Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Beginning of the World

Last Friday was, as I’m sure most of my readers noticed, an ordinary day. Here in the north central Appalachians, it was chilly but not unseasonably so, with high gray clouds overhead and a lively wind setting the dead leaves aswirl; wrens and sparrows hopped here and there in my garden, poking among the recently turned soil of the beds. No cataclysmic earth changes, alien landings, returning messiahs, or vast leaps of consciousness disturbed their foraging. They neither knew nor cared that one of the great apocalyptic delusions of modern times was reaching its inevitable end around them.

The inimitable Dr. Rita Louise, on whose radio talk show I spent a couple of hours on Friday, may have summed it up best when she wished her listeners a happy Mayan Fools Day.  Not that the ancient Mayans themselves were fools, far from it, but then they had precisely nothing to do with the competing fantasies of doom and universal enlightenment that spent the last decade and more buzzing like flies around last Friday’s date.

It’s worth taking a look back over the genesis of the 2012 hysteria, if only because we’re certain to see plenty of reruns in the years ahead. In the first half of the 20th century, as archeologists learned to read dates in the Mayan Long Count calendar, it became clear that one of the major cycles of the old Mayan timekeeping system would roll over on that day.  By the 1970s, that detail found its way into alternative culture in the United States, setting off the first tentative speculations about a 2012 apocalypse, notably drug guru Terence McKenna’s quirky "Timewave Zero" theory.

It was the late New Age promoter Jose Arguelles, though, who launched the 2012 fad on its way with his 1984 book The Mayan Factor and a series of sequels, proclaiming that the rollover of the Mayan calendar in 2012 marked the imminent transformation of human consciousness that the New Age movement was predicting so enthusiastically back then.  The exactness of the date made an intriguing contrast with the vagueness of Arguelles’ predictions about it, and this contrast left ample room for other authors in the same field to jump on the bandwagon and redefine the prophecy to fit whatever their own eschatological preferences happened to be.  This they promptly did.

Early on, 2012 faced plenty of competition from alternative dates for the great transformation.  The year 2000 had been a great favorite for a century, and became 2012’s most important rival, but it came and went without bringing anything more interesting than another round of sordid business as usual.  Thereafter, 2012 reigned supreme, and became the center of a frenzy of anticipation that was at least as much about marketing as anything else.  I can testify from my own experience that for a while there, late in the last decade, if you wanted to write a book about anything even vaguely tangential to New Age subjects and couldn’t give it a 2012 spin, many publishers simply weren’t interested.

So the predictions piled up.  The fact that no two of them predicted the same thing did nothing to weaken the mass appeal of the date.  Neither did the fact, which became increasingly clear as the last months of 2012 approached, that a great many people who talked endlessly about the wonderful or terrible things that were about to happen weren’t acting as though they believed a word of it.  That was by and large as true of the New Age writers and pundits who fed the hysteria as it was of their readers and audiences; I long ago lost track of the number of 2012 prophets who, aside from scheduling a holiday trip to the Yucatan or some other fashionable spot for the big day, acted in all respects as though they expected the world to keep going in its current manner straight into 2013 and beyond. 

That came as a surprise to me.  Regular readers may recall my earlier speculation that 2012 would see scenes reminiscent of the "Great Disappointment" of 1844, with crowds of true believers standing on hilltops waiting for their first glimpse of alien spacecraft descending from heaven or what have you. Instead, in the last months of this year, some of the writers and pundits most deeply involved in the 2012 hysteria started claiming that, well, actually, December 21st wasn’t going to be the day everything changed; it would, ahem, usher in a period of transition of undefined length during which everything would sooner or later get around to changing.  The closer last Friday came, the more evasive the predictions became, and Mayan Fools Day and its aftermath were notable for the near-total silence that spread across the apocalyptic end of the blogosphere. Say what you will about Harold Camping, at least he had the courage to go on the air after his May prophecy flopped and admit that he must have gotten his math wrong somewhere.

Now of course Camping went on at once to propose a new date for the Rapture, which flopped with equal inevitability a few months later.  It’s a foregone conclusion that some of the 2012 prophets will do the same thing shortly, if only to kick the apocalypse marketing machine back into gear.  It’s entirely possible that they’ll succeed in setting off a new frenzy for some other date, because the social forces that make apocalyptic fantasies so tempting to believe just now have not lost any of their potency.

The most important of those forces, as I’ve argued in previous posts, is the widening mismatch between the fantasy of entitlement that has metastasized through contemporary American society, on the one hand, and the ending of an age of fossil-fueled imperial extravagance on the other. As the United States goes bankrupt trying to maintain its global empire, and industrial civilization as a whole slides down the far side of a dizzying range of depletion curves, it’s becoming harder by the day for Americans to make believe that the old saws of upward mobility and an ever brighter future have any relevance to their own lives—and yet those beliefs are central to the psychology, the self-image, and the worldview of most Americans.  The resulting cognitive dissonance is hard to bear, and apocalyptic fantasies offer a convenient way out.  They promise that the world will change, so that the believers don’t have to.

That same frantic desire to ignore the arrival of inescapable change pervades today’s cultural scene, even in those subcultures that insist most loudly that change is what they want.  In recent months, to cite only one example, nearly every person who’s mentioned to me the claim that climate change could make the Earth uninhabitable has gone on to ask, often in so many words, "So why should I consume less now?"  The overt logic here is usually that individual action can’t possibly be enough.  Whether or not that’s true is anyone’s guess, but cutting your own carbon footprint actually does something, which is more than can be said for sitting around enjoying a standard industrial world lifestyle while waiting for that imaginary Kum Ba Ya moment when everyone else in the world will embrace limits not even the most ardent climate change activists are willing to accept themselves.

Another example? Consider the rhetoric of elite privilege that clusters around the otherwise inoffensive label "1%."  That rhetoric plays plenty of roles in today’s society, but one of them pops up reliably any time I talk about using less.  Why, people ask me in angry tones, should they give up their cars when the absurdly rich are enjoying gigantic luxury yachts?  Now of course we could have a conversation about the total contribution to global warming of cars owned by people who aren’t rich, compared to that of the fairly small number of top-end luxury yachts that usually figure in such arguments, but there’s another point that needs to be raised. None of the people who make this argument to me have any control over whether rich people have luxury yachts. All of them have a great deal of control over whether and how often they themselves use cars. Blaming the global ecological crisis on the very rich thus functions, in practice, as one more way to evade the necessity of unwelcome change.

Along these same lines, dear reader, as you surf the peak oil and climate change blogosphere and read the various opinions on display there, I’d encourage you to ask yourself what those opinions amount to in actual practice.  A remarkably large fraction of them, straight across the political landscape from furthest left to furthest right and including all stops in between, add up to demands that somebody else, somewhere else, do something. Since the people making such demands rarely do anything to pressure, or even to encourage, those other people elsewhere to do whatever it is they’re supposed to do, it’s not exactly hard to do the math and recognize that here again, these opinions amount to so many ways of insisting that the people holding them don’t have to give up the extravagant and unsustainable lifestyles most people in the industrial world think of as normal and justifiable. 

There’s another way to make the same point, which is that most of what you’ll see being proposed in the peak oil and climate change blogosphere has been proposed over and over and over again already, without the least impact on our predicament. From the protest marches and the petitions, through the latest round of grand plans for energy futures destined to sit on the shelves cheek by jowl with the last round, right up to this week’s flurry of buoyantly optimistic blog posts lauding any technofix you care to name from cold fusion and algal biodiesel to shale gas and drill-baby-drill:  been there, done that, used the T-shirt to wipe another dozen endangered species off the face of the planet, and we’re still stuck in the same place.  The one thing next to nobody wants to talk about is the one thing that distinguished the largely successful environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s from the largely futile environmental movement since that time, which is that activists in the earlier movement were willing to start the ball rolling by making the necessary changes in their own lives first.

The difficulty, of course, is that making these changes is precisely what many of today’s green activists are desperately trying to avoid. That’s understandable, since transitioning to a lifestyle that’s actually sustainable involves giving up many of the comforts, perks, and privileges central to the psychology and identity of people in modern industrial societies.  In today’s world of accelerating downward mobility, especially, the thought of taking any action that might result in being mistaken for the poor is something most Americans in particular can’t bear to contemplate—even when those same Americans recognize on some level that sooner or later, like it or not, they’re going to end up poor anyway.

Those of my readers who would like to see this last bit of irony focused to incandescence need only get some comfortably middle class eco-liberal to start waxing lyrical about life in the sustainable world of the future, when we’ll all have to get by on a small fraction of our current resource base.  This is rarely difficult; I field such comments quite often, sketching out a rose-colored contrast between today’s comfortable but unsatisfying lifestyles and the more meaningful and fulfilling existence that will be ours in a future of honest hard work in harmony with nature.  Wait until your target is in full spate, and then point out that he could embrace that more meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle right now by the simple expedient of discarding the comforts and privileges that stand in the way.  You’ll get to watch backpedaling on a heroic scale, accompanied by a flurry of excuses meant to justify your target’s continued dependence on the very comforts and privileges he was belittling a few moments before.

What makes the irony perfect is that, by and large, the people whom you’ll hear criticizing the modern lifestyles they themselves aren’t willing to renounce aren’t just mouthing verbal noises. They realize, many of them, that the lifestyles that industrial societies provide even to their more privileged inmates are barren of meaning and value, that the pursuit and consumption of an endless series of increasingly shoddy manufactured products is a very poor substitute for a life well lived, and that stepping outside the narrowing walls of a world defined by the perks of the consumer economy is the first step toward a more meaningful existence.  They know this; what they lack, by and large, is the courage to act on that knowledge, and so they wander the beach like J. Alfred Prufrock in Eliot’s poem, letting the very last inch or so of the waves splash over their feet—the bottoms of their trousers rolled up carefully, to be sure, to keep them from getting wet—when they know that a running leap into the green and foaming water is the one thing that can save them. Thus it’s not surprising that their daydreams cluster around imaginary tidal waves that will come rolling in from the deep ocean to sweep them away and make the whole question moot.

This is why it’s as certain as anything can be that within a year or so at most, a good many of the people who spent the last decade or so talking endlessly about last Friday will have some other date lined up for the end of the world, and will talk about it just as incessantly.  It’s that or face up to the fact that the only way to live up to the ideals they think they espouse is to walk straight toward the thing they most fear, which is the loss of the perks and privileges and comforts that define their identity—an identity many of them hate, but still can’t imagine doing without.

Meanwhile, of course, the economy, the infrastructure, and the resource flows that make those perks and privileges and comforts possible are coming apart around them.  There’s a great deal of wry amusement to be gained from watching one imaginary cataclysm after another seize the imagination of the peak oil scene or society as a whole, while the thing people think they’re talking about—the collapse of industrial civilization—has been unfolding all around them for several years now, in exactly the way that real collapses of real civilizations happen in the real world.

Look around you, dear reader, as the economy stumbles through another round of contraction papered over with increasingly desperate fiscal gimmicks, the political system of your country moves ever deeper into dysfunction, jobs and livelihoods go away forever, whatever social safety net you’re used to having comes apart, towns and neighborhoods devastated by natural disasters are abandoned rather than being rebuilt, and the basic services that once defined a modern society stop being available to a larger and larger fraction of the people of the industrial world.  This is what collapse looks like.  This is what people in the crumbling Roman Empire and all those other extinct civilizations saw when they looked out the window.  To those in the middle of the process, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, it seems slow, but future generations with the benefit of hindsight will shake their heads in wonder at how fast industrial civilization went to pieces.

I commented in a post at the start of this year that the then-current round of fast-collapse predictions—the same predictions, mind you, that had been retailed at the start of the year before, the year before that, and so on—were not only wrong, as of course they turned out to be, but missed the collapse that was already under way. The same point holds good for the identical predictions that will no doubt be retailed over the next few weeks, insisting that this is the year when the stock market will plunge to zero, the dollar and/or the Euro will lose all their value, the economy will seize up completely and leave the grocery shelves bare, and so on endlessly; or, for that matter, that this is the year when cold fusion or algal biodiesel or some other vaporware technology will save us, or the climate change Kum Ba Ya moment I mentioned earlier will get around to happening, or what have you. 

It’s as safe as a bet can be that none of these things will happen in 2013, either.  Here again, though, the prophecies in question are not so much wrong as irrelevant.  If you’re on a sinking ocean liner and the water’s rising fast belowdecks, it’s not exactly useful to get into heated debates with your fellow passengers about whether the ship is most likely to be vaporized by aliens or eaten by Godzilla.  In the same way, it’s a bit late to speculate about how industrial civilization will collapse, or how to prevent it from collapsing, when the collapse is already well under way.  What matters at that stage in the game is getting some sense of how the process will unfold, not in some abstract sense but in the uncomfortably specific sense of where you are, with what you have, in the days and weeks and months and years immediately ahead of you; that, and then deciding what you are going to do about it. 

With that in mind, dear reader, I’d like to ask you to do something right now, before going on to the paragraph after this one.  If you’re in the temperate or subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere, and you’re someplace where you can adjust the temperature, get up and go turn the thermostat down three degrees; if that makes the place too chilly for your tastes, take another moment or two to put on a sweater.  If you’re in a different place or a different situation, do something else simple to decrease the amount of energy you’re using at this moment.  Go ahead, do it now; I’ll wait for you here.

Have you done it?  If so, you’ve just accomplished something that all the apocalyptic fantasies, internet debates, and protest marches of the last two decades haven’t:  you’ve decreased, by however little, the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. That sweater, or rather the act of putting it on instead of turning up the heat, has also made you just a little less dependent on fossil fuels. In both cases, to be sure, the change you’ve made is very small, but a small change is better than no change at all—and a small change that can be repeated, expanded, and turned into a stepping stone on the way to  bigger changes, is infinitely better than any amount of grand plans and words and handwaving that never quite manage to accomplish anything in the real world.

Turning down your thermostat, it’s been said repeatedly, isn’t going to save the world.  That’s quite true, though it’s equally true that the actions that have been pursued by climate change and peak oil activists to date don’t look particularly likely to save the world, either, and let’s not even talk about what wasn’t accomplished by all the wasted breath over last Friday’s nonevent.  That being the case, taking even the smallest practical steps in your own life and then proceeding from there will take you a good deal further than waiting for the mass movements that never happen, the new technologies that never pan out, or for that matter the next deus ex machina some canny marketer happens to pin onto another arbitrary date in the future, as a launching pad for the next round of apocalyptic hysteria.

Meanwhile, a world is ending.  The promoters of the 2012 industry got that right, though they missed just about everything else; the process has been under way for some years now, and it won’t reach its conclusion in our lifetimes, but what we may as well call the modern world is coming to an end around us.  The ancient Mayans knew, however, that the end of one world is always the beginning of another, and it’s an interesting detail of all the old Mesoamerican cosmological myths that the replacement for the old world doesn’t just pop into being.  Somebody has to take action to make the world begin. 

It’s a valid point, and one that can be applied to our present situation, when so many people are sitting around waiting for the end and so few seem to be willing to kickstart the beginning in the only way that matters—that is, by making actual changes in their own lives.  The deindustrial world of the future is poised to begin, but someone has to begin it.  Shall we?


Justin Wade said...

I think this post carries such a solid message and is right on point.

Assess your personal situation and the unfolding general changes as they apply to you. Adjust accordingly. That is the most guaranteed way to be effective in the practical, thermostat way of measuring things. That is to say, being in touch with reality.

Interesting comment about western civilization; our criteria of intelligence is to retreat ever further into abstraction. Public intellectuals rarely, aside from cab drivers, deal in practical reality, they speak in abstractions of political taxonomies and demographics. In the science, this is also true.

In political contexts, its a bit surreal how much energy is spent waging so called wars of abstract ideas and concepts. That's the entirety of the blogosphere, to say the least. What the blogosphere mostly manages to accomplish in practical reality is a heavy usage of electricity and very little else. Nowhere is this more evident than in the spates between rival intellectuals. See Erik Loomis's current metaphysical dustup.

Intellectuals also tend to normalize others to their conceits. Lifelong academic
Freddie De Boer argues from his own inability to stand up right, so ensconced in abstract thought has he remained in life, that people shouldn't be allowed to handle guns generally because they are likely incapable of using them.

Last few years, I've been working on the hand I've been dealt and trying to see what I can construct with it. From my perspective, things appear to be much tighter just a few years after getting started on detaching and decoupling from the industrial system. Having driven through too many to count, I've seen that the interior of the country is made up of a very small assemblage of corporate consumer supply outlets; Wal Mart, Target, Walgreens, fast food, gas. From an ecological perspective, the entire forest will probably die with one or two diseases. There is zero diversity.

Anyway, interesting post. I'm a believer that its going to start dawning on people with greater frequency soon that collapse is well underway.

Jeff Z said...

I may be the comfortable, middle-aged middle-class eco-liberal you were referring to. And I have backpedaled, furiously at times, in order to justify my lack of adapting a lifestyle of greater simplicity.

I'm sure you know why. From what I can tell, you've truly walked the talk, and I'm sure you also have endured the consequences. Not all of us are made of as strong stuff as that.

I've lived a simple and spare life at an earlier age, and expect that I will again someday. But between that austere past and the austere future, I've made room for a wife and children, and suddenly there are expectations and values that aren't my own, but that I'm expected to live nonetheless.

And to not live up to those expectations means being whispered about at family gatherings, awkward conversations about careers, or why I don't seem to have a real one, and all of the other things that come from voluntarily alienating oneself from ones peers and relations.

That said, I had turned down the thermostat 20 minutes before starting to read this weeks report, and appreciate the actionable advice. I truly appreciate what you are doing in this space and have worked at making small changes in my house and yard to get as close to zero-waste on a personal level as I can, while still working a pointless office job and participating in an infinite-waste culture.

Yes a tidal wave would be nice to have, to see everyone else swept into the ocean at the same time, so as not to have to be the gloomy person at the party talking about peak oil while the others party on.

Walking the talk is lonely. But your admonitions are well-placed. It is time to get on with doing, rather than talking about what needs to be done. I am guilty of this as anyone.

I will now go to find a sweater as it is getting cold.

sometulip said...

Great post. I've been turning my termostat down little by little over the last year here in Ireland. I've got it down to 15C and have now turned it down to 12C on your prompting. No one has noticed the drop up to now (sorta like boiling a frog in reverse). There is an interesting theory abroad at the moment that obesity in the west may have something to do with our environment being too warm. If most of our calorie intake is to keep us at 37ishC then the fact that we are living in constantly warmed environments may be aiding our increasing obesity. Anyway thank you for giving another week of something to think about. Nollaig Shona agus Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Duit!

Ruben said...

Regarding the notion that turning down your thermostat won't save the world, I like the one that goes "Change your laws, not your light bulbs."

But, like you, I have been mystified by the resistance. Sure, turning down your thermostat won't save the world. But if we ever arrive in a "saved" world, we will find everybody will have turned down their thermostat--and changed their light bulbs too.

Nobody wants to be a chump--being the only person to step forward when everybody else steps back gets you lots of unwelcome attention.

Richard Larson said...

Yes, I shall!

You are the best motivation on the World Wide Web!

I turned the thermostat down 3 degrees, and will work on convincing the wife to keep it there. There are also many more things to do, and none of them will be made a chore, or in suffering. These are challenges and meeting them will prove much satisfaction.

Those that ignore the signs around them will suffer most, and perhaps, the most environmentally aware, but in no pursuit of reducing on their own, will have a special kind of suffering beyond that.

I don't know.

Watched The Hobbit last night. And tonight, I read an essay from a real Green Wizard!

Matte Gray said...

For you, Archdruid Greer, i turned down my damn thermostat, which was already set to "shiver".

Yes, all of us doing small things adds up to a big change.

And besides, when we do those small things, we set an example for others.

Many thanks for your provocative essays.

Dennis D said...

As a blue collar worker who has been stumbling down this path for a while, one thing that is rarely mentioned is that as you practice for the long descent, each individual step seems to make the next step easier. I could not turn down the thermostat, as the heat is coming from a masonry fireplace that has burned down to the coals. The reason I have a masonry fireplace is that I have been investing in self-sufficiency for a number of years now, and from a fairly self centered motivation. A while back I made the connection that someone with visible wealth is a target, but someone who appears poor but lives in comfort is more likely to have a comfortable retirement. By retirement, I do not mean moving to the golf course, but instead not having a 40 hour a week job, puttering about at things I enjoy that will make my life better or I can trade with others as I see fit. I keep spreading the word about your blog being one of the most sane voices on the web, as you actually practice what you recommend.

John D. Wheeler said...

Great article! I agree with just about everything you said. I did get up at the appropriate time and turn my thermostat down from 60F to 57F. One advantage to a slow collapse is that we can make incremental changes to adapt, which has been my strategy. So when someone asks something like, "Have you stopped using toilet paper", my answer is, "Nope, I haven't gotten around to it yet, I've been busy making other changes."

The most amusing response I've seen to 12/21/2012 was "Can we get back to reality now?" Of course the "reality" he was speaking of was a middle-class American lifestyle. As I told him, if someone had gotten into his bunker on 12/31/1999 and reemerged on 12/22/2012, he might conclude that the Apocalypse had occurred.

The End Of The World As We Know It doesn't have to be a disaster. It can be The Start Of A Better World Than We Have Ever Known if we are willing to do the work.

godozo said...

A few small changes over the past ten years on my end:

2005: Went on a purchasing spree of CFL light bulbs. Got trouble from my housemate, but have been saving $$$ since then – not in the least bit from having changed about as many light bulbs between then and now as I used to change over a six month period in the house.

2007-2012: Bought an electric-assist bike (cheating, I know, but it got me out of the car), used it a few times a week well into the cold part of the year. Had to give it up when I needed a repair and my bikeseller had turned himself into a Web-only business (and I can't even find him on the web anymore...). Tried the Trek store, but that guy was into selling me something cool BUT was way more than what I wanted.

Now: My housemate has the thermostat three degrees lower than I like it. Tonight I'm leaving it – she can do the work at saving energy, I'll just step back and let her have her way.

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

The third world low-energy lifestyle ain't so bad. Instead of leaving a machine to do your wash, you sit outside with a few buckets and gossip with your neighbors. Instead of going to the 24/7 grocery store to buy your butter, you call on the farmer and bring your own container to carry the fresh butter back home.

I know from experience that low-energy lifestyles make for a lot more rewarding human relationships. Everyone stops being so anonymous. There is trust, friendship and fellowship. That improves the human condition better than any electronic gizmo.

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, it's true enough -- in today's world, intellectuals very nearly define themselves by their inability to function anywhere outside the realm of abstractions. Didn't use to be that way -- two centuries ago, leading intellectuals were also leading public figures in other fields, and prided themselves on their competence in the affairs of life. Getting back to that earlier pattern needs to be on the agenda.

Jeff, one piece of advice I offer to those who are in the belly of the beast for the time being: take up a hobby that will prepare you to offer something useful to the deindustrial world. It can be anything from organic gardening to amateur radio to I don't know what else, but if you put time and practice into it, learn how to make it work without the resource-intensive bells and whistles, and teach it to those younger than you are, you're making a contribution that matters.

Sometulip, you get extra credit, since 3 degrees C. is a good deal more than 3 degrees F.!

Ruben, the slogan is wrong. Change your own light bulbs first, and then you'll have a much easier time changing the laws.

Richard, thank you! One hint: convince your wife that she looks cute in sweaters. It's probably true, too; mine does.

Matte, if you can handle "shiver" already, then you're ready to take it a step further. On cold winter days I type in fingerless gloves, a gift from my wife (who crocheted them), because we keep the place good and chilly to save energy and money.

Dennis, that's an excellent point, but it's amazing how few people will believe it until they try it.

John, I see that hope springs infernal!

