Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All Hallows Eve: The Treat

For the faithful readers of this humble blog, the traditional gift of the season (although it's a bit difficult to get into the mindset when the daytime temperature on the last day of the tenth month of the year hits 90...): Free Horror Movies, watchable or downloadable. Chaos could end with a rant about how the Halloween in years past was strictly for children and the infantile culture of the Empire is reflected in the numbers of costumed streetwalkers, French maids, gargantuan decorations and elaborate festivities, but that would cast a pall over the entire enterprise, wouldn't it?

Monday, October 30, 2006

The (Necessary) Empire and Synchronicity

John Michael Greer, of The Archdruid Report, referred to here a few weeks ago as one offering a critique to the classic "The Collapse of Complex Civilizations," continues his nine-part series on the collapse of the Empire. In it, you many learn something slightly surprising: that the Empire is in some sense, a necessary construct in the world we live in. Even so, the prognosis for such is not so good:
"No empire, even in its prime, can afford policies that estrange its allies, increase its overseas commitments, make its enemies forget their mutual quarrels and form alliances with one another, and destabilize the world political order, all at the same time. American foreign policy in recent years has accomplished every one of these things, at a time when America's effective ability to deal with the consequences is steadily declining as its resource base dwindles and the last of its industrial economy fizzles out. To call this a recipe for disaster understates the case considerably."

Now compare this with the comments of poster "expat" on The Oil Drum: (he apparently is actually an expat living in Germany):

"In my opinion, the U.S. has been more or less actively isolating itself for several decades, in ways and for reasons which I'll skip over for now - they are mainly my opinion, though the use of fear goes fairly far back to the 1970s (remember the hijacking 'wave' of often politically motivated terrorists, like the PLO? That led to the first wedge of Americans getting used to the idea that security is more important than the risks of freedom.)

At this point, I suspect America's 'leading' role is more a case of social inertia than anything concrete, as the rest of the world continues to respond to challenges which America seems unable to understand, much less handle. Again, what happened in New Orleans in full color cannot be overstated in terms of what the rest of the world saw - most people in other societies were astounded to see how utterly unprepared America was to handle a completely predictable chain of events. I won't even begin to talk about Bush, except to note that the rest of the world is unable to grasp why he was re-elected.

In part, after several generations of faith in America, the rest of the world is now dealing with the fact that their belief in America needs to be changed to reflect reality, the same way they are beginning to deal with the results of climate change and a future where liquid fossil fuels will be increasingly unavailable. And what America thinks about this, or whether America will be participating in any solutions is becoming less important to other societies, as the problems are real, and are not going away.

It is strange to think that America may be the first world spanning power which simply decided to abdicate, because it preferred to live its fantasies, instead of dealing with the world around it. And what makes this really surreal is that Americans still think that bragging about their power to kill and destroy with the world's most powerful military is something which causes them to be respected and admired for their goodness.

This is not to dismiss America, but to simply point out that billions of people have different concerns than whether ExxonMobil or GM can keep the American Dream alive. For many people, the American Dream is becoming to be seen as part of a looming nightmare. Fat and ignorant are not really that admirable, after all."

Chaos finds such concurrence, if you will, between disparate writers exceedingly odd. Perhaps more than coincidental?

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Local Beat: Please Don't Eat The Fish

Since the local rag cannot seem to quite connect the dots, perhaps Chaos and faithful readers can help out a bit. Kindly recall that Chaos has mentioned not so long ago the phenomenon of 19 new coal-fired electricity plants being built in the great state of Texas and the resulting effects of air pollution (well, to be fair, the many chemical plants and oil refineries, not to mention the vast numbers of giant SUVs and pickup trucks, may have something to do with it also). Today, our local scandal sheet mentions in passing that you might not want to eat some of the fish caught at a nearby lake--mercury levels are too high, you see. The article takes some pains to point out that "mercury is a naturally occurring element that gets into the water from the weathering of rocks (oh), and (wait, here it comes) also from burning fossil fuels and some industrial discharges" (really?!? that wouldn't be coal, would it?). Gosh darn those weathering rocks! Well, anyway, coal-fired plants are such a bad idea anyway (you know, global warming and all that) that a few mercury-laden fish is really not such a big deal. Or is it? Just another reason not to permanently reside in Texas, unless you like the idea of birth defects, infertility (hey, wait a minute, that might not be so bad), MS, breast cancer, fibromyalgia, damage to liver, kidneys, heart, etc.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

U.S. at 300 Million

Recently, Chaos referred to the "milestone" of the population of the Empire reaching 300 million, causing waves of horse hockey to be cast before the somnolent public. A finely balanced five part series that touches upon most issues has appeared in one of the more objective newspapers, the Christian Science Monitor. To appreciate the many implications of the country's continued exponential growth in humans, this article is a good start. Chaos would caution those who would mistake even-handedness with optimism, however, since the US has the highest use of resources on the planet (even the article mentions how low in sustainability the country ranks in comparison to the rest of the developed nations). Consequently, the Empire has the worst population problem on earth.

To second that last point, we find that the WWF has now released their biennial report on the state of the planet, and not surprisingly, finds that we are now in serious overshoot of the planet's carrying capacity. Vertebrate species populations have declined 33 percent since 1970, while humanity's footprint has increased ninefold from 1961 to 2003. Chaos' suggestion would be to read the full report before forming any opinions on how beneficial the continuing rise in teeming masses of humans are.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Aesthetics By Richard Heinberg

Heinberg, for those unfamiliar, is the author of several Peak Oil books ("The Party's Over," "Powerdown,"), a fixture at conferences and events, and general all-around activist and fine fellow. His website is here. At any rate, his latest article is a fine one, over at EnergyBulletin, itself a nice resource. If you ever wondered what "hydrocarbon style" was, or why all the cargo in the stores is cheap ugly junk, look here for answers.

New! Why I Am A Doomer

A new series here on the Edge: posters will tell our gentle readers, in eloquence far exceeding Chaos’, why they espouse a dark age, collapse, dieoff and the end of most life on the planet. First up is Cherenkov from The Oil Drum. Perhaps, in Chaos’ opinion, the finest expositor of doom in one paragraph one could find. Really hard to argue with, yet the cornucopians manage to do so, although not effectively. Well, to the point, then:

“Clearly the save the automobile movement rules this place.
The talk centers around preserving the technology and not the human.
What I find particularly fascinating is insistence that we can just switch over to less driving, more mass transit, that we can be just like Europe and start walking.
Have you been to Europe? If yes, compare and contrast. Hmmm. US--Five miles to the nearest store. No local food production. No local clothing production. No local industry. Car culture rules. Economy based on import of energy, food, clothing, consumer goods of all stripes, decent fuel efficient cars. We export IOUs. Huge military.
Europe--Walkable cities. More local food but still imports much. Imports fuel in most of Europe. Some local industry, but mostly high tech and service. High concern about energy issues and the political will to get something done. NOT A CAR-CENTRIC CULTURE. Husbands old farming methods. Slow food movement. Small militaries.
I'd say we have about as much chance of becoming like Europe as pulling a cow through your nostril.
The energy cost of converting this vast suburban, car-loving nightmare into a walkable country with local economies will quickly subsume any savings that may be accomplished. The truth is plain. There will be privation. When the NatGas goes, there will be starvation. When the television watching rubes that make up this country see their widescreens go dark and the Mickey D's closing, they will riot. And not one of these fantasies espoused here regarding a transition to another form of energy intense society that just keeps on growing and consuming will ever happen. IT WILL NOT HAPPEN.
Now comes the point where everyone says, oh, pshaw, you doomer. How the heck could that happen? Look at us, we be so smart!!!
Well, if you are so smart, why do we continue to destroy the oceans, the arable land, our aquifers, the air, the climate? Why does our food have the nutritional quality of cardboard? Why do clothes last such a short time? Why can't we build a light bulb that lasts for 100 years? (HINT: we can and did in the fifties. My Uncle invented it for GE. They de-engineered it. "Can't make money with a device like that!") Why did we vote for a man who is clearly a retard, both morally and mentally?
Why? Because humans are incapable of thinking beyond their immediate needs.
My favorite statement today says we have "fifty years of oil left." SO, I GUESS WE ARE OKAY? Screw the future, as long as I gots mine.
Humans are vermin.”
And this:
“I think that EROEI should include a factor called the Inverse Population Effect.
Quite simply, if an effective energy alternative is developed that allows population to continue its upward growth, you must divide the EROEI by that growth factor.
Lets say your windfarm provides energy for a community of one thousand. Because of this energy, population growth business as usual continues and we add another 250 mouths to feed and energize: a quite reasonable number given our current growth rate.
As you may notice, the amount of energy produced does not increase, and the amount of energy availble per capita decreases. The standard answer is build more windmills. That requires resources including land, more energy to build the mills, metals, etc. We continue to grow our population, but if you follow the trend out to its logical conclusion, we must reach a balance point where population needs cannot be met if more windmills are built. At this point we have a moment of decision.
Either we control population, or we let the quality of life erode. (The question of what constitutes an appropriate definition of a satisfactory quality of life is another interesting issue.) Obviously more windmills will not solve the problem of insufficient arable land or potable water.
Again, the desire by the technos to keep the techno ball in the air precludes rational thinking. Overpopulation is the problem -- not the potential fall of our toy obsessed, growth addicted, and infotainment driven, energy drunk civilization. The greatest minds in our brief rise as a thinking creature lived in a pre-energy rich society. The best art we have ever created came about without the help of the Internet or 250 channel cable.
Yes, pre-hightech lives were often tougher, but not because they lacked technology per se. Their lives were tougher because they did not know how to control population. Or, they did not know that they needed to control it. We know. And, yes, that knowledge comes thanks largely to this tech bubble, but that does not mean we need to hold onto this beast forever. Think Daedalus and Icarus.
Because engineers are such short term thinkers, I doubt that my presentation of rock solid, indisputable facts will sway them. They cannot see the limits. What they know is that they can build a boat in the basement. They just won't have an "ah-hah" moment until the last nail is hammered into the last plank on their boat and they look up and realise they must disassemble the boat to get it out of the basement. Let's hope there is a world outside their closed-minded inner world for them to reassemble the boat in.”

Take a bow, Cherenkov. Not bad.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Chaos really has little to say about this one...seems there's an area of Pacific Ocean bigger than the State of Texas, which, because of currents and such, is one slow swirl. In it are the flotsam and jetsam of humanity: plastic, plastic, plastic, as far as the eye can see. The unfortunate tendency of the monkeys to foul their own nest is on full display here: marine creatures ingest the unbiodegradable trash and die lingering deaths. How long does plastic last in the ocean? Pretty much forever, if this example is any indication. Makes one wonder just how necessary most of the plastic trash humans produce actually is....not very, it seems.

Celebrating the 300 Millionth Resident

Here's an excellent example of the soporific effect the MSM has on those who still choose to listen or read: the marking of the 300 millionth inhabitant of the Empire. In keeping with the monkeys' tendency to draw lines and measure everything, this is treated as a significant event. What are the effects of a growing population? Well, to peruse the local fishwrapper is to learn that the challenges are primarily racial--that we are a "melting pot" (wasn't that usage dropped from the lexicon a long time ago?), that "some elements" fear Hispanics because they might "threaten American values" (uhoh), that large cities are all the better because of their "diversity,"and that the more people the country has, the more it is able to be a "major player in the global economy." If you were expecting something about the nation's outsize use of resources compared to the rest of the world's, and how it's population boom threatens the health of the entire planet, well sorry. To read about these things in detail one must look to something in cyberspace called Terradaily. Just a few facts and figures, which pretty much speak for themselves, and so little "editorializing" is necessary. Nonetheless, Chaos would point out that the Empire has the biggest population problem on the planet and is expected to reach 400 million residents by the 2040 or so. Talk about an uncomfortable feeling...Oh, and BTW, here's our good friend Dr. Albert Bartlett interviewed on the subject by a Denver newspaper; somehow, he presents a somewhat different outlook on growth (backed up by math, of course).

Friday, October 13, 2006

Humanity's Gigantic Footprint

Something most sentient beings don't spend a lot of time thinking about is how much "influence" humanity has on this small sphere...a legacy of the illusory appearance of limitlessness, Chaos guesses. The facts, however, are considerably different and anxiety-inducing. Human monkeys dominate the planet, to the planet's detriment. No better example of this is today's article in New Scientist, which invites us to imagine the planet in future years without any people whatsoever. An eye-opener to be sure.

Apropos of nothing, the esteemed John Michael Greer gives us a helpful vision of what a long slow (catabolic, in other words) collapse might mean for those who still wish to go on making a living. Greer is quite the interesting fellow, having put forward a theory not exactly in opposition to, but in further refinement, one might say, of Tainter's much-discussed "collapse by diminishing marginal returns" hypothesis. His current series on The Energy Bulletin is fascinating stuff, for those who are practiced in the art of reading.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Demography of Russia: A Nation Succumbs to Despair

Chaos has long considered Russia to be a fascinating case of declining population and eventual collapse, although the country's current status as record oil-producer may mitigate this for some years. A fine article in the LA Times, a paper itself currently beset by entropic troubles, provides us with an excellent summary of just how bad things are in that dark place on the planet. Life expectancies are perched just above Afghanistan, the birthrate has sunk to well below replacement rate (and has been for years), much of the population lives in poverty and despair, and alcoholism and AIDS are the evil twins of death for much of the younger generation. Pair this article with Dimitry Orlov's previously posted and you have an interesting and forboding story.

Another Print and Take Home Summary

After excellent writers publish such stuff as this, Chaos wonders what purpose would be served in continuing to post: one can't hope to do much better than this flyer, meant to be printed and handed out. Those who continue to adopt the "ostrich" approach might finally allow something meaningful to seep into their empty heads (or perhaps not; those heads are invariably filled with magical thinking, which, to Chaos' current formulation, means that reality-based subjects are crowded out, and wilful ignorance is the order of the day), and those who believe that 'surely something can be done' will assuage their consciences. To repeat Chaos' position, it is the lack of character of the public at large that will prevent meaningful action to mitigate the looming environmental and economic catastrophes discussed in detail here. ("We are a wicked people who deserve to be punished"--James Howard Kunstler). Here at the Edge, nevertheless, we admire those who tilt at windmills.

Reference: Plan B 2.0, Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute.
Here's an expanded work on the problems and some solutions (which will never be implemented, but still..) You can actually read this online, although the site will nag you for a donation. Recommended.

Theocracy Watch: The Unlevel Playing Field

Check out this very long series in the Empire's paper of record concerning the priveleges and exemptions from laws religious organizations have managed to carve out. And these people have the nerve to feel persecuted? Hah! Chaos reminds you that a tax break for a megachurch means the rest of the citizenry takes up the slack, and that Texas allowed its exemption for faith-based day care to expire, upon discovering that instances of abuse were 10X more than for the regulated ones. Think that the creeping theocracy in the Empire won't amount to much? This series will show you different. Another spooky subject for the month of October.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Living 'With' Limits? Who, Us?

Headline from yesterday's local birdcage liner: "We Face Another 30 Days of Living With Water Limits" Oh good, after that we can continue our limitless consumption of a scarce resource. Thirty miles east, some express concern ("unnerved," as the paper puts it) for a coming 3000 home subdivision and how state laws allow it to release 225,000 gallons of treated sewage per day into local creeks. Growth (unlimited, exponential) is, as Dr. Bartlett has told us, the national religion of the US. Chaos reminds readers that any adjectives placed in front of the term (smart, responsible, planned, sustainable) are meaningless platitudes.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Charity Begins At Home

Yes, yes, Chaos is now asking for another 55+ minutes of your life. (Incidentally, the books recommended on this site are likely to completely change how you look at the world, but you knew that, didn't you?) The subject at hand is Theocracy in the Empire, which has been mentioned in passing previously, but now there's a video. For those who dislike reading (Chaos understands that that covers quite a lot of the population these days) here's a fine perspective--courtesy of British TV, of course--on a training school for aspiring theocrats. Patrick Henry College, though only 6 years old, is debt-free and is quite open about its ambitions: to mold the next generation of politically-minded home-schooled fundies. Although its only the first day of October, Chaos doubts that the month will produce scarier goblins than the ones depicted. Still sure you want to make the Empire your permanent home?

And, completely off-topic, on the always thoughtful and readable Tomdispatch, Nick Turse examines the Pentagon's debut on MySpace...for recruiting purposes, of course.