Redundancy Redundancy

SUBHEAD: How much redundancy do you need? Be as unreliant on high energy and high complexity systems as possible.

By Sharon Astyk on 06 August 2009 in Casaubon's Book -

Today I’m starting another Adapting-In-Place Class, beginning with the basics of evaluating whether you have a future where you are, what your other choices are, and then triaging your situation, but I’ve already written a good bit about those things, so I want to a basic and essential element of triage - establishing redundant systems.

image above: A kind of redundancy from

Why redundant systems? Well, for the simple reason that, as Yeats put, things fall apart. We all know this - in fact, we all rely regularly on redundant systems. For example, when your commuter vehicle breaks, you take the bus, carpool with a neighbor, borrow from your spouse or a friend or rent a car.

Implicit in your commitment to your job is the reality that your car will break, and that you will find yourself in need of a redundant system to back you up. If you have children, you are are intimately familiar with the filling out of forms that list several “emergency contacts” - that is, people who can be trusted to tend your kids if you are not there.

This is a form of redundancy - thus, if your son takes sick at school, you have a neighbor or relative who can respond, and if not them, usually another person still who can be tried. The assumption is that with parents plus multiple redundant backups, someone will always be there for your kids.

But most of us don’t have good redundant systems for our home and our lives, if the basic assumptions of our existence, which include full access to grid power and other utilities; an immediate government response to a crisis and the availability of replacement parts, utilities and tools, as well as people to install them and the money to pay for it are all available. That is, the redundancy in our system all presumes a fully functional economy, energy system and a fairly stable society. In the absence of each of these things, most of us are tremendously vulnerable.

One of the first and most basic presumptions we all need to make is this - failure is normal. This is not a prediction - I am not claiming that any particular scenario is likely. But the reality is that nearly everything breaks, falls apart or is vulnerable in some way to not-terrifically-unlikely disasters. Your plans for the future should work from the assumption that things will unfold messily, and with copious system failures. I’ve written more about this here: I wrote about our strange reluctance to seriously consider the possibility of failure on both a personal and world scale,

“…this leads to a painful reality - despite the fact that winter power outages happen out my way all the time, we know for a fact that the extended outages in my region there will leave us with people who are freezing, and hungry, isolated and unable to cope. They won’t have the batteries for their flashlights, or any strategy for cooking or eating. At best, they will come out of this traumatized and miserable. At worst, some of them may actually die.

But we also know that these folks will be deemed normal, and their lack of preparation will be treated as normal. Just as people in California with no earthquake preparations or folks in Florida with no preparations for a hurricane will be treated as normal. We treat a lack of preparedness, in our society, as completely reasonable and rational, even expected. Thus, if you are in line at a Red Cross shelter because you have no food and water in your home 48 hours after a hurricane hit Gainesville, odds are no one will even raise an eyebrow and ask why in heck you don’t have any food.

My point is not to pick on anyone (and yes, I know that there are some people who don’t have enough food access to have a reserve, but that hardly describes everyone) - in fact, I think the reason that we look upon the lack of personal contingency plans as so reasonable is that it isn’t just personal - our society as a whole has very few contingency plans - much less strategies for adapting to failure.

We regard planning for anything bad as a sign of an unhealthy focus on the negative. We feel it is so unhealthy that we find that at every level of our culture - from the purely personal question of whether we have a strategy for dealing with common disasters to the international policy level where no one seems to have ever asked any questions about what might go wrong on a host of subjects - we have no contingency plans. Not only do we not have them, but we dismiss and deride anyone who suggests we make them.

All of which suggests that we have a very troubled relationship to the idea of failure. Speaking as someone whose entire body of work could probably be summarized as “Ummm…have you thought about what happens if something goes wrong?” I’m acutely aware of how unpleasant and frightening most of us find the idea of failure - and because we find it unpleasant and frightening, we are likely to dramatically underestimate its likelihood and frequency, and be truly shocked when failures happen. But in fact, we shouldn’t be shocked - failure is far more routine and normal than we expect. Not only is it normal, but treating it as normal might actually reduce the likelihood of disaster.”

And if we do have backup systems, often those systems are themselves vulnerable to failure, and we may or may not have further redundancies in the system. Now some systems don’t need much redundancy - for example, if you mostly keep ice cream in your freezer, even if you are very fond of ice cream, you don’t actually need a backup plan or system to compensate for the failure of your freezer - one doesn’t actually need Ben and Jerry’s to live, even if it is Cherry Garcia ;-), so no redundant system is required.

But let’s say that your freezer holds most of your stored food, including a lot of high value meats and produce that you rely on, and that would cost you more than $1,000 to replace. Well, you think - "I’ll get a generator".

Maybe you even install it, and store some gas for it. But the problem is that a generator is a short term solution - it is great for a few days of power outage, and will keep that food cold. But what if, as happened last year in Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Iowa, Texas and several other states, the power is out for more than a few days? What happens when the gas for the generator runs out, and the gas stations have no power to pump more? Your redundancy assumes that things will get back to normal quickly - but what if that’s not the case?

The reality is that if your redundancies depend on fossil fuels, on just in time delivery of parts you don’t keep on hand, on government response being there on the ground quickly, on disasters being so localized that nearby other places can send help, rather than widespread, on somehow, things working out, your redundancies aren’t adequate - period.

Now this could end up an infinite reduction game - you could make the case that the need for redundancy never stops, and on some level, you’d be right. Let’s say my backup plan for that freezer is different - it involves me taking my pressure canner and canning up the meat in the freezer on my wood cookstove. Now someone could legitimately say “well, but what if your stove breaks, or the canner does. Doesn’t that mean you need an infinite number of canners, a backup woodstove and an infinite number of monkeys to type while you do the preserving?

There’s some truth in this - all things fail, all good things come to an end. On the other hand, the wood cookstove I own comes from a brand where 100 year old models are routinely used. Mine is less than 5 years old. There are a couple of parts that might break, and that’s why I keep a stove gasketing kit around, and have my own chimney brushes. And it is possible that some unusual situation might occur. Which is one of the reasons I’m glad I know how to make a rocket stove - and have a big old can big enough to put a canning kettle on, although I haven’t made it yet. I also make sure that there’s nothing in my freezer I can’t afford to lose - yes, I like what I have there, but I don’t allow myself to rely on it as my primary source of food. If worst came to worst, we’d invite all the neighbors for a feast and go forward from there - I don’t really need more than that plan in my head, because I know I can lose the stuff there.

So a set of redundant systems depends on several things. First, a backup that is well made and simple - or if cheap and complex, a bunch of them. Given that I don’t like the idea of buying a lot of cheap stuff, I’d prefer the former, but sometimes that may not be viable. Second, if the system is essential, you need the tools and equipment and ability to take care of it and repair it.

That means looking critically over your backup systems and asking what parts might break, and how to fix them if they do. I have a box in my closet that contains only repair kits for things - often, when making a major purchase, the item comes with an inexpensive repair kit, that contains replacement pieces of things that are most likely to show wear - rust remover and stove gaskets for a cookstove, bearing oil and replacement bearings for my spinning wheel, a sewing machine belt and replacement needles for a treadle machine, etc… Now occasionally these are a scam, providing cheap parts rather than useful ones, but with well made equipment, often they aren’t. Making sure you also know how to use them - that you’ve downloaded instructions, say for, say mending harness or replacing parts on your water pumping wind turbine. Ideally, try it before you have to do it in the rain, at night, by flashlight, since that’s how it always works.

The other thing that’s needed is a mental plan to deal with failure - ok, what if my well pump breaks just when I need it? Well, I know I can filter water from the creek, and from my rainbarrels. Let’s just make sure I have enough filters or water purifying tablets. Also, how much do I mind the idea of my final, mental back up plan? I think I’d find hauling all our water from our creek really annoying. If that’s the case, and I can afford it, I should probably make sure that we have a backup well pump system.

If you do want a complex, and fossil fuel based backup - ie, you want solar panels to keep your freezer running or a generator or whatever, make sure you A) know how to fix it and B) keep tools and parts on hand. And also make sure you have a non-fossilized backup, just in case.

Redundancies can and should include sharing with others, relying on others for help, etc… We don’t always need a tool, so much as we need people. But if your plans include these, ask yourself - am I lending a helping hand now? Do I have relationships to rely on for this? If not, time to make them happen.

How much redundancy do you need? At a minimum, I think you should be as unreliant on high energy, high complexity systems as possible. For some people, comfortable living with very little, in a simple way, this will mean almost no complexities. For those tied by major illness to high energy medical systems, or caught in situations where they cannot live without these, it may still be possible to minimize resource use elsewhere, while building up as much of a safety net as possible elsewhere. Not every person will be able to do every thing - but the more you can build redundant systems into your plan, the happier and more comfortable your lives will be.

see also:

Ea O Ka Aina: Adapting in Place or When Not To 3/9/09

Searching for Terra Preta

SUBHEAD: A dark horizon of terra pretas may hold the hidden secret we need to rescue Gaia’s future.

By Albert Bates on 05 August 2009 in The Great Change

Image above: Detail of book cover "Amazonian Dark Earths - Origin, Properties & Management". From

 [Publisher's Note: Terra preta (“dark earth” in Portuguese) refers to expanses of very dark, fertile anthropogenic soils found in the Amazon Basin.]

This is a very personal essay, so I am dropping the “we” convention this time and speaking in the first person singular. In an earlier post at this site I described my “Houston moment;” when I came to a full realization that ours is among the last generations of humans, and like the Elves going into the West, all life on Earth will

presently perish, possibly within two centuries, more probably over the course of a few millennia. I include in this gloomy prediction even deep sea microbes and fungi in caves. Since that glimpse of the shadow backcast by our future, I have been grappling with the internal existential crisis, and whatever should I be doing with my life now. The challenges of peak everything, nuclear winter and financial collapse pale in comparison.

This past weekend I celebrated my granddaughter’s third birthday and whenever I look into her deep black eyes, I feel a pang of sorrow, as if I were experiencing a foretaste of her sweltering hot future. Naturally I can’t share this feeling — what a party killer! — so I’m stuck with chit chat among the friends and relatives, nothing heavy.

At the other end of the denial spectrum, I have taken myself off that sweet kitesurfing beach I had planned to retire to, buckled up my Kevlar vest and first aid pouches and stepped out into the propwash. Never mind that I am Medicare-ready myself, if this Godzilla-thing devouring the planet has a weakness, I am going to find it.

The peyote prayer rings in my ears: “I am going to follow God, I am going to follow God, I am not turning back.” God’s plan, to my lights, is for Gaia not to die on this rock rotating around a medium-size yellow star, at least not until that star is ready to give it up. James Lovelock warns that we are already too late to rescue her. The signs and portents in every scientific publication are profoundly ominous.

Hell, Gaia’s fate may have been sealed before I was even born. But here is what I know: entropy is universal — things run down and bad stuff happens; but life organizes, expands, and draws unity to the whole. The human piece, as Buckminster Fuller said, is the problem-solver. I am just doing my part of that piece.

So it was that July found me flying into Manaus to attend the 61st Annual Meeting of the Brazilian Academy for the Advancement of Sciences, or more specifically, their two-day session on “Estado da Arte das Terras Pretas de Indio no Ambito Mundial” (State of the Art of Terra Preta and World Environment). At the University where we met they have to keep a 20 mph speed limit so that cars and buses don’t run over monkeys. This might be within the city limits of Manaus, but Manaus has the Amazonian rainforest for its campus.

Day one was held a stuffy classroom with fluorescent lights and powerpoints in Portuguese. Despite my language handicap, I learned plenty from listening to the speakers. I was especially interested in the explorations of Lilian Rebellato, who came at the terra preta origins from an anthropological angle.

While compositions vary, terra pretas are not always laid down uniformly, but rather show layering contours that are independent of natural terrain. In terra preta from 10 cm to 180 cm deep, the maximum phosphorus content is found at 30 to 140 cm.

Why is that, she wondered. There is a general theory that terra preta was a byproduct of village life, since it contains animal residues, house residues, humanure, bones, and pottery shards.

One theory is that since the houses are thatched with reeds and reeds have rootballs of swamp muck when pulled, the stalks then get separated to make the building material, and the discarded swamp muck is the origin of terra preta. It does explain the phosphorus. Rebellato discounted that theory by analyzing the various models of settlements, some of which would not have had access to wetland reeds.

In the Amazon, terra preta examples extend from the Atlantic coast up to the Andean plateau, so there are many different building styles used. Wenceslau Teixeira’s studies of terra preta characteristics lent support to the notion that there was a gradual learning curve in the Amazon. The deepest layers are the least rich, but by the time you reach 90 to 60 cm below the surface, there is a sharp increase in soil fertility.

This correlates to a time horizon that puts the highest carbon content at around 2500 BP, gradually falling off until 1500 AD, when traditional agriculture was discontinued because of European contact and the population crash.

 Precisely when the terra preta formula was discovered might be revealed from a dig at site called Santa Catarina.

There archaeologists have found a dark horizon in the layer of oyster shell mounds. Could this have been the Ah-ha Moment? Are we at this moment at our own dark horizon in the shell mounds? Or is it just Monsanto and Cargill from here on out? We need a 25-ton per acre increase in soil organic matter to reverse climate warming.

At the UN climate conference in Poznan last year, reknowned soil scientist Johannes Lehmann told the delegates that “biochar production from agriculture and forestry residues can potentially sequester one gigaton of carbon in the world's soils annually by 2040.” A gigaton is a billion metric tons.

Currently, powerplants worldwide emit 10 billion tons of CO2, so by Lehmann’s estimate (which I believe is overly conservative), we could knock 10% off electricity emissions globally just by charring residues (the parts other than those left in the field or forest to replenish active soil carbon) and burying the newly-minted inactive carbon as compost-amended biochar.

Moreover, using the biochar energy co-products (about 25 kWh/ton in electrical generation from kiln gas and some amount of liquid “wood vinegar,” biogas for cooking, and so forth) to displace fossil fuels, we can approximately double the prospective carbon reduction, to about 20% of global electric emissions.

The cost for installing a kilowatt of biochar producing reactors is just $1.33, compared with $4.77 for dirty coal, $3.86 for advanced coal gasification, $1870 for offshore wind and $1984 for nuclear energy, assuming the US is willing to dismantle its WMDs to fuel new nukes.

This does not solve our problem, yet, but it begins to shift us in the right direction. Human will have to teach their children to get by on lower carbon emission levels per capita, and we will have to seriously address world population, or this entire exercise will be futile.

Woody wastes are finite, and if you exceed the carrying capacity of the forests, you wind up with the same situation as a fished-out fishery. What is needed to scrub the atmosphere is more trees, not fewer.

The U.S., with over 8,000 power plants out of the more than 50,000 worldwide, accounts for about 25 percent of the world carbon total, or 2.8 billion tons of annual CO2 emissions (China is second with 2.7 billion tons).

Strangely enough, the biggest carbon burner in the U.S. is the Southern Company, which serves a geographic area with abundant solar energy year-round, and the dirtiest county in the US is Walker County, Alabama, in an area with abundant forestry residues (and closer to where I live than Nashville). On Day Two of the conference, we took a boat up river to visit a farm where the terra preta is being used to produce fruit and vegetables for the Manaus market and at the same time the ancient soils are being studied intensively.

I asked Christoph Steiner and Lilian Rebellato if the Rio Negro gets its deep black tint from terra preta. No, they said, it is from the teas, made in the river from leaves dropped in the rainforests and carried by the currents. Manaus is the “Meeting of the Waters,” where several muddy rivers converge with the black Rio Negro to form the Amazon River.

What interested me in Brazil was a chance to look at the terra preta soils close up, and to speak with some of the many scientists now studying them.

I am trying to understand how and why the ancient Amazonian cultures began the practice of carbon farming, reconciled the near-term expense with the prospect of long-term gain, and kept it going for thousands of years, creating a vast carbon sink in the Americas that perfectly balanced the rise of Amerindian civilization without desertifing the environment through farming and grazing, as happened in all the other continents where humans practiced agriculture.

As Alan Yeomans calculates, just increasing the percentage of soil organic matter an extra 1.6% in the one and three quarter acre block representing each one of us, we save our planet.

So how is it that we can effect the shift from carbon emitting to carbon farming, and do it fast enough to pull our fat from the fire? I am going to be exploring these pathways in the next several posts, and this month we are going to begin offering our carbon farming coursewares from here at the Ecovillage Training Center.

Confronted with the opportunity to go inward and slide down a vortex of despair, fretting over a wasted life, loss of historical context, and meaninglessness of every prior goal, I have chosen instead to go back into the jungle, like Stanley in search of Livingston, and pick up the faint trails that just perhaps, with long odds against, could lead to the hidden secret we need to rescue Gaia’s future.

My next stop on this trek will be the regional conference for the International Biochar Initiative in Boulder, Colorado.
see also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Soylent Black 1/11/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Black is the New Green 2/28/09

Minotaur in his Labyrinth

SUBHEAD: Derek Kawakami and Dickie Chang - hacks and shills for the Minotaur.
By Andy Parx on 06 August 2009 in Got Windmills The headline in the local paper today says it all: Council kills proposed rule changes. But did anyone expect anything different? As we sit here watching the unfolding debacle on the next-day airing of the meeting, another symbol of the Minotaur’s labyrinth that keeps the dark as dark as can be, as Ed Coll detailed in a letter to the editor in today’s local paper- we’re amazed that anyone thought there would be a different outcome, one we foresaw yesterday.
image above: Greek mosaic Theseus slaying the Minotaur in his Labyrinth.
From As Joan Conrow remarked today: "But who, really, besides the politically na├»ve, imagined that things would be significantly different after the recent brouhaha, or that “reform” was ever going to be an item on the Council’s agenda?" Who? We’ll certainly the formerly outraged malihini among us such as blogger Brad Parsons who wrote at his Aloha Analytics site today. "I think the public is ready to move on and hoping that Kaipo is a man of his word, per his statements to keep the agenda open to all Council members." With all due respect, Parsons, who since he arrived here last year after years of activism on Maui and has done a great job of assimilating some of the political absurdities and Catch-22’s of Kaua`i government and informing other community members, apparently doesn’t seem to have a sense of the pent up rage that has exploded locally, not just among the north shore progressive “settler” community, as our friend Katy Rose is fond of calling them, but among the dismayed and indeed fed up local community across the island. Because much to the contrary of the “white man’s burden” mentality of those settlers, those who know all too well the history of oppression aren’t stupid and are feeling less and less cowed and more and more pissed-off over the past couple of months now that they actually have at least two if not three members of the council willing to attest to the nudity of the emperor Asing and his sycophantic palace guard. They’ve seen the issue plastered all over the local newspaper, where today, we’re sure, reporter extraordinaire Michael Levine did as good a job as possible in describing yesterday’s slap in the face of reform given the space he had to report it. And while it’s likely they will be not among those who will be “lighting up” the letters to the editor page, as Parsons reported one councilmember predicted, it is likely they have long memories of the type of plantation-mentality paternalism that comes with the suppression of democracy the council majority has exhibited. And yesterday’s actions only cemented the building rage. As Joan said: "It brings to mind a conversation I had with a relative newcomer to the island who approached me on Tuesday saying, 'Isn’t it great that the Council is going to be more open?' And that prompted me to reply, “I don’t think anything is really going to change,” to which he responded, grudgingly, 'Well, maybe not, but at least it’s all out on the table..' Perhaps the recent events will serve to more thoroughly inform some of the newbies of just how Kauai politics work, and how deeply entrenched the system is, so they can drop their dreamy-eyed vision that a) any one of them has a prayer of getting elected and b) any sort of meaningful change or progressive movement will come from that body, at least so long as the voting majority continues to elect the people they do." The positive in all this is that not just the locals who know what the score is but Joan’s “newbies” can’t avert their gaze from which side of the labyrinth gate the remaining councilmembers are on. Anyone who thought that Derek Kawakami or Dickie Chang were anything but hacks and shills for the Minotaur are certainly no longer so deluded. And Council minority “leader” Jay Furfaro’s reported support can’t be a bad sign although his past wavering leave any predictions about the future still in flux. Some will wait for leadership from Tim Bynum and Lani Kawahara in maintaining the fight for democracy, open government and transparency. Others will wait for the other shoe to drop when, not if, the rights of the public and even councilmembers are trampled upon once again. But the coals are still glowing hot and tinderbox is getting drier every day. Though elections might seem a long way off, Joan’s dreary observations notwithstanding anyone who has the gumption to stand, sword drawn and enter the domain of the half man/half bull would be well served to start preparing for November 2010 so we can turn that 3-4 into at least a 4-3. We’ll have more on the particulars once we have a chance to witness the debacle for ourselves but for now, if the past two weeks are any indication, the outrage and backlash against the majority is what will inform the story yet to be told and that can’t help but build after yesterday’s repudiation of the rights of the people of Kaua`i.

TGI Requests County Records

SUBHEAD: Kauai's Garden Island newspaper starts executive session Sunshine project.

By Michael Levine on 07 August 2009 in The Garden Island (

Image above: Sunset on westside of Kauai on 4/8/07. Photo by Juan Wilson.

According to the council’s agenda, Executive Session 393 was convened so County Attorney Al Castillo could provide to the council a briefing on a lawsuit, County of Kaua‘i vs. Lady Ann Cruises, which arose out of Planning Department of the County of Kauai vs. Patricia and Michael Sheehan. 

The first of two requests, filed personally with County Clerk Peter Nakamura in Council Chambers, seeks the meeting minutes from the executive session. The Garden Island will be filing similar requests for all County Council executive sessions going forward, regardless of their content.

After the short executive session, the council wrapped up its meeting by voting to approve a request from the Office of the County Attorney for authorization to expend additional funds up to $35,000 to engage special counsel to represent the Planning Department in said lawsuit.

Earlier, the body had also approved a request from the Office of the County Attorney for authorization to expend up to $90,000 to engage bond counsel to advise the county with legal and technical advice on bond matters. The second request, filed personally with Castillo, also in Council Chambers, seeks a full list of all approvals for expenditures for outside legal counsel from the 2007 fiscal year through the present. Castillo became county attorney earlier this year.

According to the request form, which was provided to The Garden Island by Nakamura and is available on the state Office of Information Practices Web site, the agencies “will normally respond” within 10 business days, and in “extenuating circumstances ... must respond” within 20 business days. Nakamura said council minutes do not become record until 30 days after the meeting or until they are approved by the council, whichever comes first.

Furthermore, the minutes could be redacted whenever they are released if they contain confidential or other sensitive information. See upcoming editions of The Garden Island for further coverage of these and other requests for government documents.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Sunshine Dawns on Kauai? 7/29/09 .

The End of Growth

SUBHEAD: Is this a temporary recession or the end of growth as we know it? By Richard Heinberg on 06 August 2009 in his Museletter -
[Editor's note: This is the closing portion of a lengthy article with notes. Please use link above to read in its entirety.] What To Do: Adapt to the New Reality If the Alternative Diagnosis is correct, there will be no easy fix for the current economic breakdown. Some illnesses are not curable; they require that we simply adapt and make the best of our new situation.
image above: Cartoon "Picnic" by Clay Bennett.
From If humanity has indeed embarked upon the contraction phase of the industrial pulse, we should assume that ahead of us lie much lower average income levels (for nearly everyone in the wealthy nations, and for high wage earners in poorer nations); different employment opportunities (fewer jobs in sales, marketing, and finance; more in basic production); and more costly energy, transport, and food. Further, we should assume that key aspects of our economic system that are inextricably tied to the need for future growth will cease to work in this new context. Rather than attempting to prop up banks and insurance companies with trillions in bailouts, it would probably be better simply to let them fail, however nasty the short-term consequences, since they will fail anyway sooner or later. The sooner they are replaced with institutions that serve essential functions within a contracting economy, the better off we will all be. Meanwhile the thought-leaders in society, especially the President, must begin breaking the news—in understandable and measured ways—that growth isn’t returning and that the world has entered a new and unprecedented economic phase, but that we can all survive and thrive in this challenging transitional period if we apply ourselves and work together. At the heart of this general re-education must be a public and institutional acknowledgment of three basic rules of sustainability: growth in population cannot be sustained; the ongoing extraction of non-renewable resources cannot be sustained; and the use of renewable resources is sustainable only if it proceeds at rates below those of natural replenishment. Without cheap energy, global trade cannot increase. This doesn’t mean that trade will disappear, only that economic incentives will inexorably shift as transport costs rise, favoring local production for local consumption. But this may be a nice way of putting it: if and when fuel shortages arise, fragile globe-spanning systems of provisioning could be disrupted, with dire effects for consumers cut off from sources of necessary products. Thus a high priority must be placed on the building of community resilience through the preferential local sourcing of necessities and the maintenance of larger regional inventories—especially of food and fuel. (28) It currently takes an average of 8.5 calories of energy from oil and natural gas to produce each calorie of food energy. Without cheap fuel for agriculture, farm production will plummet and farmers will go bankrupt—unless proactive efforts are undertaken to reform agriculture to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. (29) Obviously, alternative energy sources and energy efficiency strategies must be high priorities, and must be subjects of intensive research using a carefully chosen spectrum of criteria. The best candidates will have to be funded robustly even while fossil fuels are still relatively cheap: the build-out time for the renewable energy infrastructure will inevitably be measured in decades and so we must begin the process now rather than waiting for market forces to lead the way. In the face of credit and (potential) currency crises, new ways of financing such projects will be needed. Given that our current monetary and financial systems are founded on the need for growth, we will require new ways of creating money and new ways of issuing credit. Considerable thought has gone into finding solutions to this problem, and some communities are already experimenting with local capital co-ops, alternative currencies, and no-interest banks. (30) With oil becoming increasingly expensive in real terms, we will need more efficient ways of getting people and goods around. Our first priority in this regard must be to reduce the need for transport with better urban planning and re-localized production systems. But where transport is needed, rail and light rail will probably be preferable to cars and trucks. (31) We will also need a revolution in the built environment to minimize the need for heating, cooling, and artificial lighting in all our homes and public buildings. This revolution is already under way, but is currently moving far too slowly due to the inertia of established interests in the construction industry. (32) These projects will need more than local credit and money; they will also require skilled workers. There will be a call not just for installers of solar panels and home insulation: millions of new food producers and builders of low-energy infrastructure will be needed as well. A broad range of new opportunities could open up to replace vanishing jobs in marketing and finance—if there is cheap training available at local community colleges. It is worth noting that the $23.7 trillion recently committed for U.S. bailouts and loan guarantees represents about $80,000 for each man, woman, and child in America. A level of investment even a substantial fraction that size could pay for all needed job training while ensuring universal provision of basic necessities during the transition. What would we be getting for our money? A collective sense that, in a time of crisis, no one is being left behind. Without the feeling of cooperative buy-in that such a safety net would help engender, similar to what was achieved with the New Deal but on an even larger scale, economic contraction could devolve into a horrific fight over the scraps of the waning industrial period. However contentious, the population question must be addressed. All problems that have to do with resources are harder to solve when there are more people needing those resources. The U.S. must encourage smaller families and must establish an immigration policy consistent with a no-growth population target. This has foreign policy implications: we must help other nations succeed with their own economic transitions so that their citizens do not need to emigrate to survive. (33) If economic growth ceases to be an achievable goal, society will have to find better ways of measuring success. Economists must shift from assessing well-being with the blunt instrument of GDP, and begin paying more attention to indices of human and social capital in areas such as education, health, and cultural achievements. This redefinition of growth and progress has already begun in some quarters, but for the most part has yet to be taken up by governments. (34) A case can be made that after all this is done the end result will be a more satisfying way of life for the vast majority of citizens—offering more of a sense of community, more of a connection with the natural world, more satisfying work, and a healthier environment. Studies have repeatedly shown that higher levels of consumption do not translate to elevated levels of satisfaction with life. (35) This means that if “progress” can be thought of in terms of happiness, rather than a constantly accelerating process of extracting raw materials and turning them into products that themselves quickly become waste, then progress can certainly continue.
In any case, “selling” this enormous and unprecedented project to the general public will require emphasizing its benefits. Several organizations are already exploring the messaging and public relations aspects of the transition. (36) But those in charge need to understand that looking on the bright side doesn’t mean promising what can’t be delivered—such as a return to the days of growth and thoughtless consumption. Can We? Will We? It is important to state the implications of all this as plainly as possible. If the Alternative Diagnosis is correct, there will be no full economic “recovery”—not this year, or the next, or five or ten years from now. There may be temporary rebounds that take us back to some fraction of peak economic activity, but these will be only brief respites. We have entered a new economic era in which the former rules no longer apply. Low interest rates and government spending no longer translate to incentives for borrowing and job production. Cheap energy won’t appear just because there is demand for it. Substitutes for essential resources will in most cases not be found. Over all, the economy will continue to shrink in fits and starts until it can be maintained by the energy and material resources that Earth can supply on ongoing basis. This is of course very difficult news. It is analogous to being told by your physician that you have contracted a systemic, potentially fatal disease that cannot be cured, but only managed; and managing it means you must make profound lifestyle changes. Some readers may note that climate change has not figured prominently in this discussion. It is clearly, after all, the worst environmental catastrophe in human history. Indeed, its consequences could be far worse than the mere destruction of national economies: hundreds of millions of people and millions of other species could be imperiled. The reason for the relatively limited discussion of climate here is that (assuming the Alternative Diagnosis is correct) it is not climate change that has proven to be the most immediate limit to economic growth, but resource depletion. However, while there is not as yet general agreement on the point, climate change itself and the needed steps to minimize it both constitute limits to growth, just as resource depletion does.
Moreover, if we fail to successfully manage the inevitable process of economic contraction that will characterize the coming decades, there will be no hope of mounting an organized and coherent response to climate change—a response consisting of efforts both to reduce climate impacts and to adapt to them. It is important to note, though, that the measures advocated here (including the development of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, a rapid reduction of reliance on fossil fuels in transport and agriculture, and the stabilization of population levels) are among the steps that will help most to reduce carbon emissions. Is this essay likely to change the thinking and actions of policy makers? Unfortunately, that is unlikely. Their belief in the possibility and necessity of continued growth is pervasive, and the notion that growth may no longer be possible is unthinkable. But the Alternative Diagnosis must be a matter of record.
This essay, composed by a mere journalist, in many ways represents the thinking of thousands of physical scientists working over the past several decades on issues having to do with population, resources, pollution, and biodiversity. Ignoring the diagnosis itself—whether as articulated here or as implied in tens of thousands of scientific papers—may waste our last chance to avert a complete collapse, not just of the economy, but of civility and organized human existence. It may risk a historic discontinuity with qualitative antecedents in the fall of the Roman and Mayan civilizations. (37) But there is no true precedent for what may be in store, because those earlier examples of collapse affected geographically bounded societies whose influence on their environments was also bounded. Today’s civilization is global, and its fate, Earth’s fate, and humanity’s fate are inextricably tied. But even if policy makers continue to ignore warnings such as this, individuals and communities can take heed and begin the process of building resilience, and of detaching themselves from reliance on fossil fuels and institutions that are inextricably tied to the perpetual growth machine. We cannot sit passively by as world leaders squander opportunites to awaken and adapt to growth limits. We can make changes in our own lives, and we can join with our neighbors. And we can let policy makers know we disapprove of their allegiance to the status quo, but that there are other options. Is it too late to begin a managed transition to a post-fossil fuel society? Perhaps. But we will not know unless we try. And if we are to make that effort, we must begin by acknowledging one simple, stark reality: growth as we have known it can no longer be our goal.
see also:

Not Your Father's Recession

SUBHEAD: Why the economic recovery may be different this time.
By Albert Bozzo on 6 August 2009 for CNBC -|newsnow|know3|2009|

This is not your father's recession.

If domestic spending has been the engine of US economic growth in the past few decades, then the coming recovery — and the job creation that comes with it — won't be a smooth ride.

image above: Detail of poster for "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" 1956. See

Much like the American auto industry, the broader economy is undergoing a sea change.

Consumer spending, which typically accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, has been so shaken that it will take years to recover. And even then, the growth will be slow and painful, with subpar job creation.

"The concern is that the magnitude of the downturn was so great and the structural issues so significant that you wouldn't look for a normal recovery," says John J. Castellani, president and chief economist of the Business Roundtable.

Castellani's outlook may not be among the most pessimistic. But it reflects the prevailing caution about how the austerity of consumers, business, and state and local government will keep a lid on spending and hiring.

"We believe that the painful adjustments to household and corporate balance sheets that are likely, given the excesses of the past, are enough to make the economic recovery a slow and tenuous one over the medium term," Morgan Stanley’s global economics team said in its Aug. 5 research note.

All of this points to an economic cycle that looks V-shaped on the way down and U-shaped on the way up — something of a first in modern times.

"The major sectors that have pulled us out before are not happening this time — housing, durables, exports," says economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute.

Friday's unemployment report is likely to show that the economy is shedding fewer jobs but it's not creating many either. Analysts expect the government to report that 320,000 jobs were lost in July, far fewer than in previous months. But the unemployment rate is expected to inch up to 9.6 percent, the highest in 26 years.

For all the talk about the jobless recovery that followed the 1991 recession, the decade between that downturn and the one in 2001 created a staggering amount of jobs.

Though payrolls shrank for more than a year after the end of the 1991 recession, there were 22.7 million more jobs at the expansionary peak of February 2001 than the prior peak in June 1990. About 20 million off those jobs were in services, including 2 million in retail. Another 2 million were in construction.

By contrast, employment was just 5.6 million higher in the peak-through-peak period of 2001-2007. Though manufacturing shed jobs by the millions, construction payrolls jumped by almost 13 percent, or 875,000.

Many of those jobs are now gone. By the end of the second quarter, the economy had lost 6.5 million jobs. Construction payrolls are now lower than they were a decade ago.

"Retailers were already reducing the number of employees with a focus on productivity gains," says HIS Global Strategy economist Brian Bethune, who doesn't expect employers to hire back quickly. "This is the inherent risk of what we're toying with. Where are we going to get the sources of employment growth? If housing remains weak, services will suffer."

In the latest recession, consumer spending shrank for two consecutive quarters for the first time in half a century.

Based on June data, retail sales, which peaked in 2007, are now at a mid-2005 level. Spending on furniture and household furnishings is back to where it was in 2001. The building and garden materials category is at a five-year low; autos an 11-year low.

"We don't see the consumer as being a normal part of the recovery," says Richard Hastings, consumer strategist at Global Hunter Securities. Instead, the consumer will be "very much a lagging piece" of the recovery, because of the "threat of unemployment with the absence of housing market wealth effect and the debt overhang."

Between June 2007 and December 2008, inflation-adjusted personal wealth fell by 22.8 percent — the most since the Federal Reserve began collecting data almost 60 years ago. Some $6 trillion in housing wealth alone was lost in 2008.

"When wages and salaries in the private sector are deflating you are really in a difficult situation," observes Bethune. "I don't see how you can move to any kind of strong recovery."

Consumer confidence as well as disposable income are critical to sustaining demand, which is a precondition to companies increasing output and eventually adding new employees.

"When we talk about a sustained rebound in employment, that's going to require a pick up in demand of all goods," says Mickey Levy, chief economist at Bank of America, who might be described ad a borderline optimist. "And we're not there yet."

Though companies may have over-reacted when they were slashing jobs in the wake of the Lehman Brothers failure, it's unlikely to mean any short-term correction.

"Even though companies have cut a lot, there is still some capacity," Tig Gilliam, CEO of Adecco North America, the job placement firm, told CNBC.

Companies are also cutting costs by slashing their own spending on goods and services.

"In this austerity mode, the first wave is the corporations that have cut back on contractors, vendors, travel," says Bethune. "That keeps happening as corporations keep moving up the tree from the low-hanging fruit until their baseline costs are more aligned with final demand."

Business and professional services, such as IT support, which are often outsourced by big companies, have suffered, say experts. The ISM survey for June reflects such conditions and trends.

"You're not going to see the kind of capital expenditures and investment to have the whole supply chain moving along with you," adds Castellani.

Cash-strapped state and local government are doing much the same as they struggle with budget deficits. Work outsourced to private contractors gets cut in an effort to save payroll positions.

"I don't think we're going to see a rapid pace of demand growth," says Steve East of Height Analytics. "We don't have private sector credit creation anymore and that's different in this recovery than past recoveries. In past recoveries lower interest got people to lever up more and household balance sheets lever up more."

Household mortgage debt decreased in 2008 for the first time since the Federal Reserve started issuing reports 35 years and has fallen four straight quarters though the first quarter of 2009. Consumer credit has fallen two straight quarters as of the first quarter of this year.

That sort of demand environment does not bode well for job creation, especially small business, which generates the majority of jobs.

Right now companies that need to increase output are adding to the workweek of current employees or hiring temporary workers. Hiring for full time positions usually lags by six to 12 months, according to experts.

"Even if they come back into the market, they're going to come in a little more slowly than they have to hire people in past recessions," says Gilliam.

Castellani of the Business Roundtable says hiring "will be a little more iffy than usual" because of doubts about the strength of the recovery.

Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein also expects a slow recovery but doesn't subscribe to the consumer slump, jobless recovery scenario. He says job growth — once it gets going in 2010--will average to 150,00-175,000 a month, but that is well below the quarter of a million average of the 1990s boom.

"There may be fewer clerks behind the cash register at the mall," says Goldstein, but jobs will appear as the economy grows and evolves. "The jobs that will be there may not be the jobs that are there right now. There are always new services."

Right now, the new force in the labor market is the federal government. By some estimates, the $789 billion stimulus package is creating 200,000-250,000. If so, that would put it on track to fulfill the Obama administration’s goal of saving or creating 3.5 million jobs, which is about 2.7 percent of the total payrolls as of June.

Many of the plan’s initiatives — from tax rebates to the cash-for-clunkers program to a homebuyer credit — are conventional tools meant to spur consumption, particularly of durable goods.

"The government is our spender of last resort," says Shierholz.

Hanapepe Journey - Part One

SUBHEAD: There are now some organizations that are feeble today, but point to Kauai's future business environment.

By Juan Wilson on 06 August 2009 -

This is Part One of a look at the near future in Hanapepe, Kauai, Hawaii. Hanapepe is proud to call itself "The Biggest Little Town" on Kauai. It has its own deep-water, year-round port (one of two on the island). It has Burns Field Airport and produces 80% of Kauai's electricity.

The town is tightly clustered with Eleele, Hanapepe Heights, Hanapepe Valley, Port Allen and Salt Pond. Hanapepe is a place uniquely positioned to face the future changes in Hawaii and the world at large.

image above: Business on a bench - selling squash outside Taro Ko Chip factory in Hanapepe


Part One revisits a past effort to look into the future of Kauai. Back in mid 2006 we participated in the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force ( . Participants were invited to present proposals on what Hawaii might be in 2050. We wrote a future history Kauai 2007-2050 and posted it here in late 2006, as well as presenting it to the task force.

The predictions of the years 2007-2012 were quite specific. There were certainly a few clunkers in there... predicting the collapse of Big Box stores was premature (2009) and the continued existence of the Superferry in 2012 was a bit off. None the less some of the future history effort was on target. Below is a sample covering 2007-2010.

"The middle class will continue to yearn for the benefits of affluence of the bunkered down rich, even though the newly arrived rich will be disappointed by the diminishing shopping opportunities and entertainments available on a small isolated island in a shrinking world economy.

The middle class will refuse to awaken from a lost American Dream. They will continue to yearn for a suburban westcoast lifestyle even after it has been proven not to work by Californians who face recession, water wars, illegal aliens, raging firestorms and mudslides.

Middle class workers look to the only games left on Kauai for employment - the military sub-contractors, the GMO agribusiness and the County. These jobs pay well with great benefits. But, there are a limited number of them which creates a mafia-like nepotism in their control and distribution. This will only get worse.

Kauai's struggling middle class will be even more divided from those below them on the socioeconomic ladder. Some perceive those who chose, or are forced, to revert to outdoor living, living off the land, living off charity, as rejecting suburban values, as a scourge of homeless dead enders. Most will realize that they themselves are closer to the edge than they ever thought possible, and that their friends and family will be joining the needy.

After tourism falters the economy on Kauai will limp along for a few years. We'll be looking for subsidies, handouts or whatever we can get by on. Increasingly desperate plans will be proposed to "jump start" the economy. Coal fired ethanol plants; Garbage burning power plants; More genetic experimentation; More research and development of high tech weaponry. Some ideas will be stupid. Some will be dangerous. Some will be scams.

In the wider world however, the energy spending frenzy of the previous decades will have peaked. Human carbon dioxide contributions into the atmosphere will begin to nose down as the world economy cools.

We will see some positive results of the failure of tourism by 2010. Low and middle cost housing will be available. There will be thousands of units of vacation time shares, hotel rooms, and other accommodations that used to house as many as twenty-thousand tourists a day. Moreover, there will be thousands of fewer cars filled with tourists roaming the highways.

This accommodation to diminishing wealth will continue for a short time like the weightlessness at the top of the arc of an inter island jet flight. The effects of efforts by groups such as Apollo Kauai will play a crucial part at this time. How we spend the last of the cheap oil money getting prepared for the future is critical.

Then there could be a sharp economic break when it becomes obvious to Americans that the restrictions resulting from a Post Peak Oil economy are permanent. A crash as sharp as the one in October 1929 is in the cards and could happen at any time. Attempts to delay or avoid financial disaster will be a top priority for the United States, but such efforts will only delay solutions that could be put in place and make the eventual collapse less painful."

In Hanapepe Journey Part Two we will look at a few particular operations in town that are already living in our future. They include Mana Ohana Food Co-op, The Habitat for Humanity Restore, The Salvation Army Thrift Store, The Storybook Theatre, Talk Story Bookstore, J.J. Ohana's, and Taro Ko Chip Factory. A special mention must go to Aloha Spirits and the Salt Pond Store as well.

see also: Ea O Ka Aina: Hanapepe Journey - Part Two 8/18/09

Island Breath: Kauai 2007-2050 1/30/07

The Collapse Gap

SUBHEAD: What we can learn from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Radio interview of Dmitry Orlov on 05 August 2009 in ClubOrlov "The Collapse Gap" with Dmitry Orlov, author of "Reinventing Collapse - The Soviet Example and American Prospects". Orlov's repeated travels to Russia throughout the early nineties allowed him to observe the aftermath of the Soviet collapse first-hand.
image above: Boris Yeltsin stands on a defeated tank and address not the USSR but Russia
Being both a Russian and an American, Dmitry was able to appreciate both the differences and the similarities between the two superpowers. Eventually he came to the conclusion that the United States is going the way of the Soviet Union. His emphasis is on all the things that can still be made to work, and he advocates simply ignoring all that will fall by the wayside.
"Guns & Butter" investigates the relationships among capitalism, militarism and politics. Maintaining a radical perspective in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, "Guns & Butter: The Economics of Politics" reports on who wins and who loses when the economic resources of civil society are diverted toward global corporatization, war, and the furtherance of a national security state. You can listen to it here.

