Tag Archives: sustainability

Shaping a Living World: Part 2

We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women. “ Pagan Statement on the Environment (http://ecopagan.com/) (Emphasis mine)

Today I want to talk about the second Sustainable Development Goal, as put forward by the UN: Zero Hunger. There is quite a bit to discuss here, and inevitably I am not going to be able to cover every aspect that goes into this. There is so much data and information, and so much to say on this topic. Many others have said it way better than I can. There are some great resources out there in internet land, and I encourage you to seek those out. This is a collective effort after all.

Before I get into the real meat of this post, there are a few notes I want to put out there before we go deeper. As is pointed out in the quote at the beginning of this post, these issues are all intertwined. Sometimes it is hard to separate all these different topics and discuss them discretely. These are holistic topics, and one often informs all the others. I think that is a good thing in the long run. It just means we have a lot of work to do.

Just as an example, you will notice that both population and food systems are mentioned in the opening quote, as well as women’s rights. Population and agriculture especially are very much intertwined, especially since the industrial revolution. Agriculture alone gave us the option to reliably sustain a stable population. But even so, the total population of the world has exploded since the industrial revolution.

One of the biggest things we can do is to help is stabilize our population growth, in addition to ensuring everyone has enough to eat. While these issues will be discussed more in future posts, one example covered above is providing access to universal voluntary birth control.

This alone has all kinds of issues with it, because more people means more mouths to feed and more resource use. But, population  alone doesn’t tell the whole story. As the article linked points outs;

Citizens of more affluent nations leave a much greater footprint on our planet than people living in poorer countries – although there are exceptions. Copenhagen is the capital of a high-income nation – Denmark “ – BBC

That means those of us in the US. We have a huge footprint compared to many other people across the globe. That will have to change, but that is a topic for another time. As the UN has pointed out, we could be pushing 10 billion people on the planet by mid century, and that means we are going to have to face the challenges created by that.

There are a lot of facets to this, which I will cover in later parts of this series. For the purpose of this post, we have to figure out how to feed our current population with sustainable food system, as well as plan for the future as well. With guidance from the Sustainable Development Goals, social democracy, and Drawdown, we can start to see how we might handle these challenges.

Sustainable Development Goals;

I encourage you to visit the UN site about these goals linked below. There is much more there than I have the space to cover here. But as a brief selection, the SDG’s provide this general outline on how to shape a world that does not have to worry about hunger.

– By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round

– By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons

– By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment

– By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality”

The SDG’s are often considered to be very ambitious, and it certainly is a possibility that we may not be able to reach these goals. But having a goal to shoot towards I think is just as important as whether or not we succeed or fail. It means we are trying, and that counts in my book.

Most of these goals speak for themselves, and will require a great variety of local, regional and global policy to meet. They will require a hard look at ourselves, and a lot of global cooperation. The first two goals are pretty straight forward, make sure all people are fed; especially marginalized or impoverished people as well as children. Malnutrition is a huge problem, because it stunts growth, and also is a big problem for pregnant women as well.

The third and fourth goals are more relevant to our purpose here, and more directly applicable through the solutions proposed by Drawdown. Under current projections our population is expected to grow, and we will need to be able to feed that population across the globe. While I think it is just as important that we stabilize our population growth, we also have provide for the needs of the people. The third goal really centers the importance of small-scale producers, which are often women and indigenous people. Their skills and knowledge in sustainable agriculture are necessary and important for a sustainable food system.

The fourth goal above is an important one, and can be addressed with some of the solutions from both social democracy as well as Drawdown. Let’s explore those ideas in a little more depth shall we.

Social Democracy;

Combined, the Nordic countries were the 6th largest donor to WFP in 2014 and among WFP’s top multilateral donors. “ – UN World Food Program 

The Nordic countries are doing their part to alleviate world hunger, but this is not the whole story to be sure. Just as an example , the USA is the single largest donor. This kind of funding goes into feeding people across the world, especially in low-income countries in the global South. It is also noteworthy that the World Food Program has a office in Copenhagen, which has been ranked as one of the greenest  cities in the world. That is surely a model worth exploring.

Such efforts are important and should be encouraged, but there is a lot more work to be done. Just as an example, overall the USA lags well behind the Nordic countries and Europe.

Based on the data available, though, the report finds that Scandinavian countries — Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland — win the honors. Sweden was already “84.5 percent of the way to the best possible outcome across the 17 [Sustainable Development Goals],” the report found, ranking number one in the world – and receiving a corresponding score of 84.5. The other three Scandinavian nations then filled out the top four slots, followed by many European nations. “ (Washington Post )

The Nordic countries in particular, and Europe more generally are well ahead of the curve on building a less hungry and more sustainable world. How did the US fair?

The United States, in contrast, ranked 25th, with a score of 72.7. It fared considerably worse than a comparable neighbor, Canada, which ranked 13th, with a score of 76.8. “ (Washington Post )

The logical follow up question is why?

These poor rankings were doled out because (among other things) the U.S. has too many people below the poverty line, too much adult obesity, too little renewable energy, too many homicides and people in prison, and so on and so on

the poor score of the United States underscores that while we’ve done exceedingly well economically, we’ve neglected the social and the environmental dimensions of progress — issues ranging from equality to ecosystem preservation.” (Washington Post )

Right there gets at the real heart of the matter. While the USA is a powerhouse of an economy, and the largest military in the world, we are behind the ball in many important measures. We are not doing nearly enough as a country to take care of our poor, our hungry, and to provide access to nutritional food either. We have not had a great record so far on social or environmental issues, and there is certainly a lot of room for improvement.

Let’s look at some specific solutions that not only help to alleviate hunger, but also go a long way to fighting climate change and create sustainable food systems.

Drawdown;

The applications for Drawdown here are immense, because we need a radical change in our food systems, not only to combat hunger, but also to live sustainably. Pretty much the entire “Food” sector could apply here. As such, I am limiting myself to the some of the most impactful solutions.

Food ;

Reduced Food Waste

#3 Solution 70.53 gigatons CO2 reduction by 2050

A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions… Beyond addressing emissions, these efforts can also help to meet future food demand.”

Especially in the US, we throw out a ridiculous amount of food. As the above quote points out, this is a waste in a whole lot of ways, of time as well as energy. Plus, in many cases, perfectly good food is thrown out, food that could just benefit some of our most vulnerable. In addition to contributing to climate change, reduction of food waste could go a long way into combating hunger as well. As the page on Drawdown points out, there is a lot of nuance in why food goes to waste. We need to take a hard look at these aspects and see where we can do better.

