Carving up Africa

SUBHEAD: The land grab heats up, and the neocolonialists stake their claims to extract food and fuel from Africa.

By Robert Morley on 17 November 2009 in the Trumpet - (

Image above: Map of Africa in 1914. Then only Ethiopia and Liberia were independent nations. From  

[IB Publisher's Note: What is happening in Africa continues to happen here in Hawaii. Today it is international corporations (like Dow, Du Pont, Monsanto and Syngenta) that are grabbing land for GMO agrocrops in place of what could be "native" food production.]

 Fifty million acres: gone! It’s a plot of land the size of half the farmland in all of Europe. One year ago, this tract belonged to its natives. Now, foreigners hold the deed. The scale of this landgrab is truly astounding. Nothing similar has taken place since Europeans carved up the subcontinent 200 years ago.

 Like a Thanksgiving Day turkey-carving gone wrong, Africa’s in-laws are helping themselves. During the past year, South Korea grabbed 1.7 million acres in Sudan. Saudi Arabia scooped up 1.2 million acres in Tanzania. China gobbled up 6.9 million acres in the Democratic Republic of Congo and another 5 million acres in Zambia. India plucked up a 99-year lease for over 1 million acres of farmland in Madagascar. Africa is selling the farm.

These are just a few of the published deals, and they might represent just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of what is actually happening under the table, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says. “In the context of arable land sales, this is unprecedented,” Carl Atkin, a consultant at a Cambridge firm helping to arrange some of the big international land transactions, said last year.

“We’re used to seeing 100,000-hectare [250,000-acre] sales. This is more than 10 times as much” (emphasis mine throughout). The recent wave of land sales is equivalent to one tenth of the entire area already under plow in Africa. China’s two land deals in the Congo and Zambia alone are roughly equivalent to the total area of Belgium.

In fact, China now has greater land holdings in Africa than some African nations. “[The trend] is accelerating quickly,” Olivier De Schutter, special envoy for food at the UN, said earlier this year. “All countries observe each other, and when one sees others buying land, it does the same.” But what is driving the massive landgrab in Africa? Food, fuel and fear. The world can’t live without food and fuel. And when those two are in short supply, you get fear.

From the mid 1940s through the late 1990s, the world’s population grew about 3 percent annually. Food production mirrored population growth during this time. During the past decade, this proportional relationship has completely broken down. Population continues to grow, but grain production has essentially flatlined. Recent advances in agricultural production, fertilizer usage and mechanization have not led to significantly higher global harvests. Consequently, global food stores are shrinking at a time when they are needed more than ever.

 Last year, the world received a foretaste of what a food crunch would feel like. In response to poor harvests, food prices shot up to headline-grabbing levels. Thailand, Vietnam, China, India and even producer countries like Argentina imposed export curbs on rice to protect their own supplies. Russia and Ukraine imposed export bans on wheat. And Japan (a country that imports 60 percent of its daily food consumption) found out that no matter how much money it offered, it couldn’t buy what wasn’t available.

Food riots broke out in over 20 countries around the world, including Haiti, Senegal, Yemen, Egypt and Cameroon. Even in wealthy America, consumers encountered isolated rationing of rice and cooking oil. The World Bank estimated that the crisis added 100 million to the number of undernourished people worldwide. And 2008 was relatively mild in terms of the actual food shortage.

Food-importing nations were rudely awakened to the fact that international markets cannot be relied upon. During crunch times, the equation becomes every nation for itself, and countries are seeking to insure themselves. China, South Korea and India are taking predicted food shortages very seriously.

Three times more international land was purchased or leased during the first seven months of this year than in all of 2008. The hope is that during the next food crisis, outsourced food production will ensure food security for investing countries. In exchange, Africa’s new colonists promise military equipment, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, roads, power plants and technology—the same sorts of things provided during Africa’s first colonial period.  

Fear of oil shortages is also fueling the great African landgrab. China’s and India’s rapid industrialization have lifted millions of people out of poverty. As a consequence, the world’s two most populous nations are now in direct competition for oil supplies with the developed Western world. Who will get these supplies? Those first on the ground.

 Like global food production, oil production has flatlined. Since 2005, despite record-high prices and record amounts spent on exploration, the world has not been producing more oil. According to De Shutter, about 80 percent of the purchased land will be earmarked for food production. However, the other 20 percent is expected to grow biofuel crops.

China’s newly purchased 6.8 million acres in the Democratic Republic of Congo was acquired with the purpose of creating the world’s largest palm-oil plantation. Oil is what makes the world go round, and Africa’s second-generation colonists are after it. Africa is home to some of the most promising unexploited oil fields on the planet.

As oil production has peaked in most of the world’s large conventional fields, Africa has leaped in strategic value. From war-torn Sudan to western Africa’s new power brokers in Guinea, oil props up unsavory regimes and provides access to African terra firma for thirsty industrial economies. Despite the massive land rush in Africa, one nation is conspicuous by its absence—America. American investment in Africa is lagging. And now the global economic crisis is taking its toll. Most of America’s trade with Africa is with two oil-exporting countries: Nigeria and Angola.

Outside of that, American influence is on the wane. Europe is “light years ahead” of the U.S. in doing business with Africa, says America’s ambassador to the African Union, Michael Battle. With all the new Asian competition, America looks set to lose even more ground. Just last week, China pledged another $10 billion in low-interest loans to African nations—on top of its recent cancellation of some African debt.
The recolonization of Africa is underway. The choice pieces of meat are already being picked off. Only this time, Britain and America will be left with an empty plate in this global dinner of power politics. It is Asia and Europe that will ultimately carve up the future of the great resource-rich southern continent. Africa today already looks eerily like its past. For a detailed prediction of how the global struggle for resources will play out in Africa, and why Europe is destined to once again become the dominant power, read the articles “Stoking the Engines of Empires” and “The Battleground.”

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: The New Colonialists 8/13/09

Breaking Costly Nitrogen Addiction

SUBHEAD: We must move quickly to revolutionize agricultural systems and greatly reduce the amount of nitrogen we put into the planet's ecosystems.

By Fred Pearce 5 November 2009 in Environment 360 -

Image above: The natural cycle fixes nitrogen in the soil from the atmosphere. From  

A single patent a century ago changed the world, and now, in the 21st century, Homo sapiens and the world we dominate have an addiction. Call it the nitrogen fix. It is like a drug mainlined into the planet’s ecosystems, suffusing every cell, every pore — including our own bodies. In 1908, the German chemist Fritz Haber discovered how to make ammonia by capturing nitrogen gas from the air. In the process he invented a cheap new source of nitrogen fertilizer, ending our dependence on natural sources, whether biological or geological. Nitrogen fertilizer fixed from the air confounded the mid-century predictions of Paul Ehrlich and others that global famine loomed.

Chemical fertilizer today feeds about three billion people. But the environmental consequences of the massive amounts of nitrogen sent coursing through the planet’s ecosystems are growing fast. We have learned to fear carbon and the changes it can cause to our climate. But one day soon we may learn to fear the nitrogen fix even more. A major international survey published in September in Nature listed the nitrogen cycle as one of the three “planetary boundaries” that human interventions have disturbed so badly that they threaten the future habitability of the Earth. The others — according to the study by Johann Rockstrom, of the Stockholm Environment Institute, and 27 other environmental scientists – are climate change and biodiversity loss.

Nitrogen affects more parts of the planet’s life-support systems than almost any other element, says James Galloway of the University of Virginia, who predicts: “In the worst-case scenario, we will move towards a nitrogen-saturated planet, with polluted and reduced biodiversity, increased human health risks and an even more perturbed greenhouse gas balance.” The problem is that we waste most of Haber’s fertilizer. Of 80 million tons spread onto fields in fertilizer each year, only 17 million tons gets into food.

The rest goes missing. This is partly because the fertilizer is wastefully applied, and partly because the new green-revolution crops developed to grow fat on nitrogen fertilizer are also wasteful of the nutrient. The nitrogen efficiency of the world’s cereals has fallen from 80 percent in 1960 to just 30 percent today. Artificial nitrogen washes in drainage water from almost every field in the world.

It is as ubiquitous in water as man-made carbon dioxide is in the air. It is accumulating in the world’s rivers and underground water reserves, choking waterways with algae and making water reserves unfit to drink without expensive clean-up. Most of the man-made nitrogen fertilizer ever produced has been applied to fields in the last quarter-century.

