the Army’s Motor Transport Corps (M.T.C.). He summarized the results as follows:

The truck train was well received at all points along the route. It seemed that there was a great deal of sentiment for the improving of highways, and, from the standpoint of promoting this sentiment, the trip was an undoubted success. As stated before in this paper, it is believed that the M. T. C. should pay more attention to disciplinary drills for officers and men, and that all should be intelligent, snappy soldiers before giving them the responsibility of operating trucks. Extended trips by trucks through the middle western part of the United States are impracticable until roads are improved, and then only a light truck should be used on long hauls. Through the eastern part of the United States, the truck can be efficiently used in the Military Service, especially in problems involving a haul of approximately 100 miles, which could be negotiated by light trucks in one day. (EISENHOWER REPORT.)

Return to Top

THE 1919 ARMY MOTOR CONVOY IN ILLINOIS

The 1919 Army Transcontinental Army Convoy crossed into Illinois on the afternoon of Saturday, July 19, 1919. It stopped the next day for a Sunday rest period in Chicago Heights. The trip was resumed on Monday July 21, 1919, and the convoy camped over that night in DeKalb. On Tuesday July 22, 1919, the convoy left DeKalb and crossed over the Mississippi River Bridge at Fulton, Illinois and entered into Iowa that evening.

During the two full days it spent on the road in Illinois, the convoy covered about 172 miles in a little over 21 hours on the road. It was fairly lucky with the weather and thus the roads, but as the following account from the convoy’s daily log reveals, it had its share of problems with the vehicles, drivers, and equipment in its journey across the Land of Lincoln.

(Read the official Army account of the convoy’s journey thru Illinois).

So basically from the 1950s right up until around 2008 when the Sub-Prime Mortgage Bubble popped, as the Industrial Jobs began to leave the country in the 1970s to go to Cheaper Labor Markets in places like Mexico, India and China, fairly decently paid work in the Construction Industry took their place.  Many jobs even for highly paid well educated folks like Civil Engineers, Architects, Electrical Engineers, Plumbers et al, as every new Mall and every new Suburban Subdivision needed to be Wired Up and Plumbed to keep the Sanitation Decent.  As the communities sprouted like mushrooms across the once Pristine Wilderness of the FSoA, Civil Service Goobermint workers in every field from Police Work to Sanitation workers to Teachers were necessary.  Where did the MONEY come from to PAY all these people for these new JOBS in these new communities?

As with ALL money since the beginning of the Industrial Era (and really long before that, btu expanding exponentially through this period), the MONEY came from the Issuance of New Credit done by the folks who have controlled this since the beginning of the Colonial Era at the LATEST, the TBTF Banks and the small number of people who control them, often referred to here on the pages of the Diner as the “Illuminati”.  In 1692 the Bank of England was Chartered, and despite a real lack of Precious Metals in England at that time, these folks issued CREDIT on what basically was all the resources of the New World they were set to exploit.  They did not HAVE the “money” to issue out, they CREATED the money to issue out.  Long as everyone under their Political Control HAD to use this money (“Legal Tender”) they could LOAN it to others, who then owed them Interest.  Anyone on the Inside of this Scheme never really could go Broke, as they could always issue themselves newer and bigger Loans to further buy out the Resources, and the Flow Begins of this money through the economy.  EVERYTGHING comes to depend on this flow of money, and constant INCREASE in the money supply otherwise the interest being charged cannot be paid up on.  whenever a Contraction or even just a slowdown occurs, Depressions ensue, Deleveraging occurs and most of the population gets hung out to dry.  this was the narrative pretty much from 1700 right through to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Throughout the period of the post-Revolutionary War here in the FSoA, Credit was issued by Industrialists in Europe to first off exploit the Coal Resources here and ship them back to Europe to power their Factories, and then to further build out Industrial Infrastructure here.  The Railroads were the essential component of this, because without them there was no moving the Coal from the mines of West Virginia to the Ports on the East Coast.  So the Jobs of those days came in the form of Coal Mining and Railroad construction, and as the railroads expanded across the continent, new communities based on this new type of Industrial living popped up like Buboes across the landscape.

Still, it was basically an Agrarian Paradigm, with most people in the country engaged in local Agriculture, right up until the Great Depression.  Reason for this is that it really was not until the  1920’s or so that the first ICE Tractors became available, and Ag was still very Human Labor intensive through the 1800s.  Even going into the Great Depression in the 1930s, most estimates I have read put 90% of the population here living and working locally in the Ag paradigm.

For those who did not Own Land, up until the Civil War you had explicit Slavery for the imported African Labor force, so I don’t think you can really call what they did as a “Job”.  During the Reconstruction period, you had Sharecroppers, and not sure this form of exploiting labor can be called a Job either.

Where what we think of now as Jobs being paid with Money emerged here was first in the Coal Mines and along the Railroad Tracks, work which was uniformly low paid and very dangerous also.  Workers who performed these jobs were recruited from places like China and Ireland, where conditions for their populations were so bad at the time that just the CHANCE to come over here and work in one of these jobs was a step up, though for many it proved a disappointment for sure as they died in dangerous working conditions, and often had wages so low surviving on what you could buy from the Company Store was pretty difficult

The upshot of this period as the Factories began to pop up as well was a workforce that became increasingly Organized, with Labor making it’s first Battles here against the Capitalist class in control of Credit Creation, money, and by this time virtually all the worthwhile Property across the country.

In fact this battle started in Europe where the whole Industrial paradigm began, and Jobs (or lack of them) and ridiculously low pay and bad working conditions developed alternative ideas to the Capital Exploitation model.  Specifically, Karl Marx and Friederich Engels developed the Communist model, which the Bolsheviks in Russia tried to implement, becoming increasingly bastardized over time.  In fact that model was probably corrupt right from the get go, as Trotsky and Lenin likely got most of their funding for that Revolution from Industrialists in Germany and England.

Over here, as the Great Depression took hold, similar Movements towards Communism and Socialism began to gain traction, the Wobblies were a growing force, and everything possible was done to keep that movement from gaining traction.  Labor Union was pitted against Labor Union, Union Bosses were paid off, the Pinkertons were brought in to disrupt Organization and physically threaten anyone organizing, and overall the Capitalist class was successful in destroying the Labor Movement in the FSoA as we moved into and past the Great Depression.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies) is an international industrial union that was formed in 1905. The origin of the nickname “Wobblies” is uncertain.[3]

The IWW promotes the concept of “One Big Union“, contends that all workers should be united as a social class and that capitalism and wage labor should be abolished.[4] They are known for the Wobbly Shop model of workplace democracy, in which workers elect their managers[5] and other forms of grassroots democracy (self-management) are implemented. IWW membership does not require that one work in a represented workplace,[6] nor does it exclude membership in another labor union.[7]

In the 1910s and early ’20s, the IWW achieved many of their short-term goals, particularly in the American west, and cut across traditional guild and union lines to organize workers in a variety of trades and industries. At their peak in 1923, IWW membership has been estimated at about 40,000.[8] However, the extremely high rate of IWW membership turnover during this era (estimated at 133% per decade) makes it difficult to state membership totals with any certainty, as workers tended to join the IWW in large numbers for relatively short periods (e.g., during labor strikes and periods of generalized economic distress).[9]

Nonetheless, membership declined dramatically in the 1920s due to several factors. There were conflicts with other labor groups, particularly the American Federation of Labor (AFL) which regarded the IWW as too radical while the IWW regarded the AFL as too staid and conservative.[8] Membership also declined in the wake of government crackdowns on radical, anarchist and socialist groups during the First Red Scare after WWI. The most decisive factor in the decline in IWW membership and influence, however, was a 1924 schism due to internal conflict, from which the IWW never fully recovered.[8][10]

Compromises were made however, and the New Deal of Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt incorporated numerous salves to buy off the Working Class, primary among them the creation of the Social Security system.  Unions also still retained decent power in the post WWII period as the Automotive Industry ramped up in the FSoA, and for a short while the Working Class Heros of Industrialization did OK here, from say 1950 to maybe 1970 or so, though you did have to usually have “Connections” to get inside any of the powerful Trade Unions of the Era.

Over time of course the Unions and their ability to negotiate a better wage for their workers has been systematically diminished, and on a Media level the whole IDEA of Unions and Collective bargaining has been subject to non-stop Bernays style propagandizing against, to the point through the 90s-00s that even the Blue Collar workers such collectives work best for were convinced they were bad.  Go to any Kneejerk Conservatard Website like the one Mike “Mish” Shedlock runs on Global Economic Analysis, and you will find non-stop BLAME being placed on Unions as the Cause of all our problems.  See folks, if we just got rid of those nasty Teacher’s Unions and Auto Unions and all those “Big” Pensions they negotiated over the years, we would have PROSPERITY again!  LOL.

Prosperity for WHO?  Certainly not Prosperity for the Pensioners who have their pensions ripped out from under them, that is for sure.  Certainly not Prosperity for the next Generation of Workers either, who in order to keep our products “competitive” on the Global Market need to drop their Wages down to whatever it is the Chinese of Mexicans or Egyptians are getting these  days, like $2/day there.  the folks who PROSPER from reneging on Pensions are the Rentier Class, aka the Illuminati.  See, they are the “Secured Bondholders”.  gotta pay them off before you pay the pension of anyone who worked for the City of Detroit for the last 30 years.  As the economic system which Industrialists used to build out their system falls apart here, they hang out to dry everyone who ever worked in the system in ANY capacity, from an Industrial Factory Worker to a Coal Miner to the Police Force of Detroit, who for near 100 years protected the “Property” these folks claimed to own, thoroughly polluted and then abandoned.

Same Bizness occurring over in China now, just at a vastly Accelerated Pace as first the Hot Money drops in there to “Create Jobs” in Industry, profit is sucked out on the back of cheap labor, the resource landscape of the country is destroyed and then when no more Profit can be pulled from this mess, they “Unwind the Carry Trade”, Newzpeak for the Rentier Class packing their bags and Private Jets with whatever they can and GTFO of Dodge, leaving the rest of the Chinese Population to die in the stinking sewer they made of that land mass.

http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/Global/eastasia/photos/climate-energy/air-pollution-linfen-bicycle.jpg

Today, as we speak, this whole paradigm is coming to a close, for numerous reasons.

First off, there really is no NEW place to go to either exploit Resources or Exploit Labor to gain “Profit” for the individual or corporation that has not already been thoroughly sucked dry.  Though there is still some fossil fuel energy left in the ground to extract, the energy cost for pulling it up comes ever closer each day to the cost the consumer of this energy can afford to pay.  Without continuing expansion of Credit, there is no ‘money” flow to the end consumer, and while the Central Banks provide endless Quantitative Easing FREE CREDIT a ZIRP to their member TBTF Banks, said Banks do not pass this money on in the form of new loans to anybody further than one tier below their line.  Do you think a lot of Individuals line up to buy a Facepalm IPO?  Who are the “Investors” in Facepalm, and where do they get the money to invest in that piece of shit Social Media White Elephant?  Faceplam has NEVER turned a Profit since the day Mark Suckerbug and the Winkletwins dreamed it up.  Regardless, “investors” subscribed to the IPO to the tune of like $100B, least that is around where the Market Cap is here I think.  Where did they GET $100B to “invest” in Facepalm?  They BORROWED it from the Federal Reserve, rehypothecating worthless MBS as collateral to invest here.  This is the circle jerk of money creation, and folks on the inside get fabulously wealthy off of it, but everybody else gets screwed to beat the band here.  Constant investment in ultimately non-productive and worthless enterprise that simply burns energy faster all the time, until there is nothing left to burn, which we are not at yet but getting closer to all the time.  Ongoing here really since the very first Railroad Tracks were laid here in the FSoA in the early 1800s.

So, in the final analysis, this is where all the “JOBS” came from.  Money created as Debt to exploit the resources of the New World, accessing a fabulous wealth of stored energy, first from Coal, then following that from Oil.  Every last “Job” that has been created through the era all comes from the downhill flow of this energy as it is burned, and with less and less available to burn all the time, there are fewere and fewer Jobs to be had that depend on the burning of this energy.  Politicos calls for a “Return to Growth” are a chimera, there is no growth, really there has not been for 30 years here or so.  The “growth” you see is Numerical Smoke & Mirrors, pretty arbitrary numbers overall that get bigger all the time, while the population at large gets poorer all the time.  The FSoA population has been getting steadily poorer under this paradigm, but not until now has it really been evident, masked well by Financialism and control over the Global Reserve Currency of the Dollar.

Besides the fact there is no new place to GO to exploit resource and labor, the result of 200 years of this shit is that we are now Neck Deep in our own sewage, with far too many people on the planet who have opportunity for truly productive things to do with their lives and who are pretty much 100% Dependent on the system continuing onward for their own survival.  Willfully trying to exit the system while it continues to function is close to impossible in most places, really you have to go way out into the bush to even try something like this, and few people are prepared to do that these days.

Those of us who are engaged in building the SUN Project see all of these things quite clearly.  There are no easy answers, no simple ways to exit, and a “Crash on Demand” by a large percentage of the population walking away from Industrialization simultaneously is unlikely to occur as a willfull thing, though it may happen organically quite rapidly if the current systems fail rapidly in cascade fashion.

For those of us involved in SUN, we seek to redefine the ideas of Jobs, Work & Money.  Jobs as we have known them through the Industrial Era are already going the way of the Dinosaur, and as Bruce Springstein write in “My Hometown”, they ain’t ever coming back.

We don’t NEED no Stinkin’ JOBs, and we don’t NEED the Debt Money pitched out here by the Illuminati for the last 200 years of Industrialization either.  Like the “Assets” this money created, it is all going quite Worthless now.  What we NEED is to work together, to build our communities, to work for the common good of our Species and the Planet we live on.  We are rapidly running short on time here to make such changes in anything but the most Painful Way conceivable, and Heliopaths seek to avoid such a nasty endgame, if not for everyone, at least for those who see what is coming and wish to do the best they can to avoid it with us.

Perhaps you think this is all useless, it is too late already and the End is Written in Stone.  If so, I wish you well and I will see you in the Great Beyond when we all get there.  I personally am not concerned with whether the End is Written in Stone or not, because that does not materially affect the way I approach this End Game.  Maybe I will go down, maybe my friends will go down too.  However, if that is how it plays out, we will GO DOWN SWINGING.

IT AIN’T OVAH TILL THE FAT LADY SINGS!

http://accountingprofessor.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/fatlady.jpg

SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE

RE

Occupy Monsanto: “What a piece of work is man!”

From the keyboard of Surly1
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on August 12, 2013

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in
reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving
how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel!
in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the
world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is
this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no,
nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem
to say so . . .

~Shakespeare, Hamlet, (Act II, Scene ii, 285-300)

Monsanto-DuPont-Roundup-war

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

The capacity for modern science to extend and improve life was brought home to me quite directly this past week. A childhood friend of 57 years standing was hospitalized last week with faintness and dizziness. My friend, aFor him professor of mathematics, is a former martial artist and has always been whippet-thin, wiry, and fit. Yet he presented with symptoms that required a battery of tests.

Long story short,  he had surgery to have a pacemaker implanted. It seems commonplace to us now, but such a miracle! An opening into shoulder cavity, insertion of wires through an artery into the surfaces of the heart, and voilà! A regulated heartbeat, with energy and color restored, and all right with the world.

Such advances in technology mean that through surgical and other means we can extend and save lives. A congenital heart condition and resulting arrhythmia are adjusted through the implantation of a small device– a moral and welcome use of technology. But what about immoral, and unjust uses? It seems apparent that our technological capacity has completely outstripped our moral dimension.

 Here’s one small example. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are, on their website, quite proud to claim 10 great public-health achievements in the 20th century that have added 25 years to the average life expectancy of people in the United States. Among these are:

  • immunizations
  • motor vehicle safety
  • workplace safety
  • control of infectious diseases
  • declines in deaths from heart disease and stroke
  • safer and healthier foods, healthier mothers and babies
  • family planning
  • fluoridation of drinking water
  • tobacco is a health hazard
  • future directions of public health.

Now I would argue the single greatest improvement to public health has been public sanitation. There are both aesthetic as well as public health virtues in getting shit out of the streets.

Beyond that, some quibbles. Without doubt  vaccinations have all but eradicated smallpox and polio from the United States. Yet other inoculations, such as Gardasil, are problematic. What “motor vehicle safety” and  “workplace safety” are doing on this list I have no idea, except that CFC staff needed to pad out the list to get to ten. The “family planning” item is laughable in terms of our current politics, as right wing politicians have both demonized birth control and made women’s health clinics virtually unable to operate. A sizable contingent thinks that flouridated water is a communist plot. But of the ironies on this list, none is more poignant than the one that lists “safer and healthier foods.”

 The CDC list  and accompanying article completely ignores the phenomenon of genetically modified food.  Those of us who actually consume foods in the real economy cannot afford to adopt  the CDC’s  position.

GMO foods are plants and bacteria which have had specific changes introduced to their DNA using genetic engineering techniques. Such organisms are designed to be treated with toxic herbicides and pesticides, chemicals which have been suspected to increase allergies and have been linked to decreased fertility, asthma, organ failure even cancer.

To briefly review the bidding on the dangers posed by genetically modified foods, we offer the following:  Animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food. The GM process creates massive collateral damage in the plant, with side effects that are often unpredictable. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has even asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.

Most of us are aware that the FDA, like many agencies entrusted with the public welfare now held captive by corporate interests, decided to allow GMOs to be sold without labeling. State-level attempts to require labeling of GMO food have been met with intense lobbying and millions of dollars pitched in opposition.

Why the drama?

Consider this handful of research findings:

  • Thousands of sheep, buffalo, and goats in India died after grazing on Bt cotton plants
  • Mice eating GM corn for the long term had fewer, and smaller, babies
  • More than half the babies of mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks, and were smaller
  • Testicle cells of mice and rats on a GM soy change significantly
  • By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies
  • Rodents fed GM corn and soy showed immune system responses and signs of toxicity
  • Cooked GM soy contains as much as 7-times the amount of a known soy allergen
  • Soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in the UK, soon after GM soy was introduced
  • The stomach lining of rats fed GM potatoes showed excessive cell growth, a condition that may lead to cancer.
  • Studies showed organ lesions, altered liver and pancreas cells, changed enzyme levels, etc.

Problems posed by genetically modified food are magnified by the fact that unlike drugs, there are no human clinical trials for GM foods. The only published human feeding experiment revealed that genetic material transferred into GM soy stays inside our intestines and continues to function long after we quit consuming them. The food may be gone, but the altered proteins remain doing their work.

Thus we fail to study one possible vector of danger to public health that could conceivably create super diseases resistant to antibiotics, or, alternatively, turn our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories. Hopefully this will put the “good work” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and the captive FDA) in context.

Citizens are starting to get the word out and educating other citizens about the dangers of GMO foods.  As the Occupy movement  was suborned and destroyed by sweeps of militarized police under direction from DHS, the tents disappeared, yet the anger and disgust at our nonresponsive politicians has remained,  and has been transformed into specific, single-purpose movements.

One of these is  Occupy Monsanto, which has emerged to stage numerous protests at companies connected to the global trade of GMOs. Occupy Monsanto  is calling for a day of action on September 17 of this year.  Basic themes  include the idea that Monsanto’s push to control agriculture poses a threat only to consumers in this country, but also throughout Latin America Africa and Asia. Also, if GMO foods are perfectly safe, why not allow them to be labeled and compete in the market?

“There is something wrong when a chemical manufacturer, the same company who made Agent Orange, controls the US food supply.”  ~activist Jaye Crawford.

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Local groups in southeastern Virginia staged an anti-GMO rally in May of this year. We handed out leaflets, engaged passersby in conversation, and otherwise did our best to create awareness. Much like our government, the last thing Monsanto wants is people talking to people creating awareness and providing education about the real issues posed by GMOs. To that end, Monsanto has mounted its own public relations counteroffensive:

Plant Biotechnology Companies Launch “GMO Answers”

7/29/2013

The following release was issued by the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI). Monsanto is a member of CBI.

Washington, DC (July 29, 2013) – The agricultural biotechnology companies that develop genetically modified seeds — or GMOs — are coming together to launch a broad, new initiative to provide accurate information and answer the toughest questions about GMOs and how our food is grown. GMO Answers (www.GMOAnswers.com) is a new conversation, public Q&A, and central online resource for information on GMOs, their background, use in agriculture, and research and data in one easy-to-access public resource for the first time.

“GMOs are a growing topic of discussion today, with a wide range of questions and emotions,” Cathleen Enright, Ph.D., spokesperson for GMO Answers, said. “Food is personal, so we want to open the door for personal discussions. We recognize we haven’t done the best job communicating about GMOs—what they are, how they are developed, food safety information—the science, data and processes. We want people to join us and ask their tough questions. Be skeptical. Evaluate the information and decide for yourself. We look forward to an open conversation.”

