Awesome Duty of Librarians

SUBHEAD: How secure is our civilization’s accumulated knowledge?  

By Richard Heinberg on 7 October 2009 in Post Carbon Institute -

[IB Editor's Note: This is the concluding portion of the original article. To see the whole article click on the link above.]

   
Image above:Detail of illustration of librarian triumphant protecting books from outside forces. From http://bookwormlibrarian.blogspot.com/2008/12/book-annotation.html

Generating electricity is not all that difficult in principle; people have been doing it since the 19th century. But generating power in large amounts, reliably, without both cheap energy inputs and secure availability of spare parts and investment capital for maintenance, poses an increasing challenge.

To be sure, here in the U.S. the lights are unlikely to go out all at once, and permanently, any time soon. The most likely scenario would see a gradual increase in rolling blackouts and other forms of power rationing, beginning in a few years, with some regions better off than others. After a while, unless governments and utilities could muster the needed effort, electricity might increasingly be seen as a luxury, even a curiosity. Reliable, ubiquitous, 24/7 power would become just a dim memory.

If the challenges noted above are not addressed, many nations, including the U.S., could be in such straits by the third decade of the century. In the best instance, nations would transition as much as possible to renewable power, maintaining a functioning national grid or network of local distribution systems, but supplying rationed power in smaller amounts than is the currently the case. Digitized data would still be retrievable part of the time, by some people.

In the worst instance, economic and social crises, wars, fuel shortages, and engineering problems would rebound upon one another, creating a snowballing pattern of systemic failures leading to permanent, total blackout.

It may seem inconceivable that it would ever come to that. After all, electrical power means so much to us that we assume that officials in charge will do whatever is necessary to keep the electrons flowing. But, as Jared Diamond documents in his book Collapse, elites don’t always do the sensible thing even when the alternative to rational action is universal calamity.

Altogether, the assumption that long-term loss of power is unthinkable just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. A permanent blackout scenario should exist as a contingency in our collective planning process.

Remember Websites?
Over the short term, if the power were to go out, loss of cultural knowledge would not be at the top of most people’s lists of concerns. They would worry about more mundane necessities like refrigeration, light, heat, and banking. It takes only a few moments of reflection (or an experience of living through a natural disaster) to appreciate how many of life’s daily necessities and niceties would be suddenly absent.

Of course, everyone did live without power until only a few generations ago, and hundreds of millions of people worldwide still manage in its absence. So it is certainly possible to carry on the essential aspects of human life sans functioning wall outlets. One could argue that, post-blackout, there would be a period of adaptation, during which people would reformulate society and simply get on with their business—living perhaps in a manner similar to their 19th century ancestors or the contemporary Amish.

The problem with that reassuring picture is that we have come to rely on electricity for so many things—and have so completely let go of knowledge, skills, and machinery that could enable us to live without electrical power—that the adaptive process might not go well. For the survivors, a 19th century way of life might not be attainable without decades or centuries spent re-acquiring knowledge and skills, and re-inventing machinery.

Imagine the scene, perhaps two decades from now. After years of gradually lengthening brownouts and blackouts, your town’s power has been down for days, and no one knows if or when it can be restored. No one is even sure if the blackout is statewide or nation-wide, because radio broadcasts have become more sporadic. The able members of your community band together to solve the mounting practical problems threatening your collective existence. You hold a meeting.

Someone brings up the problems of water delivery and wastewater treatment: the municipal facilities require power to supply these essential services. A woman in the back of the room speaks: “I once read about how you can purify water with a ceramic pot, some sand, and charcoal. It’s on a website….” Her voice trails off.

There are no more websites.

The conversation turns to food. Now that the supermarkets are closed (no functioning lights or cash registers) and emptied by looters, it’s obviously a good idea to encourage backyard and community gardening. But where should townspeople get their seeds? A middle-aged gentleman pipes up: “There’s this great mail-order seed company—just go online….” He suddenly looks confused and sits down.

“Online” is a world that no longer exists. 

Is There Something We Should Be Doing?


There is a message here for leaders at all levels of government and business—obviously so for emergency response organizations. But I’ve singled out librarians in this essay because they may bear the gravest responsibility of all in preparing for the possible end of electric civilization.

Without widely available practical information, recovery from a final blackout would be difficult in the extreme. Therefore it is important that the kinds of information that people would need are identified, and that the information is preserved in such a way that it will be accessible under extreme circumstances, and to folks in widely scattered places.

Of course, librarians can never bear sole responsibility for cultural preservation; it takes a village, as Hillary Clinton once proclaimed in another context. Books are clearly essential to cultural survival, but they are just inert objects in the absence of people who can read them; we also need skills-based education to keep alive both the practical and the performing arts.

What good is a set of parts to the late Beethoven string quartets—arguably the greatest music our species has ever produced—if there’s no one around who can play the violin, viola, or cello well enough to make sense of them? And what good would a written description of horse-plowing do to a post-industrial farmer without the opportunity to learn hands-on from someone with experience?

Nevertheless, for librarians the message could not be clearer: Don’t let books die. It’s understandable that librarians spend much effort trying to keep up with the digital revolution in information storage and retrieval: their main duty is to serve their community as it is, not a community that existed decades ago or one that may exist decades hence. Yet the thought that they may be making the materials they are trying to preserve ever more vulnerable to loss should be cause for pause.

There is a task that needs doing: the conservation of essential cultural knowledge in non-digital form. This task will require the sorting and evaluation of information for its usefulness to cultural survival—triage, if you will—as well as its preservation. It may be unrealistic to expect librarians to take on this responsibility, given their existing mandate and lack of resources—but who else will do it? Librarians catalog, preserve, and make available accumulated cultural materials, especially those in written form. That’s their job. What profession is better suited to accept this charge?

The contemplation of electric civilization’s collapse can’t help but provoke philosophical musings. Perhaps cultural death is a necessary component of evolution—as is the death of individual organisms. In any case, no one can prevent culture from changing, and many aspects of our present culture arguably deserve to disappear (we each probably carry our own list around in our head of what kinds of music, advertising messages, and television shows we think the world could do without).

Assuming that humans survive the current century—by no means a sure thing—another culture will arise sooner or later to replace our current electric civilization. Its co-creators will inevitably use whatever skills and notions are at hand to cobble it together (just as the inhabitants of Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance drew upon cultural flotsam from the Roman Empire as well as influences from the Arab world), and it will gradually assume a life of its own. Still, we must ask: What cultural ingredients might we want to pass along to our descendants? What cultural achievements would we want to be remembered by?

Civilization has come at a price. Since the age of Sumer cities have been terrible for the environment, leading to deforestation, loss of topsoil, and reduced biodiversity. There have been human costs as well, in the forms of economic inequality (which hardly existed in pre-state societies) and loss of personal autonomy. These costs have grown to unprecedented levels with the advent of industrialism—civilization on crack—and have been borne not by civilization’s beneficiaries, but primarily by other species and people in poor nations and cultures.

But nearly all of us who are aware of these costs like to think of this bargain-with-the-devil as having some purpose greater than a temporary increase in creature comforts, safety, and security for a minority within society. The full-time division of labor that is the hallmark of civilization has made possible science—with its enlightening revelations about everything from human origins to the composition of the cosmos. The arts and philosophy have developed to degrees of sophistication and sublimity that escape the descriptive capacity of words.

Yet so much of what we have accomplished, especially in the last few decades, currently requires for its survival the perpetuation and growth of energy production and consumption infrastructure—which exact a continued, escalating environmental and human toll. At some point, this all has to stop, or at least wind down to some more sustainable scale of pillage.

But if it does, and in the process we lose the best of what we have achieved, will it all have been for nothing?

Linking the past with the present

SUBHEAD: Peak oil and the effects of runaway greenhouse are the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced.  

