Retrotopia: Distant scent of blood

SUBHEAD: Gemotek insisted their corn couldn't be the source of the illnesses, and the government backed them.

By John Michael Greer on 18 May 2016 for the Archdruid Report -

Image above: Genetically modified corn field. From (

[Author's note: This is the sixteenth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator, having recovered from a bout of the flu, goes for a walk, meets someone he’s encountered before, and begins to understand why the Lakeland Republic took the path it did.]

The next morning I felt pretty good, all things considered, and got up not too much later than usual. It was bright and clear, as nice an autumn day as you could ask for. I knew I had two days to make up and a lot of discussions and negotiations with the Lakeland Republic government still waited, but I’d been stuck in my room for two days and wanted to stretch my legs a bit before I headed back into another conference room at the Capitol.

I compromised by calling Melanie Berger and arranging to meet with her and some other people from Meeker’s staff after lunch. That done, once I’d finished my morning routine, I headed down the stairs and out onto the street.

I didn’t have any particular destination in mind, just fresh air and a bit of exercise, and two or three random turns brought me within sight of the Capitol.

That sent half a dozen trains of thought scurrying off in a bunch of directions, and one of them reminded me that I hadn’t seen a scrap of news for better than two days. Another couple of blocks and I got to Kaufer’s News, where the same scruffy-looking woman was sitting on the same wooden stool, surrounded by the same snowstorm of newspapers and magazines.

I bought that day’s Toledo Blade, and since it was still way too early to put anything into my stomach, I crossed the street, found a park bench in front of the Capitol that had sunlight all over it, sat down and started reading.

There was plenty of news. The president of Texas had just denounced the Confederacy for drilling for natural gas too close to the Texas border, and the Confederate government had issued the kind of curt response that might mean nothing and might mean trouble.

The latest word from the Antarctic melting season was worse than before; Wilkes Land had chucked up a huge jokulhlaup—yeah, I had to look the word up the first time I saw it, too; it means a flood of meltwater from underneath a glacier—that tore loose maybe two thousand square miles of ice and had half the southern Indian Ocean full of bergs.

There was another report out on the lithium crisis, from another bunch of experts who pointed out yet again that the world was going to run out of lithium for batteries in another half dozen years and all the alternatives were much more expensive; I knew better than to think that the report would get any more action than the last half dozen had.

Back home, meanwhile, the leaders of the Dem-Reps had a laundry list of demands for the new administration, most of which involved Montrose ditching her platform and adopting theirs instead. There’d been no response from the Montrose transition team, which was probably just as well. I knew what Ellen would say to that and it wasn’t fit to print.

Still, the thing I read first was an article on the satellite situation. There was a squib on the front page about that, and a big article with illustrations on pages four and five. It was as bad as I’d feared. The weather satellite that got hit on Friday had thrown big chunks of itself all over, and two more satellites had already been hit.

The chain reaction was under way, and in a year or so putting a satellite into the midrange orbits would be a waste of money—a few days, a week at most, and some chunk of scrap metal will come whipping out of nowhere at twenty thousand miles an hour and turn your umpty-billion-yuan investment into a cloud of debris ready to share the love with anything else in orbit.

That reality was already hitting stock markets around the world—telecoms were plunging, and so was every other economic sector that depended too much on satellites.

Most of the Chinese manufacturing sector was freaking out, too, because a lot of their exports go by way of the Indian Ocean, and satellite data’s the only thing that keeps container ships out of the way of icebergs. Economists were trying to rough out the probable hit to global GDP, and though estimates were all over the map, none of them was pretty. The short version was that everybody was running around screaming.

Everybody outside the Lakeland Republic, that is. The satellite crisis was an academic concern there.

I mean that literally; the paper quoted a professor of astronomy from Toledo University, a Dr. Marjorie Vanich, about the work she and her grad students were doing on the mathematics of orbital collisions, and that was the only consequence the whole mess was having inside the Lakeland borders. I shook my head.

Progress was going to win out eventually, I told myself, but the Republic’s retro policies certainly seemed to deflect a good many hassles in the short term.

I finished the first section, set down the paper.

Sitting there in the sunlight of a clear autumn day, with a horsedrawn cab going clip-clop on the street in front of me, schoolchildren piling out of a streetcar and heading toward the Capitol for a field trip, pedestrians ducking into Kaufer’s News or the little hole-in-the-wall café half a block from it, and the green-and-blue Lakeland Republic flag flapping leisurely above the whole scene, all the crises and commotions in the newspaper I’d just read might as well have been on the far side of the Moon.

For the first time I found myself wishing that the Lakeland Republic could find some way to survive over the long term after all. The thought that there could be someplace on the planet where all those crises just didn’t matter much was really rather comforting.

I got up, stuck the paper into one of the big patch pockets of my trench coat, and started walking, going nowhere in particular. A clock on the corner of a nearby building told me I still had better than an hour to kill before lunch. I looked around, and decided to walk all the way around the Capitol, checking out the big green park that surrounded it and the businesses and government offices nearby.

I thought of the Legislative Building back home in Philadelphia, with its walls of glass and metal and its perpetually leaky roof; I thought of the Presidential Mansion twelve blocks away, another ultramodern eyesore, where one set of movers hauling Bill Barfield’s stuff out would be crossing paths just then with another set of movers hauling Ellen Montrose’s stuff in.

I thought of the huge bleak office blocks sprawling west and south from there, where people I knew were busy trying to figure out how to cope with a rising tide of challenges that didn’t look as though it was ever going to ebb.

I got to one end of the park, turned the corner. A little in from the far corner was what looked like a monument of some sort, a big slab of dark red stone up on end, with something written on it. Shrubs formed a rough ring around it, and a couple of trees looked on from nearby. I wondered what it was commemorating, started walking that way.

When I got closer, I noticed that there was a ring of park benches inside the circle of shrubs, and one person sitting on one of the benches; it wasn’t until I was weaving through the gap between two shrubs that I realized it was the same Senator Mary Chenkin

I’d met at the Atheist Assembly the previous Sunday. By the time I’d noticed that, she’d spotted me and got to her feet, and so I went over and did and said the polite thing, and we got to talking.

The writing on the monument didn’t enlighten me much. It had a date on it—29 APRIL 2024—and nothing else. I’d just about decided to ask Chenkin about it when she said, “I bet they didn’t brief you about this little memento of ours—and they probably should have, if you’re going to make any kind of sense of what we’ve done here in the Lakeland Republic. Do you have a few minutes?”

“Most of an hour,” I said. “If you’ve got the time—”

“I should be at a committee meeting later on, but there should be plenty of time.” She waved me to the bench and then perched on the front of it, facing me.

“You probably know about DM-386 corn, Mr. Carr,” she said. “The stuff that had genes from poisonous starfish spliced into it.”

“Yeah.” Ugly memories stirred. “I would have had a kid brother if it wasn’t for that.”

“You and a lot of others.” She shook her head. “Gemotek, the corporation that made it, used to have its regional headquarters right here.”

She gestured across the park toward the Capitol. “A big silver glass and steel skyscraper complex, with a plaza facing this way. It got torn down right after the war, the steel went to make rails for the Toledo streetcar system, and the site—well, you’ll understand a little further on why we chose to put our Capitol there.

“But it was 2020, as I recall, when Gemotek scientists held a press conference right here to announce that DM-386 was going to save the world from hunger.” Another shake of her head dismissed the words. “Did they plant much of it up where your family lived?”

“Not to speak of. We were in what used to be upstate New York, and corn wasn’t a big crop.”

“Well, there you are. Here, we’re the buckle on the corn belt: the old states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and across into Iowa and Nebraska. Gemotek marketed DM-386 heavily via exclusive contracts with local seed stores, and it was literally everywhere. They insisted it was safe, the government insisted it was safe, the experts said the same thing—but nobody bothered to test it on pregnant women.”

“I remember,” I said.

“And down here, it wasn’t just in the food supply. The pollen had the toxin in it, and that was in the air every spring. After the first year’s crop, what’s more, it got into the water table in a lot of places. So there were some counties where the live birth rate dropped by half over a two year period.”

She leaned toward me. “And here’s the thing. Gemotek kept insisting that it couldn’t possibly be their corn, and the government backed them.

They brought in one highly paid expert after another to tell us that some new virus or other was causing the epidemic of stillbirths. It all sounded plausible, until you found out that the only countries in the world that had this supposed virus were countries that allowed DM-386 corn to cross their borders.

The media wouldn’t mention that, and if you said something about it on the old internet, or any other public venue, Gemotek would slap you with a libel suit. They’d win, too—they had all the expert opinion on their side that money could buy. All the farmers and the other people of the corn belt had on their side was unbiased epidemiology and too many dead infants.

“So by the fall and winter of 2023, the entire Midwest was a powderkeg. A lot of farmers stopped planting DM-386, even though Gemotek had a clause in the sales agreement that let them sue you for breach of contract if you did that.

Seed stores that stocked it got burnt to the ground, and Gemotek sales staff who went out into farm country didn’t always come back.

There were federal troops here by then—not just Homeland Security, also regular Army with tanks and helicopters they’d brought up from the South after the trouble in Knoxville and Chattanooga the year before—and you had armed bands of young people and military vets springing up all over the countryside. It was pretty bad.

“By April, it was pretty clear that next to nobody in the region was planting Gemotek seeds—not just DM-386, anything from that company. Farmers were letting their farms go fallow if they couldn’t get seed they thought was safe.

That’s when Michael Yates, who was the CEO of Gemotek, said he was going to come to Toledo and talk some sense into the idiots who thought there was something wrong with his product. By all accounts, yes, that’s what he said.”

All of a sudden I remembered how the story ended, but didn’t say anything.

“So he came here—right where we’re sitting now. The company made a big fuss in the media, put up a platform out in front of the building, put half a dozen security guards around it, and thought that would do the job.

Yates was a celebrity CEO—” Unexpectedly, she laughed. “That phrase sounds so strange nowadays. Still, there were a lot of them before the Second Civil War: flashy, outspoken, hungry for publicity. He was like that. He flew in, and came out here, and started mouthing the same canned talking points Gemotek flacks had been rehashing since the first wave of stillbirths hit the media.

“I think he even believed them.” She shrugged. “He wasn’t an epidemiologist or even a geneticist, just a glorified salesman who thought his big paycheck made him smarter than anyone else, and he lived the sort of bicoastal lifestyle the rich favored in those days. If he’d ever set foot in the ‘flyover states’ before then, I never heard of it.

 But of course the crowd wasn’t having any of it. Something like nine thousand people showed up. They were shouting at him, and he was trying to make himself heard, and somebody lunged for the platform and a security guard panicked and opened fire, and the crowd mobbed the platform. It was all over in maybe five minutes.

As I recall, two of the guards survived. The other four were trampled and beaten to death, and nineteen people were shot—and Michael Yates was quite literally torn to shreds. There was hardly enough left of him to bury.

“So that’s what happened on April 29th, 2024. The crowd scattered as soon as it was all over, before Homeland Security troops could get here from their barracks; the feds declared a state of emergency and shut Toledo down, and then two days later the riots started down in Birmingham and the National Guard units sent to stop them joined the rioters.

Your historians probably say that that’s where and when the Second Civil War started, and they’re right—but this is where the seed that grew into the Lakeland Republic got planted.”

“Hell of a seed,” I said, for want of anything better.

“I won’t argue. But this—” Her gesture indicated the monument, and the shadow of a vanished building. “—this is a big part of why the whole Midwest went up like a rocket once the Birmingham riots turned serious, and why nothing the federal government did to get people to lay down their arms did a bit of good.

Every family I knew back in those days had either lost a child or knew someone who had—but it wasn’t just that. There had been plenty of other cases where the old government put the financial interests of big corporations ahead of the welfare of its people—hundreds of them, really—but this thing was that one straw too many.

“And then, when the fighting was over, the constitutional convention was meeting, and people from the World Bank and the IMF flew in to offer us big loans for reconstruction, care to guess what one of their very first conditions was?”

I didn’t have to answer; she saw on my face that I knew the story.

“Exactly, Mr. Carr. The provisional government had already passed a law banning genetically modified organisms until adequate safety tests could be done, and the World Bank demanded that we repeal it. To them it was just a trade barrier. Of course all of us in the provisional government knew perfectly well that if we agreed to that, we’d be facing Michael Yates’ fate in short order, so we called for a referendum.”

She shook her head, laughed reminiscently. “The World Bank people went ballistic. I had one of their economists with his face six inches from mine, shouting threats for fifteen minutes in half-coherent English without a break.

But we held the referendum, the no vote came in at 89%, we told the IMF and the World Bank to pack their bags and go home, and the rest of our history unfolded as you’ve seen—and a lot of it was because of a pavement streaked with blood, right here.”

Something in her voice just then made me consider her face closely, and read something in her expression that I don’t think she’d intended me to see. “You were there, weren’t you?” I asked.

She glanced up at me, looked away, and after a long moment nodded.

A long moment passed. The clop-clop of a horsedrawn taxi came close, passed on into the distance. “Here’s the thing,” she said finally. “All of us who were alive then—well, those who didn’t help tear Michael Yates to pieces helped tear the United States of America to pieces.

It was the same in both cases: people who had been hurt and deceived and cheated until they couldn’t bear it any longer, who finally lashed out in blind rage and then looked down and saw the blood on their hands.

After something like that, you have to come to terms with the fact that what’s done can never be undone, and try to figure out what you can do that will make it turn out to be worthwhile after all.”

She took a watch out of her purse, then, glanced at it, and said, “Oh dear. They’ve been waiting for me in the committee room for five minutes now. Thank you for listening, Mr. Carr—will I see you at the Assembly next Sunday?”

“That’s the plan,” I told her. She got up, we made the usual polite noises, and she hurried away toward the Capitol. Maybe she was late for her meeting, and maybe she’d said more than she’d intended to say and wanted to end the conversation. I didn’t greatly care, as I wanted a little solitude myself just then.

I’d known about DM-386 corn, of course, and my family wasn’t the only one I knew that lost a kid to the fatal lung defects the starfish stuff caused if the mother got exposed to it in the wrong trimester.

For that matter, plenty of other miracle products have turned out to have side effects nasty enough to rack up a fair-sized body count. No, it was thinking of the pleasant old lady I’d just been sitting with as a young woman with blood dripping from her hands.

Every nation starts that way. The Atlantic Republic certainly did—I knew people back home who’d been guerrillas in the Adirondacks and the Alleghenies, and they’d talk sometimes about things they’d seen and done that made my blood run cold.

The old United States got its start the same way, two and a half centuries further back. I knew that, but I hadn’t been thinking about it when I’d sat on the park bench musing about how calm the Lakeland Republic seemed in the middle of all the consternation outside its borders. It hadn’t occurred to me what had gone into making that calm happen.

The breeze whispering past the stone monument seemed just then to have a distant scent of blood on it. I turned and walked away.

Below are the first seven of fifteen previous Retrotopia articles reproduced on Island Breath:
Ea O Ka Aina: Retrotopia - Dawn train from Pittsburgh 8/27/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Retrotopia - View from a Moving Window 9/2/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Retrotopia - A Cab Ride in Toledo 9/10/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Retrotopia - Public Utilities, Private Goods 9/24/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Retrotopia - A Change of Habit 10/1/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Retrotopia - Scent of Ink on Paper 10/15/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Retrotopia - A Question of Subsidies 10/22/15

The other pieces can be found at the Archdruid Report website :


Aim for 2°C... Plan for 4°C

SUBHEAD: I believe we should re-calibrate our adaptation efforts to anticipate 4°C warming.

By Matt McRae on 26 April 2016 for Natural Hazard Center -

Image above: Illustration for "Cloud mystery solved: Global temperatures to rise 4°C by 2100". From (

[IB Publisher's note: We've blown past 350ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere that will lead to feedback loops and rising worldwide temperature. This article, though gloomy, identifies that we could possibly keep to a  2°C rise if we could keep under 450ppm of CO2... and that this could be achieved if CO2 emissions to drop from today’s levels to almost zero within 35 years. That's doable with enough economic collapse. There would be human suffering - but some level of survival if we could drop big-agriculture, industrialization, growth and use of nonrenewable energy sources.]

In December international leaders met in Paris at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) during the twenty-first “Conference of Parties” (COP21) with the goal to “achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C above preindustrial temperatures”(COP21, 2016).

Delegates discussed and agreed on national targets, but simple math reveals a harsh truth— if we manage to hit the targets agreed upon in Paris we will still experience a dangerous 2.7°C - 3°C warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100. While these numbers appear small, climate-adaptation practitioners understand the implications are anything but.

Somewhat ironically, at the same UN Conference of Parties, there was also collective agreement that the upper limit of warming should be revised downward to 1.5°C because, “The 1.5 degree Celsius limit is a significantly safer defense line against the worst impacts of a changing climate” (UNFCCC, 2016).

This ratcheting down of the temperature target speaks volumes about the predicament we’re in. Changes are occurring faster than we anticipated and we continue approaching blind curves at high speed.

I began working on climate change eight years ago. As my understanding of the issue deepens and I watch national and international efforts come up short year after year, I have to wonder if our climate adaptation sights are aimed at the wrong target.

I have had the fortune of working on climate mitigation and adaptation while serving as the Climate and Energy Analyst for the City of Eugene, Oregon. During this time I have come to a few realizations that have fueled my growing concern.

The greenhouse gas-emissions reductions that are scientifically necessary appear to be all but unachievable.

As a result scientists anticipate that as we move beyond 2°C of warming, there is a dramatic increase in the risk of rapid warming magnified by naturally occurring feedbacks within the climate system—sometimes referred to as “runaway” climate change.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, our current climate adaptation efforts are focused on a future stable climate condition that appears highly unlikely.

First, the emissions challenge. I recently have been tasked with developing a greenhouse gas-reduction target for Eugene that is consistent with returning global concentrations of CO2 to 350 parts per million (ppm), the CO2 level climate scientists tell us is least likely to trigger runaway global heating. It should be noted that global CO2 concentrations surpassed 400 ppm nearly a year ago for the first time in recorded history, so a 350ppm target is extremely ambitious.

We found that doing our share to meet 350ppm means we must stop emitting CO2 within 15 years (Hansen et al 2015). 

For comparison, we looked at what would be needed to achieve 450ppm (the number expected to limit warming to 2°C). While more feasible perhaps, getting to 450ppm would still require emissions to drop from today’s levels to almost zero within 35 years.

While this may be technically possible, our climate-mitigation goals and actions in Eugene, and across most of the country, are not geared to achieve this scale of reductions.

I hold on to hope that we will find the will to achieve these levels of reductions, but I do not believe it is responsible to assume these dramatic emissions reductions as a basis for climate adaptation planning. As climate-adaptation practitioners, we are trying to reduce risks posed by climate impacts, so we should be planning for likely outcomes, not banking on the best possible scenario.

The second lesson I have learned is that there are feedbacks in our climate system that have a huge potential to increase global temperatures. A great example is the Arctic ice sheet at the top of the planet. Like a giant mirror, the white surface of the sea ice reflects most of the incoming sunlight back into space.

As warming causes the ice to recede, it is replaced by dark ocean waters, which absorb the light energy, turning it into heat energy, increasing warming and further melting the ice in a self-reinforcing loop.

The trouble is that several such natural feedbacks exist within the climate system and when combined they have great potential to cause extreme warming. Unfortunately, because we don’t know exactly when these feedbacks will kick in, they are not always accounted for in climate models, meaning that we are likely to significantly underestimate the potential speed of warming.

These feedbacks are one of the reasons we have set an international goal to stay below 2°C of warming—because somewhere at or beyond that temperature, the feedbacks are unleashed and, like it or not, we find ourselves on an uncontrollable escalator to dramatically warmer temperatures. We are currently experiencing 1°C of warming, and total global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase every year.

My third realization is that the majority of our climate-adaptation plans focus on a 2°C warming scenario that stabilizes at 2°C and doesn’t warm further. In reality, climate is rarely stable.

Over the last 800,000 years the average temperature of the globe has jumped up and down like a heartbeat. This fluctuation has been cyclic and driven by natural processes, but if we look into Earth’s climate history there is an odd stabilization of temperatures that began some 10,000 years ago.

 As a species we have benefitted immensely from this unusual period of relative climatic stability; it has encouraged long-term settlement along our coastlines and it has enabled development of wildly successful agricultural practices. How will we adapt as we enter a period of climatic conditions that are far less predictable and far more dynamic than our recent history has prepared us for?

While I hope we can find a way to limit warming to 2°C and avoid unleashing feedbacks, good risk management suggests we should anticipate and prepare for less rosy outcomes. I believe we should re-calibrate our adaptation efforts to anticipate 4°C and continued warming.

I will be first to acknowledge that 4°C of warming and an unstable climate is increasingly difficult to “adapt” to, but planning for a more moderate level of impacts just because it feels less overwhelming is not the basis of good risk management.

In 2011 an international team of scientists provided a clue about the potential impact of four degrees of warming (New et. al, 2011). They note, “Even with strong political will, the chances of shifting the global energy system fast enough to avoid 2°C are slim.

Trajectories that result in eventual temperature rises of 3°C or 4°C are much more likely, and the implications of these larger temperature changes require serious consideration.”

As for the impacts, the authors raise the concern, “The continued failure of the parties to the UNFCCC to agree on emissions reductions means that those planning adaptation responses have to consider a wider range of possible futures, with a poorly defined upper bound.

Second, responses that might be most appropriate for a 2°C world may be maladaptive in a +4°C world; this is, particularly, an issue for decisions with a long lifetime, which have to be made before there is greater clarity on the amount of climate change that will be experienced.

For some of the more vulnerable regions, a +4°C world may require a complete transformation in many aspects of society, rather than adaptation of existing activities.”

As adaptation professionals we haven’t had a discussion about adapting to higher temperatures. The good thing is that many of the efforts I imagine we might employ to “adapt” to 4°C are also desperately needed today and would help us manage 2°C of warming as well. What do those strategies look like?

How would we implement them?

I propose that in addition to (or perhaps instead of) focusing on structural adaptation like building sea walls, we might also focus on supporting social adaptation that would both help our communities to navigate uncertainty and disruptions in the future and help us address the challenges of today.

This could involve boosting psychological resilience through workshops that improve mental coping skills. The Resource Innovation Group, for example, has hosted workshops in several cities including Eugene.

They are teaching people useful skills in mindfulness, meditation and trauma management to help people cope with the stresses they’re experiencing today – and to spread habits that could help us all handle the curveballs of tomorrow.

Adapting to four degrees might involve promoting community cohesion by better bridging the racial, cultural, and economic divides in our communities. In his book Heatwave, Eric Klinenberg writes of a deadly spell of extreme heat in Chicago in 1995.

With scientific rigor he investigates the horrible event, comparing neighborhoods full of survivors with neighborhoods that didn’t fare as well. He found the secret to survival wasn’t wealth, mobility, or access to health care, it was the presence of healthy social bonds.

Those residents who lived in socially connected neighborhoods fared significantly better than those living in socially isolated environments. For this reason, it seems improving social cohesion within our communities should be one of our adaptation goals.

If more frequent curveballs are in our future, perhaps we should also take measures now to enhance the transparency and particularly the nimbleness of our government decision-making. I have seen with my own eyes that making decisions on behalf of the whole is way easier said than done, but organizations like the Co-Intelligence Institute and Healthy Democracy work tirelessly to test and share examples of better collective decision-making practices.

It seems self-evident that our communities will manage tough decisions better when residents are involved and genuinely understand the difficult dilemmas placed at our collective doorstep.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I hope we might focus our attention on a broader range of climate possibilities that are more challenging than 2°C, and unfortunately, increasingly likely.


  1. COP21. 2016. ( accessed on April 12, 2016
  2. UNFCCC. 2016. “Historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change” ( on April 12, 2016
  3. Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F, Beerling DJ, et al. 2013. Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081648
  4. New et al. 2011. Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society, A 2011.
    • Matt McRae is the Climate and Energy Analyst for the City of Eugene. Matt managed the effort to create Eugene’s first community Climate and Energy Action Plan and was the project manager for the 2014 update of the Eugene/Springfield Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan. His work is now focused on implementing both of these plans. Matt has worked for the City of Eugene since 2002 and prior to that worked for the National Park Service for nine years. Matt has a B.S. from the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

    Clinton breaks debate promise

    SUBHEAD: Sanders calls it an insult to the people of California - others consider it a promise broken.

    By Jon Queally on 24 May 2106 for Common Dreams -

    Image above: Still image from  CNN debate between Sanders and Clinton in Brooklyn NY in April. From ().

    Bernie Sanders said he was 'disappointed but not surprised by Secretary Clinton’s unwillingness to debate' ahead of 'most important primary' of this year's nominating process.

    Bernie Sanders calls it an "insult" to the people of California while many others consider it a promise broken.

    With no apparent upside for her campaign and despite an agreement earlier this year, Hillary Clinton has said she will not participate in a debate with Sanders in California ahead of that state's crucial primary next month.

    "We believe that Hillary Clinton's time is best spent campaigning and meeting directly with voters across California and preparing for a general election campaign that will ensure the White House remains in Democratic hands," Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton's communications director, said in a statement.

    Despite not yet securing the nomination, Clinton irked many of her rival's supporters, especially those in states who have not yet voted in the primary, by claiming the nominating process was essentially "already done." Voters in California—in addition to those in Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota—head to the polls on Tuesday, June 7.

    The San Francisco Chronicle, which had offered to co-host a debate in the state, described Clinton's decision as a "broken promise" while a spokesperson for Fox News, which had hoped to produce the event, said the network was "disappointed that Secretary Clinton has declined our debate invitation, especially given that the race is still contested and she had previously agreed to a final debate before the California primary."

    In response, Sanders issued a statement saying he was "disappointed but not surprised by Secretary Clinton's unwillingness to debate before the largest primary and most important primary in the presidential nominating process."

    Sanders continued: "The state of California and the United States face some enormous crises. Democracy, and respect for the voters of California, would suggest that there should be a vigorous debate in which the voters may determine whose ideas they support. I hope Secretary Clinton reconsiders her unfortunate decision to back away from her commitment to debate."

    Subsequently, during a rally at a high school in southern California, Sanders went further by calling Clinton's refusal to debate an affront to California voters.

    "I think it's a little insulting to the people of California—the largest state," Sanders told thousands of people during a rally at Santa Monica High School. "She is not prepared to have a discussion with me about how she is going to help California address the major crises we face."

    According to the Los Angeles Times, the crowd responded by chanting: "She's scared! She's scared!"
    For Sanders' part, he suggested to the crowd—given his recent string of wins, Clinton's slippage in national standings, and poll after poll showing him doing much better head-to-head against Donald Trump—that Clinton might be getting a "little nervous" about how the primary race will conclude.

    And, as he said in his statement, "Secretary Clinton may want to be not quite so presumptuous about thinking that she is a certain winner. In the last several weeks, the people of Indiana, West Virginia and Oregon have suggested otherwise."

    On Twitter, many expressed dismay that Clinton had decided to deprive the people of California (and the other states yet to vote) the opportunity to hear the candidates address the issues one final time.


    Media rigged against Bernie

    SUBHEAD: Mainstream headlines decry Sanders supporters for disrupting events in outrage.

    By Claire Bernish on 18 May 2016 for Anti-Media -

    Image above: Roberta Lange at the podium running the Nevada Democratic Convention. From (

    Mainstream headlines constantly decry Bernie Sanders supporters for disrupting events in outrage, as if their protests and demonstrations somehow illustrate the devolution of the elections.

    But that focus by the corporate media utterly negates the consistent and continual reports of fraud and disenfranchisement fueling their ire.
    And it’s getting ridiculous.

    Newsweek, though far from alone, offered a prime example of the obfuscation of the election fraud and questionable campaign tactics by Hillary Clinton in its skewering of Sanders’ supporters.

    Get Control, Senator Sanders, or Get Out,” Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald titled his op-ed — which thoroughly blasts the Vermont senator — as if he were somehow responsible for both the electoral chaos and the actions of an irate voting public. Eichenwald writes [with emphasis added]:
    “So, Senator Sanders, either get control of what is becoming your increasingly unhinged cult, or get out of the race. Whatever respect sane liberals had for you is rapidly dwindling, and the damage being inflicted on your reputation may be unfixable. If you can’t even manage the vicious thugs who act in your name, you can’t be trusted to run a convenience store, much less the country.”

    Because what Eichenwald obviates most readily in his attack is the inability to understand why those protests might be occurring in the first place. Judging by the timing of his article, it’s likely Eichenwald wrote it after chaos broke out at the Nevada Democratic Convention on Saturday — chaos that transpired after the party took it upon itself to ignore thousands who rightly believed Sanders delegates had been excluded unfairly from the caucus proceedings.

    Despite the call for a recount, party officials refused to follow necessary procedure and abruptly adjourned the convention, leaving thousands of voters in the lurch — and hotel security and local law enforcement to deal with the aftermath. When things seem suspicious, apparently Eichenwald feels voters should not only have no recourse, they should be happy about it. He continues:
     “Sanders has increasingly signaled that he is in this race for Sanders and day after day shows himself to be a whining crybaby with little interest in a broader movement.”

    It would be nice if Eichenwald’s hit piece were as much a joke as it comes across, but clearly he’s missed the point — and the vast movement supporting not only Sanders, but electoral justice. Worse, he didn’t stop there:
    “Signs are emerging that the Sanders campaign is transmogrifying into the type of movement through which tyrants are born.
    “The ugly was on display” at the aforementioned Nevada convention, Eichenwald adds, “where Hillary Clinton won more delegates than Sanders.”

    No kidding. That would be precisely the issue that “cult” expressed fury about — Clinton managed to put yet another state under her belt under highly questionable circumstances.

    In fact, suspect happenings at nearly every primary and caucus so far oddly favor the former secretary of state — and Nevada stood as further testament to why voters are practically up in arms over what appears to be electoral favoritism.

    But Eichenwald wasn’t alone in overlooking those concerns — or in blatantly mischaracterizing both that bias and its consequential thwarting of the wishes of a hefty segment of the voting public.

    In the New York Times, Alan Rappeport also took the chance to strike at Sanders’ followers by citing Roberta Lange, Nevada State Democratic Party Chairwoman, who adjourned the convention early — earning the wrath of Nevada’s voters.
    “‘It’s been vile,’ said Ms. Lange, who riled Sanders supporters by refusing their requests for rule changes at the event in Las Vegas,” Rappeport notes, adding, “The vicious response comes as millions of new voters, many of whom felt excluded by establishment politicians, have flocked to the insurgent campaigns of Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump.”
    Though he at least presented that aspect of the elections fairly, his description of what Lange actually did in Nevada misses the mark — that rules change had originally occurred prior to the convention, and Lange’s hasty and subjective decision on a contentious voice vote to permanently install the change arguably created the eruption of anger.

    But a number of Times staff have contributed sizeable amounts to Hillary’s campaign — and a Clinton family organization also donated $100,000 to the Times’ charitable organization the same year it endorsed her. Funny how bias thus peppers its reporting.


    We're past the point of no return

    SUBHEAD: Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from human activity has passed the point of no return.

    By Dahr Jamail on 23 May 2106 for -

    Image above: The Earth from space photo by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. From original article.

    A recent trip up Washington State's Mount Rainier brought home to me how rapidly things are changing, even in the high country.

    I first climbed the mountain in 1994, when the main route was a picturesque climb up smooth glaciers. Most of the time crevasses weren't even visible, and snow cover was abundant.

    But anthropogenic climate disruption from atmospheric carbon dioxide (ACD) has been speeding up with each passing year, and in the same area 22 years later, I found large portions of it nearly unrecognizable.

    We took a somewhat different route than the one I'd climbed in 1994, primarily because the lower portion of that route is now unusable, as the glacier it traversed is so broken up and crevassed as to make it impassable.

    It being early season (most of the guide services had yet to begin taking clients up the mountain), I expected much heavier snow cover and the snow bridges over crevasses to be in decent shape. That wasn't the case.

    After gingerly stepping our way over several sketchy snow bridges, I was grateful we weren't on the 14,411-foot-high northwestern volcano any later in the season than we were. Thankfully, we were able to summit and get back down without incident.

    Less than a year and a half earlier, in December 2014, Nature World News reported that ACD was melting Rainier's glaciers at "unprecedented" rates (six times the historic speed).

    "Changes that normally occur over a matter of centuries are transpiring over decades," according to the report. "The Nisqually Glacier, for example, one of Rainier's 28 named glaciers, has been disappearing since 1983. It's currently at a historic minimum and still shrinking - more than 3 feet every 10 days."

    Paul Kennard, a National Park Service geomorphologist, said of the rapidity of the decline of the glaciers, "If you look at it on a graph, it's like a Ping-Pong ball just fell off the edge of the table."

    And things have only sped up since then, both in terms of hotter temperatures as well as loss of ice on the Pacific Northwest iconic mountain.

    To give you an idea of how rapidly ACD is occurring, one of the most striking infographics I've ever seen on the rapidity with which the global temperature is increasing can be viewed here. Make sure you watch it; it only takes a moment.

    Climate disruption only continues to speed up.

    NASA recently released data showing that the planet has just seen seven straight months of not just record-breaking, but record-shattering heat. It is clear, through the space agency's data, that this year we are already well on track to see what will likely be the largest increase in global temperature a single year has ever seen.

    The NASA data also show that April was the hottest April ever recorded, as well as the fact that it crushed the previous April record by the largest margin of increase ever recorded.

    That makes it three months in a row that the monthly record has been broken, and easily at that, by the largest margin ever. When record-smashing months started in February, it was then that scientists began talking about a "climate emergency," and since then our situation has only escalated.

    In particular, the way this is playing out in the Arctic is horrifying. An Arctic without summer sea ice could happen as early as this September, a turn of events that would have serious implications for global climate patterns.

    The decline in Arctic sea ice extent, area and volume is in the midst of a deep dive more severe than those that occurred in 2007 and 2012. The loss of sea ice is even outpacing the worst-case modeling predictions. It's worth noting that less than 10 years ago, scientists believed that an Arctic free of summer sea ice was not something that would happen until at least 2100.

    But given that a recent four-day period saw a net loss of ice area the size of New Mexico, we will be lucky to see summer sea ice in the Arctic in September two to three years from now.

    Given the radically high temperature records and corresponding ice loss, scientists have been saying that the Arctic is now in "uncharted territory."

    When we look at the amount of human-generated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it too is only continuing to increase.

    Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration first crossed over the 400 parts per million threshold in 2013, but now, scientists are speculating that we may have entered an era when the global concentration remains permanently over that mark -- an event some scientists are seeing as a point of no return.

    And with the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide increasing, temperatures are increasing right alongside it, and with higher temperatures comes a lowering of the oxygen content of most of the global oceans before 2040.

    Yes, that is as scary as it sounds. According to a recent press release from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a reduction in the amount of dissolved oxygen in the oceans due to ACD is already happening, and will become widespread before 2040.

    Matthew Long, the lead author of the study that this press release is based on, stated, bluntly:
    Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life. Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it's been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.
    The press release added, "Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap the ocean of oxygen." This is literally making it harder for fish to breathe, as well as exacerbating the effects of ACD and ocean acidification.

    Facts like these are why, according to a report recently published in the UK, a person may be five times as likely to die in an extinction event than in a car crash.

    On multiple levels, this is extremely difficult information to take in: emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, spiritually. But this is the world we live in today, and we need an accurate understanding of what is happening in order to make informed, and better choices for how we are to live our lives.

    It is in the spirit of providing the most updated, accurate information available that this dispatch is written.

    Read on, sit with the information and then use it as a mirror for your life.


    A report by Lloyd's of London sees the single greatest threat to civilization over the next four decades as ACD-amplified extreme floods and droughts that impact multiple global grain-producing "breadbaskets" simultaneously.

    Hence, the "Food System Shock" report warns that when this occurs, mass rioting, civil war, terrorist attacks and mass starvation are likely to happen.
    The impacts of ACD on various species continue to make themselves known.
    A cascade effect of ACD impacting weather, insect availability and other food sources is taking a serious toll on birds like the red knot, which is seeing its populations decline as the birds' body mass shrinks, according to a recently published study.

    The report shows how, in the case of the red knot, the consequences of ACD are only being seen at a distance, which is another important concept for us to get our minds around as the crisis unfolds on multiple levels.

    In this case, the body size of the red knot has been decreasing as its breeding grounds in the Arctic continue to warm, but, as the report states: "The real toll of this change appears not in the rapidly changing northern part of their range but in the apparently more stable tropical wintering range.

    The resulting smaller, short-billed birds have difficulty reaching their major food source, deeply buried mollusks, which decreases the survival of birds born during particularly warm years."

    On that note, a recently released report by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative shows that one-third of all North American bird species are at risk of going extinct, and ACD is one of the drivers of the catastrophic bird loss.


    As usual, the majority of the most dramatically obvious impacts of ACD are in this sector of the dispatch.

    The World Bank issued a new report warning that global water shortages will deal a "severe hit" to economies across the Middle East, North Africa, and Central and South Asia as ACD progresses.

    The report warned that by 2050 growing demand for water from both cities and agriculture will cause dramatic water shortages in regions where it is currently in abundance, in addition to worsening shortages that already exist.

    This will, according to the World Bank, generate broad amounts of conflict and human migration across the regions cited.

    Another report from the World Bank shows that, conversely, by 2050 there will be 1.3 billion people, along with $158 trillion in assets, put at risk from flooding and sea level rise alone. The twin factors of ACD and urbanization are the culprits, and the report warns that increasingly intense extreme weather disasters will continue to make matters worse as well.

    Meanwhile, in the Micronesian island nation of Palau, the famous UNESCO World Heritage site of Jellyfish Lake is losing its namesake. Severe drought and increasingly hot temperatures are causing the unique non-stinging jellyfish to vanish, and possibly not return.
    Sea level rise is continuing at abrupt rates.

    A study in the journal Environmental Research Letters linked ACD-caused sea level rise, along with wave action, to the Pacific Ocean swallowing several villages and five of the Solomon Islands.
    More and more studies are showing the likelihood of far higher sea level increases than previously projected, as the rapid pace of melting of both the Antarctic and Greenland icecaps increases.

    The studies show that abrupt sea level rise is an increasingly realistic threat, with sea levels estimated to rise by six feet within this century, and far higher in the next -- flooding out many of the world's heavily populated coastal areas and cities.

    As if to underscore that point, a study recently released by the UK-based charity Christian Aid projected over 1 billion people at risk from coastal flooding by 2060, with the populations of China, India and the United States being the most heavily impacted. Again, ACD and overpopulation are cited as the prime drivers of the crisis.

    Recent images of the unprecedented coral bleaching event that is signaling the demise of Australia's Great Barrier Reef reveal the complete destruction of coral colonies that are large enough to fill an area the size of Scotland.

    Recent findings by leading ACD researchers and coral reef scientists show that the exceedingly warm water temperatures that drove the bleaching event at the Great Barrier Reef were made 175 times more likely by ACD, and could well become the "normal" water temperature with permanent bleaching there within the next 18 years.

    Meanwhile, India is experiencing dramatic coral bleaching events as well. Rohan Arthur, the scientist who heads the coral reef program at the Nature Conservation Foundation based in India, has been studying the coral reefs and documenting the bleaching. Arthur described India's widespread coral bleaching as "heart wrenching," and expects it to continue to worsen.

    In Florida, it's not warm waters that are destroying coral. Instead, acidification is causing that state's coral to disintegrate faster than had been predicted, and a recent report shows that this trend will only accelerate as ocean acidification progresses, with the world's oceans continuing to rapidly absorb carbon dioxide.

    Positive feedback loops have been wreaking havoc in the Arctic as well.

    Arctic Ocean acidification is being sped up by erosion and river runoff in Siberia. As the permafrost is thawing there, coastlines across Russia are falling into the ocean, along with rivers dumping massive amounts of carbon into the ocean, which is all combining to ramp up the acidification, which is bad news for all things living in the once-pristine waters of the Arctic.

    In Austria, the glaciers are melting so fast, they have retreated an average of 72 feet during last year alone, which is more than twice the rate of the previous year, according to a recent survey.

    In the Antarctic, the news of more melting continues. In eastern Antarctica, where the vast majority of the ice volume resides -- an area once believed to be largely free of the impacts of ACD -- the Nansen Ice Shelf has produced an iceberg 20 kilometers long.

    A giant crack in the shelf that has existed since 1999 expanded dramatically in 2014, and that trend continued into this year, when melting on the surface and from the warming seas below the shelf caused an area larger than the area of Manhattan to release out into the ocean.

    On the other side of that continent, the Antarctic Peninsula saw an incredible new record high temperature of 17 degrees Celsius last year. This, coupled with the ongoing ramping up of the melting of the ice shelves, is having global implications already, including sea level rise, and impacts on global weather patterns.

    Extreme drought across the world continues.

    In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has deemed that state's water conservation efforts permanent, a sign of resignation to the fact that the state's drought is now being considered ongoing, without an end in sight. Ninety percent of California remains in drought, and summer is just beginning.

    As if to underscore that point, Lake Mead, the largest US reservoir, broke a record in May by declining to its lowest level ever recorded.

    In Zimbabwe, the UN Development Programme announced recently that 4.5 million people, which is at least half of the country's total rural population, will need food and water aid by next March, as an extreme drought persists with no end in sight.


    Summer had barely found its stride when residents of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, became part of the historical record: Their town saw the single largest fire evacuation event in Alberta's history.

    More than 80,000 residents of the tar sands oil town fled massive wildfires, in what couldn't be a more obvious sign from the planet that engaging in the most environmentally destructive method of fossil fuel extraction might not be the best idea.

    Things settled down a bit after the winds shifted and the fires subsided -- until the winds shifted again and the fires returned, forcing yet more evacuations as people again did not get the earth's memo.
    So far this year, 22 times more land has burned than burned in the same period last year, and that year was one of the worst fire seasons in Canada's history.

    Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with the rest of the country's mainstream media, have opted not to mention ACD when discussing the wildfires that threaten their earth-destroying cash cow, the tar sands.

    Meanwhile, a recently published study shows what we are already seeing -- that warming temperatures in the northern latitudes are spurring more fires across Alaska, which in turn cause increasingly warming temperatures ... hence, yet another runaway feedback loop is unveiled.

    Out-of-control wildfires raged across the Russian-Chinese border, as well as nearby Lake Baikal, according to The Siberian Times, resulting in more ACD refugees.


    As mentioned in the introduction of this dispatch, heat records around the world continue to be set at a breakneck pace, including the overall record heat increases for the entire planet.

    More specifically, Southwest Asia and India recently saw historic heat waves that have brought more than 150 deaths. Cambodia and Laos each set record highs for any day of the year during April. Cambodia saw 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit on April 15, and on April 26, Thailand set a record for national energy consumption (air conditioning), according to The Associated Press.

    India went on to break its heat record in May, when the city of Rajasthan saw 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 degrees Fahrenheit), as the heat wave besetting northern India persists, as temperatures have exceeded 40 degrees Celsius for several weeks in a row now.

    Looking to the north, the Russian Hydrometeorological Center recently reported that since May 2015, every single month has been the warmest in Russia's history. By way of example, in March, the temperature deviation on islands in the Barents Sea was a staggering 12 degrees Celsius.

    In Alaska, despite it being very early in the summer, heat records are breaking by the dozens.

    Recent statements from the National Weather Service reported that the towns of McGrath and Delta Junction in the interior of the state hit a high of 78 degrees and a low of 49 degrees, respectively, beating the previous records set in 2005 and 1988 for each. Fairbanks set a new high temperature record of 82, which shattered a century-old record of 80 degrees set in 1915.

    The largest city in Alaska, Anchorage, set a record of 72 degrees, a stunning seven degrees above the previous high that was set in 2014, while Juneau and Bethel, set new heat records. Even Barrow, in the far north, saw 42 degrees recently, breaking the previous heat record by four degrees.

    Given that Anchorage has already seen the second-largest number of record high temperatures for any year and there is still 63 percent of the year left, 2016 will certainly break the previous record of high temperatures seen, which was set in 2003.

    In Africa, the heat continues to be unrelenting, and that trend is expected to not only continue, but increase, according to a study recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

    According to the study, by 2100, heat waves on that continent will be hotter, last longer and occur with much greater frequency.

    One of the research team's authors said that "unusual" heat events will become much more regular, "meaning it can occur every year, and not just once in 38 years -- in climate change scenarios."

    Denial and Reality

    Never a dull moment on the ACD denial front, especially with Donald Trump dominating headlines in the United States, and the corporate media giving him all the coverage he could possibly hope for.

    Trump, who could very well become the next US president, recently named ACD "skeptic" Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) as his energy adviser. Cramer is one of the leading oil and gas drilling advocates in the US, and North Dakota has been one of the states on the front lines of the US shale oil and gas boom.

    Over in the UK, a group of the most eminent scientists there recently criticized The Times of London newspaper for its "distorted coverage" of ACD, along with the "poor quality" of its journalism around human-caused climate disruption. Media misrepresentation has been a major culprit for much of the public unawareness and misunderstanding of ACD.

    Back in the US, on the reality front, Kevin Faulconer, the Republican mayor of San Diego, is pushing forward with a plan to run the city completely on renewable energy by 2035.

    Another hopeful note: Recent polling shows that now half of all conservatives in the United States believe that ACD is real, which is an increase of 19 percent over the last two years.

    Exxon, now targeted by a campaign aimed at making the oil giant pay for ACD, is working overtime to blunt the attack. Exxon is sending executives and lobbyists to meet with state representatives in an effort to mitigate what could be extreme economic losses for the company if the campaign continues to be as successful as it has been thus far.

    The campaign against Exxon is now deeply tied to the overall campaign to pressure universities and businesses to divest from fossil fuel companies, which has been incredibly successful and is becoming more so by the week.

    Lastly, in a story that has not gotten anywhere near the coverage it deserves, the US government has been actively resettling its first official ACD "climate refugees."

    A large grant of federal money was given to Louisiana's community of Isle de Jean Charles, where the people have been struggling (and losing) against rising seas, coastal erosion and increasingly violent storms.

    It is important to note this development, since well before 2100, there will be millions of people along US coastlines who will have to be resettled further inland as sea level rise only continues to speed up.

    Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's latest inventory of greenhouse gas emissions provided the warning that methane and carbon dioxide emissions are "going completely in the wrong direction," as the amounts being injected into the atmosphere continue to accelerate.

    Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.
    His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in Washington State.


    Becoming Bluegill

    SUBHEAD: Staying put allows us to become invested in protecting and being a part of the land.

    By Brian Miller on 22 May 2016 for Winged Elm Farm -

    Image above: A mature bluegill fish. From (

    The bluegill were popping the surface of the pond, loudly glopping up insects knocked off the tall grass at water’s edge by the rain. Becky, our English shepherd, was nudging a box turtle crossing in front of the log where I sat. I called her off, and she settled into the wet grass to wait me out.

    After a long week away from the farm, I was exercising my favorite spiritual practice, staying put. I had just come off spending time in one of my least favorite cities, Seattle.

    Apart from a dramatic setting, good beer, and good food, it is much like most cities in this country: too many people, too much concrete, too many drivers — too much of everything — and too little civility.

    But, lest you think I’m picking on Seattle, let me confess that I just don’t like cities. Give me the chance of spending time in New York or London and I’d turn it down for the same time in a small rural city or town.

    I appreciate and understand appropriate scale. I spent a night on this trip in McMinnville, Oregon, visiting with my niece. A small city of 20,000, McMinnville is relatively compact and accessible, surrounded by rich agricultural land.

    The vineyards, nurseries, and orchards that surround it keep the land prices high enough to fend off the encroaching growth of Portland … for now.

    My niece and her fiancé are both employed in the wine business. They are definitely my kind of folks. They are hands on about all aspects of their lives, from the crawfish aquaponics to the raised garden beds, from the handmade staircase banister made from recycled oak staves to the sweat equity invested in renovating their modest home.

    They get the importance of community, family, food, and work. And after a few peripatetic years, they are now staying put.

    Staying put fosters both conservation and conversation with place. It spares resources and allows us to become invested in protecting and being a part of the land, the community, and the people.

    Moving about, on the other hand, translates into waste and disconnection. It’s a form of consumer capitalism that encourages a callous disregard for our planet’s resources and cohabitants. It removes the connections of kith and kin from our experience. It’s turns us all into emigrants and immigrants of the world, both spiritual and physical nomads from heart and hearth.

    As someone who travels frequently for a job, I know the occasional enjoyments of travel.

    But I’m also all too aware of the impacts and demands I place on the earth in doing so. Like footprints on a fragile landscape, each trip we take, whether across the country or to the corner store, leaves an indelible mark.

    Remaining in place certainly doesn’t solve all problems. But, as I got up from the log, I resolved to be more like the bluegill, the soil, and the fruit trees on our farm, staying put as if I didn’t have a choice.


    Lower Away!

    SUBHEAD:  The parties are rudderless. Their leaders range the decks like wailing revenants.

    By James Kunstler on 23 May 2016 for -

    Image above: Madness reigns! A scene of delegates from California attend the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. From (

    I hope you’re enjoying these horse latitudes of the political year, when the seas suddenly turn glassy and the Berning sun begins to roast all the diverse and inclusive hands on Hillary’s deck, who wait in anxiety for the first sign of a fresh breeze to push them toward landfall, while, meanwhile, full fathom five below the dead calm waters the leviathan Trump waits in his comfortable darkness, circling forward, circling back, solitary, malevolent, content in his bulking grievances, patiently waiting his moment to rise and smash his rival.

    Things go eerily quiet and still before the California primaries. At this stage, the two major parties have discredited themselves so thoroughly that a necrotic stink wafts around the election of ’16. Who put that road-kill possum in Hillary’s podium?

    Why does Donald look every week more and more like a lurching Golem? The parties are rudderless. Their leaders range the decks like wailing revenants. It’s as if the mortal remains of Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan have come from the grave to eat the brains of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Reince Priebus.

    The rectified essence of every zombie fantasy churned out of Hollywood seeps through the capillaries of the dying political establishment, as it stews and ferments and waits to be loaded on the garbage barge of history.

    Hillary threw a “hail Mary” after the Oregon debacle, proposing that husband Bill would become some kind of economic czar in her inevitable “turn” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s when you knew her crusade was doomed. It raised such a snickering in the media that the sick tropes of HBO’s Veep show looked like press releases from Proctor & Gamble’s PR office in comparison.

    Bill did such a great job at repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, maybe this dynamic duo of lawyers (“two for the price of one!”) can work on eliminating the anti-trust laws, the First Amendment, and the writ of habeas corpus — and then America can become a fullblown banana republic.

    Trump has evidently been working on that smile of his: the slitty eyes, the weird horizontal lip stretch under that baleen of head-gear, the perfect expression of his white whale-hood. The crew from the ghostly GOP Pequod still doesn’t know what the heck to do about him. They rock above the depths in their flimsy dinghies, harpoons drooping, waiting for the sea to boil below them and their boats to splinter.

    That will precede a more general splintering to come of the republic, first by demographics, then by territory. The most exceptional thing about the US has been the rapidity of its rise and now fall in the roll-call of empires.

    We barely had time to put together a coherent culture that historians of the future (enjoying ratatouille with fresh rat by firelight) could identify, and now it’s all percolating into a dreadful maelstrom in which one catches glimpses of the Kardashians, PT Barnum, Betsy Ross, Davey Crockett, and Eleanor Roosevelt amid the detritus of broken Tupperware and flapping pages of the Affordable Care Act. What a goddamned mess we’ve left to posterity.

    Something is in the air that tells me Hillary will be dumped by the convention in Philadelphia in favor of Uncle Joe Biden, biding his time practically next door in Wilmington. Speaking of turns, isn’t it Delaware’s turn for a president?

    He’ll be a respectable place-holder, and he might even get elected, though the party will dissolve before he’s done, just in time for Texas to secede from the Union and set the tone for California, Oregon, and Washington State. Before you know it, the political map will look like 1861 again.

    Donald Trump will be forgotten before Thanksgiving. He will leave a bizarre mental imprint on the life of the nation-that-was, something like a bad acid trip.

    And then the people of North America may actually have to start grappling with the problems induced by a failed banking system, population overshoot, climate instability, and the lost boundaries of social behavior.


    Getting off the grid

    SUBHEAD: It means investments in education, time and money. It will also mean reducing energy consumption.

    By Kris De Decker on on 17 May 2016 for Lowtech Magazine -

    Image above: Three 10W solar panels on the window sill of the apartment. From original article.

    Solar panels have become cheaper and more efficient in recent years, but they are far from a universal solution, even in sunny regions. One reason is that a typical solar photovoltaic (PV) installation is still beyond the budget of many people.

    The average pricing for a 5kW residential PV system completed in 2014 varied from $11,000 in Germany to $16,450 in the USA. [1, 2] Roughly half of that amount concerns the installation costs. [3]

    A second obstacle for solar power is that not everybody lives in a single-family dwelling with access to a private roof. Those who reside in apartment buildings have little chance of harvesting solar power with a conventional roof-mounted system.

    Furthermore, in apartment buildings, the roof would quickly become too crowded to cover the electricity use of all residents, a problem that grows larger the more floors there are in a building. Lastly, a typical solar installation is problematic when you're renting a place, whether it's a house or an apartment.

    I'm one of those people who runs into every one of these obstacles: I live in a flat, I rent the place, and I don't have the budget for a conventional solar system.

    However, I receive a lot of sunshine. My apartment is located near Barcelona in Spain, a city with an average solar insolation of almost 1,700 kWh/m2/year (which is also the average figure across the USA). Furthermore, the 60 m2 apartment has the balcony and all windows facing south-south-west, and there is no shading by trees or other buildings.

    These conditions allow me to get through the winter without a heating system, relying only on solar heat and thermal underclothing. Hot water is supplied by a solar boiler, which was installed by the landlord. Clothes are dried on the balcony. While tinkering with solar panels for an art project, I got an idea: with the sun already powering so much of my living space, wouldn't it also be possible to harvest solar power from the window sills and the balcony and take my apartment off the electricity grid? Such a PV installation would solve my problems:
    • I don't need access to the roof.
    • I can install the system myself, which makes it much cheaper.
    • I can take the solar installation with me if I move to another place.
    Obviously, the big question is whether or not such an unconventional solar system could generate the necessary electricity. As a first experiment, I decided to power my 10 m2 home office with solar panels placed on the 2.8 m long window ledge that runs along the windows of the office and the adjacent bedroom.

    Solar Powered Home Office

    The window in my office is quite small (at 1.5 m2, it takes up only half of one wall). However, there's no need for power in the bedroom, which has been lighted by three IKEA SUNNAN lamps for years.

    Consequently, the full window ledge is available to power the home office. It offers enough space for five solar panels of 10W each, providing me with 50 watt-peak of solar power. The balcony will serve to power the rest of the apartment, and the plans for that second project are outlined at the end of this article.

    With their placement on the window sill, the panels are shaded by the building itself in the morning. They receive direct sunlight from about 10 am to 5 pm in the pit of winter (a total of 7 hours), and from roughly 1 pm to 9 pm in the height of summer (a total of 8 hours). The maximum energy production is thus roughly 400 Wh per day.

    Image above: A 12 volt controller and three batteries that they charge. From original article.

    The solar panels are connected in parallel and coupled to a solar charge controller and 550 Wh of lead-acid batteries. Assuming a 33% Depth-Of-Discharge (DoD) and a round-trip battery efficiency of 80%, this gives me a maximum energy storage of roughly 150 Wh.

    Can you power a home office with 50 watt-peak solar panels and 150 Wh of energy storage?

    Now let's look at the energy use of my home office, before it was solar powered. I sit here working most of the days, either researching, writing, or building and repairing stuff. Devices that regularly use electricity are:
    • A laptop, which requires an average 20 watts of power.
    • An external computer screen, which needs 16.5W of power.
    • Two CFL lamps (20W & 12W) and one LED-lamp (3W).
    Home Office Power Use
    This adds up to 35W of power during the day (with only the laptop and the screen in use) and 70W after sunset (the laptop, the screen, and the lights). I usually work in the mornings and evenings, roughly from 10 am to 2 pm and from 8 pm to 1 am. During the afternoon, I do other stuff or I work in the library.

    Total electricity use in my office is thus (on average) 500 Wh per day, with little variation between winter and summer. On cloudy days I also use lights in morning, which can raise energy use to 640 Wh per day. Then there are some devices that occasionaly need power:
    • A laser printer, which uses 4Wh of energy for warming up and printing eight text pages. This corresponds to operating my desk lamp (5W) for more than 45 minutes.
    • A pair of PC loudspeakers (1.5W of power).
    • Three USB bicycle lights (each use 1.4W of power while charging).
    • A digital camera, which uses 3W while charging.
    • A fan, which uses 30-40 watts of power.
    • A mobile phone (a dumb one) that's charged once every few weeks.
    Obviously, my solar PV system doesn't produce enough energy to power my home office. While regular electricity use is at least 500 Wh on a 9-hour working day, the window sills give me a maximum of 400 Wh per day. On overcast days, energy production can be as low as 40 to 200 Wh per day, depending on the type of cloud cover. Furthermore, energy storage is only 150 Wh under ideal circumstances, while most energy use (350 Wh) is after sunset.

    Image above: The new office desk at the window with computer light and cellphone.

    And yet, here I am, typing this article on a solar powered laptop in a room that's lit by solar power. How is this possible? By following these strategies:
    1. Maximize solar power production by tilting the panels according to the season.
    2. Minimize power use by installing a low-voltage DC grid and using DC appliances.
    3. Force yourself to lower energy demand on dark days by going off the grid.
    Below, we look at these points in more detail. My solar system has been in operation since November 2015, initially with only two 10W panels. Three more panels were added in early spring.

    1. Adjust the Tilt of the Solar Panels

    Roof-mounted solar panels usually have a fixed angle in relation to the sun. Because the elevation of the sun varies throughout the year, a fixed angle is always a compromise. Panels that lay horizontal on a flat roof are relatively well positioned for energy production in summer, but much less so for use in winter.

    On the other hand, tilted solar panels perform much better in winter but not as well as in summer. On sloped roofs, the angle of the panels is often determined by the angle of the roof, which isn't necessarily the best angle for solar power production.
    A PV panel that's optimally tilted towards the winter sun can triple electricity generation compared to a horizontally placed panel.
    Adjusting the angle of a solar panel according to the season can increase electricity production significantly in winter. In December, a PV panel in Barcelona that's optimally tilted towards the winter sun can triple electricity generation compared to a horizontally placed panel.

    Because the advantage is much smaller in other seasons, the average annual increase in power production is less than 10%. However, tilting the panels is the key to harvesting enough solar power during the winter months, when power shortages are most probable.

    In the case of a balcony or window sill solar PV system, adjusting the angle of the solar panels is as simple as watering the plants. Although you could make small adjustments every hour, day or month, adapting the angle two or four times per year is as far as you should go.

    There's another advantage to having the solar panels so close at hand: they can be cleaned regularly. Roof-mounted solar panels rarely get cleaned because the roof usually isn't very accessible. Losses due to dust and dirt are assumed to be 1% of generated energy, but in dry and dusty regions, as well as in traffic-heavy areas, they can be as high as 4-6% if washing is not undertaken on a regular basis. [4]
    Adjusting the angle of a window sill solar panel is as simple as watering the plants
    Obviously, it's crucial that the panels don't fall off the window ledge, no matter what happens. Window sills differ in shapes and sizes, which calls for a custom-made supporting structure. I have a fixed metal bar at my window sill, aimed at protecting plant containers, which allows me to securely lock the solar panels in place.

    I guess I'm lucky to have this, but it also shows how small design changes can make a big difference. As an additional safety measure, I loaded the wooden base of each panel with some heavy rocks.

    Adding a mechanism to vary the tilt of the panels complicates the design, because the moving part has to be just as sturdy as the base. Following some failed attempts, I found a mechanism that seems to work, using vintage Meccano rods (2-3 layers thick and with larger nuts and bolts).

    One rod is connected to the base of the structure, while another is connected to the wooden board that carries the panel. Both rods are connected to each other in the middle. Loosening this connection allows me to adjust the length of the supports and thus the angle of the solar panels.

    Solar PV Windows?
    Some readers might consider my approach soon-to-be-obsolete, because several companies are working on "solar PV windows": glass that doubles as an electricity generator. However, this technology would not perform as well as adjustable solar panels on window sills, for several reasons.

    First of all, solar PV windows are most often entirely vertical, which is never an efficient angle to generate solar power -- their power generation is about 3 times lower than horizontal panels. [5] Secondly, in summer it would be impossible to open the windows or lower the shutters, which would quickly overheat my office and introduce a need for air-conditioning.

    My solar PV installation, on the other hand, can produce power when the shutters are closed and when the windows are open. Last but not least, a window-integrated solar panel can't be taken with you when you move, while my system is entirely mobile.

    2. Opt for a Low-Voltage DC System

    Typical solar PV systems convert the direct current (DC) electricity produced by solar panels into alternating current (AC) in order to make it compatible with the AC distribution system in a building. Because many modern appliances operate internally on DC, the AC electricity is then converted back to DC.

    The DC/AC-conversion is done by an inverter, which sits between the solar charge controller and the load. The second conversion happens in the (external or internal) AC/DC adapter of the devices that are being used.

    The trouble with this double energy conversion is that it generates substantial energy losses. This is especially true in the case of solid-state devices such as LEDs and computers, where the combined losses of the DC/AC/DC conversion amount to roughly 30% -- see our previous article for further detail. Because these are also the devices that make up most of the load in my home office, it makes a lot of sense to avoid these losses by building a low-voltage DC system instead.

    Like in a boat or a camper, the 12V DC electricity of my solar panels is used directly by 12V DC appliances, or stored in 12V DC batteries. If my solar panels generate their maximum output of 50W, my devices have 50W available. When battery power is involved, charging and discharging the battery adds 20% of energy loss, which leaves 40W available for the appliances. 

    The choice for a low voltage DC system raises energy efficiency by 40%

    On the other hand, in a typical solar PV installation where a DC/AC/DC energy conversion takes place, the devices would only have 35W available, and the rest would be lost as heat during energy conversion. If lead-acid battery storage is used in such a system, only 28W of power remains. In short, in my specific case, choosing a DC system multiplies power production by 1.4 times.

    The choice for a DC system saves not only energy but also space and costs. Less solar panels are needed and there's no need to buy a DC/AC inverter, which is a costly device that needs to be replaced at least once during the life of a solar system.

     Most importantly, you can build a DC solar power system yourself, even if you're as clumsy as I am. A low-voltage DC grid (up to 24V) is safe to handle because it carries no risk of electric shock. [6] Adding up all costs, I took my home office off the grid for less than 400 euro.

    Where to Find DC Appliances

    Mounting a DC system implies the use of DC-compatible devices. However, because so many modern appliances operate internally on DC, this doesn't mean that you have to buy everything anew.

    To adapt the lighting in my office, I simply cut the mains plugs from the power cords, replaced them with DC-compatible plugs that fit straight into my solar charge controller, and substituted the light bulbs with 12V LED-bulbs. To run the laptop on DC, I replaced the power adapter by a DC-compatible power cord, which is available for use in cars. These power cords can be bought for every laptop model you can imagine.

    Image above: A 12 volt LED light with plug configured for standard DC plug socket found in cars and available on my cintroller.

    Other devices are harder to adapt because the AC/DC adapter is located in the device itself. For example, I haven't figured out yet how to convert my external computer screen to operate directly on DC power.

    Appliances that cannot be converted are usually available in a 12V DC version. Examples are refrigerators, slow cookers, televisions, air compressors, or power tools. These can be more expensive than their AC counterparts, because they are produced in much smaller quantities. DC refrigerators are very expensive because they use vacuum insulation. While this makes sense in a camper or sailboat where space is restricted, it's a needless cost in a common building.

    The cigarette lighter receptacle in cars, initially designed to power an electrically heated cigarette lighter, has been the de facto standard DC connector for decades. More recently, it has been joined by another low voltage DC distribution system, the USB connector. USB cables operate on 5V DC and can transfer both data and energy. Many consumer electronics are now powered by them.

    Currently, these devices are charged by the USB-port of a laptop or desktop computer, but they could be plugged straight into a solar PV system. While the standard USB-cable carries a maximum power of only 10 watts, the newer USB-PD standard accommodates devices with a power consumption of up to 100 watts.

    Overcast Days

    The choice for a DC system has lowered power consumption in my home office considerably. My laptop's energy use has decreased by about 20%. Switching to DC-direct LED-lamps has halved power use for lighting from 35 to 16W. Based on the 9-hour working day described earlier, daily energy use of regularly used devices in my home office has come down from 500 to 350 Wh/day. This brings average energy use below energy production on sunny days (400 Wh), which are plentiful where I live.

    In reality, the external computer screen and the laser printer are still running on grid power. The 350 Wh of energy use mentioned above includes the hypothetical use of a DC external screen (saving 15% of power compared to the AC version), but not the energy use of the printer.

    However, on sunny days, I have a significant surplus of electricity, which suggests that I could also operate the external screen and the printer. Even on partly cloudy days energy is abundant.

    However, energy use remains too high during overcast days, when power production is between 40 and 200 Wh per day. Obviously, adding more solar panels and batteries would solve the issue, but that's not the way to go because the solar PV system would become more expensive, less practical, and less sustainable. 

    On sunny or partly cloudy days, I have more than enough electricity. On overcast days, I have to reduce energy demand.

    To guarantee a daily 350 Wh of electricity during three consecutive heavy overcast days in December (a worst case scenario of only 40 Wh energy production per day), I would need to increase solar power capacity fourfold, from 50 to 200W peak capacity, and provide at least five times more batteries.

    Although it would be possible to install 200W on the window sills, in that case the solar panels would stop solar light and heat from entering the rooms, which would be counterproductive. Furthermore, I would produce way too much electricity for most of the year.

    3. Adjust Energy Demand to Meet Available Supply

    There's another option to make the numbers match if there's not enough sun available, and that's using less energy. Suggesting a reduction in energy use is rather controversial, but there are a surprisingly large number of ways to reduce energy use, without having to revert to a typewriter and candles. Here are some possibilities for my home office:
    • I could install a second working desk right next to the window. This eliminates the need for artificial lighting on dark winter days, which saves me at least another 40 Wh on days that electricity production is at its lowest.
    • I could use less lights in evening during low solar power days. For most of the year, I have sufficient energy available to use all the lights in the room. However, most of the days I get by with only two lamps, and if necessary I could use a single 5W or even 3W lamp. When solar production is at its lowest, the latter still gives me more than 13 hours of light. I will never have to spend a night in the dark.
    • I could shift loads towards sunny afternoons. Even in winter, the batteries can already be fully charged by around 2 or 3 pm on sunny days. Adding extra load to the system during these periods takes advantage of solar energy that would otherwise get wasted. This is when I can charge the bicycle lights, the digital camera or the phone, or when I can use the 12V soldering iron (my only power tool) or the printer. In summer I can use the surplus of energy to power two small USB-fans, and of course that's the time when I need the fans the most.
    There are a surprisingly large number of ways to reduce energy use, without having to revert to a typewriter and candles
    • I could change my working schedule. If I could manage to work from 9 am to 6 pm instead of in morning and evening, I obtain a double energy savings. I would need no more lighting, except for one hour or so in winter (which saves 70 to 80 Wh/day). Secondly, I would use more electricity while it's being generated, avoiding 20% battery charging and discharging losses while operating the laptop at night and in mornings (which saves another 30Wh). Changing my working schedule would lower daily electricity use to roughly 125Wh, less than half of maximum power production. Furthermore, all battery capacity would be available for overcast days, because there is no energy use at night.
    • I could adapt computer work to solar conditions. There's a remarkable difference in power use for the laptop between writing (roughly 15W) and surfing the web (roughly 25W). In other words, I can work almost twice as long when I'm writing, which I could do whenever available energy is low.
    • I could ditch my external computer screen. It can be very handy for some work, giving both a screen to read and a screen to write, but most of the time it's just wasting energy without being very useful. Ditching the external screen would save me another 150 Wh per day. However, it would probably increase the use of the printer, so it remains to be seen if this option really saves energy.
    • During consecutive, heavy overcast days, I could revert to more drastic measures, like working in the library or not working at all. Or, I could do work that doesn't involve any energy use during the day, such as reading books and taking notes by hand. This would bring extra advantages; it can be refreshing to disconnect and concentrate on something in the old-fashioned way. Going out one evening is a fun and easy way to keep the power level high enough during periods of bad weather.
    • I could build a pedal powered generator for when I really need more electricity during overcast days. Strictly speaking, this is not a reduction of energy demand, but of course it implies an effort from my side. Pedalling for 1 to 1.5 hours would generate roughly 100 Wh of electricity, which would allow me to work on the computer for 3 to 5 hours, or to operate the 5W LED-light throughout the night.
     By keeping an eye on my barometer and being a bit flexible, it's not that hard to plan work according to the weather. However, until now I managed to take advantage of these opportunities mostly when it comes to lighting, and less so when using the laptop. This has nothing to do with computer use being less flexible than lighting. Rather, it's a consequence of how the system is built.

    This became clear due to the rather clumsy way that I set up my experiment. Obviously, I wanted to test the installation in the depth of winter before writing about it.

    However, I only had two solar panels at the time. Therefore, I first tested my solar powered home office by running the laptop on solar energy for two weeks (while running the lights on grid power), followed by a two-week test of running the lights on solar energy (and the computer on grid power).
    For lighting, it's impossible to fall back on grid power because I had to cut the power cords of all lamps to make them compatible with the 12V DC grid
    The results were remarkably different for both periods. With the laptop, I could always fall back on grid power by simply switching the power cord. Consequently, there were no external factors that forced me to change my way of working in order to remain within the limits of the energy budget on a dark day. For lighting, however, it was impossible to fall back on grid power.

    I had to cut the power cords of all lamps to make them compatible with the 12V DC grid, which meant that I could not run them on AC grid power anymore.

    During low power periods, I had no other choice than to lower energy demand for lighting, and that's exactly what I did, quite effortlessly I must say. I quickly made an extra desk at the window to avoid using artificial lights in morning, I switched the lights off whenever I left the room, and I worked with just a 5W or even a 3W light bulb if necessary.

    Five months later, I have become totally accustomed to adjusting light levels to available solar power. On the other hand, I keep plugging my laptop into the grid if energy runs low. Why? Because I can. [7]

    Consequently, going off-grid seems to be the key to lowering energy demand considerably. [8] Having a limited energy supply also encourages the use of more energy efficient technology. For example, the energy savings I made by replacing the two remaining CFL lamps by LEDs could also have been achieved without building a solar PV system. However, the option only occurred to me after I took up the challenge of powering the office with solar energy.

    Progress in energy efficient technology will steadily increase the possibilities of my off-grid system, with no risks of rebound effects
    If I would not be able to fall back on grid power, I would probably also get a more energy efficient laptop. In the future, I could also switch to lithium-ion batteries, which have lower losses than lead-acid batteries. Investing in more energy efficient technology would allow me to run the computer and the lights longer with the same amount of solar panels. With a limited power supply, there's no risk of rebound effects that negate these benefits.

    4. Build Multiple Solar PV Systems

    As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the solar powered home office is only the first step towards converting the whole apartment to solar power and going totally off-grid. The second project will be the installation of a solar system on the 6-metre long balcony in front of the living room and the (open) kitchen. It will power the lights, the stereo-installation, the Wifi-router, all computer use outside the office, and all kitchen appliances.

    This second experiment is much more challenging for two reasons. First, the living room and kitchen will also be used by the second person in this household, which will make it more complicated to manage energy use. Furthermore, although we don't have a toaster, a coffeemaker, or a microwave, the kitchen houses a much used high power appliance: the electric cookstove.

    Because it would take too many solar panels and batteries to power the electric cookstove by solar PV panels, the plan is to replace it by non-electric alternatives: one or two solar cookers, a fireless cooker, and a rocket stove for the morning coffee. By using direct solar heat, we can make much more efficient use of the space on the balcony.

    Another plan is to build a low-tech food storage system that can store most of the food outside the refrigerator, keeping this energy-intensive appliance as small as possible or eliminating it altogether
    The balcony solar PV system will be totally independent of the window sill solar PV
    The balcony solar PV system will be totally independent of the window sill solar PV system. There are several advantages to this approach. As we have seen in the previous article, cable losses are relatively high in a low-voltage DC system. Setting up several independent systems greatly limits cable length (and cable clutter).

    Secondly, installing separate systems allows total power use to surpass 150 watts -- which is the safety limit for a 12V DC system. Thirdly, multiple systems make it possible to start small and gradually expand the system. This avoids large upfront costs and allows you to learn from your mistakes.

    Learning from your Mistakes

    In fact, it was one such mistake that made me decide to install two separate systems even in my relatively small 10 m2 home office. The two solar panels in front of the office are connected to half of the batteries (powering the lights), while the three solar panels in front of the bedroom are connected to the other half (powering the laptop).

    This is because I short-circuited my first solar charge controller and had to buy a second one while the first one was being repaired. It was that or go without lights for three weeks. Thus, a final advantage of multiple systems is increased reliability: if one system fails, there is still electricity.

    If the second experiment succeeds, and of course this remains to be seen, the plan is to stop the contract with our power provider, which is to be renewed in December. Obviously, it would be handy to keep a connection to the grid, but there are two important reasons not to do this. The first has been outlined above: going off-grid unleashes the creativity and willingness to lower energy demand.

    Secondly, installing a solar system and holding on to a grid connection is financially disadvantageous. At least here in Spain, more than two-thirds of the electricity bill consists of fixed costs. Even if we would use much less grid electricity because of the solar system, our bill would remain more or less the same.
    If the second experiment succeeds, and of course this remains to be seen, the plan is to stop the contract with our power provider
    Some important challenges remain, most notably the washing machine, the bathroom and the laser printer. The problem with washing machine and bathroom is that they're on the north side of the building, far from the solar panels. We could go to a laundromat but there are none in town. A pedal powered washing machine requires space that we don't have.

    The laser printer could be operated with an inverter, which can also be handy to power any other occasional device that doesn't run on 12V DC power. However, a relatively large and expensive inverter would be needed, because the startup power of the machine is above 400 watts. Luckily, I found that out before I fried another costly device.

    5. Before You Start

    There are some things to keep in mind before you decide to install a low-tech solar PV system:
    • You need enough sun. Solar panels on balconies and window ledges won't work everywhere. A similar system like mine, but 1,000 km further up north, would produce on average only half the electricity, with a much larger difference between winter and summer.
    • You need the right exposure. Even if you're in a sunny climate, don't think of harvesting solar power if windows or balconies are oriented towards the north, the northwest, or the northeast. Shading by other buildings or trees can also smother your ambitions. You need at least 4 hours of direct sunshine on the panels each day.
    • You need to be prepared to lower your energy use. Few apartment dwellers will have enough space available to generate sufficient solar power for an energy-intensive lifestyle.
    • It may be impossible to close some windows completely. The cables from the panels enter my apartment by slightly opening the sliding window of the office. In winter, I cover this gap with cork. I don't use heating so no energy gets lost, but this might be problematic in other circumstances. You probably shouldn't drill a hole through the window or the wall if you are renting the place.
    • Converting your apartment to solar power doesn't make you "100% sustainable". Fossil fuels are used to produce solar panels and batteries. The electricity I generate is likely more CO2-intensive per kWh than Spanish grid electricity, especially since my panels and batteries are manufactured in China. The only reason why my system is more sustainable than using grid electricity is because it forces me to lower electricity use considerably.

    Notes & Sources:
    [1] Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2014 (PDF), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), January 2015

    [2] Photovoltaic System Pricing Trends: Historical, Recent, and Near-Term Projections (PDF), 2014 Edition, SunShot, U.S. Departmennt of Energy, September 2014

    [3] Soft costs account for most of PV residential installation costs, PV Magazine, December 2013
    [4] Spain's Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Investment (SpringerBriefs in Energy), Pedro A. Prieto & Charles A. Hall, 2013

    [5] Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses (MIT Press), Vaclav Smil, 2015

    [6] Provided that total power use is below 100-150 watts (which corresponds to between 8 and 12 ampère for a 12V system). Also make sure to properly fuse your solar PV system to avoid electric fires.

    [7] Laptop use is further complicated by the laptop battery. If the battery is not 100% charged, the computer will automatically try to charge it when you connect it to the solar system. However, power use of the laptop triples during charging, and unless there is full sun on the panels my system refuses to provide this amount of power. I "solved" this by keeping the battery 100% charged.

    [8] There is interesting academic research about the relationship between energy infrastructures and energy demand, which we will discuss in a forthcoming article.

    [9] Note that most energy use of a laptop is in the manufacturing. Switching to a more energy-efficient laptop isn't always a sustainable choice. Buying a second-hand device could be a solution.

    Real EROEI for photovoltaic

    By Ugo Bardi on 23 May 2016 for Cassandra's Legacy -

    Image above: Array of PV panels erected in 1984 and functional for over thirty years with about 10% loss of efficiency. From original article.

    Some time ago, a colleague of mine told me the story of when he had been in charge of the installation of one of the first photovoltaic plants in Italy, in 1984 (shown in the figure, on the right). He told me that, shortly after the installation, a high-ranking politician came to visit the plant. As a demonstration, my colleague connected the plant output to an electric heater, lighting up the internal heating elements.

    The politician refused to believe that the heater was being powered by the PV plant. "There has to be a trick," he said, "this is not possible. It must be a scam." My colleague tried to describe to him how PV cells work, but imagine trying to explain quantum mechanics to a politician! Apparently, he left still unconvinced.

    More than 30 years have passed from the installation of that old plant, but the general attitude about photovoltaic energy doesn't seem to have changed a lot. Not that people think that photovoltaic is a scientific hoax in the same league as the many proposals about such things as "free energy" or "cold fusion" (or maybe yes).

    But it seems that many people just can't believe that those small blue things can produce energy in any significant amount. Come on: in order to produce energy you need an engine, a boiler, a smokestack, a turbine, something like that.....

    Indeed, most of the current discussions on photovoltaic energy seem to turn around one or another kind of legend. The most recent one seems to be that photovoltaics has a low energy return (EROI or EROEI), sometimes said to be even smaller than one. If it were true, it would mean that photovoltaic plants are not producing energy, they are just consuming it!

    But it is not true. It is just one more example of confirmation bias: cherry-picking the data that confirm one's pre-conceived ideas.

    It is true that you can find a few studies (very few) that look serious (perhaps) and that maintain that PV has a low EROI. However, in a recent study, Bhandari et al. (1)⁠ surveyed 231 articles on photovoltaic technologies, finding that, under average Southern European irradiation, the mean EROI of the most common PV technology (polycrystalline Si) was about 11-12.

    Other technologies (e.g. CdTe) were found to have even better EROIs. Maybe these values are still lower than those of some fossil fuels, but surely not much lower (if they are lower) and a far cry from the legend of the "EROI smaller than one" that's making the rounds on the Web.

    Then, if you are worried about another common legend, the one that says that PV cells degrade rapidly, think that those of the plant described at the beginning of this article were found to be still working after 30 years of operation, having lost just about 10% of their initial efficiency!

    In addition, consider that the most common kind of cells use only common elements of the earth's crust: silicon and aluminum (and a little silver, but that's not essential). What can you ask more from a technology that's efficient, sustainable, and long lasting?

    All that doesn't mean that a world powered by renewable energy will come for free. On the contrary, it will take a very large financial effort if we want to create it before it is too late to avoid a climate disaster (quantitative calculations here). But a better world is possible if we really want it.