Stroboscopic Easter Eggs

SUBHEAD: As part of the celebration of spring we present these painted animated Easter egg designs.

By Rob Beschizza on 25 March 2018 for Boing Boing-
(https://boingboing.net/2018/03/25/mesmerising-stroboscopic-easte.html)


Image above: Eggbot inking a boiled egg with stroboscopic pattern on an Easter that appears animated by video frames. Still shot from video below.

"No computer graphics tricks were used in this video," writes Jiri Zemanek of Czech Technical University in Prague.
Various patterns are generated in MATLAB using mathematical equations similar to ones describing Spirograph (or harmonograph) and Phyllotaxis. The patterns are calculated in such a way that when rotated under a stroboscopic light of suitable frequency or when recorded by a camera, they start to animate. It is kind of zoetrope---early device for animation. Eggs were painted using EggBot (designed by Bruce Shapiro as open hardware and available as a kit from http://www.evilmadscientist.com/). To draw on eggs, we used standard permanent markers and an electro kistka with bee wax followed by dying. Eggs are rotated at a constant speed, special for each pattern, by a brushless motor.


Video above: "Eggstatic - Stroboscopic Pen Patterns for Easter Eggs". From (https://youtu.be/JfajQ4_hSN0)
aic paint".

Here's more: "This apparatus creates stroboscopic patterns on an egg covered in photochromic paint"


Video above: "Eggstatic 2 - Laser Drawing Stroboscopic Patterns on Eggs". From (https://youtu.be/rIgpqlrj-G0)

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Futility of "Big Green" activism

SUBHEAD: To minimize human suffering and protect ecosystems, working locally to build resilience is the best strategy.

By Richard Heinberg & Tim DeChristopher on 29 March 2018 for Resilience -
(http://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-03-29/getting-past-trump-part-3-the-futility-of-big-green-activism-a-conversation-with-tim-dechristopher/)


Image above: Still image from film Bidder 70 of Tim DeChristopher . In 2008 the environmental activist made bogus bids for 22,000 acres of federal land up for auction. Some people found his actions inspiring, but after the courts finished with him, he found himself in jail. The film Bidder 70 follows DeChristopher’s growth as an outspoken activist even as the criminal case against him intensified. From (http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/through-lens-bidder-70-0).

If environmentalists hope to have any real success in the age of Trump, they will have to change strategies and tactics in response to a transformed political and social context.

Back in the long-ago, hard-to-recall days before Trump became president, environmental (as well as peace and human rights) nonprofit organizations engaged in a routine, ritualized two-part dance of raising money from contributors, and then trying to convince policy makers to do something to save the world — or at least reduce the scale of harms being done.

What was actually accomplished was never enough to actually turn society in the direction of sustainability, but the effort was in some respects its own reward: Activists felt useful, and in some cases, fundraising produced enough to pay salaries. And there were occasional victories to celebrate.

Now the United States is led by an authoritarian who is steadily undermining our democratic norms and institutions, and a Congress that is either bought and paid for by moneyed interests, or is too scared to challenge them meaningfully.

It’s clear that no amount of cajoling, wheedling, imploring, threatening or explaining will convince Congress or the executive branch of the federal government to do anything whatsoever to address the panoply of do-or-die problems confronting us. Why even bother asking them?

Recall it was the failure of elites to address real underlying problems that contributed to the advent of Trump in the first place. Now, of course, at least from environmentalists’ perspective, Trump is making everything much, much worse: It’s probably fair to say that the Trump administration has never met an environmental regulation it didn’t want to kill.

What should environmentalists do under these changed circumstances? What strategies should environmental organizations pursue?

In order to get some helpful perspective, I recently corresponded with activist Tim DeChristopher, cofounder of Climate Disobedience Center. I respect DeChristopher for two important reasons: He has a good understanding of the range of overshoot issues humanity currently faces, and he has the courage of his convictions (he spent nearly two years in federal prison for a creative act of civil disobedience recounted in the documentary film Bidder 70).

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of my conversation with DeChristopher.

I first asked Tim what he thought about the actions of the big mainstream environmental organizations in the context of the new Trump administration.

Tim DeChristopher:
I really don’t think that most mainstream climate environmental organizations are operating with any kind of intentional strategy in which they think that what they are doing will lead to positive change.

When groups are mobilizing their members to “send a message” or “make their voices heard” to [US Secretary of the Interior Ryan] Zinke, [Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott] Pruitt or Trump, I doubt any staffers in those groups actually think that what they are doing has any potential of working.

I think they are hemmed-in by the norms of social movement organizing. Those norms demand relentless optimism and positivity, so there is very little room for open reflection on our mistakes, changing direction or acknowledging that certain goals are no longer possible. Those norms also define leadership around knowing what to do and giving people tangible and immediate things to do.

I think most organizations and leaders would feel extremely nervous about saying to their community, “I don’t know what needs to be done in this unprecedented situation.” There is a mainstream assumption that they would no longer be justified in their leadership position if they expressed that uncertainty. But I think one of our most critical needs for a future of climate chaos is to develop a model of uncertain leadership.

This is a kind of leadership that can hold space for sitting with uncertainty and empower a broader community of people to actively think and work in that space of vulnerability. Such leadership is embodied not in one’s ability to control a situation, but in one’s courage to engage with and relate to the situation.

Richard Heinberg: 
Historically, nonviolent protest and civil disobedience have developed as successful strategies for social change mostly within the context of liberal democracies. For example, there has been some discussion about whether [Mahatma] Gandhi’s efforts would have been as successful if Britain had not had a free press and other democratic institutions.

Without a free press, regimes can simply imprison and kill protesters with minimal public awareness of either the protest or its repression. How do you think protest might evolve if the US continues its trajectory toward authoritarianism?

Tim DeChristopher:
I think that Trump has certainly changed the dynamics of civil disobedience at the federal level. It’s worth noting that Erica Chenoweth’s research has shown that nonviolent civil resistance is often more effective under authoritarian regimes, but I think Trump represents a very rare kind of power.

Part of the efficacy of civil disobedience is often that it pulls back the facade of decency or democracy to reveal power that is actually rooted in violence.

The police violence at Standing Rock was an embarrassment to Obama because he had hinged his authority on lofty ideals, but in fact his real power was the state’s monopoly on violence. Even Bush Jr. ran on a platform of being a “compassionate conservative.” It was a lie, but he needed that lie.

Trump, however, never tried to project a facade of compassion or even decency. His power is based on ruthlessness and the breaking of taboos. If he is put into a position in which he has to violently repress nonviolent dissent, it may actually strengthen his power rather than undermine it.

In terms of media, I think our trajectory is not one of outright suppression of a free press to the point of avoiding public awareness, but rather a bifurcation of the press and social media to the point that no one has to accept anything they don’t want to believe.

This is a serious challenge not only for civil disobedience, but for all social change efforts regardless of strategy. It is further exacerbated by new video manipulation technologies. It is very hard to see how we avoid either nihilism or civil war.

Richard Heinberg:  
So, what to do?

Tim DeChristopher:
My current thinking is that our best bet to overcome these challenges is making protest far more diffuse and widespread. With the lack of a central narrative or even a consensus reality, big iconic protests with famous people will likely continue to become less effective.

But we all have a small circle of people whom we can influence in ways that are not dependent on media. Because our current culture has such justifiable skepticism of manipulation, one’s own willingness to sacrifice is more critical than ever for using our influence effectively, so I think civil disobedience will continue to play an important role for that.

So perhaps this is to say that protest needs to follow the path that needs to be followed for so many other changes we need to make: more localized, more diverse, more people involved, more experimentation. No goddamn mono-crop social movements!

Richard Heinberg:
How is your own organization, the Climate Disobedience Center, dealing with these issues and challenges? What concrete actions are your taking that different from the strategies of the ‘Big Green’ groups?

Tim DeChristopher: The Climate Disobedience Center began as a resource and support center for folks doing civil disobedience against the fossil fuel industry.  At the time, a certain brand of safe and limited civil disobedience was being increasingly embraced by the mainstream of the climate movement.

We felt that there was an opportunity to work with those folks who were engaging in direct action and help them manifest the full potential of vulnerable and transformative civil disobedience. We primarily ended up filling the particular void in the movement around supporting folks after the point of arrest as they engage with the court system.

