Economics for a finite world

Economist billboard

“Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple," said Woodie Guthrie. Nowhere is this more true than in books about economics, filled as they often are with wishful thinking dressed up in pseudo-scientific jargon. And nobody needs to get off their arrogant high horses and scale down their ambitions in light of peak oil, climate change and other ecological limits … [Read more...]

The Age of Oil: Every man a master, every man a slave

oil pump jack

"If we do commit a sin owning slaves," said one Alabama slaveholder in 1835, "it is certainly one which is attended with great conveniences." You can say the same thing about using energy from fossil fuels —  it may be immoral, but it sure is handy. And that's the conundrum that Andrew Nikiforuk examines in The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Every man a slavemaster Just like … [Read more...]

Convinced that food can save America

Student drinking yogurt

It's hard to overestimate the importance of food. Yet, sometimes it appears just as hard for food writers to avoid hype. It's all too easy for people who love food enough to write about food to lose themselves in breathless raptures over the deliciousness of forest foraged mushrooms or the power of artisanal pork to cure diabetes, resurrect rural economies and provide meaningful careers to … [Read more...]

Emancipating slaves then and now

emancipation cartoon

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. It's a needed chance for Americans to talk about slavery that has helped us reexamine our history. For example, recent documentaries and museum exhibits on America's Founding Fathers regularly show that slavery played a big role in the lives of several heroes of the American Revolution. So, now we know that while Thomas … [Read more...]

The Cotton Gin Paradox

cotton gin with slaves

It's not hard to see that, when cars get better gas mileage, people feel that they can afford to drive more. Or that consumers think they can afford a bigger refrigerator if it's Energy Star certified to use less electricity. Blame it on Jevons's Paradox that increasing the energy efficiency of machines doesn't necessarily decrease the total amount of energy people use, but may actually do the … [Read more...]

4 ways to respond to the Boston Marathon bombings

Fred Rogers quote on looking for the helpers

After the bombing attack on Monday that killed three and left more than 170 injured at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Americans try to make sense of yet another act of senseless violence. Whatever the police, the FBI or Homeland Security come up with, here are four ways to understand this tragedy on a personal level that can transform anger and fear into compassion and strength: Think … [Read more...]

3 steps to raise a happy peak oil kid

a mother and a child in a garden

Your baby absorbed so many early-learning podcasts in utero that when she's born she doesn't know if she's supposed to be Baby Einstein, Baby Mozart or Baby Bill Gates. Your husband or wife had to call in some big favors to reserve little Emma or Alessandra a place in a top preschool. After that, you've got her future all planned out: a decent gifted program, Yale undergrad, Wharton MBA, partner … [Read more...]

3 energy-wasting appliances you can easily live without

clothes dryer

In today's economy, who doesn't want to save money? And if you care about climate change or peak oil, then all's the more reason to ease off or even cut out major appliances that make us all burn more coal, nukes and fracked gas without providing much benefit in our daily lives. Clothes dryer. Why do you still have one of these? You already know they ruin your clothes, slowly shrinking them … [Read more...]

Lessons for the Great Recession from throwaway books

Book Swap

This new trend of "eco swaps" sounds harmless enough — people exchanging stuff they don't want for other people's stuff they do want, with no money involved. Seems perfect for a down economy. But don't be fooled. The eco swap is a boil on the butt of capitalism. Just take the books-and-music swap that my wife and Transition Voice Editor Lindsay Curren held last Sunday. The promise of an … [Read more...]

Cut off from society, sports become junk

Roman Gladiators

If junk food contains little nutrition without the benefits of real food, then junk sports provide only empty entertainment without the benefits of real sports. Rather than inspiring ordinary people to become healthy and achieve their physical and mental potential in cooperation with others, junk sports encourage laziness, celebrity-worship and über-competitiveness. It's perfect for an age … [Read more...]