Fight against GMO crops in Hawaii

SOURCE: Ken Taylor (
SUBHEAD: There are as many biotech crop-field trials in Hawaii as in Iowa - mostly for corn but also soybeans, wheat and rice.

By Andrew Pollack on 7 October 2013 for the New York Times -

Image above: Ryan K. Oyama, a research scientist at Pioneer, which is owned by DuPont, in a field of genetically engineered corn. From original article.

The balmy tropical isles here seem worlds apart from the expansive cornfields of the Midwest, but Hawaii has become the latest battleground in the fight over genetically modified crops.

Over the last decade, the state has become a hub for the development of genetically engineered corn and other crops that are sold to farmers around the globe. Monsanto and other seed companies have moved here en masse, and corn now sprouts on thousands of acres where sugar or pineapples once grew.

But activists opposed to biotech crops have joined with residents who say the corn farms expose them to dust and pesticides, and they are trying to drive the companies away, or at least rein them in. The companies counter that their operations are safe and that the industry is essential to Hawaii’s economy.

In the last two weeks, legislative committees on the islands of Kauai and Hawaii have approved proposed ordinances that would restrict the ability of the seed companies to operate. The Kauai bill will go before the full County Council on Tuesday.

“It’s a paradise over here that is being ruined by this,” said Michiyo Altomare, who lives in this small town on Kauai that is just across a narrow river from a bluff upon which the seed company Pioneer grows corn.

Ms. Altomare and her husband, Corrado, built their dream house here 30 years ago, hoping to enjoy the winds that waft down from the bluff. But when sugar cane gave way to corn, she said, those winds began carrying fine red soil that coated her counters, forcing the family to shut their windows and install central air-conditioning.

On some occasions, Ms. Altomare smelled pesticides and called the police. Mr. Altomare suffers from high platelet levels that his doctor said could have resulted from chemical exposure. The couple’s grown children, she said, “don’t want to live here.”

The seed companies say the pesticides and genetically engineered crops are already well regulated by the federal and state governments. They say curtailment of the Hawaii operations would disrupt agriculture for the nation.

“Almost any corn seed sold in the U.S. touches Hawaii somewhere” in its development, said Mark Phillipson, an executive of Syngenta, a Swiss seed and agricultural chemical company. Mr. Phillipson is also president of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which represents the seed companies.

The companies, which lease some land from wealthy owners like Stephen M. Case, the former AOL chairman, are supported by those who say the seed business is vital to the economy. Seeds are Hawaii’s leading agricultural commodity, contributing $264 million to the economy and 1,400 jobs, according to a study commissioned by the companies.

Hearings on the bills have often lasted into the night and overflowed their locations.

Kauai seems to be in a summer camp color war, with supporters of the bill wearing red T-shirts and opponents blue ones. An estimated 1,500 to 4,000 people in red shirts marched in favor of the bill in early September, one of the largest demonstrations ever on this island of about 65,000 people.

The seed companies are here because the warm climate allows for three corn crops to be harvested in a year, compared with one in the Midwest. That accelerates the several generations of crossbreeding needed to perfect a new variety.

“Instead of taking 13 years to develop a new variety, it takes seven years,” said Ryan K. Oyama, a research scientist at Pioneer, which is owned by DuPont.

There are as many biotech crop-field trials in Hawaii as in Iowa or Illinois, mostly for corn but also soybeans, wheat and rice. The output of Hawaii is not corn for food or feed, but seeds that are shipped to the mainland, where they are further multiplied and eventually sold to farmers.

Breeding is also needed for nonengineered crops, and some of the companies have had operations in Hawaii since the 1960s, before genetic engineering was invented.

But the operations have expanded in the last two decades as the sugar and pineapple industries collapsed in the face of cheaper foreign competition and the state began seeking new uses for the abandoned land.

Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow and BASF occupy a combined 25,000 out of the state’s total of 280,000 acres of agricultural land, with operations on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Molokai.

The companies lease some of their acreage from the state and some from private owners, like the Robinson family, which also owns the island of Niihau, and Grove Farm, acquired in 2000 by the Hawaii-born Mr. Case.

Mr. Case said that using abandoned sugar land for seed crops was better than watching it grow weeds. “Our tenants comply with all local laws and will comply with any new ordinances that pass,” he said in a statement.

The seed companies are not on the Big Island, Hawaii. The proposed bill there, which passed a committee of the county council by a 6-2 vote on Oct. 1, would keep it that way by prohibiting the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

A hearing on the bill on Sept. 23 featured a parade of witnesses citing dangers of genetically modified crops that many scientists would not support.

The safety of the food is beside the point in any case. Most of the food eaten in Hawaii comes from outside the state and will remain largely the same whether the ordinances are enacted.

In that sense, the controversy here is different from that in some other states, which is about whether genetically modified food should be labeled. Washington State will vote on that in an election in November.

The biotech companies say they have little interest in the Big Island because it does not have many large parcels suitable for corn. But the island is Hawaii’s main producer of papayas, most of which are genetically engineered to resist a virus that almost wiped out the crop in the 1990s.

“Without G.M.O., there would be no papaya in Hawaii,” said Eric Weinert, general manager of Hawaii operations for Calavo Growers, a papaya packer, using the abbreviation for genetically modified organisms.

Under pressure, the bill was amended to exempt papaya. But papaya growers say the ordinance will still taint the image of their product. And it would require them to register their locations at a time when unidentified vandals have been cutting down hundreds or thousands of papaya trees at night. One such episode occurred late last month.

More is at stake for the biotech industry on Kauai, which accounts for about half of the total seed company acreage in Hawaii. All the companies except Monsanto operate on Kauai.

Even some people sympathetic to the companies said they perhaps did not pay enough attention to community concerns that had festered for years.

In 2000, about 100 residents of Waimea petitioned Pioneer and other growers to control the dust blowing off their farms. In 2011, saying Pioneer had not done enough, more than 150 residents, including the Altomares, sued the company. Pioneer declined to comment on issues under litigation.

Pesticides are an even bigger concern. From 2006 to 2008, students and teachers at Waimea Canyon Middle School, which is near a Syngenta field, complained of noxious odors on several occasions, with some being taken to the hospital. And some doctors say the region seems to have unusually high rates of asthma, cancer and birth defects.

Such anecdotes and suspicions are hard to substantiate. Indeed, a report by the state found that the incidence of cancer on Kauai, including the region around Waimea, was generally the same or even lower than for the state as a whole. Another study, paid for the state and county, lent support to Syngenta’s contention that the middle school odors were from the aptly named stinkweed, not pesticides.

Still, demands have intensified for further studies and for disclosure of what pesticides are used.

The bill before the Kauai County Council, as introduced by members Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum, would have required companies to disclose their spraying of pesticides. The bill would also have established no-spray zones extending 500 feet from schools, hospitals, residential areas, public roads and waterways.

The bill also called for a moratorium on expansion of biotech cropland and a ban on open-air testing of experimental genetically modified crops, pending a study of the impact of the seed operations.

The companies said the bill might force them off the island. They said it would be impractical to disclose pesticide use in advance because spraying decisions were often made only after seeing what pests were present.

On Sept. 27, the day a committee was to consider the bill, supporters in red shirts arrived as early as 2:30 a.m. to ensure they would get seats for the 9 a.m. meeting.

The opposition in blue shirts, many of them seed company workers paid their normal wages, began arriving at 4 a.m. and quickly outnumbered the reds. The committee amended the bill to reduce the size of some buffer zones. It also stripped out the prohibitions on genetically engineered crops after one member argued that the concern was pesticides, not genetic modification.

Pesticides are also used on nonengineered crops.

Shortly before 9:30 p.m., more than 12 hours after the meeting began, the committee approved the amended bill 4 to 1. The supporters in red cheered.

If the bill is approved by the full seven-member council, the companies are expected to challenge it in court, arguing that local regulation is pre-empted by state and federal laws.

Paradigm Blindness

SUBHEAD:  Leadership in every realm does not grasp that the terms for carrying on the human project have changed.

By James Kunstler on 7 October 2013 for -

Image above: Washington DC. A steamy tropical reptile terrarium. From (

Something is sucking the air out of the humid terrarium that is US politics, making the lizards, tarantulas, and scorpions within hyperventilate. That something is the vacuum of disappearing wealth.

All the accounting fraud, statistical mis-reporting, price manipulations, naked-short beat-downs, high-speed arbitrage hijinks, and carry trade rackets can’t conceal the reality that the nation is going broke – at least 99 percent of the nation.

