The Wilderness Paradox

SUBHEAD: Wilderness is a place we leave alone. Let evolution work. Evolution takes a long time, longer than our horizon.

By Jordan Fisher Smith on 30 September 2014 for Orion Magazine -

Image above: Two guys floating down the middle fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. From (

In the end of June 2011, Roderick Nash and I were rowing a worn inflatable raft piled with camping gear and equipped with only a roll of duct tape in the event of a puncture through sharp metamorphic boulders and tumbling froth on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.

Nash and I were having a bit of a disagreement over who got to row the best rapids—a strange argument to have with a seventy-two-year-old man with an artificial hip. But Nash is no normal septuagenarian.

He is a wiry, athletic, white-haired intellectual with piercing blue eyes and a nineteenth-century schooner captain’s photographic memory for serpentine routes through deadly rocks, and by this time of the afternoon he was quaffing little bottles of 5-Hour Energy and tossing the empties in the bilge. I had to admit I might die someday without ever having achieved his skill as a boatman.

But still, I clinched my argument, if I was going to split the cost of the trip, including the beer and the rental fee for this questionable scow with the roll of duct tape for a patch kit, I wanted half the bad (meaning good) rapids. And Nash, friend that he was, acquiesced.

I had come to the Salmon River with Nash to look at how wilderness areas were being managed, a subject I’ve spent much time pondering, as a lover of wild places and a former park ranger. The Middle Fork flows through Idaho’s Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness, the largest unbroken wildland preserved under the Wilderness Act of 1964 in the United States, south of Alaska.

In wilderness, size matters. The reason for this is not just graduate-level conservation biology but high school geometry: the bigger a preserved place is, the greater its volume in relation to its perimeter.

Therefore, less of it is impacted by edge effects—hunters on all-terrain vehicles, feral housecats from rural suburbs preying on birds, grizzly bears and wolves getting shot for stepping outside the lines, and the necessity of putting out fires when they run from wilderness toward inhabited areas. Also, wild nature has certain critical minima. As wildlands shrink, biological diversity goes down.

The larger they are, the more plants and animals have a chance of living out their lives inside them. This is particularly true of conservation-reliant species like grizzly bears and wolves. It is no accident that by 1964, the last grizzly bears in the lower 48 states were holed up in national parks and wilderness areas in the Northern Rockies.

A half-ton carnivore with claws the size of hunting knives that sees a cabin wall or a barn door as mere inconveniences is at risk of being shot anywhere there are cabins and barns.

Conservationists long hoped that the 2.3-million-acre “Frank” might be large enough to function as a refuge for natural processes unmediated by human beings. So might the 9-million-acre Wrangell–St. Elias and the 12.9-million-acre Noatak–Gates of the Arctic in Alaska.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem contains 6.6 million acres of designated wilderness and national parks within 18 million acres of public and private land. In the southern Sierra Nevada of California, three national parks and nineteen wilderness areas form an over-230-mile-long wildland along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Airplanes have vanished from radar there, to be found months or years later, or, every once in a while, never.

In 2005, the first of two frozen airmen lost in the 1942 crash of a military flight melted out of a glacier in the Kings Canyon Wilderness, still dressed in an antique uniform, the pockets of which contained buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, and young women’s phone numbers.

In these places, along with others of similar size—the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota, where wolves survived a national eradication effort until reintroductions in Idaho and Wyoming—it has long been assumed that nature has been left to work out her own mysterious destiny without the kind of human interventions that characterize land management everywhere else. That is the point of wilderness, isn’t it?

That,it turns out, has never been so. The term “wilderness management” itself is steeped in irony—a point Roderick Nash makes in an essay he contributed to Wilderness Management, the first textbook on the subject, published by the Forest Service in 1978:
A designated, managed wilderness is, in a very important sense, a contradiction in terms. It could even be said that any area that is proclaimed wilderness and managed as such is not wilderness by these very acts! The problem is that the traditional meaning of wilderness is an environment that man does not influence, a place he does not control.
Nash’s most famous book, Wilderness and the American Mind, completed as a doctoral thesis the year the Wilderness Act became law, has been continually in print since 1967. Winner of the 2001 National Outdoor Book Award in the Outdoor Classic category, it remains the definitive history of wilderness as an idea and an institution.

“There are two main roots of the word wilderness,” Nash told me, pulling on the oars. “In the old Teutonic and Norse languages, will, or willd meant willful, self-willed, or uncontrollable. Deor in Old English, was a general term for an animal or beast—the word deer probably derives from that. So, a will-deor is a wild animal, as opposed to a domestic animal; an animal that has its own will.

We talk about ‘self-willed,’ and we mean uncontrolled by the will of someone else. Thus, will-deor-ness: self-willed land, the place of self-willed animals. It’s the one place we honor the self-willed, autonomous condition that distinguishes it from everywhere else.”

Back in the seventies, Nash was seen as a tastemaker about wilderness. His thought was everyone’s thought. That is no longer true. As the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act drew near, interventions in wilderness and proposed wilderness areas—which are required to be managed as wilderness—were common.

I talked to an ecologist who’d been backpacking into the Sierra Nevada to dip hundreds of endangered yellow-legged frogs in a bacterial solution intended to protect them from a worldwide epidemic of amphibian fungus.

In Glacier National Park, I listened to a scientist explain the replanting of fifteen thousand whitebark pines cultivated for resistance to pine blister rust, an Asian fungus that wiped out the wild trees. In the Grand Canyon, I interviewed hydrologists studying how to regulate the flow of the Colorado River to create naturally shaped beaches.

At Big Cypress Preserve in Florida and Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, I inspected insects intentionally introduced from other continents to harass plants previously introduced from other continents by accident.

In truth, these sorts of interventions are not a recent development. The nation’s first wilderness areas, which predated the 1964 Act by three to four decades, were regulated and altered as administrators saw fit. In the years following the Act’s passage, wilderness management became people management. The 1960s saw a massive uptick in outdoor recreation. Better highways and growing leisure time made wilderness easier to get to.

Down sleeping bags, aluminum-framed backpacks, lightweight synthetic fabrics, and inflatable rafts for whitewater made the wilds easier to travel through, once you arrived. Traffic jams, pollution, the threat of nuclear war, and the environmental movement whetted civilized appetites for resiny campfire smoke, the sigh of wind, and the call of a loon on a fog-shrouded lake.

However, with thousands of wilderness pilgrims came crowded lakeshores, litter, piles of human excrement, and trees hacked up for firewood.

In 1968, Robert Lucas, a Forest Service geographer doing research on outdoor recreation, joined with two other social scientists, George Stankey and John Hendee, to assemble a framework for administration of wilderness, which they collected in that 1978 Wilderness Management handbook.

Just as Forest Service timberlands produced lumber for civilization, what wilderness produced was a quality “wilderness experience” for the visitor. Lucas, Hendee, and Stankey’s system surveyed wilderness users to evaluate levels of acceptable or unacceptable change (damage) in the appearance of trails and campsites.

Rangers were trained to count the number of suitable campsites in a given lake basin and evaluate how many could be occupied without visitors hearing each other snoring at night.

From these measurements were derived “carrying capacities,” or the number of users that could be allowed into an area at one time. Rationing systems—wilderness permits—were used to control visitation, and educational outreach and law enforcement were used to regulate visitors’ behavior under a set of principles that came to be called “Leave No Trace.”

As wilderness staff focused on people management, the Forest Service and Park Service continued to manipulate nature inside and outside wilderness areas. In the 1960s, the Salmon River country Nash and I inspected was aerially sprayed with pesticide to control a native insect, the spruce budworm.

Sheep herders grazing under permit (which the Wilderness Act allows to this day) called upon government trappers to kill grizzly bears, cougars, and coyotes.

Non-native trout were planted to enhance fishing. In New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, smokejumpers were so effective at controlling lightning fires that Whitewater Baldy and Mogollon Baldy, two peaks that had been raked by electrical storms since time immemorial, grew over with trees and were no longer bald.

Present-day manipulations of wilderness generally involve restoring something that was extirpated under previous, faulty logic or removing something that was added but didn’t belong. Wildfire, for example, is allowed to shape wilderness landscapes again after more than six decades of attempted exclusion.

However, this is not accomplished without considerable intervention. Lightning fires are selected to burn or be extinguished based on where and under what conditions they occur, and it’s not uncommon for the same blaze to be fought on one flank and allowed to run on another to meet “management objectives” set by “fire management officers.”

Also in the category of putting something back are wolves, which were eradicated in the 1920s and reintroduced in 1995 to the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness and Yellowstone National Park.

Restoration of predators is often cited as an ideal manipulation, since it seems to repair a widely reported outcome of their absence: unchecked growth of herbivore populations, followed by overgrazing of plants they depend on, leading to mass starvation.

Other tinkering with animal species has yielded more mixed results, even abject failures. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, California Department of Fish and Game biologists poisoned lakes and streams in the Golden Trout Wilderness, where previously introduced exotic fish were threatening native golden trout.

Then the biologists reintroduced what they thought was a pure strain of the goldens. Later, improvements in genetic technology revealed that the introduced trout were hybrids, and that the effort may have inadvertently killed the last pure natives.

Taking out something that doesn’t belong is not without hazards either, notably the widespread use of biocides. At one of our campsites on the Middle Fork, Nash and I noticed what looked like patches of green spray paint on the dry grass around us.

A Forest Service crew had floated the river ahead of us, spraying herbicide mixed with dye to control spotted knapweed and rush skeletonweed, Eurasian plants introduced decades ago by cattle grazing. Like many weeds, these thrive on disturbed ground, spreading rapidly into areas blackened by the larger, more intense fires driven by climate change.

The battle against alien organisms is being waged at various scales nearly everywhere, but perhaps nowhere more intensely than at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness, which comprises most of the interior of Everglades National Park. There, the Park Service sprays herbicide from helicopters to control melaleuca trees, Australian pine, Brazilian pepper, and European climbing fern, which form impenetrable thickets where little else can live.

Park rangers go out on search-and-destroy missions, trying to stop seven-foot-long African monitor lizards and four-foot South American tegu lizards, introduced in the exotic pet trade, from taking up residence in the wilderness. Burmese pythons up to eighteen feet long are now so widespread in the Everglades that park rangers admit they are probably a permanent feature of the landscape, if a highly unnatural one.

Everyone knows pretty much what natural means as long as you don’t think about it too much. In 1964, the authors of the Wilderness Act used it both to define wilderness and to prescribe how it would be managed: “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions . . . [italics mine].”

However, by 2007 I had begun to notice a low-level panic among scientists and wilderness managers as they came to understand that the word had become obsolete as a management objective. What is more natural—spotted knapweed, rush skeletonweed, and cheat grass crowding out native plants, or the Transline, 2,4-D, Roundup, and Plateau rangers in the Frank Church–River of No Return spray to control them?

That November, when the long-awaited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment solidly connected global warming with human activity, I was the only journalist at a meeting of scientists and wilderness managers from the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The group convened to discuss how wilderness management might need to evolve in light of dire conditions in the global ecosystem. Should the Park Service and Forest Service start moving groups of organisms north to preserve them? Should sprinkler lines be installed in the giant Sequoia groves, for the inevitable heat and drought that could kill the two-thousand-year-old trees?

These sorts of things were discussed. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that the goals set forth in the legislation creating wilderness and national parks were no longer attainable.

“What has replaced naturalness as a guiding philosophy of what to do or not do?” I asked David Graber, chief scientist for the National Park Service’s Pacific West Region, who had invited me to the meeting.

“We have nothing,” he answered, his voice flat.

In general, there is a strong appetite for even greater manipulation of nature. As wilderness comes to be seen as less “natural,” the moral injunctions against tinkering with it are further reduced. At the Saint Mary’s Wilderness in Virginia, where acid precipitation was causing a die-off of aquatic life, wilderness managers dropped helicopter loads of limestone to buffer the acid.

Life bloomed again. In the Bandelier Wilderness in New Mexico, grazing and fire suppression had caused conversion of grasslands into piñon-juniper woodlands with bare ground in between, leading to rapid soil erosion.

Crews were sent out to cut down junipers with chainsaws, windrowing the brush to hold soil and shelter new ground vegetation. In California’s Sequoia–Kings Canyon Wilderness, a major program is under environmental review to poison lakes and streams in order to remove previously planted trout that compete with an endangered frog.

As many lose their resistance to manipulation, Roderick Nash is left on the fringes, adamant as ever in his rejection of all this mucking about with wilderness.

“What distinguishes these areas is not that they have the exact biological features we want them to have under current theories, but that we choose to leave them alone. They are the only place we do,” says Nash.

“What about spotted knapweed?” I ask him. “What about rush skeletonweed?”

“Wilderness is a place we leave alone,” Nash answers. “Let evolution work. Evolution takes a long time, longer than our horizon. Let nature find her way.”

“But even when we don’t intervene intentionally,” I protest, “our accidental effects like climate change still act on a place, so you get all the unintended damage without the deliberate efforts to mitigate it.”

“Fine,” says Nash. “But a place you change on purpose isn’t wilderness.”

Park Service scientist David Graber comes down on the other side. The Wilderness Act “is a prisoner of its time,” wrote Graber in 2003. “It is limited to an understanding of the world that existed in 1964.” Some wildernesses, Graber maintains, are wildernesses in name only.

They require urgent intervention and long-term maintenance simply to preserve what remains of their biota. And yet, he argues, what remains of their biota is considerably more valuable than some high-minded philosophy of noninterference.

Graber is unimpressed with the philosophical distinction between doing things by accident, such as changing Earth’s climate, and doing things on purpose, such as saving endangered species. Restricting ourselves to only those grand strokes we make accidentally, and not the better ones we make on purpose, seems like a terrible mistake to Graber.

“In the present setting, doing nothing is still doing something,” he says.


Why should you love trucks

SUBHEAD: We have 24/7 just-in-time supply chains between us and what we need to survive. If trucks stop, America stops.

By Alice Friedmann on 27 September 2014 for Energy Skeptic -

Image above: Two large semi-tractor trailer trucks hsul a larger truck used in energy extraction. From original article.

Before the age of fossil fuels, getting food, water, and shelter was simple since 9 out of 10 people were self-sufficient farmers.

But now there are long, 24/7 just-in-time supply chains between us and what we need to survive.
Trucks play an essential role in making this happen. By weight, trucks carry 70% of all freight, and over 80% of communities in the United States depend completely on trucks for all their goods (ATA).

Trucks can substitute for most other kinds of transportation, but the reverse isn’t true. For example, there are only 140,000 miles of freight rail tracks, but over 4 million miles of roads.

Five million medium and heavy-duty trucks travel 329 billion miles to deliver all these goods.
Nearly all freight is carried by a truck at some point, since very few factories, warehouses, and businesses have direct rail or ship connections.

A container arriving by ship and then traveling by rail will still get on a truck at least three times:
  1. When it’s grabbed by a reach-stacker truck in the ship yard and loaded onto a train
  2. Unloaded by a reach-stacker truck at the train’s destination and
  3. Put onto a truck for delivery to a regional distribution center or store
  4. If the container is 40 feet or more and bound for a dense urban area, the contents are often transloaded to two smaller trucks for final delivery
Most businesses are very dependent on trucks:
  • Trucks are a key part of the 24/7 just-in-time delivery system. Large grocery stores receive 10-15 truck shipments a day, assembly lines depend on regular deliveries of a wide range of parts from many suppliers within narrow time slots.  Manufacturers have little packaging material on hand because it’s bulky and low value.
  • Tax incentives and efficiency have driven businesses to keep as little inventory as possible and instead rely on frequent deliveries by trucks

Trucks fulfill our basic needs

Food.  Trucks carry 83% of all food.  Most of our food calories are grown in the interior (meat, grain, dairy), yet two-thirds of Americans live within a hundred miles of the coasts.  In the past such an enormous distance between food and population would have led to famine, but trucks and trains have (so far) prevented that.

Water. Trucks deliver water purification chemicals to water treatment plants every week or two.

Energy.  Trucks deliver fuel to service stations every 2.4 days on average. Trucks also deliver fuel for trains, ships, and airplanes.

Health: Trucks keep pharmacies and hospitals stocked.

Shelter: Trucks haul 92% of wood products and deliver materials to construction sites.  Cement must arrive within 1-2 hours.

Electricity. 39% of electricity is generated by coal, which is delivered by train (71%) and truck (14%).

If Trucks Stopped Running

 I found three articles about what would happen if trucks stopped running.  All of them reached similar results, and I’ve combined a few of them below (Holcomb, McKinnon, SARHC).

Day 1 without trucks
  • Manufacturers and assembly lines that use just-in-time delivery will shut down when parts run out or storage for finished products fills up.
  • Hospitals will run out of supplies like syringes and catheters within hours.
  • Milk and fresh bread will run out.
Day 2 without trucks
  • Food shortages will escalate, especially in the face of hoarding and consumer panic. Supplies of essentials and perishable foods will disappear
  • Restaurants and fast food outlets close
  • ATMs will run out of cash
  • Construction stops
  • Pharmacies close
  • Americans generate 685,000 tons of trash per day. Garbage will start piling up in urban and suburban areas creating a health hazard.
Day 3 without trucks
  • Most service stations will run out of fuel
  • Widespread lay-offs in the manufacturing sector
  • Waste water sludge becomes a problem as tanks at treatment plants are now full
  • Work on infrastructure stops as repairs can’t be undertaken
  • Public transport, fire, police, ambulances, telecommunications, utilities, mail, and other essential services stop
Day 4 without trucks
  • The repercussions start to reverberate globally, as 48,000 imported containers per day can’t be unloaded off of ships. Exports stop too.
  • All fuel supplies are depleted from service stations. Many people can’t get to work
  • With no fuel, airplanes and railroads shut down.
  • Garbage is piling up and has become a sanitary problem
  • Britain is out of beer
Day 5 without truck transport
  • Drinking water is depleted. The delay of weekly deliveries of chemicals has meant that water treatment plants can no longer guarantee that water is fit to drink.
  • Industrial production stops, a large proportion of the labor force is laid-off or unable to get to work, travel and recreation stop
  • Healthcare is confined to emergency services
  • Utilities have localized disruption of gas and electricity, and due to lack of fuel can’t pump water and gas, repair broken water and gas networks, etc
  • Livestock begin to suffer from lack of feed deliveries, wastes accumulate, ranchers can’t transport animals to slaughterhouses,  meat production stops
  • The Swedish Alcohol Retail Monopoly is out of alcohol
Within four weeks:
  • The nation will exhaust its clean water supply and water will be safe for drinking only after boiling.
  • If this happened at harvest time, many crops will rot in the fields
  • The Department of Defense supply chain will break down, crippling the military “in ways no adversary has been able to achieve”.
  • Global financial collapse (my addition).  A halt of international trade would bring the financial system down, probably sooner than this.

American Truckers react to “When Trucks Stopped” (CDLLife)

Many truck drivers thought they ought to stop driving to make people respect and care about them more:
  • The country would stop! At times I think that is what needs to happen! 32 years of being out here, looking out a windshield and watching life go by! Companies and the public not treating us, the back bone of this country, with any respect! Companies just think we are machines and we have no life outside this truck! The rules and regulations are getting stupid and taking money away from the driver and his or hers family! It also puts us in the truck longer! But, if the gas and diesel haulers just shut down for 72 hours, watch what happens!
  • We tried that for YEARS. The Big Companies won’t allow there drivers to shut down. They are to money hungry. The OWNER OPERATORS try but they can’t do it by themselves. So it doesn’t get done. Great idea but hasn’t worked in the past.
  • Like James Cameron said the owned ops would have to block fuel islands there are so many foreign fu@ks that will not stop nor care about are problems and these big company’s have so many of us by the balls
  • you know just as well as I do that wont happen unless every driver out there will participate. were just like the rest of the human race. only a hand full care to know the truth. the rest dont care. just like our presedent.
  • Let’s stop talking about it and just do it…. We run this country, not some bullshit government
  • Teach the government that trucks are needed for life on earth
  • Every other means of transportation is subsidized my the government except us!!!!! That tells me, that the government does not think of us very upstanding. It shows me that they don’t care for us. Trucking is the only industry that is governed on how many hours you can work, you are told when to sleep, when to get up, and basically told when you can see your family. We’re like Ronnie Milsaps’ song states, Prisoners of the Highway!!!!!
Truckers comment on what would happen:
  • Stores would be empty inside of a week for one. Rioting and lawlessness would set in soon after.
  • The life as we know it will end, there’s only one thing that’s not shipped by truck and that’s the air we breathe….
  • Everybody dies
  • World War 3
  • the world would probably end
  • America will fall apart!!!
  • There would be alot of cold hungry naked people out there
  • Everybody dies
 There are many reasons trucks could stop running, but my concern is the inevitable time when oil production has fallen so low it impacts the ability of trucks to do the essential work of society.

The United States government (DOE, EIA, EERE, National Laboratories, and state governments) and private businesses are well aware of this problem and have teamed up to try to make trucks that get better mileage, or can run on alternative fuels like biodiesel, batteries, compressed natural gas, or other fuels.

The next few posts will focus on how we can keep trucks running, because without trucks, America stops.

ATA. American Trucking Association. About Trucks Bring It. November 30, 2013. If Trucks stopped…

Holcomb, Richard D. July 14, 2006. When Trucks Stop, America Stops. American Trucking Association.

McKinnon. November 2004. Life without Lorries: The impact of a temporary disruption of road freight transport in the UK. Commercial motor magazine.

SARHC. A Week without Truck Transport. Four Regions in Sweden 2009. Swedish Association of Road Haulage Companies.


Capitalism vs the Climate

SUBHEAD: Review of Naomi Klein's new book "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate".

[IB Publisher's note: An excerpt from Naiomi Klein's book is below the review by Robert Jensen.]

By Robert Jensen on 29 September 2014 for CounterCurrents -

Image above: Cooling towers at electrical power station illustrating review of Klein's book. From (

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
By Naomi Klein
Simon & Schuster
576 pages

Naomi Klein has written a brave book that not only confronts the calamity of climate destabilization but also examines the deep roots of the crisis in the perverse logic of capitalism and the dehumanizing values of the “extractivist” high-energy/high-technology world.

Klein's courage comes not in her reporting on the science and politics—there we get the exhaustive research and intellectual rigor that are her trademark—but in her simple plea that we not only think about all this and commit to act , but feel it as well. Taking climate change seriously is not only about data and analysis but about anguish, and Klein is refreshingly candid about her own struggles with the grief that's inevitable when we face the truth.

On the political front, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate takes on conservative climate-change deniers and the liberal climate-change minimizers. While both groups will no doubt accuse her of being alarmist, my only quibble runs in the opposite direction—Klein is too upbeat in her assessment of what is possible.

But reasonable people can disagree on these hunches about where we're heading. We'll get to that after the science, economics, and social critique that are so urgently needed, and in those matters we are in good hands with This Changes Everything .

The book, and a companion film directed by Avi Lewis planned for a 2015 release, should set the framework for an honest conversation about climate and culture, ecology and economics.

Klein emerged as a major journalist and activist with 1999's No Logo , a critique of corporate ideology in a globalized era of branding, and solidified that position in 2007 with The Shock Doctrine 's analysis of “disaster capitalism.” Dubbed a leader of the “new New Left” by the New Yorker in a 2008 profile, Klein has been sketching the argument of This Changes Everything in articles since then, and the book is worth the wait.

[Disclosure: I am a member of activist groups that have hosted talks by Klein in Austin three times, and I'm listed in the acknowledgements as one of the many people with whom she has had conversations on these subjects.]

Klein starts with a blunt statement of the problem: “[O]ur economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life.” (21) Human survival requires a new economics, which explains why climate-change denial is strongest among conservatives.

Klein points out that while deniers are wrong about science, “the right is right” when it says that climate change demands a full frontal assault on free-market ideology. The minimizers—often liberals, usually self-professed environmentalists—dream of technological fixes and peddle policy changes that don't upset the status quo, such as the carbon-market shell game of cap-and-trade. Klein's reproach:

Trying to protect existing lifestyles through existing economics “is either dishonest or delusional because a way of life based on the promise of infinite growth cannot be protected, least of all exported to every corner of the globe.” (58)

Klein argues that efforts to cope with global warming must challenge neoliberalism (the uber-capitalist ideology, dominant the past four decades, that emphasizes privatization, deregulation, and cuts to public spending to reduce taxes).

One problem is that neoliberal international trade agreements can be used to block climate policy that is designed to encourage local renewables as an illegal “restraint on trade” (while elites ignore the ways nations subsidize fossil fuels).

Even more crippling is that this economic system doesn't have a language to talk about reducing consumption. Instead, we get blather about green-consuming, which naïvely assumes we can solve the climate problem through buying ever-more efficient gadgets.

Steadily rising carbon emissions reveal these “market-friendly” approaches as a dead-end, leading Klein to advocate a steady-state economy with selective de-growth—“growing the caring economy, shrinking the careless one.” (93)

Klein argues that people will accept a lower-energy world and reductions in consumption, but only with guarantees of fairness in the distribution of cutbacks. The necessary investment in services and infrastructure will require higher taxes, which should follow the principle that the polluter pays—tax burdens falling heaviest on fossil-fuel corporations and others dependent on those fuels, such as the weapons and auto industries.

These basic steps are easy to outline and could gain wide support if people believed governments would spend increased revenues wisely.

But market ideology complicates the picture. Klein points out that the financial crisis created an opening for coordinated planning when the U.S. government bailed out the banks and auto companies. But instead of demands for people- and planet-centered changes, Obama toed the neoliberal line—government shouldn't tell corporations what to do.

The task for the left, Klein argues, is to demonstrate that “the real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more stable and equitable economic system, one that strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate greed.” (125)

While not arguing for state ownership, Klein realizes that neoliberals will object to any policies that involve overt government planning, favor alternative energy sources, and create a fair playing field.

But we should demand government programs. Such as? Community-controlled renewable energy, industrial planning with local sourcing and job protection, support for worker cooperatives, decentralized farming based on agroecology rather than industrial models—all are good places to start, she suggests.

Governments also need to “remember how to say no,” Klein says, especially to energy projects such as the “terra-deforming” tar sands mines of Alberta, which climate scientist James Hansen has warned will mean “game over” for the climate. Beyond the insanity of the project on ecological grounds, there is something profane about this extraction of “extreme energy,” which Klein captures in a phrase: “The earth, skinned alive.” (139)

Impediments to serious climate policy are everywhere, of course. The fossil-fuel companies' primary assets are fossil fuels, meaning those companies' fiduciary responsibility to shareholders “virtually guarantees the planet will cook.”

Citing Bill McKibben's widely circulated 2012 Rolling Stone article on the “terrifying new math” of climate change, Klein reminds us that the energy companies would have to forgo 80 percent of their proven reserves if we are to control runaway climate change, meaning “the very thing we must do to avert catastrophe—stop digging—is the very thing these companies cannot contemplate without initiating their own demise.” (148)

The legalized bribery allowed by our campaign funding system gives those companies powerful tools to block political change.

Klein argues that the way to fight this is not by claiming “climate trumps all other issues” but building a movement that advocates “system change not climate change” and ties ecological sustainability to economic changes that benefit ordinary people. Along with specific projects, she suggests we go deeper and face our “profound disconnection from our surroundings and one another.”

That problem didn't begin in the Reagan administration but with the industrial revolution: “[T]he roots of the climate crisis date back to core civilizational myths on which post-Enlightenment Western culture is founded—myths about humanity's duty to dominate a natural world that is believed to be at once limitless and entirely controllable.” (159)

It's time, she says, to go beyond extractivism—defined as “a nonreciprocal, dominance-based relationship with the earth, one of purely taking,” the opposite of stewardship. (169)

Don't expect much help from mainstream environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy. While all mainstream social movements face difficult decisions about what funding to accept, Klein critiques the Nature Conservancy for continuing to allow, and profit from, oil drilling on land it received as a gift from Mobil Oil, what became the Texas City Prairie Preserve near Galveston Bay.

Hitting the top of the hypocrisy scale, the Nature Conservancy has even allowed drilling near the nesting area of the Attwater prairie chicken, which it was supposed to protect from extinction. Groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund also have taken the corporate-friendly road; by helping limit debate to technical fixes not system change, they divert attention from consumption and consumerism.

Klein also places little hope in the “enlightened billionaires” who have expressed interest in environmental protection, such as Warren Buffett, Tom Steyer, Bill Gates, or—heaven help us—T. Boone Pickens. Klein goes into detail about how Virgin Airlines' Richard Branson has consistently gone back on promises to go green, while touting decidedly non-green ideas such as Virgin Galactic's space tourism.

Could there be anything crazier than expecting rich people to save us? How about combining an adolescent yearning for superhero stories with a fundamentalist faith in technology, which gives us geo-engineering, the project of “dimming the sun.”

While not endorsed by most climate scientists, “Solar Radiation Management” is promoted by “the Geoclique,” which Klein describes as a group “crammed with overconfident men prone to complimenting each other on their fearsome brainpower.” (267)

These fantastical projects, which would pump sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space and slow warming, offer the kind of techno-fix that our culture finds so tempting, no matter what the risks. Klein points out the obvious lesson: “[I]f the danger of climate change is sufficiently grave and imminent for governments to be considering science-fiction solutions, isn't it also grave and imminent enough for them to consider just plain science-based solutions.” (283)

After diagnosing the problem and rejecting the “solutions” that have failed, or promise to fail even more dramatically, Klein devotes the rest of the book to stories of more hopeful social justice/climate organizing.

From Greek activists' resistance to corporate plans for copper and gold mines in the Skouries forest to opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline in North America—with reminders of longstanding campaigns such as the Nigerians in Ogoniland working to save their land and culture from destructive drilling—Klein offers accounts of the roving transnational movement dubbed “Blockadia,” people demanding ecological responsibility and real democracy.

Indigenous people are leading way, such as the Idle No More coalition in Canada, with poor and non-white communities everywhere defying stereotypes of what environmentalists look like, such as the organizing to resist expansion of a Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA.

These organizers understand what neoliberal ideologues can't seem to fathom: The demands of the economy can be changed, but the natural world will not adjust to our needs. Each struggle is different, but around the world activists want to abandon “risk assessment” (which typically leads to elites risking the health of others) in favor of the “precautionary principle,” which demands evidence that a chemical or industrial process is safe before approval.

Not all these campaigns have won, but Klein points out that this activism creates uncertainty, which investors don't like, that can slow down the machine and buy more time.

The strength of this part of the book is Klein's descriptions of small-scale projects, such as Henry Red Cloud's work teaching solar energy systems to young people on the Pine Ridge reservation, one of those “transformative yeses” that has to come along with the many “nos” of the climate struggle.

At the same time, she goes big-picture, explaining how “climate debt” reparations could rebalance global inequality, all part of “the most powerful level for change, in the Global South as in the Global North: the emergence of positive, practical, and concrete alternatives to dirty development that do not ask people to choose between higher living standards and toxic extraction.” (413)

This Changes Everything takes an interesting turn at this point, with Klein reflecting on her own fertility—miscarriages, a short-lived interaction with a fertility clinic, and the birth of a child—to explore the limits of our living world. The chapter is brave—any woman writing about such matters risks being dismissed as overly emotional (“See, it was in the end all about her ovaries and babies”).

But Klein realizes that ignoring the intense emotions kicked up by the subject only contributes to the culture's profound dissociation; the struggle for ecological sanity is intellectual, political, moral, and deeply emotional. Klein is not naïvely calling for the end of all extraction, but rather “the end of the extractivist mindset—of taking without caretaking, of treating land and people as resources to deplete rather than as complex entities with rights to a dignified existence based on renewal and regeneration.” (447) At both the personal and the planetary level, we renew and regenerate, or we die.

Klein argues that hope lies not with a new climate movement but with a coming together of all the living movements to pursue “the unfinished business of liberation,” (459) which will come into view when awareness and political engagement aren't only for activists but become part of everyday life.

Win or lose any specific campaign in any one place, we can create the friction that wears down the dominant culture's denial. In five years working on the book, Klein reports that these movements are growing and new policies are pointing us in the right direction.

I'm with Klein's analysis all the way, until the last half-dozen pages. “There is just enough time,” (459) she writes, and we have more than enough green technology and green plans.

Things may not look bright now, but we have to be ready for the “moments when the impossible seems suddenly possible” to be “harnessed not only to denounce the world as it is, and build fleeting pockets of liberated space. It must be the catalyst to actually build the world that will keep us all safe. The stakes are simply too high, and time too short, to settle for anything less.” (466)

My reading of the previous 400-plus pages, and everything I know from my own study of the issues, tells me that there is not enough time to build the world that will keep us all safe, and that we have to start preparing to settle for something less.

This isn't a nihilistic argument for giving in or giving up, but rather a good-faith assessment of what has already been lost and the limits of what might be saved. The death spiral set in motion by fossil-fueled capitalism can't magically be reversed, and the extractivist mindset is deeply set in not only the 1% but in most of the population of the developed world.

No one has magic powers of prediction, but my best guess is that a decent human future—if there is to be a future—will be in low-energy societies with a greatly reduced human population.

Most of the infrastructure of modern life will disappear, given that no combination of renewable-energy technologies can come close to replacing the concentrated energy of fossil fuels, and that the collapse of our dense-energy-dependent infrastructure is proceeding far faster than the building of alternatives.

Klein touches on the other problems, often related to climate, such as dramatic changes in the hydrological cycle, ongoing soil erosion and contamination, and declines in biodiversity. Put all that bad news together, and we are not facing simply a climate crisis or a set of definable environmental problems, but what my late friend Jim Koplin called “multiple, cascading ecological crises.”

Klein is right to advise that we should grieve, and get to work. The question is how we understand that work. We need to let go of the world as we know it, accept that what is coming will test our basic humanity, and commit to constructing a saving remnant. We have to confront not just conservative climate-change deniers and liberal minimizers, but also our own desire to believe that we can solve problems because we want to solve them.

The challenge as I see it: Can we continue to exhibit the best of human nature knowing that we will lose? Can we act with hope knowing there is no hope? It may be that in the coming decades, that will be the central test of our humanity, individually and collectively.

On questions that take us beyond evidence and reason—decisions we make based on imperfect knowledge in a complex world—reasonable people can disagree, and we should not fear those disagreements. Whatever a reader's hunch on where we are heading, This Changes Everything clarifies the nature of the crises we face and Naomi Klein provides a model for how to face the crises honestly and productively.

• Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. His latest books are Arguing for Our Lives: A User's Guide to Constructive Dialogue , , and We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out ,

Jensen is also the author of All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice , (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing” (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist.

Jensen can be reached at and his articles can be found online at . To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to . Twitter: @jensenrobertw.

Excerpt from This Changes Everything

By Naoimi Klein on 17 September 2014 for Truthdig -

Image above: Graphic used for publicizing Naomi Klein's book. From original article.

The following is excerpted from “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein. Copyright © 2014 by Naomi Klein. For much more of the book's excerpt visit the Truthdig link above.
“Most projections of climate change presume that future changes—greenhouse gas emissions, temperature increases and effects such as sea level rise—will happen incrementally. A given amount of emission will lead to a given amount of temperature increase that will lead to a given amount of smooth incremental sea level rise. However, the geological record for the climate reflects instances where a relatively small change in one element of climate led to abrupt changes in the system as a whole. In other words, pushing global temperatures past certain thresholds could trigger abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes that have massively disruptive and large-scale impacts. At that point, even if we do not add any additional CO2 to the atmosphere, potentially unstoppable processes are set in motion. We can think of this as sudden climate brake and steering failure where the problem and its consequences are no longer something we can control.”
—Report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, 2014 1
“I love that smell of the emissions.”
—Sarah Palin, 2011 2
A voice came over the intercom: would the passengers of Flight 3935, scheduled to depart Washington, D.C., for Charleston, South Carolina, kindly collect their carry-on luggage and get off the plane.

They went down the stairs and gathered on the hot tarmac. There they saw something unusual: the wheels of the US Airways jet had sunk into the black pavement as if it were wet cement. The wheels were lodged so deep, in fact, that the truck that came to tow the plane away couldn’t pry it loose. The airline had hoped that without the added weight of the flight’s thirty-five passengers, the aircraft would be light enough to pull. It wasn’t. Someone posted a picture: “Why is my flight cancelled? Because DC is so damn hot that our plane sank 4” into the pavement.”3

Eventually, a larger, more powerful vehicle was brought in to tow the plane and this time it worked; the plane finally took off, three hours behind schedule. A spokesperson for the airline blamed the incident on “very unusual temperatures.”4

The temperatures in the summer of 2012 were indeed unusually hot. (As they were the year before and the year after.) And it’s no mystery why this has been happening: the profligate burning of fossil fuels, the very thing that US Airways was bound and determined to do despite the inconvenience presented by a melting tarmac. This irony—the fact that the burning of fossil fuels is so radically changing our climate that it is getting in the way of our capacity to burn fossil fuels—did not stop the passengers of Flight 3935 from reembarking and continuing their journeys. Nor was climate change mentioned in any of the major news coverage of the incident.

I am in no position to judge these passengers. All of us who live high consumer lifestyles, wherever we happen to reside, are, metaphorically, passengers on Flight 3935. Faced with a crisis that threatens our survival as a species, our entire culture is continuing to do the very thing that caused the crisis, only with an extra dose of elbow grease behind it. Like the airline bringing in a truck with a more powerful engine to tow that plane, the global economy is upping the ante from conventional sources of fossil fuels to even dirtier and more dangerous versions—bitumen from the Alberta tar sands, oil from deepwater drilling, gas from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), coal from detonated mountains, and so on.

Meanwhile, each supercharged natural disaster produces new ironyladen snapshots of a climate increasingly inhospitable to the very industries most responsible for its warming. Like the 2013 historic floods in Calgary that forced the head offices of the oil companies mining the Alberta tar sands to go dark and send their employees home, while a train carrying flammable petroleum products teetered on the edge of a disintegrating rail bridge. Or the drought that hit the Mississippi

River one year earlier, pushing water levels so low that barges loaded with oil and coal were unable to move for days, while they waited for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge a channel (they had to appropriate funds allocated to rebuild from the previous year’s historic flooding along the same waterway). Or the coal-fired power plants in other parts of the country that were temporarily shut down because the waterways that they draw on to cool their machinery were either too hot or too dry (or, in some cases, both).

Living with this kind of cognitive dissonance is simply part of being alive in this jarring moment in history, when a crisis we have been studiously ignoring is hitting us in the face—and yet we are doubling down on the stuff that is causing the crisis in the first place.

I denied climate change for longer than I care to admit. I knew it was happening, sure. Not like Donald Trump and the Tea Partiers going on about how the continued existence of winter proves it’s all a hoax. But I stayed pretty hazy on the details and only skimmed most of the news stories, especially the really scary ones. I told myself the science was too complicated and that the environmentalists were dealing with it. And I continued to behave as if there was nothing wrong with the shiny card in my wallet attesting to my “elite” frequent flyer status.

A great many of us engage in this kind of climate change denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. Or we look but then turn it into a joke (“more signs of the Apocalypse!”). Which is another way of looking away.

Or we look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle that will safely suck the carbon out of the skies or magically turn down the heat of the sun. Which, I was to discover while researching this book, is yet another way of looking away.

Or we look but try to be hyper-rational about it (“dollar for dollar it’s more efficient to focus on economic development than climate change, since wealth is the best protection from weather extremes”)—as if having a few more dollars will make much difference when your city is underwater. Which is a way of looking away if you happen to be a policy wonk. Or we look but tell ourselves we are too busy to care about something so distant and abstract—even though we saw the water in the subways in New York City, and the people on their rooftops in New Orleans, and know that no one is safe, the most vulnerable least of all. And though perfectly understandable, this too is a way of looking away.

Or we look but tell ourselves that all we can do is focus on ourselves. Meditate and shop at farmers’ markets and stop driving—but forget trying to actually change the systems that are making the crisis inevitable because that’s too much “bad energy” and it will never work. And at first it may appear as if we are looking, because many of these lifestyle changes are indeed part of the solution, but we still have one eye tightly shut.

Or maybe we do look—really look—but then, inevitably, we seem to forget. Remember and then forget again. Climate change is like that; it’s hard to keep it in your head for very long. We engage in this odd form of on-again-off-again ecological amnesia for perfectly rational reasons. We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right. 5

We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change everything about our world. Major cities will very likely drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas, and there is a very high chance that our children will spend a great deal of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. And we don’t have to do anything to bring about this future. All we have to do is nothing. Just continue to do what we are doing now, whether it’s counting on a techno-fix or tending to our gardens or telling ourselves we’re unfortunately too busy to deal with it.

All we have to do is not react as if this is a full-blown crisis. All we have to do is keep on denying how frightened we actually are. And then, bit by bit, we will have arrived at the place we most fear, the thing from which we have been averting our eyes. No additional effort required.

There are ways of preventing this grim future, or at least making it a lot less dire. But the catch is that these also involve changing everything. For us high consumers, it involves changing how we live, how our economies function, even the stories we tell about our place on earth. The good news is that many of these changes are distinctly un-catastrophic. Many are downright exciting. But I didn’t discover this for a long while.

I remember the precise moment when I stopped averting my eyes to the reality of climate change, or at least when I first allowed my eyes to rest there for a good while. It was in Geneva, in April 2009, and I was meeting with Bolivia’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), who was then a surprisingly young woman named Angélica Navarro Llanos. Bolivia being a poor country with a small international budget, Navarro Llanos had recently taken on the climate portfolio in addition to her trade responsibilities.

Over lunch in an empty Chinese restaurant, she explained to me (using chopsticks as props to make a graph of the global emission trajectory) that she saw climate change both as a terrible threat to her people—but also an opportunity.

A threat for the obvious reasons: Bolivia is extraordinarily dependent on glaciers for its drinking and irrigation water and those white-capped mountains that tower over its capital were turning gray and brown at an alarming rate. The opportunity, Navarro Llanos said, was that since countries like hers had done almost nothing to send emissions soaring, they were in a position to declare themselves “climate creditors,” owed money and technology support from the large emitters to defray the hefty costs of coping with more climate-related disasters, as well as to help them develop on a green energy path.

She had recently given a speech at a United Nations climate conference in which she laid out the case for these kinds of wealth transfers, and she gave me a copy. “Millions of people,” it read, “in small islands, least developed countries, landlocked countries as well as vulnerable communities in Brazil, India and China, and all around the world—are suffering from the effects of a problem to which they did not contribute. . . .

If we are to curb emissions in the next decade, we need a massive mobilization larger than any in history. We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth. This plan must mobilize financing and technology transfer on scales never seen before. It must get technology onto the ground in every country to ensure we reduce emissions while raising people’s quality of life. We have only a decade.”6

Of course a Marshall Plan for the Earth would be very costly—hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars (Navarro Llanos was reluctant to name a figure). And one might have thought that the cost alone would make it a nonstarter—after all, this was 2009 and the global financial crisis was in full swing. Yet the grinding logic of austerity—passing on the bankers’ bills to the people in the form of public sector layoffs, school closures, and the like—had not yet been normalized. So rather than making Navarro Llanos’s ideas seem less plausible, the crisis had the opposite effect.

We had all just watched as trillions of dollars were marshaled in a moment when our elites decided to declare a crisis. If the banks were allowed to fail, we were told, the rest of the economy would collapse. It was a matter of collective survival, so the money had to be found. In the process, some rather large fictions at the heart of our economic system were exposed (Need more money? Print some!).

A few years earlier, governments took a similar approach to public finances after the September 11 terrorist attacks. In many Western countries, when it came to constructing the security/surveillance state at home and waging war abroad, budgets never seemed to be an issue.

Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings. The cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions, actions that can be put off pretty much indefinitely.

Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard facts. But we need not be spectators in all this: politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too.

Slavery wasn’t a crisis for British and American elites until abolitionism turned it into one. Racial discrimination wasn’t a crisis until the civil rights movement turned it into one. Sex discrimination wasn’t a crisis until feminism turned it into one. Apartheid wasn’t a crisis until the anti-apartheid movement turned it into one.

In the very same way, if enough of us stop looking away and decide that climate change is a crisis worthy of Marshall Plan levels of response, then it will become one, and the political class will have to respond, both by making resources available and by bending the free market rules that have proven so pliable when elite interests are in peril.

We occasionally catch glimpses of this potential when a crisis puts climate change at the front of our minds for a while. “Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for it will be spent,” declared British prime minister David Cameron—Mr. Austerity himself—when large parts of his country were underwater from historic flooding in February 2014 and the public was enraged that his government was not doing more to help.7

Listening to Navarro Llanos describe Bolivia’s perspective, I began to understand how climate change—if treated as a true planetary emergency akin to those rising flood waters—could become a galvanizing force for humanity, leaving us all not just safer from extreme weather, but with societies that are safer and fairer in all kinds of other ways as well.

The resources required to rapidly move away from fossil fuels and prepare for the coming heavy weather could pull huge swaths of humanity out of poverty, providing services now sorely lacking, from clean water to electricity. This is a vision of the future that goes beyond just surviving or enduring climate change, beyond “mitigating” and “adapting” to it in the grim language of the United Nations. It is a vision in which we collectively use the crisis to leap somewhere that seems, frankly, better than where we are right now.

After that conversation, I found that I no longer feared immersing myself in the scientific reality of the climate threat. I stopped avoiding the articles and the scientific studies and read everything I could find. I also stopped outsourcing the problem to the environmentalists, stopped telling myself this was somebody else’s issue, somebody else’s job.

And through conversations with others in the growing climate justice movement, I began to see all kinds of ways that climate change could become a catalyzing force for positive change—how it could be the best argument progressives have ever had to demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies; to reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence; to block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones; to invest in starving public infrastructure like mass transit and affordable housing; to take back ownership of essential services like energy and water; to remake our sick agricultural system into something much healthier; to open borders to migrants whose displacement is linked to climate impacts; to finally respect Indigenous land rights—all of which would help to end grotesque levels of inequality within our nations and between them.

And I started to see signs—new coalitions and fresh arguments—hinting at how, if these various connections were more widely understood, the urgency of the climate crisis could form the basis of a powerful mass movement, one that would weave all these seemingly disparate issues into a coherent narrative about how to protect humanity from the ravages of both a savagely unjust economic system and a destabilized climate system. I have written this book because I came to the conclusion that climate action could provide just such a rare catalyst.

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UNmasking climate smart agriculture

SUBHEAD: Any method of food production and consumption, to be truly sustainable, must enrich and protect Mother Earth.

By Staff on 23 September 2014 for Via Campesina -

Image above: Demonstrators supporting Via Compasina and peasant seeds, wealth and heritage. From (

History presents itself first as tragedy, and the second time as a farce.

As women, men, peasants, smallholder family farmers, migrant, rural workers, indigenous, and youth of La Via Campesina, we denounce climate smart agriculture which is presented to us as a solution to climate change and as a mechanism for sustainable development.

For us, it is clear that underneath its pretense of addressing the persistent poverty in the countryside and climate change, there is nothing new. Rather, this is a continuation of a project first begun with the Green Revolution in the early 1940’s and continued through the 70’s and 80’s by the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction projects and the corporate interests involved.

These projects, such as the so-called Green Revolution, decimated numerous peasant economies, particularly in the South, to the extent that many countries, like México for example, that were self-sufficient in food production, became dependent on the North to feed their population within a short couple of decades.

The result of these projects, dictated by industrial capital’s need for expansion, was the coopting of traditional agricultural producers and production and their insertion into the present industrial agriculture and food regime.

A regime that is based on increased use of toxic chemicals, dependent on fossil fuel inputs and technology, increasing exploitation of agricultural and rural workers, with its resulting loss of biodiversity; a food system that is now under the control of corporations and large industrial farmers, the main beneficiaries of these projects.

The result has been the loss of food security and sovereignty, transforming entire countries that were once net food exporters into net food importers. This is not so much that they cannot produce food, but because now, instead, they produce commodity crops used to produce industrialized foods, fuels, manufactured products for sale, and for speculation in the world financial markets.

Today, some of the same actors of these previous projects, such as the World Bank, are the forces behind the imposition of climate smart agriculture as a solution to climate change and to increase income of the rural poor using the same failed thesis that to increase incomes one must increase productivity.

It is clear that the intention is to create a market for the Green Revolution as a solution to climate change, poverty and as a proposal for sustainable development in rural areas. We identify this as part of a larger process of “green” structural adjustment projects required by an economic system and the political elites in distress, because they have exhausted other places for enormous speculative financial investments and now see agriculture and agricultural land as the new frontier.

Climate smart agriculture begins with deception by not making a differentiation between the negative effects of industrialized agriculture and the real solutions offered by traditional sustainable peasant agriculture which has contributed to alleviating poverty, hunger and remediation of climate change.

To the contrary, climate smart agriculture equates and equally blames all forms of agricultural production for the negative effects that in fact only industrialized agricultural and food production has caused, and fails to recognize and accept the differences between “agri-cultures” and agricultural production methods. The agricultural activity that has most contributed to greenhouse gas emissions has been industrial agriculture, not smallholder sustainable agriculture.

Climate smart agriculture will lead to further consolidation of land, pushing peasant and family farmers towards World Bank Projects, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other institutions, creating dependency on so-called new technologies through their complete packages that include prescriptions of "climate smart varieties", inputs, and credit, while ignoring traditional tried and true adaptive farming techniques and stewardship of seed varieties in practice by farmers.

Reliance on World Bank promoted methods of production and genetically modified seed varieties will only increase the vulnerability of peasants and small-scale producers, as those packages will not allow them to adapt to climate change, nor will they be able to improve their incomes, and will only result in pushing them further into debt and increased dependency.

As the Green Revolution meant the imposition of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides as requirement to access loans and technical support, now it is the imposition of transgenic and biotechnology for the same requirements, and all under the name of productivity.

The idea of increasing agricultural productivity in a sustainable way, or what is now called “sustainable intensification”, is false. Even more so, when one considers that raising yield per hectare through production intensification only increases the income for corporations, financial market speculators, and large landholding farmers. So called “sustainable intensification” is not really about increasing yield per acre, it is more about green-washing large scale industrialized production following the old adage “get big or get out”.

Increasingly, peasant and smallholder family farmers have to produce crops for the commodity market and not for local and regional food systems. They are producing for corporations who are manufacturing unhealthy processed food, fuel and supplies to make other products such as farmed –meat and pharmaceuticals. Peasants and small–scale family farmers will have no choice but to continue to accept the task of feeding the insatiable capitalist food production machine and its speculative activities in the financial markets.

This intensification of production is also an effort to reduce the cost of labor, which means further degrading working conditions, and lower salaries for migrant workers.  Most peasants and small holders will be cast aside because there's no room for them in industrial agriculture except as landless peasants and one of millions of migrants that are seeking to try their luck as low wage laborers in the cities and countryside.

Ultimately, climate smart agriculture tries to cover-up and hide the need for genuine agriculture and land reform. It also hides, and lies about, the issue of scarcity of land and natural resources.  Land and natural resources are only scarce for peasant and small holding farmers. Poverty exists as a result of lack of access to land, land tenure and use, the unfair treatment and wages of workers and an unrelenting exploitation of their labor in order to meet the needs of capitalism, all of which is shaping the madness we are facing today.

In addition, climate smart agriculture, like the Reduction for Emission on Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), will expand the carbon market and its use for financial speculation.

The possibility of big profits with investments in carbon credits generated from farmlands involved in climate smart agriculture projects will increase speculation in the carbon market, leading to further “carbon land grabs” by large-scale investors and producers, and the further displacement of peasant and smallholder farmers, just as REDD displaces indigenous people.\

Under this climate smart agriculture framework, there is little hope of reducing and removing greenhouse gases, trying to solve food insecurity or any significant rural economic and social development. The problems of poverty, food insecurity and climate change are not market failures, but rather are structural flaws that will persist and worsen with its implementation.
We need systemic change NOW!

Today, just as in the past, we are ready to fight against the false solutions of the capitalist “green economy” and for real solutions to climate change and poverty, through our demands for climate and environmental justice.

We continue to propose and put into practice wherever we can agroecological production and the construction of people’s food sovereignty. We consciously do this as another space to bring about the structural changes that we really need to deal with the issues of poverty, climate change and peoples’ inability to feed themselves.

We call on all social movements gathered in New York to denounce climate smart agriculture as a false solution, oppose the launching of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the UN Climate Summit in New York City, and to join us in the struggle for food sovereignty, and for a different model of agriculture and food production that will provide a just economic well being for small-scale farmers and their communities while producing enough healthy food to meet people’s nutritional needs and guaranteed access to food for everyone.

Any method of production and consumption, to be truly sustainable, must enrich and protect Mother Earth.

See (Download this article as a PDF file)


Only agroecology can feed world

SUBHEAD: Small farmers feed the world. 70% of food we consume globally comes from small farmers.

By Nafeez Ahmed on 23 September 2014 for Ecologist -

Image above: The Three Sisters (squash, corn, and beans) are the three main agricultural crops of some Native American groups in North America. For centuries the Iroquois sustainably grew the three together on mounds that were fertilized with fish heads.  The corn supported the beans, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil and the squash discourages insects and provides shade on the ground. For an example of a recipe for Three Sisters Succotash see source. From (

Governments must shift subsidies and research funding from agro-industrial monoculture to small farmers using 'agroecological' methods, according to the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. And as Nafeez Ahmed notes, her call coincides with a new agroecology initiative within the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

Modern industrial agricultural methods can no longer feed the world, due to the impacts of overlapping environmental and ecological crises linked to land, water and resource availability.

The stark warning comes from the new United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Prof Hilal Elver, In her first public speech since being appointed in June

"Food policies which do not address the root causes of world hunger would be bound to fail", she told a packed audience in Amsterdam.

One billion people globally are hungry, she declared, before calling on governments to support a transition to "agricultural democracy" which would empower rural small farmers.

Agriculture needs a new direction: agroecology
"The 2009 global food crisis signalled the need for a turning point in the global food system", she said at the event hosted by the Transnational Institute (TNI), a leading international think tank.

"Modern agriculture, which began in the 1950s, is more resource intensive, very fossil fuel dependent, using fertilizers, and based on massive production. This policy has to change.

"We are already facing a range of challenges. Resource scarcity, increased population, decreasing land availability and accessibility, emerging water scarcity, and soil degradation require us to re-think how best to use our resources for future generations."

The UN official said that new scientific research increasingly shows how 'agroecology' offers far more environmentally sustainable methods that can still meet the rapidly growing demand for food:
"Agroecology is a traditional way of using farming methods that are less resource oriented, and which work in harmony with society. New research in agroecology allows us to explore more effectively how we can use traditional knowledge to protect people and their environment at the same time."
Small farmers are the key to feeding the world
Hilal Elver continued:
"There is a geographical and distributional imbalance in who is consuming and producing. Global agricultural policy needs to adjust. In the crowded and hot world of tomorrow, the challenge of how to protect the vulnerable is heightened.

"That entails recognizing women's role in food production - from farmer, to housewife, to working mother, women are the world's major food providers. It also means recognizing small farmers, who are also the most vulnerable, and the most hungry.
Across Europe, the US and the developing world, small farms face shrinking numbers. So if we deal with small farmers we solve hunger and we also deal with food production."
And Elver speaks not just with the authority of her UN role, but as a respected academic. She is research professor and co-director at the Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy in the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.

She is also an experienced lawyer and diplomat. A former founding legal advisor at the Turkish Ministry of Environment, she was previously appointed to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Chair in Environmental Diplomacy at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta.

Industrial agbiz grabs 80% of subsidies 90% of research funds
Hinting at the future direction of her research and policy recommendations, she criticised the vast subsidies going to large monocultural agribusiness companies. Currently, in the European Union about 80% of subsidies and 90% of research funding go to support conventional industrial agriculture. Prof Elver said According to the UN Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO),
"Empirical and scientific evidence shows that small farmers feed the world.  70% of food we consume globally comes from small farmers.

This is critical for future agricultural policies. Currently, most subsidies go to large agribusiness. This must change. Governments must support small farmers. As rural people are migrating increasingly to cities, this is generating huge problems.

If these trends continue, by 2050, 75% of the entire human population will live in urban areas. We must reverse these trends by providing new possibilities and incentives to small farmers, especially for young people in rural areas."

If implemented, Elver's suggestions would represent a major shift in current government food policies. But Marcel Beukeboom, a Dutch civil servant specialising in food and nutrition at the Ministry of Trade & Development who spoke after Elver, dissented from Elver's emphasis on small farms:
"While I agree that we must do more to empower small farmers, the fact is that the big monocultural farms are simply not going to disappear. We have to therefore find ways to make the practices of industrial agribusiness more effective, and this means working in partnership with the private sector, small and large."
A UN initiative on agroecology?
The new UN food rapporteur's debut speech coincided with a landmark two-day International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security in Rome, hosted by the FAO. Over 50 experts participated in the symposium, including scientists, the private sector, government officials, and civil society leaders.

A high-level roundtable at the close of the symposium included the agricultural ministers of France, Algeria, Costa Rica, Japan, Brazil and the European Union agricultural commissioner.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said:

"Agroecology continues to grow, both in science and in policies. It is an approach that will help to address the challenge of ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, in the context of the climate change adaptation needed.

A letter to the FAO signed by nearly 70 international food scientists congratulated the UN agency for convening the agroecology symposium and called for a "UN system-wide initiative on agroecology as the central strategy for addressing climate change and building resilience in the face of water crises."
The scientists described agroecology as "a well-grounded science, a set of time-tested agronomic practices and, when embedded in sound socio-political institutions, the most promising pathway for achieving sustainable food production."

More than just a science - a social movement!
A signatory to the letter, Mindi Schneider, assistant professor of Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, said:

"Agroecology is more than just a science, it's also a social movement for justice that recognises and respects the right of communities of farmers to decide what they grow and how they grow it."
Several other food experts at the Transnational Institute offered criticisms of prevailing industrial practices. Dr David Fig, who serves on the board of Biowatch South Africa, an NGO concerned with food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture, said:

"We are being far too kind to industrialised agriculture. The private sector has endorsed it, but it has failed to feed the world, it has contributed to major environmental contamination and misuse of natural resources. It's time we switched more attention, public funds and policy measures to agroecology, to replace the old model as soon as possible."
Prof Sergio Sauer, formerly Brazil's National Rapporteur for Human Rights in Land, Territory and Food, added:
"Agroecology is related to the way you relate to land, to nature to each other - it is more than just organic production, it is a sustainable livelihood.
"In Brazil we have the National Association of Agroecology which brings together 7,000 people from all over the country pooling together their concrete empirical experiences of agroecological practices. They try to base all their knowledge on practice, not just on concepts.
Generally, nobody talks about agroecology, because it's too political. The simple fact that the FAO is calling a major international gathering to discuss agroecology is therefore a very significant milestone."

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Small organic farms to feed the world 12/4/13


Molten Salt Nuclear Reactors

SUBHEAD: A revolution in nuclear power could slash costs of energy below coal... Suuuure.

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on 24 September 2014 for the Telegraph -

Image above: Image from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) began in 1960 and was still going through unexpected problems in decommissioning through 2009. [After shutdown the salt was believed to be in long-term safe storage. At low temperatures, radiolysis can free fluorine from the salt. As a countermeasure the salt was annually reheated to about 150°C, until 1989. But beginning in the mid-1980s, there was concern that radioactivity was migrating through the system. Sampling in 1994 revealed concentrations of uranium that created a potential for a nuclear criticality accident, as well as a potentially dangerous build-up of fluorine gas — the environment above the solidified salt was approximately one atmosphere of fluorine. The ensuing decontamination and decommissioning project (through 2008) was called "the most technically challenging" activity assigned to Bechtel Jacobs under its environmental management contract with the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge Operations organization. ]. From (

The cost of conventional nuclear power has spiralled to levels that can no longer be justified. All the reactors being built across the world are variants of mid-20th century technology, inherently dirty and dangerous, requiring exorbitant safety controls.

This is a failure of wit and will. Scientists in Britain, France, Canada, the US, China and Japan have already designed better reactors based on molten salt technology that promise to slash costs by half or more, and may even undercut coal. They are much safer, and consume nuclear waste rather than creating more. What stands in the way is a fortress of vested interests.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report for 2014 found that 49 of the 66 reactors under construction - mostly in Asia - are plagued with delays, and are blowing through their budgets.

Average costs have risen from $1,000 per installed kilowatt to around $8,000/kW over the past decade for new nuclear, which is why Britain could not persuade anybody to build its two reactors at Hinkley Point without fat subsidies and a "strike price" for electricity that is double current levels.

All five new reactors in the US are behind schedule. Finland's giant EPR reactor at Olkiluoto has been delayed again. It will not be up and running until 2018, nine years late. It was supposed to cost €3.2bn. Analysts now think it will be €8.5bn. It is the same story with France's Flamanville reactor.

We have reached the end of the road for pressurised water reactors of any kind, whatever new features they boast. The business is not viable - even leaving aside the clean-up costs - and it makes little sense to persist in building them. A report by UBS said the latest reactors will be obsolete by within 10 to 20 years, yet Britain is locking in prices until 2060.

The Alvin Weinberg Foundation in London is tracking seven proposals across the world for molten salt reactors (MSRs) rather than relying on solid uranium fuel. Unlike conventional reactors, these operate at atmospheric pressure. They do not need vast reinforced domes. There is no risk of blowing off the top.

The reactors are more efficient. They burn up 30 times as much of the nuclear fuel and can run off spent fuel. The molten salt is inert so that even if there is a leak, it cools and solidifies. The fission process stops automatically in an accident. There can be no chain-reaction, and therefore no possible disaster along the lines of Chernobyl or Fukushima. That at least is the claim.

The most revolutionary design is by British scientists at Moltex. "I started this three years ago because I was so shocked that EDF was being paid 9.25p per kWh for electricity," said Ian Scott, the chief inventor. "We believe we can achieve parity with gas (in the UK) at 5.5p, and our real goal is to reach 3.5p and drive coal of out of business," he said.

The Moltex project can feed off low-grade spent uranium, cleaning up toxic waste in the process. "There are 120 tonnes of purified plutonium from nuclear weapons in Britain. We could burn that up in 10 to 15 years," he said.

What remained would be greatly purified, with a shorter half-life, and could be left safely in salt mines. It does not have to be buried in steel tanks deep underground for 240,000 years. Thereafter the plant could be redesigned to use thorium, a cleaner fuel.

The reactor can be built in factories at low cost. It uses tubes that rest in molten salt, working through a convection process rather than by pumping the material around the reactor. This cuts corrosion. There is minimal risk of leaking deadly cesium or iodine for hundreds of miles around.

Transatomic Power, in Boston, says it can build a "waste-burning reactor" using molten salts in three years, after regulatory approval. The design is based on models built by US physicist Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s, but never pursued - some say because the Pentagon wanted the plutonium residue for nuclear warheads.

It would cost $2bn (overnight cost) for a 550-megawatt plant, less than half the Hinkley Point project on a pro-rata basis. Transatomic says it can generate 75 times as much electricity per tonne of uranium as a conventional light-water reactor. The waste would be cut by 95pc, and the worst would be eliminated. It operates in a sub-critical state. If the system overheats, a plug melts at the bottom and salts drain into a cooling basin. Again, these are the claims.

The most advanced project is another Oak Ridge variant designed by Terrestrial's David LeBlanc, who worked on the original models with Weinberg. It aims to produce power by the early 2020s from small molten salt reactors of up to 300MW, for remote regions and industrial plants. "We think we can take on fossil fuel power on a pure commercial basis. This is a revolution for global energy," said Simon Irish, the company's chief executive.

Toronto-based Terrestrial prefers the "dry tinder" of uranium rather than the "wet wood" of thorium, which needs a blowtorch to get started and keep going, typically plutonium 239. But it could use either fuel.

A global race is under way, with the Chinese trying everything at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics, reportedly working under “warlike” pressure. They have brought forward their target date for a fully-functioning molten salt reactor - using thorium - from 25 to 10 years.

Ian Scott, at Moltex, originally planned to sell his technology to China, having given up on the West as a lost cause. He was persuaded to stay in Britain, and is talking to ministers. "The first stage will cost around £1bn, to get through the regulatory process and build a prototype. Realistically, only the government can do this," he said.

A state-venture of such a kind should not be ruled out. The travails of Hinkley Point show that the market cannot or will not deliver nuclear power on tolerable terms. The project has degenerated into a bung for ailing foreign companies. We have had to go along with it as an insurance, because years of drift in energy policy have left us at an acute risk of black-outs in the 2020s.

There is no reason why Britain cannot seize the prize of molten salt reactors, if necessary funded entirely by the government - now able to borrow for 10 years at 2.5pc - and run like a military undertaking. A new Brabazon Committee might not go amiss.

The nation still has world-class physicists. The death of Britain's own nuclear industry has a silver lining: there are fewer vested interests in the way. We start from scratch. The UK's "principles-based" philosophy of regulation means that a sudden pivot in technology of this kind could be approved very fast, in contrast to the America's "rules-based" system. "I would never even think of doing it in the US," said Dr Scott.

It would be hard to argue that any one of the molten salt technologies would be more expensive than arrays of wind turbines in the Atlantic. Indeed, there is a high likelihood that the best will prove massively cheaply on a kW/hour basis.

Such a project would kickstart Britain's floundering efforts to rebuild industry. It would offer some hope of plugging a chronic and dangerously high current account deficit, already 5pc of GDP even before North Sea oil and gas fizzles out. It is fracking on steroids for import substitution.

Britain split the atom at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge in 1911. It opened the world's first commercial reactor at Calder Hall in 1956. Surely it can rise to the challenge once again. If not, let us cheer on the Chinese.

See also:
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