Borders to file for bankruptcy

SUBHEAD: This may signal the closing of the popular bookstore at Kukui Grove in Lihue.

 By AP Staff on 11 February 2011 for Huffington Post -  
Image above: Kauai's Borders Books at Kukui Grove, the only bookchain retailer on the island. From (

Borders Group Inc. may file for bankruptcy reorganization as early as Monday or Tuesday, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The No. 2 traditional bookstore in the U.S. also plans to close about 200 of its 674 stores and cut thousands of jobs, the newspaper reported on Friday, citing sources it did not name.

The story also says Borders is hearing pitches from Bank of America Corp. and General Electric Co.'s finance arm for $450 million in financing to keep operating under bankruptcy protection.

"There have been constant inquiries by reporters, and stories written, regarding whether Borders is considering a Chapter 11 filing," said Borders spokeswoman Mary Davis. "Borders is not prepared at this time to report on the course of action it will pursue."

GE Capital had no comment. Bank of America could not be immediately reached.

Borders has struggled with losses for years as it tries to adapt to a changing book industry. More people are buying books online, at discounters and other stores.

The company reported sales at its namesake superstores open at least a year were down 14.6 percent for the crucial holiday period this year.

Borders has also been playing catch-up in the rapidly growing e-book market. It entered into the electronic book market with Canada's Kobo Inc. last year, but that announcement seemed belated after chief rival Barnes & Noble announced its own dedicated e-reader, the Nook, in 2009, and has invested heavily in a related online store.'s Kindle has dominated the e-reader market.

Borders has cut jobs and closed stores to boost its finances while also shifting its focus from less-profitable categories such as music in order to concentrate more on children's books, toys, stationery and its cafe.


Namibia Coast National Park

SUBHEAD: Namibia has become the first country to designate its entire coastline a national park.  

By Mark Rowe on 12 February 2011 for the Telegraph -  

Image above: Gate to Skeleton Coast Park. From (
The Namib-Skeleton Coast National Park covers 26.6 million acres, making it larger than Portugal.
It stretches for 976 miles (1,570km), from the Kunene River, at the northern border with Angola, to the Orange River, on the border with South Africa, and is expected to be promoted as a unified destination. The protected coastline consolidates three national parks: Skeleton Coast, Namib-Naukluft and Sperrgebiet. The last is the site of Namibia’s diamond mines, which have long been closed to the public.
The national park does not stop at the national borders – at the southern end it connects with South Africa’s Richetersveld National Park, while in the north it is linked to Angola’s Iona National Park. Some coastal roads are good, particularly in Dorob National Park, but there is no pan-Namibian highway.
Historically, Namibia has been a trailblazer in using tourism to fund conservation, and has encouraged tribal communities to set up conservation areas, which they manage sustainably in order to keep poaching at bay and to attract tourism. “The aim of the new park is to rein in environmentally damaging activities and encourage tourism,” said Chris McIntyre, MD of the travel company Expert Africa.
Namibia is the driest country in southern Africa and its national parks are desert and savannah. In the desert wilderness of the Skeleton Coast, wildlife includes hyenas and abundant birds. Black rhino and desert elephants follow the area’s water courses, while small prides of lions have recently returned. Other highlights include African penguins and a vast colony of Cape fur seals.

Image above: Looking south along Skeleton Coast of Namibia. From (


UN is Getting Into Permaculture

SUBHEAD: Putting more trees on farms is fundamental to the future agricultural development.

 By Paul Stapleton on 9 February 2011 in EureakAlert!

Image above: A tropical agroforestry tree nursery. From (
Trees growing on farms will be essential to future development. As the number of trees in forests is declining every year, the number of trees on farms is increasing. Marking the launch of the International Year of Forest by the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF9) in New York on 29 January, Dennis Garrity, the Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, highlighted the importance of mixing trees with agriculture, the practice known as agroforestry.

"Over a billion hectares of agricultural land, almost half of the world's farmland, have more than 10 percent of their area occupied by trees," said Garrity, "and 160 million hectares have more than 50 percent tree cover."

Growing trees on farms can provide farmers with food, income, fodder and medicines, as well as enriching the soil and conserving water. As natural vegetation and forests are cleared for agriculture and other types of development, the benefits that trees provide are best sustained by integrating them into agriculturally productive landscapes.

Speaking at the High Level Dialogue of UNFF9 on 3 February 2011, Garrity said, "Agroforestry is a crucial bridge between forestry and agriculture. Essentially, agroforestry is about the role of working trees in agricultural landscapes, particularly on, but not limited to, small-scale farms."

Over the next two decades, the world's population is expected to grow on average by more than 100 million people a year. More than 95 percent of that increase will occur in the developing countries, where pressure on land and water is already intense. A key challenge facing the international community is, therefore, to ensure food security for present and future generations, while protecting the natural resource base on which we all depend. Trees on farms will be an important element in meeting those challenges. In some regions, such as Southeast Asia and in Central America, tree cover on agricultural lands now exceeds 30%.

"The transformation of agriculture into agroforestry is well under way across the globe," said Garrity. "And there are drivers, including climate change, that ensure that this transformation will accelerate in the coming years, since agricultural systems incorporating trees increase overall productivity and incomes in the face of more frequent droughts, and agroforestry systems provide much greater carbon offset opportunities than any other climate mitigation practice in agriculture."

In many countries, it is now quite clear that the future of forestry is on farms. In countries such as India, Kenya, and many others, the majority of the nation's wood is derived from farm-grown timber.
Practiced by farmers for millennia, agroforestry focuses on the wide range of working trees grown on farms and in rural landscapes. Among these are fertilizer trees for land regeneration, soil health and food security; fruit trees for nutrition; fodder trees that improve smallholder livestock production; timber and fuelwood trees for shelter and energy; medicinal trees to combat disease; and trees that produce gums, resins or latex products.

Reinventing agriculture
Evergreen Agriculture is a form of agroforestry that integrates trees with annual crops. "We see Evergreen Agriculture as nothing less than the radical, but entirely practical, pathway to a reinvention of agriculture," said Garrity. "It is a vision of a future in which much of our food crops will be grown under a full canopy of trees."

Combining fertilizer trees with conservation farming techniques is doubling and tripling cereal crop yields in many parts of the African continent. The nitrogen-fixing tree Faidherbia or Acacia albida, is increasing unfertilized maize yields in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and in numerous other countries. They are now being grown on millions of hectares of crop land throughout Niger, at densities of up to 200 trees per hectare, and show a tripling of yield in the crops growing beneath them. Producing food crops like maize, sorghum, and millets under these agroforests dramatically increases their drought resilience in dry years, because of positive soil moisture regimes, and a better microclimate.

This development is not happening only in Africa. The South Asia Network of Evergreen Agriculture has been launched to advance an evergreen revolution throughout the subcontinent.

Feeding the hungry
Planting trees that provide natural fertilizers on farms with poor soils helps farmers restore fertility and increase yields. Gliricidia bushes fix nitrogen in their roots and act as natural green fertilizer factories, tripling yields of maize on farms in Malawi. The prunings are fed to the animals. The bushes also reduce the risk of crop failure during droughts and prevent waterlogging when it rains too much. The nitrogen-fixing tree Faidherbia increased unfertilized maize yield four times in Zambia. The trees are being grown on over 5 million hectares of crop land in Niger.

Relieving poverty
Domesticating wild fruit trees in the Cameroon has allowed smallholder farmers to increase their earnings five times. Thousands of farmers in Tanzania are planting Allanblackia trees and earning much-needed income by selling the oil-containing seeds to companies to make margarine.

Trees grown on homestead farms, in woodlots and on communal lands are an important source of wood and other products. In humid-zone West African countries, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda in particular, trees grown in home gardens meet most household needs for fuelwood and timber. In many cash-crop systems, trees are grown for shade and eventually provide wood – an example is Grevillea robusta in tea plantations in Kenya. In the Sudan, Acacia senegal, the source of gum arabic, is largely grown in agroforestry systems.

Accumulating carbon
Investments in agroforestry over the next 50 years could remove 50 billion tonnes of additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Most of the deforestation in Africa, and in parts of Asia, is caused by agricultural expansion, largely by smallholder farmers. Agroforestry activities curb emissions of greenhouse gases by slowing the conversion of forest to farm land and holding carbon in the trees on the farms. Developing smallholder agroforestry on land that is not classified as forest could capture 30-40 percent of the emissions related to land-use change. Encouraging farmers to plant trees has the potential to increase farmers' income, sequester more carbon and benefit biodiversity.

"The International Year of Forests is a momentous opportunity to more fully recognize the tremendous importance of agroforestry and evergreen agriculture in building a better world," noted Garrity. "Agroforestry is one of mankind's best hopes to create a climate smart agriculture, increase food security, alleviate rural poverty, and achieve truly sustainable development. And, thereby, better ensure that our world's forests can indeed be conserved far into the future."

