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
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
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: Truthout.org/The 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
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.
Toronto Star reports on plastic war and Jan Lundberg
Californians Against the Plastic Plague
The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk
SF Chronicle online http://sfgate.com
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