Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sustainable Living as Religious Observance

Alexander Levchenko
[Update: Orren Whiddon, who organized the Age of Limits conference, has contributed some comments, which I have added below.]

I have spent the last few days at a conference organized by the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary near Artemas, Pennsylvania. Titled “The Age of Limits,” it was well attended and promises to be one of a series of annual conferences to address the waning of the industrial age and the social adaptation it makes necessary. This conference was quite different from all the others I have attended.

First, the venue is a campground; a beautiful one, consisting of lush meadows surrounded by an equally lush but passable forest girded on three sides by a fast-flowing creek of cold, clean water. This sanctuary is dedicated to nature spirituality, and includes a very impressive stone circle and a multitude of little shrines, altars, charms and amulets hung on trees. (Also included is an assortment of cheerful hippies skinny-dipping in the creek.) Second, spirituality was prominently featured in the presentations: the question of spiritual and emotional adaptation to fast-changing, unsettled times was very much on the agenda. Third, the campground is owned by a church; one of undefined denomination, theological bent or specific set of beliefs, but a church nevertheless. Lastly, the campground is run by a monastery that is at the heart of this church; the monks and nuns do not wear habits, do not seem to have not taken any specific vows other than those of loyalty, poverty and obedience, but in substance not too different from, say, the Benedictine Order: work is seven days a week, there is a meeting at eight sharp every morning, all meals are prepared and eaten together, and, except for insignificant personal effects, all property is shared.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In the Name of Austerity, Stimulus and Growth, Amen!

Paul Kuzhynski
Here's some food for thought. If you've been listening to the muffled and incoherent noises coming from the G8 and the surrounding political chattersphere, it's starting to sound like a prayer meeting: “In the name of Austerity, Stimulus and Growth, Amen!” And if you look at the individual leaders, what is there for them to do except pray?

Starting from the bottom, there is TheMan Who Wasn't There: the newly reinaugurated Russian president Vladimir Putin. He didn't even show up, but sent his obedient deputy Medvedev instead, who made positive noises about how wonderful the meeting was. Putin is a lonely man: he's been seen in public with his wife a total of twice over the last two years; his two daughters are living incognito somewhere in Europe, there are mobs of people outside chanting “Russia Without Putin!” over and over again, and even the VIPs present at the inauguration seemed to be half-concealing a message behind their idolatrous smiles: “Wish you weren't here, Vova!”

From Alpha to Omega Podcast


This week I am busy preparing my three talks for the Age of Limits retreat at Four Quarters, which will, in due course, be posted here in full. In the meantime, please enjoy this podcast in which I discuss, among other things, the fact that collapse is the elephant in the room, and that the various specialists are the blind men debating whether it is like a snake or a tree or a wall or a stick or a rope...

Dmitry: Uh, this is really breaking up.

Announcer: Welcome From Alpha to Omega. (main title follows)

O'Brien: (1:15) Hello, and welcome to the fifth episode of From Alpha to Omega. Today is Saturday, the 18th of May, 2012, and I'm your host, Tom O'Brien. (1:29) After a brief sojourn into the world of mathematics, philosophy, and biology, this week we return to systemic risk and economic collapse.
I am delighted to welcome to the show the high priest himself of the church of the collapsitarians, and blogger extraordinaire, Dmitry Orlov. (1:50) We will chat about the root causes of the current crisis, and what to expect and prepare for over the coming years and decades—(1:58) but first the boring stuff.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Down the Skyscraper


Ben Grasso
It was Andrew Lawrence, the inventor of the skyscraper index, who pointed out that the building of the world’s tallest buildings is a good proxy for dating the onset of major economic downturns. His index has stood the test of time; the few times when it made an incorrect prediction can be adequately explained by exceptional circumstances, such as the onset of world wars. It is now being put to the test again, and we ignore its advice at our own peril.

In “Skyscrapers and Business Cycles” Mark Thornton writes:

“The ability of the index to predict economic collapse is surprising. For example, the Panic of 1907 was presaged by the building of the Singer Building (completed in 1908) and the Metropolitan Life Building (completed in 1909). The skyscraper index also accurately predicted the Great Depression with the completion of 40 Wall Tower in 1929, the Chrysler Building in 1930, and the Empire State Building in 1931.”

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Shale Gas: The View from Russia


[En español] [En français] [In italiano]

The official shale gas story goes something like this: recent technological breakthroughs by US energy companies have made it possible to tap an abundant but previously inaccessible source of clean, environmentally friendly natural gas. This has enabled the US to become the world leader in natural gas production, overtaking Russia, and getting ready to end of Russia's gas monopoly in Europe. Moreover, this new shale gas is found in many parts of the world, and will, in due course, enable the majority of the world's countries to achieve independence from traditional gas producers. Consequently, the ability of those countries with the largest natural gas reserves—Russia and Iran—to control the market for natural gas will be reduced, along with their overall geopolitical influence.

If this were the case, then we should expect the Kremlin, along with Gazprom, to be quaking in their boots. But are they?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Memorial Day Plans

The Age of Limits: Conversations on the Collapse of The Global Industrial Model
 
Friday May 25th thru Monday May 28th, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend at the beautiful Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary. If you are in reasonable traveling distance of Artemas, PA, please join us.

There will be talks, workshops and moderated discussions on specific topics of interest with John Michael Greer, Carolyn Baker, Dmitry Orlov (that's me), Gail Tverberg, Thomas Whipple and others.

Here are my talks:

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Making the Internet Safe for Anarchy


[En français] [In italiano]

Suppose you wanted to achieve some significant political effect; say, prevent or stop an unjust war. You could organize gigantic demonstrations, with hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets, shouting slogans and waving anti-war banners. You could write angry editorials in newspapers and on blogs denouncing the falseness of the casus belli. You could write and phone and email your elected and unelected representatives, asking them to put a stop to it, and they would respond that they will of course try, and by the way could you please make a campaign contribution? You could also seethe and steam and lose sleep and appetite over the disgusting thing your country is about to do or is already doing. Would that stop the war? Alas, no. How many people protested the war in Iraq? And what did that achieve? Precisely nothing.

You see, the slogan “speak truth to power” has certain limitations. The trouble with this slogan is that it ignores the fact that power will not listen and the fact that the people already know the truth and even make jokes about it. Those in power may appear to be persuaded or dissuaded, but only if it is to their advantage to do so. They will also sometimes choose to co-opt, and then quietly subvert, popular movements, in order to legitimize themselves in the eyes of those who would otherwise oppose them. But, in general, they cannot be shifted from pursuing a course they see as advantageous by mere rhetoric from those outside their ranks. Some weaker regimes may be sensitive to embarrassment, provided the criticisms are voiced by high-profile individuals in internationally recognized positions of authority, but these same criticisms backfire when aimed at the stronger regimes, because they make those who voice them themselves appear ridiculous, engaged in something futile.