Right on target, sort of

Mashup of commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:South_Korea_road_sign_214.svg and commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Speaker_Icon.svg; both in public domain

Yesterday’s missive by Rev. Kunstler was par for the course.  JHK continues to write well, and more importantly, the regular commenters chimed in with many bon mots and commentary. One note struck me as something worthy of repeating, and worthy of a bit of investigation.  User toktomi referred to Perry Arnett’s comment that,

“It will be in no one’s best interest to factually report the reality of the decline of fossil fuels once it begins in earnest.”

Looking up Perry Arnett, a few references showed up in http://www.oilcrash.com, under their ‘experts’ page.   Arnett, writing in 2007, had posited that by 2014, with depletion rates of 15%/year, we’d be in serious trouble by 2014.  Yet, here we are, living pretty much as we did (although things do seem a bit rickety…).  This isn’t to knock Perry by any stretch; I’d venture to say many of us who see the data are still surprised the lights are on.  Fracking and financial hocus-pocus may be part of the reason why we’ve kept the plates of civilization in the air for so long . But that it is in “nobody’s best interest to report…” may be one of the more disturbing comments on the entire collapse/powerdown issue.  When/as things being to decline, if nobody reports this, that means we might be in even a *worse* situation.   In the driving-over-the-cliff analogy, this is continuing to keep your foot on the accelerator as the car actually launches itself in the air, Thelma and Louise style.

If a boat was taking on water, and it was known by the crew that for sure, the boat was truly to sink, wouldn’t you want to know?


Off the grid

Off the grid, literally.  Own work, Public Domain.

Talking with a member of my own local world, they brought up a scenario where a friend wanted to put up solar (photovoltaic) panels on their house for independent electricity generation in a suburban area. As attractive as that might be, we both were cognizant of the difficulties (battery maintenance, inverter life, solar panel degradation).   What we both voiced was that this was a bit of an off-the-grid pipe dream.

There’s a fantasy that some folks think of from time to time, that of being completely ‘off the grid.’  Put solar panels on you roof, put in a well, and grow your own food – all are part of the vision. The idea is that you could withdraw yourself from the world, and go back to a ‘simpler’ life.   A few communities have done it; the Amish is one prime example in the US.   There are a few caveats with this wish, as far as actually carrying this out:

1) Simplicity –  A simpler life may mean removing some, if not many of those modern conveniences, like the Internet, smart phones, and fresh strawberries year round.

2) Community – In being off the grid, you’ll need a community of like-minded people who share your vision.  If you don’t want a community, and you want to be ‘off the grid’, you either have resources (i.e., money) that allow you to insulate yourself (and pretend that you are disconnected from the grid), or you will live a life with few luxuries. That life might look like that of Ted Kaczynski before he was captured, eking out a life in the wilderness (but still using resources from the larger world).

3)  Maintaining What You Have – As mentioned, without a community of people to trade with, or to specialize, your off-the-grid world, maintained by only yourself will be a lot of hard work, and any technological advantages you started with have may not be maintained for long.  Eventually, you will have to go ‘on the grid’ to solve some of your problems, or live without those trinkets.  New electronics, advanced healthcare, and even simple technologies like plate glass, bolts, and screws can take a large bit of doing which one person or even small groups can’t supply.

Part of this desire may stem from that independent American streak that many folks have been told about growing up.  But that ‘independent’ streak is a fiction.  Most people, in most places, need a community of people, and a wide suite of specializations to have a decent life.   Even the toughest folks in the military at the ‘tip of the spear’ need a huge group of folks in the back taking care of all of the things that make them so efficient at what they do.   It may be that we are so interconnected now (worldwide!) that some want to have the pendulum swing back entirely the other way, and a complete off grid “solution” is the ideal.  Like most things, extremes aren’t a good situation.

The middle path to this may be a community of like minded individuals or families that can work together in their own generally independent grid, and live a decent life.  The question may then translate to “What is the smallest off-grid community you can create that gives the life you want?”  And what does ‘generally independent’ mean, anyway?

