Adding and removing complexity

By Mary Logan

An article on the difficulty of building truly green buildings and recent discussions about the healthcare system triggered thoughts about a major transition problem that is occurring over and over again—the problem of a complex hierarchy that demands feeding with extra energy. Previous posts about the added complexity that digitization brings are pertinent here, but this post is about the general problem of how we respond to limits by adding complexity, and what it might take to remove complexity at the top of the hierarchy without collapse. Continue reading Adding and removing complexity

A highly transformed society

www.ridethesolarwind.be:en:

by Mary Logan

The picture above is a metaphor for our contracting society in an era of declining nonrenewable energy. What is the emergy basis of an electric bike powered by a solar power battery that the bike and rider tows?  How do we use technology while our horizons of available yet marginal net energy recede? The award-winning bike/solar bob is touted as every environmentalist’s dream, where I can have my cake and eat it too. If I tow a solar panel behind my electric bike, I can boost my power and range to go longer distances at higher speeds. I can even charge electronics and power LED lights. What Is the true value to society of the electric panel towed behind on a bob, and is it worth it? Is the time we save worth the expenditures of energy? Can high-tech boosters augment or be layered on top of human-powered technology in a lower energy world? How much tech is too much? In our struggle to extract usable energy from the surrounding environment to maintain our society based on high-quality fossil fuels, our highly transformed society uses energies of varying qualities in substitution for each other, without an understanding of the Transformity involved in different types of energy. Continue reading A highly transformed society

Lies, damn lies, and radiation health

by Mary Logan

Recent news about Hanford leaks, a flurry of news surrounding the two-year anniversary of Fukushima, and today’s news about breast cancer rates in the US center my thoughts on blind spots in health research. I will use ionizing radiation again as an illustration of environmental linkages to disease, beginning with the trigger for this post, which was a new World Health Organization (WHO) report. Previous posts about nuclear hazards are linked here and here.

This week, the WHO published a preemptive report on Fukushima, only two years after the disaster. The WHO concluded that “for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.” This conclusion is from the same organization that has been muzzled on the topic of ionizing radiation contamination of our environment since 1959, when they agreed to misinform the public in subordination to the global nuclear governing body, the IAEA, to protect civil and military nuclear interests.  If you believe that Fukushima has not increased background risk and there will be no increases in cancer rates, I have a bridge to sell you. Mark Twain’s maxim about lies, damn lies, and statistics can be applied here. The point of this post is to examine western medicine’s epistemology of disease, specifically examining how we select the risk factors that are involved in cancer and other diseases.  Continue reading Lies, damn lies, and radiation health

A sailboat is a microcosm of life

One Ship Sails East
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1916

But to every mind there openeth,
A way, and way, and away,
A high soul climbs the highway,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.

But to every man there openeth,
A high way and a low,
And every mind decideth,
The way his soul shall go.

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

By Mary Logan

seagrapesWe’re sailors. Sailboats have been part of our lives for decades, beginning with my husband Todd’s 17-foot sloop, the AtLast, so titled because his mother finally got her garage back when he finished building the boat in high school. Eventually we sold the small sloop when we developed competing interests such as family, and I refused to help my husband paint the wooden boat, yet again. Ever since then, we’ve had various small boats, from small catamarans, windsurfers and even a sailing canoe, to a snow-kite and an ice boat here in Anchorage. Todd built the ice boat in our garage here in Anchorage in an attempt to accommodate his need to sail in the subarctic winter–I christened it Risk for Injury, because those were the first words on page one of the design plans. The ice boat can hit speeds of up to 60 mph if unencumbered by various limits. Todd is not allowed to take the craft out alone (that’s another story). Sailing on ice in winter does not really feed our fix for sailing, and sailing in the summer up here has to compete with many other interests during a very short summer. We generally wait until we head to warmer climes to sail.

This month, we have burned through many people’s allotments of fossil fuels to come to the cruising grounds of the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) to warm up and to sail. We have done this trip many times before, typically during the off-season in the summer when we lived in Florida, in order to unplug from high-pressure jobs. But I am sensing that traditional vacations where we fly somewhere far away to go sailing may be on the way out. We have some discretionary income this year, and who knows how long it will hold its value/meaning? So this is one last fling in the BVIs, with a flotilla of two boats and thirteen sun-starved Alaskans–the winter has been grim this year in Alaska, with lots of dark but little snow.

Sailing can be a cheap vacation if we rent a boat that we share with friends while provisioning, cooking, and sailing ourselves. Americans often feel that we must buy our own things, but renting a boat for the occasional use is far cheaper than owning. We have watched many friends and family members struggle with boat ownership, and the old maxim, a boat is a hole into the water into which one pours money, is really true. Over the years, the charter boat industry has become a monopolized industry, paralleling the development in many other industries. There are fewer but larger companies to charter from. This year, during high season, the charter docks for those companies were full of boats, and it was easier to find anchorages alone. The charter industry appears to be hurting from the global economic recession.

Sunrise, Anegada Reefs
Sunrise, Anegada

I’m writing this post organically this time, using pen and paper, sitting with my coffee in the quiet mornings, before the trades freshen for the day in response to the heating sea and land, watching brown boobies and pelicans feed on schools of fish in quiet anchorages. My thoughts circle the idea of sailboats as a slice of life that demonstrates on the small-scale the limits of energies, materials, and wastes, the importance of teamwork, and how technology changes over time as surplus energy continues to flow. Continue reading A sailboat is a microcosm of life

Emergy: you spelled energy wrong!

by Mary Logan

EMergy–yes, that word is spelled correctly. Emergy with an EM, means the Energy Memory of something. What is Emergy, and how do I learn more about it? I have been getting requests for suggested readings about EMergy–so here is a brief explanation and some suggested links.

Science proposes to describe, explain, predict, and control. But when we talk about global problems of the biosphere, science often fails in explanation, prediction, and problem-solving. Many scientific disciplines have reduced themselves into specialized, competitive silos, protected from each other by separate terminology and reductionist theories. The lenses through which many scientists view the world are microscopic in nature, focusing on analysis and application, using statistical tools that break things down into smaller and smaller pieces.  This focus makes it difficult to even define the problems, much less find solutions. While analysis is a useful and important subset of the overall process, synthesis and evaluation of policies requires using an instrument such as a macroscope to view the world from a systemic perspective. Our lack of synthesis prevents us from seeing and evaluating the relationships, processes and structures inherent in the whole. And our grasp of the holistic big picture is what frames our view of society’s trajectory and the problems society faces.

How does one find a coherent way to grasp the big picture of how man exists on this planet? If we use a macroscope to analyze energy flows using Emergy Synthesis, then we  can capture the essence of complex, global systems, since a continuous flow of energy is the central issue to maintaining our complex civilization (or not). Understanding the nature of our energy basis is essential to understanding where we are headed as a civilization.  Continue reading Emergy: you spelled energy wrong!

Starting down: seven deadly sins

choices“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” ― T.S. Eliot

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”― Mahatma Gandhi

“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”― John Locke

“I am not imposed upon by fine words; I can see what actions mean.”― George Eliot

By Mary Logan

For those of us who live in countries where we use many fossil fuels, we have been shielded from the consequences of living badly. But that age is ending. Now that the Mayan Baktun 13 calendar has passed, we begin the era of the Gaian calendar. We “will eventually have to reduce either our populations or our living standards (emergy use) by 80 to 90 percent” (Odum & Odum, 2001, p. 170).  And as the years go by, adaptation will become harder and harder, as the surplus energy available for the tasks wanes. There are policies for a prosperous way down, but I know that when I mention the word policy to my students, their eyes glaze over. Since we are approaching the new year and a new era, I will approach the idea of personal action by framing actions in the form of Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Sins. Our capitalist culture values growth and wealth above all. It is time to reset our values as we start down in descent. This is a challenge to those of you who are still sitting on your hands when it comes to sustainable, local living. What are you waiting for? Consider Gandhi’s 7 Sins; how many of these are you guilty of, and how can your form personal resolutions that reframe these sins in descent? Continue reading Starting down: seven deadly sins

Cities–too big to fail?

by Mary Logan

Odum, et al., 1995 Zonal Organization of Cities and Environment

Many people have the misguided belief that cities are energy efficient. Cities compared to other environments are often more efficient with respect to transportation, because fuel use actually drops off in city centers due to the availability of mass transit. But the embodied emergy as a whole in the infrastructure, people, and information in cities suggests the opposite. Cities are actually energy hogs, that concentrate energy. In a future of waning energy, are our biggest cities too big to fail? What size city is sustainable?

This post is a follow-up to last week’s post about our dialogue about big cities and descent. Examples are everywhere this week of people projecting their fears on long-deferred retribution by Mother Nature and the need to wield war using our technological tools to maintain our cities. Sandy is evidence of a heating world, with bigger swings in weather and a hurricane one week, a northeaster the next. There have been a flood of victorious articles suggesting that I told you so about climate change.  Even though Sandy was only category 1 or 2 storm, it was over a very broad area with a very high total kinetic energy because of a hot ocean, even very late in hurricane season in a season with many storms. But the impacts of Sandy were complicated by the population density in the northeast. Perhaps The Weather Channel needs to make up a new metric for landfall in complex, urban settings. The more high-tech complexity we have, the more widespread, serious, and long-term the impacts. These scenarios will be increasingly frequent in the future, as we turn the lights out in a room with too many people. Continue reading Cities–too big to fail?

Sandy and digital snow days

by Mary Logan

My thoughts and concern goes out to those struggling with this unprecedented American storm in the northeast. As I write this early on Tuesday morning, watching this game-changer of a storm, a myriad of thoughts go through my head. The storm event is just the beginning. Rivers will flood, and snows will accumulate. Recovery will be long and slow. Recovery will be hampered by problems with energy delivery, complexity, and density of populations. Just in time, digitized systems that are overly complex will be challenged. News will filter out slowly, with initial optimism about the extent of the damage, followed by increasingly pessimistic reports about the size and extent of the problems as communication begins to be reestablished. This post describes Sandy as a catastrophic pulse in relation to the problems of dense urban living, complexity, and digitization. Continue reading Sandy and digital snow days

Hair of the dog, or, the limits of technology

By Mary Logan

This post is about the hopeful idea that technology is going to save us from having to adapt to descent. A recent article describes an episode of geopiracy to geoengineer the ocean, so we’re back at climate again, since this example provides particular insights and illustrations into our blindspots about the limits to growth and the limits of technology. Almost all environmental articles now mention climate, whether it is warranted in the discussion or not, so it is hard to avoid the topic. We are shoehorning every environmental problem into the same size small shoe of solutions. Is it lack of ecoliteracy? I also continue to beat this drum because one of Odum’s great concerns was that misunderstandings about the interconnected nature of our problems would lead to geoengineering of the planet. He recognized the hazards of industrial scale manipulation of the biosphere, and the danger of relying on the industrial machine for fixes.

Asking wrong questions….

Climate change is a situation where we have fastened on a subset of the real problem, which is population and economic growth. So we immediately frame the solution set in an even smaller space, which is geoengineering, or financial wizardry, or some other narrow solution to the wrong problem that benefits only a few, and further damages the environment. 

We have trained our minds to focus and analyze, thus we anxiously narrow our frame of reference when faced with big problems. Einstein said that  problems cannot be solved by the level of awareness that created them. He meant seeing the big picture, and avoiding doubling down on behaviors that got us where we are now. Or, in colloquial terms, What how fellow, thou knave, I pray thee let me and my fellow have a haire of the dog that bit us last night. And bitten were we bothe to the braine aright (Drunkard.com, from 1546). The idea that the hair of the dog was a cure dates back to the Greek, who believed that a dog bite would heal more quickly if you ate dog hair. Is technology a hair-of-the-dog cure for our energy bender?

We’re going to have to shift our world views to adapt. In an ongoing quest to broaden worldviews to consider the hierarchy of energy, here are some recent climate articles as examples of the limits of technology. Continue reading Hair of the dog, or, the limits of technology

Net Energy-what Captain Cook didn’t know

By Mary Logan

In June of 1778, Captain Cook’s search for the Northwest Passage brought him to the later-named Cook inlet near my home, Anchorage, Alaska. As he sailed up the arm (fjord) and reached the end, he discovered that there was no outlet. After days of being stuck due to wind and fog, he had to TurnAgain, hence the name of the arm. Captain Cook never found the Northwest passage, and he never saw England again. He died the following year in the Hawaiian islands after picking a fight with Hawaiian Islanders.

We are not quite out of gas yet in the United States. But we keep steaming down fjords without outlets, turning randomly from one blind alley to the next in trying to adapt to our energy quandary. In Captain Cook’s case, he was exploring with zero information, so there was a good chance of failure. But when it comes to energy alternatives, we can avoid dead ends, since we have what Captain Cook didn’t have, information on the best alternatives. This post is about the science of net energy regarding those options.

We are now trialling many unworkable alternative energy sources, as a response to government subsidies and agendas promoted by various energy lobbies, often in pursuit of short-term profits for private companies. Should we be letting private energy companies with vested interests dictate future energy policy which could make the difference in continuing to exist as a country? Which so-called renewable energy sources have yielded practical returns on investment, withstanding the test of time? There is a 50-year body of research on the subject of net energy. Shouldn’t we be using science and not vested corporate interests to set energy policy?

In the last post, I suggested that if one doesn’t understand the problem of declining net energy (empower basis), then growth is not viewed as a problem. Even our oil companies now openly advertise that we have produced the easy half of the oil available to the planet, and we will be producing less in the future since we have peaked. Less oil and other resources means that our economy will have to contract in the future, since renewable energy suffers from lower energy density and quality. Since we are entering energy descent, practical energy sources are beginning to sort from the impractical. Because “the true value of energy to society is the net energy, which is what is left after the energy costs of getting and concentrating that energy are subtracted,” we must decide net yield to make proactive choices about the future (Odum, 1973). Odum developed the concept of net energy and then refined the idea over the span of 50 years. The name of the analysis changed several times beginning with the term net energy then to embodied energy and finally to the term emergy yield or net empower to account for more inclusive changes in method, so many don’t recognize that the terms were developed over time from the thinking of the same community of scientists.

The primary goal of this post is to suggest that many purported energy source predictions of net yield are overly optimistic dead ends–many of our current efforts won’t work. The second goal is to suggest more reasonable net empower estimates, and to briefly check the performance of renewables from the proving ground of time. How did these experiments in energy work out for us? Continue reading Net Energy-what Captain Cook didn’t know

Is climate change a euphemism for growth?

by Mary Logan

I have become sensitive to the silences that come during discussions about the world with others who view the world through a microscope. Silence or a change of topic suggests either denial of my point of view or failure to grasp my frame of reference. While I am peering through an energy lens or macroscope, others may view the world through a lens where money or some other construct makes the world go round instead. One question that stops conversations cold is, “What if our greatest societal challenge is not climate but growth?” That challenge sometimes elicits a glare signifying indignation or perhaps a sense of betrayal that I’m stepping away from my supposed congregation.

Two mechanisms may be occurring when speakers frame climate change as the most important problem that the world has to face. If one’s view of the world is that energy is unlimited, and that we can grow infinitely, and that the environment has a limitless ability to absorb our pollution, then growth is not an important issue. While most people probably know in their hearts that infinite growth is not sustainable, they do not know that energy has limits. So speakers may use a euphemism to subconsciously displace the problem of growth with climate change, since we have been taught the goal of economic growth as a fundamental precept of our society. Secondly, speakers who focus on climate may fail to grasp the severity of the problem of peak oil, because of declining net energy or emergy yields. Thus we lump other assaults on ecosystems such as growth of population, growth of the economy, extraction of resources and other forms of pollution within the problem of climate change. These problems are inextricably connected, but we prioritize them differently depending on our ability to think like a system. Continue reading Is climate change a euphemism for growth?

Hierarchy and money in a global hall of mirrors

by Mary Logan

Many authors have written about alternative forms of money, so I don’t need to canvas the topic. But I’m still thinking about the digitization of money and its role in our current monetary predicaments.  I recently watched a movie about time as an alternative currency, and I also attended a local lecture on time-banking. These thoughts converge for this post about traditional and alternative forms of money as an illustration of the hierarchy of money. Our economic information systems evolve with increasing complexity to match the complexity of our economies. Continue reading Hierarchy and money in a global hall of mirrors

Digital snow days

by Mary Logan

Folks in the Anchorage bowl woke Wednesday morning to widespread power outages, trees down, traffic lights out, and closed schools and businesses. An early September winter storm created hurricane force winds. The power at the house was out for about eight hours, and we have a tree down in the yard. Much of Anchorage is in the same boat. Score one for Mother Nature in man’s apparent battle for control over nature. Fortunately this power outage came in early September and not the dead of winter, serving as a good consciousness-raising event and needs assessment for future power outages. So this post is both pragmatic and fanciful, covering personal, pragmatic issues related to sudden loss of complexity events and some “what if” questions about the future of digitization. I’m typing this during brownouts and occasional triggers of the generator, which got its first real test last night. We are near a trunk line, with underground power, so our power came back quickly. But close neighbors are not so lucky. Today is woodcutting day, for us and our friends, whether we need the wood or not. So this post may ramble a bit, like my thoughts, between the impacts of events at the larger scale like windstorms and regional blackouts, and personal preparation at the local scale. Continue reading Digital snow days

What is money?

By Mary Logan

Our obsession with money will be an issue for many as we transition from a wealth-oriented capitalist system. Many blogs focus on money—how to make more, how to keep what you’ve got, how to transition to something different and still be “ahead of the game.” Where will these voices be when the currency quits? Judging from the heavy emphasis on money in the blogosphere, many may feel dislocated when the casino chips disappear from the game. We need to look more broadly at the problem of money–those who focus on money without seeing the nature of the real system behind it are still grieving for the loss of an artifact of post industrial society. How do we deal personally with issues of debt and money in transition to economic contraction, while manipulated currencies bank on continued growth?

My thoughts converge after a flurry of recent thoughtful articles about money, including several from permaculture.org.au. These articles converge with multiple questions from friends about the future of money. What do I do with my savings if they are becoming less valuable? Should I spend money to buy a house? Will the stock market persist as a way of gaining wealth? Should I be saving at all if money is inflating away to become less valuable? Continue reading What is money?

Resilience in suburban Anchorage

by Mary and Todd Logan

Summer is rapidly coming to an end. Long summer nights are waning, and I notice that I need to turn on lights in the morning now. Berries are ripe for the picking, and there is a slight chill in the air. The Alaska State Fair is coming. It is time to take stock, examining our progress in making ourselves more self-sufficient. Continue reading Resilience in suburban Anchorage

Taboo topics–nuclear waste

by Mary Logan

Sometimes  we are better defined by what we don’t talk about than the topics that our media, politics, and culture do focus on. Talking about radiation is taboo. Since radioecologists discovered energetic systems principles during the study of radioactive fallout, we can frame the discussion of nuclear waste hazards using systems principles, thus illustrating how the principles apply to our modern economies. This is a complex issue, so it is important to always start with topics by viewing the larger scale first to understand the big picture. We need to know why understanding this new hazard, radiation in the environment, is necessary, since our governing leaders are denying the dangers. We need to understand the linkages between the physics, chemistry, and ecology of nuclear waste. Continue reading Taboo topics–nuclear waste

Gender roles and descent

By Mary Logan

This post is about how gender roles might change in descent. I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while, but Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article this month in The Atlantic instigated this post. Ms. Slaughter makes the point that women cannot keep up with the demands of work and home in the current American culture, even with the many adjuncts that the hierarchy created by fossil fuels provides, such as day care and fast food. Slaughter states, “Going forward, women would do well to frame work-family balance in terms of the broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men.” But Ms. Slaughter fails to recognize an even more pressing issue going forward. All of us will need to work cooperatively to become more self-sufficient as we restructure of our culture post fossil fuels, which requires more time at home, making the juggling all the harder if we refuse to give something up. And women are not good at giving things up, as evidenced by our current quandary of too many roles to play. As Ms. Slaughter found, I have finally found a way to live that is true to myself, rather than the expectations of others, expectations reflecting corporate values. Taking back control by working less was positive in many ways. This is my story, but you can find broader coverage of this topic and the header poster in a Fall 2011 issue of Yes Magazine. And I see that Sharon Astyk is on a similar wavelength about gender roles; maybe it is the dog days of summer that refocuses our thoughts on family. This post is a bit shorter, because I have lots of questions and no answers, and I’m interested in hearing what others think. Continue reading Gender roles and descent

Our Rube Goldberg Economy

by Mary Logan

Two prominent energetic systems principles that drive our complex economy are hierarchy and autocatalysis. Earlier posts highlighted the concepts of energy transformity and hierarchy. The concept of autocatalysis can be seen in many circular loops in our current society, such as current proposals for geoengineering technology to fix the problems that industrial and post-industrial technology have wrought. Autocatalysis is also known as the positive feedback loop, and it is the engine for our growth economy. Continue reading Our Rube Goldberg Economy

Energy ethics for survival of people in nature

by Mary Logan

“Everything and anything that takes place on earth involves a flow of potential energy, provided primarily from the sun, as it streams toward a pool of dispersed or expended heat. The pathways of the stream are shaped by a hierarchy of directive forces that have evolved under nature’s laws as by-products of the stream. These directive forces include wayside storages of energy in the material patterns and dynamic circulations of the earth’s substances, including all the elements of the biosphere from the earliest and most primitive to the latest and most civilized or spiritual elements of human feeling, thinking, and behavior in the arts, sciences, and religions” (Odum, 1977, p. 110). . . “Although most humans in the recent century of rich and rising energy have lost awareness of environmental responsibility, the role of humans is one of service. Humans provide complex control and management actions back to maximize the main power and survival of the whole system” (Odum, 1977, p. 117).

Cultural values are group norms or rules for behavior that make a culture work. Ethical values are our cultural DNA.  But our values can change in response to the conditions of the economy and environment. Our current value system is no longer working—money, science, laws, mores, politics, religion, and culture are becoming less meaningful to many. Traditional values of frugality, community cooperation, and a sense of responsibility or stewardship have been usurped by the capitalist consumption machine. The survival of the whole system is at stake, and ethics will begin to shift as old ways of doing and being endanger humanity. Eventually, those of us in developed countries will need to reduce our empower use by 80% or 90% (Odum, 2007, p. 392). Knowing what is right will consist of a process of continual change to relearn old ways and adapt to new ways of being. We need a new set of values and ethics for the future, as culture evolves to adapt to a lower energy world. Continue reading Energy ethics for survival of people in nature

Spatial emergy concentration and city living

By Mary Logan

How do cities concentrate energy and materials spatially? What is the relative emergy basis for modern cities, agrarian towns, and rural spaces? Do city dwellers use more or fewer resources than suburban or rural dwellers? Are big cities more sustainable in descent, as some propose, and how do we maximize empower in the future for our cities? Continue reading Spatial emergy concentration and city living

Walking out on empire

Walking out on empire

by Mary Logan

Parrot-dime Shift

So what do we do now? At what point does one realize that his or her paradigm isn’t working anymore, and give up and walk out on empire? How do we start walking, and where do we go? Here are some quotes from notable people who are choosing to turn at the crossroads and walk away from empire and then to talk about the transition. These quotes highlight some of their answers to the question of “what now?” Continue reading Walking out on empire

Slapping bandaids on empire’s heart attack

Slapping bandaids on empire’s heart attack

by Mary Logan

“Before you get too exercised over the multiple idiocies and injustices of the current American medical situation just reflect for a moment that the whole creaking system cannot possibly survive no matter what the Supreme Court might have ruled or whatever Obama sought to accomplish. The US economic system is about to blow up. The banking sector has been kept technically alive on the life-support of accounting fraud since 2008, but that artful racket is coming to an end because sooner or later the abstraction called “money” must make truthful representations of itself in relation to reality, or else people cease to accept its claims of value. Without a functioning banking system none of the rackets organized into US health care can continue” (JH Kunstler, July 2, 2012).

Kunstler has succinctly summed up the big picture for American healthcare. We are slapping bandaids on empire’s heart attack. I am revisiting healthcare reform for two reasons. First, healthcare’s complexity creates a good exercise in broadening our scale of view. Secondly, now that healthcare reform is law, the question is, what does this new law mean for individuals at the small scale, and for the country at the larger national scale? Continue reading Slapping bandaids on empire’s heart attack

Symbolic culture clash at the end of empire

Symbolic culture clash at the end of empire

by Mary Logan

Pieter Bruegel, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, 1558 Musees royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels

“Bruegel’s paintings of the Seasons and his Fall of Icarus celebrate peasant life for an industrious harmony with nature. This view of peasants is particularly clear in the Icarus where the sweeping panorama is anchored around the heroic figure of the plowman. . . . The husbandman was a familiar paragon of industry, moderation, and moral integrity, both in classical and early Christian writings. . . . Virgil’s account offers intriguing parallels to Bruegel with its extensive description of the peaceful, moderate plowman ignorant of the bellicose, avaricious ambitions of city dwellers seeking “kingdoms doomed to fall.” Horace, Columella, and Pliny also contrasted a past, moral country life to the present immorality of cities. In the golden age, even urban life was guided by the virtues of rural existence. Thus Pliny wrote of Republican Rome. “The agricultural class produces the bravest men, the most gallant soldiers, and the citizens least given to evil designs.” . . . The introduction of a setting sun may also suggest the timeless cycles of a golden age and a natural order indifferent to folly. See thus, the whole picture emerges as a cosmological panorama which goes on with its elemental rhythms, its husbandry and commerce, its life and death, its labor and folly, until the final day when those who have “plowed diligently” enter the harbor of God’s kingdom. With its elemental contrasts, the picture would have also suggested to its educated viewers one of the central questions of Renaissance humanism: what was human nature and how did it relate to nature’s wider orders.” (Baldwin, 1986, p. 101).

Thanks to Gail at Wit’s End for the Baldwin/Bruegel links above. The painting represents the tensions between agrarian and urban society that has occurred over and over in civilizations throughout history, as we pulse up into civilizations that later fail. Bruegel’s good plowman, sensible sailors, shepherd, and fishermen in the painting above are symbolic of a culture that harnesses earth, wind, and sun to live within the restraints of nature, in contrast to foolish, ambitious Icarus. Early scholars associated Icarus with urban technologies of “kingdoms doomed to fall.” What symbolic culture will represent us as empire wanes? Continue reading Symbolic culture clash at the end of empire

Doughnuts–alternative fuel for your next vacation?

Doughnuts–alternative fuel for your next vacation?

By Todd & Mary Logan & Dawn Groth

“Don’t tell me you rode those bicycles all the way out here!” said the folks from Atlanta.

And so began an amusing lunchtime conversation with the vacationing couple from Atlanta.  Mary, Dawn, and I were filling our stomachs, resting our legs, and enjoying a spectacular view of the Kuskulana River bridge at milepost 17 on the McCarthy road.  We had each pedaled out of our driveways in Anchorage on bikes six days before and had ridden 280 miles since leaving home.

The folks from Atlanta were enjoying their first visit to Alaska.  They were at this remote place in their rental car only because they were traveling with friends who had been up to Alaska several times before who were looking for something different – a trip to McCarthy and the Kennicott mines. We each traded a few stories of neat things we had seen or done so far, and we shared some smoked salmon.  But the couple kept returning to the idea that what we were doing was super-human and unbelievable.  They were younger than us, and lamented that they should be doing more biking themselves and leading a more active lifestyle.  They would arrive in McCarthy in a couple of hours, while it would take us another day to arrive.  We encountered them two days later in McCarthy at the McCarthy Lodge. We were on the deck eating a celebratory dinner of curried rice with local duck eggs, and up they drove up in a shuttle. We yelled to them, “Don’t tell me you drove all of the way here in your car!” Later they offered us shots; we demurred, as “nothing good ever came from a night of shots!” The theme for our trip reflected the common refrain from Anchoragites regarding the long distance to McCarthy; “McCarthy–too far to drive, but we can bike there!” Continue reading Doughnuts–alternative fuel for your next vacation?

Slow Travel

 by Mary, Todd, and Dawn

A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles. –Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, 1968

Spring has sprung. Everybody has babies; the humans, the moose, the chickens, and the robins. The starts and seeds are in the ground, the earthboxes are watered, the new chicks are in the coop, the woodsheds are full, and Toby, Darcy, and friends are minding the place. Now that the chores are done, it’s time to enjoy some slow travel as we take off to explore some of south-central Alaska. Three of us are headed to McCarthy on bikes, and then we’ll loop around to Valdez, hop the ferry across Prince William Sound and hitch a ride through the Whittier tunnel, and then head back to Anchorage again, 550 miles.

Previous bike tours around Alaska have included the “haul road” which connects Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay, and a trip to Nome (the header picture is from Nome). Both of those trips were supported by jet or car travel to our starting point; this time we’ll start and end at the house on our bikes.  We’re going light; luckily there’s an iPhone app for WordPress to support blogging needs, but we’ll have to see about the connections.

Information Storms and the Limits to Information

Information Storms and the Limits to Information

By Mary Logan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File: Sine_wave_amplitude.svg Kraaiennest

My first significant memory of big storms came as a 5 year old, as Hurricane Carla advanced on Port Aransas, Texas, where my father, HT Odum was administrator of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. That day, as we were due to evacuate, HT took me on his final rounds of the Institute before leaving. We walked out on the Port Aransas pier, and I remember that my father had to lift me over the gaps where missing planks had already disappeared from storm waves (my mother was later horrified at my proud retelling of the story). We stood there halfway out on the pier, and I received my first lesson in hurricane science and energy transport in waves. We counted wave troughs, heights, and wavelengths, and he explained the dynamics of wind energy, relating the sizes of the pulses to size and scale of storms. Local weather creates little wavelets, and large distant weather creates bigger, more powerful pulses that have higher impact on beaches. We talked about excess heat in the atmosphere, and how hurricanes act as Nature’s way of dispersing extra heat. It was my first lesson in storm/energy analogies, and I have never looked at storms the same way since.

Odum often drew an analogy between the way meteorological storms such as hurricanes disperse heat and the way that other systems do, including information systems.  After Tom Abel’s excellent post last week on trends in education in a world in transition, it is a good time to share Odum’s analogy linking storms of information and weather storms. But to make that analogy, we first need a meteorology lesson, starting with the second law of thermodynamics. Continue reading Information Storms and the Limits to Information

The Unclear Lobby

No one really knows the net yield of nuclear power because at present its use is subsidized by fossil fuels in a thousand ways that cannot be estimated until we try to run a nuclear system without them. Will nuclear power have a more concentrated value than the wood output of the solar system, or of coal, or of cheap oil from rich deposits? The new power plant seems to be more economical than the competing fossil plants as long as it is running on the accumulated storages of nuclear fuel and fuel prospecting done on fossil-fuel subsidy. Is nuclear power at this level of net power delivery possible in a culture that does not have the accompanying fossil fuels? (Odum, 1971, p. 135).

by Mary Logan

I am broaching this topic in support of the Japanese people, in order to add my voice to the many who are challenging assumptions regarding the clean green nature of nuclear power. Choosing a nuclear future means that we choose profit over the future of humanity. The nuclear lobby is connected to climate change campaigns and the defense industry. The lobby deals in deception and omission; thus the title for this post that is part of a series of posts about laying siege to empire. Continue reading The Unclear Lobby

Cooperative Living

by Mary Logan and Darcy Dugan

Do you want to live more efficiently and reap the benefits of a closer community? Cooperative living is a great strategy for getting and staying out of debt while building community, resilience and security in a tenuous economy. But it requires a change in attitudes, and a return to more communal ways of living. You don’t necessarily need to relocate into a brand new cohousing situation; there are a range of options. While we live in a close-but-separate multi-family dwelling, by design and by chance, we’ve achieved some important cohousing benefits – shared space and sense of community. So here’s our cooperative living story, as told from the perspective of both top floor and bottom floor residents–I’m going to refer to the people who live with us as our nearest neighbors, as we don’t really think of them as tenants, but as friends. Living together with extended family is nothing new, but here in Anchorage, we are often far from family, and friends are the family we choose for ourselves (Edna Buchanan). Continue reading Cooperative Living

Questioning Growth Assumptions

by Mary Logan

A wide variety of blogposts roll across my Google Reader on a daily basis. There have been some great articles on Environmentalism lately, most notably one by Paul Kingsnorth in Orion magazine. The goal here is to add to that discussion by exposing the assumptions that underlie our beliefs about growth and to locate various groups on a continuum of growth beliefs. Continue reading Questioning Growth Assumptions

Connecting with Community through Storytelling

by Mary Logan

We put away many kinds of violence that we would act out in the natural world beyond the city; in order to inhabit cities we put away actions…Inside these cities we need writers, we need artists, like myself…Nietzsche said, ‘we have art so that we do not die of reality.’Ray Bradbury

kayak beach campfire in Prince William Sound

Ever since the beginning of man’s oral history, our cultures have taught lessons, stored memories, and guided group values through stories. Stories are a safety valve, and the linchpin of civilization, according to Bradbury. Whether it is transmitting the virtues of hard work through Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper, the good fortune tale of Cinderella (as told by Vonnegut) or the Inuit legend about Raven the trickster, allegories, fables, and campfire stories have been passed on from generation to generation, using elements of truth, disbelief, myths, allegories, and wisdom to pass on important cultural knowledge. I’ve recently encountered stories with an Alaskan theme of opposing sides–environmentalist vs. resource extractor–told at three different scales of global, national, and local scales. These stories serve as excellent reflections on how we relate as people within nature and what we need to relocate in terms of connecting with nature and with our community. I will share them below in my own crude attempts at storytelling. Continue reading Connecting with Community through Storytelling