Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Curmudgeon Vignettes

Give people a fish and you feed them for a day and maybe make them dependent. Teach people to fish and they will deplete the ocean. Now it may take time to do it but with modern technology it will happen in the blink of a species eye. Just add in high-tech ships with all kinds of electronics, powerful engines, and the accoutrements that make technology a weapon.

Speaking about the future, without a doubt we need our snowmobiles. We need our wave runners, our four wheelers, and our big ass trucks for groceries. We need lights on everywhere to tell us what to buy all night long, we need wall size television sets, our golf carts for exercise and our electric can openers. We need our oil and natural gas by golly. We don’t need no frackin’ water.

People around me know that there is a sea change taking place. We don’t want to know that the basis of our way of living and a way of living that billions aspired to cannot survive. Water, energy, mineral resources, soil, climate, population, nuclear waste, war weapons of all kinds, unintended consequences of technologies, our human animal nature all converge to underscore the impossibility of continuing or of stopping.

Making snow mechanically is folly and arrogance. In Minnesota, Lutsen ski resort uses water out of a trout stream to make snow. This resort has been increasing its use of this trout stream yearly in violation. Our Department of Natural Resources allowed the violations and was aware that the use was growing multiples; from 12.6 million gallons in 1964 to a little more than 100 million in 2010. Now Minnesota has a law allowing it. The resort could get water from Lake Superior but it would cost $3 million or $4 million for a lake system but who would want the customer to pay for their pleasures. Shudder, that is like capitalism. So we subsidize people skiing and the wealth of Lutsen ski resort owners with the resources of our grandchildren’s future.

I find I have some of the anger and disgust that I felt in the 1970s for our stupidity and blindness. The anger is more at the sense of helplessness. I am not depressed but I am sad. Part of the sadness is my own enmeshment in the assault.

Personally, I have a wonderful life filled with fulfilling work, a good intimate relationship, good friendships, and creative endeavors both in writing and in building a place with a minimal fossil fuel future.


There is no stopping humans from cutting the environment into chinks and huge slabs.

War has always been a terrific pathway for learning and technological innovation.

In “The Fog of (Robot) War” by Barbara Ehrenreich.

“Last week, William Wan and Peter Finn of the Washington Post reported that at least 50 countries have now purchased or developed pilotless military drones. Recently, the Chinese had more than two dozen models in some stage of development on display at the Zhuhai Air Show, some of which they are evidently eager to sell to other countries. 

So three cheers for a thoroughly drone-ified world.” ( )

How wise to prepare our children for a career while we let them play video games. Gotta make ya proud.

Technology rocks. This goes right along with ‘smart bombs’, cluster bombs, shooting around corners, neutron bombs that only destroy people, and depleted uranium bullets. Technology is so often used as a weapon both aimed at humans and other parts of nature.

Of course, whoever dies with the most tools wins . . . at least I think we win . . . or does the tool win?

Technology condenses time and space. I can walk at three miles per hour and get to town in an hour and a half. Or I can drive at 60 miles per hour and get there so much sooner; it’s only 20 times my natural speed. I deserve it. What if I could only go 15 miles per hour? Oh, the agony. When we use energy and materials in technology, the more intense and complex, the more the piper must be paid somewhere. Sustainability is relational, variable, time related. The more intensely we use energy and materials in technology, the sooner we ultimately reach the end of both. Slow is more sustainable. We must have balance.

I can dig a hole with my hand. I can dig it easier and deeper with a stick; even easier, deeper and faster with a shovel and one hell of a hole with a backhoe. We are digging a lot of holes literally and figuratively. When you find yourself deep in a hole, stop digging.

Suggestions for energy and material savings are periodically posted in the media. These are very important. When I held classes on “simple living” in the mid 1970s I made this suggest. That for three or four days as you move through your world with each thing you touch consider the ideas below.

What is it made of?

Where did it come from?

How much energy did it take to make?

Could I make it myself?

Can I get it locally?

Do I need it?

Some of these are questions most of us cannot answer in full or even partially. However, in a world of unstable energy prices, threatened energy availability, and broad environmental degradation addressing our energy and material uses at the head of the stream is a major step towards sustainability. Ask not how to reduce from our present 100 percent use to 90 or 75 percent use; ask what we truly need to live non-brutishly to preserve this earth for the seventh generation.

In 1975, I did a nominal group process with the environmental quality council of St.Cloud, Minnesota. The group was mainly professors from the three local colleges. The process asked each person to write three things down in response to the question: “Knowing that fossil fuel energy will be depleted and the environment is under assault, what stops you from changing your life?” (the question is a guess at the question of so many years ago).

Then I put their answers on a blackboard. Answers were collated and a trend emerged. Without a doubt the prime response was ----- consensus. We are a herding animal. Our need to be socialized is our greatest power and our weakest link.

So it does take a community. So Transition Towns are a right step. So let’s talk about population otherwise you will have transition towns and transition towns and transition towns over and over again.

Corporations don’t die like we do, so how come they are considered to be a person?

Some 50% of Americans believe the earth is 6000 years old, including some top elected officials. Again over half believe God created man exactly how Bible describes it. Then nearly half believe God created the world in 6 days. And there are many who believe in Fred Flintstone, Dino and the little Flintstones or something like it. We don’t stand a chance. There are many that believe in the rapture (and those that believe in a place with a bunch of virgins), I say please, oh please, let it happen, so the rest of us can get on with what needs to be done.

For years I have lived schizophrenically. Some who know me would of course agree and I can see this statement being taken out of context. But what I mean is since about 1968 when I realized there would be a change and there need to be a change, I have lived in two worlds. I lived off the grid learning skills for a fossil fuel poor world. As a practicing psychologist, I lived in the larger world of conferences and billing insurance companies. For both world and human survival it would be best to live in the new Middle Ages, but you can’t get there from here.

They say (the ubiquitous ‘they’) that it is not polite to talk about politics, religion or sex in polite society. They say (same ones) that if you can’t say something nice don’t say it at all. Well, there is no room for nice and there is no light at the end of the tunnel -unless it is a freight train coming our way.