The upper limit is that of our entire planet; our civilization is run on sunlight, stored ancient sunlight, and whatever other resources the Earth provides, including its 7 billion plus inhabitants.  How far could we take this down?   Could North and South America, for example, have the standard of living we enjoy, without any input from the rest of the world?  How small might a community get, if they wanted a self-sustaining 1970s level of technology, or a 1890s level of technology?   These sorts of questions are the same reasons that Mars colony plans seem a bit off to me – as cool as these sci-fi ideas are – you need a lot larger community/infrastructure to make these kinds of things work over the long term, and the ultimate ‘off grid’ experience isn’t very ‘off the grid’ at all.

What sort of population and land scaling could apply here, for each level of technology?  For Stone Age ‘off the grid’, it is very few people; for our modern world, it is the entire world.  What sociological law might we invoke, to get an idea of the size of any sort of self-sustaining community with a particular technological base?




Low prices

On sale! Own work, Public Domain.

As much as the Star Trek universe posits a clean future/post-scarcity economy, there have been more even-handed Star Trek series and plot lines that bring the reality of things like war and suffering to the forefront.  The best of these, as mentioned previously, is Deep Space Nine, with a lot more moral fuzziness than Gene Roddenberry’s original vision.

Part of the enjoyment from seeing Deep Space Nine is seeing how one of the species, the Ferengi, react to things.  Obsessed with profit, they are a parody of us (sketched by the writers in the 1980s, reflecting the financial sector), yet strangely enough, they have not participated in such atrocities such as genocide among their own species (the slavery issue is a bit blurry).   There is a great bit of repartee between Quark (a Ferengi) and a Vulcan about the logic of peace here, and it is well worth the few minutes of your time.  Even for a non-Trek fan, the mention of a Vulcan should immediately bring to mind the idea of logic and cold rationalism.  But in this bit of back-and-forth, Quark brings up an important concept, that one should “never pay more for something than you should.”  The “something” in this case is peace, and as he says, “The price of peace is at an all time low!” so buying now (negotiating, while peace is close at hand) is the logical move.   He even manages to surprise his Vulcan counterpart. This may be cherry picking a bit, as Quark has been known to  be a bit more corporate in his outlook, but the sentiments about peace seem to be a bit more heartfelt than that throwaway line.  But the attitude on peace does make sense.

In our world, the price of fixing the climate was a lot lower thirty years ago.  As time has progressed, that price has gone up, and will continue to go up if we don’t respond.  Likewise, a host of our other predicaments gets worse (and the price of ameliorating them) gets far higher.


  • Is it possible for capitalists to stave off the worse of our environmental problems, or is capitalism just not thinking the costs through?
  • Is the cost of reversing climate change so high that it simply is unthinkable?  The best analogy that comes to mind is that of someone being hopelessly in debt.  At some point, you continue living a profligate lifestyle, until bankruptcy kicks in.  Alas, with reality and Mother Nature, bankruptcy means extinction,  and there are no do-overs.
  • What might make capitalists take note of the environment, in a serious way?  Some companies claim to be ‘green’, but more often than not, it is only window dressing (also known as “green washing“).
  • It is surprising that cost-benefit analysis doesn’t factor into more of our world and its decision making.  For example, foreign aid to Central American countries might drastically reduce the amount of refugees coming north, reduce our costs, and make other people’s lives better.  How might we convince people that just in dollars and cents, it makes more sense to invest (!) rather than pay the price we are paying now?



Why do some care, and some do not?

Tree.  commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Tree#/media/File:GemeineFichte.jpg; Public Domain.

A retweet over at Cererean’s feed had this:

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit” Boomers cut all the trees down, and then said “I’m gonna die soon anyway, so what do I care? Go f*** yourself” Don’t be like boomers. Plant trees. Ensure your kids have it better than u did.

Of course, this was a bit generalized; some boomers do care, and have cared (and we’ve got a lot more trees in the US, so someone must have been planting trees!).  The bigger question is why do some people care, and some do not?  Some people who have kids are in the camp of “I’ve got mine, so I’m not worried,” and some people who don’t have kids are the very folks who plant lots of trees (literally, or figuratively).

What makes people take one path or another?  And even more amazingly – admit that they don’t care about the future or future generations?  How do you get people to care about future generations?


The fourth E

Another E?

Chris Martenson’s Crash Course gives a great summary of our troubled future.  In it, he breaks things down to Economy, Environment, and Energy.  The YouTube version is here.   All are interrelated, and all point to a difficult future.

This is relatively straightforward stuff, but there’s a fourth E that might be added, and that’s Existential.  Last weeks topic on UFOs is the part of the existential strangeness that might accompany (or upset) the applecart of our world, and as odd as may seem to some, let’s not count it out.  The fourth E might also encompass other existential events, such as the discovery of an alien radio transmission, or a worldwide change in outlook by humanity as a whole, or another bunch of ‘black swan’ events that might make any of the other E’s seem trivial.  I’ll admit, these seem to be long shots, but that’s why are lumped in with the big E of existential issues.

Talking about these existential issues (like NDEs, which point to a continuity of consciousness after death) may seem silly, as the other three E’s are far more concrete.  The other E’s have rational mainstream science behind them (well, perhaps except for the Economy, which is the provenance of economists who don’t believe in limits on a finite world). In spite of things like wars, and various glitches in our societies, we really haven’t had a big ‘E’ event that says ‘all bets are off’, and ‘now things are different’.  Even the attacks on September 11, as horrible as they were, didn’t fundamentally change the worldview of many, nor did they change things for humanity so radically.

And yes, as always, all of this could be wrong.


  • What other things besides energy, economy, and environment would you add to Chris’s Crash Course?   If not an ‘E’ for existential, what other things are on the radar that seem to be important?  An ‘E’ for epidemics (for which we are surely overdue)?  Or is this just a side effect of economy/environment?  How about an ‘E’ for Earth changes (like the shifting of poles, or series of possible ‘big bad events’, such as tsunamis, massive solar flares, and such, noted previously?)
  • Should we file this ‘E’ as a little ‘e’, since it may appear more tenuous?
  • What would make this proposed little ‘e’ become capitalized?
  • What would you consider ‘radical’ change?  As the old saying goes, a recession is when your neighbor loses their job; a depression is when you lose yours.  Are there some folks who are so well insulated that they might never experience an existential crisis (even though we all will meet one on our deathbed)?


The tickle of alien space bats

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ufibeamup2.png; Public Domain

The “Ask Me Anything” section of Reddit has a wide range of folks who have notoriety in a diverse range of fields, and as the name says – you can ask anything of the person of interest.

A few days ago, Paul Hellyer, a former Canadian cabinet minister of Defense and Transport did an ‘AMA‘, and naturally, folks asked him about the UFO issue.  For those of you late to the party, in the UFO world, Mr. Hellyer is famous for being one of the highest members of any government to admit to the UFO phenomenon as being something real, and something involving extraterrestrials.   The Canadians seem to have been quite blunt in this matter (see documents on Project Magnet). In the AMA session, he states:

Governments, especially the US government, have been working with several species for decades and knows an incredible amount about them. They have spent billions denying the existence of UFOs, ETs and their incredible characteristics.

Dang.  It is stuff like that might be called the ‘tickle of alien space bats‘ – a slight suggestion that there might be something very strange going on behind the scenes of the ‘normal world’, that would have vast implications for humans, humanity, and the environment.  This is something that seems to be gathering steam; a recent Fox News piece mentions that an American DoD official has been saying something similar, and revelations by US Navy pilots are starting to get serious notice (in the NY Times as well), rather than becoming career ending.

This doesn’t mean humanity and its odd way of doing things is off the hook.  If you were a representative of an advanced civilization, would you “bail out humanity”, without first putting it through some sort of rehab program?  Most of us will help friends who are in a bind, but if a friend continually trashes their personal life (and those around them), how willing are you to throw ‘good resources after bad’ if they continue to behave in a self-destructive way?  No matter how you slice it, the way we are living probably isn’t long for this world.


  • Alien space bats – nuts, or is there something to this?  Someone in my world, when asked about the reality of UFOs, simply and bluntly said, “All those people are crazy,” without wanting to listen to any bit of evidence, even when put forward by folks like Hellyer or even Mercury or Apollo astronauts.
  • Is there a middle path on the UFO issue?  Between “nothing at all/nothing to see here” and “extraterrestrials”, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room.   If these things are made by humans, there’s a lot of hidden stuff out there that is just as maddening.
  • One wonders – if an advanced civilization was to help us out, what would they ask us to give up?  Nuclear weapons? Fast food Capitalism? Nationalism? Religion?  Most of the scenarios where advanced civilizations meet less technical ones don’t end well for the less technical ones.