Saturday, 15 September 2018

Responding to collapse, Part 2: Climate Change

These squash just climbed up and helped themselves to a seat.

The title for this series of posts started out as "Preparing for collapse", but in my last post I immediately went into a rant about how I see a hard, fast, world-crippling collapse as pretty improbable. What I'm observing instead is a slow collapse that has already been happening for several decades and will continue for several more, albeit with much the same end result as a fast collapse. KMO, one of my favourite podcasters and a follower of this blog, suggested a better title would be Responding to Collapse, and that's what I'll be using from now on. Thanks, KMO.

Of course, I expect that the degree of collapse will become more intense as time passes, and it is that which we should try to prepare for (or respond to). Times will become gradually harder and occasionally bad things will happen that make things quite a bit worse all at once. But things will be much worse in some areas than others and if you are clever you can arrange to be where you'll miss the worst of it. Though if you think you can arrange to miss all of it, you're kidding yourself.

Over the next few posts I'll be offering some rules of thumb for surviving collapse. But always remember not to follow any rule off a cliff. Look at your own current circumstances and adjust my ideas fit.

All of what I am suggesting here only works if the great majority of people ignore my advice or, more likely, never hear it in the first place. One of our biggest problems, now and for quite a while yet, is that there are too many people living on this planet. If a great many people where to head in the direction I am pointing, the advantage of being there would immediately go away.

This is already starting to play out in some parts of the world where things are getting bad enough politically, economically and/or climate-wise that many are leaving in desperation. I am talking about places like the Middle East, North Africa, Venezuela and to some extent even Puerto Rico, where people are leaving for the mainland U.S. in droves. As the numbers of refugees mount the welcome they receive gets less enthusiastic. But bear in mind that the only real choice you will have in this situation is to be part of the influx of refugees or to be among of those who are welcoming it. I would say that the latter role is very much preferable. A timely move, before things get serious, can put you on the right side of things.

And those of you who applaud their government for clamping down on immigrants and immigration, consider this: if your government is so ready to mistreat "those people", how long will they hesitate to treat you similarly when it becomes convenient? Better to take part in the political process (vote, as a minimum) and work towards a government with more humane and progressive policies.

Some of those bad things that might make you want to move will be caused by climate change and today I'd like to focus on the negative effects of climate change, specifically higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns.

I should say in advance that if you are in denial about climate change, please go somewhere else where you'll be more welcome. I simply don't have the energy or inclination to engage with you. As far as I am concerned it's happening, we're causing it by adding CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and it's going to get worse for quite a while yet. Especially since it doesn't seem like we are going to do anything about reducing green house gas emissions until collapse forces us to drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels and our level of consumption in general. At the same time, I give very little credence to those who talk about near term extinction of the human race. That's way too much of an easy way out, and little more than an excuse for inaction.

Much of how we have come to live over the last few thousand years was determined by the climate, which has been fairly stable and accommodating to the way we practice agriculture. Based on this, we have been a very successful species, at least if you judge by how we have spread over the planet and how our population has grown. During the last couple of centuries energy from fossil fuels has enabled us to become even more "successful". We have overcome some challenges that had previously been insurmountable and managed to feed an ever growing population.

The Green Revolution involved some "improved" plant varieties that give startlingly better yields in response to optimized irrigation, fertilization and pest control, all of which have been facilitated by the ready availability of cheap energy. Unfortunately, this has involved the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels, the water in fossil aquifers, and deposits of potash and phosphorous.

We've managed to live and even farm in areas that were previously deserts. and we've been able to ship food from all over the world to areas where the population couldn't even remotely be supported by local agriculture. But the days of cheap fossil fuels, fertilizers and pesticides, abundant fossil water, and low cost worldwide shipping (with refrigeration as needed) are coming to an end at the same time as the climate is going crazy. We're are going to have to adapt as best we can.

So, let's have a closer a look at the consequences of climate change.

There is no doubt that the climate is warming worldwide and will continue to do so. That warming is much more intense in the high latitudes, leading to melting of major ice shields in Greenland and Antarctica. Mountain glaciers are also melting and disappearing at an alarming rate. To make matters worse, the water and land exposed by melting ice is much less reflective that the ice was and retains more of the heat from the sun rather than reflecting it back into space, leading to even more warming.

Ice is only about 89.5% as dense as sea water. This is why about 10% of the mass of an iceberg sticks out of the water, and why when ice floating in sea water melts, it does not change the level of the water. So the ice covering the Arctic Ocean will have no effect on sea level as it melts. But ice sitting on land does increase sea level when it melts and runs into the sea. This is true of the ice in Greenland and in mountain glaciers, and of much of the ice in Antarctica.

The loss of mountain glaciers also effects the way in which precipitation is stored and flows into rivers and we'll get to that in a moment, but for now, let's concentrate on sea level rise.

Interestingly, sea level isn't the same everywhere. When we speak of altitudes "above sea level" we are talking about "Mean Sea Level", which is an average level of the surface of one or more of Earth's oceans. But what we are concerned about here is the actual sea level at any particular location, and this can differ quite a bit from one location to another, and from one time to another, as the sea is in constant motion, affected by the tides, wind, atmospheric pressure, local gravitational differences, temperature, salinity and so forth. In addition to melting ice, sea level has been increasing during at least the last century as the oceans have heated up due to climate change. Further, many human settlements are built on river deltas, where subsidence of land contributes to a substantially increased effective sea level rise. This is caused by both unsustainable extraction of groundwater (in some places also by extraction of oil and gas), and by levees and other flood management practices that prevent accumulation of sediments from compensating for the natural settling of deltaic soils.

Here is an interactive map that illustrates what areas will be flooded as sea level rises. You can select the amount of rise and scroll around and zoom in to see the effect on the parts of the world that interest you most.

When I initially looking at that map, even with the sea level rise set to the highest level, it didn't seem all that bad—there will be lots of dry land left. But, zooming in and giving it a little further thought, I realized that the missing piece of information is what currently occupies the relatively small areas that would be flooded—a whole lot of people, many of whom are living in the world's largest and most economically important cities.

It's hard to nail down how many people will get their feet wet for any particular increase in sea level, but I did find one article that discusses this in some detail.

