Over the Climate Cliff

SUBHEAD: The Doha UN Climate Change Conference going over the "Climate Cliff"?

By Ronald Baily on 7 December 2012 for Reason.com -

Image above: Blue ice of the Perito Mareno glacier in Argentina. From (http://www.funcage.com/blog/the-blue-ice-of-the-perito-moreno-glacier-25-photos/).

The 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is supposed to have wrapped by now. Apparently, the negotiations are going to go into the weekend.

The "climate cliff" phrase in the headline was coined by Bill Hare, the former Greenpeace climate change spokesperson, who put together a couple of weeks back, the World Bank's widely reported study, "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C World Must be Avoided," that warned that the world is catastrophically on track to warm by 4.0 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit). The always objective Hare told The Guardian:
"We have a climate cliff … We're facing a carbon tsunami, actually, where huge amounts of carbon are now being emitted at a faster rate than ever. And it's that carbon tsunami that's likely to overwhelm the planet with warming, sea-level rise and acidifying the oceans."
As usual, the chief sticking point at the conference is how much money the rich countries are supposed to give the poor countries as climate change compensation. Back in 2009, at the failed Copenhagen climate change conference the Obama administration cobbled together a vague promise that the rich countries would give away $100 billion annually in climate compensation by 2020. At Doha, the kleptocrats who run poor countries want the rich countries to promise that the aid will be in the form of grants delivered directly to their coffers - loans and private investments will not be counted.

Also still hanging fire at the conference is whether or not the world's only climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, will be continued. Already, Russia, Canada, and Japan have dropped out of it. The betting is that the European Union will let some weak version of it survive in order to avoid diplomat embarassment (and protect the jobs of bureaucrats that administer it). As background, the price for an allowance to emit ton of carbon dioxide has fallen from 20€ in 2008 to under 7€ today on the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme market.

Finally, at earlier conferences, negotiators agreed to negotiate some kind of "legally-binding" global climate change treaty that would encompass the emissions of fast developing countries like China and india by 2015 that would go into effect by 2020. Apparently, the Chinese are still trying to get out of that obligation.

Will update as (and if) news happens.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: The Doha Perplex 12/4/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Last chance for normal climate? 11/30/12
Ea O Ka Aina: 2012 UN Climate Change Talks 11/28/12


Greece is merely a prelude

SUBHEAD: The very heart of financialization is the counterfeiting of risk-free assets.

By Charles Hughs Smith on 7 December 2012 for Of Two Minds -

Image above: A confident Charles Ponzi in July of 1920. From (http://www.flickriver.com/photos/boston_public_library/5812270409/).

Greece is merely a prelude; the global chain of risk recognition lies just ahead.

The essence of financialization is also the heart of our economy: the counterfeiting of risk-free assets. Think about what is totally dependent on the counterfeiting of risk-free assets:
  1. The mortgage market and thus the housing market.
  2. The derivatives market and thus the entire hedging-risk mechanism of the global financial market.

  3. The sovereign debt market, i.e. government bonds that support deficit spending on a massive scale.
Think about what happens in each of those markets when the real risk is recognized.

Consider housing. The housing bubble was predicated on the fabrication/ counterfeiting of risk-free assets and debt based on the phantom collateral of those assets.

For example: a no-down payment, no-document "liar loan" mortgage is issued to an unqualified buyer for a house with an inflated appraisal--i.e. phantom collateral. The buyer's level of risk is masked, as is the collateral's inflated value.

Given that the buyer cannot actually afford the house without a heavily gamed mortgage (interest only, etc.), the mortgage is toxic, i.e. doomed to default from its origination.

The lender takes this high-risk mortgage and bundles it in with higher quality mortgages and then sells them as a AAA-rated, essentially no-risk mortgage-backed security (MBS).

This risk-free asset is entirely counterfeit.

The same can be said of all the derivatives based on credit default swaps and other financial instruments with phantom collateral and masked levels of risk.

Everyone claims their government bonds are risk-free until they're suddenly not. Greek bonds were risk-free until they were suddenly not, and Japanese government bonds are risk-free until they are not. The same can be said of U.S. Treasuries: they are risk-free until the risk that is being suppressed by the Federal Reserve suddenly breaks free of manipulation/suppression.

The same can be said of the stock market. The "Bernanke Put" has supposedly rendered the stock market nearly risk-free, as the Fed will always act to prevent any serious decline.

Enron and Lehman Brothers stock were essentially risk-free, for example--until they weren't.

Counterfeiting risk-free assets inflates increasingly fragile bubbles of trust, phantom collateral and risk. When the counterfeit risk-free assets are recognized as intrinsically risky, the entire house of cards collapses: stocks, real estate, government bonds and the deficit spending those bonds supported.

Greece is merely prelude; the global chain of risk recognition lies just ahead.


Still punishing Tim DeChristopher

SUBHEAD: Still hounded after a prison sentence for trying to save public land from Bush crony oil drillers.

By Mat McDermott on 4 December 2012 for TreeHugger -

Image above: Photo of Tim DeChristopher/ From original story.

In today's you've got to be effing kidding me category: Climate activist Tim DeChristopher is out of prison, serving the remainder of his two-year sentence at a halfway house in Salt Lake City, Utah. Good news, to a point.

Tim had planned on working at a local Unitarian church—he'd expressed sentiments of moving towards ministry work while in jail. Except that the Federal Bureau of Prisons stepped in and put its jackbooted foot down.

From KSL (ht Mother Jones):
DeChristopher had been offered a job with the church's social justice ministry, which would include working with cases of race discrimination, sex discrimination or other injustices that fall contrary to Unitarian beliefs. 
"The Bureau of Prisons official who interviewed Tim indicated he would not be allowed to work at the Unitarian church because it involved social justice and that was what part of what his crime was," Shea said.
Ken Sanders, proprietor of a downtown rare books store, instead offered DeChristopher a job as a clerk. That employment has been deemed "safe," Shea confirmed.
I wonder if the Bureau of Prisons will make surprise visits at the bookstore to make sure DeChristopher isn't reading any subversive literature, or encouraging people to head towards the social and environmental justice section?

At least Prisons recognizes that Tim was indeed trying to redress serious issues of social justice when he entered the Federal oil and gas lease auction a couple years back. I won't recount the saga, but instead refer you to the links at left for the backstory.

The big question, that very well may have already uncontrollably popped out of your month, is this actually legal?

It very well may be, but it's surely not ethical nor just.

Which brings this full circle to how Tim got into this predicament: Protesting legal but essentially unethical and unjust activities—remember, the very auction DeChristopher participated in was later declared invalid—and then being punished for it.

NOTE: An earlier headline for this article stated that DeChristopher was barred from social justice work while on parole. That was incorrect, as Tim has not yet technically been paroled, even though he is no longer in prison. He still has several more months on his sentence, being serving in the mentioned halfway house.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Prison for Tim DeChristopher 7/27/11

Ea O Ka Aina: Climate Change Civil Disobedience 4/27/11 
Ea O Ka Aina: Environmentalist going to prison 3/4/11
Ea O Ka Aina: One Man's Bid 12/27/08 .


Legal to tote in Washington State

SUBHEAD: It is time we accept that marijuana should be age-regulated like cigarettes or alcohol?

By Mac Slavo on 7 December for SHTF Plan -

Image above: The Dude Abides photo illustration from still frame of movie "The Big Lebowski". From article below.
Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere.
President George Washington in a note to his gardener at Mount Vernon (1794)
Residents of Seattle, Washington lit up publicly and without worry one minute after midnight, relieved that under State law they no longer have to concern themselves over being arrested or prosecuted for the possession and use of marijuana. As of November 2012, medically prescribed marijuana is legal in 18 U.S. states and Washington D.C.

Voters in the states of Colorado and Washington, however, have outright rejected the federal government’s 75 year prohibition on the naturally grown substance by altogether decriminalizing it.

Police in Seattle, Washington have been told to refrain from making any arrests or issuing citations for possession or use in private residences, though ‘firing one up in public’ still carries a $100 fine (something the city won’t be enforcing).
Tonight at midnight, Initiative 502 goes into effect, meaning it’s no longer a violation of state law to use and possess certain quantities of marijuana in Washington. Basically, you can have pot and use pot, but you’re only supposed to use it in the privacy of your own home. 
“Until further notice, officers shall not take any enforcement action—other than to issue a verbal warning—for a violation of I-502.”
If you’re over 21, then starting December 6th you can use marijuana, and possess marijuana—up to an ounce of marijuana buds, 16 ounces of solid marijuana-infused product, like cookies, or 72 ounces of infused liquid, like oil. But it also clearly states that you’re not supposed to use marijuana in public, and that selling it or giving it to anyone is still a felony (the state’s working on setting up a system to license growers and sellers, but it could take up to a year).
Source: Seattle Police Department
SPD spokeman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee explained the position of the department and State of Washington:
“The department’s going to give you a generous grace period to help you adjust to this brave, new, and maybe kinda stoned world we live in.”
He added: “The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a Lord of the Rings marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to.”
The department also posted a picture of actor Jeff Bridges as the cannabis-smoking character “The Dude” from the comedy film “The Big Lebowski”.
Encouraging indoor cannabis smoking, it carried the caption: “The Dude abides, and says, ‘take it inside!”
The question now becomes whether or not Federal statutes override the States.

In California, where medically prescribed marijuana was legalized in 1996, a network of local growers and dispensaries has come under fire from Federal drug enforcement and tax agencies, with one of the largest shops in Los Angeles having been raided as recently as last June.

Despite decriminalization by over one third of State governments, the U.S. Department of Justice maintains that marijuana is a Schedule I narcotic similar to heroin, LSD and meth. According to federal law, marijuana has no accepted medical use in the United States and therefore cannot be legally prescribed by doctors.

This now sets the stage for a Constitutional battle between States and the Federal government. Under the 10th Amendment, any powers not delegated to the United States (as a federal entity), nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Clearly, the U.S. Constitution does not make mention of marijuana, and thus applicable laws surrounding its sale, possession and use are reserved solely for the people of each State.

Is it time we accept that it’s 4:20 in some parts of America and that marijuana should be age-regulated like cigarettes or alcohol? Or should the federal government step in?

Seattle Police goes Big Lebowski

The Seattle Police Department is really rocking this I-502 marijuana legalization thing for all its worth. In what feels like the PR equivalent of sharing a bowl with the public, the agency - via hired-pen Jonah Spangenthal-Lee - has now released two truly epic statements (each featuring at least one Lord of the Rings reference) on the state of marijuana enforcement in Seattle. You probably saw the first on the Rachel Maddow show, or just about anywhere else you looked.

*See Also: SPD's Comprehensive Guide to Smoking Hella Weed in Seattle

Spangenthal-Lee's latest gem - featuring a photo Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski - hit the SPD Blotter blog at around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night, less than six hours before possession of up to an ounce of processed pot was set to become legal under Washington state law for adults 21 and older.

It's fantastic -- the new marijuana law, and SPD's latest marijuana-related statement. And the latter is the kind of once unimaginable, frank pot talk from law enforcement that would seem to ensure the media attention and Maddow fist-bumps are going to keep coming for Seattle's police force. Turns out it's thrilling and fascinating and disorienting and awesome to watch the cops on the front lines of marijuana legalization act totally rad about it. And from a public relations standpoint, that's what SPD has managed to accomplish through its blog and Spangenthal-Lee's weed jokes.

"Tonight at midnight, Initiative 502 goes into effect, meaning it's no longer a violation of state law to use and possess certain quantities of marijuana in Washington. Basically, you can have pot and use pot, but you're only supposed to use it in the privacy of your own home," the statement opens.
It continues:
And this is what the Seattle Police Department is telling its 1300+ officers tonight via email about public marijuana use (full email posted below): "Until further notice, officers shall not take any enforcement action--other than to issue a verbal warning--for a violation of I-502."
Above is the message everyone came to see. Honestly, it would have been enough. SPD could have stopped there and got plenty of props for its reaction to Washington's new stance on weed.
But Spangenthal-Lee wasn't done. Far from it ...
So why won't SPD be citing people for openly using marijuana in public? Here's where things get a bit complicated for your friendly neighborhood police department: the Seattle Police Department is in the business of law enforcement and, as of today, the Revised Code of Washington or Seattle Municipal Code don't contain anything that gives officers clear direction on how to deal with the provisions of I-502 prohibiting public use of marijuana. What's more, it could take at least another 30 days for the state or city to craft legislation which would give officers the ability to cite not-so-courteous people for lighting up in public. 
In the meantime, in keeping with the spirit of I-502, the department's going to give you a generous grace period to help you adjust to this brave, new, and maybe kinda stoned world we live in.
Awesome, right?
There's so much more ...
Does this mean you should flagrantly roll up a mega-spliff and light up in the middle of the street? No. If you're smoking pot in public, officers will be giving helpful reminders to folks about the rules and regulations under I-502 (like not smoking pot in public). But the police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a Lord of the Rings marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to. 
Also, please remember it's still not legal to drive stoned, use marijuana in a public place or anywhere else smoking a cigarette is prohibited.
If you have questions about enforcement we haven't answered here or in our Marijwhatnow FAQ, send them to us on Twitter via @SeattlePD.
And remember, folks: the dude abides, and so can you!

The Dude abides, and says "take it inside!"
As of last night at 10 p.m. Spangenthal-Lee's now-famous "Marijwhatnow?" post had received 37K Facebook "Likes." His latest effort, in three hours of work, had garnered 358 "Likes" and counting.
My guess is there's plenty more to come.


Kill the Economy

SUBHEAD: We don’t need to spit shine the assault on life. We don’t need a new brand of exploitation. We need deindustrialization.

By John Duffy on 5 December 2012 for Nature Bats Last -

Image above: Heart of the beast. Venezuelan oil refinery explosion and fire killed dozens in August 2012. From (http://stopmakingsense.org/2012/08/30/union-wants-venezuelas-oil-minister-to-resign-usa-today/).

I want to start this with the written equivalent of a sigh. Not even a sigh, but a deep expulsion of exhaustion from the very core of my being. Usually I try to write with flowery prose, attempting to adorn logic and rationale with a tinge of poetry. Not today. My feeling as I sit here is that I shouldn’t have to be sitting here. What I’m writing shouldn’t need to be written, because it’s already been written. In fact, rather than writing this, I’d like to be able to look everyone in the eye, and say, “cut the shit.”

We are going to go extinct, and we are going to probably drag a large majority of the other species on this planet into that permanent abyss of nothingness with us if we don’t stop jerking off, and take some real action now. The die off has begun.

It is not theoretical. It is not this ethereal “what if” that hovers over some distant tomorrow.

Right now, it is estimated that over one hundred species are going extinct every day. Every god damn day. The Arctic sea ice is melting faster than was predicted, positive feedback loops have begun kicking in as methane is released from melting permafrost, and the oceans are rising in acidity killing off the phytoplankton which provide us with the majority of the oxygen that we breathe.

But this has all been said, and still, here we are. So the saying is not enough, because no one is believing it. Even the people who say they accept that climate change is real and that it poses a grave threat, don’t really believe it. Their actions prove that. They still get up and go to work and watch TV and upgrade their cell phones. I’ve been thinking about the economy lately. People seem to love this thing called “the economy.”

No one knows why they love it or why they are so interested in preserving it or encouraging it to grow. It’s a self evident truth. One of those unquestioned premises slipped by us so early on that we kind of just assume “the economy” is a naturally occurring thing which must always be protected like some runt lamb weak from an illness at birth.

I’ve been thinking about the types of things conventional wisdom claims are good for the economy. Let’s list them, shall we? Prisons. Drug prohibition. Debt. Wall Street financial wizardry such as derivatives. Bank bailouts. Corporate welfare of many stripes. The pharmaceutical industry. The insurance industry.

Unaffordable housing. The college loan racket. Mind boggling wealth disparity. Greed. Materialism. An advertising industry hell bent on making people, especially young women, hate themselves so they will buy a bunch of shit to make themselves feel better very temporarily. Environmental degradation of every kind, from deforestation to toxic waste storage, nuclear power to mountain top removal for coal, tar sands extraction and deep water drilling.

Oh, and don’t forget war. Economists and politicians love telling us how good war is for the economy. You know, the mass murder of entire populations? Poisoning entire landscapes with depleted uranium. Yeah, this is all just a real shot in the arm for the “economy.”

So, reigning this all back in for a moment, let’s summarize; all of the worst shit is good for the “economy.” The “economy” seems to feed on the misery of the human species, while also eradicating every other species who is deemed “inconvenient” or “unnecessary.”

When I think about myself, and ask, “What are the things I need to survive and to be happy?” the list is much different. I need clean, drinkable water. I need clean, breathable air. I need clean, healthy soil capable of supporting plant life so I can eat. I need clean, viable wild spaces where animals and birds and fish and insects can thrive. I need community. I need love and laughter and song and spirit.

Notice anything about this second list? None of these things, not one of them, requires an “economy.” In fact, the “economy” is actually quite destructive to all of the things I need to live and to be happy. Looking at it plainly, the “economy” seems to be a giant, insatiably hungry monster that seeks to destroy everything human beings require.

It’s a radioactive Godzilla that smashes and devours everything that is wonderful and holy, and instead of sending out the troops to make battle against this beast, we worship it. We feed it. We continually do all of the things that help this monster gain in strength and size, no matter what wonderful and beloved beings and places must be sacrificed on its altar.

This is fucked. Straight fucked. We should be working quickly and decisively to drive a massive stake through this bloodsucking, Earth raping, leviathan’s heart!

If we want to avoid extinction, if we have gotten used to this whole being alive, and living on the planet and like, having kids and stuff thing, then we must see the “economy” for the great evil that it is. All of our attention must turn toward its immediate destruction.

Of course, there are a bunch of people who will read this and feel the need to push up their glasses from the bridge of their snotty nose and then point out to me how “Actually, the economy is just a method by which resources are distributed to the people in a fair and…bla bla bla…” Save it!

All the cleverer-than-thou, professional internet assholes can just fucking save it. The “economy” is not just this invisible sum total of our efforts to equitably distribute resources and make sure our needs are met. Look around. A vast, vast minority of the human race has access to wealth beyond measure, while an overwhelming majority has next to nothing. To make matters worse, what very little the global poor do have is stolen from them by the wealthy, as the wealthy claim these poverty stricken people owe them for debts.

This is naked insanity. If the “economy” is the sum total of an honest attempt at equitable resource distribution, then it has failed. Game over. It isn’t working. What it is doing is immiserating the majority of the human population while simultaneously wiping out the Earth’s ability to harbor life at all. A quick glance even here in the wealthy west betrays to me that the “economy” is the sum total of our collective misery.

Millions of us going to boring, mindless, meaningless, soul crushing jobs every day so we can pay for the luxury of getting to live on the land where we were born, and to pay off further debts that we apparently also owe to the wealthiest handful of humans. Where is a guillotine when you need one?

So let’s add it up, and cut the B.S. The climate is changing even more rapidly than the majority of climate scientists estimated. The land is drought stricken, the oceanic food chain is watching it’s foundation go extinct, methane hydrates are venting from the Arctic Ocean speeding up atmospheric warming, etc. etc. long story short, the shit is hitting the fan. The only reason ever proffered for delaying any meaningful action to mitigate our ultimate demise is some made up fart in the breeze called the “economy.”

This false religion, this cannibalistic Wendigo of a deity invented by high priests with fancy degrees and expensive suits subsists on our collective humiliation and death. Now that we get this, let’s stop even discussing the issue within the parameters set by those who profit from our misery.

When some schnook tells you that shutting down tar sand extraction or mountain top removal coal mining would be bad for the economy, don’t try to offset his concerns. Don’t try to play to his premise by offering that “green energy” will create X amount of new jobs. Stand tall, look him in his black, soulless eyes and emphatically state, “Good! Fuck the economy!”

While we’re on the topic, so called “progressives” need to get off this green energy kick, this eco-wise fantasy about some future where our lives are exactly the same, but everything we do is accomplished just a little differently with a sustainable twist. If we want to not die, then we need to stop doing the things that are going to kill us.

We don’t need to spit shine the assault on life. We don’t need a new brand of exploitation. We need deindustrialization, and we need to wring the bloody neck of capitalism, before hanging it, drawing it, quartering it, and setting the remaining bits of its corpse on fire to make sure it can’t rise from the dead like the unholy zombie that it is. But then again, maybe I’m crazy for assuming avoiding extinction is something most people could get behind.

This is all to say, I can’t fight my enemies and my allies at the same time. Liberals, lefties, environmentalists and everyone else who purports to give a damn has to give up on being capitalism apologists who somehow think we can keep this gravy train of mass consumption going and that there will be joy, abundance, and a hydrogen powered car for all.

Recognize that our culture, our habits, and our way of seeing the world and interacting with it are the root cause of the converging crises we face.

Recognize it, or else be just as much of an obstruction to life as the “economy” and all those who grovel at it’s blood soaked feet.


Consuming Democracy

SUBHEAD: Real democracy, meaning the sort of democracy that is capable of existing in the real world, is always plagued with corruption.

By John Michael Greer on 5 December 2012 for Archdruid Report -

Image above: US Supreme Court justices sporting corporate consumer brands. From (http://snippits-and-slappits.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-fascist-origins-of-corporate.html).

For most of a year now, my posts here on The Archdruid Report have focused on the nature, rise, and impending fall of America’s global empire. It’s been a long road and, as usual, it strayed in directions I wasn’t expecting to explore when this sequence of posts began last winter. Still, as I see it, we’ve covered all the core issues except one, and that’s the question of what can and should be done as the American empire totters to its end.

Regular readers will know already that this question isn’t going to be answered with some grandiose scheme for salvaging, replacing, transforming, or dismantling America’s empire, of the sort popular with activists on both sides of an increasingly irrelevant political spectrum—the sort of project that merely requires all those who hold political and economic power to hand it over meekly to some cabal of unelected ideologues, so that the latter can once again learn the hard way that people won’t behave like angels no matter what set of theories is applied to them.

At the same time, there are choices still open to Americans and others in an era of imperial decline; we’re not limited, unless we choose to be, to huddling in our basements until the rubble stops bouncing.

Mind you, there are at least two things welded firmly enough in place in our near future that no action of yours, mine, or anyone’s will change them. The first is that America’s global empire will fall; the second is that those who rule it will not let it fall without a struggle. The US government and the loose and fractious alliance of power centers that dominate it are clearly unwilling to take Britain’s path, and accept the end of empire in exchange for a relatively untraumatic imperial unraveling.

To judge by all the evidence that’s currently available, they’ll cling to the shreds of imperial power, and the wealth and privilege that goes with it, until the last of those shreds are pulled from their cold stiff hands. That’s a common boast, but it bears remembering that the moment always comes when those shreds get pried loose from those pale and rigid fingers.

These two hard facts, the imminence of imperial downfall and the unwillingess of the existing order to accept that imminence, impose certain consequences on the decades ahead of us. Some of the most obvious of those consequences are economic. The American standard of living, as I’ve pointed out more than once, has been buoyed to its current frankly absurd level by a tribute economy that funnels much of the wealth of the world to the the United States.

We’ve all heard the self-congratulatory nonsense that insists that this nation’s prosperity is a product of American ingenuity or what have you, but let us please be real; nothing Americans do—nothing, that is, other than maintaining garrisons in more than 140 countries and bombing the bejesus out of nations that get too far out of line—justifies the fact that the five per cent of humanity that can apply for a US passport get to use a quarter of the planet’s energy and a third of its natural resources and industrial product.

As our empire ends, that vast imbalance will go away forever. It really is as simple as that. In the future now breathing down our necks, Americans will have to get used to living, as our not so distant ancestors did, on a much more modest fraction of the world’s wealth—and they’ll have to do it, please remember, at a time when the ongoing depletion of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources, and the ongoing disruption of the environment, are making ever sharper inroads on the total amount of wealth that’s there to distribute in the first place.

That means that everything that counts as an ordinary American lifestyle today is going to go away in the decades ahead of us. It also means that my American readers, not to mention everyone else in this country, are going to be very much poorer in the wake of empire than they are today.

That’s a sufficiently important issue that I’ve discussed it here a number of times already, and it bears repeating. All too many of the plans currently in circulation in the green end of US alternative culture covertly assume that we’ll still be able to dispose of wealth on the same scale as we do today.

The lifeboat ecovillages beloved by the prepper end of that subculture, just as much as the solar satellites and county-sized algal biodiesel farms that feature in the daydreams of their green cornucopian counterparts, presuppose that such projects can be supplied with the startup capital, the resources, the labor, and all the other requirements they need.

The end of American empire means that these things aren’t going to happen. To judge by previous examples, it will take whatever global empire replaces ours some decades to really get the wealth pump running at full speed and flood its own economy with a torrent of unearned wealth. By the time that happens, the decline in global wealth driven by resource depletion and environmental disruption will make the sort of grand projects Americans envisioned in our empire’s glory days a fading memory all over the world.

Thus we will not get the solar satellites or the algal biodiesel, and if the lifeboat ecovillages appear, they’ll resemble St. Benedict’s original hovel at Monte Cassino much more than the greenwashed Levittowns so often proposed these days. Instead, as the natural systems that undergird industrial civilization crumble away, industrial societies will lose the capacity to accomplish anything at all beyond bare survival—and eventually that, too, will turn out to be more than they can do.

That’s the shape of our economic future. My more attentive readers will have noticed, though, that it says little about the shape of our political future, and that latter deserves discussion. One of the lessons of history is that peoples with nearly identical economic arrangements can have radically different political institutions, affording them equally varied access to civil liberties and influence on the decisions that shape their lives. Thus it’s reasonable and, I think, necessary to talk about the factors that will help define the political dimension of America’s post-imperial future—and in particular, the prospects for democracy in the wake of imperial collapse.

There are at least two barriers to that important conversation. The first is the weird but widespread notion that the word “democracy”—or, if you will, “real democracy”—stands for a political system in which people somehow don’t do the things they do in every other political system, such as using unfair advantages of various kinds to influence the political process. Let’s start with the obvious example. How often, dear reader, have you heard a pundit or protester contrasting vote fraud, say, or bribery of public officials with “real democracy”?

Yet real democracy, meaning the sort of democracy that is capable of existing in the real world, is always plagued with corruption.
  • If you give people the right to dispose of their vote however they wish, after all, a fair number of them will wish to sell that vote to the highest bidder in as direct a fashion as the local laws allow.
  •  If you give public officials the responsibility to make decisions, a fair number of them will make those decisions for their own private benefit.
  • If you give voters the right to choose public officials, in turn, and give candidates for public office the chance to convince the public to choose them, you’ve guaranteed that a good many plausible rascals will be elected to office, because that’s who the people will choose. 
That can’t be avoided without abandoning democracy altogether.

Now of course there’s a significant minority of people who react to the inherent problems of democracy by insisting that it should be abandoned altogether, and replaced with some other system portrayed in suitably rose-colored terms—usually, though not always, something along the lines referred to earlier, in which an unelected cabal of ideologues gets to tell everyone else what to do. The claim that some such project will provide better government than democracies do, though, has been put to the test more times than I care to count, and it consistently fails. Winston Churchill was thus quite correct when he said that democracy is the worst possible system of government, except for all the others; what makes democracy valuable is not that it’s so wonderful, but that every other option has proven itself, in practice, to be so much worse.

Just now, furthermore, democracy has another significant advantage: it doesn’t require the complicated infrastructure of industrial society. The current United States constitution was adopted at a time when the most technologically sophisticated factories in the country were powered by wooden water wheels, and presidents used to be inaugurated on March 4th to give them enough time to get to Washington on horseback over muddy winter roads. (The date wasn’t moved to January 20 until 1933.)
America was still anything but industrialized in the 1820s, the decade that kickstarted the boisterous transformations that sent an aristocratic republic where only the rich could vote careering toward ever more inclusive visions of citizenship. In the deindustrial future, when the prevailing economic forms and standards of living may resemble those of the 1790s or 1820s much more closely than they do those of today, that same constitution will be right at home, and will arguably work better than it has since the imperial tribute economy began flooding the country with unearned wealth.

There’s just one problem with this otherwise appealing prospect, which is that American democracy at the moment is very nearly on its last legs. A great many people are aware of this fact, but most of them blame it on the machinations of some evil elite or other. Popular though this notion is, I’d like to suggest that it’s mistaken. Of course there are plenty of greedy and power-hungry people in positions of wealth and influence, and there always are.

By and large, people don’t get wealth and influence unless they have a desire for wealth and influence, and “having a desire for wealth and influence” is simply another way of saying “greedy and power-hungry.” Every political and economic system, especially those that claim to be motivated solely by the highest of ideals, attracts people who are greedy and power-hungry. Political systems that work, by definition, are able to cope with the perennial habit that human beings have of trying to get wealth and power they haven’t earned. The question that needs to be asked is why ours is failing to cope with that today.

The answer is going to require us to duck around some of the most deeply ingrained habits of popular thought, so we’ll take it a step at a time.

We can define democracy, for the sake of the current discussion, as a form of government in which ordinary citizens have significant influence over the people and policies that affect their lives. That influence—the effective ability of citizens to make their voices heard in the corridors of power—is a fluid and complex thing. In most contemporary democracies, it’s exercised primarily through elections in which officials can be thrown out of office and replaced by somebody else.

When a democracy’s more or less healthy, that’s an effective check; there are always other people angling for any office, whether it’s president or town dogcatcher, and an official who wants to hold onto her office needs to glance back constantly over her shoulder to make sure that her constituents aren’t irritated enough at her to throw their support to one of her rivals.

The entire strategy of political protest depends on the threat of the next election. Why would it matter to anybody anywhere if a bunch of activists grab signs and go marching down Main Street, or for that matter down the Mall in Washington DC? Waving signs and chanting slogans may be good aerobic exercise, but that’s all it is; it has no effect on the political process unless it delivers a meaningful message to the politicians or the people. When protest matters, the message to the politicians is blunt: “This matters enough to us that we’re willing to show up and march down the street, and it should matter to you, too, if you want our votes next November.”

The message to the people is less direct but equally forceful: “All these people are concerned about this issue; if you’re already concerned about it, you’re not alone; if you aren’t, you should learn more about it”—and the result, again, is meant to show up in the polls at the next election.

You’ll notice that the strategy of protest thus only means anything if the protesters have the means, the motive, and the opportunity to follow through on these two messages. The politicians need to be given good reason to think that ignoring the protesters might indeed get them thrown out of office; the people need to be given good reason to think that the protesters speak for a significant fraction of the citizenry, and that their concerns are worth hearing. If these are lacking, again, it’s just aerobic exercise.

That, in turn, is why protest in America has become as toothless as it is today. Perhaps, dear reader, you went to Washington DC sometime in the last decade to join a protest march to try to pressure the US government into doing something about global warming.

 If the president just then was a Democrat, he didn’t have to pay the least attention to the march, no matter how big and loud it was; he knew perfectly well that he could ignore all the issues that matter to you, break his campaign promises right and left, and plagiarize all the most hated policies of the previous occupant of the White House, without the least political risk to himself.

All he had to do come election time is wave the scary Republicans at you, and you’d vote for him anyway. If he was a Republican, in turn, he knew with perfect certainty that you weren’t going to vote for him no matter what he did, and so he could ignore you with equal impunity.

No matter what party he belonged to, furthermore, the president also had a very good idea how many of the protesters were going to climb into their otherwise unoccupied SUVs for the drive back home to their carbon-hungry lifestyles; he knew that if he actually wanted to make them change those lifestyles—say, by letting the price of gasoline rise to European levels—most of them would chuck their ideals in an eyeblink and turn on him with screams of indignation; and a phone call to the Secretary of Energy would remind him that any meaningful response to climate change would require such steps as letting the price of gas rise to European levels.

 He knew perfectly well, in other words, that most of the protesters didn’t actually want him to do what they claimed they wanted him to do; they wanted to feel good about doing something to save the Earth, but didn’t want to put up with any of the inconveniences that would be involved in any real movement in that direction, and so attending a protest march offered them an easy way to have their planet and eat it too.

It’s only fair to say that the same logic applies with precisely equal force on the other side of the line. If, dear reader, the protest march you attended was in support of some allegedly conservative cause—well, it wasn’t actually conservative, to begin with; the tiny minority of authentic conservatives in this country have been shut out of the political conversation for decades, but that’s an issue for another post—the man in the White House had no more reason to worry about your opinions than he had to fret about the liberal protest the week before.

If he was a Republican, he knew that he could ignore your concerns and his own campaign promises, and you’d vote for him anyway once he waved the scary Democrats at you. If he was a Democrat, he knew that you’d vote against him no matter what. Either way, in turn, he had a very good idea how many of the people out there who were denouncing drug abuse and waving pro-life and family-values placards fell all over themselves to find excuses for Rush Limbaugh’s drug bust, and paid for abortions when they knocked up the teenage girlfriends their wives don’t know about.

Does this mean that protest marches are a waste of time? Not at all. Nor does it mean that any of the other venerable means of exerting pressure on politicians are useless. The problem is not in these measures themselves; it’s the absence of something else that makes them toothless.

That something else was discussed in an earlier post in this sequence: grassroots political organization. That’s where political power comes from in a democratic society, and without it, all the marches and petitions and passionate rhetoric in the world are so much empty noise. Through most of American history, the standard way to put this fact to work was to get involved in an existing political party at the caucus level and start leaning on the levers that, given time and hard work, shift the country’s politics out of one trajectory and into another.

These days, both parties have been so thoroughly corrupted into instruments of top-down manipulation on the part of major power centers and veto groups that trying to return them to useful condition is almost certainly a waste of time. At the same time, the fact that US politics is not currently dominated by Federalists and Whigs shows that even a resolutely two-party political culture is now and then subject to the replacement of one party by another, if the new party on the block takes the time to learn what works, and then does it.

The point I’m trying to explore here can be made in an even more forceful way. Protest marches, like letter-writing campaigns and other means of putting pressure on politicians, have no power in and of themselves; their effect depends on the implied promise that the politicians will be held accountable to their choices come election time, and that promise depends, in turn, on the existence of grassroots political organization strong enough to make a difference in the voting booth.

It’s the grassroots organization, we might as well say, that produces democracy; marches and other methods of pressuring politicians are simply means of consuming democracy—and when everyone wants to consume a product but nobody takes the time and trouble to produce it, sooner or later you get a shortage.

We have a severe and growing democracy shortage here in America. In next week’s post, I’ll talk about some of the things that will be necessary to increase the supply.


Letter to Abercrombie on PLDC

SOURCE: Carol Hart (carol@hartfeltkauai.com)
SUBHEAD: I fear that this will be your Waterloo, because it is important enough that we will not forgive or forget if you let the law go into effect.

By Stephen Fox on 4 December 2012 for Free Hawaii -

Image above: Hawaiians demonstrating against the PLDC and for repeal of its authorization. From same source.

Dear Governor Abercrombie,

I am writing to voice my strong support for repeal of Act 55 for establishment of the Public Land Development Corporation. I am not remotely hysterical, and I most definitely not one of the “usual suspects,” as you characterize opponents of the PLDC.

I have never been overtly involved in an issue like this. I have been subtly involved in some issues, for instance, I wrote and recorded the music for the “Town Hall” campaign ads in your gubernatorial race, and I wrote a series of articles for the Honolulu Weekly regarding Act 221 related legislation a number of years ago. I have never, however, been an activist by any stretch of the imagination. This issue has moved me to become actively involved.

This legislation is dangerously written and could affect life in the islands in perpetuity. The PLDC is being handed carte blanche control to develop some of the most treasured lands in Hawai`i with no mechanism of accountability and only weak, toothless avenues for public input.

The only responsibility of the PLDC is to generate revenue, which is a tragically short-sighted purview for a group tasked to steward public resources. In reading the law, I actually find no mention of accountability regarding even how lucrative revenue generation might be. There is certainly no provision for competitive bidding or planning review. At its core, Act 55 grants absolute authority to the PLDC to streamline any activity by any developer who can convince three of five appointed officials that they have a good idea, however they want to define “good idea.”

It is this massive scope of powers over a million acres of land that is most disturbing. The authority is absolute, and the law eliminates previous checks and controls, especially for neighbor islanders who lose any real mechanism for control of their lands and resources.

Wording of the legislation is so vague that there is no onus on the PLDC to provide anything more than cursory notifications, and there is no recourse if the PLDC acts entirely against community interests. This sets several dangerous precedents, and there is no assurance that future governors will appoint boards with any interest at heart but that of developers. Indeed, the only beneficiaries of this act seem to be developers who are given a fast-tracked route to have their way with the land.

This measure passed quickly and was drastically rewritten without public input. I do not believe that even you or the legislators have thought this through thoroughly. Hawaiian Homesteads land is included, as well as many culturally and ecologically sensitive areas.

The 1993 apology the 103rd Congress, Joint Resolution 19 regarding the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy actually casts the entire issue of state control over these lands into some question, and irresponsible decisions will provide impetus and opportunity for litigation. These are federal issues that will supersede State legislation. An interminable string of legal challenges on many fronts will be your legacy if you allow this law to stand.

I am not an alarmist. I am, however, able to read and evaluate evidence, and what I see in this Act is not in the interest of the people or `aina of Hawai`i.

We are asked to trust that the rules, when established, will protect us, but the PLDC is already in practical negotiation with developers and has an established track record for ignoring public input. The entire law was passed with an unusual disregard for public process. My distrust is so strong that I am now reluctantly moved to become involved.

Governor Abercrombie, I have been a quiet supporter of you for many years. I now must be vocal, and it pains me that I must find my voice in opposition to you on this issue. I and many like me who have had your back and given you our votes will not stand for this abuse of public resources and trust.

I fear that this will be your Waterloo, because it is important enough that we will not forgive or forget if you let the law go into effect. I hope you will change your position on this quickly, before too much damage is done across your constituency. This is my first letter to a public official, but it will not be my last.

I wish you well,

Stephen Fox, PhD

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: PLDC effort has earned disrespect 11/25/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Dela Cruz & PLDC Repeal 11/23/12
Ea O Ka Aina: PLDC seeking Chinese Bubble 10/7/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaii rallies against PLDC 10/5/12
Ea O Ka Aina: PLDC New Rules 10/4/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Actions to overturn PLDC
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Council to vote PLDC
Ea O Ka Aina: Abercrombie Booed
Ea O Ka Aina: Abercrombie on Kauai for PLDC
Ea O Ka Aina: Repeal the PLDC Act 55
Ea O Ka Aina: PLDC Ceded Land Finale
Ea O Ka Aina: PLDC Rejected by Public
Ea O Ka Aina: Cold Water in the Face
Ea O Ka Aina: Public Land Development Corporation
Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaii Legislative Subterfuge
Ea O Ka Aina: From the Inside Out
Ea O Ka Aina: Abercrombie Land Grab
Ea O Ka Aina: Privitizing Public Land


City Lover's Guide to Detroit

SUBHEAD: The Motor City offers plenty for people excited about urban life and community revitalization.

By Jay Walljasper on 2 December 2012 for On the Commons -

Image above: Christmastime at Shed #2 at the Eastern Market offering local farm offerings in Detroit. From (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eastern_Market_Detroit_MI_Shed_2_facade.jpg).

Eastern Market, one of the nation’s largest public markets, is a source of pride, as well as fresh food, for Detroiters.

For those of us who love cities in all their giddy gritty glory, the Motor City awaits. Although struggling in recent decades Detroit still offers experiences you expect from a world-class city: heartstopping architecture, a bustling waterfront, topnotch art, convivial nightlife, great food, picturesque city squares, a jam-packed public market, memorable strolls and a spirit of cooperation that’s bringing genuine change.

Apart from the tourist sites, there is also a flourishing grassroots movement to put the city back on its feet. Not willing to see their city deteriorate further, many citizen-led groups are embracing the ideals of the commons in areas such as public water, local food and housing. At the same time, an unprecedented philanthropic effort to reinvigorate Detroit is underway through projects such as the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program at Wayne State University, which tapped 29 young professionals— some from Detroit, some from around the country— to become part of organizations working to revive the city.

Let me start this tour of the city with a confession. Despite being a lifelong Midwesterner and veteran travel writer, I have always avoided Detroit. I expected to be depressed by seeing a once-grand place battered by economic disinvestment and all-for-the-auto urban planning. I finally made the trip two years ago, and witnessed scenes of abandonment and decay that almost broke my heart—but also examples of perseverance and creativity that stirred my soul.

Surprise, Surprise

Surprises abound, beginning with the fact that you can actually see a lot of the Motor City comfortably on foot. Woodward Avenue offers an intriguing urban promenade covering two miles between Midtown and Downtown—the nuclei of Detroit’s revitalization. Home to Wayne State University and the Detroit Institute of Arts, Midtown is a haven for the young and the hip.

Stroll south on Woodward Avenue from the DIA, and you’ll see new housing and office developments with shops on the ground floor in the classic urban style—signs of Midtown’s building boom. There’s actually a housing shortage in Midtown right now, as burgeoning numbers of young people along with employees of Wayne State and the nearby Henry Ford Health System and Detroit Medical Center seek to move into the neighborhood.

Coming into downtown, you’ll pass pass Grand Circus Park, one of several landscaped squares downtown laid out 300 years ago as part of the city’s European-style street plan. Handsome mid-rise buildings line Woodward and surrounding avenues, a number of them empty but not detracting too much from the overall sense of vitality. Campus Martius—an inviting square renovated in 2004 to include a café, music stage, ice rink and mesmerizing fountain—lured $500 million in new development to adjacent blocks.

Woodward Avenue meets the Detroit River at Hart Plaza, the social focal point of downtown and site of many festivals throughout the summer. Check out the iconic sculpture of boxer Joe Louis’s arm and the deeply moving Underground Railroad Memorial showing escaped slaves looking across the river toward Canada.

Rolling on the River

Another pleasurable stroll is the River Walk, which edges the turquoise Detroit River five miles from downtown to Belle Isle, a Frederick Law Olmstead park with sweeping lawns and landscaped lagoons occupying a 982-acre island. (Or see the sights on a rental bike.)

You’ll pass Renaissance Center, GM headquarters and a showpiece of the 1970s strategy to renew downtowns by concentrating new development in fortresses set apart from everything else. A short ways up the path, you can enjoy a picnic or just kick back shadow of the lighthouse in William A. Milliken State Park, Michigan’s first urban state park. It’s the trailhead for the DeQuindre Cut Greenway, a rail line fashioned into an oasis-like biking and hiking trail leading one mile to edge of the Eastern Market—which features 250 vendors from the region, plus surrounding blocks filled with bountiful bakeries, meat markets and specialty gourmet shops.

Corktown, next-door to Midtown, draws young people with its plentiful loft apartments and hipsterati hot spots like Slow’s Bar BQ and the Sugar House. Stirrings of revitalization can also be felt in Southwest Detroit—an immigrant haven that registers the lowest family income of any area in Detroit but nonetheless shows many signs of a thriving community. Roughly 40 percent African-American, 40 percent Latino and 20 percent white, it’s home to active community organizations, small businesses, ethnic restaurants, intact historic neighborhoods and a walkable commercial district along Vernor Highway that would please Jane Jacobs.

Hamtramck, an independent city enclosed by the North side of Detroit, once a bastion of Polish immigrants is now a racially diverse community favored by Bangladeshis, Arabs, Bosnians, Albanians and young people of all backgrounds, according to Fellow Tom Habitz, who bought a bungalow there. You’ll find great Bangladeshi food at Aladdin, exquisite crafts and imports (plus a treasure trove of polka recordings) at the Polish Art Center and live indy rock at clubs scattered throughout town.

What About the Ruins?

You wouldn’t go to Athens or Rome without seeing the ruins, and neither would many visitors to Detroit. The city’s industrial freefall and corresponding plummet in population (from 1,850,000 in 1950 to 700,000 today) has resulted in some spectacular scenes of devastation—painstakingly documented by photographers in a new genre dubbed “ruin porn”.

The two best examples are: 1) Michigan Central Railroad Depot, an imposing 18-story train station on the edge of Corktown where every single pane of glass is busted out; and 2) the Packard Plant, a 3,5000,000 square-foot auto factory by eminent architect Albert Kahn on East Grand Boulevard, which was abandoned in 1958 and later made musical history as the site where techno music gained popularity at raves in the late 1980s.

Dancing in the Streets

Less than four miles west on Grand Boulevard is an even more world-renown musical shrine —a modest frame house where Berry Gordy lived on the 2nd Floor and superstars like Stevie Wonder, the Jacksons, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and Four Tops recorded a stream of hits downstairs. It’s a religious experience to enter the small Motown Records studio with the original Steinway piano, Hammond B-3 organ and furnishings. You can see the dining room table that served as the company’s shipping department, the couch where Marvin Gaye sometimes slept after all-night recording sessions, and the desk where a receptionist named Martha Reeves greeted visitors. The same Martha Reeves who later sang one of the most memorable odes extolling the sheer exuberance of city life:
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancin’ in the streets
They’re dancin’ in Chicago
Down in New Orleans
Up in New York City…
Philadelphia, PA
Baltimore and DC now

Yeah, don’t forget the Motor City
(Can’t forget the Motor City)

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas got it right back in 1964— anyone who truly savors urban life can’t forget the Motor City.

Land for Food

SOURCE: David Ward (ward.david7@gmail.com)
SUBHEAD: The history of food production, and agricultural land on Kauai is misunderstood by too many.

By Adam ASquith on 3 December 2012 for the Garden Island -

Image above: Apiarist Oliver Shagnasty treats his bees like people. Originally caught in the wild, his "employees" produce an all-natural honey on his small farm on Kauai. From (http://www.coolhunting.com/food-drink/shagnasty-honey.php).

This is written in response to the Nov. 14 article in The Garden Island regarding the Kealia subdivision and the comments and questions being raised before the Planning Commission.

Some bizarre politicking aside, the questions raised about agriculture and food production show a deep misunderstanding of this issue that is leading to extraordinarily poor planning decisions.

The crux of the issue is the belief that we need large, contiguous areas of agricultural land, without houses, to conduct agriculture and grow food here on Kaua‘i. This is simply not true and is inconsistent with our history and current operations.

Despite our misnomer of “the Garden Island,” Kaua‘i has some of the poorest agricultural soils in the world. For this reason, during our only period of sustainable agriculture, pre-European contact, almost none of the land currently zoned for agriculture produced food. It was attempted and failed and reverted to sustainable gathering activities.

Most of the current “ag land” is zoned as an historical artifact of the sugar plantations which grew a flavor enhancer and drug as an export commodity, not food.

We did produce pineapple as a food product, but only because it is uniquely suited to our acidic conditions and then only through monumental and unsustainable efforts that have left a terrible legacy in our soils, such as at Moloa‘a.

Even today, the large tracts of “ag land” largely do not produce food. The state land in Mana is leased almost exclusively to multinational corporations that produce not even consumable commodities, but patented products. The Robinson and Grove Farm properties also are largely dedicated to product production. The A&B land produces coffee, another drug for export. The Knudsen property in Kahili and the state land in Kalepa are mostly dedicated to biomass fuel crops.

The rest of the area within these large parcels is cattle pasture. While these ranches are locally owned food operations, virtually all these animals are shipped to the Mainland as an export commodity.

Why the above activities and not food production on large tracts of land? The reasons are legion but include the facts that the soils do not support it, the economics does not support it, the management and administration of the lands does not support it, politics does not support it and history does not support it.

Then where did our food come from when we fed ourselves? And where does it come from now on Kaua‘i?

The answer is: small farmers on small parcels.

The typical farm size of a Hawaiian family in 1850 was about 2 to 3 acres. The typical farm size in the 1950s to 1980s in places like the Wailua Homesteads and Kapahi was about 5 to 20 acres. These small family farms could flood the local markets and routinely shipped to Honolulu. They also generated enough income to purchase the land and put kids through college.

Today, 90 percent of all farms in Hawai‘i are less than 50 acres and the great majority are less than 10 acres. A survey on a recent Wednesday of the Kapa‘a Sunshine Market revealed that the average farm size of vendors is 2 acres.

The 180-acre Kunia Ag Park on O‘ahu provides 5- to 10-acre parcels for farmers, surrounded by 2,000 contiguous acres of corporate product production. Kamehameha Schools’ Punalu‘u Ahupua‘a Farms will offer 1- to 10-acre parcels. Kaua‘i County’s own plan for the Kilauea Ag Park would provide parcels of 1 to 7 acres in size.

So with all the facts showing that our local food always has, and currently does, come from small farms, and large land owners rarely allow for small farms, why do so many of us instinctively shout “Preserve our ag-lands!”?

Well, because it is not the “ag” part that we are interested in, it is open land. More specifically, we don’t want to see houses blighting that open land we have been enjoying for so long. In addition, conventional planning wisdom dictates that we should live in high density residential areas and drive to open land if we want to farm it.

In this upside-down world, where our community’s food, values and dollars are all imported, real farmers just shake their heads at this confusion.

Corporate product agriculture requires large tracts of land and is good for our community. It provides many direct jobs, supports many small local businesses, and increases the local velocity of money. There are good reasons to preserve large contiguous tracts of agriculture zoned lands, but growing food is not one of them.

I encourage you to go to a farmer’s market, or stop at a local farm and ask the history of the land that they farm; they will know it. You will find that almost all of them have gained the privilege of offering you locally grown food, as a result of the breaking up of large tracts of land.

Please talk to a farmer, and then develop an informed opinion on the subdivision of ag-zoned lands.

• Adam Asquith of Kapa‘a is a scientist, educator, taro farmer and hoa aina.


The Doha Perplex

SUBHEAD: Part Two of coverage of UN 2012 talks on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar.

By Albert Bates on 29 November 2012 for The Great Change -

Image above: Illustration from a Toyota Prius ad shows industrial desolation behind and green fields ahead. Feeling like your part of the solution. From (http://thejollyrodger.wordpress.com/art-direction/).

Those of us who have been attending these meetings for the past 20 or more years have felt very frustrated by the slow progress and the lack of an international treaty. Exemplary work by Wackernagle, Rees, Meadows, Daly, Costanza, Rockstrom and others points a direction forward, but it always comes around to some international agreement. What will it take to get that?

In Buddhism there is the expression, “Before you till the square foot field first begin with the square inch.” In Chinese, a cun (寸) is a decimal inch, which was originally derived from the width of the thumb at the knuckle, Fang means (方) "square". Fang cun literally means a "square inch". However, the expression "square inch" refers to the chakra that is situated in the "square inch" between the eyebrows.

So “Before you till the square foot field first begin with the square inch.”

But then you must also till the square foot. So at some point we have to get up off our zafus and work at a greater scale.

“What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Henry David Thoreau said.

We are now entering a geologic epoch when the question of tolerability of this planet is once again in play. The current chessboard is in Doha, Qatar, venue of the 18th Conference of Parties (COP18) of the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Our relief and development organization, “Plenty” and the Global Ecovillage Network, “GEN” both have achieved special consultative status at the United Nations. GEN was the first group to show End of Suburbia at the Dag Hammarskjöld auditorium at the UN Headquarters in New York during the annual meeting of the Committee on Sustainable Development and also for the Congress of NGOs. We have for many years been walking within UN circles, taking up issues of continued human “development” in the context of climate change and peak everything. For us development boils down to a shift from GDP to GHI and de-growth of everything that is wrecking the planet.

We offer ecovillages and transition towns as examples and permaculture as an efficient methodology. We have occasionally been well-funded, as at the Habitat-II conference in Istanbul in 1996, with videos, color brochures in 20 languages, and displays and workshops with distinguished persons. More often, as in Rio last summer or Doha now, we are there on a shoestring, with our team providing their own travel and sandwich money from their own pockets. We are a volunteer force.

In 1995 we had nine actual ecovillages we could list as examples. Today there are more than 20,000. Russia, Sri Lanka and Brazil have very active movements and Senegal alone wants to develop 18,000 more this decade. So we speak as a growing movement, one that works closely with bioregionalists, permaculturists, natural builders, biodynamic farmers, and transition towners. In a sense, we represent all of those movements in UN meetings because they are seldom represented there in any other capacity.

My Irish friend Declan Kennedy says if you are pointing a finger be careful, because there are three fingers pointing back at you. Ecovillages are able to point a finger, because we are actually doing what we believe in. We invite you to look back at us.

We are engaged in positive, hopeful, practical answers to complex problems. One of the more complex of these is, of course, climate change. GEN and these other groups we mentioned are starting to coalesce a strategy around demonstrating how human habitation and activity patterns could be re-engineered to provide for human needs and also to bring the carbon and other natural cycles back into the balance that existed at the start of the Holocene.

Let us take a moment to consider that balance. We have only recently begun to appreciate how profound it is. As IPCC Chairman R. K. Pachauri said in his plenary address yesterday, we can predict with near precise confidence that “without additional mitigation measures, a 1-in-20 year hottest day is likely to become a 1-in-2 year event….” The Chairman then went on:
[M]itigation opportunities with net negative cost have the potential to reduce emissions by about 6 gigatons of CO2 equivalent per year in 2030. Realizing these requires dealing with implementation barriers. Policies that provide a real or implicit price of carbon could create incentives for producers and consumers to significantly invest in low-GHG products, technologies and processes.

Will those responsible for decisions in the field of climate change at the global level listen to the voice of science and knowledge, which is now loud and clear? I am not sure our voice is louder today, but it is certainly clearer on the basis of new knowledge. I hope the world at large and this august audience would shape their actions on the basis of scientific evidence on all aspects of climate change and projections of the future, a future that we are all responsible for.
There are scientists like William F. Ruddiman and Charles Mann who have been exploring this for a number of years, but recent findings using genetic mitochondrial DNA mapping, satellite survey, carbon dating, and other techniques have begun to validate much of what had previously just been theorized. If we look at the Earth from the Moon, there are two man-made features we can see with the naked eye. The first is the Sahara Desert and the Second is the Amazon Rainforest.

They are on opposite sides of the planet, at about the same latitude, near the Equator, and this is important, too. They have poor soils because they have never been glaciated, and they have brutal drought cycles.

The Sahara Desert — and nearby Mesopotamia — is a fragile tropical landscape that was once the cradle of Western Civilization. Managed well, it weathered the periodic drought cycles and provided the rich savannahs where our ancestors learned to walk upright, fashion tools, and domesticate plants and animals.

Managed badly, as spoils of war by empires based on resource extraction and human slavery, it fell prey to its vicious cycles and reverted to desert. The judgment of a stern God, if you will. A similar pageant played out along the Silk Road from the Fertile Crescent into the North of China, and more recently in the Southern Iberian peninsula and in the Southern Plains of North America during the Dust Bowl.

As we described in our book, The Biochar Solution, and Charles Mann has now also described in his book, 1493, the Amazon followed quite a different pattern. Like the Sahara, it was endangered by over-exploitation and population pressures, which contributed to a global warming period we call the Medieval Maximum, which drove the Moors out of Africa and into Spain. But with the Columbian Encounter, which employed Moorish weapons technologies to conquer the native populations, and the spread of slavery and disease that followed, the Americas were so severely depopulated that forests and vegetation reclaimed agricultural landscapes to such a great degree that it dropped global temperatures and contributed substantively to the Little Ice Age, from the 16th to 19th centuries, when Sweden invaded Denmark and Napolean Bonaparte made his retreat from Moscow, losing 90% of his army to the cold.

But this is remarkable, because it shows just how intimately human activity is entwined with climate. Had not the urbanization and clearing of the American landscape in the 8th to 14th centuries occurred, the Moors might never have invaded Spain. There might not have been Andalusion war horses and arquebuses available for the conquest of the Americas. Cortez might not have defeated Moctezuma and Pizarro could well have been thrown back into the sea by Atahualpa or Túpac Amaru. But then, had that all not happened, Hans Brinker would not have won his silver skates and speed skating would not be an Olympic sport. So Apolo Ohno owes his career to the intricate connection between human activity and global climate.

In our 1990 book, Climate in Crisis, we began by talking about the mathematician Edward Lorenz, whom we know as the originator of the “butterfly effect.” Lorenz calculated that mere rounding errors in his climate prediction models propagated themselves enough to make huge differences in weather patterns. He compared it to a butterfly flapping his wings and causing a hurricane.

That is what we are talking about now. We have the capacity to return our climate to Holocene conditions, favorable for human development, and we do this by planting trees and building soils. The UN has its own vernacular, and a lot of that relates to acronyms. REDD is what we sometimes call “offsets,” and if you are looking towards restructuring economic systems so that they incorporate previously ignored externalities, like the health of the planet, the hydrological cycle or biodiversity, then you have to begin with things like carbon trading, emissions-saving schemes, and putting a price on carbon pollution.

REDD started as a UN discussion in 1995 and after NGOs complained about how it was dominated by corporations and financial banksters, it was modified into REDD+ to protect forest communities and indigenous peoples and to ensure that benefits are distributed equitably among all stakeholders.

REDD is going to be included in any Doha climate agreement, but large questions remain about design, monitoring and evaluation of national programs and how it will be funded. Need we say that in these matters, the United States has not been a friend of the NGOs or the forest communities.

We expected that much when Bush appointed John Bolton as his UN Ambassador. As readers of this space might recall, we marked the performance of Obama in Copenhagen as the point we realized that Obama was a fraud and a climate criminal. In all of the UN meetings since, Obama and Hillary Clinton have allied themselves with the corporations and the oil and coal interests blocking progress at every step. Rio 2012 was no different in this regard.

The question for most of us in the NGO community then becomes, when is the rest of the UN going to show some spine and stand up to the US bullies?

Those of us who have been attending these meetings for the past 20 or more years have felt very frustrated by the slow progress and the lack of an international treaty. Exemplary work by Wackernagle, Rees, Meadows, Daly, Costanza, Rockstrom and others points a direction forward, but it always comes around to some international agreement. What will it take to get that? Scotland has become the most recent country to set a goal of being on 100% renewable energy by 2020, and this is great, but when you could imagine Scotland being completely reforested and feeding its population from food forests, and being not just carbon-neutral, but carbon-negative, that is what is really needed.

What stops most countries from going down this path is the fear of being out-competed in a global marketplace, of being relegated to some colonial backwater. Hillary Clinton is all in favor of green markets, whatever that means. It means deregulation, and voluntary efforts at the margins, actually. China’s energy plan involves burning coal for another 100 years. Obama has every intention of licensing the Keystone pipeline to pump tar sands sludge from Alberta. The math that Bill McKibben talks about does not factor into these geopolitical equations.

Only UN agreements – with firm timetables, penalties, and enforcement — can actually change those geopolitical equations. Efficient markets do not operate in a vacuum, or by an invisible hand. They require a formal, protected, enforced structure. They require a regulatory framework. That is where the role of the environmental and science communities and indigenous peoples, farmers and unions is paramount. We are the drivers of forward momentum at these international gatherings, we are still making demands, and we are still negotiating the way through impasses with clever ideas and new economic paradigms, presented artfully, with a flair for the dramatic. And hopefully, we can still turn it around.

As we write this, as 180 countries meet for the 18th time to discuss climate action, the scene in Doha is set once more for slow progress. There is an ambition gap. With the current level of UN delegate ambition, new agreements are not likely to limit global warming to 2°C. The ambition of natural systems to adhere to natural laws of physics makes it likely we’ll reach a disastrous 6°C of global warming, possibly this century (some wild cards are still to be played). To limit warming to 2°C, itself no small disaster, the world must agree to make global emissions peak by 2015, and must reduce emissions extremely rapidly thereafter.

The new IPCC report, AR5 due out next year, has opened up a promising strategic initiative which is right up the alley of ecovillagers. It will devote a new chapter to “Human Settlements, Infrastructure and Spatial Planning”. Dr. Pachuari told the plenary yesterday:
This is important because while urban planning is referenced in AR4 there is no comprehensive survey on the role which urban planning can play in adaptation and mitigation. [The next report will provide] greater emphasis on social science aspects of mitigation measures. For the first time, WG III is going beyond the technical aspects and into the social science aspects … it is focusing more explicitly on mitigation options, costs, strategies and policy requirements, with a more integrated approach to adaptation and mitigation.
The first rule of holes is, when you find yourself in one, stop digging. Bioregionalists, permaculturists, natural builders, carbon farmers and transition towners then go to the second step, which is to build a ladder. We can show the world a happier way out.

It’s just up this way.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: 2012 UN Climate Change Talks 11/18/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Last chance for normal climate? 11/30/12


SUBHEAD: The people of the USA are stuck in a physical setting for daily life that has no future.

By James Kunstler on 3 December 2012 for Kunstler.com  -

Image above: An abandoned suburban backyard pool near San Bernardino, California. From (http://ozzieausband.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/the-pool-count-and-monte-cristo/).

Even if the so-called economy were "recovering," the people of the USA would be stuck in a physical setting for daily life that has no future - the nightmare infrastructure of subdivision houses, strip malls, and WalMarts, all rigged up for incessant motoring. Of course, the so-called economy is not recovering because there is no more cheap oil. If oil ever gets cheap again, it will be because nobody has enough money to pay for it and surely you can connect the dots to what that hamster wheel of futility means.

In fact, the heart of our economic predicament is that the American economy came to be based on the construction of ever more suburban stuff, the financing of which, especially the houses, became the fodder for an episode of epic swindles that has left our banking system a hollowed out shell of accounting fraud. In short, we built even more stuff with no future, and ruined our society in the process. How tragic is that?

The behavioral habits, practices, and consequences of being stuck in that living arrangement may end up being at least as problematic as the physical residue of it. It has left the people in a network of alienation, anxiety, and misery that defeats exactly the mentality needed to break free of it. For the truth is we're faced with a massive necessary re-ordering of daily life in this country, and there is no vision or will to get on with the job.

Among the tribulations of this living arrangement is the utter loss of connection between place and purpose often expressed in the phrase "loss of community," which is a little too abstract to me and fails to convey the tragedy of individuals living with no sense of purpose -- and by that I mean duties, obligations, and responsibilities to other human beings.

Obviously, the whole idea of a single-family house by definition dictates a certain disposition of things. It will lack the dimension and social relations of a household composed of multiple generations plus non-family members, helpers, employees, servants. And it should also be obvious that the single-generation, single-family house is a product of mid-20th century industrial dynamism that made even factory worker wage slaves rich by historical standards - Tom Wolfe pointed out years ago that the average GM assembly line drone enjoyed more sheer physical luxury at home than Louis XIV.

Put the single-family house in the context of a suburban monoculture organized to conform relentlessly to the dictates of single use zoning, and you get a recipe for instant (and permanent) social dysfunction. Then, fill that house with electronic diversion devices and a microwave oven and you end up with a very few disconnected humans who rarely share a meal and exist, while "at home," in a narcissistic vapor-realm of canned entertainment, pornography, texting (i.e. melodrama created to fill a void of purposelessness), and the sado-masochistic combats of video games (a substitute for purposeful, virile endeavor), all floating on a virtual river of relentless advertising.

It always interests me to see the emergent purposelessness of the American Dream expressed so vividly in the television sitcoms of that mid-20th century day - the very moment of its emergence. Ozzie Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet seemed to have absolutely nothing to do except sit around the kitchen waiting for somebody else to come in for a cup of coffee. He clearly had nowhere else to go. The ennui of Ozzie Nelson was a source of mirth to busy hipsters who savored the ironies of behavioral kitsch - loving what's horrible for the horror it induces. But it really isn't so funny since it is a portrait of an un-manned man trapped in utter purposeless and reduced to the pathetic existential status of somebody endlessly waiting for nothing. (Cue Samuel Beckett....)

Anyway, that was then and it's all crashing down now in a great galumphing debris-field of bankruptcy, psychosis, regret, obesity, and foreclosure. So what comes next? They say that the millennial generation is the most group-oriented, cooperative bunch to come along in the march of Boomers, Xs, and Ys. How much of this is an hallucination of transient computer connectivity, I don't know. The fact that it is so difficult for them financially to even hope to form a household will surely be a defining factor in the choices they make ahead about how exactly to inhabit the landscape. I think they will make out better in this project than their Boomer forerunners, who started out in communes sharing toothbrushes and graduated to dismal McMansions in a geography of nowhere, while dedicating their careers to the looting of posterity.

I'm quite sure that many will rediscover a sense of purpose in the re-ordering of social life that lies ahead, which includes a return to different household arrangements and probably much more hierarchical social relations. Implicit in the latter is the now-utterly-incorrect-and-taboo notion of someone knowing their place. The catch is: you need to have a place in order to know your place, and therefore know who you are - and in a society full of people for whom place means nothing, there is little chance of acquiring a real identity, other than the sham raiment of the app-supported avatar life that has taken the place of being human.

I had a fugitive thought the other evening walking through my beaten-down small town in the late fall chill. I imagined that instead of the blue tomb-like glow of television emanating from house to house that I could hear the sequential music of parlor pianos, and voices singing to them, and of healthy people coming and going from warm kitchens to fetch firewood, and of groups of people gathered around tables for a meal, and generally of buildings that were truly inhabited, not just storage containers for lives unspent. I grant you it was a fleeting nostalgic fantasy. But isn't nostalgia just a state of being homesick?