When our division is over

SUBHEAD: It will be good news for planet Earth when we have suffered enough to come back to her humbly for nurture.  

By Jan Lundgren on 28 November 2011 for Culture Change -
Image above: Detail of computer/photo illustration of Mother Earth suckling humanity. From (http://mattthesamurai.deviantart.com/art/Mother-Earth-177564720).  

"...you may be convinced we have already sealed our fate and that humans may well go extinct possibly in a matter of decades, tracking the worst potential climate chaos. So why bother to hang around and breathe out your carbon dioxide? Do you really believe that instead of our waking up -- I refer to the 90% (?) who are not yet ecologically conscious enough to act for a healthy Earth -- we will be walking around like zombies, dropping like flies, without coming together to put up a fight to protect Earth's life support systems?"

More than half of my essays for Culture Change, going on for over ten years now, have sprung from sudden realizations. They come like a flash of insight, or gut feeling about some "new" piece of truth. I just had another one yesterday, in the shower, that seemed worthwhile to convey. Just before that, on the way home, I had another one as I negotiated the crossing of a boulevard on foot: upon general collapse there will no longer be deadly cars whizzing at us when we're trying to cross a street. I mused that most consumers seem to prefer the ongoing toll from cars, even upon a family member, to letting go of our technotopia.

But cars, roadkill and land use are old subjects for Culture Change.

On to the realization embodied in the title of this essay: I've written of the same idea before, but only in passing. Now I give it full attention after seeing or feeling the whole idea more intensely. This one is bound to meet with skepticism by the jaded, the dejected, and any reductionist-science ridden critics. If my vision instead gives you joy, I hope it's not because you're what some might deride as a flaky New Ager, or because you've been smoking something outrageous.

The movement of all movements...
will be the saving of the Earth. When the movement really gets going it will make your head spin. Incredible, but real. It is inevitable, but has been slow (relatively speaking) to climb to preeminence. Thus many people have become tired of waiting for major positive change -- whether they continue to recycle and save energy or not. Some already gave up on their certainty, of perhaps decades ago, that the rotten system they rebelled against or tried to opt out of could be defeated or would self-destruct well before the year 2000.

They -- or you -- may be right that we will eventually fail as a civilization and a species, and go extinct on a world we have gone a long way toward killing.

But I may show in this essay how people will at least go down trying to save the Earth and themselves, as many find themselves coming around perhaps 180 degrees from their current consciousness and set of priorities. But it won't be so strange: there has long been a suppressed but thriving undercurrent of Earth-loving collaborators seeking fulfillment rather than attaining "all the toys." It has enjoyed confirmation by successfully coping with resource limits, such as peak oil, to enhance community and regeneration via permaculture.

That we will someday in the not too distant future come together to save the Earth seems so unlikely at the moment, to a large segment of us, that it appears as wishful thinking. To some, the Occupy movement isn't strong enough, is inchoate, or it is off base.

To others, skepticism builds when a technological fix and the vaunted "free market" increasingly seem to offer no certain solution. Most troubling to some is our division in U.S. politics today. Unity may appear insurmountable, as indicated by the top headline in Alternet's Nov. 28 edition: "To Conservatives, Climate Change is Trojan Horse to Abolish Capitalism" (originally "Capitalism vs. the Climate" from The Nation).

But the problem in our country and the world is not "the conservatives" or even capitalism. It is rather that materialist culture has achieved terminal overshoot. Against our common interest, divisions in our minds keep us from coming together to solve much. Fortunately, as the system self-destructs, and as conservatives will be victimized and disaccommodated perhaps as much as liberals and the poor, people will have to rapidly adapt to the basic human tendency to make community function for one and all.

Perhaps not immediately, but eventually. Even if a record amount of blood will be shed as people fight for individualistic advantage during dire shortages, there is little basis for being certain that all human blood will be shed across the world, such that we wipe ourselves out. People will at some point come together and utilize their (degraded) local environment cooperatively and ecologically rather than perish.

It is at the point when we begin to work with nature as a humble partner that our division is over.
Our division has been not only social, preventing unity among the whole population: Western culture long ago developed a separation between the mind and nature. This one-sided divorce was a delusion that could not last forever, when we ultimately need to return to a culture of working with nature as a respectful partner. Only such a relationship safeguards the ecos ("home" in Greek, root of "economy" and "ecosystem").

We can and must heal our planetary home as well as ourselves individually. The two go together: the epidemics of cancer and other "civilized" diseases are traced largely to poisoning our environment: our water, air, soil, and food. Stress is also deadly when we attempt to keep up in the mechanized world at an unnatural pace.

The complete rebirth of appreciating and caring for nature will come about not because we simply wish it or that we have a blind, religious-like faith. Some of us are inclined to believe in a Gaia-like consciousness existing around us and within us. More of us can just agree with modern physics that we are all connected to everything in the universe, and that the observer affects the observed just by observing. But there is ample logic in support of a trend toward honoring the Earth as the only game in town. You be the judge; read on.

We have sunk so far towards oblivion, we're like a drunk in slow motion who has fallen off a boat in the dark into the water. Only upon the realization of what has happened, and that drowning is imminent, does he make a struggle for dear life. He summons all his strength and concentration, asks for help (screams), and tries to pull himself up the swimming ladder (assuming there is one) to get back on deck.

There are realizations aplenty, with bigger ones on the way. The poor state of the ecosystem at the hands of modern industrialized humans is clear from this acknowledged interrelated crises: ocean acidification, melting of the tundra and methane-ice, deforestation, sea-level rise from loss of ice caps and glaciers, tropical diseases moving to what have been safe temperate climates, massive radiation releases, more wars, the plastic plague, drought, torrential rains, floods, crop-killing freezes, wind storms, tsunamis, and whatever else.

Only one or two of those are potentially bad enough to kill millions upon millions, as future events play out. We're busy slashing the web of life thanks to voracious human appetites, causing tremendous loss of biodiversity. Climate models have too conservatively forecast these "realizations," as they become ever more intense and more frequent.

 If these phenomena's increasing impact sounds questionable to you, stop here and go get educated. It's not on Fox News, but the science and journalism are both easily accessible and convincing for validating the trends.

Nevertheless, I have a kind of optimistic analysis/belief/faith. If you are inclined to dismiss it as lacking in objectivity or realism, you may be convinced we have already sealed our fate and that humans may well go extinct possibly in a matter of decades, tracking the worst potential climate chaos. So why bother to hang around and breathe out your carbon dioxide?

Do you really believe that instead of our waking up -- I refer to the 90% (?) who are not yet ecologically conscious enough to act for a healthy Earth -- we will be walking around like zombies, dropping like flies, without coming together to put up a fight to protect Earth's life support systems? Why would this have to be? It has no foundation as the most likely scenario, but yes it is possible.

More likely is that people first receive enough painful lessons of climate destabilization and overpopulation, suffering or witnessing major hits that offer inescapable messages. Then the vast majority will eventually get it. I'm not saying that more damage won't occur as people may keep being slow to wake up. Or that we will necessarily succeed.

After all, the hour is late, and a runaway greenhouse effect may be already locked in. But at least, as it dawns on us all that we have slapped Mother Nature too hard to escape her wrath, and the consequences of our actions as polluters and destroyers of forests are finally universally obvious, we will want to come back to her breast and suck the essential life-giving nourishment we have dared disdain, neglect and pollute.

A timeline could go like this:
The Durban climate change meeting, organized by the U.N. and running this week, ends in the predicted failure. It seems to be from a result of the impasse of top emitter countries and lesser polluting countries, all fixated on continued economic "well-being" of business-as-usual economics.
This bad news accompanies reminders that greenhouse emissions have just been found to be actually increasing and accelerating, closing the window of reversing the warming trend. People react internally, mainly, in disgust and despair.

Then another climate-change related weather event hits that kills many people, shocking the senses. This becomes a wake-up call that pulls us away from the workaday focus on paying our bills and diverting ourselves with infotainment. The weather event even obscures relentless fear-mongering by certain governments about wars and terror. After the weather event blows over, and we lament the loss of a staggering number of hapless humans living at sea level, for example, people get on with their lives either as employees or the hungry unemployed.

But then there's another devastating hit from another direction: material culture takes a dive, whereby the fragile financial system collapses. The house of cards transforms into a pile of worthless, toxic trash that no longer provides the wherewithal for cash to buy essentials. This hit causes mass deprivation and riots by starving people. We shall see how widely and deeply this spreads.

Then as the climate's unreliability continues and worsens, making it hard for survivors of the economic crash to overcome the loss of ample cheap energy and materials that had made life deceptively easy, people see that nature is no longer providing what she used to so easily and kindly.

Without the ability to shop for "everything," people must look to their immediate environment for the food, water and the materials needed for clothing, shelter and heat. And they see that these basic resources are badly lacking and cannot be harnessed through once-plentiful industrial energy. The solar panels and windmills aren't feeding people or reconstituting a thriving consumer economy.
Further expanded awareness of our ecological plight then sinks in as shortage and struggle are the order of the day (at least for most survivors).

Meanwhile, a rising number of people are saying, "I told you so -- we mistreated the ecosystem." When enough people really feel this, and see it all around them, any further blatant anti-Earth behavior will meet disapproval. Perpetrators will be defensive, rightfully feeling blameless for trying to survive. Conflict will have to be resolved somehow, perhaps with a form of limited civil war.

But as time goes on, and people are forced to scrape an existence out of the natural endowment -- tragically shrunk -- and resources cannot be brought from distant exploited lands, cooperation and sensitivity must surely mount. Growing food that doesn't come up quite as easily anymore, due to ongoing soil erosion, will necessitate reactive policies by the community to save soil. Or, to conserve water and not waste compost materials. This change in community values could all take place in little more than one harvest season. Perhaps permaculture and reforestation will be prime. No; screw the "perhaps;" they will be prime.

After a while, say another year, hyperawareness of cause-and-effect sets in. Climate events that make life harder, and deprive the people of a large portion of their food supply -- decimating their numbers until equilibrium is reached -- is connected in their minds with past abuse of nature. It is increasingly lamented, railed against, and deemed intolerable for present and future survival.

Moreover, the knowledge of once prevalent pristine nature, before petroleum extraction, nuclear waste, species extinction, depletion of fisheries, is felt more and more strongly. A swing in human thought or feeling could be manifested in Mother Earth worship, and non-adherents dealt with harshly
Are we a hopeless plague of locusts?
This is not to say that all is then going fairly well, or that there is no longer much strife. In some areas there may be such competition for remaining resources that cooperation cannot ever get a leg up. Bioregional nations and tribes might bite the dust.

Unspeakable violence and waste of human potential and natural endowment is wasted -- but not everywhere. Survivors will no doubt see that it's time to bury the hatchet and get their act together, if they are to gather or grow any food and drink clean water. If this sounds too optimistic, and one disagrees by saying "people will never learn; might makes right; those who have the biggest guns and most bullets win; etc. etc..." this position is to view humanity as a hopeless plague of locusts that strip everything around.

As dismal as the outlook may be for coping with the damage already wrought by modern humanity and that can continue a bit longer, at some point it is reasonable that people will put two and two together and come up with four. (Today's climate-change denialists are coming up with "three" or "five.")

Simultaneously, the disappointed, skeptical observers who have given up on humanity's ability to overcome individual self-interest -- even though our tribal history as part of nature is our overwhelming experience the planet -- may cling to their pessimism and act in a narrow fashion. After all, they have a point that there's much to be said for the stupidity of humans and their blindness. More and more people have concluded that the future is hopeless, and this feeling can spread before it may turn around.

But whoever survives the coming additional lessons of ecology will apply common sense and reason: we can take and take from the Earth only so long, and we have to begin giving back and loving the Earth if we are to remain part of the biosphere. Or else, our bones will become part of a fossil record for no one to uncover. Life is then for all we know over. Is everyone going to just let that happen, without a fight? I don't think so.

Can you visualize peaceful villages where tasks are divvied up fairly, where supportive extended families take the drudgery of child rearing out of the hands of what might otherwise be a sole parent struggling to survive? Can you glimpse celebrations of life to honor the changing seasons? Can you imagine the arrival of traders into a town or village, whether on beautiful sailing ships or one man on a horse?

There won't be any neon signs or wide roads crammed with polluting machines threatening to run over you. Instead there will be walking paths, craftspeople, artists, gardeners, and councils of respected elders. Knowledge and appropriate technology will be shared. Study of the past and dreaming of a better future, and planning by consensus, will prevail.

But the selfish urge to exploit and oppress people and nature will not revive and ensue, because we've been there and done that. It didn't work, and after the punishing lessons through the year 2012 or 2013, or perhaps 2021 (what have you), we will have seen mistakes aplenty and decided enough was enough.

It is easy to say instead, as long as once can insulate him/herself by buying whatever is needed for a comfortable lifestyle, "I reject a vision of simple eco-village living, for I believe in progress and competition." Or, "There has to be strong authority, and anyway we may end up under feudal, dismal rule, or overrun by gangsters or marauders."

But as I should have told the obese woman in a sweat lodge, who said my car-free lifestyle was okay for me but not for her, "you may not always have the choice to avoid changing, because of loss of oil supply." Dealing with challenges can mean also creating what we choose to, together, as one people.

I'll take simple living and honoring nature, whether the Earth is alive as a being or not, over an end to our existence and shutdown of life-giving nature. An in-between, never-ending scenario of injustice, misery and brutality doesn't ring true, because it would eventually fail to sustain us or have to be overcome in this increasingly challenging natural world.

Your New American Dream

SUBHEAD: Spend a little time musing on what the re-set economy will be like in your part of the country. Make it your dream.  

By James Kunstler on 28 November 2011 for Kunstler.com -

Image above: Joiner in his woodshop in colonial Williamsburg, VA. From (http://villagecarpenter.blogspot.com/2010/04/joiners-and-cabinetmakers-at-colonial.html).

It's really something to live in a country that doesn't know what it is doing in a world that doesn't know where it is going in a time when anything can happen. I hope you can get comfortable with uncertainty.

If there's one vibe emanating from this shadowy zeitgeist it's a sense of the total exhaustion of culture, in particular the way the world does business. Everything looks tired, played out, and most of all false. Governments can't really pay for what they do. Banks have no real money. Many households surely have no money. The human construct of money itself has become a shape-shifting phantom. Will it vanish into the vortex of unpaid debt until nobody has any? Or will there be plenty of worthless money that people can spend into futility? Either way they will be broke.

The looming fear whose name political leaders dare not speak is global depression, but that is not what we're in for. The term suggests a temporary sidetrack from the smooth operation of integrated advanced economies. We're heading into something quite different, a permanent departure from the standard conception of economic progress, the one in which there is always sure to be more comfort and convenience for everybody, the economy of automatic goodies.

A big part of the automatic economy was the idea of a "job." In its journey to the present moment, the idea became crusted with barnacles of illusion, especially that a "job" was a sort of commodity "produced" by large corporate enterprises or governments and rationally distributed like any other commodity; that it came with a goodie bag filled with guaranteed pensions, medical care to remediate bad living habits, vacations to places of programmed entertainment, a warm, well-lighted dwelling, and a big steel machine to travel around in. Now we witness with helpless despair as these illusions dissolve.

The situation at hand is not a "depression," though it may resemble the experience of the 1930s in the early going. It's the permanent re-set and reorganization of everyday life amidst a desperate scramble for resources. It will go on and on until there are far fewer people competing for things while the ones who endure construct new systems for daily living based on fewer resources used differently.

In North America I believe this re-set will involve the re-establishment of an economy centered on agriculture, with a lot of other activities supporting it, all done on a fine-grained local and regional scale. It must be impossible for many of us to imagine such an outcome - hence the futility of our current politics, with its hollow promises, its laughable battles over sexual behavior, its pitiful religious boasting, its empty statistical blather, all in the service of wishing the disintegrating past back into existence.

This desperation may be why our recently-acquired traditions seem especially automatic this holiday season. Of course the "consumers" line up outside the big box stores the day after the automatic Thanksgiving exercise in gluttony. That is what they're supposed to do this time of year. That is what has been on the cable TV news shows in recent years: see the crowds cheerfully huddled in their sleeping bags outside the Wal Mart... see them trample each other in the moment the doors open!

The biggest news story of a weekend stuporous from leftover turkey and ceremonial football was a $6.6 billion increase in "Black Friday" chain-store sales. All the attention to the numbers was a form of primitive augury to reassure superstitious economists - more than the catatonic public - that the automatic cargo cult would be operating normally at this crucial testing time. The larger objective is to get through the ordeal of Christmas.

I don't see how Europe gets through it financially. The jig is up there. Lovely as Europe has become since the debacles of the last century - all those adorable cities with their treasures of deliberately-created beauty - the system running it all is bankrupt. Europe is on financial death-watch and when the money stops flowing between its major organs, the banks, the whole region must either go dark or combust. Nobody really knows what will happen there, except they know that something will happen - and whatever it is portends disruption and loss for the worlds largest collective economy. The historical record is not reassuring.

If Europe's banks go down, many of America's will, too, maybe all of them, maybe our whole money system. I'm not sure that we will see a normal election cycle here in 2012. A few bank runs, bank failures... gasoline shortages here and there... the failure of some food deliveries to supermarkets in some region... these are the kinds of things that can bring down a political system drained of once-ironclad legitimacy. All that is left now is the husk of ritual - witness the failure of the senate-house "super-committee." The wash-out was so broadly anticipated that it was greeted with mere yawns of recognition. It would be like pointing at the sky and saying, "air there."

This holiday season spend a little time musing on what the re-set economy will be like in your part of the country. Think of what you do in it as a "role," or a "vocation," or a "trade," or a "calling," or a "way of life," rather than a "job." Imagine that life will surely go on, even civilized life, though it will be organized differently. Add to this the notion that you are part of a larger group, a society, and that societies evolve emergently according to the circumstances that their time and place presents. Let that imagining be your new American Dream..

Council supports GMO labels

SUBHEAD: Intergovernmental Relations Committee unanimously approved proposal to label GMO products in Hawaii.  

By Leo Azambuza on 25 November 2011 for the Garden Island -

Image above: GMO seed corm planted near Koloa Mill on Kauai. From from original article.

Would you knowingly eat corn containing a highly concentrated biotoxin in its DNA? Would you eat papaya genetically modified to fight a virus? Would you eat soy that can withstand enormous amounts of weed killer and grow perfectly fine?

Right now, you don’t have a choice. There is no law in the United States requiring that genetically modified organisms be labeled. About 90 percent of the food products found in stores nowadays contain GMO ingredients, a representative for the billion-dollar GMO industry said last week,

Kaua‘i is debating whether to support changing the law and joining 21 countries and the European Union, which already have some sort of mandatory GMO labeling, according to County Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura.

“The federal government has let people down, and that’s why we are asking (GMO products) to be labeled,” said Ken Taylor, a Kapa‘a resident and former Kaua‘i County Council hopeful.

Kapa‘a resident Lonnie Sykos had harsher words. “We object to being human guinea pigs,” he said.

Siding with Maui County, the Kaua‘i County Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved including a proposal to label GMO products in the 2012 Hawai‘i State Association of Counties legislative package.

Council members reached the decision after hearing testimony on Nov. 16 and 23, and sorting through approximately 60 letters of written testimony from all over the state — 10 to 1 in support of the proposal, according to Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i.

Kapaia resident and private chef Ginger Carson supports labeling. Apparently her geese just won’t eat GMO foods. Carson said she tried to feed them GMO corn, but they wouldn’t even get close to it. With papaya peelings — normally a delicacy for the birds — it’s the same story. The geese won’t touch it, she said.

Despite many health concerns brought up during testimony, Councilman Tim Bynum clarified the issue.

“This isn’t about banning, this isn’t about testing,” he said. “It’s about giving people a choice.”

Carson, Taylor and Sykos were among a group of approximately a dozen residents who testified Wednesday in favor of labeling GMO products. Not one speaker on Wednesday opposed was to labeling.

On Nov. 16, the field was more level with several speakers — including a scientist, a GMO industry representative and farmers — vehemently opposed to labeling.

“I’m very adamant about this position,” said farmer Roy Oyama, speaking on behalf of Kaua‘i Farm Bureau. Oyama opposes labeling because he feras it would increase costs for farmers who are already struggling to make ends meet.

If the issue clears all hurdles and becomes law, Hawai‘i may not be the first or last in the U.S. to approve such restrictions. Next year, the state of California will likely put a similar resolution in a ballot, given that a little over 500,000 signatures have been collected. Oyama said he believes California will pass the resolution.

The full council is expected to give the issue a final vote next week. If approved, it will be on the table at the next Hawaii State Association of Counties meeting on Dec. 23.

Councilman Mel Rapozo said council members in the city and county of Honolulu stopped the proposal at the committee level, but he encouraged Kaua‘i residents to send written testimony to Honolulu, the same way testimony from Maui, O‘ahu and Moloka‘i was sent to Kaua‘i County’s council.

Letting people know what is in their food is very important, said Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura. Although Nakamura agreed with Yukimura, she had some concerns.

Nakamura voted for the proposal but said she does not believe the state would be able to enforce such a regulation, which is more of a federal government deal. The state can’t even enforce its own regulations, she said.
See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Non-GMO Shopping Guide 8/15/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Council argues GMO labels 11/17/11
Ea O Ka Aina: GMO-HFCS by another name 9/15/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Maui GMO Labeling 9/12/11


Real Wealth is Diminishing

SUBHEAD: Redistributing wealth of the "1%" cannot maintain a middle class or end the sustainability crisis.

 By Jan Lundgren on 23 November 2011 for Culture Change - 

Image above: Occupy Wall Street encampment in Liberty Park, NYC. From (http://justpiper.com/2011/10/jp-recommended-eat-the-rich-anarchists-for-big-government).

There may well be a revolution, peaceful or otherwise, based on the outrageous income disparity perpetrated by greedy, non-civic minded capitalists. However, even if their vast monetary wealth were turned over to "the 99%," divided equally and put to good uses for future generations, the problem is that today's wealth is almost entirely artificial. It has become digital and is little else.

Of useful, lasting value is the land that can grow food, retain water, and withstand climate chaos on the rise. One can only hope that the Occupy movement will hit upon this and recognize that whether reforms or a revolution upset the apple cart -- allowing the common people to get their share of apples -- today's astronomical sums of funny money is not edible. Today it can buy a lot, true, but there is no future for a financially based economy propped up by inflated home values, loans, debts, and deficit spending. The cheap oil that built everything physical is now past its halfway depletion point globally, and oil's high price is hugely subsidized.

Think of it this way: if there are 100 people in a community, and one person owns several times as much wealth as the average person among the other 99 based on the industrial, material and financial system, what happens if the community is faced with a permanent cessation of key resources and most output? Before the cessation there could be redistribution, but an unsustainable economy based on endless growth -- when resource constraint has terminated growth -- will sustain no middle class splendor for the other 99 (or 72 or 35, what have you). You can picture the wealth running out for everyone -- even if it were not the digital, inflated money that formed Wall Street fortunes based on "financial instruments" that compounded and multiplied bundles of debt down to the local and individual level.

So the timing of the Occupy revolution -- whatever it becomes, if it succeeds somehow in redistributing today's material and digital wealth -- happens to come not only when income disparity is at an all time extreme, but when population size is at an all time high, and the unusustainable economy is teetering. It is not teetering because "the 1%" took more than their share (although the greed aggravated symptoms of unsustainability), but rather because the natural wealth of healthy land, clean water, stable climate, rich biodiversity, have been severely depleted.

Global greenhouse gas emissions are unabated, and climate scientists are now saying that turning the warming trend around is probably not possible. So, how can redistributing the pie of consumption solve anything, unless an accompanying lifestyle change and massive tree planting take over?
The New York City greater metropolitan area has over 25 million people. Their ecological footprint is about 19 times the area of the land they occupy. So where are the resources, such as food, energy, materials, water and air coming from? Answer: from healthier land far removed.

The idea of a transition to a sustainable, steady state economy is beautiful and sensible. But with such high numbers, and almost no effort happening on a large scale to conserve or restore nature for local food production, for example, even a wildly successful Occupy movement or Transition Town program cannot care for 25 million people depending on a huge footprint. Today only 5 out of 6 people in the U.S. are not going hungry, but it is accomplished through expensive and subsidized petroleum, dwindling clean water, and food imported from afar. Money from the super rich would not change the big picture long into the future.

Given all of the above, one must conclude that the Occupy movement should recognize that economic and ecological collapse are in the pipeline, and that redistribution of land is more important than stripping the super rich of most of their money. Because, that money won't do much to sustain people in today's damaged, overpopulated and depleted world. Even if "the 1%" let go of most of their wealth voluntarily, and saw to it that there was even redistribution, today's modern world cannot keep up the massive consumption going on and on with no end in sight.

One could crunch numbers to arrive at various levels of sharing or redistributing wealth in order to bolster or refute the thesis that shutting down greed will not change much. If wealth redistribution were to happen before petrocollapse and climate collapse, the redistribution itself could bring on socioeconomic collapse or financial chaos. Regardless, there is no disputing that the consumer economy and our population size are unsustainable. No matter how you slice it, the vast wealth today generated for the enjoyment of the few, even if re-routed, is not going to allow for a happy, enlarged middle class who could be indefinitely satisfied with one nice car, one spacious or comfortable home, etc. An apt comparison is that Western Europeans consume half the energy that North Americans do, per capita -- that's admirable and superior, but also unsustainable.

So it is too late for mass exuberance, as Overshoot author William Catton termed our modern lifestyle and economy. To demand, as some Occupiers do, "our economy back" or to criticize the banksters for "wrecking our economy" is to cling to the American Dream, as if it were obtainable by everyone forever. Similarly, to imagine that the U.S. corporate state was a democracy working just fine until perhaps 1980 or 2001, the basis of the nation's power structure is forgotten or never learned. These delusions merely glorify the prior decades up to now that were unacceptable then, too, and assuredly were leading to the more aggravated class distinction we see today.

A non-exuberant lifestyle and a common set of realistic, nature-loving, cooperative aspirations need to take the place of the dominant paradigm that has been faulty and unfair from the start. Expansion was able to take care of much potential discontent for many decades, and with no more expansion or bona fide "recovery" it's no wonder that discontent is rising now in the streets when the curtain has come down on growth.


Solar Powered Cars

SUBHEAD: A solar powered cars fall solidly on the reality side of the reality-fantasy continuum, but not by much.

 By Tom Murphy on 23 November 2011 for Energy Bulletin -  

Image above: Solar electric Club Car golf cart. From (http://www.solargreencompany.com/Solar_Cart_Rental.html).

If you like the sun, and you like cars, then I’m guessing you’d love to have a solar-powered car, right? This trick works well for chocolate and peanut butter, but not so well for garlic bread and strawberries. So how compatible are cars with solar energy? Do we relish the combination or spit it out? Let’s throw the two together, mix with math, and see what happens. What Are Our Options?
Short of some solar-to-liquid-fuel breakthrough—which I dearly hope can be realized, and described near the end of a recent post—we’re talking electric cars here. This is great, since electric drive trains can be marvelously efficient (ballpark 85–90%), and immediately permit the clever scheme of regenerative braking.

Obviously there is a battery involved as a power broker, and this battery can be charged (at perhaps 90% efficiency) via:
  • on-board internal combustion engine fueled by gasoline or equivalent;
  • utility electricity;
  • a fixed solar installation;
  • on-board solar panels.
Only the final two options constitute what I am calling a solar-powered car, ignoring the caveat that hydro, wind, and even fossil fuels are ultimately forms of solar energy. The last item on the list is the dream situation: no reliance on external factors other than weather. This suits the independent American spirit nicely. And clearly it’s possible because there is an annual race across the Australian desert for 100% on-board solar powered cars. Do such successful demonstrations today mean that widespread use of solar cars is just around the corner?

First, let’s examine the requirements. For “acceptable” travel at freeway speeds (30 m/s, or 67 m.p.h.), and the ability to seat four people comfortably, we would have a very tough job getting a frontal area smaller than 2 m² and a drag coefficient smaller than cD = 0.2—yielding a “drag area” of 0.4 m². Even a bicyclist tends to have a larger drag area than this!

Using the sort of math developed in the post on limits to gasoline fuel economy, we find that our car will experience a drag force of Fdrag = ½ρcDAv² ≈ 250 Newtons (about 55 lbs).

Work is force times distance, so to push the car 30 meters down the road each second will require about 7,500 J of energy (see the page on energy relations for units definitions and relationships). Since this is the amount of energy needed each second, we can immediately call this 7,500 Watts—which works out to about ten horsepower. I have not yet included rolling resistance, which is about 0.01 times the weight of the car. For a super-light loaded mass of 600 kg (6000 N), rolling resistance adds a 60 N constant force, requiring an additional 1800 W for a total of about 9 kW.
What can solar panels deliver? Let’s say you can score some space-quality 30% efficient panels (i.e., twice as efficient as typical panels on the market). In full, overhead sun, you may get 1,000 W/m² of solar flux, or a converted 300 W for each square meter of panel. We would then need 30 square meters of panel. Bad news: the top of a normal car has well less than 10 square meters available. I measured the upward facing area of a sedan (excluding windows, of course) and got about 3 m². A truck with a camper shell gave me 5 m².

If we can manage to get 2 kW of instantaneous power, this would allow the car in our example to reach a cruising speed on the flats of about 16 m/s (35 m.p.h.). In a climb, the car could lift itself up a grade at only one vertical meter every three seconds (6000 J to lift the car one meter, 2000 J/s of power available). This means a 5% grade would slow the car to 6.7 m/s, or 15 miles per hour—in full sun. Naturally, batteries will come in handy for smoothing out such variations: charging on the downhill and discharging on the uphill, for an average speed in the ballpark of 30 m.p.h.

So this dream of a family being comfortably hurtled down the road by real-time sun will not come to pass. (Note: some Prius models offered a solar roof option, but this just drove a fan for keeping the car cooler while parked—maybe simply offsetting the extra heat from having a dark panel on the roof!) But what of these races in Australia? We have real-live demonstrations.

The Dream Realized
Tokai Challenger. Look at that speed!
In recent years, the Tokai Challenger, from Tokai University in Japan, has been a top performer at the World Solar Challenge. They use a 1.8 kW array of 30% efficient panels (hey—my guess was right on!), implying 6 square meters of panel. The weight of the car plus driver is a mere 240 kg. As with most cars in the competition, the thing looks like a thin, worn-down bar of soap with a bubble for the driver’s head: both the drag coefficient (a trout-like 0.11) and the frontal area (I’m guessing about 1 m², but probably less) are trimmed to the most absurd imaginable limits. From these numbers, I compute a freeway-speed aerodynamic drag of about 60 Newtons and a rolling resistance of about 25 N, for a total of 85 N: about 35% of what we computed for a “comfortable” car. Solving for the speed at which the combination of air drag plus rolling resistance requires 1.8 kW of power input, I get 26 m/s, or 94 km/h, or 58 m.p.h., which is very close to the reported speed.

Bring on the Batteries: Just Add Sun
We have seen that a practical car operating strictly under its own on-board power turns in a disappointing performance. But if we could use a large battery bank, we could store energy received when the car is not in use, or from externally-delivered solar power. Even the Australian solar racers are allowed 5 kWh of storage on board. Let’s beef this up for driving in normal conditions. Using today’s production models as examples, the Volt, Leaf, and Tesla carry batteries rated at 16, 24, and 53 kWh, respectively.

Let’s say we want a photovoltaic (PV) installation—either on the car or at home—to provide all the juice, with the requirement that one day is enough to fill the “tank.” A typical location in the continental U.S. receives an average of 5 full-sun hours per day. This means that factoring in day/night, angle of the sun, season, and weather, a typical panel will gather as much energy in a day as it would have if the high-noon sun persisted for five hours. To charge the Volt, then, would require an array capable of cranking out 3 kW of peak power. The Tesla would require a 10 kW array to provide a daily charge. The PV areas required vastly exceed what is available on the car itself (need 10 m² even for the 3 kW system at a bank-breaking 30% efficiency; twice this area for affordable panels).

But this is not the best way to look at it. Most people care about how far they can travel each day. A typical electric car requires about 30 kWh per 100 miles driven. So if your daily march requires 30 miles of round-trip range, this takes about 10 kWh and will need a 2 kW PV system to provide the daily juice. You might be able to squeeze this onto the car roof.

How do the economics work out? Keeping up this 30 mile per day pattern, day after day, would require an annual gasoline cost of about $1000 (if the car gets about 40 MPG). Installed cost of PV is coming in around $4 per peak Watt lately, so the 2 kW system will cost $8000. Thus you offset (today’s) gas prices in 8 years. This math applies to the standard 15% efficient panels, which precludes a car-top solution. For this reason, I will primarily focus on stationary PV from here on.

Practicalities: Stand-Alone or Grid-Tie?
Ah—the practicalities. Where dreams get messy. For the purist, a totally solar car is not going to be so easy. The sun does not adhere to our rigid schedule, and we often have our car away from home during the prime-charging hours anyway. So to stay truly solar, we would need significant home storage to buffer against weather and charge-schedule mismatch.

The idea is that you could roll home at the end of the day, plug up your car, and transfer stored energy from the stationary battery bank to your car’s battery bank. You’d want to have several days of reliable juice, so we’re talking a battery bank of 30–50 kWh. At $100 per kWh for lead-acid, this adds something like $4000 to the cost of your system. But the batteries don’t last forever. Depending on how hard the batteries are cycled, they might last 3–5 years. A bigger bank has shallower cycles, and will therefore tolerate more of these and last longer, but for higher up-front cost.

The net effect is that the stationary battery bank will cost about $1000 per year, which is exactly what we had for the gasoline cost in the first place. However, I am often annoyed by economic arguments. More important to me is the fact that you can do it. Double the gas prices and we have our 8-year payback again, anyway. Purely economic decisions tend to be myopic, focused on the conditions of today (and with some reverence to trends of the past). But fundamental phase transitions like peak oil are seldom considered: we will need alternative choices—even if they are more expensive than the cheap options we enjoy today.

The other route to a solar car—much more widespread—is a grid-tied PV system. In this case, your night-time charging comes from traditional production inputs (large regional variations in mix of coal, gas, nuclear, and hydro), while your daytime PV production helps power other people’s air conditioners and other daytime electricity uses. Dedicating 2 kW of panel to your transportation needs therefore offsets the net demand on inputs (fossil fuel, in many cases), effectively acting to flatten demand variability. This is a good trend, as it employs otherwise underutilized resources at night, and provides (in aggregate) peak load relief so that perhaps another fossil fuel plant is not needed to satisfy peak demand. Here, the individual does not have to pay for a stationary battery bank. The grid acts as a battery, which will work well enough as long as the solar input fraction remains small.

As reassuring as it is that we’re dealing with a possible—if expensive—transportation option, I must disclose one additional gotcha that makes for a slightly less rosy picture. Compared to a grid-tied PV system, a standalone system must build in extra overhead so that the batteries may be fully charged and conditioned on a regular basis. As the batteries approach full charge, they require less current and therefore often throw away potential solar energy. Combining this with charging efficiency (both in the electronics and in the battery), it is not unusual to need twice the PV outlay to get the same net delivered energy as one would have in a grid-tied system. Then again, if we went full-scale grid-tied, we would need storage solutions that would again incur efficiency hits and require a greater build-up to compensate.

A Niche for Solar Transport
There is a niche in which a vehicle with a PV roof could be self-satisfied. Golf carts that can get up to 25 m.p.h. (40 km/h) can be useful for neighborhood errands, or for transport within a small community. They are lightweight and slow, so they can get by with something like 15 kWh per 100 miles. Because travel distances are presumably small, we can probably keep within 10 miles per day, requiring 1.5 kWh of input per day. The battery is usually something like 5 kWh, so can store three days’ worth right in the cart. At an average of five full-sun hours per day, we need 300 W of generating capacity, which we can achieve with 2 square meters of 15% efficient PV panel. Hey! This could work: self-contained, self-powered transport. Plug it in only when weather conspires against you. And unlike unicorns, I’ve seen one of these beasts tooling around the UCSD campus!

Digression: Cars as the National Battery?
What if we eventually converted our fleet of petroleum-powered cars to electric cars with a substantial renewable infrastructure behind it. Would the cars themselves provide the storage we need to balance the system? For the U.S., let’s take 200 million cars, each able to store 30 kWh of energy. In the extreme, this provides 6 billion kWh of storage, which is about 50 times smaller than the full-scale battery that I have argued we would want to allow a complete renewable energy scheme.

And this assumes that the cars have no demands of their own: that they obediently stay in place during times of need. In truth, cars will operate on a much more rigorous daily schedule (needing energy to commute, for instance) than what Mother Nature will throw at our solar/wind installations.
We should take what we can get, but using cars as a national battery does not get us very far. This doesn’t mean that in-car storage wouldn’t provide some essential service, though. Even without trying to double-task our electric cars (i.e., never demanding that they feed back to the electricity grid), such a fleet would still relieve oil demand, encourage renewable electricity production, and act as load balancer by preferentially slurping electricity at night.

Image above: All terrain solar powered "Monsta Cart". From (http://www.granbytrading.com/solarroofpanel).

Full Speed Ahead! I Want a Solar-Powered Car
I also want a land speeder from Star Wars, a light saber while we’re at it, and a jet pack. And a pony. But unlike many of these desires, a solar powered car can be a practical reality. I could go out tomorrow and buy a Volt or a Leaf and charge it with my home-built off-grid PV system (although I would first need to beef it up a bit to cover our modest weekly transportation needs). Alternatively, I could park a solar-charged golf cart in the sun—or charge an electric-assist bicycle with a small PV system, for that matter—to get around my neighborhood. Slightly less satisfying, I could install a grid-tied PV system with enough yearly production to offset my car’s electricity take.

The point is, I could make stops at the gas station a thing of the past (or at least rare, in the case of a plug-in hybrid).

So solar powered cars fall solidly on the reality side of the reality-fantasy continuum. That said, pure solar transport (on board generation) will suffer serious limitations. More reliable transport comes with nuances that may be irritating to the purist. You can apply a bumper sticker that says SOLAR POWERED CAR, but in most cases, you will need to put an asterisk at the end with a lengthy footnote to explain exactly how you have realized that goal.


Bringing it down to Earth

SUBHEAD: There is manipulation of our desperate craving to have the lifestyle we think we are owed.  

By John Michael Greer on 23 November 2011 for the Archdruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/11/bringing-it-down-to-earth.html)

Image above: Banquet brand turkey TV dinner ad. Just because they say so doesn't mean you really want it. The copy reads "Ye Indians are hungry tonight! Be a friendly Pilgrim and serve your little tribe a real turkey dinner." From (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shaman683/4129827681/lightbox/).

We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last two months or so, and at this point I want to summarize the territory thus explored and link it back into the core of this blog’s project—the search for a realistic understanding of the troubled future ahead of us, and a meaningful way to respond to it.

One crucial part of that response, I’ve suggested, relates to that tangled realm where consciousness meets the unconscious drives that shape so much of our experience of the world: a realm that contemporary thought addresses, however incompletely, through the science of psychology, and that the older lore of magic approaches in a much more comprehensive and potent way.

That latter lore is only one part of the toolkit we’re going to need to deal with the storms to come, but it’s an important part, and it’s well suited to deal with issues most of today’s proposals for the future leave unanswered.

Much more often than not, peak oil, anthropogenic climate change, and most of the other symptoms of our civilization’s head-on collision with planetary limits to growth are treated as technical problems that can be addressed with technical solutions.

Bookshelves around the world have accordingly been piled to the breaking point with proposed technical solutions.

Some of them are basically handwaving, others are attempts to shill for one or another industry or political movement, but a fair number are serious proposals that could do at least some good if they were put into effect.

The difficulty, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, is that none of these plans are being put into effect, and there’s no good reason to think that any of them will be.

Quite the contrary: by and large, modern industrial civilization is moving the other way, following the same trajectory of overshoot that has terminated the history of so many other civilizations.

What’s more, we’re not being dragged down that road, or forced along it by the pressure of circumstances; by and large, we’re going that way with whoops of enthusiasm.

When the United States abandoned its last real attempt to head in the other direction, in the early 1980s, the collective sigh of relief must have been audible on the Moon, and anyone who didn’t join in the stampede along the road to overshoot—and I can speak here from three decades of personal experience—came in for a spectrum of nasty responses, ranging from spluttering abuse to scornful pity, from pretty much anyone else who noticed.

That is to say, it’s not the technical dimension of the predicament of industrial society that matters most just now. It’s the inner dimension, the murky realm of nonrational factors that keep our civilization from doing anything that doesn’t make the situation worse, that must be faced if anything constructive is going to happen at all.

n a civilization that’s spent the last three and a half centuries trying to pretend that this inner dimension doesn’t matter, it was a foregone conclusion that most people’s inner lives would end up an unholy mess.

 It doesn’t help matters at all that plenty of political, economic, cultural, and religious interest groups, some of them with prodigious resources at their beck, have put a very large fraction of those resources into schemes to manipulate people’s minds using any number of nonrational hot buttons, in order to maximize their own wealth and power.

An effective response to this predicament, as I’ve proposed here, involves several unfamiliar steps.

The first of them is to get out from under the collective thinking of our society and the manufactured popular pseudoculture that holds that collective thinking pinned firmly in place in the minds of most people, so you can make your own decisions about what goes into your mind, instead of letting huge corporations ante up millions of dollars to choose for you. (It still amazes me how many people never wonder why what appears on TV is called "programming.")

This is a challenging task, made even more so by the blank incomprehension and active hostility of those who are still down there in the belly of the beast, but the payoff is worth it.

The problem with thinking thoughts that you’re told to think by others, after all, is that the people who tell you what to think are doing it for their own advantage, not for yours; think your own thoughts, and doors open before you that the thoughts you’ve been told to think are meant to keep tightly shut. The second step is to learn how to get along with the nonrational side of your own inner life.

There are any number of ways to do that; various schools of psychology, philosophy, religion and magic all have their own toolkits for this kind of work, and what appeals to one person is certain to repel somebody else.

I’ve discussed a handful of useful mental tools, drawn mostly from one tradition in which I’ve had some training, and they may be enough for those readers who don’t feel any attraction to the more intensive work on offer from the schools just mentioned.

Those who do feel such an attraction can find more detailed guidance in whatever tradition they choose to study and, more importantly, to practice. These two steps provide the neglected mental dimension that’s so often missing in attempts to deal with the future bearing down on us.

Without them, with weary inevitability, proposals for change end up gathering dust on the overloaded bookshelves already mentioned, if they don’t simply mutate into yet another excuse for business as usual. Einstein’s famous dictum—"We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them"—is true, but it’s only part of the whole picture.

You can change your thinking all you like, but if you don’t deal with the nonrational factors that drove your previous thinking, your brand new thoughts are going to head in the same old directions.

Only if you distance yourself from the thaumaturgy that predetermines so much human thinking, and then come to grips with the mental automatisms and unthinking reactions within yourself, that you can pick the locks on what Blake called "the mind-forg’d manacles" and choose your own path.

Once all this is done, though, there’s a third step, which consists of bringing the work you’ve done down from the realm of mental phenomena into the realm of everyday life.

That’s an essential element of magical practice, by the way; it’s a core teaching of the old occult philosophies that your magical work, however deep it may reach into the innermost realms of consciousness, has to be brought all the way down to earth, and anchored right here in the world of matter by an appropriate action on what occultists like to call the material plane.

Put more simply, in magic as in anything else, it’s necessary to walk your talk, or the talk dries up into excuses and goes rolling away like tumbleweeds in the wind.

One question that needs careful consideration, though, is how to walk the talk we’ve been discussing over these last few months—or, to put the thing in more explicitly magical terms, how to choose an appropriate anchor for the movement of consciousness I’ve tried to set in motion in the last two months of blog posts. The careful consideration is essential here for several reasons, but the most important of them is that contemporary culture is well stocked with bad advice on this subject.

Thus it’s a very common notion, when the issue of walking your talk comes up, to think that it’s enough to engage in activism—in other words, to walk your talk by insisting that the government, or the big corporations, or other people in general, get out and walk theirs.

 Activism has its place, to be sure, and potentially an important one, but activism only matters if the people who are doing it have already followed Gandhi’s advice and become the change that they wish to see in the world.

When that first necessary step doesn’t happen, activism fails. Those of my readers who have watched the self-destruction of the climate change movement have already seen how far activism gets when the activists show no signs of accepting the limits that they hope to impose on others.

Beyond that, there’s another problem with activism in this context, which is that it amounts to demanding that somebody else do something.

There are times when this is an entirely appropriate thing to do—when, for example, it’s precisely the actions or inactions of a government or a corporation that need to be addressed.

Not all the difficulties that beset a modern society come from such causes, though, and when a problem is actually being caused by habits of thought and action that are shared by everyone—even when some people engage in them more, or more profitably, than others—trying to make a handful of the worst offenders take the blame for everybody is not an effective strategy.

 Nor is it any more helpful to insist that a few people, however rich and powerful they may be, are to blame for changes that have their origin in factors entirely outside of human control.

The Occupy Wall Street protests that are still struggling gamely on as I write this, despite a rising tide of police repression, have fallen into both these latter traps.

Though the culture of larceny that defines Wall Street these days amply deserves criticism—not to mention the legal charges of racketeering and fraud that the Obama administration has steadfastly refused to file, even in the cases that most stridently call for it—the misbehavior of bankers and stockbrokers doesn’t actually have that much to do with the decline of the American economy that has deprived a great many of the OWS protesters of the chance to earn a living.

Central to that decline is, first, the unraveling of the American global hegemony that, until recently, funnelled some 25% of the world’s energy resources and 33% of its raw materials and industrial product to the 5% of humanity that lives in the United States; and second, the ongoing depletion of those same energy resources and raw materials, which is ending the abundance that made the American lifestyle of the 20th century possible in the first place.

No amount of protesting is going to refill the once vast and now mostly depleted reserves of cheap oil and other resources that gave America its age of extravagance, nor is protest going to do anything to stop the decline of America as a world power or the rise of competing powers.

Blaming the results of both these processes on the manifold abuses of Wall Street is not going to help the situation noticeably—though seeing bankers and stockbrokers doing perp walks through the streets of Manhattan might do a little to restore public faith in the rule of law, which has taken quite a beating in recent years.

Most Americans, ignoring these realities, still insist they are entitled to a standard of living that neither their country’s faltering position in the world, nor the hard facts of physics and geology, will enable them to have for much longer, or get back if they’ve already lost it.

Until that sense of entitlement gives way to a more realistic set of expectations, nothing is going to solve the problem Americans think they have—that of finding a way to hang onto hopelessly unsustainable lifestyles—and nothing is going to be done to deal with the predicament Americans actually face—that of dealing with the end of abundance in a way that doesn’t finish shredding the already frayed fabric of our society.

Any attempt to walk the talk that we’ve been discussing here, in other words, has to begin with the individual, and has to start with the acceptance of a very significantly lowered standard of living.

To return to an acronym I’ve proposed here already, any response to the future that doesn’t involve using LESS—Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation—simply isn’t a serious response to the downside of the industrial age. The toolkit of the Seventies organic gardening and appropriate tech movements, which I’ve discussed here at some length, is among many other things a very effective way of responding to the need to use LESS in a humane and creative manner.

By growing a garden and raising chickens in your backyard instead of buying packaged and processed vegetables and eggs that are shipped halfway across the continent, conserving energy relentlessly and getting as much as you can from local renewable sources, and sharply downscaling the pursuit of material excess in favor of a life that’s rich in experiences, relationships, and meaning, it’s possible to get by very comfortably on a small fraction of the energy, stuff, and stimulation that most Americans think they need.

This isn’t simply a good thing on abstract grounds, though it is that.

On the individual scale, such steps provide a margin of safety in hard times that the ordinary American lifestyle simply doesn’t have; on the community scale, those who embrace such steps are positioned to act as role models and mentors for those who decide to make the same changes later on, when the advantages of doing so are likely to be much more evident; on the wider scale, even a very modest movement in this direction, amidst the widening failure of the political and economic mainstream to do anything worth noticing in the face of the widening crisis of our time, might just possibly fill the role of a seed crystal around which a much larger movement could take shape.

Seen from another perspective, though, these practical steps also have a magical dimension: they serve to bring the changes in consciousness we’ve been discussing for the last two months all the way down into the world of everyday life.

To complete the task of breaking away from the murky thinking and the tangled nonrational drives that dominate contemporary life in today’s America, it’s necessary to break away from the lifestyles and everyday choices that are produced by that thinking and those drives.

Mind you, the same equation works the other way around: to make the break away from lifestyles that demand energy and resource flows we can’t count on getting for much longer—and making that break is perhaps the most essential task of the decade or so immediately before us—it’s going to be necessary to turn away from the thinking patterns and the unmentioned and usually unnoticed passions that make those lifestyles seem to make sense.

The recognition that these two transformations, the outer and the inner, work in parallel and have to be carried out together is the missing piece that the sustainability movements of the Seventies never quite caught.

Significant steps were taken toward that discovery; books such as Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature and E.F. Schumacher’s A Guide For The Perplexed lay out much of the groundwork from which an analysis of the sort I’ve been suggesting in these essays could have been built.

Some of the less intellectually vacuous movements in the alternative spirituality scene of the time were moving in the same direction from the other side of the equation.

Still, it never quite came together; the engineers were too dismissive of the occultists, the occultists were too suspicious of the engineers, and when the Reagan administration came into power and hit the entire movement at its most vulnerable point—the flows of government and foundation grant money on which nearly all of it, appropriate tech engineers and New Age theorists alike, had become fatally dependent—the chance at that recognition went by the boards. That could happen again.

I’ve suggested more than once that the troubles looming ahead of us in the near term may well open a window of opportunity for the same kinds of effort toward sustainability that we had, and then lost, in the wake of the energy crises of the Seventies.

If something of the sort does happen, once the immediate crisis is out of the way, there will inevitably be a backlash, and that backlash will likely wield the same tools of thaumaturgy that were turned on the appropriate tech movement in the early 1980s with devastating effect.

Good intentions and idealism, it bears remembering, are not an adequate safeguard against systematic manipulation of the mass mind, especially when that manipulation moves in parallel with the desperate craving of a great many Americans to have the lifestyles they think they deserve and ought to get. Meeting a challenge on that scale is a tall order.

Still, any movement faced with a backlash of that kind can accept its short term losses, renew its commitments to its values and vision, keep on going straight through the initial waves of negative publicity, and carve out a niche from which it can’t be dislodged, and pursue a long-range strategy, knowing that the tide will eventually turn its way.

With a few worthy exceptions, that didn’t happen in the twilight years of the early Eighties, but many other movements of many kinds have done it, and a noticeable number of them have passed through that stage and gone on to accomplish their goals.

Whether green wizardry or the broader peak oil movement reaches that last milestone is up to the future; for the time being, though, while it’s vital that we be ready to respond if a window of opportunity does open for us, it’s even more vital that when the backlash comes, as the

Who put it, we won’t get fooled again.

Resistance to French nuclear industry

SUBHEAD: French police tear gas and arrest anti-nuclear demonstrators protesting transport of uranium nuclear waste. By Alex Davies on 23 November 2011 for TreeHugger - (http://www.treehugger.com/energy-policy/french-police-battle-protesters-over-nuclear-waste-train.html) Image above: French battle riot police to stop nuclear shipment. From (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/french-police-clash-with-anti-nuclear-protesters-trying-to-stop-shipment-of-recycled-uranium/2011/11/23/gIQAKzK2nN_story.html).

Around 300 French anti-nuclear activists trying to stop the departure of a train loaded with nuclear waste faced off against riot police yesterday in Normandy. 12 were arrested and many more sprayed with tear gas, but not before the protesters damaged a section of train track and set multiple vehicles on fire, including a police van.

The train, stopped in the town of Valognes, en route from a regional power plant to Germany, left an hour late. The shipment consisted of recycled uranium, the last of its kind to be sent from the power plant at La Hague to Germany.

In the wake of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Germany decided to go 100% nuclear-free by 2022. The French anti-nuclear movement has grown as well, but its calls to wean the country off the energy source have not been heeded by those in power. 75% of French electricity comes from nuclear power.

The normally sleepy town of Valognes is an unlikely source of the latest news of police wielding batons and hurling tear gas at protesters come from, but images like these are becoming much too common.

More protests are expected as the train will travels to Germany over the next several days.

Image above: Demonstrators hold signs in multiple languages protesting French nuclear energy. From (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/french-police-clash-with-anti-nuclear-protesters-trying-to-stop-shipment-of-recycled-uranium/2011/11/23/gIQAKzK2nN_story.html).


More on Agent Orange on Kauai

SOURCE: Laurel Douglass (douglassl001@hawaii.rr.com)
SUBHEAD: In the 1960's Agent Orange was used the north shore and then disposed of in the ocean.

 By Michael G. Sheehan, Sr. on 23 November 2013 in Island Breath - (hanaleirivermichael@gmail.com)

Image above: Brain Howell mixes up a batch of "Agent Orange". In his words "It takes a steady hand to mix the hazardous chemicals..."
. That's not really funny - or Agent Orange - but it is pesticide about to be applied to Kauai in 2009. From (http://www.flickr.com/photos/inter-island_helicopters/3774704474/in/photostream). 

Personal Discussion with Ah Ming Fu, former Princeville Ranch Manager, Hanalei, Kauai, disclosed that he and other employees of the Ranch (at the time owned by Lihue Plantation) assisted the University of Hawaii Agriculture Experiment Station at Wailua Kauai, with air and ground applications of Agents Orange and other "colors" on the resort properties in Princeville, Kauai, in the middle and later 1960's. 

He said at the end of the spraying experiments the remaining 12-15 barrels of chemicals were rolled over the hillside adjacent to the Po'oku Heiau overlooking the Hanalei Valley Taro fields. Eugena Chow added: Hi Michael.

 Thanks for your voicemail message regarding a request to investigate possible agent orange contamination in north Kauai. Please forward any information you have on the matter to Fenix Grange at HI Department of Health, (808) 586-5815, fenix.grange@doh.hawaii.gov and myself, chow.eugenia@epa.gov. We will review the materials and get back to you. 

Thanks, Eugenia (415) 972-3160 

See also:  
Ea O Ka Aina: Agent Orange on Kauai 7/10/11 .