The writer says,

"Current estimates for the absolute maximum sea level rise, if the glaciers at both poles melted, range from 225 to 365 feet, with the latter being more likely accurate. If sea levels rose that much, coastal lands would be depressed several meters and transgressive erosion would also occur. So, for instance, even though Long Island has many points that are above 300 feet or so, none of it would survive the transgressive erosion because it is all glacial till. It is hard to extrapolate from the numbers above to a 100+ meter rise, and improper to do so, but consider that if the human population is concentrated near the seas, and 10% live below the 10 meter line, then it is probably true that well more than half live below the 100 meter line, and many more within the area that would be claimed by the sea through erosion and depression."

But while all that ice may well melt eventually, most sources predict that sea level will only go up a few feet during this century. That would be less destructive, but even moderate increases in sea level combined with more severe and more frequent storms, and with tides (if the timing of those storms is bad), will result in previously unheard of damage to seaside settlements. We've already seen some of this with Katrina, Sandy and several storms (Harvey, Irma, Maria) in the fall 2017, that hit the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico and Florida. As I write this, Hurricane Florence is heading for the Carolinas. It promises to last longer and bring with it a lot of rain due to the unusually high temperatures associated with it

Clearly, you'll want to be away from the seashore. But you don't want to jump from the pan directly into the fire, so we need t look at what other climate change related problems you might face farther inland. In an attempt to increase the content value of this post, I found some more maps which illustrate the effect climate change is going to have over the coming decades.

Climate change is a global problem, but in my search it became obvious that quite a lot more information is available for the U.S. and Canada, and since many of my readers are from North America, I'm including some of that information here.

Looking at those maps and a lot of other study led me to the following conclusions:

Tropical storms can do quite a bit of damage fairly far inland—look at what Maria did to Puerto Rico—even the mountainous inland parts of the island. This is something to take into consideration if you currently live in the Caribbean, near the gulf coast of the U.S. or near the eastern board of the U.S. Tropical storms in the Pacific and Indian Oceans are not something we hear much about in the mass media in North America, but they do happen and have lots of potential for damage to human settlements. If you live where this happens you're probably well aware of it and can take it into account in your plans.

People are often proud of the way they have managed to rebuild after storms, and this is fine if you're talking about storms that only happen once a century or so. But as storms become more frequent the financial resources to rebuild every few years will dwindle away. The best time to move is when things have recovered nicely from the most recent storm, but well before the next one. Of course, if it looks like recovery isn't going to happen, then it's time to get out, regardless of the cost.

It always astonishes me the way people are willing, perhaps even eager, to build or move into accommodation on the floodplains of rivers. The story is always that the river floods only very rarely and hasn't flooded in a long time. Now that sounds to me like a promise that flooding can be expected shortly even without climate change. But as climate change brings more violent storms even outside the tropics and changes in the pattern of precipitation and spring melting of the winter snow pack, more frequent floods are a certainty. So don't be fooled when moving into a new area—stay away from floodplains and areas likely to be undercut by erosion.

Heat waves are becoming more common everywhere, but particularly in the tropics. Many areas will eventually get to the point where they will be uninhabitable for large parts of the year if you don't have air conditioning or housing designed to cope. As always, the poor will be hardest hit.

The lack of water can be just as much of a problem as too much.

Already deserts are expanding and they will continue to do so, consuming the semi desert areas surrounding the desert where people have been living and are now forced to leave. This is already happening in North Africa and the Middle East and is the root cause of a lot of political unrest.

Droughts are becoming more common and are striking areas that traditionally have not suffered droughts. The Pacific Northwest, including California and British Columbia, is one such example. Even areas such as the one where I live, which is getting slightly more precipitation overall, are suffering from changes in when the precipitation happens. In the case of southern Ontario, we're getting more precipitation in fall, winter and spring but less in the summer. This is a problem for agriculture hereabouts, which has traditionally relied on getting a sufficient rain in the summer.

There are areas in the southwest of the U.S. that have traditionally been seen as deserts, but during the twentieth century were made to bloom, using water from pump from fossil aquifers and rivers dammed and diverted. Unfortunately the aquifers are just about depleted and all the water in the rivers is being used while demand still grows. As precipitation decreases and temperatures increase even at higher altitudes, there is less accumulation of snow and glaciers melt away, meaning that rivers fed by melting snow and ice run dry earlier in the summer, if they run at all.

There is a great deal to be said about areas outside of North America, but this would require a lot more research on my part and delay the publication of this post even more. But I was reading recently that Spain and Portugal are experiencing a severe drought, and it is expected to get worse.

People have difficultly responding rationally to these sorts of problems. Slowly increasing temperatures, slowly rising sea levels and slowly spreading desertification are the kind of thing that we tend to let future generations worry about, thinking it's not going to happen here, not just yet anyway. Then one day it does happen and many are caught unprepared.

Catastrophes that happen irregularly and unpredictably, like storms, heat waves, droughts and forest fires, are the kind of thing we live through and convince ourselves won't be happening again anytime soon. But as climate change progresses, they will become ever more frequent and more difficult to recover from.

Don't be caught in denial—where ever you are, you'll be experiencing some negative effects from climate change. But in some places, those effects will be overwhelming and the only viable response is to move away. Better to be well ahead of the rush. If you own property, better to get it sold while there are still buyers who haven't caught on to what's happening.

So, you're looking for a place that is, and will continue to be:

  • well above sea level
  • not at the top of a bluff overlooking the sea that is being gradually eroded away
  • not situated so as to take the full brunt of tropical storms
  • not in the floodplain of a river
  • not in a desert or semi-desert that relies on water from fossil aquifers that are being depleted faster than they are replenished or rivers fed by glacial melt water
  • not subject to hot season temperatures or heat waves that are not survivable if the power goes out or you can't afford air conditioning
  • receiving enough rain to allow for agriculture
  • with a growing season and soil that will support agriculture

In addition to the problems caused by climate change, the other two main concerns of this blog (resource depletion and economic contraction) are going to see most of us becoming quite a bit poorer, and not relying on anything that uses much energy, including shipping things in from far away. Most of our own food will have to be grown locally and the smaller amount of "stuff" we consume will be made locally.

In a future post (coming soon) I'll be talking about coping with the challenge of finding and fitting into a community that can survive under these conditions. For now I'll just say don't assume that collapse will relieve you of the necessity of earning a living in the growth based capitalist economy. It's going to take a long time to switch over to a low energy, low consumption, non-growth economy and in the meantime, most of us will have to keep a foot in both worlds, and initially mainly in the currently existing world.

So any plan for a move will have to take into account the necessity of earning a living where ever you go. You may well find that the pressure of earning a living pushes you in the opposite direction from what collapse related planning would indicate is best.

Next time I'll look at the socio-economic side of things—the problems caused when we are surrounded by too many people and by too few, often at the same time.

Monday, 3 September 2018

What I've Been Reading, August 2018

This note started out saying that the links below appear in the order I read them and was meant imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. During the last few months, I added a few new categories at the bottom of the links section on subjects that are of particular interest to me. This month the first few links are in a "Miscellaneous" section, and it contains only a minority of the links. If you're reading this blog for information on collapse you may wonder how relevant some of the categories are, but it seems to me that whatever insight I have on the subject of collapse is informed by what I know about everything else that I am interested in.



  • How to Spot a Fake Friend Request, by Andy O'Donnell, Lifewire
    I've cut down my time on Facebook during the last few months, but I still occasionally get friend requests from attractive young women who I don't know. As this article says, probably spam. I frequently notice, though, that some of my male friends have sign up as friends with these "girls"—they are getting fooled again and again. Read the article and wise up, guys.
  • How to Tell Stories About Complex Issues , by Annie Neimand, Stanford Social Innovation Review.
    Stories are the most powerful tool we have for increasing understanding and building engagement with complex issues. Telling them well can drive belief and behavior change.


Agriculture and Food

Peak Oil

Climate Change

Economic Contraction

  • The revenge of the spider—economic recklessness and GFC II, by Tim Morgan, Surplus Energy Economic
    "But the escalation in debt alone gives the lie to any claim that this “growth” has been genuine or sustainable. Between 2000 and 2007, growth of $25.5 trillion (at 2017 values) was accompanied by a $52tn increase in debt, meaning that just over $2 was borrowed for each $1 of “growth”. Since 2007, the ratio has worsened markedly, with “growth” of $29.8tn accompanied by $99tn in borrowing, a ratio of $3.30 of new debt for each growth dollar."
    GFC I = Global Financial Crash One (2008), GFC II = Global Financial Crash Two, coming soon.
  • Argentine peso and Turkish lira crash, putting pressure on emerging markets worldwide, by Weizhen Tan, CNBC Markets

The Scientific Consensus

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

Puerto Rico

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage, UBI

Autonomous Vehicles and Artificial Intelligence


Early in the history of these monthly "What I've Been Reading" posts, Liam Scheff (since deceased, sadly) suggested I include some humour. I did once or twice, but it soon fell by the wayside. This month I've stumbled upon a couple of humourous items, so there may be hope for reviving this section on an ongoing basis.




Finally I finished The Bell Curve, and no longer can anyone say that my comments about it are made without having read the book.

In short, Murray plays fast and loose with the scientific consensus on the heritability of IQ in order to further his ideological (Libertarian) goals. To put it bluntly, he doesn't think we should be wasting money on dumb poor people, since (according to him) it will do little good in any case and more likely make things worse. He also has quite a lot to say about the inferior IQ test results of blacks and Latins in the U.S.

I don't agree with this. I got into the discussion because of a podcast where Sam Harris played "softball" with Charles Murray, essentially accepting what Murray had to say as the unfortunate truth. Fortunately, it's not. Here are some links that support my position on the subject.

  • Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ, by Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett, Vox
    Podcaster and author Sam Harris is the latest to fall for it.
  • Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns, by Ulric Neisser et al, February 1996, American Psychologist
    This is a "Report of a Task Force Established by the American Psychological Association.", in response to The Bell Curve, and it presents what is essentially the scientific consensus on intelligence, as of 1996, which is rather different from what Murray and Hernnstein report that consensus to be in their book.
  •, by Richard E. Nisbett et all, February–March 2012, American Psychologist
    This report also presents the scientific consensus on intelligence, this time as of 2012.
    "We review new findings and new theoretical developments in the field of intelligence.
    New findings include the following:
    (a) Heritability of IQ varies significantly by social class.
    (b) Almost no genetic polymorphisms have been discovered that are consistently associated with variation in IQ in the normal range. (c) Much has been learned about the biological underpinnings of intelligence.
    (d) “Crystallized” and “fluid” IQ are quite different aspects of intelligence at both the behavioral and biological levels.
    (e) The importance of the environment for IQ is established by the 12-point to 18-point increase in IQ when children are adopted from working-class to middle-class homes.
    (f) Even when improvements in IQ produced by the most effective early childhood interventions fail to persist, there can be very marked effects on academic achievement and life outcomes.
    (g) In most developed countries studied, gains on IQ tests have continued, and they are beginning in the developing world. (h) Sex differences in aspects of intelligence are due partly to identifiable biological factors and partly to socialization factors.
    (i) The IQ gap between Blacks and Whites has been reduced by 0.33 SD in recent years.
    We report theorizing concerning
    (a) the relationship between working memory and intelligence,
    (b) the apparent contradiction between strong heritability effects on IQ and strong secular effects on IQ,
    (c) whether a general intelligence factor could arise from initially largely independent cognitive skills,
    (d) the relation between self-regulation and cognitive skills, and
    (e) the effects of stress on intelligence."
  • Searching for Justice—The Discovery of IQ Gains Over Time, by James R. Flynn, University of Otago

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

What I've Been Reading, July 2018

This month, I've moved further in the direction of curating this list and added new sections for topics that particularly interest me. In the context of this blog, that is—I'm leaving out woodworking articles, recipes and most politics, so far.

I don't put a great deal of effort into hunting for articles on any particular topic, so the size of each section will vary from month to month. Also, for the most part, the articles are listed in the order I found them.




Peak Oil

Climate Change

Economic Contraction

The Scientific Consensus

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

I just started this category this month and the moment I did articles that fit started popping up everywhere I looked, so the list is probably a little unbalanced in this direction this month.

  • How a Young Woman Lost Her Identity, by Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker
    Hannah Upp disappears for weeks at a time, forgetting her sense of self. Can she still be found?
  • "Find Your Passion" Is Awful Advice, by Olga Khazan, Medium—The Atlantic
    A major new study questions the common wisdom about how we should choose our careers.
  • What Do 90-Somethings Regret Most?, by Lydia Sohn, Medium
    I interviewed the oldest people I know. Their responses contradict popular research about aging and happiness.
  • Why you shouldn’t share your goals, by Aytekin Tank, Medium—The Startup
  • Caves all the way down, by Jules Evans, Aeon
    Do psychedelics give access to a universal, mystical experience of reality, or is that just a culture-bound illusion?
    " do we know if our trips reveal ‘ultimate reality’ or just the reflection of our subconscious?"
    It may be that this should have gone in the "scientific consensus" section, since it is written by someone with a preconceived notion who is willing "hold his ideas to critical account" (and good for him):
    "I am a fan of the mystical theory of psychedelics. I have accepted it since I first read Huxley’s Doors of Perception as a mushroom-munching teenager. I have had mystical-type experiences on psychedelics that have been deeply important in my life (as well as some awful experiences). However, like all academics, I need to be able to hold my ideas to critical account, or otherwise stop pretending to be a researcher and leave the academy to start a religion (as Timothy Leary did in 1966 with the League for Spiritual Discovery, which used LSD as its holy sacrament). So, in the spirit of critical enquiry, I want to suggest that there are several problems with the mystical theory of psychedelics."
  • The Wisdom of the Sloth: Is Sleep a Lost Virtue?, by Joel Frohlich , Knowing Neurons
    "We are with sleep where we were with smoking 50 years ago. We had all of the evidence about the … disease issues, but the public had not been aware, no one had adequately communicated the science of, you know, smoking to the public. The same I think is true for sleep right now."
  • How Do I Stop Forgetting What I Learned So Quickly?, by William Cho, Medium—Student Voices
  • 'Boy or girl?' Parents raising 'theybies' let kids decide, by Julie Compton, NBC News
    "One way of shielding children from gender stereotypes: Keep their biological sex secret."
    I suspect there are quite a few socially conservative people around who will have trouble with this and make trouble for children being raised a theybies. Just chill.
  • You Might Not Actually Be Struggling With Depression, by Benjamin Sledge, Medium—Heart Support
    But you may be dealing with depression’s lesser known evil twin.


Refugees and Migration

Puerto Rico

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage, UBI

  • Where Financial Inequality Is Rampant, by, Niall McCarthy, Statista, The Statistics Portal
  • What It Really Means to Be Marginalized, by Thrity Umriga, Medium
    Growing up amid the beggars and laborers of Mumbai, I wanted to know what it was like to live their lives.
  • The United States Has a National-Security Problem—and It’s Not What You Think, by Rajan Menon, TheNation
    Conflict abroad is not the biggest threat to most Americans’ lives.
    It’s time to rethink the American national security state with its annual trillion-dollar budget. For tens of millions of Americans, the source of deep workaday insecurity isn’t the standard roster of foreign enemies, but an ever-more entrenched system of inequality, still growing, that stacks the political deck against the least well-off Americans. They lack the bucks to hire big-time lobbyists. They can’t write lavish checks to candidates running for public office or fund PACs. They have no way of manipulating the myriad influence-generating networks that the elite uses to shape taxation and spending policies. They are up against a system in which money truly does talk—and that’s the voice they don’t have. Welcome to the United States of Inequality.
  • You can’t just put homeless people in tiny houses, by Miles Howard, The Outline
    Rather than confront America’s housing crisis head-on, some cities are asking homeowners to build tiny rental units in their backyard.

Autonomous Vehicles and Artificial Intelligence



I was reading both the John Barnes books for a second or third time, but they deserve it.


I'm still wading slowly through The Bell Curve, in order to be able to criticize it with some degree of credibility. Less than 200 pages to go at this point. This has also lead to reading some scholarly articles about IQ on the web, further slowing down my other reading. I did manage to read a couple of non-fiction books this month, though.

  • The Informed Gardener, by Linda Chalker-Scott
    Disappointingly, this is mainly about landscape gardening. But it does do some pretty significant debunking.
  • Democracy in Chains, by Nancy MacLean
    My eldest son Michael lent me this book. It answers a question he and I have often pondered, "Why do people vote against their own interests?" The answer is clearly that a great deal of money has been spent to convince us that our best interests lie with the very rich and their right to accumulate more wealth, regardless of the effect on us.
  • The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, by Kristin Miller,
    A Q&A with author Nancy MacLean about the elusive James McGill Buchanan. MacLean's book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, tells the story of one James McGill Buchanan, a Southern political scientist and father of “public choice economics".
    If you don't read the book, at least read this interview.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Preparing for Collapse, A Few Rants

Beans and Squash in My Front Yard Garden

For a while now I been promising that when I got some other things out of the way, I'd actually talk about preparing for collapse. And that is just what I'm going to be doing in this and the next few posts.

Unfortunately, my crystal ball isn't any better than anybody else's, probably worse than some. What I'll be recommending will reflect my own biases and weaknesses. But even so, I think I do have some insights that will be of value to many people.

Among these insights are a few things that I feel the need to rant about. Let's get that out of the way first.

Rant 1: A Fast and Hard Collapse, NOT

I should admit that by using the phrase "preparing for collapse" I am really being somewhat misleading. As I see it, collapse is not a single event that will occur at some point in the future, but a process that has already been going on for several decades, since the oil shocks of the 70s. Progress has been coasting slowly to a stop while collapse gains momentum. This will continue.

I certainly don't buy into the whole idea of a hard, fast, apocalyptic collapse. That is a fantasy that allows us to imagine getting rid of many of the less pleasant aspects of modern life all at once. Get it over with and start fresh, so to speak. In particular, I think many people see the complete and final collapse of the financial system as freeing them from oppressive debts and jobs they hate. A pretty drastic way to solve those problems....

And of course many of us have been influenced by apocalyptic fiction. A sudden and cataclysmic event certainly sets the stage for a dramatic story. But let's try to keep reality and fiction clearly separated in our thinking here.

At any rate, what I want to talk about is how to survive the slow and unsteady collapse that I believe we are experiencing, so that is what I'm going to do. There is much less to be said about surviving hard, fast, widespread collapse because it is much harder to do and there are fewer strategies that are likely to succeed. Still, much of what I have to say would apply to some extent, should I turn out to be wrong and things all fall apart all at once.

As I have said before this that collapse has been and will continue to be uneven geographical, unsteady chronologically, and unequal socially. Certainly there will occasionally be sudden downward bumps, but in some locations more than others and effecting various social strata differently. And then there will be a partial recovery and things will carry on for a while, somewhat worse than they were before.

This will continue on for quite a few more decades before we finally reach the bottom and the dust begins to settle. At that point, in a few lucky locations, there will still be people arguing that nothing much has really changed. For most of us, though, it will be clear that a great deal has changed and not for the better. Already the world is significantly different than it was when I was young and the strategies that served well in those days are not something I would recommend now.

Perhaps most importantly, we'll need to recognize that collapse is happening and act appropriately rather than carrying on doing the same old thing, trying to fine tune a system that is fundamentally broken and wondering why things don't improve.

Rant 2: Lifeboats and Eco-Villages, NOT

For quite a while yet it will not be feasible for most of us to completely sever our ties with BAU (Business as Usual). We'll find ourselves going in two directions at once, trying to prepare for collapse while still being dependent for many of the necessities of life on the very system that is collapsing. Of course, part of our preparation will consist of reducing key dependencies. But it is challenging to reduce those dependencies when BAU can supply our needs for less than they can be produced locally. This makes it hard to earn much of living as a local, sustainable producer—the prices you have to charge mean that only those who are well off can afford to indulge themselves with your products.

Many have suggested setting up a lifeboat community or an eco-village in a remote location and waving BAU goodbye. Some days it is tempting, but there's a long list of problems with that approach. It's hard to find a group of people who are both interested, willing to sever their ties with BAU and competent. It costs a lot of money to set up such a project. There are getting to be fewer and fewer remote areas that BAU has not claimed and/or spoiled, and where the locals would welcome you. Those that are left are less than ideal (to cold, too hot, too dry, too wet, poor soil, etc.). In any area where farming is feasible, there are likely to be property taxes and building codes. So you can't completely withdraw from the money based economy if you are going to pay your taxes, and it may be difficult to build the way you'd like to without running afoul of the building code.

Better to reconcile ourselves to having a foot in both worlds for now, and whole heartedly become a part of the communities in which we find ourselves living. We can quietly prepare for the day when BAU is more obviously faltering and local production can compete successfully. Of course some communities are more suitable for this than others.

Rant 3: Renewable Energy and Eco-Modernism, NOT

There are some people who recognize problems like peak oil and climate change but think they can be solved by switching over to high tech, low-carbon renewables (mainly wind and solar) and re-organizing things to be more efficient, allowing us to go right on with a green washed version of BAU, and keep the economy growing. These folks don't understand the economic problems with the low EROEI of renewable energy sources, or the degree to which those energy sources are dependent on fossil fuels for their manufacture, installation, operation and maintenance.

Eco-modernism is a particularly egregious example of a plan to fix our problems using technology. It relies on the idea of absolute decoupling. That is, being able to reduce our impact on the resource base and environment while still improving our standard of living and allowing the economy and our population to grow. So far, our best efforts have only achieved a small amount of relative decoupling. That is, at best, increases in population and standard of living have led to slightly less than proportional increases in impact, but nothing approaching decreases in impact.

Looking realistically at what technology can do, I find it hard to see how it could be otherwise and expect that collapse will force us to reduce both our population and level of consumption. At such lower levels of consumption, energy use and technology, renewable energy sources such as biomass, wind, moving water and passive solar will no doubt supply essentially all of the energy we use. But nowhere near enough to support the sort of high tech industrial civilization we have today.

Rant 4: Violence, NOT

Violence is another area where ideas based on apocalyptic fiction are likely to lead you astray. Conflict is necessary to make a story move along, and a long tradition of collapse porn saturated with interpersonal and inter-group violence has lead many people to see that as the only way things can unfold. Food becomes short, the "have-nots" go after the "haves" and mayhem ensures. This may make good reading, but it's not so much fun in reality, and certainly not something I'm interested in.

So, I am not a survivalist, and you won't find me talking much here about security and defense. There are lots of other sources of that sort of information, if it interests you. I'm more interested in not being where the fighting is likely to break out and setting things up in the community where I am so that co-operation is a more likely outcome than serious conflict. Like giving people better alternatives than violence, meeting them with food rather than guns. The trick is being able to do so.

Rant 5: Back to the Good Old Days, NOT

A number of well known voices in the "collapse sphere" have claimed that recent advances in social justice such as feminism and equal rights for LGBTQ people are likely to be rolled back during collapse. The argument is that these freedoms are possible only in a society with lots of surplus resources. These guys are men who are obviously uncomfortable with what they see as disadvantageous changes to the power structure of our society. They have a socially conservative fantasy of collapse putting them back in charge. But really, that is not the way it works.

First of all, while we will be returning to levels of energy use and material consumption that were common one or two or even more centuries in the past, it isn't really possible to go back to the way things were then. We are starting from a different place, we know a lot of things now that we didn't back then, and formerly oppressed people who have been given a chance at equality aren't going to give it up so easily.

Second, if you look across the world and throughout history, the patriarchy is far from universal and many societies working at very much lower levels of consumption than ours have functioned quite well as matriarchies or anarchies. A patriarchy is neither the most natural way to organize human societies nor the most efficient.

I am an old white guy too, if I can accept social changes, so can you.

Rant 6: Saving the World, NOT

Some have accused me of being out to save the world. It's pretty clear that by the world, they mean "Business As Usual" and in my opinion that world needs not to be saved, but to be shut down as quickly as possible. Sadly, this isn't going to happen voluntarily. Too many powerful people and institutions have a vested interest in keeping things going as they are. Heading straight toward collapse, in other words. A collapse that will see a drastic reduction in human population and consumption of resources per capita. This isn't going to be much fun to live through and many of us won't. The only good thing about it is that it will be the undoing of the very system that caused it. And when it is over it may be possible to continue on in a more modest, less destructive way.

Rant 7: Crunchies and Woo

I've noticed lately that posts on this blog often draw positive comments from people who go on to make it clear that they are "Crunchies" who believe in one sort or another of idea that isn't supported by the evidence, that isn't reality based—what I call "woo". After they've said such nice things to me, I always feel bad having to break it to them that I don't agree. Most of these folks are organic farmers or gardeners, who have bought into the "naturalistic fallacy" and think that everything that's natural must be good for you. In fact the products of organic farming and conventional farming about equal in terms of safety these days. That's good news for the many people who can't afford pricey organic food and don't have a garden to grow their own. The bad news is that both conventional and organic farming are also about equally unsustainable, mainly due to their reliance on energy from fossil fuels. We need to develop a "sustainable farming" that's based on science, not woo.

The tagline for this blog is "A reality based approach to life in the age of scarcity." When I use the terms "evidence based" or "reality based", I mean ideas that are supported by the scientific consensus. Many people today unfortunately believe that the scientific consensus supports BAU, and that's no wonder since BAU does its best to encourage that view. Fortunately, it's not true. The scientific consensus support some things on the Crunchy side and some things on the BAU side, because those things happen to be true. The scientific method is an excellent tool for filtering out biases, political or otherwise. There really isn't any good reason for ignoring its results.

But to be clear, comments from Crunchies of every sort are welcome here, just be aware of what the project of this blog really is and, that if you are pedlling woo, you'll get a gentle but firmly negative response.

But enough ranting for now. Time to talk about what we can do to prepare for the continuing process of collapse. We need to anticipate where current trends are taking us, and harder still, when things as likely to reach a tipping point and changing more drastically.

First off, I'd say that if you are new to this, give it a year or so to sink in before making any big decisions, and don't do anything rash in the meantime. Then you may want to consider some changes in the way you are living. What those changes might be will be the subject of my next few posts.

We'll be considering the following subjects, and probably a few more:

  • where you want to be—where bad things are less likely to happen
  • who you want to be with—people you know, trust and can work with
  • what you are doing—something that can support you, and allow you to develop the skills and accumulate the resources you will need

While waiting for my next post (these things often take a while), here are a few links to articles which may be of help:

On this blog:

Sharon Astyk hasn't been very active as a writer lately, but her earlier writings are a great source of practical advice on "Adapting in Place", which is exactly the sort of preparation I'd advise you to do.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Autobiographical Notes, Part 5: Becoming a Kollapsnik

Kincardine Community Garden

In the process of writing these autobiographical notes (1, 2, 3, 4), I realized how much living through the downsizing and breakup of Ontario Hydro prepared me to accept the ideas of Peak Oil and the Limits to Growth. I had learned a lot about the limitations of both human organizations and technology as solutions for our problems.

Then I watched my kids and their spouses spend their time as members of the "precariat", working underpaid, part time and totally insecure jobs. They never joined the ranks of the homeless, but on several occasions that was only because I was there to help. Many others are not so fortunate. This convinced me that our society is already failing miserably, not even capable of providing the basic needs of many of its members. This despite the fact that others, sheltered from reality by their wealth and privilege, see this as the best of times, with nothing but further progress in sight for the future.

In 2005 I retired from Hydro One at age 51. Typically people in that position start accumulating toys and having fun with them (hopefully—the fun seems to be the hard part). This is often financed by going back to work on contract for Hydro One, OPG or Bruce Power, collecting an excellent wage and a pension as well. But if I had wanted to go on working I would have stayed in the job I already had.

C&I Graphics, my design, printing and sign making company kept me busy about half of the available working hours, which was enough. For the first time in years I managed to get enough sleep. But I also knew about Peak Oil and the likelihood of it leading to some sort of crash/collapse. Such a crash would mean that neither my pension or my business could be relied on to support my family and I. My mind inevitably turned to preparing for what was coming.

You might ask, why not get involved in some sort of activism? Well, it seems to me that the efforts of most activists are focused on bandaid fixes to minor aspects of the problems facing us, and that they are unlikely to have any great amount of success because doing so would rock the "business as usual" (BAU) boat too much. Further, the activist themselves are highly invested in the continuation of BAU, even though it lies at the heart of the problems they claim to want fixed.

The only exception that comes to mind would by activism in the service of identity politics, where there has been some success in addressing racial and LGBTQ issues. Probably because the changes these people are seeking don't much threaten BAU. I congratulate these folks on their successes, but identity politics has little to do with the issues that concern me most.

In any case, it was clear to me that what we faced was a predicament, not a problem. In other words, something that couldn't be solved but to which we would just have to adapt. My main concern was, and is, to determine what those adaptations need to be and get started making them. BAU is doomed and there is no chance that we'll fix what's wrong with it before it is too late. But I do believe that being well prepared will greatly increase one's chances of making it through collapse relatively undamaged.

If you weren't there, I would guess that it is difficult to imagine the degree of panic in the peak oil community in the years leading up to 2008. It really seemed like we were facing a hard, fast crash and it was going to happen soon.

Almost everyone these days is dependent on the global infrastructure network for the very necessities of life. An economic crash, an energy crisis, the many consequences of climate change, either jointly or severally, all promised to damage that network and leave us in a very tough spot. As a former employee of an infrastructure company, the failure of infrastructure seems quite plausible to me. Indeed I was personally involved in the efforts to patch the power grid back together following the widespread outage in north eastern North America in August of 2003. This sort of thing was not some hypothetical possibility to me, but rather a very immediate reality.

And I had always had a keen interest in doing things for myself, making things and understanding how things work, which lead easily enough to a collapse preparation mindset. The only question was how exactly to start preparing. Even in 2006 I didn't think collapse would be sudden and permanent. I've written at length about this, but the upshot is that, initially at least, being prepared for relatively short infrastructure outages would be a big help.

I'm somewhat concerned that the following will be taken as virtue signaling or boasting. It has happened before—I prepare a list of things I've done to prepare for collapse, and somebody sees it as a challenge. Nothing could be further from my intention, which is more to show you how I have put a lot of effort into not actually accomplishing very much.

We built our house in 1982 with energy efficiency in mind. We have R40 in the walls, R60 in the attic, double pane windows (lots of them facing south), well insulated and sealed doors and an air exchanger to maintain air quality.

We have electric heat, with a long range plan to add a wood stove, which we never seem to get around to. The expense of having a chimney built is probably the biggest obstacle, even though the foundation for the chimney was part of the initial build. But hopefully later this year we'll get started on that project.