<snip>

GMO Answers is produced by the members of The Council for Biotechnology Information, which includes BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences LLC, DuPont, Monsanto Company and Syngenta. Together, their commitment to openness and access to information is outlined in the GMO Answers five core principles:

  • Respecting people around the world and their right to choose healthy food products that are best for themselves and their families
  • Welcoming and answering questions on all GMO topics
  • Making GMO information, research and data easy to access and evaluate and supporting safety testing of GM products, including allowing independent safety testing of our products by validated science-based methods
  • Supporting farmers as they work to grow crops using precious resources more efficiently, with less impact on the environment and producing safe, nutritious food and feed products
  • Respecting farmers’ rights to choose the seeds that are best for their farms, businesses and communities and providing seed choices that include non-GM seeds based on market demands.

 

The statement of Dr. Enright notwithstanding, if Monsanto “wants people to join and ask tough questions,” and “looks forward to an open conversation,” then I am the rightful King of France.

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You want the truth? Follow the money. Open labeling of GM foods would permit an “open conversation,” but that is the last thing that the members of the Council for Biotechnology Information want. What they want is for you is to put your head down, eat, work, consume, and die. The last thing they want you to do is to talk to one another, to educate yourself and others on the real-life dangers of the poisons that have already entered our food supply, and the failure our so-called government regulatory agencies to do any actual regulating.


IMG_1257

Find a local action group, get the word out, and resist, resist, resist. And plant your own food before it becomes a crime to do so, and the moving thugscrum that used to be local law enforcement comes to make you tear it out.

As David Cobb of Move to Amend recently said in an interview, “There is no doubt that this government is afraid of its people.”  So too are the agribusiness giants who have gathered together to control the food supply of the American people in the name of profit.

As we collectively chase the daily profit motive, and busy ourselves in continued worship of Mammon, our actions stand revealed as far different from those of “the Angels.” Neither noble in reason, nor infinite in faculty, certainly not admirable. And as to “apprehension like a God?” We would settle for the apprehension of a single conscious human being with a decent regard for the welfare of his fellow man.

Wheel in the Sky

Off the keyboard of RE
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Published on the Doomstead Diner on August 11, 2013

wagon-wheel

Discuss this article at the Science, Technology & Inventions Table inside the Diner

I had an Epiphany the other day regarding the Invention of one of the most seminal devices ever to come out of the brain of Homo Sapiens, the Wheel.

To modern Homo Sapiens, this device seems so simple and so useful that one has to wonder why it took so damn long to invent in the first place.  The first Wheels don't turn up until around 4000 BC, and they really didn't get a whole lot of use until around 3500 BC.  Over here in the Americas, the early civilizations of Natives NEVER got the Wheel, it didn't show up here until after the European Invasion.

Now, all sorts of theories are proposed on why Wheels were not used earlier, one popular one is that it took the Domestication of Draft Animals to make it really useful.  This does not seem likely to me, since the use of the Wheel makes even the labor of Homo Sapiens much more effective.  Try moving around a decent amount of dirt without a Wheel Barrow after Digging a Big Hole of course.

As far as the Incas and other early civilizations are concerned, another reason proposed is that the Terrain they lived around wasn't suited to wheels, too mountainous.  There is probably some truth to that, but they also did have some flat land around, and they could have built roads too that wheels could work on even in mountainous terrain.  Switchbacks, as they are referred to.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/24/102256401_8e5c2ffc7f.jpg

 

The development of the wheel as elucidated by anthropologists goes like this:

The wheel is everywhere on all our cars, trains, planes, machines, wagons, and most factory and farm equipment. What could we move without wheels? But as important as the wheel is as an invention, we don't know who exactly made the first wheel.

The oldest wheel found in archeological excavations was discovered in what was Mesopotamia and is believed to be over fifty-five hundred years old.

 

Development of a Functional Wheel

The following steps and developments took place to invent a functioning wheel, more or less in this order:

 

This is Heavy

Humans realized that heavy objects could be moved easier if something round, for example a fallen tree log, was placed under it and the object rolled over it.

 

The Sledge

Humans also realized a way to move heavy objects, with an invention archeologists call the sledge. Logs or sticks were placed under an object and used to drag the heavy object, like a sled and a wedge put together.

 

Log Roller

Humans thought to use the round logs and a sledge together.

Humans used several logs or rollers in a row, dragging the sledge over one roller to the next.

 

Inventing a Primitive Axle

With time the sledges started to wear grooves into the rollers and humans noticed that the grooved rollers actually worked better, carrying the object further. This was simple physics, if the grooves had a smaller circumference than the unworn parts of the roller, then dragging the sledge in the grooves required less energy to create a turning motion but created a greater distance covered when the larger part of the log roller turned.

The log roller was becoming a wheel, humans cut away the wood between the two inner grooves to create what is called an axle.

 

First Carts

Wooden pegs were used to fix the sledge, so that when it rested on the rollers it did not move, but allowed the axle to turn in-between the pegs, the axle and wheels now created all the movement. These were the first carts.

Improvements to the cart were made. The pegs were replaced with holes carved into the cart frame, the axle was placed through the hole. This made it necessary for the larger wheels and thinner axle to be separate pieces. The wheels were attached to both sides of the axle.

(Note from RE: HERE comes the Inflexion Point!)

Fixed Axles Make a Functional & Successful Wheel

Next, the fixed axle was invented, where the axle does not turn but is solidly connected to the cart frame. Only the wheels did the revolving by being fitted onto the axle in a way that allowed the wheels to rotate. Fixed axles made for stable carts that could turn corners better. By this time the wheel can be considered a complete invention. The rest is history…

So why did it take so long for the Wheel to come into common usage, and why first in the place it did, around Mesopotamia around 3500 BC or so?  The reason I came up with in my Epiphany is FRICTION.

A wheel has to turn on an Axle, and at the bearing point where the Wheel Spins on the Axle, there is tremendous friction going on, all concentrated down into this one spot.  Unless you have some means to reduce that friction, this spot is going to get very, VERY HOT as the wheel spins about. at least at any decent speed or for any length of time.

So imagine how hard it would be to make a working Wheel & Axle combination without Metallurgy.  All you really have to work with is Wood, Bone and Stone.

http://img.timeinc.net/time/photoessays/2008/10_cars/flintstones.jpgIf you try to make your Wheel out of Wood and Axle out of wood, without some really good Lubricant after just a little rolling around it is going to go ON FIRE!  Same idea as Spinning a Fire Drill of course.  Pasting it with some Bear Grease probably keeps it from lighting up long as you move slowly enough with it, but the joint still will wear out pretty rapidly.

So how about substituting Stone in some way?  Not really possible since it fractures so easily, even if you could carve the wheels and axles out of Rocks, Flintstone style.  Soon as you hit a decent size Pothole or Rock wheeling your Wagon about, something is gonna crack.  Bone also is pretty Brittle, so the same basic problem using this material, and it also does burn and will wear out quickly with this much friction.

Check out the Flintstones Car at right here and look at that joint between the Axle and the Car Frame.  Tell me this is not a Fire in the Making if Fred gets going here at any speed at all.  LOL.

The first Wheeled Vehicles of any sort don't turn up in the artwork until around 4000BC in Mesopotamia, just around the time Ceramics were getting made, and just as the Bronze Age was about to take off in this neighborhood.  They got there FIRST with the technology for smelting these metals and making some Useful Tools out of them.

File:Ur chariot.jpgSo one can imagine here that these early agricultural societies had an idea about how the Wheel works, they just could not build an effective one until they had the other technologies of making ceramics first and then bronze directly after that.  Perhaps in the earliest versions they used Clay dried around the would, then smeared with grease to keep the friction down.  Once the Bronze was invented, they could wrap the wooden axle with a Bronze Sheath, put a similar sheath around the inside of the Wheel Center, then again Grease it up to keep the Friction low enough not to get the Temps high enough to ignite the underlying Wood base.

So now they finally have enough Technologies together to make a Working Wheel/Axle combination, but it is still not real Useful for anything but some real slow moving about of stuff on pretty flat land.  So the Wheel is pretty slow to take off here as an invention, it does not take off as fast as Iphones for instance.  LOL.  In fact it took a good 1500 years or so for the Wheel to find its first real good use, in Warfare of course with the Chariot.  Chariots first got invented around 2000BC, but again don't really hit stride until about 1300BC, which is a very significant date for another Inventive Reason.  What is that?

1300BC ALSO generally marks the beginning of the IRON AGE in this same neck of the woods!  Iron was a huge jump over Bronze, it is much harder and more durable, and can be hammerred into shape by a Blacksmith besides being Cast.  So this is when they finally had a material strong enough and malleable enough to make an Axle out of that would handle the pretty high speeds of being dragged along by a Galloping Horse.  Whatever Army had a bunch of these early Tanks could literally Roll over the combatants on foot and outflank them as well.

So you can see in this very basic Invention how dependent it was on a slew of other Technologies to become workable, and beyond that how dependent it was on Available Energy to smelt the metals and to forge them into the right shapes necessary to make a fully functional Chariot, capable of high speed (for the day) travel.

What does this mean for the Future of Homo Sapiens, in a world where energy will by quite scarce to come by, especially in the quantities necessary to do heat intensive tasks like smelting metals?  It means in all likelihood that over time, even assuming we survive Climate Change, that even the Basic Invention of the Wheel will fall into disuse, for lack of materials and energy to create a working one.

https://www.e-education.psu.edu/files/egee401/image/lesson07/Parabolic.jpgIf you are believer enough in the Promise of Renewable Energy sources, using concentrated Solar for instance to create enough heat to smelt metals, perhaps you believe this day will never come to pass.  However, it is quite easy to see why it could be real difficult to make metal smelting completely Renewable from Solar Energy.

If you talk about TODAY, you probably could build a Solar Heat collecting plant that would focus down enough heat on a single target to get temps high enough to smelt metal.  Utilize big Fresnel Lenses, build huge concave reflectors in the desert, etc.  However, the big lenses you need and the large concave reflectors also take metal and/or glass and plastics to create, so they themselves are dependent these days on fossil fuel energy to make.

