More than Just a Good Movie

SUBHEAD: James Cameron's Avatar delivers a powerful message of connectedness with Mother Nature.

Image above: Matte painting contest submission of jungle landscape on planet Pandora by Avatar movie fan, Aleksey Golovchenko (aka Hardy Guardy), From or visit  

By Mike Adams on 26 December 2009 in -  

 If you see just one film this holiday season (or even this year), make it James Cameron's Avatar. It's a powerful, inspiring film that demonstrates movie-making at its best, and it delivers a crucial message for our time: That all living beings are connected and that those who seek to exploit nature rather than respect it will only destroy themselves.

Much of the press about Avatar has focused on the special effects, the motion capture and the 3-D presentation. These are modern filmmaking marvels, for certain, but the film succeeds for a far more important reason: Its story -- and its message.

Others have reviewed the film in a more critical light; notably Alex Jones who sees it as more of a propaganda piece ( But I see the film differently, and I think it carries a strong, positive message. (Spoiler alert: This article discusses some of the plot elements of the film.) With Avatar, Cameron has delivered a fast-paced fantasy adventure that weaves together a stream of powerful themes that are so important to our modern world that they extend far beyond the world of fictional film: Issues like corporations destroying nature for profit, the lack of respect for living creatures, and the failed policies of "military diplomacy" that the USA continues to pursue.

 The themes in Avatar reflect the greatest challenges of our modern world, and the message of Avatar is both deeply moving and highly relevant to the future of human civilization. Not many who view Avatar will understand all this, of course.

To the younger crowd, Avatar is simply a cool action-adventure film with a compelling love story that makes it a great date flick. But to those who've been around on this planet a little longer, the story of Avatar is a far important story of good versus evil, war versus peace, destruction versus healing and isolationism versus interconnectedness. This depth of sensitivity to life is rare to find in any film these days, much less a blockbuster feature film, but that's what makes Avatar so truly remarkable. It speaks to viewers at many different levels, intertwining the core themes of human mythology in an extremely tight, fast-paced screenplay that doesn't let a second go to waste.

 That's classic James Cameron, of course: Cutting scenes, dialog and seconds out of the film until it becomes a polished, tightly-presented story that transports you into the on-screen world and doesn't let go of you until the credits roll. It's an emotional story, too. Much like Titanic, Avatar convincingly pulls you into the minds and hearts of the key characters, delivering an authentic emotional connection with the on-screen characters even though their skin is blue.

The overriding theme of Avatar is one of western Colonialism, where western nations use their military might to invade lesser developed countries, terrorize their people and pillage their lands for valuable natural resources. And yet these acts of military imperialism are always justified by the imperialists. As the top military commander says in the film in response to the natives resisting their lands being pillages, "We'll fight terror with terror!"

It remains the standard operating procedure of any military imperialist nation. Invade whatever country you wish, and if the locals fight back, condemn them as terrorists and use that as an excuse to turn up the heat with even more bombs and weapons.  

Gaia and the interconnectedness of nature
 One of the more interesting elements in Avatar is the neural connection fibers that each living creature is born with on the planet. Animals, humanoids and even the trees have these neural connection fibers, allowing all living creatures to "plug in" to each other's neural networks. Once connected, they can feel each other's emotions and thoughts. They are, in essence, operating as one single being with expanded sensory awareness.

This plot element is largely thought of as fiction, but in reality, it is merely a representation of something that's very real in our world. The interconnectedness of all living systems through methods that science hasn't yet identified. Although science won't admit it, there does exist some medium of communication between living things right here on planet Earth. Plants, for example, really do talk to each other through their roots and other sensory systems.

The study of this field of science is called Plant Neurobiology, and the world's top research facility is the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology in Italy. There, it has long been established that plants are, in fact, intelligent. ( Recent research actually demonstrates that plants communicate over their own "chat networks" where important information is exchanged about what's happening in their immediate environment. (

The world depicted in Avatar also demonstrates the healing power of Mother Nature as the key character Jack Sully has his consciousness transferred from his broken human body to his much stronger alien body through the help of a healing tree (into which all the natives are neurologically plugged in, too).

The concept of Gaia is also unleashed in the film, although it's never referred to as Gaia. At one point in the film when all hope seems lost for the natives, Jack Sully prays to Gaia to help save them, at which point the female character Na'vi says, "[Mother Natutre] doesn't take sides. She only maintains the balance of life." This demonstrates a much deeper understanding of the role of nature than most modern humans grasp.  

Avatar and the Amazon Rainforest

Much of what takes place in Avatar could be described as a very accurate reflection of the struggle between petroleum companies and the indigenous populations of the Amazon rainforest. As someone who lives in Ecuador full time, I am particularly aware of some of the local details of this struggle. It is essentially the same setup as Avatar.

Native people live in harmony with the environment, respecting the life around them, and then a western corporation shows up and destroys their ecosystem, poisons the people and exploits the land in order to mine it for valuable natural resources.

The people fight back and they're met with military force. This reflects the very modern story of the indigenous Ecuadorian Indians versus Chevron and its oil drilling agenda. Read more about this conflict between Chevron and the people of the Amazon here:  

Fighting back
What's satisfying about Avatar, of course, is that the natives fight back. Rather than allowing their lands to be destroyed by corporate greed, they fight the imperialists with intelligence and a network of willing animals operating via land and air -- animals who ultimately allow the natives to defend themselves against the invaders.

Here's where Avatar really becomes fiction, because in the real world, spears usually aren't victorious over bullets. And hoards of large bullet-proof animals don't stampede to your rescue. But that's Hollywood, and it makes for a great story even if it's not an accurate reflection of what happens in our world.

 There's a level of violence in Avatar, but it's not gratuitous, bloody violence. It's not gore, and the military action violence that takes place in the story always moves the story forward. James Cameron never uses violence solely for the sake of violence -- he uses it in the film as a crucial part of the story.  

Technology and emotions
The reason Avatar works is because the technology has advanced enough for CG (computer graphics) to accurately capture and render the subtleties of facial expressions. As human beings, we are hard-wired to read and interpret subtle facial expressions as emotional content, and without the subtleties, computer-animated characters look stale and plastic. But thanks to the remarkable technology that Cameron has applied to Avatar, facial expressions are convincingly carried through the computer-rendered alien characters (no doubt with a fair bit of 3D modeling work to help augment the motion capture).

The result is a level of human authenticity (in alien-looking characters) that has never been achieved before... in any film! Remember, though, that technology alone never makes a great film. It's the story that really makes it work. Technology just makes the story convincing.

 Go see Avatar
If you love nature, and you love to see beautiful alien worlds depicted in breathtaking scenery, go see Avatar. If you love action films, or a touching romance, or science fiction, go see Avatar. In my opinion, it is easily the best film of the year, and perhaps even the best film of James Cameron's career. It also delivers a message that feels right at home to NaturalNews readers:

The love of nature, the interconnectedness between all living things, and the victory of good over military might. Avatar is much more than an action flick. It's much more than a love story, too. In my view, it's an urgent message for our modern world where many of the atrocities committed by the human invaders in Avatar are being carried out right now against our own planet.

When it comes to planet Earth, after all, humans are the imperialists. We have destroyed much of the natural habitat on our planet; we've poisoned the rivers and oceans; we've polluted the sky and burned up much of the planet's natural resources. In our quest for more energy, more consumption and more profit, we are stupidly destroying our own planet... and destroying our own future in the process. We are, in effect, both the invaders and the natives on this planet, and through our misguided collective consumption, we are destroying our own land, our own trees and our own home.

And because life is so delicately interconnected, in destroying our own planet, we are only destroying ourselves. This is one of the many messages that Avatar delivers. Go see the film yourself to catch the rest.

Video above. Back-story about Pandora (not movie trailer)  

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Blue Christmas 12/21/09

Name for a Decade

SUBHEAD: Is the fact that we have not come up with a proper name for this last decade or the next mean anything?