The remaining 1 percenters are swimming in a pool of notional wealth that is primed to go down the drain and leave them at the bottom, desiccated little husks of animal matter that the crows will feed on.

The reason nobody seems to know what to do is because they know anything they do will make them look bad, so the only thing to do is nothing, with a sound track of lizard squawks and much darting of forked tongues.

Nature is now in charge, not personalities, and nature is now leading a purblind humanity to the place it has to go, which is smaller, simpler, and local. The flailings and squawking of politicians can only avail to make the journey more painful and disorderly, but the march is on.

Leadership in every realm — politics, business, the ivory tower, media — does not grasp that the terms for carrying on the human project have changed. The agenda now is to go medieval, and not in the Pulp Fiction sense, but in our arrangements for daily life. We are being asked by nature to say goodbye gracefully to the hubris known as the current edition of modernity.

If we don’t do this gracefully, nature will kick our ass out of it and drag the stragglers along kicking and screaming into the next disposition of things. That is pretty much the true subtext of the struggle in government this season, but it is not being translated at the conscious level into a coherent narrative that the public can understand. The failure of narratives produces a failure of leadership. Failures of leadership lead to failures of action.

I can especially understand this after being in a particular part of the USA for three days last week: Orange County, California, specifically the fiasco known as Irvine.

This so-called “city” was once a ranch comprising hundreds of thousands of acres consolidated out of old Spanish land grants by one James Irvine, an Irish immigrant who made a fortune selling groceries and dry goods during the California Gold Rush and parlayed it into real estate — including eventually the nearly 200-square-mile tract of creosote bush and sagebrush forty-odd miles south of nascent Los Angeles.

The so-called city named after Mr. Irvine — and still largely controlled by a private real estate development company he founded — prides itself on being rationally planned. By this they mean that all the angles have been figured out for producing massive volumes of exquisitely-tuned suburban sprawl at a nice profit.

One thing this demonstrates is that rational planning is not the same thing as intelligence because the end result on-the-ground is a nightmare of the most extreme car dependency in the nation, arguably even worse than Los Angeles. That it is also a nightmare of crushing uniformity, disconnection, boredom, and ennui probably matters less because the essence of the place’s character is that it has no future.

There is absolutely no way that the American people can continue their Happy Motoring frolic for another generation, yet the Irvine Company is still busy slapping together new monocultures of housing pods, strip malls, and all the other usual furnishings with the kind of stupid confidence of people intoxicated on Rotary Club bullshit — which is to say zeal minus consciousness.

It is the same frame-of-mind that produces the famous Orange County right wing politics.

Orange County, and places like it, represent a tremendous tragic problem for this country. They were the products of emergent economic forces that humans only pretended to control with their vaunted rational planning. They almost certainly cannot be fixed. They’re too big and the money won’t be there; it’s the essence of our predicament that capital formation is crippled and that situation will only get worse.

These places will enter a state of widespread crisis within the next ten years, and possibly much sooner. The people who live there will see their property lose all its value, and then they will have to make choices about where to move to. In the process, they will dig in their heels, cause an immense amount of political mischief, and eventually lose anyway.

The emergent path of going medieval means living in smaller, tighter towns and doing some kind of business, or working some kind of trade, that is based in the economy of the town and its region. Under these conditions, things like the federal government are destined to wither. The dumbshow underway in Washington these days is just a symptom of all that.


Second Reading of Bill 2491

SUBHEAD: Getting to the finish line with Bill 2491to regulate pesticide and experimental GMOs.

By Blake Drolson on 6 October 2013 in Island Breath -

Image above: Clip art illustration of Finish Line.

Kauai County Council second reading on Bill 2491 (final vote) to regulate Kauai pesticide and GMO experiments.

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 beginning at 8:30am to 1:00pm (get there early for seating)

Kauai Council Chamber
Historic Kauai County Building
4396 Rice Street, Lihue, Kauai

Today I am writing to inform you about the latest news regarding Bill 2491, and to tell you about Tuesdays upcoming county council meeting that will hopefully have time to consider bill 2491.

Also, we have some marches coming up on October 12 to support the worldwide "March against Monsanto", and finally, we have our GMO Free Kaua'i Halloween party on 10/24 at Lydgate. More information on all of that below!

So first off, GMO Free Kauai is very happy to see Bill 2491 get out of committee, and move to the full council. Yes , we were disappointed that the language for the moratorium was dropped, that some buffer zones were reduced, and the EIS language was changed to a more general study.

 Most importantly though, is the bill in its currently amended form has a strong chance to pass the full council and become law, and it DOES include disclosure, buffer zones and an environmental study that will look for harm from the biotech industries operation.

We feel this does "move the ball forward" so to speak. We do hope that the bill can be strengthened in full council deliberations, while still having the ability to get enough votes for the bill to pass into law.

So the next county council deliberations on Bill 2491 will start this Tuesday 10/8, at 8:30 am. It is scheduled to end at 1pm and there are a couple of items on the agenda before 2491.

So it may, or may not, get fully addressed on Tuesday, it could get extended to say Thursday for example, without needing a week notice for the public, since it's the same meeting, extended.

We will have to see how it plays out. If you want to get a seat inside, I would suggest thinking about getting there very early, way before 8:30 am.

Yes I know its crazy to have to do that to get a seat. Hopefully there will be another live video stream for those who can't make it and want to watch.

Speaking of video feeds, check this page for video from the county council.

If you go down to the purple "County Council" box, and click you can see past videos. The last committee meeting on 9/27 is there, all 12 hours and 17 minutes. Here are the direct links:

9/27 comittee meeting, 12 hours of video...
9/27 last 17 minutes of meeting

Now in addition to the upcoming County Council meetings we have TWO sign waving events coming up on 10/12, next Saturday. The host of the first one is "Mom's Hui" and will be in Princeville along the highway, mauka side, from 10am to 1pm.

The other march is in Kapaa, at the Safeway shopping center on the highway. We will gather there outside of Papaya's beforehand to rally from there to the highway. The Kapa'a march is from 10am till 2pm. Contact for the Kapa'a march is

If anyone knows of any other marches on the south or west side please email me and I will get that info out too.

Finally, our GMO - Free Kaua'i Halloween party will be held on October 24th (yes the 24th), which is a Thursday night, starting at 6pm. This is a free event, and we will have live music for the event (details still coming). We will have a gmo free potluck early for the event, and of course costumes are encouraged.

This party is a chance to come out, have some fun with other folks on the island who want to make a shift to a healthy sustainable agriculture for Kaua'i become a reality.

Thank you again for all your support, together we are making a real difference!

Video above: Dr Stephanie Seneff on Glyphosate testifies on Big Island GMO Bill. Source: Shannon Rudolph. From (

Pass the Bill

Staff on 7 October 2013 for Stop Poisoning Paradise

As you know, Bill 2491 was approved and passed out of the County Council Economic Development committee, with 4 out of 5 committee members approving an amended form of the bill, with more detailed disclosure provisions to help our westside ohana and families island-wide.

The Bill now advances to the full Council this TUESDAY, OCTOBER 8 where it may be further amended.  There is also a chance that the final vote will happen at this meeting. 


Please come show your support on Tuesday!

On October 8, let's make sure that the full Council hears us loud and clear, with our signs and our presence:

Our Council must serve the will of the people,
and they must show COURAGE.

And let's remind our Council members that Bill 2491 supporters are united and "voter-strong" and that WE WILL NOT ALLOW MONEY AND WELL-FINANCED CORPORATIONS TO DETERMINE OUR PUBLIC POLICY through threats and intimidation.

Let's remind Council Members that, to date, we have produced: 
  • Over 10,000 petition signatures
  • Over 4,000 parents, doctors, nurses, teachers, union and ag workers, Hawaiian leaders, farmers, students and others joining our Mana March
  • Union endorsements from teachers, nurses, and hotel workers
  • Endorsements from community groups, medical professionals, lawyers, agricultural experts, realtors, and cultural practitioners
  • Thousands of written testimonies in support of 2491 (constituting most of the total testimonies delivered)
  • Endorsements by over 60 Kauai-based businesses (and growing!)
  • Dozens of favorable media articles
  • Continuous Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor in support of Bill 2491

No wonder a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser article contained this statement:
"...some bio tech advocates say privately that the companies may have already lost the public-relations battle and that the debate has been defined by the activists."
Let's Power On!

To remind us about why Bill 2491 is important, watch these testimony videos:

Video above: A Wailua Valley mother testifies about Pioneer pesticide pollution and her brain damaged child. From (

Video above: Felicia Cowden testifies on "Trust". From (


Keystone XL on Trial

SUBHEAD: Susan Dunavan has been fighting to keep foreign corporation TransCanada from crossing her 80 Nebraskan acres.

By Ted Genoways on 27 september 2013 for On Earth -

Image above: Dunavan stands among native prairie grasses on her property in McCool Junction, Nebraska. From original article.

Susan Dunavan has stacks of white binders, piled high on a side table in her farmhouse near McCool Junction, Nebraska. There are the binders filled with clipped newspaper and magazine articles about plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline. There are the binders of letters and notices from TransCanada officials—their easement offers, their threats to use eminent domain to condemn Dunavan’s property. And there are the binders of legal briefs and pretrial motions relating to Dunavan’s lawsuit against Governor Dave Heineman and the State of Nebraska.

For more than five years, she has been fighting to keep TransCanada, the pipeline’s corporate owner, from crossing her 80 acres here. And for the last 18 months, while national attention has focused on trying to divine which way Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama might be leaning on TransCanada’s request to build the northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline—which would extend nearly 1,200 miles from the Alberta tar sands to the so-called Cushing extension in Oklahoma—Dunavan and two co-plaintiffs have been awaiting their day in court on a lawsuit that could be activists’ best chance of blocking the project.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has twice tried to have the citizen lawsuit thrown out. But in January, Lancaster County District Court Judge Stephanie Stacy issued a ruling upholding five of the six original counts—and two months later allowed citizens to amend the suit to include new accusations of unconstitutional behavior by the state.

According to Brian Jorde of the Domina Law Group, the attorneys representing the citizen complaint, if Judge Stacy rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it would effectively nullify any route previously approved across Nebraska—even if that route already has a State Department permit—and would force TransCanada to start from scratch on matters relating to siting and approval.

Privately, pipeline opponents in Nebraska acknowledge that, were it to lose in district court, the state would almost certainly appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court (and might, in the meantime, attempt to cram through legislation approving the route). “But a ruling here is likely to take months—with an s,” Jorde told me earlier this week. “An appeal might take years. This suit is a wrench in the works, and buys time for turning public opinion.”

Today, at the courthouse in Lincoln, that suit finally comes to trial—and Dunavan admits to feeling apprehensive. “I’m normally a very quiet person,” she says. “I don’t usually speak out. I stand up for what I believe in, but I’m not an activist-type person.

So to have a spotlight on me is just very intimidating.” She says she did everything she could to avoid taking legal action, but was forced to file suit when it became clear that none of the elected officials she had contacted in Nebraska would listen to her concerns.

So she turned over her binders of documentation to Domina Law and braced for the day that public attention would inevitably fall on her. She dislikes talking to the press, she admits, but she made up her mind early last year that this issue was too important to allow her to sit quietly. “This is millions and millions of dollars, this is people’s livelihoods, this is people’s heritage, this is the future of our state—and nobody is doing anything.”

Susan Dunavan walks through waist-deep prairie grass, pinching seeds between her fingers and scattering them as she goes. She points up the ridge to a group of cattle, a neighbor’s tiny herd that she and her husband allow to graze here. “This has been pastureland for a long time,” she says. “But much of it is native prairie. It’s so rare now that land like this hasn’t been turned into cropland. When we moved here in 1979, our dream was to restore this to its native state.”

Dunavan’s property is part of a narrow ribbon of tallgrass prairie that stretches from southern Canada to eastern Oklahoma. It sustains a surprising amount of biodiversity, she says, and the varied insects, frogs, and rodents are critical to supporting the migration of numerous birds. As if on cue, a pair of migrating broad-winged hawks circles out from a stand of cottonwoods in the creek bottoms, riding the stiff wind in search of prey.

Dunavan and her husband met when they were natural resource majors at Humboldt State University in northern California and later spent three years in Lesotho in southern Africa, helping to establish local agriculture in an area stricken by drought.

When they returned to the United States, they and their three children moved to Nebraska and had an old farmhouse loaded onto a flatbed trailer and trucked in from 16 miles away. (“I’ve always been into recycling,” Dunavan jokes.) But she says that the effort was worthwhile, because this acreage was special.

“There were a lot of invasives. So the first few years we cut thistles and made an inventory of the native species we had, and over-seeded with more native plants.” So far she has identified more than 100 native grasses and plants on the property.
“This is millions and millions of dollars, this is people’s livelihoods, this is people’s heritage, this is the future of our state—and nobody is doing anything.”

In October of 2009, however, when TransCanada sent its initial easement offer, the company made no acknowledgment of the rare condition of Dunavan’s land. The draft agreement promised that TransCanada would perform several “restoration activities” after trenching and installing the pipeline, including “reseeding,” but, Dunavan says, “when I asked them for more details—and when you go through the Department of State Environmental Impact Statement—you find that their idea of restoring tallgrass prairie covers six species.”

So Dunavan sent a list of the 21 native grasses and more than 80 native plants that she had documented on the property. TransCanada sent an engineer to conduct a one-day survey and declared that the property was home to only seven species of grass and a few flowering plants. Dunavan began mailing TransCanada photographs as each native plant flowered throughout June and July of 2010.

At the end of July, TransCanada appeared to have had enough. Tim M. Irons, senior land coordinator on the Keystone project, sent a third easement agreement—with all language regarding reseeding identical to the original—accompanied by a letter informing Dunavan that this was “Keystone’s final offer.” If she did not sign, Irons wrote, “we will be forced to invoke the power of eminent domain and will initiate condemnation proceedings against the property.”

Dunavan says she knew that TransCanada hadn’t been granted such power by the state, so she wrote to Attorney General Bruning to ask whether it was legal to threaten use of eminent domain in order to secure a contract, when the company had no such power in the state. Dunavan was advised to find her own legal representation. She did exactly that.

In April of 2011, she received her fourth easement agreement, this one allowing that because “of certain re-seeding considerations required by the landowner, the landowner may provide for his own contractor to provide special seeding and Keystone Pipeline will pay.” However, the agreement also stipulated that “Keystone shall not be held responsible in any way if the reseeding does not meet the landowner’s expectations.” For the second time, Irons included a letter threatening to use eminent domain if Dunavan didn’t agree to his terms.

But instead of agreeing, Dunavan wrote again to Bruning; citing specific Nebraska statutes against “frightening someone to do something against his or her will” and “coercion by implying authority such as impersonation of a sovereign,” she asked for the attorney general to investigate TransCanada for “fraudulent and deceptive business practices.” She received no reply.

“People talk about poverty and how much money this pipeline is going to bring to the state,” Dunavan says. She looks out over the sweep of her property, the tall grass whipping as the wind picks up again. “But the people in Nebraska right now are experiencing a huge poverty of morals.”

A casual observer could easily mistake today’s proceedings for a typical eminent domain case. In such litigation, one side usually argues that the project in question serves the common good and should be allowed to go forward, while the other side argues that not enough good is served to merit abridging the rights of an individual landowner whose property may be adversely affected.

But even as a version of that familiar argument rages in the court of public opinion, the central legal issue for Judge Stacy to weigh in this case will be a different one: who, within the Nebraska state government, gets to determine that the seizure of private property based on the principle of eminent domain is appropriate.

As I reported back in April, a review of county records by the Nebraska Easement Action Team (or NEAT) found that only about 60 percent of landowners whose property would be crossed by Keystone XL had signed easement agreements—well below TransCanada’s stated target of 98 percent voluntary participation.

And so, the lawsuit alleges, TransCanada enlisted allies on the Nebraska legislature’s Natural Resources committee to draft and approve a bill transferring the power to approve pipeline siting from the five elected members of the Nebraska Public Service Commission (which had already held public hearings and instituted comment periods) to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, political appointees of the governor.

More significantly, the bill vested ultimate approval of the pipeline route in that same governor, Dave Heineman—who, as it happens, was forced in 2010 to return campaign contributions made by TransCanada amid allegations that the gifts violated state law against receiving donations from foreign corporations.

But most troublingly, perhaps, the same proposed legislation authorized Governor Heineman to grant the power of eminent domain to TransCanada. Despite the seeming outrageousness of a law that would allow a foreign corporation to condemn the properties of hundreds of Nebraska landowners, the bill was brought to the floor in the final hours of the state’s 2012 legislative session.

Susan Dunavan says she was appalled by what the legislature did next. “It was the very end of the session—the last ten minutes,” she says, now back at her kitchen table, her white binders of clippings and correspondence laid out before her. Legislators hastily tacked on some amendments, she recalls. “I don’t think the bill even had a final reading” before it passed.

