Initial Thoughts on the Age of Limits 2013 Conference

apocalypse city

This is actually free desktop wallpaper. Who says we’re not looking forward to the apocalypse?

Over Memorial Day weekend, Erik and I and our buddy John Zapf, attended a conference called The Age of Limits: Conversations on the Collapse of the Global Industrial Model. This conference brings together different luminaries from the “doomosphere” to discuss the impact and implications of the three-headed hydra of peak oil, climate change and economic collapse.

Now, Erik and I are aware that our lifestyle–what with the chickens and the canned goods and the funny relationship with urine–puts us somewhat on the fringe of American culture. Although, in our heads, we think our lifestyle is perfectly normal, and it is in fact getting more normal all the time.  I mean, since the advent of Portlandia we are at least a part of an identifiable subculture.

But this weekend, at the Age of Limits, we ventured into the deep fringe. We’ll get to some details for you later, but suffice it to say it was an intense four days, and since we returned late Monday night we’ve been trying to process a vast quantity of information and impressions. The hardest part of this process has been deciding how to share this experience with our readers. Where to begin?

Well, first, we are not journalists and were not equipped to deliver detailed reporting from the event. Here are links to the speakers so you can check them out, if you’re curious:

  •  John Michael Greer is the author of approximately a billion books, including The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World, The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered and Apocalypse Not.  He blogs at The Archdruid Report
  • Carolyn Baker, a psychotherapist and the grief councilor of the event, author of  Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, among others. Her website.
  • Dmitry Orlov is the author of The Five Stages of Collapse: A Survivor’s Toolkit and Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects. Blog: ClubOrlav
  • Gail Tverberg is a professional actuary and mathematician, global limits analyst and writer. Her blog is Our Finite World.
  • Guy McPherson is Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, author of Walking Away from Empire.  His blog: Nature Bats Last.
  • Albert Bates is one of the board of directors of The Farm, a co-founder of the Global Eco Village Network and the author of The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change, The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook. He blogs at The Great Change.

In the wake of the conference, what we find ourselves most interested in thinking about and talking about with others is not the validity of the concepts of peak oil, climate change and economic collapse, or the gritty details of it, but the culturally loaded ideas that spin off in response to these threats–what you might call the meta-narratives of collapse. Those are the topics we’ll cover in a series of posts in coming days.

In the spirit of full disclosure we should state where we stand on these ideas, and the truth is we disagree to some extent.

Kelly’s statement: I believe oil is a finite resource and that it will eventually cost more to extract it than it’s worth, that the record high CO2 levels in our atmosphere are changing climate and acidifying the oceans right this moment, and that our national and global financial systems are in a bad way.

Erik’s statement:  As Lao Tzu says, ”Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” Nassim Taleb has made a career of pointing out the failures of prognosticators. Taleb says, “What is surprising is not the magnitude of our forecast errors, but our absence of awareness of it.” We simply don’t know what the future holds. We do know that whatever happens, good or bad it’s in our interest to build community, grow gardens and eat healthy food.

Back to Kelly: As Erik says, we’re both agnostics in terms of outcomes. We know it looks bad, but we won’t make bets on when, where or how the badness, or the various badnesses, will manifest. It seems a poor bet to try to predict the behavior of any enormously complex system.

But just because we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do anything in response. In fact, the more time I spent in that conference, the more I became certain that my response to these predicaments, to this Triple Melange of Misery, is a combination of individual action and moral philosophy.

1) Individual action: Erik and I have always preached that change starts at home. It actually starts with the self. All we can really control is our own actions and choices, and if we’re lucky, we can talk some of our immediate family into joining us.

You readers know what I’m saying. You’re walking your talk. You’re learning new things, working with your hands and your hearts, connecting with community and nature and doing your best to live lightly on the land. You know that to advocate change without first changing yourself is hypocrisy. And refusing to change just because others aren’t doing so (e.g. the China argument) is just excuse making.

What is the value of individual action? Can it save us? I don’t know. If enough people did it, it might, and that would be cool. But at the very least, you can hold your head up, look the last dolphin in the eye through the thick glass of your respirator helmet and say, I tried, bro. I did my best. 

2) Moral philosophy: We’re going to have more to say on the moral/ethical dimensions of end time thinking in a another post. But I can say here that my own personal philosophy calls me to live well–not in terms of material things, but to try to live in gratitude and practice something like what Buddhists call right action, and do that every day. Even if the oceans are turning red and the zombies are crawling the streets, I’m still going to be composting and working in my garden and trying to share what I know with whoever wants to learn and doing whatever I can to help my neighbors because that’s how I want to live, and I don’t intend to let a little thing like an apocalypse turn me into an #$#%#*&.

In the coming days we’re going to be looking at the following concepts:

  • The apocalypse meme
  • The paralysis of doom
  • Gender roles, sexism and importance of high heels in coming dark ages
  • Kill Thy Neighbor: dubious strategies and overflexed ethics during troubled times

We’ll also discuss if we are going to change our location or otherwise up the ante on our lifestyle in response to the information we learned there, and we’re going to reveal the best positive action suggestion from the conference.

Stay tuned!

p.s.  If you’d like a reasoned, detailed overview of the problems arising around the intersection of peak oil and climate change, and a contemplation of possible outcomes, check out David Holgrem’s Future Scenarios website. (Holgrem is one of the founders of Permaculture.)

Tree Rings Turned Into Music

Artist Bartholomäus Traubeck’s “Years” plays the rings of a tree like a record.

It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.

Link via BoingBoing.

Age of Limits Conference

limits-to-growth-forecast_sml

Those of you who read this blog in a blog reader may have noticed that we said we were going to the Age of Limits conference at the Four Quarters Interfaith sanctuary in Pennsylvania this past weekend. In this interest of privacy, we decided not to let the entire world know we were leaving our house for the weekend, but somehow the announcement ended up on the blog temporarily. Apologies to those who tried to comment on a non-existent blog post.

We did, in fact, go to the conference which featured John Michael Greer, Dr. Carolyn Baker, Dmitry Orlov, Gail Tverberg, Guy McPherson and Albert Bates.

Both Kelly and I are exhausted and still processing the information. We’ll get around to writing about it soon.

Video Tour of the Root Simple Compound

Johnny Sanphillippo from Faircompanies.com shot a nice video tour of our house. Excuses for the audio–it was shot during a very windy day. And I really need to get around to painting the garage!

You’ll see our chicken coop. The video also features our rocket stove, horno and emergency potty plus a spin around the pantry. But the real star of this video is our 1920 bungalow. I wish they still build houses like this (sorry Dwell).

Thank you Ben Loescher and Kurt Gardella for building our horno and thanks to John Zapf for designing our chicken run!

Why are the pockets on women’s clothing so lame?

trout sewing

Trout likes himself a sewing project. Especially one he can lay on. Or gnaw on.

What is with women’s clothing? Why are all of the pockets sized somewhere between tiny and non-existent?

There seems to be some misguided belief that women inherently carry lots of stuff, therefore must carry bags, therefore do not need pockets. This is false. Women carry bags because we have inadequate pockets, and we figure we may as well carry extra stuff–because why not? We have to carry the !&^%$  bag anyway. It’s a terrible cycle.

Another belief seems to be women don’t want pockets because they will bulk up the sleek lines of our fashions, making us look chunky through the hips. And it is true that form-fitting clothing does not leave room for bulky pockets. There are indeed occasions and outfits that call for a handbag. For instance, I am happy to carry a clutch when I shimmy into my black latex sheath for a special night in the dungeon, believe you me.

But what about jeans with fake back pockets and front pockets only as deep as your first knuckles?  Or what about business trousers with pockets too shallow to hold a phone? Or suit jackets sans any pockets at all. True confession: I have inner breast pocket envy. The inner breast pocket is the one of the most secure, useful pockets ever created, and yet they are scarce as hens teeth in women’s clothing. Whence this tyranny??

Or case in point: what about a casual jacket with motorcycle/military styling which promises a plenitude of pockets, only to disappoint?

jacket full

I found this jacket at a thrift store recently. I’d been wanting a light summer jacket, and was so excited to find one that fit that I bought it without checking the pockets for size and…genuineness. Is that a word? (FYI gentlemen readers: fake pockets run rife in women’s clothing.) I was lucky that all the pockets on this jacket are at least real.

But I was disappointed to discover that the lower pockets, with their promising, practical zipper closures, were only 3″ deep, rendering them impractical for carrying anything bigger than a tube of lip balm or maybe a little cash wrapped around a drivers license.

sad pockets

Ya call these pockets? Hang your head in shame, Ann Taylor LOFT.

I want to wear this jacket, so I decided to expand the pockets into usefulness.

Now, I’m no sewing maven. I hesitated even to post this because I am absolutely unqualified to teach anyone to sew. Rather than admitting I’m pretty much incompetent, I prefer to think of myself as a primitive or naive sewer. Sort of paleo. It’s all about the bone awls for me. Basically I can hem and mend things. I sew by hand because I can’t remember how to thread our old sewing machine.

I suspect the proper way to enlarge pockets is just to replace them entirely, but the stitchery and zipper closures on this particular pair of pockets intimidated me, so I decided to enbiggen them by simply adding fabric to the bottom of the existing pockets.

I should add here that any alterations shop (like the sort attached to dry cleaners) would replace pockets for you, and probably wouldn’t charge you all that much. But here it the Casa de Tightwad, any money is too much money.  This is what I decided to do. Imitate at your own peril.

Continue reading…

Start Your Urban Homestead for One Dollar

The Lyth Cottage in Buffalo, purchased for $1. Photo: Buffalo Rising.

The Lyth Cottage in Buffalo, purchased for $1. Photo: Buffalo Rising.

Want to move to Buffalo, New York? If so the city has an Urban Homestead Program where you can get a house for a $1 plus closing costs. The rules–you’ve got to:

  • Fix code violations.
  • Live in the house for at least three years.
  • Have $5,000 in the bank for repairs.

Too cold a climate for me, but you can read more about the program and see some success stories at Buffalo Rising.

Power to the Peoplemover, a Zine About Riding the Bus

The cover of issue 2.0 of Power to the Peoplemover

The cover of issue 2.0 of Power to the Peoplemover

Many hours spent on the bus in the past two months, thanks to the dude who totaled our car, has reminded me of the conceptual ancestor of this blog, a zine about bus riding I edited in the early 1990s with Canadian artist Michael Waterman called Power to the Peoplemover (PPM).

For the kids out there zines were, essentially, xeroxed blogs. We didn’t have the interwebs, but we did have something called Factsheet Five, a kind of telephone directory of zines. You listed your zine in Factsheet Five and people would send you self addressed envelopes to secure a copy of your zine. It makes me feel very old to describe this process, incidentally.

Detail from PPM issue 2.0

Detail from PPM issue 2.0

In addition to Factsheet Five, PPM had a second and unique distribution method. It was designed to look like a San Diego bus schedule (where Mike and I lived at the time). We would sneak copies on to buses we rode and put them on the racks that held the official schedules.

Power to the Peoplemover bus bench on Park Avenue in San Diego.

Power to the Peoplemover bus bench on Park Avenue in San Diego.

We also collaborated on this PPM bus bench that was part of a UCSD Art Department show. The bus bench contained stories and cartoons related to riding the bus–in effect, it was another issue of PPM. I used to wait at this bus stop myself and, during the month it was up, I watched people read and discuss the bench. It seemed to be popular, at least more so than the adjoining casino ad.

PPM Bus Bench detail

PPM Bus Bench detail.

There were three print issues of PPM and the bench. I’ve finally gotten around to posting PPM issue 1.0 and issue 2.0 on archive.org. Issue 3.0 has gone missing. I should note that PPM is potty-mouthed and has an oh so 1990s editorial tone (an era that has not yet had its ironic revival).

I predict we may see a zine revival. Perhaps staring at all those glowing screens is getting old . . .

The Vermont Sail Freight Project

Vermont farmer and baker Erik Andrus not only uses draft horses on his farm and to deliver baked goods, but also plans on reviving the lost art of shipping freight under sail power. Andrus has a Kickstarter going to fund the the consturction of a 39 foot sailing vesel, the “Ceres” which will carry 12 tons of rice and other shelf-stable goods from Ferrisburgh, Vermont to New York City.

vermontboat

The Ceres is already under construction and is due to start sailing by this fall. You can follow progress on the project at: http://vermontsailfreightproject.wordpress.com/

And James Howard Kunstler interviewed Andrus on his podcast.

Someone revive the west coast version . . .

Nursery Customers From Hell

gringo

We’ve been going to Sunset Nursery since we bought our house fifteen years ago. The staff has always been polite and helpful and they have a diverse selection of plants. On a whim, Kelly took a look at their overwhelmingly positive Yelp reviews. But some of the Yelpers prove how hard it must be to work in a nursery and deal with a public that can charitably be described as disconnected with the natural world.  Take this Yelper:

I’ve driven by this place soooo many times and really needed some advice on a dear plant of ours. We’ve had it for 5 years and it suffered trauma from our kitty pushing it off the ledge and it’s been stuck at 1 inch tall for years now.

When I arrived with The Gringo (we got the clipping from Dos Gringos in DC) a woman laughed at it and said I should just get a new plant.

What a meanie.

I told her no, I want this plant to grow and she asked if I had been giving it nutrients. D’OH! I didn’t know that was something I was supposed to do. Well, it’s been maybe a month and a half now and The Gringo has grown to about 3.5 inches and is sprouting out.

YAY! It’s alive!

The man behind the counter was much nicer and saw the potential…but The Gringo still needs some therapy because of the mean woman. We’ll work on that though.

Speaking of nutrients, this next comment proves just how good that staff is at Sunset Nursery–they suggest getting a soil test. A bad nursery would never pass up the chance to sell fertilizer. This Yelp commenter doesn’t appreciate this:

Upon entering the office area and asking for some help (I was the only person in the nursery), a large man sitting behind the desk pointed me to a old Asian woman who proceeded to laugh me and my wife off.  She let us know how little we knew, suggested that before we even CONSIDER landscaping that we spend a month paying professors to analyze our soil, and over the course of a 20 minute rambling conversation scared us away from ever wanting to do any landscaping at all.  I am struggling to remember if she was even slightly encouraging about a single topic, but honestly, I don’t think she was.  From a business perspective, I could not have imagined a worse sell.

I am kicking myself, because I tried them once before a year prior (without my wife), and had the EXACT same result.  I even had the same two workers providing the (non)advice. Apparantly, I blocked out it – that one is on me.. . . If you don’t think you can grow plants in Los Angeles, check out the neighbors in your hood.  EVERYONE grows a garden, all it takes is time.  And in the end, I was able to achieve great results!

I’ve always wanted my own staff of academics so, personally, I’m looking forward to spending a month “paying professors to analyze our soil.” As to “EVERYONE” growing a garden in Los Angeles, I suspect this Yelper is referring to the mowed weeds and Home Depot topiary that accounts for most of the residential landscaping in this city?