Thursday, December 11, 2008

Decision Time: Change or Collapse?

I wrote the following as an Op-ed piece for the NY Times. They declined to print it. Hmm, why am I not surprised? Don't want people thinking that their advertisers don't actually have anything worth buying? Or becoming aware that there might be an alternative to economic cannibalism that will not only improve their lot in life, but act as an effective response to global environmental crises? Or that it points out that our new Emperor has no clothes either? Or am I just not up to the Times' writing standards? Anyway...

Decision Time: Change or Collapse?

A recent editorial in the NY Times
"Save the Economy, and the Planet" rightly points out that the financial crisis is not a sufficient excuse to put off taking the necessary steps to deal with the global warming crisis. Indeed, putting it off will greatly aggravate both the financial and planetary crises, as national-level reports from around the world are showing.

However, President-elect Barack Obama seems content for his proposals to apply little pressure to either of these crises while primarily ensuring the protection of business as usual. His grand proposal to institute change consists of doing, according to the Times, "the minimum necessary to...avoid the worst consequences of global warming."

This is leadership?

Don't put any more effort into what many are calling the greatest crisis to ever face humanity and civilization (sometimes someone will bother mentioning the planet in an off-hand kind of way as well) than we absolutely have to, and let's just suck it up and learn to tolerate all the intermediate negative consequences. That is, only if this "plan" of action even comes close to delivering the expected results.

This isn't even change.

The increasingly common political goal of 80% greenhouse gas reductions by 2050, while well-intentioned and heading in the proper direction, is based on evidence that is at least 5 years out of date. It assumes the planet can handle 450 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentrations, when the effects of the 385 ppm that we already have today is not only pushing the environment into irreversible tipping points, but these are occurring many times faster than the climate models have been predicting.

This is the difference between modeling and reality. And clearly points out why the denialists should be cautious in using this in the attempt to substantiate their claims about a so-called global warming "agenda" or in their attempts to create an atmosphere of public doubt over the existence of a crisis due to modeling inaccuracy or errors. The only thing that truly matters in the case of global warming is the reality we're actually experiencing.

The actual minimum reduction thought to be required is 90% below 1990 levels by 2030. It's not expected that even this will keep us from all the tipping points -- the uncertainty is over which one will be first. Things are going to change, but these aren't going to be the changes we heard mentioned on the campaign trail by about anyone other than the Green Party's Cynthia McKinney. The Obama plan is to get the US back to 1990 levels by 2020, and this after we've experienced a rise of 14 percent since 1990. This simply won't be sufficient. Anthropogenic global warming was well underway before 1990. Do the math; it's elementary school level.

If Obama really wants to pursue a comprehensive approach, which he says he does, he must find the courage to start addressing the root causes of the global warming crisis. These causes are directly tied to the unsustainability of industrial and financial growth; the fetishization of these concepts in the creation of what can most kindly be called shallow social status; and the belief that we can treat our only planet -- our sole life support system -- as if it is both an infinite supply of resources and a bottomless pit for waste.

It can, however, be quite easily shown, from a number of different perspectives, that neither materialism nor growth actually increase quality of life beyond a certain level, and even then only for a segment of the population. These concepts are inherently unsustainable and often unfulfilling even in the short-term. And this is even in spite of Industrial culture spending much time and energy trying to convince people that increasing their material standard of living is an acceptable substitute for the lives they really do want and are so desperately missing.

This brings us directly and inescapably to what must become the fundamental question for our times: Which is more important, profit and power, or people and planet? If after deep soul searching and, just as importantly, rational analysis, you find yourself answering in the affirmative for the latter, it's time to start directing President-elect Obama toward evaluating a systemic alternative to business as usual instead of irrationally trying to protect it.

From a sustainability standpoint, protecting the growth status quo will prove to be a futile attempt anyway. We're way too far into the realm of ecological overshoot. Fisheries depletion, deforestation, top soil loss, diminishing freshwater, dwindling energy supplies, and increasing overall biospheric toxicity and its effects on declining ecosystem and species health are all measurable manifestations of this fact.

One well-researched alternative that is beginning to be put into practice in communities around the world is relocalization, which the popular Transition Towns movement in the UK is based upon. Relocalization is a systemic process to create a sustainable future based on ecological wisdom, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy. It seeks to move production of food, energy and goods closer to the point of consumption, and create thriving local economies that exhibit many of the principles of steady-state economics as developed by former World Bank senior economist Herman Daly -- basically, better instead of bigger.

A fundamental aspect of this process entails reconnecting our lives to the natural world, which includes to each other and our communities. This entails developing lifestyles, organizations, and communities from the models and metaphors provided by the natural systems principles which increase diversity and the opportunities for the mutually supportive relationships any sustainable ecosystem requires to be healthy, vibrant and -- most importantly in crafting the urgent response necessary to today's looming crises -- resilient.

It really just depends on making new choices, based on a new understanding of the human role within the web of life. This is the change we need to both see from our elected representatives and participate in ourselves.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Planning the Future

There's been a recent back and forth between the blogs of John Michael Greer, "The Archdruid Report" and Rob Hopkins, "Transition Culture".

One of Greer's critiques of the Transition initiative, based more on a single conference presentation by overly enthusiastic proponents rather than a thorough understanding of the Transition Towns movement, is that deliberate planning for a better future is both "impossible and counterproductive."

This critique of Hopkins' (and company) Transition Initiative might be more about semantics than anything else. Postcarbon cities and transition towns aren't planning the future. As Greer rightly points out, doing so in the literal sense is impossible, although the attempt is not necessarily counterproductive. We are, however, participants in the future and our actions have consequences. We can examine these consequences and make choices. For the moment, let's not argue about the percentage of time Western culture actually spends doing this. Or the percentage of time an elite subclass spends doing pretty much exactly that to the detriment of all other.

We can rationally examine, and sensually experience, that the Industrial Growth Society is causing much harm and is about to collapse through self-cannibalization by clinging to mistakes in foundational assumptions that are adhered to and defended with religious fervor. The clearest indication of this tendency is that industrial civilization is pretty much diametrically opposed to the sustainability of life, living organisms, and the natural world they depend on.

So, since humans tend to do things, let's do things differently. In a manner that not only honors life, but that models the creative and sustainable processes that underlie it. Since we obviously have to start doing things differently due to global warming, peak oil, and the loss of sovereignty to corporatism and the dominator hierarchies which support it let's start by stating what we do want. If we wish to switch from a culture of death to a culture of life, we need to start by picking a new set of values as a base. And the future we all seem to agree on is a sustainable one based on ecological wisdom, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy (which are goals unto themselves as well).

But this isn't planning the future. This is making intelligent choices based on an honest assessment of what the world is currently facing, and what has caused it. This is just common sense based on a different paradigm that rejects the old assumptions. While proponents of post-carbon cities and transition towns may not know exactly how it will look, there's a whole buncha stuff we know we don't want to do again. Certain options, which mainly revolve around selfish greed and exploitation, have been taken off the table.

Relocalization is a dynamic process based on the natural systems principles from which emerge ecosystems that are vibrant, healthy, and resilient, i.e. sustainable. It's based on a model that's been working for billions of years. It's a model we're intimately familiar with, even if it's been repressed and unexpressed under Western civilization.

There are certain things we do know about the proposed process to create a sustainable future. Permaculture and the relocalization process Transition Towns are based on don't contribute to resource depletion, toxicity, waste, or economic growth. Thus, it doesn't contribute to war. Carrying capacity of both the environment and the economy becomes the prime factor in its calculations of success.

Now, no one is saying that the world is going to majically revert back to a pristine state, or even that this will keep collapse entirely at bay considering how far into the ecological overshoot range we are. But it is a way to start effecting the negative feedback loop of restoration and regeneration instead of feeding the positive feedback loop of destruction.

So, I do see reason for being optimistic about taking the initial steps toward a way that works; that is about being more rather than having more; that just plain feels better. A way where we start thinking and acting the way that nature works. Where we shift the priorities from domination, aggression, competition, separation, and destruction to partnership, compassion, cooperation, connection, and creation. New choices based on giving priority to a different set of values.

And, ya know, at the very least, relocalization sure sounds like a whole helluva lot better plan than the current one to grab whatever you can before someone beats you to it. The reason social change from the imperialism of industrial civilization hasn't worked before is that we've never thrown out, or even seriously examined, the underlying assumptions and replaced them with ones perfectly in keeping with human nature. As Greer points out, follow through is necessary (and Transition Towns help inspire that), but we must also make sure the business as usual plan is dismantled and its harms mitigated.

Dealing with petrocollapse can take other forms than the two Greer says are the only options--finding a replacement for fossil fuel to continue powering industrialism, or replacing the energy dependent parts of modern society. Most people who are looking at the bigger picture throw overpopulation into the mix, and overconsumption is a perennial favorite. Greer is correct in pointing out that little would be left of modern society if we rid ourselves of the energy dependent parts.

