Retrotopia: Dawn Train from Pittsburgh

SUBHEAD: This is the first of a series of posts using the tools of narrative fiction to explore an alternative shape for the future.

By John Michael Greer on 27 august 2015 for the Archdruid Report -
(http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2015/08/retrotopia-dawn-train-from-pittsburgh.html)


Image above: The Midland Railway offers scenic train rides through Eastern Kansas farmland via vintage railway equipment. From (http://baldwincitychamber.com/midland-railroad).

[Author's note: This is the first of a series of posts using the tools of narrative fiction to explore an alternative shape for the future. A hint to readers who haven't been with The Archdruid Report for long: don't expect all your questions to be answered right away.]

I got to the Pittsburgh station early. It was a shabby remnant of what must once have been one of those grand old stations you see on history vids, nothing but a bleak little waiting room below and a stair rising alongside a long-defunct escalator to the platforms up top.

The waiting room had fresh paint on the walls and the vending machines were the sort of thing you’d find anywhere. Other than that, the whole place looked as though it had been locked up around the time the last Amtrak trains stopped running and sat there unused for forty years until the border opened up again.

The seats were fiberglass, and must have been something like three quarters of a century old. I found one that didn’t look too likely to break when I sat on it, settled down, got out my veepad and checked the schedule for the umpteenth time. The train I would be riding was listed as on time, arrival 5:10 am Pittsburgh station, departure 5:35 am, scheduled arrival in Toledo Central Station 11:12 am.

I tapped the veepad again, checked the news. The election was still all over the place—President Barfield’s concession speech, a flurry of op-ed pieces from various talking heads affiliated with the losing parties about how bad Ellen Montrose would be for the country. I snorted, paged on.

 Other stories competed for attention: updates on the wars in California and the Balkans, bad news about the hemorrhagic-fever epidemic in Latin America, and worse news from Antarctica, where yet another big ice sheet had just popped loose and was drifting north toward the shipping lanes.

While the news scrolled past, other passengers filed into the waiting room a few at a time. I could just make them out past the image field the veepad projected into my visual cortex. Two men and a woman in ordinary bioplastic businesswear came in and sat together, talking earnestly about some investment or other.

An elderly couple whose clothes made them look like they came straight out of a history vid sat down close to the stair and sat quietly. A little later, a family of four in clothing that looked even more old-fashioned—Mom had a bonnet on her head, and I swear I’m not making that up—came in with carpetbag luggage, and plopped down not far from me. I wasn’t too happy about that, kids being what they are these days, but these two sat down and, after a little bit of squirming, got out a book each and started reading quietly. I wondered if they’d been drugged.

A little later, another family of four came in, wearing the kind of cheap shabby clothes that might as well have the words “urban poor” stamped all over them, and hauling big plastic bags that looked as though everything they owned was stuffed inside.

They looked tense, scared, excited. They sat by themselves in a corner, the parents talking to each other in low voices, the kids watching everything with wide eyes and saying nothing. I wondered about them, shrugged mentally, went back to the news.

I’d finished the news and was starting through the day’s textmail, when the loudspeaker on the wall cleared its electronic throat with a hiss of static and said, “Train Twenty-One, service to Toledo via Steubenville, Canton and Sandusky, arriving at Platform One. Please have your tickets and passports ready. Train Twenty-One to Toledo, Platform One.”

I tapped the veepad to sleep, stuffed it in my pocket, got out of my seat with the others, climbed the stairs to the platform. The sky was just turning gray with the first hint of morning, and the air was cold; the whistle of the train sounded long and lonely in the middle distance. I turned to look.

I’d never been on a train before, and most of what I knew about them came from history vids and the research I’d done for this trip. Based on what I’d heard about my destination, I wondered if the locomotive would be a rattletrap antique with a big smokestack pumping coal smoke into the air.

What came around the bend into view wasn’t much like my momentary fantasy, though. It was the sort of locomotive you’d have found on any American railroad around 1950, a big diesel-electric machine with a blunt nose and a single big headlight shining down on the track. It whistled again, and then the roar of the engines rose to drown out everything else.

The locomotive roared past the platform, and the only thing that surprised me was the smell of french fries that came rushing past with it. Behind it was a long string of boxcars, and behind those, a baggage car and three passenger cars.

The train slowed to a walking pace and then stopped as the passenger cars came up to the platform. A conductor in a blue uniform and hat swung down from the last car. “Tickets and passports, please,” he said, and I got out my veepad, woke it, activated the flat screen and got both documents on it.

“Physical passport, please,” the conductor said when he got to me.

“Sorry.” I fumbled in my pocket, handed it to him. He checked it, smiled, said, “Thank you, Mr. Carr. You probably know this already, but you’ll need a paper ticket for the return trip.”

“I’ve got it, thanks.”

“Great.” He moved on to the family with the plastic bag luggage. The mother said something in a low voice, handed over tickets and something that didn’t look like a passport. “That’s fine,” said the conductor. “You’ll need to have your immigration papers out when we get to the border.”

The woman murmured something else, and the conductor went onto the elderly couple, leaving me to wonder about what I’d just heard. Immigration? That implied, first, that these people actually wanted to live in the Lakeland Republic, and second, that they were being allowed in. Neither of those seemed likely to me. I made a note on my veepad to ask about immigration once I got to Toledo, and to compare what they told me to what I could find out once I got back to Philadelphia.

The conductor finished taking tickets and checking passports, and called out, “All aboard!”

I went with the others to the first of the three passenger cars, climbed the stair, turned left. The interior was about what I’d expected, row after row of double seats facing forward, but everything looked clean and bright and there was a lot more leg room than I was used to. I went about halfway up, slung my suitcase in the overhead rack and settled in the window seat. We sat for a while, and then the car jolted once and began to roll forward.

We went through the western end of Pittsburgh first of all, past the big dark empty skyscrapers of the Golden Triangle, and then across the river and into the western suburbs. Those were shantytowns built out of the scraps of old housing developments and strip malls, the sort of thing you find around most cities these days when you don’t find worse, mixed in with old rundown housing developments that probably hadn’t seen a bucket of paint or a new roof since the United States came apart. Then the suburbs ended, and things got uglier.

The country west of Pittsburgh got hit hard during the Second Civil War, I knew, and harder still when the border was closed after Partition. I’d wondered, while planning the trip, how much it had recovered in the three years since the Treaty of Richmond. Looking out of the window as the sky turned gray behind us, I got my answer: not much.

There were some corporate farms that showed signs of life, but the small towns the train rolled through were bombed-out shells, and there were uncomfortable stretches where every house and barn I could see was a tumbledown ruin and young trees were rising in what had to have been fields and pastures a few decades back. After a while it was too depressing to keep looking out the window, and I pulled out my veepad again and spent a good long while answering textmails and noting down some questions I’d want to ask in Toledo.

I’d gotten caught up on mail when the door at the back end of the car slid open. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the conductor said, “we’ll be arriving at the border in about five minutes. You’ll need to have your passports ready, and immigrants should have their papers out as well. Thank you.”

We rolled on through a dense stand of trees, and then into open ground. Up ahead, a pair of roads cut straight north and south across country. Until three years ago, there’d been a tall razor-wire fence between them, soldiers patrolling our side, the other side pretty much a complete mystery.

The fence was gone now, and there were two buildings for border guards, one on each side of the line. The one on the eastern side was a modern concrete-and-steel item that looked like a skyscraper had stopped there, squatted, and laid an egg. As we got closer to it, I could see the border guards in digital-fleck camo, helmets, and flak vests, standing around with assault rifles.

Then we passed over into Lakeland Republic territory, and I got a good look at the building on the other side. It was a pleasant-looking brick structure that could have been a Carnegie-era public library or the old city hall of some midsized town, and the people who came out of the big arched doorways to meet the train as it slowed to a halt didn’t look like soldiers at all.

The door slid open again, and I turned around. One of the border guards, a middle-aged woman with coffee-colored skin, came into the car. She was wearing a white uniform blouse and blue pants, and the only heat she was carrying was a revolver tucked unobtrusively in a holster at her hip. She had a clipboard with her, and went up the aisle, checking everybody’s passports against a list.

I handed her mine when she reached me. “Mr. Carr,” she said with a broad smile. “We heard you’d be coming through this morning. Welcome to the Lakeland Republic.”

“Thank you,” I said. She handed me back the passport, and went on to the family with the plastic bag luggage. They handed her a sheaf of papers, and she went through them quickly, signed something halfway through, and then handed them back. “Okay, you’re good,” she said. “Welcome to the Lakeland Republic.”

“We’re in?” the mother of the family asked, as though she didn’t believe it.

“You’re in,” the border guard told her. “Legal as legal can be.”

“Oh my God. Thank you.” She burst into tears, and her husband hugged her and patted her on the back. The border guard gave him a grin and went on to the family in the old-fashioned clothing.

I thought about that while the border guard finished checking passports and left the car. Outside, two more guards with a dog finished going along the train, and gave a thumbs up to the conductor. A minute later, the train started rolling again. That’s it? I wondered. No metal detectors, no x-rays, nothing? Either they were very naive or very confident.

We passed the border zone and a screen of trees beyond it, and suddenly the train was rolling through a landscape that couldn’t have been more different from the one on the other side of the line. It was full of farms, but they weren’t the big corporate acreages I was used to.

I counted houses and barns as we passed, and guesstimated the farms were one to two hundred acres each; all of them were in mixed crops, not efficient monocropping. The harvest was mostly in, but I’d grown up in farm country and knew what a field looked like after it was put into corn, wheat, cabbages, turnips, industrial hemp, or what have you.

Every farm seemed to have all of those and more, not to mention cattle in the pasture, pigs in a pen, a garden and an orchard. I shook my head, baffled. It was a hopelessly inefficient way to run agribusiness, I knew that from my time in business school, and yet the briefing papers I’d read while getting ready for this trip said that the Lakeland Republic exported plenty of agricultural products and imported almost none. I wondered if the train would pass some real farms further in.

We passed more of the little mixed farms, and a couple of little towns that were about as far from being bombed-out shells as you care to imagine. There were homes with lights on and businesses that were pretty obviously getting ready to open for the day. All of them had little brick train stations, though we didn’t stop at any of those—I wondered if they had light rail or something.

Watching the farms and towns move past, I thought about the contrast with the landscape on the other side of the border, and winced, then stopped and reminded myself that the farms and towns had to be subsidized. Small towns weren’t any more economically viable than small farms, after all. Was all this some kind of Potemkin village setup, for the purpose of impressing visitors?

The door at the back of the car slid open, and the conductor came in. “Next stop, Steubenville,” he said. “Folks, we’ve got a bunch of people coming on in Steubenville, so please don’t take up any more seats than you have to.”

Steubenville had been part of the state of Ohio before Partition, I remembered. The name of the town stirred something else in my memory, though. I couldn’t quite get the recollection to surface, and decided to look it up. I pulled out my veepad, tapped it, and got a dark field and the words: no signal.

I tapped it again, got the same thing, opened the connectivity window and found out that the thing wasn’t kidding. There was no metanet signal anywhere within range. I stared at it, wondered how I was going to check the news or keep up with my textmail, and then wondered: how the plut am I going to buy anything, or pay my hotel bill?

The dark field didn’t have any answers. I decided I’d have to sort that out when I got to Toledo; I’d been invited, after all. Maybe they had connectivity in the big cities, or something. The story was that there wasn’t metanet anywhere in the Lakeland Republic, but I had my doubts about that—how can you manage anything this side of a bunch of mud huts without net connections?

No doubt, I decided, they had some kind of secure net or something. We’d talked about doing something of the same kind back in Philadelphia more than once, just for government use, so the next round of netwars didn’t trash our infrastructure the way the infrastructure of the old union got trashed by the Chinese in ‘21.

Still, the dark field and those two words upset me more than I wanted to admit. It had been more years than I wanted to think about since I’d been more than a click away from the metanet, and being cut off from it left me feeling adrift.

The sun cleared low clouds behind us, and the train rolled into what I guessed was East Steubenville. I’d expected the kind of suburbs I’d seen on the way out of Pittsburgh, dreary rundown housing interspersed with the shantytowns of the poor. What I saw instead left me shaken.

The train passed tree-lined streets full of houses that had bright paint on the walls and shingles on the roofs, little local business districts with shops and restaurants open for business, and a school that didn’t look like a medium-security prison.

The one thing that puzzled me was that there were no cars visible, just tracks down some of the streets and once, improbably, an old-fashioned streetcar that paced the train for a while and then veered off in a different direction. Most of the houses seemed to have gardens out back, and the train passed one big empty lot that was divided into garden plots and had signs around it saying “community garden.” I wondered if that meant food was scarce here.

A rattle and a bump, and the train was crossing the Ohio River on a big new railroad bridge. Ahead was Steubenville proper. That’s when I remembered the thing that tried to surface earlier: there was a battle at Steubenville, a big one, toward the end of the Second Civil War.

I remembered details from headlines I’d seen when I was a kid, and a history vid I’d watched a couple of years ago; a Federal army held the Ohio crossings against Alliance forces for most of two months before Anderson punched straight through the West Virginia front and made the whole thing moot.

I remembered photos of what Steubenville looked like after the fighting: a blackened landcape of ruins where every wall high enough to hide a soldier behind it had gotten hit by its own personal artillery shell.

That wasn’t what I saw spreading out ahead as the train crossed the Ohio, though. The Steubenville I saw was a pleasant-looking city with a downtown full of three- and four-story buildings, surrounded by neighborhoods of houses, some row houses and some detached.

There were streetcars on the west side of the river, too—I spotted two of them as we got close to the shore—and also a few cars, though not many of the latter. The trees that lined the streets were small enough that you could tell they’d been planted after the fighting was over. Other than that, Steubenville looked like a comfortable, established community.

I stared out the window as the train rolled off the bridge and into Steubenville, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. Back on the other side of the border, and everywhere else I’d been in what used to be the United States, you still saw wreckage from the war years all over the place. Between the debt crisis and the state of the world economy, the money that would have been needed to rebuild or even demolish the ruins was just too hard to come by.

Things should have been much worse here, since the Lakeland Republic had been shut out of world credit markets for thirty years after the default of ‘32—but they weren’t worse. They looked considerably better. I reached for my veepad, remembered that I couldn’t get a signal, and frowned. If they couldn’t even afford the infrastructure for the metanet, how the plut could they afford to rebuild their housing stock?

The cheerful brick buildings of Steubenville’s downtown didn’t offer me any answers. I sat back, frowning, as the train rattled through a switch and rolled into the Steubenville station. “Steubenville,” the conductor called out from the door behind me, and the train began to slow.

.

Deflationary Collapse Ahead?

SUBHEAD: We can’t say that no one warned us about the predicament we are facing. Instead, we chose not to listen.

By Gail Tverberg on 26 August 2015 for Our Finite World -
(http://ourfiniteworld.com/2015/08/26/deflationary-collapse-ahead/)


Image above: The photographer, Russell Lee, was on assignment from the Farm Security Administration to document rural life visited a community sharing a meal in Pie Town, New Mexico in the aftermath of the Depression in 1940. From (http://spenceralley.blogspot.com/2010/12/pie-town.html).

Both the stock market and oil prices have been plunging. Is this “just another cycle,” or is it something much worse? I think it is something much worse.

Back in January, I wrote a post called Oil and the Economy: Where are We Headed in 2015-16? In it, I said that persistent very low prices could be a sign that we are reaching limits of a finite world. In fact, the scenario that is playing out matches up with what I expected to happen in my January post. In that post, I said
Needless to say, stagnating wages together with rapidly rising costs of oil production leads to a mismatch between:
  • The amount consumers can afford for oil
  • The cost of oil, if oil price matches the cost of production
This mismatch between rising costs of oil production and stagnating wages is what has been happening. The unaffordability problem can be hidden by a rising amount of debt for a while (since adding cheap debt helps make unaffordable big items seem affordable), but this scheme cannot go on forever.

Eventually, even at near zero interest rates, the amount of debt becomes too high, relative to income. Governments become afraid of adding more debt. Young people find student loans so burdensome that they put off buying homes and cars.

The economic “pump” that used to result from rising wages and rising debt slows, slowing the growth of the world economy. With slow economic growth comes low demand for commodities that are used to make homes, cars, factories, and other goods. This slow economic growth is what brings the persistent trend toward low commodity prices experienced in recent years.

The price of oil dropped dramatically in the latter half of 2008, partly because of the adverse impact high oil prices had on the economy, and partly because of a contraction in debt amounts at that time. It was only when banks were bailed out and the United States began its first round of Quantitative Easing (QE) to get longer term interest rates down even further that energy prices began to rise.

 Furthermore, China ramped up its debt in this time period, using its additional debt to build new homes, roads, and factories. This also helped pump energy prices back up again.

The price of oil was trending slightly downward between 2011 and 2014, suggesting that even then, prices were subject to an underlying downward trend. In mid-2014, there was a big downdraft in prices, which coincided with the end of US QE3 and with slower growth in debt in China.

Prices rose for a time, but have recently dropped again, related to slowing Chinese, and thus world, economic growth. In part, China’s slowdown is occurring because it has reached limits regarding how many homes, roads and factories it needs.

I gave a list of likely changes to expect in my January post. These haven’t changed. I won’t repeat them all here. Instead, I will give an overview of what is going wrong and offer some thoughts regarding why others are not pointing out this same problem.

Overview of What is Going Wrong

  1. The big thing that is happening is that the world financial system is likely to collapse. Back in 2008, the world financial system almost collapsed. This time, our chances of avoiding collapse are very slim.

  2. Without the financial system, pretty much nothing else works: the oil extraction system, the electricity delivery system, the pension system, the ability of the stock market to hold its value. The change we are encountering is similar to losing the operating system on a computer, or unplugging a refrigerator from the wall.

  3. We don’t know how fast things will unravel, but things are likely to be quite different in as short a time as a year.
    World financial leaders are likely to “pull out the stops,” trying to keep things together. A big part of our problem is too much debt. This is hard to fix, because reducing debt reduces demand and makes commodity prices fall further. With low prices, production of commodities is likely to fall. For example, food production using fossil fuel inputs is likely to greatly decline over time, as is oil, gas, and coal production.

  4. The electricity system, as delivered by the grid, is likely to fail in approximately the same timeframe as our oil-based system.
    Nothing will fail overnight, but it seems highly unlikely that electricity will outlast oil by more than a year or two. All systems are dependent on the financial system. If the oil system cannot pay its workers and get replacement parts because of a collapse in the financial system, the same is likely to be true of the electrical grid system.

  5. Our economy is a self-organized networked system that continuously dissipates energy, known in physics as a dissipative structure
    Other examples of dissipative structures include all plants and animals (including humans) and hurricanes. All of these grow from small beginnings, gradually plateau in size, and eventually collapse and die. We know of a huge number of prior civilizations that have collapsed. This appears to have happened when the return on human labor has fallen too low.
    This is much like the after-tax wages of non-elite workers falling too low. Wages reflect not only the workers’ own energy (gained from eating food), but any supplemental energy used, such as from draft animals, wind-powered boats, or electricity. Falling median wages, especially of young people, are one of the indications that our economy is headed toward collapse, just like the other economies.

  6. The reason that collapse happens quickly has to do with debt and derivatives.
    Our networked economy requires debt in order to extract fossil fuels from the ground and to create renewable energy sources, for several reasons:

    (a) Producers don’t have to save up as much money in advance,
    (b) Middle-men making products that use energy products (such cars and refrigerators) can “finance” their factories, so they don’t have to save up as much,
    (c) Consumers can afford to buy “big-ticket” items like homes and cars, with the use of plans that allow monthly payments, so they don’t have to save up as much, and
    (d) Most importantly, debt helps raise the price of commodities of all sorts (including oil and electricity), because it allows more customers to afford products that use them. The problem as the economy slows, and as we add more and more debt, is that eventually debt collapses.

    This happens because the economy fails to grow enough to allow the economy to generate sufficient goods and services to keep the system going–that is, pay adequate wages, even to non-elite workers; pay growing government and corporate overhead; and repay debt with interest, all at the same time.
Where Did Modeling of Energy and the Economy Go Wrong?


Image above: Figure from M. King Hubbert’s 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.The way nuclear energy operates seems to me to be pretty much equivalent to the output of a perpetual motion machine, adding an endless amount of cheap energy that can be substituted for fossil fuels. From original article.

A related source of optimism has to do with the shape of a curve that is created by the sum of curves of a given type. There is no reason to expect that the “total” curve will be of the same shape as the underlying curves, unless a perfect substitute (that is, having low price, unlimited quantity, and the ability to work directly in current devices) is available for what is being modeled–here fossil fuels. When the amount of extraction is determined by price, and price can quickly swing from high to low, there is good reason to believe that the shape of the sum curve will be quite pointed, rather than rounded.
    1. Today’s general level of understanding about how the economy works, and energy’s relationship to the economy, is dismally low.
      Economics has generally denied that energy has more than a very indirect relationship to the economy. Since 1800, world population has grown from 1 billion to more than 7 billion, thanks to the use of fossil fuels for increased food production and medicines, among other things. Yet environmentalists often believe that the world economy can somehow continue as today, without fossil fuels. There is a possibility that with a financial crash, we will need to start over, with new local economies based on the use of local resources. In such a scenario, it is doubtful that we can maintain a world population of even 1 billion.

    2. Economics modeling is based on observations of how the economy worked when we were far from limits of a finite world. 
      The indications from this modeling are not at all generalizable to the situation when we are reaching limits of a finite world. The expectation of economists, based on past situations, is that prices will rise when there is scarcity. This expectation is completely wrong when the basic problem is lack of adequate wages for non-elite workers. When the problem is a lack of wages, workers find it impossible to purchase high-priced goods like homes, cars, and refrigerators. All of these products are created using commodities, so a lack of adequate wages tends to “feed back” through the system as low commodity prices. This is exactly the opposite of what standard economic models predict.

    3. M. King Hubbert’s “peak oil” analysis provided a best-case scenario that was clearly unrealistic, but it was taken literally by his followers.
      One of Hubbert’s sources of optimism was to assume that another energy product, such as nuclear, would arise in huge quantity, prior to the time when a decline in fossil fuels would become a problem.

    4. The world economy operates on energy flows in a given year, even though most analysts today are accustomed to thinking on a discounted cash flow basis. 
      You and I eat food that was grown very recently. A model of food potentially available in the future is interesting, but it doesn’t satisfy our need for food when we are hungry. Similarly, our vehicles run on oil that has recently been extracted; our electrical system operates on electricity that has been produced, essentially simultaneously. The very close relationship in time between production and consumption of energy products is in sharp contrast to the way the financial system works. It makes promises, such as the availability of bank deposits, the amounts of pension payments, and the continuing value of corporate stocks, far out into the future. When these promises are made, there is no check made that goods and services will actually be available to repay these promises. We end up with a system that has promised very many more goods and services in the future than the real world will actually be able to produce. A break is inevitable; it looks like the break will be happening in the near future.

    5. Changes in the financial system have huge potential to disrupt the operation of the energy flow system.
      Demand in a given year comes from a combination of (wages and other income streams in a given year) plus the (change in debt in a given year). Historically, the (change in debt) has been positive. This has helped raise commodity prices. As soon as we start getting large defaults on debt, the (change in debt) component turns negative, and tends to bring down the price of commodities. (Note Point 6 in the previous section.) Once this happens, it is virtually impossible to keep prices up high enough to extract oil, coal and natural gas. This is a major reason why the system tends to crash.

    6. Researchers are expected to follow in the steps of researchers before them, rather than starting from a basic understudying of the whole problem.
      Trying to understand the whole problem, rather than simply trying to look at a small segment of a problem is difficult, especially if a researcher is expected to churn out a large number of peer reviewed academic articles each year. Unfortunately, there is a huge amount of research that might have seemed correct when it was written, but which is really wrong, if viewed through a broader lens. Churning out a high volume of articles based on past research tends to simply repeat past errors. This problem is hard to correct, because the field of energy and the economy cuts across many areas of study. It is hard for anyone to understand the full picture.

    7. In the area of energy and the economy, it is very tempting to tell people what they want to hear.
      If a researcher doesn’t understand how the system of energy and the economy works, and needs to guess, the guesses that are most likely to be favorably received when it comes time for publication are the ones that say, “All is well. Innovation will save the day.” Or, “Substitution will save the day.” This tends to bias research toward saying, “All is well.” The availability of financial grants on topics that appear hopeful adds to this effect.

