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:

I. Slowly at First, then All at Once: Progressing toward Collapse

It seems counterintuitive to most people that highly optimized, integrated, technologically advanced, progressive, mechanized, automated, highly efficient systems are far more fragile and far more prone to sudden failure than low-tech, localized, labor-intensive, inefficient ways of getting things done. But in fact striving for higher efficiency, be it labor efficiency or energy efficiency, is a way of coping by increasing complexity (and fragility) in order to be able to operate on a thinner and thinner margin. Once that margin disappears altogether (due to resource scarcity or when other limits are reached), or when the costs of complexity come to exceed its rewards (due to diminishing returns) then it is suddenly game over (a.k.a. "systemic failure", or collapse). I'll cover some theory on the subject (a light, non-mathematical treatment) and then talk about some examples: the electric grid, big box retail, centralized internet-based services, global finance, container shipping, air travel, etc. In each case, I'll try to show what a scaled-down, non-fragile, resilient substitute might look like, and try to outline some steps that can be taken in that direction.

II. Our Brave Experiment: Living Aboard a Sailboat

Some years ago I started thinking about the importance of bringing back sail transport. I put my thoughts together in an article titled The New Age of Sail, which has been called my “manifesto.” In it I described the sort of sailing vessels that could be quickly put together and operated in a resource-scarce and chaotic environment, in spite of problems such as lack of highly trained crew, lack of dredging and channel markers, coastal erosion putting destroying dockside facilities and global warming putting them underwater. I further expanded on this topic in a later article, Sailing craft for a post-collapse world. In the meantime, in keeping with a time-honored scientific tradition of experimenting on oneself (and one's family), my wife and I purchased a sailboat of the sort I described, moved aboard, and have spent a total of about three years living aboard and sailing up and down the Eastern Seaboard of the US. In the process, I was able to verify, by direct experience and by observation, everything I wrote in the above two articles, with one exception (it turns out that small sailboats can't outrun hurricanes). Along the way, we discovered a great deal about the pros and cons of minimalistic living. In this talk, I will discuss the role of sail in our future, and also share our experiences of living on the water and extrapolate them to life on land.

III. Sustainable Living as Religious Observance

Our understanding of the world in crisis has become increasingly compartmentalized and fragmented: there is scientific analysis, cultural criticism, political discourse, discussions of economics and finance, community organizing, survivalism and a mystical/spiritual approach, to name a few. There is only one type of institution that can transcend all of these boundaries and provide the basis, the motivation and the discipline to create and to perpetuate a sustainable living arrangement, and that is organized religion. It is also the one institution that has the political power to stand apart from the mainstream and to refuse to adhere to the standard set of practices: from the Amish ability to exclude invasive or oppressive technologies through their Ordnungen, to the Christian Scientists' successful refusal of medicine, to numerous other exceptions from the status quo. There simply isn't time to evolve a new set of resilient and sustainable social institutions from scratch, while the vast organizational possibilities offered by religion are simply too important to ignore. It is hard to imagine a religion, from primitive animism to pantheism to Islam, that is dogmatically opposed to living in harmony with nature. It is a question of emphasis: a charter entered in addition to, rather than instead of, existing religious observance. On the other hand, sustainability is no more a specific religious choice than is survival. A spiritual approach to sustainability is valid, but, at the same time, so is a perfectly practical, if not to say materialist approach to the question of using a religious orders as an organizing principle around which sustainable communities can be built. Rather than present a lot of material on this topic, I will attempt to paint a broad outline, and then open it up for what I hope will be an interesting and fruitful discussion.


Anonymous said...

I watched a film tonight, "The Army of Crime", about a group of Jewish and Communist resistance fighters in Paris during the Occupation. A heroic but tragic story but what stood out most of all for me was how quickly people sold one another out,how isolated the victims of the Nazi's quickly became. One high ranking SS officer congratulates a French police official on an enormous roundup of foreigners and notes that not a single German was involved, it was completely managed by the French police and citizens.

After the movie finished I came across these two articles...more than a little too close for comfort in my book:

This is the terrain we will have to navigate after some kind of decline. Whether it's catastrophic or creeping, the good ole U.S.A. already has the cultural infrastructure in place to become a dystopian nightmare...semi-feudal, barbaric towards outsiders, superstitious and violent.

yvesT said...

A bit too far !

And sorry for posting this again but please do not hesitate to sign (and forward) a call to French presidential candidates "mobilizing society in the face of peak oil" originally published March 22nd in

Signed by :
Pierre René Bauquis - Former Director of Strategy and Planning at Total
Jean-Marie Bourdaire - Former Director of Economic Studies at Total, former Director of Studies at World Energy Council (WEC)
Yves Cochet - European Deputy, former Environment Minister.
Jean-Marc Jancovici – Consultant, energy and CO2 issues, ASPO France
Jean Laherrère - Former Chief of Exploration Technologies at Total
Yves Mathieu - Former Hydrocarbon Reserves Project Manager at the Institut Francais du Petrole (French Petroleum Institute)

Translation published on Energy Bulletin :

And on a dedicated site (with petition/join the call functionality) :
Any language welcomed for the message

more to disseminate the info about it (peak oil, or ressource limits in general) than anything else in a way ...


SandraLee48 said...

I'm coming and can't wait! Thank you, Dimitry

HeyZeus said...

Dear Dmitry, I agree with everything you say but as a complexity scientist I must point out, you misuse the term complexity. When economic efficiency is increased, systems don't become more complex, they become rather less complex. So WALMART is a much less complex system compared to a network of mom and pop stores. It is also a much more fragile system, completely prone to collapse at the slightest shock. Complex-adaptive systems like eco-systems for instance naturally strive for sustainable development. Economics and its pursuit of efficiency stand in direct contrast to that bias. Complexity involves functional redundancy and decoupling, both of which are inefficient. In fact, one of the major failures of economics is its inability to understand complexity. Complexity sciences hold as much promise in transforming the dominant intellectual paradigm as does organized religion in providing a more sustainable narrative to believe in.