Expanding Gyres of Trash

SUBHEAD:Water samples from the Pacific contained twice as much plastic as samples from a decade ago.  

By Lindsey Hoshaw 9 November 2009 in The New York Times -  
(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/science/10patch.html)

 
Image above: cutaway perspective illustration of the The North Pacific Gyre. Click on it to expand. From http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/featured/north-pacific-gyre-million-tons-garbage-growing/14477

 
Light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, an area of widely dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas. But one research organization estimates that the garbage now actually pervades the Pacific, though most of it is caught in what oceanographers call a gyre like this one — an area of heavy currents and slack winds that keep the trash swirling in a giant whirlpool.

Scientists say the garbage patch is just one of five that may be caught in giant gyres scattered around the world’s oceans. Abandoned fishing gear like buoys, fishing line and nets account for some of the waste, but other items come from land after washing into storm drains and out to sea.

Plastic is the most common refuse in the patch because it is lightweight, durable and an omnipresent, disposable product in both advanced and developing societies. It can float along for hundreds of miles before being caught in a gyre and then, over time, breaking down.

But once it does split into pieces, the fragments look like confetti in the water. Millions, billions, trillions and more of these particles are floating in the world’s trash-filled gyres.

PCBs, DDT and other toxic chemicals cannot dissolve in water, but the plastic absorbs them like a sponge. Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles. Scientists from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation say that fish tissues contain some of the same chemicals as the plastic. The scientists speculate that toxic chemicals are leaching into fish tissue from the plastic they eat.

The researchers say that when a predator — a larger fish or a person — eats the fish that eats the plastic, that predator may be transferring toxins to its own tissues, and in greater concentrations since toxins from multiple food sources can accumulate in the body.

Charles Moore found the Pacific garbage patch by accident 12 years ago, when he came upon it on his way back from a sailing race in Hawaii. As captain, Mr. Moore ferried three researchers, his first mate and a journalist here this summer in his 10th scientific trip to the site. He is convinced that several similar garbage patches remain to be discovered.

“Anywhere you really look for it, you’re going to see it,” he said.

Many scientists believe there is a garbage patch off the coast of Japan and another in the Sargasso Sea, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bonnie Monteleone, a University of North Carolina, Wilmington, graduate student researching a master’s thesis on plastic accumulation in the ocean, visited the Sargasso Sea in late spring and the Pacific garbage patch with Mr. Moore this summer.

“I saw much higher concentrations of trash in the Pacific garbage patch than in the Sargasso,” Ms. Monteleone said, while acknowledging that she might not have found the Atlantic gyre.

Ms. Monteleone, a volunteer crew member on Mr. Moore’s ship, kept hoping she would see at least one sample taken from the Pacific garbage patch without any trash in it. “Just one area — just one,” she said. “That’s all I wanted to see. But everywhere had plastic.”

The Pacific garbage patch gained prominence after three independent marine research organizations visited it this summer. One of them, Project Kaisei, based in San Francisco, is trying to devise ways to clean up the patch by turning plastic into diesel fuel.

Environmentalists and celebrities are using the patch to promote their own causes. The actor Ted Danson’s nonprofit group Oceana designated Mr. Moore a hero for his work on the patch. Another Hollywood figure, Edward Norton, narrated a public-service announcement about plastic bags, which make their way out to the patch.

Mr. Moore, however, is the first person to have pursued serious scientific research by sampling the garbage patch. In 1999, he dedicated the Algalita foundation to studying it. Now the foundation examines plastic debris and takes samples of polluted water off the California coast and across the Pacific Ocean. By dragging a fine mesh net behind his research vessel Alguita, a 50-foot aluminum catamaran, Mr. Moore is able to collect small plastic fragments.

Researchers measure the amount of plastic in each sample and calculate the weight of each fragment. They also test the tissues of any fish caught in the nets to measure for toxic chemicals. One rainbow runner from a previous voyage had 84 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

The research team has not tested the most recent catch for toxic chemicals, but the water samples show that the amount of plastic in the gyre and the larger Pacific is increasing. Water samples from February contained twice as much plastic as samples from a decade ago
.
“This is not the garbage patch I knew in 1999,” Mr. Moore said. “This is a totally different animal.”
For the captain’s first mate, Jeffery Ernst, the patch was “just a reminder that there’s nowhere that isn’t affected by humanity.”


Searching for a Miracle

SUBHEAD: Overview from Richard Heinberg's 'Net Energy’ Limits & the Fate of Industrial Society. By Richard Heinberg on 12 November 2009 in Post Carbon - http://www.postcarbon.org/report/44377-searching-for-a-miracle Image above: Detail of cover art for Heinberg's report on energy future. This Report is inteneded as a non-technical examination of a basic question: Can any combination of known energy sources successfully supply society’s energy needs at least up to the year 2100? In the end, we are left with the disturbing conclusion that all known energy sources are subject to strict limits of one kind or another. Conventional energy sources such as oil, gas, coal, and nuclear are either at or nearing the limits of their ability to grow in annual supply, and will dwindle as the decades proceed—but in any case they are unacceptably hazardous to the environment.

And contrary to the hopes of many, there is no clear practical scenario by which we can replace the energy from today’s conventional sources with sufficient energy from alternative sources to sustain industrial society at its present scale of operations. To achieve such a transition would require (1) a vast financial investment beyond society’s practical abilities, (2) a very long time—too long in practical terms—for build-out, and (3) significant sacrifices in terms of energy quality and reliability.

Perhaps the most significant limit to future energy supplies is the “net energy” factor—the requirement that energy systems yield more energy than is invested in their construction and operation. There is a strong likelihood that future energy systems, both conventional and alternative, will have higher energy input costs than those that powered industrial societies during the last century.We will come back to this point repeatedly.

The report explores some of the presently proposed energy transition scenarios, showing why, up to this time, most are overly optimistic, as they do not address all of the relevant limiting factors to the expansion of alternative energy sources. Finally, it shows why energy conservation (using less energy, and also less resource materials) combined with humane, gradual population decline must become primary strategies for achieving sustainability.

The world’s current energy regime is unsustainable. This is the recent, explicit conclusion of the International Energy Agency1, and it is also the substance of a wide and growing public consensus ranging across the political spectrum. One broad segment of this consensus is concerned about the climate and the other environmental impacts of society’s reliance on fossil fuels.The other is mainly troubled by questions regarding the security of future supplies of these fuels—which, as they deplete, are increasingly concentrated in only a few countries.

To say that our current energy regime is unsustainable means that it cannot continue and must therefore be replaced with something else.However, replacing the energy infrastructure of modern industrial societies will be no trivial matter. Decades have been spent building the current oil-coal-gas infrastructure, and trillions of dollars invested.

Moreover, if the transition from current energy sources to alternatives is wrongly managed, the consequences could be severe: there is an undeniable connection between per-capita levels of energy consumption and economic well-being.2 A failure to supply sufficient energy, or energy of sufficient quality, could undermine the future welfare of humanity, while a failure to quickly make the transition away from fossil fuels could imperil the Earth’s vital ecosystems.

Nonetheless, it remains a commonly held assumption that alternative energy sources capable of substituting for conventional fossil fuels are readily available—whether fossil (tar sands or oil shale), nuclear, or a long list of renewables—and ready to come on-line in a bigger way. All that is necessary, according to this view, is to invest sufficiently in them, and life will go on essentially as it is.

But is this really the case? Each energy source has highly specific characteristics. In fact, it has been the characteristics of our present energy sources (principally oil, coal, and natural gas) that have enabled the building of a modern society with high mobility, large population, and high economic growth rates. Can alternative energy sources perpetuate this kind of society? Alas, we think not.

While it is possible to point to innumerable successful alternative energy production installations within modern societies (ranging from small homescale photovoltaic systems to large “farms” of threemegawatt wind turbines), it is not possible to point to more than a very few examples of an entire modern industrial nation obtaining the bulk of its energy from sources other than oil, coal, and natural gas. One such rare example is Sweden, which gets most of its energy from nuclear and hydropower. Another is Iceland, which benefits from unusually large domestic geothermal resources, not found in most other countries. Even in these two cases, the situation is more complex than it appears.

The construction of the infrastructure for these power plants mostly relied on fossil fuels for the mining of the ores and raw materials, materials processing, transportation, manufacturing of components, the mining of uranium, construction energy, and so on. Thus for most of the world, a meaningful energy transition is still more theory than reality. But if current primary energy sources are unsustainable, this implies a daunting problem. The transition to alternative sources must occur, or the world will lack sufficient energy to maintain basic services for its 6.8 billion people (and counting).

Thus it is vitally important that energy alternatives be evaluated thoroughly according to relevant criteria, and that a staged plan be formulated and funded for a systemic societal transition away from oil, coal, and natural gas and toward the alternative energy sources deemed most fully capable of supplying the kind of economic benefits we have been accustomed to from conventional fossil fuels.

By now, it is possible to assemble a bookshelf filled with reports from nonprofit environmental organizations and books from energy analysts, dating from the early 1970s to the present, all attempting to illuminate alternative energy transition pathways for the United States and the world as a whole.These plans and proposals vary in breadth and quality, and especially in their success at clearly identifying the factors that are limiting specific alternative energy sources from being able to adequately replace conventional fossil fuels.

It is a central purpose of this document to systematically review key limiting factors that are often left out of such analyses.We will begin that process in the next section. Following that, we will go further into depth on one key criterion: net energy, or energy returned on energy invested (EROEI).This measure focuses on the key question: All things considered, how much more energy does a system produce than is required to develop and operate that system? What is the ratio of energy in versus energy out? Some energy “sources” can be shown to produce little or no net energy. Others are only minimally positive.

Unfortunately, as we shall see in more detail below, research on EROEI continues to suffer from lack of standard measurement practices, and its use and implications remain widely misunderstood. Nevertheless, for the purposes of large-scale and long-range planning, net energy may be the most vital criterion for evaluating energy sources, as it so clearly reveals the tradeoffs involved in any shift to new energy sources.

This report is not intended to serve as a final authoritative, comprehensive analysis of available energy options, nor as a plan for a nation-wide or global transition from fossil fuels to alternatives. While such analyses and plans are needed, they will require institutional resources and ongoing reassessment to be of value.The goal here is simply to identify and explain the primary criteria that should be used in such analyses and plans, with special emphasis on net energy, and to offer a cursory evaluation of currently available energy sources, using those criteria.This will provide a general, preliminary sense of whether alternative sources are up to the job of replacing fossil fuels; and if they are not, we can begin to explore what might be the fall-back strategy of governments and the other responsible institutions of modern society.

As we will see, the fundamental disturbing conclusion of the report is that there is little likelihood that either conventional fossil fuels or alternative energy sources can reliably be counted on to provide the amount and quality of energy that will be needed to sustain economic growth—or even current levels of economic activity—during the remainder of the current century.

This preliminary conclusion in turn suggests that a sensible transition energy plan will have to emphasize energy conservation above all. It also raises questions about the sustainability of growth per se, both in terms of human population numbers and economic activity.

Read PDF of full report here: http://www.postcarbon.org/new-site-files/Reports/Searching_for_a_Miracle_web10nov09.pdf

Desdemona at 1

SUBHEAD: Climate conundrums we have created and have no solutions for. Leave all hope behind. By Jim on 13 November 2009 in Desdemona Despair - http://desdemonadespair.blogspot.com/2009/11/desdemona-at-1.html Image above: Detail of Pandora releasing the demons on the world. By John William Waterhouse.

When Zeus filled Pandora’s jar with the evils of the world, he saved Delusional Hope for last – to prevent humans from committing mass suicide as they were overcome by the other evils.

A year of blogging Desdemona has helped me to overcome the curse of delusional hope. Hope prevents us from seeing things as they are; hope immobilizes us. It is vital that we, as a species, abandon all hope for the world that birthed us. We have destroyed the Holocene biosphere, and it can never be rebuilt. We have inadvertently terra-formed Earth into a different planet. This act cannot be undone; it is thermodynamically irreversible. Desdemona’s message: Deal with it.

What have we learned in the last year? Here are some highlights:

Because “God” will not spontaneously remove a trillion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and oceans, there are only three strategies that humanity can pursue: (1) gain control of the global carbon cycle; (2) learn how to colonize the much more desolate Earth, or (3) choose extinction.

The first option requires controlling diffuse carbon fluxes on the scale of many gigatons per year. I would like to believe that human ingenuity is up to it, but the immensity of the task is overwhelming: we need to pull 1 teraton of carbon from the atmosphere-ocean system to return to the geochemistry in which humans evolved, while simultaneously preventing the emission of another 1 teraton of carbon from melting permafrost and who knows how many gigatons of methane from undersea clathrates. There are no technologies on the drawing board that begin to achieve that scale.

Choosing extinction is the default option, which humans are embracing with gusto. Because there is no reason to think Homo sapiens sapiens is exempt from the accelerating Holocene megafaunal extinction event, it’s entirely likely that humans will follow elephants, rhinos, whales, and most of the other Cenozoic species into oblivion. In some tens of millions of years, other organisms will evolve to fill the empty niches.

Finally, if humanity doesn’t have the wherewithal to develop planetary climate-control technology, we may undertake a desperate effort to colonize the Wasteland Earth. This will be a much less hospitable biosphere than the one in which humans evolved, characterized by extremely limited freshwater, H2S-poisoned atmosphere and oceans, severe ozone depletion, and droughts lasting centuries that are punctuated by destructive flooding events.

Desdemona counsels that we weigh everything against these realities. Most human concerns pale to invisibility against this looming background of doom. Grieve for the world, certainly. But then move on to acceptance. Desdemona has helped me to understand the truth of Woody Allen’s immortal words: “I felt much better after I gave up hope.”

See also: Island Breath: Welcome to the Dead Zone 2/7/06

The Violent Twilight of Oil

SUBHEAD: A review of Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil, by Peter Maass By Chris Saliba on 12 November 2009 in Webdiary - http://webdiary.com.au/cms/?q=node/3014 Image above: The Exxon Valdez leaking blackness into the ocean. From http://www.solcomhouse.com/valdez.htm

It’s the devil’s excrement’, according to former Venezuelan oil minister Perez Alfonzo. Why? Oil acted like a dangerous, addictive drug on the Venezuelan economy. It gave a fantastic rush of money when oil prices were high, prompting profligate spending. Yet when prices dipped, there would always be the morning after.

In this wide ranging book journalist Peter Maass (he contributes regularly to The New York Times Magazine and New Yorker) looks at all the ill effects oil has on individuals and countries alike. As you’d expect, Crude World is a depressing tale of extreme fear and greed.

The main thesis of the book is that oil creates volatility and havoc at all levels. For poor African nations like Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, plundering US oil concerns are happy to work with dictators and strongmen. The money that should go to the impoverished people of these countries is funnelled back to corrupt leaders who lead the sort of lavish lifestyles that would make Marie Antoinette blush.

Other countries, like Ecuador, find their environment despoiled by marauding oil companies. The unhappy histories of the Middle East are well known. War in Iraq and Kuwait, US meddling in Iran. Saudi Arabia is an unusual case all of its own. Its massive oil endowment has created a lopsided economy, completely captive to the vicissitudes of the global oil market. (90 per cent of the country's exports are oil, bringing in 75 per cent of the country’s revenues.)

Saudi Arabia has high unemployment, a large foreign workforce of professionals and an indolent class of royalty who all live on a stipend. Oil has allowed the population to explode, but reduced the pay checks of royal princes. A lot of young people (the Kingdom has a high youth population) have nothing to do, living off a virtual mono-economy that doesn't provide career paths.

Maass summarises nicely the ill effects oil can have on an economy (the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher made a similar argument recently, with regards to Australia’s export of coal):

“We’ve seen this before: as the oil sector grows, farming and manufacturing contract, unemployment expands, inflation rises due to the influx of revenues from oil sales, and the gap between rich and poor widens.”

While we in the West can hold our nose when we read about these terrible troubles in the rest of the world, the reality is that our oil dependence means we help contribute to this ugly reality. Our leaders cheerfully extol the virtues of globalization, but don't like to talk about the money that Saudi Arabia funnels into supporting fundamentalist causes.

Image above: ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond testifying before congress. From Life Magazine at http://www.life.com/image/56127699.

Maass also gives an eye opening look from the business end of oil. How ironic, he notes, that we easily recall the names of superstar CEOs from the world of business. Yet the oil industry’s superstar CEO, Lee Raymond of ExxonMobil, is a complete unknown to us. The author gives an almost Dickensian description of the corpulent Lee Raymond. He is more medieval king that CEO.

"Raymond fascinated me. Despite his stature and power, he was nearly unknown outside the environmental lobby, which despised him, the financial industry, which swooned over him; and the oil industry, which feared him. (Exxon’s executive suite was known as “the God Pod”.)

Think of the tycoons who are part of the contemporary lexicon – Gates, Murdoch, Buffett, Jobs, Branson – and realize that absent from their ranks is the long time leader of one of the most profitable multinationals of the twentieth century. Raymond was smart enough and secure enough to neither crave nor need publicity, which he knew would invite unfriendly questions. He did what he had to do, meeting financial journalists to announce earnings, but little more. He turned down my requests to interview him."

A lot of the territory that Peter Maass covers in Crude Oil has been well documented elsewhere. What makes this book attractive is the extensive first hand reportage. Maass has access to a lot of good interview subjects, both high level political and business players, down to activists and the ordinary people affected by oil. This he mixes with an engaging and cheerful style. Maass has the novelist's gift for drawing lively portraits and is never at a loss for an evocative metaphor. It's these qualities that really made Crude Oil a very enjoyable book.

So often we are immersed in 'facts' on these economic and political questions. How refreshing it is to get a first hand description of real people rather than just the general sweep of events.

Crude Oil, despite its gloomy and depressing subject matter, ends in a rather upbeat tone. The problems of our oil dependence can be fixed by enthusiastically taking up the existing renewable technologies, we are assured. All we need is the will. This optimistic ending didn't work for me though, especially after wading through so much depressing reality. Peter Maass makes for a brilliant observer, but it seems obvious he hasn’t thought through very deeply the question of how we will segue from the oil economy to the new renewable economy.

And that day is coming sooner than later. In all likelihood we have used up half the world’s oil endowment. We’re quickly on our way to consuming the last half.

Crude Oil opens with an interview with Matthew Simmons, author of the influential Twilight in the Desert. Simmons is an investment banker, and a former energy advisor to George W. Bush. He has studied in depth the technical papers of the Society of Petroleum Engineers on Saudi Oil. What he found was that the Saudi authorities have vastly overstated the capacity of their reserves. He also found serious mismanagement resulting in damaged oil fields: all of the remaining oil may not be recoverable. He believes we could be in for serious trouble unless we can come up with an alternative energy source.

Even more pessimistic is James Howard Kunstler. In his book The Long Emergency, Kunstler provides some unpalatable statistics for the reader to digest. The world's total oil endowment is some 2 trillion barrels. We have made our way through 1 trillion barrels so far, most in the last 50 years. At our current rate of consumption, we will empty out every last drop in 37 years. That does not take into account any growth in the Chinese and Indian economies - or any other economy for that matter. Nor does it factor in the difficulties in extracting the last half of our global oil endowment. All of the remaining oil will not be recovered. (There is a range of technologies used currently to extract oil out of the ground, like injecting water into oil fields. They all use rising levels of energy, thus diminishing the value of the oil recovered.)

Image above: Oil field fire in Basra, Iraq, in March 2003 From International Peace Burough at http://www.ipb.org/environment.html

Babies born today will not be driving cars run on petrol when they hit their thirties. How will they drive their cars? How will food be transported? What will happen to all the new outer suburbs that are currently totally dependent on cars? Why aren’t governments planning for this?

Kunstler says the economy built by oil has been nothing more than a 100 year bubble – and it’s about to burst.

Can a new energy source ‘come online’ that has the value of the one trillion barrels of oil we’ve used so far, keeping us living a lifestyle we see as normal? Peter Maass thinks that if we work for it such a reality will come, yet the bulk of his book – the ugly politics, violence and money – speak of a troubling future.

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Oil photos of Edward Burtnynsky 11/1/09

Hubbert Peak Rock Theory

SUBHEAD: The Hubert bell curve theory of why we’re all out of good Rock & Roll.  

By Lee on 23 September 2009 in Overthinking It -  
http://www.overthinkingit.com/2008/09/23/the-hubbert-peak-theory-of-rock-or-why-were-all-out-of-good-songs

 
Image above: Classic rock album cover collage. From http://www.all4myspace.com/layouts-2.0/rock-myspace-layouts-2.0/13
 
Many rock purists and music snobs (myself included) often lament the quality of most modern pop/rock music. “Music these days is so trite and derivative,” they say. “It’s just been downhill since the 60’s and 70’s. Those were the days.”

A few years ago, Rolling Stone magazine added fuel to the music snobbery fire with its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. Anyone casually paging through the list would notice that the bulk of the list was comprised of songs from the 60’s and 70’s, just like the music snobs always say.

I, however, wasn’t content with the casual analysis. So I punched the list into Excel, crunched some numbers, and found an interesting parallel between the decline of rock music quality and, of all things, the decline in US oil discovery and production:


(Sources: Rolling Stone Magazine, US Department of Energy)

Analysis after the jump. Drill Baby Drill!
First, a little theory. The decline in U.S. oil production* is explained by the Hubbert Peak Theory, which states that “the amount of oil under the ground in any region is finite, therefore the rate of discovery which initially increases quickly must reach a maximum and decline.” Makes sense, right? The same theory can apply to anything of a finite quantity that is discovered and quickly exploited with maximum effort.

Including, it would seem, rock & roll. I know, the RS 500 list is not without its faults, but it does allow for some attempt at quantifying a highly subjective and controversial topic and for plotting the number of “greatest songs” over time. Notice that after the birth of rock & roll in the 1950’s, the production of “great songs” peaked in the 60’s, remained strong in the 70’s, but drastically fell in the subsequent decades. It would seem that, like oil, the supply of great musical ideas is finite. By the end of the 70’s, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Motown greats, and other genre innovators quickly extracted the best their respective genres** had to offer, leaving little supply for future musicians.

The counterargument to all of this, of course, is that the RS 500 skews unfairly towards the earliest, most groundbreaking works of music and unfairly penalizes later creations for simply coming after other works. For example, why was Green Day shut out of the list? I could point to dozens of songs on the RS 500 that are inferior to some of the classic tracks off of Dookie, almost all of which came from the 60’s and 70’s.

But even if you assume that the RS 500 functions more of an indicator of musical early-ness, the Hubbert Peak Theory still holds true. A whole host of talented musicians set out exploring the vast uncharted territory of modern pop/rock music that was first made possible by the electric guitar and the standardization of the rhythm section. The resulting works from this period (the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s) will forever stand out by virtue of their originality. Popular music may never again see a period of innovation at a magnitude of its first explosion.

I don’t think I’m being pessimistic about the outlook on pop/rock music or snobbish about my retro music tastes. I think the same idea applies to other creative fields that follow a similar arc of rapid exploration followed by derivative works. Assuming some constraints on the definition of the form, the amount of innovation that can be done within that form is finite. Most of it will come early and fast, then decline after the peak. Impressionist paintings. Star Wars movies. I could go on.

Now, if only we could drill for some new reserves of pop music innovation. Perhaps there’s a new Motown hit machine waiting somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, waiting to be unleashed. Let’s get drilling.

I know there’s plenty of room for arguing my points, so please sound off in the comments.
*I left off Alaska from the data set mostly to make the graphs line up better, but also because the “fixed supply” concepts holds better if you look solely at the lower 48 states and not the one with all the oil and all the hockey moms.

**Although the RS 500 list includes a smattering of rap/hip-hop, it’s so deficient in that regard that i’m excluding that genre from this analysis. I wonder, though, if a similar analysis could be conducted around that genre that shows the discovery/innovation explosion after hip hop’s genesis in the late 1970’s.

Integrated Regional Foodsheds

SUBHEAD: Researchers think America's obesity epidemic can be reversed via 'foodsheds'. By Peter Dizikes on 10 November 2009 in PhysOrg - http://www.physorg.com/news177098327.html Image above: Illustration for article on food sovereignty and discovering foodsheds. From http://realneo.us/content/stuff-interest-pasa-farming-future-conference-2009 In the last three decades, childhood obesity in the United States has become a massive public-health problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 1980 and 2006 the percentage of obese teenagers in the United States grew from 5 to 18, while the percentage of pre-teens suffering from obesity increased from 7 to 17. Such children often become overweight adults, leaving themselves especially susceptible to heart illness, Type 2 diabetes, strokes, and some forms of cancer. These weight problems do not simply stem from a lack of willpower, according to Dr. Tenley Albright, director of MIT’s Collaborative Initiatives program, which uses systems analysis to study broad social issues. Albright is a Harvard-educated surgeon who, two years ago, helped organize an interdisciplinary group of about 10 researchers, from MIT and Columbia University, specifically to analyze the causes of child . Aided by a grant from the United Health Foundation, the team scoured medical and economic data, and consulted with medical researchers, economists and policy-makers, before releasing an initial October 2008 report.

The group’s conclusion: Obesity is widespread due to our national-scale system of food production and distribution, which surrounds children — especially lower-income children — with high-calorie products. “The problem lies not just in a child, but the whole environment around a child,” says Albright. “To end obesity, we need to produce healthier, more accessible, more affordable food.” As Albright notes, 90 percent of American food is processed — according to the United States Department of Agriculture — meaning it has been mixed with ingredients, often acting as preservatives, that can make food fattening.