By Guy McPherson on 5 October 2009 in Nature Bats Last -
http://blog.ltc.arizona.edu/naturebatslast/2009/10/linking-the-past-with-the-pres.html

 
Image above: Lao Tzu writing on bamboo paper. From http://firefinance.blogspot.com/2009/04/carnival-of-personal-finance-202-lao.html  

"When man interferes with the Tao, the sky becomes filthy, the earth becomes depleted, the equilibrium crumbles creatures become extinct." - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, ca. 550 BCE

The human role in extinction of species and degradation of ecosystems is well documented. Since European settlement in North America, and especially after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have witnessed a substantial decline in biological diversity of native taxa and profound changes in assemblages of the remaining species.

We have ripped minerals from the Earth, often bringing down mountains in the process; we have harvested nearly all the old-growth timber on the continent, replacing thousand-year-old trees with neatly ordered plantations of small trees; we have hunted species to the point of extinction; we have driven livestock across every almost acre of the continent, baring hillsides and facilitating massive erosion; we have plowed large landscapes, transforming fertile soil into sterile, lifeless dirt; we have burned ecosystems and, perhaps more importantly, we have extinguished naturally occurring fires; we have paved thousands of acres to facilitate our movement and, in the process, have disrupted the movements of thousands of species; we have spewed pollution and dumped garbage, thereby dirtying our air, fouling our water, and contributing greatly to the warming of the planet.

We have, to the maximum possible extent allowed by our intellect and never-ending desire, consumed the planet. In the wake of these endless insults to our only home, perhaps the greatest surprise is that so many native species have persisted, thus allowing our continued enjoyment and exploitation.

Although insults by Homo sapiens since the Industrial Revolution are well documented and widely acknowledged, abundant archaeological evidence indicates similar actions in the more distant past have led to the rise and fall of 23 major civilizations. Humans clearly have impacted their environments since initially appearing on the evolutionary stage, and human impacts have grown profoundly since the development of agriculture and subsequent technologies (as reviewed by Charles Redman's 1999 text, Human Impact on Ancient Environments and, in more accessible prose, by Jared Diamond's 2005 book, Collapse).

Concomitantly, the environment has influenced the development of humans and their societies. The interaction between humans and their environments and the relative roles of culture and resources on human societies have received considerable attention from archaeological scholars.

The word "resources" is problematic because it implies materials are placed on this planet for the use of humans. We see finite substances and the living planet as materials to be exploited for our comfort. For efficiency and familiarity, I reluctantly use the word throughout this essay. I'll save the full rant for another post while pointing out that my perspective is less imperial, and less Christian, than the traditional view.

The expansive literatures on resources, culture, and human-environment interactions indicate the important role of resources in constraining the development of several societies in the North American Southwest (as described particularly well by Timothy A. Kohler and colleagues). Exploitation of ecosystems, even to the point of destroying fertility of soils, has constrained subsequent food production (as described most notably by J.A. Sandor and colleagues).

Although I recognize the importance of these topics, I leave the continued study and discussion of culture, resources, and human-environment interactions in the distant past to scholars with more interest and expertise than me, and instead turn my attention to recent and ongoing assaults by humans on the living planet.

If we accept that humans played a pivotal role in loss of species and degradation of ecosystems -- and both patterns seem impossible to deny at this point -- we face a daunting moral question: How do we reverse these trends?

Maintenance of biological diversity is important to our own species because present and future generations of humans depend on a rich diversity of life to maintain survival of individuals and, ultimately, persistence of our species. In addition, as architects of the extinction crisis currently facing plant Earth, we have a responsibility to future Homo sapiens and to non-human species to retain the maximum possible biological diversity.

We must embrace our capacity and capability to sustain and enhance the diversity and complexity of our landscapes. The substantial economic cost of maintaining high levels of biological diversity will pale in comparison to the costs of failing to do so, which potentially include the extinction of humans from Earth.

Reintroducing ecological processes with which species evolved, and eliminating processes detrimental to native species, underlie the ability to maintain and perhaps even restore species diversity. Specifically, the management of wildland ecosystems should be based on maintenance and restoration of ecological processes, rather than on structural components such as species composition or maintenance of habitat for high-profile rare species. In fact, a focus on the latter goals -- a fine-filter approach -- may clog the coarse filter necessary for landscape-scale management of many species and ecosystems.

Drivers of Change
The proximate drivers underlying changes in land cover during the first few decades after European contact were mineral extraction, agricultural expansion, timber removal, and introduction of nonnative species (most importantly, livestock). The quest for silver and gold drove the Conquistadors to dismember, rape, and murder native peoples throughout the New World.

The effects of mining on natural ecosystems were no less dramatic. Even before fossil fuels were employed to ease the extraction of metals from the ground, waterways were diverted and steam-powered water cannons were used to blast soil from mountains.

Every tree within several dozen miles of a mining operation was cut down or pulled from the ground to power steam-powered stamp mills. Trees that escaped the eye of mine operators rarely got away for long. The western expansion of the human population across North America drove great demand for construction lumber, railroad ties, paper products, and heat from the hearth. These changes and their consequences have been well documented in a wide variety of publications (see, for example, People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, One with Ninevah by Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, and The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson).

Farmers and ranchers followed frontiersmen, trappers, and miners into western North America. Whereas frontiersmen left a relatively small ecological footprint and the operations of trappers and miners tended to be limited in spatial scale, agriculture dominated virtually every acre of the North American West.

Row-crop agriculture covered areas with fertile soil that could be fed by irrigation systems, including nearly all rivers. The massive, arid expanses unable to sustain row crops supported the dominant form of agriculture: livestock. By the early twentieth century, cattle and sheep had trampled nearly every wildland acre in search of forage.

Stockmen (and, rarely, stockwomen) led the charge to exterminate perceived predators and potential competitors for forage: wolves, bears, coyotes, eagles, and prairie dogs were among the species slaughtered in the pursuit of safe environs for livestock and those who grew them. Perhaps more important than direct mortality from shooting and trapping were pronounced changes in site conditions that resulted from the collective action of millions of mouths and hooves.

Livestock have had pronounced negative impacts throughout North America. Livestock still loom large, and other biological invasions have transformed western landscapes. Some, like livestock, are politically "untouchable" despite adverse impacts on native species and ecosystems (e.g., "sport" fishes and various species of turf grasses critical to the golf-course industry). Others are universally undesirable but seemingly intractable because of ecological, rather than political, reasons.

It is not surprising that we are largely unable to manage, much less eradicate, nonnative species. After all, there are more than 50,000 nonnative species in the United States alone, invading terrestrial ecosystems at the rate of 700,000 hectares each year at an annual cost of $120 billion; they threaten 400 species with extinction (these figures come from the excellent scholarship of David Pimentel and colleagues, most notably including their 2005 paper in the journal Ecological Economics titled, "Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States").

To make matters even more challenging, every species on Earth is capable of invading other sites (as assured by biotic potential), and every site is subject to invasion by at least one, and potentially many, nonnative species. Because biological invasions depend exclusively on the "match" between characteristics of biological invaders and characteristics of sites, and because there are an infinite number of potential "matches" between species and sites, solutions to the problem of biological invasions are specific to species and sites.

Given the disinterest in environmental issues displayed by citizens and their elected representatives, I doubt we will seriously address the problem of biological invasions before we cause the extinction of own species. As such, this disinterest in environmental issues reflects ignorance or disdain for the living planet that sustains our own species. It represents, in other words, omnicide that will almost certainly prove fatal.

The transition to modernity brought infrastructure, notably cities and the ever-widening, increasingly well maintained roads between them. Thus, within the last few decades, early drivers of change such as mining and agricultural expansion have been supplanted in importance by alteration of fire regimes, urbanization, and global climate change. Herein, I focus on the relatively simple impacts of each of these factors in isolation. As with historical drivers of change, interactions between these factors are complex, under-studied, and undoubtedly critically important.

