Dubai sovereign debt fears

SUBHEAD: Dubai Group $10 billion talks with debtor banks loses support of British banks.

 By Stefania Bianchi on 10 July 2012 for Bloomberg News - 

Image above: A billboard advertises Dubai Properties, part of Dubai Holding, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. From original article.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc (RBS), Commerzbank AG and Standard Bank Group Ltd. abandoned talks with Dubai Group to restructure $10 billion of debt after failing to reach an agreement, two people familiar with the matter said.

The banks are dissatisfied with progress after 18 months of talks with the investment company, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. RBS stepped down as co-chair of the coordinating committee of mostly unsecured lenders in the talks, one of the people said.

Dubai Group, controlled by Dubai Holding LLC, is among several government-owned companies in the Middle Eastern emirate seeking to restructure loans after property and asset values slumped and credit markets froze. The breakdown in talks comes after Dubai International Capital LLC reached an agreement with lenders to change terms on $2.5 billion of debt in April and Drydocks World LLC said creditors support restructuring plans. “The divide between Dubai Group and its lenders was too wide to bridge,”

Ahmad Alanani, Middle East director at Exotix Ltd. in Dubai, wrote today in emailed comments. “I wouldn’t be surprised if more lenders join the ranks of RBS, Commerzbank and Standard Bank in a bid to increase pressure on the company.” A spokeswoman for Dubai Group, who asked not to be named because of company policy, said it’s still seeking to reach an agreement. Standard Bank won’t comment because of client confidentiality issues, Erik Larsen, a spokesman for the Johannesburg-based lender, said by telephone. Martin Halusa, a spokesman for Frankfurt-based Commerzbank AG, declined to comment.

Reuters reported yesterday that the three banks abandoned talks with Dubai Group.

Dubai, home to the world’s tallest tower and an indoor ski slope, roiled global markets in 2009 when Dubai World, one of the sheikhdom’s three main state-controlled holding companies, announced plans to delay payments. The emirate received a $20 billion loan from the United Arab Emirates’ central bank, the Abu Dhabi government and its banks to help it surmount the global credit crisis and the real estate crash.

Dubai World reached a deal in March 2011 with about 80 banks to delay payments on $25 billion of debt. Dubai International Capital, the owner of Travelodge Ltd., reached an accord to alter terms of $2.5 billion of liabilities in April.

Drydocks World LLC, which owns the Middle East’s biggest shipyard in Dubai, received approval from an “overwhelming majority” of creditors for its $2.2 billion debt restructuring proposal, the state-controlled company said April 5.

Group appointed eight banks to represent creditors in two committees in 2011 to negotiate the terms on $6 billion of bank debt, with $4 billion owed to other investors. Paris-based Natixis SA’s Nexgen unit and Mashreqbank PSC (MASQ) of Dubai make up the committee of secured lenders. RBS and Emirates NBD PJSC (EMIRATES) were leading the group of partially-secured and unsecured lenders.

Dubai Group invests in financial services and owns property in the U.S., according to its website. It holds stakes in companies including Dubai-based investment bank Shuaa Capital PSC, Cairo-based investment bank EFG-Hermes Holding SAE and BankMuscat SAOG in Oman.

The company proposed paying interest of 1 percent to 2.5 percent in a $6 billion debt restructuring proposal, three people familiar with the plan said in April. Secured creditors, whose loans are backed by assets, will be repaid principal in three years, according to the people. Banks that offered partially secured and unsecured loans will be returned principal in 12 years and receive additional interest at the end of the loan term, they said.

“The restructuring was complex and with no government support many of Dubai Group’s lenders felt disenfranchised,” Exotix’s Alanani said.


The Drowning Pool

SUBHEAD: Reality dislikes fraud and accounting tricks. Reality is serious about settling scores. Reality eventually intervenes.

By James Kunstler on 9 July 2012 for -

Image above: The exit into the Walmart parking lot. From (

News that that a swarm of termites deep inside the British banking system have been fiddling the interbank interest rates (LIBOR) for years in order to systematically vacuum a few billion pence off the exchange floors for themselves is the latest blow to the credibility of the global money system - and probably a fine overture to a looming climactic implosion of the gigantic, creaking, smoldering, reeking, duck-taped edifice of broken promises, booby-trapped hedge obligations, counterparty follies, central bank euchres, sovereign flim-flams, and countless chicanes too various, dark, and deep to smoke out.

Next, we'll probably hear that Lloyd Blankfein over at Goldman Sachs has been tinkering with the rotation of the earth in order to gain a few micro-milliseconds of advantage in his firm's high frequency trading rackets. After all, back in 2008 Lloyd himself claimed to be "doing God's work."

In short, world banking is now hopelessly pranged, and I am not at all sure the project of civilization (modern edition) can continue by other means. The impairments of capital formation are now so profound that no one and nothing can be trusted. Not only are all bets off, but nobody will want to make any new bets - and by that I mean venture to invest accumulated wealth (capital) in some useful project designed to sustain human well-being. What remains is just the desperate hoarding of whatever remains in assets uncontaminated by the pledges of others to pony up.

All this points to a dangerous new period of political history, a deadly Hobbesian scramble to evade the falling timber in a burning house as the rudiments of a worldwide social contract go up in flames. Such is the importance of legitimacy: the basic condition for governance, especially among supposedly free people. You can meddle in a lot of distributory issues - who gets what - but when you mess with the most basic operations of money to the extent that no one is sure what it's really worth, or what it represents, then you are deeply undermining society. This is now the condition that is set to blow up republics.

Reality dislikes fraud and accounting tricks. Reality is serious about settling scores. Reality eventually intervenes and puts an end to monkey business. What will it be this time?

Europe and America have been buying a month here, a month there (of a fragile, continuing status quo) on the installment plan. That's what QE, TARPs, LTRO, EFSF, Operation Twist, et cetera, are all about. Think of them as multi-billion dollar (euro) fire extinguishers bought on credit cards. Europe is now completely out of credit to buy more fire fighting equipment. For months now it has been down to whether Germany intends to keep supporting Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, the French banks (and a few stray forgotten places between the backwaters of the Danube and the Gulf of Finland) without any say in how they manage their allowance.

Much as Germany enjoyed the Ponzi heyday of the Euro zone, a big "tilt" sign now flashes ominously over the continent, signaling game over. All fall down. Everybody gets real poor real fast. M. Hollandaise over in Paris has already sealed his fate with his stupid plan to return to "go" on the Ponzi game-board. Merkel's tattered scarecrow of a coalition will blow away in the next national election. The Club Med countries will soon boil up in street-fighting, Holland and Finland will drink themselves to death, and across the channel outsider Britain will fizzle away to a burnt bowl of mulligatawny. That's what the end of the summer looks like to me.

Over here, in this sorry-ass edition of America, the election will look more and more like a World Wrestling Federation staged dumb-show between two catamite hostages of a foul corporate oligarchy. Imagine that horse's ass Mitt Romney spending the next four months denouncing Obama-care, modeled on his own health care reform in Massachusetts, while Obama pretends he has a grip on an economy where the rule of law is absent due to Obama's own omissions and negligence.

And if you can't stand that spectacle, just look around at America itself: a wasteland of futile motoring and discount shopping populated by depressed, overfed clowns bedizened with sinister tattoos, pretending to be Star Warriors. No nation ever seen in human history ever laid such a disappointing egg. Only to have it fry on the sidewalk.

Island Breath is off the Grid

SUBHEAD: We will be off the grid at the Great Blue Heron Music Festival for the next three days. No posts until afterwards.  

By Juan Wilson on 6 July 2012 for Island Breath - 

Image above: Entering the Blue Heron Festival by tractor shuttle or on foot. All photos by Juan Wilson on 7 July 2008.

We have been going to this festival for the last twenty years... as long as we've been married. Our children grew up there and our friends grew gray. It's held a couple of miles from our old home in western NY. The proprietor is a good friend. The event is held on 300 acres of pastures and woods surrounding a 5 acre lake with an island in it.

