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Culture Change e-Letter #98

Collapse of the system and infertility ahead
Burning furniture: future urban energy source
by Jan Lundberg

When people start burning wood from unoccupied houses after the 
post-peak oil die-off, some of the "wood" will be particle board and 
plywood which are laced with formaldehyde.  Plastics will also be 
burned, as they already are today in incinerator/waste-energy "plants." 
  So, there will be some energy to use, but it will be limited (as all 
energy sources are for huge populations) -- and toxic.  Are we simply 
faced with a choice: will we die of cancer or of deprivation such as 
starvation and exposure to cold?

People do not want to face what is happening, as they don't want to 
change their lives -- even if for the better, if they only knew.  Yet, 
the window of opportunity to segue into a less regimented and more 
freedom-filled lifestyle, through localized sustainable economies, is 
shrinking fast.

Another shocker has come, as the heat wave in Seattle, after a dry 
winter, has people from all walks of life worried about the future's 
climate even beyond tomorrow's dinner and TV entertainment.  One of 
these days the shocker will stick, and an earthquake of social action 
will ensue.  Until then, it makes one want to get radical and wake 
people up somehow.

What can bring on the sudden cascade (pardon the expression, 
Seattleites) of collapse of the global corporate economy and consumer 
society?  One possibility is the stock market, as if it is a traitor to 
its own cause.  As oil companies rapidly deplete crude reserve assets 
in the ground and numbers can no longer be inflated, their stock is 
devalued.  Shell was caught with inflated reserves and the devaluing 
was a crusher to its corporate worth.  If and when this happens with 
some more companies and countries, it could cause the whole stock 
market to crash, bringing down the global financial economy.  Keep in 
mind that almost all the top corporations in the world, by size and 
profits, are oil companies or car companies (that run their death 
machines on oil).

For now, people are fairly well behaved and patient.  Then comes the 
unprecedented upheaval and strife.  History will see the biggest 
bloodbath ever, as the swollen petroleum-fed population is caught 
without energy, food and water -- not to mention consumers' endless 
array of fun gadgets that offer a bit of happiness.  These substitutes 
for having a nature-based life are killing us with plastic-chemical 
migrations into our skin and lungs, but freedom today means the right 
to shop -- and the U.S. will keep killing for that right (mainly, the 
"right" that corporations have to profit) as long as oil will power the 

The "developed" world awaits socioeconomic transformation not in any 
textbooks, although our anthropocentric density should give us a clue.  
What an historic time this is to witness the extreme swing of the 
pendulum from high entropy to rebalancing of natural systems (distorted 
though they have been by industry).

One doesn't want to see extraordinary incidence of death, but one may 
as well face the reality of the consequences of overpopulation through 
the virtual disappearance of ample petroleum.  Further, one may as well 
start preparing for the post-petroleum world by restructuring our 
social relations and our relationship with nature.  Finally, we may as 
well revel in the upcoming rebirth of sustainable culture.

Or, you can assume the soon-to-be Late Great State of California will 
just absorb another Ohio-sized population increase to reach 48 million 
by 2025.  Even "green" "activists" speak of "Smart Growth."  Hello; it 
was decades ago that growth outstripped the ecosystem's capacity to 
sustain us. [demographics statistics source: Associate Press coverage 
of Public Policy Institute study, June 2, 2005]  But who can blame the 
proponents of Smart Growth; they need to pay their bills and buy costly 
organic food.

One thing that can curtail growth of the population is the effects of 
petrochemicals, i.e., plastics and pesticides.  Sperm counts are way 
down, and sexual development of males is more and more deformed in 
terms of smaller penises and shrinking distance between penis and anus 
("genital-ano").  Perhaps Arnold Schwartzenegger, past user of steroids 
which shrivels genitals, can relate to the problem the coming 
generation of boys will have with their smaller members.  But, will 
they all be able to flex their psychological penile muscles by having 
Hummer vehicles, like the Governator does?  Nein.

 From Californians Against the Plastic Plague, summarized in its June 1, 
2005 online Update:

   "Scientists link plastic food containers with breast cancer:
   "A chemical widely used in food packaging may be a contributing 
factor to women developing breast cancer, scientists have suggested. 
The study links the compound to the development of hormone sensitive 
tissue in mice and has prompted environmental campaigners to call for 
far tighter regulation of such chemicals.

   "Study Links Plastics to Small Genitals:
   "New York - A manmade ingredient of many plastics, cosmetics and 
other consumer products may be interfering with prenatal male sexual 
development, new research suggests. A study of 85 infant boys found a 
correlation between increased exposure to some forms of the chemical 
phthalate and smaller penis size and incomplete testicular descent.

   "Studies link chemicals to genital, breast development:
   "Researchers have reported for the first time that they have found a 
highly significant link between human exposure to chemicals used in 
consumer products and adverse changes in the genitals of baby boys."

 From a new study on pesticides' effects:

   "What was surprising was that these traits (lowered sperm counts and 
reduced ability of sperm to swim) were also seen in 90 per cent of the 
male offspring born to three more subsequent generations yet the 
scientists found no obvious mutations in the DNA of the animals... 'We 
are mostly describing a new phenomenon... The hazards of environmental 
toxins are much more pronounced than we realised,' said Dr. Michael 
Skinner, head of the research team at Washington State University'" 
[source: Independent - UK]

Ecosystems to restore, truth as a business

After the slaughter of the American bison population, as part of the 
genocide of native American peoples, there remains hardly any of the 
original prairie ecosystem.  A small remnant exists in downtown Chicago 
as a living museum.  (I used to go up the adjacent building to sell 
Amoco Oil my market research reports.)  Will the buffalo come back 
where the monocrop/GMO farms now sponge off the Earth, and will cities 
remove some pavement so that people can live off the landscape as they 
always used to?

That is only one expression of today's dilemma on survival, as the 
doo-doo hits the fan of modern society's culture of waste.  
Paradoxically, none of this kind of concern has anything to do with 
one's paramount need to obtain food today, whether as a slave of 
employment or as an affluent consumer.

A new "industry" must grow out of the embryonic activity I sometimes 
call the "truth business."  This is a line of work that includes, I 
believe, this series of Culture Change Letters and countless other 
sources of real information such as Street Spirit (tabloid of Oakland, 
California).  Almost by definition, being paid for pursuing truth is a 
hopeless and automatic contradiction, a paradox, and an oxymoron.  
Whether one is attempting to spread information and wisdom about 
sustainable living that flies in the face of dominant economics -- via 
publishing or simply acting out one's daily nonpolluting and 
nonparticipation in social injustice -- being compensated with cash 
presents unresolveable problems.  For example, what is to be done with 
money: use fossil-fueled transportation and utilize manufactured goods 
that should not even be made?  Easily enough, truth seekers aren't ever 
presented with such problems of riches.

Such a question is for the intelligentsia for the most part.  Another 
question for the intelligentsia and hopefully across class lines, is 
"There will HAVE to be a way for people to start taking action -- does 
someone have to come up with something original and attractive?"  Our 
world is being destroyed, and we wink and nod at the deadly game and 
tell ourselves there is always hope tomorrow, although with less and 
less certainty.

Urban society post-collapse

To reconcile this conundrum, a truthful minority of today's population 
could acknowledge the challenge and decide to actively support totally 
new thinking.  Is it the educated people in decent health?  Although 
that may be generally true, it is street people, however, who already 
have a leg up: knowing how to get by in the harsh environment of the 
city we should call "the privatized fortress."  Instead of being feared 
and vilified, street people should be looked upon as skilled in things 
that are about to matter a lot.  For street people will have the calm 
and know-how to obtain food and dodge threatening people -- as they do 

A national discussion needs to take place on the issue of petroleum 
dependence and how vastly and rapidly changes will come about.  I told 
Congressman Bartlett (see Culture Change Letter #96) about "citizen 
petroleum councils" and how they would work to identify problems and 

As time is lost every day that goes by without many people's taking 
some moments to discuss depaving and non-car transportation, to name 
two vital characteristics of sustainability, we are trading in our 
wealth and peace today, such as they are, for a cataclysmic wiping 
clear of the slate.

The truth of this is scant nourishment, whether we be well-fed 
intelligentsia or street people.  For those in the truth business and 
those anticipating complete petroleum-induced collapse, the same rule 
applies: knowledge alone will not feed the belly or the soul or a 
person or a population.  Speaking of nourishment, when urban survivors 
are cooking over furniture fires, one shouldn't use varnished or 
painted or treated (pesticide injected) woods -- the taste is second 
rate, and sperm count and swim-ability may be of greater concern in 
future than in the much populated present.

In that epoch ahead, after our fiddling is finished and our Rome 
burned, and we may be roasting rodents over furniture fires, Iraqis and 
other peoples might not be so inclined toward revenge when they think 
of how the mighty U.S. fell, and, besides, getting to this continent 
with sailboats -- once the oil is mostly unavailable -- will not be so 
easy as today.



Street Spirit

Toronto Star reports on plastic war and Jan Lundberg

Californians Against the Plastic Plague

The Guardian

SF Chronicle online

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