Dubai Dominos Fall

SUBHEAD: Dubai's stock market fell by 6% on Monday on new worries about the size of the emirate's debt burden. Image above: To save itself Dubai World may need to sell assets including Cirque du Soleil. Oh, that should do it! From
By BBC Staff on 7 December 2009 on BBC - ( It came as Dubai's finance minister said the government would not sell any assets to help the emirate's investment vehicle, Dubai World, meet its debts. Minister Abdulrahman al-Saleh said any assets sold would have to be the property-to-ports company's own. Dubai shares have had a torrid time since Dubai World said 10 days ago it wanted to stall payments to creditors. They finished Monday trading at their lowest level since 22 July. Real estate and banking shares were particularly hard hit, with investors still concerned about the financial sector's exposure to Dubai World's debt. Dubai World has some valuable assets, notably its ports business, which stretches to every continent in the world, including London's Tilbury Docks and France's Le Havre. Other items in its wide-ranging investment portfolio include the luxury retailer Barney's of New York, a list of high-end US hotels, and the Canadian acrobatic circus franchise, Cirque du Soleil. Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Mr Al-Saleh said: "Like any company that has commitments, part of getting liquidity is selling some assets. Of course local or foreign assets." Investors' demands One of Dubai World's first major repayments to bondholders in its property firm Nakheel is due next week. The BBC's Middle East Business reporter Malcolm Borthwick said although the company had asked for a six-month delay, sources had told him that bondholders wanted to be paid off in full and on time. A group representing 25% of bondholders were writing to Dubai World to that effect, he added. What is Dubai World? The emirate's flag bearer in global investments. Has a central role in the direction of Dubai's economy. Assets include DP World, which caused a storm when trying to take over six US ports. Property arm Nakheel built The Palm Islands and The World developments. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Dubai Commercial Dept Troubles 11/27/09 Ea O Ka Aina: The Dark Side of Dubai 11/28/09

Copenhagen May Be a Disaster

SUBHEAD: This is like nothing we’ve ever faced before - and we’re facing it as if it’s just like everything else. Image above: UN COP15 Climate Conference workshop in February 2009. From By Bill McKibben on 6 December 2009 in TomDispatch - ( Most political arguments don’t really have a right and a wrong, no matter how passionately they’re argued. They’re about human preferences -- for more health care or lower taxes, for a war to secure some particular end or a peace that leaves some danger intact. On occasion, there are clear-cut moral issues: the rights of minorities or women to a full share in public life, say; but usually even those of us most passionate about human affairs recognize that we’re on one side of a debate, that there are legitimate arguments to the contrary (endless deficits, coat-hanger abortions, a resurgent al-Qaeda). We need people taking strong positions to move issues forward, which is why I’m always ready to carry a placard or sign a petition, but most of us also realize that, sooner or later, we have to come to some sort of compromise. That’s why standard political operating procedure is to move slowly, taking matters in small bites instead of big gulps. That’s why, from the very beginning, we seemed unlikely to take what I thought was the correct course for our health-care system: a single-payer model like the rest of the world. It was too much change for the country to digest. That’s undoubtedly part of the reason why almost nobody who ran for president supported it, and those who did went nowhere. Instead, we’re fighting hard over a much less exalted set of reforms that represent a substantial shift, but not a tectonic one. You could -- and I do -- despise the insurance industry and Big Pharma for blocking progress, but they’re part of the game. Doubtless we should change the rules, so they represent a far less dominant part of it. But if that happens, it, too, will undoubtedly occur piece by piece, not all at once. Moving by increments: it frustrates the hell out of many of us, and sometimes it’s truly disastrous. (I just watched Bill Moyers’ amazing recent broadcast of the LBJ tapes in the run-up to the full-scale escalation of the Vietnam War, where the president and his advisors just kept moving the numbers up a twitch at a time until we were neck deep in the Big Muddy.) Usually, however, incrementalism, whatever you think of it, lends a kind of stability to the conduct of our affairs -- often it has a way of setting the stage for the next move. Climate Change as Just Another Political Problem When it comes to global warming, however, this is precisely why we’re headed off a cliff, why the Copenhagen talks that open this week, almost no matter what happens, will be a disaster. Because climate change is not like any other issue we’ve ever dealt with. Because the adversary here is not Republicans, or socialists, or deficits, or taxes, or misogyny, or racism, or any of the problems we normally face -- adversaries that can change over time, or be worn down, or disproved, or cast off. The adversary here is physics. Physics has set an immutable bottom line on life as we know it on this planet. For two years now, we’ve been aware of just what that bottom line is: the NASA team headed by James Hansen gave it to us first. Any value for carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible "with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” That bottom line won’t change: above 350 and, sooner or later, the ice caps melt, sea levels rise, hydrological cycles are thrown off kilter, and so on. And here’s the thing: physics doesn’t just impose a bottom line, it imposes a time limit. This is like no other challenge we face because every year we don’t deal with it, it gets much, much worse, and then, at a certain point, it becomes insoluble -- because, for instance, thawing permafrost in the Arctic releases so much methane into the atmosphere that we’re never able to get back into the safe zone. Even if, at that point, the U.S. Congress and the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee were to ban all cars and power plants, it would be too late. Oh, and the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is already at 390 parts per million, even as the amount of methane in the atmosphere has been spiking in the last two years. In other words, we’re over the edge already. We’re no longer capable of “preventing” global warming, only (maybe) preventing it on such a large scale that it takes down all our civilizations. So here’s the thing: When Barack Obama goes to Copenhagen, he will treat global warming as another political problem, offering a promise of something like a 17% cut in our greenhouse gas emissions from their 2005 levels by 2020. This works out to a 4% cut from 1990 levels, the standard baseline for measurement, and yet scientists have calculated that the major industrialized nations need to cut their emissions by 40% to have any hope of getting us on a path back towards safety. And even that 17% cut may turn out to be far too high a figure for the Senate. Here’s what Senator Jim Webb (a coal-country Democrat) wrote to the president last week: "I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed in Copenhagen… The phrase 'politically binding' has been used. As you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country." In any case, the Senate has decided that it will not debate any climate-change bill until “the spring,” after health care is settled, and maybe entitlement reform, and perhaps even financial regulation. And awfully close to the next election. Meanwhile, the Chinese are apparently prepared to offer a 40% reduction in the “energy intensity” of their economy by 2020. In other words, they claim they’ll then be using 40% less energy to make each yuan worth of stuff they ship off to WalMart. Which is better than not doing it, but more or less what the experts think would happen anyway as China’s economy naturally becomes more high-tech and efficient. It’s at best a minor stretch from “business as usual.” Meanwhile, the Indians almost sacked their environment minister after the newspapers decided he was compromising the national interest by engaging in real negotiations about global warming. Meanwhile, the Australian opposition last week did sack their leader for being willing to compromise on an already-compromised Emissions Trading Scheme that would have capped carbon -- meaning nothing will pass. Meanwhile… A Challenge Unique in History A new analysis released Thursday by a consortium of European think-tanks shows that the various offers on the table add up to a world in which the atmosphere contains 650 parts per million and the temperature rises an ungodly five degrees Fahrenheit. What I’m saying is: even the best politicians are treating the problem of climate change as a normal political one, where you halve the distance between various competing interests and do your best to reach some kind of consensus that doesn’t demand too much of anyone, yet reduces the political pressure for a few years -- at which time, of course, you (or possibly someone entirely different) will have to deal with it again. Obama is doing the same thing with climate change that he did with health care. He’s acting with complete political realism, refusing to make the perfect the enemy of the good (or, really, the better-than-Bush). He’s doing what might make sense in almost any other situation. Here, unfortunately, the foe is implacable. Implacable foes emerge rarely. The best human analog to the role physics is playing here may be fascism in the middle of the last century. There was no appeasing it, no making a normal political issue out of it. You had to decide to go all in, to transform the industrial base of the country to fight it, to put other things on hold, to demand sacrifice. Yet it’s all too obvious that we’re not dealing with it that way. The president hasn’t, for instance, been on a nonstop campaign to make everyone realize the danger. When he went to China, he certainly reached some interesting agreements about cooperation on automobile technology, but that’s not the same as seeking a wartime partnership. Nor is the senate meeting late into the night figuring out how to mobilize our country’s resources and people in the struggle to save our planet. Here’s how Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill summed up the mood: “I don’t think anyone’s excited about doing another really, really big thing that’s really, really hard that makes everybody mad.” Some of us have been trying hard to open some political space for world leaders to step up to this challenge. We built a worldwide movement at that managed to pull off the “most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history” (at least according to CNN). In some places, it even sparked the desired result. Ninety-two nations, all poor and vulnerable to the early effects of climate change, have endorsed that radical 350 target. Some of their leaders, like Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives, a nation made up of more than a thousand islands in the Indian Ocean, have emerged as tigers, ready to fight. No one would be surprised to see him lead some kind of walkout from the Copenhagen negotiations, since he’s declared over and over that he won’t be party to a “suicide pact” for his low-lying nation; he is, in other words, unwilling to treat global warming as a normal political issue. We, however, couldn’t get even the most minor player in the Obama administration to come to one of the 2,000 rallies we staged across this country. None of them were interested in jumping into the space we were trying to open. If the U.S. is this willing to treat climate change as politics-as-usual, most of the other major players will simply follow suit. They'll sign some kind of paper in Denmark -- that became all but certain on Friday night when Obama announced he'd jet in for the meeting's close. European leaders and some environmental groups may then call it a “qualified success,” and on we will go through more years of negotiation. In the meantime, physics will continue to operate, permafrost will continue to thaw, sea ice to melt, drought to spread. It’s like nothing we’ve ever faced before -- and we’re facing it as if it’s just like everything else. That’s the problem. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Hard to act against climate change 12/8/09 Ea O Ka Aina: The Story of Cap & Trade 12/6/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Power Failure 12/4/09

