By Timothy Karr on 22 June 2010 in Huffington Post -
Image above: A cartoon on Net Neutrality. From (http://www.neoseeker.com/news/13531-comcast-scores-legal-victory-against-net-neutrality-and-the-fcc).
The Wall Street Journal just reported that the Federal Communications Commission is holding "closed-door meetings" with industry to broker a deal on Net Neutrality -- the rule that lets users determine their own Internet experience.
Given that the corporations at the table all profit from gaining control over information, the outcome won't be pretty.
The meetings include a small group of industry lobbyists representing the likes of AT&T, Verizon, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and Google. They reportedly met for two-and-a-half hours on Monday morning and will convene another meeting today. The goal according to insiders is to "reach consensus" on rules of the road for the Internet.
This is what a failed democracy looks like: After years of avid public support for Net Neutrality - involving millions of people from across the political spectrum - the federal regulator quietly huddles with industry lobbyists to eliminate basic protections and serve Wall Street's bottom line.
We've seen government cater to big business in the same ways, prior to the BP oil disaster and the subprime mortgage meltdown.
The Industry's regulatory capture of the Internet is now almost complete. The one agency tasked with oversight of communications now thinks it can wriggle free of its obligation to protect the open Internet, if only it can get industry to agree on a solution.
Congress is holding its own series of "closed-door" meetings and, while they've been ambiguous on the details, many remain skeptical on whether the process will lead to an outcome that serves the public interest. After all, this is the same Congress that is bankrolled by the phone and cable lobby in excess of $100 million.
Why is this so startling even for the more cynical among us? The Obama administration promised to embrace a new era of government transparency. It's the tool we were supposed to use to pry open policymaking and expose it to the light of public scrutiny.
In that spirit, President Obama pledged to "take a backseat to no one" in his support for Net Neutrality. He appointed Julius Genachowski to head the FCC -- the man who crafted his pro-Net Neutrality platform in 2008.
But the mere existence of these private meetings reveals to us a chairman who has fallen far short of expectations. Instead Genachowski is shying from the need to fortify the Internet's open architecture in favor of deals made between DC power brokers.
These deals will determine who ultimately controls Internet content and innovation. Will phone and cable companies succeed in their decade-long push to take ownership of both the infrastructure of the Internet and the information that flows across its pipes? Will they cut in a few giant companies like Google and the recording industry to get their way?
Whatever the outcome, the public - including the tens of millions of Americans who use the Internet every day and in every way - are not being given a seat at the table.
Genachowski's closed-door sessions come after six months of public comments on whether the agency should proceed with a rule to protect Net Neutrality.
During that period, more than 85 percent of comments received by the agency called for a strong Net Neutrality rule. Look at it this way: If a candidate received more than 85 percent of the vote, wouldn't she have a mandate to decide on the public's behalf?
In Chairman Genachowski's alternative view of reality, though, the public is immaterial, and industry consensus supreme.
• Timothy Karr is Campaign Director, Free Press and SavetheInternet.com
Image above: Detail of poster for 7th Annual Hanapepe Folk Festival.
A Tribute to the Troubadour
'Fretless Guitar Giant' Darby Slick 'Mistress of Media' Millicent Cummings 'Soul Shine Balladeer' Elijah Ray 'Slack Key Lady' Cindy Combs 'Island Blues Man' Michael Barretto 'Up and Coming' Rosie Cutter 'Teenage Ignition Picker' Grant Dykema
June 25th 6 to 11p.m.
Sparkey's Peace Garden at the Storybook Theatre
Old Hanapepe Town
$10 Donation at the door Call 808-651-1090 for more information.
Grant Dykema 6:00-6:15
Rosie Cutter 6:15-6:35
Darby Slick 6:40-7:00
Michael Barretto 7:00-7:45
Millicent Cummings 7:45-8:30
Elijah Ray 8:30-9:15
Cindy Combs 9:15-10:00 .
By Robyn O'Brian on 22 June 2010 in Huffington Post -
Image above: Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer who fought Monsanto on contaminating his crops with GMOs. See (http://www.islandbreath.org/2008Year/15-justice_law/0815-17MonsantoGuilty.html)
[Editor's note: The ruling this Monday was in favor of Monsanto but different observers have concluded surprisingly different conclusions on its effect - even in the same publication. It appears Monsanto won the battle but may have lost a front in the war. Now contamination of organic and conventional seed is to be considered environmental harm.]
Monsanto, the corporation who owns the patent on RoundUp Ready alfalfa, celebrated the decision in support their product's advancement in the marketplace in a statement to the press and shareholders:
"This Supreme Court ruling is important for every American farmer, not just alfalfa growers. All growers can rely on the expertise of USDA, and trust that future challenges to biotech approvals must now be based on scientific facts, not speculation."-- David F. Snively, Monsanto senior vice president and general counsel
"This is exceptionally good news received in time for the next planting season. Farmers have been waiting to hear this for quite some time. We have Roundup Ready alfalfa seed ready to deliver and await USDA guidance on its release. Our goal is to have everything in place for growers to plant in fall 2010."-- Steve Welker, Monsanto alfalfa business lead
According to Business Week and the USDA, alfalfa is "the fourth-most-planted U.S. crop behind corn, soybeans and wheat, is worth $9 billion a year, with annual seed sales valued at $63 million, according to a USDA study. Dairy cows are the primary consumers of alfalfa hay".
The decision is significant because it gives the USDA the ability to partially deregulate genetically engineered crops.
According to the USDA, "U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) crops widely since their introduction in 1996, notwithstanding uncertainty about consumer acceptance, economic and environmental impacts" and the fact that allergenicity testing is not yet available for the novel proteins and allergens created in the genetic engineering process.
Debates over the allergenicity of genetically engineered crops have continued since an August 13, 2002 meeting of the Food Biotechnology Subcommittee of the Food Advisory Committee a multi-agency committee that included representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center or Food Safety and applied Nutrition, a division of the FDA, at which the committee's acting chair, Edward N. Brandt, Jr. MD, PhD, stated in response to a discussion on the safety of genetically engineered foods,
"Of course, we haven't worked into this some kind of test for allergenicity, per se...."Dean Metcalfe, who served as the head of the National Institutes of Health's Laboratory for Allergic Diseases at the time, explained that although you could test genetically engineered crops for known proteins it was the unintended creation of new proteins that made it difficult to test GM crops for allergenicity.
Despite the fact that a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, "Food Allergy Among US Children Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations, shows a 265% increase in the rate of food allergic hospitalizations, these novel food proteins have been considered innocent until proven guilty.
While Monsanto appears to benefit from the Supreme Court ruling which will allow for the introduction of its licensed and patented product into the US food supply, pending USDA approval by the office that oversees biotech crops, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), (which leaves the door open to some sort of preliminary approval for the alfalfa seed), perhaps as we move forward we should call on the USDA to not only conduct an Environmental Impact Sudy, but also an Children's Impact Survey.
Given that in today's ruling, the Supreme Court has also now ruled for the very first time that "environmental harm" includes economic effects such as reduced agricultural yield or loss of market due to genetic contamination, as well as the concept of what biologists refer to as "gene flow" (in practice, the idea that genetically engineered material may get into conventional plants through cross-pollination), the Supreme Court has now accepted that this phenomenon in and of itself is harmful and illegal under current environment protections.
While we may not all be shareholders in the profits to be derived from Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa patent and its licensing agreement, we are all stakeholders in the environment and in our food supply. And as we proceed with caution, it could be argued that those who stand to gain or lose the most, given the environmental and health implications of genetically engineered alfalfa, are our children.
By Andrew Kimbrell on 21 June 2010 in Huffington Post -
It should be no surprise that Monsanto's PR machine is working hard to spin the truth in this morning's decision in the first-ever Supreme Court case on genetically engineered crops (Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms). Despite what the biotech seed giant is claiming, today's ruling isn't close to the victory they were hoping for.
The 7-1 decision issued today by the Supreme Court was on the appeal of the Center for Food Safety's (CFS) successful suit, which resulted in a ban on GMO alfalfa. And, while the High Court ruled in favor of Monsanto by reversing an injunction that was part of the lower court's decision, more importantly, it also ruled that the ban on GMO alfalfa remains intact, and that the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa remains illegal.
This point, which seems to be lost in some news reports, is actually a huge victory for the Center for Food Safety and - most importantly - for the farmers and consumers who we represent.
