Principles for society

by Arthur Noll

1. The first principle for society is science. We need to make decisions based on repeatable, observable understandings of how things work. Currently, this is frequently not done, is often not done by scientists. That might seem like a strange claim to make. But it is a simple matter. Whenever people say that scientists will find solutions to various problems facing humanity, they are expressing their faith in the existence of things that may or may not exist. We have no evidence either way, and to have faith in things without evidence is literally beyond reason and not scientific. There is no functional difference between believing in mystical forces for which there is no objective evidence, and believing that currently unknown technologies and understandings will be found to solve problems. Current culture has been largely built and run on this kind of religious faith in science. Many scientists accept this completely unscientific faith without question. They live their lives in objectively unsustainable ways, yet are unconcerned because of this faith that things will be found when needed. It is irrational.

2. The second principle for society is interdependence. Human beings are social creatures, who live by teamwork or die. This is an easily verifiable statement. If you wish to test this statement, you have the naked body to do the test. To be biologically successful as an independent organism, you must live and reproduce without any aid from a social group, and successfully compete with social groups as needed, as well. If you can do this you don’t need to be reading this essay and it is odd that you would be doing that. An independent hominoid would be a different species.

3. Since we need a social team to live, it follows that it is best that this social team be efficient and sustainable in how it functions. Scientific measures of value can be made for this. A fundamental measure of the value of behavior and people, is food EROEI. EROEI stands for Energy Returned over Energy Invested (eaten). Like all living creatures, human beings eat and they use some of that energy to move in ways that brings them more food. Tying in closely with that is movement to obtain shelter from excessive energy loss or gain. Organisms must also move in ways such that they reproduce sufficiently. Food EROEI defines life and death. The ratio over time must be at least one or above one. If it is below one for too long, the organism dies. For a social organism, the individual has a food EROEI, and the social body, social group, also has a food EROEI, and both need to be a ratio of one or above.

A ratio of one is living hand to mouth and is instinctively seen as unsafe, too close to the edge. People and other organisms are generally always looking for ways in which they can get more food and shelter for less food energy spent. They also store food energy from times when food EROEI is high, for times when it is low. Having a high food EROEI is generally an instinctive requirement for reproduction.
People have learned various ways to increase food EROEI and to better store food. Tools made from better materials, and machinery running on non food energy, for example. These things can amplify muscle movements and give better food EROEI. But at this point we must consider the sustainability of food EROEI as also a life and death situation. For the sustainability of a food EROEI, you need to look at the rates at which all the resources are used, and compare those rates with possible rates of renewal-replacement. If resources are used faster than they can regrow or be replaced, that can give an attractive food EROEI, but it may not last and can go below one in the end. Only if the resources used up can be replaced with something else, can it continue. Obviously, with that observation, we are often back to the matter of having faith in things that have no evidence. This situation is quite likely exacerbated by the fact that for eons as hunter gatherers, a common pattern was that people took all easily available resources in an area and moved on. I think we may have instinctive expectations that for all resources used up, you just have to go looking for more and if you look hard enough you will find them. But this instinct fails when it comes to using non renewable-non replaceable resources, and when we are able to look objectively at the whole planet and understand that a large enough population can use resources too fast.

When considering the future, the complexity of factors means it is impossible to predict it exactly. Future supplies of food and other resources can be seriously impacted by droughts, floods, and other similar events that are difficult to predict exactly. This is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. The simple concept of using a factor of safety, in the amounts of resources used, can do a great deal to mitigate this problem.

In addition to technology being able to increase food EROEI, there are other ways to increase food EROEI, and that is to have other people or animals do the work. Combinations of things have often been attractive. People can be made into slaves using the technology of weapons, for example, and forced to work for others. Slave masters can have a higher food EROEI than the slaves. Of course, they are also ignoring the basic principle of interdependence and the need for smoothly operating teams over time. Teams in which some members are forced, are inherently less efficient than teams in which behavior is voluntary. And if the weapons to control others were made by using resources at unsustainable rates, while the situation of one group dominating another might last for generations, it could easily come to a halt in the end.

Another way to have good food EROEI, is to be rich in a society operating with money-market systems. To be rich in such a system gives much better food EROEI than being poor. Being rich in such a system is very similar to being a slave master. Often, the two things have been combined, with outright slavery just another component of a monetary culture, and to be poor in such a culture is just one step above slavery.

Monetary systems have a veneer of being scientific and rational, but it takes only a brief scratch at the surface to reveal the many ways that monetary systems are irrational to the goal of continued existence. Let’s take a look.

People behave as independent agents with their money, which causes confusion and inefficiency about whether people are independent of each other or not. There tends to be endless argument about where individualism ends and social concerns take over. Monetary systems always go to situations of a few rich and many poor, and this is not an efficient use of resources. There tends to be constant friction of wage slaves revolting in either passive aggressive or overtly aggressive ways, which can be a serious waste of resources. While competition is a normal part of life, monetary systems often take this competition too far. Within a society, competition can sort out what person is best suited for particular jobs, and everyone benefits in the end to have this done properly. But if competition hurts potentially valuable people, everyone is hurt by this loss. When only a few people win huge amounts of control over resources with money, it is clear that statistically, such winner take all systems are likely to be hurting others with good abilities. In addition, winning this control can involve luck more than merit. It very often comes from exploiting resources unsustainably, including human resources. Being rich may also have nothing at all to do with merit in that the money is inherited. So it becomes clear that this method of finding the best in society is seriously flawed. Having incompetent people in charge of large amounts of resources can be a serious danger to everyone.

Another extremely serious flaw of monetary systems is that they inherently push unsustainable behavior. Abundant things are measured as cheap, and cheap things are not conserved in ways that would preserve the abundance. People often reproduce freely on “cheap” resources, and then find themselves trapped with overpopulation and resources no longer cheap. On the selling side of the money game, if someone conserves resources, they will not bring as much to the market, cannot sell as cheaply as someone who ignores conservation, and they are very likely to go out of business, lose everything, and end up working for people who don’t conserve. Conservationists are not rewarded in the money game. Blindness and ruthlessness are rewarded. This feature of money market systems makes it long term engine of destruction. It might take many generations to fully destroy some resources. Eventually, however, on a finite planet the system must find ways to expand off the planet, or self destruct. The rewards of blindness and ruthlessness, are temporary.

Monetary systems have other inefficiencies. They constantly struggle with counterfeiting. They struggle in vain to avoid inflation and deflation as the money supply does not match fluctuating resources. No way has been found to fairly put more money into circulation or take it out- and the rich people who get in control of this generally do not even try to be fair about it. Inflation is the general trend as resources are used up but the same amount of money, or more, is in circulation. There is an energy cost to simply making money. There is a large amount of energy spent accounting because the units are not stable.

All of this makes monetary systems inefficient, unstable, and unsustainable. But since people, both rich and poor, generally refuse to be scientific about it, the system continues. The poor often like the system even though they are exploited by it, because they have dreams of doing a little better, or a lot better. Also the production of things with unsustainable resource use can be just as attractive to the poor as to the rich. Mystical beliefs are common. Another thing that locks the system in place, is because just as conservative individuals fail inside the system, competitive conservative systems tend to be crushed by it as it grows. The only thing that seems likely to destroy it is itself. However, as I go over at the end, this might be given a psychological kick in the rear to help it along.

Often it is argued that while it is not a perfect system, there is no alternative. But this is not true, and I think this is more because most people don’t bother looking, than anything else. All that has to be done is notice these principles, that people must live by teamwork, that value can be scientifically measured with food EROEI and the sustainability of that ratio. And it can also be noticed that evolution has over and over selected a model for complex exchange systems, in how individual bodies are organized. Each specialized part of the body is basically trading its particular goods or services, to the whole rest of the body. There is no bartering solely between specialized organs. That would be far too cumbersome for a body to function, just as it is too cumbersome for specialized individuals to manage by bartering. But such awkwardness vanishes if specialized individuals barter their abilities to the team, which in turn has the ability to collect the variety of resources all the individuals need.

Nor does it have to end with small groups of people. Just as you have the teamwork of organelles in a cell, and cells in turn team together to make body organs, and groups of organs form an individual, and teams of individuals form social groups, yet another level is groups of individuals specializing like organs, and exchanging their goods or services with groups of other specialized groups.

Interestingly, monetary systems do the latter kinds of grouping. The problem is the system of values.

4. The fourth and last principle to be aware of with all this, is evolution. While a conservative system cannot be formed while the cancerous one is growing, as it fails a window of opportunity should arise to set up new systems in its declining moments. And in theory, once established, the conservative system might then prevent cancerous growth from happening again.

There is quite likely precedent for this sort of evolution to be seen in the existence of complex organisms. In the evolution of life, single celled organisms came first, and reproduced without any limits to growth. Growth is a fundamental part of life, it is simply adding one element to another via chemical attraction. Mechanisms to limit growth are necessarily secondary to this process. But how would cells with such limited growth mechanisms, ever compete? They could compete by linking up to make complex organisms that used resources more efficiently. A single cell that has good capability of moving around to find food, might team up with another cell that doesn’t have such good ability for movement but has better ability to efficiently digest and use food. Yet another cell might have good abilities to sense where food is, but limited abilities to move and to utilize it. Together, they work better than separately- but they must share resources fairly or the system falls apart, and mechanisms to limit cell growth are part of that appropriate sharing of resources. If mechanisms for limiting exist, however primitive they might have been at the beginning, the complex organism formed could compete, and especially could compete in situations of relative scarcity that would periodically come from the extreme up and down cycles of non limiting organisms. Efficiency in getting and using resources is not as important when resources are abundant, as they are when resources are scarce. While complex organisms have not completely abolished simple, cancerous growth models, and probably never will, immune systems are felt to generally be quite successful at recognizing it and destroying it within a body. It is only when the immune system fails at this job, that cancerously growing cells can overtake and kill a complex organism.

It is ironic that complex organisms can themselves become cancerous on the species level, but again, mechanisms for limits to growth would necessarily be a secondary feature added to a complex organism. Obviously, ecosystems have grown to provide limits to growth of the species that make them up. The problem is that humans have found ways around these limits. Logically we must limit ourselves or we face the real danger of extinction. If only a few have the emotional programming needed to limit themselves and thus make themselves more efficient working with others, they have greater odds of surviving the scarcity caused by relatively selfish behavior that creates the scarcity.

So there are the main three basic principles. Science, interdependence, and food EROEI and the sustainability of that ratio are the first basic principles. And finally evolution, as the way in which a society consciously based on these first principles, might logically come into existence.

Let’s go over some more details of how various things fit into this. How does reproduction fit into all this, with some more detail? Well, very simply, the same as everything else, couples barter with the group to have a child. The group says yes or no, and they might have problems with one particular couple but not another, with potential health issues involved. With interdependence, these things are logically an issue for the group.

The amount of reproduction the group and couples would logically want fits into maintaining favorable food EROEI for the group.

It should also be obvious, that population levels also fit into the understanding of using factors of safety. You want to maintain fewer people than average conditions can maintain. Our life cycle is too long to quickly and easily adjust population to rapidly changing conditions.

There are other angles to look at reproduction and evolution, that support all this. Selection for ways of reproduction that are more effective is very common. Animals that breed seasonally, for example, have been selected because they did not waste themselves trying to have babies during the middle of winter or the middle of a dry season. With animals, mechanisms of cues for when to mate, can involve things like light levels and moisture levels. But it does not matter what the mechanism is; only that it works. The mechanism I see working here, is the ability to use the neocortex to look ahead, and that the emotional strength to respect the neo cortex calculations is strong enough override, at need, older instincts about reproduction.

However, there is a problem here of timing. Knowing when the collapse is coming is very important in order to make rational decisions about this. Having the ability and desire to control reproduction, does not mean that one should not reproduce. But while the collapse of complex systems can be easy to predict in general terms, making exact predictions of timing can be virtually impossible. If a system is using vital resources at unsustainable rates, destroying carrying capacity at the same time that it grows, collapse is easy to predict. But to say precisely when it will collapse is a completely different matter. Yet it needs to be known if one is going to make rational reproductive decisions with regard to it. I intend to deal with this problem, as I feel there is a solution, but I will do so later on.

In a collapse of current society, common methods of birth control will not be available, and in times of stress like these, it would probably not be a good time to experiment with methods that use very little technology. While some people should be able to control their sexual impulses enough to stop having intercourse, it is far less likely, if they are healthy and fed enough, that they will be able to turn off sexual impulses entirely. People in this situation are going to masturbate. It isn’t the ideal solution with regards to energy use, but it seems doubtful to me that any bigger evolutionary step can be made at this time. Of course, in emergency situations where the adrenaline is flowing and food is scarce, sex not likely to be on anyone’s mind. But if a collapse took two or three years to be triggered, and then lasted another several years, there could well be fluctuations of food supply that have people feeling well enough for sex, though the situation is still not nearly stable enough to consider having children.


Another problem I’d like to address in a little more detail here with regards to these principles is agriculture. Human beings have some very serious problems with agriculture. People generally love annual crops. Annual crops have been easily selected to get rid of unpleasant tastes often found in wild plants. The feature of annual crops in having a life cycle where the plant dies and puts a great deal of its solar energy conversion into seeds and tubers, is also very attractive. The fundamental problem is that annual crops inherently do not have a large root system. It starts out at zero with a seed or tuber in bare soil, and at the peak of growth the root system is still small compared to perennial plants. Such small root systems are inherently bad at recycling plant nutrients, and are also poor at holding soil against erosion. Annual plants are also relatively smaller above ground, and so are poor at producing large amounts of dead vegetation that prevent impact erosion and create huge sponges to soak up rainfall. This slows runoff, slows erosion by gullies, and gives the much larger, denser root system even more time to recycle nutrients.

Many people talk about organic farming of annuals as being sustainable, but except in some relatively rare geographic circumstances, this makes no sense. Organic farming of annuals is merely taking nutrients from one plot of land to feed the cultivated plot of annuals. This generally has to be done, even with recycling as much as possible, because of the inherently poor ability of annuals to recycle. And while the manure and/or green manure may well be taken from land under perennials, perennials are not a magical source of nutrients. The soil they are living in gets depleted to continually take away nutrients.

There are ways in which nutrients can be naturally replaced, with breakdown of rocks, and ultimately tectonic forces are lifting sea beds up into mountains. Healthy ecosystems can also move nutrients up watersheds. But the rate at which soil nutrients can be replaced with these natural movements can easily be exceeded.

The emotional attraction to annual crops means that these problems are ignored or brushed over, vague beliefs that science will find a way, or that “God will provide”, are invoked. Dealing head on with this issue is something people have refused to do. Again, dealing with it on the basis of what we know to be true, not what we want to be true, would mean radical changes in behavior, in this case with diet. Annual crops would cease to be the mainstay of most diets. Annual plants left to themselves, have a relatively small niche in nature, and the amount of food obtained by them would go down to reflect that small niche.


Another problem driving many people crazy these days, is health care. How do we look at health care by these scientific principles? The first thing to consider is that it takes a large amount of food energy to grow a new person to be a functioning adult, to replace someone who has died. If health care can prevent premature deaths, they can save a lot of that replacement cost. Since the cost of replacement is so high, groups can spend a lot of food energy and other resources on saving someone, returning them to health, and have it a worthwhile activity. Of course, the care has to be successful in order to get this savings. Merely keeping someone alive but in state unable to be productive in any way, does no one any good. And while the cost of replacement is high, it is not infinite.

And no different than has been observed today, prevention of problems generally has even better returns than giving care to people after they have gotten hurt in some way

It also has to be noticed that some people are easier to replace than others. Education is resource expensive. To educate one person to fill a job, usually means educating several, because not all of them will go the distance. With education systems we are running a moderate level of competition to sort people out, which has an energy expense. So with health care, we notice that this scientific society is not completely egalitarian. Some people represent greater potential loss to the group than others, and are worth more protection. This should not be surprising when we consider the model of the individual body, where the different organs have similar ranges of value. The heart is a lot more important than fingers and toes, for example, and is better protected. People will instinctively throw up their hands to protect eyes and the brain, instinctively ready to sacrifice hands to keep these other organs intact. Particularly as human society gets more specialized, similar differences of value can pop up between people. But at the same time, no sane person treats his hands and feet as easily expendable. They are still highly valued and protected.

The least valuable of society, are worth more than to be set to living on and in garbage and trash, often starving, exposed to the elements and diseases. Only a very sick person treats their body with carelessness, and only a very sick society treats their least valuable members with such little care. There is an interesting parallel where addicts often seriously neglect their bodies, abuse them in the attraction to a drug. Addiction can easily be seen as basically any attraction that has grown to such levels that other vital things are neglected or even deliberately abused. Complex organisms have many different needs to be filled and focusing too strongly on one or more and neglecting others, always causes problems. Addiction perfectly describes a lot of current human behavior and social problems.

Another thing with measuring health care values this way, that is completely different from what happens in monetary systems, is that people gain in value as they grow from conception, and reach the height of value as adults who have mastered a job, and then they slowly lose value as they age and lose their ability to function. It makes little sense to pour resources into trying to heal someone who is old and is going to die soon regardless of the amount of care given them. In a monetary system, old people tend to have the most money, and get the most care, which is crazy from an energy standpoint. A society that wastes resources on the nearly dead is leaving itself vulnerable to being unable to take care of more objectively valuable people. Only a society that imagines itself to have infinite resources can behave as current industrial societies have with health care.


Something that people often ask about, is how artwork might be valued in this system. I put artwork in a more general category of entertainment. Entertainment can have value for people in a lot of situations. It helps people relax, rest, and come back ready for more work. However, the more stressed people are by their work, the more entertainment they are likely to want. Less stress means less need for entertainment. And even in highly stressed situations, entertainment can be very cheap in food energy. Jokes, singing, simple reenactments of history where much is left to the imagination of viewers, are things that do not cost much food energy.


So, this briefly covers some of the main problems with agriculture, reproduction, health care, entertainment. A lot more could be said about these things, of course, but space does not allow it. The big thing I want to go over next is the loose end with reproduction and timing. Timing is a serious problem. Knowing even roughly when a collapse is likely to start could be very helpful to surviving it, and people cannot put off reproduction for too long. A collapse that went very slowly, lasting decades, could destroy any advantage of putting reproduction off.