Plant Rich Diets 

#4 Solution 66.11 gigatons C02 reduction by 2050

Shifting to a diet rich in plants is a demand-side solution to global warming that runs counter to the meat-centric Western diet on the rise globally. That diet comes with a steep climate price tag: one-fifth of global emissions. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.”

There is no real getting around this one. How we raise and tend our livestock in industrial factory farms is absurd, from just about every level you can think of. CAFOs are often inhumane, and contribute huge amounts of emissions and pollution. I can’t go into all that here, but suffice to say there is a quite a bit of work to be done.

I’m not advocating veganism or vegetarianism here, though these are noble goals to be sure. I’ll confess straight out that I’m a happy little omnivore. That being said, my family is doing all we can to eat less meat, and that is a start.

Regenerative Agriculture

#11 Solution 23.15 gigatons C02 Reduction by 2050

Conventional wisdom has long held that the world cannot be fed without chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Evidence points to a new wisdom: The world cannot be fed unless the soil is fed. Regenerative agriculture enhances and sustains the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves productivity—just the opposite of conventional agriculture. “

There is so much that could be said here, and alas I don’t have the space to detail all of it here. There are so many ideas and options out there that we seriously need to explore, of which Regenerative Agriculture is just one. It is vitally important to our environment and our water ways that we reduce synthetic chemical and fertilizer use. Such chemicals often leads to toxic algae blooms, and the declining health of our water systems.

Conservation Agriculture

#16 Solution 17.35 Gigatons of C02 reduction by 2050

Plows are absent on farms practicing conservation agriculture, and for good reason. When farmers till their fields to destroy weeds and fold in fertilizer, water in the freshly turned soil evaporates. Soil itself can be blown or washed away and carbon held within it released into the atmosphere. Tilling can make a field nutrient poor and less life-giving.”

Large mechanized industrial farm systems have really done their fair share of damage, and it is well past time we start rethinking those methods. So much harm to our environment can be prevented if we change how we do so many things, agriculture is just one. Conservation Agriculture spares the plow, and in that way protects the health of both the soil as well as increasing resiliency.

Tree Intercropping

#17 Solution 17.2 gigatons of C02 reduction by 2050

Plowed under during the twentieth century to make room for industrialized methods of farming, tree intercropping is one of dozens of techniques that can create an agricultural renaissance—a transformation of food-growing practices that bring people, regeneration, and abundance back to the land. “

It should go without saying that planting and growing more trees will help in the work ahead. Trees are often removed on farmland, and agriculture since it’s invention is responsible for mass deforestation. Bringing back some of those trees can help by creating carbon sinks, wind breaks, and overall benefits to the health of the soil.

There is so much more I could talk about; composting, permaculture, urban forests, urban gardens, the whole works. Sadly, this piece is already longer than I had expected. As such I will wrap this up and I hope you join me next time when we explore the third goal; Good Health & Well-Being.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://ecopagan.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_democracy

http://www.drawdown.org/

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

http://un.dk/un-in-denmark/wfp

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/07/21/a-new-report-rated-countries-on-sustainable-development-and-the-u-s-did-horribly/?utm_term=.d33e3e80a675

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160311-how-many-people-can-our-planet-really-support

http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

https://www.ecowatch.com/top-10-greenest-cities-in-the-world-1881963132.html

https://www.wfp.org/funding/year/2016


Shaping a Living World: Part 1

In addition, there is a deeper and more profound change that is needed. Fundamentally, we believe that a change in spirit is required, one that fosters a new relationship between humanity and other species and Earth as a whole. As Pagans, we believe we are well situated to help imagine and create a future in which humanity lives in greater harmony with the rest of our planet.“Pagan Statement on the Environment

We face a lot of challenges with the future ahead, climate change just being one among them. As an animist, I am asked to engage; with the planet and with my community. My animism is both nature-centric, as well as human-centric.

It is people-centric (human and not), and because it is relational ignoring the greater problems in our communities and world is not an option for me. Being an animist means I need to think about where we have come from, and where we are going.

It asks me to imagine a better future tomorrow, for everyone. So now I have to ask myself, what would my future look like?

This is a pretty complex question to ask, and it is at the heart of this series. The answer to this question is informed by both my spirituality as well as my values, and the two are deeply integrated and intertwined. Both will be discussed over the course of this series, so that I can explore these things more deeply.

That being said, I have thus far been impressed with the ideas of social democracy, especially the Nordic model. Much of the data and information we have suggests that it is one of the better social models in the world, and the Nordics are consistently ranked as some of the most prosperous and happiest people in the world. As such, the values of social democracy will be central to this series.

In addition, I think that global problems require a global response, and many of the issues we face such as climate change are certainly global issues. As such, I found the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals a good mesh with many of my values. 193 nations representing a majority of the population of the planet have worked on the SDG’s, and therefore it provides us a road map that is agreed upon by consensus, because there is “no planet B.” Those too will form a way in which to frame this series.

Also, I believe firmly that our future as a species must be a sustainable one. For that reason another big part of project will be Drawdown, which is one of the most comprehensive plans to date on how to combat climate change. It will form a big part of this project as well.

All that said; I am a dreamer as well as a realist. I am going to be tempering myself with a healthy dose of skepticism and pragmatism. I will try my best to focus on what we can do today, or at least in the near future. We need solutions now, and so we cannot place our hope in some far off ideal.

As such, it must be kept in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect solution. The perfect is the enemy of the good. I am not dreaming up a Utopia here, as such a world is not possible at the current time. At very least, I simply want to emphasize the fact that we can, and must do better. The future is bleak indeed if we don’t try.

Without further ado, let’s talk about the first of the Sustainable Development Goal; No Poverty

One of the core philosophies of my animism is that the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few. We can and should make a concentrated effort on making sure no single persons goes without. It implies not only do we have to do better for our most vulnerable, it in some way implies we must.

Sustainable Development Goals

Some of the highlights from the SDG’s include;

By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day

By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions

Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.”

This is a huge global effort, and it will take a lot of policy decisions that I have not the space to write about here. Some of these decisions will happen on the local level, some regional, some national, and some on the international level. I like the EU’s principle of subsidiarity, in which decisions should happen at the level they are most effective.

