Archive for the ‘Crashology’ Category


a bit of own-trumpet blowing

November 9, 2010

I know I rarely post now but I just had to put up a note about a post I wrote over two years ago, Suburbia DOA. There’s been a bit of noise about Jeff Vail’s article Rescuing Suburbia in which he says much the same things I said in the aforementioned posting (from two years ago, did I say that yet?) albeit with much more detail and a lot less ranting.

Essentially what we are both saying is that a) suburbia is not going to shrivel up and die, b) it has the potential to form the basis of a post-peak society and like, c) where are all those people going to go anyway?

In case you’re wondering if I’m claiming patent on this idea then no, in my posting I reference David Holmgren as just one personwho has long seen the potential of suburbia to supply a lot of it’s own food.  Probably what’s most alarming about this however is how rarely this subject gets discussed.

My posting descended into a bitter rant about the element* of the peak oil crowd which gets a buzz out of shouting that the end is nigh and serves no useful purpose other than to cause panic.  Jeff tended to avoid my approach, probably on account of the fact that he was talking to the very people I was ranting about.

In any case I still feel that the majority of the peak oil movement causes more problems than it solves. Ran Prieur, The Archdruid and Jeff are the few people I can think of who are able to discuss the future without descending into doom mongering. Good on them.

What I suspect will happen, provided panic doesn’t set in, is that suburbia will overhaul itself without anyone having to create a ‘movement’.  For instance it was very noticeable that the first thing that happened when the economic crisis hit was that lots of people started gardening, all without prompting and without even a brief glance at a peak oil preparation website!

I think people will start growing their own stuff and learning new skills in the garage as a matter of course. I think Councils will give up on maintaining parks and the concept of using that land to feed people will suddenly become obvious to millions of people all at the same time.

Too late by then do I hear the doom-mongerers say? Well, there’s not much we can do about it because we can’t force our ideas on everyone else so take your doom elsewhere and drag someone else down. Nothing has happened in quite the rush you promised anyway.

One idea Jeff mentions that is completly knew to me, and one which has far reaching political ramifications is to do with land distribution in suburbs. He says:

Suburbia is unique because it is the most evenly distributed pattern of land ownership and settlement that has ever existed. It is by no means perfect or “pure,” but it is the most egalitarian substrate upon which to build a future civilization of our choosing, rather than as dictated to us, ever.

How Jeff ever hopes to make money being that positive about the future I’ll never know but I’m planning to keep on listening anyway.

*By ‘element’ I actually mean ‘majority’



October 3, 2008

You know I will probably never visit the LATOC discussion board when looking for advice on how to handle the coming upheavel in our way of life and while guns-and-gold are doubtless getting a big look in at the moment, Ran is still dispensing his much calmer advice and generally soothing the troubled waters of those who are prepared to listen. I want to take this direction one step further though and talk about how we’re going to do more than just surivive and for that kind of thinking we need Bill Mollison. Old interviews of Bill are all over the internet and I recommend reading lots of them to pick up on his vibe of ingenuity.

One of the worst paths we can follow at this point is to try to preserve our existing way of life even as it becomes increasingly untenable. Maybe out of habit, but more likely because we don’t know the alternatives, we’ll just struggle on with an ever harder daily grind. I’m pretty sure now however that permaculture has the vision we need to chart a new course – and it doesn’t just come with a new plan for the future but also a new way of thinking that will be especially valuable for a culture that has grown dependant on authority figures to do it’s thinking for it.

One of Bill’s interviews compared permaculture thinking to the marital arts philosophy of Aikido in that it seeks to turn adversity into strength. I have to admit I don’t know much about Aikido that here’s Bill Mollison with just one of a million tales of ingenious inventiveness.