Now, in another report finished this October after meetings with food-industry leaders, the MIT and Columbia researchers propose a solution: America should increase its regional food consumption. Each metropolitan area, the researchers say, should obtain most of its nutrition from its own “foodshed,” a term akin to “watershed” meaning the area that naturally supplies its kitchens. Moreover, in a novel suggestion, the MIT and Columbia team says these local efforts should form a larger “Integrated Regional Foodshed” system, intended to lower the price and caloric content of food by lowering distances food must travel, from the farm to the dinner table.

Welcome to the food terminal

Only 1 to 2 percent of all food consumed in the United States today is locally produced. But the MIT and Columbia team, which includes urban planners and architects, believes widespread adoption of some modest projects could change that, by increasing regional food production and distribution.

To help production, the group advocates widespread adoption of small-scale innovations such as “lawn to farm” conversions in urban and suburban areas, and the “10 x 10 project,” an effort to develop vegetable plots in schools and community centers. Lawns require more equipment, labor and fuel than industrial farming nationwide, yet produce no goods. But many vegetables, including lettuce, cucumbers and peppers, can be grown efficiently in small plots. “A lot of those projects could be started immediately,” says Michael Conard, assistant director of Columbia’s Urban Design Lab, who notes that during World War Two, small “victory gardens” produced more than 40 percent of America’s fruits and vegetables.

To better distribute local food, some cities, including Oakland, Calif., Philadelphia, and Newark, N.J., give grants and tax credits to help small markets sell fresh produce. But the architects and designers in the MIT/Columbia group suggest entrepreneurs or government should invest in a new concept: “food terminals,” retail developments combining grocery stores with greenhouses, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and even education centers as magnets for city residents who otherwise lack access to fresh produce.

“These would be multi-faceted places where people could buy food, learn about it, and get health information,” says Kenneth Kaplan, an architect and associate director of MIT’s Collaborative Initiatives project. “This is an urban planning challenge because the large supermarkets tend to sit out on the periphery of cities. In the areas where there is a deficit in healthy food, the infrastructure is simply not there.” Retailing could also occur through low-cost “mobile food markets”: buses retrofitted to sell produce.

Since not all regions grow the same produce, the researchers allow that many goods would still be shipped across regions. “We’re not saying people in New England shouldn’t eat pineapple,” says Eleanor Carlough, program director of the Collaborative Initiatives. “But the apples grown in New England should stay there, if possible.”

The proposal has received some favorable reactions so far. In an op-ed in The New York Times in September, food writer Michael Pollan hailed the MIT/Columbia project, and suggested the foodshed concept “could be the key to improving the American diet.”

Saving on health care

Building regional foodsheds, however, will be a long-term process. The crux of the problem is how to make food both cheap and healthy. As multiple economic studies show, the price of healthy food has risen more quickly than the price of unhealthy food in recent decades. And as a 2004 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found, $1 could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips and 875 calories of soda, but only 250 calories of vegetables and 170 calories of fresh fruit.

“Business certainly isn’t altruistic by nature, and you’re not going to create a change unless you can show how people can make money,” Carlough acknowledges.

Moreover, lifestyle changes have altered the way Americans eat. The USDA estimates that a family of four, with two kids between 6 and 11 years old, can maintain a healthy diet for roughly $700 to $1,050 per month, or $23 to $35 per day. That is based on market-bought food prepared at home, however. As the USDA also notes, money spent on food away from home increased about 17-fold in the from 1960 to 2005; among other things, people are consuming more high-fat “convenience” foods, as the MIT and Columbia researchers call them, which are more widely available in all kinds of stores than ever before.

However, the researchers claim, an increasingly regional system of making and selling healthy foods will lower the cost of those goods, by reducing things like transportation costs. A University of Iowa study shows that fruits and vegetables grown locally travel an average of 56 miles from farm to table, as opposed to an average of 1,494 miles for produce grown in other regions. In a new phase of their work, the researchers aim to examine these economic factors more closely.

Moreover, the researchers assert, society as a whole pays for our national-scale food economy in ways that go beyond the price of food. Another Iowa study suggests that food production incurs additional costs of $6 billion to $16 billion when factors such as energy use and health care are included.

As Albright sees it, the effort to produce healthier foods “fits right in with the health-care reform effort right now because chronic diseases are so costly for the nation.” America currently spends $14 billion annually treating childhood obesity, and $147 billion treating all forms of obesity. Pollan, for his part, contends in the same Times piece that expanding health-care coverage would lead insurers to realize they “have a powerful interest in reducing rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to weight.”

The MIT researchers recognize it will take a long-term effort to change the way America eats. For now, they say, it is important to show that alternatives exist. “People haven’t focused on our food system yet because it’s big, it’s political, and it’s complex,” says Carlough. “But it is a critical issue that needs to be addressed.”

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Opportunities for a New Agriculture 10/20/09 Ea O Ka AinaL How Secure are You? 10/13/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Urban Farming is the Future 8/18/09 Island Breath: Lovcovores - Eating Close to Home 4/26/07 Island Breath: Locovores dine on local chow 11/21/06

Gesture from the Invisible Hand

SUBHEAD: Investment money seeking higher returns flees the productive economy for the realm of abstract paper wealth. By John Michael Greer on 11 November 2009 in The Archdruid Report - http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2009/11/gesture-from-invisible-hand.html Image above: "The Attack of the Invisible Hand" comic from Tom Tomorrow in This Modern World 12/10/08. From http://www.thismodernworld.com/arc/2008/TMW12-10-08colorlowrescopy.jpg It’s been a long road, but we’ve finally reached the point in these essays at which it’s possible to start talking about some of the consequences of the primary economic fact of our time: The arrival of geological limits to increasing fossil fuel production. That’s as challenging a topic to discuss as it will be to live through, because it cannot be understood effectively from within the presuppositions that structure most of today’s economic thinking. It’s common, for example, to hear well-intentioned people insist that the market, as a matter of course, will respond to restricted fossil fuel production by channeling investment funds either in more effective means of producing fossil fuels, on the one hand, or new energy sources on the other. The logic seems impeccable at first glance: as the price of oil, for example, goes up, the profit to be made by bringing more oil or oil substitutes onto the market goes up as well; investors eager to maximize their profits will therefore pour money into ventures producing oil and oil substitutes, and production will rise accordingly until the price comes back down. That’s the logic of the invisible hand, first made famous by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations more than two centuries ago, and is still central to most mainstream ideas of market economics. That logic owes much of its influence to the fact that in many cases, markets do in fact behave this way. Like any rule governing complex systems, though, it is far from foolproof, and it needs to be balanced by an awareness of the places where it fails to work. Energy is one of those places: in some ways, the most important of all. Energy is not simply one commodity among others; it is the ur-commodity, the foundation for all economic activity. It follows laws of its own – the laws of thermodynamics, notably – which are not the same as the laws of economics, and when the two sets of laws come into conflict, the laws of thermodynamics win every time. Consider an agrarian civilization that runs on sunlight, as every human society did until the rise of industrialism some three centuries ago. In energetic terms, part of the annual influx of solar energy is collected via agriculture, stored in the form of grain, and transformed into mechanical energy by feeding the grain to human laborers and draft animals. It's an efficient and resilient system, and under suitable conditions it can deploy astonishing amounts of energy; the Great Pyramid is one of the more obvious pieces of evidence for this fact. Such civilizations normally develop thriving market economies in which a wide range of goods and services are exchanged. They also normally develop intricate social abstractions that manage the distribution of these goods and services, as well as the primary wealth that comes through agriculture from the sun, among their citizens. Both these, however, depend on the continued energy flow from sun to fields to granaries to human and animal labor forces. If something interrupts this flow -- say, a failure of the harvest -- the only option that allows for collective survival is to have enough solar energy stored in the granaries to take up the slack. This is necessary because energy doesn't follow the ordinary rules of economic exchange. Most other commodities still exist after they've been exchanged for something else, and this makes exchanges reversible; for example, if you sell gold to buy marble, you can normally turn around and sell marble to buy gold. The invisible hand works here; if marble is in short supply, those who have gold and want marble may have to offer more gold for their choice of building materials, but the marble quarries will be working overtime to balance things out. Energy is different. Once you turn the energy content of a few million bushels of grain into a pyramid, say, by using the grain to feed workers who cut and haul the stones, that energy is gone, and you cannot turn the pyramid back into grain; all you can do is wait until the next harvest. If that harvest fails, and the stored energy in the granaries has already been turned into pyramids, neither the market economy of goods and services or the abstract system of distributing goods and services can make up for it. Nor, of course, can you send an extra ten thousand workers into the fields if you don't have the grain to keep them alive. The peoples of agrarian civilizations generally understood this. It's part of the tragedy of the modern world that most people nowadays do not, even though our situation is not all that different from theirs. We're just as dependent on energy inputs from nature, though ours include vast quantities of prehistoric sunlight, in the form of fossil fuels, as well as current solar energy in various forms; we've built atop that foundation our own kind of markets to exchange goods and services; and our abstract system for managing the distribution of goods and services -- money -- is as heavily wrapped in mythology as anything in the archaic civilizations of the past. The particular form taken by money in the modern world has certain effects, however, not found in ancient systems. In the old agrarian civilizations, wealth consisted primarily of farmland and its products. The amount of farmland in a kingdom might increase slightly through warfare or investment in canal systems, though it might equally decrease if a war went badly or canals got wrecked by sandstorms; everybody hoped when the seed grain went into the fields that the result would be a bumper crop, but no one imagined that the grain stockpiled in the granaries would somehow multiply itself over time. Nowadays, by contrast, it's assumed as a matter of course that money ought automatically to produce more money. That habit of thought has its roots in the three centuries of explosive economic growth that followed the birth of the industrial age. In an expanding economy, the amount of money in circulation needs to expand fast enough to roughly match the expansion in the range of goods and services for sale; when this fails to occur, the shortfall drives up interest rates (the cost of using money) and can cause economic contractions. This was a serious and recurring problem in the late 19th century, and led the reformers of the Progressive era to reshape industrial economies in ways that permitted the money supply to expand over time to match the expectation of growth. Once again, the invisible hand was at work, with some help from legislators: a demand for more money eventually give rise to a system that produced more money. It's been pointed out by a number of commentators in the peak oil blogosphere that the most popular method for expanding the money supply -- the transformation of borrowing at interest from an occasional bad habit of the imprudent to the foundation of modern economic life -- has outlived its usefulness once an expanding economy driven by increasing fossil fuel production gives way to a contracting economy limited by decreasing fossil fuel production. This is quite true in an abstract sense, but there's a trap in the way of putting that sensible realization into practice. The arrival of geological limits to increasing fossil fuel production places a burden on the economy, because the cost in energy, labor, and materials (rather than money) to extract fossil fuels does not depend on market forces. On average, it goes up over time, as easily accessible reserves are depleted and have to be replaced by those more difficult and costly to extract. Improved efficiencies and new technologies can counter that to a limited extent, but both these face the familiar problem of diminishing returns as the laws of thermodynamics, and other physical laws, come into play. As a society nears the geological limits to production, in other words, a steadily growing fraction of its total supply of energy, resources, and labor have to be devoted to the task of bringing in the energy that keeps the entire economy moving. This percentage may be small at first, but it's effectively a tax in kind on every productive economic activity, and as it grows it makes productive economic activity less profitable. The process by which money produces more money consumes next to no energy, by contrast, and so financial investments don't lose ground due to rising energy costs. This makes financial investments, on average, relatively more profitable than investing in the kinds of economic activity that use energy to produce nonfinancial goods and services. The higher the burden imposed by energy costs, the more sweeping the disparity becomes; the result, of course, is that individuals trying to maximize their own economic gains move their money out of investments in the productive economy of goods and services, and into the paper economy of finance. Ironically, this happens just as a perpetually expanding money supply driven by mass borrowing at interest has become an anachronism unsuited to the new economic reality of energy contraction. It also guarantees that any attempt to limit the financial sphere of the economy will face mass opposition, not only from financiers, but from millions of ordinary citizens whose dream of a comfortable retirement depends on the hope that financial investments will outperform the faltering economy of goods and services. Meanwhile, just as the economy most needs massive reinvestment in productive capacity to retool itself for the very different world defined by contracting energy supplies, investment money seeking higher returns flees the productive economy for the realm of abstract paper wealth. Nor will this effect be countered, as suggested by the well-intentioned people mentioned toward the beginning of this essay, by a flood of investment money going into energy production and bringing the cost of energy back down. Producing energy takes energy, and thus is just as subject to rising energy costs as any other productive activity; even as the price of oil goes up, the costs of extracting it or making some substitute for it rise in tandem and make investments in oil production or replacement no more lucrative than any other part of the productive economy. Oil that has already been extracted from the ground may be a good investment, and financial paper speculating on the future price of oil will likely be an excellent one, but neither of these help increase the supply of oil, or any oil substitute, flowing into the economy. One intriguing detail of this scenario is that it has already affected the first major oil producer to reach peak oil -- yes, that would be the United States. It's unlikely to be accidental that in the wake of its own 1972 production peak, the American economy has followed exactly this trajectory of massive disinvestment in the productive economy and massive expansion of the paper economy of finance. Plenty of other factors played a role in that process, no doubt, but I suspect that the unsteady but inexorable rise in energy costs over the last forty years or so may have had much more to do with the gutting of the American economy than most people suspect. If this is correct, now that petroleum production has encountered the same limits globally that put it into a decline here in the United States, the same pattern of disinvestment in the production of goods and services coupled with metastatic expansion of the financial sector may show up on a much broader scale. There are limits to how far it can go, of course, not least because financiers and retirees alike are fond of consumer goods now and then, but those limits have not been reached yet, not by a long shot. It's all too easy to foresee a future in which industry, agriculture, and every other sector of the economy that produces goods and services suffer from chronic underinvestment, energy costs continue rising, and collapsing infrastructure becomes a dominant factor in daily life, while the Wall Street Journal (printed in Shanghai by then) announces the emergence of the first half dozen quadrillionaires in the derivatives-of-derivatives-of-derivatives market. Perhaps the most important limit in the way of such a rush toward economic absurdity is the simple fact that not every economy uses the individual decisions of investors pursuing private gain to allocate investment capital. It may not be accidental that quite a few of the world's most successful economies just now, with China well in the lead, make their investment decisions based at least in part on political, military, and strategic grounds, while the nation that preens itself most proudly on its market economy -- yes, that would be the United States again -- is lurching from one economic debacle to another. It is unfortunately also the case that many of the nations that have extracted their investment decisions from the hands of a self-terminating market system are not exactly noted for their delicate care for human rights. If that proves to be the wave of the future -- and it may be worth noting that Oswald Spengler, among others, predicted that outcome -- then the invisible hand may end up giving us all the finger. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Harnessing Hippogriffs 11/4/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Neoclassical Economic Failure 10/28/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Strange Bright Banners 10/21/09 Ea O Ka Aina: The Twilight of Money 10/15/09 Ea O Ka Aina: The Matastasis of Money 10/12/09 Ea O Ka Aina: The Metaphysics of Money 10/30/09

Army recruiting Kindergarteners?

SUBHEAD: Parent questions army presence on Kauai Elementary School Campus.  

How Old is ‘Old Enough?’  
By Jon Letman on 10 November, 2009, in The Garden Island  
http://www.kauaiworld.com/articles/2009/11/10/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/doc4af905e0355d8268357870.txt

  
Image above: "Kindersoldaten" rather than "Kindergarten" for these youngsters. From http://www.visionjournal.de/visionmedia/article.aspx?id=6684

 How old is old enough for military recruiters to approach students? High school? Junior High? How about ten weeks into kindergarten? Last week at dinner my 5-year-old son announced blithely, “soldiers came to school today.” He then added, “They only kill bad people. They don’t kill good people.”

 My wife and I looked at each other incredulously. He repeated himself and then I remembered — it was “Career Day” at school. He had mentioned a bus driver too, but it was the soldier who stuck out in his mind.

When my wife asked if the soldier was cool, he nodded “yes.” The soldier had given my son a gift — a six-inch plastic ruler with big bold red letters reading ARMY NATIONAL GUARD next to a waving American flag and below that www.1-800-GO-GUARD.com.

So, now we know the answer to the above question. Kindergarteners still learning their ABCs are targets for early conditioning by the U.S. military in Hawai‘i’s schools.

Never mind our schools have just cut almost 10 percent of classroom time, bringing Hawaii’s instructional days to dead last in the nation. Furloughs or not, time was found for the National Guard to give a pitch (and a gift) to wide-eyed 5-year-olds.

 Fortunately (for the military), the economic collapse has been a boon for military recruiters as education and job-hungry young people flock to a place they know will offer what many other employers cannot — a job with benefits.