Then you have to imagine the problem of mining the ore, or even scavenging the metal from Skyscrapers to reform in these new Renewable plants and then Transporting said TONS of material to wherever this plant is located without fossil fuels. Maybe you could keep a well built Plant you build today in operation for 50 or even 100 years, but could you keep building new ones and keep getting the materials to them to keep making enough "stuff" to build new replacement plants AND have leftover energy enough to drive a mining and transportation system that delivers the Raw Materials to your Renewable Energy Metalworking Plant?  Seems pretty hard to imagine, especially as Trade begins to break down and you need to work with all LOCAL MATERIALS.

http://www.badassoftheweek.com/grylls.jpgImagine you are Bear Grylls or Eustace Conway or Urban Scout Peter Michael Bauer or some other super duper independent type who at least by the Hype can survive anywhere.  Could Bear or Eustace or PMB make a working Wheel/Axle combination with JUST what whas available to him out in the Bush?  I'll even give all of them a nice Hunting Knife, Hatchet and Campsaw made of Metal to start with!  Might be able to make a somewhat functional Wheelbarrow to move around dirt at low speeds, but nothing past that really without stronger and more resilient materials that nature does not provide.

The Wheel as a functional unit with the Axle is not a BASIC technology, though it is defined as one of the Simple Machines along with the Lever, the Incline Plane, Pulley and Screw.  It is a COMPOSITE technology, which can only function by utilizing some other technologies (metal working particularly) that are highly ENERGY DEPENDENT!  Unless some very effective substitute technologies get invented/implemented that do NOT depend on burning a lot of fossil fuels and/or trees, metal working goes Bye-Bye and then so does the Wheel!

Now, I am not saying this is gonna happen Overnight, and at least the way the Temps seem to be climbing here, there is a good chance we will be Extinct before we see this fully play itself out.  The Axles that can be scavenged off of Dead Cars and Trucks to use for your Oxen Drawn Cart or Wagon are likely good for a Century or two if well cared for.  However, in the absence of copious Available Energy to work metal, the Wheel is HISTORY here as one of our Inventions that disappears, along with the I-phones, Plasma TVs and Nuke Power Plants.  These suckers will of course disappear a bit faster than the wheel does, and the biggest reason for all of that is what David Korowicz discusses with Supply Chain issues in our Podcast, and in his papers on Financial Contagion.  Just one small part like an O-Ring manufactured far away in a Factory on another Continent can shut down yet another factory producing wheel spokes, and that then shuts down the wheel factory in yet another country.  If you cannot access ALL the parts necessary for production of ANYTHING, once the Global Supply Chain collapses, you are SOL manufacturing whatever it is you make, from Wheels to Iphones.

In the near term for the Doomer, the thing to figure is what you can reasonably build with what you can SCAVENGE locally, and what you have resources to REPAIR locally.  Then you have to calculate how much Energy it will take to repair said technology, and whether the ROI on repairing it is worth the expenditure of said energy.  Do you Burn a Forest to repair and reform Broken Axles made of Steel?  Is it WORTH it, or do you do without the Wheel here?

http://content9.flixster.com/question/40/33/80/4033807_std.jpgMost really high tech stuff will be completely irreperable once broken, you can't make a new Motherboard for your Laptop locally of course no matter what materials might be available in the neighborhood.  The more basic technologies can be repaired for a significant time period in theory, but even those will be difficult to keep working.

Accessing Energy early on in the development of Civilization underpins ALL the inventions we use to live the kind of Lifestyle we do.  Absent the availability of copious energy, this form of living cannot persist.  It goes the way of the Dinosaur when the Energy resources do, and they are already well into decline.  No indication as of this writing that renewables can substitute effectively in the multitude of areas necessary to keep the supply chain integrity intact.  So in all likelihood, when it does Collapse, it will Collapse FAST, in a Cascade Failure.

Best Bet?  Learn to live SIMPLE now, do with as little Tech as you can.  Learn to Scavenge and Repair.  This probably works for the next generation.  After that… in the Words of Mr. Spock…Stone Knives and Bear Skins, and no WHEELS either.

RE

Is Science Another Failed Institution?

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

Published on Question Everything on July 14, 2013

weird-science-01

Discuss this article at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

The Greatest Intellectual Feat of Mankind

I love science. All science and sciences. I’ve spent a lifetime reading every popular science book I could get my hands on in every imaginable discipline. And in fields in which I was intensely interested I read the textbooks and the journal articles. Science as a way to understanding has been my passion. It therefore gives me great pain to entertain the possibility that the institution of science is yet another failed institution of Homo calidus.

The recognition of the process of science and, in particular, the scientific method has to stand as humanity’s greatest intellectual success. The notions of objectivity, observation, empirical methods, data, analysis, and provisional interpretation as the only reliable means of gaining knowledge have been woven into a beautiful tapestry of process that has proven its value over and over again. Ideologies (beliefs without actual verification) and religious dogma served a purpose to hold groups together by sharing common ideas and beliefs when our species emerged from the basic biological nexus as sentient, social self-conscious beings. Some purely practical beliefs took their origin in observations of nature that were repeatable and therefore the basis of prediction. Where the game could be found, when the rains would come, where the predators lurked, all of these kinds of regular happenings were the basis for repeatability. Each foray out to hunt was an experiment testing the hypothesis of that belief. But the existential questions that came with self-consciousness were not answerable by observations of nature. It would take the discovery of Darwinian evolution by natural selection before we could even begin to approach such questions.

And therein is the reason that ideologies and religions still exist today; that and the likelihood that the further evolution of eusapience was stymied after the invention of settled agriculture.

Even so, agriculture provided a significant boost to what would one day become science. Observation of many variables associated with plant and animal husbandry, and the application of those observations in controlled ways was incipient science at work. Large-scale agriculture gave rise to number systems for accounting, and, eventually, writing — using abstract symbols to express speech. Both were essential for codifying knowledge gained. Number systems and accounting (plain arithmetic) gave rise to mathematics when architects were commanded to build complex monuments and cities. Science (observing and interpreting) and engineering (exploiting knowledge to design and construct artifacts) were already developing as practical but unconsciously performed practices. As civilization progressed it enabled more areas to come under scrutiny and, in turn, allow civilization to progress further. Astrology (an attempt at answering existential questions) morphed eventually into astronomy and enabled long-range navigation and exploration.

The greatest accomplishment for humans was the eventual recognition of the process and its formal codification, transforming it from natural philosophy into a rigorous disciplinary method for obtaining knowledge. There were many steps in this process over a number of centuries. Aristotle had advocated what would become the empirical methods of observation. Roger Bacon, in the 13th century would advocate further for empirical observation as the basis for gaining truth. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries the Scientific Revolution crystallized and science emerged as a recognized process distinct from philosophy or religion.

And what a revolution it was. Mostly in terms of the pickup of the pace. Discoveries and exploitation came at accelerating rates. The invention of the printing press made it feasible to get it all recorded and disseminated. The institution of science would rapidly evolve.

Today science is an established institution overlaid on universities, government agencies, foundations, and industry. Money flows to researchers who conduct peer-reviewed projects with definite goals laid out. The granting institutions decide what the worthy pursuits will be and the investigators compete to show that their projects are relevant and likely to succeed. If a neuroscientist pursues an National Institutes of Health grant to study some aspect of brain function, she is required (if she wants a chance to win) to mention how her research could lead to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Failure to delineate how a line of research is going to lead to solving the energy crisis or cure cancer is a death sentence in the highly competitive fields of the modern practice of science.

The line between science and engineering has become blurred. Today engineering PhDs need to do research, ostensibly applied, to push the boundaries of what artifacts they can develop and what those artifacts can do. As in the above paragraph, scientists doing ostensibly pure research are obliged to mention the practical applications. The gaining of knowledge has come down to a gaining of new forms of wealth and wealth creation, not of gaining understanding of nature. If that happens from time to time it is a by-product, not the main goal. Put simply the funding model has changed the purpose of science and turned it into Über-engineering — finding solutions to problems. Science is now an industry*.

The universities, for their part, are producing copious PhDs in sciences and engineering even while the corporations complain that there aren’t enough. There aren’t enough of the Über-engineers based on the fact that the level of competition in innovative product development is staggeringly high. Today what counts as science is a discovery of how to cram more transistors on a chip of silicon.

And as often happens when you over produce a product you turn it into a commodity. The crops of PhDs and Master’s degreed people coming out of second and third tier universities have flooded the markets. They look for jobs as adjunct “instructors” or lecturers rather than full time, tenure-track positions in departments with active research agendas. Thanks to the societal meme that everyone should have a college degree, the subsequent rapid expansion of higher education institutions, and the demand for instructors, this has resulted in a positive feedback loop that produces stamped out of the mold products (PhDs) who then take whatever job they can get. A PhD in a science is no longer about science or the level of intellectual sophistication that it had been at the beginning of the 20th century.

A Two-Edged Sword

Science has been used for good and evil for its whole history as a human endeavor. I count evil as those acts of violence such as wars that make humanity worse off. Science has given us medicines but it also gave us the means of maiming soldiers so that they would require those medicines. Radioactive isotopes and atom smashers have been extremely useful in medical and investigative work but nuclear bombs have been a curse. And now, industrial grade agriculture is feeding billions (though some not so well) it is also poisoning our bodies, our soils, our air, and our waters. And not just our species is suffering.

Up until the mid 20th century science was mostly perceived as a force for good and progress. Very few people could or would question this proposition. But a few started to wonder about the negative effects that they began to suspect and later observe. Rachel Carson and her “Silent Spring” is a poster child of this thinking. But there were others and many even before Ms. Carson. The sword had become that of Damocles to them. We enjoyed the benefits of science and engineering, but most people were either ignorant of or simply ignored the threats hanging just over their heads as they sat on the throne of progress.

Unfortunately the warning voices were drowned out by the din of exclamations about the wonders of science. As I was just coming into more adult-level awareness, having been brought up on Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and (later) Star Trek, the Brussels World’s Fair (Expo 58) was a site where adulation of our knowledge of atomic energy was on display. I had been born exactly on the day the first atomic bomb had been used to kill people in Japan 13 years earlier. So I found myself conflicted over the science of atomic energy; on the one hand producing such horror, and on the other producing what seemed, at the time, like a promise of prosperity. By my senior year in high school and continuing in my first years of college, I wondered how this could be. What kind of creatures were we that we could do this to ourselves?