By Juan Wilson on 28 December 2009 For Islasnd Breath -

 Image above: Detail of cover of January 1st, 1910 cover of the Saturday Evening Post by J. C. Leyendecker. It was a time of great optimism symbolized by the earliest days of human flight. From  
Back in 1982, the artist then (but now formerly) known as Prince, released the album titled "1999". The title song lyrics began with:

I was dreamin' when I wrote this Forgive me if it goes astray
But when I woke up this mornin' Coulda sworn it was judgment day
The sky was all purple There were people runnin' everywhere
Tryin' 2 run from the destruction U know I didn't even care
'Cuz they say two thousand zero zero party over
Oops out of time So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999.

Well, during the Eighties and the Nineties we knew the names of our decades. All my life that was true, beginning in the 1940's (the Forties). But, when Prince sang "cuz they say two thousand zero zero party over, oops out of time" I realized we had no good name for the first decade of the coming millennium.

By the time the actual New Year's Eve 1999 party came around, I had not heard anyone come up with a good name for the new decade. Everybody was too concerned with the Y2K Bug and whether our computers would cough up a hairball when midnight struck and the whole power-grid would wink out.

In 2000 I had two favorite names for the new decade - The Aughties (as in "aught" meaning "zero", like "nineteen-aught-four" or 1904) and - The Naughties (as in "naught" meaning "nothing", like "it was all for naught", nada, zero.).

I asked people what name they preferred. Some wiseguys said we did not have to think about it for another year because, strictly speaking the new millennium would not start until 2001. Even well into that next year, nobody had come up with a generally accepted name for the decade.

Then 9-11 happened and nobody spoke much about something so trivial as a nickname for a decade. Everything was either "pre" or "post" nine-eleven.

Now the whole decade has slipped away without a moniker. Looking back at our behavior since 9-11 I have settled on the name The Naughties (as in "naughty" meaning "improper, tasteless, indecorous, and indecent") for a characterization of the this last decade.

In a couple of days we will begin a new decade. It will likely be more tumultuous than the one we are finishing up. Certainly we will be entering a time of having less of many things we are used to. Less wealth, less oil, less energy, less food.

I have not heard a decent name advanced for the new decade yet. If we don't come up with something we will have to wait until 2020 for the Twenties for roll around again and give us a proper decade name.

Here's my proposal. The decade of 2010-1019 should be called the "Teensies" (as in "teensier" meaning smaller). Isn't that appropriate for our need to Downsize and embrace Demand Destruction?

So Hau'oli Makahiki Hou to all on Kauai and in Hawaii Nei!

Kunstler's 2010 Conclusion

SUBHEAD: A small portion of James Kunstler's predictions for 2010. The Long Emergency is officially underway.

By James Kunstler on 28 December 2009 in - (

Image above: Still from movie "The Road" starring Viggo Mortensen From revue at 

The Long Emergency is officially underway. Reality is telling us very clearly to prepare for a new way of life in the USA. We're in desperate need of decomplexifying, re-localizing, downscaling, and re-humanizing American life. It doesn't mean that we will be a lesser people or that we will not recognize our own culture. In some respects, I think it means we must return to some traditional American life-ways that we abandoned for the cheap oil life of convenience, comfort, obesity, and social atomisation.

The successful people in America moving forward will be those who attach themselves to cohesive local communities, places with integral local economies and sturdy social networks, especially places that can produce a significant amount of their own food. 

I don't think that we'll be living in a world without money, some medium of exchange above barter, but it may not come in the form of dollars. My guess is that for a while it may be gold and silver, or possibly certificates issued by bank-like institutions representing gold-on-hand. In any case, 

I doubt we'll arrive there this year. This is more likely to be the year of grand monetary disorders and continued shocking economic contraction.
Political upheaval can get underway pretty quickly, without a whole lot of warning. I'm still waiting to hear the announced 2009 bonuses for the employees of the TBTF banks. All they said before Christmas was that thirty top Goldman Sachs employees would be paid in stock instead of money this year, but no other big banks have made a peep yet. 

I suppose they'll have to in the four days before New Years. I still think that could be the moment that shoves some disgruntled Americans into the arena of protest and revolt. Beyond that, though, there is plenty room for emotions to run wild and for behavior to get weird.

President Obama will have to make some pretty drastic moves to salvage his credibility. 

I see no sign of any intention to seriously investigate or prosecute financial crimes. Yet the evidence of misdeeds piles higher and higher - just this week new comprehensive reports of Goldman Sachs's irregularities in shorting their own issues of mortgage-backed securities, and a report on the Treasury Department's issuance of treasuries to "back-door" dumpers of toxic mortgage backed securities. And on Christmas Eve, when nobody was looking, the Treasury lifted the ceiling on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's backstop money to infinity. 

Even people like me who try to pay close attention to what's going on have lost track of all the various TARPs, TALFs, bailouts, stimuli, ZIRP loans, and handovers to every bank and its uncle in the land.

Good luck to readers in 2010. To paraphrase Tiny Tim: God help us, every one....

Consumers reject GMO food

SUBHEAD: The surge in local food production has helped. Farmers are teaching each other, sharing seed, and building produce distribution opportunities.

Image above: GMO orange-frog computer collage illustration. From  

By Jeri Di Pietro on 27 December 2009 in Island Breath -
After seven years of educating consumers and politicians, drumming up community support, and organizing volunteers, Hawai`i SEED is achieving the goal towards halting the introduction of any new GMO crops in Hawai`i. This year, Hawai`i County and Maui County passed laws creating a wide reaching ban that covers all aspects of taro experimentation, importation and development (laboratory, field and markets) on their islands.

Hawai`i County and Maui County also passed laws against pre-emptive legislation (protection of home rule). We hope for Kaua`i and Oahu to pass similar laws, to insure the purity of taro throughout the island chain. Big Island has also banned GMO coffee and passed a GMO food labeling law for their island.

Hawai`i has the infamous distinction of having more permits for GMO test fields than any other place in the world. The biotech crops being researched in Hawai`i are corn, soy, cotton, sunflower, papaya, rice, tobacco, and sugar.

Engineered plants are herbicide tolerant, and pesticide producing. These plants contain viral promoters, and they are antibiotic resistant. The current trend is modification to resist multiple pesticides. These “stacked trait” field tests mean multiple applications of chemical cocktails, to find upper tolerance levels.

All of this agricultural pollution is making its way into our ground water and ultimately our oceans. Farmers, parents and health conscious consumers find this unacceptable. People aware of the open air testing, the lack of human health data, the patenting of life forms, and the corporate control of seed, are appalled to see the hidden changes in our food supply. Our sentiments are being echoed all over the world.

The surge in local food production has helped our movement, it speaks to solutions. The models of crop diversity and sustainable farming practices are being exemplified daily. Farmers are teaching each other, sharing seed, and building produce distribution opportunities. We support the protection of farmer’s rights in the courts with the help of Earth Justice and the Center for Food Safety.

Hawai`i SEED will continue to promote a vision that embraces food sovereignty, pure food, healthy soil and water, and the traditional freedom to save your seed.

 Jeri Di Pietro
GMO Free Kaua`i PO Box 343 Koloa, HI 96756
(808) 651-1332
(808) 651-9603


Climate Crisis Responsibility

SUBHEAD: Supermarket and online shopping, not working closely with family or neighbors, has no future. It is antisocial as well as ecocidal. Image above: Photo from the Hawaiian's traditional City of Refuge on the Big Island. From By Jan Lunberg on 22 December 2009 in Transition Culture - ( The unnatural dominant culture, coldly spewing its noise and heat, subjecting us to dirty machines and pavement, no longer makes sense in terms of our needs as humans. But don't let it get you down and make you give up. Play your guitar, enjoy the company of friends, or whatever else restores your humanity. Perhaps the songs and the conversations will lead to some liberation and justice, alleviating the pain of this senseless system running our lives into the ground. But we must do even more. Finding a "better job" is no solution long-term, however much we think we need money to survive.

Taking responsibility for our own lot and the climate crisis means we must first reject an unworkable system and culture. I hasten to clarify; this does not mean there aren't a lot of nice people caught up in it. But if they believe elections and voting with their consumer dollars are going to save them from the ecological crisis and the slide into societal chaos of collapse, they are of no help to themselves or to the countless species being driven extinct by modern civilization.

In complaining about the failure of the Copenhagen COP 15 meeting, and continuing to beseech the Barack Obamas of the world to "please take good care of us," we are behaving like overgrown children who have no business coming back to helpless, hopeless parents to save us when we are reluctant to take matters into our own hands for our survival.

Except, the Obamas and Merkels and other corporate front men say to us, "Yes, there there, we're here for you. And we're trying to be green. Now be good and stay out of our way." So we go off and brood, get a bit more frustrated, and then we come back with more proposals, only to be disappointed -- as our graves are dug deeper by the technological war-for-profit growth- is-essential system. To legitimize a fixed game by continuing to play by its rules is foolish and tiresome to those of us who see though the sham and self-delusion.

Blaming the Copenhagen fiasco on... ?

Some activists, such as the "global web movement", blame "big polluters" such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for the U.S. stance on climate protection, while sparing Obama significant criticism. Avaaz probably did not read Naomi Klein's recent Guardian- UK article that made a good case for blaming Obama. The deeper problem is that many activists want to hope Obama is their guy, not the polluter's guy. Sure, sure.

Still another progressive environmentalist view finds Obama still heroic as a constrained realist facing a tough Congress: a column stated, "Instead of directing our frustrations at Obama, let’s direct them at the paralysis of vision and understanding among the American people."

When we face the fact that we are on our own and must build an alternative society, it would seem wise to look at the only sustainable model humanity has known: indigenous, traditional society based on tribes. Except for a few experiments in civilization that eventually failed, such as the Mayans and the Mississippi culture, the cultures of revering nature and the universe as it is -- not as our technology could remake it -- succeeded for millennia.

Now we are up against the wall, trying to create ecovillages and implement permaculture before we are crushed. It's ironic that so few people see the need. This is one reason it is so hard to jump to a safe haven where these sound practices are followed. It takes a good deal of sacrifice or luck in being able to make major changes in one's life under the yoke of the vicious economic system. Even so, there's really nowhere to run to, when we're all in this together. But we can and should each improve our situations in a responsible way.

So keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to exit the corporate economy, or at least to become more self-sufficient while creating more community. Someday a tribe will form around you, or you'll have to go find one. Driving to the supermarket and shopping online, and in other fashions not working closely with family or neighbors, has no future. It is antisocial as well as ecocidal.

Monsanto Seed Business Role

SUBHEAD: Monsanto business practices reveal how they are squeezing competitors, controlling smaller seed companies. Image above: Detail of satirical illustration Monsanto corn seed packet labeled "Mutanto Corn Seeds - Termoinator Variety" with a biohazard warning logo. From By the Associated Press on 14 December 2009 in The New York Times - ( Confidential contracts detailing Monsanto Co.'s business practices reveal how the world's biggest seed developer is squeezing competitors, controlling smaller seed companies and protecting its dominance over the multibillion-dollar market for genetically altered crops, an Associated Press investigation has found. With Monsanto's patented genes being inserted into roughly 95 percent of all soybeans and 80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., the company also is using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts. Declining competition in the seed business could lead to price hikes that ripple out to every family's dinner table. That's because the corn flakes you had for breakfast, soda you drank at lunch and beef stew you ate for dinner likely were produced from crops grown with Monsanto's patented genes. Monsanto's methods are spelled out in a series of confidential commercial licensing agreements obtained by the AP. The contracts, as long as 30 pages, include basic terms for the selling of engineered crops resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, along with shorter supplementary agreements that address new Monsanto traits or other contract amendments. The company has used the agreements to spread its technology -- giving some 200 smaller companies the right to insert Monsanto's genes in their separate strains of corn and soybean plants. But, the AP found, access to Monsanto's genes comes at a cost, and with plenty of strings attached. For example, one contract provision bans independent companies from breeding plants that contain both Monsanto's genes and the genes of any of its competitors, unless Monsanto gives prior written permission -- giving Monsanto the ability to effectively lock out competitors from inserting their patented traits into the vast share of U.S. crops that already contain Monsanto's genes. Monsanto's business strategies and licensing agreements are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and at least two state attorneys general, who are trying to determine if the practices violate U.S. antitrust laws. The practices also are at the heart of civil antitrust suits filed against Monsanto by its competitors, including a 2004 suit filed by Syngenta AG that was settled with an agreement and ongoing litigation filed this summer by DuPont in response to a Monsanto lawsuit. The suburban St. Louis-based agricultural giant said it's done nothing wrong. ''We do not believe there is any merit to allegations about our licensing agreement or the terms within,'' said Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles. He said he couldn't comment on many specific provisions of the agreements because they are confidential and the subject of ongoing litigation. ''Our approach to licensing (with) many companies is pro-competitive and has enabled literally hundreds of seed companies, including all of our major direct competitors, to offer thousands of new seed products to farmers,'' he said. The benefit of Monsanto's technology for farmers has been undeniable, but some of its major competitors and smaller seed firms claim the company is using strong-arm tactics to further its control. ''We now believe that Monsanto has control over as much as 90 percent of (seed genetics). This level of control is almost unbelievable,'' said Neil Harl, agricultural economist at Iowa State University who has studied the seed industry for decades. ''The upshot of that is that it's tightening Monsanto's control, and makes it possible for them to increase their prices long term. And we've seen this happening the last five years, and the end is not in sight.'' At issue is how much power one company can have over seeds, the foundation of the world's food supply. Without stiff competition, Monsanto could raise its seed prices at will, which in turn could raise the cost of everything from animal feed to wheat bread and cookies. The price of seeds is already rising. Monsanto increased some corn seed prices last year by 25 percent, with an additional 7 percent hike planned for corn seeds in 2010. Monsanto brand soybean seeds climbed 28 percent last year and will be flat or up 6 percent in 2010, said company spokeswoman Kelli Powers. Monsanto's broad use of licensing agreements has made its biotech traits among the most widely and rapidly adopted technologies in farming history. These days, when farmers buy bags of seed with obscure brand names like AgVenture or M-Pride Genetics, they are paying for Monsanto's licensed products. One of the numerous provisions in the licensing agreements is a ban on mixing genes -- or ''stacking'' in industry lingo -- that enhance Monsanto's power. One contract provision likely helped Monsanto buy 24 independent seed companies throughout the Farm Belt over the last few years: that corn seed agreement says that if a smaller company changes ownership, its inventory with Monsanto's traits ''shall be destroyed immediately.'' Quarles, however, said Sunday he wasn't familiar with that older agreement, obtained by the AP, but said, ''as I understand it,'' Monsanto includes provisions in all its contracts that allow companies to sell out their inventory if ownership changes, rather than force the firms to destroy the inventory immediately. Another provision from contracts earlier this decade-- regarding rebates -- also help explain Monsanto's rapid growth as it rolled out new products. One contract gave an independent seed company deep discounts if the company ensured that Monsanto's products would make up 70 percent of its total corn seed inventory. In its 2004 lawsuit, Syngenta called the discounts part of Monsanto's ''scorched earth campaign'' to keep Syngenta's new traits out of the market. Quarles said the discounts were used to entice seed companies to carry Monsanto products when the technology was new and farmers hadn't yet used it. Now that the products are widespread, Monsanto has discontinued the discounts, he said. The Monsanto contracts reviewed by the AP prohibit seed companies from discussing terms, and Monsanto has the right to cancel deals and wipe out the inventory of a business if the confidentiality clauses are violated. Thomas Terral, chief executive officer of Terral Seed in Louisiana, said he recently rejected a Monsanto contract because it put too many restrictions on his business. But Terral refused to provide the unsigned contract to AP or even discuss its contents because he was afraid Monsanto would retaliate and cancel the rest of his agreements. ''I would be so tied up in what I was able to do that basically I would have no value to anybody else,'' he said. ''The only person I would have value to is Monsanto, and I would continue to pay them millions in fees.'' Independent seed company owners could drop their contracts with Monsanto and return to selling conventional seed, but they say it could be financially ruinous. Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene has become the industry standard over the last decade, and small companies fear losing customers if they drop it. It also can take years of breeding and investment to mix Monsanto's genes into a seed company's product line, so dropping the genes can be costly. Monsanto acknowledged that U.S. Department of Justice lawyers are seeking documents and interviewing company employees about its marketing practices. The DOJ wouldn't comment. A spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said the office is examining possible antitrust violations. Additionally, two sources familiar with an investigation in Texas said state Attorney General Greg Abbott's office is considering the same issues. States have the authority to enforce federal antitrust law, and attorneys general are often involved in such cases. Monsanto chairman and chief executive officer Hugh Grant told investment analysts during a conference call this fall that the price increases are justified by the productivity boost farmers get from the company's seeds. Farmers and seed company owners agree that Monsanto's technology has boosted yields and profits, saving farmers time they once spent weeding and money they once spent on pesticides. But recent price hikes have still been tough to swallow on the farm. ''It's just like I got hit with bad weather and got a poor yield. It just means I've got less in the bottom line,'' said Markus Reinke, a corn and soybean farmer near Concordia, Mo. who took over his family's farm in 1965. ''They can charge because they can do it, and get away with it. And us farmers just complain, and shake our heads and go along with it.'' Any Justice Department case against Monsanto could break new ground in balancing a company's right to control its patented products while protecting competitors' right to free and open competition, said Kevin Arquit, former director of the Federal Trade Commission competition bureau and now a antitrust attorney with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York. ''These are very interesting issues, and not just for the companies, but for the Justice Department,'' Arquit said. ''They're in an area where there is uncertainty in the law and there are consumer welfare implications and government policy implications for whatever the result is.'' Other seed companies have followed Monsanto's lead by including restrictive clauses in their licensing agreements, but their products only penetrate smaller segments of the U.S. seed market. Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene, on the other hand, is in such a wide array of crops that its licensing agreements can have a massive effect on the rules of the marketplace. Monsanto was only a niche player in the seed business just 12 years ago. It rose to the top thanks to innovation by its scientists and aggressive use of patent law by its attorneys. First came the science, when Monsanto in 1996 introduced the world's first commercial strain of genetically engineered soybeans. The Roundup Ready plants were resistant to the herbicide, allowing farmers to spray Roundup whenever they wanted rather than wait until the soybeans had grown enough to withstand the chemical. The company soon released other genetically altered crops, such as corn plants that produced a natural pesticide to ward off bugs. While Monsanto had blockbuster products, it didn't yet have a big foothold in a seed industry made up of hundreds of companies that supplied farmers. That's where the legal innovations came in, as Monsanto became among the first to widely patent its genes and gain the right to strictly control how they were used. That control let it spread its technology through licensing agreements, while shaping the marketplace around them. Back in the 1970s, public universities developed new traits for corn and soybean seeds that made them grow hardy and resist pests. Small seed companies got the traits cheaply and could blend them to breed superior crops without restriction. But the agreements give Monsanto control over mixing multiple biotech traits into crops. The restrictions even apply to taxpayer-funded researchers. Roger Boerma, a research professor at the University of Georgia, is developing specialized strains of soybeans that grow well in southeastern states, but his current research is tangled up in such restrictions from Monsanto and its competitors. ''It's made one level of our life incredibly challenging and difficult,'' Boerma said. The rules also can restrict research. Boerma halted research on a line of new soybean plants that contain a trait from a Monsanto competitor when he learned that the trait was ineffective unless it could be mixed with Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene. Boerma said he hasn't considered asking Monsanto's permission to mix its traits with the competitor's trait. ''I think the co-mingling of their trait technology with another company's trait technology would likely be a serious problem for them,'' he said. Quarles pointed out that Monsanto has signed agreements with several companies allowing them to stack their traits with Monsanto's. After Syngenta settled its lawsuit, for example, the companies struck a broad cross-licensing accord. At the same time, Monsanto's patent rights give it the authority to say how independent companies use its traits, Quarles said. ''Please also keep in mind that, as the (intellectual property developer), it is our right to determine who will obtain rights to our technology and for what purpose,'' he said. Monsanto's provision requiring companies to destroy seeds containing Monsanto's traits if a competitor buys them prohibited DuPont or other big firms from bidding against Monsanto when it snapped up two dozen smaller seed companies over the last five years, said David Boies, a lawyer representing DuPont who previously was a prosecutor on the federal antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. Competitive bids from companies like DuPont could have made it far more expensive for Monsanto to bring the smaller companies into its fold. But that contract provision prevented bidding wars, according to DuPont. ''If the independent seed company is losing their license and has to destroy their seeds, they're not going to have anything, in effect, to sell,'' Boies said. ''It requires them to destroy things -- destroy things they paid for -- if they go competitive. That's exactly the kind of restriction on competitive choice that the antitrust laws outlaw.'' Some independent seed company owners say they feel increasingly pinched as Monsanto cements its leadership in the industry. ''They have the capital, they have the resources, they own lots of companies, and buying more. We're small town, they're Wall Street,'' said Bill Cook, co-owner of M-Pride Genetics seed company in Garden City, Mo., who also declined to discuss or provide the agreements. ''It's very difficult to compete in this environment against companies like Monsanto.''

Who Then Will Lead Us?

SUBHEAD: Someone to replace the essential functions that will be lost upon the death of ‘Big Everything.’ Image above: "George Washington Crossing the Delaware" by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1851), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. See By Dan Allen on 23 December 2009 in Energy Bulletin - (

Our leaders have failed us.

Our leaders are failing us.

Our leaders will continue to fail us.

As the farce of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit recedes, the failure of our leadership stands naked before us -- again. But only ever-so-briefly, before ducking back behind the glossy ad-campaign facade of empty promises and false hope.

Other failures will follow. This is certain.

“That’s OK!” we scream. “Just keep telling us what we want to hear! Tell us everything’s gonna be OK!” For we still live in The Land of Make Believe.

…But ever more tenuously now, as the cracks in the veneer of normalcy widen ominously.

We have a make-believe economy using fairy-dust money to manufacture an imaginary recovery. We’re fighting two wars with an imaginary national credit card. We have a national energy policy based entirely on imaginary technology and imaginary resources. We have a climate policy which will likely require wholesale migration to an imaginary planet.

Enough already.

It is time – past time – to ask ourselves the necessary questions: Who will step forward to restore sanity to our lives? Who will provide us the real leadership necessary to extricate ourselves from the delusional madhouse our culture has become? If our leaders will not lead us to a livable future, then who will?

What is Leadership?

But before trying to answer these questions, let me expand on just what I mean by leadership.

Leadership can mean many things, but REAL leadership – the kind we need -- is primarily this: the ability to align the human sphere with biophysical reality.

Anything less than this is merely opportunism, and will be exposed as such in short order – probably very short order at this point. Historically, the Earth has had little reservation in punishing civilizations for violations of biophysical reality; for their foolish opportunism. I see no reason why we should be spared the same fate.

And contrary to popular sentiment among our civilization’s intellectuals, biophysical reality is not defined by humans; it is defined by the Earth and the Laws of Nature. Humans can only hope to incompletely illuminate some essential parts of it. And then we must obey it as best we can. It is not optional. And there are consequences.

We have learned more about biophysical reality than any other civilization in the history of the planet, and yet our discounting of its reality has never been more blatant and flamboyant! The irony is both staggering and deadly.

…So then, what sort of biophysical-reality-based leadership do we need? In short, we need leadership on an energy policy that takes into account the actual availability of fossil and renewable energy resources for the decades ahead, as well as the very real risks of short-term supply disruptions.

We need leadership on a climate policy that takes into account the well-documented and already-evident risks associated with destabilizing the Earth’s climate.

And we need leadership on an economic policy that links our patterns of production and consumption with the Earth’s finite (and severely stressed) resource base and waste absorption capacity.

We need leadership, period. Not opportunism. And opportunism is all we’re getting.

A Failure of Leadership

Thus, we are led into the sky-darkening future by a changing cast of opportunists disguised as leaders. Our elected opportunists continue to act as if biophysical reality can be ignored with impunity.

We will surely pay for this.

But this failure of leadership can be dissected even further. Allow me briefly to do so:

Our ‘leaders’ have failed us politically. They have failed to effectively convey the limitations of biophysical reality to the general population. And they have failed to engage other countries in what are surely all of our best long-term interests.

Our ‘leaders’ have failed us economically. They have failed to establish a pattern of production and consumption than can last more than a few generations. And in enthusiastically instituting the antithesis of a sustainable economy, they have saddled the future with onerous burdens. Impossible burdens.

Our ‘leaders’ have failed us morally. They have failed to either demonstrate or effectively promote the better side of human nature: thrift, generosity, love, kindness, pacifism, and forgiveness. And instead, they have demonstrated and celebrated the worst tendencies of our species: gluttony, greed, hatred, selfishness, pugilism, and vengeance.

And our ‘leaders’ have failed us spiritually. By instituting this soul-less industrial system, they have cut us off from the Earth and from our gods. They have cut us off from each other. They have severed our spiritual bonds so that we can be bonded only to the industrial machine; so that we must depend on the machine for our very survival. And now we do.

The Dark Competence of our Masters

So there is much to fault our ‘leaders’ in their leadership. But it is tempting here to attribute these leadership failures to incompetence: “Those politicians are screwin’ up again! – Can’t get nothin’ done!” However this is just a popular myth that disguises a much darker reality.

Our ‘leaders’ have not failed us due to their incompetence. For they are, indeed, very competent in what they do. But what they do is not lead -- at least not in the sense that we have defined here. And not in the sense that they repeatedly tell us they do.

It is an important intellectual leap – made most commonly by “non-intellectuals,” by the way -- to realize that our ‘leaders’ do not labor in OUR service. This is merely a popular delusion that the ‘leaders’ nurture with the aid of their partners-in-crime, The Press. But it is a lie. No, these ‘leaders’ have a higher, but usually-unmentionable master -- the transnational corporation (*collective gasp*).

And I’m sick of hearing even progressive people tip-toe around this, so I’ll be blunt here.

These corporations, after gaining the legal statuses and rights of citizens – immortal citizens, even! – have hijacked of the entire human sphere. Despite Thomas Jefferson’s prescient warnings, these corporations have triumphed over the humans who gave them ‘life.’ These one-time servants of humans – mere organizational structures at first -- have now become our supreme masters.

They are regimented, violent, supremely efficient in carrying out their directives, and utterly heartless.

They are, as Wendell Berry eloquently puts it, merely big piles of money with the sole intention of becoming bigger piles of money. There is nothing else to them.

They are manned BY humans, but they are not OF humans. They are supra-human – enveloping the human sphere and the rest of the planet with a suffocating efficiency. There is no square centimeter of the planet untouched by their cold tentacles. There is no ‘leader’ not in their full pay – directly or indirectly.

And no leadership should ever be expected from these corporations. Nor is real leadership even possible from them. Such tokens of ‘leadership’ we see are cynically meted out when advantageous to them. They are the consummate opportunists. Short-term gain is paramount. Biophysical reality is to be ignored until catastrophic change is unavoidable. Then new opportunities are sought. Period.

This is the dark logic of the machine. This is the dark logic of our masters.

…So can’t we at least admit this? If we’re going to sit passively by and watch these monstrous creations rape our brothers and sisters, rape the entire Earth, can’t we at least identify our attacker by name? Can’t we at least be honest with each other about it? Can’t we at least maintain a shred of dignity about the whole mess?

So let’s all please stop pretending that the next ‘leader’ – elected or not – will somehow throw off the death-grip of these corporate tentacles and restore leadership to our lives. As The Who intoned so long ago, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The Coming Convulsions

It is an apt analogy to view these transnational corporations as parasites that have now completely colonized their host – the human species, spread now entirely across the globe.

But unlike a parasite that has co-evolved with the host and can maintain some adversarial balance without inducing death, this novel parasite – as novel parasites often do -- is over-stepping its bounds. We have been able to muster no effective defense against it, and it is having its way with us.

But the catastrophic change utilized by the corporate-parasite to create new wealth-concentrating opportunities no longer involves merely the crash of a market, an ecosystem, a corporation, a species, or an industry – it now involves the catastrophic crash of an entire inter-linked global economy -- and possibly a crash of the biosphere itself.

The coming convulsions will shake the Earth itself -- threatening not only our civilization, but possibly our very existence as a species.

The havoc to be wrought by the collapse of the global economy will be profound. At the behest of the transnational corporations, and under the competent execution of highly-educated people, the life-sustaining functions (food production, resource procurement, manufacturing) of most countries have been partitioned-off and scattered throughout the world. (The US being perhaps foremost among these partitioned countries.) These essential functions have been restructured to require enormous quantities of fossil-fuel energy, and have been linked together globally by a tenuous fossil-fuel-based transportation system.

This is simply the most efficient current system for concentrating wealth. And that is what our corporate-parasites do. That is, in fact, the only thing they do. Everything else is superfluous.

But whether loss of access to fossil fuels comes from a massive credit default, a catastrophic disruption in supply due to political reasons, or from a rapid geologic decline of available net energy, the energy valve will be turned off – and probably much more rapidly than even most ‘peak-oilers’ think. And when the flow of energy stops, the global economy collapses. And the parasite dies.

While we should theoretically cheer the coming death of said parasite, our country (and most others) will be left without intact infrastructures to handle even the basics of everyday life. Where will we get our food and water? How will we transport it? How will we transport ourselves? Who will make our tools? How will we fix all the cheaply-made gadgets that must – indeed, that are designed to – break? Who will tell us what to do with ourselves? …Who will save us?

We have come to rely so much on our corporate-parasite’s cynical life-sustaining functions; on the fossil energy it procured for us – even as the parasite drained us of our dignity, our humanity, and our souls – that we have become essentially helpless as a species to adequately confront biophysical reality. The necessary skills have been mostly lost; our ‘appropriate’ technology mostly discarded; our bodies now sick and fat; our muscles atrophied; our spirits dimmed; our communities splintered; our resources depleted; and our land degraded.

We will be cast out as babies into the snow. We will weep for the return of our evil parasite-protectors. But they will be dead. And we will be on our own.

And the Earth’s long-spurned biophysical reality will no doubt prove to be a much harsher master than even our lost parasite.

On the verge of tears here, I won’t even delve into the climatic implications of our generations of flaunting biophysical reality. Read James Hansen’s new book or others like it. The implications are potentially grim indeed. So I’ll address the above-problems first – which, as Rob Hopkins has explained, will also be effective in addressing much of the milder climatic helter-skelter that may arise.

Ehrenfeld's Shadow Structures

So the picture I have painted above is not rosy. It may play out as I have described, or it may not. I like to think I can see our approaching troubles more clearly than most people, but I understand that I may be wrong in varying degrees on both the details and the timing.

…But I don’t think I’m too far off in terms of our general future trajectory.

One future trend I see as most likely in the times ahead (and James H. Kunstler has described this more eloquently than I can), is the breakdown of every large-scale organizational structure we have come to pattern our lives around – big stores, big farms, big government, big water, big manufacturing, big schools, big transit, big energy, …Big Everything.

An in place of ‘Big Everything,’ we will have…what? I don’t know. I suppose we could cobble together some crude, half-baked replacement structures on the fly. But good luck with that. I shudder to think what distortions and horrors might grow out of such chaos.

…But this replacement of an imploding ‘Big Everything’ was the focus of Rutgers biologist and author David Ehrenfeld’s 1999 essay in Tikkun entitled, “The Coming Collapse of the Age of Technology.” And in it he gives a prescient way to address the troubles he predicted – the same troubles that are coming to a head now, a decade later.