Over time, we realized that rather than providing a plug-in service that could easily interface with a mainstream model, we were approaching this work with a fundamentally different paradigm that demanded a holistic structure.

So we refocused our efforts on building small praxis groups of holistic support, like a cross between an affinity group and a small group ministry. These are groups of folks who support one another to live with integrity in a time of climate crisis.

One piece of that is the moral responsibility to act to mitigate whatever harms can still be avoided, but we believe that work cannot be detached from the need to build resilient communities as well as grieve for that which is already being lost.

As these are largely unprecedented challenges, we are trying to create the practices of mutual support that allow for as much experimentation and creativity as possible.



DeChristohper emphasizes that simply getting rid of Trump as first priority will not solve the environmental crisis. If the system wasn’t sufficiently self-correcting before, and if the status quo is irreparably broken, then it’s clear that some other change in strategy is needed.

He also calls for more local and experimental activism and civil disobedience, warning that large-scale protests could simply become indiscernible components of the noise being generated by the implosion of the US political system.

My own tendency is to look at the big picture. In that regard, my gut and intellect both tell me that the Trump interval is best understood as a stage in societal collapse. Each stage of that process will no doubt follow its own internal logic.

As the stages progress, larger scales of societal organization (international institutions, then nation states) will tend to fail first. Therefore the usefulness of national and global strategies for resistance and repair will tend to gradually diminish.

If we want to minimize human suffering and protect ecosystems, then working locally to build community resilience is probably the best strategy available. The reasons are plentiful and the rationale only grows stronger as our context evolves.

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Building your own internet

SUBHEAD: A digital justice project is putting people online and providing technology training in Detroit.

By J. Gabriel Ware on 26 march 2018 for Yes Magazine -
(http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/when-they-couldnt-afford-internet-service-they-built-their-own-20180326)


Image above: Dwight Roston is drilling on the roof of a home in Detroit’s Islandview neighborhood on the city’s east side. From original article.

Dwight Roston is part of a team that is setting up a wireless internet connection. The home is just one of 150 designated households in the city to receive free internet service by the end of the year.

In 2016, a coalition of media, tech, and community organizations launched the Equitable Internet Initiative, a project that will result in the construction of wireless broadband internet networks across three underserved Detroit neighborhoods.

Leading the initiative is the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP), a digital justice project sponsored by Allied Media Projects. Each network will provide wireless internet service to 50 households per neighborhood, according to Diana Nucera, executive director of DCTP.

“During the economic and housing crisis, communities had to fend for themselves,” Nucera says.

“Media and technology play such a vital role in economic opportunities, but the tech industry doesn’t really think about community organizing.”

That’s why, she explains, “we developed this approach called community technology.”

Detroit has one of the most extreme digital divides in the country, with more than 60% of low-income residents without broadband in their homes. According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, residents in low-income or rural neighborhoods are the least likely to have broadband subscriptions.

Even discounted municipal or corporate broadband subscriptions, if available, are not necessarily alternatives for many families. After all, affordability is relative.

Last year, the United Nations declared internet access a human right. But like running water, which was also declared a human right by the U.N., it is considered a paid service in the United States. In 2016, a U.S. federal court ruled that the high-speed internet service can be defined as a utility, such as gas and electricity.

And as is the case with access to most utilities, there is a large gap between those who can afford internet service and those who cannot.

This digital divide, which includes lack of access to computers, is a barrier to success in day-to-day life tasks, so much of which is done online—from paying bills and other financial management to obtaining voting information, from completing homework to communicating with a child’s school.

The coalition raised just under $1 million from local and national foundations to finance the Equitable Internet Initiative. Funds were used to hire employees, buy equipment, and internet bandwidth.

They purchased three discounted wholesale gigabit connections from Rocket Fiber, a Detroit-based high-speed internet service provider. Their contract with Rocket Fiber allows the coalition to share its connection with the community—a provision not allowed by other companies.

Each neighborhood is represented by a partnering organization, whose locale is used as the central connection hub for service. In Islandview, it’s the Church of Messiah, a non-traditional Episcopal church. An antenna sits atop the roof and receives a point-to-point wireless connection from Rocket Fiber, which is then shared to the 50 designated households.

The community members are responsible for installation. DCTP trains a representative of the partnering organization, who then trains five to seven neighbors to install the equipment. These digital stewards, who Nucera says had no previous technical experience, are responsible for “building the networks.”

They mount CPE (customer premise equipment) dishes on top of the homes, which receive a signal from the hubs. Finally, they run cables from the dishes to the routers inside the homes.

Roston, a digital steward, says the work was foreign to him.

“Being a digital steward was completely out of the range of what I usually do,” he says. “I was so used to using the internet— all the software and everything—but I didn’t know how internet networks work.”

So far, he’s helped with getting 19 of the 50 designated households in the Islandview neighborhood online.

Wallace Gilbert Jr. is responsible for recruiting Roston. Gilbert is the assistant pastor of the Church of Messiah, and he’s also a digital steward trainer. He has worked in tech for 30 years and for the past several years has been teaching neighborhood youth to build and repair personal computers to take home. Digital literacy is among the needs of the community that the church provides.

One day Gilbert noticed quite a number of the children were using the church computers to complete homework assignments. “I asked one of the fellas why was he using the computer [at the church] when I know I helped him build a high-end computer,” he explains. “He told me that he didn’t have the internet at home.”

It was then, Gilbert says, he realized that the computers were useless if the youth couldn’t access the internet.

The Federal Communication Commission’s Broadband Task Force reported that approximately 70%  of teachers assign homework requiring access to broadband. According to the same report, 70% is also the rate of school-aged children in Detroit who don’t have internet access at home.

A mission of both The Church of Messiah and the Detroit Community Technology Project is to increase young people’s access to and facility with technology. This is why Gilbert and the church joined the Equitable Internet Initiative.

Nucera says the three-neighborhood project is about 50% complete. The coalition’s contract with Rocket Fiber expires next year, but another internet service provider has agreed to extend service for an additional three years. The next and final phase of the project involves developing a business model so that the residents will continue to have internet after the second contract ends.

This element of self-determination is also motivating, Roston says.

“You don’t ever want to give somebody something that they did not have and couldn’t do without and then take it away from them,” he says.

The bottom-up approach of having residents directly involved in building the internet, Nucera says, is a model that also strengthens community relationships, increases civic engagement, and redistributes political and economic power to otherwise marginalized neighborhoods

“If the community has ownership of the infrastructure, then they’re more likely to participate in its maintenance, evolution, and innovation,” she explains. “That’s what we believe leads to sustainability.”

The project is a model for any neighborhood, though, even at a small scale.

“I don’t want people to think that this can only be done with a million dollars,” Nucera says. “There’s different scales to this model. Two neighbors can come together and share internet, and they continue adding people to the network until it grows as to how big as they want it.”

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Indigenous groups start telecom 11/3/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Build a local low-tech internet 9/12/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Internet Economics 5/21/09




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NTHE is a four letter word

SUBHEAD: Near Term Human Extinction may be coming after a few of us get through the eco-bottleneck.

By Albert Bates on 25 March 2018 for The Great Change -
(http://peaksurfer.blogspot.com/2018/03/nthe-is-four-letter-word.html)


Image above: Illustration of a cityscape post near term human extinction. From (http://thefallingdarkness.com/near-term-human-extinction-a-conversation-with-guy-mcpherson/).

"Collective neurosis can be attributed to a concatenation of causes — diet, electrosmog, epigenetic triggering by microplastics in our toothpaste — take your choice."

We are not talking about climate deniers now, who have their own brand of insanity, but we keep hearing the same mantra chanted by otherwise respectable scientists and policymakers that, “climate change may be catastrophic but it won’t be the end of us.”

We hear that so often we almost never challenge it, not wishing to divert an otherwise productive conversation into what we know to be a blind alley. Nonetheless, we think the statement is at best deluded and at worst just a milder form of denialism. It is not science. It is faith. It is also human neurophysiology.
Brain imaging research has shown that a major neural region associated with cognitive flexibility is the prefrontal cortex — specifically two areas known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Additionally, the vmPFC was of interest to the researchers because past studies have revealed its connection to fundamentalist-type beliefs. For example, one study showed individuals with vmPFC lesions rated radical political statements as more moderate than people with normal brains, while another showed a direct connection between vmPFC damage and religious fundamentalism. For these reasons, in the present study, researchers looked at patients with lesions in both the vmPFC and the dlPFC, and searched for correlations between damage in these areas and responses to religious fundamentalism questionnaires.
Bobby Azarian, Raw Story, March 14, 2018

In the quote above, Azarian is referring to a study published a year ago in Neuropsychologia that connected cognitive flexibility with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and proved that damage to that part of the brain hinders adaptive or flexible behavior, locking out world views that run contrary to some preconception. The study correlated brain-damaged veterans with religious fundamentalism.

The preconception most often grasped by NTHE (Near Term Human Extinction ) deniers is the notion that “humans survived far worse cataclysms to arrive at their present condition” —  the Toba event 70,000 years ago, for instance, when the human population was reduced to perhaps 10,000–30,000 individuals — “and we invariably rebound.”

The example most often cited is the 2005 Rutgers mDNA study showing all pre-1492 native populations of the Americas  —  well over 1 billion by some estimates  —  having descended from 70 or fewer individuals who crossed the land bridge between Asia and North America.

This is a variant of the techno-cornucopianism of Bill Gates or Elon Musk, but in their cases — building new desert cities in Arizona or seed colonies on Mars — that being externalized, absent a cold fusion Spindletop, is biophysical economics.

We have previously reviewed the hypothesis of Danny Brower and Ajit Varki that an evolutionary leap allowed homo to access higher consciousness by hard-wiring a neural pathway for denying reality.

Arguably that same pathway induces otherwise rational-seeming people to allow for the possibility of catastrophic climate change (already well underway) while denying the possibility of it leading to near-term human extinction (NTHE).

In our view, this colors the debate over what we should be doing by reducing the urgency.

Ironically there may have been human genotypes that suppressed their denial gene better than ours does. One of the effects of genetic bottlenecks is that selected genes (such as those offering a more balanced use of denial) fail to be passed along to succeeding populations.

Our personal view is that while we think NTHE can yet be avoided, the time for action grows short and as we as we walk out onto the razon’s edge and grow more desperate we will likely make many foolish mistakes, any one of which could trigger NTHE.

Appointing John Bolton the National Security Advisor, for instance. In 2016 USAnians fed up with the tweedledee-tweedledum two-party system opted to just hurl a hand grenade into the White House and stand back.

If one grenade was not enough, we still have President Bannon to look forward to in 2020 or 2024 if Cambridge Analytica can keep up with the AI revolution with respect to Big Data.

Collective neurosis can be attributed to a concatenation of causes — diet, electrosmog, epigenetic triggering by microplastics in our toothpaste — take your choice. Visionary forebears who saw these bottlenecks coming — Garrett Hardin, R. Buckminster Fuller, M. King Hubbert — all argued that the best antidote was better public education.

But at least in the US, public education was hijacked in the ‘90s by the vmPFC-lesioned hoards of Zombie Fundamentalists before being handed over to Betsy DeVoss for the final coup d’gras.

Whatever long wave or ergot diet issued humanity into the Dark Ages seems to be replaying now, and it could hardly arrive at a worse time from the standpoint of the organized climate solutioneering required to avert Anthropogenic NTHE.

We need to be in top form to survive this next bottleneck. We’d do better without the denial. Too bad climate scientists can’t afford to hire Cambridge Analytica themselves.

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Science of a Vanishing Planet

SUBHEAD: Because science is supposed to be smart, and there’s nothing smart about destroying your own world.


By Raul Ilargi Meijer on 27 March 2018 for The Automatic Earth -
(https://www.theautomaticearth.com/2018/03/the-science-of-a-vanishing-planet/)


Image above: Vanishing point in the woodland. From (https://www.lightandmatter.org/2011/learn-photography/composition/photo-composition-vanishing-point/).

There are numerous ways to define the Precautionary Principle. It’s something we can all intuitively understand, but which many parties seek ways to confuse since it has the potential to stand in the way of profits. Still, in the end it should all be about proof, not profits.

That is exactly what the Principle addresses. Because if you first need to deliver scientific proof that some action or product can be harmful to mankind and/or the natural world, you run the risk of inflicting irreversible damage before that proof can be delivered.

In one of many definitions, the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t easily fly in our age of science and money. Cigarette makers, car manufacturers and oil companies, just to name a few among a huge number of industries, are all literally making a killing while the Precautionary Principle is being ignored.

Even as it is being cited in many international treaties. Lip service “R” us. Are these industries to blame when they sell us our products, or are we for buying them? That’s where governments must come in to educate us about risks. Which they obviously do not.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -of Black Swan and Antifragile fame- has made the case, in his usual strong fashion, for applying the Precautionary Principle when it comes to GMOs.

His argument is that allowing genetically modified organisms in our eco- and foodsystems carries unknown risks that we have no way of overseeing, and that these risks may cause irreversible damage to the very systems mankind relies on for survival.

Taleb is not popular among GMO producers. Who all insist there is no evidence that their products cause harm. But that is not the point. The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head.

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Monsanto et al must prove that their products do no harm. They can not. Which is why they have, and need, huge lobbying, PR and legal departments.

But I didn’t want to talk about GMOs today, and not about Precautionary Principle alone. I wanted to talk about this: Paragraph 2 of article 191 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty (2009) states that:
“Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”
In other words, the EU has committed itself to the Precautionary Principle. Well, on paper, that is. However, then we get to a whole series of reports on wildlife in Europe, and they indicate all sorts of things, but not that Brussels cares even one bit about adhering to the Precautionary Principle, either for its people or its living environment. One voice below calls it a “state of denial”, but I would use some other choice words. Let’s start with the Guardian this morning, because they have an interesting perspective:
Most Britons remain blithely unaware that since the Beatles broke up, we have wiped out half our wildlife…
…since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the number of flying insects on nature reserves in Germany had dropped by at least 76% – more than three-quarters…
Things like ‘since you were born’, ‘since man landed on the moon’, ‘since the wall came down’ or ‘since 9/11’ may be a bit clearer than 100 years, or 25 years. Moreover, I read somewhere that since Columbus landed in 1492, America has lost on third of all its biodiversity, but that doesn’t yet explain the rate of acceleration that is taking place.

In October last year, the Guardian had this:

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years , according to a new study that has shocked scientists.
Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.
The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.
The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.
“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study.
“We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life , and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.” 
[..] When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.
Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.
Then last week from AFP:

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.
The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%.
museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared. 
“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years.
Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.
Not that it’s just Europe, mind you. Still ‘ove’ this one from Gretchen Vogel in ScienceMag, about a year ago, on a phenomenon most of you stateside will have noticed too:

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. “If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen,” says Wolfgang W├Ągele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. “I’m a very data-driven person,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don’t see that mess anymore.”
Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. “I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects.” Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: “I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean.”
Though observations about splattered bugs aren’t scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. “We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species,” which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.
After all those numbers, and before they get worse -which they will, it’s already baked in the cake-, you would expect the EU to remember the Precautionary Principle all its member nations signed on to for the Lisbon Treaty. You would expect wrong. Instead Brussels vows to continue with the exact same policies that have led to its mind-boggling biodiversity losses.

Europe’s crisis of collapsing bird and insect numbers will worsen further over the next decade because the EU is in a “state of denial” over destructive farming practices, environmental groups are warning. European agriculture ministers are pushing for a new common agriculture policy (CAP) from 2021 to 2028 which maintains generous subsidies for big farmers and ineffectual or even “fake” environmental or “greening” measures, they say.
In a week when two new studies revealed drastic declines in French farmland birds – a pattern repeated across Europe – the EU presidency claimed that the CAP continued to provide safe food while defending farmers and “protecting the environment”
“The whole system is in a state of denial,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.” Farm subsidies devour 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers , via “basic payments” which hand European landowners £39bn each year. 
Because these payments are simply related to land area, big farmers receive more, can invest in more efficient food production – removing hedgerows to enlarge fields for instance – and put smaller, less intensive farmers out of business. France lost a quarter of its farm labourers in the first decade of the 21st century, while its average farm size continues to rise.
A smaller portion – £14.22bn annually – of EU farm subsidies support “greening” measures but basic payment rules work against wildlife-friendly farming: in Britain, farmers can’t receive basic payments for land featuring ponds, wide hedges, salt marsh or regenerating woodland. Signals from within the EU suggest that the next decade’s CAP [..] will continue to pay farmers a no-strings subsidy, while cash for “greening”, or wildlife-friendly farming, may even be cut.
Birdlife Europe said the “greening” was mostly “fake environmental spending” and wildlife-friendly measures had been “shredded” by “loophole upon loophole” introduced by member states.
[..] This week studies revealed that the abundance of farmland birds in France had fallen by a third in 15 years – with population falls intensifying in the last two years. It’s a pattern repeated across Europe: farmland bird abundance in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% over three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Conservationists say it’s indicative of a wider crisis – particularly the decimation of insect life linked to neonicotinoid pesticides.
About 20% of farmers work 80% of the land in Europe. That is used as an argument to single them out to pay them billions in subsidies. But it simply means these 20% use the most detrimental farming methods, most pesticides, most chemicals. The subsidies policy guarantees further deterioration of an already disastrous situation. The polluter doesn’t pay, as the Lisbon Treaty demands, but the polluter gets paid.

And even that is apparently still not enough for the fast growing bureaucracy. In a move perhaps more characteristic of the EU than anything else, it approved something last week that a million people had vehemently protested: the Bayer-Monsanto merger. The European parliament may have thrown out all Monsanto lobbyists recently, and voted to ban Roundup, but the die has been cast.

A million citizens can protest in writing, many millions in France and Germany and elsewhere may do the same on the street, none of it matters. The people who brought you WWII nerve gases and Agent Orange can now come together to take over your food supply.

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market.
Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.
Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..]
“Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”
[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval.
“This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.
Dow-Dupont, ChemChina and Bayer Monsanto have a lot more political influence than a million Europeans, or ten million Americans. They have even convinced numerous, if not most, people that without their products the world would starve. That their chemicals are needed to feed a growing human population. Farming based on algorythms.

They are not ‘seed companies’. They are ‘seeds-that-need-our-chemicals-to-grow’ companies. And they are out to conquer the entire world. A 100-times worse version of Facebook. And our governments subsidize the use of their products. As we not-so-slowly see our living world be massacred by those products.

We don’t know how bad GMOs will turn out to be. Which is in itself a very good reason to ban them. Since once they spread, they can’t be stopped anymore. Then the chemical boys will own all of our food. But we do know how bad the pesticides and other chemicals they produce are. And we’re not even banning those. We just eat all that sh*t and shut up.

It’s a failure to understand what science is: that you must proof harm first before banning stuff. The only real science is the one that has adopted the Precautionary Principle.

Because science is supposed to be smart, and there’s nothing smart about destroying your own world.

Because science should never be used to hurt people or nature. Science can only be good if it benefits us. Not our wallets, but our heads and hearts and forests, and our children. Do no harm.

Yeah, I know, who am I fooling, right?
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Free Range Children

SUBHEAD: Utah just passed America’s first ‘Free-Range Parenting’ law fostering of child self-sufficiency.

By Dominique Mosbergen on 26 March 2018 for Huffington Post -
(https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/utah-free-range-parenting-law_us_5ab8b3dce4b0decad04b91c7)


Image above: Older boy walking younger boy across road with no parental supervision. From original article.

[IB Publisher's note: Thank God somewhere children are going to be allowed to be children and discover some of the world on their own. How else can one become a responsible adult and learn how to deal with adversity and challenges. I say down with the Nanny State!]

Utah has legalized a controversial child-rearing method known as “free-range parenting” that encourages the fostering of self-sufficiency in children from a young age, which is believed to be the first legislation of its kind in the United States.

The so-called “free-range kids” bill was signed into law by Republian Gov. Gary Herbert on Friday after the state House and Senate voted unanimously to approve the legislation.

The new law, which will take effect on May 8, specifies that it is not a crime for parents to allow kids who display maturity and good judgment to do things like walk to school alone or play outside without supervision.

An age limit was not defined, but the bill’s sponsors said it was left “purposely open-ended so police and prosecutors can work on a case-by-case basis” if abuse or neglect is suspected, according to The Associated Press.

“If there are clear signs of abuse, obviously that is grounds for action, and in no way is excluded [from the law],” Rep. Brad Daw (R), the bill’s House sponsor, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Draw said he was convinced to pursue the legislation after seeing cases in other states of parents being investigated or even arrested for allowing their kids to do things alone. A Maryland couple made headlines in 2015 after they were accused of neglect for letting their two children ― aged 10 and 6 ― walk home without adult supervision.

In 2014, a Florida mom was arrested on a felony child neglect charge for allowing her 7-year-old son to walk to a nearby park alone. (That charge was eventually dropped.)

Sen. Lincoln Filmore (R), the Utah bill’s chief sponsor, said he introduced the legislation to encourage more self-reliance among children.

“I feel strongly about the issue because we have become so over-the-top when ‘protecting’ children that we are refusing to let them learn the lessons of self-reliance and problem-solving that they will need to be successful as adults,” Filmore told Yahoo Lifestyle last week.

Advocates of free-range parenting have celebrated Utah’s new law.

“We live in a fear-infused culture in which we’ve lost perspective on safety,” Lenore Skenazy, who coined the term “free-range parenting” about a decade ago, told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Common activities like leaving a child in a car are often presented as though they pose enormous threats to our safety.”

“Yes, anything can happen. But I hate the idea that imagination becomes the basis of law,” she added.

Free-range parenting is a method not without critics, however.

Arkansas tried to pass a similar free-range kids bill last year but failed after receiving pushback from critics who said it was too dangerous to leave children unsupervised.
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Love & Loss in the Anthropocene

SUBHEAD: I can bear witness and refuse to close my heart. I can continue to love even when it hurts like hell.

By Elizabeth West on 22 March 2018 for Common Dreams -
(https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/03/21/love-and-loss-anthropocene)


Image above: The footprint of humans on the Earth is getting uglier. From (https://newatlas.com/anthropocene/45151/).

What can we do?  We are without doubt in an historically unique and incredibly challenging position. The Anthropogenic extinction is here, now. It is not something we are anticipating or awaiting. It is upon us.

Today, we are in it, watching the life we have known unravel on a hundred different fronts. And I find myself asking with crazy-making regularity: how can I—one ordinary human amongst 7.5 billion—honor this extraordinary time with whatever gifts and goods I happen to be carrying?

Many of us are posing similar questions to ourselves, to one another.  These are my own very personal musings of this moment, shared in the hope that they might spark or support others’ explorations.

I expect that there are as many answers as there are humans willing to ask; we all must find our own way, our own truth in these times.

I experience a lot of gnawing low-level anxiety of late, I have frequent bursts of anger and I regularly skirt the precarious edges of depression.

It is not easy for any of us to hold in full consciousness the massive losses—and concomitant suffering– that are already underway, not to mention all those which are almost certainly just around the next bend.

I try, like so many of us do, to balance awareness and honest acknowledgement of our impending collective demise with kindness and compassion. I work hard to avoid becoming completely subsumed by grief, to stay in the moment. It isn’t fun—or particularly functional—to wallow in sorrow.

More importantly, I don’t want to be lost in my own inoculating darkness when there is relatively little time left to manifest the best of who it has been given to me to be.

I continue to believe that among the few meaningful actions left to us may be the choice to seek within ourselves love and courage and connection, even—and especially—in the midst of devastation.

But grief arises as part of that commitment. We know: loving almost always entails loss. To live with an open heart means being present for the slings and arrows.

Grief is part of the journey that lies ahead for all of us, should we choose to make it in consciousness. And sometimes the grief captures my attention in ways that take me completely by surprise.

As a parent, I am ever aware of the legacy of our choices, all that we have made impossible for our children and grandchildren.

Easiest to see are the larger and most tangible of consequences —the horrifying prospects of global warming, climate chaos, habitat destruction, rising and acidifying seas, breakdown of civil order, war and…extinction.

Any human under 50 today—and all the other innocent beings on the planet—are facing a life immeasurably more difficult than the one I was granted.

