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Some of my Recommended Reading for the week. The first, by Kurt Cobb, is relevant to our endeavor, I think. He speaks of people previously working on sustainability issues now withdrawing to concentrate on personal economic concerns. Then Sharon Astyk writes about being very careful about where we put our limited resources and energies. Finally, a post from Dimitry Orlov, which is spreading quickly around the internets. Orlov writes about "Best Pracitices" for collapse. Highly recommended.

Please State the Nature of Your Emergency by Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights
...I was speaking to a friend by phone recently who is very active in sustainability efforts where he lives. He's noticed that many of those who were showing interest in cooperating with his efforts last year have now withdrawn into concerns about their own immediate future. The growing economic crisis is concentrating their minds on such questions as: Will I keep my job? Will I be able to afford my house or apartment? What should I do with my savings, especially if they have declined significantly? For those running organizations the most basic question is one of survival. Can my business survive lower sales? Can my nonprofit survive declining donations and grants?

...Here we have the problem of how the nature of the emergency is defined. Because the economic crisis has been labelled primarily a financial crisis and because that type of crisis appears to activate well-worn pathways in the human brain, this interpretation has gained wide acceptance. But if we were to state the nature of the emergency as a sustainability crisis, could such an interpretation gain wide acceptance?...How can the sustainability crisis (of which the current financial crisis is most certainly a symptom) be framed as something that deserves our immediate and ongoing attention? What well-worn, evolutionarily successful pathways of thinking and feeling are available to motivate broader action?

The issue can't be merely that the problems we face in sustainability are too abstract. After all, stock trading is pretty abstract; but, it seems to map nicely to an already available pathway of thinking and acting. Can we find more of these and use them to communicate the sustainability imperative? Clearly, simply stating the nature of the emergency as we have in the past is not enough.



Down the Rabbit Hole by Sharon Astyk, Causabon's Book
...even if we don’t face energy constraints (we do) and ecological constraints (we definitely do), we face capital restraints - much of our current infrastructure, the way of our way of life, was built with other people’s money, invested in the stock market. Who will choose to give their money to corporations to spend? Who will choose to see their health care, housing and education dollars gambled? And that means that our long term recovery prospects must include the reality that the “investing is savings” mantra has been proved to be a lie, and it will be 20 years or more before anyone will come buying that lie again.

Now mixed in with energy and ecological constraints, I think the constraints in investment capital do mean that we must - I don’t mean should, but must, make our plans for the future very carefully, that we must choose now where to put our limited resources and energies, because they may well turn out to be more limited than we thought. Down the rabbit hole we go - and it isn’t very clear what size we’ll be when we stop growing.



Social Collapse Best Practices by Dimitry Orlov, Club Orlov

...Here is the key insight: you might think that when collapse happens, nothing works. That’s just not the case. The old ways of doing things don’t work any more, the old assumptions are all invalidated, conventional goals and measures of success become irrelevant. But a different set of goals, techniques, and measures of success can be brought to bear immediately, and the sooner the better. But enough generalities, let’s go through some specifics. We’ll start with some generalities, and, as you will see, it will all become very, very specific rather quickly.

Here is another key insight: there are very few things that are positives or negatives per se. Just about everything is a matter of context. Now, it just so happens that most things that are positives prior to collapse turn out to be negatives once collapse occurs, and vice versa. For instance, prior to collapse having high inventory in a business is bad, because the businesses have to store it and finance it, so they try to have just-in-time inventory. After collapse, high inventory turns out to be very useful, because they can barter it for the things they need, and they can’t easily get more because they don’t have any credit. Prior to collapse, it’s good for a business to have the right level of staffing and an efficient organization. After collapse, what you want is a gigantic, sluggish bureaucracy that can’t unwind operations or lay people off fast enough through sheer bureaucratic foot-dragging. Prior to collapse, what you want is an effective retail segment and good customer service. After collapse, you regret not having an unreliable retail segment, with shortages and long bread lines, because then people would have been forced to learn to shift for themselves instead of standing around waiting for somebody to come and feed them.

If you notice, none of these things that I mentioned have any bearing on what is commonly understood as “economic health.” Prior to collapse, the overall macroeconomic positive is an expanding economy. After collapse, economic contraction is a given, and the overall macroeconomic positive becomes something of an imponderable, so we are forced to listen to a lot of nonsense. The situation is either slightly better than expected or slightly worse than expected. We are always either months or years away from economic recovery. Business as usual will resume sooner or later, because some television bobble-head said so.

But let’s take it apart. Starting from the very general, what are the current macroeconomic objectives, if you listen to the hot air coming out of Washington at the moment? First: growth, of course! Getting the economy going. We learned nothing from the last huge spike in commodity prices, so let’s just try it again. That calls for economic stimulus, a.k.a. printing money. Let’s see how high the prices go up this time. Maybe this time around we will achieve hyperinflation. Second: Stabilizing financial institutions: getting banks lending – that’s important too. You see, we are just not in enough debt yet, that’s our problem. We need more debt, and quickly! Third: jobs! We need to create jobs. Low-wage jobs, of course, to replace all the high-wage manufacturing jobs we’ve been shedding for decades now, and replacing them with low-wage service sector jobs, mainly ones without any job security or benefits. Right now, a lot of people could slow down the rate at which they are sinking further into debt if they quit their jobs. That is, their job is a net loss for them as individuals as well as for the economy as a whole. But, of course, we need much more of that, and quickly!...

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