Sunday, December 22, 2019

Winter Solstice 2019

Howdy!  I survived one more lap around the sun, and it was a productive and satisfying year.  It was one more year of being a wordsmith in a quiet hermitage.  Staying focused on my life’s work is a fairly full time job.  It’s not a busy whirlwind of excitement, distractions, and annoyances.

Progress continues on Wild, Free, & Happy, at a pace something like 6,000 words per month.  Since September 2018, I’ve been sharing new sections on my blog, every two weeks.  This year, I’ve been steadily attracting more readers.  In the last few days, the total lifetime views of my blog have passed 400,000 (up from 275,000 at the end of 2017).

Tonight, I peeked at my three previous solstice newsletters.  At the end of 2016, I had been working on the new book for several months, and had gathered 229 pages of notes, sorted into a rough outline.  By the end of 2017, the monster had grown to 500 pages.  It eventually soared beyond 800 pages, and has now slimmed down to 588.

The writing process is largely about selecting the most interesting factoids, composting the chaff, and then pounding the keepers into clear and coherent rough draft passages.  Imagine having a jigsaw puzzle that required a table that was ten acres large, and consisted of a million pieces.  But, you have a pile of ten million pieces, most of which do not belong in the puzzle, and have to be set aside.  Oy!

The process can get extremely tedious, but computer magic allows me to produce quality that would have been impossible with a Remington manual typewriter and hundreds of index cards.  Toshiba has a far better memory than I have, and it can find needles in haystacks in a second or three.  I’ve taken thousands of pages notes on 500 books.  I’ve stashed 600 articles, webpages, and scholarly papers in my Essays folder.  My Facebook community resides in more than 20 nations, and they are sharing loads of news that NPR and the BBC don’t mention.

In a hardcore “shop till you drop” culture, jabbering about ecological sustainability can make you look like a disgusting doom pervert.  It’s an occupational hazard, but someone has to do it.  There are growing signs that the tide is changing.  As Big Mama Nature is rocking the boat harder and harder, it’s becoming less easy to continue fantasizing that we’re living in a utopian wonderland.  More folks are sensing a dystopian drift.

In June 2017, Reverend Michael Dowd and his wife Connie Barlow stopped by to visit, an extremely intelligent and interesting couple.  Both are authors.  His spiritual journey has led him to an ecological path.  Her journey is focused on saving as many tree species as possible from extinction.  Two landmarks in Michael’s pilgrimage were the discovery of the climate crisis and deep ecology in 2012, and his life changing encounter with William Catton’s masterpiece, Overshoot, in 2015.

Somewhere along the line, he discovered my work, and was blown away by my books and blog — many stimulating new ideas for him.  He is a nomadic eco-theologian who travels the country, preaching at progressive churches.  His mission is to encourage the notion that religion is perfectly compatible with science, evolution, and ecology.  It’s moral and ethical to care about the health of creation, the future, and the generations yet to be born.

Michael and Connie dropped by again this October.  It’s always thrilling to have face-to-face contact with those rare pilgrims who, more than most, are present in full dose reality.  Our conversations are very high energy.  The couple avoids the dreaded curse of boredom by continually working on a hundred projects at a frantic pace.  I learned that they’ve been involved with folks who are working to publish the second edition of Walter Youngquist’s book GeoDestinies.

Walter was one of the core elders of the Peak Oil movement, a group of lads who tried to warn humankind that our extreme dependence on ever growing amounts of finite nonrenewable resources had put us in the express lane to big trouble.  As early as 1976, he was speaking to local audiences, warning them that infinite growth was not possible, and the planet’s resources were not unlimited — trouble ahead.  Back then (and still today), nobody wanted to hear this news.   He was never invited back.  Being present in reality can be a prickly and frustrating path.

I corresponded with him from 1996 to 2018, until he died at the age of 97.  He lived in Eugene, the town I moved to in 2009.  He was a geology professor, and a consulting geologist, who did a lot of work for fossil energy corporations.  In 1997, Walter published GeoDestinies, to explain Peak Oil to humankind.  It made waves, and was cited in a number of other important books and websites.

After the first printing of GeoDestinies sold out, many urged to him to print more.  Unfortunately, the global resource story was a fast moving target.  Walter wanted to update the text before printing more, but he couldn’t write as fast as the issue was unfolding.  Finally, this long awaited second edition was completed in April 2012.  Unfortunately, the process hit some curves, and it’s now seven years later.

