Nicole Foss / Stoneleigh in Gothenburg

In Swedish / på svenska.

Last Monday I went to Ekocentrum in Gothenburg to listen to Nicole Foss, also known as Stoneleigh from The Automatic Earth blog. Interestingly, the lecture hall was packed (I heard people talking outside about being on the reserve list) with mostly young listeners. I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one reading all those obscure blogs so it was nice to see so many of like mind. If nice is the right word for the fact that “doomer” scenarios are in the air…

The lecture was very interesting, and my short summary of the message follows:

At the fundamental level, we’re facing an energy crisis – peak oil http://www.energybulletin.net/primer. This will cause us problems since our economic growth has been built on increasing use of energy and, particularly during the last thirty years, has driven an enormous credit bubble. Such bubbles are basically pyramid schemes and they attract huge amounts of money since everyone thinks they’ll get rich. All goes well as long as there’s still money to feed into the pyramid scheme. When economic growth stops due to the fact the energy use can no longer increase the bubble pops. Everyone wants to bring home their “profit” and so, when it turns out that there just isn’t that much money, everyone gets frightened and panic spreads through the whole economy.

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The succession model

In Swedish / på svenska.

I claimed that this would be a blog on concepts and on the future. So it’s been, but so far, “The Translation Blog” might have been a better name. In any event, now some of John Michael Greer’s texts are available in Swedish (with more coming) and it might be time to think about their contents.

The main point is succession and especially the step-wise character of succession. To summarise the steps we’re heading for according to this model:

  • Industrial society: here’s where we are today. Huge use of energy and resources; the most profitable strategies are based on this (globalisation is one example); those strategies lead to depletion of the energy and resource base
  • Scarcity industrialism: the next step, when less wasteful strategies become important; efficient use of resources and energy becomes ever more profitable; access to resources becomes a matter of survival and the state increasingly takes over from the market
  • The age of salvage societies: finally, so little resources are left (= they’re so expensive to produce) that even a minimal industrial society can’t be maintained. What remains is to live off the remains (of industrial society). This will likely feel like a very primitive society in comparison to today’s
  • Further steps: the remains of industrial society are running out and other social forms emerge. We’re probably quite a bit into the future and I can understand if Greer doesn’t want to guess here
  • Ecotechnic society: this is an imagined “climax state” for technic societies, when humanity has found a long-term sustainable way of life while still maintaining relatively advanced technology

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Book review – Midvintermörker

In Swedish / på svenska.

This post might not seem to fit in with the theme so far on the blog, but it should rather be seen as a first step towards broadening that theme. The use of military force is still a fundamental and (sadly) unavoidable aspect of international relations and how we think of this (i.e. which concepts we use) will influence the future we get to live in. Swedish defence policy has undergone a revolution over the last two decades, and strangely enough, this has happened with very little debate. Today, there’s a vigorous group of defence blogs and there have been a few efforts lately to revive the issue in the media. This is a review of one such attempt, Lars Wilderäng’s “Midvintermörker”.

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John Michael Greer: The Age of Salvage Societies

In Swedish / på svenska.

This is a repost of John Michael Greer’s blog post The Age of Salvage Societies, from The Archdruid Report on October 24, 2007. It’s the final part of a series where Greer discusses how “the decline and fall of industrial civilisation” might play out if considered as an ecological process.

The preceding post, The Age of Scarcity Industrialism, dealt with the first step of the process, following our own society, and this post outlines the second step.

It’s a common bad habit of thinking these days to assume that social and economic changes are entirely a product of human decision and effort. That’s the thinking behind all the conspiracy theories that provide so popular a way to ignore ecological realities, of course, but it also pops up in plenty of other contexts, not least the enthusiastic claims from various points on the political spectrum that we can all have the better future we want if we just buckle down and get to work on it.

There are any number of problems with this easy assumption, but the one I’d like to point out just now is that, like so much of contemporary thinking, it leaves nature out of the equation. We may attempt to build any future we happen to like, but unless the earth’s remaining stock of natural resources provides the raw material that the future in question requires, we’ll find sooner or later that we’re out of luck. Furthermore, even if the future we have in mind can be made to work within the hard limits of ecological reality, the future we want will once again turn out to be a pipe dream if another form of society or economy does the same thing more effectively.

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John Michael Greer: The Age of Scarcity Industrialism

In Swedish / på svenska.

This is a repost of John Michael Greer’s blog post The Age of Scarcity Industrialism from The Archdruid Report on October 17, 2007. He continues to develop the theme from earlier posts. In Toward an Ecotechnic Society he described our present-day Western civilisation as an energy-intensive technic society (i.e. a society powered for the most part by non-food energy) and suggested that we live in an early, inefficient form of technic society. He also suggested similarities with ecological succession, in which different “seres” of plants and animals succeed each other och loosely outlined a future “ecotechnic” society – with efficient use of energy, sustainable and still maintaining a relatively high level of technology.

The next post, Climbing down the ladder, deals with the common attitude that “we must build a sustainable society – now!” Greer develops the succession parallel and argues that it’s impossible to go from pioneer weeds – the first weeds to sprout on a bare, abandoned lot – to mature forest in one step, and similarly it’s impossible to go from our early stage of technic society to a mature, sustainable ecotechnic society in one step. It will take time and require many intermediate steps, as well as plenty of experimentation.

In this post he describes his view of the first of these intermediate steps, which he calls scarcity industrialism. In the first part of the post he also discusses Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five-step process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and how those steps have been visible in the US during the last decades.

It’s been suggested several times, on this blog and elsewhere, that the process of coming to terms with the reality of peak oil has more than a little in common with the process of dealing with the imminence of death. The five stages of getting ready to die outlined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in a series of bestselling books back in the 1970s – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – show up tolerably often in today’s peak oil controversies. There’s good reason for the parallel, because the end of the age of cheap abundant energy marks the terminus of many of today’s most cherished assumptions and ways of looking at the world, and it also means that a great many people alive today will die sooner than they otherwise would.

More than twenty years have gone by since I tended the dying in nursing homes, in one of a flurry of low-paying jobs I held after leaving college. Getting to know the guy with the scythe while the people around you are heading through life’s exit turnstile teaches lessons that don’t fade easily, though, and from that perspective I’m not at all sure the parallels have been taken far enough. In particular, it’s interesting to note that the same five stages – or at least the first three of them – also characterize our collective response so far to the predicament of industrial society.

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John Michael Greer: Climbing Down The Ladder

In Swedish / på svenska.

This is a repost of John Michael Greer’s Climbing Down The Ladder from The Archdruid Report on October 10, 2007. It’s a follow-up to the last post, Toward an Ecotechnic Society, with Greer delving deeper into the details of the process surrounding the fall of industrial society and the emergence of the ecotechnic society.

Last week’s Archdruid Report post raised the possibility that future societies might be able to maintain a relatively high level of technology without falling into the trap of relying on extravagant use of nonrenewable resources, the basis of our present industrial society. The dream of building a civilization of this sort – an ecotechnic society, to use the term I coined in that post – has been cherished by a good many people in alternative circles for years now, and not without reason.

Behind that dream lies a canny bit of philosophical strategy. Central to the rhetoric used to justify today’s social arrangements in the industrial world is a forced dichotomy between the alleged goodness of enlightened, technologically advanced industrial societies and the alleged squalor of primitive preindustrial life. Many of today’s critics of industrialism fall into the trap of accepting the dichotomy and simply reversing the value judgments, as though it’s possible to break out of a dualistic way of thinking by standing the dualism on its head.

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John Michael Greer: Toward An Ecotechnic Society

In Swedish / på svenska.

This is a repost of John Michael Greer’s Toward An Ecotechnic Society from his blog The Archdruid Report on October 4, 2007. It paints a panorama image of a possible future and also demonstrates several cornerstones of Greer’s work: the ecological perspective, the historical perspective and a keen understanding that facts aren’t everything – concepts matter too.

A few paragraphs into the text Greer refers to “last week’s post”. This post is Civilization and Succession, which describes the process of ecological succession and draws some parallels to the evolution of human societies.

One of the consequences of taking ecological models seriously, in trying to understand the predicament of industrial society, is that many of the common assumptions of contemporary culture stand in need of being stood on their heads. Plenty of people aware of the peak oil issue nowadays, for example, think of it in terms of finding some new energy source so that we can maintain industrial society in something like its current form. From an ecological standpoint, this approach nearly defines the term “counterproductive,” because it’s precisely the current form of industrial society that makes our predicament inescapable.

As it exists today, the industrial economy can best be described in ecological terms as a scheme for turning resources into pollution at the highest possible rate. Thus resource exhaustion and pollution problems aren’t accidental outcomes of industrialism, they’re hardwired into the industrial system: the faster resources turn into pollution, the more the industrial economy prospers, and vice versa. That forms the heart of our predicament. Peak oil is simply one symptom of a wider crisis – the radical unsustainability of a system that has evolved to maximize resource consumption on a finite planet – and trying to respond to it without dealing with the larger picture simply guarantees that other symptoms will surface elsewhere and take its place.

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