Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Stories of our Grandchildren

Over the last six weeks, in what spare time I could find, I’ve glanced back over the last eight years of weekly Archdruid Report posts, trying to get some sense of where this blog has been and where it might head in the months and years to come. In language the Grateful Dead made famous—well, among those of us in a certain generation, at least—it‘s been a long strange trip, crossing terrain not often included in tours of the future of our faltering industrial civilization.

Among those neglected landscapes of the mind, though, the territory that seems most crucial to me involves the role that stories play in shaping our ideas and expectations about the future, and thus our future itself. It’s a surprisingly difficult issue for many people these days to grapple with. Each time I raise it, I can count on hearing from readers who don’t get what I’m saying, usually because they’ve lost track of the distinction between whatever story they’ve gotten stuck in their minds and the far more diffuse and shapeless experiences that the story claims to explain. We tell ourselves stories to explain the world; that much is normal among human beings, and inevitable. The problem creeps in when we lose track of the difference between the narrative map and the experiential territory, and treat (for example) progress as a simple reality, rather than the complex and nuanced set of interpretations we lay over the facts of history to turn them into incidents in a familiar narrative.

During the time just past, I’ve had several reminders of the power of stories to shape the world of human experience, and the way those stories can get out of step with the facts on the ground. I’d like to take a moment to talk about a couple of those just now.

The first reminder made quite a splash in the news media a couple of weeks ago, when the Energy Information Administraton (EIA)—the US bureaucracy that publishes statistics about American energy resources and production—was forced to admit in public that, well, actually, there was only about 4% as much economically extractable oil in the Monterey Shale in California as they’d claimed a few years earlier. Given that this same Monterey Shale was supposed to provide us with around two-thirds of the oil that was allegedly going to turn the United States into a major oil exporter again by 2020, this was not precisely a minor issue. How many other oil shale deposits are facing similar downgrades? That’s a good question, and one which the EIA seems noticeably unwilling to address.

Bertram Gross pointed out a good many years ago that economic indicators were becoming “economic vindicators,” meant to justify government policy instead of providing accurate glimpses into what’s actually happening in the economic sphere. That certainly seems to have been one of the things behind the EIA’s stratospherically overenthusiastic estimates.  Equally, the US government seems to have responded to the current boom in shale with exactly the same sort of mindless cheerleading it displayed during the housing bubble that popped in 2008 and the tech stock bubble that popped in 2001. I trust it hasn’t escaped the attention of my readers that the key product of the shale oil boom hasn’t been oil or natural gas, but bundled shale leases and similar scraps of overpriced paper, sold to gullible investors with the same gaudy promises of fast wealth and starry-eyed disdain for mere economic reality that fed those earlier bubbles, and drove the market crashes that followed.

Still, there’s more going on here than the common or garden variety political puffery and securities fraud that makes up so much of business as usual in America’s years of decline. The question that needs asking is this:  why are investors who watched those two earlier booms go bust, who either lost money in them or saw many others do so, lining up so eagerly to put their nest eggs into shale-oil companies that are losing money quarter after quarter, and can only stay in business by loading on more and more debt?  Why is the same weary drivel about a new economic era of perpetual prosperity being lapped up so uncritically for a third time in fifteen years, when anyone in possession of three functioning neurons ought to be able to recognize it as a rehash of the same failed hype paraded about in previous bubbles, all the way back to the tulip bubble in the 17th-century Netherlands?

That’s not a rhetorical question; it has an answer, and the answer follows from one of the most popular stories of our culture, the story that says that getting rich is normal. From Horatio Alger right on down to the present, our entertainment media have been overloaded with tales about people who rose up out of poverty and became prosperous. What’s more, during the boom times that made up so much of the 20th century, a modest fraction of those tales were true, or at least not obviously false. Especially but not only  in the United States, you could find people who were born poor and died rich. An expanding economy brings that option within reach for some, though—despite the propaganda—never for all.

The story was always at least a little dishonest, as the golden road up from poverty was never normal for more than a certain fraction of the population, and the wealth of the few always depended, as it always does depend in the real world, on the impoverishment of the many. During their 20th century heyday, the world’s industrial societies could pretend that wasn’t the case by the simple expedient of offshoring their poverty to the Third World, and supporting their standards of living at home on the backs of sharecroppers and sweatshop workers overseas. Still, in those same industrial nations, it was possible to ignore that for a while, and to daydream about a future in which every last human being on earth would get to enjoy the benefits of upward mobility in a rapidly expanding economy.

That dream is over and done with. To begin with, the long arc of economic expansion is over; subtract the fake wealth generated by the mass production of unpayable IOUs—the one real growth industry in our economy these days—and we live in an economy in decline, in which real wealth trickles away and  the fraction of the population permanently shut out of the workforce rises year after year.  Downward mobility, not upward mobility, has become a central fact of our time.  The reality has changed, but the story hasn’t, and so investors convinced that their money ought to make them money are easy prey for some grifter in a Brooks Brothers suit who insists that tech stocks, or real estate, or oil shales will inevitably bring them the rising incomes and painless prosperity that the real world no longer provides.

The same sort of mismatch between a popular story and an unwelcome reality defines the second reminder I want to discuss, which popped up during and after the Age of Limits conference late last month in the woods of south central Pennsylvania. That was a very lively and enjoyable event; when Dr. Dennis Meadows, this year’s special guest, noted how pleasant it was to speak to an audience that didn’t have to be convinced of the reality of limits to growth, he spoke for all the presenters and a great many of the attendees as well. For a few days, those of us who attended had the chance to talk about the most important reality of our age—the decline and impending fall of modern industrial civilization—without having to contend minute by minute with the thirty-one flavors of denial so many people use to evade that reality and the responsibilities it brings with it.

That said, there were a few jarring moments, and one of them happened in the interval between my talk on dark ages and Dr. Mark Cochrane’s excellent presentation on the realities of climate change. In the Q&A session after my talk, in response to a question from the audience, I noted how the prestige of science among the general public had taken a beating due to the way that scientific opinions handed down to the public as proven fact so often get retracted after a decade or so, a habit that has caused  many people outside the scientific community to treat all scientific pronouncements with skepticism. I cited several examples of this, and one of them was the way that popular works on climate science in the 1970s and 1980s routinely claimed that the world was on the brink of a new ice age.

Mention the existence of those claims nowadays and you’ll inevitably get denounced as a climate denialist. As my regular readers know, I’m nothing of the kind; I’ve written extensively about the impacts of anthropogenic climate change on the decades and centuries ahead, and my recently published science fiction novel Star’s Reach takes place in a 25th-century America ravaged by the impacts of climate change, in which oranges are grown in what’s now Illinois and Memphis has become a seaport. It’s become popular, for that matter, to insist that those claims of a new ice age never happened; I’d be happy, if anyone’s curious, to cite books published in the 1970s and 1980s for the general public, written by eminent scientists and respected science writers, that described the imminent ice age as a scientifically proven fact, since I have several on my bookshelf.

What I found interesting is that Dr. Cochrane, who is a more than usually careful scholar, jumped to the conclusion that my reference to these popular works of a bygone decade meant that I must be a climate denialist. I corrected him, and he accepted the correction gracefully.  Yet permaculturist and peak oil author Albert Bates then proceeded to miss my point in exactly the same way in his blog post on the event. Bates was present at the discussion, and presumably heard the whole exchange. He’s neither a stupid man nor a malicious one; why, then, so embarrassing and so public a misstatement?

This isn’t a rhetorical question, either; it has an answer, and the answer follows from another of the most popular stories of our culture, the story that says that having the right answer is all you need to get people to listen to you. You’ll find narratives with that theme straight through the popular culture of the last two centuries and more, and it also pervades the rhetoric of science and of scientific history: once the protagonist figures out what’s really going on, whether it’s a murder mystery or the hunt for the molecular structure of DNA, everything falls promptly into place.

Now of course in the real world, things aren’t generally so easy. That was precisely the point I was trying to make in the discussion at the Age of Limits conference:  however convincing the evidence for anthropogenic climate change may be to scientists, it’s failed to convince a great many people outside the scientific enterprise, and one of the things that’s driven that failure is the accelerating decline in the prestige of science in modern industrial society as a whole. Among the roots of that decline, in turn, is the dogmatic tone so often taken when scientists and science writers set out to communicate current scientific opinions to the general public—a tone that differs sharply, it bears remembering, from the far more tentative habits of communication practiced within the scientific community itself.

When climate scientists today insist that they’ve determined conclusively that we’ve entered an age of rising temperatures, I see no reason to doubt them—but they need to recall that many people still remember when writers and speakers with equally impressive scientific credentials insisted with equal vigor that it was just as certain that we’d entered an age of cooling temperatures.  Scientists in the relevant fields know what’s behind the change, but people outside the scientific community don’t; all they see is a flip-flop, and since such flip-flops of scientific opinion have been fairly common in recent decades, members of the general public are by no means as quick as they once were to take scientists at their word. For that matter, when spokespeople for the scientific community insist to the general public nowadays that the flip-flop never took place—that, for example, no reputable scientist or science writer ever claimed to the general public that a new ice age was imminent—those spokespeople simply leave themselves and the scientific community wide open to accusations of bad faith.

We don’t talk about the political dimensions of scientific authority in the modern industrial world. That’s what lies behind the convenient and inaccurate narrative I mentioned earlier, the one that claims that all you have to do to convince people is speak the truth. Question that story, and you have to deal with the mixed motives and tangled cultural politics inseparable from science as a human activity, and above all, you have to discuss the much-vexed relationship between the scientific community and a general public that has become increasingly suspicious of the rhetoric of expertise in contemporary life.

That relationship has dimensions that I don’t think anyone in the scientific community these days has quite grasped. I’ve been told privately by several active online proponents of creationism, for example, that they don’t actually care that much about how the world’s current stock of life forms got there; it’s just that the spluttering Donald Duck frenzy that can reliably be elicited from your common or garden variety rationalist atheist by questioning Darwin’s theory is too entertaining to skip.

Such reflections lead in directions most Americans aren’t willing to go, because they can’t be discussed without raising deeply troubling issues about the conflict between the cult of expertise and what’s left of the traditions of American democracy, and about the social construction of what’s considered real in this as in every other human culture. It’s much easier, and much more comfortable, to insist that the people on the other side of the divide just mentioned are simply stupid and evil, and—as in the example I cited earlier—to force any attempt to talk about the faltering prestige of science in today’s America into a more familiar discourse about who’s right and who’s wrong.

Equally, it’s much easier, and much more comfortable, to insist that the ongoing decline in standards of living here in America is either the fault of the poor or the fault of the rich.  Either evasion makes it possible to ignore all the evidence that suggests that what most Americans think of as a normal standard of living is actually an absurd degree of extravagance, made possibly only briefly by the reckless squandering of the most lavish energy resource our species will ever know.

One of the crucial facts of our age is thus that the stories we tell ourselves, the narratives we use to make sense of the events of our lives, have passed their pull date and no longer make sense of the world we experience. The stories our grandchildren use to make sense of their world will be different, from ours, because they will be living in the world that the misguided choices of the last four decades or so will have made—a world that is beginning to take shape around us already, even though most people nowadays are doing their level best not to notice that awkward fact.

Meanwhile, those new stories, the stories of our grandchildren, may already be stirring in the crawlspaces of our collective imagination. In future posts, I’ll be talking about some of the more troubling of those, but this week I’m pleased to have the chance to discuss something a little more cheerful along those lines:  the outcome of this year’s “Space Bats” deindustrial science fiction contest.

Regular readers of this blog will remember that back in the fall of 2011, in the course of discussing the role that the science fiction of previous decades played in shaping our expectations of the future, I put out a call for SF short stories set in a world on the far side of peak oil and climate change. I was delighted by the response: over the five months or so that followed, 63 stories were submitted, and I duly assembled an anthology: After Oil: SF Stories of a Post-Petroleum Future. This January, I announced a second contest of the same sort, with a three-month window in which stories would be accepted.

The response was even more impressive this time around. Over those three months I received 92 story submissions, some from Archdruid Report regulars but many others from people I didn’t know from Robert Heinlein’s off ox, and a remarkably large fraction of them were not only publishable but of very high quality. I despaired of winnowing down the input to one anthology’s worth; fortunately, the publisher came to the rescue by proposing a slight change in plans.

I’m therefore delighted to announce that there will be not one but two new anthologies—one of stories set in the twilight years of our own civilization, one of stories set in the new societies that will rise after the industrial world is a fading memory. The first one, After Oil 2: The Years of Crisis, will include the following stories:

Grant Canterbury’s "Dreaming"
Walt Freitag’s "A Mile a Minute"
Matthew Griffith’s "Promised Land"
Diana Haugh’s "The Big Quiet"
Martin Hensher’s "Crown Prerogative"
J.M. Hughes’ "Byte Heist"
Calvin Jennings’ "A Dead Art Form"
Joseph Nemeth’s "A Break with the Past"
N.N. Scott’s "When It Comes a Gully-Washer"
David Trammel’s "A Fish Tale"
Tony Whelk’s "Al-Kimiya"
Rachel White’s "Story Material"

The second new anthology, After Oil 3: The Years of Rebirth, will include the following stories:

Bill Blondeau’s "The Borax Road Affair"
Phil Harris’ "North of the Wall"
Wylie Harris’ "Dispatches"
Diana Haugh’s "Silver Survivor"
Jason Heppenstall’s "Saga and the Bog People"
J.M. Hughes’ "Dahamri"
Gaianne Jenkins’ "Midwinter Eclipse"
Troy Jones’ "For Our Mushrooms"
Catherine McGuire’s "Singing the World"
David Senti’s "Nuala Thrives"
Al Sevcik’s "Community"
Eric Singletary’s "City of Spirits"

Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed a story to the contest; even with a spare anthology to fill, it wasn’t easy to choose among the entries. I’m looking into whether it might be possible to launch a quarterly magazine for deindustrial SF:  there’s clearly an ample supply of good writers who want to tell such stories, and (to judge from sales of the original anthology, and of my deindustrial SF novel Star’s Reach) plenty of people who want to read them as well.

That strikes me as a very good sign. We may not yet be in a position to guess at the stories our grandchildren will tell each other to make sense of the world, but the fact that so many people are already eager to write and read stories about a world on the far side of progress gives me hope that the failed narratives of the past are losing their grip on the collective imagination of our age—and that we may be starting to tell at least a few of the new stories that will make sense of the world after oil.


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Bike Trog said...

When my chiropractor's staff had the day off I learned he doesn't know how to do medical billing. He can't get paid until the office fauna comes back to operate the computer. I'll be laughing about that story for a good long while.

Rick Wolff said...

As of 5:05 no comments, but I sure there are many waiting in the queue. My only comment is 'Welcome Back, I've missed you'.

Pinku-Sensei said...

Happy Solstice and welcome back!

"[T]he Energy Information Administraton (EIA)—the US bureaucracy that publishes statistics about American energy resources and production—was forced to admit in public that, well, actually, there was only about 4% as much economically extractable oil in the Monterey Shale in California as they’d claimed a few years earlier

Exploiting the oil in the Monterey Shale has been a pipe dream of the oil industry in California for decades. I was involved in an attempt by the former Getty Oil to use oil shale and tar sands technology on an outcrop of the formation west of Bakersfield that was close enough to be strip mined back in 1982. That experience soured me on the technology for oil shale and gave rise to my standard rant about its dangerous environmental effects. I posted it at my blog right after I quoted a news article about the Monterey Shale. My conclusion was that fracking would be marginally better, but it would still consume too much water in what is essentially an irrigated desert.

"[T]he stories of our grandchildren...may already be stirring in the crawlspaces of our collective imagination."

They're already becoming the stories of our children. The generation that is currently coming of age is a lot less interested in automobile ownership than Boomers were at their age as someone that age commented on another entry of mine. Part of it is a joke I make. Teens and twenty-somethings are told "don't text and drive." Their response is "OK, so I won't drive." They'd rather have good public transportation and walkable neighborhoods so they can get around and still be in communication with their peers. What's unspoken is that driving is becoming more expensive, and they really can't afford it any more. Either way, the result is that happy motoring has peaked.

Finally, congratulations on being able to put together two anthologies. I look forward to reading them both.

Sunyata said...


I have a question about your interpretation of what is going on inside the shale oil and gas companies. I've posted it once or twice before, and you haven't responded. I am not saying this with any sort of insinuation that you are avoiding it - I actually am just assuming I'm asking a question badly.

I do administrative work for an Oil and Gas company that has many wells up in North Dakota.

My company has grown immensely the past three years. They are adding more people each month. It is not my understanding that my company is "losing money every quarter." Rather, I know for a fact that the higher up people in the company are making a lot of money, and that most of them are probably millionaires. I do not understand the mechanics behind their money, as I know that our company is not exactly overflowing in "cash" and that we are heavily dependent on Wall Street investment bank money.

I guess I would just genuinely appreciate you giving me a little information a major question that is constantly spinning in my mind:

People in my company say that the sky is the limit for professional growth in this field, and that I should feel very secure and optimistic. For someone with little understanding of finance, is there any way I can understand why this is a "bubble"? I want to be as informed as possible. From what I understand, even with the $11 million wells fracking requires, the break-even point of oil and gas prices is only around $65 a barrel. Even with the prices new leases are going for now (double what they were years ago), companies are "making money." What am I missing? If I had more optimism, I feel like I would be more able to be engaged at work. But I always carry with me a sense of dread of the future - it makes work seem awfully meaningless sometimes.

I am extremely interested in the development and decline of societies. I feel like you are different than a lot of the "doomsday" blogs on the internet, and bring an unbiased view to it.

Thank you very much!

nr-cole said...

Excellent news! I just finished After Oil last week and felt refreshed and stimulated by all the stories in it. I've even been tooling around with some chords for The Going Song on my guitar. I'm hopeful about the prospects of stories like these working their way into the minds of people who have otherwise strong defenses (or blinders?) against talking about thinking about the future.

Joe said...

Welcome back! Great post as usual. You may be interested in this paper about the "global cooling" myth, found here:

John D. Wheeler said...

I know it's too late for the contest, but my muse was napping. I thought you might enjoy Tales of an Exiled Citizen. Link is to the first of 5 parts (so far) -- my muse is a bit of a sprinter, too.

ChaosAdventurer said...

I just read a tale of our great great grandchildren in the rise of an ecotech society that certainly fits in with these stories. Tinker's Plague by Stephen B. Pearl
I enjoyed it tremendously, making me wonder if he follows the Archdruid Report. The scariest part was realizing that I live in the C-Zone he describes as an out of bounds bad lands, Contaminated and Cancer causing. I want the plans to some of the things described such as the solar water purifiers.

ChaosAdventurer said...

grrr, just remembered that this is moderated. Apologies for the multiple posts that are totally duplicated. I thought I was hitting a bug with posting I have hit previously. Glad to have you back.

Mark Sebela said...

What about the billions of dollars spent by the climate denial industry to obscure and confuse the public. Is that science and scientists fault? Same for Christian fundamentalists and their intentional confusion on evolution via the well funded Discovery institute. Then you have the Heartland institute an equal opportunity denial organization (tobacco, climate,evolution). Are the scientists to blame for that too? The American public is 95% scientifically illiterate. Is that one on the scientists too John? Let's not forget the bought and paid for politicians and the ever growing list of dumb celebrities with their pet theories. Most importantly, we have almost 5 decades of latch key kids whose parents were indifferent or to exhausted to pay attention to how the state was raising their children. For far too many their contribution to their kids education was putting a computer in their bedroom.

Sam CC said...

Although a person of science myself, I am not dogmatic about it.

The reason is simple. Science promised us a utopia and failed to deliver. If you fail to deliver on something, people will abandon you.

Religion promises us, maybe you personally will get a utopia after death. Absurb, yes, but thereby effective.

This is the basic reason why religion always will have more staying power.

tideshift said...

Glad that you're back from your break from the blog...

dltrammel said...

Welcome back John.

While you were away we had a bit of a free JMG book giveaway on the Green Wizard's website, and I'm pleased to announce the winners. For those that entered and those just curious, please take a look at this blog post:

"Winners of the Free JMG Books"

John Michael Greer said...

Trog, it's a great story, and an even better metaphor for what happens when people get too dependent on someone else's skill set.

Rick, thank you!

Pinku-sensei, thank you -- I enjoyed reading your recent comments on my fascism series, btw. As for the end of motoring, here in down-at-the-heels Cumberland, the kind of teenage guys who used to be hot-dogging around in cars are now hot-dogging around on bikes instead -- equally careless of life and limb, but a lot less dangerous to passersby.

Sunyata, I have no idea what's going on in the specific company you work for. I know that credible writers in the financial media have been warning for months that most companies in the fracking scene are spending a good deal more money than they're making from natural gas sales, and making claims about future production that fly in the face of geological reality. I also remember that when the housing bubble was on the verge of popping, blogs that talked about it constantly fielded posts from people in the real estate and mortgage industries who insisted that it just wasn't so...

Nr-Cole, glad to hear it! Would it be over the top to suggest that copies of any of these anthologies would make great birthday and holiday presents for people you know?

Joe, yes, I've seen it. Funny how it doesn't cite any of the books I have on my bookshelf, which range from mass market science writing (for example, the Ice Ages volume in the Time-Life Planet Earth series) to works by respected natural scientists (for example, E.C. Pielou's After the Ice, a natural history of postglacial North America, which discusses the Neoglaciation in some detail).

The article is right that there was no scientific consensus in favor of glaciation, but that wasn't my point -- my point was that the scientific opinions presented to the general public (in, among others, the books just cited) treated a new ice age as a done deal -- and it's that gap between the tentative internal language of scientific discussion and the overly dogmatic language too often used in presenting science to the public that I was trying to talk about.

John, if sales of these two volumes are decent, there'll be another contest, or possibly a regular magazine. Keep writing!

Chaos, hmm -- haven't read it yet. I'll look for it. As for the moderation thing, yes, I know it's annoying -- sorry, but that's what it takes to keep spammers and trolls at bay.

Mark, so? The existence of any or all of the factors you've cited doesn't disprove the existence of the factor I've discussed, and my conversations with people who have a negative view of science suggest that the factor I tried to bring up here -- the flip-flops of scientific opinion as presented, often in an overly dogmatic form, to the general public -- has played a very large role in generating that view.

Sam, exactly. Science is not a messiah. It's a very valuable set of intellectual tools for solving certain kinds of problems, and worth practicing and preserving on that basis, but it can be oversold -- and has been, far too often.

Tideshift, thank you!

Bill Pulliam said...

A voice from coal country...

nr-cole said...

Mark Sebela, I think what is on the scientists plays into the larger role of science and scientific "progress" in our belief systems. I sense a lot of arrogance and belief in their own infallibility coming from scientists and those who swear by them. The response to skepticism about scientific facts seems to be "don't these simpletons realize that we have the answers to all of their problems?" They don't, of course, have all the answers, because the data they've mustered and concluded on is subject to value judgments, assumptions about people and nature, and a great many omissions of basic facts about the systems they're researching. It's scientists that often continues to insist that we're separate from nature and not a tightly interwoven part of it, for instance.

I'll happily bemoan the role that creationism and climate-denial play in the modern world, but I was equally dismayed a few weeks ago when scores of "progressives" in my social media feeds were insisting that we could solve all of our energy problems if we just covered all of America's roads with PV panels. I didn't see many scientists stepping up to correct them, either.

Mark Rice said...

Welcome back. I read Decline and Fall while you were away. It was a good read.

" absurd degree of extravagance, made possibly only briefly by the reckless squandering of the most lavish energy resource our species will ever know. "

I do wonder if this statement is a bit dogmatic. We squandered the most lavish energy resource known so far to man. And there is nothing we see on the horizon to replace it. But will mankind never find a more lavish source of energy? I really do not know.

Ahavah said...

Glad to see you back in the blogosphere! Hope you had a nice break.

I think the main problem with "science" isn't necessarily the hoards of under-educated people in the US. Even the well-and-moderately educated can't help but have noticed that the results of "science" part like the red sea depending on who is funding the studies. "Science" is now ideologically driven in the public's eye, and therefore untrustworthy. Having lost this trust, it will be nearly impossible to get it back.

So now you cannot use "science" to win an argument, because most people will just roll their eyes if you try. Or they will just pull out a "study" that supposedly refutes the one(s) you cited.

We live in an era where, as someone said above, "science" failed to deliver, and then started lying to us about anything and everything. (Well, corporations lied, but they hid behind a lab coat and now all labs coats are suspect in the public's eyes.).

There may not be a way to salvage the reputation of "science" at this point.

Ray Wharton said...

Goodness, I have been encountering so many of the incoming stories that are germinating. I am now grateful that I reached my mid twenties before I had to confront some of the more painful truths behind our cultures understanding, and that I had TADR as a context to think critically about those experiences which would no longer submit to the received stories.

In my own heart I have been struggling with how relate to the elders I know who are eager to agree with me in extolling peak oil and catabolis as descriptive theories, but repeat incantations denying personal power or therefore responsibility to live differently in light of this knowledge. "I will die before it hits any way." is especially upsetting coming from some one 40 years my elder in an SUV. I feel the anger, but then I remember how gradual changing my own practices goes and how difficult it is, and think about what I can do so that I can comfortably answer the questions of my grand children when they ask about how their world came to be and how I lived during the twilight. I don't want them to have to swallow that anger.

But the youth, at least in circles which I stride, generally accept decline and concepts of nature spirituality are becoming common. Four quarters, mother gaia.

Our Mother, the Sacred Earth
Holy is your Body.
Your healing is begun
and your lessons are heard
in deed and in word
Thank you for this life
And your effort to support it.
Thank you for your patience bearing my pollution.
As I practice pactience with the pollution of others.
And lead me not toward consumption
but teach me to conserve your bounty
that it may be there for your children after our time.
For we live on your body, by your labors, formed by your wisdom.