On this ground, I think the Nordic model of Social Democracy has some insights to offer, and ideas we should look at more closely.

Social Democracy

That being said, I think the model of social democracy is on to some very important aspects that help to eliminate extreme poverty in our society. The USA in particular is behind the ball on a lot of these points, and have a deplorable track record of treating our vulnerable poorly.

According to the OECD, the 2012 poverty rates for Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland stood at 9 percent, 5.4 percent, 8.1 percent and 6.5 percent respectively….

The “Nordic Model” presents a starting point for other countries to develop methods to attack poverty as they work towards sustainable development.” – Borgen Project

Universal Healthcare – This is one of the most important things we can do for our most vulnerable. We need to frame health care as a right, not a privilege that only those with the means can afford. Every single person should not have to make the choice between health and bankruptcy. Considering one of the SDG’s involves healthcare, I will say no more on this for now.

Universal Education – This one is another big part of the puzzle that comes into play when trying to eliminate poverty. People end up in poverty for a lot of reasons, unemployment and displacement being among them. Universal Education (including Higher Ed and Trade/Vocational Skills) gives people the option of retraining, or any other type of personal advancement. Education is also among the SDG’s (which are all deeply intertwined), so let’s move on.

Universal Basic Income – The idea of UBI is still being explored, but the concept is simple; give everyone in a society a basic income just for existing. The idea being that a person has the right to have their basic needs met, primarily food and shelter. A person would receive a basic stipend to use however they wanted, no strings attached. It is being tested in Finland and several other areas, and some of the results are already starting to show;

“Not only could UBI replace the income lost as automated systems continue to replace human workers, experts also believe that having such a safety net would spur more innovation as the fear of failure would be reduced. People equipped with the knowledge that they will be able to provide for themselves should they fail will be more willing to take bigger risks, which could result in a spike in innovation that would help us all. “

UBI could help eliminate the “scarcity mentality”, and help people out of poverty and increased equality all around. I will be watching the idea as it unfolds with interest.

Drawdown

Getting rid of poverty in our societies with require social, cultural, and well as political changes. A change in spirit. It will also require technological solutions, and here we visit a few of the solutions from Drawdown that can really make a difference in the life of impoverish communities and people. They also help the planet at the same time. Please note that many of these solutions will appear under other Sustainable Development Goals, as I get to them.

Energy;

Rooftop Solar 

In rural parts of low-income countries, they can leapfrog the need for large-scale, centralized power grids, and accelerate access to affordable, clean electricity—becoming a powerful tool for eliminating poverty. “

Impoverished people all over the world, especially in the Global South, often don’t have reliable access to electricity. While this is a complex issue with a lot of nuance that I will not be able to cover here, one of the solutions proposed by Drawdown with a lot of promise for fighting poverty is Rooftop Solar. It is ranked in the top ten of most effective solutions, with a reduction of 20.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2050. As many people in poverty globally are often found in Africa and South Asia, rooftop solar provides a reliable option that fights poverty and climate change at the same time.

Micro-wind 

In lower-income countries, micro wind turbines can help expand access to electricity, giving people a way to light their homes or cook their evening meals, which can avoid emissions from dirty diesel generators or kerosene lamps.”

In addition to rooftop solar, micro-wind can act as a supplement in order to bring electricity to rural and impoverished areas. While the impact is not nearly as large as rooftop solar, it is should not be discounted. It is ranked #76 out of a 100 total solutions by Drawdown, with 0.2 gigatons of CO2 reduction. It could be a vital supplemental energy source for places without grid access, and just like solar the costs are currently plummeting, thus reducing implementation costs and net benefits in the long term.

Micro-grids

Microgrids also aid human and economic development. Globally, 1.1 billion people do not have access to a grid or electricity, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In rural parts of low-income countries, populations are best supplied with electricity from microgrids. “

Many rural communities are far away from city centers and centralized grid systems. These communities are often rural, and have low incomes. In combination with rooftop solar and micro-wind (along with other sources), micro-grids have the capacity to bring electrical power to entire communities, and help share the load variability among renewable sources. Overall it is ranked #78 out of a 100.

Food;

Clean Cookstoves

Around the world, 3 billion people cook over open fires or on rudimentary stoves. The cooking fuels used by 40 percent of humanity are wood, charcoal, animal dung, crop residues, and coal. As these burn, often inside homes or in areas with limited ventilation, they release plumes of smoke and soot liable for 4.3 million premature deaths each year.

As much about food will be covered under SDG Goal 2 (Zero Hunger), I have included clean cookstoves here. As I have pointed out above, many rural and poor areas do not have reliable access to electricity or utilities, so often they have to use more traditional cookstoves. By helping to clean up that process, we can aid people in poverty as well as reduce the numbers of premature death annually, as well as improve the health of people.

This solution is ranked #21 by Drawdown, with an overall reduction of 15.81 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Women & Girls

Women Smallholders

On average, women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force and produce 60 to 80 percent of food crops in poorer parts of the world. Often unpaid or low-paid laborers, they cultivate field and tree crops, tend livestock, and grow home gardens. Most of them are part of the 475 million smallholder families who operate on less than 5 acres of land.”

As Gender Equality is one of the SDG’s, I have decided to put this solution here. It is ranked number #62 overall, with a 2.06 gigaton reduction in CO2 by 2050. By giving women an equal share in both income and productive resources on their farms, farm yield would be expected to rise, and this would lead to increased efficiency of land resources, including a lower need for deforestation.

In the next part of this series, we will be looking at the second Sustainable Development Goal, which is Zero Hunger.

Thanks for reading!

Sources;/References;

http://ecopagan.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_democracy

http://www.drawdown.org/

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_Development_Goals

https://futurism.com/finlands-universal-basic-income-program-is-already-reducing-stress-for-recipients/

https://borgenproject.org/why-sweden-has-lower-poverty-rates/


Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 2

 

2016 sure has been a crazy year, on more than just a spiritual level. There have been a couple of events that I have been tracking through various sources. The first was the protest at Standing Rock, and at other locations as well.

It has been really inspiring to me that the Native Peoples are fighting for their rights for clean water and against big oil. I gave everything I could, and I will be watching and hoping that this creates enough ripples to move the world in a new direction. I think we need to move pass the days when we build our civilization on the backs of the dead, in both a literal (the oppression of others) and metaphoric (oil being made from long decayed matter). I also think that our First Nations (this is Canadian term, but I like it) might be on the front lines of that change.

They have certainly put their bodies on the line in more ways than I could. They have endured dog attacks, very serious injuries from “non-lethal” weapons, and even getting sprayed with water in below freezing temperatures. That is oppression at it’s worst.

Because more than anything, I think that Standing Rock really is a lot bigger than just a single pipeline. This is an issue for all people; human or not. It is about a clean environment, clean water, clean air, and clean land. It is about challenging capitalism, and about resisting the status quo which reduces our environment to resources to be exploited for profit. It also challenges the narrative that we ourselves are simply resources to be exploited in the same way. It challenges the “oil narrative”, and shows us there is an alternative to our way of living.

In short, we need to leave the fossil fuels in the ground, and keep building a new energy future.

I think we already have a decent start, but there is so much more to be done. Which brings me to the most recent election. It has left me with a great deal of anxiety and trepidation. The president-elect a “majority” of American’s picked for this country is not a good choice. He is in no way qualified nor has the capacity to lead this country. All throughout the campaign I have listened to hateful, racist, xenophobic, and just straight up bigoted rhetoric come out of his mouth. What is worse, is that it empowered people with those beliefs to act on them. The incidents of hate-motivated crime are up, especially in my home state. Many of my friends and loved ones have expressed their terror, that the rights that have gained recently might be stripped away again. Women, LGBT+ folks, people of color, Muslims, minorities of all stripes.

I have been watching his picks for his cabinet, and there is nothing there to redeem the next administration in my eyes. The former executive of an Alt-Right publication, and anti-EPA guy to lead the EPA, a CEO of Exxon-Mobile to be the secretary of State. Far from “draining the swamp”, instead he has openly embraced a team of people that represent everything I stand against. Big Money, Big Oil; overall a bunch of rich, elite oligarchs.

We have moved passed the democracy, and into the oligarchy. We probably passed that mile-marker some time ago at break-neck speed.

None of this gives me a lot of optimism for the next four years. I think we are going to see a lot of hard won battles eroded. The rights of minorities to be sure. I also suspect a new and stronger push for “domestic energy” which is going to be Big Oil bulldozing over every kind of environmental regulation. It is horrifying to watch any gains we have made at risk. I have made pretty clear that I think social democracy is a great goal to shoot towards. With the incoming gaggle of oligarchs, we have missed that mark by a great deal, and probably set those goals back many years.

I am still processing all of that. Each day seems to get a little worse. I honestly wonder how dark the days ahead are going to be. But I want to leave this topic for the time being.

Still, I tend to take the long view of things. I think this is a side effect of being a student or archaeology.

I have heard several people say this is how the American Empire dies. Some part of me is inclined to agree with them. Do I think our civilization is doomed? No, I’m not ready to accept that line of thought just yet. Nor am I the kind of person that thinks we need to tear down everything we have built to begin again. To employ a cliché, I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Honestly, I don’t know what the future looks like. We can speculate, we can model, we can guess; but that is all it is at the end of the day. Still, I can say with some certainty what I would like the future to look like. It gives me hope, and it gives me goals to work for. This year has been very enlightening for me in terms of my political views. I have seen a clear distinction between the things I can’t stand for (Trump), and the things I do support (Sanders).

So what does that world look like? I’ll tell you a few bits for sure, as I have been working my way through Bernie Sander’s book Our Revolution. I will use that here as a talking point.

“Over a hundred years ago, workers in this country took to the streets to fight for a forty hour work week. Marching under huge banners, they told the world they were human beings, not beasts of burden. They wanted time with their families, time for education, time for culture…

Today work is all we are supposed to do. If you get sick, you go to work it you may lose your job. If your kid is in the hospital, you go to work. If your father is dying, you go to work. If you have a baby, you are back on the job in two to three weeks because you don’t have paid leave…” pg 211.

We need to seriously rethink how we do work in this country, that is one of my big thoughts for this election cycle. Allowing for are variability and nuance, I think we as a country work way too much. In addition, as the quote above points out, we really don’t have any real choice in the manner. “Full time” is defined at 40+ a week. I have worked a lot of jobs, and each job has it’s different demands to be sure. As does each persons personal life. I am talking about a work-life balance here, and this country has swung far into the realm of “all work, no life” on that scale.

What makes it worse is that our minimum wage is hardly a living wage, and benefits are really a patchwork. Generally speaking, we are not guaranteed any paid time off whatsoever. Not vacation time, not sick time, not parental time, none of it. We are probably the only industrial western nation that does not allow for these things. Certainly when compared with the Nordic social democracies, we are well behind the curve in this regard. Just a few things I would like to see;

  • A living wage
  • Guaranteed paid vacation, sick, and paternal time off
  • Having “full time” be less than 40 hours per week (variable based on the job) for a better work/life balance
  • A general improvement of worker’s rights, including but not limited to: increase in union membership, more profit sharing and worker owned businesses.
  • Also, a general redistribution of wealth. On the whole, we worker’s see an ever smaller share of the wealth we help produce. I would like to see this change, not only at the business level, but at the greater social level as well. I will come back to this later.
  • I am also watching Universal Basic Income with a great deal of interest

But as college because less affordable, and as working families take on increasing amounts of debt, higher education may actually be increasing social and economic inequality, rather than alleviating it. Making higher education universally will not only create a better-educated society, it will allow us to be a more just society…

Not everyone wants to go to college, and not everyone needs to go to college. This country needs a large supply of carpenters, plumbers, welders, bricklayers, iron workers, mechanics, and many other professions that pay workers, especially those with unions, good wages for doing very important, skilled work. As part of a new approach to higher education and vocational training, we must provide those students with the education and training they need, regardless of the incomes of their families.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pg 343, 354

This is a large problem in our society, the lack of access to college and vocational training. Many of my generation are strapped with enormous student debt, which will limit our financial outlook for a good part of our lives. It may delay us in making larger purchases such as homes and automobiles.

But that isn’t the half of it. In our capitalist society, too often we focus on the economic benefits of higher education instead of the social ones. I do think a better educated public will help solve a lot of the issues we are facing. But it is not a silver bullet, and the work goes well beyond that.

In addition, not everyone needs or wants to go to college. The other part of this is better access to skilled trades and vocational training. Overall, between the two of them; we would have a more skilled, better educated, and I think more just society. Education in all its forms is a public good, and we all benefit from it.

