Links for the Month: December 2010

(Sorry that I never got around to links of the month in November, so this is a long catch-up post)


(Cartoon by Marc Roberts)


What Happens Next: Dmitri Orlov describes the scenario for energy collapse in a Peak Oil world and asks, What will you do when the oil tankers abruptly stop showing up in your town or city? Sharon Astyk has been arguing that, in many industrialized nations, there will be a period of chronic shortages and rationing first, but will we be able to get past denial that this is a permanent change to our world, in time?

Speaking Honestly About Civilization’s Collapse: Writing in Yes!, the always-controversial Robert Jensen reveals comments from readers on how they are coping with the realization that there is no preventing the demise of our civilization. (Thanks to Tree for the link.) Sample:

Recently several of our visionary thinkers have moved from the illusion that ‘we have 10 years to turn this around.’ They now say clearly that ‘we cannot stop this momentum.’ It takes courage and faith to speak so plainly. What can we do in the face of this truth? We can sit face to face and find the ways, often beyond words, to explore the reality that we are all refugees, swimming into a future that looks so different from the present. We can find pockets of community where we can whisper our deepest fears about the world. We can remain committed to describing the present with exceptional truth.

Post Peak Medicine: An online manual for providing medical and emergency health services in a world after civilization’s collapse has been started, and is looking for specialists to write chapters on their areas of specialty.

Coping with Crisis Fatigue: Tom Atlee writes to a friend about crisis fatigue, and the challenge of letting go of outcome and the possibility of trying to control things we cannot, while simultaneously accepting responsibility and doing what we can to “look for positive possibilities and partner them into greater probabilities”.

James Kunstler Calls for National Post-Oil Energy and Transport Strategy: In a recent interview, James Kunstler argues that we need an immediate debate on the use of nuclear energy, massive investment in rail and boat transport infrastructure, and an oil rationing plan. Thanks to Tree for the link.

Why Derek Jensen Rescues Frogs: In Orion, Derek explains why the work of bringing down industrial civilization includes doing things locally in your own communities and ecosystems:

We need to use whatever means necessary to protect the land where we live. Too often people assert that this is code language for violent revolt against corporations. And then they assert that this is no solution at all, and therefore assert that I have offered no solutions. But when I say protect your landbase using whatever means necessary, I mean it. It’s not that hard to figure out. Sometimes it might mean violent revolt against corporations. Sometimes it might not… Yes, industrial capitalism must and will come down. Yes, the oil economy must and will cease. And there are those who can and will hasten the collapse of capitalism and the oil economy. And I aim to be, and in some senses already am, one of those people. But that doesn’t alter the fact that I can spend an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon helping the local frogs to survive. And you can do the same for the plants and animals you love, who live where you live, whose home is your home, and in whose home you live.

Joe Bageant Takes on the Hive Believers: My friend Joe pokes gentle fun at those who believe that technology, innovation or collective consciousness-raising is somehow going to be the salvation of our crumbling civilization:

It seems that 40 years in retrospect, the human hive enjoys monolithism and totalism far more than anyone would have ever guessed back in the sixties… If there can be a solution at this late stage, and most thinking people seriously doubt there can be a “solution” in the way we have always thought of solutions, it begins with powering down everything we consider to be the economy and our survival. That and population reduction, which nobody wants to discuss in actionable terms. Worse yet, there is no state sanctioned, organized entry level for people who want to power down from the horrific machinery of money. There are too many financial, military and corporate and governmental forces that don’t want to see us power down (because it would spell their death), but rather power up even more. That’s called “a recovery.”

