The Final Generation

I titled this blog The Final Generation, not in a fit of self-referential giddiness, but as a sober analysis.  I am becoming increasingly convinced that the so-called Generation X, the first wave of children born to the baby boomers in the 1960’s and 1970’s will be the last generation to experience the modern industrial lifestyle born out of petrochemical innovation for the majority of their life.  Subsequent generations, especially the one immediately following have been born into this same world, but they will likely spend the bulk of their lives in the period of collapse, transition and even the new human society.  I am writing not out of a sense of despair, but of hope.  I am hopeful that humankind can learn from the lessons of prior great collapses, particularly the end of the USSR and its satellite states.   I am hopeful that there are still enough skilled individuals who can share the valuable skills of organic food production, including hunting, herding and gardening.  I am hopeful that there will be storytellers, who know the good stories so well, and help build community out of the best that our cultures and religions have to offer.  I am hopeful that a remnant of humanity will adapt and thrive in a world without fossil fuels.

Where I am discouraged, it is out of a sense of realism about the state of the current paradigm.  Whether it is the danger and destruction of an event like the Deepwater Horizon spill, or the seemingly endless occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan, or the unrest in Greece and the U.K. I can’t shake the feeling that there will be blood spilled in the transition.  There will be lives lost.  Many will go hungry or thirsty.  Many will sink into deep poverty.  And the worst is waiting for the wealthy perhaps.  At some point, when there are no more police on the job, large homes filled with supplies and food and other useful things will be fair game.  Wealth only matters when politics and economics are still functioning.

My discouragement brings my sense of mission.  I want to be a voice for change.  I want to be a voice for help.  As a Christian, I can do no other.  If I do not proclaim good news to the poor (who will be disproportionately affected by the changes in climate coupled with de-industrialization), then I do not preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  My hope is that intentional Christian community, gathered around the stories that represent the best of what Jesus’ followers have done, can be a part of the new humanity after the transition.  May it be so, Amen.

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Touching Scars

As I sit in morning sun, in view of nearby mountains, atop this mighty stone, my eyes are drawn downward, to moss and lichen, to stone itself. I see the layers of the rock before me, as I sit upon the rock, when it dawns on me that here in these winter woods, I sit upon a mountain top or craggy face, spilled on its side by some mighty glacier, as she carved a new face on the earth while retreating to her arctic home. I am looking on the scars of the earth and they are beautiful. In a moment of exhilaration, I touch the face of the earth, and in so doing I touch four degrees Celsius, I touch millenia, I move through time, I feel this rough place, steadily being worn smooth. All around me I hear signs of life, I feel the vibration of the earth herself and I know, deep in my heart that scars are signs of life, signs of healing, even of resurrection. Like Thomas I reach out and touch. And I am not afraid.

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ClubOrlov: Disaster Communalism

Perhaps what the authorities fear the most is becoming irrelevant?  We seem to rise to the occasion in disaster and don’t need to be ordered to do so.

ClubOrlov: Disaster Communalism.

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3-Month Petroleum Usage Chart for March, April, May Shows 14 Years of Supply Demand Growth has Vanished

The economic crisis has lead to a phenomenal level of demand destruction.  The upside is that more fossil fuel stays in the ground.  The downside is that falling prices will discourage the more adventurous forms of oil extraction from expanding (fracking, deep water, tar sand, kerogen, etc.)  These energy intense, very expensive and often dangerous methods need a high rate of financial return to keep operational.  This can become a positive feedback loop- demand destruction lowers price, lowered price lowers production, lowered production raises price as it falls below demand, more economic slowdown occurs, demand destruction lowers price, rinse and repeat.

3-Month Petroleum Usage Chart for March, April, May Shows 14 Years of Supply Demand Growth has Vanished.

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A New Declaration | The Occupied Wall Street Journal

A clarion call to the new generation of protesters and post-petroleum humanity:

A New Declaration | The Occupied Wall Street Journal:

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That the real, physical world is the source of our own lives, and the lives of others. A weakened planet is less capable of supporting life, human or otherwise.

Thus the health of the real world is primary, more important than any social or economic system, because all social or economic systems are dependent upon a living planet.

It is self-evident that to value a social system that harms the planet’s capacity to support life over life itself is to be out of touch with physical reality.

That any way of life based on the use of nonrenewable resources is by definition not sustainable.

That any way of life based on the hyper-exploitation of renewable resources is by definition not sustainable: if, for example, fewer salmon return every year, eventually there will be none. This means that for a way of life to be sustainable, it must not harm native communities: native prairies, native forests, native fisheries, and so on.

That the real world is interdependent, such that harm done to rivers harms those humans and nonhumans whose lives depend on these rivers, harms forests and prairies and wetlands surrounding these rivers, harms the oceans into which these rivers flow. Harm done to mountains harms the rivers flowing through them. Harm done to oceans harms everyone directly or indirectly connected to them.

