Saturday, March 22, 2014

Springs Eternal

"The thing is, we actually know what must be done to save our planet, and it is not propping up consumer society. "


All the armies of the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come. —Victor Hugo  


These past weeks we have been immersed in the changing of the seasons. Today is a community blueberry workday at The Farm, coming at the Vernal Equinox, the midpoint of our planet’s tilt between colder months and warmer ones, as we continue our elliptic around the Sun. Here in Tennessee the robins and wrens have arrived, daffodils and cherries have blossomed, and frogs are singing noisily.

Amidst this natural glory, doomer crack whores wandering the meth lab corners of the internet begging an angry fix of news from heartless pushers in think tanks and chop shops that we are, we tighten our fist, find a vein, and are overwhelmed by an angelic chorus — or death rattle murmurings, we can’t quite decide — of civilization racing past snow-capped energy-, pollution- and population-peaks, averting our glaze, except by furtive peeks, at the brick wall that sits athwart the track immediately ahead.

In a break-out session to discuss strategies for combating climate change convened by Starhawk at the Permaculture Convergence in Mayabeque, Cuba, last November, we posited something to the effect that more education was key. We were brought up short by a Londoner who pithily replied, “Ignorance is so overrated.” By which she meant, people do know. Education is not the answer. She was an academic so we'd warrant she should know.

Our most exhilarating fix this week contains a study by the NASA Goddard Space Center’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, reported by Nafeez Ahmad in The Guardian, that in turn referenced a Swiss gnome study called Future State 2030  and a recent UK Science Office report terming what we are experiencing “the perfect storm.”
 

Then there is the Harvard report to the IMF predicting near-term crash, a MarketWatch report observing insiders massively dumping stocks, a March 15th poll, also by MarketWatch, showing 98% of securities gurus betting on imminent crash, and Euro Pacific Capital CEO Peter Schiff warning: “I am 100% confident the (2014) crisis that we’re going to get will be much worse than the one we had in 2008.”

In February Steve Kopits gave a spellbinding talk at Columbia University that is still making ripples on Wall Street. Our friend Gail Tverberg (Gail the Actuary), with whom we share a podium with at the Age of Limits Memorial Day weekend (if the world as we know it still exists by then), along with Dennis Meadows, Dmitry Orlov, Caroline Baker and others, summarized Kopits’ central point as:

“… the cost of oil extraction has been rising rapidly (10.9% per year) but oil prices have been flat. Major oil companies are finding their profits squeezed, and have recently announced plans to sell off part of their assets in order to have funds to pay their dividends. Such an approach is likely to lead to an eventual drop in oil production… it looks like lack of sufficient investment is poised to bring the system down. That is basically the expected limit under Limits to Growth.

The stock market already has jitters as it crests another all-time high. This week the Fed tried to shore up confidence by announcing that interest rates will presently be adjusting upwards. Any announcement by the Fed immediately clobbers gold prices, but the dollar index has been coming down for 7 weeks as international treasury-bond holders, like the EU and China, worry about how long the charade of solvency of the US empire can continue to extend and pretend. The Fed’s announcement seems to say, “not much longer.” Janet Yellen’s statement was less to reassure foreign markets than alert her bankster billionaire pirate buddies that the bonus treasure chests will soon be used up and its time to shift any remaining loot to their Cayman Islands accounts.

“We need better health, better education and more jobs” and “My sons work from 5 in the morning until 10 at night for only 400 euros per month” and “We were promised better!” said protesters interviewed by RT at yesterday’s March for Dignity, a road show en route to Brussels after converging on Madrid. Karl Marx is getting a surge in Amazon sales as capitalism catches the blame for the energy famine, a megatrend that none of the people in the street seem to grok. “We want our energy slaves!” might be a more apt protest, we submit, but we have never been very successful at launching memes.

Jeremy Rifkin, whose ability to churn out great books is exceeded only by John Michael Greer's, has a new one, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, The Collaborative Economy and the Collapse of Capitalism that postulates a very Marxian withering away of the state, and vulture capital, owing to the rise of The Makers. All of that Maker World — 3D printers, neighborhood tinker camps, garage start-ups — relies on access to (cheap) electricity and the internet. Rifkin thinks distributed generation will supplant the central power station paradigm, but in our view, the timing is critical. Can extend-and-pretend conceivably stick around that long? While we are waiting, we could also wait for the Singularity, or Godot.


James Howard Kunstler, commenting on why no-one in the US wants to go to war with Russia anymore, says:
... our towns look infinitely worse than the street-views of Ukraine’s population centers. Ours were built of glue and vinyl, with most of the work completed thirty years ago so that it’s all delaminating under a yellow-gray patina of auto emissions. Inside these miserable structures, American citizens with no prospects and no hope huddle around electric space heaters. They have no idea how they’re going to pay the bill for that come April. They already spent the money on tattoos and heroin.

An anonymous blogger from Wisconsin that we’ve come to admire for his clarity lists 10 cracks in the consumerist infinite growth model (unemployment, inequality, poverty, surveillance state, EROEI, climate, etc.) that are worth taking time to ponder. His conclusion is that all these cracks emerge from a central fault line — our collective assumptions, or manufactured consent, as a society:
That the future will be like the past, only better. That economic growth will continue and solve all our problems. That a rising tide lifts all boats. That the best way to ensure prosperity is to cater to the needs of the wealthy so that the trickle-down effect will produce widespread prosperity. That unregulated "free trade" benefits everyone and is always a good idea. That we just need more technological innovation to get the economy moving again. That there will always be enough jobs to go around for everyone. That government interference in the economy is always a bad idea and that "free market solutions" are best. That anyone can be rich if only they work hard enough. That poverty is always simply the result of individual failure, and that government help encourages dependency and sloth. That our societies are on a path of never-ending progress.

Most of us sheeple are unable to break out of these assumptions because our conversation constantly reinforces them. At the core of that conversation, controlling it, is an electronic communications juggernaut that never had this kind of power in the past.

[T]he media does not exist to inform or further the debate. It exists to limit the terms of the debate, to enforce the existing status quo, to legitimize the existing social arrangements and institutions, and to provide a convenient distraction for the masses. It is designed to maximize profits and is dependent upon funds from advertisers, and the last thing advertisers want is people asking inconvenient questions (especially about the economy or consumerism).

The thing is, we actually know what must be done to save our planet, and it is not propping up a consumer society. Our Wisconsin blogger lists a few of the tools we already have — new economics; ecological restoration; degrowth with happiness indices; permaculture and carbon farming/regrarianism — and doubtless many more tools will emerge as we embrace the change. We need to garden the planet. We need to be nice to each other. It is that simple.

We have been re-reading and recommending David Korowicz’s classic FEASTA paper, Trade-Off, as one of the best pieces ever written to explain the market mechanics. The outshoot of all of this is that while it might be nice to imagine a re-run of the crisis of 2008, and to prepare for that, it is a bit like planning for the last war. 2008 cannot be repeated for the simple reason that by adopting “extend and pretend” instead of real economic reform, the Seneca Cliff was pushed much higher and the Olduvai gorge much deeper.

Case in point. The total world debt in 2008 was said at the time to be 67 trillion. That debt represented excess claims on underlying real wealth (nature, including human social capital). Some of the extant derivative instruments took hits in 2008, but it was short lived, and even greater derivative fraud has been the rule for the past 5 years. We just passed 100 trillion for current total debt, a growth rate of 50% in 5 years or a doubling time of slightly less than 10 years (approx. 7% annually). So world debt, on present trajectory, would be double that of 2008, or 134 trillion, by 2018. If that could actually happen, by 2018 we will have added more debt in 10 years than all the debt previously run up in the history of economics. But it is all fraud. There is nothing to back that debt. It exists solely on the illusion that it represents reality. Reality: it is ones and zeros in the cybersphere. It is literally a confidence game.

Second case in point. In 2008 there were things that the Fed, the Treasury and the White House could do to boost liquidity and stimulate the global economy. They passed out billion-dollar checks to billionaires. Where did that money come from? Treasury Bill auctions. Who bought those T-bills? China, Japan, the Caribbean tax-free banks, the Saudis, even the Russians. So what is happening now? T-bill auctions are hard sells. Russia moved its T-bills out of NY banks as Crimea began to escalate and may well liquidate them, soon, flooding the market. China continues to unload 100 billion of its 1.2 trillion in T-bill holdings every few months. Where would the US get cash for a second great bail-out? More Imagineering?

If the escalation over Crimea, or the next big market crash, were to crash T-bills, it could bring about a sovereign default of the United States. That seems isolated until you look at how many things are indexed to the dollar. So people stop taking dollars for things of value, but they also have to stop taking most other currencies, too. Commerce grinds to a quick halt. No one can pay their bills.
The ramifications and ripple effects — troops stationed overseas with no contractors to supply them; vacationers stranded at DisneyWorld, Vail or Acapulco; millions ravaged by freezing weather, famine and epidemic disease — become, in a matter of days and weeks, scenes of zombies, living on the flesh of the recent dead and whatever edible grasses and roots might be gnawed to stave off incessant hunger.Note: the scenes are not of Okie camps in the Dust Bowl, or breadlines in the Depression. There are simply no remaining pockets of wealth, no green shoots from which to revive an economy, and, absent electricity, fuel and currency, no convening government authorities to coordinate relief.

Complimentary currencies could continue functioning to augment barter, but they are only miniscule in the big picture. If money suddenly becomes worthless most places, the economy “locks up,” meaning that government offices close and utilities that are privately owned shut down. This is what is termed in doomer circles, the Korowicz Crunch.

 Milk will be dumped in ditches because it can’t be transported from the dairies because there is no petrol because the filling stations have closed from a lack of electricity. In the US, the only two federally owned electric utilities would (hopefully) be tasked with providing enough emergency power to bring the 100 US nuclear plants to cold shutdown (a many-years' long process of water circulation using enormous electric-powered pumps), averting 100 Fukushimas, and perhaps supply some spare power to the emergency meetings in various state capitals, or hospitals and National Guard bases. We mention the National Guard, because it would be needed to transport coal to those two federal utilities, BPA and TVA, assuming they were nimble enough to recognize the peril at Indian Point and the other 99 ticking atomic time-bombs.

BPA’s 31 hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River and a nuclear plant located at the Hanford weapons lab in eastern Washington can be pooled with TVA’s 29 power-producing dams and 6 reactors to generate enough wheeling power to supply emergency needs in 48 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. But make no mistake. That ration is not enough for homes and businesses, which takes down the food supply chain, gas stations, television, commercial air, bus and rail travel, the internet, wireless telephone service, any ATMs not already empty, and anything resembling normal life for 300 million people. It merely prevents a glow-in-the-dark outcome for New York City and the 8% of the US population within the evacuation zone of Indian Point, which would be happier than the alternative.


As of this month, March 2014, there are 435 operating nuclear power reactors, in 31 countries, and in 15 countries there are 72 more under construction.


If agribusiness shuts down (no fuel, no money), there will be no industrial-scale spring plantings of wheat, beans and corn. Herds of cows, sheep and other domestic animals that lack pasture or stored feed will be slaughtered and their meat either traded for spare parts, whiskey or bullets, or composted. People who hope to turn lawns into gardens may discover it difficult to obtain seed.

The rural ecovillagers and communitarians who have been pursuing a “lifeboat” strategy with permaculture designs and transition towns may fare somewhat better. They have better food and water security than most and for a while they could lend a helping hand to those less fortunate. Amongst ourselves, we might even begin to re-establish a homebrewed internet using ham modems on shortwave powered by solar energy.

Every time we get caught up in a wave of hope that things will soon change — or despair that they won’t — we strap on the rubber tube and get yet another fix from doomersphere and are reminded that it can get much worse. John Michael Greer, another of our Age of Limits conferees who writes so prolifically we imagine him having an entire druidic colony laboring in candlelight to churn out essays and books under his name, reminds us that history is not linear but cyclical and what we are seeing has all been seen before, and likely will be seen again, many times over. 


In logic syllogistics this is known as the post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc (as before so forever) fallacy.

A century from now our numbers and hubris will have declined, and none of us will likely be around to see it, so, for most of us as individuals, half a century or more out is equivalent to near-term extinction. As a species, regrettably not so. Greer’s most recent post dissects the Guy-McPherson-near-term-extinction (NTE) thesis (and American Exceptionalism - a term coined by Joseph Stalin) and raises a respectful eyebrow. Greer, or his stable of druids, writes:

It’s not exactly easy to run controlled double-blind experiments on entire societies, but historical comparison offers the same sort of counterweight to confirmation bias.
Clonal Spiderwort, Tradescantia nonukes, blooming at The Farm

Ebenezer Scrooge said, “Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point, answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only? Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”

At this precious moment, our future is not engraved in stone. We may yet sponge away the writing. Still, a couple years’ supply of food, fertile seed, ham modem equipment and more solar cells is probably not a bad idea. The next crash will look nothing at all like 2008, but the Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times  still holds its value.

