Hawaii Space Tourism

SOURCE: Koohan Paik (kosherkimchee@yahoo.com) SUBHEAD: The HI State DBEDT, the US military and private speculators have another hair-brained idea.  

Posted by Damon Tucker on May 26, 2009 on YouTube.

Image above: still from YouTube video illustrating rocketplane on way to space.

 Source Comment: This is sick. Shades of the Superferry all over again. ...and we wonder why we're broke. I couldn't stomach watching the whole thing yet, but if they're talking Kona - this is just what we need to go along with the vog ... more jet fuel burned in the air over Hawaii. Just great!

A video about rocketplanes and space tourism with R Representatives Angus McKelvey and Gene Ward Ph.D. Guests John Strom, VP of Business Development Enterprise Honolulu and Jim Crisafulli, Director of the Office of Aerospace Development, Strategic Industries Division, DBEDT/State of Hawaii.

[IB Editor's Conclusion: The gist of this project is to bring launching into "space" as a tourist operation to Hawaii. The proposal is to use corporate jets carrying rocket engines to lift as many as six passengers to 350,000 feet elevation. This all done from existing commercial airports. Apparently several states have applied for spaceport licenses from the FAA.The military is a partner in this effort in Hawaii (as they were in the Superferry). Do they have an interest in turning commercial airports into spaceports?]


The End of the Affair

SUBHEAD: Why Americans fell out of love with the automobile.

By P.J. O’Rourke on 30 May 2009 in The Wall Street Journal

Image above: 1964 Pontiac GTO. The first American mass produced "muscle car"

The phrase "bankrupt General Motors," which we expect to hear uttered on Monday, leaves Americans my age in economic shock. The words are as melodramatic as "Mom’s nude photos." And, indeed, if we want to understand what doomed the American automobile, we should give up on economics and turn to melodrama. 
Politicians, journalists, financial analysts and other purveyors of banality have been looking at cars as if a convertible were a business. Fire the MBAs and hire a poet. The fate of Detroit isn’t a matter of financial crisis, foreign competition, corporate greed, union intransigence, energy costs or measuring the shoe size of the footprints in the carbon. It’s a tragic romance—unleashed passions, titanic clashes, lost love and wild horses. Foremost are the horses. Cars can’t be comprehended without them. A hundred and some years ago Rudyard Kipling wrote "The Ballad of the King’s Jest," in which an Afghan tribesman avers:
Four things greater than all things are,—Women and Horses and Power and War.
Insert another "power" after the horse and the verse was as true in the suburbs of my 1950s boyhood as it was in the Khyber Pass. Horsepower is not a quaint leftover of linguistics or a vague metaphoric anachronism.

James Watt, father of the steam engine and progenitor of the industrial revolution, lacked a measurement for the movement of weight over distance in time—what we call energy. (What we call energy wasn’t even an intellectual concept in the late 18th century—in case you think the recent collapse of global capitalism was history’s most transformative moment.) Mr. Watt did research using draft animals and found that, under optimal conditions, a dray horse could lift 33,000 pounds one foot off the ground in one minute. Mr. Watt—the eponymous watt not yet existing—called this unit of energy "1 horse-power." In 1970 a Pontiac GTO (may the brand name rest in peace) had horsepower to the number of 370. In the time of one minute, for the space of one foot, it could move 12,210,000 pounds.

And it could move those pounds down every foot of every mile of all the roads to the ends of the earth for every minute of every hour until the driver nodded off at the wheel. Forty years ago the pimply kid down the block, using $3,500 in saved-up soda-jerking money, procured might and main beyond the wildest dreams of Genghis Khan, whose hordes went forth to pillage mounted upon less oomph than is in a modern leaf blower. Horses and horsepower alike are about status and being cool. A knight in ancient Rome was bluntly called "guy on horseback",or Equesitis. Chevalier means the same, as does Cavalier. Lose the capitalization and the dictionary says, "insouciant and debonair; marked by a lofty disregard of others’ interests, rights, or feelings; high-handed and arrogant and supercilious."

How cool is that? Then there are cowboys—always cool—and the U.S. cavalry that coolly comes to their rescue plus the proverbially cool-handed "Man on Horseback" to whom we turn in troubled times. Early witnesses to the automobile urged motorists to get a horse. But that, in effect, was what the automobile would do—get a horse for everybody. Once the Model T was introduced in 1908 we all became Sir Lancelot, gained a seat at the Round Table and were privileged to joust for the favors of fair maidens (at drive-in movies). The pride and prestige of a noble mount was vouchsafed to the common man. And woman, too. No one ever tried to persuade ladies to drive sidesaddle with both legs hanging out the car door. For the purpose of ennobling us schlubs, the car is better than the horse in every way.

Even more advantageous than cost, convenience and not getting kicked and smelly is how much easier it is to drive than to ride. I speak with feeling on this subject, having taken up riding when I was nearly 60 and having begun to drive when I was so small that my cousin Tommy had to lie on the transmission hump and operate the accelerator and the brake with his hands. After the grown-ups had gone to bed, Tommy and I shifted the Buick into neutral, pushed it down the driveway and out of earshot, started the engine and toured the neighborhood. The sheer difficulty of horsemanship can be illustrated by what happened to Tommy and me next. Nothing.

We maneuvered the car home, turned it off and rolled it back up the driveway. (We were raised in the blessedly flat Midwest.) During our foray the Buick’s speedometer reached 30. But 30 miles per hour is a full gallop on a horse. Delete what you’ve seen of horse riding in movies. Possibly a kid who’d never been on a horse could ride at a gallop without killing himself. Possibly one of the Jonas Brothers could land an F-14 on a carrier deck. Thus cars usurped the place of horses in our hearts.

Once we’d caught a glimpse of a well-turned Goodyear, checked out the curves of the bodywork and gaped at that swell pair of headlights, well, the old gray mare was not what she used to be. We embarked upon life in the fast lane with our new paramour. It was a great love story of man and machine. The road to the future was paved with bliss. Then we got married and moved to the suburbs. Being away from central cities meant Americans had to spend more of their time driving. Over the years away got farther away. Eventually this meant that Americans had to spend all of their time driving. The play date was 40 miles from the Chuck E. Cheese. The swim meet was 40 miles from the cello lesson.

The Montessori was 40 miles from the math coach. Mom’s job was 40 miles from Dad’s job and the three-car garage was 40 miles from both. The car ceased to be object of desire and equipment for adventure and turned into office, rec room, communications hub, breakfast nook and recycling bin—a motorized cup holder. Americans, the richest people on Earth, were stuck in the confines of their crossover SUVs, squeezed into less space than tech-support call-center employees in a Mumbai cubicle farm.

Never mind the six-bedroom, eight-bath, pseudo-Tudor with cathedral-ceilinged great room and 1,000-bottle controlled-climate wine cellar. That was a day’s walk away. We became sick and tired of our cars and even angry at them. Pointy-headed busybodies of the environmentalist, new urbanist, utopian communitarian ilk blamed the victim. They claimed the car had forced us to live in widely scattered settlements in the great wasteland of big-box stores and the Olive Garden.

If we would all just get on our Schwinns or hop a trolley, they said, America could become an archipelago of cozy gulags on the Portland, Ore., model with everyone nestled together in the most sustainably carbon-neutral, diverse and ecologically unimpactful way. But cars didn’t shape our existence; cars let us escape with our lives. We’re way the heck out here in Valley Bottom Heights and Trout Antler Estates because we were at war with the cities. We fought rotten public schools, idiot municipal bureaucracies, corrupt political machines, rampant criminality and the pointy-headed busybodies.

Cars gave us our dragoons and hussars, lent us speed and mobility, let us scout the terrain and probe the enemy’s lines. And thanks to our cars, when we lost the cities we weren’t forced to surrender, we were able to retreat. But our poor cars paid the price. They were flashing swords beaten into dull plowshares. Cars became appliances. Or worse. Nobody’s ticked off at the dryer or the dishwasher, much less the fridge.

We recognize these as labor-saving devices. The car, on the other hand, seems to create labor. We hold the car responsible for all the dreary errands to which it needs to be steered. Hell, a golf cart’s more fun. You can ride around in a golf cart with a six-pack, safe from breathalyzers, chasing Canada geese on the fairways and taking swings at gophers with a mashie. We’ve lost our love for cars and forgotten our debt to them and meanwhile the pointy-headed busybodies have been exacting their revenge. We escaped the poke of their noses once, when we lived downtown, but we won’t be able to peel out so fast the next time. In the name of safety, emissions control and fuel economy, the simple mechanical elegance of the automobile has been rendered ponderous, cumbersome and incomprehensible.

One might as well pry the back off an iPod as pop the hood on a contemporary motor vehicle. An aging shade-tree mechanic like myself stares aghast and sits back down in the shade. Or would if the car weren’t squawking at me like a rehearsal for divorce. You left the key in. You left the door open. You left the lights on. You left your dirty socks in the middle of the bedroom floor. I don’t believe the pointy-heads give a damn about climate change or gas mileage, much less about whether I survive a head-on with one of their tax-sucking mass-transit projects.

All they want to is to make me hate my car. How proud and handsome would Bucephalas look, or Traveler or Rachel Alexandra, with seat and shoulder belts, air bags, 5-mph bumpers and a maze of pollution-control equipment under the tail? And there’s the end of the American automobile industry. When it comes to dull, practical, ugly things that bore and annoy me, Japanese things cost less and the cup holders are more conveniently located. The American automobile is—that is, was—never a product of Japanese-style industrialism.

America’s steel, coal, beer, beaver pelts and PCs may have come from our business plutocracy, but American cars have been manufactured mostly by romantic fools. David Buick, Ransom E. Olds, Louis Chevrolet, Robert and Louis Hupp of the Hupmobile, the Dodge brothers, the Studebaker brothers, the Packard brothers, the Duesenberg brothers, Charles W. Nash, E. L. Cord, John North Willys, Preston Tucker and William H. Murphy, whose Cadillac cars were designed by the young Henry Ford, all went broke making cars. The man who founded General Motors in 1908, William Crapo (really) Durant, went broke twice.

Henry Ford, of course, did not go broke, nor was he a romantic, but judging by his opinions he certainly was a fool. America’s romantic foolishness with cars is finished, however, or nearly so.

In the far boondocks a few good old boys haven’t got the memo and still tear up the back roads. Doubtless the Obama administration’s Department of Transportation is even now calculating a way to tap federal stimulus funds for mandatory OnStar installations to locate and subdue these reprobates. Among certain youths—often first-generation Americans—there remains a vestigial fondness for Chevelle low-riders or Honda "tuners."

The pointy-headed busybodies have yet to enfold these youngsters in the iron-clad conformity of cultural diversity’s embrace. Soon the kids will be expressing their creative energy in a more constructive way, planting bok choy in community gardens and decorating homeless shelters with murals of Che. I myself have something old-school under a tarp in the basement garage. I bet when my will has been probated, some child of mine will yank the dust cover and use the proceeds of the eBay sale to buy a mountain bike.

Four things greater than all things are, and I’m pretty sure one of them isn’t bicycles. There are those of us who have had the good fortune to meet with strength and beauty, with majestic force in which we were willing to trust our lives. Then a day comes, that strength and beauty fails, and a man does what a man has to do. I’m going downstairs to put a bullet in a V-8. Note by Juan Wilson: Born in October 1963 as a $295 option package, the Pontiac GTO put a 389-cubic-inch V8 in a Pontiac Tempest body -considered a "compact car" in its day. As the song by Ronny and the Daytonas goes:
Little GTO, you're really lookin' fine. Three deuces and a four-speed you gotta a 389. Listen to her tachin' up now, listen to her why-ee-eye-ine. C'mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO. You oughta see her on a road course or a quarter mile. This little modified Pon-Pon has got plenty of style. She beats the gassers and the rail jobs, Really drives 'em why-ee-eye-ild. C'mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO. Gonna save all my money and buy a GTO. Get a helmet and a roll bar and I'll be ready to go. Take it out to Pomona and let 'em know, That I'm the coolest thing around. Little buddy, gonna shut you down, When I turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO.
The GTO is considered to be the first factory-built "Muscle Car." The GTO was produced from 1964 through 1974, when high insurance rates and emissions regulations forced the reducing its legendary horsepower down to a meager 200 h.p.

Local Economic Jumpstart

SUBHEAD: How to make it with less, share more, and put people and the planet first.  

By Sarah van Gelder in Summer 2009 of Yes Magazine
Image above: The bounty available at a Hawaiian farmer's market.

Rent out a room in your home, or swap space for gardening, child or elder care, or carpentry. Buy less so you can buy higher quality. Buy from companies that “internalize” costs by passing along to you the cost of living wages, low carbon footprints, or organic production. Take your money out of predator banks and put it into a credit union, local bank, or an institution like Shorebank Pacific that supports sustainable businesses. Pay off debts.

Try life without credit cards. Downsize your home and shrink your mortgage. Fix things. Mend clothing, repair the vacuum, fix the car—instead of replacing them. Or give them away on Freecycle.org. Invest with passion. Know where your money is and what it’s up to. Go for a living return that builds your community.

Or invest in tangible things like a prepaid college fund or a piece of land. Shorten the supply chain. Pick the wild greens and extra fruit growing in your neighborhood. If you can’t do that, then buy direct from a farmer. If you can’t do that, then look for local produce in season at your locally owned grocers. Support other people’s local economies by urging your representatives in Congress to cancel debts to poor countries (see http://www.jubileeusa.org/).

Find a place, put down roots, and stay put. Get to know people from other generations. Turn off the TV and talk to friends and neighbors. Support local green businesses rather than distant energy conglomerates by insulating your house, upgrading windows, and installing solar.
Form a dinner club and hold a weekly potluck, or trade off cooking and hosting. Dip your toe in the barter economy. Check out Craigslist’s “barter” category, and learn what WTT means (Willing To Trade). Even better, ask the guy at work who makes microbrews to trade a sixpack for a dozen of your chickens’ eggs. Get together with coworkers and start a list of things you can do at work. For example, buy fair trade coffee, change to energy-efficient lighting, or carpool. Start a Common Security Club in your faith community or neighborhood to help folks cope in the crisis and act together to create the new economy (http://www.commonsecurityclub.org/). Exchange care of children and elders.

Better yet, bring the generations together and support each in offering love and care to the others. Pool funds with a group of friends for home repairs, greening projects, or emergencies. Do home work parties. Each month, go to a different household to do major home greening, a garden upgrade, or some deferred maintenance. Keep more people from becoming homeless by challenging evictions and occupying vacant homes.

 Create a space at a farmers market to exchange or sell used clothes, electronics, games, CDs, plants, seeds, compost, and books. Encourage people to swap services, too, like haircuts, photography, or prepared dinners. Reach out to groups that are organizing people on the frontlines of the crisis, like Jobs with Justice (www.jwj.org) and Right to the City (http://www.righttothecity.org/).  

Link up people looking for job skills with people who can offer apprenticeships. Start a local currency or time dollar program to help link needs and offerings, those with time and those starved for time. Use publicly owned lands for community gardens, farmers markets, business incubators, community land trusts (with affordable housing), community-rooted grocery stores. Hold on to the local businesses you already have. Help retiring entrepreneurs sell to employees or other locals. Create a car, kayak, and electric pick-up truck co-op to save money and carbon, and provide access to a variety of vehicles. Create or join a chapter of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) or similar groups.

Work together to find services or products you could substitute for imported ones, local assets you can build on, and ongoing institutions that could be serviced locally. Start a community bank, loan fund, or credit union to invest in local well-being, or encourage existing ones to rethink their lending. Declare an end to corporate personhood in your community. Barnstead, New Hampshire did, and, more recently, three communities in Maine have done it.

You can too. Hold a weekly dinner for the hungry. Ask those who attend to help serve food at subsequent dinners. (Having an opportunity to give is important for everyone’s dignity). Keep your energy dollars circulating locally. Launch a clean energy cooperative to install wind turbines or solar roofs, and to weatherize homes and businesses.

See also:

AAEM for GMO moratorium

SUBHEAD: The AAEM call for an immediate moratorium on genetically modified foods.  

By Dr. Amy Dean of AAEM on 19 May 2009
Image above: Illustration of Monsanto GMO corn by David Dees at www.deesillustraion.com

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) today released its position paper on Genetically Modified foods stating that "GM foods pose a serious health risk" and calling for a moratorium on GM foods. Citing several animal studies, the AAEM concludes "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects" and that "GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health." The AAEM calls for:
  • A moratorium on GM food, implementation of immediate long term safety testing and labeling of GM food.
  • Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community and the public to avoid GM foods.
  • Physicians to consider the role of GM foods in their patients' disease processes.
  • More independent long term scientific studies to begin gathering data to investigate the role of GM foods on human health.
"Multiple animal studies have shown that GM foods cause damage to various organ systems in the body. With this mounting evidence, it is imperative to have a moratorium on GM foods for the safety of our patients' and the public's health," said Dr. Amy Dean, PR chair and Board Member of AAEM. "Physicians are probably seeing the effects in their patients, but need to know how to ask the right questions," said Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, President of AAEM.

"The most common foods in North America which are consumed that are GMO are corn, soy, canola, and cottonseed oil." The AAEM's position paper on Genetically Modified foods can be found at http:aaemonline.org/gmopost.html. AAEM is an international association of physicians and other professionals dedicated to addressing the clinical aspects of environmental health. More information is available at www.aaemonline.org. 


Reinventing the Informal Economy

SUBHEAD: Approaching a necessary transitional reality.

