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Shaun Chamberlin is an author, activist and the editor of both Lean Logic and the paperback Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy.  He has been involved with the Transition Network since its inception, cofounding Transition Town Kingston and authoring the movement’s second book, The Transition Timeline.  He worked closely with David Fleming until his death. His website is: www.darkoptimism.org  On Twitter, he is @DarkOptimism

Dr. David Fleming (1940 – 2010) was a visionary thinker and writer who played significant roles in the genesis of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement, and the New Economics Foundation, as well as chairing the Soil Association. He was also one of the early whistle-blowers on oil depletion and designer of the influential TEQs carbon/energy rationing system. He read Modern History at Trinity College, Oxford, and later earned an MBA and then an MSc and PhD in economics (in 1988). These enabled him to better engage with and confound the mainstream, in support of his true passion and genius: understanding that diverse and mysterious thing “community.” Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It was the work of over thirty years. www.flemingpolicycentre.org.uk

David Fleming’s posthumous masterpiece of wit, whimsy and rebellion:

Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It

Shaun Chamberlain’s concise short version of David Fleming’s central ideas:

Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy

About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

21 Responses to “KunstlerCast 310 — With Shaun Chamberlain, Editor of the Late David Fleming’s Book “Lean Logic”” Subscribe

  1. Walter B December 5, 2018 at 2:30 pm #

    So it sounds like Davis was and Shaun is another one of us who are convinced that the only wise way to proceed forward is to concentrate on reducing consumption rather than increasing supply. All well and good, and it is always encouraging James to listen to those who would so advise us, but as we all know it just ain’t gonna happen, is it? Just as the preaching of Jesus insisted that the only way to live well was for us all to live together in peace and caring, all it takes is one or two creatures with bad intent to screw up the works. I do believe that American corporations and consumers will only be willing to do with less when there is nothing to be had at all. That oughta learn ’em!

  2. Myrmecia December 5, 2018 at 4:13 pm #

    Walter B, you sum it up very well.
    But let me jump in first with compliments to Jim and his guest – a great discussion by two articulate people – dare I say “experts” – who have studied independently the trajectory of Western consumer civilisation over decades and come to pretty much the same conclusions.
    To return to Walter B: Although David Fleming may have decided that demand reduction is the best way to go, demand reduction is not going to come from personal pledges, community commitments or national laws.
    It is a pity that David Fleming did not live to witness the brutal fanaticism of ISIS, to assess the global imperial ambitions of China (not just for lebensraum, but for domination) or to to see Americans choosing between two spectacularly unsuitable presidential candidates. A post-war British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan declared his best-laid plans were forever being overtaken by “events, dear, boy, events” – that is, we are forever being blindsided by the unexpected. In this podcast Jim hinted cautiously at the possibility of global cooling – now, wouldn’t that throw a spanner in the works!
    So demand reduction is inevitable, but it won’t be achieved voluntarily; any Transition Towns will be plundered by ruthless groups determined to defer their own demand reduction at someone else’s expense.

    • Walter B December 8, 2018 at 9:12 pm #

      It is always invigorating to hear from others that understand, thank you. I have read much on the potential of a new Ice Age and the best treatise on the subject was done on a site titled “Escape to the Philippines”, sadly a place that can no longer be accessed, at least as far as I can tell. I did print out a copy of it though and yes indeed it does predict a coming ice Age. Is it not funny how in this age of information that information of any real value does not seem to exist?

  3. Chris at Fernglade Farm December 5, 2018 at 10:17 pm #

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for taking the time to put these podcasts together. And I particularly enjoyed this one.

    A few years back I was involved unintentionally with the transition movement, although that wasn’t my primary purpose and it was more of a happy accident. Anyway, the offshoot group comprised much older people (and myself) who had been growing vegetables locally on small scale, sometimes for decades. It was a great group and I learned a lot and got access to a lot of interesting locally adapted varieties of edible plants.

    Eventually, as time wore on, the participants simply got old and for some reason – possibly relating to age of the participants, aprons (a true but sad story!) and consensus politics – the group died an untimely death. But before it did, I grabbed as much resources and local knowledge that I could, and the social connections were shattered.

    That is what the present looks like to me.