    8. Energy Returned on Energy Investment (EROEI) analysis doesn’t really get to the point of today’s problems.
      Many people have high hopes for EROEI analysis, and indeed, it does make some progress in figuring out what is happening. But it misses many important points. One of them is that there are many different kinds of EROEI. The kind that matters, in terms of keeping the economy from collapsing, is the return on human labor. This type of EROEI is equivalent to after-tax wages of non-elite workers. This kind of return tends to drop too low if the total quantity of energy being used to leverage human labor is too low. We would expect a drop to occur in the quantity of energy used, if energy prices are too high, or if the quantity of energy products available is restricted.

    9. Instead of looking at wages of workers, most EROEI analyses consider returns on fossil fuel energy–something that is at least part of the puzzle, but is far from the whole picture.
      Returns on fossil fuel energy can be done either on a cash flow (energy flow) basis or on a “model” basis, similar to discounted cash flow. The two are not at all equivalent. What the economy needs is cash flow energy now, not modeled energy production in the future. Cash flow analyses probably need to be performed on an industry-wide basis; direct and indirect inputs in a given calendar year would be compared with energy outputs in the same calendar year. Man-made renewables will tend to do badly in such analyses, because considerable energy is used in making them, but the energy provided is primarily modeled future energy production, assuming that the current economy can continue to operate as today–something that seems increasingly unlikely.

    10. If we are headed for a near term sharp break in the economy, there is no point in trying to add man-made renewables to the electric grid.
      The whole point of adding man-made renewables is to try to keep what we have today longer. But if the system is collapsing, the whole plan is futile. We end up extracting more coal and oil today, in order to add wind or solar PV to what will soon become a useless grid electric system. The grid system will not last long, because we cannot pay workers and we cannot maintain the grid without a financial system. So if we add man-made renewables, most of what we get is their short-term disadvantages, with few of their hoped-for long-term advantages.
    Conclusion
    The analysis that comes closest to the situation we are reaching today is the 1972 analysis of limits of a finite world, published in the book “The Limits to Growth” by Donella Meadows and others. It models what can be expected to happen, if population and resource extraction grow as expected, gradually tapering off as diminishing returns are encountered. The base model seems to indicate that a collapse will happen about now.


    Image above: Base scenario from 1972 Limits to Growth, printed using today’s graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in “Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil”(http://www.esf.edu/efb/hall/2009-05Hall0327.pdf). Marker at current date 2015 shows many necessities peaking as resources diminish.

    The shape of the downturn is not likely to be correct in figure above.  One reason is that the model was put together based on physical quantities of goods and people, without considering the role the financial system, particularly debt, plays. I expect that debt would tend to make collapse quicker. From original article.

    Also, the modelers had no experience with interactions in a contracting world economy, so had no idea regarding what adjustments to make. The authors have even said that the shapes of the curves, after the initial downturn, cannot be relied on. So we end up with something like Figure 6, as about all that we can rely on.

    If we are indeed facing the downturn forecast by Limits to Growth modeling, we are facing  a predicament that doesn’t have a real solution. We can make the best of what we have today, and we can try to strengthen bonds with family and friends.

    We can try to diversify our financial resources, so if one bank encounters problems early on, it won’t be a huge problem. We can perhaps keep a little food and water on hand, to tide us over a temporary shortage. We can study our religious beliefs for guidance.

    Some people believe that it is possible for groups of survivalists to continue, given adequate preparation. This may or may not be true. The only kind of renewables that we can truly count on for the long term are those used by our forefathers, such as wood, draft animals, and wind-driven boats.

    Anyone who decides to use today’s technology, such as solar panels and a pump adapted for use with solar panels, needs to plan for the day when that technology fails. At that point, hard decisions will need to be made regarding how the group will live without the technology.

    We can’t say that no one warned us about the predicament we are facing. Instead, we chose not to listen. Public officials gave a further push in this direction, by channeling research funds toward distant theoretically solvable problems, instead of understanding the true nature of what we are up against.

    Too many people took what Hubbert said literally, without understanding that what he offered was a best-case scenario, if we could find something equivalent to a perpetual motion machine to help us out of our predicament.

    .

    Okinawans wish US military gone

    SUBHEAD: The people of Okinawa are overwhelmed and tired of this continuous struggle to deal with US base problems.

    Part One

    By Jon Letman on 24 August 2015 for American Aljazeera -

    (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/8/24/70-years-after-the-war-okinawa-protests-new-us-military-base.html)

    This is the first of a two-part series examining the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.


    Image above: Okinawan police remove protesters trying to stop construction vehicles from entering Camp Schwab U.S. Marine Corps base in Henoko, Okinawa, June 9, 2015. Photo by Jon Letman. From original article.

    Residents of Japanese island oppose relocation of controversial Futenma facility to Cape Henoko.

    Demonstrators, many old enough to have survived the bloody Battle of Okinawa as children, sing buoyant but defiant protest songs while holding placards reading “No new base” and “Give us back peace, give us back land.” One sign, directed at the U.S. Marines reads, “We respect you but not your job.”

    Polls consistently show Okinawans and, increasingly, mainland Japanese are opposed to replacing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a sprawling military base in the south of the island, with a new facility in the rural Henoko district of Nago in northern Okinawa.

    Referred to as Henoko, the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) is planned to have multiple helipads, 5,900-foot dual runways, an ordnance depot, a fuel depot and an 892-foot pier capable of docking amphibious assault ships.

    In May 35,000 Okinawans gathered to protest the Henoko base plan, days before Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga led a delegation to the United States to express opposition to Washington. Their demands, however, fell on deaf ears. U.S. and Japanese officials insist a new facility near Henoko Point in Oura Bay is “the only solution” to alleviating decades of tension stemming from the U.S. military presence.

    Today, 43 years after the U.S. returned Okinawa to Japanese control, the U.S. maintains 32 U.S. military bases and installations plus 48 restricted air and ocean training sites on the island.
    In early August the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a one-month pause in construction at Henoko, purportedly to pursue negotiations with local officials.

    But as Abe pushes forward legislation that would redefine Japan’s role as a military power and Washington ramps up its Asia-Pacific pivot, part of an effort to counter Chinese influence in the region, Okinawa’s importance to the U.S. military has never been greater.

    ‘World’s most dangerous base’


    Image above: An controversial Osprey hybrid plane/helicopter on the tarmac at US base Futenma in southern Okinawa. Photo by Jon Letman. From original article.

    The existing Futenma base swells in the middle of densely populated Ginowan and, like other U.S. bases in Okinawa, has been long criticized for noise, pollution and the danger posed by crashes and accidents. During a 2003 visit, then–Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reportedly called Futenma “the world’s most dangerous base” because of its urban location, although Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Luke Kuper disputed the claim.

    Instead, Kuper stressed Futenma’s role as the staging point for two squadrons of MV22 Ospreys, a hybrid aircrafts that take off and land like a helicopter but have tilt rotors that allow them to fly at airplane speeds and distances. “We have a unique lift and logistics capability … that you won’t find in many other militaries or any civilian sector,” he said.

    During the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Ospreys were used to transport personnel during air assault campaigns, but he emphasized the aircraft’s role in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in the region.

    To those who criticize the controversial Osprey and question its safety record (an Osprey crashed at a military base in Hawaii in May), Kuper responded, “They’re not the ones on the ground receiving the aid after the earthquake, after the typhoon.”

    “They may just hear it leave and think, ‘That was loud’ … but what they don’t understand is the lifesaving capacity that this aircraft bring[s] to the region,” he added.

    In the 70 years since World War II ended, Okinawa has been central to the United States’ military presence in East Asia, serving as a testing and training site for military personnel and for the storage and transport of weapons used in wars from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.

    That the U.S. formerly housed nuclear weapons in Okinawa has also been widely reported, although a U.S. military spokeswoman told Al Jazeera that all nuclear weapons on Okinawa were removed before returning control of the island to Japan in May 1972.

    Today nearly 26,000 U.S. military personnel — almost half of U.S. forces in Japan — are stationed on the island. But serving as America’s “Keystone of the Pacific” is a role many Okinawans never wanted.

    Protests around the clock


    Image above: Ginowan City Council Member Isao Tobaru is dragged away by Okinawa police for blocking the gate to Camp Schwab at Henoko, in June 2015. Photo by Jon Letman. From original article.
     
    Ginowan City Council Member Isao Tobaru was one of several dozen protesters being dragged away by Okinawa police for blocking the gate at Marine Base Camp Schwab on a weekday morning in June. Tobaru, who drives an hour each week to join the peaceful protests, is frustrated by what he calls a lack of awareness among Americans of how their military affects his people.

    “I feel Americans don’t think or care about other places … or realize what is happening to people in other countries,” he said, taking a break from the midday tropical sun in an open tent encampment across from Camp Schwab, where protesters keep vigil 24 hours a day.


    Two miles to the south, protesters have demonstrated for more than 4,100 consecutive days at an open tent encampment where newspaper clippings and posters document the protest movement and how a new base could threaten the environment.

    Hiroshi Ashitomi visits the site six days a week and likens Henoko to a volcano that could erupt at any time, potentially threatening the future of all U.S. bases in Okinawa by completely eroding support across the islands. He sees a double standard in the U.S. pushing to build a base on reclaimed land against the wishes of the majority of Okinawans.

    “We can’t imagine them building a military base in such a beautiful place,” he said. “Could the Americans do such a thing in their own country?”

    Meanwhile a third protest takes place just north of Camp Schwab on the blue-green waters of Oura Bay, where small motorboats and kayaks challenge seafloor survey work that precedes land reclamation.

    Okinawan photographer and diver Osamu Makishi captains a small boat that helps coordinate protests on the bay. He has been going to Oura regularly since 2004. Like many local divers and scientists, he fears building a base at Henoko will irreparably harm Oura Bay’s biodiverse marine life and fragile ecosystems, recognized by scientists as some of the healthiest and most intact in East Asia.

    In addition to hundreds of species of fish, marine invertebrates, corals, seaweeds, sea snakes, crabs, turtles and other rare marine life, Oura Bay is home to seagrass beds that are feeding grounds for the dugong, a manateelike animal that is classified as vulnerable and declining in Okinawa by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

    No plans to go

    At Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Kuper said Henoko protesters are a “vocal minority” fueled by an anti-military local media. But he noted that demonstrating is the hallmark of a free society, saying, “If they have issues with government of Japan projects, they can protest.”

    However, Mayor Susumu Inamine dismisses U.S. claims that the Henoko plan is simply a domestic dispute between Okinawa and the Japanese government.

    “The reason we have this problem is the new base is being built for U.S. Marines,” he said. “Once completed, it will all be used by America and so the U.S. needs to address this problem as a principal player here, not just as a third party.”

    Inamine criticized the forceful way in which kayak protesters have been handled. “Is this something that should happen in a democratic nation?” he asked. “Would Americans permit this inside the United States?”

    But as daily protests continue daily, Kuper said the U.S. military will maintain operations at Futenma until a suitable replacement facility is built.

    “Wherever that would be, that’s where we’ll go,” he said, adding that he expects it to be Henoko. “It’s happening. It’s already been decided.”



    Part Two

    By Jon Letman on 25 August 2015 for American Aljazeera -
    (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/8/25/okinawans-decry-noise-chemical-pollution-at-us-bases-across-island.html)

    This is the second of a two-part series examining the impact of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa. 


    Image above: Some 35,000 demonstrators raise placards reading “Do not yield to authority” during a rally to protest the Futenma U.S. air base on Okinawa, Japan, in May 2015. Photo by Jiji Press / AFP / Getty Images. From original article.

    Near the small rural community of Takae stands a weather-beaten protest tent site clinging to a roadside covered with ferns. Low clouds blow overhead, and only the shrill cry of cicadas or the hum of an occasional passing car breaks the quiet of the tropical Yanbaru Forest in northern Okinawa.

    An hour’s drive north of a hotly contested yet-to-be-built military base at Cape Henoko on Oura Bay, protesters at this simple encampment keep a mostly low-profile vigil demonstrating their opposition to the large military presence in this otherwise wild place.

    Seventy years after the end of World War II, there are 32 U.S. military facilities in Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture. Many of the U.S. bases there are concentrated in the crowded southern part of the island. The sparsely populated north is home to the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Gonsalves and the Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC).

    The northern and central training areas make up a 37,000-acre expanse of rugged subtropical jungle that includes the U.S.’s only site designated for practicing jungle warfare and have played a major role in training since before the Vietnam War.

    Occupying almost 40 percent of the biodiverse Yanbaru Forest, the JWTC has 22 helipads used for training with the MV-22 Osprey hybrids and other military aircraft.

    Rie Ishihara, a mother of four, arrived in southern Okinawa from Tokyo in 1993. Nearly a decade ago, she and her family moved north to Takae village just as the construction of helipads was being announced. Like other residents, she’s concerned about noise, pollution, forest fires and the threat of crashes and other accidents as military aircraft fly overhead.

    Protesters like her are often criticized for being from the main islands of Japan, but Okinawa-born Yoshiyasu Iha — a retired chemistry teacher, a base opponent and an expert on Yanbaru’s wildlife — said he’s grateful people from outside Okinawa are also committed to protecting the islands from what they view as excessive militarism.

    “This is a problem not only for Okinawa but for all Japan,” he said.

    Iha — whose family survived the horrors of the Battle of Okinawa, in which a quarter to a third of the island’s population was killed, in the spring of 1945 by seeking refuge in northern Okinawa — has been exploring the Yanbaru Forest his whole life.

    Describing endemic plants and animals and the pure mountain streams that provide 60 percent of Okinawa’s freshwater and feed the equally biodiverse coastal and marine ecosystems below, he said its heavily militarized state precludes the Yanbaru Forest from applying for UNESCO World Heritage protective status.

    “We have to win this battle,” he said. “If we don’t — if we lose — that’s the end of Okinawa.”

    Every day is July 4

    Meanwhile, in the urbanized south, far from the JWTC, the Kadena Air Base occupies over 80 percent of Kadena town and includes a 6,000-acre ammunition storage area.

    The enormous base, built on land seized after World War II, contains the Air Force’s largest combat air wing, with two squadrons of F-15 fighters and an array of military aircraft that includes fighter jets, transport planes, refueling aircraft, helicopters, Ospreys, reconnaissance aircraft and anti-submarine patrol planes.

    According to the U.S. military, it is the “hub of airpower in the Pacific,” home to more than 9,000 U.S. service members and their families and contributes an estimated $700 million annually to the local economy.

    The military lauds Kadena for promoting “regional peace and stability,” but many Okinawans see the base as a source of constant noise, pollution and tension.

    In 1959 an F-100 jet based at Kadena crashed and bounced into an elementary school, killing 17 local residents, including 11 children. Since then, there have been more than 40 accidents and crashes related to Okinawa bases.

    “All aircraft at Kadena are thoroughly inspected before and after every flight to ensure mission effectiveness and the safety of the local community,” said U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Erik Anthony, in response to concerns over safety.

    Kensaku Nakamoto was born in Kadena and owns a small automobile dealership along Route 74 just outside a high wall that runs along the runways of the air base. He remembered seeing only F-15s as a boy, but one day, without warning, he said, he began to notice many different aircraft flying in and out of Kadena.

    Now 42, he can identify aircraft from a distance by their sound. “F-18s and F-22s are louder than F-15s,” he said, pointing toward the runways he sees from his rooftop. The noise from the base, he said, is excessive and nearly constant, causing stress for his household and for the rest of the community.

    He said he sees and hears flight operations, maneuvers and aircraft from 7 a.m. until sometimes as late as 10 p.m. The only truly quiet time, he said, is when a typhoon approaches.

    Responding to complaints about noise from neighboring Futenma air station, U.S. Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Luke Kuper said that the military works hard to take “cultural considerations” into account but that its forces must remain operational at all times.

    Nakamoto is party to one of seven lawsuits in Japan that challenge the noise of military aircraft. He is a quiet man but speaks with conviction. “We don’t need these bases,” he said. “Take your bases home.”

    Several miles from his house, mainland Japanese tourists gather at a rest area that offers a clear view of military aircraft takeoffs and landings. As Sunao, an Okinawa resident, watched fighter jet enthusiasts take photos, he likened Kadena to a “driving school for pilots.”

    “We see the Blue Angels every day,” he said wryly. “Here, every day is the Fourth of July.”

    Toxic tanks


    Image above: Corroded chemical barrels were found beneath a soccer field that had been part of the Kadena air base. Photo by Masami Kawamura. From original article.

    Across Kadena Air Base, directly opposite Nakamoto’s home, is the Okinawa City soccer field. The recreational area, which was part of Kadena until 1986 and lies several hundred feet from elementary and intermediate schools, was closed in March 2013 for improvements. When workers discovered more than 100 mostly rusty, deformed barrels beneath the playground, Okinawa officials launched a series of investigations.

    With some of the barrels labeled “Dow Chemical,” officials feared contamination to the surrounding environment. Stagnant water taken from sites close to the unearthed barrels was analyzed and described in a report by the Okinawa Defense Bureau as containing dioxins, arsenic, PCBs and other toxins. Three independent experts suggested it was “highly likely” the barrels once held herbicides and defoliants. In 2013 Dow Chemical said the barrels would not have held Agent Orange.

    Masami Kawamura, the director of the Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa, said the Okinawa Defense Bureau has downplayed the extent of contamination and called for more rigorous testing and greater transparency.

    In February of this year, the Air Force addressed the community near the site of the excavated barrels in a memo that concurred with local authorities, stating, “There is no health risk to the local population from the excavation site; our children are safe.”

    Kawamura, however, called declarations of safety while investigations continue “both impossible and irresponsible.”

    The excavated soccer field remains visible like an open wound in the middle of Okinawa City, partially patched with crumpled blue tarps and dotted with orange safety cones. Two shipping containers that house the contaminated steel drums are veiled behind a green mesh screen that hides the site, just barely, from the busy city that surrounds it.

    Kawamura said the issue of the contaminated soccer field, like complaints about aircraft noise, are grim reminders of the relationship between Okinawa and U.S. bases.

    “The people of Okinawa are overwhelmed and tired of this continuous struggle to deal with so-called base problems one after another,” she said. “The time, energy, money and human resources that go into dealing with these problems are immense, hindering the healthy development of Okinawa.”


    Video above: Plans for new US base in Japan cause anger in Okinawa. By Al Jazeera. From original article (http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/live-news/2015/8/plans-for-new-us-base-in-okinawa-causes-outrage.html).

    See also:
    Ea O Ka Aina: Okinawa mayor caves to US military 4/22/15
    Ea O Ka Aina: Japan struggles with Okinawa base 4/6/15
    Ea O Ka Aina: Fear and Hope in Oura Bay 1/27/15 
    Ea O Ka Aina: Okinawa resists US Military 2/11/14
    Ea O Ka Aina: Slaughter in Asian Pacific 1/27/14
    Ea O Ka Aina: US Okinawa base setback 1/20/14
    Ea O Ka Aina: Okinawa breathes easier 4/27/12
    Ea O Ka Aina: Pacific Resistance to U.S. Military 5/24/10
    Ea O Ka Aina: It's Universal 1/1/09 The Marines in Okinawa illustrate how crazy we are.
    Ea O Ka Aina: An ugly dance - The Asian Pivot Dec 5, 2013
    Ea O Ka Aina: Help save Mariana Islands Nov 17, 2013
    Ea O Ka Aina: KIUC Strategic Plan Briefing Nov 7, 2013
    Ea O Ka Aina: Moana Nui Confereence Nov 1, 2013
    Ea O Ka Aina: Pagan Island beauty threatened Oct 26, 2013
    Ea O Ka Aina: The Ghosts of Jeju Oct 16, 2013
    Ea O Ka Aina: GUAM - Another Strategic Island  Nov 9, 2009
    Ea O Ka Aina: Diego Garcia - Another stolen island Nov 6, 2009


    .

    Pesticides in Paradise

    SUBHEAD: Hawaii's spike in birth defects puts focus on experimental pesticide spraying of GMO crops.

    By Christopher Pala on 23 August 2015 for the Guardian -
    (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/23/hawaii-birth-defects-pesticides-gmo)


    Image above: After four separate attempts to rein in the companies failed, an estimated 10,000 people marched through Honolulu’s Waikiki tourist district. Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser holds sign near word "Pioneer". Photograph by Christopher Pala. From original article.

    Pediatrician Carla Nelson remembers catching sight of the unusually pale newborn, then hearing an abnormal heartbeat through the stethoscope and thinking that something was terribly wrong.
    The baby was born minutes before with a severe heart malformation that would require complex surgery.

    What worried her as she waited for the ambulance plane to take the infant from Waimea, on the island of Kauai, to the main children’s hospital in Honolulu, on another Hawaiian island, was that it was the fourth one shehad seen in three years.

    In all of Waimea, there have been at least nine in five years, she says, shaking her head. That’s more than 10 times the national rate, according to analysis by local doctors.

    Nelson, a Californian, and other local doctors find themselves in the eye of a storm swirling for the past three years around the Hawaiian archipelago over whether a major cash crop on four of the six main islands, corn that’s been genetically modified to resist pesticides, is a source of prosperity, as the companies claim – or of birth defects and illnesses, as the doctors and many others suspect.

    After four separate attempts to rein in the companies over the past two years all failed, an estimated 10,000 people marched on 9 August through Honolulu’s Waikiki tourist district. Some held signs like, “We Deserve the Right to Know: Stop Poisoning Paradise” and “Save Hawaii – Stop GMOs” (Genetically Modified Organisms), while others protested different issues.

    “The turnout and the number of groups marching showed how many people are very frustrated with the situation,” says native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte of the island of Molokai.

    Waimea, a small town of low, pastel wood houses built in south-west Kauai for plantation workers in the 19th century, now sustains its economy mostly from a trickle of tourists on their way to a spectacular canyon. Perhaps 200 people work full-time for the four giant chemical companies that grow the corn – all of it exported – on some 12,000 acres leased mostly from the state.

    In Kauai, chemical companies Dow, BASF, Syngenta and DuPont spray 17 times more pesticide per acre (mostly herbicides, along with insecticides and fungicides) than on ordinary cornfields in the US mainland, according to the most detailed study of the sector, by the Center for Food Safety.

    That’s because they are precisely testing the strain’s resistance to herbicides that kill other plants. About a fourth of the total are called Restricted Use Pesticides because of their harmfulness. Just in Kauai, 18 tons – mostly atrazine, paraquat (both banned in Europe) and chlorpyrifos – were applied in 2012.

    The World Health Organization this year announced that glyphosate, sold as Roundup, the most common of the non-restricted herbicides, is “probably carcinogenic in humans”.

    The cornfields lie above Waimea as the land, developed in the 1870s for the Kekaha Sugar Company plantation, slopes gently up toward arid, craggy hilltops. Most fields are reddish-brown and perfectly furrowed. Some parts are bright green: that’s when the corn is actually grown.

    Both parts are sprayed frequently, sometimes every couple of days. Most of the fields lie fallow at any given time as they await the next crop, but they are still sprayed with pesticides to keep anything from growing. “To grow either seed crops or test crops, you need soil that’s essentially sterile,” says professor Hector Valenzuela of the University of Hawaii department of tropical plant and soil science.

    When the spraying is underway and the wind blows downhill from the fields to the town – a time no spraying should occur – residents complain of stinging eyes, headaches and vomiting.


    “Your eyes and lungs hurt, you feel dizzy and nauseous. It’s awful,” says middle school special education teacher Howard Hurst, who was present at two evacuations. “Here, 10% of the students get special-ed services, but the state average is 6.3%,” he says. “It’s hard to think the pesticides don’t play a role.”

    <img border="0" src="http://www.islandbreath.org/2015Year/08/150824waimeabig.jpg" />
    Image above: Waimea and the adjacent GMO fields. The cluster of buildings in the middle left are the Waimea Middle School and the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital. Click to embiggen. Photograph by Christopher Pala. From original article.

    At these times, many crowd the waiting rooms of the town’s main hospital, which was run until recently by Dow AgroSciences’ former chief lobbyist in Honolulu. It lies beside the middle school, both 1,700ft from Syngenta fields. The hospital, built by the old sugar plantation, has never studied the effects of the pesticides on its patients.

    The chemical companies that grow the corn in land previously used for sugar refuse to disclose with any precision which chemicals they use, where and in what amounts, but they insist the pesticides are safe, and most state and local politicians concur. “The Hawai‘i legislature has never given the slightest indication that it intended to regulate genetically engineered crops,” wrote lawyer Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice in a recent court case.

    As for the birth defects spike, “We have not seen any credible source of statistical health information to support the claims,” said Bennette Misalucha, executive director of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, the chemical companies trade association, in a written statement distributed by a publicist. She declined to be interviewed.

    Nelson, the pediatrician, points out that American Academy of Pediatrics’ report, Pesticide Exposure in Children, found “an association between pesticides and adverse birth outcomes, including physical birth defects”.

    Noting that local schools have been evacuated twice and children sent to hospital because of pesticide drift, Nelson says doctors need prior disclosure of sprayings: “It’s hard to treat a child when you don’t know which chemical he’s been exposed to.”

    Her concerns and those of most of her colleagues have grown as the chemical companies doubled to 25,000 acres in a decade the area in Hawaii they devote to growing new varieties of herbicide-resistant corn.

    Today, about 90% of industrial GMO corn grown in the US was originally developed in Hawaii, with the island of Kauai hosting the biggest area. The balmy weather yields three crops a year instead of one, allowing the companies to bring a new strain to market in a third of the time.

    Once it’s ready, the same fields are used to raise seed corn, which is sent to contract farms on the mainland. It is their output, called by critics a pesticide delivery system, that is sold to the US farmers, along with the pesticides manufactured by the breeder that each strain has been modified to tolerate.

    Corn’s uses are as industrial as its cultivation: less than 1% is eaten. About 40% is turned into ethanol for cars, 36% becomes cattle feed, 10% is used by the food industry and the rest is exported.


    Image above: A march against pesticides in Hawaii includes Kauai's KKCR host Felicia Cowden holding left of Monsanto sign. Photograph by Christopher Pala for the Guardian. From original article.

    At a Starbucks just outside Honolulu, Sidney Johnson, a pediatric surgeon at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children who oversees all children born in Hawaii with major birth defects and operates on many, says he’s been thinking about pesticides a lot lately. The reason: he’s noticed that the number of babies born here with their abdominal organs outside, a rare condition known as gastroschisis, has grown from three a year in the 1980s to about a dozen now.

    “We have cleanest water and air in the world,” he says. So he’s working with a medical student on a study of his hospital’s records to determine whether the parents of the gastroschisis infants were living near fields that were being sprayed around the time of conception and early pregnancy. He plans to extend the study to parents of babies suffering from heart defects.

    “You kind of wonder why this wasn’t done before,” he says. “Data from other states show there might be a link, and Hawaii might be the best place to prove it.”

    Unbeknownst to Johnson, another two physicians have been heading in the same direction, but with some constraints. They’re members of a state-county commission appointed this year to “determine if there are human harms coming from these pesticides”, as its chairman, a professional facilitator named Peter Adler, tells a meeting of angry local residents in Waimea earlier this month. Several express skepticism that the panel is anything but another exercise in obfuscation.

    The panel of nine part-time volunteers also includes two scientists from the chemical companies and several of their critics. “We just want to gather information and make some recommendations,” Adler tells the crowd of about 60 people. “We won’t be doing any original research.”

    But one of the two doctors, a retired pediatrician named Lee Evslin, plans to do just that. “I want see if any health trends stand out among people that might have been exposed to pesticides,” he says in an interview. “It won’t be a full epidemiological study, but it will probably be more complete than anything that’s been done before.”

    The panel itself, called the Joint Fact-Finding Study Group on Genetically Modified Crops and Pesticides on KauaŹ»i, is the only achievement of three years of failed attempts to force the companies to disclose in advance what they spray and to create buffer zones – which they do in 11 other states, where food crops receive much less pesticides per acre.

    The pushback from the expansion of the GMO acreage first emerged when Gary Hooser of Kauai, a former state senate majority leader who failed in a bid for lieutenant governor in 2010, ran for his old seat on the Kauai County council in 2012.

    “Everywhere I went, people were concerned about GMOs and pesticides. They were saying, ‘Gary, we gotta do something’,” he recounts over coffee at the trendy Ha Coffee Bar in Lihue, the island’s capital. “Some were worried about the GMO process itself and others by the threats of the pesticides, and it became one of the dominant political issues.”

    Once elected, Hooser, who has a ruddy complexion, piercing blue eyes and arrived in Hawaii as a teenager from California, approached the companies for information about exactly what they were spraying and in what amounts. He was rebuffed.

    In the process of what he called “doing my homework”, he discovered that the companies, unlike regular farmers, were operating under a decades-old Environmental Protection Agency permit to discharge toxic chemicals in water that had been grandfathered from the days of the sugar plantation, when the amounts and toxicities of pesticides were much lower. The state has asked for a federal exemption for the companies so they can avoid modern standards of compliance.

    He also found that the companies, unlike regular farmers, don’t pay the 4% state excise tax. Some weren’t even asked to pay property taxes, worth $125,000 a year. After pressure from Hooser and the county tax office, the companies paid two years’ worth of back taxes.

    So with the backing of three other members of the seven-member Kauai council, he drafted a law requiring the companies to disclose yearly what they had grown and where, and to announce in advance which pesticides they proposed to spray, where and when. The law initially also imposed a moratorium on the chemical companies expanding their acreage while their environmental impact was assessed.

    After a series of hearings packed by company employees and their families wearing blue and opponents wearing red, the bill was watered down by eliminating the moratorium and reducing the scope of the environmental study. The ordinance then passed, but the companies sued in federal court, where a judge ruled that the state’s law on pesticides precluded the counties from regulating them. After the ruling, the state and the county created the joint fact-finding panel officially committed to conducting no new research.

    Hooser is confident the ruling will be overturned on appeal: the Hawaii constitution “specifically requires” the state and the counties to protect the communities and their environment.

    In his appeal, Achitoff of Earthjustice argued that Hawaii’s general pesticide law does not “demonstrate that the legislature intended to force the county to sit and watch while its schoolchildren are being sent to the hospital so long as state agencies do not remedy the problem.”

    In the Big Island, which is called Hawaii and hosts no GMO corn, a similar process unfolded later in 2013: the county council passed a law that effectively banned the chemical companies from moving in, and it was struck down in federal court for the same reasons. A ban on genetically modified taro, a food root deemed sacred in Hawaiian mythology, was allowed to stand.

    In Maui County, which includes the islands of Maui and Molokai, both with large GMO corn fields, a group of residents calling themselves the Shaka Movement sidestepped the company-friendly council and launched a ballot initiative that called for a moratorium on all GMO farming until a full environmental impact statement is completed there.

    The companies, primarily Monsanto, spent $7.2m on the campaign ($327.95 per “no” vote, reported to be the most expensive political campaign in Hawaii history) and still lost.

    Again, they sued in federal court, and, a judge found that the Maui County initiative was preempted by federal law. Those rulings are also being appealed.

    In the state legislature in Honolulu, Senator Josh Green, a Democrat who then chaired the health committee, earlier this year attempted a fourth effort at curbing the pesticide spraying.
    In the legislature, he said, it’s an open secret that most heads of the agriculture committee have had “a closer relationship with the agro-chemical companies than with the environmental groups”.

    Green, an emergency room doctor who was raised in Pennsylvania, drafted legislation to mandate some prior disclosure and some buffer zones. “I thought that was a reasonable compromise,” he says. Still, he also drafted a weaker bill as a failsafe. “If even that one doesn’t pass, it’s going to be obvious that the state doesn’t have the political will to stand up to the chemical companies,” he said in a phone interview at the time. “That would be terrible.”

    The chairman of the senate agricultural committee, Cliff Tsuji, didn’t even bring the weaker bill to a vote, even though Hawaii’s governor had pledged to sign any bill that created buffer zones.
    Asked by email what he would do now, Green replied with a quip: “Drink scotch.”

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    Burning Man sucks!

    SUBHEAD: Your desert party produces about the same amount of greenhouse gas as the nation of Swaziland.

    By Katie Herzog on 21 August 2015 for Grist Magazine -
    (http://grist.org/article/hey-burning-man-your-desert-party-sucks-for-the-rest-of-us/)


    Image above: An aerial view of the Burning Man site looks like a uncontrolled oil rig fire. From original article.

    Get ready, folks! The most magical time of year is almost upon us (August 30th to Septmeber 11th).

    That’s right: Burning Man.

    Lest you mistake me for a tech billionaire with a penchant for fuzzy boots, hula hoops, group showers, and dudes named Dusty Unicorn — au contraire.

    The reason I love Burning Man is because it’s the time of year when Burners gather up their MDMA (ecstasy)  and their body paint and commence to building tiny houses out of garbage or whatever it is they do out there in the desert.

    It’s like the all the world’s performance artists get sucked up to Black Rock Heaven and the rest of us get a whole week without hearing about how Burning Man changed your life.

