[permaculture] conservatism/food/references requested

Harmon Seaver hseaver at gmail.com
Thu Feb 21 13:24:32 EST 2008

Toby Hemenway wrote:

> Harmon Seaver wrote:
>> My family will have plenty to eat, and plenty of fuel for our
>> vehicles and machinery, but we'll also be a long, long way from any city
>> of any size.
> I'm trying not to read that as, "I got mine, so there."

   No, simply that I'm not all that concerned for myself.

> But there are 
> countless examples of rural areas doing far worse than cities in bad 
> times. Homer Dixon-Smith shows that in ancient Rome, rural areas 
> collapsed sooner than the cities, and people there were much worse off. 
> The same for China in the collapse of the western Chou empire. 

   I doubt we can draw any real conclusions from ancient history, since
we really have little idea of what was actually going on, only what a
few people thought they saw. We see this over and over in history and
literature -- a very distorted perspective, since the only people who
could write were far and few between, and usually rich.

>In the 
> Depression, a million people left US cities in 1930-32, thinking they'd 
> be better off on farms, but from 1932-1935, 4 million people left farms 
> for cities, showing they were wrong. There are thousands of abandoned 
> camps in the rural South, left by people who couldn't make it in the 
> country.

   This is exactly what I mean -- you are taking a subset of data and
coming to a very erroneous conclusion. What happened then was not just a
serious world-wide economic depression, but also a major ecological
catastrophe for a huge part of the US. There was a major drought, which
turned a huge area in the "Dust Bowl". People there could not grow any
crops, they couldn't even garden, and, in fact, in many places could not
even stay in their homes because the dust in the air was so bad they
couldn't breath. Of course they had to leave -- and because at that time
(unlike now with all the empty farmhouses due to farm consolidation)
rural housing was very hard to come by in other parts of the country,
they had no choice except to become migrants or move to a city.
     My own family is a good example of how people fared during the
Depression. My paternal grandfather was raised on the farm, but didn't
want to be a farmer, and moved to town and worked in a department store.
When the Depression hit and he lost his job, he moved back to his
parent's farm with my grandmother and my dad. They did well enough, had
plenty to eat, stayed warm (this in Wisconsin), and my dad had a pony, a
 pet banty rooster, and a dog. They weren't rich, the farm was only 116
acres, but since the farm was homesteaded in 1830, they had no mortgage
payments, raised dairy and beef cows, pigs, chickens, and a big garden.
    My mother's family, OTOH, were city people. My grandfather was a
master electrician, an excellent mechanic, very competent fellow, but
they had a very tough go of it in the Depression. The 4 kids were all
quite malnourished, my mom even having rickets. The only time they got
something like an orange was at Xmas.
     My mother tells all sorts of horror stories about the Depression,
my father was barely aware of it. He even went to college towards the
end of it.
     My wife's family were all very rural, not farmers, but had cows and
chickens and large gardens. Other than not having a lot of money, they
generally did okay.

> The country is where some food comes from (there are plenty of cities 
> that grow 50-70% of their food)

   Where? Not in the US -- which is what we are speaking of. I don't
think the third world will be tremendously affected the coming energy
crunch like the US will. The US will be devastated, most other countries

> but the city is where everything else 
> comes from: tools, machines, medicine, jobs, knowledge, innovation. 

   You can forget about tools and machines coming from the cities in the
US. Most of the factories are closed down, the machinery either shipped
overseas or melted down for scrap. US industry was built in a time of
cheap energy, it will be literally impossible to rebuild it.
   But there's something else that cities have now that wasn't the case
back in the Depression -- gangs. Sure you had bootleggers back then, but
 not that numerous. Gangs in the US already outnumber the entire US
military and all police forces by a very large number. They are becoming
very organized and networked, even internationally. They use cellphones
and computers, and could, in most larger cities, effectively wipe out
the police force almost overnight. Even now, look what's happening in
Brazil, where gangs attack the police stations.

   When the times get really tough, gangs will rule the cities. They
will move out from the ghettos and take over the better neighborhoods
with impunity.

> Rural areas are generally poor, and over 90% of US ruralites commute to 
> a job. They won't be better off. In a world of corporate farms, food and 
> everything else will go to the cities first, in a form of triage. (After 
> a major storm, my Seattle office had power in 12 hours. My rural house 
> did without for 6 days. That's just a sample of what we're in store for.)

    My rural place has never had grid power. It's two miles from the
nearest powerline. We don't worry about the power going out. 8-)  We
lived off-grid for 18 years and did pretty well, but now can do ever so
much better because we now have a lot more information on how to create
our own energy simply and efficiently from resources we have an
abundance of -- wood, cattails, crops. Gasifiers to run engines are
cheap and simple to make, likewise stills to make ethanol. Solar panels
are getting fairly cheap, like wind generators and micro hydro. We have
a good year-around creek, springs, and no close neighbors -- our land
being totally surround by nat'l forest.
    What are city people going to do for heat? I look around a city
neighborhood, and all I can think of is that most of the houses will
probably be torn down for firewood. Natural gas supplies are almost gone
in the US, we get most of our gas from Canada, and they are running out.
They're talking about building a nuke plant in northern Alberta to get
the power to keep boiling the oil out of the tar sands because they are
running out of gas. Sure, people talk about bringing LNG in special
ships from places with plenty of gas, but that is extremely problematic,
safety wise, and the ships can't carry very much at once, and offer a
fantastic opportunity for terrorists.

Harmon Seaver

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