Ka Loko Dam Culpability

SUBHEAD: Kauai County's willful inactions precipitated the state’s liability in the fatal dam failure.  
By Andy Parx on 5 February 2010 in Parx News Daily -
Image above: Immediate aftermath of Koloko Dam failure traces torrent of water that killed seven. From (http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/03/15/news/story02.html)

Our Monday ridicule of the county’s explanation for why they paid $7.5 million in the Ka Loko Dam tragedy (3/14/06) lawsuit while the state only paid $1.5 million elicited two quite opposite responses from readers.

While one close to the story said we pretty much got it right another challenged our interpretation asking for specific references. In attempting to debunk County Attorney Al Castillo’s contention that ...
“the difference between the state’s portion of the settlement and the county’s had little to do with culpability, and instead reflected financial realities and state law regarding immunity” 

... and show it had everything in the world to do with culpability we noted that there had to be some kind of gross misconduct or even malfeasance on the part of the state to override any general immunity.

So we turned to the Hawaii Dam and Reservoir Safety Act (DRSA [§179D]) and found yes, the state has a pretty much blanket immunity regarding dams and reservoirs in that “no action or failure to act under this chapter shall be construed to create any liability in the State” [§179D-4] .

 And yes that can be overridden by “willful acts or negligence by the board or its agents” [§179D-6] in certain situations- the precise situation that occurred between the state and the county in failing to “enter upon such private property of the dam or reservoir”.

 In other words it’s even worse than we suspected in terms of culpability of the county because it seems it was indeed the county’s willful inactions that precipitated the state’s liability in the case. Those that sat through the marathon year-and-a-half “Developers Gone Wild” Kaua`i County Council grubbing and grading investigations will remember that a good deal of it dealt with asking then, Acting County Engineer Ian Costa and Chief of Engineering Division Wally Kudo why the heck they didn’t just go onto Jimmy Pflueger’s (and Tom McCloskey’s) properties and inspect them.

Though they had the legal right to do so they claimed it was a lot more difficult for them to do it than the state, needing assistance from the county attorney’s office and the courts. At that point members of the council got them to say they would try to work with the Department of and Natural Resources (DLNR) which oversees the DRSA and is specifically “authorized to enter upon such private property of the dam or reservoir as may be necessary in making, at the owner's expense, any investigation or inspection required or authorized by this chapter”.

Presuming that, under pressure from the council(and despite the interference of then Mayor Maryanne Kusaka (\who according to an internal memo from one of Kudo’s underlings squelched any action against landowner Jimmy Pflueger) Kudo and Costa contacted DLNR to have them assist them, and again presuming that the DLNR failed to assist them, as evidenced by the fact that it eventually took the federal EPA to come in and enter the property, it would seem that the state’s liability consisted entirely of a small ancillary amount of grossly negligent culpability in the county’s malfeasance and misconduct. That, if anything, makes Castillo’s contention that ...
While the County believed it had viable defenses, joint and several liability applied in this case. Had the County lost at trial with the other defendants, we could have ended up having to pay almost everything, not just the percentage the jury assigned to us.
...  even more absurd because it would seem that if anything it was the state that gambled that, by virtue of having even “deeper pockets” than the county, paying their relatively small share was better than trying to show it was entirely the county’s fault in that any “negligence” was primarily purely driven by the county’s actions and inactions.

The responsibility for the whole debacle, and therefore the deaths of the seven people who died primarily due their concerted effort to obstruct justice- seems to sit squarely in the laps of Kusaka, Costa and Kudo. According to the DRSA [§179D-8b]:
Any person who negligently or after written notice to comply, violates this chapter or any rule, order, or condition adopted, issued, or required under this chapter, or knowingly obstructs, hinders, or prevents the department's agents or employees from performing duties under this chapter, shall be guilty of a class C felony.
Why the trio are not facing criminal charges along with Pflueger is a question that must be addressed by Kusaka’s fellow Republican Linda Lingle’s Attorney General Mark Bennett who is selectively and personally prosecuting Pflueger in a trial scheduled for this summer. But the question one person who knew the seven who died rhetorically asked us recently ...

“How does Kusaka sleep at night”
... is one only she can answer. Only a true sociopath could. .

Entropy Revisited

SUBHEAD: Our nonnegotiable way of life, which is based on inexpensive and rapid movement of humans and materials, will no longer be possible. Image above: Typical scene of racing traffic on US Interstate highway. From (http://www.nextautos.com/highway-travel-declines-by-14-billion-miles-april-gas-prices-blamed) By Guy McPherson on 5 February 2010 in Nature Bats Last - (http://guymcpherson.com/2010/02/entropy-revisited)

You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game. Those kernels are my favorite descriptors of the Three Laws of Thermodynamics. Respectively, the clauses mean (1) energy is conserved (First Law), (2) entropy never decreases, thus precluding perpetual motion machines (Second Law), and (3) it is impossible to cool a system to absolute zero (Third Law). The Second Law in particular puts insurmountable, irreversible constraints on everything we do. Without the Second Law, there would be no heat losses in energy systems, and electricity would be far too cheap to meter and commodify.

One way of looking at our current set of predicaments is that we’ve been on a binge, consuming energy considerably faster than it can be captured and stored by Earth’s ecosystems. While fossil fuels once appeared limitless (and still do to deniers of peak oil), and though we’re literally bathed in energy (in the form of sunlight), the disappearance of the fossil-fuel storehouse accumulated over millions of years isn’t something that can be replaced with anything nearly as convenient as fossil fuels. Solar, wind, wave, geothermal, nuclear, and hydropower simply don’t pack the same punch as fossil fuels, either singly or in combination. In short, we’re falling off the net-energy cliff, and there’s no lifeline to grab onto, no known technology to break the fall.

Long before the Industrial Era, work such as growing food, manufacturing goods, and distributing materials was accomplished via the limited power of human muscle (the monuments of the ancient world all being built with slave labor) and draught animals. Later, water wheels and windmills enabled us to convert force into mechanical power. The steam engine and combustion engine now allow us to tap the huge energy storehouse represented by fossil fuels and perform work we could not have done before, which translates into the sudden, exponential rise in human population and rapid destruction of the natural world. The differential between muscle power and simple mechanical power versus that harnessed by the application of fossil fuels can hardly be overstated. The trend from animal slaves (including humans) to fossil-fuel slaves seems like a one-way street, considering the paucity of draught animals and sanctioned slavery relative to the human population, but it isn’t. Enslavement to fossil fuels ends when the now-abundant supply turns to scarcity, at which point radical austerity sets in.

Three attributes of fossil fuels are particularly noteworthy. First, fossil fuels — especially crude oil — have amazingly high energy density. If you’ve burned oak in a wood stove, you have witnessed the heating power of 6,000 Btu per pound. Depending on the type, coal contains 8,000–14,000 Btu per pound. The devil’s excrement blows away wood and coal at nearly 20,000 Btu per pound. Once found, coal and oil are much more convenient to extract and deliver than wood, which explains in part why so many more railroad hopper cars are filled with coal than with firewood.

The second characteristic favoring consumption of fossil fuels is energy return on investment (EROI, sometimes expressed as EROEI for energy return on energy invested). Charles Hall is the primary authority on this subject, and his primer at The Oil Drum illustrates the importance of EROI while also showing how rapidly EROI has declined for U.S. oil. Specifically, average EROI of U.S. crude oil dropped from 100:1 in the 1930s to 30:1 in 1970 and down below 20:1 today while EROI for coal has varied from 40:1 to 80:1 during the same period. Meanwhile, firewood has an EROI of about 30:1, much higher than nuclear or solar photovoltaic (PV) and about the same as hydropower (we’ve nearly run out of rivers to dam, at least in North America).

The third big issue regarding fossil fuels is their potential energy. Coal and oil are just lying underground, containing dense sums of energy, begging us to gobble it up for our own immediate use, leaving nothing behind in the quintessential capitalist game of heedless maximization (e.g., Daniel Quinn’s theory of leavers and takers). There’s no need to turn a turbine with the quaint use of wind or water to generate electricity. There’s no need to bust apart atoms through exotic, risky, and expensive means that produce the nastiest of all wastes. Insatiable vampires, we jam our fang-like straws into the ground to extract easily combusted ancient sun-blood.

It’s easy to understand why we committed to crude oil early in the industrial game. Its energy density, EROI, and convenience of combustion are irresistible. It’s small wonder, then, that we developed an entire civilization based on fossil fuels. The physics underlying the conversion of energy into heat, power, force, or work is a tangle of interrelated concepts not easily sorted out by nonscientists. However, whether various inputs and outputs are measured in watts, Btu, calories, joules, newtons, or volts, what’s clear is that civilization is currently engorged, literally feasting on fossil fuels. But it’s not anything close to a zero sum game, where resources stay constant and are only shifted around over time. Rather, the Second Law guarantees there is always a diminishing return.

Ultimately, all this points to a future in which we will be energy poor because we’ve used up the storehouse of cheap, convenient energy. In the not-so-distant future, the purportedly nonnegotiable American way of life, which is based on inexpensive and rapid movement of humans and materials via conversion of stored energy to mechanical power, will no longer be possible. Put in more immediate terms, there will soon be a time when old folks say with some nostalgia, “Oh yeah, I remember warm showers.”

Renewable Energy Stories

SUBHEAD: The ten essential renewable energy stories this week.

By Nathanael Baker on 5 February 2010 in EnergyBoom - 

Image above: Solar thermal power generation. Tower collects heat to run generator from mirror array. From (http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-vine/solar-power-24-hours-day-heres-how)  

Big winds were blowing, fast wheels were spinning, and good grades were flowing for renewable energy this week.

Early in the week it was announced that global wind power increased 31% in 2009. Although this growth was spurred by the European Union, United States and China, it was not limited to the industrial giants. Turkey, Chile, and Morocco each increased their capacity by at least 30%.

