In support of sustainability, responding to Humboldt's Alliance for Ethical Business's call for economic vision in maximizing local-based trade, Jan Lundberg offered an essay to a large audience. First is a memo to HumboldtWatch.com and LNGwatch.com:
April 5, 2005
"The economy is a usage of the ecosystem, and the ecosystem is finite. If you were to change your phrase to "sustainable economic development" you would only be alienating half the people that "sustainable economic growth" alienates. Growth of the economy at the expense of the ecosystem (and therefore of long-term economic survival) has been facilitated in much of the world through the exuberance of cheap petroleum. Cheap petroleum is already a thing of the past, but this is not apparent due to the many subsidies, overt and hidden, to keep oil and natural gas "affordable." As we know from the CalPine scheme and the destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, reliance on petroleum is a questionable way to proceed into the future. The peak of world oil production is upon us, which is the prime reason for emphasizing gas and LNG and for taking over Iraq.
"To learn more about energy and what is technically sustainable, please see our website. I invite you to put the following link on your website, as I'm sure you want to be inclusive and stimulate discussion within known parameters. The essay Sustainable Humboldt - Economic Vision (below) has been recently shared with the local news media in light of various planning meetings."
Culture Change essay
Sustainable Humboldt: Economic vision
by Jan Lundberg
Originally written for the book The Final Energy Crisis, Pluto Press, London, 2004, edited by Andrew McKillop
Humboldt County is in the northwest corner of what is now California, and is a part of the Pacific Northwest. Humboldt shares the same basic climate as southeast Alaska and coastal British Columbia. Before the devastation of the white invasion, a native-culture grouping stretched along this whole coastal section of North America, and Humboldt Bay was the southernmost part of that cultural area.
Rather significant for Humboldt County today, and that of its north and south neighboring counties (Del Norte and Mendocino, respectively), is that there is no Interstate Highway nearby. Connecting this part of the West Coast of the U.S. to the rest of the nation are smaller highways that go through mountains, and are only two lanes in places because of giant trees.
torrential rains are more frequent in this region than in the rest of the
U.S., and this helps explain why there is
no rail service whatsoever. As for
ports, Eureka is small and the bay is silted in due to deforestation and roads'
Curtain" refers to the mild isolation that Humboldtonians enjoy, though
some lament it as an obstacle to economic riches.
Presently, at this stage of frenzied energy consumption gripping the
developed world, the Humboldt region has a slower pace and a slightly different
outlook from mainstream U.S. culture. Humboldt
feels "laid back," and "getting ahead" is not the automatic
by-word for self-fulfillment. In
addition, job opportunities are lower than in many places, but this does not
worry people as much as it does in most other parts of the U.S. People come and live here not so much because they must make
money here ó as the case with living in Los Angeles ó but because they
really want to stay here, and they accept less income as the trade-off to do so.
"Back to the land" hippies as well as urbanites retiring in
Humboldt opt for solar panels and wood stoves to minimize imported energy, but
natural gas supplies the main fuel for homes, as well as the electric power
supplied by regional electric utilities produce.
The populace is more rural than urban, but even townsfolk are fond of gardening and buying local produce. Skills are multiple, allowing many people to make a living, and includes marijuana cultivation, which although pervasive is nevertheless only one economic activity. Although a cash crop, marijuana is not the forced cash crop for local farmers that coffee is in many Third World countries ó whose real need, today, is sustainable food self-sufficiency ó and which are engaged in a race against falling commodity prices to pay off foreign debt.
Speaking of marijuana
brings up outlaws, and all kinds of folk imagine what might happen to Humboldt
County if there is some breakdown affecting California or the wider USA.
People say how easy it would be to destroy or block mountain roads to cut
Humboldt off from invading hordes of city folk. However, this may not have the best effect, as many
Humboldtonians might themselves want to leave Humboldt because their families
are in most cases elsewhere and far away.
Sustainable population and the ecosystem
Given that the only successful model of long-term sustainability the world has known is found in traditional cultures, it is more than reasonable to set out what might be
Humboldt's future once the U.S.'s massive, unsustainable energy consumption starts to fall and much-reduced quantities of commodities become the norm in any economic or social use.
There are two variables in the model, but one major factor is that the ecosystem has been rather trashed ó striking proof of this being that salmon are almost extinct. In addition, sea level rise will strongly affect, perhaps wipe out, some or most of the currently most-urbanized areas.
Secondly, we assume the use of energy for modern technology will continue in some forms, but this will be at greatly reduced levels.
It is the transition to real sustainability, after the debacle of the petroleum economy's collapse, that concerns us in this book. There are many unknowable factors, such as (1) when the "rollover" past the peak of world oil extraction will hit, (2) the decline rate ensuing, and (3) how long before unavailability or unreliability of supplies to key users becomes quite noticeable, starting with food production, processing and transport. We do not know how severe those effects will be, although paralysis of the distribution system is foreseeable when the dynamics of oil-supply tightness drive prices through the roof.
a brief description of the dynamics of the coming oil crisis, see Jan Lundberg's
speech to The Institute of Petroleum, February 17, 2003.
It is in part based on the author's experience predicting accurately the
2nd shock of the 1970s. It can be
read at his website at http://culturechange.org/ip_speech.htm]
We will experience a
thorough post-oil discontinuity, but it may transpire without collapse ó
assuming people remain basically calm as alternative means of production, trade
and consumption take over; the effects of the recent financial collapse of
Argentina is an example: bartering and neighborhood councils have taken over,
with less and less dependence on transnational corporations' jobs and
techno economy, like the plasticized Green Utopias peddled by well-funded
authors such as Amory Lovins and Jeremy Rifkin, will fast fade away when the
Green Utopiasí basic requirement ñ cheap oil and gas ñ disappears.
Soon after, when the dust settles and weeds are pushing out through the
rubble-strewn pavements, some people somewhere--say in the hills of Humboldt ó
could be employing a variety of sustainable living strategies, at varying levels
of success, provided of course that ëthe nukes donít get them;í one of the
ënukesí in fact being stationed nearby.
Humboldt Bay has a
mothballed nuclear power plant located on a major earthquake fault. In addition,
as shown by Chernobyl, nuclear accidents are generous in their reach and
several West European countries, at over 1,500 kilometers from Chernobyl, still
report cancer deaths attributable to this catastrophe (See Section in The
Final Energy Crisis).
Around 85% of
Humboldt's food, today, is brought in by trucks.
Functionally and food-wise, Humboldt is a part of ëInterstate
Highwaylandí and the Global Fossil Fuel Fantasy. Not unrelatedly, salmon are
no longer choking the rivers and streams, and food production capacities without
fossil energy props are certainly lower than 100 years ago. In any scenario for
population crash, human numbers might easily fall to a tenth of the present
130,000. On Humboldt Bay, the Indians living off the fat of the land numbered
less than 3,000 at the time of culture contact.
The fact that the ecosystem has been terribly degraded since then, and
pastures for inefficient cow farms occupy former wetlands of the bay area that
easily fed more people than these dairy farms do today, suggests that a survival
rate of one tenth of today's population might even be an optimistic forecast.
That would be a level we could call a soft landing, if it was programmed and
planned over, say, 50 years. A hard landing or Maximum Dieoff might throw our
species' continuity into doubt, and we may as well not labor over images of the
worst case, even if copies of this book are in the hands of survivors surviving
nuclear winter conditions or accelerated, worst-case scenario climate change
(See Section in The Final Energy Crisis).
In assuming human
life will continue past the Final Energy Crisis, we need not speculate, for
example by asking if cannibalism will play a role in reducing numbers of people
even in Humboldt County, on the ëEasters Endí model.
Nor should we even speculate on the precise population size that the
reduced carrying capacity would allow for the Humboldtonians of tomorrow. We did not set out to find what the sustainable population
size would be in a hundred years, although it could be 10,000 for the county as
delineated today. What we can do,
however, is imagine what the future population of Humboldt will be doing
energy-wise. In this exercise we
would be describing an economy that works through efficient local arrangements
between neighbors ó human and
"A" might be called the soft-tech approach that continues to use some
hard-path technology as long as it remains accessible and functional.
The novel Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach may typify this vision,
although it idealized the dirtier aspects of industry so as to make them nearly
Scenario "B" might be called post-tech, if people have lived through a relatively quick transition out of global interdependence, and found that what really works is to grow food and restore the natural environment. The short story by Jan Lundberg, ëThe Nature Revolutioní (see www.culturechange.org), might reflect a more severe outlook (and without the sexual adventurism of Ecotopia) inherent in Scenario B.
Ironically, energy from petroleum, and machines using it such as bulldozers, will likely be sorely needed to enable transition, for example to take out and backfill roads that continue to cause severe erosion. It has also been noted (see article by R McCluney in The Final Energy Crisis) by observers of world energy trends that any significant transition to renewable energy will necessarily require significant fossil fuel investment to manufacture, install and maintain equipment and components of the new, increasingly-renewable energy systems that must be placed in operation ñ unless, of course, we wish for maximum die-off. However, just because something is needed and is sensible to have, does not mean it will happen. Our exercise for this chapter is not given over to wishful thinking, but instead would be an analysis of what is likely to happen - in the absence of complete catastrophe from global warming, nuclear accident, sabotage of nuclear, pesticide or other life-threatening installations, or nuclear war.
The above article was written in fall 2002.
Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing: email@example.com