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Practice Losing Farther, Losing Faster: Everyday History in a Crashing Economy

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
… It is hard to know exactly where we’re headed – whether this is the first step in a long slide or the beginning of a fairly rapid reorganization that moves us to a much lower level – or both. In some senses, as I’ve always argued, it doesn’t really matter – all the discussions of whether we’re like Rome or whatnot can help us gauge the comprehensive sweep of history, and the way it will be looked at going backwards. They can remind us that history, while lived, is experienced both more slowly and more rapidly than most of us can really process. But historic sweeps don’t really tell any more of the larger story than localized narratives – for someone who moves from lower middle class rapidly to starvation (as happened quite a lot during the Depression), the world *did* collapse. Sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly – but the large sweep of history can’t really account for the not-insubstantial percentage of those who have already had collapse or are on the brink of it. For those who died for reasons that seemed mad to them based on their prior worldview, the world *did* fall apart, the apocalypse did come, the horsemen came marching. In some neighborhoods, in some places, right now, any claim that peak oil and its related financial disaster won’t really be as bad as we said, that it will take a century or two, would be laughed off rather as the dead killed in the first sacks of Rome might laugh at the idea that Rome wouldn’t fall for a good long time yet. Falling is all a matter of perspective.

… Most of my readers will recognize John Michael Greer’s _Long Descent_ as the clearest articulation of the sweeping historical vision, and I truly think it is one of the best peak oil books ever written. It provides a useful corrective to a perspective that is real, if not quite as widespread as I believe Greer thinks it is. And it seems to be truly penetrating the narrative of peak oil discussions in a deeply productive way, which pleases me. I do, however, think it is worth articulating the ways in which a larger vision might also be unhelpful to us – not because I think Greer’s work itself is insufficiently nuanced, but because the versions of stories we tell to ourselves about how the world works always gets oversimplified. As people read his book and begin to nod and recognize that perhaps the zombies aren’t actually on the march yet, I think there’s a danger that some people may give up getting zombie-ready ;-). This (and I assume you all know that by “zombie ready” I mean “increasing pantry and warm clothes” not “home-scale tactical nukes”), I think, could be dangerous for the people most likely to be impoverished, to experience peak oil as a true collapse – because there are always early victims, often large categories of them, who experience their world as collapsing, because their particular sphere of it is. And IMHO, it is always wisest to assume you might be one of them. If not, you can enjoy being pleasantly surprised and donate your preparations to others who were not so blessed.
(18 September 2008)

Following the credit crisis futurologist Richard Watson predicts the future trends

Richard Watson, Telegraph
After a week when it’s been impossible to predict which financial giant will still be standing at the end of the day, let alone the year, it would seem like a fool’s errand to talk about decades down the line.
Future trends: money as a physical object might well become extinct

Future trends: money as a physical object might well become extinct

These days, if you raise your gaze to the horizon, you’ll find experts warning of a host of problems: melting ice caps, global pandemics, terrorism, the end of oil, meteor strikes, even robot uprisings.

It’s all too easy to become paralysed by such possibilities – and yes, there are ideas, discoveries and events over the horizon that we can’t possibly comprehend. But while the future is unknown and unwritten, we can begin to trace its outline, and prepare the first drafts.

… However, if you want a simpler take, there are five key factors to remember.

The first is ageing. …

Second, the environment will remain vitally important, but climate change won’t be the only game in town – the approach of peak oil, peak coal, peak gas, peak water, peak uranium and even peak people (a severe shortage of workers in many parts of the world) will also have an impact, and require a profound shift towards sustainability.
(19 September 2008)

The Wisdom of Public Prediction Markets And The Limits Of Statistics

Big Gav, Peak Energy
Kevin Kelly has an interesting (and thorough) look at the state of play in predictive markets at the Long Now blog – The Wisdom of Public Prediction Markets.

Prediction markets continue to proliferate. These communities use money to bet on outcomes in the future. If a prediction comes true, the winners reap the money from the losing betters. The price of a bet, or share, fluctuates over time — and thus can be used as a signal for the community’s opinion. In theory a prediction market taps into the “wisdom of crowds,” but can also be viewed as conventional wisdom. However the results of prediction markets have been proven to be reliable conventional wisdom. (See my previous post on the subject.)

There are two kinds of prediction markets: ones where you bet real money, and ones where you bet funny money. Since betting real money keeps people honest (to reduce their loses), markets with real money are considered a much better indicator of opinion than a mere poll — which has no “penalty” for being less than honest. But real money prediction markets are (stupidly) illegal in the US. So token markets like Long Bets and Bet2Give are devised to innovate around the law. …

… Prediction markets aren’t a new idea of course – John Brunner made them a central feature of The Shockwave Rider and pointed out that if they become ubiquitous they are just as likely to become a tool for manipulating public perception as they are to be a useful way of gauging it (and perhaps predicting future events). They key to making them successful is absolute transparency – all market participants need to be sure that they data they see is accurate (and how everyone else “voted”).

Predictive markets are the sort of thing the folks at The Arlington Institute like to mess about with, though their latest scheme is a little more metaphysical in nature (and highly reminiscent of the opening sections of “The Men Who Stare At Goats”)
(16 September 2008)
Big Gav has gathered several interesting posts on the subject. -BA

Launch of Wikia Green

Press release, Wikia Green
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia is launching a for-profit initiative called Green Wikia. The following is from the press release:

Wikia Green brings together volunteers, experts, existing authorities and content to provide a fresh perspective on environmental issues and sustainable practices SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., (PRWEB) September 9, 2008. Wikia, Inc., the leading provider of community resources for building and organizing free information on every topic, today announced the formal launch of Wikia Green a project to build a community generated online resource that is home to the best information about green topics and issues. Based on the wiki platform, Wikia Green is an ever-evolving, community-focused repository of content that can be instantly molded or changed by anyone to reflect the most current topics of interest and latest information in the green arena. “Today we are formally inviting anyone who is interested and knowledgeable about ecological issues to join us in creating something that we hope will become a valuable resource for society,” said Jimmy Wales, Co-founder and Chairman of the board, Wikia, Inc. “As the whole notion of ‘going green’ has exploded, so too has the volume of related information floating around out there on the Internet. It has come to a point where, for the average person looking for tips on how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, it can be somewhat difficult to know where to start and Wikia Green is looking to be just that place.”…

…To learn more or to become a member of the Wikia Green community, please visit: About Wikia, Inc.

Since Wikia’s launch in November 2004, more than 1 million articles on 6,000 topics have been created and edited by over 350,000 registered users in 70 languages and attracts over 18mm unique visitors a month. Wikia enables groups to share information, news, stories, media and opinions that fall outside the scope of an encyclopedia. Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley launched Wikia to provide community-based wikis inspired by the model of Wikipedia — the free, open source encyclopedia founded by Jimmy Wales. Please note, however, that Wikia is an independently operated company and therefore Wikia and all of Wikia’s subsequent projects, including the Wikia Search project, are in no way related to or The Wikimedia Foundation. Wikia is committed to openness, inviting anyone to contribute web content. Authors retain their own copyrights and allow others to freely reuse their content under a variety of GNU and Creative Commons Licenses, allowing widespread distribution of knowledge and ideas.

(9 September 2008)