Steady State Economy: Can We Get There from Here?: Rob Dietz at The Centre for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy asks two very important questions but his answer to the second requires a greater leap of faith than I’d be prepared to make. His questions and answers:

  1. Q: Which side of the industrial growth dilemma (that economic growth is unsustainable, but lack of growth destabilizes our economy)  is more likely to hold true moving forward? A: The former, because it’s a matter of physics, not policy.
  2. Q: Do we have better prospects for achieving sustainable growth or building a non-growing economy that is socially stable? A: Peter Victor’s model of the Canadian economy shows that with the right policies, we can achieve a non-growing economy that maintains full employment, virtually eliminates poverty, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and maintains fiscal balance. The feasibility, then, rests on whether societies can generate the political will to adopt such policies (e.g., reducing the working week and year, changing the business structures, and shifting taxation to limit resource use). [My concern with this answer: Show me a society that has generated such political will in the absence of an indisputable necessity to do so. This isn’t how change happens. Nice idea, though.]

Not Waiting for Collapse: Alan Wartes explains that if we really want to be ready for civilization’s collapse, we need to start building a resilient and sustainable economy in our own communities now, not waiting for the crises to happen.

Transition USA: Stuck?: Michael Brownlee reviews in depth the history of the Transition Movement in the US and comments on where it should go from here. (Thanks to Bowen’s Don Marshall for the link.) Some interesting excerpts that resonate with my own experience to date with Transition in my community:

As in all relocalization efforts, we had been trying our best to discover the ways to prepare our communities for a crisis that was just over the horizon and had not yet quite arrived, and attempting to do this without being seen as alarmists, doom-and-gloomers, or inciters of fear and anxiety…

The hope that we’ll be able to maintain our current way of life by substituting renewable energy for fossil fuels is wildly unrealistic and perhaps even dangerous. We now know that renewable substitutes will not come on line quickly enough or at large enough scale to be able to maintain our current way of life. We’re going to be facing a future with far less energy available to us. So this is not just Peak Oil, but Peak Energy! This is a reality we’re going to have to come to terms with, and we need to allow this to really sink in to our consciousness. It will change everything, and much sooner than we care to think about. It’s unavoidable that we will be going through a wrenching energy transition—likely beginning in the next couple of years—which will change profoundly how we live, where we live, and even who lives. This tells us that we simply can’t adequately prepare our communities with new technology alone, or with incremental decreases in energy consumption. We will need to live very differently—and we will have to hurry…

The kind of climate that has allowed civilization to flourish will be gone and humans will enter a long struggle just to survive. This means a very profound shift for human existence, one that we have hardly begun to accept. So this is not merely climate change we’re talking about, but climate disruption… [And] there will be no long-term economic recovery… We need to prepare for the end of economic growth… We will most likely experience roller-coaster periods of global recession followed by weak and partial recoveries; this will ultimately give way to grinding, long-term global depression. In the process, many of the institutions on which we have come to rely as anchors for certainty and normalcy and sanity [e.g. governments, education and health institutions, transportation and power institutions] will surely fail, some of them slowly, some of them suddenly and spectacularly…

The rate of adoption [of Transition] in the US seems to be slowing… in several other communities the effort for relocalization has already essentially stalled… [Transition Towns founder Rob] Hopkins may [in his rewriting of the Transition Handbook in the form of a pattern language] be condemning Transition to the same kind of fate that has befallen a mechanistic view of Nature and the universe…

[Citing john Michael Greer] The situation we face is not a problem that can be solved but a predicament of our own making… Catalyzing self-organization of a community around relocalization or Transition is entirely different from community organizing… Transition is not a movement for bringing about change… Transition is a movement for preparing our communities for the [profound] changes that are coming.

Getting Out of Dodge, Now: A guest author on Dmitri Orlov’s blog argues that the situation in the US is already so far gone and so vulnerable that those wanting to escape the worst effects of the coming collapse would be wise to find somewhere else to live now. As Sharon Astyk remarks, however, for Americans, the problem is, where?


bob mankoff suicide cartoon

(Cartoon by Cartoon Bank president and New Yorker cartoonist Bob Mankoff)

Elinor Ostrom’s Common(s) Sense: Nobel economist Elinor Ostrom addresses some of the myths about the Tragedy of the Commons that have led cynics and right-wing libertarians to call for private ownership of everything, and explains how the “Tragedy” can be averted.

Kything: Beyond Presence: In her healing work (some of it with people with terminal illnesses) Beth Patterson employs a practice called kything that is as close as you can get to unconditional, generous love:

While everyone knows what it means to be physically present to someone, and many know what it means to be psychologically present to another, fewer are aware of the possibility of soul-to-soul or spirit-to-spirit presence. Louis M. Savary and Patricia H. Berne… define the verb “kythe” (rhymes with “tithe”) as “to present your soul to another” or to “show your true Self to another…”  In the family…  it can promote love, sincerity, and openness. Kything may be used in physical healing, therapy, and relaxation techniques, in providing emotional support, and dealing with loneliness or grief. It can affirm and strengthen your courage, self-esteem, and capacity for compassion. It can increase your commitment to spiritual values. [Beth goes on to explain the three steps to kything: Becoming personally present, shifting focus to the other person, and making a deep connection with that other person.]

Profile of Intentional Community: A very long and candid portrait of life in co-housing, ecovillages and other intentional communities, showing what works, and what sometimes doesn’t. Thanks to Tree (whose facilitation work is also profiled in the article) for the link.


(Cartoon by Zachary Kanin from The New Yorker)

Why Our Banks Are Worthless: In the New Yorker, John Cassidy explains that modern “investment” banks produce almost nothing of value, and suggests that it would make more sense to reinvent banks as public non-profit utilities in service to the people of the communities where they are located. Instead, average pay at investment banks is now $340,000, and the industry generates 1/3 of all profits in the US (generating a comparable proportion of the so-called GDP) despite the fact “it’s an industry that doesn’t design, build or sell a single tangible thing.”

More Eco-Disaster in the Alberta Tar Sands: On the heels of the discovery that the extreme right-wing federal and provincial governments have been seriously arm-twisting the US to accept Alberta Tar Sands oil (using the Department of Environment, supposedly in the protection business, as lobbyists), comes news that the cannons used to scare birds away from the project’s toxic sludge dumps “trailings ponds” are now failing, requiring thousands of poisoned birds to be euthanized. What will it take to stop this Big Oil / Big Government eco-terror? Meanwhile, some Americans who will have to create the new mega-roads to carry to the massive sludge-mining equipment from China, or who will have the toxic bitumen sludge passing through their neighbourhoods on the way to refineries, are starting to object. And the Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution calling for an embargo on ships carrying the bitumen back to China, or to the Western US, but the Prime Minister, who considers his government above the law, immediately announced they will ignore it. He listens to Big Oil, not the elected members of Parliament.

Fed Reserve President Calls for Reintroduction of Glass-Steagall: In a NYT op-ed, Thomas Hoenig, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, says that the big banks remain not only too big to fail, but, because of their structure and reward systems, too big to succeed. Only a breakup of the banks and return to the limited mandates and risk constraints imposed by Glass-Steagall can reform the banking system before another financial crisis occurs.

Canadian and US Spokespeople Call for Assassination of WikiLeaks Founder: Although it’s quite possible that Julian Assange has what Clinton-watchers used to call a personal “zipper problem”, the call by American presidential candidate Sarah Palin and senior Canadian government advisor Tom Flanagan to have him assassinated for daring to embarrass their governments is frighteningly beyond the pale. Watch to see if he’s silenced in his prison cell by some hired flunky before his case comes to trial or any further leaks are published. This is how fascism begins. Glenn Greenwald reports on the hatchet job the mainstream media have done on Assange. In the meantime:

The Horror of the BP Oil Spill: In Orion, Terry Tempest Williams writes about what happened, what is still happening, and what has been left behind off the coast of Louisiana. Not easy reading. Meanwhile, Ian Angus is furious at the apologists on all sides of the political spectrum who say all of us, not BP, are responsible for the spill. Thanks to Tree for the second link.

How the Homeland Security Pat-Downs Play Into Tea Party Hands: The staggering incompetence of Homeland Security and the inability of the Obama administration to control or dismantle this juggernaut, will probably create more Tea Party Republicans than all the corporatist-sponsored rallies combined. Take a look at this site, operated by libertarian right wingnut Bob Barr and fellow fear-mongers. Effective, no? You almost have to wonder if they put the head honchos at Homeland Security up to it. And when Obama’s bungling isn’t enough to sustain the shift to the extreme right, racist ads like this (thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the link, and the one that follows) can always be counted on.

