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Can an Unequal Earth Beat Climate Change?

What can we do?

What can we do?

Rainbow over the Tapajós River in the Amazon © Todd Southgate / Greenpeace

At the University of Minnesota Dr. Nate Hagens teaches an honours course called “Reality 101: A Survey of the Human Predicament.” Hagens operated his own hedge fund on Wall Street until he glimpsed, “a serious disconnect between capitalism, growth, and the natural world. Money did not appear to bring wealthy clients more well being.” Hagens became editor of The Oil Drum, and now sits on the Board of the Post Carbon Institute and the Institute for Integrated Economic Research.

Reality 101 addresses humanity’s toughest challenges: economic decline, inequality, pollution, biodiversity loss, and war. Students learn about systems ecology, neuroscience, and economics. “We ask hard questions,” says Hagens. “What is wealth? What are the limits to growth? We attempt to face our crises head on.”

Some students feel inspired to action, and some report finding the material “depressing.” One student shared the course material with a family member, who asked, “So what can I do?” The student struggled to answer this question, and the listener chastised her: “why did you explain all this to me, if you can’t tell me what to do?!”

A fair question. One that, as environmentalists, we often get asked. At the request of Dr Hagens, here is my list:

What can we do?

I have been asking this question all of my adult life. As I’ve witnessed the crisis intensify, I’ve experienced feelings of panic, anger, and helplessness. Nevertheless, I also feel at peace. I love my family and friends, I enjoy life in my community, and love my time in the natural world. Here are some of the ways I believe we can deal with anxiety about the world and take action:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Speed and localism

Speed and localism

This is an extract from Patrick Noble’s new book, Reclaiming Commons, which can be ordered online here.

SPEED

What of fossil-powered speed – the borrowed muscular lives of fossilised years? Do we forget ourselves in consequence?

What of two people walking side by side? They are more or less equal until they step into what money can buy – a car; an aeroplane…

What happens when the energy required for cars and aeroplanes exceeds available energy – that is, exceeds what is possible? Is that a partial recipe for equality?

But does that speed lead to a forgetting, not only of human speed, but of all human qualities?
What of the time between destinations – both the space/time and the space? Does shrunken time, also shrink space and so the richness of a life?

What of the purchased fancy of traveling between places, without the revelatory truth of the places in between?

If the places in between are a nuisance to be transcended by those millions of purchased photosynthetic years, is our knowledge not impoverished and our imagination stunted? Certainly, our chosen purchases must crowd out what is unpredictable, sacramental, revelatory, beautiful and true.
Listen, as we slow to walking pace, so the great mass of life comes around us in the ways we’ve evolved to live – in obstacles, delights, gradients, weathers, sights, sounds, scent… As we slow, revelation accelerates. That is, as we slow, what is human accelerates and swells. Also, what is possible, accelerates and swells.

Here’s something else, as we speed by our purchasing power, so we impoverish the passage of time. That’s as old as the oldest philosopher.

So, is slower richer in rewards and faster poorer – even though slower is poorer in money and faster richer? Is unnatural speed, not a perfect parable for folly?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

U.S. Groundwater in Peril: Potable Supply Less Than Thought

A groundwater well near Estancia, New Mexico. (Photo: Debra Perrone)

A groundwater well near Estancia, New Mexico. (Photo: Debra Perrone)

U.S. Groundwater in Peril: Potable Supply Less Than Thought

Drilling deeper wells may not be a good long-term solution to compensate for increasing demands on groundwater, report UA hydrologist Jennifer McIntosh and colleagues.

The U.S. groundwater supply is smaller than originally thought, according to a new research study that includes a University of Arizona hydrologist.

The study provides important insights into the depths of underground fresh and brackish water in some of the most prominent sedimentary basins across the U.S.

The research by scientists from the University of Saskatchewan, the UA and the University of California, Santa Barbara was published Nov. 14 in Environmental Research Letters.

“We found that potable groundwater supplies in the U.S. do not go as deep as previously reported, meaning there is less groundwater for human and agricultural uses,” said Jennifer McIntosh, a University of Arizona Distinguished Scholar and professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences.