By Sharon Astyk on 29 May 2009 in Casaubon's Book http://sharonastyk.com/2009/05/29/reinventing-the-informal-economy/#comments  
Image above: Flea Market in Englishtown, New Jersey. From http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobjagendorf/367400736/

One of the most important things to know, I think, is that the growth we depend on (including the “green shoots” we might or might not be seeing) is always fed by taking something from somewhere else. That is, we tend to talk about growth as though it comes, magically, from nowhere - we all of a sudden wake up and realize we need VCRs and then, the VCR industry emerges, the economy grows, we move on to DVDs and Blu-ray or whatever, and on and on. But this is not all the story. Many people who read this will be familiar with one part of the story that was left out - the energy equation.

That is, all growth depends on energy as a master resource, and the assumption that energy consumption can always grow, is, well, a problem. Those of you who are peak oil aware will have seen many versions of this account, revising the classic economic assumption that we’ll just find more energy when we need it.

But there’s another piece of the story that doesn’t get told quite as often - that energy is only part of the equation. In order to grow, we have to use a lot of energy, of course, but that energy use has never come without also bringing many more people into the economy as well - while energy does reduce human labor in some ways (ie, one guy can do with a tractor what 40 guys did with horses), the net demand for human labor in growing economies is always positive - you need more and more people.

More importantly, those people have to come from somewhere, and they have been doing things that also have economic value. Think of it as a law of conservation of human energies - that is, whenever you build a new industry and create growth, you take people who have been WORKING at something, contributing something, and you shift them from one sector of the economy to another. I realize this sounds obvious, but our society works hard to convince us that that’s not true - that in fact, the people moved into the formal economy weren’t actually doing anything important.

 Think about how much energy was devoted, say to talking about “unproductive” farms in the years of industrialization, or the amount of energy people have spent convincing us that cooking is “drudgery” and should be left the corporations - of course, Mom doesn’t need to spend time cooking, she can be an administrator for SuckItUp.com, because she can open a can, and that work is mindless, boring and pointless anyway.

Of course you can’t keep ‘em down on the farm after the war has taken them off to see Paree - what’s on the farm? Because the US and other developed nations operate almost entirely in the formal economy, enormous efforts have been made, through industrialization and globalization to bring billions more people into the formal economy, where money is everything. The growth of the formal economy at the expense of the informal economy and the ecological economy has been the whole project of the last 70+ years. Now, it is considered normal to need a lot of money for everything - everything from things once supplied by the commons (water, education in crappy school areas) to things once supplied by the infromal economy (cleaning, cooking, gardening, etc…).

And since we are presently in the middle of massive deflation - a contraction of the money supply - this is already a scary and troubling situation for many people. I wrote in "Depletion and Abundance" about the distinctions between the formal economy - the world of GDP statements, income taxes and salary and benefit equations, which constitutes about 1/4 of the world’s total economic activity; and the larger (although this comes as a surprise to most Americans, who live entirely in the formal economy and are often barely aware that the informal economy exists, much less vastly exceeds the value of the formal economy), which covers subsistence and domestic economies, criminal activities, under the table work, etc…

 One of the effects of the last 70 years or so of industrialization is to pull everyone available into the formal economy. First came the farmers, black and white, many of whom did most of their work in the subsistence economy, often needing very little income.

The Depression/Dust Bowl pushed many of them off their land, and World War II took them away from home, and they never went back to the farm. Whole families were moved to the cities, to serve the war effort, and their land was left behind. After the war, the future was in the suburbs, the factories, the new, more formal economy.

Next came the women of the Global North. We tend to think of this as a product of the women’s movement, a conscious choice by a generation of women to move into the formal economy, away from the drudgery of domestic, informal economy life. And there’s a degree to which that’s true. But the story is more complex than that. First of all, women first went into the workforce during the war, and despite our vision of the 1950s housewife at home, in fact, women continued to work in rising numbers after the war years.

Quite a few women never left the workforce, and still more entered the formal economy during the 1950s. Both my husband and I had four grandmothers who worked in the 1950s and early 1960s, not because of the women’s movement, but because of their class and circumstances - two were single mothers, one divorced, one widowed, both worked at the phone company as operators. One was a recent immigrant whose household needed both incomes - she sold Fuller Brushes door to door. Another went to work in a department store to pay for college for her daughters.

Rather than viewing feminism as creating a radical break between a past in which women mostly did not work, we can see the war and the subsequent shift of laborers from the subsistence economy as a gradual progression that served to expand the formal economy, at the cost of the labor that sustained the informal one (it is worth noting that almost all “commons” are in some large measure sustained by informal economy work - volunteer efforts, for the most part, and that this was part of the destruction of the commons.) I have argued before, and continue to argue that while the project of feminism itself is a good one, the version of feminism that succeeded and prospered was the one that served the larger goal of stripping the informal economy and the commons to feed the formal one - it was coopted from an early stage.

While many feminists critqued the popular version of feminism we got, it is no accident that corporations were happy to describe domestic work as mindless drudgery, unworthy of women, even before they moved en masse into the workforce - it is no accident that Betty Friedan and Campbell’s Soup were working towads the same goals.

The same can and should be said of many of the liberation movements of the period and since - this is not a maligning of the importance of the civil rights movement - the early civil rights movement focused on access to the commons - to the public square. This is why water fountains, buses, schools and lunch counters were so important. But the later versions of the civil rights movement have emphasized not the strengthening of the commons, or investment in the many African Americans who did subsistence and informal economy work on small farms or in local economies, but in the idea that freedom and justice are tied to greater access to corporate and factory jobs and the formal economy. Everything, in the end, is coopted by the need for growth - and growth in one part of the economy is never natural - it is stripped from ecological capital and the informal economy.

That is, we do not grow, in the sense we mean - we reallocated resources from one sector to another. In the 1990s, about as many American women were moved into the formal economy as were going to go - it has hovered around 60% for years, and this is probably something of a cap, because the minimal informal economy work never went away - while much of the work was stripped off, outsourced into the formal economy (ie, shifted from people cleaning their own toilets to hiring poorer people to do it), or simply no longer done by Americans (either it was offshored or abandoned), the reality is that someone still had to nurse the kids, do the laundry, maintain minimal civic culture, etc…

So the formal economy needed more natural resources, but since natural resource can never be separated from the people needed to use them, also more people moved from other sectors of the economy into the formal one. The next step was globalization, the modern step-sister of colonialism. In it, millions and millions of agrarian people were moved into cities, and set to doing industrial labor. Where once they grew food, and after meeting most subsistence needs, they sold their surplus, now they work for a living and move into the money economy - which is great, as long as they’ve got money.

 The problem is that rising food and energy costs (which remain high, despite deflation), and falling incomes make them vulnerable. And they make us just as vulnerable. During the last great economic crisis, more than 1/4 of the population lived in large part in the informal economy.

Now, it is a minute portion of US workers - it was once possible for families in the Depression to go home to the family farm, and at least eat, even if they had little else. It was once possible for urban communities that relied on informal sector labor to support themselves minimally in some ways. It was once possible for most people to rely on the commons to provide for some needs. Most of those resources have been stripped away.

The single most significant project of the next few decades will not be dealing with “peak oil” or “climate change” or “financial crisis” - or rather, it will be all of them. Instead, it will be rebuilding the informal economies. In difficult times, the role of the informal economy cannot be overstated - for example, economists all over the world couldn’t figure out what the Russians weren’t starving en masse during the collapse of the Soviet Union - the reason is that the informal economy, as Peasant economist Teodor Shanin and others have documented, arose to take the place of the formal economy. Now the informal economy isn’t perfect. Unless you join the criminal parts of it, or are a natural scrounger, you probably won’t get rich off of it.

But the truth is that the informal economy is more resilient (being vastly larger) than the formal economy - markets, as we all know, long preceeded “the market.” That is, human beings always have economies - they are simply not always formal. In most cases, people live partly in one, partly in the other - the formal economy is needed for the paying taxes and debts, for some projects, while the informal economy meets other needs.

The more cash money you have, the less you may rely on the personal ties and subsistence labor of the informal economy, but also, the more unstable, complex and vulnerable the formal economy is (and these are the defining characteristics of modern finance), the more the informal economy is necessary - family ties take over for retirement accounts, barter when neither of you has any cash, subsistence labor replaces money labor for some people, so that you need to earn less. I do not believe that the formal economy will disappear - but we are facing falling incomes, increasing insecurity and instability, and more and more of our formal economy incomes being used to serve enormous, and unsustainable debts.

We already know that Medicare is going broke, that workers are facing high tax burdens, and uncertain futures - this is a long term problem, whether there are green shoots or not. And most of us are vastly overreliant on the formal economy. Which means that we must rebuild the commons, and the informal economy - and that means reallocating time and resources and labor away from the formal economy - the law of conservation here requires that just as we have rapidly taken our commons and informal economy labor and placed it in the service of economic growth, we must equally rapidly begin shifting our resources to the informal economy - we need to spend more time volunteering, we need to return to domestic labor that saves us money, like gardening, mending, making things.

We need cottage industries that can operate under the table, if necessary, and barter. We must take things away from the formal economy to build new commons - new water resources, new food resources, new community resources.

Mostly, what we need to take is our time and labor - because we can’t do it all, to the extent we can, we need to use the destruction of the formal economy to make new and better work for ourselves in the informal economy. Don’t think that I believe this is easy - your mortgage lender won’t take chickens, and most of us can’t pay for our day to day life without formal economy work.

Which is why what we’re doing now is so very hard - most of us are trying to fit our gardening and canning and other work around our jobs, and our other projects. We’re stuck in the formal economy, unless it casts us out. But that is, I think a necessary transitional reality - again, don’t think I think it is easy, don’t think I think you aren’t tired - me too. But the truth is that if we are going to rebuild public, communal, domestic and informal economies, that time and energy will have to come from where we can spare it best - and we’re going to have to push ourselves.

For some of us, time will be forthcoming when lose our jobs, or when we get enough benefit from our activities to be able to take one earner out of the equation, or when we consolidate households and resources to need fewer earners.

But in a world without growth - and whether growth ends now or as we come up to absolute limits of natural resources, it is ending - we have no choice but to rebuild the informal economy.

What's My Message?

SUBHEAD: Embracing our interdependence. Rejecting our separateness.  

By Namaste Bodhisantra on 25 May 2009 in Approaching the Limits to Growth (http://paulchefurka.ca/)
Image above: Detail of poster for "The 11th Hour" doomsday documentary by Leonardo DiCaprio that some reviewers panned. From http://the-reviewer.net/2008/04/22/the-11th-hour

Over the past few years I have used this site as a notebook to record my thoughts about some of the large-scale developments in the world. It started with my discovery of Peak Oil, and gradually broadened to cover a range of topics like climate change, overpopulation, ecological damage and food security. The ongoing theme has been the realization that our global industrial civilization is facing imminent biophysical limits to its growth. 
As my investigations broadened, I discovered that we are on the threshold of a civilizational emergency. The moment of Peak Oil has already passed; there is no combination of alternative energies that can keep our industries running as they have on oil and gas; we have passed the climatic tipping point; the oceans will not recover their former glory; we are even facing the limit of our ability to grow food.

Sealing our fate is our apparent inability as communities, nations or as a species to make the preventive changes in attitude and behavior that are so manifestly necessary. The things that must be done to avert the looming crisis will by and large be done only as its consequence. These realizations threw me headfirst into a long dark night of the soul. 
Despite occasional glimpses of hope such as my discovery of Deep Ecology and “Gaia’s antibodies”, for several years my spirit was overwhelmed by dread. Further exploration in areas not directly related to ecology, population or energy finally allowed me to understand that there are avenues of hope even in the teeth of our Perfect Storm. The reason it was so hard for me to see them at first is that they do not occupy the same worldview as the problems I was investigating. 
I had to completely change my understanding of the crisis as well as my definition of what a successful response might look like in order to accept that these signs of hope were legitimate. The signs of hope are not couched in the language of science or technology, and do not partake of politics or economics. In fact, they have virtually no direct relationship to the ecological, energy and economic problems that we are told constitute this crisis of modern civilization. 
In the language of taxonomy, the signs of hope and the apparent problems are orthogonal sets: the two classes are non-intersecting. If you pursue the root causes of our crisis as deeply as possible, you may come to the same startling conclusion I have. The crisis of civilization is not, at its core, a convergence of technical, environmental and organizational problems. These visible problems are only symptoms pointing to a deeper malaise. 
Driving all these symptoms is a philosophical and perceptual disconnection so deep that it is best understood as a spiritual breakdown. The disconnection goes by the name of Separation. This sense of separation is what allows us to see ourselves as different from and superior to the rest of the apparently non-rational universe we live in. In this worldview the mutual interdependence of all the elements of the universe is replaced by a simple dualistic categorization: there are human beings, and everything else in the universe—without exception—is a resource for us to use. 
The only way to keep this planet, our one and only home in the universe, from being ultimately ravaged and devastated is to change our worldview and heal that sense of separation. Unless we can manage that breathtaking feat all the careful application of technology, all the well-intentioned regulations, all the unbridled cleverness of which we are so proud will do little to delay the final outcome, and nothing whatever to prevent it. There are two pieces of very good news in all this. 
The first is that the efforts to change humanity's worldview or cultural narrative can proceed at the same time as all our traditional efforts to solve the physical problems. There is no conflict between the two, and even the failure of one will have no effect on the possibility of success in the other. We can, indeed we must, do both. The second piece of good news is that success in the domain of the cultural narrative is virtually guaranteed, regardless of the outcome in the physical domain of resources and environment. 
My recent thoughts, as set out in the more hopeful articles below, lead me to this inevitable conclusion. I hope after reading and thinking about these issues for yourself you will come to share my deep optimism, even in the face of a rapidly deteriorating physical situation here on Planet Earth. 
The coming changes represent not only the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, but also the greatest opportunity that has ever been presented to us. Embracing our interdependence with each other and the rest of the universe, transforming the story we tell about ourselves, and becoming wise in the process is the most crucially important work any of us can undertake. 
In the final analysis it is not only the best chance we have but the only way we can become sane, sustainable members of the community of life. Wishing you transformation, Bodhisantr.

Free Nitrogen! Handy Dispensor!

SUBHEAD: Urine is a good addition to your plant's diet. Miracle Grow made easy.

By Sharon Astyk on 25 May 2009 in Casaubon's Book

Image above: Toddler apparently relieving himself. From http://travel.webshots.com/photo/1412590445074913989HaQhMG

 [Author's Note: Another rerun here, this one was written several years ago.]

Sometimes I think that having grown up in a mostly female home, with a lesbian Mom and step-Mom and two younger sisters, I was inadequately prepared for life with a husband and four sons. Now don’t get me wrong - it isn’t as though I didn’t know anything about males. I have a father, and male friends, uncles and during college and graduate school, I lived with more men than women.

But by 18 or so, and certainly by graduate school, the men in question had learned that getting girls required a bit more grace than waving their genitals in said girls’ faces. Mostly. My background makes me much better qualified to answer questions about first periods, whether boys will really die from blue balls and when a bra is officially required for gym class than Isaiah’s recent query about whether when he grew up he could pee all the way up to the sky or not.

Thank G-d for Daddy. After a long and tedious toilet training process, my son Isaiah finally clicked into big-boyhood last week, when he discovered peeing on trees outside. He was *so* excited and pleased with himself - now he and big brother Simon can try and hit a spider on a leaf from 5 paces (sorry, spider!), and discuss who went further at considerable length, to Mommy’s utter bemusement. Some days it seems like they spend more time with their pants down than up, but who am I to ruin their fun?

We do have some firm rules. No peeing in the container plants (I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my poor impatiens). No peeing off the porch when Mommy is sitting and reading just below it (hmmm…rain…that’s funny.. not a cloud…ick!!!). And strong encouragement to pee in the nice bucket that we keep. Because while Mommy may not fully grasp just how cool it is to play “shoot the grasshopper,” Mommy is a major fan of free nitrogen. You see, we all of us, during garden season, fertilize our garden with our urine. I use a commode we inherited from Eric’s grandparents, and the rest of them use a bucket outside, and the commode in.

Human urine is powerful fertilizer - every day people in the US discard 7 million pounds of nitrogen and trace minerals in the form of human urine. In fact, if you go to the farm store, you can buy artificial pee, called “urea” - except that that stuff is made with natural gas and lots of fossil fuels, whereas the other stuff comes out whether you like it or not. The thing is, one of the scariest elements of the forthcoming energy peak is that we are terrifically dependent on anhydrous ammonia and other artificial nitrogen sources, mostly derived from natural gas, to feed ourselves. If we are to keep eating, we need to find another source of nitrogen.

Conveniently, the artificial nitrogens that have been supporting the human populace (in our food) gets recycled through our bodies and comes back out in highly usable form. You just have to dilute it 1-10 (1-7 if you keep hydrated normally) to keep it from burning your plants. And natural nitrogen, rather than the artificial stuff, is much gentler, and somewhat less likely to float downstream destroying the oxygen in the oceans.

We apply way more artificial nitrogen than soils can absorb, and it is creating the famous dead zone in the gulf of Mexico - fish can’t live there because a vast excess of nitrogen has destroyed the capacity of the sea to carry oxygen. While feces can contain all sorts of bacteria, urine is generally sterile, and there’s virtually no health risks to putting urine on your garden. Even if you have a UTI or salmonella (one of the few things that can be excreted in your urine), exposure to air means that pathogens die pretty fast afterwards.