Ironically I would come to live in Seattle, WA. less than a decade after the Seattle World’s Fair where the expectations of progress and the great promise of science was the major theme. I had grown up reading mostly science fiction tales about space travel. Men had landed on the moon just before I came to Seattle so it looked like we were on our way to the Gordon/Rogers/Trek era. The optimism surrounding what would be possible given our mastery over science was palpable throughout the western world (as long as you could suppress thinking about the Cold War and nuclear Armageddon). To this day I like to visit the Pacific Science Center on the grounds of that fair, with the towering Space Needle a constant reminder of the notion of progress. I still love science, with its ability to produce meaningful knowledge of how the universe works. But I have developed considerable doubts about its payoff for humanity given our propensity to see that knowledge as only valuable if it increases our profits or helps us kill our enemies.

The Failure

Science itself, as a means for gaining knowledge, is not a failure. As a process it is not inherently a two-edged sword. It is not evil. It is the use of science that has turned evil. I hinted at this above.

By evil I don’t mean in a spiritual sense. I mean in the effect on human life sense. As a species we are bound to protect our interests in survival so anything that does so in the evolutionary framework is good, anything that threatens us is evil. Unfortunately in mankind’s exploitation of the knowledge we gained from science we find increasingly more evil than good. The knowledge itself is, of course, neutral. It is just knowledge. The problem is that we do not have the meta-knowledge of how to use knowledge for the long-term benefit of humanity. We have, instead, learned to exploit science, through engineering, for immediate gains without thinking about the long-term consequences. So knowledge of heat engines is used to engineer machines that propel us rapidly from point A to point B. We individuals in the here-and-now “profit” by getting places faster. Our time is then in surplus, our personal energies conserved. Why should we worry about the consequences of burning fossil fuel to achieve this short-term profit? Isn’t it easy to believe this trend will go on and on forever, that our children, and their children, will have even more profit from science and technology?

Knowledge of how to use knowledge for the long-term good of humanity is wisdom. That knowledge is not explicit nor are we necessarily consciously aware of it when it influences our intuitions. It just comes up from our subconsciousness as a feeling about the right path to follow, the right thing to do. Wisdom is also veridical knowledge. It must be valid, consistent, holistic, and morally motivated. It comes only from the experiences of a lifetime that consolidate into mental models of deep reality. It is knowledge ultimately based on evolutionary truth. It cannot be otherwise since evolutionary fitness objectively requires the species to be operating in accordance with the rules of the environment.

Evolution itself is the wisdom of ordinary biology. For every prior species that has ever existed evolution made the strategic decisions through variation and natural selection. Species improved in fitness until the environments changed radically enough to require new strategies. Variation in the genetic pools provided the raw material for selection to cause both incremental improvement, to adjust the phenotypes to shifting environments, and novelty, when needed to launch a new line, so to speak. And if the changes in environments were too extreme, as in a major die-off, evolution started over with whatever remained — the rest went extinct.

Humans emerged as a species with an expanded capacity to imagine the future by taking into account environmental changes that were possible and feasible. They began to formulate their own strategies and improve their own fitness. They figured out how to control fire, how to make artificial fur out of animal hides. They learned how to survive in inclement climates. Cultures became the new ‘species’ (or sub-sub-species). But as with any emerging property or behavior, strategic thinking started out fairly weak and only a few variant members of a population ever achieved anything close to what would eventually be needed as the cultures continued to evolve. Group selection is now being recognized as the selection process that deepened our eusocial nature, but also promoted the ascension of a few wiser leaders in early human tribes. The tribes with the most dominance of cooperation and with the wisest elders were more fit than those who were less cooperative or failed to have sufficiently wise elders.

The basis of eusociality, primarily empathy and language, along with strategic thinking ability are the roots of sapience and wisdom. Stronger sapience (i.e. genetic variants that boosted expansion of the necessary brain components in fetal development) led to more successful groups, which in turn favored the increase in sapience. But it just didn’t progress far enough or fast enough to build the kind of wisdom — knowledge of how to use knowledge — needed to manage the growth and use of simple knowledge.

Ergo here we stand today, overrun with some knowledge of the natural world (including ourselves) and lots of knowledge about stuff (the human-built world) and we haven’t a clue as to how to use it appropriately to bring balance between the two realms. What passes as science today is a mere shadow of what it was and what role it played in discovering how the universe works. There are still, fortunately, a large number of scientists who keep to the old ways. But they are generally the older members of the community. Often they are the ones who have gained wisdom. They are the ones who tend to write books about what the science they practice means in the larger sense. But their voices are barely heard at all against the clatter and banging of the modern industrialized, politicized institution we call science.

Science, as it originated, still stands as an ultimate intellectual achievement. As a method for gaining knowledge, when practiced with wisdom it stands unsullied. It is the process that uses science, the low-sapient human society, that is failed. Society creates institutions that process information and use it for supposed human uses. Something has gone terribly wrong in the institutionalized science of modern times, and that something is the lack of wisdom in humans themselves.


* Lest I be accused of painting with too broad a brush I should hasten to point out that there are still many scientific fields that are pursued for the sake of gaining knowledge without a profit motive. I’ll name one, cosmology. I don’t think cosmologists and astronomers need to justify their grant proposals with anything immediately profitable or curing a disease. However, it has been getting harder and harder to get sufficient grants as national budgets are strapped and priorities increasingly focus on “practical” work. Ask any Republican congressman if he/she thinks it valuable for the NSF to fund a project to find out if there is life on other planets and see how they respond. Ask the same person how valuable it is to research the next major weapons system and you will likely get a totally different response. My feeling is that whatever funding is going toward pure research in these fields is on the basis of momentum and tradition more than choice.

Paleo or Phyle?

Off the keyboards of Clipney & RE

Published on Reverse Engineering June 2009

Discuss this article at the Rewilding Table inside the Diner

Note from RE: This article is a re-edit from posts made in June 2009 on Reverse Engineering.  I am including substantial new material however based on the ever evolving collapse scenario and ongoing discussions inside the Diner.

There is endless ongoing debate inside the Diner, as well as in the Blogosphere as a whole as to what the best methodology is to adapt to a world where energy is in increasingly short supply and jobs and money to buy the products of industrialization are ever more difficult to come by.

The most popular proposed Solution you come by is Relocalization and developing an extension on what I would call the Amish Economy, a kind of 18th Century model of small Family Farms, but even this model is surprisingly Energy Dependent in many ways.  Although the Amish foreswear use of many labor saving Machines driven by the thermodynamic energy of Oil, they still do use many Metal farm implements that take a whole lot of energy to mine, refine and manufacture.  There are also issues with how agricultural process, even done on the Amish level tends to reduce biodiversity and overall deplete the land of its productive capacity.

So there also is a somewhat less popular paradigm which floats around of taking a jump further back than the 18th century, WAY BACK in fact to around 10,000 years before that to live the Pre-Agricultural Paleolithic lifestyle of the Hunter-Gatherer.  Proponents of this idea fall under the general rubric of  “Rewilders”

I personally see the value in BOTH ideas, though neither one is likely to be able to support the current 7B Human Souls walking the Earth at the moment.

The discussions of these varying philosophies and ideas is not totally new in the collapse blogosphere, although it does appear to me discussion is picking up steam now as more people become aware of the great depth of the problems we have before us.  Before I continue on with my current thoughts on the topic, I would like to review an exchange I had back in 2009 with a commenter named Clipney on the pages of Reverse Engineering.

From Clipney:

“…civilization as a whole was a scam from the beginning, and the only logical path for humanity to take is to utterly abandon it and return to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle.”

This blogger has an intelligent essay on why any civilization run by a government has and will never work, as institutions of power always end up corrupt. (Hey, we already knew that, thanks to our Benevolent and All-Knowing Dictator-For-Life!) 🙂

“When we then examine the positives of tribal living, it becomes clear that as far as quality of life, there really is no comparison at all. For instance, cutting out “work”, which I find to be an utterly horrid concept, would make my life exponentially better. To this people will often respond with claims that tribal people did work, and some will even claim they worked harder than us, which is a nonsensical statement. The “work” that pre-civilized people did was solely related to providing for basic survival needs; no one was making a profit off of them. Picture a tribe whose main source of food is fish. Their “work” then consists of: fishing. That is it. The women would be responsible for making whatever clothing was needed, which in warmer climates, where people generally lived, was minimal, and sometimes people simply went nude (the profound psychological and spiritual implications of nudity among tribal people will be examined in depth in the near future). Possibly people would stitch together tents, or build huts of some type (if they didn’t live in caves), but this was not something that had to be done very often. I would imagine all of these activities were rather enjoyable, and as such they can be in no way compared to the wage slavery of modern man. Another example to cite is the buffalo hunters of the American plains. The buffalo were an abundant food source, and very easy to kill. These people lived bountiful lives.”

(Ah, the utopian vision in the post-technological world…)

We can all start the ball rolling by joining up with R.E.’s tribe in the Matsu Valley in this Peak Oil era. Once he solves the problem of those sub-zero temps all winter, hubby and I are outta here and on the Alcan north! 🙂

My Response:

Very Toasty Summer this year on the Last Great Frontier 🙂 GW may resolve the problems of excessive Cold up here.

Not sure how familiar you are with my Tribalist analysis of the PPO world, I did write about it in numerous threads with Ludi. It has its limitations, numerically speaking.

Its my general thesis that a Tribe can number only approximately 10,000 Human Souls in size before you need to create one of the larger Goobermint Structures we define sometimes as Feudalism, Communism, Socialism, Plutocracy, Republic, Democracy, Fascism etc. I came to that number based on a typical Max Lifespan of pre-Oil medicine of around 60 years, with typical reproduction time coming at the age of around 16-20. Based on a Bell curve in lifespan, I figured in a population of 10,000, you would have approximately 100 Elders repsonsible for the Governance tasks of the Tribe. Resolving disputes, divying up food resource from hunting and/or farming, etc. Why would such 100 folks be better than Congress as Administrators? Because they are DIRECTLY CONNECTED by BLOOD to those beneath them in the Tribal Pyriamid. The Active Hunters and Farmers are their Children, all related in some way. The Youth of the tribe are their Grandchildren. They have a direct biological imperative to make sure those people SURVIVE.

For the Matanuska-Susitna River Valley, we currently number around 60,000 Human Souls. Too big a number for a Single Tribe. I expect for a while in the Downspin we will have some sort of Socialist or Fascist State, and there will also be die off of some percentage, particularly among the Old and Infirm, including RE who expects to give himself up to the Bear so that some of the younger members of the Collective can live. I would hoep for no more than a 20% die off as necessary, but say at 50% that would leave 30,000 up here after one generation. I believe there would be further degeneration and devolution of that state, and a Break Up of the One to the Many, into perhaps 3 Sustainable Tribes which might Trade with each other. Perhaps one Tribe along the Coast of Fishermen, another Tribe of Farmers in the Mat-Su Valley, a 3rd Tribe of Hunter-Gatherers who work into the Mountains as far as Denali and perhaps even to the border of the Yukon Territory. Nomadic Group there, as opposed to the settled Tribes of Fishermen and Farmers.