The Supreme Court ruled that an injunction against planting was unnecessary since, under lower courts' rulings, Roundup Ready Alfalfa became a regulated item and illegal to plant. In other words, the injunction was "overkill' because our victory in lower federal court determined that USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws when it approved Roundup Ready alfalfa. The court felt that voiding the USDA's decision to make the crop legally available for sale was enough.
A different ruling could have had far-reaching ramifications that might have extended beyond our borders, affecting the health and status of world markets for U.S. alfalfa, and impacting the fastest growing sector of the US agriculture market - organic. But the court clearly saw that, and opted instead to rule very narrowly.
And yet, Monsanto is out there in a public statement saying that they've won a great victory. They claim that they're ready to sell Roundup Ready Alfalfa seeds now, and that they hope that their farmers should be able to plant by fall 2010. It's a canny statement, but neither of those potential situations is by any means possible at this point. The bottom line: the ban on planting Roundup Ready Alfalfa still stands.
The Center is victorious in this case in several other ways: most importantly, the High Court did not rule on several arguments presented by Monsanto about the application of federal environmental law. As a result, the Court did not make any ruling that could have been hurtful to National Environmental Policy Act or any other environmental laws. In addition, the Court opinion supported the Center's argument that gene flow is a serious environmental and economic threat. This means that genetic contamination from GMOs can still be considered harm under the law, both from an environmental and economic perspective.
This Court opinion is in many ways a victory for the environment, the Center for Food Safety, for farmers and for consumers and a defeat for Monsanto's hopes of a green light. To represent this opinion in any other way is just spin.
Island Breath: Monsanto Guilty of Contamination 7/3/08
Island Breath: The Future of Food 9/27/04
SUBHEAD: Ships, planes and people from 14 nations will be participating in the biennial Pacific "war games".
By William Cole on 20 June 2010 in the Star Advertiser -
[Editor's note: The USS Freedom participating in RIMPAC 2010 was built by Hawaii Superferry contractor Austal USA]
Image above: RIMPAC participant U.S.S. Freedom (L) is replenished by helicopter-carrying amphibious-assault ship U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard (R). From article.
Every two years, a unique tide surges into Hawaii. This week, it arrives again, in the form of 14 nations, 34 ships, five submarines and more than 100 aircraft and 20,000 military personnel.
Ships are converging on Pearl Harbor from countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, as well as from the West Coast of the U.S., for biennial "Rim of the Pacific" 2010 war games, the world's largest international maritime exercise. Among the U.S. forces taking part are the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan with more than 5,000 crew and airwing members; the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard; the Navy's first littoral combat ship, the Freedom; three submarines; and Air Force B-52 bombers and F-22 Raptor fighters, officials said. A Japanese and South Korean submarine already are in port.
The first surface ship is due tomorrow, "and then they start pouring in in masses on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday," said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Self-Kyler. The exercise, which takes place Wednesday through Aug. 1, will be held in and around Hawaii waters. Its theme is "Combined Agility, Synergy and Support." The upcoming war games, the 22nd in a series since 1971, are multipurpose and have evolved from a Cold War origin and concerns about the Soviet Union to more recent worries about other growing military powers in the Pacific, including China, an expert on the region said.
The Navy said "RIMPAC," as it's known, "demonstrates a commitment to working with global partners in guarding the sea lanes of commerce and communication, protecting national interests abroad and ensuring freedom of navigation as a basis for global peace and prosperity." The Navy's Self-Kyler added that familiarity with operations and information sharing among allies is key -- particularly in response to tsunami or earthquake disasters.
"We've planned major exercises and we've operated around one another, and then if you have a real-world situation, all of those experiences and all of those relationships are easier to manage," she said. China, meanwhile, is reaching out in waters beyond Japan and asserting claims in the South China Sea.
Carl Baker, director of programs at the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Ho- nolulu, said RIMPAC is a demonstration of U.S. and allied capabilities and its desire for open sea lanes. "This (RIMPAC) was designed originally as a more confrontational containment sort of exercise (focused on the Soviet Union), and it's evolved into a freedom of navigation and sort of what the modern idea of what naval warfare represents to the United States," Baker said.
This year's exercise includes units or personnel from Australia, Canada, Chile, Columbia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and the U.S. The Navy also said there will be three observer nations: Brazil, India and New Zealand.
At least 11 foreign vessels and 16 U.S. ships from other ports will swell Pearl Harbor's usual contingent of 11 surface ships and 17 submarines during RIMPAC. Self-Kyler said in addition to cat-and-mouse anti-submarine warfare exercises and mine warfare practice, there will be an emphasis on counter piracy with ship-boarding practice and back-to-basics beach assaults for the Marines.
The United States is part of a security group called Combined Maritime Forces that patrols more than 2.5 million square miles of international waters from the Strait of Hormuz to the Suez Canal, and from Pakistan to Kenya, to prevent piracy and other illegal activity.
The U.S. and four other nations will take part in beach landings at Bellows from the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, Self-Kyler said. The landings will represent a renewed emphasis for the U.S. Marines, who hit the beach in amphibious assault vehicles, big hovercraft and helicopters.
"For the past several years we've been focused more on land-based operations," said Master Sgt. Lesli Coakley, a spokesperson for Marine Forces Pacific. "(RIMPAC) is an opportunity for us to refocus on our amphibious traditions." Self-Kyler said three decommissioned ships will be sunk during RIMPAC with torpedoes and Standard and Harpoon missiles, including the New Orleans, an amphibious assault ship, and the Anchorage and Monticello, both docking landing ships.
About 25 ships also will be participating in gunnery exercises. The Navy said it sets afloat inflatable and biodegradable balloons about 15 feet in diameter nicknamed "killer tomatoes" that are used as targets. The war games are held in the Pacific Missile Range Facility off Kauai, which has more than 1,100 square miles of underwater range and more than 42,000 square miles of controlled airspace.
On about July 6 and 7, the 34 ships taking part in the exercise will pull out of Pearl Harbor for the exercise, the Navy said. The ships will pull back into port on July 31. The in-port time will provide a big economic boost in Waikiki, officials said. According to the Navy, the exercise in 2008 resulted in $43 million in contracts and spending ashore.
Littoral Combat Ship at RIMPAC
SOURCE: Dick Mayer (firstname.lastname@example.org) SUBHEAD: U.S.S. Freedom (LCS) departs for RIMPAC 2010, world's largest naval "exercise".
By Jane Anderson on 16 June 2010 in Suite101.com - (http://news.suite101.com/article.cfm/uss-freedom-departs-for-worlds-largest-maritime-exercise-a250111)
The U.S.S. Freedom, the first in a series of Littoral Design ships for the U.S. Navy, departed San Diego on June 16, bound for the Hawaiian Islands. The Freedom will participate in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2010, which the Navy says is the world's largest maritime exercise.
Air, land and maritime forces from 14 nations, including the United States as well as Australia, Canada, Japan and the Republic of Korea, will participate in RIMPAC, which takes place every two years. A total of 34 ships, five submarines, more than 100 aircraft and 20,000 military personnel will participate, according to RIMPAC.
Navy: RIMPAC 'Helps Ensure Stability' in Pacific RimRIMPAC exercises ready participating forces for a wide range of potential operations, which in turn "helps ensure stability throughout the Pacific Rim" and encourages development and prosperity, according to the U.S. Navy.
During RIMPAC, participants will conduct gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense exercises, as well as maritime interdiction and vessel boardings, explosive ordnance disposal, diving and salvage operations, mine clearance operations and an amphibious landing.
Freedom to Test Air Defense, Anti-Submarine SystemsAs part of the 22nd RIMPAC, Freedom will continue testing its systems and refining its surface warfare and maritime security capabilities, said Commander Kris Doyle, commanding officer of Freedom's Blue Crew, in a Navy statement. "We have several 'first-of' events scheduled, ranging from air defense to anti-submarine to fire support exercises," Doyle said. "Every day, we will be stretching ourselves to learn more about what LCS [Littoral Combat Ship] brings to the fleet and how we integrate in a multinational environment." U.S.S. Freedom First in Littoral Class Ships for U.S. Navy The U.S.S. Freedom, which arrived home in San Diego after its first deployment on April 23, 2010, was the first-launched of the U.S. Navy's Littoral Combat Ships. The second littoral ship, the U.S.S. Independence, launched on March 26, 2010.
The U.S. Navy envisions its Littoral Combat Ships as smaller, more agile vessels suited better for coastal operations than for warfare on the high sea.
"Littoral" means "of or on a shore, particularly a seashore," and the Navy's $30 billion program is aimed at building a new type of flexible surface combatant that could move easily from mission to mission. The ships are designed to be fitted with "plug and play" mission packages that can be swapped out as needs arise. .
By James Kunstler on 21 June 2010 in Kunstler.com -
Image above: Detail of book cover for "Macondo al Desnudo", by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. from (http://www.siceditorial.com/obra.asp?codigo=385).
[IB Editor's note: The name Macondo is the same name as the fictitious cursed town in the novel "Macondo al Desnudo" (The Naked Truth of Macondo) by Colombian nobel-prize winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez]
Lesson of the Macondo: Blowout preventers don't prevent blowouts. This comes as a shock to people attuned to the on-schedule arrival of techno-miracles. Now, all the acronym-studded invocations of techno-mastery by men wearing interesting hats will not avail to put the schnitz on an epic horror show in the Gulf of Mexico.
President Obama's speech to the nation a week ago was designed as a kind of blowout preventer for the legitimacy of the federal government. It did little to stop the hemorrhaging of confidence in political leadership. A nation foundering in a crippled vessel in the horse latitudes of collective purpose on a sea of red ink looks to its captain - who puffs a few platitudes into the tattered sails and retreats belowdecks to pace and stew. This is a society truly lost at sea, where even the friendly dolphins are turning belly-up and the dying seabirds stare accusingly under their cloaks of crude oil. The feeling grows that we can't do anything right. Will someone please turn off the TV?
In 2008, the voters turned to a lanky newcomer from Illinois to rescue itself from just the sort of technocrat jerkoffs who had run the nation into a ditch with their invocations of "mission accomplished" and "Good job, Brownie." Change was in the air. Alas, consistent with the apparent fact that history rhymes but doesn't repeat, Barack Obama proved to be the reincarnation of Millard Fillmore, not Abe Lincoln. Sometimes history works in free verse and this stanza was off by a few syllables. It turns out that change was exactly the one thing not really in the air. America does not want change, except from the cash register at WalMart.
The last time America faced a convulsion as profound as the present one was the late 1850s. The internal contradiction of slavery was driving the nation crazy. The Whig party had been running things for a couple of decades. The Whigs were the party of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. They tried everything possible to finesse the expansion of US territory around the inflammatory issue of slavery. Fillmore came along just in time for the Compromise of 1850, which was intended to settle things and did absolutely nothing to settle things. By the time the election of 1852 happened, Both Webster and Clay were old men preparing to meet their maker and the Whig party absolutely fell apart. Scroll forward a few years and we're in the slaughterhouse of The Civil War.
A hundred and sixty years later now, and the USA faces a new and very different set of internal contradictions. We've ramped up a living arrangement that has no future, just as slavery had no future. We're uncomfortable with the mandates of reality, which is trying to tell us we have to live differently. The American people don't want to hear this. The president doesn't want to tell them. It's possible that he is not tuned into the reality radio station that is broadcasting its mandates. You'd think the Macondo Blowout horror show was coming across loud and clear.
Right after President Obama gave his vapid speech last week, he traveled to Ohio to brag about how much federal stimulus money was going into "shovel-ready" highway projects there. I sincerely believe that the last thing we need right now in this country is more and better highways. Every president since Jimmy Carter has acknowledged that there's a problem with our extreme oil dependency, but none of them have made the short leap to understand that we have a more fundamental problem with car dependency. Someone paying attention to the mandates of reality would get the choo-choo trains running from Dayton to Columbus to Cincinnati to Cleveland - and he would tell General Motors to get into the business of making railroad cars so we don't have to import them from Canada.
Reality is telling us to downscale and get different fast. Quit doing everything possible to prop up the drive-in false utopia and all its accessories. Get local. Tighten up. We have no intention of doing that. The idiocy that passes as informed opinion wants the US money managers to kick out the jambs handing out more money created out of thin air to promote a fantasy called "recovery." To what purpose? To keep the tailgate parties going down at the Nascar ovals? Over at The New York Times Monday morning, the fatuous Paul Krugman says that "stinting on spending now threatens the economic recovery." Earth to Krugman: we're mismanaging contraction. Further expansion is just not in the cards right now for the human race. We don't need more people on the planet and we don't have the means to accommodate them. There will be no 'recovery" to "growth" - especially by means of pumping more oil into the system. There is no techno-miracle alt-fuel panoply waiting in the wings to take over from oil. And there is no research-and-development program that will make it happen, no matter how many acronym-studded incantations we drone out.
I admit that contraction is a hard reality - but so is the recognition that we don't get to live forever, something every child begins to grapple with around age seven. The inability to face comprehensive contraction will only insure that its side effects are more debilitating.
Image above: Pagans and others at dawn of the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge. From (http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/pagans/particulars.shtml).By Nicole Neroulias on 21 June 2010 in Huffington Post - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/18/pagans-to-pray-for-earths_n_617888.html)
Bonfires, drum circles, dancing, candlelit meditation and other ceremonial rituals help usher in the summer solstice at the annual Pagan Spirit Gathering, now in its 30th year in the United States.
Along with celebrating the longest day of the year on Monday (June 21), this year's weeklong festival at a campground in Salem, Mo., will also feature prayers to help the Earth recover from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"We always do planetary healing prayers, meditations, and ceremonies on Solstice day itself, and we will be continuing our prayers about the oil disaster," said Selena Fox, a high priestess at Circle Sanctuary, a Wisconsin-based pagan resource center.
"We will explore ways that the various organizations and traditions represented at our gathering can support relief efforts."
The most famous Solstice celebration draws tens of thousands of revelers to England's ancient Stonehenge monument every June; the Missouri festival, which runs June 20-27, will be the largest organized event in the U.S., Fox said.
Nearly 1,000 people are expected to attend from North America, Europe and Asia, including practitioners of Wicca, contemporary pagan, Druid, Celtic, Native American, Afro-Caribbean, and Taoist faiths.
The Spiritual Meaning of Solstice
By Grove Harris on 21 June 2010 in Huffington Post - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/grove-harris/summer-solstice-a-sacred_b_619051.html)
Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, the shortest night, and a tipping point: from here on out the days get shorter and the nights get longer. The solstice, sometimes called midsummer because by now farmers have long done their planting, is technically the first day of summer. It both ushers in the warmest season, and reminds that the season is short, slipping away day by day. For those who revere nature, summer solstice may be celebrated by a bonfire, and staying up to greet the dawn. Celebration may be a small private event, or a large communal event such as the Pagan Spirit Gathering held on beautiful rural land in Missouri, with ritual, prayers, altars and sacred space.
Celebration may be among a broader spectrum of people, such as the 35,000 who gathered at Stonehenge last year. BBC's coverage of that event included an interview "with those who appreciate the solstice the most: 'We believe it is very important for people to move with the cycles of nature, and actually feel them. If you get up early in the morning and you watch that special sunrise, you've been a part of it. The rest of the year is shaped by that. And we think it's a really healthy thing to do, and a very spiritual thing to do.'" And clearly the large crowd shared at least some of this sentiment and journeyed to one of the world's most renowned sacred spots to observe the sunrise.
For those for whom this is a religious practice, there are variations on the rituals or traditions. Some will burn a Yule wreath in a bonfire; some will dance, drum, sing, and pray. The variations are endless -- some rituals may be prescribed and ceremonial, while others will be more spontaneous: all are witnessing the turning of the wheel of the year. People attune themselves to the rhythms of the natural world and invite the seasons of waxing and waning, of birth, growth, death and renewal to reverberate more consciously in their lives.