Nature has some ability to reverse man-made fixing of nitrogen, converting it back into an inert gas — a process called denitrification. But last year, Patrick Mulholland of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee reported that the system is being overwhelmed. Many rivers in the U.S. are now so nitrogen-saturated that they are losing their ability to denitrify pollution. Most of this excess nitrogen ends up in the oceans, where it is killing whole ecosystems. Excess nitrogen is the cause of the growing number of oxygen-depleted “dead zones” in the oceans, says Mulholland.

Why should a fertilizer kill?

 It is just too much of a good thing. It over-fertilizes the water, producing such large volumes of algae and other biomass that it consumes all the oxygen in the water, causing the ecosystem to crash. Coastal bays, inlets and estuaries around the world are succumbing. A study earlier this year found that algal blooms dump domoic acid, a neurotoxin, onto the ocean floor, where it persists for weeks.

“The first signs are often birds washing up on the shore or seals acting funny, aggressive and twitching, looking as if they were drunk,” says Claudia Benitez-Nelson of the University of South Carolina. Notoriously, fertilizer running down the Mississippi-Missouri river system creates a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Typically, around 20,000 square kilometers of ocean forms a layer without oxygen or fish – killed by the nitrogen fix. The number of dead zones has “spread exponentially since the 1960s,” says Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point. He counted more than 400 in a study for Science last year. They now cover a quarter of a million square kilometers, usually where rivers discharge large amounts of fertilizers and sewage into relatively enclosed oceans.

You find these dead zones in the waters between Japan and Korea; in the Black Sea, where an invasion of alien jelly fish in the 1980s wiped out most native species; off the tourist beaches of the northern Adriatic; in Chesapeake Bay and the ocean waters off Oregon; and in the semi-enclosed Baltic Sea, the largest dead zone in world.

 Nitrogen is a vital nutrient in soils, essential for growing crops. Soils recycle nitrogen in organic waste, including animal dung. But before Haber’s discovery, the only way of adding more atmospheric nitrogen to soils was through capture by the bacteria that live in a small number of nitrogen-fixing plants, including legumes like clover and beans. In the 19th century, densely-packed countries like Germany and Britain began to improve the fertility of their soils by importing nitrogen in the form of guano from the Pacific islands of Peru, and saltpetre mined in Chile.

Geological nitrogen was a geopolitical resource as vital as oil today. Appeals were made for science to come up with a new method of producing nitrogen in a form that plants could absorb. Haber won the race, filing his patent for fixing ammonia, a molecule made of nitrogen and hydrogen atoms, from the inert nitrogen gas that makes up 70 percent of the air. Now, ammonia could readily be turned into chemical fertilizer and added to the world’s fields as easily as cow dung.

German industrialist Carl Bosch opened the first factory near Ludwigshafen in 1913. It was in the nick of time for Germany. During the First World War, unable to receive shipments of guano from South America because of a British naval blockade, Germany would quickly have starved but for the Haber-Bosch process.

Outside Europe, few initially took up chemical fertilizers to intensify their farming. It was usually cheaper and easier to expand farming — draining marshes, ploughing prairies and clearing forests. But by the 1960s, as world population soared, fertilizer manufacture took off, and plant breeders developed new lines of high-yielding crops that responded best to the nitrogen fix. During this “green revolution,” there was an eight-fold increase in global production of nitrogen fertilizer from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Today, of 175 million tons of nitrogen applied to the world’s croplands in a year, almost 50 percent is from chemical fertilizer. It has raised the “carrying capacity” of the world’s soils from 1.9 people per hectare of farmland to 4.3 — and 10 in China, where applications reach twice anything seen in Europe. This is a profound change to the biochemistry of life on Earth — and to our own bodies. Today, much of the nitrogen in our bodies comes not from biological sources but from giant chemical factories. We are, in a real sense, as much chemistry as biology. Vaclav Smil, the distinguished Canadian researcher into food and the environment at the University of Manitoba, calls the nitrogen fix “an immense and dangerous experiment.”

Besides fertilizer, we are also making biologically available nitrogen by burning fossil fuels. Power stations emit nitrogen oxides that create acid rain, the environmental scourge of industrialized countries in the 1980s and 1990s. Nitrogen oxides in the air are also potent greenhouse gases, adding to global warming, and even reach the stratosphere, where they join chlorine and bromine compounds in eating up the protective ozone layer.

“Most of the world’s biodiversity hotspots are receiving doses of nitrogen from the air and in water at levels known to damage many species,” according to Gareth Phoenix of the University of Sheffield in England. Yet the issue has never been addressed by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. In temperate lands, this is turning heaths into grasslands, while grasslands typically lose a quarter of their species richness. Within nitrogen-flooded ecosystems, aggressive outside species outperform most natives. So nitrogen is the hidden force behind invasions of alien species around the world. The prognosis is not good.

The scientists who wrote the Nature paper on planetary boundaries argued that human nitrogen releases to the natural environment should be cut by three quarters, to around 35 million tons. But on current trends, global nitrogen use on farmland is set to double to 220 million tons a year by 2050 – more than six times the safe threshold. The danger is that nature’s ability to process this excess nitrogen and return it to the atmosphere will be overwhelmed, and we will end up inhabiting a nitrogen-saturated planet, with nitrogen driving global warming, acidifying air, eating the ozone layer, reducing biodiversity, and killing the oceans. What can be done? To meet the target cited in the Nature study requires a transformation of the world’s agriculture as profound as the transformation of energy industries needed to meet targets for cutting greenhouse gases.

There is an urgent need, says Smil, to breed crops that are far more efficient at absorbing the nitrogen in fields, and for developing farming systems that manage nitrogen far better. Luckily the potential is considerable. In China, where nitrogen application to fields is among the highest in the world, a study by a group of scientists led by Wilfried Winiwarter and Tatiana Ermolieva of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis found that better on-farm management of nitrogen could cut nitrous oxide emissions to the environment by 25 percent without damaging farm output. Galloway says the flow of nitrogen through the environment can also be reduced by decreased emissions from burning fossil fuels — perhaps as a byproduct of efforts against climate change. And better sewage treatment in cities could convert nitrates that have passed through the human gut into safe gaseous nitrogen.

If anything exemplifies humanity’s growing impact on the planet’s life-support systems, it is the way we are overwhelming the nitrogen cycle. There are solutions. But for now we are hooked. As Smil put it: “In just one lifetime, humanity has developed a profound chemical dependence.”

Acid test results - a post mortem

SUBHEAD: What happened to change? We are either in the hands of conspirators or idiots or both. Image above: Detail from Obama campaign poster for 2008. From By George Mobus on 17 November 2009 in Question Everything -

When Obama was inaugurated I posted my thoughts about the likelihood of the Obama administration doing the right things: This is the acid test. In it I said "If Obama can't pull it off, I suspect no one can."

Obama was clearly a different kind of politician, or at least seemed so in contrast to the other candidates and the previous administration. I think a large majority of us looked upon his election as a real relief. My own thoughts were that now we might have someone who would dare to tell the truth about climate change and energy depletion and would use the bully pulpit to promote real action.

Of course I realized that the vast majority of people who supported Obama had something a little different in mind. For them the issue was getting the economy going again, ending the wars, and basically returning to that seemingly prosperous time of the late 1990s. The majority wanted and believed in business as usual (BAU) only colored green somehow.

I just wanted him to address the fact that we would never go back to BAU, even green. The days of cheap energy were over and the sooner this was acknowledged the sooner we start to take actions that might spare us the worst possible outcomes. I reserved the right to be skeptical, of course. That is why I called it the 'acid test'.

In February I revisited the situation in The acid test revisited. There I gave the President good marks for choosing the right problems to tackle, but had to slam him for his objectives. My greatest fears were being rekindled by his appointments to key economic positions. As is now all too apparent the positions taken by, Treasury Secretary Geithner, National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers, and the other White House minions, along with keeping Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in place have led to a crises in the real American economy — not the bankers and Wall Street jockeys mind you — with real unemployment at something close to 17% (the government statistics ignore those who have given up looking for jobs).

Actually I reported the final results of the acid test back in August: Is Obama passing the acid test? I pretty much wrote him off since the stimulus package was clearly designed to help the fat cats and not very geared toward the would-be working stiffs who were losing their homes. Now some thoughts on the post mortem of American politics and governance

Broken political process, broken governance process

The skill set needed to win elections isn't the same skill set needed to govern. That is the great flaw in the American political framework. Whereas partisan politics are useful for sorting out the issues and debating the qualities of candidates during primaries, bringing the same partisanship (based on pure ideology) to the Senate floor is completely wrong. Governors need to be more like scientists, look at and use the best evidence available to debate legislation.