In spite of Greer's claim to the contrary, however, the parts for a low-energy society are indeed sitting on the shelf, and there are many who are pointing out the quality of life benefits. The changes that are required socially are even pretty much spelled out in detail in the Earth Charter. Nitpicking energy descent seems like a distraction, unless the real goal is to attempt to keep the economic growth necessary for industrialism chugging along.

Currently, we know how to build things to last, and to be easily repairable. We know how to make them more energy efficient, and less toxic. We know we could quit fetishizing shallow status symbols. The only thing any of this threatens is economic growth and financial empires--which are the drivers of peak oil, global warming and inequity, as well as the major hindrance to democracy.

The choices for where we want to go, and what to stay away from, should be pretty clear. And it sounds like a plan to me.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Financial Market Distraction

In the Weapons of Mass Distraction category, let's look at one area our gaze is being diverted from. US taxpayers are being asked to bail out a failed sub-prime/derivatives/debt insurance Ponzi scheme to the tune of $700 billion, with no actual supporting evidence that it will do any good, or even more good than eventual harm, to a faltering and inherently unsustainable industrial growth economy.

When compared to the grossly inflated value of the entirely ephemeral derivatives market, which is well over $400 trillion worldwide, the bailout is hardly even a drop in the bucket -- but it will fill some golden parachutes even if they're not directly deposited into CEO accounts. It will be interesting, in a very morbid way, to see what sleight-of-hand they use to do this.

In the meantime, catastrophic climate destabilization (global warming) is increasing faster than predicted in even the dire reports. According to the international consortium of scientists, Global Carbon Project, in 2007 carbon released from burning fossil fuels and producing cement increased 2.9 percent over that released in 2006 -- up to 8.47 gigatons. This puts the world on track to see 11 degrees F warming by century's end, when it is pretty well acknowledged that 4 degrees F will put us over the edge of environmental tipping points.

While some industrialized nations have almost levelled out on greenhouse gas emissions (no decrease, though) the developing world has doubled theirs (we gotta get those shiny consumer trinkets from somewhere). Add to this the fact that the world's natural carbon sinks, the oceans and forests, dropped another 3% this decade in the amount of carbon they could absorb, i.e. they're full.

In a September 22, 2008 report, Britain’s Climate Trust suggests companies could drop a total worth of $7 trillion in value if they don't address climate change-related risks. Thats an order of magnitude more financial risk than the current Ponzi crisis.

So, let's see... where should we invest our money? Into doing everything we can to thwart and mitigate sea level rise and species extinction (including our own), or to bailing out the crooks and liars who are propping up the paradigm that's causing the destruction?

Beam me up, Scotty.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cancer and Industrialism: My Findings and Therapy

Well, I've recently been diagnosed with cancer, to become the latest in a long line of victims of industrialism. I've long known I was psychologically allergic to industrialism and its attendant stressors, and it seems I'm physically allergic to it as well. In fact, my current thinking, based on my long-held belief that cancer is an industrial disease--it is not per se a lifestyle or hereditary disease--is that the increase in cancers and other widely spreading diseases are allergic reactions to industrialism. Modern medicine then focuses on dealing with these symptoms, while doing little to nothing to advocate for the cessation of their root causes.

Before I go any further here, let me clarify what I mean by cancer today being an industrial as opposed to a genetic disease. It's true that cancer has been around far longer than industrialism has. In fact, every person has cancer cells in their body. Well, this is a bit of a misnomer. They're actually pre-cancerous, or have a higher potential to turn cancerous. As part of the normal cell process of producing energy from oxygen, free-radicals are produced which can cause damage to a cell which may then turn cancerous. Other factors are then involved in whether that cell continues to live, infect other cells, and spread. In a healthy organism, processes exist to neutralize free-radicals and kill cancer cells, and remove them as waste.

So, to use the bit of blame-shifting favored by the pharmaceutical industry that says cancer has a hereditary or genetic basis is a bit disingenuous, since merely being human creates the possibility to develop cancer. One's lifestyle can create a situation conducive to cancer cells taking hold and spreading, but in the toxic world industrialism has created, those situations have been magnified by a few orders of magnitude. Let's look at just a few of the industrial and industrial lifestyle factors.

Poor oxygenation can lead normal cells to turn cancerous. When cells can't get enough oxygen, they turn to fermenting sugars for their energy, and this is the prime difference between a healthy cell and a cancerous cell. Factors that cause poor oxygenation are buildup of toxins and lack of exercise. A lack of the essential fatty acids needed in cell walls also blocks oxygen exchange. As cancer cells ferment energy they produce excess lactic acid which is toxic, and tends to prevent the transport of oxygen into neighboring normal cells. So the cancer spreads if not destroyed by the immune system. The treatments of choice today, chemo and radiation therapy, do kill cancer cells. However, they also damage respiratory enzymes in healthy cells and overload them with toxins--increasing the chances they become cancerous.

In light of the above, let's just think for a moment about industrial farming and food processing, which not only don't provide the nutrients necessary for good health, but also puts more toxins into the body, and/or contribute large amounts of what cancer cells love and thrive on most--refined white sugar. Let's think about the foods we eat that aren't even food, like American cheese and Twinkies. Let's think about sedentary industrial lifestyles of affluence. Let's think about the air and water that industrialism has turned toxic, and the toxic materials in the buildings where we live and work. And then there's plastics...

There are tens of thousands of man-made chemicals floating, flowing, and buried within the thin sliver of biosphere that humans and the other species that make up the web of life can exist within. 20,000 of them are known carcinogens. These chemicals can't exist naturally, and living organisms haven't developed defenses against them. These chemicals tend to be bio-accumulative, are environmentally persistent (their half-lives are ten to fifty thousand years), and are lipophilic (they travel rapidly up the food chain). The vast majority of these chemicals are toxins, neurotoxins, mutagens, or carcinogens whose toxicity and effects are studied in isolation, not in the combinations that actually occur in our bodies and the environment.

Properly fed, exercised, and enveloped in a healthy environment of mutually supportive relationships, the human immune system can handle most things nature can throw at it, but not those of man. I hope I also don't have to explain why I'm sticking to using the male gender in this regard.

The details on my own case are that I went to the emergency room on Aug. 10 with severe abdominal pain and an apparent intestinal blockage (the symptoms pretty much just suddenly flared up in an otherwise healthy body), was diagnosed with colon cancer on Aug. 11, and had my descending colon removed on Aug. 13 by the trauma surgery team at University Medical Center here in Tucson. The pathology report on the section of colon and mass of tissue removed with and around the tumor said the margins were clear (no cancer on either end of the section of colon removed), out of the total of 34 nodes removed only three in the tumor vicinity tested positive, and although the tumor had grown through the wall of the colon it hadn't spread to any other tissue or organs. So, overall the prognosis is good. For those of you familiar with cancer stages, I had a Stage III cancerous tumor: t-3, n-1, m-0.

I finally got to meet with the oncologist on Sept. 11, and like all good cancer docs, he explained the situation, added up the scientifically measurable parameters, and said the only recommended treatment is chemotherapy. If adding up the "markers" had produced a smaller number chemo wouldn't have been called for. A larger number, or if other existing tumors had been seen in the CT scans, and radiation therapy would be added. No other variables are considered, nor thought to be warranted for consideration, such as diet changes, other cancer fighting, immune boosting or detoxifying agents that are not manufactured by BigPharma, or doing a Body Burden test to see if there might be a link to industrialism that has bioaccumulated in the body and might need to be dealt with.

There's no accurate test to see if there's actually any cancer left in the body after surgical tumor removal. The theory is that there might be some cancer cells floating through the bloodstream that are just looking for a place to attach and grow into a mass large enough to detect, which could take up to 5 years. But, that's basically the case for everyone, whether they've had a tumor detected or not.

The statistics for my type and severity of colon cancer are that 60% will have another tumor in 3-5 years if no course of treatment is followed, and that drops to 34-40% (depending on which combination of toxic drugs and side-effects you're willing to tolerate) with chemo. There seems to be a remarkable absence of information (from allopathic medicine) on the 40% who don't experience tumor recurrence within 5 years.

Further muddying the waters is the difference allopathic medicine tries to make between "complementary" and "alternative" treatments. In fact, we were warned by a social worker at the UMC Cancer Center to use the former term rather than the latter when we met with the oncologist--if we didn't want a negative reaction from him. Complementary to them seems to means the status quo--chemo--remains the treatment modality of choice, and they're willing to hear about you tacking on a few extras, like vitamins. However, they just can't accept that you just might be looking for something that really is a true alternative--meaning giving yourself an option to heal without making yourself sicker. The healthy immune system that is so necessary to health and healing is taken to the point of not functioning at all by chemo/radiation therapy in the hope that since the cancer cells are weaker, they'll die before the healthy cells do, and that you don't come down with something else fatal while your immune system has been intentionally compromised. Only a disease care model of medicine could come up with this one.

But the fact of the matter is that certain natural substances support the body's natural defense system, and have certain properties that help fight cancer cells, provide support to the immune system, and clear the body of toxins. Pharmaceutical drugs merely attempt to copy these processes, but because they're not natural, they have a number of unpleasant and/or potentially fatal side effects.

Let's take the "nutritional supplement" coenzyme Q10 (a compound that is made naturally in the body known as ubiquinone, which decreases as we age), which is sold as CoQ10, and compare it to the cancer drug fluorouricil, called 5-FU. They both kill cancer cells by triggering apoptosis, or cell death. This natural cell mechanism gets turned off in cancer cells.

However, because CoQ 10 isn't a toxic synthetic, it won't hurt healthy cells or cause major reactions in the body. Also, it's sold over the counter, isn't based on fossil fuels, or subject to corporate patent and profit. This latter point is extremely important to keep in mind. We're getting more and more doctors who have gone to med school on drug company scholarships, and BigPharms's influence, due to their affluence, on medical research is well known. Industrial Pharma has spent and continues to spend billions on lobbyists and legislators to ensure the status quo remains near impossible to change and that no challengers can arise.

The one commonality I keep running across as I research all these things, though, is that whether the treatment regimen decided upon is allopathic or natural, the largest determinant in treatment success is attitude. And, you know, it just seems to make more sense to me that keeping a good attitude is going to be one whole helluva lot easier if I don't put more of industrialism's toxic products into my body while it's busy getting healthy again with natural supplements, supported by the loving energy of so many others and the natural world itself.

So, the cancer treatment I've decided on includes the following.

Killing the cancer cells: Therapeutic doses (200 mg twice daily) of CoQ10 to kill cancer cells and support oxygenation. Starving the cancer cells by eliminating refined sugar from my diet. Regular exercise--the most natural way to oxygenate cells. Selenium (2-3 Brazil nuts daily). Some studies show selenium to be as effective as current chemotherapies, but it can be toxic in very high doses so don't over do it.

Immune system support: Pycnogenol (French Maritime Pine Bark extract) 25 mg twice daily, which is an antioxidant and recycles vitamins C & E in the body. Noni Juice (1 oz twice daily) which is a powerful antioxidant. Essiac tea (burdock root, sheep sorrel, Indian rhubarb, slippery elm bark)--which is also a powerful detoxifier--twice daily. This is the basic Ojibwa recipe, which also seems to be called Medicine Man tea.

Detoxifying and healthy cell support: Alkaline diet (no coffee or alcohol, powdered barley grass juice once a day or so). The Mediterranean Diet is also recommended (switch to olive oil, LOTS of veggies and whole grains, minimal meat). Flaxseed to oxygenate cells (mixed with cottage cheese or added to soy protein drink with green bananas and almond butter). Vitamin D from sunlight (20 minutes/day as naked as you're comfortable being between the hours of 10am-2pm). Primadophilus (5 billion CFU probiotic). Calcium and a B-complex. Whole grains only. And, I'll be adding Oxy-E for oxygenation and cleansing cells of toxins and lactic acid as soon as we can afford a therapeutic dose (2-4 bottles/month).

There are, of course, other things that can be done to naturally support the body which we might be adding (or have started to use occasionally to supplement) as we go along, or that you can look into for your own needs. These include mushrooms (shiitake, reishi, and cordyceps especially if you're undergoing any type of chemotherapy), Fu Zheng, coconut oil, broccoli sprouts, papaya extract, alphalipoic acid (less expensive than pycnogenol), etc.

The main thing you want to do is return to and stay in balance. Industrialism has created an extremely toxic world, and depends on lifestyles that are so stressful that you don't have the time to do what's good for you. You want to kill the cancer cells that are in your body, not create an environment that allows them to grow (refined sugars, simple carbohydrates, overly processed food with unpronounceable ingredients), detoxify your system from the body burden we all carry, and support healthy cells and the immune system so they can resist infection and damage and do their job.

As I mentioned earlier, another extremely important factor in healing (some say the most important factor) is emotional and spiritual health--a healthy and positive attitude. In the same manner as nature has provided the body with means to repair damaged or injured cells, it also provides the means to repair and heal damaged psyches and souls. I'm a big believer in regular reconnecting with nature activities, which is more powerful than meditation alone. Nature can inform you of what you need to know once you remember how to listen.

The above is a description of my approach to keeping the cells that comprise my body healthy and cancer-resistant. I have also been blessed with alternative healers that have so generously shared their gifts we me, including forms of energy healing, massage, reflexology, etc.

The real work, however, begins after the body heals: taking down industrialism. But, that's another article. Actually, it's an excellent two-volume set by Derrick Jensen, "Endgame, Vols. 1 & 2."

A lot of people have also been saying there is a lesson to be learned in my getting sick, and I don't doubt that one bit. I'm not quite sure what it might be, though, but I do have an inkling. I'm sure I'll be writing about it sometime soon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Green Status Quo?

One of the common critiques of Al Gore's July, 17 speech at a Washington, DC energy conference that I've heard -- from those few environmentalists who actually understand ecology -- is that Gore's proposals, first and foremost, are directed to ensure the status quo survives. Of course, Gore adroitly sidesteps any mention of how that status quo is going to continue to improve their standard of living without their servants to prepare their food and dress them, or without an atmosphere and topsoil that can even grow their food, or even that global warming is but one factor calling into serious question the sanity of Western lifestyles predicated on infinite economic growth and financial accumulation that can only artificially confer a status that is superficial at best.

But this critique leads us to a bit of a quandary when looking deeper at what Gore said. It is currently thought to be political suicide to directly tell people the truth that Western civilization is generally at odds with life. The Industrial Growth model in particular is completely at odds with life, and actually helps define the concept of sustainability by providing a perfect example of its complete opposite, or negation.

So, when people who have actually taken the red pill (a small subset of those toying with the idea as possibly being a good thing to do) pick out and focus on statements from Gore's speech such as, "The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk," and, "The future of human civilization is at stake," and use those statements to dismiss his entire message based on their beliefs that these outcomes would be beneficial, they might be shooting themselves in the foot. For if these are the only statements of Gore's that we concentrate on, we loose a perfect opportunity to bring up the viable and realistic alternative of powering down, relocalizing, and reconnecting. When looked at from a broader framework, Gore's speech can actually be a jumping off point for what more and more people are coming to realize needs to happen.

The American way of life and our understanding of Western civilization (which Gore incorrectly equates with human civilization) do need to be consigned to the dustbin of history, I won't argue with that. But I do think using that as a starting point is to risk losing a large segment of the population that we should be compassionately reaching out to with an honest awareness raising campaign of what we're really facing and what we must, and can, do.

There's nothing wrong with rightly pointing out that civilization as we know it is what has to go away; that powering a culture that is inherently destructive to life with renewable energy is neither the brightest nor the most rational thing to do. In fact, considering how far into overshoot we are as a species, powering our current Western lifestyles with renewables won't even buy us all that much time before the Earth's ecosystems tip into collapse.

But I don't intend to go into a complete critique of civilization here. Besides, others such as Derrick Jensen have done a very thorough job of that in works such as "The Culture of Makebelieve" and especially "Endgame, Vols. 1 and 2."

What I picked up on, and think we can constructively build on, were statements Gore made, as reported in the New York Times, regarding the "worse confluence of problems facing the country." Think about this for a second. What Gore is doing here is publicly tying energy depletion and high cost, job loss, high taxes on wage earners, and financial meltdown not only together, but with war. Very few political progressives have yet to make this leap.

Some of Gore's other statements, "We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that´s got to change," are great as well -- as far as they go, anyway. He's still shying away from details. He's not being frank with people about what this really means and what must be done. But he is asking people to examine relationships that are normally glossed over at best.

This becomes an opening to talk to people about the fact that our way of life is based on an exploitive power-over structure that confers status and success on accumulation. It is a way of being that is in direct conflict with the principles natural systems use to nurture and sustain healthy, vibrant, and resilient ecosystems. This means it is in direct conflict with who we really are as a species and as individuals. Since it's elementary school math to figure out that on a finite planet, being a "winner" means less for everybody else -- plus the hard upper boundary on material accumulation -- in order to continue this economic game without inequity growing to the point that armed revolution is the only possible outcome requires selling a story of growth in the abstract concept of financial capital in which the commodification of everything, both real and imagined, is necessary.

What is needed, as Herman Daly pointed out decades ago, at the very least is to set limits to inequality in wealth and income. Orthodox growth economists insist that growth is a perfect substitute for income equality, for as long as there's growth, there's hope. Thus, the solution for the poor is to let them feed on the hope of eating growth in the future! This system is, of course, a symptom of a deeper malaise, but let's take it one step at a time.

We can help people make the next logical step -- that a system based entirely on economic growth is not only killing the planet, but is anathema to progress and prosperity when looked at from a perspective that includes the whole.

Because the fact of the matter is that Gore is correct. We could get 100% of the energy we actually need from renewables, not in 10 years, but today. As I keep pointing out, all it basically requires is to quit manufacturing the 99% of the stuff we don't need or want, build the rest of it to last and be repairable, decentralize the grid, and quit looking at efficiency from the narrow perspective of what is necessary to increase profit. This is the perspective we must get people to apply, not the assumption everyone immediately jumps to that alternative energy sources must be ramped up to replace what we're using fossil fuels for today.

