Water, Water, Nowhere

A funny thing happened on our way to Peak Oil. We started running out of water in a very large area of the United States. Some parts of Australia have been in extreme drought mode for several years. Several other countries have started reporting similar problems. Of course we hear outcries of more evidence of global warming. But historically the earth has gone through periods of extreme drought, long before there were any man made greenhouse gasses polluting the atmosphere.

Several months ago I became a part of our corporation’s drought remediation planning team trying to address the issues that are becoming more and more threatening in the SE part of our country. As a part of that team, I have become aware of a lot of issues that I had been only vaguely aware prior to addressing this problem. Some of these have a direct impact on some of the energy issues for which we are all keenly aware. I had been asked by some friends to put some of my thoughts on paper regarding this exceptional drought condition and how I envision it playing out. This is my own perception of what is going on and how it impacts people and the enterprises that support them.

First of all, mega droughts in the SE part, and indeed, all of the United States have occurred through out history, and appear to be cyclical in nature, the last occurring many centuries ago. Even though it is not a unique phenomenon historically, what is unique is the large number of people living there today as we go into this period. Like recognizing Peak Oil, we won’t know if this is another historical mega drought until we are well into it.

This type of drought is not unusual in this country, the most famous being the Midwest during the dust bowl days of the 1930s. Typically, they last for 5-10 years before the rains start coming back and refilling our many reservoirs and lakes. There have been others since, but man has been good about building dams and reservoirs to capture the water in good times, to tide them over in the lean years. This has been a trait of man for many millennia. And those plans work very well, as long as the drought condition isn’t prolonged over 3-4 years.

Now, we have a situation where large population centers are facing a very severe lack of water, the water level falling by the day. They no longer are measuring the time to extreme crisis in years, but in days. There are major cities in the Carolina’s looking at being out of water in under 60 days. There are states that are looking at imposing a usage cap on water, in other words, city abc has a cap of x gallons a day usage. When that cap is reached, the water is turned off, only available for fire fighting.

Well, you say, “I don’t live in the SE part of the US, what has this got to do with me and the energy crisis?” Did you turn on any lights today? Do you have a refrigerator keeping your food cold? Does your job depend on availability of electricity? Then you might want to pay attention. Unless you are a resident of Texas, which is not a part of the national power grid, all the rest of us are linked together in several interconnecting big power grids, often called the world’s largest machine. Guess what is the essential ingredient in all nuclear, coal fired, gas fired, oil fired, and hydro power plants? You guessed it! Water! For every kilowatt generated in a fossil fuelled power plant, .5 gallon of water is used. In a nuclear power plant that number is .62 gallon of water. I don’t know what the water usage in hydro plants is per kilowatt, but since that does not play a large role in the SE United States, I am not too concerned with it. Because peak loads all over the country are frequently handled by transferring power across the grid from areas not experiencing peak usage, a problem in the Carolinas with power generation shutting down from lack of water may show up in another location hundreds of miles away. Suddenly the drought problem in northern Georgia may become a problem for you, several states away, in a totally unexpected way. The same way a tree limb falling on high tension lines in Ohio several years ago was a problem all the way to the Atlantic in the NE. Suddenly your utility may find itself way down the peak production slope because the excess supply isn’t there, but the demand still remains. Companies in the drought areas will be faced with having to shut down because of lack of water for air conditioning chillers for electronic equipment, electricity usage being curtailed to preserve water for human consumption, and other side effects.

But what happens to major population centers such as Atlanta when the water becomes very hard to get, and very expensive? It is anybody’s guess at this point as to what people will do, but I can make a few educated guesses, based on what happened during the dust bowl era. We frequently hear of the just in time economy as it applies to retailing or manufacturing, but there is another piece of the just in time phenomenon that is frequently overlooked, it is the individual just in time income to survive. The other term we hear referring to it is the “living hand to mouth” syndrome. During the late 1920s and the 1930s, the average person fit that same description. For those involved in agriculture, if the crop didn’t come in that spring and summer, they were financially ruined. Those not involved in agriculture were also affected by the lack of business supported by the farmers and ranchers spending. Since one didn’t know how long a mega drought might last, their only recourse was to load up what ever belongings they could cram in their cars or trucks, pile everybody in, abandon everything else and head to where ever they heard a rumor of work being available (interestingly, where water was also abundant). It was called the largest voluntary mass relocation ever seen in the modern world at the time.

Will people and companies make the same choice again? I don’t know, there are many factors involved, but the ability for a large population to try to survive without a steady income and no reliable forecast of when the drought will likely end will cause a lot of people to do as in the 1930s, pack up as much as possible, walk away from what is left and go seek their fortunes elsewhere. Well you say, “I’m not in the SE United States, I feel for them, but I am staying put and working my regular job.” Oops, all those displaced people have to go somewhere, and now they are in your state, your community, your neighborhood, wanting a share of the jobs, a share of the electricity you are using(remember their power plants in the drought areas may not be producing enough to share with you), a share of the government services you depend on. Now their water problem has come to roost on your porch, and you realize that their water problem is just not their problem, it is collectively our problem.

I personally think that without significant rainfall over the next 4 or 5 months in the exceptional drought area, we will be dealing with a major impact to all of us. Even though Peak Oil appears just around the corner, the effects of a large area exceptional drought may be much closer to impacting us. Like Peak Oil, there is no single solution, no magic bullet, and no government program that can be put in place quickly to offset the likely damage caused by this drought in such a vital part of our nation. All the solutions proposed will take years to implement, we may only have months. A similar scenario to Peak Oil.

Chuck Willis has worked IBM working on the System 360 project. After 22 years in the computer field, Chuck became Vice President and Sr. Contingency Specialist for a major financial corporation, a position he has held for 20 years developing plans and processes to limit the impact of natural and man-made disasters on the corporation. Chuck and his wife live in Kansas.

Living In The Vortex

by Chuck Willis

Living on the Great Plains for nearly 40 years, I spent several decades as a Skywarn Spotter with a watchful eye looking out for the tornadoes that pop up in Tornado Alley. There are some similarities between the sometimes violent weather out on the plains, and what I believe is headed our way at the close of the oil age. For those of you who are not familiar with the weather phenomenon known as a tornado, they are a naturally occurring weather event that can range from an inconvenience(F1) to catastrophic(F5). The ingredients necessary for most tornadoes to form is fairly well understood, although the exact triggering mechanism is still being discovered. After being a Skywarn spotter for many decades, one gets a “feel” for when the conditions are right for something to develop, even though the sky is sunny, and people are going about their daily routines with no awareness of what is starting to brew some 100 or so miles away, just out of sight. Does that sound familiar with the storm of peak oil brewing just out of sight of the masses?

Most of the time, the Weather Bureau can forecast the potential for tornado activity in a large geographic area between certain times of a particular day, and notifies the spotters to be ready to deploy quickly. Even in this day of sophisticated Doppler radar, many tornadoes are never spotted with the modern technology until the tornado has grown to a very large size, so they depend on many sets of trained eyes in the field to spot potential trouble as it is developing. I think we have a similar situation with the “peak oil” issue. We have a government agency whose data clearly shows something is developing, and they are forecasting over a wide range of time using what they think is exceptional technology. We currently have trained “Oilwarn” spotters out in the field sending back information that an oil storm is developing that our current technology is not picking up. Unfortunately this oil storm will quickly grow to an F5 storm over the course of ten years or less. The optimists in the “Oilwarn spotter community” are hoping the oil storm will be nothing more than a bunch of cold air funnels that do little damage and dissipate quickly, even though they lack any substantial data showing that. The more seasoned veterans have a different view, a “feel” that something bigger is out there, and are forecasting a strong F5 oil storm that will wreck havoc on the world in it’s path.

Let’s take a simplistic view or cross section of the tornado vortex, and see what kind of application we can make to the oil storm vortex that will soon envelop us. On the outside of the thunderstorm, we can have shifting winds that blow one way then quickly shift to another. We can hear the distant thunder and see the lightning, but there is no initial indication of imminent danger. Counting the timing between lightning flashes and the arrival of thunder we can determine if the storm is approaching us or leaving the area. The sounds we have been hearing from the oil storm for the last two years is that it is approaching. At first the indication was that the oil storm may be 8-10 years away, or perhaps as far as 20 years out. Then the “Oilwatch” spotters tell us it is closer, maybe 5-8 years out. Now some of the technology is starting to pick up the brewing oil storm, and the “Oilwatch” spotters are saying that it may be really too close for comfort, possibly 2-4 years from striking. Now we are getting the rain and the hail of the oil storm, rapidly fluctuating and generally rising prices, rapidly fluctuating supplies, and some gas stations experiencing shortages in random areas. Could the vortex that ensnares us be far away?

