Saturday, January 18, 2014

Recharting Collapseniks

"Only a few are willing to risk arrest for the sake of an utopian outcome. Ted 'The Unabomber' Kaczynski obviously occupies the upper right corner. Starhawk, Bill McKibben and David Graeber are not lighting any fuses but at least have what they think are better plans, or maybe just better processes."

Our post of January 14 stirred the hornet’s nest and so we have found it necessary to revisit those star charts and try to probe their signs and portents with renewed care.

First, we have to acknowledge that our scatter chart has no basis in actual data. It is merely a mind map, and as such it has its uses and its limitations. The map is not the territory, as we know, so what is it? Mostly, it is a way to visualize complex relationships and hopefully gain insight that doesn’t just pop out from a photograph, the written word or columns of numbers.

In this case, we were attempting to depict where David Holmgren’s shift in strategy took him within the matrix of climate/peak oil prognosticators. We were using charts to illustrate that he had shifted from advocating passive transformation to urging proactive crash.

The feedback we received was, on the whole, good natured and valuable. Naturally there were many names that readers felt had been left out of the matrix — Dave Cohen, Dave Pollard, David Graeber, Ugo Bardi, Charles Eisenstein, Buckminster Fuller, Larry Korn, Caroline Baker, Sister Sage and Kathy MacMahon, to name a few absent without our readership’s leave.

Michael Ruppert said about this chart: "I am not a product of, or measurable by, Cartesian 3D tools."

Carolyn Baker said, "I'm not even ON the chart, thank God. I stand with Mike. Who needs more quantifying, categorizing, labeling, separating, binary, limiting, left-brain, Cartesian tools? This is precisely why we are living the current nightmare. This chart is only more of industrial civilization's three-dimensional drivel. I'm not on the chart because everything I stand for cannot be charted. In this instance, I love being marginalized!"

Some of the other people who were represented by dots on the map weighed in with their own thoughtful essays. Dmitry Orlov wrote:

If, like Holmgren says, 10% of the population boycotted global finance, and global finance crashed, Brown Tech would probably just shut down, because its activities are very capital-intensive. Now, since our voices—Holmgren's and mine and those of other people who may be consonant with Holmgren's message—are mainly projected through blogs, I can do some math and figure out how many me-equivalents it would take to bring about the required change in global sentiment.

This particular blog gets around 14k unique visitors a month. Let's assume a sky-high conversion rate of 50%, where half of my readers pledge to support Homgren's boycott. That's 7k people. Global population is 7 billion, 10% of that is 700 million. Dividing one into the other, we get our result: it would take on the order of 100,000 me-equivalent activists/bloggers to bring about the required change of consciousness. Next question: how many me-equivalent (give or take) bloggers are there out there?


[O]f the 22 activists/bloggers on Albert's chart, how many might go along with the plan? We already know that Rob Hopkins wants us to count him out. He wrote that Holmgren's Crash on Demand “isn't written for potential allies in local government, trades unions, for the potential broad coalitions of local organisations that Transition groups try to build, for the diversity of political viewpoints...” Yes, I can see why local govenments might take a dim view of a plan to zero out their budgets, and why the trade unions might not be enthused by a plan that would put their entire rank and file on the unemployment line. I guess Hopkins' “potential broad coalitions” will just have to wait for collapse rather than try to bring it about. Potentially, that is.
Not that any of that matters, of course, because, even if we assume that everyone will go along with Homgren's plan, dividing one into the other we still get a 99.98% shortfall in the required number of activists/bloggers. La-de-da. But don't let that stop you from trying because, regardless of results (if any) it's a good thing to be trying to do.

KMO, in his post entitled ‘Dirty Pool,’ dissected the controversy by looking closely at the differences between the positions of David Holmgren and Nicole Foss. “Notice that David and Nicole are advocating the same course of action,” he wrote. 

“They differ on what rationale to present in order to motivate people to divest themselves from the disempowering and dysfunctional system of Brown Tech control, but they both advocate withdrawing support for and engagement with the over-developed, larger-than-human scale systems of techno-industrial civilization and re-investing those energies and resources at the level of the family and the local community. The discussion here is how to frame the situation for the increasing number of people who are starting to realize that the industrial system will not make good on the promises and commitments it made to its subjects in the midst of its expansion.”

This really demonstated for us how delicate and nuanced the distinctions between the collapsenik community were. Moreover, to really represent the available rationales would require a more sophisticated mind map, such as used by Dave Pollard in his review of David Graeber’s book, The Democracy Project. 

Taking another crack at our chart, we decided to try relabeling the axes and shifting some of the positions.

One problem we have is that the lower left is overcrowded while the upper right (civil resistance ecotopians) has only a few willing to risk arrest for the sake of an utopian outcome. Ted “The Unabomber” Kaczynski obviously occupies the upper right corner. Starhawk, Bill McKibben and David Graeber are not lighting any fuses but at least have what they think are better plans, or maybe better processes. Joel Salatin makes it to that quadrant because he is ready to defy the FDA/USDA Gestapo on issues like raw milk and mobile beef harvesters.

Ray Kurzweil anchors the top left because he sees no need to confront authority — it will be carried away in the tsunami of change over which it has almost zero control. Elon Musk  has similar confidence albeit less utopian cultural zeal. More moderate transformers, Michael Shuman, for instance, with his Small-Mart concepts, or Woody Tasch, replacing monolithic banks with local lending circles, and Ellen Brown, making the case for state-owned currencies (and running for Treasurer of California now) are trying to reform, not subvert, which places them to West of illegal and North of collapse.

Another useful addition is Robert Constanza, who can stand in for a long list of new economists that see a potentially very rapid adoption path for a successor metric to GDP — giving the G8 and the Davos Forum a new set of tools that integrate current knowledge of how ecology, economics, psychology and sociology collectively contribute to establishing and measuring sustainable well-being.  We blogged about this in 2010, when we met Bhutan’s Minister of Happiness at the Cancun Climate Summit, and again from Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Reframing "violence" (that no one seeks) to "resistance" and making the middle line a division between active and passive (or legal and illegal) seems likely to satisfy many of the chart’s critics.

Some insights that the new chart may evoke: some reconstructionists of the top right regard collapseniks on the lower left as lazy while the doomers at bottom right likely consider the activities of the reformers on the upper left to be futile gestures.

Steven Morris suggested a dynamically updated map. The internet could be scanned for all the articles and conversations by our selected group of authors. Then using AI, their position on the map could be adjusted as what they write changes. Kind of like a tag cloud, only more elaborate.

Douglas Anarino suggested a simpler JavaScript app that scored each question on a left/right and up/down axis, moving the dot appropriately. This could also be made interactive to enable a reader to place themselves into the matrix.

Harold P Boushell said if you are going that far, how about allowing nth-points on a circle such as: Peaceful Transformation, Collapse, Singularity, Civil War 2, Space-Asteroids, Nuclear War, Electric-Grid-Failure, Methane-Eco-Collapse, and the Jetsons. This reminded us that we already did this in 2005, using familiar science fiction films.

Here are five slides lifted from slide shows we ran from 2006 and to around 2010. By 2009 we were getting so tired of it we were already making fun of ourselves, calling it “The Baterix.”

We divided up the future into quadrants, using something like the compass Holmgren adopted for his Future Scenarios: How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change (March 2009)


Into this grid we dropped the Jetsons and the Flintstones.

Then we suggested a few more apocalyptic films and urged the audience to think of their own favorites and where they might fit.

Finally, we brought that home into the realm of practical planning — what do you do to prepare, given how much or little weight you place on various scenarios?

Preparations, we pointed out, generally involve building local community, because the idea of going it alone is strictly the stuff of old time Westerns, and bears no connection to the real world. If you want to get a local community to come together, a great way to begin is over a nice homecooked meal. That is why our Post Petroleum Survival Guide was also a cookbook.

Which brings us to some advice Dmitry Orlov included in his Holmgren review. He wrote, “Can kitchen-gardening make a difference at a national scale? Yes it can. It has and it will again. There is just one problem: foodies. They don't want to merely survive by eating a balanced diet of potatoes, turnips, cabbage and rye periodically augmented with guinea pig stew; they want fresh, delicious produce and fancy recipes. I've often thought that a good trifecta for a collapse-related blog to hit would be to incorporate climate change, peak oil and delicious, healthy, organic, local food. There could be three tabs: near-term human extinction got you down? Click on another tab and look at some luscious, mouth-watering tomatoes. But if the foodies can be reigned in, then kitchen-gardening becomes something of survival value.”

Sigh. That trifecta was how we began this blog, and yes, we agree, we have somehow strayed. But its never too late! Herewith our winter recipe, borrowed from the pages of this morning’s The New York Times.

If you go to the Times and read the original piece by Melissa Clark, and watch the demo video of how she makes these cookies, please note the bubbly sound track as the cookie dough goes into the oven (at minute 2.15). Baby Boomers may be carried back to the soundtrack from My Little Margie or Father Knows Best. This, friends, is really New York City in the winter!

Courtesy Andrew Scrivani, The New York Times

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes 

Melissa Clark: “Forget all the bad, soggy oatmeal cookies you’ve ever had in your life. Picture instead a moist-centered, butterscotch-imbued, crisp-edged cookie flecked with nubby oats. Add to this the fragrant nuttiness of toasted coconut. Then subtract any chewy raisins that may have accidentally wandered into the picture, and substitute sweet, soft dates, guaranteed not to stick in your teeth. Now mentally sandwich two of these cookies with a mascarpone-cream cheese filling. And that’s what you’ll find here. An oatmeal cookie with a little something extra, a recipe made for keeping. You can bake the cookies a few days ahead, but they are best filled within a few hours of serving.”

For the cookies
80 grams shredded sweetened coconut flakes (3/4 cup)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
330 grams packed dark brown sugar (1 3/4 cups)
2 tablespoons honey
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
190 grams all-purpose flour (1 1/2 cups)
7 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
3 grams baking powder (1 teaspoon)
8 grams ground cinnamon (4 teaspoons)
260 grams rolled oats (3 cups)
100 grams dates, pitted and chopped (1/2 cup)
65 grams granulated sugar (5 tablespoons)
For the filling
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons mascarpone
25 grams confectioner's sugar (3 tablespoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread coconut flakes on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly colored and fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees.
2. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light. Beat in brown sugar and honey, then beat until very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and 1 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon. With the mixer set on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture until combined. Beat in oats, dates and toasted coconut.
4. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together granulated sugar and remaining 3 teaspoons (6 grams) cinnamon. Roll heaping tablespoonsful of dough into balls, then roll balls in cinnamon sugar; transfer to baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between dough balls. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
5. Make the filling: Using the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl. Sandwich about 1 tablespoon of filling between two cookies; repeat with the remaining filling and cookies.

YIELD: About 36 cookies, for 18 sandwiches  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Charting Collapseniks

"Rather than spurning financial system terrorists, Holmgren urges activists to become “terra-ists”; to directly bring down the system by thousands of acts of economic disobedience."

A ferment in the environmental movement, brewing for many years, has now bubbled up into the blogosphere. We are dipping our ladle in here to take a little taste of it, even though we are quite certain it is not done fermenting.

Bill McKibben has been stirring the wort of whether social activism can save us for many years. In Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, as in The End of Nature a quarter century earlier, he poignantly waffled, in elegant prose, between hope and despair. Since launching — “the first political action with a number for a name” — he has urged those of us with any remaining shred of hope for our children’s future, given what we now know about climate change, to step up and lay our lives on the line. Get arrested. Risk lengthy jail terms and even death to stop this atrocity. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Words to this effect we have heard much longer and louder from Derrick Jensen, another eloquent writer, the difference being that McKibben advocates for non-violence in the mold of Gandhi and King, while Jensen has no qualms about advocating violence. Naomi Klein, another stirring writer with an arrest record, calls for acts of resistance large and small. McKibben is tepid about taking on capitalism’s growth imperative, as though it were not a major contributing factor, while neither Holmgren, Klein nor Jensen have any such reservations.

Thus we are tasting many different flavors of leadership, or literary guidance, in the shaping of the nascent climate resistance movement.

Scientists themselves have been growing politically more active and radicalized, as Klein described in her October New Statesman essay. If you go back enough years you’ll find scientists like Dennis Meadows, Howard Odum and James Lovelock, all of whom correctly foresaw the impending collision between consumer civilizations and natural systems. Lovelock made a series of climate-and-society predictions that went unheeded for 20 years but hold up well in retrospect.

Joining the chorus of climate Cassandras with more structured harmonies are the peak-oilers and financial collapsarians. These thoughtful writers straddle a continuum that is both time-sensitive (near-term, middle term, long-term) and outcome ambivalent — they are undecided as to whether the future they foresee will be a good thing, a bad thing, or even survivable.

Guy McPherson has staked out the lonely position for near-term human extinction, which might be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Richard Heinberg, Nicole Foss and Steve Keen all see financial constraints as the leading edge of whatever storm is forming, and are not making predictions about how or when, but are planting gardens and putting up canned goods nonetheless.

Michael Ruppert, James Howard Kunstler and Dmitry Orlov are also decoupling from whatever economic grids they may be attached to, but do not foresee a particularly happy outcome in all this. Social unraveling is not a pretty picture, as Orlov describes in his Five Stages of Collapse.

Still clinging to the possibility of some salvageable human prospect are cultural and technical optimists like Amory Lovins, David Orr and Rob Hopkins. We personally would also favor this idea of an ecotopian future, and have been working to bring it about it for half a century now, but our own position is that collapse is likely unstoppable now, given, as Nicole Foss puts it “the excess claims on underlying real wealth.”

What suddenly bubbled up from the blog vat at the start of 2014 was a white paper authored by David Holmgren, one of the founders of permaculture, reversing a position he had long espoused. Instead of associating himself with peaceful change by calling for restraint on overconsumption and gradual adoption of the degrowth economic paradigm, extending it ever outward until it became the mainstream culture, Holmgren abruptly called for “Crash on Demand
or a strategic decoupling by masses of youth (and elders) from the economic system that is the crashing the planet’s ecological stasis, by simply walking away.

“Rather than spurning financial system terrorists [a.k.a. banksters or the 1/10th-percent],” Holmgren urged activists to become “terra-ists”; to directly bring down the system by thousands of acts of economic disobedience. “The urgency for more radical action to build parallel systems and disconnect from the increasingly centralized destructive mainstream is a logical and ethical necessity whether or not it contributes to a financial collapse,” he wrote provocatively.

This immediately inspired a flurry of thoughtful responses, as might be expected. One of the most impassioned came from one whose positions Holmgren had just abandoned. Writing for Transition Culture January 13, Rob Hopkins responded, “to state that we need to deliberately, and explicitly, crash the global economy feels to me naive and dangerous, especially as nothing in between growth and collapse is explored at all.”

Hopkins main truck with Holmgren is his readiness to toss away all notions of mainstreaming permaculture and transition towns. “I may be naive,” he writes, “but I still think it is possible to mobilise that in a way that, as the Bristol Pound illustrates, gets the support and buy-in of the 'City/State' level, and begins to really put pressure and influence on 'National' thinking.  I may be naive, but it's preferable to economic collapse in my book, and I think we can still do it.”

Concerned that a hard line position would expose social change agents to the full weight of state security as well as to the blame cascading from an angry populace, and that sewing the seeds of civil discord is always dangerous, Nicole Foss wrote on The Automatic Earth January 9 that financial collapse is already well underway and there is no need to expedite the process. “While I understand why Holmgren would open a discussion on this front, given what is at stake, it is indeed dangerous to ‘grasp the third rail’ in this way. This approach has some aspects in common with Deep Green Resistance, which also advocates bringing down the existing system, although in their case in a more overtly destructive manner.”

“Decentralization initiatives already face opposition, but this could become significantly worse if perceived to be even more of a direct threat to the establishment,” Foss concluded.

Having these positions staked out was useful for the discussion of strategy that change agents need to be more engaged with. Klein and McKibben seem to think that if we just have enough “Battles for Seattle,” the economic system of global civilization will be radically restructured. Our own experience in joining dozens of massive marches and actions of civil disobedience but nonetheless failing to end the Vietnam War has perhaps jaundiced our views in this regard. Moreover, Holmgren and Foss make clear that that’s not going to happen.

Even the recently unveiled strategy of fossil fuel divestment, as promising as it is, and as grounded in investment reality of the stranded, overvalued assets unable to ever be burnt, stands little chance of being able to arrest climate tipping points that may have been triggered decades ago.

Foss is not especially concerned for the climate, apparently clinging to the position Holmgren had some years ago, that collapse of energy and economics will augur in a low-carbon future, although she does acknowledge the lurking unknowns from reversed global dimming. “We need to get down to the business of doing the things on the ground that matter, and to look after our own local reality. We can expect considerable opposition from those who have long benefited from the status quo, but if enough people are involved, change can become unstoppable. It won’t solve our problems in the sense of allowing us to continue any kind of business as usual scenario, and it won’t prevent us from having to address the consequences of overshoot, but a goal to move us through the coming bottleneck with a minimum amount of suffering is worth striving for.”

Our own view is that the likelihood that a runaway greenhouse effect is now underway is greater than it has ever been, and to call what is coming a bottleneck is a poor choice of words except perhaps in the sense of the genetic bottleneck experienced 70-80 thousand years ago in connection with a supervolcano that reduced our hereditary lines to fewer than 5000 individuals worldwide. While we understand the concern she raises about unduly politicizing the issue, we’d say that cat has left its bag and keeping silent for fear of numbing the population makes no more sense for climate change than it does for Ponzi economics. Indeed, the parallels between the overdraft on Earth’s atmosphere and the excess claims on fictional central bank assets are striking — neither is going to go away simply by ignoring them. In both cases, the cake already baked.

This prompts us to make a new grid to categorize the range of opinions amongst peakists, collapseniks, politicos and anarchists. It goes something like this, at first drawing, and we welcome corrections, especially from those named.

Holmgren’s change of position can be charted this way:

If we plot the respective positions of other change strategists, they look something like this:

This is revision #7 since our original post

Our own position in this matrix, outlined in two books since 2006, is off to the left and centered on the line, meaning that while we are adamant in our advocacy for peaceful transformation, we are doubtful as to whether ecotopia is possible without collapse. Those seem to us to be a coupled pair. Likewise, McKibben is in favor of a new green economy but stuck vacillating between more peaceful and less peaceful means of getting there, while McPherson is deeply wedded to inevitable collapse without caring any more about social responses.

Not surprising, given what they know, scientists like Lovelock, Ken Anderson, and Howard Odum all fall below the line dividing Ecotopia from Collapse. Odum, we suspect, would have been in favor of peaceful transformation, while the others would like us to push harder and force the issue.

Naturally those most concerned with Holmgren’s shift would be those closest to his former position, including Rob Hopkins. Those closest to him now — Kunstler, Anderson, Hansen and Klein — would be the most likely to approve.

What is missing from Holmgren’s paper are the advances in terrestrial carbon sequestration — as opposed to Ponzi geoengineering — in no small measure reaching fruition by dint of permaculture design. While permaculturists like Rob Hopkins, Declan Kennedy and Max Lindegger pursued innovations in social structures — transition towns, complimentary currencies and ecovillages — other permaculturists — Darren Doherty, Richard Perkins, Joel Salatin and Ethan Roland, to name just some — have pushed the envelope to see how much carbon can actually be returned to the soil. This revolution is the subject of Courtney White’s new book, Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country, scheduled for release in June.

Would we have ever learned that a mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere if we had not been so frightened of climate change by Al Gore and other scaremongers? Speaking as one who wandered deep into Amazonian history to discover this new paradigm, we reply: probably not.

We’ve added some color coding and sector analysis with this third iteration:

This is revision #7 since our original post

Now lets step back and add a whole ‘nother layer to this.

There is a really good cultural transformation going on, with ecovillagers, ecological restorationists, soil remineralizers and post-empire econometricists. Simultaneously, there is a really negative übertrend of banksters and purchased or annointed politicians enriching themselves off oil, nuke and the wealth of nature, then turning all that surplus into the worst kinds of pollution – the kinds that take millennia to degrade and even then impair gene pools for untold generations.

These two conflicting transformations coexist against the backdrop of almost immeasurably immense climatic and biosystemic change that will severely affect, if not drive, our world in the future. We all exist in the context of ecosystems and yet these familiar norms are being utterly destroyed while we write this. The tiny little good ecovillagers, permaculturists and transition towners do pales in comparison to the scale of damage of unrestrained growthaholism that seems almost a genetic imperative of our species — and we are the keystone species in ecosystem Earth. Holmgren has this right, and it is undeniably frightening.

We’re sure there may be more thoughtful readers who can add to this analysis and produce more insights than we have, but as we say, we’re just grateful to be having this kind of discussion. The conversation continues in our next post, Recharting Collapseniks.

After co-teaching a permaculture course in Belize with Nicole Foss next month, we will be vetting this analysis with Dmitry Orlov, Dennis Meadows, John Michael Greer, Gail Tverberg, KMO and others at the Age of Limits conference in Pennsylvania in May. 




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