There is an answer to both of these problems, and it has to do with common human psychology. People generally hate to look unreasonable, they hate to look stupid. Leaders are especially vulnerable to this. But obviously instinctive drives push most very strongly to do objectively irrational, stupid things. When very simple, fundamental observations about reality are made, people can be put under terrific mental stress, their brains pushing two very contradictory behaviors. This state cannot generally last, it is unstable. It eventually breaks to one side or the other. The genetic potential for growing greater neural strength for one side or the other will prevail. A person will start acting more rationally, or they break the other way and start behaving even more irrationally, with greater fanaticism in their behavior. And the latter behavior is very apt to be self destructive, again, especially when it involves leaders and followers, much more quickly self destructive than would otherwise happen.

In a world with thousands of weapons of mass destruction, combined with a huge overpopulation that is vitally dependent on world trade in finite resources, wars launched in fanatical desperation, using weapons of mass destruction, pose a very serious danger. Cutting off or crippling world trade in food, fuel, fertilizer, metals, machine parts, could put many millions in danger of immediate starvation, and put billions in danger of starvation within a year. It does not seem unreasonable to expect waves of violence to propagate from initial large acts, given this situation

This looks extremely likely to happen whether fundamental arguments are made widely or not. But if the fundamental arguments are widely made, it can find the people who can hear, and push the rest over that edge of desperate fanaticism much quicker. It would be a trigger and would also get things over with much quicker, as well. And since there are an unlimited number of things to believe in if evidence is ignored, all these desperately crazy people are not unified enough to make large exchanges of weapons of mass destruction. Some are likely to be used, but mostly the end would be an implosion rather than an explosion.

So telling people the objective truth about fundamental things can potentially solve many problems simultaneously. It finds those with the potential for some rational self control, it makes the rest insane and divides them so they self destruct in the safest way possible. And it solves the problem of timing. Instead of waiting for something to trigger this growing instability, we trigger it. And at the same time, we shorten the days that the collapse is likely to last.


This is a very basic look at my understandings. Many more observations about all this can be made. One can go a lot more deeply into all of these issues and others. I have studied and thought about things more deeply and widely than I’ve written here, and I think others can take it much further than I have gone. But in the limited space here, this seems like a good start, will hopefully provoke some thought, discussion, and action.


Arthur Noll’s formal education culminated with a bachelor of mechanical engineering technology, from Northeastern University in Boston. A philosophical determinist, he has worked in fossil fuel-based industry and a wind turbine company. He’s been a framing carpenter and built a passive solar house, as well as a fabric-covered yurt in which he lived for three years in northern New England. He’s experimented with growing crops and tending animals, and he’s herded goats, worked with draft horses and donkeys, and helped with the chores and haymaking on a commercial dairy farm. He’s been a substitute teacher, maintenance man for an apartment complex, and home remodeler, and has been credited with several minor inventions related to appropriate technology, which may or may not have practical use in the end. He’s had relationships with women and has helped raise children, though none of his own.

Interspersed with these eclectic pursuits have come some very difficult challenges related to Arthur’s health. He was finally diagnosed with celiac disease, a process from which he learned a lot about health, wellness, and philosophy. He doesn’t recommend his parents’ approach (Christian Science) or many of the poorly thought-out failures of his own. Contemporary medical science was hardly a shining exemplar, either. His experiences with Christian Science taught him about the problems of fanatical religious belief, and the danger of trying to please people who you might love but are basically insane. But his own failures taught him very painfully about being sure your facts are lined up correctly. He explained a little about the health-care system above, in his essay.

Arthur has been fascinated with understanding how things work since a child. When things did not make sense, he’s pursued his propensity to gnaw on them, off and on, for decades. This was the case with most topics in the essay above. He started thinking about some of these problems as a child of 10 to 12, and did not get satisfactory understandings and solutions until his mid to late thirties.

Comments 125

  • Matthias: And, oh, brothers and sisters, I ask you to look at him. Does he have the marks? Do you see them?

    Followers: No.

    Matthias: You see him as we were before the punishment. Before we gained grace. You see lying there the last of scientists, of bankers, of businessmen. The users of the wheel.

    Followers: Yes.

    Matthias: Do we use the tools of the wheel as he does?

    Followers: No.

    Matthias: Is he of the Family?

    Zachary, Followers: No.

    Matthias: Is he of the sacred society?

    Followers: No.

    Matthias: Then what is he?

    Followers: Evil!

    Matthias: He is part of the dead. He has no place here.
    He has the stink of oil, electrical circuitry about him. He is obsolete.

    Matthias: You are discarded. You are the refuse of the past!

  • Arthur,

    Well done, and very easy to understand. I have one small objection, however. The bio-intensive organic agriculture method uses 60% of the land to produce compost that feeds all 100% of the farmed area. Generally annual crops are used and rotated to conserve nutrients, build the soil, and produce a crop for human consumption. In southern areas successive crops are rotate through the growing area through out much of the year in a way that a given unit of land might produce both compost crops and calorie crops during the course of a year. In northern areas the technique must be modified because it is not possible to grow two rotations on a unit of land during a short growing season. Compensation for that problem comes in the form of doubling the area of land under cultivation and sowing 60% of that land to compost crops (often grain which provides food too). This problem necessitates a greater per capita land base for food production and in a collapse situation would difficult to scale up to meet the needs of 7+ billion people. However, contrary to your statement, it makes complete sense and does provide a way forward for a significant population in a resource depleted, post-collapse world.

    Michael Irving

  • Hi Michael,
    Biointensive as promoted by John Jeavons, is a very climate dependent system. The climate is one where there is reliable summer drought and winter rain. By irrigating in the drought, water use can be controlled and leaching of nutrients minimized. Since winter is mild, annual plants can be grown through it and it is possible to time things so they are at maximum growth during the rain. Jeavons’s irrigation is done with wells and electric pumps. That might be replaced with human energy, but of course at a loss of food EROEI- you are working considerably harder for the food return. With very deep wells, you might run into EROEI below one. Other ways of doing irrigation are also possible, of course, but again, to be practical they tend to be site dependent. Another thing that makes his system work where he is, is that the winter rains flush out build up of salts, which are of course an ancient destroyer of irrigated systems. As I wrote, I think annual crops can be grown in a limited number of places. The Central Valley of California has the harsh climate in summer that is a natural biological niche for some annuals. But even here, that is a limited niche, as there is enough rain for trees and some perrenial grasses. Deserts tend to be places where you find annuals, and summertime has desert conditions here. I do not think his methods will transfer to other climates and be sustainable.
    Another problem I did not write about, is the problem of animal competition. In a healthy ecosystem, this can be severe. People working together in cooperative ways have sometimes kept a 24 hour watch. Individualist societies with the capability, have opted to try and wipe out the competition, basically destroying the ecosystem. I don’t think this is a good idea. A fence that is deer high, set under the ground to stop diggers, tight and strong enough for pigs and goats, able to handle large herbivores pushing on it, and a net over the top for birds and climbers, is not a practical thing. Jeavons and many others get a free ride on this matter- our predecessors largely destroyed this competition. But some parts of it don’t stay destroyed, it can be an endless battle with smaller animals and insects, and I think we can have some serious problems from diseases affecting humans directly, that used to be controlled in a healthy ecosystem. Healthy ecosystems also move fertility up watersheds to some extent, and we lose that. I think this destruction was a serious mistake.
    Perennial food production can be larger than annuals. Tree crops can dwarf annual crops for tonnage per acre. However, considerations of avoiding monocultures, and the fact that with healthy systems, birds, squirrels, in tropical climates monkeys, are going to take a lot of this, means I still do not see having a large human population.
    While you do not mention it, a frequent question is raised by traditional Asian agriculture, with the claim that this had long term sustainability. King’s book, “Farmers of Forty Centuries”, is cited. I have read the book and feel enthusiasts are overlooking a crucial detail. King documented very careful recycling of all organic material in most places he visited. People dredged canals, they recycled humanure, everything was used. But in spite of this, in every place he went, he also saw that people went to the hills and cut grass for more fertilizer. The recycling wasn’t enough, too many nutrients were leaching from the poor recycling ability of annual plants.
    This might have been more of a problem for the upland crops than for the rice. Fukuoka’s work growing rice and barley has been quite interesting to me. But he grew trees in upland areas. The floodplain is a natural place for annuals like rice, and in his area he could also get a second crop of barley. But again, we are looking at specific and rather limited geographic situation, with flood plains.
    Eygpt had sustainable agriculture with annuals, with its unique situation of reliable gently flooding, enough new sediments, but not too many, enough water for irrigation and also enough able to be used that salting could be avoided. I don’t say that annuals are impossible to have, I just think they don’t fit in most of the places people plant them, year after year.
    Swidden systems, ditto. That fits natural cycles of fire and windstorms taking down sections of forest, and annuals are the first part of the regeneration. If rotations are long enough, that might possibly be something that could be done, but to overdo it can be quite easy.
    I hope this clarifies my position on annuals.

  • Arthur Noll: The first principle for society is science. We need to make decisions based on repeatable, observable understandings of how things work.

    I’d like to say I find this appalling, but in truth, the sentiment is so ingrained that to impeach it makes me look foolish. Whereas understanding is generally a laudable goal, scientific understanding aims at application, which through a series of successive attempts and layers of abstraction result in destructive manipulation of increasing scale. But we can’t help ourselves; it’s in our nature. If I were to choose a first principle not for what good it might do us but for how close it hews to reality, it would be hubris. Let me also observe that hubris lies within us, not beyond us.

  • Good point Brutus, science through observation and repeatable experiments found that bacteria and later viruses caused many diseases. Hubris said “ah ha we can defeat disease through antibiotics and vaccines”. Then appeared antibiotic resistant germs and auto immune diseases caused by our immune system reacting to itself rather than the germs it was primed to fight(according to some scientists in the current round of being defeated by disease).

    What we need is for civilization itself to end along with its facilitator agriculture (of any type) and a return to the life humans were evolved to live, hunter gatherers. The Powers that head our global civilization seem well on track to get us there if they don’t get us all killed first. I suspect Hubris is well muted in hunter-gatherers and as Sarah pointed out in the previous post, they in fact work to prevent pride for instance by ridiculing the prey of a hunter so he will remain humble.

  • One other point to Matthew with regard to large human population. I touched on the idea of diseases being unleashed by destroying ecosystems, but merely having a large population is also well understood for being the reason for many endemic diseases and the potential for epidemics. Small, relatively scattered populations are not so vulnerable to epidemics and do not hold endemic diseases so easily. With antibiotic resistance mounting in many serious human diseases, this is also a serious consideration in my mind, for wanting small populations. We have learned a lot of valuable things with regard to disease, simply knowing that disease is caused by microbes is a huge step, but much of what modern medicine does is clearly unsustainable. And with a small population, mostly unnecessary.

    To Sean, I am a bit confused. I am not against using wheels or electricity. Machines can be ok. It is how many we have of them, and how much they get used, that is the issue. And sometimes it makes sense to use resources at unsustainable rates for a time. Consider again, the model of the individual body. In emergencies, bodies automatically secrete adrenaline, and metabolism goes up to levels that are unsustainable, and rather dangerous. Muscles are used at “red line” levels, on the edge of ripping apart. It is not at all good to push at these levels all the time. Athletes have been seen for centuries as fragile creatures- the ancient Greeks saw this. Redlining in either organic machines or ones of metal, is risky. But we automatically secrete adrenaline in emergencies, because the risk of pushing at such unsustainable levels for brief amounts of time, can be worth the risk. It can save your life. I am using resources at an unsustainable level to use this computer. I think that the potential communication with it, could be worth that price. In using resources at unsustainable levels, we have created an emergency that calls for using resources at unsustainable levels! But the specific way the resources are used, is what can make a huge difference. Suppose I am given a new pick and shovel and find these tools just wonderfully satisfying to use, and dig myself into a trap. Would throwing them out in anger and frustration be smart? I don’t think so. I would use them to very carefully dig out. To know the difference between digging out and digging deeper, is what separates the winners from the losers in such a situation.

    I think that having the knowledge of certain technologies, of maintaining them, could have similar value to societies organized by scientific understanding in the future. In keeping with the concept of emergencies, a hospital might have a heat engine of some kind, a generator, and thus be able to have bright lights to see clearly at night. You would prefer that most of the time that engine was silent and the lights were out, but to have them could save a life and save society a lot of emotional grief as well as the food energy of raising a replacement. I did not go over the fact that emotional grief is also a food energy loss. I try to be a logical as much as necessary, but we are emotional creatures. Even the respect or disrespect for logic is an emotional thing. We can really come to love each other and it can be devastating for someone to die unexpectedly. Depression has to be taken seriously.
    It is something I have also thought about with regard to sexuality. Celibacy in theory can save a lot of food energy in avoiding unwanted pregnancies and children, but if someone spends a great deal of mental energy to be celibate, and becomes depressed and unproductive, possibly going to the point of being counterproductive, then a lot of that advantage can be lost. For this, though, I have to say that the fit survive- there is no getting around the fact that if someone *can* be celibate at need without getting depressed, they have an advantage. But I also see celibacy in very certain terms- I see it as avoiding intercourse. However else people want to release sexual tensions, I don’t care. Just avoid pregnancy and don’t hurt each other, don’t spread diseases. Those are the bottom lines to me.
    These matters come up for me in response to your comment, because I see that possibly your basic concern is how people can act in “Lord of the Flies”, kinds of ways. Emotions completely overtaking reason. And that can be a problem. Again, though, I feel that groups that fall into that sort of emotional, semi mystical approach to problems and to each other, are not likely to survive. They could throw out the wrong people for the wrong reasons, and it only hurts them. In the sort of collapse I see as likely, we aren’t going to get a lot of second chances with serious mistakes. We are going to sink or swim. However, I do not think the kind of people attracted to living by the principles I’ve put out, are going to be, in general, highly susceptible to “Lord of the Flies”, kinds of highly emotional thinking and behavior. They are going to be people with deep emotional respect for logical thinking.

  • Science seeks understanding. Engineering seeks solutions. I have little trouble with science as a pure effort to understand our world. It is our inherent engineering properties I have a problem with. Historically, engineers have possessed the greatest level of hubris outside of the money-changers. There is no mountain too great to climb. There is no ocean to deep to plumb. There is no river to wide to cross. If there is not a problem to solve, we will invent one to engineer our way out of…. ;-)

    We invented agriculture as the solution to a problem that didn’t really exist. Humanity lived in harmony with nature. A tough life but a harmonious life. The first engineer came along and fixed that – he decided that life was simply too tough, and that was a problem in his mind. So he invented agriculture. And following agriculture specialisation became possible. We engineered the hell out of that one as well. People began to live longer. Land became valuable to own. The more land you owned the more more powerful you became. And when that wasn’t enough, empires were built. And people multiplied. And they multiplied. And they multiplied.

    And so here we are today. As we look around at the mess we have made, we are again saying “We can fix that!”

  • Arthur,

    You will have to clarify your comment, “I think annual crops can be grown in a limited number of places.” Cereal grains are grown from Siberia to Australia and from Japan to California and by my way of thinking are annual crops.

    I noted Jeavons’ work but other examples could have been used, any of which are not dependent on either river bottom conditions or Mediterranean climates with massive irrigation input. The market farm of Helen Atthowe in Montana does require irrigation but does not require other inputs from outside. John Seymour uses Alan Chadwick’s methods in England. Sepp Holzer farms in the Alps of Austria at up to 4500 feet. Helen and Scott Nearing lived and gardened in mountainous Vermont and later the cold Maine coast. I guess you have an answer to each of those too. For example, Holzer has 100 + acres on his farm and gets more rain than California, Atthowe’s Montana has a dry summer like California, England doesn’t need irrigation either and is heated by the Gulf Stream, and Vermont is cold and Maine is colder so the Nearings were…what? Lying?

    My point is that systems have been developed to meet various conditions of heat and precipitation. Some of those systems have taken sustainability and the long-term building of soil into account. None of these people seem to have a “God will provide” attitude about what they were/are doing, instead they would probably insist that they, not God, is the responsible party.

    All of the above mentioned people depend on annuals of one type or another, as do most of the people in the world. You seem to be suggesting that the “problem” of dependence on annuals could be solved by the use of perennials as food crops for a post collapse population. I agree, as long as the collapse happens soon, has a short duration, does not involve nuclear weapons, and the post-collapse population falls to under 1 million and is scattered across Amazonia, central Africa, and Southeast Asia. Insisting on the use of perennials going forward is insisting on the effective extinction of the human species and I don’t see how that fits with your four principals.

    Michael Irving

  • Victor,

    The invention of agriculture was the application of science.

    Michael Irving

  • Victor sez: Science seeks understanding. Engineering seeks solutions.

    I suppose it depends a lot on how one construes science and technology and how far back one wishes to trace. I was really thinking about the 17th-century scientific sensibility codified by Descartes and Bacon, but I can see how the roots stretch much farther back to the formation of agriculture. It’s a familiar argument.

    I’ve also read an interesting reinterpretation of The Fall that suggests it was not foremost the story of our expulsion from Edenic paradise but a cultural history or mythological retelling of the gradual transformation of our sense of being in the world to being on the world and therefore having no identification with it. The world became another artifact of instrumental reality: something to operate upon without compunction in our state of alienation.

  • Thanks for a wide sweep that assembles such disparate elements into a manageable whole.

    In Nature, a lot is achieved through (presumably) trial and error that, when viewed in a different light, would seem to be a deep scientific understanding. Examples are rife just about anywhere we might look. For example the oxyhemoglobin dissociation curves of deep water fish (which live in an oxygen-poor environment) allow their hemoglobin to take up oxygen – and release it – at concentrations of oxygen that to terrestrial vertebrates would amount to anoxia, but which are quite appropriate for that milieu. It would take quite a scientific effort to design the appropriate hemoglobin molecule de novo.

    Human hardwired adaptations are perhaps best suited to start one off in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle prevalent in pre-human ancestral lineages over two million years ago. Subsequent agricultural, pastoral (and industrial) activities involved behaviors that may or may not have been based on understanding, but were selected for by advantage gained when repeated: they were preserved in the community through language, spoken and later written. A generation or two is long enough for a behaviour to be perceived as adaptive by society (sooner, on the individual scale) even though it may be maladaptive in the long run. A religious faith in science has been forged over several generations now.

    Interdependence is a fact that is learnt in religion: interdependent co-origination is the basis for every entity’s apparent individual existence, an existence which is conditional on everything else, and never independent. Whether solitary or social, every creature is subject to it.

    In biological systems, mutual cooperation between diverse organisms is seen, as in angiosperms (flowering plants) co-evolving flowers with insects that are suited to them: those that are mostly pollinated by night-flying insects (such as moths) tend to be white and very fragrant. Another example is the association of fungi and mosses together in lichens. Such cooperation between different species can be taken to a level where some animal cells take up certain photosynthetic plant cells to apparent mutual benefit: an extreme form of agriculture.

    The assemblage into multicellular organisms, however, is generally predicated upon genetic identity. Cellular slime molds that live most of their existence as individual cells, will assemble into a fruiting body with genetically identical cells. Even social insects, ants, wasps and termites that are said to collectively form “superorganisms” bear genetic identity within individual colonies.

    The differentiation into diverse cell types in multicellular organisms is controlled by complex processes that include the influence of adjacent cells. Birds have not had teeth for over a hundred million years. But if an enamel organ from the jaw of a mouse embryo is implanted into the appropriate place in the jaw of a chick embryo, it induces formation of the embryonic rudiments of the rest of the tooth (the dentine). In animals such as coelentrates (jellyfish, sea anemones) that have only two germinal layers (ectoderm and endoderm, the outside layer and the lining of the digestive cavity), cells transferred from one layer to the other change in structure and function to take on the characteristics of the other layer.

    The control mechanisms that promote or inhibit the growth and replication of cells in multicellular organisms is still a matter of reseach, but here again interdependence is the basis of control, as it is in cell differentiation. At the community level, whether unicellular or multicellular, the unconstrained availability of resources consistently leads to overshoot and dieback. In the absence of physical constraints, it takes more than a measure of wisdom to define and accept voluntary constraints.

    The market economy is as economy in the statist straitjacket. The establishment and enforcement of a “legal tender” compels all parties to accept it as the de facto medium of exchange. The problem with monetary systems is that they are enforced by the state. With competing monetary systems, without a state, it would be a different paradigm.

    The growth of big corporations likewise is under the aegis of the state. Without the state, there would be no “intellectual property” enforcement. Anyone could copy Windows and sell it under the same or a different name as an operating system. It would be too expensive for Microsoft to hire mafia-style people to go about enforcing its exclusive right to the software. In actuality, it is done at the expense of the human livestock in the state farm. The same is true of any large corporation: they are all aided and abetted by the state in their expansion and growth, and they in turn feed the state with revenues.

    Without a state, every corporation would be a partnership: every individual partner would be fully responsible in proportion to the partnership holdings for both the profits and losses. As it is, if there is a $1000 corporation with 10 equal shareholders, and the corporation grows to be worth $2000, each shareholder would have $200 worth of shares. If the corporation went into the red to $2000, then the value of the corporation would be $1000 – $2000 = $ -1000. However because it is a corporation, the shareholders are protected from the downside and their loss would be only the original value of the shares they each held, $100, and they would owe nothing. Without the state, there would be no corporation, and each shareholder would owe $100.

    Food is a good proxy for endosomatic energy, with two minor caveats, the food may go to form fat, and the food nutrients may not be properly absorbed as in malabsorbtion syndromes. The increase in EROEI with endosomatic energy comes from entraining exosomatic energy streams: most notably solar in agriculture, but also other forms of solar, wind, water, geothermal, draft animals, nuclear, and now the most problematic, fossil fuels. With the dwindling of the fossil fuels, a greater proportion of endosomatic energy will have to go to the “energy invested” in EROEI.

  • Michael Irving

    It can be said that the application of science IS engineering.

  • Victor,

    Yes, you are right. I am guilty of skimming your comment rather than reading it through and thinking about it. I missed the distinction you were making between science and engineering.

    I don’t think, as you portray it, anyone made a decision to “invent” agriculture. We tend to think of it sometimes as if one day there was no agriculture and then the next there was. I would refer you back to Arthur’s food EROEI. “A ratio of one is living hand to mouth and is instinctively seen as unsafe, too close to the edge.” People, maybe men, but most assuredly women would do whatever they could to improve that ratio. Each small positive change would reward them with huge benefits; reduced childhood mortality, extended life expectancy, reduced threat of starvation, etc. That in turn leads to back to a previous discussion, evolutionary advancement, i.e., survival of the fittest, or the smartest, or the most curious, or the luckiest, or maybe just the survivors.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael, in fact agriculture, at least when fully adopted, meant reduced nutrition with harder and longer work.
    The whole article by Jared Diamond at the link is well worth the read. A quote below
    “While the case for the progressivist view seems overwhelming, it’s hard to prove. How do you show that the lives of people 10,000 years ago got better when they abandoned hunting and gathering for farming? Until recently, archaeologists had to resort to indirect tests, whose results (surprisingly) failed to support the progressivist view. Here’s one example of an indirect test: Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn’t emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, “Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?”
    While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice and potatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving hunter-gatherers provides more protein and a bettter balance of other nutrients. In one study, the Bushmen’s average daily food intake (during a month when food was plentiful) was 2,140 calories and 93 grams of protein, considerably greater than the recommended daily allowance for people of their size. It’s almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat 75 or so wild plants, could die of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their families did during the potato famine of the 1840s.”

    If agriculturalists worked harder, for more hours, for less food return in calories and quantity, then the got a worse ERoEI than hunter-gatherers.

    Further per Diamond
    “Studies by George Armelagos and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a theefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor. “Life expectancy at birth in the pre-agricultural community was bout twenty-six years,” says Armelagos, “but in the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years. So these episodes of nutritional stress and infectious disease were seriously affecting their ability to survive.”

    There was perhaps a temporary advantage in supporting larger numbers that allowed agriculturalists to edge out hunter-gatherers. I don’t think Diamond says this, but it may be that in the early years of agriculture the soil was rich and thus did give a higher ERoEI and therefore a selective advantage, but as we know agriculture can quickly deplete soil, requiring “technology” to keep the fertility of the soil in line with the fertility of the humans fed off the soil. (see the book Farmers of Forty Centuries for the incredible efforts the Chinese and Japanese went to to feed their populations and keep the soil fertile – dredging canals for mud to put on the fields, hauling night soil out of the cities, etc etc etc.)

    Survival of the survivors is a tautology, but asking WHO the survivors are at any point in time (which changes) and why in this particular environment they are the survivors, is interesting and useful. The survivors for thousand of years were H-G’s, then things changed and the bulk of the survivors were agriculturalists. Its not entirely clear why. The Incas were the survivors until the environment changed and came to include small pox and guns. You cannot guess who or what will survive until you know what they face. Survivors become losers, losers gain the advantage, Neanderthals survived, until things changed and then they didn’t, although in populations outside of Africa a small percent of Neanderthal genes survive. And in the end we all succumb to our mortality, no one survives.

  • To Michael, Sorry I called you Matthew instead of Michael, Michael. I think my brain did a cross of Mathias, a name in the post from Sean, and Michael.

    To Brutus and Kathy- If not science, what? Shall we make decisions on what mystics tell us? Do you want to consult astrologers? Care to have a go with Christian Science or other mystical religious beliefs? Should we count on being “raptured”? That didn’t work out very well. But hey, maybe next time, huh? As for me, no thanks, all of that looks looney to me. They have no objective evidence for these beliefs.
    Look, common human nature does seem unable to make responsible long term decisions with things found by science, but people doing so are being unscientific about long term consequences. I think you are skimming over my point that this can have evolutionary consequences. Or do you have a problem with evolution? Many religious people do. I think you might also have missed my harsh criticism of how many who think themselves to have a scientific frame of mind, think about the future, fully accepting a semi mystical faith, a faith without evidence, of new technologies and understandings solving major problems of unsustainability.
    Just because someone, or a group, wraps themselves in the mantle of science, doesn’t mean they actually are. The religion I was raised in, Christian Science, for example. Or that other religious group, Scientologists. Are these people actually scientists? I don’t think so. Not even remotely. Would you judge real science on the behaviors and expectations of such religious groups? That would be an irrational judgement to me. And judging science on the religious faith that many have in science, and their behavior with that faith, is no better.

    Operating by science, people are still capable of making mistakes. They may see evidence improperly, they might not see some factors at all. However, over and over, mystics of all kinds, show no more ability to give correct answers about reality, than simply tossing dice. Do you want to toss dice rather than to use the method of observation and logic? I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is open my eyes and look around. I’m immediately using science, I’m using observation and logic about my surroundings. I don’t toss dice for what my first actions should be. I find using my eyes and other senses like this, to be very effective for what reality is in the very near future. Logical thought is merely a way of projecting out further in time and space, what we will encounter further out in time and space. Science is merely the study of doing that more accurately. It is all about how this thing follows that. Lift a rock and let go and it drops. You see that happen over and over when you do it, when others do it, when it is dropped mechanically, however it is released above the surface of the earth, it falls. You decide you can count on that happening. That is science in a nutshell, it is seeing how things behave, seeing how reliable it is, and then trusting it to behave like that further from you in time and space. We predict what will happen with science. A lot of what we have done is just look closer, see how behaviors work according to mathematics, which helps even more in predicting them closer.

    When people say, we will behave thus and so and in the end X will happen, but they are wrong and instead Y happens, that can easily mean they die from that failure to see properly. If I was camping out in the desert, and I woke up, didn’t open my eyes but tossed dice on what reality was, trusted it, stepped out and stepped on a rattlesnake, my way of using dice instead of my eyes, was flawed, wasn’t it? Science as I am thinking of it, is merely seeing the world with the greatest accuracy, projecting ahead with the greatest accuracy.
    If you use mysticism that has no better history than tossing dice, or trust anything that has no evidence, you run a much bigger risk of running into situations in reality that are dangerously not what you expected, in both the short term and the long term, than if you use science, use your eyes and consider how things have been observed to move. Science is not perfect. You might open your eyes, look, but fail to see the rattlesnake because it was so well camouflaged. But I feel that science has a much better track record than anything else. It has better odds.

    However, if in spite of all this, you would rather trust mystical ideas, want to have faith in things without evidence, and I have found many, many who do that, I say, ok, you go ahead, but I’m not going with you. I think what you are trusting is wrong. You go your way, try to make your beliefs work, I’ll go mine and do the same. Reality will judge who is making the best decisions. And while I’ll spend a little time arguing with people before I part company like that, I’m not going to spend a whole lot. Logical arguments on people who reject logic, is usually a waste of time. I don’t like how a lot of supposedly scientific people have faith in the existence of things without evidence, and I also find the endless argument between people of religious faith and people without, to be tedious. I have very little evidence that such argument does any good at all. I want a divorce. If you have faith without objective evidence, you do your thing on it, those who do not have faith except on objective evidence, can work with me.

  • I think “science” was mostly an accident. “Memory” and “self” evolved because they aided our ancestors in making decisions about their future – reproductively successful decisions. The scientific method is mostly hardwired into our brains, you can watch infants use it in their earliest experiments – they can’t articulate it, but they are doing it.

    Professional “Science” is the tool we invented – like religion. We used both to try to understand our universe and our place in it. And we used both to build or destroy. But Science, unlike religion, sticks with the observable physical universe and does not offer a value judgment (that is left up to the end-users) on the information).

    If agriculture is good or bad I do not know. I think it came naturally, and it provided a huge reproductive advantage to those who practiced it. And by now it has deeply shaped the genes of most of the world’s population (consider the number of generations under agriculture and the effect of epigenetic changes now embedded in our genome).

    The hunter-gatherers are rare, but they are still hanging on here and there around the world. It seems they and the simple agriculturalists are the bottom rung on the ladder when civilizations fall, the final safety net… “back to the drawing board,” says The Mother ; )

  • Technology predates science by at least 1 million years, i.e. picking up a stick or a stone, and using it to crush/break something or hurl at someone or something. (Unless we describe the thought processes involved in determining the necessary force and direction as science.)

    Once humans had figured out how to form sharp edges on stones and bind sharp stones to sticks we were on a path that could lead to self-destruction. Could we have stopped ‘progressing’ at that point?

    Civilisation was initially predicated on collecting and moving stones, and using tools made by binding stones or pieces of metal to sticks.

    Engines were initially tools for contruction -for converting the sustainable into the unsustanable- and for making war.

    Although ancient civilisations invented primitive heat engines, as we all know it was 17th century Europeans who put us on the present, disastrous trajectory. We improved our capacity for construction and making war via the use of fossil fuels. If we were still using picks, shovels and wheelbarrows the Panama Canal would still be under construction.

    But now that we are running out of planet to loot and pollute……?

    This aphorism comes to mind: the chief source of problems is [technological] solutions.

  • I’m usually content to comment once in a thread and usually with only one or two paragraphs. But since Arthur has engaged me with no little sarcasm, I’ll take a little time to respond beyond the modest point I was making. (Thanks, Kathy, for amplifying my point.)

    Using science and rationalism to solve our problems is like using more of the disease as a cure. It may work for a while and in limited circumstances (e.g., vaccinations), but it looks to me like entrenchment. This idea is not original with me but is raised with any thoughtful consideration of what science’s handmaiden technology has done to us as well as for us. Also, Arthur, your point about scientism is not lost on me, but I had nothing to say about it. What should we do instead? Hell if I know. Prof. Guy has some survival strategies charted. More importantly, however, today’s problems probably won’t be up to us to solve. They will almost certainly outlive us by a large measure. And besides, we’re already committed to a Cartesian worldview that does not admit alternative paradigms easily, though others persist intransigently among those who haven’t learned their lessons well, if in fact knowledge has only one correct interpretation. It’s beyond my scope to conclude that the reassertion of fundamentalism is a deep cultural response to the obvious failures of science and technology, but many others have. Competing ways of being in the world have different levels of utility and meaning, and for many, sacrifice of utility is worthwhile if meaning can be obtained in the process. Moreover, go far enough down the path of rationalism and you find nihilism, the utter and complete absence of meaning in life. It’s not difficult to see why one might repudiate rationalism.

    Your discussion of evolution is confusing to me because you appear to be speaking in terms of both biological evolution (a very, very long process under normal circumstances except perhaps for microbes and insects) and cultural evolution (a much quicker process and in fact a glaring misnomer). We can observe cultural evolution readily enough, but biological evolution typically takes thousands of years to observe unless we’re in there monkeying with things, in which case it’s not really evolution anymore. Similarly, survival is a day-to-day process, but its outcomes register over evolutionary time. Are we evolving now? Sure, evolution properly understood is operative at all times, but who can say how many more thousands of years will elapse before a biologically distinct human appears? OTOH, culturally distinct humans appear with alarming regularity. Just talk to children or even younger siblings to see how different the thought-world they inhabit is. So teasing out all the factors and influences operating as evolution as though we could somehow control our own adaptation is to me chasing a chimera. We can only observe the outcomes in hindsight, and frankly, why would we want to do otherwise?

    So again, what should we do if not double down on science? I have none of the certainty you do. You clearly want to live and die by the sword science and empiricism. I’m trapped within that worldview as well, but I simultaneously recognize its failure to deliver to me anything truly meaningful in life (longevity and material abundance don’t count). I don’t think we can plan to reunite emotion and spirituality and then tack on rationalism the way some hope. They’re largely incompatible with each other. My only hope is to see through the fog in some small measure and understand what’s happening as it develops. Feel free to try to control the chaos.

  • Michael,
    You ask me to clarify. I am not sure what is unclear about the basic poor ability of annuals to recycle nutrients. That is quite simple physics and biology from my point of view.
    That people grow annuals all over means very little to my observations about this. A poor ability to recycle nutrients can easily be ignored for a long time, when you start out with a large amount. I do not know the details of how all the individuals you mention, operate their places. I am quite sure, however, that they do not defy the physics and biology of this situation.
    I have known people who were sure they had a sustainable situation because they used manure or hay from a nearby farm, unaware that the farmer could only sell that or sometimes give it away, because they were using synthetic fertilizer on hay fields. Manure is heavy and energy expensive to transport and spread back on distant fields, it is also corrosive and eats up manure spreaders. When synthetics are “cheap”, they are comparatively light and easy to apply, and farmers doing this have often seen manure as a waste product, glad to have gardeners cart it away. When I was trying to keep hay fields fertile, I wanted every scrap of manure to go back to them, did not want to give away rained on hay, and I found myself confronted at one point with some angry people who felt that having this manure was their right, the previous operators had given it away, and I got the impression very quickly that in their eyes I was an evil, stingy bastard, and my explanations of why I didn’t want to give it to them fell on deaf ears. I ended up giving it to them, feeling I needed to fight this battle on different levels- like here.
    People may not be deliberate liars, but I think many are ignorant of the basic physics and biology here, and they do not seem to quickly understand explanations of them. However simple it is for me, it is obviously not simple to many others. I don’t know what to do about that. In the end as with everything, I can’t spend too much energy on futile arguments, but have to say, ok, you do it your way, I’ll go my way, and we find out which holds up better. But I’ll put some more effort into my views here with you, as you don’t sound totally unreasonable.
    People may be taking nutrients from very wide areas to feed annuals, and the wider the area you take from, the longer that can go on, and it looks sustainable. But I’m not looking at single generations or single individuals. I’m thinking of trends that might take many generations to finish, am considering these things on the social level, the possible lifetimes of societies. There are a couple of books I know about this problem, where the authors concluded that the average length of a civilization based on annuals, was 60 generations. Those are the time scales I’m thinking of, and concerned about. I don’t have the titles and authors off the top of my head- oh, but I do, one was by a man named Lowdermilk, and the book was something like, “7 Thousand Years of Conquest of the Soil”. Something like that. The other book I believe is called “Topsoil and Civilization”. Don’t remember the authors. Both books were written by soil scientists. You can find both of them in the online Soil and Health library. Do a search for Soil and Health Library and you can find them.
    To me, 60 generations is not a long time. The average lifespan of a species is around a million years, and some species have been around for maybe 200 million or so, some maybe longer. But I think the point should be clear, 60 generations is a drop of time compared to what might be possible biologically. If we really want to set our sights high, earth might support life for another billion years.
    The kind of people who see thinking about the next year a long time, are the sort who are the majority today, and get these 60 generations results and are lucky to get that. It is their failure that opens a door to more long term thinking.