A large and growing body of knowledge and empirical evidence indicates that fire was historically prevalent in North America, except in the driest deserts and the coldest tundra. It is clear that native species on the continent have evolved adaptations to periodic fires. Historical prevalence of fire ensures that even those species that seem most intolerant of fire have evolved in the presence of recurrent fires, as described in abundant ecological literature. Adaptations to fire are many and diverse, and include escape (e.g., distributions limited to rocky areas where fire rarely occurred), tolerance (e.g., thick bark), and rapid recruitment in post-fire environments (e.g., widely dispersed seeds and ability to establish in open environments).

Recognition that virtually all native species in North America evolved in concert with periodic fires leads to two general conclusions: (1) Native species have developed adaptations to fires that occur at a particular frequency, season, and extent; and (2) maintenance or reintroduction of the fire regimes with which these species evolved should assume high priority for those interested in maintaining high levels of biological diversity.

A corollary to the first conclusion is that classification of native species along a gradient of adaptation to fire is simplistic and potentially misleading. Native species are "adapted" to recurrent fires, and classifying some as more tolerant than others suggests that fire is "good" for some species and "bad" for others. A more appropriate view is that recurrent fires, at the appropriate frequency, season, and extent (i.e., components of the historical fire regime), are part and parcel of these ecosystems. A corollary of the second conclusion is that reintroduction of ecological processes should be a relatively efficient and comprehensive strategy for retaining native species in extant ecosystems.

Indeed, the historical prevalence of fire in these ecosystems suggests that fire is a necessary component of any comprehensive strategy focused on retention of biological diversity. Because fire was -- and is -- a dominant process in these systems, restoration of fire regimes would seem to be an important first step toward maintenance of high levels of biological diversity.

Urbanization and the associated transportation infrastructure have divided formerly large, contiguous landscapes into fragmented pieces. Fires that formerly covered large areas are constrained by fragmentation, and animals that necessarily range over large areas, such as mountain lions, bison, and grizzly bears, have suffered expectedly

. These changes have been particularly pronounced since Oil War II, largely as a result of government subsidies that have promoted growth of the human population and suburban development. These trends will be reversed within the next few years because the Oil Age is drawing to a close. Unfortunately, our near-term inability to burn fossil fuels on a large scale probably will come too late to save many of the planet's species from the effects of runaway greenhouse.

Ultimately, the story of western civilization is the story of fossil fuels. Profound changes in land use and land cover have been enabled by access to inexpensive oil and its derivatives (e.g., coal, uranium, ethanol, photovoltaic solar panels, wind turbines). Dramatic fluctuations in the price of oil within the next few years, coupled with steadily declining global supplies of this finite substance, likely will cause a complete collapse of the world's industrial economy, which might usher in a new era with respect to species assemblages and land cover.

Given the dependence of humans on fossil fuels for power, water, and food (including production and delivery), it seems inevitable that many people will die and the industrialized world's vaunted infrastructure will collapse, thereby giving other species a slim and dwindling chance to make a comeback. Although the pattern of dwindling access to resources and subsequent collapse of civilizations has been thoroughly described in the archaeological record, the ongoing collapse obviously exceeds previous others with respect to geographic scale, as well as the number of species and the number of humans impacted.

Peak Oil and the Collapse of Industrial Civilization
Oil discovery and extraction tend to follow bell-shaped curves, as described by M. King Hubbert more than 50 years ago. The easily reached, light oil is extracted first. Heavier oil, often characterized by high sulfur content, is found at greater depths on land and also offshore. This heavier oil requires more money and more energy to extract and to refine than light oil. Eventually, all fields and regions become unviable economically and energetically. When extracting a barrel of oil requires more energy than contained in the barrel of oil, extraction is pointless.

The top of the bell-shaped curve for oil extraction is called "Peak Oil" or "Hubbert's Peak." We passed Hubbert's Peak for world oil supply in 2005 and began easing down the other side, with an annual decline rate of 0.5% between 2005 and 2008 leading to a record-setting price of $147.27/barrel in July 2008. The International Energy Agency, which had never previously acknowledged the existence of a peak in oil availability, predicted an annual decline rate in crude oil in excess of 9% after 2008.

The current economic recession resulting from the high price of oil led to a collapse in demand for oil and numerous other finite commodities, hence leading to reduced prices and the rapid abandonment of energy-production projects. Many geologists and scientists predict a permanent economic depression will result from declining availability of oil and the associated dramatic swings in the price of oil. It seems clear the permanent depression is already here. The absence of a politically viable solution to energy decline explains, at least in part, the absence of a governmental response to the issue even though the United States government recognizes peak oil as a serious problem (along, no doubt, with many other governments of the world).

Without energy, societies collapse. In contemporary, industrialized societies, virtually all energy sources are derived from oil. Even "renewable" energy sources such as hydropower, wind turbines, and solar panels require an enormous amount of oil for construction, maintenance, and repair. Extraction and delivery of coal, natural gas, and uranium similarly are oil-intensive endeavors. Thus, the decline of inexpensive oil spells economic disaster for industrialized countries. Demand destruction caused by high energy prices is affecting the entire industrialized world.

Viewed from a broader perspective than energy, economic collapses result from an imbalance between demand and supply of one or more resources (as explained in considerable depth by Jared Diamond in Collapse). When supply of vital resources is outstripped by demand, governments often print currency, which leads to hyperinflation. In recent history, the price of oil and its refined products have been primary to rates of inflation and have played central roles in the maintenance of civilized societies.
Addressing the issue of peak oil while also controlling emissions of carbon dioxide, and therefore reducing the prospect of "runaway greenhouse" on planet Earth, represents a daunting and potentially overwhelming challenge. Peak oil and the effects of runaway greenhouse are the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced. Tackling either challenge, without the loss of a huge number of human lives, will require tremendous courage, compassion, and creativity.

There is little question that the decades ahead will differ markedly from the recent past. From this point forward, Homo sapiens will lack the supply of inexpensive energy necessary to create and maintain a large, durable civilization. The fate of western civilization is in serious question, given our inability to sustain high levels of energy extraction. The population of humans in industrialized countries probably will fall precipitously if oil extraction turns sharply downward, as predicted by the International Energy Agency. The benefit of a massive human die-off is the potential for other species, and even other cultures, to expand into the vacuum we leave in our wake.

The demise of the dollar

SUBHEAD: Arab states have launched secret moves with China, Russia, Japan and France to stop using the US currency for oil trading.  

By Robert Fisk on 06 October 2009 in The Independent -
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/the-demise-of-the-dollar-1798175.html

 
Image above: A sad and clumsy effort to repair a dollar bill. From http://www.flickr.com/photos/erinen31/2802085544/in/photostream
 
In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar.

Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars.

The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.

The Americans, who are aware the meetings have taken place – although they have not discovered the details – are sure to fight this international cabal which will include hitherto loyal allies Japan and the Gulf Arabs. Against the background to these currency meetings, Sun Bigan, China's former special envoy to the Middle East, has warned there is a risk of deepening divisions between China and the US over influence and oil in the Middle East. "Bilateral quarrels and clashes are unavoidable," he told the Asia and Africa Review. "We cannot lower vigilance against hostility in the Middle East over energy interests and security."

This sounds like a dangerous prediction of a future economic war between the US and China over Middle East oil – yet again turning the region's conflicts into a battle for great power supremacy. China uses more oil incrementally than the US because its growth is less energy efficient. The transitional currency in the move away from dollars, according to Chinese banking sources, may well be gold. An indication of the huge amounts involved can be gained from the wealth of Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar who together hold an estimated $2.1 trillion in dollar reserves.

The decline of American economic power linked to the current global recession was implicitly acknowledged by the World Bank president Robert Zoellick. "One of the legacies of this crisis may be a recognition of changed economic power relations," he said in Istanbul ahead of meetings this week of the IMF and World Bank. But it is China's extraordinary new financial power – along with past anger among oil-producing and oil-consuming nations at America's power to interfere in the international financial system – which has prompted the latest discussions involving the Gulf states.

