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Best of EB 2010

Our "end of the economy" moment
Joanne Poyourow, Transition US

This past week at the Transition Network Conference 2010 in the UK, the speaker Stoneleigh rocked everyone's paradigm with her talk "Making Sense of the Financial Crisis in the Era of Peak Oil" An audio of this talk is available online, but at this time, regrettably, her slides do not appear to be available.

Within growing Transition Initiatives, we are accustomed to showing paradigm-rocking films such as "End of Suburbia" and holding a community discussion of people's reactions. Hopkins even describes the "End of Suburbia Moment." (page 83, The Transition Handbook)...
(27 June 2010)


The end of growth
Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute

Introduction: The New Normal

The central assertion of this book is both simple and startling: Economic growth as we have known it is over and done with.

The “growth” we are talking about consists of the expansion of the overall size of the economy (with more people being served and more money changing hands) and of the quantities of energy and material goods flowing through it....
(12 November 2010)


Exclusive interview: Robert Hirsch
Matthieu Auzanneau, Oil Man blog

James Schlesinger, President Carter’s Energy Secretary, wrote the foreword to a book written by Dr Robert Hirsch, an former US official who predicts a fall of the oil production within 5 years.

Never before has a high-ranking political figure like Schlesinger given his support to such a prognosis. The book will be published in the US on October the 1st. Here is an exclusive interview with its author....
(16 September 2010)


An uneven collapse (Hint: It's already happening)
Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights

When we think of collapse, we often think of a building or bridge or other structure suddenly giving way. We have a tendency to take this physical model of collapse and translate it into the social and political world.

Thus, when Joseph Tainter or Jared Diamond write of societal collapse, we are inclined to think of a relatively rapid process that acts equally across an entire area and even perhaps across the entire globe. But I believe that the collapse of the globalized society we now inhabit will be exceedingly uneven geographically and one that is spread over many years. And, I believe that that collapse has already started to appear in places which might be considered the periphery of our global system....
(28 February December 2010)


Reflections on Eyjafjallajokull: let’s not waste another wake-up call
Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture

Last week none of us had ever heard of an Icelandic volcano called Eyjafjallajokull, and still even now, very few of us can actually pronounce its name. The volcanic dust spewn forth across Europe as a result of its spectacular eruption has had a remarkable effect, leading to, among other things, the total grounding of the UK’s aviation fleet for several days until this morning. The headline on Metro, the free newspaper the person next to me on the train is reading as I write this, is “Fly, fly again”. It will take days to clear the backlog and to get things back to normal, but let us not pass up this opportunity to meditate on vulnerability and resilience, which led to major disruption to the air freighting of produce from Kenya and other places, thousands of people stuck in their Easter holiday destinations, and Liverpool Football Club having to travel to its Europa League fixture with Athletico Madrid on public transport. But perhaps rather than seeing it as the ‘misery’ most news broadcasts labelled it as, we might see it as good practice for the near future.

Two days ago, 400,000 Britons were stranded around the world, 268,000 across Europe, the rest mainly in the US, Home Secretary David Miliband calling for the ‘great British spirit’ to be invoked by stranded tourists. The navy fleet was on standby for a Dunkirk style ‘rescuing’ of Brits from the European mainland to get them home. A Royal Navy ship picked up tourists from Spain, the captain saying “it’s a warship so the civilians won’t be used to the austere conditions, but they will get fresh rations, fish and chips for dinner tonight and curry tomorrow. We will provide as many camp beds as we can, but it’s not a 5 star hotel. An Englishman who organised a flotilla of boats to sail to Dunkirk to pick up tourists in a restaging of the Dunkirk evacuations of World War 2, was turned back by French authorities who told him that such behaviour was anti-commercial and could affect the viability of French ferries (at least that’s the story as it was told to me, true or not, it’s a great story)....
(21 April 2010)
EB contributor Ann Peluso writes that it's not so hard to pronounce "Ejyafjallajokull":

The j is a yay, like the y in you.

Then Ejya, "eye-a", is an island, fjalla, "fi-alla", is a mountain, jokull, "yo-kul", with the o pronounced with the lips curled up with the o [not really necessary for Americans] is a glacier.

Island mountain glacier. Island mountain glacier - Eye-a fi-alla yo-kul. Ejya fjalla jokull.


The gathering hordes
Christine Patton, Peak Oil Hausfrau

Rome, Italy - CE 400

Proponents of the so-called "barbarian invasion" theory today warned of the "potentially disastrous" effects of hundreds of thousands of Visigoths, Huns, and Vandals plundering the imperial capital, including death, despoilment and dismemberment of the populace, and destruction of the city's ancient architecture and temples.

Senator Titus Claudius scoffed at the authors of the Foreign Barbarian Invasion: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management report, saying, "Obviously, these people have warned of barbarian invasions before - and look - Rome is as rich and prosperous as ever." The Senator went on to proclaim that because of the unlimited amounts of land left to conquer and the unparallelled might of the Imperial army, no barbarians could ever pierce the walls of Rome. Additionally, the Senator said that preparing for an imminent invasion would divert needed funds from temple building and wine production.
(3 Sept 2010)


What caused the Deepwater Horizon disaster?
Arthur E. Berman, The Oil Drum

The blowout and oil spill on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico was caused by a flawed well plan that did not include enough cement between the 7-inch production casing and the 9 7/8-inch protection casing. The presumed blowout preventer (BOP) failure is an important but secondary issue. Although the resulting oil spill has potentially grave environmental implications, recent efforts to limit the flow with an insertion tube have apparently been effective. Continuous efforts to slow or stop the flow include drilling two nearby relief wells that may intersect the MC 252 wellbore within 60-90 days.

On April 20, 2010, the crew of the Deepwater Horizon was preparing to temporarily abandon BP’s “Macondo” discovery well in Mississippi Canyon (MC) Block 252...
(21 May 2010)


College: the ivory tower crumbles
Carolyn Baker, Speaking Truth to Power

Warning: This article is blasphemous. How can a former professor of history and psychology write an article with this title? Is the author simply a disgruntled doomer who has become hopelessly cynical?

First, let me begin by expressing my gratitude for four years of solid university education. I'm equally grateful for advanced degrees in history and counseling. I'm grateful for help from my parents and being able to live in an economy where I could work, pay my bills, and actually save money for tuition. I attended college at a particularly exciting time in history, also majoring in that subject as an undergraduate, my minor being, so to speak, student activism....
(6 July 2010)


"In America most people have no conception that anything can really change radically" - Interview with John Michael Greer
Alexander Ac, Karel Dolejsi, Tomas Hyjanek, Energybulletin.cz

Alexander Ac: Do you think that peak oil is a turning point in the history of human development? And can we compare it to anything else?

John Michael Greer: I think so. One of the problems that I see that a lot of people tend to think that whatever is happening at the present moment is the most important thing in human history. The crisis in industrial society, of which peak oil is one of the symptoms, is larger in scale than any previous example but is not different in kind. Most civilizations in the past have outrun their resource base and gone through the process of decline and fall. Ours is simply doing it on a bigger scale than previous civilizations because we have more energy to throw around....
(20 October 2010)


Mark Shepherd's 106 acre permaculture farm in Viola, Wisconsin
Chuck Burr, Southern Oregon Permaculture Institute

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Mark Shepard ‘s family permaculture farm in Viola, Wisconsin. Mark has planted an estimated 250,000 trees over the last 15 years on his 106 acre farm. Forest Agriculture Enterprises is known for its hazelnut, chestnut, butternut, nut pine and apple produce, scion-wood and value added products. Mark has a lot of wisdom on not only farm operation but also community and staff and intern economics.

The coulee district of south western Wisconsin is a beautiful rolling hill country. Mark has planted his trees and market garden patches on contour to retain water and to heal the land—the only exception is the hazelnut maze...

After Copenhagen: How can we save the world?
Ian Angus, Climate and Capitalism

Ian Angus, editor of Climate and Capitalism, gave this talk on March 26, at O Clima Farto de Nós? (Is the Climate Sick of Us?), a conference organized by the Left Bloc and the European Left in Lisbon, Portugal.

The December fiasco in Copenhagen has posed a major challenge to the left, indeed to everyone who wants to defend our world and humanity.

The world’s rich countries went to Copenhagen not to fight global warming, but to block any action that might weaken the narrow national interests of their corporate rulers. As Bolivia’s ambassador, Pablo Solón, writes...
(31 March 2010)


An agriculture that stands a chance: perennial polyculture & the hard limits of post-carbon farming
Dan Allen, Energy Bulletin

Our fate as a nation in the post-carbon era hinges, to a great extent, on the fate of our agriculture. Unfortunately, US agriculture faces a slew of constricting limits (energetic, climatic, material, etc.) that gravely threaten the continued viability of our current annual-monoculture-based model. An alternative agricultural model based on polycultures of perennial crops will likely be more than just a ‘good idea’ in the coming post-carbon era – it’ll be a damn NECESSITY. So grab your shovels, America -- it’s time to begin the transition to an agriculture that stands a chance.

...Examined closely, our current, record-breaking, industrial-agricultural yields are dependent on a tenuous combination of EACH of the following ‘pillars’: (1) OIL & GAS: cheap fossil energy for making nitrogen-fertilizer, mining phosphate, running farm machinery, transporting food, and maintaining a functioning growth-dependent economy where credit is available, (2) LAND & SOIL: ample acreage of currently-productive soils (threatened now by erosion, salinization, sea-level rise, and incipient shortages of key nutrients), (3) WATER: ample irrigation water from snowmelt and groundwater-aquifers, and (4) CLIMATE: a climate that is still passably stable, without too many severe droughts, storms, or temperature extremes...
(13 December 2010)


CityBeat Podcast 44: Wendell Berry (audio)
Stephen Carter-Novotni, Citybeat

Philosopher-farmers Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson and Gene Logsdon discuss the future of agriculture, the environment and changing our ideas about growth and progress. Recorded live at Xavier University on April 11. Special thanks to Xavier University's Ethics/Religion and Society Department.
(27 April 2010)


Review: Putting the Bundeswehr report in context
Rick Munroe, Energy Bulletin

1. Abstract
The recent leak of a German military report on peak oil has generated much interest among peak oil analysts. The study was written by the Future Analysis department of the Bundeswehr Transformation Center, and is entitled, Peak Oil: Implications of Resource Scarcity on Security. While some analysts view the German study as significant, others have argued that it is mostly a summary of existing information and provides few new insights. This review examines the Bundeswehr report in the context of other publicly-available military analyses of peak oil and concludes that the new German report is highly significant for several reasons.

2. The context: recent military analyses of peak oil
Although there were virtually no publicly-available military analyses of peak oil prior to 2005, there has been an explosion of interest during the past half-decade. An annotated bibliography of this literature was posted last year and has just been updated....
(28 September 2010)


What the Zapatistas can teach us about the climate crisis
Jeff Conant, Foreign Policy in Focus

With their 1994 battle cry, “Ya basta!” ("Enough already!") Mexico’s Zapatista uprising became the spearhead of two convergent movements: Mexico’s movement for indigenous rights and the international movement against corporate globalization.

Skip to 2010: the movements for indigenous rights and against corporate globalization have converged again, this time globally, in the climate justice movement. Following the widely acknowledged failure of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen last December, the greatest manifestation of these converging movements took place this past April at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia...
(3 Aug 2010)


Deconstructing Dinner: The erosion of civilizations (w/David Montgomery and Ronald Wright) (audio)
Jon Steinman, Deconstructing Dinner

Deconstructing Dinner has recently been reflecting on the model of agriculture itself as the primary source through which most people on earth access their food. From our exploration of ethnobiology to recent topics on permaculture, it's clear that there are other models available, which, for some people are a substitute for agriculture, and for others, complementary practices. But what within that dependence on agriculture are we all dependent upon? Multinational corporations? The chain grocery store? Perhaps the microwave!?

Well behind those dependencies, which are precarious at best, is a more deeply rooted dependence... soil - a dependence of which its once-deep roots have demonstrated over time to have become progressively shallower as 'modern' agricultural practices deplete soil depth and nutrients.

On this broadcast, Deconstructing Dinner features voices of researchers who have explored the evolution of agriculture and soil alongside civilization...
(29 July 2010)


Rethinking scale and growth for a more sustainable world
Juliet Schor, Plenitude the Blog

Despite the lack of policy progress on climate change and ecosystem degradation there is no shortage of solutions currently on offer. While the specifics may differ, those getting most attention share one characteristic—they focus on technological change. Whether it’s Pacala et al’s wedges, Jeffrey Sachs’ plan to reduce carbon emissions through plug in hybrids and carbon capture and storage, McKinsey’s cost abatement curve approach, or Jacobson and DeLucchi’s 100% renewables by 2030 plan, the emphasis is on technology.

Most conspicuously lack a number of obvious changes that would reduce emissions and footprint. They barely address households’ lifestyles and “behavioral” changes (the first McKinsey report calls these too “difficult”), ignore changes in distribution of assets and structure of enterprises, and are light on the conditions of knowledge generation and dissemination. Furthermore, with the exception of the green jobs literature, they generally fail to integrate their analyses with current labor market conditions. As readers of this blog are well aware, the dominant discourse also pays scant attention to the equity implications and opportunities of environmental policy....
(13 August 2010)


300 years of fossil fuels and not one bad gal: Peak oil, women's history and everyone's future
Sharon Astyk, Casaubon's Book

If you haven't seen this video by Richard Heinberg and the Post Carbon Institute, you should. In a lot of ways it is an excellent summary of the history of fossil fuels, entertainingly and creatively done. In some ways, it is extremely valuable as a basic educational piece.

I'm very impressed with the clarity of this video, but it does have an odd gap in it - all of the human history of 300 years of fossil fuels doesn't have a single female person in it - not one. Women are addressed by implication when population is mentioned - but all the little hand-drawn people are men. There is a female figure meant to represent advertising, and a pony-tailed teenager of indeterminate gender with their back to you watching tv, but all the actors, all the movers, all the shakers, all the drivers of our fossil fuel usage are men in this story....
(17 December 2010)


In the wake of victory
John Michael Greer, The Archdruid Report

This has not been an easy week for believers in a brighter future. As I write this week’s post, food prices in the global market are soaring toward levels that brought mass violence two years ago, driven partly by climate-driven crop failures and partly by the conversion of a noticeable fraction of food crops into fuel ethanol and biodiesel; the price of oil is bumping around somewhere skywards of $86 a barrel, or right around two and a half times the level arch-cornucopian Daniel Yergin insisted not that long ago would be oil’s long-term price; the latest round of climate talks at Cancún are lurching toward yet another abject failure; and bond markets worldwide are being roiled by panic selling as the EU’s Irish bailout has failed to reassure anybody, investors in US state and local bonds realize that debts that can’t be paid back won’t be paid back, and even the riskier end of commercial paper is beginning to look decidedly chancy.

With all this bad news rattling away like old-fashioned musketry, it can be hard to look beyond the headlines and grasp the broader picture, but that’s something well worth doing just now, especially for those of us who have put in some years in the peak oil scene or, for that matter, any of the other movements that have had the unwelcome job of pointing out that infinite growth on a finite planet is a daydream for fools. What the broader picture shows, when all the short-term vagaries, the rhetoric and the yelling are all stripped away, is something as simple as it is stunning: we were right all along, and the rest of the world is slowly, with maximum reluctance, being forced to grapple with that fact.
(1 December 2010)


Boat mills: water powered, floating factories
Kris de Decker, Low-tech Magazine

The waterwheel was seen as the most important power source in the world, from the Middle Ages to the end of the nineteenth century. When smaller streams became saturated, medieval engineers turned their attention to larger rivers, eventually leading to the development of the hydropower dams that still exists today. Lesser known are the intermediate steps toward that technology: boat mills, bridge mills and hanging mills. Boat mills had already appeared in 6th century Italy and spread all over the world. Most of them remained in use up until the end of the 1800s, with some of them surviving well into the 1900s.

Until recently, "boat mills", also known as "ship mills" or "floating mills", were largely thought of as a curiosity, a mere footnote in the long history of water power technology. Today some historians think that they were almost as widespread as windmills - although it should be noted that windmills, contrary to popular belief, were less common than watermills. The first monographs of boat mills only appeared in 2003 and 2006 (see sources). They contain, among many other new facts, the discovery of three tiny ship mills on a famous medieval painting from 1435 ("Madonna of Chancellor Rodin" by the Flemish painter Jan van Eyck). Nobody had noted them before, or weren't cognisant of exactly what they were...
(16 November 2010)


Cancun agreement stripped bare by Bolivia's dissent
Nick Buxton, Transnational Institute

In the famous Hans Christian Anderson fable, The Emperor's New Clothes, a weaver famously plays on an emperor's arrogance and persuades him to wear a non-existent suit with the argument that it is only invisible to the 'hopelessly stupid.' The moment of truth comes, as we can all remember, when a child in an otherwise silent crowd yells out, “But he is not wearing any clothes!” What we don't always recall is that the naked Emperor suspects the child may be telling the truth, but carries on marching proudly and unclothed regardless.

The story is a rather apt parallel for the Cancun climate agreements that were signed last week. Only one dissenting nation, Bolivia, dared to voice its dissent with the agreement. Yet their voice was silenced by the gavel of the Chair and by the standing ovations of 191 countries. They, like the Emperor, must know that the deal is naked and without substance, yet they march on proudly regardless...
(17 December 2010)


Knowledge and change, the intangible and development
Rahul Goswami, Energy Bulletin

Before sustainable development came to assume an academic formality (the new 'earth systems' science is built around the concept), it drew heavily from intangible cultural heritage (ICH) as expressed through the customs and practices used to transmit traditional knowledge. That is why there has been a multiplicity of terms used in the field of sustainable development to designate this concept: indigenous technical knowledge, traditional environmental knowledge, rural

Whatever the preference, this is a body of knowledge that has been nurtured and built upon by groups of people through generations of living in close contact with nature. It is usually specific to the local environment, and therefore highly adapted to the requirements of local people and conditions. At the same time it is creative and experimental, constantly incorporating influences from outside and innovating from within to meet new conditions.
(27 November 2010)

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