31 December 2008

You say "collapse" like it's a bad thing

Over the holidays I had occasion to discuss the state of the world with members of my family. I found it very difficult to contribute to this conversation because of my family's rules of engagement, which I suspect are similar to other people's family rules.
  1. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. If one has facts to back up said opinion, one should keep them to oneself lest an unfair advantage be gained over one without facts.
  2. The only acceptable response to any sentence which could reasonably have been uttered in 1973 or 1999 is to chuckle and say, “we've heard that before, haven't we?”.
  3. It is bad form to raise an issue unless its obvious solution does not require personal sacrifice and can be implemented by a mediocre government with no net tax increase.
  4. “We're fucked.”, no matter how delicately phrased, will make people feel bad, so, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
Where I differ from my family, and I suspect most North Americans, is that I am not particularly interested in solutions to the problem of the economy. As much as I enjoy the freedom of mobility a car provides, or the buzz of a new electronic gadget, I am not committed to preserving a society based on burning huge quantities of fossil fuels and consuming shiploads of cheap stuff from China. I've said before that we'd all be better off if the richest billion or two of us were a lot poorer, and since almost none of us are willing to voluntarily give up wealth, having governments pour trillions of dollars into the black hole of economic collapse seems a fine way to ensure widespread wealth destruction. If oil sands development slows down, or car sales dry up, or demand for uranium drops, the planet wins a reprieve from the onslaught of civilization. No government policy could better protect the environment.

In case you were thinking of adopting this position, I must caution you, it will not make you popular. Your mental health will be questioned and you will be accused of sucking the joy out of life. You might not want to speak it out loud in polite company.

So here's to continued interesting times in 2009.

21 December 2008

Shortest day

Today at 0704 EST we in the northern hemisphere reached our farthest tilt away from the sun. We'll pause here for three days and then we'll move ever so slightly back towards the sun. The sun will rise higher and higher in the sky for the next six months. Although officially we're only on the first day of winter, this day is definitely the turning point for me. In a few weeks the days will be noticeably longer and even though the weather will still be cold and snowy the light will be stronger and spring will just around the corner.

Meanwhile, I'll enjoy my seed catalogues.

18 December 2008

Fun with Mollie and Muddi

We were graced with the presence of some celebrity dogs today. The famous Mollie and Muddi of Mollie and Muddi: A Sleep-over Story (available at The Miller's Tale in Almonte) came to visit. We have a family soft spot for Border Collies, so we were sad to see them go (and the folks they came with, too).

17 December 2008

Reverse psychology

Yes, I've been into the flyers again. There are plenty of enticing deals, but I'm going to pass on this one.

16 December 2008

Redefining success


I've been going through a bit of a Russian phase lately. I just finished reading Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov and I recently watched a beautiful little movie called Roads to Koktebel. In Reinventing Collapse, the author compares the collapse of the Soviet Union (which he witnessed first hand) with his observations and predictions for the collapse of the American empire. He suggests that Russians were reasonably well prepared for huge economic disruption because of the non-commodified nature of housing and transit and generally low expectations. Vegetable gardens were ubiquitous and life could be carried on without much cash. The film follows a father and son as they travel from Moscow to Koktebel in Crimea with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a willingness to perform manual labour and very modest requirements for survival. These two have fallen on hard times, even by Russian standards, but they nicely illustrate the sufferance described in the book.

Dmitry Orlov makes the case that economic and therefore societal collapse in the US is inevitable given the non negotiable effects of peak oil and will follow the pattern exhibited by all failed empires, most recently the Soviet Union. He then goes on to explain how, because of the commercialization of every aspect of life, Americans are woefully unprepared for life in a post-peak and post-money world. As a Canadian I know he's not speaking directly to me, but we're so directly inside the sphere of influence of the US that we will not likely escape the full impact of American decline. His advice is to start learning now how to live with little or no money. And don't worry too much about wealth accumulation as money will become worthless and other forms of wealth become burdensome.

Um. That's no help. Learn to live without much money. Mr. Orlov rightly points out that to live without much money now requires one to be very much on the fringes of society - the kind of person you wouldn't bring home to meet your parents. But if you are such a person you may be very well placed to thrive in a post-collapse world. And by thrive, he means maintaining your sanity and experiencing a measure of happiness, not having a lot of material possessions. I find this line of thinking downright refreshing compared to the competitive "how to profit from the crash" kind of advice found in many places. And while I'm not ready to give up too many comforts for an unencumbered life riding the rails, perhaps after my recent Russian immersion I'll be ready to loosen my grip on useless things and notions of security with a little less difficulty when required.