The team working on the second edition asked me to co-write the book’s preface with Charles A. S. Hall, a retired systems ecology professor.  He is famous for originating the concept of EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested), a vital tool for comprehending the trajectory of the temporary petroleum era, as it glides into its sunset phase. 

In 1930, the petroleum industry had an EROEI of maybe 100:1 — when drillers invested one unit of energy to get oil, they could extract 100 units of black gold energy.  In Texas and Oklahoma, new wells could shoot gushers of oil high into the sky.  No pumping was needed, just open the valve.  The good old days are over.  U.S. oil production now has an EROEI of about 10:1.  Alberta tar sands extraction ranges from 3.2:1 and 5:1.

Global production of conventional oil peaked in 2005, and has significantly dropped since then.  Current efforts are focused on difficult to extract deposits — tar sands, heavy oil, shale oil (tight oil), and deep water wells.  All are low EROEI.  Each well in a fracking project is far more expensive than a conventional one, and each well is depleted far more quickly (up to 90% of the oil can be extracted in just three years).  Complexity drives up prices, and high prices will eventually have serious impact on the global economy.

The last I heard, the GeoDestinies manuscript was in the process of being indexed, and getting some polishing by copy editors.  The plan was to provide a free PDF of the 600+ page book.  Many books have presented histories of soil mining, forest mining, water mining, and fish mining.  Walter’s book discusses how history has been shaped by geology — in a fascinating and exceedingly thorough manner.  Readers will discover that we are approaching firm limits on the extraction of strategic mineral resources, and that life as we know it has an expiration date.

Anyway, I continue attempting to conduct my life like a mature adult, as much as possible, while residing in a fantastically unsustainable culture.  This year marked my tenth anniversary of being car-free.  I still own a small motorcycle.  This year I bought 13 gallons of gas (and the tank is still half full).  This is down from 19 gallons in 2018, and 21 gallons in 2017.  It’s been nearly 12 years since I last boarded a plane, and I will never, ever, do that again.

I’ve also been riding the bus more.  Senior citizens get a free bus pass.  In an era when frantic stressed out drivers are paying less and less attention to driving, it feels delightfully safe travelling in something resembling an armored personnel carrier, cruising across town with members of the Greta Thunberg fan club.

In 2019, the average price of a new car purchased in the U.S. was $36,718.  The average annual cost of driving a shiny new motorized wheelchair now ranges from $7,114 (small sedan) to $10,839 (pickup).  Looking cool and respectable is getting very expensive.  In my town, 12 months of bus passes for adults cost $540, youths pay half of that, and kiddies ride free.

About 98% of my travel is via an old-fashioned bicycle that requires me to actually push pedals up and down.  I have no plans to buy an electric scooter, skateboard, or bicycle, despite the sharp toll this takes on my social status.  One day, in a forest by the river, I had a good laugh.  I watched a pudgy man on an electric skateboard, humming down the pathway, eyes riveted to his cell phone, enjoying his invigorating escape into the great outdoors.

All the best!


Bill Rabinovitch said...

Lovely post Richard - read every word :)

What Is Sustainable said...

Thanks Bill!

Thom Hawkins said...

Thanks, Rick, for setting a good example. You inspire us all! Happy Solstice!!! Can't wait for your next post.

What Is Sustainable said...

Thanks Thom! See you next year.

What Is Sustainable said...

Fact checkers have kicked down my door, Apologies to Michael Dowd. He sez:

"Minor historical note: I was super into Deep Ecology way back in the late 1980s. My first book, EarthSpirit: A Handbook for Nurturing an Ecological Christianity, written in 1990, reflects this on nearly every page.

Dolores LaChapelle was one of my most significant mentors. I still consider her classic book, “Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture of the Deep — Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life” to be one of the top ten books I’ve ever read. In addition to Dolores, I also trained with David Abram, Max Oelschlaeger, and George Sessions, and still count David as a dear friend."

Perran said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone one of your posts since coming across your blog a few years ago. All the best for the year ahead.

What Is Sustainable said...

Thank you! It's always good to have at least one happy customer! :)

uuubigdummy said...

I think everyone should live with or have a car-free.
As for me living off the grid for 16 years I use at least a gallon of gas a day. And when you think how many people have jobs in the oil industry. But I live like a king compared to how people lived 100 years ago . with the many options available and the many ways to travel across the county and the world.and now to have a computer in the palm of our hand. To access information in the flick of second. Just 200 years ago. People were using a wood stove to cook and dying of medical diseases.
And niw retirement can be enjoyed