After a NEAT meeting in Albion, Nebraska, Brian Jorde approached Dunavan about joining two of her fellow local landowners, Randy Thompson and Susan Luebbe, in a citizens’ lawsuit against the state. Dunavan agreed. Their formal complaint argues that the legislature had no authority to seize the right of approval from the Public Service Commission, nor to transfer it to the governor, nor to allow him to delegate that power to any third-party, much less to a clearly interested party like TransCanada.

This law, they say, violates the Nebraska Constitution—first by transferring a power reserved by the legislative branch (the Public Service Commission) to the executive branch (the governor), and second by eliminating the opportunity for judicial review, which had been allowed under previous legislation governing the siting of pipelines.

Today, Judge Stacy will finally hear these arguments in open court. After such a long wait, the judge has scheduled only one hour to take statements from both sides. Most analysts believe that a ruling is unlikely before the end of the year. When it does come, the losing side—whichever side that is—will appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, further delaying a final decision. Jorde sees these delays as a net positive. “The groundswell of support and opposition and questioning and critical thinking going on is huge,” he told me. The more time that passes, the greater the opportunity there is to turn public opinion against the pipeline in his home state.

But the years of uncertainty and fear have taken their toll on landowners like Dunavan. “It’s exhausting,” she says. “You never get away. Every day I’m on the Internet, looking up the latest article, finding out who said what.” She looks at the open binders spread out before us, now covering most of her kitchen table. Out the open window, the cicadas are ratcheting in the trees. “They not only want to steal my land,” she says, “but they’ve stolen five-and-a-half years of my life.”


GMO Bill 2491 Morphs

SUBHEAD: Activists are waking up to the realization that although the bill was passed, it is far from intact.

By Joan Conrow on 4 October 2013 for Kauai Piko -

[Note by Andy Parx on FaceBook: Anyone who has been popping corks and dancing in the streets over Bill 2491 passing out of committee heading for a final vote next Tuesday had better take a look at the new and for the most part NOT improved bill. And to save you the time and effort Joan Conrow has done the job for you.

Watered down doesn't even begin to describe the bill in its present "Draft 1" amended form. Thanks to JoAnn Yukimura and Nadine Nakamura it's a shadow if its former content. See Fufaro blocking 2491 Vote!]

Image above: Keep smiling! Nadine Nakamura and JoAnn Yukimura. From their official Kauai County Council portraits.

PASS THE BILL demanded the bold letters on the red tee-shirts. “Pass the bill!” exhorted the people wearing them. And last Friday, when a Kauai County Council committee did pass Bill 2491 draft 1 — the pesticide/GMO measure — supporters celebrated jubilantly.

But now, as the dust settles and the initial euphoria evaporates, the grousing and anger have returned. Activists are waking up to the realization that although the bill was passed, it is far from intact.

Councilwomen JoAnn Yukimura and Nadine Nakamura took control of the bill from its sponsors, Councilmen Tim Bynum and Gary Hooser, and shifted just about everything during the amendment process, from the preamble to the provisions. When the full Council takes up the matter again at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, it will be looking at a bill that is very different than the one that was introduced.

Gone from the findings are declarations that the biotech industry has engaged in “rapid, long-term, and unregulated growth,” that the situation on Kauai is “unlike those facing any other county in the State of Hawai‘i” and that “residents have no choice” but to live, work and commute near the fields.

Removed as well was the assertion that Kauai, “more than any other county in the State of Hawai‘i,” has become a site of increased commercial ag, along with all references to field testing and experimental organisms.

The claim that genetically modified plants will “inevitably” disperse into the environment has been revised to “potentially,” and references to “[b]iological contamination” and “devastating economic impacts” were removed.

The original bill’s reference to the “3.5 tons” [7,000 pounds] of restricted use pesticides applied by five ag entities — a figure that somehow got inflated in popular citations to 18 tons — has been changed to “approximately 5,477.2 pounds, and 5,884.5 gallons.”

The new bill also adds this finding :
In 2012, restricted use pesticides were used on Kaua’i by agricultural operations (7,727 pounds, or 13%), county government operations (28,350 pounds of Chlorine Liquefied Gas, or 49%), and nongovernment operations for structural pest control (25,828 pounds, or 38%).
The new bill also removes the claim that certain pesticides have been banned by other states, as well as the assertion that “[p]esticide-laden dust and drift from both restricted use pesticides and general use pesticides is inevitable and results in long-term exposure to toxic chemicals harmful” to people and the environment. Instead, it says that drift and dust “sometimes travels” and are “potential sources of pollution endangering human health and the natural environment.”

Original language asserting that GMO cultivation and biotech ag practices haven’t been “properly or independently evaluated” was changed to “should be further evaluated,” with no reference to GMOs.

The “right to know” provision was changed slightly, from disclosing “what” GMOs are being grown to “whether or not” GMOs are being cultivated.

The definition of agriculture was changed from one that potentially excluded biotech:
“Agriculture” means the cultivation of crops, including crops for bioenergy, flowers, vegetables, foliage, fruits, forage, and timber; game and fish propagation; and the raising of livestock, including poultry, bees, fish, or other animal or aquatic life that are propagated for economic or personal use.
To one that includes biotech:
“Agriculture” means the breeding, planting, nourishing, caring for, gathering and processing of any animal or plant organism for the purpose of nourishing people or any other plant or animal organism; or for the purpose of providing the raw material for non-food products. For the purposes of this Article, “agriculture” shall include the growing of flowers and other ornamental crops and the commercial breeding and caring for animals as pets.”
Definitions were added for adult care homes, day care centers, dwellings, family care homes, family child care homes, medical facilities, nursing homes, orchards, parks, perennial waterways and schools — sites affected by buffer zones — but definitions for “experimental pesticides” and “significant effect” was deleted from the new bill.

The new bill also added a definition for the Office of Economic Development — headed by George Costa, an outspoken opponent of the bill — because that county agency will be charged with implementing the measure. The original bill called for Public Works to administer it.

The new bill retains the original disclosure provision that requires “any commercial agricultural entities that annually purchase or use in excess of five (5) pounds or fifteen (15) gallons of restricted use pesticides” in a year to disclose the use of all pesticides. However, the requirement to reveal use of “experimental pesticides” was removed.

The original bill also called for public signs to be posted a minimum of 72 hours prior to, during and after application of pesticides. The new bill calls for 24-hour advance posting, but leaves post application notice up to the pesticide label. Further, all signs shall conform to EPA worker protection standards. Workers will get daily notification.

The new bill strengthens notification requirements to adjacent residents:
Pesticide Pre-application notification must be provided to any requesting registered beekeeper, property owner, lessee, or person otherwise occupying any property within 1,500 feet from the property line of the commercial agricultural entity where any pesticide is anticipated to be applied. A mass notification list shall be established and maintained by each commercial agricultural entity, and shall include access to a legible map showing all field numbers and any key, legend, or other necessary map descriptions.

Any interested registered beekeeper, property owner, lessee, or person otherwise occupying any property within 1,500 feet from the property line of the operation of any commercial agricultural entity, shall submit contact information to the relevant commercial agricultural entity. These interested persons may submit up to three (3) local telephone numbers, and two (2) email addresses. All mass notification messages shall be sent via telephone, text message, or e-mail, with the method or methods of transmittal to be determined by each commercial agricultural entity.

Each commercial agricultural entity shall provide an alternative method of transmittal for any recipient who does not have access to the technology necessary for the method or methods of transmittal selected by the commercial agricultural entity. Requests to be included on, or removed from, the mass notification list must be processed within three (3) business days. These “good neighbor courtesy notices” shall contain the following information regarding all anticipated pesticide applications: pesticide to be used, active ingredient of pesticide to be used, date, time, and field number.
Each commercial agricultural entity shall send regular mass notification messages at least once during every seven (7) day week period summarizing the anticipated application of any pesticide for the upcoming seven (7) day week.
Whenever a pesticide application that was unforeseen and therefore not contained in the weekly “good neighbor courtesy notice” is deemed by the commercial agricultural entity to be necessary to alleviate a pest threat, an additional “good neighbor courtesy notice” shall be generated to all recipients of the mass notification list within twenty-four (24) hours after the application.
Each commercial agricultural entity shall submit regular public disclosure reports once during every seven (7) day week period compiling the actual application of all pesticides during the prior week. These weekly public disclosure reports shall contain the following information regarding all actual pesticide applications: date; time; field number; total acreage; pesticide used; active ingredient of pesticide used; gallons or pounds of pesticide used; and temperature, wind direction, and wind speed at time of pesticide application.
Each commercial agricultural entity shall submit all public disclosure reports to the County of Kaua’i Office of Economic Development (OED), and shall include online access to a legible map showing all field numbers and any key, legend, or other necessary map descriptions for all applicable commercial agricultural entities. All public disclosure reports shall be posted online, and available for viewing and download by any interested persons. OED shall develop a standardized reporting form.
The original bill’s requirement for annual public reports on the possession of GMOs by tax map key or ahupuaa, and the date of the introduction, remains in the new bill.

