Three Chinese Curses

May you live in interesting times.

Mission accomplished. I’m there, as we all are. As we always have been, during two million years of the human experience.

May you attract the attention of the government.

I’m there, as I have been for years. To remove all doubt, about five years ago I placed a call to then-Governor Napolitano’s lead advisers on two topics, Energy and Agriculture & Natural Resources. I begged and pleaded with them, but they kept coming back with their singular response: “There is nothing we can do about global peak oil.”

It took a couple years for me to figure out what they meant because, of course, there are many things the government can and should do to mitigate for declining energy supplies. Government officials could start by letting citizens in on the truth about energy.

So, what did members of the governor’s staff really mean? There are no politically viable solutions. In this case, telling the truth is political suicide. The impending death of millions of people — and perhaps billions — pales in comparison to political careerism.

May you find what you’re looking for.

I’m talking to a naturalist I barely know. His one-year-old son is resting on his shoulders and treating a cattail as his personal magic wand. The seeds of the cattail are falling into the hair and beard of the 40-year-old naturalist as the boy succumbs to his own personal energy crisis and, fighting all the way down, succumbs to slumber.

I’m writing a book about the dire nature of our predicaments and I mention the high likelihood of a global economic collapse within a decade or so. The naturalist doesn’t bat an eye before responding: “I hope I’m around to see it. I don’t want my son to have all the fun.”

Fast forward six years, and I’m sharing a property with the naturalist and his young son. Collapse of the industrial economy is well underway, and has entered the acceleration phase of its death spiral. Obviously, we will live to see the final stages of the ongoing collapse of the industrial economy. As a result, we might see the living planet take the first tentative steps to a comeback.

Or perhaps not. Maybe in the coming few years we will die, collateral damage of the demise of the industrial economy. Just like entire ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico and the millions of species organisms within them, consumed by the fire as Rome goes up in flames.

Maybe lifting the curse of industry will reveal a worse fate, at least at the level of individuals. But it’s difficult to imagine a situation in which termination of the industrial age will not improve the lots of every non-industrial culture and every non-human species on this planet.

May we find what we’re looking for, regardless of the personal cost.


This essay is permalinked at Energy Bulletin, Counter Currents, and remedios’s posterous.

Comments 23

  • Guy,
    Thoughts on dealing with the government: In August 2004, in another life, I was sitting in a meeting in Washington D.C. as an employee of the Department of Homeland Security discussing terrorist threats to US infrastructure, specifically the oil industry. The concern was that terrorist (or a hurricane) would take out that 10% of US oil coming out of the gulf of Mexico. What is of note in this discussion is that the oil industry analyst (I did agriculture and rail transportation) was scared to death because he had figured out what the impact of 10% less oil would have on the US. I guess I just didn’t get it at the time because I should have been scared as well. It has been three years since I left government and started my small somewhat sustainable farm and since then I have taken the time to really think about how unsustainable our society is and now, I’m scared, well, I have gotten past that point, and am now working towards disconnecting from the “collective.” As to taking this issue to the government and expecting action, that is not going to happen. Do the experts in DOE, CIA, DOD, DIA and DHS know about peak oil? Some probably do. Have they written on it? CIA has since the early 1970s. But analysts don’t make policy. In fact, as you point out, it is not in the interest of policy makers to bring collapse to public discussion. Recently I watched a presentation by Albert Bartlett of U of Colorado, Boulder concerning Population, Energy and Exponents. In his discussion of these issues he cited examples of how the media and government have engaged in a “don’t worry, be happy” denial campaign of our energy and environmental problems since the 1970s. Their message has been, there is no problem with fossil fuels, and they will last for centuries. Well, the day of reckoning is at hand and word is getting out that we are sliding down the curve. The politicians know that if they tell us now, our growth based economy will fall apart and they just can’t deal with that, so kick the can down the road for the next administration to deal with, regardless of who is elected. The coming years are going to be very interesting….

