Musing on Transition Towns

SUBHEAD: Ted Trainer's response to the recent discussions and critiques of the Transition movement. By Ted Trainer on 29 Spetmeber 2009 in Transition Culture - [Editor's Note: This is a portion of the original article runs over 3600 words. To see the whole article click on the link above.]

image above: A physical scale model at Ted Trainer's place demonstrating Pre-Peal Oil a suburban English town. From

... There are two basic positions one can take on the global situation. The first, which most people hold, is that some version of consumer-capitalist society can be made viable, i.e., that this society can be reformed so that it does not cause problems like greenhouse and poverty but it still provides affluence and runs on market forces, competition, production for profit, and economic growth, etc. etc.

The second position is that consumer-capitalist society cannot be fixed; that you cannot have a sustainable and just world unless you scrap many of the fundamental structures of this society and build radically different systems. In my very firm view the second position is right, and I make no apology for asserting this strongly, but that doesn’t mean I go around telling people they are stupid if they don’t agree.

It follows that I am very keen to see the Transition Towns movement not be merely for reforming, taming, humanizing consumer-capitalist society. I worry that there is a high probability the movement will only be about reforms within the system. Thus I wrote the critique in the hope that it would influence people in the movement to think carefully about their goals and vision, and in the hope that they would be persuaded to agree with me about what the goals should be. My concern derives from the fact that almost all initiatives for “environmentally sustainable development” have not challenged the fundamental premises of growth and affluence society. (For instance Australia’s peak environmental agency doesn’t see any sustainability problem with economic growth; its CEO has scolded me for thinking it does.)

Rob, please remember that my paper was addressed to people centrally involved in the movement with the intention of stimulating discussion of goals and visions. It was not addressed to townspeople, with whom one would obviously avoid the use of words like “anarchism” and “capitalism”, and one would try to introduce these themes in mild and inoffensive ways as perspectives to be considered. Let me restate some elements from the paper indicating the reasons for my “extreme” view of the situation. (For more detail on the case for this perspective see here. It is quite possible for instance to develop a highly localized food supply without making much if any difference to an overall economy that allows market forces and profit to determine what is done, ignores the most urgent needs, has unemployment and homelessness, imports hardware and clothes from the Third World, requires support of dictatorships in poor countries, and grows all the time.

There is in other words a big difference between just making your town more resilient and doing that as a step in a process which you can show is designed to eventually fix the world.

Re Anarchism - Rob thinks there’s room for debate about whether Anarchism is the form of government we have to endorse. I have argued in some detail that the situation we are heading into, essentially involving intense global resource scarcity, will determine that viable communities will have to be small, self governing and highly participatory. Big centralized states cannot run a satisfactory society that must be localized and must have very low resource use. Such communities will not work well, or at all, unless they are driven by aware, conscientious, responsible, skilled, empowered and happy citizens. So this is not a matter of preference; whether we like it or not the form of “government” will have to be Anarchist. I think this is delightful, but that’s not important. What Rob has to work out is whether I’m right in thinking that there will be no choice about this.

Of course as Rob says one has to be careful in using terms like “Anarchist” because that would put most people off, but technically it is the right one for the form of government I am referring to here. It’s important to keep goals distinct from processes. My concern is to get people who are central in the movement to think about questions like goals, anarchism and reformism, but that does not mean I am saying we have to go around town shouting that we are for Anarchism.

I think it is admirable the way the Transition Towns literature tries to avoid prescribing. Rob’s politeness is a great asset for the movement. But that does not mean there is no place for “leadership”, in the sense of putting forward and arguing for ideas about what to do. The main problem I have with the Transition Town literature is that it gives almost no guidance as to what to do to make the town “resilient”. It gives a great deal of advice about how to proceed, how to organise a local movement, but people inspired to join the movement will find almost no information or suggestions as to what to try to build or set up, what to do first, what to avoid…and why these steps will have what effects on town self-sufficiency or resilience. The strategy just seems to be to encourage anyone to do anything they like and we’ll see where that takes us. What I am pleading for here is planning, for the formation of priorities, and monitoring so we can get clearer about what works, what is more difficult than we thought, and what not to do. People from new towns eager to get into the movement need to be given as much guidance as much as possible about goals and sub-goals, what to start trying to do.

It could be that none of us knows the right answers to these questions at this stage, but we should be thinking hard about what are probably the best initial goals and priorities, and forming and making available more confident experience-based strategies as soon as experience accumulates. For instance, my guess is that trying to produce local energy should not be a top priority in the early stages (it’s too difficult to make a significant difference), but that forming co-operative gardens and workshops and little firms (bakeries, fish tanks, poultry…) enabling unemployed people to immediately become productive, is a very desirable early step, especially as it gets us started on building a new economy under our control…but let’s debate this, and grope towards a (loose, indicative, non-prescriptive) plan of action that will help the many towns now flocking to the Transition idea to get off to an effective start.

At present it is disturbing that the many towns racing to join the movement will find little or no information on what to actually develop or build in the town to make it more resilient. Unless we can give this guidance I think it is likely that there will be a lot of confused thrashing around that does not achieve much, followed by disenchantment the waste of an extremely important opportunity.

image above: Ted Trainer showing scale model of Transition Town transformation by permaculture. From

The currency issue - Finally, it is very important that careful critical thought be given to the role of local currencies. (My attempt to nut this out is here) Unfortunately most of the schemes I know about are in my view next to worthless, because there is no rationale showing how they are supposed to have desirable social effects. It is extremely important to introduce a money system that will give the town the power to build or organise desirable effects.

It is easy to see how LETS or Time Dollars results in good effects. Both enable people with no jobs or money to engage in work, trade, meeting needs and mutually beneficial economic activity. But in systems where for instance the new notes are bought using old notes, as seems to be the case with Berkshares, that’s just substituting one kind of money for another with no apparent significant benefits in terms of better community economic structures.

So, ask those proposing a new currency how will using it increase the production of needed things aground here, how will it get dumped people into jobs and livelihoods, how will it make this town more self-sufficient, how will it give us more power to determine the development of this town? If clear and convincing answers can’t be given to questions like this then what’s the point? Yes printing and selling a novel note might be an effective publicity device, and might raise money from tourists, but those are not important outcomes compared with for instance eliminating unemployment in the town, which is what the scheme I outline at the above site is centrally aimed at doing. Its core is as follows.

We set up cooperative productive ventures such as gardens and bakeries and record “work” time contributions. These entitle people to a proportion of the produce corresponding to their input. Whether the payments are in the form of a note or just a record they are a new form of money. If I earn this money in the garden I can spend it on bread from that co-op. Thus we have created a new economy. The money has been a device helping to connect idle people (and others) to available but unused productive capacity. You can see how the system has very desirable social effects, but the creation of the money is not the important part – setting up the cooperative firms is. It is then important to develop economic interactions between our new economy and the old one, e.g., by using the new money to pay for meals from its restaurants, which can spend the money paying for vegetables and labour from us in the new cooperative economic sector.

Conclusions - My main point is that it is important for us to discuss desirable goals. I don’t think our attitude should be to just facilitate the Transition Towns phenomenon. I am arguing that we should try to move it in directions that will maximize the chance of transition from consumer-capitalist society. It will not inevitably do that. In fact I think it is more likely to become an alternative path enabling some to live somewhat more sustainably within consumer-capitalist society. I am not assuming I or we can influence it, maybe we can’t have any effect at all, but I am arguing that it is important to try.

Whether or not you agree will depend on your view of the global situation, and you might not share mine. But I believe we are very likely to see catastrophic global breakdown before long so it is of the utmost importance to try to push/lead/persuade the Transition movement in the direction one believes has to be taken if disaster is to be avoided. If we ever make it to a sustainable and just world it will have been via a Transition Towns process of some kind. It is extremely encouraging that a potentially miraculous movement has emerged and therefore it is very important to try to ensure that it is a means to achieving the big global structural changes required.

see also: Ea O Ka Aina: PEak Oil in Transiton 9/24/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Brixton Pound introduced 9/16/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Disaster Transitionism 6/29/09 Island Breath: Rocky Road to Real Transition 4/19/08 Island Breath: The Waking Up Syndrome 4/19/08

City farming with livestock

SUBHEAD: Animal proteins can compensate for shortages of available starches if supplies are delayed or costs rise.  

By Sharon Astyk on 27 September 2009 in Casaubon's Book -

Image above: An contemporary urbanized goat. From

In many ways, I’m a city girl. I grew up in and around a number of small to large cities in the Northeast - I was born in East Hartford, I spent my childhood playing in grubby and decaying mill cities like Lynn MA and Waterbury CT, and my early adulthood living in Boston.

Unlike a lot of rural dwellers, I don’t dislike cities - I rather enjoy them. Every so often I pass by a decrepit row house in Albany or visit my old haunts in Lowell MA, or friends in Newark, NJ, or Queens NY, and think seriously about whether I could get my goats on the roof. I don’t miss the traffic and pollution, but I do miss the funky culture, the diversity and the energies of city life at times.

Reading Novella Carpenter’s "Farm City:The Education of an Urban Farmer", I found myself a little jealous - sure, I’ve got 27 acres, but she has Buddhist monks across the street who help her recapture her escaped pigs. Life is full of tradeoffs .

More seriously, what I really liked about this book was its emphasis on urban animal agriculture. Carpenter has rabbits, turkeys, ducks, geese, chickens and pigs during the course of the books. And when she writes about eating from her garden and neighborhood for a month, she realized something important - she was suffering from a dearth of calorie crops. If it weren’t for her meat production, she’d have starved.

This is the reality of urban farming today in much of the poor world - look around for statistics and you’ll see that most cities grow only a small portion of their staple starches - but often a shockingly large portion of their meat and vegetables. For example, in 1981, Hong Kong had 5 million people and 1,060 km2, and was using 10% of that land to produce 45% of the fresh vegetables, 15% of the pigs and 68% of the live chickens eaten in the city, according to I. Wade’s essay “Fertile Cities.”

I use Hong Kong as an example of what is possible because it is an extremely densely populated city, has extremely high property values, and a comparatively affluent population, so it is a pretty good comparative to a city like New York City. In 2002, the city had 6.3 million people in it, and had seen much of its good land developed (for example, between 1981 and 2000, all rice farming, even on the outer islands, ceased) but they were still producing 33% of the produce, 14% of the pigs, 36% of the chickens and farming 20% of the fish consumed within the city. The animals were raised for the most part on 160,000 tons annually of food waste were being recycled into meat and egg production.

Now this should not be mistaken for a claim that the cities will feed themselves - they won’t. There is no question that only small cities surrounded by rural land will probably ever feed themselves - and cities that have no waterways or well maintained rail lines may not do well in the coming decades.

But the production of vegetables and meat in cities is also not a trivial thing - and livestock production in cities is particularly important because as Carpenter found, animal proteins can compensate for shortages of available starches if supplies are delayed or costs rise, and they can provide an improvement in nutrition over the typical poor world diet, which includes grains and vegetables only.

Yes, I know that it is perfectly possible to be a healthy vegan, and would never argue otherwise - but most of the world’s vegans-by-choice do not come from the poorest places in the world, nor do most poor-near vegans have access to the high quality proteins shipped from a distance that American vegans do now. This is not a criticism of anyone’s choice, but I believe that cities that maximize localized calorie production will have to do so with animal agriculture, including meat production, and that in more difficult situations, comparatively fewer Americans may choose to voluntarily restrict their protein sources.

Moreover, in cities that are importing grains and other foods, meat animals can be raised on food that would otherwise be wasted. Carpenter raises her pigs, rabbits and poultry entirely on dumpster dived food that she scavenges for them. Aaron Newton, my partner in "A Nation of Farmers" raises his chickens, in the small city of Concord NC, almost entirely on scraps.

While urban poultry raising has gotten trendy, most urban farmers are still raising their poultry on expensive grains that could be fed to people - but have an ample supply of food scraps at nearby houses and restaurants that could fill the same needs with lower impact.

This is much harder to do in less-dense settings - we’ve tried several times to work out a good system for transporting food scraps, without the use of additional oil, to our poultry, but haven’t found something wholly satisfactory (although my husband is negotiating with the SUNY cafeteria right now, so that might change) - we simply don’t have a lot of restaurants out here. But for city dwellers, this is a no-brainer.

Meat is problematic on our society because of ethical considerations - most of it is raised in factory farmed conditions - and also because it is often raised by feeding animals grain that could be used for human consumption. If we take as basic premises that we should and must eat less meat, eat only meat raised ethically and also, in order to feed a hungry world, raise our animal products with little or no grain suitable for human consumption, it becomes clear that pasture raising on marginal lands that are steep, erodible, rocky or wet in the countryside, or raising meat, egg and dairy animals in cities on a small scale on food wastes are probably the two best possible options for raising animal products in our world.

Many city dwellers grow gardens, and it would be wrong to understate their importance - they provide caloric and nutritional benefits, allow people access to high value, nutritionally necessary and high-flavor foods they might not be able to afford, can provide some calorically dense vegetable and a few grain crops like sweet potatoes, potatoes, popcorn, etc….

We know that urban gardening can make an enormous difference in a city - for example in Paris, in the 19th century, 3600 acres of garden plots produced 100,000 tons of vegetables, more than the city itself could consume. In 1944, US Victory gardens produced as much produce as all US produce farms combined - half the nation’s total. So yes, your five raised beds, as part of an urban aggregate make a huge difference.

But add in livestock raising and the picture of urban food security gets much richer - those weeds growing the vacant lots can be eaten by miniature goats or rabbits - cut an armful as you walk by. Those gardens require manures, and most urbanites lack a place for safe composting of human waste, so rabbit and poultry manures are essential to a sustainable garden.

Stop by your neighborhood coffee shop and pick up a big bucket full of stale bread and salad leaves for the bunnies, or the leftovers from the takeout chinese place to the chickens (why Carpenter and her partner never actually make arrangements for places to save food for them rather than dumpster diving was one thing I couldn’t figure out). And then turn that into nutritious people food, adding fat and dense protein to your diet. Moreover, they can reduce dependency on feedlots, not just for urban dwellers, but for their carnivorous pets.

Bees can sit on a balcony, rabbits on a back porch. Chickens are content in small backyards and as Carpenter proves, you can even raise pigs there, although she does get some complaints about the smell towards the end - she does observes that in 1943, London had 4,000 pig raising clubs in the city limits, with 105,000 pigs kept within the city limits. Guinea pigs and quail, pigeons and fish in tanks can also supplement urban dwellers protein needs. Given the amount of imported dairy, I’d also suggest the consideration of very small goats for milk and meat.

Cities will never be wholly sustainably by themselves - but neither will most rural areas, which will continue to rely on cities for the manufacture of goods from cloth to tools, and as import and transport centers from around the world. We may relocalize, but it would be foolish to imagine that all trade and all cities will disappear.

What cities must be, if they are to have a future, is as food self-sufficient as possible, and they must be part of a larger project of wide food access. We will find ways, over the long term, to transport dry goods like grains into many cities - that doesn’t mean there won’t be disruptions, or much more important, poverty - but there will be reciprocal relations between cities and countryside.

But vegetables and animal products are another thing altogether - they often require refrigeration, and without refrigerated trucking or train transport, those things are likely to become less available - or more expensive and more out of reach of many.

Moreover, we cannot permit the wasting of food in the scale that we presently do to continue - that’s why we need eggs, meat and milk that can be raised on food scraps in urban centers.

Our own livestock breeding projects will focus on small bred livestock for densely populated areas - small goats, angora and meat rabbits, chickens with good foraging ability, even small sheep.

Not all of these will be suitable to the most densely populated areas, nor do I expect my farm to be definitive on the subject. But if you can take the girl out of the city, you can’t take the city out of the girl - and that’s a good thing. We need urban agriculture, and ties between city girls and country girls (and boys, of course) that help both places raise all the food they can, as ethically and wisely as they can.

GMO seed crops taking root

SUBHEAD: Hawaii is increasingly dependent on GMO research and seed production for survival. Image above: Ratekin's Seed House corn ad using Uncle Sam as the shill who is wearing the company logo. From By Nanea Kalani on 31 July 2009 in Pacific Business Journal - (

As Hawaii’s agricultural industry continues to decline, a sub-industry is growing in size and work force.

The state’s seed crop industry hit $146 million in value for the 2007-2008 season, surpassing pineapple and sugar, crops that were once Hawaii’s agricultural staples.

The seed crop industry’s value has grown at an average annual rate of 33 percent over the past five years. It makes up about 30 percent of the total value of all crops produced in Hawaii, according to the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association.

The trade group commissioned a study earlier this month to gauge the economic impact of Hawaii’s seed crop industry. The Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation performed the study using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The seed crop industry’s main players are five companies that grow crops on a total of 10 farms making up 6,010 acres. The companies mostly grow seed corn, as well as soybean, sunflower, wheat and rice varieties.

Forty other companies make up the rest of the industry and are spread over the agricultural, neutraceutical, environmental bioremediation, human therapeutics and marine sciences subsectors. The industry as a whole shipped a total of 16,140 pounds of seed last year to Mainland and South American markets for further development and distribution.

The approximate value of seed corn was $140.5 million and other seed crops accounted for $5.7 million, up from $103 million in the previous season.

The value of seed crops isn’t measured just by sales because the product is not sold like traditional crops. The seed industry’s $146 million value includes $68 million in labor, according to the study.

Counting direct and indirect expenditures, the study said the industry’s economic impact is at least $342 million, including $53 million in salaries outside the seed industry and $167 million in economic activity from sources such as equipment suppliers, utilities and contract research. These activities are estimated to generate $13.8 million in annual tax revenues for the state.

Despite the economic activity, some communities oppose the industry because of its use of genetic engineering to modify plants and their seeds. The study said about half of the acreage under seed crop cultivation employs genetic engineering and half uses conventional breeding practices.

As more sugar and pineapple lands become available, seed companies that find Hawaii an ideal climate for year-round crops are buying or leasing hundreds of acres.

For example, in 2007, Monsanto Co. acquired 2,300 acres of agricultural land in Kunia from the James Campbell Co. after Del Monte Fresh Produce Hawaii pulled out of its pineapple operations.

Monsanto, which produces seed corn, has about 4,800 acres in the Islands in leased and owned land, said spokesman Paul Koehler.

Meanwhile, last fall, Syngenta Seeds Inc. bought 848 acres from Campbell for approximately $14 million, also in Kunia, said branch manager Michael Austin.

The company, which has corn and soybean seed operations, previously had leased nearby land from Monsanto.

Earlier this year, Dow AgroSciences signed a multiyear lease for 3,400 acres from Gay & Robinson in West Kauai for corn seed, soybean and sunflower crops.

German company BASF Plant Science uses its Kauai facility as a continuous pass-through nursery, said seed activities manager Lee Stromberg. He said corn harvested in the Midwest is shipped to Kauai for planting in November. Once harvested, the seeds are returned to the Midwest for spring planting.

“This speeds up development time by allowing BASF Plant Science to grow two or more generations of a crop in one year,” Stromberg said.

The company’s corn research focuses on improving the nutritional qualities of maize as feed for poultry, swine and dairy cattle. Its modified techniques have created plants with improved agronomic characteristics, a higher content of vitamins or omega-3 fatty acids for preventing cardiovascular diseases, as well as plants with a higher nutritional value for animals, Stromberg said.

He said BASF is investing $430 million to expand its plant biotechnology operations at eight sites in five countries in Europe and the U.S.

The research and farm expansions have led to job growth for the local seed industry. Hawaii seed companies collectively employ 1,863 workers, and the number of full-time jobs in the sector has increased 268.5 percent over the past three years, according to the study.

Overall job growth has increased by 73 percent since 2006, and about 14 percent of seed industry jobs are classified as “highly skilled” in the areas of science and research.

Meanwhile, the overall agricultural sector saw a 16.7 percent decline in jobs during the same time period. The seed industry accounts for 23 percent of agricultural jobs in the state.

“Over the last five years the seed industry has continued to grow at an exponential rate and is a significant driver of the life sciences biotechnology industry in Hawaii,” the study said. “It remains the primary driver of overall growth in Hawaii’s agricultural sector.”

Hawaii seed crop companies:
• Monsanto Co. (Farms on Oahu, Molokai and Maui) • Syngenta Seeds Inc. (Farms on Oahu and Kauai) • Pioneer Hi-Bred International (Farm on Kauai) • Dow AgroSciences (Farms on Kauai and Molokai) • BASF Plant Science (Farm on Kauai) see also: Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai's last sugar harvest 9/28/09 .

Kauai's last sugar harvest

SUBHEAD: Dow GMO seed corn operations to follow 117 years of sugar cane growing.

By staff on 23 September 2009 in Pacific Business Journal -

Image above: From DOW chemical company "sustainability presentation on its website. From

Gay & Robinson will process its last sugar crops in October, ending 117 years in the sugar business on Kauai.

The private, family-owned company had announced last September that it was leaving the raw sugar business, but had not given a timetable for ending production.

Several plans for the land and mill that were announced last year have stalled.

Gay & Robinson had planned to grow crops for the production of ethanol, but it says high energy prices have scrapped those plans. It also had planned to lease its Kaumakani mill, terminal and other assets to Pacific West Energy LLC, with which it has partnered to develop an ethanol production plant. But those plans have been delayed by difficulties in finding financing.

“There is still hope that sugar cane growing might continue on the west side of Kauai should Pacific West Energy put together its plans for energy and ethanol production,” Gay & Robinson said in a statement.

In the meantime, it has leased some of its lands in west Kauai, including 3,400 acres to Dow AgroSciences, which grows corn seed, soybean and sunflower crops on Kauai and Molokai.

[Publisher's Note: DOW is the company that provided Agent Orange and Napalm to the US military for use in Vietnam to deforest jungle and burn people.]

Gay & Robinson said its G&R Ranch operations are not affected by the mill’s shutdown.

The shutdown of the sugar operation leaves only one remaining sugar plantation and mill in Hawaii — Alexander & Baldwin’s Hawaii Commercial and Sugar Co. on Maui, which posted $13 million in operating losses in 2008.

See also: 

Gay & Robinson Future

SUBHEAD: As it ends on Kauai the hangover from the sugarcane binge should not be massive soil runoff or more GMO acres.  

By Andy Parx on 25 September 2009 in Parx News Daily -

Image above: The edge of a Gay & Robinson canefield near Baldwin Monument and looking to Hanapepe Heights. Photo by Juan Wilson.

Our drive to Waimea yesterday was spent behind a raw sugar delivery truck on its way back from a Nawiliwili drop-off, spewing noxious diesel exhaust until it turned off into one of the soon to be abandoned cane fields of Gay and Robinson.

As we drove through the cross hatching of soon to be harvested and already barren fields destined for abandonment it was hard not to imagine what the next 10 years will reap if the paths of the rest of the abandoned cane fields from Kilauea to Kalaheo is the same for the G&R, massive runoff for the next few years, fouling reefs with chemically poisoned dirt as each heavy downpour washes away what’s left of top soil in waves of gooky mud. It’s hard to cry about the last cane harvest on the island.

All the good stuff of plantation life- idealized as it is ignoring the near slave-like conditions, plantation mentality and environmental degradation- hasn’t really existed for about 50 years now.

But for once, if we do it right, the aftermath doesn’t have to include the deposit of millions of cubic feet of soil in the ocean or leave ugly scarred land left to be a massive breeding ground for the spread of the invasive species that will accumulate if nothing is done now to stop it. It’s time to put Keith Robinson’s title of “Mr. Environmentalist” to the acid test. Tinkering with native species is nice- for him.

But if he really cares he’ll be remediating the land and restoring it as closely as possible to the condition his family found it in 120 years ago by nurturing a program growing and planting those native species he’s been propagating for years, stabilizing the land and letting it breath for a generation until it becomes living soil once again.

And then of course instead of turning it over to the GMO frankenfood industry developing diversified ag-only, non residential lots to supply the food -and energy- the island needs in anticipation of the increasingly likely post-peak-oil day when “da boat no mo’ come”.

Perhaps he’ll even return the water to the streams and rivers from which it was stolen as the irrigation systems were put in place and restoring the native ecosystems that existed before G&R tore up the place for King Cane. No laugh, eh. It could happen.

See also:
Island Breath: Kauai Sustainability Land Use Plan 11/1/07
Island Breath: Barca Reforestation Plan 12/20/07

The End of Oil?

SUBHEAD: A book review of “Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil” .  

By Michael Hirsh on 25 September2009 in The New York Times -

Image above: Detail of paperback book cover. From

Oil is the curse of the modern world; it is “the devil’s excrement,” in the words of the former Venezuelan oil minister Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, who is considered to be the father of OPEC and should know. Our insatiable need for oil has brought us global warming, Islamic fundamentalism and environmental depredation. It has turned the United States and China, the world’s biggest consumers of petroleum, into greedy, irresponsible addicts that can’t see beyond their next fix.

With a few exceptions, like Norway and the United Arab Emirates, oil doesn’t even benefit the nations from which it is extracted. On the contrary: Most oil-rich states have been doomed to a seemingly permanent condition of kleptocracy by a few, poverty for the rest, chronic backwardness and, worst of all, the loss of a national soul.

We can’t be rid of the stuff soon enough.

Such is the message of Peter Maass’s slender but powerfully written new book, “Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil.” Unquestionably, by fueling better and faster transportation and powering cities and factories, oil has been critical to modern economies. But oil has also made possible the most destructive wars in history, and it has left human society in a historical cul-de-sac. Despite much hue and cry today, Maass argues, we seem unable to move beyond an oil-based global economy, and we are going to hit a wall soon.

Maass, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, tends to endorse the predictions of industry skeptics like Matthew Simmons, who argues the earth is about to surpass “peak oil” supplies. Even with the recent fallback in prices, the petroleum that’s left to discover will be harder and more expensive to extract. Last year’s $147-a-barrel oil was just a “foretaste of what awaits us,” Maass writes.

Maass is less interested in crunching oil-supply numbers, however, than in exposing the cruelty and soullessness of human­kind’s lust for this “violence-­inducing intoxicant,” as he calls it. His book teaches us an old lesson anew: that the true wealth of nations is not discovered in the ground, but created by the ingenuity and sweat of citizens.

It’s the same lesson the Spanish learned centuries ago when they discovered gold, the oil of their time, in the New World. They piled up bullion but squandered it on imperial fantasies and failed to build enduring prosperity, while destroying the civilizations from which they seized it.

Destruction, or at least a lack of progress, has been the fate of most of the nations unlucky enough to sit on top of large pools of “black gold” today. They have grown corrupted by it, their leaders relieved of the need to show accountability as long as they can buy off well-connected foreigners and pay for the security and protection they need from their own angry, disenfranchised citizens.

In starkly titled chapters — “Fear,” “Greed,” “Empire,” “Alienation” and so on — Maass shows how each oil state has found its own way to failure. “Just as every un­happy family is unhappy in its own way, every dysfunctional oil country is dysfunctional in its own way,” he writes.

Equatorial Guinea’s savage leader, Teodoro Obiang, plunders virtually every cent of his nation’s wealth, aided by Riggs Bank of Washington, which sometimes sent employees to the embassy to pick up bulging suitcases of cash. Locals don’t even get the benefit of jobs because the manual labor is supplied by Indians and Filipinos brought in by Marathon Oil.

Walking around the capital, Malabo, one night, Maass does manage to find a booming source of local employment: young Guinean girls called “night fighters” because they jostle for a chance to sell their bodies to the oilmen from Texas or Oklahoma. “The men in Malabo might not find jobs in the oil industry, but it is clearly possible for their desperate sisters to earn a few dollars,” he writes.

Traveling to Ecuador, Maass discovers graffiti on one of the pipelines that cut through what was once pristine Amazonian rain forest: “Más Petróleo = Más Pobreza” - "More oil = More Poverty". For him, it sums up the confiscatory approach that Texaco took to that country, leaving it a stripped land oozing with toxic pollutants.

The major oil producing nations have fared little better:
  • Saudi Arabia, seventy years after the discovery of its first great reservoir, remains a medieval principality with a bare patina of modernity. The country’s long reign as the world’s No. 1 oil supplier has been good for the Saudi princes but a Faustian bargain for the rest of us, having led to the petrodollar-funded spread of extremism and the rise of Osama bin Laden.
  • Post-Soviet Russia has become a kind of petro-fascist state where the head of Lukoil slavishly keeps a picture of Vladimir Putin on his desk rather than photos of his family.
  • Venezuela is resurrecting socialism, this time as farce, under the buffoonish Hugo Chávez, who hosts a TV talk show called “Aló Presidente” while turning his national oil company into a “development agency with oil wells” that furthers his hold on power.
  • Iran’s whole modern history has been twisted out of shape by its oil riches, starting with the American-British coup that toppled Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and restored Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
The unhappiest countries are those where oil has led to war, none more so than Iraq, even if no one will acknowledge the truth about America’s 2003 invasion. “The refining process transforms this black swill into a clear fluid without which our civilization would collapse,”

Maass writes:
“Quite often a corollary process of political refining occurs to sanitize the truth of what’s done to keep oil in the hands of friendly governments. Just as cars cannot run on unrefined crude, political systems choke at the unfiltered mention of war for oil.”
He cites George W. Bush’s claims that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with oil. Still, the question hangs out there: Why was the Oil Ministry one of the only places guarded by United States troops in the early days of looting?

By the end of Maass’s long indictment, one wants the horror to end. Let’s all move on from oil already. Indeed, it is tempting to imagine what sort of globalization we might have today if Max Steineke and his exploratory team from Standard Oil of California hadn’t discovered quite so much petroleum when they pierced Saudi Arabia’s first great reservoir in 1938.

If less human ingenuity had been applied to finding oil over the last 70 years, and more to developing other sources of energy, the world economy — and the environment — might be far healthier. The World Trade Center might even still be standing. [Publisher's Note: The World Trade Center would likely never have been built.]

But Maass doesn’t fully deliver on the promise of his subtitle. Is this really the twilight of the oil economy? We still seem utterly drenched in the gunk, and the author’s occasional hints at the alternative history that might have been — if only Ronald Reagan hadn’t dismantled those solar panels that Jimmy Carter put on the White House roof! — are not terribly satisfying.

He says that the combined technologies exist to move beyond oil, but he doesn’t go into any real detail. In his final chapter, Maass gives us an evocative glimpse of one future alternative he would prefer — a giant wind farm he discovers along Interstate 10 in California. “Set against the blue sky and the brown desert, in rows of rotating white arms that glint in the sun, the turbines have the appearance of futuristic totems waving at us, luring us forward,” Maass observes, before driving on in his car.

Interview with Paul Hawken

SUBHEAD: Paul Hawken shares his thoughts with about optimism, doomers and what's next.  

By Kamal Patel on 25 September 2009 in Worldchanging -

Image above: Paul Hawken at the lecturn at Shambala Sun. From (

 From the 2009 Sustainable Industries Economic Forum, Seattle, WA.

To the sustainability and the social justice crowd, environmentalist, entrepreneur and author, Paul Hawken, requires little introduction. He has written six books, including "Natural Capitalism:

Creating the Next Industrial Revolution," a book Bill Clinton calls 'the fifth most important book in the world today.'

Hawken was this year's Sustainable Industries: Economic Forum keynote speaker. During the event, Hawken asked the 300 plus sustainably-minded business leaders, entrepreneurs and political heads to truly look at the data: dangerous levels of atmospheric CO2, peak oil, peak soil - peak everything.

Despite this, he said he remains optimistic. He focused much of his talk on solutions such as innovative solar design and collaborations, like linking green banking with affordable, green housing, food and transportation. I was given the opportunity to sit with Hawken, and ask him a few questions about his thoughts on optimism, doomers and what's next.  

At the end of the Beginning chapter of "Blessed Unrest," you say you didn't intend it, but optimism had found you. To our readers who may have not found optimism yet, or vice versa, could you talk a little about what you had discovered in writing "Blessed Unrest" and how optimism found you?

What I discovered was people, themselves. And really just the number, and the breath, and depth of the ingenuity and authenticity in which people really applied themselves to being problem solvers and alleviate suffering, to addressing the ills of the world, and innovating and re-imagining what was possible. And they are organizing around different ways and different issues around different cultures and different manners.

And when you stand back and you really get to see, if you will, not visually, not directly, but see it in a conceptual way, how large and diverse this movement is, then you just have to either laugh, or grin or smile.

That's why I did the appendix for "Blessed Unrest." It wasn't just the number of people, it's what they were doing. If everyone was just trying to save panda bears and dolphins we would be in big trouble. But they aren't choosing just the sentimental, charismatic species. Of course people are doing that and that's what gets the money. But the fact is that there is a level of granulation in terms of policy and issues that was to me, the most sophisticated map of the coming world that I have ever seen.

And I didn't make it, I drew it out of the 100s of thousands of NGO's and non-profit organizations. I was blown away by what I found, and saying, my God humanity has a hold on this. We have a handle on this, we really do. Now then, you know what we pay attention to instead? All the institutional obstacles, and the resistance, and corruption, and financial chicanery, and on and on and on. And you look at that and you want to just jump off a bridge. And because you just see that, humans seem self serving, greedy, short sighted and violent. And if you just look at that, you just drink that potion, its toxic.

Personally, I was a pessimist. It wasn't until I learned about the idea of natural capitalism and heard your speech at Bioneers about "Blessed Unrest", did I connect with optimism. I must admit, that the word capitalism wasn't the easiest word to fit with my understandings of fairness in the world much alone optimism. I've heard you say that you used the word capitalism on purpose. What can you say about people who struggle with the concept or word, capitalism. And could you maybe help them better understand what you mean by "Natural Capitalism?"

Three years before the book came out, I had written an article called "Natural Capitalism," and coined the term. And what I was writing about was Natural Capital, and that was (coined) by E. F. Schumacher. And what he was trying to say, as an economist, was (take a) look at this form of capital -- living systems and ecosystems services, what we call resources. We don't put this on the balance sheet of the world. We count it as zero, until we cut it down, extract it, mine it, kill it. And then it has value. But before we do that, it has zero value. That's crazy. It has more value before we touch it.

So, then it goes to Herman Daly, and what Herman Daly was saying is that the limiting factor to human prosperity to the world wasn't human productivity, but the productivity of our resources because we are in a resource restrained world caused by our industrial systems taking so much, so often and for so long. Therefore, when you have an economy and you see what the limiting factors are to development, then you work on maximizing what is limiting. And what is limiting to us isn't people, we have lots of people, too many some may say.

 So my reason for writing the piece in "Mother Jones", which was written in '96 and published in '97 (and the book in '99), was to say what kind of economy would it be if we were to maximize the production of natural capital, rather than maximizing the capital of people? When you maximize the productivity of people, you use less people. Well we have more people than there are jobs.

Basically we are using less and less of what we have more of, and with natural capital, using more and more of what we have less of. And we are using more of it (natural capital) to make people more productive, to use less people. So this is upside down and backwards, we should be using more and more people to use less and less natural capital.

So when it came to titling it for the magazine, we called it Natural Capital -- "ism." It had nothing to do with capitalism, as such. It was actually meant to tweak the Mother Jones readers. And some of them were really mad, and my editor was fired for it. And was fired by people who had not really read the article. They felt like it was just about granola capitalism, or we were justifying capitalism. And it had nothing to do with capitalism, and it still doesn't.

Now Amory (Lovins) and Hunter (Lovins) interpret it that way. But as a coiner of the term, and as one of the two authors of the book, I can tell you that "Natural Capitalism" is in no way meant to imply or be a justification or bull work to capitalist systems, which I think, are basically pathological. I believe in commerce, I believe in entrepreneurship, I believe in business, I mean I want to make it really clear. But capitalism? No. I don't hold trump with that at all. It was meant to be a double entendre. A pun, a pun.

Continuing along this line of pessimism vs optimism, I'd like to explore ideologues. In David Holmgren's book, "Future Scenarios," he talks about four different scenarios that could happen as we hit the peak of the Industrial Ascent: The 'Techno Explosion,' or continued growth of industry and current day capitalism; 'Techno Stability,' which is a seamless transition into sustainable consumption and a massive change towards renewable energy; 'Energy Descent,' a future brought on by a reduction of economic activity and complexity, as well as population as fossil fuels deplete; and lastly 'Collapse,' subscribed to by peak oil-ers and doomsayers who talk about our unpreparedness to the peaking industrial age and a massive die off. Could you please speak about your thoughts on Holmgren's future scenarios as well as if these, sometimes contrasting ideologues, are finding common ground?

I do a lot of scenario work with Peter Schwarz at Stanford Research Institute, and wrote a book with him. One thing you discover with scenarios is you figure out what's not going to happen. In other words, they never happen. What happens instead, is almost more surprising and unpredictable.
How so many smart people can have so much info and so much data and so many resources, and come up with scenarios that are never true, is one of the fascinating things. Its not a slam, I'm just saying that its one the fascinating things about change. Which is, change is fundamentally unpredictable. And because it involves people, makings choices and human behavior, on a minute by minute bases, we are dealing with an organism here, human civilization, that is innately unpredictable.

Even though there are tendencies and the sweep of history, and things we can go back on when we say this is what people do when they are starving, this is what people do when they do that, when you are talking about these scenarios you are basically reaching from science fiction to basically apocalypse.

The only thing I can say about the future is that its really going to surprise us. And so you can put those on the board and say well, in 20 years from now or 30 or even 10 -- where are we in those? It will probably be all four in certain ways. It wont be one. There would be parts of the world that may be in the worst. There would be parts in the third one, by choice, and islands of the first. You just don't know.

I don't think it will be one size fits all. And the things is, the rate of social technology and other technology, and the rate of technological breakthrough right now, is stupefying. And the rate of the way new information is coming along and being made available and accessed, to that rate of real time feed back due to Twitter and other things, is trying to be incorporated into political decisions and commercial decisions, and so forth.

You saw the H1N1 virus now is being Twittered and tracked, and boom boom boom, it's better than anything we had every had in terms of NHS or with CDC, of whats happening, where and who had been admitted, and this and that. And so we are entering into a time, and this is what I was trying to say in the speech, that no one can know, it's really unknown. And that's the exciting part. And for people who don't like that, its anxiety producing. This is where leadership will be important. I don't mean charismatic leaders, but I mean in terms of a community basis, neighborhood basis, friendship basis. We don't need a few great leaders in the world, we need about a million leaders in this world. It's a really exciting time. And we do have a clock ticking, the ppm clock on the upper stratosphere, no question about that.

But, I'll just say, with the new SIG technology or solar technology, if you were to run all the news presses of the world -- and they were printing SIG solar panels for five and half days -- you could (meet) all the energy (needs) in the world. What I'm saying, is that there are resources, and abilities that we have here, that are phenomenal. The fact that they are not being enlivened yet is because people don't think there is a reason to. And should they, and when they do, change can happen in a way that is really astonishing.

With the seemingly agreed upon idea of Peak Everything, what do you think about the future of globalism and organizations like the WTO?

I think we are peaking. I don't see peak as associated with doom and gloom, by the way. But I think we are peaking and its a rolling peak and the peaks play upon each other, of course. Peaking oil and peaking fossil energy causes the inability to afford other types of commodities. The energy required to get them is greater than the energy released or value released or you get a peak production. In terms of the WTO, I think some consumerism is over. I see export economies basically having peaked. Exports will still happen and I see the WTO as sort of being residual.

But it really is related to energetics, which is when energy becomes more expensive. It doesn't make sense to make things elsewhere. The logistics of the modern industrial system is definitely going to be challenged. The problem I think we face there is what we faced in '08 when we had a sharp drop off of manufacturing when people panicked and people stopped buying. That just throws it, and a lot of manufacturing went offline, and it's hard to start it up again. All the more reason it's important to make the transition in terms of localization.

Make local bigger, make it broader, go into areas where you wouldn't even imagine, like making things like cars and transportation and making clothes again. There is no reason why the Northwest shouldn't be completely self sufficient. Really, it has everything, there's not one thing missing and thus becoming exemplary in its own way.

Doesn't mean there isn't going to be apples and blackberries or salmon coming out of here. There still will be imports, exports. There still will be cinnamon and pepper from India and things like that, but the most important exports would be culture and ideas, and music and literature.

You were talking a little bit about collaborations downstairs. I heard a great word the other day, coop-etition. Any new "radical collaborations" you've been seeing in the business world that excites you? 

I wouldn't suggest radical ones, I would just suggest more of them. I think that we need the end run around conventional business. Business associations tend to take the lowest common denominator and parlay it into a congress. And I think we need to start to organize in ways where we want the highest denominator in change and policy, taxation and subsidies.

We need a different business lobby than the one that gets there now. We (NGOs, non profits, sustainable businesses, etc) need to, like I say, get above our horizon, to be seen, to be heard and to know we exist. It goes back to "Blessed Unrest," it's one thing to have 2 million organizations, but its kind of time to have them come together, too, and stop being heroes. You gotta work together.

Whats next for you? Are you in the midst of another book?
Nah, I'm just working on my solar technology. I'd rather fail at something important than succeed at something trivial. It really is important. There's some 516 million people with no electricity in places like India. We have a clear goal, we know where we are going with our product. The thing about it is, it can be made in Africa, by Africans, with African materials, for African people.

Instead of it being made and shipped in containers from China. So that people can make their own stuff. Made in Haiti for Haitians. It can be made in Nairobi for Kenyans. It can be made in our townships, so people feel like they have something. That's a green job: non toxic, low input, high skill, their own distribution, their own implementation.

I don't care if they sell for cost, it's up to that region. They can make it even less expensive if they want. But our goal is to have the cheapest electricity for the poor. We think other people want it too, but it will be the cheapest electricity.

Hawaiian Sovereignty Panel

SUBHEAD: Reinstated Hawaiian Government to host panel discussion on national sovereignty.  

By Kekane Pa on 23 September 2009 for RHG - 
Image above: Photo by Kyle Kajahiro of sovereignty supporters on "Statehood Day" 8/22/09. From

The Reinstated Hawaiian Government is hosting a panel discussion on Hawaiian sovereignty. Below is a list of those representatives invited to present their Hawaiian national sovereignty process to the people of Kauai. Certified letters of invitation have been sent to all of them.

There are no assurances as to who may come as of this date. Each participating group will have 15 minutes to present its sovereignty process. A question and answer session will follow. The public is welcome and everyone is invited to listen and ask questions.  

Panel discussion on Hawaiian Sovereignty

Sunday on October 11th 2009 from 1:00 - 6:00pm  

Peace and Freedom Convention Hall 4191 Hardy Street, Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii  

REINSTATED HAWAIIAN GOVERNMENT Henry Noa POB 2236 Honolulu, HI 96804 email: website:

NATION OF HAWAII Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele PO Box 701 Waimanalo, HI 9679 tel: (808) 259-9018 email: website:

HAWAIIAN KINGDOM Keanu Sai, Ph.D email: website:

HAWAIIAN KINGDOM GOVERNMENT Mahealani Asing Kahau 210 Iolani Avenue, Suite #3 Honolulu, Hawaii 96813 tel: (808) 587-2489 email: website:

KAU INOA OHA Representative Boyd P. Mossman Walter Meheula Heen 711 Kapi'olani Blvd., St 500 Honolulu, HI 96813 tel: (808) 594-1835 fax: (808) 594-1865 email: website:

LIVING NATION Lynette Cruz Mel Kalahiki 45-659 Lohiehu St. Kaneohe, HI 96744 tel: (808) 284-3460 email: website:

PAKAUKAU Kekuni Blaisdell tel: (808) 595-6691 email:

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Reinstated Hawiian Government Meetings 9/16/09


Protest as National Security Threat

SUBHEAD: G20 protest as theater or a new era of revolution and social upheaval?  

By John Robb on 25 September in Global Guerrillas

Image above: Massive security dampens G20 protests in Pittsburgh. From

In general, governments worldwide are losing control over all of the classical forms of national power from borders, to communication, to media, to economic activity, to security. The upshot of this accelerating weakness is a tendency to view any and all forms of public protest as a security threat. To counter this perceived threat, an ever increasing number of countries have opted to:
  • militarize their police forces (from the 5 fold increase in US SWAT teams over the past decade to China's new million man paramilitary force)
  • establish rules to neuter expression of dissent (i.e. establishment of "free speech zones" etc.)
  • and the immediate/early application non-lethal weapons to disperse crowds. (sonic weapons, tasers, tear gas, etc.)
This effort will almost undoubtedly generate unintended consequences. We can already see protest groups learning to counter this by using flash mob mobility via cell phones.

Video above: CNN shows sonic weapons used against G20 "anarchists" in Pittsburgh. From YouTube

G20 Pretense in Pittsburgh

SUBHEAD: This particular drama is likely to have an unhappy ending – and the ticket price will be staggering.  

By Peter Schiff on 25 September 2009 in Financial Sense University

Image above: President Barack Obama in the wings at Pittsburgh G20 meeting. From
 As another G20 meeting rolls around, this time on home soil, the time comes once again for the economically curious but politically unconnected to wonder what is really happening behind closed doors.

But while admiring the pageantry, chuckling at the awkward group photos, and parsing the joint communiqués like newly found Dead Sea scrolls, the overwhelming majority of observers will miss the meeting's dominant theme: hypocrisy.

Everyone agrees that the principal agenda item in Pittsburgh will be the need to rein in the 'global imbalances' that created the late economic crisis. Everyone also agrees that these imbalances involve too much spending and borrowing by Americans and too little of both by the Chinese and other developing nations.

In his remarks this week at the United Nations, President Obama used his peerless rhetorical skill to frame the issues clearly and plainly. Noting that a return to pre-crisis economics is impossible, the president assured the world that his administration will pursue policies to increase savings and decrease spending at home and challenged his Chinese counterparts to enact measures with the opposite effect in their own country.

While this is roughly what needs to happen, President Obama is actually doing everything in his power to prevent it. In point of fact, every policy move undertaken by his administration has exacerbated the very imbalances he supposedly wants to curtail. To so seamlessly profess one goal while simultaneously undermining it is an impressive piece of political theater. Unfortunately, this particular drama is likely to have an unhappy ending – and the ticket price will be staggering.

What exactly are the federal fiscal stimuli other than deliberate, but clumsy, efforts to get people, companies, and governments to spend money they don't have? Programs like tax credits for new homebuyers or 'cash for clunkers' are intended to encourage consumers to spend money that they otherwise might have saved. Grants to municipalities allow them to hire workers and spend money locally that they otherwise would have forgone.

Federal intervention in the mortgage and credit card debt markets, where they are now nearly the sole buyer, has been specifically undertaken to keep interest rates low and financial firms solvent – so that Americans can keep buying homes and using their credit cards. While the Fed will continue to hand out free money to any and all borrowers for an "extended period," the abysmally low interest on deposits that such a policy creates disincentivizes personal savings even further.

In 2009, despite the tilted playing field, the American people have heroically managed to increase their savings (although clearly not as much as they would have in a free market). But President Obama's runaway deficit spending is undermining their efforts.

The simple truth is that government debt is our debt. So if a family manages, at some cost to their lifestyle, to squirrel away an extra $1,000 in saving this year, but the government adds $20,000 in new debt per household (each family's approximate share of the $1.8 trillion fiscal 2009 deficit), that family ends up owing $19,000 more than they did at the beginning of the year!

So much for our end of the bargain. How about on the other side of the Pacific? Will the Chinese restore balance by increasing their spending? How can they while they are lending us all their money? Remember, any money the Chinese spend is money they cannot loan to us. So, if China really wanted to spur domestic consumption, the best way to do so would be to stop buying our debt. Even better, they could sell Treasuries they already own and distribute the proceeds to their citizens to spend.

However, the Obama administration is heavily lobbying the Chinese to get them to step up to the plate and buy record amounts of new Treasury debt. Obama cannot have it both ways. He cannot claim he wants the Chinese to spend more, but then beg the Chinese government to take money away from Chinese consumers and loan it to the United States Treasury.

In the end, Obama will get precisely what he publicly claims to desire but privately dreads. The Chinese government will come to its senses and stop buying Treasuries. This will cause the U.S. dollar to collapse, but it will also allow Chinese citizens to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Once the Chinese begin consuming more of their own products, those products will no longer be available to Americans. Once they start spending more of their incomes on themselves, those funds will no longer be available for us to borrow.

Unfortunately, that is when our real economic crisis will begin. The worst part is that the longer these imbalances are allowed to continue, the larger they grow and the more painful the ultimate adjustment process becomes.

But for now, it's all pomp, circumstance and hypocrisy in Pittsburgh. Why yes, Madam Finance Minister, I'd love another of those crab cakes!

Conundrum Facing The Fed

SUBHEAD: We have exceeded the maximum debt-carrying capacity in the system and are now turning to outright fraud.  

By Karl Denninger on 25 September 2009 in The Market Ticker

Image above: Detail of bailout illustration by David Dees

The Movie "Food Inc."

SOURCE: Ken Taylor (
SUBHEAD: A revealing documentary. You'll never look at dinner the same way again.

Image above: Detail of poster for movie Food Inc by Robert Kenner.  

Screenings of movie Food Inc.  

 for three nights - September 29th, 30th, & October 1st at 7:00pm  

Waimea Theater Kaumualii Highway, Waimea, Kauai  

The special price of $5.00 includes a free bag of GMO free popcorn

The Surfrider Foundation together with the following organizations- Apollo Kauai - The Vegetarian Society - 1,000 Friends - The Sierra Club- GMO Free Kaua'i - Malama Kaua'i- Regenerations Nursery - Save Our Seas

"Food, Inc." is transforming Americans' views on industrial food production, just as "An Inconvenient Truth" brought the global warming issue to the public. We are not helpless to make corrections to our behavior.

"Food, Inc.", filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA.

 Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.

If we are concerned about health care, we need to take a good look at what's on our plate said Diana LaBedz with the Surfrider Foundation. News to some, but not to others, the health of the island, her soil, her wildlife, her clean air and water are mirrored in the health of the people. See this film and start creating a better future.

Geo-Engineering Climate

SOURCE: Ken Taylor ( SUBHEAD: Geo-Engineering could save the planet … and in the process sacrifice the world.  

By Jason Mark on 24 September 2009 in , Earth Island Journal -

Image above: Illustration for article by "Wrench Sky" by Michael Morgenstern

Hacking The Sky -
Earth is busted. Like a supercomputer whose elaborate code has developed a few bugs, the core operating systems of the planet are frayed: Ocean populations are collapsing, forests are disappearing, soils have become thin. Perhaps most worrisome, the globe's atmosphere, the ecosystem on which all other ecosystems depend, is overheating.

The machinery of life appears to have malfunctioned. Since the scale of the climate crisis became clear, the strategy for fixing this glitch has focused on remediation. To maintain the atmosphere's equilibrium, we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Our chief goal should be to return the climate to something approximating the pre-industrial status quo.

But what if such a return isn't possible? What if the planet has gone permanently haywire? As the effects of climate change become obvious and global leaders remain unable to halt emissions, a growing number of scientists say we need to begin researching what's called "geo-engineering" -- ways to artificially reduce global temperatures and/or manipulate plants or the oceans to absorb huge amounts of CO2.

Having unintentionally warmed the planet, we may have little choice but to intentionally cool it back down. Even those most interested in geo-engineering say that the idea of deliberately deforming the planet in order to save it from ourselves is, as Stanford University's Ken Caldeira told NPR this summer, "scary."

Yet if we shy away from manipulating the whole globe and continue on our present course, we could be left with a burnt Earth unlike anything ever seen. The scientists who are encouraging government-funded research into geo-engineering are driven by a powerful motive: fear. All too aware of the implications of unchecked CO2 emissions -- and worried that political systems aren't moving quickly enough to respond to changes in the planet's physical systems -- these scientists say we may have no other option than to tinker with the sky.

That some of the world's foremost climatologists are contemplating this measure of last resort reveals how desperate our predicament is. We face the prospect of leaping into a new epoch of planetary history, one in which a single species will be responsible for all other life here.

Or else finding some way of accommodating ourselves to the world as we have undone it. This places us at a moral moment involving a dangerous gamble. Do we chance toying with the entire atmosphere?

Can we afford not to? Possible geo-engineering technologies range from the whimsy of science fiction to the purely hypothetical to the unsettlingly plausible. Some are so outlandish they defy gravity. A few have undergone small-scale experimentation. At least one has the advantage of a real-world analogue. All remain on the drawing board. None are free from concerns about unintended consequences.

 Geo-engineering schemes fall into two categories: attempts to absorb the CO2 in the atmosphere and efforts to manipulate the way Earth reflects sunlight, called the planet's "albedo." The first group is less controversial, because such techniques mimic natural processes. They are, however, slower, which reduces their effectiveness as a response to the kind of climate emergencies some scientists fear. Devices to re-jigger the planet's albedo can seem more worrisome, as they would create what critics have dubbed a "Frankenplanet."

They are also more likely to work. One idea for absorbing CO2 involves seeding the oceans with iron to spur plankton blooms, which inhale large amounts of carbon and then die, pulling the gas to the bottom of the sea. Another brainstorm suggests that by creating "biochar" we can arrest the amount of carbon dioxide that naturally goes into the atmosphere during plant decay. Giant kilns would take agricultural waste and dead trees and, using a process called pyrolysis, burn them without using oxygen.

The resulting CO2-laden charcoal then would be buried. If that proves unfeasible, some scientists say we could genetically modify plants to absorb more of the heat-trapping gas. Or, in case that doesn't work, Professor Klaus Lackner at Columbia University proposes building "synthetic trees" that will capture CO2 and turn it into a liquid form to store underground.

 The second line of thought entails reducing the sunlight that strikes the planet. In a global version of pulling down the shades, this would cool temperatures and at least ameliorate the greenhouse effect. Roger Angel, a professor at the University of Arizona, imagines launching a trillion mirrors into a stable orbit between Earth and the sun, creating a kind of space-based umbrella.

Or we could build a fleet of 1,500 computer-directed boats that will splash seawater into the clouds to make them whiter. John Latham of the National Center for Atmospheric Research predicts that increasing the reflective power of the clouds by three percent could offset humanity's contribution to global warming.

Another method of cooling the planet involves spraying sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere as a way to deflect sunlight. Until recently, such outlandish ideas weren't discussed in polite company, for fear that loose talk about geo-engineering would distract from the goal of doing everything possible to halt greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, a significant number of influential people are taking the idea seriously. The US National Academy of Science held a one-day conference in June to discuss the idea. Last fall, the British Royal Academy of Sciences launched a study to examine geo-engineering options and their risks. NASA is looking at ways of managing how solar radiation hits the planet. Some environmentalists are also interested. In an essay published last year in Orion, Mike Tidwell, a veteran climate activist, wrote:
"Human beings must quickly figure out some sort of mechanical or chemical means of reflecting a portion of the sun's light away from our planet … Like it or not, we are where we are." 
An indicator of the force of the idea -- and the touchy politics surrounding the subject -- came in April, when John Holdren, head of President Obama's Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in an interview with the Associated Press that he had mentioned geo-engineering in White House discussions.

After the account came out, Holdren rushed to clarify his statements, saying that geo-engineering, though it warrants study, isn't an alternative to curbing emissions. Holdren's defensiveness is revealing. His carefully parsed statements show that few scientists are enthusiastic about the notion of engineering Earth. Even those who are curious about the possibilities are anxious over the prospect of actual deployment. "It's not anything that anybody should look on with any sort of glee," Ken Caldeira, a fellow at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford, told me recently. "It's the kind of thing that you hope you don't need.

But I don't see anything in our current policies that makes me think we will reduce emissions in time." "When you are talking about global modification of the environment, that's scary, because it would be the most ambitious -- and some would say arrogant and dangerous -- experiment in human history," Samuel Thernstrom, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a vocal proponent of increased geo-engineering research, says. "Geo-engineering is neither a perfect solution nor a permanent one. You'd have to be crazy to consider this a first, best option." The mixed emotions surrounding geo-engineering hint at a dark mood.

Among those who understand the climate science best, there is a creeping resignation that we won't make the hard choices necessary to halt catastrophic global warming. This is, it seems to me, a staggering admission just at a time when, to avert disaster, we need a buoyant sense of potential.

If mitigation (reducing emissions) is the hope of the idealist, and adaptation (preparing for rising waters) is the consolation of the realist, then geo-engineering (call it circumvention) has become the refuge of the cynic. Geo-engineering assumes that although we may be able to alter how the planet works, we are incapable of changing the way we run the world. Of course, idealism is often a privilege, and cynicism an unflinching wisdom. Which proves that geo-engineering -- dystopian though it may be -- is at least honest, the last chance of survival for a planet on the brink of collapse.

 But can it work?

 According to climatologists, the answer is … perhaps. Many geo-engineering proposals are flawed. The mirrors-in-space scheme is wildly implausible. The physics of launching 20 million tons of material into space is untested, and the plan would cost about $400 trillion. The iron fertilization of the ocean had generated optimism until an experiment earlier this year dampened hopes. When the theory was tested in a 115-square-mile area of the Southern Ocean, tiny crustacean zooplankton ate up all the phytoplankton. The idea of whipping up ocean spray to whiten the clouds seems possible.

Climate models, however, suggest that the benefits would only be regional. A prototype of an artificial "tree" that uses plastic, resin-coated "leaves" to capture carbon has shown promise. But, as with any kind of carbon sequestration, it's unclear where all the carbon would be stored. The geo-engineering proposal attracting the most attention is the one that involves injecting a sulfur dioxide (SO2) aerosol into the atmosphere as a way of reflecting more sunlight back into space. Unlike the other geo-engineering proposals, the sulfur scheme has already undergone a successful experiment -- by the planet itself. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo, a long-smoldering volcano on the Philippine island of Luzon, blew its top off in an explosion 10 times stronger than the Mount St. Helens eruption.

The volcano hurled a stream of ash 22 miles into air. An estimated 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide were let loose into the stratosphere, where they turned into droplets of sulfuric acid that scattered the sun's light. During the next year, global temperatures dropped by half a degree Celsius; the summer melt at the top of the Greenland ice sheet slowed. Computer models have demonstrated that humans could replicate the Pinatubo experience. Artificial stratospheric sulfur injection could cool the planet just enough to offset the greenhouse effect, giving us a buffer from the worst effects of global warming as we reduce emissions.

"A continuous injection of a few tens of kilograms per second would be enough to offset a doubling of CO2," Caldeira says. "You could imagine deploying a system one percent this year and two percent next year and three percent next year. And if something bad happened, you could taper it off. From an environmental perspective, that is probably the lowest risk approach." Caldeira and other scientists have imagined several ways to get sulfur to the top of the planet. One option is to use powerful artillery to launch the aerosol. Another method would employ giant, high-altitude blimps equipped with hoses to carry sulfur from the planet's surface to the sky. The sulfur strategy has key advantages. SO2 is plentiful, a byproduct of the very coal combustion that is warming the planet. And the price is cheap.

As little as $1 billion a year could decrease sunlight by one percent. That is far less than the cost of ratcheting down global CO2 emissions. The plausibility of the sulfur concept has provided realism to the geo-engineering discussion. Still, no one is arguing that we employ geo-engineering next year, or even in five years. For now, the consensus in the scientific community is that there should be an internationally coordinated research program. Even critics say more study is needed. "There should be government funding for geo-engineering," says Alan Robock, a Rutgers University meteorologist who has a National Science Foundation grant to investigate geo-engineering. Last year, Robock published a paper in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists titled "20 Reasons Why Geoengineering May Be a Bad Idea."

"Let's say there was a global warming emergency," he told me. "Policy makers would want to know, Would it work? Could we do it? Should we do it? And right now we don't know how to advise them. But if there is no Plan B, we should know that too." "There are no reasons not to have a research program," Thernstrom said to me.  
"There is no advantage to ignorance on geo-engineering."
 Research alone seems harmless enough. If caution warns against the consequences of jury-rigging the atmosphere, prudence argues that it's wise to have a backup plan in case of climate disaster. As Ken Caldeira put it, a coastal city would want to have dykes to protect itself against storm surges and sea level rise. But that doesn't mean city leaders wouldn't also have an evacuation plan in case the dykes failed. Geo-engineering is that evacuation plan.

 Only in this case, the evacuation would be a retreat from the entire world, the planet as we have always known it. If we spray tons of sulfur into the air and, as scientists expect, it turns the sky a milky shade (while making sunsets a deep, blood red), we will alter not just Earth, but also ourselves, our understanding of how we fit within the natural environment. This is itself a dicey experiment.

If we were to make the clouds glossy and the sky white, dot the horizon with dirigibles in a kind of Blade Runner set piece, what would be the impact on the collective human psyche? We may be technologically capable of hacking the sky, but politically and ethically unprepared to do so. After all, it's been more than 20 years since the public learned that there were "human fingerprints" on the global climate. And as the impasse over emissions reductions proves, we still haven't come to terms with the moral implications of that fact. Are we ready, then, to go a step further and put our hand on a lever controlling the weather?

The idea of dimming the sun carries a number of problems. First, take the ethical conundrum of unequal benefits. What if world leaders decided to deploy the sulfur option and, as one climate model has suggested, an engineered cooling led to a decrease in monsoon rains over Asia? In such a scenario, geo-engineering could benefit some 5 billion people, while putting another 2 billion people in danger of drought and famine. The risk of unequal benefits connects to a second difficult question:

Who would control such powerful technology? Few people would want the US (or Chinese) military to run the weather. Corporate control would have its own drawbacks. As Robock put it to me: "Would you trust the ExxonMobil geo-engineering unit?" Leaving management of a makeshift sky to the lowest bidder seems imprudent, to say the least. Thernstrom says one of the virtues of geo-engineering is precisely this centralized control. While unilateral emissions reductions are pointless, unilateral geo-engineering could work. Any industrial power could likely do it on its own -- which means you don't need collective action to cool the planet; you just need countries not to object.

But even if the major powers agreed to cool the globe, reaching consensus on how exactly wouldn't be simple. "How do we even decide what the temperature of the planet will be?" Robock wonders. "Whose hand will be on the thermostat? What if Russia and Canada decide they want it warmer and India wants it cooler? How do you decide those things?" Imagine that the United Nations took control of the planetary thermostat. That would prevent any country from having a monopoly over geo-engineering or, worse, having several countries deploy geo-engineering at cross-purposes.

But UN oversight would still involve geo-politics. It's been close to impossible to get the major polluters to agree to emissions reductions. Finding cooperation on something as powerful as geo-engineering would be at least as complicated. That's a concern of James Lovelock, founder of the Gaia theory.

Lovelock's new book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, warns that climate change will wreck civilization. Still, he doesn't think that geo-engineering provides a way out. "If we can't predict what's happening now, how can we predict what's happening in 50 years with some kind of artificial mechanism?" he said to me in a conversation this summer. "It's just moonshine. I think that if we ever take on the task of trying to manage the planet completely -- if we succeed with geo-engineering and we have to run the planet ourselves, doing what the system now does for free -- that we will be on a course for extinction. Because we can never manage it. We haven't learned to live with ourselves yet."

As Lovelock points out, the political and ethical issues are compounded by an epistemological predicament: No one knows how the planet would react. Geo-engineering is unlike any experiment in history in that the subject is the entire globe. On a closed system floating in space, there is no laboratory to test ideas. "I think geo-engineering is less an ethical question than a methodological question," Martin Bunzl, a philosopher who works closely with Robock, said to me. "Could you answer the risk analysis with enough assurance to deploy at a large scale? The burden of proof is on the proponents to tell us we know enough about how the atmosphere works." Take the sulfur aerosol proposal.

Would stratospheric injection of SO2 rip a hole in the ozone layer? Would it decrease the amount of energy that solar panels capture or, far more troublesome, affect how plants grow? What if it caused a massive drought in Africa? These are the known unknowns. More worrisome are the unknown unknowns -- the consequences we can't even imagine.

"The difference with large-scale geo-engineering is that you can't actually proceed in the normal way that science proceeds: lab to field tests to increased levels of deployment," Bunzl says. "Because you don't have a model that models the whole world system well enough. You can only deploy the whole thing. Or you are trying to make an inference from a small-scale deployment? What will the consequences be at full strength?" Without a laboratory, any test to see how the atmosphere would react is already a manipulation of the atmosphere.

"The problem with sulfur insertion is that you can't get results until you get to a certain strength, and you can't do it without involving the whole atmosphere," Bunzl says. Or, put another way: The only way to investigate the results of tinkering with the sky is to tinker with the sky. The experiment is itself a fait accompli. The epistemological checkmate means that the very term "geo-engineering" is flawed.

Fixing the climate isn't like repairing a bridge or building a skyscraper. The planet is neither an engine nor, in the metaphor used at the beginning of this essay, a supercomputer. It's an enormous living system, intricate beyond the scale of human understanding, our impressive discoveries notwithstanding.

A machine has certain parts that work in expected ways: Even when moving, an engine is static. That's why it's reliable. Earth is different: It is, by nature, ceaselessly dynamic. So we can't be certain about the outcome of a given input. Despite all our fancy computer modeling, we will never know for sure how the atmosphere will respond to manipulation.

More than an endeavor of science, geo-engineering would be an act of faith. Beyond the political and scientific questions lies a much larger moral, even spiritual, problem: Do humans have the right to undertake such a monumental task? The geo-engineering debate proves once again that while our technological society is adept at exploring the how, we are less practiced in pursuing why and whether.

As geo-engineering proponents acknowledge, schemes like sulfur aerosol address only the symptoms, not the source, of global climate change. That fact betrays our society's bias for the techno-fix, the seemingly easy way out. Seemingly – because geo-engineering is the most complicated strategy we could pursue. It takes a problem, simplifies its cause, and then exaggerates its solution. It's like a Rube Goldberg machine, employing eight or nine steps when one or two would do.

Instead of pursuing the elegant solutions -- trading in our cars for buses, turning off the coal and turning on the wind -- we are going to build a contraption to make the clouds shinier. Bill Becker, head of the Presidential Climate Action Project, summed up this thinking in an essay earlier this year: "Geo-engineering is rooted in the idea that although we're too stupid to do the simple things that would slow climate change, we're smart enough to do the improbable things."

Indeed, geo-engineering involves a surfeit of technological imagination and a poverty of political imagination, an imbalance that's ingrained in the notion that if we can do something we should do it.

We prefer the overly complicated solutions because they flatter us, confirming our power and intelligence. This makes geo-engineering -- the ambivalence of its promoters notwithstanding -- human hubris compounded. It's like doubling down on self-regard. Geo-engineering is a bet that we can save civilization by divorcing our species from the rest of the globe. The payoff is the idea that in "fixing" the planet, we can absolve ourselves of having ruined Earth.

The risk is that if we turn the atmosphere into what Dale Jamieson, director of environmental studies at NYU, calls a "human artifact," we will lose our connection to much of what is best in life. In taking possession of the sky, we will become ungrounded. The psychological ramifications of geo-engineering shouldn't be underestimated.

It's exactly what Bill McKibben worried about 20 years ago in his seminal book on global warming, The End of Nature, when he warned of "the imposition of our artificial world in place of the broken natural one. … How can there be a mystique of the rain now that every drop … bears the permanent stamp of man? Having lost its separateness, it loses its special power. I

nstead of being a category like God -- something beyond our control -- it is now a category like the defense budget or the minimum wage, a problem we must work out. This in itself changes its meaning completely, and changes our reaction to it." Tinker with the heavens, and our relationship to the rest of the world suffers.

We will sever our bonds to the other natural systems -- rivers, forests, oceans -- on which we depend.

We will have made a decision that we can live without those things. Once we take responsibility for managing the planet's curtains, our position in this place changes.

We will be in charge in a way we never have been before, knowing that if for any reason we were to cease overseeing the sunlight, global temperatures would shoot upward again, spelling disaster. The new role will force upon us an existential anxiety. Because as soon as we are in control of the weather, we will always be fearful of letting our grip slip from the string that keeps the planet in a semblance of balance.

Such ownership of Earth would be a new step in human evolution. It would turn us into a bubble species, living inside a protective dome of our own making. If that comes to pass, we will cease to view the world as a comfort. It will have become, instead, a threat. Maybe it's nothing. Perhaps these worries are overblown.

After all, humans have been warping the planet since the Neolithic revolution. Having long ago changed the course of the world's most powerful rivers, having manipulated the genes of plants and animals, we are well beyond sentimentality for an unaltered Eden. Bunzl pointed out that we have already made changes to the whole biosphere that are considered morally acceptable. A perfect example is the eradication of smallpox.

Through concerted effort, the world's governments exterminated a virus that for millennia had played an important role in global ecology, serving as a check on human numbers. Hardly anyone would argue that this wasn't a good thing.

Other moral arguments could justify geo-engineering. The Doctrine of Double Effect, first formulated by Thomas Aquinas, says that it is permissible to engage in an act even with knowledge that the consequences may be deadly as long as the intention is pure. For example, a doctor may try a risky procedure to save a patient even if there is a chance the patient may die. We should at least be honest: There is scant difference between doing something unintentionally and knowing it's harmful, and intentionally, but riskily, trying to fix it.

For 20 years, we have understood the consequences of pumping the atmosphere full of CO2 and still we persist. We crossed a moral line long ago.

Our double bind is this: Either we keep our hands off the sky, and hope we act in time to prevent the destruction of Arctic ecosystems, the desertification of the Amazon, the abandonment of ancient cities.

Or we try our luck at playing Zeus, knowing that it could make matters worse. No matter what, we risk losing Creation. In contemplating geo-engineering, I keep returning to the words of the eco-theologian Thomas Berry.

In the introduction to his book The Dream of the Earth, he wrote: "Our own well-being can be achieved only through the well-being of the entire world around us. The greater curvature of the universe and of planet Earth must govern the curvature of our being." Yes, geo-engineering might be able to save the planet's body. But only at the cost of sacrificing its soul.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Averting Climate Catastrophe 3/17/09