As it turned out, overheating in the summer was a bigger problem than being cold in the winter. In mid 1980s we put in an attic fan, which was a big help since it almost always cools off in the evening here and we can cool the house by drawing in cooler air from outside.

In 2007 we built a set of awnings to go over the south and west windows on the main floor. This stops the house from heating up during the day in the summer. We take the awnings down in the fall to let the sun in for the winter and put them up again in the spring. A bit of extra work, but worth the trouble. And the awnings have worked well enough that we didn't have to replace our window air conditioning unit when it failed.

Kincardine is often very cloudy in the winter, so solar heating is less effective here than you might think. Our large south facing windows are sometimes more of a liability than a asset in the winter. Over the last few years I built insulating panels to slip into the windows to reduce heat loss. But there are a couple of problems with this.

You have to get a good air seal on the warm side of the panels, or warm moisture laden air gets to the cold side and condenses, which isn't good for the wooden window frames. I haven't found a solution that allows the panels to be taken in and out easily, on a daily basis, but "tuck tape", normally used for sealing joints in vapour barrier, works well for those panels that can be left in all winter.

The other thing is that when the sun does shine on a window with an insulating panel in it, it really heats up the sunny side of the panels, enough to crack the window glass. We've only had this happen once so far. But this past winter I pulled back to just putting the panels in windows that are shaded most of the winter. I'm looking for a seal that would allow the panels to be inserted and removed easily.

At any rate, our house is well enough insulated and sealed that it takes a fairly long power outage before the temperature inside drops much. So far, most power outages hereabouts are less than 8 hours long, during which time the temperature in the house only drops a few degrees.

It was pretty clear to me by 2006 that food would be a major problem during a collapse and I had always had an interest in gardening and cooking. That spring, I set up a garden in raised beds in our front yard. We have continued with this since then, gradually expanding and improving the garden.

But our front yard is not large and limits the amount of food we can grow. In 2010 a community garden started up in Kincardine and I became involved, taking one plot in 2010 and 2 plots ever since then. Since 2015 I have been the co-ordinator for the garden, keeping things running fairly smoothly and interfacing with the municipality, which is actually quite supportive.

Even so, we still don't have a lot of garden space, certainly not enough to be anywhere near self-sufficient, even in the vegetables that grow well around here. For a couple of years, 2012 and 2013, we had some space in the large garden of friends who have a farm north of Kincardine. The gardens worked out well, as did sharing the space, but it was too far from home, too much time spent driving and I was still running C&I Graphics, so time was at a premium.

I have more time now that C&I is gone, but I'm co-ordinating the Community Garden, writing this blog and spending time with our grand kids, so we haven't tried to expand the gardens any further.

The space we have is enough to let us learn what works around here and how to cope with the problems that inevitably come up. That first year we used the techniques in the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew, but we learned the limits of that method pretty quickly. The plants are quite close together and in raised beds. You have to use really rich soil to support that sort of density, and even with good soil, there is a limit to how close together plants can be and prosper, since they are competing for sunlight. The raised beds are good in that they warm up and dry out earlier in the spring so you can get a head start on the season. But they dry out quicker in the summer and must be watered religiously.

The good news is that we live in the middle of a productive farming area and no one hereabouts need fear starvation in the event of a collapse, provided someone can organize a switchover to production for local consumption and the use of farming techniques that don't require a global scale network of suppliers.

In the short run, I am more concerned about occasional interruptions in deliveries. So we started, as far back as 2006, to stock more food in the house, using the "store what you eat, eat what you store" method. Turns out that it's convenient to mostly have everything we need in the house and it saves money to stock up during sales and to buy in bulk.

Beyond the food storage, we've also worked on being well prepared for emergencies. I've written more about that in a couple of posts in the early days of this blog, here and here.

Carolynn and I have always enjoyed cooking from scratch, having learned a lot from our mothers and grandmothers. I've been baking bread for more than 40 years now. We have a couple of hand cranked flour mills, some grain in stock and more is available locally. During the last few years I've taken up cheese making.

We've made an effort to reduce the waste we produce, composting everything that is compostable, switching to cloth shopping bags, and cloth rags instead of paper towels, using less, repairing what can be fixed, reusing where possible, and recycling.

In addition to the gardening, bread and cheese making, I've been developing a number of useful skills, including wood working and blade sharpening, and weaving willow baskets from willow I've harvested locally.

But no man is an island and it soon became clear to me that all my efforts would be easier as part of a like minded community. So I set out to find a group of people to prepare with and rely on. This turned out to be even harder than I had expected.

I started mentioning what I was finding out about collapse to friends and family. Most rejected the idea as absurd, only a very few even really listened to what I had to say and fewer still ended up agreeing with me.

Around 2010 I started hearing about the Transition Town Movement, got myself a copy of the Transition Handbook and began wondering how to get a Transition Town started here in Kincardine. I am not any sort of extrovert and had no idea of how to get a group of people together.

One day in the spring of 2011 some people from the local anti wind turbine group dropped by my print shop to pick up some posters I had printed for them at the same time as one of the members of the Meaford Transition Town group came to pick up some Farmers Market flyers. We got talking about Transition and decided to try to set up a group in Kincardine. Something that would be more positive than the negative activism the anti wind people were involved in (as they themselves said).

In 2011 and 2012 Transition was a big thing in Southern Ontario, but since then it has petered out and you hardly hear about it at all. I've since talked to a number of people and heard that there is a tendency for the transition groups to be co-opted by activists (various sorts of "antis") and used as platform to further their goals, with transition (preparation for collapse) soon fading into the background.

Anyway, we had several meetings and set up the Penetagore Transition Town in the summer/fall of 2011. I met some new people, some of whom became good friends. But there was a lot of "woo" (beliefs not supported by evidence) that rubbed me the wrong way. Still, I had read that Transition Towns were often made up of a mix of such folks and rationalists, and if you didn't make a big deal of it, it was possible for them to work together effectively. So I hung in there.

It wasn't long, though, before it became clear that many of the people in the group were activists and looking for something to fight against rather than something positive to do, despite what they had originally said. The issue of bringing natural gas to Kincardine came up and they were eager to oppose it. When it became clear that this was the direction the Transition Town really wanted to go, I dropped out of the group and then it pretty much fell apart. Nothing more has been done since then, but I am happy to say that I am back on speaking terms with everyone who was involved. That's an important thing in a town this small and who knows what may develop in the future.

