Farmland ADU Extension

SUBHEAD: Furfaro's giveaway to residential non “farm dwelling” homeowners bill 2322 comes up 10/14/09. image above: Farm? What farm? Housing example at Kealia Kai agricultural subdivision on Kauai's eastside. "Secluded on a private oceanfront setting... with only 34 home sites ranging from 5 to 10 acres, residents enjoy unsurpassed privacy." From http://www.cstoneholdings.com/currentDevelopments.html By Andy Parx on 9 October 2009 in Parx News Daily - http://parxnewsdaily.blogspot.com/2009/10/cheese-demands-loan.html If you thought the two bills still bottled-up in Councilperson Jay Furfaro’s Kaua`i County Council Planning Committee- the “farm workers” and “vacation rentals on ag land” measures- were not just stomach turning but illegal, you ain’t seen nothin' yet. The giveaway to residential non “farm dwelling” homeowners (those gentleman farmers who have ravaged the viability of agricultural in the islands by “condominiumizing” ag-zoned lands, jacking up prices way beyond the affordability by legitimate farmers) continued at a public hearing Wednesday on Bill 2322 that would again extend the deadline for building “additional dwelling units” (ADUs) The original measure was designed to provide family members displaced by the end of the pineapple industry a chance to build an additional house and was supposed to end in five years. But that sunset date has been extended by the council at least five times over the past 25 years according to a planning department staff report on the bill. Yes the boo-hoo, poor-little-rich-turd, fake-farm crowd once again turned up en masse to ask that the council give them at least five more years- most asking for 10 or 15 or no limit at all- to build these doubly or triply illegal houses because of the “hard times” and difficulty in getting financing. Most of them bemoaned how their speculatory investment they “locked in” last year will go down the drain if the are forced to immediately build what many admitted were rental units, as a “final” sunset bill passed last year required. For those who haven’t heard about this bit of multi-compounded decades-old blunder, in the early 80’s when the legislature required the counties to grant these “ohana dwellings”- as ADUs were euphemistically called- on certain larger residential lots, then-Councilperson Jimmy Tehada and the development-wild council had the brilliant idea of granting them on ag land even though state law required (and still requires) that all those who build residences on ag land build “farm dwellings” as part of a legitimate farming operation. But instead of enforcing the state law the council falsely claimed that the “ag condo” problem was a state issue upon which their hands were tied all the while compounding the problem by allowing twice the already finagled “density”. That density is granted by the council under the county’s comprehensive zoning ordinance (CZO) which gives density to open zoned lands and allows that to be combined with ag land to permit residences on otherwise density-free ag land. The original ag land ADU law was supposed to “sunset” after five years but every time the deadline came near the council extended it until last year when they finally made all those who wanted to build ADUs on ag land file certain paperwork with the planning department and build the house post haste in the hopes of finally ending the idiocy. But Furfaro seems hell bent lately on ignoring the requirements for “farm dwellings” and has introduced this third bill to increase density, further driving up ag land prices allowing those non-farmers who have gotten in their paperwork to have five more years to build... or sell it to someone who will before the entitlement disappears. Yet for many of those who testified, five years weren’t enough- they wanted to lift the time restriction entirely, something the council seemed reticent to do... although who knows. We’ve seen these clowns pander to the moneyed classes in last minute giveaways way to often to trust their mealy-mouthed assertions early in the process. Unbelievably the stream of owners- all admitting they had bought as an investment or for retirement or for any number of non-farm related reasons- ended with real estate agent Phil Fudge who shed his crocodile tears over losing this absurd little entitlement giveaway and the profits he would make selling it. Only one person who testified said she wanted to build an additional house for her brother so they could both live and work on their organic farm. The words “farm dwelling”– in fact, other than her, the word “farm”- were not uttered at the hearing. Meanwhile the farm worker housing bill- a developer’s wet dream with so many loopholes that it could well double the density of ag land- is still in the planning committee awaiting some “tightening up” of the restrictions despite the push by ag condo owner Councilperson Tim Bynum to ram it through and ignore provisions that would allow fake farmers to build who knows how many extra houses on their ag land. And of course there’s still the almost-impossible-to-count-how-many-ways-it’s-illegal “transient vacation rental on ag land” bill instructing the planning department not to enforce the state law (HRS 205) that clearly mandates that “no overnight accommodations shall be permitted” as part of any “ag tourism plan”- a plan the council has failed to enact. Furfaro stated that he hopes to rush through the bill with a one-off committee meeting next Wednesday Oct. 14 and final passage the following week on Wed. Oct 21. And unless people show up and denounce this ugly giveaway that’s most likely exactly what he’s going to do. see also: Island Breath: Chemlawns NO! Organic Farms YES! 3/13/07 Island Breath: Agland Development Moratorium Bill 2/12/08 Ea O Ka Aina: Let Moloaa Farmers Farm 4/2/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Farm Housing Crisis 3/28/09

Kauai Water Security

SUBHEAD: We must change the infrastructure now to address future water security on Kauai.

By David Ward on 10 October 2009 for Island Breath - 
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2009/10/kauai-water-security.html)


Image above: The Puu Lua Reservoir in Kokee in the Kaulaula Ahupuaha of Kauai. From http://www.dailyventure.com/photo.php?name=kauai_helicopter_reservoir
 
The Garden Island, known for it's ample rainfall and verdant tropical landscape, is home to one of the wettest spots on earth. Why then, would we possibly ask our community to focus on our water supply when there are so many other critical energy issues to be addressed?

Volatile electricity costs, a crippled economy, food security, the list goes on. Simply put; in most Island homes, our water supply is completely oil dependent. Without petroleum to generate electricity, we simply cannot deliver water to a majority of Island residents on Kauai. And although some of our State and County leaders have recognized and begun acting on the real potential for oil supply disruptions and continued price volatility, as well as the general economic liability of severe dependence on tourism, few have asked; What about our water?

Kauai relies almost exclusively on pumped groundwater for its residents. Because of its purity groundwater has been preferred for municipal use. Pumping groundwater is one of the most expensive and energy-intensive ways of delivering water to consumers. This energetic dynamic needs reevaluation. The Department of Water (DOW) must now start to make our water system as resilient as possible and maximize energy efficiency and minimize our carbon foot print.

The existing thirteen (13) unconnected systems pump water from 48 underground wells, uphill to 43 tanks. The pipes leak so much that 25% of the water and energy are lost and un-metered (www.kauaiwater.org). This system evolved during a time when there was abundant water and before the current concern about the future of fossil fuels and global climate change.

Kauai depends almost entirely on foreign sources of fuel for its energy needs. High global demand for oil is linked with Kauai's electricity pricing, which is more that three time the national average. The island is vulnerable to fluctuations in the world oil market and sends millions of dollar each year out of the local economy. Every barrel of fossil fuel we use now is subtracted from the total available to our descendants; no other resource can provide anything approaching the glut of cheap abundant energy on which our lifestyles of relative privilege depend.

Energy transitions happen and we are in one now and we need to aggressively look to the future. What is going to happen after petroleum. Modest as the energy outputs from alternative sources are, they are all we well have to work with when the fossil fuel is gone. Oil production will likely drop a lot faster than our co-op, KIUC ability to invest in and bring on alternatives. It is an unprecedented discontinuity of historic proportions, as never before has a resources as critical as oil become scarce without sight of a better substitute. To replace the oil we are losing by depletion, investment in renewables would have to be an order of magnitude higher than current spending.

On average throughout the islands, one-third of rainfall runs into streams, one-third evaporates and transpire (after being taken up by plants), and one-third recharges the underground water.

Because of kauai's comparatively advanced age its original form has been greatly modified by erosion and the island has evolved a more complex geologic structure and stratigraphy than any of the other Hawaiian islands.

The Hawaiian Islands are formed by shield volcanoes, so called because of a resemblance in profile to round shields of early warriors. Their eruptions were relatively gentle, spreading thousands of thin layers of lava as the land was built up. Each flow averages 12 to 15 feet in thickness and are highly permeable.

As the shields of lava poured out and cooled, cracks would form in the shields. Subsequient flows would sometimes erupt below the shields and these subterranean flows would extrude their way upward through the cracks. Because these later flows were under pressure from the weight of the old lava beds above, they are dense and impervious to water. The result is an intermingling of large deposits of porous basalt, saturated with percolating rainwater, restricted in there lateral flows by hundreds of dikes.

Groundwater can occur at high elevations because of the presence of these dikes. The vertically confined water rises until it leaks through the dikes and reach equilibrium with the rate of recharge from the rain above. These dike-impounded, high elevation ground waters can result in columns of water hundreds feet high on the windward side of the island, where the moisture-laden trade winds bump up against cliffs several thousand feet high and disgorge their moisture as rain.


Cap rock consisting of a bed of dense lava, volcanic ash, or alluvium can and does occur at high elevations on Kauai. Where the dense layers of packed sediment cover the freshwater-saturated basalt, rainwater collects over this cap rock, forming reservoirs of water, or perched groundwater.

Freshwater springs flow through breaks in the impervious rock. Similar breaks connect the aquifers, sometimes so much that withdrawals from one also significantly drains the other. In these cases, although different aquifers are involved, they act as one "hydrologic unit". I think David Craddick, manager and chief engineer of the Department of Water, is right, it is all the same
water
only the location of the tap is changed.

Down near sea level, highly permeable basalt is a repository for reservoirs of fresh water. Because of this permeability sea water moves laterally through the rock. Fresh water is lighter than saltwater and floats on the saltwater. The fresh water that sits on the saltwater is known as basal groundwater.This freshwater takes the shape of a biconvex lens, with both the top and bottom bulging outward.

Saltwater encroaches on the fresh water aquifer at or near the seashore, and springs of fresh water may discharge at or near the seashore or even offshore.

Where the water table intersects the ground surface, ground water may discharge at springs and along streambeds. This discharge maintains a base flow in the streams even when there is no direct runoff from rain.

If withdrawal from wells is excessive, saltwater may rise and intrude the wells. Saltwater intrusion is a major limitation to well yields in oceanic island aquifers. Well withdrawal has the eventual effect of lowering the water table and reducing stream flow and ocean discharge.

The ahupua'a system of traditional Hawaiian communities (running from the mountain to the sea) contained all the resources necessary for sustainability.

The success of traditional Hawaiian civilization depended significantly on the orderly allocation of the water supply, especially for the cultivation of taro. This staple of the Hawaiian diet requires large volumes of cool running water for efficient production. Perennial streams originating in rugged mountains and springs that inundated wetlands were the primary sources of taro irrigation. The Hawaiians built elaborate hydraulic systems, and the rules governing their use evolved as society progressed.