Godozo, ask her if she thinks you look cute in a sweater. ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Jeff, you have the right to say that, because you're doing it. It's when people making six-figure salaries and living in McMansions get sloppy-eyed about Third World lifestyles that I get irritable.

godozo said...

No sweaters, although I make it a point to wear less than what other people are wearing when things get cooler. I've walked around outside today just wearing a long-sleeved shirt (in 30 degree weather). Cool showers I've yet to work on.

As for the sweaters, no need...but she does wish I'd wear pajama bottoms on nights like tonight...

Thijs Goverde said...

I just turned the air influx of my wood stove down a notch. Don't know if that counts, because the fire is already well under way and reducing the oxygen isn't going to make the room any colder in a hurry.
Also, I may have to turn it back up again if the wood starts to give off smoke; I don't want to give any of my neighbours, some of whom are bound to have asthma or some similar condition, a hard time.
A wood stove certainly keeps you busy.

By the way, did I mention that last week I finally recieved my copies of After Oil? 'cause I did, and it's been a great joy reading all the stories again.

By the other way, I'm busily preparing for my LARP event. Apart from battling horrible mutants and a fanatical Cargo Cult religious order, the Elves will be studying permaculture, the Dwarves will practice salvaging and build a rocket stove, the Healers will actually make some herbal remedies for real and practice first aid, and the bards will study the Art of Memory. A good time will be had by all.

dragonfly said...

well I used last week's non-event to perform the Skeeter Davis hit from the '60s. big hit with the crowd. as far as huge waves go, we may be seeing more of those than anyone could feel comfortable with. maybe not tsunamis, but big water of one kind or another. my sister and her husband are currently building a second home on a barrier island off the south Carolina coast. there's nothing I can to them.

Hal said...

I couldn't do the thermostat, because I'm a guest, but I went around and turned a bunch of lights off. Were I home, I would also not be able to do it, because I never turn on the heat in the first place. When it gets too cold (freezing outside) I retire to the bedroom and get under the covers.

Alas, I am not perfect, I drive a truck, probably too much, as well as a tractor when I need to.

To that end, JMG, I'd really appreciate your thoughts on where to draw the line. I have been more austere in my life than I am now, and of course I have been a lot less so at times. During all of that time, as long as I've been aware of environmental issues, I have worked for policies and practices that promote less energy use. I don't see why it isn't always a correct position, wherever you happen to be. After all, there's always a more self-sacrificed position.

One thing that always irritated me is when the ignorant would respond to my calls for higher energy taxes or some other policy change with, "Well, then, why aren't you living in a cave?" It's a question that can always be asked (unless you happen to be, in fact, living in a cave) but words have often escaped me as to just how inane the question is.

How perfect do I have to be before I'm allowed to have an opinion?

Kathleen Reynolds said...

I haven't commented in ages, but I just had to share a fortuitous quote I found in a knitting book (one of my GW projects).

It was talking about the earliest knitting known by archaeologists, socks found in Egypt: (paraphrased) "So there's a lesson: when your civilization is in final decline, always keep your feet warm."

CGP said...

This was a beautiful and powerful essay. Thank you JMG. Although I am very familiar with your work and thoughts on the decline of Industrial Civilisation for some reason I felt depressed reading about how the collapse is happening right now, all around us. It was strange but I started thinking of my childhood when life was simpler and one of my biggest concerns was what video game console I should buy next and what I would do if my PlayStation broke. Although I would not have used these terms back then the march towards progress, and towards better video game consoles, seemed assured. Yes, it all seemed so inevitable back then. In some ways what we are doing, or have to do, is letting go of dreams that were very childlike and naïve to begin with. Letting go feels very much like a child realising that responsibility is not just something for the adults and that no matter how hard we wish some presents just never end up under the Christmas tree.

The challenge now is to overcome “all or none thinking” where we convince ourselves that if we cannot solve all of our problems then we should not bother with any of them. Once again you did a very good job of illustrating this incremental and piecemeal approach and of showing how valuable even one constructive step can be.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Great post and a nice dose of sanity in this season of silliness. I too have been guilty of not walking the talk ... until now.

Two weeks back I handed my notice in where I work at a travel firm. The job was well paid and I have been called ' insane' for quitting it.

But I'm not ' quitting' anything - I think of it as 'starting'. I have instead bought a small forest/wood in Cornwall and am throwing myself headlong into learning coppicing and charcoal making. I know I'll face a steep learning curve but we all have to start somewhere..."

hardhead said...

Excellent, just excellent, JMG! You are one of the very few people with a voice who are talking at all about the crucial role of personal responsibility in effecting real change toward a better future. I often wish you would do more of it - but I realize that is asking a lot of someone with broader perspectives such as you have.

Yes, it's a tough row to hoe for such pampered (should I say decadent?) folk as we moderns; but it's the shortest and most effective route available to us, so there's no reason, other than pure inertia, not to bite the bullet. Keep encouraging people in that direction, and best of luck to you!

con-science said...

It is not really that hard to make small changes with big impact. I myself drive an old CNG powered car which I replace with a bike for most of the warm months of the year.
I have developed a small network (mostly to supply family and friends) for food grown by small farmers. We get some of our diary and meat products from it. At first I expected to have to spend more money this way, but it turned out that the final price (after transportation and handling) turned out at least 20% lower than the supermarket price and the small farmers pay much more attention their products than the industrial farmers, so the product quality is uncomparable.
I think social pressure plays an important role and this is why most people simply cannot let go of their privileges (as long as they can afford them). Once you let go of all the background cultural whispers, you can see the path much clearer. The on thing I disagree with you is that the angle of attack of this problem is not "giving up" something, but rather "wanting more" - better food and water, healthier lifestyle, true living.
Great post, as always! :)

deeperthanecology said...

Several of the points raised in this weeks post really resonated with me. Whilst I do not devote an undue amount of time to daydreaming about my preferred utopian apocalypse, I do like Jeff z find myself living a comfortable lifestyle and working a deeply pointless office job. i am surrounded by family and friends that are, at best, bemused by my efforts to use a little less. It is truely tempting to begin walking the walk in earnest, but if I'm honest fear and greed hold me back from the wholesale transformation that will have to come about at some stage. I recognise that I cannot hide behind the excuse of family forever. The message of personal responsibility is hugely empowering, as is the concept of small incremental change. Now to find a hobby that is more useful than watching tv...

Frank Hemming said...

Here in Herefordshire it’s about 10.30 and we’re having mild but wet weather. 9C outside and 17C inside the house with no heating now, but central heating from 6.30 to 7.30 early this morning. This would be the height of luxury to the Ancient Greeks as I’ve been finding out.

In order to understand the workings of Greek democracy, I recently read “The Greek Commonwealth” by Alfred Zimmern (first published 1911), which is now freely available on line. In a chapter on poverty, he tries to get the reader to imagine, in a poetic passage, the daily life of the Greeks in Classical times. Here is a quote:

“We think of the Greeks as pioneers of civilisation and unconsciously credit them with the material blessings and comforts in which we moderns have been taught, and are trying to teach Asiatics and Africans, to think that civilisation consists.

We must imagine houses without drains, beds without sheets or springs, rooms as cold, or as hot, as the open air, only draftier, meals that began and ended with pudding, and cities that could boast neither gentry nor millionaires. We must learn to tell the time without watches, to cross rivers without bridges, and seas without a compass, to fasten our clothes (or rather our two pieces of cloth) with two pins instead of rows of buttons, to wear our shoes or sandals without stockings, to warm ourselves over a pot of ashes, to judge open-air plays or lawsuits on a cold winter's morning, to study poetry without books, geography without maps, and politics without newspapers. In a word we must learn how to be civilized without being comfortable. Or rather we must learn to enjoy the society of people for whom comfort meant something very different from motor-cars and armchairs, who, although or because they lived plainly and austerely and sat at the table of life without expecting any dessert, saw more of the use and beauty and goodness of the few things which were vouch-safed them – their minds, their bodies and Nature outside and around them.
Greek literature, like the Gospels,’ is a great protest against the modern view that the really important thing is to be comfortable...’ ”
I find it very encouraging that democracy can thrive without material wealth.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Tulip: Shivering Frog Syndrome? Get in an Arann sweater... :-)

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

I'm currently a lodger, so I have no control over the heating - but the last time I was renting on my own, I spent the winter of 2010-11 (AKA 'the big freeze') with the thermostat set to around 17 degrees celsius, with the heating only running a couple of hours per day. I soon got used not just to wearing sweaters ('jumpers' as we say here) but to sitting with a blanket over my legs. Wearing a wooly cap to bed is something you get used to quickly, as well.

As I may have mentioned before, I work in a university that stands out in its inability to adapt to change. Anyway, I realized some time ago that everything I did as an 'intellectual' was entirely abstract and had little value outside early 21st century capitalism; worse, it was actively eroding useful skills that I did have once, as I never got time to practice them! So, this year, I've planted apple trees, pears, plums, and figs; I've started learning to use my old Singer hand-crank sewing machine, and can already make simple garments that don't look too bad...

One final thought: just the other day I was chatting via Skype to a Canadian friend living in Beijing. She has fluent Chinese, and we were discussing the changes since I left; one of her comments was that she now sees fights in the street every week, with participants sometimes needing to be taken to hospital. That /never/ used to happen just a couple of years ago; of course, there are mass disturbances around the country, but Beijing itself was always safe. My friend said that there's so much pressure on people there, now that growth has come to an end (from the POV of ordinary people) that the anger and frustration are constantly spilling over into violence.

In my own, still-comfortable, Western community, things are nothing like this yet. However, I have come close to being barred from the town's Facebook page for terrible sins, such as suggesting that free car-parking for shoppers is not a basic human right, and that maybe buying party goods that conspicuously waste non-renewable resources isn't a good idea... When this sense of entitlement is challenged for real... well: duck and cover, I say!

Diotima said...

John, right after I read this post, I ran across a real contender for the next great Apocalypse Not. I give you — ta da! — The Mayan Pole Shift! Please note that that there is (of course) nothing to be afraid of, and if you will just stay calm and keep your heart open during the 30 hours of darkness, every thing will be groovy, a lot of those nasty people who are screwing everything up will be gone by the time the sun comes up again, and then we can all live happily ever after. No mention, of course, as to what might happen to, say, all the world’s nuclear reactors, but I expect that little problem will be resolved by the space brethren, or perhaps those magical Mayans themselves.

Also, one more point I can make as a 60-year-old woman who has been raising at least some of her own food for most of the last 35 years, and a large percentage of it for the last 12 — it’s hard work, even for the young, especially if you are trying to minimize your use of gasoline and electricity. Our comfortable and privileged lifestyles have sapped our health and strength, and I know many people 20 or 30 years younger than I who would be completely unable to put in a full day’s work in a garden, or, indeed, at any demanding physical activity. As collapse — both economic and environmental — continues, lack of food is going to become a much larger issue, and it will become more and more common to see people raising at least some of their own. That requires some physical strength, stamina, and knowledge that comes, not just from books, but from experience. Even people who are not ready to take that running leap into the water can work on improving their health and strength now, and a great way to do it is by turning lawn into garden. Most people who are not city-dwellers have access to at least a small lawn, and making a garden is a great way to get your feet wet.

kollapsnik said...

JMG has nailed half the problem: those who make the most environmentalist-type noise often do the least to help the environment. Environmentalism is a leisure activity. Some environmentalists even pretend to be helping the environment by jetting around to international environmentalist conferences—at which nothing gets done.

But I would like to also point out the following: those who do do a great deal to help the environment by moderating their consumption as much as possible (those that do it voluntarily) are well advised to avoid saying that they are doing it for environmentalist reasons. If they do not take this advise, they run the risk of being viewed as a sort of specimen in an environmentalist zoo. Journalists will show up wanting to film silly "human interest" stories about them, casting them as the stars of their own sad little reality shows, so that the audience can shake their heads and feel superior.

I speak from experience. I don't have a car or a house: I ride a bicycle and live on a boat. I'd turn down the thermostat if I had one. I do all of my own maintenance, consume little and produce quite a lot. Is this an instance of an environmentalist "walking the talk"? Of course not, don't be silly! I just happen to like boats, plus I hate being trapped into production-consumption cycles because I like freedom. When I need to drive, though, I rent sports cars. Should people follow my example? Sure, if they happen like boats and freedom and frugal living (and sports cars).

Brad K. said...


I cannot turn down my thermostat, until I can afford to renovate the heating system -- it just doesn't function below 59F. I got started turning down the thermostat after reading, three years ago, the "freeze your buns" challenge on Crunchy Chicken's blog (she has been on a hiatus from the blog for a while).

Two and a half years ago the water heater went out, in July. I put off having it repaired, or attempting repairs. Maybe next summer. I do notice, though, that I have the propane tank filled once a year, now, instead of three times. Lots of sponge baths, and fewer(!) showers in winter. I never understood the "cold water" apartment descriptions in early 20th century novels. Is seems more plausible to me. I have an oil-filled electric radiator heater that is quite comfortable, and reasonably economic. I think I used it just a couple years ago.

Then there is the refrigerator that went out five years ago. I am still pondering that one.

Oh, and just as important as the sweater, I think, are rugs and house slippers. Even the cheapest slippers make the house more comfortable.

Marktheharp said...

I love this article - and do myself try to do many things, including limiting my use of cars and not travelling by air.

Very interesting take on the love of disaster scenarios as a way of distracting us from the real ongoing disaster and also a way of having an excuse for not doing anything. That totally makes sense. When I read this, I thought also of religion - isn't that also basically a huge distraction, a way of looking to something outside of ourselves and beyond our control (that we can conveniently pay attention to / blame)? What are your thoughts on that?

John Michael Greer said...

Godozo, so noted!

Thijs, that counts. I'm going to have to use your LARP project as Exhibit A for a post I have in mind down the road a bit...

Dragonfly, sometimes you just have to let people chase their fate.

Hal, don't draw the line at all. You're not competing for the title of Ecologically Holier Than Thou; you're looking at your life, each step of the way, and saying, "Okay, here and now, what can I do to take another step in the right direction?"

Kathleen, that's excellent advice -- and learning to knit socks is a very good plan just now, too.

CGP, thank you. The all-or-nothing thing is usually an excuse for inaction; "The journey of a thousand miles," as Lao Tsu reminds us, "begins with a single step."

Jason, congrats! Learn the Cornish language as soon as you have the chance -- you'll need connections to the local and regional community, and what I've seen of the Cornish language revival suggests that that's a good way to make friends and stop being an outsider.

Hardhead, thank you. I keep on circling back to these same points at intervals, because they're the things that matter; in the meantime, of course, there are other things to talk about.

Con-science, fair enough. I find, though, that talking about giving up and letting go -- precisely because it challenges the most basic prejudices of a consumer society -- is a very powerful tool in this work.

Deeper, any hobby, up to and including bashing brick walls with your head, is more useful than TV!

John Michael Greer said...

Frank, a lovely quote! Thank you.

Carp, yes, it's likely to get very rough indeed. Owning little that other people value is one way to stay out of the crossfire.

Dio, okay, that's impressive -- an apocalypse as dumb as anything The Amazing Criswell might have come up with. Sheesh. As for physical capacity and stamina, no argument there. I'd also recommend walking -- a simple exercise, one that can easily be scaled up as your stamina increases, and one that builds a skill that will be increasingly necessary as automotive technology sunsets out.

Dmitry, that's a good point; tame environmentalists living pseudo-austere lives play the same role in our society that movies about John the Savage whipping himself play in Huxley's Brave New World.

Brad, true enough. A warm hat for sleeping is also a very good thing.

Mark, you do know that I'm the head of a religious organization, don't you? Religion can be a means of distraction from realities; it can also be a way of relating to realities. The difference is the same one I discussed in this post. Does your religion guide and inspire the actions you take in your daily life, or is believing in something an excuse for not taking actions in your daily life?

Spirited Raven said...

Jeff Z, you so clearly articulated many of the (ir)rational fears that come along with making these foundational changes in our lives. So often they are wrapped up in money, social status and our perceived responsibilities to others in our lives. What JMG is prescribing seems physically do-able but psychically daunting. I am convinced this subject is as much a personal spiritual journey as much as it is a hammer and nails one. Thanks for your integrity.

ando said...

Nicely done, JMG, as usual. I particularly enjoyed the sinking ship metaphor.

I am approaching sixty, so I am not so much worried about what happens to me and I am still somewhat in the "belly of the beast," so as it relates to your response to Jeff Z, I am getting better at organic gardening and talk about it to anyone who will listen. I very rarely watch the glass teat (put "TV" if that is not allowed, but I like Ellison), and the furnace is almost always off, thanks to the fireplace insert.

"A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing"

Thanks for all YOU do...

LewisLucanBooks said...

I'm already bundled up, sitting in front of my computer. I can see my breath. But this afternoon I'll do another session of working on the food dryer. Did some canning last year and the amount of energy used bothered me. Next year, less canning, more drying.

Now I say, with tongue firmly in cheek, "Onto the next apocalypse!" I discovered a likely candidate last night. On the 13th of April (a friday, no less), 2029 a comet will pass so close to earth that it will pass within the orbit of communication satellites.

Harry J. Lerwill said...

An excellent post to round out the year!

Convenience is the millstone around many necks these days. When I were a lad, if we wanted a warm house, or even water to wash the dishes with, I had to light a coal fire. Now hot water is available 24/7 and the heating is a dial away.

This year, the heating did not go on until the entire family were wearing sweaters on a regular basis. I remember telling the wife at the end of November, "If our son can walk around the house in boxer shorts, then it's not cold enough to turn on the heating."

Over this last year, the biggest use of electricity in our house was cooking. Presents this year included a solar oven and a solar barbecue. Baby steps.

I think alcoholics have an easier time putting down the bottle than our generation will have putting away the creature comforts we feel 'entitled to'.

Dean Easton said...

Thanks for this, JMG. So often we're led to forget that one of the most potent of magics is persistence: the small, measurable, concrete step, taken daily, with another added, and then another, until anyone doing the stepping can see the differences and consequences accumulate, regardless of whether the change is visible to anyone looking in from the outside. And your point about the utility of one's religion (if personally relevant in such calculations), is also magical and magically potent: "Does your religion guide and inspire the actions you take in your daily life, or is believing in something an excuse for not taking actions in your daily life?" There's a blade that cuts very fine indeed. While utility should not be the only criterion in our hands and hearts, it's not a bad place to start, given our lengthy list of self-indulgences and illusions. I teach English in a private high school, and after the new year will return to take up GENESIS and a unit on the influence of Judeo-Christianity with 9th graders (or 3rd formers, given our British public school legacy). With a sprinkling of atheists and evangelicals both, along with the indifferent, it's always good to see what they'll teach me about my own life and its hypocrisies. Thank you for putting your past years of work on this blog into such compact and concrete terms. Here in this post, you sum it up: what we face, and how we might respond fruitfully and foresightfully. -- DE

Michael Petro said...

As Jeff Z points out, it is probably the social ramifications of trying to live a life more fair to Mother Earth that holds most of us back.

Fortunately for me, I've been a pariah my entire life, ever the fan of "inconvenient truths." Even those who are closest to me will tell you (behind my back, of course) that I'm a little, er, "loopy." I don't know what it is that drives my congenital insistence to prefer Truth over the more natural primate impulse to socially bond (I can't hide behind something romantic like Asperger's, haha), but I wouldn't have it any other way.

It's ironic that the extravagant techo-wonder that is the Internet has done much to assuage the habitual loneliness. However, the number of "aware" people is increasing, so there is that.

Take heart, and don't be afraid to be the "chump" who steps forward! They'll all follow eventually. Grumpily, yes - and if you don't expect to get any credit for being first then all will be jake.

Paul Steer said...

Thank you, Michael, for reminding me that it's only by taking action that we can back up our lofty intentions, and make them real. Yes, I got up off my broad North American assets this morning and turned down the thermostat 3 degrees -- only to discover that someone had re-programmed the thing back up to the obscene 72 degree mark. Now, it's set back to 68 degrees, and less than that during the night.
A thought on change: In order for positive changes to come, it's important to embrace the reality of paradox. Here's an example: I own a large, North American truck built in 2002. It has a 6.0 liter V-8 engine and it burns a lot of gas. For this reason, I leave my truck parked in my driveway most of the time, and use a bike to get back and forth to work and to run short-trip errands. This opens me up to a measure of either praise (for bike riding), or criticism (for truck driving), from friends and acquaintances. My response to these remarks and comments is simply to point out that I am well aware of having one foot in one world and one in another. The irony, dear writer, is that truck driving and bike riding reinforce each other: when I ride my bike, I'm burning my own natural stores of energy(they are plentiful, btw); and I am more conscious and appreciative of still having the capacity to carry really large loads short-distances, using my truck, when and where I need to. When I drive my truck, I am more conscious of why I am driving it, and more careful and deliberate about how and why I am driving it, yet more serene and thankful that I have my bike to rely upon most of the time.
Embrace the paradox, and each be gentle and encouraging with each other, and with oneself!
It would be fun to know how much energy was saved simply as a result of your blog-post this week, but I don't think there's a app for that yet!

Loch Wade said...

Sorry John, I got this far, and had to say something...

"The one thing next to nobody wants to talk about is the one thing that distinguished the largely successful environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s from the largely futile environmental movement since that time, which is that activists in the earlier movement were willing to start the ball rolling by making the necessary changes in their own lives first."

The "environmental movement" was kickstarted by people like Robert Udal, hardly a champion of austerity living, and members of the elite just like him. Today the environmental movement is a monolithic corporate juggernaut sponsored by big oil, big mines, and big money, and its only purpose is to shove Agenda 21 down everyone's throats. So I'm not buying the line that somehow it involved people who voluntarily "cut back".

I grew up as a back to the land child on a farmstead with no running water, a party line phone, and sub-standard electricity. It was a fun way to live. Our next door neighbors were 7th Day Adventists, and I learned a lot from them, about the Great Disappointment, among other things.

Scoff with that faint sense of college educated bemused smugness if you want, but there is something to TEOTW. Why would every culture worldwide subscribe to it on their deepest cultural levels? Why the universal fascination with the precession of the equinoxes? Why all these things?

Those who take the time to study prophetic traditions are sooner or later going to run up against fulfillments that are too exact to ignore. The time spans of hundreds of years and the specific elements, all foretold with stunning accuracy, confound attempts to shrug the evidence off as coincidence.

How do we know the end of the world didn't already happen? It could have, and we could be unconscious of the invisible change. Example:
In 33 AD, Jesus predicted that the Second Temple would be destroyed, and he even specified that "not one stone would be left upon another."

Furthermore, he proclaimed, "your house is left unto you desolate." The priests could not tell anything was amiss, but something invisible had changed. For 37 years, everything seemed normal, until it wasn't any more.

Titus wanted to save the Temple but in the confusion of battle it caught on fire. The immense amount of gold inside melted in the inferno and ran down between the stones. The Roman soldiers literally pried each stone off the other in order to remove the gold between them.

was that just a lucky guess by Jesus?

I don't disagree with your other points. Peak Oil will take care of any global warming problems. As the economy implodes due to the energy shortage, people will behave within the bell-curve of human behavior, with most just trying to muddle along, and examples of great kindness and cruelty on the outer edges.

It's up to us as individuals to decide how we will behave. Since most people never give their behavior a second thought, they revert to default settings, which are survival settings. A few choose to see through the matrix, and then the choices get harder, because they are real choices, paradoxically based on an invisible reality.

Cheers, and happy new year! -Loch
By the way, I really like your blog and look forward to it every week.

SLClaire said...

