Rock vs. Hard Place vs. Immovable Object

Sharon June 11th, 2009

Rock, meet hard place.  Hard place, meet rock.  Rock, over here is known as “the economy.”  Hard place, on the other side, can be described as “our energy situation.”  Because while green shoots might look awfully good to a lot of people who are desperate to have the economy go back to what it was, we should remind ourselves that “what it was” involved awfully high energy prices.  Sure, some of it was speculation, and some of it was the Chinese Olympics, and some of it was the falling dollar.  And of course, the good news is that none of those things will ever happen again…we don’t have speculators in the energy markets anymore, of course – we took care of that right off, nor does the dollar ever…oh, wait.  But I can promise that Beijing won’t host the Olympics again for a while, if that helps.   

 $70 isn’t that bad, you argue.  With the economy in recovery, we can afford our gas and heat bills, right?  People won’t decide that they have to save for next winter’s oil bill.  And this recovery is so solid that it won’t matter that tax burdens are headed up to compensate for falling revenues and increasing debt – people will have plenty of money to pay for gas and food and those higher taxes, now that new jobs are being…oh, wait.  It also won’t matter that at higher energy prices, the stimulus money buys less stuff – asphalt paving prices go up, and they hire two fewer guys.  The energy costs of all this highway work and other infrastructure investment goes up, the number of salaries goes down.  But we don’t need those jobs that bad, right?

Nor will the volatility of energy prices and debt servicing matter – a couple of years of people never knowing if they will have enough money for a summer’s a/c, or a winter’s heat, if they’ll be making enough to cover their commute and daycare costs, whether they can afford enough food to keep the pantry full, whether the unemployment benefits will run out or be extended… none of those measures of insecurity will affect consumer behavior at all.  We’re all going to go back to buying stuff.  Nor will the cutting of credit lines, and the addition of bad debt to the balance sheets of the banks, or rising interest rates. And we never did care about the trade deficit, right? 

Rock, you know Hard Place.  Now, let’s meet Immovable Object.  This is climate change – she’ll be with us all the time now.  Think of the current situation as you trapped, rock on one side, hard place on the other, and immovable object is now suspended very slightly above your head.  And oh, yeah, it can move after all – you can’t move it, but it can come crashing down and squash you like a bug. 

Now one of two things is going to happen in the next couple of years – in the climate talks occurring in Europe now, in the painful negotiations with China, in Congress in the US and in Copenhagen.  We’re either going to do something about climate change, or we’re not.  And one of two results is possible if we do something – either it will be sufficient, or it won’t. 

Now I won’t lay odds here on these two bets, although I think I could.  But let’s consider just our choices.  “Do something” on a scale that actually would matter, means that we face higher energy prices.  I realize that a lot of climate activists don’t like to talk about this part, but the truth is the truth – even if we attempt to offset those costs for lower income people with carbon trading revenues or whatever, energy prices will go up.  In general, I think this is wise – however, it will have an effect on the larger economy.  Yes, yes there are dozens of studies that presume that shifting to renewables will grow the economy.  Each of those studies assumes growth – assumes we’re going to be getting richer, not poorer as it happens.  None of those suggest that renewable energies can fix our economic crisis.  And, quite bluntly, a lot of those used energy reduction targets that were far lower than anything we have to actually deal with – the Yale study that showed growth across the board topped out emissions reductions at 40%. 

Unfortunately more likely is that we don’t do enough soon enough – the Waxman-Markey bill making its way through Congress right now is a good example – they keep trimming emissions targets.  Even though 80% by 2050 will, we know, absolutely not mitigate climate change, we’re now down to about 45% by 2050, as Charles Komanoff demonstrates.  In which case, we’ll probably see a drag on revenues and unmitigated climate change.  Goody.

Sir Nicholas Stern’s famed Stern report estimated that unchecked, climate change could cost every single world economy 20% of its GDP – that is, we’d be using one fifth of our GDP just to fix the damage climate change was causing (this was a world average – those people whose countries won’t be there anymore probably find it hard to create a GDP at all).  The statistics are probably higher for the US, which as Joseph Romm notes, has more wealth on its coastlines than almost any other nation.

In four years, two American cities have effectively been destroyed – New Orleans and Galveston.  What about the next one?  What happens when it is Miami or some other major city?  Besides the enormous human and communal costs, where will the money come from to rebuild, to evacuate, to deal with the economic costs?  Anyone want to bet that we won’t see any more major hurricanes?  Add on to that the little costs – the rising food prices from drought and flooding around the world, the costs of health care, of everything from new disease to increased low birth weight babies (yup, even that goes with climate change).  Are we all set to grow our way out of that?

But even in the best scenarios, where we do limit emissions and get back down to 350 ppm, we cannot expect economic growth and radical emissions reduction simultaneously – they are are not compatible.  Let’s say we do finally grasp how immovable this object is – and that we’re about to slam into it.  Actually addressing climate change will require us to reduce total emissions by nearly 100% worldwide.  We know that building out enough renewables just to keep up with basic needs will be a huge challenge, and may not be done fast enough to prevent a major energy bottleneck – moreover, as I keep pointing out, we may not be *able* to do this as fast as we’d like, even if we could build out renewables quickly – that is, since all our renewables are build with fossil fuels at every stage, we may not be able to do a massive buildout without risking crossing our tipping points – that is, we may have to say “ok, for the next decade we’re all going to do with a lot less energy, so that the future has some hope” and build out much more slowly.  And we’re not going to be growing our economy.

Not to mention that fact that in such a case, where we allocate much of our fossil fuel production to a renewable build out, because we’re facing peak oil, we’re going to have to take the energy *from* somewhere – that is, we’re going to have to get our energy by not using it elsewhere – probably in the consumer economy.  I’ve written much more about the fact that doing this would be a lot like WWII – no luxuries, no false usage, state controlled economy – than anyone has liked to admit.

I haven’t even talked about the ways that rock, our financial crisis, hits immovable object – because all of this requires enormous amounts of capital, and secure state economies.  In order for nations to take on the enormous indebtedness required to push through this massive shift in our economy, we would have to have the ability to service that debt (each American now owes an additional 155K, btw), and buyers for that debt.  Where is the money for this build out going to come from?

Rock, hard place and immovable object are going to continue to bang up against one another, and the space we’ve got to move in gets smaller and smaller – as does our hope of finding a way out.  Roughly, our financial crisis makes it harder to finance the renewable energy we so desperately need to address both climate change and peak oil.  Meanwhile, peak oil means that every time we start to climb out of the financial hole, we fall back in – we can’t grow without cheap oil, and we only have cheap oil when the economy is crashing.  And climate change comes ’round and says “oh, and some of what money you do have will be needed to deal with me now – don’t plan on using it for anything affirmative, you’ll want it for the next city, or the next drought, or the next…”  If we do address climate change, we push up energy prices, and create lots of ugly temptation for the government to take the revenues from cap and trade and spend them on debt servicing and bailing out rich people, rather than offsetting costs. High energy prices would be good – except that they come with high taxes, high price volatility for basic needs, high unemployment, high bankruptcy rates and declining credit, not to mention our energy intensive infrastructure.

Round and round and round she goes, and wherever she stops, we crash into something heavy and hard.  My husband once said “isn’t it ironic that we’re facing all these crises simultaneously?”  No, I don’t think it is ironic at all – I think it is inevitable – that is, as long as there was one way out of the hall of mirrors you could put off the crisis for a while, or at least, off thinking about it.  That is, it seemed perfectly feasible to convert, someday, when we got around to it, to renewables as long as we were flush with wealth.  It seemed perfectly possible to deal with the oil crisis as long as we were rich, and it was someday.  It seemed perfectly possible to take on debt and build a credit card economy as long as we had energy to make the economy go.  It seemed perfectly possible to address climate change, as long as we could switch to lower emissions natural gas and dig a little deeper… Again, I am reminded of the conclusions of the 30 year Update of The Limits to Growth – in most scenarios, the crisis point does not come because of one single thing, but because “the system runs out of the ability to cope.”

Our ability to cope has, to put it starkly, run out.  I don’t mean that the end of the world is now here – I mean that we can no longer put off our problems.  And we are stuck where we put ourselves.

Is there an out from this ugly trio?  The only one I can see is this.  If our ambitions became smaller, in proportion to our reality, we might be able to slip out of our trap in the cracks around our triple crisis.  That is, if we acknowledged now that we cannot, as the Rolling Stones put it, get what we want, that we must settle for what we need, and content ourselves with the hope that our actions now can enable a decent future, we might be able to go forward.

The first item on that agenda would be a realistic assessment of what we need to do for climate change.  The odds are this would be painful, and politically unpopular.  And we need to do it anyway – emissions targets must be set lower and sooner, and while we can all hope that economic growth will magically begin, we must begin from the assumption that it will not.  That is, we must cut much of our emissions simply by not making them.  That means a massive shift in our society – ideally with tradable rationing as George Monbiot has proposed, which is the sanest of a lot of mediocre options.  Thus, the poor who already make fewer emissions than the rich, get to trade off their emissions allotment, and get a little richer, if they are willing.  But there must be absolute, strict caps.

The bailing of the rich and its corporations must stop – if we accept that economic growth in any sustained way is manifestly unlikely in the coming years, we can’t keep borrowing.  So what money we spend has to be spent on protecting the people, and reviving the domestic and informal economy – because, after all, if people’s basic needs are met, growth itself isn’t as important – this doesn’t mean that such a contraction will be easy, but it can be far less painful than it will be.  And the political difficulties could be navigated by a leader powerful enough to make the case for self-sacrifice for a larger goal. I don’t claim this is easy – merely necessary.

Finally, we would simply need to use vastly less energy, while gradually allocating as many of our resources as humanly possible to renewables and infrastructure investments, not primarily for the short term, but for the long term.  We must begin from the assumption that all of our densest energy sources are in decline – we face peak oil, coal and natural gas, and that our supplies of all are uncertain – so reducing our reliance on these *and* preserving a supply of these valuable materials for the future is essential.

Most of us reading this blog have thought for a bit about the implications of needing less energy, and they realize that in and of itself, this need not be unmitigated suffering – that is, we are not going back to banging rocks together in caves.  But we must invest our resources in making this possible, both at the personal and at the national, state and regional levels.  And we need to make compelling the vision of the future that we are offering – hope for our children and grandchildren, vs. no hope; a simpler life, harder in some ways, better in others; an honest truth, with some good and some bad. 

All this would entail convincing the American public that at this point, the most important thing we can do is to protect our future.  We have done this in the past – in World War II, that was our narrative.  We asked millions to risk death, to be parted from their families. Hundreds of thousands actually died for this goal.  The story we were told is this – we face a vast and terrible threat, one that risks destroying everything we value, we must fight it with everything in our power- and your sacrifice now buys you a future.  As Franklin Roosevelt said in 1941,

“We are now in this war.  We are all in it all the way.  Every single man, woman and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking in American history.  We must share together the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories – the changing fortunes of war.”

I do not claim that getting the American or the world’s people to share in this project would be easy. I do claim that it is possible - every time I mention this many observe that we are now lazier, softer, more selfish than our grandparents ever were.  And that may be true.  But more than our grandparents, even, I think we long for meaning and purpose, for a vision of the future,  even if it is difficult.  Nor are we as soft as we like to say – Americans are very much invested in their own image of themselves as tough, as willing, as courageous - so invested that I have little doubt that they will rise to the occasion. I have no doubt this would be very hard. I also have no doubt it is possible.

That said, I don’t find it probable, much as I would like to, that our present leadership will lead us there.   And there is a real chance that even if we made the shift, we might fail to mitigate climate change, we might fail to create a decent future – we’re pretty close to the edge here.  But then again, we might have failed in World War II as well – at the start, it seemed very unlikely that Britain would not fall to the Germans at the very least.  The fact that you might fail might not be as important as we think it is.  In the end, if we face up to our realities, and acknowledge them, the very best any of us can do is everything we can.

Our present position, is, to put it mildly, unenviable.  We are trapped, proverbially, between rock and hard place, with immovable object pressing down on top.  We have squandered our chance to find the easy ways out, and our best options aren’t that appealing to most of us. 

The only possible case for them is that they are real.  That is, that outside the world of fantasy, outside those invested in raising consumer confidence or denying our ecological predicament for their own purposes, we have the choices we have.  Nobody chose this.  Nobody wanted it, and yet, it happened, and we allowed it. And now, we go from where we are.  Or we do not, and we never go anywhere at all worth going – we spend the rest of our lives in a trap, with the walls slowly moving together. 


36 Responses to “Rock vs. Hard Place vs. Immovable Object”

  1. Greenpaon 11 Jun 2009 at 10:59 am

    I think you may need to add another obdurate obstacle to your mix- the granitic heads of most of the populace.

    It does look like what my engineer son calls “an intractable problem”.

    But we have to try to get some traction anyway.

  2. Mark Burnhamon 11 Jun 2009 at 11:35 am

    I always appreciate your thorough comments on this issue and your brave optimism. I’m afraid that until these issues are demonstrated to nearly everyone’s satisfaction to be the equivalent of a large asteroid speeding towards the earth, they are not going to get addressed. There is no policital leadership on these issues, there is no incentive for corporations to act in anyone’s interest but their own (quarter by quarter), and despite what many of us have been going through this past year, too many of us are too distracted to give the big picture a look-see.

    We are all standing on the beach in the middle of a tsunami – the water has pulled away from the shore line and disappeared. We’ve never seen anything like it and are just standing around wondering what it all means. Those who by luck and happenstance are far from the shore may survive the returning tidal wave. No one else will.

  3. gaiasdaughteron 11 Jun 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Sharon, your post took my breath away, so please give me a moment — breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Okay.

    What I find so overwhelming is the truth of what you write — these are the things I think to myself as I fall asleep each night and when I wake at three in the morning, restless and frustrated.

    However, what I don’t find probable is that *any* leadership could take us where we need to go. Outside of totalitarian states, leaders can only lead where followers are willing to go — and I don’t see any evidence that the American public is willing to give up its dreams of a widescreen TV in every family room and an hot tub on every patio.

    I am only hoping that the descent will be gradual enough, that we will have time to deal with reality as it comes seeping through the walls of our collective consciousness. I do agree that Americans are made of tougher stuff than first meets the eye and are, in fact, hungry for connection, meaning, and authenticity in their lives.

    We live in interesting times.

  4. Michelleon 11 Jun 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I am a mom of four. A CPA who lives is the suburbia north of Minneapolis. I read _The Long Emergency_ in 2005 and have been reading everything I can get my hands on about the crisises we face ever since. I have food storage, am growing a large garden and making small changes that are beginning to add up for me.

    I have spent the past few months going through the motions of daily life because I am just so overwhelmingly down about the enormous, seemingly insurmountable mountains looming ahead. Likely we are on the foothills of more than one of those mountains and 90% of us don’t even have a clue. I very much can relate to your comment in _Depletion and Abundance_ that it is very hard to live in one world while preparing to live in another. I have to admit I am feeling tired on that front.

    I have talked about these subjects a bit on my blog and not many people want to hear it. I have not given up, but have tried to approach ideas of being self-sustaining from a perspective more people have bought into: being frugal and living a more simple life.

    My husband doesn’t get it. My coworkers (briliant engineers) don’t get it. My friends don’t get it. I feel like I am in some weird movie where only I can see this horrible disaster unfolding right before my eyes.

    I tend to think that it is likely that no one (and by no one, I mean the vast majority of our population) will notice until the whole thing is aflame, but you are right in this regard: We have to try. We have to try to wake people up, to inform them, to lead them in a positive direction, to do SOMETHING other than just wait for it all to come crashing down.

  5. jheregon 11 Jun 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Sharon, when you wrote “low birth rate babies”, did you mean “low birth weight babies”, “low birth rates”, or am I missing something?

  6. Grey Championon 11 Jun 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Solar Flares & the lack of solar flares cause revolutions, depressions and global warming/cooling. William Sidis – highest iq ever

    We are in a period of almost no solar flares and have been for several years. A huge flare similar to the one in 1859 is going to roast the entire electrical grid in early 2013, kill off our problem and once the stench clears we won’t have most of the issues.

  7. Grey Championon 11 Jun 2009 at 1:34 pm

  8. Greenpaon 11 Jun 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Michelle- yeah. It isn’t easy, being green.

    If you haven’t read it yet, you might take a look at an old post of mine-


    It IS critical to determine beforehand if what you are pushing on with all your heart is an iceberg- or a mountain.