Ancient Hawaiians developed a number of perennial streams with diversions and ditches to irrigate and grow taro. Later, sugar growers copied the ancient Hawaiians with their own elaborate and extensive plantation irrigation systems. The use of intake structures to divert perennial low flows and high storm flows, and the use of water-development tunnels to intercept the high-level ground water associated with perennial streams, ultimately gave rise in the late 1800s to the construction of large scale irrigation systems by sugar plantations.

Miles of ditches, tunnels, flumes, and siphons were constructed to transport water primarily to irrigate sugarcane grown on distant arable lands. This transport was all done without the use of fossil fuel pumping. The Wailua network carried an average 150 million gallons per day without any pumping. Most of these irrigation systems are no longer in use for sugarcane farming. The book Sugar Water, Hawaii's Plantation Ditches by Carol Wilcox covers this history well.

The natural movement of flowing water contains an amount of kinetic energy that can be converted to electrical energy. this is emission and by-product free, sustainable, predictable, and indigenously sourced energy. New turbine technologies are enabling effective energy recovery from natural flows of streams and rivers. Hydrokinetic (in-stream) power generation offers the opportunity to utilize generating resources without the need to construct dams or other impounds. The capture of the hydrokinetic energy in the old plantation ditches, flumes and tunnels has not been attempted on a utility scale.

Water conservation by consumers eliminates all of the “upstream” energy required to bring the water to the point of end use, as well as all of the “downstream” energy that would otherwise be spent to treat and dispose of this water. The best way for increasing water efficiency is to reduce the use of drinkable water for non-consumption purposes. There are two ways to do this: collect rainwater and reuse indoor wash water. The rain that falls on the roof should, if used innovatively, be sufficient for the majority of home uses, including gardening. Rainwater harvesting can be supplemented by treatment of gray water (wash water from the bathroom, laundry, and kitchen) e.g., through gravel reed beds for subsequent use in the garden.

Even backwater (from the toilet) can be treated and re-used on site in some circumstances, or a waterless composting toilet can be installed to ensure water goes to more productive uses. Closing the nutrient cycle, from human waste to fertile, food-producing soil is, in the long term, one of the most critical factors in the sustainability of our population. Our food supply is a vulnerable link between the environment and the economy. While the use of oil dominates the production end of the food system, electricity dominates the consumption end. The oil-intensive modern food system that evolved when oil was cheap will not survive as it is now structured with higher energy prices. We will not be able to continue to import 90% of our food. Most of us will have to grow at least some of our own food.

Among the principal adjustments will be movement down the food chain as we react to rising food prices by buying fewer high-cost imported foods and livestock products. The economic benefits of expanding urban agriculture will become much more obvious. The Water Department’s policy of not supporting agriculture must be changed. If we are to feed ourselves we must expand our water use with “victory gardens” in every yard, park, school, and diversified agriculture on all prime land. The irrigation systems associated with the now closed plantations are available for conversion into supplying irrigation water for diversified agriculture farming.

The Water Department must take a leadership position in working with DLNR and the Department of Agriculture to insure both our water and our food. I sincerely believe that we should be using the still affordable fossil energy that we have, to invest in infrastructure that requires very low energy to run (e.g. gravity flow). We need to rapidly reduce our dependence on off-island sources.

We need to replace systems that are inherently limited by available imported energy (e.g. groundwater pumping). Aggressive restructuring of the system for resiliency and energy efficiency and purchases of renewable energy systems are powerful steps that can be taken to improve our water security while combating global warming. We could all learn from how the Hawaiians and the early plantations operated. These necessary steps to save finite fossil fuel resources and finite biosphere must be done soon.

Business-as-usual will can only lead to there being no water in the pipes and most people unable to live in their homes. You have a choice, support David Craddick's efforts to restructure the water system to gravity flow or plan on moving.

See also:
Water - The Uncertain Resource - Part One http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2009/10/07/12268/noted_lecturers_grapple_with_water_the_uncertain_resource

Water - The Uncertain Resource - Part Two http://www.minnpost.com/craigbowron/2009/10/08/12314/uncertain_resource_do_we_have_a_water_crisis_or_a_crisis_of_water_management

Ea O Ka Aina: Our Water Footprint
8/27/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Water, Water, Everywhere 2/10/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Water & Power 1/4/09

Night of the Living Deadbeats

SUBHEAD: So, what’s with all the zombies lately?  

By David Sirota on 08 October 2009 in Truthdig -
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20091008_night_of_the_living_deadbeats

 
Image above: A CitiBank zombie done for the day. From http://www.risingtidenorthamerica.org/wordpress/2008/11/04/zombies-tell-bank-of-america-coal-is-killing-us

That could be a question about one of the hippest retro fads that pop culture has going these days. Inspired by horror genres of the past, zombies have lurched back to pre-eminence in books like “World War Z", video games like “Left 4 Dead” and blockbuster films like “Zombieland”. Even the highbrow producers at National Public Radio recently devoted a segment to a University of Ottawa study entitled “Mathematical Modeling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection”.

Indeed, the undead have become so popular, they’ve spurred “zombie walks” in cities and spawned Weird Al-ish parodies through Jane Austen knockoffs like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and bands such as the Zombeatles (with their hit “Hard Day’s Night of the Living Dead”).