Rituals for the day of longest light date back to ancient times, and Stonehenge is one of the most famous sites. Dating back to between 3000-1500 BCE, its main axis is aligned to the solstice sunrise. Many cultures and ethnicities have celebrated, from ancient Roman celebrations of Vesta to feast days in many cultures. In contemporary Goddess spirituality, the American writer Starhawk offers this litany for ritual:
This is the time of the rose, blossom and thorn, fragrance and blood. Now on this longest day, light triumphs, and yet begins the decline into the dark. The Sun King grown embraces the Queen of Summer in the love that is death because it is so complete that all dissolves into the single song of ecstasy that moves the worlds. So the Lord of Light dies to Himself, and sets sail across the dark seas of time, searching for the isle of light that is rebirth. We turn the Wheel and share his fate, for we have planted the seeds of our own changes and to grow we must accept even the passing of the sun. (The Spiral Dance, HarperCollins, 1999, p. 205)
While Pagans hold religious ritual on the solstice, there are many public celebrations that also acknowledge the turning of the wheel of the year. Summer is widely seen as a good reason to celebrate! In Detroit, the 2010 River Days festival culminates with fireworks on the solstice, meeting fire with fire. Such celebrations build community and focus on the pleasures of the warm season, but without a religious intention.
Honoring the solstice can remind us just how precious each day and season is, because the truth of its passing away is also acknowledged. Gifts need to be appreciated, not taken for granted. Some will use their religious ritual to raise energy for healing, for re-aligning and redressing environmental wrongs, or for strengthening the sense of being part of nature, not set apart and individual, but interconnected in a larger whole, including the past, present and future. Such is the power of participating in the turning of the wheel of the year.
By on 20 June 2010 in Resource Insights -
Image above: A cyborg illustration found at (http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/33aply/wall.alphacoders.com/images/Sci%2520Fi/Sci-Fi-Cyborg-6647.jpg)
Modern people ridicule the search for the mythical fountain of youth, a search that has preoccupied our forebears through many generations. Still, even today claims that human progress will accelerate so fast in the next few of decades that immortality will become a fact are taken seriously by people at the highest levels of society.
The latest version of the fountain of youth comes from a group who believe that a merger between humans and machines in the near future in ways that are not currently possible to foresee will enable a type of life everlasting. This belief comes out of a movement for which the most famous proponent is probably Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil, an entrepreneur, inventor, and writer, believes that no later than 2045, we will build machines that are smarter than humans. These machines will in turn build even smarter machines.
Technological progress will proceed at a rate that represents the end of the human era and the beginning of one shared by humans and machines joined together and producing unimaginably rapid technological change. He and others refer to this point of transition as the technological singularity. This change, he believes, will enable humanity to overcome all of its most pressing problems: disease, hunger, climate change, resource scarcity, and, of course, death.
Part of the trouble with Kurzweil's ideas is that they seem to ignore history. People who are heavily involved in the computer industry as Kurzweil is often believe that they are helping to create a new era, a complete break from the past.
But in this case history would tell us one very important thing. Humans have long been joined to machines. Yes, the machines started out simple: a plow, a compass, a sail, a waterwheel, and a windmill are all examples. But even these simple machines vastly altered the relationship of humans with nature and each other. With the advent of fossil fuels the power of machines increased greatly. And, the division of labor which this development allowed increased the rate of technological innovation.
This cycle has repeated itself as more fuel was added to an ever finer division of labor. So great has the power of humans on planet Earth become that sociologist William Catton Jr. dubbed the new form of man "homo colossus," a vigorous human-machine hybrid. Kurzweil tells us that the human-machine hybrid he foresees is different. It will have powers that are many orders of magnitude beyond that of current humans.
Again, he seems to ignore history. The introduction of fossil fuels, a concentrated, versatile, and (until recently) plentiful energy resource gave humans capabilities that are indeed orders of magnitude greater than those living in the pre-fossil fuel era. Think of the horsepower of a human, 1.2 horsepower for brief periods and 0.1 horsepower on a sustained basis.
Compare that to the horsepower of a jet aircraft, for instance, the Airbus A380 with a cruising speed of 647 mph and four engines rated at 280,000 lbs. of total thrust. Where 550 ft-lbs/second equals one horsepower, this results in 1.72 hp/lb of thrust or 481,600 horsepower--in other words, several orders of magnitude greater than what a human can do with muscle power.
. Of course, Kurzweil predicts that humans will perform this feat all over again in the area of intelligence giving humans access to intellectual abilities "trillions of times" greater than those we have today through a physical merger with intelligent machines. Here is a quote from the website for Kurzweil's book, "The Singularity is Near":
We will be able to assume different bodies and take on a range of personae at will. In practical terms, human aging and illness will be reversed; pollution will be stopped; world hunger and poverty will be solved. Nanotechnology will make it possible to create virtually any physical product using inexpensive information processes and will ultimately turn even death into a soluble problem.If you believe Kurzweil is correct about the vast expansion of human capabilities in the future, you must also believe that doing the same thing all over again--that is, increasing the power of humans by several orders of magnitude--will bring about different results than the previous fossil fuel driven increase. (I am reminded of the old joke that doing that same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.)
The powers given to us by fossil fuels have put us on the path to ecological suicide due to climate change; soil depletion; fisheries depletion; deforestation; toxic pollution of the air, water and land; and ironically, depletion of fossil fuels which have enabled humans temporarily to overshoot by a wide margin the long-term carrying capacity of the Earth. But Kurzweil tells us that the results are sure to be better in the upcoming orders-of-magnitude ramp up in human power that he foresees. The basic facts of biology and the record of history already tell us that Kurzweil's dream is a mere fantasy.
While we should laud the man for his many important contributions to society--omnifont optical character recognition, text-to-speech and musical instrument synthesizers, and speech recognition software--we should also be wary of his bizarre vision of the future. It is not the content of that vision that should worry us so much as the meta-message it is sending to so many in our society: Sit back and let the technocratic elite solve all of our problems. After all, they've done such a good job so far!
By Richard Heinberg on 20 June 2010 in Post Carbon Institute - (http://www.postcarbon.org/blog-post/109323-deepwater-horizon-the-worst-case-scenario)
Image above: Movie poster for "Event Horizon". Ooh! The scary black hole. From (http://www.pitt.edu/~jdnorton/teaching/HPS_0410/chapters/black_holes/index.html).
[IB Editor's note: We are approaching a boundary from which we will be inevitably drawn into a maelstrom from which we cannot escape.]
Reports from the Gulf of Mexico just keep getting worse. Estimates of the rate of oil spillage from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead just keep gushing (the latest official number: up to 60,000 barrels per day). Forecasts for how long it will take before the leak is finally plugged continue pluming toward August—maybe even December.
In addition to the oil itself, BP has (in this case deliberately) spilled a million gallons of toxic Corexit dispersant, banned in the UK, that contains 60 percent 2-Butoxyethanol, a neurotoxin, along with arsenic, cadmium, cyanide, and mercury. Biologists’ accounts of the devastation being wreaked on fish, birds, amphibians, turtles, coral reefs, and marshes grow more apocalyptic by the day—especially in view of the fact that the vast majority of animal victims die alone and uncounted.
Warnings are now being raised that the natural gas being vented along with the oil will significantly extend the giant dead zones in the Gulf. And guesses as to the ultimate economic toll of this still-unfolding tragedy—on everything from the tourism and fishing industries of at least five coastal states to the pensioners in Britain whose futures are at risk if BP files for bankruptcy or is taken over by a Chinese oil company—surge every time an analyst steps back to consider the situation from another angle.
We all want the least-bad outcome here. But what if events continue on the current trajectory—that is, what if the situation keeps deteriorating? Just how awful could this get?
For weeks various petroleum engineers and geologists working on the sidelines have speculated that the problems with the Deepwater Horizon may go deep—that the steel well casing, and the cement that seals and supports that casing against the surrounding rock, may have been seriously breached far beneath the seabed. If that is true, then escaping oil mixed with sand could be eroding what’s left of the well casing and cement, pushing out through the cracks and destabilizing the ground around the casing. According to Lisa Margonelli in The Atlantic:
There is the possibility that as the ground and the casing shift, the whole thing collapses inward, the giant Blow Out Preventer falls over, the drill pipe shoots out of the remains of the well, or any number of other scenarios,” that could making it virtually impossible ever to cap the well or even to plug it at depth via relief wells.Read, for example, this comment at TheOilDrum.com, a site frequented by oil industry technical insiders who often post anonymously. The author of the comment, “dougr,” argues fairly persuasively that disintegration of the sub-surface casing and cement is the best explanation for the recent failure of “top kill” efforts to stop the oil flow by forcibly injecting mud into the wellhead.
Concerns about the integrity of the sub-seabed well casing appear also to be motivating some seriously doomerish recent public statements from Matt Simmons, the energy investment banker who decided to go rogue a couple of years ago following the publication of his controversial Peak Oil book Twilight in the Desert. Simmons says, for example, that “it could be 24 years before the deepwater gusher ends,” a forecast that makes little sense if one accepts the conventional view of what’s wrong with the Deepwater Horizon well and how long it will take to plug it with relief wells.
Are these concerns credible? From a technical standpoint, it is clear that improperly cemented wells can and do rupture and cause blowouts. It’s fairly clear that this is part of what happened with Deepwater Horizon. But is the well casing further disintegrating, and is oil escaping the well bore horizontally as well as vertically? We just don’t know. And that is largely due to the fact that BP is as opaque on this score as it has been with regard to nearly every sensitive technical issue (including the rate of leakage) since its drilling rig exploded two months ago.
So far, up to 3.6 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf. The size of the Macondo oilfield has been estimated as being anywhere from 25 to 100 million barrels. It is unclear how much of that oil-in-place would escape upward into Gulf waters if its flow remained completely unchecked, but it is safe to assume that at least half, and probably a much greater proportion, would eventually drain upward. That means many times as much oil would enter the Gulf waters as has done so until now.
Already Deepwater Horizon is the not only the worst oil spill, but the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Multiplying the scale of this existing catastrophe multiple times sends us into truly uncharted territory.
Already, coastal ecosystems are being shredded; for a sense of how bad it is for wildlife in the Gulf now, just read “Biologists fear Gulf wildlife will suffer for generations.” In a truly worst case, oil — and perhaps dissolved methane as well — would hitch a ride on ocean currents out to the deep Atlantic, spreading ecological destruction far and wide.
For the economies of coastal states, a worst-case leakage scenario would be utterly devastating. Not only the fishing industry, but the oil industry as well would be fatally crippled, due to the disruption of operations at refineries. Shipping via the Mississippi River, which handles 60 percent of all U.S. grain exports, could be imperiled, since the Port of South Louisiana, the largest bulk cargo port in the world, might have to be closed if ships are unable to operate in oil-drenched waters. Unemployment in the region would soar and economic refugees would scatter in all directions.
The consequences for BP would almost certainly be fatal: it is questionable whether the corporation can survive even in the best case (that is, if “bottom kill” efforts succeed in August); if the spill goes on past the end of the year, then claims against the company and investor flight will probably push it into bankruptcy. Americans may shed few tears over this prospect, but BP happens to be Great Britain’s largest corporation, so the impact to the British economy could be substantial.
The consequences for the oil industry as a whole would also be dire. More regulations, soaring insurance rates, and drilling moratoria would lead to oil price spikes and shortages. Foreign national oil companies could of course continue to operate much as before, but the big independent companies, even if they shifted operations elsewhere, would be hit hard.
For President Obama, an environmental disaster of the scale we are discussing could have political consequences at least equivalent to those of the Iranian hostage crisis during the Carter presidency. Obama’s only chance at survival would be an FDR-like show of leadership backed by bold energy and economic plans and ruthless disregard for partisan bickering and monied interests.
For the U.S. economy, already weakened by a still-unfolding financial crisis, a worst-case scenario in the Gulf could be the last straw. The cumulative impacts—falling grain exports, soaring unemployment in southeastern coastal states, higher oil prices—would almost certainly spell the end to any hope of recovery and might push the nation into the worst Depression in its history.
We would all prefer not even to contemplate such a scenario, much less live with it. It is irresponsible to inflict needless worry on readers on the basis of entirely speculative and extremely unlikely events. But the more I learn about the technical issues, and the worse news gets, the more likely this scenario seems.
We all hope that a relief well will succeed in stopping the oil flow sometime around August, and that until then BP will be able to siphon off most of the oil escaping through the riser and damaged blowout preventer.
But one has to wonder: is anyone at the White House seriously considering the worst-case scenario? And what should citizens be doing to prepare, just in case?.
A video by Avi Lewis on 17 June 2010 for Al Jezeera Television -
Image above: No it is not Hershey's chocolate syrup. It's crude oil from the Gulf of Mexico. From (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1285190/BP-buys-Google-search-term-oil-spill-help-repair-reputation.html).
In the two months since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, millions of litres of oil have gushed out of BP's well into the water each day, slowly encroaching on the coastline. Fault Lines' Avi Lewis travels to the drill zone, and learns about the erosion in the wetlands from industry canals and pipelines, the health problems blamed on contaminated air and water from petrochemical refineries.
Video above: Al Jezeera "Fault Lines - In Deep Water - A way of life imperiled". From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4itfAVq19U).
Partner accuses BP of 'misconduct'
BP's partner in its damaged, gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has accused the UK-based energy company of "gross negligence and wilful misconduct". Anadarko Petroleum Corp, owner of a quarter of the well pouring out up to 60,000 barrels per day (9.5 million litres), broke its near-silence on the spill on Friday to squarely pin the blame for the crisis on BP. "Frankly, we are shocked," Jim Hackett, the chairman and CEO of US-based Anadarko, said in a statement. "BP's behaviour and actions likely represent gross negligence or wilful misconduct."
BP, on the back foot all week answering tough questions on the Gulf spill and its safety record in general, said it "strongly disagrees" with Anadarko's claims. Anadarko's shares rose by 2.2 per cent in after-hours trading following Hackett's statement. In contrast, moments after Anadarko's statement, credit rating agency Moody's cut BP's rating to junk level, citing potential liability from the spill. Earlier in the day Moody's cut by three notches its rating on BP debt, which is trading around junk levels.
Scrambling for cash
BP is scrambling to line up resources to pay for a $20bn damage claims fund demanded by Barack Obama, the US president. BP was seeking $1bn in loans from seven different banks, the Reuters news agency said, while US broadcaster CNBC said the energy giant was hoping to raise $5bn with a bond.BP said on June 4 that it had $5bn in cash in addition to $5.25bn in undrawn committed bank lines, and $5.25bn in committed standby bank lines. Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP's chairman, told broadcaster Sky News Television on Friday that his company had "strong underlying performance - strong cash flow, strong operations".
But Kenneth Feinberg, the man picked by Obama to oversee the $20bn compensation fund, told CBS News on Friday that the amount may not be enough to meet all legitimate claims. "No one knows for sure yet, but the president made clear, and as I understand it BP went along, that if $20bn is not enough, there will be additional funds provided," he said. BP's shares are down 26 per cent so far in June, their worst month since the October 1987 stock market crash.
Investors appeared unimpressed by the performance of Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive, at a US congressional hearing on Thursday. Legislators accused him of being evasive and of failing to take responsibility for the spill. Hayward has been sharply criticized for saying he wanted his "life back" after coming under intense pressure as the face of BP throughout the crisis. On Friday he appeared to be relieved of those duties, with chairman Svanberg saying Hayward would hand over day-to-day handling of the spill to the company's managing director, Robert Dudley. Svanberg himself was criticized for earlier in the week describing those hurt by the giant oil spill as "small people", a remark for which he later apologized.
On a more positive note, the US Coast Guard admiral leading the US government's relief effort, said BP had increased the amount of oil it was siphoning off from the damaged well to 25,000 barrels (3.97 million litres) on Thursday - the largest amount of oil collected from the gusher yet. BP's partner in its damaged, gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has accused the UK-based energy company of "gross negligence and wilful misconduct".
Anadarko Petroleum Corp, owner of a quarter of the well pouring out up to 60,000 barrels per day (9.5 million litres), broke its near-silence on the spill on Friday to squarely pin the blame for the crisis on BP. "Frankly, we are shocked," Jim Hackett, the chairman and CEO of US-based Anadarko, said in a statement. "BP's behaviour and actions likely represent gross negligence or wilful misconduct." BP, on the back foot all week answering tough questions on the Gulf spill and its safety record in general, said it "strongly disagrees" with Anadarko's claims. Anadarko's shares rose by 2.2 per cent in after-hours trading following Hackett's statement.
In contrast, moments after Anadarko's statement, credit rating agency Moody's cut BP's rating to junk level, citing potential liability from the spill. Earlier in the day Moody's cut by three notches its rating on BP debt, which is trading around junk levels. .
By Pete Peterson 5 June 2010 in Front Porch Republic -
Image above: Chained gate at entrance with sign reading "Polihale State Park Closed. Danger, Keep Out. Hazardous Conditions" 2/20/09. Photo by Juan Wilson.