Unlike most places on earth at the moment, our total numbers are not so great that we cannot shrink down over a generation or two with some semblance of equity and normality. Certainly over the next 20 years there is more than enough Coal and NG and even Oil still coming off the North Slope to ease the transition some.

Eventually, in the Absence of Thermonuclear War, my hope would be that Alaska shrinks down to maybe a total of 60,000 people, not by Death mostly, I’d expect most of Anchorage population to simply abandon Alaska as too hard a place to make your life in the PPO world. I’d hope that the friends I know up here in the Mat Valley would form up as a Tribe, and if I can I’ll try to organize such a thing when the Big Show comes to this Theatre. I’m in a position to do so, I currently am director an organization serving aroun 1000 families in the Mat-Su Valley. If I can help get us started, I will do everything in my power to do so before I give myself up to the Bear. That is my IRL MISSION, as it is my MISSION in Cyberspace to Inform and to try to help as many people as I can here by passing along what I see and understand to be true. You can believe me or not, that is your choice, I just call em as I see em here, to try to be of some service.

Save as Many as You Can.

Finishing here with the projected outcome of Global Cooking and Sea Level Rise

” The only problem with solving those sub-zero temperatures, is that a whole lot of Alaska is resting on perma-frost. When that warms up, you better know how to swim.”

More like be good at walking through MUD up to your hips. You will be swimming only if the sea level rises ond overtops the permafrost. However, permafrost Flat areas of Alaska are not much populated to begin with, and PPO any population remaining up here will mostly live in the Mountain Valleys. Generally pretty fertile places as most valley are, since they have tons of minerals washed down on them by melting Glaciers. Alaska’s Valley’s just are among the LAST ones to be exposed after the last Glaciation.

You guys make a LOT of hay about sub-zero temps. If you dress right, 30 Below is NOT so bad. You Hole Up in your Igloo (or more likely in the future you Squat on somebody’s Vacation McMansion) for the winter, you sleep a lot and screw a lot. Even without a fire burning, if you have more than about 4 people in a small space, insulated by snow bricks, the inside Temp runs around 35-40 degrees, its NOT uncomfortable really with a Fur coat on. Four people burning at 98.6 degrees in a small space heats it up just fine. Anyhow, there is just PLENTY of Coal you can chip right off the exposed seams in Healy, so I really cannot forsee Alaskans freezing to death unless they are Homeless and shut out of the economic system in some way.

Far as my “Mr. Know-It-All” Persona goes, I want to be CLEAR that I do NOT “Know-it-ALL”!!!!! I just know a whole lot MORE about MANY things than just about everybody I ever met. LOL. I run into plenty of stuff other folks know MORE about than I do, that is why I like talking to guys like ShortOnOil. You run into a real EXPERT in some field, you learn stuff. I am a GENERALIST. I know many things about many subjects, and so I can often make a Big Picture analysis others do not see if they are specialists. Do you remember “Encylopedia Brown”? That is RE. I summarize the world into neat 10 paragraph posts on many topics. LOL. However, if you want a deeper understanding of any given topic, there are other people who know WAY more than I do. My gift is to tie it all together and make it understandable, at least I try to anyhow.

What you should be able to glean out of all of this, besides the fact EVERYBODY KNOWS I am an insufferable Egotist (and they have known this since at least  as far back as 2009) is that among the many Solutions to our current Energy and Monetary predicament is that at least a small subset of people look at a Paleolithic lifestyle in the future for Homo Sapiens as a REAL possibility.

Inside the Diner, there is often FURIOUS debate about how to negotiate a Transition off the Oil Jones and whether the Downhill Slide will be one of Gradual Boiling Frog style Slow Catabolic Collapse, or a more Rapid Fast Crash.  Depending on how you view this problem, it changes how you might plan for negotiating the Collapse Scenario you see as Most Likely.

As my writing from 2009 indicates, I do see a long term future for Homo Sapiens as living a Paleolithic lifestyle.  I am also in the camp of “Fast Crash” Doomers, I don’t think it will be very long before we are living without Electricity and Happy Motoring.  However, I am not in such a Fast Camp as to believe most people will be living a Paleolithic lifestyle inside a generation, particularly not inside MY Generation.

What seems more likely is transition to more local forms of food production and return to an Agricultural lifestyle along the Amish Model, at least for a while.  It is doubtful that said lifestyle will support the current 7B people living on the planet, particularly those living in arid regions who currently are Food Importers.  It is also hard to see how the current population distribution with most people parked in Big Cities can be effectively relocated out to the rural areas where food can be produced in quantity enough to feed said population.  So there will likely be Civil War in due time as the Revolution in lifestyle gets underway.

Looking at the problem just as it affects the remaining years of my lifespan (no more than 20 I suspect), the best solution appears to me to prepare for the local solution, together with a large enough group of people to maintain control over a patch of productive land.  Some Diners feel this can be done with groups as small as 20-30, others go with Dunbar’s Number of around 150, I tend to think a bit larger than that and go with numbers in the 500-1000 range.

The issue with this is who knows such a large group of people, especially of people who see the oncoming problems and look to prepare for them similarly by changing their lifestyle NOW?  Nobody really does IRL, but across the internet there are Doomers by the thousands.  So the question for me has become, “Is it possible to form an Internet Phyle* of people with similar enough goals and ethics through the medium of the Internet and then leverage that into an IRL community all brought together on a single patch of land, sufficient in size to sustainably Feed and Clothe and Shelter all of them with minimum inputs from the outside world, and likely extended periods with NO INPUTS during Wartime?”

It’s a fairly lofty goal to accomplish, but it’s not one I think is beyond reach either.  Here on the Diner, we have begun the process of assembling such a group in Cyberspace under the rubric of the Sustaining Universal Needs or SUN Project.  You will be reading more about that in the weeks and months to come here on the Diner, and in more detail on the SUN Project’s own website which is under development.  For Doomers interested in developing a solid working plan for transitioning off the Oil Economy and toward a Low per capita Energy consumption society, I highly recommend joining with us in Discussions here on the Diner as we refine the model.

Finally, on the Paleolithic Rewilding model, I don’t see anything wrong with learning the means and methods of this lifestyle, nor even going out and actually LIVING it either, although to do so you will have to go VERY far out into the Bush and even there at least in the FSoA you will have to avoid the “authorities” of Park Rangers, Fish & Wildlife hunting and fishing regulations etc.  Removing yourself from civilization as we know it to this level is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.  I don’t see this as necessary to do inside this generation, though if things slide downhill REALLY fast I could be proven wrong on that one.  LOL.  In any event, I am not suited to that lifestyle anymore, you gotta be pretty young and in good health to live that way.  For the Medium Term of Collapse as I believe it will play out in my lifetime, I feel the best way to Prep Up is together with a pretty large group of friends, find a good fairly defensible location not too close to the major Cities, park yourselves and set about the task of making the land you live on productive enough to support yourselves.

An EZ thing to accomplish?  No, but nothing worthwhile ever comes EZ either.

RE

*Phyle- Phyles are a concept developed by Neal Stephenson in his novel The Diamond Age.

From Wikipedia:

Society in The Diamond Age is dominated by a number of phyles, also sometimes called tribes. Phyles are groups of people often distinguished by shared values, similar ethnic heritage, a common religion, or other cultural similarities. In the extremely globalized future depicted in the novel, these cultural divisions have largely supplanted the system of nation-states that divides the world today. Cities in The Diamond Age appear divided into sovereign enclaves affiliated or belonging to different phyles within a single metropolis. Most phyles depicted in the novel have a global scope of sovereignty, and maintain segregated enclaves in or near many cities throughout the world.

Small Bizness in the Sea of Irredeemable Debt

Off the keyboard of RE

Published originally on the Doomstead Diner

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Table inside the Diner

My good friend and Cross Posting Blogger here on the Diner Steve from Virginia published an article this week called Watch the Banks…. on his Blog Economic Undertow.  It’s one of Steve’s trademarks to title many posts with three Periods after them….LOL.  I cross posted the article here on the Diner yesterday.  It touches on many themes explored here on the Diner with respect to the Creation of Money,  and how Biznesses function  in this economy, both Large & Small.

Indeed,  watching the Banks is the KEY element in following the progress of the collapse.  The “System of the World” as Neal Stephenson put it, the Monetary system we all depend on is run by a few Large Banking Houses, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs et al, and the Central Banks they control like the ECB, the BoJ, the BoE, the PBoC and of course Da Fed as well.  All coordinated through the Bank for International Settlements Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland.  The BEST way to follow the Collapse in Progress is to watch the machinations and currency manipulations being undertaken to keep this very large and complex stucture floating another day.

One of the Key Points Steve touches on in his article relates to the primacy of “Small Bizness” as an Economic Driver, in a sense making the postulate that Small Biz preceeds Big Biz in the development of an Economy.  Does it REALLY though?  As I see it,  perhaps in the Dawn of History for Homo Sapiens Small Biz preceeded Big Biz,  but since the development of large scale Agiculture around 8000 years ago, the opposite has been true, and the main economic drivers for this period were the large scale generally Slave Driven Ag enterprises and the War Machine they support and which supports it in a synergistic relationship.

Steve and I have already gone a few rounds in debating how this economy develops on Economic Undertow, I will include these posts as a preface to better grasp the global issues.

From RE:

 I don’t think any “small bizness” earns any “organic returns”, at least not while all biznesses operate under a failing currency structure.

Small Biz is essentially Parasitical off of Big Biz. If Big Biz borrows Capital to put up say a GM Auto Plant in Janesville, Doctors, Dentists, Property Sellers, Retailers and Restaraunters all open up small biz that sieve off the central source of money.

When the Big Factory shuts down, all the Small Bizmen go Broke too, even if they took out no Loans to grow the Biz. Customers with MONEY are no longer in the neighborhood buying their goods or bidding up the price of housing. Just the monthly overhead of the Restaraunt makes them insolvent.

Without Large Public Works feeding money at great scale out into the economy, the ancillary small biz all goes broke too. I wrote about this on the Diner in the Large Public Works Project series.