Frighteningly enough, though, that question about zombies could also be asked of America’s political culture. It was only a year ago that “zombie” first entered the colloquial economic lexicon during the collapse of the financial institutions that were cannibalizing the economy. From a balance-sheet perspective, many of these firms were dead.

But they were quickly reanimated as zombie banks with trillions of taxpayer dollars. Like a typical zombie outbreak, the initial plague spread. On Wall Street, we have zombie executives—those who destroyed the economy but nonetheless kept their jobs and now continue paying themselves huge bonuses.

At the White House, President Barack Obama hired zombie advisers whose zombie economic ideologies and records in manufacturing recession conditions should have killed their careers, but who now sit in high government office letting out moans in support of the zombie banks. On Capitol Hill, the scene this Halloween season looks like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.

Decrepit zombie politicians with the funk of 40,000 years stalk Congress alongside the very zombie lobbyists that the election was said to disempower. Lately, they are working in tandem to construct zombie health insurance companies—for-profit corporations eternalized by public subsidies, customer mandates and almost no regulation or competition.

 At the same time, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that should have already concluded keep plodding on with an unchanging zombie strategy—all while media zombies push zombie myths about death panels and birth certificates, effectively feasting on the last functioning lobes of the American brain.

Call me a zombie pundit, but I agree with “World War Z” author Max Brooks’ suggestion that the concurrent rise of zombie pop and political cultures is no coincidence.

 “Zombies are an apocalyptic threat, we are living in times of apocalyptic anxiety [and] we need a vessel in which to coalesce those anxieties,” he says. In fact, I’ll go out on a severed limb and take it further: If zombies specifically represent the apocalyptic downsides of immortalized mindlessness, then today’s zombie zeitgeist is not merely a result of scary quandaries created by stupidity. It is a reaction to both those problems and the sense that they can never be thwarted.

 Here we are, a year after a financial implosion that should have driven a stake into the heart of free market fundamentalism. Here we are, a year after an election that was supposed to pour holy water on Wall Street vampires, exorcise the economy’s demons and challenge the ancient mummies of neoconservative foreign policy.

Yet here we are, with virtually nothing changed, watching the same zombie crises indomitably stumble forward. And so what do we do? We flee to entertainment venues that let us enjoy the campy thrill of confronting the undead—even though we’ve lost the ability to do that in real life.

“The zombie is a way for us to explore massive disasters in a safe way,” Brooks says. “You can’t shoot the financial meltdown in the head, but you can do that with a zombie.”

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Let it Die! 3/22/09

Dilemma and Denial

SUBHEAD: Our predicament or dilemma is a situation that we face, which cannot be solved and its denial is not adaptive.

By Richard Heinberg on 8 October 2009 in Post Carbon Institute -
http://postcarbon.org/article/dilemma_and_denial

[IB Publisher's Note: As of 10/12/09 two events are scheduled for 350.org on Kauai. For details visit http://www.350.org/map#/map/22.205278/-159.502778/9]  


 
Image above: Lapel sticker graphic designed for www.350.org action set for October 24th. From http://www.cafepress.com/Project350.369017439

A couple of weeks ago Jerry Mander and I were discussing the best word to use in the heading for the back-cover text of a new short book being co-published by International Forum on Globalization and Post Carbon Institute, "Searching for a Miracle: 'Net Energy' and the Fate of Industrial Societies". I wrote the main text, and Jerry wrote the Foreword. Jerry liked the word "conundrum," while I argued for "dilemma."

We were in basic agreement, though, about a word we didn't want: "problem." Problems can be solved; humanity's energy and environmental crises will not be "solved," in the sense that there is no realistic strategy that will enable us to continue, as we have for the past few decades, to enjoy continuous growth in population and in consumption of resources and use of energy. If we are to survive, we will have to accept profound and fundamental changes to our economies and lifestyles.

The word "dilemma" characterizes a situation in which one must choose between two disagreeable options. This is a good description of the human condition in the early 21st century. Had our species foreseen and begun to adapt to resource limits back in the 1950s or even the '70s, the transition to non-growing, sustainable levels of population and consumption might have been fairly painless. But now there really are no easy paths from here to a workable future.
This is not how we would like things to be. We want "problems" with solutions.

Problem: climate change. Solution: renewable energy.  

Problem: poverty. Solution: more economic growth (a rising tide will lift all boats, we are told).  

Problem: slow economic growth. Solution: more cheap energy (i.e., coal, nuclear).

As should already be evident, the "problem" mindset can be maintained, in the current instance, only by narrowing our focus to just one variable. As soon as we begin to take multiple variables into account—population, economic instability and inequality, climate change, resource depletion, limits to capital investment—it quickly becomes apparent that some "solutions" just exacerbate other "problems."

So it's powerfully tempting just to ignore some of the limitations and trade-offs we face. Many environmentalists, viewing the human predicament almost solely through the lens of climate change, see our choice as follows:

Scenario A: 1) Dead planet and dead fossil-fueled economy  
versus 2) Living planet and thriving renewables-based economy

Framed this way, the correct choice is obvious - choice 2. But economists who see continued growth as the key to ending poverty, and who understand that the build-out of renewable energy sources is currently constrained by practical limits, might frame the scenario this way:

Scenario B: 1) Dead energy-constrained economy (One that is incapable of solving its problems) 
verus 2) Thriving, problem-solving economy weaning itself from fossil fuels 
  (But only as quickly as alternative energy sources pick up the slack.)
 
Well, when you put it that way . . . naturally, option still 2 looks better. But in both scenarios the preferable second option is unrealistic, because factors that have been omitted from the framing of the problem preclude that option's realization. A more comprehensive statement of our choice might be this:

Scenario C: 1) Dead planet and dead economy  
(If insufficient efforts are made in reducing carbon emissions, population, and consumption.)
versus  
Crippled planet with sharply downsized economy 
(So much climate change, and so many species extinctions are already in the pipeline and cannot now be averted, that a healthy planet is just no longer a real possibility, for at least the next many decades. Even if we do reduce carbon emissions, population, and consumption, that will constitute a form of economic contraction that will mean the end of prosperity as we have come to think of it.)

That, friends, is a dilemma. Yes, the second option in the third scenario is still mightily preferable, as it is our only realistic survival option; but it's a very tough sell for policy makers at every level, and for the general public as well. Ugh. Let's pretend there's a third option. It's far more palatable simply to ignore a few factors, assume we have only a "problem," and then set out to "solve" it.

Now, it is true that within our overall dilemma there exist many problems (the relatively high cost of commercial solar panels is a problem that probably can be addressed with further research, as is bird and bat mortality from wind turbines). But we shouldn't let the existence of these "trees" distract us from the necessity of dealing with the "forest" in which they grow.

In effect, discounting limiting factors (ignoring the "forest" while focusing only on one or two "trees") constitutes by far the most popular and acceptable form of denial. Very few people would actually deny the notion that there is something wrong in the world, but framing the situation as a problem rather than a dilemma enables us to avoid harsh reality while appearing not to do so. Indeed, the energetic pursuit of problem solving enables one to strike a heroic pose.

Science and Politics Denial can sometimes take blatant and irrational forms—especially here in the politically polarized and increasingly bonkers U.S. of A. Here's a recent example

Author's Note: Caution! Rant ahead! A few days ago my wife Janet and I attended a talk by author Bill McKibben here in Santa Rosa. Bill has been on a more-or-less perpetual lecture tour for the past few months promoting his ad-hoc organization www.350.org, which is mounting a world-wide effort to persuade the international community to adopt 350 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 as its official target in emissions reduction efforts.

The number comes from analyses by climate scientist James Hansen of NASA, who has concluded that this is the highest number that will enable us to continue to enjoy "a planet similar to the one on which civilization developed."

Bill's lecture was informative and compelling, and Janet and I came away inspired to take the 350.org message into our community however we can.

The next day Janet happened to be volunteering as a Master Gardener. For those who don't know, the Master Gardener program is a Cooperative Extension program of the University of California system, offering free science-based advice to the general public on nearly all aspects of home gardening.
Janet mentioned to a female senior volunteer that it might be good for the program to give more attention to promoting ways that gardeners can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The woman replied that Master Gardeners aren't allowed to engage in "political" activities while acting in their official capacity, and that anthropogenic climate change is "politics" rather than science; she then went on to make a few comments about how some parts of the world are actually cooling, and how scientists disagree on what's really going on.

Janet was dumbfounded (as was I when she related the story to me). Yet the senior Master Gardener's attitude reflects the majority opinion in the U.S., according to many polls. Janet immediately emailed her a few choice articles from www.realclimate.org—a website run by climate scientists.

Of course, in reality the situation is nearly the opposite of "climate change is politics": indeed, the scientific consensus that humans' combustion of fossil fuels is driving the great majority of observed climate change is overwhelming. Even Jim Hansen's suggestion that 350 ppm must be the highest permissible number for atmospheric CO2 concentrations if we want to avert catastrophic impacts is entirely science-based, and the evidence and reasoning behind the number were published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Instead, it is the well-funded effort to doubt and question climate science that is political—an example of denial that happens to suit the purposes of the fossil fuel industry and its friends on the political right.

Yes, I know: there is politics in science too (for examples, read Thomas Kuhn's classic 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). Scientists do sometimes let herd instincts overwhelm critical thinking abilities. And absolute certainty regarding the degree of anthropogenic contribution to climate change is impossible to achieve: We can't run repeated controlled experiments with the entire planet, changing one variable at a time.

But the accumulating evidence that the bulk of observed climate instability is due to human action is overwhelmingly persuasive—and the vast majority of scientists accept it as such. As far as I have been able to tell, the objections of skeptics have been satisfactorily addressed. Spend an hour or so at www.realclimate.org, then spend an equivalent amount of time exploring a representative climate skeptic website (for example, www.climate-skeptic.com), then go back and forth matching assertions with evidence. Which one smells more like science, which more like polemics?

Come on, people. Surely as a society we can get beyond this "debate." If we don't do so soon, it will be too late in the gravest possible sense of that phrase. End of rant

Dilemma Adaptation
The hard fact is, denial is part of our human repertoire of responses. It's adaptive, up to a point. We all want and need to avoid pitfalls, but doing so takes effort, so we need some sort of filter to help us sort real threats from spurious or inconsequential ones. Denial is also an understandable response to information that is so profoundly unsettling that it would be psychologically damaging to us if we were to deal with it head on. But what's adaptive in one situation can be fatal in another.

I'm thinking a lot about adaptation these days as I read Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: A Breaktrough Moment (350ppm) 8/26/09

Ohia ai - Mountain Apple

SUBHEAD: This fruit was one of the original canoe plants brought by Polynesians to Hawaii.

 By Linda Pascatore on 8 October 2009 for Island Breath -
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2009/10/ohia-ai-mountain-apple.html)

 
Image above: Sliced Mountain (Malay) Apple showing pit. From http://www.pbase.com/selvin/image/43609292

Since coming to Hawaii, I have often enjoyed mountain apples. They are a red, elongated pear shaped fruit, juicy and slightly crunchy, with a soft skin and delicate flavor. I have purchased these at the farmer’s market, or been given surplus fruit by neighbors.

Recently, a friend gave me a mountain apple tree to plant. So I began to research this species. I always thought this fruit, which is also called the Malay Apple, was brought here from Asia, after Western Contact.

 I was surprised to discover that it is a canoe plant, with a Hawaiian name, Ohia ai. Canoe plants were brought by ancient Polynesians who traveled by canoe to settle in the large Polynesian Triangle that spans from New Zealand to Hawaii to Rapa Nui (Easter Island). These travelers brought a package of food plants and animals to sustain them in their new homes. The scientific name for the Mountain Apple or Malay Apple is Syzygium malaccense.

It is native to Malaysia, and spread through Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. It was brought to the Americas from Polynesia by Captain Bligh. The tree is of the Myrtaceae family, and is related to the Java Plum, Guava, Eucalyptus and Surinam Cherry trees.


 Image above: View up at Ohia ai (Mountain Apple) tree with hanging fruit. From http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/kBnp3xZpat-mJGuFvf0pGg

The Ohia ai or Mountain Apple tree can grow to 50 feet. The tree begins to fruit after 7 years. The bark is mottled gray and smooth, and the leaves are shiny dark green ovals. Blossoms come in the spring, and are bright pinkish red tufts that look like pompoms, with nectar that attracts birds and insects. The fruit forms all along the branches and trunk, rather than from the ends of branches. It ripens in about 3 months, in late summer or early autumn.

The fruit is red or can be pinkish, with white flesh and a brown seed. The Ohia ai is a tropical tree, and can be found growing wild in mesic lowland forest, shady mountain valleys up to 1800 feet, or the humid windward areas of the Hawaiian islands. Hawaiians traditionally used all parts of the Ohia ai. The wood of the trunk was used for house rafters and posts, and for carving statutes.

A dye from the roots and bark were used for coloring tapa cloth. Parts of the tree were used medicinally. A tonic from the leaves and bark was used by new mothers to help expell the placenta after giving birth. The bark was also used in tonics for lacerations, mouth lesions, and thrush. Bark was chewed to help a sore throat, and leaves chewed for treating bronchitis. Eating large amounts of the fruit can cause diarreha.

There is a Hawaiian saying, “O Hinaia‘ele‘ele ka malama, ‘aluka ka pala a ka ‘ohi‘a”, meaning Hinaia‘ele‘ele is the month when the mountain apples ripen everywhere. Hinaia’eleele is the month that falls during July or August, when the rains begin to return after the hot dry summer. Another reference to this time is “Olelo Noeau, Pukui: Ka ua ho‘opala ‘ohi‘a”, the rain that ripens the mountain apples. This refers to the rain that comes just as the mountain apple is beginning to ripen.

The ripe ohia ai was also a metaphor for human beauty: “ ‘Ohi‘a noho malu”, Mountain apple in the shade. Said of a beautiful or handsome person, who is compared to a mountain apple that ripens to perfection in the shade. Another reference to beauty is one to the moon goddess Hina, “Nawele ka maka o Hinaulu‘ohi‘a”. Pale is the face of Hinaulu‘ohi‘a.

 Said of the pink rim around the blossom end of the white mountain apple. The red fruit of the Ohia ai is associated with Pele, Fire Goddess of the Volcano. The fruit is often used to decorate hula altars, and is used ceremonially in Tahiti.

 
Image above: Flower blossom of the Syzygium malaccense (Mountain Apple). From http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/forestry/trees/Samanea_Syzygium.html

We will be planting our Ohia ai tree soon. While waiting the seven years for it to bear fruit, I will continue to look for Mountain Apples at our local weekly Sunshine Markets during the late summer season here on Kauai, to experience a refreshing taste of Ohai ai.

 See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaiian Nature Listing


Plastic bags to be banned

SUBHEAD: Kauai has become the second county in Hawaii to ban plastic carryout bags at retail establishments.

 By Michael Levine on 08 October 2009 in The Garden Island -
http://www.kauaiworld.com/articles/2009/10/08/news/kauai_news/doc4acd8fd817624509143733.txt

 
Image above: A canvas bag bragging "My grocery bag is better than your grocery bag". From http://loveisdope.wordpress.com/2009/02/05/towards-a-more-perfect-union-being-green

After a two-week delay to huddle with the county attorney and revise the wording to ease enforcement, the Kaua‘i County Council on Wednesday morning passed an ordinance that will outlaw single-use plastic checkout bags from the island’s retail establishments despite objections from some members of the business community.

“I feel very pleased that Kaua‘i has made a statement in support of the environment,” Councilman Tim Bynum, who co-introduced the legislation, said outside Council Chambers following the 4-2 vote and a round of applause from citizens in attendance. Councilwoman Lani Kawahara, who co-introduced the bill with Bynum and “voted proudly in support,” said the ordinance is an important step forward in solving an “environmental crisis” as it helps provide stewardship of the island’s unique environment, including “the waters that run around and through it.”

The bill, soon to be signed into law by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., will go into effect on Jan. 11, 2011 — the same day a similar ban will take effect on Maui. “I am pleased with the approval and thank the County Council for bringing up important questions regarding implementation and enforcement,” Carvalho said in an e-mail from spokeswoman Mary Daubert. The altered implementation date was one of several changes recommended by Deputy County Attorney Mike Dahilig. Also included in the approved amendment was a loosened definition for “biodegradable bag” that will allow County Engineer Donald Fujimoto and the county Department of Public Works to work with the Office of the County Attorney to craft administrative rules to define the distinction between eligible and ineligible bags. Removed from the definition was a a requirement that eligible bags conform to the European Standard EN13432, established by the European Committee for Normalisation.

That clause was not in the original proposed legislation but was added by the council’s Public Works/Elderly Affairs Committee in August at the urging of Brad Parsons and other concerned community members. The definition still includes the provision that biodegradable bags will contain “no polymers derived from fossil fuels,” as well as the requirements that they are intended for single use and will decompose at a rate comparable to paper, leaves and food.

The bill was deferred after Council Chair Bill “Kaipo” Asing asked the county attorney to take another look at its enforcement issues. Bynum said the long-term hope is that all single-use bags will be phased out. Outside Council Chambers, Dahilig said the definition was changed because science is still “fluid” on types of plastics, and standards for biodegradability differ from Europe to America to Brazil. Fujimoto said his department plans to incorporate existing standards into their administrative rules — which will be written and adopted through a standard public hearing process.

Dahilig said the intention was the county will not need to contract an outside chemist to do testing on different bags to determine their compliance with the law. “Looking at the wording, we have the utmost confidence that Public Works and the county engineer will be able to enforce this ordinance,” Parsons said outside Council Chambers. Other changes implemented by the council Wednesday include amendments to sections of the bill dealing with penalties for noncompliance and exemptions for certain businesses.

Offenders will be fined $250 per day for the first notice of violation, $500 per day for the second notice within 365 days of the first, and $1,000 per day for subsequent notices in that same time frame. Previously, those fine amount were to be $100, $200 and $500 per violation within the same year. While the effective date of the ordinance was pushed back from July 1, 2010, to Jan. 11, 2011, it could actually have a broader impact sooner because a major exemption was eliminated.

Removed from the bill was language that allowed the county engineer to exempt retailers for up to 18 months upon showing “undue hardship,” including situations where there are no acceptable alternatives to plastic bags for reasons unique to that retailer. Now, only situations where compliance would “deprive a retail establishment of any rights to which it would be entitled” would be granted exemptions. Fundraisers by nonprofit organizations falling under Section 501(c) of the federal Internal Revenue Code or community booster organizations will also be exempt from the ordinance. Councilman Dickie Chang estimated that support testimony outnumbered opposition by up to 6-to-1.

He voted to pass the bill with Bynum, Kawahara and Vice Chair Jay Furfaro. However, some did speak out against the proposal. Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce President Randall Francisco wrote in a September e-mail testimony that the chamber “strongly believes that with continued education, research, patience and a commitment to continuing to honor our Hawaiian/Kaua‘i sense of place and community, in the very short term ... Kaua‘i residents/visitors will continue to move in the direction of using/reusing/recycling biodegradable bags and reusable bags ... without a need for further government intervention in the marketplace.” “Our kuleana is always about having a better and more sustainable Kaua‘i and island lifestyle for everyone, without having government’s ‘hand in every pocketbook,’” Francisco wrote.

The Retail Merchants of Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i Food Industry Association also provided testimony in opposition on the grounds that the environmental concerns are unfounded and that biodegradable and paper bags are considerably more expensive than plastic ones. Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro said he could not vote in support because he believes the promotion of plastic bag recycling through redemption centers would be better than passing a ban. “I don’t like government intervention in marketplace, basically,” he said, echoing Francisco’s testimony, adding that the end result is going to cost everybody “in the pocketbook.” He said he would prefer to include a sunset clause to force the council to revisit the issue down the road.

“The problem is not the plastic bags, the problem is people,” agreed Asing, who instead pushed for more education and worried that enforcing the ordinance will prove to be a “huge responsibility” for Public Works. Kaneshiro and Asing cast the two “no” votes. Derek Kawakami recused himself for the entirety of the bill deliberation due to his role with Big Save supermarkets.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Attorney Halts Bag Ban 9/24/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Plastic bag Ban 9/23/09

Financial Follies 2.0

SUBHEAD: William Black see Geithner as "disaster" and takes exception with Robert Fisk on the imminent demise of the dollar.
 

 
Image above: Cartoon by Dave Granlund of Timothy Geithner handling of toxic assets. From http://davegranlund.com/cartoons/2009/03/23/fed-toxic-assets-plan  

Interview with William Black on 8 October 2009 in Newsweek - 
 http://www.newsweek.com/id/216785/page/1

 One year after the global economic collapse, the United States has yet to adopt any legislation to change the way it oversees or regulates financial industries. Banks that received bail-out money still don't have any restrictions placed on the way they spend the government's cash, and although President Obama wants Congress to create a new consumer financial protection agency to act as a watch dog against unfair lending practices and confusing credit card contracts, the idea has met massive resistance from Washington’s well-funded business lobbyists.

But there are ways to regulate businesses and financial transactions without spending piles of money or passing new laws, says William Black, a former federal regulator during the Savings & Loan crisis and a professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Black appears in Michael Moore’s new documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story," in which he acts as Moore's narrative Sherpa, guiding viewers through the history of federal financial reform.

Black spoke with NEWSWEEK's Nancy Cook about the possibility of a new federal financial agency; the problem with current regulators like Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury; and the search for every industry's Achilles Heel. Excerpts: NEWSWEEK:

 A few weeks ago marked the one-year anniversary of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Since the financial collapse, there have been no indictments. The Dow is ready to hit 10,000 again. Where is the outrage?

WILLIAM BLACK: During the Saving & Loans crisis, we had over 1,000 convictions that involved insiders and gigantic borrowers. Now we have zero. The FBI did not even begin to investigate the large subprime lenders until March 2007. People would be upset if they had the facts, or if you asked them how many criminal referrals there were for mortgage fraud. (There were 65,000 last year.) Meanwhile, the administration is saying there is no problem and that the financial crisis is over. That's the exact opposite of what you want to say and do if you want dramatic resources to change things.

 In dissecting the financial collapse, what do you think went wrong?

Eighty percent of the toxic mortgages that were done were unregulated, but that still leaves 20 percent of a huge market. Had the examiners looked, the incident of the fraud was so great that they couldn't have missed it. The FBI warned about toxic mortgages years ago, but in response to the 9/11 attacks, the FBI transferred 500 white collar specialists to national security. The Bush administration refused to replace the FBI agents it transferred--even though Enron collapsed within about two months. Now, you have to think in terms of lags. The Enron case was going to trial. There are over 100 FBI agencies assigned to Enron alone. With the lag, who was left to investigate white collar crimes? It's nice to have warned about toxic mortgages. It would have been nicer to stay on top of the warning, but there was nobody left in terms of the numbers. As late as 2006, there were only 180 FBI agents working on mortgage fraud. At its peak, we had 1,000 FBI agents working on the Savings & Loans fraud. Regulators can't bring criminal cases, but the regulators are the ones who have to create the road map for successful regulations for fraud. When you screw up the regulatory process, you have, de facto, decriminalized these elite complex frauds.

 Do you think the team Obama has put in place can overhaul the regulatory agencies?

The administration's officials have all been failures as regulators. [Chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission] Mary Shapiro's big thing was self-regulation. That worked real well: the self-regulation of the investment banks. Ben Bernanke [Chairman of the Federal Reserve] I'm also very critical of, but I do give him credit for being willing to drop a lot of his anti-regulatory ideology in the face of the crisis. He literally wrote the book on the Great Depression, but he was not going to go down in history as the person who caused the second Great Depression. Some of the things Bernanke did were very bad, but he is in sharp contrast to Geithner who has been wrong about everything in his career. When Geithner was once answering a question in response to Ron Paul, he said, 'I've never been a regulator.' He was then the President of the New York Federal Reserve, and he purports that he was never a regulator? That is a demonstration of what is wrong with the Federal Reserve banks if the head of the unit doesn't think he's a regulator. He's a disaster.  

What about the criticism that regulators are not paid enough, or well enough to attract talent and keep it?

The pay can be very bad, but it's not simply that the pay is low. The agency regulating the Savings & Loans was not permitted to pay as much as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management pays. So, in terms of the initial selection, the better people will go to the other agencies. At the SEC, leading up to WorldCom and Enron, the turnover also became obscene. The average lawyer at the SEC stayed barely over two years, and your first year, you're kind of useless. The far biggest thing is leadership. As long as the leader is some kind-of clown, the agency will fail.  

What needs to happen now?

 
It's been two-and-half years since the secondary markets collapsed, and there is zero meaningful regulatory reform adopted by legislation. But you don't need laws to do things in the regulatory ranks. You'll never have enough regulators or top-of-the scale regulators, so you always look for the Achilles heel. In the Savings & Loans case, that was growth. In 1990 to 1991, there was going to be a subprime crisis. Lenders were starting to do the same practices, and we told them, 'No.' There was no crisis. The SEC, for example, has never effectively regulated the credit rating agencies, but the rating agencies are the Achilles heel. There are only three rating agencies. If you send your 20 best people from the SEC into any of the rating agencies, they can evaluate credit risk. They can find out on day one that the rating agencies never check loan files. On day two, they can say that the rating agencies can't give out more ratings without checking loan files. On day three, the secondary market collapses and the bubble bursts early. Regulators have to be creative and have to be aggressive. They have to know how to succeed not having the resources, but there is nearly always is an Achilles Heel.  

Does the Obama Administration have the political will to bring about financial reform?

No and no--although I'm not even sure that the central problem is will. The administration seems not to believe that you need fundamental change. I know they've given speeches recently. The rhetoric is starting to come around, but the proposals are still designed to create the status quo before the crisis. It's analytically bankrupt. Nothing they're trying for would have prevented the current crisis had it been in place, and it's very unlikely that it will prevent crisis in the future. In particular, the administration want to create the secondary market that caused trillions of dollars of losses. They still want a massively, too-large financial structure -- so large that it clearly harms the economy. They still want to compete and be the place where finance will reside. That's like saying, "We want to be there when it blows up."

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: The Demise of the Dollar 10/6/09

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.

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