Drilling deeper wells may not be a good long-term solution to compensate for increasing demands on groundwater.

“We show that there is potential for contamination of deep fresh and brackish water in areas where the oil and gas industry injects wastewaters into – or in close depth proximity to – these aquifers,” McIntosh said. “These potable water supplies are already being used up from the ‘bottom up’ by oil and gas activities.

“Groundwater is the primary source of domestic water supply for about half of the people living in the U.S. About 40 percent of all of the water used in the U.S. for irrigated agriculture comes from groundwater,” McIntosh said. “In Tucson, Arizona, about half of our drinking water comes from groundwater.”

Many rural areas in Arizona and other parts of the U.S. rely exclusively on groundwater for both agricultural and domestic use, she said.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Empire’s Sea of Woes

The Empire’s Sea of Woes

The noose cinches.

Second-rate George H.W. Bush got a first-rate Washington send-off. For one day it interrupted the downtrend in equity markets. It may mark the US apotheosis of inflated grandiosity. Across the Atlantic, Emmanuel Macron, pretentious popinjay of Gallic grandiosity, has gotten a deserved comeuppance. Brexit, Trump’s election, and nationalist uprisings in Southern and Eastern Europe apparently insufficient warning to the globalists who would rule us, the French rioters are sending yet another wake-up call. If that’s not enough, so too are many of the nations outside the Euro-American welfare state asylum.

The crazies’ kings, queens, and courtiers face a dwindling inheritance and mounting debt, but spend lavishly to keep up appearances. Falling markets and rioting taxpayers are unwelcome reminders that the money’s running out, leaving behind a stack of IOUs that won’t be paid. The aristocracy wants to offload the pain to the peasantry, but the riots demonstrate that the peasantry has other ideas. Our betters also want to blame their sea of woes on Eurasia’s leaders, but Russia, China, Russia, Turkey, and Iran are having none of that. They are, however, delighted to see the West crumbling and will do nothing to stop it.

Empire is America’s noose, hubris America’s curse. Once upon a time it didn’t matter much to the American people or their politicians what happened in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, or even Europe. During the nineteenth century, for the most part we minded our own business, and what a business it turned out to be. America became the world’s industrial, technological, and commercial powerhouse.

Success may be the hardest human condition to endure. Few individuals withstand it. For empires, it’s always temporary. They fail and topple from the pinnacle with monotonous regularity.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The 10 Daily Habits of Prepared People

The 10 Daily Habits of Prepared People

For some people, preparedness is about the big things: the well-stocked retreat home, buying yet another firearm, or getting a super-fancy generator. While these things can certainly be classified as preparedness endeavors, it isn’t the expensive and dramatic gestures that make us truly prepared people.

The way prepared people spend their time before an emergency is the real key to survival, and this is something that no amount of money can buy.

It’s the small daily habits that become an innate part of our everyday lives – habits that may not even be noticeable to someone outside the lifestyle.

Real preppers, the ones you should look to for advice if you happen to be new to preparedness, are the ones who quietly conduct their daily lives with an eye towards readiness. Not only are these the qualities you should strive for yourself, but they are also the qualities that can help you to determine whether someone is the “real deal” or an armchair survivalist.

#1: Prepared people think beyond “Plan A”

Anytime one disaster occurs, several others are bound to follow closely in their wake. One of the most dramatic examples of this was the tsunami that followed closely on the heels of the 2011 earthquake in Japan, resulting in one of the most horrific nuclear disasters in the history of the world.

But it doesn’t have to be on such an epic scale to qualify. No matter how excellent your survival plan is, if things go awry you must immediately be able to accept that monkey wrench and adapt your plan to it.

Prepared people understand that even the most perfect plans can go wrong, and they are willing to abandon it and act on the fluid situation at hand.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

You’ll Absolutely Need This Frugal Prep in the Event of a Total Collapse

You’ll Absolutely Need This Frugal Prep in the Event of a Total Collapse

You will absolutely need this frugal prep in the event of a total collapse.
There’s quite a bit of gear that I buy that is expensive. This is an abbreviated list of things that it is best to go with quality first: if you can find a deal, then do so, but not at the expense of the item’s quality being substituted. Some examples are firearms, optics (for daytime or for night-vision), cold weather gear, foot gear, snivel gear (sleeping bags, one to two-person tents), and blades/knives. These items you should always go with the best and with the type that is optimal for you to use effectively. In the interests of survival and adaptability, there are some instances where you can (and should) use something not so pricey if it will foot the bill.

One area you may wish to invest that is within your budget is gear that you can stow due to its collapsible nature that will help you out when you need it when the going gets tough. I’m talking about more than a “mess kit” for your food, or a sleeping pad for under your sleeping bag.

I’m referring to nylon bags that you can stow in your vehicle, in your backpack, or even keep on your person.

When it hits the fan, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of disorder. In this case, we’re putting English Property Laws and the innumerable, uncountable laws of the United States, its states, counties, towns, neighborhoods, etc., aside. This is information you will need for a disaster, for a collapse, or TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as we Know it), i.e., “this is the end” pat phrase. There will be a tremendous amount of stuff laying around, or stuff that you are going to need. Scavenge when you are able, and use the nylon bags to do it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Big Picture

Humanity has a lot of problems these days. Climate change, increasing economic inequality, crashing biodiversity, political polarization, and a global debt bubble are just a few of our worries. None of these trends can continue indefinitely without leading to a serious failure of our civilization’s ability to maintain itself. Taken together, these metastasizing problems suggest we are headed toward some kind of historic discontinuity.

Serious discontinuities tend to disrupt the timelines of all complex societies (another name for civilizations—that is, societies with cities, writing, money, and full-time division of labor). The ancient Roman, Egyptian, and Mayan civilizations all collapsed. Archaeologists, historians, and systems thinkers have spent decades seeking an explanation for this pattern of failure—a general unified theory of civilizational collapse, if you will. One of the most promising concepts that could serve as the basis for such a theory comes from resilience science, a branch of ecology (the study of the relationship between organisms and their environments).

adaptive cycle

Why Civilizations Collapse: The Adaptive Cycle

Ecosystems have been observed almost universally to repeatedly pass through four phases of the adaptive cycle: exploitation, conservation, release, and reorganization. Imagine, for example, a Ponderosa pine forest. Following a disturbance such as a fire (in which stored carbon is released into the environment), hardy and adaptable “pioneer” species of plants and small animals fill in open niches and reproduce rapidly.

This reorganization phase of the cycle soon transitions to an exploitation phase, in which those species that can take advantage of relationships with other species start to dominate. These relationships make the system more stable, but at the expense of diversity.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Feed a Family for a Month from Your Stockpile

How to Feed a Family for a Month from Your Stockpile

There are all sorts of situations that can have you eating from your stockpile for a month or so.  Maybe you have an unexpected expense that means a weekly trip to the store is out of the question. Maybe there’s a problem with the local transportation and deliveries aren’t making it to your area. Maybe your car broke down and there’s nothing within walking distance.

Whatever the reason, eating from your stockpile does not have to be boring and unpleasant. If it’s nonstop beans and rice, you’re doing something wrong.

What to stock up on

First, you should be stocking things you genuinely enjoy – and things that are similar to how you already eat. If you suddenly switch to nothing but buckets of food with ultra-carby, low protein offerings, you are going to be a) bored and b) lethargic.

At the same time, for most of us, the food we stock up on for the longer term will not be exactly the same. We live in a world where most of us can have fresh produce, meat from the butcher shop, and a gallon of milk whenever we want it.

So when you build a stockpile, it’s important to realize that while you can make it similar, it’s not going to be exactly the same.

Our stockpile relies on freeze-dried and canned meats, freeze-dried and canned veggies, grains, and loads of spices and seasonings.

Here’s a guide to eating from your stockpile for a month

I wrote a book called The Stockpile Cafe about eating from your pantry for a month with no fresh ingredients. It’s got menus for 7 dinners per week, along with serving suggestions and a shopping list. There are some ideas for thrifty stockpile breakfasts and lunches, too.

You can buy it here for $6.49: https://sowl.co/fgXTA

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Brexit: stage one in Europe’s slow-burn energy collapse

Brexit: stage one in Europe’s slow-burn energy collapse

The Brexit fiasco and French riots are accelerating symptoms of Europe’s earth system crisis

Riots in Paris (source: Irish Times)

Everyone’s talking about Brexit. Some about the French riots. But no one’s talking about why they are happening, and what they really mean. They might think they are, but they are usually missing the point.

On 6th May 2010, the Conservative Party took the reins of power for the first time since 1992, propped up with some help from the Liberal Democrats. Hours before the election result, I warned in a blog post that whichever government was elected, it would be the first step in a dramatic shift toward the far-right that would likely sweep across the Western world within 10 years.

“The new government, beholden to conventional wisdom, will be unable or unwilling to get to grips with the root structural causes of the current convergence of crises facing this country, and the world,” I wrote, describing the failure of all three political parties to understand why the heyday of economic growth was unlikely to return.

“This suggests that in 5–10 years, the entire mainstream party-political system in this country, and many Western countries, will be completely discredited as crises continue to escalate while mainstream policy solutions serve largely to contribute to them, not ameliorate them. The collapse of the mainstream party-political system across the liberal democratic heartlands could pave the way for the increasing legitimization of far-right politics by the end of this decade…”

My prediction was astonishingly prescient. The global shift to the far-right began within exactly five years of my forecast, and has continued to accelerate before the decade is even out.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future

Once is the defining image of the good life under capitalism, commonly held up as a model to which all humanity should aspire.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Yet with the global economy already in gross ecological overshoot, and a world population heading for more than 11 billion, this way of living is neither fair nor sustainable.

To live within our environmental means, the richest nations will need to embrace a planned process of economic “degrowth”. This is not an unplanned recession, but a deliberate downscaling of economic activity and the closely correlated consumption of fossil energy. We don’t argue this is likely, only that it is necessary.

You might naturally assume this will involve pain and sacrifice, but we argue that a “prosperous descent” is possible. Our new book, Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary, envisions how this might unfold in the suburban landscapes that are currently emblematic of overconsumption.

The well-known documentary The End of Suburbia presented a coherent narrative of a post-petroleum future, but got at least one thing wrong. There is not a single end to suburbia; there are many ends of suburbia (as we know it).

Reimagining the suburbs beyond fossil fuels

Suburban catastrophists such as James Kunstler argue that fossil fuel depletion will turn our suburbs into urban wastelands. But we see the suburbs as an ideal place to begin retrofitting our cities.

This won’t involve tearing them down and starting again. Typically, Australia’s built environment is turned over at less than 5% per year. The challenge is to reinhabit, not rebuild, the suburban landscape. Here are some of the key features of this reinvigorated landscape:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Growing Grains at the Home-Scale Farm

GROWING GRAINS AT THE HOME-SCALE FARM

I dream of growing grains, of being so far down the line in establishing a kitchen garden, a vegetable garden, a food forest, that time can be allocated to developing a system for handling the cereal part of the food supply. Well, let me put that differently: I aspire to get to that project one day, and from time to time, I do catch myself daydreaming and wondering just how it’ll work. Today, this morning, is one of those times.

Now, the truth of the situation, at least from what I deduced, is that producing fruits and vegetables and adopting a diet centered around them is more proximately realistic than growing my own wheat or rice. In large part, I’m on my way. The vegetable garden produced well over the summer such that the pantry has a nice stock of relishes, stewed items, and pickles, and the freezer is stuffed with bags of green beans, okra, and pesto ice cubes. We foraged serious quantities of wild mushrooms and persimmons. We have a box of sweet potatoes and another of autumn squashes. With some tweaks and natural growths (in area), those gardens will be there to provide substenance. With our new property finally purchased, fruit trees and berry bushes will hopefully start this spring. In other words, I can truly visualize how this side of things will get going. It won’t end the way I see it now, but the general direction is real.

Home-scale grain systems, however, elude me. Other than growing some amaranth this year, what amounted to about a pound of dried seed, I have no real experience with producing grain.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Demise of the Official Future

Americans are more likely to think the US is heading in the right direction since Donald Trump’s election. Why?

The poll results are extraordinary: the proportion of Americans who thought the country was ‘heading in the right direction’ rose sharply when Donald Trump became president of the US, while the proportion who thought it was ‘off on the wrong track’ dropped. The numbers were even at about 50%.

Negative perceptions have increased again since, but remain lower than during the Obama presidency. In September 2010, the earliest US data in the recent Ipsos report, ‘What worries the world’, about 70% thought the US was on the wrong track, 30% that it was heading in the right direction. In September 2018, the ratio was about 60% ‘wrong track’ to 40% ‘the right direction’ – about the same as the world average.

The US findings are at odds with so much of the media commentary about Trump, especially in the liberal media: his loss of the popular vote, the gerrymandering, the Russian interference, his low approval rating, the sustained criticism of him in the mainstream media. What can explain the trends? I want to offer one explanation, based on a social, not political, analysis; there may be others.

The answers we get in survey questions depend critically on their wording. In this case the question was not asking anything about the presidency, Trump and his actions and utterances. It asked Americans, ‘Generally speaking, would you say things in this country are heading in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track?’

I have long argued that people’s concerns about modern life and the future have been poorly reflected in politics, and it is this that lies behind the unease and disenchantment in the electorate, not just the conduct of politicians and the merits of specific policies.

The Sequel: life after economic growth

The Sequel: life after economic growth

Freeways crisscross landscape

Image courtesy of David Martin Jr

As Simon Mont wrote in Tikkun’s recent issue on the New Economy, “capitalism is collapsing under the weight of itself, and it’s not pretty.”[i]

Our globalised world finds itself caught on the horns of a seemingly impossible dilemma – either cease growing, and so collapse the economy on which we all depend, or continue to grow until we overwhelm and destroy the ecosystems on which we all depend.

As my late mentor, the historian and economist David Fleming, put it,

It is certain that there are no simple answers to this—none that could be proposed without proposing at the same time a transformation in the whole of the way we think, work and order our lives.[ii]

And yet, faced with this fundamental systemic conundrum, our leaders hold tight to their simple answer – growth.  Having worked supporting people with drug addiction for several years, it is hard to escape the parallels to the more tragic cases.  The dire consequences of our choices are piling ever higher around us, threatening the very continuation of our lives and those around us.  And the response is to double down on the current path and turn a blind eye – to sink deeper into denial.  It is just too difficult, too brave, to undergo that dark night of the soul – to admit the problem, to seek a new paradigm.

So we hear it over and over – we must keep growth high, keep unemployment low.  Donald Trump’s recent Twitter boast that U.S. GDP growth (4.2%) was higher than unemployment (3.9%) for the first time in over a century was both inaccurate and bizarre, but it betrays his allegiance to these numbers.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What World Do We Seek?

What World Do We Seek?

If David Attenborough (the British Natural Historian, narrator of the video series, Planet Earth and a national treasure in the U.K.), gives a speech to the UN proclaiming the end of civilization and few hear it, does our world still collapse? If the President releases the Congressional report on climate change on Black Friday and no one heeds it, does it have an impact? If Trump tweets his denial of the substance of the report (which strongly affirms the reality of global warming) – does that mean anything at all? And, if the U.N. releases a chatbot designed to empower the people of the planet (at least, those with access to Facebook) to act in reducing carbon emissions, does that signal a democratization of the process or a profound cynicism as to the likelihood of an organized, intra-government, legislative solution to the climate catastrophe?

We are being stress-tested on our ability to survive in the multiverse, the fractured continuum of space, time, matter and energy thatmanifests in parallel worlds wherefactual and counterfactual narratives co-exist.

We are being asked, by our political circumstances, to believe in both truth and untruth, the fake and the real, and yet retain our equanimity. We are being asked to hold two opposed ideas in our mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function – a feat that F. Scott Fitzgerald considered “was the test of a first-rate intelligence”. We are being asked to consume and to conserve; to change and to sustain; to believe in progress – time’s arrow, and in the everlastingness of a regenerative natural world – time’s cycle.

We are being asked to believe in the possibility of continued fossil-fueled economic growth while that phenomenon’s miasmic specter of global warming threatens to destroy the productivity and habitability of vast swathes of the planet.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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