Regarding buffer zones, the new bill prohibits use of any pesticides within 500 feet of a school, medical facility, adult family boarding home, adult family group living home, day care center, family care home, family child care home, nursing home, or residential care home or dwelling — a broader definition than the original. It also adds a prohibition against spraying within 100 feet of any park.

Whereas the original called for a 500 foot buffer between pesticide applications and waterways and shorelines, the new bill narrows it to 100 feet. It also narrows the original 500 feet from a roadway to 100 feet, while providing an exception for Kauai Coffee’s trees, though roadside signs must be posted advising of the spraying.

Again, these buffers address all pesticides, but apply only to the five companies that use the most RUPs, not the county or state.

The new bill completely removes the prohibition against open air testing of experimental pesticides, as well as a moratorium on the experimental use and production of GMOs pending an EIS. It also deletes the requirement for the county to conduct an EIS and adopt a permitting process for “all commercial agricultural entities that intentionally or knowingly possess” GMOs.

Instead, the new bill calls for an:
Environmental and Public Health Impact Study (EPHIS) through a two-part community-based process to address key environmental and public health questions related to large-scale commercial agricultural entities using pesticides and growing genetically modified crops. The first part shall utilize a Joint Fact Finding Group (JFFG) convened and facilitated by a professional consultant to determine the scope and design of the EPHIS within twelve (12) months of the Notice to Proceed. In the second part of the process, the EPHIS shall be conducted by a professional consultant with oversight by the JFFG and shall be completed within eighteen (18) months of the relevant Notice to Proceed.
The new bill retains both the civil fine penalty of $10,000-$25,000 per day, and misdemeanor criminal penalties. The new bill would take effect six months after passage, as opposed to immediately in the original bill.

In addition to the revised bill, the Council next Tuesday will be considering a resolution to create the study and fact-finding group.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro, who thus far has avoided any public comment on the bill and directed the Council to pursue the amendments in a committee of which he is not a member, has asked the administration for a presentation on the “operational impacts” the bill would have on the county.

Yukimura and Nakamura are also asking the Council to consider releasing county attorney opinions on Bill 2491 and whether counties can legally restrict the use of atrazine.

The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. and has a posted finish time of 1 p.m. — a cutoff that appears to limit public testimony, which has consumed many hours each time the bill comes before the Council.

Council Line: (808) 241-4098
Work Phone: (808) 822-0388
Fax: (808) 241-6349

Council Line: (808) 241-4092
Mobile Phone: (808) 652-3988
Fax: (808) 241-6349


Furfaro blocking 2491 vote

SUBHEAD: This is an obvious ploy by Chair Jay Furfaro to make sure the vote cannot take place at the meeting.

By Andy Park on 3 October 2013 on FaceBook -

Image above: Kauai County Council Chair Jay Furfaro official picture for 2012-14. From (

As I said last night, the October 8 County Council agenda for the "second reading" of Bill 2491 regulating GMO experiments and open field pesticide tests, not only has nine different 2491 related items but has been scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. and, more importantly, has a 1:00pm. END TIME.  Incidentally, the term "second reading" meaning the "final" vote for or against a bill's passage.

This is an outage. Having an ending time for a meeting is unprecedented and an experienced political insider told me that it's an obvious ploy by Chair Jay Furfaro to make sure the vote cannot take place at the meeting and the vote on the bill will have to be deferred. I can't accurately speculate as to why he has done this (the chair makes the agenda) yet but the obvious one is to block passage of the bill by delaying it.

There is no way all these items plus the expected huge demand for public testimony can be accommodated in five and a half hours- testimony from people who want the moratorium, EIS and ban on open air testing reinstated in the bill. That may not happen but people are entitled to express their outrage at the Yukimura/Nakamura amendment that has stripped the bill of those provisions.

As to public testimony, by council rule people are allowed three minutes to testify AND when everyone has had a chance people are entitled to ANOTHER THREE MINUTES. And they are entitled to this ON EACH AND EVERY AGENDA ITEM.

This rule has the force of law through an long-help Office of Information Practices (OIP- which administers the sunshine law) ruling that while the council can set rules for time of public testimony, they must stick to those rules and cannot change them just for one meeting. I haven't said anything about this until now but if Furfaro is going to play games so can we.

I do plan to try to find out from OIP if there is anything we can do about this scheduling of a meeting with an end time seemingly designed to eliminate the expected demand for public testimony. Don't forget- each person is entitled to six minutes on all nine agenda items- a total of 54 minutes per person. If a couple of hundred people demand their six minutes... well we could be there until 2014.

Contact JayFufaro at:
Council Line: (808) 241-4093
Home Phone: (808) 826-9392
Mobile Phone: (808) 652-1550
Fax: (808) 241-6349


Flight of the Ephemeral

SUBHEAD: Trading efficiency for resiliency is frequently the strategy of civilizations confronted with its own collapse.

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

Image above: A wall of Roman arches. Many abandoned structures in St. Remy de Provence (Gaul to the Roman Empire) were "resused" for Medieval and later purposes. From (

I'd meant to devote this week’s post to exploring the way that new religious movements so often give shape to emerging ideas and social forms during the decline of civilizations, and to sketch out some of the possibilities for action along those lines as industrial society moves further along its own curve of decline and fall. Still, these essays are part of a broader conversation about the future of today’s world, and now and then some other part of that conversation brings up points relevant to the discussion here.

That’s as much excuse as there is for this week’s detour. A few weeks ago, the P2P Foundation website hosted a piece by Kevin Carson titled When Ephemeralization is Hard to Tell from Catabolic Collapse. Carson’s piece got some attention recently in the peak oil blogosphere, not to mention some pointed and by no means unjustified criticism. It seems to me, though, that there’s a valid point tucked away in Carson’s essay; he’s got it by the wrong end, and it doesn’t imply what he thinks it does, but the point is nonetheless there, and important.

Getting to it, though, requires a certain tolerance for intellectual sloppiness of a kind embarrassingly common in today’s culture. When Carson talks about “the Jared Diamond/John Michael Greer/William Kunstler theory of ‘catabolic collapse,’” for example, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that he simply hasn’t taken the time to learn much about his subject.

“Catabolic collapse,” after all, isn’t a generic label for collapse in general; it’s the name for a specific theory about how civilizations fall—those who are interested can download a PDF here—which I developed between 2001 and 2004 and published online in a 2005 essay, and the other two names he cited had nothing to do with it.

Mind you, I would be delighted to hear that Jared Diamond supports the theory of catabolic collapse, but as far as I know, he’s never mentioned it in print, and the modes of collapse he discusses in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed differ significantly from my model.

As for the third author, presumably Carson means James Howard Kunstler, the author of The Long Emergency and Too Much Magic—very solid books about the approaching end of the industrial age, though once again based on a different theory of collapse—rather than William Kunstler, the late civil rights lawyer who defended the Chicago Seven back in 1969, and who to the best of my knowledge never discussed the collapse of civilizations at all.

This same somewhat casual relationship to matters of fact pops up elsewhere in Carson’s essay, and leaves his argument rather the worse for wear. Carson’s claim is that the accelerating breakdown of the existing infrastructure of industrial society isn’t a problem, because that infrastructure either is being replaced, or is sure to be replaced (he is somewhat vague on this distinction), by newer, better and cheaper high-tech systems.

What Buckminster Fuller used to call ephemeralization—defined, with Bucky’s usual vagueness, as “doing more with less”—is, in Carson’s view, “one of the most central distinguishing characteristics of our technology,” and guarantees that new infrastructures will be so much less capital-intensive than the old ones that replacing the latter won’t be a problem.

That’s a claim worth considering. The difficulty, though, is that the example he offers—also borrowed from Fuller—actually makes the opposite case. Replacing a global network of oceanic cables weighing some very large amount with a few dozen communications satellites weighing a few tons each does look, at first glance, like a dramatic step toward ephemeralization, but that impression remains only as long as it takes to ask whether the satellites are replacing those cables all by themselves.

Of course they’re not; putting those satellites up, keeping them in orbit, and replacing them requires an entire space program, with all its subsidiary infrastructure; getting signals to and from the satellites requires a great deal more infrastructure.

Pile all those launch gantries, mission control centers, satellite dishes, and other pieces of hardware onto the satellite side, and the total weight on that end of the balance starts looking considerably less ephemeral than it did. Even if you add a couple of old-fashioned freighters on the cable side—that’s the modest technology needed to lay and maintain cables—it’s far from clear that replacing cables with satellites involves any reduction in capital intensity at all.

All this displays one of the more troubling failures of contemporary intellectual culture, an almost physiological inability to think in terms of whole systems. I’ve long since lost count of the number of times I’ve watched card-carrying members of the geekoisie fail to grasp that their monthly charge for internet service isn’t a good measure of the whole cost of the internet, or skid right past the hard economic fact that the long term survival of the internet depends on its ability to pay for itself.

This blindness to whole systems is all the more startling in that the computer revolution itself was made possible by the creation of systems theory and cybernetics in the 1940s and 1950s, and whole-systems analysis is a central feature of both these disciplines.

To watch the current blindness to whole systems in full gaudy flower, glance over any collection of recent chatter about “cloud computing.” What is this thing we’re calling “the cloud?” Descend from the airy realms of cyber-abstractions into the grubby underworld of hardware, and it’s an archipelago of huge server farms, each of which uses as much electricity as a small city, each of which has a ravenous hunger for spare parts, skilled labor, and many other inputs, and each of which must be connected to all the others by a physical network of linkages that have their own inescapable resource demands.

As with Fuller’s satellite analogy, the ephemeralization of one part of the whole system is accomplished at the cost of massive capital outlays and drastic increases in complexity elsewhere in the system.

All this needs to be understood in order to put ephemeralization into its proper context. Still, Carson’s correct to point out that information technologies have allowed the replacement of relatively inefficient infrastructure, in some contexts, with arrangements that are much more efficient.

The best known example is the replacement of old-fashioned systems of distribution, with their warehouses, local jobbers, and the rest, with just-in-time ordering systems that allow products, parts, and raw materials to be delivered as they’re needed, where they’re needed.

Since this approach eliminates the need to keep warehouses full of spare parts and the like, it’s certainly a way of doing more with less—but the consequences of doing so are considerably less straightforward than they appear at first glance.

To understand how this works, it’s going to be necessary to spend a little time talking about catabolic collapse, the theory referenced earlier. The basis of that theory is the uncontroversial fact that human societies routinely build more infrastructure than they can afford to maintain.

During periods of prosperity, societies invest available resources in major projects—temples, fortifications, canal or road systems, space programs, or whatever else happens to appeal to the collective imagination of the age.

As infrastructure increases in scale and complexity, the costs of maintenance rise to equal and exceed the available economic surplus; the period of prosperity ends in political and economic failure, and infrastructure falls into ruin as its maintenance costs are no longer paid.

This last stage in the process is catabolic collapse. Since the mismatch between maintenance costs and economic capacity is the driving force behind the cycle, the collapse of excess infrastructure has a silver lining—in fact, two such linings.

First, since ruins require minimal maintenance, the economic output formerly used to maintain infrastructure can be redirected to other uses; second, in many cases, the defunct infrastructure can be torn apart and used as raw materials for something more immediately useful, at a cost considerably lower than fresh production of the same raw materials would require.

Thus post-Roman cities in Europe’s most recent round of dark ages could salvage stone from temples, forums, and coliseums to raise walls against barbarian raiders, just as survivors of the collapse of industrial society will likely thank whatever deities they happen to worship that we dug so much metal out of the belly of the earth and piled it up on the surface in easily accessible ruins.

Given a stable resource base, the long-term economic benefits of catabolic collapse are significant enough that a new period of prosperity normally follows the collapse, resulting in another round of infrastructure buildup and a repetition of the same cycle.

The pulse of anabolic expansion and catabolic collapse thus defines, for example, the history of imperial China. The extraordinary stability of China’s traditional system of village agriculture and local-scale manufacturing put a floor under the process, so that each collapse bottomed out at roughly the same level as the last, and after a century or two another anabolic pulse would get under way.

In some places along the Great Wall, it’s possible to see the high-water marks of each anabolic phase practically side by side, as each successful dynasty’s repairs and improvements were added onto the original fabric.

Matters are considerably more troublesome if the resource base lacks the permanence of traditional Chinese rice fields and workshops. A society that bases its economy on nonrenewable resources, in particular, has set itself up for a far more devastating collapse.

Nonrenewable resource extraction is always subject to the law of diminishing returns; while one resource can usually be substituted by another, that simply means a faster drawdown of still other resources—the replacement of more concentrated metal ores with ever less concentrated substitutes, the usual example cited these days for resource substitution, required exponential increases in energy inputs per ton of metal produced, and thus hastened the depletion of concentrated fossil fuel reserves.

As the usual costs of infrastructure maintenance mount up, as a result, a society that runs its economy on nonrenewable resources also faces rising costs for resource extraction. Eventually those bills can no longer be paid in full, and the usual pattern of political and economic failure ensues. It’s at this point that the real downside of dependence on nonrenewable resources cuts in; the abandonment of excess infrastructure decreases one set of costs, and frees up some resources, but the ongoing depletion of the nonrenewable resource base continues implacably, so resource costs keep rising.

Instead of bottoming out and setting the stage for renewed prosperity, the aftermath of crisis allows only a temporary breathing space, followed by another round of political and economic failure as resource costs continue to climb. This is what drives the stairstep process of crisis, partial recovery, and renewed crisis, ending eventually in total collapse, that appears so often in the annals of dead civilizations.

Though he’s far from clear about it, I suspect that this is what Carson meant to challenge by claiming that the increased efficiencies and reduced capital intensity of ephemeralized technology make worries about catabolic collapse misplaced. He’s quite correct that increased efficiency, “doing more with less,” is a response to the rising spiral of infrastructure maintenance costs that drive catabolic collapse; in fact, it’s quite a common response, historically speaking.

There are at least two difficulties with his claim, though. The first is that efficiency is notoriously subject to the law of diminishing returns; the low hanging fruit of efficiency improvement may be easily harvested, but proceeding beyond that involves steadily increasing difficulty and expense, because in the real world—as distinct from science fiction—you can only do so much more with less and less. That much is widely recognized. Less often remembered is that increased efficiency has an inescapable correlate that Carson doesn’t mention: reduced resilience.

It’s only fair to point out that Carson comes by his inattention to this detail honestly. It was among the central themes of the career of Buckminster Fuller, whose ideas give Carson’s essay its basic frame. Fuller had a well-earned reputation in the engineering field of his time as “failure-prone,” and a consistent habit of pursuing efficiency at the expense of resilience was arguably the most important reason why.

The fiasco surrounding Fuller’s 1933 Dymaxion car is a case in point. One of the car’s many novel features was a center of mass that was extremely high compared to other cars, which combined with an innovative suspension system to give the car an extremely smooth ride. Unfortunately this same feature turned into a lethal liability when a Dymaxion prototype was sideswiped by another vehicle. Then as now, cars on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive bump into one another quite often, but few of them flip and roll, killing the driver and seriously injuring everyone else on board.

That’s what happened in this case, and Chrysler—which had been considering mass production of the Dymaxion car—withdrew from the project at once, having decided that the car wasn’t safe to drive.

The rise and fall of Fuller’s geodesic dome architecture traces the same story in a less grim manner. Those of my readers who were around in the 1960s will recall the way geodesic domes sprang up like mushrooms in those days.

By the early 1970s, they were on their way out, for a telling reason. Fuller’s design was extremely efficient in its use of materials, but unless perfectly caulked—and in the real world, there is no such thing as perfect caulking—geodesic domes consistently leaked in the rain.

Famed vernacular architect Lloyd Kahn, author of Domebooks 1 and 2, the bibles of the geodesic-dome fad, marked the end of the road with his 1973 sourcebook Shelter, which subjected the flaws of the geodesic dome to unsparing analysis and helped refocus the attention of the nascent appropriate technology scene onto the less efficient but far more resilient technology of shingled roofs.

Nowadays geodesic domes are only used in those few applications where their efficiency is more important than their many practical problems.

The unavoidable tradeoff between efficiency and resilience can be understood easily enough by considering an ordinary bridge. All bridges these days have vastly more structural strength than they need in order to support their ordinary load of traffic. This is inefficient, to be sure, but it makes the bridges resilient; they can withstand high winds, unusually heavy loads, deferred maintenance, and other challenges without collapsing.