OK, JMG, I grimaced and turned down the thermostat from 60F to 59F. It's not the 3 degrees you suggested. But I spent two winters ago with it set to 55F, and it was just too cold. I wore five layers of clothes, including a wool sweater, and fingerless gloves, and it was still too cold for me to be able to move my fingers enough to do anything useful. So we moved it up to 60F. I'm still wearing five layers of clothes, including two wool sweaters now, but at least my fingers will move. Still, I'll try 59F and see what happens. Maybe it will be a good compromise setting.

One of this year's experiments in using less was something another commenter mentioned: toilet paper. We got it down from one roll a week to one roll over a three to four week period. Maybe I'll discuss the details sometime on my blog or on Green Wizards. I'm not sure I can stay within the language rules of this blog by doing so here.

I have been reading your book The Blood of the Earth very carefully, trying to get my head wrapped around the reality of loss. It wouldn't be too strong to say that I have been grieving for the losses already come, even the minor ones like not having a 68F house in the winter, and the greater losses ahead. At the same time, I have been planning my action list of things to do in 2013 to use less and increase resiliency, with a particular focus on living with drought. It helps ease the grief a bit to make even a small step in the right direction.

Joel Caris said...


I'm about a thousand times over thankful. This is a wonderful post and now stands for me as one of the best introductory posts to your teaching. This is a link you can share with someone who's never read you and know that there's a message they can get if they have any interest in getting it.

I'm not at home at the moment but at my girlfriend's apartment in Portland, sitting in the kitchen. I turned the heater off at the end of that magical paragraph. Turning the heater down or off is always good advice.

Anyway, I may have noted it here before in some comment, but I'll say again that you and Wendell Berry have been the two most influential writers in my life of late. The blog I've been writing for the last year or so, focused on descent and simpler living, has been primarily inspired by your writing and philosophy here. More importantly than the writing, I've made a lot of lifestyle changes inspired by you.

Two secrets that probably aren't particular secrets amongst this readership but that I'll share here anyway:

1. If you just let your body adjust, you can deal with the cold much better than you might think. One of the reason people in the industrial world are so incapable of dealing with both cold and warmth is because they spend so much time in climate-controlled settings. Expose yourself to the outside air and your body will adjust itself quite a bit. Couple that with appropriate clothing and you can be comfortable in a far wider range of temperatures than many people realize. When I walk into a building in the winter that's heated to 68 or 70, I find it near insufferable.

2. Reading the rants and rages (which I've written myself!) of bloggers and others about our ridiculous ways of life is addicting, but I don't think it's actually satisfying. Reading the reasonable advice of someone who understands the underlying motivations of our society, practices what he preaches, and gives solid advice for practical activities, and then utilizing that advice to change your life--well, that's satisfying. The rants hit the pleasure centers; the practice inspired by reasoned discourse actually makes your life better.

That said, I've spent more of the last couple months reading rants and falling into useless emotional reactions than practicing good behavior. I'm about to move, though, and the new year's starting, and I've been recognizing these destructive tendencies the last few weeks, and now I've read this blog post. This is all a convergence of motivation and recognition that I'm going to use to get back on the right track. I'll be refocusing in the new year and making those changes I can make: the small and sometimes large ones rooted in my own life and behavior.

Thanks again, JMG. Just as dropping the thermostat a few degrees isn't going to save the world, neither is this blog. But it sure as heck has made a massive difference in my life, on physical, mental and emotional levels. Keep up the good work.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@marktheharp--I would like to follow up on JMG's reply to you, from the point of view of my ancestral religion. The thought occurred to me yesterday, before your question posted.

The Abrahamic religions, and perhaps other religions as well, are useful for reminding you what you are supposed to be doing when what you are supposed to be doing is inconvenient or unenjoyable.

For example, one of the six hundred-odd divine commandments in Judaism is to visit the sick. Another is to refrain from scurrilous gossip about other people.

Many people need a push to get around to doing the first and not join in when others do the second. Going to a party or staying home in comfort is more fun than visiting a person who is not well. Criticizing people and passing on rumors about them is entertaining.

Practicing these particular commandments strengthens the feelings of solidarity within a group; transgressing them engenders feelings that everyone is on their own and no one can be counted on to help.

The majority of the Jewish commandments are practically oriented and exist to give people guidance on how to get along in groups and maintain a decent, humane society.

Many good people are not religious at all. The advantage of having a religion to influence one's habits and furnish one's mental equipment is that religions have a broader, longer and more detached view than most individuals can muster in the stress of the moment. They strengthen one's ability to resist momentary impulses to do the wrong thing and generally reduce short term thinking and selfishness.

Renaissance Man said...

I showed this article to my brother's family, whom I'm visiting, and the response was quite interesting. "Nothing I didn't already know" (my brother has done a massive amount of work on weatherizing his house &c.), but he absolutely discounted the idea that the world is running low on energy resources.
Off the top of my head, I could only point out that the most amount of oil ever extracted globally was in June 2005 and has not increased despite all efforts at offshore drilling and in the face of every incentive to open up the spigots, hence the price increase for one.
He countered with the usual responses about the 'century of coal available', nuclear power (including Thorium), and, of course, the ever-popular fracking for natural gas .
Since I cannot marshal reams of compelling data off the top of my head about anything else, and wasn't really in the mood, we left it there. We both agree on most everything else (including sweaters and cooler houses) but here we have two competing views of the future by two creditable sources:
- The polymath Archdruid J.M. Greer who's writings agree with my own observations and experience, and whose conclusions agree my own personal, unresearched, unsupported conclusions, some of which I made decades ago.
- The Distinguished Professor Vaclav Smil with reams of data and published papers &c. which presents an altogether different (and enticing) view that we have the technological potential to maintain our comfortable lifestyle, even while lowering our impact and energy use.
But, like Buckminster Fuller, I think it's possible, hypothetically, but highly unlikely. An interesting discussion to follow, but I'm too busy trying to figure out how to get in behind the walls of my house without destroying it in the process so that I can insulate and decrease my energy dependence and I'm too busy learning animal husbandry, and trying (yet again) to grow a vegetable garden. Guess which authority I'm betting on.

Ben Echols said...

I think you miss the point that if someone is still actively arguing climate, peak oil, social conscience, etc. then they are in the bargaining stage, perhaps on their way to acceptance, perhaps disbelief, perhaps burnout. I've been fascinated for the past decade by peak oil, but after 2006, stopped actively participating in the discussions. Finally hit acceptance, I guess; the logic is hard to deny, though many still do. I don't see this descent as being a linear decline, except perhaps on the average. I see it as having discreet changes, some tramatic, mostly on personal or regional levels. I see the "rich" entrenching and surviving the ordeals with relatively little envolvement and no small amount of racism and classism, after all suicide nets around Chinese factories only serve to make Apple stock more attractive. And Joe Sixpack will continue to choose beer over diapers, and buy iPhones. I think that every comfort that you deny yourself will happily be consumed by someone who will mock your sacrifice. And so I think you have it wrong. Turn your thermostats up, drive incessantly, preach conspicuous comsumption, and let's get this train wreck over.

John Michael Greer said...

Ando, remember that I can't edit anybody's comments but my own -- fortunately "teat" is a perfectly ordinary word to anybody who's tended goats and cows!

Lewis, I'm holding out for a giant space walrus who will devour the Earth next February 30th.

Harry, bingo. It's the sense of entitlement that's the killer -- most people don't even value all the comforts that much, but being told that they can't have them is unbearable.

Dean, I certainly wouldn't claim that practical utility is the only value of religion, but it's a good litmus test -- as the guy whose birthday a lot of people celebrated a few days ago said, "by their fruits ye shall know them." A religion that doesn't express itself in practice is a barren tree.

Michael, I think most of us in this conversation are eccentrics in one way or another. It kind of comes with the territory.

Paul, good. The point of this work isn't to impress other people, but to keep moving in the right direction; if that involves the occasional use of a truck, that's what it involves.

Loch Wade, hmm. "Today the environmental movement is a monolithic corporate juggernaut sponsored by big oil, big mines, and big money, and its only purpose is to shove Agenda 21 down everyone's throats"? I think you've been listening to way too much talk radio; you might want to go have some beers with some environmentalists sometime, and see how much relationship that claim has to reality.

As for end of the world prophecy, well, we could have a very long talk about that someday, starting with the precession of the equinoxes. You've read Hamlet's Mill, I hope?

SLClaire, how well is your house insulated? One useful way to keep comfortable while using less energy is to weatherize aggressively; I won't argue with 60 degrees at all if it's being done on less fuel.

Joel, thank you! I know what you mean about stuffy overheated places at 68 degrees in the winter. I have the same reaction to heavily air conditioned spaces in summer; they're unbearable.

John Michael Greer said...

Renaissance, one approach to consider here is a variant on Pascal's Wager. Either Smil's right or he's wrong. If you assume he's wrong, spend the next twenty years conserving energy and living a less extravagant life, and then it turns out he's right, you haven't lost that much -- and in fact, you may have gained a thing or two. On the other hand, if you assume he's right, don't make any preparations or learn any skills that would be relevant to the deindustrial future, and then it turns out he's wrong, you're screwed, and so is anyone you might have been able to help if you'd taken option one. It's an argument I plan on discussing at more length down the road a bit.

Ben, yes, I'm familiar with that logic. It's yet another of the many excuses for business as usual embraced by those who claim to hate business as usual, and serves in a slightly more blatant manner than most to justify continued consumption. What it misses, of course, is (1) unless you plan to die in the "train wreck," there's a point to learning the skills and making the preparations that will get you through your share of the Long Descent in one piece and help others to do so, and (2) using less is also a way to make increasingly scarce resources more affordable and available to those who might actually need them.

Bill Pulliam said...

About social responses to your own personal lifestyle changes... These things don't have to be tied to a sermon or other visible agenda. My hillbilly-redneck neighbors find my experimentation with solar space heating interesting because they see it as a way to potentially save money. If you just live your life and don't go around telling your neighbors how they should live theirs, they might well find many of the things you do worthwhile and try them for themselves.

Loch Wade -- I'd be a lot more impressed by all these biblical prophecy fulfillment's if said prophecies had actually been written down and documented before they were fulfilled. I can make all sorts of amazing predictions if you let me make them a century after the fact. And Agenda 21? Really? With the assistance of chemtrails and Sasquatches mounted on chupacabras?

tubaplayer said...

Ah, JMG that was an excellent and compelling post!

Every week it is compulsory reading for me here. It really does keep me in touch with what I am trying to do here.

Your bit about turning the heating down beat me though. I had no heating in the house at all. I attempted to do it by opening the small window in my house door. It did not work. It got warmer.

Every week, and particularly this week your posts lift me from the slough of despond and remind me what I am doing here. I must find someone that knows how to renovate and use the meat smoking chamber in my loft

Bill Pulliam said...

LewisLucan -- small technical correction. The near approach in 2029 is by an asteroid, not a comet, which means it will be a much less impressive show (a mid-range star moving slowly across the sky, covering an angular distance similar to the apparent diameter of the moon every minute). The view of earth from the surface of the asteroid would be much more spectacular!

Bruce The Druid said...

In regards to adjusting to colder (or hotter temperatures), one technique is simply to jump into cold pools of water of various temperatures. Not for the faint of heart, but quite effective in jumpstarting your body's temperature adaptation system. The more times you expose yourself to colder temps, and the greater extremes, the easier it becomes. The key is to repeat the experience often, so your body realizes its not just a temporary experience. Just be aware of what hypothermia is and how to avoid it. But I can affirm that 60 degree (Fahrenheit)is not so cold after plunging into 40 degree water and walking home in 50 degree weather!

Batalos said...

1. No amount of individual actions reducing material consumption can change our course and our predicament by itself.
Saved energy and resources will be consumed by other members of overpopulated humanity longing for consumption, as our socio-economic system of everlasting growth at any cost dictate.
On the other hand, if (not very likely) global material consumption would really start to decrease because of those actions that would worsen the crisis and hasten its predictable consequences.
2. But there is a chance that at some point the number of people that understand our predicament and have minimized their material consumption and ready to try to change the system is enough to really try to change the system. We haven’t any chances while we are within and depend on it so hard. And while the system is crumbling further and further, the people who know what is responsible for, what actions are needed, and who do not critically depend on the system might - only might - have more than zero chance to redirect our suicidal direction...
Of course, no any guaranties. And of course, we have to understand that restricting global mean material consumption (see - depletion and degradation) to sustainable levels is crucial, and that we have to have birth control, egalitarianism, and concentration on spiritual values: family, friends, education, science, culture and so on.

Repent said...

I did the opposite of your request- I turned the heat up three degrees. I'm not saying you don't have a valid point, but I'm wholly dependant on the 'machine' and when it's gone i'm gone.

I'm okay with this. As my own life gradually winds down, I'm a little okay with the world around me winding down a bit also.

It's my kids I worry about, that they can be prepared for having less, and to do with less when they are older. I also don't have the mettle to embrace hard changes in life; it's hard enough when they come of their own accord.

I never expected this growing up; I was full into the space age, living in the'we can do anything' meme, and collapse was not discussed. (If I had a point, I think I missed it, however maybe you can point out the error in my thinking?)

Bill Pulliam said...

Ok there have been a couple of posts here along the lines of "If I don't use it someone else will so conservation is pointless." On beyond deeper pragmatic issues (being on the vanguard of figuring out how to live with less so you are on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge, when push comes to shove), there's ethical issues. That stance is at best amoral and in some points of view it is immoral. If murder were rampant and everyone would eventually be murdered, does that mean you should just go out and join in the murdering?

Juhana said...

Yes, practical advices and cold showers of reality, that's what world needs!
Here in my country there are numerous traditional loghouses around countryside. First loghouses were build during 11th century AD, but improvements to construction methods were made up to big wars of 20th century. Traditional construction waned after WW2, but is on the rise again. Loghouses are warmed by stone oven, around which whole house is built. Electricity was nonexistent in the past. Washing room are centered around sauna, and kiuas of sauna warms boiler of water to wash yourself, so no need for water piping there. The floor is raised by stone pillars and crawling space under it scraped clean of humus and ventilated by small ducts, preventing capillar reaction of water decaying wooden structures. There are countless examples of pure genius in structures of traditional loghouse, conserved to us by tradition.

Point is; we have reconstructed with my friend old 19th century farming loghouse. The house is capable to support human life without any outside electricity, even when it is - 30 C outside. Actually, there is NO other way to warm the house than oven and stove, both warmed by wood. Stone oven gives warmth up to four days when heated. Cats also love to sleep at the top of oven when it is not too hot, so you get very happy cats as bonus! Man, they are so happy, it's perfect place for lazy cats. Making food needs no electricity. There are enough insulation, but also enough ventilation to prevent decay by moisture. What little electricity is needed is created by fuel engine (not reconstruction) and goes to little luxuries of life as washing machine for clothes and computer. There is no grid connection in the house. Outhouse WC with manual emptying of waste from waste tank time to time serves all visitors perfectly. Fuel generator lifts water from well also, but this can be made by hand. Nobody just bothers to do it; keeping everything running in that kind of environment takes lot of heavy manual labour. Men and women of past were STRONG, not as bodybuilders, but as hard-as-nails workers.

There is somebody living in the house two/thirds of the year, but it is livable through the year.

I have keen interest in building methods and techniques; engineering deals with reality, not with fantasies. Loghouse is good way to build livable house in taiga area of subarctic; I believe parts of USA and Canada belong to taiga also? It is better than ideological building models of liberal Greens, because loghouses were originally build by relatively poor people by relatively poor resources. There is no ideological drive behind it, only necessity to stay alive in very cold environment. Loghouses don't require complex logistical net to deliver rare components; all they require is quite basic stuff. It is not perfect way to build, but very good indeed. If poor people of 18th century could build this kind of houses and live relatively clean lives in them thanks to sauna, so can future generations in taiga area also. It is not even truly expensive, if you have carpenter skills yourself and ability to invest some sweat and time to it. And of course every man worth of his name has those skills and that determination, eh..?

Here is link giving construction tips and that kind of stuff for building/reconstructing traditional loghouse. I have absolutely no idea if there are some kind of translation programs for Finnish language, but if you can read it, enjoy. I take no responsibility for possible building failures of readers; goodness of this building method is my personal opinion only... And you have to make it right to succeed, with skill and love towards the building you are making.

Progress and Conserve said...

Thanks for the week's work, JMG. And I must say that you do seem to be "preaching to the choir," here. The number of posters who write in to detail their own adventures and accomplishments in energy conservation is quite large and quite commendable.

So, I should also express my own energy bona fides, first. I bought completely into the mantra of energy conservation in the early 1970's and never gave it up. Keeping your living and working spaces as cold as possible in the winter and as hot as possible in the summer has always been second nature to me. (and to my family, coworkers, and employees - with some grumbling of course) And I've always driven the smallest and lightest possible cars and trucks - and I've always driven those vehicles as few miles as possible and as slowly as possible. I also bought completely into the Zero Population Growth movement for the United States - deliberately choosing to have only two children, a decision made almost 30 years ago, now.

But the thing is, JMG, NONE of this means a hill of beans inside the United States. If every one of your readers told a friend, who told a friend, who told a friend; to the point that 100,000,000 people inside the United States spent the entire winter at 45 degrees F.

All of that energy savings would not BEGIN to make up for the 3 million new residents of these United States who will immigrate here this year - or be born to parents who recently immigrated.

The first time I mentioned this idea on your comment thread was two weeks ago - when your direct topic was immigration. Your first response to me was to tell me to look to WHERE the support for this high immigration comes from. Well - I know where, it's from the National Chamber of Commerce, and the many Immigrant Rights groups that are funded by groups like the National CoC, that are extremely pro-growth. All well, fine, and to be expected. But there should be a counterweight from the environmental groups, or the LOW-growth community on US immigration.

So what has surprised me, here at ArchDruid, is the number of people who are "members of the choir" on reduction of carbon footprint - yet who fail to make the connection between "National and Global carbon footprint" and the growth in the population of the United States - which growth is totally due to immigration and the children and grandchildren of immigrants.

Immigration into the United States is the Gordion Knot of world environmental problems. Cut through it, and there may be some hope. If not.....

Some of the dispute on the importance of immigration-driven population growth for the United States comes down to a question about the "timeline to collapse," which is something that I've never seen you specifically address, JMG.
And I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this timeline, by the way.

If collapse of Empire happens this year, or next, then new population growth probably won't matter all that much - if at all.

But what if collapse is 20 years from now - and the United States, therefore, finds itself with an extra 60 millions souls aboard. In that case, the time to collapse matters a great deal - especially to those of us who hope to live to it, and through it.

And because the "power of empire" and government-funded social programs enable and drive legal (and only LEGAL!) immigration forward in spite of carrying capacity of the nation's landmass, or logic of the nation's people - -

That is where the readers of this blog and you, JMG, could begin to have an impact. There are things to do. There are organizations to join. There may still be time to avert total population disaster - by working with effective national-level groups to reduce population GROWTH at the one place we are supposed to have some level of control as citizens - and that is INSIDE our own country.

dowsergirl said...

Thanks for the encouragement everyone. I love all the suggestions and comments. For many years now I have been giving gifts that I make. I am an excellent craftsperson I might add :) This is the first year my siblings have appreciated what I have given them. Or at least they said so...each basket was stuffed with local produce from the new community I have been lucky enough to move into. My little house was filled to the brim with all six of us I had for the holiday meal that was entirely from the farm next door, as well as some foraging done this year in my woods and dried. It doesn't have to be a boring and austere life. Acoustic music is lovely! Dancing is free!!!

SLClaire said...

JMG, we spent a lot of money (from an inheritance) in 2005 on increasing attic insulation to R-44 and having all the various air leakages sealed and having insulation blown into the walls. Our natural gas usage for the last month was 30.6 Therms for 587 heating degree days, compared to 70 Therms for 648 HDD for the same period in 2004, before the work was done. I have the symptoms of Raynaud's disease (poor circulation in extremities). That is why I have so much trouble with my fingers and also my feet in cold weather. It puts a real limit on the amount we can reduce heating in the winter. If we had a fireplace we'd have put in a fireplace insert, but with very small rooms and limited income, I have not wanted to go to the expense and the lost usable room space of a wood stove and added chimney. We could replace the electric cookstove with a wood cookstove (we think the house had a coal cookstove in the kitchen and a coal furnace in the basement when it was built in 1928) and may end up doing that eventually, but not until we add a way to cook outside during the summer on cloudy as well as sunny days. The last thing I want to do in a St. Louis summer is have a wood fire in the house. One of my 2013 projects is to build a prototype rocket stove toward this end.

Martin said...

Good advice, JMG - but, since everything is relative, I must point out that there's nothing sacred or sacrosanct about dropping the thermostat 3 degrees; 3 degrees from where?

For my part, since I'm an old fart and have cranky joints, etc., during the cool months I set the thermo to a toasty 64 deg. F and leave it there 'round the clock from the time during the year when the outside temp drops below an average of 50 deg. F. to whenever it rises above an average of 50 deg. F. in the spring - the furnace (heat pump) kicks in, at most, maybe 4 to 6 times across a 24 hour period for about five minutes each time (and yes, I'm aware that it does this mostly during the very early hours of the morning). As for the warmer months, the thermo is set to cool anytime the inside temp. exceeds 90 deg. F. - which is not very often, and we open windows and evacuate the hot attic air at night.

For whatever it's worth, I decided about fifty years ago to not father any children (opting to adopt instead), hence helping in my own tiny insignificant way to limit my personal long-term impact on the planet.

Also, although I own a car, it is by default and I drive very little, getting where I can on my own two feet (I do not own a bicycle since the manufacture of same adds to the CO2 load). I haven't flown in a jet for nearly 15 years; my last long cross-country journey was by train 5 years ago. I see from your blog that you get around quite a bit - fly much do you?

Ozark Chinquapin said...

There's something that I've been wanting to bring up here for a while but have been hesitant to, but it's relevant to this post as well as many of your others. I just want to make sure this comes across right as I'm with you on pretty much everything you say about the need to align your own life with your own principles. It's just that there's a certain percentage of us (probably pretty small, with certain pretty extreme personality traits) that can get ourselves into unhealthy behaviors from this sort of advice. or at least our own misinterpretations of it.

I can only speak for myself in that I always values living ethically and doing the right thing over anything else. I always considered my best trait to be my strong will, that if I was doing something I valued, I could push on and not give in to impulses. I would neglect myself and consider it a virtue. I ended up getting into health issues that kept getting worse. I would attend to myself in some ways (like eating healthy, because it was also a better thing for the planet) but at the same time keep punishing myself, and getting into downward spirals where i would get into a worse state and just respond by pushing myself even more. It's only in the last couple of years that I've been able to heal and still have a ways to go, and part of that is to realize that I need to attend to myself more in order to be able to have any effectiveness in the outside world. I still sometimes struggle to find that balance and certain things can push me back into self-neglect and self-directed anger and guilt. I know that's not your intention at all (Your metaphor of taking care of your horses has been helpful to me), and your posts on magic has helped me realize that even though I haven't gotten into magic myself (I need to get relaxation and meditation down before I even consider anything further)

I say this because I've had plenty of experience with reading things like this post that are meant as a call to action, and it ending up worsening unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors that end up having the opposite effect. Maybe there aren't enough of us out there with these issues for it to be worthwhile to you, but I just wonder if there's something that could be thrown in with the calls to action, some sort of call for balance, so it won't be interpreted as self-denial to the point of illness.

latheChuck said...

We watched Al Gore tell us about the coming crisis in global climate change, and were believing it. Then we looked at his own palatial homestead and hydrocarbon-fueled speaking schedule, and had to ask "Does HE believe it?". Wouldn't it have been wonderful if he could have found an effective way to use The Internet to move his persona around the world as needed to make his presentations?