And with Department of Defense projections indicating that the baseline Pentagon budget will grow over the next decade by $133.1 billion, or 25 percent (even before war funding), it appears likely there will be plenty need for more soldiers in 2022 when my son and his classmates turn 18.

After raising my concerns about military personnel pitching to my 5-year-old on career day to the school’s principal, I was told the soldiers (who were dressed in uniform) were there to focus on “all the good things they do.”

To be sure, in times of natural disaster, the National Guard can do a tremendous amount of good. But in what must certainly have been a first encounter for my son and his classmates, the take away message was “they kill people. But only the bad ones.”

Whether you find this episode utterly disturbing or perfectly normal, each of us needs to ask ourselves, in an era when our government spends trillions of dollars supporting war yet can’t even fund our schools at a minimum national standard, what kind of society and future are we building for our children?

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Defense Department Sues to Recruit Kids 6/14/09 
Island Breath: Ban Recruiting of Under 18 Years Old 2/7/08

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Hawaiian Ceremony for Wailua

SOURCE: Judy Dalton (dalton@aloha.net)
SUBHEAD: Join a 24-hour vigil of sacred Hawaiian prayer chants and ceremonies in honor of Wailua.

By Judy Dalton on 10 November 2009 in Island Breath - 
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2009/11/great-sacred-wailua-ceremony.html)

 
Image above: Photo courtesy of Bishop Museum Archives Wailuanuiaho`äno circa 1924.

`AHA HO`ÄNO
As you may know, we stand opposed to the construction of a bike and pedestrian path [14' wide concrete and plastic boardwalk] on sacred Wailua Beach, by the County of Kaua`i. We are also extremely concerned with significant cumulative impacts by proposed transportation plans to these lands and waters. They will disrupt our Iwi Kūpuna o Wailua, and do harm to the Native Hawaiian culture and people, of this and future generations. Please help us to mālama and honor this "one kapu o nā Ali`i o Kaua`i nei". Join us for the day, or make plans and bring your ukana (sleeping bags/tents) to stay overnight on the grounds of Hauola. Aloha Beach Resort is also located next to the grounds of Pu`uhonua o Hauola.

We extend our voices to all people across of the Hawaiian archipelago to join us in ceremony. Since time immemorial, the lands of the Wailua ahupua`a have long been revered as, “Wailuanuiaho`äno” sacred birthplace and home of our Hawaiian ali`i and ancestors. It was also the spiritual center for Kaua`i Island. The significant number of major heiau, storied places and traditional sites within this ahupua`a strongly resonate of Wailua’s cultural importance.

Our oral histories and traditions detailed in our chants, ceremonies, religious and burial practices further confirm and maintain that the entire coastal ecosystem of sand dunes and beaches of the Wailua ahupua`a are known and documented burial grounds in which nä iwi küpuna the bones of our ancestors were interned for countless generations before us.

This area includes the vast stretch of sands of Alio, from the plains of Hanama`ulu and Wailua’s southern border of Kawailoa, all the way to Hauola near the river. The seaside terrain between Wailua Bay and Coco Palms was named, Mahunapu`uone, clearly indicating its role in funerary customs as, the “Sand dunes that conceal [the bones]”.

The shoreline and land areas surrounding Wailua Bay are amongst the most highly, culturally sensitive regions in all of east Kaua`i! These lands continue to be very sacred to native Hawaiians today! Please join us as we enter into this season of Makahiki for an overnight vigil of traditional Hawaiian prayer chants, ancient dances and ceremonies to ho`omana the spiritual and cultural integrity of the “Great Sacred Wailua”. Please come to support…come to learn…come to respect.  

WHAT:
A 24-hour vigil of sacred Hawaiian prayer chants & ceremonies . A shared focus to spiritually mälama and honor our ancestors, cultural practices & traditions of Wailuanuiaho`äno. Ceremonies to be delivered at the top of every hour.

WHEN:
Friday, Nov 13 to Saturday, Nov 14 12noon to 12 noon.  

WHERE:
Pu`uhonua O Hauola & Hikinaakalä Heiau North end of Lydgate Park near the Wailua River Mouth Special assistance will be provided for küpuna  

CONTACT:
Kumu Hula - Nathan Kalama email: nateilio@live.com phone: 808.822.2166
 Këhaulani Kekua email: halaupalaihiwa@kaieie.org phone: 808.346.7574  

PROTOCOLS:
Participants may present traditional Hawaiian ho`okupu, as well as offerings of mele pule, mele oli, `aiha`a, hula pahu, hula `äla`apapa, ha`i `ölelo, ko`ihonua and mele mo`okü`auhau. Traditional Hawaiian ceremony garments or kïhei requested. Modest clothing, please. No swimwear or short dresses. No photography or videotaping allowed without permission No protesting, picketing or disruptive activities Children must be closely supervised to avoid disturbance and distraction on or around ceremony grounds.  


A 24-hour Vigil Slated for Wailua 

By Michael Levine on 11 November 2009 in the Garden Island - 

http://www.kauaiworld.com/articles/2009/11/11/news/kauai_news/doc4afa72bc3b45c188184016.txt

Cultural practitioners are set to hold a 24-hour vigil from noon Friday until noon Saturday featuring Hawaiian prayer, chants and temple dances to raise public awareness about development in Wailua, one of Hawai‘i’s most sacred places, event organizers said this week.

The vigil, known in Hawaiian as ‘aha ho‘ano, will be held at Pu‘uhonua O Hauola and the Hikinaakala Heiau at the north end of Lydgate Park near the mouth of the Wailua River. It will recognize the traditional importance of Wailuanuiaho‘ano — the “Great Sacred Wailua” — in light of plans for the multi-use coastal path to span the area with a boardwalk across the sand on Wailua Beach.
“We are very concerned about the rapid movement of the development in Wailua,” Kumu Hula Kehaulani Kekua, one of the event’s organizers, said Tuesday.
"I was aghast at the studies and reports that came back as part of the final EA with findings of no significant impact. That is absolutely absurd.” 
The FONSI was issued in May 2007. In recent months, the long-standing plan to have the 14-foot-wide path run along Wailua Beach was thrown into limbo when the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs reversed its position on the proposal and recommended that it instead run on the mauka “canal route” behind Coco Palms resort due to cultural and burial concerns. “I’m not in opposition to improvements and what is good for the community, we just need to be sensitive and aware that there are places that we absolutely have to respect,” Kekua said.
“What we hope to do is just raise awareness in the community for people to understand that even if we live in the 21st century, it’s a very special and fragile place.” 
 Last week, the Wailua-Kapa‘a Neighborhood Association released the results of an opinion poll it conducted on its Web site, www.wkna.org, to allow people to express their preferences on the issue and help determine if WKNA should take a position, and if so, which one. The poll was conducted between Oct. 13 and Nov. 1, a press release says. Of 457 votes cast, 54 percent favored the bike path on Wailua Beach and 46 percent favored redirecting the path. “The polling site provided information on both sides of the issue,” the press release states.
“Only one vote per Web connection was permitted by the polling software. Based on the close results of the poll, the board will not take a position.”  
What to expect
Kekua said at the top of each hour, starting at noon Friday, participants will present traditional chants and dances, and in the time between those hourly presentations they will be able to “talk story” and have “healthy discussion” about issues important to the area. “We are not inviting, advocating or even tolerating any type of resistance because it’s not meant to be a protest,” she said, referring to those who might come with signs. “It’s meant to hold spiritual focus and to honor and to continue and connect with the ancient practices that many of us have never stopped. As Native Hawaiians, we continue to recognize and apply these practices in our daily lives.”

In that vein, the flyer states that traditional Hawaiian ceremony garments or kihei are requested, though modest clothing — no swimwear or short dresses — will be accepted. No photography or videotaping will be allowed without permission, and children must be closely supervised to avoid disturbance and distraction on or around ceremony grounds. From 9 a.m. until noon today, organizers are hosting an oli and protocol workshop at the same location for anybody interested in participating in the Friday gathering, a flyer states.

For more information on the vigil, contact Kekua at 346-7574 or halaupalaihiwa@kaieie.org, or Nathan Kalama at 822-2166 or nateilio@live.com.

Wailua Beach path online poll results:
 •54 percent favor multi-use path on Wailua Beach
 •46 percent favor redirecting the path

There were 457 votes registered online from Oct. 13 to Nov. 1. Source: Wailua-Kapa‘a Neighborhood Association

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: No Bike Path on Wailua Beach 9/17/09

Two Skins from the Onion

SUBHEAD: The Onion Network News uses satire to underscore the truth of our current situation. By Juan Wilson on 11 November 2009 - Image above: Detail of screen shot of Onion Network News video webpage. These humorists do as well in the details and the polish of production as CNN, MSNBC or FOX. Island Breath has featured items from www.theonion.com. The Onion began in Ohio as a printed newspaper spoof. It has sinced branched out to include radio and television media. We have featured several video clips in the past. Most have focussed on technology, gaming, politics, robotics, and the economy. Some might call the Onion's satiric observations callous or even cruel. The Onion also shows understanding of the truth about our circumstances today. Like John Stewart's Daily Show (on Comedy Central), the ONN is more on point and honest than our "serious" news media. I believe the two videos below are typical of the ONN's best work, but be warned... you'll have to sit through some Coke Zero ads, or something equally appalling, to get to the nut inside. First: The Economy Ford Unveils New Car For Cash-Strapped Buyers: The 1993 Taurus Second: Gaming & Warfare Ultra-Realistic Modern Warfare Game Features Awaiting Orders see also: Ea O Ka Aina: FDA depressant & Apocolyptic Games 2/26/09 Island Breath: War for the Whitehouse 9/28/08 Island Breath: Bush to visit disaster of his Presidency 8/2/08 Island Breath: Blockbuster Museum recreates past of movie renting 6/29/08 Island Breath: The World of World of Warcraft 6/19/08 Island Breath: General Electric & Robot U.S. President 1/16/08

Bottom Up Energy for Hawaii

SUBHEAD: Creating a new path to reduce energy footprint by decentralizing renewable energy effort is key to our future.  

By Henry Curtis on 30 November 2009 in the Honolulu Advertiser - http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/20091110/OPINION03/911100309


Image above:NASA enhanced space view of Hawaiian islands. Note north is at upper left. From http://veimages.gsfc.nasa.gov/5429/Hawaii.A2003147.2110.250m.jpg

 We import billions of dollars each year to buy foreign petroleum from unstable countries around the world. We can ask ourselves, how can we end that dependency? But that is the wrong question. The question that we need to ask is, what kind of society do we want? This is a proactive rather than a reactive question. We can go down several different paths.

One of them is to build an all-encompassing Big Brother system. We can build inter-island cables to tie our electric grids together. We can build a "smart grid," where the utility can measure the energy use of any given building every five minutes, or every minute, or continuously. The utility can give discounted rates to those who allow the utility to turn off devices within buildings during periods of peak demand.

All of these techniques are currently being discussed within Hawaii government departments and regulatory circles. These techniques would require that we spend billions of dollars of taxpayer and ratepayer money in order to expand the power and reach of the electric utilities. A very different path is building a distributed energy future. Each house, each building could minimize its energy footprint through the use of solar water heaters, efficient light bulbs, and other money saving systems.

Rooftop solar and wind could provide power for the building as well as for charging electric vehicles. Some buildings may not be able to provide all of their own energy. Therefore ratepayers could be paid to overbuild their renewable energy systems to pump excessive renewable energy into the electric grid.

All of these techniques are also currently being discussed within Hawaii government departments and regulatory circles. This debate is not new. When electricity was young, Edison and Westinghouse had the same debate. Edison favored local distributed generation. Westinghouse favored distant centralized power generation and long transmission lines. What is new is the urgency.

Climate change is the driver. The aging Hawaii electric infrastructure is the vehicle. We can focus on rebuilding and expanding the grid assuming that this approach may lead to increased renewable energy somewhere down the road. Or we can look to the personal computer and cell phone revolutions and build a decentralized electric infrastructure. The first step towards decentralization is feed-in tariffs.

This is a technical term for paying ratepayers to overbuild rooftop renewable energy systems to supply renewable energy to the grid. Unlike the more traditional net metering, feed-in tariffs would require the utility to pay the ratepayer for energy produced. This would enable anyone who is concerned about climate change to help everyone get off oil and other fossil fuels. T

his approach would also enable the state to get off the very dangerous path of substituting fossil fuels with biofuels made by chopping down the world's remaining rainforests. We must use the climate crisis and the aging electric infrastructure to build our vision of tomorrow, a decentralized renewable-energy world.

•  Henry Curtis is executive director of Life of the Land. web: http://www.lifeofthelandhawaii.org

 

The New Dust Bowl

SUBHEAD: In the 1930s, Okies saw California's Central Valley as a Garden of Eden. Now it's dying of thirst.  

By Josh Harkinson on 9 November 2009 in Mother Jones -
http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2009/11/new-dust-bowl

 
Image above: Dying fruit orchard along Highway 5 in Great Central Valley of California. From http://beetlebabee.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/dead-and-dying-californias-central-valley-dust-bowl
 
When I meet Javier Vaca on a dusty strip of blacktop, he's been walking for three days. The skinny 18-year-old is being carried along in a procession of 7,000 farmworkers and farmers as it crosses California's Central Valley, his baggy jeans and hoodie standing out amid the work boots and button-downs. He's been told only one thing that matters: Marching 50 miles might earn him a job.

"I don't want to jack nobody," Vaca says, as though the thought had crossed his mind. When the housing boom imploded last year, he lost a $14-an-hour construction job, a job that had allowed this son of farmworkers to drop out of high school, buy a car, and rent an apartment for his young wife and baby in Fresno. It took him a month to find more work, this time picking peaches at less than half his previous wage.

Then the worst drought in more than a decade hit, a court order to protect an endangered fish cut off water to the valley's farmers, and an area larger than Los Angeles went fallow. Vaca now works one day a week while his family survives on welfare and food stamps. "It's hard, man," he says. "Everybody's broke."

The spring morning chill becomes a broil as Vaca and his fellow marchers slowly follow a two-lane road through parched hills. A man squatting next to an ice chest on the median doles out carne asada burritos. "I'm hungry," Vaca says with a wan smile as he stuffs one into his pants pocket and bites into another. He passes an ATV draped in an American flag, where Sharon Wakefield, an almond farmer, is resting her feet.

She says she believes that the Mexicans and Central Americans who have joined the California March for Water are basically no different from her mother, who fled Oklahoma during the Great Depression to earn a pittance harvesting hay and cotton in the valley. Except this time, the state has even less to offer them: "We've got no water, no food, no future," she says.

The Central Valley, the thin, fertile band running down the middle of California, has long boasted the world's richest agricultural economy, reliably producing more than a quarter of the nation's fruits, nuts, and vegetables. But it's done so in defiance of ecological reality. The 70-year-old irrigation system that has pumped water into the otherwise arid valley is proving increasingly vulnerable to shifting weather patterns.

It now appears that water rich, 20th century California was an anomaly - a relatively wet period in the midst of a historical cycle of severe drought. And the changing climate will only magnify the problem. By the end of the century, scientists predict, Central California could experience temperatures rivaling Death Valley's and face the loss of 90 percent of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the region's main water source.

"Business as usual won't work in the future," says Eike Luedeling, an expert in plant sciences at the University of California-Davis, whose research shows that higher temperatures will likely decimate the state's $10 billion fruit and nut industry. "Especially for tree crops, adapting will require huge investments that probably a lot of small guys can't make anymore."

The sudden collapse of the Central Valley's economy illustrates how climate change can push a fragile region over the edge. Already vulnerable from rampant housing speculation and a dependence on industrial agriculture, the valley never prepared for a prolonged spate of bad weather. In 2008, local bankruptcy filings jumped 74 percent—from about 15,300 to 27,000—a rate of increase twice the national average.

Three of the valley's counties were among the nation's six worst for foreclosures, with nearly 85,000 houses lost. The drought is expected to dry up a billion dollars in income and 35,000 jobs, adding to a statewide unemployment rate that recently hit 11.9 percent—the highest since the eve of World War II. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked the federal government to declare the region a disaster area.

On the west side of the valley, which is often last in line for deliveries from federal water projects, farmers are selling prized almond trees for firewood, fields are reverting to weed, and farmworkers who once fled droughts in Mexico are overwhelming food banks. In short, the valley is becoming what an earlier generation of refugees thought they'd escaped: an ecological catastrophe in the middle of a social and economic one—a 21st century Dust Bowl.

 
Image above: Space photo of Central Valley with snow in Sierra Nevada Mts., and fog in the San Joaquin Valley.
 
If one community can illustrate all that's going wrong in the Central Valley, it's Mendota, a town of 9,000 midway up its west side. In the past year, its unemployment rate hit 41 percent, very close to being the highest in the nation.

In Hacienda Gardens, a subdivision on the edge of town, farmworkers and truck drivers once jumped at cheap credit and moved into brand-new $250,000 houses. On a block where about a third of those houses are vacant, I step past a pile of shattered auto glass and enter a well-kept yard where a young girl is playing. Her father, a truck driver named José Quinteros, tells me he hasn't worked for three months for lack of produce to haul. He doesn't know how he'll make his $1,675 house payments.

