The myth of sustainability

I’m couchsurfing Michigan and somebody posted one of my 15 presentations (so far) on YouTube. It’s an updated version of my September 2011 presentation in Middleville, Michigan and I’m presenting here without further comment.


A few recent interviews associated with my tour of Michigan are posted below:

Walking away from empire, Kristine Morris for Grand Traverse Insider, 30 January 2012

Guy McPherson to discuss ‘Stone Age’ future at Muskegon Community College Wednesday, Megan Hart for Muskegon Chronicle, 13 February 2012

Dr. Guy McPherson, making the case for living off-grid in Ypsilanti, Mark Maynard, 18 February 2012

Yammerin’ interview: dragon party, Penny O’Krebiehl, 21 February 2012

Yammerin’ interview #2: self-improvement, Penny O’Krebiehl, 22 February 2012

Comments 37

  • Thank you for spreading the message.

  • Wow. The crowd looks really engrossed! Maybe they would feel more comfortable paying attention if you added some funny commercials, you know, to let them know that they are watching what the in-crowd is watching. I heard Paula Abdul is looking for a new job. Not sure she can spell sustainability, –but you’re a teacher, right?

  • It’s Official – Greece Unveils The Negative Salary, And A Whole New Meaning For “Pay To Play”
    Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/22/2012 09:07 -0500

    We thought we had seen it all. It turns out we hadn’t. The country that gave the world the alphabet, philosophy, and plates with funny sexually ambiguous drawing s on them, has outdone itself again. Because beginning this month some Greeks will have to pay for the privilege of having a job. From the Press Project:

    Salary cutbacks (called “unified payroll”) for contract workers at the public sector set to be finalized today. Cuts to be valid retroactively since november 2011. Expected result: Up to 64.000 people will work without salary this month, or even be asked to return money. Amongst them 21.000 teachers, 13.000 municipal employees and 30.000 civil servants.
    Needless to say the BLS is salivating at the prospect of US workers paying for a job, as this will immediately allow them to double count said person’s role in the employed part of the labor force (which incidentally has shrunk by 1% in the time it took to write this), as the money said “worker” pays can be used in the BLS hedonic models to theoretically hire many more people courtesy of fractional reserve lending. Now if only everyone would agree to pay for the joy of playing Solitaire 9 to 5, then all the world’s problems would be solved.

  • Guy, Thank you very much for putting this talk up. It was great to hear you speak; I think your presentation style is getting better!

    With regards to recycling at the local level, all materials that enter the community from outside should be composted, recycled or ‘down-cycled’ for local use. This effectively creates a source of materials for the community to use. We have a Habitat Store here that accepts left over or salvaged building materials. Why not do the same for cardboard boxes, glass bottles, etc.? We have to get rid of the idea of ‘waste.’

    Besides, without cheap fuel, there won’t be any international markets for recycling anyway; there’s not enough profit in it. Local communities could even tax or pass ordinances to prohibit the importation of non-reycleable materials as this becomes a burden (disposal fee and environmental cost) to the community.

    I really liked the comment at the 1:02:00 mark about ‘not letting us go there.’ How true, and yet no one forces us to buy plastic crap from Wal*mart or ToysRUs. We can ‘get there’ by simply not purchasing these things.

    Safe travels,


  • Guy.

    Good see you still spreading the word but did I hear you say the pre-induistrial level of CO2 was 250ppm? And did I hear you not count oil from Canadian tar sands as imports into the USA?

    From the Guardian, the implosion continues:

    Oil hits sterling record on Iran fearsAnalysts said a growing boycott of supplies from Iran, which is Opec’s second largest producer, had encouraged traders to hoard oil contracts at higher prices

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    Phillip Inman, economics correspondent, Wednesday 22 February 2012 17.31 GMT Article history About this articleClose

    Oil hits sterling record on Iran fears

    This article was published on at 17.31 GMT on Wednesday 22 February 2012. A version appeared on p28 of the Main section section of the Guardian on Thursday 23 February 2012. It was last modified at 18.33 GMT on Wednesday 22 February 2012.