See also:


KIUC Signs Biomass Deal

SUBHEAD: Critics, like George Monbiot, contend that burning biomass for electricity is not really a form of 'Green Energy'.

 By Anne Barnes on 25 January 2011 in MSN Money

Image above: Power plant smoke stack. From original TreeHugger article.
Kaua'i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) today signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Green Energy Team, LLC (Green Energy) for a biomass-to-energy project to be located near Koloa. This project will reduce Kaua'i's dependence on fossil fuels by 3.7 million gallons per year and provide biomass-fired generation to serve the energy needs of more than 8,500 Kaua'i households.

While KIUC's board of directors has officially committed the cooperative to being 50 percent renewable by 2023, David Bissell, the co-op's acting CEO says with the strong support of KIUC's directors in pursuing renewable initiatives, KIUC can achieve its objective sooner. "With the wide portfolio of projects we are pursuing which includes hydropower, photovoltaic, bio-fuel, battery storage, and additional biomass, we are working towards 50 percent renewable in half that time," Bissell says.

Phil Tacbian, chairman of KIUC's board says, "KIUC is not just accelerating its goals; we are reinventing how Kaua'i is powered. Our cooperative is serious about eliminating Kaua'i's dependence on fossil fuel, and this biomass project is one of a wide array of resources that will get us there."

The project will go far to reinvigorate a diversified agricultural economy on the island, bringing jobs in agriculture, power plant operations and construction, Bissell said.

Green Energy was formed in 2005 to develop renewable energy projects in the state of Hawai'i, and is joined by key partner Standardkessel Baumgarte Contracting GmbH (SBC) of Germany in this biomass-to-energy project.

As a key equity and expertise provider, the Standardkessel partnership facilitates successful financing of the project. "We are very pleased to have Standardkessel's strong engineering and project management resources, and its affiliate's experience in agriculture aspects of providing this long-term, renewable electricity," said Eric Knutzen of Green Energy.

Filip Ackerman, managing director of SBC said, "This is an important project for Standardkessel, and we are fully committed to seeing it through to completion on Kaua'i. The timing is excellent, given the need for permanent jobs here on Kaua'i, the state of Hawai'i's desire to increase renewable energy generation, and KIUC's strategic initiative to deploy renewable energy technologies on Kaua'i. Our project respects Kaua'i's long agricultural history and is sensitive to the Kaua'i environment and culture."

Fuel will be supplied primarily by more than 2,500 acres of short-rotation biomass for conversion to electricity. This helps ensure agricultural use of the state lands to create agriculture related jobs and more affordable energy in the coming decades, while lessening Kaua'i's dependence on foreign oil. The project is considered to be carbon neutral and will maximize the use of natural fertilization processes, including intercropping with alternate rows of nitrogen-fixing trees and the use of fertilizers created as a byproduct of the plant combustion cycle.

The generation system will contribute firm capacity to reach KIUC's supply requirements as defined by the Hawai'i Public Utilities Commission, assuring that Kaua'i can meet its power needs at peak demand. The project also will defer the need to build additional, fossil-fuel fired power generation.
By year-end 2011, KIUC will lead the electric cooperative utility industry deploying new renewable energy technologies with its portfolio of biomass, hydropower, battery storage, and solar generation.

Biomass Power Emission Concerns

By Dave Levitan on 11 February 2011 in Yale Environment 360 

It seems modest, as power plants go — a 29-megawatt facility, situated just north of the Vermont-Massachusetts line, that will burn woody biomass to generate enough power for 25,000 to 30,000 homes. But like many proposed plants in the recently reborn biomass power industry — a supposedly renewable and clean energy source — the Vermont project is encountering significant opposition.

“We live in a wooded, hilly part of New England, so it’s easy to sweep your arm around and say, ‘Look at all these trees. How can there not be enough biomass to operate this plant?’” says Charley Stevenson, co-director of a citizens group in the area that is opposing the plant. “But when you start to look at the scale of the proposed plant, the answer to that becomes less clear.”

The Pownal plant, one of two that Beaver Wood Energy has proposed in Vermont, faces the types of concerns confronting the entire industry. Biomass proponents have long claimed the power source can be carbon neutral — that the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning trees and wood waste in a biomass plant will be offset by the growth of new trees to replace the old ones. However, evidence has accumulated that although biomass has the potential for some carbon benefit compared to fossil fuels, burning wood isn’t as simple a climate solution as many thought.

Combusting wood to produce heat and energy is not a new concept. In fact, whoever first rubbed two sticks together tens of thousands of years ago was an early biomass proponent. And biomass power plants are certainly not new — most of the several-hundred existing plants were built decades ago. But in recent years, as interest in renewable energy has grown, the industry has awakened and dozens, if not hundreds, of new plants have been proposed in the U.S. or are at some stage of a permitting process.

Although some of the more intense battles over biomass power plants have taken place in New England, biomass projects are being proposed across the U.S., from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast. The awakening can be pegged directly to two developments: the growth of state renewable portfolio standards, which require that a certain percentage of a state’s electricity be generated by green energy, and federal policies that provide large incentives for renewable energy projects. Biomass is listed right alongside wind, solar, and other carbon-free power sources in various regulations, a fact that can be traced to a single questionable idea: that burning biomass for power generation is carbon neutral.

 “People are waking up to the fact that this is not such a good deal,” says William Moomaw, director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University. “We could decide we’re going to do it, but right now we’re giving these huge subsidies and carbon credits for something that is not carbon neutral.” Among the first to call attention to the problem of simply labeling it all carbon neutral was a paper in Science in 2009.

The paper, written by Princeton University’s Timothy Searchinger and colleagues, pointed out that when all biomass is considered beneficial in carbon accounting terms, the economics tend to favor converting large amounts of land into forests planted solely to be cut down and burned, thus increasing CO2 emissions.

 The only way that biomass achieves carbon neutrality is if growing forests sequester — that is, absorb from the atmosphere — as much or more carbon dioxide than is released in the burning process. If those forests get burned and none spring up to replace them, there is clearly a net addition of carbon to the atmosphere.

And even if there is a one-to-one ratio of burned trees to growing trees, there is a timing problem. It takes only seconds to burn a tree’s worth of wood, and decades for that tree to grow back and sequester the same amount of carbon. In fact, a study commissioned by the state of Massachusetts and conducted by the Massachusetts-based Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences suggested that for at least 30 years from the initial cutting of trees for biomass, there is actually a “carbon debt” compared to the burning of coal. It is only after several decades of tree regrowth that biomass power can start to show an emissions advantage over the dirtiest of fuels.

Still, biomass burning can approach carbon neutrality if forests are carefully managed and biomass power sources are restricted to waste wood products and material that would otherwise decompose on the forest floor and emit greenhouse gases anyway. Because of the confusion surrounding biomass’s carbon neutrality, the EPA last month announced a plan to defer for three years the greenhouse gas permitting requirements for biomass facilities, ostensibly to allow time for better research into the proper ways to use biomass.

This comes at the start of the agency’s effort to regulate carbon emissions from large sources around the country, and biomass proponents are happy for the deferral. The biomass power industry says it does not want to cut down whole trees — let alone whole forests — just to produce electricity. Instead, the power plants will use wood residues from paper and timber mills and woody waste taken from other forestry practices.

“We would never defend the proposition that it is carbon neutral to take an acre of trees, burn those trees in a boiler, and pave that acre over for a Walmart,” says Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association. Though Tufts’ Moomaw and other experts seem to agree that at its absolute best, practices involving waste wood probably come close to carbon neutrality, they disagree on whether enough of the waste exists.

 Mary Booth — a scientist who in 2009 helped found the Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance, which opposes biomass burning — says that Massachusetts has only about 100,000 green tons (meaning, with the substantial moisture content included in the weight) of woody waste material available for use each year.

She says that an average biomass plant needs about 13,000 tons of wood to produce 1 megawatt of electricity for one year; with biomass plants that average about 40 to 50 megawatt capacities, the state would run out of megawatts quickly. Take the proposed Pownal plant, as well as its sister plant in Fair Haven, Vermont. They each would need about 350,000 tons of wood annually to produce at the stated capacity of 29 megawatts.

Thomas Emero, one of the founding partners of Beaver Wood Energy, says that analyses have shown that taking half of the available waste wood from forest floors within 50 miles of Pownal would be enough to power the plant. The waste — otherwise unusable tops of trees, branches, and the like — would be created by existing logging operations, though a small portion would be added from a wood pellet plant connected to the Pownal power generating station.

“Within that same 50-mile radius, tree growth exceeds harvest by 2.4 million tons per year,” Emero says. “If that isn’t sustainable, then I don’t know what is.” With so many other plants proposed, though, opponents see the equations differently. “There is no way that they aren’t harvesting more trees that would not otherwise be harvested,” Booth says. Elsewhere in New England, similar issues have arisen.

One proposed plant in Berlin, New Hampshire, has seen substantial opposition from within its own industry. A number of existing, small biomass facilities have argued against the Laidlaw Energy Group’s proposal for a 65-megawatt plant because it would substantially raise fuel prices. In other words, there isn’t enough wood in the region to go around. As a result of the Manomet and other studies, Massachusetts will become the first state to actually put restrictions on types of biomass that can be included under the renewable portfolio standard. The changes are not yet finalized, but the draft regulation would limit biomass fuel to “non-forest derived and forest derived residues, forest salvage, and energy crops.”

Some say, though, that Massachusetts could be setting a standard that limits even truly beneficial biomass utilization. “We do see a danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, because the draft regulation would essentially do away with stand-alone biopower facilities,” says John Rogers, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There's a concern, if we’re setting the bar too high, that we’re cutting out biomass resources that the science says can be beneficial.”

Yet with every state except Massachusetts still using a generic biomass definition that doesn’t set limits, there could be substantial dangers. Booth helped conduct a study with the Environmental Working Group that made some stark estimates: Given the relatively modest projected growth of wind and solar power in the near future, to generate 25 percent of all U.S. electricity from renewable sources by 2025 would require an increasing dependence on biomass, and subsequently the need to clear-cut 46,000 square miles of forests over the next 15 years. That’s an area bigger than Pennsylvania.

The rush of studies and research in the last several years highlights a growing understanding that one cannot simply build a biomass plant, throw some wood in the boiler, and claim to be saving the planet. There are, however, circumstances and specific places where it can be done well. Renewable energy resources in the southeastern U.S. don’t compare with wind in the Midwest or solar resources in the Southwest. As a result, biomass has long been suggested as a potential renewable energy option in the South.

And though the same caveats remain in terms of determining carbon neutrality, there are differences. For one, the warm Southeastern climate means trees will grow back faster, lessening the period before neutrality is achieved. Still, opposition has arisen to some proposed biomass plants in the Southeast. One 40-megawatt plant proposed in Lowndes County, Georgia, is being challenged by local environmental groups concerned about where the wood will come from and local health impacts. Biomass proponents contend that the EPA’s decision to defer greenhouse gas permitting regulations for biomass plants will give the industry time to prove its environmental worth.

“I think it’s a good thing,” says Samuel Jackson, a biomass researcher at the University of Tennessee. “I think it will encourage industry investment and innovation in biomass utilization.” Jackson, who studies both woody biomass material as well as energy crops like switchgrass, is also involved with a startup biomass company called Genera Energy. While some biomass energy skeptics, such as Booth and Moomaw, say the delay is political and a bad idea, other analysts are more optimistic about biomass’s potential.

“Biomass is a resource that can be tapped well or it is a resource that can be tapped badly, and we need policies that drive development of the good stuff but keep out the bad stuff,” says Rogers. “It can be done right, and we should find ways to do that, not just say no to it.”

Biofuels for Electricity is Eco-Vandalism

SUBHEAD: George Monbiot says using edible oils for power is, says Monbiot, "eco-vandalism on a staggering scale."

By Sami Grover on 10 February 2011 for TreeHugger -  
Malaysian palm oil producers may be committing to green(er) practices, but that's unlikely to appease George Monbiot. He has long been a critic of biofuels for vehicles, but he is absolutely incensed at proposals for a power plant using biofuels for energy.

Monbiot reports over at The Guardian on controversial plans for a biofuels-burning power plant in Bristol, England. While he still opposes biofuels for most applications in transportation, he does admit that this is a response to a problem with a limited set of options—namely finding a liquid fuel replacement for gasoline that can be used in moving vehicles.

Making electricity, however, has no such limitations, with renewables, nuclear, gas and even coal providing an environmentally preferable solution. Using edible oils for power is, says Monbiot, "eco-vandalism on a staggering scale." Furthermore, he argues, this situation is being entirely brought about by perverse subsidies as the result of misdirected Government action:
" get twice as many certificates for producing a given amount of electricity from vegetable oil as you do by generating it from wind, even though it's far less green, and far less renewable. This situation is entirely an artefact of government policy and it's time the government brought it to an end."
See also:
TreeHugger: Dangers of Biofuels ( 3/27/07


In This Great Time of Crisis

SUBHEAD: I hate to think we’ll have to sink to the lows the Egyptians have faced before we get it and turn things around.  

By Lindsay Curren on 11 February 2011 in Transition Voice -

Image above: Still frame from "The King's Speech". From (
More than simply drooling over the stunning Colin Firth, the Academy Award nominated film The King’s Speech offers something else. I don’t mean the obvious–the tale of a monarch struggling past a chronic stammer.

 But that story is amazing.
For most of his life King George VI could barely speak competently to any group. Yet when push came to shove he was the one guy who had to break the news to the people of England via radio that they would enter World War II and face down the F├╝hrer.

That such a hobbled speaker should take on Hitler himself, a fearsome warmonger who was also an infamously rallying orator, raises this very human story to sublime metaphysical heights.
But what really interests me about the film is the mini-history of mass communications it offers us in its couple-hour span.

Check, check, 1, 2, 3, check
The King’s Speech is peppered with vignettes referencing the tools of electronic communications.
We see at the beginning of the film Prince George “Bertie” (Colin Firth) on the BBC in 1925, miserably stammering his way through a massive stadium speech that leaves him humiliated. Then his father, King George V (Michael Gambon), delivers a Christmas broadcast to the nation. Later, when Bertie receives voice lessons from Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Jeffrey Rush), Logue explains,
I’m going to record your voice and then play it back to you on the same machine. This is brilliant. It’s the latest thing from America: a Silvertone.
It’s all so retro cool.

Throughout the film the scratch and putter of radio frequencies, microphone feedback, the hiss of broadcast silence and thick wax records warbling on gramophones detail the expanding world of early 20th-century mass communications. Radio technicians turning big dials while plugging brass jacks on the ends of cloth covered wires into walled control panels add industry, globalization and a common touch to the emerging story.

Yet King George V bemoans this, saying to Bertie about the wireless that:
This devilish device will change everything if you won’t. In the past all a King had to do was look respectable in uniform and not fall off his horse. Now we must invade people’s homes and ingratiate ourselves with them. This family is reduced to those lowest, basest of all creatures…we’ve become…actors!
And when Bertie is poised to be crowned king, Archbishop of Centerbury Cosmo Lang (Derek Jacobi) laments about recording the coronation:
“Ah, yes, the wireless is indeed a Pandora’s Box. I’m afraid I’ve also had to permit the newsreel cameras.”
Within the context of the film and its history, each of these quaint sketches illuminates a world so distant and distinct from today’s pervasive immersion in media and communication devices, from cable and the Internet to Tweeting, Facebooking, texting, e-mail and iPhone uploads.
Progress? Well…

Talk, talk, it’s only talk, babble, burble, chit chat
In the movie, it all gets serious when England readies itself to enter the war. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Bertie’s now practiced but still halting public speaking skills. Few insiders believe he can do it. The drama focuses on this personal challenge.

As the moment for Bertie’s war speech draws near, the whole of England appears to crane an ear to see if the second son will flub it again. Many seem to be wondering if his stammering means he’s touched. This only adds to their anxiety as Europe faces another descent into the grueling abyss of war.

But with considerable backstage prodding, Bertie does make it through the speech. He wins respectful gazes and then erupting cheers when, after the speech, he appears on the palace balcony to the relieved crowd below. Having bolstered national resolve by hitting just the right note, Bertie proves he’s no inbred royal shame. Instead he shows himself staunchly positioned to face the worst with courage.

In this, we think we’ve just seen the triumph of the human spirit against adversity. And of course we have. Since we now know that Hitler was ultimately taken down, as viewers we conflate the two events, imagining that the story, with its metaphysical undertones, is over, and that all’s well that ends well. The world moved on, the Nazis were defeated and we got more drive-in theaters and jukeboxes.
But to me, this is where the story really begins for today’s audience.

In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!
In that final scene every citizen is listening to Bertie. Not just because it makes for good drama. But because history tells us that’s essentially how it really went down.

At a time when only radio and movies existed, and war was afoot, the ability of a king or a president to command the attention of an entire nation was formidable. School and work paused, people gathered in bars, stopped on railway platforms, and stood outside the palace and places with loudspeakers to hear the news.

