Between August 2010 and June 2011, 2,408 square miles of Amazon was illegally denuded in Brazil -- and although that's roughly equivalent to the area of Delaware -- it's actually a welcome number. According to a statement released by the Brazilian government, the latest figures on the rate of deforestation in the world largest rainforest show a drop to the lowest levels since satellite monitoring began in 1988. What's more is that the new figures suggest a trend of decreasing forest loss; the previous record low was seen the year before.
The encouraging announcement was put forth by the director of Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Beginning in the late 1980's, INPE has sought to monitor Amazon forest cover via satellite imaging on a monthly basis. Since then, it has become an invaluable tool to assess the state of the rainforest and to quickly dispatch authorities to specific areas where deforestation appears to be on the rise.
With the help of this system, known as Project Monitoring Deforestation in the Amazon (PRODES), along with improvements in land management on a local and federal level, that has allowed for illegal logging practices to slow in recent years.
While environmentalists are no doubt welcoming of the apparent decrease, some are awaiting all deforestation data to be consolidated in early 2012 which will better reflect the clearing rate than the current month-by-month figures assessed by PRODES.
The lower rate of deforestation is clearly a positive step forward, though the Amazon region is not without persisting threats. Many believe that recent changes to Brazil's Forest Code, in addition to an alarming poor record of prosecution of deforesters, casts a long shadow on the future of the world's largest rainforest..
By Robert Johnson on 5 December 2011 for Business Insider -
Image above: U.S. military amphibious tank. From original article.
The U.S. military has some of the most advanced killing equipment in the world that allows it to invade almost wherever it likes at will.
We produce so much military equipment that inventories of military robots, M-16 assault rifles, helicopters, armored vehicles, and grenade launchers eventually start to pile up and it turns out a lot of these weapons are going straight to American police forces to be used against US citizens.
Benjamin Carlson at The Daily reports on a little known endeavor called the "1033 Program" that gave more than $500 million of military gear to U.S. police forces in 2011 alone.
1033 was passed by Congress in 1997 to help law-enforcement fight terrorism and drugs, but despite a 40-year low in violent crime, police are snapping up hardware like never before. While this year's staggering take topped the charts, next year's orders are up 400 percent over the same period.
This upswing coincides with an increasingly military-like style of law enforcement most recently seen in the Occupy Wall Street crackdowns.
Tim Lynch, director of the Cato Institute's project on criminal justice told The Daily, “The trend toward militarization was well under way before 9/11, but it’s the federal policy of making surplus military equipment available almost for free that has poured fuel on this fire.”
From The Daily:
“But then one or two years pass. They say, look we’ve got this equipment, this training and we haven’t been using it. That’s where it starts to creep into routine policing.”
• Robert Johnson is the military, defense, and features reporter for the main page of Business Insider
Ea O Ka Aina: OWS & Police Militarization 10/21/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Militarization of American Live 5/2/10
Island Breath: The Kauai Police Mission 5/15/08
Island Breath: Police Militarization 5/14/08
Island Breath: Cops need bikes - not riot gear 4/5/08 .
SUBHEAD: A mini-conference on marine debris generated by March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami disaster in Japan.
By Surfrider Kauai on 4 December 2011 in Island Breath -
Image above: Japanese tsunami debris shortly after march earthquake. From (http://www.infowars.com/japanese-debris-to-start-hitting-western-u-s-and-canada-this-week).
Surfrider Kauai is organizing a Japan Tsunami Debris Conference, bringing together experts in the field of ocean currents and debris tracking. Will be held 12/10/11 at Kauai Community College, 9am, and is free. Will be live streamed at www.Livestreamcom, "surfriderkauai".
Conference will address Japanese debris:
- Where is it?
- When will it get here?
- How much is there?
- Is it radioactice?
- What can we do?
Saturday December 10, 2011 9:00am until Noon
WHERE: Kauai Community College Cafeteria
Dr. Nikolai Maximenko,
Univ. Hawaii Ocean currents and the arrival of debris in Hawaii.
Dr. Henrieta Dulaiova,
Univ. Hawaii Radioactivity of the ocean and marine debris.
Ms. Carey Morishige,
NOAA Marine Debris Program NOAA’s plan for monitoring and removal of debris.
Dr. Carl Berg,
Surfrider Kauai Surfrider’s beach clean-up program and its new volunteer program to monitor Japanese Tsunami Debris and its radioactivity.
County of Kauai and Hawaii State Department of Health
Video above: Dr. Carl Berg speaks on Japanese tsunami debris impact. From (http://youtu.be/iiX29bxvkV4).
By Guy McPherson on 5 December 2011 for Nature Bats Last -
Image above: Still frame from movie "Into the Wild" From (http://www.technodisco.net/eddie-vedder/into-the-wild-1238524.html).
American essayist Norman Cousins wrote:
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”Personally, I’ve never been content sitting still, surviving for survival’s sake. Evidence is found in the roller coaster of my academic career, which was marked by significant change every few years. My scholarship, teaching, and service were characterized by unpredictable, nonlinear, seemingly chaotic swings from one topic to another.
The adventure of new experiences always trumped the security of the bricks-on-a-pile approach revered in the ivory tower. A primary point I made in every course I taught: It’s always more difficult to do the right thing than to do the wrong thing. In fact, you can usually tell the right direction simply by the difficulty of the choices you face.
For working outside the mainstream in a dysfunctional system, I paid in expected ways, including financial. But I benefited in ways I could not expect and cannot fully describe. A rich life comes from taking risks, and the risks range from physical to emotional. I’ve had a rich life.
Most recently, I’ve thrown my heart, soul, and every last dime into the mud hut. I suspect it’s the consummate lifeboat, and it illustrates how improperly talented but thoughtful people, working together, can develop a durable set of living arrangements. And in the desert, no less. If we can make it work here, I suspect it can work just about any habitable place on this blue dot.
The response from the masses: I’m insane. I suppose this should have been expected from a culture characterized by sheer insanity. As with nearly everybody in this culture, I was born into captivity (hat tip to my friend Tim Bennett for the perfect descriptor). I spent most of my life in the zoo that is contemporary culture, drinking and feeding at the troughs of indulgence and denial and playing with toys that substitute for reality (albeit poorly). To a great extent, I’m still in the zoo, still immersed in the culture of make believe.