    Oil prices have hit a record high amid fears over an attack on Iran. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

    Oil prices reached a record high in sterling on Wednesday as jitters over a possible attack on Iran outweighed concerns that slowing export orders in China and the eurozone crisis could jeopardise global growth. The cost of Brent crude hit $121.92 a barrel, or £77.71, beating a sterling record set last year at the height of the Libyan war.

    US crude hit a nine-month high of $106 a barrel this week, though it slipped slightly in trading on Wednesday night. The highest price recorded in dollars was $147 in July 2008, when the pound was stronger against the greenback.

    Analysts said a growing boycott of supplies from Iran, which is Opec’s second largest producer, had encouraged traders to hoard oil contracts at higher prices.

    Prices have risen steadily over the last fortnight following a growing dispute between Iran and the UN over allegations that the Middle Eastern state is close to developing nuclear weapons. The UN’s nuclear watchdog was forced to quit Iran earlier this month after talks on Tehran’s atomic research broke down.

    Russia warned Israel not to attack Iran over its nuclear programme, saying on Wednesday that military action would have catastrophic consequences.

    Unable to act through the UN in the face of Russian resistance, the US has encouraged a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil and sanctions against its banks, but has stopped short of backing military action.

    “Iran is still the main issue; it’s keeping prices very well supported,” said Andy Sommer, an analyst at EGL in Dietikon, Switzerland.

    The jump in the oil market comes after the UK price of diesel reached a record 143p a litre last week and amid accusations in Europe and the US that high fuel prices are the result of a dysfunctional market.

    UK refiners have come under fire for pushing up the price of fuel to maintain margins squeezed by falling demand. Most UK refiners are debt-laden independent operators struggling to repay debts in a period of declining sales.

    Coryton, the Thames estuary refinery owned by Swiss oil group Petroplus, recently went bankrupt after it was unable to run at full capacity. Coryton is expected to return to capacity after a rescue bid, but could still struggle.

    Demand has fallen across Europe and Asia following a slowdown in economic growth. Figures showing China’s manufacturing sector contracted in February for a fourth straight month added to the gloom in the euro area, and stirred fears about fuel demand in the world’s second-largest oil user.

    Evidence that the poor economic situation is having a direct impact on the fuel market came from Singapore Airlines, which cut its cargo capacity by 20% as persistent weakness in demand and high jet-fuel prices piled pressure on its profitability.

    A high oil price was behind the sharp jump in UK inflation last year to above 5%. A rise this year could undermine George Osborne’s hopes of a recovery. Officials in Spain, Italy and Greece are also watching the oil price closely because they are major importers, especially of Iranian crude, and are vulnerable to increased costs.

    Several analysts have argued the deal struck between Brussels and Athens could be endangered by a further slump in Greek economic output following a sharp rise in oil prices.

    The eurozone’s service sector shrank unexpectedly this month, reviving fears that the economy could sink into recession, Markit’s Eurozone Services Purchasing Managers’ Index showed on Wednesday.

  • Wild plums and strawberries are in bloom, have been for over a week. I have yet to see a pollinator on them. Tomorrow is supposed to be 77 degrees. Maybe the heat will bring them out. I need to try to remember to look midday. Where the blooms have fallen of the strawberries I don’t see any start of fruit. Could the pollinators still be going by length of day while the early bloomers are responding to warm temps. Worrisome.

  • Another example of why ‘sustainability’ is unattainable from Steve Ludlum’s ‘Economic Undertow’ blog:

    “The industrialists are problematic because their enterprises do not pay for themselves, they require endless credit subsidies. This is what ‘debtonomics’ means. Industrial enterprises do not support themselves, they use credit to survive at the expense of everything else.”

    In other words, we cannot have a ‘sustainable’ society based on industrial manufacturing that requires access to expanding amounts of credit for production and consumption by consumers. You run out of materials before you run out of ficticious ways to pay for it. The end of industrial civilization was born the day it was created.