But regardless of his example, we've put in CFL lamps, LED lamps, more insulation, more garden space... and then blow the enviro budget by putting our son into a high-school that's a two-hour drive away. One foot in each world, indeed!

Joe said...

After reading almost all of the comments, I find it especially ironic that your post disproves a central part of your thesis "that most of what you’ll see being proposed in the peak oil and climate change blogosphere has been proposed over and over and over again already, without the least impact on our predicament". Your post proves that exhortation and persuasion can indeed influence people to change their behavior, especially if the "persuader" is not a hypocrite. A huge number of your readers actually turned down their thermostats after reading your post. If personal example is the only authentic form of persuasion, why are you a writer?

teetering said...

There I was, all ready to take the required step, when it hit me, darn it, I don't use heat at all, except for a light warming of a radiator if I'm sick. So try as I might, I can't turn down the thermostat. Well, ok, I admit it, we don't have a thermostat in the first place. How hard is that? Not very. At lest not in the temperate zones in winter. Posting from a computer I built out of spare parts for about $20, running Debian Linux, after running some errands by bike, my only realistic choice since I stopped owning a car years ago. How hard is it really? Not very. Now to go check on the apples that are drying that I picked up at the farmers market for fifty cents a pound, damaged, but takes only a few minutes to core out the bad parts. Later I'll cook up a dinner using spices I made myself, way better than anything else you can buy, by far. The habanero flakes are particularly good.

It's really not so hard to do what the druid man says, the food is better, your health is better, what's the obsession with controlling everything.

If gas goes out, I can cook using alcohol stoves I made myself, fun stuff. Piece by piece, that's how you do it. I'm wearing a thick pullover, and that's how we did it in the old country too. It's not hard either in cold climates, back in norway in the old days, which weren't that long ago on the farms, you slept in these boxlike narrow beds with super thick down comforters with NO heat in the dead of winter. One room of the log cabin was heated with a wood stove that required very little wood to make the living room/kitchen area toasty hot. Dirt insulated the rafters in the attic.

How hard is it to live well? not very. What's actually hard is to go to the same stupid boring corporate job selling your soul so you can pay for garbage you don't need, commute because you needed to buy a junky suburban house because the ones close by were too expensive, so you have the job to pay for the car you use to commute to the house that nobody in their right mind would own if given a real choice in the first place. Now that's hard.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, nah, the sasquatches are riding "black triangle" UFOs. It's Queen Elizabeth who's riding the chupacabra.

Tubaplayer, if you don't have any heat on at all, good. Now find another way to save a little energy!

Bruce, when I lived in Seattle I used to visit the Shinto shrine up at Granite Falls, and now and again would get to practice misogi shuho -- in English, that's standing shoulder deep in the icy waters of the Pilchuck River, chanting a prayer in archaic Japanese, as a ceremony of purification. Every time I did it, the inner fire would kick in after about a minute, and I'd be comfortable even when there was ice along the bank. So it definitely works!

Batalos, that's pretty close to the strategy. Keep in mind also that learning to get by with a lot less takes time and effort, and will be much easier to learn before the crisis gets worse; and that even if your proposed movement fails, the rubble will eventually stop bouncing, and the skills that get through the crisis period have the potential to make life much better into the far future.

Repent, I'm sorry to hear that. "I'm going to die anyway, so why should I care?" is a common enough sentiment these days, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to hear it.

Bill, nicely put.

Juhana, the Finnish loghouse was the direct ancestor of the American log cabin, by way of New Sweden, the Swedish colony in what's now Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania between 1638 and 1655. A lot of the colonists were Finns, since Finland was ruled by Sweden at that time, and they brought quite a bit of their familiar technology with them -- quite a bit of which ended up as part of the standard kit of colonial America.

That said, once again, you might not want to jump to conclusions so enthusiastically. Labeling current Green tech "ideological" is a massive oversimplification; there's some that deserves the label, and a lot more that's just as pragmatic and sustainable as a loghouse. More generally, as I see it, it's as big a mistake to say "everything old is better" as it is to say "everything new is better." If something's no longer open to improvement and change, it's not a tradition, it's a corpse.

Progress, that is to say, you want to use this list as a recruiting ground for the cause you think is important. I don't share your view on the subject, for reasons I've already tried to explain, and further attempts to hammer on it will not be put through. You have every right to pursue whatever causes matter to you, but this isn't the place to do it.

Dowsergirl, of course; limited energy resources and a lot of hard work don't require boredom or austerity -- though I confess to a certain fondness for austerity as a contrast to the culture of mindless extravagance we've got!

John Michael Greer said...

SLClaire, fair enough; you do what you can given the hand that you're dealt. I have mild Reynaud's, so I can sympathize.

Martin, of course there's nothing sacrosanct about it! It was simply something that I figured most people could do right there and then, without too much trouble, to make the point I was trying to make. As for flying, no, I take the train -- much more energy efficient, and also one of the very few civilized ways of travel left.

Ozark, that's an excellent point, and one I hadn't thought about. I'll certainly consider it, and see what might best be done.

Chuck, it really saddens me to think of how much Gore could have accomplished if he'd been willing to be a role model and not simply a talking head. A major politician who adopted a simpler and relatively carbon-neutral life could have made climate change activism unstoppable; instead, he played no small role in stopping it in its tracks.

John Michael Greer said...

Joe, now go back through my post and look for the place where I said that personal example is the only authentic form of persuasion. Hint: you won't find it. What you'll find is the argument that any other form of persuasion fails unless personal example is there to back it up. A lot of my readers turned down their thermostats because they know that mine is down good and low, as indeed it is.

Teetering, good. I wish other people understood things that way. Me, I think I live very well indeed with no car, no TV, no microwave, none of a lot of other things most Americans think of as necessities, a ten-year-old computer that I only have because my income requires it, a garden to tend and a workshop in the basement that relies entirely on hand tools. Still, as I'm sure you're aware, you're not the audience to whom the instruction to turn down the thermostat was primarily addressed!

Cam from Oz said...

Hello John, I am on day 2 (for the Aussies I am staying at Guyra on the New England Hwy tonight) of a 7 day 600km solo bike ride from Grafton New South Wales to Brisbane, Queensland. Thus far I have passed through a lot of rural and agricultural country. Of course on a ride such as this you get a lot of time to think.

Australia is a huge country. When you replace the ICE with a bike or horse it seems even larger. As collapse continues on its merry path I can see many of these rural areas being re-populated and even the creation of many smaller rural villages (or maybe re-creation) organised on a scale based around virtual self sufficiency whilst exporting surplus food and fibre to the larger centres.

I think that the timeframe when this will start happening is a decade or more off and it won't be without heart ache but it fills me with hope that their is potential, particularly when combined with organic gardening/permaculture knowledge that there are other ways of organising our society than is currently the case.

Whether bitumen roads last, particularly on the minor roads is another question though. Somehow I think that their days are numbered. Just on the stretch that I have been on thus far I would guestimate that there is many millions of dollars worth of outstanding work. The costs of maintains them will simply be unaffordable.

Cam from Oz

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Dear JMG and greetings to all--

A lovely summary of many of your great themes.

I'd only like to add, that, as a card-carrying environmentalist, by which I mean, in part, a person who has centered her life around care of the living earth -- and getting others to do so-- as I say, I'd like us all to remember the other reasons besides collapse for turning down the heat (I'm right now upstairs, where it's warmer, in fleece, turtleneck and much-darned wool socks); after all, we don’t want our ecosystem to collapse along with our industrial economy. Whew-- long sentence—I’ve been reading Dickens!

The "environmental movement" may have failed, but in my work (as I've mentioned before) I keep meeting other people who are also working to help communities downshift and become more sustainable and even resilient-- and not as part of any named “movement.” Perhaps the environmental movement may have morphed into something less visible, but it’s still working, sort of like yeast. If a community allows chickens or bees in the back yard, offers a rebate on rain barrels, sponsors a community garden in the local park, restores a natural area, or starts marking bike lanes, it’s possible some collapse/climate change/peak oil savvy environmentalists have been active.

Some years ago, in the first Archdruid post I ever read, you recommended that one should give something up every year, and learn some new skill every year – or something to that effect. OK, I thought, and found THE DOING IS NOT THAT EASY! I like my comfort! But there are rewards, and small steps are easier than attempting giant leaps. I have found that winter, the solstice time, is a good time to plan the next period of de-acquisition/acquisition. And I’ve learned that the giving up and gaining applies to attitudes, assumptions and habits as well as darning socks or saving tomato seeds. Gradually, the way you conduct your life changes in many ways. Anyway, the world seems to me to be constantly in the process of beginning and ending and beginning and…

Perhaps intentional simplicity is something that some people are more naturally drawn to, by temperament or belief, and if these are also people more apt to connect their way of life to their ethics and their ethics to contemplation of how to live on earth.


morenewyorknews said...

We in third world don't much fear of running out of oil,gas,coal,modern industry.
The real problem we are facing is cooking gas.It is huge problem here.May be govt will start selling coal for domestic use instead of power plants and it will save some trouble.Personally i am trying to design solar concentrator cooker and solar fans.It is huge market here and totally untapped.
If hard times come back,we can revert to old ways.We are modernized just 30 years back.
Personally,i don't own car,motorcycle,house,computer.I walk,use public transport,cook at home.So by definition,i am full environmentalist.But my opinion is not counted anywhere,i don't get photographed and quoted in media.

Joseph Nemeth said...

JMG -- Sticking my head into the furnace, but that seems to be my lot in life.

I want to point out that you've just created a religious taboo. Those who have turned down their thermostats in the dead of winter are True of Heart -- those who don't are either Unbelievers or Hypocrites. We can argue about the environmental impact of three degrees Fahrenheit, just as we can argue about the health risks of eating shellfish, or the hygiene of circumcision, but the main function of taboo is identity.

I see this powerfully in the comments. You got mostly True of Heart responses, ranging from "Amen, brother!" to "I have plucked out my furnace!" There are a number of responses pleading special status -- age, health concerns, technical problems -- that say, "I believe, but I am lame and cannot follow."

I've never been a good follower, and I've not turned down my thermostat tonight. I won't further discuss what I've done or not done in this context, because I don't care to establish identity in this way. But I do have a few thoughts.

In a resource-scarce society, I'm already nothing more than surplus population, and the sincerest form of environmental activism would be to “depart with the ice floe.” I'm past my reproductive years. The children have left the nest. Most of the true "lore" I possess as an elder is rapidly becoming obsolete, as is the case for most elders in our collapsing empire. My lifetime-honed skill-set is tuned to a world that is vanishing.

I consume hugely more than three degrees Fahrenheit by being alive: over a half million calories, hundreds of gallons of fresh water, some three million liters of oxygen-rich air, wasted every year. Where I live is the same land, more or less, where I was raised, and it was poorly chosen by my parents long before I was born: without technology, this land cannot support me.

Lacking the courage and conviction to kill and compost myself, at the very least I should move -- assuming I can predict what land will be bountiful as the globe warms. But in a world at Malthus' limits, I remain surplus population. I'm still not welcome. Not anywhere.

You describe here a process of retooling myself for usefulness in a world that does not yet exist, and that will not exist until after I am most likely dead of old age. Such retraining is barely applicable to my children. It is most applicable to my children's grandchildren, who will be born -- if at all -- long after I'm gone. Even if collapse were to come in some swift apocalypse within the next decade, it makes no sense for me to suck down food and water that would better serve someone half my age.

However, any livable future for my children's grandchildren, or even my own children, lies in the community they live within, and the skills that make them individually useful in that community. I can't predict the form of that society until it happens, much less the skills that will be useful, because it will depend on what everyone else does in response to these global changes. If their locale breaks down into small, stable, democratic villages, critical thinking and clear rhetoric will be useful skills. If it breaks down into a lawless carnage between the rag-tag remains of the US government and Mexican warbands, skill with horse rustling and a six-gun will be a lot more useful than talk.

Can we influence how the trees in the imperial forest fall? I don't know. But I don't really believe in Hari Seldon. Unless....

Unless we create self-sufficient, self-contained communities -- not “lifestyles” but communities -- to survive the chaos. Like the Amish. Or the Shaolin Monks. Or the Order of St. Benedict. But why re-invent them? These communities already exist. We don't have to do this on our own. We can't do this on our own.

Juhana said...

Yes, you are right; eyes must be keep open for possible improvements. I just tend to trust solutions with good, proven track records over those proven on paper only. One good, new solution is solar energy. I actually have build and installed those solar water heaters that partially warm up water, thus saving energy. I have welded and molded my part of copper tubes inside those roster casings, where warmth diffuses to used water, before jumping up ladders of society :). And your estimate about passive solar heating of water in this blog was very good; we are actually scouting right now options to supplement fuel engine at our loghouse with some form of solar power. Storage of energy is always the most problematic aspect with solar; but something is going to happen during next summer. Tips welcomed!

Some of new green-tech houses here in Finland forgot the decaying power of moisture almost completely; when there is 60 C difference between highest and lowest temperature during same year, ventilation and dryness of house structures must be taken very seriously. Some over-insulated green-tech houses forgot this, and those houses are rotting after ten years of use. Not very durable solution, I would say. I was actually taking part in construction of one that kind of house when I was worker myself, and problems were obvious to us proletarians from the beginning; owner of the house was...well, let's just say very naive with his ideas. This is main reason for my suspicion about new ideas, not somekind die-hard reactionary attitude. New ideas proven in real world are always welcome!

Sorry about long waffling about loghouse before, I didn't know you guys in subarctic America already know all that stuff.

Sue in NH said...

There was no need to turn down the heat here, as the furnace is not on. A well-insulated house and a small fire in the woodstove staves off the cold even as the snowstorm rages outside. We are eating food from the backyard garden and have greatly reduced our "Carbon footprint" in numerous ways. And yet I am under no illusion that what I do will make much difference, even if many others join in. But it’s the right thing to do, and that is reason enough for me.

JMG, I do hope that Hubbert's curve is our greatest challenge as the future unfolds, but I think it is somewhat likely the problem of Climate Change will overtake it. There is so much waste right now in how modern civilization uses fossil fuels that we could cut our energy use back by half or more and still live lives of luxury. After all none of us need Caribbean vacations, strawberries in January or flat screen TV's. (Antibiotics and indoor plumbing to me are two of the most beneficial parts of modern life.) As we slide down the far side of the peak, we have a lot of things we can easily give up before quality of life truly suffers.

But the problem is, it may be that we don't have one to three centuries to make a transition to a low energy future. We may not even have one century. I know JMG, you have doubted the motivations behind some of the climate science, and I have read your statements about how climate has changed in the past as radically, (true, but the impact is all about speed of change) but I question if you see events so much through the lens of peak oil that you may be missing this issue galloping up behind us, soon perhaps, to overtake the peak oil problem.

We can all "hope" that industrial civilization collapses in time to save the climate, but it better do so quite quickly, before the self-reinforcing feedback loops of ice sheet collapse, methane-clathrate, release and more, make anthropogenic climate change irrelevant. The oceans are just about saturated with as much CO2 as they will absorb, and it won't take much more temperature change to make the Amazon a net carbon source rather than sink. I could list a dozen more alarming phenomena scientists are just starting to uncover. The last 5 years of climate research has been horrifying in what it has revealed about Earth's sensitivity to CO2 levels and how rapidly change is occurring, much faster than even the most dire predictions made a few years ago.

In the future, it may not matter if we have diesel fuel for our tractors or if we are back to smaller organic farms. If we have repeated droughts followed by horrendous floods, growing food becomes problematic. Every species uses its habitat and resources until it reaches the carrying capacity of its environment, then suffers the consequences. Why should humans be any different? Yes, we are a self aware species, and we have a modicum of self control as well, but as you have pointed out, we do a great deal of our decision making based on warm fuzzy vs cold prickly feelings, rather than with our frontal lobes. In order to stave off catastrophic climate change, we are going to have to, as a global population, make decisions to sacrifice immediate gratification, that is forsake some warm fuzzies. I don't see us doing that, at least not in large enough numbers and not soon enough. We cannot even pretend to agree on international goals for emissions reductions, much less follow through on them.

As Gandolf said, "Things are now in motion, that cannot be undone." So some of us are here fighting Orcs, but unless Frodo throws the ring of power into the fires of mount doom, (ie we get real international climate agreements) the rest of us are going to be over-run. In real life, the good guys don't always, or even usually win. Evolution so far, has favored a system of competition between tribes over resources. It's going to be very difficult to overcome our own weaknesses, not that its not worth trying of course.

Cherokee Organics said...


Your post was both excellent and inspiring.

Perhaps what is needed is an initiation ceremony. Did you just provide this initiation ceremony in your blog post?

I read up on Krampus last week and found that this entity too was part of an initiation ceremony. We desperately need such things in society.

Interesting stuff. I had a rough time setting off on and maintaining my new path many years ago with only the support of my partner, and have had to get here today through sheer force of personality.

Throughout the process, I have copped a fair bit of what in polite company could be called "Blockers" - even from the alternative scenes. This was quite a surprise as I would have considered that these people would have been an area of support. Not so.

However, during this journey I have also come across a network of like-minded practical people who trade knowledge, stories and help. Sometimes you just never know when help will arrive and in what form. An old farmer from around this area who I got talking to last week about his orchard and bees, gifted me a bee brood box, frames and floor.

Sometimes perhaps (especially in the past) it may appear from my writing that I have a sense of smugness, but this is far from the truth. Truly, the more that I learn on this path, the more fragile our systems appear to me. You may not be aware, but just days before Christmas, the federal government here announced that they were abandoning plans for a budget surplus this financial year due to falling tax receipts and a need to stimulate the economy. It is not the value of the deficit or the level of debt that bothers me, because these are a non-issue, it is the certainty that at some point in the future the bluff will be called by another country and the word capitulation may then be applicable.

As an interesting side note, I had a strange observation this morning when I noticed someone causing a problem, not doing anything about it, but mouthing words because that was expected of them by society!

Master, their magic is strong!



John Michael Greer said...

Cam, here in the US many states are turning rural roads back into gravel, or simply abandoning them, as the cost of maintenance is just too high. I hope you're right about rural repopulation -- I think there's a high chance of it, once the distorted economics of the present break down.

Adrian, the crippling problems with the current environmental mainstream don't make the issues that concern it any less relevant, or foreclose the hope that something more effective may emerge if the issues around middle class privilege can be addressed. As people relearn the necessity of grounding activism by changing their own lives first, I think there's every reason to hope for better things -- although, of course, you're right that this takes a lot of hard work!

News, delighted to hear that you're working on solar projects relevant to your part of the world! There's a lot of good that could be done there -- since cooking gas is a petroleum product, of course, you can expect shortages to increase and prices to rise as depletion continues and competition for what's left picks up.

Joseph, of course there are identity issues involved. The default setting for identity in modern industrial culture is "comsumer;" my intention here is to try to help people redefine themselves as something else -- say, "conserver." That said, I think you're drastically oversimplifying things to define yourself as surplus; what you know, what you can do, and what you can teach are far more relevant here than the merely biological issues. Of course you can't create your grandchildren's future, but you could help make sure that critical skills and appropriate tech get through the upcoming crises, so that your grandchildren have more options than they otherwise will. That's a central point of this blog's project -- has been all along, in fact.

Juhana, thanks for the clarification! I've seen houses like the ones you describe -- some architect's ego trip, poorly fitted to the local ecosystem. As for loghouses, nah, the information was worth having -- for some reason the stone oven didn't make the transition to this side of the Atlantic in colonial times, and it's a technology worth learning from.

Sue, I've been discussing climate change as a major factor all along -- do you recall the series of fictional pieces I did at the end of 2006, in which drastic climate change played as large a role as peak oil? (If not, you can read them here, here, and here.) Of course it's a massive issue. I'm suspicious of the way it's so often being recast as another excuse for apocalyptic fantasies, not to mention the way that climate change activists and cornucopians seem to be uniting behind the very dubious banner of "we've got lots of fossil fuels," but that's a different point. I'd suggest, though, that neither you nor I nor anyone on this list has much influence over whether those international agreements ever happen, to say nothing of whether they get enforced; in the meantime, as you say, we can get to work doing the right thing.

Cherokee, it's very strong magic. Fortunately it can be dissolved by the Universal Solvent of the alchemists, which is awareness. (No joke, by the way; in one of the several senses of classical alchemy, that's what they were talking about when they used that term.)

GawainGregor said...


Thank you for another timely post. I find the most difficult part of collapsing now to be the social stigma. Many of my contemporaries seem to view our efforts as a form of treason. One friend even explained that the current wars were necessary to keep things "normal". If this is normal, then yes I'm a traitor. I do find hope in your reasoned discourse and the that of your readership. Thanks again and keep up the good work.


Karim said...

Greetings all!

Highly enjoyable post I must say.

How true it is. So few are people interested in even changing the slightest aspects of their way of life. Indeed, I have even been told repeatedly that by doing compost, tending a vegetable garden, recycling things I am wasting my time as it won't prevent modern civilisation from decline anyway and it is also a waste of time to encourage others to do the same as people do not want to change anyway.

I say to them YES! You are right. Nothing I do now will prevent the decline of our civilisation and people will not change just because I have an organic garden.

But my actions and words are like sowing seeds onto a barren field. When the rains come (and they are coming.) some of those seeds I planted will hopefully germinate and green sprouts will take hold. That's the purpose!

Furthermore, to change in small steps right now are worthwhile reruns for when the time comes they become indispensable. In addition, those small steps, very often result in financial savings which when added are not negligible. In effect, a reduction in one's material lifestyle is a financially interesting proposition.

I work in my family's businesses and I can see that after salaries, how energy and transportation bills are becoming major items, hence any savings quickly translate themselves into profits.

Furthermore, changes in one's lifestyle can also mean to shift some of the goods or services purchased from the market to goods and services produced at the household level. This also translates quickly into savings. Bringing food from home at work instead of buying lunch is an obvious example.

A lot of the above can be done without any noticeable downgrade in the quality of life, saves money, prepares oneself for the future and lightens one's footprint on the planet. Not bad I'd say!

Sue in NH said...

Yes, I know you have talked many times about Climate Change as a significant issue in your posts in the past (I have read them all, many more than once... thank you for all your posts!) I guess what I was trying to get across, inarticulately, is that I've come to view Climate Change as a much more serious and imminent threat to civilization than even Peak Oil. Peak Oil I agree is a predicament in that it is dictated by geology. One would like to hope Climate Change is more of a problem that we can avoid, or mitigate to some degree with our own behaviors. (This hope seems to be a bit of a subtext to your post perhaps?... certainly in some of the comments as well?) But as I watch how humanity behaves, I've come to see Climate Change as also a predicament because of the magnitude of our fossil fuel use, the forward inertia of our industrial system that will take some time to come to a halt, the relatively fast time frames in which the Earth is starting to react to changes in atmospheric composition, and the hints that at some point in the near-ish future, parts of the Climate System will be acting on their own, out of our influence. To put this more succinctly, I used to be most concerned about humanity adapting to Peak Oil. Now I think the much bigger issue will be surviving Climate Change. The game has shifted.

I hear your concerns about people making Climate Change into the next apocalyptic fantasy and I'm sure there are many out there who don't understand the science but happily jump on this bandwagon for the reason of the perverse appeal of the apocalyptic narrative. But as you pointed out, the boy who cried wolf, eventually did have his flock attacked. When I see normally conservative and staid scientists become increasingly alarmed, almost to the point of panic, then maybe there is reason for us laypeople to take more notice.

We may have as much chance of altering the future, as your proverbial peasant in the 1700's had of holding back the Industrial Revolution. Weather peak Oil or Climate Change becomes the greatest issue we face matters not much. Either way we overshoot the carrying capacity of Earth, but the fact we are here trying to decide which viewpoint is the more correct, perhaps reveals some limitations to the human mind and to modern culture in general.