Brazil has shown interest in collaborating in non-dollar oil payments, along with India. Indeed, China appears to be the most enthusiastic of all the financial powers involved, not least because of its enormous trade with the Middle East.

China imports 60 per cent of its oil, much of it from the Middle East and Russia. The Chinese have oil production concessions in Iraq – blocked by the US until this year – and since 2008 have held an $8bn agreement with Iran to develop refining capacity and gas resources. China has oil deals in Sudan (where it has substituted for US interests) and has been negotiating for oil concessions with Libya, where all such contracts are joint ventures.

Furthermore, Chinese exports to the region now account for no fewer than 10 per cent of the imports of every country in the Middle East, including a huge range of products from cars to weapon systems, food, clothes, even dolls. In a clear sign of China's growing financial muscle, the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, yesterday pleaded with Beijing to let the yuan appreciate against a sliding dollar and, by extension, loosen China's reliance on US monetary policy, to help rebalance the world economy and ease upward pressure on the euro.

Ever since the Bretton Woods agreements – the accords after the Second World War which bequeathed the architecture for the modern international financial system – America's trading partners have been left to cope with the impact of Washington's control and, in more recent years, the hegemony of the dollar as the dominant global reserve currency.

The Chinese believe, for example, that the Americans persuaded Britain to stay out of the euro in order to prevent an earlier move away from the dollar. But Chinese banking sources say their discussions have gone too far to be blocked now. "The Russians will eventually bring in the ruble to the basket of currencies," a prominent Hong Kong broker told The Independent. "The Brits are stuck in the middle and will come into the euro. They have no choice because they won't be able to use the US dollar."

Chinese financial sources believe President Barack Obama is too busy fixing the US economy to concentrate on the extraordinary implications of the transition from the dollar in nine years' time. The current deadline for the currency transition is 2018.

The US discussed the trend briefly at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh; the Chinese Central Bank governor and other officials have been worrying aloud about the dollar for years. Their problem is that much of their national wealth is tied up in dollar assets.

"These plans will change the face of international financial transactions," one Chinese banker said. "America and Britain must be very worried. You will know how worried by the thunder of denials this news will generate."

Iran announced late last month that its foreign currency reserves would henceforth be held in euros rather than dollars. Bankers remember, of course, what happened to the last Middle East oil producer to sell its oil in euros rather than dollars. A few months after Saddam Hussein trumpeted his decision, the Americans and British invaded Iraq.

See also:  

Monsanto's bane - Palmer Pigweed

SUBHEAD: Weed scientists have warned that using a sole herbicide in Roundup Ready cropping systems would inevitably lead to a resistant weed boom. By Andrew Leonardo on 27 August 2008 in Salon.com - http://www.salon.com/tech/htww/2008/08/27/monsantos_bane/index.html

Trouble is brewing for King Cotton, and it goes by the name of Roundup-resistant Palmer amaranth, aka the dreaded pigweed.

image above: Palmer amaranth pigweed (r. foreground) infesting crop of GE cotton (l. foreground) From http://www.agweb.com/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?PID=0115de87-b524-4434-bd4f-c899cf3e9021

Some weed specialists are calling pigweed the worst threat cotton has faced since the boll weevil. Reports first started surfacing a few years back about cotton fields in Georgia getting hammered by a fast-growing, drought-resistant, incredibly prolific weed that scoffed at Monsanto's best attempts to quash it, but this summer, the pigweed menace has exploded.

From South Carolina's Times & Democrat

Palmer amaranth crowds out cotton plants, starving them of sunlight, nutrients and water, and is a very productive weed. Each female produces as many as 500,000 seedlings, meaning just one plant can birth an entire field.

Unlike other pests, pigweed can continue to grow an inch a day even without water, making it particularly adept during the drought gripping the region. It also thrives in hot weather, continuing to grow when temperatures top 90 degrees and other plants shut down.

The weed can even damage cotton pickers, the huge machines that pluck natural fiber from the cotton bolls.

From the Delta Farm Press:

The rapid spread of the resistance has "absolutely shocked" [University of Tennessee weed specialist] Larry Steckel. "It's hard to believe how quickly and strong the resistance has become and spread."

Having been an Arkansas Extension weed specialist for years, Ken Smith thought he'd "quit being surprised at what weeds are capable of. But, let me tell you, these resistant pigweeds are so much worse than we thought they'd be."

How did this happen? Simple -- over-reliance on a single herbicide -- Roundup -- used in conjunction with genetically modified cotton that included built-in resistance to Roundup. Both products, incidentally, brought to you by Monsanto. At first, it seemed like a great deal for farmers. Plant the cotton, douse the field with Roundup, and watch everything besides the cotton seedlings die. But just as many scientists have long predicted, monocrop agriculture in combination with reliance on just one herbicide turned out to be the most effective way to develop super-weeds that would spit in Roundup's face that farmers could have devised.

There are a host of other deadly chemicals that can be applied, and experts are hard at work across the South devising strategies to contain pigweed devastation. They'll probably come up with something -- either that, or cotton's tenure in the South might be over. But if one of the main reasons why farmers were paying extra for Roundup-ready cotton was because of Roundup's efficiency at killing off everything else, you have to wonder if those same farmers still think the premium grade seeds are worth their high price. And you also have to wonder if anyone is listening to the bottom-line message: that relying on a single solution -- one strain of seed, or one brand of herbicide -- is inherently risky.

Surfers describe Samoan tsunami

SUBHEAD: Surfers describe experience of riding out Samoan tsunami.


 
 Video above: Kiwi surfer describes riding out Samoan tsunami. From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUZDUkrRCco&  

 By Neil Lumsden on 6 October 2009 in Transworld Surf - 
  http://surf.transworld.net/features/tsunami-survivor/

At first light I was down at the shore loading up the boat same as any other day, getting ready for another sunrise session out on the shelf. I had my son Manoa and my good friend Stu Wallace’s son Kealoha, Manoa’s best buddy, with me cruising out on the boat. They were going to keep each other entertained playing with Lego’s in the boat while I went to get a few early morning barrels to start my day. I anchored my boat on the mooring I had setup in the channel, around the corner of the pass inside from the shelf. I left the groms to play and went to catch a few waves.

 One of the surf camp boats was already out there with a few guys on it getting some good waves. Being one of the closest waves to the shore, about a half hour into my session another surfer, Darren, paddled out to join me, and we traded a few waves before things got hectic.

We had no warning, being out in the water outside of the reef pass we didn’t feel the earthquake happen, and everyone was caught completely off guard. All of a sudden, while sitting at the usual takeoff spot on the reef, I looked behind me to see the reef going dry all of the way to the shore until the shelf was sticking up about 15 feet out of the water.

The normal channel turned into a puddle and my boat was nearly dry-docked sitting in a tiny pool of water. I knew instantly what the situation was, that this was extremely serious, and I began paddling as fast as I possibly could to get to the boat and the groms. After the ocean receded, the surge began to fill back in within about a minute. The water hit my boat and began pushing it toward shore, but the mooring was still hooked and the force of the surge pulled the line taught until it began pushing the nose of the boat down into and under the water. There was only so much length on the line, and as the water level rose above normal sea level and continued pushing the boat toward shore, the nose of the boat began submerging.

As this began happening the groms were thinking the boat was going to sink and were ready to jump out and swim, so I yelled at them both to stay in the boat. The force of the water was so powerful that even though I had gotten to the boat, the current was so strong sweeping past us and pulling on my legs that I couldn’t pull myself out of the water in order to climb into the boat.

 Somehow, my tomb-stoning surfboard flipped over so it was lying on top of the surface, which released the tension pulling on my leg and I told my son to grab me and help pull me into the boat. Darren, the surfer that had paddled out from the shore, paddled over to the boat also and had the same trouble climbing out of the force of the surge, with the current pulling on his board trying to drag him in. I told him to take off his leash in order to get free from the pull of the water and as soon as he did he was able to get up into the boat, but his surfboard was gone in an instant.

The other surfers in the lineup went over toward their surf camp boat, which had come loose from its anchorage, and got it started so they could motor out to sea. At this point my boat was so inverted by the tension on the nose that the rear of the boat was sticking up out of the water and the prop on the engine couldn’t move us anywhere because it wasn’t in contact with the water.

Darren laid himself along the rear of the boat in order to put enough weight on the back end to get the prop into the water. We got the boat to power just barely fast enough against the speed of the surge so that we could get just enough slack on the line in order to pull the lanyard off of the hook on the nose of the boat and release us from getting pulled under.

As soon as we got free from the mooring line I turned us out through the channel and we went out to sea to wait out the tsunami. We sat way outside of the shelf just to be safe, and watched as the surges powered toward shore and absolutely leveled everything. Complete devastation the likes of which I have never witnessed before, everything was washed away into everything else, boats into huts into cars into trees, with water surging about a mile inland in some areas.

The melee of destruction was unfathomable, as the muddy and debris-saturated flow of water pulsed in and out about 4 times before finally receding back into the ocean. When we came back in to survey the damage is when the severity of the situation really began to sink in. Everything on the south coast was leveled, from high-end luxury resorts and low-budget surf huts, to churches and the local Samoans’ traditional fales (open-walled dwellings with a cement foundation and four posts supporting a tin roof).

It was absolutely devastating to see the power of the ocean take everything out in a matter of minutes. I found my car about a quarter of a mile inland, crushed like it was in a trash compactor, flipped upside down and sitting on top of another car’s roof, stuck in between some trees.

I realized I was one of the only people on the south coast whose boat had not been destroyed because it was out at sea when the tsunami struck. Unfortunately, numerous people lost their lives during this tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those suffering from this loss. It was an intensely depressing day, with everyone in shock at how to begin the recovery process from this horrific event.

Without a doubt this was the gnarliest experience I have ever gone through in my life.

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Samoan Tsunami Relief Effort 10/4/09

Pickens Plan - Oil Alternative

SUBHEAD: T. Boone Pickens on Alternative Energy - There's a game right now and We have NO team.


Oil Prices To Average More Than $80 Next Year  

By Staff on 6 October 2009 fo  CNBC.com
http://www.cnbc.com/id/33189206
 
 [IB Editor's note: Sorry about the ad up-front. Visit link to see video that is a total of 12 minutes, but it is worth watching this to the end.]



Image above: Still frame from video of T. Boone Pickens on CNBC interview.

In an interview on CNBC, Pickens reiterated his view that oil prices will pass $75 a barrel before the end of this year, and he added that he expects oil prices will average more than $80 a barrel next year.

BP Capital Management Founder and Chairman T. Boone Pickens said he continues to expect oil prices to spike when the global economy picks up and spurs greater demand for oil. n an interview on CNBC, Pickens reiterated his view that oil prices will pass $75 a barrel before the end of this year, and he added that he expects oil prices will average more than $80 a barrel next year. "You'll see $85-$90 before the year ends," he said.

Pickens added that he wouldn't be surprised if oil prices topped the $100 a barrel mark. Oil prices were recently trading above $71 a barrel, amid talk that the Gulf Arab states are in talks to replace the U.S. dollar with a basket of currencies in oil trading. That report has been denied by senior officials from leading oil producers such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.

Pickens has been pushing for a greater use of renewable resources such as wind and solar energy in order to lessen U.S. imports of oil and improve national security. "If the global economy recovers and you get everything going again, then, of course demand is going to go up, and there's no question the Chinese will use a tremendous amount of oil," Pickens.

Pickens believes China has been stockpiling oil and will be able to exert tremendous influence on the world oil market when demand surges again. Still, he emphasized that the U.S. continues to be the largest consumer of oil, despite other options that are out there to reduce dependence on imported oil.

One proposal that Pickens is backing right now is a mandate that diesel-run 18-wheelers be switched out for trucks that are run on natural gas. He claims this action would cut imports of foreign oil from OPEC in half. He estimates that about 6.5 million trucks to the road can be added to the road over seven years, and translate into a savings of 2.5 million barrels a day.

The city of Long Beach, Calif., has been switching many of its city-owned vehicles to run on natural gas. and has been able to realize cleaner air and less oil consumption as a result.


Video above: T. Boone Pickens interview on CNBC on 6 October 2009.

KIUC Rapid Response PR Team

SUBHEAD: Contrary to the belief of KIUC, board members are free individuals with the full rights of U.S. citizens.

  By Brad Parsons on 6 October 2009 in Aloha Analytics - 
  http://alohaanalytics.blogspot.com/2009/10/kiucs-rapid-response-pr-team.html 

  
Image above: Kenneth Lay, former CEO of former Enron as corporate PR flack in 2002. From Business Week's "Ten Worst PR Disasters"  

From the article quoted below, Re: "Director Stewart “Stu” Burley disagreed, saying that after the rate case filing was approved, board members should not voice their personal opinions...
 
It is common practice for a person in some capacity with a larger group, company, or organization to state in public that they are speaking for themselves and not in their capacity with the larger organization before they speak. This should be allowed for all individuals, as it is a First Amendment Right, regardless of whether they are on a Board such as the KIUC Board of Directors. Stu Burley's quoted position above is PATENTLY WRONG. 
 
Individual KIUC Board members SHOULD be able to voice their personal opinions even if it is counter to Board decisions. It is especially concerning that the KIUC Board apparently voted to put Stu Burley in charge of the Committee to determine policy on this point. 
 
Regardless of whatever misguided policy that committee comes up with, KIUC Board Members are Constitutionally free to speak in public of their own positions on KIUC matters as long as they qualify that they are "speaking for themselves and 'not in their capacity with KIUC.'" By the way, KIUC already has two full-time paid public relations employees in-house. 
 
This new KIUC Committee with more employees than Board members looks more like an effort to beef up quicker counter-response to public comments rather than an effort to endorse wider latitude in Board of Directors verbal interactions with the public/members. 
 
 A rapid response PR team won't help if the underlying policies, plans, and lack of actions are intellectually 'bankrupt.'

KIUC reviews communication policy  

By Michael Levine on 6 September 2009 in The Garden Island News - http://www.kauaiworld.com/articles/2009/10/06/news/kauai_news/doc4acaf5f779063590603876.txt  

Public frustration with the “invariable and inflexible” voice coming out of the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative office and the perceived lack of debate by the Board of Directors on important issues could change the way KIUC communicates with its members. “From the outside, we see very little critical discourse, healthy disagreement on positions within the board, and diversity of opinion,” said Malama Kaua‘i’s Andrea Brower in prepared testimony at KIUC’s monthly board meeting last week. “Communicated and integrated diversity of opinion amongst the board, staff, and members at large will allow for more open-minded and flexible decision-making,” Brower said. “This is difficult to achieve if you always have to speak in a single unified voice.” 

Brower specifically pointed to dissatisfaction with KIUC’s rate case, which featured a public hearing with the Public Utilities Commission in late August at which some members complained about the direction of their utility company and the reluctance to move toward renewable energies.  

Director Carol Bain said dialogue occurs between directors at workshops that do not have minutes or transcripts available to the public, and she eventually suggested that the board consider hiring a communications consultant to help directors talk directly to KIUC members. Director Ben Sullivan, who seconded Bain’s motion for discussion purposes, said some level of disagreement is healthy, and that failing to share the debate with the public could hurt the board’s credibility. “We can benefit from loosening it up,” he said, saying that the fear the open communication would undermine the process is unfounded. 

 Director Stewart “Stu” Burley disagreed, saying that after the rate case filing was approved, board members should not voice their personal opinions, and KIUC President and CEO Randy Hee said that his communications staff report on the board’s final decision and not individual views. Attorney David Proudfoot said there is a difference between engagement and information, and said there are limits to member participation. 

