Tag Archives: collapse


In these times of change…

A fascinating new piece,

Want to Change the World? Read This First

by Richard Heinberg was published on Resilience.org.  He moves through important ideas from anthropologist Marvin Harris’s cultural materialism to Heinberg’s own important perspectives on the age of fossil foolishness.  Below are some highlights, but you should really read  the whole thing.

Oil has given us the ability to dramatically increase the rate at which we extract and transform Earth’s bounty (via mining machinery, tractors, and powered fishing boats), as well as the ability to transport people and materials at high speed and at little cost. It and the other fossil fuels have also served as feedstocks for greatly expanded chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries, and have enabled a dramatic intensification of agricultural production while reducing the need for field labor. The results of fossil-fueling our infrastructure have included rapid population growth, the ballooning of the middle class, unprecedented levels of urbanization, and the construction of a consumer economy. While elements of the Scientific Revolution were in place a couple of centuries prior to our adoption of fossil fuels, cheap fossil energy supplied a means of vastly expanding scientific research and applying it to the development of a broad range of technologies that are themselves directly or indirectly fossil-fueled. With heightened mobility, immigration increased greatly, and the democratic multi-ethnic nation state became the era’s emblematic political institution. As economies expanded almost continually due to the abundant availability of high-quality energy, neoliberal economic theory emerged as the world’s primary ideology of societal management. It soon evolved to incorporate several unchallenged though logically unsupportable notions, including the belief that economies can grow forever and the assumption that the entire natural world is merely a subset of the human economy.

He means the failure to comprehend:


…With less useful energy available, the global economy will fail to grow, and will likely enter a sustained period of contraction. Increased energy efficiency [and, as outlined earlier in the article, the lower energy-return-on-investment array of renewable alternatives - ed.] may cushion the impact but cannot avert it. With economies no longer growing, our current globally dominant neoliberal political-economic ideology may increasingly be called into question and eventually overthrown.

And don’t forget:

Choose your assumptions—optimistic, pessimistic, or somewhere in between. In any case, this is a big deal.
*          *          *
We are living at a historic moment when the structure of society (economic and political systems) and its superstructure (ideologies) are about to be challenged perhaps as never before. When infrastructure changes, what seemingly was solid melts into air, paradigms fall, and institutions crumble, until a new societal regime emerges. Think of a caterpillar pupating, its organ systems evidently being reduced to undifferentiated protoplasm before reorganizing themselves into the features of a butterfly. [Not entirely accurate for what happens in butterfly metamorphosis, but close enough. - ed.] What a perfect opportunity for an idealist intent on changing the world!
It’s time to take up the role of doula and assist in the birth of a positive future. Let’s help this come out right!

The Population Problem


Long-time population maven Paul Ehrlich just published a post called Overpopulation and the Collapse of Civilization  on the blog for the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB).

“Food is just the most obvious area where overpopulation tends to darken the human future – virtually every other human problem from air pollution and brute overcrowding to resource shortages and declining democracy is exacerbated by further population growth.”

“A popular movement is needed to correct that failure and direct cultural evolution toward providing the “foresight intelligence” and the agricultural, environmental, and demographic planning that markets cannot supply. “

This timing is good, as I just taught my Biological Anthropology lab unit on population.  I’ve made the student and instructor materials for this module available, as part of my work on a grant for Engaged Interdisciplinary Learning for Sustainability.

I also continue to hear from the folks at Californians for Population Stabilization.  I know, it sounds like exactly the kind of sane thinking that Dr. Ehrlich was talking about.  That’s what I thought it was at first, too. Unfortunately, it turns out that they’re on an extreme anti-immigration kick.  I tend to think this is antithetical to the actual goal of GLOBAL population stabilization.  After all, as Hans Rosling shows, increasing prosperity and child survival reduces birthrates and population growth; immigrants in the US definitely follow this trend.  In fact, something like the DREAM Act is likely to lead to exactly the kind of improved education and opportunity for girls that leads to reduced fecundity and zero population growth.  So yes, a narrow, parochial approach to population stabilization in California might be served by reducing immigration, but it would probably just exacerbate the global population problem.

Let’s focus on the big picture, people!  You’ve got to think global while you act local (or global).  And remember, Dr. Pongo sez “Copulate, Don’t Populate!”


Warmer climate strongly affects human conflict and violence worldwide, says study

In case you didn’t get the memo that climate change is probably the most important, and almost certainly the largest human rights issue facing us today. If you want to promote peace and justice, you need to work to reduce and mitigate climate change.

Warmer climate strongly affects human conflict and violence worldwide, says study.

“What was lacking was a clear picture of what this body of research as a whole was telling us,” said Solomon Hsiang, the study’s lead author, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at Princeton during the research project and is now an assistant professor of public policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. “We collected 60 existing studies containing 45 different data sets and we re-analyzed their data and findings using a common statistical framework. The results were striking.”

They examined various aspects of climate such as rainfall, drought or temperature, and their associations with various forms of violence within three broad categories of conflict:

  •  Personal violence and crime such as murder, assault, rape, and domestic violence;
  • Intergroup violence and political instability, like civil wars, riots, ethnic violence, and land invasions;
  • Institutional breakdowns, such as abrupt and major changes in governing institutions or the collapse of entire civilizations.

The results proved all three types of conflict exhibit systematic and large responses to changes in climate, with the effect on intergroup conflict being the most pronounced. Conflict responded most consistently to temperature, with all 27 out of 27 studies of modern societies finding a positive relationship between high temperatures and greater violence.

… The findings of the study suggest that a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius could increase the rate of intergroup conflicts, such as civil wars, by over 50 percent in many parts of the world.


Happy Solstice 2012! While the Mayans have plans for coming years, this is prophesied to be a major time of transitions.  Others are calling this U-Day, a day of global unification and and peace.  Here’s hoping that a global mindshift is … Continue reading

Pitchapalooza! « The Imagined Worlds of Michelle Yvonne Merrill

Pitchapalooza! « The Imagined Worlds of Michelle Yvonne Merrill.

A bit about the pitch for my latest fiction idea.  I’m developing a young adult novel for a couple of strategic reasons:

  1. I think it’s the best way to reach the most people quickly with important ideas. (Of course, I’d be delighted to sell out, given the opportunity.  Just because I have a lot of disdain for the money culture doesn’t mean that having money would be a bad thing, given that it’s not going away tomorrow.)
  2. It’s an even better venue for talking about both traditional permaculture approaches and the promise of sustainable technology.
  3.  Honestly, I love the story and the characters, and I’m having so much fun writing it.

Twelve year old Severn Suzuki speaking at the UN Earth Summit (1992) « Critical Docs

Came across this on a kind-of wikiwalk… just… wow.  It’s still mostly in “Litany” mode, but I think this is getting at what I meant by the way the stories are told.

The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes

For more info and a transcript, see:

Twelve year old Severn Suzuki speaking at the UN Earth Summit (1992) « Critical Docs.

(and, BTW, sorry ’bout that.)

Bill McKibben’s Extreme Weather Oped

Powerful Video of Bill McKibben’s Extreme Weather Oped.

Can we definitively say that any one “freak” record-breaking event was caused by the increased concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere?  No.  It doesn’t work like that.

Can we say the pattern which connects, the simultaneity and power of these outlier, 100-year whatevers, is very much the kind of thing that we expect, given what climate models have indicated are expected outcomes from increased greenhouse gas concentrations?  ‘Fraid so, well, most likely anyway.  Other explanations strain the logic of probability.  More frightening still – a lot of it is going faster than many worst-case scenarios.  Sure, our models aren’t perfect yet.  It’s science – there’s no such thing as a perfect model or 100% certainty.  But we don’t need that to get off our butts and do what we can to prevent a highly-probably, totally awful future. The foot-dragging, hemming and hawing has got to stop.

Saying TATA to TINA (without looking like some kind of loony)

The Money Culture, Part 5

As the Cold War drew to a close and the Soviet Union began to collapse, Maggie Thatcher said of capitalism and the Washington Consensus “There Is No Alternative.”  The antidote to this is Susan George‘s “There are Thousands of Alternatives.”  While TINA and TATA make handy acronyms for these different perspectives, the TATA argument is all-to-readily dismissed by people who claim the mantle of history: “socialist” states collapsed, and even during the Great Recession it doesn’t look like the US, England or Germany are going to collapse this week, so we won, so that proves we were right and everything else is unfeasable, neener-neener-neener… (I exaggerate, of course, but only a little.)

This week, The Nation has a series of articles under the title “Reimagining Captialism.”  But with the exception of Eugene McCarraher’s article (and to some extent Dirk Philipsen’s article on replacing the GDP with something like Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness as a better measure of how well we’re doing), none of the other dozen or so authors dared to suggest that the solution to “the intractably mercenary nature of capitalism” might be to abandon capitalism altogether.

What some of the more radical thinkers to address this issue say is that neither capitalism nor socialism/communism as it has been practiced are tenable choices.  True, capitalism managed not to self-destruct quite yet, but the cracks are definitely showing.  But folks like Rianne Eisler and the Venus Project visonaries/loonies (and, hey, me too) posit that these economic systems have certain flaws in common, that they are both part of the same mindset.  According to the Venus Project, both were based on a model of material scarcity and the now-false notion that there isn’t enough food/energy/ingenuity to go around unless people work very hard to obtain it.  In The Real Wealth of Nations, Eisler explains that both capitalist and  have been based on a “dominator” model of human interaction (as opposed to a “cooperator” model). Or, as McCarraher  puts it:

Capitalism stands condemned most profoundly not by its maldistribution of wealth or its ecological despoliation but by its systematic cultivation of people inclined toward injustice and predation.

Donnella Meadows explained that many seemingly intractable problems are the result of systems wherein the function or goal is not defined well:

If the goal is defined badly, if it doesn’t measure what it’s supposed to measure, if it doesn’t reflect the real welfare of the system, then the system cannot possibly produce a desired result.  Systems, like the three wishes in the traditional fairy tale, have a terrible tendency to produce exactly and only what you ask them to produce. (Thinking in Systems: A Primer, p. 138)

This is part of the problem with GDP/GNPs and the advantage of alternatives like Gross National Happiness as the measure of system success.  To sum it up even more simply, Meadows said:

The best way to deduce the system’s purpose is to watch for a while to see how the system behaves.(Thinking in Systems: A Primer, p. 14)

How does the money culture behave?  What does it do?  What does it fail to do? They might say TINA, but it seems evident that capitalism and the money culture provide very poor ways to measure things that are actually desirable.

The Kitchen Curmudgeon is working on  GUTGWWW: The Grand Unified Theory of Getting What We Want (pronounced “gutgoo”), but her focus is on process.  What I’ve learned from Meadows’ work is that a better place to begin is articulating What We Want, and finding ways to measure and evaluate progress toward that goal that don’t just measure effort, but in some way signal that we actually are progressing. If “There are Thousands of Alternatives,” there should be some of those that have a better defined function/goal than the money culture.

Bhutan’s GNH Index sets out to measure the following nine dimensions that they decided were good cultural indicators of what they wanted:

GNH Domains 
- Time use 
- Living Standards 
- Good Governance 
- Psychological Wellbeing 
- Community Vitality 
- Culture 
- Health 
- Education 
- Ecology 

It seems like a place to start.

So, what do we want, and how do we define those goals? How will we measure progress?  Then let’s get to work on the GUTGWWW.

TATA for now!

“My bet is on the hairless monkey.”

From the Center for Pattern Literacy (Permaculture visionary and Gaia’s Garden author Toby Hemenway’s site) comes this refreshingly sober and calm blog entry on the realities of Peak Oil: Apocalypse, Not | Pattern Literacy.  It emphasizes the flexibility of our species (our ability to embrace the Anthropocene?) and the responsiveness and resilience of human eco-cultural systems, even in the face of TEOTWAWKI (“The End of the World as We Know It”).  The author may not know the difference between a monkey and an ape, but this post has some interesting things to say about shifting the idea of employment, economics and the “need” for work.

Humanity has reached the stage, finally, where basic survival is not in doubt for many people. We have not yet grasped that the struggle for survival is essentially over, and we have overshot. Instead of noticing that as a species we no longer need to labor all our waking hours for the basics of food and safe shelter, and to fight off disease and predators, we cannot get off the survival treadmill. So we just keep making more stuff, rather than looking up, taking a breath, and enjoying all the wonders possible from being a conscious, intelligent animal that has mastered survival. Perhaps Peak Oil, and a return to a time when resources are dear and labor is abundant, will remind us that there is much more to life than the manufactured desire to have more toys. Perhaps we can lose our small-minded obsession with getting and spending, and finally grow into maturity as a species. (Read this: Apocalypse, Not)

Embracing the Anthropocene

Embracing the Anthropocene – NYTimes.com.

An important look at our capacity to change our home planet, and how we choose to think about it.  Revkin’s thoughtful comments include:

Earth is what we choose to make of it, for better or worse.
Taking full ownership of the Anthropocene won’t be easy. The necessary feeling is a queasy mix of excitement and unease. I’ve compared it to waking up in the first car on the first run of a new roller coaster that hasn’t been examined fully by engineers.

What, you may ask, is the Anthropocene?  It’s a term coined in 2002 for the geologic epoch we find ourselves in, where humans have made sufficient changes to atmospheric and ocean chemistry, not to mention caused or contributed to the extinction of such a large number of species, that it will be detectable later in the geologic and fossil record.

“The Apocalypse?  You’re soaking in it.”
— Lindsay, Angel

Only, it’s up to us to decide how to cope.  We can even choose to build something better.  Or, as Stewart Brand once said:

We are as gods; we might as well get good at it.

To learn more about it, check out what National Geographic had to say on it – complete with photos!