Then there is the situation with lobbyists. Once upon a time, lobbyists sort of did provide legislators with information. Unfortunately as TV campaigning became more expensive and lobbyists started providing more than information the whole process broke down. Getting elected meant collecting lots of money. And it was the monied interests who could field the best promoters/lobbyists. Now the game the politicians have to play is completely different from what it should have been.

One of Obama's campaign promises was to do something about K Street. He could certainly ban the lobbyists from the White House. That would be a start. But it never happened. Indeed what we've witnessed in the on-going saga of health care reform is an elevated role for lobbyists in the process. Sure Obama may argue that looking for a compromise on multiple issues, like the public option, will require all parties cooperation and he would, perhaps, assert that he has to invite the various business interests to the table to hash things out. But is that really true, or is it just convenient?

Obama promised change; change we could believe in. Today there are quite a few dissatisfied folks who have yet to see any results of change. Right now it still looks like the fat cats rule and are going to increase the disparity in incomes between the rich and everybody else.

I suspect it is all part of an intentional illusion, designed to lull the public into waiting just a few more years until the real shit hits the fan. We have been fed the story that if we can just get the economy going again, all will be well. But it is crap.

Trying to restore to a growth-oriented, consumer-based economy is impossible. Growth and consumption depend on cheap energy flowing through. And we have long passed the point at which net energy flow is growing faster than we can produce assets. Indeed, for all we know net energy flow could now be in decline. We don't measure it in any meaningful way. Everyone in the energy business has focused on gross oil production and oil prices.

But it is the net flow that powers the economy, that drives the production of wealth. And with the peaking of net energy from all sources without a substantial and expensive crash build-out of an alternative energy infrastructure, we will never be able to recover the flowthroughs needed. Ever.

The old economy is never coming back. We might restore some segments of the old economy, as now the bankers and Wall Streeters seem to be doing OK. But it will be very spotty and short-lived. The financial system is ultimately based on the real asset economy even if it has become over abstracted from its basis. So even if the banks are reporting profits now, even if the stock market is up, it won't be for long. You can't create wealth without increasing energy flow. It is just that simple.

And Obama seems oblivious to this. All of his financial advisors are oblivious. The majority of citizens are oblivious. The corporate giants are oblivious. Or maybe instead of going to regular school and learning some basic science all of these people went to Hogwarts and learned magic. Maybe I and my colleagues are the only ones who don't know that you really can have a free lunch; that you really can make something out of nothing.

An alternative hypothesis, one that keeps the illusion of hope alive, is that Obama IS aware and is blocked by potent forces that prevent him from telling the people the truth. It is easy to imagine the power brokers (Bilderberg conspiracy anyone?) using Obama as a perfect puppet, keeping the people filled with hope while all of the remaining wealth is confiscated by the rich and powerful. Because some of these power brokers must know the truth. It is just high school physics for god's sake.

What would you do if you were a master of the universe and if you knew the world as we've known it was coming to an end; that all the wealth that would ever be created would soon be all there was? If word got out there would be a concerted attempt to hoard. There would be violent competition for the spoils. The only way to prevent that would be to keep everybody hoping for a better outcome by telling them that such an outcome was still feasible. Then by the time it became clear to all that it wasn't, it would be too late.

These ideas are floating around even now. It is pretty damn hard to explain the failures of governance and the disappointment in Obama without invoking some kind of conspiracy theory. Most people already succumb to the feeling that their lives are fated (ill in this case).

Personally I don't know. I don't have an explanation. I just know that we are still headed at pellmell speed toward a gigantic cliff and there is no attempt to even test the brakes let alone push the brake peddle to the floor. We are either in the hands of conspirators or the hands of idiots (or as I fear, idiotic conspirators!) But then, I'm the one who has been claiming all along that humans are just not very sapient after all.

Time to Quit Fibbing and Spinning

SUBHEAD: Obama punts. Copenhagen climate session will be nothing more than a gab fest. We need more now! Image above: Group protested the Pittsburgh International Coal Conference days before the G-20 arrived in the city. From By Bill McKibben on 16 November 2009 in Mother Jones -

Two caveats. First, early in the primary season, when I was asked to join Environmentalists for Obama, I signed on immediately. I knocked on doors, made phone calls, gave money, and celebrated his victory—I think he’s the best president of my lifetime.

Second, Obama has done much that’s right about climate, including surround himself with a stellar staff of advisers. From auto mileage to green stimulus spending, he’s done more to deal with global warming than all of the presidents combined in the 20 years that it’s been an issue.

But that’s a pretty low bar. And the announcement yesterday from the APEC meeting in Singapore that next month’s Copenhagen climate talks will be nothing more than a glorified talking session makes it clear that he has, at least for now, punted on the hard questions around climate. The world won’t be able to get started on solving our climate problem, and the obstacle is—as it has been for the last two decades—the United States.

And in fact none of this should come as a surprise to anyone paying attention. For a year now it’s been clear that the president is not particularly focused on applying the political pressure that would have been necessary to reach any kind of pact, much less one that approaches what the science demands. Despite the deadline of the Copenhagen conference, Obama placed energy second on his priority list, guaranteeing that health care would occupy most of the year. He talked very little about climate, tending instead to talk about green jobs and energy security, and in the process left the door open for climate deniers to have a field day.

And then—as with health care—he left it pretty much entirely up to Congress to write the necessary legislation. That kept him from having to bear the blame for a byzantine bill, but it also meant that the Senate—the body from which he came, and whose culture he had to know—could work in its usual style, without White House pressure. Which at the moment means that Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham are essentially rewriting the legislation, to what end no one really knows.

The real tip-off of Obama’s unwillingness to lead, however, has been the endless spinning of his climate negotiators. For 12 months they have been fibbing about the science—reiterating over and over again that their goal is the “scientific standard” of 450 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. That’s no longer scientifically accurate—in the last two years, since the rapid Arctic melt in the summer of 2007, scientists have made it clear that a treaty that aimed at 450 ppm would be a treaty that left the planet free of ice, a planet where many current nations would disappear beneath the waves. We’re at 390 now—we’re already too high.

The 450 number came from the various graphs and tables of the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—but Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the IPCC, has said repeatedly in the last year that that science is out of date. Recently, asked why he’d endorsed a 350 target instead, he said, “As a human being, I just couldn’t keep quiet in the face of all this overwhelming evidence. I know it’s probably not right for me to take a position such as this, but on the other hand, I think it would be totally immoral on my part not to take a position, so I came out and said so.”

By contrast, the Obama administration’s position has been that a tough treaty is politically unrealistic—that the Senate would never pass it. That’s certainly true, at least for the moment. But the White House is starting to use the Senate in the same way that the Bush administration used China—as a scapegoat for doing too little. You don’t get to blame the Senate if you haven’t pushed the Senate as hard as you possibly can. It would take a huge commitment of presidential leadership, the sacrifice of large amounts of political capital, to change political reality.

It would also take a movement of citizens—which we’ve tried hard to build. Three weeks ago we at organized what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” Many prime ministers, environmental ministers, and foreign ministers participated—heck, the president of the Maldives convened an underwater Cabinet meeting to make the point about how desperate the situation was. We asked the White House if anyone—some spare undersecretary of something—might come to one of the 2,000 demonstrations across the United States. They couldn’t find a soul.

They’ll have another chance. With groups around the world, will help organize candlelight vigils across the planet on the weekend of December 12. Many will take place at American embassies and consulates. Not because anyone is anti-American. Because everyone remains hopeful that America will finally help lead to solve the problem that it, far more than any other nation, caused.

None of this is easy. (I haven’t even mentioned the obscenely low amounts of money the administration and Congress are talking about appropriating for the foreign aid that will be required to help developing countries adapt to the global warming America has caused.) But all of it is easier than trying to deal with the world that’s coming at us faster every day we don’t act. Pressuring Senate Republicans (or coal-fired Democrats) is hard; pressuring physics and chemistry is harder still. In fact, it’s impossible. That’s why this is different than health care reform or financial re-regulation. You have to actually meet the scientific standard, not just do better than George Bush.

And of course, politically, Obama doesn’t need to do it. He doesn’t need to worry about environmentalists abandoning him for someone else—he’ll always be the preferable choice, and I’ll always be out there knocking on doors for him. But his legacy won’t depend on the shiny medal the Norwegians hang around his neck next month; it will depend, more than anything else, on whether or not he really tackles the biggest problem the planet faces.

