Waste

Consumerism, Collective Psychopathology, Waste

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Brian Davey

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on FEASTA on May 29, 2016

Discuss this article at the Psychology Table inside the Diner

This chapter about the power elite on display and the economics of Thorsten Veblen covers topics like conspicuous consumption and the consumer society, branding and the manufacture of wants. The role of advertisers is explored as well as the way that attention grabbing has become an economic sector that affects the quality of life radically and for the worse.

The Power Elite on Display – the economics of Thorsten Veblen

In 1899 the maverick economist Thorsten Veblen portrayed the power elite of his day in The Theory of the Leisure Class. What he described were extrinsic motivations at work. Success for the business elite was demonstrated through conspicuous consumption, by which he meant display to achieve social status, power and authority:

This growth of punctilious discrimination as to qualitative excellence in eating, drinking, etc. presently affects not only the manner of life, but also the training and intellectual activity of the gentleman of leisure. He is no longer simply the successful, aggressive male — the man of strength, resource, and intrepidity. In order to avoid stultification he must also cultivate his tastes, for it now becomes incumbent on him to discriminate with some nicety between the noble and the ignoble in consumable goods. He becomes a connoisseur in creditable viands of various degrees of merit, in manly beverages and trinkets, in seemly apparel and architecture, in weapons, games, dancers, and the narcotics.

This cultivation of aesthetic faculty requires time and application, and the demands made upon the gentleman in this direction therefore tend to change his life of leisure into a more or less arduous application to the business of learning how to live a life of ostensible leisure in a becoming way. Closely related to the requirement that the gentleman must consume freely and of the right kind of goods, there is the requirement that he must know how to consume them in a seemly manner. His life of leisure must be conducted in due form. Hence arise good manners in the way pointed out in an earlier chapter. High-bred manners and ways of living are items of conformity to the norm of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption.
(Veblen, 1899)

Plus ca change… Contemporary narcissism of this type is visible in the “How to Spend it” weekend supplements of the London Financial Times. Students of narcissism will find the column “Diary of a Somebody” particularly educational. This celebrates people with the message that you will not be a nobody if you have lots of money to spend and are thus able to hang out with other wealthy (and therefore beautiful) people.

If we are to believe economic theory, these “somebodies” are “maximising their utility”. However the word “utility” is an empty concept – it is not information rich in the sense that it does not explain why people of this sort get utility by showing off and profiling themselves in front of all the nobodies. This was a point that Thorsten Veblen made in an essay written in 1909. The idea of marginal utility simply does not tell you very much that can help us understand people like this. (Veblen, The Limitations of Marginal Utility, 1909)

In his essay, Veblen argued that marginal utility theory did have an element of truth in its explanation of people’s actions but that “It deals with this conduct only in so far as it may be construed in rationalistic, teleological terms of calculation and choice.” In their analysis the marginal utility theorists took the institutional framework in which people’s calculations and choices for granted, when it was the very emergence and evolution of the institutional framework, the context, that was the interesting thing. Marginal utility theorists like J. B. Clark were shutting down their exploration and theorisation at the very point at which it scientific inquiry should begin.

It shuts off the inquiry at the point where the modern scientific interest sets in. The institutions in question are no doubt good for their purpose as institutions, but they are not good as premises for a scientific inquiry into the nature, origin, growth, and effects of these institutions and of the mutations which they undergo and which they bring to pass in the community’s scheme of life. (Veblen, 1909)

Marginal utility theory is no help at all if we want to understand where the institutions and practices of a consumer society have come from, how and why they have come into existence and what their consequences are. On the other hand, Veblen’s ideas are helpful, at least as a starting point. This is because he had resources that most economists, in his own time and subsequently, did not and still do not have. Firstly, he was an outsider and no sycophant so was able to view the behaviour of rich and powerful people (and of the poor when they were emulating them) from a standpoint that was uncompromised. Secondly, he had read sufficiently in other social scientific fields. He resorted to sociology, anthropology and psychology without artificially hiving off the subject matter of “economics”. That made him able to recognise that although a market society had its own features that shaped the form in which various social practices took place, many of the features of that society were not fundamentally different from what occurred in supposedly “more primitive” societies. Thus:

Presents and feasts had probably another origin than that of naïve ostentation, but they acquired their utility for this purpose very early, and they have retained that character to the present; so that their utility in this respect has now long been the substantial ground on which these usages rest. Costly entertainments, such as the potlatch or the ball, are peculiarly adapted to serve this end. The competitor with whom the entertainer wishes to institute a comparison is, by this method, made to serve as a means to the end. He consumes vicariously for his host at the same time that he is a witness to the consumption of that excess of good things which his host is unable to dispose of singlehanded, and he is also made to witness his host’s facility in etiquette. (Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899)

Conspicuous consumption and the consumer society

Thus it is that Veblen’s theory of “conspicuous leisure” and of “conspicuous consumption”, whose purpose is to make a status display, provide us with a possible starting point for our understanding. It gives us ideas with which we can start to make sense of the motivations and behaviours apparently underpinning a lot of the actions in a “consumer society”. In a consumer society not only the rich but other strata of society are using consumption goods to profile and project themselves. As in the diary of a somebody, jewels, hair, make-up, i Pad, purple couture dresses and the names in one’s impressive choice of stylists or the beautiful people in one’s guest collection are all a means to an extrinsic end.

To a large extent the end in question is to make a status display – status conscious people are pursuing the acquisition of what are called “positional goods”. These goods signal one’s position in society and depend on relative income. It is the fact that the rich can afford them and others cannot that is on display. If and when poorer people were able to afford a Ferrari then a Ferrari would lose its value for the rich people who first bought them. In that case rich people would pursue another status display. ( Kallis G 2014)

In his article Kallis argues that “..positional consumption is not a personal vice. It is a structural social phenomena to which individuals conform to remain part of the mainstream…..” For Kallis there are risks for those who try to exit the rat race especially if they are from less privileged backgrounds in which case there will be loss of respectability and economic insecurity. What’s more “the system can co-opt its dissidents: even back to the land and “eco-life style choices” by privileged educated and artistical groups can become types of new positional goods”.

Perhaps – but is this too “either-or”? Explaining peoples’ actions through ‘structures’ can be revealing but after a point too much emphasis on the structures within which people act implies this explanation for people’s actions: “The system made me do it”. It removes the idea that individuals make choices. It can tend to the view that regards people as automatons without freedom. As Erich Fromm pointed out, and other psychologists have since confirmed, a market society creates particular personality types, marketing personalities – people who put great store on marketing themselves. However, individuals can come to recognise the features of their own habitual responses – that’s a point of therapy after all. Individuals can and do change and not only in the context of broader “system changes” – one of the tasks at hand is to identify when and under what conditions.

The Helbig society

It must be admitted however that things have moved on from Veblen’s day to make marketing far more prominent – particularly the all-pervasive presence of “brands” which work together with advertising to create what I describe as a “Helbig Society”. That is, a society of technicolour appearance and empty narratives designed to manipulate.

To explain: the term “Potemkin Village” is sometimes used to describe a manufactured appearance, designed to impress, which is a deceptive facade. The phrase refers to a tour of the Crimea and the Ukraine in 1787 by Catherine II of Russia in which it was alleged that her former lover, Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin, created pasteboard villages along the bank of the Dnieper River which the monarch was travelling down, with the aim of making an illusory show of prosperity. Recent historical research has shown that this story was largely a slander created by the Saxon envoy to Catherine’s court, Georg von Helbig. The villages therefore ought, with more justice, to be called Helbig Villages.

If the Potemkin Villages of 1787 were a slander, Helbig Villages have existed at other times in history. A number of places designed to deceive are mentioned in the Wikipedia description of “Potemkin Villages”. For example, the Nazi Theresienstadt concentration camp called “the Paradise Ghetto” in World War II was designed as a concentration camp that could be shown to the Red Cross. Apparently attractive, but deceptive and ultimately lethal, with high death rates from malnutrition and contagious diseases, it ultimately served as a way-station to Auschwitz. As is well known, people who arrived at Concentration Camps were sometimes greeted by orchestras playing classical music. An analogous management tool is used today in slaughterhouses. Animals are calmed after a stressful journey before they are put through a process that stimulates their curiosity about what is going to happen just before they are sedated and then slaughtered. If they got upset, the stress hormones would spoil the meat. Or, to put it the other way around – the meat tastes nice to the customers because the animals have been deceived.

Less gruesome, and more like the Helbig Village example, was the PR job done on the town of Enniskillen in Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit in June 2013. Large photographs were put up in the windows of closed shops in the town so as to give the appearance of thriving businesses for visitors driving past them. This has now become a common practice for property companies to cover messy re- development or dereliction. (Wikipedia, Potemkin Village, 2013)

Branding

Deception is ubiquitous in a modern market economy. We might even call a consumer society a Helbig Society. To get a proper sense of the gulf between the illusion and the reality in this kind of economic system we have to delve into the evolution of advertising and of “brands”. In her book No Logo Naomi Klein shows how the economy has moved a long way from when it was about people selling products to other people in markets that were regulated to ensure that prices were fair. By the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century, adverts were about selling innovations. New kinds of products like cars, telephones and electric lights which producers needed to convince people to use. The advertisements were, as Klein explains, rather like product news bulletins. This was to change as a process began of building an image around a particular brand name. Generic goods like sugar, flour, soap and cereal had hitherto been scooped out of barrels by local shopkeepers. These now had names
bestowed on them, particularly with a view to evoking a feeling of folksiness and familiarity. Henceforth it was the product brand names – artificial images of imagined personalities – that interfaced between consumer and producer rather than the shopkeeper – Uncle Ben, Dr Brown, the Quaker Oats man…

There were those in the industry who understood that advertising wasn’t just scientific; it was also spiritual. Brands could conjure a feeling – think of Aunt Jemima’s comforting presence – but not only that, entire corporations could themselves embody a meaning of their own. In the early twenties legendary adman Bruce Barton turned General Motors into a metaphor for the American family, “something, personal, warm and human”, while GE was not so much the name of the faceless General Electric Company as, in Barton’s words, “the initials of a friend”. In 1923 Barton said the role of advertising was to help corporations find their soul. The son of a preacher, he drew on his religious upbringing for uplifting messages: “I like to think of advertising as something big, something splendid, something which goes deep down into an institution and gets hold of the soul of it… Institutions have souls, just as men and nations have souls.” he told GM president Pierre du Pont. General Motors ads began to tell stories about the people who drove its cars – the preacher, the pharmacist or the country doctor who, thanks to his trusty GM, arrived “at the bedside of a dying child” just in time “to bring it back to life”. (Klein, 2000, pp. 6-7)

As advertisers evolved their techniques of psychological manipulation, they delved into psychology, anthropology and culture while coming to see themselves as the “philosopher kings” of commercial culture. “It took a while for people managing companies to finally get it. They were not in business to produce stuff, they were in business to sell brands. This meant continuous and increasingly intrusive advertising – the problem being, as one senior ad executive explained, that consumers “are like roaches – you spray them and they get immune after a while”.’ (Klein, 2000, p. 9)

The manufacture of wants – the role of advertisers

One of the few economists to take this on board was John Kenneth Galbraith, whose book The Affluent Society, first published in 1958, argued that, for much of the modern economy, production preceded wants rather than, as economic theory assumes, the other way round.

The even more direct link between production and wants is provided by the institution of modern advertising and salesmanship. These cannot be reconciled with the notion of independently determined desires, for their central function is to create desires – to bring into being wants that previously did not exist. A broad empirical relationship exists between what is spent on the production of consumer goods and what is spent on synthesizing the desires for it. (Galbraith, 2001, p. 34)

Perhaps economists rarely venture into these fields because we can see that advertising, marketing and public relations employ methodologies which are all about shaping preferences and the “methodological individualists” are not interested in how preferences are formed. They are content to assume that people have given preferences and then act rationally on the basis of these preferences in the face of prices and a certain amount of purchasing power. To find out what happens in aggregate the economists simply add together the individual market behaviours.

Such an approach obviously devotes no attention to the way that people influence each other. The very existence of a fashion industry shows that, as well as the efforts that marketing departments work to create collective consumption trends. These marketing approaches actively foster disutility because they “work” by creating dissatisfaction. They seek to put in people’s minds the idea that their intended purchasers cannot live without some new product. They are also intended to be disruptive of relationships because they are based on fostering rival status display.

Sales departments, advertisers and public relations companies do not take people’s preferences as given. They are a big part of the economy and mostly, economists ignore them. The sales departments and the marketers do not use ideas from “utility theory”. They take ideas from group psychological dynamics, crowd psychology and approaches from psychotherapy theory which explores the interplay between human emotion and cognition. We need to do this too in order to understand advertising and PR on its own terms – and hence its usefulness to the people who pay for it, and its ability to influence the political process.

Well-being and marketing

Money is made when people “have to have” products and stay on the treadmill of work, spending and debt. Society functions by advertisers ensuring that people feel uncomfortable, inadequate and bereft unless they have the latest product designed for their peer group which is also an identifiable market segment. That said, if buying a product were to make you satisfied for too long you would not keep on buying it…

So how do the advertisers do this? Often it is by an astute manipulation which forms motivations through the use of stories, rituals, ceremonies and culture. The moral of the stories told by the advertisers is that the audience is lacking in something that possession of the brand will give them. For example, to be attractive, to be in tune with the American grand narrative of rugged individualism, personified by the cowboy, one needs to buy Marlboro cigarettes and participate in the social ritual of smoking them. In contrast with identity in an indigenous society, where people have totem identification with a creature, or a plant, based on deep knowledge and loyalty to part of the natural world, individuals in the consumer society define themselves partly through brand loyalty. The consumer “totems” are the designer labels that fashionistas wear – a sign of their discrimination, knowledge and affluence as consumers.

The implications for psychological well-being are profound. The message of the advertising stories is to convey how products will make us a better and more desirable person – mother, father and lover – which means that we are not good enough as we are now. The insights of Sigmund Freud that people think in emotionally associative ways (cf his therapeutic technique of free association) is hijacked to design the advertising message. Metaphorical allusion portrayed in vivid colour in high definition and on the biggest possible screens attempt to create emotional links between brands and desirable episodes or scenes in personal life stories. Fizzy drinks with sugar in them, are associated with adolescent sexuality in blue jeans. Getting the boy, getting the girl, getting the job, your forthcoming celebrity status, the perfect mum, dependable dad, the happy family – all are associated with a product – perfume or gravy granules… Messages of this type bombard us all with attention-grabbing messages from street billboards, newspapers, magazines, television and cinema commercials, on the internet, on the radio. Over and over again, visual and narrative connections are made between sex, glamour, wealth, power, speed, desirability, happy families, and shiny new products magnified and flashing in front of our eyes, dynamically displayed with clever graphical effects.

Attention grabbing as economic sector

Correspondingly a large part of the economy – its institutions, its technical infrastructure – exists solely for the purpose of grabbing our attention. When we are awake we can only focus on so much during a 24 hour day, a third of which we are asleep and a lot of which we are drilled to attend to employment tasks. At other times advertising agencies, market research companies, public relations companies, publishing companies, theatres, cinemas, television companies, newspapers, internet organisations are all trying to ensure that at every available opportunity, every available surface, every available screen, every available shop window, every available stage, and every broadcast, carries something about their product and/or their message. This is not to mention 9 out of every 10 phone calls on telephone landlines when a complete stranger assumes that they have the right to interrupt whatever you are doing with what they call a “courtesy call” – despite “a service” run by the marketing industry which is supposed to prevent this happening if you don’t want it. (Franck, 1998)

Naturally the more power specific people and specific institutions have, the more this “economy of attention” is skewed in their favour. Rather as the passage of light is bent by powerful gravitational fields, so the “information space” used by a society is buckled to massively magnify the concerns and priorities of the super-rich elite and their hangers on. At the same time rendering virtually invisible and unintelligible the suffering, concerns and needs of the large part of the world’s population. In the information space these people are driven to the edges and almost literally do become “nobodies”.

The nobodies are then only noticed in the crowded messages being transmitted in the information space when they get in the way of elite agendas and/or require expenditure and management because they have become a problem. (For example, because “attention seeking” turns into what is characterised as a mental health issue – mania and depression being opposite emotional reactions to experiencing oneself to be a nobody and being unable to cope with that – excitement at the idea that one is about to become a star as a result of one’s brilliant work and thus, attain celebrity status oscillating with depression as one remains in the wilderness).

These are all properly a subject for economics because there are multiple senses in which the attention seeking assault from the marketing sector impacts negatively on well-being now and in the future. We have already mentioned the way that this vast pantomime is about making its audience feel inadequate. But more than this – there is another economic consequence that Veblen realised over a hundred years ago. A part of his argument was that what the Leisure Class consumed as status displays – and also the way in which many members of the poor tried to emulate them – led to a waste of resources. It is stuff that never needed to be produced and is a waste of the time of the producers, a waste of material and natural resources and a waste of energy. And what Veblen could not have known is that the huge pile of garbage which is still being produced today drains depleting fossil fuel and material resources while exhausting carbon and other kinds of sinks. For no good cause other than the need of the “celebrity class” to be noticed, the planet appears to be locked on the road to destruction.

The Facade

Another way of expressing this is to describe “the economy” as operating with a vast deceptive facade.

I have used the example of Potemkin/Helbig Villages to describe the resulting culture that we live in – a way in which mass psychology is manipulated by a culture of appearances that hide an underlying reality that is much more shoddy. We look at a mass of separate products on the supermarket shelves and see a bright dazzling multi-colour array of images and styles – on the boxes and tins. Yet when it comes down to it, most of them are produced by just ten different business groups. The variety is an illusion – at least when it comes to who owns and produces them. The conservative reassuring man on the Quaker oats packet is owned by Pepsico. Yves Sant Laurent, Diesel (that celebration of fossil fuel) and Giorgio Armani are owned by Nestle, Uncle Ben’s Rice is owned by Mars. (See attached graphic) (Bradford, 2012)
convergence-alimentaire
Source: convergence alimentaire, 2012, with permission. Click to access original image

There are many other things hidden by the facade. Why else is such a high proportion of world trade and world finance routed through tax havens and secrecy jurisdiction? Behind the gloss, the cute sentimental products on sale at your local supermarket, there are factories producing the stuff staffed by child and slave labour in unsafe conditions; there are oil spills and air and water contamination; there are greenhouse gas emissions; there is military intimidation of workers and there are mountains and mountains of toxic throw away trash.

In her book Klein describes how the American NBC network aired an investigation into Mattell and Disney just days before Christmas 1996. “With the help of hidden cameras, the reporter showed that children in Indonesia and China were working in virtual slavery “so that children in America can put frilly dresses on America’s favourite doll”. (Klein, 2000, p. 326)

Many other examples can be given between the appearance and the brutal reality. However, if you mock and take on these cuddly friendly folksy corporations you see what they are really like. Like the MacDonald Corporation who tried to ruin activists who took them on with critical leaflets which led to a long running court action in the UK.

Although there is nothing at all glossy and high definition about economics, although it is often tedious and dull, economics is a part of this facade. Too often the descriptions of what is happening stay on the surface. The descriptions of markets are about products not about brands. The fact that branding and advertising are about creating product differentiation makes nonsense of the default assumption in the textbooks that most production is from competitive firms producing homogenous products. Textbooks are still describing a world in which shopkeepers scoop flour, sugar and cereals out of a barrel. Into this barrel the shopkeepers have put the identical products of a large number of producers all of whom were obliged to sell at a going market price. But of course if you go to buy some kind of computer, or a car, or an appliance of some kind there are a bewildering variety of non-comparable products and a barrage of adverts as to the advantages of each. While price plays a role in the choice of a product it is often a minor one.

As regards the huge growth and economic importance of marketing, the textbook writers have little to say. Certainly they do not appear to recognise that the rise and rise of the marketing industry demonstrates that the chief constraints on what companies supply are not production conditions, leading to rising internal costs as companies try to expand. Rather the constraints on firms are external market limits if they try to sell more of their brand beyond their market niche. Pierro Sraffa understood this from as early as the 1920s and wrote a paper to explain his alternative viewpoint. This will be described later. Suffice it to say here, that although Sraffa, and a few others, like Joan Robinson, tried to keep up to date, most economists did not. You don’t update the Holy Scriptures – scriptures are true for all time.

Nuke Puke Disposal Plan

Fukushima-Simpsongc2Off the keyboard of RE

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on the Doomstead Diner on October 11, 2015

Visit the COLLAPSE.GLOBAL Portal for Links & Daily Updates from around the Collapse Blogosphere

TAKE THE FUTURE OF ENERGY SURVEY HERE

Discuss this article at the Nuke Puke Table inside the Diner

Amongst the numerous other problems we have with Climate Change, Population Overshoot and Geopolitical Conflict, one of the main worries these days amongst KollapsniksTM is the residue of the Nuclear Power Industry which grew up in the aftermath of WWII, when a few brilliant scientists applied the ideas Albert Einstein had about the equivalence of Matter and Energy, most remembered by the famous equation E=mc2.  What that tells you is that the amount of Energy contained in a bit of "matter" (the stuff around you) is equal to that amount multiplied by the Speed of Light SQUARED. For the mathematically challenged, "squaring" means multiplying a number by itself. The speed of light by itself is pretty darn fast, so square it and you get a REALLY big number!  Lots of energy contained in Matter, if of course you can convert the matter to energy, and figuring out how to do that was not in Einstein's Department.  Einstein was a Mathematician and Theoretical Physicist, not an Engineer.

However, this potential source of Energy and POWER was pretty seductive, particularly in a big time WAR like WWII, where if you could harness said energy, you could make a REALLY BIG BOMB, and wipe out entire cities with it.  The RACE WAS ON between the scientists on either side of the Pond as to who could figure out how to do this first!

The Krauts put together their team…

German Experimental Pile - Haigerloch - April 1945.jpgThe German nuclear weapon project (German: Uranprojekt; informally known as the Uranverein; English: Uranium Society or Uranium Club), was a clandestine scientific effort led by Germany to develop and produce nuclear weapons during World War II. This program started in April 1939, just months after the discovery of nuclear fission in December 1938, but ended only months later due to the German invasion of Poland, after many notable physicists were drafted into the Wehrmacht.

A second effort began under the administrative purview of the Wehrmacht's Heereswaffenamt on 1 September 1939, the day of the Invasion of Poland. The program eventually expanded into three main efforts: the Uranmaschine (nuclear reactor), uranium and heavy water production, and uranium isotope separation. Eventually it was assessed that nuclear fission would not contribute significantly to ending the war, and in January 1942, the Heereswaffenamt turned the program over to the Reich Research Council (Reichsforschungsrat) while continuing to fund the program. The program was split up among nine major institutes where the directors dominated the research and set their own objectives. Subsequently, the number of scientists working on applied nuclear fission began to diminish, with many applying their talents to more pressing war-time demands.

The most influential people in the Uranverein were Kurt Diebner, Abraham Esau, Walther Gerlach, and Erich Schumann; Schumann was one of the most powerful and influential physicists in Germany. Diebner, throughout the life of the nuclear weapon project, had more control over nuclear fission research than did Walther Bothe, Klaus Clusius, Otto Hahn, Paul Harteck, or Werner Heisenberg. Abraham Esau was appointed as Hermann Göring's plenipotentiary for nuclear physics research in December 1942; Walther Gerlach succeeded him in December 1943

The Amurkans put together their team…

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-30qtjDmvmJA/U4p002ATb_I/AAAAAAAARmw/crgtMMiDzVo/s1600/J-Robert-Oppenheimer.destroyer-of-worlds.meme.stevepiper.net.jpgIn August 1939, prominent physicists Leó Szilárd and Eugene Wigner drafted the Einstein–Szilárd letter, which warned of the potential development of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type". It urged the United States to take steps to acquire stockpiles of uranium ore and accelerate the research of Enrico Fermi and others into nuclear chain reactions. They had it signed by Albert Einstein and delivered to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt called on Lyman Briggs of the National Bureau of Standards to head the Advisory Committee on Uranium to investigate the issues raised by the letter. Briggs held a meeting on 21 October 1939, which was attended by Szilárd, Wigner and Edward Teller. The committee reported back to Roosevelt in November that uranium "would provide a possible source of bombs with a destructiveness vastly greater than anything now known."[2]

Briggs proposed that the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) spend $167,000 on research into uranium, particularly the uranium-235 isotope, and the recently discovered plutonium.[3] On 28 June 1941, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8807, which created the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD),[4] with Vannevar Bush as its director. The office was empowered to engage in large engineering projects in addition to research.[3] The NDRC Committee on Uranium became the S-1 Uranium Committee of the OSRD; the word "uranium" was soon dropped for security reasons.[5]

In Britain, Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls at the University of Birmingham had made a breakthrough investigating the critical mass of uranium-235 in June 1939.[6] Their calculations indicated that it was within an order of magnitude of 10 kilograms (22 lb), which was small enough to be carried by a bomber of the day.[7] Their March 1940 Frisch–Peierls memorandum initiated the British atomic bomb project and its Maud Committee,[8] which unanimously recommended pursuing the development of an atomic bomb.[7] One of its members, the Australian physicist Mark Oliphant, flew to the United States in late August 1941 and discovered that data provided by the Maud Committee had not reached key American physicists. Oliphant then set out to find out why the committee's findings were apparently being ignored. He met with the Uranium Committee, and visited Berkeley, California, where he spoke persuasively to Ernest O. Lawrence. Lawrence was sufficiently impressed to commence his own research into uranium. He in turn spoke to James B. Conant, Arthur H. Compton and George B. Pegram. Oliphant's mission was therefore a success; key American physicists were now aware of the potential power of an atomic bomb.[9][10]

At a meeting between President Roosevelt, Vannevar Bush, and Vice President Henry A. Wallace on 9 October 1941, the President approved the atomic program. To control it, he created a Top Policy Group consisting of himself—although he never attended a meeting—Wallace, Bush, Conant, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and the Chief of Staff of the Army, General George C. Marshall. Roosevelt chose the Army to run the project rather than the Navy, as the Army had the most experience with management of large-scale construction projects. He also agreed to coordinate the effort with that of the British, and on 11 October he sent a message to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, suggesting that they correspond on atomic matters.[11]

As we all know now, the Amurkan Scientists beat the Kraut Scientists in this Horserace, and these were the results at Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

http://www.hiroshima-remembered.com/photos/hiroshima/images/HR02.jpg

http://666moon.webs.com/Hiroshima_victim1.jpg

Talk about TERRORISM!  Beheading a few Journalists is NOTHING compared to this!  You got entire countries quaking in their boots if they won't Kowtow to you and accept your Dollar as World Reserve Currency!

At the point in the war these two Weapons of Mass Destruction were dropped, the Nipponese were already FINISHED.  They were beaten back to their own islands, their fleet had been destroyed in the Battle of Midway.  They could simply have been embargoed and left to starve, but nooooo… a demonstration of POWER was necessary to make to the rest of the world (the Ruskies in particular) aware that we were mean sons of bitches, and don't fuck with us or we will incinerate you in a heartbeat.

http://d35brb9zkkbdsd.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/China-Pollution.JPEG-0bfec-555x370.jpgBad as all that was, it may turn out that the worst of the Nuke Puke curse brought on by the insatiable appetite for POWER in the species Homo Sap will not come from the Wartime use of Nukes as Bombs, but from the Peacetime use developed after the War to generate Electric Power for the growing energy consumptive society.

Nuke Puke Power Plants sprung up like mushrooms in the aftermath of WWII, and now there are something like 400 of them sprinkled around the Globe, mainly in the FSoA and Europe, but quite a few other places too. The Chinese want to build still MORE of them to boot!  Even though the coal is coming dirt cheap these days, they would like to be able to breathe the air in Beijing without having to wear an Activated Charcoal Filter mask all the time, but of course still keeping the lights on and juice for the Factories to produce toys to be sold at Low, Low Prices Every Day at Walmart.  Who will have working money to BUY those toys also remains an open question these days.

http://40.media.tumblr.com/3a13cc00640eb012b081030ea890acd2/tumblr_n84i3wzu4R1rasnq9o1_1280.png

Global Nuclear Power Plant Distribution

As you can see by the map above here, the worst Bad Newz on Nukes is on the eastern side of the Mississipi River in the FSoA, in Europe and in Japan.  The Chinese will catch up here if they can, but chances are things will go south before they have opportunity to build too many of them.  Also it should be noted that this does NOT include all the Nuke Puke reactors aboard Aircraft Carriers, Submarines and in various research facilities in Universities around the globe.

The BIG PROBLEM nobody ever came up with a real good solution for was what to do with the SPENT FUEL from these reactors.  NOBODY wanted Nuke Puke in their backyard, the NIMBY problem.  For a while the Salt Mines in Yucca Mountain were proposed as a dumping ground for Nuke Puke, but after a few $Billion$ were spent developing this White Elephant, this idea got shelved.

The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, as designated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, is to be a deep geological repository storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and other high level radioactive waste. It is located on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 80 mi (130 km) northwest of the Las Vegas Valley. The proposed repository is within Yucca Mountain, a ridge line in the south-central part of Nevada near its border with California.

The location has been highly contested by environmentalists and Nevada residents. It was approved in 2002 by the United States Congress. Federal funding for the site ended in 2011 under the Obama Administration via amendment to the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, passed on April 14, 2011.[2] The Government Accountability Office stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons.[2]

This leaves US non-governmental entities, such as utilities, without any designated long term storage site for the high level radioactive waste stored on-site at various nuclear facilities around the country. The US government disposes of its waste at WIPP in New Mexico, in rooms 2,150 feet (660 m) underground.[3] The Department of Energy (DOE) is reviewing other options for a high-level waste repository and a Blue Ribbon Commission established by the Secretary of Energy released its final report in January 2012. It expressed urgency to find a consolidated, geological repository, and that any future facility should be developed by a new independent organization with direct access to the Nuclear Waste Fund, that is not subject to political and financial control like the DOE.[4]

What's wrong with Yucca Mountain as a repository for the Nuke Puke?  Well, besides the fact nobody in the neighborhood wants this toxic waste in their backyard, it will take constant maintenance in order to keep the shit from either melting down or going super critical and blowing up.  Who is going to pay for that maintenance for the next 1000 years…no wait 1,000,000 years?

So what to do with this shit?

Fire it off into space heading for the Sun on one of Richard Branson's spaceships?  The Sun is already a nuclear fireball, so that should be OK, right?

A few small problems with this idea.  There is Tons of this shit out there, every last one of the Nuke Puke plants has spent fuel ponds with 30 or 40 years worth of Puke in them.  We are not talking a few small communications satellites or glorified RVs we put into low earth orbit and call them "Space Stations", we are talking Container Ship loads of the stuff!!!!  How much Rocket Fuel do you think it would take to jack all that up even to low earth orbit, much less get it out of the Earth gravity well and hurtling towards the Sun?  Answer: a lot more than we got available here.

http://strategiya.az/images/news_images/small/08-2015/1%20(2)_36315.jpgSecond problem even if you had this much energy to do the job is the slight issue of ACCIDENTS occurring, since you would need 1000s of rocket flights up carrying the Puke into space.  Just ONE of them explodes like the Challenger did, and the Puke rains down on everyone.  Not a good scenario there obviously.

There is another location right here on Earth though where lots of nuke puke resides already, the Core of the Earth, generally composed of Uranium because it is so dense.  It provides the internal heat engine for the planet through fission (the Sun works opposite, Fusion of small elements to larger ones).  How to get the man-made Nuke Puke down there though?

Well, there are spots under the ocean floor where the crust is pretty thin, and as the plates move over one another, in some spots there are subduction zones, where part of the crust of the earth gets pushed down into the Mantle and gets recycled there.

One such zone is located in the Marianas Trench, the very deepest canyon in the Pacific Ocean.

The Mariana Trench or Marianas Trench[1] is the deepest part of the world's oceans. It is located in the western Pacific Ocean, to the east of the Mariana Islands. The trench is about 2,550 kilometres (1,580 mi) long but has an average width of only 69 kilometres (43 mi). It reaches a maximum-known depth of 10,994 m (± 40 m) or 6.831 mi (36,070 ± 131 ft) at the Challenger Deep, a small slot-shaped valley in its floor, at its southern end,[2] although some unrepeated measurements place the deepest portion at 11.03 kilometres (6.85 mi).[3]

At the bottom of the trench the water column above exerts a pressure of 1,086 bars (15,750 psi), over 1000 times the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. At this pressure, the density of water is increased by 4.96%, making 95 litres of water under the pressure of the Challenger Deep contain the same mass as 100 litres at the surface. The temperature at the bottom is 1 to 4 °C.[4]

Now of course, the idea of taking Nuke Puke and dropping into the ocean is a big turn-off for the environmentally conscious, not to mention there are all sorts of International Treaties that make this illegal.  This does not however seem to stop the Japanese from unloading millions of gallons of Nuke Puke contaminated water from Fukushima into the ocean, and so far nobody from the Hague has arrested the TEPCO managers either.

The Marianas Trench Nuke Puke Disposal PlanTM though is significantly different than the current Nipponese method of dumping the Nuke Puke straight into the bay next to Fukushima and letting it then disperse across the entire ocean.

In this method, you're not actually disposing of the Puke into the ocean, but rather into the crust of the earth BENEATH the sea bed.  I don't think there are any international treaties covering that, or who owns it either.  Also, there is no NIMBY problem, since nobody's backyard is even CLOSE to that.

How do you get the Puke into the crust?

Drilling Capsules!

http://www.funkidslive.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Tunnel-Boring.jpg

In this case, rather than working against gravity and trying to lift up the Nuke Puke, gravity helps you and accelerates the capsule on the way down, and like a Rifle Bullet it will begin to spin if designed as a screw shape.  It will drill itself into the ground on impact.  The material contained inside can be glassified and solidified so it won't dissolve in the water, and then after that the Earth itself does the work subducting this zone back into the mantle!  Problem Solved! 🙂

Can such a plan be implemented before complete collapse takes hold?  Unfortunately probably not for numerous reasons.  First of all, if you start shutting down the Nuke Puke plants, you're going to have shortfalls in electric power wherever they supply the grid, and nobody wants to see their lights go dark, so we'll probably keep them switched on until it is too late.  Then you have the issue that environmentalists would likely oppose the plan, and exactly how you would finance it also is pretty tough to figure.  So in all likelihood the eventual outcome is a vast number of meltdowns and a lot more radionucleotides in the environment.  Whether Homo Saps can survive that and for how long and where remains an open question, but the Tardigrades should make it through at least.

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/52392000/jpg/_52392786_c0089246-spl.jpg

Tardigrades are extremophiles, and can survive just about anything, extreme heat or cold, lack of water, radiation, the WORKS!

Tardigrades (also known as water bears or moss piglets)[2][3][4] are water-dwelling, segmented micro-animals, with eight legs.[2] They were first discovered by the German pastor Johann August Ephraim Goeze in 1773. The name Tardigrada (meaning "slow stepper") was given three years later by the Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani.[5] The phylum has been sighted from mountaintops to the deep sea, from tropical rain forests to the Antarctic[6] Tardigrades can survive in extreme environments. For example, they can withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water (100 °C), pressures about six times greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a human, and the vacuum of outer space.[7] They can go without food or water for more than 10 years, drying out to the point where they are 3% or less water, only to rehydrate, forage, and reproduce.[3][8][9][10]

So, anyone suggesting that the Earth will be "barren & lifeless" in anywhere near the near term as Guy McPherson did in a recent essay either doesn't know the biology of tardigrades or else they are being purposefully melodromatic.  There are even extremophilic organisms which thrive in wicked conditions, such as around the Sulfur vents on the sea floor.  None of these organisms are going to the Great Beyond anytime too soon, no matter what happens to the higher life organisms currently populating the planet, including Homo Sap.  Nothing short of an impact with a Planet Killer Asteroid is going to wipe out all life on Earth in any kind of near term timeline.

If past history is any guide, Global Average Temperature will top out at 25C, as it always has even in the Pleiocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)

http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/PageMill_Images/image277.gif

25C is a cakewalk for a Tardigrade, and in fact many organisms can survive this AGT, just as they did through the millenia of the PETM.  The ancestors of Homo Sap were among those creatures.

DONE ONCE, IT CAN BE DONE AGAIN!

Can, Will Homo Sap make it through this Zero Point, the 6th Great Mass Extinction Event on Earth?  Maybe, maybe not, but either way the planet won't be lifeless for quite some time to come.  For eukaryotic organisms (both unicellular & multicellular species), the Earth's environment should hold up for another 300M years or so, when the Sun starts fusing so much Helium that its radiation output will make the Earth too inhospitable for anything but a few prokayotes.  Even the Tardigrades will be toast.

In the meantime, the objective of all living creatures is to live as long as they can until they eventually, inevitably succumb to death.  Nothing lives forever, not even Planets live forever.  Far as life goes on Earth, it is already in its senecense, the equivalent in the human lifespan of being 90 with a 100 year life expectancy.  How much longer we can survive remains an open question, although the timeline of 15 years to Human Extinction is highly improbable.  The further out on the timeline you go, the more probable this is.

In the immortal words of Chuck Palahniuk:

http://izquotes.com/quotes-pictures/quote-on-a-long-enough-timeline-the-survival-rate-for-everyone-drops-to-zero-chuck-palahniuk-285421.jpg

One thing is certain, there is no possibility for survival if you quit and say it's all OVAH already and hopeless.  You make your best effort to survive as long as you can, and then when you no longer can, you will die.  Just like every other life form that was ever born on the face of the Earth.

It ain' OVAH till the Fat Lady sings for you though.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/rapgenius/1369077040_fat%20lady%20sings.jpg

TAKE THE FUTURE OF ENERGY SURVEY HERE

Upward bound: Maintaining Our Collective Clunker

Off the keyboard of td0s

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on Pray for Calamity on March 8, 2014

Visit the New Diner News Page for Daily Updates from around the Collapse Blogosphere

junkyard-computer

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

My friend and I joke about techno-optimists. Both of us have wasted enough time on the internet reading the prognostications of self described technocrats, transhumanists, and even optimistic liberals who carry with them and promote a picture of the future that is near utopian in it’s advancements and its cleanliness. This optimism is shared widely by younger generations who cannot be bothered to understand the totality of the destruction wrought on the planet and its ecosystems over the last few hundred years. Advances in communications technology have people believing that anything is possible, and depending on their politics, their reasoning is essentially that either government, corporations, capitalists, or some combination of them is all that stands between us and a near workless future of global equality and abundance. A trip to the Apple Store and a copy of Popular Mechanics seemingly forms their understanding of not only what humans can do, but what they should do.

What is frustrating about these techno-topians is that for them, name dropping a technology is supposed to convince the rest of us that said technology has all of the prerequisite systems in place for its global implementation and that said technology can effortlessly be scaled up to replace current technologies. Further, the techno-optimist speaks as if technologies exist in an ecological vacuum where they can be designed, manufactured, deployed, utilized, upgraded, and ultimately dismantled when they are inevitably made irrelevant by new developments without damaging ecosystems and living communities. Arguing for the bright future society these technologies will grant us usually finds their acolytes rebuffing their potential flaws by name dropping another, then another, then another hypothetical invention or method, creating a fractal universe of innovations that are essentially non-existent today, but that we are supposed to have faith will rescue us from the crises that are meting deleterious effects right now.

Techno-optimists talk about Moore’s Law and the doubling of computing power that will lead to computers smarter than humans in mere decades. I’m not sure what these super smart computers are exactly supposed to provide for us. Bitcoins? 3-D porn? 42?

This is the rim of the rabbit hole. Computers are manufactured at great ecological and material cost. They are created with rare earth metals, plastics, copper, fresh water, slave labor in mines, near slave labor in factories, fossil fuel powered mining equipment, fossil fuels converted into materials, fossil fuel powered assembly lines, global shipping and distribution, and they are eventually obsolete which lands them in third world neighborhoods to be “recycled” by poor people who burn them to extract what of value they can. Of course, the techno-optimist is likely someone who lives in a wealthy nation, and it is likely that they primarily see the benefits of technology, not the drawbacks. They probably have never assembled an iPad or spent three days underground mining coltan by hand under the watchful eye of an AK-47 toting guard.

There are very real crises that are unfolding now. Solutions to these crises needed to be implemented years ago. In fact, crises like climate change, peak oil, deforestation, species die-off, top soil loss – all needed to be addressed decades and decades ago. Talking about them solves nothing. Chanting the words “Solar panels, wind turbines, hemp oil” over and over again does nothing to address the net energy decline of peak oil, especially as on the whole, industrial capitalism has clearly chosen to go full tilt with hydro-fracking for tight oil and gas and strip mining for tar sands bitumen and low return coal deposits. It is hard to join any optimism that refuses to look around and see that technology is not, right now, this moment, saving the day. Technology is being used to maintain the status quo as the train of industrial civilization hurtles towards a gorge.

Technology comes with costs. There are the ecological costs of the places destroyed so that raw materials can be extracted. There are ecological costs of energy acquisition necessary to power engines and electronics. There are ecological costs to discarding defunct and obsolete machines and products. There are human costs to communities displaced, sickened, and killed by extraction and technological implementation. There are human costs in the immiseration of labor forces which crawl into copper mines, work assembly lines, wither in cubicles, and work the fields picking vegetables to keep all of the above alive. There are energy costs, as no technology exists without energy. An electric car needs electricity flowing through an electric grid, and as it stands, that electricity is primarily created through the burning of hydrocarbons. Nuclear power should need no discussion as to its dangers, and all of the pie in the sky “renewables” are all dependent upon industrial processes and none are eternal.

James Kunstler wrote a book on the optimism of techno-fetishists who cannot seem to do the math on what a technological society begins to cost. In “Too Much Magic,” Kunstler tells an anecdote about a visit to the Google Campus where he gave a talk. After describing the “tricked out” offices laden with snacks and video games, he describes the question and answer session that followed his speech, in which the general statement from employees was summed up as, “Like, dude, we’ve got technology.” Kuntsler writes:

This informed me of something pretty scary: The executives and programmers at Google didn’t know the difference between technology and energy. They assumed that these were interchangeable, that if you run out of one you just plug in the other, which is inconsistent with reality.

Seeing the childishness of the office layout and employee dress and behavior, Kunstler comes to a realization about the type of playful creativity at the backbone of Google’s business model:

The childlike thinking at Google was a logical extension of this corporate culture: the belief in magic, in this case the magic of high tech. A lot of the high-level employees I spoke to in the auditorium that day were people who had become millionaires before they had turned thirty (thanks to Google Stock), mainly by pushing pixels around a screen with a mouse, that is, by making computer magic. They had magically become rich by making magic. Naturally, then, they were true believers in tech magic, and also, by extension, believers that any problem facing the human race could be fixed by applying tech magic.

