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Resilience, oil, entropy - July 31

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Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys
The Case For Resilience

Chip Ward, Tom's Dispatch
Resilience. You may not have heard much about it, but brace yourself. You're going to hear that word a lot in the future. It is what we have too little of as our world slips into unpredictable climate chaos. "Resilience thinking," the cutting edge of environmental science, may someday replace "efficiency" as the organizing principle of our economy.

Our current economic system is designed to maximize outputs and minimize costs. (That's what we call efficiency.) Efficiency eliminates redundancy, which is abundant in nature, in favor of finding the one "best" way of doing something - usually "best" means most profitable over the short run - and then doing it that way and that way only. And we aim for control, too, because it is more efficient to command than just let things happen the way they will. Most of our knowledge about how natural systems work is focused on how to get what we want out of them as quickly and cheaply as possible - things like timber, minerals, water, grain, fish, and so on. We're skilled at breaking systems apart and manipulating the pieces for short-term gain.

Think of resiliency, on the other hand, as the ability of a system to recover from a disturbance. Recovery requires options to that one "best" way of doing things in case that way is blocked or disturbed. A resilient system is adaptable and diverse. It has some redundancy built in. A resilient perspective acknowledges that change is constant and prediction difficult in a world that is complex and dynamic. It understands that when you manipulate the individual pieces of a system, you change that system in unintended ways. Resilience thinking is a new lens for looking at the natural world we are embedded in and the manmade world we have imposed upon it.

In the world today, efficiency rules. The history of our industrial civilization has essentially been the story of gaining control over nature. Water-spilling rivers were dammed and levied; timber-wasting forest fires were suppressed; cattle-eating predators were eliminated; and pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics were liberally applied to deal with those pesky insects, weeds, and microbes that seemed so intent on wasting what we wanted to use efficiently. Today we are even engineering the genetic codes of plants and animals to make them more efficient.
(28 July 2007)
Also at: Common Dreams.

Recommended by JMG at Grismill:
A powerful essay ... that illustrates a hugely important point: where nature overprotects, and uses redundancy with abandon, mankind attempts to engineer everything to the last decimal place, with all redundancy removed in the quest for maximum profit. A suicidal cultural pattern, probably.


Losing Our Balance?

Jeff Vail, Energy Intelligence
Interesting times, indeed. Oil (WTI) closed within one penny of the all-time record closing price of $77.03 last Friday. The markets seem shaken, and suddenly people are realizing that the recent explosion of derivatives may have created as much hidden rigidity as resiliency in our financial markets (as I wrote about here).

Mexico continues to reveal how deep its problems run. After my article on Mexico Collapse sparked quite a conversation on this topic, the meme of Mexico collapse spread quickly (though I don't take credit for that--the situation speaks for itself). One little gem was PEMEX's announcement late Friday that they will probably be out of oil in seven years--out of oil, not just beginning to decline. Notice how this came out on Friday afternoon. This is when you issue a press release when you want to bury a story.

And electricity seems to be a growing problem, at least in the third world (and those areas that the US military has transformed into the same). It is interesting to note that Jay Hanson (of dieoff.org notoriety) has always predicted that it would be electricity, not oil, that would be the actual cause of collapse. This seems quite plausible to me, though I still think that it will be fundamentally driven by declining oil production, with the resulting electricity-grid problems being best understood as an "above ground factor" stemming from oil
(30 July 2007)


Vanishing Point

James Howard Kunstler, blog
Last week's stock market meltdown suggested that a financial sector rigged for the falsification of reality eventually enters a danger zone where reality implacably reasserts itself, expectations dissolve, and all that remains is the sour odor of fraud.

...My critical auditors never tire of pointing out how consistently wrong I have been about weakness in the US economy, but I really do think we've reached the vanishing point

...By the way, I believe the stunning failure of responsibility actually can be accounted for, though my theory may not be to everyone's taste (especially the science hard-asses out there). In a word: entropy. The US has enjoyed unprecedented energy inputs and the result is unprecedented entropy outputs. The protean force of entropy then manifests as degradation in just about everything around us from the immersive ugliness of a landscape overbuilt with WalMarts, Pizza Huts, and vinyl houses, to the sexual perversion available on the Internet, to the surrender of standards and norms by executives in the financial sector. It's as simple as that. Entropy rules.

What reinforces my feeling that we are at the vanishing point is the additional simple fact that on Friday, West Texas crude oil closed one-cent short of its previous record high of $77.03 reached on July 14 last year (thanks to John William's Shadowstats.com for the date).

...The reason for that high price, I believe, is that we really have entered the zone of the permanent oil export crisis, meaning that the oil exporting nations (Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, etc) are using ever more of their own depleting product and are able to send less and less along to the places that import their oil (the US, Europe, China, India, and Japan).
(30 July 2007)

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