    So back to maintaining soil fertility. You might, in theory, take from such a wide area that natural replacement methods of weathering, and movements of nutrients from wild animals, kept up. You say this one man has a hundred acres, for example, which might explain how he manages. How many people are being supported by that hundred acres? What inputs from the outside does he have, does he use any fossil fuel machinery?
    Many people do that, because moving nutrients from such wide areas can be energy expensive. People are often using tractors, cars, and trucks, to move manure, move green manures, mulch hay, seaweed, and so on, moving far longer distances than they would be able to do by their own muscle, often further than would be at all practical with draft animals. They are often taking this sort of ability for granted, thinking they could replace the machinery with draft animals while knowing nothing at all of the problems with that. If you use draft animals, they need a significant amount of land, they do not have nearly the strength and endurance of the fossil fuel machinery people have become used to.

    And while as I wrote to Sean, I have no basic philosophical problem with wheels and machinery, but I do have a problem that the more you use them the faster they wear out, meaning you need to use more charcoal to make iron and steel at faster rates. People are very seldom looking at all these things. They look at market prices and say that hey, steel is cheap, simple wheels are easy. Sure it is cheap in money, if you don’t mind using fossil fuels to make it, work it, and transport it, but that isn’t sustainable. If you simply drag things around without wheels, that requires more food energy put through draft animals and/or people. The energy cost gets you one way or another. One way might be a little cheaper than another, but that has to be looked at. I don’t see people doing this sort of analysis.

    The thing here is, that with herding, with management of perennials, which I view as the plant equivalent of herding domestic animals, and also some gathering and hunting of wild animals and plants, you can support people without so much movement of heavy organic fertilizers, without the work of cultivation- how many people do you know actually double dig enough land to feed themselves, for example- and you don’t have the same problems of protecting crops from domestic and wild animals, either.

    I do know that the Nearings, with their second place, were able to use seaweeds to fertilize with. Again, if you are close enough to the ocean to do this, and also fish waste, it might be a long term practical thing- if protecting from wild animals is practical. When the leaching of nutrients goes to the ocean, and the ocean is not far away, then bringing back nutrients might be done with a reasonable food EROEI.

    Fertility tends to build up near water of all kinds. It flows down to it, and animals eating in the water and moving or being moved by predation out of it, tend to deposit nutrients nearby, more than further up. As a general rule, the further up a watershed you go, the less fertile the soil, and more you depend on perennials to maintain fertility.

    As far as the population level that I’m aiming for, I’m aiming at a population level that makes sense on different levels. Sustainable food supply, disease considerations. I’m bending to reality on what I see about these things. People often say that we must maintain the present population, or that we should have a billion, or two billion. Why? I do not see any reason for picking these numbers, people seem to pick them out of the air. They seem to be thinking purely emotionally. Maintaining the current population simply looks impossible. As for the two billion though to have been the population before fossil fuels, that says nothing at all about sustainability problems that existed before fossil fuels became so widely used. Populations of much less than a billion have had a lot of pain with diseases that easily become endemic or epidemic with such numbers. The problems of annual crops are not a function of using fossil fuel. People thinking a couple of billion is ok, are making a lot of assumptions that really don’t stand any scrutiny.

    If a rational population for human beings is only a million, so it is. I think it is probably more than that, but I’m not much interested in speculating about where it ends up. And what it is when things have recovered and what it is with so much degradation of soil, with ecosystems so battered, and so much pollution, are also completely different. A significant number of places are going to be uninhabitable for centuries, with nuclear plants melting down. How serious that may be is more than a bit depressing to think about, but I don’t see how to prevent it from happening, I see absolutely no sign of significant numbers of people being rational about this problem, and I also don’t see the point of giving up. You can draw a circle of a hundred mile radius around every nuclear plant in the world, and it still leaves a lot of area. If people can survive radiation levels of lightweight stuff floating around in the air which decay rather quickly, they may have a chance to go forward. I think people are probably tougher than they may think with regard to radiation, but I guess we will find out about that. I intend to do what seems most rational to keep living as long as I can, and push others forward beyond my own life. If it isn’t good enough, so it goes. But if you give up you definitely won’t succeed.

  • those who do not have faith except on objective evidence, can work with me
    All evidence rests upon, and is included within “subjective” awareness.

  • Certainly the formal discipline of science came much later. But science in its most primitive form has always been a tool of the human. A human observes, studies, and experiments. And I think this is what he did with agriculture in its most primitive form. He observed nature, studied its processes, experimented a bit, and ultimately seeded his first field. How can you not say that this is science? And its result is certainly an application of that process of observation.

    We can split hairs on this, of course, but I am hopeful that you can see the distinction I am trying to draw.

    As far as the inevitability of humans to create more technology, I can not agree with such a supposition. Parts of humanity struck out on an aggressive technology stream, and parts of humanity remained closely aligned with nature. The aggressive strain improved life in many ways, but seriously depleted out connections with nature on the other hand, leading to the fix we are in now?

    How different might have life been if the Native American culture had won? That would be an interesting line of thought.

  • Brutus,
    I might have appeared sarcastic, but I am completely serious. I do not see any middle way between science and mysticism. As far as I can tell, you are either operating on objective evidence or you aren’t. How are you going to even show me something in the middle, without me using my eyes to look at it, or my ears to listen? Are you going to communicate with me telepathically? Again, this might sound like sarcasm, but I’m serious. I’m not impressed at all by someone looking for a middle way, unhappy with both science and mysticism, not seeing it but wanting it so badly they fight with science. For me, if you want mysticism, you don’t want me. If you want something vague and undefined that you claim should exist and isn’t either, you don’t want me either. Go find it. I’m not interested in your quest. Science works well enough for me, and I don’t even know where to start if I don’t use my eyes and other senses.

    As far as one other point you made, I will answer it, as I’m not just writing to you here. Maybe you are interested in my view and maybe you will want to get on your quest, I don’t know and really don’t care. People who refuse science disappear rapidly from my radar. You go find your view of reality and I’ll deal with mine. If people here prefer your views, I’ll get lost, if they prefer science, I suggest you get lost. I am serious, I don’t have time to play games, I’m not interested in endless arguments that are starting from different postulates of reality.

    So, this one point you raised. As far as evolution always happening slowly, this is a myth. Selection speed is a matter of how strong the selective force is. If it is not strong, it can take a long time. If it is strong, it can be quick. People selecting animals for various traits, represent a strong selection, and it can happen quickly. But to think that strong selection pressures never happen without people, simply isn’t true.

    In any case, a human is involved here. I am aiming to select mental structures. Some people think this cannot be done. Nobody here has said it cannot be done, I am just on the subject and have often run into this. I say, why not? We have done it with animals many times. Herding dogs were selected for a certain kind of brain, hunting dogs and trailing dogs were selected for different brains, for two quick examples. If we believe in evolution, how else did we get brains like these, if it wasn’t a selection of mental traits?

    A selection process done with foxes often comes to mind with this. A man on a Russian fox farm, confronted with large losses of foxes, determined it was because they were so wild, they were badly stressed by people coming around and they could not get away, being caged. He decided to select foxes to breed that showed smaller flight distance. In ten generations, he had foxes that were as tame as dogs. People may have read about this, or seen documentaries about it. A theory has been put out that dogs were selected from wolves by a similar process, wolves with shorter flight distance to people did better at garbage dumps. It makes perfect sense to me. I suspect that other domesticated animals were selected in similar ways. Whatever the species, it did better if they had a short flight distance from people. Selecting for shorter flight distance is selecting a mental trait.

    What I am doing here, and would like to expand greatly, is very similar. I hand out my principles. People either have a short flight distance to it, or a long one. I’ve had people literally run from me, when presenting these things in person. I once had someone do a filibuster, it was a bit amusing after awhile. I had to admire his ability to talk, but his intelligence didn’t impress me in the least. Others stick around and actually talk for greater or lesser amounts of time. They aren’t so afraid of discussing these things. They think about the possibility of living in a society like this. I think of it as flight distance to rational thought about these issues of how we value things. Some who aren’t so afraid as to run, still aren’t interested, of course. They leave and never return.
    Someone might say, well, ten generations for those foxes is still a long time, longer than what you are looking at. True. But I’m also forced to be a lot more picky, and at the same time, am thinking of selecting from a much bigger population. The man at the fox farm only had the foxes at his farm, or maybe a limited area around it. I want to select from the entire population of humanity. He selected foxes that probably still had a fairly large flight distance, but I only select people who volunteer to follow me “out of their cage”. They are already “tame” to rational thinking about issues that are frequently taboo subjects to most. And in an important sense, I’m not really selecting them, they are selecting themselves. If someone reads the principles, talks about them with me, and then follows, that is good enough for me. It is their decision, their decision and action, tells me the balance of their brain. So I do not think I need ten generations. I should get get pretty close in one selection.

    The people here seem smarter than to complain about me being like Hitler, but just in case there is any thought about that, I am very different from him. He gave ideas about what was superior, ignored evidence this wasn’t true, and forced his views, physically killed people who didn’t measure up to his standard. I do not use force, if you can give a scientific rebuttal to my views I will listen, and I do not plan on anyone picking up a weapon or killing anyone. I don’t have an army and don’t want one. To anyone who follows, I recommend literally turning the other cheek at physical provocation. People who react instinctively to everything, can be very good at physical fighting, and I expect to be outnumbered by possibly thousands to one. Succumbing to physical provocation could see a person and everyone with them, very rapidly killed. But it is also instinctive with a lot of people, that if you don’t respond to provocation, they are confused. They want things to escalate, then they can win. If you won’t escalate, they don’t know what to do. That is not 100%, of course. If you play with provoking people intellectually, some folks will simply take the course of killing you. But I think there is relative safety in refusing to escalate to physical fighting.
    You have to fight with your strengths. I can win intellectual battles. I can make people very upset by that. Yet by admitting I am not perfect, that science is not proof but is mounting evidence, I give people an escape route from the intellectual humiliation I can fling at them very easily. They run down that escape route of my admitted imperfection, of the admitted lack of proof in science, and try to prove their scientifically irrational views are correct. Reality kills them, not me. To me, this is a lot better than having an army and gas chambers. It is potentially magnitudes faster, far more powerful than those things. And anyone who picks up my observations and has sufficient intellect to use them, can easily do the same.

    I don’t doubt that people in the future will be born who are as uncomfortable in this scientific society as I’ve been uncomfortable in this unscientific one. There are recessive genes, there is sexual shuffling going on. But I think those unhappy with the situation in the future, with a strong enough selection to begin with, will be a small enough minority that they can’t take over. Especially given the way most people adapt to the culture they are born in. I think a considerable number of people in the current genetic mix, who would not chose to live by this principles after having grown up with the current set of values, would be fine with this scientific society if they were born into it. This is something pretty well known. If you take a baby born to a couple living in New York City and give it to Amazon Indians to raise, if it lives it will be an Amazon Indian in its values and training. And vice versa.

    But no doubt, some will read history and be unhappy, will feel like this society was really a seriously wrong turn. If they are so unhappy they want to run away naked, they can run away naked. If, as is more likely they try to run away with stuff they take, that still probably won’t do more than keep them alive a little longer than being naked. Everyone will know, too, that if you try to be independent, you get treated as independent- you are no better than the other wild animals. You threaten any serious grief with stolen weapons, and your life could be very, very short. I am taking a pacifist approach with the big picture here, because it makes the most logical sense. But I believe in doing what works. If you have the numbers on someone, and they are behaving in a physically dangerous way, I’m not following idealistic ideas about never using violence. You mess with me at the wrong time and place, and if I feel I have the approval of society behind me, I’d kill. I do not have mystical fears of retribution in the afterlife for killing. I think killing others is virtually always a very bad idea for logical reasons, I don’t need anything mystical guiding my fears about that. But society is going to need something of an “immune system”, in the future, to deal with those that would be cancerous. Most of the time, just throwing them out should solve the problem. It should be rare anyone needs to use a weapon against such people, but it might happen sometimes. Probably less as time goes by.

    There is also the possible situation if someone took off and then came to an epiphany of how amazingly stupid they had been, wanted to come back and beg forgiveness, I’d tend to give another chance. Sometimes it takes a close brush with death to teach people things. On forgiveness, I’m reminded that I abused this body repeatedly by eating gluten, practically killed it, but as soon as I stopped, I was forgiven, I started to heal. I try to take that same attitude with people.You don’t forgive until the behavior stops, but when it stops, you forgive. The punishment taken in the meantime, may kill. Basically, I see banishment as a pretty good punishment for people who don’t want to cooperate in a serious way, and all the rational ways you can think of to make them fit in, take advantage of their talents, don’t work. It fits what they are saying they want, in defacto fashion. They don’t want to cooperate, then they want to be independent. So, ok, you go be independent and see how it works for you. If the weather is nice, you might tell them no consideration will be given to a return for, say, a week or two. If conditions are tougher, you might be softer in proportion. Always the idea would be to hope they learn and take the lesson seriously.
    And I’m done for the night.

  • I had to admire his ability to talk, but his intelligence didn’t impress me in the least.

    I know exactly what you mean! I have had just such an experience recently. But really, you must have patience with such people – they usually crave attention and possess a deep need to be accepted though they might outwardly indicate otherwise.

  • We often think of violence on the streets as a prime characteristic of the impending Collapse. But there exists an even more dangerous form of “violence” taking form now…

    This is serious shit. Pay attention to it….these folks can reek havoc at the time and place of their choice. Very entertaining…. ;-)

  • oops….senior moment, I fear…I meant “wreak havoc”…perhaps a Freudian slip?

  • reek and wreak both work Victor….

  • 90% of petrol stations close down in Faisalabad
    Jun 13 2011 Pakistan

    Gasoline Shortage
    The fuel crisis worsened in South Punjab on Monday, as 90% of all petrol pumps closed down in the city of Faisalabad and surrounding areas.

    Locals were forced to queue up to buy petrol at up to Rs160 per litre by pump owners. Petrol pump owners complained that only 8,000 litres of petrol are being given to each pump on alternate days.

    The total consumption of petrol in Faisalabad is 600,000 litres per day whereas the provision is a mere 250,000 liters per day
    News Source Link

  • Arthur, Thanks for the very thoughtful posting and comments.

  • Arthur:

    The Soviet Union, a nation dedicated to organizing itself along scientific principles, fell victim to Lysenkoism within a few years of its birth. Our contemporary experience with biostitutes and bought-and-paid-for-PhD climate change deniers suggests we’ll continue to substitute magical thinking for the scientific method in matters of public policy.

    As for protecting small communities and enforcing standards of behavior within them, I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate the emotional/cognitive effect of having both a righteous cause and a lethal weapon.

    I was at the gun counter of the Boise Cabela’s store a month ago (buying a brick of .22 ammunition, as ground squirrels and rabbits will be major post-collapse food-groups around here), and the crowd there was in a state of high sexual excitement, holding and stroking black guns and talking about what they would do with them once civil authority evaporates.

    Your remarks about banishment reminded me of a multitude of regional news stories where someone gets thrown out of a bar and comes back with a gun. I find I can agree with most of your premises on a theoretical level, but my practical experience suggests they’ll be hard to implement.

  • Arthur, you appear to have a problem with reading comprehension.

  • Science and logic are evil. The wheel was a mistake. Intelligence is a curse. Trepan your frontal lobes with a sharp stick. Make a bonfire of the machines. Burn civilization to the ground, so that it may never rise again. The End.

  • Kathy,
    “Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way.” (Diamond)

    You make the point for me: “thoughout the world, several dozen groups” is what the world would support now if we were to put our eggs in the hunting/gathering basket. Yes, we all die, but are you seriously suggesting that as a path forward? You’re the one in favor of feeding the starving that come to your door because it is the moral thing to do. How do you justify a return to a hunting/gathering lifestyle when you know the earth in its present condition (yes, we did it) would only support a few million people at best?

    I’m attempting to find systems that will allow the people closest to me to make it through the bottleneck. If the crash happens within the next decade I might include myself in that group. If not, I care about the chances of my children and grandchildren. Selfish? Yes! But I don’t know anyone from Romania or Botswana so I am less concerned about their survival. Of course chance will have a lot to do with survival but “luck favors the prepared mind.” I am working hard to improve my luck. I’ve looked around my neck of the woods and I figure that the collapse will be followed shortly by the collapse of all herbivore populations, wild and domestic. Then what? If there is no Walmart, and the game and cattle populations drop to near zero, what will I eat if I don’t grow my own?

    Sorry, but I just don’t agree that all the positive arguments for a hunting/gathering lifestyle have any value in a discussion of how more than a very minimal population of people is going to make it through the bottleneck. There are just not enough resources left to support a viable population (viable in the sense that any part of 21st century culture exists into the 22nd century). If you don’t think there is anything worth saving in your life then I feel sorry for you.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael, how does feeling sorry for me make your life any better. If you want to make it through the bottleneck don’t waste your time feeling sorry for me any more than you feel sorry for any of the other humans in the planet who will have to die early deaths for the human population to become sustainable.

    For me to believe that perhaps humans can once again make it as hunter-gatherers (as they did for far far longer than they did as agriculturalists) is the only way I can see humans living in harmony with the planet. The track record of agriculturalists for the last 10,000 years is not good. But more than that I personally believe that when an animal (and we are animals) lives in the environment they were evolved to live in they feel right. I have seen caged animals and they look most unhappy – once worked at a pet store and watched a little caged spider monkey masturbate most of the time when he wasn’t trying to pee on passing shoppers. I believe we are caged by our own self domestication and that explains most of our neuroses and general unhappiness.

    But at any rate, my life can’t be saved and neither can yours – only extended. I do not think I want to buy my extra years by watching bodies pile up outside my door. Maybe I will although I hardly think I would last longer that way as I have never fired a gun in my life.

    Since you admit to being selfish for extending (not saving) the lives of your children and grandchildren perhaps you should should be happy that I will not try very hard to stay around and use up resources. More for you and yours.

    I think in fact my statements of what I believe and think I will do make you feel guilty and you get angry because I make you feel guilty. Get over it, feel guilty if you don’t live up to your own internal standards, but ignore mine. I am long past thinking I should define how anyone else acts. If I sound a bit self righteous at times forgive me, left over from my religious days, it creeps out at times. In case you haven’t noted I have told Jean I hope he does well and remembers us all around his campfire. I hope you do well. Tell stories if you will around your campfire on the other side of the bottleneck about that stupid, misguided Kathy who at 62 said she didn’t want to shorten a life to extend her own.

    I have seen extended living in nursing homes – it is not all it is cracked up to be.

    Meantime, buy lots of ammo and dig a moat. Good luck.

  • Michael

    I understand how you feel. We want to believe there is something worth the current survival efforts. However, most of what I hear from Kathy is that H-G is the optimal social structure for humans, and that we made a serious mistake deviating from that. But there is a difference between recognising the H-G lifestyle and desiring the H-G lifestyle. Most of us would not desire a forced conversion to it, as we simply do not have the skills or the capability to make the shift in paradigm.

    Personally, I believe that if the human race survives in any numbers 100 years past the bottleneck, you are going to find that they are H-G. I can’t see any other viable alternative. We will not have the technology we have today. Neither will we have the rich soil in most places you need to live sustainably. Neither will we have the rich sources of metal ores and minerals readily available as older societies had in the past – we have mined the rich stuff, and the remaining require huge amounts of sophisticated technology and energy to process successfully. Global warming already in the pipeline, soil erosion, deforestation, acidic oceans and weather instability will likely render farming and fishing industries incapable of supporting significant populations in most places.

    What current technology makes it through the bottleneck in usable form will disappear within a hundred years or so. So you might be able to get yourself and your children through, but their children, if they live on, will be of a different breed, I think. They will ultimately be forced by a vastly changed climate to be constantly migrating to find the seasonal flora and fauna they need to survive.

    Sadly, I see nothing else to convince me that I am wrong.

  • Arthur,

    I thought for a moment you might have something important to say but in the end your only goal seems to be intellectual jousting and impressing people with your brilliance, e.g., “I can win intellectual battles. I can make people very upset by that…I can fling (intellectual humiliation) at them very easily.”

    I’ll try again. Do you have any concrete ideas that might help us to get through the coming collapse?

    Michael Irving

  • Michael:

    You wrote: “Insisting on the use of perennials going forward is insisting on the effective extinction of the human species.”

    Maybe. Maybe not.

    Arthur is correct. Annuals—with their shallow root systems and shorter lifecycles—are more detrimental than perennials when intensively farmed on fragile soils (organically or otherwise). That has been recognized within the agricultural community for decades. Nothing new there. Until recently, however, the advantages of annuals outweighed those of perennials: easier disease control, better adapted to crop rotation and soil disturbance, easier to genetically adapt to new environments, easier to respond to changing market conditions. That line of reasoning is beginning to change—partly because of climate and environmental concerns, partly because of future food security issues, and partly because of soil carbon storage capability and reduced input requirements. Currently there’s considerable interest (and effort) in developing perennial varieties of our major grain crops. And as Arthur also correctly states, evolutionary selection speed is directly related to selective force. If the need is great, selection is quick. I’ve developed strains of seed adapted to my micro-environment within a handful of growing seasons. It’s a ruthless process—yank, eat, or save—but it works.

    So Arthur’s insistence on the use of perennials going forward may not be a death sentence to those surviving the bottleneck. It all depends upon when the bottleneck occurs and how well equipped one is going into it.

    Luck does favor the prepared mind.

  • Victor/ Kathy

    I think we are in agreement that a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is not possible in most parts of the world (especially developed nations), since the natural resources necessary to maintain it were destroyed long ago.

    Permaculture may have provided the next best option; it is ignored/opposed by those currently in power, so humanity will stagger into the early bottlencks of peak oil and financial collapse more or less totally unprepared. Substantial die-off looks inevitable.

    Increasing climate instability (abrupt climate change) constitutes a later bottleneck. It could well make permanent settlement anywhere currently inhabited extraordinarily difficult a few decades from now, forcing a hunter-gather lifestyle on whatever remnant of humanty gets through the first bottlenecks. I see no evidence of anything being done by any government to prevent catastrophe, and everything possible being done to promote catastrophe.

    The problem most people seem likely to be confronted by fairly soon is enduring conditions akin to those of the Warsaw ghetto.


    Much as we might desire a society of the future to be founded on sound scientific principles, all the evidence indicates we have entered a ‘dark age’, in which superstition and irrational thinking dominate. Despite the plethora of information available, the bulk of the populace of most nations remains scientifically illiterate, completely detached from reality and uninterested in preparing for what is on the horizon, caught in the web deceit spun by TPTB and incapable of recognising their predicament. In that respect, nothing has changed over the past decade.

  • My dog uses the scientific method.

    Today She chased something she had not ever encountered before. She used her typical experiment method: observing, making hypotheses, doing little experiments (bark, sniff, watch for results), drawing conclusions, and publishing (barking, some pointing and razor back hair, etc).

    That particular experiment demonstrated to her that the piece of black tarp out on the lawn was not a threat or a meal.

    A Hunter-gatherer, an Amish farmer and an industrialist walk into a bar…

  • Principles derived from empirical observation form the basis of both science and religion, except in the case of baseless religions.

    Empirical observation is the basis of non-dual Vedanta, Buddhism and Kabbalah: in each of these disciplines the core emphasis is on individual personal observation, all else be damned. 

     Ideas of how things work are a useful but mot essential feature of a scientific approach: places in Australia with high background radiation levels (due to uranium ores) were avoided by the aborigines, even though they knew nothing about radiation. Inhabitation by evil spirits was ” how things worked”. That was science, as far as it could progress under those circumstances. Many observations in medicine have led to changes in practice long before the “how things worked” was known, prior to state-enforced patents and an FDA.

    Malaria is so named because the observation of it’s prevalence in the vicinity of the Pontine marshes was presumed due to the “bad air”; draining the marshes had the effect of reducing the prevalence of the disease and exposure to the marshy air, but more critically, to the mosquitoes borne in that air. The scientific approach was effective before the refined knowledge of “how things work”. 

    Prior to Copernicus, empirical observations led to a detailed, very complex schema of the motions of astronomical objects based on a geocentric view, and modeled by the astrolabe. But then came the heliocentric view leading to a much simpler schema and then the sextant. Further refinement came with Kepler, but small deviations from expected planetary motions remained outside the realm of “how things work” until Einstein’s explanations. At all these stages, the levels of understanding were a result of the scientific approach. 

    Careful observation followed by pragmatic inferences fall within the purview of science, even when the “how things work” falls short. 

  • And in theory, once established, the conservative system might then prevent cancerous growth from happening again.

    That can happen in an system where every element is dependent on the others for modulation of growth and replication. Unshackling from such constraints, if coupled with the unconstrained availability of resources, will lead to the usual overshoot and dieback.

  • A Hunter-gatherer, an Amish farmer and an industrialist walk into a bar…

    Each orders a drink. They note a very charismatic person sitting in a corner: they ask the bartender as to who the person is. The bartender tells them it is Jesus Christ.

    The hunter-gatherer orders a drink for Jesus. When that was finished, the Amish farmer orders a drink for Jesus. And when that was finished, the industrialist also orders a drink for Jesus.

    After the three drinks, Jesus comes up to the trio and tells the hunter gatherer: “Son, you have had the elbow problem for a long time: be healed, be well and be in peace”. The hunter-gatherer moves his elbow about, and exclaims: “Thank you, Lord, thank you!”

    Jesus then tells the Amish farmer: “Son, you have had the neck problem for a long time: be healed, be well and be in peace”. The Amish farmer moves his neck about and exclaims: “Thank you, Lord, thank you!”.

    The industrialist then blurts out: “Don’t touch me man, I’m on disability!”

  • i hardly know where to begin here. i think with the disturbing dream that awoke me prematurely a while ago. in this dream, i was among a group of sheople. we had a large animal, i think it was an adult sheep, to slaughter. this was like a test of our mettle. i didn’t take part directly. just observing made me very squeamish. it seemed the sherson doing the actual killing (with a pair of large, sharp, cutting shears, not exactly the ideal tool for the job, but hey, it was a dream, and dreams tend to be bizarre) was squeamish too, by the slow, indirect, gradual way he proceeded. before he got to the actual killing part, i woke, feeling overheated, almost sweaty, despite the early morning early summer unseasonable chill in the house. i think this was due to my identifying more with the sheep than with the sheople.

    this may be slightly ‘off-topic’, but i’ll reinforce here a sentiment/misgiving i’ve expressed previously re. being an omnivore: i wish i wasn’t. from most of what i’ve read on the subject, veganism is a much healthier lifestyle both for the individual and the environment, plus i’ve read and seen too much about industrial farming and slaughterhouses to feel good about buying supermarket meat. i still eat some, making me a hypocrite somewhat. i’d like to go vegan, to find someone or some group of sheople who are already there who can lead me by showing how to eat well on a vegan diet. along with that, it would be nice to team up with at least a few other sheople who share my general horror re. the surreality of this ‘dog eat dog, sheople eat practically everything’ world, and full awareness of our self made predicament, willing and able to take the hard road of preparing to kill ourselves at some future time if need be to avoid a worse ending not of our choosing. something along this line would be my personal ad to try to connect with like-minded others.

    turning now to a more ‘on-topic’ response, just as i never cease to be amazed/appalled by how sheople in general and our so-called leaders in particular can be so ignorant or in denial re. surreality and our self made predicament, i find that even among the supposedly enlightened and surreality-based minds here, comments which betray profound ignorance/denial of the nightmare we face, often juxtaposed with other comments from the same source indicating exactly the opposite! this goes back to my observation that we’re a species of idiot-savants, simultaneously brilliant and perversely idiotic. arthur’s main essay above is a good example. he provides good insights on several fronts, perhaps most notably re. the unsustainability under any circumstances of annual crop agriculture in most areas of the world due to soil depletion and erosion. then on the other hand, he talks about principles by which we ought to live (which i largely agree with) as if these principles (i.e. rational, science-based observations and lifestyle choices) are attainable in our lifetimes! arthur, do we occupy the same surreality???!!! isn’t there overwhelming evidence all around us demonstrating the utter folly of such utopian daydreaming? what makes u think, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that there’s the slightest hope of achieving this?

    there’s also the part re. procreation. arthur and notably jean and perhaps a few others here have at various times expressed the hope/opinion that the tremendous collapse/die-off we face might be over with rather quickly, in a few years, after which the ‘lucky’ survivors may carry on with procreation as if there’ll be a return to the relatively secure life we enjoy now! it boggles my mind how very knowledgable and intelligent sheople can think this way. can think about bringing new life into a world facing the greatest calamity of human history! can think that some how, some way, billions of sheople can be eliminated in the relative blink of an eye, and all the problems we face now, most notably the climate change/chaos already set in motion, will simply fade away, allowing survivors a fresh start in life!

    such thinking seems to me the ultimate in delusion/denial. there’s no way in hell collapse/die-off will culminate so quickly short of nuclear war or something akin to it, just as there’s no way in hell the world post-collapse will in any way be similar to the one we’ve known, conducive to supporting such diverse and abundant life. it’s just as delusional to think this way as it is to think like sean surreal and sheople in general that human ingenuity and technology will always keep us a step ahead of mother nature and keep collapse at bay. i could go on but what’s the point? as we all acknowledge, there is no point in arguing with insanity. if insanity had such an easy and ready cure, we wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place!

    i think maybe michael indirectly reveals an overwhelming motivation for such delusion when he expresses sympathy towards those of us who feel we have relatively little/nothing to live for. i think there might be a good deal of truth that the ability to see the totality of our nightmare is obscured by strong emotional bonds with others, particularly youth and offspring. perhaps sheople like me who have become largely alienated/disconnected from such bonds are the only ones capable of avoiding such wishful thinking/denial. i don’t know, and i’m not sure i no longer wish to know. i’m no longer confident there’s any surrealistic hope of finding meaning and understanding in this surreal world. maybe it’s all a bad dream, like the one i had this morning.

    i’ll close with a reinforcing example/reason for such despair. i love reading most of john rember’s writing. he’s obviously gifted, witty, and knowledgable in many areas i’m not, so i greatly appreciate having this virtual internet-based connection with him. but as is almost always, maybe always the case, there appears to be a profoundly ignorant/delusional side to john as well, as evidenced by the 2 paragraphs copied and pasted in below taken from an essay of his submitted to the huffington post 3 short years ago:

    ‘But Barack Obama really does offer hope. It’s because of the way he uses the language. Obama uses English the same way George Orwell used English, as a tool to expose possibility rather than obscure it, to promote social justice rather than increase inequality, and to construct a national narrative rather than destroy it.

    Language really is a tool for creating a better world and Obama has already used it to brighten up things in this country. If he becomes president there is a chance that the poor people of this country will get educations and jobs, and not because the government will provide them. He will inspire people to change their lives for the better and once human beings have the will to do something, that something gets accomplished.’

    surreally, john? obama was/is the great black hope, agent of change? i’ll say this much for obama: he’s like the leaders orwell had in mind i think when he wrote 1984: a suave con artist! it boggles my mind such words come from the same sherson who has expressed such contrary surrealism/pessimism in other parts of your writing. it’s kind of like u’re exhibiting split personality disorder, like there are at least 2 different sheople residing in your head, one the surrealist who writes of lysenkoism, biostitutes, and preparing for the inevitable horrific, chaotic, cannabalistic collapse we all await and fear, and then this other one who has more in common with the liberal cornucopian make believers and ‘writistutes’ (writer prostitutes willing to write utter bs to get published in mainstream media or blogs like the h.p.)

    closing on a weakly positive note, i like the joke u made using navid’s lead, robin. amidst overwhelming insanity/despair, humor’s a great temporary escape. a small consolation.

  • Resa,

    I know of and agree with all of the things you say about perennials vs. annuals. I especially agree with your statement regarding the “considerable interest in developing” varieties to replace some of the annuals on which we depend. My point exactly! Currently we depend on annuals. Developing, and implementing a grand strategy for replacement of annual dependence with perennial dependence, will hardly happen over night. If Guy, and others here, are correct some 8,000 years of agricultural tradition would have to be completely overturned and replaced within the next decade, and in the face of incredibly difficult economic conditions, and probably in the face of vast social disturbances. That is not going to happen.

    As for the rapidity of evolution (driven by agriculturalists) think about Luther Burbank. He worked diligently on that kind of evolution and replaced potatoes with better potatoes and plums with better plums. In other words he was improving, not radically changing, the plants agriculturalists had developed over millennia. You’re talking about the same kind of engineering but adding to it a break with the traditions that have been found to work. We can’t even agree whether or not it might be a good thing to do something about climate change. There is no way we are going to completely overturn our entire agricultural system. At best, as I was suggesting, we might be able to transition from highly extensive, fossil fuel dependent modern machine methods to highly intensive human powered techniques.

    Your methods of changing plant character via “yank, eat, or save” are only an extension of the long tradition of agriculture, starting with what is and working toward something better. Your ability to “develop strains of seed adapted to my micro-environment within a handful of growing seasons” is exactly the kind of hands on, farmer driven development I was talking about, not the institutionalized, big agriculture bio-engineering in vogue today. If we have a hundred years to develop a new worldwide system almost from scratch, and can bring unlimited resources to bear on the problem maybe we could make the switch to perennials. Absent that (time and money) we’ll probably have to go with what we know.

    Michael Irving

  • Robin, thanks for the laugh. As is usually the case, humor is based in reality – that particular reality I see every day in the clinic. I suspect you see similar.

    As to hunter/gatherers: this way of life exists today. We see a form of H/G in every large city in the world. Some call it homelessness, others call it vagrancy, but, regardless, these are hunter/gatherers. They likely represent the way in which many will survive in the coming decades. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see landfills fought over as they will be a treasure trove of the resources which we’ve depleted from mines, etc.: old metal items that can be fashioned into tools, old clothing made from material that doesn’t degrade easily (e.g. polyester, nylon.). Who knows what uses will be found for all the “trash”.

    TVT: I echo your comments about procreation. It sure seems to me that we’ve set into motion too many processes that won’t be easily survived by many lifeforms, humans especially, such as global warming, nuclear waste . . . the list goes on and on.

    Arthur: your comments about healthcare are valid. We put too many resources into saving people who will almost certainly be dead in a few months. It makes no sense, unless it’s your loved one who is being saved and you’re feeling guilty because you shoved good ol’ dad into a nursing home for the last 5 years of his life without visiting more than a few times.

    However, worrying about healthcare costs is moot if the projections about the timing of collapse are anywhere near accurate. In a decade there will almost certainly be no spending (government or otherwise) on healthcare for anyone, much less older people.

    As I’ve blogged about before, here and on my own site, healthcare providers, for the most part, will be a group of over-educated useless drains on the limited food supply when the lights go out. I would venture to say that less than 1% of today’s healthcare workers would have a clue how to treat even a minor illness without all of our modern technology. Even something as simple as a fever becomes difficult for many if Tylenol isn’t available. I don’t mean to be so harsh on my own profession, but I speak from experience. There is virtually nothing in modern healthcare education that doesn’t rely on the existence and continuing supply of modern technology.

    One final thought and I’ll shut up (for a little while, anyway), there is a tendency in some of the comments I’ve seen here on NBL to imply that since modern humans have used knowledge to destroy the world, knowledge, therefore, must be bad. I disagree wholeheartedly! Our brains are a wonderful and awesome manifestation of nature. Knowledge of all sorts excites me and, frankly, makes my life worth living. We humans have made lots of stupid mistakes, some of which may well lead to our extinction. But in the grand scheme of things – from a human perspective, of course – what a tragedy it will be for the millions of years of evolution which led to homo sapiens to come to such a tragic end. When I think of all the worlds in the universe with their own unique lifeforms and the diversity of experience that each would offer, it fills me with deep regret to think that our brains, which allowed us to even ponder such wonders, will likely never get to know about them. (Echos of Sean Strange?)

    Have a great day everyone!