We are comforted by the arrival of longer, warmer days and our migratory friends, the birds and butterflies. This history, this season of change, is a pattern that abides. It always renews hope that maybe now, this year, things may begin to get a little better, or at least begin to sort out the truth from the fiction.
 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sunblock

"We continue to be amazed at how many commentators, otherwise very thoughtful and well-informed, seem to think that humans will find technological solutions, such as super-efficient appliances and mag-lev light rail, to cure the impending energy shortfall. That won’t happen, and our Ponzi money system is why."

Ted Glick, in “Making a Renewable Energy Revolution,” Future Hope, March 2, 2014, writes:
A climate revolutionary is someone who works for a rapid and just transition away from oil, coal, gas and nukes to an economy powered primarily by wind, solar and geothermal energy, with energy sources increasingly decentralized and community-based, with society-wide energy conservation and energy efficiency, and with a conscious plan to ensure that this transition is done in a way which creates living wage jobs both for the currently unemployed and for workers in the fossil fuel industry who lose their jobs because of the shift to renewables. There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of activists in the United States who I believe are in general agreement with this perspective. They are part of the numerous local, state, regional and national groups which prioritize the climate issue in some way.
Don’t get us wrong. We admire Ted Glick.

We have been bullish on transitioning the world back to solar energy since the late 1960s, when we bought our first solar cells and started tinkering with wind generators. By the early 70s, when we started Global Village Institute as ‘Global Village Technology,’ we were constructing concentrating arrays using Fresnel lenses and exotic gallium arsenide silicon chips and bending our own windmill blades on self-made presses, as our copies of Soft Energy Paths and The Mother Earth News grew dog-eared. In the 80s we enjoyed a steady diet of encouragement from Barry Commoner, Bill Mollison and Denis Hayes and hoped fervently that the world would beat the last remaining blades of fossil sunlight into solar plowshares.


A half-century later, we are likely seeing the end of that dream, not for want of desire, but from simple arithmetic. Industrial scale renewable energy will inevitably decline. Don’t mistake this prediction as saying we are at peak renewables. Quite the contrary. Perhaps even the nascent industry has a good ways to go, borne on the wings of capital flight from fossil and nuclear, and much good can yet be accomplished. But as a share of overall energy production, renewables are still in the trough that they slid into at mid-Nineteenth Century. On a straight-line chart, they could climb out of that slump by mid- to late-Twenty-First Century. What we won’t have, though, is the technological civilization Ted Glick takes for granted. The renewable energy source with the biggest market share will be firewood.

How long the solar and wind farm phenomena persist will depend on how long our current ‘extend and pretend’ debt-based global economic paradigm can be sustained. Maybe another month. Maybe half a century. But when that is done, we will be back once more to something approaching fully solar. You can take that to the bank.

Lets run a few numbers to demonstrate.

Energy keeps our economy running.  Energy is also what we use to obtain more energy.  The more energy we use to obtain more energy, the less we have for anything else. That dilemma was most recently explained in superlative detail by Steve Kopits in a talk at Columbia University in February.

The trend is already clear: the energy of the future will have lower energy return on energy invested — EROEI — than the energy of the past. Apart from some rare abiogenic sources, all fossil fuels are biofuels — from plants and animals that grew and harvested sunlight over millions of years. All renewables derive from the current energy flux (sunlight, wind, tides, plant growth, or heat from the earth) in real time. Renewables have low EROEI compared to high-carbon fuels such as coal and oil. In some cases — the Alberta Tar Sands, many shale oil plays, new nuclear — the EROEI may even be net minus. What is being purchased with greater nature-debt is time.

Jeff Vail, in a 2009 post, offered these two examples:

Basic data: 1.2 MW array installed 2009 in Los Angeles, cost $16.5 million up front (ignoring rebates/tax credits/incentives), projected financial return of $550,000 per year. At the rough California rate of $.15 per KWh, that's about 4 GWh per year (conservative).


Price-Estimated-EROEI Calculation: The $16.5 million up-front is, at $0.09/KWh (here using national average, as there's no reason to think that manufacturers would use primarily California peaking power to build this system), an input of 183 GWh through installation (I'm ignoring the relatively small maintenance costs here, which will also make the figure more conservative). If we assume a life-span of 40 years, then the energy output of this system is 160 GWh. That's a price-estimated EROEI of 0.87:1. 


Wind Example: I've had a more difficult time finding a recent wind project where good data (on both cost and actual, as opposed to nameplate, output) is available. As a result, I've chosen a 2000 Danish offshore wind project at Middelgrunden. While up-front expenses may be higher off-shore (making the resulting EROEI more accurate for offshore projects than on-shore), I think this is a relatively modern installation (2MW turbines).


Basic data: Cost of $60 million, annual energy output 85 GWh.

Price-Estimated-EROEI Calculation: At the US national average rate for electricity ($0.09/KWh), the $60 million up-front energy investment works out to 666 GWh. Using a life-span of 25 years (and assuming zero maintenance, grid, or storage investment, making the result artificially high), the energy output comes to 2125 GWH. That's a price-estimated-EROEI of 3.2:1.

While it might have been possible to build a Maya-type or Roman-type civilization on an EROEI of 3:1, it is not possible to sustain modern technological complexity on anything much below 5:1. Remember, we put men on the moon and laid internet fiber cables under the oceans when EROEI was 100:1, so even 5:1 is pretty speculative, and would likely require some significant technological leaps that have not occurred despite vast capital being thrown at them, and now seem unlikely (i.e.: “fairy dust”).

One bellweather is air travel. Since Peak Oil was hit globally in 2005, airlines have been operating on the edge of bankruptcy, cutting amenities to allocate more cash to purchasing fuel. It has been reported that without the quick and dirty impact of US shale oil in 2012, some airlines would have already gone into receivership.
We continue to be amazed at how many commentators, otherwise very thoughtful and well-informed, seem to think that humans will find technological solutions, such as super-efficient appliances and mag-lev light rail, to cure the impending energy shortfall. That won’t happen, and the Ponzi money/debt system is why, but frankly, we find it difficult to imagine a civilization approaching ours in complexity being able to subsist on daily solar income in much the same style it had on that 500-million year fossil energy trust fund, even if money were magically reformed.

