KANDI MOSSETT: Right. So, there’s an article. When there’s language in the article, that’s legally binding language. And what they’ve actually done is taking out reference to indigenous peoples’ rights from the article and putting it only into the preamble, which is not legally binding. The same for human rights, the same for food sovereignty. There’s just different things that have happened in the text that—intergenerational equity is also in the preamble, so a lot of the youth are very upset as to what’s happening. And I think it’s kind of a shame that we’ve—actually, at the 21st COP, more than a shame, it’s a crime that we’ve taken a step backwards by taking out the rights of indigenous peoples.
So now I am inspired to do a month of devotional poetry and song for Gefjon. I am counting the two prayers I last posted for the start of this project. This is the prayer I wrote for Her yesterday. I will have another prayer for Her later today.
Charming of the Plow Prayer to Gefjon
If any know how to Charm the Plow, it is You
If any know the work of claiming land, it is You
If any know the work of tilling the darkness of Jörð, it is You
If any know how to carefully cultivate the grove, it is You
If any know the work of bringing in a hearty harvest, it is You
If any know the work of a well hewn hall, it is You
If any know the work of a healthy hof, it is You
If any know the sacred work of the gyðja’s charge, it is You
Inspired by Galina Krasskova’s Agon dedicated to Gefjon, I wrote these two poems.
A Hailing Prayer to Gefjon
Hail to Gefjon, Far-seeing Goddess!
Hail to Gefjon, Who knows Her own Worth!
Hail to Gefjon, Who shapes liche and hame!
Hail to Gefjon, Who drives hard Her Oxen!
Hail to Gefjon, Who plowed and claimed Zealand!
Hail to Gefjon, Who claims Her own pleasure!
Hail to Gefjon, whose halls house the virgins!
Hail to Gefjon, Ásynja!
Hail to Gefjon, Mother of Jotnar!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Consort is Skjöldr!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Plow is Mighty!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Courses are Swift!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Lands are Fertile!
Hail to Gefjon, Whose Ways are Wise!
Land-finding Prayer to Gefjon
We seek, we seek land of our own
Growing green and good
We ask Gefjon to lend us your aid
So we may settle soon!
We ask for land for orchards
We ask for land for grain
We ask for land for goat, hive, and lamb
Whose harvests shall be great!
We seek, we seek a place to build
A hof to call our own
Where we can raise a horn to You
Within our hallowed home!
I just got back from a weekend at Strawbale Studio, taking the Rocket Stove and Earth Oven workshop this last week, and the Roundpole Timber Framing workshop with Sylverleaf, gifted to us by her mother.
There are some things where you just need to do them to know you can do them, and this would be one of those. Like a lot of things we’ve fallen away from doing, building our own structures can garner a quality to it that makes it seem only able to be done within the realm of professionals. We forget that our Ancestors used to build their own homes from the ground on up. We disconnect from the understanding of knowing the land, and our place in helping to keep the trees, the forests, all of that healthy, by being collaborators with Them.
This is not to say I’m an overnight expert; hardly. What it does mean is that with very simple tools and techniques, what I have learned can empower me and mine to build a house. Given enough people, a community could raise several homes if we put our minds to it. A small build team supported by a community could do the same if there was need or desire for it.
That is part of the power of places like Strawbale Studio. You not only can learn the skills and get guidance on where to go from there, you understand in a real, in-person way that you can do these things. It goes from a conception or an idea of the thing, into hands-on experience with the skills and techniques with the tools and materials. It goes from feeling so far away, to very here.
I found myself at several times thinking, or saying aloud, “Oh wow. If we had land/space to build on, this could easily be a reality.” Every time I went to one of the classes, or watched the Roundwood Timber Framing DVD by Ben Law, I could feel the push that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir were giving us were actually able to be achieved. That the dream our family and friends have can quite readily become reality.
We were taught what kind of growth we needed to look for in our wood, and when seasoned vs. green wood was useful. With teams I helped to make roundwood joints that, with a bit of refinement, could hold up a roof or become a support beam. I learned how to use a sawhorse and draw knife to debark wood, and also to make square pegs into round pegs. After drilling out a hole and inserting the peg into or behind a joint, then splitting the peg and inserting a small wooden wedge into the peg, it would hold them together tight. All of these were simple building techniques that utilize the wood harvested around the place we were learning. I went to the chainsawing demo, because even though I do not currently own one, learning the basics of tree felling is a skill I may need. Granted, if I need a chainsaw I’ll be taking a safety course on that as Mark Angelini recommended.
There was a deep communication with the wood I was working with, and it’s not dissimilar from working with the body of an animal. After all, the tree’s bark is the ‘skin’, and the wood is the ‘flesh’ and ‘bones’ of the tree. It once lived. Learning to work with a tree by shaping its with a chisel is a very different experience of that tree and working with its body, and its spirit. It’s similar to when I skinned a mole; it is one thing to work with an object in which leather is part of it, like a book cover or a drum, but a whole other thing entire to work with the skin before it becomes anything. Same with the wood before it becomes a mallet, a peg, or an a-frame.
I had a similar experience this last week in working with the rocket stoves and forming the earth oven. As with the previous workshop, I would catch myself thinking and saying “If we had land/space to build on, this could easily be a reality.” Sylverleaf and I have a few books on our shelves, one of which is the Cob Builder’s Handbook by Becky Bee, and we picked up The Hand Sculpted House by Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, Linday Smiley, and Deanne Bednar. As part of the workshop we received a copy of Rocket Mass Heaters by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson. It’s one thing to read these books, and a whole other thing to experience their contents.
The books can only describe so well how good cob feels in your hands for making the earth oven, how the slip layer for insulation should feel and look. While I find it fairly easy to learn by sight, most of these things can only be learned by doing. For instance, I was having a really hard time visualizing how the dividing bricks between where the feedbox for the firewood is and the chimney were supposed to be put down. Seeing it done and helping to do it put it together made things click in a way I just couldn’t wrap my head around looking at the diagrams.
During the workshop on the second day I was the only person who took their shoes off to feel what the cob should feel like as you work it through the stages of adding water to the mix, which will be helpful when we do it outside in the spring or summer. After doing that, I can hardly blame the other folks. The cob was so cold my feet were aching till I put them near the rocket stove and scraped the mix off of my feet. It was a lesson in why cob is used for mass thermal storage, though.
I really, really wish we could have finished off the earth oven. From what I understand the drying process can take most or all of a day, depending on how big it is. All we would have had to do was apply the insulation and the plaster layer, and we could have started making bread or pizza. Albeit, since we made the earth oven at half scale, it would probably be more suited to breadsticks. When we go to make our own we’ll be putting down foundation for the first time, since the model we worked on we really couldn’t put down a foundation as our diagrams depicted and all work on forming it.
One of my big takeaways from the weekend was that we really can put our hands to making a new world with the things around us, and do so in a respectful manner with the Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir. As with the coppicing, working with the materials around one’s home or locally sourced materials harvested with care worked very, very well for the work we were doing. Having actually seen Strawbale Studio’s full-size earth oven work, and what’s more, tasted the amazing pizza that came out of it, I appreciate the art of making it all the more.
As with the roundwood timber framing, what I deeply appreciate and enjoy about natural building materials is that working with them is not some locked-off secret no one can access. It’s the accessibility of the material and the building process that is really the key to it all. The natural building techniques and skills I have learned require relatively few tools, almost all of them simple ones. Most of the tools I was able to pick up for less than $100 all together. Some day I will commission or make my own. Especially when I sit and watch an episode of HGTV or DIY with the folks and see how much it takes to even remodel a kitchen using contemporary building measures. What galls me about watching these shows is how often the turnaround time comes for needing to gut them and remodel them. There are wattle-and-daub structures that still stand 600 years after their construction with relatively little input. With cob thatched roof homes, the thatching needs replacing every 20-30 years, but do not required reconstruction of whole sections of the home. The multigenerational aspect of working with the land, multigenerational homes and home ownership has been lost in going for materials that have built-in breakdown times, planned obsolescence, and we’re worse for it.
Othila or Othala presents the idea of odal land, ancestral land, and it is this concept that, in part, inspires me to learn and to pull together all these skills and to work with those in my family, clan, tribe, and with those in alliance with us. It is why I am looking at working with those already in the community and doing these things, and it is why I encourage folks to take the steps for making firm ties now. Putting our hands to crafting our own homes and things, or supporting those who do, strengthens our ties as community, and our resilience together. If you get the chance to do something like this, formally or informally, I would take the opportunity with zeal. If you’re not in the Michigan area, check around! More and more folks are engaging with natural home building, reskilling, and networking with those willing to learn.
If you are not sure where to start, I am putting together a post which will give a general start for folks to work with, including basic internet resources, books I have read or worked from, and video links to get started. There is a lot out there, so if you find or have done work from a source, let me know either in the comments section or by email, and I can add your recommendations to the list.
Having read, watched, and listened to coverage of COP21, I have to say I am utterly disappointed. Not only were no binding agreements made, what was agreed upon will not effectively address the issues facing the world. Per the COP21 website:
In 2015 COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.
It failed. There are aims, but nothing binding. There is plenty of signed paper, but no promises. There are plenty of goals, but no ambition to see them through. Further, it gutted a lot of the binding agreements by placing things like this in the preamble.
It is incredibly easy to look at this failure of leadership and the impending impacts of peak oil and climate change, to read JMG’s latest piece summarizing what is facing us, and simply fall into despair. I am going to encourage anyone reading this not to do that.
Go to the Gods. Go to the Ancestors. Go to the vaettir. Ask Them for help to do something to address this. Go do magic. Work magic to address this. Go learn and study. Put your hands to whatever you are able to do. Organize where you can. Do what is within your power to do. Do something with those emotions. Do not let them sit idle. Use them as fuel.
Grow what you can where you can. Preserve knowledge wherever you can. Distribute knowledge where you can. Learn a skill or learn a trade if you can. Every single bit helps.
The idea that we will not be able to get out of the Long Descent without casualties has come up a couple of times in the comments in this series of posts. In every documentary on Youtube I have watched, the idea population decline will, at some point, come up. It seems expected that we will somehow be able to keep on preserving our ways of life that allow us in America to use 25% of the world’s resources when we are 5% of the overall population of the Earth. It seems expected that we can just ‘run things on renewables’ when it comes to Q&As at the end of a good many of these lectures, some desperate variation on the bargaining aspect of the 5 Stages of Grief. When we haven’t invested shit into our infrastructure, into renewables, or into any other way of life but the ones folks are living right now.
People are going to die because of climate change and peak oil, and there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it. Whether because of the hubris and neglect of corporations, the incredibly tight controls or severe lack in industry standards with the government, laziness or panic or inaction on the part of the average citizens, our opportunity to stem the tide of these things passed us by well before Morning in America was the rallying cry of the Reagan administration. Carter tried to be straightforward and honest with the American people on these matters, and he was a one-term president, mocked and roundly criticized for his stances. No one has tried this and won since. We are now faced with a world which will see us in the Long Descent as John Michael Greer calls it, the Bumpy Plateau as Richard Heinberg calls it, or the Collapse, as Chris Martenson and Jared Diamond call it. The end of cheap, abundant fossil fuel is coming, climate change is occurring, and yet we still can affect change on the local level.
I ran across this idea from Michael Ruppert across several of his lectures:
Let us say that there were people on the Titanic who knew that an iceberg was going to hit it, and the Titanic would sink. These people know there are not enough lifeboats, but that there is time enough to make some in preparation for the disaster that is coming. There are three kinds of reactions to these people. The first are those who say “Oh you’re just a doom-sayer. I’m going to go back to the bar for a drink.” The second are those who panic, wide-eyed and run around crying out “What do I do? What do I do?” but do not address the problem. Then there are third, who say “Let’s get to work on building some lifeboats” and get started working on it. As with Ruppert, I suggest we work with other lifeboat builders and not waste our time with the first two groups of people.
This means ceasing to fight with those that think global warming is a fraud. This means not arguing with those who adamantly do not accept the reality of peak oil. This means ceasing to waste time on folks who want to talk, but not do.
This means getting proactive wherever you can in your life and community to address peak oil and climate change. This means doing whatever research, reskilling, growing, learning, accumulating of resources, and making community ties now wherever you are able as you are able. This means reorienting your life in whatever ways that you can so the Long Descent is easier to deal with.
This means that there are people out there for whom it is not worth your time to try to save. Not that they are intrinsically better or worse than you. It means that these people will be an impediment to you doing things to actively work in ways that will better you, your family, and/or your community. On a practical level, the people not willing to build lifeboats with you are simply not worth your time to try to save. You can love your family, your friends, your neighbors, and they all can be impediments or allies in the way of where you need to go, and what you need to do, to ensure you, yours, and future generations are able to survive. These are not easy things to think about, and I appreciate that, but if you have put off thinking about them, now is the time.
What I am not saying is “you should not worry about the non-lifeboat builders” or “you should be totally okay with this”. I have folks in my family who want to pretend that everything will be fine, or technology will find a way. You know what? I don’t stop loving them. I don’t stop wanting them to end their addiction to oil, to join a community effort, even if it isn’t mine, to address peak oil and climate change. I don’t stop wanting them to change their mind, but I also realize that, after a certain point, all I am doing is wasting our collective time by trying to get them on board.
Hell, in talking with my grandparents on my mother’s side, both realize just how hard of a time ahead we have. All I can do at this point is ask as many questions as I can of them for how they got through the hard times in their lives. To ask them how their parents got through the Depression and how they got through the Oil Shocks. I pray that I get as many old tools and machines that my grandpa collected from garage, estate, and auction sales, as I can. It’s my hope to put these still-functioning tools to work again.
I cannot offer hope or comfort, outside of “We have time to prepare” and “Better ways of living with the world are possible, and within our ability to do.” With the coming Long Descent coming, I find comfort in the words of Arundhati Roy:
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
The work of addressing peak oil and climate change is working to hear these messages, and put them in to action. We have work to do, and each will need to decide in what ways their energy and time are best used. I pray that your efforts succeed. I pray they pave the way for others to succeed, for all of us to survive, and thrive.
I had not planned a fourth part to this series, however, I was hit by something as I was sitting and experiencing this beautiful rendition of The Sound of Silence. I went back to thinking about the series of posts that I have been writing lately on consumerism and peak oil. I was thinking in how my father and I were sitting in the basement while he was smoking after he teared up while listening to it on Youtube. He explained to me that he had had a lot of friends buried to that song, and it occurred to me to ask him a few things, among them, what songs he wanted to have at his funeral, and if it would be okay if I kept his skull. This song and yes were among his answers.
We have such an odd relationship with death and endings in this country. While there is a cyclical nature to my religion, there is a linear one in my father’s, and the predominant mythological/cultural narratives American society tells itself are, likewise, linear, for instance, the myth of progress. It is very hard for folks to envision things past a certain point. It’s not the main reason I connect The Sound of Silence to my work with peak oil, though. No, what I connect with is one the overarching messages I get from the song. That our things overtake our sense of self, connection, community, even the place of our Gods. The lines that stick with me the hardest are these:
And in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared, and no one dared
To stir the sound of silence
and this one:
And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they’d made
And the sign flashed its warning in the words that it was forming
And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence
This song sticks in my craw, especially lately, especially because of the dearth of silence I see in the needed conversations on peak oil and climate change. That we have become overtaken by our things, that our need to have things have supplanted our need for connection. That the very means by which we enjoy this very song, or as you, the readers read the words, or I as I type them, is all part of the collective death knell of modern human civilization. This is so discomforting, that, like conversations on death, it is a taboo, a thing we dare not speak or give word to, lest we sound crazy or we dare to step out of line and suggest that another world is not only possible, but absolutely fucking necessary. It is taboo, echoing in the well of silence.
The other reason this post kind of spoke up and said “Hey, write me,” is because of a comment from PSVL on Part 3. While I did address e in the comments, between being prompted by The Sounds of Silence and the comment itself, I felt that e was right. We do need to talk more about folks who aren’t able-bodied facing a future in which cheap, abundant fossil fuels are no longer available, and as a result, neither will our life-dependent medications. Some of this will be retread of the comments, and some will be me responding having stewed on things a bit.
I wanted to respond to eir’s first and last points to start with:
While I think this is all good, I’m still utterly unimpressed with–and am downright horrified by–the attitudes of JMG, and certain other anti-capitalists we know of in refusing to address the situation of folks like yourself and myself who rely upon medications produced by corporate capitalism for our very lives, that (at least in my case) I won’t ever be able to wean myself away from, short of a miracle, and those are thin on the ground these days. By JMG, when I brought this up, I was told “Well, everyone has to die sometime”; and by the other, I got outrage that I’d ask that question, was told I’d be taken care of, and then was given no details or anything on how that would actually take place in his self-congratulation over how caring and compassionate he was toward poor non-able-bodied sods like me (in ideal, anyway).
The amount of privilege that those who practically glorify this matter and their “responsible” lifestyle in response to it enjoy by being able-bodied (at least for the moment) in these discussions is quite frankly disgusting.
I wish someone would actually address that.
No one from the Peak Oil movement that I know of or consistently refer to takes any kind of pleasure or glory from this being the future. We can, however, enjoy the processes we go through to prepare for a power-down future, and make the Long Descent as pleasant as we are able in the meantime. We can connect with community, create art, learn skills, write books, teach, and pass on knowledge. To my mind, it would be better to glorify this responsible lifestyle than to pretend that the one that is touted by American society as ideal is at all sustainable or has a future.
I more or less stand by my original answer to em in this regard. There is no answer for us coming from established sources. Since we cannot control funding, research, dialogue, or the larger-scope top-down issues of addressing peak oil and climate change, or the associated complications of peak oil, climate change, and the therapies, medication, and other things that keep us alive, there are only local-level answers I could hope to give. Unless we do work on trying to find replacements for our medications now, or if we can attain some kind of homestasis in a sustainable manner that allows us to live in a powered-down future, a good number of us are outright screwed. The truth of the matter is, that I don’t think anyone in the Peak Oil communities, or the anarchists, the permaculturalists, the government, researchers, or anyone else for that matter, has an answer for people who are this dependent on medication, therapies, and so on that are only available to us because of the energy output of fossil fuels, and all the industries it is used to run and make products for. What methods there may be to address our needs in the face of peak oil and climate change, such as alternative therapies, herbal medicines, and tradition-specific medicinal approaches, may well have to be approached from a trial-and-error perspective rather than a rigorous scientific one if things speed up quicker than I am anticipating.
Addressing this from a different angle: what happens to the home healthcare industry (of which I am a bottom tier worker) when the downward slope of the Long Descent makes itself apparent? It will disappear.
The result of that is nothing short of horrible. There are clients, consumers, and patients within this industry that fully rely on people like me to give them care, to feed them, clean them, and so on. What happens when the means by which we are employed vanish? Some folks will soldier on, doing what they can until they have nothing left to give. Most will leave. This will leave the government and families a couple of options, assuming these folks have any family alive. They can take them into their homes, set up institutions or like apparatus again, at least for a while, or leave them where they are. Not an easy thought, and certainly not something I like to write about. However, there we are. Unless communities start coming together and addressing climate change and peak oil now, and addressing the issue of access to healthcare, this is the horrible reality we will be facing.
I’m paid about a dollar above what a crew member at McDonald’s is paid. When I/my community gets land and we’re established, my plan is to leave this industry. Not because the people I served don’t deserve the services, not because they are lesser than I, but because my tribe, my people come first, and the kind of work that will be required to make such a thing work, much less be successful, is a full-time job.
For those who stay in this industry, with as little investment as there is in health care, things will get even worse if communities do not actively come together to bolster and improve these services. Many of the local movements I addressed in Part 3 may be able to address needs on a local level if they plan for it. I don’t, however, think they will be able to address all needs.
Please, though, do not think I am giving folks a pass on this. This does need to be addressed. Taking care of the folks who cannot care for themselves is a humane thing to do, and it requires our consideration for how best to do so. It is also not a cruelty to say “These are our limitations due to budget, space, etc. What can we do to solve this problem? Who can we look to for help? How can we best serve these members of the community? If we lack the means to serve these people effectively, what can we do?” That, I think, is key: these aren’t just clients when this goes from a company and its employees doing a job into a community coming together to work on how best to serve these people. They’re community members. They have Gods who care for them, Ancestors who care for them, and live among the vaettir. I am no less than an able-bodied person for my diabetes. Likewise, those I serve in my current job capacity are no less a person than I.
I have a vested interest in seeing non-able-bodied and disabled folks taken care of. I’m a disabled person (diabetes, asthma, ADD), and so is my son and my wife. People I care deeply for, who are chosen family and friends are non-abled and disabled. Hell, if my tics (which I’m now taking an anti-seizure medication for) get any worse, I may need a lot of help someday. It’s in my interest and that of my families’ interests, and going outward from there, in my community’s best interests to have a vibrant, viable, and sustainable community that can care for its own.
The basic questions of infrastructure, and the points I raised in the previous three posts will still be factors that will need to be addressed in some manner. Without these addressed, the job of those who remain or become caretakers, home healthcare workers, and so on, will be that much harder. Transportation, medication, and compensation will all need to be looked at on a local level. The same with the costs of healthcare, short and long-term.
We will have to take a hard look at what we can afford to do with what we have where our communities are. We will need to do this now and in the future in a world where resources are already hard to find, becoming harder and more environmentally and financially costly to find, refine, and produce. We wouldn’t be seeing companies looking to hydraulic fracturing, deep-water drilling, arctic oceans, or tar sands oil if we had a whole lot of low-hanging fruit left. The EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) doesn’t make sense without high oil prices, and all of them are incredibly environmentally destructive to boot. Look at the BP Oil Spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, the ongoing damage to Alberta, CA with the tar sands strip mining and extraction, and the ongoing damage being done in the Marcellus Shale area of PA. The only reason any of these more expensive, and thus lower EROEI methods of fossil fuel extraction, refinement, and use, have gotten any traction was the incredible explosion of oil prices and dropping supply.
When/if a big crash comes during our lifetimes, we’ll be some of the first casualties, as soon as the last of the insulin in the fridge runs out. Simple as that, unfortunately. Nothing anyone has ever said on these topics convinces me of any other possibility, because no one has ever floated any other possibility (other than the idiots I heard several years back who said “That’s why we’re raising cattle, so I can go on beef insulin.” Uhh…unless industrial levels of beef slaughter are taking place, not enough insulin will be produced, dummy, to sustain your life, and your little herd of twenty cows will not last you even a year for that) which is remotely viable.
As I said in my comment, I’m of the opinion/understanding it is not a matter of if, but when. I see one of two general outcomes. The first, is that the economic house of cards comes to crash and all the lack of investment our country has collectively made in its infrastructure comes home to roost, as we’re seeing in places near where I live such as Flint, MI or the poisoning of the Kalamazoo River by Enbridge Energy. The other is that peak oil will slowly suck what life remains from the country via increasing energy costs exacerbated by our lack of investment in infrastructure, and lack of preparedness for a powered-down future. I believe a combination of these two scenarios over a period of 20-50 years, maybe longer if more folks get on-board, is most likely, since the economy is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels to do anything.
The only way that massive volumes of insulin are able to made is because of the meat and medical industry. We can only do so much on a local level, especially in a powered-down future where the fossil fuels that helped a lot of folks to live goes away. There’s only so much folks are going to be able to do, grow, or make.
And that you, I, and all of the polytheists in the U.S. and the world can’t actually do anything to stop or change this situation, no matter how local and active and right-relational we get with other things related to this situation might be, makes me absolutely angry and hopeless over this situation.
I liken this situation to Fimbulvinter and Ragnarök. This is a situation that may have once been preventable, but it is one that we now face without that ability. We can look forward, grim or joyful, but It is coming to meet us and we, It, through the weaving of Wyrd. The big difference between The Long Descent and Ragnarök is that the Aesir, Vanir, Jotun, our Ancestors, and the landvaettir are with us should we be willing to ally, and will help us face this future if we are willing to do what we can where we can. We’re not just living for our survival. We will help to leave a world in which Lif and Lifthrasir can survive and thrive in.
So, I make of my anger, and times where hopelessness hits me, an offering to my Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. I make of my education on how to live better with and upon Jörð and my other Gods, my Ancestors, and the vaettir, as an offering. I make of the work I put my hands to as an offering. I will keep going on, and do what I can to this end for as long as I can. It is my duty.
It is easy to understand why convenience is currently winning the hearts and minds of American consumers. This has much to do with lower upfront cost to the consumer, while the consumer is able to put it out of their minds that much of the convenience we expect and pay for comes at the cost of someone else’s life, livelihood, home, and abysmally low pay or slavery. Follow any given ‘cheap’ product, and you will find a pipeline of suffering for the animals and plants involved. Look at any major clothing line or electronics company. The neodymium mining poisoning Inner Mongolia, the gold in Nigeria in which there are children going blind and infertile, countless countries whose citizens labor for Nike, Gap, and Apple at slave wages or are slaves. Lots of people are dying just to get a bit of the stuff out of the Earth, make a piece of clothing, or make another electronic gadget that feeds into these systems that keep products cheap for the consumers while costing a lot of people their lives, land, and sovereignty. It happens here, too, whether you look at New York City’s garment district, falling wages for what once were solidly middle-class jobs, or the paltry amount, around $39,000 or less, that a lot of chicken farmers make per year.
The costs are hidden from the American consumer in terms of jobs, too. Think about it. When was the last time you heard of a cobbler? When was the last time you knew the person or the people who made your shoes? Your clothes?
Resilience does not just mean that the system is preserved in a healthy way, but that people, and the environment are too. Resilience in our own relationships, economically and personally, mean that we need to reweave our interdependent lives with one another here. Recognizing that the child labor of a gold mine is wrong; it is another thing to divest ourselves from it as consumers. Recognizing that there is blood on the diamond trade is one thing, but refusing to buy diamonds at all is a whole other story. Recognizing that we do not want to support sweatshops or we want to buy American is easy to say, but it is in supporting better ways wherever we can that real change is made. Resilience requires actions to preserve not only our relationships, but our own integrity as well. Resilience is an active choice, an activity, and a way of living. So too, is convenience.
This issue comes up quite a bit when the conversation is about something like the consumption of meat. Most of these conversation are, themselves, red herrings. What all of these various issues boil down to, is that so much of human labor and what used to be a lot of animal labor, are now done by increasingly convenient, complex machines which are able to be made because of cheap, abundant fossil fuels.
Think about it.
Whether the fumes choking cities, the heating of our planet via CO2, the plastic choking the oceans, the mounds of human, animal, and plant grief in places all over the world, the only thing that allows these cogs to move at all is cheap, abundant fossil fuels.
The only reason the meat industries are any kind of threat to the environment are because of the fossil fuel powered trade, transport, and machines that allow for the CAFOs and other industrial food/feedstock/animal raising/slaughtering operations to remain economically viable. The entire life cycle of the meat industry, the agricultural industry, and countless others, including the aforementioned on-demand delivery services, depend on tenuous, fragile systems. From the truckloads of meat, plants, etc. that crisscross the country, wrapped in petroleum-derived plastics, shipped using incredible amounts of diesel delivered on petroleum-derived/made asphalt, kept cold using natural gas, coal, or oil-powered refrigeration technology in the holding areas, distribution centers, supermarkets, and consumers’ freezers/refrigerators, then cooked by means usually powered by coal, natural gas, or oil. Keep in mind as well that the gas, coal, and oil that keeps the economy and trade moving, that lubricates the countless machines of capitalism, consumerism, trade, and industry, are all looked for, found, extracted, mined, processed, and refined, then transported and burnt, largely by diesel-powered machines.
Meat production itself is not the problem. Rather, it is the means by which this incredibly wasteful cycle of goods, services, and means of production are kept afloat. That doesn’t mean that our meat consumption isn’t a problem, but it pales in comparison to the things that make such consumption economically viable and reduce the ability of smaller farmers, ranchers, and growers to support themselves and their communities. It’s the same cycle that enables the wholesale destruction of the environment in places that mine for rare earth minerals, like Nigeria and Inner Mongolia for things like gold and neodynium in order to continue cycles of consumption of things like the very laptop I’m typing on. None of the components that make this thing up, nor the power it uses to remain on, or the Internet itself, is without deep costs to the environment.
If we want a healthier relationship with meat, some peoples’ options are to simply stop eating it. That’s fine. Some simply cannot do that. A healthier relationship with meat doesn’t mean that all meat eaters just wholesale stop eating meat, it means developing better relationships with it, supporting local farmers/ranchers, and businesses that employ folks close to home and close down more of that big cycle of consumption I mentioned above. If I want be healthier, my option is not to stop taking my medication right now. It means I need to develop healthier relationships with my body and food, and work to get off the medication I can. If we want healthier relationships between farmers, ranchers, markets, crafts, industries and the people they are made for and use them, we must make the effort as people regardless on which part of the relationship we are, to make things better so we all are more resilient, and our communities more stable.
Convenience today is predicated on cheap, abundant fossil fuels. Peak oil won’t just bring challenges to our economy, it will stop its ability to move and expand. Given how brittle our international economic and trade systems are, back in 2008 what nearly took down the house of cards was a housing and financial bubble combined with the soaring price of crude oil. That was a warning that should have shook all of us out of the mindset that we could avoid dealing with the problem of capitalism’s need for exponential growth to sustain itself, and the resultant use of energy to make that happen.
Peak oil is the bar that sets the hard limits to growth. You cannot grow an economy at the scale we are used to if the economy cannot be empowered to function with cheap fossil fuels. Peak oil is especially problematic for the United States, since we’ve given over almost all our transportation needs to diesel and gas powered vehicles, vehicles which deliver all of our goods, from food to medicine, from surgery supplies to toilet paper. Our train system is deeply underfunded and barely adequate to deal with what is already on its rails. Our bridges are falling apart, as are dams like this one, which is holding back water from 431,000 people in Texas. We have basic infrastructure problems that need to be addressed. My point here is not that we cannot address peak oil, but that top-down approaches from the federal government will not be adequate, and any response would be slow, at best.
What about regional responses? With basic road funding here in Michigan taking the better part of a year just to approve funding (about half of this based on tax cuts, mind you, not raising revenues) on basic maintenance, there is little hope that there would be a top-down response commensurate with need, let alone enough to handle an emergency. It is not that top-down approaches are not desirable, but that in all likelihood they will be too little too late, piecemeal, or simply lacking in their ability to deal with the situation.
So many of us who have chosen to deal with the problems of peak oil and climate change do so on the local level because that is where we can affect change the best on a practical scale. It’s the permaculuralist that sets up shop down the road, growing food on their 2 acre plot. It’s the charities, like Growing Hope and the Fair Food Network in Detroit, that increase peoples’ access to good, healthy food while teaching them how to grow it. It’s the Transition Town Network, Reskilling Festivals, and Strawbale Studio that works on teaching folks how to do things, from arts and crafts, to making our own homes and growing our own food on a more local level. These provide folks opportunities to make contacts who will sell to others who do not have the skills or space to do so. It is not that peak oil is insurmountable, but that the ways our economy, industry, markets, crafts, and food production functions are inadequate to addressing the issues peak oil presents to us.
Peak oil represents a very stark choice. We can keep trying to make this unsustainable way of life work for a little while longer, or we can learn to live with LESS (a term coined by JMG meaning Less Energy, Stimulation, and Stuff) and work towards a future in which our generation and those after have the abilities, skills, and resources to meet the challenges peak oil and climate change are going to bring.
This choice is why I am looking to engage in another way of living. I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview to live in good Gebo with the world, with Jörð, Freyr, Gerda, Freya, our Ancestors, and the landvaettir. I am inspired by my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to live better with this world, and to live with Them, and alongside Them, and help to bring forward a better future. I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview and religion as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen to align myself within this world and to this world in a way that benefits us both. I am inspired by my work and role a Northern Tradition and Heathen shaman and priest to do these things as part of my duty to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities I serve, and the generations to come. To not only be different in how I consume, but to be different in what I do, and how I give back to this world.
I view it as my duty to my best in this regard. Duty to my Gods, to live well in the world, and within a community of folks dedicated to doing well by our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Duty to my Ancestors, to live well and help raise the new generations with care, and with the skills necessary to face peak oil, climate change, and the challenges they present us. Duty to my vaettir, including the landvaettir with whom we will live upon, align and work, live with and build good relationships. Duty to the Warrior Dead who gave Their lives so we could live, the Military Dead to honor Their sacrifices and to teach the future generations their stories so They are not forgotten, and the other vaettir with whom we share this world, that we may come into better alignment, and relation.
I have no illusion that I alone, or even a small community can stop climate change or peak oil, but we can address it within our spheres of influence. My hope is that it inspires action in others, and ripples through the communities we touch and weave with. At the least, the next generation we raise, inspire, and welcome will be better prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, peak oil, and the challenges we have yet to see that will come from them. At the most we can inspire and promote local resiliency and ties, a refocus of national action on these things, and perhaps worldwide change in how we address peak oil and climate change. If nothing else, we will improve our small community’s lot while honoring and working in better concert with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in this work. I can think of no better reason to pursue these goals than that.
Part 1 of this series is here.
Part 2 of this series is here.
For other explorations of this topic, look here:
The challenge we face as a country in the face of peak oil and climate change is getting back to a more human-sized society. A large part of the issue of getting things back to a manageable size is twofold: 1) we have a very poor concept of wealth in this country, and 2) convenience has eclipsed resilience in a big way.
In regards to our unhealthy view of wealth in this country, to start with, wealth is not money in a bank account. It is an abundance of things of value. Money is not value, but a measurement of value agreed upon as a representation of work. Work is of value; money is given value to represent the value of goods, services, products, and labor rather than someone having to directly trade as in a barter system. A good way to look at this is the Rune Fehu.
Fehu means ‘money, cattle, wealth’. Cattle require land, and so, land is also a form of wealth, and the maintenance of a good herd of cattle is a means of sustaining wealth in the forms of cattle and land. Likewise, the means to feed the herd, and so, the health of the land itself, is a form of wealth. Resilience is bound up in wealth in many ways. The first way is that resilience requires more investment and maintenance up front than convenience requires. Another is that resilience provides a way for wealth itself to be maintained and grow in ways that sustain the production and maintenance of these sources of wealth. Resilience in cattle-based land is making sure the herd does not overgraze, but eats its fill, and that it has enough nutrients in the soil and vegetation to provide for many generations of cattle, not just one. Resilience in cattle-based land may require rotation of the animals, crops and foods sources. Certain forms of resilient cattle-raising dispense with rotation, and cultivate the manure as a form of fertilizer, while working with the herd to maintain the integrity of the land. Resilience may also require a culling every now and again to keep the herd manageable. By contrast, convenience would require as many cattle as possible to be raised then slaughtered in a given timetable to maximize production and profit regardless of the destruction to the land, the pain to the cows, or the overproduction of the meat itself.
Resilient cattle-raising is not as convenient as on-site feedlot operations, but then, convenient ways of cattle raising come with deep drawbacks that have to be accounted for. Convenience brings a great deal of challenges with it that resilient methods do not. Among them are logistical challenges, sourcing, and securing the various production pipelines that assure that convenience remains so. In CAFO operations the maximization of profit is extended at the risk of increase of infection in the animals. To counteract this, animals are given antibiotics, both to increase resistance to disease, and increase muscle mass so there is more meat to sell come the slaughter. This has a knock-on effect in two ways, since 70% of the recipients of antibiotics are farm animals. One, it increases the rates of mutation and development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and two, each layer of complexity provides an extra kink in the system that can develop deep problems. Enough cattle get fed an antibiotic at a low dose, and it can make the whole damned herd develop an antibiotic resistant bacteria that overcomes the treatment. That bacteria could then kill parts of or the entire herd, and should that spread, could overcome other herds. If it passes transmission to humans, it can than affect the local, and then State, and possibly national population. There are people dying now because there are bacteria that have become resistant to last-effort antibiotics.
Resilient methods of cattle raising do not have this issue of breeding antibiotic resistant bacteria. While antibiotic free cattle may succumb to disease, they do not have a constant low-level dose of exposure to antibiotics in their food or through regular injections that a given bacteria can become resistant to. Would or will bacteria develop that will kill cattle? Sure, but not at the rates we see with antibiotic resistant strains, pushed forward by the cattle and other meat industries use of antibiotics in everything from feed to direct injections. While resilient methods sacrifice money upfront for this, in the long run they provide a safeguard to herd and human alike. Other points of failure in this system is the supply of antibiotics themselves and all the infrastructure and support systems that go into manufacturing them. Another point of failure is the feed itself, with the fossil fuels that are used in growing, spraying, and transporting it to the cattle. Other points of failure can be found in all of the infrastructure and support systems that go into producing and delivering the feed upon which CAFO and other industrial meat operators depend upon to be profitable.
Convenience is more a method of exploiting wealth than it is of ensuring its survival or growth. Methods such as on-demand services rely on entire networks of services to support them in the first place. Look to any on-demand service whether it is Uber, Createspace or Lulu, Amazon.com or online food delivery services like Grubhub, OrderUp, or fisheries like this one. All of these require massive amounts of fossil fuels. All of these services rely on built up infrastructure from the electrical grid, the roads, bridges, and other aspects of the highway system, the vehicles themselves, and the cheap labor that allow these things to be affordable. All of these factors in turn require inputs of energy, whether oil, coal, or natural gas for initial construction, maintenance, and use. Even the means to make renewable energy sources such as windmills, solar panels, and the like, require great inputs of oil and rare earth metals, like neodymium and gold, all of which in turn requires inputs of energy to mine, extract from the rock/silt, and refine. By their nature, these systems are brittle. They become more so the more complex they are.
Let’s say, for instance, that gas goes back up to $4 per gallon for the average consumer. Uber would either get more expensive or fold. Createspace, Lulu, and Amazon.com, and the other online delivery services make their business with direct delivery. Gas prices cut directly into the delivery services’ bottom line, requiring a price increase. If any segment in the supply line fails, whether paper manufacturers continuously failing to meet a quota for Createspace or Lulu, the delivery servicers unable to maintain their fleet as well as they need to meet demand, or the fishery unable to make a profit via online sales, entire industries oriented around the on-demand service will go down. While it may take a while for the supply chain problems to come home to roost, sooner or later they will, as increasingly larger pieces of the economic pie are devoted to handle the rising costs associated with their business.
Let us go back to the example of cattle-raising. If a rancher relies upon online on-demand meat sales to keep their business going in such a scenario, they will find themselves paying for a hell of a premium with such a drastic rise in gas prices. This is true not only for the delivery of the meat, but is also felt by little nips and bites from the monthly bills for services, like their electricity and internet, that allow them to make their money in the first place. They have a choice after a certain point: they can increase costs to their on-demand consumers, and/or try to pivot and seek out a new customer base that is more local, or voluntarily go out of business. One would hope the rancher would have local reciprocal relationships already active and established. However, for those who rely on these internet sales to drive their business, convenience bypasses a lot of the resilient methods of developing relationships with customer and the land in favor of upfront profit driven by demand. When that demand goes down so too does the business. In the end, convenience for the producer and consumer alike costs a lot more than developing and maintaining a resilient system and reciprocal relationship with the consumer. It may not produce money as quickly, but it maintains wealth, value and money flow with a great deal more care and certainty.
Coming up is Part 3, which explores why convenience is preferred over resilience, and how it makes systems that rely upon it weak. It will also explore the avenues I and others are taking in addressing peak oil and climate change where we are.
Part 1 of this series is here.
For other explorations of this topic, look here: