Waiahole Dream

SUBHEAD: Culture and agriculture, through the eyes of one farmer on Oahu's windward side.

 By Kevin O’Leary on 3 March 2010 in Honolulu Weekly -

Image above: Small farms in Waiahole Valley on Ohau's Koolau (windward side). From GoogleEarthMaps.

Water runs through Charlie Reppun’s world. It flows through the acres of taro loi that he and his brother Paul work in Waiahole Valley on Oahu’s windward side; it moves water wheels that provide electricity for their off-the grid operation; it somehow even seems to feed Charlie’s irrepressible optimism–which may be the single most important trait a small farmer in Hawaii must possess in 2010.

Meeting up with Reppun is not an easy matter. Phone directions to his acreage ran to half a scribbled page, and this city denizen still managed to end up mostly wandering clueless, eventually crossing a stream over a dubious looking plank and begging a neighbor for help, before being ushered into Charlie’s funky, ’70s-era tin-roof house.

Driving into Waiahole, one passes numerous homemade signs warning that million dollar homes are not welcome, that Waiahole people will fight any developer who tries to mess with their rural lifestyle. From attempts in the 1970s to build a massive marina, condos and 7,000 homes here, to later proposals for golf courses, residents and their allies have rallied around the Poi Factory on the corner of Waiahole Valley Road and Kamehameha Highway, and essentially said “no way.”

In a historic move, much of the acreage held in private hands was purchased by the State in the ’70s, and although it took nearly 20 additional years for actual agreements to be finalized, farmers like the Reppuns now have 50-year ag-leases, at rates that Charlie characterizes as “reasonable.”

Sitting down at his big wooden table, drinking fresh-brewed coffee grown on the property, Reppun gives a nod to the history.

“You know, H-3 was really built to open up Windward to development,” he says. “There was talk of a nuclear power plant in Heeia, a deep-draft harbor for Kahaluu.” Plans scrapped, in favor of what Reppun calls “directed development”–that is, directed to central Oahu and the ‘Ewa plain.

“That’s what the rail project seems to me to be about–urban development along the route,” he says. “But there’s no talk about agricultural development that could be part of the mix.” Reppun is an advocate for the small farmer, but his take on the entire question of food production is broad in scope.

“You say we’re on an island, far from everywhere, but the continent is an island too,” he says. “I’m not so worried about the fact that 85 percent of our food is imported, and what if the ships don’t come–it’s really the urbanization of farmland across the U.S. that worries me. A lifetime on the farm, it seems, has not narrowed Reppun’s focus.

“We get most of our fresh vegetable from California’s Central Valley, which is losing 15,000 acres a year to urbanization… We need to think: is this current system of agriculture, with so few people growing all the food for everybody else, a workable system? I think that if you’re going to have an equitable farming model that works, then way more people need to be involved in food production. The answer may not be with more small farms, but with way more backyard gardening.”

The Department of Hawaiian Homelands recently unveiled a prototype for a backyard aquaponic system, where tilapia and vegetables are raised together in a single small, stand-alone unit–a system UH microbiology professor Harry Ako has called “compact agriculture.” The city could also expand its 10 community gardens, where small plots are provided to the public for a nominal yearly fee.

Reppun worries about Hawaii’s agricultural image generally, and has a suggestion for the State government, an only somewhat tongue-in-cheek proposal for reversing that image and making a statement that would go a long way toward, symbolically at least, promoting self-sufficiency and Hawaiian values.
“Take a look at the State Capitol–there is an immense lawn around that building. Why? Wouldn’t it be an incredible statement if all of that was planted in sweet potatoes and dryland taro? That would be dramatic.”
When Reppun speaks on the subject of food and food production, he sounds as though he is talking about a movement, about being part of something bigger than a single small Oahu farm. His conversation is sprinkled with recommendations of related books and films, like The End of Food by Paul Roberts, Michael Pollan’s books and the 2007 documentary “King Corn.”

On a stroll around the farm, with a perfectly blue sky outlining the Koolau heights behind us, one wonders, does it ever get a little lonely up here? Not really. “We talk to a lot of people,” Reppun explains. “We have a lot of groups coming up here. Next week I have two Kamehameha preschools scheduled, a UH law school class [studying Hawaii water rights law] on Friday, and the entire Punahou 7th grade coming in April.”

And how about all this public attention?
“It’s a good sign–the interest. But also a bad sign–that you have to travel this far to see taro growing. Sometimes it’s almost like we’re becoming a museum. Not a good trend.”
A museum maybe, but one that produces roughly 600 pounds of fresh food a week. Like a lot of small farmers, worldwide, Charlie Reppun’s day-to-day work revolves around a limited piece of the planet. To some, maybe to those of us who live in a big crowded city, his views may seem naïve, his voice lost in the shuffle. This doesn’t seem to bother him.
“The way things are going today, my philosophical inspiration is the book Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss. Horton hears this entire world, that nobody else believes in–they think he’s full of it. And everybody in this little world has to go around and start making noise, so that they can be heard. And it comes down to this one little kid, who’s been fooling around, not doing anything to help, and the Mayor finds him, and the kid lets out a yelp and suddenly they can be heard. So that’s my philosophy: we need to get enough people on board and then things will change.”

Various Bubblings

SUBHEAD: The drivers of civilization collapse are now in progress — overpopulation, resource depletion, climate change, and military adventurism. Earth, meet Venus. Image above: A bubbling hotspring in lago Verde, Bolivia looks like it might be Mars. From (http://halandalgosouth.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/into-bolivia). By Albert Bates on 7 March 2010 in The Great Change - (http://peaksurfer.blogspot.com/2010/03/various-bubblings.html) Two bubblings have been pounding at our attention this week. The first is the bubbling of anger and resentment, primarily from masses of people being disenfranchised from their acquired entitlements. They resent having spent lifetimes, whether those be long and arduous or still fresh and relatively easy, under the expectation that all this stuff around them was more or less permanent and just the way things are. They resent it when they get a bill for their utilities that doubled from what it was last year (or last month). They resent being washed over in the real estate tsunami and being told their underwater house is now worth less than their mortgage. They resent health insurance premiums rising faster than the cost of medical treatment. They resent being sold a glowing promise on hybrid cars that have to have batteries changed out at a third the cost of the new car, or whose acceleration won’t stop even when you turn off the key and stand on the brake. They don’t like losing their job, or getting out of college and discovering no one is hiring, or trying to get a loan to start a business and being turned down. They are angry. They want to blame someone. So they poke sticks at government. They poke sticks at bankers. They poke at the media. They poke at scientists, liberals, right wingers, Al Gore, Halliburton, the Federal Reserve, Congress, election finance, the drug lobby, Israel, the hippies, Jimmy Carter, or talk radio. They point at schoolteachers. Anyone they can blame for feeding them a pack of lies — material wealth will make you happy; hard work will make you materially wealthy; everyone can find a job if they look; any child can become a president or an astronaut; save more than you spend and you will become rich; and our system is the best on earth. This past week thousands of Greeks stoned their parliament after being handed a 25% sales tax, stripped of pensions and vacation time and taking a drop in wages in the public sector. The trade unions called for public works stoppages, strikes and daily marches. Across the United States the clash is over the school system, with nearly every State raising tuitions, canceling scholarships, freezing hiring and cutting programs. Net result: students with no place to left to go and plenty of time to protest. In Mexico they have begun charging children to attend public school, even down to the kindergarten level. As in the US, parents will find they now have the children staying home (like their parents) and eventually that will dumb down the population so that they understand even less about who is to blame, and so waste even more time pointing fingers and protesting (although it is at least arguable that they were getting dumbed down faster in school or at work). In Iceland citizens are protesting having to pay back the investors in the UK and Europe who sank billions into Icelandic Ponzi bank schemes. This makes good sense. Caveat emptor, investors! It is such a good idea that Congressman Barney Frank was heard to effuse that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should deliver similar haircuts to their bondholders. Nobody seems to have mentioned to the Congressman that the bondholders in the main are the Chinese government, which holds about 1 trillion in US sovereign debt, followed by Japan at 750 billion. Japan would not have much it could say if given a haircut by the US home mortgage market, but China would probably have quite a bit to say, and one thing would be to say nothing, just stay away from the next T-bill market, and the next, and the next. More interesting, really, is who stands third in line at that barber shop — the oil exporting countries. If you insist on giving them a haircut, they can just sell their oil elsewhere, to China and Japan, for instance. What does one imagine would happen to schoolteachers, salaries, vacation time, pensions and sales taxes then? Can you throw a brick through the window of Kuwait? Our second ominous bubbling is occurring in the Arctic, and it was something we predicted in our 1990 book, Climate in Crisis, although we have to say we did not expect to see it this soon. Last summer we reported observing the bubbles coming up in methane “chimneys” off the coast of northern Norway. Now we are noting chimneys off Alaska on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. The bubbles are from the frozen clathrates on the ocean floor. They were formed by the decomposition of organic matter in those sediments over millennia, and perhaps from abiogenic sources bubbling from farther down, but until now the oceans have been cold enough to keep the methane trapped in submarine permafrost. Davy Jones’ hold is an Ice Locker. The permafrost chimney effect only works in shallow seas. Elsewhere the bubbles dissolve before they reach the surface. We’ve been observing ocean acidity rising at least 10 times faster than was previously thought, and the negative effects that is having on shellfish species, coral reefs and the entire marine food chain. We’ve been warned by the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity that the ocean acidity could increase 150 percent just by mid-century. "This dramatic increase is 100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment over the last 20 million years, giving little time for evolutionary adaptation within biological systems," the UN committee said. One explanation of the acidity is how much CO2 is being rained out as industrial emissions fill up the atmosphere. Ocean acidity is now higher than it has been in 65 million years. A more ominous explanation is that the acidity is caused in part by the methane being produced from deep clathrates. A fifth of world coral reefs are dead and the rest may be lost in 20–40 years because of rising water temperatures and ocean acidification. Last year the world ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for any June–August season since 1880. If we burn all the fossil fuels — the gases released by fracturing, the oil shales and tar sands, all the deepest deposits, many gigatons of carbon — where do we get to? There’s some chance of getting above Cretaceous levels, where the seas could reach 38 degrees Celsius, or 100 degrees Fahrenheit — hotter than the human body. Today sea surface temperature is 16.4 degrees C, or 61.5 degrees F. We have quite a way to go to get to the Cretaceous, but the speed at which we are moving is breathtaking. Of course, as we have noted here before, warmer oceans, methane from permafrost and clathrate bubblings are all tipping points that accelerate climate change and are multiplicative — 2 or 3 orders of magnitude times anthropogenic emissions, once their threshold is crossed. Earth, meet Venus. The toxic gas fireballs rolling across Kansas, destroying and poisoning everything in their path, are described in Peter Ward's book, Under a Green Sky. As Wallace Broecker says, "The climate is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks." Somehow the four principal drivers of our civilization collapse in progress — overpopulation, resource depletion, climate change, and military adventurism — while they are getting the notice of some scholars and military think tanks have yet to come to the notice of schoolteachers. Maybe they should be fired. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Arctic Seabed Methane Unstable 3/5/10 Island Breath: Permafrost Methane Threat 9/6/06 .