Essentially, he said, members participate by voting directors into office, and the board’s decision-making process is “not a town meeting, unfortunately.” Directors and staff agreed at the meeting that there is no gag order that precludes directors from voicing their opinions to the public. Board Chair Teofilo “Phil” Tacbian said the majority rules but the minority’s rights are respected, then appointed Burley to a Communications Committee also featuring KIUC staff. Sullivan said he hoped Bain — who has been “vigorous” about communication issues — would get the appointment instead. 

After the board took a recess for Proudfoot to arrange for ballots for a vote on the appointment, Hee said the original plan was to have a staff-only committee to respond to rapidly respond to member concerns, and Tacbian withdrew his appointment. Bain also withdrew her motion for an outside consultant. The board did not announce at the meeting which members of the staff will serve on the Communications Committee.

See also: 
Ea O Ka Aina: Calls for KIUC cost cutting 9/5/09  
Ea O Ka Aina: KIUC's PUC hearing 8/10/09  
Ea O Ka Aina: KIUC $75 million Gen X plant 8/1/09 

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Arrested for using Twitter

SUBHEAD: Irony? Our government asked Twitter to enable Iranian protesters the use of its technology.  

By Colin Moynihan on 5 October 2009 in the New York Times - 
(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/05/nyregion/05txt.html)

 
Image above: Police arrested G20 demonstrators on the University of Pittsburgh campus. From NYT article.


Arrest Puts Focus on Protesters’ Texting  As demonstrations have evolved with the help of text messages and online social networks, so too has the response of law enforcement. On Thursday, F.B.I. agents descended on a house in Jackson Heights, Queens, and spent 16 hours searching it.

The most likely reason for the raid: a man who lived there had helped coordinate communications among protesters at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh. The man, Elliot Madison, 41, a social worker who has described himself as an anarchist, had been arrested in Pittsburgh on September 24th and charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime.

The Pennsylvania State Police said he was found in a hotel room with computers and police scanners while using the social-networking site Twitter to spread information about police movements. He has denied wrongdoing. American protesters first made widespread use of mass text messages in New York, during the 2004 Republican National Convention, when hundreds of people used a system called TXTmob to share information. Messages, sent as events unfolded, allowed demonstrators and others to react quickly to word of arrests, police mobilizations and roving rallies.

Mass texting has since become a valued tool among protesters, particularly at large-scale demonstrations. And police and government officials appear to be increasingly aware of such methods of communication. In 2008, for instance, the New York City Law Department issued a subpoena seeking information from the graduate student who created the code for TXTmob.

Still, Mr. Madison, who was released on bail shortly after his arrest, may be among the first to be charged criminally while sending information electronically to protesters about the police. A criminal complaint in Pennsylvania accuses him of “directing others, specifically protesters of the G-20 summit, in order to avoid apprehension after a lawful order to disperse.” “He and a friend were part of a communications network among people protesting the G-20,” Mr. Madison’s lawyer, Martin Stolar, said on Saturday. “There’s absolutely nothing that he’s done that should subject him to any criminal liability.”

A search warrant executed by the F.B.I. at Mr. Madison’s house authorized agents and officers looking for violations of federal rioting laws to seize computers and phones, black masks and clothes and financial records and address books. Among the items seized, according to a list prepared by the agents, were electronic equipment, newspapers, books and gas masks. The items also included what was described as a picture of Lenin.

Since the raid, no other charges have been filed against Mr. Madison. On Friday, Mr. Stolar argued in Federal District Court in Brooklyn that the warrant was vague and overly broad. Judge Dora L. Irizarry ordered the authorities to stop examining the seized materials until Oct. 16, pending further orders. Mr. Stolar said that the reason for the Jackson Heights raid would not be clear until an affidavit used to secure the search warrant was unsealed.

But he said that commentary among agents indicated that it was related to Mr. Madison’s arrest in Pittsburgh, where he participated in the Tin Can Comms Collective, a group of people who collected information and used Twitter to send mass text messages describing protest-related events that they observed on the streets. There were many such events during the two days of the summit. Demonstrators marched through town on the opening day of the gathering, at times breaking windows and fleeing.

And on both nights, police officers fired projectiles and hurled tear gas canisters at students milling near the University of Pittsburgh. After Mr. Madison’s arrest, other Tin Can participants continued to send messages, now archived on Twitter’s Web site. Many of those messages tracked police movements. One read: “SWAT teams rolling down 5th Ave.” Another read: “Report received that police are ‘nabbing’ anyone that looks like a protester / Black Bloc.

Stay alert watch your friends!” But even as protesters were watching the police, it appeared that the police were monitoring the protesters’ communications. Just after 1 p.m. on Sept. 24, a text message stated: “A comms facility was raided, but we are still fully operational please continue to submit reports.” Nine hours later, a text read: “Scanner just said be advised we’re being monitored by anarchists through scanner.”

 On Sunday night Mr. Madison said that the search of his home was an effort to “stifle dissent,” and added that several groups in Pittsburgh, including the summit organizers, had used Twitter accounts to describe events related to the meetings. “They arrested me for doing the same thing everybody else was doing, which was perfectly legal,” he said. “It was crucial for people to have the information we were sending.”

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Protest as National Security Threat 9/25/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Rooftop Revolution in Iran 6/21/09 .

Consumer or Anarchist?

SUBHEAD: Anarchism is the antithesis of Consumerism, and I know which identity I am more comfortable with.  

By Keith Farnish on 2 October 2009 in Culture Change - 
http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=529&Itemid=1
 
A man passes the Sharp HD television display at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A man passes HD television display at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. From http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1870067,00.html
 
I have found an identity. Is that really such a big deal? The thing is, I didn’t realize I was missing one. There are so many things I could call myself: a human, male, a father, a husband, a writer, a thinker, a gardener, a campaigner... so many things that I feel pretty comfortable with, yet until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t realize there was something missing; something that yawned inside me, empty and lacking substance. As consumers we feel so fulfilled; everything is within arms reach, or just a short drive down the road in the shopping mall, or on the internet by next day delivery. Everything we could possibly need.

Consumers are the lifeblood of the industrial economy: it is the confidence of the mass of consumers that characterizes the health of the economy, for without an optimistic buying public there is recession, slump, depression and, finally, collapse.

A perfect symbiotic relationship: the consumer has everything she wants, and the economy rises on the continued satisfaction of the consumer. It’s not quite that simple, though, because without one critical hook, the consumer will quickly start to question the nature of the relationship -- maybe it’s not so fulfilling after all, given that all that hard-earned money has to keep being pumped into the rumbling belly of the infinite beast. Unless there is something more, then the consumer might understand the absurdity of this endlessly cyclical, destructive, mind-hollowing culture: we all feel that emptiness and sense of pointlessness from time to time, don’t we?

It doesn’t last long, though, because to question the consumer culture is to question ourselves: more than anything, the consumer identifies with the culture; the consumer is part of that culture. Consumer is more than just a word -- it is an identity. The Consumer Identity Image When I hear humans being referred to as Consumers, I get angry.

Not only is it because of the obviously abhorrent nature of consumerism that I get angry, but because the word “Consumer” is such a blatantly imposed label -- it stinks of domination, of the entrapment of human beings into a single archetype; state-sponsored and corporate approved. The template for the modern human. What kind of bloody identity is “Consumer”? We are raised, as civilians within the industrial world, to believe there is a single mode of fulfillment that will hold us in good stead from birth to death.

We must never question it; we must never challenge it; we must only identify with it. Carolyn Baker describes this crisis of identity in her book Sacred Demise, in the following way: Civilization’s toxicity has fostered the illusion that one is, for example, a professional person with money in the bank, a secure mortgage, a good credit rating, a healthy body and mind, raising healthy children who will grow up to become successful like oneself, and that when one retires one will be well taken care of. If that has become our identity, and if we don’t look deeper, we won’t discover who we really are.

