Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pedaling Backward, Going Foward

Here's a pic of my Great Grandmother's wood oven. Gee, do you think there will be a day when I'll be happy to have it? Do you think I should go over and get that heavy pup, right now?

I'll just bet that when my Great Grandmother got this oven new, she had the newest modern innovation of the day! Suppose, the other women in the small community came over to gaze at it? Marvel at it? Do you think there will again be a day, that this very oven will be marveled at again? If you answered "yes" to that question call yourself a "reversalist".

Right now, a very interesting conversation is going on over at The Oil Drum. Sharon Astyk has an article called,"Is Relocation Doomed?: A Response to Staniford's "Fallacy of Reversibility". My friend FAR and I are discussing this over at his site, "Tales from FAR Manor". What's actually being talked about? Ha! ha! "going back", we learned from the Olduvai Theory, that as energy consumption declines so will our lifestyle and population. Going back a little further, I discussed Jay Hanson's thoughts of why most people can only think "progressively". This could be the classic example, of someones vision of the future who simply cannot think of terms of decline. They may see a future with less energy however, we'll invent our way out of it, or do something different to continue the linear progression of human history, as they see it. Most of the "controlled theories" of the future are derived from this kind of thought. Most of these people have one thing in common, they do not understand the laws of thermodynamics. It takes power to make power! You cannot come up with more power if it's not there to be had. Can't borrow it and pay later either. For every action there is a reaction.....

Back over at BNB, I described a concept, "pedaling backward, going forward". Those of us back at the old school house enjoyed going on our annual spring trip to Mackinac Island. There is no motorized vehicles allowed on the island, so it's either pedal or horseback to get around. Naturally, when we were over there, the kids from the island would show off their skills on bicycles. This included "pedaling backward, going forward". That is their butts were on the handlebars, they were pedaling backward, going forward. What a strange site to see! Anyway, I liken this to what we could expect on the other side of the curve on our descent. With our energy resources depleting, life could be similar as going back in time when we had the same amount of energy. The kids knew the roads very well, they have traveled them all their life, by viewing the past (facing the scenery backwards) they could tell where they were headed (going forward) in the future. They would only once in a while turn around, look ahead to see if any obstacles lay in their path. Furthermore, I explained, that anyone who could not understand this concept, would not be able to understand anything that I would later pertain to. Sharon was in full agreement with this thought. It was at this point she wanted to "see" my vision. Again. our "good doctor" from Oxford could not grasp this, but desperately wanted to "see" this vision also. Kentar had left the conversation at this point. However, I think he was just shocked, after I revealed this point. He often thought that I'd, "be sigging along and then would suddenly zag."
So at this point, I've pretty much have shown my hand here. However, I could be very, very, wrong about this. I do believe we've been in decline now for almost 30 years, and I am assuming this. Staniford, does have a point when he questions us, "So why do you industrialize a society, is that process reversible? This is a very good question especially after using the example that we cannot repeat back much of what is already done....
It's quite likely, that Staniford doesn't believe that this society has declined at all and he's not alone. Neither do my instructors! These individuals are the darkest people, I've ever met in my life! And it will be their vision (our vision) of what life without power might be like, that I'll reveal. I'll explain why they don't think we've declined, in my next article.


FARfetched said...

You covered a lot of ground with a fairly short article there. :-) My uncle Bill, who lives in SW MI near where I grew up, has a wood oven that his wife cooks on. I think here in the south, some people would move their oven onto the porch during the summer.

I strongly disagree with Staniford's analysis, based on my own observation with the in-laws' poultry operation. I didn't have time to write a proper rebuttal on TOD, but touched on it at Kunstler's yesterday and we've discussed it as well: rising fuel prices increase factory farm production costs, which are in turn passed on to people buying produce. Staniford missed an important point: fuel prices can drive the cost of factory food up to the point where it costs as much as higher-quality organic food, and people will buy the better stuff when there's no significant price difference.

I think "reversibility" is a misnomer. History, after all, rhymes rather than repeats. Even as we head back to the per-capita (fossil) energy levels of the 1930s, we have a lot of advances in alternate energy forms that weren't known in the '30s (one exception: wind power). Batteries are better now, and our electronic equipment (e.g. radio) is much more energy-efficient. Sustainable agriculture, or permaculture, is much better-understood than 70 years ago… to say nothing of health care. I think that even with 1930-level energy, we'll now be able to support more people more comfortably than we could in 1930.

I probably ought to flesh this out some more & put it on TFM.

yooper said...

Hey FAR! Yes, I agree,completely about "reversibility" being a misnomer. History never repeats itself, thats a fact.

As you know, I've always enjoyed your ideas of alternative advances to better cope with life in decline.

yooper said...

As for your thoughts about when we reach the 1930's energy level, suppporting more people, that may be so. However, that can only happen IF decline is slow enough for people to adapt to even fewer resources as back in 1930.

Again, I would like to stress that back in 1930, that was perhaps the end of a former environment, the argricultural age. People back then were a lot better at keeping food in their mouth than what they are today. Most families back then did have small gardens to supplement what they got at the grocery. Just what percentage of the population does that today or can even do so if they wanted to? Furthermore, we can never go back to a 1930's like depression, without die-off in this country, the resources are just not there in supporting 300 million people, period.

Perhaps, after the die-off, this would be possible....I am refering to North America here.

yooper said...

Moreover FAR, who is to say we'll see this 1930's energy level, return again with this civilization? This could happen hundreds or even thousands of years from now. Hang in there with me, and I'll show you exactly how this could happen. Perhaps, think of yet another curve in the very far future. Like you said,"History, after all, rhymes rather than repeats". Whoa, eh?

auntiegrav said...

Sorry I'm getting in on this late. I used to be at TOD more, but I've tried to cut back my 'puter time.
There needs to be a lot more Wendell Berry and Charles Walters involved in these conversations. The current system is one of using energy to replace the 'drudgery' of work with oil and machines. Descent could be described as replacing the oil with the drudgery of work again. In other words, putting all those people who were taught that rural life was dead and they all had to go through high school and college and move to the Big City to Be Someone and Live the Easy Life. Now, we can call that the Queasy Life and go back to rural distributed living. AS for supporting 300 million people without oil, well that's possible, just unlikely. MODERN organic research at places like NewFarm (Rodale Institute) show that organic methods produce MORE food over the long term than conventional chemical farming, and with more development, this has a lot of potential to multiply, rather than decline, food supplies, as well as improving the nutrition of the foods. Urban agriculture is another hot area to keep your eye on.