Rex Weyler on “what to do” about limits to growth, peak energy

Preface. Professor Nate Hagens is teaching a class at the University of Minnesota about the state of the world that may be expanded to all incoming freshmen.  Many despair when they learn about limits to growth and finite fossil fuels.  So Rex Weyler came up with a list of “what to do actions” they could take.  It’s one of the best lists I’ve seen.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity]


   I. Linear vs. Complex: “What do I do?” generally seeks a linear answer to a complex living system polylemma. “What do I do?” wants a “solution” for a “problem.” This is linear, mechanistic, engineering thinking at its worst, the type of thinking that contributes to our challenge, but we’re stuck with it in popular culture, so yes, we need an answer. This first part of the answer (changing complex systems is NOT going to be a linear and mechanistic “solution”) is probably too confusing for most people, so could be skipped over. However, your students should be aware of this.

  II. There is lots to do, which your students should be taught.

  1. Find ways to help reduce human population

  • with women’s rights
  • start a campaign to achieve universally available contraception

  2. Find ways to help reduce consumption

  •       start a campaign to reduce frivolous travel, entertainment, fashions, etc. purchased by the rich
  •       do this with heavy tax incentives

  3. reduce meat consumption .. tax and popularization

  4. limit corporate power in politics

  5. publicly fund universities, all education, to limit corporate corruption of education

  6. localize food production, home gardens, community gardens

  7. popularize modest lifestyles in wealthy countries

  8. support and preserve modest lifestyles among indigenous and farmer communities

  9. Learn how complex living systems actually work

10. Spend as much time in wild nature as possible, pay attention, observe, take notes, think about it

11. Plant a garden and pay attention to what it takes to help useful, nutritious plants grow

12. Open a clinic and begin to research localized, small-scale health care

13. Educate yourself about wild nature, evolution, and complexity:

  • read Gregory Bateson, Howard Odum, Gail Tverberg ..
  • Read “The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter
  • Read Arne Naess, Chellis Glendinning, David Abram, and Paul Shepard
  • Read “Small Arcs of Larger Circles” by Nora Bateson

14. Think about what it means to stop looking for a Silver Bullet Tech “Solution” — linear, engineered, mechanistic, profitable, BAU, socially popular “solution”  — and start thinking about where and how change actually occurs in a complex living system.

15. Learn about the errors of modern, neo-liberal economics, and learn about other ways to approach economics. Read: N. Georgescu-Roegen, Frederick Soddy, Gail again, Herman Daly, Donella Meadows, Mark Anielski.

16. Start a Campaign to create and institute a new economic system in your community, your state, your county, your nation, your company, your family.

17. Find a spiritual practice that helps you calm down and see the world with more compassion and patience, and that helps you appreciate the more-than-human world.

18. Localize:

  • Start a company that uses local resources and local skills to create useful locally consumed tools
  • Start that local, community health clinic
  • Lobby your government to create community gardens
  • Study and create energy systems that can be built, operated, and maintained locally
  • Campaign to consume only locally produced products.

19. Start an economic De-Growth group, Décroissance

20. Start a school for the homeless and disenfranchised, and teach localized, useful skills, gardening.

21. Take in a homeless foster child; give them some love and security

22. Read Vaclav Smil, Bill Rees, and Charles Hall

24. Start a psychology practice and begin to learn and support community therapy; build community cohesion

25. Read Wendell Berry: “Solving for Pattern” and “Gift of Good Land.”

26. Start a campaign for all shoppers to reduce consumption, and leave ALL PACKAGING at the stores.

27. Start a free store in your community, help recycle, repair, and circulate everything

28. Are you a lawyer, or do you want to be? Start a practice to defend Ecology activists, and start class action lawsuits against corporations that pollute.

29. Read Rachel Carson, Basho, Li Po, William Blake, Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov, Gary Snyder, Susan Griffin, Nanao Sakaki, Diane di Prima, Walt Whitman. Go to art galleries. Contemplate the connection between creative artistic expression and change in a complex system.

30. See if you can fall in love with something that’s not human. See if you can fall in love with wild nature.

Several people participated in this discussion, a professor added “if they really want to move things along, they must become politically engaged at every level–ask the embarrassing questions at all-candidates meetings, write your representatives, push for policies that will make a difference and protest official idiocy wherever it occurs. And if this fails, civil disobedience will not be far behind.”

These are 30 things your students can DO!

Take your pick. They all count. Teach them. Discuss them. Add to the list. 

There is NO SILVER BULLET TECH SOLUTION that is going to allow us to continue living this endless growth, high consumption, expanding population, fossil-fueled, wasteful, arrogant, human-centered, presumptuous life .. so GET OVER IT. 

Don’t be bullied by the popular hope that there is a magic way to engineer ourselves out of overshoot.

Get creative.

Get local. 

Let go of “changing the world” with human cleverness 

Accept that “the world” is a complex living system, made from complex living subsystems out of your control. 

Find the light inside and share it with the world. 

Avoid whining “What should I do?” by staying active with activities that will matter in the long run.

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8 Responses to Rex Weyler on “what to do” about limits to growth, peak energy

  1. bob says:

    The voluntarist spirit of this is silly. No mention of immigration. Half a billion people right now want to move to north america. What, we’re supposed to support women’s rights and pay huge taxes for an endless stream of refugees from places where child brides are the norm? That’s implicit in this mish-mash.

    The force of government is necessary to achieve workable solutions going forward. The policies of the Imperial Superpower USA is what achieves outcomes. This power has been overwhelmingly destructive since the early 90s, but that can be changed.

    This is written by a leftist and you are a far leftist with a political agenda. I am far right (mostly) libertarian but agree with most of it.

    The immediate task is to strip the obviously necessary objectives of political tribal overtones so that sensible people agree on the important things. These include population control and energy/soil/ecological conservation.

    Please talk about immigration restriction. It’s hard to take you seriously otherwise.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Bob, I have written extensively about birth control, family planning, and immigration ( I am a huge fan of Garrett Hardin who pointed out that immigration is mainly favored by the rich so they can pay workers lower wages.

      David Pimentel at Cornell estimated the carrying capacity of the United States without fossil fuels is about 100 million people. Obviously the more people there are here, whether through birth or immigratoin means a greater blood bath and genocide in the future when financial and ecosystems collapse.

      About half of Sierra Club members, including me, stopped our memberships when they took population and immigration off their policy list. I am not a leftist, I am an ecologist, and think all parties are nuts, every single one of them, even the Green Party, wants to grow the economy to fix all of our problems. If I come off as leftist, it’s because I’m furious we are already close to having an authoritarian dictatorship while times are still good. I think this will be inevitable after oil begins to decline though. Meanwhile, we should be creating infrastructure for a world going back to horses, protecting topsoil and aquifers, stop paving over prime farmland to grow cities, develop rationing plans, and a million other things to soften what’s to come…

  2. Bev says:

    Agree Sheila, but most people want to feel they’re doing something. I can do a couple of things on that list, so that’s what I’m doing. Better than sitting in front of this screen reading all the doom and gloom. Which reminds me…..I have work to do in the food garden.

  3. Susan Butler says:

    Quite moving to hear about a teacher letting young people know what’s going on in the big picture. It’s the decent, responsible thing to do. One can’t know what effect this knowledge will have, but probably not business as usual. I would recommend some reading on regenerative agriculture such as Bill Mollison, Allan Savory, Sepp Holtzer, P.A. Yeomans, because this describes very positive and direct things to do to cool the climate, boost local food systems, re-green deserts and enter into a successful relationship with ecological flows. Such work can be started anywhere at any scale. Very doable.

  4. Todd Cory says:

    great suggestions, but unfortunately no one (not even my “green” friends) is interested in changing their massive carbon footprint, non-negotiable lifestyles.

    so enjoy these remaining good days because the rapidly approaching forced changes (collapse) won’t be pretty.


    • Corrie says:

      I find this too. It seems like every time I hear of a friend or colleague getting a new car, it’s an SUV. When I ask about fuel efficiency, they look at me like I’m from Mars.

      When I point out to people that used paper towels at work go in the Green bin instead of the garbage, they also look at me like I’m bananas.

      I don’t have much hope for us all. Enjoy the “before times”.

  5. Russ Day says:

    Alice – your blog is excellent. I’ve followed it for some time and even bought your cracker book. This post is very good. It enforces the attempts some of us have made to live through this mess we are experiencing. I have the “Limits to Growth” (2004) and many other books of the same genre. There really is no solution. We are living through a human-caused condition of multiple factors that is already changing our lives. Everything will need to be down-sized and local. Those of us alive will be living though the effects of decreased energy and climate change. This blog will help us through. Thanks, Russ

  6. Ian says:

    Well, those suggestions will work if I make it a full time job, somehow keep getting paid and have a non working wife or husband at home to take care of domestic tasks.