In his essay, Ehrenfeld advocates for the creation of a “shadow economic, social, and even technological structure that will be ready to take over as the existing system fails.” He goes on to describe the shadow political systems set up by Churchill before coming to power in the wake of the German invasion – shadow political systems that allowed an effective power transition as the British government collapsed. Collapse of the governmental structures was skillfully foreseen, and the replacement structures were prepared and ready to function when required. And they were effective.

These shadow structures, applied to our predicament, would be locally-organized entities capable of replacing the essential functions that would be lost upon the death of our ‘Big Everything.’ They would address the procurement of food and clean water; of forest products; the manufacturing of tools and other ‘appropriate technology’; the exchange of goods and services; the production and transport of energy; political organization; and everything else fully-functioning communities require.

Prior to the collapse of ‘Big Everything,’ these shadow structures would in no way be dependent on the doomed corporate-government nexus. They would be run and owned solely by the participants in the community they served. They would be small and stay small. And they would make up for their extreme smallness by being extremely numerous – dotted throughout the country in each viable community.

And as Ehrenfeld points out, such shadow structures already exist in the form of CSA’s – or Community Supported Agriculture. They also exist in the form of family farms, guilds of skilled craftspeople, and the various resiliency and re-skilling initiatives of the current Transition Town movement – a movement now gaining rapid popularity, as well it should.

But these shadow structures don’t exist in anywhere near the quantity and quality that they will be required. And they will be required soon.

And the Leaders of Tomorrow Are…You & Me

So we have a task before us. …A huge task. …An impossible task? Maybe. Maybe not.

The task is this: Each of us needs to, RIGHT NOW, become a leader in our own communities. Each of us, RIGHT NOW, needs to (1) assess the biophysical reality of his or her community; of his or her own capabilities – what is needed and what is possible, and (2) respond with the creation and nurturing of the appropriate shadow structure to replace a given ‘Big Everything’ function.

This starts with learning. It could mean learning to grow food, or store food, or save seeds, or save rainwater, or make tools, or manufacture necessary everyday items, or build structures from natural materials, or heal bodies, or deliver children, or any of the multitudinous skills that will be required of us. Much has been forgotten and much needs to be re-learned.

And after learning comes organizing. We need to organize at the family and community levels. Get your property on a sustainable trajectory, and then try to get your community moving in the same direction. Start a community garden. Start a skills workshop for something you enjoy. Do a project with youth groups or schools.

And after organizing comes keeping your project running over the long-term. Because it’s largely pointless to organize a stream clean-up if it doesn’t translate into sustained behavioral change or management practices in your town. It’s largely pointless to start a community garden if it does not blossom into a teaching tool and countless spin-off gardens throughout the community. Keep going even when you want to quit. Even when it’s too hard.

Because wherever this can be accomplished, our communities stand a fighting chance in the face of the coming convulsions. Where they cannot be accomplished, we are doomed. It’s that simple.

There will be no white knight coming to save us. We must save ourselves.

Free...Free at last!

In short, the leaders of tomorrow are us – you, and me, and the people we can convince to follow us, and the people already readying themselves and (crucially) their communities for the coming convulsions.

We will lead ourselves.

WE are the leaders of tomorrow, starting RIGHT NOW, and we will hopefully be TRUE leaders – not the pathetic opportunists who claim to serve us now.

We will be done with them as soon as this new vision takes hold in our minds, in our bodies, in the lives of our families, and in our communities.

These ‘leaders’ and the corporate-parasites they serve will be of no more use to us.

For, we will be free.

Free at last.

…And then the hard work of the New Reconstruction shall begin in earnest.

Zombie Reagan raised from dead

SUBHEAD: It appears that the Republicans have found their standard bearer for the future by digging up Ronald Reagan. [Publisher's Note: The satirical video by the Onion News Network has commercial advertising.] Zombie Reagan Raised From Grave To Lead GOP

The Obama Way

SUBHEAD: If Obama’s presidency succeeds, it will be a testament to what ideology tempered by institutionalism can accomplish. Image above: Cartoon about Obama's character by Tom Tomorrow in This Modern World. From

Every presidency is the subject of competing caricatures. But almost a year into his first term, there’s something particularly elusive about Barack Obama’s political identity. He’s a bipartisan bridge-builder — unless he’s a polarizing ideologue. He’s a crypto-Marxist radical — except when he’s a pawn of corporate interests. He’s a post-American utopian — or else he’s a willing tool of the national security state.

The press has churned out a new theory every week, comparing Obama to John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt, to George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter — to every 20th-century chief executive, it often seems, save poor, dull Gerald Ford. But none of the analogies have stuck. We’re well into the Obama era, but neither his allies nor his enemies can quite get a fix on exactly what our 44th president really represents.

Obama baffles observers, I suspect, because he’s an ideologue and a pragmatist all at once. He’s a doctrinaire liberal who’s always willing to cut a deal and grab for half the loaf. He has the policy preferences of a progressive blogger, but the governing style of a seasoned Beltway wheeler-dealer.

This is a puzzling combination, for many, because we expect our politicians’ principles to align more neatly with their approach to governing. Our deal-making Machiavels are supposed to be self-conscious “centrists” (think Ben Nelson or Arlen Specter). Our ideological liberals and conservatives are supposed to be more concerned with being right than with being ruthlessly effective.

It’s also puzzling because Obama promised exactly the opposite approach while running for the presidency. He campaigned as a postpartisan healer who would change the cynical ways of Washington — as a foe of both back-room deals and ideology-as-usual. But he’s governed as a conventional liberal who believes in the existing system, knows how to work it and accepts the limitations it imposes on him.

In hindsight, the most prescient sentence penned during the presidential campaign belongs to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. “Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama,” he wrote in July 2008, “is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them.”

Both right and left have had trouble processing Obama’s institutionalism. Conservatives have exaggerated his liberal instincts into radicalism, ignoring the fact that a president who takes advice from Lawrence Summers and Robert Gates probably isn’t a closet Marxist-Leninist. The left has been frustrated, again and again, by the gulf between Obama’s professed principles and the compromises that he’s willing to accept, and some liberals have become convinced that he isn’t one of them at all.

They’re wrong. Absent political constraints, Obama would probably side with the liberal line on almost every issue. It’s just that he’s more acutely conscious of the limits of his powers and less willing to start fights that he might lose than many supporters would prefer. In this regard, he most resembles Ronald Reagan and Edward Kennedy. Both were highly ideological politicians who trained themselves to work within the system. Both preferred cutting deals to walking away from the negotiating table.

The upside of this approach is obvious: It gets things done. Between the stimulus package, the pending health care bill and a new raft of financial regulations, Obama will soon be able to claim more major legislative accomplishments than any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson.

The downside, though, is that sometimes what gets done isn’t worth doing. The assumption that a compromised victory is better than no victory at all can produce phony achievements — like last week’s “global agreement” on climate change — and bloated, ugly legislation. And using cynical means to progressive ends (think of the pork-laden stimulus bill or the frantic vote-buying that preceded this week’s Senate health care votes) tends to confirm independent voters’ worst fears about liberal government: that it’s a racket rigged to benefit privileged insiders and a corrupt marketplace floated by our tax dollars.

At the same time, Obama doesn’t enjoy the kind of deep credibility with his base that both Reagan and Kennedy spent decades building. When Kennedy told liberals that a given compromise was the best they could get, they believed him. Whether the issue is health care or Afghanistan, Obama’s word doesn’t carry the same weight.

This leaves him walking a fine line. If Obama’s presidency succeeds, it will be a testament to what ideology tempered by institutionalism can accomplish. But his political approach leaves him in constant danger of losing center and left alike — of being dismissed by independents as another tax-and-spender, and disdained by liberals as a sellout.

A Christmas Wish

SUBHEAD: A message from Kauai veteran Millicent Cummings, and her son Maka'i, to friends. Image above: Millicent Cummings performance at the Storybook Theatre in Hanapepe 9/25/09. Photo by Juan Wilson. By Millicent Cummings on 25 December 2009 - I want to be Present for my Christmas present... Embodying the ever new in the New Year I want to kiss every moment, every moment... And worship at the lotus feet of that which never changes I want to reside in a sound and sensual space... Flowing in the fluidity of Love in all of its forms I want to hug myself for a job well done... My heart, body and Spirit still anchored in these high seas And I want to tell you all that I love you... Not knowing if I will ever have the chance again A Very Merry Christmas to all of you... And the Happiest New Year you have ever been blessed with Thank you for being in our lives... With respect and Love, Millicent and Maika'i See also: Island Breath: Millicent's Aloha to Kauai 4/22/07

Peaceful Polar Bear

SOURCE: Arius Hopman (
SUBHEAD: Photographs by Norbert Rosing of polar bear encountering his sled dogs.

The photographer was sure that he was going to see the end of his dogs when the polar bear wandered in.

Norbert Rosing's striking images of a wild polar bear coming upon tethered sled dogs in the wilds of Canada 's Hudson Bay.

Polar Bear: "I come in Peace."

It's hard to believe that this polar bear only needed to hug someone!

The Polar Bear returned every night that week to play with the dogs.

May you always have love to share, health to spare, and friends that care.


Copenhagen & Economic Growth

SUBHEAD: If we were serious about global warming, we'd immediately put a halt to all economic expansion.

  By Chris Martenson on 24 December 2009 in - (

Image above: Peugeot-Citroen automotive assembly line in 2008. From 

I want to point out that a massive discrepancy exists between the official pronouncements emerging from Copenhagen on carbon emissions and recent government actions to spur economic growth.

Before and during Copenhagen (and after, too, we can be sure), politicians and central bankers across the globe have worked tirelessly to return the global economy to a path of growth.

We need more jobs, we are told; we need economic growth, we need more people consuming more things. Growth is the ever-constant word on politicians' lips. Official actions amounting to tens of trillions of dollars speak to the fact that this is, in fact, our number-one global priority.

But the consensus coming out of Copenhagen is that carbon emissions have to be reduced by a vast amount over the next few decades.

These two ideas are mutually exclusive. You can't have both.

Economic growth requires energy, and most of our energy comes from hydrocarbons - coal, oil, and natural gas. Burning those fuel sources releases carbon. Therefore, increasing economic activity will release more carbon. It is a very simple concept.

Nobody has yet articulated how it is that we will reconcile both economic growth and reduced use of hydrocarbon energy. And so the proposed actions coming out of Copenhagen are not grounded in reality, and they are set dead against trillions of dollars of spending.

There is only one thing that we know about which has curbed, and even reversed, the flow of carbon into the atmosphere, and that is the recent economic contraction.

This is hard proof of the connection between the economy and energy. It should serve as proof that any desire to grow the economy is also an explicit call to increase the amount of carbon being expelled into the atmosphere.

The idea of salvation via the electric plug-in car or other renewable energy is a fantasy. The reality is that any new technology takes decades to reach full market penetration, and we haven't even really begun to introduce any yet. Time, scale, and cost must be weighed when considering any new technology's potential to have a significant impact on our energy-use patterns.

For example, a recent study concluded that another 20 years would be required for electric vehicles to have a significant impact on US gasoline consumption.
Meaningful Numbers of Plug-In Hybrids Are Decades Away
The mass-introduction of the plug-in hybrid electric car is still a few decades away, according to new analysis by the National Research Council.
The study, released on Monday, also found that the next generation of plug-in hybrids could require hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies to take off.
Even then, plug-in hybrids would not have a significant impact on the nation’s oil consumption or carbon emissions before 2030. Savings in oil imports would also be modest, according to the report, which was financed with the help of the Energy Department.
Twenty to thirty years is the normal length of time for any new technology to scale up and fully penetrate a large market.

But this study, as good as it was in calculating the time, scale, and cost parameters of technology innovation and penetration, still left out the issue of resource scarcity. Is there enough lithium in the world to build all these cars? Neodymium? This is a fourth issue that deserves careful consideration, given the scale of the overall issue.

But even if we did manage to build hundreds of millions of plug-in vehicles, where would the electricity come from? Many people mistakenly think that we are well on our way to substantially providing our electricity needs using renewable sources such as wind and solar. We are not.

Al Gore's well-intentioned challenge that we produce "100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years" represents a widely held delusion that we can't afford to harbor.
The delusion is shared by the Minnesota Legislature, which is requiring the state's largest utility, Xcel Energy, to get at least 24 percent of its energy from wind by 2020.
One of the most frequently ignored energy issues is the time required to bring forth a major new fuel to the world's energy supply. Until the mid-19th century, burning wood powered the world. Then coal gradually surpassed wood into the first part of the 20th century. Oil was discovered in the 1860s, but it was a century before it surpassed coal as our largest energy fuel.
Trillions of dollars are now invested in the world's infrastructure to mine, process and deliver coal, oil and natural gas. As distinguished professor Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba recently put it, "It is delusional to think that the United States can install in a decade wind and solar generating capacity equivalent to that of thermal power plants that took nearly 60 years to construct."
Texas has three times the name plate wind capacity of any other state — 8,000-plus megawatts. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas manages the Texas electric grids. ERCOT reports that its unpredictable wind farms actually supply just a little more than 700 MW during summer power demand, and provide just 1 percent of Texas' power needs of about 72,000 MW.
ERCOT's 2015 forecast still has wind at just more than 1 percent despite plans for many more turbines.
For the United States, the Energy Information Administration is forecasting wind and solar together will supply less than 3 percent of our electric energy in 2020.

Again it turns out that supplanting even a fraction of our current electricity production with renewables will also take us decades. And even that presumes that we have a functioning economy in which to mine, construct, transport and erect these fancy new technologies. Time, scale, and cost all factor in as challenges to significant penetration of new energy technologies as well.

So where will all the new energy for economic growth come from? The answer, unsurprisingly, is from the already-installed carbon-chomping coal, oil, and natural gas infrastructure. That is the implicit assumption that lies behind the calls for renewed economic growth.

It's The Money, Stupid

As noted here routinely in my writings and in the Crash Course, we have an exponential monetary system. One mandatory feature of our current exponential monetary system is the need for perpetual growth. Not just any kind of growth; exponential growth. That's the price for paying interest on money loaned into existence. Without that growth, our monetary system shudders to a halt and shifts into reverse, operating especially poorly and threatening to melt down the entire economic edifice.

This is so well understood, explicitly or implicitly, throughout all the layers of society and in our various institutions, that you will only ever hear politicians and bankers talking about the "need" for growth.

In fact, they are correct; our system does need growth. All debt-based money systems require growth. That is the resulting feature of loaning one's money into existence. That's the long and the short of the entire story. The growth may seem modest, perhaps a few percent per year ('That's all, honest!'), but therein lies the rub. Any continuous percentage growth is still exponential growth.

Exponential growth means not just a little bit more each year, but a constantly growing amount each year. It is a story of more. Every year needs slightly more than the prior year - that's the requirement.

The Gap

Nobody has yet reconciled the vast intellectual and practical gap that exists between our addiction to exponential growth and the carbon reduction rhetoric coming out of Copenhagen. I've yet to see any credible plan that illustrates how we can grow our economy without using more energy.

Is it somehow possible to grow an economy without using more energy? Let's explore that concept for a bit.

What does it mean to "grow an economy?" Essentially, it means more jobs for more people producing and consuming more things. That's it. An economy, as we measure it, consists of delivering the needs and wants of people in ever-larger quantities. It's those last three words - ever-larger quantities - that defines the whole problem.

For example, suppose our economy consisted only of building houses. If the same number of houses were produced each year, we'd say that the economy was not growing. It wouldn't matter whether the number was four hundred thousand or four million; if the same number of new homes were produced each year, year after year, this would be considered a very bad thing, because it would mean our economy was not growing.

The same is true for cars, hair brushes, big-screen TVs, grape juice, and everything else you can think of that makes up our current economy. Each year, more needs to be sold than the year before, or the magic economic-stimulus wands will come out to ward off the Evil Spirits of No Growth.

If our economy were to grow at the same rate as the population, it would grow by around 1% per year. This is still exponential growth, but it is far short of the 3%-4% that policymakers consider both desirable and necessary. Why the gap? Why do we work so hard to ensure that 1% more people consume 3% more stuff each year?

Out of Service

It's not that 3% is the right number for the land or the people who live upon it. The target of 3% is driven by our monetary system, which needs a certain rate of exponential growth each year in order to cover the interest expense due each year on the already outstanding loans. The needs of our monetary system are driving our economic decisions, not the needs of the people, let alone the needs of the planet. We are in service to our money system, not the other way around.

Today we have a burning need for an economic model that can operate tolerably well without growth. But ours can't, and so we actually find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of pitting human needs against the money system and observing that the money system is winning the battle.

The Federal Reserve exists solely to assure that the monetary system has what it needs to function. That is their focus, their role, and their primary concern. I assume that they assume that by taking care of the monetary system, everything else will take care of itself. I think their assumption is archaic and wrong.

Regardless, our primary institutions and governing systems are in service to a monetary system that is dysfunctional. It was my having this outlook, this lens, more than any other, that allowed me to foresee what so many economists missed. Only by examining the system from a new, and very wide, angle can the enormous flaws in the system be seen.

Economy & Energy

Now let's get back to our main problem of economic growth and energy use (a.k.a. carbon production).

There is simply no way to build houses, produce televisions, grow and transport grape juice, and market hair brushes without consuming energy in the process. That's just a cold, hard reality. We need liquid fuel to extract, transform, and transport products to market. More people living in more houses means we need more electricity.

Sure, we can be more efficient in our use of energy, but unless our efficiency gains are exceeding the rate of economic growth, more energy will be used, not less. In the long run, if we were being 3% more efficient in our use of fuel and growing our economy at 3%, this would mean burning the same amount of fuel each year. Unfortunately, fuel-efficiency gains are well known to run slower than economic growth. For example, the average fuel efficiency of the US car fleet (as measured by the CAFE standards) has increased by 18% over the past 25 years, while the economy has grown by 331%. Naturally, our fuel consumption has grown, not fallen, over that time, despite the efficiency gains.

So the bottom line is this: There is no possible way to both have economic growth (as we've known it in the past) and cut carbon emissions. At least not without doing things very differently.

Things like enforcing extremely high fuel efficiency standards on the automakers, investing heavily in electric rail transport, and moving things around as much as possible by water, and then rail, and finally trucks as a last resort. Things like enforcing building standards that would create super-insulated structures to utilize the sun for heating as much as possible. Where we live, work, and shop would all be reconfigured.

Since we're not doing any of these things in any sort of a credible manner, history suggests that if it comes down to either cutting carbon or growing the economy, the economy will win that battle every time.

We can find examples everywhere - fishermen will deplete their ancestral fishing grounds to earn the money to pay back their boat loan and send their kids to college. Corporations will sacrifice long-term health to make their quarterly numbers. Politicians will promise exorbitant pension benefits to public employees with no plans for how those payments will be made. And so on.

Historically, short-term economic decisions have always trumped long-term considerations.

Again, my purpose here is not to take on the issue of global warming, nor to challenge the IPCC's conclusions, but instead to point out that the political rhetoric on the economy is utterly at odds with the idea of cutting carbon emissions.

So which will it be, cut carbon or spur economic growth?

To hold both at the same time as twin goals is the textbook definition of cognitive dissonance. No wonder people are confused.

And the good news?

The good news for people worried about ever-increasing carbon emissions from here to eternity is that we'll probably never get all the coal and oil out of the ground to burn. Our exponentially-designed economic system will gasp a final breath through a dwindling energy straw long before we manage to extract the remaining dregs. A slumping economy will prevent oil from being extracted from 35,000 feet under the ocean and coal from being pulled up from 4,000 feet under the ground.

Even without the economic dislocation effects, the dire IPCC carbon projections for carbon dioxide accumulation would require the world's extraction and use of coal to climb by more than 600% over the rest of the century, which is pure fantasy.
If emissions from coal are to increase by 600 percent this cannot occur without the USA – that has the world’s largest coal finds – increasing its coal production by the same amount. In an article published in May 2009 in the International Journal of Coal Geology we have studied the historical trends and future possible production of coal in the USA.
The production of high-grade anthracite is decreasing while the production of brown coal in Wyoming is increasing. Future coal production is completely dependent on new coal mining in the state of Montana. According to the constitution of the USA, federal authorities cannot force Montana to produce coal. In Montana they do not want to produce coal since the mining will destroy the environment and large areas of agricultural land.
If the constitution is changed and mining of coal in Montana does occur it is possible for the USA to increase its coal production by 40% but not by 100%. An increase of 600% is pure fantasy.
Today, the world’s largest coal producer is China. Its reserves of coal are half the size of the USA’s and China has no possibility of increasing its coal production by 100%. A 600% increase there is also pure fantasy. Russia, with the world’s second largest coal reserves, can increase its production significantly but the untouched Russian coal reserves lie in central Siberia in an area without infrastructure.
Russia is not dependent on this coal for its own energy needs but if mining did begin there some time after 2050 it could only ever be equivalent to a small fraction of today’s global production. Therefore, it is impossible for global coal production to increase by 100% and 600% is, once again, pure fantasy.

A 40% growth in coal use? Maybe. 600%? No way. So take heart; the worst projections will have to be scaled back considerably, based on lack of hydrocarbons to burn.

The Political Conundrum

The truth of the matter is that a steady decline in energy use is going to result in a steady decline in the economy and a steady (hopefully) decline in living standards. There will simply be less surplus energy to go around. Many service-related jobs will simply disappear, as they will become unaffordable and unnecessary in a world shaped by reduced energy (here are some examples).

But no politician will ever willingly come out and state this, because it will mean large, uncomfortable adjustments for many people. So instead we get schizophrenic words and policies working at cross-purposes (i.e., cutting carbon and growing our economy) when we should be vigorously dealing with reality.

Our monetary system is out of step with reality, and the sooner we admit that, the better. We need an economic model that can operate without the requirement of exponential growth. Can we live prosperous lives in a stable, non-growing economy? Of course we can.

But first we have to admit to ourselves that the source of the trouble is debt-based money. And we need to begin the long, slow process of reorienting our culture, priorities, and values away from growth in service of an ill-fated money system and towards a workable, livable economy that serves humanity, preserves the world, and conforms to reality. It will require refashioning our system of money.

The problem here is that the political system is completely captured by the current practitioners of the existing monetary system. How can we ever expect the people who owe their livelihoods to the continuation of a given system to recognize the need for its reformation? Is this too much to expect?

I suspect it is, and this is why I have been working to educate people like you about the larger story that lurks within the connection of the economy, energy, and the environment. With this recognition comes the opportunity to refashion your finances, thoughts, plans, and hopes - now, on your own terms, rather than later, on some other terms.

If We Were Serious…

If we were really serious about global warming, we'd immediately put a halt to all economic expansion until we figured out how to grow our economy without growing our use of carbon-based energy. We'd probably also get serious about controlling population growth, since that is the ultimate driver of consumption and planetary stress.

In addition, we'd have already begun a crash program in energy conservation and efficiency, beginning with transportation and heating/cooling. These are areas where we have plenty of solutions laying about; all we need is the proper motivation to begin using them.

Since we're not doing any of these things, I can only conclude that we are not really serious about actually doing anything about global warming. The trouble is that the new taxes that are being proposed are deadly serious. If these taxes are anything like past government taxes, they will be announced using very impressive language, but will ultimately disappear into fungible government coffers, where unnecessary things dwell like wars without defined goals and bridges to nowhere.

So besides the keen interest of governments across the world in raising new taxes, I have not yet detected credible signs that any of them are taking climate change to heart.

In the end, you cannot really be serious about climate change (as it has been presented) if you are simultaneously promoting economic growth.

You can't have both.