That you cannot argue with physics. If you burn carbon-based fuels, this carbon will go into the air, and have effects in the real world.

That creating and releasing poisons into the world will poison humans and nonhumans.

That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to create poisons for which there is no antidote.

That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to create messes that cannot be cleaned up.

That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to destroy places humans or nonhumans need to survive.

That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to drive human cultures or nonhuman species extinct.

That reality trumps all belief systems: what you believe is not nearly so important as what is real.

That on a finite planet you cannot have an economy based on or requiring growth. At least you cannot have one and expect to either have a planet or a future.

That the current way of life is not sustainable, and will collapse. The only real questions are what will be left of the world after that collapse, and how bad things will be for the humans and nonhumans who come after. We hold it as self-evident that we should do all that we can to make sure that as much of the real, physical world remains intact until the collapse of the current system, and that humans and nonhumans should be as prepared as possible for this collapse.

That the health of local economies are more important than the health of a global economy.

That a global economy should not be allowed to harm local economies or land bases.

That corporations are not living beings. They are certainly not human beings.

That corporations do not in any real sense exist. They are legal fictions. Limited liability corporations are institutions created explicitly to separate humans from the effects of their actions—making them, by definition, inhuman and inhumane. To the degree that we desire to live in a human and humane world—and, really, to the degree that we wish to survive—limited liability corporations need to be eliminated.

That the health of human and nonhuman communities is more important than the profits of corporations.

We hold it as self-evident, as the Declaration of Independence states, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it. . . .” Further, we hold it as self-evident that it would be more precise to say that it is not the Right of the People, nor even their responsibility, but instead something more like breathing—something that if we fail to do we die.

If we as a People fail to rid our communities of destructive institutions, those institutions will destroy our communities. And if we in our communities cannot provide meaningful and nondestructive ways for people to gain food, clothing, and shelter then we must recognize it’s not just specific destructive institutions but the entire economic system that is pushing the natural world past breaking points. Capitalism is killing the planet. Industrial civilization is killing the planet.

Once we’ve recognized the destructiveness of capitalism and industrial civilization—both of which are based on systematically converting a living planet into dead commodities—we’ve no choice, unless we wish to sign our own and our children’s death warrants, but to fight for all we’re worth and in every way we can to overturn it.

‘via Blog this’

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Can You Have a Revolution Without Demands?

Once the ignoring was over, and the ridicule began, the cry far and wide was; “Tell us your demands!” From politicians to newsreaders, from critics to sympathetic voices, the chorus always seems to be; “Tell us your demands!” The implication being that without a list, nothing would get done. Without a list, no one will listen. Without a list, how do you negotiate?

After much deep contemplation and reflection, I have come to an awakening. Demands are what the people with no power make of the people with power. “Mommy, I want a cookie!” cries the toddler with no way to reach the cupboard. “Please don’t hurt me!” cries the robbery victim as the assailant threatens. These are demands. They can be met, they can be ignored. The power is in the hands of the one being petitioned.

To make demands of the multinational corporations, the too big to fail banks, the servants of economic growth is to admit that they hold all of the cards and that life is theirs to grant or withhold. It is to beg that they, in the words of Charles Eisenstein, “find another way to convert natural beauty into money.”. It is to admit that we can’t envision life without them, for better or for worse, they are our gods.

To make demands of bought and paid for politicians is to admit that we are bought and paid for voters, bedazzled by slick marketing and hollow promises. It is to say, “you spent lots of money on my vote, don’t you want me to like you?”. The historically low approval ratings of our leaders ought to answer that question. It is to say that in spite of our best intentions to be involved, we will let talking heads tell us who is and isn’t “electable”.

To make demands of the entrenched voices of advocacy, the PACs and the official voices of do-gooders is to admit that we’d rather send a check than get involved. It is to say that we’d rather the co-opted and the neutered voices of institutional activism be the architects of a compromise full of half-measures and no results. It is to give a pass to greenwashing and euphemisms for slavery, poverty and starvation.

If the Occupiers and the Indignados are going to make any demands, it should be of themselves.
“Stop being afraid.”
“Stop waiting for someone to fix this.”
“Stop granting the powers that be their power by believing in them.”
“Stop hoping that the forces that are trying to destroy you will want to save you.”
“Stop being invisible.”
Some of these demands are beginning to be addressed. Some have a long way to go.

Something important is happening here. In the heart of an imposing imperial city, a village has sprung up. A village where everyone has a voice, where things are shared, where everyone is wonderfully weird, where they fend off batons with toothbrushes and cleanser and where relationships are being built that transcend many divisions.

