Monday, October 5, 2009

Resource Valuation

Money is the measuring stick by which we assign value to the ingredients of our lives. Whether it is food, medicine, or shelter, we assign a monetary value to the particular object of our expenditure.

A most interesting post at shows just what an error often results from presuming a common value to energy resources. Value to these resources should be based on its source, its available quantity and what it can do in terms of efficiency or actual work.

John Michael Greer is the writer of the piece and he makes the following interesting observation:

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith criticizes the notion – as common in his time as in ours – that money is the same thing as wealth. The wealth of a country, he points out, consists of the product of its natural resources and collective labor: in modern terms, it’s the sum total of the goods and services produced by a nation’s ecosystems and economy. In another place, though, he defines wealth as anything that can be valued in money. These definitions do not conflict with one another; rather, they make the crucial point that money is not wealth but the yardstick by which modern cultures measure wealth. This ought to be the first thing we teach children about money, though of course it isn’t.

Greer goes on to point out that economists erroneously apply the principles enunciated by Smith to reach the conclusion that the market will cure all ills.

This habit of thought pervades contemporary economics. For a relevant example, watch the way most economists these days brush aside the immense challenges of peak oil with the assurance that if oil ever does get scarce, the market will come up with alternatives. Implicit in this claim is the assumption that any energy source is as good as any other, and that the total amount in the system is effectively unlimited. This is true of money – one dollar bill is worth exactly the same amount as any other, and the total number of dollars in circulation is as close to limitless, these days, as the printing presses of the US Treasury can make it – but it is emphatically not true of energy resources, or of any other form of wealth.

All in all, Greer’s article is well written and worthy of a read by anyone who is concerned about the future. It further illustrates the need for a future society committed to cooperation in the utilization of finite resources.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Does The Dream Live On?

Recently, we witnessed the death of the last Kennedy brother. Progressives of the world wept while others cast a skeptical eye toward the legacy of the last great warrior of Camelot.

The fawning of the popular press is a good thing. It keeps analysis of any event within certain boundaries. Certainly, nothing less than honesty will do as history looks to the past and judges just who were the Kennedy’s and what did they bring to our great nation?

First, we must start with wealth. The wealth of the Kennedy family was accumulated in the days when resources were plentiful and efforts to “get all you could get” were not a comment of degradation. Interestingly, many on the right still profess that same philosophy with regard to shrinking resources of the present day.

Although an exponentially expanding population commands the exercise of responsibility in the utilization of what remains on the banquet table of civilization, there are those who decry the necessity for cooperation as humankind moves forward to (to borrow a phrase) a “new frontier” in the evolution of how we live and how we interact with one another.

Times are always changing as the circumstances of existence shift. Today, some are heart broken at the death of a man who, in days of yesteryear, lived much of his early private life in a manner that was already outdated and never in accord with the strictest standards of public approbation. Yet, this same man sought to bring others to the bar of public accountability. Some examples include his opposition to a former president who eschewed a respect for constitutional rights of the individual, including attempts to place unsuitable persons on the Supreme Court. Yes, the opposition of might and right to that former president and some later holders of the presidency appeared in the unlikely fa├žade of a warrior with feet of clay. The silver haired “lion of the senate” rallied the media and public attention to these threats of danger to the republic. He continued to fight similar battles as the years passed. He never faltered in his efforts to provide the counter balance to certain conservative opinion, a counter balance so essential for the survival of a viable democracy.

All of which raises the question: Do we disregard the evil some would do to all of us? Do we disregard evil simply because he who defends us against that evil is not without sin? In my mind, we leap over the horns of the dilemma and save ourselves in response to the clarion call of the defender. We do not sleep silently while the storm rages destruction simply because the “wake up” call comes from one, who in his earlier personal life, practiced a life style which we could not endorse. No, we proceed to the ramparts to preserve that which is best in our society. We repel those who intentionally or mindlessly seek the downfall of all in favor of individual greed. Notably, it is a circle come to fruition as we observe that the valiant watchman and defender, whose altruistic actions saved us, originally came himself from wealth accumulated as a result of values outdated in our world.

So, in a maudlin way, good does triumph over evil. In the words of the late senator, “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Relax, Don't Panic

When we look at the “system” of creation and reality as most of us perceive it, a natural reaction is to panic and seek a solution to climate control, peak oil and other threats. This is a good thing. This is how civilization changes to cope with different circumstances.
Tools exist to help us deal with these matters. Technological avenues are explored. We define the problem. We begin to plot the solution, legislate it and eventually implement it despite the cries of those trapped by ignorance.
But the best laid plans can never escape the improbable, the event or events that are unseen and unexpected when they intervene. We cannot see or know that which we do not know.
Today we are told in some quarters that despite best efforts, it is too late. Human kind has soiled its nest, its earth, beyond the limits of redemption. The ice caps will melt, the oceans will flood, and our species will be extinguished.
A brief visit to shows the fallacy of such thinking. Human audacity is found in the egotism of despair. It is not a world that belongs to “us”. It is a world of which we are a part. Notably, even church clerics are coming around to this point of view in theological terms. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sent some shock waves through the religious community lately with her espousal of this idea. Go to and read it for yourself.
In no way is it recommended that humankind, in a spirit of despair, desist from efforts to rectify damage to mother earth. Rather, such efforts should be redoubled with the confidence that although the outcome is almost a certainty, the earth will remain to rotate in time around the sun as long as the universe exists.
We have to come to peace with our place as a part of the earth, as opposed to being its dominator. Rest assured that while we bear responsibility to comport ourselves in a way that helps to continue the existence of this wonderful reality we enjoy, we must never forget our place as a mere part of it all.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Life Energy

An interesting speaker on a recent NPR program captured my attention as he opined that we live in a “culture of anticipation”. Perhaps that is what is wrong with all of us. We are always anticipating the next event. No one is content to sit and simply accept the NOW ! No one wants to simply listen to their own heartbeat.

Well, for my money, such a non-activity sounds pretty boring all right! Does this mean that I am an adrenalin junkie? Nope, and neither are most of the rest of us that are still alive. Sitting and watching a beautiful landscape is okay. Watching the birds and the clouds is okay. But just sitting and not even being engaged in reflection? Man, you gotta be stoned or, in my world, very weird.

This is not a cultural trait as much as it is a trait indigenous to our species. I believe that everyone, outside of some practitioners of certain mystical eastern religions, lives a life of anticipation to some extent. Because we are cognizant of a past, present and a future, we cannot help but wonder what that future holds for us. As we age, the envisioning of those events can become depressing for a lot of individuals. The reason for the depression is that we direct our attention to a long term future of which we cannot be a part.

I believe the solution to this problem is to envision and be a part of events in which we can expect to be a participant in the future. The tree we plant today will shelter our descendants within its shade and provide those descendants with fruit many years from now.

If we view ourselves as a form of energy that is expended over time, you begin to see why I believe it is imperative to exercise some thought in the choice of the individual activities that will fill that time period. Because my dog cannot imagine tomorrow’s bowl of dog food, he won’t think about it until I begin to fill the food bowl. At that moment, he will realize that food time is now! And he will jump around in his exultation and anticipation of the food he sees that he is about to receive.

In that same way, a lot of people waste their precious energy on activities that fill their day but do nothing to make the world of today a better place for eons of tomorrows. For instance, gobs of activities are out there upon which we can expend our life energy.

Certainly the first item upon which we are required to spend some life energy is insuring that we maintain that energy as long as possible through the process of eating. In order to eat, we must usually earn money through some process. Some of us, however, have finished that portion of our lives where we are required to work for food--or so we think. We believe that our pensions, savings or other entity will provide for our future. Let's rethink that subject.

The world is presently entering an era where population, always expanding exponentially, is bereft of the means of individual energy maintenance. At least there is not be the means to maintain the individual energies of everyone on the globe.

But wait! We have been there before. Starvation, plague and war have done their part to resolve the issue in previous times. In addition, our knowledge has expanded and permitted increased agriculture productivity and medical advances. A globe intertwined with trade and commercialism has also aided the cause. Accordingly, a normal question to ask is why should we not expect the situation to continue?

The question of whether the situation will continue is one that can safely, absent a nuclear Holocaust, be answered in the affirmative.. At the same time, remember that the depth and breadth of the situation to be treated by natural means (starvation and disease) may be much, much larger as many more individuals will soon face the life effacing tonic required to cure an ailing world.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Canada: Pointing The Way Forward?

For more than a year now, with minor exceptions, we have explored the idea of the coming new age and its requirement for greater cooperation in the utilization of limited resources on a finite planet burdened by an exponentially expanding human population.

Presently, we observe a process where greater regulation of the forces of self interest that drive economic development is taking place everywhere with the result, hopefully, of an era of increased cooperation for all folks. These efforts can be seen in the development of alternative energy production, increased conservation techniques, and an overall return to a simpler way of living.

A recent tour of Canadian’s Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick provinces presented a wonderful illustration of a bucolic existence which could be instructive for inhabitants of the United States.

A trip some years ago to the climes of northern Quebec province’s Kuujjuaq area in search of the not-so-elusive caribou, offered little to compare with the recent Canadian experience we enjoyed this time with Tauck Tours. Arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, we began a truly professional tour orchestrated by Rob White. Impressive with his knowledge of historical, political and economic facts of the current scene, White took us through a primer of how Canada does it. His techniques included something for everyone.

Since our concern revolves around resource conservation, notable observations included: Composting toilets at Peggy’s Cove, wind turbines on the hills, and an emphasis everywhere on recycling. Of course, we would be remiss not to mention the view of farming techniques of the past offered by a tour of the home and grounds of the late Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables. Those techniques and mechanisms have value for a future where energy will be scarcer.

Obviously, we have only scratched the surface of these provinces. Much more could be said about our journey with regard to the art, history, music and other marvels we saw and appreciated on this trip.

So, if you are interested in obtaining a glimpse of a better future, travel to our neighbor to the North for a respite from the hot, humid climate of summer. You will love the flowers, the sea, the food (especially Cow’s Ice Cream) and the wonderful people of these Canadian provinces. We definitely intend a return visit to Canada, hopefully with Tauck Tours and the instructive Rob White.


Thursday, June 25, 2009


Everyone is talking about it. The news is raging with it. It was one of those spectacular days that remain in the collective memory of us all. Michael Jackson has died.

Even if you did not know Michael Jackson, you knew him when you thought about it. When you heard a song via some electronic media and thought that the music was appropriate for the moment, a lot of the time you were appreciating Michael Jackson.

He was the star of a family of African-American musical performers from Gary, Indiana. He was a mystery as a person. He was inventive and his "moon walk" won acclaim from everyone who enjoyed music and dance. Go to and watch a video of his famous thriller performance.

Regardless of what anyone thought of him, Michael Jackson was the kind of icon that comes easily to mind as a symbol of his time.

He lived and died in the fifty year period stretching from 1959 to 2009. He was like the country and the world in which he lived; constantly changing and re-defining himself. He went from sweet little brother of the Jackson Five to make his own mark in his own right, but he was always a blur of change and many wondered if he really knew what he wanted. In this way, he was a reflection of his time.

Nevertheless, whether you considered him a deviant or a genius, his impact on the world was gargantuan.

And so it is with the world as we face intense changes in the way we inhabit our planet. Those changes haunt and chase us and will soon overtake us. While the future is no longer a concern for Michael Jackson, the remaining population of the planet must accept constant changes. And whistling past the graveyard is no way to achieve that acceptance. Reality cannot be denied. One thing is for sure, however. The journey forward will be better thanks to the music of Michael Jackson.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Dock of the Bay

If you sit and watch, you begin to see a virtual swirl of existence. The cacophony of all of it tends to totally occupy our senses. What means this impingement upon our health of this strange malady called "swine flu"? When will the markets reach bottom and bring the cooling winds of economic recovery? What about energy and the lack thereof that we try to grasp and connect to the lack of economic growth and its resultant lack of jobs?

Some of the people still think in classical terms: Terms such as this is just a temporary slowing of the economy; we will be saved by technological breakthroughs that will permit a return to the past where labor and capital continue the minuet of getting, giving and using limited resources; and that only thinking despairing thoughts will prevent this return to "normalcy."

Too often we tend to misaim the power of positive thinking. Thinking positive about the future is essential to our survival and creation of the different order which will come despite protests against it. Thinking positive must be used in realistic terms, however, to realize the full value of that intellectual tool. Despite the desire to obtain great monetary wealth to which some people still direct their energies, a better practice might be to think realistically in terms of shelter, food and medical care for ourselves and our loved ones.