Since the cost of decreased resilience (a collapsed bridge and potential loss of life) is considerably more serious than the cost of decreased efficiency (more tax revenues spent on construction), inefficiency is accepted—and rightly so.

It’s one of the persistent delusions of contemporary computer culture to claim that this equation doesn’t apply once modern information technology enters into the picture. Nassim Taleb’s widely read The Black Swan is chockfull of counterexamples.

As he shows, information networks have proven to be as effective at multiplying vulnerabilities as they are at countering them, and can be blindsided by unexpected challenges just as thoroughly as any other system. The 1998 failure of Long Term Capital Management (LTCM), whose publicists insisted that its computer models could not fail during the lifetime of the universe and several more like it, is just one of many cases in point.

The history of any number of failed civilizations offers its own mocking commentary on the insistence that efficiency is always a good thing. In its final years, for instance, the Roman Empire pursued “doing more with less” to a nearly Fulleresque degree, by allowing the manpower of legionary units along the Rhine and Danube frontiers to decline to a fraction of their paper strength.

In peace, this saved tax revenues for critical needs elsewhere; when the barbarian invasions began, though, defenses that had held firm for centuries crumpled, and the collapse of the imperial system duly followed.

In this context, there’s a tremendous irony in the label Fuller used for the pursuit of efficiency. The word “ephemeral,” after all, has a meaning of its own, unrelated to the one Fuller slapped onto it; it derives from the Greek word ephemeron, “that which lasts for only one day,” and its usual synonyms include “temporary,” “transitory,” and “fragile.”

A society dependent on vulnerable satellite networks in place of the robust reliability of oceanic cables, cloud computing in place of the dispersed security of programs and data spread across millions of separate hard drives, just-in-time ordering in place of warehouses ready to fill in any disruptions in the supply chain, and so on, is indeed more ephemeral—that is to say, considerably more fragile than it would otherwise be.

In a world facing increasingly serious challenges driven by resource depletion, environmental disruption, and all the other unwelcome consequences of attempting limitless growth on a relentlessly finite planet, increasing the fragility of industrial society is also a good way to see to it that it turns out to be temporary and transitory.

In that sense, and only in that sense, Carson’s right; ephemeralization is the wave of the future, and it’s even harder to tell it apart from catabolic collapse than he thinks, because ephemeralization is part of the normal process of collapse, not a way to prevent it.

There’s an equal irony to be observed in the way that Carson presents this preparation for collapse as yet another great leap forward on the allegedly endless march of progress.

As discussed earlier in this series of posts, the concept of progress has no content of its own; it’s simply the faith-based assumption that the future will be, or must be, or at least ought to be, better than the present; and today’s passionate popular faith in the inevitability and beneficence of progress makes it embarrassingly easy for believers to convince themselves that any change you care to name, however destructive it turns out to be, must be for the best.

As we continue down the familiar trajectory of decline and fall, we can thus expect any number of people to cheer heartily at the progress, so to speak, that we’re making toward the endpoint of that curve.

Not all such cheering will be branded so obviously by another rehash of the weary 20th-century technofantasy of “a world without want,” or that infallible touchstone of the absurd, the insertion of some scrap of Star Trek’s fictional technology in what purports to be a discussion of a future we might actually inhabit.

There will no doubt be any number of attempts in the years ahead to insist that our decline is actually an ascent, or the birth pangs of a new and better world, or what have you, and it may well take an unusual degree of clarity to see past the chorus of reassurances, come to terms with the hard realities of our time, and do something constructive about them.


End to Japanese Nuclear Power?

SUBHEAD: Former Prime Minister Koizumi calls for end of Japanese nuclear power efforts.

By Jiji Press Staff on 3 October 2013 for The Japanese Times -

Image above: Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Tokyo in July 2012 to demand a stop to nuclear power. From (

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Japan should abandon nuclear power.

“I’m calling for zero nuclear power,” he said in a speech in Nagoya.

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered a nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, should be taken as an opportunity to build a resource-recycling society without nuclear power, he said on Tuesday.

Nothing is costlier than nuclear power, Koizumi said. The consequences of a nuclear accident are enormous, and it takes 40 to 50 years to decommission a nuclear reactor, he said. The popular former leader called on the government of current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to decide early to give up nuclear power.

Japan can survive without nuclear power, Koizumi said. “The sooner, the better,” he added.

If the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party adopt the policy of abandoning nuclear power, the move will create an encouraging atmosphere as all opposition parties are for the move, he said.

Fukushima Daiichi to be scrapped
SUBHEAD: Tepco announces it will decommission  Fukushima Daiichi #5 and #6 reactors.

By Yomiuri Shimbun on 30 September 2013 for The Japan Times -

Fukushima Daiichi Reactor #5 and #6 were undamaged by tsunami. From (

Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose revealed in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Saturday the company’s plans to decommission the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

In the interview, Hirose said the two reactors will never again be used for power generation.

The permanent shutdown of the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors was a demand made to the company by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to speed up the decommissioning work of the plant’s crippled Nos. 1-4 reactors.

As a result, all six reactors at the plant will be decommissioned.

“In absolutely no way am I considering using them [Nos. 5 and 6 reactors] as power plants,” Hirose said.

Afterward, he added: “It’s impossible to decommission them right now [because of the need to focus on the Nos. 1-4 reactors]. I’m thinking about how they [the sites of Nos. 5 and 6 reactors] can be used for the Nos. 1-4 reactors. A promising idea is to use them as training facilities.”

TEPCO filed documents to decommission the Nos. 1-4 reactors based on the Electric Utility Law in March last year. The decision to scrap all four reactors was finalized the following month.

The Nos. 5 and 6 reactors were not running at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 as they were undergoing regular inspections. They have not been restarted.

As for the demand by Fukushima Prefecture and others to decommission all four reactors at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 2 plant, Hirose merely said, “I think we should make a decision after taking many factors into consideration, such as the role of nuclear power in Japan and the feelings of prefectural residents,” he said.

Fukushima & Poisoned Fish

SUBHEAD: Radiation-related deaths from Pacific fish caught near Fukushima may occur from seafood already consumed.

By Alex Roslen on 2 October 2013 for -

Image above: Fish caught offshore of Fukushima now in Japan markets. From (

[IB Publisher's note: As morbid as this may sound - the radioactive contamination of seafood may be a cause a break from the strip mining the Japanese (and other fishing nations) have been doing to the oceans. It's estimated that 90% of the mega-fauna in to oceans have been killed by humans in just decades. The sea creatures may be mutating due to radioactive elements in the water but they may survive modern industrial fishing if they cannot be eaten.]

Are fish from the Pacific Ocean safe to eat? It’s a question that’s back in the news after revelations of highly radioactive water leaking into the ocean from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

“Let me assure you, the situation is under control,” Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said during lobbying for the 2020 Olympics. “There are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future.”

But the fish tell a different story about the impacts of the March 2011 tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima plant and caused massive amounts of radiation to end up in the Pacific.

About 800 people worldwide will get cancer from radiation due to Fukushima in fish eaten to date, according to Georgia Straight calculations. The Straight results relied on a widely used cancer-risk formula developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as radiation levels in 33,000 fish tested by the Japanese Fisheries Agency.

Half the cancers will be fatal. About 500 will be in Japan; 75 will be due to Japanese fish exports to other countries; and 225 will be from fishing in the Pacific by nations other than Japan.

And that’s likely only a small part of the actual long-term cancer impacts from eating the fish. Two nuclear experts who saw the Straight’s figures said the real cancer toll could be 100 times higher—or 80,000 cancers.

“The potential numbers could be two orders of magnitude [100 times] higher than your numbers,” Daniel Hirsch, a nuclear-policy lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said in a phone interview. “Hundreds of cancers are nothing to sneeze at, and it is a fraction of what I suspect the total will be.”

That could be the toll, Hirsch said, if all factors are taken into account, including: future fish consumption (the Straight’s number only includes fish eaten up to mid-July 2013); highly damaging isotopes that were released in the disaster but aren’t being monitored, such as strontium 90 and plutonium 239; consumption of contaminated fish caught in the entire Pacific (our number includes only fish caught in Japan and regions to the north and west of the archipelago, where the most radiation data exists, and doesn’t include any farmed fish); and research suggesting that radiation causes many more cancers than official formulas predict. (For more, see page 18.)