Unbearable at times, I do try not to let the looming calamity keep me small or shut down, from delighting in the advent of another spring, from watching the birds with wonder and gratitude.

Nature, though brutally ravaged by human greed, still manages to offer deep sustenance, an unbeatable and incredibly generous antidote to the fear and anger and sadness that are afoot everywhere in these times.

A few weeks back, out walking in the unseasonably warm weather, I came upon a gnarled old apple tree, in full bloom. As I always do, I leaned in for a good whiff, a deep receiving of the tree’s offering.

My own personal ‘madeleine,’ the scent instantly conjures for me the glory of infinite possibility, the breathtaking capacity of human beings to make beauty, to create meaning, and to love heroically.

Twined together forty-three years ago, that particular fragrance and the aliveness I felt back then, on the cusp of adulthood, cannot be separated.

At seventeen, I embarked ebulliently on the adventure of my life.  My best friend and I moved into our first apartment in January, and we got jobs that paid us the minimum wage of $2.10/hour, to cover the rent.

We bought big sacks of bulgur and millet to eat, and I brought home as many leftovers as I could from the college dining hall where I made salads all day.

As spring arrived, our landlady gifted us with armloads of beet greens thinned from her large garden, and then rhubarb stalks as they emerged. We didn’t know what to do with them, but we learned. Turning down free food was not really an option.

Besides, we were saving for our very own telephone, and in a couple of months we succeeded in getting the necessary cash together, and proudly found ourselves waiting for the calls to come in on the brand new yellow wall phone.

Our apartment comprised the second floor of a farmhouse nestled in the midst of a rambling apple orchard.  The windows ran almost floor to ceiling, filling our living room with incredible light in the mornings, and being up high, we could see the purple shadows of the Catskills in the distance as we washed dishes in the early evenings.

The shabby furniture, the makeshift kitchen, the ancient bathroom—none of these eroded one iota our wonder and delight at the breathtaking freedom and promise of our lives.

We filled the place with too many plants, got a cat and a puppy, and spent a great deal of time dreaming.  I was going to be a French chef. Maybe a Classics scholar, rendering obscure Latin poetry into meaningful contemporary verse. Possibly a shaman: I’d learn to fly and heal and see far into the future, into the very meaning of life.

And of course, we were both going to find love that surpassed even our literature-fueled dreams. Almost everything we imagined seemed within reach. After a few beers, listening to Mozart’s piano concertos and then The Velvet Underground and finally, Laura Nyro, we would weep for the unfathomable breadth of potential and possibility of what lay ahead, for the bittersweet knowledge that it would not, could not, all come to pass.

We were so fortunate.

As March drew on, something unexpected but utterly foreseeable occurred.  The orchard burst into bloom. Everywhere, everywhere, the pale pink blossoms called to the bees and the scent, subtle but persistent, filled the air, drifted in the windows we opened to feel the spring on our skin.

Although we knew it was not especially ethical, knew that the farmer counted on each of those flowers to mature into apples for sale, we stole out in the night anyway and cut massive sprays of the branches to bring inside, sticking them in jars and arranging them in every one of our three rooms.

Something beyond reason commanded us to immerse ourselves in this amazing efflorescence, this unlooked for gift from the earth.

To bury our noses in the blossoms and sink gratefully into olfactory celebration of the new life that spring promises, the beginnings, the vastness of what might be.

We were so innocent; we had no idea.

Like many of my time and place, I ‘grew up’ in fairly short order. I made choices, and with each choice, I shut the door on other options.

My trajectory, though never straight, became clearer. I learned about limits, and despite protestations both internal and external, I came to accept that there were things I would never, could never, do or be.

The lingering sorrow of this is balanced somewhat by the knowledge that I did manage some of my dreams, modestly understood. Following those dreams was a privilege that I took mostly for granted. It was a privilege that many of my contemporaries never had, and which few, if any children today will claim.

Hard on that moment a few weeks ago, inhaling the scent of apple blossoms and being overcome with the visceral memory of unlimited potential, came the grief.  What have we done? Oh, what have we done?

As a species, we have been unable to meet the challenges posed by our own misguided attachment to growth.  While the apple blossoms in the orchard around my first apartment faded and began their transformation into fruit (duly sprayed, no doubt, with stockpiled DDT), the fifth annual Earth Day was observed.

It is impossible to say whether we might have changed the course of things enough if we had paid attention to what was already known then, but the point is moot. We didn’t grasp the urgency, we didn’t act. And for the main, we still do not, even as the world burns.

Life, such as it is, goes on, and all of us try in our own ways to live it without undue pain or suffering.  In the developed world, those with the means drive, eat, charge our phones and computers, heat and cool our homes at minimum.

When we can, most of us look for release and entertainment, travel a bit, and take in the beauty of our planet while we still can.

I really do try not to judge anyone’s choices, much less their coping strategies. After all, I have done my bit to contribute to this situation, I am far from blameless.

We are facing epic disaster, extinction in all probability, and although I have not always done my best for this planet and its inhabitants, it feels incumbent upon me to do so now.

The truth is that these are desperate and utterly unusual times; no one really knows how to navigate them, there are no experts at walking gracefully into annihilation. We are making it up as we go and have only our own vast, and often ignored, inner resources to guide us.

For me, part of the answer lies in feeling it all, in refusing to turn away from what is before me. To look both the beauty and the horror head on, to keep my heart open, no matter what it finds. Some days this leaves me enveloped in a sizzling joy, encountering the glories of this world, human and otherwise.

Other days, that same display plunges me into despair, as I sense the transient, ebbing nature, the impending loss of all that has been so good and beautiful.

On those days, there are moments when the hellish scenarios that populate my imagination take over and scare the shit out of me, but sometimes I simply long to apologize. To bow down and beg forgiveness, to offer up my sincerest regrets.

To the waters, the dolphins, the oaks, the salamanders, the children. All beloved and all endangered.

I was never especially profligate with my resources, but along with many others, I was entrusted with stewardship of this planet–my home. I did not do enough and I bear responsibility for the consequences of our shared indifference to the fate of the planet.

Leaving aside any breast-beating, which accomplishes less than nothing at this point, I am simply incredibly sorry for what has happened, and what will inevitably happen to the trillions of beings who will not have the chance to make their own choices.

I am indescribably sorry for the destruction, the suffering, the pain that are already visited upon the many as a result of human action/inaction, and which will undoubtedly become universal in the not too distant future.

Our insistence upon having everything has ironically set us upon a journey toward an era of great loss.

Some of what we will have to relinquish is painfully clear already, as we see cities and small nations burn and/or wash away, as we find ourselves increasingly donning masks so as not to die of the very air we must breathe, as we find cesium 137 in our fish, RoundUp in our grains, microplastics in our waters.

These are the obvious costs.  The larger lamentations as we walk the road to extinction.

But there are other losses not so readily apparent or dramatic, for which I weep as well. They will make themselves known as we continue our collective walk down this road, the one we have chosen—consciously or not—for our species, our planet and most of the other beings with whom we share the earth.

Today, a lesser lamentation. There were, according to the United Nations Population Fund, 1.8 billion young people in the world in 2014. More now, to be sure, but we know that there are at least that many young human beings in the flowering of their lives, readied by time and nature to imagine, to dream, to believe in the future and all it might hold.

That which was so heady and life affirming for me is denied them.

The future is no longer a place where vision can forge reality, where longing coupled with determination can lead to almost anything imagined. Admittedly, this isn’t nearly so dire as losing life or limb or family or home, but it matters.

Prompted by the precious scent of this year’s apple blossoms, I am quietly grieving this little loss: the end of the future as something the young can dream into reality, take by storm, make their own.  Never an option for all, now looking obsolete and unattainable for everyone. Even those with a luxury bunker in New Zealand.

And so I apologize to those young people whose lives will almost certainly be robbed of the richness, the freedoms, the potential—the very future—which I enjoyed.  I cannot substantively change what lies ahead; I am afraid it is too late for that.

But I can own my part in creating it. And, perhaps more meaningfully, I can try to be an honest witness, I can find the courage to look without flinching, no matter how painful it gets.  I can decline to turn away, I can refuse to close my heart, I can continue to love even when it hurts like hell.

