Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010

Pre-Trick 'r' Treat Inventory.  Note apparent lack of enthusiasm.

Witchy stockings:  check.

Equipment check complete.  Ready for departure.

Wait long enough to take a picture in our house, and there will invariably be a cat in it, somewhere.

Any lingering doubts that her father will have no trouble in the coming years can now be summarily dismissed.

Witch and Witch-wrangler #1.

Witch:  "You're embarrassing me, Mommy."
Witch-wrangler:  "Smile or I'm gonna beat you over the head with that broom."

Witch and strange, friendly alien.  (Footwear is not per Starfleet regulations.)

Alien would not leave, possibly being stuck in temporal causality loop.

Huffy witch.

Witch and witch-wrangler in action.  Witch's apparent fearlessness up to that point evaporated quickly.

Alien wandering aimlessly among the immature Earthlings.

Soon afterward, I was accosted by what appeared to be a large walking mound of moss, which informed me, "You know the red shirt always gets killed first, right?", and somewhat later by a hipster dufus (who was probably named TeeEye or TeeBee) who kept saying "Computer!  Computer!"

What a world, what a world.

Yep, time to head back to base.

Hope everyone had a happy Halloween.  Wassail.  -- C.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rioting for Austerity

A Buddhist vision of life beyond consumerism

by Craig K. Comstock
Are there alternatives to consumerism? Other than a dreary alternative such as loss of a job, a prolonged economic downturn or the stealth tax of inflation?

What is it, this consumerism? It's the assiduous promotion of cravings which our economic system, at least until recently, has somewhat satisfied: "Your neighbor has it. You will be happy when you get it. You can have it now on easy credit." The amping up of desire for stuff is so normal here that it's hard to imagine another approach to life.

Recently, I came across an old box with photos of my maternal grandfather and some clippings from his youth. There were already ads when he was young, but they seem so naive, displaying an object for its own sake, not associating it with sexy women, power, speed or species that vehicles are named after.
My grandfather had much less materially than my parents, but as I know from taking long walks with him, telling stories, playing games, helping him build a boat, he was happy. How was that?

I thought of him when reading the new book by Stephen Batchelor, author of the wildly popular Buddhism Without Beliefs. Buddhist practice teaches that life is full of suffering and suffering comes from cravings. The trouble with cravings is that they often can't be satisfied and, when they are, the objects may vanish or degrade. And, in any case, they usually don't "make us happy," or, if so, not for long.

In this view, a system of implanting cravings by sellers who hope to profit by them, of exacerbating desire, would be crazy. The question is, why would you do that? Of course, people need the basics such as shelter, clean air and water, food, clothing, education, health care, the ability to work. But as Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin asked in their classic, Your Money Or Your Life, to what extent does it serve you to mortgage your life to get more and then more?

The service offered by Batchelor is to get to what he regards as the core of Buddhist practice, free of "accretions" imposed by various Asian traditions. Of course, some westerners are attracted to Buddhism in part by the rich Baroque trappings of the Tibetans, the subtle Theravada traditions of southeast Asia or the spare paradoxes in Zen cultures. But other westerners want a practice they feel is more suitable for a scientific and democratic society.

Having been a monk in two of three Asian traditions (Tibetan and Korean), Batchelor sought what he regards as Buddha's basic realization. In his writing, he even set aside such crucial elements of traditional Buddhism as rebirth and karma, not denying that the founder taught these doctrines, but attributing them to the Hindu world in which he'd grown up and arguing that they aren't necessary to Buddha's genius as expressed in the "four noble truths."

Within Buddhism, Bachelor's heresy is not to do without the concept of divinity (the founder was agnostic about metaphysics), but rather to set aside any realm other than our life on earth and to accept the possibility of death as oblivion. This is a delicate point because the prestige of Tibetan religious leaders, starting with the Dalai Lama, depends in part on the claim to be reincarnations and because the finality of death is almost unimaginable to most of us.

What a waste to obtain the necessities of life, guard against danger, form attachments to other humans and accumulate knowledge, and then poof, it's all gone like photo albums when a house burns down. This would be almost as unthinkable as a process of evolution. What human would design so slow, wasteful and unfair a process? Batchelor's point here would be that the gist of Buddhist dharma practice is being aware of what's here, now, rather than placing hope, without evidence, in a happier life after death.

Insofar as we can see the situation of Gautama, he had been living the life of a prince. His house was not in foreclosure, he was not forced into the life of a wandering ascetic. The "middle way" that he eventually found was not forced on him by the global peak of oil production, by global warming or by economic breakdown. He felt his realization or awakening was superior to the affluent life of his time.

In the phrase of the brilliant British journalist George Monbiot, "nobody ever rioted for austerity." Monbiot acknowledges this political fact in a book called Heat, about a painstaking and ambitious plan for reducing carbon emissions enough to avoid the worst ravages of global warming. A masterpiece of understatement, his phrase conjures the unlikelihood of a parade with placards calling for less affluence; it fails to mention the widespread phenomenon of denial.

I don't know whether the Buddha ever rioted for austerity, but he certainly counseled against arousing rampant desire, especially as a way of life. But what can we do instead? Change comes eventually less from just a critique of a prevailing system than from the building of a new system, of something that doubters can jump to and help in the next stage of building.

In his new book, Batchelor tells his personal story, reaffirms his understanding of dharma practice and offers speculation about challenges that Buddha faced in creating a new way of thinking and acting. This last task is especially tricky, because the writings called the Pali Canon are roughly as far in time from the founder as we from Shakespeare. (Imagine if we had the plays only through an oral tradition.) But Batchelor asks himself, given what we do know, how would a man with Buddha's basic awakening proceed in the world of his time? We'll never know for sure, but a coherent account at least provides an armature on which to build.
To return to the original question: Is there an alternative to consumerism? If the future will be less affluent than the past, for whatever reasons -- we don't know -- will we cling to a system that is failing, or will we have adopted new basic premises? If the latter, what are values that don't depend on having a growing amount of stuff?
Editorial Notes
Sharon Astyk actually has rioted for austerity.
Read more about Steven Batchelor's book Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist here.-KS
Original article available here


Wassail. -- C.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Give to Petraeus what is Petraeus'... and f%*k-all to the rest."

Surprise! I’m your new President-for-Life: The post-peak military coup & beyond

by Dan Allen
“Hey, hey, hey, the end is near / On a good day, you can see the end from here.” – Joanna Newsom
“The main conclusion from Rick [Munroe]'s [ASPO] presentation was that peak oil is being examined closely and taken seriously by military analysts but not civilian authorities. What few plans that do exist on the civilian side are decades old. The implications of this are that North America ‘remains highly vulnerable to a liquid fuel emergency disruption’ and, since because there are only a few dusty plans lying around, there will be greater chaos than necessary.” – Chris Martenson (http://www.chrismartenson.com/blog/future-chaos-there-no-plan-b/46331)

“Can’t get no food to eat. Can’t get no money to spend.” – Burning Spear

“There is no one what will take care of you.” – Will Oldham

“As of now, I am in control here in the White House.” – General Alexander Haig

SUMMARY: Our military appears to be taking the risks of imminent peak oil shocks seriously. Our ‘civilian’ government, deep in the thrall of corporate short-term profiteers, appears incapable of processing such risks. When the shocks come like a kick to our collective American gut, I suspect that only one of these entities may survive. Guess which one? All hail President-General-for-Life Petraeus! …But then what?


I’m starting to get that feeling in my gut again – that tightness. It’s the same one I had in the Fall of 2008 when the industrial economy started writhing on the floor in it’s most recent fit of cheap-energy-withdrawal convulsions.

It’s a feeling that colors even simple everyday things I see with a dusky haze of foreboding: “Oh, look at that – they’re laying a cement foundation that’ll be a vernal pond in ten years.” Or, “I wonder what that nice, shiny office building’s gonna look like with a big, puffy Virginia-creeper sweater?” Or, “Will that devoted lawn-enthusiast, in a cackling fit of collapse-fever, burn his last gallon of gas to give it just one final mow?” Or, “So you’re spending $120,000 for your kid to go to college (i.e. parties), and then come home to raise a post-carbon family in your den?”

It’s like Jim Kunstler has crawled into my head and is giving me a running commentary on everything I see: “Some profound seismic infarction…now propels deadly tsunamis toward the land masses where money dwells. And when they break over the shorelines…” Shhh, Jim, I can’t hear what this person is saying to me.
And as the time-window for the expected oil shocks comes alarmingly into focus, and as the ‘Here-Comes-An-Oil-Crunch’ reports start to emanate from more and more mainstream sources, it’s hard to escape a feeling of dread for the coming craziness – whatever forms it may take.

Reports from the recent ASPO conference come off like a reading of a terminal diagnosis for a dying civilization: “I’m sorry Mr. BAU, but the tests indicate that you have maybe two years to live – four at the most.”

Of course, right now, Mr. BAU, doing his best impression of a petulant 5-year-old, is obstinately pretending not to hear the good doctor. But in short order, I imagine we’ll be seeing him take a somewhat different tack: “But…but wait! Please! I’m not ready! Please, just give me a little more time! I’ll change! I promise!” Then, as Dr. ASPO momentarily turns her back, we see that incorrigible BAU pop open and dribble down another 500-million barrels. Burp. Not enough! Cue food riots. Cue hurricane.

And as the sky darkens and the wind picks up, the angelic crooning of Joanna Newsome floats through an open window: “Hey, hey, hey, the end is near.”


It’s becoming painfully clear that the federal government, having been swallowed whole by the corporate-financial sector, and is incapable of even a shred of preparation for the impending economic/oil shocks. The myopic short-term-profit prime directive of the corporations is now being defended wholly and at all costs by both Democrats and Republicans alike – to the exclusion of even the most basic protections for the bemused and hapless citizenry.

Prudent, risk-based peak-oil preparations -- or even the vaguest scent that something profound and systemic might be terribly wrong with our civilization -- is just bad for the short-term bottom line. It’s a no-go. Obama doesn’t do THAT sort of change. You silly goose -- you thought he did? No, no, no. We can’t let reality be the enemy of the profitable. A suitable epitaph?

So, alas, there will be no strategic open-pollinated seed reserves; no extended electrical outage emergency plans; no equitable petroleum shortage rationing plans; no appropriate technology dissemination plans; no national community-gardening & local food-shed programs; no basic emergency survival skills programs; no permaculture-skills education programs; no emergency water-shortage plans; no community resiliency action plans; no conventional-rail refurbishing initiatives; no draft-animal breeding programs; no push to ramp up development of perennial polyculture; no push to re-establish local manufacturing of basic necessities. No nothing. Zippo.

There will apparently be nothing that smacks of ‘preparations for impending trouble’ coming down from our increasingly bizarre leaders. (“I am not a witch.” Huh?! “It is not entirely clear that something called ‘the climate’ even actually exists.”) As far as one can tell from public pronouncements, the federal and state governments will be doing about as much peak-oil preparation as the guy down the street with the tinted-glass Hummer, grilling a hearty slab of feedlot beef on his shiny new Climatemaster-5000 grill.

But surely there must be a good bit of secret, behind-the-scenes planning going on over there in Washington, right? Even if they can’t publicize it for economic reasons, they must be doing something to prepare for the coming energy shocks, huh?

I suppose one chilling sequence drawn from recent history may suffice here: a dark, fetid New Orleans Superdome, chaotically packed with thousands of forgotten refugees; food and water supplies dwindling; Our well-rested Commander-in-Chief decides it might be a good time to “fly to Washington to begin work…with a task force that will coordinate the work of 14 federal agencies involved in the relief effort.”; a two-year old sleeps in puddle of urine on concrete Superdome floor. (Re-live all the adventures of Brownie & Co. at http://thinkprogress.org/katrina-timeline)

So are you still with us Brownie? ‘Cause we’ll need ya like crazy. And pretty soon! How many FEMA trailers – I mean full FEMA strategic oil reserves -- ya got lined up down there? And are all the various sports stadiums set to accept the hordes of post-peak refugees? Good, good! And Dr. Chu – are you standing by with your Nobel-Prize-brand, energy-miracle wand? Get ready to deploy. And you, Santa Clause, …etc.


So, disturbing cheekiness aside, all past and present indicators suggest that neither the Federal nor the State governments will be of much help when we lurch down the next (possibly significant) stair-step towards our uber-challenging post-carbon future. And any hope we might still have for the government enacting some last-minute preparatory measures – however small – will likely vanish completely as the new election-cycle ushers in a deeply-disturbed crop of tea-partiers bent on completely eviscerating all government programs.
So where does that leave us when the imploding debt-energy crisis hits the fan and we find ourselves very suddenly in a no-credit, lower-energy reality? It very likely leaves us in a world of frenzied pain – and with a pretty significant power-vacuum all around us.

There will be a whole lot of people in places that are not their homes. A lot of people with a lot less stuff than they’re used to. A lot of people with less stuff than they need to get by. A lot of people with suddenly nothing to do. A lot of troubled youngsters with a newly-learned command of assault rifles. And a lot of people convinced that such-and-such a group is responsible for their sudden run of bad luck. And all that will tend to make for a lot of cranky people prone to unsavory behavior. (Insert favorite Kunstler rant about rampaging over-fed clowns here.)

I find it hard to believe that the neutered versions of the state and federal governments will do anything but shout meaningless slogans beseeching us to ‘stay calm!’ from their corporate box-seats, high above the frenzied mélange of sudden want and anger.

But wait! There does seem to be one sector of the reigning US leadership who ARE tuned-in to the impending energy catastrophe – THE MILITARY! Yes, our boys in green have crunched the freely-available energy numbers and determined that, yes, we seem to have a problem, Houston. See Rick Munroe’s recent ASPO presentation, as well as his excellent collection of peak-related documents – many from the military. (http://www.energybulletin.net/authors/Rick+Munroe)

And while I haven’t had the opportunity to comb through their internal files, it would be more than reasonable to presume that the military also have a whole lot of post-carbon action plans, programs, and initiatives all sketched out and ready to be implemented on a relatively short time-scale. Or do you think they’ll just neatly fold up their fatigues and walk away to take their places in the bread lines when confronted with a power vacuum of monumental proportions? Ha!

Moreover, military budgets are almost certainly NOT being eviscerated – nor WILL they be, even as we approach the precipice of BAU’s doom. Regardless of how many troops and hardware are muddling about overseas at any given time, is there any doubt that massive ‘securing of basic necessities’ and ‘domestic pacification’ programs could be initiated almost immediately by the military? Good God! Look at their budgets over the past 30 years. Were they spending it all on sensitivity-training seminars?

But what about the energy shortage? Won’t that hamper the military as well? Ha! In the event of the inevitable domestic fuel shortages, who do you think gets priority at the pump -- that forlorn Ford Escort stranded in your driveway, or the local M1 Abrams pacifying your neighborhood? Indeed, export-land-model be damned once the squeeze is really felt! If there is a drop of petroleum to be squeezed out of any riser or tar-pit in North America once TSHTF, who do you think will be there to greet it? Hoo rah! And you think those Mounties are gonna stop ‘em?

So let me summarize here: the US military almost certainly has (1) reams of clear-headed plans about what to do with all our soon-to-be-very-cranky citizens, (2) the organizational skills to carry out those plans, and (3) the physical & energetic means to get ‘er done. The Federal and State governments seemingly have little or none of any of these.

So goodbye sad, sad President Obama. And fare thee well to you too, tragically-befuddled President Palin. Let all red-blooded American citizens now raise up glasses in these troubled times to their protector-in-chief, their brave benefactor -- President-General-for-Life Petraeus!

Hoo rah!


Now, I’m certainly not claiming that all this is the ONLY way everything could possibly play out. Obviously the whole situation is so complex that many futures are still possible at this point. Who knows? Santa might come to the rescue. But…it’s looking to me, more & more every day, that this ‘military ascendancy’ is one of the more probable futures beginning to coalesce out of the haze. I have to think that some version of extended martial law, explicitly stated or not, will greet us down the road at some point here.

So where does that leave you and me? What should we do – both now and into the future? Do we start preparing to rise up against our possible future military oppressors? Do we cache ammo to protect our homesteads against possible occupation? Or do we maybe join them to better secure our rightful share of the dwindling resource pie?

My recommendation, in the face of an increasingly-onerous future, is a lot less exciting, I’m afraid. It’s actually the same advice we need to follow if we wish to shake our current corporate oppressors. And it’s the same advice we’d need even if the corporate government was actually able to limp along through the coming shit storms. And, hey, it’s the same advice we’d need to follow even if NOBODY stepped-in to fill the coming power vacuum -- if we are to be left all on our own when the industrial ship inevitably goes down.

The advice is this: As we move into the post-carbon era, let’s try to construct our lives – at the individual and community levels – in such a way that we won’t NEED ‘them’ – their handouts and refugee camps; that it doesn’t MATTER who’s offering us assistance once the troubles come – or if nobody offers assistance -- because we just won’t NEED it. Let’s make our local communities as self-sufficient and resilient as possible, so that we can tell them, “No thank you. We’re fine. Not great, but fine. Hail Petraeus, and all. But thank you, no.” And then we ignore them.

Give to Petraeus what is Petraeus’, and f%*k-all to the rest. We don’t need it.

…But of course, that is all very easy to say but much trickier to actually accomplish. We have much work to do and little time to do it. Many physical preparations are needed. Much learning to be done. Countless community bonds to be connected. Spirits to be strengthened.

Check out http://www.postpeakliving.com/, http://www.chrismartenson.com/, www.transitionus.org/, www.carolynbaker.net/, http://www.johnnyseeds.com/, and http://www.fedcoseeds.com/. Read a book on permaculture, seed saving, root-cellaring, etc. Try those things at home. Plant an orchard. Throw a neighborhood party. Etc. etc. etc.

So is that too much? For these are truly monumental tasks that confront us now. The disconnect between where we are and where we need to be is so great, that it’s easy to get down and just want to give up. But we can’t. That’s not an option. And as Chris Martenson says, even a little preparation is far, far better than none at all.

So we'll do what we can, while we can.

Let’s get movin’.

Wassail. -- C.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dishevelled Dryad Loveliness: Autumn 2010

Been a very dry autumn so far here at the Gable Grey.  No rain since sometime in August, and it's showing.

Spider lily, also called "hurricane lily," cropping up amidst turkey fig.  Our three turkey figs are doing well, though they will probably not produce a fall crop due to the drought.  The spider lilies are appearing with their usual regularity, a happy sign that another scorching summer is behind us and cool weather is at hand.  Their narrow green leaves, which resemble monkey grass, will not appear until after the flowers wilt and are gone; there is a Japanese myth associated with the phenomenon, something about transformed lovers doomed never to meet...

More spider lilies, here among daylilies.  Spider lilies were among my grandmother's favorite flowers.  She lived here in Mississippi for many years. 

Wild aster, normally a spectacular show in early autumn, now looking poorly in the dryness.  This clump returns each year, so I take care not to cut it when the green shoots first begin appearing in the early summer. 

My woodland restoration project.  This corner was just completed last month.  A layer of cardboard to kill the invasive ornamental grass and prevent nuisance privet hedge, poison ivy, and virginia creeper from taking hold too easily; then a couple of inches of mulch from the mower.  Very time consuming, but it will only require a quick go-through with a pair of gloves once a year, during the fall.  The Spanish moss on the bald cypress trees was a gift from my in-laws, who live in Gautier, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  (Note the water oak leaning at a 45 degree angle, along our property line.  A victim of Katrina, it is wedged in a low fork of the huge poplar tree near the center of the picture.  Both trees are still living.)

A less intensive woodland restoration project, on the other side of our (currently dry) creek bed, on the property line.  Here I maintain a clear path, cut back or remove privet hedge, bamboo, saw briar, and chinaberry saplings, leaving a nursery for young trees like beech, water oak, pine, maple, and this nice little holly tree here.  Three giant longleaf pine trees stand guard; their brothers and sisters across the property line were cut down the year after Katrina, to my dismay.  Now there is only a nearly impassable tangle of mimosa, bamboo, and numerous other invasive ornamental species.

Sycamore sapling, obtained from the Extension Service in the spring.  Sycamores are some of my favorite trees. 

More spider lilies, among the chrysanthemums I set out a month ago.  I've had to water the 'mums at least once a week, sometimes twice, to keep them alive until the rains come.  I fear they will come with a vengeance this winter.

One of our three Japanese red maples.  They each added over a foot of growth this year.  None have put on their fall colors yet.

Garden expansion, my winter project.  Adding 128 square feet to our 64 sq. ft. bed; the latter will become a permanent strawberry bed.  The tangle of green in the upper corner is what is left of our two cucumber vines, which grew with a vengeance and provided a welcome supplement to our late summer suppers.  We were also able to give away many of them to family and friends.  What we could not eat or give away, we gave to the chickens, which they eagerly devoured.

Juan(ita) and Co., in their coop for the winter.  Juan has become very tame, and will allow himself to be held with little argument.  No eggs from the girls yet, as they are only about 3 months old.  Their waste has been and will be valuable fertilizer for next year's garden.

Fay Wray, our tortoiseshell, another important source of nutrients for the garden.  While I do not use cat feces as fertilizer (though it is better than nearly any other kind, I've read), their litter is otherwise very useful to that end:  we use only organic pine pellets, which absorb their urine and then turn to something like sawdust.  Very easy to handle, dries quickly, and a great addition to the garden mulch.  This will be Fay's first winter.

Titus Andronicus, yet another source of garden fertilizer, and unofficial Best.Cat.Evar.

Il est magnifique.

Finally, Misha, our Evenstar, who of all of us here at the Gable Grey will most enjoy the next six months.

Wassail, friends.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"...most humans never became adults."

The Collapse: Looking Back July 12, 2099
By Peter Goodchild
02 October, 2010

Almost everything in the economy was either made from oil or required oil to manufacture it or operate it. As the price of oil went up, so did the price of everything else. This rise was referred to as “stagflation” -- stagnant incomes combined with price inflation. The hardest hit were those who had lost their jobs, followed by those with limited disposable income, which meant those most likely to have debts: car payments, house mortgages, credit cards, student loans. But everyone found that a dollar just didn’t stretch.

That was Phase One: economic hardship. Besides stagflation, the major issues were unemployment and a falling stock market. While money was still real, it was everyone’s obsession: as in Weimar Germany, it took the proverbial wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread. A depiction of the world of Phase One might be to say that it was shoddy, dirty, and disorganized.

Phase Two, much longer, was complete chaos. It was characterized by the disappearance of law and order and capable government. As these faded away, money had no use as a medium of exchange. When there was no more faith in the dollar, money was replaced by barter. From economic hardship of a financial kind we passed to economic hardship of a physical kind: manual labor and a scarcity of basic goods. The world of Phase Two was a different picture: shocking, horrifying, and deadly.

The first clearly visible sign of the Collapse was the increasing frequency of blackouts. Throughout the world, electricity came mainly from coal, natural gas, nuclear power plants, or hydroelectric dams, and all of them were bad choices. Most US and Canadian electricity was produced by fossil fuels, and in the US that generally meant coal. The first problems with electricity served as an advance warning, but the greatest danger occurred years later as the production of fossil fuels and metals was itself reduced by the lack of electrical power: a vicious circle was created.

The US and Canadian grid was a hopelessly elaborate machine -- the largest machine in history -- and it was perpetually operating at maximum load, chronically in need of better maintenance and expensive upgrading. Every part of those two countries was in some danger of outage over the years, due to inadequate supplies of energy. Texas was in the greatest danger, whereas Quebec (with the advantage of hydroelectric dams) was the safest area. But most Americans and Canadians still couldn’t think of a failure of electricity as anything more than a momentary aspect of a summer storm. In other parts of the world, the future was already there: the lights went out daily after four or five hours, if they came on at all.

The Collapse rarely appeared in the conventional news media, or it appeared only in distorted forms. Ironically, the world was plagued by a lack of serious information. One day’s news item was usually forgotten by the next. The television viewer had the vague impression that something had happened somewhere, but one could change channels all day without finding anything below the surface. The communications media were owned by an ever-shrinking number of interrelated giant corporations, and the product sold to the public was a uniform blandness, designed to keep the masses in their place. But the unreality of television was only the start of the enigma. The larger problem was that there was no leadership, no sense of organization, for dealing with the important issues.

Everyone lived on a separate island, lost, alone, and afraid. It was a “shame” to be poor, so one could not even discuss it with the neighbors. The press and the politicians largely denied that the Collapse existed, so there was little help from them. In general, it was just each nuclear family on its own -- for those who were lucky enough to have a family.

Part of the reason for those problems was that many societies, including that of the US, were “individualist” rather than “collectivist.” Yet we should not have forgotten the truism that there is strength and safety in numbers. Individualism was probably more beneficial in good times than in bad; Americans seemed to adjust poorly to crises.

As the Collapse worsened there were various forms of aberrant behavior: denial, anger, mental paralysis. There was an increase in crime, there were extremist political movements. Strange religious cults arose, and “fundamentalists” were on the rise everywhere. The reason for such behavior was that the peak-oil problem was really neither about economics nor about politics. Nor was it about alternative energy; there was no such thing. It was about geology. It was about humanity’s attempt to defy geology. But it was also about psychology: most people couldn’t grasp the concept of “overshoot.”

We couldn’t come to terms with the fact that as a species we had gone beyond the ability of the planet to accommodate us. We had bred ourselves beyond the limits. We had consumed, polluted, and expanded beyond our means, and after centuries of superficial technological solutions we had run short of answers. Biologists explained such expansion in terms of “carrying capacity”: lemmings and snowshoe hares -- and a great many other species -- have the same problem; overpopulation and over-consumption lead to die-off. But humans couldn’t come to terms with the concept. It went against the grain of all our religious and philosophical beliefs.

When we were children, nobody had told us that any of this would be happening. Nobody told us that the human spirit would have to face limitations. We were taught that there were no necessary boundaries to human achievement. We were taught that optimism, realism, and exuberance were just three names for the same thing. In a philosophical sense, therefore, most humans never became adults: they couldn’t understand limits.

As mundane as it seemed in such an “advanced” civilization, “peak oil” basically meant “peak food.” Farmers were invisible people, and middle-class city dwellers chose to pretend that the long lines of trucks bringing food into the city at dawn every day had nothing to do with the white-collar world. Perhaps it was a mark of the civilized person to believe that the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter had no relevance to daily life. Yet when the farmers stopped sending food into the great vacuum of the metropolis, the great maw of urbanity, the city rapidly crumbled. Nobody had thought to ask: Where was all that food coming from?

We finally pushed the planet Earth to the point where it could no longer maintain our population. We could convert great quantities of petrochemicals into fertilizers and pesticides, we could draw water out of the deepest aquifers and even desalinate the oceans, but at last we had to face the fact that the Earth was only a small rock, small enough that it could be encircled by a jet plane in a matter of hours. We had squeezed both our residential areas and our farmlands beyond endurance. When the spiral broke, it did so in a far more destructive way than if the problem had been solved earlier. When the human race suddenly found itself unable to manage the reciprocity of overpopulation and food production, there were no more choices left to make.

Humanity had always struggled to survive in terms of balancing population size with food supply. The same was true again, but population numbers had been soaring for so long. Without ample, free-flowing oil, it was impossible to support a population of several billion. Famine caused by oil-supply failure resulted in about 2.5 billion above-normal deaths before the year 2050; lost and averted births amounted to roughly an equal number. Eventually the population fell to less than one percent of what it had been at its peak.

Nevertheless, it was often hard to separate “famine deaths” from a rather broad category of “other excess deaths.” War, disease, and other factors had unforeseeable effects of their own. Because of the unusual duration of the famine, cannibalism was significant; to what extent should this be included in the calculation of “famine deaths”?

The problem of oil depletion turned out to be something other than a bit of macabre speculation for people of the distant future to deal with, but rather a sudden catastrophe that would only be studied dispassionately long after the event itself had occurred. Doomsday was upon us before we had time to look at it carefully
Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians, published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is odonatus {at} live.com.

[Wassail. -- C.]
Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"