That is why think;

-We need universal access to higher education, as well as skilled trades training. We are one of the few nations that does not provide these services to our citizens.

“I have, for as far back as I can remember, always believed that health care is a right of all people, not a privilege. Health care is a basic human need. We all get born, we all get sick or have accidents, we all need care and die at the end of our lives. Everyone needs health care. Every should have health care.

It has never made sense to me that the quality of care a person receives – indeed, whether that person receives any care – should be dependent upon the job they have or the wealth of their family. It has never made sense to me that Americans should be forced into bankruptcy because of a serious illness. It never made sense to me that some people will live and some people will die because of their health insurance status.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pg 318

Universal healthcare is also high on my list. This is the thing that everyone needs, and everyone will use. It is once again a public good that we as a society should provide for everyone. Really, there is not much I can add to this quote, except some personal anecdotes. For several years my wife and I were without health insurance, and there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t anxious about one of us getting hurt or sick. It would have been the end of us financially.

I have pretty good insurance from my employer now, but in my opinion that doesn’t go far enough. Health care should not be a privilege people get from having a decent job. It disproportionately hurts people that are underemployed, or in poverty. Why should we live in a society where only those who are decently employed enjoy healthcare? No, it should be the right of all people, not a privilege that favors the wealthy.

“…there is no issue more important, in my mind, than combating climate change and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy…

… affordable electric vehicles and recharging stations, more efficient solar panels, advanced battery systems to store wind and solar energy, and innovative controls to seamlessly integrate renewables into our power grid will require cutting edge research… The US can and must dedicate our engineering know-how to a clean energy revolution, in our universities, in our national energy labs, and in the businesses and communities all across the country.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pgs 251 – 253

This is a huge set of issues for me. The environment is something very near and dear to me, and we need to be doing a better job in conservation, preservation, and sustainability. I have said this in many other cases, so I don’t want to go into too deep here.

But the long and short of it is, we need to get away from fossil fuels as quickly and possible and rebuild our energy infrastructure to be as sustainable and clean as possible. Once our energy infrastructure is done, we need to continue to work to transition our transportation sector to electric as well. These things are vital to combating climate change, as well as vital to our future as a whole.

 

But that is enough of the politics for now.

As always, thanks for reading!


The World of Tomorrow

I have been spending a fair amount of time recently reviewing scientific and technological breakthroughs, and some part of it over at Futurism. It has given me quite a bit to think about, and as a writer, more than a little to inspire me. I am starting to feel that sci-fi itch again.

Some really cool things are in the works in the world right now folks, and it all has left me wondering what the world (Solar System?) is going to look like in my lifetime. Inevitably, most science fiction comes out to be speculation. Sometimes we writers get things right, and some times we are way off the mark.

There was an article I read recently here, that talks about some of the inventions that the Star Trek Franchise got right. It is no secret of course that I am a big fan of Star Trek, for a great many reasons. I grew up watching The Next Generation with my father, and that cemented the love of sci-fi in my mind real early. In addition, the amount of science, philosophy, and tackling of complex social issues strikes a special cord in my heart and mind.

But all my gushing about Star Trek aside, I make it a point to (at least) try to keep up with a lot of exciting things that are happening now, or just over the horizon. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of bad in the world, and plenty to come but the ways things are heading, gives me a little room to be optimistic. Maybe not Star Trek optimistic, but cautiously and realistically optimistic.

So the question is what the future of humanity might look like? The podcast shared by Futurism is a good start.

Things like Solar Farms…

And renewable energy more generally. I written here before about some of the problems that we might face in the near future, with oil being a renewable resource and all. Still, there was an article recently by Bloomberg that suggests we might be turning a corner in the near future. The short point being that we might be reaching peak fossils fuels, and not because of supply, but because of DEMAND. I think that is a very important thing. Still, there are some very real problems there, most of them to do with climate change.

Things like Sustainable Communities and Future Cities

I am going to be tracking the Regen project with much interest, because I think we really need to rethink how we structure our cities and our communities. We need to be operating in as closed of loop as possible, from extraction to deposition/recycling. We need to rethink our entire consumer culture, and get as far away from disposable goods as we can. We need to be creating things that can endure, instead of things that are used once and thrown out. On the whole, I also think we need to be creating things that are easier to recycle. Not only should our products last longer, but they should be easier to reclaim once they come to the end of their life. Seriously, check out The Story of Stuff if you have not already.

Things like Vertical Farms…

Part of sustainable communities will come down to land use. While things like Regen are really exciting, not all cities and communities will thrive on that kind of model. In addition, there are 7+ billion people on this planet, and so land use issues and feeding all those people become important considerations. Let’s be honest, agriculture is incredibly land intensive. It leads to things like deforestation, because those pesky trees are taking up all the arable lands.

For the record, I happen to like those pesky trees.

I think vertical farms are one possible solution to those issues, and one way to feed people in urban situations. In addition to things like community farms, and rooftop gardening, vertical (up or down) farms could be one method of feeding populations without the need for more acreage of land. There is also the potential with vertical farms to solve some of the land use issues associated with biofuels. Ethanol and bio-diesels will be needed, at least in the short term. In an ideal world, we would move our transportation sector to full electric, which would be powered with solar, wind and others in the mix. But that might not work for larger vehicles, such as trucks and ships. They might need a little more oompf than electric can provide. Maybe that is where ethanol or bio-diesels can come in.

But we have to face facts, more than just oil is finite on this planet. Livable space, resources such as metals and minerals, eventually we are going to run into limits on many things. No matter how efficiently we recycle our metals, our glass, our plastics, eventually there just won’t be enough to go around. Especially if we can’t get the population rate to stabilize. And even if we do, there is that whole entropy thing, and that waste happens.

Which leads me to conclude, no matter how sustainable our civilization, in the long run one planet won’t be enough.

Which brings us to things like… Starbases

Larger stations and “hubs” for space travel will be essential as we move out into the Solar System. The fact that the ESA already has near-term plans for such things is an impressive feat, especially as things like the ISS are more geared for research than jump-off points. The research is essential of course, and the knowledge and practical know-how learned from the ISS will be used for future endeavors. Plus, there are countless applications for manufacturing and space ship construction without those pesky things like gravity.

