Archive for the ‘the future’ tag
Three weeks before he died, Mac was a guest on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. He was a breath of fresh air on a radio show bogged down with the dubious. During his time on the air, he clearly and engagingly explained his take on a wide variety of subjects. As always, he spoke with remarkable clarity.
He was a welcome guest on a wide variety of esoteric podcasts, but his performance on C2C was particularly impressive. He beautifully conveys his insights to a very mainstream audience. He had a way of articulating exactly what I felt in my bones. He said it better and clearer than I ever could. A great intro to anyone unfamiliar with his work. If you listen, you’ll be treated to a remarkable set of ideas. This show was aired the night of September 28th, 2009.
One hour, 48 minutes
I came upon Dmitry Orlov’s writings—as with most good things on the Internet—by letting chance and curiosity guide me from link to link. It was one of those moments of clarity when a large number of confusing questions find their answer along with their correct formulation. For example, the existence of fundamental similarities between the Soviet Union and the United States was for me a vague intuition, but I was unable to draw up a detailed list as Dmitry has done. One must have lived in two crumbling empires in order to be able to do that.
I must say that my enthusiasm was not shared by those around me, with whom I have shared my translations. It’sonly natural: who wants to hear how our world of material comfort,opportunity and unstoppable individual progress is about to collapse under the weight of its own expansion? Certainly not the post-war generation weaned on the exuberant growth of the postwar boom (1945-1973),well established in their lives of average consumers since the 1980s,and willing to enjoy a hedonistic age while remaining convinced that despite the economic tragedies ravaging society around them, their grandchildren will benefit from more or less the same well-padded,industrialized lifestyle. The generation of their children is more receptive to the notion of economic decline—though to varying degrees, depending on the decrease of their purchasing power and how lethally bored they feel at work (if they can find any).
It would be wrong to shoot the messenger who brings bad news. If you read Dmitry carefully, scrupulously separating the factual bad news, which are beyond his control, from his views on what can be done to survive and live in a post-industrial world, you will find evidence of strong optimism. I hope that in this he is right.
Whatever our views on peak oil and its consequences—or our distate for scary prophecies—we can find in Dmitry Orlov fresh ideas on how to conduct our lives in a degraded economic and political environment, reasons to seek fruitful relations with people you might not normally cherry-pick, or the most effective approach to the frustrating political and media chatter and the honeyed whisper of commercial propaganda (shrug, turn around and go on with your life).
Tancrède BastiéTB: What difference do you see between American and European close future?DO: European countries are historical entities that still hold vestiges of allegiances beyond the monetized, corporate realm, while the United States was started as a corporate entity, based on a revolution that was essentially a tax revolt and thus has no fall-back. The European population is less transient than in America, with a stronger sense of regional belonging and are more likely to be acquainted with their neighbors and to be able to find a common language and to find solutions to common problems.
Probably the largest difference, and the one most promising for fruitful discussion, is in the area of local politics. European political life may be damaged by money politics and free market liberalism, but unlike in the United States,it does not seem completely brain-dead. At least I hope that it isn’t completely dead; the warm air coming out of Brussels is often indistinguishable from the vapor vented by Washington, but better things might happen on the local level. In Europe there is something of a political spectrum left, dissent is not entirely futile, and revolt is not entirely suicidal. In all, the European political landscape may offer many more possibilities for relocalization, for demonitization of human relationships, for devolution to more local institutions and support systems, than the United States.
TB: Will American collapse delay European collapse or accelerate it?DO: There are many uncertainties to how events might unfold, but Europe is at least twice as able to weather the next, predicted oil shock as the United States. Once petroleum demand in the US collapses following a hard crash, Europe will for a time, perhaps for as long as a decade, have the petroleum resources it needs, before resource depletion catches up with demand.
The relative proximity to Eurasia’s large natural gas reserves should also prove to be a major safeguard against disruption, in spite of toxic pipeline politics. The predicted sudden demise of the US dollar will no doubt be economically disruptive, but in the slightly longer term the collapse of the dollar system will stop the hemorrhaging of the world’s savings into American risky debt and unaffordable consumption. This should boost the fortunes of Eurozone countries and also give some breathing space to the world’s poorer countries.
TB: How does Europe compare to the United States and the former Soviet Union, collapse-wise?DO: Europe is ahead of the United States in all the key Collapse Gap categories, such as housing,transportation, food, medicine, education and security. In all these areas, there is at least some system of public support and some elements of local resilience. How the subjective experience of collapse will compare to what happened in the Soviet Union is something we will all have to think about after the fact. One major difference is that the collapse of the USSR was followed by a wave of corrupt and even criminal privatization and economic liberalization,which was like having an earthquake followed by arson, whereas I do not see any horrible new economic system on the horizon that is ready to be imposed on Europe the moment it stumbles. On the other hand,the remnants of socialism that were so helpful after the Soviet collapse are far more eroded in Europe thanks to the recent wave of failed experiments of market liberalization.
TB: How does peak oil interact with peak gas and peak coal? Should we care about other peaks?DO: The various fossil fuels are not interchangeable. Oil provides the vast majority of transport fuels,without which commerce in developed economies comes to a standstill.Coal is important for providing for the base electric load in many countries (not France, which relies on nuclear). Natural gas(methane) provides ammonia fertilizer for industrial agriculture, and also provides thermal energy for domestic heating, cooking and numerous manufacturing processes.
All of these supplies are past their peaks in most countries, and are either past or approaching their peaks globally.
About a quarter of all the oil is still being produced from a handful of super-giant oil fields which were discovered several decades ago. The productive lives of these fields have been extended by techniques such as in-fill drilling and water injection. These techniques allow the resource to be depleted more fully and more quickly, resulting in a much steeper decline: the oil turns to water, slowly at first, then all at once. The super-giant Cantarell field in the Gulf of Mexico is a good example of such rapid depletion, and Mexico does not have many years left as an oil exporter. Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest oil producer after Russia, is very secretive about its fields, but it is telltale that they have curtailed oil field development and are investing in solar technology.
Although there is currently an attemp tto represent as a break-through the new (in reality, not so new) hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques for producing natural gas from geological formations, such as shale, that were previously considered insufficiently porous, this is, in reality, a financial play. The effort is too expensive in terms of both technical requirements and environmental damage to pay for itself, unless the price of natural gas rises to the point where it starts to cause economic damage, which suppresses demand.
Coal was previously thought to be very abundant, with hundreds of years of supply left at current levels.However, these estimates have been reassessed in recent years, and it would appear that the world’s largest coal producer, China, is quite close to its peak. Since it is coal that has directly fueled the recent bout of Chinese economic growth, this implies that Chinese economic growth is at an end, with severe economic, social and political dislocations to follow. The US relies on coal for close to half of its electricity generation, and is likewise unable to increase the use of this resource. Most of the energy-dense anthracite has been depleted in the US, and what is being produced now, through environmentally destructive techniques such as mountaintop removal, is much lower grades of coal. The coal is slowly turning to dirt. At a certain point in time coal will cease to provide an energy gain: digging it up, crushing it and transporting it to a power plant will become a net waste of energy.
It is essential to appreciate the fact that it is oil, and the transport fuels produced from it, that enables all other types of economic activity. Without diesel for locomotives, coal cannot be transported to power plants, the electric grid goes down, and all economic activity stops. It is also essential to understand that even minor shortfalls in the availability of transport fuels have severe economic knock-on effects. These effects are exacerbated by the fact that it is economic growth, not economicdécroissance [Fr., “de-growth”] (which seems inevitable, given the factors described above) that forms the basis of all economic and industrial planning.Modern industrial economies, at the financial, political and technological level, are not designed for shrinkage, or even for steady state. Thus, a minor oil crisis (such as the recent steady increase in the price of oil punctuated by severe price spikes)results in a sociopolitical calamity.
Lastly, it bears mentioning that fossil fuels are really only useful in the context of an industrial economy that can make use of them. An industrial economy that is in an advanced state of decay and collapse can neither produce nor make use of the vast quantities of fossil fuels that are currently burned up daily. There is no known method of scaling industry down to boutique size, to serve just the needs of the elite, or to provide life support to social, financial and political institutions that co-evolved with industry in absence of industry. It also bears pointing out that fossil fuel use was very tightly correlated with human population size on the way up, and is likely to remain so on the way down. Thus, it may not be necessary to look too far past the peak in global oil production to see major disruption of global industry, which will make other fossil fuels irrelevant.
TB: How is post-collapse Russia doing ? Ready for its second peak ?DO: Russia remains the world’s largest oil producer. Although it has been unable to grow its conventional oil production, it has recently claimed that it can double its oil endowment by drilling offshore in the melting Arctic. Russia is and remains Europe’s second largest energy asset. In spite of toxic pipeline politics (which have recently been remedied somewhat by the construction of the Nordstream gas pipeline across the Baltic) it has historically been the single most reliable European energy supplier,and shows every intention of remaining so into the future.
TB: Is there hope for a safe,harmless European decline, or is any industrial society just bound to collapse at once when fuel runs out?DO: The severity of collapse will depend on how quickly societies can scale down their energy use,curtail their reliance on industry, grow their own food, go back to manual methods of production for fulfilling their immediate needs,and so forth. It is to be expected that large cities and industrial centers will depopulate the fastest. On the other hand, remote,land-locked, rural areas will not have the local resources to reboot into a post-industrial mode. But there is hope for small-to-middling towns that are surrounded by arable land and have access to a waterway. To see what will be survivable, one needs to look at ancient and medieval settlement patterns, ignoring places that became overdeveloped during the industrial era. Those are the places to move to, to ride out the coming events.
TB: I remember my grandmother telling me about the German occupation, when urban and suburban dwellers flocked into country towns every Sunday with empty cases, eager too find some food to buy from the local farmers, hoping back in a train the same day. Is there any advantage in living in a city,in a post-collapse era, rather than in the countryside?DO: Surviving in the countryside requires a different mindset, and different set of skills than surviving in a town or a city. Certainly, most of our contemporaries,who spend their days manipulating symbols, and expect to be fed fo rdoing so, would not survive when left to their own devices in the countryside. On the other hand, even those living in the countryside are currently missing much of the know-how they once had fo rsurviving without industrial supplies, and lack the resources to reconstitute it in a crisis. There could be some fruitful collaboration between them, given sufficient focus and preparation.
TB: Can we grow sufficient food with low technology, low energy methods, out of highly exhausted, highly polluted farmland ? It seems we might end up in a worse farming situation than our ancestors just two or three generations ago.DO: That is certainly true. Add global warming, which is already causing severe soil erosion due to torrential rains and floods, droughts and heat waves in other areas.It is likely that agriculture as it has existed for the past ten thousand years will become ineffective in many areas. However, there are other techniques for growing food, which involve setting up stable ecosystems consisting of many species of plants and animals,including humans, living together synergistically. What will of necessity be left behind is the current system, where fertilizers and pesticides are spread out on tilled dirt (rather than living soil) to kill everything but one organism (a cash crop) which is the nmechanically harvested, processed, ingested, excreted, and flushed into the ocean. This system is already encountering a hard limit in the availability of phosphate fertilizer. But it is possible to create closed cycle systems, where nutrients stay on the land and are allowed to build up over time. The key to post-industrial human survival, it turns out, is in making proper use of human excrement and urine.
TB: If cities or big towns survive collapse, what will be their core activities? What do we need cities for?DO: The size of towns and cities is proportional to the surplus that the countryside is able to produce.This surplus has become gigantic during the period of industrial development, where one or two percent of the population is able to feed the rest. In a post-industrial world, where two-thirds of the population is directly involved in growing or gathering food, there will be many fewer people who will be able to live on agricultural surplus. The activities that are typically centralized are those that have to do with long-range transportation (sail ports) and manufacturing (mills and manufactures powered by waterwheels). Some centers of learning may also remain, although much of contemporary higher education, which involves training young people for occupations which will no longer exist, is sure to fall by the wayside.
TB: Some Americans view peak oil and collapse as another investment opportunity. You already wrote on the fallacies of the faith in money. That leaves a more useful question:what can people do of their savings during or preferably before collapse? What can you buy that is truly useful? I assume the answer vary greatly according to how much money you still have.DO: This is a very important question.While there is still time, money should be converted to commodity items that will remain useful even after the industrial based isappears. These commodities can be stockpiled in containers and are sure to lose their value more slowly than any paper asset. One example is hand implements for performing manual labor, to provide essential services that are currently performed by mechanized labor.Another is materials that will be needed to bring back essential post-industrial services such as sail-based transportation: materials such as synthetic fibre rope and sail cloth need to be stockpiled beforehand to ease the transition.
TB: You don’t mention arable land or housing. Do you think some kind of real property may turn out a valuable post-collapse asset, assuming you can afford them without drowning into debt, or is it too much financial and fiscal liability in our pre-collapse era to be of any use?DO: The laws and customs that govern real property are not helpful or conducive to the right kind of change. As the age of mechanized agriculture comes to an end, we should expect there to be large tracts of fallow land. It won’t matter too much who owns them, on paper, since the owner is unlikely to be able to make productive use of large fields without mechanized labor. Other patterns of occupying the landscape will have to emerge,of necessity, such as small plots tended by families, for subsistence. Absentee landlords (those who hold title to land without actually physically residing on it but using it as a financial asset)are likely to be simply run off once the financial and mechanical amplifiers of their feeble physical energies are no longer available to them. I expect several decades more of fruitless efforts to grow cash crops on increasingly depleted land using increasingly unaffordable and unreliable mechanical and chemical farming techniques. These efforts will increasingly lead to failure due to climate disruption, causing food prices to spike and robbing the population of their savings in a downward spiral. The new patterns of subsisting off the land will take time to emerge, but this process can be accelerated by people who pool resources, buy up, lease, or simply occupy small tracts of land, and practice permaculture techniques. Community gardens, guerilla gardening efforts, planting wild edibles using seed balls, seasonal camps for growing and gathering food, and other humble and low-key arrangements can pave the way towards something bigger, allowing some groups of people to avoid the most dismal scenario.
TB: How can people make preparations for collapse or decline without losing connections with their current social environment, friends, relatives, jobs or customers, and everything around them that still function as usual. That is a question about sanity as much as practicality.DO: This is perhaps the most difficult question. The level of alienation in developed industrial societies,in Europe, North America and elsewhere, is quite staggering. People are only able to form lasting friendships in school, and are unable to become close with people thereafter with the possible exception of romantic involvements, which are often fleeting. By a certain age people become set in their ways, develop manners specific to their class, and their interactions with others become scripted and limited to socially sanctioned, commercial modes. A far-reaching,fundamental transition, such as the one we are discussing, is impossible without the ability to improvise, to be flexible—in effect, to be able to abandon who you have been and to change who you are in favor of what the moment demands. Paradoxically, it is usually the young and the old, who have nothing to lose, who do the best, and it is the successful, productive people between 30 and 60 who do the worst. It takes a certain detachment from all that is abstract and impersonal, and a personal approach to everyone around you, to navigate the new landscape.
The Michael Ruppert Podcast
Mike shares his thoughts on what the future holds. Was H.G. Wells right when he penned his dystopian epic The Time Machine? Mike takes your questions and comments on the matter.
by John Michael Greer
The logic applied in last week’s post to photovoltaic solar power can be applied more generally to a fairly wide range of technologies that can, under the right circumstances, provide a modest supply of electricity to power those things for which electricity is really the most sensible power source. I want to talk about a couple of those in tthe weeks to come, partly for the sake of completeness, partly because the options I have in mind offer some distinct advantages, and partly because touching on a series of examples will make it easier to grasp certain common themes that aren’t often addressed on those rare occasions when discussions of the future of technology manage to make it out of the realm of popular mythology in the first place.I don’t mean that last comment as a joke, by the way. If mythology can be defined as the set of stories that people in a given society use to make sense of the universe and themselves, contemporary beliefs about the future of technology in the cultural mainstream of the industrial world fill that role, doubled, tripled, and in spades.