Unoccupied Wall Street

SUBHEAD: 200,000 foot soldiers of the financial world are without jobs and in retreat as world markets melt away. By Max Abelson on 22 November 2011 for Bloomberg News - (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-22/wall-street-unoccupied-with-200-000-job-cuts.html) Image above: Employees of bankrupt Lehman Brothers firm leave NYC building for last time in 2008. From (http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/dddb9fc4-8325-11dd-907e-000077b07658.html#axzz1eYZjY3Ps). John Brady, co-head of MF Global Inc.’s Chicago office, was having a vodka cocktail at the Ritz- Carlton in Naples, Florida, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, on the day his company reported its largest-ever quarterly loss. “Wow, the sun just set,” Brady said to his wife and two colleagues attending a conference with him, he recalled in an interview. “I hope it doesn’t set on MF Global.” A week later, on Oct. 31, the firm led by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. co-Chief Executive Officer Jon Corzine collapsed. Brady and 1,065 colleagues joined a wave of firings that has washed away more than 200,000 jobs in the global financial-services industry this year, eclipsing 174,000 in 2009, data compiled by Bloomberg show. BNP Paribas SA and UniCredit SpA announced cuts last week, and the carnage likely will worsen as Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis roils markets. “This is something very different,” said Huw Jenkins, a former head of investment banking at UBS AG who’s now a London- based managing partner at Brazil’s Banco BTG Pactual SA. “This is a structural change. The industry is shrinking.” Wall Street rebounded from the financial crisis of 2008 with the help of unprecedented government support, including loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve. Goldman Sachs posted record profit the following year, and bonuses paid to securities-firm employees in New York City rose 17 percent to $20.3 billion, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Nothing There Now, faced with higher capital requirements, the failure of exotic financial products and diminished proprietary trading, the industry is undergoing what Steven Eckhaus, chairman of the executive-employment practice at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, called “a paradigm shift.” The New York attorney, whose clients have included former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Chief Financial Officer Erin Callan, said he has stopped giving his “spiel” about inherent talent leading to new work. In interviews, a dozen people who have lost jobs at firms including Societe Generale SA, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and Jefferies Group Inc. described a grim banking landscape that also includes Occupy Wall Street protests against unemployment stuck above 9 percent and income inequality. “These are by far my darkest days,” said Scott Schubert, 49, who was dismissed in late 2008 as a mergers-and-acquisitions banker at Jefferies, a New York-based securities firm, and has been unemployed since. “It’s harder and harder to look for a job and feel that there’s nothing there.” HSBC, BNP Paribas Banks, insurers and asset managers in Western Europe have been hardest hit, announcing about 105,000 dismissals this year, 66 percent more than the region’s losses in 2008 at the depths of the financial crisis, Bloomberg data show. The 50,000 job cuts in North America this year are more than twice last year’s and fewer than the 175,000 in 2008. Almost every week since August has brought news of firings by the world’s biggest banks. HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest lender, announced that month it would slash 30,000 jobs by the end of 2013. In September, Bank of America Corp., the second-largest U.S. lender, said it would cut the same number of jobs. Both banks are trimming about 10 percent of their employees. Last week, BNP Paribas, France’s largest bank, said it will cut about 1,400 jobs at its corporate and investment- banking unit, and UniCredit, Italy’s biggest, said it plans to eliminate 6,150 positions by 2015. “It’s a once-in-a-generation challenge,” said John Purcell, founder of London-based executive search firm Purcell & Co. “Everyone who has worked in the City since 1985 will have no idea of how to cope with this level of dislocation.” Panic Attacks Neil Brener, a psychiatrist whose patients work in London’s City and Canary Wharf financial districts said the stress is contributing to panic attacks, binge drinking and chest pains. “Because there are fewer jobs, people are unhappy about being stuck,” Brener said. “They don’t have options about moving, and there is a sense of feeling trapped.” London hiring could be frozen next year, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research Ltd. Headcount in the City and Canary Wharf may fall to 288,225 by the end of the year, 27,000 fewer than in 2010 and the lowest since at least 1998, when there were 289,666 jobs, according to the London- based research firm. Wall Street won’t regain its lost jobs “until about 2023,” Marisa Di Natale, an economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said in an e-mail. Second Time That’s not encouraging for Michael Reiner, 44, who lost his job in June as a credit strategist in New York for Societe Generale, France’s second-largest bank, whose shares are down 60 percent this year. When he called his wife to tell her the news, she was home watching “The Company Men,” a film about corporate downsizing, he said. It wasn’t the first time Reiner had lost a job on Wall Street. He worked at Bear Stearns Cos. for 14 years until the firm collapsed in March 2008 and was taken over in a fire sale by JPMorgan Chase & Co. He said he was happy to have some time off with his family and go to Little League baseball games. When he began looking for a job, he “wanted to find a place for the next 14 years,” he said. A recruiter brought him to Paris-based Societe Generale. It didn’t last that long. It’s harder to talk about losing a job the second time, Reiner said. “There are a lot of people I haven’t told.” Opportunities for employment “evaporated” as the European debt crisis escalated, he said. Now he spends his time going to his daughter’s field hockey games and managing his investments. He’s planning to make maple syrup from the trees in the backyard of his home in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Fruitless Search For Schubert, the former Jefferies banker in his third year looking for work, the longer he’s out of a job, the harder it is for him to tell his 10-year-old son to do his homework, he said. “It might seem outwardly to him that I’ve given up,” he said in an interview this month from his four-bedroom home in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. “I can’t come to the table and say, ‘Well, when you were five, I worked nonstop.’” Schubert, who received a master’s degree in business administration from New York University in 1989 and was a managing director specializing in middle-market M&A deals at Jefferies, said he wasn’t surprised when he lost his job in 2008 during the financial crisis. He thought unemployment would last 12 months at most. “The first year out was fruitless,” he said. “There wasn’t much hiring going on at all.” By the middle of 2010, more potential employers seemed interested, and he felt “something was imminent,” he said. Nothing happened. This year, he has become increasingly disheartened by bad news on Wall Street, and it’s more difficult to stay in touch with former colleagues as time goes by, he said. Hurricane Irene On the August weekend of Hurricane Irene, training to coach his son’s soccer team alongside younger fathers, being “overly competitive for a man of my age,” Schubert twisted his right knee, he said. He aggravated the injury doing yard work and worries how much his health insurance will help, he said. While his investment choices haven’t been “too terrible,” he will consider selling his house if he doesn’t find a job. “God, I hope it’s in the next six months,” he said. Hetal Patel, 44, a foreign-exchange trader who worked at London-based Lloyds Banking Group Plc for more than 20 years until last month, said he doesn’t plan to look for work until early next year, “when budgets become clearer and perhaps conditions improve.” Shares of his former company, controlled by the British government since a bailout in 2008, have fallen 64 percent this year, and the bank has posted a pretax loss of 3.86 billion pounds ($6 billion) in the first nine months. It announced 15,000 job cuts in June. RBS Cuts Another lender backed by the U.K., Edinburgh-based RBS, has announced about 30,000 job cuts, including 2,000 this year, since receiving the world’s biggest government bailout in 2008. Its shares are down 50 percent in 2011, and CEO Stephen Hester said Nov. 4 the investment bank “will have to shrink further.” Tim Leary, 29, a director in high-yield and distressed trading, lost his job there on Nov. 7. After he got the news, he called his wife to say he’d see her and their 4-month-old son for breakfast. He drove back to Manhattan from his office in Stamford, Connecticut, and put together a resume for the first time in years. He said he plans to spend “a fair amount of time figuring out what the landscape is” before starting his search. Falling Bonuses “Unfortunately, the industry always seems to get it wrong and they over-hire,” said Philip Keevil, 65, a former head of investment banking at S.G. Warburg & Co. and now a partner at New York-based advisory firm Compass Advisers LLP. “They are over-optimistic and then periodically throw large numbers out.” Morale on Wall Street and London is “probably as bad, if not worse” than it has been in decades, said Keevil. Wall Street bonuses are expected to fall in 2011 from the $128,530 average last year, DiNapoli, the state comptroller, said in October. Even so, when Goldman Sachs set aside 24 percent less to pay employees in the first nine months than in the same period last year, the amount, $10 billion, was equal to $292,836 for each of its 34,200 workers as of Sept. 30. That’s nearly six times the median household income in the U.S., where 49.1 million live in poverty, according to Census Bureau data. Quitting for Quito Wyatt Laikind, 26, made three times as much in his first year out of college working at Citigroup Inc. as his single mother earned when he was growing up in western Massachusetts. “It was like winning the lottery to get that job,” said Laikind, who worked as an associate on the New York-based bank’s high-yield credit-trading desk. He got a job on Wall Street because he “was under the impression that it was a more meritocratic environment,” and “my hard work and intelligence would be paid off,” he said. At first, he liked the excitement, he said. Then, after financial regulations curtailed proprietary trading, the job became “less appealing.” He said he didn’t like smiling at clients while having to figure out how to profit from them. In July, after a vacation, he called his boss to quit, he said in an interview from Quito, Ecuador, where he is now working for Equitable Origin LLC, a start-up that offers a certification system for oil exploration. His salary is less than 5 percent of what he made at Citigroup, he lives with intermittent hot water, and he was robbed at knifepoint last month, he said. “I feel happier on a daily basis,” Laikind said. Sagging Mattress His tone was different in a later e-mail. “I wasn’t brought up in luxury, so I like to think I can tough it out,” he wrote, describing the sagging mattress he slept on in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt to stay warm. “But I may have to give it up and try going back to finance soon.” If he does, it won’t be easy. “Until now, at many firms, a lot of investment bankers have been convinced that we are living now in a limited period where things are a bit more difficult and afterwards the old world will come back,” Kaspar Villiger, 70, chairman of Zurich- based UBS said in an interview this month. “This illusion has now vanished.” Increased capital requirements agreed to by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision will limit banks’ use of borrowed funds to boost profit, lower their return on equity and likely reduce executive compensation, analysts say. High leverage “was the juice in the system,” said Ilana Weinstein, CEO of New York-based search firm IDW Group LLC. “It’s gone.” Boxer Shorts For Brady, 42, the vanishing point at MF Global arrived after he returned to Chicago from Florida. He thought the New York-based futures brokerage would “weather the storm,” even as Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating and shares plunged, he said. He got word that another company would buy the firm while at a Talking Heads cover-band concert and celebrated with a friend by drinking Anchor Steam beer and shots of Jameson. He woke on Oct. 31 at 4:40 a.m. and searched for deal reports on his phone while standing in his boxer shorts with an electric toothbrush in the other hand. He didn’t find any. The acquiring firm, Interactive Brokers Group Inc., pulled out of the deal after a discrepancy in client accounts surfaced, and MF Global filed for bankruptcy later that day. At first, Brady thought his company would survive, he said. His wife thought he was in denial. His mood changed when he was sitting in the home office adjoining his bedroom, looking at the value of his holdings. “My Fidelity account looks like my bar tab from just a week ago,” Brady said. All Fired On Nov. 11, a human resources executive asked colleagues on Brady’s floor to gather by his desk, which looks out on the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the U.S. They were all fired. She told them to show receipts for large personal belongings to the plainclothes security guards by the elevators, and that checks would be sent in the mail, Brady said. Someone asked if the checks would bounce. She said she didn’t know. Brady, who said he wasn’t aware of the size of the bets MF Global made on European sovereign debt, wrote to clients this month saying he’s looking to join a firm that believes “integrity and honesty are the single most important ingredients to success.” He said last week he is optimistic. .

Islands in an expanding Pacific

SOURCE: David Ward (ward.david7@gmail.com)

SUBHEAD: Altogether, Hawaii’s economy is especially poorly adapted to the currently emerging reality of scarce oil and credit.  

[IB Editor's note: Highlighted areas below show impact on Hawaii of a continuation an APEC-style of dependence on globalization.]

 By Richard Heinberg on 21 November 2011 for the Post Carbon Institute (http://www.postcarbon.org/article/588948-islands-in-an-expanding-sea)

Image above: View of Gau Island east of Fiji from the sea. From From (http://www.usp.ac.fj/ioi/photos/slides/Gau%20Island%20-%20view%20from%20sea.html).  

The following is the text of an address by Richard Heinberg to the Moana Nui Conference in Honolulu, November 12, 2011. Honolulu was concurrently hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference; as a response to that secretive international trade meeting, the International Forum on Globalization and Pua Mohala Ka Po collaborated to organize Moana Nui.

 Expansion of trade depends not just upon favorable trade rules, but financial and monetary integration between nations, as well as the availability of affordable transport fuels. I will argue that current APEC negotiations to increase trade within the Pacific region are a hollow exercise because the preconditions necessary for expanded commerce are disappearing. The peoples of this region therefore need to develop alternative economic plans and strategies.

1. The global economic context

The global economic context for the current APEC meetings is not being described publicly in plain, understandable terms by policy makers. That context consists of the slowing, ending, and reversal of the economic growth that was seen in most nations during the past few decades. This reversal of growth is happening due to the convergence of two factors: the deflation of history’s biggest credit bubble, and the depletion of the fuel that made the economic miracle of the 20th century possible. That fuel, of course, is oil.

The world’s petroleum is not about to run out, as the oil industry never tires of reminding us. However, we are indeed seeing flat-lining of production of the cheaply produced, easily accessible crude that has heretofore enabled continuing growth in world economic activity. World crude oil production has failed to increase significantly for the past seven years, while prices have doubled and tripled. The cost to the industry to develop new oil production capacity has soared from $20 per barrel just a few years ago to roughly $85 today.

Meanwhile, high oil prices have become a drag upon general economic expansion. This occurred previously in the 1970s; but now the situation is different: no moderation in prices, and consequent economic rebound, appears to be in the offing. Modern economies can slowly adjust to rising oil prices, but costs of production are rocketing more quickly than economies can adapt. Older industrial nations, such as the U.S. and members of the E.U., are particularly slow to respond; China appears more readily able to withstand higher prices, and so demand for oil is shifting away from North America and Europe toward Asia.

At the same time, the amount of oil available for export is shrinking: many oil producers are seeing rising domestic demand, so even if their total production remains constant or increases gradually, the portion they are able to export is decreasing. Thus competition for oil imports is ratcheting up, and China appears to be outbidding America and Europe.

Oil is also implicated in the credit crisis. During the 20th century, cheap oil helped enable higher rates of production of goods. The problem, then, was of over-production, and it was solved by the development of the modern advertising industry and the expansion of consumer credit—which has in turn led to the current Debt Spiral, which can be described as follows.

The Debt Spiral
This will require a few paragraphs, but they constitute a highly distilled overview of a very complex situation; and without a background understanding of the Debt Spiral, it is hard to see just how futile the APEC talks really are.

Money is debt. If that statement seems curious or shocking, I urge you to read David Graeber’s recent book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, which details this inherent and universal identity. During the 20th century, the process whereby money is created came to be delegated almost entirely to commercial banks, which call money into existence when they make loans.

Economic growth requires ever more money, and therefore more debt. However, it is possible for debt to grow faster than GDP; this is generally a strategy for pushing consumption forward in time (consume now, pay later).

In the U.S., as globalization took hold in the 1980s, workers found themselves competing with their counterparts in Mexico and then China; the result was stagnation in hourly wages for American workers. In order to consume more (as they were constantly being urged to do by ubiquitous advertising messages), households took on more debt. The financial industry helped out with new products—credit cards, subprime mortgages, home equity lines of credit—that made it ever easier for consumers to borrow. As a result, debt has grown faster than GDP in almost every year since 1980.

For the debtor, a bank loan is an obligation to repay; for the bank, that same loan is an asset. As consumer debt grew during the 1980s, ’90s, and 2000s, so did the assets of the financial industry, which found ways to leverage those assets through securitization and the selling of derivatives. As this happened, the burgeoning financial industry also acquired greater political power by contributing strategically to political candidates; it capitalized on that power by successfully lobbying for the deregulation of banking. In addition, presidents began routinely appointing financial industry representatives to run the Treasury and relevant regulatory agencies.
Financial deregulation in turn led to a series of credit bubbles (a housing bubble in the late 1980s, a dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, another housing bubble in the 2000s), each larger than the previous one. But in an important sense, the entire exercise of debt expansion constituted one big bubble.

If debt is growing faster than salaries, interest payments take up an ever-larger share of income. This is effectively a time bomb at the heart of the economy. Growth in total debt cannot continue for long if incomes are not also rising. With the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble in 2007-2008, the bomb detonated as trillions of dollars in home equity value held by American households vanished over the course of a few months. The banks suddenly found that a large portion of their assets were worthless.

The bursting of the U.S. real estate bubble led to defaults, foreclosures, unemployment, declining income, and sharply lowered household net worth. American consumers were now in no position to take on more debt even if they wanted to.

This meant that, in order to keep the economy from imploding, government had to step in and become the borrower and spender of last resort. Government borrowed to stimulate consumption, but also to bail out the banks and to help them hide their “toxic” assets—many of which consisted of second mortgages and home equity lines of credit based upon house values that were now purely fictional.

But as government borrowed and spent, tax revenues were declining. This created a situation in which high levels of government debt became problematic. As government payments increase relative to tax income, investors may grow nervous and demand higher rates of interest on government bonds. This has become an especially nasty problem for smaller nations that already had high debt levels prior to the crisis—such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Italy—but it also plagues states, counties, and cities.

In order to make bond purchasers happy, governments now must cut back on spending. But in a situation where unemployment is high, this simply causes the domestic economy to contract, further eroding tax revenues.

Hence the Debt Spiral, from which there is likely no exit short of default and financial-economic meltdown. In sum, as of today there exists a line of dominoes stretching from Athens to Rome to Wall Street to Washington to Beijing. When those dominoes are done toppling, more trillions in debt will have been defaulted upon, and the world’s banking system may lie mostly in wreckage.
Debt is based on trust—the trust that loans will be repaid.

With widespread defaults, trust will decline within the international economic arena. Global economic integration—symbolized in APEC, the Euro, and the international currency and bond markets—is headed for a historic reversal. A crash could come sooner or later, and it could be milder or harsher (depending on the actions of governments and central banks), but the general trend of events is inevitable.

2. Growing competition for resources
Driven by increasing consumption and scarcity, competition for oil in the Pacific region is perhaps best exemplified in recent events in the South China Sea. Estimates of commercially extractable oil there range from 28 billion barrels upward, and the region is believed to have commercial gas and other mineral deposits as well. While many nations claim rights to resources 200 miles from their coastlines, China has posted exclusive exploration and extraction rights to the entire South China Sea, right up to the three-mile territorial waters of Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Small nations have no prospect of facing down China, but tension increases nevertheless.

In July 2010, at a meeting of Asian countries in Hanoi, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared that the United States would support smaller nations in resisting Beijing’s efforts to dominate the Sea, and stated that that the peaceful resolution of competing sovereignty claims to the disputed region constitutes a U.S. “national interest.” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi characterized Clinton’s comments as “an attack on China.”

China is at the same time exceeding its domestic coal production capabilities. This winter, China is projected to see nationwide power shortages, as power companies post losses due to soaring coal prices. The nation now burns half the world’s coal—roughly 3.5 billion tons annually, with the amount growing at about 7 percent annually. China has begun importing coal from Australia and Indonesia; however the entire global coal trade is only 700 million tons, an amount that China could absorb with only a few years of growth in coal consumption. Even the U.S. is now considering exporting coal to China. But since U.S. domestic supplies are not as robust as generally assumed, this would be an exercise of dubious practical value for both parties. Higher coal prices, supply shortfalls, and infrastructure bottlenecks are inevitable.
Competition is also heating globally up for a wide range of minerals—including copper, rare earths, indium, gallium, uranium, and bauxite. Until 2000, mineral commodity prices were generally falling as increasing amounts of cheap energy were used to dig deeper, refine lower grade ores, and globalize exploration, extraction, and trade. But as oil prices have lofted, prices of minerals have risen too.

 During the past decade, China was able to corner the global market on rare earths through lowest-cost production; Beijing then announced that exports of the strategic minerals would be restricted. Today other nations are working to again ramp up their mining of rare earths, but prices will inevitably rise. Meanwhile, China’s example is likely to be followed by other nations, leading to export tariffs in some instances, and in others to efforts on the part of powerful resource importers to exert control over domestic policies in weak, resource-rich countries.

3. Vulnerability of Pacific island nations to energy scarcity
Historically, the promise of economic development has been tied to increased energy production and consumption. Thus the dawning era of energy scarcity spells the end of conventional economic development. But how will this shift find expression among nations of the Pacific?

Each country has its own problems and prospects. Two nations in particular—the U.S. and China—will dominate most narratives of the unfolding drama. However, a more nuanced view of the situation can be gained by focusing on energy resource importers, as exemplified by Indonesia; and energy importers, as exemplified by the state of Hawaii.

Indonesia has a long history as an oil exporter, and has been invaded and exploited for its petroleum. Indeed, conflict oil from what was at that time the Dutch East Indies was the fulcrum of the war in the Pacific from 1941 to 1945. Today, this country’s oilfields are largely depleted and the nation has become a net importer. As a founding member of OPEC, Indonesia sold most of its oil for between $10 and $20 per barrel; recently it resigned from OPEC and now must import oil at the current world price of $112 per barrel. The country’s domestic food production is substantial, yet it is a net importer of all of its major staple food commodities, including rice, maize, cassava, soybeans, and sugar. Agriculture is the country’s largest employer, but manufacturing (mostly for export) provides the biggest source of income.

Hawaii, in contrast, imports 85 percent of its food. For the U.S. as a whole, food travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to plate; for Hawaii, average food mileage is double that figure. About 90 percent of Hawaii’s electricity is derived from burning bunker oil, naphtha, or diesel fuel—all of it imported. Tourism is one primary engine of the economy, with many salaries relying directly or indirectly on a steady stream of kerosene-gulping jets full of tourists carrying wallets crammed with debt-dollars, arriving daily. The other main economic driver for the state is federal military spending. Altogether, Hawaii’s economy is especially poorly adapted to the currently emerging reality of scarce oil and credit.

Indonesia and Hawaii demonstrate several distinct kinds of vulnerability to the world’s emerging financial and resource constraints. While Indonesia suffers to a significant degree from what has been called the “resource curse,” Hawaii exports little other than coffee, macadamia nuts, and apparel, while importing nearly all its energy and most of its food. One set of islands is an independent nation, while the other is a distant extension of the world’s current global superpower. Much of Hawaii’s resource dependency is effectively hidden by U.S. military spending, a substantial subsidy to its domestic economy, while Indonesia spends to maintain an army to put down armed separatist movements.

Many threads could begin to unravel in both Indonesia and Hawaii as oil and coal prices soar, if the world economy relapses, and especially if competition between China and the U.S. heats up.

4. Responses

The only really meaningful response to these emerging trends for Pacific nations, be they resource importers or exporters, would be to bolster regional economic self-sufficiency and reduce dependence on resource imports and exports. Contrary to the globalizing doctrine of APEC, economic survival in the era of depletion and deleveraging calls for local resilience, local resistance, local conservation of resources, and local sovereignty over resources.

If the industrial model of development based on cheap, abundant fossil fuels is winding down, and the debt-led financial model of development also is finished, then what comes next? Trends may be clear, but not outcomes.
The U.S., Europe, and China face severe threats. It is obviously a time of considerable danger for smaller nations as these great powers thrash about in desperation and compete for dominance, and as
their economies dis-integrate.

But with peril comes opportunity. Smaller nations may find that this period of global financial turmoil presents an opening to seize greater self-determination and economic self-sufficiency. This would be advisable from several standpoints.

The Pacific never really offered a proper growth medium for globalization, given the distances between nations and the disparities of their economies. The region is dominated by two leviathans (the U.S. and China) and several second-tier big fish (Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Chile); most other countries are tiny minnows by comparison, and cannot realistically defend their own trading or cultural interests.
As larger economies stagnate and decline, people in the Pacific must learn to live within ecological limits, providing their own food and other basic necessities. Indigenous peoples in the Pacific islands did this for centuries. Their cultural traditions must come to be viewed not as an impediment to urbanization and economic expansion, or as curiosities to be preserved for the sake of tourism, but as a viable and enduring basis for sustainable economic organization.

Cheap oil, easy credit, and expanding trade effectively shrank the Pacific Ocean during the 20th century. Peak oil and peak debt will re-expand the Pacific, as transportation becomes less affordable and international commerce less certain. The process will certainly be hazardous for people who have come to depend both on imported food and fuel, and on foreign markets for their products. However, small nations and indigenous communities should not miss any opening to repudiate the failing APEC model and regain economic and cultural self-determination.