And then we can go the next step. Start redesigning and rebuilding our communities to be livable instead of auto-centric, start getting population under control (in part by getting rid of excess), etc.

If we can help people connect the dots, and realize that a systemic alternative is available that stands a better than even chance of improving quality of life, they'll come to their own conclusion that civilization as we know it is a bad idea.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Setting the Agenda

A recent e-mail from On Day One informed me they were co-sponsoring an on-line five-day debate with's Gristmill and UN Dispatch to set the agenda for the 44th president. They asked people to send in ideas on energy and climate, with the best ones to be reviewed by their panel of experts. <>

Of course, they expect you to do this in 500 characters or less, so that automatically leaves me out -- I couldn't even do it in that few words. But, here's what I wrote to send to them before discovering this limitation.

How can the next President solve our global warming crisis and reduce our dependence on foreign oil? By honestly taking on the special interests behind the growth economy and helping dispel the myth that a continuously rising GDP is necessary for progress and prosperity. By helping people understand that regarding the Earth as both an endless supply of resources and a bottomless pit for wastes is highly irrational to the point of insanity because it defies the laws of physics and the other natural sciences. That addictively increasing consumption of material goods is not an acceptable substitute for psychological and spiritual health and well-being. That despite a rising standard of living (conveniently confused with quality of life) America comes in 149th out of 150 countries on the happiness scale. That despite a doubling of gross domestic spending, people aren't twice as happy as their grandparents.

There are some other basic facts that must be injected into a very necessary national, and global, conversation.

The promise of technology is to provide more leisure time. Instead, Americans spend one billion working hours per year in order to buy more leisure wear.

About half of the electricity we currently produce is lost in long distance transmission. Decentralizing the national grid would greatly reduce the supposed need to find replacement energy sources.

One third of the global population produces everything consumed by the entire world. This means we should have full global employment while working two thirds less.

Further, 99% of all that stuff is in a landfill or gathering dust in a closet within six months. Relearning the benefits and value of sharing would go a long way in both building mutually supportive community relationships and in reducing the energy and resources required to build one each of everything for everyone.

We could start producing stuff to be more efficient, to be built to last, and to be easily repairable instead of expending so much time and energy on making people feel unworthy or that they are a failure as a human being if they don't have the latest model in the current color.

About half of the oil America consumes goes to the military so they can fight wars to secure more oil so they can fight more wars. Maybe if we were to quit stealing other people's resources and exploiting their communities for stuff we don't want and that doesn't make us happy anyway, global terrorism would shrink drastically.

It is finally becoming more widely acknowledged that cancer is an environmental disease. If we quit allowing the chemical companies to turn our water, air, and soil into global Superfund sites simply so they can increase profit margins, not only would less energy be required and expended, but quality of life would improve by an order of magnitude and the medical industry would see its energy needs shrink.

The American standard of living has brought us to the point where infant mortality rates are rising, lifespan is decreasing, and about 50% of the American population requires one prescription drug a day, with 20% requiring 3 or more prescriptions to either make it through their day or to be able to tolerate their day. And this doesn't include alcohol and other self-prescribed recreational drugs. This is not a sign of a healthy society, or a shining example of a society to be emulated by the developing world.

By honestly addressing these inconvenient truths (and dozens of others, such as the shallowness of urban sprawl, our forced addiction to automobiles, and the damage inflicted on the web of life's food chain by paving over massive swaths of it), we would discover that we can meet our actual energy needs with currently available renewable energy technologies. But, none of this protects and supports a growth economy, where profit is taken to be more important than people or planet.

The alternative to this paradigm of destruction and disease, however, does not entail stagnation, nor is it a primitivistic call to return to the cave and start chopping wood and carrying our own water. Just as a healthy ecosystem reaches a point of maturity and then stops growing physically larger, it doesn't stop developing and supporting the natural tendency of each of the organisms within it to self-organize and fully contribute toward the health of the whole.

Relocalization, the process to create a sustainable future based on ecological wisdom, social justice and economic equity, provides a systemic alternative to the status quo of domination and exploitation that enriches a very few at the expense of all others. Relocalization addresses food and energy security by embracing steady-state local economies, bioregional governance, and redesign of cities based on permaculture principles, all while adhering to the ecological reality of carrying capacity. It helps us overcome our separation from the natural world, which of course means each other as well. By using the models and metaphors amply supplied by the natural systems principles sustainable ecosystems use to remain healthy, vibrant, and resilient, it also brings out and amplifies those positive aspects of human nature that support the basic life-affirming direction of nature -- compassion, cooperation, creativity, and nurturance.

If the presidential candidates are wanting to be serious about actually doing something to mitigate catastrophic climate destabilization and the steady, and currently inexorable, depletion of polluting fossil fuels, instead of the typical sleight of hand that sounds good while really only ensuring continuing riches to their buddies in industry, then they are most welcome to use the above as a foundation for their campaign platform. Otherwise they should just be honest and admit they're only running for the paycheck and status, ask us to vote for whoever we think is sexiest, and we can all hold hands and watch the world go to hell in a handbasket together.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


I was sent a propaganda piece, without attribution but my quess is that it originated in one of the free-market "think tanks" where thinking is anything but de riqueur, by an ecologist/artist friend, who probably received it from a conservative relative who thinks a growth economy is the only thing keeping us from reverting to barbarism.

As seems to be my lot in life, I felt compelled to reply. Also, it never ceases to amaze me how other articles that have come across my desk in the past few days provided important concepts to weave into this.

Anyway, the original piece is included in its entirety with my comments interspersed.

> Think about it...

Yes, think about it indeed. This nationalistic, jingoistic nonsense could only have originated with a libertarian free-marketer.

However, probably unbeknownst to even him (definitely unintentional), he makes a couple of points that people do need to start examining deeply.

> The OPEC minister may look you in the eye and say:
> "We are at war with you infidels and have been since the embargo in the
> 1970s. You are so arrogant you haven't even recognized it. You have more
> missiles, bombs, and technology; so we are fighting with the best weapon
> we have and extracting on a net basis about $700 billion/year out of your
> economy. We will destroy you! Death to the infidels!" "While I am here I

Quite true that our arrogance isn't widely recognized. Our defense budget is being totally wasted on protecting a way of life that is unsustainable and about to push us over the cliff of extinction. The Earth, of course, will survive. It rebirthed life after the Cambrian extinction, it just took 100 million years to do so. So, don't think your Halliburton stock price windfall from gouging and defrauding the American taxpayer is going be worth much by then.

> would like to thank you for the following: Not developing your 250-300 year
> supply of oil shale and tar sands. We know if you did this, it would create
> thousands of jobs for U.S. citizens, expand your engineering capabilities,
> and keep the wealth in the U.S. instead of sending it to us to finance our
> war against you infidels."

Not only is this reserve estimate off by at least an order of magnitude, it totally ignores the fact that it requires more energy to extract those types of reserves than what they can provide, nor can what they hold ever be totally extracted. Then you can throw in the complete environmental devastation that comes with extracting these types of sources. The only reason to even think about tar sands or oil shale is that it continues an industrial paradigm of profligate waste for no other reason than to increase the holdings of central banks. However, we are distracted from this reality by the story that it is necessary to protect the transportation industry and supply the lifeblood for suburbia -- which has been accurately described as the greatest misallocation of resources in human history.

> "Thanks for limiting defense department purchases
> of oil sands from your neighbors to the north.
> We love it when you confuse your allies."

This is an excellent point, but not for the reason this guy thinks so. (And even if it happened to be a woman who wrote this, it is a totally male dominating mindset that wouldn't naturally arise in anyone whose compassion and nurturing instincts were intact.) What it points to is the total disconnect from reality of US foreign policy.

> "Thanks for over regulating every
> segment of your economy and thus delaying, by decades, the development of
> alternate fuel technologies."

Almost a good point. The reality is that the regulatory environment doesn't regulate industry, it regulates people while it hands out licenses for destruction. Regulations serve to simply rein in the worst excesses and appease people's innate sense of equity, in order to keep total runaway greed and power lust from completely subjugating life.

But it isn't regulation that is keeping us from alternative energy technologies. It is massive government subsidies (for which free-marketeers always look the other way) to big energy, and to protect the fundamental concept of centralization in as many aspects of our lifes as they possibly can.

> "Thanks for limiting drilling off your coasts, in
> Alaska, and anywhere there is an insect, bird, fish, or plant that might be
> inconvenienced. Better that your people suffer. Glad to see our lobbying
> efforts have been so effective."

Another complete disconnect from reality. All those other species that are being "inconvenienced" just happen to create and sustain the web of life that human lives and economies are totally dependent upon.

Let's take a quick look at what the system this extremely shallow puff piece is trying to support has given us:

Anthropogenic global warming is not just cause to worry about greenhouse gases that come from burning fossil fuels -- the industrial growth paradigm is giving us deforestation, desertification, soil salination and topsoil loss, acidic oceans, shrinking aquifers, and New Orleans and parts of Alaska are slowly sliding into the sea. Hypoxia -- loss of oxygen -- is affecting large stretches of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans which means these areas are losing the marine life that not only feed millions but which make up the very foundation of the global food chain.