I’m attempting to pursue, and encourage, agrarian anarchy in this small valley. We’re at the edge of empire, but we’re still part of the American Empire. David Graeber explains the general idea in his analysis of the Occupy movement:
The easiest way to explain anarchism is to say that it is a political movement that aims to bring about a genuinely free society — that is, one where humans only enter those kinds of relations with one another that would not have to be enforced by the constant threat of violence. History has shown that vast inequalities of wealth, institutions like slavery, debt peonage or wage labour, can only exist if backed up by armies, prisons, and police. Anarchists wish to see human relations that would not have to be backed up by armies, prisons and police. Anarchism envisions a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.Graeber’s description offers a worthy ideal for civil society. Serious pursuit of this ideal would go a long way toward allowing us to regain our humanity. Whether is goes far enough depends on the human. I’m wondering if living on the edge is good enough for me, whether instead I should leap from the edge into the abyss.
There is another challenge, perhaps as great and certainly as important as the one I’ve undertaken here at the mud hut: making it work on the road, thus engendering full expression of the human animal. Imagine a minimalist approach to the road and to the wilds surrounding the road. Imagine the exhilaration of abandoning a lifeboat to swim in frigid, shark-filled waters. Imagine the wonder of full immersion into the world, surrounded by every element of the human condition and every element of nature.
Ultimately, barring our own near-term extinction, full immersion into the world is exactly where we’re headed. I could show the way, as I’ve shown the way by exiting empire. And although I suspect the number of followers would be similarly disappointing, I would be taking this step for myself, not for others, as is the case now.
Nature calls. She calls all of us, though most of us have managed to plug our ears to her siren song. For a few, though, the temptation is supreme from the ultimate temptress. She’s kind, playful, passionate, courageous, strong, and whimsical. Can I pursue her? Can I capture her spirit, as she has captured my heart? Can I find the human animal within me before I breathe my last breath? Nature, as always, is amorally indifferent to my (therefore unrequited) love. But touching her and, more importantly, having her touch me, seems a one-way street: Once ensconced in her embrace, there’s no going back.
At this point in the age of industry, perhaps any attempt to venture into the wild is pure fantasy. Culture certainly suggests as much, while indicating that a step away from my current living arrangements is one large step on the short path to a bygone era. Bygone for a reason, says culture: There’s no going back to nature. That’s just crazy talk.
Last month, commenting on my new love, I wrote, “Nature provides all I need, and all I’ve ever needed.” If I believe myself, shouldn’t I attempt to prove it? Or, to put the scientific spin on it, shouldn’t I attempt to disprove it?
Can I find my way into a world that is brave and new and as old as humanity? More importantly, should I?
Taking this step will almost certainly shorten my life. As I’ve pointed out many times in this space, (1) birth is lethal and (2) some things are worth dying for. Whereas I’ve no intention of becoming yet another starry-eyed Messiah destined for a violent farewell, neither am I interested in a sedate, risk-free life.
Like most people, I’m trying to find the line Cousins inferred, the line between living outside — in the world — and dying inside. And, of course, doing the right thing, regardless of the inherent risks and challenges.
To: The Upper Ones From: Strategy Committee Re: The Counterrevolution
As usual, we have much to celebrate.
The rabble has been driven from the public parks. Our adversaries, now defined by the freaks and criminals among them, have demonstrated only that they have no idea what they are doing. They have failed to identify a single achievable goal.
Just weeks ago, in our first memo, we expressed concern that the big Wall Street banks were vulnerable to a mass financial boycott -- more vulnerable even than tobacco companies or apartheid-era South African multinationals. A boycott might raise fears of a bank run; and the fears might create the fact.
Now, we’ll never know: The Lower 99’s notion of an attack on Wall Street is to stand around hollering at the New York Stock Exchange. The stock exchange!
We have won a battle, but this war is far from over.
As our chief quant notes, “No matter how well we do for ourselves, there will always be 99 of them for every one of us.” Disturbingly, his recent polling data reveal that many of us don’t even know who we are: Fully half of all Upper Ones believe themselves to belong to the Lower 99. That any human being can earn more than 344 grand a year without having the sense to identify which side in a class war he is on suggests that we should limit membership to actual rich people. But we wish to address this issue in a later memo. For now we remain focused on the problem at hand: How to keep their hands off our money.
We have identified two looming threats:
The first is the shifting relationship between ambitious young people and money. There’s a reason the Lower 99 currently lack leadership: Anyone with the ability to organize large numbers of unsuccessful people has been diverted into Wall Street jobs, mainly in the analyst programs at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. Those jobs no longer exist, at least not in the quantities sufficient to distract an entire generation from examining the meaning of their lives.
Our Wall Street friends, wounded and weakened, can no longer pick up the tab for sucking the idealism out of America’s youth. But if not them, who? We on the committee are resigned to all elite universities becoming breeding grounds for insurrection, with the possible exception of Princeton.
The second threat is in the unstable mental pictures used by Lower 99ers to understand their economic lives. (We have found that they think in pictures.)
For many years the less viable among us have soothed themselves with metaphors of growth and abundance: rising tides, expanding pies, trickling down. A dollar in our pocket they viewed hopefully, as, perhaps, a few pennies in theirs. They appear to have switched this out of their minds for a new picture, of a life raft with shrinking provisions. A dollar in our pockets they now view as a dollar from theirs. Fearing for their lives, the Lower 99 will surely become ever more desperate and troublesome. Complaints from our membership about their personal behavior are already running at post-French Revolutionary highs.
We on the strategy committee see these developments as inexorable historical forces. The Lower 99 is a ticking bomb that can’t be defused. They may be occasionally distracted by, say, a winning lottery ticket. (And we have sent out the word to the hedge fund community to cease their purchases of such tickets.) They may turn their anger on others -- immigrants for instance, or the federal government -- and we can encourage them to do so. They may even be frightened into momentary submission. (We’re long pepper spray.)
In the End
But in the end we believe that any action we take to prevent them from growing better organized, and more aware of our financial status, will only delay the inevitable: the day when they turn, with far greater effect, on us.
Hence our committee’s conclusion: We must be able to quit American society altogether, and they must know it. For too long we have simply accepted the idea that we and they are all in something together, subject to the same laws and rituals and cares and concerns. This state of social relations between rich and poor isn’t merely unnatural and unsustainable, but, in its way, shameful. (Who among us could hold his head high in the presence of Louis XIV or those Russian czars or, for that matter, Croesus?)
The modern Greeks offer the example in the world today that is, the committee has determined, best in class. Ordinary Greeks seldom harass their rich, for the simple reason that they have no idea where to find them. To a member of the Greek Lower 99 a Greek Upper One is as good as invisible.
He pays no taxes, lives no place and bears no relationship to his fellow citizens. As the public expects nothing of him, he always meets, and sometimes even exceeds, their expectations. As a result, the chief concern of the ordinary Greek about the rich Greek is that he will cease to pay the occasional visit.
That is the sort of relationship with the Lower 99 we must cultivate if we are to survive. We must inculcate, in ourselves as much as in them, the understanding that our relationship to each other is provisional, almost accidental and their claims on us nonexistent.
As a first, small step we propose to bestow, annually, an award to the Upper One who has best exhibited to the wider population his willingness and ability to have nothing at all to do with them. As the recipient of the first Incline Award -- so named for the residents of Incline Village, Nevada, many of whom have bravely fled California state taxes -- we propose Jeff Bezos.
His private rocket ship may have exploded before it reached outer space. But before it did, it sent back to Earth the message we hope to convey:
We’re outta here!.
Stationed in Deming, N.M., Mr. Gonzalez was in his green-and-white Border Patrol vehicle just a few feet from the international boundary when he pulled up next to a fellow agent to chat about the frustrations of the job. If marijuana were legalized, Mr. Gonzalez acknowledges saying, the drug-related violence across the border in Mexico would cease. He then brought up an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition that favors ending the war on drugs.
Those remarks, along with others expressing sympathy for illegal immigrants from Mexico, were passed along to the Border Patrol headquarters in Washington. After an investigation, a termination letter arrived that said Mr. Gonzalez held “personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and esprit de corps.”
After his dismissal, Mr. Gonzalez joined a group even more exclusive than the Border Patrol: law enforcement officials who have lost their jobs for questioning the war on drugs and are fighting back in the courts.
In Arizona, Joe Miller, a probation officer in Mohave County, near the California border, filed suit last month in Federal District Court after he was dismissed for adding his name to a letter by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which is based in Medford, Mass., and known as LEAP, expressing support for the decriminalization of marijuana.
“More and more members of the law enforcement community are speaking out against failed drug policies, and they don’t give up their right to share their insight and engage in this important debate simply because they receive government paychecks,” said Daniel Pochoda, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which is handling the Miller case.
Mr. Miller was one of 32 members of LEAP who signed the letter, which expressed support for a California ballot measure that failed last year that would have permitted recreational marijuana use. Most of the signers were retired members of law enforcement agencies, who can speak their minds without fear of action by their bosses. But Mr. Miller and a handful of others who were still on the job — including the district attorney for Humboldt County in California and the Oakland city attorney — signed, too.
LEAP has seen its membership increase significantly from the time it was founded in 2002 by five disillusioned officers. It now has an e-mail list of 48,000, and its members include 145 judges, prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and other law enforcement officials, most of them retired, who speak on the group’s behalf.
“No one wants to be fired and have to fight for their job in court,” said Neill Franklin, a retired police officer who is LEAP’s executive director. “So most officers are reluctant to sign on board. But we do have some brave souls.”
Mr. Miller was accused of not making clear that he was speaking for himself and not the probation department while advocating the decriminalization of cannabis. His lawsuit, though, points out that the letter he signed said at the bottom, “All agency affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.”
He was also accused of dishonesty for denying that he had given approval for his name to appear on the LEAP letter. In the lawsuit, Mr. Miller said that his wife had given approval without his knowledge, using his e-mail address, but that he had later supported her.
Kip Anderson, the court administrator for the Superior Court in Mohave County, said there was no desire to limit Mr. Miller’s political views.
“This isn’t about legalization,” Mr. Anderson said. “We’re not taking a stand on that. We just didn’t want people to think he was speaking on behalf of the probation department.”
Mr. Miller, who is also a retired police officer and Marine, lost an appeal of his dismissal before a hearing officer. But when his application for unemployment benefits was turned down, he appealed that and won. An administrative law judge found that Mr. Miller had not been dishonest with his bosses and that the disclaimer on the letter was sufficient.
In the case of Mr. Gonzalez, the fired Border Patrol agent, he had not joined LEAP but had expressed sympathy with the group’s cause. “It didn’t make sense to me why marijuana is illegal,” he said. “To see that thousands of people are dying, some of whom I know, makes you want to look for a change.”
Since his firing, Mr. Gonzalez, who filed suit in federal court in Texas in January, has worked as a construction worker, a bouncer and a yard worker. He has also gone back to school, where he is considering a law degree.
“I don’t want to work at a place that says I can’t think,” said Mr. Gonzalez, who grew up in El Paso, just across the border from Ciudad Juárez, which has experienced some of the worst bloodshed in Mexico.
The Justice Department, which is defending the Border Patrol, has sought to have the case thrown out. Mr. Gonzalez lost a discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sided with his supervisors’ view that they had lost trust that he would uphold the law.
Those challenging their dismissals are buoyed by the case of Jonathan Wender, who was fired as a police sergeant in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., in 2005, partly as a result of his support for the decriminalization of marijuana. Mr. Wender won a settlement of $815,000 as well as his old job back. But he retired from the department and took up teaching at the University of Washington, where one of his courses is “Drugs and Society.”
Among those not yet ready to publicly urge the legalization of drugs is a veteran Texas police officer who quietly supports LEAP and spoke on the condition that he not be identified. “We all know the drug war is a bad joke,” he said in a telephone interview. “But we also know that you’ll never get promoted if you’re seen as soft on drugs.”
Mr. Franklin, the LEAP official, said it was natural that those on the front lines of enforcing drug laws would have strong views on them, either way. It was the death of a colleague at the hands of a drug dealer in 2000 that prompted Mr. Franklin, a veteran officer, to begin questioning the nation’s drug policies. Some of his colleagues, though, hit the streets even more aggressively, he said.
Mr. Franklin said he got calls all the time from colleagues skeptical about the drug laws as they are written but unwilling to speak out — yet.
“I was speaking to a guy with the Maryland State Police this past Saturday, and he’s about to retire in January and he’s still reluctant to join us until he leaves,” Mr. Franklin said. “He wants to have a good last couple of months, without any hassle.”.
"As soon as such an issue is raised seriously the oil price would soar to above $250 a barrel," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in a newspaper interview.
The comments come as Iran strives to contain international reaction to the storming of the British embassy last week, a move which drew immediate condemnation from around the world and may galvanize support for tougher action against Tehran.
Washington and EU countries were already discussing measures to restrict oil exports after the United Nations nuclear watchdog issued a report in November with what it said was evidence that Tehran had worked on designing an atom bomb.
Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to penalize foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank
-- which takes payment for the 2.6 million barrels Iran exports a day. The European Union is considering a ban -- already in place in the United States -- on Iranian oil imports.
So far neither Washington nor Brussels has finalized its move against the oil trade or the central bank amid fears of the possible impact on the global economy of restricting oil flows from the world's fifth biggest exporter.
But the British embassy attack dragged relations with Europe to a long-time low and Iran is now facing rising rhetoric about a direct hit on its main source of foreign earnings.
Until recently, Iran had dismissed as ineffective mounting sanctions aimed at forcing it to halt its nuclear activities. Mehmanparast's comments show a more defensive stance.
"No one welcomes the sanctions, we know that sanctions create obstacles, but we want to say we will overcome these obstacles," Mehmanparast told Sharq daily.
"Imposing sanctions on oil and gas is among the sanctions that, if one wants to do that, the consequences should be fully considered before taking any action," Mehmanparast said.
"I do not think the situation in the world and especially in the West today is prepared enough to raise such discussions."
Britain's embassy in Tehran was ransacked on Tuesday after London announced unilateral sanctions on Iran's central bank. London evacuated staff, closed the embassy and the biggest EU states withdrew their ambassadors in protests.
Rising tensions were enough to push up crude prices with ICE Brent January crude up 95 cents on Friday to settle at $109.94 a barrel.
Mehmanparast warned the EU on Saturday to avoid tying itself to British interests..
By Bernie Tsao on 2 December 2011 in Island Breath -
Image above: A large aquaponics setup in Ensenada, Mexcio. From (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.238116163639.137007.220988973639&type=1).
Discover the secret of the latest cutting edge technology in intensive food production, 'Aquaponics'! Get a tour of a world class small-scale commercial system and a mini-scale home system. Learn about the overall basic theory and historical development of Aquaponics presented by Bernie Tsao.
Two sessions: Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 @ 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm Saturday, December 10th, 2011 @ 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm
Kauai Community College, Trade Tech Building Rm#114
CONTACT: For more information contact Bernie Tsao (email@example.com) or by phone at 808-245-9323 or 808-647-0640.
This is an opportunity for you to sign up in advance to participate in the upcoming Aquaponics training workshops offered through the OCET program at the Kaua'i Community College. These events will introduce the public to a new state-of-the-art technology for backyard food production. It is called “aquaponics” and it combines fish farming with the production of vegetables in a system that can be installed in your backyard or on your lanai. Larger systems are also available for commercial production.
The system is praised by food experts as a method of production that is superior to traditional agriculture because it produces over eight times more food per acre of space, is substantially less labor intensive, and is even producing food that is more nutritious.
Aquaponics is seen as a system that will make a major contribution to solving the world’s food shortage crisis. It is also an idea system to help Kauai, as an isolated pacific island, to reduce it’s 90% dependence on imported foods as they are now skyrocketing in price due to shipping costs and the growing demands of an exploding world population.
The two free events at KCC will each feature an overview of this cutting edge technology in intensive food production. Each event will include a tour of a small-scale commercial system and a mini-scale home system that have been constructed on the College campus.
Each event will also provide an opportunity to learn about the overall basic theory and historical development of Aquaponics. Bernie Tsao will make the presentation regarding these systems, and he will also conduct the tour of the Aquaponics facility.
He is a graduate of the University of California with a degree in Aquatic Biology and completed additional studies in Mechanical Design and Engineering at Santa Barbara Community College. He launched the Aquaculture Technology
Training program at University of the Nations on Kona, Hawaii and served as director of the program for 11 years. He has trained and led aquaculture development teams in Brazil, Indonesia, Northern Thailand, Cambodia, Kingdom of Tonga, and Fiji and is currently conducting Aquaculture and Aquaponics training programs at Kauai Community College.
He represents the island of Kauai on the Industrial Advisory Committee at the Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture. Interested persons will have the opportunity to pre-register in advance to participate in the upcoming Aquaponics training workshops that will be starting in January at the Kaua'i Community College.
Enrollment in these popular workshops is limited and the opportunity to register will be offered first to those who participate in these free introductory events. The first phase of each event will occur in the Trade Technology Building, Room 114, for a presentation regarding the aquaponics system. The group will then be taken on a tour of the two systems: world-class small-scale commercial system and a mini-scale home system. Refreshments will be served and the public is invited to attend.
In 1985 Uncle Harry Mitchell and other kūpuna from the Ko’olau of East Maui (Hāna and Ke’anae) began the fight for water when they contested the dewatering of Waiokamilo Stream by powerful corporations on Maui. 23 years later Uncle Harry and many others have passed and the dewatering continues leaving the next generation of Hawaiian taro farmers with the question "Do We Have Rights Or Don't We?" This issue and other issues affecting East Maui are looked at through the eyes of a few Hawaiians whose ancestors have inhabited the region for over a thousand years. This video features Hāna recording artist Boom Helekahi performing his song entitled "Hāna Maui.
During the past few years, the financial system gave to the world a clear signal when the prices of all natural commodities spiked up to levels never seen before. If prices are high, then there is a supply problem. Since most of the commodities we use are non-renewable - crude oil, for instance - it is at least reasonable to suppose that we have a depletion problem. Yet, the reaction of leaders, decision makers, and economic pundits of all kinds was - and still is - to ignore the physical basis of the economic system and promote economic growth as the solution to all our problems; the more, the better.
But, if depletion is the real problem, it should be obvious that growth can only make it worse. After all, if we grow we consume more resources and that will accelerate depletion. So, why are our leaders so fixated on growth? Can't they understand that it is a colossal mistake? Are they stupid or what?
Things are not so simple, as usual. One of the most common mistakes that we can make in life is to assume that people who don't agree with our ideas are stupid. No, there holds the rule that for everything that exists, there is a reason. So, there has to be a reason why growth is touted as the universal cure for all problems. And, if we go in depth into the matter, we may find the reason in the fact that people (leaders as well as everybody else) tend to privilege short term gains to long term ones. Let me try to explain.
Let's start with observing that the world's economy is an immense, multiple-path reaction driven by the thermodynamic potentials of the natural resources it uses. Mainly, these resources are non-renewable fossil fuels that we burn in order to power the whole system. We have good models that describe the process; the earliest ones go back to the 1970s with the first version of "The Limits to Growth" study. These models are based on the method known as "system dynamics" and consider highly aggregated stocks of resources (that is, averaged over many different kinds).
Already in 1972, the models showed that the gradual depletion of high grade ores and the increase of persistent pollution would cause the economy to stop growing and then decline; most likely during the first decades of the 21st century. Later studies of the same kind generated similar results. The present crisis seems to vindicate these predictions.
So, these models tell us that depletion and pollution are at the root of the problems we have, but they tell us little about the financial turmoil that we are seeing. They don't contain a stock called "money" and they make no attempt to describe how the crisis will affect different regions of the world and different social categories. Given the nature of the problem, that is the only possible choice to make modelling manageable, but it is also a limitation. The models can't tell us, for instance, how policy makers should act in order to avoid the bankruptcy of entire states.
However, the models can be understood in the context of the forces that move the system. The fact that the world's economic system is complex doesn't mean that it doesn't follow the laws of physics. On the contrary, it is by looking at these laws that we can gain insight on what's happening and how we could act on the system.
There are good reasons based in thermodynamics that cause economies to consume resources at the fastest possible rate and at the highest possible efficiency (see this paper by Arto Annila and Stanley Salthe). So, the industrial system will try to exploit first the resources which provide the largest return. For energy producing resources (such as crude oil) the return can be measured in terms of energy return for energy invested (EROEI). Actually, decisions within the system are taken not in terms of energy but in terms of monetary profit, but the two concepts can be considered to coincide as a first approximation. Now, what happens as non-renewable resources are consumed is that the EROEI of what is left dwindles and the system becomes less efficient; that is, profits go down. The economy tends to shrink while the system tries to concentrate the flow of resources where they can be processed at the highest degree of efficiency and provide the highest profits; something that usually is related to economies of scale.
In practice, the contraction of the economy is not the same everywhere: peripheral sections of the system, both in geographical and social terms, cannot process resources with sufficient efficiency; they tend to be cut off from the resource flow, shrink, and eventually disappear. An economic system facing a reduction in the inflow of natural resources is like a man dying of cold: extremities are the first to freeze and die off.
Then, what's the role of the financial system - aka, simply "money"? Money is not a physical entity, it is not a natural resource. It has, however, a fundamental role in the system as a catalyst. In a chemical reaction, a catalyst doesn't change the chemical potentials that drive the reaction, but it can speed it up and change the preferred pathway of the reactants. For the economic system, money doesn't change the availability of resources or their energy yield but it can direct the flow of natural resources to the areas where they are exploited faster and most efficiently.
This allocation of the flow usually generates more money and, therefore, we have a typical positive (or "enhancing") feedback. As a result, all the effects described before go faster. Depletion can be can be temporarily masked although, usually, at the expense of more pollution. Then, we may see the abrupt collapse of entire regions as it may be the case of Spain, Italy, Greece and others. This effect can spread to other regions as the depletion of non renewable resources continues and the cost of pollution increases.
We can't go against thermodynamics, but we could at least avoid some of the most unpleasant effects that come from attempting to overcome the limits to the natural resources. This point was examined already in 1972 by the authors of the first "Limits to Growth" study on the basis of their models but, eventually, it is just a question of common sense. To avoid, or at least mitigate collapse, we must stop growth; in this way non renewable resources will last longer and we can use them to develop and use renewable resources. The problem is that curbing growth does not provide profits and that, at present, renewables don't yet provide profits as large as those of the remaining fossil fuels. So, the system doesn't like to go in that direction - it tends, rather, to go towards the highest short term yields, with the financial system easing the way. That is, the system tends to keep using non renewable resources, even at the cost of destroying itself. Forcing the system to change direction could be obtained only by means of some centralized control but that, obviously, is complex, expensive, and unpopular. No wonder that our leaders don't seem to be enthusiastic about this strategy.
Let's see, instead, another possible option for leaders: that of "stimulating growth". What does that mean, exactly? In general, it seems to mean to use the taxation system to transfer financial resources to the industrial system. With more money, industries can afford higher prices for natural resources. As a consequence, the extractive industry can maintain its profits, actually increase them, and keep extracting even from expensive resources.
But money, as we said, is not a physical entity; in this case it only catalyzes the transfer human and material resources to the extractive system at the expense of subsystems as social security, health care, instruction, etc. That's not painless, of course, but it may give to the public the impression that the problems are being solved. It may improve economic indicators and it may keep resource flows large enough to prevent the complete collapse of peripheral regions, at least for a while.
But the real attraction of stimulating growth is that it is the easy way: it pushes the system in the direction where it wants to go. The system is geared to exploit natural resources at the fastest possible rate, this strategy gives it fresh resources to do exactly that. Our leaders may not understand exactly what they are doing, but surely they are not stupid - they are not going against the grain.
The problem is that the growth stimulating strategy only buys time (and buys it at a high price). Nothing that governments or financial traders do can change the thermodynamics of the world system - all what they can do is to shuffle resources from here to there and that doesn't change the hard reality of depletion and pollution. So, pushing economic growth is only a short term solution that worsens the problem in the long run. It can postpone collapse but at the price of making it more abrupt in the form known as the Seneca Cliff. Unfortunately, it seems that we are headed exactly that way..
This move by the governors marks the latest development in a larger struggle to curb the threat of a federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries operating in accordance with state drug laws.
Rhode Island and Washington are just two of 16 states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana, but which in recent months have faced ramped-up enforcement actions from federal prosecutors. In California, for instance, U.S. attorneys have shuttered multiple state-licensed marijuana dispensaries that had been operating in accordance with local laws and government for as long as 15 years.
"The divergence in state and federal law creates a situation where there is no regulated and safe system to supply legitimate patients who may need medical cannabis," wrote the governors in their letter. "State and local governments cannot adopt a regulatory framework to ensure a safe supply is available for - and limited to - legitimate medical use without putting their employees at risk of violating federal law."
The governors aim to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, along with cocaine, morphine and opium, drugs that, while they do have the potential for abuse and addiction, can also be dispensed for medical uses. Marijuana is currently classified as Schedule I drug, along with heroin, LSD and mescaline.
Chafee earlier this year declined to move forward with a state medical marijuana law after federal prosecutors said state pot shops would be subject to persecution under federal law. Such a gray area between state and federal law, the lawmakers emphasized in their letter, should not be allowed to continue.
"A public rulemaking process would allow all interested parties to contribute their comments and expertise, and provide a full record for decision," the governors concluded. "These interested parties include patients and medical professionals and the sixteen states and the District of Columbia, or nearly one-third of the nation's population, that have decriminalized limited possession and use of cannabis for serious medical conditions, and at least ten other states are considering similar measures."
Medical marijuana activists on Wednesday lauded the governors' actions, but cautioned that such efforts should not serve as a substitute for advancing medical marijuana laws at the state level.
"The governors' call for re-scheduling marijuana so that it can be prescribed for medical purposes is an important step forward in challenging the federal government's intransigence in this area," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in a statement Wednesday.
"But their call should not serve as an excuse for these two governors to fail to move forward on responsible regulation of medical marijuana in their own states. Governors in states ranging from New Jersey and Vermont to Colorado and New Mexico have not allowed the federal government's ban on medical marijuana to prevent them from approving and implementing statewide regulation of medical marijuana. Governors Gregoire and Chafee should do likewise."
The governors aren't alone in their call to reclassify the drug. The American Medical Association in 2009 came out in favor of reviewing pot's classification, arguing more research still needs to be done..
By Staff on 30 November 2011 for Huffington Post -
Image above: Driving under the influence of marijuana. From article below.