  • I and others in New Zealand have done as much as we can to make our politicians sit up and listen, then take action. Helen Clark (#3 in UN now I think) even publicly admitted ‘we’ were at or near peak oil back in 2006 on hearing her say this (at a press conference in our parliament) I rang her press secretary (PS) to ask what she meant and could she expand on the throwaway comment, the PS didn’t know what I was talking about, so I rang back a few days latter but still no knowledge? Only one fringe news paper picket it up, quite simply the media didn’t want this sort of stuff ‘out there’ or didn’t have the brains to work out that peak oil = peak papers?
    So 6 years on I’m the only one keeping this ‘alive’ (on You Tube big deal)
    It is not just the idiot politicians and their even more stupid advisers that are not saying anything it is also MSM and their ‘balanced’ reporting. I’ve been used a few times by the media as the ‘chicken little’ part of an article, then they go on to report how wrong I and mine are, hence the proviso on my site below my phone number “strictly no media” I for one will not be used for ridicule by the wankers again… Though I must admit I’m laughing now;)
    Per capita I have distributed the equivalent of over 1 million DVDs if you do the math compared with the USA verses New Zealand, and if you compare that to the area I live in with a population of 47,000 it would be maybe 2 million equivalent effort, as a lot of the 15,000 DVDs I’ve given away were to my ‘neighbors’
    If nothing else my 10 years of wasted effort have taught me that the people DO NOT WANT TO KNOW and I’m talking big time. Robert Hersch said it was a people problem “simply the people do not want to know”
    So as our hero George Carlin pointed out we get the leaders we deserve, as they are a reflection of the sort of idiots and arsholes most humans are. Yeast is smarter.
    Photo essay on futility

  • ProfEmGuy:

    I know where to find a good Margarita,does that count ?

    Double D

  • ——————-and don’t blame me,Resa got me started on the subject.

    Double D

  • Sorry to rain on your doom parade, but bio-nano-fusion cornucopia machines are coming sooner than you think, and all the Peakniks who are enjoying this brief Renaissance will have to find another line of work. Malthusians have been wrong for more than two centuries, and I see no reason to start believing them now.

    I would like to offer another vision of the future to your readers, which as a biologist I’m sure you can appreciate: since the Earth is the only known biosphere in the universe, we should be doing all we can to expand our presence beyond this planet and “green the cosmos”. This “cornucopian”, “Star Trek” vision is the only way to ensure that life survives the next cosmic catastrophe, such as an asteroid strike or gamma ray burst. In some sense we owe it to the biosphere to do this, as the only species capable of getting off this planet. But we can’t do this by accepting limits to growth or looking backward; we have to keep doing what life has done for the past billion years on this planet, which is to find ways around all limits and expand into every available niche.

    Yes, you might say that I’ve been born again. I see now the wisdom of the cornucopian position, and the horrors that are unleashed when people become convinced that there isn’t enough to go around (see for example Nazi slaughter in eastern Europe in pursuit of “lebensraum”, the Irish potato famine, medieval religious butchery, Rwandan genocide and Stalinist mass starvation). By the logic of the Malthusians and the uber-doomers, maybe we should all just commit suicide and spare the universe the burden of our presence. Reductio ad doomerum is a dead end folks! Onward and upward! Limits to growth are for losers!

  • “Sorry to rain on your doom parade, but bio-nano-fusion cornucopia machines are coming sooner than you think”

    Good luck with that bio-nano-fusion cornucopia. While it may work, you have lots of coal fired power plants to replace with it not to mention 70 million vehicles. Who is going to build it? Where will they get the money? While there are lots of great ideas out there, nothing can replace oil for energy density, at least nothing we can produce (controlled nuclear fusion, great idea, but it hasn’t gone anywhere in 20 years). And your running out of time. Last time I checked, most crash programs historically have taken 10 years and with the Western economies on the point of collapse, again, where is the investment coming from? It is one thing to be optimistic, it is another thing to be realistic about what can and cannot be accomplished.

  • We can’t plug a hole in the Gulf let alone expand our bio-nano-fusion across the universe. Our presence is not crucial to the planets growth. In fact the planet was just fine without us. Don’t get me wrong there James T. Kirk; I enjoy my human experience as much as the next arrogant blogger but I would rather see us play ball with the other kiddies instead of destroying their existence. So keep beating the growth drum as those who have died in our wake wait for nature to bat last.

  • Fellow Travelers,

    In his book, AGAINST THE GRAIN, Richard manning asserts that 100,000,000 Chinese died – mainly of starvation – during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” in the late-mid Sixties. That must have been an “interesting time” to live in China. Imagine one out of every ten people you know – dying of starvation – all within about the space of five years. I’m guessing that even among the ones who survived, plenty of people knew what debilitating hunger felt like. I wonder how many of them who starved were pessimists?

    Prosperity can cause growth. Calamity often snow-balls. As interesting a time as the next decades will be, it won’t be the “curious” who will be best represented among the survivors. It will be the “lucky”.

  • ProfEmGuy:

    Is Dan Treecraft a brother to you and James ??

    Double D

  • Frank Mezek, Dan Treecraft is a brother only in the sense that we’re all members of the brotherhood of man.

    James, thanks for representing the family at Dan’s upcoming bash. I’ll raise a glass in Dan’s honor during the celebration.

  • cornucopia? WTF!….moron

  • Yes you heard right, this universe is a cornucopia! Not just earth, mind you, but EVERY SINGLE ATOM! Just for starters, think farming on mars, mining the asteroids, terraforming Titan and all kinds of crazy nano-filaments spanning the solar system and self-replicating bio-gizmos turning dead rocks into gardens! Because there are no real “limits to growth” for life in this universe!

    We’ve gone from a teaspoon of microbes to the current global biosphere, and now you expect anyone to believe that a great die-off is imminent, and that it just happens to coincide with your insignificant little life span? Get real dude! My advice to people who think this way is to lose your End-Time doomer religion. The real “Good News” is there’s no dour god limiting our potential power or joy in this universe. To quote Freeman Dyson, it’s “infinite in all directions!”

  • Not all of us are profound doomers here,
    besides different places will experience
    different rates of decline.
    I for one believe a more modest future awaits.
    On your bike, put on your thermals, lose a few pounds,
    buy some good walking shoes, wear those clothes out,
    darn those socks, buy durable items, fix things, travel less,
    grow your own fruit and veg, dont use credit,
    etc etc. The ‘future’/energy descent reads more like
    the early 20th century to me, rather than terra-forming Mars
    as you suggest.
    You can ‘junk’ your techno optimism now in preparation.:)

    After some considered ‘thought’,
    With peak oil in mind I think I should start my own architectural movement.
    – ‘reductionism’ – a culture of modesty, praise the hand made,
    cultivate the slow, the small, the humble, the worn etc…

    I said recently said to a young architect that economic growth is
    killing the planet and that the architectural profession
    is not known for its modesty and she said what is the alternative?
    I said the above in response. The point is, the onus is on those who
    believe that the status quo can continue to come up with a alternative, not those that question exponential growth on a finite planet. Surely this goes without saying, apparently even the educated and the seemly intelligent dont get it.

    Dan, the warmest regards from me

  • Sorry sir, but we aren’t limited to a finite planet! This universe is, for all practical purposes, infinite! I’m all for doing those things you suggest, except for junking my techno-optimism — sorry, no can do!

    In 2093, while doomers are still discussing the impending collapse of industrial civilization and the Stone Age soon to follow, I plan to be ordering double lattes at the Pluto Starbucks and shuttling back and forth between my Martian homestead and my mineral claim in the Kuiper belt. Different strokes for different folks I guess!

  • you got me

  • I guessed it was (likely to be) a joke/satire from the outset. Just that little bit too over-the-top: although it can be hard to tell with some cornucopians.

  • Guy: I was going to send this to you in response to your email, but decided to post it here instead.

    The funny thing is I’m not even joking. I’m out of my doomer phase and into my crazy cornucopian-singularitarian phase now. I guess I get tired of the fatalistic attitude of doomers like Greer, who speak as if the future is set in stone, and the fate of humanity is determined entirely by Hubbert’s Peak. I think most of these folks have a prior agenda, and are latching onto peak oil as their best hope to get back to some imaginary pre-Enlightenment, pre-industrial utopia. Ultimately doomer thinking is too small though, because it limits itself to this planet and has no solution to the inevitable cosmic extinction event. As a Nietzsche reader, I don’t see how you can buy into this utterly disempowering, counter-existentialist philosophy.

    Don’t worry though, in a few months I’ll probably be back to declaring the end is nigh. These things go in cycles with me. :)

  • Doomlove said: “Ultimately doomer thinking is too small though, because it limits itself to this planet and has no solution to the inevitable cosmic extinction event.”

    And there you have it wrong, Doc. ;)
    Our doomer thinking is… we gotta get our act together on this planet. If we do, all sorts of things are possible. If we don’t, then not only are we toast here, but if by some miracle we got out, we’d just go and spread our insanity and ruin to other planets from here.

  • I just noticed a new moniker for O. being tested is “O’Puppet.” Someone on Orlov’s site is flying that kite. I like O’Tool better. What do y’all think?

  • matt!

    If you darn socks,you’ll get blisters where the darns are.

    Double D

  • DD

    true, but as I often say to my wife –
    ‘I am a man, so I am used to suffering!’

    darn those socks woman! :)

  • Vera –
    O’Tool, O’Puppet, O’Baloney… It will be fun to watch, and to see what sticks. Not a lot of fun to be had in these witheringly-gloomy news cycles.

    O”Bomba? ( Pardon my sayng it but… we’s doomed.) dbtl

  • May I assume Dr. Doomlove has been sent to this dimension to amuse the few of us (not me) who have taken the trouble to do the math? Bury me on Planet Earth, please.