If we identify ourselves as “Consumers” then that leaves little space for anything else because, as Baker makes clear, the illusion that the civilized world creates is a lifelong one, and if we are to remain in its grip we must reject anything else that might conflict with that illusion.

There is no room for connection with the real world, the world in which we are part of the cycles of nature and the webs of life -- connection to the telephone network or the internet is the consumer way; there is no room for the breathtaking joy that comes from watching the sun rise across a beach, accompanied only by the cries of the gulls and the wash of the sea -- you have to buy the experience from a travel agency; there is no room for the exquisite tastes and smells of your own grown or gathered food made into healthy meals for everyone to share -- you can share a large bag of nachos with dip, while watching a movie on your plasma screen.

 I gave up being a consumer long ago: before, I had no idea that’s what I was; none of us have any idea how much of us is composed of this forcibly imposed identity... until we decide to stop being what the system makes us. But the void is large, and the consumer identity keeps threatening to fill it with each advertisement, news broadcast, political entreaty and subconscious signal: we have to resist; we have to find something else to take its place. Who Am I?

Not only must we find something so we are able to resist the often delicious attraction of the consumer culture, but we need something else because without identity we are less human. The evidence for this is compelling: identity from the dawn of humanity is written across the ground, the walls and the artefacts of everyone who has ever been part of a tribe or close community. The tongues of countless people have spoken, and still try to speak in myriad different languages, dialects and accents.

The way we have dressed; the way we have expressed ourselves; the way we have made our lives different in so many subtle and deliberate ways shouts of the need for an identity, a commonality in our local culture that ensures the survival and enhances the success of each group that shares that identity. I willingly retain the labels “human,” “male,” “father,” “husband,” “writer,” “thinker,” “gardener,” “campaigner”: they say what I do and, in part, what is important to me.

They also help me to start constructing a new identity for myself, for in the absence of a tribe, or even a close community that I can become part of -- being a non-consumer in the middle of a consumer world -- finding true identity will always be a struggle. The pieces are coming together, though. I have discovered my Englishness, possibly the nearest I can currently get to a physical, tribal identity.

I have the writer Paul Kingsnorth to thank for that: Many of the people I met during my travels exhibited a solid, quiet Englishness that had nothing to do with pained intellectual definitions and everything to do with belonging to the historical landscape they were part of. This, it seems to me, is crucial. Landscape and belonging are tied inextricably together. Englishness, as an identity comes not from institutions or vague ideas about ‘values’ but from place. I was born in England and I have lived here all my life.

I love this country as a place, and I am content to root myself in the soil from which its life emerges. I have, very recently, also realized that a large part of what I write and speak about is rooted in Anarchy; the simple and natural concept that there is no place for arbitrary authority nor a self-selected hierarchy -- the kind that the political and corporate milieu utilize to ensure we remain good Consumers.

In that sense, Anarchist is the antithesis of Consumer, and I know which identity I am more comfortable with. There are many other pieces for me to find; some of them may shuffle around and some may come and go over time, but at least I am now able to choose my identity for myself. That is a wonderful thing, one that we owe it to ourselves to fight for.

Keith Farnish is a writer, philosopher and radical environmental campaigner who lives in Essex, UK with his family and his garden. His book, "Time's Up! An Uncivilized Solution To A Global Crisis", was published in September 2009 by Chelsea Green in the USA. The book is available for free via http://www.farnish.plus.com/amatterofscale/timesup.htm. He is also author of The Earth Blog where the above article first appeared. He also runs the anti-greenwashing site The Unsuitablog (http://thesietch.org/mysietch/keith/). Keith Farnish's previous articles in Culture Change were "Time To Decide What Matters" last month and "Thinking About The Future" last April. 

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Time to decide what really matters 8/14/09

The Cross, the Flag & Idolatry

SOURCE: BetteJo Dux (onegeaeme@aol.com)
SUBHEAD: How the mix of religious and patriotic symbolism is today’s national idolatry.

By Loren Adams on 13 September 2009 in Island Breath - 
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.de/2009/10/cross-flag-idolatry.html)

 
Image above: Billboard seen in Atlanta, Georgia, in January 2006. From http://totalobscurity.typepad.com/flagorama/flaggin_4_god  

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” wrote Sinclair Lewis in 1935. When Hitler’s hordes stole Germany, they stormed town-halls across the Fatherland carrying their sacred symbols of nationalism reinforced by a form of Christianity that lent moral credence to mob rule. In fact, Nazism could not have risen had it not been for German evangelicals and fundamentalists embedded within the various religious sects and denominations.

German Christians were seduced by the allure of national pride, and in doing so, the flag, eagle, and swastika became select idols of that time – images so sacred anyone caught desecrating them were put to death. The pageantry and massive torch-bearing ceremonies were spectacular – even by today’s standards. Joseph Goebbels and Albert Speer were the Fuhrer’s designers, serving as Minister of Propaganda and Adolf’s Chief Architect, respectively.

Commissioned by Hitler in 1934, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, the propaganda film of all time, displayed seductive pageantry and overt symbolatry (idol worship of symbols). German evangelicals who succumbed to this idolatry comprised the base of the right-wing movement, same as American evangelicals are the base of the right-wing today in the U.S.

Yes, there are parallels between Nazi Germany and 21st Century right-wing America which is currently on recess but determined more than ever to recapture the government after managing to destroy the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats.

Let no one successfully persuade otherwise: Fascism was never a left-wing movement, only a right, and America’s right-wing is again on the march – using white evangelicals (seduced by symbols and “Christian” idolatry) to do its bidding – advocating and condoning violence, preaching the gospel of the “free market” (corporatism/fascism), and promoting militaristic monarchial/theocratic rule.

Giant crosses are erected adjacent Interstates across America, supposedly to lead lost souls to Jesus Christ, but on the other hand, are testament to modern American “Christian” idolatry. In front of America’s megachurches, giant U.S. flags flap in the wind, supposedly as an indication of devotion to the country, but on the other hand, are testament to modern American “Christian” idolatry. The symbols mean more than mandates Christ issued to the Church: caring for the needy, feeding the hungry, and healing the sick.

The Bible, also, has become an idolatrous image to many. The phrase is often heard from fundamentalist pulpits and broadcasts, “The King James Version of the Holy Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God.” Then they add, “The King James was good enough for Paul and Silas, so it’s good enough for me,” without considering the King James Version wasn’t commissioned by the King of England until 1,600 years after Paul and Silas were dead.

The disease of ignorance is as contagious as swine flu. Worship of the cross and flag was evident as far back as the Great Depression, as described by Sinclair Lewis in 1935, and this symbolatry was at the forefront of the Nazi movement across the Atlantic. So, Lewis put two and two together and foresaw the day fascism would come to America “wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

Lewis observed that Hitler’s core followers were uneducated, anti-intellectuals, and steeped in mythology and peripheral religion. And he compared the European base to an American counterpart that could potentially propel an American tyrant to power – for the same element flourished on both continents.

Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, Sinclair Lewis was eye-witness to the Great Depression and the ascension of Adolf Hitler’s Germany. He wrote of similar threat to America – where fascism would come dressed in the flag, carrying a cross, and preaching Christianity – the wolf in sheep’s clothing. He saw the parallels then as they are now. Sinclair Lewis predicted such in 1935. Of course, most tyrants in world history rise to power compliments of a religious base. In fact, they couldn’t have arrived without a supportive religious system.

The antichrist can only come to power because of the quasi-Christian Beast he rides, called the “Great Whore” in The Revelation. But after he succeeds and arrives at his desired destination, he betrays his mode of transport, the Beast, by destroying her. I believe a significant portion of fundamentalists today have become seduced by a form of symbol worship. “Idolatry” is defined as blind and excessive devotion to a person or thing. If an individual or group of individuals are caught up in a collective act of blindly venerating the same object or person, this common bond is defined as a “cult.”

