Subterranean Homesick Blues

I sent out a pair of links about our economic condition to a bunch of friends. It was a short email basically saying only that I found them interesting because they were on a mainstream econ site.

Here’re are the links:

I’ve received two replies so far. I was a bit surprised by them and that prompted me to answer the second person and copy in the first.

And here’s my email response to these friends.

Hi ———–,

You’re the second person to mention guns and mouths in response to Farrell’s articles.

Reading Farrell, I just started thinking about how to expand the garden and reduce fossil fuel use even more. We have a friend who does wildfire mitigation. He’s taking down lots of beetle kill pine, so we have a firewood source. Our new fireplace insert is on the way. It’s top of the line EPA certified so we won’t do any more damage to the environment than we already are. Or so I’m telling myself.

In other words, the content of the article wasn’t news to me. The only thing that struck me was that it was in a mainstream site. Still, Farrell’s a doomer even though he used to show up on Fox News. And everyone knows doomers are crazy, right?

Does it matter that a good many of Farrell’s “whacky” forecasts are coming to pass? A couple of years ago, he was waving his arms in the air about derivatives and most on MarketWatch rolled their eyes. I love reading the responses to his columns. Full context doesn’t seem to be a strong point for most people who follow the market.

I’m a full context person myself, so, when I read these articles, I just thought, ok-more-of-the-same. Of course, I’ve been reading books like Overshoot and Muddling toward Frugality. What Catton and Johnson predicted in the late 70s is just now coming to pass, but reading these books is creepy because they sound like they were written yesterday. In other words, we had our chance and ignored it. I expect us to blow whatever chances we have left.

When I look at the Tea Party people, I’m even surer America’s going to blow it. Nobody’s even addressing the issues at the core of our problems. We’ve acted prodigally, and now we are throwing tantrums because we like living prodigally. It’s not just us of course, the Chinese, the Indians, everyone wants to live prodigally. Can’t blame them, can we?

Have you read American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century? Kevin Phillips predicted much of what’s happening in finance in this 2006 book. So nothing Farrell mentions is really news. So far the only thing that’s been a problem has been the timing of the doomers. Events have been coming months, years, even decades later than predicted. But now the pace is picking up. In his last two columns, the usually calm Archdruid has sounded downright panicky. Did you read “Endgame,” his post for Feb. 3?

Anyway, I just nodded reading much of what Farrell said. However, a couple of things bother me about his articles.

First, he made no mention of how climate change might complicate and compound an already dire situation. What if this winter’s record NE blizzards are followed by a major drought in the Midwest? Instability of weather has been predicted for many years now as a side effect of climate change, but, oh, I forgot, climate change is a conspiracy. Scrub that one, the Corn Belt’s safe. No, wait, even if climate change is a conspiracy then good old Mother Nature might just decide on a drought for the hell of it. Act of God. Millions starve?

Furthermore, while Farrell did mention peak oil and population, he didn’t mention their effect on agriculture. Our massive factory farms rely on fossil fuel-based fertilizers and far flung final distribution points. Again, the possibility of mass starvation looms if–when?–reasonably inexpensive mass transportation of goods slows and finally breaks down. World-wide Haiti?

Last year or so, I read an article where some UN honcho said we needed to up our food production by 50% before 2050. Let’s see, fishable populations gone by 2048. Fossil fuel in decline. People everywhere. Yeah, that’s gonna be easy.

Meanwhile, the sites I visit regularly are screaming about the need to go local ASAP! I found it hopeful that a ——– city councilman recently suggested using more open space for agriculture. Using available farmland to produce food. What a concept!

Back to the Farrell article, what really got me was this:

“[Barton Briggs’] advice: Make tons of money. Buy an isolated farm in the mountains. Protect family against the barbarians: “Your safe haven must be self-sufficient and capable of growing some kind of food … It should be well-stocked with seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine, medicine, clothes, etc. Think Swiss Family Robinson.”

This is a scenario John Michael Greer has ridiculed for years. Years ago, I read his article about how community is the answer, not isolation. His reasoning and historical perspective was impressive. Self-sufficiency, yes. Isolation, no.

This past summer, I had a mini-example right here. When the hailstorm hit on July 5, I lost almost all of my garden. I regularly give out vegetables to friends who pass through, and I was pleasantly surprised when they showed up with replacement plants and offerings of veggies from their gardens. That’s exactly what Greer was talking about in his article. Networking is necessary.

I suppose the last thing that bothered me about Farrell’s article was his omission of the topic of growth. The world’s illusion that continued growth is desirable or even possible still prevails, and, as far as I can tell, the cornucopians are still wrong. Pathetic, in fact. They remind me of the cargo cults after WWII. Barring some completely unforeseen glory along the lines of the return of Jesus or the miraculous discovery of a fuel cleaner, more abundant, and more “shovel ready” than what we’ve been pulling out of the ground, continued growth is not a possibility. Richard Heinberg’s book even has the right title: The Party’s Over.

In short, the only reason this article struck me as interesting was that it was the first time I’d seen most of the issues listed so neatly and on a mainstream site. It just needed to be a bit longer and without the illusion that escape is possible.

As to the Newsweek article [you mention], it kinda reminded me of the Eric Idle song at the end of Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” The Panglossian tone fails to refute the problems that Farrell presents. I especially loved this line:

“The monetary union allowed Greece to push the solution to problems much further out in the future,” says Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies (no relation). “It turned out to be a fair-weather construction.”

Yup. And now the weather’s turned nasty. And, as Dylan sang, “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.



One Response to “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

  1. Babz Says:

    My Amish friends tell me that America has lost its blessings.

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