There is still time for him to make the crucial difference, but not if his administration continues in fib-and-spin mode. At the same meeting in Singapore where he made it clear that Copenhagen would not negotiate a new climate treaty, he invited all the other APEC leaders to meet in 2011 in Hawaii, adding, “I look forward to seeing you all decked out in flowered shirts and grass skirts.” Whatever—that sounds more like his giggly, sophomoric predecessor than the leader we desperately need.

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: 350 Rally on Kauai 10/24/09

The Endless Rally

SUBHEAD: No, it isn't, but they can make enough people think it is, and that's what counts. Image above: The endless buffet as executed at the Phuket FantaSea in Phuket, Thailand. From By Ilargi on 17 November 2009 in The Automatic Earth - Well, yes, I guess that the best thing Obama's finance gurus could have wished for is for people to believe that if they can pull off something once, they can continue to do so indefinitely. All they'd have left to do after that is pray like a swirling bunch of derwishes that those people will keep on thinking so until either a miracle happens and the economy shows actual growth - to replace the made-up version seen so far- or at least until they are safely out of office. And I got to give it to them: they have even quite a number of readers of supposedly critically intelligent websites like the Automatic Earth going for the idea. Everything looks fine when observed from the right angle, so therefore it must be fine. The stock markets regained over half of what they lost, so the upswing we all feel so much more comfortable with is here and will go on for weeks and months and years. Man may see himself as rational and smart, but the human mind is one big mothersucker for an upswing, any upswing, screw the odds. Them things just feel good, what can we say, what can we do? It's who we are. Anyone remember what happened to the debt we were worried about not so long ago? Who cares, really? "They" must have gotten rid of that too, somehow, though I don’t understand how, but then, they are way smarter in that field than I am, and I know they are always looking out for me and my family. And the upswing they know I like so much. Unemployment in the USA, even when calculated in the deceptive and distorted way we have now become so fully accustomed to that we hardly raise our voices anymore, is much higher today than it was a year ago. The official U6 number is at 17.5%, unofficial data indicate more than 1 in 5 Americans are effectively un- or underemployed. A few million more homes were foreclosed on in 2009. The number of hours worked is lower. Pay per hour is stagnant at best. $1.5 trillion in consumer credit card space was pulled. States are reeling and panicking over double digit budget shortfalls. Tax revenues are plummeting. Federal debt has risen by a factor higher than seen since WWII, if not even more. Add your own favorite stats and color the pictures. Still, before any of these developments had even started, back in 2008 49.1 million US citizens had trouble finding enough food to eat. That probably means 15-20 million children. And don't forget that if they could have fed themselves, much of the food would have been of an inferior quality, since in most poor areas of the country, there's a hell of a lot more cheap burgers available than vegetables. Perhaps luckily for them, they couldn't even afford no high-fructosed whoppers. But that was last year. In 2009, how many more hungry children did we add to the tally? Whatever their number, Obama and his administration chose and choose to ignore them. For Washington, saving Wall Street institutions is much more important. First you save the banks, and if there's anything left afterwards, you may -or may not, depending on what the polls say- look at the 30-some million unemployed and the 20-odd million undernourished children. The money used to prop up the banks has led to the illusionary notion of actual profits being made. Which in turn is all the excuse that's needed to pay out bonuses, which in 2009 are set to reach new record levels. 20 million hungry children could be greatly helped with $1000 a year each for food. That would cost $20 billion, and still leave more than enough to pay some kind of bonuses. Or even better, dare we say it, pay back the government loans. Where I come from, the description of a nation that leaves its children behind in hunger while showering its upper classes with lavish amounts of more luxury than they know what to do with evokes pictures of present-day Somalia or latter-day Rome and the let-them-eat-cake France of Marie Antoinette. Not of a socially and politically highly developed society of the 21st century. For that reason alone, much the rest of the developed world will be greatly tempted to pull their hands away from America. They will simply conclude that a country that lets one out of every seven, six, five of its people go to bed without being properly fed, is a threat, plain and simple. The people in these countries will think that if their own representatives get too cozy with the US "leaders" who let that sort of thing happen, the same thing may some day soon be their fate. "President Barack Obama called the USDA report "unsettling" and vowed to reverse the trend of rising hunger." The trend the report talks about is a year or more old. And still the president had no idea until the report came out? I'd say it's unsettling that he responds the way the does. Isn't it sort of his job to know when 50 million Americans go hungry? Is there anything at all more elementary than that for an elected "leader"? The president has spent all he can afford, and more, on bailing out campaign donating bankers. He can't afford to feed the children, even if he would want to, which looks doubtful by now. Or rather, he might want to, just as he might want to send a manned mission to Mars by Christmas and reverse global warming by Thanksgiving. Not a priority, in other words. "They can make this rally last for years". No, they can't, but they can make enough people think they can, and that's what counts.

To The Dump, To the Dump

SUBHEAD: The County is set on siting the new landfill regardless of the environmental impact. Image above: The Payatas Dumpsite in Quezon City, The Phillipins is the maine solid waste site. From By Andy PArx on 17 November 2009 in Parx New Network - As if to underscore our point yesterday, that the county is seeking to obscure the fact that this Thursday’s meeting regarding the proposed Kalaheo (“Umi”) location for the new landfill is, in reality the scoping meeting for the required environmental impact statement, former Councilmember Mel Rapozo’s blog today ends his post on the meeting and opposing the site’s selection with a paragraph that includes the sentence: I understand that they may be soliciting comments for a future EIS. No, Mel, not “may be” soliciting comments for a “future” EIS- this IS the meeting where they will gather initial comments for the EIS. We received some excellent testimony this morning in the form of a letter to the mayor and council detailing some of the issues that should make people other than the “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) types take notice and we’re presenting it here today. ----------- WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE UMI LANDFILL SITE November 5, 2009 The top rated site proposed for a new County landfill is in the middle of Kauai Coffee Company’s fields, in close proximity to the Kalaheo community. The Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Landfill Site Selection, comprised of community volunteers and assisted by an engineering consultant hired by the County, was formed to rank seven potential landfill sites based on more than two dozen criteria. The rankings were done ‘blind’, with each site identified only by number, and given a total score with the highest score indicating the highest suitability for a landfill. The Committee’s findings resulted in several sites closely ranked at the ‘top’ of the list, with the Umi site’s numerical ranking the highest, by a small margin. The Mayor has forwarded the Committee’s recommendation to the County Council, endorsing their work. The Committee’s volunteer service and dedication to this task should be commended. However, the resulting recommendation did not take into account key information regarding the agricultural value of the Umi site. Lands Designated IAL: In March 2009, the State Land Use Commission designated 3,700 acres of A&B-owned land on Kauai—including the proposed landfill site—as “Important Agricultural Land” (IAL). The IAL designation recognizes these lands as important to maintaining a viable agricultural industry in Hawaii, with exceptional agricultural characteristics. The designation considers factors such as current agricultural use, quality of soil, access to irrigation and other agricultural infrastructure, and the commitment of the landowner to continuing active agricultural activity on the land. No other potential landfill site under consideration is designated IAL. Further, it appears that IAL designation was not factored into the ratings of the site. The IAL status should make the site ineligible for consideration as a landfill or, at a minimum, should have been criteria that reduced the site’s suitability. In fact, the Committee’s recommendation allows for a site’s removal from consideration if “other factors” become known. Displacement of Agricultural Businesses: One of the criteria considered by the Committee was the displacement of businesses, including agricultural businesses. Surprisingly, the Umi site was ranked identically as four others on this criterion—with ‘little or no impact to agricultural businesses anticipated.’ Yet none of the other sites would disrupt a large-scale, long-standing agricultural enterprise. Kauai Coffee has provided at least 70 jobs year-round and from 80-100 seasonally, for decades, and has invested millions of dollars in the Kauai economy in establishing its orchard crop, building its processing facility and Visitor Center, providing good wages and benefits to its employees, and the purchase of goods and services from fellow Kauai businesses. Impacts to Ag Operations: There are a number of ways in which this landfill would harm the agricultural operations of Kauai Coffee. First of all, having a landfill in the middle of their estate, just about 1,500 yards from their Visitor Center, would negatively impact the perceived value and quality of this valuable agricultural product and the high-quality image Kauai Coffee has worked long and hard to establish. The consumer’s perception, in part, establishes a higher value for Kauai Coffee’s Estate Roasted product, differentiating it within a mostly commodity market. Secondly, the displaced coffee trees would be cost prohibitive to relocate or re-establish elsewhere— nearly 130,000 coffee mature trees which take seven years to reach full production. Combining the potential loss in production, traffic to the Visitor Center, and the severe compromising the branding strategy, Kauai Coffee’s future—and the livelihoods of its employees—could be at stake. What Can You Do? Speak out. The County Council has received the Committee’s recommendation from the Mayor. The Council will have to deliberate whether to move forward with public (taxpayer) funding to further study this site, or study multiple sites—or to send the recommendation back to the Mayor. Please contact the Council—using your telephones, email—and ask them to support agriculture and to please reject this landfill location. Contact Information: Personal email sent to all Councilmembers: Email sent to Councilmembers & County Clerk: (becomes public record)

Peak Psychotherapy

SUBHEAD: If we can spend as much time in the community garden as we do on the couch, then perhaps it will serve us to have a shrink. Do we need a shrink as the world ends? Image above: From By Carolyn Baker on 16 November 2009 in Speaking Truth To Power

This past week I read with fascination the posts by Sally Erickson on “The Culture of Pretend: How Psychotherapy Keeps our Communities Sick” and Kathy McMahon’s response “Bozos On The Couch: What Is ‘Good Therapy’ In A Time of Collapse?” As I’ve pondered these posts, I’m compelled to respond to several incongruities and offer missing pieces that I believe must be added to the discourse.

I was a psychotherapist in private practice for 17 years, and 12 years ago, I felt compelled to leave the profession. At the time, I wasn’t clearly aware of why, but today, I realize that some part of me knew that not only was the profession about to disintegrate, but that my talents and skills could be more effectively engaged elsewhere.

I currently live in Boulder, Colorado where I am developing a Transition Counseling and Spiritual Direction practice to reach out to individuals who may be experiencing unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, loss of benefits, loss of retirement, and other crises resulting from the collapse of industrial civilization.

I’m also exploring options for working with people by phone as well as in person. As I interact with people hurting from a variety of economic, emotional, physical, and spiritual devastation, I notice that few of them have to be reminded that something is horribly wrong with the culture in which they live. They feel unspeakably betrayed and shattered as a result of the faith they invested in the American dream, and they are now experiencing the nightmare it has become in their personal lives.

Up until perhaps 2008, it might have been useful to bemoan the culture in which we live in an effort to teach our fellow humans that it is killing them and all other earthlings. Today, I find that even if people maintain a persona that we’re simply passing through a “rough patch” and that things will get back to normal because after all, this is America, and we will bounce back—just beneath the surface of that particular mask is a profoundly disturbing awareness that we are in dire and unprecedented territory and that a “return to normal” is a tragic chimera.

Because few people are solidly convinced of what this pathetic culture can actually deliver, I’m finding it unnecessary and even counterproductive to keep whining about that reality. What people want and need is a sense that they’re not alone, that they’re not crazy, that there are many things they can do to enhance their personal empowerment in the context of an unraveling civilization, and very importantly, that there is work for them to do in their neighborhood and community—that they can invest their life force energy there and work with others to prepare for a deepening collapse. Curiously, I’m finding that the latter option is perhaps the most important of all.

I am currently working with Transition Colorado and networking with other Transition groups around the nation and world, but Transition is only one of many venues for involvement with one’s community in preparation for the Long Emergency. The opportunities for doing preparatory work with others locally are infinite.

While I believe it is crucial to understand how we have all incorporated the toxicity of the culture on myriad levels, and while it is equally important to buy out of the dominant system, it is extremely important to engage with other awake individuals in preparing for collapse by doing that work together.

The time of focusing exclusively on individual childhood wounding, individualistic self-empowerment, coping skills, and personal self-esteem is over. I’m not dismissing these as irrelevant, but humanity has now reached an evolutionary threshold in which we must grow up and evolve together or become extinct.

Evolving together means working together. Incessant navel contemplation and “woundology” enhanced by sitting in groups and attempting to create intimacy is not only narcissistic, but is in some sense, a crime against the earth community because it compartmentalizes humans from their inherent membership in the human and more-than-human families. It fosters a sense of “us and them” and propagates an odious arrogance that “our little group” is better than, wiser than, more evolved than, and more likely to survive than those others hoodwinked by the dominant culture. I’m not sure that at this point in the collapse process that we can engage in this kind of work without inadvertently perpetuating the culture of empire that we proclaim to abhor.

Perhaps even more counterproductive is isolation and an abdication of our human responsibility to serve the earth community. While it may be useful to sit in conversation groups with likeminded folks, it is, in my opinion, our moral obligation to serve the world in which we live, and as stated above, the opportunities for doing so are endless. This is tricky because it means we must create and maintain good boundaries. It means serving but also keeping some distance from the prevailing paradigm.

Engaging in service does not mean wallowing in the system, but it does mean affirming that we are part of the earth community, not better than—that we are equally vulnerable, equally fallible, and that by serving, we are joining with our fellow earth inhabitants to carry the vision of a new paradigm, whether that paradigm ever prevails or not.

In her>“Lessons From The Edge”, Sharon Astyk reminds us of why it’s important to carry the vision:

"…at the end of the night the sense is this – that though the odds are increasingly small and the abyss below us increasingly vast, what matters most is that we live our lives as though we can succeed, because every bit of harm we prevent and every blow softened matters, and in the end, how you lived matters as much as the winning. Most of what we do may not work, in the sense of preserving it all, but ought to preserve some -and some is a great deal when measured in human lives and happiness."

You see, it isn’t about “preventing” collapse or the triumph of a new paradigm, but rather about minimizing the suffering.

Some individuals believe that the ideal model for transcending the culture of empire is the ecovillage or intentional community. There may be a time, in my opinion, when this option is truly viable, but at this stage of collapse, I think not. People who do live in intentional communities usually report that because of the emotional baggage people bring to the community, it is necessary to spend hours daily “processing” these issues in order to resolve conflicts.

Generally, if this processing is not done, the community falls apart. That, from my perspective, is because for the most part, non-tribal people are not yet in a situation where they need to create tribes. When they need to do so, they probably will. Until then, we will have isolated ecovillages held together by incessant psychological processing, and how, I ask, is this different from living in a gated community in suburbia?

As Kathy McMahon notes:

"Rather than learning to speak more honestly, (a skill I value, highly, by the way), I think that the true therapist encourages people to do more listening and do more real honest work with other people they live around. Meaningful work means local work that will heal and repair the world around you."

I believe that in addition to service, we must also address our own personal shadow. The shadow is a Jungian term that simply means all within us that we have disowned and said, “That’s not me.” It can be the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, and everything in between. It is more than just taking responsibility for “my part” in an event or an interaction.It is the willingness to explore how something we despise or loathe may actually be a part of us which we project outward onto other individuals and on the culture itself.

In other words, how do I act out empire on a daily basis? How do I abuse, exploit, plunder, pillage, manipulate, and use power and control to get what I think I need? How do I subtly or blatantly perpetuate Western civilization’s curse of entitlement and “specialness”? Of course, I wouldn’t do any of this consciously, because I’m too “enlightened”, right? Wrong. That’s why rigorous exploration of the shadow is so crucial.

Doing shadow work is very humbling and radically diminishes arrogance because it reveals our sameness and what we have in common with our fellow humans, as opposed to how we believe we are superior. And in fact, in the same way that within the dark recesses of the earth we sometimes find gold, within the most despised parts of ourselves, we find treasures that if “mined” and worked with, provide the compassion, creativity, patience, and humility that allow us to transform the “emperor within.”

One piece I found implicit but not explicit in both Erickson’s and McMahon’s articles is the importance of connecting with something greater than ourselves and other humans. I have attempted in Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, to offer not only tools for emotional preparation for collapse, but options for enhancing our relationship with something greater.

Some people abhor the word “spiritual”, yet some of the most “spiritual” individuals I have ever met call themselves atheists and agnostics. Here again, the contamination of words with the semantics of empire challenges our definitions, but in my experience, I have met few people who aren’t “spiritual” in the sense that they are able to stand in awe of forces greater than the personal ego, such as nature, love, beauty, joy, and sorrow—to name only a few. For me, “spiritual” means little more than having a heart and a gut, and where emotion ends and “spiritual” begins, who can say?

Here in Boulder, and in several places around the country, people have started Sacred Demise study groups which simply means they are using the book as a springboard for exploring many other topics. What I know of these groups is that they are not intended to be venues for ongoing inner work or the creation of intimacy, yet in the process of coming together to work with the book’s contents, both seem to occur quite naturally. What I also notice is that folks in these groups are not isolated, but extensively involved in service in their neighborhoods and communities.

Much of the emotional work we may “think” we need to do at this stage of the transition—work that is still primarily optional, will pale by comparison to work that will need to be done as collapse accelerates. Some of the work we are doing now may seem almost irrelevant in the light of intensifying challenges down the road. But all of the work we do now or later will be informed and interpreted by the conditions around us and will only make sense in the light of them.

A very important question for those currently practicing psychotherapy is raised by McMahon:

"When our neighborhoods are defined by the five-to-ten miles around our homes, we’ll be forced to learn new skills, and being diplomatic will count a whole lot more than honesty all by itself. As therapists, we’d do well to encourage our clients to appreciate the qualities of human connections and interactions by doing thoughtful, tangible and useful things for others in our neighborhood, without an expectation of an immediate payoff. When we learn to be helpful and constructive to others, our oddness or emotional damage will become less important than the way we go about salvaging our humanity. We may well find ourselves in a time when it will be a rare person who has escaped true hardship. Right now, one of every six workers in the U.S. are unemployed or underemployed."

What will our job as psychotherapists be when that number grows to one in five or even one in three?

In the title of this article I have put the word “ends” in quotation marks because I do not believe that the world will end, but certainly the world as we have known it is ending. That includes the institution of psychotherapy which in its traditional form is collapsing as rapidly and as profoundly as every other institution of civilization. Two decades from now, it will bear little resemblance to its present form.

One reality of that transition will be that if therapists expect to get paid for their work, they should plan to accept payment in vegetables or chickens because money as we know it, eventually won’t exist. Regardless of what happens, however, it is only the work we do in the external world—in our particular places with real human beings, that gives meaning to the work we do in the inner world.

If we can spend as much time in the community garden as we do on the couch, then perhaps it will serve us to have a shrink as the world ends. Or perhaps as awake individuals strive to maintain this balance, less therapy will be needed and our roles as therapists as we know them will become obsolete. We will then discover other gifts to offer our communities.

I have written much about initiation, more recently an article entitled “Humanity’s Rite of Passage: A World Tended By Adults.” The initiated woman or man knows that the world is not a perfect place and that if it were, he or she would probably not be here because his/her gifts would not be needed here. Contempt for the culture serves no one, nor does insistence that our roles in relation to a collapsing empire must function in traditional ways. Collapse will show us where we are most needed and how we can best serve, yes the operative word is serve, our fellow creatures.

America 2.0

SUBHEAD: In order to avoid anarchy, rebellion, civil war and global nuclear conflict, Americans must force a fundamental change in our political process. Image above: Mob in Bucharest Square in Romania in December 1989 leading to the end of Communism. By Jay Hanson on 6 October 2009 in Brain Food - “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” —Benjamin Franklin, 1776 “The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.” —James Madison, The Federalist #57, 1787 ABSTRACT

The “bad news” is that “peak oil” marks the beginning of the end of capitalism and market politics because many decades of declining “net energy” [1] will result in many decades of declining economic activity. And since capitalism can’t run backwards, a new method of distributing goods and services must be found.

The “good news” is that our “market system” is fantastically inefficient! Americans could be wasting something like two billion tonnes of oil equivalent per year!!

In order to avoid anarchy, rebellion, civil war and global nuclear conflict, Americans must force a fundamental change in our political process. We can keep the same political structures and people, but must totally eliminate special interests from our political environment. A careful review of the progressive assault on laissez faire constitutionalism and neoclassical economics, from the 1880s through the 1930s, explains how this can be done legally and without violence. These early progressives showed how we can save our country. All that is lacking now is the political will. I call this adjustment of our political environment “America 2.0.”

To achieve America 2.0, we must first separate and isolate our political system from our economic system so that government can begin to actually address and solve societal problems rather than merely catering to corporate interests. The second step is to retire most working American citizens with an annuity sufficient for health and happiness, as government begins to eliminate the current enormous waste of vital resources by delivering goods and services directly. This would allow most adults to stay at home with their families but still receive the goods and services they need to enjoy life.

PREFACE “To the free man, the country is a collection of individuals who compose it ... He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.” 
—Milton Friedman, CAPITALISM AND FREEDOM “We may well call it ‘the tragedy of the commons,’ using the word ‘tragedy’ as the philosopher Whitehead used it: ‘The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things.’”

The criterion of “profit” has shaped our political decisions since the founding of our country, but now that we are facing peak oil, new “scientific systems” criteria must replace “profit” or our civilization will “collapse” [2] like so many others have throughout history.

In order for America to survive this crisis, a moderate, “doable” modification to our political environment is required. This paper does not attempt to describe a complete system to replace state-sponsored capitalism and market politics. My modest goal here is to show a way forward which could avoid the worst.


Our present “business-as-usual” model, which requires endless economic growth and endless job creation, is no longer physically possible. Here’s why:

1. Business-as-usual depends upon jobs and markets to distribute goods and services. 2. Economic growth and increasing job availability require increasing net energy. 3. Net energy correlates with peak oil and both are expected to decrease for decades. See the “Net Hubbert Curve” in David Murphy’s graph above and read this footnote: [3] 4. Decades of decreasing net energy will cause job opportunities to decrease for decades because less and less energy will be available for economic development. 5. Globally, millions of new workers enter the job market each year, but job availability is expected to decline by millions of positions each year. Eventually, the projected high unemployment among young men will cause catastrophic political failures similar to those that led to Hitler’s takeover of German democracy. Therefore, business-as-usual is no longer a viable method of distributing goods and services and a new method must be found—and soon!

Historians will say that “peak oil” marked the end of the second free trade episode. If we don’t abandon capitalism now, we will be forced into another global war over resources:

“By the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, world commodity prices were the central reality in the lives of millions of Continental peasants; the repercussions of the London money market were daily noted by businessmen all over the world; and governments discussed plans for the future in light of the situation on the world capital markets. Only a madman would have doubted that the international economic system was the axis of the material existence of the race. Because this system needed peace in order to function, the balance of power was made to serve it. Take this economic system away and the peace interest would disappear from politics… By the end of the seventies the free trade episode (1846-79) was at an end… The origins of the cataclysm lay in the utopian endeavor of economic liberalism to set up a self-regulating market system.” —Karl Polanyi THE GOOD NEWS The "market system" is fantastically inefficient! Yes, that is correct. [4] Our present way of distributing goods and services wastes enormous amounts of natural resources, but gigantic resource savings are possible. As an illustration, let’s make a rough estimate of per capita food energy requirements and current waste:

If we wanted our government to distribute food directly instead of using the market, how much energy would be required to produce and deliver provisions to each and every American?

Adults need about 3,000 nutritional calories of food each day. Let’s allow 30,000 calories to produce and another 3,000 calories to deliver food to every American. That’s a total of 36,000 calories per day.

Just how much energy did the American “market system” actually consume? In 2006, Americans consumed an average of 231,008 calories per day, so 231,008 minus 36,000 equals 195,008 calories wasted each day. This simple calculation suggests that Americans could be wasting [5] That is FAR more oil wasted than all the oil produced int the Middle East!

If we change a few of our founding beliefs and assumptions - and reorganize politically - more than enough energy remains to mitigate the worst.


The United States was founded on several assumptions. A key assumption, which led to several others, was that “the sum of individual interests” was equivalent to “the common interest.” In practical terms, this meant:

1. Individuals know best how to solve their own problems. 2. Government should promote economic growth to create jobs so that individuals can solve their own problems. 3. The best way for government to promote economic growth is to ask business leaders what can be done to help them make more money. That’s why today, lobbyists are absolutely necessary to the function of our government. Without lobbyists, our unqualified elected officials and their appointed cronies would have absolutely no idea what to do!

Today, we know that our founders were fundamentally wrong on this point. The lesson of “The Tragedy of the Commons”[6] is that “the sum of individual interests” is NOT “ the common interest.” In his 1968 classic, “The Tragedy of the Commons”, Garrett Hardin illustrated why freedom in the commons brings ruin to all:

Visualize a pasture as a system that is open to everyone. The “carrying capacity” [7] of this pasture is ten animals. Ten herdsmen are each grazing one animal to fatten up for market. In other words, the ten animals are now consuming all the grass that the pasture can produce.

Harry (one of the herdsmen) will add one more animal to the pasture if he can make a profit. He subtracts the original cost of the new animal from the expected sales price of the fattened animal and then considers the cost of the food. Adding one more animal will mean less food for each of the present animals, but since Harry only has only 1/10 of the herd, he has to pay only 1/10 of the cost. Harry decides to exploit the commons and the other herdsmen, so he adds an animal and takes a profit.

Shrinking profit margins force the other herdsmen either to go out of business or continue the exploitation by adding more animals. This process of mutual exploitation continues until overgrazing and erosion destroy the pasture system, and all the herdsmen are driven out of business.

Most importantly, Hardin illustrates the critical flaw of freedom in the commons: all participants need to agree to conserve the commons, but any one can force the destruction of the commons. Although Hardin describes exploitation by humans in an unregulated public pasture, his commons and “grass” principle fit our entire society.

Private property is inextricably part of our commons because it is part of our life support and social systems. Owners alter the properties of our life support and social systems when they alter their land to “make a profit”—for example, when they cover land with corn or concrete.

Neighborhoods, cities and states are commons in the sense that no one is denied entry. Anyone may enter and lay claim to the common resources. One can compare profits to Hardin’s “grass” when any number of corporations—from anywhere in the world—drive down profits by competing with local businesses for customers.

One can see wages as Hardin’s “grass” when any number of workers—from anywhere in the world—can enter our community and drive down wages by competing with local workers for jobs. People themselves even become commons when they are exploited (are made the best use of) by other people and corporations. Everywhere one looks, one sees The Tragedy of the Commons. There is no technical solution to the problem of the commons, but governments can act to limit access to the commons, at which time they are no longer commons.

In the private-money based political system we have in America, everything (including people) becomes the commons because money is political power, and all political decisions are reduced to economic ones. In other words, we effectively have no political system, only an economic system—everything is for sale. Thus, America is presently one big commons that will be exploited until it is destroyed.


“I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
 — Thomas Jefferson, 1816 [8]

“Thomas Jefferson, along with James Madison worked assiduously to have an 11th Amendment included into our nation’s original Bill of Rights. This proposed Amendment would have prohibited ‘monopolies in commerce.’ The amendment would have made it illegal for corporations to own other corporations, or to give money to politicians, or to otherwise try to influence elections. Corporations would be chartered by the states for the primary purpose of ‘serving the public good.’ Corporations would possess the legal status not of natural persons but rather of ‘artificial persons.’ This means that they would have only those legal attributes which the state saw fit to grant to them. They would NOT; and indeed could NOT possess the same bundle of rights which actual flesh and blood persons enjoy. Under this proposed amendment neither the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, nor any provision of that document would protect the artificial entities known of as corporations.” 
—Dr. Michael P. Byron

In order to prevent collapse on the downside of the net energy curve, Americans must force corporate special interests completely out of our political environment. A careful review of the progressive assault on laissez faire constitutionalism and neoclassical economics, from the 1880s through the 1930s, explains how this can be done legally and without violence. [9] These early progressives showed how we can save our country. All that is lacking now is the political will. I call this adjustment of our political environment “America 2.0.”

The modification that I am proposing could reduce natural resource consumption by something like 90% and greatly reduce, or possibly eliminate, civil violence caused by the inevitable post-peak-oil-economic collapse.

Our present method of distributing goods and services works something like this:

Our government loans money to banks, so bankers can operate businesses (which require buildings, computers, furniture, lights, air conditioning, employees, commuting, etc.) The bankers then lend money to other businesses, like restaurants, real estate developers, etc. (which also require buildings, computers, commuters, advertising, accountants, etc.) So the employees of these restaurants, real estate developers, etc. can buy a car and drive to the store (with even more buildings, computers, commuters, etc.) Just to buy a loaf of bread!

The “market system” has to be the most inefficient organization possible!

Why not simply have government pay someone to pick up that loaf of bread at the bakery and deliver it to the consumer? This is a form of distribution that would eliminate the banks, most of the other businesses, and all the stores. Most Americans would no longer need a car to commute to work or run to the store! However, some private businesses that provide critical services would still be operated but at our government’s direction.

We could use the same efficient method of distribution for everything that Americans really “need.” Shoppers would order provisions online, in the same way that Amazon or Netflix works now, and then their orders would be delivered the next day. And a medical care caravan could regularly drive through neighborhoods, filling teeth, giving checkups, and so on.

But first we must separate and isolate our political system from our economic system so that government can begin to actually address and solve societal problems rather than merely catering to corporate interests. The second step is to retire most working American citizens with an annuity sufficient for health and happiness, [10] as government begins to eliminate the current enormous waste of vital resources by delivering goods and services directly. This would allow most adults to stay at home with their families but still receive the goods and services they need to enjoy life.

Unless something is done now to prevent it, America will face anarchy, rebellion, and civil war on the downside of the net energy cliff. In order to maintain public order, the state must do one thing: take special interests totally out of politics. [11]

The urgency, necessity, and practicality of this proposal should be apparent to all sectors of society if they could be brought to understand how our social systems are depleting our physical systems. I am convinced that if Americans were given the honest science and engineering behind what needs to be done, the vast majority would willingly make a peaceful transition to a “sustainable retreat.”

Besides wanting to sell their ephemeral products and services to an unsuspecting public, special interests also want to prevent the state from solving social pathologies because they can profit from treating the symptoms. These special interests can do no better because they are machines programmed to create profits! [12]

All special interests - even universities, charities, and churches—depend on perpetual economic growth for their budgets, but the laws of thermodynamics tell us that perpetual economic growth is physically impossible. Therefore, all special interests, must be removed from the political environment.

The first simple step is to remove the “personhood” Constitutional protections from corporations, which could probably be done by the President acting alone, via his “police powers.” Certainly it could be done by the Supreme Court or Congress if they had the political will to do so. Once corporations are firmly under democratic control, the federal government can begin correcting the abuses of capitalism as gracefully as possible. We want to preserve and include the great achievements of capitalism while removing its pathologies.

What follows are six political steps, listed in order of priority, that are designed to mitigate the societal disruptions of the net energy cliff:

1. Remove the “personhood” Constitutional protections from corporations. 2. Make it a federal crime for corporations to advocate anything (including, but not limited to, advertising) in the mass media. 3. Make it a federal crime for anyone employed by a corporation to lobby elected or appointed officials directly or indirectly. 4. Mandate public financing for elections. 5. Assemble teams of the country’s best and brightest medical doctors, scientists, engineers and other thinkers—but no representatives of religious groups, economists, or other special interests—to recommend public policy. (We do not need a Manhattan Project for economics—on how to save the corporations and their outrageous profits; we need a Manhattan Project on how the country can survive the net energy cliff!) 6. Encourage public debate on proposed changes.

(Author's note: Number 5 above is the key difference that I am advocating. Public policy recommendations would come from medical doctors, engineers and scientists who are looking at the entire system instead of from a room full of fat salesman trying to sell worthless shit to an unsuspecting public. It’s based on the recognition that if one changes the environment in which political decisions are made, one changes the political decisions.)


The “goal” of our society should be to make our citizens healthy and happy while using as few natural resources as possible (especially energy). The methods needed to attain this goal can be determined by teams of medical doctors, scientists and engineers. Capitalism should be dismantled as gracefully as possible and any natural resources that are not required health and happiness, should left to nature.

With modern technology, probably less than 5% of the population could produce all the goods we really “need.” A certain number of qualified “producers” could be selected by a peer group to produce for five years. The rest can stay home and sleep, sing, dance, paint, read, write, pray, play, do minor repairs, work in the garden, and practice birth control.


Any number of alternative cultural, ethnic or religious communities could be established by popular vote. Religious communities could have public prayer in their schools, prohibit booze, allow no television to corrupt their kids, wear uniforms, whatever. Hippies could establish communities where free sex was the norm. Writers or painters could establish communities where bad taste would be against the law. Ethnic communities could be established to preserve language and customs. If residents didn’t like the rules in a particular community, they could move to another religious, cultural, or ethnic community of their choosing.

In short, the one big freedom that individuals would have to give up would be the freedom to destroy the commons (in its broadest sense). Couples would be allowed only one child. And in return, they would be given a guaranteed income for life and the freedom to live almost any way they choose.


The changes I am proposing can be accomplished without rewriting our Constitution or violence. The two quotes at the end suggest tactics that worked for the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements. Sign-carrying activists should fill the streets of D.C., “like the mob in the square in Romania,” [13] until the city is gridlocked. Activists should just stay there until the powers-that-be concede.

I expect that organizing this movement will take a few years. It’s asking a lot. It can’t happen overnight. We know that with “cliffing” net energy, our society is just going to keep getting worse and worse until something big changes.

Let’s hope the “big change” is something “progressive” instead of a new “President For Life,” who has a “prayer breakfast” every morning where he makes up lists of “evildoers” that are to be rounded up and shot. (That’s still my most-likely scenario. We came close with “W.”)

