Category Archives: Long Now

Unfolding Trends from Vaclav Smil

Here’s a passage I found worthy of consideration – from Vaclav Smil’s Global Catastrophes and Trends – The Next Fifty Years (2008):

The aging of the U.S. population, although far less pronounced than in Europe or Japan, and a multitude of social ills will only accelerate the inevitable transformation of the country.  The aging of the population will have similar effects on health budgets, pensions, and the labor market as in Europe or Japan, but given much more widespread stock ownership, its principal undesirable effect may be on the value of long-term investments. There will be too few well-off people in the considerably smaller post-boomer generations to buy the stocks (and real estate) of the aging baby boomers at levels anywhere near peak valuations. That is why Siegel (2006) expects that stock prices in rich countries could fall by up to 50% during the coming decades, unless newly rich investors from Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America step in. But that intervention would have to be on a truly massive scale. Siegels calculations indicate that for rich countries’ stocks to perform at their long-run historic rate, most multinational corporations would have to be owned by non-Western investors by 2050.  (p. 151)

While I haven’t studied the details, it strikes me that there has to be some truth to this story.  The reference is to the book The Future For Investors by Jeremy Siegel.

Thirty Years Ago

Yes, thirty years ago this evening I went to see the Clash playing at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ, with friends Jack Vitha and Matt Oates.  This set list is what I could remember after the show, and I got most of them.

Funny enough, a couple years back at a street vendor’s booth in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I found a CD bootleg recording of this very show.

Stewart Brand – Whole Earth Discipline

Long Now chief Stewart Brand comes to Portland tomorrow night at Powell’s to talk about his new book Whole Earth Discipline.   Here’s how Peter Schoonmaker in the  Oregonian introduces him:

Futurist Stewart Brand spoke to nearly 1,000 committed environmentalists in Portland several years ago and offered three solutions to the world’s environmental problems: slums, nukes and genetic engineering. The crowd was not receptive. Dozens walked out.

Brand loved it. Now he’s written a book, “Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto,” expanding on these solutions. Environmentalists should read it.

I look forward to hearing more on this debate.  Here’s more from

Update:  Brand talked over a slide-show that emphasized what he terms eco-pragmatism.  His big themes are around the growth of cities, use of nuclear power as a better alternative than fossil fuels, and use of genetically modified agriculture.  He faced one persistent questioner very concerned with the effects of eating meat, after admitting that he’s a committed carnivore.  I was interested to learn about multiple commercial efforts to develop small, modular nuclear power reactors that could be deployed quickly.  There’s one producer in Oregon by the name of NuScale.

Anathem – Neal Stephenson (2008)

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

I made a quick trip down to San Francisco, and was able to attend the Long Now‘s ‘release event’ on the 9th for Neal Stephenson’s new tome, entitled Anathem. Neal read a bit from the beginning of the book, and then there was a chat with Neal and Danny Hillis, designer of the 10,000 year clock.

The basic idea of the book is that it’s set in a culture that takes a much different view of time than we do; I’ve only just started the book, and it will take a while to get through, but I’m intrigued by the premise.

If you’ve never read any Stephenson, this probably isn’t a good place to start… his Crytonomicon, while also long, is a great, action-packed and fun read.

Update on Sept-22:  Finished the book this morning.  I won’t give any spoilers, I’ll just say that the book deals with both philosophical and scientific issues from the time of the Greeks to the modern day.  There is some action to the plot, but it does take a while to get started.  As you get toward the end you start to see that the whole book has a consistency of approach that was not so evident as you started.  He uses lots of made up words for this world, but there is a glossary and definitions scattered in the text to make it fairly easy to follow.  I like his definition of ‘bulshytt’.  Overall I liked it quite a lot, but certainly won’t be to many readers’ tastes.

Count Your Blessings

Christmas Day, 2007. If you’re reading this, then you’ve surely got plenty to be thankful for; the miracle of life itself to start with. While we face surprises and setbacks all the time, the essence of life seems to me to be the daily effort to keep going, to keep trying to reach our goals, to engage with the world. Enjoy!

P.S.  Just after writing this I look out the window to see a bit of snow falling here in Portland.  White Christmas!

Welcome to Corsin!


Friends of mine over in Europe had a baby this week, his name is Corsin.

Corsin is living the extremely un-mediated life right now. Here’s to great adventures!

Keep hacking!

Whole Earth Catalog

From an NYT profile of Stewart Brand, written by John Tierney:

“You have to keep on trying new things.”

That’s a good strategy, whether you’re trying to build a sustainable career or a sustainable civilization. Ultimately, there’s no safety in clinging to a romanticized past or trying to plan a risk-free future. You have to keep looking for better tools and learning from mistakes. You have to keep on hacking.

Read the whole article for some challenging assertions!

Slow burn

The latest big climate report does not feature good news. There is increasing consensus that man’s activity is ‘very likely’ having an impact on the climate, and recent weather activity adds to evidence of climate shift. I think there’s still uncertainty on the longer range projections, but it now seems to be at the point where the risks of continuing unabated are outweighing the costs of taking action.

My feeling is that we will see increasing action, some helpful, some maybe not. I think green building will quickly become the new standard. I think oil & gas will be volatile in terms of price, both due to peak production issues and geo-political activities, so it’s hard to guess how people will react to that. I fear that ethanol (corn-based) will be more problematic than helpful.



James Howard Kunstler’s latest post ‘The Agenda Restated’ provides his ideas for action. I dig this one above all:

Expand your view beyond the question of how we will run all the cars by means other than gasoline. This obsession with keeping the cars running at all costs could really prove fatal. It is especially unhelpful that so many self-proclaimed “greens” and political “progressives” are hung up on this monomaniacal theme. Get this: the cars are not part of the solution (whether they run on fossil fuels, vodka, used frymax™ oil, or cow shit). They are at the heart of the problem. And trying to salvage the entire Happy Motoring system by shifting it from gasoline to other fuels will only make things much worse. The bottom line of this is: start thinking beyond the car.

And the bottom line:

The best way to feel hopeful about the future is to get off your ass and demonstrate to yourself that you are a capable, competent individual resolutely able to face new circumstances.


How much should gas cost?

With today’s news about the BP pipeline shutdown (which takes out 8% of US production), it strikes me that the California energy crisis was a small scale preview of the world oil market to come. When you have what’s essentially a necessity, and supplies are limited, then producers don’t have much reason to keep the spigots fully open. Enron and others apparently found it convenient to take generators down for maintenance, and electricity prices spiked.

What is to stop the big oil companies from doing the same thing as world oil production peaks? (Not to say that it’s what BP is doing now.) And the benefits will flow to all the companies. This is a dangerous game to play, of course, as sooner or later state action will occur; people make a lot of noise when the necessities get overly pricey!