Jonathan Byron said...

Thermostat? Check!

What about other steps to personally make a (small but real) difference? The issue of meat consumption seems to be one that is salient ... have seen some calcs that claim that a modest reduction in meat consumption would reduce CO2/CH4 emissions more than a commensurately difficult change in vehicle/driving habits (not that any course of action eliminates the need for other courses of action).

Anselmo said...

Respect to the world of the future I think the first step, and extraordinarily difficult step, is to change our world vision. Boulding , proposed to change our “cowboy´s vision” of a world with unlimited resources for the “astronaut´s vision” of a world with scarce resources.

Ray Wharton said...

An excellent article. It hit a chord in me as I just got out of on particular bubble pop in the quiet sizzle of collapse closing in from the fringes of our society, and moved to a rather cozy large house from the 1930's. An attempted New Age community that was under foreclosure, I had come on for a cheap place to live in exchange for some practical work, including building my first thermal mass rocket stove and a solar gain wall. The stove had a couple design flaws, but that's neither here nor there as the property it is on and the building it is in are both fairly non viable for a while at least, may it be found by a loving owner, and may the lessons learned from it guide future designs (corners in exhaust create MUCH back pressure, don't vent to the windward side, regardless of how charming the layout of the house would be with it to the west).

During November the last property finally went from having a clearly terminal condition to a stage of acute collapse when the utilities started to go out. Working during every daylit hour and coming home to a cold dark setting which we had completely overlooked preparing for such an event (the utilities going off came as a complete surprise to those of us who had sent in money for the power and water bills) was a very brutal experience. Others living there sat around a TV powered by a generator from a parked RV until it failed, braving extreme cold and carbon monoxide to watch 'The Trailer Park Boys' on netflix. Meanwhile my best friend, his daughter, and I camped in the solar gain house (which wasn't working without anyone willing or present during the day to lower the garage door turning an R .5 glass wall into a R 15 steel/foam wall when the sun set) counting out blessings for our warm blankets we had set up near a moved in wood stove (poor rocket stove still not modified to correct back pressure).

His daughter went to Grandmas, and we got a yurt into a livable situation, had a healer come perform a cleansing ritual in the yurt, and move in for a week or two when the generator failed, leaving our TVholics with a much healthier place to be where much psychological healing started, after what was in all a frankness freaky couple of weeks.

Since then My friend and I found a nice house to move into, paying more than we like, but justified by what was saved from the last place. We are beginning to winterize it, and have the thermastate low, but it still has a long way to go toward efficiency, but at least we are using much less than the house was using empty (turned down the thermostat when we moved in, and again after reading your article.)

But here lies the aforementioned chord: we went from pretty harshly impoverished life to something that feels fairly bourgeois, a moment of upward mobility. But big old houses are no bad thing, we just need to get permission to increase the sustainability of the place (for skill building and as a kindness for the land owner, a son of a close friend), and find a way to get more use out of it, storing, working, and having more humans here benefiting from its beauty and comfort, spreading the resource per capital a little more reasonably.

At the same time, we are working with close friends to build a decentralized community modeled on some of the old fraternal organizations (which we are seeking application to a couple of the friendlier ones) helping people turn skills toward scarcity industrialism viable lives, salvage viable livelihoods, and ecotechnic prototype experiments.

It is dang ambitious, but success on any of several parts would be a good amount of progress for our 2013, and with some luck we can follow through on several new prospects.

For my second post in a row I ask to be wished luck, it worked last time lol.

Juhana said...

You have talked in your blog quite often about failure of green activists to make any impact in greater population. If I have understood right, you see as main reason for this their inability to lead by example: they talk pious words, but after ceremony is over, they go back to comfortable, (mostly) upper middleclass lives. Sin of arrogance is daily business for them.

I agree totally with that view, if it is what you are saying.

Political system of my home country is incomprehensible for Americans. This is country where union of communists and left-wing socialists known as SKDL got 25 % of given votes in free elections during seventies. I have met couple of USA citizens here i Europe; they really can't understand this class-based politics of our country. Social class as determinative factor of world view seems to be odd idea for them.

Mostly academic New Left and Green Movement sprung from fringes of older, class-based labour movement here in Finland. they brought feminism, moral relativism and such things as new elements to Finnish politics. They SHOULD have made inroads to trade unions (over 80 % of blue-collar Finns belong to unions). They SHOULD have large potential voting base here. They haven't.

Most working class guys I know (and there are quite many of them) vote either right-wing populist True Finns party or moderate Social Democrats. Even I remember days when old guard communists were preaching class hatred during coffee breaks in factories. I actually have listened this kind of speeches myself on factory floors, which may sound quite incomprehensible for you Americans. There were lot of itching scars (like Civil War) to be rubbed politically. Thank God, most of that hatred has vanished by now. But truth is that what amount of class hatred there is left; it is directed against academic liberal progressives and Greens. They are the new class enemy of Finnish working class, if there is such left at all. This is astonishing example of total political failure from persons who term themselves intelligentsia.

I have travelled, I have gotten education, I have lived between cultures, but my first interest group was Finnish working class. Loyalty remains. It is why I have such a hard time to talk with academic progressives. We have no common ground at all.

It is all about hypocrisy. They preach poverty to poor, but are affluent. They preach multiculturalism, but live themselves in academics only neighborhoods. They preach this and that, and above all they preach about blessings of European Union. There is only endless, selfrighteous talking... From persons who don't know which one is business-end of the hammer, but claim to have knowledge how to build this world.

If even couple of those academics would actually choose voluntary poverty and be little more humble when preaching to plebeians... Maybe there could be some political synthesis of ideas.

It must be much worse in your country, where blue-collars have never even had party of their own. There is nobody defending them. Truly nobody.

Keith said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

Thanks again for a thoughtful column.

Our local paper has been running a three part series on apocalyptic thinking and thought you might enjoy reading them.

Interesting for a newspaper, the author included his sources, although unfortunately he didn't cite your work on the topic.

All the best


Keith said...

Apologies - forgot to include the link in my last post.


Dan L. said...

A lot of people have mentioned social stigma as a problem with making these sorts of changes in one's life. A few months ago I was spending a weekend with some friends who have (among a lot of other good changes) eliminated the use of paper towels in their home -- with the exception of visits by the husband's mother. The wife was complaining to me about how her mother in law was so condescending on this point: her impression was of a sort of "oh, yes, this is silly but you can do what you like" attitude.

I told her that from the mother in law's perspective, to admit that using washable rags instead of paper towels isn't silly would be to admit that she is in the wrong and as a result if she didn't come across as judging the wife (for being silly) she would be in the uncomfortable position of having to judge herself -- something that is never easy. I told the wife that she was doing the right thing, that she knew this, and that because of this there shouldn't be a huge problem being the bigger person. After all, my friends are willing to go so far as to keep an unused supply of paper towels in the house just for visits by mother in law. In light of that it is fairly clear which of the two is the silly one.

Other commenters have mentioned physical exercise. If you're not in a position to learn any skills that might be useful in the decline then I would recommend physical exercise as a great substitute. The muscles and motor skills of our entire society have atrophied and as a result strong, healthy bodies may be somewhat scarce in coming years, and increasingly valuable as petroleum power gives way to human power. It will also provide opportunities to learn skills as skilled tasks often require some amount of unskilled labor who can then learn on the job. Finally, the increases in grace, strength, health, confidence, and general mental health repay the investment of time and effort even without considering the utility of being strong and healthy.

Even better, exercise can be part of a spiritual practice as with yoga or qi gong.

Glenn said...


Sounds like you've been dealing with the same problems most of the communes of the '60's and '70's did; spoiled middle class people unwilling to do the real work involved. Filtering them out and organizing those left into a healthy household economy is one of the trickiest bits. In the past, the motivation of poverty and Malthusian limits was a goad. The carrot of idealism has so far, not been as effective. Not that the past was perfect, but North American Anglos have had a century of being insulated from reality by very cheap fossil fuel.

Marrowstone Island

oliver lazenby said...

Is this end of the world stuff actually a thing in Appalachia or the peak oil blogosphere? I don't know anyone who believes that any particular date will be either the end of the world or a cosmic turning point.

But, unfortunately, I don't know very many people.

Jeannette Sage said...

Progress and Conserve,

You were trying to convince the readers of this blog about the growth of the American carbon footprint due to immigrants who settle in the US as residents. I am one of those. I am from Holland, and immediately after arriving in the US, I noticed something ubiquitous that I had not known before: air conditioning.

In 2006, I saw my first window air conditioner ever in Israel, and went up to someone in the street to ask what it was. I was 45 at the time. Air conditioning is hardly mentioned in this post, possibly because it is winter. But it makes up for quite a bit of the energy hunger of this country, I am sure of that.

It is not just the air conditioning that bothers me, but also the incredible amount of plastic wrapping. When I was working for a (Dutch) record company back in the early '90s, we all complained about the American import compact discs that always came wrapped up in sturdy, PVC containing plastic. The explanation I got was that in the US, cds were displayed hanging down, so needed a little hook. For just that little hook, a complete extra plastic box was needed, apparently. Another example: I like to buy organic; unfortunately, the majority of the products are, again, stiffly wrapped in plastic.
And then, there are the opening times of superstores. See those giant boxes all lit up, all heavily air-conditioned or heated, from early morning until late at night. Did you think that exists in Europe?

Thirdly, I am stunned by the food portions Americans take in, especially by the large amount of meat in their diet. That also contributes to the American carbon foot print.

It is possible of course, that you are not thinking of European residents in your country when you opine about immigrants. It is possible of course, that you think of Mexican hordes, crossing the border to get an underpaid job as a landscaper. I see those guys daily. They start early in the morning, work hard, eat their simple sandwiches in the back of their truck, work again and then go home, which will be no more than that back of their truck. Do not suppose they have air conditioning in there, or heating. What would their carbon footprint amount to, especially when we compare it to the one of the home owners whose gardens they maintain?

This post is maybe preaching to the choir of American people who feel responsibility for their environment, but after having spent six years on this side of the big blue, they do not seem to me the hallmarks of the average American lifestyle. Never before in my life had I seen such unnecessary energy waste, and so much unwillingness to make even the slightest adaptations, as in this country.

So Progress and Conserve, let me put your thoughts in another way: if the American population itself stops growing, the rest of the world will benefit from it in terms of of a significantly lower carbon footprint.

Mary said...

First I apologize for the length of this reply. Also, for not taking you up on your challenge. For 4 hours each day, before bed and on rising, I allow myself the luxury of raising my thermostat to 55-56 degrees. The other 20 hours it is set from 52-53. I used to keep it at 50 and raise it to 53-54, but the new thermostat on my backup heater has no off switch and if the temperature drops to 50, which it frequently does since it's on the far side of the house and near the door, the gas kicks on! So until I move the thermostat (as soon as I have time, don't hold your breath) I have the luxury of 52-53 as my default setting. :-)

Second, I have noticed a shift in consciousness, in not on the exact day of 12/21, in the week since. First, on Monday a young single woman at my new job announced she'd been contacted by the homeless shelter she volunteers at. As a result of the phone call she has taken in a 16 year old homeless, parentless boy who was about to be thrown out of the shelter on Christmas Eve due to the 3 week stay limit.

On Tuesday, at the my other job at the lab, I learned that St. Adam Who Walks On Water (WWOW) from here on out) was, as I suspected, immediately hired when they finally fired the porn addict. The job had never been posted, nor had I, the more senior per diem, ever been considered. However, no sooner did WWOW accept the job, then he used that offer to obtain a counter offer from the better hospital an hour away. And so, in delightful display of karma kickback, the lab is left stewing in the fact that on the one hand, for the better part of 18 months, they've treated me like a turd they accidentally stepped in, while spending extensive precious training dollars on WWOW, who immediately betrayed them. And while they failed to drive me to quit, mainly because I couldn't afford to, I did get hired back part time at my old job. So now, since I haven't quit, they're going to 1. have a hard time justifying spending even more dollars training another tech over the winter, 2. desperately need me in the meantime. In other words, I'm quietly laughing my ass off at them! The worm has at long last turned.

Also on Tuesday, my elderly shelter cat with liver disease, passed quietly away. On Wednesday I went to the shelter to donate her remaining food and found it (the shelter) jam packed.

Apparently, even as the media lamented the poor Christmas sales of cheap plastic crap made by Chinese slaves, there has been, at least in my neck of the woods, an adoption binge. 12 cats had already been adopted when I arrived at 2pm. When I left at 3pm, with #13 (literally the most unwanted, and longest resident, cat in the shelter) in my carrier, a family was picking out cat #14. Outside the door, a young woman climbed the stairs with a small carrier and affirmed with a bright smile that she was there to adopt cat #15. This was easily half the cat population at our shelter adopted in a single day. :-)

It appears this Christmas that at least some people have decided to replace cheap plastic crap with the gift of love. And that, I believe, is what the shift is all about.


beetleswamp said...

I live in Hawaii with no AC so don't have a thermostat, but I did put the work computer to sleep just now. Also pulled some tapioca out of the garden and really surprised how much was there. Then I put a deposit on a new surfboard so that probably cancels out all my earth-friendly stuff for a couple weeks. At least I walked down the street to meet the shaper.

Guest post by Dmitri Orlov? Love this blog!

wiseman said...

If anybody wants to pursue people to turn down their thermostats they'll have to change the narrative, as Dmitry says, tell them to turn it down so that they can become better human beings and become more independent.

Because I don't think that the narrative of saving the planet or even ourselves will work out. Any slack left off by the industrial nations will be picked up by the developing countries. Industrial growth is a very strong narrative down here, without it the whole political structure will collapse, it's the sole reason people put up with a semi-totalitarian government.

IMO overshoot is as much a natural process as death. Every civilization has to go through it.

Christine4 said...

Please excuse me if this comment is at a bit of a tangent, but these last few weeks’ posts from JMG and the comments following them have been amazingly full of inspirational ideas (even more so than usual). I have been ill so have just been catching up and read them all at once.

JMG writes: “the largely successful environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s … activists … were willing to start the ball rolling by making the necessary changes in their own lives first”

This links directly to the two of the most important and interesting ideas that were raised last week: Juhana put the view that religion is a more important factor in moulding society than political systems; and several people wondered why consensus decision making is revered in certain left-wing groups despite its lack of effectiveness in achieving tangible results when compared to democratic-rules meetings.

I write in the UK, with a British perspective. I was only a child in the seventies, but from what I remember of the adults around me and what I have read over the years, there was an explosion of interest in ‘exotic’ or Eastern spirituality, from Buddhism and Taoism to Sufism. This created a climate in which anything ‘oriental’(and I put these words in quote marks as I am aware that they are no longer considered polite or politically-correct terms) was seized upon. Soon after, tales circulated of Chinese/Japanese companies whose boards operated by consensus, which seemed a lovely alternative to the usual board-room power games and in-fighting. Eastern was Good, so consensus must be better than meetings with votes.

At the same time, the feminist movement was looking for new ways of doing things. Women in male-dominated left-wing movements found that the set-up wasn’t working for them. As the cliché goes, whatever the men voted on, the women still ended up making the tea and washing up. Women’s groups found the notion of consensus decision making particularly appealing, and men adopted it as feminism became a left-wing orthodoxy.

One of the slogans of seventies feminism was that ‘the personal is political’, meaning there is a direct connection between social activism and your personal home-life. This of course translated to environmental concerns as well as gender politics. It helped that nascent environmentalism was hugely fashionable, as shown by the popular BBC sitcom “The Good Life” (In which the audience is positioned to empathise with the suburban down-sizing self-sufficient couple rather than their conventionally aspirational neighbours).

The other meme, that of blossoming interest in ‘meditation-type spirituality’, also meant greater emphasis on the individual and their actions, in contrast to the traditional left-wing focus on collective political activism (as exemplified by the trades union movement). Juhana wrote “If you know what other person believes, you know vaguely how he/she thinks.” My opinion is that this is a chicken-or-egg conundrum – does your religion/spirituality determine your political thinking, or vice versa? Some people claim to have abandoned religion and use the word spirituality to describe themselves instead, which seems to be shorthand for not liking the societal rules, norms and restrictions which an established religion imposes, but still wanting to be considered a ‘good’ person. Juhana is right that a society’s religion is fundamental in creating paradigms of thought and in regulating behaviour, but for many people now, their politics is what they ‘believe’.


Christine4 said...


Of course the debate still goes on as the question may be unresolvable: is it more of a priority to work on your own personal psychological/spiritual growth and awareness, so that you are more effective when turning your attention to the state of the world, or is this just navel-gazing? Is the priority to take urgent collective action and focus on recruiting and persuading others, or is this an excuse for not changing yourself and your lifestyle?

As we know, the vast majority of the population do neither; they watch TV. JMG, the difference between 1844 and 2012 is the amount of electronic pacification we have in our homes. Who would want to stand on a chilly hill and wait for the alien saviours when you can watch the TV or internet to check if they have arrived yet? We have all the ‘bread and circuses’ that modern technology can possibly give us.

Incidentally, I note the irony that the term ‘the 1%’ ( or ‘1%ers’) has been in use for some decades in motorbike subculture to signify ‘outlaw bikers’; they may be caricatured as those hardcore, wild-partying, alcohol-and-drug-fuelled psychopaths who value their machines above all else. They actively despise society and are proud themselves for it.

Loch Wade said...

I've read Hamlet's Mill, and Graham Hancock, and I've also read Pinchbeck and even McKenna, for what it's worth.

I suspect we come from utterly different paradigms, you and I, so it should be a good test to see if we can have a rational discussion.

I did accuse you of college educated smugness, which was quite unprovoked on your part- I apologize, even as I say that I live too far out to get a good talk radio signal, and therefore must rely on blogs for my information, which must amount to roughly the same thing.

At any rate, I have to say that I come from a Christian background, having been a missionary and a pastor... well I suppose it's a different world altogether!

Books on archeo-astronomy such as Hamlet's Mill fascinate me, because buried within them is the notion that maybe, just perhaps, the ancient anxiety surrounding catastrophe perhaps wasn't so far-fetched after all.

We keep learning things and what we learn only deepens the mystery. As it turns out, precession is not caused by a gravitational wobble of the earth, but rather by the circuit of the entire solar system around Sirius...

And what about the ability of certain people (my example above being Jesus), who foretell the future with uncanny accuracy? The only "rational" explanation is that the gospel was written after AD70, and the prophetic account manufactured after the fact. Of course this would make the entire story of Jesus a lie.

Well to be fair, it is within the realm of human possibility. That leaves someone (like me) with a choice- either to believe, despite doubts unproven, or to doubt, despite the urgings of faith.

There really is no rational choice. It may be "safer" to believe, given the prospect of an angry God, but that simply shines a light on one's propensity towards faith. It may be more logical to doubt, but given the troubles we have with proving a negative, this choice only shows one's inability to be logical.

It seems to me that Druids were known somewhat as divinators and priests who interceded with the gods... hardly undertakings for people grounded in rationality. But then, perhaps a Druid washed up upon Emerson's Yankee shores may take a more Unitarian approach to things after all...

Out with a whimper or a bang? I advocate more for the bang, but this is due to my personality and nature, not my reasoning powers. Bangs are more exciting! Although, I do expect there will be plenty of whimpering just prior.

By the way, I had to put on a sweater because the fire in the stove died down, and I'm too lazy to slog out to the woodshed for more firewood.

imaginer said...

Hello Mr. Greer and readers,

You might find these articles interesting...

Tony said...

Visiting friends and family this week at my old home now that I've been living out on my own for a bit, recent efforts continue three years of my parents and my experiments in yard alterations and gardening. Half a street's accumulated fall leaves have been shredded and spread in a thick layer on ~400 square feet of my parents' garden space and as temporary ground cover for helping replace lawn with low-maintenance creeping plants and yet-to-be-determined bushes.

As advice from someone who has done this quite a bit longer, do the shredded fall leaves work better as an over-winter garden cover worked in in the spring, or as an amendment given more time to digest in the soil?

Tony B.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah, makes sense. I understand and appreciate your humour.

The awareness though is why I tend to ignore and/or avoid people who regularly use negs or are overly aggressive in their communication. It is well worth noting that such techniques are actually quite common in peoples’ speech and it is worthwhile developing strategies to deal with them. One of my favourite retorts is, "that is a rather odd thing to say" or "where did that come from". This usually sorts the person out.

Dmitry is spot on about the media too. I had one of those current affair type shows sniffing around trying to interview me about not wanting to have children. Truly, they weren't searching for a discussion, they were actually searching for a freak show. I'm not here for their entertainment!

I think the English band the Arctic Monkeys summed up my feelings about this type of media in some lines from the song - When the sun goes down:

"Can see it in his eyes, yeah
That he's got a nasty plan
I hope you're not involved at all"

I tend to carefully choose the types of media that I pop up in, as I’m sure you do.

From the comments, I glean that the current housing stock is probably not all that good in sheltering the occupants. Here there is only the wood box and no thermostat, so it's manual all the way...

One other thing that comes to mind, is that when I built this place I excluded the use of carpets and only have a few rugs on top of the timber floors (which are insulated and quite elevated off the ground). A lot of carpets nowadays are synthetic too which are not only highly combustible, they also off gas in the sun. They are also very hard to clean without electricity. Carpets in houses, Down Under are a relatively recent luxury (at least in my lifetime, anyway). Rugs used to be taken outside, hung on the clothesline and beaten. This is a very dusty experience!

Hi SLClaire,

I use a small portable electric oven to bake bread in over 9 months of the year. It sits outside in the shade and being outside doesn't heat the house. A loaf of bread uses 0.81kWh of electricity and takes about 45 minutes. Winter baking is in the wood oven.

If I ever had to, I could build a wood fired oven out of the local volcanic rocks. Easy.

Traditionally, most kitchens were not attached to houses because of the very real fire risk. Cooking inside the house is so common place now that it is a luxury that we don't even know that we have. Keep well and warm!



Joy said...

My thermostat has been set at 62 for years, and while I could set it 2 or 3 degrees lower, that would be the limit. The refrigerator I purchased a few years ago is a newer energy saving product and the freezer will not work properly if the external temp dips into the 50's. I guess the days of keeping a spare fridge on the back porch are over, much less keeping the house at a minimum temp.

Another big problem with attempting change: zoning laws. Especially if you live in the city, codes and/or neighborhood associations can get in the way of everything. Want to keep a few chickens in the back yard? Nope, no agricultural animals allowed in the city. Want to hang a clothes line in your back yard? No way, says the association, it's an eye sore. Want to join the small house movement and live with very little? Verboten, houses must have at least 400 sq. ft. to be approved (my house, at 630 sq. ft., is considered dinky by many). Have a larger house and want to double up with others for more efficient living? Nix, says the city; only one non-related person can live with a family/friend, so urban "communes" not allowed. You can't convert your oil or gas furnace to a wood burning model (although fireplaces are allowed; go figure). You can't live without hot water (so a previous poster whose water heater has been on the blink would be in violation, and his house would be considered unlivable). Were laws like these passed because of health reasons, or just because standards were raised to meet middle class living requirements?

lostinthewoods said...

I'm one of those who made changes to my life decades ago...bought my first pv panel in 1980. Our homestead is still off grid, we grow/harvest 75% of our food, practice permaculture, we live and work commutes for us. Our earth shelter home was built in 1984 with native materials for 3500 dollars US. We foster community of like minded individuals, of whom there are many around here.

It all does begin with me. The best political statement you can make is how you live your life. My wife would have it no other way.

Peace on all of you...and on earth.

Steve W. said...

Hi, JMG! Another wonderful column, as usual. And a Merry Christmas, Happy Channukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, etc., etc. to you and all you fellow commenters. I must say that the level of discourse here is much higher than most other sites I frequent.