No food chain, no food. You can't get any simpler, or more basic, than that.

> "Corn based Ethanol. Praise Allah for this sham
> program! Perhaps you will destroy yourself from the inside with theses types
> of policies. This is a gift from Allah, praise his name! We never would have
> thought of this one! This is better than when you pay your farmers NOT TO
> GROW FOOD. Have them use more energy to create less energy, and simultaneously
> drive up food prices. Thank you, U.S. Congress!"

This is one of those statements that get thrown into propaganda efforts like this to make people think the rest of the statements also make sense.

> "And finally, we appreciate you
> letting us fleece you without end. You will be glad to know we have been
> accumulating shares in your banks, real estate, and publicly held companies.
> We also finance a good portion of your debt and now manipulate your markets,
> currency, and economies for our benefit." "THANK YOU AMERICA!"

Actually, China and Japan have the most of this, although a few Middle East countries are starting to catch up. The Middle East, however, is much less of a threat in the long run as they have no production capabilities -- all they have are fistfulls of cash which are quickly losing value, and rapidly shrinking supplies of petroleum which we must stop using anyway in order to save at least some aspect of life as we know it. That they are trying to buy into a system where we have all been sold a bill of goods is simply an indication that they have absolutely no idea of what to do either.

One of the things that amazes me about the type of people who write stuff like this is that they also tend to be the people who rant about the UN and the concept of a one-world government that is going to take away everything valuable about democratic principles like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

What they fail to realize, or to even acknowledge as the mounting evidence slowly crushes them under its weight, is that we already have a one-world government. This has slowly crept up and overtaken us as multinational corporations became transnational corporations and are now supranational corporations -- those who are above the nations and controlled by an elite managerial group who manipulate global financial networks. They owe no allegiance to any government; they exist everywhere and are specific to nowhere except the industrial world. The institutions they have created like the WTO work to ensure that quant concepts like national sovereignty become a thing of the past, especially if they impose any barriers to maximizing profit. Corporatism has arrived and is on its way to becoming fully entrenched.

Now, we could become the first species to use our intelligence to reverse our direction upon discovering we're going down the wrong path. Instead, we're living out the definition of fanaticism -- doubling our speed after learning we're going the wrong way. This explains the troop surge in Iraq, the push to open up drilling in ANWR, and passing legislation to turn all our productive cropland into agrofuel production.

And, to keep from examining these inconvenient truths, we're wasting our time blaming our problems on the people we're actually forcing to supply our addictions.

Beam me up, Scotty. There's no intelligent life on this planet.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More Connecting the Dots - Oil supplies down, prices up

The Bloomberg article below inadvertently makes clear that orthodox growth economists are now providing some of the best comedy relief available on this beleaguered planet. Despite all the evidence everywhere around them, they still insist on believing that the abstract concept of a market signal (increasing price) can produce a natural resource out of thin air (oil supplies). Now, it can be made to appear as if this were the case while the resource is both plentiful and the capacity to deliver it to the end-user can also be increased. However, neither case exists any longer.

A good friend of mine, with years of experience as an oil field engineer for ARAMCO, points out that we have reached Peak Refining Capacity -- the point at which the building and maintenance of crude refining capacity is limited by available raw materials (iron ore, energy, labor) and transportation and installation of the finished components to the refining site. No one is seriously proposing building more refining capacity anyway, no matter how sky-high the price goes. What Julian Darley pointed out in "End of Suburbia" regarding natural gas holds true for oil as wel; the oil majors all understand, even if their market forecasts for their shareholders don't reflect it, that they'll never recover their investment in additional refining or production capacity.

The two most important factors pertaining to this are the geophysical reality of Peak Oil itself, and the inevitable regulations that will soon curtail fossil hydrocarbon use due to its contribution to anthropogenic global warming. Peak Oil is not, as pundits on both sides of the political divide would have you believe, either an ideological ploy by environmentalists to save the Earth at the expense of humans, or a ploy by energy conglomerates to increase profits -- even though they are taking advantage of the opportunity for price gouging while the distractions are abundant to deflect criticism of their greed. Lack of fossil energy is going to bring the industrial growth economy to an end, but lack of a viable environment is going to destroy the possibility for having any type of economy, even a steady-state one.

It's also necessary to become aware that current political machinations regarding pump price are nothing more than sleight of hand. It takes 3 months to swing crude production by 1 million barrels -- in either direction -- so even if the Saudis can increase their production by the amount they've recently promised the shrub, price at the pump won't be affected until after the summer driving season in America is over anyway. And, there's much reasonable doubt on whether they actually can increase production by any significant amount.

Production at the largest oil field in the world, Ghwar, is down 500,000 barrels per day from it's peak over a year ago. While this is widely taken to be a normal indication of typical reservoir peak, engineers and geologists with actual experience with Middle East oil fields say a more likely explanation is reservoir collapse from overproduction in the 1970s to make up for the oil embargo. This is a geophysical phenomena that occurs when an oil field is drained too quickly. It decreases the overall amount of crude that can be realistically extracted from the reservoir.

This also points to another interesting fact that must be considered when trying to figure out how much oil we actually have left available to create any type of alternative energy infrastructure, regardless of catastrophic climate destabilization concerns. And, let's leave aside for the moment the discussion on whether or not we want, need, or even should create a replacement infrastructure of this magnitude.

One aspect of stated reserves is the (erroneous) assumption used by economists and politicians that extraction is a linear process and that any given oil field can be sucked dry (the geophysics of natural gas reservoirs are different, and not under consideration here). While this assumption isn't true even in the best of cases, when a field has been damaged by the abuse of overuse, even less of what's left after normal peak will ever be available for any use. The full amount of stated reserves (even on the off chance current figures are remotely accurate in the first place) thought to be available in Saudi Arabia (and this is true for all other oil producing regions as well) will never, ever, ever, become available -- they will never see the market and will remain exactly where they are. And this is going to remain true no matter how hard market fundamentalists wave their magic wands of supply and demand -- without quite literally taking a shovel and digging the entire reservoir by hand. Which I suppose might be a good job for these people when they find themselves out of work. I predict that stated global reserve figures are actually off by an order of magnitude in terms of what can actually be put to use, which means we actually have that much less time to figure out a different way of creating living arrangements on this planet.

It's going to take more than prices going to $5-$6 per gallon to reduce demand as mainstream energy analysts are stating, and recession would be the least of our worries at that price point anyway. $7-$10 per gallon is the proper domestic cost right now, not just for fossil fuels but for proposed agrofuels as well, to induce the reduction in North American transportation fuel use so that FOOD IS NOT USED FOR FUEL!

One response to both rising fuel prices and the need to quickly start using less was made by Myron Wlaznak in a recent column published in Bellingham, WA's Whatcom Independent newspaper. He's just quit driving on Tuesdays and Thursdays. While this is more than the purely symbolic gesture of not buying gas on a particular day of the month (an idea that gets forwarded around the Internet about once a year), the approach I'm taking is to reduce my personal fuel use to five gallons per month. This isn't exactly an easy task in a city like Tucson, AZ which has sprawled out to about 20 miles from side to side, and in the summertime 100+ degree heat made worse from the urban heat island effect, you simply can't get from here to there for most things on a bicycle when the sun's out.

Considering the systemic nature of what we're facing, if community leaders and politicians don't start implementing the alternative that relocalization provides to the status quo PDQ, the responsibility for the collapse, chaos, and suffering that will occur will lay entirely, and rightly, on their heads. It's time to drop the excuse of political feasibility to justify inaction (which includes undertaking further studies and other feel-good, high visibility, half measures to make it appear as if they're addressing the problem) and actually start doing things differently.

So, plant your backyard veggie gardens, and change your lightbulbs, but then spend the rest of your time camping out in front of their offices and _demanding_ that they start making the decisions that are necessary instead of those that are convenient for the special interests in order for them to retain a perceived power that is ephemeral at best.

For the Earth...
_dave_(this entire message is composed of recycled electrons)
Natural Systems Solutions
Sustainable lifestyles, organizations, and communities

------- Forwarded message follows -------

Oil Rises Above $133 on U.S. Supply Drop, Bank Price Forecasts
By Mark Shenk

May 21 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil rose to a record above $133 a barrel as U.S. stockpiles unexpectedly dropped and banks raised price forecasts because of supply constraints and demand growth.

Inventories fell 5.32 million barrels to 320.4 million last week, the biggest drop in four months, the Energy Department said. Oil for December 2016 delivery rose more than $20 a barrel, or 17 percent, after Goldman Sachs Group Inc. on May 16 raised its outlook to $141 a barrel for the second-half of the year.

``What we have here is a situation where essentially higher prices aren't generating any more supply,'' Paul Sankey, an analyst at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York said in an interview with Bloomberg radio. ``What we have to do is keep pricing the commodity higher until demand starts falling,'' which ``is around $150 a barrel.''

