Month: August 2016

The Ways of Contraction: More Begets Less

Last week, I began the process of laying out three key realities that promise the United States a continuing era of decline and contraction. It may surprise some that I started with America’s impending loss of its global empire, rather than a focus on peak oil and other realities of energy and resource depletion, considering that those latter issues will be such a large part of the focus of this blog. Yet, that was purposeful; part of the basic tone of this blog I’m aiming for is one of hard-nosed realism, in which we face the future honestly and with as little evasion as possible. The loss of empire this country is likely to experience in the near future is, in many ways, a more pressing issue for our national stability and well-being than the longer term decline of available energy and resources. While the latter is a greater long term predicament, the former is likely to create more immediate and encompassing disruption, and has the potential to dramatically change our living arrangements in a relatively short period of time.

That said, I may be wrong about our future loss of empire. It will happen at some point, obviously; no empire lasts forever, any more so than any individual human does, any species does, any planet does, or so on. But it may not happen in my lifetime, despite all evidence to the contrary (assuming, of course, that I have a decent amount of lifetime left). Perhaps my concerns about a dramatically reduced living as outlined in last week’s post are overblown and unnecessary. Even if they are, however, we’re hardly out of the woods. There’s a greater issue bearing down on us and slowly picking apart the ways we live and interact, and that’s the inexorable march of energy and resource depletion.

As with empire, I’m not looking here to argue again a subject that has been argued to death on the internet and beyond, but I do want to lay some basic groundwork to make sure we’re all on the same page and that readers understand my perspective on the issue and how it informs my thoughts—even if you don’t agree with every element of what I’m about to explain. The question of energy and resource depletion is both complicated and fraught with opinion, incomplete data, and conflicting interpretations of that incomplete data. As such, there’s a heavy fog that can be thrown over the subject, and there are undoubtedly major elements of our future use of energy and physical resources that remains unknown and unknowable in advance. Still, there are some general trend lines that are clear—and there are basic physical realities that, so far as I’m concerned, are even more clear.

We use a lot of energy, coming out to about 552 exajoules of primary energy in 2010 alone. The vast majority of that came from fossil fuel sources. Back in 1830, meanwhile, we used about 24 exajoules of energy, almost all of it coming instead from biomass and biofuels. How did we get to today’s level of consumption? Well, it’s really quite simple: we increased our per person energy usage while dramatically increasing our number of people. In 1830, we used an average of approximately 22 gigajoules per person. With a bit over a billion people, that works out to the aforementioned 24 exajoules of energy used in 1830. By 1920, we had increased to an average per person use of about 35 gigajoules of energy—but we also nearly doubled our population, and as a result increased our total energy usage to 69 exajoules of energy, or almost three times what we used in 1830. Over the next 90 years? We more than doubled our per capita energy use to about 80 gigajoules and more than tripled our population; by the time the dust had settled, we found ourselves using eight times as much energy as in 1920 and 23 times as much as in 1830.

This is the power of exponential growth, and it only gets worse as time goes by. We’ve added half a billion people to the world’s population in the last six years alone and, while world energy usage numbers aren’t currently available past 2013, the trend line of increased population and increased per capita energy usage seems to be holding mostly steady, though the recent crash in oil prices and attendant decrease in worldwide production may have flat-lined or decreased this trend over the past couple years. Despite that possibility, though, the fact remains that we have been engaging in exponential growth of energy use over the past few hundred years, and that is simply an untenable situation on a finite planet.

That’s the ultimate rub here, and it’s really a very basic and unforgiving reality. You cannot have endless growth on a finite planet. Period. There is only so much energy buried here on Earth. There is only so much arable land, fresh water, and space. There are only so many physical resources. There is a limit to how much we can use and how many people can exist on Earth. There’s no getting around that fact. That is a simple truth and it’s one that we are beginning to face as our own exponential growth in population and impact continues to exhaust this planet. We cannot continue growing.

This simple fact extends not only to our population, but our economy and its attendant use of our only world. (Our only home.) We cannot continue a growth economy either. That too must come to an end.