Most tornadoes evolve in a pretty standard way. First a core of the storm begins to rotate slowly within the thunderstorm itself. After the core picks up enough speed, a slowly rotating wall cloud descends from the base of the storm. Although impressive looking and generally very large, the outer edge of the wall cloud rotates at a fairly sedate speed, and if all we had to do was to endure the winds on the outer edge of the wall cloud it wouldn’t be a big deal. The wall cloud many times masks what is really going on closer to its center, where the rotation may be really accelerating. You have to be in the right position to see the wall cloud. If it is approaching you, the rain and hail of the storm may be blocking your view. I think the wall cloud of the oil storm is just in front of us, its view being blocked by the heavy rain of fluctuating prices and supplies, and media/government/corporate fog. Fortunately we have the “Oilwatch” spotters out in the field with a good vantage point for identifying the wall cloud in the peak oil storm approaching us. Not every wall cloud produces a tornado, but the rapid rotation wall clouds generally do at some point. I think the constant little tidbits of information that we see flying around on the internet and in some of the news media, tells us that the wall cloud of peak oil is rotating fairly fast.

As the core of the storm begins rotating at a faster speed, a small funnel will generally appear out of the center of the wall cloud. The funnel may stay aloft and be nothing more than a curiosity. But tornadoes can be tricky to spot. It is very easy to focus on the vortex coming out of the wall cloud and not notice that there is a debris field being stirred up on the ground. A tornado many times doesn’t appear visible to the naked eye until the debris, dirt, and rain get mixed into the outer wall, so one has to look first for the ground debris field to be sure one is there. Are we seeing the debris field of the oil storm vortex in the diesel shortages of North Dakota, gasoline shortages in Canada, and fuel shortages in China? Perhaps, only time will tell.

At first the outer wall of the tornado is rotating at a slow speed, maybe 75 or 100 miles an hour. In a strong storm, or super cell, that can quickly grow to well over 200 miles an hour in a matter of a few short minutes. What was an inconvenience a few minutes ago, knocking down a few power poles and telephone lines, taking off part of a roof, breaking out a few windows, can quickly escalate to a monster that destroys whole towns (such as Greenburg, Kansas in May). All of a sudden, many of the homes that were shelter from mother nature are rendered unusable, many of the businesses the residents depended on disappear, the grocery stores are no more, the cars that were used to transport the residents are reduced to scrap metal, the jobs vanish with the businesses. Electrical power and communications are knocked out or unreliable; water is in short supply, and probably not safe to drink. What is left of our personal possessions is of little use to us in this new world that surrounds us.

I believe we are about to enter the vortex of the oil storm that is almost upon us. At first it will be an F1 storm, with some inconvenience: the gas stations are out of gas, may have some tomorrow or the next day, I just need to fill up at a half tank in the future; Oh boy the price of gas just hit $7.10 a gallon, guess we won’t be taking that summer vacation to the coast this year; Wow, I can’t believe that milk is $6.49 a gallon and bread is $3.79 a loaf, how can we keep eating like we do; My company can’t get the materials we need to do our work right now, so we are taking a two week unpaid time off until they get here; My favorite restaurant just closed up, guess not enough people can afford to eat out; Well we were going to fly home to see Granny Jane, but the airfares have gone from $489 round trip to $1700 a round trip, we can’t afford that with everything else; etc.

Unfortunately, over a two or three year period, the oil storm vortex will increase in intensity, and the damage around us will be shattering and incomprehensible to us. The oil storm vortex will pass quickly in a few years, but the damage will be with us for many years. We can have several responses; we can either sit waiting for someone else to come in and fix the mess, or we can have a few tools and gloves in the basement and roll up our sleeves and go to work putting our lives back together. We won’t have the luxury of choosing not to live in the vortex, but we have the choice of how we respond to it, protecting ourselves as best we can. The choice is yours.

Chuck Willis has worked IBM working on the System 360 project. After 22 years in the computer field, Chuck became Vice President and Sr. Contingency Specialist for a major financial corporation, a position he has held for 20 years developing plans and processes to limit the impact of natural and man-made disasters on the corporation. Chuck and his wife live in Kansas.

Laying with Oxen

I didn’t know what I was walking into, when DH and I agreed to have dinner, for the price of a bag of food for the food pantry, with our buddy. She got excited by my interest in oxen, and she wanted me to meet a friend of hers to continue the discussion. We walked into “The Grange Hall,” and there were 10 tables neatly set with paper table cloth, Styrofoam cups, (yes, I know) real plates and dinnerware and pickles. The average age, I’d guess, was 75. This was a holiday party, but let’s be frank: It was a Christmas Party, and we said our prayers before the meal. It was a good meal, too: roast pork, twice baked potato, chopped broccoli and a variety of baked and sweet breads, with all the decaf coffee we could drink. A dessert of ice cream and frosted brownie followed. Pleasant women in aprons cleared and served each course.

After a brief bit of “business,” in which those members present decided who would be getting the charitable donation this year (same as last year) and voting in an officer or two, it was time for The Party. It started with the dinner guests getting a 1/2 sheet with 25 letter combinations, all representing a Christmas song (for example: GRYMG, God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman), and DH immediately went to work on it, considering it his trivial life mission. Those of us who were a bit trivia challenged, however, were soon rewarded with Tick-Tack-Toe in which we were to simply try and get into the mindset of our Mistress of Ceremony, and put down nine words she might list that reminded her of the holiday season. The first that could think what was on her list, with three in a row, won the price: Hersey’s (TM) kisses. This was more my speed, and I quickly wrote down words like “Santa” and “Holly.” One by one she’d call them off, until one lucky winner shouted “Bingo!” and were rewarded for their efforts. I was not one of them.

Then, a play was put on, in which “Martha,” Noah’s wife, had a diatribe against G-d. She stood, as any keeper of a farm house does, endlessly, washing the floor. “The Holy One” sat in a white sheet, saying only “Noowww Martha!” to her long list of complaints. She was all excited when she saw Noah building in the back yard. She had assumed he was building her a new kitchen. Instead, he built an ark and filled it with animals: Animals she needed to clean up after. Her complaints were against the past, and all the trouble it brought. By the end, she told us of the sky clearing and seeing land again, and began to reflect on her life. She had her family and animals around her. She was close to what she loved the most. G-d’s litany of “Noowww Martha,” began to change it’s meaning. Instead of attempting to appease her, he appeared to be the Eckhart Tolle of the biblical era: NOW! Martha. As Martha got more present-oriented, she began to shift her perspective, and decided, after all, things just weren’t so bad. She acted it well, but still, my applause was probably more enthusiastic than was warranted and maybe my interpretation a bit too elaborate. Still, I enjoyed it.

Onto requests for someone who could play the old piano, but the Mistress of Ceremonies gave herself away by saying she’d do it, so those who could play sat silently. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” and “I’ll be home for Christmas” was sung by all, many in the room having probably sung these words themselves during WWII while stationed abroad. I was filled with emotion, and have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that only two songs were played, and only one verse of each. The festivities ended too quickly, but soon enough for the crowd to have a reasonable farmer’s bedtime.

For me, I was only beginning to get the info I needed on oxen. My educator, I’ll call him Frank, had a thick accent that made it difficult for me to understand him, despite the fact that he grew up in this area his entire life, as did his parents. His cadence was different as well, and spoke about towns with abbreviated names I had not heard before. He could rattle off which 4-H’er in all of New England might be giving up their oxen soon, because they’d be heading to college. He showed me a pair he was considering buying, in the Oxen pin-up calendar. When asked how much a team of oxen cost, he said “Tween two, seven hundred and three, three hundred for a good ‘n.” ($2700-$3,000). Without a pause, he warned me a few times against getting one breed for oxen, and honestly, I wouldn’t dare attempt to remember, lest any of you potential oxen buyers out there be lulled away from a perfectly good pair on my misinformation. Nothing seemed to discourage him from considering me a potential oxen owner: not my small plot of land “You could have ’em on one or two acres,” or the cost of keeping them: “If you get the hay from the field, instead of once it’s in the barn, it’s cheaper” and he seemed hopeful that they might even pay my taxes pulling timber, as “so and so” was able to do.

“I grew up in Boston” I told him, “I’d never held a chicken before I got my first batch almost two years ago.” He simply nodded his head, not the least bit impressed at what I considered my appalling lack of credentials. I found out later only one thing seemed to interest him. I met my female companion at the feed store later that week I learned what it was: the steepness of my land. This, apparently, would require my getting a younger pair and allowing them to develop their mountain legs.

“Did Frank show up at your place?” she wanted to know (I had promised this bachelor meatloaf, his favorite meal…) “Nope, why?” “He was going to stop over to see what your land looked like.” To quote James Taylor “Watcha gonna do with folks like that?”
Frank drove his first pair when he was seven years old. A neighbor saw him eye-ing his team, and promised to allow the boy to work them on the way to and from school, which he did for years. He got his first team at age 16. “Better to work them 15 minutes a day, than three hours on Saturday” my buddy told me–no slouch in the oxen know-how department herself. She “calls” the oxen events at the local fair, and knows all about the oxen “IQ” course that her ex-husband developed to bring brains along with bronze into oxen contests. A stroke left him unable to continue, so she took over. “You can lay right down with them if they know you,” she told me, no doubt knowing my fondness for resting. This I knew, because I remembered seeing those milk-maid teens lying lovingly on their cows in the barn during the fair last summer. The bovines barely seem to notice.

