A Brief History: Dated 2050

SUBHEAD: That is political immaturity, it’s infantile, not allowing people to cooperatively rule themselves.

By Ted Trainer on 18 July 2018 for Resilience -

Image above: Photo of Sieben Linden Ecovillage behind the yurts of "Globolo" by Michael Würfel. From original article.

“It was a very close call; we nearly didn’t get through. There were years in which it looked as if the die-off of billions could not be avoided.”

“Why not? What was it like back there around 2030?”

“Well that’s when several major global problem trends came to a head. Mason was one who saw this coming, in 2003 actually, when he wrote The 2030 Spike.

But many saw the storm clouds stacking up decades before that … dwindling resources, accelerating environmental problems, species loss, rocketing inequality, social discontent and breakdown. “

“Why didn’t governments and global institutions like the UN and the World Bank just bite the bullet and rationally work out a plan for transition to sustainable ways?”

“Ha! How naive. Your assumptions about humans and their societies are far too optimistic. Firstly, only a relatively small number of people saw that the core problem was grossly unsustainable levels of resource use.

Most people and virtually all governments and officials were utterly incapable of even recognizing the fact that most of the world’s alarming trends were basically due to the overproduction and over consumption going on, depleting resources, wrecking ecosystems, and generating resource wars.

The limits to growth had been extensively documented from the 1970s on but even fifty years later almost every politician, business leader, media outlet and economist and ordinary person was still fiercely committed to economic growth.

It was extremely difficult to get anyone to even think about the idiocy of pursuing limitless economic growth.

At the official level there was wall to wall delusion and denial and outright refusal to do what was necessary, like stop using coal.

So there was no possibility of the world accepting the need for massive degrowth and dealing with it in a rational and planned way.”

“So how was it dealt with?”

“The core issues would have gone on being ignored until the system broke down irretrievably. It should have been obvious that there had to be a shift to radical localism and far simpler ways, but as long as rich world supermarket shelves remained well stocked no one would take any notice of calls for degrowth or downshifting.

Many of us could see that a time of great troubles was coming, but we could also see that without it would there was no possibility of transition to very different systems that were sustainable and possible for all the world’s people.

But we could also see that the prospects for the coming depression to result in such an outcome were clearly very poor.

The most likely outcome was chaotic breakdown of order and descent into barbarity and a war lord plundering era with a massive population die-off.”

“Well we certainly got the time of troubles. What triggered its onset?”

“Two main things. Firstly the rapid decline in oil from fracking. For decades there had been increasing worries about getting enough oil but the advent of fracking made it seem that this could keep supply up.

But within about ten years fracking blew out as the fields were found to deplete fast.

Even by 2018 none of the major producers had ever made a profit; in fact they were all in extreme debt. But much more important was the rapid decline in the capacity of most of the Middle East suppliers to export oil, because their increasing populations and declining water and food production meant they had to use more and more of the oil they produced. “

“Yeah, so the oil price rose high again, like in 2014, but that crashed the economy again and oil demand fell and oil prices fell.”

“That’s right; we were into the “bumpy road down” scenario. Meanwhile the global debt was going through the roof. Even back in 2018 it was far higher than before the first GFC.”

“The first GFC?”

“Yes … that was nothing like GFC 2. The few who owned most of the world’s capital had little choice but to go on lending to increasingly risky investments, because the economy had been slowing for decades making it increasingly difficult for them to find anything to invest in profitably.

So global debt went up and up. But the point came where they could no longer believe they’d get their money back.

See, you only lend if you think you can get it back plus interest, and that’s not possible unless the economy grows enabling the borrower to sell enough produce to repay the loan and the interest. So if they eventually can’t convince themselves that future growth is likely they will stop lending.”

“But what slowed growth?”

“All of the difficulties I mentioned getting worse, especially the inequality. The super-rich were rocketing to obscene wealth while most people were stagnating. For instance most of the workers in the US had seen no increase in their real incomes for about forty years. The mass of people didn’t have the money to spend that would sustain economic activity let alone growth.

So, suddenly the financial bubble burst; the rich panicked to get their money back, meaning they called in their loans and wouldn’t lend anymore.

So … more or less instant collapse of the entire financial sector closely followed by just about everything else in the fragile over-extended global economy.

For instance exporters wouldn’t accept orders because they didn’t think the importers would be able to get the credit to pay, so “just-in-time” supply chains quickly failed. It was the start of the mother of all depressions.”

“But it didn’t bring on Armageddon did it… the old order was knocked down very hard but it sort of spluttered on, didn’t it?”

Yes. We were very lucky that after the initial jolt we went into a long slowly worsening depression.

This gave people time for the lessons to sink in. It would have been really bad if there had been a sudden catastrophic crash wrecking everything. The breakdown set two very different processes going.

 The bad one was that as prices rose and scarcities and unemployment increased many people understandably blamed the politicians for incompetence, and as governments had to grapple with increasing difficulties and demands on shrinking revenues discontent soared.

Consequently migrants and refugees were targeted for taking jobs, and racism and support for fascist movements increased.

 But the other thing triggered was widespread recognition that the old globalized and market driven economic system was clearly incapable of providing for all people, that it could not solve the big problems, in fact it was clearer than ever that it was the cause of the problems.

Large numbers of ordinary people realized that they had to go local, that they had to come together to grapple with how to make their neighborhoods, towns and suburbs capable of providing urgently needed things.

It was obvious that they would have to cooperate and organize, working out how they could convert their living places into gardens, workshops, co-ops, orchards etc. They saw that they must set up committees and working bees and town meetings to work out what they needed to do.

Most important here was firstly the shift in mentality, from being passive recipients of government, accepting rule by distant officials, to collectively taking control of their own fate.

Secondly there was a shift in expectations; people rapidly realized that they could not have their old resource-squandering affluence back.

They saw that they would have to be content with what was sufficient, and they realized that they would have to cooperate and prioritize the common good, not compete as individuals for selfish goals.”

“But how was it possible for people who had known nothing but working for money and going to the supermarket to start doing such things? People had lived as passive consumers of products and decisions, and had only ever experienced a culture of competitive individualism.

Why did they turn in the direction of collectivism and self-sufficiency?”

“Because by then the examples of the alternative ways had been established just widely enough, by the Transition Towns and Eco-village movements. It was just well enough understood that the people who had been plodding away at the community gardens and co-ops for decades had been doing what it was now crucial for all to do.

 People were able to come over to join the alternatives that had been established in small ways here and there, the food gardens, the support groups, the poultry co-operatives, the free concerts.

Increasing numbers realized that these were the only ways they could achieve tolerable lives now. They could follow the examples these movements had established.”

“So are you saying that we rapidly went from the suicidal old consumer-capitalist growth and affluence society to the new global systems we have today … just through people turning to localism?”

“Oh no. That was only what we call Stage1. The full revolution was slow and complicated. So far I’ve only explained the first major turning point, the widespread realisation that the way ahead had to be via the development of local communities using local resources to meet as many of their needs as possible.

Stage1 is best understood as a slow process of building an alternative economy, an Economy B under the old market and capital dominated Economy A, to provide things the market system neglected, especially work, incomes and goods for people dumped into unemployment and poverty. Economy B involved principles that flatly contradicted those of Economy A.”


“Well firstly it wasn’t driven by investors seeking to maximize their profits. That was the mechanism at the core of the old system and it never did what was most needed.

It never prioritized the production of food for hungry people or humble and cheap housing.

It always produced what richer people wanted, because they were prepared to buy higher priced things and producing what they demanded was most profitable for suppliers.

The market system could not behave in any other way.

Secondly the decisions about what to produce and what ventures to set up were made by communities, collectively, by town meetings which discussed what should be done.

And those deliberations could and normally did give priority to other than monetary benefits, to things like environmental sustainability or town cohesion or real welfare. So it was an economy that took power away from the owners of capital.

Previously they were the ones who decided what would be developed or produced for sale and they only developed whatever would maximize their wealth, never what was most urgently needed.”

“OK that’s to do with how it worked but I want to know more about how it was replaced.

Are you saying the old economy was basically just swept away by a process of establishing more and more little firm and farms, some of them co-ops, using local produce to sell to local customers? “

“Oh no. That was a most important beginning but it could have led only to lots of nice little greenish firms operating within the old market system, trying to compete against chains importing from the Third World, and no threat to the global economy.

The crucial factor, the turning point, was when people realized they had to come together to take control of their town’s fate, to have meetings where they grappled with what the town’s most urgent needs were and what they could collectively do about them.

 This involved taking responsibility for the town, feeling that we must try to cooperatively identify our problems and work out the best strategies.

So community development cooperatives formed and town assemblies were held, and things like town banks and business incubators and town cooperatives were formed. These were not private or individual ventures; operating within Economy A.

Some did some buying and selling within the old Economy A but their concern was to build up Economy B, and it was to provide crucial goods and services not to make profits.“

“OK now how were governments involved? Surely they had to do a lot of intervening and planning and forcing people to change to these extremely different ways.

I can’t understand why they would do these things given that even local governments typically thought only in conventional economic development terms, I mean they were usually dominated by businessmen who knew that the best, the only way to progress was to crank up more business in the town to produce more trickle down.”

“No, again you’re overlooking the fact that the town’s conventional economy had been trashed by the depression and many businesses had been swept away. The self-destruction of the old economy did half of the restructuring automatically, that is, it got rid of vast numbers of unnecessary firms.

Because of the depression councils couldn’t collect much tax and therefore couldn’t do much let alone do alternative stuff, even if they’d wanted to. So we realized that we had to do it mostly by ourselves, by citizen initiatives.

In time everyone could see that conventional strategies couldn’t resurrect the old economy.

So governments were in no position to stop community development initiatives.

 People just got stuck into getting needed things going.

Of course we increasingly got assistance from some of the sensible councils which saw the importance of Economy B.

And as time went by we got more people with the alternative world view elected to councils.”

“OK but what about state and federal governments?”

“They remained less relevant for a long time, in fact until Stage 2 of the revolution.

They were trapped in conventional markets-and-growth thinking, mainly because the corporate super-rich had got so much control over them, especially via campaign contributions, and the mainstream economics academics and professionals knew only growth and trickle down.

So they thrashed around pathetically looking for ways of cranking up investment.

Of course the only ways they could think of involved massive handouts and incentives for the owners of capital to get them to invest.”

“That’s what they did in GFC 1…gave them trillions.”

“Yeah. Very strange how it never occurred to them that if you want to get that flawed economy going you have to stimulate demand and so massive handouts to the poor might have worked.

But as well as not being very interested in assisting the people at the bottom governments had low income from tax and few resources, along with escalating problems, so again they couldn’t do much to help local initiatives even if they had wanted to.

And, most importantly, centralized agencies could not run all the small local economies emerging.

They couldn’t do that even if they had lots of money.

Only the people who lived in a town knew the conditions there and what was needed and what that traditions and social climate were and what strategies would be acceptable.

And they were able to immediately implement decisions, for example by organizing working bees.”

“But I don’t understand how any of that got rid of capitalism. There were trillions of dollars worth of corporations. How did the government phase out all those useless industries producing packaging, advertising, sports cars, cruise ships…”

“Maybe I should have made this clearer earlier. Governments didn’t do it. They didn’t need to. The corporations got rid of themselves! They went broke.

Remember, it was the most massive depression ever seen. Vast numbers of firms of all sizes went bankrupt and disappeared … because people didn’t have the jobs or incomes or money to go on buying their products.

The real economy shrank down to mostly little businesses supplying crucial things like vegetables and bread, and many people who had worked in the useless firms came over to set up or work in these kinds of ventures.

Governments didn’t have to clean out capitalism! It self-destructed!“

“What about the 1%; how did you deal with them.”

“We ignored them to death! They just disappeared! Their wealth was utterly worthless. It couldn’t buy caviar or sports cars, because things like that were not being produced.

In the 1930s Spanish civil war when Anarchists ran Barcelona many factories were abandoned by their owners so workers just kept them operating, and in fact many factory owners stayed on as paid managers because they could see that this was their best option.

And in Detroit the collapse created lots of abandoned land that we turned into vegetable gardens.

Same in Greece and many other regions butchered by neoliberalism. A little austerity can do wonders! Mind you those who had read their Marx were not surprised.”

“What do you mean? What light could that old duffer throw on this revolution?”

“A core element in his theory of capitalism was that the contradictions built into it would eventually destroy it. His timing was out by about a hundred years but he got the mechanism right. See, the importance of Marx is in his account of the dynamics of capitalism, of how its structures inevitably play out over time.

Early in this century it was obvious that inequality was building to levels that were not only morally obscene but that were killing the economy.

The driving principle in the system was the fierce and ceaseless and inescapable quest by capitalists to accumulate capital. The system gave them no choice about this.

Either you beat your rival in competition for sales or you would be eliminated, so the winners became bigger and wealthier all the time, and increased their political power to skew everything to their advantage.

This would have throttled the real economy even if resource and ecological costs were not also tightening the noose, making it more and more difficult to find good investment outlets and make good profits. And then the robots attacked.”


“Yes, best allies we ever had. Beautiful confirmation of that old duffer Karl.”

“Obviously introducing robots was marvelous for those who owned the factories; no need to pay wages any more. Well before long demand fell …duh…because no wages means nothing to spend so nothing purchased so factory owners going broke at an ever accelerating rate.

See, as Karl said, the system’s built-in contradictions pushed it towards self destruction. And we didn’t have to build barricades or fire a shot. Delightful … more people coming over to our co-ops.

By the way, Marx also got that right … capitalist accumulation producing deteriorating conditions for the majority to the point where they dump the system. But again, lousy timing.”

“But you couldn’t call the revolution Marxist could you? “

“You’re right. It was nothing like the standard model taken for granted by the red left for almost 200 years.

Firstly it wasn’t led by a ruthless party ready to take state power by force and tip out the capitalist class. It did not focus on taking the state, as if that had to come first so that change could be forced through from the top.

It was not about overt class warfare, fighting to take power off the ruling class, although that was an outcome of course. It didn’t involve rule by authoritarian methods until communism could be established.

It was the opposite of a centrally organized transition process or about a centrally run post-revolutionary society.

And its core element was not change in the economy or in power relations, it was cultural change. If only the red left had understood this we would have done the job much faster.”

“What do you mean, cultural change?”

“It was above all a change in mentality, in thinking and values and ideas about the good and just and sustainable society and about the good life.

People eventually came to see that the old system would not provide for them and that a satisfactory society had to be about mostly highly self-sufficient and self-governing local communities running their own affairs via highly participatory procedures in local economies that did not grow and that minimized resource use, etc. etc. That realization was actually THE revolution.

That’s what then led to the changes in power, the state and the global economy, and without the emergence of that world view we could never have achieved what we have now.

That sequence of events was the reverse of what the standard socialist vision assumed. Marxists thought you have to get power first and it would then be a long time until people had grown out of their worker-consumer-competitive-acquisitive mind set sufficiently for communism to be possible. The wrong order of events.

 The team that got all this right was the Anarchists?”

“What? The bomb throwers? How on earth were they relevant?”

“Oh dear oh dear. We have some sorting out to do here. “Anarchism” is a term like Christian, or Moslem or human, standing for a very wide category of ideas and types and practices, some of which I find appalling and some I find admirable.

Yes some who called themselves Anarchists thought violence was the way to change society, but those we followed, like Kropotkin and Tolstoy and you could include Gandhi, did not. Our variety might best be identified as being for government via thoroughly participatory democracy.

Decisions are made by everyone down at the town level, by public meetings and referenda, including those decisions to do with the relatively few functions left at the state and national levels.

We the people, all of us, hold power equally; no one has any power to rule over us.

That’s the way things are run now and it is obviously not possible to run good sustainable, self-sufficient frugal, caring communities any other way.”

“OK, let’s get back to the history.

I see how the depression cleared the ground and motivated people to come across to the new ways, but there’s a lot more to be explained here, about how we went from towns starting to create and run their own economies, to a situation in which national governments and economies are mainly about providing towns and regions with the inputs and conditions they need to thrive, in a world economy that has undergone massive degrowth to low and stable GDP.

Firstly, how about the fact that no local community can be completely self-sufficient. They would always need things like boots and chicken wire and stoves that can only be produced in big factories sometimes far away?”

“Ah yes, a very important point and it gets us into discussing Stage 2 of the revolution. We quickly became acutely aware of the town’s need for imports, of a few but crucial items.

One early response was for towns and suburbs to establish their own farms further afield, or oganize some existing farms to supply foods, especially grains and dairy products that couldn’t easily be produced in sufficient quantity in settled areas.

But of course there were many other items needed even by very frugal communities, like those you mention and also including small quantities of cement and steel.

 This led to intense pressure on governments to organize the supply of these inputs, by restructuring existing capacities and priorities away from non-necessities and exports and into small regional factories.

Again remember that in a crashed national economy this was not so difficult as there were lots of factories and workers sitting idle and eager to switch focus.”

“But how could every town or suburb get the chicken wire it needed, how could they pay for it when all they could produce were things like vegetables and fruit?”

“Yes organizing this was a most important task and the solution was to make sure every town could set up some kind of export capacity so that it could send into the national economy some vital items towns needed to import.

This enabled them to earn the small amount needed to pay for the things they had to import. In some cases they had a single industry, like mining a particular mineral or being the regional radio factory. Others organized to produce a variety of items.

A lot of rational planning and trial and error and adjustment was needed, to make sure all could have an appropriate share of the export production needed. But the volume and variety of these items turned out to be very limited, so it wasn’t such a difficult task.

Remember people accepted very frugal living standards so few elaborate luxuries were being produced.

The towns fiercely demanded and got these restructurings carried out by state governments, because they had to have them, and because governments could see these arrangements must be made or the towns would not survive.

The most important point here was that this was a process whereby the towns, the people in the towns, came to be calling the shots, making the demands, telling central authorities what was needed and what they must do.

Groups of towns were also establishing their own institutions, conferences, research agencies to work out the best developments and to build them and to insist that central authorities enable these.

In these ways the towns and their regional associations were taking over more functions previously left to state governments, and it eventually led to town assemblies having become the major governing agencies.

They muscled in, partly replacing state agencies and partly giving state agencies direct orders and partly installing town reps in government agencies. So state and national governments shrank dramatically and eventually ended up with only a few executive functions.”

“What about legislative functions, passing laws, forming policy?”

“No, that’s the main point; we took these away from centralized, representative, bureaucracy-ridden governments, slowly, just by increasingly pushing in on them, telling them what our regional conferences and referenda etc. had worked out must be done.

We gradually got to the situation where discussions at the town and regional levels and in our conferences were being delivered to state and national governments to implement.

So before very long we formalized the transfer of power to make these decisions at the lowest level, meaning that they were being made by ordinary citizens in town meetings.

That’s how we do it all now, right?

The proper Anarchist way.

Remember again that in a national economy that had undergone dramatic degrowth and in which most of the governing that needed to be done was about local issues and was carried out down at the town level, there was far less for state and national governments to do, making it much easier to shift the center of government from the state to the people.”

“Why did you say ‘proper’ Anarchist way?”

“Because the core Anarchist principle represents the way humans should do things, that is, without anyone ruling over or dominating or having power over anyone else.

Of course sometimes win-win solutions can’t be found, although we always work hard to find them, and the decision has to oblige a minority to go along, but this is citizens doing the ruling, not being ruled by higher authorities.

For at least ten thousand years most people have been ruled, by barons, kings, parliaments, tyrants, and representatives.

That is political immaturity, it’s infantile, not allowing people to cooperatively rule themselves.

That’s why you see monuments around here to the mother of all great depressions. It forced us to adopt the sensible form of government, because we realized that it was not possible to get through those very difficult times unless we ran good towns, and that could not be done other than by thoroughly participatory arrangements and it had to be done without powerful centralized governments ruling over us.”

“Could it all go wrong again? I mean, might we slowly move back to people seeking luxuries and wealth, and inequality building up again, and industries serving the rich emerging, and elites getting power over us, and competition between nations generating international conflict and resource wars?”

“No… mainly because the resources have gone. We burnt through our fabulous inheritance of high grade ores and forests and soils and species in a mere 200 years.

Now you cannot get copper unless you refine extremely poor ores.

We are lucky now because nature prevents us from going down the idiotic growth and affluence path again.

But more importantly there has been a huge cultural awakening, a transition in ideas and values that was bigger and more important than the Enlightenment.

Humans now understand that we must live on very low per capita resource consumption, and that the good life cannot be defined in terms of material wealth, of getting materially richer all the time.”

“Now there’s another point I want to take up … “

“Aw heck, sorry, I overlooked the time. Just realized my astronomy group meets in five minutes.”

“How about after that?”

“Sorry, got an art class.”


“Sorry, that’s the one day in the week I work for money.”

See also:
Island Breath: How Cuba survived Peak Oil 7/23/06
Island Breath: 1993 - Sustainable Growth Impossible 8/5/06 
Island Breath: Four Future 2050's for Hawaii 8/26/06
Island Breath: Introduction to Kauai Future 12/6/06
Island Breath: Kauai Future 2007-2029 12/12/06
Island Breath: Kauai Future 2030-2050 12/31/06
A PDF Version of all three parts are available as a PDF file:
Island Breath: 2007-2050 PDF


Kauai 2018 Voting Recommendations

SUBHEAD: Island Breath's endorsements for Kauai Primary Election on 11 August 2018.

By Linda Pascatore on 26 July 2018 for Island Breath -

Image above: Kauai County Council members 2016-2018. L to R: Mason Chock, Arthur Brun, Mel Rapozo, Joann Yukimura, Ross Kagawa, Derek Kawakami and Arryl Kaneshiro. Mashup image by Juan Wilson. Click image to enlarge.

Register to Vote, Find your Polling Place, or View your Ballot here: https://elections.hawaii.gov/

Primary Voting Schedule
  • Early Walk In Voting for Primary: July 30 to Aug 9 at Historic County Building basement.
  • Last day to request Mail in Ballot: August 4
  • Primary Elections: August 11 - Polls open 7am to 6pm
Island Breath picks are based on general progressive, liberal positions, with an emphasis on sustainability, the environment, peace, equality, and Hawaiian Sovereignty.  We followed some of the  recommendations from the Sierra Club and Pono Hawaii Initiative.

Our recommended candidates are in italics with larger print.

We found information on candidates records and positions on the League of Women Voters (http://www.vote411.org/ballot), Votesmart (https://votesmart.org/), and also in articles profiling individual candidates in Civil Beat and The Garden Island.

On the primary ballot there are two sections: on one you choose a party and vote only for those candidates; the other section is non-partisan--everyone votes for the County Contests and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.  We are choosing from the Democratic candidates on the party affiliated section.

Democratic Party

US Senator:

* Hirono, Mazie

US Representative, District II (Kauai)
* Gabbard, Tulsi

* Ige, David Y.

Lieutenant Governor:
* Iwamoto, Kim Coco

District 14: 
Nadine Nakamura is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.  We do not endorse her.

District 15: 
Elaine Daladig is running against incumbent James Tokioka for the Democratic nomination.  We do not endorse either candidate.

District 16:
* Morikawa, Daynette (Dee)


Everyone, no matter which party affiliation, can vote for Kauai Mayor and County Council and OHA (Office of Hawaiian affairs) trustees.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA): Oahu Resident Trustee

* Kia'aina, Esther

Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA): At-Large Trustee:
(vote for three)

* Aila, William J., Jr.

* Paikai, Landen D.K.K.

* Paris, Makana

* Yukimura, JoAnn A.

Kauai County Council: 
Special Note: Island Breath is recommending voting for no more than the three candidates noted below, even though you are allowed to vote for seven.  If you vote for seven, but really support just three candidates, your #4, 5, 6 and 7 votes could enable those other candidates to win over your top candidates.  Consider voting for fewer--a practice called "plunking".

* Chock, Mason

* Cowden, Felicia

* Roversi, Adam P.

See also:
Recommended by Gary Hooser; Executive Director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative



SUBHEAD: After a hard day's work homesteading, snuggle down for sunset and the dusky onset evening stars and conversation. 

By Juan Wilson on 26 July 2018 for Island Breath  -

Image above: Detail of backyard panorama. On building hotwater panel, solar PV panels, rain catchme4nt gutter to 1,000 water tank. In yard foreground: pepper trees, two cassava, ginger. Midground: papaya, 12 cacao trees. Backgound: Macadamia nut and litchi tree, to right is corner of enclosed raised-bed garden.  Photo by Juan Wilson. Click to see panorama view. ().

Homesteading in retirement is hard work. In some ways harder than having a nine-to-five job forty hours a week. With the full time job eating out or buying prepared food was normal.

It's not as demanding as commercial farming, but there are dozens of tasks that keep piling onto the "to-do" list as well as many regular routines needed to be done frequently... even on a half acre lot.

Checking the fruiting plants daily is a daily activity. Avocado, mango and macadamia nut trees are seasonal.

It getting into macadamia nut season right now. We have three producing trees now. That's enough macadamia nuts in a season to get us through the year.

We make macadamia nut butter, and eat roasted nuts for snacks. We need to check under each tree a few times a day. In July it begins as a trickle of a few dozen in a day. Later we will be picking up a few hundred nuts in a day.  Lots of bending over.

In their own seasons are mango, avocado and always papaya. Other fruiting trees are oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, limes, lemons... and that's just the citrus. There are also a few oddballs like cacao, starfruit, litchi, noni, surinam cherry and Hawaiian chili peppers.

Plus, we cannot forget the staples like taro, cassava and breadfruit, plantain, banana, coconut.

This does not count the daily tending, weeding, watering and harvesting of our 16' by 32' raised-bed garden.

Nor does this work does includes the husking, peeling, chopping, drying, canning, and other processes needed daily to keep the plant production converting into usable fresh or storable food.

Are you having fun yet? Well don't forget the composting of plant waste, amending the soil,  trimming of trees, etc.

Homesteading is more than a full-time job. It's a life. And about the most secure and rewarding one.

We are inching our way back to the Garden of Eden. Don't be left behind.


A trashcan of canned food

SUBHEAD: When the SHTF and the supermarkets sold out this will get you through the worst of it.

By Juan Wilson on 23 July 2018 for Island Breath -

Image above: Galvanized garbage can used to store canned food in outdoor conditions out of the rain. Photo by author.

Living in rural Hawaii we can year round grow fruits and vegetables for our table. We also can provide ourselves with all the eggs (and more) that we need with eight hens in a 4'x16' henhouse.

We are not vegetarians. Our fruit, vegetable and eggs are vital to us but we continue to rely on other sources for much of our protean.

Although we occasionally eat one of our hens when they stop laying, we are not yet raising fish, birds or mammals for dinner table. We rely on others for our fresh fish, poultry and meat.

In our garage is a steel galvanized garbage can. It is filled with canned food.

Image above: Inside the trashcan we keep canned food. Mostly items with hearty content, high in protein. Photo by author.

The meat in cans includes Spam (pork); corned beef hash, corned beef, canned roast beef; canned chicken, canned tuna, canned sardines, canned kippers (fish); soups including clam chowder, turkey rice, pea soup with ham. In addition we keep canned pinto, black, garbonzo and kidney beans; canned beef and chicken broth, and canned whole tomatoes for mixing with fresh vegetables.

With these canned items we also combine rice, rice pasta and also yard grown breadfruit, cassava or taro to create filling savory meals with plenty of protein - without having to throw a steak on the BBQ.

When our trashcan is filled there is enough food to stretch our "food independence" to a few months.

Image above: These foods are not just to get us through a disaster. We incorporate small amount of them into our regular cooking routines allowing us to get some experience getting the best out of them - before having to depending on them. Photo by author.

It should be added that this cache of food needs to maintained and refreshed over time. Even though many items are good for years we keep an eye on expiration dates and eat down (and replace) those items we feel need to be replaced.

We do not buy and store fresh water. We use filtration on water and have 1,500 gallons of water stored from a well and rain catchment system. We avoid packaged frozen "TV" dinners and freeze dried military style MREs.  They are too costly and unpleasant to eat.

We find it better to mix canned products with our own own fresh produce.


Less rats mean more birds and fish

SUBHEAD: Rodent eradication saves chicks and fertilizes soil and reefs for better biodiversity.

By Jan TenBruggencate on 6 July 2018 for Raising Islands -

Image above: Rat in tree eating Hawaiian bird eggs. From (https://conservationbytes.com/2015/01/06/help-hawaiis-hyper-threatened-birds/).

If the rat eradication of Lehua Island (in Kauai County, Hawaii) ends up being successful, it could result in a more productive nearshore fishery.

Which is ironic, in that many of those fighting the eradication program were fishermen.

A new study in the journal Nature says that when rats kill off seabirds on islands, it means those birds are no longer pooping in the nearshore waters, fertilizing reefs. And that means fewer fish on those reefs.

This study was done in the Chagos Archipelago, where some islands have rats and others are rat-free. Researchers looked at both the fertility of the land on those islands and the productivity of their reefs, where erosion from the land would carry nutrients like bird-poop-sourced nitrogen.

The Chagos are atolls and reefs just south of the Equator in the Indian Ocean. Their ownership is disputed between Great Britain and Mauritius. One is Diego Garcia, which houses a U.S military base.

The results of the research were clear, said the authors, who are from Australian, British, Danish and Canadian research institutions.

On islands without rats, seabird density as well as nitrogen deposits were hundreds of times higher. Yes, hundreds: 250 to more than 700 times higher.

Those rat-free islands had reefs that had 48 percent more biomass of "macroalgae, filter-feeding sponges, turf algae and fish."

The researchers looked specifically at damselfish, and found that they both grew faster and had higher total biomass on the rat-free islands.

The theory, then, is that seabirds feed in the open ocean, deliver bird poop to the islands, and that the islands then feed the nearshore waters, which makes the waters more productive and capable of producing more fish.

"Rat eradication on oceanic islands should be a high conservation priority as it is likely to benefit terrestrial ecosystems and enhance coral reef productivity and functioning by restoring seabird-derived nutrient subsidies from large areas of ocean," the authors wrote.

Rats are not the only problems on islands. On Midway Atoll, near the western end of the Hawaiian archipelago, mice began eating seabirds after rats were removed from the islands there. The case of the vampire mice, which chewed into the necks of Laysan albatross, is reviewed here.

On other islands, the mice even seemed to be getting bigger on their diets of eggs and bird flesh. The Washington Post was among the many international publications that picked up the vampire mouse story.

All that said, rodents mainly go after eggs and chicks of nesting seabirds. That was the case at Lehua Island. Here is a description of the situation on the little island north of Ni`ihau before an application of a rodenticide to try to wipe out the rats.

"We found Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Red-tailed Tropicbird eggs broken open, the edges gnawed, the insides consumed. Tiny seabird chick bodies were commonplace–pulled out of burrows and half eaten.

This was particularly true for the diminutive Bulwer’s Petrel–the vast majority of Bulwer’s Petrel burrows we found had bits and pieces of chick inside," wrote Andre Raine, Project Manager for the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project.

A couple of months after the 2017 rat eradication effort at Lehua, Raine said he could clearly see the difference:

"Fat, healthy Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks shuffled about in their burrows looking like animated fuzzballs. One of our burrow cameras showed a Bulwer’s Petrel chick exercising outside its burrow and actually fledging – a great omen, as this is something we have never recorded on our cameras in previous years," he wrote.

Most, but not all the rats were killed off at Lehua, and wildlife crews were back this year with rat-hunting dogs to try to kill off the survivors and protect the island's nesting seabird population.

And the island's coastal reefs and fisheries.
The removal of rats from islands is a major conservation effort. It has been done successfully at islands in Hawai`i like Mokoli`i off O`ahu and Mokapu off Molokai.

When it was accomplished at Palmyra Atoll south of the Hawaiian Islands, it had the unintended effect of killing off the disease-causing Asian tiger mosquito, which had depended on rats for blood meals. 

Convert Freezer into Fridge

SUBHEAD: Solar power couldn't run the conventional fridge, but converting a bin freezer worked. 

By Kendra on 23 September 2014 for New Life on a Homestead -

Image above: A typical low cost small bin freezer. From original article.

[IB Publisher's note: We are facing the same problem with our 16 cubic foot refrigerator - it's not efficient enough to run on the the batteries charged by our solar PV system. We are looking to convert a 10 cubic foot freezer into a refrigeration unit and live with the inconvenience of organizing and searching the bin for its contents. We'll let you know how that goes.]

Why Would We Want a Chest Fridge?
\In the months before purchasing our solar kit, we took measurements of how much power each of our appliances pulls using a Kill A Watt Meter.

After plugging our fridge into the meter for several days, we were able to determine that our upright unit was pulling about 2.25 kWh/day. With a solar system that will only produce 4-6 kW/day (assuming sunny days and clear skies), we had to find a way to reduce the load our fridge required.

I did a lot of research online, reading solar forums to find out what other people were doing for refrigeration off the grid. Many people use propane or gas refrigerators, but we didn’t want to have to depend on buying fuels to keep a fridge running.

Some people recommend solar refrigerators, but with the smallest models starting out at around $700, this option was way out of our price range. A more primitive alternative is using a Zeer Pot, but we really need something more practical than that for our everyday needs.

And then I came across something that sounded too good to be true:

Converting a chest freezer… a regular ol’ chest freezer… into a super energy efficient fridge.

Surely it would be complicated. There would be re-wiring and all sorts of complicated electrical modifications. Right?

Actually, not at all. It’s as simple as an extra plug. But I’ll get to the technical stuff in a minute.

One of the best things about a chest fridge is that they require just a fraction of the energy an upright model uses. Think about it. Cold air sinks. So when you open an upright fridge, all of that cold air you’ve paid to produce falls right out of the fridge at your feet, which in turn causes it to run more often. But with a chest fridge that cold air just sinks back down into the unit, requiring less energy to keep it cool. That’s why grocery stores like to use chest fridges.

Even if you don’t have any plans for going off the grid, you might want to consider the benefits of replacing your upright fridge/freezer with chest units simply for the energy savings.

Switching to a chest fridge isn’t for everyone. There are definite drawbacks to a system like this, which we’ll talk about later. But for us, it was a perfect and affordable option to use alongside our solar kit.

Step One: Finding The Right Freezer

When shopping for a chest freezer to convert to a fridge, find the smallest unit to accommodate your needs. Generally, the smaller the freezer the less energy it will require.

We found a 6.8 cu. ft. Magic Chef freezer for $80 on Craigslist. It’ll fit an 8×13 casserole dish down in the bottom, so there’s plenty of room to store leftovers or make-ahead meals. Although this unit isn’t Energy Star rated, it was comparable. Before deciding on a purchase, do some research into how much energy it uses compared to other models of equal size.

The amount of watts it uses as a freezer will be different from what it’ll use once converted to a fridge, but by comparing models you can at least get an idea of whether it uses more energy than necessary or if it’s pretty energy efficient from the get-go.

To figure out how many watts a freezer pulls, you’ll need to use the formula: Amps x Volts = Watts.

There should be a plate or sticker somewhere on the freezer that tells you how many amps and volts your freezer uses.
Just for reference, our freezer breaks down like this:
2.0 Amps x 115 V = 230 Watts, or .23 kW (1 kW = 1000 Watts).
This tells us approximately how many watts the unit uses per hour.
After converting the freezer to a fridge, our unit was pulling .68 kWh/day. Once we loaded it up with food the chest fridge is now reading about .51 kWh/day. That’s less than a quarter of the energy our upright fridge used!
If you get a used chest freezer, make sure everything is in good working order, and
ask about the last time the freon was topped offscratch that, but do make sure there isn’t a leak in the line.

fridge freezer

Step Two: Controlling The Temperature

Once you’ve found a chest freezer the next step is to convert it to a fridge. The easiest way to do that is to purchase a Johnson Controls Freezer Temperature Controller. We got ours for about $50 on Amazon.

With this device, there is no re-wiring or complicated configuring whatsoever. It’s as simple as a plug.

Here’s how it works…

Plug your freezer into the controller. Plug the controller into the wall outlet. Set the thermostat on the controller to a good temperature for refrigeration (we’ve got ours on 32*). Place the copper prong in the freezer, feeding the copper wire underneath the lid. The temperature in the box will raise to the new thermostat’s setting, and your unit will automatically go from being a freezer to a fridge. Easy enough?

freezer fridge

We mounted the controller to the wall behind the chest fridge. You can see the copper wire leading into the fridge from the back side. It just slips right underneath the lid. My husband also mounted a power strip with timers for our chest fridge and freezer, so we can control how often they come on when our solar is low on power.

chest fridge

Here’s the inside of the fridge before it’s filled. You can see the copper wire and probe in the center of the fridge. We try to keep it hanging around the middle of the fridge to keep the temperature consistent. If the probe is closer to the top of the fridge, it may read warmer air causing the unit to cool down unnecessarily.

fridge probe

I try to keep the prong from touching the wall of the fridge. Not sure if that matters, but it seems like a good idea.

chest fridge

A refrigerator thermometer helps us make sure it’s staying at the right temperature.

Getting Used To A Chest Fridge

chest fridge

Once I had sufficiently emptied our upright fridge/freezer, I was ready to move what remained to the new solar powered chest fridge. I was shocked by how much space was being taken up in our fridge by stuff that didn’t even require refrigeration.

I’m still working my way through the condiments and canned goods (I had like six jellies open in the fridge… yikes!), but when it comes down to the basics, we really only need the fridge for dairy products, a few condiments, leftovers, and more delicate produce such as leafy greens.

Down in the bottom of the fridge I put a milk crate to hold condiments and things we don’t use that often. Over time, condensation builds up in the bottom of the fridge and it needs to be soaked up. Having all of the loose jars up out of the water and in one easy-to-remove container makes cleanup a little easier.

chest fridge

I’ve used two freezer baskets to take advantage of the space at the top of the fridge. In these I put the stuff we use most often. I’ve found that having our leftovers right on top where they can’t get lost has really helped me use them up, where as before they would often get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten.

Having two baskets is a good use of the space, but it isn’t as practical as I’d like. To get to anything below, we have to remove one of the baskets first. Ideally, we would just slide one basket to either side to reach the bottom.

Frugal Kiwi has an excellent post on Organizing Your Chest Refrigerator, in which she shares some fantastic ideas for making the most of your space while still allowing access to the bottom of the fridge. I’d love to make shelves like her husband made, eventually.

But what about a freezer?

Yes, we still have a freezer. Instead of having an upright fridge/freezer AND a chest freezer (which is what we had before), we’ve consolidated all of our frozen foods into the one chest freezer. The chest freezer by itself pulls about 1kWh/day, which we can support with the solar panels alongside the chest fridge.


Yes, there are trade-offs when switching from an upright to a chest fridge. Here are a few I’ve discovered so far…

Convenience– Obviously, having to move stuff to reach down into the fridge is a little less convenient than we’re used to. But honestly, it really hasn’t been too much trouble.

Condensation– The fridge does accumulate water in the bottom from condensation. About once a week I pull everything out of the fridge and dry it up with a towel.

No Instant Filtered Water– With our upright fridge, the kids were used to helping themselves to cold, filtered water straight from the fridge door. Now they have to get water from the kitchen faucet, ’cause it’s too far down for them to reach into the bottom of the fridge. I’d like to get a Berkey or other beverage dispenser to fill with ice water to keep on the kitchen counter so that it’s easier for the children to fill their cups whenever they need to.

No Ice Maker– Of course, we don’t have an automatic ice maker now either, so it’s back to the old fashioned ice cube trays. Which works just fine.

Space– Having a chest fridge and a chest freezer definitely requires more floor space than an upright model. This may be a deal breaker for you. We have chosen to be unconventional (imagine that!) and move our chest fridge and freezer into the master bathroom, which is on the north side of the house and stays the coolest.

We had to sacrifice the garden tub, but honestly we probably wouldn’t have used it anymore anyways since we’ll have to be more conservative with our water usage. (Now I get to figure out the best way to fill the empty space where our fridge used to be in the kitchen.)
With a little adjusting it really hasn’t been difficult to get over these minor inconveniences. In our opinion, it has definitely been worth the trade.

Total Cost

The total setup cost to us was about $130 for a fridge that now runs on solar power, which we quickly made back by selling our upright fridge. Your cost will depend on the deal you can find on a chest freezer, plus about $50 for the thermostat controller.

Refrigerators generally don’t cost that much to run for a year, especially newer more efficient models. But when your power is limited and every watt adds up in a big way, converting a chest freezer to a fridge is a great way to significantly reduce your household energy load.

Displacement Syndrome Anatomy

SUBHEAD: USA facilities around the country working around the clock to penetrate foreign computer defenses.

By James Kunstler on 20 July 2018 for Kunstler.com -

Image above: Small portion of the NSA Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. This facility is reportedly capable of storing all electronic communications in the United States. From (http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2015/07/31/report-utah-cops-get-1m-a-year-to-park-at-nsa-data-center).
“For more than a decade, Russia has meddled in elections around the world, supported brutal dictators and invaded sovereign nations — all to the detriment of United States interests.”
The New York Times
The Resistance sure got a case of the vapors this week over Mr. Trump’s failure to throttle America’s arch-enemy, the murderous thug V. Putin of Russia, onstage in Helsinki, as any genuine Marvel Comix hero is expected to do when facing consummate evil.

Instead, the Golden Golem of Greatness voiced some doubts about the veracity of our “intelligence community” — as the shape-shifting Moloch of black ops likes to call itself, as if it were a kindly service organization in Mr. Rogers neighborhood, collecting dimes for victims of childhood cancer.

If I may be frank, the US Intel community looks like a much bigger threat to American life and values than anything Mr. Putin is doing, for instance his alleged “meddling” in US elections.

This word, meddling, absolutely pervades the captive Resistance news outlets these days. It has a thrilling vagueness about it, intimating all kinds of dark deeds without specifying anything, as consorting with Satan once did in our history.

The reason: the only specific acts associated with this meddling include the disclosure of incriminating emails among the Democratic National Committee leadership, and a tiny gang of Facebook trolls making sport of profoundly idiotic and dysfunctional American electoral politics.

The brief against Russia also contains vague accusations of “aggression.” It is hard to discern what is meant by that — though it apparently warms the heart of American war hawks and their paymasters in the warfare industries. They allege that Russia “stole” Crimea from Ukraine. Consider: Crimea had been a province of Russia since the 1700s.

Ukraine itself was a province of the USSR when Nikita Khrushchev put Crimea under Ukraine’s administrative control in 1956, a relationship which became obviously problematic after the breakup of the soviet mega-state in 1990 — and became even more of a problem when the US State Department and our CIA stage-managed a coup against the Russia-leaning Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Crimea is the site of Russia’s only warm water naval bases.

Do you suppose that even an experience American CIA analyst might understand that Russia would under no circumstances give up those assets?

Please, grow up.

Does anyone remember the explicit promise that US Government gave the transitional leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, that NATO would not expand into the countries of eastern Europe formerly under soviet control? NATO now includes the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, and Montenegro.

Is anyone aware that NATO has been staging war games on Russia’s border the past several years? Do you suppose this might be disturbing to the Russians, who lost at least 20 million dead when Germany crossed that border in 1941?

As to the thug-and-murderer charge against V. Putin, has any news org actually published a list of his alleged victims? It’s very likely, of course, that Mr. Putin has had some of his political enemies killed. I wouldn’t take the “con” side of that argument.

But I’d be interested in seeing an authoritative list, if the intel community has one (and why wouldn’t they?).

I imagine it doesn’t exceed two dozen individuals. How many innocent bystanders did President Obama kill during the drone attack spree of his second term, when our rockets blew up wedding parties and sandwich shops in faraway lands. In 2016, The Atlantic published this:
One campaign, Operation Haymaker, took place in northeastern Afghanistan. Between January 2012 and February 2013, The Intercept reported, “U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”

I suppose the excuse is that none of this was personal — as V. Putin’s alleged murders were. No, it wasn’t personal. It was worse than that.

It was a bunch of military video-game jocks sitting around an air-conditioned bunker eating hot pockets and slurping slurpees while snuffing out lives by remote control twelve-thousand miles away. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were high-fiving each other with every hit, too.

As for “hacking” of elections, do you suppose for minute that we do not have hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of computer techies at our many sprawling NSA facilities around the country working around the clock to penetrate foreign computer defenses absolutely everywhere, among friend and foe alike? And that we are not trying to influence the outcomes of their political struggles in our favor?

Go a step further: do you suppose those US “intel community” hackers are not also collecting information about American citizens, including yourself?


We Can't Do It Ourselves

SUBHEAD: Mostly we're locked into unsustainability by being connected to the grid, driving cars and eating meat.

By Kris DeDecker on 5 July 2018 for Low Tech Magazine -

Image above: Evening rush hour interstate traffic jam in Los Angeles. From (https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/27/americas/los-angeles-traffic/index.html).

How to live a more sustainable life? This question generates a lot of debate that is focused on what individuals can do in order to address problems like climate change.

For example, people are encouraged to shop locally, to buy organic food, to install home insulation, or to cycle more often.

But how effective is individual action when it is systemic social change that is needed? Individuals do make choices, but these are facilitated and constrained by the society in which they live.

Therefore, it may be more useful to question the system that requires many of us to travel and consume energy as we do.

Climate Change Policies

Policies to address climate change and other environmental problems are threefold: decarbonisation policies (encouraging renewable energy sources, electric cars, heat pumps), energy efficiency policies (decreasing energy input/output ratio of appliances, vehicles, buildings), and behavioural change policies (encouraging people to consume and behave more sustainably, for instance by adopting the technologies promoted by the two other policies).

The first two strategies aim to make existing patterns of consumption less resource-intensive through technical innovation alone. These policies ignore related processes of social change, which perhaps explains why they have not led to a significant decrease in energy demand or CO2-emissions.

Advances in energy efficiency have not resulted in lower energy demand, because they don’t address new and more resource-intensive consumption patterns that often emerge from more energy efficient technologies. [1] [2]

Likewise, renewable energy sources have not led to a decarbonisation of the energy infrastructure, because (total and per capita) energy demand is increasing faster than renewable energy sources are added. [3]

Consequently, the only way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to focus more on social change. Energy efficiency and decarbonisation policies need to be combined with “social innovation” if we want energy use and carbon emissions to go down.

This is where behavioural change policies come in. The third pillar of climate change policy tries to steer consumer choices and behaviours in a more sustainable direction.

Behavioural Change Policies

Instruments and policy packages designed to achieve behaviour change vary greatly, but most can be categorised either as “carrots, sticks, or sermons”. [4]

They can be economic incentives (such as grants for “green” products, energy taxes, soft loans), standards and regulations (such as building codes or vehicle emission standards), or the provisioning of information (more detailed energy bills, smart meters, awareness campaigns).

All these policy instruments are focused on what are thought to be the determinants of individual behaviours. [5-9] They assume that either individuals take rational decisions based on product price and information (the homo economicus model), or that behaviours are the outcomes of beliefs, attitudes and values (various value-belief models).

According to these dominant social theories, people engage in pro-environmental behaviour for self-interested reasons (because it is enjoyable or saves money), or for normative reasons (because they think it’s the right thing to do).

However, many pro-environmental actions involve a conflict between self-interested and normative reasons. Pro-environmental behaviour is often considered to be less profitable, less pleasurable, and/or more time-consuming.

Consequently, people need to make an effort to benefit the environment, and this is why, according to behavioural change researchers, pro-environmental values and attitudes are not necessarily matched by individuals’ behaviours – a phenomenon they call the “value-action gap”.

To close this gap, two strategies are proposed.

The first is to make normative goals more compatible with self-interested goals, either by decreasing the costs of pro-environmental actions, or by increasing the costs of harmful actions.

The second strategy is to strengthen normative goals, in the hope that people will engage in pro-environmental behaviour even if it is more expensive or effortful. This is usually pursued through awareness campaigns.

Individual Choice

However, the results of behavioural change policies have been disappointing so far. Two decades of climate-change related awareness campaigns have not decreased energy demand and carbon emissions in a significant way. The reason for this limited success is that existing attempts to change behaviour rest on a very narrow view of the social world. [10]

Behavioural change policies are based on the widespread agreement that what people do is in essence a matter of individual choice. [4] [11] [12] For example, whether people pick one mode of travel or another, is positioned as a matter of personal preference. [4] It follows that agency (the power to change) and responsibility for energy demand, consumption, and climate change are ultimately thought to lie within individual persons.

It is this concept of choice that lies behind strategies of intervention (persuasion, pricing, advice). Given better information or more appropriate incentives, “badly behaving” individuals are expected to change their minds and choose to adopt pro-environmental behaviours. [11]

Obviously, individuals do make choices about what they do and some of these are based on values and attitudes. For example, some people don’t eat meat, while others don’t drive cars, and still others live entirely off-the-grid.

However, the fact that most people do eat meat, do drive cars, and are connected to the electric grid is not simply an isolated matter of choice. Individuals do not exist in a vacuum. What people do is also conditioned, facilitated and constrained by societal norms, political institutions, public policies, infrastructures, technologies, markets and culture. [10] [13] [14]

The Limits of Individual Choice

As individuals, we may have degrees of choice, but our autonomy is always limited. [13] [14]

For example, we can buy a more energy efficient car, but we can’t provide our own cycling infrastructure, or make car drivers respect cyclists.

The Dutch and the Danish cycle a lot more than people in other industrialised nations, but that’s not because they are more environmentally conscious.

Rather, they cycle in part because there’s an excellent infrastructure of dedicated cycle lanes and parking spaces, because it is socially acceptable to be seen on a bike, even in office wear, and because car drivers have the skills and culture to deal with cyclists.

For example, Dutch drivers are taught that when they get out of the car, they should reach for the door handle using their right hand – forcing them to turn around so that they can see if there is a cyclist coming from behind.

Furthermore, in case of an accident between a car driver and a cyclist, the car driver is always considered responsible, even if the cyclist made a mistake.

Obviously, an individual in the UK or the US can decide to go cycling without this supporting infrastructure, culture, and legal framework, but it is less likely that large numbers of people will follow their example.

People in industrialised countries are often locked into unsustainable lifestyles, whether they like it or not. Without a smartphone and always-on internet, for example, it is becoming difficult to take part in modern society, as more and more daily chores depend on these technologies.

Once the connected smartphone is established as a ‘necessity’, an individual can still choose to buy an energy efficient device, but he or she can’t do anything about the fact that it will probably stop working after three years, and that it cannot be repaired.

Neither do have individuals the power to change the ever increasing bit rates on the internet, which systematically add to the energy use in data centers and network infrastructure because content providers keep “innovating”. [15]

An individual can try to consume as little as possible, but he or she shouldn’t expect too much help because the dominant economic system requires growth in order to survive.

Blaming Each Other

In sum, individuals can make pro-environmental choices based on attitudes and values, and they may inspire others to do the same, but there are so many other things involved that focusing on changing individual “behaviour” seems to miss the point. [4]

Trying to persuade people to live sustainably through individual behaviour change programmes will not address the larger and more significant structures and ideas that facilitate and limit their options.

In fact, by placing responsibility – and guilt – squarely on the individuals, attention is deflected away from the many institutions involved in structuring possible courses of action, and in making some very much more likely than others. [11]

The discourse of sustainable “behaviour” holds consumers collectively responsible for political and economic decisions, rather than politicians and economic actors themselves.

This makes pro-environmental “behaviour” policies rather divisive – it is the other individuals (for example meat eaters or car drivers) who are at fault for failing to consume or behave in line with particular values, rather than politicians, institutions and providers which enable unsustainable food and transport systems to develop and thrive.

As this example makes clear, individual behaviour change is not just a theoretical position, it is also a political position. Focusing on individual responsibility is in line with neoliberalism and often serves to suppress a systemic critique of political, economic and tech

Beyond Individual Behaviour

If significant societal transformations are required, it makes more sense to decenter individuals from the analysis and look at the whole picture.

Other approaches in social theory suggest that rather than being the expression of an individual’s values and attitudes, individual behaviour is in fact the observable expression of the social world, including socially shared tastes and meanings, knowledge and skills, and technology, infrastructure and institutions.

As such, behaviour is just the “tip of the iceberg”, and the effects of intervening in behaviour are limited accordingly.

A much better target for sustainability is the socially embedded underpinning of behaviour – the larger part of the iceberg that is under water. [13]

This might entail focusing not on individuals and choices but on the social organisation of everyday practices such as cooking, washing, shopping, or playing sports. How people perform these practices depends not only on individual choice, but also on the material, social and cultural context. [10] [13]

If social practices are taken to be the core units of analysis, rather than the individuals who perform them, it becomes possible to analyse and steer social change in a much more meaningful way. [10] [13]

By shifting the focus away from individual choice, it becomes clear that individual behaviour change policies only represent incremental, minimal or marginal shifts at the level of a practice. At the same time, it reveals the extent to which state and other actors configure daily life.

For example, the idea that a car equals personal freedom is a recurrent theme in car advertisements, which are much more numerous than campaigns to promote cycling.

And because different modes of transport compete for the same roadspace, it is governments and local authorities that decide which forms get priority depending on the infrastructures they build.

When the focus is on practices, the so-called “value-action gap” can no longer be interpreted as evidence of individual ethical shortcomings or individual inertia. Rather, the gap between people’s attitudes and their “behaviour” is due to systemic issues: individuals live in a society that makes many pro-environmental arrangements rather unlikely.

The New Normal

In conclusion, although individual behavioural change policies purport to address social and not just technological change, they do so in a very limited way.

As a result, they have exactly the same shortcomings as the other strategies, which are focused on efficiency and innovation. [2] Like energy efficiency and decarbonisation policies, behaviour change policies don’t challenge unsustainable social conventions or infrastructures.

They don’t consider wider-ranging system level changes which would radically transform the way we live – and that could potentially achieve much more significant reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, recycling garbage does not question the production of waste in the first place, and even legitimizes it. By diverting attention away from systemic issues that drive energy demand, behavioural change policies frequently reinforce the status quo. [11-13]

In contrast to policies aimed at individuals, policies that frame sustainability as a systemic, institutional challenge can bring about the many forms of innovation that are needed to address problems like climate change.

Relevant societal innovation is that in which contemporary rules of the game are eroded, in which the status quo is called into question, and in which more sustainable practices take hold across all domains of daily life. [11]

Social change is about transforming what counts as “normal” – as in smoke-free pubs or wearing seat belts. We only need to look back a few decades to see that practices are constantly and often radically changing. A systemic approach to sustainability encourages us to imagine what the “new normal” of everyday sustainability might look like. [13]

A sustainability policy that focuses on systemic issues reframes the question from “how do we change individuals’ behaviours so that they are more sustainable?” to “how do we change the way society works?”. This leads to very different kinds of interventions.

Addressing the sociotechnical underpinnings of “behaviour” involves attempting to create new infrastructures and institutions that facilitate sustainable lifestyles, attempting to shift cultural conventions that underpin different activities, and attempting to encourage new competences that are required to perform new ways of doing things. As a result of these changes, what we think of as individual “behaviours” will also change.

• This article was written for the UK's Demand Centre. Check out their movie series about the making and evolution of energy demand


[1] Shove, Elizabeth. "What is wrong with energy efficiency?." Building Research & Information (2017): 1-11.

[2] Labanca, Nicola, and Paolo Bertoldi. "Beyond energy efficiency and individual behaviours: policy insights from social practice theories." Energy Policy 115 (2018): 494-502.

[3] De Decker, Kris. “How (not) to resolve the energy crisis.” Low-tech Magazine, 2009

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Post hurricane Maria sustainability

SUBHEAD: Puerto Rican movements are rebuilding their island in a way that enhances climate resilience.

By Celia Bottger on 12 July 2018 for Foreign Policy Focus -

Image above: Illustration of Puerto Rican flag, island outline and alternative energy solutions. From original article.

Nine months after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island faces another potentially devastating hurricane season, while much of its infrastructure and land still remain in tatters.

The category-5 hurricane that ripped through the Caribbean last fall not only caused nearly 5,000 deaths, but also exposed the fragility of the island’s social, political, and economic underpinnings.

The truth behind Maria’s devastation and the United States’ laggard response to the hurricane lies in centuries of colonial exploitation — first by Spain and then by the United States — and in its perpetual subjugation to the whims of American elite.

There is little that distinguishes Puerto Rico from an American colony. Since its acquisition of the island in 1898, the United States has gradually stripped Puerto Rico of any political agency through a web of legal cases, laws, and arbitrary categorizations intended to keep Puerto Rico politically weak and economically dependent on American products — and its poor, brown, “foreign” population distanced from their mainland compatriots.

Hurricane Maria exposed for the world to see what Puerto Ricans have known for centuries: that Washington treats Puerto Rico as little more than a captive market from which the U.S. extracts profits.

Although Puerto Rico is an island bathed in sunlight and lashed by winds and waves, it imports 98 percent of its energy from American fossil fuel companies. And despite its fertile soil and lush tropical landscape, Puerto Rico buys around 90 percent of its food from U.S. agribusiness companies.

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last September, it eviscerated fields of monocrops and shattered Puerto Rico’s already derelict electric grid.

Many of the almost 5,000 deaths that resulted from Maria were due not to Maria’s whipping winds or flash flooding, but to the mass power outages and food shortages that ensued, a result of the government’s closing of hospitals and neglect of the electric grid necessitated by U.S.-imposed austerity measures.

Despite its catastrophic impacts, Hurricane Maria provides a kind of tabula rasa upon which a new, economically regenerative, and politically empowered Puerto Rico can be built.

Several international and local organizations are already working in Puerto Rico to transition it away from an extractive and U.S.-dependent economy towards a self-sufficient, socially just, and ecologically sound one — while at the same time enhancing local economies, reclaiming sovereignty, and boosting climate resilience.

“When Puerto Rico experienced the effects of Maria,” says Angela Adrar of the Climate Justice Alliance, “it was clear that we had a one in a lifetime opportunity to unite communities together and have a vision for a just recovery.”

That vision incorporates “food sovereignty, energy democracy, self-determination, and a real justice approach…to building power.” A just recovery for Puerto Rico not only means rebuilding what Maria destroyed, but reclaiming the political and economic agency stifled by American colonialism.

Resilient Power Puerto Rico, a grassroots relief effort that began hours after Maria hit the island, promotes energy democracy in post-Maria Puerto Rico by distributing solar-powered generators to remote parts of the island. The Just Transition Alliance, Climate Justice Alliance, and Greenpeace have also sent brigades to install solar panels across the island.

Solar energy reduces the carbon emissions that fueled Maria’s intensity and makes Puerto Rico more resilient against the next climate-charged storm. A decentralized renewable energy grid — which allows solar users to plug into or remain independent of the larger grid as necessary — combats Puerto Rico’s dependence on U.S. fossil fuels.

It also democratizes Puerto Rico’s energy supply, placing power (literally and metaphorically) in the hands of Puerto Ricans rather than American fossil fuel corporations.

Another aspect of Puerto Rico’s “just recovery” is food sovereignty, a movement to promote community-controlled agricultural cooperatives that grow food for local consumption and thus counter Puerto Rico’s reliance on the American food industry.

The Organizatión Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica encourages food sovereignty through “agroecology,” a method that revives local agriculture through traditional farming methods, rather than the monoculture system put in place by American colonists.

According to Corbin Laedlein of WhyHunger, who visited the Organizatión in 2016, “food sovereignty and agroecology are grounded in an analysis of how U.S. historic and structural settler colonialism and racism have shaped and continue to manifest in the food system today.”

By rejecting the larger food system and focusing on self-sufficiency, agroecology allows Puerto Ricans to reclaim the political and economy agency the U.S. denies them. The Organizatión sends brigades that deliver seeds for community members to plant.

By stimulating local production, agroecology also reduces the carbon pollution emitted from ships transporting food to Puerto Rico, and moreover acts as a local carbon sink.

As the Atlantic Ocean incubates another hurricane season, the people of Puerto Rico are rebuilding their island in a way that not only enhances climate resilience, but also reclaims their political power.

The island they are creating — one that is socially just, ecologically sustainable, and politically empowered — is an inspiring model for a just, sustainable future. One that is definitively not American-made.