Peak oil means peak food

SUBHEAD: "Optimism" is the problem, not the solution.
By Michael Lardelli on 13 July 2009 in ON LINE opinion Optimism about our future is compulsory. It is politically incorrect to profess anything else. No matter what problems we face - ecological overshoot, global warming, energy decline, overpopulation - we must nevertheless be optimistic and hopeful that we will find solutions.
People who do not believe that we will overcome our difficulties and continue ever upwards on a path of continuing economic growth and progress are "doomers". They spruik "doomer porn". They utter their nonsense because they hate the human race. If we fail and fall it will be their fault for being so pessimistic! They are undermining our resolve and ability to respond. Human ingenuity can always find a way if we only believe it!
image above: "New Dustbowl Blues by Heather Watts
I like to think of myself as a scientist (but that is always for others to judge). For a scientist the principal we hold most dear is objectivity. We must try to interpret data without superimposing our own beliefs, values or desires upon it. Even when it tells us what we do not want to believe. Even when the data make us sick to the pits of our stomachs with terror. I am pessimistic about the future because I have seen and understood the data on resources. I know that oil production peaked in July 2008. (I have seen the unpublished reanalysis of the International Energy Agency’s own 2008 report that shows this conclusively.) I know that our use of other resources - such as water and phosphate - is critically unsustainable. Now that energy is declining there will not be enough to invest in building the alternative energy future that many of us dream of. The nature of our economic/political system means that the declining fossil energy supply will go to the shorter term priorities of growing food, supporting armies and maintaining (as far as possible) the comfortable lifestyles of an ever-contracting circle of the wealthy. The time needed to build any form of alternative energy infrastructure - and the scale of the expansion needed in the face of the current and worsening energy decline - mean that it will simply never happen. If I am so pessimistic, why do I bother writing about it? What good does it do? As a scientist I know that you must understand a problem in order to solve it. To have any chance of coping with this developing disaster we need to see it for what it truly is - not pretend that it does not exist (for example, the population problem) or that it will never happen (for example, peak oil). If we do not understand the true nature of the problem the "solutions" we attempt may make the problem worse. Like supporting future population growth through more efficient use of resources. Or growing biofuels on marginal land without considering how you will replace the soil nutrients they deplete. Or planning to electrify of the car fleet without considering the load that will place on an overstretched grid or where the energy and materials will come from to maintain the road network it requires. If we objectively understand our true situation and what, feasibly, we can do about it then we can take appropriate action and not waste our precious remaining fossil energy on optimistic - but ultimately futile - "solutions". We will not end up where we want to be (there will be no return to the peak of the oil age and the extravagant technologies it supported) but we may avoid falling the entire distance to the brutal bottom of the energy curve that awaits. "Optimism" is the problem, not the solution. We use it as an excuse to avoid thinking about the desperate measures we must take to cope with what is coming. We use it to put off actually doing anything. As long as Dr X, CEO Y or Minister Z says, "I’m optimistic that we will develop new energy sources" then we can go back to sleep because someone is obviously taking care of the problem - aren’t they? When Einstein and Szilárd wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II warning about German interest in uranium and nuclear fission (the letter that ultimately spawned the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb) they did not do it because they felt, "optimistic" about the future. They were shit scared the Germans would develop nuclear weapons first! Winston Churchill did not rally the British saying, "I’m optimistic we will develop new solutions to the Nazi problem". Rather, he declared, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat … It is victory, victory at all costs, … however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival". Today we are often told we need a new "Manhattan Project" for alternative energy but we will never make the sacrifices necessary for this in our already worsening economic situation if we are not truly, deeply fearful of the consequences of failure. Only fear - not optimism - can motivate populations sufficiently when they are already struggling with rising food prices, falling incomes and unemployment. Tragically, our sensationalist media also know that fear grabs people’s attention. Our collective crisis fatigue is now so great that we ignore truly significant threats such as climate change and energy decline. Our anxiety is diverted into worrying whether it’s safe for our children to step outside the 4WD (SUV). But soon we will be worrying if we can find or afford to put food in their mouths. Declining oil and water supplies, climate change and increasing population numbers are undermining Australia’s food security. We who formerly prided ourselves on our ability to feed other nations have now become a net importer of fruit and vegetables. Statistical stupidity by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) has led us to believe we export 80 per cent of our agricultural production. However, as Mark McGovern of the Queensland University of Technology has shown, in fact we export less than 30 per cent. This may not sound like much of a difference but it means that instead of producing 400 per cent more food than we ourselves consume it is less than 40 per cent! What will we do as energy decline, water shortages and climate change drastically cut our food production - or as our current record population growth rate doubles Australia’s population within 37 years - or both! As other nations struggle to feed themselves, who will feed us?
My grandmother was a refugee during World War II in Europe. She would skip her meagre rations to give her toddler daughter (my mother) more to eat. Unlike most Australians, she knew real hunger! Australia needs a "Manhattan Project" for local, sustainable food production. But it will take unaffordable staples, empty shelves at the supermarkets and empty middle-class stomachs before we wake up to our food insecurity. Optimism will not put food on the table as oil, water and fertiliser dwindle. I’m shit scared of the future and what it means for my two children. How about you?

Kauai 2020 Water Vision

SUBHEAD: New Kauai county water manager eyes the future implementation of the 2020 Plan. By Michael Levine on 08 July 2009 in The Garden Island The county Department of Water could soon issue bonds to conduct more than $120 million in system replacements and expansions with an eye on the 2020 Plan put in place at the start of the decade, new Manager and Chief Engineer David Craddick said Tuesday. Among the projects being considered is a “horizontal bore” into Wai‘ale‘ale from a valley adjacent to the “Blue Hole” area mauka of Wailua, which could provide substantial water to the greater Lihu‘e area using gravity instead of electricity, Craddick said in an interview at his Lihu‘e office. image above: Wailua Falls. Photo by Juan Wilson “Everything we can get out quickly, we should do,” Craddick said, noting that many projects to bring deficient systems up to standards and improve limited storage capacity and sources are already in the design phase and could conceivably be underway within a year. The department “should take advantage of a slow construction market,” he said. Craddick, who formerly worked on water systems in Maui County and in Guam and was appointed by the Board of Water Supply in May, said he had two lists of projects — line replacements on existing systems totaling some $64 million and expansions to those systems totaling some $62 million. A bond issuance may end up in front of the County Council, but would not necessarily include all of the improvements immediately. The Department of Water is in a unique position — it is part of the county government but because it generates its own revenue through water charges and doesn’t rely on taxes, it enjoys a certain level of autonomy. “We’re a non-profit organization,” Craddick said, noting that all collected revenue that is not spent on salaries, electricity and routine maintenance goes into replacing and upgrading the water system. The department is the largest user of electricity in the county, but an energy efficiency study recently discussed by the Cost Control Commission would likely not apply to the Department of Water, just as a similar decade-long contract that was authored in the 1990s did not. Asked about the lack of government oversight of the department’s electricity purchases, Craddick said with a smile, “They do have full control. They just have to stop drinking water and the energy bill will go down. ”The department’s cost of power adjustment rate increased by 3 cents per 1,000 gallons on July 1. According to a June press release announcing the increase, $2.9 million, 17 percent of the department’s operating costs, was spent on energy last year. Water sales revenue totaled $17.2 million. Also last month, the department sent out Water Quality Reports to users of each of the island’s 11 water systems. The reports contain information including water source, contaminant levels and compliance with drinking water rules. The reports were required by the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, according to a press release. “Our goal is to provide the best water we can with the money we have,” Craddick said. “We don’t do a whole lot more than meeting EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requirements, but even meeting EPA requirements is better than bottled water.” Craddick and a half-dozen deputies, including two who conduct extensive testing on county water for biological and chemical contaminants, all said they drink tap water, not bottled water, at home. A water cooler was not seen in the office’s common area, but a water fountain was. “Once you open bottled water, within 24 hours, you wouldn’t want to drink it,” Craddick said, adding that even carbon filters can do more harm than good if they are not changed regularly. For more information, call the Department of Water at 245-5455 or visit [Editor's note: the above news article and my recent meeting with David Craddick specifically about using gravity flow instead of electricity, indicate that he understands the nexus of energy and water, and the importance of getting off oil. The following article explains the intricate and increasingly vital links between energy and water, both in the United States, and the world.] Trends and Policy Issues For The Nexus of Energy and Water Testimony of Michael E. Webber, Ph.D. SUBHEAD: The testimony to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources United States Senate by Professor Michael Webber, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Director, Center for International Energy & Environmental Policy at The University of Texas at Austin. By Michael E. Webber on 03 March 2009 in The Oil Drum Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you so much for the invitation to speak before your committee on the nexus of energy and water. My name is Michael Webber, and I am the Associate Director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. I appear here today to share with you my perspective on important trends and policy issues related to this nexus. My testimony today will make four main points: 1. Energy and water are interrelated, 2. The energy-water relationship is already under strain, 3. Trends imply these strains will be exacerbated, and 4. There are different policy actions that can help. I will briefly elaborate on each of these points during this testimony. Energy and Water Are Interrelated Energy and water are interrelated: we use energy for water, and we use water for energy. For example, we use energy to heat, treat and move water. Water heating alone is responsible for 9% of residential electricity consumption in the U.S. And, nationwide, water and wastewater treatment and distribution combined require about 3% of the nation’s electricity. However, regionally, that number can be much higher. In California, where water is moved hundreds of miles across two mountain ranges, water is responsible for approximately 15% of the state’s total electricity consumption. Similarly large investments of energy for water occurs wherever water is scarce and energy is available. In addition to using energy for water, we also use water for energy. We use water directly through hydroelectric power generation at major dams, indirectly as a coolant for thermoelectric power plants, and as a critical input for the production of biofuels. The thermoelectric power sector—comprised of power plants that use heat to generate power, including those that operate on nuclear, coal, natural gas or biomass fuels—is the single largest user of water in the United States. Cooling of power plants is responsible for the withdrawal of nearly 200 billion gallons of water per day. This use accounts for 49% of all water withdrawals in the nation when including saline withdrawals, and 39% of all freshwater withdrawals, which is about the same as for agriculture. On average, anywhere between 1 to 40 gallons of water is needed for cooling for every kilowatt-hour of electricity that is generated. However, while power plants withdraw vast amounts of water, very little of that water is actually consumed; most of the water is returned to the source though at a different temperature and with a different quality. Thus, while power plants are major users of water, they are not major consumers of water, which is in contrast with the agriculture sector, which consumes all the water it withdraws. The Energy-Water Relationship Is Already Under Strain Unfortunately, the energy-water relationship introduces vulnerabilities whereby constraints of one resource introduces constraints in the other. For example, during the heat wave in France in 2003 that was responsible for approximately 10,000 deaths, nuclear power plants in France had to reduce their power output because of the high inlet temperatures of the cooling water. Environmental regulations in France (and the United States) limit the rejection temperature of power plant cooling water to avoid ecosystem damage from thermal pollution (e.g. to avoid cooking the plants and animals in the waterway). When the heat wave raised river temperatures, the nuclear power plants could not achieve sufficient cooling within the environmental limits, and so they reduced their power output at a time when electricity demand was spiking by residents turning on their air conditioners. In this case, a water resource constraint became an energy constraints. In addition to heat waves, droughts can also strain the energy-water relationship. During the drought in the southeastern United States in early 2008, nuclear power plants were within weeks of shutting down because of limited water supplies. Today in the west, a severe multi-year drought has lowered water levels behind Hoover Dam, introducing the risk that Las Vegas will lose a substantial portion of its drinking water at the same time the dam’s hydroelectric turbines quit spinning, which would cut off a significant source of power for Los Angeles. In addition, power outages hamper the ability for the water/wastewater sector to treat and distribute water. Thus, strain in the energy-water nexus is very real in the United States and is here today. It is important to note that while constraints in one resource introduce constraints on the other, the corollary of that relationship is also true. That is, both resources can be enabling for the other: with unlimited energy, we could have unlimited freshwater; with unlimited water, we could have unlimited energy. Trends Imply These Strains Will Be Exacerbated While the energy-water relationship is already under strain today, trends imply that the strain will be exacerbated unless we take appropriate action. There are four key pieces to this overall trend: 1. Population growth, which drives up total demand for energy and water, 2. Economic growth, which can drive up per capita demand for both energy and water, 3. Climate change, which intensifies the hydrological cycle, and 4. Policy choices, whereby we are choosing to move towards more energy-intensive water and more water-intensive energy. Population Growth Will Put Upward Pressure on Demand for Energy & Water Population growth over the next few decades might yield another 100 million people in the United States over the next four decades, each of whom will need energy and water to survive and prosper. This fundamental demographic trend puts upward pressure on demand for both resources, thereby potentially straining the energy-water relationship further. Economic Growth Will Put Upward Pressure on Per Capita Demand for Energy & Water On top of underlying trends for population growth is an expectation for economic growth. Because personal energy and water consumption tend to increase with affluence, there is the risk that the per capita demand for energy and water will increase due to economic growth. For example, as people become wealthier they tend to eat more meat (which is very water intensive), and use more energy and water to air condition large homes or irrigate their lawns. Also, as societies become richer, they often demand better environmental conditions, which implies they will spend more energy on wastewater treatment. However, it’s important to note that the use of efficiency and conservation measures can occur alongside economic growth, thereby counteracting the nominal trend for increased per capita consumption of energy and water. At this point, looking forward, it is not clear whether technology, efficiency and conservation will continue to mitigate the upward pressure on per capita consumption that are a consequence of economic growth. Thus, it’s possible that the United States will have a compounding effect of increased consumption per person on top of a growing number of people. Climate Change Is Likely To Intensify Hydrological Cycles One of the important ways climate change will manifest itself it through an intensification of the global hydrological cycle. This intensification is likely to mean more frequent and severe droughts and floods along with distorted snowmelt patterns. Because of these changes to the natural water system, it is likely we will need to spend more energy storing, moving, treating and producing water. For example, as droughts strain existing water supplies, cities might consider production from deeper aquifers, poorer-quality sources that require desalination, or long-haul pipelines to get the water to its final destination. Las Vegas, San Diego and Dallas are already considering some version of these options, all of which are extremely energy-intensive. Desalination in particular is alarming because it is approximately ten times more energy-intensive than production from surface freshwater sources such as rivers and lakes. Some areas are considering a combination of desalination plus long-haul pipelines, which has a compounding effect for energy use. Policy Choices Exacerbate Strain in the Energy-Water Nexus On top of the prior three trends is a policy-driven movement towards more energy-intensive water and water-intensive energy. We are moving towards more energy-intensive water because of increasingly strict treatment standards for water and wastewater, which requires more energy than traditional approaches that met prior standards. In addition, instead of a push for water efficiency and conservation, many municipalities are pushing for new supplies of water starting with sources that are farther away and lower quality, and thereby require more energy to get them to the right quality and location. For a variety of reasons, including the desire to produce a higher proportion of our energy from domestic sources and to decarbonize our energy system, many of our preferred energy choices are more water-intensive. For example, nuclear energy is produced domestically, but is also more water-intensive than other forms of power generation. The move towards more water-intensive energy is especially relevant for transportation fuels such as unconventional fossil fuels (oil shale, coal-to-liquids, gas-to-liquids, tar sands), electricity, hydrogen, and biofuels, all of which can require significantly more water to produce than gasoline (depending on how you produce them). It is important to note that the push for renewable electricity also includes solar photovoltaics and wind power, which require very little water, and so not all future energy choices are worse from a water-perspective. Almost all unconventional fossil fuels are more water-intensive than domestic, conventional gasoline production. While gasoline might require a few gallons of water for every gallon of fuel that is produced, the unconventional fossil sources are typically a few times more water-intensive. Electricity for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) or electric vehicles (EVs) are appealing because they are clean at the vehicle’s end-use and it’s easier to scrub emissions at hundreds of smokestacks millions of tailpipes. However, powerplants use a lot of cooling water, and consequently electricity can also be about twice as water-intensive than gasoline per mile traveled if the electricity is generated from the standard U.S. grid. If that electricity is generated from wind or other water-free sources, then it will be less water-consumptive than gasoline. Hydrogen can also be more water-intensive than gasoline, depending on how it is produced. If made from steam methane reforming or electrolysis from water-free electrical sources such as wind, then hydrogen is no worse than gasoline (and potentially much better). However, if hydrogen is made from electrolysis using electricity from the standard U.S. grid, then producing hydrogen might consume more than 25 gallons of water and withdraw more than 1000 gallons for every gallon of gasoline equivalent energy that is produced. Though unconventional fossil fuels, electricity and hydrogen are all potentially more water-intensive than conventional gasoline by up to a factor of 10 or so, biofuels are particularly water-intensive. Growing biofuels consumes more than 1000 gallons of water for every gallon of fuel that is produced. Sometimes this water is provided naturally from rainfall, however for a non-trivial proportion of our biofuels production, irrigation is used. Irrigated biofuels from corn or soy can consume twenty or more gallons of water for every mile traveled. Note that for the sake of analysis and regulation, it is convenient to consider the water requirements per mile traveled. Doing so incorporates the energy density of the final fuels plus the efficiency of the engines, motors or fuel cells with which they are compatible. If we compare the water requirements per mile traveled with projections for future transportation miles and combined those figures with mandates for the use of new fuels, such as biofuels, the water impacts are startling. Water consumption might go up from approximately one trillion gallons of water per year to make gasoline (with ethanol as an oxygenate), to a few trillion gallons of water per year. To put this water consumption into context, each year the United States consumes about 36 trillion gallons of water. Consequently, it is possible that water consumption for transportation will more than double from less than 3% of national use to more than 7% of national use. In a time when we are already facing water constraints, it is not clear we have the water to pursue this path. Essentially we are deciding to switch from foreign oil to domestic water for our transportation fuels, and while that might be a good decision for strategic purposes, I advise that we first make sure we have the water. There are Different Policy Actions That Can Help Because there are many rivers, watersheds, basins and aquifers that span several states and/or countries, there is a need for federal engagement on energy-water issues. Unfortunately, there are some policy pitfalls at the energy-water nexus. For example, energy and water policymaking are disaggregated. The funding and oversight mechanisms are separate, and there are a multitude of agencies, committees, and so forth, none of which have clear authority. It is not unusual for water planners to assume they have all the energy they need and for energy planners to assume they have the water they need. If their assumptions break down, it could cause significant problems. In addition, the hierarchy of policymaking is dissimilar. Energy policy is formulated in a top-down approach, with powerful federal energy agencies, while water policy is formulated in a bottom-up approach, with powerful local and state water agencies. Furthermore, the data on water quantity are sparse, error-prone, and inconsistent. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted its last survey on water consumption in 1995 and its last published data on water withdrawals are from 2000. National databases of water use for power plants contain errors, possibly due to differences in the units, format and definitions between state and federal reporting requirements. For example, the definitions for water use, withdrawal and consumption are not always clear. And, water planners in the east use “gallons” and water planners in the west use “acre-feet,” introducing additional risk for confusion or mistakes. Despite the potential pitfalls, there are policy opportunities at the energy-water nexus. For example, water conservation and energy conservation are synonymous. Policies that promote water conservation also achieve energy conservation. Policies that promote energy conservation also achieve water conservation. It is my opinion that robust energy and water policies should begin with conservation because of the cascading cross-over benefits they offer. Thankfully, the federal government has some effective policy levers at its disposal. I recommend the following policy actions for the energy-water nexus: ►1. Collect, maintain and make available accurate, updated and comprehensive water data, possibly through the USGS. The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration maintains an extensive database of accurate, up-to-date and comprehensive information on energy production, consumption, trade, and price available with temporal and geographic resolution and standardized units. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent set of data for water. Consequently, analysts, policymakers and planners lack suitable data to make informed decisions. ►2. Establish federal oversight for water quantity. The Environmental Protection Agency has oversight of water quality, but it’s not clear if any agency has oversight of water quantity. ►3. Establish strict standards in building codes for water efficiency. Building codes should include revised standards for low-flow appliances, water-heating efficiency, purple-piping for reclaimed water, rain barrels and so forth in order to reduce both water and energy consumption. ►4. Invest heavily in water-related R&D to match recent increases in energy-related R&D. R&D investments are an excellent policy option for the federal government because state/local governments and industry usually are not in a position to adequately invest in research. Consequently, the amount of R&D in the water sector is much lower than for other sectors such as pharmaceuticals, technology, or energy. Furthermore, since energy-related R&D is expected to go through a surge in funding, it would be appropriate from the perspective of the energy-water nexus to raise water-related R&D in a commensurate way. Topics for R&D include low-energy water treatment, novel approaches to desalination, remote leak detectors for water infrastructure, and air-cooling systems for power plants. In addition, DoE’s R&D program for biofuels should emphasize feedstocks such as cellulosic sources or algae that do note require freshwater irrigation. ►5. Support the use of reclaimed water at powerplants, industry and agriculture. Using reclaimed water for powerplants, industry and agriculture spares a significant amount of energy. However there are financing, regulatory and permitting hurdles in place that restrict this option. ►6. Rethink water markets. Water is widely expected to be free and unlimited, even though water is a limited resource that we should value highly. Consequently, it is worthwhile to consider implementing water markets that balance our competing needs to meet our social justice and human rights goals (that is, everyone needs water to survive, whether rich or poor), while also meeting our need to discourage water waste through high prices. Block pricing, whereby the first amount of water usage is cheap or free in order to meet our survival needs, after which the price escalates significantly in order to curtail water use for non-critical purposes, might be a fruitful approach. The energy-water nexus is a complicated, important issue, and so I am very pleased to know that you are being attentive to the matter. Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony. I’ll be pleased to answer questions at the appropriate time. see also: The Implications of Biofuel for Water Supplies CERA: Water and Energy in the 21st Century The Water Intensity of Transportation Water For Food - Swedish Research Council Water Demand for Global Bio-Energy Production

Sunshine or Sunset on Kauai

SUBHEAD: Kaua'i County Council online Minutes are now searchable and cut-and-pasteable, but not current.
By Brad Parsons on 9 July 2009 in Aoloa Analytics A second insightful letter to the editor, by a librarian, on July 7th commented on the initial Minutes up on the Kaua'i County Council website were image files only, not OCR, not cut-and-pasteable, and not searchable. The next day, July 8th, I was in a Council Member's office and we noticed that that had been changed on July 8th and the Council Minutes on the public website are now OCR, searchable, and can be cut-and-pasted. I noticed later, though, that the minutes online to the public are only through June 3rd, not anything from the two meetings nor committee meetings since then even though the Minutes have been created at a minimum from the mid-June Council Meeting already.
image above: Sunset over Hanapepe Heights from the valley. Photo by Juan Wilson Additionally, the public still expects action on all three goals listed at including allowing all Councilmembers to place items on the Council agenda and circulating Council Service documents equitably to all Councilmembers in a timely manner, something that can be seen is not being done just by the date stamps on the few Minutes posted at Below was the second excellent letter to the editor in addition to Ed Coll's on this matter: Public Deserves Real Accessibility By David Thorpe on 7 July 2009 in the Garden Island News
I am a librarian. I know how crucial making important information readily accessible to citizens is to sustaining democracy. I would like to expand on Ed Coll’s July 4 letter in The Garden Island. He makes it clear that reporter Michael Levine’s contention in his July 3 article “Council minutes posted online” that “it appears one major gripe has been rectified” is incorrect. Mr. Coll is absolutely right that in making key public documents available on the county’s Web site, mere accessibility is not enough. These online documents need to be useful, easy to use, and searchable. Council staff’s scanning printed minutes to create image files, and then converting these to Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format does little to really enhance their accessibility to the public. As Mr. Coll says: you can’t copy and paste parts of the document to use in writing testimony; you can’t search it. You also cannot search for the documents by keyword on the county’s Web site like you can for those from other county commissions, boards, and departments. The council needs to follow the example of other county agencies and put documents online the modern way — converting digital text files to .pdf files. This process takes seconds and the online documents created are so much more useful to the public, and can get put online faster. The public deserves real accessibility to council public documents. The actions described in the article will not achieve this goal. A few meeting minutes, recap memos and agenda outlines do not constitute real accessibility. To really give the public the information it requires to effectively participate in public decision making, a lot more types of documents need to be posted online: full agenda packets and accompanying documents; the public testimony and correspondence, full text of resolutions, bills and committee reports, relating to each agenda item; and full text departmental staff reports on topics before the council or Planning Commission (plus documents like permit applications and draft EISs and EAs). The county’s IT specialist, Eric Knutzen, has said that the administration is about to start posting and even doing live video streaming of the meetings of the planning and police commissions. These files would be enhanced to allow searching by topic when the saved videos are posted online. The technology is here now, or will soon be, to have streaming video of live council meetings — and why not have the meetings shown live on Ho‘ike. That’s real open and transparent government. Other counties in Hawai‘i are offering their citizens online access to all or most of the documents and files I have listed above. Kaua‘i County departments, boards and commissions have been posting a host of documents online for awhile now. Why not the Council? Is it that the council chair and council clerk fear that ready public access to council documents online will lessen their power? That’s not a valid reason. It’s also a violation of the state’s Uniform Information Practices Act. These documents belong to the public. They will be used to make decisions that will impact our lives and the lives of future generations. We have a right to have ready access to these documents, so we can effectively participate in decision making that affects all of us.
see also Island Breath Golden Oldies on Council Scerecy:

Full Spectrum Dominance

SUBHEAD: For the faction controlling the Pentagon, the military industry, and the oil industry, the Cold War never ended. By William Engdahl on 5 July 2009 in YouTube For the faction controlling the Pentagon, the military industry, and the oil industry, the Cold War never ended. They engineered an incredible plan to grab total control of the planet, of land, sea, air, space, outer space and cyberspace. Continuing ‘below the radar,’ they created a global network of military bases and conflicts to advance the long-term goal of Full Spectrum Dominance. Methods included control of propaganda, use of NGOs for regime change, Color Revolutions to advance NATO eastwards, and a vast array of psychological and economic warfare techniques.
image above: Diagram illustrating Full Spectrum Dominance.
From They even used ’save the gorilla’ organizations in Africa to secretly run arms in to create wars for raw materials. It was all part of a Revolution in Military Affairs, as they termed it. The events of September 11, 2001 would allow an American President to declare a worldwide War on Terror, on an enemy who was everywhere, and nowhere. 9/11 justified the Patriot Act, the very act that destroyed Americans’ Constitutional freedoms in the name of security. This book gives a disturbing look at the strategy of Full Spectrum Dominance, at what is behind a strategy that could lead us into a horrific nuclear war in the very near future, and at the very least, to a world at continuous war.
see also:

Russian Gardeners

SOURCE: Shannon Rudolph (
SUBHEAD: A growing number of people believe that Russian gardeners, or dachniks, hold keys to the planetary survival.

Image above: A "commune" of Russian dachniks in front of shared housing on 7/27/08.From

By Dr. Leonid Sharashkin on 10 July 2009 for Primary Agriculture -
Organic gardeners outcompete industrial farmers

Why is this the case?
Simply because on their minuscule plots of what was formerly marginal unproductive land, tens of millions of Russian families now grow more food than the total of the country's commercial agriculture.

They require no government subsidies, are not dependent on fossil fuels or machinery, use predominantly organic growing methods, and are fabulously productive, while at the same time upholding the millennia-old tradition of living in union with Mother Earth.

Russian gardeners' example shows that an agriculture based on the ideals of beauty, permanence, and non-violence is practicable on the national scale even in the industrially developed countries.

Groundbreaking new research
Forthcoming in August 2008, "Family Gardens: Russia's Primary Agriculture" by Dr. Leonid Sharashkin presents what is probably the first comprehensive study of the monumental economic, social, and cultural significance of Russia's vast permaculture movement.

Far from being an abstract theoretical study, Dr. Sharashkin's research is of crucial practical importance to anybody concerned with the future of humanity. Russia's unique family gardening practice offers a missing link to our understanding of how everybody can attain self-sufficiency while living a lifestyle gentle on the Earth.

Sharing the knowledge
The Earth gives so freely without asking anything in return. This is what we call the miracle of fertility. Believing that we can all benefit from following nature's own ways, Dr. Sharashkin is making his entire 300-page doctoral dissertation available for a free download from this website,

To download the PDF file (3 Mb) click here


A Delicate Undertaking

SUBHEAD: By the 1970s, America could no longer conceive of life without toilet paper.  

By Linda Rodriguez on 08 July 2009 in CNN

Image above: The new iPod bathroom accessory the iPoop. From

Since the dawn of time, people have found nifty ways to clean up after the bathroom act. The most common solution was simply to grab what was at hand: coconuts, shells, snow, moss, hay, leaves, grass, corncobs, sheep's wool -- and, later, thanks to the printing press -- newspapers, magazines, and pages of books.

The average American uses 57 squares a day and 50 pounds of toilet paper per year. The ancient Greeks used clay and stone; the Romans, sponges and salt water. But the idea of a commercial product designed solely to wipe one's bum? That started about 150 years ago, right here in the U.S.A. In less than a century, Uncle Sam's marketing genius turned something disposable into something indispensable.

Toilet paper gets on a roll
The first products designed specifically to wipe one's nethers were aloe-infused sheets of manila hemp dispensed from Kleenex-like boxes. They were invented in 1857 by a New York entrepreneur named Joseph Gayetty, who claimed his sheets prevented hemorrhoids. Gayetty was so proud of his therapeutic bathroom paper that he had his name printed on each sheet.

But his success was limited. Americans soon grew accustomed to wiping with the Sears Roebuck catalog, and they saw no need to spend money on something that came in the mail for free. Toilet paper took its next leap forward in 1890, when two brothers named Clarence and E. Irvin Scott popularized the concept of toilet paper on a roll.

The Scotts' brand became more successful than Gayetty's medicated wipes, in part because they built a steady trade selling toilet paper to hotels and drugstores. But it was still an uphill battle to get the public to openly buy the product, largely because Americans remained embarrassed by bodily functions.

In fact, the Scott brothers were so ashamed of the nature of their work that they didn't take proper credit for their innovation until 1902. "No one wanted to ask for it by name," says Dave Praeger, author of "Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product."

"It was so taboo that you couldn't even talk about the product." By 1930, the German paper company Hakle began using the tag line, "Ask for a roll of Hakle and you won't have to say toilet paper!"

As time passed, toilet tissues slowly became an American staple. But widespread acceptance of the product didn't officially occur until a new technology demanded it. At the end of the 19th century, more and more homes were being built with sit-down flush toilets tied to indoor plumbing systems.

And because people required a product that could be flushed away with minimal damage to the pipes, corncobs and moss no longer cut it. In no time, toilet paper ads boasted that the product was recommended by both doctors and plumbers.  

Strength of going soft
 In the early 1900s, toilet paper was still being marketed as a medicinal item. But in 1928, the Hoberg Paper Company tried a different tack. On the advice of its ad men, the company introduced a brand called Charmin and fitted the product with a feminine logo that depicted a beautiful woman. The genius of the campaign was that by evincing softness and femininity, the company could avoid talking about toilet paper's actual purpose.

Charmin was enormously successful, and the tactic helped the brand survive the Great Depression. (It also helped that, in 1932, Charmin began marketing economy-size packs of four rolls.)

Decades later, the dainty ladies were replaced with babies and bear cubs -- advertising vehicles that still stock the aisles today. By the 1970s, America could no longer conceive of life without toilet paper. Case in point: In December 1973, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked about a toilet paper shortage during his opening monologue.

But America didn't laugh. Instead, TV watchers across the country ran out to their local grocery stores and bought up as much of the stuff as they could. Also telling was that, in 1978, a TV Guide poll named Mr. Whipple --the affable grocer who implored customers, "Please don't squeeze the Charmin" -- the third best-known man in America, behind then President Richard Nixon and the Reverend Billy Graham.

Rolling the world
Currently, the United States spends more than $6 billion a year on toilet tissue -- more than any other nation in the world. Americans, on average, use 57 squares a day and 50 pounds a year. Even still, the toilet paper market in the United States has largely plateaued. The real growth in the industry is happening in developing countries.

There, it's booming. Toilet paper revenues in Brazil alone have more than doubled since 2004. The radical upswing in sales is believed to be driven by a combination of changing demographics, social expectations, and disposable income. "The spread of globalization can kind of be measured by the spread of Western bathroom practices," says Praeger.

When average citizens in a country start buying toilet paper, wealth and consumerism have arrived. It signifies that people not only have extra cash to spend, but they've also come under the influence of Western marketing.  

America without toilet paper?
Even as the markets boom in developing nations, toilet paper manufacturers find themselves needing to charge more per roll to make a profit. That's because production costs are rising. During the past few years, pulp has become more expensive, energy costs are rising, and even water is becoming scarce.

As the climate continues to change, toilet paper companies may need to keep hiking up their prices. The question is, if toilet paper becomes a luxury item, can Americans live without it? The truth is that we did live without it, for a very long time. And even now, a lot of people do. In Japan, the Washlet -- a toilet that comes equipped with a bidet and an air-blower -- is growing increasingly popular.

And all over the world, water remains one of the most common methods of self-cleaning. Many places in India, the Middle East, and Asia, for instance, still depend on a bucket and a spigot. But as our economy continues to circle the drain, will Americans part with their beloved toilet paper in order to adopt more money-saving measures?

Or will we keep flushing our cash away? Praeger, for one, believes a toilet-paper apocalypse is hardly likely. After all, the American marketing machine is a powerful thing.

A Delicate Undertaking

SUBHEAD: You can save virgin forest by using recycled toilet paper now and tie leaves someday soon.

By Bryan Walsh on 10 June 2009 for Time Magazine


Image above: Paper toilet made of toilet paper. From

No matter how green you think you are, there's probably one hallowed place where concern for the environment doesn't even enter your mind: the bathroom. It's almost certain that the roll of toilet paper you're using is made not of recycled fiber but from felled trees — often from North America's virgin forests, which are as rare as they are rich in wildlife. "The paper industry is the No. 1 industrial pressure on forests," says Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "Using toilet paper made from virgin trees is the paper-industry equivalent of driving a Hummer."

Americans don't need to use an SUV every time they go to the bathroom. Which helps explain why this spring a mainstream brand, Scott, started offering toilet paper made with 40% recycled fiber. Switching to such material could make a big difference: the NRDC estimates that if every household in the U.S. replaced just one 500-sheet roll of virgin-fiber TP a year with a roll made from 100% recycled paper, nearly 425,000 trees would be saved annually.

Hence Greenpeace's four-year-long campaign to pressure paper companies like Kimberly-Clark — which makes Kleenex, Scott and Cottonelle, among other brands — to stop cutting down virgin forests. Says Lindsey Allen, Greenpeace's forest campaigner:

"We know it's possible to act differently." It's possible — but few Americans are doing it. Toilet paper containing 100% recycled fiber makes up less than 2% of the U.S. market, while sales of three-ply luxury brands like Cottonelle Ultra and Charmin Ultra Soft shot up 40% in 2008.

Compare the U.S. desire for an ever plusher flush with the more austere bathroom habits of Europe and Latin America, where recycled TP makes up about 20% of the at-home market.

Recycled material simply can't match the level of comfort that virgin fiber provides — and that U.S. consumers have come to expect. "They won't go for a green product unless you can make it equal to or better than the conventional alternative," says Kimberly-Clark spokesman Dave Dickson. So is there a decent hybrid? Not from an environmental perspective.

Greenpeace isn't a fan of Scott's new Naturals line because less than half the toilet paper is recycled material — and because its manufacturer has yet to adopt a less toxic bleaching process. And the group is only lukewarm about Marcal's Small Steps, which is 100% recycled but contains less than 50% postconsumer material, i.e., the paper you recycle at the office as opposed to scraps from manufacturing and other sources that have never been processed into consumer goods. It's hard to argue against Greenpeace for taking such a hard line.

Yes, recycled TP is not the world's softest, but next time you're on the can, ask yourself whether it's really worth tapping an ancient forest to create the ultimate disposable product.

Westside levees in trouble

SUBHEAD: In regards to westside levees, the County should attend to safety of residents before subsidizing development. 
By Linda Harmon on 8 July 2009
image above: County has brought concrete blocks to Hanapepe River's edge in preparation for "repair" to deteriorating levee.  In the last few years  the base of the levee has been severely eroded. The Army Corps of Engineers may de-certify Waimea and Hanapepe levees if they are not properly rebuilt.  Photo by Juan Wilson.
To the Honorable Mayor and the County Council of Kauai;
I’m asking you to rethink the intention of spending some $6 million for Waimea expansion and upgrade of the Waimea Waste Water Treatment Plant( that was in the request to the State for matching funds).  I suggest this because neither the Waimea or the Hanapepe Levees have passed certification inspection this year. They require major upgrades. 
I would think they would have funding priority over the above mentioned project because lives and property are at stake.  I was told by the county engineer that they may not have or be able to procure enough money to bring the levees up to revised national standards of safety for future certification. 
July 8th or thereafter the council will consider a loan with the Hawaii Department  of Health from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to expand the Waimea waste water treatment plant. Seems to me we need to be asking for money for levee repair first.   This county engineer  will be calling a meeting to talk about insurance and safety issues in August after getting all the facts and some figures together regarding the levees issue. It was the Army Corps of Engineers that talked the County into building the levees and because the County built them to the specifications required back in the 60's (when standards were different) we have been granted provisional status for the time being.   The County  has to draw up a plan of how to shore up the levees and do the work required to get them certification in the future. Although the Corps of Engineers has given the county a grace period to come up with a plan, coming up with the funding required seems to be one of the big problems not yet faced.  The waste water treatment plant is primary for future development in the Waimea area. But why would we want to do more development in a place that is unsafe without an upgraded levee?  We can’t be assured there will be money avaible in the future for levee repairs. Certainly property taxes won’t bring in as much revenue as in the past and the State is hard hit as well. I bring this matter before you before you get started proposing spending money on the Waimea Waste Water Plant expansion  when community safety has not been assured for Waimea and Hanapepe.
Linda Harmon 
(808) 335-2737
image above: The County's work on the Hanapepe levee has recently included spraying pesticide on the embankments and cutting down the only tree (see palm stump) along the river. Photo by Juan Wilson.
see also:

The Bubble Machine

SUBHEAD: How Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression.
The Great American Bubble Machine By Matt Taibbi on 2 July 2009 in Rolling Stone In Rolling Stone Issue 1082-83, Matt Taibbi takes on "the Wall Street Bubble Mafia" — investment bank Goldman Sachs. The piece has generated controversy, with Goldman Sachs firing back that Taibbi's piece is "an hysterical compilation of conspiracy theories" and a spokesman adding, "We reject the assertion that we are inflators of bubbles and profiteers in busts, and we are painfully conscious of the importance in being a force for good." Taibbi shot back: "Goldman has its alumni pushing its views from the pulpit of the U.S. Treasury, the NYSE, the World Bank, and numerous other important posts; it also has former players fronting major TV shows. They have the ear of the president if they want it." Here, now, are excerpts from Matt Taibbi's piece and video of Taibbi exploring the key issues.
image above: View of Lower Manhattan financial district from Goldman Sachs New Jersey headquarters.
From The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. Any attempt to construct a narrative around all the former Goldmanites in influential positions quickly becomes an absurd and pointless exercise, like trying to make a list of everything. What you need to know is the big picture: If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain — an extremely unfortunate loophole in the system of Western democratic capitalism, which never foresaw that in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy. They achieve this using the same playbook over and over again. The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased. They've been pulling this same stunt over and over since the 1920s — and now they're preparing to do it again, creating what may be the biggest and most audacious bubble yet. See Taibbi discuss Goldman Sachs' big scam. The basic scam in the Internet Age is pretty easy even for the financially illiterate to grasp. Companies that weren't much more than pot-fueled ideas scrawled on napkins by up-too-late bong-smokers were taken public via IPOs, hyped in the media and sold to the public for megamillions. It was as if banks like Goldman were wrapping ribbons around watermelons, tossing them out 50-story windows and opening the phones for bids. In this game you were a winner only if you took your money out before the melon hit the pavement. It sounds obvious now, but what the average investor didn't know at the time was that the banks had changed the rules of the game, making the deals look better than they actually were. They did this by setting up what was, in reality, a two-tiered investment system — one for the insiders who knew the real numbers, and another for the lay investor who was invited to chase soaring prices the banks themselves knew were irrational. While Goldman's later pattern would be to capitalize on changes in the regulatory environment, its key innovation in the Internet years was to abandon its own industry's standards of quality control. Goldman's role in the sweeping global disaster that was the housing bubble is not hard to trace. Here again, the basic trick was a decline in underwriting standards, although in this case the standards weren't in IPOs but in mortgages. By now almost everyone knows that for decades mortgage dealers insisted that home buyers be able to produce a down payment of 10 percent or more, show a steady income and good credit rating, and possess a real first and last name. Then, at the dawn of the new millennium, they suddenly threw all that shit out the window and started writing mortgages on the backs of napkins to cocktail waitresses and ex-cons carrying five bucks and a Snickers bar. And what caused the huge spike in oil prices? Take a wild guess. Obviously Goldman had help — there were other players in the physical-commodities market — but the root cause had almost everything to do with the behavior of a few powerful actors determined to turn the once-solid market into a speculative casino. Goldman did it by persuading pension funds and other large institutional investors to invest in oil futures — agreeing to buy oil at a certain price on a fixed date. The push transformed oil from a physical commodity, rigidly subject to supply and demand, into something to bet on, like a stock. Between 2003 and 2008, the amount of speculative money in commodities grew from $13 billion to $317 billion, an increase of 2,300 percent. By 2008, a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed. See Matt Taibbi discuss Goldman Sachs' rolein the housing and internet busts. The history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled-dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates. By now, most of us know the major players. As George Bush's last Treasury secretary, former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson was the architect of the bailout, a suspiciously self-serving plan to funnel trillions of Your Dollars to a handful of his old friends on Wall Street. Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's former Treasury secretary, spent 26 years at Goldman before becoming chairman of Citigroup — which in turn got a $300 billion taxpayer bailout from Paulson. There's John Thain, the asshole chief of Merrill Lynch who bought an $87,000 area rug for his office as his company was imploding; a former Goldman banker, Thain enjoyed a multibillion-dollar handout from Paulson, who used billions in taxpayer funds to help Bank of America rescue Thain's sorry company. And Robert Steel, the former Goldmanite head of Wachovia, scored himself and his fellow executives $225 million in golden-parachute payments as his bank was self-destructing. There's Joshua Bolten, Bush's chief of staff during the bailout, and Mark Patterson, the current Treasury chief of staff, who was a Goldman lobbyist just a year ago, and Ed Liddy, the former Goldman director whom Paulson put in charge of bailed-out insurance giant AIG, which forked over $13 billion to Goldman after Liddy came on board. The heads of the Canadian and Italian national banks are Goldman alums, as is the head of the World Bank, the head of the New York Stock Exchange, the last two heads of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — which, incidentally, is now in charge of overseeing Goldman. But then, something happened. It's hard to say what it was exactly; it might have been the fact that Goldman's co-chairman in the early Nineties, Robert Rubin, followed Bill Clinton to the White House, where he directed the National Economic Council and eventually became Treasury secretary. While the American media fell in love with the story line of a pair of baby-boomer, Sixties-child, Fleetwood Mac yuppies nesting in the White House, it also nursed an undisguised crush on Rubin, who was hyped as without a doubt the smartest person ever to walk the face of the Earth, with Newton, Einstein, Mozart and Kant running far behind. Rubin was the prototypical Goldman banker. He was probably born in a $4,000 suit, he had a face that seemed permanently frozen just short of an apology for being so much smarter than you, and he exuded a Spock-like, emotion-neutral exterior; the only human feeling you could imagine him experiencing was a nightmare about being forced to fly coach. It became almost a national clichĂ© that whatever Rubin thought was best for the economy — a phenomenon that reached its apex in 1999, when Rubin appeared on the cover of Time with his Treasury deputy, Larry Summers, and Fed chief Alan Greenspan under the headline the committee to save the world. And "what Rubin thought," mostly, was that the American economy, and in particular the financial markets, were over-regulated and needed to be set free. During his tenure at Treasury, the Clinton White House made a series of moves that would have drastic consequences for the global economy — beginning with Rubin's complete and total failure to regulate his old firm during its first mad dash for obscene short-term profits. See Matt Taibbi run down Goldman Sachs graduates with government positions. After the oil bubble collapsed last fall, there was no new bubble to keep things humming — this time, the money seems to be really gone, like worldwide-depression gone. So the financial safari has moved elsewhere, and the big game in the hunt has become the only remaining pool of dumb, unguarded capital left to feed upon: taxpayer money. Here, in the biggest bailout in history, is where Goldman Sachs really started to flex its muscle. It began in September of last year, when then-Treasury secretary Paulson made a momentous series of decisions. Although he had already engineered a rescue of Bear Stearns a few months before and helped bail out quasi-private lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Paulson elected to let Lehman Brothers — one of Goldman's last real competitors — collapse without intervention. ("Goldman's superhero status was left intact," says market analyst Eric Salzman, "and an investment-banking competitor, Lehman, goes away.") The very next day, Paulson greenlighted a massive, $85 billion bailout of AIG, which promptly turned around and repaid $13 billion it owed to Goldman. Thanks to the rescue effort, the bank ended up getting paid in full for its bad bets: By contrast, retired auto workers awaiting the Chrysler bailout will be lucky to receive 50 cents for every dollar they are owed. Immediately after the AIG bailout, Paulson announced his federal bailout for the financial industry, a $700 billion plan called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and put a heretofore unknown 35-year-old Goldman banker named Neel Kashkari in charge of administering the funds. In order to qualify for bailout monies, Goldman announced that it would convert from an investment bank to a bank-holding company, a move that allows it access not only to $10 billion in TARP funds, but to a whole galaxy of less conspicuous, publicly backed funding — most notably, lending from the discount window of the Federal Reserve. By the end of March, the Fed will have lent or guaranteed at least $8.7 trillion under a series of new bailout programs — and thanks to an obscure law allowing the Fed to block most congressional audits, both the amounts and the recipients of the monies remain almost entirely secret. Converting to a bank-holding company has other benefits as well: Goldman's primary supervisor is now the New York Fed, whose chairman at the time of its announcement was Stephen Friedman, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs. Friedman was technically in violation of Federal Reserve policy by remaining on the board of Goldman even as he was supposedly regulating the bank; in order to rectify the problem, he applied for, and got, a conflict-of-interest waiver from the government. Friedman was also supposed to divest himself of his Goldman stock after Goldman became a bank-holding company, but thanks to the waiver, he was allowed to go out and buy 52,000 additional shares in his old bank, leaving him $3 million richer. Friedman stepped down in May, but the man now in charge of supervising Goldman — New York Fed president William Dudley — is yet another former Goldmanite. The collective message of all of this — the AIG bailout, the swift approval for its bank-holding conversion, the TARP funds — is that when it comes to Goldman Sachs, there isn't a free market at all. The government might let other players on the market die, but it simply will not allow Goldman to fail under any circumstances. Its edge in the market has suddenly become an open declaration of supreme privilege. "In the past it was an implicit advantage," says Simon Johnson, an economics professor at MIT and former official at the International Monetary Fund, who compares the bailout to the crony capitalism he has seen in Third World countries. "Now it's more of an explicit advantage." See Matt Taibbi discuss Goldman Sachs' powerful influence Fast-forward to today. It's early June in Washington, D.C. Barack Obama, a popular young politician whose leading private campaign donor was an investment bank called Goldman Sachs — its employees paid some $981,000 to his campaign — sits in the White House. Having seamlessly navigated the political minefield of the bailout era, Goldman is once again back to its old business, scouting out loopholes in a new government-created market with the aid of a new set of alumni occupying key government jobs. Gone are Hank Paulson and Neel Kashkari; in their place are Treasury chief of staff Mark Patterson and CFTC chief Gary Gensler, both former Goldmanites. (Gensler was the firm's co-head of finance.) And instead of credit derivatives or oil futures or mortgage-backed CDOs, the new game in town, the next bubble, is in carbon credits — a booming trillion- dollar market that barely even exists yet, but will if the Democratic Party that it gave $4,452,585 to in the last election manages to push into existence a groundbreaking new commodities bubble, disguised as an "environmental plan," called cap-and-trade. The new carbon-credit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that's been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won't even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.

Where Economics Fails

SUBHEAD: A failure to distinguish between primary and secondary goods is at the root of economic nonsense.
By John Michael Greer on 1 July 2009 in The Archdruid Report - It’s occurred to me more than once that we might be wise to set aside an annual weekend to mourn the death of Osiris or Persephone or Bladud the wind-god or some other divinity, as our pagan ancestors did, or as those Christians who still take the narratives of their faith seriously do each year on Good Friday. It might at least put a merciful end to the media’s frantic and macabre efforts to bestow a belated sainthood on each new member of the dead celebrities’ club, no matter how far from sanctity the trajectory of their lives might have been. Thus you’d be correct in guessing that I didn’t put much time this past weekend into paying attention to the media furore over the death of Michael Jackson. I was, instead, busy with my usual research. While tens of millions of people spent the weekend glued to their TVs reviewing the catastrophic fall from grace of an undeniably brilliant cultural phenomenon that achieved unparalleled success, and then was brought down by a supertanker-sized load of unresolved inner conflicts heated to crisis by a disastrous mismatch between an extravagant lifestyle and faltering income – well, I suppose that’s a fair description of what I was doing, too.
image above: Low grade ore pile in an Alaskan gold mine.
Still, the decline and fall of industrial civilization, that troubled and dysfunctional superstar still wobbling across the historical stage, can’t be tracked that effectively by taking in music videos or soundbite interviews. Instead, I spent the weekend reading through economics textbooks. “Thriller” is not exactly the word I’d use to describe these hefty tomes, but I’d recommend that anyone concerned with the future of our society ought to read at least one. This is not because current economic textbooks offer useful guidance to the challenges of our time. Quite the contrary; the world they describe is as imaginary as Oz, and rather less relevant to contemporary life. What makes them important is precisely that so many of the decision makers of our time treat this fantasy as reality. Understand current economic thought and you understand most of the mistakes that are dragging industrial civilization down to ruin. The Energy Information Administration (EIA), a branch of the US government, has become infamous in the peak oil scene over the last decade or so for publishing estimates of future petroleum production that have no relationship to geological reality. Their methodology, as described in EIA publications, was simply to estimate probable increases in demand, and then to assume that increased demand would automatically be met with a corresponding increase in supply. Quite a few peak oil writers have suggested some dark conspiracy behind this blithe disregard for the limits of a finite planet, but it takes only a few minutes’ worth of reading to identify the real culprit as the standard notion of the law of supply and demand taught in every first-year economics textbook today. According to this model of the world, the amount of any commodity available in a free market is controlled by the demand for that commodity. When consumers want more of a commodity than is available on the market, and are willing to pay more for it, the price of the commodity goes up; this provides an economic incentive for producers to produce more of the commodity, and so the amount of the commodity on the market goes up. Increased production sets an upper limit on price increases, since producers competing against one another will cut prices to gain market share, and the willingness of consumers to pay rising prices is also limited. Thus, in theory, the production and price of a commodity are set by a shifting balance between the desire of consumers to buy it and the desire of producers to make a profit from producing it. What makes the theory so seductive is that within certain limits, and in certain circumstances, it works tolerably well. The problem creeps in when economists lose track of the existence of those limits and circumstances, and this, to a remarkable degree, is exactly what they have done. To be fair, they had good reason to do so, because during the three-hundred-year boom that created the industrial world following the successful harnessing of fossil fuels, the limits rarely applied and the circumstances were far more often present than not. Among the most important roots of the current crisis, in turn, are the hard facts that the limits have begun to come into play, and the circumstances no longer exist. Let’s start with the obvious. Imagine that a plane full of investment bankers makes a forced landing in the Pacific close to a desert island. The island has no food, no water, and no shelter; it’s just a bare lump of rock and sand with a few salt-tolerant grasses on it. As the bankers struggle ashore from the sinking plane, the need for food, water, and shelter on that island is going to be considerable, but even if each of the bankers have a suitcase full of $134 billion dollars in bearer bonds – like those guys who were caught trying to enter Switzerland a little while back – that need is going to go unfilled, until and unless a ship arrives from somewhere else. The lesson here is simple: economics doesn’t trump physical reality. More generally, the theoretical relationship between supply and demand functions only when supply is not constrained by factors outside the economic sphere. The constraints in question can be physical: no matter how much money you’re willing to pay for a perpetual motion machine, for instance, you can’t have one, because the laws of thermodynamics don’t take bribes. They may be political: Nazi Germany had a large demand for oil from 1943 to 1945, for example, and the Allies had plenty of oil to sell, but anyone who assumed on that basis that a deal would be cut was in for a big disappointment. They may be technical: no matter how much you spend on health care, for instance, sooner or later it’s going to fail, because nobody’s yet been able to develop an effective treatment for death. Economists have come up with various workarounds to deal with external factors of this sort, some more convincing than others. Another set of factors that can crumple up the law of supply and demand and toss it into the wastebasket, though, has received far less attention. These are constraints that we might as well call “ecological,” and they unfold from the awkward fact that human economic activity is far less independent of the natural world than economists often try to pretend. The scale of this dependence is as rarely recognized as it is hard to overstate. One of the few attempts to quantify it, an attempt to work out the replacement costs for natural services carried out a few years back by a team headed by heretical economist Robert Costanza, came up with a midrange figure equal to around three times the gross domestic product of all human economic activity on earth. Out of every dollar of value circulating in the world’s economy, in other words, something like 75 cents were provided by natural processes rather than human labor. What’s more, most if not all of that 75 cents of value had to be there in advance in order for the production of the other 25 cents to be possible at all. Before you can begin farming, for example, you need to have arable soil, water, and an adequate growing season, as well as more specialized natural services such as pollination. These are nonnegotiable requirements; if you don’t have them, you can’t farm. The same is true of every other kind of productive work in the human economy: nature’s contribution comes first, and generally determines how much the human economy can produce. It’s for this reason that E.F. Schumacher, the maverick economist whose ideas are the launching pad for this series of posts, drew a hard distinction between what he called primary goods and secondary goods. Secondary goods are the goods and services provided by human labor, the ordinary subject of economic theory. Primary goods are the goods and services provided by nature, and they make the production of secondary goods possible. The difference between the two is very much like the difference between income and profit in a business: you have to have income in order to have profit, and if you neglect income while maximizing your profit, sooner or later you go bust. A failure to distinguish between primary and secondary goods is at the root of a great deal of current economic nonsense. It’s usually possible, for example, to substitute one secondary good for another if the supply runs short or the price gets too high, and for this reason it’s a standard assumption of economics – and one of the foundations of the law of supply and demand – that consumers can meet their needs equally well with many different goods. Yet this assumption does not apply to natural goods. In the world of nature, a different rule – Liebig’s law of the minimum – applies instead: production is limited by the scarcest necessary resource. Thus if you have a farm and can’t get water for your crops, it doesn’t matter if you have excellent soil and all the other requisites of farming; you can’t grow anything. In certain limited situations, to be sure, it’s possible to substitute one primary good for another – for instance, to use low-grade iron ores such as taconite when the high-grade ores have been exhausted. Even when this can be done, though, a law of diminishing returns always applies. You can get iron out of low-grade ore, but the extraction process is less efficient and takes much larger inputs of energy. When energy is cheap, you can ignore this – and this is exactly what happened over the course of the 20th century, as the iron industry retooled itself to use steadily lower grades of ore and steadily larger inputs of energy – but that in itself simply passes costs onto the future, since the fossil fuels that provided the energy inputs are themselves subject to depletion, and to a law of diminishing returns. One way or another, the substitution imposes additional costs without providing any additional economic benefit. This same rule also applies to every other natural good. Consider the valuable service provided to the world’s economies by the honeybees that pollinate most nongrain food crops. If we succeed in adding the honeybee to the already long list of the world’s extinct life forms, it would doubtless be possible to replace their pollination services by other means, whether that took the form of huge pollinating machines rumbling across the fields or the simpler and probably more economical approach of migrant workers using little brushes to wipe pollen from a bag onto the stamen of every single flower. Note, though, that no farmer in his or her right mind would hire a thousand laborers with brushes instead of calling up the local beekeeper and arranging for a few hives to be left in the fields; substituting some other pollination method for bees would add a huge additional cost to farming, without yielding any additional benefit. I’ve come to think that the unrecognized difference between secondary goods, which can be readily replaced by other goods without additional cost, and primary goods, which cannot, is among the most important forces driving our current crisis. For the last three centuries, the industrial economies of the world have been using up every primary good that can be converted into secondary goods at extravagant and steadily increasing rates. Think of any good or service provided by nature – from topsoil to oceanic fish stocks, from the pollution-absorbing capacities of rivers to the storm-buffering properties of wetlands, from breathable air and drinkable water to the mineral stocks and fossil fuel reserves that keep the entire system running – and you’ve just identified something that’s being used up rapidly by industrial societies, with no thought of the potential costs of substituting something else for it, much less of the hard fact that nothing we can possibly do can provide a substitute for some of them once they’re gone. The mismatch between this hopelessly shortsighted approach and the unforgiving limits of nature is imposing a rising toll of substitution costs on industrial economies around the world. Of course there are other factors involved. Still, as I hope to show in a future post, the best explanation for the “stagflation” that beset economies and baffled economists in the 1970s was the unrecognized burden of substitution costs for a range of natural goods depleted or damaged during the previous decades.
Equally, the economic dysfunctions that led central banks around 2002 to flood financial markets with cheap credit – a disastrous decision that ended up powering the boom and bust that landed us in the current Great Recession – were driven by mounting substitution costs for another range of natural goods that had been depleted or overused in the previous decades of prosperity. As peak oil adds a new round of substitution costs to those already in play, this same process is likely to have even more dramatic impacts on the future.

World at Gunpoint

SUBHEAD: I can’t speak for you, but the question I’d be asking is this: "How do I disarm or dispatch these psychopaths? By Derrick Jensen in the May/June 2009 issue of Orion magazine A few months ago at a gathering of activist friends someone asked, “If our world is really looking down the barrel of environmental catastrophe, how do I live my life right now?” The question stuck with me for a few reasons. The first is that it’s the world, not our world. The notion that the world belongs to us—instead of us belonging to the world—is a good part of the problem.
image above: Painting "Evening in the Valley" by Mark Bryan. 
From The second is that this is pretty much the only question that’s asked in mainstream media (and even among some environmentalists) about the state of the world and our response to it. The phrase “green living” brings up 7,250,000 Google hits, or more than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards combined (or, to look at it another way, more than a thousand times more than the crucial environmental philosophers John A. Livingston and Neil Evernden combined). If you click on the websites that come up, you find just what you’d expect, stuff like “The Green Guide: Shop, Save, Conserve,” “Personal Solutions for All of Us,” and “Tissue Paper Guide for Consumers.” The third and most important reason the question stuck with me is that it’s precisely the wrong question. By looking at how it’s the wrong question, we can start looking for some of the right questions. This is terribly important, because coming up with right answers to wrong questions isn’t particularly helpful. So, part of the problem is that “looking down the barrel of environmental catastrophe” makes it seem as though environmental catastrophe is the problem. But it’s not. It’s a symptom—an effect, not a cause. Think about global warming and attempts to “solve” or “stop” or “mitigate” it. Global warming (or global climate catastrophe, as some rightly call it), as terrifying as it is, isn’t first and foremost a threat. It’s a consequence. I’m not saying pikas aren’t going extinct, or the ice caps aren’t melting, or weather patterns aren’t changing, but to blame global warming for those disasters is like blaming the lead projectile for the death of someone who got shot. I’m also not saying we shouldn’t work to solve, stop, or mitigate global climate catastrophe; I’m merely saying we’ll have a better chance of succeeding if we recognize it as a predictable (at this point) result of burning oil and gas, of deforestation, of dam construction, of industrial agriculture, and so on. The real threat is all of these. The same is true of worldwide ecological collapse. Extractive forestry destroys forests. What’s the surprise when extractive forestry causes forest communities—plants and animals and mushrooms and rivers and soil and so on—to collapse? We’ve seen it once or twice before. When you think of Iraq, is the first image that comes to mind cedar forests so thick the sunlight never reaches the ground? That’s how it was prior to the beginnings of this extractive culture; one of the first written myths of this culture is of Gilgamesh deforesting the plains and hillsides of Iraq to build cities. Greece was also heavily forested; Plato complained that deforestation harmed water quality (and I’m sure Athenian water quality boards said the same thing those boards say today: we need to study the question more to make sure there’s really a correlation). It’s magical thinking to believe a culture can effectively deforest and yet expect forest communities to sustain. It’s the same with rivers. There are 2 million dams just in the United States, with 70,000 dams over six feet tall and 60,000 dams over thirteen feet tall. And we wonder at the collapse of native fish communities? We can repeat this exercise for grasslands, even more hammered by agriculture than forests are by forestry; for oceans, where plastic outweighs phytoplankton ten to one (for forests to be equivalently plasticized, they’d be covered in Styrofoam ninety feet deep); for migratory songbirds, plagued by everything from pesticides to skyscrapers; and so on. The point is that worldwide ecological collapse is not some external and unpredictable threat—or gun barrel—down which we face. That’s not to say we aren’t staring down the barrel of a gun; it would just be nice if we identified it properly. If we are concerned about the salmon, the sturgeon, the Columbia River, the migratory songbirds, the amphibians, then the gun to worry about is industrial civilization. A second part of the problem is that the question presumes we’re facing a future threat—that the gun has yet to go off. But the Dreadful has already begun. Ask passenger pigeons. Ask Eskimo curlews. Ask great auks. Ask traditional indigenous peoples almost anywhere. This is not a potential threat, but rather one that long-since has commenced. The larger problem with the metaphor, and the reason for this new column in Orion, is the question at the end: “how shall I live my life right now?” Let’s take this step by step. We’ve figured out what the gun is: this entire extractive culture that has been deforesting, defishing, dewatering, desoiling, despoiling, destroying since its beginnings. 
We know this gun has been fired before and has killed many of those we love, from chestnut ermine moths to Carolina parakeets. It’s now aimed (and firing) at even more of those we love, from Siberian tigers to Indian gavials to entire oceans to, in fact, the entire world, which includes you and me. 
If we make this metaphor real, we might understand why the question—asked more often than almost any other—is so wrong. If someone were rampaging through your home, killing those you love one by one, would the question burning a hole in your heart be: "How should I live my life right now?" I can’t speak for you, but the question I’d be asking is this: "How do I disarm or dispatch these psychopaths? How do I stop them using any means necessary?" Finally we get to the point. Those who come after, who inherit whatever’s left of the world once this culture has been stopped—whether through peak oil, economic collapse, ecological collapse, or the efforts of brave women and men fighting in alliance with the natural world—are not going to care how you or I lived our lives.
They’re not going to care how hard we tried. They’re not going to care whether we were nice people. They’re not going to care whether we were nonviolent or violent. They’re not going to care whether we grieved the murder of the planet. They’re not going to care whether we were enlightened or not enlightened. They’re not going to care what sorts of excuses we had to not act (e.g., “I’m too stressed to think about it” or “It’s too big and scary” or “I’m too busy” or any of the thousand other excuses we’ve all heard too many times). They’re not going to care how simply we lived. They’re not going to care how pure we were in thought or action. They’re not going to care if we became the change we wished to see. They’re not going to care whether we voted Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, or not at all. They’re not going to care if we wrote really big books about it. They’re not going to care whether we had “compassion” for the CEOs and politicians running this deathly economy. They’re going to care whether they can breathe the air and drink the water. They’re going to care whether the land is healthy enough to support them. We can fantasize all we want about some great turning, and if the people can’t breathe, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but that we stop this culture from killing the planet. It’s embarrassing even to have to say this. The land is the source of everything. If you have no planet, you have no economic system, you have no spirituality, you can’t even ask this question. If you have no planet, nobody can ask questions. What question would I ask instead? What if, instead of asking “How shall I live my life?” people were to ask the land where they live, the land that supports them, “What can and must I do to become your ally, to help protect you from this culture? What can we do together to stop this culture from killing you?” If you ask that question, and you listen, the land will tell you what it needs. And then the only real question is: are you willing to do it?