    And that’s not always easy. But for sure, pushing on a mountain will break you. All you can do there, is go over; or around. Make a path, and hope others can follow.

  9. homebrewlibrarianon 11 Jun 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I’m not entirely surrounded by the clueless. Actually, I believe they know that the handbasket is getting awfully toasty; they just choose to not think about it. I’ve even had one professional acquaintance tell me point blank that it was too disturbing to think about so she just didn’t. Needless to say, this does not inspire any confidence on my part that when “normal” life disappears, these people will have any skills at adaptation.

    Which reminds me of a t-shirt a friend of mine created: Adapt, Migrate, or Die

    Since I seem to be incapable of staying fearful and worried about things beyond my control (imagine a fishing bobber; you can pull it below the water but once freed, it will pop right back up the surface), I choose instead to witness to others about the kind of life I live. My coworkers are affectionately bemused, my upstairs neighbors and gardening partners think I’m a harsh taskmistress (but they love playing in the dirt), my next door neighbors were somewhat inspired to try their hand at growing carrots this year (but gave up when the weeds took over), my church stewardship group sees me as a good source of information, my sister does what she can with her family of six to live more lightly, a friend with goats and land has become inspired by my copy of _Gaia’s Garden_ and anyone who actually is living like I am is thrilled to find a kindred spirit. My message may only reach dozens of people but that’s what I can do. If all of us were in contact with just dozens of people, that’s not a bad place to start. Just inspiring one person to begin making necessary changes in their lives means the sphere of influence just got a little larger when they talk about it with people you don’t even know.

    Is it enough and soon enough? I don’t know. I will continue to be who I am and let people know how I live my life. At some point, those who wondered why I don’t drive much or do spend so much time gardening may see merit in those actions. If they have questions, I’ll be happy to explain and point them towards more resources.

    It’s what I can do. Others may be more capable of effecting change at a regional or national or possibly even global level. But that wouldn’t be me; not my skill set and therefore nothing I’m going to agonize over. I will, however, agonize over what should have already been planted by now and is still sitting in pots and seed packets. _That’s_ my sphere of influence.

    Kerri in AK

  10. karynon 11 Jun 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Like you, I have little ones too. How do feel about these issues as a mom? How do you maintain some sense of calmness about the future they might face?

  11. PKSon 11 Jun 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Meh, energy prices in the range of $100/barrel of oil isn’t the end of the world, but we need to address energy needs.

    The thing is, we’re not completely screwed yet on energy – there are actual real, viable, technologies that are available _today_.

    Nuclear power, for one. I know it’s the big scary unknown, but when people like James Lovelock advocate for it, that says something.

    For stuff that we currently use hydrocarbons for energy, bio-diesel from algae is pretty much the only viable solution, because:
    1) It’s the most productive, at least 10X the yield per acre of next best competitor (palm oil biodiesel),
    2) Since the best way to grow algae for bio-diesel is to do it in tanks, to prevent anything else from growing there, growing algae does not displace food crops.

    Let me just say that again to let it settle in – growing algae to produce bio-diesel does not displace any food crops.

    The choice of “feeding cars vs feeding people” is a no-win situation.

    So, we can replace oil with bio-diesel, and keep the electricity on with nuclear power.

    All of our problems are political and economic. The good news is, we can at least, in theory, change those.

    There’s no going ‘back to nature’. Not without an 80% reduction in the global population, anyway. And if we end up with a situation like that, war and social disruption will take care of the rest.

  12. Royon 11 Jun 2009 at 3:57 pm

    It certainly is depressing when you try to tackle all of the world’s big problems in one blog posting. The comment that suggested treating this subject as a mountain that you personally have to go around rather than pushing it out of the way makes good sense.

    Your blog, books, and tons of readers are making a difference. It is small in proportion to the magnitude of the problem, but a difference none the less.

    Keep pursuing your goals; all of your readers (even the silent ones) are absorbing the lessons and beginning to adapt.

    I am not sure if everyone (all 6.5 billion) will make it to the other side of the mountain but I have faith that at age 67, I will make a difference in my family with an energy efficient home, no debt, and a willingness to “power down” even more.

