Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Learning to Live Fearlessly

RE, over at the Doomstead Diner, was asking the other day "Where have all the doomers gone?" He pointed out that some commentators have gone silent, others post far less often than they used to (guilty) and the doom-stars, Orlov, Kunstler et al., are mostly repeating over and over on a weekly basis what they have been saying for years.

So what's going on? It's not as if our predicament of looming financial collapse, ecological drawdown, resource wars etc. etc. has gone away. Perhaps, it's down to exhaustion and the realisation that the folks who want to hear about it are all now singing along in the choir and those that don't (but will find out anyway) all have their heads buried so deeply in the sand that only the tips of their toes remain poking up above the beach. On the other hand when you have the likes of our own prime minister jumping on the doom bandwagon and saying that 'Red lights are flashing on the dashboard' then maybe it's time to realise that maybe, just maybe, the message is becoming less ignorable.

And just to recap, here is that message in cut-out-and-keep form:

We live in a debt-fuelled, techno-narcissitic, ecologically unsustainable world and in an economic system that channels the remaining wealth upwards. The system, which worked well enough for most people in times of an expanding energy supply without too many competing claims is now shifting into reverse gear and causing itself to self-cannibalise. Economic and political injustice is growing ever sharper and more noticeable — despite all the happy talk of economic recovery. Growth is an illusion, contraction is a reality, and things are getting worse. Prepare yourself for the inevitable and try to gain some control over the essentials of your life. Grow stuff, tread lightly on the earth, appreciate what you have and try to enjoy the ride.

Here in the UK more families than ever are having to rely on food banks handing out packages of food just so they can make it through the week. Who'd ever even heard of a food bank five years ago? There's one near where I live, and in the news agents across the road from it the newspapers on display contain articles detailing which stores to head to on your weekend Christmas shopping splurge in New York, or which island in the Maldives is perfect for some winter sun. They might as well be talking about vacations on Venus. Some of their other pages contain stories about megacities being planned for the bottom of the sea, personal robots that can fly and deliver Amazon packages, cars that run on seawater and 3D printed houses on the Moon. It's all just around the corner.

But the propaganda gets less believable by the day. I can't personally recall talking with anyone in the last few years who says things are going well for them financially. In fact most people just seem to be grinding along from month to month with hardly any money, maybe getting into debt a bit more and shopping at the discount food stores which have swept the country. They are not thinking about buying flying robots. Others are stuck in the painful situation of having a head full of business ideas but no way to make them happen because they have no cash, no credit rating and no time. Each month that passes makes those hopes and dreams seem just that little bit more unrealistic and an understanding begins to form in their minds that a new kind of reality has descended and this new reality doesn't promise anything like what the old reality did.

But at least there is still a safety net to catch us when we fall, right? There's still a free health system which is one of the best in the world, right? I got to test this out recently when I developed a deep tooth ache that wouldn't go away. The only surgery in town that could see me was a nearby clinic that boasted 'German dentists', whatever that might imply. They examined me and noted an abscess below a wisdom tooth and advised that I have it removed asap. They made me fill out a medical questionnaire which seemed less interested with my dental health than how I 'felt about my smile', presumably to prey on hidden insecurities and lure me into spending a fortune in order to make me look like Donny Osmond (a full finance package was on offer).

But to fix my wisdom tooth they wanted several hundred pounds off me. I told them straight off that I couldn't afford it and wanted to know what my options were. They have to do this, by law, I'm told. I was (glumly) referred to an NHS specialist and, within a couple of months after a course of antibiotics and painkillers I found myself at the local hospital where a man called Mohammed wrenched out my bad wisdom tooth with some pliers. It was all very professional and pain-free and didn't cost me a penny. My respect for the foot soldiers of the NHS grows with each encounter.

But how long can we rely on these systems to function? With the total amount of debt owed by the UK now astronomically high (government, company and private) and not showing any sign of slowing down soon, when will the breaking point be? Already we are beginning to see warning signs of massive problems ahead, with some saying that the health service will run out of the cash needed to sustain itself either this year or next:

Millions to suffer as NHS is About to run out of Cash

"The King’s Fund’s report warns: “On its current trajectory, the health and social care system in England is rapidly heading towards a major crisis.” ... it is now a question of when, not if, the NHS runs out of money."

And then consider the immense problems faced by district and city councils, such as Newcastle. These behemoths are being bled dry by central government, with all the accusations of politics being thrown in (the ones gushing blood the fastest are the ones with populations least likely to vote Tory). It's worth reading this whole article to get an understanding of what is in store, not just in Newcastle, but everywhere:

Is saving Newcastle Mission Impossible?

"In fact, the city’s predicament already seemed impossible. The council cut £37m from its spending in 2013-14, and another £38m is set to follow this year. Then, according to current projections, there will be further annual cuts of £40m, £30m,and £20m. Over a third of the money the council once spent must go, so Newcastle is in the midst of a dire squeeze on funding for children’s centres, youth services, rubbish collection, parks, aid for homeless people, swimming pools, museums, and the arts. Back in 2011, Forbes said, when he and his colleagues had first confronted the depth and breadth of what they faced, a lot of them lapsed into silence. “People went white,” he told me. “They literally went white, at the prospect of it. There was a sense of disbelief about what it all meant, and the scale of cuts we would have to make.”"

It's probably important to note here that cuts will soon start to affect council's statutory requirements. All councils have a basic requirement to offer some kind of food and shelter, to protect children from violent parents and so on. These are the kind of programmes that are for the chopping board next and the effect on our society will be profound. It doesn't matter what the fake manipulated GDP number is if the streets are full of starving waifs rummaging through trash looking for something to eat. Of course, individuals and other organisations will step in and try to fill the gap by providing people with some basic level of subsistence. Churches will become popular again and 'giving to charity' will not mean texting a number to a giant bureaucracy during a telethon, but giving a bag of food to a hard-up neighbour. The majority will find themselves cut off, disenfranchised and with no safety net. The age of entitlement will be over for most, to be replaced by the age of broken promises.

I have a friend who works for the council in child care. She tells me that when the new system of universal credit kicks in then all hell will break loose. She warns of mass malnutrition, suicides and homelessness — and she's not even the excitable type. For now, this system is being held off by IT failures, but when it is rolled out across the country, maybe within the next year or two, it will be like a chainsaw through whatever safety net currently exists. It will be brutal, she says.

Everywhere I look, and in so many different places, I see the effect of service cuts and the new intermediaries stepping into the ever narrowing gaps between flows of money. Just off the top of my head I could say that the council in the town where I live (Penzance) has run out of money for killing the weeds that sprout up between paving stones — result being that the streets have now grown green beards; the school my children attend is forever asking for small amounts of money to cover trips and events and is now almost begging parents for cash; the county council has been ordered to find millions in savings from its planning department — result is anecdotes of planning officials levying 'unusual' charges and insisting on applications being resubmitted and for the application fee to be repaid in full.

The list goes on of penny-pinching savings leading to shoddier services, crappier jobs and a growing sense of unease.

My wife works for a private community care firm. Her job is to travel around to visit (mostly) lonely old people and make sure they are okay. She gets minimum wage and is on a zero hour contract. She was just awarded an annual pay increase of 0.6%, which is actually a pay cut in real terms, but that's standard practice in the sector. Her every move is now monitored by a smart phone she has to carry, and she is so overworked that there is barely enough time to make 'clients' (as they are known) a cup of tea. There are no benefits, and no holiday pay. You don't even want to know the sad stories I hear about the loneliness some of these old folks experience.

Here's a tip if you have kids: treat them nicely so that they may one day return the favour. And don't go and encourage them to go and live some place far away.

Here's another anecdote. Last week I even took our old leaky toilet to the local municipal dump — sorry, recycling centre — and was told that I would have to pay a £1.75 fee to dispose of it 'because we now charge for rubble'. I pointed out that it wasn't rubble, that it was a porcelain toilet bowl and the guy in the fluorescent jacket told me that 'it will be rubble when it gets smashed up.' Nice logic. My broken toilet could almost be a metaphor for modern life.

Perhaps that's why fly-tipping is now all the rage (with local councils being forced — for now — to clear up the mess at great public expense). This mess appeared overnight in Essex and is a mile long.

So that's modern Britain, writhing in the discomfort of a thousand cuts. But people around here at this end of Cornwall are long used to being squeezed. That's one of the reasons I moved here — people are less likely to freak out so much when things get tough, I reason. Some of them. Most of the large 'period' homes here are owned by outsiders, property investors and holiday home owners, and any attempt to tax these people or make them pay in any way for the damage they are causing to local communities is met with howls of protest about 'scaring away the tourists', 'biting the hand that feeds us' and so on. That leaves anyone who grew up here two options: either get out and move somewhere with careers, or stay here working in the service sector for minimum wages and living in a caravan or a euphemistically-named 'affordable home'.

There's a woman living nearby who sometimes busks with a cello. I've seen her a couple of times in the street. When I read an article on the Dark Mountain Project blog about a young woman who lives in a tin-roofed shed because 'all the houses have been hoovered up by the rich' it took me a while to connect the dots and realise it was indeed the same person. Catrina Davies, I then found out, has written a book entitled The Ribbons are for Fearlessness. I bought the book and read it. It took me only a day because it was a real page turner. In the book she details living with no money at the Youth Hostel near Land's End, and how the sudden death of her friend led her to set out for Norway, virtually penniless, in a battered old yellow van. She travels alone, with her grief, her fear and her cello as a way of making money busking the streets of Europe. It's a hell of an adventure, and she meets a girl at the Nordcap (Europe's most northerly cape) who teaches her a thing or two about the universe and gives her some ribbons 'for fearlessness'. She goes on to travel all the way down to Portugal, learning to surf and how to live a full and authentic life in a manner that we are conditioned by our society to believe is impossible.

And, in a sense, that's what we'll all have to learn to do: learn to live fearlessly. Because when I see news stories that state the average family of four needs to make £40,600 a year to live an okay lifestyle I think: what do they spend all of that money on? Most people I know make a lot less than that, and our family makes and lives off about a third of that amount. True, I don't have a mortgage or an evil landlord standing over me, because I've been through all that and I savour every moment of not being a debt slave. I try to impress this message onto my children because I know they'll likely never have what I had, namely a free university education, a couple of decades of rising incomes, a property ladder with an affordable first rung and a cushy office job where I got paid buckets of cash for fiddling with spreadsheets. They will likely get none of these things and society is going to be contorted into a lot of new and unfamiliar shapes as they come of age.

So, to go back to the beginning, why are less people talking about doom? Maybe it's a bit like someone at a garden party — let's call her Sally — who keeps telling everyone a rain storm is coming and they all just look up at the blue sky and say 'impossible' and get back to chatting about Top Gear by the pool. But she knows the storm is coming — she can tell by the clouds on the horizon, the rustling of the leaves in the trees and the way the neighbourhood cats have all disappeared. She remembers past storms. She tries to tell the other guests, but they are in no mood to listen — they're too busy applying sun cream and turning the pork chops on the barbie. "Didn't you hear to weather forecast?" they say. "There's no chance of rain." Eventually, somewhat shunned and a little hoarse, she decides not to go on about it too much. After a while she makes her excuses and goes home to bring her washing in so it won't get wet. In the meantime the sky has darkened and the first few drops of rain are hitting the hot metal grill and making sizzling noises. The guests look at each other nervously and one or two think to themselves "Maybe she was right about the rain, but it'll just be a passing shower." The party is in full swing by now and everyone thinks they will stay dry because everyone else is standing out there with them, and anyway it never rains at Steve's parties. They decide collectively not to notice the rain, laughing it off. The fat man turning the chops secretly believes he can control the weather by holding his mouth in a certain way. Meanwhile a deep rumble of thunder rolls across the horizon and Sally gazes out at her garden through the window from the comfort of her home, surrounded by cats.


  1. Well said!

    I'm mostly speechless about the situation these days. I can't explain it, but your story about the party seems to resonate. I think it's mostly exhaustion brought on by waiting for something to happen, and that something not happening. It's difficult where I'm at because nobody has a clue it seems. I just catch a bunch of shit for "digging holes" and "planting bamboo."

    Anyways, this lack of commenting in the doomer world has another aspect to it. I think we're just tired of talking to the choir about it. If you get it, you get it, and you don't need to continue scrutinizing. If you don't get it, you don't get it, think it's a conspiracy, and believe that technology and the scientists will figure it out...but you will get it...eventually perhaps. But then maybe you never will get it, or when you get it you'll swallow a bottle of pills cause you don't have the intestinal fortitude to live with it.

    1. Given that it's mostly a conceptual thing and most people don't really think conceptually for one reason or another they probably only notice things going wrong when it's too late to do anything about it. This is unfortunate but it seems that's the way most of us are programmed. Who knows, perhaps it is an evolutionary disadvantage. That's why I regard so-called 'doomers' as really quite lucky ... they have the edge over non-doomers in this critical phase we are living through now i.e. when there is still a chance to make your situation better.

      Oh ... about those chestnuts ... sorry, they got, er, eaten. I'll save you some next year ;)

  2. It's hard to keep the faith; my family laugh at me now because for years I've been telling them that things may not always be the way they have been, the way that they've been trained to believe they will be, the way of the world that they're taking on massive debts & studying hard to fit into. I've tried hard not to sound like a broken record, and not to be alarmist, and the end result is that they've basically taken very little notice. And although the signs of collapse get clearer every day, it's still easier to blame individuals for taking "wrong" decisions, or failing to take decisions, than to realise that it's ALL going downhill, step by slippery step, and that the people we know who are, or are on the verge of becoming, casualties, are not just foolish/lazy/improvident/greedy, though some undoubtedly are, but most are simply unlucky. Many of them blame themselves...

    Other Half sighed wearily, "I thought you'd have grown out of that by now!" this Spring. "That" being growing some of our own veg... far too much like hard work, ruins the look of his nice neat garden! We've been lucky enough to keep our heads above water so far, but we still have young adults living at home who can't afford to leave, one of them working in a "management" job. Still not earning enough for a small flat hereabouts... when a manager can't afford to leave home, at 25, when I could pay my rent at 19 working as a barmaid, things have surely got very silly. And they're only going to get sillier.

    1. Keeping the faith can be hard if people don't take you seriously. I've been called a conspiracy theorist, a believer in the 'zombie apocalypse' (whatever that implies) and other things. I don't really mind, and am happy to be seen as mildly eccentric if that is what it takes.

      Collapse is happening and it's real. It's unfortunate and painful but there's not much any of us can do about it other than at the personal/family level. I'm lucky to have another half who is on board with this, even though she is a city girl and abhors soil, or 'dirt'.

      Still living at home at 25? Blimey, I was away at 18 and then managed to go travelling around the world for three years on about a year's worth of savings. Times have indeed changed.

  3. Hi Jason,
    Those whom control the debt, control the asset! Very wise on your part. I fear debt like the plague and avoid it at all costs. The cuts are going on here too. It seems that every other day, x number of thousands of people are tipped out of work. Unfortunately, there is a tipping point, but who knows where? A lot of those councils may be saddled with agreements that worked in the past but are now no longer applicable. Defined benefit retirement payments are one of those here and I've noticed that organisations are tipping people out who have those arrangements, so that they find themselves with very different retirement arrangements - and no one says anything about the situation! Incidentally, I rarely spot government types who are making these decisions, offering to take a pay cut themselves. It isn't a good look.

    House prices are still going up too, but we're ending up with what I call the Lorne effect. Lorne is a tourist trap town along the coast - nice place, which I don't stop at - but house prices are such that the locals - the sort that work in the shops and actually run the place - can't afford to live there. They are struggling to field local sports teams football, cricket, netball and the local volunteer fire brigade is well under manned - and it is a high risk bushfire area. You know, all the stuff that makes for a community. A lot of overseas money is pouring into the city property market and oh boy is it going feral. It isn't going to end well.

    Incidentally it is hard to cry wolf when fuel prices are going down. Mark my words, I'm assuming that supply has been temporarily increased in order to drive down prices and cut the income for IS. Just sayin... Normal programming will continue shortly.

    Incidentally, I really like the Feedjit widget. Good stuff. Cheers. Chris

    1. Hi Chris, indeed. It amuses me that I have the lowest credit rating score because I don't have any debt and have not lived in the UK for the past three years. I'm not complaining, mind you!

      Over here the councils lost out big time by putting a lot of money into dodgy Icelandic financial products shortly before that country imploded financially. Plenty of grief has stemmed from that, although I believe they were acting under advice from the UK government. IMO councils cut cut out a lot of waste by firing the huge number of overpaid middle managers they employ. I have a family member who is paid what I would consider 'megabucks' by the council where they work ... and all of the other people in their department get the same packages. Basically they just give advice to one-another and charge for it i.e. they don't produce anything of value but they get paid handsomely for it. Madness.

      As for fuel prices ... yes. It's either Saudi acting alone or with the US. Clearly the plan is to punish Putin and ISIS, and maybe Syria. My great hope is that it will backfire and ruin the fracking industry before it kills us, but I can only guess whether this will be so. Apparently most of the crackers have forward contracts to supply at high prices for a couple of years, so could withstand a shortish price shock. Some people are saying $30 a barrel, which would spark deflation in the US (we already have it here). We'll probably get really cheap oil for a while followed by really expensive oil.

    2. For 'crackers' read 'frackers' ... auto correct!

      Further up it changed 'doomers' to 'dormers' - which would be an opposite meaning!

    3. Low Oil prices are an artifact of collapsing Demand, not collusion by the Saudis and the State Department. The Saudis would love to get higher prices but the market is glutted and ISIS will undersell them. Also has a lot to do with the collapsing export economies of Japan and China.

      Anyhow, nice to have some New Doom from you Hepp. :)


    4. Well that's one aspect for sure ... another is that Saudi is 'going for broke' and wants the extra revenue from increased production. They'd be quite happy selling more oil at a lower price if it squashes the tight oil competition.

  4. The way I look at it the zombie apocalypse is already here, the zombies are the poor unfortunates who can't see the writing on the wall and are doing nothing to prepare themselves for it physically, financially or psychologically. Hopefully this will prove to be a reverse zombie apocalypse, we don't need to go around bashing these people over the head to kill them off (as in Shaun of the dead) eventually some/many will wake up and see whats going on. After all many of us were probably one once. As for fuel, it will go down, then it will go up, probably a long way up.

    1. I enjoyed watching Shaun of the Dead, but it doesn't make our job any easier when people conflate our current situation with it.

      I'm with you on the fuel - just waiting for the inevitable headline 'OPEC's Christmas Present to Motorists'. I'll bet we see it tomorrow.

    2. And ... right on time ;-)

  5. Jason, to go back to your opening premise that 'Doomers' have gone quiet because they're preaching to the converted or not getting through to anyone new, that just means it is high time instead of pointing out all that is wrong with the world, those who want to change the economic model, the social model, the agricultural model or any other accepted way of doing things need to be coming up with viable alternatives.
    The people who feel trapped and powerless to change anything themselves get the message "the world is going to hell in a hand basket", the only viable response for them is "to enjoy the ride" and hope the end of the ride is far enough away that it won't affect them.
    The Doomers need to get off their soap boxes, come up with real alternatives, politicise the dis-affected and bring about real change. Getting rid of the Westminster model of democracy might be a good place to start. Paying nearly half the politicians (and their supporting staff) to oppose the government is nuts. Government should be run like councils and committees rather than on party lines or the principle that if I am in opposition I must oppose even when I agree. In this scenario ministers would be appointed according to skill/experience/interest and individual decisions of government would be based on genuine majorities. In an ideal world government would be more like the medieval Scandinavian alle ting (everyone has a right to be heard, and no one person's vote, carries more weight).

    1. I don't think the majority of dormers are doers, so they are unlikely to be coming up with the next economic, agricultural or social model. Call them social commentators whose use is to try and puncture a hole through the accepted narrative of our times. What's more, they're likely to be far too jaded and world weary to believe that any new-fangled intellectually-conceived model will have any chance of success. Events are now the driving force, and we'll see what takes shape when said events have worked themselves out.

    2. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it and those who do are doomed to watch it unfold; step by painful step. I only know of one historical example where a society (7th century Byzantium) implemented a planned contraction to avoid a complete collapse. Although he is technically dead, I have to agree with Roger Ebert. Oil is not the only commodity where demand is down.

  6. I think there was a time for calling it out, and now many of us have come to the conclusion that there is very little to be done but what I can do for the community I am in. Many seem to have passed through, to acceptance, and while there is much to be said about this new reality, few know what to say about it. Meanwhile, I busy myself with the mundane, in love, remembering to love. Wondering at the extraordinary opportunities I have had, in the twilight of the oil age, and the Aeon of Pisces ;) Pondering the "dark night of the soul" that I expect Humanity to go through, before we pass full into the Aeon of Aquarius (about which I am very optimistic.)


    1. William, perhaps it's just a general acceptance stage thing. The best writing comes from passion and anger, not weary acceptance. I too count myself lucky to have experienced so much in the twilight of the oil age — we should all count our blessings.

  7. Doesn't Universal Credit just wrap up existing benefits into a single payment? So in theory, it shouldn't change how much people get?

    Of course for someone who has just lost their job, not having any money until the end of the month can't be convenient.

    1. I believe that is the way that it is supposed to work in theory, but it will also be means tested. There are some major IT problems with it at the moment so who knows when it will be rolled out.

  8. You've probably seen this, but it answers the question posed better than I could.

    1. Hmmm, well maybe. Personally I think that there comes a point where too much reflection becomes dangerous. After all, we're all going to die one day, and we've always known that, right? But that shouldn't stop us from living.

      Sorry for name-dropping but I was having a beer with John Michael Greer this summer - a really nice couple of dark beers in a small flower filled beer garden at a cosy pub. He said (to paraphrase) "Who knows, maybe we're all doomed — nobody alive can predict with any certainty what will or will not come to pass. But one thing is for certain, we are enjoying these beers right now in this moment and that fact can never be altered."

      If we are doomed then so be it, so maybe we should be like the bird in the post you linked to and spend our time doing something useful (like preening our feathers) before the viper strikes.

  9. I used to try to save the world but I realise I'm wasting my time. So I'm trying to protect myself for the continuing slide - no debt, big veg garden, staying fit, now buying worthless shit.

    1. There's no way we can 'save' the world. The world is as it is. We came out of it and we will (one day) disappear into it again.

      So your strategy is the same as mine ... try and save the bit of the world that you have some control over ... an alien concept to most people.

  10. For the last two months I have been writing a blog called “Engineering in an Age of Limits”. It is directed toward engineers and safety professionals who, if motivated, would have the skills to address some of our problems. Although the blog has led to a few good discussions not one person has shown that they understand what we are talking about. But this does not surprise me at all — I never expected to find a colleague in my business area who has read the authors you talk about.

    I suppose the real benefit of the blog has been my own education. For example, it led to an understanding that the concept of Safety as a Value is actually a fairly recent construct (The Newness of Safety at

    One difficulty may be that engineers in the energy business are actually doing very well right now. They have interesting work and make good money (although the recent drop in oil prices may change that some. But then the oil business has always been cyclical. I recall a bumper sticker from the mid-1980s: “Lord, give us another boom — we promise not to screw it up this time”. Well, He did and we did).

    It is possible that things may be shifting just a little. I gave a speech on these issues to a group of about 100 technical and safety professionals a few weeks ago and received a surprisingly warm response. As follow up one large pipeline company asked me to make a proposal to give a keynote speech at one of their company meetings.

    But for now, I am going to stop writing about these topics — it is time-consuming and not particularly rewarding.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. It's worth sticking with the blog if you have any spare time for it. The more people introducing the idea of limits into the narrative then the more chance our societies have of salvaging something of use from the next round of crises. The only reward is I get to communicate with like-minded people, bounce around a few ideas and learn a thing or two.

      I started this blog four years ago in response to John Michael Greer suggesting the above point. For the first year I was lucky if it had 100 views a month, but these days it gets just shy of 20,000 views - and has doubled in just over a year, so maybe more people are interested in the idea of living with limits.

      And, as an engineer, your thoughts and points of view are more likely to be listened to than someone like me (who cannot claim to be an expert in anything).

    3. Congratulations on the number of hits that you are recording.

      Although I personally obviously understand the messages of blogs such as this we do need to address the “red face test”. I live in a medium-size town; the local freeway is jammed with traffic, the will-lit supermarkets are filled with delicious food, many of the automobiles around town are late-model SUVs, Black Friday is looking strong, and now gas prices are going down. What oil crisis are you talking about?

      There may be a middle ground between ‘saving the world’ (a phrase used in an earlier reply) and leaving it. For example, if our razor-thin supply chains start to crack due to erratic supplies of fuel how can we re-design our chemical processes to be more robust? I have some ideas — the trick is to get a large number of experts to think that way.

      Maybe we should speak to the senior managers of the large companies. They are not fools, they didn’t get to where they are by closing their eyes. Over the last five years the S&P 500 has risen 90% whereas XOM (ExxonMobil) is up just 26%. The Wall Street Journal reports on the failure of massive investments to raise production rates. Managers at these companies have also invested huge sums in various forms of alternative energy for decades (I have worked on some of the projects) and basically gotten nowhere. Maybe they would appreciate some help. But most Peak Oil discussions seem to either fulminate about the way governments work or they talk about personal preparations.

      If our response is that we are doomed anyway (the predicament/problem distinction) then we should indeed close down all blogs. But I prefer a more positive approach because none of us, none of us, can predict the future. Which is why my last two posts were Jack of All Trades ( and Career Advice (

    4. ChemEng,

      Thank you for your posting your blog, and the work you have done in the articles and in talking to your peers. From my own experience, I agree with Jason. By having your blog and having your conversations, you are doing something. Even an infinitesimal little push is more than no push, and no one can predict what may click and connect.

      I've arrived at this same conclusion in my own life, a combination of final-grief-stage acceptance, and also the surety that nobody knows the future. A lifetime of green activism and social consciousness and listening to NPR left me a neurotic mess in an unhealthy relationship. I've given up all those things and am worlds happier.

      I'm living a different life, even inside my outwardly not-very-distinguishable practice of going to work. But I'm moving to part-time, and then perhaps no time. I take the bus or ride my bike; I buy groceries from a markdown independent grocer (Grocery Outlet for those in the US) and greens from local markets. I'm committing to writing the novels I've always wanted, doing some acting and comedy, forging healthy and sustaining relationships. I could fret about climate change and society falling apart, but it's not my responsibility to save the world. A comet could hit us tomorrow. We only ever have this one moment right now.

      I just wanted to let you know you're not the only one pondering these questions. The questions are more important than the answers.

      Derek in Seattle

  11. What about your children Jason? Don't they have dreams of going to Uni and travelling the World? You can't tell them the reality, that if they are lucky they will end up in a job like their mother's, but with less pay! (And I think carers do a wonderful job that is physically and emotionally draining for very little reward)

    This is what I find hard. I tried to talk my oldest daughter out of going to Uni, saying it wasn't worth the debt. She took a gap year and travelled, but went to Uni in Cornwall the following year. All her friends are at Uni and to not go is stigmatised somewhat. She is charged £9k a year and averages an hour or two a week of lectures. Most weeks is 15 mins and some weeks none!! Now in her final year, she agrees it is a rip off, but still thinks she needs a degree to have a hope of getting a reasonable job. She is a hard worker and even in this climate has had jobs waitressing and in shops, so has still been able to spend the summer travelling around Europe, which she loves. I can't be a 'doomer' about the reality and quash all her dreams, or those of my 3 younger children. In fact my role means I have to say "Don't worry, you'll find a job".

    I was the first year of students to get a student loan, and I still haven't paid my debt off 20 years later! It was in Engineering too. Burdening young people with debt before they even start work is shit. But try to tell them not to and you are drowning their hope and their future. In a situation where everyone has to work hard just to scrape a living no one has the spare capacity to look after their elders. When houses were affordable, half of a marriage could afford to stay at home and be the carer, but no longer.

    I am waiting for something to happen and for people to wake up to the resource-constrained future. I have been waiting years it seems, but in the meantime I have a dilemma. What do I tell them? What are you going to say Jason?

    1. That is a worry of mine too, Judy. My eldest daughter is very bright academically and is practically the top of the class in everything. She's only 11 right now, so there are still a few years to go before any talk of university.

      Nevertheless, I'm trying to encourage them to think about vocational jobs too. My wife is a full-qualified upholsterer who can take a 300 year old sofa, strip it down to its bones and rebuild it using all the traditional methods. She had her own business here but it takes time to build up and there are bills to be paid, so hopefully the care work is temporary. If she does manage to get the business off the ground then one of my daughters might be able to follow her into it.

      I tell them both that they should try and avoid debt, and maybe I would recommend that they have a year out when they have done their 'A' levels. It's very frustrating and saddening to go to school events and see all the bright-eyed kids eagerly getting ready for the wrong future.

      One hour of studies a week? Yes, that reminds me of when I was at university. One of my pals didn't even turn up for several months - spending 40 hours a week in the student union bar (£1 a pint) - but they still awarded him a degree. I didn't realise it was a bubble at the time.

  12. I read "Walden" by H D Thoreau, in 1970, in highschool. It was then I realised that any - any - plan I could come up with that was not an approved plan, would be a far better plan. The best evidence was close at hand - a suburban mega HS, in a land stolen from people who knew how to truly love Turtle Island.

    Since then, I have lived lightly on the earth, and have witnessed all the catastrophes of the approved plans. Thankfully the most catastrophic plan (MAD) has not been executed, though it was fully funded (by debt).

    I do not advocate resistance to the approved plans - witnessing is all that's required. Genocide and Ecocide are the result of Homo Sapiens living out of balance with Nature. There are dreams that lead us away from nature, away from truth; and then there are dreams that lead us to life and the adventure to live in balance with the natural order of life. If I had children, I would ask: where do your dreams come from, and where do they lead?

    1. Walden is a very powerful book. It can be depressing and heartbreaking to witness the genocide and ecocide going on around us, but I think we all have to remember that these things will one day pass away too.

      Remember too, as Gandhi said, “If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.”

    2. Thanks for the quote from a great spiritual and political leader! Two other inspirations, who also have a sense of humour, are the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman.

      In his book "Inner Revolution", R.T, writes: "We are aware of the power of brainwashing to develop fanaticism hatred, but we fail to respect the power of positive conditioning to systematically develop openess of mind, altrustic compassion, and joyous love. We are happy when people are generous, peaceful, and loving, but we think it is a surprise, an aberration from the norm of self concern. We know that the many problems of the environment, human societies, and the international community can never be solved unless individuals and groups come to a better understanding of their situations, voluntarily change their ways, and do right things without being forced into it. When we see positive behaviour as abnormal, we loose hope, unable to comprehend why people would get a kick out of benevolence or why they would find satisfaction in giving up something to which they might have clung. ...

      Our whole secularized world is built on apocalyptic consciousness: The end of history is constantly being announced, caused by this or that relatively short-term trend. We want to live for the now, we want total personal power and energy, we want immediate fruition. But is our millennium complete? Did we realise the kingdom of God on earth, or did we just settle for a kingdom of earth by giving up the very idea of a kingdom of God? How do we discover a higher unity by reconciling the heaven/earth duality instead of trying to choose one and deny the other? The Buddha's inner revolution gives us some long-overlooked insights into this most central question"

  13. Not many comments from me anywhere lately. Global collapse spawns personal collapse and when it rears its head in your life it becomes your top priority. Personal issues dominate and ironically the bigger picture, the source, recedes into the background. Add to that your observation that the folks who want to hear about it sing in the choir already and those that don't have their heads buried in the sand. So what's the point?

    In my personal collapse scenario I've actually had a reprieve. I've found good employment after a very long time jobless. My silence like that of the other doomers will be temporary. On the world stage new events will turn a page and start a new chapter in the collapse saga. The silence will end. We don't know what these events will be or when they will happen. But happen they will. Of that we can be certain.

    1. Yes, I know from experience that when personal collapse hits you then your energy is taken up just trying to firefight the numerous crises that spring up in your face. I believe they call it short term crisis management.

      Congrats on the new job!

  14. I have also found myself hard pressed to write this year, but in my case it has had more to do with time pressures than because I don't have much to say. But then again, I don't write about the nature of the predicament. You and others do a much better job of that than I can. Now that the growing season has ended, I plan to write more often, at least until it begins again next spring.

    1. I think writing comes more naturally in the autumn and winter - they are more reflective periods. Spring is a time of rushing energy and heady ideas, so it's also a good time to write. Summer? Forget it!

  15. Great post John, more when i get to read the comments but I have to go off to bed, I work tonight lol.

  16. Excellent post Jason.
    I have read your blog for a long time along with JMG etc. The whole doomer thing should really be looked at as giving a sense of empowerment. I discovered many years ago that there are only two types of people on this planet, talkers and do-ers. My own sense of doom was back in the early 2000's and several years were spent angry, trapped and helpless before the urge to act kicked in, best thing that ever happened!
    My original plan was based on the fact that I hated council tax and the realisation that you could legally live in woodlands for six weeks a year. The plan was to sell up and buy 8 small woodlands, a big recreational vehicle with woodburner, reverse osmosis water plant and satelite internet and spend my time rotating through my leafy empire with trips abroad when needed.
    It never happened but I guess it's true, that you do make your own opportunities. The very first woodland I looked at, also seperately, had a cottage for sale in the middle of it. She who must be obeyed said "this is it!" and like with most things, she was right.
    We live up the road from you in North Devon, very happily in our woods with our chickens, well water, garden, endless supply of wood for the woodburner and off grid electricty next on the list.
    I think doomerism is something you have to go through but when you come out the other side, you realise how very special life is right now and to just get on and enjoy it.
    I no longer care about the future emotionally (I have no control over the big picture anyway), have thrown away the television and all the other drugs of discontentment, just listen to the owls hoot, watch the deer graze and be amazed that slugs can eat so much of my garden in such a short period of time.
    Life is good.........if you choose it to be

    PS Where you live, on my map, it says, "here be dragons"!


I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.