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Biking Down the Coast of an Overly Sensitive Soul

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Doing Less With Less (Part Two of Many) a.k.a. Suggested Reading

Posted by atparish on August 22, 2010

People have predicted the end of the world since the beginning of the world, they say. What I don’t think people realize is how many times the world has indeed ended.

Thomas Robert Malthus was a British scholar who wrote about economics, politics, and demography best known for his observation that the problems of population growth would make the then-popular idea of an endlessly-improvable Utopian society impossible. Population grows exponentially because each new organism capable of increasing the overall rate of growth, while increasing arable land is a linear function. Eventually, Malthus said, we will run out of land. The “Malthusian Catastrophe” is a scenario in which human population has vastly overshot the carrying capacity of the Earth, causing massive worldwide famine and die off.

Despite his broader influence, today Malthus is often thought of as a doomsayer and a hack. Thanks to industrialized agriculture and cheap worldwide transportation we have enough food production capacity to feed today’s large and growing human population. The fact that so many are still starving is a political issue. But, as I’m sure you know, these processes require cheap petroleum in the form of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and of course fuel. All but the best-managed agriculture deteriorates the land it uses, causing topsoil loss and nitrogen pollution in runoff and requiring even more inputs to maintain production. Human food production has left its mark all over the planet, notably the barren wastes of the “Fertile” Crescent. Furthermore, when you apply Malthusian logic to other resources that are absolutely vital to our way of life, particularly nonrenewable ones that we have no choice but to use at ever-increasing rates, it becomes clear that we have only managed to stave off catastrophe, all the while populating every inhabitable crevasse on the planet with more and more human beings.

Anyway, I was talking about the end of the world. Maybe people don’t understand what I mean by this. The world is always ending. Peter Ward has recently challenged the paradigm of life-as-nurturing-mother in his book, “The Medea Hypothesis,” suggesting instead that life contains the seeds of its destruction. There have been a thousand times in the Earth’s rich history where one form of life has flourished to such an extent as to jeopardize its own existence, or that of other species. The first forms of life on the planet metabolized anaerobically and produced oxygen as a waste byproduct, eventually filling the atmosphere with it and choking themselves on the stuff. Four of the five great extinctions since the rise of animals have been caused, not by volcanoes or meteorites, but by life itself.

Jared Diamond, famous for his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, wrote another fascinating text called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. In it, he examines the causes of societal collapse using numerous historical case studies. He cites habitat destruction, water management, soil erosion, over-hunting of animals and fish, invasive species, and overpopulation as factors contributing to past societal collapse in cases like the Norse in Greenland, Easter Island, and the Maya. The interesting thing is that in most of his examples, it should have been clear that the chosen course of action would eventually lead to collapse. What could the Easter Islanders have been thinking as they cut down the last tree on their once lush island?

Finally, it should be obvious to everyone that the time we live in is really exceptional. Human population has exploded along with the rate at which we are using up the world’s resources. If you look at functions of human population, economic growth, energy use, new home construction, and nearly every other indicator there is, you’ll see a low boring line for almost all of the last hundred thousand years, with a little bump marking the argrarianization of humanity, and finally a near-vertical spike starting about a hundred years ago. While it may seem normal, natural, expected for us to live this way, I don’t think many people appreciate how extremely new this all is.

When I say the world is ending, I mean that the future will not look like the present or recent past. We’re not going to invent a way to continue using as much energy as we currently do, and we’re not going to be able to do more with less. We’ll be doing less with less. James Howard Kunstler sets the mood well in his post-apocalyptic novel, “World Made By Hand.” Life will still be fulfilling and maybe more full of wonder than it is today, for those of us who don’t feel too bitter about what we’ve lost.


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Back in the saddle again

Posted by atparish on November 23, 2009

Just a small update, to let folks know what I’m up to these days, and to loosen the brain juices a little. I’ve had what I suspect is the dreaded swine flu, so said juices may still run a little thick through these cranial canals.

I moved to San Diego proper almost two months ago (a little more, if you count the time spent on Heather’s couch, which I do), and it’s a vast improvement on the whole living-with-the-parents-in-the-suburban-wastelands thing. I’m about two miles away from the historic North Park neighborhood, where all of my favorite bars and coffee shops are, and only a couple miles more from the rest of San Diego in general. I’ve been helping a friend renovate a house he bought (in cash) so I get quite a good deal on rent there.

I work as a bike messenger for Manivela Delivery ( carting food and cigarettes all around the city. One time I made $40 for delivering a cake. But mainly I make just enough money to pay for the beer I need after a hard delivery to Downtown and back.

I also have a data-entry-from-home-type temp job that I found on Craigslist. Before you ask, yes I have actually been paid, it’s a real job. Between the two, I have plenty of money to pay my almost-nonexistent bills and even start paying down some of the credit card debt I racked up on the tour.

I’ll be applying to grad school in January, and I’m hoping my sweet business connections with planners and admissions board members will get me in somewhere. Yes, things are looking up. Yes, I have a plan. Just relax, guys. And stop praying for me already. I’m sure others need it more.

So why, when things are looking so up, do I sometimes feel so down?
Well, that’s a long story. I’ll let you know when it resolves itself. Let’s say, by Christmas or so.

Anyway, here’s some recent pictures of the house and things.

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Alright alright alright

Posted by atparish on August 6, 2009

Hey guys. So we’ve been in San Francisco for a few days, farting around and spending lots of money. We’re heading out today for the home stretch. Should be about ten days to LA, another one or two to San Diego.
See you there!

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Posted by atparish on July 23, 2009

After being stuck for like 3 weeks, we’re heading out today. Wish us luck.

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The Books make good music.

Posted by atparish on July 19, 2009

Hey, sorry I haven’t been saying too much lately (like you care). It’s been a lot of the same stuff here in Humboldt, with minor victories and tragedies here and there. I’ve seen two baseball games (Go Crabs!), made some money, and pissed many nights away.
I’d like to see big plastic buckets full of the beer I’ve had on this trip, labeled by cities. I’m many buckets deep in this town. People seem to buy me shots as well. I don’t complain.
I’m not the man I wish I was, but I’d say I’ve come admirably close on a couple of occasions. Of course, mainly the manly man I wish I was is a less admirable one. Admiral A. says it’s a trap.
I just finished Middlesex, and I think it’s a pretty decent book. My one-time sister Amanda is now a boy named Ayden, dontcha know.
The plan is to leave Tuesday.
We’ll see.

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Posted by atparish on July 15, 2009

This is what I look like now.

This is what I look like now.

I put some photos up on Picasa. I’ve been having trouble with the fancy scripts in WordPress and Facebook, but photos will be there pretty soon too.

We might be getting a ride to San Francisco tomorrow for a weekend trip. Then we’ll get a ride back to Humboldt and (finally) begin riding south.

And I’m going to see if I can play a mean trick on a lady.

I haven’t had any coffee today. It’s naptime.

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I can’t tell if something important happened last night, or if I was just drunk.

Posted by atparish on July 9, 2009

Still in McKinleyville, going to gorgeous river spots and bars daily. Lance is playing drums with a band called Ass Castle on Saturday, and I will be drinking nearby, so we’re staying until next week at least.
I just gave blood to kill some time and talk with old ladies. Also, so I won’t drink too much today. It’s kind of a bummer that gay men can’t give blood. They give you so many chances to back out and say, “Actually, I think I have AIDS.”
Everyone who lives in this town has like three DUI’s and is a menace on the road. I’ve spent enough time in the back seats of speeding trucks to last me for a while, I think.
Other than that, things are going swimmingly. How are you?

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Waypoint #3

Posted by atparish on July 3, 2009

We’ve made it to Humboldt after seven days of camping and are staying with friends in McKinleyville. Should be good times. Some things of note:
Stayed in a campground in California with wild elk grazing maybe 30 feet away. Those guys get real big. They had bears too, but we didn’t see any. It’s probably a good thing.
Took a day off at a park in Oregon with cliffs and a nice beach. We found a nice frisbee thing in a tide pool and have made good use of it. I snagged my foot on some wood at the beach and lost most of the skin on my big toe, but it’s a pretty minor injury and only affects which shoes I can wear riding. I’ll let you know if it starts turning funny colors and smelling of almonds.
Everyone we meet seems to be in a big hurry, forcing themselves to ride 80+ miles a day. I prefer our way of doing things.

In other news, the DOW is way down, and Sarah Palin is stepping down as governor? Hah. Could today get any better?

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Okay okay okay, seriously.

Posted by atparish on June 25, 2009

Actually leaving Portland today. I swear.
Wish us luck in the vast wilderness between here and Humboldt County.
If you don’t hear from me in 48 hours, I’ve been eaten by bears, or ticks, or something equally nasty. You should be worried.

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