Iceland rejects debt settlement

SUBHEAD: Iceland voters join the Greeks - Tell Europe's global bankers to 'Shove It'! Image above: Icelanders up to their necks in hot water. And that's the good news - "geothermal". From (http://rvkgrapevine.wordpress.com/2008/03/06/iceland-full-of-natural-energy). By Elaine Byrne 7 March 2010 in Irish Times - (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2010/0308/1224265794258.html) Saturday's Icesave referendum was resoundingly rejected by 93.2 per cent of Icelanders, with just 1.8 per cent casting their vote in favour of the current €3.9 billion repayment package. Although severe weather conditions have prevented counting of the hundred or so ballots from Grímsey island, Iceland’s northernmost island on the Arctic Circle, the final turnout is projected to be 62.7 per cent. President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, responsible for triggering the first-ever referendum in Iceland’s history, said yesterday that “the referendum was not about refusing to pay back the money; the referendum was about doing it on fair terms”. Icelanders in fact voted on an obsolete referendum question, because better repayment terms have already been agreed in negotiations that are still continuing. However, a deep public anger about compensating the UK and the Netherlands for depositor losses stemming from the collapse of the Landsbanki bank has given rise to a misunderstanding on the part of some voters that the referendum was about reneging on repayment of the Icesave debts. Similar scenes to last year’s “kitchenware revolution” were replayed when hundreds gathered outside the Althing, the national parliament, on Saturday and banged pots and pans advocating a rejection of the referendum. Reflecting hardening public opinion on negotiating any deal, protesters carried placards reading “Parliament of the Street is Better Than Parliament of Defeat” and “In Defence of Homes, Enough is Enough”. The announcement of preliminary referendum results on the national broadcaster RUV late on Saturday night were met with fireworks in Reykjavik. The scale of the No vote and the large turnout has surprised most commentators, especially given comments by prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir that she would not actually vote in the referendum, which she described as “meaningless”. The minister of finance, Steingrimur Sigfusson, said yesterday that negotiations with the Dutch and UK governments would restart shortly. The government, he said, was working to secure the desperately needed $4.6 billion (€3.37 billion) IMF rescue package, currently on hold because of uncertainties surrounding the Icesave repayment. Mr Sigfusson told The Irish Times that international interest in the Icesave issue was down to the issue of responsibility, and that Iceland was not “unique” in these “historic times”. “Obviously there is a moral aspect here as well and it is easy to understand that people are angry . . . a lot of public money is being used to bail out banks,” he said. A founding member of the Left-Green Alliance movement, the 55- year-old was appointed as minister for finance just over a year ago when the centre-right government fell from office in the immediate aftermath of Iceland’s economic collapse. “In the end we have to learn something from this expensive experience,” Mr Sigfusson said. He also urged caution, suggesting that the Icelandic experience should not be “overexaggerated . . . this is not a phenomenon that can be voted out of the world. Icesave still exists.” Describing himself as the “happiest man on Earth when this is finally over”, Mr Sigfusson said Iceland might need to have a debate on what type of parliamentary system it wished to have. He did not believe that it was practical that a president “can step in over and over again” to continuously put legislative decisions agreed by parliament to referendum. On a popular political television show yesterday, there appeared to be a growing consensus about a national government comprised of all political parties.
Video above: Lynn Says Icelanders Should Tell U.K. to `Take A Hike'. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3AtNffFfWc) Iceland vote 98 to 99% to say NO! By Staff on 6 March 20120 at Iceland Review - (http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=16567&ew_0_a_id=358928) The election on the government's Icesave-law was held today in Iceland and the first results indicate that over 98% of valid votes say no to the law. About 5% of the ballots were invalid or blank. This result is a big blow to the government of Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir and Finance Minister Steingrímur J. Sigfússon. In TV interviews the duo tried to play down the significance of the vote, pointing out that turnout was lower than in election to Althingi, Iceland’s Parliament. The election on the governments Icesave law was held today and the first results indicate that over 98% of valid votes say no to the law. About 5% of the ballots were invalid or blank. This result is a big blow to the government of Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir and Finance Minister Steingrímur J. Sigfússon. In TV interviews the duo tried to play down the significance of the vote, pointing out that turnout was lower than in election to Althingi, Iceland’s Parliament. The leaders of the opposition were all delighted over the resounding no. Polls had indicated that the result might be over 80% no, but the almost unanimous verdict of the nation comes as a surprise. Bjarni Benediktsson, Chairman of the right wing Independence Party said that this outcome was the result of a relentless fight against the government’s agreement with the two governments. He said that as a result the government would have to present a clear plan to the Althingi on its goals. Benediktsson said that the vote was a question of whether Iceland should sholder the responsibility for the minimum insurance of 20.887 € per account, the full interest cost of the Dutch and the British and on top of that all risk if the defunct Landsbanki should pay less of the total loss than what is now expected. “One also worries about how the government leaders talk about what happens next, as if the fact that the UK and Holland no longer are going to profit from the interest charged is a great victory for us in the negotiations.” Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, Chairman of the centrist Progressive Party said that now Althingi could concentrate on economic issues. The Icesave issue could wait, but if the UK and Holland were willing to solve the issue, then it would be OK to help them. Sigurdardóttir and Sigfússon both said that this would have no effect on the cooperation of the two parties, the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green. On TV it seem as if they had not fully grasped how completely one-sided the vote was. Neither had participated in the election and both seemed to believe that next week they would go back to business as usual. The Prime Minister said that not coming to an agreement on Icesave was costing the nation a lot of money and the time has come to calculate that cost. The vote was the first of its kind since 1944 when Iceland gained independence from Denmark. .

Off the shelf solar vehicle

SUBHEAD: The making of a two-seat off-the-shelf solar photo-voltaic electric vehicle.

Image above: Three PV panel two-seat electric vehicle. From (http://solarbikeproject.com/index.html)

By Russ and Bryan on 30 May 2009 in Solar Bike Project - (http://solarbikeproject.com/offTheShelfTech.html)

Our first search was to find an efficient electric drive motor and a way for it to drive the bike. Since we wanted to be able to go up hills at optimum efficiency, it was attractive to use a chain-driving motor or “mid drive” that allows for gear changing via the derailleur. The best of these is made by Ecospeed of Portland, Oregon, which we saw operating firsthand on one of Brent Bolton’s bikes. We took careful measurements of the motor’s size and from these Russell made a foamcore model, which we used to figure out where in the hell the thing would fit on our existing bike’s frame. An obvious spot was in the triangle behind the captain seat and in front of the rear crank. But would it fit? The foamcore model proved it would, so we mounted the EcoSpeed motor to a quarter-inch thick aluminum plate connected to the frame with four stout U-bolts. Ah, it worked.

Key to using both human power and an electric motor is to make the motor independent of the crank, so the riders wouldn’t have to spin their legs. Each power source needs a freewheel, so we found an oddball freewheel gadget once made for Vision tandem bikes. It was called the IPS or Independent Pedaling System, basically freewheels that made the chainrings for the captain and stoker independent of each other. Thus we could drive a chainring on the rear crank from the motor, and another chainring on the same crank with the pedals, and make them independent (the motor having its own freewheel). We had some problems keeping the chainline aligned at first with the new freewheel, but eventually using a chain tensioner and structural reinforcement we got it right.

Every solar vehicle needs batteries, and to choose the right type we carefully calculated the amp draw and distance requirements we’d need to make for an efficient system. We’d need batteries to store surplus solar power to keep us going during cloudy weather, in tunnels, or when shaded by trees. More to the point, we knew that hill-climbing would demand more energy per hour than our solar panels could produce, so we needed as large of a buffer as we could carry. That battery would have to be charged and discharged quickly, maybe 50 amps of current drain over some tens of minutes, so that narrowed the available (and affordable) battery chemistries.

In the end we settled on a new design of the old standard lead-acid battery. We began testing our system using two Optima yellow-top deep-discharge batteries, 55 amp-hour capacity. The batteries are heavy, at 42 pounds each, and they store only about 15 watt-hours per pound. But they’re just what we need – they will quickly accept a full charge in just two hours of morning sunlight and then charge up again in a couple of hours at the end of the day. In the meantime, we set about designing our system so that it would run almost-completely on solar power in the middle of each day.

We needed hard numbers to get our electrical and mechanical design right, so we pressed into service a 20-year-old Burley child trailer and used it to carry the test batteries. We mounted a dedicated charger to each battery box so we could easily lug each battery to a separate 20-amp circuit when we ran out of juice during our first field runs using only battery power and no solar panels. Using this arrangement, in 2007 we performed numerous “data runs” up and down the tree-lined streets of midtown Sacramento. We would test the power draw for various gear ratios and speeds, finding the optimum combinations. Neighbors got used to seeing these two guys calling out to each other strings of number of amperes, volts and speed as we created a spreadsheet of data on the run. We used our knowledge to adjust the size of the sprockets on the motor and crank, so that efficiency was maximized at the speeds we wanted, while we could pedal at any speed to add power. With all this data we could estimate the performance with a given solar panel’s power. We learned that we needed something between 500 and 800 watts to propel our beast continuously at 20 miles per hour. Could that much solar power fit on our bike? And how could we possibly afford so many solar panels, we wondered. With the tiny amount of overhead square footage on a bike and trailer, we really needed to find the very most efficient solar cells available. And because our project is dedicated to using off-the-shelf parts rather than aerospace techniques like custom-wiring hundreds of individual cells, we looked for the most efficient solar panel maker. That led us to San Jose, California-based SunPower Corporation.

Bryan located a key executive, Bobby Ram at SunPower and explained the design challenge. At the time, young SunPower didn’t yet have a community donation program or any standard way of dealing with our request. They were moving offices, expanding greatly and becoming the US leader in PV power. But they had the best panels in the business.

We went to their headquarters, presented our design (fully realized in Photoshop), and retuned some months later to pick up three SPR-315, 300W panels each 19% efficient. These are standard panels normally used for rooftop residential PV systems. (Thanks, Bobby!) Compare the 19 percent SunPower efficiency with 12-16% for most other single-junction silicon panels. The Sunpower cell design is unique, with the positive and negative electrodes interdigitated on the rear surface and the cell made from high purity material. Photocarriers from sunlight aren’t reabsorbed as quickly in this material, and have a greater chance of reaching the electrodes (which are in shallowly doped regions to realize PN junctions), resulting in greater efficiency. With an astonishing 945W of solar, we now could count on wattage comparable to the million-dollar race cars and to the best of the other non-race projects like Solar Taxi and Xof1. As it happens, the 315 watts each panel is capable of producing is roughly equal to the average energy output of a champion Tour de France cyclist. Imagine our good fortune to have three SunPower panels, or the equivalent of having three such powerful athletes silently helping us pedal our bicycle.

The SunPower panels are beautiful and rugged, able to withstand 50 mph hailstorms with hailstones an inch in diameter. But that makes them heavy, at 50 pounds each. Our design challenge was to find a way to mount the panels absolutely as low as possible to minimize any over-tipping of either our bike or trailer. So we decided to put one panel on the trike and two on a yet-to-be-designed trailer in back with the batteries. We designed a special low-center-of-gravity trailer together with Rich Porras of Sacramento’s Grease Kings, a biodiesel conversion shop. Rich helped us puzzle through some of the arcane design possibilities and in August 2008 welded the trailer out of surplus round and square aluminum tubing, and we supported the frame on two BMX shock-absorbing forks for suspension. Though it’s 10 feet long, the trailer frame is so light that can be easily picked up with one hand. It connects to the trike via a spherical bearing that allows motion in any rotational axis. Its 20 inch wheels are the same as those on the trike, so we carry only one kind of spare tire and tubes.

One interesting electrical challenge is that the SunPower panels need to be isolated from the negative side of the circuit, so we mounted them on insulating PVC tubing and pieces of Sorbothane. We were able to make the panels tiltable, which vastly increases the amount of energy we can capture in the early morning and late afternoon. Tilting up the panels also gives us access to the 15 cubic feet of trailer storage space, essential for getting at our tools, camping supplies and the charge controller. As the 42-inch-wide panels are wider than normal doors, this tilt-up feature also allows the bike and trailer to ease through a 36 inch wide door.

We’ve learned that to get maximum efficiency in using solar panels it’s best to use a maximum power point tracker, a device which gauges battery charge and adjusts the solar charging voltage to the most appropriate value. We wired up an Outback MX-60 charge controller and adjusted its bulk and float voltages so that the charger feeds maximum current to the motor even when the batteries are fully charged. The Outback displays input (solar) and output (battery/motor) voltage, current and power, which is imaged by a CCD camera and sent to a video monitor above the captain. Knowing what’s going on with battery charge, watt-hours used and a host of other measurements is critical as we develop and operate the bike, so we secured a DrainBrain (now sold as CycleAnalyst) by the Renaissance Bicycle Company of Vancouver BC which is useful in optimizing throttle control as well as monitoring performance. In operation, one adjusts the throttle during acceleration and cruising to keep the power below a desired level.

One key goal of our design was to have a sleek silent vehicle so we could enjoy day-long solar-powered tours of the countryside. We noticed immediately that the gear whine of the first planetary reducing gear of our chain-drive motor emitted lots of noise. By late 2008, though, Brent Bolton of EcoSpeed was able to procure a much-quieter and more-rugged planetary gear unit which made the sound much quieter. But in the meantime we’d fallen in love with a silent and powerful hub motor made by Crystalyte. We knew we could only use the 5303 ungeared motor efficiently at our top cruise speed of 18-20 mph, but the silence and simplicity of it led us to add it to our system and mount it in the rear fork of the Greenspeed trike. We bought the Crystalyte motor without a controller, figuring, a little too-cleverly, that we could use the EcoSpeed motor’s controller to power it. Immediately we found the hub motor drawing 1.3 kilowatts, far in excess of what it should, and heating up the poor motor controller so much it shut down smoking hot after only a few minutes of travel. Eventually we purchased a dedicated motor controller designed for the Crystalite, the 4840. Unfortunately the controller was designed to be operated at 48 volts and our system bus voltage is 36 volts. Happily some hurried email conversations with dedicated hobbyists on the “V is for Voltage” forum suggested a way we might modify the controller to work at 36 volts. With improvised tiny soldering iron Russ pulled out a resistor and mounted a variable potentiometer outside the unit we could adjust for varying lower cut-off voltages. Now the controller works beautifully at 36 volts.

With the right controller in place, the hub motor is efficient and ultra quiet. Now we have two usable motors and can switch between them by switching the throttle from one to the other. An excellent use for the two motors is to come up to speed with the geared-down mid-drive and then cruise with the hub motor in its efficient speed. What could be more extravagant? Our tests of the bike in 2009 shows that all our gearing and motor experiments paid off with high efficiency and luxurious quiet. Depending on our speed, the touring bike, weighing in at 860 pounds including riders, consumes only between 30 and 50 watt-hours per mile, just exactly what’s available to cruise all day on the output of our three solar panels.

When we added the hub motor capability in late 2008 and incorporated our new long solar trailer, we changed from a bus voltage of 24V to 36V for additional power. This caused a little problem -- how to run many of the extreme 24-volt visibility lights on 36 volts. The solution: wire in a salvaged DC-to-DC converter to generate 24V from the 36-volt bus. These 24-volt lights were no mediocre bike lights, by the way. To make us visible we designed and built a super-efficient headlight out of six, 3W Luxeon LEDs, with reflectors and diffusers. This 20-watt headlight is at least as powerful as two standard 55-watt incandescent auto headlights, allowing us to ride at night on reserve battery power. Because we’re determined to be seen by all road vehicles, we’ve also attached a yellow xenon strobe flasher (originally designed for Caterpillar machines on the bike’s topmost point. Add to that some yellow LED running lights on the sides and brilliant red LED light bars flashing on the rear surfaces saying “bike ahead” with the intensity of a car taillight. We have yet to attach 24-volt white strobes from surplus room fire alarms to the sides, to become a rolling construction site. Maybe planes will land on us.

Seriously, though, we’ve designed the solar touring bike to fit the usual legal status of an electric-assist bicycle. Most state vehicle codes will allow such electric-assist bikes to travel up to 20 mph and use no more than 750 watts of power. We’ve been scrupulous to adhere to these guidelines, as well as incorporating the lighting, bells, horns and visibility flag to comply with local ordinances. As an electric-assist bike our solar tourer can travel anywhere bicycles are permitted, and does not require an operator’s license.


After a year of weekend garage construction and dozens of shakedown rides we’re now poised to take the solar touring bike on the long adventures we built it for. Prime solar touring season lies between April and September each year, so we’re working toward a multi-state tour beginning in northern California sometime during that time frame. Depending on our day-job work schedules we don’t yet know if we will be able to make the 1,500-mile solar tour in 2009 or 2010. In the meantime this spring we’ll be putting final touches on the bike’s mechanical and electrical systems. Look for us at one of our first public exhibits -- the 2009 Maker Fair Bay Area, May 30 and 31, at the San Mateo County Expo Center.


Guilt Free Cold Beer

SUBHEAD: Dedicated solar PV rig to refrigerate green beer in New Zealand. Learn how. Image above: Two 175w solar PV panels generously powers full size refrigerator from Article.

By Dave, Irena and Greg Lowe on 15 april 2009 in About Lowenz - (http://www.lowenz.com/about-lowenz/projects/guilt-free-beer-fridge) In the average New Zealand home hot water heating is usually the single biggest user of electricity. Surprisingly after hot water heating the next biggest usage is often old and inefficient fridges. This applies especially to old fridges which are often parked out in garages as a second or classic Kiwi “beer fridge”. These usually have very poor and often partially missing door seals as well as inefficient insulation and compressors. Also in many cases the compressors still contain CFCs which are now banned as ozone depletion substances rather than modern non ozone depleting refrigerants.

We decided to look at this issue as a demonstration project for home solar electricity production by photovoltaic panels. Our installation consists of two 175 watt Sharp photovoltaic panels coupled via a charge controller to two deep cycle 12 volt lead acid batteries. The charge controller is a Morningstar Sunsaver which uses maximum power point tracking to maximise the power output of the photovoltaic panel array. This is done using an automatic tracking algorithm which tracks the array maximum power point voltage as it varies with weather conditions ensuring that maximum possible power is harvested from the array through the course of a day. This type of controller can significantly increase the amount of power available from a given array and is a much cheaper option than adding extra photovoltaic panels when more energy is needed.
Energy is drawn from the batteries using a Latronics 800watt pure sine wave inverter which inverts 24VDC from the batteries to 230V 50 Hz AC. For our demonstration project we are using this energy to run the LOWENZ office (computer system and energy saver lights) and a high efficiency Gram fridge. The fridge is 220L with a rated energy consumption of only 0.34KWhr/day. However our experience so far is that it is using much less energy than this, only about 0.25KWhr/day, because we are testing the system as a “garage beer fridge” literally in our garage where the ambient temperature is much cooler than inside a house. Clearly the power consumption of a fridge will be a direct function of the difference between the exterior and interior temperatures so it would use more energy if it was run inside a house where the temperatures are warmer. And yes our fridge does have beer and wine stored in it so this is a very practical demonstration.
So far we have only run the system over a two month period in winter when sun angles are much lower (only 28o above the horizon in Wellington at midday on the winter solstice. However despite this we have found that the system produces just over 1 KWhr/day on sunny days which is more than enough energy to run the fridge and the LOWENZ office and we have used the surplus energy to cook meals over the course of several hours in a 160 Watt slow cooker or to run lights. The Wellington weather over May and June 2009 has been pretty shocking with a lot of very cold dull southerly days. However, even during these conditions, the system has still generated enough power to run the fridge and office computer although we have had to conserve on extra lights. Its important to note that because this system is not connected to the grid it is not subject to local power failures and will be capable of supplying emergency power if mains power is lost through an Earthquake disaster for example.

This has been a fun project, and in hindsight very simple to put together. If you are interested in something like this for your home please contact us for details.


Henry Curtis energy interview

SUBHEAD: Interview with Life of the Land’s executive director on what to look for in the current legislative session.

 By Ragnar Carlson on 24 February 2010 in Honolulu Weekly -

Image above: Honolulu lit up at night on fossil fuels. From (http://travel.webshots.com/photo/1526707581083146971QjlUpm).

Even if very few island residents have heard of it, government and industry insiders have known for decades that non-profit watchdog organization Life of the Land (http://www.lifeofthelandhawaii.org) is among the very most persistent and effective advocates for a better environmental and energy policy. As the group celebrates 40 years of wonky activism, we spoke with Executive Director Henry Curtis about energy issues at the 2010 legislative session.

Life of the Land seems to have become more focused on energy more than on development these days.

Henry Curtis: Yes, we do work on other things, but we’re more active on energy issues right now. Energy is really at a key moment in time. Climate change and peak oil both will fundamentally change the earth’s future. Hawaii has an opportunity, given that we have so many varieties of renewable energy available to us, to show the world how a transition from fossil fuels to renewable is possible.
Of course, the other side has enormous funds. If you look at Exxon Mobil, they make $100million per day in profits. They have a clear interest in the status quo. That money goes toward denying that climate change is real, and funding the naysayers. The coal companies, big agriculture, they’re all lining up to fight a move away from fossil fuels.

It’s often said that Hawaii is making real and serious progress on energy issues. Do you agree?

No. I think we’re making some progress, but leaving too much undone. If for example you look at all the energy bills moving through the Legislature, virtually none mention greenhouse gases. For example, there’s a bill moving along [HB 2421] that says we should expand tax credits for processing agricultural waste into ethanol and biodiesel. But it excludes local waste oil and includes imported palm oil, which is a huge contributor to deforestation and greenhouse gases.

Sounds like a handout.

It is. We’re not making the connections. HB 2421 is a tax on oil but not a tax on coal and not a tax on tropical biofuels. Of those three, oil is the least dangerous in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. So we’re taking the least dangerous and encouraging the use of the most dangerous, at least in terms of climate change.

What other energy matters are you focused on this year?

There’s also SB2224, which says that the PU comissioners have to file ethics reports with the state. They currently file them, but they’re not public. It would also say that the members of the Board of Land and Natural Resources should disclose their ethics forms. I think it has a chance [of passing] The BLNR is composed of mixed party affiliations. But the PUC is all Republican commissioners, so maybe it has a chance [in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. HB 2642 increases the funding to the Public Utilties Commission. It’s funded through a tax on HECO and other utilities. The rate was increased more than a decade ago, but the increase went to the state’s general fund. This redirects the funds from that tax directly to the PUC.

What are some non-energy bills youre looking at?

HB 2902, which is defunding ‘Olelo (the Hawaii public-access television network.) HB2737 is the bill that would allow the state to sell ceded lands. It says the state should be able to sell land whether ceded or not ceded.

HECO is proposing a full stop on alternative fuel production for Maui and the Big Island, calling it a capacity issue. Some in the industry point to Kauai, where HECO is not doing this, and suspect a profit motive on HECO’s part. What’s this about?

It’s not the level of renewable energy that matters in this case, it’s the amount of intermittent energy. The Big Island has a lot of wind, which is the cheapest and also the most intermittent of the renewable fuels. So having a lot of wind-energy on the grid impedes adding more renewables. Kauai has more biomass, so it’s not the same issue there.

So you believe HECO is acting in good faith on this.

I’m not sure I would say its in perfectly good faith. It is much more reasonable than it sounds to the average person, however. If you add solar using net metering feed-in tariffs, the way the law is written, the utility would have to accept it. 
The problem with that is that the wind at South Point and Hawi are already in queu, but if you add more solar, and the utility has to add it, it ultimately curtails the wind energy [by taking up space in the system]. So a nonexistent new solar source would jump ahead of the existing wind sources. The solar industry loves that, but it hurts the wind industry, which is cheaper.


HECO fights private solar power

SUBHEAD: Hawaii electric utilities make their play to ban renewable distributed solar PV power. Image above: Rebels took out these electrical towers outside of Medellin, Colombia, a few years back, leaving the nation's second largest city without electricity. From (http://www.swamppolitics.com/news/politics/blog/2009/04/spies_in_power_grid_budget_sea.html). By Dave Levitan on 5 March 2010 in Solve Climate - (http://solveclimate.com/blog/20100305/hawaiian-utility-fights-solar-industry-over-private-installations)

If Hawaii's largest utility gets its way, the islands' abundant sunshine may be wasted.

In February, the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) proposed a ban on a booming industry of rooftop solar installations, claiming that too much distributed power generation could destabilize the islands’ isolated power grids. It was forced to back off by the public backlash, but environmental groups and the solar industry say the utility is trying other tactics that will stifle the growth of renewable energy in the state.

“Although HECO is backing away from doomsday for the local renewable industry at this point, all they did was defer the problem,” said Isaac Moriwake, an attorney for Earthjustice who is representing the Hawaii Solar Energy Association.

“Instead of looking at the renewable energy companies going out of business immediately, we’re looking at that happening maybe in half a year or toward the end of the year. Now they’re facing the prospect of a slow strangulation instead of a shot to the head.”

The battle over the islands' energy is just one example of efforts by some utility companies to control distributed power and its potential to eat into their profits.

Hawaii, which currently gets more than 90 percent of its power from fossil fuels, has adopted some of the strongest renewable energy standards in the country. In 2008, the legislature approved a renewable portfolio standard requiring 40 percent of electricity to be produced by renewable sources by 2030. The state and the utilities entered into an agreement that same year that will require 40 percent of total electricity generation be from renewables, as well as 70 percent of all energy, including transportation, by 2030.

Two renewable energy programs are at the heart of HECO’s attempt to block installations. One, the net energy metering program, has been running since 2001 and allows customers who install solar panels to offset the cost of their entire power bill. Another project under consideration is a feed-in tariffs program like those already running in Europe; customers who produce more power than they need through solar installations would feed it back into the grid and earn money for that electricity.

According to Moriwake, HECO has proposed scaling back the net energy metering program, backing off a promise to move the cap on power produced under that umbrella from 3 percent of the total to 4 percent.

“As far as the feed-in tariff program, they’re declaring it dead-on-arrival” in some of the islands, he said. “So after spending more than a year trying to develop the program — and realize, they were the ones that proposed that program in the first place — they’re boarding it before it begins.”

Destabilizing the Grid?

HECO argues that adding too much intermittent distributed generation into the grid could result in destabilization issues, affecting the power supply to customers.

“We do believe that we need to work quickly with our partners in the renewable energy industry to resolve some of these technical issues, because it is really in all of our best interest to get as much renewable energy serving our customers on the grid as possible,” said Darren Pai, a spokesperson for HECO. He added that solar installations are indeed now continuing on all islands.

Others say that there is a point at which too much distributed power might disrupt the grid, but Hawaii is still far from reaching that point.

“This isn’t a problem they invented out of nowhere. The issue is just at what point you start encountering this problem,” said Mark Duda, president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association.

There is some indication that when distributed power accounts for 10 percent of the total on the grid that it might create a problem, he said, but on most of the Hawaiian Islands the amount is currently closer to 5 percent.

Stephen Connors, an expert on transmission and grid issues at the MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, said that specific weather patterns on the Hawaiian Islands could make solar panel outputs more varied than in other locations, and it is that rapid variation that could be destabilizing.

“If the local grid company cannot or does not upgrade the distribution system fast enough to handle this increase in dynamics, then they might — or should — put a moratorium on distributed generation until they make the investment to handle the new operating mode.”

Connors noted, though, that there are solutions to these issues.

“I can’t believe ‘no more photovoltaics — ever’ is their answer,” he said. Adding control systems to allow turning off the solar systems at certain times could help, as could investments in electricity storage connected to the island grid to absorb short-term surpluses of power.

In proposing the ban on new solar installations, HECO recommended forming a study group to pinpoint exactly where the potential grid problems would occur and how best to address them. Opponents of the ban say the issues are far enough away that such an effort can be carried out while continuing to install new systems.

“This is far too important a problem as far as the climate crisis we’re facing, the energy crisis we’re facing, for them to backburner this issue and study it to death,” Moriwake said.

Pai, of HECO, did not have an estimate for how long the study group would take to come to any specific conclusions or solutions.

Aside from setting back the pace of clean energy adoption in Hawaii, limiting new installations would have the additional effect of putting many solar technology companies in the state out of business, said Robert Harris, of the Sierra Club’s Hawaii chapter. Harris said the subsequent decision to back off the proposed ban by HECO could be considered a victory, but the issue is not forgotten easily.

“I think, whenever you make such a strong statement, one that literally could kill the renewable industry here in Hawaii, it is not the type of statement you make lightly.

You have this wonderful movement, I think we’ve adopted some of the strongest renewable energy standards in the U.S., and then you have something like this, and it can really pull the rug out from under all we’ve accomplished.”

Utilities Taking Up the Fight

Duda, of the Hawaiian Solar Energy Association, said he sees the HECO moves as part of a larger trend of utility companies around the U.S. starting to fight against distributed power generation, which is “gnawing into rate base all over the country."

“I think what’s going on is utilities all over the place are figuring out that they need to fight this, and they’re stumbling in various ways and with varying degrees of effectiveness into that battle.”

Harris of the Sierra Club agreed.

“I generally have heard that this is kind of a consistent problem. I don’t think that anyone has done it as bluntly or, frankly, as badly as our utility did.”

There have been varying attempts by utilities to fight the economic threat of privately owned distributed power.

Some are pushing to own the distributed power sources themselves. Los Angeles' municipal utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, tried to push through a ballot measure last year calling for 400 MW of rooftop solar — which it would own and install at ratepayer expense; the measure was defeated as opponents argued that privately owned solar would do the same thing, and do it cheaper.

In North Carolina, where state law will require utilities to get 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021, Duke Energy is piloting a project in which it would also own the solar equipment and power and would lease the rooftops, starting with four corporate roofs this year.

APS, Arizona’s largest utility, proposed a similar pilot last year in Flagstaff, offering a partially reduced rate on electricity for homes and businesses that opted in. This week, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved an APS plan to install 100 MW of solar photovoltaics over the next four years, paid for by ratepayers, which the utility will own.

A bill in the Arizona legislature could have slowed solar's expansion in the state, but the governor announced last week that it would be withdrawn. In 2009, the state Legislature passed a strong standard requiring utilities to produce 25 percent of their power from renewable sources. The bill would have redefined nuclear power as a renewable source; notably, APS already gets more than 25 percent of its total power from a nuclear facility, making any new solar or wind installations unnecessary. The original standard would have been basically rendered meaningless.

HECO’s effort in Hawaii does seem more direct in comparison, and the backlash it created pushed for the quick response and has maybe drawn enough attention to keep the utility from forcing its goals further.

“All we can gather from this is an underlying, deep-seated bias against distributed renewables,” Moriwake said. “There is no other way to make sense of this except that. We’re hoping that’s not the case, because this is one of the few success stories — if not the only success story — we have in Hawaii right now, as far as renewables.”


Food Security and Peak Oil

SUBHEAD: Our modern industrial food system is fragile, perilously complex, and ultimately doomed. Image above: Demonstration with sign "Nature Doesn't Do Bail-Outs". By Jason Bradford on 4 March 2010 in The Oil Drum - (http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6246#more)

The Economy and Mother Nature

I want you all to imagine Mother Nature, in the personified sense. Now, and I realize this may be a stretch, think of her also as a banker, perhaps a matronly Ben Bernanke. Got that image in your head? Okay…

Several generations ago our forefathers walk into “Bank of Nature” and get a loan. Mother Nature approves our loan and offers us plenty of credit. Our ancestors are now endowed with the riches of ancient forests, prolific fisheries, fertile topsoil, clean water, concentrated mineral ores, vast reserves of fossil fuels, and a splendidly stable climate. These assets, Mother Nature’s credit slip, are the source of our wealth and comfort. Every widget, gizmo, thing-a-majig, do-dad, wach-a-macall-it and Winnebago produced in our factories, sold in our stores, stuffed in our closets, piled in our landfills and spilled in our waters originated as a loan from Bank of Nature.

Why are we having economic troubles? Because loans, as we are now discovering, are not just slips of credit, they also come with debt. While we gleefully liquidated the Natural Capital loan Mother Nature approved for us, we failed to develop a business plan that could pay back the debt. This ecological debt is the underlying drag on our financial system.

What this means, practically, is that as soon as the economy tries to heat up again, which we like to call increasing DEMAND, it will be capped on the knees by the henchmen Mother Nature hired. She will not extend us any more credit since we have done a poor job with the first loan. If you are unclear about what I mean here, I’ll explain this a bit more when I talk specifically about oil.

I have seen pictures of some great protest signs over the past couple of years that state this very succinctly: "Nature doesn’t do bailouts". This is why the current policy of all central banks and governments to deal with the financial crisis, which is to essentially create and inject more money into the system, has no chance of success. More money doesn’t solve an ecological debt crisis, because money is a claim on resources and not worth anything by itself.

Oil is Special

Okay, now I want to highlight the special role of oil in our economy.

Over the recent decades, we have built what is called a “globalized economy” where materials, labor and services are readily exchanged across the globe. This feat has only been possible due to cheap oil. The “cheapness” is key. Transportation costs are assumed to be only a small part of doing business.

Some economists have calculated what is called the Goldilocks Zone for oil prices. Below $70 per barrel and it makes no sense for oil companies to explore and develop new supplies, while prices above $80 per barrel lead to a curtailing of demand, basically cutting off prospects for U.S. economic growth. And as mature oil fields deplete, the price to explore and develop new oil wells goes higher than $70 per barrel, essentially locking the U.S. into economic stagnation.

Step back for a moment and think about how potent and special oil is. Oil is highly energy dense and easily portable. A gallon of oil contains enough energy to do the work of hundreds of people simultaneously or a single person for hundreds of hours. You can drive a 4000 lb car at great velocity for tens of miles on a gallon of gasoline. Try pushing a car that distance (but before doing so, ask your doctor if that’s okay).

So when you hear the term peak oil, what does that mean? Peak oil is simply the point in time when the global supply of oil stops growing. Peak oil is not a theory, but an historic fact for 2/3 of oil producing countries, including the United States, which peaked in 1970.

What we experience is less supply leading to a spike in prices. High oil prices then choke off economic growth because our globalized economy is structurally reliant on cheap oil. And without economic growth loans are not paid back sufficiently and a financial crisis ensues.

This is essentially what happened between 2005 and 2008. We had a credit bubble because of lax lending policies PLUS a flattening of oil production at the same time.

Connecting to Food Security

Okay, so what does this have to do with food security?

  1. Globalization and cheap energy led to the development of centralized processing and distribution channels, with what is termed “just in time delivery systems.” The typical grocery store, for example, only has a 3 day supply of food on the shelves, and relies on daily trucking from distance warehouses to restock basic supplies. An oil supply shock would disrupt getting food to stores.
  2. Because of cheap and reliable transportation, it has been possible for entire agricultural regions to become highly specialized in production for export. So the Willamette Valley evolved into a grass seed capital, which replaced a diversified farm economy that contributed significantly to local consumption. Since we no longer have the local farms feeding us, we depend on global trade for basic sustenance.
  3. Farming methods themselves rely on cheap energy, such as tractor fuel and imported fertilizers. Beyond the farm energy is used extensively in processing, distribution, storage and cooking. All told, about 7 calories of fossil fuel go into each calorie of food we eat.
  4. Modern farming is highly connected to the financial system. A depressed economy makes credit scare. Many farms that are in debt and require bank credit to operate will likely go out of business. And some financing is going to be needed to help farms restructure for the transition towards new crops, new methods, and new markets.

What to Do

This brings me to the question of “What to do?”

I’ll first address this towards individual persons and families. As energy flows to society decline, our social systems will become less complex structurally, but our daily lives more complex. What I mean by this is that we will become less of “specialized cogs in a big machine” and instead have to take on more diverse, practical, and flexible roles.

The kinds of work we do will shift too. Consider whether you specialize in a “nice to have job” or a “need to have job”. Jobs are going to be more and more about securing basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, health, and security. Fewer paid jobs will be available. This will require people to rely more on the informal economy, which means getting paid through reciprocal exchange relationships. Start by getting to know your neighbors, joining social networks, and developing a few basic skills, such as gardening, bike repair, and inexpensive health care.

As our formal economy declines more work will be done in the informal economy, as is true now in so-called developing countries. Graph from Post Peak Living based on World Bank data.

This all may sound extreme, but it is already the reality for a growing subpopulation of tens of millions of Americans, and most of the 6.7 billion humans on the planet.

Now I’ll talk about what I’d like to see society do. Instead of thinking about policies and programs, I will talk about values and paradigms.

Primarily we need to recognize that the environment is our primary form of wealth. Bank of Nature, not Goldman Sachs or the Federal Reserve, is our master. It is far more important for us to pay back our ecological debts since these are non-negotiable, whereas financial ones are among people and can be forgiven. If you manage public funds, always ask whether allocating money is going to rebuild natural capital or further its liquidation.

I’d like to see community leaders ask people to consider themselves as contributors rather than consumers. The whole consumer identity should become passé. We will thrive by creating an ecological identity, which is a deep appreciation for our relatedness and absolute interdependence with other people, other forms of life on this planet, and the fundamental forces of sunshine and geology.

What I have said may provoke anxiety, and is certainly an immense undertaking, but ultimately we have no choice so let’s not whine and delay. Let’s take it on as a great adventure, a thrilling challenge. Our success or failure is going to hinge on our attitude. We need to take control of the circumstances and become active participants in transition. I can assure you that doing so is tremendously energizing, healthy, and rewarding in so many ways.


The Century of Famine

SUBHEAD: Without ample, free-flowing petroleum, it will not be possible to support a population of several billion for long. Image above: Photo op of Mau leading the 1958 agrarian initiative "The Great Leap Forward". From (http://dianepernet.typepad.com/diane/2008/10/a-major-mao-mom.html) By Peter Goodchild on 2 March 2010 in Culture Change - (http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=610&Itemid=1) Humanity has struggled to survive through the millennia in terms of balancing population size with food supply. The same is true now, but population numbers have been soaring for over a century. The limiting factor has been hidden, but this factor -- oil and natural gas(or petroleum) -- is close to or beyond its peak extraction. Without ample, free-flowing petroleum, it will not be possible to support a population of several billion for long.

Famine caused by petroleum supply failure alone will result in about 2.5 billion above-normal deaths before the year 2050; lost and averted births will amount to roughly an equal number.

In terms of its effects on daily human life, the most significant aspect of fossil-fuel depletion will be the lack of food. “Peak oil” is basically “peak food.” Modern agriculture is highly dependent on fossil fuels for fertilizers (the Haber‑Bosch process combines natural gas with atmospheric nitrogen to produce nitrogen fertilizer), pesticides, and the operation of machines for irrigation, harvesting, processing, and transportation.

Without fossil fuels, modern methods of food production will disappear, and crop yields will be far less than at present. Crop yields are far lower in societies that do not have fossil fuels or modern machinery. We should therefore have no illusions that several billion humans can be fed by “organic gardening” or anything else of that nature.

The Green Revolution involved, among other things, the development of higher-yielding crops. These new varieties, however, could be grown only with large inputs of fertilizer and pesticides, all of which required fossil fuels. In essence, the Green Revolution was little more than the invention of a way to turn petroleum into food.

Over the next few decades, therefore, there will be famine on a scale many times larger than ever before in human history. It is possible, of course, that warfare and plague will take their toll to a large extent before famine claims its victims. The distinctions, in any case, can never be absolute: often “war + drought = famine” [3], especially in sub-Saharan Africa, but there are several other combinations of factors.

Although, when discussing theories of famine, economists generally use the term “neo-malthusian” in a derogatory manner, the coming famine will be very much a case of an imbalance between population and resources. The overwhelming cause of the imbalance and famine will be fossil-fuel depletion, not government policy (as in the days of Stalin or Mao), warfare, ethnic discrimination, bad weather, poor methods of distribution, inadequate transportation, livestock diseases, or any of the other variables that have often turned mere hunger into genuine starvation.

The increase in the world’s population has followed a simple curve: from about 1.7 billion in 1900 to about 6.1 billion in 2000. A quick glance at a chart of world population growth, on a broader time scale, shows a line that runs almost horizontally for thousands of years, and then makes an almost vertical ascent as it approaches the present. That is not just an amusing curiosity. It is a shocking fact that should have awakened humanity to the realization that something is dreadfully wrong.


Mankind is always prey to its own “exuberance,” to use Catton’s term [2]. That has certainly been true of population growth. In many cultures, “Do you have any children?” or, “How many children do you have?” is a form of greeting or civility almost equivalent to “How do you do?” or, “Nice to meet you.” World population growth, nevertheless, has always been ecologically hazardous. The destruction of the environment reaches back into the invisible past, and the ruination of land, sea, and sky has been well described if not well heeded. But what is even less frequently noted is that with every increase in human numbers we are only barely able to keep up with the demand: providing all those people with food and water has not been easy. We are always pushing ourselves to the limits of Earth’s ability to hold us.

Even that is an understatement. No matter how much we depleted our resources, there was always the sense that we could somehow “get by.” But in the late twentieth century we stopped getting by. It is important to differentiate between production in an “absolute” sense and production “per capita.” Although oil production, in “absolute” numbers, kept climbing — only to decline in the early twenty-first century — what was ignored was that although that “absolute” production was climbing, the production “per capita” reached its peak in 1979 [1].

The unequal distribution of resources plays a part, of course. The average inhabitant of the United States consumes far more than the average inhabitant of India or China. Nevertheless, if all the world’s resources were evenly distributed, the result would only be universal poverty. It is the totals and the averages of resources that we must deal with in order to determine the totals and averages of results. For example, if all of the world’s arable land were distributed evenly, in the absence of mechanized agriculture each person on the planet would have an inadequate amount of farmland for survival: distribution would have accomplished very little.

We were always scraping the edges of the earth, but we are now entering a far more dangerous era. The main point to keep in mind, however, is that throughout the twentieth century, oil production and human population were so closely integrated that every barrel of oil had an effect on human numbers. While population has been going up, so has oil production.

Future excess mortality can therefore be determined ― at least in a rough-and-ready manner ― by the fact that in modern industrial society it is oil supply that determines how many people can be fed. An increase in oil production leads to an increase in population, and a decrease in oil production leads to a decrease in population. [Jan Lundberg’s note: this is why hopes for a technofix of renewable energy – almost always only for electricity -- is far off base regarding the huge present population’s need to eat.]

In round numbers, global oil production in the year 2008 was 30 billion barrels, and the population was 7 billion. The consensus is that in the year 2050 oil production will be about 2 billion barrels. The same amount of oil production occurred in the year 1930, when the population was 2 billion. The population in 2050 will therefore be about the same as in 1930: 2 billion. The difference between 7 billion people and 2 billion is 5 billion, which will therefore be the total number of famine deaths and lost or averted births for that period.

We can also determine the annual number of famine deaths and lost or averted births. From 2008 to 2050 is 42 years. The average annual difference in population is therefore 5 billion divided by 42, which is about 120 million.

It is quite possible, however, that the decline in population will not exactly parallel the decline in oil. In other words, the peak of the population curve may well be a few years later than the peak of the oil curve. People might simply live with less oil per capita for a few decades, i.e. they will just sink further into poverty, with greater problems of malnutrition. In fact, as long ago as 1972, the first edition of The Limits to Growth in its Figure 35, “World Model Standard Run,” showed a 40-year gap between the peak production of food per capita and the peak of population [7].

Many of those annual 120 million will not actually be deaths; famine will cause a lowering of the birth rate. This will sometimes happen voluntarily, as people realize they lack the resources to raise children, or it will happen involuntarily when famine and general ill health result in infertility [4]. In most famines the number of deaths from starvation or from starvation-induced disease is very roughly the same as the number of lost or averted births [3, 4]. In Ireland’s nineteenth-century famine, for example, the number of famine deaths was 1.3 million, whereas the number of lost births was 0.4 million. The number of famine deaths during China’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) was perhaps 30 million, and the number of lost births was perhaps 33 million.

The “normal,” non-famine-related, birth and death rates are not incorporated into the above future population figures, since for most of pre-industrial human history the sum of the two — i.e. the growth rate — has been nearly zero. If not for the problem of resource-depletion, in other words, the future birth rate and death rate would be nearly identical, as they were in pre-industrial times. And there is no question that the future will mean a return to the “pre-industrial.”

Nevertheless, it will often be hard to separate “famine deaths” from a rather broad category of “other excess deaths.” War, disease, global warming, topsoil deterioration, and other factors will have unforeseeable effects of their own. Considering the unusual duration of the coming famine, and with Leningrad [5] as one of many precursors, cannibalism may be significant; to what extent should this be included in a calculation of “famine deaths”? It is probably safe to say, however, that an unusually large decline in the population of a country will be the most significant indicator that this predicted famine has in fact arrived.

These figures obliterate all previous estimates of future population growth. Instead of a steady rise over the course of this century, as generally predicted, there will be a clash of the two giant forces of overpopulation and oil depletion, followed by a precipitous ride into the unknown future.

If the above figures are fairly accurate, we are ill-prepared for the next few years. The problem of oil depletion turns out to be something other than a bit of macabre speculation for people of the distant future to deal with, but rather a sudden catastrophe that will only be studied dispassionately long after the event itself has occurred. Doomsday will be upon us before we have time to look at it carefully.

The world has certainly known some terrible famines in the past, of course. In recent centuries, one of the worst was that of North China in 1876-79, when between 9 and 13 million died, but India had a famine at the same time, with perhaps 5 million deaths. The Soviet Union had famine deaths of about 5 million in 1932-34, purely because of political policies. The worst famine in history was that of China’s Great Leap Forward, 1958-61, when perhaps 30 million died, as mentioned above.

A close analogy to “petroleum famine” may be Ireland’s potato famine of the 1840s, since — like petroleum — it was a single commodity that caused such devastation [6]. The response of the British government at the time can be summarized as a jumble of incompetence, frustration, and indecision, if not outright genocide. “There is such a tendency to exaggeration and inaccuracy in Irish reports that delay in acting on them is always desirable,” wrote Sir Robert Peel in 1845. By 1847 the description had changed: “Bodies half-eaten by rats were an ordinary sight; ‘two dogs were shot while tearing a body to pieces.’”

The news of the coming famine might not be announced with sufficient clarity. Famines tend to be back-page news nowadays, perhaps for the very reason that they are too common to be worth mentioning. Although Ó Gráda speaks of “making famine history” [6], the reality is that between 70 and 80 million people died of famine in the twentieth century, far more than in any previous century [4].

The above predictions can be nothing more than approximate, of course, but even the most elaborate mathematics will not entirely help us to deal with the great number of interacting factors. We need to swing toward a more pessimistic figure for humanity’s future if we include the effects of war, disease, and so on. The most serious negative factor will be largely sociological: To what extent can the oil industry maintain the advanced technology required for drilling ever-deeper wells in ever-more-remote places, when that industry will be struggling to survive in a milieu of social chaos? Intricate division of labor, large-scale government, and high-level education will no longer exist.