Far from being vulnerable to an instant take-down on cable talk shows or cluster blogging, a broadcast speech or announcement in those days stood on its own, reverberating in waves of pregnant silence. The news, the events, the implications could actually be digested. Yeah, it would be discussed in pubs, over dinner, on the telephone, and commented on in the newspapers. But that was the extent of it.

And then you took action.

Contrast that with today, when nothing that goes down in politics or news escapes being reduced to 140 characters and sent out worldwide 0.3 seconds later by any given trigger-happy Web surfer with a hand-held device and an opinion.

Now, without a doubt, there’s an upside to today’s media landscape, too.
News out of Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks shows that those same hand-helds helped spawn a mass gathering of citizens to agitate for their rights. The world marvels at that. This is what the struggle for freedom looks like (in spite of Mubarak giving Egyptians the figurative middle finger for almost three weeks). And the citizens didn’t yield. They’ve won!
When strength of purpose exists, and little else competes for its attention, such flash organizing can happen.
But the opposite side of such techno-wizardy exists, too.
Just as we can lean in and witness the Egyptian story, we can also ignore it for a day spent on or mining the minutiae of Jersey Shore or tuning into the opinion-ators we love to hate.
And here’s where our media life in America today gets sticky.

Remote control
At the same time that no one is calling for a return to one central state megaphone, or to go back to the world before interactivity, we have to admit that it’s that much more difficult to make gains on key issues when the sheer din acts against anything resembling unity of experience and understanding. Or when facts and general consensus are buried under the sheer multiplicity and simultaneity of democratized media outlets.

And that’s not just anecdotal.

In his contribution to the 2010 essay collection Obama: Year One, Martin P. Wattenberg describes just how far we’ve come from the unity of experience revealed in the climax of The King’s Speech, or even more recently, since the Reagan era. Though media channels have increased, the ability to capture a sizable audience has plummeted dramatically, while at the same time the outlets for straight news coverage have also declined. Wattenberg writes:
On the positive side, there can be little doubt that there is a good deal of potential for learning about politics from watching a substantial amount of political coverage on the cable news networks. However, as many critics of these channels have said, there is reason to be skeptical about how much people can actually learn from the free-flowing spirited discussions that often dominate these channels.
Mistakenly we believe that the Internet steps in to fill the void. And more so, because here each of us can drive our own research into the key issues of the day. But such an idealistic perspective obscures that just as much misinformation occurs, spreading even faster.

At the same time, the mere existence of the Web doesn’t mean that a higher percentage of the population will seek out solid reporting or balanced opinion on politics, leadership, economics or other pivotal issues. As Wattenberg explains:
Politics is only one of a myriad of subjects that one can find out about on the Internet. Most Americans have a fairly limited interest in politics, and therefore will not often be motivated to use the Internet to look up detailed information about politics.
In this regard we take politics to mean more than just left-versus-right slugfests over health care or taxes. In a larger sense, where all politics is personal, we’re more likely to share cute kitty photographs than engage on issues that really stand to affect us. As Clay Shirkey writes in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs:
Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berman Center for Internet and Society calls it the “the cute-cat theory of digital activism.” Specific tools designed to defeat state censorship (such as proxy servers) can be shut down with little political penalty, but broader tools that the larger population uses to, say, share pictures of cute cats are harder to shut down.
Problem is, most of us seem more interested in those cute kitty sites for little more than sharing pictures of…cute kitties.

Ground Control to Major Tom
In a place like Egypt, broader and more direct suffering likely illuminates the special nature of the miracle tools of social media, the Internet and cellphones in a way that Justin Bieber Nation just can’t appreciate.

We Americans are busy griping that there’s nothing on our 900 channels rather than engaging in constructive ways with the immensely powerful tools literally at our fingertips. And not just using these tools to do business, hustle, upsell and “network.” But to connect on the fundamentals that unite us–the struggles we all face on economy, energy, ecology and humanity.

What’s lacking is any objective sense of where we are in the experience of our shared communication tools. For that reason, I’d argue that we need to reach in communications consciousness that same self-awareness that arrived when astronaut William Anders of Apollo 8 sent back the famous “Earth Rise” photograph while circling the moon in 1968.

Seeing an image of our earth from space is credited with helping to launch the modern environmental movement. It brought a potent sense of perspective that linked us all to the bigger picture, to our place in the universe, to our fragile planet.

There’s hope that we can achieve that consciousness. Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker that while all time periods have faced assaults on consciousness due to emerging communication modes and technologies, the Internet is different in that it is “the wraparound presence, not the specific evils, of the machine that oppresses us.” He goes on to say:
Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them. Our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos, and we mostly live by those. Toast, as any breakfaster knows, isn’t really about the quality of the bread or how it’s sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It’s all about the butter.

Toast in the machine
America now faces the biggest challenges of its existence with peak oil at our doorstep and roiling financial crisis under our feet. But this must compete with the latest Dancing with the Stars tally and pictures of hot-bodded “family values” Congressmen who cheat on their wives and send shirtless cellphone shots of themselves to dates on Craigslist.

Waking a sleepwalking population from its diversions of choice to see our shared plight and take action while we can will certainly not happen as long as we feel compelled to play everything cool. For example President Obama saying in his recent State of the Union address that on clean energy now is our “Sputnik moment” and then giving absolutely no reasoning why. No causes, no real urgency, no straight talk.

And who can blame him when there’s no single center of gravity in our nation? Who can blame him when the airwaves are glutted with manufactured disputes over whether a given issue is even valid to pursue, such as is the case with climate change? Who can blame him when the ethos of corporate profits and single-minded growth ultimately trump myriad democratic concerns in a system that no longer actively responds within a communicative feedback loop grounded in the conditions of material reality and driven by an ennobled purpose?

Unlike that moment in The King’s Speech, when the nation paused together in order to face the inevitable with the full force of consciousness, now we get only grand disconnected gestures and then, if we were paying attention at all, a return to checking in to local spots via FourSquare. “Look at me, I’m the mayor.”

How do we deal with it?

I suggest little things, like:
  • Promoting a culture of self-policing, elevating the value of #gettingfocused among those who are paying attention.
  • Perhaps stepping up your game and #formingcoalition across like-minded organizing groups.
  • Encourage the awakened to tune in.
  • Or, ironically, as I’ve been tweeting, to #standupfightback—which doesn’t have to mean either violence or confrontation. But it must mean an unyielding sense of purpose and an Egyptian-style demand for a place at the currently corporate-owned table.
How we cross from yearning to action to some cohesion I don’t know. I hate to think we’ll have to sink to the lows the Egyptians have faced before we get it and turn things around.

If Dmitri Orlov is right, we will have to go that low. And by then it may be too late. But I hope not.
Can you hear me now?


Mubarak Toppled

SUBHEAD: Mubarak resigns as Egypt's president as armed forces take control of country. Who's next?

 By AP Staff on 11 February 2011 for Huffington Post - 

[IB Editor's note: For live video coverage of people's victory this morning watch Democracy Now! ( and Al Jazeera (]

 Image above: Scene in Tahrir Square exploded into joy. From Huffington Post article.

Egypt's Hosni Mubarak resigned as president and handed control to the military on Friday, bowing down after a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands. "The people ousted the president," chanted a crowd of tens of thousands outside his presidential palace in Cairo.

Several hundred thousand protesters massed in Cairo's central Tahrir Square exploded into joy, waving Egyptian flags, and car horns and celebratory shots in the air were heard around the city of 18 million in joy after Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on national TV just after nightfall.

Mubarak had sought to cling to power, handing some of his authorities to Suleiman while keeping his title. But an explosion of protests Friday rejecting the move appeared to have pushed the military into forcing him out completely. Hundreds of thousands marched throughout the day in cities across the country as soliders stood by, besieging his palace in Cairo and Alexandria and the state TV building.

"In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic," a grim-looking Suleiman said. "He has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state. God is our protector and succor."

Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, whose young suporters were among the organizers of the protest movement, told The Associated Press, "This is the greatest day of my life."

"The country has been liberated after decades of repression," he said adding that he expects a "beautiful" transition of power.


Mubarak refuses to step down

SUBHEAD: The rapidly moving events raised the question of whether a rift had opened between Mubarak and the military command.  

By AP Staff on 10 February 2011 for Huffington Post -

Image above: Detail of poster for "The Mummy". From (

 Egypt's Hosni Mubarak refused to step down or leave the country and instead said he would hand his powers to his vice president Thursday, remaining president and ensuring regime control over the reform process. Stunned protesters in central Cairo who demand his ouster waved their shoes in contempt and shouted, "Leave, leave, leave."

The rapidly moving events raised the question of whether a rift had opened between Mubarak and the military command. Hours earlier, a council of the military's top generals announced it had stepped in to secure the country, and a senior commander announced to protesters in Tahrir Square that all their demands would soon be met, raising cries of victory that Mubarak was on his way out.

After Mubarak's speech, protest organizers called for the army to take action to oust him, and they vowed increased protests on Friday. Several hundred thousand had packed into Tahrir Square, ecstatic with expectation that Mubarak would announce his resignation in his nighttime address. Instead, they watched in shocked silence as he spoke, slapping their foreheads in anger and disbelief. Some broke into tears.

Around a 1,000 marched on the state television headquarters several blocks away, guarded by the military with barbed wire and tanks. "They are the liars," the crowd shouted, pointing at the building, chanting, "We won't leave, they will leave."

Prominent reform advocate, Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, whose supporters were among the organizers of the 17-day-old wave of protests, issued a Tweet calling on the military to act.
"The army must save the country now," he said. "I call on the Egyptian army to immediately interfere to rescue Egypt. The credibility of the army is on the line."

Mohammed Mustapha, a protest spokesman, said, "We are waiting for a strong reaction from the army to Mubarak's speech." He said "huge numbers" of protesters were expected Friday and that many wanted to march on the Oruba palace, Mubarak's main presidential palace several miles away from Tahrir.

Immediately after Mubarak's speech, Vice President Omar Suleiman called on the protesters to "go home" and asked Egyptians to "unite and look to the future."

In his 17-minute speech on state TV, Mubarak spoke as if he were still in charge, saying he was "adamant to continue to shoulder my responsibility to protect the constitution and safeguard the interests of the people." He vowed that he would remain in the country and said he was addressing the youth in Tahrir as "the president of the republic."

"I saw fit to delegate the authorities of the president to the vice president, as dictated in the constitution," said Mubarak, who looked frail but spoke in a determined, almost defiant voice.
Suleiman was already leading the regime's efforts to deal with the crisis. The constitution allows the president to transfer his powers if he is unable to carry out his duties "due to any temporary obstacle," but it does not mean his resignation. Even in that case, the vice president still cannot request constitutional amendments or dissolve parliament.

Mubarak will likely resign today

SUBHEAD: In Washington, the CIA chief said there was a "strong likelihood" Mubarak will step down Thursday.  

By AP Staff on 10 February 2011 for Huffington Post -

Image above: Egyptian crowd is pleased when Mubarak ruling party leadership on 2/5/11. From (

Egypt's military announced on national television that it has stepped in to "safeguard the country" on Thursday and assured protesters that President Hosni Mubarak will meet their demands in the strongest indication yet that Egypt's longtime leader has lost power. In Washington, the CIA chief said there was a "strong likelihood" Mubarak will step down Thursday.

The dramatic announcement showed that the military was taking control after 17 days of protests demanding Mubarak's immediate ouster spiraled out of control.

Gen. Hassan al-Roueini, military commander for the Cairo area, told thousands of protesters in central Tahrir Square, "All your demands will be met today." Some in the crowd held up their hands in V-for-victory signs, shouting "the people want the end of the regime" and "Allahu akbar," or "God is great," a victory cry used by secular and religious people alike.

The military's supreme council was meeting Thursday, without the commander in chief Mubarak, and announced on state TV its "support of the legitimate demands of the people." A spokesman read a statement that the council was in permanent session to explore "what measures and arrangements could be made to safeguard the nation, its achievements and the ambitions of its great people."
The statement was labeled "communique number 1," a phrasing that suggests a military coup.


Uh Oh! Is Egyptian Flu Catching?

SOURCE: Elaine Dunbar ( SUBHEAD: All US Ambassadors recalled back to Washington for an unprecedented event - a "QDDR". Compiled from circulated email 10 February 2011 -

Image above: U.S. Ambassadors to European countries gathered in Brussels in 2010. From (

We received the following thoughts on the widely-circulated story alleging ALL US Ambassadors were recalled to DC for a conference from a retired career member of the US Dept of State...
Jeff - Whoever sent this to you is right on one point at least: It has never happened before. When State has a Chiefs of Mission conference, it normally tends to do it on a regional basis. What I am reading in the story below is a conference of the chief officers of every diplomatic and consular post.
They are not all Ambassadors, however. Ambassadors have Embassies; Consuls General have Consulates General; and Consuls have Consulates. The goal of such a meeting, if it actually occurs, would be to brief all chief officers of our overseas posts simultaneously about some truly critical issue; so critical that something may be expected to happen in the area of any of those posts that affects the safety and security of the post and the people in it, along with the vital interests of the United States.
The global overseas senior management cut would be ambassadors and consuls general. That is a plausible cut, even recognizing that in some countries we have more than one consul general ( 5 in Canada, 2 in Brazil as examples). It could be that the rebellion in Cairo is seen to be peculiarly contageous, and might unsettle any diplomatic post. In such an eventuality, the goal would be to put everyone on the alert at the same level of sensitivity and give each the same precisely stated policy guidance.
How to act in the event of another Tahrir Square gathering in some other country could be the subject. That can all be done, of course, with a properly stated and prioritized telegram. Getting all those troops together is both expensive and disruptive. Interesting. (Name withheld)
Here now, is the original story circulated this week: Monday, February 7, 2011... "All Ambassadors Called Back to Washington" Sunday, February 06, 2011 2:21 "U.S. Ambassadors of the world called back to Washington" In an unprecedented move, apparently one that has never happened before, nearly all U.S. Ambassadors to all nations have been called back to Washington for a summit conference this week. Some sources were reporting on story on 31 January 2011. "Clinton calls for historic meeting with ambassadors" (
"Ambassadors from almost all 260 U.S. embassies, consulates and other posts in more than 180 countries are expected to convene at the State Department for what's being billed as the first meeting of its kind."
"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is convening an unprecedented mass meeting of U.S. ambassadors" ( The first logical thought that comes to mind looking back at all previous world crisis, what might now be so important, evidently more-so than anything ever in the past, to call all ambassadors back to Washington? The sky's the limit with ideas and conspiracy.
  • To get all their stories 'straight' ahead of time for something.
  • To prearrange settling the debt score between nations prior to a new world currency roll-out.
  • A dollar currency devaluation.
  • China is calling in our debt
  • New severely damaging Wikileaks about to be released.
  • Afraid of electronic communication leaks of something very important to discuss ?
While the main stream and most Americans are involved with the SuperBowl at the moment, hardly any reporting on the event can be found. Fine time to do something 'under the radar'. Could this actually be simply a 'first time' of such a gathering to discuss 'normal' business? At first instinct, suspicion is aroused. The 'official' explanation from the U.S. State Dept. is something named the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review or QDDR ( Stay tuned. .

Wikileaks & Saudi Peak Oil

SUBHEAD: A 10 percent increase in the price of oil that lasted one year could result in the loss of 270,000 American jobs, according to a simulation.  

By Yepoka Yeebo on 9 February 2010 for Huffington Post -   

Image above: Saudis buying more of their own product. From (
A Wikileaks cable has reportedly revealed that Saudi Arabia may not have enough oil to stop prices from skyrocketing. That is, depending on how you define the country's oil reserves.

Cables from the U.S. embassy in Saudi capital Riyadh reviewed by the Guardian, describe a warning from a senior Saudi oil executive, who said the country's crude oil reserves have been overstated by nearly 40 percent, some 300 billion barrels.

The Guardian reports that Sadad al-Husseini, former head of exploration at the Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, told the U.S. consul general in Riyadh that the Saudi oil company could not keep up with the 12.5 million barrels a day needed to keep prices low. Peak oil, he said, could be reached as early as 2012.

But, according the Wall Street Journal's Angus Mcdowall, there's good reason to be wary of reading too much into the cables. Mcdowall spoke with al-Husseini, who told him his comments were referring to Saudi Arabia's "oil in place" -- including recoverable and non-recoverable sources.

Looking at it that way, Husseini suggested to the WSJ, makes the picture a lot less frightening.

"The world of energy looks pretty much how it looked yesterday," Mcdowall writes. (Editor's note: Bleak!)

The price of Brent crude oil, an industry benchmark, rose above $103 a barrel last week thanks to global demand, and tensions in the Middle East and north Africa following protests in Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt. This is the highest value since September 2008, when record oil prices helped drag the economy into recession.

A 10 percent increase in the price of oil that lasted one year could result in the loss of 270,000 American jobs, according to a simulation by IHS Insight.


Energy Funds, Energy Flows

SUBHEAD: Trying to find some new jackpot of energy to fuel our current lifestyles is not a viable response to our predicament.

 By John Michael Greer on 9 February 2011 in The Archdruid Report - (

Image above: PowerBall lottery winner Muncie Meade & family pose with $19.2 million check. Fro (

 It’s a safe bet that whenever I post something here discussing the limits to energy resources, one result will be a flurry of emails and attempted comments insisting that it just ain’t so. I’ve long since stopped responding to them, since the arguments they raise – they’re always the same – have been repeatedly addressed here and in my books on peak oil, and endlessly rehashing the same really rather straightforward issues isn’t that productive a use of my time.