    Even better — now that Burning Man has become a destination for wealthy brogrammers and venture capitalists instead of old freaks, it’s also the best time of year to visit the city with the highest concentration of Burners: San Francisco. See you soon, SF!

    Now, nobody needs a reason to hate Burning Man; it can just be a feeling you have, like the way you hate strawberries or The Wire. But, if you ever need to justify your loathing of the annual pilgrimage to Black Rock City, here’s a great reason: Burning Man is bad for the planet.

    This year, 70,000 people will land in Black Rock City (that is, if the apocalyptic bug infestation doesn’t change some minds). That’s 70,000 people who are traveling from all over the world, and they ain’t taking sail boats.

    Plus there’s the actual burning man, a 100-plus-foot sculpture that is doused with gas and lit up while thousands of white people dance around it. So, just how much carbon does Burning Man burn?

    Hard to know exactly, but last year LA Weekly unearthed a 2007 website called Cooling Man, where concerned Burners calculated the carbon footprint of the event. According to Cooling Man:
    Burning Man 2006 generated an estimated 27,000 tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This figure includes emissions from participant and staff travel to and from Black Rock City, as well as on-Playa power generation, art cars, fire art and, of course, burning the man. Dividing ~27,000 tons by ~40,000 people yields an estimated ~0.7 tons per Burning Man participant.
    LA Weekly reported that 0.7 tons is actually double the weekly national average per person. And if we assume that the yield per Burner hasn’t changed enormously since 2006 (although it probably has now that Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies get helicoptered in) and update the numbers to reflect the 2015 crowd estimates, this year’s event will spew a minimum of 49,000 tons of greenhouse gases.

    How much is that? About the same that the nation of Swaziland (population 1.2 million) produces in a week. I mean, it’s not the Olympics or a presidential race or anything, but it does seems like a lot just to get naked in the desert and talk about your chakras.

    Ironically, Burning Man’s single most important tenet, according to every Burner ever, is leave no trace. From Burning Man itself. :
    "Leaving No Trace" is arguably Burning Man’s most important principle (see http://burningman.org/culture/philosophical-center/10-principles/). If we don’t uphold that one, no more Black Rock City. But Leaving No Trace is not just about the playa; it’s our ethic about the whole planet. Burners are environmentalists. It’s just our nature.
    Uh huh. While I fully believe Burners are more likely to drive Teslas than your average Texan, Burning Man has come a long way from its nature, and its roots. What was a small, radical gathering of genuine weirdos in 1986 is now just another wealthy man’s getaway.

    Besides, environmentalism isn’t just about cleaning up after yourself: It’s about your carbon footprint.

    And Burning Man’s isn’t small. Your art car is still a car, Burners. Think about it.


    Image above: "The Burning Man finale: “Your first Burn Night is the ignition of a brand new meaning of self & community, where we collectively celebrate our ancient pagan, primal and tribal selves in a ritual to the funeral pyre of the old and our rebirth as a phoenix from the flames.” From (http://www.campawesomeness.org/).

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    Islam's case for Zero CO2

    SUBHEAD: Islamic leaders advocate 100% zero CO2 emission strategy, citicizing "relentless pursuit of economic growth".

    By Amy Goodwin on 20 August 2015 for Democray Now! -
    (http://www.democracynow.org/2015/8/20/islamic_leaders_take_on_climate_change)


    Image above: Mohamed Ashmawey, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide and one of the Symposium organizers addresses attendees at Islamic Climate Change Symposium. From (http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=15-P13-00034&segmentID=1).

    A group of leading Islamic scholars have issued a declaration calling on the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to do their part to eliminate dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and turn toward renewable energy sources.

    See the declaration here (http://islamicclimatedeclaration.org/islamic-declaration-on-global-climate-change/).

    The declaration urges world leaders meeting in Paris later this year to commit to a 100 percent zero-emissions strategy and to invest in decentralized renewable energy in order to reduce poverty and the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

    The declaration comes on the heels of the publication of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment earlier this year, which also calls for sweeping action on climate change. Like the encyclical, this declaration, endorsed by more than 60 leading Islamic scholars, links climate change to the economic system, stating:
    "We recognize the corruption that humans have caused on the Earth due to our relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption." 
    We speak to Bangladeshi climate scientist Saleemul Huq, one of the contributors and signatories to the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change.

    [Democracy Now note: Below is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.]

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to a sweeping climate change declaration issued by the world’s leading Islamic scholars, calling on the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to do their part to eliminate dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and turn towards renewable energy sources.

    The declaration urges world leaders meeting in Paris later this year to commit to a 100 percent zero-emissions strategy and to invest in decentralized renewable energy in order to reduce poverty and the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

    The declaration comes on the heels of the publication of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment earlier this year, which also calls for sweeping action on climate change. Like the encyclical, this declaration, endorsed by more than 60 leading Islamic scholars, links climate change to the economic system, stating, quote, "We recognize the corruption that humans have caused on the Earth due to our relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption."

    It places special emphasis on richer countries and communities, noting that the risks of climate change are, quote, "unevenly distributed, and are generally greater for the poor and disadvantaged communities of every country, at all levels of development."

    AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the significance of this declaration, we go to London to speak with Saleemul Huq, one of the contributors and signatories to the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, a climate scientist at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, and director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.

    Saleemul Huq, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what prompted the declaration, who wrote it, and who were the major signatories on it.

    SALEEMUL HUQ: I think the origin of this came some—a few months ago, when the Climate Action Network, a group of climate activists, got together with the Islamic Relief Worldwide, a humanitarian Islamic organization that does quite a lot of work with vulnerable communities around the world. And they agreed that this was something that they should take up, and got in touch with Islamic scholars and leading clergy around the world, and started drafting a potential declaration of this kind.

    And then they held a two-day symposium in Istanbul, which ended just a day or so ago, where they brought about 60 international scholars, Muslim scholars, leading clergy from different countries, and we—and then invited me as a climate scientist to join them, also a Muslim, as well. And we honed the final declaration, which came out and has been released.

    And it’s aimed very much at the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, bringing to their attention the verses of the Holy Qur’an, which enjoin Muslims everywhere to preserve the environment as stewards of the environment, and at the same time not cause harm to other people by their own pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and so, at a personal level, to reduce our emissions, and, at a global level, to join efforts by all faiths and all countries to bring down the fossil fuel use to zero as soon as possible.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, last month, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley made headlines by suggesting that the rise of the so-called Islamic State came about in part because of the effects of climate change. He was speaking on Bloomberg TV. Let’s go to a clip.

    MARTIN O’MALLEY: One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation-state of Syria and the rise of ISIS was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that region, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis. It created the symptoms, or, rather, the conditions, of extreme poverty that has led now to the rise of ISIL and this extreme violence.

     NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Saleemul Huq, your response? I mean, to what extent do you think the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, etc., Yemen, are exacerbated by climate change? Can the creation of ISIS really be attributed to the effects of a changing climate?

    SALEEMUL HUQ: I think that—I don’t think there’s a direct attribution of the rise of ISIS as an organization to climate change, but there is no denying the underlying logic of the statement that we just heard, which is that there was a continuing drought for quite a few years in Syria that predates the conflict, the civil war, and the rise of ISIS, and caused migration and refugees going from the rural areas to urban areas. And that’s the kind of thing that climate change is likely to cause in future, and almost certainly will cause future conflicts.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dr. Huq, what does the declaration call on some of the Muslim-majority oil-producing countries to do? They’re the ones with among the least incentives to cut down on fossil fuels, since they’re dependent on them for their economy.

    SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, first of all, it enjoins all the Muslims in those countries, as individuals, to do what they can to reduce their own carbon footprints and also to help their fellow Muslims, who very often are amongst the most vulnerable people to the impacts of climate change, people like Muslims living in Pakistan, in Bangladesh, my country, and in parts of Africa.

    Many of these are Muslims who are suffering the consequences, and therefore those of us who are better off have a duty to help them, protect them and to stop causing the pollution that is causing the impacts on them, and at the same time hope to influence the leaders of these countries that it’s in their own best interest to move away from fossil fuels in the long run.

    And indeed, this is beginning to happen. If you look at the leaders of Abu Dhabi, for example, they are investing heavily in solar energy and in renewable energy, because they know that their oil is not going to last forever.

    AMY GOODMAN: Saleemul Huq, we want to thank you for being with us, one of the contributors and signatories to the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, climate scientist at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.=

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