  • Jb, so true, and I might add that thanks to advanced technology this civilization has been able to more thoroughly rape the planet before meeting its inevitable doom.

  • Kathy, I’ve noticed the same thing on our strawberries as well. I was hoping that it was just me not looking close enough. I have seen bumblebees and butterflies working, no honeybees though. Oh, and Kathy, I got a 7-month old Buff Orp rooster today, a big boy at 10 lbs. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in him, but I’m hoping his size alone will be something of a deterrent to raptors. We’ll see.

    Terrific wind here today.

  • Christopher, Buff Orph added some fine blood to our mix, but we only had hens. Warm and windy here today too. But I did see a fine mix of pollinators on one of the wild plums and that was heartening. I also saw one lone carpenter bee in the garden. They are hard on wood, but are busy guys in the garden. Our honey bee population has been low of recent years but we have so many other pollinators that I hadn’t been worried until this spring. Wild weather…..

  • Nymex Crude Future 108.62 2.34 2.20% 16:57
    Dated Brent Spot 126.02 2.59 2.10% 17:09

  • Beware the ides of March…

  • guy, i’ve had trouble downloading this video. first i tried using the direct link provided. i think i paused it around 1/2 hr in and when i returned the link had been interrupted. i couldn’t retrieve it either. so i relinked to nbl and tried again from the beginning, only this time i tried the youtube link. that one spontaneously interrupted about 11 minutes in this time. i often have such troubles with links, maybe it’s my computer/ignorance. at any rate, the part i watched impressed me powerfully as usual. u’re a damned good public speaker imo for what it’s worth (not much/enough, i’m afraid). u know your stuff (although u are prone, as practically everyone is imo to occasional errors, ranging from petty to egregious). u’re composed, relaxed, fluid, engaging, discussing matters of the utmost importance/difficulty. in this crazy world u’re a rare truth seeker/perceiver/speaker. u tell the truth about the most important issues sheople face in the year 2012, of the imminent threat of catastrophic economic/’resource’ collapse, followed by all remaining earth ecosystems, the threat of our own extinction, with runaway positive feedback agw the coup de grace. i disagree with u on some things, but they pale in the light of what we agree on and my enormous respect/admiration for your ability/work/sacrifice.

    i’d like to post a link to one of your best essays or talks to my local green party listserve which goes out to about 40 locals, and ask for feedback from anyone who’d like for u to give a talk to us. see if there’s enough interest to make it happen if u’re willing and able while u’re out this way in early april. i’m not nearly as familiar with the body of your work as u are, particularly before i began reading this blog regularly less than 2 years ago. u should choose/recommend the particular essay or talk that’s among your personal favorites for such a link. can/will u do so?

    perhaps i should severely reduce volitional exposure to corporate brain dead ‘mainstream’ media, particularly on tv. i still watch corporate ‘news’ even though it mainly just confirms on a daily basis what i already know about this orwellian nightmarishly dogmatic civilization.

    take this evenings news on 2 different major networks. both top headline items concerned the recent sharp run up in gas prices. both came up with bullshit re. what’s causing it and what should be done about it. ridiculous accusations about ‘wall street’ speculators being responsible, including the claim that this speculation increases the cost by 22% were made. ridiculous proposals were put forth about how to get a handle on the situation, so as not to derail the sacred train of ‘economic recovery’. lol.

    i’m afraid that society in general is too far down the road of insanity for any effective intervention at this point. collapse is imminent, with extinction likely coming in it’s wake. few if any are reacting to this awful surreality better than our guy.

  • i should have just said ‘guy’, not ‘our guy’. sorry about that.

  • The 23rd of February in Northeast Arkansas. High was 78.

    My clinic is located in a metal building with virtually no windows. We had to turn on the air conditioning this afternoon. In February. I was used to that in Florida. But not here.

    Hard to believe, though, we didn’t set a record. We did tie the one set in 1996.