It isn’t much, it isn’t nearly enough, but in concert with my unfettered delight in the return to my neighborhood of a breeding pair of ospreys, it is what I can wholeheartedly offer today.

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Extending the Glide

SUBHEAD: Extending the glide just gives you more time to find a safe place for the crash landing.

Jem Bendell interview by Douglas Hine on 21 March 2018 in Dark Mountain -
(http://dark-mountain.net/blog/extending-the-glide-an-interview-with-jem-bendell/)

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Image above: Photo of flooded intersection of Eagle and Charlotte Streets in Brisbane, Australia in 2011 by Andrew Kesper.zFrom original article.

I first met Professor Jem Bendell at a festival in the middle of a Swedish forest. This was back around the beginning of the 2010s, and he wasn’t a professor in those days, and to be honest we didn’t find that much in common.

The festival was called Future Perfect. The organizers had brought together sustainability thinkers, ecologically-minded designers, organic food entrepreneurs and a whole smorgasbord of buzzwords.

At several points, I was provoked into forceful interventions, which led to the invention of the role of ‘difficultator’ – a kind of anti-facilitator or heckler-in-residence – in which capacity they invited me back the following year.

My impression of Jem from that event was of a big NGO, sustainable development, Corporate Social Responsibility guy. He was living in Geneva, working as a consultant to the UN. He’d done things: the Marine Stewardship Council was one of his projects, and he’d been in at the beginning of the UN Global Compact.

He was all about getting big business to drive sustainability. He struck me as driven, ambitious, serious, but I didn’t get much sense of someone wrestling with the existential implications of the mess in which we find ourselves. And fair play, he was too busy for that.

So it came as a surprise when we crossed paths again last year and he told me that Dark Mountain had been much on his mind.

 I’d been aware of the ripples made by a keynote that he had given at a climate change conference in Australia, setting out an agenda for what he calls Deep Adaptation, based around the three ‘R’s of Resilience, Relinquishment and Restoration.

It’s been picked up in places like the Planet B festival in Peterborough last summer and a forthcoming season of events at the NewBridge Project in Newcastle – while Charlotte Du Cann wrote about it in the call for submissions for the next Dark Mountain book.

When I caught up with Jem over Skype a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d been struck by how far he had traveled since our first meeting, so I was curious to know what had set him on that journey.

JB: I gave my inaugural professorial talk in March 2014 at a big literary festival in Cumbria. I’d already become aware of some of the latest science on climate change, so I decided to frame sustainability as an adventure – to say that we have to let go of our incremental, non-ambitious, conformist approaches.

I gave a speech about that, because it was a frame that could be palatable to my colleagues, my employer, my academia and my audience. But I was coming down with the flu during the speech. And for the week after, I was in bed ill.

There’s something emotional about a conclusion – that’s what you do in an inaugural lecture, you try and synthesise twenty years of your work, and by summarizing, you’re also concluding it. So I spent that week in bed, with a fever, not doing much apart from reading scientific papers and watching traumatizing videos from the Arctic. And I actually went into despair.

It took years before I became more deliberate and public about this, and in a way it’s taken me until now to realize that I’ve been going through a professional catharsis which goes back to March 2014.

DH: I read a piece that you wrote for openDemocracy later that year, arguing that the mainstream debate around climate change had become detached from the facts that were now coming in from the science.

You highlight four different conversations going on around the edges which you say have more to do with the reality of where we find ourselves, one of which is a conversation you identify with the radical end of Transition Towns, the work of people like Charles Eisenstein, as well as with Dark Mountain.

JB: The reason I wrote that article was that after the experience I’d had that year, I couldn’t help but have conversations with friends about this topic, and I found that I just left people sort of staring into space with their jaws wide open.

So I wanted to give them something that would help them think things through, and then they could end up with whichever of those agendas that I mapped out in the piece – and working on any of those agendas would be better than the mainstream denial of how things are.

DH: That brings me to the speech where you presented what you call the Deep Adaptation agenda. Can you say a bit about how you arrived at that framing?

JB: Looking back over the last few years, I didn’t really know what to do about this realisation that we can’t fix climate change, that so much of the impact for our civilisation is already locked in. I didn’t know how to work on that.

And I realized that one of the reasons was the lack of a framework to get your head around all this.

So I thought it might be useful to come up with a map for people who are climate experts, policymakers, researchers about what this might mean. A map that would sound approachable, but would actually be the thin end of a wedge, in terms of where it would take them.

This coincided with an invitation to a place in Australia where I used to work, Griffith University. It was the tenth anniversary of their centre and they invited me to give the keynote.

They are at the center of the climate change adaptation network of Australia, so they had hundreds of climate change policymakers coming from across the country, and researchers and academics. And I couldn’t justify flying down there and just giving a speech about, you know, the latest great ideas about investment in solar, and so on.

I was a bit scared, because I knew the guy who was organizing the conference and I knew he’d want me to be dynamic. Everyone who’s organizing a conference wants to be upbeat – and suddenly the keynote person is going to give a speech about the end of the world, or that’s how it might come across, anyway.

It was a bit of a coming out. Standing in front of these climate experts who work with this all day and saying: well, this is my reality, this is what I’m struggling with, and this is a map that I have that I think we could use to work on it.

I called it Deep Adaptation. I introduced the three ‘R’s: Resilience, Relinquishment and Restoration.

DH: So this is where you’re trying to say, OK, what kind of stuff is worth working on, if you start from climate change as an unfolding tragedy, rather than as a problem that can be fixed and made to go away. Can you just elaborate on what falls within each of those three spheres?

JB: Sure, well the first one – Resilience – I chose because it’s so mainstream already in the adaptation field. Even in the business schools and the sustainability field, the term resilience had become popular.

Because businesses have been experiencing, through their supply chains in particular, disturbances and disruptions through weather events correlated with climate change.

But I talked about resilience in a deeper sense than just, ‘How do we diversify our suppliers so that if one gets knocked out by a hurricane, we’ve still got something else?’

So for example, I was talking in a hall which was next to the Brisbane River, which had had flood water lapping at its doors just a year previously – and I pointed out that the place had been refurbished with the electric sockets still near the ground.

We need to think again, to switch our mind-sets. These once-in-a-century events will be happening every five years, so resilience needs to wake up to that.

That brings you into Relinquishment which is about not just, how do we preserve what we want to preserve, but what do we need to let go of?

Because if we don’t let go of it, we’ll make matters worse. And I felt that the discourse of sustainability would have seen that previously as peculiar and defeatist – and I wanted to say that, we’re going to have to let a whole lot of things go, ways of life, cultural patterns.

You know, in that room we were all wearing suits with ironed shirts and ties, with blasting air con. There are patterns of behavior which we have to let go of – and I thought, give it a fancy name and you re-code it as something interesting, rather than defeatist.

Then the third one, Restoration – again, it exists already, with people talking about the restorative dimension of environmentalism, restoring ecosystems. Not just stopping the damage, but improving things.

But for me, I wasn’t saying that in terms of how we can fix everything, but that you rewild because it is going to happen anyway and you build that into your thinking.

But it’s also about restoration in terms of how did people have joy, fun and love, and wonder, celebration and meaning, prior to this hydrocarbon civilization?

So Resilience is ‘how do we keep what we really want to keep?’, Relinquishment is ‘what do we need to let go of?’ and Restoration is ‘what can we bring back to help us through this?’

 DH: So you said you were nervous in the run-up to that speech. What kind of reaction did you get?

JB: I was surprised and delighted at the warm round of applause and the things people were saying to me afterwards. I remember one lady came up to me and said she used to be a pilot in the Outback of Australia and in her training, they used to do quite a spooky exercise which was called ‘extend the glide’.

And it’s about, if the aircraft has a problem with the engines and they cut out, how do you then extend the glide to just give yourself more time to find yourself a safer place for the crash landing, but also on the off-chance that the engines might kick in again.

And she said, that’s what you’re inviting us to start working on: how do we extend the glide?

There were other people coming up to me and what I understood was that they had already been talking about these things in their own ways, making sense of it, but not really in their day-jobs, despite being paid to be environmental professionals.

DH: How has this changed the work you’re doing – that experience of despair and catharsis that you described, going back to 2014, and then creating a framework for those who want to work with this professionally – where has that taken you in the years since?