For the recent Generation in the Age of Oil, the BIG LPWP was the Interstate, and then the Shopping Malls and McMansions that built up around the Ring Roads.

Without such LPWPs, there is no way to distribute out centrally created “money” which has any value. There is nothing for Small Biz to sieve off.

It is unlikely we will create any new LPWP to replace the one built courtesy of the thermodynamic energy of fossil fuels over the last 3 centuries or so. In the absence, Money on the Grand Scale of International Finance will irretrievably FAIL.

Whether any more Local forms of Money can be substituted remains an Open Question.

RE

From Steve

 RE, there is a big information gap before industrialization.

The Middle Ages were as prosperous as Roman period and succeeding modern periods, not for all at all times but the same can be said of the present. Americans live better than Kenyans, Venetians lived better than Saxons in England after William arrived. What mattered most in Europe was tide of war.

Post-Constantine, the wealth of the Western Roman Empire was directed toward the church and away from government and the private sector: this was a big reason for the decline then collapse of the empire. The church made itself the beneficiary of all estates without heirs or issue, over centuries it absorbed vast amounts of property from extinct estates. It became property recorder and mediator of disputes great and small, which gained it fees. The Western Roman government became unable to compete with the church as a business enterprise.

The militaristic Franks eventually absorbed and reorganzed Roman activities in Western Europe, trade was continuous from Asia to Spain, trade centers such as Genoa, Siena, Venice, Constantinople became rich.

The traders in the 8th century were wealthy and successful … as any number of ‘entrepreneurs’ today. They borrowed their fortunes and hived to costs onto their trading partners!

The Romans understood steam power but not plate glass or railroads. Franks understood printing but not moveable type or firearms. The Chinese understood rocketry but not airfoils. Information was hard to come by, in the West the church had a monopoly on education as well as on books. It took moveable type — and a series of bloody wars — to break the church’s information cartel.

The war periods inform the public imagination of European life, up until the rise of publicly available information in 15th century.

This is also when looted gold from the Western Hemisphere began to arrive on European shores by the shipload:

– It financed the renaissance,

– it triggered the largest, longest-duration bout of hyperinflation in history, over 100 years, over America, Europe and Asia,

– it financed the industrial revolution,

– it financed the rise of Netherlands and UK as naval powers to rival Spain,

– it also financed the 13 British colonies,

– it financed 2 centuries of religious wars in Europe which ended with the collapse of the papacy’s temporal power.

Spain ended up bankrupt, Portugal and Netherlands were severed from Spain, both France and Italy expelled entrenched foreign influences to become powerful nation-states, the Holy Roman Empire dissipated to reformulate itself over time as modern Germany … Ireland became a slave state of England, which itself endured a violent revolution and civil war to become a military power … the English civil war extended overseas to North America ending with the American Revolution, then a revolution against the French monarchy. Afterwards came Bonaparte. All of this and much more besides was paid for with Peruvian and Mexican gold (some Eastern European silver, too).

Between wars and recoveries there was a lot of room for enterprise. Both Europe, China and South Asia were wealthy, during the Middle Ages there was strong demand for consumer goods such as sumptuous clothing, carriages, villas and town houses, exotic foods, private botanical gardens and arboretums, paintings and sculpture, illuminated books, lavish public entertainments, theater productions, permanent installations such as public parks, fountains, bridges, stone-paved roads, elaborate structures such as enclosed markets and forums for public gatherings, gigantic cathedrals (filled in places with Roman articles), private galleys, teams of horses, livestock, etc. A common complaint was that people could not determine who was wealthy or a noble and who was not because the commoners wore the same or better clothing. All of these things were made by more or less small-scale craft level workshops, lots of them.

Any town would have stone-and brick masons, a quarry, a brick maker, a foundry, a tannery, a carpenter, a blacksmith, a tinker (make pots and pans), silver- and gold smiths, embroidery shops, tapestry weavers, yarn spinners, shoe-and boot makers, stable hands, street pavers, armorers, arborists, vintners and brewers, gardeners, window makers, musical instrument makers, cabinet makers, roofers, livestock tenders, butchers, barbers, etc. Regardless of ones’ station there was always something to do. Most did not have to toil incessantly, there were many holidays and feasts. The grim peasants in rags … Monty Python or Lord of the Rings.

Most towns in America or Europe do not have any of these things at all: we are dependent upon welfare and television … the poorest medieval town was more prosperous than any of our towns today!

 From RE:

Steve, you won’t get an argument from me that Medieval Towns were more self-sufficient than modern cities, of course they were. From an economic standpoint though, all those Craftsmen you revere so much STILL were parasites off the Big Biz of the era, which was mainly Ag and Warfare.

First off, the fact most goods and services were produced locally meant that commoners used little money at all, they bartered. If you needed the services of the local Quack to Bleed you due to contacting Plague, you paid him 2 chickens. If you Tanned nice skins, you traded them for a bushel of potatoes. etc.

The main way money got into the economy was from Soldiering and Plundering. The local Lord would conscript up promising to Pay in Silver, after they got back from stealing the silver from the next county over. Eventually of course they consolidated up to Kingships and incipient Nation-States of course, then went about ripping off Gold wholesale from the New World, leading to the inflationary period you spoke of. VERY Big Bizness there!

The other way money got distributed out was through the Holy Roman Catholic Chuch (the Mega-Corp of the Era) in the building of Cathedrals, the Large Public Works Projects of the era. This of course provided lots of work for Stone Masons, Carpenters, Stain Glass Window artists, etc. If your Community could get the HRCC to build a Cathedral in your nabe, it was a thriving little Metropolis. No Cathedral, you were a dirt poor backwater town.

As it further evolved, the Big Biz of Plundering via Tall Ships equipped with Cannon led to those next Massive Corps, the Brit and Dutch East India Companies. Said Big Biz of course provided tons of work for Shipwrights, Carpenters, Sail Makers, yadda yadda not to mention the guys forging the 20 pounder Cannon, which was NOT done in a small Blacksmith’s shop.

In the background of all of this of course were the Financiers, floating Stock Issues in Amsterdam and London, and in fact in 1692 when the BoE was chartered, they were pretty much Fresh Out of Gold, as the Spanish had nailed down the best Gold Theft locations and they got stuck with North America, which until the Railoads got built into the interior did not offer up much gold. They got their money for financing up their colonial adventures courtesy of Master of the Mint Sir Isaac Newton, and began to do well providing Letters of Marque to Pirates who would hit on the Spanish Cargo ships on the High Seas. Their Big Biz controlling the Sea Lanes with the Brit Navy brought in the money that all those local craftsmen used fo commerce.

In all cases going right back to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, It was the Big Biz of Ag centrally controlled which got the Money going, and the Big Biz of Warfare which brought in the PMs to use for coinage. Large Public Works projects such as the Great Wall(s) of China, the Pyramids, Cathedrals et al were symbols of successful cultures running the Ag-War Economy. All the small craftsmen and small biz expanded to sieve off this economy. They don’t exist independent of it.

RE

From Steve:

Various non-industrial employments in the 18th century:

http://books.google.com/books?id=YiJJAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA7&vq=%22from+the+constant+exercise+of+industry+in+the+various+occupations+of+life+%3B+or+in+other+words,+it+is+the%22&source=gbs_quotes_r&cad=6#v=onepage&q=resources%20for%20the%20employment%20of%20males&f=false

A Treatise On Indigence: Exhibiting A General View Of The National Resources …
By Patrick Colquhoun

Professional soldiery was a tremendous burden to the state prior to Spanish gold which meant most militaries fielded militias, irregulars or mercenaries. Governments offered letters of marque to privateers to augment their navies.

Another list of medieval (pre-industrial) employments which saves me the effort of making one:

http://www.svincent.com/MagicJar/Economics/MedievalOccupations.html

There was another list over on Guy McPherson’s web site but I can’t find it …

Globe Town

To the east of Bethnal Green (London) lies Globe Town, established from 1800 to provide for the expanding population of weavers around Bethnal Green attracted by improving prospects in silk weaving. The population of Bethnal Green trebled between 1801 and 1831, operating 20,000 looms in their own homes. By 1824, with restrictions on importation of French silks relaxed, up to half these looms became idle and prices were driven down. With many importing warehouses already established in the district, the abundance of cheap labor was turned to boot, furniture and clothing manufacture. Globe Town continued its expansion into the 1860s, long after the decline of the silk industry.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethnal_Green#The_Green_and_Poor.27s_Land

The 20,000 looms supported 20,000 households and employed at least that many along with suppliers to the trade, the makers of looms and the houses, the merchants and peddlers of silk goods. This was during periods when population in England was relatively small. Beside Bethnal Green there were other districts in London and in other cities and countries weaving all kinds of cloths … this took place over long periods of time … the citizens always require things to wear. The customers of a country’s goods were often overseas and there was a money trade in even the old Byzantine, Frankish and Roman issues. Before 1520 funds flowed from the East as the Venetians and other Italians traded with the Chinese, the Caliphates, the Turks and Mongols. Afterward the flow was from the West and there was no outbound trade: there was quickly too much money and nothing flowing out to balance it.

The customers of distributed production were pilfered by manufacturers with credit and steam-driven machines, ‘low prices’ and uniformity, the distributed producers working in their houses became little more than serfs.

From RE:

“Professional soldiery was a tremendous burden to the state prior to Spanish gold which meant most militaries fielded militias, irregulars or mercenaries. Governments offered letters of marque to privateers to augment their navies. “-Steve

The great expense of the non-stop warfare in Europe didn’t prevent it from occurring and driving big bizness. It certainly bankrupted a few treasuries and indebted these Kings to the Banksters also.

The Medieval towns you talk about all grew up around Feudal Estates owned by the Nobility, the Pigmen of their time. Ag was the Energy Driver of this economy, and was Big Monopolized Bizness. War was the other Big Bizness, and there is a good reason those medieval castles had 5 foot thick stone walls around them with Moats, Drawbridges and Porticullises. The townees hadda run there every time some neighboring warlord needed to replenish the Treasury. They didn’t build those castles just for show.

“To the east of Bethnal Green (London) lies Globe Town, established from 1800 to provide for the expanding population of weavers around Bethnal Green attracted by improving prospects in silk weaving. The population of Bethnal Green trebled between 1801 and 1831, operating 20,000 looms in their own homes. ”

Steve,from 1803-1815 the Brits were fighting the Frogs in the Napoleonic Wars!! I’m sure the women were doing fine at home on the loom, but a whole lotta poor limeys were being Bayonetted in the French countryside.