You can look at this picture in a variety of ways, but they are all harsh in their reality. Tom Murphy at his Do the Math blog is, to my mind, one of the better writers at clarifying the picture. He has looked at our energy predicament from a number of angles and has laid out our troubles in a variety of ways. His peak oil primer is excellent and does a nice job of summarizing this immense issue. His look at the feasibility of continued growth in energy consumption notes that we would have to cover every bit of available land in solar panels within a few hundred years simply to continue our levels of growth—and then goes on to note that we would raise the temperature of our atmosphere to the boiling point of water within less than 500 years at a 2.3% annual growth rate. And his excellent post on economic growth notes that it, too, is a long-term impossibility, and the post also puts lie to the much-touted economic idea of “decoupling” economic growth from energy and resource use.

In plain terms, what we have done over the past few centuries is tap into billions of years worth of sunlight stored in the Earth’s crust and we’ve gone on to spend it with wild abandon. As Murphy notes in his above peak oil primer, the amount of oil discoveries in recent years has dropped dramatically lower than the annual amount of oil we extract and burn. In essence, this is the same as spending out of a very rich bank account while depositing each year into it far less than you spent. It doesn’t matter how high the balance was to start—it’s finite, and it will eventually be exhausted if you’re putting in less each year than you’re taking out. We’re putting in far less now than we’re taking out and we’ve spent the last couple hundred years—and, in particular, the last few decades—spending a hell of a lot of money and burning a hell of a lot of oil.

When we do deign to gnaw on this problem as a society, we tend to obsess over how to increase the supply of energy. Thus, we regale ourselves with stories of endless solar panels and wind turbines, and with the myth that renewable sources of energy can replace fossil fuels. Unfortunately, that’s not the case; not in the sense we most often talk about it, anyway. Solar, wind, and other renewable sources cannot swap out with fossil fuels, for a variety of reasons rooted in physics, economics, and politics. Again, Tom Murphy does a very nice job of cogently summarizing some of the issues with replacing fossil fuels in his post “The Energy Trap.” Renewables are far from useless and they can likely create their own modest and sustainable supply of energy, but it will be at a far lower level than we currently enjoy by exploiting stored sunlight—and that level and form of energy is going to require a dramatically different way of living and of organizing our politics, economics, and culture.

The greater need we face is to reduce our demand. We need to suck up the fact that our bank account is dropping fast and cut back our spending before we become bankrupt and ruined. Remember the earlier number about per capita energy usage? Well, we need to begin dropping that. Here in America, we need to work with even greater vigor since we use four times that earlier-mentioned per capita number. Reduction in demand is an absolutely critical first step in dealing with the predicaments of our time. Partly this is because we’re going to have to use less energy whether we want to or not, but also this is because we need to use less of everything if we’re going to productively face our future. Simply put, we are devouring this entire planet. Documentations of the destruction of earth’s physical resources abound online and in printed form, just as documentations of our depletion of fossil fuels do. The picture is bleak. Good topsoil is washing out to sea, blowing away in the wind, and being poisoned under destructive agricultural practices. Clean water is being similarly wasted and poisoned, and drying up under climate change and overly intensive usage. Forest are disappearing; a massive number of species are disappearing; ecosystems and unique habitats are disappearing. We have turned this planet into a mess and our response, more often than not, is to close our eyes and pretend otherwise.

Here’s the simple reality, though: we cannot continue to use up the world’s energy and resources and expect anything other than an increasingly toxic stew of slow- and fast-moving calamities. Already they are occurring, and the coming years will only make them worse. This is perhaps the greatest reason that we need to reduce demand rather than trying to maintain or increase supply. We cannot continue using up and discarding our home and we will do just that if we don’t get ourselves under control. In his essay from 2013, “Less Energy, More Life,” Wendell Berry made the simple observation that “If we had a limitless supply of free, nonpolluting energy, we would use the world up even faster than we are using it up now.” He’s right. The problems and predicaments we face today stem first and foremost from bad living; a new source of energy will not fix that. More will not fix that. Only less will.

It is restraint that we need now. We’ve driven ourselves into lives of dysfunction, waste, alienation, disaffection, and despair. We have done it with more energy, more money, more stimulation, more distraction, and more stuff. What we need now as a response to this failure is less. We don’t need less in the form of deprivation or ascetism, mind you. We need less so that we can stop being so damn tired—not to mention distracted, overwhelmed, and crazed. More is killing us. It’s exhausting us. It’s stripping the joy and sensation from our lives. We need better and happier lives, and we can only do that with less and the sort of better living that less brings within reach.

As it happens, less is also a response to the hard realities of energy and resource depletion, and so it’s one of the better strategies out there for responding to our troubled present and future. It also is going to be a crucial response to the third factor that’s driving the U.S. and the entire industrialized world deeper into decline and contraction, which is the continuing consequences of our ongoing disruption and destruction of our natural systems. Those are pressing hard against us right now, in a more immediate way perhaps than depletion is, and it’s only through adapting and embracing lives of less that will be able to respond to this reality in an effective manner. We’ll be talking about that next week.

The Ways of Contraction: A Failing Empire

As this blog lines out my thoughts on the world at hand, our responsibilities to it, and the better and worse ways we can live within it, a number of assumptions are going to be . . . well, assumed. This is, so far as I’m concerned, inevitable. I am not interested in simply rephrasing the arguments of more educated and more thoughtful people than I who have already laid out convincing cases as to the many reasons why we face a troubled future. Instead, I want to discuss and debate those troubles through a more personal lens, using my own lived experience and various ruminations to add my small voice to a conversation already rooted in these understandings.

That said, a new blog deserves both an introduction and an explication of the basic state of play of the author’s world view. Therefore, I will be using the next few posts here at Litterfall to lay out the the three key elements facing the United States that portend a continuing era of decline. At the end of the day, that is the basic world view this blog is rooted in and the projects of Figuration Press will be arising out of, so I think it beneficial to confer that world view to my readers.

I should note, too—since I know I will have international readers here—that many of the elements I will be talking about apply to the Western industrial world at large. Others, like today’s post, are more specific to the United States, though still containing a galaxy of consequences for the Western industrial world in particular, and the entire globe in general. Considering that I’m a resident of the United States and have no intention of becoming otherwise, my readers outside the U.S. will hopefully lend me a bit of patience for this entry.

On with it, then.

Estimates vary as to the exact proportion, but the United States uses a massive amount of the world’s energy and resources. At one point in the not-too-distant past, this was roughly a quarter of the world’s energy and a third of the world physical resources. By the accounts I can find, these number have changed a bit in recent years. I’ve seen estimates now closer to 20% of the world’s energy and the EIA claims the U.S. used 18% of the world’s entire primary energy consumption in 2013. To state the obvious, that’s quite a bit of resource usage, even if it is down from roughly 25%.

This is an interesting state of affairs when you consider that the U.S. currently comprises about 4.35% of the world’s population, and it means that we use energy at a rate more than four times the share we deserve based purely on a proportional representation (and the physical resources and industrial products of the world at a disproportionate rate even greater than that). American cultural myths would suggest that the inordinate wealth concentrated in our country is due to the ingenuity and hard work of American workers and businesses, as well as to our economic and political systems. But let’s be honest, folks—that claim makes about as much sense as an economist predicting human behavior. The massive amount of wealth and waste found here in America is not due to any sort of unique national virtue; it’s due—as John Michael Greer argued so well on his blog and in his excellent book on American empire, Decline and Fall—to the simple fact that America is the current global empire and has set in place a series of economic and political arrangements that serve to divert energy and resources away from other countries and toward our own.

Oddly enough, a great deal of the American populace would likely dispute that claim, or at least attempt to bog it down in numerous exceptions, asides, and random obfuscations. However, it bears repeating as a simple and honest assessment that America is currently the world’s dominant empire and it uses its military, political, and economic powers to arrange the global flow of energy and resources disproportionately to itself. All of us American citizens (and, to a lesser degree, the citizens of a wide variety of industrialized nations serving as satellite partners to the American empire) derive excess wealth and power from that arrangement, raising the general scale of living across the board.