Hard to Act Against Climate Change

SUBHEAD: We need to emphasize that this is not some distant and intractable global warming, but a very local and rapid climate change. Image above: A ridiculous proposal by GM for a hydrogen-cell powered SUV, the Hydrogen4. This vehicle will solve nothing but making us more complacent to the need for change. From By on 1 December 2009 in Yes Magazine - ( It should be easy to deal with climate change. There is a strong scientific consensus supported by very sound data; consensus across much of the religious and political spectrum and among businesses including the largest corporations in the world. The vast majority of people claim to be concerned. The targets are challenging, but they are achievable with existing technologies, and there would be plentiful profits and employment available for those who took up the challenge.

So why has so little happened? Why do people who claim to be very concerned about climate change continue their high-carbon lifestyles? And why, as the warnings become ever louder, do increasing numbers of people reject the arguments of scientists and the evidence of their own eyes?

These, I believe, will be the key questions for future historians of the unfurling climate disaster, just as historians of the Holocaust now ask: “How could so many good and moral people know what was happening and yet do so little?”

This comparison with mass human rights abuses is a surprisingly useful place to find some answers to these questions.

In States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering, Stanley Cohen studies how people living under repressive regimes resolve the conflict they feel between the moral imperative to intervene and the need to protect themselves and their families. He found that people deliberately maintain a level of ignorance so that they can claim they know less than they do. They exaggerate their own powerlessness and wait indefinitely for someone else to act first—a phenomenon that psychologists call the passive bystander effect. Both strategies lie below the surface of most of the commonly held attitudes to climate change.

But most interesting is Cohen’s observation that societies also nego­tiate collective strategies to avoid action. He writes:

“Without being told what to think about (or what not to think about) societies arrive at unwritten agreements about what can be publicly remembered and acknowledged.”

Dr. Kari Marie Norgaard of the University of California reaches a very similar conclusion, and argues that “denial of global warming is socially constructed.” She observes that most people are deeply conflicted about climate change and manage their anxiety and guilt by excluding it from the cultural norms defining what they should pay attention to and think about—what she calls their “norms of attention.”

According to Norgaard, most people have tacitly agreed that it is socially inappropriate to pay attention to climate change. It does not come up in conversations, or as an issue in voting, consumption, or career choices. We are like a committee that has decided to avoid a thorny problem by conspiring to make sure that it never makes it onto the agenda of any meeting.

There are many different ways that the proximity of climate change could force itself onto our agendas. We already feel the impacts in our immediate environment. Scientists and politicians urge us to act. The impacts directly threaten our personal and local livelihoods. And, above all, it is our consumption and affluence that is causing it.

However, people have decided that they can keep climate change outside their “norms of attention” through a selective framing that creates the maximum distance. In opinion poll research the majority of people will define it as far away (“it’s a global problem, not a local problem”) or far in the future (“it’s a huge problem for future generations”). They embrace the tiny cluster of skeptics as evidence that “it’s only a theory,” and that “there is still a debate.” And they strategically shift the causes as far away as possible: “I’m not the problem—it’s the Chinese/rich people/corporations.” Here in Europe we routinely blame the Americans.

In all of these examples, people have selected, isolated, and then exaggerated the aspects of climate change that best enable their detachment. And, ironically, focus-group research suggests that people are able to create the most distance when climate change is categorized as an “environmental” problem.

If we take a step back we can see that the impacts of climate change are so wide-ranging that it could equally well be defined as a major economic, military, agricultural, or social rights issue. But its causes (mainly pollution from burning fossil fuels) led it to be bundled with the global “environmental” issues during the United Nations Conference on

Environment and Development in 1992. From that point on it has been dealt with by environment ministers and environment departments, and talked about in the media by environmental reporters.

The issue was then championed by environmental campaigners who stamped it indelibly with the images of global wildlife and language of self abnegation that spoke to their own concerns. The What To Do About Itcurrent messaging of climate change—the polar bears, burning forests, calls to “live simply so others may simply live” and ‘‘go green to save the planet”—has been filtered through a minority ideology and worldview.

Thus, within a few years, the issue had been burdened with a set of associations and metaphors that allowed the general public to exclude it from their primary concerns (“I’m not an environmentalist”), as could senior politicians (“environment is important but jobs and defense are my priority”).

Progressive civil society organizations also avoided the issue because of its environmental connotations. Two years ago I challenged a senior campaigner with Amnesty International, the world’s largest human rights organization, to explain why Amnesty did not mention climate change anywhere on its website. He agreed that it is an important issue but felt that Amnesty “doesn’t really do environmental issues.” In other words it was outside their “norms of attention.”

Far more aggressive responses that stigmatize environmentalists create further distance. In a 2007 interview, Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryan Air, the world’s largest budget airline, said:

“The environmentalists are like the peace nutters in the 1970s. You can’t change the world by putting on a pair of dungarees or sandals. I listen to all this drivel about turning down the central heating, going back to candles, returning to the dark ages. It just panders to your middle-class, middle-aged angst and guilt. It is just another way of stealing things from hard-pressed consumers.”

O’Leary’s diatribe—which could be echoed by any number of right-wing commentators in the United States—plays further on the cultural norms theme. By defining climate change as an environmental issue that can be placed firmly in the domain of self-righteous killjoys who want to take away working people’s hard-earned luxuries, his message is clear: “People like us don’t believe this rubbish.”

But, as is so often the case with climate change, O’Leary is speaking to far more complex metaphors about freedom and choice. Climate change is invariably presented as an overwhelming threat requiring unprecedented restraint, sacrifice, and government intervention. The metaphors it invokes are poisonous to people who feel rewarded by free market capitalism and distrust government interference. It is hardly surprising that an October 2008 American Climate Values Survey showed that three times more Republicans than Democrats believe that “too much fuss is made about global warming.” Another poll by the Canadian firm Haddock Research showed half of Republicans refuse to believe that it is caused by humans.

This political polarization is occurring across the developed world and is a worrying trend. If a disbelief in climate change becomes a mark of someone’s political identity, it is far more likely to be shared between people who know and trust each other, becoming ever more entrenched and resistant to external argument.

This being said, climate change is a fast-moving field. Increasingly severe climate impacts will reinforce the theoretical warnings of scientists with far more tangible and immediate evidence. And looking back at history there are plentiful examples of times when public attitudes have changed suddenly in the wake of traumatic events—as with the U.S. entry into both world wars.

In the meantime there is an urgent need to increase both the level and quality of public engagement. To date most information has either been in the form of very dry top-down presentations and reports by experts or emotive, apocalyptic warnings by campaign groups and the media. The film An Inconvenient Truth, which sat somewhere between the two approaches, reinforced the existing avoidance strategies: that this was a huge and intractable global issue. The film was carried by the charm and authority of Al Gore, but this reliance on powerful celebrities also removes power from individuals who are, let us remember, all too willing to agree that there is no useful role they can play.

It is strange that climate communications seem to be so deeply embedded in this 19th-century public lecture format, especially in America, which leads the world in the study of personal motivation. Al Gore, after all, lost a political campaign against a far less qualified opponent whose advisors really understood the psychology of the American public.

How people get involved

How can we energize people and prevent them from passively standing by?