The attitude Kunstler describes is permeating the masses in the west. It’s reasonable to assume that the advances in technology available to the general public in wealthier nations is partly to blame. Twenty-five years ago there was Nintendo, and now there is Playstation 4. Before either, kids played outside. Twenty-five years ago the cordless phone was a wonder, and now you can tweet your musings on a touch screen smart phone from pretty much anywhere. Yes, computer technology has advanced quickly and has been dispersed to wealthier masses. At the same time, Hollywood has applied this technology to story telling, creating visual spectacles which can make the imaginary seem very real. The problem with this, is that stories on the screen which themselves describe constant advancement in technology come to life in the minds of the audience members who come to believe they aren’t witnessing fiction, but a commercial for the world of tomorrow. Finally, life in the modern middle class west is in so many ways separated from the foundations of these advances. People who have access to yearly upgraded smart phones never see the regions of land deforested and strip mined to gain access to a mineral. They don’t live in the sacrifice zones where fossil fuel is refined so that a rocket can put a satellite into space. They are privy to almost none of the miserable labor that makes any of these technologies possible. That’s what makes technology oh so magical – because it appears out of nowhere. One day it just shows up at a Sprint store and then it’s yours! The witches brew of dead migratory birds, dead gorillas, dead forests, dead rivers, and dead people that made such magical technology possible is never seen or tasted.

This magical attitude is a byproduct of living in a nation that exports currency and forces the world to accept it at the barrel of a gun. In a nation where none of the “doing” happens, a mere hypothesis is just as good as a completely implemented and functioning process. It is impossible to have a productive conversation about the myriad costs of any one technology, let alone all technologies, with someone who thinks in plug-and-play fashion. Mention global declining net energy, and they will say “algae,” “hemp,” or “solar,” as if the problem isn’t complex and nuanced, but merely a lack of suggestions of things that we can burn. Mention declining stores of materials or the ecocide involved in getting at them, and they will say “asteroid mines” or “3-D printers,” as if just coming up with something conceptually is the first and last step towards making it a reality. Time after time I have tried to describe the depth of modern agriculture and its drawbacks; fossil fuel dependence, top soil depletion, chemical run off, destruction of bioregions, pollinator kill off, etc. and with near unanimity the response is a vague mix of the words “permaculture” and “cloning.” Of course, this is from people who have never gotten one potato to pop out of the dirt.

Last week in North Carolina the Dan River had thirty thousand tons of coal ash spilled into it when a pipe burst beneath a containment pond. In the last month there have been two massive leaks of toxic chemicals in rivers in West Virginia, one of which poisoned the water source for over three hundred thousand people. It was discovered just the other day that the Wanapum dam in Washington state has a sixty-five foot crack in it. Toss in recent incident after incident in which natural gas pipelines have exploded and oil pipelines have burst, and I cannot help but think about upkeep.

When people speak of the future and all of the things humans will be able to create, rarely do they consider all of the things humans have already created which need constant upkeep and maintenance in order to not fail critically. In his short film about hydraulic fracturing, Josh Fox details the necessity of concrete gas well casings to last indefinitely in order to prevent gas from seeping into groundwater. Fox goes on to document that these concrete well casings last on average for twenty years.

Many of us have owned a car, and we know that over time, the damn thing falls apart. Metal rusts, fluids leak, components fail, and in general entropy wreaks havoc until we realize that it makes more sense to scrap the vehicle than to try to repair it. Industrial civilization is our collective jalopy.

Speaking of cars, according to USA Today:

An Associated Press analysis of 607,380 bridges in the most recent federal National Bridge Inventory showed that 65,605 were classified as “structurally deficient” and 20,808 as “fracture critical.” Of those, 7,795 were both — a combination of red flags that experts say indicate significant disrepair and similar risk of collapse.

And these are just the bridges. Transporting all of our techo-gadetry, let alone our food, will require roads. Roads require constant repair. Repairing roads requires petroleum powered vehicles and well fed crews. As it stands, the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2013 “report card” for the US gave the roads a “D.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers also graded the water mains. They are apparently in about the same crappy shape that the roads are, as they were also given a “D.” Every year there are 240,000 water main breaks, which comes to about six hundred and fifty or so per day. The power grid on which all of the “World of tomorrow” fantasy technology will clearly rely was given a “D+” by the ASCE.

Of course, we could all scratch out a living without highways, water mains, and electricity, but what becomes downright concerning is the breakdown of existing infrastructure that can be fatal. How are the US’s nuclear power plants holding up? According to an Associated Press investigation into the aging of US nuclear reactors:

Federal regulators have been working closely with the US nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them. Time after time, officials at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.

Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards. Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes — all of these and thousands of other problems linked to aging were uncovered. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident. Yet despite the many problems linked to aging, not a single official body in government or industry has studied the overall frequency and potential impact on safety of such breakdowns in recent years, even as the NRC has extended the licenses of dozens of reactors.

Add in the chemical weapons storage depots, the bio-warfare weapons depots, the thousands of chemical plants, fertilizer plants, oil wells, refineries, nuclear research facilities, nuclear warships and nuclear waste storage facilities, and it becomes hard to fathom how a point won’t come when a large portion of human effort won’t be dedicated to merely maintaining what civilization has built while attempting to mitigate disasters caused by aging and dilapidated infrastructure. All of this while trying to grow a civilization and its technological capacity as fish stocks disappear from the rapidly acidifying oceans and top soil blows away from drought parched and poorly managed fields.

—-

To believe in the techno-topian future is to ignore the concept of diminishing returns. Physicist Geoffery West gives a Ted Talk in which he demonstrates that living organism operate on a sublinear, bounded growth pattern. What this means is that across the living kingdoms, the larger a being’s mass, the less energy per capita it requires to keep said being alive. Of course, every living being has its optimal size, and no living thing grows forever. West goes on to point out that human cities operate on similar principles, except that their growth is superlinear, and that as populations grow, there is an increase in per capita energy required to maintain these systems. He points out that this makes cities unsustainable without innovation, with the added caveat that the innovations that prevent collapse in cities must also be innovated upon at an ever increasing pace. The question, according to West, is whether or not people can keep up.

Geoffery West also points out in his presentation that the growth of a city not only requires exponentially larger energy inputs, but that it necessarily will have exponentially increased levels of crime, disease, and discontent. Does it then not stand to reason that human innovations which provide the basis for growth also inadvertently sow the seeds of their own destruction? Every new band-aid technology which buys time for industrial civilization is itself a chaotic butterfly flapping its wings. Hydraulic fracturing temporarily offset declines in oil production while also causing Earthquakes, poisoning groundwater, and adding to climate change. Genetically modifying food crops to resist herbicides has led to increased herbicide use which increased the toxicity of ecosystems while simultaneously causing weeds to adapt to these chemicals. Yesterday’s solution becomes today’s problems. Eventually, today’s solution will be tomorrow’s cataclysm.

Of course, standing on a stage with a headset microphone and speaking to a horde of technophiles, I’m sure the on the ground reality of West’s suppositions is lost. Innovation isn’t magic. The resources and supplies that make innovation possible are not limitless. Right now, global net energy is on the decline. New sources of energy from “tight oil” plays to solar panels do not add more energy than is lost as conventional petroleum fields reach and pass their production peaks. Nor are the inventions of humankind timeless. An innovation may bring temporary gains, but then like a nuclear power plant or a gas well, the innovations themselves require ever increasing amounts of upgrades and repairs. This ever quickening race up an ever steeper slope is not one industrial man can win. In the interim, a particular class of human runs this race while throwing larger and larger swaths of everyone else into the furnace of development. When the eventual breaking point is reached, not only will civilization lose its ability to innovate and grow, it will lose it’s ability to contain its slumbering killers.

Hang the Pope?

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on Resource Crisis on June 18, 2015

Visit the New Diner News Page for Daily Updates from around the Collapse Blogosphere

Image above: an internet site with wild accusations against Pope Francis. That's, of course, just the work of an isolated crackpot, but, a hundred years ago, Pope Benedict XV was widely accused of "defeatism" and threatened with hanging when he requested to stop the "useless slaughter" of the first world war. Could something similar occur because of Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change?     P

Discuss this article at the Environment Table insde the Diner

The Pope's encyclical on climate is out. I went through it, I think I agree with just about everything in it. From a scientific viewpoint, it seems to me flawless (at least after a first read). In terms of its ethical and human approach, it is even better. I don't see myself as a very religious person, but I think we badly need ways to overcome that peculiarly evil view of the world that sees each one of us as a mere economic agent, interested only in maximizing profits and accumulating capital. That can't be the way to run things on this planet and if we need a religion to tell us that we should do better than that, then welcome religion!!

This said, now what? It was Stalin who mocked the pope by asking how many division he could muster on the battlefield, but – apart from armored divisions – if I were a denier, I would feel dismayed. The beauty of the pope's intervention is that it demolishes right away one of the main stumbling blocks that prevented most people from understanding the gravity and the seriousness of the situation. So far, the forces of denial could paint the whole story of climate change as a silly idea concocted by an isolated group of crackpot scientists. But, now, not anymore. You may agree or not with the pope, but you can't ignore that he represents more than a billion Christians. Not an isolated group of crackpots, for sure. Clearly, the pope's encyclical has forever changed the terms of the debate.

On the other hand, if I were a climate science denier, I would also start thinking about what I could do to oppose the pope and his ideas. And, for this purpose, there are ways. We have, today, a giant mud-slinging machine in place that's called "public relations" (called propaganda in old times). This PR machine is truly an evil force that can destroy anything it decides to destroy; even the pope.

It is not farfetched. Something similar already happened about one century ago, in August 1917, during the first world war. The pope of the time, Benedict XV, appealed to "the heads of warring peoples" to end the "useless slaughter." He was not heard and, at least in Italy, the reaction of some exponents of the war party was that the pope should have been hanged.

So, it is not difficult to imagine ways to use the mud-slinging machine to paint the pope as feeble-minded, misguided, or perhaps much worse than that. Will we see again people asking for "hanging the pope", as it happened in 1917? (*) We can only say that the present situation is even more dramatic than it was at the time of the first world war. There is still time to avoid a climate disaster, but we still face a hard fight. What is sure, anyway, is that the pope's intervention is a big push in the right direction and a great hope for all humankind.

(*) Something like that seems to be already ongoing here.

The Apex of Industrialization

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

Published on From Filmers to Farmers on June 2, 2015

Visit the New Diner News Page for Daily Updates from around the Collapse Blogosphere

filmers_2_farmers_2

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

Manufactured Fake Shit

A factory for the production of ammonia (NH3)
 

The Dr. Pooper Papers, Issue #2:

While it would be nice to think that in times before the industrial era that farming was a wholly benevolent practice, the truth of the matter is that similar to today, agriculture actually began with annual monocultures.

Nonetheless, there did emerge over the millennia various farming methods and practices of which were adapted to the unique and sometimes changing conditions of their particular places. Likewise, many different practices have been employed by many different cultures in order to maintain fertility of the land.

Those people of the Far East, as described by F.H. King in his (1911) book Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea and Japan, meticulously made efforts to return all organic materials back to the soil: food scraps, animal manures, straw, as well as night soil (human waste). As King put it,

when I asked my interpreter if it was not the custom of the city during the winter months to discharge its night soil into the sea, as a quicker and cheaper mode of disposal, his reply came quick and sharp, "No, that would be waste. We throw nothing away. It is worth too much money." In such public places as railway stations provision is made for saving, not for wasting, and even along the country roads screens invite the traveler to stop, primarily for profit to the owner, more than for personal convenience.

Similar-minded practices include growing certain crops with the specific intent of plowing them back into the ground to reinvigorate the land with organic materials, while others, to varying degrees, have drawn upon outside sources to supplement fertility.

The most enormous and ancient of these off-farm additions has been the annual flooding of the Nile River, carrying along with it nutrients emanating from far-off mountains and the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. These nutrients ended up adding to flood plains that farmers planted into as far away as Egypt, until, that is, the Aswan Dam came along and ruined that "free lunch."

Somewhat differently, many cultures have purposefully gone out of their way to collect various nearby materials to add to the fertility of the land. When WWOOFing in New Zealand 10 years ago I helped a friend collect huge wads of seaweed from the beach to be applied and added to the fertility of his garden (a practice partaken by those of the British Isles for centuries now), and I even WWOOFed with one couple who, believe it or not, claimed to collect roadkill to add to their compost piles.

But with a demographic shifting from rural areas to enlarging cities some 20 or so years ago due to various facets of the Industrial Revolution, a growing amount of mouths in cities needed to be fed by a shrinking amount of hands on the land. And with farming turning into more of a profit-seeking venture by absentee landlords than a way of life for those closer to the land, pressures were being put on the land for maximum extraction. In other words, the highest levels of efficiency were sought after, which has generally meant cutbacks on the costliest "input" – human labour.

Monumental changes were thus spurred to take place via the addition of industrial off-farm "inputs" – solidified bird excrement (guano) being the first – which enabled farming to transform away from the practice of nutrient recycling into that of nutrient importation, and which had the side-effect of making consumers out of farmers.

For it was over in South America that massive 10-50 metre deep deposits of guano existed on the Chincha islands off the coast of Peru, the result of a lack of rainfall which would have leached the nutrients out into the sea. As a result of the demands put upon the land by the new and unsavoury farming mentality, commercial shipments of this guano then began to be exported to the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries in the early 1840s, peaking at a rate of nearly 600,000 tonnes per year in the late 1860s.

Guano – aka, bird shit (photo: Steven Gough)

It is worthwhile to note however that while some farmers were eager to pay (and rather expensively) for this off-farm fertility, others, who had a responsible ethic leaning towards self-sufficiency, eschewed the guano and saw nothing wrong with the continued use of crop rotations as well as their labour intensive on-farm salvaging of manures from their own barns and pastures.

But regardless of those who made do without, what had been a resource used by Peruvians for thousands of years became plundered, exported, and exhausted in a mere six decades.

Furthermore, and with an uncanny resemblance to the atmosphere surrounding the present-day situation with oil, events quickly turned into a state of flux. As Vaclav Smil described it in his book Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production, there similarly existed

rising prices in an oligopolistic market, fears of resource exhaustion, attempts at price controls, the U.S. government getting involved in schemes of armed intervention, [and] American entrepreneurs… rushing to explore and exploit new deposits on tiny islands and reefs in the Caribbean and in the Pacific.

As the guano supplies inevitably began to dwindle, various other minor sources of industrial-scale fertilizer began to be utilized. However, all of these couldn't come near to meeting the growing demand that agriculture was increasingly becoming reliant on due to the new land practices, and incessantly growing urban populations.

It was in 1909 then that the German scientist Fritz Haber appreciably pulled off what William Crookes had been calling for a decade earlier (mentioned in my previous post), essentially the creation of fertility in the laboratory. With the process later adapted to a larger scale via the assistance of the BASF chemist Carl Bosch, what had been devised was a process whereby atmospheric nitrogen was combined with hydrogen derived from fossil fuels to create ammonia (NH3), roughly 33,000 cubic feet of natural gas (today's predominant feedstock) currently required to create one ton of fertilizer.

To this day the ammonia provided by the Haber-Bosch method accounts for 99 percent of all synthetic nitrogen fertilizers added to our soils every year – some 150 million tons, equal to that of all naturally derived sources – which means that roughly 40 percent of humanity (about 3 billion people) owe their continued survival to the process (and which is why some call it the most important invention of the twentieth century). Along with mined phosphorous and potassium, these products make up the bags of petrochemical NPK fertilizer that one sees on store shelves with the three digit combinations (10-1-5 for instance) and which end up on our suburban lawns and golf courses, and in a greater scale, on our crop fields under the guise of "plant food."

However, just as there are limits to growth, limits to oil extraction levels, and so forth, there are limits to petrochemical fertilizers. A time will come when, much as occurred with guano, supplies will reach their peaks and other means of fertilizing the land will be required. There is, however, no next bonanza of easily sourced fertilizer supplements to tap into.

In other words, if the land is to be expected to bear food, then ecological means of maintaining its fertility will be required. This includes, but is not restricted to, crop rotations, the application of composted food scraps, and, very un-21st century-like, the application of livestock manures and human wastes to the land.

Since animals in the industrial agricultural system are raised on CAFOs (concentrated animal feedlot operations), this means that their manures are too concentrated in individual locations to have any economically viable chance of being spread across the land far and wide. This implies that small mixed farms will have to become the norm, where manures will generally only need to fall a few feet before they reach their required end-point.

As if that weren't daunting enough of a transition, the return of nutrients to the land via human wastes is a whole other issue. With the current corralling of people into ever more crowded and packed urban centres, it might be said that our modern cities are the human equivalent of CAFOs. Nonetheless, it would be nice if the question was simply: How do we get all those human wastes to the land? But that's far from the case, particularly when it's not only hard enough to broach the topic of industrial collapse amongst polite company, but when talk of human feces is generally taboo.

Whatever then can we do?

Well, I hate to say it, but could it be that the dark arts of advertising may come to our rescue? Back in 1928, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, published his controversial book Propaganda, his treatise on "the scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion." In it, Bernays recounted that

in the manufacture of American silk, markets are developed by going to Paris for inspiration. Paris can give American silk a stamp of authority which will aid it to achieve definite position in the United States.

Did it work? You betcha!

The result of this… was that prominent department stores in New York, Chicago, and other cities… tried to mold the public taste in conformity with the idea which had the approval of Paris. The silks… gained a place in public esteem.

One can't help then but wonder – could Paris do for American shit what it did for American silk?

Vive la (One-Straw) Révolution!

Regardless of the chances of that happening, we need to begin to realize the importance of returning human wastes to the land. And for that to happen, a reimagining of the saying "money makes the world go round" might be a good place to start.

As explained in a previous post of mine, money is a proxy for energy. Therefore, it might be closer to the truth to say then that it is actually energy that makes the world go round.

However, as we are not simply energetic beings but rather corporal beings of a biological nature, it can perhaps be said then that not even energy makes the world go round. For us humans who require sustenance – not simply energy – to feed ourselves, to grow, etc.; and since the maintenance of the land – and thus manure – is required to allow for the conditions for that possibility, it might be more useful if we got down to the nitty gritty of it all and called a spade a spade. And by that I mean one thing and one thing only:

Shit makes the world go round.

Smart Meters

Off the keyboard of Michael Snyder

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on The Economic Collapse on April 7, 2015

Drought-Monitor-July-8-2014

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

Enforcement Of Mandatory Water Restrictions Is Only Just The Beginning

Warning Signs 2 - Public DomainSmart meters are now being used by authorities to crack down on “water wasters” in the state of California, but this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what they can be used for.  Ultimately, smart meters are designed to be part of an entire “smart grid” that will enable government bureaucrats “to control everything from your dishwasher to thermostat“.   And in recent years, there has been a massive push to install smart meters in as many homes in the United States and Europe as possible.  Back in December 2007, there were only 7 million smart meters installed in this country.  Today there are more than 51 million.  On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Parliament has set a goal of having smart meters in 80 percent of all homes by the year 2020.  This is being promoted as the “green” thing to do, but could it be possible that there is more to these smart meters than meets the eye?

In Long Beach, California authorities were getting complaints that a local McDonald’s restaurant was wasting water in the middle of the night.

So what did the authorities do?

They installed a smart meter which instantly started providing incriminating evidence against McDonald’s.  The following comes from CBS Los Angeles

The Long Beach Water Department says sprinklers at a McDonald’s restaurant on Bellflower Boulevard went on for 45 minutes at a time, twice a night, for an undefined number of nights. Complaints continued to mount as water pooled and wasted. The department, however, could do little about the wasting.

That was before the smart meter.

Since its installation in February, Long Beach Water Department General Manager Kevin Wattier says he saw an immediate spike by tens of thousands of gallons, each time McDonald’s overwatered their property.

And according to NPR, other large California cities are also now looking into how they can use smart meters to enforce the new mandatory water restrictions in the state…

By next February, California cities together are supposed to cut their water use by a quarter. Sacramento, San Francisco and some Central Valley cities are also seeing whether smart meters can help.

But smart meters are capable of determining far more than whether or not we are using too much water.

Already, police all over the country are using the data provided by smart meters to identify homes that are potentially growing marijuana.  Homes that grow marijuana tend to use much more electricity than other homes, and so if your home is using a high level of energy that is a red flag for the cops.

In addition, there are a whole host of other ways that smart meters can be used as surveillance devices by law enforcement.  The following list comes from an electronics and media expert from Burbank, California named Jerry Day…

1. They individually identify electrical devices inside the home and record when they are operated causing invasion of privacy.

2. They monitor household activity and occupancy in violation of rights and domestic security.

3. They transmit wireless signals which may be intercepted by unauthorized and unknown parties. Those signals can be used to monitor behavior and occupancy and they can be used by criminals to aid criminal activity against the occupants.

4. Data about occupant’s daily habits and activities are collected, recorded and stored in permanent databases which are accessed by parties not authorized or invited to know and share that private data.

5. Those with access to the smart meter databases can review a permanent history of household activities complete with calendar and time-of-day metrics to gain a highly invasive and detailed view of the lives of the occupants.

6. Those databases may be shared with, or fall into the hands of criminals, blackmailers, law enforcement, private hackers of wireless transmissions, power company employees, and other unidentified parties who may act against the interests of the occupants under metered surveillance.

7. “Smart Meters” are, by definition, surveillance devices which violate Federal and State wiretapping laws by recording and storing databases of private and personal activities and behaviors without the consent or knowledge of those people who are monitored.

8. It is possible for example, with analysis of certain “Smart Meter” data, for unauthorized and distant parties to determine medical conditions, sexual activities, physical locations of persons within the home, vacancy patterns and personal information and habits of the occupants.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, there are also substantial concerns about the impact that these smart meters are having on our health

According to physician and epidemiologist Sam Milham, Smart Meters, which are linked to an array of health issues, emit as much as 100 times the amount of radiation as a cell phone.

Daniel Hirsch, a senior lecturer on nuclear policy at UCSC, says the federal government purposely misleads the public by conducting biased safety studies at the behest of power companies.

A Washington DC power company stirred controversy in 2013 after they were caught lying to the public about how often their smart meters emitted radiation. Despite claims that the meters only emitted radiation once every 4 to 6 hours, an investigation by WUSA9 News revealed the frequency to be closer to 4 to 6 times every minute.

When there is that much radiation blasting through our homes on a continual basis, it is inevitable that there are going to be health problems.

According to Infowars, tens of thousands of people have already reported significant health issues that they believe are directly related to the installation of smart meters in their homes…

Tens of thousands of individuals are reporting officially, to governments and utilities, that they are experiencing illness or functional impairments following the installation of “smart” meters. Reported symptoms include headaches, sleep problems, ear ringing, focus difficulties, fatigue, heart palpitations, nausea and statistically abnormal recurrences of cancer.

Perhaps you are dealing with one of the health issues just mentioned.

If so, you might want to check to see if you have a smart meter in your home.

There has got to be a better way for the state of California to monitor water usage rather than smart meters.

And without a doubt, the state of California is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions.  The snowpack in the Sierras is only 5 percent of the long-term historical average.  Snow levels are currently at the lowest levels ever measured for this time of the year, and the snow is melting five to 30 days earlier than normal.  For much more on the nightmare that the state is dealing with, please see my previous article entitled “How Many People Will Have To Migrate Out Of California When All The Water Disappears?

Thankfully, there is a lot of waste that can be eliminated, so a lot of water can potentially be saved.  It turns out that Californians are some of the biggest water wasters on the entire planet.  The following statistic comes from the New York Times

California’s cities consume 178 gallons per person per day, on average. That’s 40 percent more than the per capita water consumption in New York City and more than double that of parched Sydney, in Australia.

So let’s hope that Californians start banding together and begin using water more wisely, because this drought is not likely to go away any time soon.

And the truth is that what is going on in the state of California is kind of a microcosm of the water crisis that is beginning to emerge all over the globe

The move by California to require mandatory cuts in water use for the first time in its history has highlighted the world’s looming water crisis and increased the focus on the links between sustainable water and sustainable energy.

“We need a new paradigm,” says Steven Solomon, author of Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization. “The days when we could just go further into the mountains and find new sources of water are past. We need to make better use of the water we have.”

In the end, the drought in California is going to affect all of us.  A tremendous amount of our produce is grown in the state, and we will all soon be feeling the pain of the drought in our local grocery stores

As California’s multi-year drought rages on, consumers in the rest of the United States may soon be feeling the pinch at the grocery store as farmers around California reduce water and plant fewer crops.

California, sometimes called the ‘nation’s salad bowl’, is the country’s largest producer of grapes, kiwis, olives, avocados, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, tree nuts and dairy. Now in the fourth year of a massive drought ‒ and facing only a year’s worth of water remaining in the state ‒ food prices in the US and agricultural unemployment in California are set to climb as farmers do what they can to conserve water and protect their investments.

So what do you think about all of this?

Degrowth

Off the keyboard of Brian Davey

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on December 18, 2014 on FEASTA

Degrowth_Panel

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

Degrowth – A Vocabulary for a New Era: Review

Degrowth. A Vocabulary for a New Era, just published by Routledge, is quite a slim volume of 220 pages and 51 short chapters.

Before anything else it seems important to say that there are lots of chapters in this book that I think are quite excellent as short pithy descriptions of the key concepts of degrowth. If in this review I have not mentioned many of these chapters it is usually because I have no quarrel with the choice of the word or phrase, the way that is elucidated, the way that it is related to the other words and combined with a short reading list. An attempt has been made by the editors and by the individual authors to relate the words in the vocabulary together so that they are not isolated chapters about stand alone ideas. This puts the idea of “Degrowth” on the intellectual map as a wide ranging discourse, a movement of thinkers about the future of society that needs to be taken seriously…and yet….

…because it is supposed to be a “vocabulary” of degrowth my inclination has been to try to get an idea of which words and concepts relating to degrowth the authors consider to be important enough to be given explanatory chapters, and then to compare this choice of concepts with the vocabularies used by other analysts. Do the words that have been chosen for inclusion cover the constellation of concepts which match the range and types of degrowth ideas that there are and the degrowth idea as I have understood it?

In fact there is only a partial overlap with my own ideas. In this review I will try to explain some of the differences.

No chapter on climate change

http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/01/140122_FT_Degrowth.png.CROP.original-original.pngOn this first point the most striking absence is that there is no specific chapter for climate change. Although climate change is mentioned throughout there is no chapter for the topic as such.

In their introduction to the book the editors write that one of the “foundational degrowth claims” is “the inevitability of disastrous climate change if growth is to continue”. One would think that, if this is such a central issue, it requires proper elucidation. Perhaps the editors thought people would already know about climate change and there was no need to cover it. However this is not really what I am getting at. I am not stating a case for a thumbnail sketch of elementary climate science; I am arguing for an exploration of how the climate crisis contextualises the way one perceives degrowth. For example, given the policy failure of the growth enthusiasts to mitigate climate change at the rate and scale required is “degrowth” now, in any case, too late? If degrowth ideas are not too late, then how much time is left to implement them? Exactly how desperate is the situation that the degrowth agenda is supposed to address? A related question is “how quickly must degrowth proceed, how deep must it be and how could it possibly be delivered?”

It is now widely recognised by people involved in climate politics that only with a level of CO2 in the atmosphere of under 350 parts per million, perhaps much less, will the planet be safe from runaway climate change. Since the actual level of CO2 in the atmosphere is nearly 396 parts per million we are already well on the way to a catastrophe in the absence of emergency action. I have always assumed that a core rationale for degrowth was to be found here.

Degrowth could be driven by climate policy

http://blogs.worldwatch.org/sustainableprosperity/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/degrowthVsGrowth-Desazkundea.jpgNot only that – in my own vision for degrowth, and I guess for others associated with Feasta, degrowth would actually be ‘driven’ by an adequate climate policy. Many chapters in this book draw attention to the role of energy as central to the metabolism of the economy. Most of that energy is currently derived from fossil fuels so if there is a mechanism to screw down the available fossil energy entering the economy it should be possible to force an amount of degrowth on the economy appropriate to averting catastrophe.

To use an metaphor – we need a climate policy regime that is akin to the process of turning down the tap through which carbon fuels enter the economy until no more carbon energy is available to be burned. Were the political will there, and the general political support for degrowth, this would be easy to administer. One would simply require all companies that extract fossil fuel to have permits for the tonnage of carbon in the fuel that they extract before they are allowed to sell this tonnage. Some agency would limit the tonnage of carbon permitted out of the ground each year and would only make available for sale a rapidly reducing number of permits. The money that the fossil fuel companies paid to buy the permits would be distributed on an equitable basis to the general population. That’s called “cap and share” and if I had edited a book on degrowth then ‘cap and share’ and/or similar climate policies would have a chapter as the driver of any voluntary degrowth process.

Voluntary and involuntary degrowth

I write “voluntary degrowth process” because there is an argument that I think ought to have been explored in this book that degrowth will mainly be an involuntary process. Let me try and explain what I see as being the difference.

http://clubfordegrowth.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/450px-Degrowth_strategies.jpgBy “voluntary degrowth” I mean a vision for the future that is promoted because it is regarded as preferable to a growth economy. It is preferable, for example, because it encompasses a number of proposals for change that get no attention in the growth economy where more output is seen as the solution for all problems. An example would be Ivan Illiich’s tools for conviviality – creating the kind of tools that would make possible “space for relationships, recognition, pleasure and generally living well, and thereby, reducing the dependence on an industrial and consumerist system” as Marco Deriu explains in his chapter. Thus what I might term “voluntary degrowth” is a mainly French idea that is sometimes termed “décroissance conviviale”, a cultural and social critique of society – an alternative “imaginary” of how society might be.

By “involuntary degrowth” I mean a view of the future that the production economy will contract anyway, whether we like it or not, perhaps in a chaotic fashion, perhaps through collapse, so that the task of the degrowth movement is to prepare for, and ameliorate, that contraction as best as we can. It is not so much communities and societies making a choice against growth – but communities finding means to cope with difficulties that they will inevitably face when the economy contracts anyway. For example the Transition Movement (that is barely mentioned in this book) has had an idea that “energy descent” is going to happen in the near future and that it is an urgent task to prepare communities so that they will be able to cope.

Now in trying to cope with this process that people like me think will happen anyway the Transition Movement have had a strong idea of making the most of the situation. They have wanted to “make a virtue out of necessity” and to look for the silver linings around the storm clouds. There is the suggestion that people might be surprised to find that the quality of life might actually be better. The Transition Movement thus works towards the revival of community, relationships and different kinds of creativity too. The kinds of projects advocated for – like urban gardening – are the same as for décroissance conviviale. However, the starting point is not a choice for a different kind of society compared with the growth economy – so much as making the best of what will happen in the difficult conditions associated with future contraction.

To my mind it is a weakness of this book that it does not draw out and emphasise these distinctions enough. In fact different kinds of future are possible. Thus we can consider the possibility that involuntary degrowth happens (in the sense of a contraction of material production) but not quickly enough to reduce carbon emissions at an adequate pace. In this situation cap and share to drive a faster pace of emissions reduction – and a process of voluntary degrowth of material production would still be needed to speed up the involuntary contraction.

Reducing the allowable extraction of fossil fuels in order to leave most fuels in the ground would degrow the economy. However, on its own this is unlikely to be enough to avert runaway climate change. That’s because CO2 is already over the limit and any more will add to the danger. So a lot of CO2 will have to be taken out of the atmosphere. This is another urgent future task. However, any draw-down of CO2 will probably only be possible, if at all, by extensive land reclamation and re-vegetation, locking up the CO2 in biomass – using ecological design methods (like permaculture). In my view draw-down or sequestration ought to be another idea with a chapter. It isn’t. There is no consideration of enhancing carbon sinks.

http://www.barcelona.degrowth.org/uploads/media/maclurcan.jpg

Overshoot and collapse – some more missing words

https://panosz.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/degrowth.jpgOf course academics at the University of Barcelona, who have played a leading role bringing this book together cannot be expected to know everything but the failure to address these urgent practical issues is serious. Or that is my point of view anyway. We need to remind ourselves that the original authors of the 1972 Club of Rome sponsored study “Limits to Growth” worked with a model in which growth could continue for some time beyond the carrying capacity of the planet in a phase that they termed “overshoot”. Overshoot was analogous to living beyond ones personal means by running down the family savings or running up debts. It can be thought of as a delay in adaptation to ecological realities which would mean that eventual adjustment, when it comes, will be that much more of a shock. An overshoot that goes on too long eventually leads to collapse – a chaotic reduction in complexity likely to involve a great deal of insecurity. You can think of collapse as involuntary degrowth and it is much more serious than stagnation, recession or even depression. That’s because it is a much longer and irreversible process of transformation in humanity’s relationship with the planet likely to be associated with rising death rates and falling populations. Unfortunately words like “overshoot”, “collapse” or “involuntary degrowth” are not part of the vocabulary either. To my perception this “vocabulary” lacks a continuity with the “Limits to Growth” thinkers of 1972. It is a southern European and French choice of words even though the book is written in English.

Many of the actions and policies that are proposed under the heading of “degrowth” might conceivably help in a collapse – but one feels that most of the authors in this book do not conceive their proposals for action as emergency measures. They are not being proposed as survival arrangements; they are still being proposed in an alternative paradigm in a future which is rather like the present. They are being framed on the assumption that “developed economies” are entering “a period of systemic stagnation” in which “an abandonment of growth will revive politics and nourish democracy, rather than animate catastrophic passions” as it says in the introduction. I find this framing to be rather too complacent.

Not all of the contributors share the same ideas. Christian Kerschner has written the chapter on peak oil (and other resource peaks). He thinks “Economic degrowth is no longer an option but a reality”. For him it is starting to happen involuntarily.

Another author not on the editors’ wavelength is Alevguel Sorman who has written the chapter on ‘Societal Metabolism’. Sorman concludes “ The biophysical view of social metabolism warns about the limitations of degrowth strategies based on voluntarily consuming fewer resources, less energy or less capital. These will not suffice on their own”. In particular Sorman warns against the assumptions of many thinkers that worksharing will enable a trade of income in exchange for more free time because “In a future scarce in energy we will have to work more, not less”.

There is also an indirect and partial consideration of collapse in a chapter by Serge Latouche titled the “Pedagogy of Disaster”. This is a discussion about whether future disasters will allow a sociopathic elite to exploit the vulnerability of shocked, disorientated and frightened people ( ‘disaster capitalism’) or whether the coming shocks will shake people free of their complacency so that they wake up in time to forestall an even worse future. Latouche concludes that both are possible, depending on context.

An version of degrowth flawed by optimism bias?

http://theoverthinker.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/lemmings.jpgOne way of summarising these points is to say that the editors have drawn together a mainly optimistic version of degrowth. It is not a view that I share. I find it is interesting to contrast the approach of the editors with the attitude of Dennis Meadows, a surviving member of the ‘Limits to Growth’ study of 1972. Meadows stopped believing that humanity would be able to adequately respond to the limits to growth crisis in the 1990s and feels that a collapse is now inevitable.

“In 1972 there were two possible options provided for going forward — overshoot or sustainable development. Despite myriad conferences and commissions on sustainable development since then, the world opted for overshoot. The two-leggeds hairless apes did what they always have done. They dominated and subdued Earth. Faced with unequivocable evidence of an approaching existential threat, they equivocated and then attempted to muddle through.

Global civilization will only be the first of many casualties of the climate the Mother Nature now has coming our way at a rate of change exceeding any comparable shift in the past 3 million years, save perhaps the meteors or super volcanoes that scattered our ancestors into barely enough breeding pairs to be able to revive. This change will be longer lived and more profound than many of those phenomena. We have fundamentally altered the nitrogen, carbon and potassium cycles of the planet. It may never go back to an ecosystem in which bipedal mammals with bicameral brains were possible. Or, not for millions of years”.

Graham Turner, an Australian academic has now done 30 and a 40 year follow-ups to see how the business as usual predictions of the 1972 ‘Limits to Growth’ computer model compare with what actually happened. He concludes that they are pretty much on target – and that the turning point will occur in 2015.

“With significant capital subsequently going into resource extraction, there is insufficient available to fully replace degrading capital within the industrial sector itself. Consequently, despite heightened industrial activity attempting to satisfy multiple demands from all sectors and the population, actual industrial output per capita begins to fall precipitously, from about 2015, while pollution from the industrial activity continues to grow. The reduction of inputs to agriculture from industry, combined with pollution impacts on agricultural land, leads to a fall in agricultural yields and food produced per capita. Similarly, services (e.g., health and education) are not maintained due to insufficient capital and inputs.

“Diminishing per capita supply of services and food cause a rise in the death rate from about 2020 (and somewhat lower rise in the birth rate, due to reduced birth control options). The global population therefore falls, at about half a billion per decade, starting at about 2030. Following the collapse, the output of the World3 model for the standard run shows that average living standards for the aggregate population (material wealth, food and services per capita) resemble those of the early 20th century.[1]

The distinction between voluntary and involuntary transitions matters. Without a transition that is at least partly involuntary it is highly unlikely that sufficient people will voluntarily adjust their lifestyles in the directions that degrowthers see as vital. At the same time what we are describing an unpleasant historical epoch in which death rates will be rising.

Risk aversion, prospect theory and the collapse of lifestyle packages

http://thetyee.cachefly.net/Life/2010/05/04/Degrowth.jpgIn order to understand the inertia in current systems and peoples reluctance to change their lives towards degrowth the work of Daniel Kahnemann is helpful.

Kahnemann’s “prospect theory” is another idea absent from this book. It shows that people organise their lives around ‘reference points’ and are very “risk averse” when it comes to retreating away from those reference points. A reference point might be something like the income level to which one has grown accustomed and therefore the amount that one spends in day to day life, the expenditure associated with a lifestyle that is more or less adjusted to the income. My interpretation of this is that a fall in income is not welcome not only because one has less but because the organisation, the management of life’s details, must be adjusted so as to create an adjusted expenditure pattern and this requires thought and attention. One spends less money but spends more time thinking about what one spends money on. This is unwelcome extra mental effort. For a significant change one must adjust a whole pattern of hourly, daily and weekly purchases with possible consequences for habitat, relationships, routine transport arrangements etc.

It is all very well to write, as the editors do in their epilogue, that scarcity is social, and that society can produce more than enough for our basic needs – but that does not address the main issue that people worry about when they manage their day to day lives. This is how to maintain their “lifestyle package” in sufficient balance so that their lives are not at risk of descending into chaos. Most individuals whose lives are in balance will be living in a set of circumstances where their income is more or less appropriate to match their habitat needs, which must match their relationships (accommodation suitable to living with their partner and dependents). These must match their job with its income – and with its time and travel commitments. These must match their job skills and domestic commitments. There is mental and emotional work involved in balancing one’s life and it is scary if it seems like unravelling.

The biggest fear is of a generalised life crisis in which all of these things unravel together. For example because they lose their job a person might find that they cannot service their debts (mortgage) or pay the rent and thus lose their accommodation. During the stress and practical chaos of this their relationships might break apart. During the last crash many ended up homeless living in tents or cars on their own. Many people also lost their minds – i.e. became totally disorientated, extremely emotional and unable to function.[2]

The practical projects as “lifeboat arrangements”

https://jaqastan.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/adeptes-de-la-decroissance1.jpgThe point about a generalised crisis is that large numbers of people could find themselves in situations like these – and thus need the urban farms, the food co-ops, the repair and maintenance workshops, the back to the land projects, the alternative currencies as “lifeboat” arrangements to keep them afloat. They will need these kind of projecsts to give them new social relationships and enable them to begin again, to regain confidence, to “recycle their lives”. It seems implausible to me that most people will join these projects and organise their lives around them as a choice of rejection of the growth economy – although some will. It is however not implausible that if and when the growth economy is breaking down that people will join these projects. (I have seen how valuable a community garden can be for people who have mental health problems.)

Until a generalised breakdown occurs most people will remain too tightly tied into the economic mainstream. When a breakdown does occur however the times will be very dangerous and the projects must be there ready to include and support people. This is because it is when all their options seem bad that people lose their risk aversion and are prepared to take gambles – like for example betting what little they have left or, in a more fundamental sense, gambling with their life by joining a criminal gang or an extremist movement.

Resilience – another missing word

The word to describe this set of issues is “resilience”. Unfortunately resilience is another missing concept in this book. Resilience is about how much stress an individual’s ‘lifestyle package’ or a community or a society can take and still function before it breaks down catastrophically. It is about the tipping points or thresholds within systems that reflect their levels of complexity and interdependence.

This ought to have been clear from the chapter by Sergio Ulgiati on “Entropy” which is about what role low entropy energy has in the maintenance of systems. The availability of low entropy energy in economic and social systems is not just in order to be able to produce enough “stuff”. The conversion of energy in “hub interdependencies” – in transport systems, transactions and financial systems, computer controlled production systems and global supply networks is used to maintain the continued functionality of an immensely complex set of organisational structures. If the energy is not there then the complexity degrades – systems cease to function – the organisation falls to bits.

The crucial issue here is how resilient are these interrelated structures to disruptions in hub interdependencies brought about by energy and resource supply shocks? Systems can cope with reductions in inputs of energy and other resources up to a point but beyond that point they may break down completely. When organisational arrangements break down altogether nothing at all may get produced because workers are unemployed, production systems stand idle, banks are bust, nothing moves. There would not be stone age levels of production but no production at all. Gar nicht. Rien du tout. Res en absolute.

Here’s a quote from a colleague in Feasta, David Korowicz, which reveals the issue at stake:

“In September 2000 truckers in the United Kingdom, angry at rising diesel duties, blockaded refineries and fuel distribution outlets. The petrol stations reliance on Just-In-Time re-supply meant the impact was rapid. Within 2 days of the blockade starting approximately half of the UK’s petrol stations had run out of fuel and supplies to industry and utilities had begun to be severely affected. The initial impact was on transport – people couldn’t get to work and businesses could not be re-supplied. This then began to have a systemic impact.

The protest finished after 5 days at which point: supermarkets had begun to empty of stock, large parts of the manufacturing sector were about to shut down, hospitals had begun to offer emergency only’ care; automatic cash machines could not be re-supplied and the postal service was severely affected. There was panic buying at supermarkets and petrol stations. It was estimated that after the first day an average 10% of national output was lost. Surprisingly, at the height of the disruption, commercial truck traffic on the UK road network was only 10-12% below average values.”[3]

It will be noted here that 10 to 12 % less commercial truck traffic and British society was about to fall to bits. It is easy to imagine particular kinds of emergency where the “life style package” of a lot of people would disintegrate.
Climate change, climate policy, overshoot, involuntary degrowth, collapse, risk aversion, inertia, resilience…here are a whole series of concepts and words that in my view ought to have appeared in the vocabulary but did not. As I said at the beginning of this review the constellation of concepts or the words in this vocabulary do not cover the issues to my point of view.

http://www.sustainabilitysc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/EconomicGrowthCartoon.jpg

A French book written in English?

The Degrowth book is a collection of 51 very short essays, almost all of which are by academic authors – 16 of whom are at the University of Barcelona. Although it is claimed to be the first comprehensive collection about degrowth in English it is very much a southern European academic view of what degrowth means. This is reflected in the choice of topics by the editors who have clearly been very influenced by thinkers on the French left. Thus, to my mind, many chapters sit uneasily alongside the chapters by some of the English and American authors some of whom have started from a different pre-analytical framework. I have no problem with a book whose authors start from different points but it places a particular responsibility on the editors to give the reader some orientation to the differences. It makes me wonder what the English and American authors have made of the parts of the book that they had no hand in writing.

In a footnote early in the book the editors explain why some words have not been translated into English:

“In this entry we leave the original titles in French, not only for reasons of language pluralism or practicality but also because many of the words involved sound more inspiring in French!”.[4]

My response to this is that it is not always practical not to translate. It is not practical for readers when it makes it more difficult for them to understand the meaning. Indeed if one does not understand what a word is supposed to mean then I for one don’t find that word inspiring. This is particularly the case with words that do not translate easily because they come out of a different intellectual tradition, background and patterns of thought.

An adjective used as a noun – “the imaginary”

http://foreignpolicyblogs.com/wp-content/uploads/polyp-org-uk-No-Economic-Growth-cartoon-e1298661998815.jpgThroughout the book many authors write out of a left wing French intellectual tradition about the “social imaginary”. The use of the adjective “imaginary” as a noun, as “the imaginary”, I have now learned has a long intellectual tradition in France. Novelists like Gide, philosophers like Sartre and Castoriadis and psychoanalysts like Lacan all used “L’Imaginaire” in different contexts. The idea seems to be that the words and symbols used in human communication, as well as in our thinking, do not necessarily match or correspond to actually existing realities.

The words and symbols that we use may have an invented component that corresponds to nothing ‘out there’ in the world. In fact the imagination is necessary to thought. Our ability to shape patterns of words, images and symbols in creative writing or painting is not merely an ability we have to create fictitious realities. The mind has to have this capacity to imagine if it is to be able to think at all. How else can a scientist theorise except by imagining what might be the explanatory causes for some phenomena? The imagination can later be tested and found to be true or false but the initial act of making a hypothesis is an ability to construct what might be, to imagine.

Furthermore it is through our ability to imagine the way in things might be otherwise arranged that our freedom to act in the world lies. Our imagination can create visions of how future social, economic and political realities might be constructed differently. We can use our imagination to invent things. This is why, according to Cornelius Castoriadis, history cannot be analysed in a determinist way. A significant role in the historical process originates from the creative imagination of people in societies. Thus, once we surrender to the idea that “there is no alternative” (e.g. to neo-liberal economics) we have not only got a failure of the imagination but have allowed our freedom to disappear. We are, to use the concept of one of the other chapters, relinquishing our autonomy – our ability to set rules and laws for ourselves in co-operative and hopefully convivial arrangements with other people. Hence the case made by Serge Latouche in this book for the need to “decolonise” our “imaginaries” from the ideas of market economics.

Unfortunately one meaning of “imaginary” in the English language is “existing only in the imagination”. (Oxford English Dictionary) That’s why I don’t personally like the adoption of “the imaginary” as a noun. It is too ambiguous. In the context it also reads like a word that has suddenly become fashionable among intellectuals.

I can imagine that I can raise a bag of ten apples one metre into the air with one joule of energy but that is “an imaginary” that only exists in my imagination. (An apple of an average weight takes one joule to raise one metre). While some imaginaries have some connection to reality, some imaginaries, on closer inspection, appear to be too-off-the wall and rather more in the nature of fantasies. Some imaginaries are nice to look at in a surrealist painting but non functional and some imaginaries are not only crazy but criminally insane and plain dangerous. As a matter of fact “economic growth” is a mainstream “social imaginary” that is collectively suicidal. Imaginaries have to have some connection to practical possibilities and actual developments in material reality and it’s important to note that current mainstream ‘economic imaginaries’ are delusionary.

Ecological economists have given a lot of thought to this issue by seeking to ground economics in energetics and physics. Cultural critique has to check its groundings otherwise it is waffle.

La depense sociale – what is it actually?

This brings me to one of the words that do appear in this book and one in particular that the editors seem particularly keen on – that word is “dépense”. This concept is discussed more than any other by the editors particularly in their epilogue where the authors break into French slogans in their last two sentences:

“Vive la décroissance conviviale. Pour la sobriete individuelle et la dépense sociale.”

With social dépense so clearly highlighted it is obviously important to understand it. If the idea is to be ‘operationalised’ we need to know how to recognise “dépense” when we see it. In fact I’ve been left feeling that I am unclear what it means.

Part of the problem for me with understanding ‘dépense’ is that it is another word coming out of the French tradition with which I have not been familiar. When the word “dépense” is left in French and not simply translated as “expenditure” then the reader is left assuming that it has a more complex meaning which I need to make some more effort into getting a grip on. My assumption is that I have no choice but to do extra work digging back into the history of that concept to try to capture all its connotations in the intellectual background in which it was created. In this book ideas are introduced in very small chapters that are no longer than 4 pages and that is not long enough to pick up all the nuances and assumptions of the tradition. For that reason I felt compelled to do additional google searches in order to try to understand “dépense”. I also searched around to find some more about George Bataille who originated the idea. It was on my bookshelf that I found the most useful succinct description of Bataille’s ideas in an old edition of the Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy:

“For Bataille, much modern thought and many social and economic structures are modes of denial of the fundamental nature of being as a Dionysian process without stable identity or meaningful direction, an expenditure and squandering of force that is no more than its own end – compare the second law of thermodynamics….”

So this is a crucial idea for degrowth? Digging in other texts to try to understand what kind of idea this is, and what its author was about, I discovered not just an economic theory but a writer of surrealist texts, a particular angle on psychoanalysis and Marxism and a deeply disturbed and traumatised man. I write this at this point not to disqualify the dépense idea but only to point out that I am reluctant to embrace any concept with this amount of baggage before I have carefully examined it because there isn’t enough in the Degrowth book to get a grasp of the idea.

Unfortunately after a lot of work I am still not completely sure that I have understood what the word means. Nor am I sure that I have understood how the dépense chapter author, Onofrio Romano, and the editors want the word to be understood in the context of degrowth – because this is not necessarily identical to the way Bataille understood it. What follows is my attempt to convert the idea into a terminology that would make some sort of sense to me but I am not completely sure that I have got it right.

Underlying the motivational foundations for the ideology of growth is the mainstream economics idea of scarcity. If there can never be enough goods and services to meet human needs it seems to follow that the more we produce the better. Here is the simple case for growth. It would therefore be understandable if advocates of degrowth were drawn to Bataille who turned the scarcity idea on its head – the problem for the economy in his way of thinking is not how to deal with scarcity but how to deal with “excess”.

According Bataille that there is a “superabundance of energy” and more than enough to meet the basic material needs for organisms/humans. That part of work using energy to meet these basic needs which enable us to survive can be regarded as ‘servile’ serving and merely re-creating our animal existence. It is when we are deciding what to do with the surplus which is more than we need for very basic needs that we enter a realm of freedom where we are truly exercising our freedom in “forms of energy beyond the servile”.

For Romano, and for the editors here is a key concept that they want to put at the heart of “degrowth”. Scarcity, the editors assure us, “is social. Since the stone age we have had more than we need for a basic standard of living.”

The problem is that, instead of staying with our basic individual standards of living and democratically organising how we are going to “waste” the surplus together, for non servile purposes that develop our humanity, we have accumulated and invested the surplus in new technologies that expand production even more. We have thereby grown the capacity of “the economy” to produce ever more until it is threatening the eco-system. At the same time we have privatised and individualised the process of waste making of the surplus. “Given the individualisation of society, single individuals take on the burden of waste through small trade offs: from perverse sexuality to alcoholism, gambling and flashy consumption”. [5]

The alternative then is guaranteeing a modest living for all individuals and socialising “dépense”, the non productive use of society’s surplus.

This is a superficially attractive idea could perhaps alternatively be expressed like this. If we want to stop growing we must stop accumulating productive capital. (Creating more technical devices and infrastructures that convert energy while turning more throughputs into what eventually become larger waste streams). With a modest income most individuals would not have enough to save and any surplus would go to democratic institutions to dispense – though not on anything productive that would grow the economy. According to the editors:

“Our message to the frugal ecologists is that it is better to waste resources in gold decorations in a public building or drink them in a big feast, than put them to good use, accelerating even more the extraction of new resources and the degradation of the environment. It is the only way to escape Jevon’s Paradox. Accumulation drives growth, not waste. Even in a society of frugal subjects with a downscaled metabolism, there will still be a surplus that would have to be dispensed, if growth is not to be reactivated.”

I think that I get the main drift of the argument here but I am not absolutely sure I have understood it fully. This is partly because I am not sure that is meant by the word “energy” – is it the same energy that is actually becoming scarce because of peak oil or is there a looser use of the word? I am also not sure that I have understood partly because there is an implicit psychology under the analysis that I don’t get either. For example, Romano argues that “individualised dépense” does not happen on an adequate scale.

“A large amount of energy remains unused, it continues to circulate and to stress human beings. Lacking tools of deliberate and symbolic catastrophe (i.e. the ritual collective dépense) the inhabitants of growth societies begin to dream them and to desire a ‘real’ catastrophe.”

What is this supposed to mean? Is it supposed to be the same idea as “catharsis”? I don’t understand what this ‘energy’ is that is stressing people and how it is stressing them. However I have tried to guess at what the author means in a conceptual framework that makes sense to me so, once again, here goes with my attempted ‘translation’:

Is this trying to describe a situation where, while people have time on their hands and a wish to do things, they are stressed and frustrated because they don’t actually know what to do with their time and ‘energy’? Is this because they don’t have purposes to give structure and meaning to their lives and to use their personal ‘energy’ on (like the sacred)? Is this what frustrates them? Does it mean that they are frustrated because they have spare time on their hands and they are bored because they don’t have a meaningful “game” to play with their lives? Is this what it is supposed to mean? Does it mean that people need to be able to collectively express the negative feelings that arise out of their bored purposeless – feelings like anger and destructiveness? Does it mean that without collective rituals of destructiveness to which resources must be devoted that they will end up wishing for real catastrophes? Is this, for example, about angry young men (and women) needing rituals like football matches with punch-ups thrown in – because otherwise they will sign up to go and fight for causes and go to war?

What seems to be being said here is not only that dépense is a means to dissipate resources so that they are not accumulated economically but also that dépense has a function in the management of mass emotion. If I have got that right then what is being described here is what therapists call “catharsis” – the release, and therefore relief from, strong emotions which would otherwise be channelled into real destruction.

How do you administer the dépense idea? How do you operationalise it?

If I have understood these ideas correctly then what opens up for me is a huge number of questions. For example how is the social depense to be organised/administered? How is it to be decided, and by whom, what is an acceptable level of basic provision and what is to be destroyed as “excess”? How is “excess” to be identified and then “socialised” prior to its “waste” in a useless fashion? I suppose that by guaranteeing a basic income and a maximum income and then taxing all the rest away that one could say that that rest was “excess” but would the authors really want to spend this excess without any investment whatsoever? For example all buildings as well as other forms of public infrastructure would be depreciating as they always do – should provision be set aside to maintain their upkeep and replacement? “Growth” can happen because when equipment needs replacing and the replacements are “upgrades”. Where does that fit into dépense?

Further to that, what exactly is “dépense sociale”? On the last page the editors give a list of examples – collective feasts, Olympic Games, idle ecosystems, military expenditures and voyages to space and they refer to pressure on democratic and deliberative institutions choosing between these.

I will put aside at this point the question of what an “idle ecosystem” is and raise some other points instead. The implicit faith in the ability of “democratic and deliberative institutions” to be able to stand up to the military industrial complex and prevent it claiming the surplus surprises me. Given the pre-existing power structures it would be very surprising if the idea of individual sobriety and social depense did not to turn into the latest version of bread and circuses. The masses would have, at best, a very basic standard of living while the political elite would organise banquets in honour of the latest head of state, rope everyone into large scale theatrical events with everyone wearing a uniform and carrying torches while they listen to rants from their betters. Alternatively resources could be “wasted” in jolly festivals in which ‘civil people’ (who are obedient) are entertained while those who are disobedient and uncivil, and thus ‘obviously’ the cause of all the problems in society, are put in the centre of ampitheatres and torn apart by lions. This would be wonderfully effective in channelling and managing mass emotions and getting rid of the surplus too. Wouldn’t these qualify as social dépense? They appear to have done in the thinking of George Bataille for whom socialised dépense also included human sacrifices organised by the state in the Aztec empire.

http://image.slidesharecdn.com/happydegrowth1-140122071546-phpapp02/95/happy-degrowth-1-14-638.jpg?cb=1390396617

In conclusion

In conclusion, it seems important to me to know whether Degrowth is a voluntary or an involuntary process and to build that distinction into the vocabulary about it. If it is a voluntary process then certain things follow – like the need to know how it is going to be driven/motivated and administered, at what pace and in what manner, in order to respond to the climate crisis. It is also possible here that even if degrowth is involuntary, because of energy descent, that if it is not fast enough then, once again certain things follow from that about climate policy. As I have argued degrowth could be driven by climate policy by reducing the amount of fossil fuels allowed out of the ground.

To the extent that degrowth is an involuntary process then another set of issues arise – will the society and economy withstand the process without catastrophic breakdowns and what can the many kinds of projects and policies described in this book do to make energy descent a survivable process for the population? A great many people will be finding that their lifestyle packages are severely stressed and breaking apart and this will generate a great deal of fear and ‘negative’ emotions.

Notions like “dépense” are useful for drawing attention to fact that “surplus resources” can be ‘invested’ in things that have consequences for mass emotions and therefore for social stability or conflict. However, one must ask how much “surplus” or excess there will be on the way down given that energy descent is likely to take society through a variety of thresholds and tipping points and be an exceedingly bumpy ride. It is true that to “invest” resources in “capital accumulation” might in theory start the economy growing again – but only if new energy sources were found.

Growth is unlikely in a society where energy inputs are rapidly shrinking. Instead what is needed for the resources that are there is investment in the community level projects and activities which help people cope – an investment directly in the lifeboat projects as I have called them. There is a danger that the rather vague call for “socialised dépense” can be interpreted as a support for state centralisation of the remaining surplus – for the maintenance of remaining resources in the hands of the military, the state bureaucracy and privileged insiders whose claim to maintain “order” in difficult times is also buttressed by the use of resources to display their power and add theatrical embellishment to their authority. I don’t think this would be a very good idea…..

Read the response to this review by Giorgos Kallis, one of the book’s editors

Endnotes

[1] Turner, G. M. (2012). On the Cusp of Collapse. Updated Comparison of the Limits of Growth with historical data. GAIA 21/2 , 116-124.
[2] See my paper produced for Economic De-Growth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Paris, 18/19th April 2008 at http://events.it-sudparis.eu/degrowthconference/en/themes/ I did not attend this conference because, not being an academic, I could not afford to.
[3] http://www.feasta.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Catastrophic-shock-pandemic2.pdf
[4] footnote on page 5
[5] Onofrio Romano p 88

Featured image: community garden in Denver, Colorado. Author: emerson12. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2007_community_garden_DenverCO_787214962.jpg

The Instability Express

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

pyramid-scheme
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation November 17, 2014

The mentally-challenged kibitzers “out there” — in the hills and hollows of the commentary universe, cable news, the blogosphere, and the pathetic vestige of newspaperdom — are all jumping up and down in a rapture over cheap gasoline prices. Overlay on this picture the fairy tale of coming US energy independence, stir in the approach of winter in the North Dakota shale oil fields, put an early November polar vortex cherry on top, and you have quite a recipe for smashed expectations.

Plummeting oil prices are a symptom of terrible mounting instabilities in the world. After years of stagnation, complacency, and official pretense, the linked matrix of systems we depend on for running our techno-industrial society is shaking itself to pieces. American officials either don’t understand what they’re seeing, or don’t want you to know what they see. The tensions between energy, money, and economy have entered a new phase of destructive unwind.

The global economy has caught the equivalent of financial Ebola: deflation, which is the recognition that debts can’t be repaid, obligations can’t be met, and contracts won’t be honored. Credit evaporates and actual business declines steeply as a result of all those things. Who wants to send a cargo ship of aluminum ore to Guangzhou if nobody shows up at the dock with a certified check to pay for it? Financial Ebola means that the connective tissues of trade start to dissolve, and pretty soon blood starts dribbling out of national economies.

One way this expresses itself is the violent rise and fall of comparative currency values. The Japanese yen and the euro go down, the dollar goes up. It happens in a few months, which is quickly in the world of money. Foolish US cheerleaders suppose that the rising dollar is like the rising score of an NFL football team on any given Sunday. “We’re numbah one!” It’s just not like that. The global economy is not some stupid football contest.

When currencies change value quickly, as has happened since the past summer, big banks get into big trouble. Their revenue streams are pegged to so-called “carry trades” in which big blobs of money are borrowed in one currency and used to place bets in other currencies. When currency values change radically, carry trades blow up. So do so-called “derivatives” such as bets on interest rate differentials. When the sums of money involved are grotesquely large, the parties involved discover that they never had any ability to pay off their losing bet. It was all pretense. In fact, the chance that the bet might go bad never figured into their calculations. The net result of all that foolish irresponsibility is that banks find themselves in a position of being unable to trust each other on virtually any transaction.

When that happens, the flow of credit, a.k.a. “liquidity,” dries up and you have a bona fide financial crisis. Nobody can pay anybody else. Nobody trusts anybody. Fortunes are lost. Elephants stomp around in distress, then keel over and die, and a lot of “little people” get crushed in the dusty ground.

The happy dance about low gasoline pump prices featured on Fox News, combined with the awful instability in currency markets, will cut a swathe of destruction through the shale oil “miracle.” That industry has been relying on high yield “junk” financing to perform its relentless drilling-and-fracking operations — imperative due to the extremely rapid depletion rate of shale oil wells. Across the board, shale oil production has not been a profitable venture since it was ramped up around 2006. Below $80 a barrel, chasing profit only becomes more difficult for those who couldn’t make a profit at $100. A lot of those junk bond “investments” are about to become worthless, and the “investment community” will lose its appetite for any more of it. That will leave the US government as the investor of last resort. Expect that to be the object of the next round of Quantitative Easing. The ultimate destination of these shenanigans will be the sovereign debt crisis of 2015.

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

The Fate of the Turtle

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Mitch
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation November 10, 2014

Anybody truly interested in government, and therefore politics, should be cognizant above all that ours have already entered systemic failure. The management of societal affairs is on an arc to become more inept and ineffectual, no matter how either of the current major parties pretends to control things. Instead of Big Brother, government in our time turns out to be Autistic Brother. It makes weird noises and flaps its appendages, but can barely tie its own shoelaces.

The one thing it does exceedingly well is drain the remaining capital from endeavors that might contribute to the greater good. This includes intellectual capital, by the way, which, under better circumstances, might gird the political will to reform the sub-systems that civilized life depends on. These include: food production (industrial agri-business), commerce (the WalMart model), transportation (Happy Motoring), school (a matrix of rackets), medicine (ditto with the patient as hostage), and banking (a matrix of fraud and swindling).

All of these systems have something in common: they’ve exceeded their fragility threshold and crossed into the frontier of criticality. They have nowhere to go except failure. It would be nice if we could construct leaner and more local systems to replace these monsters, but there is too much vested interest in them. For instance, the voters slapped down virtually every major ballot proposition to invest in light rail and public transit around the country. The likely explanation is that they’ve bought the story that shale oil will allow them to drive to WalMart forever.

That story is false, by the way. The politicos put it over because they believe the Wall Street fraudsters who are pimping a junk finance racket in shale oil for short-term, high-yield returns. The politicos want desperately to believe the story because the background reality is too difficult to contemplate: an American living arrangement with no future.

The public, of course, is eager to believe the same story for the same reasons, but at some point they’ll flip and blame the story-tellers, and their wrath could truly wreck what remains of this polity. When it is really too late to fix any of these things, they’ll beg someone to tell them what to do, and the job-description for that position is dictator.

It’s certainly remarkable that the years since the troubles of 2008 have been so seemingly placid and uneventful, at least here in the USA — not so much if you live in the Middle East or Ukraine, or in the decaying economies of southern Euroland, or the septic failed states of Africa. The many formerly-middle-class Americans living in economic ruin apparently blame themselves when, for instance, they’re billed tens of thousands of dollars for some routine surgery performed “out of network” by a bureaucratic happenstance. They must be punch-drunk with cable news, or over-medicated. Don’t expect this national mood of paralysis and surrender to last indefinitely.

What troubles me at the moment is that when that mood snaps, it will be for a bad reason in the wrong way. Ferguson, Mo., is still sitting there like an unattended back-pack on the courthouse steps. Before Christmas, some kind of grand jury decision is going to come down. All the reality-based chatter points to the probable exoneration of Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot teenager Michael Brown. I expect the trouble arising out of that to be a lot worse than most people currently suppose, and then we’ll literally be off to the races. If that happens, it will be a huge and tragic diversion from the things that really matter to keep the project of civilized life going. In a way, it will be the true beginning of the end. The end of what? Of pretending that the people in authority know what they are doing.

If you think that President Obama is lonely and bereft now, just wait. Some excuse will be found to try an impeach him and then the nation will spend another two years conducting a three-ring circus while the shale oil “miracle” crashes and burns and the banking system melts away to nothing. It’s been fun watching Mitch McConnell get ready to preside over all of this. History could not have found a less sympathetic patsy.

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Twin Peaks: Stock-Market Fear, Oil Panic

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
Follow us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter @Doomstead666

This is where stock and gas prices are going. To see the panic index, read from right to left.

This is where stock and gas prices are going. To see the panic index, read from right to left.

First published at The Daily Impact  October 14 2014

 

Gasoline is below three dollars a gallon and the stock market is at an all-time high. Well, yes, that was last week but still. What could be wrong with this picture? Like a face that has had way too many plastic surgeries, this one is stretched a little thin, with eyes bugged out and droplets of sweat all over it. The market, which all concerned promised would go up and up and never come down (Does anybody remember them saying the same thing about real estate? Anybody?) has lost 7% of its value in a week and, yesterday at least, could not pull out of the nose dive. A 10 percent drop is a correction. Twenty percent is a crash. And the low gas prices are being celebrated by everyone but the frackers who brought them to us. For them, low oil prices mean almost-immediate ruin.

The stock market stampede has not yet begun in earnest, but the lightning strikes are getting closer, the thunder louder, and the bulls are getting ready to run. The latest signs and portents:

  • The Volatility Index (the extent to which the bulls are running around in panicked circles) has gone up 80% so far this year — 60% just in the past week.
  • CNN’s aptly named Fear and Greed Index, which goes from 0 (total panic) to 100 (unrestrained exuberance) is at 1.
  • Bloomberg reports that the world’s 400 richest people lost $70 billion from their cumulative net worth last week. OK, hold the tears of sympathy if you must, but as Everett Dirksen used to say, a billion lost here, a billion vaporized there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.
  • The Price/Earnings Ratio — the price of the stock compared with the profits of the company — is at 26x, its highest value in 135 years with the exception of just before the crashes of 1929 and 2000.

Meanwhile, there’s panic in the fracking patch, because nobody was making any money when oil was selling at $100 a barrel, and now it’s at $80 and diving.

To be clear: the frackers have been showing profits on their P&L statements — lots of them — but it’s the balance sheet you have to look at to understand that they are borrowing so much money to build so so many more wells that they are drowning in debt. The number of fracking wells has quadrupled in five years, to more than 1300. The frackers aren’t doing this because they want to — they have to, because the wells play out in four to five years. As Bloomberg Businessweek puts it, “US Oil Producers May Drill Themselves into Oblivion.”

The 60 fracking companies (almost all of them) that Bloomberg tracks, in the year ending June 30,  spent an average of $1.17 for every dollar they earned. It’s the oldest joke in retail; if you lose money on each unit you sell, you make it up with volume. The frackers no longer think it’s funny; they have racked up $50 billion in debt in just three years, and are now carrying $190 billion, most of it raised with junk bonds.

Keep in mind that these less than stellar results were achieved in a period when oil was selling at $100 and more. Now that it seems headed south from $80, even the nominal, paper profits are going away and all these operators, who were teetering at the edge of solvency in the good times, are going to be toppling into the swamp very quickly.

But wait there’s more. Because of the ugly decline rates of these wells — they play out in about four years — the operators are going to have to drill more wells in the next three years than they did in the last three, just to stay even. That means they will need to borrow much more money. (Um, is there a classification below “junk?”)

When fracking hears that the stock market’s crashing, and the market hears that fracking is crashing, there will be nothing left for them to do but get in their Mustang convertible, join hands, and enjoy a Thelma and Louise moment.

 

 

***

 

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.

 

 

Must Be the Season of the Witch

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

debt-bubble
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  October 6, 2014

As the Governor goblins at the Federal Reserve whistle past the graveyard of dead Quantitative Easing, and the US dollar magically expands like a prickly puffer fish, and Mario Drahgi does what it takes with Euro duct tape to patch all black holes of unpayable debt from Athens to Dublin, and Japan watches its once-wondrous economy congeal in a puddle of Abenomic sludge (with a radioactive cherry on top), and China chokes on its dollar-peg, and Russia waits patiently with its old friend, Winter, covering its back — and notwithstanding the violent chaos, beheadings, and psychopathic struggles across the old Levant, not to mention the doubling of Ebola cases every 20 days, which the World Health Organization did not have the nerve to project beyond 1.2 million in January (does the doubling just stop there?) — there is enough instability around the globe for the gentlemen of Wall Street to make one last fabulous fortune arbitraging the future before the boomerang of consequence circles this suffering planet and finally accomplishes what the Department of Justice under Eric Holder failed to do for six long years.

It’s the season of the witch and you should be nervous. Especially if you live in part of the world where money is used. Pretty soon nobody will know what any currency is really worth — at least for a while — or what anything else is worth, for that matter. Perhaps the fishermen of India will start using their worthless gold for sinkers. Jay-Z and Diddy will gaze down on their bling in despair, thinking, perhaps, they should have invested in Betamax players instead. In the time of anything-goes-and-nothing-matters, it’s dangerous to expect anything.

Here’s what I expect: the surge of the dollar is the crest of an historic Great Wave. A Great Wave is an awesome event, and its crest is a majestic sight, but soon the foam spits and hisses and the wave breaks and crashes down on the beach — say, out at the Hamptons — where hedge funders stroll to catch the last dwindling rays of a beautiful season, and all of a sudden they are being swept out to sea in the rip-tide that retracts all that lovely green liquidity, and no one is even left on the beach to weep for them. Indeed their Robert A. M. Stern shingled manor houses up behind the dunes are swept away, too, and the tennis courts, and the potted hydrangeas, and the Teslas, and all the temporal bric-a-brac of their uber-specialness.

And, of course, it being the season of the witch, that’s where the zombies come out for real — the tattooed savages who all this time have been stewing in their own rancid juices awaiting their turn to get jiggy with the nation that left them restlessly undead. I don’t think you can overestimate the depth of ill-feeling that the American public harbors for the cravens who engineered their USA into the biggest booby-trap the world has ever seen. The trouble is, they lost their humanity in the process, so when they have their way with the feckless folks tweaking the dials, you might want to contemplate moving to Finland.

Who can feel confident about the tending of things just now? The diminishing returns of the Information Age are about to bite our collective ass like an army of Orcs. The sum of all that digital magic is a nation completely incapable of telling itself the truth or acting honorably. Unemployment is down without employment being up. Candy Crush is making the world safe for democracy. We have the finest health care system in the world. ISIS is trying to compete with our homegrown videogame industry for supremacy in porno-violence (actually, I thought we already won that) but now we will obliterate all the bad guys in the world by remote control from the drone bunkers of Las Vegas, and that will show them. Thank goodness the long holiday season is almost upon us to juice the so-called economy ever-higher.

There has never been a crazier moment in history. The weeks before the outbreak of the First World War seem like a garden party compared to the morbid antics of these darkening days. America, you’ve been wishing fervently for the Zombie Apocalypse. What happens when you discover you can’t just change the channel?

 

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Comes the Precariat

Off the keyboard of Surly1
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

ccgallery_precariat

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on August 31, 2014

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

 “The sooner we realize that we are locked in deadly warfare with our ruling, corporate elite, the sooner we will realize that these elites must be overthrown.”― Chris Hedges

 

Tomorrow, September 1 and Labor Day, will mark the second anniversary of the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct French professor who, at the age of 83, had recently lost her job at Duquesne University.  Ms. Vojtko suffered cardiac arrest on a street corner in Homestead, right outside of Pittsburgh,  yards from the house where she had lived almost her entire life. Rushed to the hospital, she never regained consciousness. Vojtko was an adjunct professor of languages who, after decades of service, found out that her appointment would not be renewed. After decades of toiling in academic insecurity, she was unceremoniously dumped.

Vojtko was a member of the precariat. Most likely, so are you.

When the story moved, I took notice, as I had graduated Duquesne,  in days lost in the mists of the Anthropocene. Two and a half weeks later, Vojtko’s lawyer, Daniel Kovalik, published an op-ed about Vojtko called “Death of an Adjunct” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In it, he noted

Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.

While adjuncts at Duquesne overwhelmingly voted to join the United Steelworkers union a year ago, Duquesne has fought unionization, claiming that it should have a religious exemption. Duquesne has claimed that the unionization of adjuncts like Margaret Mary would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Catholic values among its students.

0 interest in people

One thinks that Duquesne might have a better case arguing against contraceptive benefits for workers than against unionization on the basis of religious belief, but I will leave that one for the Holy Ghost Fathers (who operate Duquesne) to sort out. The following February, in remarks given by Noam Chomsky to a gathering of members and allies of said Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh,  he explained how the adjunct professor’s death was, at least in part, a direct consequence of what passes for economic policy in the Fascist States of America:

That’s part of the business model. It’s the same as hiring temps in industry or what they call “associates” at Wal-Mart, employees that aren’t owed benefits. It’s a part of a  corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility. When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line. The effective owners are the trustees (or the legislature, in the case of state universities), and they want to keep costs down and make sure that labor is docile and obedient. The way to do that is, essentially, temps. Just as the hiring of temps has gone way up in the neoliberal period, you’re getting the same phenomenon in the universities. The idea is to divide society into two groups. One group is sometimes called the “plutonomy” (a term used by Citibank when they were advising their investors on where to invest their funds), the top sector of wealth, globally but concentrated mostly in places like the United States. The other group, the rest of the population, is a “precariat,” living a precarious existence.

It’s too late for Margaret Mary Vojtko, but it’s not too late for the rest of us. Back in the day, when Alan Greenspan was “St. Alan,” chairman of the Federal Reserve and widely regarded as a seer more gifted than the Oracle at Delphi, he gave a speech, the remarks of which you can find here, and which Chomsky characterized:

 

 

 

When Alan Greenspan was testifying before Congress in 1997 on the marvels of the economy he was running, he said straight out that one of the bases for its economic success was imposing what he called “greater worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, that’s very “healthy” for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health. . . how do you ensure “greater worker insecurity”? Crucially, by not guaranteeing employment, by keeping people hanging on a limb than can be sawed off at any time, so that they’d better shut up, take tiny salaries, and do their work; and if they get the gift of being allowed to serve under miserable conditions for another year, they should welcome it and not ask for any more. That’s the way you keep societies efficient and healthy from the point of view of the corporations. And as universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is exactly what is being imposed. And we’ll see more and more of it.

 

And that has been policy. Citibank, they of the serial taxpayer bailouts, had a very clear idea of where such policy was steering the economy, and advised investors accordingly. Citi’s 2005 brochure for investors called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances,” urged investors to put money into a “plutonomy index.” The brochure says, “The World is dividing into two blocs — the Plutonomy and the rest.”  It was, of course, one thing for Citibank to say this quietly to investors, but when the general public caught on to the news, six years later and Occupy took to the streets to say the very same thing, they got a face full of pepper spray and mass arrests for their trouble.

Class-war-ahead

So what did Citi’s crystal ball tell its investors in 2005? You missed this:

What are the common drivers of Plutonomy?

1) Disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist-friendly cooperative governments, an international dimension of immigrants and overseas conquests invigorating wealth creation, the rule of law, and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity, exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.

2) We project that the plutonomies (the U.S., UK, and Canada) will likely see even more income inequality, disproportionately feeding off a further rise in the profit share in their economies, capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity, and globalization.

3) Most “Global Imbalances” (high current account deficits and low savings rates, high consumer debt levels in the Anglo-Saxon world, etc) that continue to (unprofitably) preoccupy the world’s intelligentsia look a lot less threatening when examined through theprism of plutonomy. The risk premium on equities that might derive from the dyspeptic “global imbalance” school is unwarranted – the earth is not going to be shaken off its axis, and sucked into the cosmos by these “imbalances”. The earth is being held up by the muscular arms of its entrepreneur-plutocrats, like it, or not.

precariat1

Somewhere in Hell, Ayn Rand is smiling. How deeply comforting it must have been to receive this brochure in 2005 and read these words cosseting the “rich and educated” who would be reaping their just rewards as a result of the system in which they were savvy enough to invest. Christopaths like Joel Osteen call this sort of thing a “blessing.” Others call it a reason to put heads on pikes.

The hard work of generations of plutocrats, and the investments of right wing financiers and public policy have borne a toxic and remarkably abundant fruit. And here it is for your consumption, citizen, in this survey conducted by Rutgers:  “Unhappy, Worried and Pessimistic: Americans in the Aftermath of the Great Recession.” The summary: “The protracted and uneven recovery from the Great Recession has led most Americans to conclude that the US economy has undergone a permanent change for the worse, according to a new national study. Seven in 10 now say the recession’s impact is permanent, up from half in 2009 when the recession officially ended.”

Key findings include:

  • Despite sustained job growth and lower levels of employment, most Americans do not think the economy has improved in the last year or that it will in the next.

  • Just one in six Americans believe that job opportunities for the next generation will be better than for theirs; five years ago, four in 10 held that view.

  • Roughly four in five Americans have little or no confidence that the federal government will make progress on the nation’s most important problems over the next year.

Much of the pessimism is rooted in direct experience, according … Professor Carl Van Horn, co-author of the report.

“Fully one-quarter of the public says there has been a major decline in their quality of life owing to the recession, and 42 percent say they have less in salary and savings than when the recession began,” Van Horn said. “Despite five years of recovery, sustained job growth and reductions in the number of unemployed workers, Americans are not convinced the economy is improving.

He added that only one in three thinks the U.S. economy has gotten better in the last year, one-quarter thinks it will improve next year and just one in six believe that job opportunities will be better for the next generation of American workers, down from four in 10 five years ago.

It would appear that John Q. has finally looked up from the Doritos and beer to become aware of what Citi investors knew and profited from a decade ago.  Occupy arose directly from revulsion at the corporatization of every aspect of life. The thought was to get people in the streets, the better to influence public opinion and policy.  But Occupiers got arrests, tear gas, pepper spray and the full priapic majesty of the State for their trouble.  We used to chant, “Whose streets? Our streets!” But, as events in Ferguson have clearly illustrated, the streets belong to the owners, whose militarized police express their will. As a means to influence policy, demonstration is not nearly as effective as the legalized bribery known as “campaign contributions” from corporate lobbyists. And with corporate unionization as a percentage of the total workforce now ticking away at all time lows, it remains instructive to see the contortions to which companies will go to prevent any sort of worker organization.
So on this Labor Day weekend, when the charlatans and frauds and hired prostitutes who slavishly do the bidding of their corporate paymasters prattle on about the evils of unionization, do not fail to remember that the one thing that capital fears more than anything is working people banding together to make common cause.
***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and is grateful that he is not yet fitted for a drool cup.

Confessions of a Nomadic Slob

Off the keyboard of RE

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on the Doomstead Diner on August 31, 2014

http://www.captivatemoi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Real-Messy-House.jpg

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

You can read my last autobiographical Birthday Blog, “55” from 2 years ago HERE.

Today is my 57th Birthday, and I have a confession to make.

I am a SLOB, and have been one my entire life.  Not just a Minor Slob, you leave me alone in a domicile long enough, and I can turn the place into a miniature version of a Public Landfill.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2013/09/15/nyregion/infra-A/infra-A-superJumbo.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Grolsch_premium_lager_bottle_unopened.jpgBesides being a Slob, I am also nowadays a Hoarder, although I have had tendencies towards Hoarding going back before the Lightbulb went off for me on Collapse.  For instance, I Hoarded for years Grolsch Beer Bottles with the reclosable ceramic stoppers, collecting over time a couple of hundred of these.  I wasn’t that big a fan of Grolsch beer, otherwise the numbers would have been in the thousands.  LOL.  However, I bought the Grolsch just to collect the Bottles, with the idea someday I would brew my own beer and reuse them to bottle it.  All these beer bottles sit in a Storage Unit in Springfield, MO, which I pay $80/mo to upkeep, and have done so for over 15 years now, beginning when I first gave up a permanent domicile as an Over the Road Truck Driver.  When I moved to Alaska after that, I kept the storage unit, because it was ridiculously expensive to ship everything in it up to Alaska nor did I really need what was in it, but neither could I bring myself to dumpster all the flotsam & jetsam of my life that is in there.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51qI0t8vJsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgNot just Grolsch beer bottles are in this storage unit, there are also just about ALL my college textbooks, my Organic Chem textbooks, Calculus textbooks, and all those Philosophy texts and Great Literature I had to read also as part of Contemporary Civilizations and Humanities, core courses require at Columbia for a Bachelor of Arts degree back in the day.  Don’t know if they still require these courses anymore.  I SHOULD have sold them back to the Bookstore after the year I used them was up, but first off I couldn’t bear selling a text I bought for $50 (1970s dollars!) for $10 just a year later (talk about depreciation!).  Second, I told myself this was Timeless Knowledge, and the texts would always be a great reference source.  Which is completely stupid now I know, since the texts are obsolete usually within 5 years or so and new ones with NEW KNOWLEDGE are required.  You certainly cannot hand down your college textbooks to your kids 20 years later.  Great Literature books yes, textbooks no.  However, even the great literature books are now all available as E-books, and you can have a full Library of them on your phone.  I in fact have a library on my phone including the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Gibbon’s the Rise & Fall of the Roman Empire, and more Survival Manuals than you can possibly imagine.  LOL.

The combination of being a Slob and a Hoarder is TOXIC.  You find it difficult to get rid of anything, and as it piles up around you, you never clean up the accumulating mess.  I even find it difficult to throw away some of the PACKAGING of shit I have purchased over the years.  Much electronics gear comes in some VERY nice boxes, and I tell myself that the boxes are good for safely storing the device for one, and second I can use this nice box to store other things too!  Doesn’t have to be High Tech stuff either, Shoeboxes as we all know are great for storing stuff.  Before you know it really, your whole domicile is full off empty boxes and assorted other junk, along with the piles of clothing you toss on the floor instead of hanging up neatly or dropping into a hamper to do the weekly laundry.

Once the piles become large enough, it becomes impossible to Vaccum, Mop or do other normal Cleaning Tasks which Neat People do on a weekly basis.  So Dust starts to accumulate.  Add to that I am a Smoker, so you get the fine particles of Cancerette Ash distributing out over everything, and over long enough time a Yellow Tinge to anything White in the domicile, like Walls, Refrigerator, Stove, etc.  At this point the Slob gives up entirely trying to clean anything, and you become oblivious to the mess.  you KNOW other people would be HORRIFIED by it, but you don’t notice it or care about it anymore.  At this point is where it gets REALLY bad, because in addition to just piles of junk and dust around, you start ignoring your shower and toilet and sinks, which start to grow Mold and Hard Water plus a steady stream of shit from your ass starts to cover over the White Porcelain of your Toilet until there is caked on Black & Brown covering of the bowl, which also does not smell too good anymore.  LOL.  However, your olfactory nerves get used to the smell and after a while you don’t smell it anymore.  Anybody ELSE who dropped in your bathroom to take a piss would be overcome by the ODOR and pass out, but you don’t smell it at all.

How did I get to be such a Slob?

Well, there are a few reasons for this.

First off, Homo Sapiens is not “naturally clean & neat”.  Nomadic Hunter-Gatherers are quite sloppy, they just pitch the bones of something they ate on the cave floor,  take a dump a few yards away from the entrance, etc.  It’s not too important to clean up after yourself if you move on to another location after a few days or weeks at most.  Certainly no other Mammals besides HS ever does Cleanup.  Cleaning only becomes necessary once you are Sedentary and reside in the same location all the time.  “Cleanliness” as a Virtue only came with the advent of Agriculture, when HS started to stay in the same place for long periods of time.  As a world class slob, I can tell you that any more than 1 year in a location you don’t do cleanup on regularly, the mess starts to accumulate to noticeable levels.   Probably fairly quickly after taking on this kind of lifestyle, folks recognized if they did not start Cleaning, their place of Habitation would turn into a SEWER, and so you got that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” idea.  So, this has been inculcated into most people ever after.  Not all people though.

I never got taught to be neat and clean, because my mom was a really bad Housekeeper.  Not quite as bad as a good friend of hers whose house I often spent time at over the years, but close.  There was always disarray around.  In my own room, mom did not enforce a “cleanup”, and I developed the habit then of dropping my clothes on the floor all the time. I never “made my bed”.   I never did any job like cleaning a toilet in my formative years, in Brasil we had full time Maids for this, and even after divorce my mom employed local people to come in once a week or so to do a cleaning.  So by the time I went off to college, I was already very sloppy, and I moved in with 2 guys after a couple of years into an Off Campus apartment, which turned into an AMAZING dump after a year or so, what with the parties we held, poker games etc.  One roommate was a slob like me, the other was neat, and his name was on the lease.  He kicked up both out after the second year.

After college I got married, and the wife was also pretty neat.  My bad habits of dropping clothing around willy-nilly, not Washing Dishes etc all irked her.  Although this was not the primary reason for our divorce (economics), it certainly contributed.

After that, in the lowest period of my life, I moved back in with Mom and had the whole upstairs of the house my sister and I once shared.  It occassionally lapsed into some decrepitude, but we still had a Maid come in every so often and it did not get too bad.

Eventually, I ended up following my sister who had moved to Springfield, MO, packing just a few bags and my Bicycle in making the move.  she put me up in her house for a few months while I got established, I had just one room in the house, but I managed to trash that so bad inside 3 months or so she practically had to fumigate it after I finally got my own apartment.  That began the real Nomadic Period of my life, after that I did not live in the same place for any more than 3 years running.  I kept getting new and better jobs in different places, and whenever I moved, I would either clean up myself while packing my stuff, or in one case I employed professional cleaners, so I never left anyplace I lived after that in a mess.  Still, it was not too bad usually, because the amount of time spent piling up the trash and dust was not that great.

http://ak6.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/1586521/preview/stock-footage-canada-circa-a-transport-truck-on-a-mountain-highway-circa-in-canada.jpgThen came the really Nomadic period driving the Big Rig OTR, living in the truck.  You don’t have a whole lot of space to collect junk and mess up in a Freightliner, plus every time I took some time off I would take everything out of the truck, transfer it to my car, and then spend time visiting mom or else motel living for a few weeks.  Motel living is great for a slob because they drop in and clean up for you every day.  In fact when I first moved to Alaska it was during the off season, so I was able to get a monthly rate at a local motel and stayed there for 3 months from Feb to May, when they wouldn’t let me stay paying the monthly rate.  It was at this point I moved into my current domicile, where I have been ever since, around 8 years now.

8 years is obviously a LOT longer than the 2 to 3 years I lived anywhere else, and then in addition to my general habits of hoarding I became “Collapse Aware” and started prepping up.  Tools, Freeze Dried Food, Winter Clothing Gear, Barter Items, Fishing Gear, Guns & Ammo, the WORKS.  After about the second year the place was such a mess I no longer would let anybody else in.  By last week, the state of the cabin was so bad I thought it might have to be razed, because it could not ever be cleaned up.  Then BAD NEWZ came.  The Property Owner emailed me and said he wanted to drop by this week to check on the property.  ACCCCKKKKK!

http://sorisomail.com/img/1285924752981.jpgI contemplated my options.  Hire professional cleaners?  Too embarrassing at this point even to do that.  So I finally had to buckle down and CLEAN, like I have never done in my whole life.  It took 4 12 hour days of nearly non-stop cleaning, and innumerable trips to the dump, but in the end I got it done.  The place looks practically Brand New again now, but getting from where it was to where it is now took some creative cleaning techniques.  I am now a Certified Crash Course Expert Cleaner. 🙂

The biggest challenge was the Toilet.  I did not shoot any Before Pics, too embarassing.  However, it looked only slightly better than the toilet at right here.  I tried at first with the stuff the maids used in my youth, Comet Cleansing Powder and a Scrub Brush.  This did not make a dent at all.  Then I went to a polymer scrubbing pad, also did jack for removing the caked on shit scum.  Next I went to Steel Wool, and this started to work, but still tough scrubbing and taking way too long.  I would still be scrubbing today and not have got to any other area of the cabin to clean.  However, since Metal seemed to be the ticket here, I went and bought some Wire Brushes at Auto Zone.  BINGO!  This was the ticket, at least above the water line in the bowl.  In 10 minutes I was down to the Glowing White Porcelain again!  Light at the end of the Cleaning Tunnel!  Here’s the end result of the Great Toilet Bowl Cleaning Adventure:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The brown you see here in the pic on the right of the toilet seat and to the left of the bowl is NOT shit stain! It comes from the Flash Shadow!

http://www.stanleyimages.co.uk/CatalogImages//21005_prev.jpgBelow the water line, a tougher situation.  There, because of Hard Water mineral deposits being combined with the shit scum, you get a layer that is firmly attached to the porcelain, and even the wire brushes weren’t working.  Now I take out my Swiss Army Knife and start scraping with the point.  This WORKS!  Except all I am getting is thin lines of White through the Brown.  This also will take forever.  So I try a fork next, figuring 4 tines will quadruple the speed of scratching though the calcified scum layer.  Still too slow, so I try a spoon next, figuring this will give a wider scraping edge.  This also works, but slow because the edge of the spoon is not sharp enough.  Then I get the final BRAINSTORM.  What is Wide, Sharp and Hard?  A WOOD CHISEL!  I zip over to Home Depot and buy a set of 3 Wood Chisels for $13.  Inside 30 minutes after arriving back at the cabin, the inside of the toilet bowl is now sparkling WHITE right down to the drain area!  The outside of the toilet is much easier, now using varying Foaming Cleansers it is White again inside another hour.  Toilet DONE!

Tub/Shower next, Mold of all colors caked on in corners and around the hardware, but the Wire brushes work good for taking this off, after leaving Foaming Mold cleanser on the worst hit areas overnight. I was concerned the metal wire brushes would scratch the fiberglass stuff they make tubs out of these days (no more porcelain tubs), but this is not a problem.  The toughest is the Black mold that gets into the textured crevices on the tub floor, which they do to make it less slippery.  This takes a good deal of steel wool scrubbing to get rid of.  I did not get that looking Brand New, but after a couple of hours I deemed it respectable.  Rest of the bathroom cleaned up pretty easily once I removed the piles of clothing always on the floor in there.

Kitchen next, and besides the counters this wasn’t too bad, because I stopped doing Indoor Cooking after about the first year living here.  So I did not have piles of dirty dishes, food scum etc around to clean up.    Kitchen took maybe an hour or so.

The final big job was the Floor, which of course was hardly visible at all except for a few Pathways between the piles of Preps and Packaging materials  of various types, which all had to be sorted and moved around to begin the Floor Cleaning project.  The Cabin has very nice Hardwood floors which when I moved in positively glowed, but now in the few spots the floor was still visible were covered with dust and dirt in decent proportions.  Also areas where spills had occured over the years, with stains.  Could those be removed?

http://st.houzz.com/simgs/6fe117a80fb27dcf_4-7452/contemporary-vacuum-cleaners.jpgI worked Section by Section in around 10 foot square sections, for 100 square feet.  Total Surface Area of the Cabin Floor, around 900 square feet.  I would take each area, sort it for trash and keepers, then take a trip to the dump. I moved all the keepers to another section, then Swept with a good old fashioned Broom.  Then I bought a Vacuum, but not a Stand Up job, I bought the best Handheld Cordless Unit I could find, a Shark.  I swear by this device now.  You can hit nooks and crannies much better with one of these than a Standup unit, and they are much cheaper too, $70 for this unit as opposed to $300 and more for your Orecks and Hoovers.  When doing this kind of cleaning you get down on your hands and knees to do it anyhow, and its great not to have to bother about a power cord as you do it.

After the vacuuming, I did the mopping, but not with a mop, I used terry cloth rags you can buy in packages of 20 for around $5.  I only used four of them for the whole job. I can still reuse them also, just put them through the laundry, or soak in water overnight then dry out.

After mopping with the rag, the main Disposable, Paper Towels.  After mopping and rinsing twice with the towels, I wiped up the damp areas with paper towels, absorbing the finest of the dirt particles.  Finally, I took a nicer towel and Buffed the flooring with it.  SHINE again, no waxing necessary, quite nice looking!

For the bigger Stains on the floor, I left a Wet Rag on them overnight, after that a little scrubbing with the polymer scrubber, and the stains all disappeared.  Occassionally used  a few sprits of Fantastic Cleaner to help out on these.  Mostly though, water is enough if you let it do its work.  It is the “universal solvent”, and besides grease type stains, will soften up any stain to get it off long as it has not penetrated into the wood itself, and none of them had.  They were all just surface blemishes. If you do have grease stains, go with Oven Cleaner.  Just be careful with it, as this stuff can damage paint and other organics they contact.  Also don”t smoke if you are using them.  LOL..

In the end, to return the cabin to respectability, as far as Disposables were concerned, I used only 3 rolls of Paper Towels, and roughly 1/2 spray bottle of Fantastic, Tilex Mold Remover and Windex.  Compare that to someone who cleans obsessively every week, over 8 years they would have gone through 100s of rolls of Paper Towels and dozens of bottles of the cleaning agents from DOW Chemical and Dupont.  So being a Slob is much more conservative of paper and chemicals for cleaning.  The downside of course is that you can’t have any guests visit between these cleaning adventures.  LOL.

On the GRAND MESS level though, realize that even if you are an obsessively Clean person, your Mess does end up somewhere, it does not disappear except from your own location.  EVERYBODY’S MESS ends up in our Landfills and Dumps, whether you send it there in dribs and drabs every week as Clean people do, or only once every 8 years as Slobs do.  The process of living is turning stuff into Waste of some sort, as you serve as a thermodynamic engine for using energy and dissipating it.  For the Clean people here, as an exercise sometime see how much waste you accumulate over say 2 months.  You can throw away or compost your food remains, but keep all the packaging materials etc of stuff you buy during this period to see how much waste you produce in two months.

Hunter Gatherers never cleaned up.  However, the mess they let behind was usually all organic in nature, and eventually got recycled by other organisms after they left the location.  Sedentary Ag and Industrial people generally HAVE to clean up, because if you don’t, your domicile turns into a stinky waste dump of your life.  The waste does not disappear though, it just ends up in the Landfill.

 

Coming Soon in the Next Frostbite Falls Daily Rant: Swimming in Sewage

 

RE

China: Falling Faster

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
Follow us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter @Doomstead666

Sunset in Shanghai. Except that’s not the horizon the sun is sinking behind, it’s the pollution layer. (Photo By Suicup via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunset in Shanghai. Except that’s not the horizon the sun is sinking behind, it’s the pollution layer. (Photo By Suicup via Wikimedia Commons)

First published at The Daily Impact  August 28, 2014

 

It is increasingly likely that our ailing Western industrialized economy will be preceded in collapse by that of China, whose degradation of the natural web of life has been far faster and more profound than ours. Every six months or so I check on China’s disintegration, plowing through metric tons of punditry on its Miracle-Grow GDP, its rising military power, its imperial ambitions — to come upon a patient in ICU, nearly comatose. If America is Dead Man Walking with respect to food, water, air and soil quality, China is The Walking Dead. [Really? I have to explain that? One is about a man about to die, the other about a zombie, already dead.]

China’s warp-speed industrialization, which blasted off in the 1990s, has destroyed its natural infrastructure “on a scale and speed the world has never known,” says director Jennifer Turner of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The intention was to follow our American model of progress to prosperity; the unintended consequence has been to become a model for us of how quickly the industrial age can crash.  

Life is still tenable in China, but only if the following rules are strenuously obeyed;

1. Don’t Breathe the Air. Air pollution in China has become legendary. Half the coal burned in the world is consumed by China’s generating plants and factories, and the resulting pollution regularly brings major cities to a standstill, making it impossible to drive or go outside, thus to open schools or businesses. A recent study by its own Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences ranked Beijing’s air as the second worst among the world’s major cities and labelled the city as barely habitable. Since then the government has begun a war on coal, vowing to shutter hundreds of coal-burning power plants. Turns out, though, it’s building bigger ones to replace them, and coal burning is expected to increase for the foreseeable future.

2. Don’t Touch the Water. Over half of China’s lakes and reservoirs are too polluted for human use; over half of China’s groundwater is too polluted for human use; and over half of China’s rural residents do not have safe drinking water. According to an editor of The Economist,which did a report on China’s water, “There are large parts of the urban water supply which are not only too dangerous to drink—they are too dangerous to touch.” 400 major cities are short of water, 110 of them seriously. More than half of the 50,000 rivers that existed 20 years ago are simply gone — used up.

3. Don’t Eat the Food. What may be the worst environmental threat of all — soil contamination — has just recently emerged from the fog of official denial and secrecy (or maybe it was just the air pollution). It has only recently come to light that the toxic emissions of thousands of hastily-built, unregulated chemical, ceramic and similar factories have so saturated their surrounding soils with carcinogens that China has an estimated 450 “cancer villages,” whose entire populations have been sickened by food grown in the toxic soil and laced with heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium.

But the problem of soil contamination is hardly limited to nearby villages. A recent government survey, dribbled into public view by a frightened and reticent government, indicates that nearly 20 per cent of China’s farmland is contaminated with heavy metals. As a result, the food supply is riddled with contaminated rice and other grains. According to one Greenpeace researcher in-country,”Every consumer in China is exposed to this kind of pollution.”

To review, then: a country whose capital city is barely habitable, half of whose water is unusable, 20 per cent of whose farmland is unusable, whose demand for ever more coal and oil to burn is insatiable, is being discussed as a rising global power and a threat to the American Empire.

Right up there with Bangladesh.

 

***

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.

 

 

The Next Bubble: Cars Under Water

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
Follow us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter @Doomstead666

Most new cars sold in America today are submarines — they live under water.

Most new cars sold in America today are submarines — they live under water.

First published at The Daily Impact  August 6, 2014

The Masters of the Universe — those energetic guys and gals who brought the world’s economies gasping to their knees six years ago — are at it again. Having successfully avoided punishment (for the most part) and staved off any meaningful interference by regulators, they have gone back to their favorite modus operandi: predatory subprime lending to finance big-ticket purchases followed by bundling and securitization of the shaky loans. Not houses, this time. Cars.

The auto industry, saved by the skin of its teeth by government intervention after the crash of ‘08, has been one of the few bright spots of the anemic recovery that has ensued. Annual auto sales have marched steadily upward, for the past few years as if on steroids, and this year are poised to blow through the 16-million mark, the highest in (you guessed it) eight years.   Now we know how they did it:

Longer terms. Remember when auto loans were for two years, period? Forget it. The average term for an auto loan has reached 66 months, and terms of seven years are not uncommon.

Bigger loans. Remember when you had to make a substantial down payment to buy a car? Forget it. Lenders (which are often wholly owned subsidiaries of the car manufacturers or dealers) are happy to lend you now only the entire price of the car, but more. Just sign here. Total loans outstanding have been increasing by ten per cent a year for four years, and are now over $900 billion dollars.

Lower credit scores. Remember when you had to have good credit to get a loan? Forget it. Subprime lending, defined as lending to people with credit scores below 620, now accounts for 25 per cent of all auto loans.

For the sub-subprime, a lease. If you can’t afford a 120% loan at 0% interest for seven years, then a lease is the thing for you. By increasing the balloon payment at the end, we can get that payment down to the price of a dry martini. One quarter of all new-auto sales are now leases, which means that half of all cars sold are going to either leases or subprime lenders.

As we learned in the housing-bubble implosion, those who have no responsibility for collecting loans are happy to make them to just about anybody, and the happy days of no-doc, liar, and ninja (no income, no job, no assets) loans are here again. The minute the loan is made, it is sold to a bundler (on the well-tested theory that a whole bunch of bad loans are a better investment than just one), the bundle is securitized and the securities sold, and everybody goes forth to kill again.

Setting aside for a moment those who will not be able to make their payments (this rage is new, so defaults are still relatively low) just about every car “owner” in this scenario is under water from the start, and especially at the end. Most people trying to buy a different car at the end of three or four or seven years will find that in addition to the cost of the new vehicle they will finance a hefty balance on their old one. That’s gonna hurt.

Especially when you consider that the days of zero interest rates, brought to you by your friendly national reserve bank, cannot last forever, and a return to normal market interest rates will have a cascading effect on underwater motorists: it will be harder to get the next car because loan interest rates, thus payments, will be higher and also because investors will have lots of options to earn good returns and reduced motivation to go with subprime stuff.

In the words of one of the country’s leading analysts of the auto business, Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley, there is “little doubt we’re in bubble territory.” He thinks the downside will take a few years to kick in, but then we’ll be looking at “peak auto.”

Just another indication that the Masters of the Universe will not be diverted from their endless efforts to sate their insatiable greed, not by experience, example, history or ethics. Sending some of them to jail would work, but their wholly-owned and -operated governments have learned not to interfere with greed. (Except for the US Department of Justice, the one part of government that seems not to have received the memo that laws are for little guys. It has opened an investigation into subprime auto lending.)

Apparently, this barn can’t be cleaned out until it falls down.

 

***

 

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.

 

 

All Hell

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

 

 

angels leave hell

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  August 4, 2014

That tractable beast, World Opinion, was apparently looking the other way when US video war-gamers blew up wedding parties and donkeys by remote control in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan, not to mention the now long ago shock-and-awe bombardment of poor innocent Iraq. It’s not paying much attention these days to the remorseless advance of ISIS (or ISL or the Islamic State) as it cuts a psychopathic swath through the Middle East marked by wholesale executions of civil servants, beheadings of “infidels,” and the occasional crucifixion of suspected enemies and traitors. UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon is so busy issuing condemnations of Israel that he has forgotten to ask Hamas the elementary question: What part of… quit firing rockets… don’t you understand?

Demonic forces are on the loose again now one hundred years after Europe blew itself apart for no good reason. (Why? Because some young Serbian nobody killed the heir to the Austrian throne on a back street in Sarajevo?) Maybe we are making a mistake to think that any sort of rationality applies now. Here in the depraved and disintegrating USA, we pretend that Afghanistan threatens our national interest from 7,000 miles away while denying that Russia has any business with its crumbling next-door neighbor (and former province), Ukraine — the crumbling of which was bought and paid for by the US Department of State and CIA.

The long sobering aftermath of World War Two is over now and World Opinion can once again assume the role of a rough beast slouching toward cataclysm. Starting from the premise that nothing is funnier than unhappiness, how funny is it that the US affects to manage the great demographic upheavals of the Middle East and Europe while it can’t even protect its own citizens from the still-florid looting and swindling operations of Wall Street — not to mention the wholesale renting of congressmen, cabinet secretaries, supreme court justices, and White House aides by US chartered corporations?

World Opinion is easily massaged by grandstanding around children who have been put in harm’s way deliberately by cynical adults. The UN was, shall we say, less than fastidious about Hamas stashing rockets and other war materials in their Gaza schools. In fact, they didn’t make a peep — for years — and now they dare squawk that these arsenals are being targeted, even as Hamas continues its rocket attacks? Did these UN morons ever grok the possibility that they were being played? And, of course, not to change the subject too harshly but note also how children are being used to play the suspension of US immigration laws by cynical US political party hacks. Despite the dishonest pleadings of undocumentarians, what part of… illegal immigrant… remains unclear,?

Here is what I think is going to happen now. Israel will withdraw from Gaza. Hamas’s war-making ability has been deeply degraded for a while, but any further rocket attacks will be answered in kind. Perhaps the citizens of Gaza will rethink who they want to have as leaders. The action will shift back to the ISIS swath across Syria and Iraq. ISIS has become a juggernaut, seizing enough money and valuable assets like oil and gas fields to greatly expand its vicious operations. You can say this about ISIS: they are very plain about their objective: to reestablish a fundamentalist caliphate — that is, to return to the eleventh century. Personally, I think the Middle East is primed for exactly that outcome, since its brief adventure as a wealthy, modernized oil-producing region is reaching its natural limits. The very specter of that fate is enough to destabilize the fragile political arrangements there, and may actually hasten the arrival of those natural limits as the activities of ISIS shuts in the necessarily rational operation of the companies that run the oil wells, pipelines, transport terminals. Watch what it does to capital markets, without which oil production founders anywhere.

Speaking of capital markets, keep your eyes on the US indexes. Never has so much fragility-in-motion come so close to an implacable wall of consequence. All hell seems to be breaking loose.

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

 

California Drying and Peaked Oil: Daily Impact Double Feature

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
Follow us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter @Doomstead666

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.

 

 

The Anti-Empire Report #130

From the Keyboard of William Blum
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

  Obama as dictator

Published originally in The Anti-Empire Report July 11, 2014

What would a psychiatrist call this? Delusions of grandeur?

US Secretary of State John Kerry, July 8, 2014:
“In my travels as secretary of state, I have seen as never before the thirst for American leadership in the world.”

President Barack Obama, May 28, 2014:
“Here’s my bottom line, America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will.”

Nicholas Burns, former US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, May 8, 2014:
“Where is American power and leadership when the world needs it most?”

Mitt Romney, Republican Party candidate for President, September 13, 2012:
“The world needs American leadership. The Middle East needs American leadership and I intend to be a president that provides the leadership that America respects and keep us admired throughout the world.”

Paul Ryan, Congressman, Republican Party candidate for Vice President, September 12, 2012:
“We need to be reminded that the world needs American leadership.”

John McCain, Senator, September 9, 2012:
“The situation in Syria and elsewhere ‘cries out for American leadership’.”

Hillary Clinton, September 8, 2010:
“Let me say it clearly: The United States can, must, and will lead in this new century. Indeed, the complexities and connections of today’s world have yielded a new American Moment — a moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways.”

Senator Barack Obama, April 23, 2007:
“In the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good. I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth.”

Democracy comes to you - bomber

Gallup poll, 2013:

Question asked: “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?”

Replies:

United States 24%
Pakistan 8%
China 6%<
Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, North Korea, each 5%
India, Iraq, Japan, each 4%
Syria 3%
Russia 2%
Australia, Germany, Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Korea, UK, each 1%

The question is not what pacifism has achieved throughout history, but what has war achieved?

Remark made to a pacifist: “If only everyone else would live in the way you recommend, I would gladly live that way as well – but not until everyone else does.”