Instead of taking great joy in spending our life energy in climbing a corporate ladder by selling intangibles, there is an undercurrent flowing that says these activities are not better than the entrepreneur who seeks to grow food on smaller plots of land, or raise fish, chickens and another animals in a harmonious cycle where all of the activities complement each other.

Speculation, whether in real estate or stocks, is the epitome of greed and brings a veritable feast to the drive within the human animal to outcompete the rest of the herd of humankind. It also brings great pain since speculation is nothing more than the capturing of life energy of human participants through their exploitation of finite resources until there is no more energy to capture or resources to exploit. The great "ponzi" scheme then collapses. Eventually, the resources expire or the needs of the population that drive speculation begin to dwindle as population stops growing.

Sitting on the dock offers a great view of the goings and comings of humankind and beautifully illustrates the futility of speculation. The ocean and cool breezes remind us that the best things in this life are free.



Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring Has Sprung

Spring is here. Garden planting time has arrived. Already the squash, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are sprouting. Now the digging of holes for transplant of these vegetable plants is upon us. It is a good time and a time for reflection.

My hand guides the spade as it uncovers the leaves and digs the holes, and a sense of doing something productive blossoms deep inside. For one dark moment, I think of the past; the paths not taken. The ghosts of departed friends and loved ones rise from my memory for a moment. Introspection is not all bad, but too much can be bad for the best of us. It is best to look ahead even though that future path is much shorter than it seemed at previous planting times.

What is ahead? Will the current economic depression run its course to a return of the ways of years past? If not, will the new order that emerges bear any resemblance to the capitalistic economy of today? The answer to these questions is one worth pondering.

America is the undisputed leader of the modern world. Like the rest of that world, we are going through a bad time. We take great and justified pride in our newly elected national leadership. Finally our leader speaks and points to the problem. It is energy, he says. We nod in total agreement. Our economic system is locked up and credit needs to flow again, he says. Some of us wonder what this means and its connection to energy. Some even turn their heads away as the leadership asks and receives money to fund some needed projects to employ citizens. Many more become rightfully concerned as sums of public funds go to what we perceive as undeserving recipients like banks and officials of the financial oligarchy.

The largest concern is whether the need for economic growth espoused by the leadership means a type of growth that bears the same markings and characteristics of the system that resulted in the present disarray of greed and disregard for the planet's resources. Many citizens think so and disillusionment is growing.

An agrarian past grew to an industrial present and ultimately to the physical and moral bankruptcy of the world economy as resources were devoured by an ever growing population. A future looms and the major concern is what will it look like?

Before we grow too impatient with the leadership of our nation, perhaps a view of transitions in the past is not out of order. Remember that those changes did not happen all at once. There was resistance to change. Wars were fought. Pestilence entered our world and took away many a poor soul. Ultimately though, the evolution of change made its inexorable way forward and those who stood against it perished.

So it is with the present situation. Old ways of thinking must and will change. Some of the change will result from enlightening of individuals. Some of it will sadly result from deathly struggles resulting in the obliteration of those who refuse to change. Technology will provide some light for the way forward. As always, the future is there. The question is whether we in a collective sense shall shape it, or be shaped by it?


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Earth from the Skies


The awesome view of earth from the skies is marvelous, or so I am informed by some who have acquired a certain computer program at a nominal fee and now scrutinize various facets of the earth's surface.

Somehow, I wonder if I really want to view everything from above. If your purpose is to walk down memory lane, seems to me there may be merit in looking at those things from eye level here on the ground. As nostalgia tugs at me to view my childhood haunts, I think doing it like a floating or soaring bird from above just wouldn't be the same. It would not really satisfy that yearning for yesterday which blossoms from time to time in all of us.

The greater value of such a program might be in viewing that not yet seen. For me, this would include viewing current events, or looking at exotic destinations like the Mayan pyramids or those similar structures in Egypt.

Also, such a program probably has merit if you are a bit of a pantheist and want to see how it would feel to be a soaring eagle in the next life. I may get the program just so I can view those places in India, or England or North America where I was privileged to be for a brief time. Maybe I will even swing over to some underdeveloped nations and see how they are making out.

