John Michael Greer Interviewed

Janaia at Peak Moment Conversations interviews one of my favorite bloggers and thinkers, John Michael Greer. He's articulate and informed – be ready to learn and smile. You can read his essays at The Archdruid Report.

Link: Peak Moment Conversations » Blog Archive » 138 The Twilight of an Age.

In his book, The Long Descent, John Michael Greer observes that our culture has two primary stories: “Infinite Progress” or “Catastrophe”. On the contrary, he sees history as cyclic: civilizations rise and fall. Like others, ours is exhausting its resource base. Cheap energy is over. Decline is here, but the descent will be a long one. It’s too late to maintain the status quo by swapping energy sources. How to deal with this predicament? He lays out practical ideas, possibilities, and potentials, including reconnecting with natural and human capacities pushed aside by industrial life.

Cowboy Humor: Computer Terminology

Link: Cowboy Humor

Log On: Making a wood stove hot

Log Off: Too much wood on fire

Monitor: Keep'n an eye on the wood stove

Down Load: Gitten the farwood off'n the truck

Mega Hertz: What ya git when ya git thrown offn yur horse

Floppy Disk: Whatcha git from tryin to tote too much farwood

RAM: That thar thang what splits the farwood

Hard Drive: Gitten home in the winter time

Windows: Whut to shut when its cold outside

Screen: Whut to shut when its black fly season

Byte: Whut dem dang flys do

Chip: Munchies fer the TV

Micro Chip: Whut's in the bottom of the munchie bag

Modem: Whatcha do to the hay fields

Dot Matrix: Ole Dan Matrix's wife

Lap Top: Whar the kitty sleeps

Keyboard: Whar you hang the dang truck keys

Software: Dem dang plastic forks and knifes

Mouse: What eats the grain in the barn

Mouse Pad: That's hippie talk fer where the mouse lives

Main Frame: Holds up the barn roof

Port: Fancy flatlander wine

Enter: Notherner talk fer "C'Mon in y'all"

Click: Whut you hear when you cock yer gun

Double Click: When you cock the double barrel

Reboot: Whut you have to do right before bedtime, when you have to go to the outhouse

National Geographic Magazine Photographer: Show and Tell

National Geographic contributing photographer Joel Sartore talks about being on assignment for the world's greatest magazine.

Link: Joel Sartore

 A strong conservation message along with how we can all help to save the planet. Video footage provided courtesy of Conservation International

Does Science Fiction Offer Guidance about the Future?

John Micheal Greer describes how some science fiction writers explore the future, sometimes with surprising accuracy. He says that some writers picturing the post peak oil landscape are producing peak oil fiction that could be useful for people who want to prepare for a very different world. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: The Future That Wasn't.

Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, the hugely successful pop spirituality phenomenon of two years ago, was exactly such a rehash of forgotten commonplaces; its promoters correctly guessed that ideas that appealed to the public during the boomtime of the 1920s, no matter how dubious those ideas were, would be just as popular during the late housing bubble. No doubt they’re sorting through the rather different self-improvement literature of the 1930s in search of a bestseller for the decade ahead of us.

The interesting thing is that there were thinkers busy during these same decades whose visions ended up having a huge and enduring impact on the way the entire Western world thinks about the future. These visionaries weren’t to be found in the ivory towers of academe or any of the other prestigious places where people, then and now, expect great minds to be found; they didn’t even have the cachet of romantically starving to death in garrets. Most of them could be found in ordinary urban apartments and homes, hunched over clattering manual typewriters, as they fed a couple of dozen cheap gaudy magazines with science fiction stories.

…serious literature rarely has a major impact on society. Its readership is too small and too well educated to slip into the uncritical enthusiasm that shapes the imagination of an age. Most often it turns out to be the popular literature, the reading material of housewives, factory workers, and schoolchildren, that reaches into the crawlspaces of culture where the future takes shape. By shedding literary credentials and wrapping itself in the gaudy finery of the pulp magazines, science fiction worked its way into the collective imagination of the modern world.

…science fiction in its pulp days transformed itself from a somewhat esoteric literary genre to a folk mythology that still shapes most of our thinking about the future today. Onto the blank screen of infinite space, as a result, the modern imagination projects all the dreams, fantasies and fears other cultures assign to more obviously metaphysical realms. Many of the essays I’ve posted on this blog have focused on disputing assumptions about the future that root straight back into the science fiction of the pulp era.

What makes this all the more interesting is that the grand future shared in common by most science fiction from the pulp era straight through to the 1970s – the leap upward from Earth to the first colonies on the Moon and Mars, the expansion through the solar system, the inevitable arrival of interstellar flight, and the panorama of star federations and galactic empires to follow – has lost nearly all the conviction that once made it look like the inevitable shape of things to come. It had its day, and accomplished certain things in that time; without Jules Verne and his many successors, human footprints probably would never have been left on the Moon, but its day is over now. Those who still cling to the old hope today – I am thinking of Ray Kurzweil and the Extropians here – have been reduced to wrapping Protestant eschatology in the borrowed garments of science fiction; rapture into heaven followed by immortality is a religious concept even when the god who is expected to provide it is named Technology. It’s a measure of this loss of faith that the publication of science fiction novels in the English-speaking world, at least, has declined steadily since the late 1980s and now amounts to only a few hundred titles a year.

In this light it’s interesting to note that the impact of peak oil on the future of the industrial world has begun to be explored using the toolkit of fiction. James Howard Kunstler’s World Made By Hand is the example most people in the peak oil scene know about, and deservedly so; it’s a rousing, readable tale that borrows from familiar genres (notably the Western) to portray the aftermath of the petroleum age in accessible terms. More experimental and, to my taste, even more interesting is Caryl Johnson’s self-published “essay-novel” After The Crash, which weaves together a tale about the writing of a narrative history of the end of the Hydrocarbon Age in post-Crash Philadelphia with social criticism directed at the present and speculation about the future.

…Just as science fiction enabled people to get their heads around such improbable realities as moon landings decades in advance, peak oil fiction could make it easier for people today to make sense of the approaching changes in our own world.

Is Wind Power the Way? The Top 7 Alternative Energies

New Scientist reports that a study by Mark Jacobson of the atmosphere and energy programme at Stanford University found wind power to be by far the most desirable source of energy. Excerpts below.

Link: Top 7 alternative energies listed – environment – 14 January 2009 – New Scientist.

The US could replace all its cars and trucks with electric cars powered by wind turbines taking up less than 3 square kilometres – in theory, at least. That's the conclusion of a detailed study ranking 11 types of non-fossil fuels according to their total ecological footprint and their benefit to human health.

The study, carried out by Mark Jacobson of the atmosphere and energy programme at Stanford University, found wind power to be by far the most desirable source of energy. Biofuels from corn and plant waste came right at the bottom of the list, along with nuclear power and "clean" coal.

Watch a video of Jacobson discussing his findings.

The energy sources that Jacobson found most promising were, in descending order:

• Wind

• Concentrated solar power (mirrors heating a tower of water)

• Geothermal energy

• Tidal energy

• Solar panels

• Wave energy

• Hydroelectric dams

To compare the fuels, Jacobson calculated the impacts each would have if it alone powered the entire US fleet of cars and trucks.

He considered not just the quantities of greenhouse gases that would be emitted, but also the impact the fuels would have on the ecosystem – taking up land and polluting water, for instance. Also considered were the fuel's impact on pollution and therefore human health, the availability of necessary resources, and the energy form's reliability.

"The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most," says Jacobson.

"Some options that have been proposed are just downright awful," he says. "Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply, and land use than current fossil fuels."

Beautiful Image: January White

Link: Earth Shots » January White by Philippe Sainte-Laudy

January White by Philippe Sainte-Laudy

January White by Philippe Sainte-Laudy

When nature dressed in white!
Equipment: Nikon D300 with 18/200mm
Philippe Sainte-Laudy
The beauty of nature is all around us at all times, but there are brief moments when a combination of elements present themselves
in a truly spectacular way. Anybody who is fortunate enough to witnesses one of these events will look back fondly upon the memory.
And they are even more fortunate if they happen to have a camera ready to record the event. In order to be in the right place at the right time, it is necessary to understand the complex interactions between light, weather, landscape, the tides, plants, and animals. And it is important to have a deep respect for this planet and its inhabitants. I hope that photography can bring people closer to nature and encourage them to preserve it for future generations.