Those of my readers who have come to take the challenge of peak oil seriously, and tried to discuss it with family members, coworkers, and friends who haven’t yet grappled with the issues themselves, can testify just how forcefully most of these latter cling to the belief that some technological gimmick or other will bail us out. Technology, for a great people nowadays, is their source of meaning and their hope of salvation. Most liberals, conservatives, atheists, and plenty of people who think they belong to some other religion all put their trust in the great god Progress and wait prayerfully for him to bring a future that, they insist, must be better than the present. However poorly founded that faith may be, it plays an immensely important role in today’s industrial cultures, and the death of Progress in our time thus bids fair to deal the same shattering blow to our present certainties that the death of God announced by Nietzche measured out to the equally comfortably certainties of the nineteenth century. If anything, the approaching experience may be the harsher of the two. What Nietzche was saying, stripped of his ornate imagery, was that the people of Europe in his time no longer believed in the Christian myths and doctrines they claimed to accept, and needed to own up to the anthropocentric cult of power that had become their actual religion.
That may have been true; still, it’s one thing to realize that you no longer believe things you were raised to think were good and right and true; it’s quite another, and far more devastating, to believe in something with all your heart and have it disproved right in front of your eyes. The religion of progress claims to be justified by works, not faith; during the three centuries or so of technological expansion, the apparent confirmation of the myth gave it immense strength; as the age of progress ends and we enter on three centuries or more of technological regress, the resulting body blow to our culture’s fondest beliefs and hopes will dominate the cultural psychology of an age.It’s the effort to avoid that profoundly unwelcome experience that drives current attempts to insist that we can maintain our contemporary lifestyles, and even provide them to the population of the world’s nonindustrialized (and never to be industrialized) countries, using renewable energy sources. That same effort drives plenty of other exercises in futility, to be sure, and many of them are a good deal more dysfunctional than the dream of a world of middle class comforts powered by wind turbines and solar panels. Still, if we’re going to get beyond the mythology of a dying religion and talk about the future in more useful terms, it’s crucial to start by owning up to the fact that renewable sources are not going to allow anyone to maintain the kind of extravagant energy-wasting lifestyle that most people in the industrial world think of as normal.What they can do instead is rather more valuable.
There are certain technologies that are either dependent on electricity, or are easiest to provide using electricity, that contribute mightily to human welfare. (Long range radio communication is an example of the first kind; refrigeration for food storage is an example of the second.) If these technologies can get through the present crisis in a sustainable form, they will contribute to human welfare as far into the future as you care to look. Renewable energy sources that provide a modest amount of electricity on a local scale can keep a good many of these technologies going, and if enough people here and now either learn how to build and maintain renewable systems on that scale, on the one hand, or learn how to build and maintain the technologies themselves on the same modest and local scale, on the other, our civilization may actually accomplish the surprisingly rare feat of adding something worthwhile to the long-term toolkit of our species.The modest amount and the local scale are vital to any such project. Right now, anyone with a fairly good set of hand tools and a good general knowledge of electricity, carpentry, and metalworking can build a wind turbine for a few hundred dollars. I can say this with some confidence because I helped do exactly that, for a good deal less, while at college in the early 1980s. The turbine itself was basically a two-blade propeller cut, shaped, and sanded from a block of fir; the conversion of rotary motion to electricity was done by an alternator salvaged from an old truck; the tail that kept it facing into the wind, the safety shutoff that swung it out of the path of the wind when the wind velocity got too high, and the tricky doodad that allowed it to turn freely while still getting electricity down to the batteries in the little shed at the base, were all fabricated out of scrap parts and sheet metal.
We used a disused power pole to put the turbine up where the wind blew freely, but if that hadn’t been there, an octet truss tower – one of Bucky Fuller’s better designs – could easily have been put together out of readily available hardware and bolted onto a hand-poured concrete foundation. The design wasn’t original, not by a long shot; half a dozen old appropriate tech books from the Seventies have the same design or its kissing cousin, and it’s one of a half dozen or so standard designs that came out of the ferment of those years. The most important difference was between horizontal axis from vertical axis models. A horizontal axis wind turbine is the kind most people think of, with blades like a propeller facing into the wind and a tail or some other gimmick to pivot it around in the right direction. A vertical axis wind turbine is less familiar these days, though you used to see examples all over the place back in the day; the business end looked either like one side of an eggbeater – the Darreius turbine – or an oil drum cut in half lengthwise, and the two sides staggered around the vertical shaft – the Savonius turbine. Some of the standard designs yielded high speed and low torque, which is what you want for generating electricity; some of them produced high torque and low speed, which is what you want for pumping water or most other uses of mechanical power. All the information needed to design and build one or more of the standard models is easy to come by nowadays – literally dozens of books from the time cover the basic concepts, and it’s far from hard to find detailed plans for building your own. It’s also not too difficult for those who lack the basic technical skills to find small wind turbines of quite respectable quality for sale, though the price is going to be a good deal more than you’d shell out for an old truck alternator, a chunk of fir six feet by eight inches by four inches, and the rest of the hardware we used to cobble together our turbine. Either way, if you live in an area with average winds and your home isn’t surrounded by tall trees, steep hills, or skyscrapers, your odds of being able to run a respectable 12 volt system are pretty good.
Still, it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that very little of this wealth of practical information receives much in the way of attention nowadays. Instead, the concept of wind power has been monopolized by a recently minted industry devoted to building, servicing, and promoting giant wind turbines that provide electricity to the grid. The giant turbines have their virtues, no question; compared to most other energy production technologies, certainly, they’re safe and clean, and their net energy yield is a respectable 8 or 9 to 1, which beats the stuffing out of most other alternative energy sources. Still, the idea that serried ranks of giant wind turbines will enable us all to keep on using energy at today’s extravagant rates runs headlong into at least two difficulties.The first difficulty is intermittency. A wind turbine, obviously enough, produces power only when the wind is blowing, and it’s a safe bet that no matter where you put turbines, the wind won’t always be blowing. That wouldn’t be a problem at all if Americans were used to using electricity when it happens to be available, and doing something else with their time when it’s not, but that’s not the way Americans do things any more. Just now, intermittency isn’t much of a problem, since modern gas-fired power plants can be cycled up and down promptly to respond to any shortage of power from the turbines, but if your plan is to replace the gas-fired plants (and the coal-fired ones, which can’t be cycled up and down so quickly) with wind turbines, you’ve got a problem.
You have an even bigger problem if you want to rely on solar as well as wind, since then you’re dependent on two intermittent energy sources, and when they both go down at the same time – as, by Murphy’s law, they inevitably will – you’re left with no power going into the grid at all.The second difficulty, as discussed in previous posts here, is complexity. Those giant turbines, it bears remembering, are not made out of spare truck alternators, blocks of fir, and other readily accessible and easily managed parts. They are triumphs of modern engineering, which means in practice that they depend on baroque supply chains, high-tech manufacturing processes, and massive investment, not to mention plenty of fossil fuels and, more generally, a society that has plenty of cheap energy to spare for projects on a gargantuan scale. Nor is a giant wind turbine sitting all by itself on a hilltop particularly useful to much of anyone; it gains its economic viability through connection to the electrical grid, which is itself an immense technostructure with its own even more sprawling supply, manufacturing, and investment requirements. If industrial society finds itself unable to maintain any one of the factors that make the grid and the giant turbines possible, then it doesn’t matter how useful they might be; they won’t be around.Homescale windpower systems suffer from the intermittency issue, but then so does nearly every other option for providing electricity on that scale, and we’ve already discussed at some length the solution to it: get used to using electricity when it’s available, or to storing up modest amounts of it in inexpensive storage batteries and using that supply sparingly.
The challenge of complexity, on the other hand, is not something a homescale windpower system has to deal with at all. Even in the absence of salvageable alternators, and there are quite literally hundreds of millions of them lying unused in junkyards across the United States, a generator that will turn rotary motion into direct current is not a challenging project. I built a simple one in elementary school, for example, and although it wasn’t really suited to wind turbine use – most of the structural elements were made from paperclips, with a toy horseshoe magnet to provide the field, and the amount of current it produced was just about enough to get a decent glow out of a very small light bulb – the principle can readily be scaled up.In the kind of future we can realistically expect, in other words, homescale windpower will almost certainly be a viable technology, while giant wind turbines of the modern sort almost certainly won’t. Now of course it’s a safe bet that the windpower industry as it now exists will keep on building, servicing, and promoting giant wind turbines as long as it’s possible to do so, so the small chance that the giant turbines might actually be viable is covered. What isn’t covered yet is the very large chance that small wind turbines of the sort that can be built and maintained in a basement workshop could provide a real benefit during the difficult decades ahead of us. In order to respond to that range of possibilities, homescale windpower units need to find their way back into the conversation of our time and, more importantly, up above the rooftops of homes across the modern world. Professionally manufactured wind turbines of the right scale are a good start, and those green wizards in training who have the money and lack the fairly modest technical skills to build their own could do worse than to buy and install one. Still, there’s also a huge role here for the homebuilt turbine, and for those individuals whose willingness to get to work shaping turbine blades and bolting together octet truss towers might, as things unfold, lead to a future career.
Promoters of giant wind turbines, and for that matter of centralized power generation schemes of all kinds, tend to talk quite a bit about economies of scale. In an expanding economy with a stable or growing resource base, that sort of talk often makes sense, though the extent to which those economies of scale are a product of direct and indirect government subsidies to transportation, financing, and large businesses generally is not something economists like to talk about. Still, in a world facing economic contraction, resource depletion, and a loss of complexity potentially capable of rendering a great deal of today’s infrastructure useless or worse, the balance swings the other way. In the face of a future where small, cheap, localized approaches that are sparing in their use of resources, relying on massive, expensive, centralized, resource-intensive power plants of any kind is not an economy but a profligacy of scale, and one that we very probably will not be able to afford for much longer.
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EDITO – The wave of Jasmine Revolution : the great return of the Arab world, by Marie-Hélène Caillol
The hopes of the Arab world to catch the train of the 21st century had gone lost: Asia and South America took hold of their destiny while the Arab world plunge into obscurantism. For several years, and until two months ago, the Arab world evoked more and more a third-world populated by fanatical men in shaggy beards and wild eyes. And now it shakes up his yoke and it is rediscovered in these young people societies all that is pretty normal, boys and girls in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, etc … that are simply asking to have a future in their country. Download PDF (free)
ANTICIPATION – Cyberspace, Cyberconflicts, Cybercleverness and social movements, by Jérôme Defaix
It took five centuries since the invention of printing by Gutenberg in 1450, to produce Bible-books, books, newspapers, essays, leaflets. These physical media have allowed the distribution of information, messages that can be defined as «one to many“, in an descendent communication, more and more effective to convince, indoctrinate, explain, justify, to silence, excite, pacify the crowds, to the benefit of an elite group of supporters of the message, to manage groups or societies that are increasingly complex. This distribution, organized by traditional mediators, educators, journalists, intellectuals, leaders, visionaries, politicians, goes through doctrine, education, knowledge, culture, ideology, marketing, propaganda, political story-telling, political jargon, among others. Download PDF (free)
COMMENT – Southern Sudan: a first step towards the inevitable reconfiguration of African borders, by Franck Biancheri
With the recent UN-supervised Southern Sudanese referendum, which provides for the restructuring of Sudan’s vast territory and, as is the case in most African countries, its frontiers bequeathed from the colonial era, Africans have begun the long process that will give them genuine mastery over their continent: the construction of their own internal borders. Download PDF (free)
USER’S GUIDE – Anticipation GEAB / Arab World : a textbook case
Here is a summary of the elements that allowed GEAB giving its anticipation of the risks of political and social explosion in the Arab world in June 2008. Download PDF (free)
ANTICIPATION – International food policy: towards a “diplomatic revolution”, by Bruno Paul
The problem has become inevitable for our policy makers: How to feed the world’s current and future population? From recent studies and projections we will highlight the new central issues concerning the geopolitics of food, in order to provide elements that can help decision making. Download PDF (free)
THE MAP QUESTION – In what year was made this anticipation?
“When the wireless will be used perfectly, the whole Earth will become a giant brain, that is, what is the Earth is already in practice since all things are nothing but particles of a single rhythmical and authentic set. We will be able to communicate with each other instantly, regardless of the distance. And there is more, because thanks to television and telephone, we can see and feel perfectly as if we were face to face, even though thousands of miles separate us, and the devices that allow us to do so will incredibly be simpler than current phones. The man can carry it in his jacket pocket.” Download PDF (free)
ABTICIPATION – The crisis: a source of banking innovation? by Ludovic Follot
The financial crisis has had the merit of demonstrating the extent to which our daily life depends on financial institutions and more specifically on the banks. Everyone has now fully accepted that our estate loans and its eventual consumer credits, both in Europe and the United States, have been the basis of economic expansion over the past 30 years. Retail banks and investment banks have been key players in this game, and they have played their role perfectly, allowing Western companies to satisfy their insatiable consumer appetite taking money and then giving it at a little higher loan rates. Download PDF (free)
SOURCES – A readers’ digest
MAP’s quarterly selection of web articles. Download PDF (free)
COMMENT – The humor of El JEm
This quarter, El Jem has chosen to comment on the article entitled “Why almost everything you hear about medicine is wrong” published on January 23, 2011 by Newsweek and republished on January 27, 2011 by Nouvel Observateur which provides a brief overview of the situation of pharmaceutical industry. Download PDF (free)
GEAB EXCERPT – 2012-2013: The double electoral shock of French and German elections
According to LEAP/E2020, the French elections in 2012 (presidential election followed by the legislative elections) and the German federal elections planned for 2013 will set the scene for two major shocks destined to disrupt the balances of political power in these two pillars of Euroland and the European Union. Their simultaneous timing and – despite reverse agendas – their similar effects, will provide further evidence of the brutal changes to the national political and social fabric as a result of the global systemic crisis. This double shock will also define the fundamental nature of Europe’s political leadership, when a new generation of world leaders is faced, as a group, with a last chance to prevent the global geopolitical dislocation from morphing into widespread confrontation. Download PDF (free)
FUTURHEBDO – February 20, 2060 : Shoot again, by Olivier Parent
FuturHebdo is the magazine of our immediate future. Taking the approach of press dispatches for a hypothetical publication, FH proposes to explore our daily life such as it could be in a few decades. Created in 2006, FH provides a weekly popularized prospectivist article, in the social, medical, economic, and political spheres . . . Download PDF (free)
COMMENT – Does current English takes the place of medieval Latin? by Christian Tremblay, President of the Observatoire Européen du Plurilinguisme
It is often said that English is in the position Latin occupied in last centuries. In any case, this is certainly a good argument for the promotion of English, which needs to be promoted. But although it can be irritating, it’s better to know it: this is just a promotional argument. The only aspect that the American hegemony and the Roman Empire share is hegemony. Download PDF (free)
FICTION – Jacques Spitz’s L’oeil du Purgatoire
A forgotten masterpiece of French literature, a classic of French futuristic fiction, L’oeil du Purgatoire (translated into English as The Eye of Purgatory), published for the first time in 1945 and reprinted (as well as magnificently illustrated) in 2008 by Editions de l’Arbre Vengeur, is an eminently aesthetic and philosophical portrayal of the gift (or curse) to forsee the future, presented in all its tragedy. Download PDF (free)
The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.
– Thomas Malthus, 1798
By Joe Bageant
As a small boy, I once transferred most of an anthill population from its natural digs in our front yard to a gallon jar of fresh dirt, sprinkled it with a little sugar (in the cartoons, ants are always freaks for sugar, right?) and then left the ants on their own. Of course the day came when all I had was a jar full of dry earth, ant shit and the desolation of their parched little carcasses. I’d guess that it was the lack of water that finally got ‘em.
But the most interesting thing in retrospect — if a jar of dead bugs can be called interesting — is this: Up until the very end they seemed to be happily and obliviously busy. They constructed an ant society with all of its ant facilities, made more baby ants and did all those things ants do that the proverbial grasshopper is famous for not doing. Obviously Christian predestinationists to the last ant, they met the grasshopper’s grim fate by another route, and did not look at all surprised in death.
Now you’d think that the lesson of the ants would be obvious as hell to any non-intoxicated individual with a grade school education. Never mind that many people since Malthus, as my sainted daddy would have put it, “Done drove the point in the ground and broke it clean off.” Never mind that Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb was a best seller and remains a classic. Never mind that James Lovelock, the nerdish forward thinking Englishman who 99% of Americans never heard of, delivered unto us yet one more time the worst truth in human history, the Gaia Hypothesis. Which is a fancy way of saying we cannot continue to devour our planet forever because it amounts to self-cannibalism.
Lovelock also convincingly argued that, due to the side effects of this species expiration, now acknowledged as global warming, the equator will look like Mars at some point relatively soon, with the surviving 20% of humans now alive, or perhaps in the next generation, living near the North and South Poles.
As to be expected, the few very comfortable elite folks on this earth said of Lovelock: “This guy is full of shit, a nutcase being adored by a bunch of naked tattooed pagans and gloomy intellectual types,” both of which number among my favorite kinds of people.
Those pagans who allowed themselves to feel and not just intellectualize about the earth’s condition, and those scientists who did not require computer modeling to do simple subtraction, recognized that these are the most challenging of times in human history, “challenging” being a polite term for the fact that that humanity is gonna die off big time, if not sooner, then later. Call it the secular version of The End Times.
But not much later, in light of the brief span Homo sapiens hath shat, frolicked, killed and exceeded their MasterCard limits upon the earth, which is less than a second in geological time. Already we are on the way out because we did not have the common sense of lizards, which lasted tens of millions of years longer without so much as a calculator, much less computerized eco models.
A bunch of DNA molecules gave us this aberrant evolution of brain and consciousness that enabled us to dominate everything else and get into the totally fucked situation in which we now find ourselves. The monkey got so smart he took over everything, ate most of it, drove over the rest, then stuck the roadkill on his own dick as a nuclear warhead, and after having threatened what was left around him, set out to destroy even that small remaining scrap of his ruined earthly turf. Is this God’s cruelest joke?
Global Warming as Mange Medicine
If mankind were discovered on a dog’s hide the owner would give the dog a mange dip. Or if the earth were a Petri dish, we would be called pathology. Problem is though, mama earth tends to shed pathogens off her skin, which for us pathogens, is the ultimate catastrophe.
When forced to look at catastrophe on this order of magnitude, we either go numb in shock or look in delusion to something bigger, or at least something with more grandeur than Mother Nature flushing humanity down the toilet. Otherwise, one must accept the both ugly and the weirdly beautiful prospect of oblivion. Meanwhile, we begin too late to “make better choices.” Grim choices that do nothing but postpone the inevitable, which are called better ones and sold to us to make ourselves feel better about our toxicity. Burn corn in your gas tank. Go green, with the help of Monsanto. But not many can be concerned even with the matter of better choices. Few can truly grasp the fullness of the danger because there is no way they can get their minds around it, no way to see the world in its entirety. The tadpole cannot conceive of the banks of the pond, much less the wooded watershed that feeds it. But old frogs glimpse of it.
Still, there is choice available, even a superior choice — the moral one. Accept the truth and act upon it. Take direct action to eliminate human suffering, and likewise to eliminate our own comfort. We can say no to scorched babies in Iraq. We can refuse to drive at all and refuse to participate in a dead society gone shopping. We can quit being so addicted to the rationality and embrace the spirit. Rationality simply turns back on itself like a mobius strip. Too much thinking, too much cleverness on the monkey’s part leads it to believe it can come up with rational solutions for what ration itself hath wrought.
All the green energy sources and eating right and voting right cannot fix what has been irretrievably ruined, but only make life amid the ruination slightly more bearable. Species gluttony is nearly over and we’ve eaten the earth and pissed upon its bones. Not because we are cruel by nature (though a case might be made for stupidity) but because the existence of consciousness necessarily implies each of us as its individual center, the individual point of all experience and thus all knowing. The accumulated personal and collective wounds fester and become fatal because there is no way to inform the world that we must surrender our assumptions, even if we wanted to. Which we do not because assumptions are the unseen cultural glue, the DNA of civilization. If we did so, the crash would be immediate.
So we postpone transformation through truth, and stick with what has always worked — empire and consumption. And we twiddle our lives away thorough insignificant fretting about mortgages and health care and political parties and pretend the whole of American life is not a disconnect. Hell, all of Western culture has become a disconnect. Somebody needs to tell the Europeans too; progressive Americans give them entirely too much credit for the small positive variation in their cultures and ours. We both get away with it only so long as the oil and the entertainment last.
The front page of today’s newspaper tells me that 41 million motorists will gas up and hit the road today, July 3rd. Another five million will sip drinks and read magazines while zipping through the stratosphere, in 747s that burn the day’s oxygen production of a 44,000 acre rainforest in the first five minutes of flight just getting off the ground and gaining altitude, adding to the more than 110 million annual tons of atmosphere-altering chemtrail gasses, some of which will remain to hold heat in the upper atmosphere for almost 100 years.
Below it all are the spreading pox-like blotches of economic and ecological ruins of dead North American towns and city cores, such as downtown Gary Indiana, Camden, Newark, Detroit — all those places we secretly accept as being hellish because, well, that’s just what happens when blacks take over, isn’t it? Has anyone seen downtown Detroit lately? Of course not. No one goes there any more. Miles of cracked pavement, weeds and abandoned buildings that look like de Chirico’s Melancholy and Mystery of a Street. Hell, for all practical purposes it is uninhabited, though a scattering of drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless insane people wander in the shadows of vacant rotting skyscrapers where water drips and vines crawl through the lobbies, including the Ford Motor Company’s stainless steel former headquarters. (See the works of Chilean-born photographer Camilo José Vergara.) It is the first glimpse of a very near future, right here and now for all to see.
The hearts of even our most avowedly thriving cities are just a dead, reduced to nothing more than designated spending zones, collections of bars and banks and overpriced eateries lodged at the center of a massive tangle of overpasses and freeways designed for a nation of soft people hurtling themselves through the suburbs in petroleum powered exoskeletons in search of fried chicken, or into the city for the lonely monetized experience called urban nightlife. Which is no life at all, but rather posturing in lifelike poses amid simple drunkenness and engorgement.
We allow ourselves to imagine the worst is somewhere in yet another future so we can continue without owning decision. Love of comfort being the death of courage, we continue the familiar commoditized life, the only one we have known. Is it not true that our entire understanding of courage as we know it is about braving some unknown? About making the socially unaccepted and dangerous choice? Stepping forward in the face of the wars and evil mechanics of our own particular time?
Empire and its inevitable permanent state of warfare flourishes not because evil men are at the helm, but because the men at the helm are even weaker and more in denial than we are. (Look at Dick Cheney. The guy is a nervous wreck wrapped in arrogance and denial.) And so their uninformed and crude confidence is assuring to both them and us. We elect the worst among ourselves in increasing avoidance of ourselves and they are validated by our endorsement. Evil men seeking empire did not make us or the world this way. We made their existence possible through our denial, love of ease and non accountability.
The Most Dangerous Question In The World
Yet, I dare say that comfort is not the most important thing in most American lives. It is just the only thing we are offered in exchange for our toil and the pain of ordinary existence in such an age. Consequently, it is all we know. Meaningless work, then meaningless comfort and distraction in the too-few hours between sleep and labor. But we settled for that and continue to do so. The day will never come when we stand around the office water cooler and ask one another: “Why in the hell are we even here today?” It’s the most dangerous question in America and the Western world.
Some few of us are in a hellish limbo, simply waiting for total collapse because it is easier to rebuild from nothing than to change billions of minds not even remotely concerned with the looming catastrophe. A minority of the world, the six percent called America, suffers the mass self-delusion of endless plentitude. A much larger portion is less concerned with the moral aspects of consumption because they are brutally engaged in trying to find enough to eat and a drink of clean water. So plentitude on any terms looks damned good. Escape to America because those fuckers over there don’t seem to be suffering at all.
Manifesto of the Damned
I thank the stars for younger men, writers such as Derrick Jensen and Charles Eisenstein. They say what we cannot yet say to ourselves and what the media will never say because media survives by the corporate numbers game. Consequently, the iron rules of being allowed to communicate with significant numbers of people within our empire tend to call for glibness, fake optimism, and the wide net of inclusion of even the silliest sorts of people. Fuck only knows I’ve participated in the sham over the years. But the truth is never politically or socially correct.
What’s left of my own aging hippie optimism dies hard. And as an older guy who has seen both interior and external horror in this life, I often assure those who will deal with this world after I am worm chow that “to have seen a specter is not everything.” I’ve often repeated this theme because it is important to know that many more specters lie ahead of the next generation, the survivors of which will be the new “brave happy few,” links in the chain of reason tempered with art. No one yet knows with absolute certainty the outcome of our terrible common plunge toward truth. But even in the worst of times, there is glory in the sheer electricity of life, the expression of its juiciness, those moments when the eternal fecundity of the flesh struts by in a tight skirt, or perhaps sporting the perfect unshaven jaw, offering everything and nothing. Life is never completely joyless.
Younger men and women will live to rule or rule the day. So seize it for god sake! And listen to the cellular wisdom of the flesh. I did and do and am damned glad of it. Despite what a police court Jehova, Yahweh or Allah may have told us, the only holy thing existent is this the flesh in which we now walk. It leads us toward both good and evil, but it leads, and most probably will bleed if we are on the right path. Yet, what could be better than a meaningful life during meaningless times? Which is everything, whether we be artistic, queer, altruistic, an unheralded ox in the fields of labor — or one of the invisible ones out there with a stone cold determination to kill the supposedly deathless machinery in which we are expected to supplicate daily and call that a life.
I am not a wise man, but I dare say that’s about all you can hope for. A splash of small glory, or perhaps even a canteen filled with meaningfulness in the desert. It is no small thing.
So here we are. You and me. Let us hang all our laundry out to dry in this tiny corner of cyberspace. I think it is entirely possible that we can be honest cybernetic bards in an unpromising age, possibly even noble amid the ruins.