JB: Well, in 2017 it took me into politics, writing speeches for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, because it seems to me that we need a cultural shift towards compassion and a spiritual awakening, an awakening from the delusion of materialism. We don’t see much of that in politics, but Corbyn was saying something similar in a secular way.

Meanwhile, I decided to approach education in a very different way, as a sort of emancipation from your received assumptions and received wisdom, as a preparation for people to be able to approach these very disturbing and troubling times.

But also to see it as an amazing – it’s kind of crazy to say, isn’t it – an amazing opportunity for reflection into the true meaning of being alive. Because climate change is holding up a severe mirror to our consciousness: it means we have to really ask why we are here. Because somehow, we delay that question, and now we can’t.

So on the one hand, I see that I’ve been doing quite a lot of stuff that I’m OK with that flows from that point in 2014, but I also realise that part of this has been getting busy in order to distract myself, because I didn’t have a good way of living with this knowledge.

My sense of self-worth as a good guy, working hard, becoming an expert, becoming a professor – along the way, I made sacrifices in order to achieve that, and then suddenly I had a loss of a sense of self-worth, my role, my identity in life.

 So I think quite a bit of what I’ve been doing over the past years has been reconstituting a sense of self.

So thank you for inviting me to talk about this, because it made me reflect in the last few days, and I realise that maybe it’s useful to share this.

Because this cathartic process that I went through, some of it conscious and some of it actually only making sense to me looking back, is perhaps something that other people will go through and need to go through. And maybe it’s something we can go through together and help each other.

I guess I’ve gone through a grieving process and now I realize that it was pretty damn obvious that I will die, everyone I know will die, any community or culture I could ever contribute to will die out, this human species will die out, and the Earth and everything on it will die – well, that’s just obvious, we all knew that, anyway.

DH: Yes, all of those things were true before the great hydrocarbon episode in humanity’s history. Arriving at that is an important part of the journey of making sense of what it means to be alive right now.

JB: I feel free of some forms of delusion, some forms of social pressure, and I am approaching things with fascination and playfulness.

And what I didn’t have over the past few years were fellow travelers and community, and now I’m realizing that I do need a community around this very realization that we’ve been talking about.

And what will emerge from that, I don’t know, but there will be love within it, there will be creativity within it, there will be a sense of wonder at being alive at this incredibly strange moment in human history.

• Jem Bendell is Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria. He is now taking applications for full- and part-time PhD students to work on aspects of deep adaptation, to be located in Cumbria or remotely, with a start on 1 October, 2018.

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Our troubled energy transition

SUBHEAD: Too little, too late. No longer are we faced with prevention so much as mitigation and management.

By Kurt Cob  on 18 March 2018 in Resilience -
(http://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-03-18/troubling-realities-original article.


Image above: In original article. Cartoon by Gerhard Mester (2013)  showing a race between renewable energy and fossil fuels. Speach bubble translation from German says "You are cheating by using an energy storage device". As if coal were not just a dirtier battery. From (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Energiewende-Rallye-Stromspeicher-Gerhard-Mester.gif).

I recently asked a group gathered to hear me speak what percentage of the world’s energy is provided by these six renewable sources: solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tidal, and ocean energy.

Then came the guesses: To my left, 25 percent; straight ahead, 30 percent; on my right, 20 percent and 15 percent; a pessimist sitting to the far right, 7 percent.

The group was astonished when I related the actual figure: 1.5 percent. The figure comes from the Paris-based International Energy Agency, a consortium of 30 countries that monitors energy developments worldwide.

The audience that evening had been under the gravely mistaken impression that human society was much further along in its transition to renewable energy. Even the pessimist in the audience was off by more than a factor of four.

I hadn’t included hydroelectricity in my list, I told the group, which would add another 2.5 percent to the renewable energy category. But hydro, I explained, would be growing only very slowly since most of the world’s best dam sites have been taken.

The category “Biofuels and waste,” which makes up 9.7 percent of the world total, includes small slivers of what we Americans call biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel), I said, but mostly represents the deforestation of the planet through the use of wood for daily fuel in many poor countries, hardly a sustainable practice that warrants vast expansion.

This percentage has been roughly the same since 1973 though the absolute consumption has more than doubled as population has climbed sharply.

The burden for renewable energy expansion, I concluded, would therefore remain on the six categories I mentioned at the outset of my presentation.

As if to underline this worrisome state of affairs, the MIT Technology Review just days later published a piece with a rather longish title: “At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system.”

In my presentation I had explained to my listeners that renewable energy is not currently displacing fossil fuel capacity, but rather supplementing it.

In fact, I related, the U.S. government’s own Department of Energy with no sense of alarm whatsoever projects that world fossil fuel consumption will actually rise through 2050. This would represent a climate catastrophe, I told my audience, and cannot be allowed to happen.

And yet, the MIT piece affirms that this is our destination on our current trajectory. The author writes that “even after decades of warnings, policy debates, and clean-energy campaigns—the world has barely even begun to confront the problem.”

All this merely serves to elicit the question: What would it take to do what scientists think we need to do to reduce greenhouse gases?

The MIT piece suggests that a total mobilization of society akin to what happened in World War II would have to occur and be maintained for decades to accomplish the energy transition we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Few people alive today were alive back then.

A somewhat larger group has parents who lived through World War II and so have some inkling of what such a mobilization would involve.

It’s hard enough to imagine this group agreeing that their household consumption should be curtailed significantly for decades (through taxes, higher prices and perhaps even rationing) to make way for huge societal investments in vast new wind and solar deployments; electricity storage for all that renewable electricity; mass transit; deep energy retrofits for buildings; energy-efficient vehicles; and even revised diets that are less meat-intensive and thereby less energy-intensive.

Even harder to image is the much larger group with a more tenuous or nonexistent connection to the World War II experience embracing such a path.

The trouble with waiting, of course, is that climate change does not wait for us, and also that it shows up with multi-decadal lags. The effects of greenhouse gases emitted decades ago are only now registering on the world’s thermometers.

That means that when climate conditions finally become so destructive as to move the public and the politicians to do something big enough to make a difference, it will likely be too late to avoid catastrophic climate change.

One scientist cited by the MIT piece believes that a rise of more than 2 degrees C in global temperature is all but inevitable and that human society would be “lucky” to avoid a rise of 4 degrees by 2100.

But since each increment of temperature rise will inflict more damage, the scientist says, we would be wise to seek to limit temperature rise as much as we are able (even though the odds are now overwhelmingly against staying below a 2 degree rise).

No longer are we faced with prevention so much as mitigation and management. That’s still something, and it provides a way forward that doesn’t rely on an increasingly unrealistic goal.

Image: Cartoon showing a race between renewable energy and fossil fuels. Text is in German. Gerhard Mester (2013). “Karikatur von Gerhard Mester zum Thema Energiespeicher und Konkurrenzbedingungen Erneuerbarer Energien.”  Via Wikimedia Commons.

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The next chapter of the Fall

SUBHEAD: We love fires. We must quench them. It’s a very tall order, but nevertheless, here ends the industrial revolution. 

By Patrick Noble on 12 March 2018 for Feasta -
(http://www.feasta.org/2018/03/09/the-great-agricultural-resettlement-or-the-next-chapter-of-the-fall/)


Image above: From original article. "Garden of Eden", by Izaak Van Oosten. See (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/da/Izaak_van_Oosten_-_The_Garden_of_Eden.jpg).

Here’s my own picture.

I am a farmer and that is where my world begins. What is an agriculture? I say it is a culture of cities, towns and villages, bridges, roads, canals, harbours – of trades’ people and the trades, which have been created by the specialized cultivation of fields.

The industrial revolution was a revolution within agriculture – germinated by fossil fuels, so that today, nearly every culture on Earth is an agriculture.

The farmer has a lot on her shoulders, because the greatest towering city, and all its goings-on, is utterly dependent on her crops – although in my Utopian picture, trades and pleasures of every kind bear their own egalitarian apportionment of the weight, so that the labors of fields gain new springs to their steps.

Farms disrupt natural systems. The more husbandries imitate and integrate with natural systems, so the less they disrupt – but still they will disrupt to some degree. Good husbandry reflects our ordered minds more than the complexities of nature. Nevertheless, it imitates, as best it can, the cyclic behaviors of organisms.

The highest crop yield will be achieved by the closest integration.

“You never enjoy the world aright, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars”, wrote Thomas Traherne in the Seventeenth Century. To which the farmer pragmatically adds – and shod with soil fauna, shaded with green leaves, watered by clear springs and fed by lives we’ve fed in return.

I must note that true yield is output minus input – massive inputs massively reduce true yield, so that organic methods out-yield all others.

So, in attempting to do the best we can, we choose the least worst farming techniques. This is important to keep our humility and gratitude intact. It is also an important part of discussions on climate change.

There have been outrageous claims of carbon sequestration (so-called negative emissions) by a variety of farming techniques, such as grasslands, or organically-managed lands – or regularly-felled woodland, or coppice.

But the most these can achieve is a balance and that balance, given the flawed nature of all human practitioners is unlikely. As climate change accelerates and weather grows more unpredictable, so that balance will become still more unlikely.

Yet, we must grow food and timber. That is the dispensation – hunter-gatherers don’t need the dispensation, but we agriculturalists do. Claiming the dispensation, (for clearing natural forest) is a heavy responsibility.

We should call on it to the smallest degree we can. Some organic lobby groups claim that converting a lifeless cereal prairie to organic techniques will sequester tons of carbon as soil fauna returns. It is an arrogant claim and arrogance is a problem.

It is true that soil life will return – redressing a critical harm – but only to an optimum point, when the farmer can only do her best to maintain that near enough balance.

Organic, biodynamic, or perma-cultural methods do a fraction of the harm that so-called industrial techniques cause, but still, they disrupt natural systems – still, they create harm. Agriculture had disrupted for thousands of years before artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides existed, but the atmospheric/terrestrial balance remained unaffected.

Some ancient cultures have carelessly mined their own good soils to the point when all that would grow were a few twisted olive trees… (That’s another tale of the pillage of empire.)

We gratefully accept the linear gift of sunlight to heal the wounds in our flawed agricultural cycles. We can claim the food/timber dispensation and continue without guilt as we’ve done for several thousand years, but we cannot claim to be reversing climate change We can only claim to be doing less to cause climate change than some others.

To end our contribution to climate change we must stop burning both fossil mass and living mass (biofuels) and also leave as much as we can of Earth, untouched by agriculture. Climate has been changed by fire. We can only heal it by quenching the fire. Personal sequestration claims, presented to excuse personal fire, do real harm.

An organic grower once claimed his (enclosed) carbon-rich soils pardoned his twice-annual holiday flights. Pshaw! Such self-help nonsense can be found in popular, monk-pardoner carbon footprint calculators. It was also delusively applied to the convenient projections of the Paris Accord.

The dispensation for farming is the growing of food. There is no dispensation for fire. Energy opulent ways of life will destroy themselves. Even an imagined and perfectly balanced farming system with a thriving soil fauna will do nothing in itself to mitigate climate change.

It will have minimized its agricultural disruption as a contribution to climate change, but it cannot go further – towards negative emissions. We must remove the cause – we must end the burning – for cultivation, processing, transport, electricity generation and heat.

If you are a grower or woodsman, would you be happy to shoulder those so-called negative emissions, which are the foundation of the Paris Agreement? That’s what’s expected of us – are you confident enough to accept them, when considering the happiness of your children?

Perhaps you boast the sequestration power of extensive grasslands? Are you sure? Who told you so? Was it a lobby group for pasture-fed beef, or an organic, consumer lifestyle magazine?

Farmers, growers and lumberjacks are supposed to recognize bullshit when they see it. The bullshit is everywhere – from green sources too. This is urgent. There is very little time.

The catalyst of climate change could ferment a new agricultural revolution as we leave those millions of years of sequestered photosynthesis to lie quietly in their strata. Negative emissions? – there they are. Leave them to sleep.

Instead, we can re-learn our parts in nature – a curious, inspiring, daunting, sobering, intoxicating, fearful, delightful, difficult, liberating and hopefully possible journey. Perhaps rage at what we’ve done, combined with humility at what we must do, may propel our first and diffident steps. Those first steps are not into the Garden. We remain outside in the Fall. Our steps imprint.

Only our hunter/gatherer cousins can walk lightly enough to stay in that original home. All great religions and philosophies narrate stories of the Fall and evolve codes to manage the journey – because, it seems, we are never properly settled. Agriculture is never quite at home.

Although our great resettlement can only come about by a mass personal change of all we personages, nevertheless we are social beings and need a vision of the greater moral of how and why we change. It is useful to have Utopia as a measure.

Of course, in turn, Utopia must have nature as its measure. The flaw in Utopia is myself. What’s more – Utopia is not the Garden – It is the best of all settlements of the Fall.

As we head towards the Utopian (unattainable) landfall, natural truths will be revealed by our natural mistakes – without the mistakes, we don’t find the truths, or the new methods. In that respect, I can consider my naturally-flawed nature to be useful. We learn because of our flaws.

Humility is also useful. “Ne never had the apple – the apple taken been – ne never would our lady – have been heaven’s queen – so blessed be the time – the apple taken was – therefor may we sing – Deo gracias”, people sang as they danced in the Fourteenth Century. Yes. People danced to religious songs then.

They were called carols… Of course, we could compose a dancing song for many aspects of the Fall – of passages from the ease of hunter/gathering to the labours of fields. We yearn for the ease of the Garden. Since that cannot be, we do our best to find a working happiness.

Natural truth will partially escape both myself and my Agricultural Utopia – that’s why scientific hypotheses are always wrong – overturned by new hypotheses.

Today’s accepted and peer-reviewed hypotheses will also be wrong. They will have emerged through cracks in our perception that allow the new light in. They remain useful and they remain flawed. Deeper commons – inherited moral truths are unchanged from pre-history.

The rule of return is one. We cannot take from soil which feeds us without feeding it in return. Deeper, both inherited and bequeathed commons contain contracts with nature as well as social contracts.

That’s why as a farmer I can take the sequestration claims of this or that research paper with a pinch of salt. I am outside the Garden. I am in Agriculture and its commons and I struggle to maintain something like a balance.

I know it daily. I see it in the deepening or paling green of my crops – the colours reveal the intensity – the rise and fall of the flow of life. They often reveal the flaws in my husbandry.

There is no perfect agriculture.

No agriculture – no food, or timber system can achieve “negative emissions”.

To pull back from catastrophic climate change we must remove the cause – we must remove fire from our culture. The linear gift of sunlight heals some cracks in agricultural cycles, but it can do no more – the flaws are intrinsic to practitioners – to me.

We love fires. We must quench them. It’s a very tall order, but nevertheless, here ends the industrial revolution. Machines replaced people. Now people can replace machines. That looks arduous, but it also looks liberating. Growers can take it to their hearts.

•  Authors note – I can find no peer reviewed research to consolidate my claim that these (peer reviewed) hypotheses are false –

First, that with unchanged practices, we can harvest a crop (none land-use change), burn it, return nothing to the soil, and yet still receive the same yield and photosynthetic power from subsequent harvests – that is from arable crops and from woodland destined for biofuels. Yet that hypothesis is the foundation of the Paris Accord. The author is a farmer and can say that all farmers presented with that same hypothesis would know it to be nonsense. Farmers test the hypothesis season by season. If we return nothing to a harvested field but gas and ashes, the subsequent harvest will prove smaller. It is plain that its photosynthetic power will also diminish. Biomass of soil fauna (sequestration) will similarly shrink. Energy from sunlight – sugars and then starch is plainly insufficient to compensate. I propose that we should regard solar energy as a part of an undisturbed system in balance – create dis-balance and expect consequence. Life has expanded from a small beginning only to its optimum point.

Second – Other peer reviewed papers calculate regenerated soil carbon on a continuous upward curve, if organic, or agroecological techniques are well-applied – as though the curve can eventually reach so called, negative emissions. As an organic farmer of over forty years’ experience, I can say that this is not the case. Optimum balances will be reached and then with the best husbandry, can be maintained. That “best husbandry” is critical – human weakness, bad weather and so on will intervene. A near-enough balance is our best hope.


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