Since 2008 it has become clear that the timing of the crash of our oil-dependent civilization comes around to the fate of a single indicator. It comes down to James Carville’s famous imperative for the Clinton Campaign: “It’s The Economy Stupid!” We can count ourselves lucky, from a climate standpoint, that globalization was still relatively young when the party ran out of ice and had to break up.

All political systems exist to concentrate wealth at the center at the expense of the periphery. So to maintain their complex central operating systems and lavish gifts upon their extremely wealthy and wasteful bazillionaires, London, New York, Stockholm, Moscow and Beijing sucked wealth out of very large moneysheds — Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia. When they can't do that anymore — because the EROEI crisis has become a financial crisis — the sell orders will start to cascade. Distant trading relationships have a hard time remaining stable. Empire centers have to start maintaining their unsustainably high standards of living by sucking up marginal wealth from smaller, closer areas. This is what happened in ancient Rome and is now happening on the European periphery. That strategy only gets you so far before the local wealth is completely exhausted and there is nothing left to drain.

This is the soft underbelly of industrial scale renewable energy. It is not shortages of rare earths or energy inputs to make solar cells and windmills. It is the ability to finance production when your economic system is in free fall.
 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Ukrainian Iceberg







Ethnic Division in Ukraine - Red is Russian
We had only just returned from one of the more remote places we go to teach permaculture, the Maya Mountains on the Belize side of Guatemala’s southern border. Passing through airports, we started hearing the media drumbeat and listened to what the rhythms were saying. There were three competing beats — Ukraine, Bridgegate, and the winter weather, including California’s drought. 


It is nice to see climate getting more column inches, even if the analysis is pretty lame. Political corruption in New Jersey, while cinematic, hardly qualifies as news. The Ukraine, however, is an iceberg drifting towards shipping lanes that seemed worth looking at more closely.

CNN-International’s headlines this morning read: Kerry: 'All option are on the table' ; Graham: Obama 'weak, indecisive' ; How Putin carries out power grab; Obama: Russia, stay out.

So, the first thing one must to do is learn what to ignore. Ignore CNN, and Fox, and MSNBC.

Coming to the situation completely cold, within a few minutes of surfing we learned that:

Victoria Nuland
·      Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, made clear in a speech last December and in the leaked recording of her January 28 telephone conversation with the US ambassador in Kiev that Washington spent $5 billion of US taxpayer dollars engineering the coup in Ukraine. We don’t know how much of that was devoted to planning the post-coup golden toilet PR exhibition at the Yanukovych palace.

·      On February 23, moderates in Kiev ceded power, under duress, to neo-nazis who captured Parliament and introduced legislation banning any official use of the Russian language. One of the coup leaders announced that, “Ukraine will not be ruled by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” Gangs of thugs have been roaming the streets painting “Jews live here” on Jewish homes, and a prominent Rabbi has advised Jews to leave Kiev.

·      In the Russian-speaking provinces to the east, citizens took over local governments and appealed to Russia for help, which Russia was quick to offer, moving troops into the historically Russian Crimean peninsula, current site of three Russian military bases, and handing out Russian passports to anyone who wanted one.

Any qualifying Ukrainian would be well advised to take that offer. As Dmitry Orlov points out, both Washington and Brussels, and the media, ignored Putin's suggestion last fall of a bail-out to avoid Ukrainian bankruptcy, and that is now all but assured. Left holding the bag are the EU and Russia, since the US 911’d its assets by shorting Ukraine well before February, and China, which probably reads the State Department wire traffic before Susan Rice does, also cut its exposure in a timely fashion.

“Financial reserves are down to a few days, federal structures are being dismantled throughout the country, regional governors are fleeing, and a default on some €60 billion of Ukrainian bonds, many held by Russian banks, seems likely. Could this be just the kind of financial contagion needed to finally pop the ridiculous US equities bubble?” Orlov asks.

Also at risk are five nuclear power plants — we are interested to see how skinheads will run those — and the winter natural gas supply that crosses Ukraine on its way to Europe.

Andrey Tymofeiuk, a Kiev resident posted to his Facebook page, quoted by Orlov, “The passive population of Kiev is still quietly drinking beer and poking around with social networking apps. They don't understand what's happening yet. But if the unofficial state of emergency (including limitations on access to the city) last a few more days — and food and drink running out — then they will end up in a state of shock more serious than anything they have ever experienced.”

Russian special forces dropped into Sevastopol this weekend to bolster the military bases, especially the Black Sea Fleet’s Crimean base. The Red Army is massing on the border, ready if necessary to defend ethnic Russians and threatened military assets. This move prompted President Obama to make a sudden appearance in the White House press room, rattle his sabre, and warn Putin that the US would not stand for interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs. The irony appeared to go unnoticed.

Division of candidate votes cast in the last presidential election
Another unremarked irony was President Obama’s reference to Ukraine’s “territorial integrity.” US and its NATO allies gave little credence to that when creating an independent Kosovo or by supporting the separation of South Sudan from Sudan, Eritrea from Ethiopia, East Timor from Indonesia, and North and South Vietnam. If you care to go back pre-NATO, the seizure of northern Mexico, the Kingdom of Hawaii, the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel are lingering lessons in the kind of blowback that comes from dividing territory united by history and heritage.

For the past couple of days the US and UK news cycles have been swept up in the Obama talking points being parroted by administration hacks, further obscuring the facts on the ground.

Putin need not rise to NATO’s bait. His options include cutting Ukrainian economic assistance ($15 billion last December, not counting heating fuel discounts); embargoing Ukrainian goods at Russian customs; imposing travel visas; reopening Catherine the Great’s prior claim on Crimea; or mounting his own PR black op to encourage Russian reunification in the eastern and southern provinces.

“Obama’s ‘warning’ to Putin was ill-advised. Whatever slim hope that Moscow might avoid overt military intervention in Ukraine disappeared when Obama in effect threw down a gauntlet and challenged him. This was not just a mistake of political judgment—it was a failure to understand human psychology — unless, of course, he actually wanted a Russian intervention, which is hard for me to believe.”

Robert Gates described the US foreign policy in his new memoir, Duty, tracing a line from Ukraine back to Dick Cheney: “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.

I want to stay out of another war for very practical reasons:
·       War is horrible for our economy
·       “Humanitarian war” is a scam
This isn’t our fight … and the downside of getting involved are gigantic.