A good deal of time, money, and energy has been spent on the issue of drinking and driving. For all the hype surrounding medical marijuana these days, however, not only is anti-driving advocacy weak -- data on the effects of marijuana and traffic deaths is sparse as well. CU Denver economics professor Daniel Rees and Montana State University assistant economics professor D. Mark Anderson hope to change that.
In a recently released study, the duo analyzed state-level data for correlations between medical marijuana laws and a variety of outcomes. An abstract details some of their more surprising findings:
Legalization of medical marijuana is associated with increased use of marijuana among adults, but not among minors. In addition, legalization is associated with a nearly 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely to due to its impact on alcohol consumption. Our estimates provide strong evidence that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.The authors accounted for variables including seat-belt usage, miles driven, and changes in traffic laws, though don't explicitly draw a 1-to-1 correlation between marijuana usage and decreased traffic fatalities. They further acknowledge "cannabis use impairs driving-related functions such as distance perception, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination," though drivers "under the influence of marijuana reduce their velocity, avoid risky maneuvers, and increase their 'following distances.'"
The report concludes that marijuana legalization is associated with a 12-percent drop in alcohol-related fatal crashes, and a 19-percent decrease in the fatality rate for people in their 20s. Despite the decrease in both rates, the study emphasizes it is not necessarily safer to drive under the influence of marijuana than alcohol -- just that medical-marijuana usage alters the likelihood of driving.
Read study here (http://www.scribd.com/doc/74180276/Medical-Marijuana-Laws-Traffic-Fatalities-and-Alcohol-Consumption-Study).
Marijuana May Not Impair Driving
Does marijuana really affect your ability to drive safely? An Orange County, California attorney says there's evidence to show it doesn't -- and testing for the presence of marijuana doesn't measure impairment, anyway.
SUBHEAD: American Safari Explorer tour boat turns around after stalemate with protestors blocking harbor.
By Staff on November 26 2011 for KITV.com -
Image above: Still frame from KITV video of Molokai tour boat blockade. From original article.
Protestors on Molokai successfully blocked a tour ship from entering Kaunakakai Harbor Saturday morning. At the crack of dawn, more than a dozen protestors took to the water using surfboards and small vessels to physically block the path of the American Safari Explorer. They say they were exluded from the decision-making process and don't want their island to turn into another Waikiki.
"So this was like the beginning of the cruise industry coming to Molokai," said Walter Ritte, a 50-year resident of Molokai and protestor. "So we tried to ask them to go through a process so we could be involved, but they refused. So we had no choice but to do a protest."
The stalemate was broken when the 36-passenger boat turned around to continue its tour around Lanai and skip its visit to Molokai. This would have been the boat's third arrival to Molokai.
Two prior arrivals that began in October were met by protesters on land, which organizers say had no effect. So they took to the water, saying they got the idea from the blockade of the Superferry on Kauai in August 2007. "We felt that the people on Kauai did a pretty good job with the Superferry so maybe we try it, going into the water, stopping them from actually docking and it worked really well today," Ritte said.
But Dan Blanchard, the owner of American Safari Cruises which operates the cruises around Maui, the Big Island and Lanai, says the boat will simply continue on without the stops and services from Molokai, leaving Molokai's small businesses at a loss.
"It's those vendors that really get hurt," said Blanchard. "Unfortunately that's where it lies, so it isn't as great to the small businesses of Molokai."
He added that his company took the proper channels to coordinate arrivals, meeting with community members and even attending one of the prior protests. "They (the protestors) feel that they weren't brought into the loop. We had one community meeting already in addition to all the one-on-one meetings we had over the years,"said Blanchard. "It appears to us that the large majority of the island is in favor of this."
A community meeting is planned for Wednesday. Blanchard hopes to sit down with protesters to discuss their concerns. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday November 30th at 6 p.m. at Mitchell Pauole Hall. The boat for now is scheduled to arrive on Dec. 2nd and 3rd, an arrival protestors say will be met with a similar response.
The shipment has been moved by the ministry of interior to its Cairo storage facility, amidst strict and secretive security measures. Local reports say the staff, initially under investigation, have been spared investigation after having a discussion over the matter with their superiors.
Local news sites published documents regarding the shipment shows that the cargo that arrived in 479 barrels from the United States was scheduled to be delivered to the ministry of interior.
The reports also mentioned in the documents that a second shipment of 14 tons of tear gas was expected, making the total 21 tons, in one week.
The importing of tear gas comes after thousands of tear gas canisters were fired at Egyptian protesters last week as clashes raged in downtown Cairo, just off from the iconic Tahrir Square, where thousands of protesters had gathered.
The gas used has angered activists, who say the effects of exposure has yet to wear off, with a number of protesters telling Bikyamasr.com that they have coughing fits, chest pains, blurred vision and their arms often shake. According to the Journal of Royal Medicine, the use of CS Gas – the most common choice of Egypt’s police last week – can have lasting symptoms for over one year.
Egypt’s al-Shorouk newspaper reported that upon the arrival of the shipment, massive disagreements broke out between employees, where five employees refused to sign for the shipment, one after the other.
The five, being dubbed by activists as the “brave five”, were to be refereed to a investigative committee as to why they refused to perform their duties, which has since called off.
The news about the shipment’s arrival stirred the Twittersphere, after it was consumed all day with the country’s first post-revolution elections, and activists mocked the reinforcement of weapons that is being used against them.
Many commented, saying that “gas bombs are definably more important than importing wheat to make bread.”.
By John Michael Greer on 30 November 2011 for Archdruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/11/pepperspraying-future.html)
Image above: Chaotic scene inside a Walmart store on Black Friday. From (http://www.bangstyle.com/2011/11/wal-mart-shoppers-will-pepper-spray-for-bargains/).
A whiff of pepper spray rising from a suburban big box store, a breathtakingly absurd comment by an American politician, a breathtakingly cynical statement from a Canadian minister: three scraps of data sent whirling down the wind unnoticed by most of today’s disinformation society, which are also three clues to the exceptionally unwelcome future the industrial world is making for itself. Let’s take them one at a time, in reverse order.
On Monday, as a new round of climate change talks got under way in Durban, Canadian environment minister Peter Kent confirmed earlier media reports that Canada will refuse to accept any further cuts in its carbon dioxide output under the Kyoto treaty. Since Canada is one of only two countries on Earth that uses more energy per capita than the United States—an impressive feat, really, when you think about it—you might be tempted to believe that there was room for some modest cuts, but that notion is nowhere in Kent’s view of the universe.
Those same media reports claimed that Canada was preparing to extract itself from the Kyoto treaty altogether; Kent dodged that question, but as Bob Dylan sang a good long time ago, you don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. The week before, in a debate among candidates for the GOP’s presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich responded to a question about oil supplies by insisting that the United States could easily increase its oil production by four million barrels a day next year, if only those dratted environmentalists in the other party weren’t getting in the way. This absurd claim was quickly and efficiently refuteded by several peak oil writers—Art Berman’s essay over on the Oil Drum is a good example—but outside the peak oil blogosphere, nobody blinked.
Never mind that the entire United States only produces 5.9 million barrels a day, that it took twenty years for the Alaska North Slope fields (peak production, 2 million barrels per day) to go from discovery to maximum output, or that the United States has been explored for oil more thoroughly than any other piece of real estate on the planet; the pundits and the public alike nodded and went on to the next question, as though a serious contender for the position of most powerful human being on the planet hadn’t just gone on record claiming that two plus two is whatever you want it to be. All of which brings us inevitably to a Los Angeles suburb on Thanksgiving, where a woman seems to have peppersprayed her fellow shoppers to get a video game console to put under her Christmas tree.
To be fair, the situation seems to have been a bit more complex than that sounds at first hearing. If you’re still thinking of Thanksgiving Day in America in terms of lavish turkey dinners and visits from relatives, think again. Nowadays it serves mostly to mark the beginning of the year’s big shopping season, and stores on the cutting edge of American marketing open their doors Thanksgiving night to give shoppers their first shot at whatever overpriced gewgaws the media has decreed will be the hot item this year.
The store where the pepper spray incident happened was one of these. There, the mob that formed, waiting for the sale to start, turned unruly; there was apparently shoving and shouting, and then the pepper spray came out. According to witnesses, the woman who used it incapacitated enough of the competition to get to one of the video game consoles that were the center of the agitation, hurried off with it to a checkstand, bought the console and got away. Twenty people, some of them children, needed treatment by medics at the scene.
A fair amount of self-important clucking in the American media followed the incident, though I don’t think anyone quite had the bad taste to point out that at least this year nobody was trampled to death by mobs of shoppers—yes, this happens every few years. Stephen Colbert, as usual, landed one in the bull’s-eye by pointing out that the incident would make a great video game.
He’s right enough that I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Black Friday, in which shoppers punch, spray, stab, and shoot each other to get choice gifts for Christmas, turns out to be the hot new video game sensation next year, and no doubt inspires pepper sprayings and tramplings of its own. What all these three news stories have in common is that they display an attitude—it could as well be described as a belief, or even a religion—that treats the satisfaction of short term cravings for material goods as the only thing that really matters.
The shopper with her pepper spray, the politician with his absurd claim, and the government with its blind disregard for national survival, each acted as though getting the stuff is all that matters, and any obstacle in the way—whether the obstacle was other shoppers, the laws of physics and geology, or the fate of Canada’s future generations—was an irrelevance to be brushed aside by any available means. In recent years, there’s been a fair amount of intellectual effort devoted to the attempt to prove that this is inevitably how human beings will act, and this effort has had an influence well beyond the borders of, say, cognitive neuroscience.
Glance over anything the peak oil blogosphere has to say about the absurdity of today’s public policies on energy, the environment, or the economy, for example, and it’s a safe bet that somebody will post a comment insisting that this is how human beings always behave. In point of historical fact, though, this is far from true. The popularity of the monastic life across so many cultures and centuries is hard to square with such claims; it has not been uncommon for anything up to ten per cent of the population of some countries and times to embrace lives of poverty, celibacy and discipline in a monastic setting. Clearly, whatever drives push our species in the direction of the satisfaction of short term cravings are not quite as omnipotent as they’ve been made out to be.
More to the point, those of us who had the chance to get to know people of the generation that came of age in the Great Depression have a solid counterexample to mind. A great many Americans who lived through that long ordeal came out of the experience with a set of attitudes toward material goods that were radically different from the ones we’ve just been discussing. They were, to judge by the examples I had the chance to know, as materialistic as any other American generation has ever been, but the shadow of 1929 lay permanently across any notion that pursuing short term gains at the cost of long term disaster could possibly be a good idea.
It’s not accidental that the gutting of regulations on banks that made the current economic debacle possible did not happen until the generation that had witnessed 1929 had passed from public life—nor that it was the generation of the Baby Boom, the first to grow up after depression and war had definitively given way to Pax Americana, that first put today’s culture of short term satisfaction into overdrive.
The behavior of a society, in other words, has at least as much to do with its recent experience of the world as it does with the deeper but more diffuse influence of the biological drives its members share with the rest of the species. Ironically, Gingrich’s response in the presidential debate pointed this up, though I suspect he himself will be the last person on the planet to realize this. He insisted that just as the United States was able to crush the Axis powers in the Second World War, a mobilization on a similar scale guided by the same optimism and can-do attitude could overwhelm any conceivable petroleum shortage and crash the price of oil. It’s a common metaphor—how many times have people in the peak oil scene, for example, called for a new Manhattan Project?—but in the present context it’s hopelessly misleading.
The Second World War, if anything, is a textbook case in what happens when optimism and a can-do attitude runs up against the hard facts of thermodynamics. All things considered, the Axis powers had better generalship, more disciplined military forces, and a much keener grasp of the possibilities of mechanized warfare than the Allies had at first, and Germany, at least, was ahead of the Allies in advanced military technology all the way through the war.
What they did not have was secure access to fuel—and lacking that, they lost. Russia’s Baku oilfields and the immense US petroleum deposits in Texas and elsewhere more than made up the difference, providing the Allies with practically limitless supplies of energy, and thus of troops, weapons, mobility, and everything else that makes for victory in war. Having those things, they won. It’s all the more ironic in that a similar struggle had a similar result on Gingrich’s home turf a century and a half ago.
No one can possibly accuse the Confederacy of a shortage of optimism or can-do attitude, and the chief Confederate generals were incomparably better than their Union rivals. What those same Union generals finally figured out, though, was that the North’s larger population and vastly greater economic base meant that generalship didn’t matter; the North simply had to force the South into one meatgrinder battle after another, because even if the Union losses were larger, they could be replaced and the South’s could not.
Appomattox followed in due order. One of the points that needs to be drawn from these examples, and the many others like them, is that optimism and a can-do attitude are in large part effects rather than causes; or, to put matters a little differently, they are relevant to certain circumstances and not to others. In the twentieth century, a nation with abundant supplies of coal, oil, and iron ore could well afford boundless optimism, and got along better with boundless optimism than without it, because the resource base was there to back up that optimism and give it muscles—and, when necessary, teeth.
A nation that lacks such resources but still sets out to act on the basis of boundless optimism, on the other hand, risks ending up in roughly the same condition as the American South in 1865 or Germany and Japan in 1945. Such a nation needs to foster entirely different qualities than the ones just mentioned: circumspection, patience, and a keen sense of the downside risks of any opportunity come to mind. Equipped with these, it’s possible for a nation with few resources to distract, dissuade, and ultimately outlast its potential enemies.
That’s the secret of Switzerland’s survival, to cite one example among many. The wild card in these calculations comes into play when shifts in technology, on the one hand, or the depletion of nonrenewable resources on the other, changes the status of a nation faster than its internal cultural shifts can adapt. Britain’s history is a case in point. Britain’s empire happened to come of age just as the Industrial Revolution was dawning, and coal—of which Britain had huge and easily accessible deposits—was the essential fuel of that revolution, powering the steam engines and (in the form of coke) the iron and steel foundries that were essential to economic and military power in the 18th and 19th centuries.
With the dawn of the 20th century, though, petroleum—far more energy-rich than even the best anthracite coal, and irreplaceable as fuel for gasoline and diesel engines, which were busy putting coal-fired steam power out of business—elbowed coal out of the way. Britain had next to no petroleum supplies of her own, since the offshore drilling techniques that made the North Sea fields accessible were still decades in the future. The result was a tremendous new range of vulnerabilities that next to nobody noticed in time.
Twice in twenty-five years, accordingly, Britain blundered into a land war in Europe and found itself abruptly scrambling for survival. In both cases, it had to turn to its erstwhile colony, the United States, to bail it out, and the price tag on those bailouts finally included Britain’s empire and its status as a major world power. There were several other countries just as eager as we were to buy Britain’s empire and status, but—well, basically, we peppersprayed them and left the store with our prize.
Optimism and a can-do attitude counted for very little, for example, when German submarines could throw a noose around the British islands that Britain alone couldn’t break. The end of the age of petroleum promises another set of upsets on the same scale, but this time it’s not because some more convenient and concentrated resource has suddenly come on the scene. It’s because the world’s production of conventional petroleum peaked in 2005 and has been declining ever since.
A desperate scramble to fill the resulting gap with what appear on the charts as "other liquids"—ethanol, biodiesel, tar sand extracts, you name it, if it can be poured into a fuel tank and burnt, it gets counted—has filled in the gap, at least for now, but all these "other liquids" require much more energy to produce than ordinary petroleum does, and of course those energy inputs aren’t accounted for in the totals.
Thus, on paper, we’ve been chugging along a bumpy plateau for six years now, while in the real world—because of the rising energy inputs demanded by the "other liquids"—the supply of fuel available to do anything other than produce more fuel has been steadily sliding. The problem we face right now is that it’s only been a few short years since world petroleum production was expanding, and next to nobody has begun to think through the implications of the shift.
Neither the United States nor anybody else has the vast supplies of energy and other raw materials that would be needed to back up the confident, brash optimism of an earlier day, and yet we still cling to the notion that those attitudes are the appropriate response to any crisis, because that’s the approach we know. Patience, prudence, hard realism, the cold-eyed assessment of potential risks—those are foreign concepts to the leaders and the populace alike in most of the world’s industrial nations, and especially so here in America, where the cult of enthusiastic optimism has been welded solidy in place since before the birth of the Republic. It has always worked before, and most Americans at every point on the socioeconomic spectrum are firmly convinced that it will work again.
But it will not work again, because the resources that would allow it to work again no longer exist. That is why, dear reader, if you happen to live for another few decades, and have the chance to look back from that vantage point on the years just ahead of us, you are likely to see those years littered with the scraps of any number of grandiose plans meant to overcome the rising spiral of crises taking shape around us right now.
None of them will have worked, because none of them will deal with the driving force behind that spiral of crisis—the hard fact that we’ve exhausted most of the easily extracted, highly concentrated energy sources on this planet, and are going to have to downscale our expectations and our collective sense of entitlement to fit within the narrower and more burdensome limits that dependence on renewable energy sources will impose on us.
Quite the contrary; every one of these projects will start from the assumption that optimism and a can-do attitude can overcome those limits—and the tighter the limits press and the more obvious it becomes that the limits aren’t budging, the more passionate the claims that one more heroic effort will defeat them once and for all. Those claims will come from every point on the political spectrum, and will wrap themselves in every conceivable scrap of rhetoric that comes to hand. Before all this is over, I expect to see people who now call themselves environmentalists advocating for the stripmining of our national parks—in an environmentally sensitive manner, to be sure.
We’ve already seen erstwhile environmentalists such as Stewart Brand and George Monbiot championing nuclear power; how poisoning the biosphere with radioactive waste makes more sense than flooding the atmosphere with carbon dioxide may well puzzle you as much as it does me, but straining at greenhouse gnats and swallowing nuclear camels is apparently a job requirement in their field these days.
What neither the pundits nor the politicians nor ordinary people are willing to consider, in turn, is the one option that offers a meaningful way forward: learning the old and necessary lesson that our desires need to be held within the bounds that the universe provides for us, and that long term goals and values need to trump short term cravings, especially where material goods are concerned.
We can no longer afford the sort of attitude that insists that it’s okay to pepperspray our fellow shoppers to get that brand new video game console, or pepperspray the laws of physics and geology to get that extra four million barrels a day of oil (or, more precisely, to get the presidency by pretending we can get that extra four million barrels a day of oil), or pepperspray Canada’s grandchildren to get the right set of pretty figures on the national balance of trade and federal budget.
Still, for the foreseeable future, pepperspray will be popular in the corridors of power and the corner tavern alike, and it will take a certain number of unnecessary disasters before that ends and people in the industrial world begin to come to terms with the new reality. This, finally, is why I’ve spent the last year and a half passing on what I learned, decades ago, of the do-it-yourself green wizardry of the Seventies, and why I’ve supplemented that over the last two months with some of the basic elements of magic—the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will—which I also began to learn in the Seventies, and which had rather more than a nodding acquaintance in those days with the movements focused on appropriate technology, organic gardening, and the rest of it.
During the years immediately ahead of us, unless I’m very much mistaken, the political, economic, and cultural institutions of the industrial world can be counted on to do just about anything other than a meaningful response to the crisis of our age, and any meaningful response that does happen is going to have to come from individuals, families, and community groups. During those same years, I suspect, every available effort will be made to convince as many people as possible that the nonsolutions on offer are actually meaningful responses, and the things that might actually help—using less, conserving more, and downscaling our burden on the planet—are unthinkable.
That’s the sort of thing that happens when the world changes, and structures and institutions adapted to an old reality turn out to be hopelessly unworkable in the new one. Next week we’ll talk about what might follow that period, and wrap up the discussion of green wizardry and magic alike for the time being.