Yet he can't stand to sell his home for what it's currently worth—half what he paid for it three years ago—much less abandon it to the local gangs, which have been gutting the street's empty houses. "I can't say anything to them," he says. "They might shoot something—my house or my car."

Until recently, Mendota's building boom was a small bright spot amid decades of hard times. The town calls itself the "Cantaloupe Center of the World," though the packing plant downtown went bust about 10 years ago when growers began boxing melons in the fields using cheaper migrant labor. During the melon, tomato, and almond harvests, farmhands used to pack into backyard shacks and threadbare motels.

"The conditions weren't good, so we felt we'd go out and push for development," Mayor Robert Silva explains as we drive in his pickup through cookie-cutter neighborhoods of new single-family homes—more than 100 were built in the town since 2007. "All this used to be cotton." Now it is driveways and front yards overgrown with weeds.

Silva turns down Mendota's main drag, where men mill about on every street corner, waiting for work. The most desperate will accept as little as $2 an hour. "These people are hurting big time," says Terry Ince, an unemployed forklift operator who lives in a mobile home across the street from the old sugar-beet plant, which shut down in January.

He and his girlfriend have been making ends meet by selling off their furniture and eating wild boar shot by a neighbor. "What do we have to do, put an Ethiopian baby out there with a distended tummy?" he asks. "We are in dire straits."

The sidewalk is as crowded as the stores are empty. Silva heads into Westside Grocery, where owner and former mayor Joseph Riofrío tells me, "I need to get bailed out, man." Riofrío's general store, which has been in his family since the 1940s, has become little more than an occasional stoop for penniless mariachis and a collection agency for the electric company.

He pulls out a stack of energy bills that customers have brought to his register and says, "Look at what they owe, and look at what they are paying." On a $1,000 bill, $300 had been paid; on $1,200, nothing.

Late that night, Riofrío, affectionately called "El Güero"—"Whitey"—by the farmworkers, leads me down the alley behind his store, using an open cell phone to light the way. Large dogs yelp at us through backyard fences as he points out clusters of sheds and garages—rented units, "all illegal," with as many as 20 boarders crammed inside. He waves his hand in a circle, his voice rising in frustration: "Every block in Mendota! Every single block."

Down the street from Westside Grocery is a boxing gym, a brick building filled with old punching bags. When I visit the next morning, volunteers have moved aside the ring to make room for 800 frozen chickens. West Side Youth, the local charity that runs the gym, is one of the only sources of free food for the western valley's undocumented immigrants—many of whom came north to escape water scarcity and crop failure back in Mexico. Today, the monthly giveaway is scheduled for 2:oo p.m. By 12:30, a line of people is wrapped around the building and halfway down the block.

The wait for a chicken, a small bag of potatoes, and some vegetables is about three hours. West Side Youth's director, Nancy Daniel, tries to shift the elderly and disabled into a shorter line—at the last giveaway, a frail man collapsed. Her move sets off a war of elbows and shouts: "We belong over there!" "You don't have any right to be there!" Two months earlier, a hungry crowd broke the front door in a jostle to get inside before supplies ran out.

Farther down the treeless sidewalk, Rito Sanchez waits patiently. The 30-year-old hasn't worked since January but doesn't have the papers to qualify for unemployment, welfare, or food stamps. And yet life was harder back in Acapulco, where "there's no hope of anything to eat."

Standing nearby in a tight blue-jean skirt, Marina Calixto says that picking grapes in the valley pays more than 10 times what she earned at a maquiladora near Mexico City, where she manufactured bras and underwear that she later saw for sale at Costco and Wal-Mart on this side of the border. She's worked only two weeks in the past six months and can no longer send money home to her five daughters. "I don't want anything but to work," she says.
Farmworkers like Calixto and Sanchez "don't want to realize that where an employer used to hire fifty, they are now only gonna hire five," explains Candie Caro, service center manager for Proteus Inc., a state-funded nonprofit that assists farmworkers with food and rent while they're retrained in trades such as truck driving. Yet most farmworkers can't even qualify for Caro's programs because they don't have papers.
The most she can give them is about $300 in subsidized food and rent—the only source of direct government assistance to Fresno County's undocumented farmhands other than the Community Food Bank, where demand has more than doubled this year. "Someone who comes into the office and cries because they don't know where their next meal is going to come from or how they are going to feed their kids—I've seen that," Caro says.
"You don't know what to do. I wish we had more."
By five in the afternoon, West Side Youth is down to its last few boxes of food. Daniel shuts the front door, cutting off 15 people still in line. A few minutes later, a haggard man in a snakeskin belt emerges with the last box and climbs into a crowded van.

That night, a West Side Youth food box sits in Alejandro Roman's rented home, a converted barbershop on the main street where he lives with his wife, Marta, and their two teenagers. In their tiny living room, Alejandro gnaws at a toothpick as Marta knits. She is recovering from breast cancer and can't work; he's lost 15 percent of his hours at an almond orchard. After paying rent, utilities, and medical bills, the family lives on less than $125 a week.

The orchard will probably lay off the rest of its workers if its wells fail. But the Romans, who obtained green cards several years ago, remain hopeful. "This country has given us a lot," Marta says, setting down her needles and clasping her heart as her voice trembles. "This country, the future it has given us, is beautiful."
 
Image above: Sign on Highway 5 south of Mendota in Central Valley, California. From http://beetlebabee.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/dead-and-dying-californias-central-valley-dust-bowl
 
A few miles south of Mendota, a sign along the freeway proclaims, "Congress Created Dust Bowl." The land around it had been green with wheat sprouts before the spring rains petered out. Then pumping restrictions put a stop to water deliveries from the federal Central Valley Project, and farmer Joe Martini gave up on harvesting a once fertile 2,300-acre hillside.

Now it is nothing but powdery dirt. Martini blames the government, which has cut off water to farmers while still supplying coastal cities and maintaining water levels in the Sacramento River Delta, home to the federally protected delta smelt. "We're not gonna survive," he says. "We're gonna collect some insurance this year, and then maybe next year there is no insurance and we're done. We'll just let it die."

Farmers on the valley's west side have long known that their water supply could disappear at any time, but counted on it anyway. "The dollar signs overwhelmed the warning signs," says Richard Walker, an economic geography professor at the University of California-Berkeley and an expert on the Central Valley's economy. "It's the phenomenon of collective madness, collective belief, which is no different from Wall Street or American car companies."

Some farmers cling to the hope that an ever drier California will be forced back into the business of building massive water projects. "With California's booming population, and with the impact that global warming will cause to our snowpacks, we need more infrastructure," Gov. Schwarzenegger said in 2007, announcing a $4.5 billion proposal for new canals, dams, and reservoirs that he claimed would help restore the ailing Sacramento delta.

This summer, Democratic lawmakers sponsored a package of water bills that emphasized conservation over construction. The governor criticized the bills, even though they would allow him to appoint a panel with the authority to approve a controversial canal that would carry more water to the Central Valley and Southern California.

Standing in front of the bathtub rings of the shockingly empty San Louis Reservoir oustide Mendota, the governor quiets a cheering crowd of 10,000 at the conclusion of the four-day California March for Water. He was invited by the California Latino Water Coalition, the group of farmers and Latino politicians who organized the march to create pressure for new water projects.

"Cesar Chavez knew the power of a good march," Schwarzenegger declares, not mentioning that the United Farm Workers, which Chavez founded, boycotted the march, calling it a front for anti-union growers. "He led by example and he never stopped trying until he found a way. And this is exactly what we are going to do."

The desperate men and women who marched for days through the dust and heat see a quick solution to their woes: an executive order by Schwarzenegger or a deal with the Obama administration to create a to-hell-with-the-smelt exemption from the Endangered Species Act that would flood the fields again. There is little talk of the thirsty years ahead or what will have to be done to prepare for them.

Someone holds a sign that says, "Don't be a girlie man, be a governor—turn the pumps on." Cheers break out as Schwarzenegger proclaims that he will "not quit until we get the water," though he stops short of saying how he'll make it happen fast enough to stave off the drought. (The State Water Project has said it will provide farmers with 40 percent of their normal water allotment for the rest of the year; the federal Bureau of Reclamation has been providing just 10 percent.)

Afterward, Joseph Riofrío shakes the governor's hand and presses him for more details, but comes away discouraged. "I was expecting something bigger," the former mayor admits. "But it doesn't appear that a switch is going to be turned on."