How the US Banks’, Fed’s and Government’s Money-Printing Fraud Works: The artificial voices are annoying, but the text of this animated conversation is compelling, accurate and provocative at explaining how the fraudulent printing of trillions of $US merely ratchets up the unsustainable bubble.

Bayer Corp Diverts Attention From Its Bee-Killing Pesticide: Even the NYT has been caught up in the obfuscation by Bayer Corp which is attempting to persuade people its new and enormously profitable (and now banned in parts of Europe) pesticide isn’t behind the global hive collapse. Thanks to Tree for the link.


Big Bang is Bust: A second compelling new theory, this one by Roger Penrose, supports the thesis that our universe is infinite in space and time, that there is no beginning and no end, no smallest particles and no outer limit. The idea of a limitless, infinite, perpetual universe always struck me as more intuitive than the religious insistence of scientific orthodoxy on a single “big bang” event. It’s good to see scientists actually pushing past the dogma. No string (theories) attached, either.

francoise gamma walkeremilio gomariz hands

The Art of the GIF: While most early animated GIF files were annoying, some of the new ones designed by artists are amazing. The two above, from Francoise Gamma and Emilio Gomarex, are from Changethethought.

A Thought Experiment for White Guys: “Dwight Towers” reposts a Colours of Resistance piece on our white male domination culture, and how we affluent straight white guys can sensitize ourselves more to it.

Why We Procrastinate: A fascinating New Yorker article by James Surowiecki, reviewing a new compendium called The Thief of Time, suggests that often our impulse to procrastinate goes against our better judgement. The reason, he says, may be that we have more than one “self” and these selves struggle against each other, with procrastination resulting when “the bargaining process goes wrong” and our short-term focused self’s irrationally wins out. In the absence of “will power” he says, we rely on external forces to force us to do what we should, and if those forces are absent, we procrastinate. (Dilbert author Scott Adams once famously argued that working-from-home programs would never succeed because without a boss looking over your shoulder, most of us would just spend all day masturbating.) Surowiecki concludes: “it might be useful to think about two kinds of procrastination: the kind that is genuinely [contrary to better judgement of what you should be doing for your long-term benefit] and the kind that’s telling you that what you’re supposed to be doing has, deep down, no real point. The procrastinator’s challenge, and perhaps the philosopher’s, too, is to figure out which is which.”

Franklin Veaux’s Map of Polyamory: Poly is not as simple as just “loving more than one other person”. Thanks to Natalie Shell for the link.

Smart and Silly Inventions: Pictures of a set of 18 new product ideas (not sure if they actually exist or if these are just prototypes or photoshop designs) that range from the brilliant to the ridiculous. An another intriguing idea: “Windstalks”, based on biomimicry principles, instead of wind turbines. Or at least, paint the turbine blades purple to protect birds and bats. Thanks to Tree for the links, and the one that follows.

Why Corporatists Intentionally Exclude Us to Spawn “Apathy”: Dave Meslin at TedX Toronto explains that governments, big corporations, political parties (just look at our electoral systems), charitable organizations and media encourage what appears to be public apathy, and discourage public engagement, because they actually don’t want us engaged. They prefer us to be passive, uninvolved spectators. Effective public involvement, he says, is collective, imperfect (we learn from making mistakes), and voluntary (not heroic or invited). A great presentation.

Could Eating Worms Cure Chronic Inflammatory and Other Immune Hyperactivity Diseases?: A series of stories on sufferers of ulcerative colitis and other “autoimmune” diseases (most of which are increasing at an alarming rate in affluent nations) who have voluntarily ingested parasitic worms, suggests that humans and our digestive system parasites have co-evolved for millions of years, and these parasites play a vital role in regulating our immune systems. By flooding our bodies with antibiotics we have disrupted the balance in our guts, and a disease epidemic has resulted. Some might say this is a metaphor for what humans as a whole have been doing to our planet since our natural predators were eliminated. I just know that as an ulcerative colitis sufferer, my life was changed by a disease that stems directly from the ignorance and arrogance of the medical and industrial establishments. Thanks to Beth Patterson for the NPR link and David Maurus for the CNN link.

