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John Michael Greer is a prolific author, blogger and independent scholar whose interests span a large number of subjects. He has authored books on everything from ritual magic to peak oil, and also edited science fiction collections.
Greer's latest book "Green Wizardry" isn't really a book about magic, however, the wizard moniker being mostly a way to make the work stand out in the crowd. Nor is it a "hands-on" guide to sustainable living, although it does contain some general advice on the matter. Rather, "Green Wizardry" is an introduction to the philosophy behind the Appropriate Technology and organic gardening movements of the 1970's. As modern civilization stumbles towards its inevitable fall, Greer believes that a return to the ideas and practices of the "small is beautiful" experimenters of that idealist decade is our last and best hope for survival. I'm old enough to remember an obscure Swedish book on similar matters, published around 1978. Even as a child, I found it extreme. It actually mentioned peak oil and similar stuff. Could the oil really run out? Naaah. Greer drew the opposite conclusions, and here we are today, with cheap oil actually running out. Ooops.
One of the main points of "Green Wizardry" is to drive home the point that our civilization is unsustainable, and that we passed the point of no return. Entropy, the difference between efficiency and resilience, the concepts of flows and funds, and the general idea of peak oil are some of the theoretical (or "theoretical") topics dealt with in the book. Other terms the reader will meet are "dissensus", "retro-fitting" and "the down home funk option". Woven throughout the narrative, are Greer's ideas about how the collapse of civilization will unfold.
While I wouldn't consider "Green Wizardry" to be a how-to guide on organic farming or renewable energy for your home, the book does contain introductory chapters on such subjects, presumably to give the reader a feel for what waits ahead. Composting, storage, raising animals in your back yard, hayboxes, sunboxes and wind power are some of the topics covered. Greer's main line of argument is that we all need to learn how to get by on much less, grow our own food, and become self-reliant in general. People should start already today, before the crisis really hits. The perspective is somewhat individualist. Greer advises his readers to stay clear of the hard social conflicts that will erupt in the near future as society plummets to its doom. In one unguarded moment, however, the author admits that he thinks a revolution is likely in the United States, a revolution in which the rich will loose most of their fortunes and power...
Otherwise, Greer says very little concrete about the rough times ahead, instead concentrating on expositing the philosophy and practice of self-reliant living. The book contains extensive bibliographies for those who want to learn more before its too late. On the theoretical side, Greer's favourite book is William Catton's ultra-pessimistic "Overshoot", with "Limits to Growth" by the Club of Rome as a good second. On the practical side, it seems a shopping round to used book stores might be in order, since much of the appropriate tech books went out of print around 1980 or so. (Maybe Amazon can help?)
Long-time fans of JMG will probably find little that is new here, but "Green Wizardry" is a good complement to "The Long Descent", "The Wealth of Nature" and "The Eco-Technic Future", John Michael Greer's three main books on the peak oil crisis and its ramifications.
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Do they even have civics classes these days? If they do, this ought to be on the reading list.
It's not a conventional civics, but as the modern world is being battered by declining Energy Return on Energy Investment of its energy supplies, people will be stressing. Peak Oil is essentially here, oil prices have quadrupled in the last decade, but production is up, oh depending on how one does the math, some odd fraction of a percent per year, and that by unconventional oil. Cheap coal, good coal, cheap gas are all gone. The Hirsch report and plenty other warnings were/are ignored, so we're headed to a future of less energy, and that means a smaller economy. And that means people stressing.
One of the factors in stress is the sense of control one has. Without a sufficient sense of control, based in reality, people are prone to blame, scapegoat and otherwise engage in non-productive or counterproductive behaviors. Effective actions are only possible with sufficiently truthful understanding of the situation, AND sufficient competence and skill to decide on effective solutions and to implement them. Without effective solutions, more pain and stress will occur, and that could - and probably will to some degree - lead to some unpleasantries in the civic sphere.
So that's what this book is about: effective thinking and development of skill to mitigate the stress of powerdown.
Each of the 36 lessons is meaningful enough to demand serious thought, yet not overwhelming. One is led through these lessons, starting with some basic principles, then some lessons on food, then energy, then tying things together.
Unlike many cookbook formulaic survival books, there is both enough principle and details to enable one to learn to think in new ways and to create what's applicable for one's own unique situation. And the annotated references sets you up for digging in further as you create your new life.
The collection of references is alone worth the price of admission.
I give it 5 stars, and encourage its wide distribution, though there are a two things in the energy section that I would tweak.
pg. 151 he talks of "PV chips made by a variant of the same process that produced computer chips". That's a bit of stretch, (silicon) PV cells are made on a whole wafer, with vastly simpler processes. Nevertheless, his point that they may not be so available in the future is certainly worthy of consideration.
pg. 167-168 he got a hold of the meme that Electric Vehicles just trade emissions from tailpipe to power plant smokestack because the EV is just as/more inefficient, and the energy cost (hence pollution) is higher, making an adverse tradeoff. (As one must beware of simplistic solutions that won't actually work, there are vested interests in the fossil fuel, conventional automobile, etc. businesses sabotaging by propaganda some things that do have a part to play in the toolkit of a sustainable world.)
So actually, the real studies on this have shown that even in heavily coal burning areas EVs are no worse than all but the highest mileage non-hybrids, and in most of the U.S. (and many other parts of the world), EVs are cleaner and over a lifetime, often much cheaper.
Most Internal Combustion Engine vehicles are around 25% efficient, but once all the parasitic loads and idling are accounted for, that's down to 15-20% - from tank to wheels. An EV is 80%+ efficient - from plug to wheels, and benefits from regenerative braking and no idle losses. While the grid from fossil fuels in boilers is only 35-40% efficient, combined cycle is pushing 60%, and renewables are effectively 100% (free fuel). But oil production is 95% efficient (EROEI 20:1), refining is 87-90% efficient, and transportation of oil/gasoline cuts into that too. So gasoline is only 12-15% efficient "well to wheels", but an EV is 25% or much more efficient "well to wheels".
refinery efficiency: [...]
Now, what I've said does NOT mean an EV is the best solution in all circumstances. Unless one has enough PV or wind to charge it oneself, one is vulnerable to grid outages. And there are roads, tires, repairs, etc. to deal with. Ideally one can arrange one's life so that one doesn't need long distance transport. But some people may not be able/willing to rearrange their lives so radically right now.
Which leads back to what I take as the point of the book - the time for being a mindless consumer and following an energy hog conventional lifestyle by default is over. It's time to learn to think, and learn to do, and learn to learn - so can see and do what's appropriate for a given situation. Thus hopefully one can avoid excess shocks and stress as the post-peak oil future unfolds. And in being an example by doing, one can help one's fellow people, and preserve, perhaps even enhance, a certain measure of civility.