Blackwater Founder & Murder

SUBHEAD: Erik Prince, founder of private security corporation Blackwater, implicated in murder and war crimes.
SOURCE: Shannon Rudolf (
By Jeremy Scahill on 04 August 2009 in The Nation
A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."
image above: Erik Prince testifies before House oversight committee in 2007.
From’s-new-deal-for-blackwater In their testimony, both men also allege that Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq. One of the men alleges that Prince turned a profit by transporting "illegal" or "unlawful" weapons into the country on Prince's private planes. They also charge that Prince and other Blackwater executives destroyed incriminating videos, emails and other documents and have intentionally deceived the US State Department and other federal agencies. The identities of the two individuals were sealed out of concerns for their safety.
These allegations, and a series of other charges, are contained in sworn affidavits, given under penalty of perjury, filed late at night on August 3 in the Eastern District of Virginia as part of a seventy-page motion by lawyers for Iraqi civilians suing Blackwater for alleged war crimes and other misconduct. Susan Burke, a private attorney working in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is suing Blackwater in five separate civil cases filed in the Washington, DC, area. They were recently consolidated before Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia for pretrial motions. Burke filed the August 3 motion in response to Blackwater's motion to dismiss the case. Blackwater asserts that Prince and the company are innocent of any wrongdoing and that they were professionally performing their duties on behalf of their employer, the US State Department. The former employee, identified in the court documents as "John Doe #2," is a former member of Blackwater's management team, according to a source close to the case. Doe #2 alleges in a sworn declaration that, based on information provided to him by former colleagues, "it appears that Mr. Prince and his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities about the ongoing criminal conduct." John Doe #2 says he worked at Blackwater for four years; his identity is concealed in the sworn declaration because he "fear[s] violence against me in retaliation for submitting this Declaration." He also alleges, "On several occasions after my departure from Mr. Prince's employ, Mr. Prince's management has personally threatened me with death and violence." In a separate sworn statement, the former US marine who worked for Blackwater in Iraq alleges that he has "learned from my Blackwater colleagues and former colleagues that one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information about Erik Prince and Blackwater have been killed in suspicious circumstances." Identified as "John Doe #1," he says he "joined Blackwater and deployed to Iraq to guard State Department and other American government personnel." It is not clear if Doe #1 is still working with the company as he states he is "scheduled to deploy in the immediate future to Iraq." Like Doe #2, he states that he fears "violence" against him for "submitting this Declaration." No further details on the alleged murder(s) are provided. "Mr. Prince feared, and continues to fear, that the federal authorities will detect and prosecute his various criminal deeds," states Doe #2. "On more than one occasion, Mr. Prince and his top managers gave orders to destroy emails and other documents. Many incriminating videotapes, documents and emails have been shredded and destroyed." The Nation cannot independently verify the identities of the two individuals, their roles at Blackwater or what motivated them to provide sworn testimony in these civil cases. Both individuals state that they have previously cooperated with federal prosecutors conducting a criminal inquiry into Blackwater. "It's a pending investigation, so we cannot comment on any matters in front of a Grand Jury or if a Grand Jury even exists on these matters," John Roth, the spokesperson for the US Attorney's office in the District of Columbia, told The Nation. "It would be a crime if we did that." Asked specifically about whether there is a criminal investigation into Prince regarding the murder allegations and other charges, Roth said: "We would not be able to comment on what we are or are not doing in regards to any possible investigation involving an uncharged individual." The Nation repeatedly attempted to contact spokespeople for Prince or his companies at numerous email addresses and telephone numbers. When a company representative was reached by phone and asked to comment, she said, "Unfortunately no one can help you in that area." The representative then said that she would pass along The Nation's request. As this article goes to press, no company representative has responded further to The Nation. Doe #2 states in the declaration that he has also provided the information contained in his statement "in grand jury proceedings convened by the United States Department of Justice." Federal prosecutors convened a grand jury in the aftermath of the September 16, 2007, Nisour Square shootings in Baghdad, which left seventeen Iraqis dead. Five Blackwater employees are awaiting trial on several manslaughter charges and a sixth, Jeremy Ridgeway, has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempting to commit manslaughter and is cooperating with prosecutors. It is not clear whether Doe #2 testified in front of the Nisour Square grand jury or in front of a separate grand jury. The two declarations are each five pages long and contain a series of devastating allegations concerning Erik Prince and his network of companies, which now operate under the banner of Xe Services LLC. Among those leveled by Doe #2 is that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe": To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.
Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince's executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to "lay Hajiis out on cardboard." Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince's employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as "ragheads" or "hajiis."
Among the additional allegations made by Doe #1 is that "Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq." He states that he personally witnessed weapons being "pulled out" from dog food bags. Doe #2 alleges that "Prince and his employees arranged for the weapons to be polywrapped and smuggled into Iraq on Mr. Prince's private planes, which operated under the name Presidential Airlines," adding that Prince "generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade." Doe #2 states: "Using his various companies, [Prince] procured and distributed various weapons, including unlawful weapons such as sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers, through unlawful channels of distribution." Blackwater "was not abiding by the terms of the contract with the State Department and was deceiving the State Department," according to Doe #1. This is not the first time an allegation has surfaced that Blackwater used dog food bags to smuggle weapons into Iraq. ABC News's Brian Ross reported in November 2008 that a "federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating allegations the controversial private security firm Blackwater illegally shipped assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in large sacks of dog food." Another former Blackwater employee has also confirmed this information to The Nation. Both individuals allege that Prince and Blackwater deployed individuals to Iraq who, in the words of Doe #1, "were not properly vetted and cleared by the State Department." Doe #2 adds that "Prince ignored the advice and pleas from certain employees, who sought to stop the unnecessary killing of innocent Iraqis." Doe #2 further states that some Blackwater officials overseas refused to deploy "unfit men" and sent them back to the US. Among the reasons cited by Doe #2 were "the men making statements about wanting to deploy to Iraq to 'kill ragheads' or achieve 'kills' or 'body counts,'" as well as "excessive drinking" and "steroid use." However, when the men returned to the US, according to Doe #2, "Prince and his executives would send them back to be deployed in Iraq with an express instruction to the concerned employees located overseas that they needed to 'stop costing the company money.'" Doe #2 also says Prince "repeatedly ignored the assessments done by mental health professionals, and instead terminated those mental health professionals who were not willing to endorse deployments of unfit men." He says Prince and then-company president Gary Jackson "hid from Department of State the fact that they were deploying men to Iraq over the objections of mental health professionals and security professionals in the field," saying they "knew the men being deployed were not suitable candidates for carrying lethal weaponry, but did not care because deployments meant more money." Doe #1 states that "Blackwater knew that certain of its personnel intentionally used excessive and unjustified deadly force, and in some instances used unauthorized weapons, to kill or seriously injure innocent Iraqi civilians." He concludes, "Blackwater did nothing to stop this misconduct." Doe #1 states that he "personally observed multiple incidents of Blackwater personnel intentionally using unnecessary, excessive and unjustified deadly force." He then cites several specific examples of Blackwater personnel firing at civilians, killing or "seriously" wounding them, and then failing to report the incidents to the State Department. Doe #1 also alleges that "all of these incidents of excessive force were initially videotaped and voice recorded," but that "Immediately after the day concluded, we would watch the video in a session called a 'hot wash.' Immediately after the hotwashing, the video was erased to prevent anyone other than Blackwater personnel seeing what had actually occurred." Blackwater, he says, "did not provide the video to the State Department." Doe #2 expands on the issue of unconventional weapons, alleging Prince "made available to his employees in Iraq various weapons not authorized by the United States contracting authorities, such as hand grenades and hand grenade launchers. Mr. Prince's employees repeatedly used this illegal weaponry in Iraq, unnecessarily killing scores of innocent Iraqis." Specifically, he alleges that Prince "obtained illegal ammunition from an American company called LeMas. This company sold ammunition designed to explode after penetrating within the human body. Mr. Prince's employees repeatedly used this illegal ammunition in Iraq to inflict maximum damage on Iraqis." Blackwater has gone through an intricate rebranding process in the twelve years it has been in business, changing its name and logo several times. Prince also has created more than a dozen affiliate companies, some of which are registered offshore and whose operations are shrouded in secrecy. According to Doe #2, "Prince created and operated this web of companies in order to obscure wrongdoing, fraud and other crimes." "For example, Mr. Prince transferred funds from one company (Blackwater) to another (Greystone) whenever necessary to avoid detection of his money laundering and tax evasion schemes." He added: "Mr. Prince contributed his personal wealth to fund the operations of the Prince companies whenever he deemed such funding necessary. Likewise, Mr. Prince took funds out of the Prince companies and placed the funds in his personal accounts at will." Briefed on the substance of these allegations by The Nation, Congressman Dennis Kucinich replied, "If these allegations are true, Blackwater has been a criminal enterprise defrauding taxpayers and murdering innocent civilians." Kucinich is on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and has been investigating Prince and Blackwater since 2004. "Blackwater is a law unto itself, both internationally and domestically. The question is why they operated with impunity. In addition to Blackwater, we should be questioning their patrons in the previous administration who funded and employed this organization. Blackwater wouldn't exist without federal patronage; these allegations should be thoroughly investigated," Kucinich said. A hearing before Judge Ellis in the civil cases against Blackwater is scheduled for August 7. Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!.

Biofuels ‘Trilemma’

SUBHEAD: The Food, Energy and Environment ‘Trilemma" presented by biofuels. By John Lorinc on 31 July 2009 in The New York Times At the 2009 Bio World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, held in Montreal last week, industry players and scientists found themselves pondering two seemingly contradictory concerns. One focused on how rapid advances in genetic engineering and biotechnology can expand the market for cellulosic ethanol and other “second-generation biofuels,” which are touted as low-emission substitutes for corn ethanol (itself a partial substitute for gasoline).
image above: Packaging of math game "Trilemma"
The other involved the problem of ensuring that exponential growth in the global biofuel market — which is projected to grow 12.3 percent a year through 2017, according to one recent study of the industry — will not hurt the environment and divert vast tracks of arable land needed for food or grain production. A paper published in Science earlier this month, referred to the triple challenges of energy, environment and food as the biofuel “trilemma.” The authors identified five “beneficial” sources of biomass: perennial plants grown on abandoned farm fields, crop residue, sustainably harvested wood residue, double or mixed crops, and industrial/municipal waste. “In a world seeking solutions to its energy, environmental, and food challenges, society cannot afford to miss out on the global greenhouse-gas emission reductions and the local environmental and societal benefits when biofuels are done right,” the authors state. “However, society also cannot accept the undesirable impacts of biofuels done wrong.” Another assessment, from a biofuels study group established by Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment, part of an international science body, discusses the challenge of dedicated energy crops: A small number of food-crop species like corn, sugarcane, oil palm and rapeseed are currently used globally to produce biofuels. Their continued use as biofuel feedstocks in light of increasing food demand, limited land resources, and stagnant agricultural yields is problematic. Dedicated energy crops like switchgrass in temperate areas and jatropha in the tropics have been proposed as a way to produce energy without impacting food security or the environment. However, such special energy crops require land, water, nutrients, and other inputs, and therefore compete with food crop for these resources. This competition contributes to conversion of grasslands, to deforestation, to and other land-use changes, with the associated adverse environmental effects. The paper, which was published last year, estimates that if biofuels account for 10 percent of transportation fuels, as some governments hope, production could eventually account for at least 8 percent of the world’s supply of arable land and perhaps much more, as well as consume large quantities of water.