I finally broke down and bought a copy of your book "Apocalypse NOT!" I read the first few pages and was hooked. And you're right -- predictions of the end won't stop. In fact, they're still continuing:

"Warren Jeffs tells FLDS faithful world will end before 2013"

Cheers, everyone!

John Michael Greer said...

Gawain, it's encouraging that the people you know admit that it's all a struggle to keep things "normal." The next step is to spread the awareness that what they're calling "normal" is (a) unsustainable and (b) really pretty wretched, when you come right down to it.

Karim, exactly! You get today's gold star. A great deal of what I've been talking about can indeed be fully justified on the basis of immediate practical advantage. I live a much more comfortable life than my income level would normally permit, for example, because I don't waste money, time and resources on a whole range of popular but pointless habits.

Sue, whichever factor is the most imminent threat, the question I want to raise remains the same: what are you going to do about it? Not "you" in the abstract but you, personally, where you are, with what you have, right now?

Jonathan, depends on the meat. Feedlot meat is a huge waste of resources, not to mention its many other downsides. Locally sourced pasture-fed organic meat is quite another matter -- and there are plenty of vegetables that you can only get by doing a lot of damage to the planet. That is to say, there's no simple answer.

Anselmo, no argument there.

Ray, I've seen plenty of attenpts to found a community come to grief because there was no way to make people take responsibility for their own actions and the well-being of the community, so you're far from alone. As for fraternal orders, excellent! Joining one is a very good way to learn how they work;my book Inside a Magical Lodge might also be worth a look, as it covers the structure and functioning of the lodge system in some detail.

Juhana, the situation over here is a bit more complex. Here the left (such as it is) is an alliance of middle class liberals and the mostly nonwhite poor, while the right (such as it is) is an alliance of the well-to-do and the white working class. The primary conflict, which thus inevitably is the one nobody wants to talk about, is a bitter class struggle between the middle class and the working class; that's what's behind the so-called "culture war" over here. I'll be talking about that at some length in a later post.

Keith, thank you for the link!

Dan, everyone who isn't seriously handicapped can learn skills that will be of use in the coming decline. Exercise isn't a substitute, though it's certainly something that can and should be added to the package.

Oliver, clearly you don't know a lot of people! Here in Appalachia, the 2012 business wasn't very popular, though there are a fair number of people waiting for the Rapture. In the more affluent parts of the US, in particular, it was a very big deal.

Sue in NH said...

"Sue, whichever factor is the most imminent threat, the question I want to raise remains the same: what are you going to do about it? Not "you" in the abstract but you, personally, where you are, with what you have, right now?"

John Michael, well I'm working on it! I really have no problem finding purpose and satisfaction in the mission, even if I am dubious about if there will be an ultimate "reward" for it. Garden and chickens provide an increasing portion of our food. I cook from scratch and with local ingredients, as much as I can, and am even getting a knack for sourdough bread, my latest skill! As a teacher, I started a course about 5 years ago on Climate Science, so I'm trying my best to enlighten the youngsters about the science itself. I stay away from politics and policy, because going there risks poisoning the well, if you know that I mean. In the realm of personal energy use, a few years ago we installed PV that produces more power than we use, and we continue to cut back. (I know how you feel about PV... sorry...) There is a solar water heater supplementing the propane system. I still own a car, but don't know how to get around that, as its 8 miles to work in winter, and back here to the farm. If we moved to town, we'd lose the ability to grow food. My car is 12 years old and gets about 30 mpg. We do all the reduce, reuse, recycle and composting we can, of course. I don't buy much at all, a few necessities such as clothes and tools, but am pretty much out of the consumer culture, even to the point where friends and family are baffled that we don't shop for Christmas presents. We have no children, a conscious choice largely out of thinking the planet has enough Homo sapiens, particularly first world ones. There are a couple of lines I'm not willing to cross. For example, we do have two dogs, who consume a lot of high on the food chain food, but we have no plans to stop feeding them, and when they pass, I'm sure we'll rescue a couple more dogs. To be honest, I'm kind of running out of ways to cut back, and still be a part of society.

My husband and I are very happy here in the country and feel privileged to be living during such extraordinary times. Yes, I feel much sadness over humanity's mistakes and the suffering of people and animals all over the world, and also in watching the Earth's ecosystems be degraded in such devastating ways. (The "anthropocene" will be marked in the geologic record by a layer of plastic and a huge loss of species comparable to the previous 5 great extinctions.) Yet there is good with the bad. Due to vaccines and antibiotics we all grew up at a time and a place where people have been largely free of the fear of an early death. I've traveled all over North America, hiked the high Rockies and the Canyonlands of the desert southwest, paddled the swamps of the Okeefenokee and camped on the beaches of Alaska listening to whales blowing. It's been an amazing half-century and I have no complaints and few regrets. Hoping for a bit more time before my turn is up. ;)

Ruben said...


Zoning laws such as you have described are sometimes called "Exclusionary Zoning" and are used to keep people of the wrong colour out of the neighbourhood.

Jane Jacobs tells of a lovely park in New York, with bridges arching low over the road. Cars could fit under the bridge, but the buses used by the black population couldn't. Voila! a whites-only park.

Morrigan said...

John Michael, you are a poet whose words do magic. The paragraph pointing out that a life of consumption is no substitute for a life well-lived brought tears to my eyes. I know this and always have. And this essay helps me understand why people get agitated and argumentative if anyone says, "I have enough."

You lay out so clearly what is lacking (courage) and what is to be done (run toward what you fear). Thanks. I was making it a lot more complicated than it needed to be.

Renaissance Man said...

Hi, J.M.
Yes, indeed, that is our wager. Our differences are not over the need to weatherize and reduce carbon footprints, which we are both doing aggressively (mine, BTW is about 65% less than average right now, but I'm planning on bringing that down primarily for the simple pragmatic reason is it saves money), but rather about the why's and wherefores of the need for such reduction.
We are playing Trivial Dispute (TM)over whether there is such a thing as peak energy over the next 400 years or now, whether the fact of climate change is anthropogenic disruption or yet another natural event-phenomenon.
The real topics are the best means and materials to insulate in different climates, whether metal roofs are better than slate or recyclable tar shingles and so on.

From what little I've read, I understand masonry stoves didn't make the crossing because trees were plentiful and there was no incentive to conserve wood, unlike Europe where, in most places, the forests were running out.

shadowheart said...

Wow---an absolutely prescient and eloquent post!
I heard of your blog from reading James Howard Kunstler's "Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation."
In response to your point about taking action ourselves, as opposed to, say, citing the extravagance of the wastefulness of the rich as an excuse for not making changes in our own lives; I am comforted by the knowledge that de-industrialization will effect the rich as well as everyone else---even more so.
It's not just a cliche that the more you have, the more you have to lose. And it's the penthouse dwellers and Madison Avenue types who are least prepared---temperamentally and otherwise---to adapt to diminished circumstances.
In fact, for those currently living close to the earth in undeveloped regions, the collapse of techno-industrial society will hardly effect them, as they already live without the amenities that the rest of us take for granted.
Which is why your advice on making changes in our own lives is practical for the additional reason of being more temperamentally and physically adapted as the changes occur.
By the way---"Maya Fools Day"---love it! Hope you don't mind my using it. :-)

John Michael Greer said...

Mary, maybe the fact that the world didn't end has made a few more people grasp the fact that they'll get a better world when they make one -- one child, cat, or irritating coworker at a time.

Beetleswamp, last I heard, surfing doesn't use a lot of fossil fuels, and it involves direct personal contact with nature, so the board's probably more of a plus than a minus.

Wiseman, we're far enough into overshoot that I see no hope of avoiding dieoff and collapse. The question that remains is how to get the best parts of the inheritance of the past through the upcoming bottleneck. That's what I've been talking about all this time!

Christine, that's quite a plausible analysis.

Loch Wade, I'd encourage you to chuck Hancock, Pinchbeck, and Mckenna. The point of Hamlet's Mill is that myths of catastrophe aren't to be taken literally; like the rest of the old stellar mythologies, they're highly memorable ways to recall the details of the precessional cycle, and thus the nuts and bolts of the traditional timekeeping system in preliterate cultures. As for Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, as I commented in Apocalypse Not, I see no reason to doubt it; holy people sometimes do seem to have the ability to sense the future well in advance. I'd point out, though, that there's much to be said for what's called the Preterist interpretation of that prophecy and the Book of Revelation -- that is, that those prophecies have been fulfilled, the first by the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the second by the fall of the Roman Empire, and those who are still waiting for them to be fulfilled have missed the boat by more than fifteen centuries.

Imaginer, okay, you get extra credit for reviving a very obscure economic theory. Georgism hasn't gotten a lot of attention in a very long time.

Tony, depends on how much snow you get and how strong the winds are. If you have snow over the top of the leaves and the winds aren't likely to blow them off before you dig them under in spring, leaving them as a topdressing is good. If the leaves are more likely to end up in the neighbor's yard by spring, dig 'em in.

Cherokee, a nice retort! I'll keep that one in mind.

Joy, the solution to stupid zoning laws is to live on the wrong side of the tracks, where there are no restrictive covenants. I'm pleased to say that there are plenty of neighborhoods, towns, and whole regions where that sort of nonsense isn't an issue.

Lostinthewoods, good to hear from another survivor of the old appropriate tech scene! I was building a 12 volt wind turbine system and learning deep bed organic gardening about the time you got that first PV panel, for what it's worth. All those things still work, and they're arguably the best option we've still got.

Steve, thank you! I give it six months before the apocalypse-mongers are back out in force with a new date for the end of the world.

John Michael Greer said...

Sue, good. In that case don't worry about whether global warming or peak oil is the worst issue -- after all, they're simply the two sides of the vise The Limits to Growth talked about all those years ago. Simply keep doing what you know is the right thing to do, and let the future sort it out.

Morrigan, your legendary namesake could have told you that running straight toward what you fear is the best option! Still, glad to hear my post was helpful.

Renaissance, in that case, enjoy the dispute!

Shadowheart, excellent. You get today's gold star for getting a point a lot of people miss -- that the rich are even more helplessly dependent on the survival of the current system than the rest of us, and will fall harder and faster than anyone else as that system comes apart. After all, if the only thing you know how to do is manipulate a hypercomplex financial system, what do you do when that system goes away?

shadowheart said...

In an ironic twist of fate, those rich become the "surplus population" they think everyone else is. Only they will be far more useless where the proverbial rubber-hits-the-road than those of us who do actual, useful work.
I anticipate much leaping from Wall Street and Madison Avenue windows as in the days of the Great Depression.
As an aside, in reading through the comments, I realize I have several books of yours reserved in my Amazon cart. Now I look forward to reading them even more, especially, Apocalypse Not, as I am an ex-Fundamentalist Baptist who is all-too-familiar with their Darbyism.

Bill Pulliam said...

Loch Wade -- the Sun and Sirius do not have any orbital motion relative to each other. I do not know where this particular piece of AstroBunk started but it seems to be widespread; like most AstroBunk it is also entirely without factual basis. Sirius' motion relative to the sun is approximately a straight line, like that of two ships passing in the night that are not headed in the same direction (or on a collision course). Sirius and the Sun will approach gradually for about 60,000 more years, then begin to recede from each other, just as those two independently moving ships will do.

The source of this confusion might be that because Sirius is quite close (as stars go), it own apparent relative motion against the distant background is relatively large and does happen to almost exactly cancel the apparent precessional drift of this background. So Sirius does appear to "keep pace" with precession of the equinoxes -- right now, But as the millennia wear on this coincidence will fade and Sirius will again be seen to move relative to the equinoxes. It is not because of any actual orbital relationship, just a coincidence of numbers (which in a very large universe happens very often!).

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

This comment is more pertinent to the topics of two of your recent past essays than this week's, but it's about something I just learned.

I was listening to a lecture by George Will on a TV public affairs program. The topic was the proper relationship between religion (which to Will meant Christianity and Judaism) and democracy.

Since George Will is a conservative, he expressed concern about big government undermining citizens' ability and inclination to form voluntary associations. During the question period, Will said that the historian Daniel Boorstin wrote that nineteenth century wagon trains, when they made their first stop a night or two out of town, would draw up and agree to a constitution to govern the wagon train while it was traveling to wherever they were going.

I thought I knew something about nineteenth century America, but this took me completely by surprise. What would present day American families do if they were banding together to make a long dangerous journey? Would they take it for granted that they ought to write up a constitution to govern themselves during the trip? Would they have any idea how to do that? Would they be to identify the main points that needed to be settled and agree upon them swiftly?

People who joined wagon trains weren't in the upper classes nor were they the dregs of society. They were mostly farmers and artisans seeking economic opportunity. Apparently they had enough experience of and confidence in self government to take this kind of task for granted. I don't think that's true of Americans today.

Juhana said...

@Christine4: Yes, political worldview is truly new religion for many Westerners today. But roots of this kind of semi-religion are in the fertile soil of religion of their ancestors. I have noticed that Protestants tend to bring with them to politics very reformist point-of-views. Socialism of protestant compared to socialism of orthodox is very different indeed. This is my main argument: human is mystical being by nature, our cognitive system is one adapted to see world by symbolism and animism. Those who deny this are still captives of basically animist, symbolist thinking. Ideologies are just secular religions, and doing shitty job indeed.

Old religions fare better, because they don't try to deny mystical element in themselves; they embrace it. Self-denial is rarely road to success, and modern ideologies are in state of self-denial.

Iosif Vissarionovitš was renegade priest himself, and socialism in Russia was indeed molded to be some kind secular version of Правосла́вие. And look what they did.

I believe it is important for us human beings to be aware of this feature of our nature. "New" and "groundbreaking" ideas and dogmas of current Western intelligentsia are actually nothing new: they are carbon copies of those same narrative structures that have been around from times when kingship from heaven was lowered to Eridu and civilization was born. If we understand this fundamental incapacity to change in human beings; if we try to fix things from purely pragmatic point-of-view, instead of revolutionary; we even might succeed. We don't need new ideologies or new religions; old ones are just fine. We can adapt to changing world from inside these immense historical structures, which have been proven to be viable by time. At the same time, we get comfort of mystical connection to world not served by current, sterile fantasies of western nomenklatura.

Christ Pantokrator and dogmas of Constantinople have been around for quite a long time now, and there is no need to replace them with something new. Mother Church has survived Arabs; it has survived mongols; it has survived Ottomans; it has survived Communists. It will survive this current crisis also, and when towers of Babylon built by Western technocrats have long been only dust, they still raise hymns to celebrate the mystical three-sided Nature of majesty in Heaven.

You have to belong to something, to be more than selfish individual ego-tripping through life. Belonging to long tradition adapted to survive in many different conditions during shifting historical circumstances is no bad choice indeed.

Juhana said...

@JMG: I have a lot to learn about USA. It is very different country from ours, and many truths become untruths after crossing Atlantic. I have vague idea though what you mean with your comment: USA has enormous impacting power culturally, and especially academic elitists here have embraced widely ideological pretensions of American liberals. That is probably main reason why they have antagonized deservedly blue-collar classes here. Globalism, free trade and multiculturalism are very dangerous and dysfunctional ideas indeed, almost as bad as Marxism was. Waiting for your future posts about topic!

About building tips for loghouse: here is one guy from old guard telling people how to make roof from available materials to loghouse. This roof is very great indeed, and made totally from materials you can work by yourself. No factory products needed for this one! Other ones are tips how to transport logs from forest to timber rafting with self-sufficient means. Here are video links for those tips, enjoy.

Stu from Rutherford said...

Good thing I read your column. I was going to ignore your advice because we had recently lowered the thermostat for the winter.
At least I thought we had because I had felt a chill in the evening around the solstice.
But I finally decided to double-check: it had not been lowered and I had felt the chill because I had forgot to switch to lined pants for the winter.
Now that I'm getting older I'll have to enhance my checklists.

Robert Mathiesen said...

[This is inspired by one of Juhana's most recent posts:]

One of our Protestant theologians here in the USA (Paul Tillich) famously defined religion as whatever deals with matters of "ultimate concern." This definition of his was very popular when I was young, perhaps even the most popular of all the definitions current at the time. So it probably captured an attitude that is really "there" in American culture, and has been "there" for a very long time.

If this is so, then for many of our citizens, their politics *are* their religion, pure and simple. This may be somewhat more obvious on our left, where many have long been (otherwise) irreligious.

When, however, someone adheres to any traditional religion, then his religion and his politics easily merge into one seamless whole (under this definition).

This may go a long way to explaining how political discourse in the US, such as it is, has come to sound more like clashing statements of faith, or even heresy-hunting, than like the process of coming up with rational and workable compromises.

As for Americans who adhere to one or another of the so-called NRMs (new religious movements -- a very poor term, but one widely used), and thereby perplex many Europeans, remember that non-traditional new religions and reconstructionist religions form -- paradoxically! -- an old and venerable tradition here in the USA, which can be traced back as far as the very early 1600s. (A few academics like Catherine Albanese have just started to trace out the history of this venerable American tradition, but much more work needs to be done before it is well understood by anyone.)

In Europe, I think, there is no similar tradition, so that lasting NRMs are not so well-rooted in the culture and history of most European countries. When NRMs arose, they were usually repressed by church and state. Thus their most stubborn adherents had to go underground or emigrate -- often to the Americas. This is the origin of one of the fundamental differences between the USA and European nations.

I suppose it is still up for debate whether that "tradition of being non-traditional" will have served the United States well in the long run. Time will tell. It usually does.

Either way, I myself am "wedded" to it for the simple reason that my own ancestors have been a part of that "tradition of being non-traditional" back to its very beginnings on this continent, so its history is a matter of great personal interest.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Joy -- a big part of zoning laws have to do with resale value of the property. This isn't for your benefit, it's for the benefit of others in the neighborhood.

It's a fact that if you are raising chickens, it will "lower the property value" of your next door neighbor's property. Meaning that IF they decide to sell their property, they'll get less money for it, because the people willing to pay more will (most likely) not want to live next to a chicken coop. The zoning is intended to force you to NOT keep chickens, so that your neighbors can get top dollar for their properties, should they decide to sell it.

This is a big part of the "exclusionary zoning" based on race or ethnicity. It isn't about whether a Black or Hispanic family moves in next door. It's about what that does to the resale values in a community where prices are driven to some extent by racial prejudice.

There used to be the expression, "Well, there goes the neighborhood" whenever an "undesirable" moved in. The movie Spaceballs used that to comic effect when Dark Helmet and the other Spaceballs crash-land on the Planet of the Apes, and one ape says to the other in disgust, "Spaceballs! Well, there goes the planet." Exclusionary zoning based on race is an implicit economic acknowledgement of the prevalence of racial prejudice in a community.

The interesting thing in the context of this blog is this solitary focus on "resale value," which frames real estate as a temporary financial investment rather than a place to call home. You aren't supposed to actually live in your house. You're only supposed to stage your property for the next sale.

Cherokee Organics said...


I'd be pretty certain that you'd have a bag load of clever retorts! One of the things that I really like about this blog is that I'm exposed to ideas and concepts that I would never have thought of and may not even agree with, but which of themselves provide exercise for the mind!

What do they say, practice makes perfect (thinking of retorts)? Mind you, a month or so ago, very late one night (and thus very tired), I was trolled to my face and fell for it hook, line and sinker... That individual only gets one chance though as now I'm onto them!

On another note altogether relating to energy, I'm starting to wonder about the dwindling supply of energy per capita in Industrial countries and the cost of energy in terms of diminishing returns of that energy. Something about this equation is tickling the back of my brain.

Hi Juhana,

I can see from your writing that you believe strongly in tradition.

What I don't understand is how do you reconcile your belief in tradition with the changes in Finland over the past 60 years? From my point of view, your society now is very different from that time. What do you think about this?

Would you be happy to go back to the way things were before Industrialisation? Do you benefit from Industrialisation? I’m interested in your thoughts.

My take on it is that if circumstances change, old methods may not be applicable, so in some respects we must be open to change and novel ideas.



Karim said...

Happy New Year to all!

Many thanks for the Gold Star!

It is appreciated!

phil harris said...

Juhuna & Robert pursue some interesting thoughts about differences between Europe and the USA - and include especially differences attributed to religious ideas and their social or indeed legal frameworks.

A little while ago I raised the matter of religious wars. It seemed significant that the USA had never had religious wars, whereas religion had been at least the excuse for much hideous conflict and persecution in Europe. Even recent conflict in the British province in Northern Ireland was portrayed as a conflict between Catholics and Protestants, though it had more to do with the domestic politics of mainland Britain, Eire and USA as well as with communal conflicts dating back to before the division of Ireland and a legacy from the Irish Free State’s internal civil war. Legacy is both a wonderful and a terrible thing!

Persecution of course under the great European tyrannies of the 20thC included religions as well as races - Jehovah’s Witness, an American sect, were heavily targeted by both Nazis and Stalin, in addition to the Jews and non-collaborating Catholics under Nazi occupation. Subordination of Church by State of course is a not an uncommon theme even in ‘religious’ countries such as the USA or France, which have legally enshrined freedom of religion.

Christianity, having been the Imperial religion of the Roman Empire has long had major divisions: the East / West split, as well as 'reforming' Protestantism in the West. The all too-human constructs of the Imperial Nicean Creed excluded a number of heresies, though these never quite went away and the split between Judaism and Christianity (‘Jesus the Jew’) was a permanent feature, despite Calvin's later determined use of the Old Testament (“absolute Word of God”?) as authority. BTW, I am reading Zarlenga's 'Lost Science of Money', and he contends that Calvinism is a major influence in US religion and that Puritanism “opened the door” to amoral economics and capitalist competitive ideology, and indeed promoted this ideology's ongoing challenge to government. The balance swings toward ‘individual ownership', including these days, corporate legal rights, without concomitant responsibility? And it was Morris Berman who memorably said: “[regardless of background] everybody [in the USA] is effectively a Protestant capitalist individualist whose life is grounded in the ideology of an expanding market economy.”

Alvin Leong said...

@Robert Mathiesen:

I wanted to ask you about the practice of magic among academics in the comments last week. I don't know if you missed it since I only posted the question just before the current post was published, but would it be possible for you to answer?


SLClaire said...

Chris, I always enjoy your posts and the info from Australia! Thanks for your response to my post.

One of the particular difficulties of this part of the country is that we get both rather cold and long winters and rather hot and long summers. The adaptations that work for a climate with a cold winter (few windows except on the sun side, low ceilings, a source of heat in every room) don't work in a hot summer clmate, where you want lots of windows but the ones on the sun side should be shaded, high ceilings, and summer kitchens outside. St. Louis is an old city for this part of the country and you can see how house design changed as fossil fuel use became incorporated into houses. The oldest houses have multiple fireplaces but also tend to have high ceilings and lots of windows, including transom windows (windows located above interior doorways that can be opened during the summer for better air circulation). In this way they could have heat in the winter but also keep air circulating through the summer. As coal use became common but before air conditioning became widespread, houses dropped the interior fireplaces in favor of coal furnaces and either coal or electric cookstoves (the former if they did not have electric service when built, the latter if they did). They tended to keep many windows and shaded south-facing windows to allow for adequate air circulation in the summer. That's the era in which our house was built. Coal furnaces were known for the amount of heat they put out; most households kept a window open during much of the winter so it didn't get too hot inside. Since winter heating was not an issue when our house was built but summer cooling was, it's better adapted to not using AC in the summer than it is to heating without fossil fuels in the winter. We are trying to find the most workable way around this problem. Putting a makeshift summer kitchen together, and then replacing the electric cookstove with a wood cookstove that would also heat part of the house, is probably the best long-term plan, though it will take us a few years to implement it. The summer kitchen amounts to having a large awning attached to the north wall of the house so we have a shady rain-free place to sit in the summer, then using any of a solar oven, a barbeque pit, and a rocket stove for cooking. Then we'll have to see if/how the chimney can be renovated for a cookstove. I'm sure it is not up to today's code requirements.