Of course, this does not mean everyone in America is rich, or that there are no poor and destitute people in this country. There obviously are, and this country’s current wealth is immensely stratified and highly concentrated toward the upper levels of society. Even given that fact, though, the general standard of living for the majority of Americans is far and above that of a number of countries across the globe who are day in and day out getting the short end of the empire stick. And the simple fact is that most anyone reading this blog is almost certainly in the upper echelons of the global rich. For instance, I sit just barely outside the top 1% in income currently (though only in the top 20% by wealth). Just a few years back, when I was making only a few thousand dollars a year above the Federal Poverty Level, I was in the top 8% by income. A rising tide lifts all boats—and a sclerotic empire assures an outsized level of living for near everyone within it.

Unfortunately for us Americans, our empire is showing signs of serious strain. As we bog ourselves down in endless foreign entanglements with hazy objectives and missing timelines, beat our chests ever-more-loudly at foreign competitors who calmly counter with demonstrations of their own military might and the competent creation of new alliances with our enemies, and continue to prop up an immensely dysfunctional and corrupt military-industrial complex, the final days of our global superiority grow ever closer. It feels at this point as though any one of our myriad vulnerabilities could upend the global order any day now. Perhaps Syria will turn into our death knell; it’s the best option of any at the moment. Just as or more likely is that it’s some new and sudden entanglement that will arise in the coming years. I have little doubt that it’s coming relatively soon, though. As Russia, China, and Iran continue to align geopolitically against the U.S. and debut effective new military weaponry and technology, we seem too distracted with doubling, tripling, and quadrupling down on the catastrophically useless F-35s to effectively counter the growing military threat to our hegemony. The utter cluelessness and hubris currently on display in this country is indication enough that our empire days are heading toward termination. It is not easy to hang onto an empire, and mindlessly shooting oneself in the foot is not the way to do it.

What does that mean for us? Most likely, it means a very messy contraction in wealth and resources at a relatively near future point, and the attendant political and economic chaos. Piled on top of that is a high likelihood that the termination of our empire will come through a massive military defeat, which threatens to wreak immense psychological damage on our national psyche, considering how invulnerable we Americans seem to think we are, and how sheltered we have become from the painful realities of being exploited by an imperial power. It may well happen in very short order that we go from a proportion of the world’s wealth and resources that is four or more times greater than what it should be by sheer population numbers to something far less—very possibly even below our proportion. Considering our unwillingness to gracefully back away from an empire we are failing to maintain and to dedicate ourselves to creating alternate global arrangements that will provide us a reduced but decent national living, all indications are that it is going to be torn messily from our grasping fingers—and such a scenario does not bode well for an amenable political and economic arrangement for us from the global power who seizes our current brass ring.

That’s the thing about a series of military, political, and economic arrangement that siphon wealth and resources from the rest of the world toward one single power: it can be changed in relatively short order. Granted, I haven’t done the background studies or historical survey to give you a specific time estimate in how long it may take to change that arrangement, but we could be talking a matter of months or a few years in which the United States goes from utilizing roughly a fifth of the world’s resources to something more like a twentieth or thirtieth. Consider that for a moment. What would the effect be on your life if your income were to drop to a fifth or sixth or tenth of what it is now? How about if your electricity or natural gas or gasoline usage dropped the same? And in what ways do you think it might affect you if that same trend took place across the country?

The full impact of such a change is impossible to know in advance, but I can’t imagine it taking place without massive consequence and disruption, and a whole hell of a lot of pain and suffering in the lives of millions of people across this country. If we’re smart, such a change in the global economic order would swiftly be answered by a huge reordering and redistribution of wealth and income in this country to soften the impact as much and as broadly as possible; but then, how often in recent times have we acted particularly smart as a nation? Granted, such trauma opens up a wealth of new opportunities and brings previous impossibilities swiftly into the realm of possibilities—and, as such, I expect that a good bit of redistribution of resources would happen under such a scenario in one way or another, whether by politics or mobs (sometimes indistinguishable). But even so, a redistribution of wealth under such a scenario is a salve, not a cure. The pain and disruption would still be immense.

