Tuesday, October 23, 2007

movie of a lifetime

Pretend, for a moment that we're in a very crowded theater watching a movie. But, the movie is incredibly good - best and most exciting movie we have ever seen. Drama, excitement, and periodically, people in the audience are actually getting rich. This is NOT the kind of movie you want to leave before the surprise ending you can see building. It's many movies on many screens, all playing in a sensory overloading way. Still, there's a wisp of smoke in the air…

-George Ure

My early education concerning peak energy and climate change centered on learning facts. The world consumes X million barrels of oil or X parts per million of some such greenhouse gas is likely to lead to an X increase in global temperature. Most of it was scary to someone who had grown up thinking in linear terms, someone who had been told by almost everyone that tomorrow would a lot like today only things will be better because everything will be bigger, work faster and be more widely available. Let’s just say I wasn’t reading Limits to Growth in high school. When I was little I did wonder how humans could continue to break the laws of nature so recklessly. But like many other Americans I chalked it up to human intelligence.

Now having spent years reading and writing, listening and talking, learning and teaching others about a whole host of topics that range from urban agriculture to bike culture, a curious thing has happened. I've recognized that no matter how hard I try I will not be entirely ready to leave this consumer culture, no matter what happens, until it more fully collapses. That is, it will never completely end. That doesn't really explain what I'm trying to say. Here let me have another go.

My preparation for what I believe is in store for Industrial Civilization (a steady overall decline with a few quick drops thrown in for excitement) eventually led me back to my old idea of convergence. The idea of a self converging personality nearly drove me crazy in my first year at university. I left the nest and struggled heartily with who I was supposed to be; as if there was a perfect person if only I could become him. But after wrestling with this for quite some time I discovered life for me wasn't going to be about converging at all. It wasn't about becoming a 6' - 2" architect with a wife, 2 kids and that perfect picket fence people are always talking about. It was in fact the opposite. Life was about diverging, about expanding not contracting. I like to learn and do new things and try different experiences. So much so that to try and contain myself, even if that containment is centered around a prudent response to a fundamental change in our way of life here in America, just doesn't work.

It's not acceptable for me to respond to peak oil and climate change by creating a new model of just exactly what I should be and then focusing most or all of my energy on becoming that model, a 6' -2" urban farming bicycle rider who doesn't eat meat. It's not that farming or riding a bike or being a vegetarian are bad things in and of themselves. But I think recently I slipped back into a mode of preparation that excludes not only some time wasting activities I used to do for fun but also has strained my relationships with other people who haven't been willing to make change quite as rapidly as I have. I built a mold and then I worked to press myself into that mold as quickly as possible. My direction of change is already proving itself prudent. But my method of change, not so much. To some extent it has depressed me out of my formerly cheerful wandering ways and this I lament.

I once sent a friend a message by carefully cracking open willow oak acorns (think very small) and putting into each one of them a tiny piece of paper and then supergluing the nut back together so it appeared unopened. One letter of the alphabet went into each of about a dozen acorns which were mailed to my friend who eventually figured it out, opened them up and pieced together a completely different message than the one I had intended. In a strange coincidence the new message meant almost the same thing as the originally message had intended one. But I don't send special messages in acorns anymore. In fact I don't collect acorns in the fall as often as I have been known to in the past. No goofing off when peak oil is just around the corner!

Now there's wasting time and then there's wasting time. I'm not going back to watching Wheel of Fortune on weekday evenings. But I think what I've discovered is that what's most important about addressing energy descent and climate change is a change of mind. That might sound a bit cliché but it really is true. What I've learned by adopting new skills and more knowledge is that being open to change- actually inviting it in for dinner and a conversation when it knocks on the door- is the key to being able to handle that change. We can handle a world with less energy. We can handle a world with some fluctuations in climate. Some challenges are going to be difficult. I'm not going all Pollyanna on you but it seems like the most difficult part for most people is accepting that things are changing.
We have peaked in oil production and largely wrecked our biosphere but we mustn't shrug from the challenge of change, and it must happen first in our minds if it's going to happen at all.

That’s all good and well I can hear you saying. It sounds easy but I know it is not. I will even assume that some of you reading this will not bring yourselves to initiate the changes of a lower energy lifestyle until you are forced into that change by situation. And I feel bad for you because in the end, the changes won't be nearly as bad as anticipated. Like a math test or breaking up with a love interest, the worst part is the dread leading up to it.

Take for instance this riding-my-bike change I’ve made. It isn’t a pain in the ass. It's actually great. If little green women arrive tomorrow from the planet Xervzeron and offer us a source of unlimited energy that can fuel our fleet of automobiles with no damage to the environment what so ever I will still ride my bike to work next week because it is just more fun than driving a car. Alright I might drive on rainy days in January but my point stands. Biking is just better than driving. We've adopted some really silly habits as a result of cheap energy and breaking them, like breaking any habit, can be difficult. But it starts with the idea that you can change, that it is possible. The hard part is deciding to decide.

I am very fearful of what will happen when it suddenly becomes apparent to most people that the theater is in fact on fire. The metaphoric run for the exits could get ugly. In a way it already has. Those in power in this country understand that our way of life is based on oil and have sent our armed forces (and a lot of other hired guns) to try and keep control over the last great quantity of oil. But I'm talking here about the reaction of Average Joe and Average Jane America when they find out that they can't drive huge cars and eat grapes from Chile in December and that suddenly they're poor because their country’s economy has imploded. And I think that will happen. The most noticeable effect of energy descent early on (and then a little later climate change) will be economic implosion. Our economy is after all based on expansion and will not work well as resource availability contracts. But as contraction is forced upon us in terms of material goods and all the resources needed to create them, we have the opportunity to reverse our thinking; to allow our minds to imagine again other possibilities. We can choose to expand our minds even as our economy contracts.

Which is a long winded way of saying that I think I need to broaden my plan to include not just one strategy but more of an idea of flexibility. It’s a balancing act because I don't want to spend time on activities that will be useless in a few years but inherent in that statement is the idea that I know what will happen in a few years. I have an idea of what will happen. I think I have a better idea than those folks who think a few years from now will look like today only things will be better because everything will be bigger, work faster and be more widely available. I now understand a crucial idea left out of my early education- limits. But I don't know exactly what the future will look like so how can I say exactly what I should be doing as those limits show up?

Instead I’m developing parallel strategies that will keep me flexible. One will hedge against a collapse of the dollar and severe and rapid changes to American society just in case that happens. This translates into activities like putting more food away and saving money outside of the formal banking system. Another strategy though will focus on fun and happy changes that are just better for me like riding a bike and cooking with whole ingredients. And yet another will focus on enjoing life as it exists now. This might include driving a car on a date with my wife where we eat food even though we don’t know where it came from. Later we might see a movie made about all that is American in the very first part of the 21st century. It is important for me to strengthen my relationships with people in my life who are significant to me even if they have yet to commit to some of the other changes I am making. And even if I am hoping they will make more change soon. This will mean keeping one foot in the mainstream world even as I prepare for something different. And that’s ok, it’s important until the future revels itself a little more fully.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm trying to view my response in more broad terms now because I can't be sure of what will actually happen. It seems prudence to blend making change, having fun and taking up the challenges of being ready if more serious disaster descends.

To end this afternoon’s ramble I’d like to return to the idea of the movie mentioned at the beginning of this story; the fascinating show that keeps most Americans mesmerized and completely oblivious to that ‘faint wisp of smoke in the air.’ When I was younger I used to attend movies by myself. On one particular evening while at University I went to see a late night movie and sat through almost all of it. I don’t remember the name of the film but it wasn’t particularly good. I had a lot on my mind and was having trouble paying attention. So, near the end I simply got up and walked out of the theater. It was a brisk, fall night and I remember the cool air and sudden rush at being outside in the dark and in the silent grassy courtyard next to the school theater. I sat down on a bench and was alone with my thoughts. Everyone else was watching the last of the show. And then after 20 minutes or so, with my nose now pink from the cold, people started to trickle out of the building. They emerged from the movie and I was no longer by myself outside. For the life of me I can’t remember what I was thinking after I abandoned the movie but I remember the shock of getting out; the images gone, the sounds gone, the peacefulness of loneliness and the loneliness of loneliness. And when the movie was finished and I was no longer alone, I remember being happy it was over.

Friday, October 12, 2007

no '08 run

It's official. I have decided not to run for the office of the President of the United States of America in 2008. I made this decision for several reasons but not because I think I couldn't do a better job than the idiot who is doing it now. Say what you want about past presidents, both Democrats and Republicans alike but this fellow we have now is an absolute moron. Which is one of the reasons I was thinking of running. Because it seems that the back-to-back elections of George W. Bush proved a point. America's collective reasoning is at an all time low. Here's my chance, and the chance of anyone else who isn't really qualified to run a nation, to become "a leader" or as he puts it, "a decider" in charge of guiding the course of American events. I mean if the public could be convinced that this fool is capable of running our country, then all I need is several hundred million dollars and I too could be come decider of the free world!

And Al Gore wins the Noble Peace prize today. Don't get me wrong, Gore has done more to break our national sleepwalking stance towards global warming than anyone else in the world. But he didn't do anything about it while in office; not even an elevation of CAFE standards to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of children who died as a result of his administration's sponsorship of Iraq sanctions. Never mind working off his extra pounds, do you know how many lifetimes it'll take to work off that karmic weight?

Even Jimmy Carter who seems to be telling it like it is these days was a former oil sympathizer. He did try, with what seemed like real conviction, to tell the American people in 1979 that we were headed for ruin if we continued to consume everything, including oil, with reckless abandon. But six months later he had changed his tune. The Carter Doctrine was born and now we kill for oil. It seems that those who lead us officially, even those of them who are bright, do an awfully bad job of it while in office. So I'm going to skip the official position and stay sane, keep my soul and try and help from the outside.

What is it about being President or holding any political office that makes that person into a stooge capable only of pointing us in the wrong direction? I would argue it's mostly money. When corporations sponsor elections in almost the same fashion that they sponsor NASCAR races then this is what we get. Not leaders- intelligent, thoughtful, communicative people helping to lead our country- but corporate clowns doing what is in the interest of big business first and attending our needs when they get around to it, if at all. How long the American people will put up with this depends on how long they are willing to sit in stupor amid a mix of infotainment and propaganda that makes most of them thoughtless. Or as my friend Jim says of the situation, "a government of the stupid, by the stupid, for the stupid." In other words we have gotten what we deserve.

But enough! you say. Offer a solution and stop your bitching. OK! I answer here you go. How to fix the US government. Solutions offered with he help of my aforementioned friend Jim,

Number One: Publicly Fund Elections. The right to free speech does not include the right to yell "Fire" in a crowed thearter. It also does not include the right to completely corrupt our system of government. Tax the riches 1% of Americans who own 35% of everything in this country to fund all federal elections. If you don't make several millions dollars a year you won't feel anything, except possibly freedom. Congressmen and women get $500,000 a piece to run elections. Senators get $1.5 million. For a grand total of about $1.5 billion. Or less than we spend in a week in Iraq. By the way that number includes enough money to fund a mandatory minimum of 4 candidates per office. No more "two" party crap.

Number Two: No Incumbents. One term and then you run for a different office or become a private citizen again but once you've held an office you can not hold it again. No time for you to catch the D.C. disease of corruption.

Number Three: Public Housing For Representatives. If you get elected you serve like our soldiers do. You go to Washington and live in barracks with your fellow representatives. You go home 4 times a year to hear from your constituents but otherwise you serve like the men and women of our armed services. You take your meals with your fellow representatives and you bunk with everybody; Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

Number Four: Spend What You Collect. Make it illegal to run a national budget deficeit. Representatives set our budget and then they adjust taxation to meet the budget. If representatives spend money, we pay for it and then we vote on better representatives if we don't like what they did. None of this 'taxing our kids' crap. We handle our national budget like a responsible family runs its own budget.

Number Five: Abolish All Income Taxation. Instead tax consumption. Exclude basics like housing and food but if you buy anything more expensive you pay more in taxes. If you save your money you don't.

Number Six: Dissolve the Federal Reserve: Put the US government back in charge of its money. No more debit creation as a way to make more money. Further support local currencies and a gift economy instead of one where the people creating items of value get poorer while the people printing money get richer.

Number Seven: Severely Restrict Corporations: Corporations aren't people. They have no souls, no conscience and no loyalty to humanity. They serve one purpose first and foremost- to make money. This usually happens at the expensive of all but a slim majority of the population. If a group of people wants to pool resources to build a bridge, fine, let them incorporate to do so. If a handful of corporations want to take over the vast majority of the agricultural industry then no, they should not be allowed.

That's it. Seven steps to a more democratic and fair republic. Hell the first three would go a great distance towards recapturing this country from those who would profit until its destruction. I'm sure there's more that could be done but maybe if we could accomplish these modest goals we could get leaders who didn't suck until they left office. We might create a system where they could offer real leadership while still in charge.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

christians killing over oil?

I have a friend who serves as a Christian youth minister here in North Carolina. He lived with my wife and I during part of his seminary experience and helped me in my failed attempt to learn Biblical Greek. caraV! He recent wrote a bit about war, about our culture and about Christianity. His words brought up some thoughts I’ve been considering for a while. Wes says,

I find it very disturbing that there are faithful Christians who get deeply offended, and at times angry, when you posit the idea that war is bad, even morally wrong. And I'm not talking about veterans. It is pretty breathtaking when you think about how deeply ingrained war is in our national psyche.

And with that this youth minister has hit on one of the reasons I have distanced myself from organized Christianity of late. There are several reasons, but chief among them is the overwhelming support of American Christians for the imperialistic behavior of our nation. This behavior manifests itself as our government currently killing people in other countries. I mention this not just to point out what I believe to be a morally inappropriate position by many Christians but also to let the Church know that it is missing at least one member who is actually interested in following the teachings of Jesus Christ. Of course I know there are plenty of anti-war Christians, but their objections are far from deafening. There exist both sins of commission and of omission. More from my friend,

Someone in the workshop made a very interesting point about arguments about just war. When we talk about war, we are usually using models of geopolitics that are about 50 years out of date.

He mentions that the notion of 'just war' is out of date but I'll go further and say that such arguments aren't even necessary in the case of Iraq. That country and its leader did not have weapons of mass destruction. That country had nothing to do with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and yet still I hear mostly silence from the Church about an attack on Iraq that has killed thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including many children. He finishes the thought from above.

The idea of the nation-state is rapidly being superseded by the reality of the multinational corporation. I've read somewhere that WalMart represents the 7th largest economy in the world.

And this is what really piqued my interest. Here’s a Christian minister making the connection between war and big business.

Theologically speaking, we are presented with a new set of questions. The old questions (that we are still grappling with) focus on church-state issues. These are important questions, but we as the church have yet to really explore church-corporate relations. And if you want to talk about systemic sin, greed, and oppression in our world, look no further than your local walmart/taco bell/mcdonalds/exxon...etc. This is a deep, difficult, and important question because it implicates all of us in America. I'm reminded of Jesus' conversation with the rich young ruler about how to get into the Kingdom. Would I be willing to get off of the grid for the sake of the call of Jesus? Would I get rid of my tv? Internet? My car? How far would I be willing to go? I don't like that line of thought because it calls into question some very ingrained parts of my life.

I was excited to hear him address this issue because I think there has been a real failure of leadership in the Church to address the issue of war and its motivations. I have been waiting to hear not only a strong Christian call to end war but also a condemnation of a way of life dependant on war.

It's completely appropriate in my opinion that this minister raises the issue of corporate domination in an age where Nation States are losing hegemony. It's not enough to slap on a bumper sticker that says, "What Part Of 'Thou Shall Not Kill' Don't You Understand." Most anti-war activists support American Imperialism every day. When we drive our cars we support the war. When we eat processed foods we support the war. When we shop at Mal-Wart we support a way of life that is predicated on oil which we are now killing people to acquire. Here in lies a whole host of action points for Christians but largely I see nothing from greater Christianity but support for a lifestyle of consumption; a life style that requires war and so I question the sincerity of a religion that preaches one thing and practices another.

I would expect the Church to point out that we have abandoned our former ways of meetings wants and needs largely though local, even homegrown means. Now we buy everything at Mal-Wart. We don't eat homemade bread, we eat Pop-Tarts. We don't walk to work, we drive our SUV's. And in doing so we support a small group of people who make lots of money selling us what we used to do for ourselves in our own communities. This way of life is not only very insecure and unjust but requires incredible amounts of energy, which comes to us mainly in the form of fossil fuels; most notably petroleum. Petroleum production peaked worldwide in July of 2006. Less oil will be available to us each year from now until forever. Two thirds of the oil that is still in the ground lies under the sands of the Middle East. There is little wonder why we attacked Iraq without real cause. It is a shame that the American business interests mentioned above mean to keep us consuming, or as John Michael Greer recently put it, “turning resources into pollution”, as fast as possible until those resources are gone because that is how those in power acquire wealth. But it is our shame that we continue to let them.

It really doesn’t even have to be about our over consumptive culture supporting an empire driven to war. Our consumption, our greed and gluttony themselves should be enough to turn our Christian stomachs. I know of another bumper sticker on the car of a Christian friend that says, 'Live Simply So That Other May Simply Live,' and I want to ask her why not give up the car itself? Sell it and use the money to help others “simply live.” Why not walk? Why not bike? Why not abandon the idea that more, bigger, faster is an appropriate national mantra? Why not reject the idea that stuff is more important than people? Why not imagine a better American dream? Why not step outside of a culture that has replaced its citizens with consumers? Doing so would not only be in keeping with the teachings of Christ. It would also make us healthier, happier and a better nation- truly evangelical and patriotic ideas!

Let me end by saying that more than one person has already labeled me a copout because I don’t engage directly with my congregation on these matters or at least find a more peace-friendly church. These are legitimate criticisms of my distance from the church. But anyone who has struggled with faith knows that such efforts are complex. And I wrote this not as an indictment of all Christians. I wrote it because I think my friend raises some good points. I wanted to share them and the fact that at least one disillusioned Christian is missing from the fold because he is dismayed that those of fellow faith are not leading the way back to a life of balance, of simplicity; a way of life that wouldn't require war or the use of so much oil on which the current war is based. I'm looking to the Church and the majority of Americans, who claim Christianity, for leadership on issues of energy and the environment and I am mostly disappointed.

Monday, October 01, 2007

how the internet could save us

This post isn't going to start off sounding like it has anything to do with peak oil, climate change, resources depletion or any of the other topics I use to organize my thoughts here. It's going to be about technology, about communication, about music and about just how handy the dang 'ole Internet might turn out to be post peak carbon. Of course anyone reading these words knows how different life is today because of the Internet. Without it maybe I'd be writing these words in a diary or more likely I wouldn't be writing them at all, but rest assured several hundred people wouldn't read them over the next few days. Largely the thoughts I'm about to type out would have resided, pre-Internet, only in my head for me to ponder or perhaps share with a few friends or with family over dinner this evening. My ability to communicate with other people all over the globe has been magnified by a factor thought impossible only a few decades ago. How has that got anything to do with the problems facing us in the post carbon era? I'll get to that but first a revelation of enormous proportions.

This morning I read an article that I think heralds the biggest change in music since radio began broadcasting it back in the very early part of the 20th century. If you didn't think the band Radiohead was the best band in the world when you woke up this morning I urge you to reconsider. They are about to release their latest album entitled In Rainbows but you won't be able to buy it in stores. In fact, you won't have to buy it at all.

The band has decided to shun not only the traditional music industry that sucks the majority of the profits out of the recording industry (currently artists make only a fraction of what you pay for their album at the mall) but also to deny online distributors like i-tunes. If you want their new album all you'll have to do is go to their website and download it. The price? You decide. That's right, you pay whatever you want for the album. The music industry is, to put it mildly, shocked.

Now if you don't know who Radiohead is there's no reason to feel bad. Their music isn't exactly mainstream Americana, but they are one of the most popular bands in the world. They aren't my favorite band but after seeing them live in 2006 I can say from my perspective that they are the best band in the world. Plenty of other people agree but let's just suffice it to say that this is a really, really big band with a huge following. So that makes this morning's announcement border on outrageous.

When lead singer Thom Yorke was asked about the move he had this to say. "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'F___ you' to this decaying business model."

And he's right. Personally I've been waiting for this day for a long time, when I could stop paying a bunch of suits somewhere to package my music up for me in an age when any kid in his kitchen can record he and his friends banging on pots and pans and offer it up to anyone with an Internet connection.

Now for the moment I want to focus on the access issue not the fact that you can download Radiohead's new album for free if you'd like. We'll get to that in a minute. With one slice this band has cut the rot out of the process and has accessed the freedom to deal directly with its fans. What a wonderful business model! Anyone arguing that we should still be paying $1 per song like we were in the 80's is arguing that we should be wasting a lot of money on people other than those who create the music. Artist plays great music- Artist sells great music to fan. It has become that simple. But I think this is a big deal because it's shows us how free we've truly become from all the information containers. We don't have to pay special people for special boxes to hold our information any more. Want a recipe for pumpkin soup? You don't have to get in your car and drive to the bookstore and buy a book of recipes, with all its paper and glue and energy costs in terms of printing and shippings and heating the bookstore. You can simply download one of a thousand recipes for pumpkin soup from the Internet. If you like it you can write it down on one of those neat little 3X5 cards my mother used to keep good recipes on, ready for next time.

A few weeks ago I went to the Triple Threat Teach-in sponsored by the IFG at George Washington University in part because I was looking forward to meeting Rob Hopkins in person. The schedule said Rob was presenting but he lives in the UK and I knew he had decided a while back not to fly any more. He made the decision because of the amount of carbon airplanes produce- a personal choice of his. When I saw his name on the list of speakers I thought maybe he was making an exception. I found out before going to the conference that he was not. He was presenting in absentia. He sent his prerecorded video presentation which was played for all of us in attendance. While I would have like to have gotten a beer with Rob at day's end, he was able to present his thoughts without having to travel all the way from the UK. What a marvelous use of technology to spread information.

And this is what I meant by the title of this post, 'how the internet could save us'. It's safe to say that we have never faced the kind of systematic change approaching the human race. It appears we will have to address our issue of population and come to terms with the decline of our impact on this planet least we destroy its capacity to offer us life. In every way this appears a truly monumental undertaking. But one of the bright spots is that we are at a point in human history when sharing information with millions of other humans has never been easier. I was listening to Tim Winton of The Permaforest Trust Centre for Sustainability Education, give a presentation on permaculture the other day. (The presentation was prerecorded and available to me over the Internet by the way.) He was mentioning the fact that permaculture, a system of thinking that envisions a symbiotic relationship between man and nature that is truly sustainable, is happy to present its mistakes. It is a relatively new way of thinking for most modern Westerners and so the people practicing permaculture are making some mistakes. But by sharing them, Tim said he hopes those mistakes can help others avoid making similar ones. And of course they are having all sorts of successes that are quite worth sharing too. In fact, there is so much information available on the Internet about permaculture that you can learn a lot about it without buying a book or taking a class or ever leaving your office chair. In fact you can learn a lot about a great many things from in front of your 'puter. I have developed a fairly significant understanding of resource depletion and energy descent without ever earning a degree. MIT is offers a dizzying amount of its curriculum online- over 1700 courses. You won't get a piece of paper that says you graduated from MIT but you can still have plenty of the knowledge they offer there. Of course there are plenty of great books for sale or for borrow but those are increasingly available for download or for sale used on the Internet. You can and should attend conferences on topics you're interested in but as I pointed out, those too are beginning to utilize "distance shortening" technologies that will allow all of us to share from far away. I have listened to hundreds of interviews, almost all of them over the Internet. So much information is available online.

Let me stop and say that reading an article on permaculture, or any other skill, is no substitute for practicing it on your own or with the help of others. You can only learn so much mentally before getting your hands dirty. In fact I would argue that is where most of the learning actually takes place, in the muscles. But where to begin? Where to start to make the changes we are going to have to make to respond to peak energy and climate change? There is a cry of despair among peak oil activists that most of us in the modern world have become so specialized that we don't know how to do for ourselves anymore. There is a great loss of knowledge that has taken place over the past few centuries (which has accelerated over the past few decades) that has made most of us the opposite of a renaissance man. Most of us under 30 are lucky if we know how to cook without a microwave. But this lack of knowledge, or at least this lack of a starting place on the road to knowledge, is what the Internet can help us with. It is a huge repository of pornography. This much is true. It is also a growing market place where people buy and sell everything from carbon credits to "green" wristwatches. But it is also doing an excellent job of linking people together from all over the world who can share their post carbon successes and failures, joys and sorrows, hopes and fears about a future that is bound to be much more different than the recent past we've known.

But can it all be free? No. Probably not; at least not in its current form. Radiohead is able to offer their latest album online for $0 (If you decide that's what you want to pay) because they are very wealthy and because they will make an insane amount of money playing to soldout shows to promote the album. Smaller bands won't be able to follow suit. But since smaller bands are already only making a few bucks per album, they could feasibly offer their albums online for $5 and still make more than they are making right now. And it would be cheaper for us the consumers. Ultimately we'll find out just what people are willing to pay for music. Not for all the trappings that go along with the traditional music industry, just for the songs. And that's a good thing. Commerce isn't going to fade away just because the biggest band in the world started giving music away for free. And perhaps someone will make money by helping people sort through all of the kitchen pot and pan banging bands that are beginning to flood the Internet. I am not signaling the end of economy in general, just a new twist that is bound to affect someone. But who will take the blow? Who will get the pink slip as this change takes place?

As our energy resources inevitably decrease, so will our economy in the terms in which we think of it now. Peak oil will mean peak GDP. Count on it. But where will the first fat get trimmed as we transition to what's coming next? It'll come from the middle, from the middlemen taking something from a producer and selling it to a consumer. Ultimately I think we'll all be doing a lot more producing and a lot less consuming. Not necessarily a happy prospect if you make widgets, distribute them or sell them in your store. But I think the first to feel the pinch will be the middlemen. And the sooner they see it coming the sooner they can transition into a position of more value in the post carbon world. The music industry is reeling this morning because it failed to realize its day has come. It thought it could sell us songs for $1 online just the same way it sold us songs for $1 in a store, even though everything about producing those song has change. Music consumers like me are happy to see that middle man go but where will he go to? What is going on in the world and how can he adapt? How is someone to make sense of a world in such flux?

I think the answer lands us back on the Internet. As I mentioned before it is no substitute for hard work or face-to-face relationships or making mistakes while trying something new. And somethings might not change that much at all. I think the pleasure of holding a book while you read it just before falling asleep is not in danger of being replaced by sitting in front of an LCD screen just before you fall asleep. Books might be here to stay but if one examines the traditional method for sharing books, the library, one discovers the original Internet; a public repository of information for all of us to use and share. The difference between the Internet and a traditional library is that now much more information is available at incredibly increased speeds making it much more available to many more people.

I do not think the Internet alone will 'Save Us' from the shocks and pains of entering a post carbon world. I think we're in for a rough ride over the next few decades. And the Internet has its share of weaknesses. It is not currently available to everyone because computers cost money. It relies on quite a few technically complex components. It also requires electricity. There's the real possibility that it will be regulated into unhelpfulness by businesses or governments jealous or fearful of its freedom of information. The reliability of the Internet in an age of depletion is not for sure. It does however represent a democratization of information the likes of which the human race has never seen. And it holds in it the possibility that individuals and their communities might have access to the information necessary to make appropriate changes in a changing world. The internet has the potential to offer us a sea chart of knowledge as we set sail in a new direction. Long live knowledge.