I researched the Grange, and I was both pleased and frightened by what I saw. The full name is: The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, and it was formed in the years following the American Civil War to unite private citizens in improving the economic and social position of the nation’s farm population. The National Grange was one of the first formal groups to admit women to membership on the basis of equality with men. It remains so today. “Founding members determined that a fraternal organization would be best able to combine loyalty and democratic ideals to provide service to others.” Loyalty and democratic ideals? To what end? To assure a strong and viable Rural America. Their mission is to the “elimination of direct government farm programs so as to assure a competitive and efficient farm system.” “In working together, the Grange is able to provide assistance when the government can’t and individuals alone aren’t strong enough. By working together the Grange builds community and people. All Grange activities are for the purpose of developing leadership, improving community life, and expanding opportunities for all people.”

However, before you mistake this talk for a ringing endorsement of the organization, I believe they have deviated from their more conservative, anti-governmental involvment and a dislike of corporate mergers, as the National Grange does advocate policies that make many of my local farmer friends cringe: NAIS, GMO’s, and energy advocacy policies are among the many. These are hard times for small farmers.

I will assure you, however, that we will find ourselves with strange bedfellows in these upcoming times, and we may want to re-examine the principles advocated by the historic Grange. Mission Statement includes:

* We give our members the opportunity to meet with and get to know their neighbors in a safe, family-friendly atmosphere
* We provide a place where children, youth, and adults can grow, develop their talents and social skills, and learn leadership techniques
* We provide our members with the opportunity to discover and solve community needs
* We give assistance to individuals in crisis
* We provide a great place for community networking
* We have a grassroots approach to local, state and federal legislative change
* We give our members a voice in state and federal government forums.

As I continue to fight against the promotion of NAIS, biofuels and GMO’s, I’ll look into the wealth of human capital that exists among the aging members of my local Grange. I’m more interested in how they live than what they say. Another old farmer complained to me several months ago: “Global warming doesn’t exist!” He can’t see the point of conservation, either. Then again, he uses less than $30 a month in electricity, heats with wood, and picks “weeds” in April to drink as a spring tonic. He’s going to show me which ones to pick and when. He probably thinks herbal remedies are “hooey!” I still want him on my team.

I doubt my Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) members would agree with my attitudes, but I keep thinking about what Willie Nelson has said: “We’re still here trying to get the word out that 330 farmers are quitting every week.” These Grange members keep showing up, like they have for 60 years or more, still sending the food pantry their collections and money, still bringing in the harvest or a warm supper when illness strikes their neighbors.

I’ll avoid talking about my disgust with agribusiness livestock practices, NAIS or GMO’s, when Frank comes over for his meatloaf. He, himself, is a dying breed that still thinks you don’t need 100 acres to keep an oxen pair, or that, maybe more surprisingly, a clinical psychologist can lay down with oxen and not get fleas…that is, if the land ain’t too steep.

The Emotional Scientist & Melting Models

Caution: This article is not suitable for children. Adults, read with caution or in supportive company.

“We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn


Alvy’s mother: He’s been depressed. All of a sudden, he can’t do anything.
Doctor: Why are you depressed, Alvy?
Alvy’s mother: Tell Dr. Flicker. (To the doctor) It’s something he read.
Doctor: Something he read, huh?
Alvy: The universe is expanding…Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, some day it will break apart and that will be the end of everything.
Alvy’s mother: What is that your business? (To the doctor) He stopped doing his homework.
Alvy: What’s the point?
Alvy’s mother: What has the universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding.
Doctor: It won’t be expanding for billions of years, yet Alvy. And we’ve got to try to enjoy ourselves while we’re here, huh, huh? Ha, ha, ha.
_______________________________________From the Movie: Annie Hall written by Woody Allen


“The Arctic sea-ice may disappear entirely as early as 2013, and climate scientists are shocked by what they are seeing.”

If it isn’t nice to ‘fool Mother Nature,’ it is even worse when Mother Nature fools scientists, as she’s doing now. She’s doing things that they don’t have models for, so they just have to “wait and see” what she’s going to do next. She’s committed the sin that women, as a group, are accused of: being fickle and unpredictable. In his paper entitled “The Big Melt: Lessons from the Arctic Summer of 2007 dated November 4th, 2007, David Spratt gives a systematic review of not only what it means to live with melting ice caps, but, inadvertently, the intensity of emotional reactions of scientists faced with an unpredictable future and grossly flawed models. He hopes his report acts to “provide education and advocacy” and “offers a message of hope.”

Filled with emotionally charged words that reflect intense language for scientists, like “catastrophic,” “shocked,” “doomed,” “faster than we thought,” “unprecedented in science,” “disintegrating at a frightening speed,” [resulting in] “rapid non-lineal collapse” and “a hundred years ahead of schedule.” “[I]t’s really quite astounding,” said one shell-shocked scientist. First, let’s take a look at what’s worrying the world of climate science, and then we’ll look at the psychological frame and language itself. I’ll offer my own psychological translation along the way for those of you who have eye “glaze-over” when percentages and CO2 emissions are discussed. A handy Peak Shrink recap is provided to those too frightened to read this entire blog entry.

The Carbonized World

Thanks to Al Gore, it is no secret that CO2 emissions are rapidly rising and humans (at least a few with names and addresses) play a huge role. This report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates a rise of 1.1 percent from 1990-1999 to more than 3 percent from 2000-2004. Still, “no region is decarbonizing its energy supply.” (Translation: No one is doing squat.) The World also appears to be getting fewer bits of “wealth” for its fossil fuel dollar. (Translation: Humans are burning it more and enjoying it less.)

“Emissions are increasing faster than we thought… [and] the impact of climate change will also happen even sooner than expected.”

What impacts are we expecting? “Without further action…we may be heading for temperature rises of at least three to four degrees above pre-industrial levels….We have a window of only 10 to 15 years to avoid crossing a catastrophic tipping point. These would have serious consequences for our economic growth prospects, the safety of our people and the supply of resources, most notably energy.” [Translation: Catastrophe would definitely be bad for business, the stock market, and fossil fuel prices.] The speakers in this case are not scientists, but politicians: Tony Blair and Jan Peter Balkenende warning European leaders in 2006. The scientists, it appears, have larger concerns than “economic growth.”

”Beyond What Was Expected Even 2-3 Years Ago”

Scientists speak in odd ways. Tim Lenton told conference goers “we are close to being committed to a collapse of the Greenland ice sheet.” What does it mean to be “close to being committed?” Is this like almost engaged? What are they saying they are almost committed to? It is sort of like a ham and egg breakfast: “The chicken’s involved but the pig is committed.”

Apparently, temperatures are rising very fast, turning bright reflective white ice and snow into heat absorbing (and warming) wet darkness. The pace is happening so fast, it is racing beyond the “tipping point,” the “threshold [after] which glaciologist think the (Greenland) iced sheet may be doomed.” Chunks of ice glide into the ocean on “rivers of water.” Think of it as a sort of ‘water slide’ for glacial ice. More and more chunks of ice race down the water slide at “three times faster” or “up to 10 times more rapidly” than scientific model measurements thought and the speed is “increasing in time.”

The Greenland ice cap drops chunks into the oceans that are so massive that they trigger earthquakes. All of this, we’re told “implies the potential for us to lose control [because] we cannot tie a rope around a collapsing ice sheet.” We aren’t “losing control,” mind you. These nasty chunks are only ‘implying potential for us to lose control.’

“Nobody knows now how quickly it will melt…This is all unprecedented in the science …Until recently we didn’t believe it possible, for instance, for water to permeate a glacier all the way to the bottom. But that’s what’s happening. As the water pools, it opens more areas of ice to melting.”

[Reader’s Digest Translation: To quote Mary Poppins: “Impossible things are happening every day.” ]

[Translation: We feel helpless and we are out of control because this stuff is so massive, so GLOBAL, that if some of us even IMAGINED that it could happen, we thought it was going to be a long time from now, so we were in no hurry to talk about it. We are scientists, though, and not crazy Doomers, so we use words that are calming like “implies” and “close to being committed” instead of waving our hands and shouting “DO SOMETHING!”]

Blue Arctic Ocean Free of Sea Ice by the Summer of 2013

The Arctic is melting, and when it does, so goes Greenland. The melting of Greenland has profound implications for global sea levels, never mind to the ecosystem of the Arctic and Greenland itself. This, we are told, is only a “likely scenario:” “off the record,” because there are no verifiable models yet proven.” (Translation: In order to have scientifically valid models, we’ll just have to wait for Greenland’s ice to melt first.) But climate scientists, when they use their imaginations, envision frightening new reality.

As Above, So Below

Those scary satellite pictures of the shrinking ice cap, as startling as they are, only tell half the story. Thinning is happening under the water as well. Warmer air temperatures, as well as warming sea, are melting these ice caps quicker than anyone expected.

What’s worse, warmer and more acidic seas may kill off phytoplankton. Phytoplankton typically removes up to 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year from the Earth’s atmosphere (as much as all plant life on the planet’s surface). It is also the very foundation of the ocean’s food chain. Apparently, they don’t like to live in a toxic waste dump. As the oceans become more acidic, they will soon be considered poisoned enough to be labeled “industrial waste” by the US’s own “strict” water quality standard. “It’s overwhelming our marine systems.” [Translation: When the phytoplankton die, game over. Another dramatic understatement from our men and women of science.]

Drinking Water

Drinking water comes in large part, from underground water reserves, and more than 2 billion (that’s right, Billion) people depend on it. As the seas rise, these aquifers will contaminate with salt water. “Long before the rising tides flood coastal cities, salt water will invade the porous rocks that hold fresh water…The problem will be compounded by sinking water tables due to low rainfall…and the rising water usage by the world’s growing and increasingly urbanized population.” [Translation: Two billion of us won’t be able to drink the water.] Is this in addition to the one billion that don’t already have adequate fresh water now? Does it include the multitudes who currently face a rain-free climate?

“Whilst big figures about large sea-level rises may seem abstract, a rise of one metre will have a devastating impact on the densely-population river deltas in the developing world as homes and agricultural land is lost and damaged by storm surges. In industrialised regions, there will be severe impacts on coastal infrastructure from small rises: loss of beaches, ports and shipping infrastructure, flooding of access and connecting transport links, and the inundation of underground civil services, including sewers, water, electricity transmission and communications, as well as the loss of industrial and domestic buildings.” [Translation: In other words, we don’t have to wait until NYC is under water to feel dramatic impacts of the rising oceans.]

“Half an hour using Google earth with a sea-rise level overlay suggests that the lesson from the Arctic summer of 2007 is that we recognize that we now face a global warming emergency, requiring an emergency plan…” He suggests a 5 metre rise in sea level by the turn of this century is possible. Others say to expect 25 metres if things keep going. Google’s overlay just isn’t that pessimistic. It stops at 14 metres.

“There’s Trouble All Around Us!”

That’s a quote from one scientist in the movie: What a Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire. It turns out, he knew what he was talking about:

“Forests will be among the ecosystems to experience problems first because their ability to migrate to stay within the climate zone they adapted to is limited…If the rate should exceed 0.4 degrees C per decade, all ecosystems will be quickly destroyed, opportunistic species will dominate, and the breakdown of biological material will lead to even greater emissions of CO2. Temperatures are now increasing at a rate of more 0.2 degrees C per decade with some IPCC scenarios showing the speed rising to 0.4 degrees C by mid-century, to which few species will be able to adapt.” “…a previous unexplained surge of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere in recent years is due to more greenhouse gas escaping from trees, plants, and soils. Global warming was making vegetation less able to absorb the carbon pollution pumped out by human activity.” [Translation: Forests can’t pick up roots and relocate because the climate changes. As the quality of the environment breaks down, the trees and indigenous plants slow down their absorption of CO2. Following this, as they die, they start releasing the CO2 that they would otherwise be using. When soils heat up: it causes faster organic matter decomposition and greater CO2 release. Hotter, dryer conditions also lead to more forest fires, and wildfires, which today, currently release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the trees absorb naturally. As it gets dryer and dryer, they will catch fire more easily, and that, of course, will also speed up the CO2 emissions as well. What starts out as human generated CO2, becomes a snowball effect from ‘natural’ causes.]

It is an environmental “run away train.” The pollution we put into the Earth yesterday, compounds our problems today. The good news? We no longer have to feel guilty about leaving this legacy to our children and grandchildren. The impact “we’ll feel ourselves, today.”

Renewables to the Rescue?

But what of a “massive” growth in renewables after 2030? The Earth just isn’t healthy enough to wait. These cuts will come too late, which is why it is laughable (if it weren’t so serious) for nations to propose minor CO2 emissions adjustments for 2050 or beyond, or stylish new electric cars that will increase coal burning in electric plants. With the oil company stranglehold on the US political process, we can now say good-bye to any hopes of governmental tax breaks for solar or wind technology for individuals. The tremendous arrogance and short-sightedness. How many boats can they jet-ski behind?
Big Oil: 1. Earth: 0

The Earth isn’t responding according to predictive models. “It’s a hundred years ahead of schedule.” Think “compound effect.” Think “exponential function.” Think the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” “It’s really quite astounding” our scientists tell us, “that the Arctic sea ice is now only one metre deep, or about half what it was since 2001.” And it wasn’t very thick back then, either. It was 3.5 metres in the early 1960’s. That means that it has lost 80% of its volume in 40 years. And when it reaches ½ a meter in thickness, everything will speed up much more rapidly. Melting ice is happening above AND below the water. [Translation: A lot of really bad, bad stuff is happening that we never thought possible, and we are completely and totally blown away by it.]

The Power of the Model

Some of our top minds think we might need to re-examine the models themselves: Lenny Smith: “We need to drop the pretense that [the models] are near perfect. [There are] too many unknown unknowns…We need to be more open about our uncertainties.”

[Translation: Open about our uncertainties? As opposed to keeping the likelihood of catastrophic change a secret? We thought we knew the answers, Smith tells us, but now we just aren’t sure. And what could fill the scientists with doubt and uncertainty in such strong measure? What have they been reluctant to talk about? Will there be a climate collapse? If so, it could be the beginning of CYA time?]

One concern is the time it takes to get the “climate change Bible” in front of people. This four-year process involves the submission of scientific papers with deadlines two years in advance of publication, and the Earth is apparently changing a lot faster than that. IPPC according to Spratt, is filled with “scientific reticence” and a lot of data is “out of date before it hits the presses.” In a science as volatile as this one, if “tipping points [are] looming, and we may not even be aware that they are at hand” why not? Who are the central players in the World’s stage in the field of climate science & glaciology? Are they on your charitable holiday giving list? In the US, climate change is largely a governmentally funded affair. Cui bono?

If You Can’t Say For Certain, Don’t Say Anything At All

So what do scientific reports tell us, when “no one knows?” They tell us very little or are “dangerously conservative” about the worst of it according to Spratt. When models can’t explain changes in the world around us, scientists remain silent. Or worse, they seriously understate the problem. They are embarrassed by incomplete models that fail to take into account a planet that doesn’t correspond to the linear, orderly, and predictable models they prefer. Their scientific methods rely on objective skepticism, and while this conservative bias may help maintain consensus, or grant funding, it does little to warn us of the devastating, looming planetary disaster. They don’t want to upset anyone. Neither do I. But if the stakes are so high, why are these disasters given innocuously sounding names or framed in such tentative ways? It is as if the possibility of economic setback takes priority over catastrophic planetary destruction. Even the most money-hungry capitalist or conservative scientist still needs to live on this Earth. And still, we are offered bizarre phrases for planetary upheaval…such as “novel and disappearing climates.”

The Miraculous Disappearing Climates

The IPPC report’s low- and high-emission scenarios found 12-39% and 10-48% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface may respectively experience novel and disappearing climates by 2100. Some say these changes will happen a lot sooner than 2100. Some look around their own communities and say it is happening now. According to Steve Jackson, referenced in Spratt’s report, a novel climate will happen “in a few decades,” and result in “climates in many areas [that] will be unlike any in our current experience.” Current climate zones will “disappear” and be replaced by climates “unlike anything known today.”

What could this phrase mean: “novel (10-12%) climates” and “disappearing (39-48%) climates.” Novel just sounds so positive. It is such a happy word. “Refreshingly new and different,” my dictionary says, “often in an interesting, unusual or inventive way.” Disappearing climates couldn’t be a problem, could they? If they just disappear, we don’t need to worry about them, do we? Couldn’t they “re-appear?”

The actual descriptions are a lot more grim.

These are strange new climate beasts, of sorts, seemingly taken out of some bad science fiction movie. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution describes Mega-Tornadoes. Category 5 Hurricanes. Stagnant air that chokes cities with their own suffocating smog that used to be carried elsewhere on atmospheric breezes. Planetary ocean currents that pause, slow down, or stop because of the influx of fresh ice cap waters. This change creates mega-droughts and mini-ice ages of frozen glaciers. A “novel” world where the Earth (not ALL of the EARTH, just possibly sections of it, as reader points out in his comment. Some areas will be deserts and some I’m sure, will be “just right”…) freezes solid in less than one hour, or snow-cover appears and doesn’t leave for thousands of years. Folks, this is a description of ecosystem die-off, and it’s not a science fiction movie. You can’t leave the theater when it’s over, and you can’t move to a happier place, because it is happening everywhere.

But how do ecosystems die? When we look at these maps, we notice the red areas are, not surprisingly, the same spots where corporations and their local representatives have actively destroyed the ecosystem, or are the ruinous results of urbanization and no environmental planning. The US ‘Dustbowl’ which facilitated the Great Depression was a “novel” climate brought on by industrialized plowing. What do our climate experts say about who is reconfiguring the climates of Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, the West, or the Southeast US?

Agriculture in drought-plagued lands is “disappearing.” But once climates themselves change, at what point does the transitional label ‘drought,’ change to the more atemporal term “desert?” The Sahara desert isn’t in ‘drought’ is it? Are we only now calling Atlanta’s climate “novel?” Will we soon refer to Georgia as the epicenter of North America’s “Great Southeastern Desert?”

“The new and refreshingly different Amazon. Now, drier and with no trees or annoying mosquitoes!”

We’ve already seen such commercialization of planetary upheaval and destruction, as countries compete for drilling rights and rights of passage in the new “open waters” in the Arctic. Professor Jackson, himself a specialist in ecological consequence, continues to put the disaster in decidedly human and professional terms: “That poses huge challenges for predicting economic, agricultural, and ecological consequences.” “Consequences” that are novel and disappearing.

And the professional worry? Again, the lack of predictability:

“The frightening thing about our analysis is that it shows that climate change will take us into uncharted waters,” says Jackson. Uncharted indeed. Who cares if the waters we navigate are industrial cesspools? The real problem is that we lack accurate maps.

With accurate maps, even telling us terrible things, it will be, (and I quote) “…good news for scientists because it shows our models are correct. But it’s bad news for everybody else.” [Translation: It’s been said that scientists live in a world of their own. We now have first hand confirmation. To quote the movie, “The Producers”: “Springtime for Hitler and Germany! Winter for Poland and France!”]

At least one of the world’s most eminent climate scientists speaks in refreshingly direct ways about what we face: He gives us 10 years to dramatically shift direction or, he warns, we’ll see “a planet without Arctic sea ice, a catastrophic sea level rise…of about 25 metres, and a super-drought in the American west, southern Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa.” And that’s only the tip of the (nonexistent) iceberg, because while the Earth’s core doesn’t have a creamy nugget center, the Arctic sea ice does: Methane.

“Such a scenario threatens even greater calamity, because it could unleash positive feedbacks such as melting of frozen methane as occurred 55 million years ago, when more than ninety per cent of species on Earth went extinct.” Unfortunately, while they haven’t designed models for that, they are pretty sure it can happen because it did. Hansen’s words are refreshingly direct and need no translation: He calls for dramatic action or we’ll see super-droughts and the death of 90% of the species (like the human species) on the Earth. Heck, we are losing 200 species a day right now.

“I just don’t see a happy ending for this” scientist Struck tells us, and frankly, neither do I.

When 90% of the species on Earth becomes extinct, there is no promise you’ll be among the 10% that will survive, or that you’d want to be what’s left over (think: cockroaches). As Stan Goff points out: There have only ever been around 15 billion human beings on the planet (period)…almost half that number is alive on the planet right now, and a quarter of us died in just the last century.” Three-quarters of all the living humans have been alive in the last 100 years, since the start of humankind. We’ve been a busy species this century. But is population alone destroying the planet? Nope. In fact, most of us don’t use much in the way of fossil fuel, as John Weber points out. And while that is changing, we still have the “developed” (exploiting) world’s people and corporations to thank for having the biggest polluting footprint, and spreading this pollution throughout the “developing” world.

My farmer-mentor travels regularly to see family in Costa Rica, and has noticed a disturbing trend: litter. In the fifteen years she’s been traveling there, people have always tossed garbage by the side of the road, and the garbage they tossed was biodegradable. Now, however, it is not. It is plastic. Plastic not only does not biodegradable, but it doesn’t ever go away. It just breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, and eventually finds its way into landfill and oceans. We can point our finger at the Costa Ricans themselves, and teach them to be more “environmentally conscious,” or we can step back and point to the “invisible hand” accelerating these disappearing climates. We “environmentally sensitive” urbanites would no longer think of throwing our ‘recyclables’ in the trash, but instead toss them into neat plastic blue or green buckets to be placed on the sidewalk and picked up. What happens to them from there? We hope for the best. How long would it take if we expected our lawns and parks to absorb our trash? The answers are obvious when sanitation workers go on strike.

But who is providing “developed” and “developing” countries these plastic containers? Who drives peasants off the land to develop agribusiness and sends them into cities where they are forced to rely on products derived from fossil fuels?

Those that are killing our planet have names and addresses. ‘Nature’ simply doesn’t die because she’s tired of living. There is a context and an elaborate social construction both of consumerism itself, and what is on the menu to be consumed.

    Individuals make their choices from a pre-selected menu designed by corporate decision-makers. It is comforting to think we “change the world” when we “change a light bulb,” but do we deny the power that is wielded by international corporations with massive global environmental impact? They make our cars, stack our supermarket shelves in plastic-covered food, re-zone our land use and destroy public transportation infrastructure.

    While our glaciologists might argue that such political rhetoric is beyond their discipline, their escape into more “benign” and “neutral” terms such as “novel and disappearing climates” denies not only the horror of our predicament, but the truth behind the markings on the maps. Those ‘disappearing climates’ don’t just disappear by themselves. They are clear-cut and dammed, and strip-mined, pumped and poisoned, and corporo-farmed. As we look from our distant satellites, we see only part of the news, whether it is of the glacial melt or the tropical clear-cut. Even the frame “Developing nations” is a misnomer. “Raping and Pilfering Nations” are more fitting. When we look up-close and personal, we see poachers supplying a global market with exotic woods, or woods set on fire to be sold to other nations or subsistence farmed by peasants driven off agriculturally friendlier ancestral homes.

    When we look at the oceans, we see an entire floating continent of our organic milk bottles, yogurt containers, and individual servings. Think it isn’t a problem? Try putting these plastics in a closet for a week, and watch what happens. Of course, we can ask ourselves to stop the ravenous consumption, but try buying your yogurt in cardboard, or your chicken feed in cloth sacks. Let’s make the invisible hand visible, and strip away the folksy sounding names like “Back to Nature” aka “Kraft,” or “Odwalla” aka “Coca-Cola,” Celestial Seasonings” and “Hain:” aka “Heinz.” Our largest “natural food” producer have names we recognize like General Mills and M&M Mars and Dean and Kellogg. Let’s invite them to step forward and declare themselves as major world polluters. It isn’t a ‘Natural Touch’ or the ‘Seeds of Change’ when these food processors create “strategic alliances” with polluters.

    Maybe we need to send them back to their manufactures in large boxes saying “no more like this.” Or better yet, do it with friends and communities. If you must shop, unpack your Christmas gifts, removing the plastics and crapolla before you leave the stores and say “I won’t need this, please throw it away.” It may not help our Earth, but it may destroy the delusion we are under that there is some “away” to “throw.”

    If there is any hope in this article, I didn’t find it. I find no comfort in the promise of “one more decade” to do something. Like the glaciers that were suppose to melt in one hundred years, the Earth isn’t cooperating with the model. The wrath of the planet will soon be upon us, folks. Time for rational disaster planning worldwide. Unlike the upcoming climate changes, however, we won’t like the “novelty,” and we won’t be able to “disappear.”


    So, for those who want the Peak Shrink recap:

    Humans are burning more fossil fuel and making less money doing so.
    Politicians say: Planetary Catastrophe would definitely be bad for business, the stock market, and fossil fuel prices.
    Scientists say: A lot of really bad, bad stuff is happening that we never thought possible, and we are completely and totally blown away by it. We feel helpless and out of control, because if some of us even IMAGINED that it could happen, we thought it was going to be a long time from now. We are scientists, though, and not crazy Doomers, so we use words that are calming; like “implies” and “close to being committed” instead of saying we’re screwed.” It’s been said that scientists live in a world of their own. We now have first hand confirmation. In order to have scientifically valid models, we’ll just have to wait for really bad stuff we can’t imagine, like Greenland’s ice sheet, to melt first. Two billion of us won’t be able to drink the water as the melting continues. If the phytoplankton die with the heating and acidification of the waters, the game is over. Soon our oceans will be considered industrial waste water by the US environmental agencies, because of the acid levels. There is a run away train of CO2 emission: Forests can’t pick up roots and relocate because the climate changes. As things break down because of climate change, the trees and indigenous plants slow down their absorption of CO2, and then, as they die, start releasing CO2 they are holding. This is also true when soils heat up: it causes faster organic matter decomposition and greater CO2 release.
    Hotter, dryer conditions also lead to more forest fires, and wildfires, which currently release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the trees absorb naturally. As it gets dryer and dryer, they will catch fire more easily, and that will speed up the CO2 emissions as well. We call these changes “novel” and climates “disappearing,” but these are confusing terms that mean that our ecosystems and everything now in them will be destroyed. We don’t know how, because it will be destroyed in tremendously novel ways we have no models for. We scientists like models, but the Earth isn’t conforming to our models anymore and this is freaking us out. But we can predict one thing: The Arctic Sea Ice as a big surprise in the center: Methane! When methane is released, if it still acts like methane, and not like creamy nugget, 90% of the species on Earth will become extinct. “I just don’t see a happy ending for this” confided one scientist. We can use cloth toilet paper if we want to but the corporations have a huge role to play. The wrath of the planet will soon be upon us, folks. Time for rational disaster planning worldwide.

Holy Fools and Other Human Prototypes

I’ve been away from this electric bright box for a few days, and hung out with real people. I learned how to make candy! I took a nap right on their couch and I went sound asleep for 20 minutes (no doubt a sugar crash)! I spent the day so marvelously, and I slipped all the way home on the icy roads.

The next day, I cooked food for the first Salon in my Community in recent history. I made special meals for people who had sensitivities, and I scared myself by thinking no one would come. But then I remembered that another friend of mine scared herself the same way a few days ago, when she threw a gift exchange to trade stuff with each other so we wouldn’t buy new stuff and keep crapping up the planet. She thought no one would come, because she didn’t advertise it very well. But it didn’t matter. It was a small town and they heard from each other, and soon the room was filled with people bringing presents and taking presents, all for free. And children lined up to make “gift bags” to put the presents in, so they wouldn’t waste wrapping paper. The children sewed their own bags and they smiled when they slid the present into the bag and tied the top and told people:

“I did this. I made this bag.”

So my friend scared herself for nothing, because the day was a great success and we all witnessed a tremendous show of generosity outside anything most of us are used to. DH & I brought food and people raved about it and made us feel proud that we had brought it. I made a gift bag and friends insisted I take a popular perfume, Paris Hilton, because it was so “me.” I have no idea what they meant by that. It still makes me laugh when I think of how insistent they were.

So I remembered how the Potlatch woman scared herself, and so I called two friends who told me they were coming and what they were bringing, and I decided if they came and no one else, it would be fine. But almost a dozen people came, and we sat at a long table and talked about religion and a lot of strong opinions were expressed, and drank wine and beer. Then, we moved in another room with a warm fire and went around holding a piece of flooring, (we ‘had the floor’) and we talked. For the sake of this post, it doesn’t matter what it was about. But after it was over, we threw around a few more ideas about how to make the next one a bit different and most people left, and a few didn’t until late into the night.

There were a people of dramatically different histories in that room. Artists, farmers, dancers, welders, store owners, salespeople. There were people of means and those who owned very little. The remarkable thing was how each of them spoke of wanting to need less, make less, have less. We were not “at the same place,” and I doubt we ever will be. We saw our world through our own eyes, and still, we come together twice a month, to talk about the future and to listen to each other. Some of us had to leave early to get up with the animals at the break of dawn. Some of us could sleep until later in the morning. Some of us had to work jobs that we hated in order to eat. Some of us didn’t have to work for money at all. And what feelings do these really brilliantly talented people have, who possess essential skills for a future, our collective futures, doing jobs they hate today, they really hate, because the future isn’t here yet. Some of us saw and had strong feelings about what the future would bring. Some of us just wanted to be part of a larger community. I wanted to make sure that no one in MY community lost their place to live and that no one went hungry. I didn’t know how to do it, but I knew I wanted to do it.

“Tolerating the boredom is the hardest part” one of the participants shared later on, and I knew what she meant. I’ve felt like a kid after their third snow day in a row. The initial thrill of finding ourselves without school, turns to boredom. We’ve left one type of culture behind, one we’ve willingly walked away from, and now, after the initial rush of preparation, we’re left edgy, incomplete. And it’s wintertime in a place where the winters are very long and cold. We are like those kids that have shut off our televisions and mall shopping trips and some of us can’t even afford to dance ourselves or drink ourselves into forgetting, even if we do it at home. We sense, on some profoundly uneasy way, that we only have each other, and we ask ourselves, silently, whether we’re enough. Whether we can bear it all. Whether we’ll survive it or ourselves for long enough to see a different vision.

I’ve said it many times that there are those who expect a dramatic downturn of events in the USA, almost like an exciting and suspenseful movie. Instead, I see something slower and much less dramatic. The pain of seeing the oil bill after it is filled. The long month left over after the paycheck is gone. The long lines at the food pantry. The eviction notice. The overstuffed houses with relatives unexpected and beginning to feel burdensome. The businesses that, month by month, buy less and sell less before they shut their doors entirely. The long walks to even longer waits for buses that don’t come. The long marital battles over the “stress relievers” of too much alcohol, too little sleep, too many bills, and too many mouths to feed. The crops that die because the rain doesn’t come, and the houses that keep coming up for sale on streets where no one can live anymore, because the water doesn’t flow. The sound of keys dropping on counter tops and possessions loaded into rental vans. The feeling of burning in the chest of everyone in that van.

And one of my guests, like recalling the play of a football game, asked me “Who was that person who said about the X?” “That was me” I told her. “That really pissed me off when you said that.” We sat for a moment with that statement, and I nodded by head. There it was. Truly, I was glad she had another view that she felt so strongly about. Together we saw more of the picture that was just fuzzy. I talked more about my concerns that had pissed her off. And then she nodded her head.

We pissed each other off. We insulted one another without thinking or realizing it. We said things we thought were true and others reacted strongly to them. And we’d sit and nod our heads in agreement, because we realize that this is life. I said it, and it pissed her off. No, it REALLY pissed her off. And next time, no doubt, it will happen all over again the next time we get together, because we are a small community, and we only HAVE each other to laugh with and get pissed off by, and stand next to and break up the winter boredom. And to tell our truths.

Visions of the New Suburban Lifestyle

“Where there is no vision the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

“Our biggest mistake is that we see ourselves as separate from the natural world. We then project that sense of separation onto every other living and nonliving thing with which we interact.”

“Picture yourself in a forest where almost everything around you is food. Mature and maturing fruit and nut trees from an open canopy. If you look carefully, you can see fruit swelling on many branches–pears, apples, persimmons, pecans, chestnuts. Shrubs fill the gaps in the canopy. They bear raspberries, blueberries, currants, hazelnuts, and other lesser-known fruits and flowers, and nuts at different times of the year. Assorted native wildflowers, wild edibles, herbs, and perennial vegetables thickly cover the ground. You use many of these plants for food or medicine. Some attract beneficial insects, birds, and butterflies. Others act as social builders or simply help keep out weeds. Others here and there vines climb on trees, shrubs, or arbors with fruit hanging through the foliage–hardy kiwis, grapes, and passionflower fruits. In sunnier glades large stands of Jerusalem artichokes grow together with groundnut vines. These plants support one another as they store energy in their roots for later harvest and winter storage. There bright yellow and deep violet flowers enjoy the radiant warmth from the sky.” 1. (reprinted with permission of the author).


Now imagine that this scene is repeated over and over in every yard in the suburb you live. Now imagine it occurring in every suburb in your region, your country, every country on the globe. You walk down the street, and you can smell the green, hear the buzz, feel the aliveness.

Imagine the “community food preservation” week-ends where large commercial kitchens come to life with friends and neighbors “putting up” their food for the winter. They can, for a small fee or trade, buy jars right there, or bring their own. Solar or wind runs the dehydrators. There’s a trading table for those who have too much of one thing and too little of something else.

Afterward, there is a large harvest supper with local musicians singing and everyone, including the children, are dancing. There are fewer children, but everyone knows them and looks after them. The Parent-Teacher Association members are there, discussing which of the overabundant foods available for community sale, they’ll use in their school kitchens this year. The local baker brings out the fresh breads, and requests that more barley be planted next year, as she was short this winter. In the lean years, there is regional food sharing.

The Homeowner’s Association Board is there planning out a larger community garden next to the playground, and how to more efficiently re-use community graywater. Long ago, they did away with such barbaric restrictions as “no clothes lines” and “no food gardens.” The insanity of trying to move livestock far away from permaculture, or “labeling” every chicken seems like some urban legend that didn’t really happen. If that was the case, where did you get the manure for the gardens? Who needed to know when an escape-artist goat got over the fence, except the person who lost it? That couldn’t have happened, or did it?

All the plantings were things that were not edible, can you believe that? And petroleum chemicals sprayed on lawns that no one could eat? Chemicals that ran into the drinking water? What was the point of that? Then they’d bag the leaves, grass, and clippings, in petroleum-based plastics, and have trucks carry then away. What about soil building? And those people back then spent hours and hours caring for these lawns, and hid away the food gardens like they were bad, or something, if they could have them at all. They thought you needed thousands of acres to grow food, and that it took huge machines and pesticides to kill off bugs. Wasn’t it obvious how hard they were making it for themselves? Didn’t they know about Peak Oil? Forest Gardening? Permaculture?

It doesn’t make sense to have lawns anyplace but the ball field, and this kept short by the sheep. All of that sure must have been expensive. Boy, what were they thinking?

Your neighbors do more walking and are home a lot more now, because they do much less shopping outside of their own neighborhoods. “Mall” is an antiquated term that most children now spell as “maul.” Those were turned into fields or alternative energy areas or forests, a long time ago. We shop now in local town centers we walk, bike or hop a train-ride to. There is a age-cycle swapping that happens where families with older children pass down their “stuff” to families with younger children, and seniors pass on furniture and other things they no longer need as they move into smaller, senior apartments in the complex. These items now go to young couples just starting out.

Your political activity is radically local. You care who your most local representatives are, because very often, it’s you or someone you know. Homeowners Associations have become a powerful block that promote local agendas, especially those having to do with the quality of their community life. Feeding, clothing, healing, and socializing with the people who live there are the top priorities. Nobody talks about “promoting growth” unless they are talking about permaculture. We’re all in the business of promoting life, the earth, our survival. We don’t separate work from living. The slogan “The personal is political” takes on new and reality-based common sense.


People radically overestimate what they can accomplish in one year, yet they radically underestimate what they can do in a decade. None of this requires “Governmental intervention” to get started. All of it requires personal initiative, reaching out, getting to know other people, discussing your own priorities. It won’t likely happen in every suburb. The question to ask yourself is: “What am I doing to make it (or a vision of your own choosing) happen in MINE?

Superbia! Checklist 2
Easy Steps
1. Sponsor community dinners.
2. Establish a community newsletter, bulletin board, and community roster.
3. Establish a neighborhood watch program.
4. Start neighborhood investment clubs, community sports activities and restoration projects.
5. Form weekly discussion groups.
6. Establish neighborhood baby-sitting coop.
7. Form an organic food co-op.
8. Create car or van pools for commuting to and from work.
9. Create a neighborhood work-share program.
10. Create a mission statement.
11. Create an asset inventory.
Bolder Steps
12. Tear down fences: opening back yards to create communal play space and a space for neighbors to mingle and a community garden.
13. Plant a community garden and orchard.
14. Establish a neighborhood composting and recycling facility.
15. Plant shade trees and windbreaks to create a more favorable microclimate.
16. Replace asphalt and concrete with porous pavers and greenery.
17. Establish a more edible landscape—incrementally remove grass in front lawns and replace with vegetables and fruit trees.
18. Start a community-supported agriculture program in which neighbors “subscribe” to local organic farm’s produce.
19. Create a car-share program–purchasing a van or truck for rent to community members.
20. Begin community-wide retrofitting of homes and yards for energy and water efficiency.
21. Solarize your homes.
Boldest Steps
22. Create a community energy system.
23. Establish alternative water and wastewater systems.
24. Establish a more environmentally friendly transportation strategy.
25. Create a common house.
26. Create a community-shared office.
27. Establish weekly entertainment for the community.
28. Narrow or eliminate streets, converting more space to park and edible landscape, walkways and picnic areas.
29. Retrofit garages and rooms in your homes into apartments or add granny flats to house students or others in need of housing.
30. Establish a mixed-use neighborhood by opening a coffee shop, convenience store, and garden market.
31. Promote a more diverse neighborhood.


1. Dave Jacke (2005) Edible Forest Gardens: Ecological Vision and Theory for Temperate Climate Permaculture. Chelsea Green

2. Images and text from http://www.davewann.com/publications/superbia/

The Twelve Days of Peaking- A Holiday Tune

Well, I’ve decided to wisely shift from the ridiculous world of political commentary to the more sobering world of artistic expression.

While this song IS sung to a rather CHRISTIAN holiday song, I expect no one out there to have to bow, kneel, or do anything linked to a particular group of religious traditions in order to sing it and enjoy its “learn and do” message. You can even be an enlightened and busy European with your big fat empty Cathedrals.

I’d also like to note that while the writer “Black Crow” does advocate spiking eggnog, I, a chicken farmer, did not request she plug my agricultural products. You can equally drink soynog, Grey Goose, or even water, as you sing it. Beer can work, in large quantities. Do sing it, though, with a large crowd of like-minded folks. If you don’t have at least a dozen to sing with you, you might try advertising it locally to see if you can flush out the “Singing Doomers” in your community.

Also: All those musicians out there who have been waiting for the right song to put on YouTube: Send your version of “The Twelve Days of Peaking” to me (PeakShrink@PeakOilBlues.com) and I will promote you shamelessly, as long as you have the words:

“My Peak Shrink Said This Was Therapy” placed somewhere in the video.


Dear Peak Shrink,

Here’s a little holiday song for all of you Doomers out there. When you are gathered around the crackling fire with all of the people you love who don’t want to hear the truth of where we are all headed, you can slip this song in.

Everyone might be relaxed and be a little fuzzy because of the third serving of really yummy eggnog they just drank, so they won’t notice the actual lyrics to the song. They will sing with you in happy ignorance, just like they feel watching TV. But later….the words might subconsciously take hold and they will be humming it to themselves:

The Twelve Days of Peaking

(Sung to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas”)

On the first day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“Find a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the second day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“You’ll need two water sources.
And a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the third day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“Have three stores of food,
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the fourth day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“Have four loaded guns,
Three food stores,
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees”.

On the fifth day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“You’ll need gold coins for trade!
Four loaded guns,
Three food stores,
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the sixth day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“Have six jugs of vodka,
Gold coins for trade !
Four loaded guns,
Three food stores,
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the seventh day of peaking
A Doomer said to me:
“Have seven fields for planting,
Six jugs of vodka,
Gold coins for trade!
Four loaded guns,
Three food stores,
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the eighth day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“You’ll need eight seeds for saving,
Seven fields for planting,
Six jugs of vodka,
Gold coins for trade!
Four loaded guns,
Three food stores,
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the ninth day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“Have nine tools for farming,
Eight seeds for saving,
Seven fields for planting,
Six jugs of vodka,
Gold coins for trade!
Four loaded guns,
Three food stores,
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the tenth day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“Have ten chickens laying,
Nine tools for farming,
Eight seeds for saving,
Seven fields for planting,
Six jugs of vodka,
Gold coins for trade !
Four loaded guns,
Three food stores,
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the eleventh day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
“Have eleven trees a-fruiting,
Ten chickens laying,
Nine tools for farming,
Eight seeds for saving,
Seven fields for planting,
Six jugs of vodka,
Gold coins for trade !
Four loaded guns,
Three food stores,
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees.”

On the twelfth day of peaking
a Doomer said to me:
You’ll need twelve neighbors helping,
Eleven trees a-fruiting,
Ten chickens laying,
Nine tools for farming,
Eight seeds for saving,
Seven fields for planting,
Six jugs of vodka,
Gold coins for trade !
Four loaded guns,
Three food stores.
Two water sources,
And a hide out in the tall trees!!!!!”

Black Crow

P.S. Black Crow is shy, but she is taking auditions for her new play “Peak!” The Musical. Email me if you’d like to learn the time and place for try-outs…

The Cost of Freedom- Naomi Wolf Style

A friend sent me a worried email, saying Naomi Wolf’s recent lecture, found here on YouTube, caused him a restless night.

In this lecture, Ms. Wolf began her talk warning her audience that she would scare them, but at the end, it would all be okay. Soon, she would offer them solutions. She then outlined her concerns, based on her book research, that the USA is falling into a fascist state, and that the fall will happen quickly, rather than slowly–a drop off a cliff, rather than a slow decline.

She kept pointing to her wrist, devoid of a watch, and saying that she had known what was coming next in the news, because she had learned about how other countries, such as Germany and Italy, fell under a dictatorship.

She told us at what point she, herself, would stop speaking publicly. It would be when those of her social class and occupational group—the media writers and talking heads– were charged with sedition. But, she pointed out she had recently thrown away a tee-shirt she’d been given as a gift, that could be interpreted as seditious, before loading her suitcase for a plane flight. She also recognized that a $30. book she had bought to read on the plane, had classified information in it, although it could be bought in the airline bookstore. This, she also threw in the trash.

She was “on the list” she told us, plaintively, making a joke about her harmlessness based on height, her Jewish ethnicity, and her propensity to shop with her credit card in hand. “I’m not like them,” she seemed to imply. “I’m wealthy and white. This should not be happening to me.” She also appeared to further prove her “just like you” status by assuring us, with a mock plea for discretion, that her daughter watches “America’s Next Top Model.” Imagine, she confided, ‘Me, the author of the Beauty Myth!”

Her solutions were really easy. Give her your email address and vote Democratic. She spent less than five minutes offering them. Republicans have ruined this country and the President and Vice President should be impeached and imprisoned. But, Ms. Wolf, who will do it? Certainly not the Democrats currently in office.

Her easy solutions paled in comparison to the more powerful lessons that that lecture left in my consciousness and what she left unspoken. Why hadn’t she mentioned the democratic role in selling out our freedom? If she mentioned prisons, why not talk about her former employer’s role, Al Gore, in privatizing prisons in his own state of Tennessee? Didn’t he teach us all how profitable it was to put people behind bars? Couldn’t politicians reward friends and jack up their campaign contributions as a result? Weren’t these very same “prison-for-profit’ folks helping pay Ms. Wolf’s $15,000 a month consulting fees? And wasn’t the very nature of credit card debt serving to economically enslave USA citizens, and make them more compliant?

Why hadn’t she mentioned the complacency those of “just like herself”–those powerful shapers of the American consciousness? Why not attack the selectivity that goes into which news will make the “news” and which gets censored? And what about the intimate link between corporatism and fascism? She jokes about, instead of challenges the very mainstream media television network conglomerate that shapes her daughter’s values, as she watches “America’s Next Top Model.” No, she doesn’t mention this, because Ms. Wolf will not bite the hand that feeds her– and she’s not the least bit seditious or insurgent— which is why she’s such a media darling. She’s a billboard for the status quo.

While Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty or give me death,” Ms. Wolf tells us that it is better to toss a book than it is to be delayed in her flight plans. And if Ms. Wolf– best-selling author, Yale graduate, consultant to a former President and Vice President–carefully selects her reading material before boarding her flight, what powerful implicit message is she actually leaving us with?

“It’s a scary world out there, so thank goodness we still have the privacy of our voter box to bring the ‘Good’ guys (and gals) into office: The Democrats.”

Cost of Freedom? $30. Being a mouth-piece for the Democrats? Priceless.

Kucinich Speaks: Expanding Industry, Saving Energy, and NO SACRIFICE !

I’m all confused how Dennis Kucinich is going to do it. I must not be reading this right, but here are his own words (typos in the original):

Interview with Cold River Review, November 25, 2007

W. The dollar is falling rapidly, the international and federal debt is growing, very little is produced in this country and even service-based and white-collar jobs are being outsourced. Money is being made through investment and sales but great blocks of the citizenry are being left behind; the rich are getting even richer while many struggle to receive basic health care, a decent education and to keep their homes warm in the winter. How can the economic challenges of maintaining the middle class, keeping a manufacturing base and making local economies stronger be met?

D. One of my first acts in office will be to cancel NAFTA, get out of WTO, and to have trade-based workers’ rights, human rights, and environmental quality principles. This is the only thing we can do to try to stop this race to the bottom and protect our manufacturing jobs. We’ll have a new manufacturing policy that will enable us to reclaim the manufacturing potential that America has always had. We have to make things in order to have democracy. We exported a lot of jobs because of these trade agreements. That is why I am going to get out of those trade agreements and renegotiate them so that the race to the bottom ends, and American jobs are not only protected but maintained and improved. Imagine an expansion of industry. That is the direction I want to go in. I am fed up with the contraction of industry, the loss of well-paying jobs, that helped to create the middle class, to places where workers do not have any rights, are making next to nothing and are living in horrible conditions.We are in a position where we know that if we take corrective measures we can strengthen the America economy, improve the value of the dollar by improving our profile with respect to our the balancing of our accounts, stop building further debt, increasing the productivity of our economy, and taking us in the direction of peace.

W. Gasoline price are about $.90 higher per gallon than they were just a year ago and there is no sign this will turn around. Many people believe that the time of cheap oil is past and that from now as the demand keeps on rising and production levels fall we shall see economic recession/depression and oil wars. What are your thoughts on our present energy situation and what do you believe is the best way forward?

D. We are already in a recession. We’ve had two flat quarters of non-growth and we already have a war for oil. That is what Iraq is all about and that’s what beating the drums against Iran is all about. We need to move away from reliance on oil. In the Kucinich presidency we mean just that. It means that we have that called a ‘Works Green’ administration where the government becomes the engine of sustainability in each and every department. We’ll move the energy department away from subsidizing oil, coal and nuclear energy, and toward subsidizing wind, solar and green energy and alternative energy technologies. Imagine this: Imagine manufacturing, installing and maintaining millions of wind and solar micro-technologies in tens of millions of homes, dramatically reducing home energy requirements for Americans, reducing our carbon footprints and saving people a lot of money on their utility bills. I see a role for government in shifting our reliance on oil and creating government departments of transportation and mass-transit. Promote mass transit and you save energy. In agriculture, promote local farmers getting their products to local markets. In that way you save energy again. We need to foster a tremendous amount of investment in alternative energy technologies and in the science that will bring them forward. We can shorten the development curve and enable these products to be brought forward, not only to create new jobs but to take us way from reliance on oil. We have to do this not only for the practical political economy; we have to do this to protect our planet. We see that increasing greenhouse gases attributable to carbon-based energy technologies are causing ice sheets to melt, raising sea level – our whole planet is threatened. So you see the link between global warring and global warming. I am the one person running for president who gets it and who is determined to take this country in a new direction towards the greening of America.

W. Are you prepared to tell people they are also going to have to reduce their consumption?

D. You know what? This idea that the public has to sacrifice comes from the people who have a limited understanding of what our potential is. We need to be wise, and I am prepared to be an American president who challenges Americans to be efficient in their use of energy, to conserve energy, conserve water. We should do to that, but if we tell people there not going to be enough energy that assumes that we continue to have current rates of usage, which are not the most efficient. Imagine a president who brings this country together in the common cause of energy conservation and energy efficiency, and who helps provide incentives to make sure we can develop these new technologies that will make it possible for us to meet our needs far into the future. I am very hopeful for America’s future as long as we tap our tremendous creative abilities, our ingenuity, our engineering, and our scientific know-how. We haven’t even begun to do that because the oil companies do everything they can to fight the introduction of any technologies that would in any way impact their profits. Because I am not tied to these industries that are ruining our globe I am in the position to be able to lead America in a direction of real sustainability and of prosperity. The two should go hand in hand, actually.

I’m gonna need a creative type, scientist or engineer to help here:

I do feel kinda nit-picky about this, but I would just feel better if it made more sense to me. First, I “imagine an expansion of industry,” I assume will happen with all this cool solar and wind-powered energy, (and you see we’ll have a ton, because we’re subsidizing the solar and wind industries.) Sounds great. Science will bring them forward (of course. He’s blinded me with science.) But I’m confused how we ‘shorten the development curve.’ Will that violate the second law of thermodynamics?

But mostly, it is the last part that I’m confused about: “This idea that the public has to sacrifice comes from the people who have a limited understanding of what our potential is.” Yes, he’s all for conservation, he says, but “if we tell people there[‘s] not going to be enough energy, that assumes that we continue to have current rates of usage, which are not the most efficient.”

And since I’m already in my ‘imagining’ mode, feeling the strength of our ‘creative abilities, our ingenuity, our engineering, and our scientific know-how,’ as we put in “millions of wind and solar micro-technologies in tens of millions of homes, dramatically reducing home energy requirements” why stop there? If we’ll be doing all this neat stuff, why do we still HAVE utility bills?

We will already be cutting down our energy usage, so we will not have to cut down our energy usage, because after we’ve already cut it down, there won’t be any need to sacrifice and reduce it. Why not NOT sacrifice a bit more and have no electric bill at all?

Anyone up to the challenge of counting the subtypes of Panglossian Disorders in this quote?

Young Russian Tripping Out on PO in Italy

What can I say? Some letters do get lost in my in-box. Here’s one that did, and I’m hoping we’ll have an update…

Hi Peak Shrink,

Sorry for my very bad English. I’ve found your blog just yesterday night by Debora Billi’s blog
[http://petrolio.blogosfere.it] I’m a 23 years old russian[moskow] guy living in Italy [since
early 1990’s]. Actually i’m studing [studying] science of comunication at local university and working here and there as photographer.

I knew about PO just 3 months ago and it was somethink like a bad psychedelic experience: at first i was something happy cause everything will change and people will have a lot to think about. I was little depressed cause i was exiting from the mourning of my ex girlfriend and PO washed depression away [also 2 years had gone so i’ts also a natural time for me go get out of depression].

But a deep anxiety came: when i was waling (walking) trough my city i saw all living people like they were already dead and storving [starving]. this lasted for a week or two but in the meanwile i was already thinking about PO as opportunity for humanity and myself. As i know it before media will tell to everyone i have time to organize my life and get prepared! I can even make some money/richness/power from it!

So as a lot of people i begun to live a double life: accomplishing exams, looking for a new girl and reading about PO and what to do. I studied all i can find on internet about oil and our dependence from it, i found out some books about growing my own food and permaculture, began to explore terrain and wind maps of my territory looking for an appropriate site. I told about to my mother and she told me that she could help me to buy some rural terrain and i was very happy she’s sensitive to such complicated problem. So i begun to learn about clean energy, wind mills, solar, idro [hydro] etc. What ties me little down is the lack of time to dedicate to such work. Everyday i read news and learn something new about how to organize myself but there are too many variables to calculate, the bigger one is “what will really happen?” “how will these italians react?”. The problem here is ignorance and very little education, presence of mafia and general lack of trust into government, laws etc.. [i think you as foreiner [foreigners] have the common opinion about italy-pizza-mafia, and you’re not wrong!]

Before PO i was planning to get living to Berlin but now i’m reconsidering such idea because of excess of population and few arable land + i don’t know well where i’m getting in if hard situation will occur. During hard times it’s better to have someone to trust, my family near and good knowlenge of the territory [fortunately i did some trekking int he past and know well the mountains around here]. But i don’t trust italians! ok, i don’t know well germans or other people but italians are very selfish and don’t have idea how to deal with extreme situations.

Now the anxiety comes and go and i’m learning to use it as a “everyday problems placebo” ex: “shit, i don’t have a girl, i suffer etc… but i’m a PO pioneer! i will build a community, i will be able to save and teach people, all girls will want me!”.

Now my plans are:
-move into a cheaper room near my parents
-take the diploma @ university
-find a job and save money
-localize an appropriate rural location
-buy some terrain [nevermind if i cannot build on it, a lot of rules will change and no one will care]
-buy some wind mills, find watertanks etc and begin to build/prepare my new home/bunker/community
-find a girlfriend [being alone emotionally will be quite hard!]
-select few people with userfull abilities and who i can trust

my doubts are:
-how global warming will change local territory?
-how badly local people will react to critical situation?
-how to make a profit and gain power from the situation? [i know about ethical considerations but i’m already payng PO with my mental health and i don’t care too much about ignorant masses: the most will be condamned (condemned) to death in my actual opinion]
-how to continue a normal style of life and prepare to PO?
-how much to talk about and make people think i’m a fool? [more time media will wait to tell the more we have to organize and buy cheap products, more the common people will be unprepared]

Yeah, this is nearly my story.
I think we shoud keep and grow up our net, connecting people from different realities, share triks, add links. Some webpages would be userful just linking websites of aware people country by country, state by state to begin working geographycally.

You’re doing a good work down there.
Connect people!



P.S. [I have a website, but …] just photos, nothing about PO still, i fear if i tell people where i will establish when crisis will occur too many armed and hungry people will come.


Has Peak Oil changed your life direction? Is it time to update the Peak Shrink about what’s been happening since your last letter?
Write me at PeakShrink@PeakOilBlues.com.

Also, if you ARE spending money on holiday gifts, do you have that perfect item for that ‘hard to buy for’ Doomer/Prepper in your life? Do Share! The Holiday (Un)Gift List is coming out soon! write me!