The next Transition Ferndale meeting will be Wednesday, July 25, starting at 7:00 pm at the Ferndale Library.

We’ll be discussing the book “Crash Course,” by Chris Martenson (published 2011, John Wiley & Sons). The subtitle of the book is, “The Unsustainable Future of our Economy, Energy, and Environment.”

What do we mean by “unsustainable?”

Let’s think about energy. Energy is as essential to the economy as food is essential to a human being. This is not just an analogy. We get all of our physical energy from food. We use it to move, to think, to live. Without it we die. Without food, we are unsustainable.

That’s how essential food is to our bodies. That’s exactly how essential energy is to our economy, for exactly the same reason. If our energy sources are not reliable, our industrial economy – our industrial civilization – is unsustainable. Without energy, the industrial economy dies. With more energy, the economy can grow. With less energy, it must contract.

We are talking about the real economy of commodities and services here, not the more abstract economy of finances. The money supply can grow or contract even when the real economy does not. When the money supply grows faster than the real economy, we get inflation. When it grows very much faster, we have hyperinflation. when the supply of money grows slower than the real economy (if the real economy is growing), or when when it contracts more rapidly than the real economy (f the real economy is contracting), then we have deflation.

In a perfect world, finances ought to be more closely connected to the real economy. Unfortunately, they are not. They are even less connected when so much of finance is fraudulent and corrupt.

In ancient civilizations, the energies that made their economies work were mostly muscle power (both human muscles and animal) and fire. There was some use of solar (in drying food, for example) and wind (for sailing ships). Water wheels to grind grain and windmills to pump water appeared in some areas but were not widespread. That was about it, for century after century.

The industrial revolution, beginning with the steam engine, changed that. The revolution progressed with internal combustion engines and electrical generation. It takes energy to operate all industrial motors, lights and communication devices. Today we get 83% of that energy from fossil fuels, and another 8.7% from nuclear plants. Renewables (solar, wind, hydro, firewood, biofuels, and geothermal) account for only 8.3% of all the energy we use to keep our industrial economy functioning. (These percentages are based on the most recent figures from the US Department of Energy as given in http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/pdf/sec1_3.pdf.)

All the non-renewable energy sources have serious problems with sustainability. First off, they aren’t renewable. There are large but finite amounts of fossil fuels and nuclear fuel on the earth, and we have already burned through some significant portion of the resource.

Extracting fuels degrades the environment and using them degrades it even more.

As if that were not enough, the global oil supply, which provides 36% of all energy and powers about 96% of industrial transportation, is at or near its peak. That means it cannot be produced at a much greater rate than today. That rate will decline in the near future, no matter how badly we want it it to power our existing transportation equipment. 

The fuels that power our motors, lights and other devices are not sustainable. The economy that depends on these fuels is not sustainable. We are reaching the limits to growth that were so controversial forty years ago, when they were only a theory about the future. No growth is the new reality. Industrial fuels become harder to find and more expensive the more they are depleted. Relentless contraction of the 90% of the economy dependent on non-renewable fuels is the new future.

That brings us back to food. That too is unsustainable. The food in our supermarkets and pantries is mostly a product of industrial agriculture and further industrial processing. It gets to us by way of an industrial transportation system. When the food-related elements of the industrial system fail, our current food supply fails. If we don’t have an alternative, we’ll starve.

In extremely compressed form, that’s the dilemma which will become increasingly apparent over the next few decades. It’s the dilemma Chris Martenson addresses with some logic, and with some reasonable ideas on what we can do about it other than give up in despair. His book is not the final word on the subject, but it is an excellent starting place.

I have a copy of the book, which I am willing to loan out. I’ve asked the Ferndale Library to buy a copy. People requesting it will perhaps encourage them to get it. It’s available from Powell’s books for a bit less than $20:  see http://www.powells.com/s?kw=chris+martenson&class=

You don’t necessarily need the book to understand the subject. Chris has also covered the material with about three hours of video, which one of our members has on DVD. If there is enough interest, we can arrange a showing of the videos a week or two before the meeting on the 25th. Write me if you are interested.

If price is not an issue, you can order both the book and the DVD set from chrismartenson.com. In addition, videos (perhaps an earlier version) are available, chapter by chapter, on youtube. Use “martenson crash course” as a search term on youtube, and you can get started. If you are really pressed for time, you can watch the 38-minute condensed version of the Crash Course (free) at http://www.postcarbon.org/video/39224-crash-course-by-chris-martenson, and you can read the chapter on Resilience:  personal preparation from the Post-Carbon Reader. You can download it free from http://www.postcarbon.org/reader/downloads. It’s near the bottom of the list on this page.

Of course, you may be interested in other chapters. If so, you can download them for free as well.

Regardless of how much studying you do in advance of the discussion, you’re welcome to participate on July 25. We’re all going to cope with decline/collapse of the American empire, whether we agree with Chris Martenson or not, and even whether we have read him or not. Let’s talk about how we can help each other cope.

Art Myatt

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