Farmed Fish overtakes Beef

SUBHEAD: In 2011, for the first time in modern era, world farmed fish production topped beef production.

By J. Larsen & J. M. Roney on 12 June 2913 fr Earth Policy Institute -

Image above: Surf and Turf with steak and shrimp. From (

The world quietly reached a milestone in the evolution of the human diet in 2011. For the first time in modern history, world farmed fish production topped beef production. The gap widened in 2012, with output from fish farming—also called aquaculture—reaching a record 66 million tons, compared with production of beef at 63 million tons. And 2013 may well be the first year that people eat more fish raised on farms than caught in the wild. More than just a crossing of lines, these trends illustrate the latest stage in a historic shift in food production—a shift that at its core is a story of natural limits.

As the global demand for animal protein grew more than fivefold over the second half of the twentieth century, humans began to press against the productivity constraints of the world’s rangelands and oceans. Annual beef production climbed from 19 million tons in 1950 to more than 50 million tons in the late 1980s. Over the same period, the wild fish catch ballooned from 17 million tons to close to 90 million tons. But since the late 1980s, the growth in beef production has slowed, and the reported wild fish catch has remained essentially flat. (See data.)

The bottom line is that getting much more food from natural systems may not be possible. Much of the world’s grassland is stocked at or beyond capacity, and most of the world’s fisheries are fished to their limits or already crashing.

Overstocked rangelands become obvious as the loss of protective vegetation leads to soil degradation, which at its worst can cause punishing dust and sand storms. Overexploited fisheries are less readily visible, but fishing patterns over time reveal that more effort is required to achieve the same size catch as in years past.

Boats are using more fuel and traveling to more remote and deeper waters to bring in their haul. Fishers are pulling up smaller fish, and populations of some of the most popular food fish have collapsed.

Historically, people’s taste in eating animal protein was largely shaped by where they lived. In places with extensive grasslands, like in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia, people gravitated toward grazing livestock. Along coasts and on islands, as in Japan, wild fish tended to be the protein staple. Today, with little room for expanding the output from rangelands and the seas, producing more beef and fish for a growing and increasingly affluent world population has meant relying on feedlots for fattening cattle and on ponds, nets, and pens for growing fish.

While open waters and grasslands can be self-sustaining if managed carefully, raising fish and livestock in concentrated operations requires inputs. Grain and soybeans have been inserted into the protein production food chain. Cattle consume 7 pounds of grain or more to produce an additional pound of beef. This is twice as high as the grain rations for pigs, and over three times those of poultry. Fish are far more efficient, typically taking less than 2 pounds of feed to add another pound of weight.

Pork and poultry are the most widely eaten forms of animal protein worldwide, but farmed fish output is increasing the fastest. Average annual growth rates over the last five years have mirrored the relative efficiency of feed use, with the global production of farmed fish growing by nearly 6 percent a year, poultry by 4 percent, and pork by 1.7 percent—fast outpacing beef, which barely increased at all.

As grain and soybean prices have risen well above historical levels in recent years, the cost of producing grain-eating livestock has also gone up. Higher prices have nudged consumers away from the least-efficient feeders. This means more farmed fish and less beef. In the United States, where the amount of meat in peoples’ diets has been falling since 2004, average consumption of beef per person has dropped by more than 13 percent and that of chicken by 5 percent. U.S. fish consumption has also dropped, but just by 2 percent.

Beyond economic considerations, health and environmental concerns are also leading many people in industrial countries to reduce their beef intake. Meanwhile, fish are touted as healthy alternatives (save for the largest types, which have accumulated mercury from environmental pollution). Diets heavy in red meat have been associated with a higher risk for heart disease and colon cancer, among other ailments.

Beef production has garnered a negative reputation for having a large carbon footprint and for destroying habitat, notably in the Brazilian Amazon. And excess nitrogen fertilizer applied to the fields of feed corn grown to satisfy the world’s livestock runs off into streams and rivers, sometimes flowing to coastal waters where it creates large algal blooms and low-oxygen “dead zones” where fish cannot survive.

While it is only recently that the limitations of natural systems have emerged on a global scale, the practice of aquaculture dates back millennia. China, which accounts for 62 percent of the world’s farmed fish, has long cultivated different types of carp that eat different things—phytoplankton, zooplankton, grass, or detritus—together in a mini ecosystem. Today carp and their relatives are still the mainstay of Chinese aquaculture, making up nearly half the country’s output.

Filter-feeding mollusks, like clams and oysters, account for close to a third. Carp, catfish, and other species are also grown in Chinese rice paddies, where their waste can fertilize the grain crop. This is also practiced in Indonesia, Thailand, and Egypt. (Other top aquacultural producers include India, Viet Nam, and Bangladesh.)

Unfortunately, not all aquaculture works this way. Some of the farmed fish that are quickly gaining popularity, like salmon and shrimp, are carnivorous species that eat fishmeal or fish oil produced from forage fish from the wild. Yet most forage fish stocks (think anchovies, herrings, and sardines), which typically make up about a third of the world oceanic fish catch, are dangerously overharvested.

Fish farmers are working to reduce the amount of fish meal and oil in their rations, but in the rush to meet ever-expanding world demand, the share of farmed fish being fed has increased because they can reach market size quickly.

Norway, the world’s top farmed salmon producer, now imports more fish oil than any other country. China, the world’s leading shrimp producer, takes in some 30 percent of the fishmeal traded each year.

As cattle ranches have displaced biologically rich rainforests, fish farms have displaced mangrove forests that provide important fish nursery habitats and protect coasts during storms. Worldwide, aquaculture is thought to be responsible for more than half of all mangrove loss, mostly for shrimp farming. In the Philippines, some two thirds of the country’s mangroves—over 100,000 hectares—have been removed for shrimp farming over the last 40 years.

Another problem with intensive confined animal feeding operations of all kinds, whether for farmed fish or for cattle, is not what gets extracted from the environment but what gets put in it. On a small-scale farm with livestock, animal waste can be used to fertilize crops. But putting large numbers of animals together transforms waste from an asset into a liability.

Along with the vast quantities of waste, the antibiotic and parasite-killing chemicals used to deal with the unwanted disease and infestations that can spread easily in crowded conditions also can end up in surrounding ecosystems.

The overuse of antibiotics in livestock operations can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, threatening both human and animal health. In the United States, for instance, 80 percent of antibiotics use is in agriculture—and often not for treating sick animals but for promoting rapid weight gain.

Thus the solutions to our collision with the limitations of the natural systems that have long provided food have created their own host of problems. On a per person basis, beef consumption—now averaging less than 20 pounds (8.9 kilograms) each year globally—is unlikely to rebound to the 24 pounds eaten in the 1970s. But annual world fish consumption per person of 42 pounds—up from 25 pounds in the 1970s—is set to keep rising.

With the additional fish coming from farms rather than the seas, the urgency of making aquaculture sustainable is clear. On the fish feed front, fishmeal producers are incorporating more seafood scraps into their products; today roughly a third of fishmeal is made up of food fish trimmings and other by-products.

And some fish farmers are substituting livestock and poultry processing wastes and plant-based feeds for fishmeal and oil, which does not sound particularly appetizing, but does reduce pressure on wild stocks. From a sustainability standpoint, however, it would be preferable to shift the balance back in favor of farmed fish raised without feeds based on food grains, oilseeds, and protein from other animals.

Our global population of 7 billion people, growing by nearly 80 million per year, cannot escape the limits of nature. To live within Earth’s natural boundaries requires rethinking meat and fish production practices to respect ecology. Most important, it means reducing demand by slowing population growth and, for those of us already living high on the food chain, eating less meat, milk, eggs, and fish.


Solar & Wind winning Germany

SUBHEAD: Germany’s $710 billion green-energy drive is cutting production at nuclear power plants.

By Julia Mengenwein on 5 July 2013 for Bloomberg News -

Image above: Steame rises from the cooling towers of the nuclear power plant in Gundremmingen, Germany. Photographer: Christof Stache. From oriinal article.

[IB Publisher's note: In short, Germany's alternative wind and solar power is putting its nuclear plants out of business well ahead of 2022 deadline to be rid of atomic energy]

Germany’s $710 billion green-energy drive is cutting production at nuclear reactors, the nation’s most profitable large-scale plants, as power prices slump to a six-year low.

The proportion of hours during which electricity traded at less than 30 euros ($39) a megawatt-hour, the level at which UBS AG says reactors start losing money, rose to 50 percent last month, the most since 2007 and 92 percent more than a year ago, data from the Epex Spot SE exchange show. RWE AG (RWE) cut output at its Gundremmingen plant near Munich 31 times in the first half as solar and wind output jumped, compared with 18 times in 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The reductions, which typically last for hours at a time, underscore how Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan to replace atomic power with renewable energy within a decade is gaining ground at the expense of profit at utilities from RWE to EON SE. The boom in green power, coupled with the lowest demand in 10 years, sent the average operating margin at 15 European utilities to the lowest since 2002, company data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“We will see more of those situations where renewable output is so high, that spot prices collapse below the level of the cash costs for nuclear plants,” Patrick Hummel, an analyst at UBS in Zurich, said July 2 by e-mail. “This really is a double-whammy for power producers. Fewer running hours means less power is sold and that happens at a lower price.”