Fiddle and Bow: Canadians Natalie McMaster and Bruce Guthro. Doesn’t get much better than this.

The Earl of Salisbury: William Byrd’s Renaissance classic has always been one of my favourites of the genre. Now John Renbourn teaches you how to play it. And for an amazingly different performance, here’s a woodwind transcription.


hugh mcleod - life is too short

(Cartoon by Hugh Mcleod)

From PS Pirro’s new blog: “At some point you remember everything you knew before. That is the point of departure, when your new life’s journey begins.”

From Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.”

From Albert Einstein (thanks to Paul Heft for the link): “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

From Robin Wheeler: Alone, alone. (Thanks to David Parkinson for the link, and the one that follows.)

From Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass):

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

From Susan Werner: Her song My Strange Nation:

My Strange Nation has ocean on two sides
And the ‘Bama Crimson Tide in the south
Tilted slightly toward the north, the immigrants pour forth
Seeking Phoenix and life hand to mouth

My strange nation tilts sharply to the right
With our leaders straight and white as our teeth
Our population’s mixed, but Florida was fixed
In my Strange Nation, America

My Strange Nation, built on the backs of slaves
Who were sailed here cross the waves from far away
This cruel experiment was ended by a president
Who was both a Republican and Gay

My Strange Nation gave the Indians our germs
They surrendered on our terms (as in Died)
Their survivors filed appeals, so we gave them roulette wheels
In my Strange Nation, America

But my Strange Nation has lost its mind again
Sending young women and men off to war
For reasons that aren’t clear unless you’re standing near
To the rich and the righteous and the bored

And my strange nation, enamored of the cross
And who will win the toss of the coin
The circus and the bread distract us from the dead
In my Strange Nation, America

But my Strange Nation will surely come around
For you cannot hold us down for long
We’ll sputter and we’ll cough and throw the despots off
And recover the soul that makes us strong

And my frustration is just a product of
My strange but loyal love for this land
For its mountains and its lakes, tornadoes and earthquakes
For its poets and pioneers, for its fetishes and fears
For its freedom of dissent, for its greasy government

And I will not change this stance (I will not move to France)
I will always hold out one more chance
For my Strange Nation, America

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7 Responses to Links for the Month: December 2010

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Links for the Month: December 2010 « how to save the world --

  2. Theresa says:

    That article about procrastination is fascinating.

  3. Arch says:

    This comment “(Sorry that I never got around to links of the month in November, so this is a long catch-up post)” tells me you are really beginning to be alive again… that

  4. Paul says:

    “What will you do when the oil tankers abruptly stop showing up in your town or city?” Check out “Scenario 2020: The Future of Food in Mendocino County” by Jason Bradford, at Written in 2008, it starts, “For Mendocino County the key date was December 12, 2009. The trucks didn’t show up that day.” The presentation proceeds to imagine how the community responded, following it through the next months and years. Great food (!) for thought.

  5. Paul says:

    Dave, thanks for the “Coping with Crisis Fatigue” link! Excerpt: “I’ve started viewing both optimism and pessimism as spectator sports, as forms of disengagement masquerading as involvement. Both optimism and pessimism trick me into judging life and betting on the odds, rather than diving into life with my whole self, with my full co-creative energy. I think the emerging crises call us to transcend such false end-games like optimism and pessimism. I think they call us to act like a spiritually healthy person who has just learned they have heart disease: We can use each dire prognosis as a stimulant for reaching more deeply into life and co-creating positive change.”

  6. Nona Mills says:

    That article about procrastination is fascinating.

  7. casamurphy says:

    RE: “Big Bang is Bust”, Buddhism has always posited an eternal and infinite universe.

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