  • Regarding “Farmers For Forty Centuries:”

    Several of you have noted that in the book (which I have NOT read) King documented the need to apply all manner of organic material including humanure and grass from the hillsides in order to maintain soil fertility. For some reason you then jump to the conclusion that agriculture was determined to be unsustainable in China over the long haul. That seems like a misinterpretation of the findings. The name of the book speaks to sustainability and you are describing exactly the methods we will need to adopt if we are to feed people going forward. Using humanure is no different than using cow manure for fertilizer. The cow (human) eats the plants on a given piece of land, produces manure that is, in turn, applied to the soil as fertilizer, to produce more plants. Likewise, the need to cut grass on the hillsides for fertilizer is not the mark of unsustainable methods, but rather an observation that for every plot of land used to grow human food an additional plot of land is required to grow food for the soil. I don’t see anything inconsistent in that.

    Michael Irving

  • One problem with perennials is that they take some time to get established and bear well. But with climate change becoming more rapid and chaotic, by the time you get a perennial to bear it may find itself in the wrong climate. With annuals you can try to adapt each year to the changes, although the increasing weather chaos makes that dicey.

    Here in Central Alabama that appears to mean learning desert farming which has never been a very good climate to farm in. A few more years of the weather we have had last year and which started earlier this year and the trees may start dying.

  • I begin to notice people I have been reading for some time becoming more pessimistic. Below is the conclusion of an article by David Cohen about overfishing. Full article at

    We are ready sum up what overfishing the oceans tells us about Human Nature. These lessons come with the usual disclaimer: all views presented here, no matter how realistic, are solely those of the author, so feel free to dismiss them if they make you feel uncomfortable.

    Human behavior doesn’t change over time, despite many superficial differences between the current era and those that came before. Homo sapiens is a species, what you see is what you get. In short, don’t expect any fundamental behavioral changes in human exploitation of the oceans.
    Humans are extremely good at technology, but have little or no insight into the causes and consequences of their own behavior. Thus all solutions presented to fix problems attending our compulsion to grow and grow without limit are technological in nature—or geographical, in which we exploit virgin territory to get the resources we need. See Star Trek. Behavioral changes are out of the question.

    The compulsion of our species to grow and grow without limit is biological in nature. If this isn’t obvious, I don’t know what is. Thus do we deceive ourselves that so-called “resources” (like fish) are inexhaustible. If only we had better technology, we would never run out of fish (or oil, coal, phosphorus, and so on). In this view, standard theories of economic growth (following John Maynard Keynes) are at their profoundest level merely rationalizations of our biological need to expand. We are animals, after all, despite our obviously malfunctioning Big Brains.

    The view that humans are fundamentally rational, as economists assume, is laughable. Overfishing the oceans to the point of total exhaustion is a case in point. A few people—they are the rare exceptions who prove the rule—urge wise policies following the Precautionary Principle, under which we assess the risks of our behavior (in overfishing, peak oil, climate change, and so on) and act to avoid serious or irreversible potential harm. But such wisdom goes against the grain. The Precautionary Principle is incompatible with Human Nature as described above, so humans are doomed to stumble blindly into disasters of their own making.
    These are the truly important, real lessons of the aquacalypse. And there are other issues we might touch on. What gives current generations the right to deprive future generations of wild-caught fish? By what right does Homo sapiens play God in extirpating all these species of marine animals?

    These are important questions, and that’s why I have spent so much time exploring our destruction of life in the oceans. Unfortunately, if I am right about Human Nature, the aquacalypse is inevitable; there’s nothing to be done about it. I do not expect future events to prove me wrong. Human over-exploitation of the oceans will end when all the fish populations are commercially extinct. If something can’t go on forever, it won’t. That’s how the story ends

  • Michael, King was most impressed by what the Chinese had done as he records in 40 centuries of farming (and rightfully so) but if you pay attention as you read and look at the pictures carefully you will see little room left for wildlife or even much for housing. Hardly a tree is to be seen as most land is devoted to producing 2 or 3 crops a year of annuals. You will see hills denuded of forests with erosion problems. Do read the book. With great skill they pushed the land to feed hardly anything other than humans and feed them well enough to keep increasing the population of humans. But if something cannot go on forever it won’t.

    When humans get too successful they use their ingenuity to overcome the limits they have run up against. Then expand their numbers once more until they have to have some new ingenuity but eventually run up against the limits to growth. Then they crash.

    As far as I know H-G were forced by the lack of fancy technology to stay within their limits. As far as I know humans will never stay within their limits on their own accord if they can do otherwise, a point made by David Cohen in the article I quoted above.

    200,000 years of H-G lifestyle looks far more sustainable than 40 centuries of farming. They lived in a world in which they were a part, rather than thinking they lived in a world where they had the right to own it all.

  • As far as I know H-G were forced by the lack of fancy technology to stay within their limits.


    I must take exception to this statement. I believe there were many tribes (H-G) whose base philosophy was to treat nature as a mother/provider who deserved respect in all aspect of their lives as a tribe. This went into all their planning (and yes, they planned for the longterm – multi-generations!). They lived for thousands of years under this regime and did well – until the European arrived on the scene.

    It seems to me to be those of primarily European stock who just cannot get their heads around such a lifestyle. Why, I will leave to the anthropologist, but the fact is that the Eurasian cultures were based upon short-term profits and expansionism at the expense of natural harmony.

    My opinion only.

  • Kathy,

    All true about the 200,000 vs. 4,000 years, however, reverting to a H/G lifestyle doesn’t help us. The reasons there are so few H/G’s left are evident, as are the locations you find them; remote, inaccessible, outside the limits of usable landscapes, in other words at the edges. We won’t choose to go back there because the costs would be too high. It does not matter that the life of an H/G is better, or more sustainable. It only matters what we are used to and how many people it will support. Proposing adoption of H/G lifestyles in a world that would now support 5 million people in that manner (a pure unsubstantiated guess on my part) would bump up against the question, “But what will happen to the other 6,895,000,000 people?”

    As for your observations from the pictures in King’s book I am not suggestion that Chinese model be sought as some kind of Utopian dream. I’m just talking about a response to the impending collapse. How do we best get from this side of collapse, through the process, and out the other side without having everything turn to dust? I’m looking at the seven-generation concept (yes, I know we’ve done everything we can to make that a joke). We have this time, and only this time to live. If part of that living is working to leave something for those that follow us then we need a plan.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael:

    I’m confused. In your earlier comment to Kathy, you indicated concern about the future survival of your immediate family. Citizens of Romania and Botswana be damned. In your comment to me you’re back to “implementing a grand strategy” for developing a worldwide agriculture system “from scratch.”

    Which is your focus?

    There’s a world of difference between the two.

    I’m aware of Luther Burbank and his work on potatoes and plums. I’m also aware of what I’m capable of accomplishing within my micro-environment.

    Switching from annual grains to perennial grains is attainable. Agriculturists have been tinkering with the concept for centuries. Perennial strains of grains already exist. Annual progression won out because of its greater yields, which, yes, favors “implementing a grand strategy.” But if, as an individual (or a family or a small community), maximum yield isn’t an issue then sticking to annuals is not a limitation. Nor is switching to perennials a radical shift.

    So which problem are you trying to solve? Saving 7 billion people? Or transistioning your family through the bottleneck?

  • 200,000 years of H-G lifestyle looks far more sustainable than 40 centuries of farming. They lived in a world in which they were a part, rather than thinking they lived in a world where they had the right to own it all.

    Thanks for the deep perspective, Kathy.

  • Chapter One, The Global Village meets Fractured Fairy Tales, seems to be picking up pace. Good luck and god’s speed to the greeks – the piglets are closing the noose, show your fangs!

    Thank you Robin! That joke sounds familiar (borrowed?)… I can’t get beyond the image in my mind of the trio entering a bar together without laughing, so I can’t be the one to finish the joke.

    — off topic, i think, although i’m not sure —-

    (from interview with Kogan Murata, Chapter 4 in A Different Kind of Luxury Japanese lessons on simple living and inner abundance, by Andy Couturier)

    …”chin-tara, chin-tara.” It’s almost like a mantra for him. “Lazily! Dwaddling! Go slower! Sluggish! Don’t hurry, relax more, Take a break.”

    When I use this phrase around other Japanese people they laugh out loud. It seems that Murata may be the only person in the world who gives this word a positive connotation.

    ….I ask him about the costs and benefits of growing rice organically versus the way the man in the field next to him does, and I find out he’s never figured it all out. What’s the yield comparatively per unit of land? How much does his neighbor sell his rice per kilo? How much does Murata save by doing so much by hand, and not using chemical fertilizer?

    “I don’t know.” “I’m not sure.” “Never thought about that.” He’s not just preaching disconnection from marketplace thinking. It’s real inside of him….

    After considering a bit, I say to him, “I think that most people are destroying the world simply because they want to keep changing, getting something new…” Murata nods his head … He laughs… And then he says in English, very clearly. “Don’t spend.” And he repeats, “Do. Not. Spend.”

    ——— from Ch 5,interview with Asha Amemiya—-

    “Also,” she adds, “convenience just speeds you up.”…

    I guess I, too, have gotten conned into thinking that the convenience that machines give us will free up a lot of time, and then I can use that time to slow down or something.

    Tools, I consider, are never neutral.

    “So why do you think so many people get caught up in this?” I ask.

    “I really don’t know,” she says, laughing, although somewhat bitterly. “I wonder why it is? Maybe it’s just that humans are that kind of animal…”

    “So, have the people who have figured this all out just smarter?” I ask.

    “No,” she laughs, “Not smarter, just lazier. And then she adds, after a moment or two. “Us lazy people just ruin capitalist society.”

    “So in that way,” I say with a smile, only half joking, “will capitalism slow to a stop?”

    “If it does, it will be interesting!” she smiles. Then after a pause she adds, “But… probably it won’t change, right? Then, a little bit of a faraway sound coming into her voice, “Though, yeah, it might change…”

  • Why do so many of us here refer to Hunter-Gatherers in the past tense? It is like the dead branch thinking it is the tree.

  • Kathy:

    You wrote: “One problem with perennials is that they take some time to get established and bear well.”

    That depends upon the type of perennial.

    Tree perennials take a few years. A decade or more in the case of some nut and fruit varieties. Shrub perennials not as long. Grass perennials (of which most cereal grains are derived) require even less time.

    Where I live, we can seed grass perennials in the fall, overwinter them, and have a seed harvest the following summer. That’s less than a year.

    The next summer, those same grass perennials produce another seed crop. And they do the same the summer after that.

    You have to take the type of perennial into consideration when determining establishment and productivity.

  • “You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. “

  • Even something as simple as a fever becomes difficult for many if Tylenol isn’t available.

    Regrettably, today’s pharmacy graduates don’t know how to harvest the bark of the white willow ( Salix alba) and make an extract from it containing salicylic acid, a substitute for acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin). Such skills will have to be re-learnt. 

  • Another off-topic item, The Survival Podcast:

    Episode-685- Dr. Eric Wilke on Survival Medicine

    Dr. Eric Wilke,  is  a residency trained emergency medicine physician in practice for 12+ years.  He also direct the local fire department and the tactical medics for the SWAT team in his area. He has traveled to Africa to deliver medical care in austere environments and with very limited resources.  

  • Resa, good point about grass perennials. We don’t grow grains so I forgot about them. I stand corrected on that score.

    But even something like asparagus takes about 3 years before you can harvest and several more before you can harvest much. Blueberries are bushes and so start bearing in a few years, but nothing like the 40 year old blueberries my husband’s father planted.

    Robin, re fever, some now think that fever is a normal way for the body to fight disease and one will get over the infection faster if the fever is allowed to run its course. One Dr. I recall even experimented with helping his fever by hot baths and thought it shortened the sickness. Of course if temperatures go too high they can cause damage, but ordinary fevers might best be left untreated

    Here is one link that discusses this

  • Victor I believe there were many tribes (H-G) whose base philosophy was to treat nature as a mother/provider who deserved respect in all aspect of their lives as a tribe. This went into all their planning (and yes, they planned for the longterm – multi-generations!). They lived for thousands of years under this regime and did well – until the European arrived on the scene. It seems to me to be those of primarily European stock who just cannot get their heads around such a lifestyle.

    First we all descend from H-G’s including Europeans. Why the Europeans happen to be dominating the world is addressed by Jared Diamond in Guns Germs and Steel and has everything to do with geography (East/West expansion vs North/South) and what plants and animals were available for domestication.

    Secondly the H-G’s didn’t just happen upon those values. I believe they adopted those values out of necessity. For instance per The Future Eaters by Flannery, the first future eaters in Australia were the Aborigines, who won the lottery in being the first humans in a world that had never had humans. They had, he asserts, a significant impact, increasing in numbers and even bringing some megafauna to extinction. After they altered the climate and fauna they adopted better values towards the land, and then the second set of future eaters came with better tools to do much more damage.

    Over 200,000 years, Hunter-gatherers could learn from experience that if you eat all the eggs in the bird’s nest you won’t have any eggs in the future, so you eat some and leave some. I would suggest that any postive values H-G’s have developed over time sprang from necessity. Unfortunately for us we keep hitting the energy lottery and so the wisdom of Malthus is ignored. We find unspoiled lands, we find fossil oil and with it pump fossil water. It takes bumping your head to learn as a kid not to stand up under the kitchen table. We as a species are about to bump our head up against limits only we won’t get the luxury of learning from experience that there are no more lotteries to win.

    That is not to disparage the values of the H-G’s to the land that feeds them. That is just to say that they learned their limits and turned what they learned into values. When I was a kid my mother made us run a little water in the sink to wash our hands. We would wet them, soap up, rinse and let the water go. Lots less water than just running the tap the whole time. Her grandparents were poor farmers in the south and grew up during the depression. She passed that value on of saving water because her family saved water out of necessity.

  • Kathy

    It really doesn’t matter why the H-Gs adopted their behaviour: it is important that they did so – bad experiences, good experiences, for whatever reasons. They learned and adapted and made it part of their culture. We didn’t. Why not? Doesn’t matter. We didn’t. They did.

  • Resa,

    Good questions, and deserving of an answer. Before I try that, however, I think I need to clarify some things you misinterpreted. I did not say “citizens of Romania and Botswana be damned” but was only suggesting that I have to act locally. I did not advocate the implementation of a grand strategy, on the contrary, I was suggesting that such a strategy would not be attempted by TPTB and could not be accomplished in time in any case. I did not suggest that what you’ve been doing with plant breeding and the work of Luther Burbank were any different and in fact I thought I was complimenting you on creating new breeding lines in the same fashion at Burbank.

    Assuming that clears up your confusion on what I was talking about, here is my answer, as plain as I can state it. I think we are headed for collapse. Modern fossil fuel based agricultural systems will fail. Food will be scarce. My wife and I know how to raise enough food for our immediate family and to do it in a sustainable fashion. We do not live in a place with abundant wild or domesticated perennial food stocks. We will have to depend on open pollinated annuals as our major source of food, augmented by various perennials. I am doing what I can to help members of my local community. I am unable to affect the lives or livelihood of the people on the other side of the world.

    I am aware that there are perennial grain crops, just as there is an abundant solar energy available. The question is how do we scale up our utilization of the resource?

    Michael Irving

  • Victor, to make or break my point it does matter. I believe that H-G remained in low numbers and did not overwhelm their environment because it took large areas to feed H-G’s. Necessity restricted the numbers of humans in an area that could feed. To maximize those numbers over time they adopted values that did not rape the environment.

    We didn’t because we adopted agriculture which temporarily allowed us to maximize numbers in smaller areas. This started not in Europe. They were still H-G’s when the folks in Mesopotamia founded their agricultural civilization. Agriculture allows a few (and then a lot) of people to be free from food growing. They become the top tier in a now stratified society and they become disconnected from the source of their food. Thus they do stupid things and their civilization crashes.

    Why only in the last 10,000 years did people try this experiment. Perhaps it is because of the unusual stability of the Holcene climate Human civilisation developed in a cosy cradle. Over the last 11,700 years – an epoch that geologists call the Holocene – climate has remained remarkably stable. This allowed humans to plan ahead, inventing agriculture, cities, communication networks and new forms of energy.

    Interesting how the timelines coincide. If this is why agriculture flowered then I would say it is clear that it was not the good values of the H-G’s in Mesopotamia that failed them, but rather that the necessity enforced by a less stable climate changed and allowed them to try a new experiment in living which overcame the H-G’s in other places including Europe.

    We of European extraction are not somehow worse humans or better humans depending on how you look at the world. We are humans who got caught up in an experiment in civilization and having lost our roots in the natural world have gone crazy.

  • Off-topic re: fever

    In poikilothermic (“cold-blooded”) animals such as lizards that are injected with bacteria to give them an infection, they seek sunshine and warm places more than uninfected animals. Those kept cool have greater morbidity and mortality than those kept warm. 

    I know of several doctors who prefer not to “control” moderate fevers and I myself think it is the rational thing to do:  fever is not a disease to be treated, but a helpful response to disease. 

    The exception to non-treatment is febrile seizures (in children). 

  • Kathy,
    Re: June 14 (1:49)

    Man, I am doing a really poor job of explaining myself over the last couple of days. I seem to have pushed everybody’s buttons. Let me try again.

    “Then” I would feel sorry for you—–IF you could find nothing good in the current situation.

    Yes, agriculture is not good, for all the reasons you’ve listed, but I was making the point that there are not enough wild resources left (because of human population pressure) for any significant number of people to survive the bottleneck by reverting to H/G.

    I don’t apologize for wanting to extend the lives of my children and grandchildren. I’m even older than you so I have very little time left. What I’m doing here is directed at providing a platform that will increase their chances of survival through the bottleneck.

    As for the guilt thing, I guess you’ve mistaken me for some kind of misanthropic survivalist holed up in the woods with a locker full of ammo and an Uzi. I’ve actually spent the last 40 years actively helping people. I rescue flies for god’s sake and stop to move snakes off the road. I won’t concede the moral high ground to you. I’m making a garden, not building a moat. I’m cutting wood, not storing ammo. I’m volunteering in my community, not joining the militia. I’m reaching out to my neighbors, not hiding behind walls.

    And it appears I’m doing a great job of pissing people off here at NBL.

    Michael Irving

  • Arthur,

    You hit the nail on the cross with this statement,
    “Human beings are social creatures, who live by teamwork or die.”

    Thank you, fits in with the last post about connecting and sharing.
    Since Guy put up his Classifieds we’ve had several contacts already, what we asked Carolyn Baker, Michael Ruppert and others to do before, thanks to the effort of some and the belief of teamwork, we continue to thrive.

  • VT:
    One of the problems with being a writer is that you leave a written record. I suggest that you buy all of my books if you want the whole picture, the one where all the contradictions get resolved. You get your money back if you don’t laugh out loud at least once per book. Cheap at the price, these days.
    Regarding Obama, I was delighted, pre-election, that we had a candidate exponentially smarter and more articulate than the last guy. I had hopes, most of them dashed within the first year when he kept Bush’s economic team in place, kept us in Bush’s wars, kept us running the Guantanamo prison, and so on. I keep hoping for a Marcus Aurelius, keep getting Robert Mugabes. I’m voting for Ralph Nader next time, whether he runs or not.
    If you analyze Obama’s use of language, it has gotten much worse since he’s been president. Either he had a good editor for his books or there’s a linguistic occupational hazard in becoming president, or both. You can tell a huge amount about a person’s moral core from his use of language. I used to see a moral core in Obama’s language, but don’t see it any more in either his language or his actions.

    Michael: Any of us who have been reading your contributions to this discussion for the last few years know that 1]your moral core is intact, 2] your use of language is wonderful and expresses difficult concepts clearly and simply and pragmatically, and 3] nobody’s pissed off at you, even when you underscore how difficult it is to know what how best to care about people who are ten or eleven in 2011. You bring all your considerable humanity to these issues, and that’s a welcome addition to discussions that sometimes remind me of the old Strategic Air Command projections of megatons and megadeaths.

  • ‘Regarding Obama, I was delighted, pre-election, that we had a candidate exponentially smarter and more articulate than the last guy.’ -j.r.

    not sure i agree with the part about being so much smarter. articulate for sure, but exponentially smarter? if so, it’s more a knock on son of a bush than it’s a laurel to the great black hope. obama clearly either doesn’t get it, or he’s too crazy to care, take your pick. anyone who still thinks any corporate sponsored american elite political candidate, dem. or repub. doesn’t matter, might represent a departure from bau, is living in a dream world.

    ‘Have a great day everyone!’ -trdh

    from now on to me, u’re tsdh, the surreal dr. house.

  • Michael:

    Thanks for the clarification. I see we’re (pretty much) on the same page.

    Except for my commercial field of soft white winter wheat (under contract for the Asian noodle market), I’m also unable to affect the lives or livelihood of individuals on the other side of the world.

    Everything else I raise stays within my small community and is divided among family, close friends, the compost heap and my livestock. The mutt over-wintered well off short ribs, soup bone, chicken skin, and pot roast fat. He didn’t complain.

    So here’s my perspective, as plain as I can state it.

    We’re headed for harsher times. I have no idea how difficult that harshness will be.

    Fossil fuel-based agricultural systems will suffer. How extensively they suffer will depend on how well they adapt to alternate energy sources. Alternate energy sources do exist. Some agricultural systems have already made the transition.

    Some localities will experience scarcer food supplies. Not everyone will suffer equally.

    I know how to raise enough meat and milk and vegetables and eggs and fruit and grains for those under my responsibility and can do so in a sustainable fashion. Starvation is not one of my top concerns.

    I do not live in a place of abundant wildlife. A dozen gunshots would wipe out the local deer herd, which to be honest, I wouldn’t miss.

    All my seed stock is open pollinated. Most of the vegetables and grains are annuals.

    You ask how to scale up utilization of perennial grain crops. Again, I have to question what problem you’re attempting to solve. If it’s to feed the masses, I say leave it to the big guys. They’re subsidized and equipped to handle the task, at least until something shuts them down. Also, switching from large-scale annual grain production to a perennial one (because they’re currently not equivalent in yield) will require substantial R&D support, government support and consumer support.

    If, however, you’re interested in raising grains (annual or perennial) for yourself and a few others then doing so is possible without fossil fuels or draft animals.

    A bushel (32 quarts) of wheat makes approximately 50 loaves of bread. Today’s seed yields an average of 40 bushels per dry land acre. More if you irrigate.

    You don’t need a big plot to grow a few bushels of wheat. The same goes for corn or barley or oats. A couple ears of corn grinds up into enough for a meal.

    Whether you grow annual or perennial grains will depend upon your land conditions. Perennials may be better in terms of tillage compaction, nutrient uptake, moisture loss, and reduced salinity, but if your land is under water six months of the year, they may not be a good choice.

    Hand growing and processing wheat is not difficult. I till, broadcast, and rake, preferably just prior to a rain storm. I do lose some seed to rodents and birds. I use a 100-gallon clean trough to thresh. I pick a windy day to winnow. I pick a super hot day to wash and dry the kernals. Wheat grinds up easily. Much easier than corn.

    Don’t get me wrong. There is work involved, but it’s not rocket science and it’s not unachievable.

    Every year I trial a few new open-pollinated seeds. Last year was dry pulses. Other years have been coles or alliums or spuds. This year is grains, and as soon as I kicked the cows out in April I tilled up their winter corral, divided it into small plots and planted a variety of grain annuals. (The corral is unsuitable for perennials because come November the cows will be back and nothing survives five months of confined trampling.)

    I planted a rye, a barley, a red wheat, a flint corn, a foxtail millet, a common millet, a spelt, and a hull-less oat. I also trial planted a black oat elsewhere to prevent cross pollination, and a quinoa, which the slugs promptly devoured and a hail storm obliterated after reseeding. Six quinoa currently survive.

    After two months, I can see that neither millet is happy. The spelt, hull-less oat and flint corn are tolerating my weather / soil conditions okay. The barley, red wheat, rye grain and black oat are loving them.

    Although the millets are a disappointment, if they set seed, I’ll probably replant next year to see if what survived passed on a genetic advantage.

    BTW, I wasn’t pissed off at you. I was simply questioning where you were coming from as I perceived inconsistencies in your comments. Again, thanks for the clarification.

  • Kathy

    The Holocene was shared by the H-Gs as well. They had plenty of “time to plan” – but apparently chose not to. Those in the Northern Hemisphere lived in a land of plenty (North America) just as the Europeans did. They could have implemented agriculture as they lived on rich soil and had loads of natural resources available – but they didn’t (except on a small scale in some areas). Necessity had nothing to do with it, in my opinion. Europeans had a philosophy grounded on land ownership and expansionism (both territorially and population-wise), concepts entirely foreign to H-Gs who felt that the earth could not be owned and population must be managed.

    Jared D made excuses for the Europeans in his prior work just as he makes excuses for the big corporations today –

  • Those who prepare for Collapse should do so within the context of a proper understanding of its full implications. If you do not understand the full impact of the combination of climate change and failure of the global fossil-fuel based infrastructure, the the likelihood is that your planning will be for nought.

    It takes more than learning the principles of organic farming, animal husbandry and hunting to prepare properly for the day that things fall apart. There is a list being passed around of skills needed –

    There are, of course, lots of these lists around, but this one is as good as any. Certainly one can view this list and begin to get an understanding of just how many skills will be needed, and how unlikely it is that one of two people on a plot of land simply will not have all these skills. There might be a few people around whose skill-set covers the lot, but you can imagine they would be few and far between!

    The only thing he left off the list is security. Without the means to protect yourself and those around you, all the other items in the list will be for nothing. You can remove animal husbandry and hunting from the list as a population of 320,000,000 (in the USA) looking for food will ravage virtually every nook and cranny of the country of plants (including your garden and any food you have preserved and stored if they can find it), animals (domestic – again, yours – and wild), and trees (indeed, anything that will burn for what food they can find and what warmth they can derive from burning it). Huge numbers of people will be desperate for food and warmth. This goes for most of the rest of civilised global society as well.

    Those people most at risk will reside in the cities of the world. When these folks die, the cities will die.

    High technology will quickly become a thing of the past as manufacturing will shut down due to lack of energy and living people to run the factories and produce the parts and equipment required. And lack of transport will prevent those parts and equipment from reaching their destination. Communications will be disrupted as the Internet fails (due again to lack of parts, energy, and living people to run it). Most grids will fail denying people and factories vital electricity to keep functioning. Bicycles will fade away over time as parts (tyres, brakes, lubrication, chains, etc) become impossible to get and recycling runs its course. In the meantime, if you have a working bike, it will likely be stolen.

    Nation states will of course fall as well, so all government services will be lost – police, military, fire, medical.

    I do not believe most people, even those we call “doomers” today, have any idea of the massive and unstoppable tsunami of destruction that is coming at us. They seem to think that we will collapse in some limited fashion and then after a few years, pick ourselves up and carry on much like Russia did. Wrong. Russia dwelt on an island in the middle of a globalised world capable to providing the necessary product and service support to help them continue as functioning societies. After Collapse, no such safety net will be there – none – for anyone.

    If you think I exaggerate, think again and deeper. Think about how tightly connected this world is today, unlike any other period in the history of humanity – food, transport, industry, parts, supplies – all globally dispersed resources. This time is truly different. If our global, highly interdependent network fails, massive numbers of people will die, and with those people the cities of the world will also die, and with the cities of the world go our industrial base (including commercial agribusiness providing most of the world’s food), our learning centres, our communications networks and centres of technology. Without the global infrastructure, nearly all of us die, so dependent are we upon it.

    And whilst all this is happening, some idiots might well launch a few missiles in efforts to gain vitally needed resources.

    There will be those who planned ahead and formed small sustainable communities around the world, as well as certain indigenous tribes, but the long-term impacts of global warming (droughts, floods, ocean acidification, deforestation, soil erosion) will take care of many of them (but maybe not all) in the longer term. Within a hundred years or so, any high tech tools that survived the Bottleneck will no longer function. Any made-for-purpose metal tools will have worn out, poorly replaced by hand-fashioned recycled metals found lying about. People will be forced over time to begin migrating about on a seasonal basis to forage what game and plants they can find.

    So the question might be asked – why even try to survive if this is the picture of events coming our way? That is a philosophical question for which each person has to answer for themselves. I suppose that one could say that we are wired for survival – we really can’t help but attempt to survive even if the odds are terribly against it. And the truth is you might actually survive the Bottleneck, and some of those around you, and perhaps your children. But your children’s children or their children, if they survive, will not be like you, not in any way.

  • There has been occasional discussion on NBL concerning having children in these days. I never gave it much thought, honestly, thinking that it goes without saying that to have children today could be considered an act of cruelty, knowing what is coming at us. Who in their right mind would want their children to go through this?

    But then someone confronted me with a question. Who else will carry on after the Bottleneck but our children? Indeed, who is best equipped mentally, physically, and emotionally to survive the coming storm and make the changes necessary to create a new social order, if not our children?

  • And it appears I’m doing a great job of pissing people off here at NBL.


    Not at all! I think you have contributed of the most insightful comments here. Keep it up!

    (Besides – you always challenge me!)

  • Victor, the question I asked when I had children was the wrong one – could I be a good mother. The question one should ask is pretty much impossible to ask but in my opinion worthy of asking. If you have children, you are not giving them life, you are giving them life for a period of time and then death. You cannot birth a child without placing on that child the certainty that they will die. Most deaths are not pleasant but many think a good life makes up for that. What if you are bringing a child into a life in a world that is turned upside down, where they well may have a very short life with nothing but hunger and fear to mark their years on earth. Being unborn they cannot speak for themselves, they cannot make known their wish either to be born or to stay in peaceful non-existence. What a heavy burden for those who know what is coming and fear it, to choose to bring someone out of nothing to share those times with them.

    I can say unequivocally that if I knew what I knew now I would not have had children. I cannot however make a decision for someone else. But when we choose to have children that is EXACTLY what we do – we make a decision for someone else who cannot by their non-existence make that decision. Think long and hard if you are thinking of having children now.

    I saw a program once on natural disasters that might end the world. One was an asteroid headed for the planet that would destroy the planet in 10 years and nothing could stop it. Various people were asked what they would do in those 10 years. One woman said she would have a child so she could experience being a mother. I couldn’t believe it. She would subject a child to 10 years of watching death coming ever and inevitably closer just so SHE could experience being a mother. Yet since the unborn cannot speak it is always ourselves we are thinking of when we choose to be parent. We can only think of what the unborn wants in minds that already exist, our own, never in theirs.

    Do we have the right to ask our unborn to make a new social order out of the mess we are leaving them? Would any born now thank their parents, or would they curse the day they were born and perhaps those who brought them to life?

  • Victor, Jared Diamond does make excuses for corporations now and I find that disappointing to say the least. But when he wrote Guns Germs and Steel, he was not making excuses he was explaining that the Europeans were not better than the Papau New Guineans with whom he worked, that they conquered the world by chance of location not by superior intellect of powers. Perhaps I was conned but it seemed clear to me that that was the intent of his book.

    But why blame the Europeans since they did not start the whole thing. Why not blame the people who started agriculture and forced it outward. Are the Europeans to blame for the Incan conquests and abuse of empire?
    Map of the world showing approximate centers of origin of agriculture and its spread in prehistory: eastern USA (4000–3000 BP), Central Mexico (5000–4000 BP), Northern South America (5000–4000 BP), sub-Saharan Africa (5000–4000 BP, exact location unknown), the Fertile Crescent (11000 BP), the Yangtze and Yellow River basins (9000 BP) and the New Guinea Highlands (9000–6000 BP)

    Please don’t get me wrong. I am in no way defending the current empire which is evil to the core. But I don’t think the Europeans had bad genes. Although Europeans do have Neandrathal genes that Africans don’t they now say. We can apparently blame the Europeans for extincting the Neandrathals and perhaps it was that bit of interspecies sex that made us so bad…

    But still lets put blame where it lies, with the Iraqis. If they hadn’t started agriculture down there by the Tigris and the Euphrates we would still be H-G’s

    It took not only the Holocene to get agriculture started but also being in a place that had the right plants and animals to domesticate. Once you had a horse and beans and grain in your saddlebag you could wipe out or convert the H-G’s who didn’t have those happy conditions at hand. You could give them the seed you had saved and seduce them to your lifestyle or wipe them out (wild beans pop open when ripe, scattering seeds on the ground, it took finding some that didn’t and breeding them to be able to make a bean crop you could harvest off the plant) South American empires never became as large because they only had animals suitable for beast of burdens, not animals that could be ridden. No one ever slaughtered from the back of a llama that I know of.

  • Kathy

    Agree to all you said. To me, “the bother” is all about children. The own, and all of them. The asteroid – getting to think, this would be a less cruel end than the one mankind is “preparing”.


    “Who else will carry on after the Bottleneck but our children?”
    The article of yours above the “having or not having chilcren”,
    (I thought Victor has done it, left no chance for delusion;-))
    you describe the outlooks.
    So unless it’s possible for some to create or have created a truly self sufficient community, preferably on an island away from “everywhere” -how could there be survival, or even creation of something new?
    Believe you once mentioned using Skype for contact, was that your idea?

  • Kathy

    I will not refute what you say with regard to the opportunity for advancement and conquest that the European enjoyed over the island people (and others of course). My point is that it is a bit simplistic in my mind to assign that opportunity as the foremost reason that Eurasians (and esp Europeans in more modern times) built empires. And it certainly has nothing to do with any kind of inherent superiority, as you rightly indicate. But where I would differ with both you and Diamond on this is the genetic factor. I believe European stock has evolved over time to an extremely aggressive breed. This is not unheard of. Some dogs are far more aggressive by nature than others. Within species there are nearly always varying degrees of natural aggressiveness.

    And this is not only some kind of “aggressive” gene, but perhaps also a “risk aversion” gene as well. Some people are more risk aversive than others. I believe European stock is much less risk aversive. Further, some folks are more analytical than others by nature. These folks will often consider longer term potential consequences of a proposed action, rather than jump straight in for the short term profit they might get out of it. There are probably other genetic differences that contribute as well, but you get the point.

    I think the European stock is generally deficient on the “long-term analytical” and “risk aversion” gene and over endowed with the “aggressive” gene. This is, of course, true with many non-Europeans as well to a greater or lesser extent, but as you and Diamond indicate, this is where “opportunity” comes into play. The Europeans with their genetic make-up were presented with the right opportunity – the Mayans were not.

  • So unless it’s possible for some to create or have created a truly self sufficient community, preferably on an island away from “everywhere” -how could there be survival, or even creation of something new?


    There might be circumstances that could possibly mitigate some of this, giving prepared survivors more of an edge. For example, consider the availability of fresh water. When things collapse, the water taps will go. Turn it on, nothing comes out. So in your preparations, you need to provide for a reliable source of fresh water.

    And here is where the silver lining comes in. People can live a long, long time without food – long enough to seek out food where they can find it (your garden). But without water, people can only live a few days at most. So vast numbers of people in the cities might not be able to find enough water quickly enough to ravage the land and your property unless they live near a fresh water source like a river or lake – and even then, they might be rendered relatively harmless by water-bourne disease.

    Take out the ravaging population quickly enough (a matter of days) and you reduce the risk that those who prepared will suffer from them.

  • Kathy

    I don’t share your views on children. Whilst no one wants a child to suffer and/or die, that is no reason to prevent their life. We have all agreed that the survivors of the Bottleneck will likely carry on in some fashion. Should those survivors not have children? If they didn’t, the human race would be snuffed out in a generation.

    And before the Bottlenck, who is better placed to survive in the tough new world, an adult who has lost everything in life that is meaningful to them and is not at all equipped to learn new skills in a new world? Or a child who is brought through the bottleneck and learns quickly the rules of the new game and becomes something his parents are not capable of becoming?

    As I say, if we are to survive as a species, having children is a non-negotiable position – suffering a hard life or not.

  • nice work authur/guy, & all! Reading but the weather is back to ok to plant so very busy.

    a bit of good news re chicks…ma hen has her first.

    separating ma from the other chickens did not work as ma went got so disoriented…flinging herself at fences/wire etc. that i put her back were she was & [via info from our 80+ y/o neighbors] pencil marked the clutch of eggs, & sorted each nite to get out new ones. also the last week a second hen went broody, & took over the clutch; but original mom got her clutch back by first chick born; yesterday. now i’m letting 2nd Ma set her own clutch.