No progress is possible until we can get the interests - all interests- all of them - out of our politics and out of mass media!


“You don’t communicate with anyone purely on the rational facts or ethics of an issue... It is only when the other party is concerned or feels threatened that he will listen—in the arena of action, a threat or a crisis becomes almost a precondition to communication... No one can negotiate without the power to compel negotiation... To attempt to operate on a good-will basis rather than on a power basis would be to attempt something that the world has not yet experienced.” 
—Saul Alinsky, RULES FOR RADICALS “The big corporations, our clients, are scared shitless of the environmental movement. They sense that there’s a majority out there and that the emotions are all on the other side—if they can be heard. They think the politicians are going to yield to the emotions. I think the corporations are wrong about that. I think the companies will have to give in only at insignificant levels. Because the companies are too strong, they’re the establishment. The environmentalists are going to have to be like the mob in the square in Romania before they prevail.”
 —William Greider, WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE “‘Capitalism’ is a money-based political system which creates dissatisfaction, while converting natural resources into garbage, in exchange for IOUs, which will be worthless when the oil peaks and the country goes up in flames.”
 —Jay Hanson REFERENCES [1] Life on Earth conforms to universal thermodynamic laws. We mine our minerals and fossil fuels from the Earth's crust. The deeper we dig, the greater the minimum energy requirements. The most concentrated and most accessible fuels and minerals are mined first; thereafter, more and more energy is required to mine and refine poorer and poorer quality resources. New technologies can, on a short-term basis, decrease energy costs, but neither technology nor “prices” can repeal the laws of thermodynamics:

The hematite ore of the Mesabi Range in Minnesota contained 60 percent iron. But now it is depleted and society must use lower-quality taconite ore that has an iron content of about 25 percent. The average energy content of a pound of coal dug in the US has dropped 14 percent since 1955. In the 1930s, a barrel of oil invested in finding, drilling and pumping could yield about one hundred barrels. By the 1970s, that number had dropped to about twenty-five barrels. Within a couple of years, that number will become one for one. At that point, even if the price of oil reaches $500 a barrel, it wouldn’t be logical to look for new oil in the US because it would consume more energy than it would recover. Decreasing net energy sets up a positive feedback loop: since oil is used directly or indirectly in everything, as the energy costs of oil increase, the energy costs of everything else increase too—including other forms of energy. For example, oil provides about 50% of the fuel used in coal extraction.

Every day, about 85 million barrels of oil are burnt.[ ] Every day, less oil exists on planet Earth than the day before. The handwriting is on the wall: "capitalism" is running out of energy! Here is a small, silent animation which will illustrate the “net energy” principle:

Imagine having a motor scooter with a five-gallon tank, but the nearest gas station is six gallons away. You cannot fill your tank with trips to the gas station because you burn more than you can bring back—it’s impossible for you to cover your overhead (the size of your bankroll and the price of the gas are irrelevant). You might as well put your scooter up on blocks because you are “out of gas”—forever. It’s the same with the American economy: if we must spend more-than-one unit of energy to produce enough goods and services to buy one unit of energy, it will be impossible for us to cover our overhead. At that point, America’s economic machine is “out of gas”—forever. More on energy basics at

[3] David Murphy’s graph is an “educated guess” to illustrate the point that net energy falls faster than gross energy. Precision here is impossible because the data is not available. His Oil Drum piece can be found at:

[4] Although economists claim the market is “efficient,” they actually mean" efficient allocation" of money—NOT the "efficient use" of materials. "Economic efficiency" is completely different than "material efficiency.'

[5] Here is an oversimplified example to give us an idea of how incredibly inefficient the “market system” really is. Suppose that the only thing Americans had to do was to eat. How much energy would be required to feed them?

In 2006, Americans consumed about 334,600,000 Btu per capita, per year. [ ] This converts to about 84,317,785 nutritional calories equivalent per year [ ] or 84,317,785 / 365 = 231,008 calories per day. But adults only require something like 3,000 calories of food energyper day to survive, so it seems we, very roughly, waste something like 231,008 - 3,000 = 228,008 calories per day, per capita.

Studies show that food grains produced with modern, high-yield methods (including packaging and delivery) now contain between four and ten calories of fossil fuel for every calorie of solar energy. So we will allow ten calories of energy to grow and process each calorie of food delivered, so 3,000 * 10 = 30,000 calories per day is required to keep an adult alive. Thus, 228,008 - 30,000 = approximately 198,008 calories are still being wasted each and every day, by every American.

Let’s allow the equivalent of 3,000 nutritional calories (about 1/10 gallon of gas) per day, per capita to collect and deliver food and water to each and every household in the country, so 198,008 - 3,000 = 195,008 calorie equivalent wasted per day, per capita in the US.

The estimated population of America on Sept 22 2009 was 307,511,668, [ ] so 195,008 *307,511,668 * 365 = 21,887,999,529,837,200 nutritional calories wasted every year in the US, or 2,188,799,953 tonnes - over two billion tonnes - of oil equivalent are wasted each year in the US feeding people! (In 2006, oil production in the Middle East was only 1,221,900,000 tonnes! [ ])

Every year, the “market system” in the United States, wastes almost a billion tonnes more oil than is produced in the Middle East! Obviously, there is more to life than eating, but equally-obviously, the market system is the most inefficient organization in human history!!

[ Link to Excel spreadsheet. ] [ Link to high resolution image. ]

[7] An environment's “carrying capacity” is its maximum persistently supportable load (Catton 1986). If the load exceeds capacity, then the environment is damaged and carrying capacity is reduced.


GANGS OF AMERICA: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of America, Ted Nace, 2003,2005,

Differences Between the Classic Corporation (Before 1860) and the Modern Corporation (After 1900)
Birth Difficult: requires a custom charter issued by a state legislature Easy: general incorporation charter allows automatic chartering
Life span Limited terms No limits
“Shape-shifting” Corporations not allowed to own stock in other companies; restricted to activities specified in charter Corporations free to pursue acquisitions and spin-offs;
Mobility Usually restricted to home state No restrictions
Adaptability Restricted to activities specified in charter Allowed to pursue multiple specified lines of business and initiate or acquire new ones at company’s discretion
“Conscience” Actions constrained by shareholder liability and by threat of charter revocation Fewer constraints due to limited liability, disuse of charter revocation, and tort reforms
“Will” Managerial action hampered by legal status of minority shareholders and of corporate agents Legal revisions enable consolidation of management’s power
Size Limited by charter restrictions Asset limits removed; antitrust laws generally not effective
Constitutional rights Functional only Steady acquisition of constitutional rights

[9] The “Progressives” are still making constitutional changes. THE SECOND BILL OF RIGHTS: FD’s Unfinished Revolution—And Why We Need It More Than Ever, Cass Sunstein, 2006;

· In 1900, it was clear that the Constitution permitted racial segregation. By 1970, it was universally agreed that racial segregation was forbidden. · In 1960, the Constitution permitted sex discrimination. By 1990, it was clear that sex discrimination was almost always forbidden. · In 1930, the Constitution allowed government to suppress political dissent if it had a bad or dangerous tendency. By 1970, it was clear that the government could almost never suppress political dissent. · In 1910, the Constitution prohibited maximum hour and minimum wage laws. By 1940, it was clear that the Constitution permitted maximum hour and minimum wage laws. · In 1960, it was clear that the Constitution allowed government to regulate commercial speech, which was not protected by the free speech principle. By 2000, it was clear that the Constitution generally did not allow government to regulate commercial speech unless it was false or misleading. · In 1970, it would have been preposterous to argue that the Constitution protected the right to engage in homosexual sodomy. In 1987, it was well settled that the Constitution did not protect that right. By 2004, it was clear that the Constitution did protect the right to engage in homosexual sodomy. More in

THE PROGRESSIVE ASSAULT ON LAISSEZ FAIRE: Robert Hale and the First Law and Economics Movement, Barbra H. Fried, Harvard University Press, 1998;

THURMAN ARNOLD, SOCIAL CRITIC: The Satirical Challenge to Orthodoxy, by Edward N. Kearny;

THE FOLKLORE OF CAPITALISM, Thurman W. Arnold, Yale University Press 1937, CHAPTER VIII: The Personification of Corporation

REACHING FOR HEAVEN ON EARTH: The Theological Meaning of Economics, Robert H. Nelson, 1991;

[10] Human health and happiness are the products of our biology and environment.

[11] In order to understand why people act as they do, at a minimum, one must understand “politics” among social animals. See