I do not for a moment believe the American empire will outlive me. I expect to see it fall within my lifetime. As such, I expect to take a massive cut in wealth and resources available to me in my lifetime. I don’t know the details of that cut in advance: where it will start from, how great a cut it will be, the specifics of how it will play out, or what position in life I’ll be in when it happens. But I do know that, should it happen, it will be tremendously disruptive. There’s almost no way it couldn’t be. And it will likely become my immediate life’s work to deal with it.

Imagine for a moment that you knew your current source of income was coming to an end. Let’s say you know the date and it’s two years hence. You don’t know whether or not you’ll be able to find a new source of income, but you know for a fact that if you do, it will be a fifth of what it currently is—at best. Further, you will have no other ways to mitigate the cut in income; no ability to run up temporary or permanent debt, no new government programs to bail you out, no family members to take you in. What are the implications of that? How do you respond?

Your safety, comfort, and possibly your survival are dependent on your ability to learn how to make do with less under such a scenario. You will have less; there’s no way around it. Therefore, your only remaining response is to learn to live with less. The better you learn and the better you prepare, the better off you’ll be. Are there any guarantees of getting through unscathed? Most likely no, and you almost certainly won’t be able to get through unscathed. But there is a guarantee of tremendous pain and suffering if you do nothing to prepare. Under that scenario, there’s a guarantee that your life will be worse than it likely has to be. It’s not a question of getting through unharmed, but a question of the degree of harm you suffer. If you knew this was coming, would you hide? Would you ignore it? Or would you begin to prepare?

We face a future of contraction, of limits, and of less. I know it is coming and therefore I want to prepare. All the theorizing in the world will not change the fact of its coming. All the attempts to grapple with why it’s coming or how it’s coming may have their own particular worth, but they also will not change the fact that it is coming—though they could help you respond to it. Yelling about it coming? That won’t help you deal with it when it comes. Pretending it isn’t coming? No matter what The Secret tells you, reality is not a figment of your imagination. You, and I, are tiny and insignificant in this world; it’s going to do what it’s going to do whether we like it or not. Our task is to respond in kind, not to attempt to control it, because attempting to control the broader world is a fool’s errand. We can respond, and in our tiny ways we can impact it for the better or worse, but it is far too big and far too powerful for us to control.

So what does help? Working today on the adaptation and personal change needed to grapple and deal with the future facing us. By learning how to live with less now and by finding new ways to derive meaning and joy from our lives—ways that aren’t rooted in conspicuous consumption and displays of wealth—we will be in a better position to deal with the continuing decline of industrial civilization and the collapse of the American empire. In the face of such massive change, these efforts may prove limited, but they are important and worthwhile anyway. And, aside from their practicality, they have a moral dimension that we will be talking about at a future point here on this blog.

But what if I’m wrong? What if the American empire keeps trucking along and those of us in the U.S. continue to be able to divert a fourth or fifth of the world’s entire energy and resource base toward our own use and abuse? Well, even if our empire does find some way to continue to stumble along throughout my lifetime, there are still a number of other intractable predicaments facing us which guarantee continued contraction. I’ll be writing about one of those next week.

Clear-Eyed Futures: An Introduction

One of the challenges with writing and speaking about the sort of troubled future I believe we face is that it’s so easy to focus on the negative aspects of that future and bog down in examining the hefty ecological bills coming due. Granted, I think that’s necessary to a large degree; not so we can wallow in the collective pain to come (and already well arrived), but to be honest and clear-eyed about a future that is too rarely talked about in honest and clear-eyed terms. Our cultural narratives still skew far too heavily toward ones of unerring technological progress solving our (so often technology-created) problems, or of dystopian futures in which humanity is being run roughshod over by out of control corporations, governments, or technologies. They far too rarely turn an eye to the messy middle ground in which technology provides ever-diminishing returns, corporations and governments falter and crumble under their cascading vulnerabilities built on complexity and corruption, ecological support systems weaken under the crushing weight of widespread pollution and abuse, and human economies and political systems break down under the increasing strains of these consequences. Enumerating these consequences and understanding their current and future impacts is a key element to understanding the state of our world, how we got here, and why we’re going to continue to suffer the consequences of our numerous and ongoing terrible collective decisions.

As the harsh realities of climate change and ecological destruction make themselves ever more clear, works of science fiction seem to be more commonly integrating these consequences into their visions of the future. Yet it seems to me that they still too often fall into the trap of believing these consequences are answerable by humans, either through new technologies that mitigate the repercussions of our immensely dumb ways of living or through draconian technological and cultural responses that layer levels of human control over the troubled climate and environment—often in disturbing ways—as a response to the blowback from our individual and collective actions. These, however, strike me as flawed and mistaken responses to the troubled times ahead, and guilty of once again perpetuating the myth that we humans are ultimately in control of this planet and its natural systems. We aren’t, and every passing year makes that more and more clear.

The particular predicament facing us is that we have no effective, broad-reaching, blanket responses available to take that will wriggle us out of the very deep and very tight ecological hole that we’ve dug ourselves into. What we face instead is the fractal chaos of localized and individual responses—and, unfortunately, many of those responses are going to be limited in their effectiveness and makeshift in their nature. Mind you, it’s not that there are no large scale responses available to us today, but the ability of such large scale responses to mitigate the predicaments we face are far overblown—and, on top of that, there is absolutely no indication that we have a current willingness to make the individual changes in behavior necessary to create a strong enough political movement and social mobilization to implement those large scale responses that are available to us. In other words, our future is almost certainly one of muddling through.

The necessary response, though, is very straightforward: simplification. We need simpler lives, lived with less energy, using less resources, amassing less stuff, and distracting ourselves with less stimulation. We need to shed complexity and let go of all the things that, in the end, we will be unable to hang on to. We need to stop drowning under the weight of ridiculous expectations. We need to stop allowing ourselves to grow miserable at the behest of cultural beliefs that are proving more dysfunctional and unrealistic which each new thousand-year storm, each new collapsing ice sheet, each new economic convulsion, and each new political upheaval. We need to be honest about the future we face and what it means for the lives we currently lead and the lives we will have to lead.

Only by being honest with ourselves about the future we face and the ways it will impact our lives whether we want it to or not will we be able to make the changes necessary in our own ways of living to create effective responses to the decline we are already experiencing—as well as to have any hope of building social and political movements that may yet create some effective large-scale responses to our troubled future, even if those responses are limited in their ability to mitigate our predicament. We have to get away from the false narratives of technological salvation and apocalyptic collapse and instead face honestly the chaotic future of dysfunction and variable levels of localized decline and collapse that we continue to make for ourselves.

I have been attempting those changes in my own life over the past several years, with varying levels of success and failure. I detailed some of those in my former blog, Of The Hands, and it’s likely I’ll be writing about that at times in this blog, as well. However, personal change is not the only response available to us, and part of the purpose of Figuration Press is to take a step out into the broader world in an effort to create new narratives that might help others to better understand the likely shapes of our future, break out of dysfunctional and long-past-expired cultural narratives, see the world with fresh eyes, and begin making the changes necessary to grapple with a future that is not going to provide us with the sort of luxury, comfort, and ease—in other words, the sort of supposed progress—that is so often promised. I want to explore the future facing us in ways that it is too rarely explored and I want to help spread and perpetuate ideas as to how we can confront that future in the best ways possible.

Into the Ruins is Figuration Press’s first project and the initial foray toward accomplishing that goal. It’s the first deindustrial science fiction magazine that I’m aware of and is dedicated to publishing visions of the future in which decline and collapse are taken as inevitable fact, technological progress is a path of diminishing returns incapable of solving the myriad problems and predicaments we face, and where both techno-utopian and apocalyptic fantasies are strictly forbidden. It can be a tough line to walk at times, and I still read a number of dystopian stories that cannot seem to move away from the idea that humans control the future (not to mention stories featuring space adventure, asteroid mining, and magical new sources of immense energy). This fantasy of human control seems to be one of the hardest knee-jerk impulses to eliminate when thinking about the future. The simple reality is that we are far less in control than we think, and the grander the scale you move to, the more encompassing that fact becomes.