  • TVT: thanks for the chuckle. I’m happy to be TSDH. :-)

    Kathy/Victor: There is no doubt that people will continue to have children regardless the situation. I’ve always been incredulous when I’ve seen pictures of starving African women with little starving swollen-bellied babies (the result of protein deficiency) hanging from their sagging breasts. I simply couldn’t understand how a couple could decide to bring a child into the world when they know almost certainly that the child will starve to death.

    Sex and the drive for procreation is one of the fundamental qualities of our genetic programming. We can’t seem to escape it. To be sure, some do, but as a rule most people can’t help themselves.

    From a different view, children have an amazing ability to adapt to whatever situation they find themselves in. Even malnourished children will run and play. (This stops when they reach the starvation phase, of course). So, while we may think it cruel to bring a child into a dying world, that child will not know anything different. It WILL be cruel in my opinion, but at least the child won’t know that. So as he or she grows up, there won’t be a longing for a world that used to be, unless they learn from us how much “better” things were.

    I see this in children who have cancer from a very early age. From their perspective, cancer is just part of life. They play and run and have as much fun as they have the energy for. For the most part they don’t even realize that they’re different.

    I’m not advocating for more children – in fact, I believe that the root of almost all of our problems is overpopulation. Or at least that is what has caused all of our problems to come to a head so quickly. But there will be more children, from now until the last child-bearing woman dies. It’s unavoidable.

    Have a surreally great day everyone!

  • A lot of people used to lead a semi-nomadic life in Australia, for example the drovers. And as it was quite difficult to find food in the Australian bush for European tastes, some of the drovers started planting fruit trees and other perennial plants along the stock routes so they could get fresh fruits on their journeys. Our bush was thus studded with edible European plants. Unfortunately, many of these have subsequently been removed by those who believe in virgin bushland. The principle, though, of planting perennial edible plants wherever you go is likely to help the survivors of the Bottleneck whether they be H-G or just travellers in a world without supermarkets.

    Whenever there is a discussion of perennial versus annual plants, there seems to be an all or nothing flavour to it. But it is possible to plant an annual grain crop into a perennial pasture thus getting the best of both worlds. And in Food Forests, you have mainly perennials with some annuals on the edges. Nature allows for both. So should we.

    The green manures we use in the garden are of course all annual plants – and we use them as Nature intended – to increase fertility.

    We are definitely trying to increase the number of perennial plants in our food system, but there will also always be a place for annuals.

    Terry, if you are interested in becoming Vegan – you might find the book “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith interesting. She was a Vegan for many years, but gave it up for health reasons and also because she learned more – which clashed with the reasons she became Vegan in the first place.

    I empathise with your view point on children, but agree with Victor. I like the idea, beyond the Bottleneck, of humans conceding their right to decide whether to have children to their tribe. Can the tribe feed another mouth at this time? Do you have the necessary traits that the tribe wants to pass on to the next generation. It seems draconian, but surely there is a way for humans to limit their numbers without having Nature do it for them.

  • Victor, have you ever consulted any of the unborn to see whether or not they want to be born? Are their souls out there, disembodied, who are just aching to be born and we are failing to let them be born if we don’t have children. If so then the Catholics are partly right, we should never have a sex act that doesn’t lead to procreation. Better yet we should start women having children as soon as they can and have them have children as often as possible until they can’t. Otherwise we might be preventing a life from occurring.

    Given our track record as humans and the negative views others have on H-G perhaps extinction is best. Actually a group of people have formed Voluntary Human Extinction movement based on those views . I have run into members on other discussion sites. You will not be surprised to hear that I have been invited to become a member more than once :)

    We may want life to continue, but to do so we have to force another human into existence with no consent on their part. Anyone considering having children should give that the most serious thought. Birth is a death sentence. Ah well I will get lots of flack on this, not because it is false. Birth is always followed by death and one cannot die unless born. I should think that is obvious. I will get flack because the brain balks at considering such thoughts. If it did not the evolutionary program for reproduction in thinking humans might have some serious problems to overcome.

    But do you know the horrors that a child born today may face. The horrors have been blocked from our sensitive Western eyes by our compliant media. So we do not regularly see the babies burned, blown up, raped, starving in other countries. We soon will see it first hand and those who reproduce now will rue their choice as they see their children dying in great pain with no morphine left to ease them. And I will now cease discussing this as I am beginning to tear up inside as I think of the fate of my children.

    To Michael and others I would say, if you are not prepared to stand and defend your family you will buy them precious little time. If you choose to save them from famine you had better be ready to save them from marauders.

  • John Rember,

    Thank you. I needed that.

    Michael Irving

  • Resa,

    More alike than not, I’d say. I, too, have been experimenting with grains. This year it’s two varieties of rye, red wheat, flint corn, quinoa, and buckwheat. We’ve been purchasing wheat, rye, and quinoa for our bread making. Farmers here (I’m not one) grow soft white winter wheat, barley, and oats so those are good choices for us too. We have a short growing season here (85 days historically but maybe more now) so some things are impossible. All of our plants are chosen based on the length of their growing season and frost hardiness. We have a big bunch of fava beans this year as insurance, in case the August frost (sure as death and taxes) gets all of the other four varieties before they’re ready. Everything else is pretty regular stuff, sweat corn, peppers, tomatoes, spuds, Jerusalem artichoke, various squashes, etc., etc. We are trying some peaches again anticipating the effects of climate change, although just because it’s changing doesn’t insure it’s getting any warmer here (we went below zero during October last year for the first time in the 40 years we lived on this place).

    But I’d also say different in some things. For example, I have little faith that the government or agribusiness will have the where-with-all or desire to push a change to perennials with the world collapsing around us. In my previous comments I was not denying the value of perennials over annuals, or their potential for the small farmer/gardener. I was only questioning the potential for a full-scale changeover by agribusiness. I doubt that developing perennial grains for farmers fits into Monsanto’s business plan.

    Thanks for your considered remarks.

    Michael Irving

  • Wow, suddenly this place has come alive again. First I’d like to acknowledge the people who have said supportive things. The real thanks will be if you use these ideas to live, though.
    With regard to more specific strategies on that, what I’ve thought about for years is that this is a two pronged approach. Some few people do the debates, find the people who find the whole thing logical and want to try it. The people doing the debates and finding people, are basically on a suicide mission. They are quite likely to eventually be killed by angry people, and if they are not killed that way, what they are doing is not specific survival, it is finding the people who might survive and driving the rest insane with anger. They will be working the population right to the end and will be caught up in the collapse, which will be impossible to exactly predict. It would be ideal if the people doing this, were unable for physical reasons of age or permanent injury, that they could not do what is necessary for surviving the collapse. You don’t always get the ideal that you want, of course, but it is what I’d aim for. I fall into that sort of category. Celiac being undiagnosed for so long, did a serious bit of damage to me. As I see it, surviving is going to take everything that healthy young to middle aged adults can give to it. In highly stressful situations, it is always the old, the broken, and the very young who tend to die first, they are the physically weakest parts of any society.
    As for concrete ideas on how they survive, the key word is something largely overlooked in all the discussion here. It is rather odd to me that this seems to happen over and over with the different groups of people that I communicate with. I strongly suspect it is a cultural thing… in any case, the word is herding. People thinking of how to survive, generally talk about farming, and they talk about hunter gatherers. The third major lifestyle that humanity has practiced, herding, doesn’t get mentioned.
    Herders can live in places that farmers cannot, and they also can live fairly well in places where hunter gatherers have a hard time. For example, there were not many people living on the plains before the horse came along and natives started herding them and using them to hunt bison. They were not full blown herders as is commonly thought of, I think, the horses were not usually a direct source of food, but they were in fact horse herders who depended for their lives on their horses. And it would not have been a huge step for them to have done as some groups in Central Asia, who did drink mare’s milk and eat a lot of horsemeat as significant part of their diet. Some still do.
    But of course, I do not see people becoming bison hunters, as the herds are gone. This kind of disappearance of wild game, particularly big game, is a big reason why extremely few could think of going back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Big game usually has much better food EROEI than small game and has been the mainstay of most, though not all, hunter gatherers. But while the big game has been destroyed, vegetation and some small game tends to hang in there. Lands that farmers have worn out and abandoned, and land that farmers never wanted, can open up to having some people herd a few animals on them. Since soil has typically been badly depleted and eroded before being abandoned, the amount of vegetation that can grow can be something like deserts and semi arid places. You have to be nomadic on such land. And since you are not reproducing and dealing with old people, that makes it so your footprint can be considerably less. With only healthy adults to worry about, you can haul lighter shelter, and do not need animals to carry children, old people and pregnant women that are falling behind. You save a lot of food energy. Your animals can do more to feed you because they can turn more of the available vegetation into milk, blood, and meat, rather than hauling people and stuff. You can go faster and longer, if needed, to cover areas that are really barren, to get between more distantly spaced sources of water than you could otherwise do.
    Another very important thing in doing this, is that you can get well beyond the roads, stay beyond the roads for significant periods of time, and be almost impossible to find. You can be like a predator, relatively rare and difficult to find, highly mobile, and sporting some “claws and fangs”, in that you have hunting weapons. You are not at all a nice soft fat looking target, stationary, easy to find by simply following roads.
    When people who count on things that can’t be seen, seem to be mostly done dying by starving, fighting, and disease, and possibly sometimes direct suicide similar to what cults have sometimes done, you can cautiously move back to richer climates, and think of having children again, of having a considerably more relaxed lifestyle. However, there are likely to be “hot pockets”, for some time, where people have won battles for stores of food and fertilizer, but if they don’t surrender, they will wink out like dying embers of the main conflagration, as their stores run out. Hot pockets of people and hot pockets of radiation and other pollutants. You will need to carefully find the boundaries of such places. For some things you might be able to do things to clean up and help restore things faster, for others you will only be able to wait for them to fade out on their own.

    Herding a few animals, looks to me like a way a few people could go feral rather quickly in land unwanted by the vast majority, land considered useless for their dreams. And I’m not at all worried about being overwhelmed by people wanting to try this sort of thing. By huge margins I’d say that most people will cling to a myriad number of other dreams before they would do something so radical as what I’m saying here. Most would consider it a huge step backward, while a small number of others would feel it wasn’t stepping back far enough, as Sean seems to feel.
    Probably in traditional herding cultures as found in central Asia and some parts of Africa, more people would find the idea rational. You might get too many people trying it for what land is available in those places, but even there I have some doubts. The things available on the market are so deeply dazzling to so many people that very few pursue traditional lifestyles in herding, and those who do are generally geared up to serve the marketplace, not simple survival, and they are also destroying land in terms of the large numbers of animals they require for their wants instead of needs. Small numbers of people seeing the collapse of all that, and only interested in survival might eke out a living on places the market oriented herders have worked over and left, in the same way I’m seeing being able to take over lands abandoned by farmers.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if only one in ten thousand felt this was a good idea, possibly even a lot fewer than that. But out of 7 billion or more, that still comes up to be plenty of people.

    So when I wrote about turning the other cheek, I was not thinking at all of living cheek by jowl with the current masses of dreamers as collapse happens. I don’t see that working at all. I think people interested in doing this need to get as far away from concentrations of insane people as they can get. It is the process of getting there that this issue of refusing to be provoked into physical fighting, might sometimes come up.

  • Nicole:

    You wrote regarding annuals versus perennials: “Nature allows for both. So should we.”

    Agreed. I’m not throwing my annuals away. They have a purpose and they perform that purpose well.


    Yep, more alike than different.

    Regarding agribusiness having the where-with-all or desire to push through a change to perennials. I didn’t say I had faith in the process. I just said that’s what it’s going to take to make it happen.

    Regarding perennial grains fitting into Monsanto’s business plan. I’m not a GMO advocate but if Monsanto finds a way to make money marketing such seed, I don’t doubt they’ll have a finger in the pot.

    Good luck with the peaches. They are a zero performer on my place.

  • Sam,

    All my chicks are store bought but are doing well; in fact we will be integrating them into the flock next week. I have had no broody hens this year, which surprises me. I’m glad yours are doing so well. Have fun watching them grow up.

    Michael Irving

  • The day we come to understand that without God there is no Science, and in fact without God there is nothing, that day we will progress.

  • Actually, Arthur, I think your herding suggestion is exceptional. With a couple of good dogs and a small herd of sheep, goats and perhaps a few cattle and a horse or two, a family or small tribe could have a chance. They could even get started now collecting their animals by renting out pasture for a small fee. When things collapse, there will be no need for a fee since ownership will pass to those who can settle an area by force. At that time, one can begin herding and moving as the need arises. It would be a hard life, but all life will be hard then. The negative I see right off is access to fresh water sources and pasture that is not already protected by people laying claim to the best land. You might find yourself pushed around a lot, perhaps even killed for your animals – so again, strength is in numbers.

  • Kathy

    I truly don’t mean this in a bad way, as I think I understand where you come from on this point – but I think you are being irrational about bringing children into the world. If we had to believe that bringing a child into the world was only to end in death, no one would have babies. We would become extinct within a generation. That makes absolutely no sense at all. As Dr. House says the children don’t know necessarily what they are missing even when they suffer. We must bring children into the world before and after the Bottleneck. The future of humanity depends upon that, and I don’t think you will find many folks willing to bring the species to extinction.

  • Kathy,

    Oh, I’m ready to stand and defend. I just don’t think I should be painted as immoral because of that. Defense is different than offense. The New Hampshire motto, “Don’t Tread On Me!” applies. We are approaching difficult times (unless they are already upon you) and I will do what I can to share and teach, but I can see no advantage in complying with a stranger’s demand for the food and resources that might allow me and/or those I am responsible for to survive. If I share what I have that’s my choice. From what I know of H/G groups I think they would agree with that position. The same applied to groups of Native American agriculturalists, too. The same applied to Europeans living on the frontier when the natives tried to eject them from their (the natives’) land. Examples are endless. I think survival is hardwired into mammals. Even a possum, in its non-aggression, is doing everything it knows to survive.

    Michael Irving

  • Victor,

    You mean I have to learn to make soap too? That will have to wait until I finish the class on making toilet paper.

    As for other post-collapse strategies, my daughter and I are starting on a program of guerrilla gardening here in the country. We’ll probably be taking our ideas from the techniques used by the local dope growers. I doubt the government will be reprogramming their infrared equipment to look for sunchokes and rhubarb. I guess perennials have a place in my plans after all.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael

    Soap is good….you’ll need it…..perhaps you already do…. :-)

  • Victor
    I’m not many, but extinction, why not?

    Hmm. Remember as a child imagining – “seeing” – a world without humans. A world functioning within and to its own rules, without the not obeying the rules species, mankind.
    Considering what I know nowadays, the thought feels… somewhat like “eternal” life must be.
    Same as it would feel to me, if this our species was capable of living within the limits, the “eternity” of passing on of generations.
    Feels to me that life in general is somewhat “sacred”,but:
    “We would become extinct within a generation.”
    We should have done this at least one generation ago;-)

    Whether there is mankind or not, what will be the difference, except a relieve for the rest of the species. I too thought there must be ways for mankind as a species to survive. But why? We are obviously such part of evolution – any kind that can’t adapt within sustainability of the whole system – goes, just like that.
    Should I be concerned about the further existence of a species that does utmost to destroy the base of itself, of life in general?
    What hurts to me, is “only” the suffering of the individuals.
    This might sound cynical, it’s not intended, it’s stages of learning to accept.

  • arthur

    helluva an idea.

    couple of movies re herding; or about the losing of such. might be on netflix.

    The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005)

    Disappearing World: Herders of Mongun-Taiga, The Tuvans of Mongolia (Disappearing World Series: Tuva) [VHS] (1994)

    re chicks; got a couple more making it.

  • Well, Bernhard….extinction just might be taken out of our hands anyway…

  • Nebraska Fort Calhoun Plant facing flooding and having had a fire

    Airspace Over Flooded Nebraska Nuclear Power Plant Still Closed
    Ricky Kreitner | Jun. 15, 2011, 4:02 PM | 23,840 | 43

    Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant is an island, but authorities are hoping it stays dry.

    A fire in Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant briefly knocked out the cooling process for spent nuclear fuel rods, ProPublica reports.
    The fire occurred on June 7th, and knocked out cooling for approximately 90 minutes. After 88 hours, the cooling pool would boil dry and highly radioactive materials would be exposed.
    On June 6th, the Federal Administration Aviation (FAA) issued a directive banning aircraft from entering the airspace within a two-mile radius of the plant.
    “No pilots may operate an aircraft in the areas covered by this NOTAM,” referring to the “notice to airmen,” effective immediately.
    Since last week, the plant has been under a “notification of unusual event” classification, becausing of the rising Missouri River. That is the lowest level of emergency alert.
    The OPPD claims the FAA closed airspace over the plant because of the Missouri River flooding. But the FAA ban specifically lists the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant as the location for the flight ban.
    The plant is adjacent to the now-flooding river, about 20 minutes outside downtown Omaha, and has been closed since April for refueling.
    WOWT, the local NBC affiliate, reports on its website:
    “The Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Facility is an island right now but it is one that authorities say is going to stay dry. They say they have a number of redundant features to protect the facility from flood waters that include the aqua dam, earthen berms and sandbags.”
    OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson told Business Insider that the nuclear plant is in a “stable situation.” He said the Missouri River is currently at 1005.6″ above sea level, and that no radioactive fuel had yet been released or was expected to be released in the future.
    Asked about the FAA flight ban, Hanson it was due to high power lines and “security reasons that we can’t reveal.” He said the flight ban remains in effect.
    Here’s a video from last week. The first forty seconds are video that Omaha’s Action 3 News shot of the besieged plant, despite OPPD’s requests that it not do so. The rest of the video is from a radio show in New York reporting on the unfolding events in Nebraska.

    Read more:

  • I won’t concede the moral high ground to you

    Humans are if anything, moral animals. Every person justifies in some way, however forthright or contorted – at least to one’s own self – one’s stance and one’s actions, be it a Hitler or a Gandhi. Others pecceptions in this matter determine the need to advertise it.

    Ultimately, the “moral high ground” is a matter of other’s perceptions, and is rarely if ever conceded by the individual: indeed, even such a concession is perceived by the individual as akin to retaking the “moral high ground”.