  13. Greenpaon 11 Jun 2009 at 4:19 pm

    well; briefly – sorry, but nuclear power is massively, consistently, repeatedly, mathematically- proven to be a non-feasible technology. No, I’m not going to enumerate. Just do a little more studying- not from nuclear industry sources.

    and- oil from algae- is a scam. Yes, it is likely to displace food- it needs huge amounts of water. And it’s far from harmless. Are you aware that right now- the corn-ethanol people are in a desperate struggle to retain the use of massive doses of antibiotics in their ferment tanks? Seems some of those pesky nay-sayers are suggesting that using huge quantities of antibiotics- in staggeringly vast populations of complex microorganisms- just MIGHT result in highly drug resistant bugs. But you can’t do ethanol without it.

    Algae will have precisely the same problem- you’re hoping for a huge monoculture of what you want- and it’s not going to happen. The tanks will become contaminated by pathogens and weeds- and chemical controls will be necessary-

    Actually – those are all the reasons why there are NO functioning algae-oil plants up right now. (shhh. it doesn’t work.)

  14. Stephen B.on 11 Jun 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Reading today’s blog and some of the latter comments reminds me of what Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac circa 1948:

    “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land [and on the earth] is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science [and modern development] are none of his business, or he must be the doctor, who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not wish to be told otherwise.”

    Those of us “in the know” all have to make that same choice.

  15. Kate-Bon 11 Jun 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Just to add a little on the immovable object to your wonderful article and the ensuing dialog, The Guardian reports today that approximately 1 billion people may be forced to migrate around the planet over the next 50 years due to the combined effects of modern development and climate change. The article can be read here

    In another Guardian article from 2003, the North American Inuit peoples have been pursuing Human Rights claims that climate change is already beginning to threaten not only their livelihood, but their very existence. Here for article.

    This is not a plea from polar bears, penguins or even Al Gore, but from ancient peoples who have inhabited arctic lands and lived in balance with nature since long before the civilized invasion.

  16. Shambaon 11 Jun 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I’ll bet there are more people than we all know who do know about the environment, energy and climate change and do believe that there are big problems. They know deep inside but hope and pray that we have another year or two or more before it “hits the fan”. Or that we find some kind of “fix” for it all.

    I know at least 3-4 others who like me know we’ve got these problems and we’re running on the edges of some cliffs but they can’t work thinking or doing anything about it into their daily lives. It take some effort of energy and thought to stop the merry go round of daily life and tasks to read about and think about these issues.

    And of course, they don’t want to deal with it sometimes either.

    You often don’t know who is listening to you and watching what you’re doing and you’ll never know what a positive, hopefully not anything negative !, influence you may have on them.

    Peace to all trying to live in two worlds these days

  17. Brad K.on 11 Jun 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Sharon, I think Immovable Object likely has cousins – criminal and hostile state security problems.

    Weak economies invite invaders. Scarce resources (oil) drive aggressors. I can’t believe the US can experience much more economic stress or energy demand exposure, without drawing or creating states or cartels eager to take advantage. One big for-instance, China, might claim a chunk of the US in repayment of the securities they hold on the US. Securities, it might be noted, that Obama seems intent on devaluing. What a way to placate your debt-holders!

  18. Iraon 12 Jun 2009 at 5:39 am

    Sharon, thanks so much for a wonderful blog, commented on by so many of your insightful supporters. Once again, I have been brought almost to tears with a kick in the butt by a reminder from reality. The truth will set us free, but first it will piss us off. I used this opportunity to drag myself, kicking and screaming, to finish the roof on my scrapwood chicken coop, a sturdy 6 by 6 structure made of leftovers from our old and new houses. Up until now, I used our ever present wind as an excuse not to work with the sheet metal roofing for fear of injury, but finally realized it was just another excuse not to prepare for the coming times. At close to 60, I take my time to get things done due to the sore muscle factor, though I don’t use it as an excuse to avoid the hard labor involved in preparing new garden beds for oats, preparing and planting new pasture with my 18 year old lawn tractor, taking care of the livestock and garden. Your blog and community helps keep me focused and sees the official green shoots for what they are. I live in a community nicknamed Stepford, where everyone but the longhair types have 6-8 kids and think life is wonderful, though cracks in the facade are beginning to show. I think small communities such as mine, when the truth is let in for all to see, and your potential union of Jewish farmers may be the best hope our country and world has.

  19. Royon 12 Jun 2009 at 10:05 am

    Just read the Commencement Address to the Class of 2009, University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009 by Paul Hawken where he said “Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.”

  20. Peak Oil Prepareron 12 Jun 2009 at 11:13 am

    The big problems we have may not so much be problems that we can solve but realities that we must endure.

    However, if we work together and take responsibility for our own local situations, we may be able to create more resilience in our communities and increase the odds that we may be able to endure and thrive.

    Here is an idea for a framework around which you might be able to organize your neighbors to actually create local resilience.

  21. homebrewlibrarianon 12 Jun 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Hat tip to Ira:

    The truth will set us free, but first it will piss us off.

    I don’t think I’ve heard a truer statement in quite a while. In fact, I think I’m beginning to hear angry murmuring out on the horizon…

    Kerri in AK

  22. Dan Treecrafton 12 Jun 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks, Sharon, for an honest perspective on our intractable situation.

    “Greenpa” gets it.
    “PKS” gets it, though (s)he doesn’t choose to.
    (An 80% dieoff would, perhaps, suffice for the duration of this century, methinks.)

    When, as any engineer with a significant understanding of real-world physics will tell you, you are between a rock and a hard place, “hope” combined with “willpower” will not keep you from getting crushed if the forces arrayed against you are irresistible, while all your staves and levers are made of anything less implacable.

    We are up against the well-precedented Biological Laws of Nature, at last, and the unbendable Laws of Physics
    (including those First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics). This places us at a point of “physics/biology checkmate”, which is, for most of us, undeniably unpleasant fact to acknowledge. We are the progeny of (lucky) “winners”, and, likely, the progenitors of (unlucky) “losers”. Who wants to hear that?

    Nature has been held back by our cleverness (and mega-doses of antibiotic chemistry – including fossil-fuel energy), and will now step up to the plate to demonstrate the maxim:

    “Nature always bats last.”

    This sort of thinking/realization gets me down. But – I have been unable to find any way to outwit the array of information in front of us. It’s as if I am on an airliner, two hours overdue on a six hour flight, and whose crew is obviously dead behind impenetrably-locked cockpit doors. The flight hasn’t ended yet, and we have our whole lives ahead of us.

  23. Dan Treecrafton 12 Jun 2009 at 4:20 pm

    P.S. to my dismal musings above:

    Anyone who’s denial pumps are sufficiently overwhelmed by irresistible evidence may look for some psychic-emotional support at Site-Mother, Kathy McMahon, has a trove of readers, and her own, thoughts on living into a dystopian future with some dignity and cheer, as well as pragmatic effort. She’s done heroic job of providing an outlet, and a source of insight, for survivors in an age of energy and resource decline.


  24. veraon 12 Jun 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Michelle, I too live in denial-land… people want to hear about the “economy” turning around any time now… (rolling eyes). How ’bout we coin a new term… the Noah Syndrome? The Noah Predicament? That’s what we are trapped in. Like Noah, we see it coming, yet the whole culture around us is deeply invested in not seeing, not knowing, not wanting to know. Gah.

  25. grogon 12 Jun 2009 at 4:46 pm

    how arrogant can people be thinking that humans are the cause of hurricanes ?

    next they will be saying that fat people are throwing the law of gravity out of whack.

    this is all about control .

    nothing more or less.

  26. Danon 12 Jun 2009 at 5:07 pm


    It doesn’t matter the cause, the effect is the same.

    That’s what’s missed in all the global warming debate. While we sit here and point fingers, science marches on, and we get closer to the edge, less prepared every day for what is undeniably coming.

    End of story.

  27. ehswanon 12 Jun 2009 at 8:42 pm

    At age 10 (1955) I knew something was wrong. By 20 I wanted to destroy every bridge and power line. In the following years I have not mellowed. Flying across country at 35,000 ft I noticed that nearly all arable land had been turned into a God Damned giant food factory. Flying at 5,ooo ft I noticed that what was not factory farmed had been raped for whatever else the land could produce. Quickest species dieoff in geologic history. We’re next and we ever so deserve it!

  28. your futureon 12 Jun 2009 at 9:38 pm

    people just want to be happy
    but i am here to tell them that they aren’t going to be happy
    i am here to tell them that the world’s gonna be a shithole real soon

    they will be homeless, jobless, busted, in jail or dead soon
    90% of the world’s fish are extinct
    the planet is almost dead already
    humans will soon be killing each other over the last scraps of food

    there will be no rescue
    there will be no divine fucking intervention
    there will not be a ‘better day’
    better days already passed long ago

    there will be ‘worse days’, and ‘worser days’ after them
    there will be killing, murder, rape, rape of children, killing and eating of children
    there will be acts committed that we don’t even have words for yet
    and that will be just the beginning

    just the beginning of a new deathlife for the survivors
    their own private horrorshow filled with coming attractions

  29. Naomion 13 Jun 2009 at 4:37 am

    Thanks for the great post – I’ve been following PO, climate change and the economy for a little while now, and it seems to get a little snugger in that space all the time.

    We prep, trying to make our lives as simple as possible, and I crystal ball gaze :) , trying to see what climate change will bring for our local area and how we can adapt to it. The economic crisis has already hit us, DP lost his job a few months ago.

    We have young children, and it worries me slightly to think of what the future holds for them. I second the request for your thoughts on that, most of the mums I know aren’t really interested, you know?

    Cheers, Naomi

    (your future – give it up, you’ve been posting that everywhere…)

  30. fenravenon 13 Jun 2009 at 10:30 am

    Nice post. I do enjoy reading you.

    As for all the changes we should have begun making decades ago…ain’t gonna happen. Perhaps the collecive mind has it that humans need to leave so another, less destructive species, can rise, and that’s why they’re sitting on their asses, waiting for the axe to fall.

    I’ve seen this coming for years, as have many. I’m nearly 60 now and I don’t plan to live through what is coming. I’m too tired to deal with it all. And even if I did somehow survive, to what point? A struggling society doesn’t need old people to take care of. They’d get rid of me in a flash.

    So I don’t garden, I don’t stockpile food, and I’ve given up talking to my friends about massive-change preparation. Everything happens as it should, even if that means the end of our culture as we built it.

    These days, I’m waiting for some government to release a deadly virus that is projected to kill off 70-80% of world population. I figure they, like me, are starting to see this as the only possible way for anything to survive.

  31. blueskykateon 13 Jun 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Get thee to the Transition Network website and then start a Transition Initiative in your town, neighborhood, city or county. Now. You can be part of the Big Change and still have fun- in fact, you may find a powered-down lifestyle to be better in some ways than what you have now. Imagine!

  32. ehswanon 13 Jun 2009 at 5:48 pm

    There must be less of us in the future. Too late to do this gradually, so it will be sudden. I recently read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy and concur with him that some of us will survive, we have before suffered genetic bottle necks, (massive dieoffs) of our own kind and come out stronger for it and so we shall again. The future is both bleak and bright and we have done no worse than any other species would have in our possition. Can you imagine dogs with machine guns? Or cats for that matter!

  33. Mihaion 13 Jun 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Hi Sharon,

    Excellent emphasis on the interplay between technology, economics and energy as the key framework for understanding our current situation. While many aspects of our system can be individually analyzed, the emergent property called resilience is probably the closest we can get to an overall indicator of our system’s health. As you say, it’s the ability to cope that is important, and it is already almost exhausted.

    On the rare occasion that I broach the subject of peak oil, usually with one of my scientist peers, I find the concept of resilience the most difficult to convey and grasp. One-dimensional thinking seems to abound, especially when it comes to energy issues. A frequent counterargument to the “doomer” view is that alternative or currently unimaginable technologies will maintain our growth trajectory. “When we relied mainly on wood, we could not have predicted the adoption of coal, oil, nuclear, etc.” But I don’t think this argument holds in a depletion scenario. The US didn’t start using oil because it ran out of coal and became desperate for a substitute. From what I can tell, we adopted oil because it was a higher quality fuel and we did so during a time of economic growth when the coal flow was not constrained. Do you know of anyone who has studied the wood-coal-oil transition with this type of analysis in mind? More specifically, is there historical precedent for the success of a new/alternative energy technology in a society experiencing the decline of its main energy source?

    Thanks for your excellent commentary. I would also like to thank you for your tireless work in general, were it not for your confession that you sometimes do get tiered. ;-) .


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