 Twenty-first century America is encumbered by a mass cult which is stripping away the nation’s constitutional rights, civil liberties, and potential greatness. Ironically, it is also threatening the very religious freedom for which they claim to cherish dearly.

Symbols mean more than substance today. Little flag pins arouse more adoration than real acts of valor. FOX’s America preferred to investigate (and lie about) John Kerry’s medals than George Bush’s AWOL, cocaine use, and draft-dodging. FOX’s America preferred to perpetrate the Obama birth certificate myth than investigate torture and treason. Barack without a tie in the Oval Office elicited more outrage than Blackwater’s murders. It is symbolism the right-wing is after, not reality.

Surface outweighs substance. Not only the flag, but the cross and Bible are erected as idols. And sadly, the national idolatry cult has racial overtones – like the original fascist movement 80 years before.

Nazis venerated the flag, the swastika, Mein Kampf, and the eagle. The American right-wing venerates the flag, the cross, the Bible and the eagle. The parallels can’t be more apparent.  
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Arctic seas turning acid

SUBHEAD: Now we realize the situation is much worse. The ocean will become so acidic it will actually dissolve the shells of living shellfish.

By Robin McKie on 04 October in the Guardian -
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/04/arctic-seas-turn-to-acid

 
Image above: Back in 2007 an area of Arctic sea ice the size of Florida melted in a week. That melting has not slowed down. From http://sameritech.wordpress.com/2007/09/10/arctic-ice-the-size-and-shape-of-florida-gone-in-a-week/

[Editor's Note: The geoengineering "solutions" proposed will NOT solve the acidification of the oceans upon which all life depends. Not only will the planet lose an important oxygen resource, with the elimination of its production by plankton, but it may also trigger the poisoning of the atmosphere, with lethal quantities of methane gas from dead and decaying organic material left in the wake of this disaster.]
  
Carbon-dioxide emissions are turning the waters of the Arctic Ocean into acid at an unprecedented rate, scientists have discovered. Research carried out in the archipelago of Svalbard has shown in many regions around the north pole seawater is likely to reach corrosive levels within 10 years. 

The water will then start to dissolve the shells of mussels and other shellfish and cause major disruption to the food chain. By the end of the century, the entire Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic.
"This is extremely worrying," Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso, of France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, told an international oceanography conference last week:
"We knew that the seas were getting more acidic and this would disrupt the ability of shellfish – like mussels – to grow their shells. But now we realize the situation is much worse. The water will become so acidic it will actually dissolve the shells of living shellfish."
Just as an acid descaler breaks apart limescale inside a kettle, so the shells that protect molluscs and other creatures will be dissolved. "This will affect the whole food chain, including the North Atlantic salmon, which feeds on molluscs," said Gattuso, speaking at a European commission conference, Oceans of Tomorrow, in Barcelona last week. The oceanographer told delegates that the problem of ocean acidification was worse in high latitudes, in the Arctic and around Antarctica, than it was nearer the equator.

"More carbon dioxide can dissolve in cold water than warm," he said. "Hence the problem of acidification is worse in the Arctic than in the tropics, though we have only recently got round to studying the problem in detail."

About a quarter of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by factories, power stations and cars now ends up being absorbed by the oceans. That represents more than six million tonnes of carbon a day.

This carbon dioxide dissolves and is turned into carbonic acid, causing the oceans to become more acidic. "We knew the Arctic would be particularly badly affected when we started our studies but I did not anticipate the extent of the problem," said Gattuso.

His research suggests that 10% of the Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic by 2018; 50% by 2050; and 100% ocean by 2100. "Over the whole planet, there will be a threefold increase in the average acidity of the oceans, which is unprecedented during the past 20 million years. That level of acidification will cause immense damage to the ecosystem and the food chain, particularly in the Arctic," he added.

The tiny mollusc Limacina helicina, which is found in Arctic waters, will be particularly vulnerable, he said. The little shellfish is eaten by baleen whales, salmon, herring and various seabirds. Its disappearance would therefore have a major impact on the entire marine food chain. The deep-water coral Lophelia pertusa would also be extremely vulnerable to rising acidity. Reefs in high latitudes are constructed by only one or two types of coral – unlike tropical coral reefs which are built by a large variety of species.

The loss of Lophelia pertusa would therefore devastate reefs off Norway and the coast of Scotland, removing underwater shelters that are exploited by dozens of species of fish and other creatures.
"Scientists have proposed all sorts of geo-engineering solutions to global warming," said Gattuso. "For instance, they have proposed spraying the upper atmosphere with aerosol particles that would reduce sunlight reaching the Earth, mitigating the warming caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide.

"But these ideas miss the point. They will still allow carbon dioxide emissions to continue to increase – and thus the oceans to become more and more acidic. There is only one way to stop the devastation the oceans are now facing and that is to limit carbon-dioxide emissions as a matter of urgency."

This was backed by other speakers at the conference. Daniel Conley, of Lund University, Sweden, said that increasing acidity levels, sea-level rises and temperature changes now threatened to bring about irreversible loss of biodiversity in the sea. Christoph Heinze, of Bergen University, Norway, said his studies, part of the EU CarboOcean project, had found that carbon from the atmosphere was being transported into the oceans' deeper waters far more rapidly than expected and was already having a corrosive effect on life forms there.

The oceans' vulnerability to climate change and rising carbon-dioxide levels has also been a key factor in the launching of the EU's Tara Ocean project at Barcelona. The expedition, on the sailing ship Tara, will take three years to circumnavigate the globe, culminating in a voyage through the icy Northwest Passage in Canada, and will make continual and detailed samplings of seawater to study its life forms.

A litre of seawater contains between 1bn and 10bn single-celled organisms called prokaryotes, between 10bn and 100bn viruses and a vast number of more complex, microscopic creatures known as zooplankton, said Chris Bowler, a marine biologist on Tara.

"People think they are just swimming in water when they go for a dip in the sea," he said. "In fact, they are bathing in a plankton soup."

That plankton soup is of crucial importance to the planet, he added. "As much carbon dioxide is absorbed by plankton as is absorbed by tropical rainforests. Its health is therefore of crucial importance to us all."

However, only 1% of the life forms found in the sea have been properly identified and studied, said Bowler. "The aim of the Tara project is to correct some of that ignorance and identify many more of these organisms while we still have the chance.

Issues like ocean acidification, rising sea levels and global warming will not be concerns at the back of our minds. They will be a key focus for the work that we do while we are on our expedition."


Samoan Tsunami Relief Effort

SUBHEAD: An 8.4 Richter earthquake created a 5 foot tsunami that hit Samoa on September 30th. Help is needed.  

 By Josh Green M.D. State Hawaii Senator on 2 OCtober 2009   (http://thehui.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/think-youre-having-a-bad-day)

 
Image above: Samoans walk amongst the debris on the road to the beach following tsunami. (Photo by Phil Walter from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33110265/displaymode/1176/rstry/33075304)  

At 6:48am local time, on September 30th 2009, a strong quake of 8.3 on the Richter scale struck in Lalomanu, 200km from Samoa's capital of Apia. The quake triggered a tsunami wave up to 5 feet high across areas of the island, with a death toll currently sitting at 28 fatalities but expected to rise. The Samoan people are an important part of Hawaii’s multicultural tapestry, and most of us here have close friends or family who are Samoan.

The devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Samoa, has left over a hundred people dead and thousands more homeless. Samoa’s recovery from this disaster will be long and difficult, but we in Hawaii can help bring needed relief now.

Please join me and my wife Jaime in contributing to the relief effort today. The Samoan people truly need our help. Donations may be sent to:

American Red Cross – American Samoa P.O. Box 2635 Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799

American Red Cross – Disaster Relief Fund Hawaii State Chapter 4155 Diamond Head Road Honolulu, HI 96816

 or call 1-800-REDCROSS and donate either to their national or international relief fund. Mahalo.

See also:
 Ea O Ka Aina: Philippine Flood Relief 10/2/09