 Still, I keep track of them; it’s a useful reminder of just how many people have never quite grasped the fact that the laws of nature are under no obligation to cater to our culture’s emotionally charged fantasies of perpetual progress and limitless growth. That failure to come to terms with the realities of our predicament is by no means restricted to internet bloggers, to be sure.

The World Wildlife Federation, to cite only one example, has just released a lavishly produced study insisting that the world can replace 95% of its fossil fuel energy from renewables by 2050, with ample room for population increases, ongoing economic growth in the industrial world, and a boom in the nonindustrial world that will supposedly raise it out of poverty. The arguments in the report will be wearily familiar to anybody who’s followed the peak oil debate for any noticeable length of time; Erik Lundberg of Transition Milwaukee has already commented on these in some detail, and his points don’t need to be revisited here.

Underlying all the grand and sweeping fantasies of endless economic growth powered somehow by lukewarm sunlight and inconstant wind, I’ve come to think, lies the simple fact that the human mind never quite got around to evolving the capacity to think in terms of the huge amounts of energy our species currently, and briefly, has at its disposal. It’s one thing to point out that a planeload of tourists flying from Los Angeles to Cairo to see the Great Pyramid, back when political conditions in Egypt allowed for that, used more energy in that one flight than it took to build the Great Pyramid in the first place.

It’s quite another to understand exactly what that means – to get some sense of the effort it took for gangs of laborers to haul all those blocks of stone from the quarries to the Nile, load them on boats, then haul them up from the Nile’s edge east of Giza and get them into place in the slowly rising mass of the Pyramid, and then to equate all that effort with the fantastic outpouring of force that flows through the turbines of a modern jet engine and keeps an airliner poised in the thin air 40,000 feet above the ground for the long flight from LA to Cairo. Like the age of the Earth or the distance to the nearest star, that torrential flow of energy is on a scale our minds are simply not capable of grasping in any but the most abstract sense.

From the perspective we inherit from our evolutionary origins, where the effort needed to chase down an antelope or fight off a hyena lies toward the upper end of our imaginations, the power needed to keep a couple of tons of aluminum, steel, fuel, luggage, and human flesh in midair for most of a day is so close to infinite that it’s all too easy to confuse the two. As we prepare to navigate the rough waters of the immediate future, though, confusing the two is a major mistake. The fantasy of infinite energy is what’s behind the assumption, common throughout the industrial world, that using as much energy as possible in as many ways as possible is an unqualified good.

Once supply limits enter the picture, unlimited use becomes problematic, but it’s important to grasp that there are two kinds of limits to energy availability and two kinds of problems that result. The best way to think of the difference I’m addressing here is to borrow a metaphor from money. One kinds of energy limit is a limit to energy flows, which works like the limit imposed by the amount of a weekly paycheck. If you make five hundred dollars a week, that’s how much you have to spend that week, and if the potential uses for that money amount to more than five hundred a week, you have to prioritize. So much has to be set aside for rent, so much for food, so much for utilities, and so on, before you decide how much you can afford to spend on whatever else you have in mind.

Neglect to prioritize and you can end up scrambling to get by until your next weekly paycheck shows up. The other kind of energy limit is a limit to energy funds, which functions like the limit imposed by the amount of an inheritance or a lump-sum lottery win. If you have ten million dollars in the bank from a winning lottery ticket, the kind of limit the fund’s size puts on you is very different from the kind that a weekly paycheck puts on you.

Treated as a fund, that ten million dollars is all you’ll ever have to spend, and unless there’s less than ten million dollars’ worth of expenditures you’ll want to make in your entire life, you have to prioritize, just like the guy making five hundred a week. Notice, though, that if you’ve got a fund rather than a flow, the temptation to ignore priorities and run amuck with your wealth can be very high, because payback doesn’t come midway through the week; it comes when your bank balance drops too low to cover your current expenses, and when that happens, it’s far too late to do anything about it.

If you have more than the usual amount of brains the gods gave hominids, you can dodge this by turning the fund into a source of flow. In the world of money, this is called investing: you buy assets that give you a steady return, and the resulting flow becomes the bedrock on which you build your financial life; even if you mess up and have to scramble, there’s always the next check to help you out. Still, you have to make the decision to do that, and then keep your grubby hands off the funds you’ve invested.

Apply this to energy and you’ve basically got the history of the modern world. Until our species broke into the Earth’s store of fossil fuels and started going through it like a lottery winner on a spree, we lived from paycheck to paycheck on the incoming flows from the sun, and we got fairly clever at it. Growing food crops, raising livestock, building windmills and waterwheels, designing houses to soak up heat from the sun in winter and shed it in the summer, and a good many other ingenious tricks gave us the annual paycheck of energy we used to support ourselves and cover the costs of such luxury goods as art, literature, philosophy, science, and the occasional Great Pyramid.

With the transformation of coal from ugly black rock to energy resource over the course of the eighteenth century, that changed radically. Simply put, our species won the lottery, and it wasn’t a paltry little million-dollar prize, either – it was the great-grandmother of all jackpots, unimaginably vast enough that for most of three hundred years, the major constraint on how fast we used fossil fuels was the struggle to figure out enough clever ways to use it all. What nobody noticed at the time, or for a long time thereafter, was that we’d switched from a flow to a fund, and the faster our fossil fuel use accelerated, the faster the bank balance depleted.

We could have done the smart thing and converted the fund into a source of flows. That’s what the alternative energy scene of the 1970s was all about: figuring out ways to use the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves to bridge the gap to a renewable energy technology that could last after the fossil fuels were gone.

Even then, it was a gamble; nobody knew for sure if it would be possible, even using the world’s still-huge fossil fuel reserves, to create a renewable infrastructure sturdy and productive enough that it could keep providing ample energy into the far future. Still, it’s possible that it could have been done, if the initiatives launched in that decade had been pursued in the decades that followed.

 The people responsible for the World Wildlife Fund study, and those people who deluge me with cornucopian screeds that aren’t simply chanting "Drill, baby, drill" or insisting that God Almighty will refill the world’s oilfields so that we can keep on living exactly the sort of life of extravagant luxury, wealth and pride their own Bible condemns in no uncertain terms, are basically insisting that this is still an option. It’s not, and the reason it’s not comes from the one major difference between money and energy resources: in the world of energy, a fund is also subject to restrictions on flow.

It’s as though the bank account where you have your lottery winnings stashed has a regulation saying that you can only withdraw two per cent of your total balance per month. If you’ve got ten million dollars in the bank, that limit hardly seems worth noticing at first, but as your tastes grow more extravagant and your bills mount up, the amount you think you need each month goes up, and the amount you can theoretically withdraw goes down as your balance depletes. Sooner or later those two lines cross, and once that happens only a drastic program of cutting expenses and prioritizing bills can save you from financial ruin.

 Unless you’re willing to suck it up and live very cheaply for a good long while, you certainly can’t afford to take the money you have left and sock it into an investment; you need the money to cover your bills right now, and the best you can probably hope for is that the remainder of your lottery winnings will clear your debts and maybe pay for some nice things you won’t be able to afford in the future, when you’re back to earning five hundred a week. The restrictions on flow that affect fossil fuels are the product of geology and economics, not bank regulations, but the principle is the same.

It’s simply not possible to extract more than a certain amount of oil from a given oil field per year – the amount varies from field to field due to fine details of geology – and trying to do so is a good way to exhaust the field prematurely, losing the chance to get some of the oil you might have had by doing things the right way. Despite all the ballyhoo about high-tech methods of extracting oil from the ground, in practice, those turn out to get about the same amount of oil as the old-fashioned method, just a lot faster; in practice, that means that the field keeps production at a higher plateau for a while longer, but runs dry sooner.

The limits to coal and natural gas production are a bit more straightforward: neither one is cheap to produce, and the faster you want to produce it, the more it’s going to cost you and the sooner you run out of good places to dig or drill. Thus you don’t have to run out of fossil fuels to end up in a world of hurt; you just need to get to the point where rising demand crosses decreasing potential flow.

Worldwide conventional petroleum production passed that point in 2005; coal is closing in on the equivalent point, the point at which the cost of expanding production from depleting reserves will exceed the ability of the global economy to pay; natural gas is a little further off, though nothing like so far as the press releases from shale gas drilling companies hoping to buoy their stock prices would like you to think. In terms of the metaphor, our bills are mounting and our ability to withdraw enough cash to cover them from the First National Bank of Earth is starting to come into serious question.

 Can we afford at this point to invest a very sizable fraction of what we have left in a project of the sort the World Wildlife Fund imagines? Not without a process of global economic retrenchment that would make the Great Depression – the last one, not the current one – look like a lawn party. Political realities being what they are, it’s not going to happen. This means, as these essays have argued repeatedly already, that trying to find some new jackpot of energy to fuel our current lifestyles is not a viable response to our predicament.

The foundation of any viable response needs to start from the other end of the equation, by changing our lifestyles to accept the drastic retrenchment that’s waiting for us anyway as fossil fuels continue to deplete. If our imaginary lottery winner wants to get out of the trap he’s made for himself, after all, the first thing he has to do is stop spending money so freely. Once that happens, the range of potential opportunities broadens significantly, but unless that happens, there’s no way that things are going to end well. The distinction between funds and flows is important enough that I’d like to ask those of my readers who are working on the Green Wizards project to use it to expand on the list you made last week.

That list, as you’ll remember, includes every way that heat enters into your house during the cold months of the year, and every way that it leaves. (If you didn’t think of the furnace, the stove, and other heat-producing appliances when you were coming up with ways that heat enters your home, by the way, you should probably do the list over again.)

For this week’s work, take each of the ways that heat comes into your home, figure out whether it comes from a flow (for example, sunlight) or a fund (for example, natural gas), and if it comes from a fund, what restrictions affect your access to flows from that fund (for example, the cost of natural gas). This may take you a bit of research. Your refrigerator, for example, puts a noticeable amount of heat into your home; if it’s electric, what energy source produces the electricity you use?

If it’s coal or natural gas, it’s from a fund; if it’s hydroelectric, it’s from a flow; it may well be a mixture of these and more. Take the time to find out; it’s good practice, and will also give you a much better idea of what factors are likely to affect your electric bill in the future as different resources run short at different rates.

More generally, go over your list from last week and see if you can expand on it. Next week, with the help of a pair of British musical comedians, we’ll begin applying this information to the next practical stage of the Green Wizards project.


Climate Change as a 'Liberal Hoax'

SUBHEAD: The 2010 elections could be interpreted as a “death knell for the species” because most of the new Republicans in Congress are global warming deniers.  

By Noam Chomsky on 9 February 2011 in The Nation

Image above: Illustration of Al Gore as naked emperor for Weekly Standard. From (

 In this sixth video in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, linguist, philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky talks about the Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute and other business lobbies enthusiastically carrying out campaigns “to try and convince the population that global warming is a liberal hoax.” According to Chomsky, this massive public relations campaign has succeeded in leading a good portion of the population into doubting the human causes of global warming.

Known for his criticism of the media, Chomsky doesn't hold back in this clip, laying blame on mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times, which will run frontpage articles on what meteorologists think about global warming. “Meteorologists are pretty faces reading scripts telling you whether it’s going to rain tomorrow," Chomsky says. "What do they have to say any more than your barber?” All this is part of the media’s pursuit of “fabled objectivity.”

Of particular concern for Chomsky is the atmosphere of anger, fear and hostility that currently reigns in America. The public’s hatred of Democrats, Republicans, big business and banks and the public’s distrust of scientists all lead to general disregard for the findings of “pointy-headed elitists.” The 2010 elections could be interpreted as a “death knell for the species” because most of the new Republicans in Congress are global warming deniers. “If this was happening in some small country," Chomsky concludes, "it wouldn’t matter much. But when it’s happening in the richest, most powerful country in the world, it’s a danger to the survival of the species.”

Video above: From (


BofA Attack on WikiLeaks Backfires?

SUBHEAD: Bank of America said to be using private data intelligence firms against

By Staff on 9 February 2011 for WikiLeaks -  

Image above: WikiLeaks logo.
In a document titled "The WikiLeaks Threat" three data intelligence companies, Plantir Technologies, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies, outline a plan to attack Wikileaks. They are acting upon request from Hunton and Williams, a law firm working for Bank of America. The Department of Justice recommended the law firm to Bank of America according to an article in The Tech Herald. The proposed attacks on WikiLeaks according to the slides include these actions:

  • Feed the fuel between the feuding groups. Disinformation. Create messages around actions of sabotage or discredit the opposing organizations. Submit fake documents and then call out the error.
  • Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed not to be secure they are done.
  • Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project. Since the servers are now in Sweden and France putting a team together to get access is more straightforward.
  • Media campaign to push the radial and reckless nature of WikiLeaks activities. Sustain pressure. Does nothing for the fanatics, but creates concern and doubt among moderates.
  • Search for leaks. Use social media to profile and identify risky behavior of employees.

  • Original document converted to PDF (4.5MB):

    HBGary used as Anonymous object lesson

    By Steve Ragan on 7 February 2011 for the Tech Herald - 

    Aaron Barr, the COO of HBGary Federal, told the Financial Times this weekend that he used clues found online to discover the identities of key Anonymous members. Anonymous reacted to the story and Barr’s claims with a massive attack aimed at the security firm, leveraging local root exploits, shared passwords, and social engineering.
    In an interview with the Financial Times, Barr said that by using services such as LinkedIn,, Facebook, as well as IRC itself, he was able to connect the dots and identify several high-level Anonymous members, including “Owen” and “Q”, two people mentioned by their IRC names in the actual news report.
    Having spent several months on IRC with people who associate under the banner of Anonymous, The Tech Herald can confirm that Q and Owen are actual names used by people on the AnonOps network. However, they are not the leaders they are made out to be by the Financial Times’ story. Anonymous has no leaders. Even hinting at such a thing on IRC will invoke a long lecture on the topic.
    Out of all of the people who participate in the various Anonymous operations, only 30 or so are consistently active. Of that group, only ten “are the most senior and co-ordinate and manage most of the decisions,” Barr explained to the Financial Times.
    The Tech Herald has seen Barr’s research. [PDF] While there is plenty of information, several operation names and dates are out of order, and many of the names associated with membership are incorrect. When it comes to the ten “most senior people”, they are actually network administrators.
    They work to keep the IRC servers online. Their proper titles include Services Root Administrator, Network Administrator, and Operator. AnonOps is an IRC network, Anonymous is something entirely different. Those who manage the IRC servers might be part of Anonymous, but they are not co-founders or leaders. They are highly active people, but that is what is needed to maintain an IRC network such as theirs.
    After the Financial Times story broke, including Barr’s claims of infiltration, Anonymous responded. The response was brutal, resulting in full control over and They were also able to compromise HBGary’s network, including full access to all their financials, software products, PBX systems, Malware data, and email, which they released to the public in a 4.71 GB Torrent file.
    In a statement emailed to The Tech Herald, Anonymous called Barr’s actions media-whoring, and noted that his claims had amused them.
    “Let us teach you a lesson you'll never forget: you don't mess with Anonymous. You especially don't mess with Anonymous simply because you want to jump on a trend for public attention,” the statement directed to HBGary and Barr said.

    “You have blindly charged into the Anonymous hive, a hive from which you've tried to steal honey. Did you think the bees would not defend it? Well here we are. You've angered the hive, and now you are being stung. It would appear that security experts are not expertly secured.”

    The attack against HBGary is a classic example of leverage. It started with an SQL Injection attack on From there, Anonymous discovered and cracked the passwords used on the site. As it turns out, many of these passwords were used on GMail. Access to GMail, along with the use of shared passwords, led to the compromise Barr’s Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

    HBGary fired the company responsible for the flawed code that led to the SQL Injection attack.
    While this was happening, Anonymous gained access to the email password used by Greg Hoglund, the co-founder of HBGary, and part owner of the Federal subsidiary run by Barr. With his account under their control, they sent an email to the admin of asking for the firewall to be opened and Hoglund’s password reset to “changeme123”.

    The reason for access, the fake request stated, was due to Hoglund being in Europe and unable to SSH into the server. The move was a classic case of Social Engineering. After some exchanges, SSH access was granted. Once on the server using Hoglund’s password, Anonymous leveraged the $ORIGIN expansion vulnerability to gain root control.

    After this, they copied data, wiped the backup servers, and released the Torrent with the company email. This email release is the third time Anonymous has exposed internal communications. Previously, they exposed company emails taken from ACSLaw and Acapor.

    On IRC Sunday, as the Torrent with HBGary emails started to spread, HBGary President Penny Leavy, as well as Greg Hoglund and Aaron Barr, spoke to Anonymous.

    Early on in the conversation with Anonymous, Leavy remarked that she was aware of Barr’s research on social media and the problems associated with it, including “…the ease of pretending to be one of you…” she told them.
    However, Barr was never planning on giving his research to the government, she added. “He was never going to release names, just talk about handles.”

    The data and information collected by Barr was to show people at RSA next week how easy it is to say they are someone online without actually being the person. However, the reaction from the Anons in the room was that the research and logic for conducting it at all was extremely flawed.

    Most of the anger was directed at Barr’s list of names and their alleged connections to Anonymous operations. Several Anons commented that the list includes fake names, reporters, and others who are in no way connected to any role in Anonymous. Its existence means that it “…could have and might still get innocent people in trouble for no reason at all.”

    When asked if she had seen Barr’s research, including the infamous list, Leavy said, “…we have not seen the list and we are kind of pissed at him right now.” She didn’t expand on that comment.
    There was a distinction made that HBGary only owns 15-percent of HBGary Federal, and that attacking both was wrong, as one had nothing to do with the other. The networks shared many common elements, that they are only moderately related was irrelevant to Anonymous.

    Later, there was talk about making things right. Not really demands, but more of a list of gestures that HBGary could make, such as donations to various causes, like the EFF or Bradley Manning’s defense fund.

    In addition, there were several calls for Barr to be burned by HBGary, but given that he is a partner, that is unlikely. At this stage, HBGary’s response is unknown. At the time this article was written, aside from the conversations on IRC, there has been no official comment.

    When asked by the Anons in the room about his alleged plans to sell the data collected, Barr denied it with a flat refusal that he was never going to sell it, and that they had it all wrong.

    “Ok I am going to say this one more time,” he told the room. “I did this for research. The FBI called me because of my research. The email you are referring to about selling data was about a model built on this type of research. It was not to sell specifically this data.”

    “I was going to use it to describe the process of how social media exploitation works... The most data I was going to show was an org chart of IRCs with icons representing those nicks I thought I knew. Social media provides huge vulnerabilities for everyone...nuclear power plants, military installations, and anonymous... this was about research.”

    When questioned about the data in his research document, Barr said that the document circulating online was an old copy, adding that there was a new version. When asked to present it, he refused.
    Just before he exited the room, after facing the same set of questions for several minutes, Barr made one final comment. “…guys you hacked our servers, took our data, and posted it to the’s criminal now... it’s out of my hands...”

    For his part, Greg Hoglund remained neutral, even complementing Anonymous on the hack. His main concern was the release of emails that are not part of the Torrent circulating online. For now, Anonymous says they have no plans to release them.

    As this story develops we will report additional updates.

    Data intel firms proposed an attack on WikiLeaks

    By Steve Ragan on 9 February 2011 for the Tech Herald - 

    After a tip from, The Tech Herald has learned that HBGary Federal, as well as two other data intelligence firms, worked to develop a strategic plan of attack against WikiLeaks. The plan included pressing a journalist in order to disrupt his support of the organization, cyber attacks, disinformation, and other potential proactive tactics.

    The tip from is directly related to the highly public attack on HBGary, after Anonymous responded to research performed by HBGary Federal COO, Aaron Barr. Part of Anonymous’ response included releasing more than 50,000 internal emails to the public. For more information, the initial coverage is here.

    What was pointed out by Crowdleaks is a proposal titled “The WikiLeaks Threat” and an email chain between three data intelligence firms. The proposal was quickly developed by Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies, after a request from Hunton and Williams, a law firm that currently counts Bank of America as a client.

    The law firm had a meeting with Bank of America on December 3. To prepare, the firm emailed Palantir and the others asking for “…five to six slides on Wikileaks - who they are, how they operate and how this group may help this bank.”

    Hunton and Williams were recommended to Bank of America’s general council by the Department of Justice, according to the email chain viewed by The Tech Herald. The law firm was using the meeting to pitch Bank of America on retaining them for an internal investigation surrounding WikiLeaks.

    “They basically want to sue them to put an injunction on releasing any data,” an email between the three data intelligence firms said. “They want to present to the bank a team capable of doing a comprehensive investigation into the data leak.”

    Hunton and Williams would act as outside counsel on retainer, while Palantir would take care of network and insider threat investigations. For their part, Berico Technologies and HBGary Federal would analyze WikiLeaks.

    “Apparently if they can show that WikiLeaks is hosting data in certain countries it will make prosecution easier,” the email added.

    In less than 24-hours, the three analytical companies created a presentation filled with publically available information and ideas on how the firms could be “deployed” against WikiLeaks “as a unified and cohesive investigative analysis cell.”

    On January 2, The New York Times wrote about a late night conference call held by Bank of America executives on November 30. The reason for the call was to deal with a statement given by WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange on November 29, where he said that he intended to “take down” a major American bank. The country’s third largest financial institution needed to get the jump on WikiLeaks, so they started scouring thousands of documents, and auditing physical assets.

    Shortly after the late night conference call, the email from Hunton and Williams was sent. Booz Allen Hamilton, according to the Times, was the firm brought in to help manage the bank’s internal review.

    A month after the proposal for the initial December meeting on WikiLeaks was created, email messages from HBGary Federal show plans for a meeting with Booz Allen Hamilton. The meeting was set after Barr emailed Hunton and Williams about information he was gathering on WikiLeaks and Anonymous. Later, this information would be the direct cause of Anonymous’ attack on HBGary.

    Note: There were several drafts of the proposal created before the sixth and final version was delivered. The emails released by Anonymous contain each of them. Most of the changes are formatting related and minor corrections.

    The proposal starts with an overview of WikiLeaks, including some history and employee statistics. From there it moves into a profile of Julian Assange and an organizational chart. The chart lists several people, including volunteers and actual staff.

    One of those listed as a volunteer, columnist, Glenn Greenwald, was singled out by the proposal. Greenwald, previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York, has been a vocal supporter of Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have given diplomatic cables and other government information to WikiLeaks. He has yet to be charged in the matter.

    Greenwald became a household name in December when he reported on the “inhumane conditions” of Bradley Manning’s confinement at the Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. Since that report, Greenwald has reported on WikiLeaks and Manning several times.

    “Glenn was critical in the Amazon to OVH transition,” the proposal says, referencing the hosting switch WikiLeaks was forced to make after political pressure caused Amazon to drop their domain.

    [Earlier drafts of the proposal and an email from Aaron Barr used the word "attacked" over "disrupted" when discussing the level of support.]

    The proposal continues by listing the strengths and weaknesses of WikiLeaks. For the strong points, there is the global WikiLeaks following and volunteers. Outlining the weaknesses, the proposal lists financial pressure - due to the companies refusing to process WikiLeaks’ donations at the time - and discord among some of the WikiLeaks members.

    “Despite the publicity, WikiLeaks is NOT in a healthy position right now,” an early draft of the proposal noted. “Their weakness [sic] are causing great stress in the organization which can be capitalized on.”

    Some of the things mentioned as potential proactive tactics include feeding the fuel between the feuding groups, disinformation, creating messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization, and submitting fake documents to WikiLeaks and then calling out the error.
    “Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed to not be secure they are done. Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project. Since the servers are now in Sweden and France putting a team together to get access is more straightforward.”

    After the tactics are discussed, the proposal outlines the highlights for each of the three data intelligence firms. From there, it concludes that in the new age of mass social media, the insider threat represents an ongoing and persistent threat “even if WikiLeaks is shut down.”

    “Traditional responses will fail; we must employ the best investigative team, currently employed by the most sensitive of national security agencies.”

    The emails released by Anonymous make no mention of the proposal’s success or failure. Aside from a single meeting confirmation with Booz Allen Hamilton, and an email that expressed hope that HBGary was going to “close the BOA deal”, there is no other data available.

    Since the attack on their company, HBGary has issued a single statement via their website, and declined to comment when questioned by several news organizations.

    “HBGary, Inc and HBGary Federal, a separate but related company, have been the victims of an intentional criminal cyberattack. We are taking this crime seriously and are working with federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities and redirecting internal resources to investigate and respond appropriately,” the statement reads.

    “To the extent that any client information may have been affected by this event, we will provide the affected clients with complete and accurate information as soon as it becomes available. Meanwhile, please be aware that any information currently in the public domain is not reliable because the perpetrators of this offense, or people working closely with them, have intentionally falsified certain data.”

    While some of the information in the public domain may be false, the emails and documents seen by The Tech Herald certainly look legitimate. It is unlikely that Anonymous would bother to forge 50,000 emails, in addition to the screen shots of internal software, PDF files, Word Documents, or PowerPoint slides released to the public.

    However, on Tuesday evening, HBGary’s accusal that Anonymous was falsifying information started another round of rage on IRC, where some who associate under the banner of Anonymous gather.
    As a result, there are rumors that more emails will be released in the coming days, including those belonging to Greg Hoglund, the co-founder of HBGary.

    [IB Editor's note - These are profound developments. For a breakdown of HBGary docs, available now publicly on the Internet, see We would expect the 'BankLogs' to be released soon on the Internet.]