On the other hand, there are elements of optimism that may need to be plugged in. For one thing, there is what might be called the “inertia factor”: the planet Earth is so big that even the most catastrophic events take time for their ripples to finish spreading. An asteroid fragment 10 kilometers wide hit eastern Mexico 65 million years ago, but enough of our distant ancestors survived that we ourselves are alive today to tell the story.

Somewhat related, among optimistic factors, is the sheer tenacity of the human species: we are intelligent social creatures living at the top of the food chain, in the manner of wolves, yet we outnumber wolves worldwide by about a million to one; we are as populous as rats or mice. We can outrace a horse over long distances. Even with Stone-Age technology, we can inhabit almost every environment on Earth, even if most of the required survival skills have been forgotten.

Specifically, we must consider the fact that neither geography nor population is homogeneous. All over the world, there are forgotten pockets of habitable land, much of it abandoned in the modern transition to urbanization, for the ironic reason that city dwellers regarded rural life as too difficult, as they traded their peasant smocks for factory overalls. There are still areas of the planet’s surface that are sparsely occupied although they are habitable or could be made so, to the extent that many rural areas have had a decline in population that is absolute, i.e. not merely relative to another place or time. By careful calculation, therefore, there will be survivors. Over the next few years, human ingenuity must be devoted to an understanding of these geographic and demographic matters, so that at least a few can escape the tribulation. Neither the present nor future generations should have to say, “We were never warned.”


1. BP Global Statistical Review of World Energy. Annual. http://www.bp.com/statisticalreview

2. Catton, William R., Jr. Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

3. Devereux, Stephen. “Famine in the Twentieth Century.” IDS Working Paper 105. www.dse.unifi.it/sviluppo/doc/WP105.pdf

4. Ó Gráda, Cormac. “Making Famine History.” Journal of Economic Literature, March 2007. http://www.ucd.ie/economics/research/papers/2006/WP06.10.pdf

5. Salisbury, Harrison E. The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 2003.

6. Woodham-Smith, Cecil. The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849. New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1962.

7. Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis L. Meadows and William W. Behrens III. The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books, 1972.

World oil and population graph courtesy Paul Chefurka, paulchefurka.ca May 2007

* * * * *

Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians, published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is odonatus [at] live.com.

Resistance Resisters

SUBHEAD: Keeping the planet alive. It's time to lead, follow, or get out of the way. Image above: Man faces Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. From (http://media.photobucket.com/image/tiananmen+square+tank/countzander/TankMan.jpg) By Derrick Jensen on 2 March 2010 in Orion Magazine - (http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/5340) Another 120 species went extinct today; they were my kin. I am not going to sit back and wait for every last piece of this living world to be dismembered. I’m going to fight like hell for those kin who remain—and I want everyone who cares to join me. Many are. But many are not. Some of those who are not are those who, for whatever reason, really don’t care. I worry about them. But I worry more about those who do care but have chosen not to fight.

A fairly large subset of those who care but have chosen not to fight assert that lifestyle choice is the only possible response to the murder of the planet. They all carry the same essential message—and often use precisely the same words: Resistance isn’t possible. Resistance never works.

Meanwhile, another 120 species went extinct today. They were my kin.

There are understandable personal reasons for wanting to believe in the invincibility of an oppressive system. If you can convince yourself the system is invincible, there’s no reason to undertake the often arduous, sometimes dangerous, always necessary work of organizing, preparing to dismantle, and then actually dismantling this (or any) oppressive system.

If you can convince yourself the system is invincible, you can, with fully salved conscience, make yourself and your own as comfortable as you can within the confines of the oppressive system while allowing this oppressive system to continue.

There are certainly reasons that those in power want us to see them as invincible. Abusive systems, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, from the familial to the social and political and religious, work best when victims and bystanders police themselves. And one of the best ways to get victims and bystanders to police themselves is for them to internalize the notion that the abusers are invincible and then, even better, to get them to attempt to police anyone who threatens to break up the stable abuser/victim/bystander triad.

And meanwhile, another 120 species went extinct today.

But those who believe in the invincibility of perpetrators and their systems are wrong. Systems of power are created by humans and can be stopped by humans. Those in power are never supernatural or immortal, and they can be brought down. People with a lot fewer resources collectively than any single reader of Orion have fought back against systems of domination, and won. There’s no reason the rest of us can’t do the same. But resistance starts by believing in it, not by talking yourself out if it. And certainly not by trying to talk others out of it.

History provides many examples of successful resistance, as do current events. The Irish nationalists, the abolitionists, the suffragettes—I could fill the rest of this column with examples.

Recently, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has, through attacks on oil pipelines and the kidnapping of oil workers, disabled as much as 40 percent of the oil industry’s output from Nigeria, and some oil companies have even considered pulling out of the region. If those of us who are the primary beneficiaries of this global system of exploitation had 1 percent of their courage and commitment to the land and community, we could be equally effective if not more so. We have vastly more resources at our disposal and the best we can come up with is, what, compost piles? The world is being killed and many environmentalists still think that riding bikes is some sort of answer?

Some people maintain that resistance cannot accomplish anything unless we first change the underlying culture; changing culture, then, is where the real work must lie. Setting aside the fact that sometimes people, organizations, and institutions are just wrong and need to be stopped—the Nazis come to mind, as does the KKK at its peak of power, the robber barons, and so on—the more important point is that resistance and working for cultural change are in no way mutually exclusive, but rather are deeply complementary, which makes the complaints of the lifestylists all the more nonsensical. I’m not trying to stop them from saving seeds or handmaking scythes; I’m merely saying that those activities are insufficient to stop this culture from killing the planet.

Yes, there absolutely needs to be the creation of a new culture with new values (or, really, tens of thousands of cultures, each emerging from its own landbase, including the re-emergence of extant indigenous cultures). But the people involved in that cultural creation must see themselves as part of a resistance movement that supports and encourages action against the forces that are dismembering our planet, or, at least, that doesn’t actively discourage organized resistance whenever the subject is raised.

Otherwise that nice, new culture is simply a fantasy, unhooked from anything in the real, physical world, incapable of ever being effective, and, ultimately, a position of privilege. Maud Gonne, for instance, was intimately involved with the Gaelic Revival, promoting literature and language preservation. She also did prisoner support, worked with the Land League, and got arrested herself. She almost died on a hunger strike and won some basic rights for Irish prisoners in the process (and her son Seán MacBride eventually became chief of staff of the IRA, helped found Amnesty International, and in 1974 won the Nobel Peace Prize).

It is insulting to her memory and to the memory of so many other brave people to state categorically that resistance doesn’t work. Of course it works. But people have to actually do it, and keep doing it for the long haul.

Why are even those who call themselves environmentalists not talking about what really needs to happen to save this planet? Burning fossil fuel, for example, has to stop. This isn’t negotiable. You cannot negotiate with physical reality. It doesn’t matter how or why this burning stops. It needs to stop. We need to stop it—need to stop doing it ourselves, and need to stop others, especially giant corporate others, from doing it too.

We need organized political resistance. Power needs to be named and then dismantled systematically. This requires joint action of whatever sort is deemed necessary. While the frontline actionists are taking apart systems of power and fighting to defend wild nature, the culture of resistance is providing loyalty and cooperation and material support, as well as building up alternate institutions—from means of bringing justice to economic systems to food supply chains to schools to new literary forms—that can take over as the system comes down.

The template is not hard to understand. It will take its own culturally appropriate forms. The same actions have been undertaken by resistance movements everywhere—the Spanish anarchists, the American patriots. It’s not conceptually difficult.

But instead of supporting the necessity for action (and we’re not yet even talking about what forms that action should or could take), or at the very least not attempting to discourage action at every turn, so much of the environmental movement keeps insisting that only personal lifestyle change is possible. No other oppressed group in history has ever taken such a stand.

Right now, a small group of half-starved, poverty-stricken people in Nigeria have brought the oil industry in that country to its knees. They remember what it is to love their land and their communities—perhaps because they are not drowning in privilege, but in the toxic sludge of oil extraction. Is that what it will take to get environmentalists in the U.S. to fight back?

MEND has said to the oil industry:

“It must be clear that the Nigerian government cannot protect your workers or assets. Leave our land while you can or die in it.”
There is more courage, integrity, intelligence, and pragmatism in that statement from MEND than in any statement I have ever read by any American environmentalist, including myself. We need to accept the fact that making this type of statement (and being prepared to act on it) might be necessary to preserve a living planet.

Some people may be willing to give up on life on this planet without resisting. I’m not one of them.