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Articles by Sharon Astyk

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  • Agriculture and energy solutions to avoid the fate of North Korea

    John Feffer has a good article over at Asia Times Online.

    It points out the deep danger we're in -- how teetery both the world and America's food and energy systems are. It is well worth a read, particularly because of its clear articulation of the bind we're in -- the strategies we've used in the past to get out of disaster will only accelerate collapse in the long-term.. The tools we're using to get more food out of the ground take food from the future.

  • Target your peak oil message to your audience


    Photo: Mark Sullivan/
    Photo: Eric Neitzel/WireImage.

    Peak oil is all over the place. The cover of the Wall Street Journal, CNN, you name it. The peak has tipped into the consciousness of the world. And those of us who were aware before are going to be fielding some questions. So it pays to have a response ready for the latecomers.


    It has occurred to me that there must be a simple way of explaining peak oil to everyone -- but most solutions have concentrated on creating a single simple method of explaining peak oil, when what is needed is a highly specialized approach, designed to help people grasp the issue in the most basic terms imaginable. Being a helpful sort, I have undertaken to provide those explanations. Thus, all you need to do is evaluate the person you are explaining things too, and from there, insert the proper explanation, using my handy list.

    If the person is a lot like Homer Simpson:

    The way to explain it is: "Beer comes from oil. You use oil to run tractor to grow barley. You use oil to run fermenting equipment. You use oil to ship beer to liquor store. You use gas, made from oil, to drive drunk to the store to get beer. No oil means no more beer -- ever."

  • Coming to terms with the reality of a world of refugees

    There's definitely a survivalist streak building in the environmental movement. Mainstream newspapers are starting to run stories about survivalism.

    There are quite a few people who hear that the energy peak or climate change is coming and believe that building up their stocks of ammo and heading for the hills is the way to go. I recognize, even if I do not share, that impulse: It is the impulse to protect your own, the panic you feel when you realize that your society, which on some level is supposed to protect you, hasn't planned ahead for this one. And so there's a tendency of people to get into discussions about what happens when refugees or hungry folk come around, and a lot of times the answer is that you have to protect your own again. Protect your own means "shoot people," in many cases.

  • The problems and principles of energy descent

    "How did you get there, Roo?" asked Piglet.

    "On Tigger's back!  And Tiggers can't climb downwards, because their tails get in the way, only upwards, and Tigger forgot about that when we started, and he's only just remembered.  So we've got to stay here for ever and ever -- unless we go higher.  What did you say, Tigger?  Oh, Tigger says if we go higher we shan't be able to see Piglet's house so well, so we're going to stop here."

    -- A.A. Milne, "The House At Pooh Corner"

    My kids were out climbing trees yesterday, supervised by Eric and our visiting friend and my honorary brother, "Uncle" Jesse.  Isaiah really wanted to climb up to a particular spot, but couldn't get there on little four-year-old legs.  Jesse helped him up part of the way, and then told him he had to do it himself or be content with where he could get to.  Jesse observed, "I wanted to give him a boost, but only up to a place he could get back down from himself."

    I was struck by what a useful metaphor and perhaps even principle was embodied in that casual statement.  I was also reminded, perhaps because I've now read Winnie the Pooh to my children approximately 1,000 times, of the classic representation of what happens when you climb up and can't climb down. If you can forgive the cuteness, it does seem apt.

    Let us imagine ourselves climbing up a rather steep and precarious tree, boosted up by fossil energies into a place we simply could never get to without them. The problems we are facing right now all originate in our fundamental inability to voluntarily set limits -- that is, at no point did most of us even recognize the basic necessity of stopping at a point at which we could get down on our own, without our petrocarbon helpers. So right now we look like Tiggers high in the trees -- we can climb up, but we can't climb down. Is the problem our fear or that our tails (our structural addictions to energy) get in the way? It can be hard to tell. But what is not terribly hard to tell is that one way or another, we have to come down -- and probably quite rapidly. The goal is to avoid a painful "thud" upon descent.