The transportation sector had some hot news with Ferrari's hybrid announcement, and electric bikes showed they are an exponentially growing market that is worth US$11 Billion worldwide.
Other renewable sectors had eye-catching news as well, and that is why we have developed this article--so you don't have to miss any of it. So, without further ado...

Here are this week's 10 Hottest Renewable Energy Stories You May Have Missed:
1. Caterpillar Delivers First Hybrid Bulldozer - The Cat D7E is Caterpillar's first hybrid bulldozer. This beast is more powerful that traditional bulldozers and also 10%-30% more efficient.

2. Wind Power Up A Whopping 31% Worldwide in 2009 - By adding 37.5 GW of new capacity in 2009, the global wind industry pushed its net worth to an estimated US$63 billion. One notable, yet unsurprising fact--China installed the most wind capacity of any country last year.

3. Ferrari Will Unveila Hybrid Model: Crazy Fuel Economy, Crazy Power, Crazy Thought - At the Geneva Auto Show in March you will be able to feast your eyes on Ferrari's first attempt at a hybrid vehicle--a lithium-ion battery powered 599 GTB Fiorano. The car has the same pop, 0-65 MPH in less than 4 seconds, but gets nearly twice as many miles to the gallon.

4. Ted Turner and Southern Company Announce Alliance for Renewable Energy Ventures - Ted Turner and Southern Company have joined forces in an effort to get in on the renewable energy bubble. The partnership's first focus: developing solar photovoltaic power in America's southwest.

5. 55 Countries Pledge Their Copenhagen Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets - The Copenhagen climate conference has been deemed a failure by many. However, that has not stopped UN member states from following through on their commitments to the Copenhagen Accord, and submitting their national greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Hope for a global deal to cut emissions remains.

6. European Union Beats Expectations, Grows Wind Power Capacity in 2009 - A new report from the European Wind Energy Association shows that the EU installed more wind power than any other source of energy last year. 39% of all new capacity installed in 2009 was wind power followed by gas (26%) and solar photovoltaics (16%).

7. Global Investments Brighten Outlook for Geothermal Energy - It looks as though 2009 was just the beginning of a sweet era for geothermal energy. Investments in geothermal grew more than any other sector last year, and it looks like the investments will continue to rise as President Obama has proposed to increase funding for geothermal energy 25% in 2011.

8. In-House Live Extraction for Algae: Turning the Corner on Biofuels - OriginOil has developed a breakthrough technology that will allow businesses and institutions to convert their carbon dioxide emissions to algae-based biofuel on their own premises.

9. Eight Teams Move on to Semi-Finals in Clean Energy Prize Competition - Colleges and Universities throughout Michigan are competing to develop business plans that promise to move their new, renewable energy technology from the laboratory to the market place. Out of 32 teams, eight remain in competition for the US$100,000 prize money.

10. Look Out: Electric Bikes Are an $11 Billion Industry - From geek to chique, electric bikes have gone from a fringe method of transportation to one of the largest growing markets in the world. China is the prime example: in less than 20 years, electric bikes have grown in number from a few thousand to 120 million.

Well, there we go, you are caught up...sort of. There have been numerous articles on EnergyBoom that did not make the cut, but are nonetheless fascinating reads. You can find them by browsing any of our technology channels or our Finance section.

Wainiha residents' legal action

SUBHEAD: Hawaiians whose building was bulldozed to take legal action against Kauai County.

By Paul Curtis on 6 February 2010 in The Garden Island - 

Image above: Shorebreak along Wainiha Bay looking east. From (http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulkelly/2990547523/)

Native Hawaiian Wainiha Bay land owners tried to obtain a temporary restraining order preventing the county from demolishing buildings the land owners say are on their land, countering the county’s claim they were illegally placed on county property.

The Native Hawaiian land owners were not able to secure the TRO in time to prevent a county bulldozer from destroying one structure Thursday that has been on the property for years, said Eleanor “Lady” Haumea and Deilon Haumea.

Their families share ownership of the beach-front land, around a third of an acre, and said more legal action is forthcoming.

Beth Tokioka, executive assistant to Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr., said Friday the county stands by its Thursday actions.

“We stand behind the due diligence we did,” and the county is fulfilling its responsibilities to take care of its lands, she said.

“If we’re in the wrong about where the (property) line is, our door is open to the Haumeas to show us otherwise,” said Tokioka, adding that county surveyors determined the demolished structures were on county land, not private property.

The Haumeas and other owners of the property have support from representatives of the Kingdom of Atooi, said Ka‘imi Hermosura, North Shore konohiki (customary chief) for the kingdom.

“They (the county) told me that the land is not ours,” said Lady Haumea, adding that there appears to be discrepancies in separate surveys conducted for the family and county.

The family survey indicates the family land is not partially underwater, as the county claims, verifying what Lady Haumea said she has known for years: that the shack that had housed family boats and fishing nets that was destroyed by the county bulldozer Thursday was and always has been on family land, not county property.

“We never moved anything. That’s the original,” there from her father’s time at least 40 to 50 years ago, said Lady Haumea, adding that the owners are current on their county real property taxes.

“I can’t understand why the county would do this. Where do we go? I don’t know where we’re going next,” she said.

“I lived here all my life. I know that land. Nothing moved,” she said. Yes, the trees have matured, she said.

Lady Haumea said she told the county officials to do what they felt they had to do on Thursday, but did say, “It’s illegal what you guys are doing.”

In addition to the fishing shack that was destroyed, also removed was a tent where her daughter had been living, she said. Lady Haumea lives in Wainiha on another piece of land near the bay, but not the same parcel where the bulldozing took place.

She said her family uses that ocean-front parcel for recreational purposes.

Deilon Haumea said he asked the county for a few more days to try to locate pins marking the four corners of the property, and that surveyors contacted to do a survey of the property didn’t arrive in time to do the survey which may have stopped the county action.

County surveyors also didn’t find the property pins, he said, a comment disputed by Tokioka.

“They just didn’t want to wait,” said Deilon Haumea, involved in real estate and foreclosures in Los Angeles but on the island now. He is Lady Haumea’s nephew, she said.

The action Thursday was all based on the county’s survey, not on any court order or judge’s order, he said.

It was an “illegal eviction, the wild, wild west way, not the way it should be done,” said Deilon Haumea, adding that the county crew treated those on the property as campers and not as land owners.

“Are we in the wild, wild west, or are we in a place with law and order?”

When told of the county’s description of Friday’s return to the property as a cleanup action, he characterized it another way: “Destroy the evidence.”

He knows the county has property adjacent to his family’s property. “It’s all hau bush. It’s a jungle,” he said of the county property, which he said was never maintained as a park.

If a portion of his family’s property is underwater as the county claims, he may seek retroactive rebates of real property taxes paid on property that if under ocean water is also uninhabitable, he said.

Hermosura said the Haumeas have asserted their mineral rights that come with the property, and a formal written request to cease the bulldozing process was given to the county and signed and sealed by Dayne Aipoalani, ali‘i nui of the Kingdom of Atooi, and signed also by Hermosura and other customary chiefs.

They have also drafted a petition in support of the family, he said.

There was no mediation, no discussion, no writs, no legal procedure involved in Thursday’s action, said Hermosura. “The county’s supposed to be for the people.”

Further, Hermosura and others in the kingdom are working to get legal representation and other help for the families, he said.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Count razes Hawaiian homes 2/5/10

Am I wearing a tinfoil hat?

SUBHEAD: The really awkward moments in a time of cataclysm. How to talk to your friends about climate change. Image above: Tinfoil hat to defend against UFO electromagnetic waves. From (http://media.photobucket.com/image/tin+foil+hat/snopesphotochallenge/50%20-%20Tin%20foil%20hat/Tinfoil.jpg?o=62) By Andrée Zaleska on 5 February 2010 in Energy Bulletin - (http://www.energybulletin.net/node/51452)

I may soon end up walking the streets of Boston with a sandwich board and a tinfoil hat. I know you’ll all remember me fondly when that day comes, and stop to say hello and maybe buy me a sandwich. But in the meantime, with my wits still somewhat collected, I’m going to tell you about my present struggles with self-expression and what I think they mean.

I was lucky to find an old friend on Facebook recently, and then to have breakfast with him in Washingon D.C., where we were both attending conferences. Eric and I spent a summer together in Nicaragua in the 80s, and now he’s a professor of physics at a reputable university, and I am someone who is building a zero-carbon house, with thick padded walls, and making it known to all and sundry that I think we’re likely headed for social collapse. It was Eric who suggested that I wear the tinfoil hat. I challenged him to a debate on the subject. Here’s my part of our email exchange, which summarizes my answer to his question “Do you really believe that we’re in a state of collapse?”

“The short answer is, yes I do, but I’d like to elaborate a bit, because I can see that you fall into a category of people in my life (friends and family), who are worried that I’ve become ungrounded and perhaps apocalyptic.

With people as educated as you, I generally just say “consider the evidence”, and leave it at that. With those I feel don’t have the interest in doing so, I change the subject. But it’s become clear that I need to be able to back myself up with facts and figures and reliable professional opinions, so I’m practicing doing that. Bear with me.

The economic crisis of last year—in which I lost 1/3 of my money which was invested in the stock market, and that was nothing compared to what I saw happen to friends and neighbors—was a major milestone in this process. The fact that the government has bailed out large banks and corporations with taxpayer money reveals the inherent corruption of the government, as does the Supreme Court decision of last week. Obama, however much we may like him, seems utterly stymied by the power of the corporate interests in government. Better heads than I have declared that we are living in a failed state. This isn’t so unusual—governments and empires collapse all the time.

I know much more about climate change than I do about the economy though, and I find the evidence that our way of life is unsustainable to be incontrovertible there. I keep up with the science pretty well, and follow the work of James Hansen, NASA climatologist, very closely. His conclusion, after years of research on glacial melting, ice-core samples, temperature data, etc., is that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 must be kept to 350 parts per million or less in order to preserve the planet as we know it.

Anything more is going to lead to runaway warming due to feedback loops (those are the natural mechanisms that accelerate warming once it’s already underway, such as melting permafrost, which releases methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas).

Runaway warming will lead to sea-level rise, ocean acidification, massive extinction (already happening), drought and catastrophic weather events, etc. Right now the CO2 is at 387 ppm, and the promises made at Copenhagen by the major emitters, to cut their emissions, are so weak that they will lead us to 770 ppm within this century. It would be arrogant to assume that we can both survive that, and continue our way of life at the same time.

I think I can safely challenge you, because I remember that you enjoy a good debate! So here’s what I would say to you, or anyone with your smarts: What makes you think we AREN’T in an early stage of collapse?”

I didn’t get a good answer to that question “What makes you think we AREN’T in an early stage of collapse?” and it didn’t surprise me much. Eric’s response was that he thought it unlikely that things would go bad all at once—he felt that positive change could happen over the course of a century or so, without great upheaval in the process. But while I had given a good deal of the evidence that I find persuasive, Eric’s reply was only a few sentences. I felt as though I was being patted on the head reassuringly.

Many, many conversations with friends and family have ended with me changing the subject, and I did it because I found I was making people uncomfortable. The people I upset are always educated. They include my father, a decorated and highly respected professor or molecular biology, who doesn’t like to see me get upset. They include my writing class, a group of journalists with multiple publication credits, one of whom said to me, angrily “I don’t know why you think that climate change is any worse than anything else! I feel like I hear about this all the time in the news. There’s a lot of stuff being done, you know—wasn’t there just a big conference in Copenhagen?” They include a good friend, reeling from a divorce and a year of unemployment and an ex with breast-cancer, who says “I know about this stuff, but I just can’t deal with it right now.” Who can?

I prowl the internet for writing by psych professionals, or anyone really, on the emotional and spiritual effects of living with the threat of cataclysm. What can we expect to see as typical reactions as the crisis progresses? What are the historical precedents? How can people work, love and parent under these circumstances? Until about two years ago, I could find almost nothing written on this subject, and I felt isolated and fearful of my own mental health.

I”m a little embarrassed to be talking about my communication problems with family and friends, but I’m doing it because I think it’s important to remember that the personal IS political.

We are all involved in creating the story of our culture, and that story can be so powerful that it obscures the evident truth. The story of this culture, that we have all been steeped in for our whole lives, is that we are entitled to thrive, prosper and grow. Growth is in fact necessary for our well-being, for our powerful status in the world, and for our capacity to help the less fortunate.

Many in this country believe that American prosperity and leadership is mandated by God. To suggest that all this success we have achieved and will achieve and seem destined to achieve, is actually failure, and will soon implode, is to contradict the story of our culture. But we can only change the story if we tell new ones.

This is an American story, and a conversation with almost any immigrant will turn it on its head. Most of the world’s poor already live in a state that we would call collapse. And even prosperous Europeans remember the Second World War in their homelands, and the countries formerly known as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and know that such disasters are possible.

I recently came across the work of Dmitry Orlov, a Russian-American who saw the Soviet Union collapse up close, and has lived in the US for many years. His work compares the collapse of the Soviet Empire to the present US economic crisis, factoring in climate change and peak oil, as well as other resource depletion. It is particularly compelling to me because I witnessed the Soviet collapse from a closer vantage point than this—I was living in Czechoslovakia in the 1990s, in a post-communist society rebuilding itself to look more like ours.

Here’s an excerpt from Orlov’s essay “Thriving in an Age of Collapse”:

“An economy collapses one person, one family, one community at a time. First the dreams evaporate: the future starts looking worse than the present, and ever more uncertain. Then people are forced to withstand ever greater indignities and privations, which they tend to accept as their personal failings. The resulting stress causes them to experience a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. Our pride, our habits and expectations, and our unwillingness to adapt can kill us faster than any physical hardship. But eventually something has to give, and even if life does not get any easier, one morning we wake up, and not only has life all around us been transformed all out of recognition, but everyone we encounter recognizes that times have changed. And we realize that none of this is about us personally, and feel better.”

“An economy collapses one person, one family, one community at a time.” Does this seem right? Can you picture unemployed friends? Whole communities losing homes to foreclosure? Families taken down by health-care costs? Detroit, maybe? Dmitry Orlov’s writing struck me with the force of plain-spoken truth, based on what I know of the collapse of the Soviet Empire, what I know about the US economy at this time, what I know about the implications of climate change, and what I see around me. His story, which is about surviving, and even thriving, through collapse, is the one that compels me now.

I am talking about the difficulty of expressing the truth—or what I think is the truth—about how imperiled our country and our world is right now. The news is unwelcome, it makes for deadened conversations, it furrows brows and it irks people. Responses to the bad news on the environment and the economy range from denial to rage to hopelessness. Many good folks do not think about this stuff, or change their lives in accordance with the new reality, because they have no idea what to do in the face of cataclysm.

I have found solace in the words of Dmitry Orlov and many others, and there are two reasons for this. One is that the voices of truth relieve our anxiety that the liars are right and we are crazy. The truth, however awful, is safe and real. The other reason we can embrace the truth is that it allows us to move past denial into action. I know that this is almost a cliche now, but I have found it a huge relief in my life to contemplate the reality of a world without cars, of local gardens and revived community and useless television sets. We may have to spend much of our energy finding food and water, maintaining our homes and taking care of our families; we may have to school our own children, tend to the ill without hospitals, and bury our own dead. But it’s our spiritual work to take this on now, to prepare, and that begins with acknowledging the truth.

But, as Orlov says, wryly, “Your participation in this program is optional.”

Superferry return to Hawaii?

SOURCE: Brad Parsons (mauibrad@hotmail.com) SUBHEAD: U.S. Army Environmental Command seeking Comments on JHSV's in Guam, Hawaii, San Diego and Seattle. Image above: Austal JHSV contract looks suspiciously like Hawaii Superferry. From (http://www.marinelog.com/DOCS/NEWSMMVII/2008nov00140.html) By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno on 4 February 2010 in Pacific Daily News - (http://www.guampdn.com/article/20100204/NEWS01/2040302/Guam-may-host-Army-fast-ships) Guam is one of several areas being considered as a station for up to a dozen high-speed catamaran-style military ships each capable of transporting more than 300 people per ship, according to an Army Environmental Command announcement. Hawaii, San Diego and Seattle are also being considered, according to the command's announcement, which was issued as an advertisement in the Pacific Daily News to solicit public comments. A cooperative effort between the Navy and the Army, the Joint High Speed Vehicles, or JHSVs will be used for fast intra-theater transportation of troops, vehicles and equipment, according to an earlier Defense Department announcement of the program on defenselink.mil. "JHSVs will be capable of transporting 700 short tons (within) 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots, and can operate in shallow-draft ports and waterways, interfacing with roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities, and on/off-loading a combat-loaded Abrams Main Battle Tank," according to the Defense Department. These ships all give commanders the ability to roll on a company with full gear and equipment, or roll on a full infantry battalion if used only as a troop transport, haul it intra-theater distances, then move their shallow draft safely into austere ports to roll them off, according www.defenseindustrydaily.com. Initial uses of the high-speed vessels have led to a $1.6 billion program called the Joint High Speed Vessel, which could involve up to 10 ships, according to defenseinustrydaily.com. The Army Environmental Command notice for public comment says up to 12 Joint High Speed Vessels will be stationed. The U.S. Army Environmental Command welcomes public comments on the plan. Send comments to: Mail: ATTN: IMAE-PA, Public Affairs Office U.S. Army Environmental Command, 5179 Hoadley Road Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, 21010 Phone: (410) 436-2556; (410) 436-1693; Email: APGR-USAECNEPA@conus.army.mil.
Superferry Return to Hawaii Commnet by Lanny Sinkin on 5 February 2010 - Are these vessels similar to the Superferry built by Austal that operated in Hawaiian waters for a period of time? If so, are you aware that opposition to the operation of such vessels in Hawaiian waters was so intense that people entered the water to block the passage of the boat, pursued extensive litigation to stop the boat's operation, demonstrated against the boat in large numbers, and otherwise objected to the operation of such boats, primarily for environmental reasons.? Are you aware that an environmental impacts hearing was held as part of the litigation and that the judge ruled that the operations of the boat would almost certainly cause irreparable environmental damage? Are you aware that opposition was so intense that the United States Coast Guard used the national security powers of the United States to put in place a security zone in Nawiliwili Harbor, Kaua'i to prevent protestors from blocking the boat and were sued for doing so? Do you intend to prepare an EIS for the stationing of these boats in Hawaiian waters? That you would consider basing up to twn such ships where operation of one caused such an uproar is remarkable. I look forward to hearing from you. .

County razes Hawaiian homes

SUBHEAD: Haumea, Kanei and Harada families claim the land was given to their families to continue farming taro. Image above: GoogleEarth view of mouth of Wainiha River. Red parcel where homes bulldozed. Yellow parcels are taro fields. Purple parcel (at top) Robinson property. Click to enlarge. By Juan Wilson on 5 February 2010 - The Garden Island reports that County of Kauai, following complaints by unidentified neighbors, bulldozed several homes built by native Hawaiians on acreage fronting on Wainiha Beach. The local families living there have been tending taro fields mauka of the Kuhio Highway. Details are available in the TGI article included below. The County claims dwellings torn down were on County land. This is likely because the beach has been pushed back so far that the original lots are now out on the sand of the shorebreak. People living there may have simply retreated. Needless to say the dynamics of shoreline retreat will become an increasingly important issue regarding property rights as global warming, climate change and rising oceans escalate. Because the surrounding 24 acres around the dwellings was in the County's name, another solution than rooting out the local Hawaiians could have been accommodated. It should be kept in mind that the land "owned" by the State of Hawaii and County governments goes back to Hawaiian land that was seized in 1893. That land is supposedly managed by the state for the good of the people of Hawaii. One solution to situation would have simply allowed a realignment of the property boundaries mauka to a proper shoreline setback from the beach. Everybody might have been happy. The Hawaiians could then continue to farm taro and we all might have learned something about how to live together on this island. But I think there is another agenda afoot. The .292 acre lot in question is valued at $43,000. According to the County website (http://www.kauaipropertytax.com/Forms/Datalets.aspx?mode=TAX_2009&sIndex=1&idx=1&LMparent=20) the 2009 land taxes amounted to$319 for the year. Even though the tax payments were in arrears, there was not much income for the County to collect there with its present use. And note, as far as fairness goes the 229 acre parcel (TMK 458002003) across the Kuhio Highway owned by Bruce and Keith Robinson is valued at only $91,700 with 2009 land taxes of $823. The Robinson property is 100 times as big pays only 2.5 times as much in tax. More to the point; the County could choose to have a vision of the future that would accommodate Kauai residents building their own houses and doing subsistence farming. The county-boyz are too hungry for tax money and not yet enough for food to see the logic of that. Let's hope that the County is not planning on selling the property in question to the highest bidder (for another luxury mansion on the beach) just for a higher tax collection. As as afterthought I decided to mention that looking at the GoogleEarth image one can see that the Kuhio Highway right of way boundary (on the TMK maps) is out in the ocean as it passes by the area bulldozed and heads around the northern point on Wainiha Bay It appears the actual highway pavement is on the Robinson parcel. So much for staying on your own property.
County bulldozes Hawaiian dwellings By Paul Curtis on 5 February 2010 in The Garden Island - (http://thegardenisland.com/news/local/article_862e78d2-1226-11df-be37-001cc4c002e0.html) Several Native Hawaiian families had their dwellings bulldozed Thursday after county officials determined they were illegally erected on county park land along Wainiha Bay and Wainiha River.

Several Native Hawaiians, including activist Keola Alalem and many of those whose structures were destroyed, contend the county doesn’t own the land, that it had been given to Native Hawaiian families who had been tending the land and living there in a system known as “kuleana lands” tenancy.

“The county bulldozing everything,” said Alalem, who was on-scene Thursday morning.

“This is serious,” said Alalem. “These people going be homeless, land-less,” he said of 10 to 15 Native Hawaiian families he said were farming taro on the mauka side of Kuhio Highway, and living on both sides of the highway just north of the single-lane twin bridges over Wainiha River.

“They knocked down hale (houses), shacks and tents” belonging to Haumea, Kanei and Harada families, who claim the land was given to their families to continue farming.

Repeated efforts to reach Haumea and Harada family members for comment were unsuccessful by press time.

County real-property tax records indicate Rose A. Andrade and others including some Haumea and Harada family members own a .292-acre parcel on Wainiha Bay that is referenced by tax-map-key number in some county communications to a Deilon Haumea, family member and representative for that parcel.

A voice-mail message left for Deilon was not returned by press time.

Unofficial reports indicate that coastal erosion may have caused loss of land involving some of the four beach-front parcels along Wainiha Bay, including Andrade’s, possibly causing the land owners to move structures away from the ocean and, possibly, onto county property.

Alalem said some of the involved families received several letters of foreclosure from the county, with a total of around $300,000 in back real property taxes owed.

The county plans to auction off the non-park lands, and there appears to be a willing buyer, said Alalem.

“The mayor of Kaua‘i could have had a big influence on stopping this action,” said Alalem, adding that Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. likely is related to some of the people whose structures were demolished Thursday.

Some of those people may have been 11 or 12 years behind on their county real-property-tax payments, said Alalem.

But Beth Tokioka, Carvalho’s executive assistant, said Thursday that “any inference that this clean-up effort is connected to non-payment of property taxes is completely false.”

County officials, said Tokioka, in the summer of last year began receiving complaints about alleged illegal structures and people living in the structures at Wainiha County Park.

Complainants asked that the structures be removed, and county officials conducted a survey of the property and verified that the illegal structures were indeed on county park land, said Tokioka.

The county Planning Department also conducted an inspection and noted that illegal structures were in place on county park property and should be removed.

On Jan. 11 the county posted notices of violation on the structures, but the owners refused to remove the structures and alleged that they were on private property, said Tokioka.

On Jan. 13 the county faxed an official notice to the owner (Deilon Haumea) asking for the structures to be removed, but offered to delay county removal of the structures until Jan. 31, to give the owner time to do their own survey, said Tokioka.

As of Jan. 31 county Department of Parks and Recreation officials confirmed that the owner of the structures had not conducted a survey, and so the removal work was scheduled for Thursday, Tokioka said.

Another 72-hour notice was posted on the structures on Feb. 1 to alert the owner of the cleanup work, said Tokioka.

The structures were removed, and Parks and Recreation officials were expected to return to the park today to complete the cleanup, Tokioka said.

The cleanup involved a coordinated effort between the county Department of Parks and Recreation, the Kaua‘i Police Department, the Planning Department, and the County Attorney’s Office over a period of six months, and included numerous efforts to communicate with the owner of the structures to have them removed voluntarily, she said.

The Kaua‘i Humane Society was also notified, and an enforcement officer was dispatched to remove three dogs from one of the occupants on county property, she said.


Stop the Green Tech Coup

SUBHEAD: War profiteers are charging, guns-drawn, into the green tech sector and eyebrows should be raised. Image above: US soldiers erecting photovoltaic solar panel in the field. The stimulus package includes $3.6 billion to pay for energy efficiency projects and facilities upgrades within the Department of Defense. From (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/02/stimulus-packag) By Sam Daly on 3 February 2010 in Common Dreams - (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/02/03-6)

Environmental NGO's have been uncritically thumping the green tech funding plank and they're generating funding that could be harder to hold onto than a fistful of sand in the Iraqi oilfields.

There's a coup underway in the environmental movement. But the golpistas (coup-makers) aren't exactly the usual suspects. They're not the consumer product manufacturers who co-opt our messaging and re-package the same old junk with green labels. The culprits are members of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). War profiteers are charging, guns-drawn, into the green tech sector and eyebrows should be raised. This is a hold-up!

The new gospel of "greening" the armed forces is drawing public money that makes domestic infrastructure handouts look like pennies in a fountain. "Green Jobs" means something else entirely to these folks.

But what's wrong with a greener military? Simply put, war is always an assault on the environment. The US military could become more fuel-efficient and drop from their status as the world's largest single oil consumer. But that wouldn't change the fact that forcibly destabilizing states like Iraq and Afghanistan means a protracted collapse of civil infrastructure that results in mass pollution and environmental disasters, compounded by the toxic devastation wrought by military explosives.

The expansionist problem

More fundamentally, the military's expansionist ideology runs counter to our basic interests as environmentalists. Climate recovery means transitioning to a non-expansionist economy based on real green technology and localized energy independence. Localization doubly addresses the problems of extracting finite fossil fuels and the resulting unstable temporary economies that create fleeting jobs and devastate communities. Mountaintop removal coal mining is a prime example. In Appalachia, the coal industry is stripping every mountain it can get its hands on with a minimal temporary workforce. As the folks in Coal River, WV have shown, wind farming those same ridges would create secure local jobs, leave mountains intact, and generate electricity and tax revenues until the wind stops blowing. Nothing that sensible figures into the military industrial agenda.

"Greening" the military, by all indications, is a movement of false solutions. Struck with the overwhelming cost of oil-based fuel, the Air Force plans to transition to 50% coal-to-liquids and biomass synthetic fuel by 2016. That's right, coal-fired bombers and fighter jets. Ingenious! The Navy is pushing a similarly backward approach: GMO biofuels for aircraft; hybrid and eventually all-electric ships. More coal, more nukes, and yet another subsidy for industrial agriculture, arguably the US' most economically and environmentally unsustainable sector. This push for false solutions reveals the deep contradictions of "greening" war.

The Economist gets to the heart of the matter, explaining that the new military industrial agenda "is not a question of preventing climate change, reducing dependence on imported oil, or even complying with President Barack Obama's green agenda. The need for alternative sources of energy is a military necessity." In Afghanistan, it takes 7 gallons of fuel to deliver 1 gallon for use in battle. Fuel supply lines are America's greatest vulnerability there and in Iraq. "A gallon of jet fuel that costs $1.05 ends up costing $400 by the time it gets to Afghanistan..." reports the NDIA journal in articles with titles like "Gargantuan Thirst for Fuel Creates Logistical Nightmare for Marines" and "Tough to Free Troops From Oppressive Tyranny of Fuel".

It's a cruel irony to claim that the military is oppressed by the "tyranny of fuel." In reality, US troops are acting under orders to enforce the tyranny of fuel and oppress Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and whosoever else has the misfortune of living in the midst of strategic oil and natural gas reserves. My thanks go to the NDIA for letting me use this language without sounding like a total wing nut.

The resource-grab behind the expansionist US War on Terror in the Middle East and Central Asia is the real tyranny here. It's a war for fossil fuels fought in the service of US-allied multinational energy corporations. I wont beat a dead camel and explain the oil agenda behind the Iraq war, but the resource interests behind the Afghanistan war bear repeating.

Buried under the deception of anti-terror propaganda is the reality that Afghanistan is a key route for US energy interests seeking to access otherwise Russian-controlled Central Asian natural gas and oil. In a pre-war document that can be recovered from internet archives, The US Dept of Energy, Energy Information Administration explained,

Afghanistan's significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion-dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan, although these plans have now been thrown into serious question ... low oil prices and turmoil in Afghanistan ... making the pipeline project uneconomical and too risky. (DOE, 2000)

Oil and natural gas prices are up and the growing US occupation aims to stabilize the country. Hamid Karzai, the US-backed president of Afghanistan since 2004, famous for his 2009 election fraud, was in on the pipeline project years before 9/11. In the late 1990s, Karzai served as an adviser to Unocal (since acquired by Chevron) when it was planning the pipeline cited by the DOE above. Therein lies the real oppressive tyranny of fuel behind the US war in Afghanistan.