“Apologists say it’s a large ocean and dilution is the solution to pollution,” said Hirsch, who cochaired a California state appointed panel that oversaw a study of cancer among nuclear-power workers in the 1990s. “Dilution actually does nothing except expose a larger population.”

Because of the uncertainties involved with such calculations, it’s not clear how many cancers would occur in Canada or the U.S. The cancer numbers don’t include risk from fish catches in North American West Coast waters, where only a few sporadic radiation tōests have been done.

The cancer numbers also don’t include other possible health impacts from radiation in the fish, such as heart disease, stillbirths, and genetic damage to subsequent generations.

Those cases could actually outnumber the cancers, according to Sebastian Pflugbeil, a physicist in Germany who travelled to Japan to study Fukushima’s health impacts and who studied the impacts of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Pflugbeil checked the Straight’s calculations to make sure they were accurate, and he agreed with Hirsch that the final cancer toll could be 100 times higher. “Your calculation is nearly the lowest possible number of problems,” he said in a phone interview from Berlin.

The Straight also sent its cancer calculations to Eiichiro Ochiai, a retired chemistry professor in Vancouver who taught at UBC and the University of Tokyo and has written a book titled Hiroshima to Fukushima: Biohazards of Radiation (to be released on October 31).

In a phone interview, Ochiai agreed the calculations were done correctly and that the actual cancer toll will likely be higher. He said cancer-risk formulas used by governments underestimate the true cancer impact, especially those cases that arise from eating contaminated food.

“The official data is all denial,” Ochiai said. “The nuclear industry tries to suppress the truth.”

Erica Frank, a Vancouver MD, was taken aback when told the Straight’s results. “How can a person do anything but gasp?” she said in a phone interview. “That’s horrible. This is the beginning of a potential epidemic of radiation-related deaths from fish in the Pacific. It has vast implications for human health.”

Frank is a professor of population and public health in UBC’s faculty of medicine and a past president of the U.S. group Physicians for Social Responsibility, which shared in the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. In June, Frank sponsored a motion, adopted by the American Medical Association, that called on the U.S. to continue to monitor radiation in ocean fish. She said that after Fukushima, she decided to stop eating fish from Asia. She is especially concerned about impacts on B.C. migratory salmon. “I eat so much salmon. I love salmon; I am vulnerable.”

Reactions to the Straight’s results varied. “I see no value in you publishing such information. It would only cause an unwarranted increase in angst,” said Thomas Hinton, a U.S.–based radiation ecologist at France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety.

Hinton coauthored a study in the June Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that dismissed fears about eating fish contaminated by radiation from Fukushima, saying that radiation in tuna caught near California was “below levels that should cause concern”.

After the Straight sent him its cancer calculations, Hinton said in an email that the risk is still smaller than from natural sources such as cosmic rays, and that the average radiation level in the fish is below the Japanese government ceiling, which is 100 becquerels per kilo in food. Hinton didn’t respond to a phone-interview request.

In Berlin, Pflugbeil rejected Hinton’s argument, saying radiation from Fukushima can still cause cancers even if it is lower than natural radiation and government ceilings.

For example, 150,000 more people in Germany would die of cancer each year if all food had radiation at the European Union ceiling, according to a 2011 study Pflugbeil coauthored about Fukushima for Berlin-based Foodwatch.

“The allowed level of radiation in food is not the result of medical calculations but is a level which the atomic industry thinks it can accept. It’s very important to understand that the health of people plays almost no role in such calculations,” Pflugbeil told the Straight.

Arnold Gundersen, chief engineer at energy consulting firm Fairewinds Associates in Burlington, Vermont, also verified the Straight’s math.

Gundersen, who has a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, said by phone that the final number of cancer cases could be “over an order of magnitude higher” than the Straight figure. “Cancer rates are going up. It’s a useful fiction for the nuclear industry to say no one died.”

Edwin Lyman, a physicist specializing in nuclear issues and a senior scientist with the Washington, D.C.–based Union of Concerned Scientists, also checked the calculations. “There is a small risk for people who eat that fish,” he said in a phone interview. “If you ingest radioactive material, there is a cancer risk associated with that.”

And according to Cindy Folkers, a radiation and health specialist for the group Beyond Nuclear, in Takoma Park, Maryland, the presence of natural radiation doesn’t make it okay to add more carcinogens to the environment. “All this BS about natural radiation is used as an excuse to expose us to more radiation through their nuclear-industry processes,” Folkers said by phone.

In Ottawa, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency briefly tested food imports from Japan and required safety documentation on imports from the area around Fukushima. It dropped both those measures in June 2011, three months after the disaster.

The CFIA’s tests included about 50 fish and seafood products. But a CFIA product list supplied to the Straight included few of the fish species that have been found to have especially high levels of cesium, such as landlocked salmon, eel, carp, cod, and sea bass—all of which Japan has exported to Canada since the disaster. One sample of smoked bonito had 7.7 becquerels of cesium per kilo but it was allowed on the market, said CFIA spokesperson Elena Koutsavakis by phone.

“If it is below the Health Canada action level, we don’t see a reason for concern or a safety risk,” she said. Health Canada’s ceiling of 1,000 becquerels per kilo for cesium is 10 times that of Japan.

The CFIA did more radiation tests on Japanese food imports in the Vancouver region in September and October 2012; it still hasn’t released those results. Asked why the information has not been made public, Koutsavakis said that it is still being analyzed a year later: “It’s just a matter of doing the work based on the risk. That’s why it took longer.”

The Straight has filed a freedom-of-information request for the results.

Closer to home, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control long ago dismissed concerns about Fukushima’s impacts here. “There is no health risk from radiation from the nuclear-power plants in Japan to people in B.C.,” it said in a statement in March 2011.

“At Fukushima, [the reactor’s] design is great. No human error. Natural disaster,” said Abderrachid Zitouni, the BCCDC’s radiation specialist, explaining the disaster’s cause during a talk to B.C. medical professionals in April 2011. He delivered a PowerPoint presentation that said the accident had involved only a “minor release” of radiation with a “local impact only”.

(In fact, a Japanese parliamentary commission last year called Fukushima “a profoundly man-made disaster—that could and should have been foreseen and prevented”, blaming “a multitude of errors” and “ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power”.)

Zitouni didn’t return a phone message. Instead, BCCDC spokesperson Alex Dabrowski emailed the Straight to refer questions to the CFIA and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Other countries are taking the risks more seriously. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and South Korea this month expanded restrictions on Japanese fish imports. South Korea also rejects other food from Japan if it has any cesium. In all, 42 countries and regions had restrictions on food imports from Japan due to Fukushima as of October 2012, according to an August Japan Times story.

Hirsch believes that restrictions and monitoring aren’t enough. “Even fish below limits pose a risk. The fundamental lesson is to try to stop from doing this again. Nuclear power might be safe, but only in the hands of another species.”

Ochiai agreed: “We should keep uranium safely in the ground.”

That lesson doesn’t seem to have sunk in. Since Fukushima, Canada has okayed uranium and nuclear-technology sales to the United Arab Emirates and India. And Japan has signed a deal to help build a new nuclear plant in quake-prone Turkey.

Fukushima Fishing resumes

SUBHEAD: Fish caught off Fukushima Prefecture to hit the markets in Japan.

By Staff on 26 September 2013 for The Mainichi -

Image above: Catches are landed at Matsukawaura Port in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, following the resumption of test fishing off Fukushima Prefecture on Sept. 25. From original article.

Fishery products caught off Fukushima Prefecture were ready for trial sale as early as Sept. 26 after fisheries cooperatives here resumed test fishing the day before.

Some 5.2 tons of 11 varieties of fish -- including octopus, horsehair crab, blackbelly rosefish and angler -- were landed at the Matsukawaura Port in Soma, northern Fukushima Prefecture, after 21 dragnet fishing boats returned there on the afternoon of Sept. 25.

After screening the catches for radioactive materials, the seafood is to go on trial sale at supermarkets and other retailers as early as Sept. 26.

The 58-year-old captain of a 19-ton boat that took part in the trial said, "I felt good when I went fishing, but I'm concerned whether the catches will find buyers. I want consumers to feel secure and eat the products as we will only ship them after screening them strictly."

A 61-year-old official with the Soma-Futaba fisheries cooperative said, "We can only earn a living on the sea. We had come to a standstill, but we will move forward toward full-scale fishing."

The trial operation by the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations had been suspended for nearly one month since the revelation of radioactively contaminated water leaks at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

A local fisheries cooperative in Iwaki, southern Fukushima Prefecture, will also embark on test fishing on Oct. 3, for the first time since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.