If they weren’t conscripted to fight on French soil, they were being Press Ganged to serve as Gunners on the Frigates of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, consisting mainly of Privateers aka Pirates, a VERY Big Bizness indeed.

Anyhow, I am all for distributed production over Industrial production, but said societies STILL were Central Control Ag-War societies, and the individual craftsmen sieved off of the surplus created by that society.

Anyhow, more tonight, I am just about done with a response article “Small Bizness in the Sea of Irredeemable Debt ” I’ll publish later tonight.

While just about everyone Loves to Hate Big Biz and Corporations, at least in the Heart of most Americans is a Reverance and Respect for the Small Bizman.  The Plucky Guy who started with nothing, works for himself Independently and makes a Good Living, even if not getting Rich off of it.

There is the notion that the Small Bizman is the “Backbone of Amerika”, Small Bizmen “Built this Country” etc.  Although this is a popular meme and one promulgated in the History Books and the MSM, and even on the pages of numerous Blogs, it is not the TRUTH by any stretch of the imagination.

In any country which runs a Centrally Controlled Monetary System, the plucky Small Bizman is just engaged in the process of trying to accumulate the Accepted Currency of the Nation-State.  To Sell at a price higher than he buys at, to pay workers less than the total Value Added to the product so that there is some PROFIT to be made in the extant Currency, against which ALL things, both labor and resource are measured.

Where does this MONEY come from though?  If you look at the Dollar for instance, prior to the end of the Revolutionay War separating the Colonies from Jolly Old England, there were ZERO Dollars in existence.  War is finished, Founding Fathers get their OWN Printing Press, now Dollars EXIST!

In order to have REAL value of course, these Dollars have to Buy stuff in the real economy.  The stuff is the products of the land, through farming, mining and logging to begin with.  It gets more complicated as time goes by and more things are created, but even by itself this is enough to understand what goes on here in Money Creation.  It is essentially coming from the total resources available to the Political Construct of the Nation-State that Rules over those resources.  The Nation-State operates in Synergy with the Money Masters, Banking Houses established long ago which control all Trade and Valuation of any Currency a given Nation-State will create.  This is done through Privatization of the Resource Base for any given country, as well as Privatization of the Industrial Infrastructure since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

The newly created dollars get valued against already extant currencies circulating in Europe, Brit “Sterling”, Frog Franks, Kraut Marks, whatever.

The main constraint any given country has in how much currency it can create depends on how the International market will value said currency.  When just based on Resources it isn’t horrifically complicated, but once you factor in labor and trade of manufactured goods it gets VERY complicated.

Anyhow, what were only a few Dollars created in 1789 at the end of the Continental CONgress has morphed over the last 200+ years into TRILLIONS of them, and that is just what is listed on the Balance Sheet of Da Fed.  Thing is, not JUST Da Fed can create new Dollars, anybody with a Big Enough Bank can do it too!  They do it by creating Paper Contracts which have some Notional Worth attached, say a contract to pay off $1M if some company or Nation-State goes BK.  These contacts are called Credit Default Swaps, or CDS.  Said contract is now traded about as though it is worth $1M, or some fraction of that.  It is more “Money” flowing around the notional economy of traders, though it never shows up in the real economy until somebody goes Belly Up, somebody ELSE has to Pay Off on that and then since they can’t because they don’t REALLY have enough to pay off it gets tacked onto the Taxpayer Balance Sheet.  IOW, the way this shows up in the real economy in the end is as a LOSS, a BIG ONE.

To return here to our Friend & Hero the Small Bizman, the money this fellow is using to conduct Bizness is all subject to the grand pressures created in the International Money Markets.  At any time if/when confidence is lost in a given currency, even the most Prudent Small Bizman can go OUTTA BIZ in an INSTANT.

Let’s take the example of our friends the Nipponese, who make their living converting Oil into Carz and Electronic Gadgets. Because the Demand is falling oveseas for their products, in order to remain “competitive” in the market the Nips want to Devalue their currency.  Except if they do that, it will make the Oil Import necessary for production MORE expensive, so no matter how Efficient he is or How Low he can Go on Salaries or how many Robots he can substitute for Homo Sapiens Workers, he STILL will LOSE MONEY!

Every Small Bizman is going to be subject to the FACT that money on the Grand Scale is NOT being loaned out into the general economy.  Why not?  Because it no longer makes any SENSE for the folks in CONTROL of the resources to do so!  The game NOW is to CUT OFF access to the resources, which occurs either by the currency not being distributed (deflation), or excessive currency being distributed (inflation).  Either way, the Small Bizman is OUTTA BIZ.

The ONLY folks with access to the Money to keep on going here with this paradigm at the moment are those at the very TOP, closest to the Center of Money Creation.  Since the Industrial Age began, this Center began in Venice under the Medici Banking Family, moved to Amsterdam and London, then to Wall Street and after that to Hong Kong, Singapore and Beijing.  In the end of course, it will all collapse. The resources are no longer there to back it up.  The debt cannot be collected anymore.  It is IRREDEEMABLE Debt.

To try to simplify this,  imagine the entire World Economy as the Big Island of Hawaii right after the first Catamaran rigged Sailing Canoe made it there from the Marquesa Islands around a Millenia Ago.  The Island is the WHOLE ECONOMY,  which the smart Navigator who piloted the Canoe claims as HIS OWN.  The way he Distributes out HIS resources to everybody elso is to LOAN them Money to buy said resource.  Which he does, with an Interest Charge attached of course, so that a percentage of the exploited resource he controls always flows back to him, keeping him (and his heirs) wealthy in perpetuity.  The more of the resources that get exploited, the larger the population gets, the RICHER he gets!

He keeps floating out MORE credit endlessly so he can sell the resources of Hawaii to other Hawaiians and it works JUST GREAT until Hawaii is Chock FULL of People and FRESH OUT of resources.  They have fished out the local waters and the Lagoons are stinking sewers filled up with Human Waste.

This of course did not occur in Hawaii because it was not a closed system, but something similar did occur on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), populated by the same extraordinary Polynesian Navigators who found the Big Island of Hawaii a good 500 years before Cook found it.

The entire Earth though IS a closed system, so no matter how much Credit you issue, if you no longer have resource to sell, the Credit is worthless.  Creating more Dollars does not make more Cheap easy to pump up Oil available, and it doesn’t replenish the Ogalala aquifer either.  When you are Out, you are OUT, nothing left to sell here.

In fact we are not COMPLETELY out of Oil or Water, but relative to the size of the population that ballooned up here through Rapid Exploitation of these resources, they are becoming scarce and so the Credit necessary to buy them is being Triaged off, most obviously in places like Greece and Spain, but really occuring everywhere now.  It shows up here in the FSoA as 50M people on Food Stamps and an ever decreasing percentage of people participating in the Workforce, because just about ALL jobs are not productive of ANYTHING!  You waste more energy getting to work each day in your SUV or even on the Subway than any “value” you add to the economy in ANY job in the Industrial Economy.  All you do by participating in it is waste the energy of fossil fuels a bit faster.

In such an environment, the Small Bizman is the Individual Version of the Small Country like Greece.  You get Triaged Off the Credit Bandwagon first here.  You can’t make a profit, first because your customers ALSO are outta credit to buy your stuff; second because some TBTF Big Bizness still DOES have access to credit, so they can dump products on the market cheaper than it costs you the Small Bizman to make them and drive you outta biz!  This of course has been the meme of Capitalism since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution at least, though it really does go back to the Dawn of Agriculture and Money.

At NO TIME in the last 8000 years or so has Small Biz been the Driver of Economics, only a Passenger in the Back Seat.  The driver during  the Ag Era was Big Ag utilizing Slave Labor and in the Industrial Era,  Factories  burning copious quantities of Fossil Fuels.  Through BOTH eras, the Banksters controlling the flow of credit directed it in such a way to bring the maximum Benefits to themselves at the expense of everybody else, and Mother Earth as well.

Nothing lasts forever of course in a world of Finite Resources, and this paradigm is coming to a close.  The only question remaning here is how long the Triaging of the Small Bizman and the Small Countries can go on before Billions of People with Nothing Left to Lose get very, VERY angry.

RE

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Meanderings By Cognitive Dissonance     Tis the Season Silly season is upon us. And I, for one, welc [...]

The Brainwashing of a Nation by Daniel Greenfield via Sultan Knish blog Image by ElisaRiva from Pixa [...]

Event Update For 2019-11-12http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2019-11-11http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2019-11-10http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2019-11-09http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2019-11-08http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

With fusion energy perpetually 20 years away we now also perpetually have [fill in the blank] years [...]

My mea culpa for having inadvertently neglected FF2F for so long, and an update on the upcoming post [...]

NYC plans to undertake the swindle of the civilisation by suing the companies that have enabled it t [...]

MbS, the personification of the age-old pre-revolutionary scenario in which an expiring regime attem [...]

Daily Doom Photo

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Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

Of Warnings and their Ripple Effects"We need wooden ships, char-crete buildings, bamboo bicycles, moringa furniture, and hemp cloth [...]

"Restoring normal whale activity to the oceans would capture the CO2 equivalent of 2 billion tr [...]

Ukrainian Rhapsody"Our future will be more about artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and non-state actors tha [...]

LeBron’s Chinese Troll Mobs"In the 36 hours after James’ delete, a troll mob with bot support sent a flame tsunami at the [...]

Soft Paths to Zero"While reducing emissions should be a priority, it is morally questionable to focus on relative [...]

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

With the price of oil so low continued extraction would seem largely dependent on credit debt. Isnt [...]

i just rebuilt my "renewable" energy system's inverter. the unit had gone 9 years sin [...]

Gail, It would be helpful to read your views on the expansion of Nuclear energy as a ‘low cost’ ener [...]

since you mentioned recession, I'll provide this story: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/14/europe- [...]

Here's an article: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-imo-shipping-factbox/factbox-imo-2020-a-m [...]

What is the shift away from bunker fuels? [...]

Yeah, when the water heater goes out the day after you just put new tires on one of the cars, etc... [...]

I join the chorus in welcoming you back. Any thoughts on how the shift away from bunker fuel on Janu [...]

@Front Range Mike "Most everyone I know is trying to figure out how to cut back and sell their [...]

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?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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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

The effect of urbanization on microclimatic conditions is known as “urban heat islands”. [...]

Forecasting extreme precipitations is one of the main priorities of hydrology in Latin America and t [...]

The objective of this work is the development of an automated and objective identification scheme of [...]