They are telling the politicians, the CEO’s and the professional organizers something. Loud and clear they proclaim, “your world of infinite growth is passing on, you do not matter any more”. “Whether Capitalist or Socialist you offer us the world sliced and destroyed a thousand ways.” Jesus said, “what good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his life? Or what can a man give in exchange for his life?” Where will humanity live if not this Mother Earth? What temporary victory is worth self-extermination?

The Occupiers are teaching us something. Every city, every suburb, every out of the way rural spot needs a village. It needs to be small enough for everyone to care, small enough to raise each other’s food and love each other in spite of our wonderful weirdness. They are asking us to find our village. It’s not impossible. You just need to:
“Stop being afraid.”
“Stop waiting for someone to fix this.”
“Stop granting the powers that be their power by believing in them.”
“Stop hoping that the forces that are trying to destroy you will want to save you.”
“Stop being invisible.”
May there be Peace.

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Growth is not Prosperity

As I listen to the background noise of pundits, prognosticators and politicians, I am struck by a distinction in language and thought that is glossed over by much of the conversation on our economy. For far too long we have used Growth and Prosperity as synonyms. Worse yet, the economic conversation has been warped to suggest that continual growth will create prosperity. This is utter nonsense. Still, you hear that the solution to our national slump is simply to get the economy “growing” again. The problem is that the kind of growth that economists and politicians are talking about is not additive, but exponential. Allow me to explain. Please note that I am deeply indebted to Chris Martenson’s Crash Course for these reflections.

Additive growth would be to say that if we begin with $1000.00 of sales then we will add $5.00 to that total each year, making $1005 in year two and $1010 in year three. It would take 200 years to double our annual sales from $1000.00 to $2000.00. At this rate, it would take another 400 years to double our annual sales again to $4000.00 In other words, by the time the sales grow fourfold, we will all be long gone.

But what if we decided to set the rate of change from the first year as a constant, i.e. $5.00 is .50% of $1000.00 so every year we increase by .50%. In the first year we would go from $1000 to $1005, but in year two we go to $1010.025, not a huge difference, but get ready, that little fraction is going to compound like crazy! In year three we’re up to $1015.075125 and in year ten we’re up to $1,051.14. What about our original 200 year timeline? In that amount of time our value is up to $2,711.52, the $2,000 mark was passed in year 140. What about the 400 year mark? Our value is up to $7,352.33, nearly double the additive total. While the rate of change may be constant, the amount of change dramatically increases the farther out the scale we go.

A further wrinkle in all of this is that .50% growth would be considered anemic and near-stagnation by most economists. “Healthy” growth is usually in the 3-4% range. China has purported to grow close to 10% annually during the course of the recent fiscal crisis. How do our $1000 sales look if we apply steady 3.5% growth? At year 10 we have sales of $1,343.92 annually. We jump the doubling mark at year 24 with $2,032.79 in sales. In year 200, our original doubling mark in the additive example, we generate a whopping $369,355.82. At year 400 we have an astounding $136,423,718.23 If my sales were in China with steady 10% growth, I’d be raking in $36,064,014,027,525,600,000.00 at year 400. That is Thirty Six Quintillion, Sixty Four Quadrillion, Fourteen Trillion, Twenty Seven Billion, Five Hundred Twenty Five Million, Six hundred thousand dollars.

What’s wrong with such an amazingly big number? Well, if we assume money is valuable in and of itself, it’s pretty spectacular. However, money cannot be eaten, drunk, lived in, or used to get around town. I suppose you could sew the notes together to make a sail for a boat, but where would you get the thread? Money is valuable only to the extent that it can be traded for real goods, like food, water, shelter, and transportation. At its core- Money is a promise of energy, i.e. I can trade it for energy sources like food and fuel, or I can give it to someone who will expend energy on my behalf, e.g. the carpenter who builds a deck for you. Growth can increase the supply of funds, but it needs a comparable growth in real world goods in order to prevent the destruction of the value of the money.

If loaf of bread is worth $1.00 when I open my business then the ratio of bread to my cash supply is 1 to 1000. I can buy 1000 loaves of bread with my revenue, provided that 1000 loaves are available. In order to maintain the $1.00 price, at the 10 year mark in our healthy growth model there need to be 1,344 loaves of bread available so that the ratios of cash and bread remain equal. This is possible as long as the baker continues to have access to a growing supply of baking ingredients. However, we live in a finite world, there are limits to land area, water availability, and essential soil nutrients. At year 200 in the 3.5% model, I need roughly 369,356 for the price to remain at $1.00 If the baker cannot produce this many loaves and hits a natural limit at say, 100,000 loaves I have a large pile of cash chasing too little bread. The price must rise. Now a loaf should price around $3.70 assuming demand is pretty consistent. When growth occurs with rising supplies of natural resources, we get more supply for the same price. When it occurs alongside a limit to natural resources, prices go up and more of our revenue is used for the same amount of the product.