  • guy, i was just able to listen to the rest of your talk in the link above, eliciting the following comments/questions:

    i’m not nearly as sanguine/’optimistic’ as u about how americans in general will react when shit meets fan full force. i suspect there may be as much or maybe more fighting/violence than cooperation. u brought up dimitri and the soviet collapse. shouldn’t the enormous diversity of a place like america work against cooperation?

    another thing: u might stress more the desirability of seeking community as far removed from cities/civilization as possible. imo the more remote the better.

    very good idea to provide audience members with questions with a mic. so they can be heard by all, including listeners on the ‘net. however several still were hard to understand. probably nothing u can do about that.

    looked like u had a decent sized audience in that small muskegon room, several dozen sheople. what percentage typically do u think become fans of yours or followers of this blog after listening to u in person?

    and what of corporate media coverage, particularly local tv? how often at your talks has it been arranged to get such coverage of your event? if u have been covered, have u known what the ‘reporters’ have said about u and your message, or don’t u care, figuring it’s always going to be negative because they don’t want to believe the message?

  • i didn’t think to mention what may be the greatest factor working against american cooperation during collapse, that being the extreme inequality. the haves will be fighting to keep their wealth. the have nots will be fighting for survival.

    also neglected to say how impressive u are at responding to audience questions. the knowledge at your command.

  • tvt.

    Agreed on most of what you wrote.

    The corporate media have to churn out propaganda and misinformation. Their continued existence [in the short term]is dependent on keeping the masses dumbed-down and believing that consumerism and industrialism have a future. It’s little different anywhere in the western world.

  • VT – and among the have nots the races will be fighting – at least here in the south – I’ve already heard a neighbor saying so and it sounded like he was ready and eager to participate. I keep trying to direct people to who they should really be ready to fight, to little avail.

  • The humans in the rubble of the former Soviet Union had COMMUNITY. perhaps form local cultural and ethnic homogeneity. Perhaps from the generations-long “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” indoctrination.

    Some cultural and ethnic homogeneity may be found in the former united States of America, among such groups as Mormons, Mennonites, Amish, Hmong, Native Americans / First Nations, etc. But all of them put together would sadly amount to a small minority. The lack of a long cultural history and the ethnic diversity enabled a vertical (top-down) realignment of loyalties and the severing of lateral ties in this country more effectively than any socialist (communist or fascict) regime could even dream of elsewhere. Social programs (“entitlements”) enabled individuals to forsake community and pursue the new ideal of “individualism”.

    Rebuilding community may take much longer than it takes the social programs to unwind. The hiatus should serve up many great plots suitable for mass entertainment. Regrettably though, the demands for such entertainment may by that time have been elbowed aside by the demands for water, food, body temperature maintenance, and security/community.

  • Community action – pictures like this, of crowds enjoying seeing blacks hung were made into postcards to send to friends further increasing the bonds of feeling tribal community.
    “Eighty years ago, two young African-American men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, were lynched in the town center of Marion, Ind. The night before, on Aug. 6, 1930, they had been arrested and charged with the armed robbery and murder of a white factory worker, Claude Deeter, and the rape of his companion, Mary Ball.

    That evening, local police were unable to stop a mob of thousands from breaking into the jail with sledgehammers and crowbars to pull the young men out of their cells and lynch them.

    News of the lynching spread across the world. Local photographer Lawrence Beitler took what would become the most iconic photograph of lynching in America. The photograph shows two bodies hanging from a tree surrounded by a crowd of ordinary citizens, including women and children. Thousands of copies were made and sold. The photograph helped inspire the poem and song “Strange Fruit” written by Abel Meeropol — and performed around the world by Billie Holiday.”

    Anyone who thinks this is all in the past is out of touch. Its brewing deep in the heart of dixie for sure.

  • Creeping slowly towards mayhem:

    Nymex Crude Future 109.66
    Dated Brent Spot 126.93

  • Hi Guy,
    I enjoy your talks, especially the ones about your permaculture homestead.

    One thing that I notice is that unfortunately you are making the same mistake that most Americans do – you take your wishes for reality.
    Even if the best chance for the future would be to disassemble the industrial civilization, that does not mean it will happen (at least not fast). There are a lot of negative feedback mechanisms in place that will keep this civilization going even when half of the world population has starved to death. Remember that civilization is mostly abstractions (money, religion etc). This abstractions have proved very enduring – think about Germany at the end of the war or China during the “Great Leap Forward”. Millions of people starved, most of the others suffered enormously but the structures of government persisted.

    I sympathize with your desire for quick change but that won’t happen. It’s better to focus your energy on educating other people that might want to improve their lives and the world a bit. Please talk more about gardening, homesteading and community!

  • Thanks, everybody, for the comments and questions. With apologies for the delayed response, I’m back in the southwestern U.S. and I’ll try to pay a bit more attention.

    Kevin Moore asked: “I hear you say the pre-induistrial level of CO2 was 250ppm? And did I hear you not count oil from Canadian tar sands as imports into the USA?”

    Yes, you probably heard correctly on both counts. The first is obviously an error, and I probably misspoke (pre-industrial CO2 level was about 280 ppm). In the latter case, I pointed out that most people count Canadian tar sands as U.S. domestic supply (because of a treaty between the countries).

    the virgin terry asked:

    “shouldn’t the enormous diversity of a place like america work against cooperation?

    Orlov writes, and I agree, that Americans tend to come together during catastrophe (unlike the Soviets, according to Orlov).

    “u might stress more the desirability of seeking community as far removed from cities/civilization as possible. imo the more remote the better.”

    I agree, though I temper the message when speaking to people living in cities. Nonetheless, I think my feelings are pretty apparent on this issue.

    “looked like u had a decent sized audience in that small muskegon room, several dozen sheople. what percentage typically do u think become fans of yours or followers of this blog after listening to u in person?”

    There were about 200 in the Muskegon audience, and I spoke to about 600 on the tour. I don’t have any evidence regarding fans or followers, but I suspect the percentage is very small and probably insignificant.

    “and what of corporate media coverage, particularly local tv? how often at your talks has it been arranged to get such coverage of your event? if u have been covered, have u known what the ‘reporters’ have said about u and your message, or don’t u care, figuring it’s always going to be negative because they don’t want to believe the message?”

    Three organizations filmed the Muskegon presentation: a local cable station, the campus news outlet, and Occupy Muskegon. This is rare. I work hard to get an event recorded, and this is the second time it’s occurred. I follow news about me via internet search every few days, and the reporting typically is negative. Occasionally, somebody writes a balanced article that doesn’t make me resemble an insane terrorist. The current of the mainstream is powerful.

  • lame-stream.

  • Tom Lehrer – Pollution
    50 60 years later, we are still at it.

  • Hi Guy I’m a big fan of your work but I think this is overly optimistic. Psychopathy has always been a major factor in human affairs and still will be once the industrial economy breaks down.

    Psychopaths are incorrigible and tend to corrupt and pervert everything no matter how good the initial intentions are of the non-psychopathic humans. Psychopaths can recognize each other in a crowd in early childhood apparently, they are fully aware of being different from “normal” humans even as children, therefore they tend to band together to rape and pillage and do other bad things.

    I predict human societies will descend back into warlordism with mini empires of subjugated people providing the warlords and their men with food etc. Bands of psychopathic bandits are not going to leave you alone in your local cooperative anarchist community unmolested, they are going to shake you down for food at the very least and will probably force you to hand your women over to them to use them for sexual gratification. Either you will be strong enough to repel them or one such group will eventually be successful in overpowering you and will subjugate you.

    What about the millitary? They will be highly trained killers and they will still have all their firearms with access to plenty of ammo caches, they would be formidable predators.

    I think the future will resemble the Mad Max, Terminator movies, then again I am a bit of a pessimist as you might’ve gathered.