The sky view of the third world will definitely be one worth taking. Even now, doubters of the predicted future of economic contraction due to the depletion of resources by our ever growing population can view the beginning of global disaster in poorer countries.

Such a preview of the events and effects of the global economic contraction later to be experienced here will serve to hopefully get us more prepared. Hopefully, we can observe the changes elsewhere, vicariously experience them, and make fairly rapid adjustment to cope with what will surely be a different existence. Yes, the program is known as Google Earth and probably is a good thing.



Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Crash and Predictions

Everyone that I know is concerned about the changes in the stock market and the government bailout. What does it mean? The answer to this question is obvious. Economic growth is slowing from its previous pace.

Why is this happening? Growth depends upon an ever increasing source of energy. The world, however, has reached peak oil. The rate or amount of oil presently pumped, roughly 85 million barrels per day, cannot increase in any appreciable manner because the pumping capacity and the resource to meet that capacity are stagnant.

Unmindful of these constraints, financial manipulators attempted to continue with a process of wealth creation. Instruments alleged to document value were bundled and sold at a profit. The population accepted this perception of wealth creation in much the same way that the coyote assumes a road in thin air as he chases the road runner. Then, the perception fails, the emperor is discovered to have no clothes, and everything crashes.

A popular banking fiction long thought to be a truth is that additional money is generated when banks loan money to customers. This idea was sustained on the reasonable basis that a valid loan with high prospects of repayment expands the assets of the bank. A loan with an expectation of repayment over and beyond the initial amount loaned to the borrower under current banking principles means that the profit amount is newly created wealth.

So accepted became this financial philosophy that lenders either became complacent or corruptly forgot the element of chance remaining in the loan situation—that the borrower might default and fail to repay the loan. When this possibility did occur to the banking world, unscrupulous, but innovative minds went to work with the issuance and sale of credit repayment guarantees. By avoiding the terminology of insurance, a ponszi scheme of mammoth proportions enveloped the entire world.

Now those schemes have collapsed in the face of the unthinkable. A curtailment of energy available for continued future growth at a rate sufficient to meet and exceed population demands has come to town. The future is not out there. It is now. Suddenly the factory planned in order to hire tomorrow's workers won't be built. As a consequence, the loans of today cannot be repaid. Further, the size of the failure has destroyed the ability, if any there was, for effectiveness of the illicit repayment guarantees. An economic debacle of unimagined dimensions is upon us.

Can the slate be wiped clean? Is it possible to eliminate the invalid loans and the ineffective guarantees and straighten out the financial mess that we face? Some say that an astronomical bailout by the government will cure these problems. Certainly the government can step in and pay these debts. Without considering whether such repayment will come at a cost of great inflation as more and more fiat money is loosed in the system, there is another question that should be asked: Can a repeat of this situation be prevented from happening in the future?

Unless the possibility of repetition can be guaranteed against, the more appropriate path would appear to be to let the market control, let this world financial crash continue as massive human suffering climbs to gigantic proportions, even at the cost of social unrest and political upheaval.

A good guess is that the future will be marked by a zig-zag downward direction as regards economic charts. That direction will also experience some temporary upturns as energy prices fluctuates. As soon as demand starts building, however, prices will rise and the rug will be jerked from under the newly rising economic tide. The plummet downward will likely continue until either population excess gets trimmed or there is a magic energy break through courtesy of the gods of technology. A smart move would be to bet on excess population trimming to happen before miracles occur which amend the laws of physics currently governing the finite resources of the world.

The current debate on stimulus versus tax cuts by government is not really relevant. Stimulus will only bring temporary relief and inflation (but may prevent social unrest). Tax cuts will do nothing but fatten already fattened wallets. Tax cuts may prevent inflation, but are also likely to encourage social unrest and political upheaval.

For the present day, everyone simply has to live for the fairly long term future on a much reduced scale or standard of living than has been the case in the past. But all is not lost. Optimism should still have a home in our hearts. David W. Orr in a commencement address to the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania in 2007 put it this way: "Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up."

The challenges of tomorrow are still there. The mystery of true curiosity still exists and brings with it the wonder of innovation amidst a realization that we may truly find meaning in redefining ourselves and our civilization.