On Resilience

SUBHEAD: With roots in ecology and complexity science, resilience theory can turn crises into catalysts for innovation.  

By Carl Folke on 13 December 2010 in Seed Magazine

Image above: A tree straddles two realities. From (http://refusetobeupset.com/resillience-adapting-to-hardships/).
In the 1930s the American art collector Albert Barnes commissioned Henri Matisse to produce a major painting for his private gallery in Merion, outside Philadelphia. Matisse was ecstatic: He rented an old cinema in Nice, where he lived at that time, and spent the entire next year completing the work, a dance triptych. He was pleased with the result.

But when the piece arrived in Merion, Barnes wrote to Matisse explaining an unfortunate oversight: His collaborators had taken the wrong measurements, so the painting did not fit on the gallery wall.

The difference in size was marginal, and Matisse could easily have tweaked the triptych to fit the wall, a technical fix.

But instead he rented the cinema for another 12 months to complete a new painting with the right dimensions. Moreover, since he felt that mindless duplication was not real art, Matisse considerably changed the concept, effectively creating a whole new design.

And in this process of reworking the piece, as he experimented with forms that would capture the dancers’ rhythmic motion, he invented the famous “cut outs” technique (gouaches découpés), what he later labeled “painting with scissors.”

Whether consciously or unconsciously, Matisse turned a mistake into an opportunity for innovation. The new triptych not only pleased Barnes, but also served as the stylistic starting point for what would later become Matisse’s most admired works.

The French master’s ad hoc ingenuity captures the essence of an emerging concept known as resilience. Loosely defined, resilience is the capacity of a system—be it an individual, a forest, a city, or an economy—to deal with change and continue to develop.

It is both about withstanding shocks and disturbances (like climate change or financial crisis) and using such events to catalyze renewal, novelty, and innovation. In human systems, resilience thinking emphasizes learning and social diversity.

And at the level of the biosphere, it focuses on the interdependence of people and nature, the dynamic interplay of slow and gradual change. Resilience, above all, is about turning crisis into opportunity.

Resilience theory, first introduced by Canadian ecologist C.S. “Buzz” Holling in 1973, begins with two radical premises. The first is that humans and nature are strongly coupled and coevolving, and should therefore be conceived of as one “social-ecological” system.

The second is that the long-held, implicit assumption that systems respond to change in a linear—and therefore predictable—fashion is altogether wrong. In resilience thinking, systems are understood to be in constant flux, highly unpredictable, and self-organizing with feedbacks across multiple scales in time and space. In the jargon of theorists, they are complex adaptive systems, exhibiting the hallmark features of complexity.

A key feature of complex adaptive systems is their ability to self-organize along a number of different pathways with possible sudden shifts between states: A lake, for example, can exist in either an oxygenated, clear state or an algae-dominated, murky one.

A financial market can float on a housing bubble or settle into a basin of recession. Conventionally, we’ve tended to view the transition between such states as gradual. But there is increasing evidence that systems often don’t respond to change in a smooth way: The clear lake seems hardly affected by fertilizer runoff until a critical threshold is passed, at which point the water abruptly goes turbid.

Resilience science focuses on these sorts of regime shifts and tipping points. It looks at incremental stresses, such as accumulation of greenhouse gases in combination with chance events—things like storms, fires, even stock market crashes—that can tip a system into another equilibrium state from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to recover.

How far can a system be perturbed before this shift happens? How much shock can a system absorb before it transforms into something fundamentally different? How can active transformations from an undesirable social-ecological state into a better one be orchestrated? That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the resilience challenge.

The resilience line of thinking helps us avoid the trap of simply rebuilding and repairing flawed structures of the past—be it an economic system overly reliant on risky speculation or a health-care system that splits a nation at its financial seams and yet fails to deliver adequate coverage.

Resilience encourages us to anticipate, adapt, learn, and transform human actions in light of the unprecedented challenges of our turbulent world.

Arguably the most urgent of these tasks is the nested set of global environmental crises we now confront: climate change, ocean acidification, pandemics, water scarcity, overfishing, and loss of ecosystem services.

The tremendous acceleration and expansion of the human enterprise, especially since World War II, is pushing the Earth dangerously close to the limits of the human activity it can sustain, and beyond which abrupt environmental change is increasingly likely.

Obviously, global sustainability demands that humanity remain within these planetary operating boundaries. The relevant question then becomes: What will it take?

To begin, we need to put our role on this planet in perspective by placing humanity and the Earth’s systems in a geological context. If you graph the range of global temperature variations over the past 100,000 years, most of it forms a wild, erratic sawtooth pattern as climatic variations have at turns scorched or frozen the world.

But, about 10,000 years ago, temperature variation stabilized, and we entered what geologists call the Holocene epoch. This is the stable period during which agriculture and complex societies, including our own, developed and flourished.

Considering the fact that our modern globalized society has developed within these unusually stable conditions, it might come as no surprise that today’s hospitable environment is often taken for granted in investment decisions, political actions, and international agreements.

Before the Holocene period, the climatic conditions on Earth were likely too unpredictable—with temperatures fluctuating wildly—for humans to settle down and develop in one place.

Clearly, the only rational strategy now is to try and ensure that we remain in the human-friendly Holocene phase, that human development does not kick us into an unknown geological era.

The big challenge for humanity, then, is to begin working with the processes of the biosphere, instead of against them. This is not merely an environmental strategy—it is about sustaining our own development on planet Earth.

And there are countless pathways for such development, as long as the biophysical preconditions for a functioning Earth system are respected.

This global resilience perspective stands in stark contrast to development paradigms and global policies that treat environmental issues as external to society, that offer only minor adjustments of current behaviors, and that tend to concentrate on technical quick fixes to get rid of the problems.

It also runs counter to the philosophies of many traditional conservationists; they tend to see the world as environmentally stable, and seek to “save the environment” by limiting or excluding human activity. Both perspectives treat human and nature as two separate entities.

Embarrassingly, in a few generations we seem to have created a mind-set that either assumes that the economy is at the very center of the universe, or that nature needs to be saved from us humans. This is a dangerous mental trap, one we must escape as soon as possible in order to seed a prosperous future for humanity.

Luckily, the climate crisis has kick-started a new kind of mental revolution: We are slowly reconnecting with the planet. We are beginning to recognize that humans are part of the biosphere, simultaneously shaping it and fundamentally dependent on its functioning.

This thinking is present in an accumulating body of work on ecosystem services, like the 2005 UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, that surveys the capacity of the world’s natural systems to support human development.

Resilience consists of three features—persistence, adaptability, and transformability—each interacting from local to global scales. How can societies persist and adapt in order to avoid tipping over critical thresholds into undesirable situations?

When a shift into an undesired regime appears inevitable (or has already occurred and is irreversible), how can social-ecological systems transform to fit the new circumstances? One example of such “transformability” is the recent shift in governance of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Here the challenges of climate change, eutrophication, and overfishing have led Australians to begin treating the reef as an invaluable, embedded part of their economy, and to begin managing it through collaborations between citizens, scientists, and policymakers.

The current search for alternative energy sources to build a society that is less dependent on fossil fuels is another example. Overturning petroleum—the very foundation of human development thus far—will require unprecedented creativity and social innovation. In other words, it will demand a new ethic of social-ecological resilience.

Don’t be too alarmed by unexpected events, be prepared for them, and make use of them to improve negative circumstances. These actions will require trust and collective effort, a theme brought into focus with the awarding of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics to Elinor Ostrom, a key player in resilience thinking.

Ostrom’s work gives evidence that grassroots, cooperative action can be enormously successful when it comes to caring for public commons—resources that benefit all, and that are traditionally vulnerable to exploitation.

This message is at the core of the resilience framework. That the global community is now recognizing it provides hope that resilience will be the new lens through which we face the turbulence, and opportunity, of the coming decade. Like that great French painter, with the right vision, we too can adapt to adversity, rethink our approach—and perhaps create a masterpiece in the process.

• Carl Folke is the science director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and director of Beijer Institute of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Haybox Factor

SUBHEAD: Neanderthals routinely ate cooked vegetables, and cooked meat has been a hominid staple since the days of Homo erectus.  

By John Michael Greer on 29 December in the Archdruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2010/12/haybox-factor.html)

Image above: A fireless cooker circa 1890 branded 'The Chatham Jewel' in an oak case. From (http://www.antiquefever.com/kitchen_and_dining.html).

Like any other movement in contemporary society, the Peak Oil scene now and again has to take time away from addressing the challenges that have brought it into being in order to sort out its own internal vagaries. One timely example was the fluttering in several different dovecotes following longtime peak oil stalwart Matt Savinar’s decision to shut down his forum and news blog, in order to refocus his energies on a new career as an astrologer. It’s a curious detail of sociology that people who hold one set of beliefs that are stigmatized by society – those people who hope to become respectable one of these days, at least – tend to distance themselves reflexively from those who hold unrelated but equally stigmatized beliefs.

In most corners of American society today, the reality of hard ecological limits has about the same cachet as the ancient belief that events here on earth are foreshadowed by changes in the circling heavens. Actually, that understates the case. Plenty of people who regularly sneak glances at newspaper horoscope columns are quick to reject any suggestion that the march of progress could be stopped in its tracks by nature’s callous refusal to provide us with as much cheap concentrated energy as we happen to want.

Thus it’s no surprise that most of the responses to Savinar’s announcement were negative. Still, Savinar may have the last laugh. An article in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal discussed the way that old-fashioned Southern conjure – also known as rootwork or hoodoo, the traditional magic of African-American folk culture – has become a growth industry while the rest of the economy is circling the drain.

While the New Age movement is very much a creature of prosperous times, old-fashioned occultism has always tended to swim against the current of the business cycle, prospering in hard times and finding fewer takers when the economy booms. If the current economic unraveling has the usual effects, Savinar may just have made an exceptionally smart career move.

At the same time, there’s more to the matter than one person pursuing a marketable skill in whose relevance and efficacy, by the way, he wholeheartedly believes. Just prior to the shutdown of the “Life After The Oil Crash” forum, Savinar posted a series of increasingly irritated comments about the number of people on it whose obsessive concern about the prospect of a catastrophic future stopped well short of doing anything to prepare for it.

 I know the feeling; this blog and the Green Wizards forum have attracted a lot of people who are actually doing something about their future, but I’ve had plenty of run-ins elsewhere with people who apparently believe that (a) insisting that some technology they’re doing nothing to develop or deploy will bail us out of our predicament, (b) displaying their doombat machismo by imagining a future more godawful than anybody else’s, or (c) finding somebody to blame and showing Jung a thing or two about how to project the shadow, are useful responses to the end of the industrial age.

Unproductive as these habits may be, there’s an understandable logic behind them, and behind all the attempts to paint the future in glowing colors of one sort or another – be those colors the syrupy hues of a Thomas Kinkade cottage painting or the purer if less comforting tones of a thermonuclear fireball. All of these portraits are ways not to think about the future that’s actually bearing down on us, a future that might best be summed up by pointing out that nearly all of us here in America will be poor – not "can’t afford the latest Xbox this month" poor, by the way, but "may not be able to put food on the table" poor – for the rest of our lives.

Yes, it really is as simple as that. White’s Law defines energy per capita as the basic measurement of economic development; as energy per capita declines, the economy contracts, and its capacity to support individuals at any level above the starvation line contracts as well. All the social, political, and military fireworks that punctuate the curve of decline unfold from that inescapable equation, as those who can no longer support themselves by supporting the system turn to catabolizing the system as a matter of sheer survival. Just now the turn to catabolism is happening in a shamefaced, surreptitious way: thieves stripping empty homes for copper and aluminum, banks cashing in their futures to buy short-term cash flow, cities quietly announcing that this or that set of essential services will no longer be available.

Later rounds of catabolism may be a good deal more direct; each new round of news stories about the struggles between warlords beyond America’s fortified southern frontier makes me think of the proud border chieftains of an earlier age: Alaric, Hengist, Genseric, Attila. Such reflections may make the green wizardry I’ve been discussing in recent posts seem pointless, but that pointlessness is an illusion. If the great driving force behind a future of disintegration and chaos is the simple inability of a failing society to provide even the most basic subsistence for the bulk of its people, anything that will allow those people to make other arrangements for their subsistence offers a way to cushion the decline.

With that in mind, I want to talk about a simple, resilient technology that helps solve several of the most serious problems that poor people face now and the rest of us will be facing shortly. It was common – in fact, heavily promoted – all over the industrial world a century ago, and you’ve probably never heard of it. Let’s start with the problem: cooking fuel.

According to a recent news story, archeologists have found out that our sturdy cousins the Neanderthals routinely ate cooked vegetables, and cooked meat has been a hominid staple since the days of Homo erectus. Pace today’s raw food diet promoters, most foodstuffs are safer to eat and easier to digest when they’ve been subjected to heat, which is why every human culture everywhere on earth cooks most meals.

The one drawback is that the heat has to come from somewhere, and usually that involves burning some kind of fuel; anywhere outside today’s industrial world, fuel doesn’t come cheap, and in most poor countries the struggle to find enough fuel to cook with is a major economic burden, not to mention a driving force behind deforestation and other ecological crises. The obvious response, if you happen to think the way people in the modern industrial world think, is to deal with fuel shortages by finding and burning more fuel. That’s exactly the thinking that got us into our current predicament, though, so it’s worth looking at other options.

To do that, we need to start with the thermodynamics of cooking itself. Imagine, then, a saucepan on the stove cooking rice. It’s a metal container with a heat source under it, and inside it are two cups of water and a cup of grass seeds – that’s "rice" to you and me; the goal of the operation is to get enough heat and moisture into the grass seeds that your digestive system can get at the starches, sugars, B vitamins, and other nutritious things inside them. So far, so good, but this is where a familiarity with the laws of thermodynamics comes in handy, because there’s a prodigious waste of energy going on.

Trace the energy along its route and you can watch the waste happen. The energy at the heat source is highly concentrated; it flows, with some losses, into the metal saucepan; some of it flows through the pan to the water and rice, where it does the job of cooking, but a great deal of the heat gets into the sides and lid of the pan; some of it comes directly through the substance of the pan, some of it comes indirectly through the water and rice, but one way or another a great deal of the energy in your cooking fuel is being used to warm the surrounding air. This is all the more wasteful in that your rice doesn’t need a huge amount of heat once the water’s been brought to a boil; a very gentle simmer is more than enough, but to produce that gentle simmer a lot of fuel gets burnt and a lot of heat wasted.

Here’s an experiment for you to try. Get a cork mat larger than the bottom of the saucepan you use to cook rice, and a tea cozy. What’s a tea cozy? An insulated cover for a teapot, designed to keep the tea in the pot good and hot while you work your way down from the first relatively pallid cups off the top to the stuff with the color and consistency of road tar down at the very bottom.

The kind of tea cozy you want has a slit in one side for the handle of the teapot, and one opposite it for the spout, and it needs to be large enough to pop over the saucepan with the saucepan’s handle sticking out through one of the slits; the more insulation it has, the better.. Got it? Okay, get your pot of rice started; when the water has reached a good fierce boil and you’ve put the rice in, cover the saucepan tightly, take it off the heat, put it on the cork mat and pop the tea cozy over it. Leave it for a little longer than you would normally keep it on the stove, and then serve; if you’ve followed the instructions, you should have perfectly cooked rice with a fraction of the fuel consumption you’d otherwise have had. If you’ve done the experiment, you’ve just learned the principle behind the fireless cooker.

In America, those were often called "hayboxes," because that’s what the old-fashioned version was – a wooden box stuffed full of hay in such a way that there was a space for a pot in the middle, and a pillow of cotton ticking stuffed with more hay that went over the top. A hundred years ago, though, you could get elegant models from department stores that had porcelain-coated steel cases, rock wool insulation, and easy-to-clean metal liners with pots sized to fit; the best models had soapstone disks you could stick in the oven during the day’s baking, then drop into the fireless cooker, put a pot of soup or stew on top, and have it piping hot for dinner six hours later. I’ve never seen an old-fashioned fireless cooker; my guess is that here in America, at least, most of them were turned in during the big scrap metal drives in the Second World War. They were apparently still in use in some corners of Europe in the 1940s and 1950s, Still, the technology is simple enough that even the least capable home craftsperson can put one together in an hour or two.

My spouse and I have two of them, a portable version in a wooden box and a rather less portable version built into a piece of furniture; both of them were built using a slightly improved version of the basic haybox design with polyester quilt batting for the insulation and cotton ticking covering the batting to keep it clean. Doubtless the design could be improved, but the portable one holds heat well enough that a pot of Scotch oats, brought to a boil on an open fire and tucked into the cooker before going to bed, serves up piping hot oatmeal the next morning.

Fireless cookers will not save the world. They aren’t even a complete solution to the problem of finding adequate cooking fuel, though they make a good many other responses more viable by sharply cutting the amount of heat that has to be provided from some other source. In the jargon of the peak oil scene, they aren’t silver bullets, or even silver BBs; they’re simply a useful bit of appropriate tech that can be put to work in order to make an impoverished future a little easier to live with. There are many other things that can be put to work in the same way. Come to think of it, that’s basically what human culture is – a bag of tricks, not unlike Felix the Cat’s, suited to the needs and possibilities of a particular suite of human ecologies.

The culture we’ve grown up with was adapted to an environment in which, for most people in the industrial world, the big question was how to make the most use of cheap abundant fossil fuels. The culture our great-grandchildren will grow up with, in turn, will be adapted to an environment in which the big question will be how to manage a healthy and graceful existence on a very sparse resource base.

Fireless cookers might well become a part of that culture of the not too distant future, particularly if enough green wizards check out the possibilities in haybox technology here and now.  

Far and away the best book written on fireless cookers so far is Heidi Kirschner’s Fireless Cookery. Published by a small press in 1981, it’s long out of print; some small press could do a lot worse than hunt up the current copyright holder, get the rights, and put it back on the bookshelves. I understand that Girl Scout handbooks from before 1950 or thereabouts have instructions for making a haybox, and might be worth consulting; there are also chapters on the technology in some American cookbooks from the first decade or so of the twentieth century.  


Power costs jolt military families

SOURCE: Ken Taylor (taylork021@Hawaii.rr.com)
SUBHEAD: About 6,400 Navy and Marine Corps households will be charged for "excess" energy use.  

By William Cole on 26 December 2010 in the Star Advertiser -  

Image above: Jennifer Lunnposing with her children, from left, Andrew, Emily and Kaela, on illuminated lawn outside their Pearl City Peninsula military home. From original article.

Come Saturday, 6,400 military families in Hawaii will start to get electricity bills where there weren't any before, and although the change is intended to reduce consumption, not all are viewing the effort with holiday cheer. The Navy and housing contractor Forest City Military Communities are testing the utility bills as a pilot program at Navy and Marine Corps housing in Hawaii. A similar test is under way at military housing at Beaufort/Parris Island in South Carolina.

For at least six years in Hawaii, Forest City has collected military members' housing allowances—which are substantial—as full payment for rent, utilities and all other costs under a public-private venture (PPV). Now, military families will have to pay for electricity if their usage exceeds 20 percent of an established average for their neighborhood. Navy Lt. Jason Anthes, 29, who has two children and lives in Pearl City Peninsula housing, said six families he talked to on his street consistently received mock bills of $50 to $150 in recent months leading up to the start of the live program.

The bills were a way to familiarize residents with what is to come. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Andrew Lunn, 31, formally questioned the rationale for the change, known as the Resident Energy Conservation Program, before recently deploying to Iraq with the 25th Infantry Division. "Service members are already adequately compensating housing communities for the electrical costs incurred," Lunn said. "The only reasonable explanation is that the civilian corporations running military housing here in Hawaii are exploiting the spirit of the RECP as a vehicle to generate additional income at the expense of service members."

Lunn's wife, Jennifer, said she skimped on Christmas lights this year on their Pearl City Peninsula home because of electricity cost worries. "My husband is deployed and we can't even put up lights," she said. "Normally, we would put out double (the lights) at least, and it's like, ugh, take (the fun) out of the holiday season." Historically, the Navy said, its residents have consumed more energy than military or civilian counterparts living outside military housing, and the new program is designed to set a "reasonable range" for energy consumption.

"These excess energy costs negatively impact PPV projects over the long term by reducing available capital which would ultimately be reinvested back into the PPV community, allowing improvements to the property such as renovations and community amenities," the Navy said on a website explaining the program. The Navy said any energy cost "savings" would be deposited into a reserve account managed by the Navy and Forest City.

Agnes Tauyan, a spokeswoman for Navy Region Hawaii, said that according to the PPV director, the Navy does not yet have a projection for cost savings. "This is a pilot program, so after the live billing phase the Navy will review the program and evaluate strategies for implementing the program across all PPV locations," Tauyan said. Forest City Military Communities is renovating and rebuilding about half of the Navy and Marine Corps' 6,564 housing units in 36 neighborhoods on Oahu and Kauai, and it manages all of them.

Forest City said the Defense Department already has implemented resident utility billing through the Army and Air Force at many mainland housing projects. The National Defense Authorization Act of 1996 allowed the Defense Department to work with the private sector to build, renovate and manage military housing.

Two years later, in conjunction with its housing partners, the Office of the Secretary of Defense created a policy for the resident payment of utilities in public-private venture housing to encourage energy efficiency, the Navy said. Only now is the Navy utility payment being implemented, and in Hawaii it will be a one-year pilot program.

The Navy said starting it now rather than years ago allowed for the initial development phase of most of the housing projects and installation of individual electric meters. Forest City established "like-type" groups of homes within each neighborhood based on size, number of bedrooms and year built, the Navy said. Forest City calculated a 20 percent buffer above and below the monthly user average. Electricity use above the 20 percent results in a bill.

More than 20 percent below means a rebate. The housing manager was not able to provide a breakdown of the dollar amount of rebates versus billing costs that were calculated during the mock billing period that ran for several months prior to the live start of the program Saturday. Views about the resident electrical program are split. Navy Chief Petty Officer William Conkle, 37, who works in the security department at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and also lives at Pearl City Peninsula, said he doesn't have a problem with the program. "I think it's a good idea," he said. "At the end of the day, it saves the military money." That money in turn can be put into quality-of-life issues, he said.

Conkle said he isn't sure how many are for or against the resident energy billing. "I don't know. It's kind of hard to say," he said. "I've heard a lot of people complain, but then I've also heard a lot of people that don't really have a problem with it. Is there a possibility that you may have to pay out of pocket? Yes. But the way I'm looking at it is, they are giving you a (big) buffer zone." Lunn, the soldier deployed to Iraq, maintains civilian housing authorities already are "fleecing" higher-ranking service members for housing.

A second lieutenant or ensign with dependents pays $2,133 in rent for a military house while a Navy lieutenant or Army captain pays $2,739 for the same house, he said. "My biggest issue is the fact that military housing authorities are attempting to force service members to bear additional costs beyond their (housing allowance)," Lunn said.

Those Defense Department housing allowances are set for current market rate, average utilities and renters insurance, he said. Each month, Forest City will calculate a new average electricity use. Forest City said the electrical usage calculated by the Pentagon is based on civilian homes, while the PPV homes tend to be bigger and have air-conditioning—meaning more use. The Lunns, with three children, said they were "way, way over" the 20 percent buffer at first. "The struggle that I had with it is, I don't have any shade on my house and my air-conditioner constantly kicks on," Jennifer Lunn said. They've set the thermostat higher and taken other steps, including reducing their Christmas lights.

Andrew Lunn said families with more kids and few supplied energy-efficient appliances will use more electricity, and they'll be penalized unfairly for it. Forest City points to the built-in buffer for higher electricity use. Anthes, who is a neighbor of the Lunns, said he can't put in solar panels or take other significant energy-saving steps in the military-run housing. "They kind of tie your hands with your ability to conserve energy while charging you for it," he said. "It's kind of frustrating." The Navy said Forest City will not allow residents to install their own ceiling fans, but the housing manager will consider installing more on its own. Forest City is converting all older air-conditioning thermostats to newer models that limit the lowest possible setting to 72 degrees.

The company said $185 was spent to install each house meter using Navy and borrowed money. In question-and-answer information, the Navy said water bills are not included "at present" in the conservation effort. "This program seems like a pay cut," is one of the topics addressed in the Q&A. The Navy answer: "For those who choose to use electricity above the normal rate plus 20 percent, this may feel like a pay cut."


Kodachrome Fades Away

SUBHEAD: The most durable, color film developed for the consumer discontinues processing after 75 years history.  

By A. G. Sulzberger on 29 December 2010 in New York Times -

Image above: Fifty year old Kodachrome slide of blog publisher's family sailing Great South Bay of Long Island in 1960. Left to right Juan Sr., Juan Jr., Virginia and Diana.  

[IB Publisher's note: My mom began taking Kodachrome slides with a Leica 35mm camera back in the 1950's. I continued taking such slides from the late 60's until about ten years ago. Those family Kodachromes have maintained their quality better than all other image technologies in our collection of pictures. See the two examples in this article scanned this morning. Most people do not realize how delicate and temporary most digital images are as our technology changes and is serially abandoned.]

An unlikely pilgrimage is under way to Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas, a small family business that has through luck and persistence become the last processor in the world of Kodachrome, the first successful color film and still the most beloved.

That celebrated 75-year run from mainstream to niche photography is scheduled to come to an end on Thursday when the last processing machine is shut down here to be sold for scrap.

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced here, transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

In the span of minutes this week, two such visitors arrived. The first was a railroad worker who had driven from Arkansas to pick up 1,580 rolls of film that he had just paid $15,798 to develop. The second was an artist who had driven directly here after flying from London to Wichita, Kan., on her first trip to the United States to turn in three rolls of film and shoot five more before the processing deadline.

The artist, Aliceson Carter, 42, was incredulous as she watched the railroad worker, Jim DeNike, 53, loading a dozen boxes that contained nearly 50,000 slides into his old maroon Pontiac. He explained that every picture inside was of railroad trains and that he had borrowed money from his father’s retirement account to pay for developing them.

“That’s crazy to me,” Ms. Carter said. Then she snapped a picture of Mr. DeNike on one of her last rolls.

Demanding both to shoot and process, Kodachrome rewarded generations of skilled users with a richness of color and a unique treatment of light that many photographers described as incomparable even as they shifted to digital cameras. “Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day,” Paul Simon sang in his 1973 hit “Kodachrome,” which carried the plea “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

As news media around the world have heralded Thursday’s end of an era, rolls of the discontinued film that had been hoarded in freezers and tucked away in closets, sometimes for decades, have flooded Dwayne’s Photo, arriving from six continents.

“It’s more than a film, it’s a pop culture icon,” said Todd Gustavson, a curator from the George Eastman House, a photography museum in Rochester in the former residence of the Kodak founder. “If you were in the postwar baby boom, it was the color film, no doubt about it.”

Among the recent visitors was Steve McCurry, a photographer whose work has appeared for decades in National Geographic including his well-known cover portrait, shot in Kodachrome, of a Afghan girl that highlights what he describes as the “sublime quality” of the film.

When Kodak stopped producing the film last year, the company gave him the last roll, which he hand-delivered to Parsons. “I wasn’t going to take any chances,” he explained.

At the peak, there were about 25 labs worldwide that processed Kodachrome, but the last Kodak-run facility in the United States closed several years ago, then the one in Japan and then the one in Switzerland. Since then, all that was left has been Dwayne’s Photo.

Last year, Kodak stopped producing the chemicals needed to develop the film, providing the business with enough to continue processing through the end of 2010. And last week, right on schedule, the lab opened up the last canister of blue dye.

Kodak declined to comment for this article.

The status of lone survivor is a point of pride for Dwayne Steinle, who remembers being warned more than once by a Kodak representative after he opened the business more than a half-century ago that the area was too sparsely populated for the studio to succeed.

It has survived in part because Mr. Steinle and his son Grant focused on lower-volume specialties — like black-and-white and print-to-print developing, and, in the early ’90s, the processing of Kodachrome.

Still, the toll of the widespread switch to digital photography has been painful for Dwayne’s, much as it has for Kodak. In the last decade, the number of employees has been cut to about 60 from 200 and digital sales now account for nearly half of revenue.

Most of the staff and even the owners acknowledge that they primarily use digital cameras. “That’s what we see as the future of the business,” said Grant Steinle, who runs the business now.

The passing of Kodachrome has been much noted, from the CBS News program ”Sunday Morning” to The Irish Times, but it is noteworthy in no small part for how long it survived. Created in 1935, Kodachrome was an instant hit as the first film to effectively render color.

Even when it stopped being the default film for chronicling everyday life — thanks in part to the move to prints from slides — it continued to be the film of choice for many hobbyists and medical professionals. Dr. Bharat Nathwani, 65, a Los Angeles pathologist, lamented that he still had 400 unused rolls. “I might hold it, God willing that Kodak sees its lack of wisdom.”

This week, the employees at Dwayne’s worked at a frenetic pace, keeping a processing machine that has typically operated just a few hours a day working around the clock (one of the many notes on the lab wall reads: “I took this to a drugstore and they didn’t even know what it was”).

“We really didn’t expect it to be this crazy,” said Lanie George, who manages the Kodachrome processing department.

One of the toughest decisions was how to deal with the dozens of requests from amateurs and professionals alike to provide the last roll to be processed.

In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons.

The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010.”

Image above: Publisher's daughter, Laura, a quarter of a century ago riding bike on Nantucket Island. Kodachrome slide photo by Juan Wilson.

2011 – A Pivotal Year?

SUBHEAD: The denials that significant change is coming continue.  

By Tom Whipple on 29 December 2010 in Falls Church News-Press

Image above: The senior 2011 class at Duke University. From (http://www.dukemagazine.duke.edu/dukemag/issues/111207/depobs.html).

Wall Street is getting nervous. As oil prices continue to creep up and as more evidence accumulates that the age of ever-growing energy production and economic growth is coming to an end, a specter is haunting the great investment banks and brokerage houses of New York.

For five years now Wall Street and its chorus in the financial media have ignored or denied that global oil production has reached a plateau after 150 years of steady growth.

Those who did admit to a problem were quick to assert that the markets would find substitutes first in the form of endless quantities of coal waiting to be exploited and more recently 100 years' worth of shale gas would come seamlessly to the rescue.

The nervousness of course is that once global energy production starts to decline, capitalism as we have known it for the last few centuries will no longer be the same. While some new form of an economic system will evolve, the transition is likely to be long and painful.

Many, if not most, jobs in the financial industry will simply melt away. Hence, for many, putting off the fateful day when we have to admit the inevitable is much preferred solution.

The events of 2008 when oil shot up briefly to $147 a barrel and the global economy trembled for months are still fresh in many minds.

The western world's banking system and Detroit had to be bailed out by the increasingly insolvent U.S. and European governments. Had not oil prices quickly reversed as demand for oil products faltered and oil plunged to $32 a barrel, we would have been living in a different world right now.

As we enter 2011, the denials that significant change is coming continue. Oil prices continue to rise, but until recently they have been met with the idea oil that could go up a bit more, but certainly not enough to damage the economic recovery.

Oil may get to over $100 a barrel shortly it certainly will not go much further. In the last few weeks, however, a few as yet faint voices in the media have been adding a sentence or two to the effect that all might not be as well as hoped.

So where are we? A few weeks ago the most ominous news of year came out of Beijing when it was announced in muted voice that from here on out China's coal production would probably not be growing much further.

Chinese coal, of course, is among the miracles of our time. Starting at around 100 million tons per year when Mao Zedong took over the country, by the turn of the century annual production had increased to 1 billion tons. Then production really took off with output climbing to circa 3.2 billion tons a decade later.

With oil production faltering and production of much of the world's industrial output shifting to China, it was this steady increase in coal production that fueled China's and therefore much of the world's economic growth for the last decade.

Now, with this final surge in the world's production of fossil fuels coming to an end the outlook for the global economy changes dramatically.

Beijing, which is wedded to achieving an annual GDP growth of 8-10 percent, is already stepping up its imports of coal and is vigorously pursuing means of locking up as much foreign fossil fuel resources as the foreigners are willing to sell.

If Beijing is unsuccessful in increasing its coal imports to the extent needed in the next few years, then it is likely to turn to increasing imports of oil and LNG.

The IEA says that during 2010 global demand for oil grew by 2.5 million barrels a day (b/d) and reports that during the 3rd quarter the annual rate of demand increased to a "giddy" 3.3 million b/d.

As rates of growth in consumption this fast obviously cannot go on much longer in the face of very slow to flat increases in production, the IEA is saying that the increase in demand in 2011 will slow to an average of 1.3 million b/d.

Just to support the 3rd quarters increase in demand, global stockpiles have been dropping by 1.3 million b/d. Thus far Saudi Arabia, which is the only country claiming substantial surplus production capacity, has shown little inclination to increase production.

Trends for the next few months do not suggest that a major drop in demand is yet in sight. The northern hemisphere from Chicago through Europe to Japan is gripped by some unusually cold weather which will guarantee higher oil and coal consumption.

China is still beset by widespread coal shortages and the accompanying power outages which guarantees demand for imported coal and oil to run auxiliary power generators will stay high.

Some are already saying that the IEA's forecast of a 1.3 million b/d increase for next year is much too low. The big unknown for the coming years is the size and availability of OPEC's spare capacity.

If much of the 5 or 6 million b/d of productive capacity that OPEC claims to have in reserve does not really exist or cannot be opened in a timely manner, then much higher oil prices seem likely by spring.

This, of course, will reduce demand again and we are off on another cycle of falling demand, more economic damage, and eventually lower prices. No matter what happens, 2011 is shaping up to be an interesting year - it could just be a pivotal one.

Oh Brother, Not Peak Oil!

SUBHEAD: We are being asked to go eyes-wide-open into the greatest new experiment in living most of us have ever encountered. By Lindsay Curren on 29 December 2010 in Transition Voice - (http://transitionvoice.com/2010/12/oh-brother-not-peak-oil) Image above: Still image from Coen Brothers 2000 movie "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?". From (http://www.movietobo.com/2010/10/08/jons-top-10-favorite-movies-of-all-time). Part one in a four-part series.

In the 2000 Coen brothers’ comedy adventure O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a bit of wisdom shared near the start of the movie applies to more aspects of life than we might like to admit. In particular, it has relevance for how we talk about the peak oil predicament in today’s media landscape.

That’s illogical

We pick up the story when the three escaped convicts at the center of the film have narrowly fled for a second time, giving the slip to a bevy of cops hot on their trail.

Once in the clear, one of the fugitives, Ulysses Everett T. McGill, a silver-tongued dandy played by George Clooney, proudly flaunts a gold pocket watch that he swiped from the bureau drawer of Wash Hogwallop, his cohort Pete’s cousin with whom the trio stayed while on the lam.

Bragging that the watch is the key to getting a car, Everett plans to sell it. But Pete (John Turturro), rises up, angered that Everett stole from his kin. Everett offers a slick justification for taking the watch, an answer that Pete immediately dismisses as nonsense.

Undeterred, Everett replies, “Pete, it’s a fool looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”

Peak oil communicators, take note.

When warming is cooling

We need look no farther than the global warming narrative to find a good example of what doesn’t work in trying to awaken the world, change the world, or just get anyone to listen.

The global warming / climate change / global climate disruption story, however relevant, has not succeeded in getting its message across in a way that has fundamentally made an inroad on consensus, policy, and in most instances in the Western world, behavior. Sure the issue has its cadre of hard-core adherents, but shouldn’t what scientists say is such a grave threat to civilization have gotten further with people, business and governments at this point?

Now, we can argue till the cows come home about what climate change activists are up against. Indeed it’s a formidable set of obstacles they face, beginning with basic human stupidity, then passing through interested persons (and personalities) with concerted disinformation campaigns and ending with greedy business types and their moneyed access to power.

But part of the blame has to go to the activists themselves, and their failure to properly reach and secure the allegiance of a mass number of hearts and minds.

“Logic is on our side”

Let’s face it, few people are moved to change because someone is telling them for the umpteenth time about the effects of so-and-so many parts per million of CO2 in the air and the radical tipping points that ensue therein. Even when it’s Al Gore.

Just look at when Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) mocked Gore by building an igloo during the great snowstorms of early 2010 and posting a sign calling it “Al Gore’s new home.” All Inhofe needed to say was “cold-y ice stuff ain’t warm” and he won the upper hand, eroding gains in the climate case. Logic, science and truth be damned.

The reality is that even among smarty-pants liberals, the emotional and irrational holds much more sway that the rational and logical, however much we may wish it otherwise. Research shows that we’re all much more moved by story and even stunts then we are by analysis.

That’s why Bill McKibben’s recent sojourn to the White House to urge President Obama to install solar panels did more for clean energy in the popular imagination than just about anything else this past year.

Scientists, thought leaders and the reasoned among us like to imagine that reason itself influences thinking persons and also turns the more distracted to our cause based on the self-evidence in a logical, sequential and well-presented case. Some mistakenly argue that anything less is “dumbing it down.”

But whoa, Nellie. What Kool-Aid are you drinking?

Why can’t they just listen to reason?

In the New York Times Bestseller Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, behavioral economist Dan Ariely points out that it’s not really reason that influences most decisions. It’s not a ream of logical inputs that drive choices. Rather, it’s the exact opposite. It’s expectations, hopes, wishful thinking, social norms and rhetorical techniques like peer pressure and fashion that convince us to think or act a certain way.

Add to that a society and culture like ours, glutted on a hyper-vast density of information, much of it nonsensical, superfluous and idiotic, where piercing the surface of that density is nigh impossible — even with life-and-death news — and you’ve got a real conundrum. Maybe more so with life-and-death news. After all, urgency feels a lot more critical when it’s say, a tsunami chasing you down the block.

When it’s the dire warnings of a very boring looking chart and graph of a would-be model some 50 years off, not so much. Even Al Gore’s contentious “hockey stick” seemed to get the attention of his critics more than anyone else.

As George Clooney’s McGill said, “It’s a fool looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.” There’s the rub.

When warming is overheated

To be fair, climate change storytellers have tried to bypass logic to paint a picture of the looming crisis. Unfortunately they did so by going to the extreme of trying to scare the bejesus out of us. And while that may have seemed to be the most logical way to use irrationality to prompt action, it hasn’t succeeded.

I don’t dispute that climate change is one of the most potent threats to earth and all its species, including humans.

But I’m left wondering, Why, over twenty years after the first book on climate change for a popular readership, McKibben’s The End of Nature in 1989, polls show us that today fewer people are convinced that we must take immediate action to address ecological calamity?

What went wrong?

Alarmism and backlash

What was designed by earnest climate change advocates to awaken and engage people turned out to be too much too fast. And they told it too abstractly to boot.

However much you and I may care about shrinking glaciers, rising oceans, spotted owls and polar bears, most of us live in Madonna’s material world. To get most people to care about something, you have to get them where they live, which in most cases is neither an iceberg nor a tree-house.

Most Americans and indeed most Westerners (and more and more the whole world) care about living well and enjoying the here-and-now with all its options and opportunities, from frozen convenience foods to indoor skiing, from starting businesses to building one’s personal home-as-castle.

By not having secured popular opinion on the basis of something closer to the people’s hearts, lives, and livelihoods, and instead outsourcing it to the forest, a glen, a “habitat” or the vision of a New York underwater, climate change activists painted an outsized irrational picture that, however true or probable, lost its ability to convince by putting the cataclysm too far from our day-to-day experience. Too much, too soon, but never actually showing up, even if our crocuses do bloom in December.

And then, when New York wasn’t underwater soon enough and when Florida didn’t disappear right away, climate change Cassandras were ripe for looking like fools.

And all that invited a backlash.

Corporate antibodies attack

Like a swarm of antibodies encircling a virus to cut off its spread, corporate power and its political lapdogs have effectively debunked, bullied, mocked, and ignored climate change into near irrelevance largely using the simple counter-narrative of “Chicken Little.”

At least half the books available on climate change now tell the alleged “other side of the story,” drawing on a handful of dubious experts who say that climate change is bunk, that it’s not caused by humans or that even if it happens, it won’t be so bad.

Sure, a backlash would have occurred anyway, because that’s what greed does to secure its own interests — and political operatives will say anything for a .0002% bump in a poll. But a more accessible, more effective, less hyperbolic climate story might have kept more of the public on board when the evil genius counter-offensive hit. More public support would have better positioned climate activists and their allies in green business to win measures that address emissions and lifestyle despite the backlash from dirty corporations and their stooges in free-market think tanks.

Please, don’t mistake my meaning. I don’t think global warming activists should be made to look like fools. But the campaign to make them so has been formidably executed, with the kind of truth-free but effective double-speak found in a “Coke Adds Life” campaign. It makes no sense, but it sells. Global warming alarmism is now seen as wholly ineffective by more and more people. For climate deniers, it was like shooting fish in a barrel.

For climate activists, it was like wearing a “kick me” sign.

And when you don’t get the results you want, however well intentioned, that’s a failure.

Gusher of lies

In some ways, peak oil activists should be so lucky to have a host of writers, analysts, Fox News personalities and big business types trolling out the debunking machine. At least it would be an indication that they’re noticing us at all.

There are a few books purporting to dispel peak oil concerns, such as Robert Bryce’s Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of “Energy Independence” and the work of David Yergin and Vaclav Smil. But in an oddly fortunate way for us their task will be more difficult than casting doubt on climate change. A hard and finite resource such as oil, even with tar sands as an understudy, is very difficult to dispute when almost all of us experience a direct relationship between the price at the pump and the pain in our wallet.

Regardless, understanding that peak oil is a reality, and one that will not be lessened by deepwater oil or tar sands or coal to liquids or iffy Saudi Arabias full of natural gas beneath the amber waves of grain won’t stop opponents from trying to cast doubt on the implications of the end of cheap energy.

The issue then becomes how we live in the face of peak oil. That is the challenge and the battle facing peak oil writers and commentators.

In response, do we keep trotting out the production and decline curves? Do we continue peppering every other sentence with the words collapse, imminent disaster, and apocalypse? Do we tell the story of our children—your children, their children— losing out on college and begging around for jobs as ditch diggers, if they’re the lucky ones? Do we talk about the idiocy of Americans for having ever bought into the suburban fantasy in the first place and then snort condescendingly at the prospect of them stranded in their mini vans scuffling over their last bag of Chips Ahoy 100 calorie packs?

I think not.

Once upon a time…

We do need to tell stories. Many of them. We each need to be translators of the facts and figures into visions of the possible and the practical with ample doses of hope rewarding the sweat of our brow with the continued harvest of many varieties. We need more storytellers. More visions. More ideas. After all, we’re asking the public to go eyes-wide-open into the greatest new experiment in living most of us have ever encountered. So we need ways of turning what we think we’ll lose into what we know we can gain.

But this is not textbook- and footnote-type stuff.

In addition to being first-stage researchers and analysts we also need to be translators of the story into narratives that connect with people in a way that draws them in, where they see themselves and their children in the story, and are inclined to action because they can understand the threat while still feeling empowered enough to take action in their own lives. And all this before it’s too late.

I’m afraid that we don’t have enough of these translators stepping up to the plate even as the stakes on peak oil ramp up by the day. Instead, we’re dominated by more graph-happy talks and more incestuous polemics than we can use in a lifetime. Yes, we peak oil communicators need to talk to each other, but we need even more to talk to Them Out There, the people who most need to hear this. And we need to talk in a way that they can understand and engage with us.

In the midst of this essay intended to be about communications I feel more inclined to go within the word, saying that what we actually need is more communing.

We need to go beyond the polemics, citations, cases and inward gazing in and among the peak oil community and instead gear up to go large.

We get it. Now let’s talk to others.

Myth: a powerful vehicle for truth

We need to draw on the myths of the past, the myths that have informed generations of people for millennia, and tell the stories in new ways, much as the Coen brothers reinvented O Brother as a riff on the Odysseus saga.

The journey. The obstacles. More seeking, fewer answers. Your own struggle. Your own uncertainty. Your story.

What if we all tried more what ifs?

What if global warming were real? What would that look like in your family? In your town?

On peak oil, what if one day there was no more access to gasoline, or it was too expensive? Or it was rationed, first to the military, and then to the rich? What then? What if the lights went out not for hours, but for days or weeks on end? What would you do? Your community? What might you face? What’s the back-up plan?

What about the rich terrain of the ordinary? What was it like when you planted those first seeds as a member of a newly formed community garden? Or began selling your wares at the farmer’s market? What’s it like now that you’re a farmer milking the cow at 5am on a cold February morning when you’d much rather be in bed? What are the stories, the simple stories of daily life that happened along the way to the story you’re now living that’s still unfolding?

Tell it. Tell that story.

Where are those stories? How can we commune? What might you share? What might we try?

Wisdom from a seer

I won’t begin to assume that I know even half of the kind of stories that might be shared in a world where voices began to rise, where the hidden circuitry of energy and our vulnerable connection to it is exposed in new ways. But we might take a cue from a blind railroad man, the seer who gives a lift and some sage advice to the jailbirds at the beginning of O Brother Where Art Thou:

You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the fortune you seek. But first…first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril, mm-hmm. You shall see things… wonderful to tell. You shall see a… a cow… on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has… vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.

And the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Tune in next week for part two of this series, where, with a little help from Wash Hogwallop, I’ll look at the dynamic of “us versus them.”

Abercrombie & the Birthers

SUBHEAD: Some think Neil Abercrombie should rethink his decision to take on the 'Birthers'.  

By Jason Linkins on 29 December 2010 for Huffington Post -  

Image above: Orly Taitze staged Birther demonstration in New York against Fox News. From (http://gawker.com/5402300/fox-news-is-ready-for-your-protest).

Newly elected Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has decided that he will be the guy to finally settle the whole "birther" conspiracy, a matter that was settled in sane circles before it even began. Slate's Dave Weigel, who has written more substantively about the birthers than anyone else I could name, gets right to the heart of why this is a mistake:
The "birther" movement began not because Barack Obama's campaign refused to show proof of his citizenship, but because it did show proof. In June 2008, it responded to some rumors about whether Obama was born a Muslim or had different parents than had been reported by releasing the short-form certificate, the sort of form you get if you lose your driver's license and need to prove your identity to the DMV to get a new license. This launched a cottage industry of hilarious "document analysis" attempting to prove that the certificate was forged by the Obama campaign. And this is exactly what would happen again if the governor of Hawaii, who knew the Obama family in the 1960s, let reporters photograph more of Obama's documents. The birther crowd would cry "forgery," as the Kennedy assassination and moon landing hoax crowds look for anything that could unravel the official story in every new official analysis.
Exactly. The flaw in Abercrombie's thinking is that he believes this is a matter that can be laid to rest. But the birthers already believe in an ornate conspiracy, spanning many generations of bipartisan officials on the local, state, and federal level, to conceal the heritage of a biracial child in order to install him in the White House for ... well, for kicks, I guess! Given that they already successfully contain all that derangement inside their cranial cavities, there's really no big reveal Abercrombie can offer that won't simply be seamlessly incorporated as component of this bonkers theory.

Chappelles Show
Celebrity Trial Jury Selection
Black Comedy
Video above: Dave Chapelle "Celebrity Trail Jury Selection". From (http://www.comedycentral.com/videos/index.jhtml?videoId=11926&title=celebrity-trial-jury-selection).

Every time this matter comes up, it reminds me of a sketch from Dave Chappelle's eponymous Comedy Central show, in which the comedian imagines himself to be participating in the jury selection of the R. Kelly child pornography lawsuit:
PROSECUTOR: So, beside the tape and the girl corroborating the allegations, what more would it take for you to believe he's guilty?
CHAPPELLE: All right. If I saw a tape of R. Kelly peeing on a girl, while he was singing "Piss On You," and the girl was holding two forms of government ID, while a police officer was there, like -- with four or five of my buddies and Neil taking notes ...
CHAPPELLE: I'm not finished! And his grandmother has to be there, to confirm his identity.
PROSECUTOR: Mr. Chappelle, isn't that excessive?
CHAPPELLE: No! No it's not excessive! Listen, lady, the burden of proof is on the state. The state! YOU have got to prove TO ME, beyond a reasonable doubt whether or not this man is a pisser.
PROSECUTOR: Aren't your doubts unreasonable?
CHAPPELLE: No! It's not unreasonable!
In the real world, a prosecutor would simply choose not to engage with someone with such obviously nonsensical beliefs. This is something that the White House already understands: you do not stoop to engaging crazy people who are of no consequence and do nothing but whine and ask for handouts that cater to their dementia.

Neil Abercrombie means well, I take him at his word that he's animated by the way these nutters have insulted the memory of Obama's parents, but this is, ultimately, a fool's errand -- not an important matter for the state of Hawaii. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Aberchrombie Takes on the Birthers 12/24/10


Predictions for 2011

SUBHEAD: Everyone in the Peak Oil Community knows the danger of making predictions, but here goes anyway. By Admin on 27 December 2010 in ASPO USA - (http://www.aspousa.org/index.php/2010/12/predictions-for-2011) Image above: Detail of painting "Crystal Ball", by John William Waterhouse (1902). From (http://www.artsunlight.com/artist-NW/N-W0002-John-William-Waterhouse/N-W0002-036-crystal-ball.html).

(Note: Commentaries do not necessarily represent the ASPO-USA position.)

Everyone in the Peak Oil Community knows the danger of making predictions. As the poet Burns framed it, “The best-laid schemes o’Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley.” What gang aft agley more often than our energy and environmental situation these days? Trying to call the future is a challenging project. But ASPO-USA (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) and Peak Oil Review have combined to pull together predictions about what we can expect in 2011 from a wide range of thinkers, writers, scholars and experts, who graciously agreed to risk being wrong so that you can have the inside scoop!

I believe that oil prices in the US will average $88-92 a barrel in 2011 but may climb toward $100 by the end of the year, while natural gas prices in the US will average $4.00-4.25 in 2011 but may climb toward $5.00 by the end of the year. I believe that much of the “shale gale” euphoria will begin to unravel in 2011 and there may be some important distress situations or even bankruptcies that will underscore the risk of these ventures.

I suspect that the rush to “liquids-rich” gas plays in the US will be exposed as low-resource potential ventures rather than another Saudi Arabia of crude oil. I imagine that the miracle of Chinese growth will begin to show some weakness in 2011 as state-directed economics becomes unstable. The PBC has been artificially keeping inflation low by buying dollars and creating bonds to keep the money supply low. The loans for big infrastructure projects will not uniformly perform. This cannot last. True inflation is higher than revealed and, when it is known, will show the vulnerability of the economy because the rural sector is not sharing prosperity with the urban sector. Sovereign debt problems in Europe will continue to create instability in the global economy. The EU concept is flawed because a single currency does not allow weak economies to devalue their currency.

–Arthur Berman, petroleum geologist and board member of ASPO-USA

I expect 2011 will be a year of recession and increasing layoffs. It may start off reasonably well, but then an attempted price rise of oil to, say, $120 barrel, will prove to be too much for most economies. There will be countries and smaller political subdivisions (state, city) that take steps to restructure their debt with longer maturities. All of this will drive interest rates up, and make credit harder to find. The recession will worsen as credit contraction ensues. Governments will scramble to try to keep each other and banks from failing. In some cases they will be successful; in other cases they will not be.

Gail Tverberg, actuary and writer, is editor of The Oil Drum.

The US will fail to produce a meaningful energy policy even as energy is increasingly understood by the people as a key input, the cost of which threatens to cripple family economies. As federal and political solutions fail further, the economy continues to limp along, with more and more folks out of work, causing severe local and state cutbacks and even state and municipal bankruptcies. And this gets to the crux of the cultural shift that I see. Increasingly unemployed people will hobble social services, exposing a culture in clear decline with no plan to address it.

The federal government and centralized business will have less and less relevance. In response, the unemployed and underemployed “underclass” will either take re-localization to the next level, getting very creative and energized as they craft compelling and imaginative yet practical local solutions including bartering, more local currencies, more mass transit and carpooling usage, organic community building, more food production, and simpler local living. But the will has to be there even as we feel exhausted and unsure and resources are limited.

– Lindsay Curren is editor of Transition Voice, the magazine covering peak oil, climate change, economic crisis and the Transition movement response.

I’ll now venture to name 2011 The Year of the Stone that Grinds the Family Jewels. Well, either that, or, as my writing partner Stoneleigh phrases it: The Year of The Margin Call. We can extend and pretend only so long. We can hand over only so many years of the people’s future earnings to the banks. That is, before someone becomes suspicious of what we do. The realization that there is simply no way we can pay down our debts, whether we’re in Ireland, California or Japan, will dawn in 2011, no matter what stories are spun in capital cities and TV studios. It’s high time to get out of the way of the wave that’s-a-gonna-be-a-comin’, and no, timing the market is NOT the main concern, even as finance types would have you believe it is. It’s getting out of the way of the wave that should be your main concern.

– Ilargi, The Automatic Earth

We predict (with relatively little certainty assigned to it) that there will continue to be (for a while) a mild economic recovery, which will increase the demand for oil, and thus require the increased use of higher-priced oil. This will eventually require that 10 percent or so of the US GDP will go to the price of energy, which, as in the past, will lead to an economic downturn which will lead, in time, into the same cycle again. While we are not sure of the details of timing or prices we think that Jean Laherrere’s and Colin Campbell’s concept of the “undulating plateau” will continue to describe the US (and European) economies for the forseeable future - at least until serious peak oil and declining EROI kicks in.

– Charles A. Hall and David J. Murphy. Professor Hall is a systems ecologist at SUNY-ESF, an affiliate of Syracuse University. Murphy is a graduate student in environmental science and a contributor to The Oil Drum.

It looks to me as if the coal/power shortage in China is continuing to spread and will get much worse in the next two months. Beijing’s only possible short-term response is to import as much more energy in the form of oil, coal, and natural gas as they can, thus driving the oil prices above $100 a barrel in the next few months. The Wall Street consensus that China’s oil imports will fall to a 6 percent increase this year seems much too low when you factor in the need to grow at 8-10 percent, replenish stocks, build a strategic reserve, and cope with the growing coal shortage. The likelihood that we will see another 2008 type oil price spike in the next six months seems to be growing every day.

– Tom Whipple is editor of Peak Oil Review.

Not only have American social networks become sadly deteriorated, but so have the skills needed to support them: the fundamental ability to build and maintain the healthy long-term relationships that are critical for community success. Just like planting a garden or cooking from scratch, these skills have to be learned and practiced, and they have to work well in order for coalescing community groups to stay together rather than fall apart. In 2011, community facilitators will increase their focus on helping groups of people simply learn how to get along.

– Christine Patton is co-chair of Transition OKC and author of the Peak Oil Hausfrau Blog.

Solar: Solar manufacturer shipments more than doubled from 2009 to 2010. I predict that world production of solar energy systems will double again this coming year. A quarter of the growth will come from PV (photovoltaics) and the balance of growth will come from large solar thermal electric projects being installed in the US southwest and other parts of the world. Oil: As a consequence of the drilling moratorium imposed by the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon disaster, the USA will experience oil shortages in 2011 or 2012. (A steady supply from the Gulf has been dependent on new wells filling in as production from older wells declines.) Thoughts of seeking satisfaction of market demand from sources more remote than the Gulf must take into account the longer trip time that would be required for oil tankers. Lacking excess capacity, the global tanker fleet is unlikely to be able to respond, even if other oil suppliers (Africa, Middle East) could be imagined to increase their production.

– Ron Swenson, ASPO-USA Board of Directors

I’m looking at two things for 2011. 1) If the WikiLeaks phenomenon grows, we will see the release of documents that confirm what we have been saying about energy shortfalls, corporate domination of governments, and foreign policies aimed at control of resources. 2) There will be continued government cutbacks in pensions and social services in industrialized countries, such as the US, UK, Ireland, Spain and Greece. In France this year, millions demonstrated and went on strike. Popular protests such as these could change the political landscape.

– Bart Anderson, teacher, journalist and technical writer, is co-editor of Energy Bulletin and active in Transition Palo Alto.

I hate making predictions. The world situation is so complex now with demand and supply factors going all directions short-term, so that even if we know the long-term trend (depletion and decline) it’s really hard to make a meaningful one-year forecast. Okay, so, that said, here’s a shot in the dark: Asia-Pacific coal prices will rise at least 20 percent from their current level during 2011.

Richard Heinberg, author of The Party’s Over, Blackout and Peak Everything

No matter what specific years that one picks as the starting and ending points, the period from the late Nineties to the end of this decade was characterized by a double-digit average long-term rate of increase in average annual oil prices. For example, from 1998 to 2008 the average rate of increase in US spot crude oil prices was about 20 percent per year. However, what I find interesting is the progression in three year-over-year annual price declines in the 1997 to 2009 time period: down to $14 in 1998, down to $26 in 2001 and down to $62 in 2009. Note that each successive year-over-year price decline was to a level that was about twice the level reached during the prior decline. If this pattern holds, the next year-over-year price decline would bring us down to an average annual oil price of about $120, in the context of a long-term average double-digit rate of increase in annual oil prices, which is what we are seeing in 2010, versus 2009.

Jeffrey J. Brown, independent petroleum geologist

Rob Hopkins’s application of Alexander’s -A Pattern Language‖ to Transition Town initiatives will be accepted as a coherent way to organize and disseminate the emerging insights from the many small experiments being conducted. As an -open source‖ framework, this language will grow organically. Far-reaching ideas (e.g., sacredness as an essential and central feature of all community transitions, Brownlee, 7 Nov 2010), once tested and found true and useful, become new patterns for practitioners to consider for adoption in their community.

Raymond De Young, associate professor of environmental psychology and planning, University of Michigan

Washington DC, 15 December 2011: The blue-ribbon panel of economists tasked by the White House with finding the cause of this spring’s record-breaking spike in oil prices has just released its preliminary report. The panel, chaired by former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, dismissed the suggestion that “peak oil” was responsible for the runup in prices, which briefly saw petroleum at $233 a barrel. The report states instead that speculation was to blame, and credited prompt action by the administration for the subsequent plunge in prices that brought prices back down to today’s price of $68 a barrel, a new low for the year. In other news, a White House spokesman angrily rejected claims that this summer’s stock market crash had anything to do with the price of oil, and insisted that it would have only a minor impact on the nation’s economy…

John Michael Greer, author of The Long Descent and The Ecotechnic Future

When the witches of Delaware attempt to cast their spell on big-ag ethanol subsidies, the wizards of ADM will exorcise the Tea Party from energy politics. Put another way, corporate America will turn momma grizzlies into teddy bears.

– Debbie Cook is president of the board of Post-Carbon Institute and former mayor of Huntington Beach, CA.

There is every reason to believe that we will see a food-price run-up similar to the one in 2008 in the coming year, making absolutely clear exactly how tightly food and energy prices are intertwined. Although the number of the world’s malnourished briefly fell below 1 billion this year, the number will rise again above it.

Sharon Astyk, ASPO-USA Board of Directors, author of Depletion and Abundance and Independence Days

To arrive at my most important predictions for 2011, I have attempted to be insanely optimistic and skip the usual peak-everything stuff. The Happy New Year of 2011 will see a thorough public discussion of what needs to be done to make the US a more resilient society and economy. The federal government and Congress will start working together on the development of a massive national electrified railroad system to transport goods and people. We will come off our high horse and stop hallucinating about building bullet-train tracks in a railroad system that is decidedly mid-twentieth century or earlier. Many cities across the US will embark on the crash investment in light rail and other alternatives to cars.

Subsidies for corn, soybean, wheat and rice will be repealed and replaced with a thoughtful program of developing a robust, distributed system to produce a wide variety of healthy whole foods for all. The administration and Congress will wake up to the fact that an unhealthy, obese and generally uneducated population will require an insanely expensive healthcare system that will fail if the root causes of poor health are not eliminated.

Our schools will hire science teachers who live the practice and theory of science, not merely the theory of teaching. Many families across the US will dump game stations, idiotic TV, and iPhones in exchange for conversations and books. Neighborhoods will again become centers of civic activity and common thinking. We will occasionally stop and talk to the homeless, instead of giving them a dollar or a dirty look. Economists will discover that the Earth is spherical and finite, not an infinite mathematical plane with infinitely substitutable resources. Those of us who have animals and children will pet both and smile. Republicans will occasionally talk to the rest of us, and we will respond with kindness.

Tad Patzek, chair of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin

Happy New Year from all of us at Peak Oil Review and ASPO-USA!