It is left to Vladimir Putin now to be the statesman here. There is a void of leadership everywhere else.

That the US and Russia will get into a shooting war in Ukraine seems unlikely, but you can bet that Republicans will challenge Democrats to a sabre-rattling contest nonetheless.

The drift of the iceberg is towards the economy of Europe — another €60 billion default and/or German bailout, assuming the Germans will want anything at all to do with Ukraine’s new leaders.

 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

LEED Tin

"To those who develop LEED standards, we suggest you have a look at the peak oil, climate change and financial collapse literature and rethink the level of urbane complexity being required to sustain LEED certified buildings. "

Firstly, we have to express profound gratitude for all who participated in our winter Indiegogo drive for Youre Inn at The Farm.  This was our debut campaign, and it was not your usual film project or fascinating new electronic device that promises to tie your shoes or walk your dog for you. We just wanted to make mud and use that to build a country inn.

We raised $7600 and change in 90 days, which, by our reckoning, translates to 1000 bales of straw, 100 tons of sand, clay and limestone fines, and enough cash left over to brew a half dozen barrels of slaked lime and biochar dust. With all that material on site, our eager student volunteers, who begin streaming in from all over the world just about a month from now, will have plenty to work with.

We were off teaching our 9th annual residential permaculture course in internet-free rural Belize when the campaign wound up two weeks ago and were unable to make a final push, which spared our friends and relatives dunning messages but probably reduced the total netted in the time allowed. No matter! We can proclaim success and move forward. The campaign is still open to receive donations, if you missed your chance, and be sure to visit Indiegogo or share our Facebook page with your friends.

This week, while working on a book about ecovillages, we happened upon the table of LEED Standards and decided it would be fun to run Youre Inn at The Farm through that checklist. We scored LEED Platinum!

However, as we did that, we have to say, in our humble opinion, LEED standards are considerably skewed toward a 20th Century view of the world, something more suited for a Holocene future, not the more turbulent times that will confront us in the Anthropocene.

So, for instance, in site selection, we scored 12 of a possible 14 points because we were not an urban development (1 point) and did not have any access to public transport (1 point). We completely understand and agree with the logic of choosing brownfield sites for redevelopment over greenfield sites that are likely providing all manner of vital ecological services that should be preserved, but we have to say that both the megalopoli of past decades and their sources of public transport are endangered species likely to go extinct in not very many years. LEED site selection awarded zero points for sustainable water supply, ample soil resource to support inhabitants from on-site gardens, or friendly Amish neighbors with a plentiful heirloom gene pool for breeding horses, oxen, rabbits, hogs and poultry.

We managed to pick up the points for alterative transportation (solar cars), bicycle storage, our alternative refueling station, and parking capacity, and also scored high for reduced site disturbance, stormwater management, minimal light pollution, and reduction of heat island effect.

In the Water Efficiency, Materials and Energy modules we had perfect scores, but we stumbled again when it came to the permanent instrumentation requirements for indoor air quality, ozone monitoring and thermal comfort that complies with ASHRAE 55-1992. No points are awarded for mixing biochar into your plaster to remove mold spores and other sick building infections, but we did pick up a point for having an IAQ Management Plan. We lost points for insufficient daylighting of interiors, but that might be remedied eventually as we explore how best to construct (dimmable) watertight light wells penetrating a living roof. Engineers please comment.

Finally, we gave ourselves only 2 of four points for innovation in design (for C sequestration from biochar, both embodied and in winter heating operation, and for supplemental compost pile central radiant heating in Spring and Fall) because all the Inn’s other green features have been previously demonstrated.

Tallying our score, we received 56 points. To be LEED Certified (besides paying a LEED Accredited Professional and picking up another point for that), you need 26 points. Silver is 33-38 points, gold 39-51, and LEED Platinum is anything over 52.

For those readers whose dollars are making this possible, our profound gratitude. To those who develop LEED standards, we suggest you have a look at the peak oil, climate change and financial collapse literature and rethink the level of urbane complexity being required to sustain LEED certified buildings.

Most LEED buildings, we humbly submit, may not be sustainable when something as simple as electricity, water or debt is no longer available. Should that happen, or rather when that happens, we may well be confronted with the spectre of Zombie LEED buildings, gutted for component parts to build something more immediately useful.
 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Recharting Collapseniks

"Only a few are willing to risk arrest for the sake of an utopian outcome. Ted 'The Unabomber' Kaczynski obviously occupies the upper right corner. Starhawk, Bill McKibben and David Graeber are not lighting any fuses but at least have what they think are better plans, or maybe just better processes."

Our post of January 14 stirred the hornet’s nest and so we have found it necessary to revisit those star charts and try to probe their signs and portents with renewed care.

First, we have to acknowledge that our scatter chart has no basis in actual data. It is merely a mind map, and as such it has its uses and its limitations. The map is not the territory, as we know, so what is it? Mostly, it is a way to visualize complex relationships and hopefully gain insight that doesn’t just pop out from a photograph, the written word or columns of numbers.

In this case, we were attempting to depict where David Holmgren’s shift in strategy took him within the matrix of climate/peak oil prognosticators. We were using charts to illustrate that he had shifted from advocating passive transformation to urging proactive crash.

The feedback we received was, on the whole, good natured and valuable. Naturally there were many names that readers felt had been left out of the matrix — Dave Cohen, Dave Pollard, David Graeber, Ugo Bardi, Charles Eisenstein, Buckminster Fuller, Larry Korn, Caroline Baker, Sister Sage and Kathy MacMahon, to name a few absent without our readership’s leave.

Michael Ruppert said about this chart: "I am not a product of, or measurable by, Cartesian 3D tools."

Carolyn Baker said, "I'm not even ON the chart, thank God. I stand with Mike. Who needs more quantifying, categorizing, labeling, separating, binary, limiting, left-brain, Cartesian tools? This is precisely why we are living the current nightmare. This chart is only more of industrial civilization's three-dimensional drivel. I'm not on the chart because everything I stand for cannot be charted. In this instance, I love being marginalized!"

Some of the other people who were represented by dots on the map weighed in with their own thoughtful essays. Dmitry Orlov wrote:

If, like Holmgren says, 10% of the population boycotted global finance, and global finance crashed, Brown Tech would probably just shut down, because its activities are very capital-intensive. Now, since our voices—Holmgren's and mine and those of other people who may be consonant with Holmgren's message—are mainly projected through blogs, I can do some math and figure out how many me-equivalents it would take to bring about the required change in global sentiment.