    I do rather wonder about the efficacy of community building efforts – which Shaun discussed in the podcast – when many of the social interactions and relationships appear to be a bit bonkers. Dunno.

    Cheers

    Chris

  4. Great podcast, and a great alternative discussion to the new denizens of the regular column, where climate change doesn’t exist and America will soon be made great again, and more bigly.

    • Walter B December 11, 2018 at 9:13 am #

      Oh the climate’s changing alright and pretty dramatically. In my 6 plus decades this is the first time that the temperature has dropped below freezing every night in November and has stayed that way for 6 weeks now. What I would love to see discussed on the topic is what we are going to do to address the problem for that is what seems to be lacking IMHO. Right now all I am going to do is throw another log on the fire, but I would love to see some serious, real solutions brought forward. And increasing government taxation is NOT one of them.

      • I laugh because you mention throwing another log on the fire.

        Thats a huge waste of energy and a point source of pollution.

        I’m not going to tell you to stop- what I am going to do is tell you that life is better when you don’t have the expense. I know, for you that is part of the investment you made in the whole energy budget of your particular property- but, from my perspective, it is a truly net negative way of life.

        If everyone just stopped burning their point-source pollution sources, air quality for everyone would measurably improve. Even yours.

        I you have the means, I suggest paying the small premium for connection to the grid and convenient and constant electric power. The time saved is a very valuable. In the final analysis, heating by wood is false economy.

        I know people in similar situations, who have both sources of power for heating but still go through the exercise of gathering, chopping, feeding the fire, etc. and I just shake my head. Its unnecessary and to me, sort of straddles the line between stupid and insane.

        Just quit. Life isn’t worth it. And thanks from me personally if you do quit smoking.

      • One more thing, I just got back from visiting my grandfather- he’s got 10 decades, thats 3 decades and change on you so pay attention.

        He grew up in a mud hut with a coal fire under a kettle beneath a hole in the ceiling. It was colder than anything you’ve ever experienced, I’m sure. All winter long- South Dakota winters that would go to zero and stay there.

        And when his family had no money or means to obtain coal, they burnt cow chips. Imagine what that smelled like.

        You think he’s sentimental? Electric heat throughout his house- a crispy 75 degrees year-round to warm his bones. Friends bought him an artificial fireplace- throws a good light show if not totally convincing, but also puts out steady radiant heat.

        Air pollution is a real public health problem. To address it, we could easily replace point-source pollution controls, but we have to use economic manipulation – regulation – to try and reduce the harm to the environment caused by burning wood- or gasoline or diesel for that matter.

        Today my friend told me she burns old newspaper in her fireplace- I was like… why? 90% of the heat is wasted – straight up the chimney. The rest ejects ash and fire to leave unburned out the exhaust and foul the chimney. It does nothing but generate CO, and NOx. She rents- the fireplace is part of the tragic legacy of the construction of suburbia, where every “home” comes with a “hearth”. As a renter, and being not that bright- she simply does what her environment suggests to her to do.

        I have another friend who likes to do all the above, just outside. In a “fire pit” which he loves to stare into. Since he lives rural, he claims to save money by burning all his junk mail, cardboard boxes, etc. He could compost it… but he burns it.

        He likes just sitting there staring at it and spending time there. I think its stupid, for lack of a better word- to whiff the smoke particles from incomplete combustion, vegging out with beer after beer, interminably for hours. And he too, spends inordinate amounts of time chopping and felling and carting a burning to feed an inadequate and temperamental cast iron wood stove that can’t even reliably heat part of his house, let alone simply be redundant to co-existing heat exchanger and electric baseboards.

        I think its dumb on an individual level, but particularly, a social level. Imagine being a prick polluting the atmosphere in your car everyday, and then going home and polluting while you are at home. That is 24/7, constant point pollution- as a lifestyle- which is where we’re at. You could characterize the modern social situation as mutual pollution enterprise.

        While he believes he obtains a benefit (a false economy in my opinion) I think he poisons himself and his environment, and wastes his time and energy. Further, he poisons his neighbors’ and larger society, with his pollution. Everyone- young, and old.

        In between people like him and people like you- are people like me. We try to break through, to tell you that there is a better way to live. It sounds condescending- because I am- to the idea that dilution is the solution to pollution. It is not- stopping pollution is the solution.