We must remember that people will only accept a challenging message if it speaks to their own language and values and comes from a trusted communicator. For every audience these will be different: The language and values of a Lubbock Baptist will be very different from those of a Berkeley Liberal. The priority for environmentalists and scientists should be to step back and enable a much wider diversity of voices and speakers.

We must recognize that the most trusted conveyors of new ideas are not experts or celebrities but the people we already know. Enabling ordinary people to take personal ownership of the issue and talk to each other in their own words is not just the best way to convince people, it is the best way to force climate change back into people’s “norms of attention.”

And finally we need to recognize that people are best motivated to start a journey by a positive vision of their destination—in this case by understanding the real and personal benefits that could come from a low-carbon world. However, it is not enough to prepare a slide show and glossy report vision that just creates more distance and plays to the dominant prejudice against environmental fantasists.

People must see the necessary change being made all around them: buildings in entire neighborhoods being insulated and remodeled, electric cars in the driveway, and everywhere the physical adaptations we need to manage for the new weather conditions.

If the U.S. government has one strategy, it should be to create such a ubiquity of visible change that the transition is not just desirable but inevitable. We need to emphasize that this is not some distant and intractable global warming, but a very local and rapid climate change, and we need to proclaim it from every solar-panel-clad rooftop.

America the Immaculate

SUBHEAD: Obama is continuing a policy that the Pentagon has given name to - Full Spectrum Dominance. Image above: Illustration for article on subject. From By James Rothenberg on 7 December 2009 in Countercurrents - ( Something strange happened recently, but then something strange always happens after a war speech. It involves the reaction to Obama’s announcement that he is sending an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. The pundits, the carrier of the infection between Washington and the public, appear with the predictability of a natural phenomenon. For instance, CNN had sixteen people at once on their set in the wake of the speech. This show of force – like that of the coverage of our Olympiad election pageants – is commensurate with the solemnity which we are to attach to the president’s “deeply considered” decision to wage further war. It’s fascinating to watch the pundits at work, one eye on the clock, one eye on their laptops, and both eyes trying to catch the attention of the show host like impatient kindergarteners. The advent of TV was supposed to deemphasize speech, in favor of sight, but the reverse happened. Radio valued silence, but TV dreads it, and without some silence – space between words – imagination cannot flourish. But that’s the idea. The show was all we’ve come to expect from America’s properly educated. The hosts kept the level of excitement up. The pundits finessed every nuance of the story, but the competition was fierce. Who will be seen as the wisest of the wise? The air is filled with the riffs of these hires and nobody – BUT NOBODY – notices that it’s a war crime to invade a country. Question: How many pundits would it take before there is a probability that a radical view will be heard? Answer: Coming. The CNN episode is an example of what appears across the entire public relations spectrum. The more influential the source, the more it figures to appear. From network TV, to NPR, to the editorial room of the New York Times. Each claims to be operating freely. Each never crosses a certain line. War crimes are not that difficult to spot, that is from an objective perspective. An observing Martian, schooled in international law, might reach the conclusion that crimes occur willy nilly and cross-directionally. There is no preferred direction. We know this is not the terrestrial case. Objectivity hasn’t a chance. What we recognize as a war crime depends wholly upon who is doing it to who. It is axiomatic that the U.S. cannot commit war crimes. To question this axiom is to reveal your stunning ignorance of national mythology, immediate disqualification for pundit status. So the answer to the pundit question is ∞. It would take an infinite number of pundits because the terms, pundit and radical, cancel out. But there are not an infinite number of reasons why we go to war. It’s always the same reason. Material gain. Unless you really are acting in self-defense. Self-defense is the ONLY good excuse for war. Naturally that is why we always use it. Presently, we are the only country in the world defending itself in Iraq. We defend ourselves in Afghanistan, like we defended ourselves in Mexico, Cuba, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and even Panama and Grenada. When the president is deeply considering whether to expand the war in Afghanistan, are we to assume that these considerations do not extend to the immense oil and natural gas reserves in the Caspian basin? I think not, because to suggest otherwise is to draw no conclusions from historical experience. Or to see no correspondence between Dick Cheney’s still-secret energy meetings and our invasion and occupation of Iraq. “We’re fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here”. This is a marvelous propaganda line. It frightens and it rouses. It’s much better than “freedom isn’t free”, which is a touch abstract. The success of this exploitation of taking the fight to “them” is manifest in the sluggish response of a public that tolerates daily atrocities that happen to a suitable people at a suitable distance. Einstein built upon Newton, and in a non-literal sense, the public confirms Einstein. There is no action at a distance. To be disappointed in Obama’s decision is to have misread the signs of his establishment conformity. Change comes from revolution, and he is no revolutionary. It is also to have misread the empirical nature of our election system. A candidate, in order to be seriously considered as nominee for either the Republican or the Democratic faction of the Establishment Party, must already have clearly signaled that he/she is no threat to the basic order that endures through many a presidential lifetime. Presidents come and go, but the ship of state must be kept at smooth sail. It is the job of the politician to rally the public around already formed policy. Many tools are available for this. The best is the most benign, persuasion, and its sometimes veiled component, bribery. When that fails, there is always force. Accordingly, we pin medals on those who fight, and jail those who refuse. The freedoms Americans operate under may make the concept of force, used against citizens, seem somewhat oblique (unless you’re a Black Panther). We don’t live in a totalitarian society, we don’t live in a police state, and we don’t live under military rule. Many do. We don’t. But control of the people is just as important to a democracy as it is to an autocracy and while the soft methods are vastly preferred, the hard methods must be kept in ready. So far the gatekeepers have been adept at controlling the American people. For the most part, the people control themselves, willingly. The armed TSA guards at airports are a nice touch, but people will line up like sheep and take their shoes off for a lot less. Fear is to be feared for fear itself. Soon the public will long for the protection of a national identity card that insulates the “here” from the “there”. Obama is continuing a policy that the Pentagon has given name to: Full Spectrum Dominance. That’s everything! Land, sea, air, space, biological, cyber. That’s the way we maintain the disparity between what “we” have, and what “they” have. From the middle of the last century, when we began coveting Middle East oil, control of energy resources became a vital part of our economic and political strategy. And this was when supply seemed inexhaustible, long before the bleak “peak oil” scenario appeared! Controlling the world’s energy resources is key to maintaining this position of dominance, that and a strong military. It’s no coincidence that our military is globally positioned along the sights of proven oil and gas reserves. The state makes policy. The people have to live it out. Alert! State to people! Don’t trouble your consciences when we’re off obliterating foreign countries and the foreign lives in them. Just remember to cough up some of that good old-fashioned patriotism, support the troops, and go to sleep thanking God for blessing America with freedom and democracy. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Full Spectrum Dominance 7/12/09

Building Resilience

SUBHEAD: Helping all of our communities become more resilient in the face of peak oil, climate change, and economic contraction. Image above: Projects presented by the website. By Aaron Lehmer on 5 December 2009 in Earth Island Institute - (

The current economic downturn is the worst in decades. Millions are suffering devastating losses – vanishing jobs, foreclosed homes, and soaring food and health costs. Meanwhile, climate instability, species extinction, resource scarcity, and toxic pollution are threatening the basic life-support systems of the planet. And let’s be honest: All of these are traceable to the grow-at-all-costs economy. We’re finally running up against – if not far surpassing – the limits of our planet.

And yet, the primary ecological challenges of our time remain largely off people’s radar, due partly to corporate dominance over our media, culture, and government. But we environmentalists also share in the blame. All too often, we’ve focused on endangered species and ecosystems, and failed to connect their protection to the well-being of people or communities. In a world with fewer resources to go around, the future of environmentalism may hinge on making it synonymous with building sustainable communities that can meet everyone’s basic needs.

The End of Cheap Oil

In recent decades, we’ve sacrificed environmental health and community well-being for the sake of convenience, consumption, and accumulated wealth, mostly to benefit the rich. Despite mounting awareness of the dangers, our dependency on fossil fuels continues unabated – rendering our global climate increasingly unstable, and potentially lethal. What’s more, we are now dangerously dependent on far-flung regions to supply us with manufactured goods and fossil fuels to grow our food, power our vehicles and buildings, and maintain our high-tech health system.

A growing chorus of reputable energy analysts and geologists is now warning that our insatiable appetite for oil will soon outstrip supply, if it hasn’t already. We’ve been finding less oil each year, while finding more ways to burn it. The result? We’ll soon be forced to power our societies using ever-diminishing supplies, year after year.

But what about other resources? No alternative source or combination of sources is capable of replacing oil at anywhere near the same energy intensity, flow rate, or overall volume to which we’ve grown accustomed. And as oil supply declines, we can expect the economy to contract as well.

In early 2009, even the normally conservative International Energy Agency warned that the world is headed for a catastrophic energy crunch by 2020, thanks to the plummeting output of the world’s major oil fields. Given that oil is the lifeblood of industrial civilization, learning to make do with less of it while transitioning to renewable energy is now all the more urgent.

A Shrinking Economy

Unfortunately, almost no one in high office is talking about adapting to a contracting economy – much less one that’s more locally and regionally self-reliant and able to supply everyone’s basic needs. But that’s the kind of fundamental shift we must accept, prepare for, and shape to our own regional conditions if we ever hope to thrive within the post-petroleum, climate-ravaged economy that’s coming.

Green-jobs champion Van Jones has helped build a powerful movement behind a vision of a dynamic solar-powered economy that lifts all boats. And yet, in his book The Green-Collar Economy, even Jones insists that now is not the time to challenge the growth economy. Instead, he believes that activists today must make smart “minimum demands,” like Green Jobs for All, that can inspire the masses to join the cause.

If we had the resources and time, it might make sense to hold off on directly challenging the growth economy. But with multiple and increasingly dire threats all coming to a head, the idea that we can continue to grow our way into a better economy (green or otherwise) is not only dishonest – it’s also dangerous. By confining our vision to “green growth” demands, we will further compromise the earth’s life support systems and jeopardize the quality of life for future generations. What’s worse, by clinging to growth, we’ll continue to give short-shrift to transformative solutions such as localizing our economies and phasing out fossil fuels from our food, water, energy, transportation, housing, and health systems – moves that will only remain viable while we still have the resources to invest in them.

Resilience for All

Differences aside, Jones’ call for an ecologically sound future in which all of us can thrive deserves our firm support. As economic and ecological crises mount, low-income people and communities of color are feeling the impacts first and worst. At the same time, punishing cuts in education, health care, and transit services are only adding insult to injury. With less assistance to weather these challenges, disenfranchised communities must be empowered to cultivate their own assets – building up local resources and equipping themselves with vital skill sets to provide for their own needs.

We at Bay Localize believe that all of our communities must become more resilient. We define resilience as a community’s ability to withstand and quickly recover from difficult situations and hard times. Toward that end, we are working to build a sustainable, self-reliant, and socially just (San Francisco) Bay Area where everyone can meet their basic needs with dramatically less fossil fuel. Resilient communities use their assets in creative ways to meet their needs, no matter the circumstances. They can build resilience in the long term based on four criteria:

  • Equity of access to basic goods and services for everyone, especially in tough times.
  • Quality of basic goods and services, especially food, water, and energy.
  • Sustainability in the production and distribution of basic goods and services, respecting the natural limits and regenerative cycles of our local watersheds.
  • Community ownership of resources to ensure that basic goods and services are provided to all.

By advocating for policies and projects that catalyze the emergence of a regionally focused economy, we believe we can help increase the livability of all Bay Area communities and serve as a model to inspire other regions. As a first step toward helping all of our communities become more resilient in the face of peak oil, climate change, and economic contraction, Bay Localize is advancing flexible tools and models that groups and governments can implement locally.

In September, Bay Localize launched a Community Resilience Toolkit designed to help groups build ecological, economic, and social resilience in their communities while decreasing reliance on fossil fuels (see Hundreds of groups around the world are already using the toolkit.

In collaboration with Movement Generation and People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), Bay Localize also built a rooftop veggie garden in the heart of San Francisco and led a workshop for POWER’s members, providing them with the skills they’ll need to grow their own food, and showcasing the potential of urban agriculture. At San Francisco’s Green Festival, we hosted a panel discussion entitled “Resilience for All,” showcasing the efforts of a broad cross section of Bay Area organizers who are working across race and class on campaigns to prepare our communities for a post-carbon world.

Part of making local communities more resilient is catalyzing the shift from fossil fuels to renewables. We believe this transition can improve the quality of life for low-income communities and people of color who suffer disproportionately from exposure to pollutants from gas-fired power plants, petroleum refineries, and congested freeways. To that end, in partnership with the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, our Local Clean Energy Alliance won a major victory in July 2009 by getting the Oakland City Council to vote unanimously in favor of groundbreaking greenhouse gas reduction targets that are among the boldest in the nation. Now, we are working to ensure that Oakland adopts climate action policies that create good-paying green-collar jobs, slash pollution, and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. The Alliance is building power regionally to ramp up energy efficiency and access to renewable energy.

Through these and other efforts, a growing network of leaders is coming together to build a truly inclusive and equitable movement for regional self-reliance. We’ve begun sharing diverse strategies to address the deepening challenges ahead, and are also forging key partnerships across organizations to build trust, solidarity, and power among communities working for racial justice and ecological sanity.

Building truly resilient communities will be difficult, and at times positively wrenching. The good news is that moving away from fossil fuel dependency will create millions of new opportunities to rebuild our local energy grid, food system, transportation network, and regional infrastructure. If we do this in ways that empower all of our communities, we can dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone.

Aaron G. Lehmer is the Co-founder and Network Development Director of Bay Localize, an Oakland-based nonprofit working to build a stronger, more self-reliant Bay Area. Visit for more info.

Climate, Oil, War & Money

SUBHEAD: On all these issues American knuckleheads are clinging to a fantasy of reality. Image above: FOX-NEWS? No, a scene from a 1950's TV show featuring Knucklehead Smiff and Jerry Mahoney (with pie in face). From By James Kunstler on 7 December 2009 in - ( CLIMATE Against a greater welter and flow of incoherence jerking the nation this way and that way en route to collapse comes "ClimateGate," the latest excuse for screaming knuckleheads to defend what has already been lost. It is also yet another distraction from the emergency agenda that the United States faces - namely the urgent re-scaling, re-localizing, and de-globalizing of our daily activities.
What seems to be at stake for the knuckleheads is their identity, their idea of what it means to be an American, which boils down to being an organism so specially blessed and entitled that it is excused from paying attention to reality. There were no doubt plenty of counterparts among the Mayans when the weather changed and their crops failed, and certainly the Romans had their share of identity psychotics who doubted reality even when Alaric the Visigoth was hoisting off their household treasure.
Reality doesn't care if we are on-board with its mandates or not. The human race has to get with whatever program reality is serving up at a particular time. Are we shocked to learn that scientists fight among themselves and cheat as much as congressmen? Does that really change the relationships we understand about parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere and the weather?
What the people of the world can do or will do about a change in climate is something else. My guess is that the undertow of entropy is now too great to provoke any meaningful unified change in behavior. The collapse of the US economy is too close to the horizon, and the so-called developing nations will have problems equally severe. In the meantime, it is unlikely that any of the major players will burn less coal and oil, or not cheat on each other even if they pledge to burn less. People who are not knuckleheads will make the practical arrangements that they can. These will, by definition, be localized, small-scale, and non-global communities, doing what they would have to do anyway.
OIL A parallel identity mania afflicts those who have decided that the Bakken shale oil deposits and the Marcellus gas play will allow the USA to cancel any modifications to our living arrangements. This cohort of knuckleheads wants to believe the public relations of the oil and gas industry, and in particular the bankers who are arranging the financing for these ventures. The facts are irrelevant to their identity-claims (that the USA has limitless energy resources). In fact, the Bakken shale formation is unlikely to produce more than a few hundred thousand barrels of oil a day in a nation used to burning about twenty million. A few hundred thousand might mean a lot if were only used to light kerosene lamps, but it is unlikely to keep the faithful motoring off to WalMart and Walt Disney World - which is the exact expectation of the knuckleheads.
Shale gas is a similar story. It will be too expensive to get out of the tight rock at a flow that will allow business as usual to continue. It certainly won't be produced at under $10 a unit, and the nation's comprehensive bankruptcy accelerates every day, making it less likely that the public can pay premium prices within the framework of our current living arrangements.
WAR Who the hell really knows what we're up to in Afghanistan. President Obama tried to present a coherent explanation last week but, frankly, it all just seemed an exercise in futility - and reminded me of those countless wealth-sapping expeditions the Roman army made to the frontiers of their own empire during the period of collapse. Paul Craig Roberts, the former Reagan treasury official turned fierce critic of bail-out economics, said on a podcast last week, that he thought our adventure there was about protecting a Unocal oil company pipeline from Turkmenistan. Sorry, Paul. I can't buy that. Like, we're going to post soldiers every two hundred yards across some of the most forbidding terrain in world? And keep them posted there, and provisioned... forever? I don't think so.
One pet theory of mine about the Af-stan adventure is that we wanted to make a baloney sandwich out of Iran by posting armies on both sides of them, with Iraq and Af-stan as the Wonder Bread. All I can say about that is that it doesn't seem to have affected Iran much during the past six years, or modified or influenced their behavior favorably. Or perhaps it just allows us to stand close by to Pakistan, in case the Islamic maniacs get their mitts on central power there - and by extension, on a bagful of nukes. It's a lot less easy to believe that we have any prospects for really domesticating and/or democratizing Af-stan itself. And even if we do manage to suppress the Taliban for a few years, are we prepared to continue the mission... forever? As soon as we're out of there, the Afghanis are back to tribal business-as-usual. So why not just bail while the bailing is good? Make like the Russians and the Brits before them and cut our losses? Is our prestige at stake? And by extension our identity as world-savers?
I suppose this leads to larger questions of a.) the stability of Islamic Central Asia in general, and b.) the capabilities and intentions of the maniacs within it who would like inflict punishment on us Western crusader types. One popular theory, of course, is that they only feel that way because of our intrusions in the Islamic Ummah; that they would back off and mind their own business if we would just quit sending our knights over there. I have no idea if this is true, though one would suppose there is a certain inertia in play that would keep their animosities at work for a long time to come, not to mention the millions of under-employed young men who seek to work off their testosterone by blowing things up.
MONEY One thing you can state pretty categorically about the Af-stan war: it sure is a good way to blow an additional one trillion dollars worth of capital - that is, money we lend to ourselves, which leads to the next link-in-the-chain: the destiny of our national finances. If a clerk at H and R Block sat down for an hour with Uncle Sam, he'd surely be reaching for the Pepto-Bismol after five minutes. We've been able to play games with ourselves for a whole year about the true state of our capital resources. It is a mighty big system, kept chugging along on little more than inertia, as things will when they are headed downhill and gravity exerts its influence. But it begins to seem now like a great reeking freight train of toxic waste out-of-control on the downgrade and headed for a very nasty smash-up. The Green Shoots crowd - a sub-category of identity maniacs, who think the USA is immune to the laws of history and physics - has made common cause with the oil and climate knuckleheads to proclaim that we are returning to normal, back to the "consumer" orgy, the suburban sprawl nexus of McHousing and miracle mortgages, and new frontiers of corporate profit-raking.
They are tragically wrong. Instead, we're headed into the wildest king-hell debt workout that the world has ever seen, which will propel a lot of people used to working in air-conditioned cubicles into a world made by hand. We march day by day into the great holiday season with mortgages going unpaid and the credit cards getting cancelled and money disappearing and the fears and grievances mounting. Pretty soon, the folks doing "God's work" at Goldman Sachs (and their tribal kin on Wall Street) will announce their annual bonuses (because they are publicly-held companies, which have to do so). Won't that be a galvanizing moment for us all?

Bikepath should be here!

SUBHEAD: It is not too late to do the right thing with the bike path through Wailua, keep it off the beach!

By Judy Dalton & Brad Parsons on 6 December 2009 in Island Breath - 

Image above: Computer graphic collage by Juan Wilson from photos by Brad Parsons. Image titled "View of mauka route for Bikepath along the existing road following the canal."
 Aloha friends of Kaua'i, On Monday evening, December 7th, the fate of one of the island's most notable beaches will be at stake - Wailua Beach. Building a 14 feet wide boardwalk to serve as a recreational multi-use/bike path will put the beach at unnecessary risk. Hawai'i is losing and will continue to lose many of its beaches erosion and sea level rise.

Imposing a structure on the beach at Wailua will stress the natural beach process and eventually threaten its existence. We must ask ourselves, "Am I willing to sacrifice a beach so I can ride my bike on it?" Wailua Beach, also known as Mahunapu`uone (meaning "the sand dunes that conceal the bones"), is considered by the Hawaiians to be the most culturally, historically and spiritually significant not only on Kauai, but in the Hawaiian Island chain.

Building a boardwalk on the beach would be a profound insult to the Native Hawaiians. Why would development here be considered when it has become very evident that it would be hurtful to so many people who want to keep the beach intact and protect the iwi of their ancestors? At this point, it appears that the county is planning to build the path on Wailua Beach, despite recommendations by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to keep it off the beach unless large numbers of people attend the meeting and ask the Mayor to change his mind.

New information shows the importance of protecting the beach and respecting the mana`o of the Hawaiian kupuna, which was mis-interpreted by The Path consultants. There is a very viable alternative to the path being on the sandy beach at Wailua, which was included in the Environmental Assessment (EA). It's a mauka route on an existing road along a scenic canal behind Coco Palms, on land belonging to the county. There seems to be some confusion and misunderstanding about the path alternatives and the assumptions/questions below which are clarified by the responses.

1. "If the mauka route is chosen that would cause an additional highway crossing, wouldn't it?"


The only difference is that the highway crossing on the beach route would be at Lanikai Street, and the highway crossing on the mauka route would be at the existing light at Kuamo'o Road. In addition,

IF THE ROUTE ON WAILUA BEACH IS USED, A NEW TRAFFIC LIGHT ON THE HIGHWAY WOULD BE ADDED at Lanaikai Street causing more stop and go in this congested section of the highway.

2. "The beach route would provide access to the beach access." There is ALREADY access to the beach. The two parking lots presently located on either end of the beach will continue to exist if either route is chosen.

 3. "I'm not sure if I want to walk or ride a bike on a path along a canal." BOTH routes go along the canal. The beach route, continuing north along Papaloa Road, turns on Lanikai Street crosses the highway, where a new traffic light would have to be added. It then cuts across land on the mauka side of the highway and along the canal following it on to Foodland. The mauaka route would go alongside the canal starting from a road behind Coco Palms and continue to Foodland, as well. See pictures of the scenic canal route behind Coco Palms at end of this letter.

 4. "Wouldn't it hold up completion of the path if the mauka route is used?" No. Since the mauka route was listed in the EA as one of the alternate routes, getting it approved would take could take just 2 or 3 months and cause no delay in the overall project. The path can't connect to points south until the bridge over Wailua River is completed which will take at least a year. 5. "If the road behind Coco Palms is used it would cause more disturbance to burials."

No, the Wailua Drainage Canal roadway is an ALREADY EXISTING ROAD behind Coco Palms connecting Kuamo'o Road with Haleilio Road and was used by cars for several years. The section of path coming off the bridge would go cross the highway at Kuamo'o Road and continue along the road (which is being widened) to connect with the mauka route and avoids disrupting cultural sites in the area. By not placing the path on the beach it prevents disturbing cultural sites on the beach while keeping the beach intact in its natural state.

The recent letter from the State Historic Preservation Dept states that cultural sites would be affected, yet those sites are actually a considerable distance away from the mauka path. Their letter stands in sharp contrast with OHA's letter. 6. "The path on the beach would be on dirt and not sand, right?" No. The path on the beach would be on top of flat sand dunes, currently covered with plants. The sand dunes are vital to preservation of the beach as they store sand for future beach replenishment. 7. "Upon crossing Haleilio Road, the mauka path would displace people living in their homes." Not so.

There's one house on commercial property that's been for sale over a year and unoccupied. There are two additional empty lots to obtain easements that are also for sale. 8. "We will lose the $4.2 million incentive money if we don't put the path on the beach."

Not true, provided the money is used anywhere on Phase 3 by March 2, 2010 as confirmed by the Department of Transportation. For more photos of the alternative path route mauka of the old Coco Palms Hotel see:

If you want to protect Wailua Beach and support native Hawaiian culture, please come out on Monday, December 7th at 6:00pm at the Kauai Peace & Freedom Convention Center on Hardy Street in Lihue.

To read a request from kanaka maoli to attend the meeting, visit:

See also:
Ea O Ka Ania: Last Chance For Wailua 12/2/09

Kauai on Google Earth

SUBHEAD: Island Breath offers preview of Ahupuaa map of Kauai for use with GoogleEarth software.

 By Juan Wilson on 6 December 2009 for Island Breath -  

Image above: Screen shot of the Halelea Moku on the north shore of Kauai from GoogleEarth.

Since 2007 two Island Breath editors (Jonathan Jay and myself) have been working with the Aha Keole Council, and others to establish a map of the traditional Hawaiian land divisions of Moku and Ahupuaa (roughly bio-regions and major wastersheds respectively). In November 2008 we published our efforts and the Kauai Ahupuaa-Moku map became the Aha Keole Council representation of our islands land management areas. Since then we have refined those boundaries with further analysis and heavy use of GoogleEarth aerial photography and 3D topography.

We are now providing a preliminary release of this newer map for comments. If you have at recent version of the GoogleEarth application on your computer you can use a network link to the Kauai Moku-Ahupuaa map is availablefor downloading. Click on the link to the the ZIP file (

After you have the ZIP file in your downloads folder (directory) unzip it and open the resulting KML file with GoogleEarth. When the link loads the Kauai data into GoogleEarth you can see the full details of the efforts to date. The IslandBreath server will automatically update the linked data as changes are made. Keep in mind that the these Moku and Ahupuaa of the island of Kauai are all separate entities an can be turned on or off independently. Moreover, you own information can be added, saved and shared. That information can be emailed to IslandBreath and be evaluated and incorporated into further detailing of the Kauai map.

Collaboration and many more things are possible with this flexible way of sharing knowledge. The details concerning the linked information is as follows: Use: Non-commercial use of this information is permitted if you credit those who organized and developed it. These Kauai land identifications were determine and put in GoogleEarth format by:  

Juan Wilson - Architect/Planner with the assistance of:  
Jonathan Jay - Designer in association with:
The Aha Kiole Council of Hawaii, and contributions from:  

The Kauaian Institute. Criteria:
The Moku divisions are derived from Kalama Map (1837), applied over Hawai`i DBEDT GIS watershed data. The Ahupua`a divisions are based on traditional descriptions of location, with boundaries modified to follow watershed ridges and streams/rivers from DBEDT data. Where conflicts arose between traditional descriptions, DBEDT data and USGS 7.5ยบ topological maps, we used Kauai Historical Society documents and coordination with GoogleEarth imaging and 3D countouring data.

Area names are written in standard ASCII text without traditional Hawiian accent marks. Area measurements and perimeter lengths are only approximations and will be updated shortly for greater accuracy. Users are responsible themselves for verifying the information in this file. All rights reserved. © 2009 by Revision 2.3 on 10 December 2009 Below is a preview of the GoogleEarth Ahupuaa layer of information (without Moku).

You will need the GoogleEarth plugin to see the map. You will see a link to the plugin if you do not have it. With the preview below you do not have the ability to turn on and of individual Ahupuaa and Moku but you can fly over the terrain and click on an Ahupuaa to see its current data or double-click on and Ahupuaa to zoom to its view from the ocean to the mountain.

See also:
Island Breath: Mokupuni O Hawaii Nei 1/30/12
Island Breath: Moku-Ahupuaa Divisions of Kauai 12/2/08
Island Breath: Kauai Land Use Sustainability Plan 11/1/08
Island Breath: Kauai Okana Districts 3/27/08
Island Breath: Kauai District Meeting 12/1/07
Island Breath: Kauai District Proposal 6/13/07
Island Breath: Planning by Hawaiian Land Divisions 4/23/06

The Story of Cap & Trade

SUBHEAD: Cap and trade is made simple in this film from US sustainability activist Annie Leonard.

Video above: "The Story of Cap & Trade". From By Brian Thurston on 1 December 2009 in Triplepundit - (

They’re at it again – the creative team who brought you the wildly popular Story of Stuff are following up with “The Story of Cap and Trade: Why You Can’t Solve a Problem With the Thinking That Created It.”

Building on the momentum of The Story of Stuff (over 8 million views to date) Annie Leonard and Free Range Studios have teamed up with Climate Justice Now! and the Durban Group for Climate Justice to bring what is to be the first of six short films in the coming year.

Many prominent scientists, politicians and business interests have been on opposing ends of the cap and trade discussion for a long time. Leonard acknowledges that some very smart people (some of them her friends) support cap and trade, but she isn’t convinced. (read on to watch the video)

The Story of Cap and Trade, not unlike The Story of Stuff, hopes to serve as an educational tool to illuminate the shortcomings of this strategy and spark debate surrounding this key component in the climate legislation conversation.

Cap and trade is nothing new, and the EPA has implemented several of these programs with varying degrees of success. The strategy is simple – cap the amount of pollutant (in this case, carbon) that people can emit, pass out pollution permits (a set amount that will decrease year to year), give credits where people reduce, and then allow polluters to purchase credits to make up the difference.

Sounds simple, right? Hey, it worked for acid rain, right? Not so fast. Story of Cap and Trade paints a different picture, one with uncertainty and a less than equal playing field. The film contends that you have to look deeper into the carbon market’s flaws – because the “devil is in the details.”

The first major “devil” they site is the idea of pollution permits. Critics of cap and trade point out that the very idea of the highest emitters receiving the most permits for “free” is counterintuitive, and we only have to look at the performance of the European trading system for evidence that this doesn’t work.

The second “devil” is offsets. This is where the market gets a bit scary. Even in their most simple form, carbon reduction projects are difficult to measure. Therefore, in the complexity of this new potential multi-trillion dollar carbon market, the opportunity to game the system could be massive.

Earlier this year, Friends of the Earth published a report that focused on the growing concern of “subprime carbon.” They say that carbon trading is essentially the same as the trading of derivatives, and not unlike junk bonds or subprime mortgages, subprime carbon carries a higher risk of delivering on its value and thus is prone to price volatility. An excerpt:

In November 2008, banking giant Credit Suisse announced a securitized carbon deal that bundled together carbon credits from 25 offset projects at various stages of UN approval, sourced from three countries and five project developers. These assets were then split into three portions representing different risk levels and sold to investors, a process known as securitization.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the above scenario and language used to describe it, sound frighteningly familiar to what precipitated the most recent market crash…

The third and perhaps most destructive “devil” is that of distraction. By putting so much emphasis on cap and trade, people are distracted by the real challenges and solutions.

So what are some solutions the film offers? Well, the same ones we’ve known about for years – notably, a clean energy economy and paying our “ecological debt.” They contend that any system that depends on cheap energy, namely coal, is as unsustainable as a system that isn’t equitable for the developing nations.

So how come we don’t learn from our mistakes? Well, to be fair, some ague that we have. With regard to the European trading system, they have since stopped giving away free permits, choosing to auction them instead and thus stabilizing the price and lowering emissions. Not so convincing however, is the argument that the Acid Rain Program is a solid example of how cap and trade will work for carbon. Critics say that this comparison (carbon vs. SO2, mainly) isn’t apples to apples, and that the complexity of the carbon issue is much larger in orders of magnitude.

So what to do, who to believe? Well we can all start by watching the Story of Cap and Trade, and then ask a bunch of questions. Leonard herself wants to “ensure that Americans and others clearly understand the solutions on the table and to inspire them to push our leaders for real solutions to climate change.” So, what do you think: Is cap and trade really a good first step, or just better than nothing?

Power Failure

SUBHEAD: Politicians are fiddling while the planet burns. What's a voter to do?

 By James Hansen on 4 December 2009 in Newsweek -

Image above: Refinery fire & explosion in Big Spring, Texas on 2/18/08. From  

Planet Earth is in imminent peril. We now have clear evidence of the crisis, provided by increasingly detailed information about how Earth responded to perturbing forces during its history and by observations of changes that are beginning to occur around the globe. The startling conclusion is that continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet but also the survival of humanity itself—and the timetable is shorter than we thought.

I believe the biggest obstacle to solving global warming is the role of money in politics, the undue sway of special interests. "But the influence of special interests is impossible to stop," you say. It had better not be. But the public, and young people in particular, will need to get involved in a major way.

"What?" you say. You already did get involved by working your tail off to help elect President Barack Obama. Sure, I (a registered independent who has voted for both Republicans and Democrats over the years) voted for change too, and I had moist eyes during his Election Day speech in Chicago. That was and always will be a great day for America. But let me tell you: President Obama does not get it. He and his key advisers are subject to heavy pressures, and so far the approach has been "Let's compromise." So you still have a hell of a lot of work ahead of you. You do not have any choice. Your attitude must be "Yes, we can."

I am sorry to say that most of what politicians are doing on the climate front is greenwashing—their proposals sound good, but they are deceiving you and themselves at the same time. Politicians think that if matters look difficult, compromise is a good approach. Unfortunately, nature and the laws of physics cannot compromise—they are what they are.

In 2001, when I spoke to Vice President Dick Cheney's cabinet-level Climate Task Force, I was more sanguine about the climate situation. It seemed that the climate impacts might be tolerable if the atmospheric carbon dioxide amount was kept at a level not exceeding 450 parts per million (ppm; thus 450 ppm is 0.045 percent of the molecules in the air). So far, humans have caused carbon dioxide to increase from 280 ppm in 1750 to 387 ppm in 2009.

