My last recession ever…….

22 10 2012

On the roeoz Yahoo list I started all those years ago (eight and a half to be precise…!) I recently started a heated argument partly by stating that in the Great Depression “everything ground to a halt”.  Now of course, I have to admit not everything ground to a halt way back in 1929, food continued to be produced, and there wasn’t a famine on any scale remotely like some of those we regularly see in Somalia or Ethiopia.  But metaphorically speaking, things did grind to a halt, especially for those who lost their jobs and for their families.  The economy did contract for a decade.  Some people never even realised how bad things got, because their lifestyle was secure; in fact, many people got rich off the back of the depression……..

It got me thinking about “the recession we had to have”.  In a previous life, I was a very successful professional photographer.  I slowly but surely started winning awards for my work, eventually reaching the rank of President of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography’s QLD Division.  I was elevated to judge at the National Print Awards, and won so many awards myself (no, I didn’t judge my own photos!!) I almost made it to Master Photographer status.  Except I woke up to myself.  Or rather I was pushed……

During the unbelievable excesses of the 80’s, this young photographer was making money hand over fist, and it seemed like it would never stop.  Just like every other bubble.  By 1989, I had a studio equipped with over $100,000 worth of photo equipment, a nice car or two, I was flown all over the countryside by the AIPP to attend conferences or Print Awards events, and I was fast reaching the pinnacle of my career.  In more ways than one….

I remember needing an expensive bit of kit, a 5″x4″ CAMBO super wide large format camera that cost $2500 at the time, not chicken feed in 1989.  There was one in the country, and I signed a lease to get it.  I leased everything back then… debt was not an issue.  My cashflow at the time was such that this camera paid for itself in the very first month I owned it…..!  Not even I could believe it.  How could this ever stop?  But stop it did, and spectacularly at that.

My biggest client in 1989 was a multinational advertising agency (you can’t believe you’re reading this, right….?) who at the end would send me for day shoots (at $1000 a pop) to the Gold Coast to do insane things like photograph male models wearing suits in the surf at sunrise shaking hands……  I think they were supposed to pretend they had made a multi million dollar deal on Gold Coast real estate, or some such crap.  If you can’t believe you’re reading this, I can’t believe I’m writing it….

Agencies like these would do anything to drag out paying you for at least 90 days, and I always had to ring the accounts department to get my cheques from them….  talk about crooks!  By December 1989, they owed me enough money to buy eight of those cameras, Christmas was coming, the twins were two years old, and I had no cash, and I wanted what was owed to me.  I don’t know how many times I had to ring them until I was eventually told to come and collect my cheque for $7000 from their office…..  where the bastards were holding a Christmas party no one had invited me to.  I was made to wait half an hour as they partied on within sight, but I walked out with my 1/3 payment.  I drove straight to the bank and paid a fee to have the cheque cleared on the spot, insight which to this day I still pat myself on the back for.  Because over the Christmas break, the agency went into receivership…..  and I never saw any of that other money they owed me.

In 1990, even though I had a sign on my desk that read “I refuse to participate in the recession“, things got worse….  my second biggest client, a small agency owned by an old experienced guy with ethics, closed down.  Brian simply had a gutful, and in his sixties decided he’d had enough and pulled the plug.  At least he had the decency to pay me everything I was owed, but none of his clients ever used my services ever again.  They simply stopped large scale advertising.

At this stage, I had moved into a very large studio with another photographer, we were going to kill the market.  Except the market killed me…..  with half my turnover gone, and shrinking by the month, my overdraft growing incessantly, the bank eventually said there was a limit to how deep in the red they’d let me go, and we sold the house.  Of course we got twenty grand less than it used to be worth.

In retrospect, absolutely none of this surprises me now.  This is how capitalism works.  Boom, bust.  But as Bill Mollison famously said, the problem is the solution.  A dictum I now strongly follow.  I learned a lot from all this.  Or rather I learned a lot thanks to all this.  As bad as things seemed, it was the change I needed.

We moved to Mt Nebo where I eventually met Bruce who introduced me to solar power, blacksmithing, and home milled timber, and more importantly, lent me a copy of “Abandon Affluence” by Ted Trainer.  The book that changed my life…..

Ted Trainer

The one thing I really learned from this was that I would never ever be involved in a recession ever again, and I would never be involved with capitalism ever again either.  Soon after that I read the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report, and my outlook on life was never going to be the same again.

It’s because of what happened to us in this recession we had to have that I can understand what’s in store when the inevitable crash occurs.  Only this time it will be huge, and there won’t be a recovery.  This is as good as it gets…..

Tomorrow I leave for Tasmania to look at real estate.  No one will be shaking hands in the surf at sunrise.  Watch this space……!

Post Scriptum

I did in the end manage to screw my bank……  at the height of the bubble, we bought a block of land at Mt Nebo, borrowed the lot.  Of course!  There was a clause in the mortgage contract that said that if we paid the loan off early, we’d have to pay three months worth of interest as a penalty.  After selling the house, I paid something like 97% of the loan off (can’t remember the exact numbers), leaving one or two payments left to be made at the regular rate.  When I made the last payment, some ridiculous amount like $20, the interest owed on that payment was like $2.  The teller went to the manager to establish how much my penalty was going to be, and when he realised what I had done, walked to the counter and told me to go away….!!  That was so sweet.  I closed all my accounts, and I did go away.  With a big smile on my dial….

Are we on the cusp of global collapse?

16 10 2012

Back in April, I wrote So much for debunking the Club of Rome in which I discussed a recent paper written by Dr Graham Turner of CSIRO, entitled “On the Cusp of Global Collapse?” It’s one of the most visited entry of this blog…… Anyone whose imagination was captured by the original “Limits to Growth” book from 1972, will find this is definitely an “Oh shit!” moment……. Since publishing the latest updated version of Dr Turner’s paper on line would breach copyright, I’ll try to write a suitable summary.  I will reproduce the four-paragraph conclusion though, and some graphs. Dr. Graham Turner, who is  senior research scientist at CSIRO, published his first 30-year comparison in 2008, using data from 1972 to 2002 to examine how the real situation compared to those infamous LtG projections of the 70’s.  In this update, another ten years of data are added on, for a more robust 40-year comparison. The data sources Dr Turner used for this analysis are dutifully referenced.  The data includes information from the United Nations for population, as well as food, industrial output and literacy data, and uses the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011 for oil and electricity consumption figures, plus CO2 data from NOAA, ESRI and Scripps. To ensure apples are not compared with oranges, Dr Turner normalized all the data to the year 1900, and then compared it against three runs from Limits to Growth (1972):

  • The standard run assumes business as usual, using parameters found from the 1900-1970 data.
  • The comprehensive technology scenario models the attempt to reach sustainability through the application of a broad range of the usual (green dream) technological solutions.
  • The stabilised world scenario uses both technology and social policies to achieve equilibrium in key factors like population, food and consumption.

Generally, the data follows the standard run scenario. Where diversions occur, it is in the direction of the comprehensive technology scenario, with very little evidence of social policies influencing the results. Only one factor follows the stabilised world scenario, and that is global death rates. These level off lower than the standard run, but higher than the comprehensive technology curve. Population, birth rates, and per capita food, services and industrial output all follow the standard run. As do global pollution (modelled as CO2 emissions) and the consumption of non-renewable resources (modelled as the fraction of remaining oil). The original LtG World3 model predicted that collapse in the standard run and comprehensive technology scenarios began with resource constraints. Not necessarily resource shortages per se, but rather the increased re allocation of a dwindling pool of capital into extracting harder to get at resources – the “peaking” effect as I like to call it.  Exactly the same conclusion is supported by this latest analysis. Anyone who’s read John Michael Greer’s concept of catabolic collapse will understand how this scenario works.  Dr Turner also acknowledges Joseph Tainter‘s theory of decreasing marginal return on complexity (something I mentioned recently) as a source of the problems shown by the comprehensive technology scenario as well as a being factor in the rising cost of resource extraction. As I have done many times here myself, Dr Turner explores the role of oil and food ‘price shocks’ as feedstock for more general economic crises, and the excessive complexity of the global financial system must be a factor here as well…….. Graham Turner’s conclusions are:

Our previous comparison of global data with the LtG modelled scenarios has been updated here to cover the 40-year period 1970 to 2010, i.e., from when the scenario simulations begin. The data has been compared with the outputs of theWorld3 model for three key LtG scenarios: standard run, comprehensive technology, and stabilized world. The data review continues to confirm that the standard run scenario represents real-world outcomes considerably well. This scenario results in collapse of the global economy and population in the near future. It begins in about 2015 with industrial output per capita falling precipitously, followed by food and services. Consequently, death rates increase from about 2020 and population falls from about 2030 – as death rates overtake birth rates. The collapse in the standard run is primarily caused by resource depletion and the model response of diverting capital away from other sectors in order to secure less accessible resources. Evidence for this mechanism operating in the real world is provided by comparison with data on the energy required to secure oil. Indeed, the EROI has decreased substantially in recent decades, and is quantitatively consistent with the relevant parameter in the World3 model. The confirmation of the key model mechanism underlying the dynamics of the standard run strengthens the veracity of the standard run scenario. The issue of peak oil has also affected food supply and evidently played a role in the current global financial crisis. While the GFC (global financial collapse) does not directly reflect collapse in the LtG standard run, it may well be indirectly related. The corroboration here of the LtG standard run implies that the scientific and public attention given to climate change, whilst important, is out of proportion with, and even deleteriously distracting from the issue of resource constraints, particularly oil. Indeed, if global collapse occurs as in this LtG scenario then pollution impacts will naturally be resolved, though not in any ideal sense. Another implication is the imminence of possible collapse. This contrasts with the general commentary on the LtG that describes collapse occurring sometime mid-century; and the LtG authors stressed not interpreting the time scale too precisely. However, the alignment of data trends with the model’s dynamics indicates that the early stages of collapse could occur within a decade, or might even be underway. This suggests, from a rational risk-based perspective, that planning for a collapsing global system could be even more important than trying to avoid collapse.

Climate Change is accelerating so fast at the moment that it may well have more of a role in the coming collapse than Dr. Turner concedes, but in the end that’s just quibbling in the face of momentous changes that both the model and the data suggest are coming. 2015 just doesn’t seem that far away any more…….


It is now 2015.  And this is where we are today…..:

If we can’t save Society, we must save ourselves

15 10 2012

This is a guest post by Dr Geoff Chia.  I first met Geoff some five years ago when he invited me to talk to his group of doctors and scientists in Brisbane.  A couple of weeks ago, I made another presentation to his group D3SJ (which stands for Doctors & Scientists for Sustainability and Social Justice) on the merits of moving to Tasmania.  This is an essay Geoff wrote as a result of the discussion which ensued from my talk.

If we can’t save Society, we must save ourselves

During our recent October 2012 meeting when Mike Stasse was outlining his rationale for moving to Tasmania, I found one particular comment from the audience rather unsettling.

No, it wasn’t the comment that we are on the verge of global economic collapse – we all know that¹

No, it wasn’t the comment that Society is exactly on course to suffer the death of billions of
people this century – we all know that².

It was this comment: that it was disgraceful for us, the pro-sustainability advocates, to attempt to save ourselves, because this somehow made us no better than the anti-sustainability “business as usual” corporate fraudsters and banksters. The implication was that we were no different from the very people we oppose, the ones who are the principal architects of our demise, the ones who are pushing us ever faster towards the brink (but who are themselves building fortified communities surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire to protect themselves).

According to such criticism, what then are we, the pro-sustainability advocates, the Aware, supposed to do? Knowing the turmoil we face ahead and knowing how to mitigate personal harm, should we do nothing? Should we simply join the herds of passive, gormless, clueless sheeple and allow ourselves to be swept away by the tsunami of chaos, deprivation and carnage to come? Follow the lemmings over the cliff?
Does an attempt to save ourselves amount to an abandonment and betrayal of greater Society? If you were in a room with a gang of arsonists hellbent on setting the drapes on fire and despite vigorous and repeated attempts at persuasion you were unable to deter them, would it be noble or would it be stupid for you to stay in the room and burn to death with them? Or would it be more sensible to leave the room, even as it is being consumed by flames, knowing that you did everything in your power to prevent or mitigate the harm to them, but they rejected your efforts at every turn?

Quite apart from the insult of equating us, the Aware, to the psychopathic perpetrators of the impending collapse, it is factually wrong. There is only one way in which we are similar and it is this: we consume. As such, even the most ardent environmentalist contributes to carbon emissions and to resource depletion by virtue of the fact that he/she is alive. We, the Aware, acknowledge the harm we are causing, which we are trying to minimise and repair. We are however diametrically opposed to the BAUAUs (business as usual acolytes and underlings) who, far from acknowledging or trying to prevent or mitigate harm, are furiously pouring accelerant over the fire, even as they themselves are abandoning the room and making off with the profits of those accelerants.

I have convened our D3SJ meetings for more than six years now, the main goal being to promote the idea that policy should be determined by evidence, reason and fairness to achieve the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people on a long term basis. Above all I am a realist and am able to acknowledge that I have failed miserably in my efforts to spread the message, not only to greater society but also to my own medical colleagues, supposedly intelligent people who remain in adamant denial. We have achieved
some worthwhile outcomes however, by networking with likeminded people and educating ourselves about important issues.

I would argue that not only is it natural, according to the instincts of self preservation, for us, the Aware, to save ourselves, we have a duty to do so. Why? For one simple reason. We carry the seeds of a new civilisation. We hold the key to the greatest prize humanity has ever known, without which there can be only recurring darkness, ignorance, suffering and misery. We bear the hope that arising from the ashes of this failed rapacious, destructive, consumerist, military-industrial complex will ultimately be a civilisation which has learned the bitter lessons of history and shapes itself according to the principles of sustainability and social justice, which creates a steady state economy, which shapes policy according to
evidence, reason and fairness to achieve the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people on a long term basis.

The alternative is a return to the brutality of tribal societies run by parasitic despots who extract their wealth off the backs of feudal serfs and slaves, no longer having the option of fossil fuels and unable to build a renewable energy infrastructure. Societies which continue to follow the boom and bust pattern of plague species, while eking out a paltry existence from a devastated hothouse hell of a planet. Here is another reason why we, the Aware, must take action now to save ourselves:

people³ judge you more by your actions than by your words. If others know you are taking serious action to prepare for the impending collapse, that in itself may be your strongest argument to them that humanity is wrecking the planet and our present course is unsustainable.

Am I saying that it is all too late, that humanity has passed the point of no return and we should stop wasting our time trying to spread our message to greater Society? The updated Limits to Growth projections indicate that it is indeed too late: all repeated runs with even the most optimistic (but realistic) inputs result in “overshoot” (the LtG euphemism for “the death of billions”). However future projections are not absolute, it is all about probabilities. There may be perhaps a 1% chance that the majority of people in the world may suddenly come to their senses, that they will finally “get it”, that the power of the fossil fuel corporations will be broken and we will urgently move in the direction of energy efficiency, 100% renewable energy and humane population reduction. Hence we should keep pushing our message. I cannot emphasize enough my admiration for people who are willing to place their bodies, their liberty and their financial security at risk to stand up for what they believe in. Those of us too cowardly to emulate him (myself included) must at least respect and support them.

The overwhelming probability however is that the stable world we are familiar with is cactus, that we will be experiencing systemic breakdowns very soon. It will be silly not to plan for this.

Geoff Chia

2. See abstract:
3. That is, sensible people value actions over words. Sensible people value evidence over rhetoric. On the
other hand, stupid people can be convinced by rhetoric alone, particularly rhetoric crafted to match their
prejudices. Such people are the fans of Tony Abbott, Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt and unfortunately make up a large proportion of this Society. They are the fans of Sarah Palin and are the Tea Party members in America. They are the war criminals who murdered Iraqis to steal their oil on the basis of lies. Do such people deserve to be saved in the first place? Or is it best we get out of the way and let those greedy, bigoted, self serving and innately violent people kill each other in a Hobbesian war of “all against all”?

Introducing Susan Krumdieck……

14 10 2012

Some ten years ago, when I first discovered we were up against it, I read a great book titled “Factor 4”, written by Amory Lovins, his then wife, and Ernst von Weizsacker (isn’t that a great name?!)

In that book, Lovins proclaimed himself a lover of cars with “the Hypercar”, a hydrogen/fuel cell contraption built out of Carbon fiber, hyper aerodynamic, etc etc….. having just googled it looking for a link to give you reveals not much has happened.  But at the time I was mesmerised by all this technology, it all seemed so likely?  I lurked in forums full of fans of the Hydrogen Economy, and Lovins’ green car…. and there, I found one person who argued it was all BS.  Her name is Dr Susan Krumdieck, an American engineer from Colorado who now lives In New Zealand where she’s an  Associate Professor at Canterbury University and teaches sustainable systems around fuel cells, alternative energy technologies, energy conservation, energy systems engineering, and materials for energy systems.  You know, someone I can really get on with?

Susan is very approachable (if very busy) and replied to an email I sent her, fishing for info.  It turns out what she doesn’t know about fuel cells isn’t worth knowing!  She actually lectures about this stuff all over the world, and surprise surprise, has come to the same conclusions as me.  We will have to make do with a hell of a lot less in the future.

On the 20th of July, she made a presentation to the Leadership New Zealand Programme in Christchurch, New Zealand which was filmed and is now on Youtube.  It explains our dilemmas very well, and I want to share it with you.  Hopefully, you will share it too.

Garlic’s out

14 10 2012

This a follow up post from Garlic’s in.

Last Friday, I went to my mate Serge’s place for a social event where he showed us all how to make bread and cheese….. and he had pulled all his garlic up, drying it under his solar pergola.

I wasn’t really expecting to pull mine up before November, but I have to say it was starting to look very dry, and never having had a successful crop due to too much rain, I wasn’t sure if it looked withered from lack of water, or whether it was simply ready for pulling up. Serge said pull it up, so up it came…… and what a crop!

Serge said it was his best crop, and so it is here at Mon Abri. Nothing like a dry Mediterranean winter for the stuff to do well. As soon as it dries sufficiently, I’ll tress it up to hang…. my very first organic home grown crop! I’m over the moon with it.

Hopefully, there’s enough there to last me until next March when I’ll replant.  IF I’m not in Tasmania by then, I could have some exciting news on that front soon.  You’ll just have to be patient…

Sustainable Man

9 10 2012

I’ve always been a great fan of David Suzuki’s, even met him three times and had my photo taken with him…  I just had to share this.

“Externalities” from Sustainable Man on Vimeo.