This particular blog gets around 14k unique visitors a month. Let's assume a sky-high conversion rate of 50%, where half of my readers pledge to support Homgren's boycott. That's 7k people. Global population is 7 billion, 10% of that is 700 million. Dividing one into the other, we get our result: it would take on the order of 100,000 me-equivalent activists/bloggers to bring about the required change of consciousness. Next question: how many me-equivalent (give or take) bloggers are there out there?


***

[O]f the 22 activists/bloggers on Albert's chart, how many might go along with the plan? We already know that Rob Hopkins wants us to count him out. He wrote that Holmgren's Crash on Demand “isn't written for potential allies in local government, trades unions, for the potential broad coalitions of local organisations that Transition groups try to build, for the diversity of political viewpoints...” Yes, I can see why local govenments might take a dim view of a plan to zero out their budgets, and why the trade unions might not be enthused by a plan that would put their entire rank and file on the unemployment line. I guess Hopkins' “potential broad coalitions” will just have to wait for collapse rather than try to bring it about. Potentially, that is.
Not that any of that matters, of course, because, even if we assume that everyone will go along with Homgren's plan, dividing one into the other we still get a 99.98% shortfall in the required number of activists/bloggers. La-de-da. But don't let that stop you from trying because, regardless of results (if any) it's a good thing to be trying to do.

KMO, in his post entitled ‘Dirty Pool,’ dissected the controversy by looking closely at the differences between the positions of David Holmgren and Nicole Foss. “Notice that David and Nicole are advocating the same course of action,” he wrote. 

“They differ on what rationale to present in order to motivate people to divest themselves from the disempowering and dysfunctional system of Brown Tech control, but they both advocate withdrawing support for and engagement with the over-developed, larger-than-human scale systems of techno-industrial civilization and re-investing those energies and resources at the level of the family and the local community. The discussion here is how to frame the situation for the increasing number of people who are starting to realize that the industrial system will not make good on the promises and commitments it made to its subjects in the midst of its expansion.”

This really demonstated for us how delicate and nuanced the distinctions between the collapsenik community were. Moreover, to really represent the available rationales would require a more sophisticated mind map, such as used by Dave Pollard in his review of David Graeber’s book, The Democracy Project. 




Taking another crack at our chart, we decided to try relabeling the axes and shifting some of the positions.

One problem we have is that the lower left is overcrowded while the upper right (civil resistance ecotopians) has only a few willing to risk arrest for the sake of an utopian outcome. Ted “The Unabomber” Kaczynski obviously occupies the upper right corner. Starhawk, Bill McKibben and David Graeber are not lighting any fuses but at least have what they think are better plans, or maybe better processes. Joel Salatin makes it to that quadrant because he is ready to defy the FDA/USDA Gestapo on issues like raw milk and mobile beef harvesters.

Ray Kurzweil anchors the top left because he sees no need to confront authority — it will be carried away in the tsunami of change over which it has almost zero control. Elon Musk  has similar confidence albeit less utopian cultural zeal. More moderate transformers, Michael Shuman, for instance, with his Small-Mart concepts, or Woody Tasch, replacing monolithic banks with local lending circles, and Ellen Brown, making the case for state-owned currencies (and running for Treasurer of California now) are trying to reform, not subvert, which places them to West of illegal and North of collapse.

Another useful addition is Robert Constanza, who can stand in for a long list of new economists that see a potentially very rapid adoption path for a successor metric to GDP — giving the G8 and the Davos Forum a new set of tools that integrate current knowledge of how ecology, economics, psychology and sociology collectively contribute to establishing and measuring sustainable well-being.  We blogged about this in 2010, when we met Bhutan’s Minister of Happiness at the Cancun Climate Summit, and again from Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Reframing "violence" (that no one seeks) to "resistance" and making the middle line a division between active and passive (or legal and illegal) seems likely to satisfy many of the chart’s critics.

Some insights that the new chart may evoke: some reconstructionists of the top right regard collapseniks on the lower left as lazy while the doomers at bottom right likely consider the activities of the reformers on the upper left to be futile gestures.

Steven Morris suggested a dynamically updated map. The internet could be scanned for all the articles and conversations by our selected group of authors. Then using AI, their position on the map could be adjusted as what they write changes. Kind of like a tag cloud, only more elaborate.

Douglas Anarino suggested a simpler JavaScript app that scored each question on a left/right and up/down axis, moving the dot appropriately. This could also be made interactive to enable a reader to place themselves into the matrix.

Harold P Boushell said if you are going that far, how about allowing nth-points on a circle such as: Peaceful Transformation, Collapse, Singularity, Civil War 2, Space-Asteroids, Nuclear War, Electric-Grid-Failure, Methane-Eco-Collapse, and the Jetsons. This reminded us that we already did this in 2005, using familiar science fiction films.

Here are five slides lifted from slide shows we ran from 2006 and to around 2010. By 2009 we were getting so tired of it we were already making fun of ourselves, calling it “The Baterix.”





We divided up the future into quadrants, using something like the compass Holmgren adopted for his Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change (March 2009)




 





 
Into this grid we dropped the Jetsons and the Flintstones.



Then we suggested a few more apocalyptic films and urged the audience to think of their own favorites and where they might fit.




Finally, we brought that home into the realm of practical planning — what do you do to prepare, given how much or little weight you place on various scenarios?


Preparations, we pointed out, generally involve building local community, because the idea of going it alone is strictly the stuff of old time Westerns, and bears no connection to the real world. If you want to get a local community to come together, a great way to begin is over a nice homecooked meal. That is why our Post Petroleum Survival Guide was also a cookbook.

Which brings us to some advice Dmitry Orlov included in his Holmgren review. He wrote, “Can kitchen-gardening make a difference at a national scale? Yes it can. It has and it will again. There is just one problem: foodies. They don't want to merely survive by eating a balanced diet of potatoes, turnips, cabbage and rye periodically augmented with guinea pig stew; they want fresh, delicious produce and fancy recipes. I've often thought that a good trifecta for a collapse-related blog to hit would be to incorporate climate change, peak oil and delicious, healthy, organic, local food. There could be three tabs: near-term human extinction got you down? Click on another tab and look at some luscious, mouth-watering tomatoes. But if the foodies can be reigned in, then kitchen-gardening becomes something of survival value.”

Sigh. That trifecta was how we began this blog, and yes, we agree, we have somehow strayed. But its never too late! Herewith our winter recipe, borrowed from the pages of this morning’s The New York Times.

If you go to the Times and read the original piece by Melissa Clark, and watch the demo video of how she makes these cookies, please note the bubbly sound track as the cookie dough goes into the oven (at minute 2.15). Baby Boomers may be carried back to the soundtrack from My Little Margie or Father Knows Best. This, friends, is really New York City in the winter!



Courtesy Andrew Scrivani, The New York Times

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes 

Melissa Clark: “Forget all the bad, soggy oatmeal cookies you’ve ever had in your life. Picture instead a moist-centered, butterscotch-imbued, crisp-edged cookie flecked with nubby oats. Add to this the fragrant nuttiness of toasted coconut. Then subtract any chewy raisins that may have accidentally wandered into the picture, and substitute sweet, soft dates, guaranteed not to stick in your teeth. Now mentally sandwich two of these cookies with a mascarpone-cream cheese filling. And that’s what you’ll find here. An oatmeal cookie with a little something extra, a recipe made for keeping. You can bake the cookies a few days ahead, but they are best filled within a few hours of serving.”

Ingredients:
For the cookies
80 grams shredded sweetened coconut flakes (3/4 cup)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
330 grams packed dark brown sugar (1 3/4 cups)
2 tablespoons honey
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
190 grams all-purpose flour (1 1/2 cups)
7 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
3 grams baking powder (1 teaspoon)
8 grams ground cinnamon (4 teaspoons)
260 grams rolled oats (3 cups)
100 grams dates, pitted and chopped (1/2 cup)
65 grams granulated sugar (5 tablespoons)
For the filling
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons mascarpone
25 grams confectioner's sugar (3 tablespoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
 

Preparation
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread coconut flakes on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly colored and fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees.
2. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light. Beat in brown sugar and honey, then beat until very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and 1 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon. With the mixer set on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture until combined. Beat in oats, dates and toasted coconut.
4. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together granulated sugar and remaining 3 teaspoons (6 grams) cinnamon. Roll heaping tablespoonsful of dough into balls, then roll balls in cinnamon sugar; transfer to baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between dough balls. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
5. Make the filling: Using the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl. Sandwich about 1 tablespoon of filling between two cookies; repeat with the remaining filling and cookies.
 

YIELD: About 36 cookies, for 18 sandwiches  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Charting Collapseniks

"Rather than spurning financial system terrorists, Holmgren urges activists to become “terra-ists”; to directly bring down the system by thousands of acts of economic disobedience."

A ferment in the environmental movement, brewing for many years, has now bubbled up into the blogosphere. We are dipping our ladle in here to take a little taste of it, even though we are quite certain it is not done fermenting.

Bill McKibben has been stirring the wort of whether social activism can save us for many years. In Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, as in The End of Nature a quarter century earlier, he poignantly waffled, in elegant prose, between hope and despair. Since launching 350.org — “the first political action with a number for a name” — he has urged those of us with any remaining shred of hope for our children’s future, given what we now know about climate change, to step up and lay our lives on the line. Get arrested. Risk lengthy jail terms and even death to stop this atrocity. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Words to this effect we have heard much longer and louder from Derrick Jensen, another eloquent writer, the difference being that McKibben advocates for non-violence in the mold of Gandhi and King, while Jensen has no qualms about advocating violence. Naomi Klein, another stirring writer with an arrest record, calls for acts of resistance large and small. McKibben is tepid about taking on capitalism’s growth imperative, as though it were not a major contributing factor, while neither Holmgren, Klein nor Jensen have any such reservations.

Thus we are tasting many different flavors of leadership, or literary guidance, in the shaping of the nascent climate resistance movement.

Scientists themselves have been growing politically more active and radicalized, as Klein described in her October New Statesman essay. If you go back enough years you’ll find scientists like Dennis Meadows, Howard Odum and James Lovelock, all of whom correctly foresaw the impending collision between consumer civilizations and natural systems. Lovelock made a series of climate-and-society predictions that went unheeded for 20 years but hold up well in retrospect.

Joining the chorus of climate Cassandras with more structured harmonies are the peak-oilers and financial collapsarians. These thoughtful writers straddle a continuum that is both time-sensitive (near-term, middle term, long-term) and outcome ambivalent — they are undecided as to whether the future they foresee will be a good thing, a bad thing, or even survivable.

Guy McPherson has staked out the lonely position for near-term human extinction, which might be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Richard Heinberg, Nicole Foss and Steve Keen all see financial constraints as the leading edge of whatever storm is forming, and are not making predictions about how or when, but are planting gardens and putting up canned goods nonetheless.

Michael Ruppert, James Howard Kunstler and Dmitry Orlov are also decoupling from whatever economic grids they may be attached to, but do not foresee a particularly happy outcome in all this. Social unraveling is not a pretty picture, as Orlov describes in his Five Stages of Collapse.

Still clinging to the possibility of some salvageable human prospect are cultural and technical optimists like Amory Lovins, David Orr and Rob Hopkins. We personally would also favor this idea of an ecotopian future, and have been working to bring it about it for half a century now, but our own position is that collapse is likely unstoppable now, given, as Nicole Foss puts it “the excess claims on underlying real wealth.”

What suddenly bubbled up from the blog vat at the start of 2014 was a white paper authored by David Holmgren, one of the founders of permaculture, reversing a position he had long espoused. Instead of associating himself with peaceful change by calling for restraint on overconsumption and gradual adoption of the degrowth economic paradigm, extending it ever outward until it became the mainstream culture, Holmgren abruptly called for “Crash on Demand
or a strategic decoupling by masses of youth (and elders) from the economic system that is the crashing the planet’s ecological stasis, by simply walking away.

“Rather than spurning financial system terrorists [a.k.a. banksters or the 1/10th-percent],” Holmgren urged activists to become “terra-ists”; to directly bring down the system by thousands of acts of economic disobedience. “The urgency for more radical action to build parallel systems and disconnect from the increasingly centralized destructive mainstream is a logical and ethical necessity whether or not it contributes to a financial collapse,” he wrote provocatively.

This immediately inspired a flurry of thoughtful responses, as might be expected. One of the most impassioned came from one whose positions Holmgren had just abandoned. Writing for Transition Culture January 13, Rob Hopkins responded, “to state that we need to deliberately, and explicitly, crash the global economy feels to me naive and dangerous, especially as nothing in between growth and collapse is explored at all.”

Hopkins main truck with Holmgren is his readiness to toss away all notions of mainstreaming permaculture and transition towns. “I may be naive,” he writes, “but I still think it is possible to mobilise that in a way that, as the Bristol Pound illustrates, gets the support and buy-in of the 'City/State' level, and begins to really put pressure and influence on 'National' thinking.  I may be naive, but it's preferable to economic collapse in my book, and I think we can still do it.”

Concerned that a hard line position would expose social change agents to the full weight of state security as well as to the blame cascading from an angry populace, and that sewing the seeds of civil discord is always dangerous, Nicole Foss wrote on The Automatic Earth January 9 that financial collapse is already well underway and there is no need to expedite the process. “While I understand why Holmgren would open a discussion on this front, given what is at stake, it is indeed dangerous to ‘grasp the third rail’ in this way. This approach has some aspects in common with Deep Green Resistance, which also advocates bringing down the existing system, although in their case in a more overtly destructive manner.”

“Decentralization initiatives already face opposition, but this could become significantly worse if perceived to be even more of a direct threat to the establishment,” Foss concluded.

Having these positions staked out was useful for the discussion of strategy that change agents need to be more engaged with. Klein and McKibben seem to think that if we just have enough “Battles for Seattle,” the economic system of global civilization will be radically restructured. Our own experience in joining dozens of massive marches and actions of civil disobedience but nonetheless failing to end the Vietnam War has perhaps jaundiced our views in this regard. Moreover, Holmgren and Foss make clear that that’s not going to happen.

Even the recently unveiled strategy of fossil fuel divestment, as promising as it is, and as grounded in investment reality of the stranded, overvalued assets unable to ever be burnt, stands little chance of being able to arrest climate tipping points that may have been triggered decades ago.

Foss is not especially concerned for the climate, apparently clinging to the position Holmgren had some years ago, that collapse of energy and economics will augur in a low-carbon future, although she does acknowledge the lurking unknowns from reversed global dimming. “We need to get down to the business of doing the things on the ground that matter, and to look after our own local reality. We can expect considerable opposition from those who have long benefited from the status quo, but if enough people are involved, change can become unstoppable. It won’t solve our problems in the sense of allowing us to continue any kind of business as usual scenario, and it won’t prevent us from having to address the consequences of overshoot, but a goal to move us through the coming bottleneck with a minimum amount of suffering is worth striving for.”

Our own view is that the likelihood that a runaway greenhouse effect is now underway is greater than it has ever been, and to call what is coming a bottleneck is a poor choice of words except perhaps in the sense of the genetic bottleneck experienced 70-80 thousand years ago in connection with a supervolcano that reduced our hereditary lines to fewer than 5000 individuals worldwide. While we understand the concern she raises about unduly politicizing the issue, we’d say that cat has left its bag and keeping silent for fear of numbing the population makes no more sense for climate change than it does for Ponzi economics. Indeed, the parallels between the overdraft on Earth’s atmosphere and the excess claims on fictional central bank assets are striking — neither is going to go away simply by ignoring them. In both cases, the cake already baked.

This prompts us to make a new grid to categorize the range of opinions amongst peakists, collapseniks, politicos and anarchists. It goes something like this, at first drawing, and we welcome corrections, especially from those named.

Holmgren’s change of position can be charted this way:





If we plot the respective positions of other change strategists, they look something like this:





This is revision #7 since our original post

Our own position in this matrix, outlined in two books since 2006, is off to the left and centered on the line, meaning that while we are adamant in our advocacy for peaceful transformation, we are doubtful as to whether ecotopia is possible without collapse. Those seem to us to be a coupled pair. Likewise, McKibben is in favor of a new green economy but stuck vacillating between more peaceful and less peaceful means of getting there, while McPherson is deeply wedded to inevitable collapse without caring any more about social responses.

Not surprising, given what they know, scientists like Lovelock, Ken Anderson, and Howard Odum all fall below the line dividing Ecotopia from Collapse. Odum, we suspect, would have been in favor of peaceful transformation, while the others would like us to push harder and force the issue.

Naturally those most concerned with Holmgren’s shift would be those closest to his former position, including Rob Hopkins. Those closest to him now — Kunstler, Anderson, Hansen and Klein — would be the most likely to approve.

What is missing from Holmgren’s paper are the advances in terrestrial carbon sequestration — as opposed to Ponzi geoengineering — in no small measure reaching fruition by dint of permaculture design. While permaculturists like Rob Hopkins, Declan Kennedy and Max Lindegger pursued innovations in social structures — transition towns, complimentary currencies and ecovillages — other permaculturists — Darren Doherty, Richard Perkins, Joel Salatin and Ethan Roland, to name just some — have pushed the envelope to see how much carbon can actually be returned to the soil. This revolution is the subject of Courtney White’s new book, Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country, scheduled for release in June.

Would we have ever learned that a mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere if we had not been so frightened of climate change by Al Gore and other scaremongers? Speaking as one who wandered deep into Amazonian history to discover this new paradigm, we reply: probably not.

We’ve added some color coding and sector analysis with this third iteration:



This is revision #7 since our original post

Now lets step back and add a whole ‘nother layer to this.

There is a really good cultural transformation going on, with ecovillagers, ecological restorationists, soil remineralizers and post-empire econometricists. Simultaneously, there is a really negative übertrend of banksters and purchased or annointed politicians enriching themselves off oil, nuke and the wealth of nature, then turning all that surplus into the worst kinds of pollution – the kinds that take millennia to degrade and even then impair gene pools for untold generations.

These two conflicting transformations coexist against the backdrop of almost immeasurably immense climatic and biosystemic change that will severely affect, if not drive, our world in the future. We all exist in the context of ecosystems and yet these familiar norms are being utterly destroyed while we write this. The tiny little good ecovillagers, permaculturists and transition towners do pales in comparison to the scale of damage of unrestrained growthaholism that seems almost a genetic imperative of our species — and we are the keystone species in ecosystem Earth. Holmgren has this right, and it is undeniably frightening.

We’re sure there may be more thoughtful readers who can add to this analysis and produce more insights than we have, but as we say, we’re just grateful to be having this kind of discussion. The conversation continues in our next post, Recharting Collapseniks.


After co-teaching a permaculture course in Belize with Nicole Foss next month, we will be vetting this analysis with Dmitry Orlov, Dennis Meadows, John Michael Greer, Gail Tverberg, KMO and others at the Age of Limits conference in Pennsylvania in May. 

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