Image above: Listening to live music on a hillside arena under the shade of old maple trees. 

 Since moving to Kauai, Hawaii, we've missed a few. This year should be a good one. About 5,000 people will camp for three days to listen and dance to an eclectic blend of music into the wee hours.

Image above: Fathers and daughters play bluegrass on the stage of big dance tent.


Too Much Wrong Magic

SUBHEAD: We have come to a place where fossil fuels and technology have replaced real magic.  

By John Michael Greer on 4 July 2012 for the Archdruid Report - (

 Image above: Chairlift at indoor ski slope in Dubai. From (
Carl Jung and his physicist friend Wolfgang Pauli suggested in a too rarely read 1952 book that synchronicity—an "acausal connecting principle," to use Jung’s carefully phrased description—brought events that occur at the same time into a relationship of unexpected meaning. Whether or not they were right in general, there are times when synchronicities arrive with all the subtlety of a cold wet mackerel across the face, and last Friday was one of those.

That afternoon, after a busy couple of weeks centered on the hundredth anniversary of the Druid order I head, I finally had the spare time to put my feet up and do some reading, and the book at the top of the stack was James Howard Kunstler’s latest, Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation.

Anyone who’s read Kunstler’s previous work will no doubt already be guessing that Too Much Magic is lively, curmudgeonly, and highly readable, as indeed it is. It’s best described as a seven-year update to his bestseller The Long Emergency, and its message is stark: the storm is upon us.

Then, not long after I finished the book, the storm really was upon us.
Meterorologists can tell you exactly what it was that sent a wall of powerful thunderstorms a couple of hundred miles wide sweeping eastwards across the Rust Belt from Wisconsin straight to the Atlantic coast, leaving chaos in its wake. Here in Cumberland, we noticed the haze thickening in the west toward late afternoon, taking on that drowned murky look that everybody locally recognizes as a warning of bad weather on the way.

By nightfall, lightning was going off like flashbulbs at a 1950s press conference, and about a quarter to nine, hurricane winds and sheets of rain struck as suddenly as though somebody had flipped a switch. The winds and the rain pounded us for an hour or so, and then gradually faded out; the lightning kept flashing for another hour or so after that.
Like the smartest of the three little pigs, Sara and I had provided ourselves with a brick house, one that was built well before the post-Second World War vogue for cheapjack building methods that Kunstler has rightfully excoriated in several of his other books.

We got by without any real damage—granted, the big mulberry tree out back dropped a half ton or so of limb onto our driveway, but since we don’t own a car, all it did was scare the bejesus out of the local woodchucks. We lost power, but since we don’t use a lot of electricity anyway, that wasn’t a huge problem; we had a late dinner by candlelight, and then broke out the hand-cranked LED lamps and spent the rest of the evening by their light. By morning we had power again, but if we hadn’t, it would not have been a great inconvenience.

Yes, I’m including the lack of air conditioning in that. Cumberland gets hot and humid in the summer, but Sara and I don’t use air conditioning; that was a deliberate decision of ours, when we moved here three years ago. Human beings evolved in an equatorial zone, without air conditioners, and billions of us get by in very hot climates without them today; given the opportunity to adapt, the human body can handle hot and humid conditions easily. Of course the opportunity to adapt is precisely the issue here.

I have immense sympathy for the people who found themselves suddenly evicted from air-conditioned comfort into the subtropical heat of a mid-Atlantic summer; if I hadn’t spent three years getting used to an unfamiliar climate, researching and relearning the skills that people here once used to get through summers in relative comfort, and making use of features built into a house that dates from long before air conditioning and was designed to be livable without it, I’d be miserable too.

It’s arguably high time that more people began acclimatizing themselves to a world in which they can’t simply turn on the air conditioning any time it gets hot and muggy. In a broader sense, that’s the core message of Kunstler’s book. Since the end of the Second World War, most Americans—and, to be sure, a fair number of people in other countries—got used to being able to call upon practically unlimited amounts of cheap energy to do, well, just about anything they happened to want, so long as somebody else could make money off it.

Strawberries in winter? No problem; we’ll just fly them in from the other side of the planet. Rocks from the Moon? Easily done, since all it takes is nearly unimaginable amounts of energy. Cold dry air indoors in August? Sure thing; we can just throw some gigawatts at it. In the phrase Kunstler uses, we’ve all gotten far too used to getting things done by magic.

Regular readers of this blog will be expecting me to quibble about his use of that last word, and indeed I will. Let’s save that for a bit, though, because what Kunstler is saying here deserves attention. The sort of magic he’s talking about is the kind you find in fairy tales and The Thousand and One Nights, not to mention an endless stream of shoddy fantasy novels and Hollywood extravaganzas churned out more recently, and the factor that defines it is that the people who use it never have to worry themselves about how it works.

Consider the old story of Jack and the Beanstalk. All Jack has to do is plant the magic beans; he doesn’t have to figure out how they’re going to produce all that plant tissue overnight, so he can climb into the sky the next morning. For that matter, he doesn’t have to figure out how the giant’s castle stays up there in the sky, violating the laws of medieval and modern physics alike. He doesn’t have to do much or understand anything; it all just happens. That’s the sort of thing you get when the elegant symbolic narratives of an earlier age get dumbed down, stripped of their interpretive context, and relegated to the nursery.

To be fair, many of them had been there all along, for good reason. Most societies that haven’t gotten around to writing, and a good many that have, teach their children by telling them colorful stories, and then teach their adolescents a good deal more by explaining to them what the stories they learned and loved as children actually mean.

Since the end of the Renaissance and the abandonment of the lively sense of the symbolic that permeated medieval and Renaissance culture, only the first half of the equation remained in the Western world; the stories themselves were retained for a few more centuries out of a vague sense of nostalgia, until they were finally pushed aside in our era by shoddy mass-marketed consumables whose only meaning or lesson is that somebody wanted to make a fast buck.

I’ve come to think, though, that the rise of modern technology over the three centuries since the dawn of the industrial revolution was guided, in no small part, by the lingering echoes of these old stories. No law of nature or of human nature required us to use the gargantuan treasure of nearly free energy we took from the Earth’s carbon stash in precisely the ways that we did, after all.

Some of the things we did with all that energy packed enough of an economic or military advantage that it was a safe bet that they’d be tried, no matter what stories were rattling around the crawlspaces of the western world’s collective psyche, but that’s hardly true of all. Visit a large department store sometime, go up and down the aisles, and ask yourself: how many of the things for sale there imitate some detail in a fairy tale?
The magic garments and ointments and jewels that turn serving girls into beautiful princesses, the magic boxes that bring summer in winter and winter in summer, the magic boats that sail under the waves and the magic birds that carry people through the skies, even the beanstalks of smoke and flame that took a modest number of space-suited Jacks (and a very few Jills) up through the clouds to look, unsuccessfully, for a giant’s palace—we’ve got them, or more precisely, we think we’ve got them. In point of fact, what we’ve got are simulacra of these things, the nearest approach to them that you can get by throwing terawatts of energy and the raw materials of an entire planet at them, which in most cases is not actually that close.

In a brilliant passage in Where the Wasteland Ends, a book that has lost none of its relevance or power forty years after its publication, Theodore Roszak compared the dream of flying to the tawdry, tedious experience of air travel. He was writing at a time when airlines still boasted about the quality of their in-flight meals and the leg room their passengers could enjoy on the flight, and when airports were not yet quite so reminiscent of medium-security prisons, complete with armed guards herding inmates toward the confinement that awaits them. Nowadays?

 A ride in a New York subway is more inspiring, not to mention more comfortable. The same is true, by and large, of the other simulacra of fairy-tale magic that surround us these days: we may be able to get strawberries in winter, like the little girl in the Brothers Grimm story, but they’ve been picked green, artificially ripened with ethylene, and squirted with imitation strawberry fragrance, and they taste like mildly sugared sawdust.

That is to say, the fake magic that clutters up our lives today doesn’t satisfy the needs it claims to fulfill. We all know this. We’ve all had our faces rubbed in it as long as we’ve been alive, starting with those childhood Christmas presents that looked so enticing in the store and turned out to be so bleakly vapid once the artificial glow of emotionally manipulative marketing wore off them, and extending straight through the upcoming election, which will inevitably be packed with rhetorical bluster about hope, change, and other vacant buzzwords destined to be discarded in favor of four more years of business as usual the moment the polls close.

We all know this, and yet so many of us keep chasing after the latest shiny simulacrum, like greyhounds on a racing track in hot pursuit of a mechanical rabbit they’ll never catch and couldn’t eat if they did.

That futile pursuit of fake magic is a central theme of Kunstler’s book. It’s on display most memorably, perhaps, in his encounters with Google employees who insist that the Long Emergency can’t happen because, like, we’ve got technology, or with the TED conference attendees who flocked to hear the latest rehash of that weary 1950s fantasy, the flying automobile. (I’m asked now and then whether I’ve been invited to give a talk at one of the TED conferences.

I haven’t, and I don’t expect ever to get such an invitation; any audience that can be entranced by jabber about flying cars will pretty much by definition not be interested in anything I have to say.) rom vertical farming aficionados whose skyscraper-centric vision ignores the rising spiral of factors that are turning skyscrapers into an obsolete architectural form, to green energy wonks who can’t imagine why a society in freefall might not be able to scrape together the resources required for their favorite gargantuan construction program, right up to Ray Kurzweil, the computer geek’s Harold Camping with high-tech Rapture prophecy to match, Kunstler spends much of the book exploring the ways in which wishful thinking founded on a debased, fairy-tale image of magic has come to replace reasoned thought in contemporary American culture, to our immense peril.

Last Friday’s storm, again, was a useful lesson in the nature of that peril. Behind the magic boxes that keep the heat of summer away stands a huge and hypercomplex system of power plants, transmission lines, transformers, and the whole suite of services and social structures that go into keeping the system running.

None of it can be dispensed with, and none of it comes cheap, but it’s only when something pops up on the far end of the probability curve and knocks the system silly that most people are forced to notice that the whole thing doesn’t work by fairy tale magic—and even then a great many of them spend their time complaining because the relevant authorities can’t make the magic pop back into being overnight, like Jack’s beanstalk from those magic beans.

The slow shredding of the infrastructure that makes the magic possible rarely enters into the collective conversation of our time, and the logical consequence of that process—the statistically inevitable point at which, for each of us in turn, the magic goes away once and for all—goes not merely unmentioned but unimagined.

Still, that’s where we’re headed. We haven’t yet reached the point at which people in outlying areas whose homes lose electrical power in a storm are quietly informed that they will have to pay the full cost themselves if they want power back, or told that they’ve been put on a list and it may take weeks or months or years before their turn comes up. Still, given the increasingly long delays in restoring power after increasingly frequent weather-related disasters—well, the Bob Dylan line is inescapable: you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

The same wind from a different quarter is blowing through the lives of all those jobless Americans who are losing their unemployment benefits and dropping off the far end of the nation’s joblessness statistics; nonpersons in very nearly an Orwellian sense, they’ve been tossed out of our imaginary happy land of fake magic into a harsher world. That world is waiting for the rest of us, too, and we’ll each arrive there sooner or later.

Getting ready for that harsh transition, it seems to me, is one of the crucial tasks facing any thoughtful person in our time. It’s not going to be easy, quick or cheap, and a great many of those people who are busy finding reasons why they should cling to their fake magic just that little bit longer are, I’m afraid, going to find it very awkward to discover that the time they spent doing that would have been better spent acclimatizing themselves to the post-fairy tale world.

One of the more useful tools for that task, as I’ve suggested more than once in these essays, is magic—the old art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, the stuff that I wrote about in my recent book The Blood of the Earth, the stuff that the fake magic of wand-waving movie stars is meant to imitate. It’s not the only important tool that will be needed, to be sure, but it has something significant in common with every one of the other things that belong on that list: they all require hard work. You can’t just plant some magic beans in the garden and expect someone or something else to make things happen.

 You can’t wait for the authorities to take care of it, because they won’t; you can’t wait for some inventor somewhere to solve the problem for you, because it’s not a problem that can be solved, and the inventors are too busy daydreaming about flying cars to get around to it anyway; you can’t wait for the Rapture or the Singularity or the space brothers or something to make it all go away, because it’s only modern culture’s monumental sense of entitlement that makes people think that some supernatural agency is going to come at a run to bail them out of the consequences of their own actions.

That is to say, if you’re waiting for any of these things, you’re relying on the wrong kind of magic.
Now there are plenty of things that individuals can do right now to make it easier for themselves, their families, and their communities to make the shift to what I’ve called the post-fairy tale world.

I wish Kunstler had put a little more of his book into talking about those options; it’s important to try to shake people out of the delusion that everything’s going to be just fine if we just have faith in progress or what have you, but it seems to me that it’s at least as important to give those who do wake up some alternative to the paralyzing despair that comes so easily to those who have been taught all their lives that the only alternative to business as usual is misery and mass death.

Even so, Too Much Magic is a useful glance across the topography of the postpeak world in which we now live.


Climate Change? Who Cares?

SUBHEAD: New poll indicates Americans don't care as much about climate change as before. By Brian Merchant on 5 July 2012 for TreeHugger - ( Image above: Twenty some-somethings posing for website promoting Spring Break in Daytona Beach, Florida. From (

Stop if you've heard this one before: Americans don't care as much about global warming as they used to, a new poll says. The poll, known colloquially as "every single climate poll done since that Al Gore movie came out," finds that, in fact, climate change is no longer our top environmental concern at all. It now ranks a distant second to air and water pollution as the planet's most problematic environmental woe.

Here's the Washington Post, in a story about their own poll:

Climate change no longer ranks first on the list of what Americans see as the world’s biggest environmental problem, according to a new Washington Post-Stanford University poll.

Just 18 percent of those polled name it as their top environmental concern. That compares with 33 percent who said so in 2007, amid publicity about a major U.N. climate report and Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary about global warming. Today, 29 percent identify water and air pollution as the world’s most pressing environmental issue.

The story then goes on to quote a bunch of people who no longer care about climate change. Here are some of the apathetic:
"I really don’t give it a thought,” said Wendy Stewart, a 46-year-old bookkeeper in New York. Although she thinks warmer winters and summers are signs of climate change, she has noticed that political leaders don’t bring up the subject. “I’ve never heard them speak on global warming,” she said. “I’ve never heard them elaborate on it.”

Michael Joseph, 20, a student at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, said he sees extreme weather-related events such as the Colorado wildfires and the derecho storm that struck Washington on Friday as “having something to do with climate change.” But, like Stewart, he added, “I don’t really hear about it that much.”

Refreshingly, the Post also interviews some everymen (not just climate wonks, I swear!) who wish Obama would lead on the issue. The poll also reveals that most people still support government action on climate change. So there's that.

Hmm, so why the precipitous decline in perceptions about the urgency of the climate problem? It couldn't be that few public figures are really willing to discuss it much, could it? Or that our media is terrified of even mentioning it in a news story? Nah, it's probably because it's a hoax, and people are wising up!


Media Climate Denial

SUBHEAD: Just 3% of major media stories about the wildfire epidemic even mention climate change. By Brian Merchant on5 July 2012 for TreeHugger - ( Image above: From (

You've got typically tight-lipped climate scientists saying things like:

"What we're seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like. It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster."

"This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level. The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire."

You've got plenty of smart, influential scientists who are willing to be quoted in news segments describing the impact climate change has had on the record-breaking wildfires in the Southwest.

So there's really no excuse for this statistic, uncovered in a Media Matters analysis: Just 3% of the wildfire news coverage even mentions climate change or global warming at all. To be clear, that doesn't mean that 3% of the wildfire stories are about climate change—97% don't mention it at all.

The bar is low: all we need is a quote buried in the bottom of the text, a one-off soundbite, a sentence for context. But nope—the vast majority of reporters, producers, and editors simply don't bother at all. It's an alarming stat because it reveals, for the seven millionth time, how deeply engrained the notion is that climate science is "controversial." That it's treated as a political belief instead of scientific fact by the mediators responsible for informing the public.

It used to work something like this: Local news stations and newspapers would run a climate change story, and get hate mail from the fringy climate change naysayers—and likely no laudatory notes from appreciative ordinary viewers (or climate advocates, for that matter). 'This makes people mad,' the beleaguered producer would say, 'so why kick the hornet's nest?' The same phenomenon afflicted national news media, to exponentially amplified effect. The dust kicked up over the Climate Gate email hacking is a fine example of those mechanics in action.

Now, high profile public officials on up to the Speaker of the House of the United States Congress have adopted views once on the fringe, seeming to validate them in the process. They've helped construct a new social norm wherein it is acceptable to openly disavow well-established scientific findings, and those opinions act as a powerful staying force against any demand for good climate reporting.

And establishment news outlets heed that norm. If they just stay quiet on the topic, the only flack they catch is from those disgruntled "environmentalists" who hold no real positions of power, aren't Very Serious People, and can be easily waved away as harboring an agenda.

And thus we find ourselves in a truly peculiar moment where scientists are pointing at record-breaking fires and heat waves and saying "This! This is what climate change looks like!" while editors and producers are going, "Well, Republicans still think it's a hoax. So let's cut out that NASA global warming bit."


NY Independence from USA

SUBHEAD: We are seeing glimpses of what an economy and culture might look like in the aftermath of the USA sprawl.  

By Juan Wilson on 4 July 2012 for Island Breath -  

Image above: Juan Wilson holding his granddaughter Magnolia in her home in New Paltz. Photo by Linda Pascatore.

We're spending a few weeks on the mainland in upstate and western New York. It has not been oppressingly hot. In fact it has been pleasantly green. Between the bigbox plazas off the interstate highways another culture is becoming visible.  

New Paltz, NY
Our itinerary has been set by making our rounds in the state to visit close family members of mine and my wife Linda. We began our journey through New York in New Paltz. It was settled by Dutch Huguenots 300 years ago. Their buildings still stand. It is a university town in the SUNY system (State University of New York).

My son, John, and his partner Katy and their baby girl live in a home, at the edge of town, that is shared with my daughter, Laura, and four other 30-somethings young adults. The house they share was built by a doctor who lives elsewhere rents the property to his son David (one of the 30-somethings). None could afford such a place in New Paltz individually.

Their living arrangement has worked well for a few years now. They share cooking, cleaning and gardening chores. They pickle and can much of what they harvest (some great kimchee). They also raise chickens and belong to a extensive CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm a short bike ride from their home.

The CSA provides not only a wide selection of vegetables but also dairy, meat and bread products. Being a university town, New Paltz offers a liberal environment of culture, art and education. This group of young adults are living in many ways outside the suburban norm. Collectively they have created their own extended family and have become food secure.

Image above: Ed Catze's luthier shop in Kingston. Photo by Juan Wilson.  

Kingston, NY
My daughter Laura plays violin in a local acoustic band named the Polemech Klezmer Orchester. Klezmer music uses strings, brass, reed and percussion instruments and is usually led by an accordion. It's catchy, funny and danceable. Her violin was damaged by heat and needed repair as well as several adjustments. Fortunately, there was a luthier in nearby Kingston, New York.

 A luthier is builder and repairer of wooden stringed instruments. Kingston is another Dutch settled community. It's an old and solidly built town that was at one time the capital of New York State. It is a port city on the Hudson River and a terminal of an early American canal system that brought goods to downstream New York City. The luthier in Kingston is Ed Catze. His workshop is an open studio taking up the top floor of a mansard roofed mansion on Pearl Street.

Laying on their side on the floor are cellos and standup bass instruments. His counters are filled with fiddle heads being carved and violin bodies in clamps being glued. The space is has a high ceiling under the mansard roof and is well lit with natural light. There is hardly a power tool in sight - just a drill press in the corner. The tools he uses are wood-handled files, rasps and chisels. There are wooden mallets and clamps. Ed's work is work that could have been done any time in the last five centuries... or the next.

Image above: Copper equipment at the Tuthilltown Spirits distillery . Photo by Juan Wilson.

 Gardner, NY
A few miles south of New Paltz is Gardner, New York. I was interested in visiting Gardner to see the Tuthilltown Spirit operation there. We were given a tour by a friend of my daughter who is only 27 but the chief distiller for Tuthilltown. He and the owner of the distillery have built a sturdy barn-like building around a massive copper, German made, set of distilling equipment that looks like something out of a steampunk utopian dream. Tuthilltown is brewing whiskeys with local grains and experimenting with flavored vodkas distilled from a nearby apple orchard.

The idea is to make use of local seasonal overproduction of sources of the right sugars. They are succeeding. Their products are expensive, exceptional and in demand. Tuthilltown Spirits has broken ground on a new way to distribute and market their products. New York state has had a tradition of growing grapes for wine. The law in New York allows a grape farm winery to have a roadside stand that can sell their wine products. Crucially, the law also allows a farm winery to distribute their products through other roadside farm stands than their own.

Other than state licensed liquor stores, this is about the only way to buy wine in the state. Because Tuthilltown began as a farm growing grains and subsequently built a distillery, they were able to have state law adjusted so that they can sell their liquor in their own roadside stand that is also a tasting room. For $15 you can taste each of their four bourbon/whiskey blends. In effect the place is a saloon. On top of that, Tuthilltown can also distribute through other such farm stands and distill for other grain farms under that grain farms label. The motto of Tuthilltown Spirits is "Prohibition is Over!"

Image above: The Polemech Klezmer Orchester warms up at the Transylvania Sausage Fest in Tivoli
. Photo by Juan Wilson.  

Tivoli, NY
My daughter's violin was repaired in just a couple of days, just in time for her to play with her band at the The Transylvania Sausage Fest in Tivoli, New York. We partied their at a local club with a patio and yard in the back. The food was a variety of sausages with grilled pepper and onion or sauerkraut with a side of garden kale salad. Cider and beer flowed. A good time was had by all with a style of music that is timeless and always accessible without the Grid.

Image above: Part of failed mall on Route 4 in Rensselaer. From (  

Rensselaer, NY
We went to Rensselaer to rendezvous with Linda's brother Steve, and his family,who was driving from New England back home to Hollywood, Florida after camping for a month. We had a great time with her brother's family at a nearby State Park. However, Rensselaer was the only truly terrible place on the trip. This is a town on a long hillside facing west with a spectacular view of nearby Albany and setting sun beyond the distant green rolling hills.

The backbone of the place is old north/south two-lane Route 4. Once it was populated by homes, farm stands and fish-fry joints. Route 4 is now being widened to major stripmall capacity with Walmart's, Target's and Home Depot plazas lined up cheek-to-jowl cut into the downhill side of Route 4. They have to be serviced by long access ramps. Uphill on the other side of the road developers are cutting and setting 20 foot tall retaining walls to fit more parking plazas set into the hills. There is a lot of shopping redundancy here.

Across from the Home Depot were three national coffee franchises fighting it out - Starbucks, McDonalds and Dunkin Donut. They were all ghostly empty. The Starbucks was only a few years old and looked in need of a major restoration.

The only buildings we entered in 24 hours were owned by national corporate franchises. The thinking of NY state must be the fact that this part of Route 4 with a hillside view of Albany is desirable for future development because it is only a mile from Interstate 90 connecting Buffalo NY to Boston MA with all that vehicular traffic. One cannot look at this place and not realize the huge misallocation of resources that going on.

Once the fossil fuel joy ride is over the businesses on this isolated hillside will be inaccessible to the future. People living in the region won't be expecting a refrigerated tractor trailer full of frozen Swanson's chicken pot pies to make it up Route 4 anymore. Incidentally, the only place that was moderately busy the night we were their was the Walmart Superstore with a HFCS beverage aisle as big as a old-time supermarket. The place was inhabited largely by what I can only describe as obese zombies - many on electric carts.

Image above: The upstairs entrance to the Yellow Deli in Oneonta. Photo by Juan Wilson.  

Oneonta NY
My son John's life partner, Katy, grew up in Oneonta, the city of hills. Katy still has close family there. They have some property. Like New Paltz, Oneonta is a SUNY college town, however it's farther away from New York City and the Hudson Valley. It's a newer than New Paltz but a sturdy, dense town with nearby woodland and little strip development to be seen. Now that they have Magnolia, John and Katy are thinking more for the long haul and are considering moving to Oneonta.

 My wife Linda and I were to pass by Oneonta on our way to western tip of New York where much of her family still lives. I decided to stop to fill the rental's tank and take a break to look around Oneonta. I'm glad we did. The station was operated by an Asian Indian fellow who provided full service gas station. He meticulously cleaned the front and back windows. We asked him about some local restaurants across the street. He liked Simply Thai. It looked good, but we settled on a joint named the Yellow Deli across the street. It seemed to have been built by Hobbits.

They were open 24 hours a day, 5 days a week. They baked their own breads (including a gluten free variety) and mixed their own teas and root beer. The place was on the side of a hill so there was an upstairs and downstairs with street entry. Each floor had a big stone fireplace for those snowy winter afternoons. The smiles on the staff could only have been generated by weed, ecstasy or god.

I suspect it was probably various combinations. Service was slow. The place was comfortable and relaxed.There was much to look at, and the staff was friendly and talkative. They were part of a self described "alternative tribe" that lived in the area. They were keeping some aspects of the 1960's hippie dream alive. At least so they declared in a hand drawn manifesto painted on the wall where we sat. This group was networked into an international association of twelve tribes.

They even had a large sailing vessel (down in New York Harbor) with which they hoped to cross the seas in the next few years. Its a 150 foot long barquentine rig with three masts. It was built in 1889 in Brazil of tropical woods. It's name is the Peacemaker. I invited them to visit Kauai if they ever got in the Pacific Ocean. I also suggested they look at the recently closed Hanapepe Cafe as a possible venue for a Hawaiian Yellow Deli.


Peak Oil is not Over!

SUBHEAD: TreeHugger, George Monbiot and others are falling for falsely optimistic predictions on oil production.

 By Sharon Astyk on 3 July 2012 for Casaubon's Book -  

Image above: Detail of map of North American shale plays in 2011. Reality or Ponzi Scheme? From (
I can’t really blame George Monbiot or anyone else for buying the narrative hype. Right now the overwhelming narrative is that we have no energy constraints at all. Folks wonder aloud whether the US should join OPEC. Increasingly ridiculous projections are made about the potential of shale oil and new drilling techniques. Slight upticks are assumed to be headed to their logical extremes, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government issues a report saying we’ve got all the oil we could ever want. So is it really surprising that Monbiot, who has been focused on climate change, not peak oil, is buying the story, asks Treehugger? Treehugger also offers a great link to Heading Out’s Oil Drum Rebuttal to the Harvard Report, which notes that this idea based on a whole lot of assumptions including capacity for production that Saudi Arabia has claimed but never demonstrated, a huge leap in Iraqi oil production, which everyone has said will happen any day now since 2003 and hasn’t, and a lot of overstatements of US shale production:
As I noted in my review of the Citicorp report this optimism flies in the face of the views of the DMR in North Dakota – who ought to know, since they have the data. The report further seems a little confused on how horizontal wells work in these reservoirs. As Aramco has noted, one cannot keep drilling longer and longer holes and expect the well production to double with that increase in length. Because of the need to maintain differential pressures between the reservoir and the well, there are optimal lengths for any given formation. And as I have also noted, the report flies in the face of the data on field production from the deeper wells of the Gulf of Mexico.
It seems pertinent to close with the report’s list of assumptions on which the gain in oil production from the Bakken is based:
  • A price of oil (WTI) equal to or greater than $ 70 per barrel through 2020
  • A constant 200 drilling rigs per week;
  • An estimated ultimate recovery rate of 10 percent per individual producing well (which in most cases has already been exceeded) and for the overall formation;
  • An OOP calculated on the basis of less than half the mean figure of Price’s 1999 assessment (413 billion barrels of OOP, 100 billion of proven reserves, including Three Forks).
Consequently, I expect 300 billion barrels of OOP and 45 billion of proven oil reserves, including Three Forks;
  • A combined average depletion rate for each producing well of 15 percent over the first five years, followed by a 7 percent depletion rate;
  • A level of porosity and permeability of the Bakken/Three Forks formation derived from those experienced so far by oil companies engaged in the area.
Based on these assumptions, my simulation yields an additional unrestricted oil production from the Bakken and Three Forks plays of around 2.5 mbd by 2020, leading to a total unrestricted production of more than 3 mbd by 2020.
Enough, already! There are too many unrealistic assumptions to make this worth spending more time on. To illustrate but one of the critical points – this is the graph that I have shown in earlier posts of the decline rate of a typical well in the Bakken. You can clearly see that the decline rate is much steeper than 15% in the first five years.
In a lot of ways, this is just another version of the same old, same old – take the most optimistic imaginable assumptions and push them all together in new ways without regard to any possible negative consequences or less optimistic outcomes, and lo and behold, all problems disappear. We can do the same thing with anything else (and, in fact, that’s pretty much how modern economics often works) – want to see a world security picture in which everything is rosy? All we need is the most cheerful predictions. Want to have 6% annual year over year economic growth? Easy to find experts to say it could happen – all you have to do is just pretend they are the only voices that matter.
Moreover, as Kurt Cobb has pointed out, the more shrill and passionate the insistence that peak oil is over as an issue, the more nervous everyone really is, as the data does not show a radical increase in production, no matter how badly one is desired. He writes:
It may be disheartening to see so much disinformation in the media spewed by people who ought to know better. But it is ever so delicious to contemplate the desperation hiding behind their fretful posturing and incantation. I can almost hear them say, “It can’t be so, it can’t be so…it simply mustn’t!” They seem to believe that if they say “Bakken, Brazil, offshore, tar sands, technology” enough times in a row, it will make $100-a-barrel oil go away. But that incantation will not make the data go away, and so we must keep pointing out that the trend remains flat despite all of those things.
I also don’t blame Monbiot for his credulousness on the math – he’s hardly the only one. On the other hand, it wouldn’t have been that hard to find the relevant data. Consider, for example, the work of Geologist Jeffrey Brown on this subject. Brown, for those not paying attention is the author of the Export Land Model and also the Vice-President of ASPO-USA. Brown in an email injects his usual incisive numerical analysis to this, and adds in the net export picture (remember, nations don’t stop using oil just because other people would like them to export it – witness the US):
Regarding Monbiot’s comments about Saudi Arabia, Saudi annual production has not materially exceeded their 2005 production level, and their annual net exports have been below their 2005 level of 9.1 mbpd (BP, total petroleum liquids) for six straight years, with 2011 net exports at 8.3 mbpd.
I’ve renamed the exporting country production to consumption ratio the Export Capacity Index (ECI) and the Saudi ECI fell from 5.6 in 2005 to 3.9 in 2011. At this rate of decline, the Saudis would approach a 1.0 ratio, and thus zero net oil exports, around 2034.
Note that there are certainly case histories of a declining ECI that were “false negatives,” e.g., Saudi Arabia in the early Eighties and Russia in the early Nineties, but in the former case Saudi Arabia was cutting exports in response to declining oil prices and in the latter case the decline in the Russian ECI was clearly related to political unrest following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The recent decline in the Saudi ECI, from 5.6 in 2005 to 3.9 in 2011, corresponded to a doubling in annual Brent crude oil prices.
Regarding Iraq, following are recent annual net export numbers for Iraq (BP, total petroleum liquids, some EIA numbers for consumption):
Iraq’s Net Oil Exports (Total Petroleum Liquids, mbpd):
2005: 1.29 

2006: 1.47 

2007: 1.57 

2008: 1.84

2009: 1.81 

2010: 1.74

2011: 1.98
After declining for two years, Iraqi net exports increased in 2011, to show an increase of 140,000 bpd over the 2008 net export level.
Regarding the global net export supply balance, I don’t think that China & India will actually be consuming 100% of Global Net Exports of oil (GNE*) in 2030, but on the other hand, it sure is one heck of a trend line, and it looks like China’s oil production may be peaking. US net oil imports increased at 11%/year from 1949 to 1970, when we peaked. US net oil imports then increased at 14%/year from 1970 to 1977 (doubling in about five years).
Note that at the 2005 to 2008 rate of decline in the GNE/CNI ratio, the Chindia region would be at a 1.0 ratio (consuming 100% of GNE) in 2033. At the 2005 to 2011 rate of decline in the GNE/CNI ratio, the Chindia region would be at a 1.0 ratio (consuming 100% of GNE) in 2030.
Watching the numbers tells a very different story than the cornucopians want to hear, but you do have to do your research to hear it in the swell of nonsense. What I do blame Monbiot for is this rather intellectually disingenuous passage, and his rather ridiculous claim that the Harvard report lays all doubt about fossil fuel reserves to rest (in fact, we’ve known for years (since the Hansen/Kharecha study) that there is adequate coal to fry the planet, and oil and natural gas reserves enough to help get us well past all the critical tipping points – the idea that this is news is completely ridiculous):

Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted it to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case.
That, I think, either says more about George Monbiot than about “environmentalists” or it is straight out horse shit. As noted above, no one with four brain cells to rub together has ever thought that peak oil could get us out of climate change – since the emergent consensus that 350ppm might represent a critical tipping point, there’s very little debate on this subject by credible scholars, simply because we know we could cross that line because we have.

Moreover, anyone familiar with the issues never thought that peak oil was an answer to the climate crisis – while there are considerable debates on how much coal there is in the ground, no one who takes peak oil seriously doubts that an energy crisis will drive us to burning more coal to generate compensatory electricity, to burning more wood in areas that have relied on heating oil, to hunger because of the tremendous oil dependency of our food system.

Did “environmentalists” want it to happen? The biggest drivers of climate change are unlikely to be helped in the near term by peak oil – and most people could figure that out. So did we want it? Ummm…yeah, kind of the same way I want to have six root canals with blunt dental instruments and no anaesthesia.

Climate change alone contains plenty of economic incentives to act – we don’t need peak oil for that. Monbiot either completely fails to understand what peak oil implies, or he is shifting the ground for purely rhetoric effect, but not honestly. In fact, for the most part there has always been a profound tension between peak oil and climate change – with adherents to both sides, environmentalists all in most cases, arguing that one is primary and the other secondary.

Moreover, they both result in slightly different natural responses – if you don’t believe in climate change, there really is no reason not to burn all that coal (how much coal there is is another issue). If you believe in peak oil, liquid fuels are the focus, not electrical generation and coal plants, except as a transitional fuel. They generate a lot of different kinds of responses.

I genuinely don’t blame Monbiot for not looking carefully at the data and buying the hype – after all, this hype is on everyone’s lips. What I do blame him for is his implication that peak oil is something that you believe in because you want to, whereas climate change belief is data-driven.

Ultimately, both these things are data-driven – it is much more fun to believe that the oil will always be there and that the world is not warming than either one. The only problem is that belief in either comes at the cost of one’s self-respect after you do even minimal data analysis – looking carefully at the data, at the play out rates of new fields and the flat reality of oil production tells a very different story.
If Monbiot wanted to believe peak oil was true so that it could save us from climate change, he was kidding himself. If he wants to believe it is untrue because it can’t, well, that seems like a line of faulty reasoning right there.

Can humans save humans?

SUBHEAD: When we bring about soil regeneration, we’ll know that our metamorphosis into viable human earthlings is well underway.  

By Vera Bradova on 3 July 2012 for Leaving Babylon -  

Image above: A class in making soil blocks. From (
"Economics start with photosynthesis." – Abe Collins
I feel like getting naked and running though the streets, yelling eureka, eureka! By George, I think I’ve got it. And I wasn’t even looking. It all began a few days ago, when I started on a post about creating soil from scratch. A radical notion in its own right, to be sure. So let’s begin with the story there.
Growing new topsoil
"Human future depends on the future of earthly soils. The most meaningful indicator for the health of the land, and the long term wealth of a people, is whether soil is being formed or lost. If soil is being lost, so too is the economic and ecological foundation of society." – Christine Jones (paraphrased)
I won’t dwell again on the dire facts of soil loss around the world. We all know it’s a serious problem. What is not so clear to many of us is that the major efforts out there attempting to counter this trend merely hope to slow down the rate of loss. The option of growing new soil and actually coming out ahead is only considered by a few maverick soil scientists and small groups of farmers who’ve finally had the courage to forgo conventional ag advice and forge their own path. Most gardeners are familiar with soil-building, but this generally involves robbing Peter to pay Paul, as manures or leaf mold are imported from elsewhere.
The process that forms soil from weathered rocks takes thousands of years. But new soils can form quite rapidly from the soil that’s already there, provided the natural sequence is unimpeded. Here is how it happens:
  • In order for new soil to grow, it must be living.
  • In order for soil to be living, it must be covered.
  • In order for soil to be covered, it must be periodically disturbed.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Only living things can grow. For soil to grow, it must be a thriving community of microorganisms, fungi, insects, and worms. These need to be sheltered from weather extremes and kept moist. A ground cover of live plants and decomposing plant litter protects the living soil by buffering temperature extremes, improving water infiltration and slowing evaporation.

To flourish, these ground covers need to be fed. This is where soil disturbance comes in. Nature brings in herbivores on the hoof who trample decomposing plant material into the ground, pushing it into the root zone. They break up the soil crust and aerate it, making it more permeable to water. And they crush old dried stalks so that sunlight can reach new growth.

As the herbivores graze and chew off the tops of the grasses, part of the root system dies back and feeds the soil organisms. Intermittent grazing creates cycles of root die-back and regrowth that provides a rich feast for all who inhabit the soil community. And there are a lot of hungry mouths! It is said that a teaspoon of good soil contains almost as many tiny denizens as there are people on Earth.

Well fed soil microorganisms then produce the gums and sugars that build crumbly, porous soil texture which provides spaces for roots, passageways for small invertebrates, and room for rain. Since these gums and sugars need to be continually replenished, a steady supply of food — decomposing plant roots and litter alongside water, air and minerals — must be coming their way.

This simple and elegant process begins to produce new topsoil within the year, with dramatic results reported in three years. The higher the biomass and turnover of plant roots, the faster new topsoil will form.
Here is the recipe for growing new soil:
  1. seed or plant perennial ground covers known for extensive, deep root systems
  2. graze or slash new growth intermittently
  3. then disturb the soil by working decaying plant material into the root zone, whether by hooves, hoes, or disks
  4. since high levels of biological activity are required, avoid pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers known to harm soil life
  5. on drylands, predigestion of plant matter (either in ruminant stomachs or via composting) is essential; without adequate moisture old plant matter oxidizes rather than rots
Now I understand why lawns take so much fussy effort. Without the third step — intermittent disturbance — the grasses need to be constantly propped up by chemicals and aerating machinery, while at the same time, the chemical brews depress soil life.

The miracle of humus
Feeding soil life depends ultimately on photosynthesis. Powered by sunlight, plants synthesize nutrients out of water and CO2. They use these nutrients for their own growth and maintenance, and share the surplus by exuding the rest through the roots. This carbon-rich fluid is used in turn by mycorrhizal fungi and other micro-critters as they turn plant remains into humus.

I admit to being woefully misinformed. While the term ‘humus’ does commonly refer to the dark, fertile, friable stuff compost eventually turns into, the real miracle is the substance soil scientists call stable humus. This dark colloidal gel consists largely of water and carbon in many permutations (humic acids, humins, etc.), tightly bound to clay and metal hydroxides.

Greatly resistant to further decomposition, it plays an essential role in providing soil structure, increases the ability of soil to store nutrients resistant to leaching, buffers acids and alkalis, binds toxic heavy metals, and can hold the equivalent of 80-90% of its weight in water. It can last in the soil for centuries and perhaps longer, sequestering water and carbon for slow release.

Stable humus is used up en masse by plowing and high nitrogen fertilizers. On the other hand, its formation can be encouraged by following the soil growth generative sequence, and by the addition of chopped roots of grass species (to restore mycorrhizal fungi) or black carbon (biochar). Rotational grazing where feasible optimizes conditions for photosynthesis and humification. And how can we tell we are getting somewhere? Soils with high humus content feel sticky to the touch when rubbed between the fingers.

The soil solution
It would be awesome enough to have access to a simple process that grows new topsoil, and to become skilled in aiding humification to keep these soils highly fertile over the long term. But it gets better.

Is your area plagued by drought and desertification? Is the local aquifer steadily depleting? Did you have endless days of 115°F heat last summer? Are you worried about food security? Maybe your region’s lands have suffered from declining rainfall or salinization. I have some truly good news for you. Growing soil with high stable humus content is the healing treatment for all these ills.

Nature works on the principle that waste (of some) equals food (for others). Civilized humans in our unsapiential wisdom work hard to turn what could be food into waste. We’ve been doing it with human manures for some 150 years, with animal manures for a few decades, and as it turns out, we’ve really done a number on water and carbon, the very stuff of life, spewing them into the air while soils go begging.

After the oceans, the soil is the Earth’s largest carbon sink. But humus depleting agricultural practices have caused soils to lose both water and carbon to the atmosphere where these otherwise life-giving substances do mischief in high concentrations. Perhaps there are enough of us now who appreciate the value of humus-laden soils, ready to turn things around.

Here are a few quotes I have pulled from the work of Dr. Christine Jones, Australian soil scientist who has been working with farmers and ranchers for many years to successfully regenerate the soils under their care and sequester large amounts of carbon and water at the same time.
Photosynthesis is a cooling process. Lack of green cover on the land greatly increases heat absorption, causing a dramatic increase in evaporation. Water vapour is a greenhouse gas of greater significance for global warming than CO2. Lower rainfall can also result from groundcover loss.
Of the estimated 3060 gigatonnes of carbon in the terrestrial biosphere, 82 per cent is in soils. That’s over four times the amount of carbon stored in the world’s vegetation… If only 18 per cent is stored in vegetation, why all the emphasis on biomass, rather than soil, as a carbon sink?
1% carbon increase in grasslands and cropsoils in Australia would offset the entire “legacy load” or total rise in CO2 over the last 50 years. Carbon sequestration of farmlands can be higher than that of tropical forests.
Discussions on adapting to climate [weirding] are irrelevant unless they focus on rebuilding healthy topsoil.
Soil loss and soil destruction spread far and wide as domination-based civilization claimed larger and larger portions of the planet. When we fan out, bringing about soil gain and soil regeneration wherever we go, we’ll know that our metamorphosis into viable human earthlings is well underway.

Island Breath: Rethinking Biochar 8/1/10


Love vs Power in Iceland

SUBHEAD: A choice between giving up the island to corporate predators or living in grass shacks? Take the shacks. By John Thackara on 2 July 2012 in Doors of Perception - ( Image above: An aluminum smelting plant on the shores of Iceland. Facilities like these use 80% of Iceland's renewable thermal energy. From (

For some Icelanders, in a country whose inhabitants have survived 1,100 winters without central heating, the environmental costs of aluminium smelting are worth paying if the alternative is a return to a life in grass-roofed huts.

To many, that choice does not feel far-fetched. Andri Snær Magnason’s grandfather, for example, worked continuously on the land and sea in order to survive. As the author of Dreamland recalls, “my family caught fish, burned driftwood, milked cows, and herded sheep. Food was life for twenty to thirty people in a house of 1,400 square feet. Everything edible was cut and dried: One sheep represented a month and a bit of human survival next winter. That was their reality”.

The vitality of that living memory is one reason debate about Iceland’s economic future seems to have been limited to a stark choice: sell the country, body and soul, to global energy and extractive interests – or go back to those huts.

The search for a third way was one underlying theme at last week’s Poptech in Reykjavik on the theme “Toward Resilience”. My invitation (from Andrew Zolli) to take part afforded a welcome opportunity to re-connect with a country confronted by an agonising choice: “eaten-alive-or-growing-to-live?”.

A new lesson from this visit: the imposition of heavy industry onto a fragile ecological-social situation is an easier sell when the alternatives on offer can be portrayed as feeble. Successive politicians have played on the fact that an aluminium smelter is large, solid and reliable – whereas small-scale farming, picking moss, or selling herbal tea-bags in the airport shop, are not to be taken seriously as the basis of an alternative economy.

“People want to know that next year will be all right, and the year after” Magnason explains. “A longing for security, and fear of change and uncertainty, make people hold fast to the existence they know, however unreasonable it may be”. Put like that, Iceland’s struggle is an example of a dilemma faced by communities the world over: how to have confidence in a future based on social and environmental assets that are real – but intangible, and unmonetised.

To the visitor arriving on a cheap Icelandair flight for a short visit, the country appears to be well-off. But, as Magnason puts it, “a particular myth is fixed in the mind of the nation, the myth that we are a poor little country that needs something big to save us”.

This fear – that success may be fleeting – is not irrational. Iceland’s tourism business is booming, for example, but only because a return ticket from London today costs no more than a week’s wages for a Brit with a job. This is not a solid market. Low-cost air travel, whose business model is based on high passenger volumes and low energy costs, is unlikely to survive for long in the age of energy descent that is upon us.

Filling Iceland with server farms running on ‘clean’ energy is another business idea that, although it must sound cool in a pitch to VCs in California, is likely to be constrained by the messy realities of energy descent. Despite its name, Cloud computing is extraordinarily resource-intensive. Whether or not the energy to run its servers can be sold as being ‘clean’ as well as cheap, the escalating costs of its infrastructure will constrain the growth to infinity that most excites potential investors.

Icelanders, who have no choice but to be creative and entrepreneurial, will of course be able to innovate replacement enterprises if tourist numbers decline, or cloud computing disappoints. But that’s not the point. The challenge is to win over a polarised society, now, to the idea that that a mosaic of small enterprises can provide the same security as is promised by resource-intensive heavy industry.

Iceland’s dilemma is not unique. The mind-set of people living in tough conditions has often been accompanied by human and ecological devastation. For more than two centuries in Australia, for example, the conflict between incoming settlers, and aboriginal peoples, was framed in terms of the doctrine of terra nullius, a Roman legal term that means “land belonging to no one,” or “empty land.” As the writer Adam Kahane recalls in his book Power and Love, it took 200 years after the first settlers arrived for the High Court of Australia to rule that its citizens had to work out a new way of living together with the indigenous people and land that had always been there.

“The two main ways that people try to solve their toughest group, community and societal problems are fundamentally flawed” writes Kahane; ”they either push for what they want at all costs, or try to avoid conflict completely and sweep problems under the rug in the name of a superficial peace”.

A post-2008 project to re-write Iceland’s constitution seems to belong in Kahane’s second category. Although much-trumpeted as “the world’s first crowd-sourced constitution”, the main outcome of this process has been a draft document of more than 700 pages that was submitted to parliament more than a year ago – and has not been heard from since. Even its authors are in the dark about what is happening to it.

I asked my cab driver how on earth such things could be kept secret in such a small country. ”Carefully”, was his reply.

A lack of open-ness (and a visceral distrust of lawmakers) aside, the bigger problem with a written constitution is that Iceland is confronted by dilemmas, not by black-and-white alternatives. A written set of principles, on their own, will not foster the trust that will be needed among all citizens if Iceland as a social-ecological system is to work.

Andri Magnason is especially frustrated by the polarisation of debate. “You are either for electricity, or you are against it. You are for all hydroelectric schemes, or against them. If you admire power schemes built on a small scalet – supply a city with electricity, like the one on Elliaár – you are accused of being hypocritical if you refuse to sacrifice the pristine highlands of eastern Iceland in the interests of aluminium smelting”.

What’s needed is surely a conversation, not a contract.

This conversation needs to involve all citizens with all their different perspectives and interests. People who fear for their future economic security future need to know they are being heard. People who are fearful for the fate of the land and ecosystems they love, also need to know they are being heard.

Being heard is not the same as being forced to agree. On the contrary, as Kahane explains, “if we want to get unstuck, we need to acknowledge our interdependence, cooperate – and feel our way forward”.

One can imagine a happy outcome in which Iceland works out a way to regulate her future development. There could be quotas for energy extraction, or for tourists, in the same way there are now quotas for fish. But how to get from here to there?

As Iceland searches for new words, and new conversation formats, to ‘feel its way forward’, there are models and experiences to learn from. These range from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to the network of water temples in Bali (that Steve Lansing told us about at Poptech) that has enabled farmers to shared water equitably for more than 1,000 years. There are other models, too, such as the Articulaão do Semi-Árido Brasileiro (ASA project) that has been building water cistern in the semi-arid north of Brazil.

These are important stories, but complicated ones. I will return to them soon.

See also: "Iceland: Eaten Alive or Growing To Live" (


Hostage Racket

SUBHEAD: Health care, like everything else, will be a much smaller, modest, and local in the near future. By James Kunstler on 2 July 2012 for - ( Image above: From ( Not to put to fine a point on it, but didn't that cunning rogue Chief Justice John Roberts pour a jug of Karo syrup into the gas tank of America's twelve trillion cylinder engine. Or, put another way (forgive the metaphor juke), didn't he just give President Obama enough rope to hang himself? Out to dry, that is. Roberts must know exactly what he is doing: prompting x-million young and/or poor voters to an election year tea party tax revolt. The Obama health care reform will henceforth be defined as a tax against people too economically strapped to buy health insurance - in other words, a gross injustice, courtesy of Obama.
Or call it a poison pill. Obama gets to brag that the heart of his 2700-page reform package stands - at the expense of the very people it was designed to protect. Forget about the niceties regarding the interstate commerce clause and other chatter points. This was all about Chief Justice Roberts interfering in a presidential election in a most mischievous way. He might as well have just heated up a branding iron that spelled out T-A-X and applied it to Mr. Obama's forehead.
Of course, with or without the so-called reform, the American health care system remains a hostage racket. When you are sick, you will do anything to get better, and the system knows it. You will sign onto any agreement to keep yourself alive, even if the health care system ends up taking your house and your children's educations. It is a well-established fact that the chief cause of personal bankruptcy in the USA is unpayable medical bills on the part of people who have health insurance. It is considered bad manners to inquire of a surgeon what his fee might be for a life-saving operation. Anyway, you don't want to know because it will be a figure with no anchor in the reality of hours spent or services rendered. Ditto the folks who run the hospital, where there is no reality-based relationship between things dispensed and prices charged. It's simple racketeering and true health care reform would be the vigorous application of Department of Justice attorneys on the doctors, pharma companies, insurers, hospitals, and HMOs who are engaged in routine, systematic swindling. But the truth is, we don't want to remove the swindle and the grift, we just want to find some way to get the American public to pay for their own swindling.
Before you get too exercised over the multiple idiocies and injustices of the current American medical situation just reflect for a moment that the whole creaking system cannot possibly survive no matter what the Supreme Court might have ruled or whatever Obama sought to accomplish. The US economic system is about to blow up. The banking sector has been kept technically alive on the life-support of accounting fraud since 2008, but that artful racket is coming to an end because sooner or later the abstraction called "money" must make truthful representations of itself in relation to reality, or else people cease to accept its claims of value. Without a functioning banking system none of the rackets organized into US health care can continue.
The eventual destination of health care, like everything else in society categorically, is a much smaller, more modest, more local scale of operation. We'll be lucky if the people with medical expertise can reorganize the wreckage of the system into something resembling small local clinics with all the costly and pernicious racketeering bureaucracy peeled off it. The insurance companies will be in the elephants' graveyard of failed institutions. Let's hope the doctors and their support staff remember to wash their hands.
A couple of side notes:
Anyone seeking to understand the deplorable physical condition of the general public need only stroll through the supermarket aisles and see the endless stacks of manufactured sugary shit that pretends to be food in this culture. That whole matrix is coming to and end, too, by the way, but probably not soon enough to save the multitudes programmed into metabolic disorder. They will just have a shorter life-span, aggravated by loss of income in a cratering economy and everything that comes with being impoverished. The doctors themselves by and large know almost nothing about nutrition, and make no organized effort to militate against the homicidal processed food industry - which brings me to the second side note.
Namely, that the diminishing returns of extreme bureaucratization and turbo-specialization in medicine has only made the doctors generally stupider and more inept. My own situation is a case in point. For two years I suffered an array of peculiar symptoms ranging from numb hands to supernatural fatigue. My ex-GP showed no interest in investigating the cause. Even my request for a toxicology workup was essentially shrugged off. I had to become my own doctor. For a while I suspected Lyme disease, which is raging in my corner of the country. I went to see a Lyme specialist who didn't accept insurance (because the insurance companies did not recognize his aggressive treatment protocols as falling within the current "standards of practice" - and this because the medical establishment doesn't know its ass from a hole in the ground about Lyme disease).
Anyway, I asked the Lyme specialist to include a test for cobalt levels in my bloodwork because I thought there was an outside chance I had cobalt poisoning. The reason I thought this was because Google searches of my symptoms kept pointing to metal-on-metal hip replacement failure. I had gotten just such a metal-on-metal hip replacement in 2003. The hardware was developed because the orthopedists wanted to give younger patients a longer-lasting implant. That's when the diminishing returns of technology stepped in and kicked everybody's ass, including mine.
My cobalt blood test came back off-the-charts high. (My many Lyme tests all came back negative.) Wouldn't you know, though, that the Lyme specialist wanted to treat me for Lyme anyway. He ignored the cobalt numbers and wrote out a prescription for $400 worth of antibiotics. He was the proverbial guy with a hammer to whom everything looked like a nail. I declined that course of treatment and instead went to my new GP for a first appointment and asked for an additional cobalt test, along with one for chromium. (My hip implant is an alloy of titanium, cobalt, and chromium.) They both came back way over the toxic level. Apparently, the rotation of the metal joint has been shedding metal ions into my system for nine years.
Next I went to the orthopedic surgeon who put the implant in. He ordered an MRI and xrays and appeared rather concerned. Eventually I was routed to yet another orthopedic surgeon who specializes in "revising" hip implant failures - in particular ones of the type I have, which have been failing at such a staggering rate that the lawyers have assembled one of the greatest litigation feeding frenzies in history. They are going after the manufacturers of these devices.
I have health insurance but I am quite sure that I will be soaked for many thousands of dollars beyond the coverage to resolve this problem, which will involve at least the changing out of the terminal bearings of my implant - if I am lucky. In the meantime, I have to become exactly the kind of pain-in-the-ass patient who asks too many questions so I don't end up crippled, or dead, or taken for ride like a purloined human ATM machine. I suppose I am also lucky that this happened to me soon enough to even have this kind of remedial surgery. Another year or two and I would have just steadily turned purple and croaked like some poor 19th century foundry worker
There's an excellent chance that I will be on the operating table at the same moment that another financial crisis erupts, one that will be orders of magnitude worse than the 2008 Lehman collapse. Won't that be something? I hope that the surgeon and the anesthesiologist, and whoever else happens to be on hand, don't all run out of the room at once to call their investment managers while I'm lying there inert, like a boned-out Thanksgiving turkey. Pray for my ass. I'm a hostage in the system.