As we continue to move farther into the rough consequences of abusing our only home—you know, that miraculous living planet that is the only thing standing between being alive and being annihilated—I suspect that fantasy of human control will become less and less tenable as the natural world refuses to cooperate with our childish fantasies of omnipotence and instead happily traverses surprising and unforeseen paths—all while we stand in the background demanding it come home right this instant. I hope this is the case, anyway, because it’s that fantasy of human control that not only makes it a challenge at times to find great stories for Into the Ruins, but that also leaves us disastrously clinging to ways of life that cannot and will not go on.

This is the crux of the task before us. We need to let go of actual and imagined lives the natural world is increasingly not going to let us live. We need to let go of the desperate desires for unnecessary wealth and abundance, for the sort of luxury and comfort the consequences of which are swiftly damning our future selves and future generations to far less comfort than we might otherwise have. We need to give up the death grip and instead turn willingly and thoughtfully to a future of less—before that future smacks us upside the head and drags us unwillingly into the future that’s waiting regardless of our choice today whether or not to face it.

It’s hard, though, to turn away from a future you know—no matter how dysfunctional and destructive it may be—if you’re only turning toward an unknown and frightening void. Sure, just such a turn has been the basis for a good many enjoyable adventures throughout history, but that hardly removes the worry. So here again, the matter of new narratives, new stories, and new possibilities become crucial to our living better. And here again, I turn to the purpose of Figuration Press, Into the Ruins, and other projects this publication house will likely be tackling in the future. Among those projects is this blog, Litterfall.

A number of ideas and inspirations have been battling for space within my brain of late, stimulated by the work of writing for, editing, and publishing Into the Ruins, as well as by a variety of changes in my own life. I want an outlet for those ideas, and I want as well a weekly rapport with those of you out there who are interested in different ways of living and who are troubled by the course of our current society. Similarly, I want a gathering place that can act as a seed bed for new projects for Figuration Press and for new narratives about how we best can live in this world. This desire is where the “Litterfall” name for this blog and the attendant obvious metaphor comes from. I want this to serve as a place of detritus, so to speak—as a bit of ground littered with ideas, insights, narratives, and other bits of organic material that could help build new ways of living and thinking that are rooted in ecological contexts, love of the natural world, and care for this planet and its community of species, human and otherwise. I want it to be busy and diverse, with a wide variety of thoughts and perspectives.

I don’t plan to shy away from speaking about our problems and enumerating the issues facing us, including with a primer post next week that lays out some of the basic predicaments we will have to deal with as we continue to suffer decline. However, I want this to be a conversation that comes back regularly to some of the ways we can change our lives and create new and appealing stories for how to live in this world. The dirty secret of decline—the fact that gets too little discussion—is how much better our lives can be when we cut out excess energy, stuff, and stimulation. I’m as guilty of anyone of losing focus of that fact, but I’ve lived it so many times now, in so many ways, that I know without question that I can speak to the joys of living with less and the benefits of scaling back our lives. There is an incredible world out there that modern industrial civilization does everything in its power to obscure, hide, denigrate, and dismiss. Coming home to it is a powerfully joyous experience.

I’ll be talking about that homecoming in future posts. I’ll be talking about the predicaments of our time, the reasons we’ll have to make do with less, and the importance of personal change both at the individual and societal level. I’ll be talking about farming, homesteading, exposure to the natural world, and physical labor. I’ll be talking about specific issues, too, such as the local food movement—which I plan to provide some celebration and criticism of in the months ahead. I may also share the occasional bit of fiction with you, set in the troubled times ahead.

I’ll be doing all this right here, every week, with new posts coming each Monday evening. We’ll have a conversation about the state of the world, the state of ourselves, and how we can live better. As Figuration Press continues to engage in new projects, I’ll also share those with you and, I hope, receive feedback about what kind of projects you think will help you see the world in new ways. We’ll start next week with talk of energy, resources, and empire, and then go from there. In the meantime, I’ll encourage you to sign up for the Figuration Press News & Announcements email list, to subscribe to new Litterfall blog posts by email, and to follow our Facebook page (if you suffer social media), all via forms and links on the right hand side of this page. Finally, I hope to have a conversation with all of you—so consider a comment below if you’re so moved.

Until next week.

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