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TOD Review: The Upside of Down.

Stoneleigh, The Oil Drum: Canada
Thomas Homer-Dixon has written an interdisciplinary tour-de-force integrating the m6any challenges facing industrial civilization into an elegant conceptual framework. That framework – catagenesis – applies an understanding of natural cycles of growth, breakdown and renewal to the present and the future of our global society.

Our prevailing complacency is based on trust in our science to give us the knowledge, our markets to give us the incentives, our democracy to give us the social resources and our brains to give us the ingenuity necessary to solve our increasingly complex problems. However, that blind trust may be misplaced given the array of tectonic stresses facing our civilization and raising the risk of synchronous failure.

The thermodynamics of empire is an underlying theme in Homer-Dixon’s discourse, particularly in relation to ancient Rome, although parallels are drawn with the present day. Homer-Dixon has a talent for vividly illustrating his descriptions of Rome’s dominance and subsequent decline with examples from his own travels and experiences – from calculating the land required to support the building of the colosseum to observing the deteriorating quality of the limestone deposits lining a Roman aqueduct in southern Gaul, to discussing the large error margins built into Roman engineering and their consequences for resilience.

The Upside of Down is an essential read for anyone interested in understanding the converging stresses of the twenty-first century and the potential implications for our current way of life. Homer-Dixon possesses a rare ability to connect disparate fields of enquiry in a clear, concise and profound manner, and to bring the resulting discussion to life. There are too few books which take a truly interdisciplinary approach and place current issues in their complex context – this is one of the best available.
(10 Jan 2007)

The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook

Ryan McGreal, Raise The Hammer
Sustainability, permaculture, and the novel idea that living with less stuff is actually a good thing.
Review: Albert Bates, The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, New Society, 2006.

This remarkable book could be summed up as Accept the fact that you’re going to have less stuff, and find ways to make that work for you, but that summary isn’t nearly as much fun to read.

In what may be the first cheerful Peak Oil book, Albert Bates has used his experience as the director of the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology at The Farm in Tennessee to write a handy, helpful, and hopeful book.

Bates lived for years in an intentional community based on sustainable living and voluntary simplicity, so he knows firsthand that the end of abundant hydrocarbons is not the end of the world – quite the opposite, in fact, since it opens up a new (to the rest of us) experience of cooperation and convivial work.

After an introduction that sets the scene of declining fossil energy and looming climate change, Bates takes the reader through a twelve step petrochemical recovery program, starting with post-growth economics and running down through methods to conserve fresh water, manage wastes, create energy, grow and store food, and get around in the absence of cheap power.
(10 Jan 2007)

Heinberg’s synthesis deserves an Oscar

Jon S. aka monkeygrinder, Peak Energy (Seattle)
Bridging Peak Oil and Climate Change Activism via energy bulletin [by Richard Heinberg]

…This is one of the best articles I’ve read regarding peak energy and climate change in the last year. In fact, had Heinberg posted it a few days earlier, surely it would be in contention for an Oscar.

The barriers to solving our problem are many, but primarily it is a mis-identification of the solution(s) coupled with cultural inertia. It has been the pattern of the twentieth century in the sciences to consider disciplines separately, and minor fiefdoms then rise forth, tone deaf to information from other disciplines which may instruct local models du jour.

This is what Heinberg is describing, and in proposing a joint solution to two problem domains which takes in to account the range of observable and relevant variables he has created a strong synthesis of the two fields. The framework now describes one problem domain, with some strong first order suggestions shaping a strategy. Much more cohesive then my own first stabs at considering peak energy activism as a subset of the global warming response.

This is state of the art thinking, wherein the negative outcomes are molded into the solution. In a way, the movement is growing up – – less mind share is spent in the musty, darkened halls of the “quasi-survivalist” peak oil fear sites, and more in forging a path.

I’m there. Fight until you can’t fight no more. There will be plenty of time for nihilistic hedonism if human coastal cities turn into foam licked playthings of a hungry ocean while bands of merry chimps huddle just above sea level as a carbon soaked sky presses down.
(10 Jan 2007)

10 First Steps for a Transition Town Initiative #1. Awareness Raising.

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
There are a number of groups now wanting to initiate Transition Town projects, and their first question is usually “where do we start?” In order to answer this question and to clarify our own minds on this whole subject, we have prepared this collection of the first 10 steps as we see them. At this point we cannot offer an A – Z map for how to do a Transition Town project. But having travelled from A-C, we can at least give you some indicators as to what has been successful for us through the Totnes experience. While they don’t necessarily run in the order they will here, today’s is by necessity the first.

#1. Awareness Raising.

You cannot assume that people are familiar with peak oil, with climate change, or even with basic environmental concepts and principles that you take for granted. It is essential that before launching an Official Unleashing event (see #3) you prepare the ground. In Totnes we spent nearly a year giving talks, film screenings and networking before we organised the launch. During that time we learnt a great deal about how to most effectively do this.
(10 Jan 2007)

Searching for the Future

Karrie Jacobs, Metropolis Magazine
One of my projects, ongoing and open-ended, is figuring out what the twenty-first century looks like. What exactly separates the present from the past? What do I see every day on the street or highway that I wouldn’t have seen eight or nine years ago, back on the far side of the millennial divide? How do I get enough perspective to see clearly the world all around me?

…Toronto photographer Edward Burtynsky has devoted himself to capturing “nature transformed through industry.”

…On a recent trip to Vancouver I stumbled upon the documentary Manufactured Landscapes, which tracks Burtynsky as he documents the ongoing reinvention of China. (It will begin a U.S. run in June, at Film Forum, in New York.) Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, the film opens with a slow pan inside a factory in Xiamen City. The shot goes on seemingly forever because the factory building is absurdly long. Even in Burtynsky’s still photo of the factory’s interior, the building seems to continue beyond the vanishing point. So if you want to know what the twenty-first century looks like, maybe you look at Maisel’s shot of greater L.A. stretching from the Pacific to the San Gabriel Mountains or at Burtynsky’s Chinese factory that extends to the edge of topological improbability.

Manufactured Landscapes offers a handy synopsis of the extraordinary work Burtynsky did in China: he photographed the factories where the bulk of our consumer goods are manufactured, documented the leveling of the 13 cities that were about to be inundated by the Three Gorges Dam, and tracked the unparalleled urban-renewal movement that has transformed Shanghai into a modern high-rise city.

Burtynsky is now beginning to tackle a subject larger than China. “I’ve been interested in trying to photograph things that may exist today that will not exist tomorrow,” he says. He’s set out to document the idea of peak oil and its impact on society. “I’m looking at the industry and the oil fields and the last great sources of oil on the planet.”

…Implicit in both Maisel’s and Burtynsky’s work is the notion that we are pushing the limits of how much we can make and build and consume. Certainly both are crafting powerful messages about the environmental impact of modern life. At the same time they create works of extraordinary beauty.
(10 Jan 2007)
Emphasis added.

The Man Who Mistook a Concrete Pillar for a Global Threat

John Thackara, WorldChanging
Some of you may know Oliver Sacks’ book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. It’s about people afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations – and in particular a man who looks at something familiar (his wife) but perceives something completely different.

Well, I’ve become one of those people!

It happened to me most recently at Madrid’s new airport. One minute I was admiring Richard Rogers’ gorgeous roof, and the play of light upon curves.

But I suddenly stopped perceiving these effects as aesthetic. In place of elegant forms and vistas, I started to contemplate the vast amount of energy embodied in the artefacts, structures and processes that surrounded me.

A big new airbus, taxiing in to park, made me wonder how many thousands – millions – of pounds of matter and energy must have been used to build it.

Beside me was an elegant concrete pillar. It looked benignly tree-like with a gently curving trunk and branches, higher up, that supported a soaring roof.

But how many carbon dioxide emissions were generated during its fabrication? A ton of CO2 is emitted for every ton of concrete that ends up in a pillar – or the miles of concrete apron that stretched, in Madrid, in every direction.

Millions of tons of concrete visible to the eye. Millions of tons of emissions out of sight.

John Thackara is the Director of Designs of the Time and Doors of Perception, the author of In the Bubble, and a valued Worldchanging ally.
(9 Jan 2007)
Good article about how ones’ perception changes – so that once was delightful and inspiring, now seems suicidal and foolish. Many peak oilers have reported a similar change in perception. -BA