Candace said...

Personally I think the place where I have lost the most faith in science is in "health" reporting. Once upon a time we should eat low fat, then it was low carb, now the latest fad is "gluten-free". I'm not saying that there are not legitimate concerns about all of those things, but all of them have been hyped for marketing purposes. It is also because "experts" can be bought. All of the groups Mark mentioned that produced mis-information, had experts and scientists saying what those groups wanted. When you find out that your doctor chose to prescribe a particular drug for you because of the premiums available from a pharmaceutical company, your faith in experts, tends to be replaced with cynicism. But it is also the fault of publications for using sensationalism to create interest. One of the popular headlines picked up recently was about a Cure fo Cancer. Which of course turned out to be that "a" person was successfully treated with a measels vaccine to treat advanced bone cancer. Good progress on treating a particular type of cancer, but a disappointment if you have any other type of cancer and are hoping for a cure. You discussed the difference between "thamaturgy" and "theurgy" (sp.) once and I feel like it's again the attempts of some people to manipulate others that has caused the most damage to the credibility of "experts" these days.

Glad you are back!


John Michael Greer said...

David, glad to hear it!

Bill, thanks for the link.

Mark, of course it is. I'd encourage you, though, to think about what the universe would look like if it's true -- if the petroleum we're squandering so freely really is the most lavish energy source our species will ever have.

Ahavah, well, yes, that's also a major factor. I figured I'd slaughter one sacred cow at a time!

Ray, I've also noticed the shift going on in the younger generations, and it heartens me. If they can stand tall where the Boomers crumpled, much can still be accomplished.

John Naylor said...

Welcome back, JMG. Hope your travels were well. I didnt make it to Age of Limits, although I traveled closer to family for a while and was able to practice some gardening and a bit of salvage. I built for my mother a raised bed out of waste wood and a compost bin out of pallets and a junk bed frame. Far more satisfying than computer work!

Regarding the consequences of mismatch between stories and reality, political polarization and dysfunction during the long descent have been occasional themes of yours, and the last couple weeks have not disappointed those looking for them in America's political life.

In addition to all the blame being thrown around for why Iraq and Ukraine are destabilizing, it's been quite amusing watching everyone put forth their pet theory as to why House majority leader Eric Cantor lost his primary to a college professor. Meanwhile, what the press apparently really wants to know about Hillary Clinton is, how long was she secretly for gay marriage?

Looking forward to reading your series on the next dark ages!

Redneck Girl said...

I not only missed you I started going through withdrawal! It was terrible, I started commenting on news stories and felt like fighting with the ignorant that posted comments! Good thing you're back so I can get my fix and face reality now!


N Matheson said...

Nice to see you back. I tried to make it London to see you, I even bought a ticket, but I couldn't get there by public transport. As you may have noticed driving in London requires parts of one's brain to be removed.
I saw your talk on YouTube it's superb.
The saddest thing about the climate change fiasco is how TPTW are using climate change as a means to promote such wonderful "solutions" as nuclear power or even fracking.
Anyway did you cast a "peak oil" eye over Britain on your visit, can we expect a blog post on the subject?
@Sunyata "But I always carry with me a sense of dread of the future - it makes work seem awfully meaningless sometimes."
I'm a farmer and feel like that I think it goes with this territory.

Joel Caris said...


It's good to have you back! I've missed your weekly essays.

In regards to science, I think you've hit the nail on the head. While I have no beef with climate scientists, am too young to have memories of the ice age bit (though I've certainly heard about this in climate change conversations) and fully believe in climate change, I have the distrust of scientific dogma you speak of here in another realm: that of diet and nutrition. So I understand what you're talking about. I don't buy the claims about saturated fat that have been peddled for years (and that now seem to be slowly falling out of favor.) I grew up eating margarine, partly because it was cheaper than butter and partly because my parents thought it was healthier.

I believe that if I eat real food that's been raised and grown well, if I don't eat too much of it, if I pay attention to how my body feels, and if I exercise, I'm pretty much going to be fine. Whenever I see some new hyper-reductionist study about some single component of some food or another and how it's good or bad for you, and how maybe that's different than the study about it last week--which claimed the exact opposite--well, I just roll my eyes and maybe grumble a bit under my breath.

Is red wine good for you? How much? How often? Chocolate? Milk or dark? What about a beer? Coffee? Is saturated fat good or bad or does it depend? Grassfed? Organic? GMO? Which tropical fruit, if I eat it twice a day, exactly eight hours apart, except on Wednesdays, will reduce my risk of a heart attack by 17.8%? I can never remember.

The comedian Lewis Black had a great bit about this, and I think it represents the thoughts of quite a few Americans:

"Have you ever read the ingredients in sunblock? I've never seen those words anywhere. We don't even know what this stuff is and we slap it on our face. And I guarantee in 10 years you're going to go to the doctor and he's going to look at your chart and go 'look at your's out of control.' And you'll go 'but doc, I've been eating all the right things.' And he'll say, 'were you using sunblock regularly?' And you'll go 'of course.' And he'll go 'that's your problem.' You could've eaten all the sausage you wanted.'

Why do we trust sunblock? The people who told us about sunblock are the same people that when I was a kid said eggs were good. And then they said eggs were bad. And then they said they were good...then said they were bad...then, they actually said that the yellows were bad...the whites were....MAKE UP YOUR MIND. It's breakfast, we gotta eat."

Derv said...


Welcome back. I have a big dumb grin on my face ever since finding out I'll be in the anthology. Truth be told, I was nearing the point where I considered giving up writing altogether. To know that there was at least one person who thought one of my stories was worth reading means a lot to me.

Looking forward to having you back.

August Johnson said...

JMG - Welcome back!

JMG, Joe - I too remember those books and articles about Cooling. Unlike JMG, I don't have any on my bookshelves. What was presented to the general public was not the same as the peer-reviewed papers. I think many average people are frustrated with the "flip-flops" they see from the scientific community that are presented to the public - "First they tell us that eggs/butter/whatever else are really bad, now they're not... Don't those guys know anything?"

I think it's the way that scientific knowledge is presented to the general public by the "all knowing scientists" that has damaged the credibility of that knowledge. The average person doesn't see it as an evolving process, they see it as a completely different position from what was said before and see it as the scientists not knowing anything.

Kutamun said...

Gday mate , welcome back ...happy winter solstice...brrrrr, demons everywhere. I too have taken your break as an opportuntiy to bring myself up to speed on your earlier posts ...
I think you have been remarkably consistent in your dealings with the public, and so i am thinking of nominating you for Prime Minister ! .. Truly , though , the comments section of the archdruid blog is where the serious gold lies, with its labyrinthine web of obscure books, websites , ideas, opinions really is a Grand Hotel Budapest , very similar in nature to Central Europe in the exhausted dying days of the Habsburg empire , a virtual , digital crossroads of Aristocrats , Jews , Turkmen , Aryans , Artists , Bohemians , Drifters , Occultists , ecologists , economists ,Scientists and all manner of flora and fauna of the human spectrum unprecedented portal into the collective unconscious of decline ...

I often watch scientists debating politicians , priests ,ideologists , artists and proles on our ABC "q and a " show on monday night and am often struck by how mutually exclusive they all seem to feel each others views are , as though there is no place for imagination in science or science in imagination ... Dear , dear , very unedifying .. Still , though it appears the scientists may have flipped , there is every chance they are right on both counts , ie we may experience both warming and freezing , as dry ice is nothing but frozen CO2 , right ??... Seems to me the public seems to expect a definitive narrative and an accurate timeframe both , and as you have rightly pointed out, this process is anything but linear , and anything and everything may happen when we least expect it , which is hard for our massively rational , accountant like brains to deal with ..

I think you are right about gen - Y , they are very underrated .. They have gone to the grinder cheerfully in war over resources since 911 and continue to do so, to the tune of 8000 dead, 50000 wounded and 100000 suicides ( and counting ) since the outbreak of hostilities ... I am sure this is bound to colour their perceptions somewhat in the years ahead, they are made of tough stuff indeed... I wish the greens in australia would have more of them front and centre than washed out 60 year old ex communists who wish to take the reins of power and implement grand centralised schemes ...

Maisel Tov

Avery said...

I understand exactly what you're talking about with regards to how science is reported. I'm sorry to say that the clear trend is towards more hubris and less scientific principle. I cannot think of any past era where scientists have been this arrogant about the rational superiority of their narrative -- except for unfortunate periods such as the days of eugenics, or the shunning of Ignaz Semmelweis.

John Oliver did a skit on HBO where he had 97 people dressed in lab coats drown out 3 skeptics, as if facts are decided by who can shout louder. A group of climate scholars tried to sail to a location in Antarctica previously accessible on foot, and got their boat stuck in ice, requiring an expensive rescue mission. People tired of the circus might like to head to, meant to be a central hub for neutral, well-reviewed information about global warming, but it links to fearmongering fringe science blogs on its front page (as of today).

There are dozens of peer-reviewed articles documenting climate change published every month. But if this is what urbanites who are educated enough to know better would rather be doing, I think people outside those social circles could be excused for asking, "Where's the science?" As the New Yorker recently pointed out in a characteristically snobby article, it is rare for science alone to change minds anyway. Stories make sense for different reasons.

Rita Narayanan said...


glad to know that you enjoyed your time out :) Once again thanks for your lovely posts.

Grebulocities said...

After a couple of aborted attempts at graduate school and a fair amount of student debt, I finally settled on a program and a university that is worth staying with. I’m now studying atmospheric science, focusing on modeling of aerosols and cloud dynamics. In addition to normal research, our group is working through the latest IPCC report (AR5) this summer and giving presentations on various chapters of the physical science report. I grabbed the paleoclimate chapter, which I’ll give a talk on in a couple of weeks.

Paleoclimatology is a young field and its foundations weren’t really in place until the 1980s. I can definitely confirm that there was some time in the 1970s and early 1980s where some climatologists worried that we were headed for a new glacial cycle. This was largely triggered by the realization that interglacials have been quite transient throughout the current ice age, with cycles of roughly 10,000-year interglacials providing brief reprieves from glacial periods of roughly 100,000 years; and that we’ve been in the present interglacial for about 11,000 years. For a while it was an open question whether we would return to glacial conditions (as the cooling trend from the early Holocene to the Little Ice Age would anticipate) or whether human-generated greenhouse gases would lead to warming above the Holocene temperature range.

The subsequent years have answered that question as well as any short-range question in climatology can be answered. Between 1980 and 2014, average annual CO2 concentrations climbed from 340 to 400 ppm, an increase of about the same magnitude as that of all of human history before 1980. Along with that, global average temperatures increased spectacularly from 1979 to 1998 and only somewhat more modestly since, along with ice effects that were only slightly delayed and are continuing to embarrass people who try to model the cryosphere. Even the newest IPCC report says that sea level rise is highly unlikely to be more than 1 m by 2100 and even then only under the most extreme scenarios. I’m sure the IPCC will officially figure out this is absurdly optimistic sometime in the 2030s.

I’m interested in the mid-Pliocene warm period (3.3-3.0 Ma) where global average temperatures reached ~3 C above present and sea level rise was about 15-20 m above present. Even the Eemian interglacial (which was actually only warmer by 1-2 C worldwide; large polar warming was offset by equatorial cooling relative to present) would show a rise of about 7 m. I prefer the mid-Pliocene as an analogue because it was the most recent time that CO2 levels were even as high as ~400 ppm, and the warming was global.

I know you’re aware of all of this, but communicating scientific findings to non-scientists is a minefield. If you say something along the lines of “many climatologists predicted global cooling in the 1970s”, you’re correct, but you’ve also echoed one of the most common talking points of “skeptics”/deniers of anthropogenic climate change. This will trigger kneejerk reactions by most people who care deeply about climate change, and they’ll assume you’re on the other “side” regardless of what else you say that should logically dispel that conclusion.

How does someone communicate all the necessary nuances in a society that largely ignores them in favor of false binaries? This isn’t irrational: many “experts” have been shown to be wrong and/or corrupt in the past couple of decades, and discounting statements that come with many “weasel words” is a good heuristic to ensure that someone won’t take politicians and other “experts” too seriously. But sciences dealing with complex systems are full of qualifications and exceptions, and it takes a long time to properly understand what is really going on.

But in science, the qualifications are critical to the statement, and these statements are necessary to talk about the consensus made up of careful observations. How would you recommend communicating limits to growth to a population that thinks in dualistic ways and has learned to discount qualified statements?

marxmarv said...

nr-cole @8:35pm,

Science (or, more accurately, Scientism) and evangelism are orthogonal. As evidence I offer (Neil deGrasse) Tysonism, and further point out the use of such language in corporate settings ("technology evangelist" is a common occupation in Silly Con Valley). It's disappointing that people reserve their ire for the causes being evangelized, and none for the act of externalizing one's need to advertise onto others.


Merry meet again! Glad to see you back, and throwing down a gauntlet like this one no less!

First: in the second story, in my dealings with said scientific evangelists, I've often observed what I think is an even stronger variation: that having the Right Answer is deemed not just necessary to achieve favorable outcomes, but in fact sufficient. By merely Unlocking the correct mental Achievements one has fulfilled one's entire duty toward humanity and Earth and set the magnetic poles for everyone else to orient themselves toward, and can sit back and enjoy that well-deserved mint julep their robot made them. (Don't tell them it's just a kid under a trash can; they already know)

Second, this week's two stories seem to closely approximate the respective core motivations of the "US left" and "US right" ideologies as they are played; was that intended or accidental?

Unknown said...

I often think of the dinosaurs. I'm told that they existed, but, according to the rules of science and empiricism, I have no personal experience of this fact.

There is evidence, supposedly, but, not being an expert in the field, I have no way of proving their veracity.

Nevertheless, I buy the story. It seems to make sense, a lot of people agree, and so I go along with it. Fair enough.

Along a similar vein, I have no idea if the climate is actually changing, let alone that this change is caused by human activity. I'm told that it is changing by experts. Or, rather, I'm told by the media that the experts tell me this is so. But we all know what the media has said that the experts have said in the past.

However, I know, a priori, that if one screws with their environment enough that there are repercussions. And so, I believe the story.

But it all comes down to faith. That very thing which scientists, and most modern folk, scoff.

I guess, at the end of the day, we all need faith in stories. The most important factor, is deciding which stories we decide to tell ourselves.

I believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God and the savior of mankind. I'll never know if he actually even existed, but, in accepting his truth, I accept a whole cosmos of understanding.

This understanding, furthermore, presents a far superior way of encountering the world than the modern, supposedly scientific, approach.

In this way, the stories that I advocate aren't new. In fact, their medieval. So be it.

Tony f. whelKs said...

Welcome back, JMG, and it's nice to have the regularity of the weekly ADR back in my otherwise formless schedule :-) (OK I admit, Thursday morning also means downloading the Radio Ecoshock podcast...)

Congratulations on the extra anthology, I think the division into 'near future' and 'far future' visions is a wise one. It was nice to see some of my favourite submissions have been selected, though I've still not read all of them yet, and I'm humbled to have made the cut with my own offering.

Reagrding the public narratives that dominate our governance (in the broadest sense), it is indeed not enough to be 'right' in order to be heard. I think false narratives are so pervasive that being 'right' almost always leaves you in conflict with prevailing worldviews, and you must overcome the self-interest of those who hold to it. For instance, take 'climate denial' - I doubt very little of it is real actual scepticism, as they claim. It's not the diagnosis of the problem that is rejected, but the cure for it. People deny climate change simply because accepting it would entail them giving up the historic extravagance which they currently enjoy. If science implies I must take responsibility for my actions, then surely, somewhere, there must be some chink in the edifice I can cherry-pick to absolve myself?

That science is a human endeavour guarantees it has faults. But if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or even the best we can reasonably achieve) then we are in for a world of hurt.

The time is ripe for new narratives. Narratives have an emotional intensity that is resistant to the attack of mere reality.

Solstice greetings, one and all!

--... ...--

Ondra said...

Good reflection on the storied nature of our orientation in (and to) the world.
One think I would like to note: that the new stories usually get hold of common imagination not by persuading the "old belivers", but by their dying out. Then the new generation stories prevail.
And these conflicting stories breed conflict. I can see it in my family - me and my wife left our country's capital, and one of the reasons was that we were afraid of taking mortgage. Our fear was strengthened by the story we believe in - that we are probably not going to have larger, but rather smaller and maybe intermittent incomes in the future, which is clearly not very good position to get big debt burden.
But my parents reaction was: you could have taken mortgage, it was just your choice. And, when we needed help during renovation and with little children, the answer was that we are adult and hence responsible for ourselves, and (grand)parents have no obligation to help their children in this life stage.
The morale of the story is not that I am angry at my parents:) But I can see the stories at work. On my parents side: you don't have to worry about today's expenses, because you and your children will have plenty in the future, and there will always be some state support.
On our side: lack of help from our parents forces us to greater expenses, more car driving, less sensible investments, less time to work on garden etc. All of this will make it little bit harder for us, but especially for our children (because we have home already) and so on. And more the pie shrinks, the more will this hurt.

Disclaimer: this story makes clear narrative from an experiences that are far more complex and ambivalent, and does not provide full picture of relations in our family:).

P.S.: Welcome back, it's been a long time.

Cherokee Organics said...


Welcome back. I hope that your travels and lectures were both fruitful and that you experienced many new and wonderful places and met just as many new and interesting people.

How weird is this, but this is the third mention of the Grateful Dead in several weeks? I initially thought that they were a punk band but was strenuously corrected by a mate in my thinking... Anyway, maybe I’m a bit young for that… Now that you’ve mentioned music I’ve been enjoying: Future Islands - Seasons. The images in the film clip are a bit clichéd, but the song is enjoyable.

Does it not seem strange to you that the EIA fessed up about the economic realities of the Monterey Shale? Doesn't it make you wonder what may have happened to have caused this announcement? Disgruntled investors with some weight to throw around? Makes you wonder too as the EIA are under no obligation to spruik when an investment is a dud.

Haha! If a government ever acknowledges to the general population the economic (and ecological) realities of the present situation, then they may find themselves in the rather difficult and uncomfortable situation of having to actually govern for such a possible outcome... My gut feeling is that the powers that be are incapable of this feat. Just sayin... I’m watching local politics – from afar - here as there is a guy that is talking 50% crazy stuff and 50% things that are unmentionable – which the population on the other hand is genuinely concerned about - and he is gaining in popularity and will next month hold the balance of power in Federal politics here. Watch this space. I struggle listening to politicians yabber as somehow they’ve forgotten that they are in a job to serve the population. Somehow they have become enamoured of the argument itself and they’ve lost themselves in it whilst people simply stopped listening. Sad.

Confession is good for the soul, I'm told, so here goes. My partner was taken rather brazenly by unlisted unit trusts in commercial property during the very early 90's. Who would have thought that at the time directors could value commercial property on an estimate and record capital growth, whilst paying themselves huge salaries? Well done, you. I'm no better as I dabbled in online share trading a little bit later only to realise that it was akin to gambling and then stopped immediately. Once you are aware and honest, it becomes hard to ignore the economic and ecological realities.

Cherokee Organics said...


Down Under, those pesky tomato munching Rosella's told me about the naughty misquote at the Age of Limits conference. Incidentally, they also said something along the lines of, "it is never popular to point out unpleasant truths", whatever that means. I think the descriptive used by Albert was canard. Yes, not very nice at all and isn’t he naughty not to explore the concept further? Personally, I laughed out loud when I read, because I was most of the way through Stars Reach and realised straight away that he'd completely misunderstood your perspective, primarily because it perhaps was uncomfortable for him.

Incidentally, I really enjoyed Stars Reach and loved the use of the fluid timeline. I finished it about a week ago. Anna was so old school. How cool would it be to talk with aliens?

PS: In an unusual turn of events a new dog has ventured across my path and I was thinking of naming him Plummer as he seems to be something of a wise old soul.

PPS: The ecology of Stars Reach isn’t probably too far off the mark as the cloud layer here has been unusually thick for the past several weeks. Winter has been sort of warm – relatively speaking. In fact, the sun has only shone for about 1 day during that time. Going into the winter solstice on Saturday will be interesting as the batteries here are about 85% full (state of charge, for those that are technically inclined), because I simply cut back on usage. This means sitting in the dark on a Thursday night with only a single light going and a laptop. Welcome to the future (although I’m not sure laptops will last that long)…

PPPS: If anyone hasn’t checked it out, I wrote a recent essay on the subject of collapse. The photo that accompanies the essay is particularly amusing and well worth the visit!



Phil Harris said...

Good to have you back online.
It was really good to put a face to a name in London, as you said at the time!
I also met other really interesting people at the London venues – great occasions.
Hope you had a good holiday at Glastonbury!

Regarding changes in scientific opinion as it comes over as dogma, I remember back in the day a ‘truism’, hardly scientific, that was always given to us, perhaps to pre-empt any proto-environmentalist worries we might have following Silent Spring etc. Borrowing one supposes from classical thought, it was held that any ingredient or chemical was ‘toxic’ at high enough concentration, and conversely, nothing was toxic if sufficiently diluted. The case of bio-concentration of, for example, organo-chlorines, heavy metals or radio-nuclides, was thus conveniently set to one side. Real and serious distrust of science surely was given a boost here!

Similarly, it was held that ‘the body’ was built to extract what it needed from digestion and to maintain homeostasis from the welter of incoming nutritional and other molecules at different concentrations. We now know this was true but false!

America is in this as in many ways a failed exemplar. I have held fast to ‘science’ in order both to hold onto and to temper my scepticism, but science fails – regularly. With climate science though we have useful tools of observation; much as our ancestors used microscopes, telescopes, chronometers, thermometers and balances, we have geological history – ice and sedimentary cores with their chemical stories – and ‘we’ can look down from satellites with electro-magnetic spectacles to see the world differently, ‘with our own eyes’. The ‘Sea of Cortez’ takes on a different meaning if you can use your own eyes!

By the way, it’s a considerable privilege to have my short story published. We should all of us keep writing. A magazine would be great, but I know nothing of publishing, he said hastily.

Although it is not appropriate for a short story, I begin to understand the impulse to ‘dedicate’ as well as to ‘acknowledge’. So I will do that here. My dedication is to my old friend, Colin ‘BC’ McDermott, who died very shortly after the writing was begun. He was part of my journey in the country of the story.
Phil H

Yupped said...

Welcome back and happy Solstice. Missed these Thursday morning reads!

While you were away I read Star's Reach and was successful in getting my 22 year-old daughter to read it as well. She loved it and said it helped her understand more about where we are going and how we might get there. One of the themes she (and I) especially liked was that other civilizations on other planets had also gone through a "screw-up" phase, making a mess of things and coming back later in a better way. This helps me, especially looking at the mess my generation is leaving behind.

My kids and quite a few of their peers, I think, are settling into the fact that there is no better future for them, other than the one they can make with the situation presented to them. And yet I still see them trying to work with what they have, to maximize their comfort and opportunities in the here and now. Is that human nature, or just bad decision making, or some of both? Either way it seems to be a straightish line between individuals doing this and whole societies outgrowing their resource base. The need to defer immediate gratification and be a wise steward of resources, over the long-haul, seems to be a lesson that this industrial civilization experience will teach us. Re-learning to live on a much small resource budget will help with that.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Deborah,

The fridge is probably a no go because of the compromise in having the solar panel in the full sun whilst the refrigerator has to be in the full shade. Around the winter solstice here, the solar system is producing about 20% of its rated output...

I've remembered about the small scale solar power supply how to article. It is not an empty promise, but I'm in the process of putting up a small steel fire resistant shed to house firewood in. The shed is somewhat removed from the house as it is safer during summer to keep the firewood there because of the threat of bushfires. The power system is part of the shed and it all just takes time. You wouldn't believe the massive stump I just had to dig out.

The trees have a density of 650kg/m3, but a stump is the whole next level and it took 4 days just to excavate it by hand. Oh yeah a 20 tonne excavator would be handy...



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Sunyata,

Quote: "I do not understand the mechanics behind their money, as I know that our company is not exactly overflowing in "cash" and that we are heavily dependent on Wall Street investment bank money."

Obviously I cannot speak for the experience of your company having not reviewed the numbers. However, it is my professional opinion - based on about 25 years experience - that businesses that are making lots of mad cash are generally profitable. Again, those that rely heavily on investments are really in the process of spending that investment money. Spending investment money can actually look like a successful business and many businesses achieve this through debt, investors etc. It is very hard to know the truth unless you care to search through either the details or the post-mortem.

Again, these are general opinions and are not indicative in any way of the actual business that employs you.



Bill Pulliam said...

I don't think any coherent storytelling can really take hold until after the present-day raging media environment fades out. I suspect this is part of why you used the world "grandchildren" in your title. Among the late teens and 20-somethings of today, in the mass, there is a shocking lack of coherence in anything. There is a substantial backlash among a subset of the young, such as the Ray Wharton describes, or my own nephews who chose to spend their time in the woods studying tracks. But en masse the swirling milieu of corporate distraction and political sloganeering completely fills the brains of most young adults now. It is like a massive static generator that interferes with all attempts to pull together something with more form and insight behind it. The things Mark Sebela mentions are just one aspect of this global noise-and-distraction generator.

As I work my way through my 50s, I am beginning to wonder if I will live long enough to see the beginning of the end of this global system of thought disruption. Everything about the culture of weapons of mass distraction is proving to be much more resilient that I would have thought. Just the other day I noted that $4/gallon gas has not put a dent in Americans proclivity to sit in their cars with the engine and air conditioning running, instead of just parking in the shade and rolling down a window, or at least going inside some business whose air conditioning operates on much better economies of scale. All this, of course, while they sit and stare at their "smartphones."

RPC said...

Another reason for science's rejection in the present is that for two centuries now science, particularly applied science, has been telling us what we wanted to hear. "Steam engines!""Telegraph!""Telephone!""Electric light!""Airplanes!""Men on the moon!" But now science is no longer telling us what we want to hear; it's easier to listen to someone else who's still telling us what we want to hear than to hear unwelcome news.

Shane Wilson said...

Hmm, my experiences of millennials and other younger generations is very different. Most of the ones I work with are very electronically addicted, absorbed in pop culture, with very short attention spans, and have very fragile egos/ not very resilient. I'm wondering if they're cleaved in two groups, and I just have the misfortune of meeting the ones most invested in the dead culture of our recent past, rather than the new culture to come. I'm a member of gen x, the baby bust, the lowest recorded US birthrates of the mid 70s, so I often feel as an observer of society, since there are/were so few of "us" in society.

ganv said...

Good to have you back. Could you give us the sources you mentioned about the global cooling publicity in the 1970s? The wikipedia article on global cooling identifies several of the more prominent sources (Time and Newsweek for popular accounts and the National Science Board and the National Academy of Sciences for more scientific perspectives.) (Of course you have to sift through the edit wars to get to the useful information on wikipedia).

I think you are right that the reputation of scientific expertise has taken a serious hit in recent years. I suspect a main factor is the overly optimistic vision of science that dominated in the early atomic age and following trips to the moon etc. Retractions have always been a part of the research frontier. But retractions of settled science have been very rare. For example, there have been no Nobel Prizes in physics which have turned out to be wrong. The real problem is the large gap between the problems that science can answer (like how atoms or genes function) and the questions that we need answered (like what humans will do in the face of environmental limits).

Ragelle said...

@Sunyata --- What is going on is really simple to understand once you key in on the part about being reliant on Investment Banking and Wall St. Essentially every company doing fracking is raising large amounts of investment capital for the wells. This money is borrowed at rates and with terms that depend upon the ability to repay that money with revenue from future sales. The problem being that fracking requires much larger capital outlays than other oil well technology and that all of the revenue estimates were overly optimistic (or ludicrous if you start looking at the new information that JMG has sited).

What this all leads to is a lot of capital investment (the bubble on the way up) and then when revenues fail to appear and the wells go bad early you get the bust phase. It is no doubt that the company will produce millionaires in the current phase.

Fracking looks to bust harder / faster than housing. Housing at the very least provided a product that would survive on a 25 year time scale. Fracking wells will produce and then fail on a 2-3 year schedule based on current production data. The high price of oil will inflate revenues but will not make up for bad estimates of production capability if the estimates used for production turn out to be false.

zaphod42 said...

Welcome back! Hope the break was restful for you.

About the "impending ice age" story. I remember it from when it was a fairly big deal. And, in my view this is the most disturbing aspect of it:

if we should be, according to all past records and events, and based on natural cycles, be entering an extended period of cooling, then the present day warming is even more alarming. If we should be, say .7 C lower in temp, and are actually .8 C higher, then we have seen a real impact of 1.5 deg C. The problem is much worse than usually stated or discussed.

A second thing, about the Monterey Shale. Several P.O. luminaries have commented (especialy, e.g. Euan Mearns and Robert Rapier) that the Monterey Shale was never actually expected to yield that much, and that it was not a big deal that the volume of extractable oil was only 4% of what was previously stated. I would be interested in your view of that.

Looking forward to reading the two anthrologies, and your planned Archdruid Reports.


Ceworthe said...

I agree with Ahavah. It is the major cause of my pausing and "following the money" first before I decide if I'm going to give any credence to a scientific study. Particularly if it if food or allopathic medicine related. A sad change from my youth when science was an impartial arbitrator of what was factual.

Bill Pulliam said...

Now, about science and such.

SCIENCE never promised us anything, no rosy future, no climate apocalypse, no flying cars. Science promises nothing. It attempts to explain observations and extract principles and patterns that can give our human minds a more conceptual, structured, and predictive understanding of the world and our observations of it. Science doesn't promise to produce a glorious future anymore than the rules of grammar promise to produce poetry.

I was an insider to climate science and global change science from the early 1980s on. And yes, there was still lingering disagreement about whether what looked like a natural cooling segment of the long-term climate cycles or greenhouse warming from fossil fuel burning would win. I myself was not convince that the greenhouse warming was indeed happening, in spite of the many negative feedbacks that could suppress it, until the 1990s

I was (and am) usually at least mildly embarrassed, and often aghast, at the versions of "science" that wind up being promoted as truth in mainstream media. And I can assure you that the vast majority of scientists are not the ones making these proclamations. But I am equally embarrassed when I hear Brian Green babbling about String Theory (a.k.a. the Theory Of Nothing) in the mass media as a true, accurate, and beautiful description of reality.

Einstein didn't say that the universe actually IS a 4-dimensional structure with three dimensions of space and one of time. What he said, and probably believed, was that it can be modeled as such in the mathematical equations, and when you do this, many fascinating things occur, all of which have since been verified by experiment. Even all the experimental validation does not mean that the universe IS that way. It means that the universe can be successfully modeled that way. There is a huge difference between the concept "can be represented as" and "is." And this difference is still carefully maintained within formal science. Models are models, predictions are estimates based on current models, all theories are subject to reevaluation, all conclusions are padded with caveats and conditions.

Working in global ecology, it was long ago decided that the phenomenon to be studied was best described as "global change," and this was/is taking place at many levels. Atmospheric chemistry was one place where many processes intersected, but it was not the only thing that mattered, not by a longshot. This broader perspective still doubtless exists within the scientific community, but in the mainstream mind Al Gore (NOT a scientist) successfully boiled it down to one thing, and you are either with him or agin' him, thats all you need to know.

Justin Patrick Moore said...


I like the idea of a quarterly magazine devoted to post-peak/collapse stories. It could even have an aspect of the "Science Fiction and Science Fact" of Analog, but with non-fiction articles on low-tech living etc.

Congratulations to all the anthology winners.


Joseph Nemeth said...

As Max Planck said, "Science progresses one funeral at a time."

Individual death is an elegant solution to the twinned problem of immortality: on the one hand, we don't "rejuvenate" and lose the aging of the mind that represents the accumulation of experience, but we also winnow a cluttered lifetime of experience down to its essentials through the knothole of stories, which provide the only way that experience can pass to the next generation.

It's always been that the young offer us hope for the future. Not the old.

I think what terrifies people about the coming future, and shuts down critical thinking, is that there are too few stories that offer a vision of how we will move through the coming "decline" and find both joy and hope in living.

Calling it a "decline" is part of the problem.

I'd like to challenge the idea that we're facing a "decline" at all, if only as an exercise. We're facing a change, an adjustment, but it's a necessary adjustment for the better. What does "better" look like? It sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish, but it seems to be the way people work.

As the people of Western Rome watched their glorious empire come apart at the seams, I'm sure that many of them despaired and drank themselves to death. But the young would have grasped at a new vision, and based on how things turned out, I would assume that was the vision of a spiritual kingdom, the Kingdom of God.

That particular story started small, based on a single and very weird legend.

That's why I think that the storyteller's art gives us the best gifts we can offer our grandchildren.

FWIW. Good to have you back, JMG.

ed boyle said...

A new Ice Age is a given considering the cycles of earth. I guess that was new to most people in the 70s and they did not want to buy it just like plate tectonics. That has nothing to do with climate change theory, mostly unknown back then. In fact a new ice age will come certainly after the earth has overheated and the CO2 is out of the atmosphere it will cool down again. So the ice age cycle is just being interrupted. So no contradiction there. Even scientists seem to have short memories about the background of what was going on.

Scientism can be a religious belief if we ignore the principle that the observer is part of the system. My 15 year old son is in school, hates established religions and denies God. In other words very simplistic idea of progress, expansion of human ability to infinity with rocket ships, technology, whatever. this is about as bad as my father's ideas (would have been 90 now) of Catholic church as the only true religion. I think in a more nuanced manner of course, accepting that what I think today can be proved wrong tomorrow, that maybe I am in a dream of sorts, that reality could be altered in any conceivable way depending on circumstances, that God is way beyond human conceptualization, as is reality or the universe. Perhaps in a million years of growth in my energy form I will be a little further in my maturity but right now caught in this physical body I must perceive reality as any other life system perceives it according to its abilities, be it an ant or a mouse or a sponge. So the medium is the message. We are a medium, i.e. humans and therefore our perception bias is for growth, expansion , positive hope for future-in a religious idealized framework (scientific is also a religious framework of sorts).

Nice that you are back. Let's see if the sci-fi lives up to reality. I would give a prize for predictive ability. Like if you had your sci-fi mag or books with short stories for 5 or ten years and whoever caught up with the real facts first(how did civilization really end- with a bang or a whimper and what sort of) would win the prize, a million dollars or something-maybe a bomb shelter or a survivalist hut in the mountains. Say you have a wall chart or something with various scenarios on the future people dream up and % of what panned out on each scenario from each story checked off.

E.g. in a story people eat only insects and tomato juice and have passive solar heating and free love but only 10,000 people are left alive at the north pole and use electrical energy from jelly fish for their A/C in summer and for lights in winter and therefore jellyfish are holy and may not be killed and eaten.

In another story people live in sycamore trees in Arctic and have bred huge birds over generations to use for transport so that they can avoid the giant snakes and spiders on the ground and the poison plants on the ground.

In a third TEOTWAWKI took place by a computer virus attack from a hacker terror cell and the few survivors were not connected to their smart phones due to technical difficulties and wander around disoriented and crying.

Anyway hope you had a good ole time on vacation.

Cathy McGuire said...

Welcome back – you’ve been missed! It’s been hard not to click on the site weekly to get my dose of common sense. :-) I hope your tour of England went well, and I hope you’ll tell us a bit more about it at some time.

I’m thrilled to be in another issue of After Peak Oil! And your nudging has gotten me back into science fiction writing, something I did regularly for decades, but had dropped. So thanks for that, also! And I’m looking forward to reading the books – and giving them as gifts!

I agree that stories are underlying our points of view – we need an inner narrative in order to function, but we might not be aware of it. The Jungian therapists might ask, “What is your myth?” meaning what is the story by which you live your life? Not that it’s a false story by any means – myths are powerful belief systems and I respect that power. But much better to have them conscious rather than unconscious. I keep working to find the bits of my story that I’m acting out without my awareness – and trying to be aware of what others are acting (not saying) so that I can answer them effectively.

@Sunyata: People in my company say that the sky is the limit for professional growth in this field, and that I should feel very secure and optimistic. For someone with little understanding of finance, is there any way I can understand why this is a "bubble"?
Just so JMG doesn’t have to veer too far away from the topics he’s focusing on, go to, where folks in the field discuss each area’s production and whether it’s peaking or rising… good technical stuff that gives an idea of what’s behind the scenes.

@nr-cole: I've even been tooling around with some chords for The Going Song on my guitar. If you come up with something, I’d love to hear it! Surprisingly, that song was the first thing in my mind – the story came from it, rather than the reverse…

Joseph Nemeth said...


There may not long be a reputation to salvage.

I was talking with my stepson a week or so back -- he and his wife are both academic biochemists -- and he commented that the NIH hasn't said this in so many words, but they've made it pretty clear that they no longer want to fund "incremental" research. They want "game-changing research."

I've lived through this cycle numerous times in the private sector, and what it means is that they aren't getting their expected "return on investment" and want to squeeze the geese that lay the golden eggs. The next step is to "reorganize," which is the rough equivalent of gutting the geese to figure out why they aren't laying as fast as they "should" be.

What happens in the wake of this kind of pressure is inflation, i.e. the grant proposal entitled, "Why my work is better and more important than Little Johnny Smith's." It is a very short step from that to outright, institutionally-sanctioned fraud.

Not good signs for the profession.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Science claimed to make our lives better, but rather than prudence and caution, the for-profit system made us all unwitting participants in a vast experiment with no way to opt-out and no control group. The list is long: DDT, Thalidomide, lead in gasoline, flame retardnats in our furniture, antibiotics in our food, pharmaceuticals in our drinking water, and now endocrine disruptors like BPA.

The results, pregnant women can't eat fish because of mercury levels, their breast milk contains flame retardants, millions of children suffered developmental disabilities due to thalidomide and lead, DDT killed off songbirds, famers using "safe" glyphosate are suffering disproportionatley from Parrkinson's disease, the air is too saturated with soot in many cities to even walk outside (including even Paris), asthma and autism rates are soaring and nobody, including scientists, knows why.

So it's no wonder to me that the credibility of science is being questioned. Thus, the current fears about vaccines causing autism, although unfortunate, seem to me to be almost a rational responce to us being made Guinea Pigs for profit. It also underscores the dangers. i fear if the credibility of science is undermined, we may throw the baby out with the bathwater and return to the "demon-haunted world" of the past. Sometimes I'm in the awkward position of defending science itself, given the havok it has wreaked upon our world. I need to remind people that science is a tool that has brought many benefits; it's our economic and social system that have created the destruction. It's not the tool, it's how it's used.

Regarding Ice Ages, this article from Scientific American may be of interest:

How the Global Cooling Story Came To Be

[Peter] Gwynne was the science editor of Newsweek 39 years ago when he pulled together some interviews from scientists and wrote a nine-paragraph story about how the planet was getting cooler.

The story observed – accurately – that there had been a gradual decrease in global average temperatures from about 1940, now believed to be a consequence of soot and aerosols that offered a partial shield to the earth as well as the gradual retreat of an abnormally warm interlude. Some climatologists predicted the trend would continue, inching the earth toward the colder averages of the "Little Ice Age" from the 16th to 19th centuries.

[...] the story was tantalizing enough that other variations – somewhat more nuanced – were written by the New York Times and National Geographic, among others. The theory picked up support from some pretty reputable scientists: the late, esteemed Stephen Schneider of Stanford endorsed a book on the issue. But there also was a small but growing counter-theory that carbon dioxide and other pollutants accompanying the Industrial Age were creating a warming belt in the atmosphere, and by about 1980 it was clear that the earth's average temperature was headed upward.

Even today, "there is some degree of uncertainty about natural variability," acknowledged Mark McCaffrey, programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education based in Oakland, Calif. "If it weren't for the fact that humans had become a force of nature, we would be slipping back into an ice age, according to orbital cycles."

But earth's glacial rhythms are "being overridden by human activities, especially burning fossil fuels," McCaffrey noted. The stories about global cooling "are convenient for people to trot out and wave around," he said, but they miss the point:

"What's clear is we are a force of nature. Human activity – the burning of fossil fuels and land change – is having a massive influence. We are in the midst of this giant geoengineering experiment."

Nick Nelson said...

Great to have you back, JMG. I spent the hiatus reading The Wealth of Nature and A World Full of Gods. Both were very illuminating.

A couple thoughts on science in the public eye and science "groupies": I just read this morning that the UK government has banned the teaching of creationism in government funded schools. First, I assume they mean banning creationism as a science, since banning aspects of creationism as, say, philosophy would be arbitrary and wrong. Still it occurs to me that once you start running around banning things, it means you're afraid of it, so while science groupies are hailing this as a great blow against backward dogma, I see it as a somewhat desperate move.

I'm 29, and among my circle of friends and acquaintances, "I F---ing Love Science" is quite popular as a source of new scientific curiosities and ham-fisted memes poking fun at all the luddites and god-followers. None of them have seemed to notice that IFLS routinely makes facepalm inducing blunders of basic reasoning. Discussing the difference between the conversation within the scientific community and the public face of science, IFLS is a great example of people kneeling before the icon of SCIENCE, while not actually bothering to make use of the logical tools common to its practice.

One other thought: I've started keeping track in my head of all the times a personal acquaintance posts a link to an article about lab grown meat or prototype nano robots and says something like, "it took a while, but the future is finally here. Get excited, people!" I assume I'll be seeing a lot more of those, perhaps especially after we go through another round of economic contraction and those same people can barely afford to put gas in their hybrid, let alone pluck filet Mignon from a petri dish.

Eric S. said...

Welcome back! I hope the OBOD 50th was as exciting as it looked from the pictures and podcast. Also, congratulations to everyone who got accepted into the volumes (when should we be keeping an eye out for e-mails?).

I also spent the last month catching up on the essays that I missed from before I started following and got inspired by your practical Green Wizardry series and most specifically by the lack of advice for people living in apartment complexes and crowded urban areas (which may well be the only habitat available for lots of people for a good portion of the slope down). (And, lots of people I talk to, myself included when I was living in my old apartment, wind up using their living situation as an excuse not to do anything). I started thinking that that sort of talk might be the same sort of thought stopper that keeps people from getting involved with magic because they think it requires the floor space to draw 12 foot sigils on the ground. I’ve decided to start by putting my education in invertebrate zoology to work and learn the ins and outs of edible insect farming. I’m starting simple with mealworms and crickets, but hopefully I’ll be able to eventually graduate to some more advanced insects and produce enough diversity to provide a significant portion of my diet from livestock produced in a few small aquariums. Between that, indoor mushroom logs, and a few other tips and tricks borrowed from tightly packed urban areas in less industrialized societies hopefully I can start cobbling together a green wizards grimoire for some of my friends who are trying to make transitions but are stuck in indoor areas without much space. I wish it was a project I’d started years ago when I was still living in the old apartment, but hopefully late can still prove better than never.

I’m looking forward to the next series, it looks like minus a brief interlude about empire, the Archdruid Report has flowed pretty smoothly from magic to religion to mythology, all of which are very Druish themes.

William Church said...

Howdy John, it is good to have you back and I hope your trip was a fruitful one.

The subject of stories we tell. And new ones that might be told by our grandchildren. Man what a great idea for a series of posts.

When I first read this I had an immediate memory. It was a recollection of a discussion my favorite blogger had about the upcoming financial crisis titled "Recession without Romance". In the article he took on some of the "myths" that were being promulgated concerning the degree of cleansing and creative destruction that the painful but (in the minds of some economists) in the end positive consequences of the recession would be.

He blew those arguments to smithereens.

Correctly, he stated that the status quo would be protected, the financial fever dreams would only increase, and in the end we would come out of the recession not stronger but in a weaker position with fewer options. Unfortunately this was correct on all counts.

The reason I remembered it so vividly was that I think some of the people who actually do see the decay and danger we are in now suffer from some of the same delusions. Not that I think some of the changes you predict won't be for the better, I do. But I also think that in the end some of our visions of the future do flirt with romanticism. You do a great job of weeding some of this out.

Four generations from now? I wonder how romantic they will view their own situation.


Janet D said...

Welcome back. I hope your time off was rejuvenating/refreshing.

JMG said, :"One of the crucial facts of our age is thus that the stories we tell ourselves..."

I wonder if the main story prevalent in our culture is "only now matters", or some related thing.

I remember 10 or so years ago, when drilling in ANWR was approved (before it was then disapproved). I lived near DC then, and was talking at a dinner party with someone who thought drilling in ANWR was the greatest thing ever. I, trying to be diplomatic (this was a dinner party, after all, and not mine), remarked how sad I felt it was that one of the last relatively untouched places would now become despoiled, with plenty of roads and machinery and other such things. And she looked right at me and proudly said, "Oh, but that won't really happen for at least another few decades!" And the conversation just continued on, blithely, from there. Mostly because I was so shocked I had absolutely no response. I felt I had just stared into the gaping maws of evil. I mean, her complete - and completely oblivious - comfort with the fact that future people would be left with a mess of what was once sacred totally unsettled me. She honestly believed that her view was the right one to have. How do you correct a worldview like that?

I believe one of the main underlying cultural myths we have is that the future (and its people) doesn't count/matter. That's probably not news to any one else on this list, but I have trouble wrapping my mind around it. It just seems....evil, and I struggle to understand how we got to this point. My lifestyle at this point is not as reduced as I want it to be, but I am working like mad to get there. So few seem to think that is even a worthwhile goal.

Bob said...

Hi JMG! Nice read. Good to have to back! I look forward to the new anthologies...I just finished the first one. Good stuff!

I'm commenting as sort of a here-nor-there, knowing that you'll read it (quite the advantage of the moderator filter).

I was thinking about your comments re: science and the societal "faith" in science and it got me thinking about the idea of "magic" and the theory that practical magic is based on belief; e.g that mental powers create the illusion/reality and the belief in the observation sustains the construct.

I suppose that idea works for all kinds of "illusions".

I dunno. Just thinking out loud...

Joel Caris said...

As a follow up to my comment on health and diet, I want to note that I'm not sure who's really responsible for all this conflicting data. Is it simply the reporting of the media, some scientists and researchers, the entire establishment, or some messy combination of all of these? I don't know. I'm not in the scientific community, so I can't speak to that angle. I do know I've read plenty of media stories about scientific studies that were largely untethered from what that study was actually saying.

What about the studies versus the publication and promotion of the studies? If you have a study, and you publish it in a peer-reviewed journal, and then some media outlet runs with it and misrepresents it in some way, you can't blame that on the study's authors or on "science," whatever the heck that means. If the study is intentionally publicized, then I think we get into a more grey area. The festering ties between corporate money and scientific research helps greatly to complicate things. A lot of research is carried out with a particular motive in the funding background. That doesn't mean the research is inevitably going to be compromised, but I think skepticism can often be warranted.

When it comes to health and nutrition--and I think this applies to some other areas of study--one of the issues I see is the constant attempt to represent, define, and understand whole systems with reductionist research. I think this is a consistent failure within the scientific community. We see this constant desire to isolate some single compound in food, understand its health effects, and then perhaps attempt to apply that one compound in isolation. Personally, I think this is mostly idiocy. There are a lot of things in the world that cannot be reduced without fundamentally altering them and their effects. The entire reductionist approach so consistently taken in studies often, I suspect, renders the studies pointless and misleading.

The scientific method is a brilliant tool. Unfortunately, I think it far too often is applied wrongly or to situations in which it doesn't work particularly well. The resulting failures--and a too-common unwillingness to understand the implication of those failures--help to obscure its usefulness as a method of knowledge and understanding.

Every person who claims the infallibility of the scientific method, proclaims it the one and only way of understanding the world, and suggests it's the appropriate approach to every single question, hurts the legitimacy of the scientific method within the public's view.

I would say the best thing you can do to help the broad acceptance and understanding of science is to acknowledge that it doesn't have the answer to every question.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Welcome back John!

Hope your trip was good, missed your posts and the subsequent discussions considerably while you were gone. Fortunately events in the world filled in the space by keeping me endlessly entertained. I feel like I'm taking a little too much joy watching fires burn.

I've been working my way through "The Wealth of Nature," and I'm really impressed. Seriously this should have been part of my econ 101 class. Have you ever read Eric D. Beinhocker's “The Origin of Wealth?” Working my way through your book I feel like it fills in a lot of gaps that Beinhocker's work left. I'm beginning to wonder if combining Fritz Schumacher's “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered” with the other two books could establish a more rational basis for economics. Something worth considering.

I've started working on my website View on the Ground again. I've decided to focus on following events through the lenses of peak oil and climate change. I'll keep you all appraised as I go on. A friend of mine is working on redesigning the page and I'm working on recruiting people to write. Would it be alright if I linked your blog to my site?

Anyway, really good to have you back.


Varun Bhaskar

Eric S. said...

Regarding the Ice Age theories... my understanding had been that if not for the impacts of greenhouse gasses, deforestation, and heat islands from big cities, and all the other various factors contributing to the warming climate we probably would heading towards an ice age at this point, and that due to human activities that had poorly understood effects at the time, we've not only offset that effect but pushed it over the tipping point which means that once the planet has worked through all the stuff we've been doing for the past several centuries the earth will get back to what it was up to and start cooling down again in a few thousand years. Or am I way behind on the research with that one? I remember reading that in a science journal back in the early 2000s.

Ing said...

Welcome back and Happy Solstice!

Bruce Turton said...

Welcome back. Hope break was relaxing and refreshing.
One beef from north of the 49th parallel - cannot contribute to tip jar!

LewisLucanBooks said...

Glad you're safely back! When I run across people who have traveled, I always want to know "What's it like, "out there?" Observations from the front, on the ground.

As far as "...discourse about who's right and who's wrong", I see a lot of this on the Net (flame wars), in meetings I attend or, even talking to neighbors. I've always thought it was all about power and control (binary thinking, I know) but I'd never considered the component of entertainment. Something to think about.

Can't say I've got any nonfiction kicking around about the Great Ice Age Debate, but I picked up a bit of fiction at a library sale, last fall, for .25. Robert Silverberg's "Time of the Great Freeze." Copyright 1964 with a reissue in 1980. Worth a couple of winter evenings, read.

Just the other day I ran across a website Apparently, climate change fiction is now a whole genre.

Well, lots to think about as I pull morning glory and hack blackberries back in the chicken run. Get the two tomato plants I bought into the ground. Mound the potatoes. Spray the apple trees. Etc. Etc. Lew

blue sun said...

I'm glad you have such good news to report this week. I wanted to say it was a privilege to see you speak, and an honor to actually meet you in person, at the Age of Limits conference. Thank you for the weekly dose of inspiration! It's great to have you back!

nwlorax said...

Dear JM and all:

Science (Official Science, as defined by the NAS and other august bodies) has a schizophrenic identity problem: It claims to be free of ethics, biases or social consequences, then has organizations that insist action must be taken NOW to do Something to avoid a technological crisis. We had an educational crisis in teaching Science, a missile crisis (that was gerrymandered if not faked), and the oncoming Nuclear Winter.

Sagan and his cronies (if memory serves) morphed the Nuclear Winter into the Global winter that Must follow from massive atmospheric carbon unlocking. "Better" modelling, based on studies of Venus, suggested that Global Warming was an inevitable consequence, and that's where we are today.The next generation of satellites will be monitoring Carbon, oceanic temperature layers and give us much better weather maps. Until then a lot of this is simply simulator time on computers designed to win nuclear wars. Does anyone else see a design flaw in the whole process?

Though I need to note that Lovelock has very recently walked back much of what he said ten or twenty years ago. He noted that the oceanic capacity to moderate heating hadn't been factored into the calculations of global warming.

To be honest, the Carbon exchanges look like a way of failing to deal with the enormous and real health costs that pollution is causing on a daily basis and fob it off down the road.

The obvious signs are the air in Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Beijing. Modern society has found ways to bury pollution issues so deeply or far away from cameras that they go unsuspected. If you own a hard drive, modern speakers, or anything with rare earth magnets, it is likely that the neodymium and its kindred elements that make it work were mined in an illegal (even in Mainland China) and in a hazardous fashion. Shall we talk about open pit use of cyanide to mine gold? Of course not--for the same reasons that Lysol was available over the counter and used as a contraceptive without actually saying so. (Housewives had to be taught to use it as a cleaner.)

As to why the Suits would continue to promote shale oil as viable is due to the way that financial "instruments" are created and manipulated. It is much easier to speculate when you are betting with someone else's money and you are taking a cut coming and going.

My recent thoughts have turned to nursery rhymes of the late 21st century. While I am still working on the exact wording, MRSA, lymphoma, malnutrition and urban decay are going to be some of the bits of cultural wisdom passed down by four to twelve year olds the next 3-12 or so generations.

I trust that my post hasn't crossed the line into vitriol but serves folks as a call to look at the basis of the tools used to describe past, present and future. Hidden assumptions, equations and motives are always the hardest things to grapple with.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Hi JMG, glad to have you back in the seat - and I'm thrilled that my story made the grade!

I think part of the problem is that modern industrial society is a technocratic entity. Far from liberating us, we are unable to make sense of the vast array of complex and often abstract information we are expected to digest on a daily basis, hence the need for experts to make sense of it all for us. This has disempowered us and in our newly weakened state we are exploited by predators of all stripes and persuasions. Scientists, who are only human, have become pawns in a greater game. And we, the unwitting laymen, are left scratching our heads and wondering what is what while the baboons bare their teeth and snarl at one another.

John Michael Greer said...

Candace, the gyrations of health science -- on second thought, I should probably flag that as "health science" -- is an economy-sized can of worms all by itself. I think most people are starting to realize that whether a treatment is labeled scientific, safe, effective, etc., by the medical industry has more to do with who's making money on it than with whether it's actually worth having. You're right that this doesn't do any good at all for the public reputation of science.

John, sorry to have missed you! Yes, it's been six more weeks of political gridlock and imperial failure, hasn't it?

Wadulisi, hmm. I hope you don't start getting Archdruid Report hangovers...

N Matheson, I'm a bit puzzled -- I traveled by public transport all through my time in London, going as far afield as Oxford and Reading. Mind you, I'm used to much less efficient public transport systems!

Joel, exactly. The rhetoric of science has been used for so many competing sales pitches that a growing number of people simply tune it out. That's a huge issue, for reasons that will lead straight into the series on dark ages. I'll have to check out Black -- if that's a representative sample, he's a very funny man!

Derv, it's a good story! I'll be sending out emails to the authors in the next few days so we can get the contracts and editing under way.

August, exactly! The fault line that scientists by and large don't seem to see lies between the way that scientists talk with other scientists, and the way they talk to the general public -- and the way the general public reacts when yet another authoritative pronouncement by somebody in a lab coat gets reversed on them. The phrase "Oceania has never been allied to Eurasia" comes to more minds than mine...

Kutamun, now that's a metaphor that would never have occurred to me. If this is Central Europe, though, we're all in deep trouble -- remember what happened in Central Europe during the last round of major crises, the one between 1914 and 1954...

Avery, among social primates, facts are decided by who can shout louder. Call them "social facts" if you like -- the things that are considered true by a community. Now of course those can be hopelessly out of step with the real world, but such is life among social primates...

Rita, thank you!

John Michael Greer said...

Grebulocities, absolutely -- I'm aware that at this point it's clear that the normal Milankovich cycles of the climate have been overridden by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, so we're likely to get a millennium or so of too hot followed by a slow descent into too cold. That wasn't clear a few decades ago, as you note, and there were quite a few books and media programs claiming, far too dogmatically, that we were heading into an ice age in short order. Of course the issues around communicating science to nonscientists are complex, but I'd suggest that it's not just that people expect dualistic, non-nuanced statements -- it's that scientists and the publicists of science have a long and not very creditable track record of making such statements that turned out to be dead wrong. More on this as we proceed.

Marxmarv, the kid under the trash can may be the best metaphor I've encountered this week. It certainly earns you today's gold star. As for the left-right thing, no, it wasn't deliberate, but of course you're right.

Unknown, good. I may need to do another post on faith one of these days -- I discussed it in an earlier post or two, but it's a massive issue. We none of us know for a fact what shape the world has, or which narratives about it to trust; we settle that matter on faith, which is an act of will motivated by a sense of values -- and it's because that isn't part of our contemporary discourse that the ability to motivate people to do much of anything has been lost. More on this down the road!

Tony, thank you. Of course what motivates a lot of the denial these days is entirely selfish -- but I'd point out that history is full of events in which people shelved short-term selfish advantage for the sake of, say, survival. Why isn't that happening this time? That's the question that needs discussing now.

Ondra, that's a great story -- and a useful reminder of the generational shift now under way.

Cherokee, glad you enjoyed the story! If you name the dog Plummer, don't be surprised if he steals books and buries them. ;-) As for the EIA thing, I admit I was wondering about their motivation as well. Possibly the growing roar of outrage from Californians who were looking at seeing some vast fraction of their state's remaining water supply dumped down a fracked rathole?

Phil, I had a great time, thanks. Yes, I remember the days of "the solution to pollution is dilution" -- repeated endlessly by qualified experts in lab coats, and dead wrong. You're probably right that this had a significant role in sparking distrust of scientists.

Yupped, thank you for passing the book on to your daughter! If she and other members of her generation can grasp what's happening and take constructive action, it may yet be possible to salvage something from the present mess.

Bill, the interesting thing is that there seems to be a split in the younger generations. Yes, I've seen quite a few internet addicts who don't seem to be able to function in a non-electronic environment at all -- but I've also seen a lot of kids and young people who don't fit that stereotype. It may be Darwin's job to sort the two out.

RPC, well, yes, that's also an important factor -- and it's not just what we want to hear, it's what we've been taught we ought to be hearing.

John Michael Greer said...

Grebulocities, absolutely -- I'm aware that at this point it's clear that the normal Milankovich cycles of the climate have been overridden by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, so we're likely to get a millennium or so of too hot followed by a slow descent into too cold. That wasn't clear a few decades ago, as you note, and there were quite a few books and media programs claiming, far too dogmatically, that we were heading into an ice age in short order. Of course the issues around communicating science to nonscientists are complex, but I'd suggest that it's not just that people expect dualistic, non-nuanced statements -- it's that scientists and the publicists of science have a long and not very creditable track record of making such statements that turned out to be dead wrong. More on this as we proceed.

Marxmarv, the kid under the trash can may be the best metaphor I've encountered this week. It certainly earns you today's gold star. As for the left-right thing, no, it wasn't deliberate, but of course you're right.

Unknown, good. I may need to do another post on faith one of these days -- I discussed it in an earlier post or two, but it's a massive issue. We none of us know for a fact what shape the world has, or which narratives about it to trust; we settle that matter on faith, which is an act of will motivated by a sense of values -- and it's because that isn't part of our contemporary discourse that the ability to motivate people to do much of anything has been lost. More on this down the road!

Tony, thank you. Of course what motivates a lot of the denial these days is entirely selfish -- but I'd point out that history is full of events in which people shelved short-term selfish advantage for the sake of, say, survival. Why isn't that happening this time? That's the question that needs discussing now.

Ondra, that's a great story -- and a useful reminder of the generational shift now under way.

Cherokee, glad you enjoyed the story! If you name the dog Plummer, don't be surprised if he steals books and buries them. ;-) As for the EIA thing, I admit I was wondering about their motivation as well. Possibly the growing roar of outrage from Californians who were looking at seeing some vast fraction of their state's remaining water supply dumped down a fracked rathole?

Phil, I had a great time, thanks. Yes, I remember the days of "the solution to pollution is dilution" -- repeated endlessly by qualified experts in lab coats, and dead wrong. You're probably right that this had a significant role in sparking distrust of scientists.

Yupped, thank you for passing the book on to your daughter! If she and other members of her generation can grasp what's happening and take constructive action, it may yet be possible to salvage something from the present mess.

Bill, the interesting thing is that there seems to be a split in the younger generations. Yes, I've seen quite a few internet addicts who don't seem to be able to function in a non-electronic environment at all -- but I've also seen a lot of kids and young people who don't fit that stereotype. It may be Darwin's job to sort the two out.

RPC, well, yes, that's also an important factor -- and it's not just what we want to hear, it's what we've been taught we ought to be hearing.

SLClaire said...

Welcome back, JMG, and I trust you will enjoy the Summer Solstice that approaches as I write.

Congratulations to all those who wrote stories and to all those whose stories were chosen! I will look forward to reading the published versions.

I'm old enough to remember the possibility of global cooling being discussed in the 1970s, based on the cycling of glacial periods as noted by other readers. Some years back I was given a collection of Organic Gardening magazines from 1975 through 1980, when Robert Rodale was editor. At least once during that time, and I think more than once, he wrote of his concern for the onset of global cooling in his editor's letter. Since that was a period of very harsh winters in OG's East Coast location (I was living the next town over from OG's headquarters at the time and remember those winters well), his concern made sense.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- Oh, quite aware of the schism, I've mentioned it many times in these very comments myself. But it does not seem to me that the proportions on either side of that schism are changing very much. The large majority live in the world of distraction and virtuality. And the size of that majority does not seem to be shrinking. The next step, of course, is the 3D Virtual Unreality goggles, eventually to be worn all day, so that to the outside world you will really appear to be comatose with wires connected to your face. Probably for many hours a day. And this doesn't seem to be all that far away anymore.

John Michael Greer said...

Shane, based on my own experiences and also what I hear, that cleavage is a potent reality. It may end up dividing those who survive from those who don't.

Ganv, I cited two in an earlier response -- the Time-Life volume in Ice Ages in the Planet Earth series and E.C. Pielou's After the Ice. I'm not at home right now, so don't have access to my bookshelf, but Nigel Calder's The Weather Machine was a popular source.

Zaphod, no argument there -- and it's interesting to note that climate activists could have spun it that way, and didn't.

Ceworthe, when was your childhood? Scientists were lying through their teeth for financial benefit in the 1960s, when I was growing up -- chemists tried to shout down Rachel Carson as a crank, for example.

Bill, and that begs the question: exactly what is this thing we call "science"? There's a method, a set of beliefs about the universe, a set of social institutions, and several other things all hiding behind that one label, and the conflicts between these different things are a major source of confusion just now.

Justin, hmm! That's an interesting idea.

Joseph, that sort of reframing might be worth trying. I've found it more useful to use terms like "decline," to get past the culture of entitlement that leads people to think they can have whatever future they want, but your mileage may vary...

Ed, thank you -- I had a great time. As for predictive ability, I've tried to raise that issue in my annual posts about each year's predictions in the peak oil scene, and nobody's taken me up on it. It might be interesting to run a betting pool on some specific question and see who wins -- that would require attention to gambling laws, granted.

Cathy, thank you. Glad to hear that you're writing again -- if you have something post-peak and booklength in mind, you might consider contacting the publisher who's doing the After Oil anthologies, as he's expressed definite interest in such things.

Escape, exactly. Thank you for getting it. This is one of the main reasons I fear for the survival of the scientific method -- so many abuses have been excused or even committed in its name that people in the decades ahead may end up rejecting it on that basis alone. More on this as we proceed.

Nick, that's an excellent point -- the fetishization of science and technology on the part of its groupies is as much a source of problems as its condemnation by its enemies, since in both cases what's put on a pedestal or a pyre isn't science itself, but an effigy shaped by raw emotion.

Eric, excellent! If the green wizardry project is to go anywhere, it'll be projects like yours that give it wings -- people who decide to apply the principles to their own lives and situations. As for the emails, expect 'em in a few days, as I finish getting dug out from under neglected business.

Bill Pulliam said...

About the split between science in-house and science in-the-media. One model I could suggest for accounting for at least some of this is the interplay of two factors: Ego and peer review. Scientists are humans, they have egos, some of them of course quite large ones that are unchecked by modesty. Peer review is a far from perfect system, but one thing it does it cause these egos to provide checks on each other. Your chief rival and harshest critic is likely to be selected as one of the anonymous reviewers of your manuscript, of course. So in the peer-reviewed literature, if you try to overstep what your data actually support, or to claim grandiose significance to the results of your one little study, you will get bashed back down to earth fast before your words ever appear in public.

But... now you write a press release, talk to the nice person from NPR on the phone, get the cameras pointed at you at a press conference, go on the speaking circuit where you are talking to mass audiences, not other scientists in your field. The checks on the ego are off. You can make all the grand claims and extreme extrapolations that those pesky reviewers forced you to tone down. No caveats and qualifiers necessary. My study of the effects of one lipid on one measure of blood chemistry in mice means EAT ALL THE BUTTER YOU WANT!! Cameras click, phones ring, the ego swells!

We apes will act like apes, no way around that.

I now click "submit," offering these ideas up to the peer review of our esteemed host and the other distinguished commentators on this forum.

sgage said...

Welcome back JMG - good to have you home safe and sound!

You wrote:

Bill, and that begs the question: exactly what is this thing we call "science"? There's a method, a set of beliefs about the universe, a set of social institutions, and several other things all hiding behind that one label, and the conflicts between these different things are a major source of confusion just now. "

In years of teaching various ecology/environmental courses to primarily non-science majors, I would in the first lecture make the distinction of "science the verb" vs. "science the noun".

Most of them thought of science as 'the noun' - the "facts", the "body of scientific knowledge", etc. It was an eye-opener to a lot of them to hear about 'science the verb' as experienced by someone who had practiced it.

Having that distinction understood by all parties proved very useful as the semester wore on...

John Michael Greer said...

Will, four generations from now people will more likely than not frame their lives in a straightforwardly mythological worldview, and see their sufferings in that context -- not romanticized but flat-out theologized. That's standard in the falling years of a civilization. More, much more, on this as we proceed!

Janet, good. You get this evening's gold star, for giving something its proper name: you were staring into the gaping maw of evil. The attitude that says that it's okay to devastate the planet and pass on hideous costs to the future so that we can keep our SUV lifestyles fueled for a few more years is profoundly evil, in every adequate sense of that much-abused word, and the sooner and more often that attitude gets described in those terms, the better.

Bob, heh heh heh. Stand by for a quiet little announcement...

Joel, all good points. One might say that the use of science as a source of social influence is one of the things that's most busily destroying the social influence of science.

Varun, thank you. No, I haven't read Beinhocker -- will add that to the list of books to get to!

Eric, as far as I know, that's still considered correct.

Ing, thank you!

Bruce, many thanks! If you'd like to chip something in anyway, I can be reached c/o the mailing address of the Druid order I head, and my bank can handle checks in Canadian dollars... ;-)

Lewis, good heavens, yes -- I remember that one. Did you ever read Poul Anderson's The Winter of the World -- a rousing adventure novel set millennia in the future in a rebarbarized Ice Age North America? That one belongs in a future post on deindustrial SF.

Blue Sun, many thanks!

Nwlorax, oddly enough, I'll be talking about children's stories next week. I didn't know about Lysol!

Jason, and that's also an issue. The rhetoric of expertise is among other things a very useful tool for those who want to disempower others.

SLClaire, I was in high school in the late 1970s, and one of my classes spent some weeks talking about what global cooling would mean for the future. That's one of the reasons I roll my eyes when people insist it never happened!

Bill, I really have to write a post one of these days on vicial reality. If vice is the opposite of virtue, and vicious is the opposite of virtuous, then...

dltrammel said...

Eric said:

"I started thinking that that sort of talk might be the same sort of thought stopper that keeps people from getting involved with magic because they think it requires the floor space to draw 12 foot sigils on the ground. I’ve decided to start by putting my education in invertebrate zoology to work and learn the ins and outs of edible insect farming. I’m starting simple with mealworms and crickets, but hopefully I’ll be able to eventually graduate to some more advanced insects and produce enough diversity to provide a significant portion of my diet from livestock produced in a few small aquariums. Between that, indoor mushroom logs, and a few other tips and tricks borrowed from tightly packed urban areas in less industrialized societies hopefully I can start cobbling together a green wizards grimoire for some of my friends who are trying to make transitions but are stuck in indoor areas without much space. I wish it was a project I’d started years ago when I was still living in the old apartment, but hopefully late can still prove better than never."

Since I am a renter myself, a big focus of my studies has been on how people that rent can adapt and learn to make due in the Long Descent. If you come up with any articles and tutorials you'd like to share, please contact me at dtrammel at green wizards dot info and I'll get them up on the Green Wizards site.

SaintS said...

Welcome back JMG!

I well remember the 'science-generated' fears of an impending ice-age during the 70's and 80's that you allude to. In the UK, where I live, a book full of dire warnings on this very subject was authored by the eminent British astronomer, Fred Hoyle in 1981. At the time he had a media profile comparable to, say, that of Richard Dawkins nowadays. So, his predictions were widely broadcast, including a exposition in the Sunday Times, a quality broadsheet).

Here's the amazon link to the book:

By the way, and perhaps more amusingly, Hoyle was also a proponent of the abiotic oil theory.

Your suggestion that the climate flip-flop as a potential cause of climate change scepticism/denial is well made. My view is that all media- star scientist might consider wearing a health warning when indulging in such speculative and hubristic long range forecasts

The Pumpkin Life said...

Welcome back.

I have dangled a few of your articles in front of those of my friends who also consider themselves rational atheists; and who admit that they are struggling with the implications of climate change and peak everything.

Unfortunately you make mention of druids in your blog name - and you know, they are way too intelligent for your fundie religious claptrap ;). Which is a real shame, because I think that you have laid out one of the most rational critiques of where we are now and where we are going. Their vision of science - where the right questions are asked, the right conclusions are drawn at the right time; and the conclusions are so compelling that they can overcome any collective financial, psychological, cultural, political and even environmental impediment - has failed them. They desperately need new visions and new stories. I fear they won't ever be receptive (especially if their esteemed fellow Dawkins poses any more questions about the potential dangers of fairy tales...). Perhaps 'science as eternal and limitless saviour of humanity that will wash away our mortality and physical limits' was the most dangerous fairytale of our age.

Cherokee Organics said...


Oi! Get away from that book shelf... hehe!

The strong opposition here to coal seam gas arises because of the ground and surface water contamination. In dry country, water makes all of the difference and you can't afford to take a dump in it. It is not like the communities don't want the money, they just acknowledge that there is little room for error.

Blogger ate all of the links in my previous comment.




Hope they work better.



Ray Wharton said...

Its hard to say how my generation might act, and my younger peers were much more seriously screen raised than my age mates. There are songs about worms, mushrooms, mulching, and all natural processes being made by street kids here. Many love to be in gardens, or sit under trees for hours. I am one of them and far more gone than the bulk following the green mans trail. I gardened with some kids from the youth corp this morning, they were charming in how some were learning respect for natural cycles.

There is a scary side to it too. We were not generally well trained as workers, or in processing failure, and with a normalized sense of humor that is sadistic. Some of the music that goes around in respectable circles of my generation have lyrics that are too disturbing to describe in this venue. When we have the first spark to take power in society I think that thinks will be changed in very big ways. Some of the changes will be very sensible almost for sure, and like wise there will almost certainly be horrors too.

On Monday a young man I meet was crying into his beer, literally, about how we have to 'get off this rock' travel across the cosmos an destroy the rest'. I could tell he didn't really want this fate, but was terrified by its perceived possibility. He said he just wanted every thing to blow up with 'excrement flying everywhere' (slightly modified wording). I fear that their are many who would vote for Fred, even knowing the parallels; then again the avant guard say with pride "I don't vote."

The hippies opposed the war in Nam, now the anti-war-on-nature movement is forming up. I want to support such a cause, and yet I am so fearful of what it might lead to. Let us all contemplate ways to make the transition as civil as possible, so that those aspects of heritage which sustain humans can pass down.

Once I made and tried to follow plans to be secure in the future, or to help the earth or carry out big projects. Less and less does that appeal. I just study nature and garden a lot, and trust in the Earth to sustain me as long as it suites her. Learn to garden, and to survive off the very least. To nurture biomass and biodiversity around me.

I think that the death of Humanitarianism (alas, even now it sounds too much like a diet fad) is baked in at this point and as human worship is so popular a religious idea, that transition I suspect will be one most traumatic.

'And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem to say so'

And yet I still love life and being on the Earth, but with moist eyes; for a long time their will be work in the funeral service of Man. Be gentile to one another, and live softly. Help to decompose the leaving of Man, and love the Earth.

ando said...

Good to have you back JMG.

One of the practices of Nisargan yoga is contemplating how the stories are a way the false personas (ego), ie "car guy" "sports fan," or "financial felon" protect and validate themselves. This is mostly done with our own delusions, but it is easy to pick it up in the culture.

But, don't cloud the issue with facts or you will have a FOX talk ing head screaming you down.

Glenn said...

With fracking (in the U.S.) it is worth noting the difference between gas and oil. Oil is profitable, gas is operating at a loss. One result is the fracking rigs are being shifted out of gas to oil. In a few years gas prices will "rationalize" perhaps very quickly, then spike, simply from lack of drilling.

If I worked in the business I would not expect a long career in oil or gas. But with oil your severance pay check is less likely to bounce.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

DeAnander said...

Welcome back JMG!

Not much to add to this week's comments; I continue trying to face up to the decline and fall of practically everything without losing my good humour in the here&now, which is a challenge :-) and leaves me increasingly with less and less to rant or sermonise about. Here in Canada, stalling or reversing Harper's approval of the Enbridge pipeline seems like the cause du jour and I'm sure I'll contribute something to it; but my sense of futility is strong right now, like the doomward momentum of industrial civ is enormous, unstoppable.

I remember being appalled a decade or two ago when I saw RVs and SUVs driven by elderly couples, which displayed a bumper sticker reading "We're Spending our Grandchildren's Inheritance!" ... and now it seems to me that every car on the road -- including mine -- should be wearing one :-)

"Future discounting" (minimising in perception the harm or cost arriving beyond a certain near-term threshold) seems to be epidemic, and I think it has something to do with a fully commercialised culture (one in which commerce and commercial metaphors and stories are hegemonic). Future dollars are always worth less than today's dollars, y'see. And then you mix that with the Progress myth (that we'll all be richer and smarter and more technologically adept in that future, and able to deal with any nagging little side effects of today's excesses)... and you end up with a very warped relationship to time, and cause and effect, and that kind of thing.

Just wanted to point out, apropos of nothing, that there's a Druid character in a series of murder mysteries I've been enjoying of late: Elly Griffiths is the author. The Druid is a secondary character but likeable, positive, and rather heroic. I thought that was rather nice :-)

Eric S. said...

So... It sounds like given the time frame the theory was in place, global cooling was a very real possibility? Or am I misunderstanding? It sounds like if we'd made different decisions in the '70s, civilization might have been facing catastrophic cooling rather than warming. Or were there enough feedback loops in place even that far back to ensure the type of climate we'll be getting?

Shane Wilson said...

Strange question, but what do you see of the future of smoking? My guess is that the social value/history of smoking proves more resilient than more recent attempts to ban it, which are based on contemporary fears of death. Also, as the" four horsemen" proceed apace, dying of lifestyle diseases will be a luxury even smokers won't enjoy. My guess is that antismoking efforts will have to focus on more immediate negative effects on health & productivity. Considering just how much money and effort has to be expended on relatively small reductions in the smoking rate, I can easily see our grandchildren putting out ashtrays and puffing away, horrifying their parents and grandparents. On the flip side, you won't have large tobacco companies pushing a harmful product. Tobacco may return to being a sign of wealth, as average people of the future will no longer be able to afford it, and, due to food shortage, acreage could not be diverted to tobacco. Still, I think the antismoking lobby has always given short shrift to tobacco's social benefit, which explains its dogged resilience in spite of the western world's determined war against it.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, oh, granted. Factor in the increasingly corrupt nature of medical and pharmaceutical science, and the extent to which a supportive scientific opinion can be bought in most fields for the cost of a grant or two, and you've got the makings of a real mess.

Sgage, that's a neat and very useful way of drawing the distinction. Many thanks!

SaintS, I didn't happen to know that Hoyle had weighed in on that issue! You're certainly right about media-star scientists, though -- the unjustified dogmatism of several such figures has done huge damage to the cause of saving science.

Pumpkin, yes, I'm aware of that downside. The upsides to using the Druid moniker are sufficiently useful to me that I'm willing to put up with the minority who turn up their nose at it.

Cherokee, your communities are apparently a good deal smarter than ours. I suspect Blind Freddy has been advising them!

Ray, no argument there; when what Toynbee calls the schism in society finally bursts out into the open, horrific violence is one of the common options, and those who are targeted almost certainly will never understand why.

Ando, fortunately there's a potent banishing ritual for the evil spirits that infest Faux News (or, for that matter, its equivalents on the other side of the political spectrum): the off switch.

Glenn, true enough. I'd encourage those of my readers who depend on natural gas (directly or, via electricity, indirectly) to make sure they have a backup in place, and plenty of insulation, within the next couple of years.

DeAnander, hmm! Glad to hear about the mystery character. As for discounting the future, I've come to think that there's more to it than the obvious psychology -- the same sort of madness I talked about in my last post in April, basically.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, since there would still have been a fair amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere over the half century or so after 1980, even if the transition had been made with might and main, my guess is that that would have cushioned things a bit. Still, it's an interesting question.

Shane, my guess is that Nicotiana tabacum is being replaced by a certain other herb as the standard pipeweed in North America. I'm not at all sure that that's an improvement, mind you -- and of course there will be regional and social variations.

G E Canterbury said...


Happy to have you back on the blog, and I was delighted to see that my story "Dreaming" was chosen for the anthology. Thank you very much!

Since I had marked my original submission as a not-for-posting comment, I will go ahead and post a link to the story here so that ADR readers can take a look:

The story contest was a great opportunity for me to play upon several themes of culture change, shifts in the natural world, and mortality that have been much on my mind. So many tales of the future are set front stage and center among headlines and dramatic world events; yet I suspect that it will actually be shaped by the action of imagination, working in obscure backwaters that historians will never so much as notice.

(I also admit that, on careful view, you may find that Space bats make a brief appearance in the story. However, these are emphatically not alien ones.)

- Grant Canterbury

James Eberle said...

Some scientists WERE claiming that the Earth had entered a cooling period in the 1970's. The CIA even published a book warning of a new ice age. To some extent it made sense; temperatures in the northern hemisphere had dropped since the 1930's. Where I live, the State Climatologist reviewed data and determined that the average temperature had fallen 3 Degrees Fahrenheit between 1940 and 1975.
But opinions were not unanimous within the climate community. Stephen Schnieder of NCAR in particular was skeptical during this period because he had studied CO2 and it's impacts on climate. Not understood as yet was the quantitative impact of particulate matter on temperature. We now know that the oooling was an aberration due particulates ejected into the atmosphere.

Bill Pulliam said...

About smoking, I live in a land where N. tabacum used to be the main cash crop, and C. sativa is now. Both grow well here, though C. s. is easier and commands a better price. We have many native nightshades, which means we have an abundance of native hornworms. But diligent hand-picking keeps them at bay. Both herbs are widely smoked. At present fewer people have access to Nicotiana seeds, but that can easily change. I expect both will be grown for personal use and sale/trade within the local community for many many generations to come. As far as lifestyle diseases, when you can easily die from sepsis from a cut on your foot, a risk of lung cancer decades down the road might not register all that high.

John Michael Greer said...

Grant, one of the authors in the original anthology had an alien space bat put in an appearance, on the case of an old video -- so yours was by no means out of place!

James, of course scientists weren't unanimous about global cooling; my point, again, is the way that the very tentative and nuanced habits of communication within the scientific community too often get thrown to the wind in dealing with the general public, resulting in a general public that increasingly distrusts any pronouncement made by somebody in a white lab coat.

Bill, thanks for the info! I suppose it's quite possible that a range of herbs may be grown and smoked in deindustrial America. If I was writing Star's Reach over again, I'd probably put something in about that.

Zosima said...

SaintS said...Your suggestion that the climate flip-flop as a potential cause of climate change scepticism/denial is well made. My view is that all media- star scientist might consider wearing a health warning when indulging in such speculative and hubristic long range forecasts.

Unfortunately those same hubristic forecasts have also hurt the limits to growth cause. Hyperbolic statements and predictions by media-star scientists like Paul Ehrlich have led to justified scepticism/denial to the claims of peak everything. It’s no wonder that society is not taking action when people constantly hear dire warnings that fail to materialize. Forty-two years after Limits to Growth was published, maybe it’s time to admit that screaming “peak oil!” at the person fueling up their car is a failed strategy. Maybe it’s time to wait and let the “Sorry, no fuel” sign to speak for itself.

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines–hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”- The Population Bomb, 1968

“We can be reasonably sure . . . that within the next quarter of a century mankind will be looking elsewhere than in oil wells for its main source of energy.” - The End of Affluence, 1975

“If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000″ - 1969

Paul K. said...

@Sunayata: if you're really interested to understand how shale oil is playing out, check out the free "Master Resource Report" from the good folks at Ravenna Capital. [be sure to click on the weekly PDF to get the full report.]

I've been reading the MRR for over a year, and feel that I have a nuanced understanding of the ground-level realities of shale oil.

It's been eye opening to see what the geologists have to say, and realize that some of it does trickle into the legal SCC filings, probably for liability reasons. But that doesn't stop the good folks in PR from telling the tale that needs to be told to keep the money flowing...for now.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

"Yes, it's been six more weeks of political gridlock and imperial failure, hasn't it?"


Regarding Iraq, I'm not sure whether that counts as a very fast collapse indeed, or a failed 100 year imperial experiment.

Interestingly, the original Sykes-Picot secret carve-up map on Wiki looks a very close match to the long established religious-ethnic territorial divides, suggesting some cursory research was done - not the usual 'tall men with handlebar moustaches throwing darts at a map'. To the French - Sunni, British - Shia regions, with Kurdistan allocated to the Czar of Russia.

Meanwhile, Vladimir seems in a confident if not outright expansionist mood these days, though clearly he's given some thought to how large conventional armies of occupation fail - best let the locals fight it out in proxy wars with some limited technical assistance. Maybe the Pentagon has finally noted the same - that strategy worked in Afghanistan, at least to begin with in 2001 - which begs a multi billion dollar question - why bother to maintain all that global military reach..?

... best someone at Fort Worth double checks the delivery address for those new Block 52+ F-16s too. Possibly the Iraqi flag design on the tails will also need repainting.



Seb Ze Frog said...

Peer reviewing Bill comment.

The referee accepts the paper with minor revisions (ALWAYS ask for at least minor revisions).

Considering that the referee is not a native american speaker he will pass on grammatical corrections. He will instead ask the author to include as additional evidence for his paper the personal experience of the referee.

(This is white-coat social ape for: me sniffed Bill and me giving him happy bounga bounga !)

More seriously, I first thought that I had something relevant to say about this issue, but I keep circling back to the Glass Bead Game. This book is much richer than this, but from my personal view from inside of the scientific community Herman Hesse depicted very keenly and without any caricature the strange and complex disconnect that experts can develop when they form a closed community. I really feel that it describes the root of this disconnect between science as practiced between scientists and science as presented and seen by the general public.

And finally, maybe this is also relevant to this discussion: In my field I know many experts, but no one that I could think of as being a master.


donalfagan said...

JMG, it was a pleasure meeting you at AoL. I am glad you cleared up your intent on the global cooling comment. I had gotten a pingback when my article was reposted on (which I hadn't been reading but will now), where I found Albert's A Gathering of Silverbacks article. A commenter there was surprised by the implication that you and Gail were, "Climate Change ignorami." I remembered hearing you say it, and remembered the sarcastic tone, but had forgotten the exact context. They also reposted Gail's followup article, so I read that and among the many comments, she noted that she was unaware Albert was taping that conversation and that her statement on solar heating was also taken out of context. BTW, Gail, Dr Cochrane and another woman sat together at meals so often that before his talk I wondered if he was her son, or son-in-law, or something.

Nestorian said...

"The attitude that says that it's okay to devastate the planet and pass on hideous costs to the future so that we can keep our SUV lifestyles fueled for a few more years is profoundly evil."

With all due respect, JMG, how do you square this assertion, which you present implicitly as an absolute truth claim, with the relativism concerning ethics and values that you have articulated and even defended in various prior blog posts?

On your principles, wouldn't my denial that such an attitude amounts to the ultimate evil have to be regarded as just as true and valid, relative to my own frame of reference, as your affirmation of the same relative to your own?

John Michael Greer said...

Zosima, no argument there. I've been pointing out for years that the fixation on apocalyptic fantasies has done the peak oil cause no good.

Mustard, Putin knows what kind of game he's playing -- an awareness apparently not to be found in Washington DC. All he has to do at this point is keep Ukraine destabilized, so the US and NATO can't make use of it; he knows that sooner or later the six-year-olds who seem to be guiding US foreign policy will get bored and go play with something else, and Ukraine will drop into his hands from sheer exhaustion.

And of course you're right about those F-16s. No doubt some new buyer can be found.

Seb, hmm! Both very good points. I'll be talking about the disconnect between the scientific community and the rest of the world, from a different angle, next week, for whatever that's worth.

Donal, I didn't know that Bates was recording the whole thing! That makes it all the more embarrassing that he failed to understand what, all things considered, is really a straightforward point.

Nestorian, no, I don't present that statement as an absolute truth claim; no statement concerning values can ever be separated from the perspective of the person who makes it. When I make a statement about values, that always amounts to "from my perspective, this is what the world looks like." I thought I'd made that clear in previous conversations.

If you seriously believed that trashing the planet is just fine so long as that permits you to enjoy a cozy lifestyle -- and I have a hard time thinking that of you, as I know you're a Christian (and I recall with some clarity what the founder of your religion said about such attitudes), why, then that would simply lead me to another value judgment, which is that you would then be an evil person. Again, from my perspective.

onething said...

Something I've been wondering or fantasizing about for a few years is what if the social good were the first priority for people, i.e., what standard of living could a society attain if they wanted to lift all boats together rather than leaving so much room for personal aggrandizement? What if we were full of stories to encourage that, if it were an internalized value of the majority of people?

It is sad but true that most of the time people want to be given their reality as part of a group that does not much tolerate dissensus, that once they accept it they are almost paralyzed in their own ability to bring fresh analysis to an issue, nor do they want to. And what often frustrates me is that some people, call them progressives for instance, think that by virtue of their progressive worldview, they are automatically exempt from being entrenched story followers and closed minded nonthinkers.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

"And of course you're right about those F-16s. No doubt some new buyer can be found. "

Argentina are looking for new jets, as it happens. Excelente! Suitably downgraded of course, an exact match for their Chilean F-16 companeros over the hills, (who buy their equipment in a defence budget directly tied to their copper receipts). That lower spec also being mindful of the wishes of we colonials overseeing the remnants of the British, maybe soon English, empire in the South Atlantic.

An alternative customer might be a newly forming Independent Scottish Air Corps, paid for with the dregs of their North Sea Oil - though nobody North of Hadrian's Wall seems to have noticed it peaked 15 years ago. Perhaps the Royal Bank of Scotland can arrange suitable credit terms, based on projected tourism receipts.

Yours Aye,


William Church said...

JMG wrote: "Will, four generations from now people will more likely than not frame their lives in a straightforwardly mythological worldview, and see their sufferings in that context -- not romanticized but flat-out theologized."

Fascinating John. That is what makes my weekly read of your post such a favorite.

I am reading your exchange with Nestorian with a lot of interest. Maybe some of these stories 4 generations from now will be about those very issues?


thrig said...

Why some well-debunked ideas keep getting dragged off the compost heap and gussied up as if new certainly bears attention. It is a mischievous practice, at best. Are we also to revisit the controversies over Mass Extinction, Continental Drift, the Age of the Earth, the Glacial Theory, that whole Lyell thing, to ponder a Deluge or two—the Black Sea vs. Mesopotamia now playing in the ultimate myth smackdown!—and then finish off the evening with a rousing three-way Neptunist versus Vulcanist versus Plutonist steel cage match? So much for the rattlesnakes nearly stepped on while mapping outcrops under the hard Montana sun. That climate science is chaffed by former tobac lobbyists and other such luminaries of whose one much esteemed publication led to a journal editor-in-chief performing the less messy modern equivalent of falling on their sword—well! We might as well arm ourselves with guitarists who mostly keep their ax on the wall, and trust our defense to shield makers with only CliffsNotes to the Iliad, if any idea will do.

Joseph Nemeth said...

So I have to relate an almost mythic, but true story of our age.

Our home sewer-line backed up. It isn't supposed to happen, but it did -- years of whatever was going on before we bought the house. Plumbers came out to scope the problem, and decided that it needs to be cleared from outside the house. The pipe runs under the driveway. There is no access.

Yesterday they came out with a concrete cutting machine, and a backhoe on a flatbed trailer hauled by an enormous truck. They sliced a coffin-sized hole in the driveway with the cutting machine, since the driveway slabs are too large (and fragile) for the backhoe to pick up, but since the cross-cuts went crooked -- it's a heavy machine, and the lone operator couldn't keep it straight on the driveway slope -- they could not pry even the small pieces out, so they had to take a sledgehammer to one of the pieces to break it up so they could make a gap big enough to get the backhoe claw under the next chunk. Then they started digging. However, there are both electrical and gas lines in the vicinity, so they could not just dig away. They took out two big scoops with the backhoe, then had to jump into the hole to move earth with shovels, looking for the gas line, which they'd been assured by the city worker was about three feet down. Two hours later, alternating backhoe and shovels, the one digger had worked his way down to the water table, about ten to twelve feet down, and still no gas line, or sewer lines. They checked locations again, and concluded that everything is still further down, where the backhoe could not reach. So they had to order in a bigger backhoe, which will show up tomorrow. It will arrive on an even bigger flatbed trailer, which will lumber down a street not made for such a beast. We went around and asked the neighbors to bear with us and please move their parked cars so the behemoths could maneuver.

Watching all this "normal practice," it occurred to me that a work crew of ten unskilled laborers, working at $10/hour, armed with sledgehammers and picks and shovels, could probably have broken up and hauled off the entire driveway in less than an hour. With a simple bucket brigade to move the dirt, or a bit of technological boost in the form of pulleys and ropes, they could have dug the coffin-sized hole to fifteen feet in another hour with no particular risk to the gas line. Let's assume I'm an idiot at estimating how hard the job is, and double the time: four hours, ten guys, $10/hour = $400. Double the pay to a princely $20/hour for unskilled labor, and it still comes in at only $800.

I don't think this orgy of gas-powered "labor-saving" machines came in at anywhere near $800 in terms of amortized cost to the company. I'm certainly not paying anywhere near as little as $800 for it.

Jim Irwin said...

It puzzles me that anyone as well informed and wise as JMG would continue to emphasize the anthropogenic climate change theme...

please do us all a favour by at least acknowledging the fact that the Earth has not warmed in the past 15-20 years and the climate "scientists" cannot explain this or incorporate this fact (which they at least now admit to) into their climate change models...
(see Nature, V.505, p 276-278, January, 2014).

Joseph Nemeth said...

... cont'd

So I'll put the following to this illustrious group, for what will no doubt be a pummeling with the obvious that escapes me. Be gentle -- I am trying.

In facing the "sewer problem" above, what are my options?

One is to abandon the idea of indoor plumbing, and dig an outhouse. I actually asked, when they presented the bid for what they intended to do: two guys, $700. An extra $40 to carve the moon on the door. Apart from the hair-shirt inconvenience of an outdoor toilet in winter while running a fever, it would eventually result in an injunction from a neighbor, if the homeowners' association didn't get there first. Same with a permanent porta-potty contract. Nice thought, but not viable, unless I'm looking for legal trouble.

We could have investigated indoor composting toilets. But the issue isn't just toilets -- it's the outflow of all water from the house, which has to go somewhere: toilets, dishwater, shower water. The city isn't going to allow us to dump it on the ground outside the house, or to turn the street gutters into an open sewer line, nor would it be responsible behavior on our part. Assurances that we would purify the water with our moonlight infused crystals would not sway them — that’s exactly how the city would view any such assurances, and rightly so. Sewage lines are not legally optional within city limits, and there are good reasons for that.

Could I have insisted that the plumbers come out with ten unskilled laborers, rather than their mechanical behemoths? Well, you all know how hard it is to dislodge the progress myth even at theoretical levels. How far does anyone think I'd have gotten trying to tell a master plumber and his crew how to do their jobs? I haven't the dangly-parts to attempt that, and I think the only result would be that I'd end up looking for another plumber.

Could I have found a “cheaper” competitor that used hand labor? I’ve tried that in the past, on smaller projects, and the results have been very much less than satisfactory: the guys who do that sort of thing aren’t generally looking to warrant their work, or for repeat business. I think that's asking for trouble.

Alternatively, I could try to do my own contracting and scheduling. Not part of my existing skill-set, and for the few times I’d practice it for my own use, I’d never get good at it. Not practical.

I could have rolled up my sleeves and dug the hole myself. The size would have been just about right to lie down in when I was done, and have someone else shovel the dirt back in. I’m not John Henry, and have never pretended to be. Yes, my ancestors would have been ashamed of me, and picked me up and snapped me in two like a twig. A sad truth, and, unless I walk away from my sedentary job and start doing hard physical labor at $10/hour, unlikely to change.

We could walk away from the house and everything it represents of civilization, and move elsewhere. Outside city limits, away from all the rules and regulations, where we could install the composting toilets and dump the dishwater into a ditch. Alaska, maybe. Appalachia. Rural Colorado. We actually looked into that last option a few years back. It wasn’t a good idea for either of us, for many reasons.

Even if we decided to move, unless we walked away from the house AND the bank that holds the mortgage AND the bounty-hunters and process-servers who would try to track us down, we’d have to sell the house, and I don’t think I could live with the fraud of trying to pass the plumbing problem off on the next owner, undisclosed. Assuming I could get away with it. So we’d still end up paying for those plumbers to come out with their backhoe.

Did I miss any options?

These false and even inverted economies are baked into the way we do things at every level. It takes courage, vision, conviction, dedication, and a lot of work to do otherwise. It also takes a certain psychological bent to pull it off. People who have all that could rightly be considered virtuous. But most of us don't have all that.

onething said...

It seems to me that JMG and Nestorian are talking past each other.

There is a difference between saying something is profoundly evil (what JMG actually said) and calling it the ultimate evil, which is what Nestorian said/paraphrased.
I suspect Nestorian does not think it is perfectly OK to trash the planet, but rather that he thinks there are levels of evil even deeper than that.

I do note, however, that for an atheist it would be the ultimate evil, since there is no life outside of an evolved physical body.

I am satisfied with 'profoundly evil', but I am a bit frustrated that I do not know what JMG thinks upon spiritual matters, even after reading his book World Full of Gods.
I thought it would eventually unfold, but so far it has not.

JMG, I have tentatively filed you under the atheist category, even though I know full well you would deny that. As far as I can tell, you accept that an entity (a consciousness) can exist without a visible physical body, but that is all I have gleaned.

And Cherokee -

I wrote you a long response to the question of fencing in the last post, quite near the end of the second page. I thought we would all just chat for 6 weeks, but you went outside.

Eric S. said...

Dltrammer: Once I get comfortable enough with actually doing everything that I feel safe giving advice, I’ll definitely be arranging tips and tricks and sharing them. It’s probably getting to be high time I start working on overcoming my allergy to web forums and get on the Green Wizards group. I expect there will be a good share of people living in tightly packed urban tenements for the first few stair steps of the decline, so adapting the principals of Green Wizardry to that sort of setting is a valuable task to get underway. I can already tell though that insect farming is an important piece of the puzzle for urban people. They’re hardy, breed quickly, produce a lot of meat with only a little bit of feed and are quite nutritious. Really the hardest part of incorporating them into your life is the mental work to get past the completely nonsensical Western dietary taboos that get hammered in from early childhood (and which have nothing to do with cleanliness, taste, or, given our love of aquatic crustaceans, even appearance). Superworms/mealworms and crickets are good starters since they’re commonly raised on a home scale by reptile hobbyists so there’s a lot of material out there. You can get them from your local pet store, or from a company that specializes in food grade insects for human consumption like World Ento. There are also plenty of good recipe books out there, and a whole world full of traditions to model. Crickets are easier to raise, but mealworms taste better. That’s about all I’ve got so far. Eventually I might be able to graduate to tropical roaches, beetle grubs, and possibly even silkworms, but I’m starting with what I know how to do. There’s also a lot If can probably pull out of my memories of trips to Mexico with my mother back when she was studying to be a bilingual teacher. We stayed with a lot of poor urban families, and there were lots of little tricks they had to get by. One of the big things I remember was that a lot of families would have mushroom logs growing under their counters that they’d use in most of their meals, which sounds like another fun project. I’m probably starting to ramble, and since this doesn’t have a whole lot to do with cultural narratives (aside from the cultural narratives that tell us that insects are meant to be squashed and sprayed rather than eaten) it’s starting to veer of topic, so just tell me what would be the best way to keep in touch, and once I get deeper into my adventure I can keep you updated.

Bill Blondeau said...

Hi JMG, glad you're back, but also very glad you got something of a break.

It's instructive to go back and reread all of the content on this blog (which I have actually done.) Considered as a body of work over time, your efforts on the ADR alone - let alone incidental matters such as, oh, authoring quite a few well-written books - seem downright Stakhanovite. I'm surprised you don't take more breaks, honestly.

Which raises a not entirely casual question: how much do you feel your work in initiatory disciplines has contributed to your ability to sustain this level of productive thought and writing? I ask because I've started to fictionally address the development of human mental potential in my submission to the Space Bats contest.

A practical note regarding that story: I've left the initial publication in place, but moved active editing to a Github repository. The story itself is here; the beginnings of some background information on the world in which the story is set is in the repository's README file, which is displayed on the repository's main page.

I've had a great time reading the other submissions; given the overall quality of what I'm reading, I would have been quite comfortable being passed over. I'm honored and humbled that you picked The Borax Road Affair for inclusion.

Eric S. said...

Dltrammel again: (ah, I see your contact info right there. Yep, I'll definitely send anything I write on the subject your way).

Enrique said...

Speaking of imperial failure and the snowballing fiasco that is American foreign policy, here are a couple of great essays, one from David Goldman (AKA Spengler) and the other from Dmitri Orlov.

I honestly cannot think of a great power cursed with such incompetent and deluded leaders since Wilhelm II came to the throne of the Second Reich and dismissed Bismarck from office. And we all know how that one turned out in the end, especially in the years between 1914 and 1945…

Candace said...

Wanted to thank Greg (and you) for posting the link to the presentation at the Economics conference. I know that I tend to absorb more from listening and conversation, so it was nice to see your ideas presented in spoken form.


The Pumpkin Life said...

No offence meant about your druid moniker, btw. It was a dig at their incapacity to seperate their distaste for a single word from the message, which I have no doubt they would have benefited from greatly.

donalfagan said...

JMG, just to clarify, Gail wrote that she thought Albert had taped the closed conversation between the presenters, probably because of his extensive quotations of that. She didn't claim he was taping the Q&A sessions. One of the problems with jotting notes is that you can lose track of context; another is that you can lose touch with the reactions of the other listeners. I doubt many attendees took your comment as denialism. I wonder how long before Orren publishes videos.

Violet Cabra said...

After reading all of your blog I couldn't help but become very interested in Spengler. For the past few weeks I've been getting up early read first excerpts from the DECLINE OF THE WEST ( and now am about 200 pages into the unabridged version (

When you talk about the stories of our grandchildren I think, of course, to the Second Religiousness. As you mentioned in a response to a comment the conceptual framework most likely to be used in 50 years is pure theology. The nature of that theology isn't probably apparent yet – Spengler says it begins its first tentative growth during the Age of Cesears, which fortunately we haven't arrived at yet.

An interesting point that Spengler makes is that Classical Culture had an almost inverse world-feeling to Faustian Culture in that the Classical world-feeling is defined by the present moment, radical localization, and numbers, whereas Faustian world-feeling is instead defined by past-future orientation, a quest for infinite space and mathematics that defy simple visualization.

I wonder if the world-feeling of civilizations frequently invert upon their collapse like a blackhole? If the future invaders, dismantlers and conquering heroes develop world-views in direct opposition to that of the civilization they will eventually sack and, possibly, inoculate with their vision. Or if the almost total inversion of Classical Culture and the rise of the Faustian is only one way history plays it self out, rather than a general tendency.

Interesting to me that it was the Visigoths that broke apart the Roman Empire and it is GOTHIC architecture that first began to display Faustian aesthetics. I wonder if the conquerers ultiamtely are the ones who plant the seeds of the new cultural experiment or if the new arising culture is more the product of cross-pollination. In the case of the Romans and Visigoths it appears to me squarely the latter.

As for the conversation about 20 somethings, I have my 2 cents to add! I'm 26 and have for my entire life felt a keen disconnect from the dominant culture, while still using its metrics for my self-definition. I spent my childhood eating berries and running around the woods, read STALKING THE WILD ASPARAGUS as if it were my bible, don't have a degree (or debt!), lived for years in communities and squats, and currently work on a farm.

That being said, I think the binary of “the techno-obsessed youtube addicts” and the “aware earthy youngsters” is somewhat erroneous. What I see from my vantage point is that it's all mixed and mingled. My peers are often BOTH studying herbalism and helpless without their cell-phone. Both have unpayable student debt and farm experience.

People are complex and contradict themselves in subtle and unsubtle ways. My life, so far, has been in large part a study of how to be sustainable without fossil fuels. I am also a transgender woman who, without modern medicine will go into permanent menopause pretty quickly with all that entails for any woman. While traveling I have run out of hormones for a few months, and I can attest it wasn't that fun. Pun intended.

I can't seperate my trans-ness from any part of me. I only began to have something akin to faith after transitioning. After becoming a woman I felt charged by religious epiphany, a feeling that lasted intensely for well over a year. Not uncommonly I still use intuition and my dreams as a navigational tool through my life, with way better results than pure rationality.

Perhaps though that is a far statement of MY generation, not that of 50 years of the future. A bundled mix of extreme post modernism, a keen interest in sustainability, and an emergent religiousness too young to yet have found the right language or mathematics to express.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, you're not the only one -- since the Enlightenment, if not before, people have been fantasizing about what the world would be like if only people weren't like, well, people.

Mustard, have you considered a position in sales? ;-)

Will, an interesting question. Certainly people in the future, like those in the past, will have to grapple with those issues.

Thrig, I've long suspected there's a Law of the Conservation of Nonsense -- it's remarkable how many of the same silly ideas keep recurring over and over...

Joseph, not supposed to happen? Sewer pipes back up all the time. Sometimes it's tree roots, sometimes it's pipe collapse, sometimes it's something else. The claim that it's not supposed to happen is another very good way that your story is a myth for our time! As for suggestions, in your place I'd look into composting toilets and a graywater system to handle the rest of your water -- those are legal in most jurisdictions.

Jim, it's easy to cherrypick a study here and there to support a preconceived idea. My read of the data as a whole -- and if you've been following this blog, you know that I'm by no means a true believer -- is that so far, the evidence for anthropogenic global climate change remains substantially stronger than the evidence against it.

Onething, er, you do know what the word "atheist" means, don't you? You're reading a book of mine that argues for the real existence of many gods, and you think I'm an atheist? My head hurts.

Bill, yes, I noticed the way you worked that into your story, and thought it was a very nice touch! As for me, everything I've accomplished in life has been rooted, to one degree or another, in my involvement in initiatory traditions. That's what taught me how to get past all the nonsense heaped by our culture atop the process of creativity, and make things happen.

Enrique, it hadn't occurred to me to compare the current inmates of the US government to Kaiser Bill, but it's not a bad one...

Candace, you're most welcome, and thank you!

Pumpkin, none taken.

Donal, thanks for the clarification.

Violet, I'm delighted to hear that you're wrestling with Spengler! Yeats, whose theory of history I haven't discussed here yet, argued specifically that each civilization reverses the core themes of the one that came before it, so you may be on to something. Thanks also for the input on your generation -- I mostly interact with those who are already into either peak oil or Druidry, and who are thus not exactly a random sample...

John Roth said...

Frankly, I think that resurrecting any kind of belief in the findings of Science is a lost cause, and I prefer any lost causes I put effort into to be at least fun. There was an I Ching position that translated as "Work on what has been spoiled." It does not further. I wish I still had a copy of that translation; it beats Legge hollow.

I think it's more useful to concentrate on building a sub-culture where the participants are in a position to survive the long and bumpy road down, and take what's worth saving with them. At my age (I'm over 70) I seriously doubt if there's anything I can do to further the enterprise other than cheer it on, but living a profligate lifestyle isn't one of those things I can, in any conscience, justify.

ftealjr said...

It appears that some climate scientists did think that we might have been entering a cooling period during the 70's but according to this source they were in the minority.

I R Orchard said...

This may have been commented on already....
It's not impossible that the prognostications of an impending ice age were correct. The Milankovitch Cycles may have something scheduled for the next few millennia, but they have been overtaking by the incredibly fast rise in greenhouse gases. The flood basalt mega-volcanoes of Siberia and India took thousands of years to actually change the climate, we have achieved comparable rises in CO2 in a century. The increase has been so fast, the climate hasn't caught up yet, hence the apprehension that even if we reign in our fossil fueled follies we're in for even wackier weather.

Shane Wilson said...

Regarding drugs and the future, I think cannabis popularity might be short lived, as it's generally a sloth drug, and the future is going to require much greater productivity just to survive. Meanwhile, nicotine is a mild stimulant. So while you have to set aside considerable valuable time to get high and recover from cannabis, there are many things you can do while smoking tobacco, or immediately after. Generally, I'd expect drug and alcohol usage rates to mirror third world rates after the industrial age is thoroughly over, which is considerably lower than current rates in the industrial world. People will be living just to close to the bone to indulge such things, & alcoholics & addicts will be shunned and die in short order absent an industrial system that makes long term addiction possible. Now on the way down is a different story. I'd expect an explosion followed by gradual tapering society wide. Speaking of electronic addiction, I can easily see the electronically addicted switching from screens to substances (even meth or heroin) as the internet age winds down. Addiction is addiction. ..

nr-cole said...

Relevant scene from the sinking HMS [i]Progress[/i] yesterday in the NY Times entitled "It's Official: The Boomerang Kids Will Never Leave"

In terms of shifting stories, the article does something which seems to have become almost fashionable lately. It admits that the current generation graduating college and entering the workforce is likely to make less than their parents. It hammers this point home by citing the lack of compelling jobs and other challenges, and putting the current reality in contrast with how much easier things were in the past.

Things go wrong at the end when it straight-up ignores the wider implications of a contracting economy and highlights the irrational optimism of individual twenty-somethings living with their parents. The article's solution is to talk about a few people for whom moving home has allowed them to start businesses or otherwise succeed, so apparently the whole thing's not a problem at all.

Interesting how the admission that the world is becoming a less affluent place can still so solidly ignore what it might mean for the rest of our lives. At some point I wonder if father and son will realize the best use of their time is to start knocking together raised beds for the backyard? My parents have covered up most of theirs I think... shame.

If anyone reads the article, there's also a parallel in America with Schumacher's twin economies in the third world.

DeAnander said...

I too often wonder whether there is a Law of Conservation of Nonsense, or is it just Gresham's Law of Information?

Bad information, for whatever reason, often seems to displace or out-shout good information, perhaps because a good story is more interesting and entertaining than the dry facts. "A lie can run around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on"!

Given humankind's propensity to prefer gossip, wishful thinking, salacious slander, urban legend, and Munchausen tales to boring ol' facts, it's rather remarkable that we've lasted this long! I mean, sometimes human prehistory plays in my mind like a Monty Python skit, you know...

Hominid A, experimenting with this newfangled thing called "language": Run, run, big leopard over there!

Hominid B: Nope, I don't think so, it's just one of those speckly rocks.

A: It moved. I saw it.

B: Those rocks can move, you know. My cousin once saw two of them rolling along all by themselves on a moonlit night...

A: That's ridiculous.

C: No really, my sister's best friend's uncle saw one jump up and down. Moving rocks are all over the place.

B: Yer, that's right. They stampede sometimes and make those rumbling sounds you hear when the sky flashes.

A: [increasingly nervous] That's no rock, and I'm outta here.

...and so on. But what my idle storytelling mind can't explain is why A, who probably ran away and was not eaten, didn't prevail in the genetic pachinko tournament and leave us, her descendants, persistently inclined to skepticism and the four-minute mile rather than couch-potato-dom and The Secret.

Bill Pulliam said...

Once upon a time things were built with the understanding that they would inevitably break. So they were built in a manner that allowed them to be repaired. Jposeph's experience with a sewer line under a concrete driveway with no easily accessible cleanouts is the exact opposite of this older concept. It was this initial design choice that cursed him and all future owners with the ordeal he is undergoing.

My guess would be that once the line is found (if ever) it will be replaced exactly as it was before and paved over again, and everyone will just be expected to hope that it does not fail again. Which, of course, it will.

We don't need to forsake civilization. We do, however, need to have houses engineered with more allowance for the reality of failure and the necessity of repair!

So over the coming century or so, it might be an interesting race between the declining human population and the declining supply of serviceable housing that has not yet experienced irreparable and irremediable failures.

Matt Heins said...

Does "deindustrial SF" mean that the prospective magazine will have more room for dissensus on the importance of peak oil and the limits to growth and the narrative of decline and fall, a near future global dark age, and some others implied but not explicit requirements of the After Oil anthologies?

The notion intrigues me since disagreement over these is why my stories were not submitted to either contest, though they are most certainly speculations about a "deindustrial" future of dwindling or exhausted fossil fuel supplies.

Mike Roberts said...

The point about "The Global Cooling Myth" is not that there were no stories about cooling in the popular scientific press, but that the vast majority of peer reviewed climate science papers that offered a view were of warming, not cooling. As such, it is not necessarily the fault of the science that some idea of cooling was later overturned. It was not overturned in the peer reviewed papers. Rather, the majority scientific view was strengthened over time, to 97% or higher.

Cherokee Organics said...


The Vietnamese mint is in full flower here today, plus it smells nice. Hu, like yourself is one tough boss. I wept for the damage that we all do to the biosphere.

I don't believe that people here are any smarter than anywhere else. It is just that in this boom and bust environment that will only support a small human population on such a large continent, we have very little fat. It seems like every other year there is a drought going on somewhere on the continent - where it isn't already an arid land. Outback New South Wales or Queensland right now is up to their eyeballs in drought and I truly have no idea what sort of season is coming up next here. It is warm and fruit growers are worried about adequate chilling hours for some high chill varieties. Plus, the weather bureau is saying that there is a 70% chance of an El Nino event, which generally means wide spread drought.

When you have so little fresh water available, it is a bit hard to convince the community about the possibility of polluting already existing scarce or non-existent water supplies especially when things have already gone wrong with such operations here. The communities don't need to be reminded about how precious water is, as they experience it first-hand.

Plus obtaining the scarce water in the first place, drives up the cost of the coal seam gas recovered which further reduces the economic viability of those projects.

Thank you for all that you do.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi nr-cole. Ha! Too funny. It is the winter solstice here today and the 3.8kW of PV panels here produced just 2.4kWh of energy. The progressives that you mentioned would be well advised to attempt to live with that tight an energy budget. Perhaps the scientists don't know either? It is in the attempt that we discover the truth at the heart of the matter.

Hi Joel. I remember that Arthur C Clarke (or is it Sir Arthur now?) once wrote that we should reserve a portion of our fossil fuels as a bulwark against future Ice Ages. Unfortunately, I can’t for the life of me remember where, so I’m happy to be corrected on this matter. I'm a bit young to remember all of the rest of it, but that thought stuck in my mind for some reason. How come you stopped updating your blog? Keep well, bro and wishing you a productive summer! PS: During summer I avoid working outside during the hours of 2pm to 4pm when the UV is extreme - mind you we have a massive hole in the ozone layer above us in the atmosphere, which you may not have to deal with. PPS: Sometimes people serve me up items resembling food that I reckon not even my chickens would actually recognise as food!

Hi Kutamun. I recently heard Dr Karl on Triple J (ABC youth station) during the science hour (who had as a special guest Julian Cribb author of the book Poisoned Planet) describing his road to Demascus moment in relation to farming. It went along the lines of: "I thought farmers were all hicks in overalls, but I now realise that farming is incredibly complex". Just sayin... The podcast is here: Dr Karl on Triple J

Hi Phil. Sorry for your loss.

Hi Bill. In Harcourt which is about 80km further north and at a lower elevation than here (and thus much warmer) which produces something like 40% of Australia's apples, many of their fruit trees have not yet gone deciduous. It is weird looking at their orchards in leaf at this time of year. PS: I used to suspect that you were JMG posting as a nom de plume - now I'm not so sure. PS: I really enjoy reading your comments and thoughts.



Twilight said...

The issue us trust, or the lack of it. It is not just the scientists, it's just that the scientists are no more immune to the decay than any other profession or institution in our society. We live now in a world of total fraud, where everything we see, hear or read is or could be a lie, and everyone is trying to game us 24-7. The organizations that ostensibly provide oversight have been incorporated into the scams they were supposed to oversee.

It's not that everything actually need be corrupt, rather that enough of it is that no one can tell which is which, and therefore trust is destroyed. So if a scientist or scientific organization says one thing, another can be paid to say the opposite, or at least some science(ish)-sounding group that is confusing to our poorly educated population. After all, the Education Industry(TM) is another former social institution now corrupted, untrustable and unable to perform the function it was set up for.

Eventually a new way of understand how the world works will emerge, along with a new religious sensibility as previously described here, and it won't use the concepts that underlie the world of science and our religion of progress. It may well be openly hostile to the language and ideas of science. This is how concepts like the scientific method could be lost. If the ideas and methodologies of science are to persevere, it will likely have to be well hidden, or likely in service to whatever power emerges in the guise of keeping it under control. After all, when it comes to thing like weapons and military technology, it will always have a role.

beneaththesurface said...

After coming back from the Age of Limits Conference, I spent time reading the story submissions and read all but ten. I am glad to see that my most favorite ones will be included. I was impressed by the quality of many of the stories, so much so that I wasn’t sure of the chances that my story would be picked. Plus I hadn’t written a short story in over a decade, so I really had no expectations. It is an honor to have been chosen, and I’m inspired to seriously work on some other writing ideas that have crossed my mind.

I gather that story contributors will be able to make further edits. I submitted my story right at the deadline, and although I did the best I could given the time constraint, I was aware of some imperfections in my story. I look forward to hearing from you about the final editing process.

Working at a public library brings a mixture of joy and grief. In the last several months, I came across some statistics -- if I’m remembering them correctly -- essentially indicating that our large city’s library system currently has 1/3 the amount of books it had around fifteen years ago. I don’t actually see most libraries becoming completely bookless…I think those all-digital libraries one hears about in the news will remain outliers for a variety of reasons. But I do see the overall trend of libraries becoming much more focused on technology, digital collections, and greatly diminished book collections. I’ve worked at my library for less than a year, and wow, I already have lots of telling stories to say on this subject.

When I walk into some of the newer libraries in our city and see how sparse the book collections are, it almost makes me cry (and I’m someone who doesn’t easily cry). I don’t find I can really talk about these things in any depth with others around me. Writing that story was a healing way of channeling many frustrations that have built up within me, which I’m often at a loss to know what to do with them.

On a more positive note about my workplace, copies of your two newest books (Decline and Fall & Star’s Reach) are on order and will arrive sometime in the next two weeks to be prominently displayed in our new book sections. I will take pleasure in seeing them so visible to many patrons, in whatever small way providing some balance to our expensive 3-D printer not too far away.

Lastly, I’m very curious about next week’s post, if it’s going to be about children’s stories. I’m not sure what angle you will be writing from. I work in the children’s section of the library, and I have much to say in discussion of how children’s stories intersect with topics we discuss here.

Joseph Nemeth said...

Interesting. Greywater use was legalized just a year ago in Colorado, so my impression that it was illegal was out-of-date. It includes bathwater, and excludes dishwater. It can be used for agricultural purposes, and for flushing toilets.

Yes, that is one of the presenting myths of the age, isn't it? "Nothing can go wrong...." :-) The whole story is a study in interlocked mythology.

John Michael Greer said...

John, well, that's the beauty of dissensus; each of us can work on the part of the puzzle that calls to us.

Ftealjr, now go back and read the part of this week's post that says that I'm talking about the way science is communicated to the public, not the internal workings of the scientific community.

Orchard, yes, it's been discussed, but of course it's relevant.

Shane, that seems plausible enough!

NR-Cole, I'm impressed that that much got through. Mind you, if New York was about to be flattened by an asteroid, the Times would probably find some way to talk enthusiastically about some young guy planning on making money in real estate thereafter...

DeAnander, I have some theories about that, but they're complex enough to require a full post to explain. I may want to do that post, though!

Bill, exactly. My current house has balky sewers, but it was built in 1925 and access to the pipes is pretty easy.

Matt, in drawing the terms for the contests as narrowly as I did, I was trying to make a space for stories that actually grappled with decline and fall as a setting for SF, rather than falling into various well-worn ruts. I gather from the response that there's clearly a great deal of interest in exactly the kind of stories I was looking for! That's going to remain in place for future projects of the same kind; I'm not interested in, say, stories where science and technology rescue industrial society from the consequences of resource depletion, because such stories have plenty of venues for publication and there are godzillions of them already. I want to provide a place for stories that don't have another venue, because the current cultural orthodoxy rejects them out of hand -- even though there's good reason to think they're a better image of where we're headed than the orthodoxy can provide.

Mike, now go back and read the part of this week's post that says that I'm talking about the way science is communicated to the public, not the internal workings of the scientific community. Sheesh!

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, large parts of the American West have just as harsh a history of water shortages and desert conditions as you've got down under, and yet people here seem stunningly clueless about what they're doing to their water supply. I really think it comes to the difference between who founded which country; a nation founded by religious fanatics is likely to have more problems with reality testing than a nation founded by convicts!

Twilight, exactly! But there's another option, which has worked in the past -- the scientific method can be taken up by traditions and communities that aren't part of the current power structure and aren't tarred by the same brush, and kept going on that basis. That's what happened with classical logic and the Christian church, for example; it's a strategy for the long term, but the long term is crucial in this game.

Beneath, I have the same reaction to what's happening to libraries these days. I've been crazy in love with libraries since childhood, and watching them be debased and stripped of books is like watching a much-loved grandmother sink into senility. This is one of the reasons that, down the road, I want to see whether it's possible to resurrect the old model of the private subscription library and get some of those in place; more on this in an upcoming post. As for next week's piece, the children's stories I'll be discussing may not be the ones you have in mind...

John Michael Greer said...

On the off chance it's of interest to readers here, by the way, I've just celebrated the solstice by launching a new blog, The Well of Galabes. It's a venue for essays on magical philosophy, the sort of thing I've more or less resisted the temptation to post on this blog. The Archdruid Report will still be appearing weekly -- I have a lot of things I still want to say about dark ages, retro technology, and much more -- but my experiences with blogging as a way of sorting out my own thoughts and discussing them with others have been good enough that I've decided to apply the same principles to a rather denser and more philosophical subject. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Archdruid Report!

Joel Caris said...

Hi Chris,

Aha! It sounds like you just placed your finger on the trouble we had in the 80s here in America. People read about the coming ice age, read Clarke's suggestion, and doubled down on fossil fuel burning to keep the ice age at bay. It wasn't selfishness or a giant middle finger to the future, but rather a careful and considered response to a troubled future. Thank god for their forward thinking.

I haven't been updating the blog because I've been ridiculously busy establishing my new homestead, as well as continuing to work the two farmhand jobs. I keep thinking that I should let people know what's happening, maybe post some pictures, but it hasn't happened. But it's proving to be a wonderful and productive summer. I've got a nice chook flock--21 total: 19 Black Sexlink hens, a Barred Rock rooster, and a Silver Laced Wyandotte rooster. The garden keeps getting bigger and bigger, perhaps closing in on a 10th of an acre. In a short while here, I'm going to go out and finish putting in my strawberry patch and then interplant some little lettuce starts with them, since there's a lot of spare space with great soil. I otherwise have potatoes, onions, kale, broccoli, spinach, peas, more lettuce, beets, carrots, romanesco, summer and winter squash, painted mountain flour corn, chard, quinoa, cabbage, cucumbers, mustards, beans . . . probably a few other things I'm forgetting at the moment.

I just started seeding some of the fall and winter crops for transplanting in July. I'm going to try to keep myself in veggies throughout the winter this year. I don't know how well it will work, but it's all about experimentation and learning, right?

Oh, and the hoop house is filled with tomatoes (48 plants) and eggplant and peppers. They're growing well and I'm hoping for another year of canning abundance.

While I don't want to go beyond the homestead scale, I am hoping to do some side sales to bring in a little income to help cover the costs of growing and raising this food. I've been pondering names--Homestead by Hand, perhaps?--and am hoping to get up a website and blog for the place at some point. And I just haven't felt like I've had a lot to say in the Of The Hands vein of late.

But I do miss the interaction with my couple regular readers. You, Lew, Martin . . . I do need to do some writing again.

As for 2 to 4, I always seem to be out working in that period of time. I often get a late start and work late, sometimes until 8 or 9pm this time of year. I've never been a real early morning person, though I'm getting better in that regard--generally up around 8am on days I don't have to be up earlier for one of the jobs. But I also sure like to sit for awhile when I first get up, drink coffee, catch up on some reading, sometimes write a letter on the porch (speaking of which, I keep meaning to write one to you.) We all have our routines, I suppose. I've been getting more work done this year than ever, so I feel pretty okay with giving myself a couple lazy mornings a week.

It's amazing what having your own place (even though I don't own it) can do for one's productivity. Or, at least, mine.

Jim Irwin said...

i am disappointed in your assertion that this article in Nature is "cherrypicking", it is written by one of the editorial staff of the the journal summarizing recent publications on the topic....
please read it...
perhaps you should also read some of the most recent IPCC release, they say much the same thing, the surface of the Earth has not been warming for some time, and they dont understand it....

John Michael Greer said...

Jim, two articles out of hundreds is cherrypicking. I've read both, by the way, and a great deal more.

jeffinwa said...

A very warm welcome back and a hearty happy solstice to you. Your wit and wisdom is nourishment for this self.
Science as fed to the public seems of about the same quality as the entertainment that fills peoples time; dumbed down and meant to sway/pacify rather than enlighten and enrich.
There was a big difference where I worked between the engineers who I directly worked and the customer service engineers with whom I also directly worked.
Here in northern CA fracking is an issue; never mind the drought we're in we need to frack. Petitioned and stopped, but now legal finagling is being tried to frack us all up.
The Well of Galabes
Great idea; thanks for opening another door!

diogenese said...

The Weather Machine by Nigel Calder is a book / BBC TV programme ( 1974. ) to add to your bookshelf on the upcoming ice age .

Jim R said...

It's nice to see you back, I've missed your weekly epistles.

Here are a couple of interesting, um, signs of the times. Just look at how far a railroad can degrade only in a few decades. Neither of these activities will be possible for very long into a collapse, as they depend on infrastructure and resources which only exist now.

Recycling plastic soda jugs

exploring abandoned rail lines

Agent Provocateur said...


Welcome back!

I, like a number of your readers was suffering from ADR withdrawal in the last few weeks. The list of symptoms may be found in the Druid's supplement to the DSM-5. These symptoms are entirely in keeping with the DSM's tendency to medicalize normality so other ADR withdrawal suffers can take comfort in that knowledge that their suffering is entirely normal and that there is a pill for that. Thank the gods you are back! Its off the methadone and back onto the real smack.

May Beli bless my your Alban Heriun celebrations!

Mark Rice said...

First comments on the "Druid moniker". Some people are put off by it. I sent a link to one of the weekly essays to my wife. Her reaction was: "Archdruid ... er ... em ... at least he can write!"

The Oil Drum in it's heyday brought me to the Archdruid report. I kept coming back because this did a much better job of explaining what I had been observing than the old standard narratives.

Unintentional evidence of decline is seen more and more in the regular media. I heard Terry Gross interview John Oliver on the radio. Terry Gross admitted she knew nothing about the election in India. John Oliver's reaction matched mine. "You’re the canary in the coal mine. If Terry Gross doesn’t know about the Indian election, we’re in serious trouble.”

We are in serious trouble.

Agent Provocateur said...


Throughout many of your essays, including this week's, you have critiqued our culture's myth of progress. If you don't mind a tangential thought to this theme; I'd like to mix in the notion of our dependence on fossil fuels as a “progress trap”. I won't define “progress trap” as it is well documented elsewhere.

A big difference between the myth and the trap is that it is conceivable in principle to change the myth. The trap suggests we have less choice in the matter. A progress trap implies dependence on a technology or food or energy source that is difficult to change.

We are going to burn every last drop of oil and every last chunk of coal that we can. We are going to do so because we just can't help it. Its our nature. We like our comforts. Its who we are as a culture. Industrial civilization, or just plain civilization, is rapacious and exploitative by it very nature. Some have argued that once we started living in cities the final result was baked into the cake. Personally, I think the big mistake was leaving the trees. May that day live in infamy!

My point is this: the mistakes that were made were made some time ago (pick a date: 50 years ago or 5,000 years ago) and they are a direct result of being human, or at least being a civilized human. Yes, some humans are still hunter gatherers … but not many. They are blameless. Indeed there are still some primates in the trees. They be the lucky ones.

We made our decision generations ago to consume the earth as fast was we can so we can have comfortable lives now. Now we know (actually we did long ago but hell, we just didn't care) that we do so at the expense of future generations. As my grand father used to say (and he really did), “To hell with posterity, what did it ever do for me?” Thanks Granddad! Not nice, but at least honest. This is what it means to be a member of an industrial civilization.

The myth of progress is certainly one way of framing the reason people cannot, or will not, see the danger ahead. I think its is a valid one and useful to a point, but even if all could really perceive what is ahead, even 50 years ago, I'm not certain the result would be much different. We would still burn every last drop of oil and every last chunk of coal because our mode of life demands it.

Lets say we miraculously started burning oil at a constant (flat line rate) say 50 years ago and were miraculously able to continue economic growth at 3% (the rate required for steady state economies) by more efficient use of that oil. How long before no more efficiencies are possible. Lets say its miraculously 50 years. Then what? Growth must slow and eventually reverse. In other words we are in the exact same economic state we are in today. All we would have gained was some more oil to burn on the downside.

And what of the effect on climate change? If we burn the all fossil fuels in 300 years or 600 years, does it make much of a difference? I suspect not as both of these periods of time are but a blink of an eye in the timescale that matters: geological time.

The problem is that our pattern of ecological exploitation is hard baked into our the economic system. Our dependence on fossil fuels is but one part of this. It is the program our culture has been following since we started living in cities: trash the place and then move on. Eden in the land between the rivers is now a desert, the grasslands of the Sahara: a desert, the north shores of the Mediterranean Sea: deforested and dry etc. Of course we never called our pattern of behaviour “exploitative”. We called it … “progress” and have made it one of the central myths of our culture. But myth or no myth, we are caught in a progress trap and have been for millennia.

MawKernewek said...

One possible explanation for the apparent slowdown in warming after 1998 I have heard in a climate change lecture, are that the decadal oscillations (the El Niño and North Atlantic Oscillations etc.), have not been accounted for fully by the models showing the slowdown.

Also, a lot of heat can be absorbed by melting ice, or warming deepwaters of the oceans, but this all stays around in the climate system in the end.

Cherokee Organics said...


I can't fault your logic.

I wonder about soil fertility in those dry western areas of the US too? It is probably an expression of energy usage that such large populations can exist in such difficult conditions. It certainly doesn't happen here. The vast interior of the continent here is mostly uninhabited.

With one exception though. Perth in Western Australia which is the most remote capital city on the planet, is now - I believe - wholly reliant on several desalination plants for their drinking water supplies. Obviously the mining boom supplies the wealth to achieve such an outcome. I've read some pretty unimpressive articles on the soils in that part of the world too. The rocks there are amongst some of the oldest known on the surface of the planet.

Congrats on the new blog.



Grebulocities said...

"Of course the issues around communicating science to nonscientists are complex, but I'd suggest that it's not just that people expect dualistic, non-nuanced statements -- it's that scientists and the publicists of science have a long and not very creditable track record of making such statements that turned out to be dead wrong. More on this as we proceed. "

Certainly this has happened a number of times, and it hasn't exactly helped the credibility of science to the general public. But what would you recommend as a substitute? I wouldn't be surprised if there were also number of news articles in the 1970s with headlines to the effect of "Study of Earth's Orbit Around Sun Suggests New Ice Age May Start in Next Several Thousand Years". This would convey some nuance, but it would it stick in anybody's minds? There have also been problems with scientists being excessively dogmatic about whatever they happen to believe from their findings, but it's not clear to me that complex scientific findings could be communicated in a way that would both be accurate and stick in the minds of average nonscientists. Do you have any ideas on how the communication problem could have been better solved, while also avoiding dogma?

I certainly think the scientific community could be more forthcoming about the fact that a substantial minority of people who looked into the subject believed that the next Ice Age could come soon. If they have several minutes to explain, they could then explain Milankovitch cycles and how they lead to ice ages, and then how greenhouse forcings from humans completely overwhelmed orbital forcings. It would be a good example of how scientific thinking evolves, among other things. But people who would listen to a whole talk like this would probably already be science-minded to begin with, and I don't think it would win many converts versus soundbite-based approaches.

Myriad said...


It was a pleasure and a privilege meeting you and so many others at the AoL Conference. And being part of the male menopause club, the mostly middle-aged men gathered to psychologically project our impending personal declines upon the world.

(That's one counter-narrative I've seen scrawled in some dark alleys of Hagsgate. One I anticipated, in fact, and I doubt it's much of a surprise to you either.)

An indirect effect of going to AoL was starting conversations with more relatives: "So, I hear you went to some kind of ecology meeting last weekend?" The surprising results: understanding and agreement. I seem to have been born into a rather doomish bloodline. (For that matter, I recall reading E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" in my early teens and taking it as a personal warning. That would have been just about 1974. I knew there was something familiar about this place...)

Anyhow, echoing others, I'm honored to have my space bats story chosen for the compilation despite its glaring need for some editing.

Children's stories? I admit the first that come to mind are the old German "fairy tale" books from around 1900 that my father remembered reading, wherein misbehaving children invariably ended up creatively mutilated by one of a variety of fanciful beings. But it's a bit early for Krampus, so maybe instead, street mythopoesis?

Kieran O'Neill said...

Congratulations to all the winners of the short story competition!

I deeply regret not submitting one of my own, but I did have a slightly more important story to write, of the "why my last five years' worth of work is enough that you should grant me a doctoral degree" variety. If that magazine gets off the ground, though...

Also, happy Midsummer to you, JMG. Are you by chance still in England and celebrating at Stonehenge? A photograph appeared on a local newspaper website with what looks like a familiar bearded face.

Karim said...

Dear JMG

I am happy to see you back and I hope you had a well deserved and great holiday!

I wish you well for your new blog on magical philosophy. Actually I often wondered why you had not one up and running before as you are such a thoughtful writer on those difficult topics as well!


Phil Harris said...

Joel Caris wrote

"When it comes to health and nutrition--and I think this applies to some other areas of study--one of the issues I see is the constant attempt to represent, define, and understand whole systems with reductionist research."

A good review of just this is by a scientist T. Colin Campbell in his later book Whole: rethinking the science of nutrition. He is Emeritus Prof of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. I have had my quibbles with T Colin C over the years, but the skewed world of nutritional policy is where he came from, and from my own experience on the side-lines I can vouchsafe for his depiction.

BTW if you want a healthier middle-age and family and a low cost alternative to tide you over hard times, or even help lay a basis for a post-fossil fuel world, try T Colin C's prescription of Wholefood Plant based Nutrition, and grow those vegetables and fruit bushes for high value-added nutrition to supplement the low-cost farm staples.

very best
Phil H
PS For beautiful soil-building in a dry US climate I came across this several years ago

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Joseph. I use a worm farm here to process the humanure and all other waste water. I have to consider the very real problem of how much water to use in the first place. Old timers here used to simply dig a hole, and when it was mostly full, they'd plant a pear or apple tree in to it. Very simple and yet very elegant... The dunny was a moveable building.

Hi Onething. The Archdruid requested 6 weeks of peace and quiet and I respected that. As to your question about fencing and wildlife, I'm happy to have a long and detailed discussion about the subject - perhaps on the Green Wizards forum, or permies dot com if you wish to get lots of other perspectives as well? Please let me know which forum you choose.

I'd ask you to consider your comment: "what standard of living could a society attain if they wanted to lift all boats together". Do you refer to other denizens of our biosphere? This may well be appropriate to our fencing conversation.

Hi Shane. I've noted that as narcissism has risen in the community - particularly amongst the young - that meth and steroids use has increased, whilst alcohol and wacky tabbacky use has declined amongst the younger generation.

Hi Joel. Yeah, maybe they were. It was very considerate of them. hehe! Thanks for the update and I look forward to our next discussion. You've inspired me to start a weekly blog showing all of the things going on at the farm here. It is very hard to communicate this otherwise. I hope you get the chance to drop by for a chat. We’re growing virtually the same plants.

You're in good company. Early mornings are a bit of a hassle, plus there is definitely no communication prior to coffee! It is positively un-civilised.



Greg Belvedere said...

Welcome back JMG. I look forward to reading your new blog.

@ beneaththesurface

I share your feelings about public libraries. I used to work for Brooklyn Public and their standards for how they weeded books horrified with me. I also felt like I had a hard time discussing this with many of my colleagues.

It could be very difficult to find the kind of books and documentaries that every library should have, but they always had the latest DVDs and romance novels. Not to mention that I had supervisors who wanted to keep librarians busy constantly, even if that meant weeding the shelves until they were practically empty.

I have not had time to read the stories submitted as I just moved to a new town and I have spent a lot of my free time digging garden beds and such. The rest of the time I'm very busy taking care of my 8 month old son, but I might have to find some time to read them now that a lot of that work is done.

I agree with you JMG that if public libraries can't fulfill their mission better the private model might need to come back in some way. I think librarians with these concerns need a way to continue this discussion.

Cathy McGuire said...

Once again, I'm struggling to read through all of the comments (they are a pleasure, but I have other work to do!) So, rather than waiting until I finish (which might be next Thursday), I want to mention this opinion piece from the NYT:
The Coming Climate Crash
There is a time for weighing evidence and a time for acting. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my work in finance, government and conservation, it is to act before problems become too big to manage.
…We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.
...This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course...

this is by Henry Paulson,the Treasury chair at the time of the financial meltdown, no less! He glosses over the reasons for the finance bubble and I think his solution is too little, but just the fact that he is uses such strong words (you should read all of it) to describe the climate change predicament tells me that some top level folks are starting to get very scared indeed!

Bill Pulliam said...

Cherokee re: the arid parts of North America;;;

There's a major difference between the drylands of North America and those of Australia: mountains. We have huge mountain ranges (some summits above 4000m, much land above 3000m) transecting the western third of our continent from south to north, roughly parallel to the coastline and perpendicular to the prevailing winds off the Pacific. This is the reason most of our drylands exist -- the mountains extract the moisture from the atmosphere and create giant rainshadows. Your mountains are much smaller, and much of your aridity is simply a function of being in the subtropics, which are in general a band of aridity around the world in both hemispheres.

Since our deserts and steppes are caused by the rainshadows of the mountains, many of them are crossed by large permanent rivers that drain all that moisture that fell in the mountains. So combine this water with energy and infrastructure, and you get agriculture. Yes, it is very dependent on energy inputs. But all our global mass commercial agriculture is nowadays. We eat petroleum, effectively, regardless of where it is grown.

Shane Wilson said...

One thing I forgot to mention regarding cannabis is the effect the end of the American empire will have on the "reefer madness" legacy of worldwide anti cannabis policy. The U.S. pressured otherwise ambivalent countries with a cultural history of cannabis use to outlaw its production and use as part of lucrative trade agreements with the U.S. As the U.S. loses clout and legalizes cannabis itself, you're seeing more and more countries unwilling to continue their" reefer madness" prohibition policies (Mexico, Uruguay) to appease the U.S.
Regarding generational trends, I don't really see so much differences so much as continuations and accelerations that began with the boomers, perhaps even the silent generation, and have just gotten worse over the time of excess that's been the late 20th early 21st century. Narcissism, self centeredness, indulgence, extreme individualism, social balkanization/antisocial behavior, learned helplessness/lack of resilience, commercialization, andinfantilization/lack of maturity are trends that started with the boomers and just accelerated from there. It's just unfortunately reaching its tipping point with millennials and other younger generations. They represent the worst of those trends at a time when those habits couldn't be more maladaptive to the world we're facing, so the choice is most stark for them. They must go against the grain and their upbringing to survive what's to come. The silents and the boomers can just die a few decades earlier when things fall apart. Still remains to be seen just how much of the coming change gen x will live through, as they're a cusp generation. I guess for millennials and younger generations it's the same realization that we all have to face that the world we were raised for is not the world we're going to inhabit, but it's all the more pressing that they make the leap, considering the dysfunctional trends at work, and the changes upon us.

Shane Wilson said...

One thing I'd like to mention that may account for the lack of credibility given to science is the effects of the cacophony of misinformation and confirmation bias we call the internet. Given that anyone can post anything online with no peer review, surely the internet has gone a long way to obscure and obfuscate science, among other things. I blame internet dependency for accelerating the epidemic levels of an inability to think critically in society.

Shane Wilson said...

One last thing I forgot to mention: Cherokee, regarding western U.S. coping with drought, the west at one time, at least, had a more effective drought control policy than currently exists. Living in Southern California, I heard stories of lawns and landscaping going dry and drying up during the serious droughts of the 70s and 80s. People said that even the lush landscaping of Beverly Hills dried up under watering bans. Xeriscaping became very popular in response. Perhaps it's just symptomatic of America's decline that California's collective response to this arguably worse drought is so dysfunctional, uncoordinated, and anemic. Not sure about what other states like Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico are doing.

onething said...

Well, JMG, perhaps using the A word was a bit too provocative and not really quite adequate either. As to the gods, I don't really know what you mean by the term, nor anything else about these entities other than that they are real and might be at times helpful. I'd ask some pointed questions, but perhaps I should go over and spend some time at your new blog, which I already took a quick peek at, and see what unfolds from there.

Cherokee, the permies site also looks like a goldmine, but I can't think any more right now as my eyes might fall out...g'night.

Grebulocities said...

Here's an interesting article summing up modern problems with corruption in science.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone!

Just launched a weekly blog describing some of the things going on at the farm here. You are all welcome to drop by and check out the photos and text - or drop a comment.

Notes from Fernglade farm: A permaculture and organic small holding



beneaththesurface said...

JMG and Greg—

Coincidentally, the day after I finished writing my story, I went to a library staff day, where the keynote speech was “Tapping Your Inner Futurist: Delivering 21st Century Public Library Services,” given by a professional futurist. It was simultaneously depressing and comical to sit through it. Some of the things he mentioned didn’t seem all that innovative either. For example, he talked about how libraries of the future will have brain training stations (special kinds of computerized games) for seniors to keep their brains active. Umm… isn’t merely reading a book “training your brain” if you want to call it that?

And very few of the break-out sessions related to books that day, by the way. Most of the topics were such things like 3-D printing, Digital Storytimes, or Planning Retirement.

Seeing the direction many public libraries are going really pains me, for the public library was the public institution that I did believe in, unlike a lot of other wasteful government spending. I agree maybe it’s time for some subscription libraries focused on books to pop up. Though working in high poverty populations, I still value the open nature of public libraries. I’ve read about many authors who grew up poor, whose families had no money for books, who credit the public library as their saving grace, where they had access to great volumes of literature they wouldn’t otherwise have had…

Zachariah said...

All is proceeding as you have foretold. The UN recognizes the need to include religion in the argument for action on climate change:

Diana Haugh said...

My father was an ardent atheist and he inculcated in me his religious ideals: scientists were his high priests and the only people fit to govern the world since they were dedicated to pure, disinterested truth. He hated the theory of the Big Bang since to him, the notion that the cosmos had a beginning was rank Creationism. He drilled in me Fred Hoyle's theory of a Steady State universe as the only possible truth since the alternative (creation) was unacceptable. My father died the year before photon research proved the Big Bang to be correct. He had the comfort of dying with his dogma intact but left me with my faith in Science as the sole gatekeeper to truth sadly shattered

thrig said...

Violet Cabra: consider also the Chinese model, where successive dynasties appear to have usually just carried on what had gone on in the past (with variations). This may have to do with Confucianism, or self-preserving bureaucracy, or some combination of both (and hey, why not claim a mandate to what's worked before?). However, the recent experiment with Communism did tear many of the traditions asunder—the ritual music and practice of the Naxi using Han-imported instruments and traditions did take a dive following 1949 (reference: "Harmony and Counterpoint: Ritual Music in Chinese Context", courtesy of a large library near to where I work).

Related: setting a new reference pitch (the Yellow Bell) was a thing for new dynasties. Modern culture is largely stuck on A440, though can and does pick anything else.

John Michael Greer said...

Jeffinwa, exactly -- the reduction of science to pablum when it's presented to the general public is one of the major issues I'm trying to raise here. What fascinates me is that scientists, who ought to know better, are enthusiastically participating in it. I should probably do a post on that down the road a bit.

Diogenese, I remember it well!

Jim, definitely signs of the times. I like to call such reflections to mind when I field claims that of course we can keep running the internet without an industrial system to support it...

Agent, funny. A friend of mine used to speculate about the Omega edition of DSM, with the real diagnoses: Major Jerk Disorder, Just Plain Nuts, and so on.

Mark, well, of course she knows nothing about the Indian election, or, really, anything else; American media personalities generally don't.

Agent, and yet plenty of human societies have flourished in relative balance with their environments for millennia. I see this sort of reasoning as an attempt to blame our genes for our own mistaken choices.

MawKernewek, that's quite possible. The annual cost of weather-related disasters is still rising, and various other measures of climate perturbation are bad and getting worse; if the temperature of the atmosphere happens to be in a state of punctuated equilibrium, well, that's not surprising in a complex system.

Cherokee, soil quality in the dryland West varies -- some of it's very good, some of it's good for raising bumper crops of scorpions and sagebrush and not much else. Our continent's really old rocks are in eastern Canada -- further west, the rocks are more recent, and of course (as Bill pointed out) we've also got major rivers laying down sediment, which helps. That may be behind the blind spot here.

Grebulocities, that's a topic for a whole post; the short form is that it would require a significant shift in the structure of the relationship between science and the general public. More on this later.

Myriad, yes, I've heard that argument! For my part, I had a miserable childhood and expect to have a very pleasant old age, so I'm not sure it fits.

Kieran, nope, I celebrated the solstice here at home with my wife. Glad to see more proper beards at the old stone circle, though!

Karim, thank you. I needed to get Star's Reach finished and published before launching anything new, thus the delay in getting this new project going.

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...

As a physicist I'm constantly amazed to hear the expression "scientific opinion". After all, the whole point of science is to escape from opinion and move onto firmer ground.

In a properly functioning scientific discipline (e.g. physics away from the disaster zone of string theory), opinion simply doesn't matter.

It's not that physicists don't have opinions: they tend to be highly opinionated on all sorts of topics. It's just that it's understood that those opinions are strictly tea room banter and are not to be taken seriously in the business end of scientific reasoning. In fact, it's quite useful to maintain opinions that are as outlandish, extreme, provocative and/or entertaining as possible, because then it is much easier to notice if you accidentally include them in your reasoning process.

If you have an opinion (we might call it a hunch), it can lead you to follow a particular line of inquiry. It can lead to an investigation that might reach some kind of solid conclusion. But the whole point of that investigation is that the conclusion cannot rely on the original hunch. The hunch can be the starting point, but not the endpoint.

So if a scientist is making statements beginning with "it is my opinion that … XYZ", then XYZ are mere speculations unless the scientist actually has something more solid in the drawer (but is, for some unspecified reason, withholding it).

There is a whole branch of scientific literature detailing the woeful performance of "expert opinion" in a wide range of fields (e.g. engineering). For example expert opinion is typically wrong by at least an order of magnitude in risk assessment.

So, if the state-of-the-art in a particular scientific field is such that its conclusions depend on and cannot be detached from the notion of "opinion", then those conclusions have to be treated as speculative.

In many cases the dependence on opinion is not essential (meaning the reasoning can be made more solid with some serious work). However they won't do the work if the culture in that discipline holds that "opinion" counts as a valid ingredient in scientific reasoning.

Relatedly, the concept of scientific "consensus" is preposterous. Science is not and has never been a democracy. This is where the scientists allowing themselves to be cooped by the IPCC made a huge mistake. Once you start talking about consensus you are telling the public that it actually matters what percentage of scientists agree with X or whatever. This then gives them the idea that all scientists are equally knowledgeable on a given topic (otherwise why would they each get the same vote?). So then you get the phenomenon of geologists who know zilch about the atmosphere and can barely do arithmetic but feel entitled to blather on about climate models.

DeAnander said...

Re: the assault on the tradition of libraries

The social mobility note -- that many people who would have been deprived of learning and scholarship because of their lower-class origins managed to self-educate, widen their horizons, cultivate their scholarly skills by means of the public library system -- I think is one of the reasons that system is under attack!

donalfagan said...

The short story authors and readers here might find this Science Blogs post interesting: Hugo Nominated Short Fiction: A Great Year for “No Award”

latefall said...

@ 1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73
For what it is worth I am in strong agreement there. I could come up with volumes of anecdotal evidence for a significant drop-off in relatively rigorous science as you progress towards engineering and money as a factor...

On a general note I may be strange but I have a difficult time imagining loss of "scientific method" - which really is only an attitude when you get down to it (if I remember correctly).

latefall said...

Nice to hear about the stories! I believe the narratives germinating around the world in the next few decades, will shape and blossom in the next few generations as their authors and agents come of age - and there are less influential old people to hold them back. I assume they will define the inter dependencies of the future "human ecosystem" lastingly and to a large degree.

My take on this is quite different than
@Agent Provocateur's when he said: "We are going to do so because we just can't help it. Its our nature."

If you base your perception on the narratives peddled through the vestiges of the industrial society media system it may seem like that. There is other stuff going on, and although it is hard to judge, my impression is the volume and quality of activities is rapidly increasing. Have a look at the unMonastery ( or FLOK in Ecuador (

I would argue humans are generalists. They are versatile, omnivores, and at times diverse to the degree of wackiness.
This brings me to a scientific publication that is long overdue, which (if funded correctly) would show societies can be lumped into a handful of different clusters. Within each cluster you find highly correlated opinions, relationships, reactions, values, prioritization, motivations, lies, blind spots, and inconsistencies. I think the significant variable in the end is how these clusters view humans. E.g. there is a lot of people basing their world view on "homo economicus quartarius". They often make me think that every traffic death statistic also has its bright side.
Such a self destructive perception as you suggest is really not very prevalent in say the Netherlands on the other hand. It probably has something to do with the sea level.

I am quite convinced humans can develop the empathy to switch between different perceptions of their fellow man and bridge a few of these clusters. They also have a limited ability to change their ways. For practical purposes however this may be cut off at a fairly young age where they do not yet have to un-learn maladaptive behavior. When push comes to shove I am afraid it is a little late to start. Even though there is a saying that "in emergencies the devil will eat flies."


latefall said...


"We made our decision generations ago to consume the earth as fast was we can so we can have comfortable lives now. Now we know (actually we did long ago but hell, we just didn't care)"

We did not know. Nuclear fission might have been more manageable and safe than it is. Nuclear fusion might have been a little easier to achieve. Manipulating genes a little more straight forward...
Much of the realization how rotten things actually have become may be more or less directly attributable to the now obvious problems regarding ROI, and our reaction to it.
Also, if I understand correctly your "we" would mostly apply to the affluent fraction of the planet's population - not exactly the majority.

"It is the program our culture has been following since we started living in cities: trash the place and then move on."
I live in a more than 2000 year old city on the north shores of the Mediterranean Sea and beg to differ. It is certainly overpopulated (especially with people meeting your description) and somewhat dry. But I just visited a small but well managed library where they just happened to have a storytelling event done by a few middle aged Africans in the court yard of a former prison. It was well attended. I am sure the city will take a hell of a beating (it already has) but I don't think it will cease to exist.

Regarding the "progress trap" you could turn the whole thing around. Imagine where we would end up with such a large fraction of "love of power people" at the helm. Imagine we would achieve technological singularity under such conditions. If you have some time here's reasoning why some people got really, really upset about this already:
The net
Possibly it is better to start with the second one, which also addresses the religion/science relationship:
TechnoCalypse ttp:// , maybe also worth a look in this context is
We may be extremely lucky that our oil ran out in time to save us from some really irreparable damage. I for one would think that makes a good story.

Do you believe that the first curiously inclined person to harness the power of fire set out on this beautiful and uninterupted exponential curve of progress (to live warm and happily ever after)? I think the chances are rather high that he somehow managed to be burned to death soon after. I can almost see him hobbling through the dry savannah proudly waving a burning stick above his head to show his mates...
Same thing with nuclear power by the way .

My takeaway message from all this is really not the "progress trap".

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, private subscription libraries used to be all over the eastern third or so of the US -- I recently found an old novel at a used book store here in Cumberland that had been discarded from the local example when it finally closed. I'd very strongly encourage you and other librarians to research those -- among other things, when the last funding for public libraries gets cut (as it almost certainly will), that might be an option for you if you're ready to pursue it.

Cathy, fascinating. Thanks for the link!

Shane, true enough.

Onething, how much do we actually know about gods? Merely that they seem to exist, and can be helpful. The rest is speculation, and my take is that it's best treated as such!

Grebulocities, thanks for the link.

Chris, thanks for the post!

Beneath, I should do a post one of these days about the ways that the poor used to provide themselves access to books, and a range of other services, via voluntary organizations. It might provide food for thought.

Zachariah, many thanks for the link! Second Religiosity, here we come...

Diana, I've seen the same sort of passionate faith in science in many other people, thus the theme of the last series of posts. To my mind, turning science into an ersatz religion is the best way to strip it of all its actual value.

1ab, "scientific opinion" and "scientific consensus" are of course social phenomena, not scientific ones -- and it's precisely the insistence that science isn't subject to the usual social processes that, I think, has landed it in so deep a cesspit of trouble recently.

Agent Provocateur said...


Its true that there are plenty of human societies that have lived in balance with their environment. I mentioned one group of such societies: hunter gathers. But once we started living in cities, the draw-down on the environment almost always exceeded the carrying capacity of the adjacent land eventually. Now a few cities in river valleys with an enormous agricultural base (e.g. ancient China and Egypt) often worked for a long time but eventually the cities grew in number and size that over reached the ability of the local environment to sustain them. Conquest and empire was a common “solution”.

So I was referring to civilized humans; by that I mean those who live in cities. Clearly genes are not a factor here. Perhaps I was a little loose in my use of the phrase “our nature”. I didn't mean all humans. Once we started to live in cities, we had little choice but to continue as the environmental destruction generally did not allow successful reversion to simpler modes of life. Having destroyed the environmental base, we had to move on. I don't say this as a way to let us off the hook. At any point we could have made better decisions to reach better outcomes, but the main trajectory was set a long time ago.

Let me give an example: myself. I have been aware of peak oil and climate change for a decade or more. How has this changed my behavior? Well, quite a bit. I now grow and raise a substantial amount of my own food, heat with wood, etc. In real terms though, this is trivial. Though my ecological footprint is much smaller than the average in North America, I cannot escape the industrial culture I live in. Even if I wanted to, I could not be a hunter gathered (though I do a little of both, but not enough to actually live that way). Laws and lack of societal support prevent it. Even subsistence agriculture is not a real possibility. Industrial society will not allow the level of poverty this implies.

Serious attempts to swim against the dominate cultural current would only leave me and my family exhausted and broken. Across the current: yes. Against: no. Leave the society altogether: yes. But if I stay in it, in no way is my life ecologically sustainable. Anyone who is a member of an industrial society who thinks they are living such a life is seriously deluded. My dependence on the internal combustion engine, oil, gas and the industrial infrastructure that provide these is absolute. I am caught in a progress trap and so is everyone else in industrial societies. To expect whole societies to chose poverty is to expect people to behave other than …. well …. than the way people do. It is Utopian. Yes I did chose relative poverty, but not the level of poverty that would make a real difference. Society would not let me in any case. It didn't happen in my life for the same reason it didn't happen 50 years ago for the same reason it didn't happen 5000 years ago. Unless already born to it, few individuals, and no societies chose the level of poverty that “living in balance with nature” implies.

Redneck Girl said...

A couple of tee shirt / drive by thoughts:

1. We can live a very rich life without being affluent!

2. Affluent and effluent, both can be toxic when improperly handled.


Pacificus said...

Dear JMG,

Thanks again for holding another After Oil science fiction contest. I thoroughly enjoyed participating!

I can only begin to imagine how challenging it must have been to select from all the incredible entries you received. That said, is there any chance that those of us who didn't make the cut might get a few words of feedback from you?

Mine was "Clash of the Citadels," a post-petroleum tale of competing factions vying for scarce water access in the early 22nd century San Francisco Bay Area:

Anything you might offer up would be greatly appreciated. In any event, your contest was a great inspiration to aspiring cli-fi writers who are longing to tell a different story.

All my best,

- Aaron G. Lehmer-Chang, Oakland

Mark Rice said...

In the past Terry Gross was not a mere "American media personality". In the past she had great curiosity. She had great guests and did a great job of interviewing and listening to them.

Her decline was visible in her interview of Hilary. Terry spent a long time hammering on the question "how long did Hilary secretly support gay marriage." Hilary is a successful politician in today's environment. Of course there will be a political calculation in all her stated positions.

Hilary had been Secretary of State. There were far more interesting things to discuss than when she changed her mind on gay marriage.

The interview with Hilary is just one of many bad recent interviews.

I remember a weekly post you wrote that was triggered by a Library getting rid of a copy of the book The White Stag. The decline of Terry Gross has a similar effect on me. Perhaps some of my reaction is because I am seeing that the so called "liberal" or "progressive" perspective now is confined to a couple of issues. Everything is either viewed though the lens of one of these issues or not looked at at all. There is Identity politics, a rather simplistic and narrow environmentalism and not much else.

The lack of curiosity is the part I find the most alarming.

Agent Provocateur said...


I think we are talking past each other for the most part, but you raised some good points.

First thanks for the links, I'll check them out.

My point wasn't that humans, or even civilized humans (meaning those who live in cities), or even humans who live in industrial societies are inherently bad or self destructive. But collectively, we tend to chose wealth over poverty. We do so because we generally chose comfort over pain and difficulty. That certainly is human nature. That tendency has brought those of us in industrial societies to the point where we are trapped in our dependence on fossil fuels.

There really wasn't (and isn't) much room to make decisions to reduce this dependence voluntarily because doing so means choosing poverty. Your society will only allow you to chose in the direction of subsistence poverty to a point. Chose further and it will make you not poor (just getting by) but destitute (unable to support yourself).

None of us in such societies can choose to live on so much less that would truly change the basic arc of the story. Further, you and I and everyone else who lives in an industrial society does not want to live on substantially less fossil fuels because to do so means to live at a level of poverty none of us is willing to accept. This is not to say we won't be forced to at some point; but I'm saying we can't choose to do so on the scale that would make much of a difference. In my reply to JMG above, I gave myself as an example. In an industrial society, it is impossible to live without fossil fuels and extremely difficult to even live on substantially less.

None of this suggests the reducing your dependence now will be a good think for you personally. Doing so will make you more resilient to the shocks to come. But even if we all did the same, the story will still play out more or less the same way, just a little less pain.

That humans are generalist; no doubt this is true. I'm not sure about sea level. Certainly the Dutch have created the landscape not destroyed it. But this comes at the expense of other places. They had an empire. I'm equally certain the Dutch are as dependent on fossil fuels as anyone else.

R.e. My “"We made our decision generations ago to consume the earth as fast was we can so we can have comfortable lives now. Now we know (actually we did long ago but hell, we just didn't care)"

Before scientific studies proved the link between cancer and smoking, your grandmother knew its was a filthy habit and no good for you. It is in that sense that we knew we were plundering the earth long before the point we are at now where the results now threaten us deeply. Where are the forests of Iraq? Did Gilgamesh and his like not know the harm they did? Where are the springs sacred to the local deities of the Greek islands? Did the classical Greeks not connect their absence to deforestation?

Nuclear Fission and Genetic Splicing? Do we really not know that more power means more unsafe?

The “we” I was referring to was city based societies generally and right now industrial societies. I explicitly excepted hunter gathers (and tree loving primates). I implicitly excepted subsistence societies. Over half the human population now lives in cities. That's a majority.

R.e.. The city you live in on the north shores of the Mediterranean. The ecological devastation of the entire Mediterranean basin and most other places civilization has been earlier has taken place over millennia. I referred above to the fact that this process was already apparent to the Classical Greeks. No, we city dwelling humans have trashed every place we stayed long enough. Industrial culture has just sped things up considerably.

R.e. Your “We may be extremely lucky that our oil ran out in time to save us from some really irreparable damage. I for one would think that makes a good story.” That's my hope too.

Tony f. whelKs said...

A couple of wildly disconnected points.

First: pertinent to public perception of science, courtesy of a piece I heard on BBC radio yesterday. I'm not sure know who the protagonist was, my ears didn't prick up 'til later, but he was a scientist who became known as 'The Man Who Can Record Dreams'. Now clearly, this cannot be so... so how did the monicker arise?

Weeeell.... his research DID involve brain scanning, and it did identify certain cognitive processes from the scans. Then a throwaway comment by an associate in a YouTube vid (you can't make this up) about what might eventually be possible one day with enough research, found its way to a journalist. The story was born. And our protagonist, instead of being able to publicise his actual work could do nothing more than deflect constant misapprehensions from journalists. Though he became a typical 15 minute media storm, even down to the obligatory Hollywood job offers, his actual work and the paper he'd published on it, did not get a single mention. NOT ONE. I think the media machine has contributed much to the undermining of the credibility of science amongst the public. After all, journalism has ceased to serve truth, and has become a corporate interest with corporate values. They keep piling up the circus so we don't notice the bread being genetically modified, drenched in poisons or being planted in furrows ploughed across stolen land.....

Second point: @Agent Provocateur, although I agree with much of your contributions in this thread, there is one point you repeatedly make which I believe should be dissected and re-examined, as I feel you may have been infected by a meme which has slipped under your otherwise excellent intellectual immune system.

Namely this: 'hunter gatherers lived in harmony with the environment'. Who or what this meme serves, I'll return to, but the point itself is palpably false. It was hunter gatheres who colonised the globe's surface. Everywhere they went megafauna were hunted to extinction, keystone species eradicated, ecosystems were ravaged and transformed by fire management, for instance.

This myth of the benign hunter gatherer has many roots - part of it is cultural colonialism of the 'noble savage' strain. Part of it is a romanticisation of privileged hunters who try to justify themselves in atavistic terms (notice they never do any gathering, which was the majority of hunter gatherer lifestyles), and I'm sure the 'primal' food fad has powered this belief no end.

The fact is, the HGs who survive living in some sort of balance have basically pulled short of totally trashing their ecosystems. They are not living in balance with the ecosystem they discovered, but rather a transformed and damaged remnant of it.

The benign HG meme is just a secular, anthropological Eden myth. Sure, the culture has some appealing features, but it is simply inaccurate to depict it as ecologically harmless.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Bill. Thanks for that. At this latitude, every 100m in elevation above sea level results in a shift in climate of approximately 1 degree latitude south.

Does that rule of thumb operate the same way for those elevations past 3,000m in the US? Does anyone farm them or are they purely for grazing systems? Very few people farm at high altitude here.

You are lucky indeed to have large permanent river systems. There is nothing of that sort within the interior of the continent here. Although, some parts are below sea level and accumulate water from tributaries during wet years. Lake Eyre is a good example of such a drainage basin which eventually evaporates or drains into the Great Artesian Basin.

Some of the mountain ranges here were much larger in the ancient past. The McDonald ranges in central Australia apparently used to be as high as 10,000m and are now worn out and not much more than 1,000m at best. It is reasonably inhospitable, but there are hidden places were time has been forgotten. Palm Valley is a good example.

Hi Shane. The narcissism for the young is centred on body image, which is why there has been such a change in chemicals. The older methods produce weight gain, whereas the newer chemicals hide this. I've read that professional sport has been blamed for this shift too.

Thanks for the thoughts about the general response to drought. I've read that it is pretty bad over in the south western corner.

As a fun fact, there are 1.65 people in California alone, for every 1 Australian on the entire continent.

Hi onething. I do my best! Enjoy the site, there are many weeks/months of opinions and information there.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG. An interesting thought. Land fertility can hide a lot of sins. It perhaps may show up if there are great boom and bust crops varying with the natural rainfall and temperatures as a wild card? I just don't know and I'm now into guessing territory.

A truly wild storm rocked the area today and I spent an hour or so with a neighbour clearing fallen trees off the road. It was a bit exciting for my tastes. At least there was a bit of snow higher up the mountain range.

Thanks for the good wishes and I hope you are not too busy to drop by and check out the text and photos.



P.M.Lawrence said...

I'm glad to hear the anthology is going so well. I even thought about writing a submission myself, but I only discovered this blog and the contest announcement a couple of days before the deadline. What with that and the submission method needing people to get blogs of their own up and running, I didn't try. Let us know the next time you do something of the same sort (hopefully, with an easier submission method by then).

Off topic, but peripherally related: last year I finished a commissioned economics research paper, and some people who saw that suggested working it up into a short book. That has some upsides and some catches. The main upsides are that it offers a better way to get its substance into the policy arena while also paying its way. The catches are that, as well as following the suggestions I've had about moving appendixes into the main body, incorporating more recent events, and so on, it will need thorough editing feedback and it will take an unknown amount of my time and energy, which are in short supply because of a medical condition. Even though I do have editing skills, e.g. from editing an amateur magazine some years ago, authors are always too close to their own work to do a proper job for themselves (see! I do know something). A silver lining to the delay is that I can do some editing because the time away will have given me a fresh eye, but I still can't afford to pay an editor and it looks like organising crowd funding for that would also be too much of a personal drain - particularly since I don't know in advance the dates when I would need an editing resource. The thought has occurred to me, there might be people who need editing for their own projects; if so, we could swap each other's children, so to speak. Is anyone interested, bearing in mind that I won't have anything fit for hand off for at least a few months but I can look at other people's work in the near future?

Greg Belvedere said...

JMG, like most librarians I'm aware of the history of libraries. While I think subscription libraries might play a larger role in the future, I lament this change. Having worked in one of the rougher neighborhoods in Brooklyn I appreciate what the public library can offer those with less means. But I don't think they will do anybody much good if they become little more than community centers. The library I worked at made a point of not controlling the noise level and implementing a bunch of other policies that came from trustee members who it seems never stepped into a branch. This was despite the fact that repeated polling of our patrons indicated they wanted a quiet library. I was also forced to do video game programs with teens. Call me crazy, but when the library is scrambling for money they should not be spending money on something that seems like the antithesis of what the library is about.

I could probably write a book about my experiences, though it would dredge up a lot of negative feelings. When I started working for the library I did not think I would encounter the kind of mindless careerism I encountered there. Decisions get made according to the latest trends, instead of trying to simply fulfill the very basic mission of the library. 3D printers, indeed. Employees were treated like machines. Beneath, when I came into the system branch librarians did a small amount of ordering. By the time I left it was all handled through the central library. Many of our responsibilities were centralized. This left us with very little to do, so they slowly started making librarians do more clerical work to keep them busy.

The most amusing change was when they told us we could not read on the reference desk even when we had finished all our work and the branch was empty. The previous director loved that I would read on the reference desk when she visited my branch. I was never in the same room with the new CEO, as she has titled herself.

Sorry for the rant, my point is that libraries face a lot of problems and many of them are internal. A subscription library might be a worthwhile endeavor in the future.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Terry Gross, I have always thought she was a lousy interviewer, but with excellent guests (other than her weird fixations on heavy metal rockers and the Seth Rogaine - Judd Atatow school of comedy). The only reason I tolerate her is because the long-format of her show gives her guests plenty of time to speak and be fascinating in spite of her frequently inane questions. I have also noticed that once upon a time the broadcast interviews never included the guests' telling her how much they enjoy her show and other pieces of praise for her. But now she frequently includes those bits. Her interviews with politicians who are on guard rarely go well.

Somewhere online I do want to find the Don LaFontaine version of her opening credits that he did when he was a guest on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me."

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...

latefall - you are right regarding the "scientific method" in the sense that the way science really works just involves an attitude, not a specific "recipe" for how to do it. If it really was a recipe, you could train chipmunks to do it (and I think that would have made the news).

Point of fact, in my entire undergraduate/PhD/research experience in physics, I never once heard or saw any mention of "scientific method".

I've also never heard of any examples where somebody was trying to use a canned "scientific method" recipe and bingo, out came a major discovery.

I *have* seen countless biomedical papers where somebody used a canned "scientific method" to generate completely pointless and uninteresting "discoveries" by thinking of trivial "hypotheses" and then applying canned statistical tests to "verify" them.

Still, attitudes can be lost rather quickly if nobody is able to persist in practicing them and allowing younger folk to learn by example/osmosis.

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...

Diana, the steady-state theory rather cleverly avoided the question of when the universe originated... it was just always there! The Big Bang theory can't say what happened before the 1st fraction of a second, which does leave the door open for a kind of cyclical theory, which might have satisfied your father's aim of not leaving any doors ajar for god to creep in. However the Big Bang theory is very much just a working hypothesis... it takes a lot of hubris to imagine we have a final theory of cosmology all tied up with a ribbon. It agrees with some observations, it hasn't been shown to be totally wrong and I guess it's the best theory so far, but there are still plenty of open questions.

I find that many people who claim to be very enthusiastic about science seem to get downcast when it is explained how much is still unknown. Yet for a scientist that is what makes it exciting ...

latefall said...

@Agent Provocateur

Yes, I think we were talking past each other to a large degree. I'll try to make myself more clear.

Regarding the "we": If you frame it that way, you correct indeed. I had not thought of that.

My angle was a slightly different. I deny a "we", as in "us humans". I'll try to put it like that: Imagine we are more like ants with a significant polymorphism. Only ours is even more pronounced - but it is in our heads so it is less obvious. Let's go a step further and say these differences in attitude really make us into very different subspecies. For example "cat people", "dog people", "Toxoplasma gondii people", "beaver people", "weasel people", "cockroach people", "butterfly people" and what have you. Now between these people there are certain relationships, just like in a regular ecosystem. Some are predator and some are prey. Sometimes the prey is helpless, sometimes it thinks it is helpless (an therefore is to a large degree), and sometimes it grows pointy things. Now you have elaborately described the pressures on dissenting people, and I agree to a large extent. It is to no small degree the job of corporate HR to keep this system in place. But what if corporate HR fails? What if the "cat people" grow a collective consciousness/become organized (internet anyone)? What if it becomes terribly maladaptive to be anything but a "cockroach person"? For example the people that to this day have not assimilated with industrial society.
If the others mostly die off they may be replaced by a very different set of subspecies - with different "top dogs" and different relationships. And it could be possible that influential people would be very risk averse and circumspect.
We only know that in an ecosystem that runs on fossil fuels this does not seem to be the case. But it is a small minority that softly enforces this as JMG notes.

Bill Pulliam said...

Cherokee -- the alpine tree line in the "Lower 48" ranges from over 3500m in the south to under 3000m in the north, lower closer to the Pacific. The "arid treeline" at the lower end is often around 1500-2000m in the continental interior. Below that is brushland, desert, and mostly-dry lake beds. In between the treelines is mostly coniferous forest. There's grazing and timber harvesting in the forest zones; most of the higher terrain is owned and managed by the federal government. Much of it is managed primarily for watershed and recreation; significant portions are designated wilderness (i.e. foot, ski, and horse travel only, no road-building, no motors).

Interestingly, if the increasing warmth beats the increasing aridity, the mountain west could become a net carbon sink. If the aridity wins, it could go the other way.

latefall said...

@Agent Provocateur
"Did Gilgamesh and his like not know the harm they did? Where are the springs sacred to the local deities of the Greek islands? Did the classical Greeks not connect their absence to deforestation? "
I am not sure to what extent these societies were aware of their influence on the environment and how that factored into their mores. If you don't write terribly much down, or are not aware of some proximate causes societies don't have to be conscious of terribly much.

"Do we really not know that more power means more unsafe?"
I would say this is (currently) a bathtub curve (no power is also unsafe) strongly influenced by our values and decision making processes. I think we share the impression that fission and splicing is on the rather steep upward slope of risk vs power.

"Before scientific studies proved the link between cancer and smoking, your grandmother knew its was a filthy habit and no good for you."
Well yes. But she still smoked pretty much till the last day that she died of cancer. And if she'd had a choice I am pretty sure she'd do it again. There was a war going on back then when she started.

"The ecological devastation of the entire Mediterranean basin and most other places civilization has been earlier has taken place over millennia." Granted, but even if they stopped cutting down trees the Med would hardly be a stable region with the Suez Canal. And even without it the greater area has been pretty crazy as far as I know. Is it good? Is it bad? I don't know.
When I went to Corsica there were a couple of darn old places like that didn't look too bad even though people have been pretty busy there for a long time (including villages).

"No, we city dwelling humans have trashed every place we stayed long enough. Industrial culture has just sped things up considerably." I agree with the latter point wholeheartedly, I have to agree with the first point because it is framed in a way it is always true. I think if we'd discuss it more it'd boil down to: You say something like "Every largish city of note has been operating in an unsustainable manner." To which I would agree but reply: "The issue I have is mostly with the *of note*. The current paradigm is not exactly interested in promoting alternative lifestyles to undermine its position. That does not mean something very different is impossible. There are *currently inconsequential* minorities that demonstrate this."

latefall said...

"Still, attitudes can be lost rather quickly if nobody is able to persist in practicing them."
I agree but what should make people abandon SM (more than today) - apart from (temporary) reflexes? I mean if you've really internalized the attitude it doesn't really matter if you are dealing with the occult, the big bang, a Wöhler curve, or some medical research. Neither should it make a big difference if you are chewing on the end of a pencil on a swivel chair, or bleeding and stuck in a foxhole.
Okay two factors come to mind: if you can't be quite open for reasons of etiquette or personal gain. But I think both these factors are on the decline.

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...

JMG, perhaps you can explain what it is that you mean by an opinion. Is an opinion connected to the person who gives it, so that another person, starting with exactly the same assumptions and evidence, might have a different opinion?

I assumed this is what you meant because this is exactly the problem with the way climate science is presented. If a "consensus" of "opinion" (in the above sense) tells you something you don't like, well it's a simple matter to find another opinion. If it's just about opinions, why shouldn't they all be equally valid? Everyone can have an opinion, so why bother with science?

Which leads to the question: if those 70's ice age people were expressing opinions, why does it surprise you that they were wrong? As I already mentioned, expert opinions are notoriously unreliable in practice.

Not coincidentally, scientists in a properly functioning discipline don't actually use the concepts of "opinion" or "consensus", because there is simply nowhere to put them, even if one were so misguided as to make the attempt.

Of course a bunch of naked apes inhabiting a physics department are subject to social processes, but successful disciplines got that way by learning how to modify those processes so that they don't get in the way. After all, if you are studying the interior of stars, it is highly unlikely you will be able to explain any data if your theories are merely "opinions" driven by social processes that have no bearing on the interior of stars. The modified social processes end up being a subculture and different disciplines have radically different cultures.

You cannot expect any tolerance of "opinions" in a physics or mathematics department. However the further you move away from mathematics, the more you will see the notion of opinion taken seriously. The reason isn't really to do with the inherent subject matter, but rather with a particular social process called "mathematics avoidance". Many students like the idea of science but lack confidence in or genuinely lack ability in mathematics. They deliberately choose disciplines like zoology or geology because they won't be expected to do any mathematics. I have seen up close what this leads to: in those disciplines, basic mathematical mistakes are treated as "different opinions". I wish I was joking or exaggerating, I really do.

Agent Provocateur said...


I am aware of the Pleistocene Overkill Hypothesis. I'm not in a position to be certain if it is better named the Pleistocene Overkill Fact as your post suggests. If you are correct, and you may well be, then I humbly retreat to my position made in my first post that the big mistake was leaving the trees. You cannot get me off my perch on that one … not while I still have opposable thumbs!

sgage said...


"Many students like the idea of science but lack confidence in or genuinely lack ability in mathematics. They deliberately choose disciplines like zoology or geology because they won't be expected to do any mathematics."

I'm not sure you understand how incredibly condescending this comment seems. As an ecologist, I find this statement really rather arrogant and insulting. You think there is no math in the biological sciences, or geology?

Maybe not the pristine math you do in your glorious Physics world, because the subject matter of these sciences are orders of magnitude more complex. By necessity, much of the math is statistics and modeling. You see, we are trying to deal with the real world, you know, understand things that are really important.

Get over yourself.

Trent Appleman said...

I enjoyed the imminent-ice-age excursion.

Science is a powerful tool, but if we are to 'wage science' then we should definitely recognize the tendency for the advocates of a single scientific theory to seize control of discourse and begin instructing everyone that their theory is a fact to people who know no better than to trust authoritative voices in strobed montages. These wunderkinder showed no interest whatsoever in acquainting a mass audience with the range of theories about climatic temperature fluctuation, such as the attempt to correlate them with the sun (or the less-theoretical-than-prosaic willingness to just observationally accept the fluctuations themselves rather than treating each peak or trough as the end-result of an ineluctable teleology). They were interested, not in ideas, but in mass-mobilization. Interest in ideas admits "maybe", but the ultimate end of mass-mobilization requires a definite Yes! or No! So may we distinguish them. Actually, mobilization of any kind requires a definite Yes or No, like the Flies of the Marketplace, because even if a supervisor does not actually know the answer to a given question it is important to group dynamics for him/her to choose an answer forthwith to function as THE answer. Ambiguity is so wonderful to thinkers that it takes especial effort for them to understand with just what horror the shepherds react to it.


Shane Wilson said...

First of all, the scientific method is simply the process of formulating a testable hypothesis, running an experiment against a control group that does not receive the treatment, taking measurements of both control and experimental groups, and seeing if there is any statistically significant difference between the control and experimental group. That's all the scientific method is. It amazes me that anyone could claim to know anything about science and not know what the scientific method is. Kids in grade school science classes use the scientific method to formulate testable hypothesis, run experiments and gather data.
This post has been about how badly science is communicated to the public, and we may have danced around a big part of the inevitable misinformation: the process of "dumbing down" that takes place from scientific journal to mass media. Perhaps just way too much is lost in translation for the public to understand complex scientific studies. The culture of acquired stupidity has been discussed on this blog before: perhaps the general public is at a level of ignorance now that the effort to dumb down timely scientific research and concepts to a level that the" average Joe" will understand does more harm than good. Maybe too much is lost in translation.

Shane Wilson said...

Umm, agent I'm not sure if you've read JMG'S posts where he discusses apocalyptic thinking. In them, he debunks thinking that it was all downhill the moment humans started agriculture, keeping livestock and building cities as another form of apocalyptic thinking. Maybe you could go back and review those ADR's? Or maybe he might provide a link to them?

Les said...

@Tony f Anagram: Thank you! I've been working up to writing a rant for a couple of days now, andy you've saved me a bucket load of trouble! The only thing I would add is that the meme is incredibly prevalent - even in this incredibly anglo country (Awstraya), where the first peoples have been utterly marginalised (if not quite actually wiped out), I find it really odd that whenever one of my WASPish neighbours wants to burn something, the excuse is never "I like burning stuff", but "the Aborigines used to do this and they lived in harmony with nature". It drives me potty.

Finally, @Agent, when one considers that your Pleistocene Overkill has occured on every continent and every island that our species has invaded outside Africa, always very soon after arrival and with those arrivals being tens and even hundreds of thousands of years apart, it's pretty hard to maintain the "hypothesis" aspect of your argument. You sound a lot like big tobacco/sugar/pharma/agriculture/bart simpson - it wasn't me, I wasn't there, nobody saw me, you can't prove a thing...


Bill Pulliam said...

The upward global temperature trend may have slowed, but it has not stopped. May 2014 recorded the highest average global temperature on record. The record it broke was set in April 2014. April 2014, by the way, was also the first month that Mauna Loa recorded a monthly average atmospheric CO2 concentration above 400 ppm. It won't be very long before it records its first full annual average over 400 ppm.

Climate trends are never simple straight lines. Irregular quasi-decadal and multidecadal climate cycles are well known. And warming will not necessarily just be superimposed on them. There's no reason to expect than things like the PMO, NAO, ENSO, AO, etc. will continue to operate as they have in the past, just with the temperature baseline ramped up. You can google the acronyms plus the word "climate" for definitions, by the way. The NAO and AO in particular seem to be going out of whack in recent years, resulting in extremes of persistent hot, cold, wet, and dry in the northern hemisphere.

Agent Provocateur said...


I think I understand JMG's thoughts on apocalyptic thinking. He has used the phrase “apocalyptic thinking” in the sense of the expectation of exceedingly fast collapse or destruction or end of a society or the world (however defined). “Near Term (Human) Extinction” seems to be the most recent manifestation of this in the peak oil scene. The problem with apocalyptic thinking is that it prevents effective action to meet a difficult future. If you are convinced its all over tomorrow, then the most reasonable response is to “eat drink and be merry (now) … for tomorrow you will die”.

As I hoped to make clear in my second post, this is not how I have responded personally. Since I have responded to my concerns about a difficult future, you can infer I believe there is some point in doing so. Any change of behavior to mitigate a difficult future is not indicative of apocalyptic thinking.

I have tried to made the case that industrial societies are caught in a progress trap and so by definition have few options. I think the only collective way out of the trap is to do what we seek to avoid: to choose poverty. This is what it means to “collapse early and beat the rush”. Collapse is poverty. No industrial society will consciously choose poverty. It human nature not to. Indeed it is the nature of all living things not to. All such beings seek more pleasant modes of being and avoid unpleasant ones. Poverty/collapse is not pleasant. The reason why humans are in the situation we are in is because we have spend millennia seeking and finding the means to more comfortable modes of existence i.e. material wealth. The basic problem is we have become too good at it.

My main point was that the thought that we could have made decisions about energy use as societies that would have made a significant difference in the main arc of our rise and fall as industrial societies is false. We are just too dependent on economic growth fundamentally linked to increasing energy use for this to have happened. This is not apocalyptic thinking. It says nothing about the speed of descent.

But you have hit on something nonetheless. So did Latefall. I think this something is also the reason JMG somewhat reflexively dismissed my initial post. What all of you picked up on is the the issue of predetermination. Being caught in a “progress trap”, or any trap, implies limited options: few ways and means to respond to a bad situation. If you think you have no choices in meeting a difficult future, even if you don't think that future is the “end of days”, then there is little practical difference between apocalyptic thinking (i.e. “its all going to end really soon”) and thinking “I'm trapped and there is nothing I can do about it”. I think this may be the basis of your collective concern/response. It is a legitimate concern. Nonetheless, few options does not mean no options. All you can do is exercise what few options you have as best you know how.

I wish you and everyone else success in however you chose to respond to the limited choices they have, provided you do no harm.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"Pinku-sensei, thank you -- I enjoyed reading your recent comments on my fascism series, btw."

Thank you for reading them and glad you enjoyed them--again. All I've done is recycle them with illustrations and transitions. That written, you said you might be interested in formulating your own political ideology map that includes class and other interests. As I mentioned in my latest commentary on your series, the only person who I know that created such a scheme was Michael Lind in "Up from Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America" and he didn't do a good job. He took the Nolan Grid and then compressed into a line and then added a class dimension to it. That really needs a third dimension to portray the scheme properly.

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