Musings from the Age of Limits

Off the keyboard of Harry J Lerwill

Published on the Doomstead Diner May 24, 2013

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Discuss this article at the Age of Limits Table inside the Diner

Age of Limits 2013 Website

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Forgive any typos or autocorrect fun, I’m writing on an iPad in the middle of a forest…

We took a long drive from Pittsburgh to the age of limits conference in Pennsylvania, down winding roads and through verdant green forests, a stark contrast to the dry, arid California weather we left behind. The humidity is a surprise after the dry air of home, not the best foreshadowing of restful evenings, particularly for those camping for the first time – like my wife, Barbra.

To be fair I have been ambiguous when she’s asked about our destination. Her idea of camping is anything short of a three-star hotel. I would have been traveling alone, had I uttered any of the hot-button words, such as “humanure”, “camping” or “off the grid”.

We stopped at a store to pick up an air mattress, pump and bedding, items too bulky to transport as carry-on from home. I find it crazy that it cost us less to buy the items new, then donate them when we leave, than to bring our own with us. The occasional glance from the drivers seat made me think that the game might soon be up.

A brace of ducks welcomes us to the sustainable community we will be staying at these next four days, relaxing outside the door to the main farm building. I approached cautiously, not wanting to startle them but they seemed very comfortable with them. I was still deciding to go left or right around when a lady came out of the building and welcomed us.

We left with directions to the camping site and a “car camping” pass on the windscreen and gently grove the minivan to the designated spot. As I inflated the air mattress and placed it in the back, the wife called out daughter back in California. Snippets of her side of the conversation were carried on the breeze.

“I don’t know where we are, somewhere in the woods in Pennsylvania,” she told a laughing teenager back in warm and sunny California. We’d taken her on a very different road trip the weekend before, four days in Las Vegas, experiencing the excesses that we are here to escape.

The sleeping arrangements completed, we wandered down to the “starvin’ artist” – the catering for the event, situated in a beautiful pavilion built from local materials by the members of the community. A hot meal was just what we needed and we sat down with a number of other earlier arrivals, although it was soon interrupted by the arrival of a thunderstorm, the driving rain coming in almost horizontally; a flurry of activity ensured as water was swept off the end of the deck multiple times, an Herculean task the two lads threw themselves into with enthusiasm.

The only speaker present at the meal was Guy McPherson, my first chance to meet the gentleman. One interesting anecdote, Guy did not coin the term “NTE” and is not that fond of acronyms. If he had to give it a label, he’d have called it “near term human extinction”, a phrase he sees as having less hubris.

After a brief pause to write, we head back down for the meet and greet. On the way I ran into the founder, and arranged to interview him over his experiences setting up four quarters, the challenges he’s faced, and the long journey to where they find themselves today.

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Meet and Greet your Fellow Doomers

 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thursday night was colder than expected, the novel experience of camping in a car did not impress the wife much, but she is resolved to be a good sport. It’s a sobering experience to live in a car for a couple days, an eye-opener to the collapse that is happening to hundreds of people each week. A long discussion on how we would cope should this happen ensued. This is definitely an experience to bring a significant other along for. If it survives this, it’s a good sign for sticking together through what lies ahead.

Not only are there “real” flushing toilets at the camp, the showers are hot, real hot! Coffee came first though, provided free by the wonderful volunteers. A quick conversation with other early risers and I got ready for breakfast. For a “small” setup the breakfast was wonderful, sausage, eggs, potatoes, and plenty of orange juice, with more wonderful conversation.

The event started with Oren covering some practical matters, followed by his experiences setting up the four quarters interfaith sanctuary over 18years ago. 4Q was originally an attempt to set up an ecological camp ground that would appeal to the more ecologically minded. Pennsylvania was chosen over Maryland due to the differences in planning and zoning regulations, an aspect of doomstead~location that has been in the forefront of many people looking to escape the oncoming collapse.

The questions were excellent, covering topics as diverse as property ownership and health care; it’s a sobering thought that personal collapse comes with consequences, when we get sick in a post-collapse world, death is the likely outcome. Questions of ethics were also raised, such as what would happen post-collapse if people turned up at their lifeboat. Many questions that we’ve asked ourselves and our forum friends. I encourage people who are looking at setting up communities to listen to both the talk and the question and answer session.

John Michael Greer was the second speaker, with a talk on the future, what we though we would get and what we’re actually getting, and how that disconnect happened. For readers of the archdruid report the topics were familiar, yet his light-hearted delivery takes the edge off the description of a very uncertain future.

The concept of near term human extinction inevitably came up and John Michael’s response surprised many who think his view of post-collapse is incompatible with that of Guy McPherson. Greer sees a massive die-off in humanity’s future, just on a different time scale, along with a faith that nature will get through the bottleneck we are creating in the ecosystems. He also pointed out that the theory McPherson has may gain wider acceptance than his own theories of collapse, for reasons he’s covered in his blog many times: we will do anything to avoid having to make changes in our own lives.

Albert Bates was the next up, with a lecture on the top of the Unibomber. I was very surprised to learn that the Unibomber was not only a Harvard student at fifteen, he was also recruited by the MK-ultra program and the abuses he was subjected to at the hands of the experimenters may have played a part in his radicalization. After the background information on Ted, the presentation moved onto the famous manifesto; a document well worth reading from a collapse and resource depletion standpoint. I many ways the bomber was right on target with the problem of technology, although no amount of hindsight on his motives can justify the murders this terrorist perpetrated on innocent people.

Another fine meal followed, roast beast and vegetables, and even finer conversation around the table. A quick break while I tried to upload the audio files of the talks so far, with no success. I such a rural location the signal is really weak, so readers are going to have to wait a little longer before they an listen to them.

Carolyn baker was the last presentation of the day; drumming, a story from Korea, and a number of relationship exercises that unfortunately do not translate well to an audio format. When I get home I will separate out the story and upload it, but the rest of the audio file will not do justice to the presentation.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

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Doomers huddle around the Campfire

The temperature on Friday night dropped to around thirty four degrees, making me very grateful the wife had driven down to Cumberland earlier to pick up extra bedding, and we spent the night snuggled up together while a full moon shone through the windows. I woke up feeling much more refreshed than the previous morning, and thankful to attribute the aches and pains of the prior morning to jet lag instead of middle age.

The first talk was by Albert Bates on the global ecological village movement, and it was by far the most useful talk for me so far. Most of the topics covered by the other speakers I was familiar with, but the size and scope of the Eco village movement surprised me. He shared a considerable amount of information The Farm, it’s successes, it[s failures, it’s struggles and and the struggles they have helped others overcome, from earthquake relief to bringing fresh water to villages in South America. I am looking forward to following the leads his presentation has opened up.

Again, I found myself reassured that the questions we are asking on the Diner, the solutions we are proposing are not new, there is a Wealth of experience from those who have done this already. While we may feel isolated and apart with only our digital connection at present, it is comforting to know that we are not the first pioneers to walk in this direction, desiring to walk away from empire, as McPherson’s lecture later in the day was titled.

Gail Tverberg, or Gail the Actuary, as she is often known, spoke next, a recap of the evidence of collapse which most readers here will be familiar with. I slipped out and left the iPad with my wife and spent some time catching up with JMG and getting to know a few of the attendees better.

Orlov was the next speaker up, with a digression from his usual talk of the five stages of collapse, instead venturing into the realm of experiencing collapse as we are now going thought it. While little of the presentation was new to me, Dmitry’s delivery was excellent and his humorous viewpoint was a stark contrast to the next talk after dinner.

Guy McPherson’s talk was on walking away from empire, a process he started a number of years ago, with his leaving academia to pursue self-sufficiency in the property he calls the mud hut. His experiences going off grid –with no experience at constructing a straw bail house or dealing with ducks, goats or pocket gophers –was encouraging to those who, like Guy, do not know a screwdriver from a zucchini.

I was surprised that Guy sees his experiment of walking away from empire as a failure, for reasons he outlined. Empire is still here, it still surrounds him,and after entertaining over six hundred guests at the mud hut over the last few years, very, very few have followed his example, much to his apparent despair. Even walking away from the modern, energy wasting world left him with an ecological footprint that would translate to more than four earths required to support seven billion living off grid. Why? Because we, living in America, are still responsible for the footprint of the US military which consumes more energy than many sovereign nations. A sobering thought.

Guy is a fantastic and humorous speaker, and offers to pay half of any travel costs to come and speak, asking only his needs are met. He practices rather than preaches a gift economy, giving away copies of his DVD and asking nothing in return, although he accepts donations. I’ve heard accusations on other websites that he promotes himself, that he runs his message as a business, that he promotes his ideas to make money. That is more a reflection of the society we live in and the expectations we have. While I am not convinced of his interpretation of the climate change data (tomorrow’s talk) I have no doubts of his sincerity.

The last event was Carolyn Baker, a ritual on grief that the wife and I chose not to attend, since for us grief is a personal thing, even though it is a common theme this weekend.

Still no luck getting the data uploaded, although I will walk to a higher point try again later tonight, although I have to accept that when collapse comes to my door then these difficulties may seem pretty quaint and minor.

A few people attending will be dropping by, apparently I’m not the only one seeking online forums and places where the focus is on practical responses, rather than a running commentary on the collapse.

This is Haniel, Doomstead Diner News, signing off for the night!

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Guy McPherson presents Uber Doom under the Big Top

Sunday, May 26, 2012

Walking down to the shower and toilet block this morning, I realized something odd. As I listened to the birds sing and enjoyed the warmth on my back, I realized for the fist time in as long as I could remember, I saw smiling before my first cup of coffee. Or perhaps it was the fact that that the land so resembles the place I grew up in South Wales. I have given up on ever returning there to live, the climate data indicates it’s not going to be pleasant there.

Another excellent breakfast preceded the first talk of the day, Dmitry Orlov on communities that abide. Using examples of communities like the anabaptists, the kibbutz movement in Israel and others, he outlined the key aspects of one communities that have withstood the test of time. One point I found key was a common ideology that all agree on, such as the religion of monastic communities, a common rejection of technology, or some other aspect that is largely unquestioned. He covered the way many communities establish commonality via dress or practice, as well as the social strategies they use to survive in a sometimes hostile world. One thing intentional communities have in common is they have often been persecuted.

The next speaker was Gail Tverberg, with a fantastic presentation on the financial aspects of the collapse clearly underway around us. I’m trying to figure out how to take her presentation –available inside the Doomstead Diner –with the audioo recording to make a narrated video presentation of the data. Follow the Gail Tverburg thread inside the diner to keep up to date on that project. I’m not promising anything for reason I’ll get to at the end.

McPherson was up next. This was one of the talks I was very interested in hearing. Back last January, the interpretations of the data regarding climate change took a more serious turn, and Guy McPherson was raising alarm bells regarding the latest climate data. I said at the time that I would reserve judgment until after this Age of Limits conference, since there’s been significant chatter in the blogsphere about the subject.

There’s no doubt, the data is frightening. In the audience was a climate scientist who travels all over the planet gather data and doing the actual research, not just interpreting data. He was very clear, the scientific community has no doubts the planet is warming and we’re the primary cause. There’s no doubt we’re heading to an ice-free Arctic by the end of the decade and possibly in only a few years.

There are some negative feedback loops being triggered, which Guy does not touch upon, but nowhere near the number of positive feedback loops which are already underway.

I still believe that the interpretation of the data is overly pessimistic, but only on scale, not direction. One thing I feel is important is the term: Near Term Extinction – it’s a phrase that Guy did not invent and does not particularly like, he prefers “Near Term Human Extinction; I don’t think he’s that impressed with our ability to wipe our species. I agree with him on this, let’s write out “Near Term Human Extinction” every time in full, as a reminder to ourselves that this is not a catchy f***ing phrase, the survival of our children are at stake. The survival of my cat’s grand-kittens are at stake. The survival of the trees, whose shade I appreciated over the trip, is at stake.

A few of the flaws I believe exists in the data have already been highlighted here; the conflation of hydrates and clathates, the heat island effect in the plant flowering data in the Boston area, and land based methane out gassing sizes compared to ocean-based out gassing which diffuse though the water column and are thus reaching a kilometer across when it gets to the surface. However, we’re arguing about if we’re executing two hundred species a day with shotgun or a fifty caliber machine gun, I don’t think nature really cares which one we abusing it with.

While I may disagree with the interpretation of the data and believe that humanity will face a bottleneck rather than complete extinction, I have no doubt of Guy’s sincerity, or his compassion for both humanity and the rest of the planet we are destroying.

McPherson see’s his experiment of walking away from empire a failure, and that is something I do disagree with intensely. While our wonderful American military squanders the equivalent of four earths (if all the world all lived like we do, that’s how many planet’s we’d need to support the military alone) and thus we can never truly be free of empire, if his message means that one day soon, we’ll only wipe out a hundred and ninety nine species a day, his efforts are worth it.

One disturbing trend I found out about is that McPherson is often asked to speak, but those invites are withdrawn when the seriousness of his conclusions are realized. People, particularly people in power, do not want this message getting out. The climate scientist present, who’s worked for NASA on the data Guy is interpreting, was very clear – the government is suppressing the data and using all the techniques pioneered by the tobacco industry, to sow doubt where none should exist.

If you have the opportunity to invite McPherson to come and address a group, be it local doomers you know, a transition town group, or any other bunch of people who are willing to pull their head out of the sand long enough to look around, I encourage you to do so. He is an engaging speaker, he puts an element of mirth into his presentation which makes the very bitter pill a little easier to swallow, and if only one person changes his or her lifestyle as a result, it will be worth your time to organize.

Lodge notes.

Companion President, Mr. J.M. Greer, opened the Artemis Lodge #1 of the Order of the Long Descent in due form at 6pm. The following officers were appointed: A charming lady by the name of Kelly took the Vice President’s station. Haniel Was appointed Warder. His beautiful wife (I’m biased) was appointed Conductor.

Following the opening, companion President (Greer) proceeded to lecture the assembled companions on the role and structure of lodges and how they may be of benefit. While Masons, Oddfellows, Grangers and members of pretty much any fraternity would have recognized elements of the ritual, the main sources of inspiration was Order of Washington and the Women’s International Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Streetcar, Electric Railway, and Motor
Coach Employees.

JMG explained how corporations, the way they were originally set up in the US before the supreme court gave them more powers than you or I could ever hope for, are still a valid way of funding an operation and as the government’s ability to help gives way to communities learning to help themselves, still has a purpose. There’s nothing wrong in issuing shares to start an intentional community, just remember to retire them appropriately and not view them as a ticket to the rentier class. Churches regularly used share issues to fund a new building, and the parishioners regularly dropped those shares in the collection plate, effectively destroying that debt.

A lively question and answer session followed, using the format used in lodges of all types, the speaker addressed the chair, was recognized, and took their turn speaking their mind or asking a question. A number of members of other types of lodges, including some masons, added their thoughts and experiences.

The lodge was closed in due form at 7:30pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Harry J. Lerwill,
Warder, Artemis Lodge #1 of The Order of the Long Descent.

 

Harry J. Lerwill was raised in a poor mining village in the South Wales Valleys, where family values, the joys of home-grown and home-cooked meals, and a deep community spirit far outweighed the bleak prospects of life with collapsed fos-sil fuel industry: coal mining. Three decades later, he is an I.T. Manager in California, choosing to walk, rather than fall, down the far side of Hubbert’s peak, and looking forward to those same benefits as we rediscover the joys of a slower lifestyle. His first short story, “Caravan of Hopes” is published in the anthology, “After Oil: SF Visions Of A Post Petroleum Future”. Harry’s blog is Post Peak Local Search on Blogspot.

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