Things like the Moon

I have made the case for many years that we need to return to the moon on a more permanent basis. Not only does it have about 1/4 the gravity of Earth (making things like rockets easier to launch), it could also serve as a way station on the way to Mars, or further out destinations. It could also serve as a source of select resources and minerals, and maybe even as a refueling station for farther treks.

Things like… Mars

There are countless Mars-based projects in the works, from Elon Musk to NASA, and more besides. They vary quite a bit in timeline and ambition, but I think that Mars is a logical step in our journey out into space. Like the starbases and the Moon, Mars could be useful as both a waystation, and for resources as well as well research. In addition, it gives easy access to one of the most resource abundant locations in the system. The Asteroid Belt

And things like asteroid mining

I am all for making our civilization(s) as sustainable as possible. Hell yeah let’s go for that green revolution. But at the same time, I still harbor dreams of moving out into space, and for that we are going to need greater access to resources. Whether increased population and development on Earth, or on other worlds, we are going to need these things. Asteroids provide a great opportunity for resource extraction. Many mineral and metal resources are finite, and with asteroids we don’t have to go tearing up ecosystems and habitats to get at them.

As I have said many times before, as cool and as geeked as I get about all the science and technology; those things alone won’t be enough to create the world of the future.

We will need changes in policy that are forward thinking, as well as changes in culture and economics as well. I have made it no secret that I closely align with the ideas in the Nordic model, a kind of social democracy. A big part of that is because I believe strongly that we are in this together, no matter what color our skin, our gender, or our religious beliefs.

And we need to start acting like it. Sustainability, reciprocity, equality, democracy.

That is what I would like to see in the world of tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

 


Some Thoughts on the Long Descent

Because of a dear friend, I now have a copy of the Long Descent by John Michael Greer. I have finished up my first read through, but I want to spend some more time with this book and really chew my way through it. Nom nom nom.

Overall, I want to say that is a very good book. It is obvious that plenty of research and thought went into the shaping of this book. While I have found plenty that I agree with, I also found plenty that I want to quibble with. Or at very least, record a few thoughts on the matter before I dig deeper.

Premise 1 Peak Oil; There is so much to say here, so really in so many ways I am only going to scratch the surface here. Basically, due to the fact’s of the Hubbert Curve, and the work of many subsequent scholars, it is a fact that sooner or later we will run into peak oil. Peak oil, being the point at which the overall production of oil ceases to continue to grow. After that, there will be an ever diminishing amount of oil that we can pump from the ground. Estimates, both within the book and without, put this peak somewhere between the 1990’s and early 2000’s. It is not clear whether or not we have hit this peak or not yet. Estimates vary widely, mostly because estimating how much oil is left in the ground is not an exact science. These days, most estimate are between the year 2000 and the year 2030, give or take.

As such, while whether or not we have hit peak oil is up for some debate, the fact is that sooner or later we will be up against that reality. And, as our civilization is based on the premise of cheap and abundant fossils fuels, and decline in one is a decline in the other.

Premise 2 The Decline of Civilization; The fact is that no civilization can grow infinitely. As I have written on this blog before, there are limits to growth. The Long Descent reaffirms this fact, primarily in the area that our production and dependence on oil and fossil fuels cannot continue indefinitely. Plain and simply, you cannot have infinite growth when faced with finite resources. This is both the problem with an oil dependent civilization, and a general problem of capitalism in general. Once peak oil begins to set in, and oil production starts to stagnate and eventually decrease, an oil dependent civilization will have to diminish and start to contract as well.

I think this much is pretty on the mark, as premise one follows pretty neatly from two. The way I see things, we are at the end of an age. We cannot base our current model of civilization on petroleum, or any fossils fuels, going into the future. Such a model is unsustainable. If we have already passed peak oil, the future of our civilization will be one of non-existence. However, as Greer points out, it will not be a sudden apocalypse, but a long, slow, decline.

It is no secret that I studied archaeology and anthropology in school, and this has given me a solid foundation to understand these things. Let’s be honest, the whole field of archaeology is based upon the idea that peoples and civilizations of the past are not around any more, and that we can understand them by what they left behind. There is a great deal of precedent for the rise and fall of civilizations, and I do not have the space to talk about it all here. I have heard from many people that we are already in a state of decline. I cannot say I agree with them wholesale, but there are signs to be sure. Our infrastructure is crumbling, and its seems like the maintenance on many things are going by the wayside. Now, I cannot say whether this is a normal oscillation, or some harbinger of things to come. It is hard for me as a single person to say. Greer points out several civilizations that have fell in the past. However, it needs to be said that even a healthy civilization will have periods of growth and contraction. The history of a civilization is not a bell curve, even a stepped one of slight recovery and further decline as Greer details in the book.

This is not a denial however, and nor should it be taken as such. Sooner or later we will have to deal with some measure of decline, and such a decline would be spanned over human lifetimes. Most of us really wouldn’t notice.

Premise 3 Replacing Oil is more costly than viable; Greer throughout the book provide a good general overview of many of the so called “alternative” energies. Many of which fail the net energy test, that is they take more energy to produce than they create. He first takes on other fossil fuels, natural gas, coal, and other finite resources such as uranium. I am generally in agreement here, that these cannot solve the problems caused by the decline in oil production. At best they are temporary bandaids, even though coal is by far the most abundant of the fossil fuels, as Greer rightly points out, it is limited and very dirty. In addition, none of these are as efficient as oil in terms of energy output.

Naturally, his discussion moves towards other alternatives, such as solar, wind and biofuels. This is the part where I start to quibble a little bit. In my opinion Greer spends far too little space in the book weighing the merits of these alternatives. In addition, this is also where the book starts to show a little bit of its age. While it is generally true that ever the most “efficient” alternatives do not have the same energy yield as oil, I think Greer misses the mark a little when it comes to dismisses these options as not enough.

The Long Descent was published in 2008, and the alternative fuel industries have made huge innovations in regards to efficiency. PV cells and solar plants produce quite a bit more energy now than they did even a year ago. Wind turbines have followed the same course. And, one area where I think Greer really falls short is his focus on ethanol production from corn alone. Even wood waste has a higher yield of ethanol than corn, and in fact corn is one of the least efficient ways of producing ethanol. While I agree it is true that ethanol does not have as high energy yield as oil or gasoline, it is one of the few viable options to keep our current modern combustion engines running, without having to convert our entire transportation sectors over to electricity, which is a better long term solution.

This is not to say that ethanol is the end all be all. There are certainly land use issues, and all kinds of problems of infrastructures. What I am really talking about here is what Greer mentions many time throughout the book, the ability to “cushion” any kind of decline.

Another criticism that Greer levels at renewable is the fact that they cost so much to mine, create and process. Whereas he says about oil, “…today the world gets most of its energy supply almost free of charge by drilling a hole in the ground and piping the results somewhere.” Pg 18. This is very incorrect, as there are huge invests in mining the metal to build wells and derricks, building the pipelines, as well as the refineries. “Light sweet crude” as Greer often calls it is hardly usable in its base form, and has to be piped, shipped, trained and trucked to refineries. Refineries for any one who has not seen one are typically MASSIVE in scale, scope, and resources intensive. In addition, the process of refining crude into say gasoline, is insanely energy intensive. Oil is hardly any less resource intensive than any process needed to create renewables. The difference of course is what Greer rightly points out, that oil yields more energy per unit, and secondly that it is much more profitable in our current economy.

Premise 4; The end of the oil age is a Predicament, not a Problem.

“Plenty of pundits and ordinary people alike insist that there must still be some constructive way out of the current situation. First in line are those that insist that replacing the rascals in power with some other set more to their liking would solve the problems facing industrial civilization. Next come those who argue that if the right technological fix gets put in place, business as usual can continue….” Pg 20. Greer goes on to highlight other manners of thinking such as more radical versions of “burn it all and build something better” and building some form of sustainable lifeboat communities to weather the coming storm.

The problem with all these lines of thought, Greer points out, is that they handle Peak Oil as a problem to be solved, not a predicament which has no solution. In other words, the realities of peak oil are inevitable, and something we will have to face and that there are no solutions. I am inclined to only partially agree. Not that I disagree with most of the points he has made so far. There are limits to the growth of any civilization. Our current civilization is built on the foundation of cheap, usable oil, and sooner or later that will run out. That is a severe limit to our growth, and nothing can grow indefinitely with a finite amount of resources available. However, I disagree that there is nothing we can really do about it. Climate Change is a predicament, but I don’t think peak oil is. It is more than a problem with a single solution to be sure, in fact it is a whole mess of complex intertwined problems. I agree generally with the ideological camps that Greer has laid out, but I think any solutions lie in some form of “all of the above”, and not in any individually posited solution.

A change in politics, a change in society, and a change in technology.

While it is true that none of the alternatives have quite the same net energy yield as oil, I do think there are viable alternatives and viable means to weather or “cushion” the effects of peak oil. Entire countries are on track to be mostly free of fossil fuels within a decade or two;

Sweden

Scotland

In addition, just this year many nations of the world signed on to the Paris Climate Agreements. While I have plenty of quibbles with the agreements, the fact is that they are historic and unprecedented in range and scope. And while they are primarily targeted towards limiting climate change, a big part of that is cutting emissions. I.E, reducing our use and dependence on fossil fuels.

Add to this that huge renewable projects are coming online, or pledging to do so;

Some of the largest cities;

The Largest Solar Plant

Solar Planes

Electric Cars

And this is just a taste…

Now let’s be realistic for a moment. None of these solutions individually will be enough. It will take a concentrated, holistic effort at every conceivable level, from the individual up through global. That is why I am cautiously optimistic about the Paris Agreements, because it implies that world leaders as well as individuals and local communities are aware of realities ahead, and have made the pledge to do something about it. That is huge in my opinion.

Premise 5; History and archaeology show how civilizations collapse;

I have plenty of quibbles here, and I am not going to detail them all here. Some of my points were made above, but one of my biggest problems with this section is two fold. First, Greer is pretty selective about the ancient civilizations he uses to make his case. While it is generally true that all civilizations from the past had vanished, the devil is really in the details. His book points to the Maya, the Roman Empire, Mycenae and Minoan Greece, as well as others to make his case for both the nature as well as the time frame for collapse. But this might be a case of making the evidence fit the theory. Once again, it is generally true that civilizations take human lifetimes to collapse. Centuries. However, it should be noted that no one civilization follows the exact course of another. For instance, the Egyptians did not collapse per se, but were absorbed into other conquering empires. Same too with the Aztecs, and many others that had the unfortunate fate of meeting with conquering powers. The point being that change is a constant when it comes to civilizations. They are constantly rising, falling, growing and contracting. They are also changing form, from empire to a diverse collections of smaller “civilizations”.

There is a great book by Wenke and Olsewski called “Patterns in Prehistory” that covers the archaeological data from many past societies. I think at least one passages from the Wenke/Olsewski is worth quoting;

“It would be gratifying if we could extract from our review of world prehistory some important predictions about the future of humankind, but, as we have noted, archaeology should not be considered a predictive science. It is not that we cannot look at the past and extrapolate trends we see into the future. It is that there is no necessity to these trends. Evolutionary histories are what happened, not what had to happen or what has to happen, and they are unique.” Pg 606

Which is a good segway into my next problem with some of Greer’s conclusions. Modern industrial, especially Western, civilizations really have not historic or archaeological precedent. No civilization from the past had such scale and scope as our increasingly globalized world. Even the colonizers from the Age of Exploration did not have the same access to technology and transportation that have come into being in the last century. They did not have the same level of integration. This is not to say our civilization is immune of course, but only unique in another way.

Admittedly, these are mostly fossil fuel driven, but the fact that we face peak oil does not make these technologies and developments obsolete. Quite the contrary, it may serve a a drive to adapt not only our technologies, but our societies as well. Even Wenke/Olsewski have this to add on this line of thought;

“While major droughts were likely an important the demise of the Classic Maya should be seen as a period when people began to restructure their society and culture to meet various challenges, such as failures of rulership, increasing populations, and warfare, as well as major droughts.” pg 515.

So, while peak oil may be a major challenge that lies ahead, the collapse of a complex society and civilization in turn has to have a complex set of causes, and no one factor can be pointed to as the root cause. More than the fact of peak oil, or even our dependency on it, it will be a full set of complex factors that will determine the success or failure of our society. So unlike what is claimed in Greer’s book, agricultural collapse was not the central cause of the collapse of the Classic Maya, but one factor in a “perfect storm” of factor’s that led to the disintegration of their society.

Conclusions; The Long Descent.

Warfare, ineffective leadership, increasing populations, and ecological decay, combined with the reality of peak oil, may well prove to be the “perfect storm” of factors that leads to what Greer calls the Long Descent. And it is difficult to deal with that reality without a certain sense of trepidation and anxiety, even it it will be our descendants, not ourselves, that will live through that reality.