My bread in China is a magnitude more challenging. At year 200 of steady 10% growth my cash supply is $189,905,276,460.46 with a supply of 100,000 loaves and assuming steady demand, I’m looking at a $1,899,052.77 loaf of bread. Get ready for some riots! The good news is that growth isn’t often sustained for such elongated periods of history. There are periods of slow and fast growth and even recessions. Furthermore, this simplistic example doesn’t take into account that the cash supply is chasing multiple goods at the same time, meaning that price discovery depends on how much of a good is essential and what portion of the cash supply is spent on it. However, none of this leads to prosperity.

Let’s think of a basic energy budget, since energy is the ultimate collateral behind all currency. You can imagine the supply as corn, oil, coal, firewood or whatever you like. The principles here are all the same, only the scale varies. Let’s say you have a basic energy budget of 100 units. That is how much can be collected and transformed each year. We can’t make energy, that would defy the laws of physics, but it can be transformed from one form to another. Let’s assume that 10 units are needed to gather next year’s energy. That leaves 90 units to work with. Now let’s assume that basic needs (heat, food, water) use up 70 units for our community. That leaves 20 units to work with. These units can be used in three ways, to enjoy prosperity, to grow or to split the difference and do both. In this first scenario, all 20 units are productively invested in making nice chairs for everyone in the community to sit on. No longer seated on the ground, the standard of living improves, but the energy needs do not change. In the second scenario, everyone still sits on the ground but ten new people are added to the community. When this happens, the basic needs level rises to say 75, meaning that next year only 15 units of surplus will be available. Finally, if the surplus is split, then five people are added to the community, and everyone gets a mat to sit on, not as nice as the chairs, but still an increase in the standard of living. The basic needs line rises to 72.5, meaning that 17.5 units are available for next year’s surplus.

As you can see, improving the standard of living does not decrease the surplus as long as the improvements don’t have their own energy needs (like a dogsled for transport, you need to feed the dogs too). However, growing, especially quickly, shrinks the surplus pretty quickly. In order to continually grow and experience prosperity, the resource base for our energy budget needs to keep pace. The system is dramatically threatened if a)our community grows to the point where there are no surpluses, b)the amount of energy available hits a natural limit, or c)the amount of energy needed to secure our supply goes up rapidly. Even with no growth, our energy surplus shrinks if it will take 20 units of energy to get energy next year. the surplus would be cut in half.

How can this little community respond to natural limits? 1)It can decide not to grow any more. 2)It can lower the standard of living intentionally (say, using the nice chairs for firewood instead of sitting on). 3)It can do nothing and create suffering as the basic needs budget provides less and less per person. Options one and two are the definition of sustainable living, wherein a conscious choice for population limits, simplicity or both promotes long term survival. Option three is the road to overshoot and systemic collapse. There will probably be violence, deprivation and struggle as people fight for the energy they need to stay alive. The next time you hear a politician, economist or a pundit claim that growth is what we need, know that they are advocating for unplanned, catastrophic collapse. If they advocate for prosperity, they are putting forward saving, conserving, and self-control.

These thoughts are not merely political, they are theological. Any system that purports to offer infinite growth is by definition a god, an infinite entity capable of giving endlessly. The only realm where unlimited growth makes sense is in the spiritual-interior life. For it is in this aspect of life where we may discover that “with God, all things are possible.”

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Going North from the North Pole

We live on a planetary sphere. This can be especially hard to perceive when you walk around your neighbourhood where the world seems to stretch on in every direction. It can even be hard to understand when travelling over long distances. Very few of us have ever gone adventuring around the globe, effectively travelling continuously in one direction and arriving right back where we started. The planet is vast when taken at a human scale, but truthfully it is very small. More significant than relative size though, is the reality that the planet is finite. That’s what makes circumnavigation possible. It’s also the phenomenon that limits our travel in a particular direction. From any other point on the globe, you can travel north, moving ever closer to the north pole. Because all other points on the face of the earth have a relative position to this fixed point, all of them exist some distance from that point. This means that there is one finite position from which you can not go north, standing on the north pole! No amount of money can add a position north of the pole. No amount of human ingenuity and technology can take us there. Even clever propositions that involve leaving the planet still take you away from the defined point.

It seems that it is nearly impossible for most human beings to distinguish properly between the finite and the infinite. We regularly assume our environment, our economy and our future potential for expansion to be infinite. We pretend that there are an ever-increasing number of locations between us and our starting point, or that true north is yet further away. We are obsessed with going north from the north pole.

It is only in developing a grateful consciousness that we are bounded in by this celestial home and abundant but not infinite Mother Earth that we can find a path towards survival.

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