Tag: Peak Oil

Star’s Reach (book review)

John Michael Greer’s weekly blog, The Archdruid Report always strikes deeply into the heart of industrial society.   I’ve read a number of Greer’s non-fictional musings on the de-industrial future, including Not the Future We Ordered, The Ecotechnic Future, The Long Descent, and The Wealth of Nature (an obvious corrective to Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations,  and desperately needed gravity boots for “free-market” moonwalkers).  If the spiraling crises of our time were a hurricane, then Greer’s projections might well form the central tendency of the cone of probability for landfall.  His latest work titled Star’s Reach is a fictional account that imagines humanity’s next phase of de-industrial living.

Star’s Reach takes place several hundred years in the aftermath of global industrial collapse.  The former continental United States has since broken apart  into smaller regional states and allegiances by several bloody civil wars.  In the current regional quasi-stability, the reader encounters both the post-industrial wreckage and recovery of civilization through the eyes of a senior apprentice of the ruinmen’s guild that scrapes out a hazardous living salvaging pre-extracted and refined materials conveniently left in ruins on the Earth’s surface by the industrial past.  Because these resources were previously extracted to the energetic limits of industrial society, the ruins essentially represent the last resources of their kind to be extracted.  In this low energy future, industrial complexity and the excesses of fossil-fueled growth have been severely pruned back, and life has re-proliferated more modestly along more pre-industrial, somewhat Medieval/Mercantilish arrangements.

Chastened by a mass die-off, a renewed, conservative reverence for Mother Nature has supplanted the heedless zealotry of the Myth of Infinite Progress, which left a wake of environmental destruction in the forms of catastrophic climate change, plague, uncontrolled nuclear meltdowns, and a toxic legacy of developmental and DNA derangements, resulting in high mortality rates and widespread hermaphroditism.  A reversion to matrilineal primacy is further evident in the politically powerful and tightly controlled sorority exclusive to women able to give viable, normal birth; as well as in the guild of Priestesses that lay down the law on activity Ma’m Gaia permits and what she forbids, such as the unapproved burning of fossil fuels (punishable by death); not to mention the female President of Meriga who has kept further civil wars at bay for the past 40 years.    

De-industrial life, trimmed back and ordered at lower complexity, having more conservative cultural sensibilities, and simpler  pleasures, remains harder and less plentiful than before TEOTWAWKI.  And it may not be improving.  As with all finite resource problems, even the ruinmen, and thus society at large, face diminishing returns after having picked the low hanging fruit of industrial salvage.  Further, vast amounts of valuable knowledge had been lost during the centuries of cascading, catabolic collapse, so one of the (typically illiterate) ruinman’s skills includes rescuing disintegrating written materials, the value of which is initially ascertained by freelance “failed scholars” hired by ruinman guilds before being sent to remnant universities for transcription, cataloging, preservation, interpretation, and any selective diffusion.    

The story itself begins when our half-literate ruinman apprentice nearly becomes “reborn” into Ma’m Gaia’s embrace upon unearthing his masterwork, a tangible written clue to the existence of a legendary industrial project known as Star’s Reach, a clue he can use to either lay claim to the site as his own dig, if it actually exists and he can find it, or which he can surely sell for substantial lifestyle changes.  In taking the gamble, our newly-minted Mister takes on his own apprentice (full of surprises, that kid!), and embarks on a Hobbity adventure that attracts a socially cross-sectional cast of characters whose unfolding motivations collectively reveal an underlying societal tension between post-collapse cultural humility and the human urges for progress and power.  In addition to touring post-collapse American landscapes and customs (we still drink, cuss and privately stuff fuzzy little rabbits in one another’s ears in the future) THERE ARE IMPORTANT MESSAGES OUT THERE WAITING FOR YOU.  There may also be a guild or two you haven’t heard of.  Now that’s a darn good tale!

P.S. If you’re looking for some despairing, forlorn, gritty and hopeless post-apocalyptic, graphic nightmare of a yarn, Star’s Reach is definitely not that book.  It is a far cry from The Road.    

Not the sucrose we ordered III

So, to my mind, here’s where we get down to the nitty gritty of animal intelligence.  Reflexes.  Built-in, hard-core reflexes.  You might think of them as the prototypical, monosynaptic “knee-jerk”, in which the doctor lightly hammers the tendon below your kneecap, which stretches specific muscular stretch receptors, which send a signal to the spine and back to “stiffen up,” mainly for automatic postural purposes outside of your cognitive grasp.  Hence the leg kick, outside of your normal cognitive grasp. The knee-jerk reflex is simply a way for you to keep upright without your having to think about it, an unexpected load occurs on one side, boom, you’re good.

Now, there are reflexes, and there are reflexes, depending on your definition, the knee-jerk being a fairly low-level event.  Then there are locomotor reflexes, involving multiple oscillators, for example, that aid walking, as opposed to just standing upright, even though both levels are integrated.  Within this level are neuronal circuits controlling ambles, trots, gallops, etc., whether in horse or turtle or man.  So-called “fictive locomotion” studies, wherein neuronal recordings from dismembered turtles on ice are made, demonstrate this.  

Then the coordination of reflexes occurs at the level of “fixed action pattern,” or what others preferred to call “modal action patterns,” because while reliable, the exact order of behavior is not engraved in stone.  Classic examples from Tinbergen and Lorenz include seagull egg-rolling-toward-the-nest and following behavior when, e.g., neonatal ducklings imprint upon any available moving object, even if that object is no more endearing than a dangling and moving tennis shoe, as if it were a parental device.

Next up in the hierarchy of reflexes from Tinbergen et al is Timberlake’s Behavior System, which is really a mash-up of Tinbergen and Pavlov, even tho’ Joe Steinmetz, one of the great bunny eye-blink researchers of all time, and a great chairperson, said with some admiration in his eyes that Timberlake was a “maverick.”  Ho, ho, ho, Joe.  I love you, but he’s only a maverick to you strict Pavlovians.  Not to me.  

In Timberlake’s system of reflexes, animals gravitate toward their central topics of needs:  Feeding, Flying, Fucking, Orientation/Migration, etc., and evocation of a system, Feeding, Parenting, Defense, e.g.,  results in some semi-orderly evocation of motivational states that orchestrate subsequent behavior sub-routines of reflexes, such as, food handling and ingestion, focal search for food, and more global searches.  

I studied the next level of reflex, what I now provisionally call the global action pattern, one reflex that functions over not instances, or minutes, or hours, but days.  And nothing will do but an example to describe it.

But this following description, I believe, goes a long way toward describing Monsieur Greer’s point.  

Not the sucrose we ordered II

(this my long-winded continuation of a “review” of JM Greer’s Not the Future We Ordered, from a personal perspective).

To Recap, around the year 2000 was a great time for me.  I was scoring grants, doing manic work, the female grad students were kicking me around like a soccer ball (scoring junk goals on me all day long), had fantastically intelligent buddies, and was finishing my dissertation, and headed toward my third long-term major mentor of my choosing (the flagship teaching hospital in my beloved region of SF was merely icing on the cake).  Life could not have seemed better, because I was a true believer in what JM Greer calls our “civic religion of progress.”  

Not only was it personal progress through long, hard work, but I felt basic research was the right thing to do.  For me.  For society.  I wasn’t out to make money.  To paraphrase Pavlov, the revolution was not “out there” in politics or guns in the streets, the revolution was “in here,” in the lab.  The real revolution was intellectual.  The real revolution was an introvert. Pavlov is no one to sneeze at unconditionally.  He’s in the Pantheon of Greatest Scientists Ever, because he saw and demonstrated experimentally anticipatory salivation as perhaps the most powerful mental event ever known, which is learning from experience, and how it occurs through sheer association by contiguity: neurons that fire together wire together, to quote Hebb.  And if any Skinnerian “learning by consequence” believers walk into this bar, I will kick their asses from here to next Tuesday, and from week to week, and year to year.  We never learn as a specific consequence of our victories and failures. Rather, what is noticed becomes a signal for what is being done, to quote Big Edwin Ray G.

(as a side note, I’ll add that a fellow named Twitmeyer preceded Pavlov at the 1901 APA meeting by three years, showing that people would exhibit an anticipatory knee-jerk to the sight of a hammer blow to the knee tendon; I’ve heard that William James was in attendance, and failed to see the significance, which is nearly impossible to believe, but if true, and had he noticed, we would have been stuck with “Twitmeyerian conditioning” as opposed to “Pavlovian,” which is the more mellifluous.

Anyway, despite my anti-Skinnerian religion, I remained a true believer in Progress.  Technology, civics, human rights, law, basic accounting; yep, all a long historical arc bending toward truth and justice.  It went against most of what I knew about learning, or about evolution for that matter, but this is just the kind of irrational thinking JM Greer is up against.  People like me.

Next time, we’ll talk about my sucrose experiments.

Not the sucrose we ordered (a review, sort of, JM Greer’s, Not the Future We Ordered)

(I apologize up front for putting this review in a serial format, but I am cacked-out, to the max.  It’s a wonder I’m here.)

First, lemme say that John Michael Greer is one gol’ darned level-headed son of a gun.  I’ve been reading his blog for years now and no one can cast a cold eye on everything you hold dear and move on with equanimity as he does.  Rock solid, he is.  Everyone has a “trick pony,” so to speak, and I do wonder how he trained his.

Anyway, he’s written another book, “not the future we ordered” on the topic of peak oil, and how we screwed things up, and moreover how unprepared we are for the consequences.  If you are accustomed to his blog, there are no huge surprises, because his writing style remains quite steady, and I would add “soothing,” to someone like me, who gets a bit emotional about these topics.

My personal peak oil revelation (and here’s where it’s “all about me”) began with Bush v. Gore.  I was writing my dissertation in experimental psychology when it all broke loose, when, by Jon Schwarz’s insight,  you can cut open the insider of DC insiders and out steps James Baker III to attend the lectern of troublemaking.  And so it was.  

Fill ‘er up with The Holy Ghost!

…and check the dip-stick on my salvation!

Ilargi: I’m convinced it’s not so much that it’s hard to understand; instead, it’s hard to accept. Still, for most people that’s enough reason to not understand.

It might therefore be a good moment to reiterate what we’ve said often before at The Automatic Earth: the financial system as we know it can not be saved. It doesn’t matter whether “official institutions” nominate 30 banks as being too big to fail, or 300. It is inevitable that the enormous amounts of debt accumulated in a relatively and amazingly short period of time must be serviced. Pay offs, write downs, defaults, bankruptcies. They’re cast in stone. It’s too late, too big to fail or not.

Here’s another gob-smacker that’s easier to understand than God is dead, but is even harder to accept: Not only is the economy about to get its zombie head blown off, it won’t be reincarnated as anything we’d recognize as normal for the foreseeable future, because the peak oil debate is over.

Again, it’s easy to understand that global oil production has clearly plateaued over the past seven years (for the first time since WWII), and that year-on-year declines are imminent. After we drink the second half of our milkshake, there’s no more milkshake.


Read the ASPO-USA press release, in particular the letter to Dr. Steven Chu, here.  Check with Dr. James Schlesinger (former Sec Def, CIA director, Sec Energy, Atomic energy Chair, etc.,), or Dr. Robert Hirsch (former Sec Energy, author of the 2005 Hirsch Report), or drop in at Dave Cohen’s joint.  

If you still find acceptance difficult, you may prefer to join Daniel Yergin and Barack Obama in their Pulitzer- and Peace Prize-clutching quest for oil, money and power.  You can buy yourself some limited edition Justice Coins to fondle during our next regime change humanitarian operation in the oily regions of the world.


Limits to growth: Implementing the crash program 39 years later

Thirty nine years ago (1972), the extremely prescient Limits to Growth was published, basically arguing that the Earth’s finite resources, e.g., food, water, air, etc., created a natural limit or “carrying capacity” to sustainable human populations.  At or near the limits of carrying capacity, population growth must cease, or any growth that occurred would have to depend on concomitant increases in efficiency of resource utilization, rather than in quantitative resource usage, in order for the population to be sustainable into the foreseeable future.  The consequences of exceeding carrying capacity were articulated long ago:

What most frequently meets our view (and occasions complaint), is our teeming population: our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance.  In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.

-Tertullian (De Anima)

I love that quote, not just for the Four Horsemen and the equation of “human luxuriance” with the relief of apocalypse, but also the acute observations about wants growing more keen and complaints more bitter, which aptly describes the effects of activating the endocrine stress axis.

Economist accurately perceives reality. Srsly.

Surely end-times are upon us when an economist and major investment fund manager accurately perceives and characterizes reality independent of his wish to make oodles of lucre based on a mark-to-fantasy “model” of reality.  To be fair, Wiki characterizes Jeremy Grantham thusly:

Grantham’s investment philosophy can be summarized by his commonly used phrase “reversion to the mean.” Essentially, he believes that all asset classes and markets will revert to mean historical levels from highs and lows. His firm seeks to understand historical changes in markets and predict results for seven years into the future. When there is deviation from historical means (averages), the firm may take an investment position based on a return to the mean. The firm allocates assets based on internal predictions of market direction.[4]

In his own words, Grantham is an anti-bubble investor:

“For the record, I wrote an article for Fortune published in September of 2007 that referred to three “near certainties”: profit margins would come down, the housing market would break, and the risk-premium all over the world would widen, each with severe consequences. You can perhaps only have that degree of confidence if you have been to the history books as much as we have and looked at every bubble and every bust. We have found that there are no exceptions. We are up to 34 completed bubbles. Every single one of them has broken all the way back to the trend that existed prior to the bubble forming, which is a very tough standard. So it’s simply illogical to give up the really high probabilities involved at the asset class level. All the data errors that frighten us all at the individual stock level are washed away at these great aggregations. It’s simply more reliable, higher-quality data.”[5]

Grantham’s latest newsletter (pdf) is absolutely chock-a-block with dire warnings about the Mother of All Bubbles (hydrocarbon-based human population growth) and what can only be referred to as extreme, anti-orthodox, economic heresy.

Obama rolls out “plan” to cut oil imports by 2025

Washington (CNN) — President Barack Obama outlined a plan Wednesday to cut America’s imports of foreign oil by a third by 2025 — a response to growing global energy demands and instability overseas.

What a crude little pearl of bullshit.  First, even if Obama wins in 2012 (and why would he want to?), he’ll have been out of office for nearly a decade by 2025.  He might as well say that by 2025, every American will be king of their very own earth-like planet, a perpetual fountain of youth, and stables full of trick-ass ponies.  Dude has no imagination.

Worse yet, he grossly underestimates the magnitude of his “planned” cuts to America’s imports of foreign oil.  And it has less to do with the exigencies surrounding peak oil than the fact of peak oil itself.  We might be able to reduce our imports by only one third by 2025, if (a) we were operating on the gross Hubbert curve, and (b) the United States took the vast majority of the remaining oil leaving everyone else high and dry.


Unfortunately, we’re not going to get all of the oil that’s in the ground (gross Hubbert curve) out of the ground.  We grabbed the good, low-hanging fruit first; and are left with the cruder, more difficult to access, and more expensive to extract and process remnants.  Very quickly oil will become more expensive to extract than it’s worth, leaving us operating on the net Hubbert curve, where the declining limb of production is very, very steep; where 2025 indicates world GDP more than halved due to oil depletion alone.  Hell, Obama may be presiding over a terminal credit collapse even before his first term is over, due to the severe and continuing financial malfeasance.

Obama’s “plan” to cut imports by 2025 sounds a lot like my retrospective “plan” to be among the long-term unemployed.  I forget where I read that Americans are like “super-sized crash-test dummies,” but I’m sure that was part of the plan, too.

Shit Town


When they tried to name the place, some wanted to call it Dawn City or New America or New Phoenix (like mythical bird rising from the ashes.) But the more folks thought about it and realized our circumstances and understood the reason we were huddled here in this remote area protecting ourselves from the elements and marauding bands of sadistic skinheads, was because the world had gone to shit, well, the name might not be what some Madison Avenue type would have called it, but the naming was easy.

Shit Town.

Peak Oil and Collapse of Everything?

Note: I originally posted this in January 2008.

Why we are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why Democrats and Republicans are not listening to us.

Peak Oil could trigger meltdown of society

By: Energy Watch Group

Published: Oct 23, 2007

Warning Shot


The Oil Age is over. Running on the fumes of empty. It is a ghost empire. The Age of Ponzi-scheme fractional banking is over. The house of cards has collapsed. The emperor not only has no clothes, but he has no skin, bones or blood. He was always a mirage.

Civilization as we have known it in our lifetimes – the move toward centralization, globalization, authoritarianism – is at an end.

Believe it or not.

The Collapse of Everything?

In case you missed it, RawStory on September 01 published an article by Daniel Tencer.

German military report: Peak oil could lead to collapse of democracy

Peak oil has happened or will happen some time around this year, and its consequences could threaten the continued survival of democratic governments, says a secret Germany military report that was leaked online.

According to Der Spiegel, the report from a think-tank inside the German military warns that shrinking global oil supplies will threaten the world’s economic foundations and possibly lead to mass-scale upheaval within the next 15 to 30 years.

International trade would suffer as the cost of transporting goods across oceans would soar, resulting in “shortages in the supply of vital goods,” the report states, as translated by Der Spiegel.

The result would be the collapse of the industrial supply chain. “In the medium term the global economic system and every market-oriented national economy would collapse,” the report states.

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