The Pacifist’s reply: “Why then, sir, you would be the last man on earth to do good. I would rather be one of the first.”

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, 1947, words long cherished by a large majority of the Japanese people:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

This statement is probably unique amongst the world’s constitutions.

mushroom cloud

But on July 1, 2014 the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, without changing a word of Article 9, announced a “reinterpretation” of it to allow for military action in conjunction with allies. This decision can be seen as the culmination of a decades-long effort by the United States to wean Japan away from its post-WW2 pacifist constitution and foreign policy and set it back on the righteous path of being a military power once again, only this time acting in coordination with US foreign policy needs.

In the triumphalism of the end of the Second World War, the American occupation of Japan, in the person of General Douglas MacArthur, played a major role in the creation of this constitution. But after the communists came to power in China in 1949, the United States opted for a strong Japan safely ensconced in the anti-communist camp. For pacifism, it’s been downhill ever since … step by step … MacArthur himself ordered the creation of a “national police reserve”, which became the embryo of the future Japanese military … visiting Tokyo in 1956, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told Japanese officials: “In the past, Japan had demonstrated her superiority over the Russians and over China. It was time for Japan to think again of being and acting like a Great Power.” … various US-Japanese security and defense cooperation treaties, which called on Japan to integrate its military technology with that of the US and NATO … the US supplying new sophisticated military aircraft and destroyers … all manner of Japanese logistical assistance to the US in Washington’s frequent military operations in Asia … repeated US pressure on Japan to increase its military budget and the size of its armed forces … more than a hundred US military bases in Japan, protected by the Japanese military … US-Japanese joint military exercises and joint research on a missile defense system … the US Ambassador to Japan, 2001: “I think the reality of circumstances in the world is going to suggest to the Japanese that they reinterpret or redefine Article 9.”  … Under pressure from Washington, Japan sent several naval vessels to the Indian Ocean to refuel US and British warships as part of the Afghanistan campaign in 2002, then sent non-combat forces to Iraq to assist the American war as well as to East Timor, another made-in-America war scenario … US Secretary of State Colin Powell, 2004: “If Japan is going to play a full role on the world stage and become a full active participating member of the Security Council, and have the kind of obligations that it would pick up as a member of the Security Council, Article Nine would have to be examined in that light.”  …

In 2012 Japan was induced to take part in a military exercise with 21 other countries, converging on Hawaii for the largest-ever Rim of the Pacific naval exercises and war games, with a Japanese admiral serving as vice commander of the combined task force.  And so it went … until, finally, on July 1 of this year, the Abe administration announced their historic decision. Abe, it should be noted, is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, with which the CIA has had a long and intimate connection, even when party leaders were convicted World War 2 war criminals.

If and when the American empire engages in combat with China or Russia, it appears that Washington will be able to count on their Japanese brothers-in-arms. In the meantime, the many US bases in Japan serve as part of the encirclement of China, and during the Vietnam War the United States used their Japanese bases as launching pads to bomb Vietnam.

The US policies and propaganda not only got rid of the annoying Article 9, but along the way it gave rise to a Japanese version of McCarthyism. A prime example of this is the case of Kimiko Nezu, a 54-year-old Japanese teacher, who was punished by being transferred from school to school, by suspensions, salary cuts, and threats of dismissal because of her refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem, a World War II song chosen as the anthem in 1999. She opposed the song because it was the same one sung as the Imperial Army set forth from Japan calling for an “eternal reign” of the emperor. At graduation ceremonies in 2004, 198 teachers refused to stand for the song. After a series of fines and disciplinary actions, Nezu and nine other teachers were the only protesters the following year. Nezu was then allowed to teach only when another teacher was present.

my last one

Yankee Blowback

The number of children attempting to cross the Mexican border into the United States has risen dramatically in the last five years: In fiscal year 2009 (October 1, 2009 – September 30, 2010) about 6,000 unaccompanied minors were detained near the border. The US Department of Homeland Security estimates for the fiscal year 2014 the detention of as many as 74,000 unaccompanied minors. Approximately 28% of the children detained this year are from Honduras, 24% from Guatemala, and 21% from El Salvador. The particularly severe increases in Honduran migration are a direct result of the June 28, 2009 military coup that overthrew the democratically-elected president, Manuel Zelaya, after he did things like raising the minimum wage, giving subsidies to small farmers, and instituting free education. The coup – like so many others in Latin America – was led by a graduate of Washington’s infamous School of the Americas.

As per the standard Western Hemisphere script, the Honduran coup was followed by the abusive policies of the new regime, loyally supported by the United States. The State Department was virtually alone in the Western Hemisphere in not unequivocally condemning the Honduran coup. Indeed, the Obama administration has refused to call it a coup, which, under American law, would tie Washington’s hands as to the amount of support it could give the coup government. This denial of reality still persists even though a US embassy cable released by Wikileaks in 2010 declared: “There is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 [2009] in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch”. Washington’s support of the far-right Honduran government has been unwavering ever since.

The questions concerning immigration into the United States from south of the border go on year after year, with the same issues argued back and forth: What’s the best way to block the flow into the country? How shall we punish those caught here illegally? Should we separate families, which happens when parents are deported but their American-born children remain? Should the police and various other institutions have the right to ask for proof of legal residence from anyone they suspect of being here illegally? Should we punish employers who hire illegal immigrants? Should we grant amnesty to at least some of the immigrants already here for years? … on and on, round and round it goes, decade after decade. Those in the US generally opposed to immigration make it a point to declare that the United States does not have any moral obligation to take in these Latino immigrants.

But the counter-argument to this last point is almost never mentioned: Yes, the United States does indeed have a moral obligation because so many of the immigrants are escaping a situation in their homeland made hopeless by American intervention and policy. In addition to Honduras, Washington overthrew progressive governments which were sincerely committed to fighting poverty in Guatemala and Nicaragua; while in El Salvador the US played a major role in suppressing a movement striving to install such a government. And in Mexico, though Washington has not intervened militarily since 1919, over the years the US has been providing training, arms, and surveillance technology to Mexico’s police and armed forces to better their ability to suppress their own people’s aspirations, as in Chiapas, and this has added to the influx of the oppressed to the United States, irony notwithstanding.

Moreover, Washington’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has brought a flood of cheap, subsidized US agricultural products into Mexico, ravaging campesino communities and driving many Mexican farmers off the land when they couldn’t compete with the giant from the north. The subsequent Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has brought the same joys to the people of that area.

These “free trade” agreements – as they do all over the world – also result in government enterprises being privatized, the regulation of corporations being reduced, and cuts to the social budget. Add to this the displacement of communities by foreign mining projects and the drastic US-led militarization of the War on Drugs with accompanying violence and you have the perfect storm of suffering followed by the attempt to escape from suffering.

It’s not that all these people prefer to live in the United States. They’d much rather remain with their families and friends, be able to speak their native language at all times, and avoid the hardships imposed on them by American police and other right-wingers.

hillary-2016M’lady Hillary

Madame Clinton, in her new memoir, referring to her 2002 Senate vote supporting military action in Iraq, says: “I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.”

In a 2006 TV interview, Clinton said: “Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn’t have been a vote. And I certainly wouldn’t have voted that way.”

On October 16, 2002 the US Congress adopted a joint resolution titled “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq”. This was done in the face of numerous protests and other political events against an American invasion.

On February 15, 2003, a month before the actual invasion, there was a coordinated protest around the world in which people in some 60 countries marched in a last desperate attempt to stop the war from happening. It has been described as “the largest protest event in human history.” Estimations of the total number of participants involved reach 30 million. The protest in Rome involved around three million people, and is listed in the 2004 Guinness Book of World Records as the largest anti-war rally in history. Madrid hosted the second largest rally with more than 1½ million protesters. About half a million marched in the United States. How many demonstrations in support of the war can be cited? It can be said that the day was one of humanity’s finest moments.

So what did all these people know that Hillary Clinton didn’t know? What information did they have access to that she as a member of Congress did not have?

The answer to both questions is of course “Nothing”. She voted the way she did because she was, as she remains today, a wholly committed supporter of the Empire and its unending wars.

And what did the actual war teach her? Here she is in 2007, after four years of horrible death, destruction and torture:

“The American military has done its job. Look what they accomplished. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They gave the Iraqis a chance for free and fair elections. They gave the Iraqi government the chance to begin to demonstrate that it understood its responsibilities to make the hard political decisions necessary to give the people of Iraq a better future. So the American military has succeeded.” 

And she spoke the above words at a conference of liberals, committed liberal Democrats and others further left. She didn’t have to cater to them with any flag-waving pro-war rhetoric; they wanted to hear anti-war rhetoric (and she of course gave them a tiny bit of that as well out of the other side of her mouth), so we can assume that this is how she really feels, if indeed the woman feels anything. The audience, it should be noted, booed her, for the second year in a row.

“We came, we saw, he died.” – Hillary Clinton as US Secretary of State, giggling, as she referred to the uncivilized and utterly depraved murder of Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Imagine Osama bin Laden or some other Islamic leader speaking of September 11, 2001: “We came, we saw, 3,000 died, ha-ha.”

Notes

  1. Los Angeles Times, September 23, 1994
  2. Washington Post, July 18, 2001
  3. BBC, August 14, 2004
  4. Honolulu Star-Advertiser, June 23 and July 2, 2012
  5. Tim Weiner, “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA” (2007), p.116-21
  6. Washington Post, August 30, 2005
  7. Washington Post, June 6, 2014
  8. Speaking at the “Take Back America” conference, organized by the Campaign for America’s Future, June 20, 2007, Washington, DC; this excerpt can be heard on the June 21, 2007 edition of Democracy Now!

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others.

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

 

Who Goes Dry First? Vegas or Phoenix?

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
Follow us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter @Doomstead666

lake mead

First published at The Daily Impact  June 11, 2014

The title of first American city to be abandoned for lack of water will be awarded in the next decade or so, and it’s hard to decide whether to bet on Las Vegas or Phoenix. It could be a tie. Those among us who still like our stories to end with a moral are rooting for Vegas, whose demise would round out a lovely wages-of-sin, Sodom-and-Gomorrah kind of fable. Phoenix seems less blameworthy, but only if you think what’s about to happen is retribution for sin. If you lean more toward the inevitable-consequences-of-stupidity theory, then there’s not much to differentiate between Dumb Phoenix and Dumber Las Vegas.In Vegas, “the situation is as bad as you can imagine,” according to climate scientist Tim Barnett at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Vegas gets its water from Lake Mead, impounded by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. Lake Mead is less than half half full, and is dropping fast, probably by another 20 feet this year. It is lower now than it ever has been since the lake was filled in 1938. Another 37 feet and the Las Vegas intake pipe will be sucking air. (All this was updated thoroughly last week in the London Telegraph. Why are the best stories about America’s environmental problems found in British newspapers?)

Not to worry, there’s another water intake for Las Vegas, 50 feet below the present one. Oh, good, two more years. Assuming drought conditions get no worse than they are now, and that is far from a safe assumption. Then what? Vegas has a plan. A boring machine the size of the Pentagon is chewing through solid rock at the rate of one inch a day to punch a line through to the very deepmost bottom of Lake Meade. Another few years, if they make it in time. The country can’t find the money to fix its roads and bridges, but it found $817 million to keep Las Vegas in flushing water for a few more years.

Then what? According to Rob Mrowka, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, “As the water situation becomes more dire we are going to start having to talk about the removal of people (from Las Vegas).”  

Who else gets half its water from the very same lake Mead on the very same Colorado River? Phoenix, Arizona, that’s who. A city that has been in drought conditions for ten years and is expected to remain so for another 20 or 30 years. (To say that Vegas is in a 14-year drought is redundant. It’s in a desert. Four inches of rain a year is normal.) Yet until two weeks ago, no one had told Phoenix, officially, that unless there are substantial (and unexpected) improvements in the flows of the Colorado River and the level of Lake Mead and Lake Powell farther upstream, deliveries of water to Phoenix are going to be curtailed.

Now the Central Arizona Project, which manages the lower Colorado watershed, has said exactly that. “We’re dealing with a very serious issue,” board member Sharon Megdal told the New York Times, “and people need to pay attention to it.”

In other words — Brace for Impact.

 

***

 

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.

 

 

We Are All Ninja Turtles Now

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

dole-street_2387656b
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  July 7, 2014

With lakes, swimming holes, rivers, and pools beckoning, I went to a sporting goods chain store at the mall — where else? — seeking a new bathing suit (pardon the quaint locution). The store was curiously named Dick’s. All they had were clown trunks. By this I mean a garment designed to hang somewhere around mid-calf, instantly transforming a normally-proportioned adult male into a stock slapstick character: the oafish man-child.

This being a commodious warehouse-style store, there was rack upon rack of different brands of bathing suits, all cut in the same clown style. I chanced by one of the sparsely-deployed employees and inquired if they had any swimming togs in a shorter cut.

“What you see is alls we got,” he said.

Even the Speedo brand had gone clown — except for the bikini brief, which I wore back during 30 years of lap-swimming, but which I deemed not quite okay for an elderly gentleman on the casual summer swim scene. So I left Dick’s without a new suit, but not before having a completely unsatisfying conversation with one of the managers.

“In the old days,” I explained, “bathing suits were designed to minimize the amount of cloth one dragged around in the water. These clown trunks you sell not only make a person look ridiculous, but they must be an awful drag in the water.”

“That’s what they send us,” he said. “It’s alls we got.”

The Fourth of July rolled in just in time to celebrate the disintegration of Iraq following our eight-year, three trillion dollar campaign to turn it into a suburb of Las Vegas. Me and my girl went over to the local fireworks show, held on the ballfield of a fraternal order lodge on the edge of town. The fire department had hung up a gigantic American Flag — like, fifty feet long! — off the erect ladder of their biggest truck, in case anybody forgot what country they were in. Personally, I was wondering what planet I was on. It was a big crowd, and every male in it was dressed in a clown rig.

The complete outfit, which has (oddly) not changed in quite a few years (suggesting the tragic trajectory we’re on), includes the ambiguous long-short pants, giant droopy T- shirt (four-year-olds have proportionately short legs and long torsos), “Sluggo” style stubble hair, sideways hat (or worn “cholo” style to the front ), and boat-like shoes, garments preferably all black, decorated with death-metal band logos. You can see, perhaps, how it works against everything that might suggest the phrase: “competent adult here.” Add a riot of aggressive-looking tattoos in ninja blade and screaming skull motifs and you get an additional message: “sociopathic menace, at your service.” Finally, there is the question: just how much self-medication is this individual on at the moment? I give you: America’s young manhood.

Does it seem crotchety to dwell on appearances? Sorry. The public is definitely sending itself a message disporting itself as it does in the raiment of clowning. Here in one of the “fly-over” zones of America — 200 miles north of New York City — the financial economy is mythical realm like Shangri-La and the real economy is somewhere between the toilet and a rat hole. Under the tyranny of chain stores, there really is no true local commercial economy. The few jobs here are menial and nearly superfluous to the automatic workings of the giant companies.

I don’t have the statistics but I suspect a lot of the males around here are on federal disability payments, and probably in the psychological categories including “depression,” “learning disabilities,” “ADHD, and so on.” In such a situation, wouldn’t a person benefit from presenting himself as child-like, with a dash of menace? And wouldn’t it be advantageous to look that way all of the time, in case one was unexpectedly visited by a government employee?

Down in Brooklyn, a world away, the young men go about in their hipster uniforms: Pee Wee Herman cut casuals. They’re still role-playing “the smart kid in the class” even though they’ve been out of class for a decade. Their computer dreams of IPO glory are formulated with the tunnel-vision of science fair projects. Left out are the realities of the greater unraveling.

Women are not at the center of this story. Theirs is another story. Let some woman tell it before I get to it.

Never has a society entered an epochal transition with such unpreparedness.

Never has a society appeared so childishly decadent.

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

 

Support the Diner

Search the Diner

Surveys & Podcasts

NEW SURVEY

Renewable Energy

VISIT AND FOLLOW US ON DINER SOUNDCLOUD

" As a daily reader of all of the doomsday blogs, e.g. the Diner, Nature Bats Last, Zerohedge, Scribbler, etc… I must say that I most look forward to your “off the microphone” rants. Your analysis, insights, and conclusions are always logical, well supported, and clearly articulated – a trifecta not frequently achieved."- Joe D

Archives

Global Diners

View Full Diner Stats

Global Population Stats

Enter a Country Name for full Population & Demographic Statistics

Lake Mead Watch

http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/NA-BX686_LakeMe_G_20130816175615.jpg

loading

Inside the Diner

So Goes Nature So Goes Us May 22, 2017Leading conservationist, Jamie Rappaport Clark speaks about the dangerous levels of species extinction and deforestation[embed=640,412...

FWIW I got this about a week ago.  This sort of thing does not inspire confidence... 

Sounds like the UK is in Full On Martial Law time!  Also does sound like there is a definite "network" of some type and he was not a "Lone Wolf"Will they find the "real" co-conspirators in this bombing or just round up the "usual suspects"?  How w...

It's working fine for me, I have the blog up now...everything looks fine. 

Diner Twitter feed

Knarf’s Knewz

Remember the big "we passed a health care bil [...]

 Ke Jie, the world’s top Go player, reacting durin [...]

Diner Newz Feeds

  • Surly
  • Agelbert
  • Knarf
  • Golden Oxen
  • Frostbite Falls

Quote from: luciddreams on May 19, 2017, 08:57:09 [...]

Quote from: Surly1 on May 18, 2017, 06:25:45 AMDow [...]

The Twitteverse reacts:Tea Pain‏ @TeaPainUSA  28m2 [...]

So Goes Nature So Goes Us May 22, 2017Leading cons [...]

http://www.youtube.com/v/FVFdsl29s_Q [...]

Remember the big "we passed a health care bil [...]

 Ke Jie, the world’s top Go player, reacting durin [...]

Liens Filed Against the Federal Reserve: The Key t [...]

All this sabre rattling & the best gold can do [...]

The whole nuclear war thing must be a deliberate s [...]

Quote from: azozeo on April 25, 2017, 01:59:58 PMT [...]

There may not be a banking system after next week. [...]

FWIW I got this about a week ago.  This sort of th [...]

It's working fine for me, I have the blog up [...]

Far as I can tell, the whole Diner WP Blog is now [...]

Today's Kollapsnik Bot Newz Aggregations[html [...]

Alternate Perspectives

  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

Seeing…and Being Seen By Cognitive Dissonance   While I suspect western culture has always been affl [...]

I grew up outdoors, returning to the nest only to refuel and recharge. As a child of the 1950's [...]

You Only Have One Inalienable Right Part One A Rant By Cognitive Dissonance I don't normally pu [...]

Spring Has Sprung By Cognitive Dissonance   My apologies for being absent for the last week or so, b [...]

First Impression By Cognitive Dissonance . "You never get a second chance to make a first impre [...]

Event Update For 2017-05-22http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-05-21http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-05-20http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-05-19http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-05-18http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

I left off last week's post – "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees, Industrial-Scale Renewabl [...]

When you wish upon a star the Blue Fairy sends Tinker Bell, who plants a magic seed, which grows int [...]

Wendell Berry: "What I stand for is what I stand on"; Fanfare Ciocărlia: "What we pla [...]

The sounds of the Romanian countryside, unleashed by Fanfare Ciocărlia for twenty years and counting [...]

Fanfare Ciocărlia's lead vocalists (and trumpet players) Radulescu Lazar and Costică "Cima [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

Atlantic Crossing"There are some black swans in aviation’s future that could tip its economic balance. The three [...]

Scool is In"Youth, with unpruned neurotransmitters performing at lightning speeds, overcome obstacles and [...]

Places to B"Landing men on the moon once seemed impossible, too. We did it with the help of computers less [...]

"As overwhelming as this may all seem, our situation will compel us to make the leap. If we fal [...]

The Greater Fool"The overdeveloped countries are raising generations of gamblers."  All ecosystems, includ [...]

 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 [...]

Click here to visit Sustaining Universal Needs’ YouTube Channel! [...]

In the echo-sphere of political punditry consensus forms rapidly, gels, and then, in short order…cal [...]

Discussions with figures from Noam Chomsky and Peter Senge to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama off [...]

Lefty Greenies have some laudable ideas. Why is it then that they don't bother to really build [...]

Democracy and politics would be messy business even if all participants were saints. But America doe [...]

A new book argues that, in order to survive climate change and peak oil, the global money economy ne [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

One more note: There is no railing, so nothing to stop someone from falling in. They should permanen [...]

"...jerry is talking about city of rome having garbage crisis..." I'm not sure where [...]

The Electric Car’s Same Old Problem https://www.designnews.com/automotive-0/electric-car-s-same-old- [...]

It's all very sordid isn't it Do you mean rebellion or proxy army invasion? [...]

Would be interesting if the 'Main Stages in a Bubble' graph included estimated years. [...]

Someone over at Peak oil news said that the oil companies are shorting the oil price in the futures [...]

If the Hills Group is right, Donnie T. is a genius to sell off the Strategic Petroleum Reserve! [...]

Hello everyone. Steve, what's your take on this? "CLOGGED" WITH OIL From the Malacca [...]

Wall street wants to make money off of the Trump agenda, while the military industrial complex wants [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Simplifying the Final Countdown

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

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

Singularity of the Dollar

Off the Keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

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

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Merry Doomy Christmas

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals