Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Welcome to the Bottleneck

From the homefront - We call this "Brie TV." Since our dog falls in love with them every year and can't stop looking at them, Murph built a box for the chicks with a plexiglass wall so Brie can look at them easily.

New chicks staying warm. This year we added 5 Dominiques, an Arracouna, and another Bard Rock. Brie, of course, considers them hers.

First European mesclun mix greens from the greenhouse for a Waldorf salad. Added apples, raisins, and walnuts.

Chicken vegetable soup.... what's better for flu season?

Gotta have some bread to go with the soup. This is a whole wheat Challah loaf.

And now, a post from ras... thanks, ras!!

Welcome to the Bottleneck

By ras

Bottleneck: the narrowest portion of a bottle, through which only a small portion of the contents can pass at a time. Or, an evolutionary event(s) in which the population of a species is significantly reduced. This Wikipedia page contains an excellent description of this latter definition of ‘bottleneck’:

So, why am I going to discuss bottlenecks? (The latter kind, of course.) Can you possibly imagine a more depressing topic? (Well, yes, but let’s not go there right now.) I decided on this topic because it is very important right now, as we have entered the human bottleneck. No more is it looming on the horizon, much less so distant it is our grandchildren’s problem. No, the bottleneck is here. Now. Today. We have entered the bottleneck. It will take several generations for us to work through it, but here we are.

We can not say we were not warned. Since the 1970s –well before I was born, by the way, and I am old enough now to have children in kindergarten –we have been warned by increasingly strident scientists and others with their heads out of the sand that we could not go on wantonly consuming resources and reproducing like rabbits. Eventually, we were warned, our resources would start to deplete and we would run out or hit a wall. Everything from paper to petroleum would be in increasingly short supply. The increasing world population would only exacerbate the problem.

Numerous people have warned about the population problem, or bomb, as the Ehrlichs put it. All of them have been ridiculed. No matter how many people we have, the argument goes, it won’t be a problem. We can put them somewhere and more people means more innovation, more creativity, etc. These arguments are patent nonsense of course, but the people who made them have succeeded in marginalizing anyone who speaks openly about the dangers of population growth. Not only that, but mention overpopulation and many people will immediately scream that you are a racist, or a sexist, or eugenicist, or all of the above.

The reality is that we live on a finite planet with limited resources that are all ready under strain. The best estimates of the long-term carrying capacity of the planet range from 1-3 billion people. How many people are currently in the world? Um, 7.5 billion. This means that, under the most optimistic scenario, we currently have MORE THAN TWO AND A HALF TIMES as many people as the world can sustainably support. To make matters worse, the overconsumption of natural resources is steadily degrading the long-term carrying capacity of the planet.

Insert the ‘oh shit’ moment here. Quite clearly, we are in trouble. The world’s population is going to have to go down by at least half. Probably more. We will almost certainly undershoot the carrying capacity –that is how these things tend to work. It’s like an oscillating spring. Up, then down, then up and down again before stabilization is reached. There is no longer any question that this will happen. We have overshot our carrying capacity to the point were a correction is inevitable. The only question now is how it will happen. There are several different ways. The first, and the one I’m certain everyone would prefer, is a gradual, humane way. This path involves a gradual stabilization of the human population over several generations, followed by an equally gradual reduction. It’s the best possible way, and the one the UN is targeting. It also has less than a snowball’s chance in hell of working. Why? Remember that we are all ready well into resource depletion. We do not have the resources to support the current population for the rest of their lives much less several generations.

What about the other methods? All of them are much less nice, and they all involve the familiar four horsemen of the apocalypse: Famine, Plague, Pestilence, and War. We can throw in the collapse of a civilization or two, as resource depletion will certainly take down many modern ways of life. I am not talking about a sudden die-off of humanity. Well, it will be sudden in nature’s terms, but not in human terms. We humans have a hard time thinking on Mother Nature’s timescales. This transition will take at least three generations –call it a century. There will not be one event –one massive, killer plague that sweeps the globe and takes out half the world’s population in one fell swoop. (I, for one, would argue that would probably be a much more humane way for it to happen.) Instead, what we will see will be a gradual but steady reduction as famines, disease and plague, climate change, and several wars all take their toll.

Why am I certain we have all ready hit the bottleneck? Peak Oil is behind us; that was the driver of growth for all these years. With no forthcoming growth in oil production, there can be no more economic growth. We are also at or nearly at the peak of several other necessary resources –water, phosphorous, seafood, topsoil, etc. There will be a lag time of several years as depletion arcs work there way through human systems, but soon it will be all downhill in terms of population. At least for a long while. I do not expect the extinction of the human race –we are far too tenacious and far too adaptable.

In the end this will be a good thing. Oh, not for the people whose lives are cut short. But we are not the only species on this planet and a reduction in our numbers will be good for all the others and the planet herself. I also think it will be good for the human race as a whole. With less of us around, each of us who are left will matter more. Imagine a time when every person is special again instead of just one more face.

This isn’t a post about how we personally can survive the bottleneck. Because this transition will take about a century, no one who is alive now, save perhaps a babe in arms, will see the other side. Our job is to survive as long as we can as well as we can and to do our best to make certain our descendants and those we care about live as well. Even those of us who have no children have young people we care and worry about. What can we do to help ensure this?

· Become as self-sufficient as possible. Know how to take care of yourself and live as disconnected from the system as possible. These systems will all start to break down as things get worse.

· Teach young people the skills they need to take care of themselves. Get them unplugged from the IPOD and the internet for a while. Make sure they know how to garden and can and hunt.

· Don’t live in heavily overpopulated areas. This includes much of the world –and especially the southwestern U.S. Try not to live in any area that is drought prone. Wars are going to be fought over water in the coming years. You don’t want to be someplace where your life will (literally) depend on the outcome.

· Get out of major metropolitan areas. I’m not saying move to the sticks, but get out of New York, Chicago, L.A., etc. These areas will be hit hard as public health systems break down –cities have traditionally been breeding grounds for massive plagues, and when modern sanitation systems go by the wayside, this will become true again.

· Get in shape and get out of debt. ‘Nough said.

There are many other things I could add, but I think that’s enough. Everyone who reads this is going to know how much trouble we are in right now, and the basic things we can do for ourselves.

I would like to close this short essay with a description of the world as it will be far after the fall of Western civilization. I do not share the despair of many in the environmental movement. Yes, we have done great, serious, and irreparable harm. Harm that we should (rightly) spend the next several generations setting to rights. But we have come nowhere near destroying the earth, as many people believe. We do not, lacking a nuclear war or a superbug that wipes out all plant live, have that kind of power. This kind of notion once again arises from those who are confusing human time with nature’s time. Do not think in years or decades. Think in centuries and millennia.

A hundred years from now, what will the world look like if civilization collapses soon? Well, most of our buildings will be gone. We are not the Romans, who built for the long haul. Most subdivisions will have reverted to nature, and 90% of the houses will have fallen down or nearly so. Most skyscrapers will have collapsed. Concrete roads will have cracked and many overpasses will have come down. The forest will have returned with a vengeance across broad swaths of the world. Climate change will still be ongoing. There will still be a lot of pollution. The ocean will be nowhere near clean yet, though it will be much cleaner with the cessation of toxic waste and plastic dumping. Nuclear waste and invasive species will still be a problem. Most of our dams will still be standing.

Fast forward to a 1,000 years from now. Nascent successor civilizations will have formed. The effects of climate change will be slowly leveling off. Invasive species will have come to new balances with the local ecology. The Roman and other ruins will still be around, albeit in slightly worse shape than today. Almost all traces of our buildings will be gone. The remains of tract houses and interstates will be buried beneath a new forest floor. Many of the world’s largest cities will be underwater. Most dams will have significant cracks or have breached entirely. The oceans will have started their recovery. New species will have started to evolve or will expand their areas into niches vacated by those we’ve driven to extinction. Mother Nature’s own cleaning systems will have started to deal with the chemical pollution and other waste we’ve left behind. No one really knows how fast evolution can happen, but there are good signs that it can happen extremely fast and thus there might all ready be new microbes that eat plastic or toxic waste. Nuclear waste will still be a problem. The best preserved relics will be in deserts.

10,000 years from now. Humanity will probably sill be around. The effects of climate change will be mostly over. The world will almost certainly be in an ice age or have gone through one by this point. Large glaciers will descend from the poles and scrub the earth down to the rocks. Whatever is left of Western civilization will mostly disappear beneath them. The Statue of Liberty, one of the few things that will last a long time as it is made of bronze, will end up at the bottom of New York Harbor. (Assuming it is not all ready there.) Lower sea levels will allow our descendants to tred ground that has been underwater for generations. They will see strange shapes that resemble metal towers encrusted in the mud and algae of the former ocean floor. Even Hoover Dam will have breached by this date. The oceans will still have some pollution but not a lot. Most what will be there is plastic that hasn’t yet ended up buried on the ocean floor. Nature’s cleaners will be hard at work by this point, taking down all the nasties we’ve invented. We will probably have new civilizations, though they will lack the resources to climb to the point we are at right now. They’re archaeologists may dig down into the midden and find the remains of vinyl siding and Teflon skillets, but these will be curiosities more than anything. The biggest problem remaining will be nuclear waste –both from power generation and nuclear warheads.

100,000 years from now. It is more than conceivable that homo sapiens will still be around. We’ve been around in our current form for more than that, and the average run for a species is longer than this. What will their societies look like? I have no idea, and would not presume to say. But they will live in a much cleaner world. The oceans should have completed their recovery. New species will have certainly developed by this point to take over vacant niches. Even Hoover Dam and Three Gorges Dam will be nothing but concrete fragments. There will still be some chemical and heavy metals pollutions, but even that will have been diluted by the passage of time. Even nuclear waste will have lost some of its potency. Will our descendants still tell stories of times we flew in the air and walked on the moon?

1 million years from now. Humans will almost certainly either be extinct or have evolved into something far different than our current incarnation. By this point the last traces of our civilizations –nuclear waste –will no longer be around, or at least not enough of it to be hazardous. There will still be bronze tools and statutes. It will be a different world, yes, but a living world nonetheless –and one the passage of time has scrubbed clean of our folly. In the end the things we have built that will endure the longest are not on this planet at all. Millions of years from now, there will still be a few sets of footprints and a lonely flag on the moon. When the sun goes nova and wipes even that out, far from our solar system Voyager will still be journeying, heading towards a far distant star

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


from Murph

GOOOOOD MOOOORNING AMEEERICA!! How ya all doin’ this morning? Stocks doing well? Taking out another mortgage today to pay for another car? Oh yeh, for those old farts, how’s the retirement funds doing? Just fine you say? Well that’s just great. Hope it stays that way.

Obviously the economy is recovering due to the efforts of our beloved leaders, or at least so they say. Of course, I expect the tax structure to increase drastically down the road to pay the $100,000 + debt the financial system has imposed on each and every person in this country. But what the heck, win a little, lose a little in the great crap game called the American nonnegotiable way of life. After all, we have absolutely nothing to apologize for, do we? Again, according to our beloved leaders. Well, 4 months into a new leadership and things are really changing course, and the effects will just take a bit more time to show up down here at the bottom of the financial ladder. So hang in there folks, it is all going to get better by this fall, or at least early into next year, or maybe into 2012.

Ok, enough of that.

On the home front, dig the pics of the chem. Trails from a few days ago over us. Such interesting cloud patterns. If I had a longer attention span, I could stare at them for hours, seeing the profile of Buddha or Jesus in them I guess.

Here is a pic of Pam’s recent skillet corn bread to help feed the hungry multitudes that showed up to help out a neighbor.

This month, got a few projects done. Here is the conversion of an old upright freezer and some salvage windows made into a cold frame plant starter. Need to do some repositioning in relation to the sun light. Sure wish I could round up 6 more of them. Would bury a couple and start worm farming too.

I got another rabbit hutch built, and we have a new litter of bunnies.

The greenhouse is starting off well. Lots of new plants to put out as soon as we think there will be no more hard frosts. Probably by the middle of next week.

I was going to put this military tent multiple fuel and wood burner in the greenhouse but have put off till fall. It is getting warm enough that the greenhouse shouldn’t have to have any more supplementary heat till then. Plus, the vent pipe is 4 in. diameter. Almost no steel 4 in. smoke pipe available and what I did find is prohibitively expensive, so going to have to make the conversion to 6 in.

Between those projects and trying to get some more firewood things have been a bit hectic as of late. Freeacre is in Nevada for her son’s funeral and memorial service, and I feel like I am ass deep in gators trying to stay ahead of everything till she gets back, hopefully by the end of the week.

Have a good productive end of the week. I think it’s time to take a nap.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Seeds of Change


It’s a rainy day, and I am working on several projects at once. For one, I am chronicling my efforts today for this post. But first, a peak at some of the recent news from the web regarding the financial collapse, er, bailout. It would appear that the honeymoon is over for the President’s team of financial wizards, despite the G20 mutual admiration society’s posturing in Europe last week. If you listen hard, you can hear the swine grunting vigorously at the federal trough as they gobble up what is left of the credit extended to our offspring, just as Geithner intended. Just trying to garner the last crumbs into the financial swill to be fed to the uber-rich before they bunker down in their gated communities as the lights go out for the rest of us. Not everyone is amused.

From Mike Whitney on Counterpunch: “…Bernanke's approach to the crisis has been wrongheaded from the get-go. It makes no sense to commit nearly $13 trillion to prop up a grossly oversized financial system while providing less than $900 billion stimulus for the real economy. The whole plan is upside-down. It's consumers, homeowners and workers that create demand (consumer spending is 72 per cent of GDP) and yet, they've been left to twist in the wind while the bulk of the resources has been directed to financial speculators who are responsible for the mess. Middle class families have seen their retirements slashed in half and their home equity vanish, while their jobs become increasingly less secure. The Fed and the Treasury should be focused on debt relief, mortgage cram-downs, jobs programs and open-ended support for state and local governments. Rebuilding the financial infrastructure for extending more credit to people that are already underwater is beyond shortsighted; it’s cruel. The financial system needs to shrink to fit the new reality of a smaller economy.”

From Charles Hugh Smith on Of Two Minds: “Like superstitious cargo-cult believers in remote South Seas islands who hoped to spark a return of the World War II plenty with appeals to stone radios and other talismans, the U.S. citizenry hoping for the return of debt-based, cheap-oil "good times" are doomed to the bitter realization that superstition is no substitute for an appreciation of the extreme fragility of the supply chain--both physical and financial--which feeds our consumerist economy.

Chris Hedges, from Truthdig, writes, “America is devolving into a third-world nation. And if we do not immediately halt our elite’s rapacious looting of the public treasury we will be left with trillions in debts, which can never be repaid, and widespread human misery which we will be helpless to ameliorate. Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty. This is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. The stimulus and bailout plans are not about saving us. They are about saving them. We can resist, which means street protests, disruptions of the system and demonstrations, or become serfs.”
The New York Times is talking about a Great Depression. And, everyone has pretty much laid the heist of half the world’s financial assets at the feet of the most prestigious banks and financial institutions on the planet.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle opines that “ The Goal of the Bailouts is to Keep the Elites from Losing,” in a recent headline featured on LATOC.

What?? Mainstream newspaper questioning the fraudster brain trust?? What’s going on? I sense a disturbance in the force. Bernanke and Geithner announce more details of their plan, and everybody reacts as thought they just cut some cheese. The scorn is just beginning and, let’s face it, it couldn’t happen to nicer guys…

Well, we can’t spend too much time imaging the financial criminal class reaping their just rewards because the lights are dimming for the rest of us. In the long run, that’s okay. After all, as was pointed out in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” if the earth is to live, we have to declare the party to be over. But, “living simply so that others may simply live” has not, so far, been a message that the dumbasserie has embraced. Much remains to be done, if we are to survive this holocaust… er, transition. George Ure referred this morning to the electrical grid being invaded by foreign software. Just a reminder that it could all go down anytime. Have you prepared for what you will do when the lights go out? Will you still have heat? Be able to cook? How about water? The public water systems run by pumps, don’t they? The stores, banks, gas stations – all run on electricity to add up the bill, order supplies, pump gas into the trucks that deliver the food. It would all get real quiet, too. And nobody would be telling you what was happening on the television news. No television. Newspapers don’t get written or printed without electricity either. So, what could be causing the outage – somebody tripped the wrong switch? Cyber warfare? Nuclear explosion? Alien invasion? The Second Coming of Christ? Who the hell would know and how would they get the word out?

It’s all grist for the mental mill as I plant my seeds in little plastic cups. I can’t wait any longer. I’m getting them going inside to transplant later out in the garden or the greenhouse. Cold hardy broccoli, lettuces, chard, kale, carrots, onions, garlic, asparagus, artichokes, peas, and beets are already started. Companion plants that enhance their growth or ward off insects are my next project: chamomile, lavender, marigolds, basil, coriander, dill, mint, thyme, and rosemary. Cold sensitive tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and squash will have to stay in the greenhouse or get put in the cold frame.

So much to do… so little time.

Got to check the chicken coop.

How did this get in here? It's a loaf of cheese bread. Thought it would be the hen house. Oh, well...

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And, finally, a picture of Belgium's perfectly beautiful meat pie!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Living the Change by freeacre

Charles Hugh Smith writes that cooking food from scratch is a revolutionary act. You wouldn’t think so. After all, people have been cooking and baking their food since the beginning of time. But, in the last twenty years or so, everything changed. The women’s liberation movement, which began with so much promise for women to discover and define themselves based on an exploration of our innate capabilities morphed into the opportunity, then obligation, to be “free” to join the workforce and be exploited like the men. Now we have been “freed” to pay for our children to be raised in daycare, buy our food from agri-business, and depend on the corrupted Food and Drug Administration for our health and welfare. I could go on and on about it, but you know where it has led – the Frankenfood and McWally World rat trap.

Happily, we have been waking up to just how important it is to take back our food supply and localize production of essentials, rather than import them from wage serfs in distant lands. For years we preached about how a collapse was inevitable. Now, it is becoming obvious to all but the most delusional that we need to make alternative arrangements. The members of our little cyber-tribe have been taking matters into their own hands and have been growing vegetables and raising animals, and taking many steps to get out of the matrix. We find ourselves on the vanguard of a movement to grow and cook our own healthy food and to resist the products that poison us, damage our bodies, and program our minds. To that end, we have cut off our cable TV, refused to use a cell phone, stopped using petroleum based fertilizers and insecticides, genetically engineered seeds, and just recently, thrown out the microwave oven. I have to admit that getting rid of the microwave has been more difficult than I would have thought. I find that I need to order a few old-fashioned items to help cope with the realities of warming things up without using a bunch of extra saucepans that then have to be washed. There is a handy little thing in the Vermont Store catalog that is a combination metal measuring cup with a long handle that can be used as a pan to warm things up that I would find useful for melting butter or warming milk to bake bread, or heating up water for a cup of tea.

I have learned to bake my own bread, spring rolls, and bagels. Next, I will learn to produce my own tortillas and noodles. I expect to grow a lot of cucumbers this year and will make more of my own pickles. We are still eating vegetables frozen from last year. We still have garlic hanging in the kitchen to use as needed. I haven’t bought an egg at the store for two years. And, now that I have been eating our own free range eggs, I find that I am no longer allergic to eggs. Since switching back to whole milk from 2%, I am no longer allergic to the protein in milk, either. So, there have been unanticipated rewards.

We have high expectations for the gardening efforts this year, but the warm weather is still a ways off. So, I thought I’d go ahead and share some pictures of last year’s garden harvest, the chickens, and some of the food prepared from the backyard. This will be somewhat redundant for the long term tribe, but might be interesting to the newer participants in the council.

I am still trying to figure out how to get these pictures in the right spot on the page, so bear with me. And, please send me pictures of your gardening or cooking efforts so we can share in your triumphs and inspirations. We are the change. We can do this!

This is my "Boyfriend Catcher Apple Pie."

These are beets from the garden with sour cream and pecans. It's pretty good, but I think I like them with butter and orange marmalade better. Still experimenting.

This is a garden quiche made from our own eggs and lots of veggies like chard and snow peas from the garden. I use creme cheese.

These are just fresh picked snow peas, chard, onions, garlic stir-fried. They are good for you and take almost no time to prepare ... unless you count the time it takes to grow them - ha!

Here are some of the little darlin's relishing some left-over vegetable soup. Note our new rooster, Li'l Red. He gleams in the sunlight.

This is a chicken salad, mostly from the garden. I had to buy the avocado, and I bought the sprouts, too, although I could have sprouted them myself.

But, the point is, although the Murphinator and I live on social security now, we have it set up so that our expenses are minimal, and we are able to eat healthy for less money than others spend on toxic Frankenfood. And, if we can do it here in the high desert, you can do it, too.