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After empire, then what? -- Mike Treder looks at what happens when empires fall.

International peace, security, and stable all are strengthened by economic ties; financial integration and interdependence tend to promote harmony and tolerance. But if we experience a hard takeoff scenario for advanced nanotechnology -- a sudden and uncontrolled flood of products -- the resulting economic disruption might then destabilize international relations to the point where a hard landing for the former American empire is only one part of very bad outcome.

The Fallacy of Reversibility -- Stuart Staniford examines the apocaphile assumption that higher priced oil means the collapse of industrial agriculture.

So when you industrialize a society, is that a reversible process? Can you take it on a backward path to a deindustrialized society that looks in the important ways like the society you had before the industrialization? As far as I can see, the "second wave" peak oil writers treat it as fairly obvious that this is both possible and desirable. It appears to me that it is neither possible or desirable, but at a minimum, someone arguing for it should seriously address the question. And it is this failure that I am calling the Fallacy of Reversibility. It is most pronounced in Kunstler, who in addition to believing we need a much higher level of involvement in agriculture also wants railways, canals, and sailing ships back, and is a strong proponent of nineteenth century urban forms.

"The Martin Luther King You Don't See on TV" -- FAIR shines a light on what MLK was focusing upon at the end of his life. (via Amor Mundi)

From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was "on the wrong side of a world revolution." King questioned "our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America," and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions "of the shirtless and barefoot people" in the Third World, instead of supporting them.

In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about "capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries."

10-Fold Life Span Extension Reported -- Yeast re-engineered to live 80 days or more (that's 800 years to you and me).

Longo cautioned that [...] longevity mutations tend to come with severe growth deficits and other health problems. Finding drugs to extend the human life span without side effects will not be easy, he said.

An easier goal, Longo added, would be to use the knowledge gained about life span “in a fairly limited way, to reprogram disease prevention.”


Local agriculture is something that I've been working on and around for over 30 years. To think that the industrial agricultural model is the only viable one is extremely myopic. The localization of agriculture will not be a regression to old systems but a reintegration of older technologies with newer ones. Think of New Alchemy Institute with GPS and better computers, permaculture amplified by cell phones and youtube.

One very important fact is that agriculture, food is by necessity the foundation of every society and culture. If you don't eat, you don't live. I've seen some signs of understanding this fact in the work of the Stranded Wind folks who are promoting the idea of using wind resources currently too far from powerlines as a way to generate energy and process fertilizers for farms and food production. They see wind produced ammonia as both a fuel and a soil amendment (I have some doubts about the soil amendment part but as a bridge to a full-on organic agriculture it may be all right). Harvey Wasserman, the old anti-nuker, has been doing work throughout the Midwest for the last few years promoting the idea of wind as a second crop for farmers and has had some success. Wind turbines above waving grains is not a bad idea, two secondary solar sources working in tandem.

Listen to Alice Waters or Michael Pollan and you might even agree that industrial agriculture has been a failure on health and taste grounds as well as an ecological nightmare.

Stuart Staniford is fundamentally mis-stating the case. "The Fallacy of Reversability" is a figment of his imagination. Kunstler and those in his camp are not calling for a full return to the pastoral but a restoration of what worked reintegrated into our current structures augmented by the technologies that we can use healthily and helpfully today. The Amish and Mennonites are reportedly thriving outside the industrial agriculture model and have even adapted some "modern" technologies into their toolsets. It's a good example and one we can adopt ourselves to get out from under the thumb of Cargill and AMD.

Staniford is building a straw Luddite. Doesn't work for me.

The localization of agriculture will not be a regression to old systems but a reintegration of older technologies with newer ones. Think of New Alchemy Institute with GPS and better computers, permaculture amplified by cell phones and youtube.

I think you're exactly right, but I'm not sure that runs counter to Staniford's claims. He's directing his argument at the "back to the 1800s" types, which for me really does include Kunstler. I try to read him, not always successfully -- his manner of thinking, on this subject, makes no sense to me (I greatly admire his work on urban design, especially HOME FROM NOWHERE). He's not at all welcoming to networked technologies, and is vitriolic in his dismissal of technology enmeshed society.

I pointed to Staniford's work not because I thought it was the final word in the future of agriculture, but because I was impressed by his taking this position in the lion's den of The Oil Drum, and his direct attack on the neo-pastoralist position (which often is a thin cover for a desire to see the impure world burn).

I haven't seen that side of Kunstler. He admits that he may be getting too close to the "End Is Near" guy on the streetcorner but I don't see him as specifically Luddite. Lately, he's been concentrating more on the deflation of the housing bubble and the economic conflagration that the squawkers are in a tizzy about these past few days, perhaps justifiably, perhaps just to stampede the herd into another round of disaster capitalism.

Leaving out Kunstler, who with any kind of profile is actually proposing a return to the 19th or 18th century? Frankly the examples of the Amish and the Mennonites are not unattractive, especially if they can be adapted to a green cities strategy.


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