The most conservative estimates are that you shouldn’t use urine directly on plants a month or less before harvest. Since we tend to pour it on the ground around them, that’s not a problem, and for our personal use, we don’t worry much about the urine (if you live in a place where tropical diseases like leptopirosis and schistosoma are endemic, you probably want to have your household tested before you use your urine and not take anyone else’s free pee - these could be passed on if you had them, which is pretty unlikely).

We don’t use it on sale crops, however. In Sweden, however, farmers often use urine from city toilets (urine diversion systems are in place, and the urine is held in tanks until it is collected) on the farms that feed Stockholm. Swedish studies have found urine to be similar in composition to fish emulsion, which is great because the little fish like menhaden and others that are used to make fish emulsion are important to ocean ecosystems and feed larger fish.

Those little fish are being depleted for organic agriculture, and aren’t a great alternative in the long term (there are some sustainably harvested fish emulsions). You can also compost urine, or put it in a big barrel (six months in a barrel in your garage and it will stink to high heaven, but be pathogen free).

You can pee on a few straw bales, leave them for a rain and then mulch your garden with them. You can use it to water your houseplants. Ideally, just don’t dump it in drinking water and flush it away! Now us girls can collect our pee easily enough, but boys really have a natural advantage in this regard, plus my three year old regards it as a potential hobby, the kind of thing you really devote a lot of time and energy to. And I’m very grateful, even if I don’t quite understand the appeal. Plants fertilized with urine really grow beautifully.

Peter Bane of _Permaculture Activist_ says that a person’s yearly urine output can provide all the high nitrogen fertilizer a half acre needs. So I spend a lot of my time smiling at the “Mom, look, I peed on a *big* tree this time.” I just nod and tell Isaiah how proud I am of him.

And I am. I did laugh, however, the other week when he was in the bath, flipped over onto his stomach and complained to Daddy, “Daddy, my penis gets in the way.” Daddy’s reply? “Get used to it, sweetie.” There are times when I *know* I’m just not up to a task. Thank god for Daddy, because that just wasn’t in my manual).

What's the backup plan?

SUBHEAD: We've invested everything in revitalizing a lost cause.
By George Mobus on 26 May 2009 in Question Everything http://questioneverything.typepad.com image above:Detail of “Don Quixote“ tilting at windmills by Gustave Doré, 1863. From Wikipedia. The government is putting several trillions of dollars into the economy in an attempt to restart the borrow-spend-consume business as usual. Never mind that most of that money is borrowed (American citizens are loathe to pay taxes that would help pay for what they want done). Well, actually, we should mind a lot about that. But we are bailing out the automakers on the theory that once they start selling cars again they will pay us back. We are bailing out the banks and trying to get buyers to take the bad assets in hopes that one day they turn into good assets. We're not doing much for the common worker out of a job, but that might come too if we can ever figure out what sorts of jobs we can create out of whole cloth. According to Keynesian theory these bailouts ought to do the trick and we'll be back on track. Two years from now when we are playing our favorite tunes on the newest iPodTM we'll just remember the worst economic downturn since the 1930s as an unpleasant reminder to watch for market bubbles and greedy crooks. And then we'll just go on consuming our hearts out. But what happens if the plan doesn't work? I know. I've heard that there are green shoots here and there, glimmers of hope. Things aren't getting bad quite as fast as they were a month ago — that is if you look in the right direction and ignore the other signs. All of that liquidity (printed money) that is being pumped into the financial system should be easing up credit. So why aren't people splurging on borrowing to have that new flat panel humongous TV? The number of home sales were not as bad as previous months, but of course they are the ones being bought at auction, the foreclosures. The average house price is still heading south. Let's be generous and call it a PLAN. Even if it does succeed in easing the rate of economic decline a bit, for a while, I suspect that the fundamentals I'm looking at will trump everything else and we will see the long term trend as down, down, down. What I want to know is what do Geithner and Summers have as a backup plan? What happens when the treasury is empty, the stimulus has run its course, and the banks are still stuck with tons of toxic assets? Then what? You usually don't go into battle without a backup plan. Let's think about a likely scenario. The automakers fail to pull out of bankruptcy. Even so thousands of auto workers are going to lose their jobs. And then thousands more parts and services workers will lose their jobs. There are already dire warnings of many industries downsizing in the coming months. In an 'ordinary' recession joblessness is a trailing indicator, sort of the last measurable that starts to climb when the economy recovers. But this is no ordinary recession. Once workers in the primary sectors, manufacturing (what is left of it), financial and insurance services, and so on, start losing their jobs they stop being consumers. They stop buying. Now, all of a sudden you have closures of retail and distributors. Service sector jobs start dropping like flies in DDT. We reach unemployment numbers reminiscent of the worst of the Great Depression. All of those people who don't work can't buy stuff, which is how our economy is supposed to work. You work for a wage, you buy stuff that other people make or sell and they are working for their wages. Some of them even buy your stuff so you can keep on selling. Then, all at once, nobody is buying. The consumer based economy is over, gone, kaput. And in the meantime the US has gone bankrupt. Americans don't buy from foreign companies who have to lay off their workers. The foreign governments aren't happy about it and call their loans. Except there is nothing to call. Maybe we printed lots of money, but it is worthless paper. Nothing is backing it but an empty promise. The globalization merry-go-round comes to a screeching halt. If that were the end of the story we might imagine that, OK, this is the Greater Depression and someday, maybe in a couple of decades, we will finally pull out of it. Consumer confidence will return (BTW: whenever economists can't explain why consumers aren't buying they chalk it up to consumers not having confidence in the economy — if only they would change their attitudes everything would be hunky dory) and the free market economy will start churning away again. But that isn't the end of the story. This bears repeating and repeating until someone upstairs finally gets it. The economy runs on energy flow. That's it, plain and simple. And right now we are running out of usable energy. The only currency that matters is the units of usable energy directed at producing and delivering food and other necessities. The only 'money' that matters is that which can be traded in for heating and clothing and housing, all of which require quite a lot of energy to produce. Energy, not credit, not cash money, not any other kind of unit of value, is the stuff that everybody needs to survive. Just stop eating (food is your body's energy) and you will die. Eat less than you need to keep going and you will starve eventually. That is exactly the same for our society as a whole. Our economy eats fossil fuels with a little help from nuclear, hydroelectric, and a smattering of alternative sources. If there is less to eat then the economy starves. Think of a predator hunting for scarce prey. The hunter uses up energy in the hunt. The hunt has to be so successful that it gets back all that it invested in the hunt plus additional energy to repair tissue damage, grow if not mature, and reproduce if possible. If the prey are scarce then the hunter needs to increase its range and time in the hunt. At some level of scarcity, the hunter simply cannot find enough food to sustain itself and it will starve, even though there are still prey out there in the territory! Presumably what made humans so successful as hunters was that they always had a backup plan for when game got scarce. They were omnivores so they could eat a wide variety of plants and animals (even insects). And there was always the option of moving to a new territory. The key to exercising that latter option was recognizing in plenty of time that the game were getting scarcer and that triggered them implementing their backup plan. They moved on before it was too late. But I haven't heard anything at all about a backup plan for what happens when our energy gets really scarce. I haven't heard anything mentioned about what to do if the stimulus package doesn't perform as advertised. There is some vague notion that we will invest in sustainable energy and create 'green' jobs that will stimulate and enliven our economy. Lots of optimistic talk, lots of speculation, lots of hope (especially in technology), but no real backup plan. For example once all that trillions of stimulus is gone where will we get the bucks to invest in that ethereal technology that will create all those green jobs? Do you suppose China is going to lend it to us? Well, if you have been reading my blogs for a while you know I haven't been spending my time just complaining. I have been thinking a lot about what actions will need to be taken when we're broke and still need to fix the energy problem. I have given a lot of thought to governance and organization. I have a plan for how we can bootstrap our energy infrastructure to protect our ability to provide the basics. The plan is a triage. It won't go over well to a country of spoiled brats. It will involve considerable sacrifice and a lot of hard manual labor. It will also involve planned reduction in population over time and in the most humane ways possible. No one is going to like it! Which is why no politician would have the guts to promote it. But we have shot our wad, as they say. We've invested in revitalizing a lost cause and we are going to be absolutely broke because of it. And without a backup plan there is going to be trouble in the streets. Only after a significant number of folk realize this will they be ready to open their minds to facts and reason. At least, let's hope so.

Loss of monk seals

SOURCE: Nina Monasevitch (oceanmana@hawaiiantel.net)
 SUBHEAD: Recent murders of rare Hawaiian seals are acts of barbarism.  

By Mimi (Hawaiian monk seal volunteer) on 27 May 2009 in Island Breath -

Image above: Photo of "Molii Mom" while alive at northshore beach on Kauai.

 [Source's Note: The pregnant female seal (RK06) in the photo below was killed while resting on a north shore beach on May 21. The other seal, a young male (R119) was found dead on the west side, also killed by human foul play on April 19th. As you know these seals are critically endangered. If you have any source of information as to who may have been responsible, please speak up and call NMFS Law Enforcement: 1-800-853-1964. Those responsible for these unconscionable acts must be found and held accountable.

The great loss of Moli'i mom   

 It is with a heavy heart that I write to you, having spent Memorial Day joining President Obama to pray for permanent peace in the world. In the light of the recent events in our program, I am even more committed to pray for our Kauai community.

As many of you already know and have read in the newspaper, we lost another one of our seals last week. I can now tell you it was RK06, our special "Miloli'i mom" who was due to pup anyday, making it her sixth pup since 2004. V

olunteers and I had been keeping an eye on her, thinking she might pup again at North Larsen's, like she did in 2006 (had female, RO28). K06 was one of our most prolific seals, so we lost not only her and another pup, but also her reproductive potential to help save her species.

Many of you knew RK06 and RI19 well, as they swam and hauled out around the island...Megan and Cindy have sent photos from the north shore, I have many from my first experiences of K06 with fiesty pup,R028 at N. Larsens. Mary and Lloyd have fond memories of seal haulouts at Nukoli'i.

Several volunteers watched over them at Maha'ulepu, and Millie led the pup sitting of RI19 there in 2004. I was even blessed while diving with Wendy at Koloa Landing to have I19 gracefully swim past us, giving joy to my nervous re-entry into SCUBA after having lost my dive buddy and brother 19 years ago.

 Presently we are waiting to hear from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service for the results of the necropsies/investigations. We must be patient to wait until their law enforcement agency can release a public statement, thus ensuring successful investigations. In the meantime, we, (NOAA/State) are planning a memorial ceremony with Sabra Kauka, for these lost seals...where we can share and help bring closure to our grief.

We will not let their deaths go without bringing good out of all this. It is my hope that each of you will think about what more we can do in our community to foster care and celebration of our precious endangered Hawaiian seals... Please send your thoughts, comments to Mary, who has offered to help me with this, at: marywerthwine@gmail.com . Mahalo for standing together for what is good and pono, my grief touches yours.

 Image above: Photo of male pup with mom before he was murdered.

An Inconvenient talk

SUBHEAD: Dave Hughes’s guide to the end of the fossil fuel age.
By Chris Turner on 26 May 2009 in The Walrus http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/2009.06-energy-an-inconvenient-talk/ Image above: Dave Hughes photographed by Wilkosz + Way. [IB Editor's note: Dave Hughes worked for the Geological Survey of Canada, mapping the nation’s coal reserves. This is the closing of a long article concerning a talk with Dave on our energy future that is available through the link above.] The realities of the finite nature of non-renewable energy resources are now becoming evident. Peak oil in many producing countries. Peak North American natural gas. A tenfold increase in uranium prices since 2000. Imports of coal into the US after centuries of self-sufficiency. Despite the hype, renewable energy technologies are extremely unlikely to be able to fill the supply gap from hydrocarbons and non-renewable energy. A sustainable future lies in radically reducing and rethinking energy consumption. A paradigm shift in the way we look at energy. Forecasts of future energy consumption based on extrapolations of growth from the past — which ignore the physical limits of non-renewable resources, and the technological and physical constraints on their rate of conversion to supply — mask the crucial issues facing us and lead to complacency. Which will make the final transition much worse. Climate change is in the minds of the public and the rhetoric of the politicians. The energy sustainability dilemma is much less understood, although it’s highly likely to have more immediate and severe impacts on our current lifestyle than climate change. Which we will likely have to live with for centuries, because of the feedback loops that are already activated. Fortunately, many but not all solutions proposed for climate change also address energy sustainability. The number one priority is energy conservation and much greater efficiency. And there are many opportunities for doing this. Followed by technologies and lifestyle changes to reduce the dependence on non-renewable fuel sources. A sustainable energy future is not out of reach but will be hugely challenging. We have to be thinking on a ten- to twenty-year or longer time frame. To develop the infrastructure for alternatives as well as technologies and incentives to reduce consumption. You know The Talk is true the way you know a weather report is true — reliable sources, clearly labelled charts, mathematics — but at the same time it can’t be true, can’t be, because if it’s accurate how can the mood in the room remain so workaday? How can you just rise and pour another cup of coffee and listen to someone say, Thanks, Dave, you’ve really given us a lot to think about, for the hundred and fifty-fifth time? If you want to find evidence to the contrary, the soothing hum of business as usual, it is, of course, everywhere. Take for example a study by Daniel Yergin’s highly regarded Cambridge Energy Research Associates, for example, published in November 2006. CERA asserts not only will there be no oil production peak before 2030, but the global oil supply after that will map an “undulating plateau,” and the very idea of a peak is merely “a dramatic but highly questionable image.” Or here’s John McCarthy of Canada’s own National Energy Board, on the occasion of the publication of Canada’s Energy Future in late 2007. “Canadians will have ample energy supplies,” he states baldly, “until 2030.” So much of this, though, hinges on a lack of context. The information is fragmented, the conclusions striking at odd angles. It begs you not to consider it for too long. Much of it relies on the basic economist’s assumption that rising prices will inevitably inspire the discovery of more supplies or the substitution of another fuel source, which is infallible truth only within the cozy confines of a self-contained economic model that assumes the earth can provide limitless bounty. So much remains unsaid, so few implications fully examined. You find a couple of news stories from 2006, both reporting on an announcement by the Canadian Gas Potential Committee that Canada has “at least another quarter century” of natural gas reserves. “It means we have a future,” a spokesperson explains. "The downside is that it’s going to be expensive to get at". The Calgary Herald — Dave’s erstwhile hometown paper, is a city heated almost exclusively by natural gas — and notes this all with a kind of glib reassurance. The National Post, a division of the same corporation, begins its story like this: “It’s going to get about 100 times harder to find and develop conventional sources of natural gas in Canada’s most fruitful basin.” If, within the lifespan of the next furnace you buy, it’s going to be 100 times harder to obtain natural gas, what might that mean for the price you’ll have to pay? Even correcting for the hyperbole that news of fossil fuel scarcity so often inspires, this suggests a vast chasm of unexplored problems. You read up on coal. You’ve got a vague notion the planet’s overflowing with the stuff, thousands of years’ worth. After all, the underlying assumption of “clean coal” technology research, which your provincial and federal governments are backing with ten-digit sums, is that coal supplies are essentially limitless, that only the greenhouse gas emissions they produce cloud our path to a bright, coal-powered future. Then you find a 2008 story in New Scientist called “The Great Coal Hole.” Officially reported reserves, it notes, are down more than 170 billion tonnes worldwide in the past two decades, and the global reserves-to-production ratio — the number of years the world could consume proven coal reserves at current rates of production — has declined from 277 in 2000 to 144 in 2006. This is not because the world burned up a 133-year supply in six years, but because, as Germany’s Energy Watch Group puts it, “so-called proven reserves were anything but proven.” A Caltech engineer named David Rutledge, meanwhile, applied the same methods used in peak oil prediction to the coal question, and he discovered a paucity of supply so great that he now argues it will be impossible to create the worst-case scenarios in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports, because there are simply not enough economically viable coal reserves left on earth to cloud the atmosphere with more than 460 parts per million of carbon dioxide. And what was it Dave said about this energy sustainability dilemma? That it would have more immediate and severe impacts on our current lifestyle than climate change? Wherever you look, the logical progression is a rocky road that leads back to The Talk. You ask Dave, finally, what his colleagues think of The Talk, and soon your phone’s ringing too late on Sunday evenings and too early on weekday mornings. Each time, another fossil fuel geologist, keen to chat. You speak with Jack Century, a passionate gent with fifty-seven years’ experience in the discovery of new oil and gas sources, all but the first seven spent in Alberta’s oil patch. He’s been interested in peak oil since the late ’80s, and he was in the audience at the University of Calgary’s business school for Talk No. 1. When you ask him why there’s so little attention being paid to the idea that the global hydrocarbon economy is brushing up against its ultimate limit, Century tells you, basically, that the problem is there are too many economists and politicians in the conversation and not enough geologists. “Geology is the most fundamental science for understanding the earth as a natural system,” he says. “People simply don’t get geology. It takes some experience, and even geologists who are practicing today, a lot of ‘em don’t have that experience, to understand that we’re talking about oil that is cheap and conventional and flows like in the Middle East. No doubt we’re running out of that stuff all over the world. There is no technology fix for that — period. None.” You spend a day criss-crossing downtown Calgary to drink coffee and eat fast food with geologists who don’t want you to mention their names or the names of their employers. One of them, the exploration manager for a major oil and gas company, shows up at an Arby’s booth with a sheaf of papers in his hand. There’s a news clipping in which the IEA’s executive director predicts a significant oil supply crunch starting in 2010, and a chart listing production at the world’s ten largest oil fields (the top seven of which are past peak). The exploration manager cites a recent IEA figure placing the current depletion rate of global oil production at 6.7 percent per annum. He does the math for you, converting that number to a daily rate of decline, expressed in terms of how many average conventional oil–tapping Alberta wells it equals. “It’s 400 oil wells,” he tells you, “that every single day are becoming extinct, in essence. That’s what we’re trying to do, replace that many oil wells every single day. On stream, producing, every single day, day in, day out, right? And it’s really, really tough. I’m just telling you. People say, ‘Well, there’s lots of other places in the world they haven’t explored.’ I challenge them to say where those might be. Because you know what? Oil companies, and any other company, for that matter, have the resources to explore worldwide.” He marvels at the future demand he reads about in the studies — the IEA, for example, calling for 130 million barrels a day by 2030, up from about 85 or 86 million today. In such scenarios, the depleted mammoth wells in places like Saudi Arabia are expected to be replaced by new conventional sources like the crude deposits off the shore of Brazil (which, as the exploration manager notes, sometimes require drilling to a depth of 20,000 feet in water nearly a mile deep, at a cost of a hundred million bucks per borehole), and unconventional sources like the Alberta bitumen he’s made a career of finding. “We can barely keep ourselves flat,” he says, “let alone grow it.” This is, remember, an exploration manager in Alberta’s oil patch talking. The Arby’s wrappers, slick with petrochemical waxes and dotted with crumbs of petrochemically produced beef and wheat and who knows how many corn by-products, sit empty on the table between you like artifacts, and still he wants to keep talking. He characterizes Alberta’s heavy bitumen, and the natural gas extracted from shale by blasting the rock with fracturing fluids at astronomically intense pressures, as “the stuff at the bottom of the bucket.” He calls the $150-a-barrel price shock of last summer “just a prelude.” The recent plummet in prices, he notes, is not only a short-term blip — a sign of a profoundly unhealthy economy — but also a compound threat to future oil supplies, because even the unconventional sources needed to barely meet demand make no economic sense right now, and the companies that build the billion-dollar platforms required to drill for Brazilian oil, for example, can’t get financing. “Treading water” — this is how he describes the activity in Alberta’s oil patch today. What stays with you, though, is something he said earlier on. “People take it for granted,” he told you, “that they can go to the gas station and fill it up. I don’t think in two or three years that’s something you’ll be able to take for granted. I really don’t.” So again: an exploration manager for a major oil and gas company is telling you, anonymously, as one concerned citizen to another, that he doesn’t think there’s enough of any of it left. After he finally leaves you to return to his routine business of urgently searching for more, you wander the gas-heated, coal-lit shopping malls at the bases of the office towers at the epicentre of Canada’s gilded oil capital. Eventually, you return to your own car and turn the key, and the engine roars to life. Familiar as it all seems, you can’t help feeling like the world as you’ve always known it has been bumped way off kilter. Nearly upside down in some fundamental way. The temptation to set it back to a more recognizable alignment is enormous. Surely there’s some way. This can’t be so. The urge to extend the fossil-fuelled status quo a good while longer — long enough, indeed, to resemble indefinitely — is so strong that it forms the backbone of your country’s long-term energy plan. It goes like this: expand the extraction of marginal gas deposits and unconventional oil at breakneck speed, count on a virtually limitless supply of coal, and spend billions of dollars on the technological wizardry of carbon capture and storage (CCS). It helps to repeat the statistical fact that Canada’s remaining oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia’s, and to ignore the geological differences between the two. And to quote IEA growth forecasts from 2004, and neglect a policy rewrite in light of the organization’s recent, dramatic revision. The various road maps posted at NRCan’s website do all of this and more, the full picture accessed after clicking through a welcome page whose message betrays no uncertainty whatsoever: “Canada relies on a mix of secure and reliable energy sources such as oil, natural gas, hydro-electricity, uranium for nuclear power generation, and coal.” You find the logical end of the "can’t be so argument" in a January 2008 report from the ecoEnergy Carbon Capture and Storage Task Force, a joint body serving the Alberta and federal governments. The report is entitled Canada’s Fossil Energy Future, and its underlying assumption is an essentially endless supply of fossil fuels, problematic only for the greenhouse gases they might emit. It calls CCS “essential” and places its recommended goal — the annual injection and storage, by 2050, of 600 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions from bitumen upgraders and coal and gas plants — “on par” with the construction of the national railway. Never mind that the world’s first and until recently only commercial CCS project, currently in operation on the Sleipner T gas platform in the North Sea, is a $400-million project that sequesters roughly two-tenths of one percent of Canada’s goal. It is considered economically viable only because it operates in Norwegian waters and is thus subject to the steepest carbon tax on the planet. Under that regime, it basically breaks even. In the thirteen years since it began operation, its designers have seen fit to build one more such facility. Four-tenths of one percent. The five members of Canada’s CCS task force are two engineers, a physicist, an economist, and an accountant. Four of them are executives at conventional energy companies. There are no geologists. So in a sense, it comes down to whom you trust. Energy executives whose stock options and bonus packages depend on a healthy fossil fuel sector, and energy officials whose seniority relies on a boat that never rocks too much, are telling you the market will find a way, and technology will make it sufficiently efficient. The geologist Jack Century, an independent consultant nowadays who’s spent half a century in Alberta’s oil patch, says this: “We have a gigantic, heavy-oil tar sands deposit that will never be developed to the extent [the Alberta government is] talking about — never.” And a retired coal geologist with a cozy retirement spot on bucolic Cortes Island and no remaining vested interest you can discern has embarked upon a second career as a fossil fuel Cassandra, because he’s always understood the miraculous nature of hydrocarbons, and he just can’t make the government’s numbers add up. You witness the full extent of Dave Hughes’s respect for hydrocarbons — oil, especially — on the drive home from Talk No. 155. It’s an intimate sort of respect, a geologist’s thing, born of a deep scientific knowledge of the wondrous process it takes to turn sunlight that struck the earth hundreds of millions of years ago into the readily available gas that’s propelling you south toward Calgary at 120 kilometres an hour. As he drives, Dave indulges in a little academic exercise. He’s comfortable with numbers, quick with calculations. A barrel of oil, he tells you, contains about six gigajoules of energy. That’s six billion joules. Put your average healthy Albertan on a treadmill and wire it to a generator, and in an hour the guy could produce about 100 watts of energy. That’s 360,000 joules. Pay the guy the provincial minimum wage, give him breaks and weekends and statutory holidays off, and it would take 8.6 years for him to produce one barrel of oil equivalent (boe, the standard unit of measure in hydrocarbon circles). And you’d owe him $138,363 in wages. That, Dave tells you, is what a barrel of oil is worth. He drives on through twilight, the flat, empty spaces on either side of Highway 2 periodically lit by the torchlike flares of natural gas wells. You’re nearing the outskirts of Calgary now, the northbound lanes dense with rush-hour traffic, a steady stream of headlights backlighting him as he talks. He has a tall forehead crowned by a thick, short mop of hair, and in this light his profile looks like something carved from stone on the bluffs of Easter Island. Dave describes himself as fundamentally “an optimist,” so he’s been ruminating on the solutions to the monumental problem he so convincingly describes: “Do we pull out the stops and basically maintain an unsustainable system, keeping the average Joe’s view of the world intact for a few more years? Or do we recognize where we have to go at this point in time, and start making the investments to transit to something that will be sustainable over the long haul?” This is Dave’s dilemma, and all of ours, and it hangs there between you in the truck’s cab, an open question. You turn away from him, from the sharp white glare of commuter traffic, and focus on the road ahead of you. For now, at least, you’ve got enough fuel to make it home.

US military’s energy plan

SUBHEAD: The military wasteland is a recipe for suffering on a massive scale.
By Bryan Farrell on 22 May 2009 in the War Resisters League http://www.warresisters.org/node/691 Image above: A US Air Force tanker refuels a B-2 Bomber in flight in artist rendering for Northrop Corporation. From http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fiw-tanker11mar11,0,2518004.story As the single largest consumer of energy in the world, the U.S. military is poised at the center of two of the most life-altering issues of our time: climate change and peak oil production. Surprisingly, the Pentagon began taking both matters seriously much sooner than the rest of government, which still has its fair share of skeptics. A 2007 Pentagon-funded report by 11 high-level retired officers concluded that climate change is a “serious threat to America’s national security.” A few weeks later, another Pentagon-commissioned report called on the military to “fundamentally transform” its assumptions about energy because the current strategy of global engagement with highly energy consumptive technologies is “unsustainable in the long term.” Before the antiwar movement rejoices in the end of U.S. hegemony and environmentalists celebrate the move toward sustainability, it’s important to remember that the Pentagon is still developing solutions to these issues and in the world of warfare things often don’t get fixed until they are first completely destroyed (e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan). At first glance it would appear that the Pentagon is serious about reducing its dependency on oil, if not its greenhouse gas emissions. In the two years since those reports came out, the Pentagon has pledged to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. It’s already leading the way among all other government agencies with nearly 12 percent of all Department of Defense (DoD) electricity coming from renewable sources. In fact, the Air Force is the number-one consumer of renewable energy in the United States and has built the world’s largest solar photovoltaic system at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada. Meanwhile, the Navy operates the largest wind/diesel hybrid plant in the world—located in, of all places, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The DoD also likes to brag that its total site-delivered energy consumption declined more than 60 percent between 1985 and 2006, but when the reasons for this drop are examined the green veneer starts to fade. As energy analyst Sohbet Karbuz noted in a 2007 paper for the Energy Bulletin, “The main factor behind that reduction was the closure of some military bases, privatization of some of its buildings, and leaving some energy related activities to contractors.” The most important factor in energy consumption—vehicles, which account for nearly three-quarters of DoD site-delivered energy—went up during that period. Furthermore, despite all its green efforts, the military has some major—if not insurmountable—hurdles to overcome. For starters, each soldier consumes 25 percent more energy than the average U.S. citizen—who already consumes 15 times more energy than does the average person in a developing country. Seventy-eight percent of the Pentagon’s energy consumption comes from oil, and the average U.S. soldier in Iraq uses more than four gallons each day. War and energy expert Michael Klare compared that figure to the one-gallon–per-day oil consumption rate of the average WWII soldier and postulated that “if this rate of increase continues unabated, the next major war could entail an expenditure of 64 gallons per soldier per day.” Back in 2007, when the Pentagon received those two reports, Klare warned of the “green” approach, calling it “an environmentally-friendly facade” that does little to prevent it from maintaining and developing its existing, interventionist force structure. Add to that the inability to prevent more greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere. A 2008 report by the Institute for Policy Studies found that for every dollar Washington allocated to climate change in last year’s budget, $88 would be spent on military. And for every dollar spent on researching climate-related technologies, $20 would be spent on developing new weapon systems. UPGRADES While it’s no surprise that the military continually seeks to upgrade its equipment, most of the existing Air Force, Navy, and Army fleets run on oil and are expected to last until 2030. Replacing them would be not only a logistical nightmare, but also extremely expensive. That’s why explorations into biofuels and synthetic liquid fuels from natural gas and coal are underway. Unfortunately, merely creating such alternatives emits more greenhouse gases than conventional oil. This notion plays into Klare’s second warning, that of a continuation of the Carter Doctrine, whereby “the Pentagon will increase its efforts to maintain control over foreign sources of supply, notably oil fields and refineries in the Persian Gulf region.” Evidence of this scenario can already be seen in Obama’s ever-expanding timeframe for withdrawal from Iraq and reluctance to discuss the closure of bases within the country. So if the military’s plan is to invest in enough renewable energy as to give the appearance of progressive green thinking and prolong the life of whatever oil is left, but not invest enough to change its agenda of global dominance by 2030, we are left squarely in the middle of both issues. By most accounts, peak oil is expected to occur somewhere around 2015—right around the time we will know whether the world has averted the tipping points that would send the planet into certain uncontrollable climate change. Of course, avoiding tipping points by keeping emissions down will be impossible if the world’s largest consumer of oil and energy continues consuming at even three-quarters its current pace. By the Pentagon’s own figures, the U.S. military uses more fossil fuels than any other single entity. But the Pentagon’s figures only take into consideration vehicle transport and facility maintenance. They don’t account for the energy needed to build something like the massive imperial embassy or mega-bases in Iraq or reconstruct the rest of the country. They also don’t factor in the energy used by related branches, like NASA, the nuclear industry, or the thousands of contractors that make or do things for the military. In this light, it’s hard not to see the military as the reason we may very soon witness a significant sea-level rise, accompanied by droughts, crop failures, and the mass migration of millions from the global south. Yet the U.S. military isn’t listed as one of the World Wildlife Fund’s “footprint issues.” Nor is it mentioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council or Sierra Club as the largest consumer of the “dirty fuels” both lobby against. How could such an oversight exist? Noted writer and farmer Wendell Berry, who has spent most of his life linking issues of the environment to the many maladies of our society, once said that just as military violence is ignored by most conservationists, violence against the earth is a matter ignored by most pacifists. The antiwar and environmental movements must bond over this common enemy and see, as Berry put it, that we cannot hope to end violence against each other until we end our violence against the earth. see also: Democratic Underground: US military fuel usage - 8/13/08 http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389x3152994

Even they don't get it!

SUBHEAD: The dissenting economic 'illuminati' world view is based on a fallacy.

By George Mobus on 25 May 2009 in Question Everything -

Image above: The Great Seal of the United States (on the dollar bill) is a symbol used by the secret society The Illuminati.

There is a fascinating article in the New York Review of Books, The Crisis and How to Deal with It. It is a panel interview with Bill Bradley, Niall Ferguson, Paul Krugman, Nouriel Roubini, George Soros, Robin Wells conducted by Jeff Madrick. In essence these are the economic luminaries who have been critical of the administration's policies (both fiscal stimulus and monetary) in one way or another. They can't really agree among themselves either!

They each give their take on the 'causes' of the current economic meltdown and the financial crisis attending it. Each has a slightly different perspective, but what is absolutely clear is that they all look for 'internal' causes. Several point our over leveraging and a few mention various forms of confidence (a psychological factor).

They all agree on various 'trigger' events as setting off the collapse. Many of them agree that there might be some slow recovery in the economy but differ in amount and timing. But not one of these bright lights considers that the root cause might be something entirely different from all the usual neoclassical suspects.

Not one considers that the actual cause of this debacle is the fact that less real physical (economical) work is being done because there is less net energy available with which to do it. The debt was definitely a factor in the rate and severity of the collapse since debt since at least the 1970s has been built up against a presumed future of production sufficient to pay back both principal and interest.

But also since at least the 1970s the net energy available for non-energy extractive economic work (meaning other resource extraction and refining, manufacturing, and all of the service work) has been in steady decline (see: What counts as real wealth). In other words, the world has been decreasingly able to do the work necessary to service and retire that debt.

Yet debt financing became the only way anyone could see to keep the engine running. News flash for economists: It isn't dollar bills that power your car, it is gasoline. When the latter is starting to diminish in availability it takes more of the former to buy the same amount of power. You guys should know that! The one thing they all seem to agree on, even if implicitly, is that a recovered economy means that the GDP is once again growing and that jobs are being created. That, to them, is a healthy thing.

Never mind that the GDP grows because people are buying useless (or wasteful) stuff and consuming it so as to buy more. Never mind that the majority of jobs being created are to make and sell useless stuff. Or to flip hamburgers and deep fry french fries to make more Americans obese. Never mind that a significant fraction of the GDP is based on money spent for repairing damage (like rebuilding after Katrina), or replacing Hummers and helicopters lost in Iraq (or more macabre - paying for funerals of fallen soldiers). If it is growing it is good. What an incredible grave we have dug for ourselves. And here is the kicker, like AIG or BofA or GM, the world economy based on borrow-spend-consume is too big to fail!

We have to keep going or else. We have to keep borrowing or else. We have to keep creating meaningless jobs or else. No one is capable of seeing any alternative even when they all realize that in the long run it will fail catastrophically! It will fail sooner than later because we are running out of net energy. Left to the private sector (with a few scraps of incentives here and there) the build-out of alternative, renewable energy infrastructure is simply not going to happen fast enough to cover even a small fraction of what we are losing to post-peak oil decline and diminishing energy return on energy invested (EROEI).

Right now the governments of the world should be alerting their publics to what the truth is regarding our economic options (there really aren't any but one at this point) and directing every financial resource into constructing alternative energy infrastructure while restructuring society to live in a far lower energy economy (see: Our energy cocoon). Of course this will be politically difficult. In democratic nations no politician dares tell the truth (even if they knew it) realizing they would be booted out of office for telling people what they don't want to hear. It's a tough problem and may end up being democracy's greatest failure.

Especially since our education systems have done such an incredibly bad job of truly educating people [we want students to learn more math but we don't need them to understand how to use the math to grasp this kind of problem!] (see: Is it time for Education 2.0). Poorly educated citizens can't truly understand the problem let alone the solution. And this is one problem/solution that cannot be captured in a catchy sound bite.

Image above: Painting of a meeting of the Bavarian Illuminati, a secret society founded in 1776. Well the economic 'illuminati' will continue to debate about causes and effects in their closed-world model. They will not consider that their entire world view is based on a fallacy — that the human economy is a closed system and that all that counts is money (fiat or otherwise). Ah, the failings of human wisdom. More proof that you can be a genius, even a Nobel prize winner, and still not understand the big picture. Good luck Homo sapiens. .