And yet, one can agree, more or less, with the premises, and still find the conclusion wanting, or downright inaccurate. It could be considered a version of the fallacy of the White Raven.

Premise 1: This bird is white.

Premise 2: This bird is a raven.

Conclusion: Therefore, all ravens must be white.

The logic of the premises can be sound, and yet the conclusion is not. Now, I am not saying that is the case here. In general principal, I think the premises are sound, and the conclusion is not necessarily faulty. Peak oil is coming, civilizations collapse, and the coming of peak oil may have bad results for our industrial civilizations.

And as Greer concludes; therefore we must prepare for the long gradual descent that follows, so that we can build the next civilization.

This is not a bad conclusion given the premises, and certainly a possible future. However, this is where I diverge a little bit, because I think the next civilization is already waiting for us to embrace it. While I do think we will face a contraction in the future, especially once peak oil sets in, for all the lower net energy outputs that Greer says make renewable energies undesirable, as I pointed out earlier there are in fact entire nations within the Western sphere are near to achieving a nearly fossil fuel free status. Industrial nations. These are the kinds of models we need to be following, and we need to take steps, as Greer puts it, to “cushion” the fall, and minimize the chance of catabolic collapse.

Some of these, as is the case with the Maya, might be things like ending warfare and supporting effective leadership. Greer’s catabolic collapse is predicated on inadequate resources, especially for maintenance. Endless wars in the Middle East (some over oil) could certainly reroute necessary resources, as well as having leaders that can actually balance a budget. Living within our means, and all that.

As Greer says, in his chapter on the Myth of Progress and the Myth of Utopia (neither of which do I subscribe to. They are among the first to go studying anthropology, because so many of the field’s early thinkers were plagued and blinded by such narratives), that there are serious flaws with only having one (or a small selection) cultural narrative. So I ask, why should the Long Descent be the only cultural narrative we put our faith it? While it is founded on a good model and reasonable premises, it is not inevitable, nor is it the only option.

The thing that has often struck me as a science fiction writer, and practiced speculator, is that we are often if not always wrong with our predictions of the future. Even founded on good logic and modeling, the Long Descent may well turn out to be wrong. Dead, flat, and wrong in every way.

So while some of the prescriptions for enduring the Long Descent are solid, we should be building local communities, and practicing old crafts. We should be developing organic and local food productions, and sustainable communities as a whole. Those are all a good start, but not a final destination. Things like climate change are nothing short of global problems, and will need global solutions as well. Local solutions to global problems will not be enough. While our individual spheres of influence may be limited to the local, we need more than that. We need integrated communities, allied communities, as regional as well as global networks of interconnection. We need holistic solutions top-down and bottom-up. No one community, state, nation will be enough. We are all in this together, for better or worse.

Which is where I diverge. I do not see industrial society as a chief social ill, but it is still imperfect as all things thus far created by human hands. It may be dependent on oil, but that is something that we need to change. Our current technology makes ethanol a viable (however imperfect) transitional fuel, that we can use in flex fuel and hybrid vehicles to lower our demand of oil. As many countries are doing, we need to convert our energy production to renewables, and continue the decline of fossil fuel demand. During the same process, we can continue to convert our vehicles to full electric, making a clean energy and transportation infrastructure. This is not merely a technological solution, but one that requires a rework in social, cultural and political spheres as well. It should be said of course that there is no silver bullet, one single “one size fits all” solution. Some areas may have ethanol, others abundant solor and/or wind resources. A diversity of approaches, but a collective result.

The question is one of time.

Because let’s be frank, there may well be a period of decline ahead of us. Just like the British Empire before us, the time of the America Empire may be waning. That means we do face a period of contraction, but how far is an open question. If we follow Greer’s model, the Hubbert curve takes us right back to the 18/19th century.

But I for one am not quite ready to resign myself to that just yet. There is too much at stake, too much to loose that we as a species have worked so hard for. Not just science and technology, but literature, learning and law as well. Letting our society decay means things like civil rights and our human rights go out the window too. Also basic protections such as fire and police. Lawlessness is not something I find attractive. While these are certainly not perfect, I am not quite ready to throw away lives because of things like gender, skin color, or whether or not one has access to medication or guns.

In my defense of the big machines, as an animist, I think they are people of a different sort. Our cars and industrial tech are not simply tools or technologies, but helpers and allies as well. And they have the same unhealthy relationships with fossil fuels that we do. They need our help to adapt, and we need their help as well.

I think we should take some of Greer’s suggestions, even if I do not accept his conclusions wholesale. If his abstract model of slow decline (with periods of crisis and recovery) shows the future of our current civilization, then an inverse model of slow growth (with periods of faltering and regression) represents the next civilization, which is already in the works. As Greer himself pointed out, the oil crisis of the 70’s was met with an equal response of calls for renewables and sustainability, which regressed as oil supplies stabilized. When oil prices (and electrical costs with it) spiked a few years back, so did the number of people investing in household renewables or buying smaller cars.

It is logical to prepare for multiple options, so let’s take Greer’s suggestions and do what we can to prepare for the worst. But in the mean time, let’s keep pushing towards electric vehicles and industry, and putting up solar panels on our houses and connecting to the grid, and pushing for legislation that let’s us build a more sustainable society. Let’s keep building the large solar plants and wind farms, but  we can build these things on a household level as well and contribute our part, and the lights don’t have to go out when the oil stops.

A common metaphor for these times, found in Greer’s and Beckett’s writing, is that we are on a train headed towards the Long Descent. Those in charge keep calling for more speed, and we can see the tracks ahead leading down a long slope of decline. Following that track may be desirable for those in charge, or those that think a 19th century or medieval lifestyle might be fun.

But I would add to this metaphor that there is another track, parallel to ours, that leads off in another direction, over the river and through the woods. Those of us who look out the window can see there is a train on this track, though it is well behind us. It is the train to the next civilization, powered by more renewable energy and more sustainable communities. It is gaining speed and starting to close the gap, all the while those in charge of the current train throw more coal in the engine and oil on the tracks.

And I pray that the green train gets up to speed fast enough so I don’t have to go off the rails of this crazy train.

Sources, references;

Wenke/Olsewski “Patterns in Prehistory”

Greer, John Michael “The Long Descent”