We grow a lot of prawns in Hawaii, [Bill is actually from Australia] and you could grow them in your glass house up in Maine, freshwater prawns, and they eat single-celled algae, so we don’t know how to cultivate those, so we just simply float about 20 ducks to a quarter acre and they do the job of growing the algae. The duck manure is almost immediately colonized by algae and that’s what the prawns eat, the algae. So 25 ducks per quarter acre,100 per acre, and you can produce $60,000 worth of prawns per quarter acre twice a year. Think of that. And that’s just duck shit. Duck’s shit is the basic fuel for that system. Now, what are you going to feed your ducks. Very few ducks enjoy eating much grass. They love Tradescantia and sweet potato but they love snails too, so you can put in lots of water lilies in clumps here and there and in between them you put a lot of horseradish. Snails love living in water lilies but they come out and eat horseradish. And also, if you put a lot of nasturtium in, you get a lot of snails, so if you’re going to grow ducks you gotta grow horseradish, nasturtium, Tradescantia, water lilies and Agapanthus (African lily). You’ll get plenty of ducks which means you’ll have plenty of algae in the water and you can grow prawns, and the prawns haven’t cost you a penny. They’re just a second offshoot of your ducks feeding and enjoying themselves. So the system fuels itself.

That’s from a very long and inspiring interview at Seeds of Change. This next example is from another long interview at Mother Earth News

Here’s an example I like to use: I call it my chicken model. Take four separate elements: a hen coop, a greenhouse, a pond, and a small forest. Now you can have these on your farm . . . and place them wherever you like, in no particular relationship to each other. In that situation each one functions individually, and they all consume energy. But if you make the forest a forage range for the chickens by putting the coop in or near that forest . . . if you attach the greenhouse to the front of the chickens’ shelter . . . and if you set the pond in front of the greenhouse — as illustrated in Permaculture Two — well, then you’ve got a nice system of interrelating functions, the familiar checks and balances.

Just look at all the ways you produce energy in this system: the chickens’ body heat, the direct sunlight that reflects off the pond and hits the greenhouse, the radiation of the trees at the rear, the decomposition of chicken manure, and on and on. If you sit down and sketch this system out, you’ll find that it’s fantastically complex — with thousands of functional interactions — and will run itself . Operating on its own energy, the system automatically switches on and off. As the sun gets high in the sky, the greenhouse absorbs more heat . . . so the chickens get hot and go out, thus removing the source of animal heat. While they’re outside, the birds forage in the forest and leave their manure to enrich the soil. After dark, of course, they’ll go back inside to keep warm . . . taking their body heat with them.

Look at each chicken by itself and the variety of functions it’s performing in this one simple model: In the coop the hen operates as a radiator, an egg producer, and a manurial system. In the forest the bird acts as a self-forager, a tree-disease controller, a fireproofer, a fertilizer producer, and a rake. One can use chickens to do quantities of useful work . . . in fact, I don’t know what you can’t do with chickens, once you get started!

I tend to have the view that there’s no problem that’s insurmountable if I think about the solution for long enough, but Bill Mollison seems to operate on the belief that there’s no problem that can’t be turned into an advantage if you think about it just right – and it’s that kind of attitude that we’re all going to need as we go about recreating our culture (and saving our butts) over the next few years. I think we’ll also need some of Bill’s attitude just to keep our energy levels high in the dispiriting face of the diet of doom most of us follow.


Family Matters

June 21, 2008

Here’s the part of the recent Rigorous Intuition post that I noticed most of all:

So this is my dilemma, and my paralysis. It’s not every day you get to spectate the real-time collapse of a planetary civilization and biosphere. (Or, I suppose I should say, I remember a time when it wasn’t.) But watching this unfold with fascination feels complicit and worse than if I were blithely ignorant, and analyzing it at this seeming late stage futile and ridiculous. What’s important now, what’s more important than ever, are the close-to-home matters: being a good father and husband, and learning how to best cushion the crash of our coddled urban lives.

I think the looming crash is helping people to focus on what is important in life. I imagine that when the matrix completlely loses it’s power a lot more people will come to realise what really matters to them but for the moment it’s nice to come across someone else who thinks that attending to family matters actually rates. Some of Jeff’s readers were confused by this new development but Steven Lagavulin was not one of them:

I blogged over at Deconsumption for several years about the impending “collapse of civilization” (as I saw it and still see it over the long haul). And as you alluded, I found it strangely fascinating, perhaps like a deer in the headlights…and I felt a sense of urgency in understanding what might come so that I could “Be Prepared”. And all that study and observation truly helped, I must say. Over time, I stopped being worried about what was coming down upon us. I began to see it as inevitable, but not something I couldn’t adapt to. So eventually, I became confident enought to embrace some big decisions and started steering my life in a way that was both exciting and interesting to me as well as creating flexibility enough to meet whatever may come.

And at that point I became completely bored with apocalyptic news and thinking. So now, just as so many people are just beginning to tune in, I’ve turned off. I used to feel that if you weren’t getting your news from the internet, you were either ignorant of what is really happening in he world or worse, feeding on the steady diet of distractions and lies that is our MSM. I spent at least a couple hours a day surfing and analysing and trying to comprehend the objective picture. Now somehow, I find I lose patience if I’m online for more than about 20 minutes.

And meanwhile, as you perhaps seem to be experiencing as well, my life just gets better and better. Not because I’ve sunk into denial, but because my time is rapidly filling up with things that really matter to me right now. My family and I are in constant movement, but it’s movement towards something. Things are busy and frustrating but also fun and exciting and worthwhile. And it just keeps getting better and better.

But my point is that, at least for my own experience, all of this came about as the result of taking a full look at the worst. But (unlike Mark McKinney’s character) also knowing when I’d seen enough to inform my decisions and to get on with living.

I don’t know if any of the above is even interesting to anyone here, and I apologize if not. But I’ve spent a good ten years coming to a point where I could write exactly that.

The only danger we face over these next few years–as a full understanding of what we’ve truly sown is being reaped–the only danger is that we may succumb to fear, worry, and the desire to calm ourselves through wilfull denial and ignorance.

Yes, I re-posted the entire comment. Call it a guest posting.

I actually wish Steven had kept writing over at Deconsumption because it’s this stage of an individual’s journey that fascinates me most.


Doom, Gloom and Ka-boom!

May 23, 2008

A few weeks ago I posted a quote from a Bill Mollison interview that included this paragraph:

I can easily teach people to be gardeners, and from them, once they know how to garden, you’ll get a philosopher. But I could never teach people to be philosophers – and if I did, you could never make a gardener out of them.

And now after bemoaning the diet of doom that we get in the peak oil universe I’ve rediscovered this essay by Toby Hemmenway, a permaculturist and philospher who is a great example of what Bill Mollison was talking about.

Toby has this to say about the most common response to a diet of doom:

One of the most common responses to the Peak Oil panic is, “We’re planning on moving to the country with our friends and producing everything we need.” Let me burst that bubble: Back-to-the-landers have been pursuing this dream for 40 years now, and I don’t know of a single homesteader or community that has achieved it.

Toby managed to inspire a bit of hate mail with this series of essay’s, probably as a result of this weird subconsious desire for renewal that exists from one end of our culture to the other.

I’m not a believer in the Peak Oil “end of the world” scenario, where decreasing oil production somehow mutates into the sudden, permanent shutoff of urban water supplies, and contented suburbanites are transformed overnight into looting gangs. Yes, fossil fuels surely will become much more expensive in the next decades, and scarce soon after. I don’t doubt that several tipping points will be broached along the way, with rapid and unexpected changes cascading through society. But civilization won’t end.

I also recently discovered this commennt heading Ran’s Crashwatch page:

When I started this page four years ago, everyone thought that industrial society would keep thriving forever, and I wanted to balance that with evidence that it’s going to crash. Now everyone thinks it’s going to crash, but I’m shocked at how many blows it has taken and how little has changed in daily life

And that’s with a crash that has a decidely engineered look to it. Perhaps then the environment will give us that ultimate catastrophic opportunity for renewal:

I’m no expert on this topic but I am beginning to wonder if we’re getting the real picture on how the environment will cope with it’s own collapse. I’m not a climate change denier in the technology-is-god sense, but any movement that has a member of the elite (Al Gore) leading the charge should immediately be put under the spotlight as far as I’m concerened -and the fact that a person usually gets censured for making such comments in public just makes me want to ask the questions even more.

My trust in our beliefs about the resilience of the planet took another hit when I read this article about jellyfish. I had been lead to believe that nothing could live in these oceanic dead zones that have begun appearing around the planet, (otherwise why call them ‘dead’ zones?), but then I discovered that jellyfish are thriving in them and fisherman who had previously been struggling to make a living are now ‘making easy money’ catching jellyfish for sale in places like Japan.

Naturally there’s plenty in the article that makes for sober reading but when I read about jellyfish thriving in what is referred to as a dead zone I couldn’t help feeling mislead by the information the environmental movement is giving us. What mis-information like this does is give an underlying message about the planet’s ability to cope with change that, logically, must also be wrong but which is slipped in at an almost subconscious level.

So exactly how much is our cultural gravitation toward doom misleading us? I’m certainly not making any predictions of my own but I am wondering if most of the predictions I’m reading are missing an important perspective – a perspective that can only be gained from outside our cultural beliefs about catastrophic endings.

Nothing is certain but I’m fairly confident that it’s the permaculturists who are the most grounded amongst us and that they are the ones, just as Bill Mollison promised, who have the best perspective on our future.


UPDATE: This is what happens when you don’t do proper research: I originally intended to merely post a link to remind people about Toby Hemmenway’s old essay but then all these other connections started popping up and so I prdocued the longer posting above. What I had forgotten however is that Toby has already written an essay covering this exact topic – in greater detail and with proper resaearch and stuff – it’s called Origins of Peak Oil Doomerism and is a much more thorough attempt to get to the bottom of the issue.


Suburbia DOA

May 17, 2008

I see a lot of people gleefully predicting the demise of suburbia – dependant as it is on the car for it’s full functioning, but I wonder where do we think all these people are going to go?

If overseas examples are anything to go by the first thing that happens (think Cuba and the Soviet Union) when food gets scare is that people start growing food on their own property. I saw David Holmgren talk a few years ago and he pointed out that the old style quarter-acre section was large enough to feed an entire family. He regretted the fact that most of these sections have since been cut in half and now have two houses where their used to be one, but we need to recognise in our haste to usher in a new future that this doesn’t make them utterly useless.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone will be 100% food self sufficient even if they have enough space. In reality people will grow a proportion of their food at home and buy or barter for the rest. And if there isn’t enough space within the confines of the property there’s going to be a lot of park and road space available for other uses as soon as the local council sees the writing on the wall. Permaculture has already shown us how to grow food in small places, and how to repair dead soil, al we need now is the motivation and that’ll come soon enough.

I’ve also seen the suburbs bemoaned for their lack of community but this is mostly because of the car. As soon as daily car travel is taken out of the picture and as soon as adults are at home for the day, and most likely their children too, the suburbs will be a different place.

The suburbs feel kind of dead now but they’re not going to die – if anything they’re probably going to undergo a kind of rebirth. People will very quickly go back to relying on their neighbours for company and mutual support, they’ll start working from home and who knows – all that space currently used to shift cars around might be put to a better use. Given the (admittedly unlikely) possibility of a sensible local council we’ll might yet see roads given over to some kind of food forest or other commons type of space with council just focus on maintaining the footpaths on either side. Who knows, we may even have markets and other communal events springing up at old intersections. It’s hardly like old-style zoning rules are going to be any use to us.

And YES, I realise this is an idealistic view I’m presenting here but it’s actually a hell of a lot more useful than a months’ worth of doom-blogging. I mean we’re all going to look pretty stupid post-crash when people start asking “so if you knew this was going to happen why did you do nothing except standing there saying ‘I told you so’.

Which is the effect of a lot of the doom – it reduces us to numb spectators. How often do doom-bloggers wonder aloud about why people don’t follow their advice, all the time unware that it’s the constant stream of doom that’s got us in it’s glare.

And YES I realise there is a lot of planning for the future going on already but as I said I still think there is a lot of staring into the headlights of the oncoming train too; “Yes, I think those are the headlights coming into view now. Yep, it’s definitely them, they’re getting pretty bright now – just like I said they would…


James Howard Kunstler is a great writer but my biggest criticism of him is that a lot of his solutions are aimed at the level of local or central government – which, ironically enough is kind of naïve of him. Government is the instrument of the status quo, it’s job is more of the same – not change for the sake of the little people. Should be pretty obvious really.

What our communites are going to need in the future, are a few voices of reason – a few people in each place who have thought about what the future is going to be like and have latched on to the few things that are going to help the people in their street or suburb get through the times ahead. They certainly aren’t going to be need a bunch of peakniks saying I told you so – although the peakniks are going to need a stable community in their area if they really want to increase their chances of survival.

Timing is crucial too – it’s great to have a few bright ideas but pushing them before their time will just lead to burn out. It’s probably too early even now for most other people but the most important thing to remember is that the last people who are going to get this are the ones who our culture typically looks too for leadership.

Crash-aware people are going to have to provide leadership in creative non-institutional ways by doing things like starting up seed-saver and permaculture groups and generally whispering in the ear of people who are ready to listen that we need to support everyone in the community if we want to feel safe.

People have also got to be careful to drop the coercive, bash-them-over-the-head-with-the-news approach that our culture usually produces and provide what I tend to think is genuine leadership – which is to say creating a vision and a direction and waiting for the support to grow in behind it. (This concept of leadership is probably the major area of failure for activists today – but that’s another blog post).

For me this lesson about what community consists of has come courtesy of a fateful shift of house. In our new ‘suburb’ we’ve got friendly neighbours on both sides and over the road – two of whom we knew before we moved in. There are lots more families down the street, also I have a work-mate 4 doors down and a few other faces I recognise beyond that. It’s a marked contrast from our last place where we lived in the usual sought after situation of isolation from our neighbours and a nice view. We’ve moved to a less sought-after area but have ended up with more of what we actually need – it feels like a good place to be.


We’ll all be driving one soon

May 9, 2008

I notice Ran is enthusiastically predicting the demise of the SUV but I’m not sure I share his faith in this particular prediction. In fact I’m going to leap in and mount a defence for the not-so-humble SUV.

I admit that it feels slightly strange to be doing so but it all started when I drove my uncle’s SUV – which doubled as a farm work vehicle and family car, but was lent to us one week while our old house bus was in for repairs. Because I’d just been driving a bus around the SUV didn’t feel particularly large – even if that is their most obvious feature as far as drivers of other vehicles are concerned. What I did notice though, was that obeying normal conventions like driving only on paved or carefully gravelled surfaces was no longer necessary.

Please don’t get the idea that I blundered round driving over footpaths, picket fences and old ladies’ garden patches. Nothing of the sort happened but there was this sense of freedom driving in an SUV that I didn’t normally experience in a car (and especially not in a bus). Even if I didn’t actually do it, the fact remained that there were now a lot more places that I could drive to, or over, should I want to.

This would be of no real consequence to this blog except for how it coincides with the future that regular readers of doomer, peak-everything blogs are all, by now, expecting.

From a long and interesting series of comments by a resident of Argentina we have this possible future scenario for SUV drivers.

I would have bought a 4×4, even though I live in the city. A 4×4 allows you to dive over the sidewalk or through wasteland, away from roadblocks or riots. I’ve see those that have 4x4s simply go off road, climb over a boulevard and leave while the rest of us poor car owners have to stay.

A 4×4 truck also has more mass and power in case that someone tries to cut you off or rams you with the car. It’s less likely to stop running if you hit someone or several people (in a riot situation) since it’s prepared for cross country use and the engine is much more protected.

And a little more mundane but almost guaranteed to be relevant to your life and mine; the issue of declining road standards, or for that matter driveway standards.

As councils and other road maintenance bodies find their funds drying up I’m sure we’re going to find ourselves driving down roads that consist mostly of pot-hole. Already it only takes a bad winter to make some rural roads nearly impassable to normal cars, how much worse will this be when there aren’t the funds to bring in earth moving machinery to sort it out?

And what about your driveway? If you’ve got concrete your driveway will no doubt outlast your car and you’ll probably end up smashing it to bits at some stage, so that you can enlarge your garden space. There are less permanent driveways though and even if we drive less in the future, cars will still be useful for carting large items about the place for some time – if only we can actually get from A to B.

As a New Zealander though the real clincher is the fact that in this country at least most SUV’s are diesel and almost all cars are not. They sure burn dirty at the moment but they’re going to be really nice running on the various concoctions of bio-fuels that people are going to be trying in them. I’m no expert so don’t quote me but Rudolf Diesel did intend that his engine could run on vegetable oil. I don’t believe that it is so easy to throw any old thing into a petrol vehicle. Feel free to correct me on this though if you have more than my minimal understanding of this situation

Next week; I’m coming to the defence of the suburbia!

And the week after that I’m going into bat for civilisation itself. Maybe.


Peak Burn-out

March 20, 2008

It’s common among the crash watching and crash blogging fraternity to come across comments to the effect that; “yes, we’re providing all this information about how to prepare for the crash but only a small percentage of readers actually seem to be acting on it”.

My own experience of this is that a constant diet of crash-horror-news seems to wear away at me and steal my energy and my initiative. Clearly I’m not alone, here’s a recent article by Richard Heinberg addressing the issue of burn out amongst the peak oil community, and here’s the best bit:

I suspect that the burden of dire knowledge is exacerbated by the psychophysical impact of too much time on the computer and not enough outdoors. It’s an occupational hazard: those of us who are aware of the impending collision of resource depletion with population growth and climate instability have acquired whatever understanding we have through countless hours tracking trends, peering at graphs, and noting news items on glowing screens. Assuming you’re reading my words on-line right now, you might want to bookmark this page and jump for a moment to, the site of an on ongoing research project of Carnegie Mellon University that has concluded that “Greater use of the Internet is associated with increases in loneliness and symptoms of depression.”

I’ve written before about the emotional toll the internet seems to take on me so I’ll definitely be checking out that link when I get time.

Richard Heinberg’s article is good but I always find being told what I should do is not nearly so energising (which is the issue here) as being told what someone else has done,  so here’s a comment from Dan that I got a lot out of:

A year or two back, whenever I set out to do something, I always had”the crash” in the back of my head. Whenever I embarked on something that would take time, I wondered, do I have the time? Shouldn’t I be buying food or land?

In the end, it became a self-destructive habit. It just slowed me down and made me unhappy. I was telling myself everything was urgent, and then burning myself out before I started. like a dieter trying to avoid everything and then going on big chocolate binges.

I’m not doubting the possibility of a crash, but a personal development focus without worrying about global economic meltdown works better for me. I get more done, I’m happier, and I’m still aware of potential trouble up ahead. The stronger, smarter and happier I become, the more of an asset and a beacon I can be if a crash does get messy. My thinking has become much more individual-focused over the last year–it’s individuals who bring on revolutions and change lives. And it doesn’t take that many! Apparently the Enlightenment was the work of only 1000 or so people. They worked hard, shared, taught and spread their message and society quickly hit a tipping point and jumped to a social context unimaginable 10 years before.

The more I change and free me, the more potential I see in the world. Not just for avoiding a horrible crash, but for achieving so much more in all areas. I’ve started exploring this kind of potential in ch11 [of my book] and will continue to in ch12 (coming soon) of the first drafts.

Clearly my emphasis needs to be on making things right for my family life – certainly if I can get that right we’ll all be a lot stronger.