Lovers of Hawaii know that the word “aloha” can be used as either a greeting or farewell. So it was logical to ask when one of the great acts of community-based self governance took place on the island of Kauai last year whether we were bidding adieu to the once powerful notion of participatory determination, or welcoming a new era where cash-strapped local governments are increasingly convening their residents to address policy problems they can no longer handle alone.
It’s been almost exactly a year since the “Miracle at Polihale” occurred, and the answer to the “aloha question” is now clear: we are entering a “new normal.” This should be important to communitarians of all stripes, because as some (albeit a minority) wrestle over government-based solutions – from civics education to volunteering policies – that will engender a deeper citizenship, most of these “push” strategies are being obviated by the “pull” of a historically unique set of fiscal and demographic factors.
Though piteously under-reported, most have heard the story about Polihale State Park on the southwestern corner of Kauai. Home to one of the best surfing beaches in the world, the park was almost completely destroyed by a tropical storm, which blew through the area in December, 2008.
As a State Park, it fell under the jurisdiction of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), which dutifully sent out its engineers to survey the damage the following January. Their report estimated that it would take $4 million, and at least a year to repair the central road in the park, which connects the entrance to the beach, and the parks bathroom facilities.
The popularity of the park has stimulated an array of local businesses from restaurants to kayak tour companies – all depending on the park for their livelihoods. So when the DLNR returned to the area to convene a “public workshop” around their proposed solution, residents could be forgiven for wanting to deliver a “Hawaiian punch” to the noses of government staff. As reported, Ivan Slack, owner of Na Pali Kayaks, which operates from the beach in Polihale summed up the community’s frustration:
“We can wait around for the state or federal government to make this move, or we can go out and do our part.”Their “part” was not to travel to Honolulu to demonstrate for their “rights” to more responsive government services in some Alinsky-ite upheaval, but to actually create a plan as to how they were going to open the park themselves. Assembling a team of volunteers including local construction companies and a steel company, they developed that solution and submitted it to DLNR. With over $200,000.00 in donated materials and hundreds of hours of volunteered time, the project, which began in March opened the park in less than two weeks.
As Troy Martin from Martin Steel which provided machinery and five tons of steel at no charge, put it, “We shouldn’t have to do this, but when it gets to a state level, it just gets so bureaucratic, something that took us eight days would have taken them years. So we got together — the community — and we got it done.”
What happened in Kauai, while conspicuous in scope, is not anomalous. From Colorado Springs to New Orleans local governments have established “BYOM” (“Bring Your Own Mower”) programs where residents are assuming responsibilities previously undertaken by parks department employees. Privatization of services has certainly been one response to over-committed governance, but many fiscally-challenged municipalities are inviting volunteers to keep libraries open, support local police departments with neighborhood watch efforts, and tutor local school kids.
Of course, many of these types of programs have been in existence for years, but what makes the current shift different is the economic and fiscal environments in which local governments are making these service-cutting decisions. Unlike earlier recessions where a short-term “hunkering down” would sustain municipalities, increased service commitments added to the retirement of Baby Boomer employees with outsized benefits packages has created what local government expert, and former Indianapolis mayor, Stephen Goldsmith has dubbed the “new normal.”
He defines this new condition: “Government at all levels now faces an inescapable reality – the promises of public services exceed our ability to pay for them – and will do so regardless of when the recession ends. The steady increase in the quantity and cost of public services, coupled with the needs of an aging population and public pension costs have produced a long term, structural deficit.”
While Goldsmith can be dismissed by some as an opportunistic conservative, an increasing number of liberals are reaching the same conclusion. In a startling opinion piece, for the Los Angeles Times, entitled rather bluntly, “We must shrink city government,” LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa echoed Goldsmith:
“The recession has exposed structural budgetary problems that have existed for many years and that will not be ameliorated when the global economy recovers. Quite simply, for many years the city of Los Angeles has been spending more money than it takes in.”Note that Villaraigosa does not see this as a taxing problem, but a spending problem. He concluded his Times’ piece by demurring,
“I know how profound a statement it is for me, a former labor organizer, to say that in order to solve our structural deficit problem. We must significantly shrink our labor force”.As the City of Angels works through a $400 million deficit, Mayor Villaraigosa has unequivocally stated that the relationship between Angelenos and their city government will fundamentally change.
This retreat towards “core services” has become the major imperative of local governments throughout the country.
Public sector offerings like muni golf courses, museums, convention centers and parking built and maintained during the “fat years” of the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s are, of course on their way to auction and privatization, but as the “new normal” makes itself more apparent even the “core services” like public safety, education, and sanitation are being pared back.
In Douglas County, Colorado, the City Council recently voted to charge kids $.50 each for their school bus rides. Here in Los Angeles, the Council is voting to turn back the responsibility for sidewalk repairs to residents – a move that could cost some tens of thousands of dollars.
What does this all mean for communitarians?
First, it signals that the oft-decried “crowding out” by local, state, and federal governments of community-building local tasks – from educating our kids to public works projects – is receding…maybe forever. Even raising revenues will not overcome the coming fiscal tsunami of pension and benefit burdens accruing due to the retirement of Baby Boomers. In San Francisco, for example, over half of the city’s workforce is due to retire in the next five years.
Like never before, city and state governments are making decisions between current services and pension obligations. While some libertarians ruefully celebrate the deracinating of the Leviathan, only communitarians can develop the common sense civil society solutions to supplement services that the public legitimately wants, and, in many cases, needs.
Related, municipal governments are increasingly seeking public participation in service provision. This is a new leadership skill for our local and state government leaders accustomed to have all the answers and service solutions. Born in the Progressive Era, this mentality is slowly, but surely changing. But it also requires new, or better, old, definitions of citizenship. For decades governments have treated citizens as customers…a relationship most of us have welcomed.
Local policy scholar, John McKnight at Northwestern University has described, “The service ideology [in governments] will be consummated when citizens believe that they cannot know whether they have a need, cannot know what that remedy is, [and] cannot understand the process that purports to meet the need.”
In some significant ways we are returning to the comparison depicted famously by Tocqueville over 170 years ago:
“Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.”These sharp differences have waned since Tocqueville penned them, but the need to re-awaken the distinctly American trait of self-governance has never been greater. Will communitarians be ready?
By Guy McPherson on 19 June 2010 in Nature Bats Last -
Image above: Painting by Herb Kane "Fishing at Night in Old Hawaii" by the light of kukui nut oil lamps. From (http://www.herbkanestudio.com/gallery/ancient_hawaii/night_fishing_in_old_hawaii.html).
"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." (Arthur Schopenhauer, one of my philosophical heroes)Based on recent comments in this space, and also in my email in-box, I am compelled to provide an updated overview of my proposed agenda in light of the ongoing collapse of the world’s industrial economy.
There’s nothing new here, but plenty of people don’t have the time to read what I’ve written in the past so, in spasms of foolish ignorance, they keep asking me to stop driving my car (trust me, I’d love to … and I go for weeks at a time without doing so) or cease speaking and writing about economic collapse because it is not happening (and, in a related issue, there’s an invisible man in the sky who loves us and wants us to be happy).
The other primary topic of conversation, real and virtual, begins with “Okay, but what can I do?” As if I’ve ignored that particular question. “No, but I mean me. Here in Phoenix. With no money and no spare time.”
Sigh. If you’re unwilling to change, you’ll simply have to let change happen to you. And Bill Clinton was correct about this issue: People like change in general, but not in particular. Nobody who is unwilling to change is liable to appreciate the change headed their way.
If you’re willing to change, perhaps you’ll seek ideas and inspiration from sources other than me. Perhaps you’ll test your courage, creativity, and compassion. You’re going to need those attributes soon enough anyway, so you might as well drag them out now.
I think the ongoing economic collapse is driven by declining energy supply at the world level: We passed the world peak of conventional crude oil in 2005. Considering the primacy of oil to the industrial economy and therefore to our way of living, it’s no surprise the industrial economy is unraveling. Fortunately, it’s taking disaster capitalism with it, albeit far too slowly to suit me.
My hope, of course, is completion of the economic collapse in time to save the remaining fragments of the world’s biological diversity and perhaps even habitat for our own species. Call me a dreamer. Recognizing that it’s generally a waste of time to try to convince people we’re headed for economic disaster and therefore environmental nirvana, that, regardless, is my mission.
I have no interest in trying to save civilization, which is irredeemable and omnicidal. But I am interested in extending the lives of the relatively few people in the industrialized world willing to make substantive changes in their lives. Sadly, that leaves out nearly everybody with whom I converse or correspond.
Conservation is irrelevant at this point and, with respect to materials that are too cheap to meter, conservation probably has always been irrelevant. That’s the crux of Jevons’ paradox. Although Jevons’ paradox assumes free markets, and all markets are manipulated, it is not at all clear to me that relaxing the free-market assumption would have a significant influence on the global outcome of energy markets. Furthermore, if you’re really a believer in free markets and lack of governmental interference in those markets, then oil is the premier example of a global free market.
Many people are concerned we’ll respond to Jevons’ paradox with hedonism. As if we’re not already there.
If you think individual conservation efforts scale up to society, consider an incomplete but still stunning overview of the statistics on energy use. For example, the energy in a million barrels of crude oil — the amount gushing in the Gulf of Mexico every ten days or so — will supply your house with power for the next 81,000 years or so but will keep cars on U.S. highways for about four hours. So, at some level we’re all BP (those of you cheering for the industrial economy have company from J.P. Morgan Chase on the BP issue — the spill and cleanup apparently will enhance GDP, at least in the short run). More pragmatically, though, we each bear about as much responsibility for BP’s incompetence and recklessness as we bear for causing planetary ice to melt, the financial success of Wal-Mart, and the microfauna in belly of the nearest polar bear. As much as the media and politicians would like you to feel responsible and guilty, you should feel neither.
I regularly promote the idea of hastening economic collapse. If you’re not on board with that idea, but you still see the huge neon signs pointing us in that direction, perhaps you can be convinced to pursue a modicum of self reliance.
The notion of self reliance, long discarded in a nation where we enslave others to do our drudgery, is about to make a profound comeback. When the new Dark Age gets under way, people who are willing to do useful things with their hands and minds will be welcome additions in any community. The contemporary idea of American-style independence is, in Orwellian fashion, the exact opposite of independence. To secure our food, water, and body temperature, we have become wholly dependent on a large-scale system (the industrial economy). This is the diametric opposite of self reliance, and it’s long past time to focus on self reliance within the context of the interdependence of people in communities. We need each other, but we do not need the industrial economy.
How do you provide service to your community? What preparations should you make to thrive during the post-carbon era, and to help your community thrive, too?
I have written at length about the preparations I’ve made, with a focus on water, food, body temperature, human community, and living a life of service (in this case, four out of five gets you the equivalent of a cake with no flour). Securing these elements has been done by humans for about two million years in the absence of the industrial economy. Only recently have we become dependent on a system that is making us crazy and killing us. I suggest we get out of this system.
If that cannot be done in your specific location — and I’m thinking about places such as Tucson, Arizona, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Los Angeles, California — I strongly suggest changing locations. The other obvious alternative is to re-arrange the deck chairs as the cruise ship of empire takes on even more water. There are many approaches to be pursued on this front, including recycling, joining a CSA, riding the bus, and volunteering in the local literacy movement. These are noble causes, but they won’t save you or your community. And if you don’t save yourself, you won’t be able to help anybody else.
People often ask me how they can make the kinds of changes I’ve made, without actually making those changes themselves. That is, how can they turn their lives upside-down without actually changing a thing? They blame lack of finances (which, as I’ve pointed out with my own example, can be overcome by joining others in a community-based effort). They blame an unwillingness to leave the apex of empire, the large city they occupy (i.e., they do not agree with my view that industrial economy is inherently immoral). They blame the marauding hordes certain to find them if they get out of the city (i.e., they use any and every excuse to avoid taking action).
Comfortable with the immorality of their lives, unwilling to forgo empire in exchange for the difficulty of self reliance, brainwashed by culture to keep pursuing this particular version of culture, they are hopelessly trapped in a hapless situation. Although I recognize the power of culture and the lack of free will for human animals, I’m beginning to lose sympathy.
Empires don’t break up, they break down. And American Empire is obviously breaking down, with abundant evidence to be found in the striking absence of any appeal to the common good from governments at any level. There has been no semblance of morality emanating from the fascists running the corporations, and therefore the country, since at least 1980. I don’t expect a vast outpouring of empathy and compassion any time soon. Faux compassion, of course. But the real deal? I hardly think so.
Although some insist a slow descent is likely, I have yet to understand how that can possibly work. Feel free to fill me in. Do we dim the lights one percent annually so that, in one hundred years, the electricity goes out without our noticing? Do we reduce our extraction of finite materials a few percent each year, even as the human population grows by more than 200,000 people daily, until we simply, peacefully, stop using everything needed to maintain the industrial economy? Do we slowly, painlessly, with no suffering at all, reduce the human population to a viable number? What is that number? A billion? Fewer?
All these outcomes seem quite unlikely to me. I think we’re so committed to unlimited, exponential growth on a finite planet that we’ll do whatever it takes to delude ourselves into believing that impossibility. If that means we have to destroy everybody and everything so we can have ice cream and cookies every night, that’s exactly what we’ll do. We’re an industrialized world of overfed clowns and we think others are laughing with us instead of at us. In short, I need somebody to show me another way. I’m eager to learn how we can prevent unimaginable suffering and catastrophic die-off on a finite planet. Sans miracles, of course.
Looking back, and relying on a plethora of economic metrics, it’s evident we’ve experienced a lost decade. So we can trace the economic decay to 2000 or so. It’s easy enough to go back further, tracing the imperial decline to 1979 with the Carter doctrine. Or 1956 with the Interstate Highway System. Or the late 1940s with the federal government’s promotion of suburbia. Or 1789 with the unrelenting thirst for empire at all costs exhibited by the founding fathers. With respect to any of these temporal benchmarks, the decay clearly has accelerated in recent years and months.
From the day I predicted the new Dark Age would begin by the end of 2012, the criticism has been continuous. Most critics, citing no evidence and no understanding of Peak Oil and its economic consequences, claim we’ll surely adjust and adapt and generally demonstrate our big-brained brilliance with a long descent into peace, prosperity, and infinite good times.
Adding balance in a mainstream media kind of way, the occasional critic optimistically — without recognizing the optimism — claims the Dark Age will begin well before 2012. We should be so lucky.
Oil is the backbone resource of industrial society, but the Oil Age will come to an end, someday. The pessimists say the world reached maximum oil production in 2008. Middle-of-the-road optimists say peak oil won’t occur until 2030. Either way, production is already past its peak and on a terminal decline in 54 of the 65 largest oil-producing countries in the world, including Mexico, Norway, Indonesia and Australia. It’s been declining in the lower 48 states of the United States since 1970.
What will happen when cheap oil is no longer available and supplies start running short? In an interview with Miller-McCune.com, Jörg Friedrichs, a lecturer in politics at the University of Oxford, examines how different parts of the world would likely react to a peak oil scenario.
Despite its timeliness, Friedrichs’ examination of the global energy crunch was rejected a dozen times before it found a home in the August issue of Energy Policy. A pre-print version, a shortened version and a public discussion can be viewed online.
Miller-McCune.com: In your study, you ask the question, “What is likely to happen if Peak Oil occurs?” When do you think that will be?
Jörg Friedrichs: As a social scientist, I don’t ask when Peak Oil will occur. This is a question for geologists, engineers and possibly economists. Some of them believe that the world has reached the peak of the Oil Age, or is about to reach it in this decade. Instead of joining their debate, my question is, “What if?” This I see as a social scientific research challenge.
M-M: Why do you think the U.S. would cynically choose “predatory militarism” in the face of future resource shortages, as fuel-starved Japan did before World War II?
JF: Predatory militarism is the result of desperation and temptation. In the Japanese case, the element of desperation prevailed. As a consequence of their own ill-conceived policies, they saw no other choice in 1941 than to loot oil from the East Indies, even at the cost of starting a suicidal war with the United States. In the case of the U.S., the element of temptation may be stronger. Why compete for a scarce but vital resource in markets when you have a military option?
Why negotiate with people like Hugo Chávez if you have a military stick? We have sometimes seen this pattern in the past, and we are likely to see it more often after Peak Oil. However, there is also likely to be a great deal of desperation. One should not underestimate the likely consternation of many American citizens when their fossil-fuelled and consumerist lifestyle is in serious jeopardy.
M-M: What about China, another country that is heavily dependent on oil imports?
JF: On the one hand, the situation of China would be more desperate than the U.S. because their access to foreign oil is militarily less secure. But on the other hand, they would be less tempted because their navy and air force is no match for the U.S. The Chinese military could hardly control the shipping lanes from Angola to China, or even in the Straits of Malacca. But they may perhaps be tempted to launch predatory military operations in Central Asia.
M-M: In your view, what would other entrenched dictatorships likely do if their imports of oil were severely reduced?
JF: It’s awful to imagine, but they may follow the example of North Korea. On its own cynical terms, the North Korean regime has successfully dealt with a severe oil supply disruption that began in the early 1990s. When the Soviets stopped delivering subsidized oil to foreign “comrades,” the North Korean elite basically screwed its own population. Elite privileges were preserved, while hundreds of thousands of ordinary people starved.
M-M: Wouldn’t there likely be popular movements to overthrow those dictatorships?
JF: This is indeed likely to happen in many places. Where authoritarian regimes try a North Korean strategy but fail, a failed state is the most likely outcome.
M-M: You offer a third, less shocking scenario, one in which “local solidarity” and urban “self-help” agriculture gets people through a period of severe fuel shortages, as in Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union. What countries do you think might take this route?
JF: The Cuban experience offers an interesting contrast to what happened in North Korea. Despite a similar crisis, there was a period of considerable hardship, but no mass starvation. This was possible because, unlike North Korea, Cuban society preserves a lot of social glue and traditional knowledge. Developing countries are more likely to be in this category than developed countries. Unfortunately, many developing countries are hopelessly overpopulated. But where there is social glue and where sustainable lifestyles can be recovered, people may find a way to muddle through at the local level.
M-M: Why don’t you think the West would be a good candidate for “local solidarity”?
JF: Strictly speaking, it’s not so much a problem of the West but of a particular lifestyle. When social glue and traditional lifestyles have eroded, they are not easily recovered. After several generations of individualism and affluence, Westerners will have a hard time accepting that they need to rely on communities and must revert to a sustainable lifestyle. After 65 years of mass consumerism, Japanese society is likely to face similar problems.
M-M: What about Europe?
JF: Western Europe falls under the category of places where social glue and sustainable lifestyles are almost passé. Unlike the U.S., Europe is not a particularly promising contender in case of a military scramble for resources. And unlike North Koreans, Europeans are not likely to accept a totalitarian “solution” to the problem of how to slice up a shrinking pie. After Peak Oil, probably the best hope for Europe is populist regimes that might mobilize residual national solidarity to weather the crisis. I’m not a fan of populist regimes, but they typically emerge when democratic societies enter a deep crisis.
Fortunately, there are a few rays of hope. Western Europe has invested more in energy conservation and sustainable energy than any other part of the world; and railways offer a fallback position for transportation that is not available in most other places. There is a chance that Europe may possess large reserves of shale gas. In any case, Russia and the Near East can supply Europe with oil and gas. Unfortunately, however, such deals are highly unstable and subject to constant renegotiation. In the long run, Europeans could hardly avoid a return to a more subsistence-based lifestyle, but given their long exposure to mass consumerism, they will have a very hard time in the process.
M-M: Explain how Dixieland fits into your views of Peak Oil and its aftermath.
JF: Dixieland is a cautionary tale for those who believe that social and technological innovation will take care of all problems. After Southern elites lost slavery as the backbone of their way of life [during the U.S. Civil War], it took them at least a century to adjust to the new reality. Why did they not simply embrace industrial capitalism and liberal democracy? Well, I guess it is not so easy to give up one’s lifestyle.
Now, imagine that people were to face an energetic downgrade, rather than the upgrade available to Dixieland after the Civil War. While the “challenge” for Dixieland was lifting its socioeconomic fabric to industrial capitalism and liberal democracy, after Peak Oil the opposite would be the case. Do you really think people would have an easier time adjusting to Peak Oil?
The world would sorely miss cheap and abundant energy, and liberal democracy would become more and more difficult to sustain. The example of Dixieland shows that it takes a lot of time for the ”new consciousness” to emerge that is necessary for radical social change.
M-M: But isn’t that comparing apples and oranges? The Civil War was about much more than technology.
JF: I am really not interested in the Civil War and its root causes. What I am interested in is rather the reaction of Southern society to the defeat. How do people react when they are deprived of their socioeconomic backbone resource — slaves for Dixie, oil for us? What happens when people are forced to radically adjust their way of life? This hasn’t happened very often in history, but we can look at the South of the United States from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to get some clues.
M-M: Why do you dismiss the possibility of a smooth transition from oil to other sources, such as solar and wind power or a new, improved generation of nuclear reactors?
JF: I do not dismiss this possibility. The ideal solution would be to electrify everything from road traffic to heating systems, and then produce electricity with whatever energy source is available. But let us not forget that such a technological fix would take a lot of time and investment. Unless the energy descent after peak oil is very smooth indeed, there may simply not be enough time. Alas, technological crash programs are much more difficult under crisis conditions. This is not to deny that solar and wind, as well as nuclear energy, can be helpful in the transition. But the transition is unlikely to be smooth.
M-M: You say that coal would become a more important energy source for at least a couple of decades, with dire consequences for the climate. What about clean coal and other technological innovation?
JF: Most clean coal technologies, as well as many other innovations, are currently at the experimental stage. As mentioned, their implementation requires a lot of time and investment that may not be available under crisis conditions. Another serious problem is the fact that clean coal technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, require energy and thereby reduce efficiency. You basically siphon off energy from productive purposes to reduce carbon emissions. If we assume that sufficient energy supply will become a serious challenge after Peak Oil, this may hardly be acceptable to some people.
M-M: After Peak Oil, how does the world realign itself, in your view? Which countries come out on top?
JF: This depends on your criteria. If the criterion is the ability to gain military access to energy resources, then I’d say the U.S. If it is the capacity for peaceful adaptation, then I’d look at developing countries that are not too much overpopulated. If the criterion is political stability, then countries with a recoverable authoritarian tradition are likely to work better than liberal democracies.
This sounds like a dismal criterion, but stability will be highly valued in times of crisis when entire countries fall apart. It doesn’t have to be as bad as North Korea: just think of “authoritarian democracies” such as Putin’s Russia.
Oil exporting countries such as Brazil or Iran are also possible winners. However, they may just as well fall victim to military predation and/or the notorious “resource curse.”
M-M: What happens to global oil corporations such as Exxon and Shell?
JF: In the transition, they are likely to lose further ground to the state-controlled companies of oil exporting countries such as Saudi Aramco or the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. As a consequence, even oil importing countries would increasingly rely on state-controlled companies. This is already happening, for example, in the case of the China National Petroleum Corporation.
M-M: Instead of collapse, you forecast a “slow and painful” adjustment to Peak Oil, lasting a century or more. Is there anything people can do right now to prevent that from happening? Or is it inevitable, as you suggest it is, that “industrial society will start crumbling and free trade will begin to disintegrate?”
JF: I believe it’s inevitable. But this doesn’t mean that action cannot make a difference. There is a difference between slamming into a brick wall and crashing into a haystack. Peak Oil is not likely to be a haystack, but it doesn’t have to be a brick wall — if, that is, people take appropriate measures to prepare themselves and smoothen the descent.
M-M: You say your research was “trashed 12 times” before it was accepted for Energy Policy. Why?
JF: My colleagues in the social sciences are just not (yet) ready to face this topic. Most of them prefer to stage disciplinary sham fights rather than looking at pressing issues. Perhaps it’s going to be like the end of the Cold War or the current financial crisis, where clever analyses by social scientists have appeared only after the fact.
But, of course, I cannot entirely exclude the possibility that Peak Oil is still 20 years down the line. Nor can I exclude the chance that some technological breakthrough such as fusion technology is around the corner. If that happens, I will be glad if my research turns out to be inapplicable. As mentioned in my introductory statement, I am only exploring a (highly plausible) hypothesis.
But be that as it may, I am very grateful that, after all these futile attempts, Energy Policy has now published my research. The journal is run by energy experts rather than social scientists, and it is significant that they have accepted the article without further ado.