10 December 2008

Just looking

I came across Money and the Crisis of Civilization a couple of days ago, and I've found myself going back to it a couple of times. It's a simple explanation of why the current economic system cannot be sustainable and offers an unconventional approach for dealing with it. One sentence in particular resonates with me: In the meantime, anything we do to protect some natural or social resource from conversion into money will both hasten the collapse and mitigate its severity. The thrust of the article is that we'd all be better off if we were poorer rather than richer. I've been saying the same thing myself, though not nearly as directly. I've been feeling ambivalent about the collapse of industrial civilization because I had been operating under the assumption that people will get hurt in the decline. But what this article puts into perspective for me is that people will suffer if things continue the way they are. And of course I knew that already, but I'm giving myself permission to resume my civilization death watch as an interested observer of historic transition rather than fearful victim. After all, if I'm going for a ride, I might as well pay attention and have a good look around.

09 December 2008

Feeder report

7 dark eyed juncos
1 white throated sparrow
11 chickadees
5 goldfinches
3 blue jays
1 white breasted nuthatch
9 mourning doves
2 hairy woodpecker
3 cardinals
6 American tree sparrows
1 downy woodpecker
1 red breasted nuthatch
4 purple finches
2 voles
2 red squirrels
1 grey squirrel (black)
and counting...

06 December 2008

It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine


I've decided to give up on my civilization death watch for a while. Much smarter people than me have been describing in agonizing detail the collapse of the financial system, the depletion of oil reserves, the inevitability of climate change and other environmental horrors and the rise of religious fundamentalism. Every newspaper carries page after page of news stories confirming the decline of industrial civilization and the natural world that sustains it. The destruction of the natural world to enrich a small minority of the world's population breaks my heart, but the loss of the system which allows this to be so – not so much.

Most people can figure out that if you have a civilization based on the destruction of the natural world eventually you're going to run out of nature and that's the end of your civilization. This has happened over and over throughout history. The difference today is that our industrial civilization has expanded to include close to 7 billion people, the entire landmass of the planet, all the oceans and even beyond the thin layer of atmosphere to outer space. I'd say we've pretty much run out of nature.

I have no patience for the proponents of “sustainable” anything unless they really mean it. Given that to be truly sustainable we'd have to have about 10 planet Earths at our disposal or a tenth of the population consuming the same or the entire population consuming a tenth of what we're consuming now I don't think most “sustainable development” folks really mean it. I'm also losing patience with the lightbulb changing crowd. You can't argue with efficiency, but these incremental, no standard of living change required changes are insignificant.

I think most people understand the utter uselessness of technological solutions and incremental changes to solve the problem of ecological limits whether consciously or not. A few years ago George W. Bush bought a 98,000 acre ranch in Paraguay– even he knows what's going on. The rest of us intuitively understand that the structural changes required to stop the destruction of our air, water, topsoil, forests and oceans would be countered by state violence. If that sounds extreme, try preventing a uranium mine from going ahead, or stop a piece of farmland from being lost forever to housing. See how long it is before you're talking to a representative of the government who happens to be wearing a kevlar vest and gun. And if you're really serious about protecting that piece of ground, well – you're going to jail or worse. So most people don't even consider it and even disapprove of those who do.

Instead of the death watch, I'm going to try, to the extent possible, to disentangle myself and my family from the worst of civilization while increasing our connections to the natural world and the people in our lives. It won't change a thing, but I'll feel better.

02 December 2008

Taking the cure Part 2 - the labyrinth


video

The sun came out this afternoon long enough to entice me out to the labyrinth. It's flooded in places and there was a thin layer of ice on the water which is way fun to break through. I love walking the labyrinth in any weather, but particularly when there's a few inches of water on the pathway. Rubber boots required.

Taking the cure Part 1 - the birdfeeder

This picture is about as good quality as the average bigfoot photo, but I assure you the black blur at the top is a squirrel. He leaped out of a tree and quite dramatically overshot the birdfeeder, unlike his buddy who has mastered the launch and landing.

Mondays and Tuesdays are my FeederWatch count days. I record the largest number of individuals of each variety of bird that I see in the vicinity of the feeder over the course of the two days. I find this a very peaceful activity, although activity may be a strong word to describe what is essentially sitting and staring out the window.

This feeder watching provides a strong and necessary counterpoint to thinking about events in the civilized world. I really only have space in my mind for half a dozen or so human constructed crises but I have no chickadee limit.

01 December 2008

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