Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beyond Fuels 8: The 'Plan C' Path

Pat Murphy's Plan C talks about four different plans we could choose. Plan A is what he calls 'Business As Usual', where we continue doing what we're doing, assuming that economic growth is infinite, or at least indefinite, and what we're doing is okay. Plan B uses 'Clean Green Technology' to rescue us from the mess we find ourselves in. (In a footnote he claims that his version of 'Plan B' is not about the book of the same name by Lester Brown and that the comments he makes about Plan B do not 'necessarily apply to him'.)

Plans C and D are wonderfully alliterative: Plan D he refers to as 'Die Off', and I would add, Death, Destruction, and Doom. (I think we are all familiar with that one, so much so that there is a group of peak oil believers commonly called 'Doomers'.) What Pat Murphy advocates is Plan C, 'Curtailment and Community'. I have it up on my door these days as: Conserve by Curtailing Consumption and Create Caring Community.

Thus, the path of Plan C is two fold: first we need to cut our consumption and consumer habits, rather than expecting some new technology to save us, and second, we need to rebuild community around us, since that's what is most likely to support us through the difficult times ahead.

While it talks about peak oil, peak gas, peak coal, peak uranium, peak economy, and peak empire (not to mention climate change and inequality), the book focuses on what each of us can do to forge the path beyond fuels. It looks in particular at the ways we use energy in buildings, transportation, and food--and how we can change what we do. There are lots of graphs and technical details. (Pat Murphy says in the preface that "This is definitely a numbers book.") Much of the beginning of the book will be familiar to those who follow peak oil and climate change. But the book's strong point is its emphasis on what we can do, even going as far as giving 'six steps' we can take to change our food habits (eat less, change our diet [eliminating soft drinks, snack foods, fast foods, and highly processed foods], reduce meat consumption, purchase local organic food, preserve and store food, and create a garden and/or a henhouse).

He does go on a few tangents I found a bit overly focused on specific solutions (the Smart Jitney, for example, or devoting a whole chapter to 'Kicking the Media Habit'), but ends with chapters appropriately covering 'Localization' and 'Reviving and Renewing Community'. All in all this is a useful book, I think, for charting out the path beyond fuels.

Quote of the Day: "We are facing multiple grave world crises--peak oil, climate change, inequity and species extinction to name just a few. ... Twenty year of so-called sustainability conversations have led nowhere, and green has degenerated into a marketing term. ...
"Our problem is cultural, not technical. It is a character issue, not a scientific one. ... We have allowed cheap fossil fuels to change us from citizens into mere consumers. ...
"Plan C offers an alternative perspective to the ever more frantic technical proposals for continuing our soul destroying and life endangering way of living. ...
"I envision a society based on cooperation and care of the planet rather than competition and exploitation of planetary resources." - Pat Murphy

Monday, December 26, 2011

Beyond Fuels 7: The Muddling Path

Muddling Toward Frugality is a book originally written in 1978 by Warren Johnson. From searching online it seems like it's been recently republished with a review by Edward Abbey (also from 1978) tacked on as an introduction.

The scary thing about re-reading this book is realizing how clear it was, even back then, what we needed to do, and how little of it has been done in the last thirty-two years.

Warren Johnson took the title of his book from a paper written in 1959 by Charles Lindbloom called, "The Science of 'Muddling Through'". It was about the way administrators of various types actually make decisions as opposed to the way academic theorists described ideal decision making. As Johnson says, "The only trouble is that this is rarely the way decisions are made, primarily because it is rarely possible." Administrators need to deal with conflicting demands and priorities and seldom have the time or, indeed, the needed information, to make ideal decisions. The result is that "Even with the best of intentions, the administrator ends up by taking only a modest step (well checked out by the powers that be), ... that at least makes a marginal contribution to the issue at hand. In the process of reaching a decision, the administrator becomes practical and political as well as rational. The result is muddling through." And this is basically the process that Johnson suggests for dealing with the coming crises.

This book really is practical and makes a lot of sense. However, as one reviewer noted, Johnson also muddles his way through the book--making detours through history (not that I haven't done it in this blog) and his opinions on a number of issues (some of which I can't say that I agree with). But his point is if we all make small steps in the direction of using less resources and living on a smaller, simpler scale, this will move us to a future beyond fuels far better than trying grand schemes and failing.

Last year, John Michael Greer (see my posts A Magical Way of Thinking, 8/3/08 and The Archdruid Report, 8/5/08, for more on JMG--and note that one of the paths ahead is his) wrote a post in his blog, The Archdruid Report, referencing this book. I want to quote a little of it, since it puts the book in perspective. Greer wrote: "Warren Johnson’s Muddling Toward Frugality has fallen into the limbo our cultural memory reserves for failed prophecies; neither he nor, to be fair to him, anybody else in the sustainability movement of the Seventies had any idea that the collective response of most industrial nations to the approach of the limits to growth would turn out to be a thirty-year vacation from sanity in which short-term political gimmicks and the wildly extravagant drawdown of irreplaceable resources would be widely mistaken for permanent solutions.

"... His strategy, though, still has some things going for it that no other available approach can match: It can still be applied this late in the game; if it’s done with enough enthusiasm or desperation, and with a clear sense of the nature of our predicament, it could still get a fair number of us through the mess ahead; and it certainly offers better odds than sitting on our hands and waiting for the ship to sink, which under one pretense or another is the other option open to us right now." And this summarizes the best reason that I can think of for re-reading this book. Seeing the direction we still need to move in and making moves in that direction, no matter how small, may (if anything does) make a difference.

This is the simplest of the four paths I'll look at. Can we muddle our way to a life beyond fuels? What other choices do we have? Let's look at some other, more recent explorations of the path ahead.

Quote of the Day: "Above all, it can be a good life. In effect, we will be exchanging the grand achievements of large scale technological society for modest accomplishments on a more human scale. ... Above all, we will have the comfort of knowing that our relationship to the environment is sustainable, and that the earth is a true home to us." - Warren Johnson

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Long Night

I'm interrupting this series on life Beyond Fuels to observe the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year.

I usually blog at this time about the darkness and the light. (In fact, last year's post was called just that: The Darkness and the Light, 12/21/10.) There are definitely blessings to the darkness, but it is also true that what we celebrate now is the returning of the light. There are traditions where folks wait up all night to see the return of the sun at dawn. Somehow, it always seems that if we wait long enough we will get through the darkness into the new day--even on the longest night.

And beyond this is the winter, here in New England the coldest time of the year, but if we can just hang on, the spring will come.

And this makes me think that even this is connected with my current series on life beyond fuels. Certainly there are rough times ahead, but I believe that if we persevere there will be a new day beyond it, and even a new spring. We can survive the long night, we can grow in the darkness, and the cold, and we can be there for a new day--not only for this current long, cold night in this confusing, surprising year, but for the nights and days to come.

Welcome Winter, Happy Solstice, Happy Yule, and to all, a good, long, night.

Quote of the Day: "If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." - Anne Bradstreet

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beyond Fuels 6: Four Paths

So we've gotten our tools together, flexed our muscles, and looked at some of what may lie ahead. Now where do we go?

The truth is no one knows. I like the book title (about the Mondragon cooperatives) "We Build the Road as We Travel." Still, a number of people have attempted to provide roadmaps.

In the next few posts I want to look at some pathways that we could take as we move beyond fuels. The four routes that I want to look at are far from identical. Yet I think that looking at what they have in common, as well as where they differ can help us think about the road ahead of us. One of the authors of the four books I will profile (John Michael Greer) talks about 'dissensus', the idea that in a situation (such as what we are facing) where none of what might happen is clear or predictable, the more divergent options we pursue (collectively), the more chance that one or another will work. More important, what works in one place may not at all be what works in another.

With that in mind, let's look at four different views of where we may (or should) be going as we move beyond fuels. After I cover them, I'll write a post on my thoughts about why, in spite of their divergences, I think each of these maps of the future is useful. If nothing else, they provide a good starting place for thinking of directions and preparations we will need as the age of fossil (and nuclear) fuels comes to an end.

Quote of the Day: "...the human sense of what satisfies, the human sense of ultimacy, requires what Rosemary Ruether called 'the conversion to the earth'. ... It will only be powerful enough to save the time and space which that future can unfold if our work on collective structure taps the energy at once of judgement and of hope. ...
"At this point calls to conversion and sacrifice only have a chance of being heard if they are inscribed with the language of desire. Desire not just for the sake of an abstract future, but because a new community already begins to form in the practice of ecojustice. That is, to sort through our garbage, to make choices based on awareness of the sinister and/or beautiful web of connections of our food to our weather to our starving and tortured fellow humans to women's bodies and the homeless ... this multi-dimensional work of recycling releases new ways of being together, a new sense of common goal, of being on the edge together, of consoling and delighting each other in our edginess. We find together the spiritual practices which allow us to ground, quite literally, in our bodies and our earth, the anxieties of the unknown future. ... We are here to claim, to defend and to renew our earth home, the inhabited whole." - Catherine Keller

Friday, December 9, 2011

Beyond Fuels 5: Post Carbon

Last Christmas, two young adults that I helped raise gave me a lovely present. They presented me with a book I had never seen before, The Post Carbon Reader, by Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch.

I'd never heard of the book, although I certainly knew of Richard Heinberg and have blogged about him in here (see for example, Peak Everything, 7/30/08). But when I turned the book over, the back cover made it clear that Heinberg wasn't the only author in this book I knew.

This book is an anthology and includes Rob Hopkins (see Transition Towns, 10/16/08), Michael Shulman (see Going Local, 7/26/08), Bill McKibben (a writer and a journalist who has become one of the leaders of the climate change movement), Stephanie Mills (a former editor of Co-Evolution Quarterly, one of my favorite publications ever), Wes Jackson (who has written extensively on agriculture's impact on sustainability), David Orr (a key figure in the ecological literacy movement), Chris Martenson (creator of the Crash Course, an online course that is the best introduction to peak oil, economic collapse, and personal preparedness, that I know of), and Tom Whipple (an ex-CIA analyst who writes a column for the Falls Church News Press, which pops up regularly on my peak oil news searches).

It also includes some folks that I'd like to pay more attention to, like Erika Allen (who works with Growing Power, a local food initiative focusing on low-income communities), Michael Bomford (a researcher in Kentucky working on organic agricultural systems suitable for small farms with limited resources), and Deborah and Frank Popper (who have came up with a concept for the Great Plains states to manage declining population and economic shrinkage by creating land reserves emphasizing ecological restoration and native species, and are now working on 'Smart Decline' strategies for urban areas).

This book is a primer on issues we will need to deal with as we move beyond fuels: climate change, water, biodiversity, food, population, energy, economics, transportation, waste, health, and education--as well as looking at the effects of culture and behavior, the changes needed in cities, towns, and suburbs, and ways to build resilience in the midst of major change. It ends with a 'Call to Action' written by Asher Miller, executive director of the Post Carbon Institute, the initiators of this book. He states, "Our vision is of a world worth inheriting, where people not only survive, they thrive." There's a direction for going beyond fuels. He ends the book with, "Now put this book down and go do something. Anything." Hopefully something informed by all you might learn from this book.

Quote of the Day: "Resilience in the face of social upheaval resulting from peaking supplies of traditional energy and climate disruption requires that we protect our landscapes and ensure that the services they provide are sustained. ... We can do this now and be better for it, come what may. And it's essential that we act now; the unraveling is well under way." - Gloria Flora

Monday, December 5, 2011

Beyond Fuels 4: Human Power

In a world beyond fuels, we will need to figure out what we can use to keep what we want and need going. One method might be human-powered machines.

The Human-Powered Home by Tamara Dean gives a very useful overview of what can be accomplished by using muscles to power things. Solar power isn't always reliable and neither is wind, and hydropower assumes that you are near a river or stream that you can tap into, but when all else fails, there is always what my mother referred to as 'elbow grease'--or in the case of many of these appliances, 'knee and leg power'.

The first two chapters of this book give a history of using muscles to power things, and an overview of what you need to understand in order to build human-powered machines. These should be read by anyone who has ever thought about the amount of energy that can be raised by pedaling, stomping, or hand-cranking. The author gives clear and useful information about how all these things work--as well as what doesn't work and what hasn't worked.

The next three chapters concentrate on plans for actual devices (and stories about similar ones) to power things in the kitchen, the garden, and around the house. The final chapter focuses on recreational devices and, more importantly, devices for 'emergency preparedness'.

I became aware of this book when I found out one of my friends was using plans from it to build a bicycle-powered electrical generator. (I wanted to help but I didn't really know much about electricity. I spent nearly a week with my head in books about electricity and electronics--not really something I wanted to study!)

When you think about Peak Oil, etc, (see my posts on Peak Oil, 7/18/08, Peak Everything, 7/20/08, and Collapse, 7/5/10, for more on this concept and its reprecussions) you may start wondering whether we can salvage any of what we've learned in the last couple of hundred years and whether there will be a place for technology in the future. I think this book point the way to a technology that will always be available to us--using our arms and our legs.

Quote of the Day: "Replacing motors with muscles can even be considered a political act. Gandhi urged his fellow Indians to spin and weave their own cloth, endorsing local self-reliance as a means to defy the British textile industry which had crushed cottage industries and changed the nature of Indian society. He called this self-sufficiency 'swadeshi'. Through swadeshi he believed India could gain its independence. Each day he sat at his spinning wheel and practiced it himself. Perhaps we can claim hand-cranking our coffee mill each morning or pedal-powering our laptop in the evening as our own personal swadeshi." - Tamara Dean

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beyond Fuels 3: Handy Books

Right across the street from my new place is the city recycling center. It's really convenient but unfortunately they have a book section and everytime I visit, I come back with more books. (It's an addiction, I tell you!)

Two books I picked up fit the theme of this part of the Beyond Fuels series: Handyman: Complete Guide to Home Maintenance (Banner Press, 1975) and, for those who are very ambitious, How to Build Your Own Home, by Robert Reschke.

Once you've learned how to use tools (see my last post, The Tools Beyond Fuels, 11/28/11), it's time to start learning how to fix things--particularly around your house.

I'm not recommending these particular books, but there are lots of books out there on fixing things, home repairs, and home maintenance. Others that I've seen include books from Reader's Digest, Time-Life, and Sunset Publishing. You should be able to find something easily at used bookstores, yard sales, or even giveaways. These old manuals give lots of useful tips for do-it-yourselfers, and as fuels go away, a lot more of us are going to have to do it ourselves.

In imagining a world beyond fuels, I'm imagining a world where we do a lot of the work around our own homes, the way it was done not so long ago before repair people would arrive with their trucks and vans. When I talk about building a new world beyond fuels, sometimes that actually requires a hammer and saw.

Quote of the Day: "One key ingredient is confidence. You gain this by a combination of knowledge and practice. You learn by inquiring and you learn by doing. ...
"As implied earlier, it is more satisfactory to work in pairs than alone. You exchange knowledge and know-how, and beat the weariness and discouragement..." - Robert Reschke