Bringing the war home

Back on the home front in Washington DC, where I live and organize against climate chaos and the War on Terror, the NDIA and friends are jockeying for green funding. Recently, our city played host to the Military Energy Alternatives Conference where the wrong people were taking aim at green tech funding. The website announced that, "Discussion will focus on the renewable path to energy security and how funds in the stimulus package have been appropriated towards a clean energy goal." These events should be considered important points of intervention for the anti-war and climate movements. The Marine Corps hosted a similar conference recently.

Meanwhile, the recession rages and DC Green organizations are still pushing climate legislation as a jobs bill, S1733, the "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act." Putting carbon trading and the maddening weaknesses of the bill aside, greening the economy is still the only logical path to sustainable recovery. Green jobs are a hard sell after Obama conceded defeat to the racist red-baiting campaign to depose Van Jones, the administration's green jobs adviser. And even harder since the State of the Union address. But the military is still on board and that's reason for concern.

War loves a recession. Following the great depression, WWII helped rescued the US economy and provided near full employment. Today's situation is different. The War on Terror is one of the driving factors behind the recession and unemployment is at a terrible high. The winners here are the war-profiteering industries, turning record profits, and military recruiters.

I wrote my undergrad senior thesis on youth recruitment and the lessons of history carry on. Since the draft was closed in 1973 and the military became an "all volunteer force," youth unemployment has been the most important factor feeding recruitment. In the early 1980s, recruiters seized upon the recession and developed today's high school recruiting strategies. They brought in the most new recruits in the history of the all-volunteer force before 2009.

While we call for green jobs, the recession is killing young peoples' prospects and recruiters are circling like vultures over our peers. Youth unemployment is at a record high 50%, with twice as many black youth as white youth jobless. The crisis-level recruiting shortfalls of the Bush-era are over and recruiters are bringing in more soldiers than the all-volunteer force has ever seen. Aided by a $20 billion recruiting budget, 2009 was the first year that recruitment numbers exceeded quotas in all the military services. It's a racist poverty draft, which is worth noting because racial and economic justice are among the founding ideas of the green jobs movement.

Obama's 2009 stimulus provided $500 million to fund civilian green jobs and $420 million to fund military "greening." That was part of the $7.8 billion defense portion of the stimulus added to the $500 billion 2009 military budget. It's also disturbing to compare those numbers to the $256 million in the stimulus for Americorps and Job Corps. I haven't found a thorough analysis of the $708 billion 2010 military budget or the $33 billion in additional funds that Obama requested for war in Afghanistan. Such research is especially challenging because the military stopped using words like recruitment and accessions in its public filings, presumably to insulate itself from due criticism.

I would be remiss to ignore the larger sums in the stimulus for green energy, like the $11 billion for "smart grid" improvements. And the NDIA folks aren't ignoring that money either. In Washington, DC, Lockheed Martin, the infamous hi-tech arms developer, won $12.7 million contract to manage the commercial energy efficiency programs. They also have similar contracts with New York State Energy R&D and Pacific Gas & Electric. If the administration pumps increasing funding into military green tech, then the corporations that benefit will undoubtedly keep putting those developments to work in the civilian sector.

Maybe that still doesn't sound so bad to some readers. So, lets get to the core of the ideology that would excuse a corporate-militarized green grid. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." Right, Adam Smith? Hopefully by now, I've made it clear that the "interest" behind the NDIA agenda is about "green" profit by any means. If we leave it to them, then endless resource wars and false solutions is what's for dinner.

Moving forward

There's been a major shift in Washington since the days of the 2009 stimulus and only time will tell where politicians and corporations go with the green doctrine this year. Obama is turning away from his election-year green rhetoric and the supreme court just opened the floodgates to a multinational corporate buyout of congress. The 2011 federal budget proposal for green energy education could be a glimmer of hope. Or it could be yet another subsidy to military industry research. Whatever is to come, the war profiteering corporate green push is still on. Royal Dutch Shell just launched a green tech greenwash advertising campaign that's dominating the DC Metro.

Fortunately, young people's Anti-war Anti-Warming organizing is heating up too. Let's the keep the pressure on and take the fight to the Fossil Hawks. Coal-fired fighter jets, biofuel bombers, and an armed green jobs corps advancing on the horizon? That's not my clean energy future.


Collapse Gap Revisited

SUBHEAD: Only a fool would have wanted to go a-nudging the Central Committee of the Politburo toward adopting better policies. Image above: Moment of triumph in 1985 "Rocky IV" when Balboa beats Russian rival. From (http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/4650/rocky_iv_sky_modern_greats.html) By Dmitry Orlov on 4 February 2010 in Club Orlov - (http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2010/02/collapse-gap-revisited.html) Richard Heinberg has done something that sorely needed doing: he has performed a Collapse Gap analysis for USA and China. In a lengthy and detailed article he argues that, just as the USA is less prepared for collapse than the USSR was, the USA is less prepared for collapse than China. This is perhaps unsurprising (few countries are less prepared than the USA). Collapse-preparedness affects how many people will be able to survive the collapse, and how bad a time they are likely to have in doing so. But there is much more to it than that. Richard makes several excellent new points that should be taken on board. Here, I will mention just three (perhaps adding a slight personal twist to each). For the full details, please go and read the full article.
  • The governments of both USA and China are not trying to avert collapse but simply to delay it. Averting collapse would involve overcoming problems caused by fossil fuel depletion, ecosystem limits such as soil and fresh water, climate disruption due to global warming, and an economic system predicated on exponential growth. Neither government is up to the task of solving any of these, and so the obvious choice for them is to stall for time, hoping that the other one collapses first.
  • Although whichever country collapses first will immediately find itself at an obvious disadvantage vis à vis the other, that advantage is likely to be short-lived. Unlike the collapse of the USSR, the collapse of either USA or China will devastate the other, with major repercussions for the other major economies. There will be no country left standing that will be capable of effecting an economic rescue. The collapse of either USA or China will trigger the collapse of the other, marking a permanent, global transition to a new state.
  • Since collapse is unavoidable, the obvious fall-back strategy would be to invest in local resiliency and self-sufficiency. Since neither government appears the least bit interested in such matters, it is time for us to recognize them for what they are to us: utterly irrelevant. Paying attention to national politics can only distract us from doing whatever we can as individuals and local communities.
In the past Richard has done his best to nudge governments in the right direction, especially with regard to adjusting to fossil fuel depletion, whereas I have always felt that they can go and nudge themselves. You see, from my point of view, only a fool would want to go a-nudging the Central Committee of the Politburo toward adopting better policies. Here, perhaps once there was hope; and now it's gone. Unfortunately, many people continue to believe in the miraculous properties of national politics and policy. However, Richard is no longer one of them, and this makes me a bit more hopeful for the rest of us. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: China or US? 2/4/10 Ea O Ka Aina: The Collapse Gap 8/6/09 Island Breath: Adieu, Stage 1 Collapse 9/24/08 Island Breath: Post Oil Economy 12/25/07 .

American Endgame

SUBHEAD: America has finally reached the point where its economy is so deep into overshoot that catabolic collapse is beginning in earnest. Image above: The goal of the endgame in chess is checkmate. By John Michael Greer on 3 February 2010 in Archdruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2010/02/endgame.html) I’ve mentioned more than once in these essays the foreshortening effect that textbook history can have on our understanding of the historical events going on around us. The stark chronologies most of us get fed in school can make it hard to remember that even the most drastic social changes happen over time, amid the fabric of everyday life and a flurry of events that can seem more important at the time. This becomes especially problematic in times like the present, when apocalyptic prophecy is a central trope in the popular culture that frames a people’s hopes and fears for the future. When the collective imagination becomes obsessed with the dream of a sudden cataclysm that sweeps away the old world overnight and ushers in the new, even relatively rapid social changes can pass by unnoticed. The twilight years of Rome offer a good object lesson; so many people were convinced that the Second Coming might occur at any moment that the collapse of classical civilization went almost unnoticed; only a tiny handful of writers from those years show any recognition that something out of the ordinary was happening at all. Reflections of this sort have been much on my mind lately, and there’s a reason for that. Scattered among the statistical noise that makes up most of today’s news are data points that suggest to me that business as usual is quietly coming to an end around us, launching us into a new world for which very few of us have made any preparations at all. Here’s one example. Friends of mine in a couple of midwestern states have mentioned that the steady trickle of refugees from the Chicago slums into their communities has taken a sharp turn up. There’s a long history of dysfunction behind this. Back in 1999, Chicago began tearing down its vast empire of huge high-rise projects, promising to replace them with less ghastly and more widely distributed housing for the poor. Most of the replacements, of course, never got built. When the waiting list for Section 8 rent subsidies, the only other option available, got long enough to become a public relations problem, the bureaucrats in charge simply closed the list to new applicants; rumors (hotly denied by the Chicago city government) claim that poor families in Chicago were openly advised to move to other states. Whether for that reason or simple economic survival, a fair number of them did. Fast forward to the middle of 2009. Around then, facing budget deficits second only to California, the state of Illinois quietly stopped paying its social service providers. In theory, the money is still allocated; in practice, it’s been more than six months since Illinois preschools, senior centers, food banks, and the like have received a check from the state for the services they provide, and many of them are on the verge of going broke. Subsidized rent has apparently taken an equivalent hit. Believers in free-market economics have been insisting for years that the end of rent subsidies would let the free market reduce rents to a level that people could afford, but I don’t recommend holding your breath; this is the same free market, remember, that gave the United States some of the world’s worst slums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The actual effects have been instructive. Squeezed between sharply contracting benefits and a sharply contracting job market, many of Chicago’s poor are hitting the road, heading in any direction that offers more options. Forget the survivalist fantasy of violent hordes pouring out of the inner cities to ravage everything in their path; today’s slum residents are instead becoming the Okies of the Great Recession. In the process, part of business as usual in the United States is coming to an end. Illinois is far from the only state that backed itself into a corner by assuming that rising tax revenues from a bubble economy could be extrapolated indefinitely into the future. Forty-one US states currently face budget deficits. California has received most of the media attention so far, a good deal of it focused on the political gridlock that has kept the state frozen in crisis for years. Behind the partisan posturing in Sacramento, though, lies a deeper and harsher reality. The state of California is essentially bankrupt; nearly all the mistakes made by the once-wealthy states of the Rust Belt, as they slid down the curve of their own decline, have been faithfully copied by California as it approaches its destiny as the Rust Belt of the 21st century. I wonder how many local governments in neighboring states have drawn up plans for dealing with the tide of economic refugees once California can no longer pay for its welfare system, and the poor of Los Angeles and other California cities join those of Chicago on the road? I could go on, but I think the point has been made. State governments are the canaries in our national coal mine; their tax receipts are one of the very few measures of economic activity that aren’t being systematically fiddled by the federal government. The figures coming out of state revenue offices strike a jarring contrast with the handwaving about “green shoots” and an imminent return to prosperity heard from Washington DC and the media. Across the country, every few months, states that have already cut spending drastically to cope with record declines in tax income find that they have to go back and do it all over again, because their revenue – and by inference, the incomes, purchases, business activity, and other economic phenomena that feed into taxes – has dropped even further. Now it’s true that state budgets get hit whenever the economy goes into recession, and keep on hurting even when the recession is supposed to be over, but compared to past examples, the losses clobbering state funding these days are off the scale, and a great many programs that have been fixtures of American public life for as long as most of us have been living are facing the chopping block. A different reality pertains within the Washington DC beltway. Where states that fail to balance their budgets get their bond ratings cut and, in some cases, are having trouble finding buyers for their debt at less than usurious interest rates, the federal government seems to be able to defy the normal behavior of bond markets with impunity. Despite soaring deficits, not to mention a growing disinclination on the part of foreign governments to keep on financing the same, every new issuance of US treasury bills somehow finds buyers in such abundance that interest rates stay remarkably low. A few weeks ago, Tom Whipple of ASPO became the latest in a tolerably large number of perceptive observers who have pointed out that this makes sense only if the US government is surreptitiously buying its own debt. The process works something like this. The Federal Reserve, which is not actually a government agency but a consortium of large banks working under a Federal charter, has the statutory right to mint money in the US. These days, that can be done by a few keystrokes on a computer, and another few keystrokes can transfer that money to any bank in the nation. Some of those banks use the money to buy up US treasury bills, probably by way of subsidiaries chartered in the Cayman Islands and the like, and these same off-book subsidiaries then stash the T-bills and keep them off the books. The money thus laundered finally arrives at the US treasury, where it gets spent. It may be a bit more complex than that. Those huge sums of money voted by Congress to bail out the financial system may well have been diverted into this process – that would certainly explain why the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York have stonewalled every attempt to trace exactly where all that money went. Friendly foreign governments may also have a hand in the process. One way or another, though, those of my readers who remember the financial engineering that got Enron its fifteen minutes of fame may find all this uncomfortably familiar – and it is. The world’s largest economy has become, in effect, the United States of Enron. Plenty of countries in the past have tried to cover expenses that overshot income by spinning the presses at the local mint. The result is generally hyperinflation, of the sort made famous in the 1920s by Germany and more recently by Zimbabwe. That I know of, though, nobody has tried the experiment with a national economy in a steep deflationary depression, of the sort that has been taking shape in America and elsewhere since the real estate bubble crashed and burned in 2008. In theory, at least in the short term, it might just work; the inflationary pressures caused by printing money wholesale could conceivably cancel out the deflationary pressures of a collapsing bubble and a contracting economy – at least for a while. The difficulty, of course, is that pumping the money supply fixes the symptoms of economic failure without treating the causes, and in every case I know of, governments that resort to it end up caught on a treadmill that requires ever larger infusions of paper money just to maintain the status quo. Sooner or later, as the amount of currency in circulation outstrips the goods and services available to buy, inflation spins out of control, the currency loses most or all of its value, and the economy grinds to a halt until a new currency can be issued on some sounder basis. In 1920s Germany, they managed this last feat by taking out a mortgage on the entire country, and issued “Rentenmarks” backed by that mortgage. In the wake of the late housing bubble, that seems an unlikely option here, though no doubt some gimmick will be found. It’s crucial to realize, though, that this move comes at the end of a long historical trajectory. From the early days of the industrial revolution into the early 1970s, the United States possessed the immense economic advantage of sizable reserves of whatever the cutting-edge energy source happened to be. During what Lewis Mumford called the eotechnic era, when waterwheels were the prime mover for industry and canals were the core transportation technology, the United States prospered because it had an abundance of mill sites and internal waterways. During Mumford’s paleotechnic era, when coal and railways replaced water and canal boats, the United States once again found itself blessed with huge coal reserves, and the arrival of the neotechnic era, when petroleum and highways became the new foundation of power, the United States found that nature had supplied it with so much oil that in 1950, it produced more petroleum than all other countries combined. That trajectory came to an abrupt end in the 1970s, when nuclear power – expected by nearly everyone to be the next step in the sequence – turned out to be hopelessly uneconomical, and renewables proved unable to take up the slack. The neotechnic age, in effect, turned out to have no successor. Since then, for most of the last thirty years, the United States has been trying to stave off the inevitable – the sharp downward readjustment of our national standard of living and international importance following the peak and decline of our petroleum production and the depletion of most of the other natural resources that once undergirded American economic and political power. We’ve tried accelerating drawdown of natural resources; we’ve tried abandoning our national infrastructure, our industries, and our agricultural hinterlands; we’ve tried building ever more baroque systems of financial gimmickry to prop up our decaying economy with wealth from overseas; over the last decade and a half, we’ve resorted to systematically inflating speculative bubbles – and now, with our backs to the wall, we’re "printing" money as though there’s no tomorrow. Now it’s possible that the current US administration will be able to pull one more rabbit out of its hat, and find a new gimmick to keep things going for a while longer. I have to confess that this does not look likely to me. Monetizing the national debt, as economists call the attempt to pay a nation’s bills by means of a hyperactive printing press, is a desperation move; it’s hard to imagine any reason that it would have been chosen if there were any other option in sight. What this means, if I’m right, is that we may have just moved into the endgame of America’s losing battle with the consequences of its own history. For many years now, people in the Peak Oil scene – and the wider community of those concerned about the future, to be sure – have had, or thought they had, the luxury of ample time to make plans and take action. Every so often books would be written and speeches made claiming that something had to be done right away, while there was still time, but most people took that as the rhetorical flourish it usually was, and went on with their lives in the confident expectation that the crisis was still a long ways off. We may no longer have that option. If I read the signs correctly, America has finally reached the point where its economy is so deep into overshoot that catabolic collapse is beginning in earnest. If so, a great many of the things most of us in this country have treated as permanent fixtures are likely to go away over the years immediately before us, as the United States transforms itself into a Third World country. The changes involved won’t be sudden, and it seems unlikely that most of them will get much play in the domestic mass media; a decade from now, let’s say, when half the American workforce has no steady work, decaying suburbs have mutated into squalid shantytowns, and domestic insurgencies flare across the south and the mountain West, those who still have access to cable television will no doubt be able to watch talking heads explain how we’re all better off than we were in 2000. Those of my readers who haven’t already been beggared by the unraveling of what’s left of the economy, and have some hope of keeping a roof over their heads for the foreseeable future, might be well advised to stock their pantries, clear their debts, and get to know their neighbors, if they haven’t taken these sensible steps already. Those of my readers who haven’t taken the time already to learn a practical skill or two, well enough that others might be willing to pay or barter for the results, had better get a move on. Those of my readers who want to see some part of the heritage of the present saved for the future, finally, may want to do something practical about that, and soon. I may be wrong – and to be frank, I hope that I’m wrong – but it looks increasingly to me as though we’re in for a very rough time in the very near future. .

China or US? Last Nation Standing

SUBHEAD: We need to know the direction of large events, so as to get out of the way when debris is flying and to anticipate opportunities to regroup. Image above: Flags of the United States and China with frayed edges. From (http://www.economyincrisis.org/content/china-vs-us-economic-power-vs-military-might-which-will-prevail) By Richard Heinberg on 3 February 2010 in Post Carbon Institute - (http://www.postcarbon.org/article/67429-china-or-the-u-s-which-will) Silly me. Here I had thought that world leaders would want to keep their nations from collapsing. They must be working hard to prevent currency collapse, financial system collapse, food system collapse, social collapse, environmental collapse, and the onset of general, overwhelming misery—right? But no, that's not what the evidence suggests. Increasingly I am forced to conclude that the object of the game that world leaders are actually playing is not to avoid collapse; it's simply to postpone it a while so as to be the last nation to go down, so yours can have the chance to pick the others' carcasses before you meet the same fate. I know, that sounds unbearably cynical. And in fact it may not accurately describe the conscious attitudes of leaders of some smaller nations. But for the U.S. and China, arguably the countries most likely to lead the way for the rest of the world, actions speak louder than words. (Mental health advisory: readers with a low tolerance for bad news should turn back now; there are lots of cheerier articles on the Internet and this might be a good time to find and enjoy one.) For these two nations, avoiding collapse would require solving a range of enormous problems, of which at least four are non-negotiable: climate change; peak fossil fuels; the inherent instability of growth-based financial systems; and the vulnerability of food systems to factors like fresh water scarcity and soil erosion. If they fail to address any one of these, societal collapse is inevitable—in a few decades certainly, but perhaps in just the next few years. So how are our contestants doing? There's not much to report on the climate score—just vague promises for future action. So their apparent strategy in this case is to delay (not to delay the impacts, mind you, but to delay efforts to address the problem). Likewise, there is little positive action occurring regarding food systems: the assumption appears to be that conventional industrial agriculture—which is responsible for most of the global food system's enormous and growing vulnerabilities—will somehow shoulder the task of feeding seven to nine billion humans. We just need to continue with what we are already doing, but on a larger scale and using more gene-engineered crop varieties. Officially, peak energy is not even a concern, so evidently the strategy being adopted here is denial. We'll see how that works out. How about the financial mess? Here the U.S. and China are in situations so different that a more extended discussion seems justified. China Surges to the Lead! The U.S. is in debt up to its eyeballs and has mortgaged the paychecks of every generation approximately until hell freezes over in order to bail out its "too-big-to-fail" banks. In contrast, China has piles of cash (resulting from its enormous trade surpluses) and has bought a mountain of U.S. debt in order to keep its main customer's currency from losing value. It would seem that, in this department, one nation is set to flag while the other is poised to leap into first place as world economic superpower. And that happens to be the conventional wisdom on the subject. It's not hard to find commentators who say the United States is a has-been for a variety of reasons. In addition to its huge debt burden, the U.S. also suffers from a shrinking manufacturing base, a big trade deficit, eroding quality of education, and a foreign policy that serves the interests of arms manufacturers while undermining the long-term interests of the nation. Regarding the last of these items, a 2006 World Public Opinion poll showed large majorities in four leading ally nations (Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia), together accounting for a third of the Muslim world's population, believe the U.S. is determined to destroy or undermine Islam. Within those countries, most people surveyed support attacks on American targets. And it just so happens that most of the world's future oil supplies will be coming from Muslim nations. Brilliant. By contrast, China is enjoying springtime on amphetamines. It now has the biggest car market in the world. And, according to Stuart Staniford in a recent fact-filled article, "if present trends continue, the Chinese expressway system will likely grow larger than the U.S. interstate highway system within the next couple of years, and Chinese car ownership will exceed U.S. car ownership by somewhere in the neighborhood of 2017." As of 2010 China is the leading producer of hydroelectric and solar power and by 2011 will be the top producer of wind power. China's smart grid investments dwarf those of the U.S. by 200 to one. The Chinese are also investing heavily in nuclear energy. Staniford goes on: "Oversimplifying greatly, it's as though the U.S. borrowed a pile of money from China in order to fight a war to free up oil supply in Iraq in order that China could become the greatest industrial power the world has ever seen." China's foreign policy consists largely of buying friends by purchasing rights to oil, gas, coal, and other resources in Canada, Australia, Venezuela, Iraq, Kazakhstan, and throughout Africa, while the U.S. spends money it doesn't have rooting out bad guys and making more enemies in the process. In an October, 2009 lecture, George Soros showed refreshing candor about the seriousness of the continuing global financial crisis: "What differentiated [the recent economic crisis] from the Great Depression is that this time the financial system was not allowed to collapse, but was put on artificial life support. In fact [however], the magnitude of the credit and leverage problem we have today is even greater than the 1930s." Soros then went on to discuss the relative positions of the U.S. and China: In the short term, all countries were negatively affected. But in the long term, there will be winners and losers. . . . To put it bluntly, the U.S. stands to lose the most, and China is poised to emerge as the greatest winner. . . . China has been the primary beneficiary of globalization, and it has been largely insulated from the financial crisis. For the West, and the U.S. in particular, the crisis was an internally-generated event [that] led to the collapse of the financial system. For China, it was an external shock [that] has hurt exports, but left the financial, political, and economic system unscathed. China Stumbles! But remember: without solutions to climate change, peak energy, and the looming food crisis, winning the financial contest is only temporary solace. Consider just the energy conundrum: China may be building nukes and windmills, but there's no way it can maintain 8 percent annual growth for long with flat or declining energy from coal. China and India, between them, are currently planning to build 800 new coal-fired power plants by 2020. Where will the coal come from? Both countries are already experiencing domestic production shortfalls and are starting to import the fuel. But coal-exporting countries will be unable to keep up with their growing combined demand. Moreover, there is a school of thought that says China's apparently unstoppable economic miracle is a bubble waiting to burst. Beijing's housing market is overheated, like that of Las Vegas circa 2006. Last year, the Chinese economy enjoyed 9 percent GDP growth—on paper. But in order to achieve that goal, the government and banks had to loan out 30 percent of China's GDP (the rate of growth in loans accelerated during the latter part of the year; at year-end rates, banks were on track to loan out an amount equal to the nation's entire GDP in 2010). In any case, much of that growth probably occurred through speculation on real estate and questionable stocks. Generally, China is at a Wild West stage of economic development: it is a collection of powerful local capitalist power bases unaccountable to anyone, all jockeying to create and inflate assets and credit. While the central government has recently exerted control over the banks, its ability to halt regional Ponzi schemes is still limited. In January the Chinese banking regulatory commission attempted to rein in lending in order to slow the rapid increase in real estate and stock market values. On the other hand, during the same month, China's cabinet agreed to permit margin trading and short selling of stocks and to launch a stock futures index. Significantly, there is evidence that China's central bank's attempts to harmlessly deflate the housing and stock market bubbles may be going badly. The sudden suspension in lending has, according to Joe Weisenthal in Business Insider, "caught importers, along with many other companies, by surprise and could cause turbulence in China's import orders. Letters of credit (LoC) suddenly became unavailable, despite previous agreements. We believe that this will inevitably lead to delays or cancellations in China's imports. Import orders for commodities and machineries could be affected most." Translation: the government was faced with the options of letting a rapidly growing bubble burst, taking the economy down; or deliberately deflating the bubble, risking taking the economy down by another route. The central bank chose the latter, and the risked takedown may be unfolding. Meanwhile Google and the Obama Administration have been exerting external pressure on China to relax its censorship of electronic communications—moves that some see as reducing the central government's options for controlling both information flow and the economy. In a recent op-ed, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman countered worries about a bursting of the China bubble with a robust display of confidence in Beijing's unstoppable expansionary momentum. Given Friedman's record (remember his columns in 2003 extolling the benefits that would flow to America from an invasion of Iraq?), this alone should be cause to doubt whether the Chinese locomotive can stay on its tracks much longer. What Does It Mean to "Win"? In his book Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects, Dmitry Orlov discusses the "collapse gap" between the United States and the old Soviet Union. The latter, he argues, was in effect much better prepared for economic crisis and the fall of its central government. When the U.S. eventually goes the way of the U.S.S.R., the pain and suffering of its citizens will be much greater. I can't adequately summarize Orlov's evidence and reasoning here, but they are persuasive; if you haven't read the book, do yourself a favor. So: How is the U.S. doing today in terms of collapse preparedness as compared to China? After six decades of nearly uninterrupted economic growth, Americans have developed unrealistic expectations about the future. They are urbanized consumers whose manufacturing capability has shriveled and whose practical survival skills are in most cases vestigial. The Chinese, in contrast, have less of a steep fall ahead of them. Most still dwell in the countryside, and many who live in the cities are only one generation removed from subsistence agriculture and can still draw on their own, or their parents', practical skills learned during decades of poverty and immersion in a traditional farming culture. Both nations face fierce political challenges. In the U.S., the central government has reached nearly complete paralysis: it is evidently incapable of solving even relatively minor problems, and confidence in it among the citizenry has largely evaporated. Political leaders have succeeded in polarizing the people geographically with "hot-button" issues, few of which have anything to do with the factors currently undermining the nation's ability to survive. The Chinese central government appears far more capable of acting decisively and strategically, but it is confronted with nasty facts of geography and history. China has an extreme and growing economic and social division between the wealthy coastal cities and the poor, rural interior as well as a demographic schism between those 40 years old or younger who have high economic expectations. The older generation who grew up under Mao, with an ethic of collectivism and self-sacrifice. The young, especially, have accepted a trade-off between civil freedoms and economic prosperity. If the latter is not delivered, there will be shrill demands for the former. These divisions are so deep and profound that they could tear society apart if expectations are dashed—and the leaders know this. Thus, in the event of collapse, both nations face the possibility of a breakdown in their political systems, entailing widespread violence, uprisings and crackdowns. China still maintains a crucial advantage in one key area: its food system. Far more of its citizens still grow food, even taking into account recent trends toward rapid urbanization. In the U.S., full-time farmers make up only about two percent of the population and the average farmer is approaching retirement age. This is not to say that China will have the capacity to feed all its people. It is already moving in the direction of being a major net food importer. Meanwhile, the U.S. remains a significant food exporter. The key difference has to do with the resiliency of the two nations' respective food systems. The United States is more centralized, more highly fuel dependent, and therefore probably more vulnerable. The Geopolitics of Collapse It's easy to see the advantage of collapse preparedness for the citizenry—with better preparation, more will survive. But does a higher survival rate during and after collapse translate to some sort of geopolitical advantage? The process of collapse will be determined by many factors, some hard to predict, and so it is difficult to know the size or scope of the political power structure that might re-emerge in either country. It's possible that one nation, or both, could devolve into smaller political units squabbling among themselves and unable to engage much in global jockeying for resources. All new political units emerging within the present territories of China or the U.S. would be immediately beset with enormous practical problems, including poverty, hunger, environmental disasters, and mass migrations. Presumably some potent weaponry from the age of global warfare would remain intact and usable, so it is possible in principle that one or another of these smaller political entities could assert itself on the world stage as a short-lived, bargain-basement empire of limited geographic scope. But even in that case "winning" the collapse race would be small comfort. The possibility of armed conflict between the two powers prior to mutual collapse is not to be entirely excluded if, for example, U.S. efforts to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions were to set off a deadly chain reaction of attacks and counter-attacks possibly involving Israel, with world powers being forced to choose sides; or if the U.S. were to persist in arming Taiwan. But neither the U.S. nor China wants a direct mutual military confrontation, and both nations are highly motivated to avoid one. Thus all-out nuclear war—still the worst-case imaginable scenario for homo sapiens and planet Earth—seems thankfully unlikely, though in the few decades ahead the use of some of these weapons, on some occasions, by one nation or another, is probable. Trade wars are another matter, and we might even see one this year, according to Michael Pettis at Financial Times, who notes that
"Trade imbalances are more necessary than ever to justify increased investment in surplus countries [i.e., China], but rising unemployment makes them politically and economically unacceptable in deficit countries [i.e., U.S.]. Rising savings in the U.S. will collide with stubbornly high savings in China. Unless a long-term solution is jointly worked out immediately, trade conflict will worsen and it will become increasingly hard to reverse offensive policies. Most importantly, if deficit countries demand structural change faster than surplus countries can manage, we will almost certainly finish with a nasty trade dispute that will . . . poison relationships for years."
How likely is the prospect for the last nation standing to be able to, as I put it in the first paragraph above, "pick the carcasses" of its competitors? Such a scenario presupposes that one nation will be able to stay on its feet for at least a few years after others fall. But this may not be possible. Recall the prophetic words of Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988):
"A nation today can no longer unilaterally collapse, for if any national government disintegrates, its population and territory will be absorbed by some other [or bailed out by international agencies]. . . . Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse."
When the U.S.S.R. crashed, the U.S. and various multinational corporations were able to sweep in and gobble up some of the treasure left lying around. One example: U.S. nuclear power plants have for many years been using uranium fuel cannibalized from old Soviet missile warheads. Soon, international institutions such as the World Bank and IMF helped organize new financial structures for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, and the other nations born from Soviet political and economic disintegration, so as to limit and reverse the process of social disintegration that had already passed beyond its early stages. But now the game has changed. A collapse of the U.S. would leave China devastated. Not only would Beijing lose its main customer, but the hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of treasury notes it has accumulated would be rendered worthless. If China were internally stable, such impacts could be absorbed with difficulty. But in light of China's own simmering social and financial predicaments, a U.S. collapse would almost certainly be enough to tip Beijing's economy into a tailspin, resulting in both social and political crises. A collapse of China would similarly devastate the U.S. Obviously, the loss of a source of cheap consumer products would discomfit WalMart shoppers, but the shock soon would go much deeper. The Treasury would lose its main foreign buyer of government debt, which means that the Fed would be forced to step in and monetize that debt (in common parlance, "turn on the printing presses"), undermining the dollar's value. The result: a hyperinflationary economic crash. Such a crash is probably inevitable at some point anyway, but a collapse of the Chinese system would hasten and worsen it. In neither instance would international institutions be capable of preventing substantial social and political fall-out. The last nation standing would not stand for long. We have reached the stage where, as Tainter says, "World civilization will disintegrate as a whole." The Transition Marathon Okay, so there is no serious effort on the part of U.S. or Chinese leaders to avoid collapse in the long run (say, over the next 10 to 20 years). Perhaps this is because they have concluded that it is impossible to do so—there are just too many trends leading in the same direction, and actually dealing with any of those trends head-on would entail huge, immediate political risks. In reality, however, it is much more likely that they simply refuse seriously to think about these trends and their implications, because they do have another option—to postpone collapse through deficit spending, bailouts, and more financial bubbles, while enacting their parts in a climate-policy kabuki play and engaging in resource geopolitics. This way blame will at least fall on the next set of leaders. Postponing collapse is itself a big job, enough so as to take all of one's attention away from having to contemplate the awfulness and inevitability of what is being postponed. Do these short-term efforts in any way reduce the risk of dissolution? Hardly. In fact, the longer the reckoning is delayed, the worse it will be. What would make more sense than just trying to put off the inevitable is quite simply to build resilience throughout society, re-localizing basic social systems involving food, manufacture, and finance. There is no need to rehearse the existing discourse about this strategy: readers who are not familiar with it can find plenty of useful pointers at www.transitiontowns.org, or in the books and articles of authors such as Rob Hopkins, Albert Bates, David Holmgren, Pat Murphy, and Sharon Astyk (and in some of my own writings, including Museletter #192). It is understandably hard for national politicians to think along those lines. Building societal resilience means disregarding the dictates of economic efficiency; it means systematically reducing the power of the central government and national/global commercial institutions such as banks and corporations. It also means questioning the central dogma of our modern world: The efficacy and possibility of unending economic growth. So if the best outcome lies in a strategy of resilience and re-localization, and our national leaders can't even contemplate such a strategy, that means those leaders are, in one sense at least, irrelevant to our future. Some blog readers are so in tune with this line of thinking that they no longer see any point in paying attention to the global scene. They may even think this article is a waste of time (and I expect to get an email or two to that effect). But following world events is more than a matter of infotainment. When and how China and the U.S. come apart at the seams is a question of far greater consequence than that of whether the New Orleans Saints or the Indianapolis Colts will win the Superbowl. The reality is that no nation, and no community will be able to completely protect itself from the sudden, harsh winds that will rush to fill the vacuum left by an implosion of either superpower. By the way, my apologies to the other 190 or so nations of the world, large and small: my singling out of the U.S. and China for discussion does not signify that other countries are unimportant, or that their destinies will not be as unique as their cultures and geographies; but merely that those destinies will probably unfold in the context of a global collapse spreading from the two nations we have been discussing. For any nation—India, Bolivia, Russia, Brazil, South Africa—and for any community or family, survival will require some comprehension of the direction of large events, so as to get out of the way when debris is flying and to anticipate opportunities to regroup. So; pay attention to the weather reports from Washington and Beijing, but meanwhile build local resilience wherever you are. If the roof needs mending, don't dawdle. Meanwhile, after a long day of organizing neighborhood Transition gardens, you may want to get a foretaste of post-collapse America by reading James Howard Kunstler's A World Made by Hand; or savor an entertainingly erudite discussion of collapse as an extended process (which it will likely be), rather than as a sudden, all-out event, by reading John Michael Greer's books The Long Descent and The Ecotechnic Future. Just because the sky is falling, that doesn't mean it's time to stop thinking.
US vs China: Military vs Manufacturing By Michael Payne on 22 November 2009 in OpEdNews - (http://www.opednews.com/articles/China-vs-U-S--economic-p-by-michael-payne-091120-313.html)

Two world powers, with two distinctly different political philosophies, proceed in world affairs on strikingly different courses. China has chosen to flex its economic muscle while America's strategy is based on using military might in pursuing its agenda.

On the surface the relationship between the U.S. and China, its designated manufacturer, seems to be going quite well but beneath the surface there is a fierce rivalry that is growing in intensity. The Chinese government is quite clever and also very patient. For the time being it is quite content to just continue to be our prime supplier of products and our favored source for borrowed funds. It knows very well that America is its cash cow, at least for the time being. But we better think again if we believe that it does not have an alternate long-term strategy to fall back on when and if their cash cow defaults on its debts.

The U.S. and China, with their huge economies, are totally dependent upon a steady, guaranteed supply of petroleum into the future. While supplies of oil have been very plentiful for many decades, that situation is beginning to rapidly change. Our very painful experience with $147 per barrel of oil in 2008 may have dissipated for now but experts predict that, in the not too distant future, the world will experience huge escalations in prices as supply will not be able to keep up with demand.

China has been very active in recent years in establishing relationships with nations all over the world, including Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Brazil and several nations in Africa. This past August Iraq and China signed a $3 billion contract to develop a large Iraqi oil field, the first major commercial oil contract Iraq has made with a foreign company since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. How ironic is that? The U.S. invades and occupies Iraq and then, after most of the blood has been mopped up, the Chinese arrive to partner with the Iraqis.

These two powerful nations are making their presence known over the entire globe but they are doing it in dramatically different ways. In the quest to acquire precious natural resources, primarily oil, the world watches as the Chinese appear before nations with contracts in hand while the U.S. appears before certain selected nations with bullets and bombs in hand. That is certainly a unique example of contrasting methods of persuasion.

This difference in strategies was stated in similar terms when, writing in The Nation 11/17/09, Robert Dreyfuss quotes a high Chinese official who said, "When America talks about strategy, it implies military, security, confrontation. In China, we have a much broader view of the idea of 'strategy.' We mean something that is long-term and systematic." He could not have portrayed the situation any better.

So, given this overall scenario, what will the future bring as America and China pursue their individual strategies to achieve their goals? Right now I would say the advantage is with China; it is not mired down in any foreign wars, it is the fastest growing economy in the world, they have no great national debt, no substantial trade deficits. Conversely, the U.S. current national debt stands at about $12 trillion; total foreign ownership of that debt is about $3 trillion, including $800 billion with China and $724 billion with Japan.

China's growth rate, even in these dire economic times is robust, about 9% at the end of 2008. The U.S. at that time was 1.1% but currently is running a negative 2.3%. While China is the third largest economy in the world, following the U.S. and Japan, it is quickly closing the gap.

China has no great unemployment problems; the U.S. has lost millions of jobs. China manufactures and exports products all over the world while the U.S. is outsourcing more and more manufacturing jobs to other nations. This entire situation is getting very bizarre indeed; we import massive amounts of products from China and then borrow the money to pay for them from China and other nations, a very dangerous vicious circle.

America now faces dire economic issues. Consider our current massive rate of borrowing from other nations, together with a $1 trillion annual defense budget, and a GDP plunging due to our continuing economic crisis. Could it be that at some point in the future the U.S. may be forced to default on its debts? This is not a doomsday prediction or scare tactic, but it could very well happen if we continue on our present course; on-going wars, outsourcing more manufacturing and growing deficits.

That word default (on debt) has been taboo, unthinkable in the American economic community but here is what Greg Ip said in a Washington Post article Jan. 11, 09. "We're borrowing like mad. Can the U.S. pay it back?" And, "Yes, default is unlikely. But it is no longer unthinkable." He concludes, "The chances of default remain pretty remote. But remote does not mean impossible."

Assuming that China and the U.S. continue to follow their current strategies and directions, and there is no reason to think that they won't, China seems to be heading into the position of dominance. Right now China is making domestic and foreign policy moves that are based on growth and solidifying its economic foundation. On the other hand, the U.S. is pursuing strategies that have no clear formulas designed to spur growth, but, rather, strategies that are severely eroding our economic base.

There is a point in the future where these two strategies will meet head on and then we will see which will prevail; economic power or military power.