Crude oil for July delivery rose $4.19, or 3.3 percent, to settle at $133.17 a barrel at 2:44 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil touched a record $133.82 today and has more than doubled from a year ago. Futures, up more than 17 percent this month, are heading for the biggest monthly gain since September 2004.

Gasoline and heating-oil futures in New York also climbed to records. Gasoline for June delivery rose 9.21 cents, or 2.8 percent, to settle at $3.3965 a gallon, after reaching a record $3.41. Heating oil for June delivery rose 13.34 cents, or 3.5 percent, to close at $3.9084 a gallon, after touching an all-time high of $3.9304.

Higher Pump Prices

Pump prices are following futures higher. Regular gasoline, averaged nationwide, rose 0.7 cent to a record $3.807 a gallon, AAA, the nation's largest motorist organization, said today on its Web site.

An inventory increase of 300,000 barrels was forecast, according to the median of responses by 15 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News before the inventory report's release.

The supply decline left stockpiles 0.9 percent below the five-year average for the week, the Energy Department said. Supplies were 0.8 percent above normal a week earlier.

Imports fell 7 percent to 9.24 million barrels a day, the report showed. Imports have averaged 9.86 million barrels a day so far this year, down 0.9 percent from the same period last year, according to department figures.

``In this high-priced environment we are seeing refiners cut back on imports,'' said Antoine Halff, head of energy research at New York-based Newedge USA LLC. ``High prices and credit tightness are making it much harder to build supply.''

Brent crude oil for July settlement rose $4.86, or 3.8 percent, to $132.70 a barrel on London's ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract touched $133.34 today, the highest since trading began in 1988.

`Well Supplied'

The crude-oil market is ``well supplied,'' Libya's top oil official Shokri Ghanem said today, rejecting calls for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase production to curb prices. OPEC, which pumps more than 40 percent of the world's oil, isn't planning to meet before its next scheduled conference in September to review production, he said.

``OPEC is playing with fire,'' said Rick Mueller, director of oil practice at Energy Security Analysis Inc. in Wakefield, Massachusetts. ``While they may be right from a fundamental standpoint about crude supplies, at this time it will take more than words from them to bring prices down. We will need to see more gestures like the Saudis made, to lower prices.''

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told reporters on May 16 that the kingdom is planning a 300,000 barrel-a-day output increase, to bring June production to 9.45 million barrels a day.

``Once prices hit $150 or $200 like our friends at Goldman are saying, we are looking at $5 or $6 gasoline, which will really hurt demand and cause a recession,'' Mueller said.

Goldman Forecasts

Goldman analyst Arjun N. Murti said in a May 16 report that ``the possibility of $150-$200 per barrel seems increasingly likely over the next six-24 months.'' Murti first wrote of a ``super spike'' in March 2005, predicting crude may trade between $50 and $105 a barrel through 2009.

U.S. oil-company executives told Congress oil prices should be between $35 and $90 a barrel. Representatives of the five largest publicly traded oil companies appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify on record energy prices. Appearing today were representatives of BP Plc, ConocoPhillips, Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

The price of oil should be ``somewhere between $35 and $65 a barrel,'' John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., the Houston-based subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, said at the hearing today. Other executives said prices should be as much as $90 a barrel.

Strategic Reserve

Congress last week approved legislation to halt deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to respond to record prices.

Airlines have been hit by higher jet fuel costs. The price of the fuel, the largest expense at many airlines, has climbed 88 percent in the past year and traded at a record $4.0592 a gallon in New York Harbor today.

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, the world's largest carrier, said it will cut ``thousands'' of jobs as it responds to high fuel prices and slowing demand.

------- End of forwarded message -------

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Prelude to "José Can You See? Bush's Trojan Taco"

I wrote this prelude when forwarding Greg Palast's (excellent as usual) article to most of the lists I'm on to help keep people up to date on what's going on behind the scenes while the Left continues to be distracted by the Punch and Judy show of the Democratic primaries, the anti-war movement continues to be deluded that either defunding or pulling out of Iraq will bring world peace, and as Commercial Totalitarianism continues to tighten the noose of state fascism ensuring that nothing effective will be done to address catastrophic climate destabilization within the rapidly shrinking necessary timeframe.

And yes, there is something we could do about all of this, but too many people today insist on the pathological clinging to the propaganda that there's nothing we can do, it's too big, we can't make a difference, a growth economy is necessary for progress, prosperity and alleviating poverty, and besides it's just human nature to act like sheep and do the bidding of our overlords.


Our overlords are just fellow Bozos on this bus, boys and girls. They put their pants on one leg at a time, and they have grandchildren they care about. Well, except for those very few true sociopaths like Cheney, or those whose higher neural functions have been lost through cocaine abuse and alcoholism like geedubya, of course. The rest of the ruling elite all believe the same propaganda/story, and for basically the same reason -- the dominant OldStory is insidious in not allowing an alternative to be known, or in framing any alternative as inferior.

Creating and telling the NewStory is going to take all of us putting aside our sectarian differences; not succumbing to factionalization; not being led astray by the egos of movement leaders who believe in power-over hierarchies. The goal of a sustainable future based on ecological wisdom and social justice, based on globally shared values such as those expressed by the Earth Charter, is an alternative we can choose. This goal can both unite us and build from the strength inherent in our diversity.

Two necessities for creating and living this NewStory are going to be accepting what sustainability actually means (morally, scientifically, and legally), and that humans are actually an intimate and inextricable part of a larger living system that has imbued us with the intelligence, heart, and spirit to actually do so. This NewStory is more in keeping with true human nature. It adheres to the principles of natural systems. It helps us realize that sustainability is not merely an environmental movement; it is a community movement.

Does anyone else feel up to this task, which actually works with the life-nurturing energies that create and support life (that have a successful track record measured in the billions of years, pretty much regardless of which story you believe of their origin), or do you really think that putting band-aids on symptoms (otherwise known as incremental reform), or that separating yourselves from the rest of the world in little eco-village enclaves out in the wilderness as the current system collapses around our ears and we're rounded up by Blackwater mercenaries into the already funded Halliburton built concentration camps is the best path we can choose -- or worse yet, have you succumbed to the disempowering cynical view that this is our fate, and so, like urban growth, we have no choice but to accommodate it to the best of our abilities?

Reconnecting with nature and relocalizing our lifestyles and communities provides a systemic process to create a NewStory we can all joyfully participate in. In fact, we all must. This alternative to the status quo is both realistic and imminently achievable, in no small part because it will unleash the current constraints on human potential and provide increased opportunities to meet our natural expectations of fulfillment.

Which future do you want to choose? Go ahead. Take the red pill. Offer it to your family and neighbors.

Let's party!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Practical Steps Toward Relocalization: Part Three of a Three Part Series

Among the initial steps toward relocalization is agreeing to the necessity, and desiring the benefits, of this process. Hopefully, it's become clear from the first two installments of this series that reconnection and relocalization go hand-in-hand, and that they provide a blueprint to remedy what's wrong in the world today.

Relocalization provides the concepts and process for making positive changes -- but what about the power? We only lose the power to make new choices if we willingly give up that power or believe the assertion that we don't have it in the first place.

It's also important to realize that the shift to a sustainable future through relocalization can start first thing tomorrow morning. There is absolutely no need to wait for a new technology to become invented or widely available. We don't have to wait ten generations for our consciousness to evolve to a higher plane. All we have to do is remember that whatever we call the wise, nurturing power that created sustainable ecosystems, created us as well. We embody that wisdom and power. It is lying there dormant, just waiting (crying out, even) for us to tap into it.

It's now clear that we will be dealing with catastrophic climate destabilization at the same time Peak Oil impacts our lives. What does this mean for future energy demands? How will this effect the entire concept of industrial production as the means to prosperity? What are the implications for a cultural identity dependent on economic and material growth? Environmental degradation and resource depletion in dozens of other areas also make it clear that even without global warming and Peak Oil, things must drastically change if we're to have any hope of creating a sustainable future.

Things are starting to fall apart at an accelerating pace. But instead of panicking or giving up, let's take a deep breath and look at reality. The fact is, a major part of what's falling apart is a growth economy which isn't real in the first place -- although it worsens other global crises like Peak Oil and global warming. We can produce what is actually needed to live sustainably with current renewable energy technologies and a dramatic reduction in production capacity. We possess the knowledge to produce efficient, high-quality, lasting goods. What is quickly being lost are the skills -- the craftsmanship -- to do so.

Even if everything we think we know about Peak Oil and global warming turns out to be false, if we start changing the way we do business and re-order our relationships to be in harmony with the natural world, the worst outcome is that we'd leave a healthier and more vibrant world for our children.

As mentioned last month, relocalization has some broad agendas. One of these is to empower and prioritize local decisions on land use and natural resource management based on a regional framework of sustainability. We can rebuild groups of neighborhoods to be friendlier to people and the environment than to cars, and reallocate the money now going to more and wider roads (and other sprawl enablers) to meet peoples' needs for right livelihood, community security, and ecological integrity.

Further, we can rely on local investment where returns are measured in increased quality of life instead of merely profits, and wake up to the fact that growth increases everyone's tax burden -- and beyond a certain point actually decreases quality of life indicators.

We can begin this exercise in rethinking community and economic development by connecting some dots and seeing what picture emerges with just the above two aspects of relocalization.

A relocalized, human-friendly desert community that must reduce sprawl will increase the use of bicycles, other human powered and public transportation, water harvesting, greywater systems, and solar energy. These will synergistically work with the need to quit drawing down and begin recharging the aquifer, and to minimize the energy expended to obtain, deliver and recycle water.

Our community can manufacture waterless composting toilets, bicycle frames and trailers, and water cistern systems. This will involve building a manufacturing base requiring skilled jobs in design, production, and installation. We'll need new skills in urban planning, public works and community health; renovation and redesign of the built environment using environmentally friendly products; and research and application advances in clean production and zero waste techniques.

The waterless composting toilet itself 1) provides ancillary jobs in retrofitting existing infrastructure and solar power installations for the toilet fan and heating element; 2) encourages complimentary production of passive solar devices and other cooling, heating, and energy efficiency improvements; 3) decreases wear and tear on public water and sewer systems; and 4) provides finished compost for neighborhood and community gardens to rebuild soil -- since soil is what actually feeds you. Just this one change provides many opportunities for education, training, and employment in numerous and diverse green collar jobs.

As we shift toward a relocalized economy, we will come to realize that meaningful work doesn't require 40-50 hour work weeks. Human ingenuity and existing technology means that no one must work more than 15-20 hours per week (which could be six months of 40 hour weeks). This would allow technology to deliver on one of its promises -- increased leisure time. Instead of time spent exhausted in front of the television, this can become quality leisure time spent being in community, furthering education, engaging in creative pursuits, and reconnecting with the natural world -- inherently sustainable desires expressed by the majority of people once basic needs are met.

Protecting the poor and middle classes from increasing energy and commodity costs and the effects of global warming begins by creating the process to ensure these basic human needs. This necessarily includes the desire to be a responsibly contributing member of one's community. This can be accomplished without increasing energy demand, or increasing industrial productivity and efficiency (widgets produced per unit of time) as the only true measure of prosperity and progress. The only downside to any of this is that if done sustainably, it doesn't protect a growth economy, and helps clarify why reliance on infinite growth is more accurately described as economic cannibalism.

This fits in with a vision of relocalized, sustainable, environmentally integrated cities that are self-reliant, resilient, and vibrant. It is part of the path toward cities that contain greenbelts among and between neighborhoods, smaller and fewer roads built with permeable surfaces, public transit between neighborhoods and regional centers, electric vehicle co-ops, locally produced food, decentralized renewable energy, sustainable (clean, zero waste) manufacturing, fewer work hours, and full employment. This all leads to people wanting to responsibly contribute to their communities because doing so increases their opportunities to maximize their potential. Social stress and alienation decrease because people know they have something to look forward to -- purpose and meaning returns to daily life.

A future built on the principles of ecological wisdom and social justice may sound utopian, but utopia means "no place." What I'm envisioning by using relocalization as the process to become sustainable is a realistic, pragmatic whole systems view that works the same way nature does. Instead of enriching a small minority at the ultimate expense of all other life, it is more in keeping with true human nature and better able to meet people's needs and desires instead of constraining, limiting, and creating addictive substitutes for them.

Relocalization Nuts and Bolts: Part Two of a Three Part Series

This month’s installment explains what relocalization means and what it offers. Next month I will describe what a relocalized economy might look here in the Southwest desert.

To appreciate the potential of relocalization, it is important to first understand that the status quo is causing our personal, social, and environmental crises. While we know that we’re quickly degrading our life support system with the business as usual approach of economic growth, we can’t say for certain how quickly this is occurring, which adverse impacts will reveal themselves first, or how disastrous these impacts will be. However, there is a large degree of agreement among scientists, and growing agreement among economists, that creating a carbon-cycle neutral economy, and making sure that all human activities and effects are included in evaluating that economy, should be our number one priority.

The real inconvenient truth is that the business as usual approach of infinite and unfettered economic growth has created both catastrophic climate destabilization and Peak Oil. Protecting this system worsens these crises, and attempts to reform a system based on faulty assumptions merely postpones the inevitable collapse. Therefore, we must approach change with a new way of thinking to create an alternative without these liabilities. Relocalization is a whole-systems approach to doing things differently -- a process to achieve sustainability.

Relocalization was developed as a response to global warming and Peak Oil. More than just a band-aid for these symptoms, however, it also seeks to address the environmental, social, political, and economic ramifications at the root of these crises. It includes the concepts that we must rebuild our local economies; recapture our sense of place; reclaim our sovereignty; and restore our community support networks.

From a natural systems perspective, a green economy is a local economy. By meeting the requirements to be sustainable from a bioregional carrying capacity perspective, a relocalized community is “naturally” healthy, vibrant, and resilient.

At its core, relocalization is a strategy to move production of food, goods and energy closer to the point of consumption to reduce dependence on long distance transportation and the whims of distant suppliers. The goal is to increase food and energy security, to empower local decisions in the development of currency, culture, and governance, and to restore ecological integrity and social equity.

If you’re familiar with the mission of anti-globalization activists who use localization to protect local economies and livelihoods from the slow drain of an export economy, relocalization goes a step further with a commitment to reduce consumption and improve environmental and social conditions. It is both antithesis and antidote to the emptiness and inherent inequity of corporate globalization.

Reducing consumption is, of course, directly at odds with a growth economy -- but this is not a call for an austerity program demanding great personal sacrifice and suffering. We can reduce consumption by sharing rarely used items with neighbors. We can reduce consumption by only purchasing items that are built to last and be easily repairable. We can reduce consumption by turning off the TV to decrease its stranglehold on our psyche with its mesmerizing story that popularity and self-worth is dependent on being a walking billboard for this season’s corporate fashion. By removing the need to work longer hours to buy all the stuff that never fulfills its promise to deliver happiness, we will have the time to do all those things that do bring happiness.

The reason all aspects of our society must be included in the task of relocalization is quite pragmatic. The ancient Greek oikonomia is the root of economics. It means the management of a household to increase value to all members over time. It is a systemic view that considers all the relationships -- natural, social, values, language, history -- that contribute to our stay as guests in Mother Earth’s home. Oikonomia looks at the social good, not just the parties to a transaction or claims of ownership of a natural resource.

Relocalization and decentralization are concepts that are feared by the ruling elite because it removes power and control from the hands of those who have become addicted, or think they are somehow entitled by birth, to wield it. This is why you hear about agrofuels and carbon capture, but not relocalization and powering down, on the 6 O’clock News. These latter concepts are ridiculed, marginalized, and said to be unmanageable for a mere “working class” either too stupid to take care of itself or without the capacity to understand how the bigger picture “really” works.

Well, the bigger picture works rather simply by the natural systems principles of mutual support and reciprocity, no waste, no greed, and increasing diversity. It works by self-organizing attraction relationships that make everyone’s life better by making the whole better.

This is what life is all about, and relocalization seeks to return us to it.


More information on relocalization can be found at the Relocalization Network, and you're invited to become involved with Tucson's relocalization group, Campaign For Our Lives.

Relocalizing for a Green Economy: Part One of a Three Part Series

These next three posts are the full, unedited versions of a series of articles on relocalization I was asked to write for the Tucson Green Magazine. They were edited either because they were too long for the space available, or because they presented concepts the "mainstream" wasn't considered yet ready for. Since I do tend to preach to the choir quite a bit, there's undoubtedly more than a little merit to this critique.

However, if you're reading these here, I'm going to assume you've already taken the red pill, or are at least considering other ways of breaking free of the consensus trance and looking for ways to start doing things differently; to actively participate in creating a sustainable future based on ecological wisdom and social justice.

Part One:

No matter how clever we are, our cleverness is wholly dependent on the bounty and health of the Earth and the richness of our relationships.

A growth economy of material goods has an unfortunate outcome for living organisms, and we're told to ignore the connection between constant financial growth and the exploitation of people and degradation of the planet. We're told this is the price of progress. However, we cannot escape the fact that the planet's resources are either finite or have a carrying capacity limit to their rate of regeneration, while money is an abstract concept that knows no bounds, nor has a basis in hard physical reality.

We use money to assign value to a person's status and contribution to community well-being. But this value is not necessarily tied to community equity or fairly earned, as can be seen from lotteries, sweepstakes, and mortgage backed securities. We also let ourselves believe that money can be used to meet all human needs and desires. That this is ludicrous as soon as one stops to think about it is why we're told not to. While money can't buy happiness, it can buy the antidepressants necessary to stand in its stead.

My core belief is that today's financial markets are a major contributing factor to the crises life faces. They are little more than a form of legalized gambling in a highly rigged game. They nurture the fantasy of something for nothing. This has worked well for a select few over the centuries, but we've reached a few global tipping points such as overpopulation causing depletion of fisheries and 50% loss of productive topsoil, and with fossil fueled global warming we're quickly approaching others.

That said, socially responsible investing on a local level could be a leverage point in creating the first steps to a sustainable future. There are models available, such as Solari Circles and steady-state economies, that can help communities regain control of their future and develop sustainably. Today, communities have the impetus and the opportunity to pull together, invest in a future that looks at the bigger picture, and provide true and lasting value for all the species that make up that community.

The main points I think people must begin examining in earnest regard economic growth and accumulation as the only allowable meaningful measures of prosperity and well-being. The pervasive mindset is bigger, shinier, faster, more.

But what is this actually doing to our health and the overall quality of life? What longing are we trying to satisfy that we accept baubles for payoff and a story that allows us to rationalize that this is the best we can hope for? The actual results of this mindset are decreases in every quality of life indicator that actually provide meaning to the human condition -- plus of course all the ones pertinent to other species and the natural world itself. Strictly from a mathematical perspective, a growth economy doesn't work; it is unsustainable. All the evidence points to the conclusion that it's time to seriously consider what we might do differently.

One of the reasons it's so scary to think about the collapse of the current system is that no alternatives to the status quo are allowed to be mentioned without being denigrated and marginalized as unnatural, naively idealistic, or communistic. We remain unaware or won't believe that not only is an alternative available that's not dependent on future technologies, but that both rational reality and spiritual yearnings show to be more in keeping with human nature. The alternative will improve overall conditions because it works with the most powerful force in the universe -- the creation and maintenance of mutually supportive attraction relationships.

This alternative is based on reconnecting our disconnection from nature and each other, and using the process of relocalization to create an explicitly defined sustainable future built on ecological wisdom and social justice. It is an optimistic message that is tempered with an outright admission that if we continue in the direction we're heading, the good news will be the end of Western civilization. The bad news will be passing one too many irreversible environmental tipping points.

Bigger depends on denying and ignoring the drivers of economic cannibalism offered by the Industrial Growth Society. Just one aspect of this is the slow poisoning by the petrochemical industry -- and the pharmaceutical industry attempts to alleviate the symptoms while creating different ones -- and refusal to admit that humans are not immune to being effected by the largest walking chemical experiment in history. This is being allowed, encouraged even, because it contributes to a rising GDP. As recent medical research shows, however, the actual cure for breast cancer is shutting down Dow Chemical,

Better is about having the time and resources available to concentrate on what really matters. It includes having the opportunities available to develop one's potential, without constant distractions that not only support and enrich a small controlling elite by fantasizing that you can be one too, but to go along with an implicit mandate to subvert those natural desires that contribute to fulfillment, community, and life.

Where's our contingency plan?

As more community forums are being assembled (especially those sponsored by local daily newspapers, economic development agencies, and local government departments that have tacked sustainability onto their name) to deal with the question of growth and a sustainable future, perhaps the most important core question to ask these local leaders is: What is their contingency plan? What set of facts are being used to inform this plan? Is Peak Oil, global warming, or financial catastrophe factored in? What baseline is being used to assess the local assets available to build from? How many acres of arable land are regionally available, what is the current rate of topsoil loss, how many feet per year is the local aquifer dropping, how much compost can we generate and distribute, and thus how many people can realistically be fed?

The US Energy Information Agency reports that global oil production peaked in May, 2005. Saudi Arabian oil production has been declining at about 1 million barrels per day for almost two years. A more interesting and even more unreported fact is that world oil production per capita peaked in 1979, yet we continue to count population growth as an economic positive. How long will local economies as presently constructed survive a cutoff of conventional fuel supplies and products such as plastic and fertilizer derived from fossil fuels?

Supporters of protecting the status quo like to point to the increase in "non-conventional" liquid fuels, but want to conveniently ignore the negative energy return on these fuels, and the manner in which they contribute to undermining the economy and increasing environmental degradation.

A medical analogy is appropriate here. Tar sands, oil shale, and agrofuels are like the extreme measures used in the intensive care unit to keep a patient's heart beating until the family can get to the hospital to say their final goodbye to their loved one.

For example, how many more people will knowingly be subjected to hardship and deprivation when the Central Arizona Project (CAP) that supplies water from the Colorado River to rapidly growing cities is shutdown due to lack of supply as officials continue to entice people to move to the Southwest desert by approving more housing subdivisions and -- the ultimate manifestation of insanity -- new water parks and golf courses?

The Ogallala Aquifer, the water source for America's "bread-basket," is being drawn down at a rate 150% beyond recharge. How long will existing local food supplies that come from this area (and the rest of the globe) last, and how much is being grown that can't be consumed locally, such as alfalfa grown with CAP water in the Arizona desert for California cattle? What plans are in place to address price hikes in basic commodities or to secure people's right to stay in their homes as global financial markets finish their meltdown? If local officials don't have a contingency plan, or are unwilling to make current discussions public, we should ask them to step down and get a job they can manage.

This might sound harsh, but the scientific consensus is quickly shifting to realizing that we really only have about a two year window left to lay the foundation for an alternative public infrastructure that drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions (90% below 1990 levels by 2030) and begins reversing all aspects of biospheric deterioration. People are remarkably resilient and innovative when they have the full facts at their disposal. More people are becoming aware of the bigger picture and the interdependencies amongst these issues. More people are expressing a desire to regain that which has been lost as we've isolated ourselves in our cars and on our couches -- a fulfilling sense of community. More people are calling for a shift to sustainability as they become aware of the permanent nature of the unfolding global crises and their root causes in centralized dominator control hierarchies and the Industrial Growth Society.

The only systemic response that calls for the best in human capabilities and potential I see on the horizon is the process known as relocalization. Building a local economy that is healthy, vibrant and resilient, that protects and enhances local cultures, must draw on the same natural systems principles that keep an ecosystem sustainable -- mutual support and reciprocity, no waste, no greed, and increasing diversity. We must start measuring progress and defining prosperity in a new way; a way that isn't dependent on merely increasing in size or material accumulation, but on becoming qualitatively better for all members of the community.

The technology is available today to do so. Can we develop the will to do so in time?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Responding to Peak Oil and Global Warming: Beyond Power Hierarchies and Economic Growth

Another excellent article by George Monbiot, published in the Guardian and posted on his website connects some dots amongst Peak Oil, global warming, and the looming environmental disaster known as biofuel. The reality of these crises are becoming slowly accepted by the mainstream, as a new report by Citibank points out the reality of Peak Oil. Monbiot wonders, since governments won't listen to environmentalists or even geologists, will they also ignore the capitalists?

Well, I think this depends on exactly what the capitalists say, and what they continue to ignore and deny. Fossil fuels are decreasing in availability--this is, after all, what nonrenewable means. A switch, even a relatively small one, to agrofuels make our overall situation in regard to environmental degradation and human suffering even worse. There are, however, short term profits to be sucked out of both--which begs the question of what comes next? What the capitalists simply can't bring themselves to publicly admit, however, is that we can neither maintain an elite run class structure nor keep powering a growth economy. They are unsustainable and a barrier to human progress.

So that leaves it up to us (the vast majority of the global population) to take this inescapable conclusion--what Jan Lundberg of calls petrocollapse--to the next step, where the only logical response that I can see is to start being honest with ourselves and admit that dominator hierarchies and a sense of superiority over the other was a mistake based on false assumptions, incomplete information, discounted variables, and self-centered individualism. We must get over and then go beyond the idea that a growth economy is necessary for prosperity and well-being, and that reversing or simply doing away with economic growth need necessarily cause panic, disruption, and massive suffering.

We must start making people aware that in fact, we could do something that would have the opposite effects. We could begin moving into a dynamic, holistic integration with the creative processes and energies used by natural systems to be sustainable. This would allow us to tap into natural abundance, including our own creativity, that natural resource carrying capacity constraints actually provide and which should guide the direction of our efforts to develop and improve.

Our reliance on technology is making us less human physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I don't see that as a sign of progress. Our goals should be to do away with cars and auto dependent sprawl and infrastructure, rebuild our cities to be livable and walkable, reduce consumption and material lust, adhere to the precautionary principle, instill quality and craftsmanship into clean zero waste production, provide health and food security while voluntarily lowering birthrates, and reclaim the commons for the foundation of community sovereignty that is an integral part of interdependent networks of consensus based bioregional governance. That the entire world desires this is demonstrated best by the international acceptance of the common values expressed in the Earth Charter principles: respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, and democracy, nonviolence, and peace.

We must reconnect the human soul to its home in the soul of the Earth. This is the intellectual and spiritual challenge of the 21st Century. This is the promise of relocalization, which also supplies the antidote to corporate globalization and centralized control. That we continue allowing exploitation and destruction of our life support system by pinning the blame on a lack of political courage is both a distraction and a cop-out.

There is no time to abrogate the personal responsibility to begin making new choices, the first of which is to quit legitimizing the status quo. The second is to accept that we actually deserve to enjoy life naturally, and not by depending on antidepressants, stress reducers, pain relievers, and chemotherapy to make living on a despoiled planet of broken relationships tolerable.