Daily Auction
Day-ahead power averaged 37.40 euros in the first half on Epex in Paris, the lowest since 2007. As many as 358 of June’s 720 hours settled below 30 euros, the most since August 2007, data from the exchange show. Day-ahead power sold at 26.24 euros at a daily auction today.

On June 16, a Sunday, wind and solar plants met more than 60 percent of Germany’s demand, a record, according to the International Economic Forum for Renewable Energies, a Muenster, Germany-based research institute, forcing RWE, EON and EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG (EBK), the nation’s nuclear operators, to cut output as prices slumped below zero. That’s the level at which utilities must pay consumers to take power off the grid.

“The currently low prices on exchanges have dramatic consequences for the operators of conventional power plants,” said Hildegard Mueller, head of the managing board of BDEW, the Berlin-based utility lobby group. “They wonder how to make money with their plants. The companies now face the question how to develop their business model in the future.”

Production Cuts
On June 16, Essen-based RWE cut output at Gundremmingen-C by 58 percent to about 550 megawatts and production at Gundremmingen-B by 54 percent to 600 megawatts for about two hours, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

EON cut output at its 1,360-megawatt nuclear reactor Grohnde to less than 1,200 megawatts during 15 hours that day and reduced production at the 1,400-megawatt Isar-2 for three hours, according to Louisville, Kentucky-based Genscape Inc., which tracks power output in 13 European countries. EON’s biggest reactor, the 1,410-megawatt Brokdorf, ran for four hours below 1,200 megawatts.

Capacity at EnBW’s 1,395-megawatt Neckarwestheim-2 facility dropped below 1,200 megawatts for 18 hours that day, according to Genscape.

Friederike Eggstein, a spokeswoman for EnBW in Karlsruhe, Germany, and Petra Uhlmann, a spokeswoman for Dusseldorf-based EON, didn’t respond to two phone calls and two e-mails from Bloomberg News seeking comment.

‘Cash Cows’
Total capacity utilization at Germany’s nine reactors dropped to 60 percent that day from 64 percent on June 15, according to Genscape. It rose to 65 percent a day later.

“Our nuclear plants are not the cash cows that some think they still are,” Bernhard Guenther, RWE’s chief financial officer, said on a May 15 call with reporters.

Renewable power is so prominent in Germany’s grid that natural gas-fired plants haven’t been profitable for 17 months, according to a Bloomberg calculator that takes power prices, fuel and emissions costs into account. Reactors are cheaper to operate than lignite-, coal- and gas-fired stations on a marginal cost basis, according to Chris Rogers, an analyst at Bloomberg Industries in London.

Solar output peaked at 23,203 megawatts on June 16, almost 13 times the average over the past 12 months, according to EEX data. Same-day prices fell to as low as minus 225 euros from 5 a.m. through 8 a.m. Berlin time, and changed hands at minus 100 euros from 2 p.m. through 4 p.m., Epex data show.

Fukushima Dai-Ichi
Merkel decided in 2011 to close eight German nuclear reactors and phase out the rest by 2022 following Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster. Public support for the 550 billion-euro plan to expand wind and solar power is rising, even as government subsidies for the “Energiewende,” or energy shift, increase electricity bills. Fifty-nine percent of respondents backed the nuclear phase-out in a Forsa poll for Stern magazine in April, up from 54 percent a year earlier.

Atomic energy accounted for 16 percent of the country’s power last year, down from 18 percent in 2011, BDEW data show.

The average operating margin at 15 European utilities was 12 percent last year, the lowest since 2002, data compiled by Bloomberg show. EON’s slid to 3.7 percent, compared with 23 percent 10 years ago, the data show. RWE’s margin declined to 7.3 percent, from 14 percent in 2003.

RWE’s full-year adjusted net income slid 27 percent in 2012 from 2008, while the measure at EON dropped 25 percent in the same period, according to annual company reports.

Intraday Trading

As Germany moves toward Merkel’s target of sourcing 35 percent of its power from renewables by 2020, from 22 percent today, intraday trading is soaring. Contracts covering a delivery period as short as 15 minutes in the future rose 9 percent last month to an unprecedented 260,668 megawatt-hours compared with May, according to Epex.

“We need to market our plants more and more on the day-ahead and intraday markets due to the boost of renewable energies,” said Joerg Stockhecke, who works in the plant optimization and market analysis unit at Stadtwerke Bielefeld GmbH and has been in the market for 19 years. “This has basically turned us into intraday traders,” said Stockhecke, who markets about 330 megawatts of production capacity.

His portfolio includes 227 megawatts of the German 1,360 megawatt nuclear plant Grohnde in the north of the country. The unit is majority owned by EON SE.

First-Half Slide
Germany added 344 megawatts of solar power in May, taking the total to 33,877 megawatts, or 19 percent of installed capacity, according to the nation’s grid regulator. Wind parks, mainly onshore, represent 17 percent.

Total solar and wind output dropped 6.4 percent in the first half to 22.4 terawatt-hours, data from the International Economic Forum for Renewable Energies show.

“When summer finally starts in Germany and solar generation can unfold its full power, solar energy will then come back after a subdued first half,” Paolo Coghe, an analyst at Societe Generale SA (GLE) in Paris, said July 2 by e-mail. “If this happens, then there is a good chance that prices are going to dive even more.”

Snowden offered asylum

SUBHEAD: President Nicolás Maduro offers Edward Snowden asylum in Venezuela. US paranoia backfires.

By Daniel Wallis & Deisy Biutrago on 5 July 2013 for Reuters -

Image above: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in indigenous motif. From (

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday he had decided to offer asylum to former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has petitioned several countries to avoid capture by Washington.

"I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American, Edward Snowden, so that in the fatherland of (Simon) Bolivar and (Hugo) Chavez, he can come and live away from the imperial North American persecution," Maduro told a televised parade marking Venezuela's independence day.

Snowden is believed to be holed up in the transit area of a Moscow international airport

Bolivian President plane diverted

SUBHEAD:Bolivia looking at legal options after President Evo Morales' jet forced to divert.

By Staff on 3 July 2013 for the Telegraph -

Video above: Evo Morales explains his ordeal.  ( .

A plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria after various European countries refused to let it cross their airspace because of suspicions that Edward Snowden - who is wanted for revealing US intelligence data - was on board, Bolivian officials said on Tuesday.

Speaking in Vienna, where he was waiting in VIP terminal of the airport for clearance for his flight to leave, Mr Morales said "international rules" should have been respected and that there was a "legal issue" to be examined.

He said other South American leaders had expressed concern over the events.

Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside the French embassy in La Paz late on Tuesday to demonstrate against France's refusal to allow Morales' plane to pass through its airspace.

Bolivian Senate President Gabriela Montano, present at the protest, said Morales being refused permission to cross France's airspace "dealt a blow to Bolivia's sovereignty and the sovereignty of the Bolivian people".


The Next American Revolution

SUBHEAD: The entire project of centralization that characterized the era 1941-2013 will slip into irrelevance.

By John Hugh Smith on 4 July 2013 for of Two Minds -

Image above: Washington in battle with British using light-sabres. From (

Some July 4th thoughts on revolution as a process rather than an event.

The next American Revolution will not be an event, it will be a process. We naturally turn to the past for templates of the future, but history has a way of remaining remarkably unpredictable. Indeed, all the conventional long-range forecasts made in 1900, 1928, 1958, 1988 and 2000 missed virtually every key development--not just in the distant future, but just a few years out.

The point is that extrapolating the present into the future fails to capture sea changes and developments that completely disrupt the supposedly unchanging, permanent Status Quo. The idea that the next revolution will take a new form does not occur to conventional forecasters, who readily assume the next transition will follow past critical junctures: armed insurrection against the central authority (The first American Revolution, 1781), civil war (1861) or global war (1941).

I submit that the next American Revolution circa 2021-23 will not repeat or even echo these past transitions. What seems likely to me is the entire project of centralization that characterized the era 1941-2013 will slip into irrelevance as centralization increasingly yields diminishing returns.

Everything centralized, from the Federal Reserve to the Too Big To Fail Banks to Medicare to the National Security State depends on the Federal government being a Savior State that must ceaselessly expand its share of the national income and its raw power lest it implode. All Savior States have one, and only one trajectory-- they must ceaselessly expand and concentrate wealth and power or they will fail.

They are like the shark, which dies once it stops moving forward: the Savior State must push forward on its trajectory of expansion or it expires.

Stasis is not possible, nor is contraction; the promises made to the citizenry cannot be withdrawn without political instability, but the promises cannot be kept without fatally disrupting the neofeudal financialized debtocracy.

You see the dilemma: The Savior State cannot stop expanding, but the financial system that generates its revenues can no longer support its vast machinery of debt and phantom collateral. This is why I suggest all the centralized concentrations of wealth and power will either implode or fade into irrelevance.

If all the phantom wealth and collateral vanishes in a market clearing event, the Federal Reserve will simply become irrelevant to the vast majority of people. A handful of nimble speculators may well benefit by picking over the carcass of financialization and centralized omnipotence (i.e. central banking), and perhaps the 1/10th of 1% will still have enough assets influenced by the Fed to care, but the forces of disruption will replace centralization with decentralization.

Here is another example: Medicare may not cease to exist, but it will become increasingly irrelevant to most people because it will not longer function. The remaining doctors willing to treat Medicare patients will be working 13-hour days for sketchy pay, and as each one burns out and leaves the system, the system contracts. Eventually it contracts to the point of irrelevance.

The revolution will be in work and social innovations enabled by technology. The conventional view is that technology will magically enable the permanence of the present; this will be proven incorrect, as what technology enables is not the waste, entitlement and centralization that characterize the present but social innovations, some of which are already visible.

If we sought to summarize the profound transformation ahead in one sentence, it would be this: wages are no longer an adequate model for distributing the surplus generated by the economy.

The current Savior State model responds to this by increasing taxes on the dwindling minority with fulltime jobs and increasing entitlement payments to all those without government or private-sector jobs. This model will collapse, politically, socially and economically, as no society or economy can squander half or more of its productive labor force while increasing the burden on the dwindling cohort of productively employed. The inevitable result of this dynamic is a destabilizing Tyranny of the Majority. Tyranny of the Majority, Corporate Welfare and Complicity (April 9, 2010)

Technology is not just disrupting old industries and companies, it is disrupting the entire Savior State/cartel-capitalism model. The disruption has barely begun, but it will pick up speed over the next decade.

I suspect the next American Revolution will begin in the 2015-16 timeframe. A series of interlocking crises will lead to reforms that preserve the Savior State/ cartel-capitalism for another few years, at a lower level of consumption, i.e. burn rate.

But the process of revolution will be far from complete; this initial response of the centralized neofeudal debtocracy will buy time for the Status Quo, and every conventional onlooker will be infused with optimism and hope that the system established in the Great Depression, World War II and its Cold War aftermath--the secular religion of consumerism (i.e. aggregate demand), permanent war footing and the National Security State, and universal dependence on the Savior State and its ceaseless expansion of concentrated wealth and power--will continue.

But this Springtime for the Savior State/cartel-capitalism partnership will be brief, and by 2018-19 all the systemic flaws and disruptive trends will reassert themselves with renewed vigor.

The entire current model of governance, social order and the economy will be revolutionized not by overthrow but by the process of irrelevance. What will become relevant will no longer be in the control of the Savior State or its partner, financialized cartel capitalism.

Those currently holding all the concentrated power and wealth cannot believe they will become irrelevant, but that's the result of projecting the present as if it is permanent and immutable.

The new system will be better, more humane, more flexible, more transparent, with more opportunity, for it will be everything the current corrupt, sclerotic, parasitic and exploitive system is not.


A peculiar absence of bellybones

SUBHEAD: Intelligent beings descended from five-eyed, single-tentacled Opabinia were possible, but they didn’t happen.

By John Michael Greer on 3 July 2013 for the Archdruid Report -

Image above: Rendering of an Opabinia, a single tentacled, five eyed arthropod species from the Cambrian period - a half a billion years ago. From (

The fixation on imaginary “perfect storms” critiqued in last week’s post is only one expression of a habit of thinking that pervades contemporary American culture and, to a lesser extent, most other industrial societies. I’ve referred to this habit in a couple of posts in this series already, but it deserves closer attention, if only to help make sense of the way that individuals, institutions, and whole societies so often get blindsided these days by utterly predictable events.

Like several of the other themes already explored in this sequence, the habit of thinking I have in mind was explored by Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West. His way of discussing it, though, relies on turns of phrase that don’t translate well into English, and philosophical concepts that were familiar to every reader in 1918 Germany and completely opaque to most readers in 2013 America.

To make sense of it, I’ll need to reframe the discussion by way of an excursion into deep time, so we can talk about the difference between what can happen and what does happen.

Unlike the Marcellus shale, the Barnett shale, and some of its other distant geological cousins, the Burgess shale doesn’t contain any appreciable amounts of oil or natural gas. What it does contain is a vast number of delicate fossils from the Cambrian period. It’s been argued that your ancestors and mine are there in the Burgess shale, in the form of a tiny, wriggling whatsit called Pikaia with a little strip of cartilage running down its back, the first very rough draft of what eventually turned into your backbone.

There are plenty of other critters there that are unlike anything else since that time, and it’s perfectly plausible to imagine that they, rather than Pikaia, might have left descendants who evolved into the readers of this blog, but that’s not what happened.

Intelligent beings descended from five-eyed, single-tentacled Opabinia were possible; they could have happened, but they didn’t, and once that was settled, a whole world of possibilities went away forever. There was no rational reason for that exclusion; it just happened that way.

Let’s take a closer look at Pikaia, though. Study it closely, and you can just about see the fish that its distant descendants will become. The strip of cartilage runs along the upper edge of its body, where fish and all other vertebrates have their backbones. It didn’t have to be there; if Pikaia happened to have cartilage along its lower edge, then fish and all the other vertebrates to come would have done just as well with a bellybone in place of a backbone, and you and I would have the knobbly bumps of vertebrae running up our abdomens and chests.

Once Pikaia came out ahead in the struggle for survival, that possibility went wherever might-have-beens spend their time. There’s no logical reason why we don’t have bellybones; it simply turned out that way, and the consequences of that event still constrain us today.

Fast forward 200 million years or so, and a few of Pikaia’s putative descendants were learning to deal with the challenges and possibilities of muddy Devonian swamps by wriggling up out of the water, and gulping air into their swim bladders to give them a bit of extra oxygen. It so happens that these fish had four large fins toward the underside of their bodies.

Many other fish at the time had other fin patterns instead, and if the successful proto-lungfish had happened to come from a lineage with six fins underneath, then amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals would have six limbs today instead of four.

A six-limbed body plan is perfectly viable—ask any insect—but the vertebrates that ventured onto land had four, and once that happened, the question was settled. Nothing makes six-legged mammals impossible, but there aren’t any and never will be. In an abstract sense, they can happen, but in the real world, they don’t, and it’s only history that explains why.

Today, another 400 million years later, most of the possible variables shaping life in this planet’s biosphere are very tightly constrained by an intricate network of ecological pressures rooted in the long history of the planet.

Those constraints, among other things, drive convergent evolution—the process by which living things from completely different evolutionary lineages end up looking and behaving like each other. 100 million years ago, when the Earth had its normal hothouse climate and reptiles were the dominant vertebrates, the icthyosaurs, a large and successful family of seagoing reptiles, evolved what we now think of as the basic dolphin look; when they went extinct and a cooling planet gave mammals the edge, seagoing mammals competing for the same ecological niche gave us today’s dolphins and porpoises.

Their ancestors, by the way, looked like furry crocodiles, and for good reason; if you’re going to fill a crocodile’s niche, as the protocetaceans did, the pressures that the rest of the biosphere brings to bear on that niche pretty much require you to look and act like a crocodile.

The lesson to be drawn from these examples, and countless others, is that evolution isn’t free to do everything that, in some abstract sense, it could possibly do. Between the limits imposed by the genetics of the organism struggling to adapt, and the even stronger limits imposed by the pressures of the environment within which that struggle is taking place, there are only so many options available, and on a planet that’s had living things evolving on it for two billion years or so, most of those options will have already been tried out at least once.

Even when something new emerges, as happens from time to time, that doesn’t mean that all bets are off; it simply means that familiar genetic and environmental constraints are going to apply in slightly different ways. That means that there are plenty of things that theoretically could happen that never will happen, because the constraints pressing on living things don’t have room for them.

That much is uncontroversial, at least among students of evolutionary ecology. Apply the same point of view to human history, though, and you can count on a firestorm of protest.

Nonetheless, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do in this blog over the last seven years—to point out that historical change is subject to limits imposed by the historical trajectories of societies struggling to adapt, and the even stronger limits imposed by the pressures of the environment within which that struggle is taking place; worse still, to point out that societies have an equivalent of convergent evolution, which can be studied by putting different societies side by side and comparing their historical trajectories, and that this reveals otherwise untraceable constraints and thus allows meaningful predictions to be made about the future of our own civilization.

Each of those proposals offends several of the most basic assumptions with which most people nowadays approach the future; put them all together—well, let’s just say that it’s no surprise that each weekly post here can count on fielding its quota of spit-slinging denunciations.

As regular readers of this blog know, a great many of these quarrels arrange themselves around the distinction I’ve just drawn. Whether we’re talking about 2012 or near-term human extinction or the latest claim that some piece of other of energy-related vaporware will solve the world’s increasingly intractable energy and resource shortages, my critics say, “It could happen!” and I reply, “But it won’t.”

They proceed to come up with elaborate scenarios and arguments showing that, in fact, whatever it is could possibly happen, and get the imperturbable answer, “Yes, I know all that, but it still won’t happen.”

Then it doesn’t happen, and the normal human irritation at being wrong gets thrown in the blender with a powerful sense of the unfairness of things—after all, that arrogant so-and-so of an archdruid didn’t offer a single solitary reason why whatever it was couldn’t possibly happen!—to make a cocktail that’s uncommonly hard to swallow.

There’s a reason, though, why these days the purveyors of repeatedly disproved predictions, from economists through fusion-power proponents to believers in the current end of the world du jour, so constantly use arguments about what can happen and so consistently ignore what does happen. It’s a historical reason, and it brings us a big step closer to the heart of this sequence of posts.

When Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God to a mostly uninterested 19th century, as I mentioned in an earlier post in this sequence, he was convinced that he was doing something utterly unprecedented—and he was wrong. If he’d been a little more careful about checking his claims against what he’d learned as a classical philologist, he would have remembered that the gods also died in ancient Greece in the fourth century BCE, and that the rationalist revolt against established religion in the Greek world followed the same general course as its equivalent in western Europe and the European diaspora two millennia or so later.

Put the materialist philosophers of the Greek Enlightenment side by side with the corresponding figures in its European equivalent, or line up the skeptical barbs aimed at Homer’s portrayal of the gods and goddesses of Greece with those shot at the Bible’s portrayal of the god of Christianity—by Nietzsche among others!—and the similarities are hard to miss.

What’s more, the same thing has happened elsewhere. India went through its rationalist period beginning in the sixth century BCE, giving rise to full-blown atomist and materialist philosophies as well as an important school of logic, the Nyaya; it’s indicative of the tone of that period that the two great religious movements founded then, Buddhism and Jainism, in their earliest documented forms were wholly uninterested in gods.

The equivalent period in ancient China began about a century later, with its own achievements in logic and natural science and its own dismissal of formal religion—sacrifices and rites are important for social reasons, Confucius argues, but to busy oneself excessively with them shows that one is ignorant and unreasonable.

It’s a standard element of the trajectory of literate civilizations through time. Every human society comes out of the shadows of its origins well equipped with a set of beliefs about what does happen. Since most human societies in their early phases are either wholly innocent of writing, or have lost most of a former tradition of literacy in the collapse of some previous civilization, those beliefs are normally passed down by way of the oldest and most thoroughly proven system of information storage and transfer our species has invented—that is to say, mythology: a collection of vivid, colorful stories, usually in verse, that can be learned starting in early childhood and remembered letter-perfect into advanced old age.

Since the information storage capacity of myths is large but not limitless, each myth in a mature mythology is meant to be understood and interpreted on several levels, and learning how to unpack the stories is an essential part of education as an adult in these societies.

For human societies that rely on hunter-gatherer, nomadic pastoral, or village horticultural economies, mythology is amply suited to their information storage and transfer needs, and it’s rare for these to go looking for other options. Those societies that take to field agriculture and build urban centers, though, need detailed records, and that usually means writing or some close equivalent, such as the knotted cords of the old Incas. Widespread public literacy seems to be the trigger that sets off the collapse of mythic thinking.

Where literacy remains the specialty of a priesthood jealous of its privileges, among the ancient Maya or in Egypt before the New Kingdom, writing is simply a tool for record-keeping and ceremonial proclamations, but once it gets into general circulation, rationalism of one kind or another follows in short order; an age of faith gives way to an age of reason.

That transformation has many dimensions, but one of the more important is a refocusing from what does happen to what can happen. At the time, that refocusing is a very good thing.

Literacy in an age of faith tends to drive what might be called the rationalization of religion; myths get written down, scribes quarrel over which versions are authentic and what interpretations are valid, until what had been a fluid and flexible oral tradition stiffens into scripture, while folk religion—for the time being, we can define that messy category “religion” in purely functional terms as the collection of customary rites and beliefs that go with a particular set of mythic narratives—goes through a similar hardening into an organized religion with its own creed and commandments.

That process of rigidification robs oral tradition of the flexibility and openness to reinterpretation that gives it much of its strength, and helps feed the building pressures that will eventually tear the traditional religion to shreds.

It’s the rise of rational philosophy that allows people in a literate civilization to get out from under the weight of a mummified version of what does happen and start exploring alternative ideas about what can happen. That’s liberating, and it’s also a source of major practical advantages, as life in a maturing urban civilization rarely fits a set of mythic narratives assembled in an older and, usually, much simpler time. It becomes possible to ask new questions and speculate about the answers, and to explore a giddy range of previously unexamined options.

That much of the story is hardwired into the historical vision of contemporary Western culture. It’s the next part of the story, though, that leads to our present predicament. The wild freedom of the early days of the rationalist rebellion never lasts for long. Some of the new ideas that unfold from that rebellion turn out to be more popular and more enduring than others, and become the foundations on which later rationalists build their own ideas.

With the collapse of traditional religions, in turn, people commonly turn to civil religions as a source of values and meaning, and popular civil religions that embrace some form of rationalist thought, as most do, end up imbuing it with their own aura of secondhand holiness. The end result of the rationalist rebellion is thus a society as heavily committed to the supposed truth of some set of secular dogmas as the religion it replaced was to its theological dogmas.

You know that this point has arrived when the rebellion starts running in reverse, and people who want to think ideas outside the box start phrasing them, not in terms of rational philosophy, but in terms of some new or revived religion.

The rebellion of rationalism thus eventually gives rise to a rebellion against rationalism, and this latter rebellion packs a great deal more punch than its predecessor, because the rationalist pursuit of what can happen has a potent downside: it can’t make accurate predictions of the phenomena that matter most to human beings, because it fixates on what can happen rather than paying attention to what does happen.

It’s only in the fantasies of extreme rationalists, after all, that the human capacity for reason has no hard limits. The human brain did not evolve for the purpose of understanding the universe and everything in it; it evolved to handle the considerably less demanding tasks of finding food, finding mates, managing relations with fellow hominids, and driving off the occasional leopard.

We’ve done some remarkable things with a brain adapted for those very simple purposes, to be sure, but the limits imposed by our ancestry are still very much in place.

Those limits show most clearly when we attempt to understand processes at work in the world. There are some processes in the world that are simple enough, and sufficiently insulated from confounding variables, that a mathematical model that can be understood by the human mind is a close enough fit to allow the outcome of the process to be predicted. 
That’s what physics is about, and chemistry, and the other “hard” sciences: the construction of models that copy, more or less, the behavior of parts of the world that are simple enough for us to understand. The fact that some processes in the world lend themselves to that kind of modeling is what gives rationalism its appeal.

The difficulty creeps in, though, when those same approaches are used to try to predict the behavior of phenomena that are too complex to conform to any such model. You can make such predictions with fairly good results if you pay attention to history, because history is the product of the full range of causes at work in comparable situations, and if A leads to B over and over again in a sufficiently broad range of contexts, it’s usually safe to assume that if A shows up again, B won’t be far behind.

Ignore history, though, and you throw away your one useful source of relevant data; ignore history, come up with a mental model that says that A will be followed by Z, and insist that since this can happen it will happen, and you’re doomed.

Human behavior, individual as well as collective, is sufficiently complex that it falls into the category of things that rational models divorced from historical testing regularly fail to predict. So do many other things that are part of everyday life, but it’s usually the failure of rational philosophies to provide a useful understanding of human behavior that drives the revolt against rationalism.

Over and over again, rational philosophies have proclaimed the arrival of a better world defined by some abstract model of how human beings ought to behave, some notion or other of what can happen, and the actions people have taken to achieve that better world have resulted in misery and disaster; the appeal of rationalism is potent enough that it normally takes a few centuries of repeated failures for the point to be made, but once it sinks in, the age of reason is effectively over.

That doesn’t mean that the intellectual tools of rationalism go away—quite the contrary; the rise of what Spengler called the Second Religiosity involves sweeping transformations of religion and rational philosophy alike. More precisely, it demands the abandonment of extreme claims on both sides, and the recognition of what it is that each does better than the other. What comes after the age of reason isn’t a new age of faith—not right away, at least; that’s further down the road—but an age in which the claims of both contenders are illuminated by the lessons of history: an age of memory.

That’s why, a few centuries after the rationalists of Greece, India, and China had denounced or dismissed the gods, their heirs quietly accepted a truce with the new religious movements of their time, and a few centuries further on, the heirs of those heirs wove the values taught by the accepted religion into their own philosophical systems. That’s also why, over that same time, the major religions of those cultures quietly discarded claimsthat couldn’t stand up to reasonable criticism.

Where the Greeks of the Archaic period believed in the literal truth of the Greek myths, and their descendants of the time of Socrates and Plato were caught up in savage debates over whether the old myths had any value at all, the Greeks of a later age accepted Symmachus’ neat summary—“Myths are things that never happened, but always are”—and saw no conflict at all between pouring a libation to Zeus the Thunderer and taking in a lecture on physics in which thunderbolts were explained by wholly physical causes.

That state of mind is very far from the way that most people in the contemporary industrial world, whether or not they consider themselves to be religious, approach religious beliefs, narratives, and practices.

The absurd lengths to which today’s Christian fundamentalists take their insistence on the historical reality of the Noah’s ark story, for example, in the face of conclusive geological evidence that nothing of the sort happened in the time frame the Biblical narrative provides for it, is equaled if not exceeded by the lengths to which their equal and opposite numbers in the atheist camp take their insistence that all religions everywhere can be reduced to these terms.

Still, I’d like to suggest that this rapprochement is the most likely shape for the religious future of a declining industrial world, and that it also offers the best hope we’ve got for getting at least some of the achievements of the last three centuries or so through the difficult years ahead. How that process might play out is a complex matter; we’ll begin discussing it next week.

Pirate Edward Snowden

SUBHEAD: In this sense pirates are about radical self-determination, rather than meekly accepting the awful life that the authorities set out for them.

By Kester Brewin on 3 July 2013 for Huffington Post -

Image above: Johnny Depp as the fictional movie pirate Jack Sparrow. From (

Over the past 48 hours the number of countries saying 'no' to Edward Snowden's application for asylum has grown rapidly. From Austria to Brazil, Finland to Spain, it seems that representatives from nations on Snowden's list have been queuing up with their statements and sad shakes of their head.

Attempts have been made to place Snowden's actions and predicament in the context of history, with comparisons to other whistle-blowers and truth-tellers. I want to argue that he can also be viewed as part of a long line of outcast agitators: Edward Snowden is a pirate.

With Jolly Rogers plastered onto everything from baby-bottles to skateboards, the pirate label is cast around so liberally now that it can be almost impossible to work out what it really designates. My young son has been invited to countless pirate-themed birthday parties; given that he has yet to be invited to an 'aggravated robbery' party, one has to ask why it is that these characters who have been vilified by governments and monarchs for centuries - and continue to raise the ire of corporations through their often violent thievery even now - are suitable role models for a bunch of 7 year olds. (Perhaps the next time he is invited to one I should hold off on the eye-patch and cut-off trousers and send him along in an inflatable boat with an AK-47, or just with a carrier bag full of knock-off DVDs.)

Yet if we dig back into history I believe we can see that Snowden stands in continuity with the sea-faring pirates of the 18th century, the pirate DJs of the 20th century and the young Somali men of the 21st.

The popular view of the Atlantic pirates of the 18th century is that they were simply opportunistic thieves. As I outlined in my recent TED talk on piracy, this misses two things. Firstly, everyone was thieving from one another: the Spanish navy from the English, the English from the Dutch - and everyone from the lands they had 'discovered' in the New World. Pirates were not set apart because of their theft; pirates were despised for not handing over what they stole to a monarch. When they did they were conveniently re-named 'privateers.'

Secondly, sailors turned to piracy in order to step out from under oppression. The men who worked the naval ships and created huge wealth for kings and aristocrats got nothing for their troubles. They were brutalised by their merchant captains, fed rotten food, rarely paid and regularly injured. A writer of the day commented that sailors were 'caught in a machine from which there was no escape, bar desertion, incapacitation, or death.' To be a sailor was to be close to death - their life expectancy on the naval ships was a few years at most - so many calculated that, given they were likely to die at sea anyway, they might as well live as well as they could while they survived. When these men became pirates they modelled a totally different life at sea. Pirates could vote for their officers, they were compensated from the common purse if they got injured, they ate well and, most importantly, shared the profits of their looting equally among themselves.

In this sense pirates are about radical self-determination. Rather than meekly accept the awful life that the authorities set out for them, they rose up at great risk to themselves and decided to do something about it.

In economic terms what their acts of piracy did was to break open system that kept wealth enclosed for the privileged few, and it is this act of smashing down enclosed spaces that hallmarks pirate activity in so many spheres. Where the resources of the many are being exploited for the benefit of the few, pirates will emerge to break down barriers and release riches back into the hands of the common people.

We see this same principle at work in the pirate radio stations that emerged in the 1950's. The BBC had a total monopoly on broadcasting, and would only play 'pop music' for an hour or so each week. Radio Caroline, a pirate station, came along and broke open this enclosed state, handing back the music of the people to the people.

Though they have now been taken over by criminal gangs, we also saw the same principle at work in the early pirate activity in Somalia. Here were young men living in a failed state whose livelihoods as fishermen had been destroyed by industrial trawlers. Watching billions of dollars of goods being shipped by their shores each week, their turn to piracy was an act that said that they had had enough of being alienated by international trade.

Initially, the price pirates pay for these actions is usually very high, although, if they fight for long enough they often end up changing the system for good. The British government worked very hard to close down Caroline and criminalised those involved. In the end it had to back down, the BBC was overhauled and Radio 1 was launched - employing the same pirate DJs who had been vilified for their actions before.

Pirates, we can generalise, emerge whenever the social contract between ordinary people and states or multinationals breaks down. They are those who are prepared to stand up for fair treatment and access to resources, regardless of personal cost, in the hope that their resistance will eventually force those in power to reform. Perhaps this is why we want our children to emulate them.

Snowden fits this model perfectly. The nature of his work has not changed: using technology to gather information. What has turned him from treasured government specialist into vilified turn-coat is simply that he has now stopped handing over what he found to 'the King,' and placed it in the public domain instead. Tired of the way the state has worked to enclose information and steal from others, Snowden has put personal cost to one side in the hope that his small act of mutiny will bring about reformation.

These costs have always been terribly high. In his excellent work on the subject, historian Marcus Rediker calls pirates 'Villains of All Nations,' noting that:
'the pirate's enemies had slowly but thoroughly disconnected him from the social order, showing him to be the enemy of individuals, property owners, the colony, the empire, the King, the British nation, the world of nations and all mankind. It remained for the pirate to be "hanged like a dog" and his corpse put on public display so that everyone could learn the lessons of property and order.'
This is the work that authorities in the United States appear to be doing so well behind the scenes: pressurising country after country, alienating Snowden until he becomes 'villain of all nations.'

In 1726 the notorious pirate William Fly was marched out for public execution, and given his chance to repent. The authorities hadn't gambled on his resolve. Criticising the poor workmanship of the executioner, and re-tying his own noose, he put it round his neck calling for sailors to be paid and treated better, arguing that 'nothing was said to our captains when they abused us and treated us like dogs.'

Snowden is right to run because poor treatment is still on the menu for those who threaten the state. Bradley Manning is already in custody and been held in conditions that have garnered wide criticism. His crime? Opening up for public scrutiny the brutal actions of the military, confirming that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were not isolated incidents and that wider abuse and poor treatment went routinely unreported.

History tells us that, as a pirate being excluded from more and more nations, Snowden's own future looks difficult at best. In his own opinion, his life may well be in danger. However, his brave stand to open up to public access the reach of government infiltration of private data should be commended as a virtuous act of piracy and, standing in the long line of such actions, hopefully lead to reformation and better treatment and a helpful renegotiation of the contract each of us makes with those in power over us.

Video above: Kester Brewin TEDx Talk on piates and the loss of the commons. From (


Independence No More

SUBHEAD: I say be a pirate and put a blade between the admiral's ribs. Then you can celebrate.

By Juan Wilson on 4 July 2013 for Island Breath -

Image above: A pirate in the Americas. From (

I hate the July Fourth Holiday! For me it has come to mean the worst of America's excesses in today's world. It certainly has little to do with the successful guerrilla war against intercontinental British imperialism.

Compare and contrast the words to "The Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful".
Star Spangled Banner
O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
What the fuck! "Rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air."
America the Beautiful
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Oh wow! For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!

Given the sorry state of our empire it's no wonder that the Star Spangled Banner is our national Anthem and America the Beautiful just another song.

America revels in some of its worst habits on Independence Day; consuming charcoaled greasy hamburgers and hotdogs and washing them down with quarts of brewski while being entertained with uncounted sulphurous explosives as a background to NASCAR races.

Today's news headline from ( "Tired of finishing second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. plans to be more aggressive in search of his first Daytona win since 2004". More aggressive? That'll do it.

You remember the old unattributed quote:
"If brute force isn't working, you're not using enough of it."
Bottom line: As we simmer in our own sweat as fires blaze and ecosystems fade, we can celebrate our American Execptionalism and forget about the uncomfortable truths that lurk in the shadows.

Or, I say, you can be a pirate and put a steely point between the admiral's ribs. Then you can celebrate.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Merciless Indian Savages 7/3/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Don't Drink the Green Cool Aid 7/4/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Rockets Red Glare 7/1/09
Island Breath: Recapturing the Spirit of Independence 7/4/08
Island Breath: Happy Oil Dependence Day 7/4/08


They still enclose Nature, don't they?

SUBHEAD: 21st Century style. is all about roping a commodity-rich ecosystem into the global market grid.

By David Bollier on 2 July 2013 for -

Image above: Is this fencve to keep us out or nature in? From (

It happens all around the world, every day – corporate enclosures of shared, sustainably managed renewable resources. Brutal abuses of the land, colossal disruptions of communities. And yet investors and corporate management always cast themselves as the champions of progress, civilization, jobs and the public good – and respectable opinion somehow accepts the ecological insanity of the plans as necessary. We know the rest of the story.

These thoughts were provoked by a recent commentary about a massive proposed open-pit mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska. The project is being pushed by a British-Canadian corporate alliance, the Pebble Partnership, which audaciously claims that its mining could power “green energy initiatives.” The Pebble Partnership's website helpfully notes that “the difference between being a stone age culture and a post-stone age culture is metal,” implying that the Pebble Mine is just another step forward for civilization and away from the Stone Age.

The truth is that under a best-case scenario, the mining of copper, gold and molybdenum near Bristol Bay will destroy up to 90 miles of streams and 4,800 acres of wetlands. The mining operations will supposedly confine billions of tons of mine tailings within 700-foot tall dams. But in a place where earthquakes are common and the land is wet and the wilderness pristine….well, we all know that “accidents will happen.” If the mine is built, you can be sure that a BP-style disaster will eventually ruin the biggest spawning grounds for sockeye salmon in the world.

I think it helps to take these discussions down to the human level rather than leaving them at the abstract, impersonal macro-level, the plane of discussion that most economists and politicians prefer. Callan J. Chythlook-Sifsof, an indigenous Eskimo of Yupik/Inupiat background, was raised in a remote region of Alaska whose everyday culture revolved around salmon. As he writes in a recent NYT essay:
Fishing is what every family does. It is who we are. I spent my summers on the back deck of family fishing boats working multiple fisheries. The boats and fish camps are maintained by generations of families harvesting salmon not only for income, but also for food.
I remember long days of processing hundreds of pounds of salmon, setting nets, cleaning and filleting, filling tubs of salt brine, putting fresh water in clean white buckets and hanging neat rows to dry and smoke. Enjoying the bounty over the winter, my family would affectionately praise me for my hard work and contribution to our food. When I was 8, I went into business for myself, lugging a little cooler around the boatyard, selling sodas to the fishermen, welders, port engineers and fabricators.
As a child, I had no idea what magic this life was — it was just the way we did things. It’s the way many Alaska Natives live — through self-reliance and hard work to harvest the many gifts of the land and sea.
Now, if the massive Pebble Mine becomes a reality, outside corporations will not only jeopardize the pristine Alaskan habitat that supports the sockeye salmon. It could easily ruin the livelihoods of an estimated 12,000 people whose full- or part-time incomes or subsistence depend upon the salmon.

The company’s slick website touting the Pebble Mine lathers on the socially responsible reassurances. But companies that enclose a locality don’t care a fig about what is locally distinctive about a place. Their interest is in achieving a grand rip-and-run. Let government pick up the pieces and mop up the mess.

The CEO of Pebble, John Shively, has said that if the salmon habitat is harmed, it will build “comparable” habitat nearby – as if money can take care of anything. He touts the jobs that will be created – but four in five Native Alaskans with ancestral ties to the Bristol Bay region oppose the proposed mine. Chythlook-Sifsof has pointed out that Shively has already warned that government or someone else may have to handle the messy aftermath of mining if ‘we’re not available to work on closure’.”

Enclosure, 21st Century style: It’s all about roping a commodity-rich ecosystem into the global market grid – and once that dependency has been secured, the fix is in. There is no turning back to the former way of life because market criteria -- profits, jobs, growth -- will govern. The commons will be lost. Instead of seeing one enclosure after another on its own term, I say it’s time to see all of them together as a scandalous, recurring theme of our times: market enclosure. If we’re serious about environmental defense, let’s move beyond the “market-based solutions” that beckon with false promises, and embrace the ones that are serious about protecting our ecological commons.


Big Island NO GMO Bill

SOURCE: Shannon Rudolph <>
SUBHEAD: Hawaii County Council hearing on Anti-GMO Bill 79 packs in hundreds to testify Big Island

By Staff on 2 July 2013 for Big Island Videos  -

Image above: Crowd at Big Island County Council hearing on Bill 79. From original article.

In what will end up being one of the longest public hearings in recent memory, hundreds signed up to testify at the Hawaii County Council committee hearing on bill 79 – which would prohibit genetically modified organisms on the Big Island. The debate has reached a fever pitch over the last few months (see the timeline video below).

On one side, those who favor organic growing methods, concerned over the corporate reach of companies like Monsanto – the powerful, multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation. On the other: papaya farmers, many of whom already use a transgenic, virus resistant Rainbow papaya to earn their living. They have found support from some of the island’s large farmers and ranchers, who say they depend on the science to survive.

The conflicting campaigns came to a head today, as the Committee on Public Safety and Mass Transit’s meeting at the West Hawaii Civic Center was packed to capacity. A TV was set up outside the room for the overflow crowd, and the remote teleconference sites were inundated with testifiers. About 400 people signed up to speak. At three minutes apiece, the council was looking at 12 hours of public testimony.

Most of the input was in favor of the bill introduced by Kohala councilwoman Margaret Wille (see some of the testimony for and against to the right). Supporters identified themselves with a green armband, and when they spoke, they silently cheered one another with a coordinated hand wave. Applause was forbidden, as the council hoped to maintain decorum despite the passions involved.

The diverse assortment used humor, quoted research, and spoke with emotion as they tried to convince the council to support the bill. Celebrity resident Roseanne Barr was front and center.

There were some who testified against the bill. Monsanto Hawaii’s Alan Takemoto and Hawaii Crop Improvement Association president Mark Phillipson went into the lion’s den, speaking out against the measure. Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, the man credited with developing the transgenic Rainbow papaya, was also in attendance.

Opponents of the bill include the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, Big Island Banana Growers Association, Hawaii Dairy, and Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council.

The day continues on Wednesday, and some say it could even continue into Friday (no testimony on the 4th of July) when the councilmembers are expected to vote on the bill, giving it either a positive or negative recommendation before it goes on to the full council.

Video above: Time line on Anti-GMO Bill 79. From original article ( See others there.

See video at:

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Big Island GMO Bill 6/27/13

The Poisoning of Paradise

SOURCE: Koohan  Paik (
SUBHEAD: Kauai and the rest of the Hawaii has become Ground Zero for open air testing of experimental pesticides and GMOs.

Bymaggie Sergio on 2 July 2013 for Huffungton Post -

Image above: No Tresspass sign on public land to protect state supported Agribusiness Development Corporation that facilitates open field testing of experimental pesticide mixes and GMO crops. From original article.

The tropical paradise of Hawaii is on the bucket list of many. Peaceful images of white sandy beaches, warm tropical waters and the welcoming spirit of Aloha is what draws tourists from around the globe. In 2012, Hawaiian tourism hit an all-time high. Visitors spent a record of $14.3 billion dollars and more tourists than ever before (close to 8 million people) visited the Hawaiian Islands last year.

Simultaneously, the vibrant ecosystems and biodiversity of the Hawaiian Islands are under serious attack by the unrestrained growth of the biotech industry. The average tourist coming to Hawaii to enjoy a vacation, get married or possibly invest in a time share isn't aware of the chemical contamination taking place due to unregulated GMO experiments and heavy pesticide use on the islands.

My intention with this article is to raise awareness and help shine a light on the environmental crisis that is happening right now, under our noses, in Hawaii. If action isn't taken quickly and soon, I am fearful of what the long term, unrestrained use of pesticides will do to the ecology of Hawaii. What the general public needs to know, is that GMO research in Hawaii requires the use of powerful restricted use pesticides.

A little over a month ago I was shocked to learn from a friend that Kauai and the rest of the Hawaiian Islands have become Ground Zero for open air testing of experimental pesticides and GMOs. After hearing this information I made my first visit to Kauai and researched what was happening on the island, and learned about the grassroots movement fighting back to stop the chemical trespass and assault on the environment.

This video, Molokai Mom, tells the story of one mother taking on Monsanto after her young son got sick from breathing in pesticide drift allegedly from Monsanto's fields near her home.

 How the GMO industry snuck into Hawaii
In the mid-1990s, the sugarcane industry collapsed and vacated much of the agricultural land on Kauai. That agricultural land is now either owned by the State of Hawaii or several private landholders. All of which lease the land out to the biotech industry. Specifically, the Big Six; Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, BASF, Pioneer and Bayer.

What is taking place generally in GMO testing activities is research that involves the transferring of DNA from one species to another. This may include human genes introduced to crops such as corn, soy, rice and sugarcane and genetically engineered crops for use in the pharmaceutical industry. The end result is an organism (plant or animal) that would never occur in nature. For the farmers on Kauai that practice organic and sustainable agricultural practices, their crops are at risk for contamination. For the ecosystem(s) of the Hawaiian Islands, biodiversity is being threatened. For the people that live and work in the communities close to the GMO fields; their health and the health of their children is at risk from long term pesticide exposure.

The Garden Island of Kauai
On the west side of Kauai, in the town of Waimea, GMO test fields border on several communities and a school. In this small town, Atrazine has been detected in the water. Astonishingly, pesticide spraying is done without any buffer zones to public areas, schools or waterways. The spraying of undisclosed pesticides, often in combination with each other, can be done early in the morning, late afternoon or sometimes in the middle of the night.

This practice of combining toxic pesticides, a process known as "Stacking," carries an enormous risk since the impact on the environment and human health is completely untested and unknown. Individually, some of the confirmed pesticides used; Atrazine, 2,4-D (a derivative of Agent Orange) Lorsban and Chlorpyrifos have proven to have serious impacts on health and the environment. One can only imagine the toxic pesticide cocktail that is created by this practice of "pesticide stacking" and other experiments.

Records obtained from the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture indicate that 22 different restricted use pesticides, totaling 3.5 tons, have been imported onto Kauai by five commercial agriculture entities and constitute approximately 99% of the restricted use pesticides utilized by agricultural operations on Kauai. The chemical companies on the Island of Kauai have refused to disclose this information to the public or to the co-sponsor of the pesticide ordinance mentioned later in this article, Kauai County Councilmember, Gary Hooser.

In my four years of serving on Marin County's Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Commission, I have become familiar with reviewing lists of pesticides for approval and participating in open, public discussions about potential risks to people and the environment. I have grown accustomed to transparency with respect to pesticide use by my local government. It has been an honor to be part of a county wide citizen committee that passed an IPM Ordinance that incorporated pesticide buffer zones around schools and playgrounds, and listened to the demands of the public with respect to public disclosure about what pesticides are allowed to be used by the county. All in the interest of protecting public health, wildlife and the environment. (I do need to state that my comments in this blog post reflect my own as a private citizen, and are not meant to represent Marin County's IPM Commission in any way.)

After researching and learning about the GMO issue on Kauai, I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that these companies can get away with nondisclosure and clandestine use of pesticides.

How on earth is this possible?

Image above: Fields of GMO corn on public land next to Polihale State Park that are sprayed with experimental mixes of pesticides. From original article.

One day I took a drive to what I was told is one of most beautiful beaches in the state, Polihale State Park, on the western tip of Kauai. As I drove a little over 4 miles down a remote dirt road, past the Pacific Missile Range Facility, I came upon several GMO test fields. All of the fields had "No Trespassing Notices" like the one below. I never ventured onto private property, and took my photos from the road. The smaller signs (well out of my reach) within the fields contain information for the workers about recent spraying.

Driving slowly down the bumpy, red dirt road I couldn't help but notice the polarities around me. I stopped my car to get out and stand in awe of an ancient mountain range on the oldest island in Hawaii. I took in the majestic, sovereign hills that provided the backdrop to a valley that contains field after field of experimental GMO crops.

I thought about the surrounding land, air, and the ocean just a short distance away. I then thought about these fields being saturated with experimental pesticides, and my heart broke wide open.

Lawsuits filed
On the west side of Kauai, people are getting sick, and two separate lawsuits have been filed by residents of the town of Waimea. One lawsuit that represents 150 people alleges that Pioneer, in its cultivation practices, has allowed pesticides and pesticide laden dust to escape and infiltrate into people's homes for the last 10 years.

Kids taken ill at School
The spraying of pesticides by Syngenta near Waimea Canyon Middle school has been suspected in causing children and teachers to become sick on several occasions between 2006 and 2008. In one incident at least 10 children collapsed and were sent to the hospital. An investigation was launched to find out why. Syngenta has denied that their spraying of pesticides was the culprit. Instead they claim that the plant "Stinkweed" was to blame for people becoming sick, not their GMO fields or use of pesticides that borders right up to the school. In speaking with some of the locals in Waimea, no one recalls stinkweed ever being an issue in the community.

Mystery of the Dead Heart Sea Urchins
In February 2012, between Waimea and Hanapepe on Kauai, a local dive company discovered a massive, sudden die off of heart sea urchins. It was estimated that approximately 52,000 sea urchins were dead on the ocean floor along the south side of island. Considering that the GMO fields are in abundance along the west and southwestern shores of Kauai, it is reasonable to look at GMO and pesticide run off as one possibility for the sudden die-off. An investigation was conducted by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources and USGS. However, testing the sea urchins for exposure to pesticides or GMOs was never done, and the results of the investigation were inconclusive for the sudden die-off.

An Ordinance is Introduced
On June 26 of this year, Kauai County Council Members Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum introduced Draft Bill 2491 If passed, this bill would give the County of Kauai the authority to regulate the commercial use of pesticides and GMOs. At the first public reading of this pesticide ordinance, it was estimated that 1000 people were in attendance. As I watched some of the public comments on a live streaming feed, I was aghast to listen to some of the testimony from Syngenta and Pioneer, when pressed by members of Kauai County Council to disclose what pesticides are being used, or for copies of experimental pesticide use permits issued by the EPA. To say these companies were dancing around the issue would be an understatement.

After reading the proposed ordinance it feels like an attempt at sanity. This ordinance requires that each of the GMO companies discloses what pesticides are being applied, and asks for public notifications from the companies. It requires that when spraying pesticides, buffer zones around schools, hospitals and other public places be put in place. It also calls for a temporary moratorium on the experimental use and commercial production of GMOs until the county has conducted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the health and environmental impact of the GMO industry. This is a necessary step in the right direction, and public comments are being accepted now by Kauai County Council.

What You Can Do for Kauai

If you are concerned about the alleged poisoning of paradise please share this article on social media sites, with the tourism industry and anyone you know that loves Hawaii and the spirit of Aloha. The world needs to know that Hawaii is ground zero for open air pesticide and GMO experiments.
On July 31, 2013 there will be a second public hearing on this issue, and possibly a vote. The Pesticide Action Network has been following this issue closely and has created the following website, Stop Poisoning Paradise. 
You can also learn more by visiting Hawaii Seed.


See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Stop Poisoning Paradise Fundraiser 6/28/13


Edward Snowden Statement

SOURCE: Jay Jonathan (
SUBHEAD: Obama Administration is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government.

By Edward Snowden on 1 July 2013 in WikiLeaks -

Image above: Edward Snowden and Lindsay Mills in happier times (in newly rented home on Oahu?). Note glasses on carpet. From (

One week ago I left Hong Kong after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth. My continued liberty has been owed to the efforts of friends new and old, family, and others who I have never met and probably never will. I trusted them with my life and they returned that trust with a faith in me for which I will always be thankful.

On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic "wheeling and dealing" over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.

For decades the United States of America has been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.

In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.

I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many.

Oh Canada!

SUBHEAD: How America's friendly northern neighbor became a rogue, reckless petrostate.

By Andrew Nikiforuk on 1 July 2013 for Foreign Policy -

Image above: This is what Canada's shale oil boom looks like.  Phoo by Mark Ralston for AFP. From (

For decades, the world has thought of Canada as America's friendly northern neighbor -- a responsible, earnest, if somewhat boring, land of hockey fans and single-payer health care. On the big issues, it has long played the global Boy Scout, reliably providing moral leadership on everything from ozone protection to land-mine eradication to gay rights. The late novelist Douglas Adams once quipped that if the United States often behaved like a belligerent teenage boy, Canada was an intelligent woman in her mid-30s. Basically, Canada has been the United States -- not as it is, but as it should be.

But a dark secret lurks in the northern forests. Over the last decade, Canada has not so quietly become an international mining center and a rogue petrostate. It's no longer America's better half, but a dystopian vision of the continent's energy-soaked future.

That's right: The good neighbor has banked its economy on the cursed elixir of political dysfunction -- oil. Flush with visions of becoming a global energy superpower, Canada's government has taken up with pipeline evangelists, petroleum bullies, and climate change skeptics. Turns out the Boy Scout's not just hooked on junk crude -- he's become a pusher. And that's not even the worst of it.

With oil and gas now accounting for approximately a quarter of its export revenue, Canada has lost its famous politeness. Since the Conservative Party won a majority in Parliament in 2011, the federal government has eviscerated conservationists, indigenous nations, European commissioners, and just about anyone opposing unfettered oil production as unpatriotic radicals. It has muzzled climate change scientists, killed funding for environmental science of every stripe, and in a recent pair of unprecedented omnibus bills, systematically dismantled the country's most significant long-cherished environmental laws.

The author of this transformation is Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a right-wing policy wonk and evangelical Christian with a power base in Alberta, ground zero of Canada's oil boom. Just as Margaret Thatcher funded her political makeover of Britain on revenue from North Sea oil, Harper intends to methodically rewire the entire Canadian experience with petrodollars sucked from the ground. In the process he has concentrated power in the prime minister's office and reoriented Canada's foreign priorities. Harper, who took office in 2006, increased defense spending by nearly $1 billion annually in his first four years, and he has committed $2 billion to prison expansion with a "tough on crime" policy that ignores the country's falling crime rate. Meanwhile, Canada has amassed a huge federal debt -- its highest in history at some $600 billion and counting.

Liberal critics like to say that Harper's political revolution caught many Canadians, generally a fat and apathetic people, by surprise -- a combination of self-delusion and strategic deception. That may be true, but though Canadians live in high latitudes, they're not above baser human instincts -- like greed. Harper is aggressively pushing an economic gamble on oil, the world's most volatile resource, and promising a new national wealth based on untapped riches far from where most Canadians live that will fill their pocketbooks, and those of their children, for generations. With nearly three-quarters of Canadians supporting oil sands development in a recent poll, Harper seems to be selling them on the idea.

THE RESOURCE UNDERWRITING many of these ugly behavioral changes is bitumen, a heavy, sour crude mined from oil sands. Deposits of the badly degraded asphalt-like substance lie under a forest the size of Florida in northeastern Alberta and comprise the world's third-largest petroleum reserves. Over the last decade, as oil prices increased fivefold, oil companies invested approximately $160 billion to develop bitumen in Alberta, and it has finally turned profitable.

Canada is now cranking out 1.7 million barrels a day of the stuff, and scheduled production stands to fill provincial and federal government coffers with about $120 billion in rent and royalties by 2020. More than 40 percent of that haul goes directly to the federal government largely in the form of corporate taxes. And the government wants even more; it's pushing for production to hit 5 million barrels a day by 2030.

Never mind that the entire process is a messy and wasteful one. It takes copious amounts of water, capital, and energy to dig out the carbon-rich sands, let alone upgrade and process the heavy crude, which can't even move through a pipeline until it is diluted with an imported gasoline-like condensate. With brazen cheek, the government nonetheless defends the Alberta megaproject as "responsible" and "sustainable" -- "an enterprise of epic proportions, akin to the building of the pyramids or China's Great Wall. Only bigger." Bigger indeed: Approved bitumen mining projects could potentially excavate a forest area six times as large as New York City. Reclamation and reforestation remain an uncertain and costly proposition. To date, oil companies have already created enough toxic mining sludge (6 billion barrels) to flood the entirety of Washington, D.C.

Unsurprisingly, Ottawa has become a master at the cynical art of greenwashing. When Harper's ministers aren't attacking former NASA scientist and climate change canary James Hansen in the pages of the New York Times or lobbying against Europe's Fuel Quality Directive (which regards bitumen as much dirtier than conventional oil), his government has spent $100 million since 2009 on ads to convince Canadians that exporting this oil is "responsible resource development." Meanwhile, Canada has bent over backward to entice Beijing. Three state-owned Chinese oil companies (all with dismal records of corporate transparency and environmental sensitivity) have already spent more than $20 billion purchasing rights to oil sands in Alberta.

The kowtowing to China, now the world's largest oil consumer, highlights Canada's big bitumen dilemma: how to get dirty, landlocked oil to global markets. The United States, Canada's biggest customer, doesn't seem to need it as much anymore; imports declined by more than 4 million barrels a day between 2005 and 2011, and with pipeline projects to the United States like Keystone XL stuck in the mud, Harper's vision of being an "emerging energy superpower" appears in danger. Unsurprisingly, Harper has recently jettisoned criticism of China's human rights record. As a secret foreign-policy document leaked last fall to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) makes clear, Canada has new priorities: "To succeed we will need to pursue political relationships in tandem with economic interests even where political interests or values may not align."

In 2012, Canada quietly signed a controversial trade agreement with the People's Republic and approved a $15 billion takeover of Nexen, an oil sands player, by the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. And, perhaps to warm Canadians' hearts to the Chinese, the government recently lobbied to rent two traveling pandas at a cost of $10 million over the next 10 years.

Now that oil sands mining accounts for nearly 10 percent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, Ottawa can't really brook any discussion of a carbon tax, though a majority of Canadians would support one. Harper described the Kyoto Protocol as "a socialist scheme" and a "job-killing, economy-destroying" accord before pulling out of the agreement altogether in 2012. Many of Canada's ministers are now die-hard skeptics even about the science behind climate change. As Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently explained to the Montreal newspaper La Presse: "I think that people aren't as worried as they were before about global warming of 2 degrees.… Scientists have recently told us that our fears [on climate change] are exaggerated." To silence any would-be exaggerators, the government simply stopped funding the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, disbanded Environment Canada's Adaptation to Climate Change Research Group, and eliminated the role of chief science advisor. And since 2008, political minders have vetted all media requests for the country's 23,000 federal scientists.

After the government barred a federal scientist from talking about the discovery of a large Arctic ozone hole, a 2012 editorial in the influential science journal Nature demanded that the Canadian government "set its scientists free." It seems Harper heard "cut them loose" instead: His government summarily closed the world-famous Experimental Lakes Area research station, a gem of Canadian environmental science that has helped spur global policy on acid rain, to save the princely sum of $2 million a year (though the Ontario government is working to keep it open).

THE SINGLE-MINDED PURSUIT of this petroproject has stunned global analysts. The Economist, no left-wing shill, characterized Harper, the son of an Imperial Oil senior accountant, as a bully "intolerant of criticism and dissent" with a determined habit of rule-breaking. Lawrence Martin, one of Canada's most influential political commentators, says that Harper's "billy-club governance" has broken "new ground in the subverting of the democratic process." Conservative pollster Allan Gregg has described Harper's agenda as an ideological assault on evidence, facts, and reason.

To be fair, Harper's government does have a plan for climate change -- pumping the problem to the United States and/or China. Oil sands crude transported to the United States by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, for example, could over a 50-year period increase carbon emissions by as much as 935 million metric tons relative to other crudes.

And the planned $5.5 billion Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean would result in up to 100 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, from extraction and production in Canada to combustion in China -- more than British Columbia's total emissions in 2009. The 2012 National Inventory Report by Environment Canada, the country's environmental department, actually boasts that Canada has partly reduced overall emission intensity in the oil sands "by exporting more crude bitumen."

All this underscores Canada's new reality: Just about any kind of rational evidence has now come under assault by a government that believes that markets -- and only markets -- hold the answers. Any act that industry regards as an obstacle to rapid mineral extraction or pipeline building has been rewritten with a Saudi-like flourish.

One massive omnibus budget bill alone changed 70 pieces of legislation, gutting, for example, the Fisheries Act, which directly prohibited the destruction of aquatic-life habitats but stood in the way of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which must cross 1,000 waterways en route to the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, funding for Canada's iconic park system has been cut by 20 percent in what critics have called a "lobotomy." The CBC, the respected state broadcaster long scorned by Harper as an independent check on power, has suffered a series of cutbacks. The Health Council of Canada, which once ensured national health standards and innovation across Canada's 13 provinces and territories, also got the ax. Furthermore, with the élan of a Middle Eastern petroprince, Harper appointed the head of his security detail to be ambassador to Jordan. And he did it all with nary a peep from your average Canadian.

More than a decade ago, American political scientist Terry Lynn Karl crudely summed up the dysfunction of petrostates: Countries that become too dependent on oil and gas riches behave like plantation economies that rely on "an unsustainable development trajectory fueled by an exhaustible resource" whose revenue streams form "an implacable barrier to change." And that's what happened to Canada while you weren't looking. Shackled to the hubris of a leader who dreams of building a new global energy superpower, the Boy Scout is now slave to his own greed.