In the fall of 2011 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and in the winter of 2012, while recovering from the surgery, I started this blog. I was writing to take out some of the frustration I felt.

Since the enlightenment, the scientific method has enabled us to build up a good bit of reliable knowledge about the world we live in, always subject to revision as that same method refines and expands what we know. This "scientific consensus" is really the best understanding we have and you'd be a fool to ignore it, even though it is far from a final and absolute truth. But many ideologies today would have us believe whatever suits them, regardless of what the scientific consensus says. Two of those ideologies are of primary interest here.

On one side we have what I've been calling BAU (Business as Usual), made up people who believe that business can just continue along as usual, that we live in the best of times and that progress will continue and keep making things even better. Unfortunately this implies that humanity and the economy will keep growing. Most people don't see any woo in that, but such exponential growth has inevitable consequences, especially on a finite planet like ours. I talked about this at greater length in a post entitled the Biggest Lie.

Industrial civilization has turned out to be a wonderful device for turning natural resources into pollution, while producing a small amount of comfort and convenience for a few of the more fortunate of its members. Unfortunately there are finite quantities of both natural resources and sinks for pollution on this planet and BAU refuses to recognize this. We are currently running into some of these limits: depletion of fossil fuels, climate change, ocean acidification, shrinking habitat space and so on. Even if we find a way around one limit, we'll soon run into another. This was explained very clearly in The Limits to Growth, a book which I reviewed in great detail in a series of posts back in 2016.

One of the greatest "achievements" of BAU is the way it has convinced almost everyone that it is "scientific"—science and progress are firmly linked together in our minds, even though the scientific consensus clearly points out what's wrong with BAU.

To make the situation even worse, it seems that there is very little chance that BAU will change. The short term interests of a great many powerful people and institutions count on BAU continuing on its present course.

On the other side we have the counter culture, what I call the "Crunchies", who see what's wrong with BAU and would like to fix it. But they are fooled by BAU's claims about science and thus refuse to accept much of the scientific consensus. In the process they end up believing in a lot of things that aren't supported by the evidence—woo, in other words.

Sadly this means that many of the efforts made by Crunchies to change the world for the better are misdirected and a lot of effort is spent fighting things that aren't doing any harm while ignoring things that are.

My position is that of being a Crunchy (opposed to BAU), but without the woo. Indeed if I had it to do again, I'd probably call this blog "Crunchy Without the Woo". Starting in May of 2016 I discussed this idea in a series of post entitled "BAU, Crunchies and Woo".

Surprisingly, I've found there are a few other people in the world who think like this, and a number of them are regular readers of this blog. We don't agree 100% on everything, but then no one does. And that is something we all need to keep in mind while we are searching for people we can work with. We also need to keep in mind that people (including me) aren't all of a piece—we hold a variety of beliefs, some of which reflect reality and some which do not. And of course this is not a black and white thing, but a range of grays. It is quite possible to work together with people who are just reasonably close to being "of the same mind", and to reach decisions by consensus where everyone is just fairly happy with the results. Especially in the life and death situations we will face as collapse progresses, when it will be more important to survive that be proven absolutely right on every issue.

I find myself especially drawn to "working together in groups for mutual support". This idea has immense potential to insulate the members of such groups from the chaos in the world around them and to meet their human needs in ways that BAU does not do well even now and will do even less so as time passes. Indeed I would say that the formation and operation of such groups is at the heart of the response we need to make to the collapse of BAU.

I think many different variations on this theme need to be tried in order to see what works and what doesn't. And we need to be open to adopting what works for other people and discarding that parts of our own approach that aren't working. I am a big fan of "dissensus", which is the opposite of consensus, and consists of agreeing to disagree and wishing the other guy well while he goes his own way. In the coming decades, as energy become less available and the economy contracts and can no longer support the current level of centralization and complexity, we will be forced to decentralize, relocalize and simplify our society. Under these conditions, dissensus will become somewhat easier—we simply won't have the wherewithal to force our ideas on other groups, nor they on us.

Within these groups, we will find ourselves not worrying so much about a rigid ideology, and more about friendship and helping each other when the going gets tough. So the thing to do now is find some friends and practice getting along with them. This is by no means easy, but it is the direction we need to be heading. It is encouraging to find, that even though I am an introvert and quite shy, I have a fairly large network of acquaintances to draw upon—the people I knew while working at Ontario Hydro/Hydro One, the customers and suppliers I got to know while running C&I Graphics, the people at the Community Garden, my wife's large family (including our own kids and grandkids) and her far ranging networks, the group of guys organized by my friend Dave Leigh, who get together with regularly for coffee, and the people his wife Sylvia gets together to play trivia once a month at the Royal Canadian Legion.

Well, I think that just about finishes up my series of autobiographical notes. Next time I'm planning to start a new series of posts, looking in more detail at strategies for living through collapse.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

What I've Been Reading, June 2018

This note used to say that the links below appear in the order I read them and was meant imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. Recently I started a few new sections at the bottom of the links on subjects that are of particular interest to me. But I can see that as time passes I am moving to a greater degree of "curation", which the dictionary tells me is about organizing and maintaining a collection. Applied to this collection of links and books I guess this will mean selecting links less randomly and trying to make them relevant in the context of this blog and whatever is going on in the world during the month.

But my originally statement still applies to the first section of links—they are pretty much random and just in the order I read them.



Refugees and Migration

  • Five myths about the refugee crisis, by Daniel Trilling, The Guardian
    " likely is it that states which treat migrants with such callousness will behave similarly towards their own citizens?"

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage




I'm still wading slowly through The Bell Curve, in order to be able to criticize it with some degree of credibility. Almost half way through at this point. This has also lead to reading some scholarly articles about IQ on the web, further slowing down my other reading. I did read a couple of short non-fiction works this month, though.

  • This is Water, by David Foster Wallace
    "Some thoughts, delivered on a significant occasion, about living a compassionate life."
    As a committed atheist, I don't agree with the author's thoughts on the impossibility of not worshipping. I do agree that many people do worship things other than God, that are a bad or worse than God. But the important part is what the author has to say about the importance of seeing things from the other guy's viewpoint.
  • Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, by David Graeber
    An excellent little book about anarchism.