Korea in Conflict

SUBHEAD: "From Colonization to Militarization" a free lecture December 7th at 6-8pm at KCC.

By Kip Goodwin for Island Breath on 29 November 2017 - 

Image above: Representatives of North and South Korea meeting in Demilitarized Zone in 2015 peace talks. From (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-34039187).

 "From Colonization to Militarization: Korea in Context: Past and Present".  A free lecture with powerpoint presented by KCC History Professor Mark Ombrello and Kauai journalist Jon Letman.   Followed by snacks, refreshments, and a lively discussion.

Kauai Community College
One-Stop Center (the first building on the right when you drive into the Puhi campus
3-1901 Kaumualii Highway
Lihue, Hawaii 96766

 Thursday, 7 December 2017, 6pm - 8pm

Kauai Alliance for Peace and Justice, and KCC History and Philosophy Club
For more information, email ombrello@kauai.edu or call 808-245-8328

Dr. Ombrello will provide a brief overview of modern (20th century) history of colonialism in Korea from the overthrow of the kingdom by Japan in 1910 to World War ll.

Mr. Letman will speak on current affairs with focus on the highly militarized state of the two Koreas. At a time of heightened tension with the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula, speakers will also examine Kauai's role in the militarization of South Korea and northeast Asia.


Exit Sign? Bitcoins!

SUBHEAD: Techno-Narcissism — the idea is tech is now so magical that it over-rides the laws of physics.

By James Kunstler on 27 November 2017 for Kunstler.com -

Image above: The largest Bitcoin mining operations are in China running on coal. From (https://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/networks/why-the-biggest-bitcoin-mines-are-in-china).

Shoeshine boys in airports ‘round the world must be whispering about Bitcoin as the crypto-currency coils upward to tickle the $10,000 line. Ethereum’s roaring up, too, along with most other cryptos, from Byteball Bytes to Tattoocoin (Limited Edition).

Whatever else you think about it, this action is sending a message, perhaps several.

One would be Get Rich Quick, of course. Eight months ago, you could have copped Bitcoin for a mere $1000, and around Labor Day it touched $5000, which seemed, well, figment-ish. In the last two weeks it went all out hockey-stick, doubling.

To a certain sort of mind this must seem irresistible. The result: a good old-fashioned mania. Digital tulip bulbs.

Another message probably goes something like duck-and cover. Some nervous nellies are seeking shelter in Bitcoin as they detect tremors in the more traditional markets creeping ever-higher to new records.

To some degree, Bitcoin may be doing the job that gold used to do, providing the aura of a “safe haven” from a possible global financial mega-storm.

The last time such an event came out nowhere (ha!) after the “permanent plateau” of 1929 collapsed, the government confiscated as much physical gold as it could get its paws on. So who wants to be there? (Echo answers….)

These days, the zeitgeist also points to new-and-improved government monkey business for shoving global populations into cashless monetary regimes where the authorities could monitor and control (and collect a vig on) all transactions — and there is the theory, at least, that Bitcoin’s block-chain computer math would be secure from any government’s clutches.

I’m not so sanguine about Bitcoin’s supposed impregnability, nor about many of its other appealing claims.

The Mt. Gox affair of 2014 must be forgotten now, but back then some sharpie hacked 850,000 Bitcoins (valued over $450,000,000) out of the exchange, which was processing almost two-thirds of all the Bitcoin trades in the world. Mt. Gox went out of business.

Bitcoin tanked and then traded sideways for three years until (coincidentally?) the Golden Golem of Greatness was elected Leader of the Free World. Hmmmm…..

Not many readers understand the first thing about block-chain math, your correspondent among them.

But I am aware that the supposed safety of Bitcoin lies in its feature of being an algorithm distributed among a network of computers world-wide, so that it kind of exists everywhere-and-nowhere at the same time, a highly-valued ghost in the techno-industrial meta-machine.

However, the electric energy required for “mining” each Bitcoin — that is, the computations required for updating the block-chain network — is enough to boil almost 2000 liters of water.

This is happening world-wide, and a lot of the Bitcoin “mining” is powered by coal-burning electric plants, making it the first Steampunk currency.

If Bitcoin were to keep rising to $1,000,000 per unit, as many investors hope and pray, there wouldn’t be enough electric power in the world to keep it going.

Pardon me if I seem skeptical about the whole scheme. Even without Bitcoin bringing extra demand onto the scene, America’s electrical grid is already an aging rig of rags and tatters.

There are a lot of ways that the service could be interrupted, perhaps for a long time in the case of an electric magnetic pulse (EMP). I’m not convinced that crypto-currencies are beyond the clutches of government, either.

Around the world, in their campaign to digitize all money, there must be a deep interest in either hijiking existing block-chains, or creating official government Bit-monies to seal the deal of total control over financial transactions they seek.

Anyway, there are already over 1300 private cryptos and, apparently, a theoretically endless ability to create ever new ones — though the electricity required does seem to be a limiting factor. Maybe governments will shut them down for being energy-hogs.

My personal take on the phenomenon is that it represents the high point of techno-narcissism — the idea that technology is now so magical that it over-rides the laws of physics.

That, for me, would be the loudest “sell” signal. I’d just hate to be in that rush to the exits. And who knows what kind of rush to other exits it could inspire.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Bitcoins are a waste of energy 11/6/17
Ea O Ka Aina: In praise of cash 3/6/17
Ea O Ka Aina: The War on Cash has begun 2/17/16

Tesla and the Laws of Physics

SUBHEAD: Reality prevents Elon Musk's lies about  new e-vehicles performance from being true.

By Tyler Durden on 25 November 2017 for Zero Hedge -

Image above: A prototype Tesla semi-tractor still driven by a human being. From (https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/16/16667366/tesla-semi-truck-announced-price-release-date-electric-self-driving).

When Elon Musk stepped on stage at Tesla’s product-launch event earlier this month, he knew the market’s confidence in Tesla’s brand had sunk to an all-time low since he took over the company a decade ago.

So, he resorted to a tactic that should be familiar to anybody who has been following the company:

Shock and awe!

While the event was ostensibly scheduled to introduce Tesla’s new semi-truck – a model that won’t make it’s market debut for another two years, assuming Tesla sticks to its product-rollout deadline – Musk had a surprise in store: A new model of the Tesla Roadster that, he bragged, would be the fastest production car ever sold.

Musk made similarly lofty claims about the battery life and performance of both vehicles. The Tesla semi-trucks, he said, would be able to travel for 500 miles on a single charge. The roadster could clock a staggering 620 – more than double the closest challenger.

There was just one problem, as Tesla fans would later find out, courtesy of Bloomberg: None of it was true. In fact, many of the promises defy the capabilities of modern battery technology:
Elon Musk knows how to make promises. Even by his own standards, the promises made last week while introducing two new Tesla vehicles—the heavy-duty Semi Truck and the speedy Roadster—are monuments of envelope pushing.

To deliver, according to close observers of battery technology, Tesla would have to far exceed what is currently thought possible.

Take the Tesla Semi: Musk vowed it would haul an unprecedented 80,000 pounds for 500 miles on a single charge, then recharge 400 miles of range in 30 minutes. That would require, based on Bloomberg estimates, a charging system that's 10 times more powerful than one of the fastest battery-charging networks on the road today—Tesla’s own Superchargers.

The diminutive Tesla Roadster is promised to be the quickest production car ever built. But that achievement would mean squeezing into its tiny frame a battery twice as powerful as the largest battery currently available in an electric car.

These claims are so far beyond current industry standards for electric vehicles that they would require either advances in battery technology or a new understanding of how batteries are put to use, said Sam Jaffe, battery analyst for Cairn Energy Research in Boulder, Colorado. In some cases, experts suspect Tesla might be banking on technological improvements between now and the time when new vehicles are actually ready for delivery.
“I don't think they're lying,” Jaffe said. “I just think they left something out of the public reveal that would have explained how these numbers work."

While Jaffe seems inclined to give Tesla the benefit of the doubt, there’s little, if anything, in Musk’s recent behavior to justify this level of credulity.

In recent months, Musk has repeatedly suffered the humiliation of seeing his lies and half-truths exposed. For example, the self-styled “visionary” claimed during the unveiling of the Model 3 Sedan that he would have 1,500 copies of the new model ready for customers by the end of the third quarter.

Instead, the company managed a meager 260 models as factory-line workers at its Fremont, Calif. factory struggled to assemble the vehicles by hand as the Model 3 assembly line hadn’t been completed.

Increasingly agitated customers who placed deposits with Tesla back in March 2016 have begun asking for refunds, only to be chagrined by the company’s sluggish response.

While nobody in the mainstream press has (somewhat bafflingly) made the connection, Tesla revealed earlier this month that it burned an unprecedented $1.4 billion of cash during the third quarter - or roughly $16 million per day - despite Elon Musk's assurance that Tesla had its "all-time best quarter" for Model S and X deliveries.

And let’s not forget the fiasco surrounding Tesla’s autopilot software. Musk has repeatedly exaggerated its performance claims. And customers who paid more than $8,000 for a software upgrade more than a year ago have been repeatedly disappointed by delays and sub-par performance.
Musk’s exaggerations about the Tesla Roadster were particularly egregious.
Tesla claims that its new $200,000 Roadster is the quickest production car ever made, clocking zero to 60 in 1.9 seconds. Even crazier is the car’s unprecedented battery range: some 620 miles on a single charge. That's a longer range than any battery-powered vehicle on the road—almost twice as long as Tesla's class-leading Model S and Model X.

To achieve such power and range, Musk said the tiny Roadster will need to pack a massive 200-kilowatt-hour battery. That’s twice the size of any battery Tesla currently has on the road. Musk has previously said he won't be making the packs bigger on the Model S and Model X because of space constraints. So how can he double the pack size in the smaller Roadster?

BNEF’s Morsy has a twofold answer. First, he expects Tesla will probably double-stack battery packs, one on top of the other, beneath the Roadster's floor. That creates some engineering problems for the battery-management system, but those should not be insurmountable. Still, Morsy said, the batteries required would be too large to fit in such a small frame.

“I really don’t think the car you saw last week had the full 200 kilowatt hours in it,” Morsy said. “I don’t think it’s physically possible to do that right now."
Is it possible that, thanks to incremental improvements in battery density and cost, Musk somehow manages to hit these lofty targets? Perhaps, though, as Bloomberg points out, the fact that Musk is basing these claims on a set of projections that haven’t yet been realized is hardly confidence inspiring.

To be sure, there’s an important caveat to Musk’s claims. While they may be staggeringly exaggerated, there’s still the possibility that incremental improvements in battery technology will make these targets more feasible by the time the models hit the market.
Again, Musk may be banking on the future. While Tesla began taking deposits on the Roadster immediately—$50,000 for the base model—the first vehicles won't be delivered until 2020. Meanwhile, battery density has been improving at a rate of 7.5 percent a year, meaning that by the time production starts, packs will be smaller and more powerful, even without a major breakthrough in battery chemistry.

“The trend in battery density is, I think, central to any claim Tesla made about both the Roadster and the Semi,” Morsy said. “That’s totally fair. The assumptions on a pack in 2020 shouldn’t be the same ones you use today."
However, in its analysis of the feasibility of Musk’s claims, Bloomberg overlooked one crucial detail: Back in August, the company's veteran director of battery technology, Kurt Kelty, unexpectedly resigned to "explore new opportunities," abruptly ending a tenure with the company that stretched for more than a decade, and comes at a critical time for Elon Musk.

Kelty’s resignation – part of an exodus of high-level executives that is alarming in and of itself - hardly inspires confidence in Tesla’s ability to innovate. We’ve noticed a trend with Tesla: The more the company underdelivers, the more Musk overpromises. In our opinion, this is not a sustainable business strategy.

The Old Songs

SUBHEAD: The revolution coming to American life amounts to a much lower standard of living.

By James Kunstler on 24 November 2017 for Kunstler.com -

Image above: Boarded-up buildings in Camden, N.J. The city has among the nation's highest unemployment, school dropout and homeless rates. Photo by Mel Evans. From (https://talkpoverty.org/2014/05/22/edelman/).

What if the fun and games of 2017 are over? The hidden message behind the sexual harassment freak show of recent weeks is that nothing else is sufficiently serious to occupy the nation’s attention.

We’re living in the Year of Suspended Reality, stuck in the sideshow and missing the three-ring circus next door in the big tent.

It probably all comes down to money. Money represents the mojo to keep on keeping on, and there is probably nothing more unreal in American life these days than the way we measure our money — literally, what it’s worth, and what everything related to it is worth.

So there is nothing more unreal in our national life than the idea that it’s possible to keep on keeping on as we do.

The weeks ahead may be most illuminating on this score. The debt ceiling suspension runs out on December 8, around the same time that the tax reform question will resolve one way or another. The debt ceiling means that the treasury can’t issue any more bonds, bills, or notes.

That is, it can’t borrow any more money to pretend the government can keep running. Normally these days (and it’s really very abnormal), the treasury pawns off paper IOUs to the Federal Reserve and the Fed makes digital entries on various account ledgers that purport to be “money.”

And, by the way, the Fed is a consortium of private banks not a department of government — which is surely one of a thousand ways that the public is confused and deceived about what condition our condition is in, as the old song goes.

There’s a fair chance that congress may not be able to resolve the debt ceiling deadline. The votes may just not be there. If the deadline comes and goes, the treasury can only use incoming tax revenues to cover its costs, and it won’t be enough.

It will have to choose whether it issues paychecks to the roughly 2.7 million US government employees, or pays the vendors that sell things like warplanes to the military, or pay out so-called entitlements like Medicare and SNAP cards, or pay the interest on the previously-issued bonds, debts, and bills that the US has racked up over the years.

Believe it or not, making those interest payments is probably the top priority, because failing to do that would shove the nation officially into default for the first time and destroy the country’s credit standing.

The full faith and credit in the US dollar would shatter.

And then the fun and games would really cease. The country would discover it doesn’t have its mojo working, as another old song goes. The reality of being truly broke will set in.

 After all, there are two basic ways of going broke as a nation: you can run out of money; or you can have plenty of money that is worthless. Take your pick.

There is some kind of revolution coming to American life. One way or another, it amounts to a much lower standard of living.

The journey there may take the public by surprise, a la Ernest Hemingway’s crack about how a character in one of his stories went broke: slowly, and then all at once. The main question about this journey must be whether it is accompanied by political violence.

One would have to think the potential for that is pretty high, given levels of animosity and delusional thinking among the two opposing factions — can we even call them Left and Right anymore? — which may even exceed the ill-feeling of 1861.

The tax reform bill, whether it lives or dies, may only become a laughable footnote to the greater quandary of national insolvency.

And, anyway, the proposals so far amount to a hall of mirrors inside a three-card-monte house of horrors that almost nobody really understands. As yet another old song says, this ain’t no Mud Club… this ain’t no foolin’ around.

Meanwhile, down in the rococo dining room of Mar a Lago, the Golden Golem of Greatness tweeted yesterday that he was presiding over the greatest stock market ever!

Kind of reminds me of the moment that old Joe Kennedy got a stock tip from his shoeshine boy.


Lesson from Costa Rica

SUBHEAD: Want to avert the apocalypse? This is the country in the Western Hemisphere to look for solutions.

By Jason Hickel on 7 October 2017 for the Guardian -

Image above: Shoreline of Costa Rica. Photo by Alamay. From original article.

Earlier this summer, a paper published in the journal Nature captured headlines with a rather bleak forecast. Our chances of keeping global warming below the 2C danger threshold are very, very small: only about 5%.

The reason, according to the paper’s authors, is that the cuts we’re making to greenhouse gas emissions are being cancelled out by economic growth.

In the coming decades, we’ll be able to reduce the carbon intensity of the global economy by about 1.9% per year, if we make heavy investments in clean energy and efficient technology. That’s a lot. But as long as the economy keeps growing by more than that, total emissions are still going to rise.

Right now we’re ratcheting up global GDP by 3% per year, which means we’re headed for trouble.

If we want to have any hope of averting catastrophe, we’re going to have to do something about our addiction to growth. This is tricky, because GDP growth is the main policy objective of virtually every government on the planet.

It lies at the heart of everything we’ve been told to believe about how the economy should work: that GDP growth is good, that it’s essential to progress, and that if we want to improve human wellbeing and eradicate poverty around the world, we need more of it. It’s a powerful narrative. But is it true?

Maybe not. Take Costa Rica. A beautiful Central American country known for its lush rainforests and stunning beaches, Costa Rica proves that achieving high levels of human wellbeing has very little to do with GDP and almost everything to do with something very different.

Every few years the New Economics Foundation publishes the Happy Planet Index – a measure of progress that looks at life expectancy, wellbeing and equality rather than the narrow metric of GDP, and plots these measures against ecological impact.

Costa Rica tops the list of countries every time. With a life expectancy of 79.1 years and levels of wellbeing in the top 7% of the world, Costa Rica matches many Scandinavian nations in these areas and neatly outperforms the United States. And it manages all of this with a GDP per capita of only $10,000 (£7,640), less than one fifth that of the US.

In this sense, Costa Rica is the most efficient economy on earth: it produces high standards of living with low GDP and minimal pressure on the environment.

How do they do it? Professors Martínez-Franzoni and Sánchez-Ancochea argue that it’s all down to Costa Rica’s commitment to universalism: the principle that everyone – regardless of income – should have equal access to generous, high-quality social services as a basic right.

A series of progressive governments started rolling out healthcare, education and social security in the 1940s and expanded these to the whole population from the 50s onward, after abolishing the military and freeing up more resources for social spending.

Costa Rica wasn’t alone in this effort, of course. Progressive governments elsewhere in Latin America made similar moves, but in nearly every case the US violently intervened to stop them for fear that “communist” ideas might scupper American interests in the region.

Costa Rica escaped this fate by outwardly claiming to be anti-communist and – horribly – allowing US-backed forces to use the country as a base in the contra war against Nicaragua.

The upshot is that Costa Rica is one of only a few countries in the global south that enjoys robust universalism. It’s not perfect, however.

Relatively high levels of income inequality make the economy less efficient than it otherwise might be. But the country’s achievements are still impressive. On the back of universal social policy, Costa Rica surpassed the US in life expectancy in the late 80s, when its GDP per capita was a mere tenth of America’s.

Today, Costa Rica is a thorn in the side of orthodox economics. The conventional wisdom holds that high GDP is essential for longevity: “wealthier is healthier”, as former World Bank chief economist Larry Summers put it in a famous paper.

But Costa Rica shows that we can achieve human progress without much GDP at all, and therefore without triggering ecological collapse. In fact, the part of Costa Rica where people live the longest, happiest lives – the Nicoya Peninsula – is also the poorest, in terms of GDP per capita.

Researchers have concluded that Nicoyans do so well not in spite of their “poverty”, but because of it – because their communities, environment and relationships haven’t been ploughed over by industrial expansion.

All of this turns the usual growth narrative on its head. Henry Wallich, a former member of the US Federal Reserve Board, once pointed out that “growth is a substitute for redistribution”. And it’s true: most politicians would rather try to rev up the GDP and hope it trickles down than raise taxes on the rich and redistribute income into social goods.

But a new generation of thinkers is ready to flip Wallich’s quip around: if growth is a substitute for redistribution, then redistribution can be a substitute for growth.

Costa Rica provides a hopeful model for any country that wants to chart its way out of poverty. But it also holds an important lesson for rich countries. Scientists tell us that if we want to avert dangerous climate change, high-consuming nations – like Britain and the US – are going to have to scale down their bloated economies to get back in sync with the planet’s ecology, and fast.

A widely-cited paper by scientists at the University of Manchester estimates it’s going to require downscaling of 4-6% per year.

This is what ecologists call “de-growth”. This calls for redistributing existing resources and investing in social goods in order to render growth unnecessary.

Decommoditizing and universalizing healthcare, education and even housing would be a step in the right direction. Another would be a universal basic income – perhaps funded by taxes on carbon, land, resource extraction and financial transactions.

The opposite of growth isn’t austerity, or depression, or voluntary poverty. It is sharing what we already have, so we won’t need to plunder the earth for more.

Costa Rica proves that rich countries could theoretically ease their consumption by half or more while maintaining or even increasing their human development indicators. Of course, getting there would require that we devise a new economic system that doesn’t require endless growth just to stay afloat. That’s a challenge, to be sure, but it’s possible.

After all, once we have excellent healthcare, education, and affordable housing, what will endlessly more income growth gain us?

Maybe bigger TVs, flashier cars, and expensive holidays. But not more happiness, or stronger communities, or more time with our families and friends. Not more peace or more stability, fresher air or cleaner rivers.

Past a certain point, GDP gains us nothing when it comes to what really matters. In an age of climate change, where the pursuit of ever more GDP is actively dangerous, we need a different approach.


The oil industry's soft underbelly

SUBHEAD: The upcoming Seneca Collapse will be demand side, and not supply side driven.

By Ugo Bardi on 19 November 2017 for Cassandra's Legacy -

Image above: "Seneca Cliff? What Seneca Cliff?" scene from 1991 movie "Thelma and Louise" From (http://thesenecatrap.blogspot.com/2017/05/seneca-cliff-what-seneca-cliff.html).

Dear colleagues, we are having an interesting discussion on how to stop climate change and I think I could add some thoughts of mine on the basis of my recent work that I published in the form of the book titled "The Seneca Effect".

The problem we have been discussing is how to limit emissions and we saw that it needs to be done fast and even drastically if we want to avoid the worse effects of climate change. Obviously, it is not easy. (image from Skeptical Science)

Most of what has been said today was based on a "top-down" approach, which I may also describe as supply-limiting. That is, we are speaking of a carbon tax, of emission limits, and the like; measures that governments should take in order to limit the production of fossil fuels. I don't have to tell you that it is an effort that has been ongoing for several years and yet emissions keep growing. It doesn't seem to work

So, can we take the opposite approach? That is, look at the demand side in a "bottom-up" approach?

To discuss this point, let me introduce the concept of the "Seneca Effect" or the "Seneca Cliff." Here is the shape of the Seneca curve.

You know that I use the term of "Seneca Effect" taking inspiration from something that the Roman philosopher Seneca said long ago; "growth is sluggish but ruin is rapid". And you see how the curve looks like the projections for emission reductions we have been seeing here.

So, the question is, what causes the collapse we see in the Seneca Curve in complex systems?

Well, we can use system dynamics to model the collapse and we know it is not a "top-down" effect, nobody from outside forces the system to collapse. It is a very general phenomenon caused by the interactions of the various elements that compose the system which cooperate to bring it down. And that's a trick that can be exploited: as I say in my book, "The Seneca Effect", collapse is not a bug, it is a feature.

Let me see to explain it using the oil industry as an example: see the figure drawn on the board.

Now, you see the segmented line I drew, it keeps going up. It is what the oil companies expect for the future. Their projections, by Exxon for instance, say this: given sufficient investments, we can keep growing the oil production for a number of years, maybe a decade or more.

That's what they have been doing; despite various dire warnings, the oil industry has been able to keep production growing. It is true that conventional oil ("crude") peaked at some moment between 2005 and 2010, but it didn't really decline. Then, the production of "all liquids" kept growing by exploiting other sources such as shale oil.

Of course, the problem is that if the industry continues to make an all-out effort to increase, or at least maintain, production, all we were saying about the need of reducing emissions goes out of the smokestack. Forget about keeping warming below 2 degrees. It would be a disaster.

But look at the Seneca curve in the graph. It would generate more or less the kind of rapidly declining production curve we need for our future survival

The oil industry doesn't predict anything like that, but it is vulnerable, very vulnerable. The industry has a "soft belly:" the collapse of the demand. That is, we don't need governments to enact draconian regulations: if the market for a product disappears, then the industry producing it will disappear. Can it happen? Yes, it can.

The key point of the oil industry's vulnerability is in the need of large investments to keep the whole thing moving. Facing increasing production costs, they have been able to survive by growing and exploiting economies of scale. This has been possible because investors thought they were investing in a growing industry.

But things have been changing and the market of the oil industry is at risk. Consider that typically a good 50% of the oil industry production is gasoline. To this, you may add about 20% of diesel fuel and the result is that some 70% of the output of the industry is for internal combustion engines used for transportation.

So far, this has been a growing market, but the electric transportation revolution is coming, and not just that. There is a whole systemic change under the concept of "Transportation as a Service" (TAAS). The combination of the diffusion of electric vehicles and the optimization of the system may rapidly reduce the demand for gasoline and diesel fuel.

We don't need a large reduction in the demand for transportation fuels to generate a spiral of decline for the oil industry.

Less demand means less production, less production means the loss of economies of scale, and the loss of the economies of scale means higher costs that translate into higher prices which also depress the demand. And so it goes until it reaches the bottom.

As Lucius Annaeus Seneca said, long ago, "ruin is rapid". And the ruin of the oil industry is not a bad thing for the earth's ecosystem and for us all.

See also:
The Seneca Effect book published

Ea O Ka Aina: Can airlines be saved? 11/1/17
Ea O Ka Aina: American way of life is negotiable 5/31/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Ecovillage Rescuing Los Angeles 3/27/17


What, me worry?

SUBHEAD: Poor humans can see imminent environmental collapse, but seem incapable of avoiding it.

By William E. Rees on 16 November 2017 for The Typee -

Image above: The evolution of Alfred E. Neuman at Comic-Con 2014 in San Diego. From (https://coolsandiegosights.com/2014/07/24/pics-of-2014-san-diego-comic-con-preview-night/).

A curious thing about Homo sapiens is that we are clever enough to document — in exquisite detail — various trends that portend the collapse of modern civilization, yet not nearly smart enough to extricate ourselves from our self-induced predicament.

This was underscored once again in October when scientists reported that flying insect populations in Germany have declined by an alarming 75 per cent in the past three decades accompanied, in the past dozen years, by a 15 per cent drop in bird populations.

Trends are similar in other parts of Europe where data are available. Even in Canada, everything from casual windshield “surveys” to formal scientific assessments show a drop in insect numbers.

Meanwhile, domestic populations of many insect-eating birds are in freefall.

Ontario has lost half its whip-poor-wills in the past 20 years; across the nation, such species as nighthawks, swallows, martins and fly-catchers are down by up to 75 per cent; Greater Vancouver’s barn and bank swallows have plummeted by 98 per cent since 1970. Heard much about these things in the mainstream news?

Too bad. Biodiversity loss may turn out to be the sleeper issue of the century. It is caused by many individual but interacting factors — habitat loss, climate change, intensive pesticide use and various forms of industrial pollution, for example, suppress both insect and bird populations.

But the overall driver is what an ecologist might call the “competitive displacement” of non-human life by the inexorable growth of the human enterprise.

On a finite planet where millions of species share the same space and depend on the same finite products of photosynthesis, the continuous expansion of one species necessarily drives the contraction and extinction of others.

Politicians take note — there is always a conflict between human population/economic expansion and “protection of the environment."

Remember the 40 to 60 million bison that used to roam the great plains of North America?

They — along with the millions of deer, pronghorns, wolves and lesser beasts that once animated prairie ecosystems — have been “competitively displaced,” their habitats taken over by a much greater biomass of humans, cattle, pigs and sheep.

And not just North Americans — Great Plains sunshine also supports millions of other people-with-livestock around world who depend, in part on North American grain, oil-seed, pulse and meat exports. 

Competitive displacement has been going on for a long time. Scientists estimate that at the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, H. sapiens comprised less than one per cent of the total weight of mammals on the planet. There were probably only two to four million people on Earth at the time.

Since then, humans have grown to represent 35 per cent of a much larger total biomass; toss in domestic pets and livestock, and human domination of the world’s mammalian biomass rises to 98.5 per cent!

One needs look no further to explain why wildlife populations globally have plunged by nearly 60 per cent in the past half century.

Wild tigers have been driven from 93 per cent of their historic range and are down to fewer than 4,000 individuals globally; the population of African elephants has imploded by as much as 95% to only 500,000 today; poaching drove black rhino numbers from an already much reduced 70,000 in 1960 to only 2,500 individuals in the early 1990s. (With intense conservation effort, they have since rebounded to about 5,000).

And those who still think Canada is still a mostly pristine and under-populated wilderness should think again — half the wildlife species regularly monitored in this country are in decline, with an average population drop of 83 per cent since 1970.

Did I mention that B.C.’s southern resident killer whale population is down to only 76 animals? That’s in part because human fishers have displaced the orcas from their favoured food, Chinook salmon, even as we simultaneously displace the salmon from their spawning streams through hydro dams, pollution and urbanization.

The story is similar for familiar species everywhere and likely worse for non-charismatic fauna. Scientists estimate that the “modern” species extinction rate is 1,000 to as much as 10,000 times the natural background rate.

The global economy is busily converting living nature into human bodies and domestic livestock largely unnoticed by our increasingly urban populations. Urbanization distances people psychologically as well as spatially from the ecosystems that support them.

The human band-wagon may really have started rolling 10 millennia ago but the past two centuries of exponential growth greatly have accelerated the pace of change. It took all of human history — let’s say 200,000 years — for our population to reach one billion in the early 1800s, but only 200 years, 1/1000th as much time, to hit today’s 7.6 billion!

Meanwhile, material demand on the planet has ballooned even more — global GDP has increased by over 100-fold since 1800; average per capita incomes by a factor of 13. (rising to 25-fold in the richest countries).

Consumption has exploded accordingly — half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 40 years.

See graphs in: Steffen, W et al. 2015.The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration. The Anthropocene Review, Volume: 2 Issue: 1, page(s): 81-98.)

Why does any of this matter, even to those who don’t really give a damn about nature per se? Apart from the moral stain associated with extinguishing thousands of other life-forms, there are purely selfish reasons to be concerned.

For example, depending on climate zone, 78 per cent to 94 per cent of flowering plants, including many human food species, are pollinated by insects, birds and even bats. (Bats — also in trouble in many places — are the major or exclusive pollinators of 500 species in at least 67 families of plants.)

As much as 35 per cent of the world’s crop production is more or less dependent on animal pollination, which ensures or increases the production of 87 leading food crops worldwide.

But there is a deeper reason to fear the depletion and depopulation of nature. Absent life, planet earth is just an inconsequential wet rock with a poisonous atmosphere revolving pointlessly around an ordinary star on the outer fringes of an undistinguished galaxy.

It is life itself, beginning with countless species of microbes, that gradually created the “environment” suitable for life on Earth as we know it.

Biological processes are responsible for the life-friendly chemical balance of the oceans; photosynthetic bacteria and green plants have stocked and maintain Earth’s atmosphere with the oxygen necessary for the evolution of animals.

The same photosynthesis gradually extracted billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere, storing it in chalk, limestone and fossil fuel deposits, so that Earth’s average temperature (currently about 15º C) has remained for geological ages in the narrow range that makes water-based life possible, even as the sun has been warming (i.e. stable climate is partially a biological phenomenon.); countless species of bacteria, fungi and a veritable menagerie of micro-fauna continuously regenerate the soils that grow our food.

Unfortunately, depletion-by-agriculture is even faster — by some accounts we have only just over a half-century’s worth of arable soils left.

In short, H. sapiens depends utterly on a rich diversity of life-forms to provide various life-support functions essential to the existence and continued survival of human civilization.

With an unprecedented human-induced great global die-off well under way, what are the chances the functional integrity of the ecosphere will survive the next doubling of material consumption that everyone expects before mid-century?

Here’s the thing: climate change is not the only shadow darkening humanity’s doorstep. While you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream media, biodiversity loss arguably poses an equivalent existential threat to civilized existence.

While we’re at it, let’s toss soil/landscape degradation, potential food or energy shortages and other resource limits into the mix.

And if you think we’ll probably be able to “handle” four out of five such environmental problems, it doesn’t matter.

The relevant version of Liebig’s Law states that any complex system dependent on several essential inputs can be taken down by that single factor in least supply (and we haven’t yet touched upon the additional risks posed by the geopolitical turmoil that would inevitably follow ecological destabilization).

There are many policy options, from simple full-cost pricing and consumption taxes; through population initiatives and comprehensive planning for a steady-state economy; to general education for voluntary (and beneficial) lifestyle changes, all of which would enhance global society’s prospects for long-term survival.

Unique human qualities, from high intelligence (e.g., reasoning from the evidence), through the capacity to plan ahead to moral consciousness, may well be equal to the task but lie dormant — there is little hint of political willingness to acknowledge the problem let alone elaborate genuine solutions (which the Paris climate accord is not).

Bottom line? The world seems in denial of looming disaster; the “C” word remains unvoiced. Governments everywhere dismissed the 1992 scientists’ Warning to Humanity that “...a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided” and will similarly ignore the scientists’ “second notice." (Published on Nov. 13, this warning states that most negative trends identified 25 years earlier “are getting far worse.”)

Despite cascading evidence and detailed analysis to the contrary, the world community trumpets “growth-is-us” as its contemporary holy grail.

Even the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are fixed on economic expansion as the only hammer for every problematic nail. Meanwhile, greenhouse gases reach to at an all-time high, marine dead-zones proliferate, tropical forests fall and extinctions accelerate.

Just what is going on here? The full explanation of this potentially fatal human enigma is no doubt complicated, but Herman Melville summed it up well enough in Moby Dick: “There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”


Saudis and Trump gambling Bigly

SUBHEAD: If the region still has a window for peaceful adaptation, it is small and quickly narrowing.

By Richard Heinberg on 17 November 2017 for the Post Carbon Institute -

Image above: Forget about Neom an the 2030 Vision. This is a Bedouin tent in the desert of Saudi Arabia. In their migratory rounds, the Bedouins needed shelter that was both portable and reliable in a variety of conditions - cool in the day, warm at night and dry Under the rain. Without oil this is the way to live in Saudi Arabia. From (https://74fdc.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/the-bedouin-tent-cool-in-the-day-warm-at-night-and-dry-under-the-rain/).

""My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover ” –  Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, first Prime Minister of United Arab Emirates

Try this simple mental exercise. Imagine a hypothetical Middle Eastern monarchy in which:
  • Virtually all wealth comes from the extraction and sale of depleting, non-renewable, climate changing petroleum;
  • Domestic oil consumption is rising rapidly, which means that, as long as this trend continues and overall oil production doesn’t rise to compensate, the country’s net oil exports are destined to decline year by year;
  • The state has a history of supporting a radical version of Sunni Islam, but the people who live near its oilfields are mostly Shiite Muslims;
  • Power and income have been shared by direct descendants of the royal founder of the state for the past 80 years, but the thousands of princes on the take don’t always get along well;
  • Many of the princes have expatriated the wealth of the country overseas;
  • Population is growing at well over two percent annually (doubling in size every 30 years), and, as a result, 70 percent of the country is under age 30 with increasing numbers in need of a job;
  • Roughly 30 percent of the population consists of immigrants—many of whom are treated terribly—who have been brought into the country to perform labor that nationals don’t want to do;
  • A sizeable portion of the nation’s enormous wealth has been spent on elaborate weapons systems and on fighting foreign wars;
  • A powerful Shia Muslim nation located just a couple of hundred miles away has gained geopolitical advantage in recent years; and,
  • For the past three years oil prices have been too low to enable the kingdom to meet its obligations, so it has rapidly been spending down its cash reserves.
Now, ask yourself: What could possibly go wrong here?

We are, of course, discussing Saudi Arabia, which has been much in the news lately. This essay will review recent events centered therein and probe their significance.

As we will see, the main actors in the drama are an ambitious young Saudi prince, the Trump administration (and its own ambitious young prince), Iran, and Israel (which has a hand in just about everything of significance that happens in the Middle East)—with Lebanon, Qatar, and Yemen as possible staging grounds for the unfolding of further action.

As we will also see, regional stability is likely now in peril to a greater degree than at any time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

MbS Rules
Most of the current hubbub in Saudi Arabia revolves around 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (sometimes referred to as MbS), who was elevated to his current status as heir apparent to the throne in June 2017. MbS appears to be a forward-thinking young Saudi who wants to reduce his country’s official support for the extreme branch of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism.

He has lobbied for regulations restricting the powers of the religious police and advocated for the removal of the ban on women drivers. MbS’s moderate stance is widely popular among Saudi youth.

Bin Salman has also put forward a plan called “Saudi Vision 2030,” which aims to reform the Saudi economy, privatize Saudi Aramco (the government-owned oil company), reduce corruption, develop renewable energy and other non-petroleum revenue streams, and pursue sustainable development.

The plan includes setting up a $2 trillion megafund for a transition to the post-oil era. This policy is, again, widely approved by younger Saudis.

Though MbS appears to be the new de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, his official title since 2015 has been Minister of Defense. In that capacity he has overseen Saudi’s deepening involvement in the war in neighboring Yemen, where rebel Houthis (who follow Shia Islam) gained control of the government in 2014-2015.

The Saudi intervention has killed thousands of civilians, prompting accusations of war crimes. Earlier this November, the Saudis blockaded Yemeni ports, severely exacerbating Yemen’s massive humanitarian crisis, with up to seven million facing the imminent prospect of famine amid the worst outbreak of cholera in history.

On November 13, Houthi rebels threatened to attack oil tankers and warships sailing under the Saudi coalition flag unless Riyadh lifted its blockade; the same day, the Saudi government pledged to open Yemeni ports. So far, the war has cost the Saudis tens of billions of dollars, yet has failed to dislodge the Houthis and their allies from the Yemeni capital.

In Syria, Saudi Arabia has been a main supplier of arms to various Sunni rebel groups (almost certainly including ISIS) since the start of that nation’s civil war. The secular Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has, for his part, received backing from Iran and Russia.

After 2015, when MbS rose to leadership of the Saudi Defense Ministry, Saudi support for the anti-Assad forces increased significantly. However, the rebels have not fared well: the Assad regime’s position today is far more secure than was the case even a year ago thanks to Russian intervention and the help of Iran/Hezbollah.

A third “accomplishment” of MbS as Minister of Defense has been to blockade the tiny neighboring nation of Qatar, for no apparent reason other than the fact that Qatar and Iran are on friendly terms. The two countries share access to the South Pars/North Dome natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, and as a result Qatar is the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Iran and Turkey both back Qatar in the dispute.

In May of this year, Donald Trump made his first foreign trip as president—to Saudi Arabia, where he was flattered with the pomp and circumstance that world leaders have learned are keys to his fragile ego. On that visit he met with MbS, Egypt’s military dictator, and officials of the United Arab Emirates. It was right after the visit that Saudi Arabia launched its campaign against Qatar—which Trump quickly endorsed.

To summarize perhaps too simplistically, MbS is an ambitious and visionary young man. But two big projects under his supervision as Minister of Defense have failed miserably, and a third seems to be going nowhere.

Gambling Spree Timeline
Now let’s recall the events of the past month that have garnered Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudis so many headlines:

October 27. President Trump’s son-in-law and Senior Advisor, 36-year-old Jared Kushner, arrives in Riyadh for an unannounced visit. He leaves within 48 hours after extensive meetings with MbS.

November 4. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is summoned to Saudi Arabia. This in itself is not unusual: Hariri holds Saudi as well as Lebanese citizenship (as did his assassinated father Rafiq). But then Hariri is forced to read a resignation letter, written by the Saudis, on Saudi TV. The letter blames Iran for making Lebanon’s power-sharing arrangement untenable. It is still unclear whether Hariri is actually free to return to Lebanon.

November 4. Saudi Arabia claims it has intercepted a missile launched from Yemen and aimed at Riyadh’s airport. The Houthis have fired missiles into Saudi territory previously, but this one has a longer range. Saudi officials immediately blame Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah (who support the Houthis), and the missile firing is proclaimed an act of war.

The weekend of November 4-5. Mohammed bin Salman initiates a purge. Two prominent princes who try to flee the country are killed; a dozen others are detained. Government ministers are also rounded up. Altogether, by November 10, over 200 (some sources put the number at 500) have been detained, some tortured, with up to $800 billion in assets frozen.

The ostensible purpose of the purge is to reduce corruption (the entire Saudi system is in fact built on corruption; it is difficult to imagine it functioning any other way). The purge is by all accounts the biggest power grab since the creation of the Saudi state.

MbS has shattered the great compromises on which the kingdom was founded—between the royal family and the clergy, and among the families of the descendants of Ibn Saud. For now he has the country’s youth and the military behind him. But he has also made some powerful people extremely unhappy.

November 9. Saudi citizens are advised to leave Lebanon.

This remarkable string of incidents, all taking place within a mere two weeks, has left commentators speculating as to what might come next. Could this be the prelude to a Saudi bombing of Lebanon? That would likely accomplish little, as the Saudi air force has little to show for its efforts in Yemen, and Hezbollah already is used to being routinely bombed by competent Israeli pilots.

Might MbS undertake an invasion of Qatar? One could argue that it is only with the spoils of such an invasion that Saudi Arabia could afford to continue its lavish spending much longer. But sending troops toward Doha, home to the largest U.S. military base in the region, would constitute a blind roll of the dice.

The Trump administration might side with the Saudis, but explaining its reasons for doing so would require some fancy verbal footwork, given the obvious violations of international law. Iran, if not Turkey, would undoubtedly feel compelled to respond in some way.

Lurking rather quietly in the background of all this is Israel—which reportedly has been holding informal meetings with the Saudi leadership for at least five years aimed at strategically uniting the two nations against their mutual foe, Iran.

The budding alliance carries many risks for both countries, which each enjoy a special relationship with the U.S. Iran, on the other hand, has increased its cooperative relations with Russia in recent years.

Saudi/Trump Prospects
We have no way of knowing what Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman said to one another in their meetings October 27-28. Perhaps the essence of Kushner’s message was, 
“Go for it. Throw all your chips in. We’ll back you up. Somehow.”
MbS’s subsequent actions certainly suggest that this might have been the gist; moreover, such reckless encouragement would have been entirely in character: Kushner is himself a gambler (though not a very lucky one, on the evidence of his purchase of 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City), and his father-in-law is speculator-in-chief.

Donald Trump’s own luck is fairly spotty. He managed to win the U.S. presidency against stiff odds, but in doing so he (like MbS) made some powerful people very angry.

Whether or not there is something to the Trump-Russia election-rigging story, Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be closing in on the president and his inner circle with charges potentially including money laundering, perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy against the United States.

Trump can’t fire Mueller without inciting a rebellion in Congress that might lead to Mueller’s appointment as Independent Counsel (a position in which he would be far less vulnerable to presidential interference).

Desperation stalks the halls of the White House. What could change the game? A war might do the trick—maybe a huge conflagration in the Middle East or Korea. Earlier this year I described the current administration as “a presidency in search of an emergency”—anything to justify going full authoritarian.

Mohammed bin Salman’s chances of igniting a regional conflict are substantially higher than his chances of achieving an economic-social soft landing for his nation. But he’s far from being the only double-down-delusional national leader in today’s world. Perhaps he, Trump, and Kushner together fantasize about the unimaginable wealth they can realize for themselves by doing just one more deal, rolling the dice one last time.

There is a possible alternative interpretation of the events of October 27 (the two are not mutually exclusive): maybe Jared Kushner’s visit to Riyadh was to lobby for the listing of Saudi Aramco on the New York Stock Exchange—essentially the substance of a subsequent presidential tweet.

This explanation might exude a less conspiratorial fragrance, but its implications are no less noxious.

If the Saudi IPO—which will be the biggest in history—were channeled through the NYSE, the U.S. kleptocracy (perhaps including Kushner and Trump) would make a killing, and this could be a quid pro quo for backing MbS’s personal ambitions and risky moves in the region. In any case, MbS’s flurry of domestic arrests—of businessmen as well as rival princes—could easily spook already nervous potential Aramco investors.

There’s no guarantee the Aramco IPO will even happen. It would, after all, require an audit of Saudi oil reserves. For years analysts have argued that OPEC stated reserves, which are not audited by any disinterested second party such as the International Energy Agency, have been generously inflated for political reasons. If this is indeed the case, it’s not just the Saudis and Aramco investors who should be worried, but the whole oil-dependent world.

The bullet points at the start of this article, though framed somewhat facetiously, outline the deadly serious bind that Saudi Arabia faces: it is not just a political, geopolitical, or economic trap, but also a biophysical one.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia epitomizes the growth snare in which the entire world struggles: a few decades’ worth of cheap fossil fuels have driven population, consumption, and expectations far beyond what can be sustained or fulfilled for much longer.

“Vision 2030” is certainly an attractive idea on its face. Saudi Arabia should naturally be thinking about a post-petroleum transition.

But the project as outlined entails hiring outside engineers to design and build a “sustainable” industrial society nearly from scratch, and it assumes no reduction in standards of living.

Such a project raises a thorny question: if your own people aren’t skilled and knowledgeable enough to build a sustainable society, how can you trust them to operate and manage it sustainably?

The centerpiece of “Vision 2030” is the proposal for a purpose-built city, Neom, that would be powered by solar panels and busied by cutting-edge industries like artificial intelligence, biotechnology, IoT, and robotics; its water would be supplied by desalination plants and its food grown hydroponically.

Neom, if ever actually built, would most likely either be an enormous waste of billions of dollars and untold amounts of natural resources that can never be used for better purposes (as in hundreds of Chinese “ghost cities”), or would lead to an even uglier and more extreme version of haves vs. have-nots than already exists in Saudi Arabia. Add continued rapid population growth and the whole exercise becomes transparently futile.

A cheaper and more sensible plan (though likely not as popular) would be to end population growth, slash overall consumption, reduce economic inequality, make peace in the region, and aim for home-grown development of intermediate technology.

Not as glamorous, not as attractive to an ambitious risk taker. But practical nonetheless.

However, even this plan comes with substantial risks, as climate change could foreclose on any progress by 2100 with deadly high temperatures that make much of the Middle East uninhabitable by humans.

If the region still has a window for peaceful adaptation, it is small and quickly narrowing.


Settling into a Collapse rant

SUBHEAD: Where will your 55" plasma TV or that Pink SUV ride-on truck be 60 years from now?

By Juan Wilson on 15 November 2017 for Islansd Breath -

Image above: A two seat toy ride-on pink SUV operated by car battery with remote control for dad to drive the kids around the back yard in style. Available at Walmarts. From (https://www.walmart.ca/en/ip/12V-MP3-Kids-Ride-on-Truck-Car-R-c-Remote-Control-LED-Lights-AUX-and-Music-Pink/PRD3EE3T56UFEYB).

Every time is see a Hotwheels trike, or worse, a pink monster truck "ride-on toy" operated by a car battery, I wince. I realize sooner than later it will be carted off as junk when some crucial plastic piece cracks and breaks. What's true about these toys is also true about most of what we consume today. It's unfixable.

To give you an idea of how old I am I've got an anecdote about reusing what is now a disposable item. My dad was a doctor and began his medical practice in a rented Levitt house on Long Island in 1949. During "office hours" my sister and I would play outside. The rest of the time it was our home. The kitchen would no longer be the "lab", the living room was no longer the "waiting room".

My sister and I slept on cots next to the examining table in the "exam room"/bedroom and my parents slept on a coach-bed in the "consulting room"/bedroom. In the kitchen "lab" was a centrifuge, microscope and sterilizer. Yes, my parents sterilized my dad's hypodermic needles and surgical steel medical tools.

There were not many "disposables" back in 1949 like there are today in medicine.

Back then, things like a surgical tool or a Zippo lighter was built to last a lifetime... and did, unless you lost it. Zippo's had replaceable flints and could use a variety of flammable liquids. The chrome finished steel Zippo, unlike floating plastic disposable Bic lighters, do not end up in the gullets of sea birds on Midway Island.

Headline in National Geographic magazine:

Plastic Garbage Patch Bigger Than Mexico Found in Pacific
"Yet another floating mass of microscopic plastic has been discovered in the ocean, and it is mind-blowingly vast." (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/ocean-plastic-patch-south-pacific-spd/)

Too much plastic... and it's all made out of fossil fuel. I'm no saint. I've been an addicted American consumer for most of my life. But I am working on withdrawal. Last week I spent over an hour fixing the broken handle of a plastic laundry basket.

Buying things that are meant to be disposable is in general a bad idea. Of course there are exceptions we all make for things like toilet paper, paper towels, tampons, pampers, bandages and packaging.

However, even these items we need to be more aware of and try to reduce our use of. Incidentally, one reason the Farmer's Almanac had a hole through it was so it could be hung in the outhouse and after being thoroughly read, used as toilet paper.

An example of a complete waste of resources (and energy and a source of pollution as well as contributing to global warming) is bottled water. Unless you're in a place with no potable water you should not be using plastic bottled water.

Here on Kauai, every time there is a severe weather warning the supermarket aisles are crowed with pallets stacked with cases of plastic bottled water... and they sell out. I guess it is a response to hurricane Iniki a quarter-century ago, but why not just fill a clean 5-gallon plastic bucket with a snap on lid and a $3 plastic spigot.  I'm mystified.

I hope by now your getting used to the idea of "collapse" and are settling in for the long haul. The alternative is lot of thrashing around and a good deal of bitter dissatisfaction with broken dreams.

That "long haul" will entail reductions to many of the things you have become used to like 24x7x365 refrigeration, phone service, access to the internet, and passable roadways. Think of life as an extended camping trip you can't come back home from.

Things to leave in the garbage bin oh history on the way out include a Full Time Job capable of covering the cost of a college loan, car costs, the "rent", and weekly groceries.

We again will become a nation of farmers, gardeners, street vendors, buskers, hunters, craftpersons and handy(wo)men.

Self employment centered around where you live will replace the employer controlled "rat race" commuter. And that's a good thing.

It will be an exciting and adventurous time for many. Things, of necessity, be a more tribal and family oriented with local rivalries and family feuds. Who needs an HBO in depth drama series like the "Sopranos", Game of Thrones" or "The Deuce" when you will be living it 24x7?

Lightening our footprint is of the highest priority.
  • Disposable consumer product use should be reduced or avoided where possible.
  • We need to to keep what we have in running order and stop replacing everything that breaks down - without even an attempt at repair it. 
  • Road trips "for the hell of it" and RV driving vacations are eco-suicide.
  • Traveling by air should be by necessity... not on a lark. 
My prescription to myself is to get comfy with the past and how people got through the night without a 55" plasma TV. there is plenty to do... Take up the piano, a hobby or learn something in depth. Read, play chess, compose poetry. Plenty.

My grandmother knitted, hooked and crocheted without electricity in the evening for relaxation. I still have a crocheted rug in my bedroom she made over 60 years ago. It will outlive me and probably outlive my children.

There is little point trying to resurrect the "American Dream". That old model of conquest of the indigenous world; the stripping of natural resources and the burning of everything flammable won't continue for long. Nature will see to that - with us or without us.

Where will that 55" plasma TV or ride-on Pink SUV truck be 60 years from now? Five years from now?

See also: Bic lighter - The worst product ever marketed 8/1/17

The Catalan Integrative Co-op

SUBHEAD: A cooperative organization designed to transfer away from capitalism to sustainability.

By Ruby Irene Pratka on 16 November 2017 for Shareable -

Image above: Meeting of CIC participants. From (http://commonstransition.org/catalan-integral-cooperative/).

An intriguing blueprint for a post-capitalist world is gradually being built in a converted spa in Barcelona, Spain. Founded by the Catalan dissenter Enric Duran, who made headlines in 2008 after “borrowing” thousands of Euros from Spanish banks and donating it to social causes, the Catalan Integral Cooperative  (CIC) is a wide-ranging operation which encompasses diverse services: a financial co-op, a food pantry, a legal-aid desk, an open-source tool workshop, and a bed-and-breakfast for tourists in a medieval watchtower.

It has developed its own local exchange currency — the eco — and launched a cooperative credit mechanism for funding social projects.

A readable and eye-opening new report commissioned by the P2P Foundation and the Robin Hood Coop for Commons Transition summarizes the co-op’s numerous projects and wide-ranging ambitions.

The goal of the Catalan Integral Cooperative (“Integral” is a Spanish word best translated as “holistic”) is to build an anti-capitalist cooperative structure not just for the benefit of its own fee-paying members, but for the Commons as a whole.
“The main objective of the CIC is nothing less than to build an alternative economy in Catalonia capable of satisfying the needs of the local community more effectively than the existing system, thereby creating the conditions for the transition to a post-capitalist mode of organization of social and economic life. …

It is the conviction of the CIC that the goods required for satisfying the basic needs of society should be freely accessible social goods, rather than commodities,” the author George Dafermos writes.
Like many co-ops, the CIC resists hierarchical organization; about a dozen committees manage its day-to-day activities. The co-op itself has more than 2,000 members, whose levels of involvement vary from paid committee members to freelancers (auto-ocupados), to the many subscribers to the CIC’s local product exchange networks.

The product exchanges provide local farmers and other producers with a market and allow the cooperative to fund its operations with a small percentage from each sale.

The cooperative was formed seven years ago and since then has enjoyed rapid growth. Dafermos spent two months in 2016 studying the CIC, its projects and its aspirations.

“It’s an amazing and crazy thing, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” he says. “On paper, it doesn’t really exist, but at the same time, it creates legal entities which allow people, mostly young professionals, to do their own thing. It’s a highly ideological co-op meeting practical needs.”

In other words, the CIC thinks globally and acts locally.

The nerve center of the CIC is AureaSocial, a converted spa in downtown Barcelona which serves as a co-working and workshop space and houses a CIC-run library and food pantry in addition to headquarters.

Its daughter projects, including the bed-and-breakfast (called SOM Pujarnol), a tool lab (maCUS), and a self-managed cooperative community, are spread across Catalonia, attracting the interest of increasing numbers of potential members at a key time in history.

The report describes it as a “network of projects” that has a long-term aim of creating a fairer world.
“Young people are seeing less hope now than in the past…if you do get a job in the corporate structure, it’s not appealing,” Dafermos says. “People want to experiment, and that’s why we’re seeing the re-emergence of co-ops in general, and of this one in particular.”
To learn more about the CIC’s activities, read the report here.

See also:
Coopertiva Integral Catalana (english)
Ea O Ka Aina: To find alternatives to Capitalism 8/15/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Adios autos - Children have legs 8/14/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Build a local low-tech internet 9/12/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Chicago Worker Cooperative 10/16/15
Ea O Ka Aina: A Commons Based Economy 6/30/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Cooperatives, Collectives, Commons 4/7/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Economy under a new management 3/1/13

Abrupt Climate Justice

SUBHEAD: Resistance gives ultimate meaning to life in the Anthropocene.  Let’s embrace it, and each other. 

By John Foran on 16 November 2017 for Resilience -

Image above: Photograph of dawn as Somali woman walks through a camp of people displaced from their homes by the drought in Qardho, Somalia, March 9, 2017. From (https://www.voanews.com/a/dire-food-insecurity-five-east-african-countries-facing-drought/3944455.html).

Three of the most intense hurricanes ever recorded just ripped through Puerto Rico and the southern US – within weeks of each other! Ash rained from the sky in Seattle and Portland for weeks. Record monsoons swept through Asia. Parts of Sierra Leone and Niger are underwater. San Francisco recorded its hottest day ever and Europe endured a triple-digit heat wave they called “Diablo.”

The fucking devil is here man, and its name is climate change. – Wendy & Jesse & Hayley & Teresa, “Face Down Climate Change,” Slingshot issue 125 (Autumn 2017)

I recently attended a talk by Guy McPherson, generally acknowledged as the doyen –some consider him the “superhero” – of the abrupt climate change [ACC] thesis [note to readers:  I understand that Guy McPherson can be a “polarizing” figure for some in the Resilience community; I ask only that you read my essay with the usual care, and stay focused on the nuances of my argument!).

I only came across this debate because I met – to my great good fortune – Shanelle LeFage, a millennial expert on it, and have subsequently followed her leads into the literature, discussed below.  As I learned more, I began to realize something that I had always intimated:  the science is grimmer than any of us know…

This has important implications for how those of us in the global climate justice movement approach our work, that it’s high time we tease out and engage with.

The Science of Abrupt Climate Change
The science is new, not widely known, and even less widely accepted.  In shorthand form, it connects these dots:
  • We are on the verge of an “ice-free” Arctic, or a so-called “blue ocean event,” meaning that, at the end of the summer months in the northern hemisphere, ocean waters have warmed to the point where there is nearly no ice left in the Arctic Ocean except in secluded enclaves.

  • This leads to even more warming because of the loss of the reflectivity of the ice, the so-called albedo effect.

  • Now we have the first of many positive feedback loops – less ice, warmer air, warmer water, less ice.

  • As the northern ocean warms further, the risk increases of the release into the atmosphere of both methane clathrates (methane deposits that have been kept on the ocean floor because they have till now been “frozen” in the slush) and of methane on northern lands as permafrost warms and melts.

  • And, of course, this all comes with the attendant feedback loops: more extreme weather events and all the rest – rising seas, changing ocean currents, warmer weather and oceans, ad infinitum, literally and unfortunately.
As Dahr Jamail, one of the few climate journalists reporting on the ACC thesis, noted back in 2013:
Moving beneath the Arctic Ocean where methane hydrates – often described as methane gas surrounded by ice – exist, a March 2010 report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000-10,000 gigatons of carbon. Compare this total to the 240 gigatons of carbon humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature this July suggested that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at any time.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Even the relatively staid IPCC has warned of such a scenario: “The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans.”
Dahr Jamail’s book, The End of Ice, is promised for 2018.

Robert Hunziker, another excellent climate journalist who is covering the story, quotes Oxford University researcher Peter Wadhams, author of the recently released A Farewell to Ice:
Leading researchers, like Peter Wadhams, professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge for years have repeatedly warned, over and over again, the day will come when the Arctic will be ice-free.

That’s when bright red flashing lights and sirens start going off, as the water will be absorbing all but 6% of sunlight. Whereas with its icy cover, the Arctic reflects up to 90% of sunlight back to space, no harm, no foul.

When Dr. Wadhams was asked in an interview if “civilization could withstand a 50-gigaton release of methane,” he answered: “No, I don’t think it can.”
From here, all bets would be off.  How much methane could be released is the subject of at best a SWAG – “scientific wild-assed guess” – according to methane specialist Ira Leifer, whom Shanelle and I spoke with in Santa Barbara in September.

The scientists in the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, the Russian team of Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semilitev of the University of Alaska-based International Arctic Research Center, along with Leifer and others, are extremely concerned that the amounts could be significant.  And remember, methane’s warming potential as a greenhouse gas is many times greater than carbon dioxide, its better known cousin.

While it’s true that methane’s warming effect wears off in a matter of decades, as opposed to centuries for CO2, the last thing that humanity needs at this point in the twenty-first century – at the very dawn of the Anthropocene and the halting first steps by the international community to come to terms with the climate crisis, however ineffectually – the last thing that humanity needs now is a single to several degree spike in average temperatures, which would accelerate ocean acidification, glacier and ice melt, rising oceans, and the “extreme” (now proven to be a polite word) weather that has started to beset us with alarming regularity.  Oh, wait, that’s already happening, so this would all be intensified.

As Robert Hunziker notes, it may be that:
“The only question going forward is whether climate change rapidly accelerates as an out of control defiant monster or evolves little by little, in which case the gradualists will be correct, meaning future generations can fight the demons of ecosystem collapse.”
The Stakes when We Connect the Dots
We should therefore be asking some “what if” questions.  What if a sudden burst of methane led to a collapse or serious disruption of industrial society?  Apocalypse then?  Dystopia in our lifetimes, anyone?

Since we can’t answer this question, the stakes couldn’t be higher.  Repeat:  the stakes could not be higher.  No one tells the disheartening story of the implications of abrupt climate change better than Guy McPherson, Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, who walked away from his life as a tenured teacher when colleagues and administrators found his message (and his anarchist pedagogy) too disturbing for the undergraduates he so openly and creatively tried to explore this with.

McPherson then spent seven years in the arid landscape of New Mexico, learning the difficult arts of homesteading, self-sufficiency, and community-building with an assortment of like-minded spirits before packing that in and moving to Belize (a rather hot spot for a climate “doomist,” as he is often accused of being), where he now runs workshops for people whose lives have been shattered by their reading of the crisis as a terminal, near-term one for civilization.

As Dahr Jamail, the leading investigative journalist of abrupt climate change puts it:
Not surprisingly, scientists with such views are often not the most popular guys in the global room. McPherson, for instance, has often been labeled “Guy McStinction” – to which he responds, “I’m just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established, esteemed literature.

I don’t think anybody is taking issue with NASA, or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  [Those] and the others I report are reasonably well known and come from legitimate sources, like NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], for example. I’m not making this information up, I’m just connecting a couple of dots, and it’s something many people have difficulty with.”

McPherson does not hold out much hope for the future, nor for a governmental willingness to make anything close to the radical changes that would be necessary to quickly ease the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; nor does he expect the mainstream media to put much effort into reporting on all of this because, as he says, “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.” The destruction of the planet, on the other hand, is a good bet, he believes, “because there is money in this, and as long as that’s the case, it is going to continue.”
And it is true that McPherson has met with fierce criticism from many well-placed climate scientists, as for example, this broad-ranging dismissal by Scott Johnson at Fractal Planet.

I have no firm position in this debate, other than to take seriously the general line of argument that follows from the ice-free Arctic to the possibility of a severe and sudden disruption of our climate system’s ongoing dysfunction.
Abrupt Climate Justice
Our first responsibility remains, as always, to tell the truth.  The debate that exploded in climate circles this summer over the widely-read essay, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” by David Wallace-Wells in New York magazine, touched a nerve, and it was fascinating to see such eminent climate scientists as Michael Mann react to its harsh thesis, while activists such as Margaret Klein Salamon of the Climate Mobilization and journalists such as Dave Roberts at Vox generally found it worth taking on board.

All Wallace-Wells did was report what leading scientists think will happen in the worst-case scenario of continued business as usual (BAU).

We need to take a similar hard look at the situation now, in light of the possibility of abrupt climate change – however remote, and remember it’s anyone’s SWAG as to the precise likelihood, possibility, or probability, and even more of a SWAG to suggest when (or if) and how much of a temperature spike might hit us.

So please don’t misread my views as anything more than acknowledging the possibility of yet another worst-case (actually a worse case) scenario.  It just turns out that Wallace-Wells may have erred on the optimistic side.  Yikes!

Speaking now as a social scientist and scholar-activist, here are some of the things (I think) we know.
In the global climate justice movement, we know that BAU neoliberal global capitalism is already a slow-fuse death sentence for humanity.  The best science, such as that of Kevin Anderson, established this almost ten years ago.

We know that our only hope is the global climate justice movement.  I can hear friends like Shanelle over my shoulder saying “But there is no hope!”

But with other heroes of mine, from Bill McKibben (in all of his work, including a new novel, Radio Free Vermont) to Naomi Klein (in This Changes Everything and No Is Not Enough) to Rebecca Solnit (in Hope in the Dark and countless exquisite essays), I remain a deeply serious and (fun-) loving “hopist.”

And aren’t referring (or at least I’m not) to a kind of false hope that we can really contain the climate crisis from taking humanity into extremely dangerous climate change.

What we mean is real(istic) hope for deep, radical social transformation as the crisis unfolds.  This is what we are fighting for, and if you don’t think that overthrowing capitalism and the one percent is worth fighting for … then don’t join us.  Except, I suspect that increasing numbers of readers could be on board for this.

We already knew that time is short:  Carbon Brief’s meticulous carbon budgets tell us that we have perhaps four years of current-level GHG emissions left before we pass 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

Geoengineering – risky, untested, capitalist wishful thinking – is about to be (or is already being) foisted on us for effectively allowing two degrees to become a fait accompli, thus dictating that we somehow develop the capacity to remove already released greenhouse gases from the air.

So now, the existential urgency of our politics has just been accelerated by the possibility of abrupt climate change, or at the very least, the knowledge that tipping points, positive feedback loops, and so much more that is not in the IPCC’s climate models and future scenarios is on the cards.

We have to be clear about this:  we probably can’t prevent the climate from deteriorating toward a nearly uninhabitable Earth.

Does this mean have to do things differently? Well, since we aren’t winning at present, that would probably be a good idea. We need new ideas, fresh voices, radical imaginations, and loving hearts, still and always.

To address abrupt climate change as a possibility and extremely dangerous climate change as a certainty, we might want to adjust and re-imagine our work as abrupt climate justice. This is not just for me to do, but here are a few starters that I have been thinking about recently…
  • Emergent Strategy – the title of adrienne maree brown’s 2017 book, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds – is a useful new approach to building stronger movements by attending to process, cultivating relationships, maximizing our diversity, and staying open to learning and deciding in unfolding situations, which are skills much in demand by the many strands of the social movements that need to link up today.

  • Following on directly from this, the breakthroughs of Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock in the practice of intersectionality need to be studied and deepened as we proceed together, for many of us for the first time. Let’s resolve to learn more about the possibilities, pitfalls, and possible new options they open up for doing this work.

  • One idea for us to play with is what I am calling the New Kind of Party (NKoP).
What if we saw the path forward now as some excitingly new and original kind of party that in each country or area comes out of the social movements that would bring it to power and can then be held strictly accountable by them as it turns this ship of fools we’re on around?

Such a “party” (and the name is apt for the convivial connotations it holds) will be the patient, challenging, loving product of the actions of many people, and it will embrace the multiple, richly diverse threads of the new political cultures of opposition and creation that are bubbling up from the recesses of our wildest imaginations.

What if we could harness the people power, radical imagination, and boundless energy of all of these new actors in the present and the future, starting to facilitate discussions among the new social movements, brainstorming how to fashion some new kind of party to take power where that is possible while beginning or continuing to support and enable all the emerging transition initiatives to co-create radical social transformation on every level, from the always available local to the much needed national, not to mention our global arenas of struggle?

What have we got to lose?  We aren’t winning at present.  We need to try something different, something, really, that we haven’t tried before.

As Nathan Thanki, a young Irish climate justice radical has said in his trenchant response to the Wallace-Wells controversy, “Fuck Your Apocalypse”:
[W]hat good is our analysis, what is the point of our writing, if we can’t offer anything else? If we can’t contribute to transforming the world? It speaks to a poverty of the imagination if we cannot even see past our nihilism to ideas about how we might possibly fight and win.

“Ordinary” people are fighting for life all around the world. They always have and they always will. Some have sacrificed everything for this struggle, their deaths like their agency going unnoticed in the annals of any New York publication.

Deniers, you can keep your opinions to yourselves. Doomsayers, you can keep your apocalypse. I’ll keep my belief that another world is possible and worth fighting for.
Yes, I think now, that existence means resistance.  Or we simply won’t exist.  I’m not ready just yet to accept that.  And no one has to.

Resistance gives ultimate meaning to life in the Anthropocene.  Let’s embrace it, and each other.  And let’s move forward now, with urgency, with or without hope!