        This is why I revere the Environmental Protection Agency and I would applaud forcible legal sanctions against burning wood for the purpose of heating a house. I get a real, tangible benefit from stopping people like you pollute the air I breathe.

        Its a short nip and tuck, as far as the regulation is concerned, before it can be made functionally illegal. And it can’t come soon enough.

  5. Walter B December 13, 2018 at 3:38 pm #

    Egad man, you are clearly insane!

    • Am I… ?

      This is a summation of his policy solution:

      “”TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas) is a proposal for a national emissions and energy trading scheme that includes personal carbon trading as a central element. It is the subject of significant interest from the UK Government, and is explicitly designed to address both climate change and peak oil. … TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas) is an electronic energy rationing system …””

      Sounds like a solution to a problem. The problem is external costs (your pollution).

      Everyone would buy carbon credits to use energy.

      The price of TEQ would be subject to supply and demand.

      From each according to his TEQ, to each according to his TEQ.

      In other words the Carbon Tax. It could replace all other forms of currency, a new metric system of value.

      • Walter B December 14, 2018 at 7:07 pm #

        Yes Maynard you are.

      • Walter B December 15, 2018 at 11:18 am #

        I would like to know how the heck you can take a simple statement like “throw another log on the fire” without having any other information about what type of systems is being used and extrapolate it into a two page diatribe? And to claim to be some kind of ecological Wonderboy and to suggest the use of electricity generated from coal and fuel oil as a cleaner alternative, well yes insanity comes to mind.

        Of course an argumentative malcontent is another possibility.

        • The term “point source”, in terms of pollution, are the points (in geographic space) where pollution is generated.

          “Concentrated” pollution would be at the smokestacks of a facility that generates energy in the Megawatt range.

          An individual car is a point source. Where is it? all over. Where is a wood burning fireplace? All over.

          If you want to control pollution, the biggest bang for the buck is to go put a scrubber on the power plant. It is much harder and more onerous to put a catalytic convertor on every car that only generates 1kW, than it is to put a scrubber on a power plant that generates 1000 kW.

          When people use electricity from the grid, the pollution is at the power plant. When they burn wood to heat their house, its at their house.

          If everyone used electric heat, society can easily and cheaply control emissions at a single source. If the pollution is coming from innumerable point sources, its more difficult.

          In the case of wood burning stoves, as far as I know, the regulations mean that new stoves have to meet certain criteria and old stoves cannot be resold or reused. Under this scheme, pollution will decline, only very slowly. And the other way is laws like burn bans, and so forth. Since point sources are located across a wide variety of jurisdictions, there is a lot of lawyering, voting, administration, enforcement, etc.

          Point source pollution is therefore hard to control, hard to regulate, and all this is expensive and slow to respond to environmental regulations.

          In terms of cars, the fight for catalytic converters extended over many years, and all the manufacturers fought it, eventually, every car had to have one.

          In terms of the point source pollution, the regulations always lag the consequences. Pollution becomes a problem and does damage before enough pressure comes to bear to control it. And in the case where you have allowed the proliferation of wood burning stoves across the landscape (by including them as a feature of new home construction, for example) enforcement and thus damage reduction becomes harder.

          Since pollution is a proxy for energy use in any case cocerning combustion processes, TEQs essentially represent carbon taxation. There is a certain cost to society for carbon burning, this is the externalized cost that others pay. TEQ economics puts a price on the carbon. Since the price can be controlled, the economics of energy use can be controlled. In the context of an energy rationing situation (like peak oil, or to mitigate carbon pollution) its much more efficient and effective to use the market pricing mechanism to adjust the use rate.

          Eventually, the policy goal is net zero-carbon. Pricing carbon use that includes the cost externalities would raise the price making alternatives more cost-effective and helping those technologies scale. Society as a whole benefits.

  6. to make a long story short, instead of making a whole range of laws that are hard to enforce concerning what people can do, planning gets ahead of the problem.

    If you see a point coming where there are rolling blackouts, because you’ve installed more capacity than you can supply, you need a central choke-point. You want to ramp up the alternatives to continue the benefits of pollution improvement (up 100% in America over the last 20 years) while accelerating your implementation of an energy infrastructure that will have net zero impact in terms of carbon.

    At that point you’ll be in good tactical position to not only compete in the world economy, but use your military power to pressure noncompliant state actors to abandon their coal and oil development.

    You don’t want to end up in a situation where everyone fires up their wood fireplace to heat their house because then you are not only behind the curve in terms of energy transition, you are pouring 2.5um pollution into the air poisoning people around you. You don’t want to sustain a high market price and use of carbon fossil fuels because that will sustain the release of carbon into the air. Instead, you want the price of carbon to go to zero and the complete transition to non-carbon energy sources because that is the survival scenario. The alternative is a very bad one, where political legitimacy evaporates along with human health and welfare.

    • Chris at Fernglade Farm December 17, 2018 at 6:17 am #

      Hi Lil Debbie,

      I use firewood to heat my home and provide for hot water during the winter. For about half the year I require no heating at all and at other times of the year (about 8 months) the hot water is produced by the solar hot water panels.

      Also the house is not connected to the electricity grid and is powered 100% by the sun – all year around.

      For a start, firewood is an extraordinarily complex energy source and it requires a household to plan their energy use many years in advance (as does the off grid solar power system too).

      I’m not necessarily so sanguine that your thoughts about pollution from wood heaters is necessarily a valid point of view. Please hear me out. Most timber species can’t be burned green because they are full of sugars. Mostly they require about two years of seasoning before they’ll actually burn. Basically, firewood is not a simple energy source at all.

      And you might not be aware but the steel used in fire chambers has a finite lifespan. The steel does an extraordinary job of containing the combustion but it won’t last for ever – and neither does masonry fireplaces for that matter.

      I’ve lived with renewable energy systems for years and I’d be very careful as to what you wish for – this stuff doesn’t scale in any way shape or form, and fossil fuels are just so good, that people have forgotten what they are even using.

      I read your reply in full, and you’ve picked one aspect of the predicament of using firewood, but it just isn’t the full story. Are you seriously suggesting that we do nothing? Or are you suggesting that the best alternative is renewable technological resources? Winters are pretty cold even where I am, which is probably far warmer than what you experience. How do you currently heat your dwelling?

      You can plant woodlots too, you know. And the ash is a great fertiliser. Be very careful what you wish for.

      Cheers

      Chris

      • You can plant woodlots, industrial agriculture is what that is, and displacing nature isn’t sustainable.

        You can harvest minerals from a combustion pile- again as a feedstock to supply a woodlot agriculture?

        Forestry- as practiced, with heat as an end-use is abysmal- sorry to say. I’ve seen it my whole life up close.

        I advocate hooking up to the power grid. Going nuclear is the most advantageous short-term bridge.

        I advocate taxing the shit out of carbon, and establishing markets for carbon trading to incentivize conservation. Banning internal combustion. Banning fireplaces in new construction. Making grid-tied electrical affordable and attractive, through subsidies that puts wood out of business.

        As long as we can keep Chinese and Russian hackers out of the works, this should deliver scalable clean power and enhance domestic quality of life. We should revert from market economy participation in resource economics.

        Then, we should go on the warpath destroying the industrial capacity of noncompliant nation-state actors who refuse to decarbonize. (That last part is only half-joking.)

        The TEQs system was designed with Old Blighty in mind, so be aware too the particular nature of burning the scenery on an island with little remaining natural forest

        en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forestry_in_the_United_Kingdom#Timber_industry

    • Chris at Fernglade Farm December 17, 2018 at 6:27 am #

      Lil Deb,

      Your own history suggest what will happen whenever fossil fuels are in short supply. In about 1974 your forests where I believe opened to foragers looking for firewood – and you know much of that timber was green and unseasoned. Seasoned firewood burns pretty cleanly. You want to get it down to a moisture level of about 14% – which I do. Firewood is hard work and so it makes no sense at all wasting the effort involved.

      Your examples of townies burning paper is not necessarily what goes on in rural areas.

      Also, I’m personally curious as to whether you have considered that there is in fact ‘no elsewhere’. If you pollute somewhere else, it will inevitably impact upon you. It is not as if we have another planet to draw resources from – the whole system is linked.