JMG, your kind response to my second comment is appreciated. I have now remembered to use glove liners that cover my fingers under the fingerless gloves and sock liners underneath the wool socks. This helps and I may yet be able to reduce the thermostat a little while we pursue better long-term options.

Juhana said...

@Cherokee Organics: I personally benefit big time from industrialism. Climbing up multiple ladders of society at one, intensive pull was not possible in the world of past. I acknowledge this, and I am grateful about chances I have got. At the same time, I have seen clearly fragility of this modern system. I think in terms of infrastructure and technical solutions of structures. When you actually do the math, you see how frighteningly inter-connected and fragile this system has become. This state of things is embraced by many; but as a natural doubter, I have very deep doubts about DURABILITY of this all.

Tribes of Eurasian borealis forest, or taiga, which stretches from Strait of Bering to Finland have historically been well adapted to their ecological environment. Just one generation backwards, during our grandparents, self-reliance was on astonishingly high level at countryside. And it should be: ecology is so very, very fragile here in extreme north. I believe it is mistake to grip dreams and illusions of Western Europe. West is sinking; your model of society is in state of decay. It is fall of Roman Empire all over again. Even "barbarian" tribes of outsiders are there, waiting their turn. My traditionalism is quite easy to understand: we Finns should learn from not-so-distant past how to actually live with self-reliance in this harsh, cold country of ours. This has always been agricultural country sparsely populated, and so it should stay. Amount of outside energy and outside goodies is going to shrink, and is shrinking already. European Union is total political chaos right now. Here in Finland, we have to trust ourselves again, not outsiders. East is going to fare better than West in ongoing crisis; East already had their "crumbling of empire" -days back in nineties. People there also have much more practical and manual skills than most people in the West; they can survive and have survived with structures of government in utter chaos. In the West, people will starve if government fails.

About religious conservatism: it is easy to be liberal atheist when you are affluent, healthy citizen living in predictable, lawful society. In the future at least some of these ingredients go away for many of us: future belongs to religion again. Druidism, slavic ethnic neopaganism and shamanism may well be among winners: but religious worldview in general is going to be main narrative of future, not scientific one. Scientific worldview as main narrative of human mind will never come from fantasy land to reality, as shiny future world of space colonies will never come to reality from pages of sf novels.

Scientific worldview and atheism will shrink out of existence with extinction of liberal, Western middle class. Extinction by economic contraction, I mean. So traditions of old and some new, durable technological innovations conserved from present shall rule the future.
I ask you: if there is going to be some kind of new consciousness in the future, why advocates of this new thinking fail totally to make any impact outside their own, tiny group of peers? Traditional thinking has enormous appeal, especially to poor people, and in the future we all are going to be poor people. Poor people and working classes of societies are ALWAYS very conservative inside their own cultural context. This I have proven so many times in contact with so many different groups of people, that it must be somekind greater law of society.

@phil harris: I don't understand this comment "all too human constuct"? All narratives and worldviews bringing structure and order to primordial, formless chaos of reality are constructs of human mind. Reality cannot actually be understood, all narratives structuring it are from their basic essence fairy-tales and illusions. Including scientific worldview. Nicean creed is formidable example of human will and belief, so what is the problem with that?

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Alvin Leong:

The answer to your question is, I don't know, and I think that no one knows.

One of the strongest taboos among most academics (at least in the US) is the taboo against taking either religion or magic seriously. In general, if one is thought to do so, one is thought to be just plain nuts, and an unreliable human being, to boot. Even the taboos against most reprehended forms of sexual expression, such as pedophilia, do not operate as strongly among academics as does the taboo against taking religion and magic seriously.

There are several exceptions:

(1) Anthropologists get a pass, particularly if the magic and religion they are studying seriously is someone's else, not their own or that of their own culture.

(2) "Ethnic" academics get a pass for religion if the religion they practice is traditional for their ethnicity: then it can be taken as an affirmation of their ethnicity, not their religiosity. This remains true even if the religion in question has or seems to have a magical component, as does (for example) Santeria.

(3) In much the same way, any WASP academic can attend a "mainline" church as a tradition of WASP culture, provided he doesn't let on that he might take any part of its teaching seriously -- except maybe its ethical teaching. (Ethics also gets a pass.)

(4) Professors of Religious Studies do *not* get a pass, particularly if their own religious heritage is Christian. As my colleagues in that field explained to me, the memory is too strong of the recent struggle to free their departments from the oversight of university chaplain's offices.

In each case, it is the religion and magic of "the other" that gets a pass. The key is to distance it, to "other" it (in current academic jargon), from one's own presumed upper-status culture as an academic, which must maintained for the reputation of the university at almost any cost. This is why academics at denominational colleges and universities find it hard to be accepted as full-fledged colleagues by other academics.

Several academics have written eloquently about how this taboo played out in their own lives: Ronald Hutton, of course, and among anthropologists, Tanya Luhrmann (for whom I have enormous respect), and Paul Stoller and Bruce Grindal (both of whom did their fieldwork in Africa).

As for me, I was always an outsider in the academy in so many ways that one more didn't matter all that much to any of my colleagues. Since I also freely told colorful (and true) stories about all my esoteric and deviant ancestors, my colleagues here in New England decided early on that I was that "weird Californian" who could not be held to ordinary community standards. This made things much easier when I began to teach courses on magic and magical religion in the last decade and a half before my retirement.

Ruben said...

@ Juhana,

My wife and I watched a bunch of the Reino Halin videos you linked.

First of all, it is quite an experience to listen to a language and understand absolutely nothing. With the Romance or Germanic languages you can hear words that sound english enough to follow here and there. Not with Finnish!

Could you explain a few of the videos? We watched 1-7. There was one where he twisted a sapling up into a tight coil, then unwound it to tie two logs together. Why?

In another he dug a trench, lined it with birchbark, piled in wood, lit it on fire, then buried it. Why?

And in #6 or #7 he peeled maybe the cambium layer off a tree, then baked it into bread. Really? Wood bread?

Thank you very much.

Jeannette Sage said...

I wish to share the following song of Supertramp with you, as a way of thanking everyone, and our host in particular, for your thoughts, opinions, sayings, stories, and prophecies:

Click here for videoclip

Fool's Overture

History recalls how great the fall can be
While everybody's sleeping, the boats put out to sea
Borne on the wings of time
It seemed the answers were so easy to find
"Too late," the prophets cry
The island's sinking, let's take to the sky

Called the man a fool, striped him of his pride
Everyone was laughing up until the day he died
And though the wound went deep
Still he's calling us out of our sleep
My friends, we're not alone
He waits in silence to lead us all home

So tell me that you find it hard to grow
Well I know, I know, I know
And you tell me that you've many seeds to sow
Well I know, I know, I know

Can you hear what I'm saying
Can you see the parts that I'm playing
"Holy Man, Rocker Man, Come on Queenie,
Joker Man, Spider Man, Blue Eyed Meanie"
So you found your solution
What will be your last contribution?
"Live it up, rip it up, why so lazy?
Give it out, dish it out, let's go crazy,

Juhana said...

@phil harris: I have to write little bit more for you, because my use of english might have been offensive. Talking about this kind of subjects with foreign language is very hard.
I didn't mean to insult with that "fairy-tale" comment. I just believe that trying to hunt down ultimate thruths about world is utter insanity. If there are any ultimate thruths, they are by essence impossible for us humans to comprehend. For example, modern physicians have been led to mirror house of mathematical uncertainties while hunting some basic truths about universe comprehensible to human logic. I think that if human being is going to experience connection to any deeper structures of reality at all, it is through mystic experience unexplainable by words or mathematics. Rules and regulations for seeking this experience are laid down by religion of seeker's respective cultural sphere. Individualistic paths are doomed to fail in the long run; individualism is just one app of hyperindustrial Western world of the present, and going to fade away with society that supports it. Orthodoxy of East and Catholism of West are also doing better than protestantism; reformists have stripped their faith(s) from mystical religious experience, and so destroyed their connection to something needed by most human beings.

So no insult meant with "fairy-tale"-comment; no disrespect to any believer. Structures are NEEDED, even if they are destined to be only imperfect images of incomprehensible reality. Maybe divinity actually is hidden into this unability of man to understand this complexity of world. Human without story to belong to is not a human at all. Some stories just fare better than others, and these stories of contemporary West are not doing very well right now.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG --

This post has been a wonderful springboard for conversation with family guests this Yuletide, and for thinking about in the quiet hours. Thank you!

I have considerable disagreement with it, but to fully discuss that would take more than 4096 characters, and more than one-line responses. Would love to have that conversation, but this isn't the right venue.

My overt disagreement involves the role of community. As I posted in a recent blog of my own, I see a common element in Suburbanites and Survivalists, the latter belonging either to the canned-goods-hoarding Right, or the gardens-and-chickens Left. All of them are devoted to the idea of going it alone, or radical self-sufficiency. To do this, they have to selectively forget about their dependence on other people and the surrounding civilization. Suburbanites forget about the infrastructure that floats them. Right-wing survivalists forget they will need to go on after the canned goods and ammunition (legacy of the old civilization) run out. Left-wing survivalists seem to not understand what will happen to their productive “off-grid” gardens and chickens when the power goes off for 300 million other people and civil order breaks down.

The issue with community is that as individuals we have very little influence over it. By contrast, it has a great deal of influence on us: try driving on the left side of the road in the US. We don't burn oil because it's a good idea, or a bad idea. We do it because 300 million other US Americans are doing it, which makes it convenient and cheap.

We do what we do because most other people do it. Our descendants will do the same.

Voluntary individual asceticism will accomplish no more than marching on Washington -- other than (perhaps) foster cultic identity. That, in turn, could lead to isolated cultic communities that practice a different way of life, e.g. the Amish, or the Mennonites. I could see self-sufficient Druid groves popping up as the Empire crumbles. I think that would be an excellent idea.

I had hoped this was where you were headed with your discussion of democracy, though I have doubts that democracy has any place in founding a cult.

I don't know a lot about cultic movements, particularly what differentiates the successful ones from the unsuccessful ones. The Catholic monastic cults during the lengthy decline of the Roman Empire were very successful -- not all were ascetic (e.g. the Franciscans). Most Protestant denominations started out as personality cults, as well as influential sub-movements like the Shakers or the Mormons. Most (all?) of the major religions started out as personality cults. The late 1900's, by contrast, are littered with the corpses of short-lived Free Love communes and other intentional communities. And then there's Scientology and Jonestown to serve as cautionary tales.

My guess is that there's a constant froth of cults forming and dissolving all the time, and we simply never hear about most of them, nor does history record them. When everything comes together just right, including exterior forces in the general culture, the cult takes off and becomes a movement.

I'm a poor follower, and an even worse leader, so I doubt I'd be part of such communities under any conditions. Even if I were, I don't think I'd be drawn to the Grove of Shiverers. :-)

You've said that you're attempting to reframe mindsets from Consumers to Conservers. That's the far more interesting and subtle discussion. But I'm already over 3500 chars. :-/

Joseph Nemeth said...

Correction -- the Franciscans were certainly ascetic: the early ones took vows of poverty quite seriously. On reflection, it seems that its the later versions of the cult, after it has become a movement (or a full-blown religion) that drop some or all of the asceticism.

Brad K. said...

@ Joseph Nemeth,

Your observations about community are interesting, and coincide with several others, including Sharon Astyk.

I don't come to the same conclusion that you do. I think the survivalists of the hoarded cans and bullets variety will have a good shot at weathering the crash of federal authority. I think the garden and chicken folks will be in a fair position to re-start the home "kitchen garden" that at one time was a mainstay of many American lives such as the WWII victory gardens. The successful (surviving) folk of either ilk will be in a fair position to tutor and help others.

Because I have to agree with JMG, that the decline of all social order will be incremental, uneven, and drawn out over decades to centuries. A government can fall in a week; the infrastructure of America can fail, in spots, quickly (look at a couple of recent bridge collapses), but overall most will survive and adapt for a while.

Prior to this recent topic of democracy, the topic here was on reviving useful techniques and skills, with the intent to make me a resource for myself and my family and community, and to improve my chances of being among the successful survivors.

Which makes "walking the walk" a multiple win. First, you show others that living alternatively can be done, and that it can be comfortable. Second, you directly strengthen the skills and resources that will be most helpful into the foreseeable future. Lastly, you stop contributing to the worst of the excesses of the collapsing industrial age. Any lessening of the wastage of energy and other resources helps everyone. If a few follow the example, that helps a bit, too.

If nothing else, spending less on energy and other resources means I have a bit more ability to prepare for the future I am concerned about.

Oh, and I would add current international concern about local food security to the "garden and chicken" side of the spectrum of responses.

Alvin Leong said...

Thanks for the info Robert. I'm actually applying for undergraduate studies at a few different schools (including the one at which you are a Professor Emeritus) and I was considering a possible career in academia.

While I find the prospect of doing research on magical traditions appealing, the prospects don't look very good. I've seen academia described as a "tournament game", borrowing Taleb, similar to big finance, where the bulk of the spoils go to the most talented/reputed/connected.

Do you think I'd be better off graduating with a more "practical" degree in order to find a job with a decent paycheck and reasonable hours so that I can spend the rest of the time acquiring skills for the decline (including magic)?

Anyone else's advice would be welcome as well.

Juhana said...

@Ruben: I am happy to help you. Case of wooden coil: all tools and accessories to work camps during timber harvests were taken there by muscle power. Metal chains to bind together logs while floated downriver to construction sites are heavy to carry. So workers made chains out of trunks of trees by breaking their form into coils. Strength of wood remains, but form is broken, so you can bend it as you can bend metal chain. Try to make circle out of tree trunk by bending it by your hands, and you understand why this coiling of tree is needed. This is video showing where those wood chains and wood robes to bind together timber for transportation were used:

Case of burning trench: it is furnace for producing tarn and and wood coal. By burning birch with low temperature buried into earth you get coal to be used by blacksmith of village and tarn to water-proof wooden roofs, wooden boats etc. Even clothing can be water-proofed by it. You become self-reliant and can make your own coal by this method. It was widely used still at forties and fifties, but kind of faded away after that.

Case of wooden bread: yes, pettuleipä actually is wooden bread, and it has saved countless Finns during history. There has been many famines in my country: during Whip of God's Wrath at 1690's third of all Finns died by hunger: there was two years in row when summer just didn't come then, and grain just didn't grow at all. Suddenly society reverted to hunting and gathering for all available food resources again. Without pettuleipä, wooden bread, many more would have died.

This person in videos has been in profession of timber man shown at the video during his youth; he was also torppari, agricultural serf under old regime. Those people learned how to use everything they could use from forest: nothing was wasted, because poverty was so deep that there was no possibility to waste anything. But they got skills; they honestly got skills.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Just going back and reading all the comments for a second time . . .

Christine4 has got her history just right, IMHO.

I seem to be older than she is, as I was already married and raising children in the 1970s. The development of ideas that she reconstructs is the development that I saw happening at the time.

Robert Mathiesen said...

I'd like to echo what Juhana says about the ultimate inadequacy of the human mind and human senses, and therefore also of words and even mathematics, to grasp the nature of the universe.

The human mind and senses are the product of evolution, and evolution is always content with "just good enough" solutions to the problems of survival; it doesn't ever result in "perfect" solutions to those problems. We are always improving our understanding of the nature of the universe, but all we've done up to now is, IMHO, devise crude, approximate solutions to some of the lesser problems.

As for mystical experience, there is at times something that might be called "direct perception," which is a perception of the universe that seems to be wholly unmediated by the senses we normally use, and moreover seems to yield a sort of knowledge which words (or any of our symbol systems) cannot even come within miles of encoding. (Imagine a sighted man trying to convey the experience of sight to a world otherwise comprised wholly of the blind, with no other sighted person anywhere in it. The blind would fail to comprehend what he was telling them, and mostly they would think him mad or delusional.)

This direct perception does not produce any emotions, any "oceanic feeling," but diamond-hard, crystal-clear knowledge. Since, however, this knowledge cannot adequately be put into words (or any other available system of symbols), it cannot be "brought back" from the experience in any form that would be useful to the wider society. The best the mystic can do is describe its impact on him or her.

Also, what cannot be put into words or other symbols is very hard to remember with any clarity, so even the mystic him- or herself has a tendency to "lose" the experience afterwards.

Ray Wharton said...


The previous community was basically dead about a month before we got there, but the property was still active and lived on by the financier and their family, with occasional guests from the outer circle of people involved in the original community, and people from Boulder who were interested in hanging on to it so as to have a place to flee to when society collapsed. My friend and I, a couple of philosophy drop-outs turned sawyers, were unlikely grounds keepers for this group of Wilberites; we managed to attract a small number of friends who helped us keep things going for as long as they did, though they were never interested in jumping straight into communal life and never claimed to be. The property as a haven from collapse was not a fantasy I ever indulged in, it being walking distance from over 9000 trust fund retirees and on land which could grow enough food for maybe two lean workers, or enough fuel to heat one small structure sustainably but not both, and many finely drawn plans for self-sufficient power but no materials to actualize any of them.

The current community I am living in skips one of the strange limits most plans impose on themselves, every one having to live on the same property. It would force everyone to commit to a certain level of participation to play at all, but some of our friends are still active allies who we work with yet we admit have different enough goals that cohabitation is not the best plan at this point. Hence the aforementioned (previous post) interest in lodges as a social form to build off of, though people meet at certain locations (and the house I moved into could serve as a mighty fine little lodge with some slight tweaks) they can live where ever resources and all the odd limits of civilized life force.

I wish I hadn't been so fixed on buying land to build a community on for so long. I could have started much sooner in building a community with what is right outside my front door, though the lessons I learned chasing that goose could be invaluable for decades to come; the friends I meet in my travels, other souls looking for alternatives to the lurching feeling underfoot, give a starting point: other nomads to call to where I am setting up an encampment for the immediate future. All this means that I have to work with the world around me as it is, ever the parts that don't fit my disposition of ideology, even doing disreputable things like starting businesses and getting jobs to pay bills. ^_^

I hope to someday find that land where I can build a nice cob cottage to retire to, but the number of years for such a time line to work may have to have a zero tied on it.

Happy New Year Y'all!

Garrett said...


You wrote: "You've said that you're attempting to reframe mindsets from Consumers to Conservers. That's the far more interesting and subtle discussion."

I agree with your thoughts on community, and I'd love to read what you have to say about the reframing of mindsets.


Richard Larson said...

Seven degrees Fahrenheit outside my house and inside is up to seventy-five degrees without burning anything. How about that? Lower my thermostat by three degrees and have a huge temperature increase. No Shivering Grove for me today Joseph Nemeth! Hint: Install a solar air heater.

There is more to this solar story for me. All I can type it is a good thing my way back then teenage self was reading Mother Earth News.

Made many good and bad decisions since then, emphasizing the good ones, of course. Methinks since most are making all bad decisions, including some who read this blog, I wonder what it is going to take for those knowing the good decisions, but making all bad ones, to build a bridge from their mind to their muscles. Nobody is going to do it for you.

I am content to be ahead of the crowd. I think most everyone else taking action is too.

Where can I get some chickens?

Joseph Nemeth said...

@BradK --

Hmm. A few points and questions.

First, whence the urgency? As you say, collapse will take decades, or generations. I agree -- I doubt I'll live to see the end of oil. So what makes it so all-fired urgent for us to “recover” the lost arts of survival? Preservation is one thing, but low-tech survival arts are already lost in the US, and the people “reviving” them now seem to be mostly re-inventing them. The people who will need to practice these lost arts for actual survival (our great-grandchildren or beyond) are going to have to re-invent and re-localize them anyway. Remember: climate is changing. Our locale is not our descendants' locale. They will need to develop their own survival skills.

Second, there is a pervasive emphasis on individual survival, on “making it through.” That's just a bad, anxiety-inducing, apocalyptic metaphor. We have too many people on the planet, crowded too closely, to survive with 18th-century technologies. That means the Ghost of Malthus is going to line us up and decimate the line with starvation, disease, or (given enough time) attrition, and this will continue (and continue) until the population is sustainable with 18th-century technology. Or whatever century we dip to. There is no “surviving the rough patch.” There is instead continual social adaptation to changing realities, and that adaptation will be enjoyed (or endured) by our descendants -- not by us. We will be long-dead, whether by starvation, or riot, or simply old age. We're not going to make it, period, and this isn't about us, anyway.

Third, I have some big (skeptical) questions about these WWII “Victory Gardens.” I recently did some rough calculations, and information from several sources seems to indicate that it takes at least a quarter-acre per person to raise enough raw calories to survive by farming: that's on the best land with “inputs” (fertilizer and irrigation.) A more typical value is an acre per person. The US as a whole is using about three acres per person (combined farming and livestock) and can afford to export food and to indulge in such wasteful nonsense as gasohol. For size comparison, my small-town single-family suburban lot is a sixth of an acre. My wife and I would have to take over twelve housing lots just to survive. That's a lot of land.

My Mom gardened, and I've gardened. Keeping the crops safe from hail, drought, tomato worms, corn smut, and rabbits is not easy. Our backyard gardens never supplied more than garnishes for meals that came from the supermarket. Getting a consistent, multi-generational, subsistence yield out of an acre of land is a major accomplishment, and bloody hard work.

So here's a real low-tech-survival exercise. Decide what you're going to grow and raise on your acre of land, when you eventually get it. Estimate your yields. Plan out your food budget for the year. Then live on that, and only that, buying the foods from the supermarket. See if you can get through a full year without malnutrition. Or starvation. Or terminal crankiness at having the same boring food, day after day.

If you succeed at that, try “harvesting” from the supermarket through the summer and fall, then canning or pickling or salting or smoking everything to get through the winter and spring. Eventually, you can even grind your own grain into flour, if you can find a source of raw grains in bulk.

That's what individual self-sufficient subsistence feels like.

Now, get together a small group of like-minded neighbors, and divide up the shopping. Add variety to your diet by letting each family “grow” something special, and share food. Have canning/pickling/smoking parties, and seasonal feasts from the projected surplus or the stuff you can't preserve. Total up the time you save by sharing a milk cow, or eggs.

That's what communal self-sufficient subsistence feels like.

That's why we form communities.

Ruben said...


Thank you for the translations and confirmations. Absolutely amazing stuff.

@Alvin Leong
There was quite a discussion about resilient work in these comments--maybe about two years ago.

Oops--even longer. If you use this search in google, you get three posts. Try adding other terms like basket, etc.

baker shoe repair blacksmith

One that comes up is The Post-Petroleum Job Ads

I am sure there has been further discussion more recently, and I have also tried to have the same discussion on The Automatic Earth, as well as with John Thackera from Doors of Perception.

A quick version of my two cents... JMG points out collapse can take a long time--for the average Roman citizen, life got immeasurable crappier day-to-day. Kind of like going gray, you hardly notice it, and then, holy crap, you are an old man.

JMG also points out the next major stage is likely to be a salvage society.

So, when I combine those two--
Making shoes looks bad. I think China will be able to send us shipping containers of shoes cheaper than we can make them here for many more decades. They won't come in all the colours and sizes and styles, but they will be cheaper. Even today a pro cobbler in a factory in my town only makes $12-14 per hour, and that results in boots that sell for $350. As cash gets tighter, I don't see people paying $350 when there are piles of shoes waiting on the docks.

Repairing shoes, however, looks very good. Not great money, very hard work, some noxious glues and paints, but I bet that is a growth industry. It is also kind of fun.

Similarly, I don't see a great future for artisan baking. Who is going to pay $7 per loaf as cash gets tighter. And I bet the bread industry will resort to all its old tricks of adulterating the flour and whatnot. I would expect to see very, very cheap bread in the last wheezes of industrialization, as the factories try to pay the bills and stay alive. (I think the dynamic of shoes made in China and bread made in mega-factories are very similar).

The old arts like blacksmithing get tossed around a lot, and again, I don't see an immediate future for them. Maybe in 100 years, but not in ten. As JMG says, salvage. And there are so many hinges and doorknobs and nails and handles already sitting in warehouse, let alone what can be stripped off of collapsing houses. Few people are going to want a fancy wrought iron fence.

The difficulty is trying to make a living in this world, while preparing for a long transition phase. We may not live long enough to see the next world, in which every baker is an artisan baker and every town has a blacksmith. But we sure should see a crappy downslope, where people need shoes repaired and water heated.

So, I think get work in solar hot water. Or shoe repair. Or farming, if you enjoy the work and low pay. (I think farming is risky, when the farmer's market is trying to sell a single tomato for $4, but I am hoping as local food scales up, it will start to get better)

Best of luck.

John Michael Greer said...

Shadowheart, nicely put.

Unknown Deborah, didn't you know about that? That was standard practice any time a group of people went on an adventure -- you might look up the Mayflower Compact to see some of the earlier roots of it. A very simple, straightforward practice at the time...

Juhana, America's a very weird place. That's one of the reasons so many of its ideas do so much damage in other parts of the world.

Stu, okay, now I feel even better about asking people to turn down their thermostats!

Robert, good. I've been recommending Albanese's Nature Religion in America to a lot of people in the contemporary Druid scene, so that they can have at least some sense of the broader tradition in which we work.

Cherokee, excellent. Yes, the decline in energy per capita, and the way that interfaces with the increasing energy cost of energy production, may just be the most important thing going on in the industrial world today. Watch this space. As for trolls, yes, it takes practice!

Karim, and a happy new year to you and yours as well.

Phil, the reason we haven't had religious wars over here is precisely the point you make toward the end of your comment: for all practical purposes, nearly all the religions over here are slight variations of Protestant Christianity -- very much including those that insist most heatedly that they aren't. There isn't enough religious disagreement over here to start a war over!

SLClaire, glad to hear that something helps.

Jeannette, oh man. There's a blast from the past! That song, and Supertramp generally, were major faves of mine when I was in high school. Many thanks for the memories.

John Michael Greer said...

Joseph, it's an endless source of wry amusement to me to watch people rewriting what I say to fit into existing narratives. Last week, for example, there were a couple of people over on insisting at the top of their lungs that I claim that activism is useless. I don't; what I claim is that activism that doesn't start by changing one's own lifestyle is useless. Not the same thing by a long shot! In the same way, you've drawn what to my mind is a false dichotomy between individual action and participation in community. There's no reason you or anyone else can't do both; my point is that if you don't start by changing your own life, what you do in other spheres is going to be hamstrung -- on the one hand, the people whose behavior you're trying to influence are likely to decide that you're simply one more hypocrite who expects everyone else to change first; on the other hand, if you don't have any experience with the kind of changes we all know we all need to make, how much help will you be helping othefs make those changes? More on this in this week's post.

Robert, hmm. I don't know that I'd draw the line between direct experience and communicable knowledge quite as hard and fast as all that. In a very real sense, after all, no experience can be communicated in words; all we have are very rough verbal models that inevitably lose much of what we'd like them to convey. Even so, it's possible to turn experience into verbal patterns that are useful to other people. Direct mystical experience can, with practice, guide verbal formulations in the same way, and as long as the formulation isn't confounded with the reality, there's much to be gained that way.

Richard, your local feed and seed store will have chicks for sale come springtime. Get the coop and other necessities put together toward the end of winter, and you'll be set.

Joseph, an individual can grow a sparse but complete vegetarian diet on 1000 square feet of not very good soil, using intensive organic methods. (David Duhon's study One Circle gives the details.) If your backyard garden only provides garnishes, you're doing something wrong; mine produces a respectable fraction of our total vegetable consumption, and will produce a much larger one as I finish the learning curve in a new climate with unfamiliar soil, pests, etc.

Still, that's beside the core point, which is that "community" doesn't mean a thing if what it amounts to is waiting for somebody else to take the first step. If nobody else starts learning how to grow their own food, either, where is yours going to come from?

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- "an individual can grow a sparse but complete vegetarian diet on 1000 square feet of not very good soil, using intensive organic methods. "

Hmmm... I have a hard time picturing actually being able to get a year's caloric needs for a human from that small a space in a way that does not involve potentially unsustainable high inputs of water, exogenous compost, and other things that are effectively energy subsidies. I think those 1000 square feet might need to be embedded in an acre of less intensively managed source land that provides these intensive inputs (or the equivalent thereof on a larger spatial scale) to really make if long-term feasible. What so many organic gardeners forget is that if they got a truckload of manure from the local stable, that represents the productivity of a vastly larger area than just their backyard plot, concentrated and focused into a small area.

A person needs something on the order of a half million calories per year on a restricted calorie diet, close to double that to maintain a physically demanding lifestyle in good health. Productivity of 10,000 calories per square meter per year is fantastically high, and you need all of these calories to be human-available. The ecologist in me just does not see this happening in a sustainable fashion.

Now, all of your nutritional needs *except* for the carbohydrate calorie base, that's another matter. 1000 square feet per person of legumes, leaves, roots, fruits, etc. seems reasonable for that.

mkroberts said...

Thanks, JMG. That needed to be said.

Whether or not the changes we make in our lives will "save" the planet, it seems to me just plain wrong to continue with lifestyles that we know, with certainty, are degrading our own habitat (either directly or indirectly by degrading the habitats of other species). So it's not a matter of whether the change will have any effect, because others aren't changing, it's about being able to look yourself in the mirror, about being able to tell your children and grand-children that you did what you can - what you really can.

I'm certainly not doing enough but I'm trying.


Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Alvin Leong:

College still works well for young people if and only if (1) you or your family can afford the tuition without taking out any loan, and (2) you are using it to get your credentials in a line of work that pays well enough to suit your actual needs, and is also likely to be in demand throughout your lifetime. College debt has skyrocketed recently, and it is (IMHO) only a matter of time before forced labor will be required in lieu of cash from those who cannot pay their college debt off very quickly.

As for an academic job, I advise you to forget it altogether. Our system of colleges and universities is (IMHO) going to collapse well before your working lifetime is over. Even now, the only academics who can command more than very low wages are those who can bring in enough money, power or prestige to offset the cost of their salary, benefits, and needed facilities (e.g. labs).

Teaching is being outsourced more and more. That outsourcing, plus the rise of online courses taught by faculty who are usually not on your own campus, should become the norm everywhere in a decade or so. Some of this outsourcing is to labor overseas, but most of it is to a cheap academic labor-pool here, comprised of the huge surplus of those who have high academic qualifications, but have not managed to find a stable (tenure-track) position within a few years after getting the doctorate. These people are very heavily exploited: they loved the academic life that they lived as students, and they would suffer almost anything to continue being a part of it as faculty.

In the humanities, professors do not make very much money. I don't want to post too many of my own details publicly, but my starting salary in 1967 was $7,000, and the raises I ever got over the next three decades or so didn't bring me up to 10 times that amount. This translates to only a very slight increase in our actual purchasing power as the years rolled by. And since there were no grants to be had for the things I wanted to work on, I could only fund my research out of my own pocket. So we lived very frugally indeed! (That was good training, obviously, for the coming decades.)

If you do come to Brown, you won't find me there on campus. I have happily shaken the dust of academia off my sandals, and I can think of nothing that would entire me back. (I keep the title of an emeritus simply because it gives me much better access to library resources.)

Robert Mathiesen said...

JMG wrote:

". . . Even so, it's possible to turn experience into verbal patterns that are useful to other people. Direct mystical experience can, with practice, guide verbal formulations in the same way, and as long as the formulation isn't confounded with the reality, there's much to be gained that way."

You're quite right about all this, IMHO. I wanted to emphasize the point that Juhana made, and I drew the contrast too sharply.

When you (general "you") talk about how your direct mystical experience affected you in your own life -- you can always do this much, I think -- then you can say more about the experience itself than you could if you had tried to describe it as a thing by itself, apart from the impact it had on the experiencer (yourself). Also in doing so, lessons emerge on how you might best live your own life, and these lessons can be passed on to others indirectly as you describes how the experience has affected yourself.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks. I reckon we may be adapting by shipping our manufacturing off to low cost countries. Being low cost, the inhabitants there won't have the same level of access to energy and so the whole system becomes a bit more efficient per capita (from an economists perspective). But, I reckon, there's no getting around that relationship and the situation can't last forever.

Hi SLClaire and Juhana,

Thanks for the replies. I'm just about to get hit with a heatwave so I've been running around getting everything sorted here before it hits. The summer rains have failed too so I'm down to about 50% of my water reserves, which is a bit spooky at this point in the summer. Friday it will hit 41 degrees (that's 106 in your language). I'll post a reply when I'm hiding in the house over the next few days from the sun!

Hi Bill,

Yeah, I produce the majority of my vegetables on half that area, although the compost is about half a metre deep. However, there are also areas set aside for berries, herbs and a huge area for fruit. You are quite correct that grains are a real problem, although I could quite easily grow wheat, barley, canola and rye here, but I have to fence the wildlife out which will have other impacts. I also acknowledge that there is a real benefit to returning all water and organic matter to the soil - it isn't hard. This means that if I buy in grains for the chooks, then I'm bringing in fertility from somewhere else - no need to fertilise. Joel Salatin from the US based Polyface farm who visited a farm near here recently to do a talk also acknowledges this issue too, but it is rarely spoken about. I've also started recently foraging for wild greens in the herbage and surrounding forest as I'm in the middle of the lean period of summer (for cooler areas this may be Winter and Spring - but winter here is an easy experience compared to the majority of the US experience). Here in summer, unless it rains, plant growth shuts down.



phil harris said...

JMG and Bill Pulliam and all

I endorse everything Bill says about calories from 1000 sq feet. I know one guy says he has done it, but I think there has to be something wrong with his math. The scientist in me looks at limits. We cannot eat total vegetation as it might accumulate over a whole year (that is carbon 'fixed' by sunlight). We must eat a modest amount of green vegetation as calories along with vegetable product 'stored' by the plants as edible starches, sugars, protein and oils. ('Meat' is a derivative of primary photosynthetic production.) These stored forms are perforce only a fraction of the total photosynthetic product achieved by the vegetation over the growing season. Latitude and climate and topography determine the length and quality of the photosynthetic season, whereas soil imposes a secondary set of constraints. These latter soil-constraints are described well by Liebig 'law of minimum' for essential soil nutrients, water and gas-exchange etc.

Thus, for instance, temperate crop winter wheat, while only providing a single harvest each year ’prepares’ itself for the carbohydrate and protein it will store in its grain by starting a root system and small photosynthetic presence during Autumn ('Fall') and is then poised in March to resume growing (for example, hereabouts in a GB prime growing area). A well-timed and fertilised crop produces the main photosynthetic green surface, the 'flag-leaf' and the green stem and primordial grain, 6 weeks before the summer solstice. At our latitude 55-56 N on the drier east coast of Britain we can get a peak photoperiod of 17+ hour’s sunlight, which can fill the grain to a remarkable extent over 12-14 weeks, making use of peak daylight symmetrically either side of the solstice. It is not uncommon for us to see the dry harvest taken from the fields and the land prepared and re-sown within a few weeks for next year's crop! (That latter practice pushes, however, at the limit for sustaining soil-carbon, but that is another story.) Not surprisingly the world record for wheat yield was held for many years by a farm 30 miles from where I write @ over an astonishing 15 tonnes per hectare (6t/acre). Average yields on good ground are about half that. At the ‘average’ 3 tonnes per acre of high-yielding wheat, '1000 sq ft' yields very roughly less than 10% of the calories needed yearly by one person on a calories restricted diet. (I am using Bill's figures – but, btw, that 0.5M kilocalories per year is an exceedingly low minimum CR intake. It is my understanding that as a rule of thumb roughly twice the amount of ‘minimum’ edible calories is required per head for most sustainable ‘subsistence’ agriculture worldwide.)

Some parts of the world achieve 2 or 3 crops per year at lower yields per acre for each crop, but provide overall a higher yearly total. And some crops like sugar cane can out-yield wheat in terms of edible carbohydrate, I think, (numbers?). Corn grown in the right place also has a bigger yield; see also note below in my continuation comment, but like Bill I cannot imagine 10,000 calories per square metre per year.
(I like to quote an example from a study in the Yangtze Delta in the 1980's using organic methods which by modern western standards used modest amounts of synthetic NPK augmentation, where the fields could yield 10-12 tonnes per hectare of grain on average off 2-crops per year (wheat & rice). This example in itself is astonishing, but is not sustainable by truly 'organic' methods. The people who grew this magic consumed, themselves, 80% of their grain crop, and at that time used very little machinery. In those days they still used the straw, roughly half the solar capture of their fields, for cooking. ) Continued ...

phil harris said...

539 nuerifyJMG & Bill ‘1000 square feet’ Continued …
Bill could you check my numbers; I allowed 330 kcal per 100g of wheat grain, which is overgenerous, and calculate the number of ‘1000 square feet lots’ in an acre as 229.6! We are not talking of ‘1000 feet square’ are we by any chance?
NB Wheat yields are lower in the USA, and corn, where it is climatically permissible can provide a greater calories yield per acre than even the high-yielding wheat that I quote, and irrigated potatoes even more so. But even then we do not get close. And potatoes are a technical crop to maintain sustainably, and have more rotational constraints than a grain or a legume crop. For carrying capacity, a number more like 2-4 persons per acre seems a more likely target on average.

Zach said...

John Michael - well done again! I did drop the thermostat 3degF, though only for the night. Raised it back only 2degF for the day, and no one has complained yet...

Reaching back to the last posts about democracy, I would like to encourage readers who haven't done so to add Robert's Rules of Order to their toolkit. It's not the only possible rule of order for democratic meetings, but it's a (once) widespread and familiar one, and it is a robust and well-tested piece of social technology.

I don't recall anyone raising this point, but your old discussion of the direct tradeoff between efficiency and resilience applies here. Robert's, being a resilient method, is not the most efficient way to get from Point A to Point B. Of course, the most efficient way is simply for some Big Man to decide "this is what will happen," but then the democratic aspect is lost...

Also, Robert's has a nice self-scaling property, in that a group does not have to use the full set of rules unless circumstances call for it. (A good chair is extremely helpful here.) If a group actually has a working consensus, matters can be resolved quickly.


Zach said...

Bill Pulliam - I would have to double-check my copy of One Circle to see how much outside organic matter was added as part of that 1000-square-foot experiment. That was an attempt to push the Jeavons biointensive method to the limit of "how little space can a person subsist on?" Even Duhon admits that this wasn't optimal, however.

I know that, in general, John Jeavons is aware of the problem, and teaches inclusion of a percentage (20-25%, IIRC) of space for growing compost crops in an attempt to not make his method rely on an outside subsidy of energy and organic matter. I will say, though, that it certainly assumes the regular availability of water for irrigation.


Zach said...

Juhanna - I wish I had the time to properly engage what you are saying about religion and traditionalism! I think for Americans, an unhealthy dose of Progress as religion has infected most of our religious traditions as practised here. The idea that "older is better" is antithetical to most of us - newer is better! This is why "new and improved!" is such a cliché as an advertising slogan.

Please do keep writing.


Richard Larson said...

Hi Bill, I don't know the answer of whether this is possible, but found this:

I personally wouldn't want to do this even if possible. Now, add a few chickens, with hunting and fishing, to the 1000 square foot garden, and I'm all ears!

Richard Larson said...

Here is a spreadsheet I found posted to

Here is the ensuing discussion, I'm halfway through it, this has merit:

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I'd be very interested if you were to get a copy of my source -- as mentioned earlier, this is David Duhon's One Circle -- and check the actual math.

Robert, true enough! It's also possible to draw certain straightforward, and very useful, conclusions from mystical experience -- for example, the recognition that reality as it is cannot be equated with its verbal formulations is itself the result of reflection on mystical experiences: the very first sentence in the Tao Te Ching is, I think, the first historically recorded reference to that issue.

Cherokee, bingo. The entire globalization phenomenon ought to be seen as a last ditch attempt by industrial economies to maintain unsustainable standards of living for their middle classes by catabolizing their own working classes, and arbitraging the difference in wage costs between their own societies and poorer ones overseas.

Phil, grains have no place in the One Circle diet, precisely because they require large acreages. Starchy root crops provide the calories in Duhon's experiment. Again, I'd be interested if you could check Duhon's math!

Zach, an excellent point!

Ruben said...


Academia is a very uncertain future. But I would like to add a job that requires school--large animal veterinarian. That should have a nice future. School might still be affordable for being a plumber, or engineering technical school for things like solar hot water, as mentioned earlier.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- when I get a chance, but no guarantee when that will be. I suspect the problem is not in the math but in the systems-level thermodynamics -- like a perpetual motion machine, I suspect there is a big energy input there that has not been accounted for that means those calories are really derived from a much larger effective area than 1000 ft2, or are drawn from storages that are not being replenished. Green sustainability people are always forgetting these issues; an excellent example is Salatin's pastured poultry system that is extremely dependent on imported energy in the form of grain (those birds get 80% of their calories from petroleum-based row crops grown off-site, nothing remotely sustainable there). All those green business logos showing cute eco-icons connected into closed circles tend to forget the really big arrows coming in from the side that keep that little internal wheel spinning.

Conventional intensive modern corn produces about 500 cal/day (annual yield/365d) on 1000 ft2. This is starvation level for a human. Organic growing has many advantages over this conventional system, but higher yields is not one of them. You'd need to triple or better quadruple this to actually have a sustaining diet. Starchy roots don't gain you much; the calorie yields per square meter of all the starchy crops (including legumes) are roughly similar when optimally grown. It's just basic limits of biochemistry and thermodynamics.

As I said, when I get a chance...

wall0159 said...

Regarding the thread about scientism as religion and limits to knowledge, I think it mis-characterises what many scientists think.

Ever since Karl Popper, many/most scientists do not believe that science finds truths, but rather that science rejects falsehoods. Since Godel, we also accept that there are some falsehoods we can't reject and that we don't even know where they are. We also accept that mathematics contains inherent paradoxes (eg. is the "set that contains all sets not a member of themselves" a member of itself?)

Also, whether or not mathematics can describe every phenomonon in the universe is unknown. I don't think that many people assert that it can, but I also know that many mathematicians are somewhat mystical about its application and place in the universe (hubris, perhaps). Maths can certainly be used to describe phenomena that are quite impenetrable to human understanding, and I doubt we've truely explored what mathematics is capable of.

Some comments have seemed to imply that because people cannot have perfect understanding of the universe, we can therefore have no understanding. I do not agree with this.

This is getting fairly off-topic though ;-)

Love the comments regarding the feasible maximum yield of organic gardening. Have read JMG's previous comments (food for one from 1000 sq feet) with great interest, and would love to hear more detail/perspectives about it

Pitchfork and Crow said...

I'm bringing in extra fertility and grains (chicken feed, cover crop and row crop seed) to my certified organic farm, but don't see it as a negative. I need to build my soil and cultivate the place so that it is more self-sufficient with fertility and animal feeds, but that is going to take many years. I don't see farms/gardens as islands unto themselves, but as organisms that interact with their environment. I realize that my farming practices are not sustainable in the long term, but I am trying to make them more so. My farm needs the products of other farms, and there is a web of support that is developing. The 1,000 square foot concept is interesting, but gathering compostables from a nearby forest and neighborhood restaurant shouldn't be seen as a crutch.

phil harris said...

Bad day yesterday.
I am geting old!
I managed to send this comment to the earlier of your blogs whose tab I had left open.
Yes I will check out Duhon's math.
But hope you and Bill will read my apologies for glaring error on my part outlined below. Root veg, I know most about potato, will raise calories yields per sq yard, but limits to photosynthetic capture still apply.

JMG & Bill Pulliam
re '1000 sq ft garden'
I was rushing to go out before I sent off my comment with my calculation. Either that or I am getting old!
Teaches me not to accuse a man of bad arithmetic!
4840 sq yds to one acre.
9 sq ft to a sq yard
43.56 x '1000 sq ft plots' to an acre.
A good 'average' yield of 3 tonnes of high-yielding wheat to an acre = roughly 9.7M kcals per acre or ~220,000 kcals per '1000 ft plot'.
So 'the man' is claiming at least the equivalent of more than 6 tonnes of grain equivalent per acre, which could only meet a highly calories restricted daily intake. This could be achieved possibly with a very good yield of corn (maize) or potato, but is higher than has been achieved for real within the tight constraints of the Chinese village I quoted having two crops in a year, (rice and wheat), [and having ancillary vegetable gardens,] and is not likely to be sufficient or sustainable - see previous comments - Bill's mainly.

Not as wild as I wrote previously, but still not realistic, IMHO.

BUT SORRY - I DID HURRY HOME to correct my error!

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- Well, that wasn't my point at all, though it did afford you some amusement/irritation. Let's see if I can be clearer.

People form communities because it makes their lives easier. The main thing that has driven suburban flight is affluence, cheap energy, and technology, and it's done so because people are a pain to deal with. Affluence, cheap energy, and technology have taken over the role of making life easier that communities used to provide. The perceived marginal benefits of community have thus declined: community is not currently worth the trouble of dealing with each other.

As affluence, cheap energy, and technology fade away, we're going to rediscover community, both the good and the bad. Here's the thing about community: it tends to tell us how we are going to live, not vice-versa. And it doesn't seem to me it has any natural penchant for latching onto the best ideas. Instead, it latches onto whatever is conventional/popular at the time, whether it's goat-herding or cattle ranching or digging up gold or making giant stone heads facing the sea.

I find the return of real communities far more threatening than starvation or home insulation, and also more potentially inspiring.

If you have your cozy little cob house with a 1000-square-foot garden and a cat, and the nearby town is annexing land and demanding water rights for miles around, with federal oversight gone and state oversight two days away by horse, you're going to end up in a relocation camp, and your garden will be plowed under for corn for gasohol. Conversely, a tight-knit community with strong sense of identity isn't going to have a lasting problem with food, even if they're planting crops more traditionally. The land is there. But there will be expectations on the community members. Morals. Taboos. Probably religious expectations. Local taxes and tithing. Rule by law or by might. Local enforcement of the death penalty.

Of all the skills we've lost, the community skills are the most important, IMO, which was where you started this last series on democracy. I really liked your comment about the wagon train constitutions. Then it veered off into turning your thermostat down, typing wearing fingerless gloves, doing the polar-bear club skinny-dipping, intensive permaculture single-family gardening on a minimalist vegetarian diet. I saw that as a disconnect, and the discussion that followed in the comments looked awfully survivalist to me.

Is that a little clearer?

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Bill -

One of the references that led to my acre-per-person comment was the following:

This categorizes soils, inputs, and outputs. Table 6 shows category I land ("prime") with the highest level of "inputs" (irrigation, fertilizer) capable of supporting 10 persons per hectare, which is 2.47 acres. That's four persons per acre, or (as you point out) about ten of the 1000-square-foot gardens. Best land, highest inputs. The average-quality class III land with low inputs supports 3 persons per hectare, or a little over one person per acre.

Proof of the garden is in the eating, and I'll accept empirical evidence that it can be done as Duhon says. But this is ten times better yield than the best land with the highest inputs using standard farming techniques.

You'd think someone would have caught on to this by now. It's a gold mine. If true.

Like you, I haven't had time to check these numbers in more detail.

Joseph Nemeth said...

In the above comment, I meant @Phil, not @Bill.