During the past few years, however, it has become clear that 387 ppm is already in the dangerous range. It's crucial that we immediately recognize the need to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to at most 350 ppm in order to avoid disasters for coming generations. Such a reduction is still practical, but just barely. It requires a prompt phaseout of coal emissions, plus improved forestry and agricultural practices. We need to acknowledge now that a change of direction is urgent. This is our last chance.

How, though, can today be a critical moment when we do not yet observe great changes in climate? So far, the effects of climate change have been limited because of climate-system inertia, but inertia is not a true friend. As amplifying feedbacks begin to drive the climate toward tipping points, that inertia makes it harder to reverse direction.

Heat is pouring into the ocean, and ice shelves are starting to melt. We must remember that the human-made climate forcing—changing the planet's energy balance in a way that alters temperature—is not coming on just a bit faster than the natural forcings of the past; on the contrary, it is a rapid, powerful blow, an order of magnitude greater than any natural forcings that we are aware of.

Qualitatively different storms will occur when ice-sheet disintegration is large enough to damp high-latitude ocean warming, or even to cause regional ocean cooling, while low latitudes continue to warm. Global chaos will ensue when increasingly violent storminess is combined with sea-level rise of a meter and more. Although ice-sheet inertia may prevent a large sea-level rise before the second half of the century, continued growth of greenhouse gases in the near term will make that result practically inevitable, out of our children's and grandchildren's control.

Several uncertainties will affect the speed at which more obvious climate changes emerge. One is uncertainty about whether and how solar irradiance will change during the next few years and the next few decades. As of October 2009, the sun remains in the deepest solar minimum in the period of accurate satellite data, which began in the 1970s. It is conceivable that the sun's energy output will remain low for decades. But, contrary to the fervently voiced opinions of solar-climate aficionados, such continued low irradiance would not cause global cooling and would not stop the continued progression of global warming. Indeed, if the sun pulls out of its current minimum soon, resuming a typical solar cycle, there may be an acceleration of global warming in the next six to eight years. But what-ever happens with solar irradiance, the world is going to be warmer during the next decade than it was in the present decade, just as the present decade is warmer than the 1990s.

I am sorry to say that most of what politicians are doing on the climate front is greenwashing—their proposals sound good, but they are deceiving you and themselves at the same time. Politicians think that if matters look difficult, compromise is a good approach. Unfortunately, nature and the laws of physics cannot compromise—they are what they are.

In 2001, when I spoke to Vice President Dick Cheney's cabinet-level Climate Task Force, I was more sanguine about the climate situation. It seemed that the climate impacts might be tolerable if the atmospheric carbon dioxide amount was kept at a level not exceeding 450 parts per million (ppm; thus 450 ppm is 0.045 percent of the molecules in the air). So far, humans have caused carbon dioxide to increase from 280 ppm in 1750 to 387 ppm in 2009.

During the past few years, however, it has become clear that 387 ppm is already in the dangerous range. It's crucial that we immediately recognize the need to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to at most 350 ppm in order to avoid disasters for coming generations. Such a reduction is still practical, but just barely. It requires a prompt phaseout of coal emissions, plus improved forestry and agricultural practices. We need to acknowledge now that a change of direction is urgent. This is our last chance.

How, though, can today be a critical moment when we do not yet observe great changes in climate? So far, the effects of climate change have been limited because of climate-system inertia, but inertia is not a true friend. As amplifying feedbacks begin to drive the climate toward tipping points, that inertia makes it harder to reverse direction.

Heat is pouring into the ocean, and ice shelves are starting to melt. We must remember that the human-made climate forcing—changing the planet's energy balance in a way that alters temperature—is not coming on just a bit faster than the natural forcings of the past; on the contrary, it is a rapid, powerful blow, an order of magnitude greater than any natural forcings that we are aware of.

Qualitatively different storms will occur when ice-sheet disintegration is large enough to damp high-latitude ocean warming, or even to cause regional ocean cooling, while low latitudes continue to warm. Global chaos will ensue when increasingly violent storminess is combined with sea-level rise of a meter and more. Although ice-sheet inertia may prevent a large sea-level rise before the second half of the century, continued growth of greenhouse gases in the near term will make that result practically inevitable, out of our children's and grandchildren's control.

Several uncertainties will affect the speed at which more obvious climate changes emerge. One is uncertainty about whether and how solar irradiance will change during the next few years and the next few decades. As of October 2009, the sun remains in the deepest solar minimum in the period of accurate satellite data, which began in the 1970s. It is conceivable that the sun's energy output will remain low for decades.

But, contrary to the fervently voiced opinions of solar-climate aficionados, such continued low irradiance would not cause global cooling and would not stop the continued progression of global warming. Indeed, if the sun pulls out of its current minimum soon, resuming a typical solar cycle, there may be an acceleration of global warming in the next six to eight years. But what-ever happens with solar irradiance, the world is going to be warmer during the next decade than it was in the present decade, just as the present decade is warmer than the 1990s.

U.S. government scientists, at least those at the highest levels, cannot contradict a position taken by the president. And President Obama's assertion that he would "listen to" scientists did not mean that he would not listen, perhaps with even sharper ears, to political advisers.

When you learn of a lightly publicized agreement with Canada for a pipeline to carry oil squeezed from tar sands to the United States, when the president advocates an ineffectual cap-and-trade approach for controlling carbon emissions, when our government funnels billions of dollars to support "clean coal" while treating next-generation nuclear power almost as a pariah, you can recognize right away that our government is not taking a strategic approach to solve the climate problem.

Our planet, with its remarkable array of life, is in imminent danger of crashing. Yet our politicians are not dashing forward. They hesitate; they hang back.

Therefore it is up to you. As in other struggles for justice against powerful forces, it may be necessary to take to the streets to draw attention to injustice. Civil resistance may be our best hope. It is crucial for all of us, especially young people, to get involved. This will be the most urgent fight of our lives.

From "Storms of My Grandchildren" by James Hansen. © 2009 by James Hansen. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

• Hansen is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an adjunct professor at Columbia University and Columbia's Earth Institute, and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Excerpted from his new book, Storms of My Grandchildren.

Paradise Sinking

SUBHEAD: The abundance of renewable energy sources, such as coconut oil, the sun, the wind, and geothermal and hydro options, make the transition a no-brainer for the islands.

Image above: Lost palm trees sue to rising seas on the shores of Piul, New Guinea. From  

By Ben Bohane on3 December2009 in Haaretz -  
Piul Island, Papua New Guinea - Chief Bernard Tunim confronts the issue head-on: "We did not create global warming, but we are its first victims. The industrialized world must take decisive action at the Copenhagen summit before it is too late for everyone." Standing in knee-deep water on Piul Island, Tunim points to the decaying stump of a coconut tree nearly 200 meters offshore from the beach. "That was our shoreline only 10 or 15 years ago," he says.

"Look how the sea is eating us away. We are only a small island, the king tides have already swamped our gardens, and soon we will have to leave. The future of my island is now only for fish, not people." Piul is one of five atolls that make up the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea.

The 3,000 islanders who live on these beautiful yet vulnerable coral islands have been recognized as the world's first climate-change refugees. Preparations are being made to relocate them to Bougainville, a large mountainous island nearby, over the next year or two. For them, talk about climate change and rising seas is not an abstract concept but a hard reality. Tunim has no time for debates over whether the problem is man-made or not. Either way, the effect for him and his people is the same - they will lose their homeland. Like many islanders, he worries that the debates between scientists and climate skeptics - along with government inaction - are delaying concrete action.

Two or three times a year, king tides wash over the islands, destroying the gardens with their force and salinity. Root crops like taro and sweet potato, once the ingredients of a staple diet, can no longer be grown, and the Carteret islanders are now living on fruit, fish and food aid, mainly rice, sent by the regional government. It can be a terrifying experience to be on these low-lying atolls during a storm, when wind and seas lash their vulnerable villages. "My husband and I have had to rebuild our hut twice in the past few years because of flooding," says one woman on Han Island. "I woke up in the morning once with water rushing in, and my pots and pans floating out to sea."

Young people are ready to leave once enough land and housing has been set aside for them on Bougainville. They say they have no future here. Yet many older citizens say it is too late for them to leave their homes. They are too old to start new gardens. They prefer to "go down with the ship," they say with nervous laughter. The kastom - the traditional life - of many Pacific islanders revolves largely around the ever-present spirit world. Ancestral spirits are acknowledged and often worshiped. Part of the islanders' current trauma comes from the feeling that they will be abandoning their ancestors, including those buried in cemeteries. "The hardest thing will be to lose our sacred places, our tambu places," says Chief Paul Mika from Han Island.

"We can talk to our ancestors, and they can talk to the gods to calm the weather or bring rain when we need it. We tried using magic to stop the rising seas, but it seems not to have worked. The old gods can't hear us. Some elders blame sorcerers from other islands, or that canoes are traveling too much, or that the young people are misbehaving. Some say the old gods are angry that we are Christian now, so they are punishing us by flooding our islands." While the Catholic Church has given some of its land for resettlement on mainland Bougainville, the autonomous government there is having trouble acquiring larger tracts of land for the Carteret refugees.

Competition for land is intense throughout the region, with populations growing and most good agricultural land already in use. The Bougainville government is facing an issue that many other governments will soon face: how to relocate entire communities so they can be self-sufficient and live harmoniously with other communities. Mika looks downcast, the sense of the looming loss apparent in his face. "We will miss our island life, it is a very easygoing life here. Isolation has had its own security. Here there are no taxes, no police, no government, no mortgages ... we feel safe, we feel free here.

Now we know that our islands will soon be swept away by the sea and my people are frightened." Yet it is equally important to recognize these island communities' traditional resilience and mobility. Throughout history, islanders have moved due to various pressures, from tribal war to a lack of fresh water or fishing grounds, to the lure of Christian missions and urban life.

Climate change is just the latest challenge for islanders who know how to make the best of a bad situation and adapt - as they always have. The bright side Although island leaders are angry at the disregard industrial nations evince toward vulnerable island states, they do not wish to be seen as victims or refugees yet. Many are hoping to take advantage of the situation, sensing that billion-dollar funds are being launched by groups including the UN, the Commonwealth of Nations and the European Union.

Funds for climate change mitigation can be harnessed to achieve basic developmental needs and infrastructure. As Dr. Rolf Payet of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) said, "Solutions to climate change are also the solutions to global poverty." In fact, Pacific states are realizing that they may have a distinct advantage in the reordering of the global economy, as it moves away from a dependence on fossil fuels. Developing nations in equatorial zones have begun a concerted move toward a switch to renewable energy.

Nowhere is this more urgent than in Pacific island states, for two obvious reasons: first, because they are beginning to pay the price of climate change and need to set an example. The second reason is purely economic: The exorbitant price of fuel - likely only to keep escalating - and the abundance of renewable energy sources, such as coconut oil, the sun, the wind, and geothermal and hydro options, make the transition a no-brainer for the islands. According to most analysts, "peak" oil - the time when global petroleum extraction has reached its maximum - is already a reality, and another major oil shock and massive price spikes are not far off.

Meanwhile the capital costs of renewable-energy equipment - particularly for solar - continue to decline, making this more affordable for individuals and communities alike. Industrialized economies that run on petroleum are already feeling the pinch.

They will find it much harder to readjust to new energy sources and means of production than island states that do not have a large industrial sector, but whose economies are based largely on agriculture and tourism. Industrialized countries are increasingly looking to nuclear power to generate their baseload requirements, but this, too will prove a short-term solution, since there are finite amounts of uranium - enough to supply existing reactors for only another 50-60 years. They are merely putting off the inevitable need to harness renewables, and in the process are exposing themselves to the dangers of toxic nuclear waste (which has a half-life of 40,000 years), accidents and terrorism.

Industrialized nations need to undergo nothing less than a paradigm shift in terms of how they will need to retool their energy, transport and industrial sectors to face the challenges ahead. For island states, the transition can be much smoother as they move quickly into renewable energy power generation. Some countries are already leading the way. According to the Fiji Electricity Authority, 66 percent of that country's current power comes from renewable sources, mainly hydro power. The target is 90 percent by 2015.

Meanwhile, if Tuvalu implements its plans, it will become the world's first nation to rely exclusively on renewable energy. It hopes to use only solar power by 2020. In November, the Pacific nation of Vanuatu hosted an international conference of the "Climate Parliament," which included 30-plus MPs from small island states in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, to strategize before the looming Copenhagen summit. None of the MPs was optimistic about any concrete action emerging from the summit, since the biggest polluters, such as the U.S. and China, have so far offered only timid targets for reducing their own greenhouse-gas emissions.

Yet the summit may see a lively, even fiery, confrontation between industrialized nations and those most vulnerable to rising seas. Opening the Vanuatu meeting, Secretary General Nick Dunlop, of New Zealand, threw down the gauntlet: "Island nations need to be more radical in confronting industrialized countries.

U.S. senators are not worried about small island states, they're worried about fulfilling their obligations to the oil and gas lobby that funds them. This is about national survival for some island states, it is the moral equivalent of war. It's time to get radical."

• Ben Bohane is an Australian writer and photographer who has been writing about the Pacific region for the past 20 years.

America Without a Middle Class

SUBHEAD: Can you imagine an America without a strong middle class? If you can, would it still be America as we know it?

 By Elizabeth Warren on 4 December 2009 in The Huffington Post - 

 Image above: "The Simpsons" vs "The Family Guy". From

Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street.

Families have survived the ups and downs of economic booms and busts for a long time, but the fall-behind during the busts has gotten worse while the surge-ahead during the booms has stalled out. In the boom of the 1960s, for example, median family income jumped by 33% (adjusted for inflation). But the boom of the 2000s resulted in an almost-imperceptible 1.6% increase for the typical family. While Wall Street executives and others who owned lots of stock celebrated how good the recovery was for them, middle class families were left empty-handed.

The crisis facing the middle class started more than a generation ago. Even as productivity rose, the wages of the average fully-employed male have been flat since the 1970s.

But core expenses kept going up. By the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much (adjusted for inflation) on mortgages than they did a generation ago -- for a house that was, on average, only ten percent bigger and 25 years older. They also had to pay twice as much to hang on to their health insurance.

To cope, millions of families put a second parent into the workforce. But higher housing and medical costs combined with new expenses for child care, the costs of a second car to get to work and higher taxes combined to squeeze families even harder. Even with two incomes, they tightened their belts. Families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases -- but it hasn't been enough to save them. Today's families have spent all their income, have spent all their savings, and have gone into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, and just to stay afloat a little while longer.

Through it all, families never asked for a handout from anyone, especially Washington. They were left to go on their own, working harder, squeezing nickels, and taking care of themselves. But their economic boats have been taking on water for years, and now the crisis has swamped millions of middle class families.

The contrast with the big banks could not be sharper. While the middle class has been caught in an economic vise, the financial industry that was supposed to serve them has prospered at their expense. Consumer banking -- selling debt to middle class families -- has been a gold mine. Boring banking has given way to creative banking, and the industry has generated tens of billions of dollars annually in fees made possible by deceptive and dangerous terms buried in the fine print of opaque, incomprehensible, and largely unregulated contracts.

And when various forms of this creative banking triggered economic crisis, the banks went to Washington for a handout. All the while, top executives kept their jobs and retained their bonuses. Even though the tax dollars that supported the bailout came largely from middle class families -- from people already working hard to make ends meet -- the beneficiaries of those tax dollars are now lobbying Congress to preserve the rules that had let those huge banks feast off the middle class.

Pundits talk about "populist rage" as a way to trivialize the anger and fear coursing through the middle class. But they have it wrong. Families understand with crystalline clarity that the rules they have played by are not the same rules that govern Wall Street. They understand that no American family is "too big to fail." They recognize that business models have shifted and that big banks are pulling out all the stops to squeeze families and boost revenues. They understand that their economic security is under assault and that leaving consumer debt effectively unregulated does not work.

Families are ready for change. According to polls, large majorities of Americans have welcomed the Obama Administration's proposal for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). The CFPA would be answerable to consumers -- not to banks and not to Wall Street. The agency would have the power to end tricks-and-traps pricing and to start leveling the playing field so that consumers have the tools they need to compare prices and manage their money.

The response of the big banks has been to swing into action against the Agency, fighting with all their lobbying might to keep business-as-usual. They are pulling out all the stops to kill the agency before it is born. And if those practices crush millions more families, who cares -- so long as the profits stay high and the bonuses keep coming.

America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Going to college and finding a good job no longer guarantee economic safety. Paying for a child's education and setting aside enough for a decent retirement have become distant dreams. Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, watching as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pink slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff.
America without a strong middle class? Unthinkable, but the once-solid foundation is shaking.

• Elizabeth Warren is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard and is currently the Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel.