October 1, 2012

True and False Solar Cornucopias


This post quotes from a paper to be delivered next year casting doubt on what I’ve called green cornucopianism.
Although Malthus’s worries about land shortages were transcended by world-historical events as well as by Ricardo’s and Marx’s different versions of technological optimism, they were soon reincarnated in Jevons’s warnings about the depletion of coal. Today economists generally dismiss the pessimism not only of Malthus and Jevons, but also of current concerns over peak oil, by expressing faith in human ingenuity. To retrospectively ridicule pessimists by referring to technological progress that they did not anticipate has become an established pattern of mainstream thought. Almost regardless of ideological persuasion, the seemingly self-evident concept of “technological progress” inherited from early industrialism has been resorted to as an article of faith serving to dispel the specter of truncated growth. The increasingly acknowledged threats of peak oil and global warming are thus generally countered with visions of a future civilization based on solar power.
All this modern technological progress was caused by fossil fuels. Now they’re saying technology will provide a replacement for fossil fuels. That’s saying something rather different, although the technocrats and flacks are too stupid to realize it.
(Judging by the paper’s title, it may go in for another kind of idiocy, that without fossil-fueled “growth” we’re in for scarcity and “zero-sum” horrors. But this is the same lie propagated by the growthsters. Agroecological science has proven that smallholder-based organic production using minimal or no fossil fuels outproduces oil-slathered industrial ag, in calories and nutrition. Pre-oil scarcity, where it existed, was primarily the result of malevolent socioeconomic structures, just as today; and secondarily of insufficient knowledge. We now have the knowledge. All we need to make the post-oil future a future of abundance is the Food Sovereignty movement which shall overcome the tyranny of today and tomorrow. This is the way we can and must occupy the sun.
But to use concentrated solar panels to privatize and enclose it cannot work physically, cannot work economically, and cannot “feed the world” or liberate humanity. The only thing which can render the post-oil world a world of scarcity is the same thing which imposes global scarcity today: scarcity-dependent and -imposing socioeconomic structures. Corporate tyranny.
As I wrote last Thanksgiving: Occupy the Sun!)



  1. correction 5 billion not 5 million ..sorry .. who cares any way when the best we can hope to live to is 100 years

    Dave Outlaw

    Comment by W David Outlaw — October 1, 2012 @ 8:20 am

  2. I have been testing the nutritional content of my home grown food using a refractometer. (Testing ‘brix’) The results have not been very good. I am missing some essential minerals. I have had soils tested and am following the recommendations of Logan Labs and Steve Solomon. I must say that these minerals are not necessarily easily sourced locally.
    I am aware of the notorious Stanford report on the similarity of organic/vs conventional produce from a purely nutritional perspective. Does anyone know what methodology the various reporters used to compare? Was it brix?
    This should be of great concern to local food growers.

    Comment by Ellen Anderson — October 1, 2012 @ 10:44 am

    • The corporate-commissioned Stanford “study” didn’t actually study anything, and produced no new data. Rather, it “meta-analyzed” existing data in order to assemble a desired picture. I don’t know which among the primary research used brix.

      Here’s Charles Benbrook’s dismantling of the Stanford piece. The section on nutrition says he and others have used better methodologies to analyze most of the same research mentioned in the Stanford polemic and gotten results far more favorable to organic food.


      Click to access P2566.pdf

      I don’t know how your soil is, but the fact is that much of our soil is denuded, toxified, otherwise compromised, and will need to be rebuilt in order to render organic methods as fruitful as they can be. We have lots of work to do to create a good substrate for it.

      BTW, here’s an exposee of the clients for the Stanford piece.



      How’s the farm going? The movies?

      Comment by Russ — October 1, 2012 @ 11:21 am

    • I wanted also to ask about what you’re doing as far as following Solomon, and how it’s going. My personal plan for the plot of land I now have access to is to run a large garden according to principles of soil-building, sustainability, seasonality, season-extension (and preservation). A Victory Garden, as I defined that term in my What To Do Now post.


      I’m planning to do it mostly according to the principles in Solomon’s book Gardening When It Counts, modified by any good ideas I come across elsewhere. I’ll try to do so on as large a space as possible. So I’m rereading that book from the specific point of view of applying it there.

      Comment by Russ — October 2, 2012 @ 4:58 am

  3. Great stuff, Russ, your writing is getting better and better. I wish I had more time to contribute comments to this blog, but until then, I’ll remain an enthusiastic reader, and I’ve also recommended your blog to a couple of friends, so hopefully they’ve been reading it as well.

    Keep up the good work!

    For now, I’ll leave you with this quote from the young Marx to Ruge: “You can hardly claim that I think too highly of the present time. If I nevertheless do not despair of it, it is because its own desperate situation fills me with hope.”

    Comment by Sophie — October 1, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

    • Thanks Sophie.

      Comment by Russ — October 2, 2012 @ 4:57 am

  4. I can’t help wondering: What and where is this alternative energy that’s going to be our salvation? We’re supposed to exercise this blind faith in “human ingenuity” and continue blithely to live our lives as though we will always be looked after by someone else, yet all I hear about is the incredibly inefficient and destructive hydro-fracking and vague talk of solar and wind-powered energy. I don’t see any real long-range planning, nor any effort to conserve and utilize remaining petro energy to work on creation of sustainable energy sources.
    Maybe I’m just not researching the topic enough, but I’m sick of that “human ingenuity” claptrap.

    Where’s the beef?

    Comment by DualPersonality — October 2, 2012 @ 9:32 am

    • Yes, not only is a technological miracle going to save us, but it’s going to happen spontaneously, as part of business as usual. It just gets more and more convenient all the time! But then, it is a miracle, after all. 🙂

      Comment by Russ — October 2, 2012 @ 11:01 am

  5. The problem has always been… defending the output of your deeds, the associations that develop[ed between the commoners and thugs, the bastards you know vs. the unknown (the mob over the hill or horizon). Some Greek dude said, paraphrasing here… there is no difference amongst humans of any ethnic grouping save the time and space they occupy and its relationship to the others… in their currant time and space,

    Sorry to here about your difficultly with event organization, seem nothing goes down with out it being the BOSS’es Ideal… eh.

    Comment by skippy — October 8, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

    • Publicly advertising the vino was the misstep. Maybe we’ll have the BATF here before we’re through.

      Comment by Russ — October 11, 2012 @ 11:52 am

  6. Off this topic but on “inverted totalitarianism”


    Comment by Tao Jonesing — October 10, 2012 @ 11:19 pm

    • Thanks Tao. I’ve often referred to Wolin’s term, which to me is a synonym for the neoliberal version of corporatism.

      It’s already economic fascism (a planned economy which maintains nominally private rentier rackets), and is on the vector to full-blown fascism in most other ways. The main differences from classical fascism are that overt ideological racism/chauvinism is absent, and that it makes a big show of kangaroo “elections” between two substantively identical parties which are differentiated in surface ways, like two teams whose only actual difference is the color of their uniforms. (Under classical fascism the plebiscite was the preferred pseudo-democratic circus. But it was the same kind of thing and served the same purpose. I’ve long regarded US presidential elections as a kind of plebiscite on the system itself, with voter participation simply being a Yes vote, abstention a No. Certainly the real nature of the vote isn’t in whether one chooses Obomney or Robama.)

      Comment by Russ — October 11, 2012 @ 9:35 am

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