      Chris

  7. Martymcfly December 17, 2018 at 8:04 am #

    I’ve been heating my houses with wood for about 30 years, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Collecting, cutting and splitting wood is pleasant, invigorating outdoor exercise. It is a totally local product. We’ve saved a small fortune and wood heating has sent no money overseas. The house is very comfortably warm, more so than my oil or electric heating systems. The woodstove is a beautiful and comfortable focal point in the house.

    Not only is wood heat carbon neutral, in my case it is even better. We use only dead or downed trees, which would otherwise release carbon with no benefit. At least we capture the heat.

    The system is about as reliable as a hunk of iron (literally) and requires no electricity. Works through a power outage, and you can cook on it too. What’s not to love?

    A few other corrections: You can buy non-compliant stoves. There is no prohibition, in most cases, against re-selling or re-using an old woodstove. I have never seen a new house built with a woodstove. I’m sure there are some, but it is very rare.

    If you don’t like cutting wood, or don’t like watching a fire, by all means don’t do it. But many of us are very happy with both, and will continue to do so.

  8. There is some future for wood, but its in municipal-scale powerplants.

    Material is shredded to uniform weight and moisture characteristics, and is burned at extremely high temperatures in the absence of oxygen.

    So-called pyrolytic combustion is not only highly efficient but simplifies and vastly reduces emissions.

    As with anything else, the political consequences of using polluting sources like wood will come to bear in time, and technology will continue to drive down the price of the kilowatt.

    Improvements in code, economic sanctions and taxes, will eventually put the private fireplace and wood stove out of business. Today, you don’t have to think about it. Tomorrow, even, will be a great day to burn piles of wood. But eventually, you will be forced to the grid and you will not be able to evade the law.

    How you manage a woodlot on the other side of this event horizon will look different. You will be able to trade your standing wood for carbon credits, most likely. There will probably be tax breaks and subsidies as a reward for land management in a new era of carbon mitigation. And you may still be able to have a recreational fire- but it will cost you.

  9. Martymcfly December 20, 2018 at 9:49 pm #

    Large scale wood fired power plants do have a future. And a present. There are a number in New England, and more in Scandinavia. But I’m not sure what you are talking about when you say burning wood in the “absebnce of oxygen”. Are you thinking of making charcoal? Burrning requires oxygen.

    That said, wood burning is not particularly efficient, though when it is used in a cogeneration plant (making heat or hot water in addition to electricity) the efficiency can be dramatically higher.

    Wood stoves will be around for quite a while, I’m sure. Today, tomorrow and the next day too.

    I would accept carbon credits on my standing wood, but would continue to burn dead wood. And why not; it is actually carbon negative.

    I’m not so sure about technology continuing to drive down the price of a kilowatt. They’ve been talking about that for a long time, but it hasn’t started yet. So far, it’s pretty much up.

    Electric heat is nice. I have several kinds of electric heating, but it is not cheap.

  10. Chris at Fernglade Farm December 21, 2018 at 6:19 am #

    Hi Lil Deb,

    “Material is shredded to uniform weight and moisture characteristics, and is burned at extremely high temperatures in the absence of oxygen.”

    Such a system would work, but shredding wood takes an extraordinary amount of energy, let alone felling it, transporting it, and storing it. Then drying wood is no easy task. It takes two years to dry felled timber here, so it is no small matter. I do like your idea and I believe it would work, but I have a strong suspicion that it would consume far more energy than it ever generates.

    I have a fossil fuel powered stump grinder here with an 18hp motor. It is a rotating hammer mill and it does the job of shredding the hardwood tree stumps here. The trees are at minimum 650kg/m3 so they’re really dense hardwoods and it sure takes a bit of fuel to grind them up. A larger machine would use even more fuel to shred large quantities of wood. And the maintenance would be epic. Imagine keeping the carbon teeth sharp… Not an easy job that one.

    I too would appreciate carbon credits for my standing wood – some of the trees are well over 50m tall.

    The cost of connecting up to the electricity grid exceeded that of the initial cost of the off grid solar power system and I’d been experimenting with solar energy for a few years up to making that decision. Electricity is one of those things that will retreat in the reverse order that it was rolled out. i.e. the more remote rural areas will be disconnected first. I once owned a house in the city that was not connected up to the electricity grid – it is neither hard to do or illegal.

    Chris

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