Fear and Hope in Oura Bay

SUBHEAD: The Oura Coral Reef Ecosystem is the last intact one in Japan! US military actions threaten it.

By Katherine Muzik on 15 January 2015 for Asian-Pacific Journal -

Image above: Oura Bay's expansive cathedrals of blue coral is at least 5,000 years old. From original article.

On a sunny September day, last year, I tumbled from a diving boat into the bright clear blue sea of Henoko’s Oura Bay, feeling both fear and hope.  Would the corals living there still be fine, as they had been during my previous visits in years past?

Or would they and other marine life here be suffering and dying from various negative impacts of human behavior (toxic  runoff, sedimentation, garbage, ocean acidification, global warming, overfishing, etc.) which are steadily and inexorably killing coral reefs all around the world?

As I breathed through my SCUBA regulator, and peered through my mask, slowly descending, my worries vanished.  I saw waving red sea fans, a resplendent school of silvery Fusiliers, the Okinawan Prefectural fish, and countless beautiful and healthy corals. I was filled with joy! I felt I had returned to the seas of my childhood!  I swam like a turtle, slowly down and around a huge colony of Porites, over 7 meters tall, a huge golden colony, with no blemish at all.

I admired its perfection with gratitude, and then kicked my feet to swim happily through Oura’s expansive cathedrals of blue coral, to see my other old coral friends, at the so-called “Coral Museum”, many at least 5,000 years old. (Blue coral, Heliopora coerulea, has been declared by CITES to be a vulnerable species, on its way to extinction. Here at Oura it is fine!)

I felt so safe.  I had healthy corals all around me, fish, crabs, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, clams, everything fine as far as I could see.  Meanwhile above in the boat, awaiting me were my Okinawan friends, Nakasone the captain and Iha, a retired high school chemistry teacher. Guiding me was another friend, the expert diver, Makishi. I was snugly embraced by a SCUBA harness borrowed from friends at local Snack Snufkin divers.

What happiness! I was honored that these friends and others had invited me to visit, to help them explain to the world, how important the corals of Oura Bay are. Can’t everyone understand how unique and diverse this Bay is?  It is miraculously healthy.

There are thousands of species living here: over 420 species of coral, 1,040 species of fish, 403 species of algae and seagrasses, of sea 1,974 mollusks (including 120 kinds of sea slugs) and 753 crustaceans. More species inhabit the associated mountains, forests, rivers, mangroves, and tidal flats! Many are new to science and still undescribed. Feeling ecstatic, I returned to the blue sky above, but, oh no, there was an American military ship hovering nearby the dive boat. I was again filled with worry and fear.

From our boat, I could see long red floats, marking the area near shore where exploratory drilling had already begun, despite the appalling absence of an official Environmental Impact Survey. The dugongs have fled, but the corals and seaweeds cannot move away.  They will surely perish if we cannot stop construction.

Besides diving at Oura, during my 10-day visit to Okinawa in September, I sang my Waterdrop song in Japanese with children gathered at Sedake beach in Oura. I rallied with elderly and youthful protestors at the gate at Henoko’s Camp Schwab, and with more protestors at Takae, still defiant, daily, against Ospreys there.

I participated in two Symposia, one at Okidai (Okinawa University) with former Okidai President Sakurai and Architect Makishi, and one in Nago with Nago Mayor Inamine, held a press conference in Naha with the Governor’s team, and finally, as I left Japan, another one in Tokyo at the Parliament, with Itokazu Keiko, Okinawa’s Diet Member.

Why did I agree to travel all the way from Kaua’i to Okinawa to dive at Oura Bay?  Coral reefs all around the world are in great peril.  They are dying in the Florida Keys, in the Arabian seas of Oman, at the Great Barrier Reef. (As a Marine Biologist, I have studied corals in Florida, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Belize, Barbados, Mexico, Florida, Kenya, Fiji, the Philippines, New Caledonia, Australia, Tahiti, Hawaii, Japan and Okinawa, and therefore am acutely aware of their decline.)

When I lived in Okinawa, during 1981 to 1988, I dived from Amami Oshima down to Yonaguni, and I was shocked to discover that even then, most of the coral reefs of the Ryukyu Archipelago were dead or dying.

When I returned to Okinawa to live there again, thirty years later, from 2007 to 2011, I was further saddened. Even more of the island has been over-developed and paved with cement, and thus, the remaining life nearby in the sea is even more threatened by man’s activities on land. To destroy Oura’s unique and remarkable reef purposefully, to obliterate it, which will certainly happen with the current US-Japan military-industrial plan, is simply, not acceptable.

The 3.5 million truckloads of fill to be brought there will not only destroy the place from where it is removed, the fill will block and change Oura Bay’s incoming life-giving currents. A quick calculation shows, an impossible 9,589 trucks per day every day for a year, or about 959 trucks a day for ten years, destroying the reef and bringing dust and noise and more CO2 pollution.

Again, not acceptable! It breaks my heart to see videos of my old friends lying (perhaps even pushed by police) on the highway pavement outside Camp Schwab gates, and protesting from boats, risking arrest and their lives, to avert this tragedy.

I fear that Abe and Obama have forgotten compassion and history.  Their actions are not helping to end racism, militarism and extreme materialism, the giant triplet of societal and environmental destruction.

They are ignoring the facts:  the Oura Coral Reef Ecosystem is the last intact one in Japan! 80% of Okinawans are against the military airport construction at Oura! In November, Onaga, running for Governor on an anti-base platform, and anti-base Mayor Shiroma of Naha, were both elected by landslides!

Although this US military Base is purportedly part of Obama’s plan to “contain China”, also in November the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, warned that empires always fail, that disputes must be resolved peacefully! With eighty percent of the Japanese population voicing opposition to the bases, the LDP suffered major setbacks in the Okinawa election.

Nineteen different Japanese scientific societies have now publicly added their support to protect the life of Oura!

So yes I have fear, but I also have hope. My Uchinanchu (Okinawan word for Okinawan!) friends are indomitable.  I salute their tenacity, awareness, and political savvy.  As a democracy, Okinawans have the right to choose.  For example, they can choose to exchange a Marine Base for a Marine Sanctuary! Yes!

They can choose to perpetuate peace, not conflict, to perpetuate conservation, study and jobs in ecotourism for local students, scientists and fishermen.  Instead of Harm, let’s choose Harmony! Together we might be able to continue to keep this fabulous ecosystem safe.

Together we will help protect the rare and endangered blue coral, the dugong, the Okinawan rail, and Pryer’s Woodpecker.  We will speak for the fishes, seaweeds, seafans and clams!

I take great hope from my steadfast Uchinanchu, who now, in January 2015, continue to protest the US-Japanese military activities, as I remember the words of Rachel Carson in her book, “Sense of Wonder”:

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

• Marine biologist Katherine Muzik Ph.D., is director of Kulu Wai, Kauai, Hawai’i.  She has many years experience of research in Japan and Okinawa.

USNS ship stuck on Okinawa coral reef

SOURCE: Koohan Paik (koohanpaik@gmail.com)
SUBHEAD: U.S. Navy container ship remained stuck on a coral reef near Okinawa for a second day.

By Francis Burnsmon 1 January 2015 for UPI News -

Image above: File photo of Sgt. Matej Kocak at sea. From original article.

A total of 131 people, including 38 civilian crew members, 26 Marines and 67 soldiers, were still on board the USNS Sgt. Matej Kocak, officials said, with another ship on the scene if they need to be evacuated. The vessel was leaking but the amount of water coming in is "manageable," Lt. Charles Banks, a spokesman for the 7th Fleet, said.

The 821-foot vessel struck a reef or outcropping Thursday 6 miles off the coast of Okinawa. High tide that night did not free it.

Banks said experts were headed to the area to determine what must be done to get the ship off the reef. In one case in 2013 the USS Guardian had to be taken apart to remove it from a reef in the Philippines.

Banks said the divers had not discovered yet if any live coral was damaged when the ship struck.

"The safety of the civilian crew members and the environment are our top priorities. So we're taking this situation very seriously and will continue to investigate the situation until it's resolved," Cmdr. William Marks said Thursday.


Fukushima worst human disaster

SUBHEAD: Obesity rates now nearly double Japan average — Excessive weight gain after nuclear crisis “a marker of radiation brain damage”.

By Admin on 24 January 2015 for ENE News -

Image above: Children play in a facility in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 10, 2014. From (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201501240044).

Asahi Shimbun, Jan 24, 2015 (emphasis added): Obesity a growing problem among children in Fukushima… An education ministry survey released Jan. 23… found that 15.07 percent of 9-year-olds in Fukushima Prefecture were 20 percent or more heavier than normal. The figure was much higher than the national average of 8.14 percent, and the highest among all 47 prefectures. [It] was also the highest among all prefectures for 7-year-olds, 11-year-olds and 13-year-olds… According to the ministry, obese children are most commonly found in the Tohoku region… the trend has been especially acute in Fukushima Prefecture since the 2011 onset of the nuclear crisis…. The ministry said this appeared to be because children in Fukushima Prefecture are restricted from playing outdoors due to radiation fears…

National Research Center for Radiation Medicine (Ukraine), 2013: Rise of obesity incidence in ChNPP accident survivors is related to abnormal secretion of α-melanotropin [α-MSH]
  • Accident at the Chernobyl NPP… was followed by the intensive release of a wide range of radioactive elements with affinity to many endocrine tissues. The mentioned radioactive fallout resulted in both internal and external radiation exposure, among others, of the central endocrine structures of the human brain.
  • Higher incidence of borderline obesity – 37%… and of primary obesity – 32.5%… was found in the ChNPP accident survivors vs persons in the control group (31.1 and 24.6% respectively)… For the first time there was revealed a new abnormal way of a reaction on radiation namely – the ‘blunted’ protective response of the physiological increase of α-MSH secretion along with body mass index elevation normally preventing further growth of adipose tissue. There is no increase of α-MSH secretion or even there is a hormone deficiency in most [obese] survivors of the ChNPP accident
  • Received data indicate to the increased risk of borderline obesity and obesity after the prolonged exposure to radiation in moderate doses. The mentioned risk is stipulated by disorders in melanocortin system resulting in α-MSH deficiency at the background of obesity that can be considered as a marker of such an abnormality.
Poster presentation for ‘Rise of obesity incidence in ChNPP accident survivors is related to abnormal secretion of α-melanotropin’ (pdf), 2013:

  • The Chernobyl NPP accident in 1986 and Fukushima NPP accident in 2011 are still the most serious wide scale man made disasters in human history… Massive radioactive release and fallout followed both accidents. Wide range of radioactive isotopes were released some having high affinity to hormone-producing tissues including ones in the cerebral endocrine structures… Today the Chernobyl NPP accident is not over but has evolved into the long-term fourth phase
  • Subjects: The Chernobyl NPP accident survivors (emergency workers… and evacuees…)
  • Decrease of α-MSH… can be considered as a marker of radiation brain damage. Thus α-MSH can be considered as a sensitive marker of radiation impact which deficiency of synthesis leads to disorder of pathways preventing further body mass increase…
α-MSH: Most important of the melanocyte-stimulating hormones in stimulating melanogenesis, a process that… plays a role in feeding behavior… regulation of appetite, metabolism…

See also: Yomiuri: Alarming trend in Fukushima children -- Parent's radiation fears and stress from disaster blamed for spike in obesity rates


India and US seal nuclear deal

SUBHEAD: Less of liability opens the door for US corporations to help India develop more nuclear power.

By Staff on 25 January 2015 for BBC News -

Image above:  More nuclear of India. The "Dance of Death". India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke with protocol to meet President Obama personally at the airport in Delhi. From original article.

The US and India have announced a breakthrough on a pact that will allow American companies to supply India with civilian nuclear technology.

It came on the first day of President Barack Obama's visit to India.

The nuclear deal had been held up for six years amid concerns over the liability for any nuclear accident.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the nations were embarking on a "new journey" of co-operation, with stronger defense and trade ties.

Mr Obama said that the nations had declared a new friendship.

Security is intense in Delhi, with Mr Obama to be the guest of honour at Monday's Republic Day celebrations. Thousands of security personnel have been deployed in Delhi.

Renewed trust
The nuclear pact had been agreed in 2008 but the US was worried about Indian laws on liability over any accidents.

Now, a large insurance pool will be set up, without the need for any further legislation.

US ambassador Richard Verma said: "It opens the door for US and other companies to come forward and actually help India towards developing nuclear power and support its non carbon-based energy production."
The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says the sides also agreed to increase their bilateral trade five times, from the current $100bn (£66.7bn) a year. The US will also sell more military hardware to India.

Earlier, Mr Modi stressed the importance of the visit by breaking with protocol to receive Mr Obama personally at Delhi airport.

After his arrival, the US president travelled to the presidential palace, Rashtrapati Bhavan, for an official welcoming ceremony.

Mr Obama laid a wreath at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial and planted a tree.
At a joint press conference, Mr Modi said the two countries were "starting a new journey" based on "renewed trust and sustained attention".

He said of Mr Obama: "We have forged a friendship, there is openness when we talk."
He said the two nations would increase cooperation on defence projects and on "eliminating terrorist safe havens and on bringing terrorists to justice".

Mr Obama said the countries "had declared a new friendship to elevate our partnership", which "commits to more meetings and consultations across governments".

He added: "The new partnership will not happen overnight. It will need patience but will remain a top foreign policy priority for my administration."

Out of bounds The BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi says security around the Republic Day parade is generally tight, but this year the high-profile visit has taken preparations to a new level.

India Gate and the Rajpath (the King's Avenue), where Monday's parade takes place, have been out of bounds for most people for the past few days, with thousands of policemen on duty.
Security has been upgraded at several upmarket hotels, where the US president and his team are staying.

Traffic restrictions have been put in place across the city, and extra checks have been taking place at metro stations.

Mr Obama's visit to India has been shortened so he can visit Saudi Arabia and pay his respects following the death of King Abdullah.

It means he will not now visit the Taj Mahal.

Image above: The Tarapur Atomic Power Station in Maharashtra. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India on said Indian nuclear plants have remained safe during recent natural calamities but there was no room for complacency.From (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indian-nuclear-plants-safe-but-no-room-for-complacency-npcil/article1537394.ece).


Broken Template

SUBHEAD: The future is saying - get smaller, get more local, get less complex, get less grandiose, do it now.

By James Kunstler on 26 January 2015 for Kunstler.com  -

Image above: The grid we live in looks much like a circuit board. The Matrix? No its, suburban sprawl in Eden Prairie, Florida. From (http://twistedsifter.com/2010/07/urban-sprawl-aerials-christoph-gielen/).

The more detached from reality American culture becomes the more strictly ceremonial leadership gets, as illustrated by the raft of bromides Barack Obama floated past the assembled vassalage of government last week in another grand effort to avoid the necessities of the moment.

Those necessities include freeing a hostage public from the tyrannical clutches of corporate despotism — the evil empire of big boxes, big burgers, big pharma, Big Brother — and the atrocious rackets fostered by them that masquerade as an economy. 

The template of the life we have known is broken and the pieces within are flying apart, and no amount of wishing or promising can keep them going. If this society is even going to survive, the people have to smash their way out of this template prison, probably against the efforts of the people and organizations now running it merely for their own benefit.

The future is telling us very clearly: get smaller, get finer, get more local, get less complex, get less grandiose, do it now. Do you want to eat food in the years ahead? 

Better make sure you live in a part of the country where small-scale farming and backyard gardening is possible because the General Mills Agri-Biz GMO Cheerios model will be folding its big tent along with its financing agents in the debt Ponzi banking system.

Do you want to have a personal economic future? Think about what you can do to make yourself useful in a local economy made up of your neighbors. And if you live in one of the thousands of soulless, neighborless suburban wastelands that amount to nothing but big box and big burger plantations, you better get out and find a real town in some other part of the country.

Do you believe that computers and robot factories will define the years to come? Maybe you have failed to notice that the US electric grid is decrepit and in need of at least a $1 trillion upgrade-and-rebuild, which, by the way, is not going to happen. What is all that crap going to run on? 

America’s disappointment with the broken promises of technology will be so epic that we’ll be lucky not to slide back into a world ruled by superstition and ghosts.

Do you think that $50 oil is going to make the world safe for WalMart, Walt Disney World, and Happy Motoring? In fact, $50 oil is going to crush what is left of the US Oil industry, especially fracking for shale oil and deep water drilling. And guess what — everything else is depleting at about 5 percent a year. 

The frackers will never again get access to the sort of junk bond financing that allowed them to ramp up their Ponzi demonstration projects in the Bakken and Eagle Ford. 

And they will never again regain their current level of production — which is the net result of past Ponzi financing, now ending in tears. So, forget “Saudi America” and “energy independence,” unless you mean living in a walkable community near a navigable waterway.

Do you want to be an educated person, that is, someone capable of comprehending reality and functioning within its demands? In the USA, that means you must learn how to speak and write English correctly, especially if you are in a “low performing” ethnic minority group. If you can’t conjugate verbs, you will have a hard time distinguishing the past, the present, and the future in your daily activities. 

Among other things, you’ll be incapable of showing up on time. And that, of course, is only the beginning. It’s that simple. 

These abilities used to be the result of an eighth-grade education in the United States. We would be lucky to get back to that high standard, and our knucklehead fantasies about universal access to community college be damned. It’s only a new layer in the current racket that pretends to be education.

That is the current state of the union and a glimpse of the trajectory it’s on, which the inept leaders of our country do not comprehend and cannot communicate.


Off Grid living is illegal

SUBHEAD: Court magistrate rules that living off-grid is illegal in Cape Coral, Forida.

By Daniel Jennings on 22 February 2014 for Off Grid News -

Image above: Example of an off-grid "tiny" house with garden. From (http://mrscottyl.blogspot.com/2014/02/court-rules-off-grid-living-is-illegal.html).

Living off the grid is illegal in Cape Coral, Florida, according to a court ruling Thursday. Special Magistrate Harold S. Eskin ruled that the city’s codes allow Robin Speronis to live without utility power but she is still required to hook her home to the city’s water system. Her alternative source of power must be approved by the city, Eskin said.

As previously reported in Off The Grid News, Speronis has been fighting the city of Cape Coral since November when a code enforcement officer tried to evict her from her home for living without utilities. The city contends that Speronis violated the International Property Maintenance Code by relying on rain water instead of the city water system and solar panels instead of the electric grid.

“It was a mental fistfight,” Speronis’ attorney Todd Allen said of Eskin’s review of his clients’ case. “There’s an inherent conflict in the code.”

Part of the conflict: She must hook up to the water system, although officials acknowledge she does not have to use it.

Speronis told Off The Grid News in February she hopes to win her case and set a precedent for others in her situation. After court Thursday, Speronis told Off The Grid News that she actually won on two of three counts, although she acknowledged her legal battle is far from over.

“But what happens in the courtroom is much less important than touching people’s hearts and minds,” she said. “I think that we are continuing to be successful in doing just that and I am so pleased — there is hope! [Friday] morning, as I took my two hour walk, there was a young man, unknown to me, who drove by me, tooted his horn and said, ‘Robin, congratulations on your victory yesterday, keep up the fight and God bless you.’ That is beautiful.”

Magistrate Admits Code is Unreasonable
Eskin spent several hours reviewing the case and admitted that the code might be obsolete, the local Press-News newspaper reported.

“Reasonableness and code requirements don’t always go hand-in-hand … given societal and technical changes (that) requires review of code ordinances,” Eskin was quoted as saying.
Eskin’s remarks indicate that he views the code as both obsolete and unreasonable and in need of change. Yet he felt he had to enforce it.

The city did overstep its authority and may have violated due process procedures, Eskin noted. He felt that the city had not given Speronis proper notice of violations and ruled that some of the charges against her were unfounded.

“I am in compliance,” Speronis told the News-Press. “I’m in compliance of living … you may have to hook-up, but you don’t have to use it. Well, what’s the point?”

Case is Unresolved
Speronis disconnected all the utilities from her modest home in Cape Coral for an experiment in off-the-grid living some time ago. City officials ignored her activities until she went public and discussed them with Liza Fernandez, a reporter for a local TV station. A code enforcement officer designated Speronis’s home as uninhabitable and gave her an eviction notice a day after the piece aired.

The widow and former real estate agent now has two choices. She can either restore her hookup to the water system by the end of March or appeal Eskin’s ruling to the courts.

It is not known what action the city will take but city officials told Fernandez that they would be willing to let Speronis stay in her home if conditions are “sanitary.” At the hearing, Eskin noted that city officials have not actually been in Speronis’s home to make that determination.

The International Property Maintenance Code is used in communities throughout the United States and Canada. The code states that properties are unsafe to live in if they do not have electricity and running water. Speronis has electricity and water. She gets running water by collecting rainwater and electricity from solar panels.

Off-Grid widow evicted

By Mchael Faust on 16 April 2014 for Off Grid News -

A Florida woman who is at the center of a legal and political battle over off-grid living is now living in a tent in her backyard after the city kicked her out of her house, Off The Grid News has learned.
The city of Cape Coral, Florida, got a warrant and inspected Robin Speronis’ home and then posted a notice to vacate, giving her until Thursday to do so.

Speronis lives off-the-grid and does not use utility water or electricity, and maintains that her house is as sanitary as any home in the neighborhood. Her fight for the right to live self-sustainably has captivated the off-the-grid community.

The Rutherford Institute, a legal group, is representing her in her legal fight.

Speronis tells Off The Grid News that she is essentially moving to tents in her backyard, thanks to help from her neighbors and friends.

“My community has been supporting me and yesterday donated two tents and other supplies to create an outdoor living area in my backyard,” she told Off The Grid News via email Wednesday. “I have a six-person tent and a four-person tent.

As I have said before, I’ll let The Rutherford Institute do the legal fighting and I’ll do the living with the support of the community. We are all so powerful and we CAN create a beautiful world that no government can take away from us.”

Cape Coral uses what is called the International Property Maintenance Code, which the city says requires all residents to be hooked up to on-grid water and electricity. Speronis says she has the right to refuse both.

In February a judge ruled that Speronis must hook up to the city’s water system, although he said she did not have to use city electricity. The city dug up her yard and capped her sewer in March, an action that violated state law. They also took her dogs.

The city’s code enforcement posted the vacate notice over the weekend.

“I am such a threat to the city of Cape Coral that again they’ve had to make me, technically, legally, homeless. I am technically homeless right now,” Speronis told a local station, FOX 4. “They did enter my house. They were very cocky. They were very condescending,” Speronis added.

Speronis is a Christian, and said her faith has sustained her during the tough times.

“The Greek word for church, Ekklesia, means community,” she said. “I am Greek Orthodox. I am now living the truth that I believed when I started my urban off-grid adventure — that is you can’t live off-grid in an urban setting unless you have community — church.

“How appropriate for Holy Week,” she said, referencing the assistance she’s received.

Losing her dogs was tough, and she’s cried a lot over it, Speronis said. She said she felt God telling her not to worry about her dogs and that “special angels” were watching over them.
“Still, I do have to go through the necessary grieving process,” she said.

Her case appears headed to federal court after the Rutherford Institute — a nationally known civil liberties legal organization — got involved in early March. The case could set a precedent for off-the-gridders nationwide.

“The application of these burdensome rules, regulations, and inspection requirements against individuals attempting to live independent and environmentally sustainable lifestyles sends the wrong message: that citizens must be dependent on the state, whether or not they wish to be,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute. “This case is emblematic of a growing problem in America today, namely, that bureaucrats and local governments will go to great lengths to perpetuate dependence and compliance with the nanny state.”

Speronis uses solar panels for electricity and collects rainwater for water. She cooks on a propane stove and keeps clean with a camping shower. She uses an alternative toilet system.

Off-Grid widow jailed
By Mchael Faust on 10 July 2014 for Off Grid News -

Robin Speronis’ story captivated nationwide attention earlier this year – an off-grid widow ordered by her city to hook up to public electricity and water or face eviction.

She stood her ground and inspired thousands of people, and she even celebrated a partial court victory in February. But the city didn’t stop targeting her, and in May she was arrested and placed in jail, where she spent a month behind bars. And just as quickly, the district attorney dropped the charges and she was released, no questions asked.

Speronis is this week’s guest on Off The Grid Radio, giving us the details about her arrest and legal fight you won’t hear anywhere else. Her off-grid battle for freedom is our battle, and she tells us:
  • Whether off-grid citizens are now being targeted.
  • Why her month in jail only served to encourage her.
  • How her off-grid battle impacts all of us.
The cruel, mean-spirited bureaucrats even took her dogs. If you’re a homesteader, off-gridder or simply a liberty-loving American, this is one episode you need to hear!

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 27:05 — 31.0MB) 

Japan to kill Pacific Ocean

SUBHEAD: Japanese government approves dumping Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant radioactive waste water into Pacific Ocean.

By Admin on 21 January 2015 for ENE News -

Image above: Tanks of radioactive water at TEPCO's tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on June 12, 2013.From (http://www.ibtimes.com/fukushima-radioactive-water-leak-construction-giant-water-tanks-nuclear-plant-involved-illegal-labor).

NHK Jan 21, 2015
Regulators approve Fukushima wastewater drainage — Japan’s nuclear regulator has approved a plan by [TEPCO] to drain filtered wastewater from the firm’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant into the sea… The firm also plans to reduce the level of radioactive material in the water before releasing it into the nearby Pacific. On Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulation Authority approved TEPCO’s plan to install drainpipes and a pumping system and to reduce the level of radioactive cesium-137 to less than one becquerel per liter.

NHK Transcript  Jan 21, 2015
Japanese regulators have approved a controversial plan by [TEPCO]. They say TEPCO officials can flush filtered waste water into the ocean… Fisherman: “We can’t trust Tepco… If they proceed with their plan the situation will surely go back to how it was before. I’m worried the government and Tepco will act to suit themselves.”

Wall St Journal Jan 21, 2015
Japan’s nuclear regulator has officially called on [Tepco] to work toward discharging low-level contaminated water… just two days after a worker fell into [a tank] used to store contaminated water… Tepco is using a processing system [that] is unable to take out the tritium [and] is reluctant to release it into the ocean to avoid… criticism from neighboring countries and some nations with a Pacific Ocean coastline… there is no detailed study about tritium’s long-time effect on animal genes. Mamoru Takata, a Kyoto University professor and expert on radiation’s long-term effects, said monitoring would be necessary to detect any worrisome signals.

Dr. Gordon Edwards Aug 8, 2014
(50:00 in): It can’t be dumped into the ocean, because it’s completely unsafe because of these fission products. They have built over 1,000 large tanks, huge tanks… that contain this very, very radioactively contaminated water. At the moment they’re trying to filter out these fission products… It’s impossible for them to remove all those hundreds of radioactive materials. They know how to remove about 62 of them, but there’s other ones that they cannot.

Recent ENE links about die-offs in Pacific Ocean:
Sea urchins with insides empty, and black lesions in Hawaii…
"It's like a scene from a horror movie" along West Coast…
Hawaii coral "the worst scientists have ever seen"…
Sea creatures sick, dying or disappearing along Pacific Coast…


Industrialized Oceans

SOURCE: Ken Taylor (taylork021@hawaii.rr.com)
SUBHEAD: Empty seas? If nothing's done, extinction levels in the ocean could soon resemble those on land.

By Jeremy Hance on 15 January 2015 for MongaBay -

Image above: Although most bluefin tuna species have been decimated by overfishing, they are still caught. Photo by Stewart Butterfield. From original article.

This is obvious, but still important: humans are not a marine species. Even as we have colonized most of our planet's terrestrial landscapes, we have not yet colonized the oceans. And for most of our history, we have impacted them only on the periphery. A new review in Science finds that this has saved marine species and ecosystems from large-scale damage and degradation—that is, until the last couple centuries.

"We have driven cod stocks down to unfishable levels, certain shark species have crashed by [more than] 90 percent, we are now wringing our hands about bluefin tuna declines in both the Atlantic and Pacific," lead author Douglas McCauley from the University of California Santa Barbara told mongabay.com. "We see these sorts of headlines constantly sprinkled across the news."

With the rise of industrialized fishing, super trawlers, deep sea exploitation, pollution, and aquaculture, the human impact on the oceans is escalating rapidly and may be on the same course as what happened on land beginning in the Nineteenth Century: an industrial revolution of the oceans with the associated ecological impacts.

"There are factory farms in the sea, and cattle-ranch style feed lots for tuna. Shrimp farms are eating up mangroves with the same appetite with which terrestrial farming consumed native prairies and forest," added co-author Steve Palumbi with Stanford University. "Stakes for seafloor mining claims are being pursued with gold rush-like fervor. Three hundred-ton ocean mining machines and 750 foot fishing boats are now rolling off the assembly line to do this work."

Still the majority of these marine impacts are relatively recent, most of them only going back a few decades.

"What is easy to forget as we lament these truly depressing numerical declines in marine fauna is that, relative to land, the course of marine defaunation has involved relatively few outright species extinctions," said McCauley

But looming in the background of all of this—and rising to the foreground—are climate change and ocean acidification. Researchers have warned repeatedly that these twin carbon impacts could lead to mass extinction across marine environments, if we fail to reign in fossil fuels quickly.

In other words, according to McCauley and his colleagues, the oceans have not yet suffered the same human impacts as terrestrial ecosystems, but they could soon without better care and management.

Extinctions in the oceans versus land
To date, the IUCN has confirmed that humans have driven 15 marine animals to extinction over the last 500 years, including some famous examples like the great auk, Stellar's sea cow, and the Caribbean monk seal. However, in contrast, the IUCN has recorded 514 extinctions of land-based animals during the same time period, pointing to a much greater extinction crisis on land so far.

The researchers believe extinctions have been rarer in the oceans, not just because major human impacts started later, but also since marine species "tend to be more widespread, exhibit less endemism, and have higher dispersal," according to the study. Most land extinctions have occurred on islands, where species literally have no-where to run, but such tiny, isolated ecosystems are much rarer in marine environments.

However, McCauley cautions that the 15 formally recognized marine extinctions should be viewed "as an absolute minimum estimate."

"We are a bit slow to declare that an extinction has occurred in the oceans because it is so hard to definitively prove that there might not be a couple more of an endangered species out there somewhere, a little deeper maybe, or hidden under a coral ledge we can't get to," he explained. "It took us 73 years to find the Titanic and that is a 50 thousand ton ship. That helps us recall just how hard it is to find out if a last goby or a last shrimp might still be out there."

In addition, the oceans probably contain a number of lost extinctions, or extinctions that have gone totally unrecorded by scientists. In fact, of the 15 extinctions identified to date, only three of them are invertebrates. Marine birds, mammals, and fish have been far better studied, and monitored, than the world's more diverse, but less charismatic, lifeforms.

McCauley points to bottom trawling as one type of fishing that has probably pushed species never known to science to extinction.

"We can see the sediment plumes roll off trawlers as they chew up the seafloor from space," he said. "We can now trawl in some of the deepest parts of the ocean and this measurably squashes and flattens out the seafloor. In my opinion, it is not possible that we have disturbed this much of the ocean floor and have not driven at least some undescribed species extinct. And this is just one form of fishing, and fishing is only one form of marine disturbance."

Much of this comes down to a simple lack of data and knowledge about the world's marine environments. It's often pointed out that our maps of the moon and Mars are more detailed than anything we have of the ocean floor. Moreover, studying marine species has proven incredibly challenging, and much like land species, the big and beautiful still take precedent.

"We lament the challenges of characterizing insect diversity in rainforests. The challenge of characterizing diversity under the oceans is just so much harder. Imagine trying to count insects in a rainforest that is 100 feet underwater—that is near to what we are up against in characterizing invertebrate faunal diversity in coral reef ecosystem," McCauley said.

Marine defaunation and the other three extinctions
But extinctions aren't the only measure of impact on the oceans; in fact, given the dearth in data and the paucity of monitoring they are probably a poor measure. Instead, researchers say we should really focus on "defaunation," a term that has become increasingly popular among biologists and ecologists to describe human-impacts on animal communities.

Fauna encompasses all animals of a certain area (like flora for plants), including both vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as their diversity and abundance. So, the term defaunation, like deforestation, means the total loss of animals. This includes traditional extinctions and overall biodiversity loss, but also declines in populations.

Through examining defaunation in the oceans, McCauley and his colleague's paper also focuses on three types of extinction: local, commercial, and ecological.

"While outright species extinction in the oceans is rare, marine defaunation has caused many local, ecological, and commercial extinctions," McCauley said. Local extinction means a species vanishes from a particular region, while commercial extinctions means the species is so rare that it is no longer viable for harvesting—though in some cases the species is still caught like bluefin tuna. Ecological extinctions means that animal numbers fall so low that the species is simply unable to carry out their usual role in the wider ecological community, whether this be as predator, ecosystem engineer, or the clean-up crew.

"Imagine if the global population of garbage collectors crashed to only 100 individuals," McCauley explained. "It would really be no comfort to us, as we waded through streets full of trash, to know that somewhere in the world garbage collectors still existed—because the critically important services that they provide would have gone functionally extinct. It is the same for marine animals. They do things that are important to humans and are important to their own ecosystems."

Defaunation describes what has happened to whales, sharks, rays, marine birds, sea turtles, and many commercially-targeted fish and invertebrates. While they're still around, many of their populations have been decimated. For example, a 2008 paper by Jeremy Jackson found that populations of large predatory fish worldwide have fallen by 90 percent, oysters in coastal seas and estuaries by 91 percent, shorebirds by 62 percent, and pristine coral reefs by over 60 percent, among other alarming statistics.

"All signs indicate that we may be initiating a Marine Industrial Revolution. We are setting ourselves up in the oceans to replay the process of wildlife Armageddon that we engineered on land," McCauley said.

So, what can be done? A lot of things, according to McCauley and colleagues.

"We need to carefully and thoughtfully manage this emerging wave of industrial use of the oceans," said McCauley, who admits "we need food, minerals, and energy from the oceans—but all of this extraction can't be left to run wild. We need to thoughtfully zone out marine development so it takes wildlife into consideration, not vice versa."

And this isn't just about protecting wildlife, but also about safeguarding protein-rich food for some of the world's poorest. Around a billion people—most of them in developing countries—depend on fish and other seafood for the majority of their protein.

Artisanal fisherman in Cebu, Philippines. Many in developing countries depend on marine environments for their protein. Photo by: Malin Pinsky.

"According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 40 times more wild animal biomass is harvested from the oceans than from land," the researchers write. "Declines in this source of free-range marine food represent a major source of concern."

To better safeguard the ocean, the authors suggest more Marine Protected Area, which to date only cover around 3 percent of marine waters. But they also note that this oft-repeated solution can't be the only approach given how far many ocean species roam and disperse. Instead, other solutions must include improved management, much stricter zoning, and innovative programs.

"We need policy to manage these species and their habitats in over 95 percent of the oceans that are not set aside in marine protected areas," McCauley said. "There are some smart policies already in circulation for doing this, for example whole ecosystem management plans [and] incentive based fisheries. More than anything else, it is important to realize that we have to put these policies and tools already in front of us into place immediately and commit to them."

Yet, the biggest challenge—the most global challenge—remains the evil twins of climate change and ocean acidification.

"This may be the hardest and yet most important part of slowing marine defaunation," said McCauley. "Big marine protected areas and smart harvest policy isn't going to do us any good if we cook and acidify ocean habitats. By some measures climate change is going to be harder on marine animals than it is on terrestrial fauna."

Trawlers scrapping the ocean floor off Louisiana. Trawling is one of the most destructive fishing practices as it sweeps across the seabed taking up everything in its path. Photo by: Malin Pinsky.

Scientists especially fear for coral reefs as the world's oceans both heat up and acidify. Research has shown also that a number of shell-dependent invertebrates could be hugely impacted by ocean acidification, which is happening at a faster rate than anytime in the last 300 million years. Ocean acidification may also screw with the behaviors of many marine species, including fish.

"Yet, marine animals are already exhibiting some impressive potential to adapt to this change," noted McCauley. "If we can slow rates of ocean warming and acidification, even a bit, we buy these animals more time to adapt and can do a lot to help protect the intrinsic resiliency of the oceans."

This means rapidly curtailing global greenhouse gas emissions, which continue to rise despite decades of research and warnings.

But, ocean conservation also suffers from a lack of direct contact with most people.

"What is out of sight is often out of mind," he said. "If monarchs stop appearing in your backyard, alarm bells ring, and that becomes the stuff of local newspaper headlines. We pay attention to defaunation when it occurs in the terrestrial ecosystems that we hike in, garden in, and camp in. We are doing a much less good job of tracking defaunation and responding to defaunation in the oceans because it is simply such a foreign environment to so many of us."

On a positive note, though McCauley said there was time remaining to save the vast majority of the ocean's species, including its megafauna.

"We still have the raw ingredients we need for recovery. There is hope for sharks and tunas, but there is not that same hope for the dodos, mammoths, moas, passenger pigeons, and hundreds of other terrestrial wildlife species that have crossed over the extinction threshold."

  • Jeremy Jackson (2008). Ecological extinction and evolution in the brave new ocean. PNAS Online Early Edition for the week of August 11-15, 2008.
  • Douglas J. McCauley, Malin L. Pinsky, Stephen R. Palumbi, James A. Estes, Francis H. Joyce, Robert R. Warner. (2015) Marine defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean. Science. Vol 347. Issue 6219.

Hawaii Home Rule Tour

SUBHEAD: Tour with special with Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, musical artist Makana and more.

By Christiane Douglas on 21 January 2015 for ShakaMovement -

Image above: From promotional material provided.

Hawaii Center For Food Safety presents Vandana Shiva Home Rule Tour with special guests Andrew Kimbrell, musical artist Makana and more.

We will join community leaders from across Hawaii on Oahu and Maui to share stories from the frontlines of a global movement to empower community food systems. From Hawaii to India, these stories capture the importance of home rule in the future of food. Together, we rise. Please join us.

January 25th, 2015 - Maui
What: Dr. Vandana Shiva Talk Story Session
Location: Seabury Hall
Time: 3:00 pm
Cost: $15
Get Tickets Here: https://mauihomeruletour.eventbrite.com/
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1015082218509388/

More than anywhere else, counties in Hawaii should have the right and authority to determine the future of their food system. This is home rule. Hawaii is home to untold biodiversity and some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. However, it is also ground zero for the outdoor experimentation of pesticide-promoting plant technologies, genetically engineered to withstand heavy spraying of toxic chemicals.

On Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Molokai, chemical and biotechnology companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, Dow Chemical, Bayer, and BASF have purchased prime agricultural land, taking advantage of Hawaii’s isolation and year-round growing season, in order to field test crops that have been genetically engineered (GE) to withstand greater applications of pesticides.

Despite public health concerns and contamination of natural resources, the State of Hawaii has taken no action to regulate the activities of biotechnology companies performing open-air testing on genetically engineered seed and synthetic pesticides.

As a result, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Counties asserted their county’s authority to create policies that address these issues and protect the safety and health of its residents and land. Otherwise known as “Home Rule,” Hawaii has shown the world just how important this kind of political power is in the movement to create more safe and sovereign food systems.

Video above: This January, Dr. Vandana Shiva, internationally acclaimed food sovereignty activist, author, and philosopher, will join community leaders from across Hawaii on Oahu and Maui to share stories from the frontlines of the global movement. From (http://youtu.be/fgF-NajbCH4).

SOCIAL MEDIA PACKAGE - Copy and post in seconds!

It's easy! All event details and ticket info can be found here:

We want our social media to motivate people to take action! Below are some "action asks" you can tweet, post to Facebook or even e-mail to your friends!

Showcase your #homerule pride and show up for the #VandanaHITour! Visit tinyurl.com/MauiEvent

Hawaii's food system is changing like never before. And we are winning.

Get the full story here: tinyurl.com/HIHomerule

Make a Donation: tinyurl.com/kokuaHI  #VandanaHITour tinyurl.com/kokuaHI


The Mariner's Rule

SUBHEAD: The decline and fall of modern industrial civilization, it bears repeating, is not poised somewhere off in the indefinite future.

By John Michael Greer on 21 January 2015 for the Archdruid Report -

Image above: Stage rigging for Sugarland performance at Indiana State Fair collapses 8/13/11 killing six people.  From (http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/touring/1173855/sixth-person-dies-from-indiana-state-fair-stage-collapse).

One of the things my readers ask me most often, in response to this blog’s exploration of the ongoing decline and impending fall of modern industrial civilization, is what I suggest people ought to do about it all. It’s a valid question, and it deserves a serious answer.

Now of course not everyone who asks the question is interested in the answers I have to offer. A great many people, for example, are only interested in answers that will allow them to keep on enjoying the absurd extravagance that passed, not too long ago, for an ordinary lifestyle among the industrial world’s privileged classes, and is becoming just a little bit less ordinary with every year that slips by. To such people I have nothing to say.

Those lifestyles were only possible because the world’s industrial nations burnt through half a billion years of stored sunlight in a few short centuries, and gave most of the benefits of that orgy of consumption to a relatively small fraction of their population; now that easily accessible reserves of fossil fuels are running short, the party’s over.

Yes, I’m quite aware that that’s a controversial statement. I field heated denunciations on a regular basis insisting that it just ain’t so, that solar energy or fission or perpetual motion or something will allow the industrial world’s privileged classes to have their planet and eat it too.

Printer’s ink being unfashionable these days, a great many electrons have been inconvenienced on the internet to proclaim that this or that technology must surely allow the comfortable to remain comfortable, no matter what the laws of physics, geology, or economics have to say.

 Now of course the only alternative energy sources that have been able to stay in business even in a time of sky-high oil prices are those that can count on gargantuan government subsidies to pay their operating expenses; equally, the alternatives receive an even more gigantic “energy subsidy” from fossil fuels, which make them look much more economical than they otherwise would.

Such reflections carry no weight with those whose sense of entitlement makes living with less unthinkable.

I’m glad to say that there are fair number of people who’ve gotten past that unproductive attitude, who have grasped the severity of the crisis of our time and are ready to accept unwelcome change in order to secure a livable future for our descendants.

They want to know how we can pull modern civilization out of its current power dive and perpetuate it into the centuries ahead. I have no answers for them, either, because that’s not an option at this stage of the game; we’re long past the point at which decline and fall can be avoided, or even ameliorated on any large scale.

A decade ago, a team headed by Robert Hirsch and funded by the Department of Energy released a study outlining what would have to be done in order to transition away from fossil fuels before they transitioned away from us.

What they found, to sketch out too briefly the findings of a long and carefully worded study, is that in order to avoid massive disruption, the transition would have to begin twenty years before conventional petroleum production reached its peak and began to decline.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that 2005, the year this study was published, was also the year when conventional petroleum production peaked; the transition would thus have had to begin in 1985—right about the time, that is, that the Reagan administration in the US and its clones overseas were scrapping the promising steps toward just such a transition.

A transition that got under way in 2005, in other words, would have been too late, and given the political climate, it probably would have been too little as well. Even so, it would have been a much better outcome than the one we got, in which most of us have spent the last ten years insisting that we don’t have to worry about depleting oilfields because fracking was going to save us all.

At this point, thirty years after the point at which we would have had to get started, it’s all very well to talk about some sort of grand transition to sustainability, but the time when such a thing would have been possible came and went decades ago.

We could have chosen that path, but we didn’t, and insisting thirty years after the fact that we’ve changed our minds and want a different future than the one we chose isn’t likely to make any kind of difference that matters.

So what options does that leave? In the minds of a great many people, at least in the United States, the choice that apparently comes first to mind involves buying farmland in some isolated rural area and setting up a homestead in the traditional style.

Many of the people who talk enthusiastically about this option, to be sure, have never grown anything more demanding than a potted petunia, know nothing about the complex and demanding arts of farming and livestock raising, and aren’t in anything like the sort of robust physical condition needed to handle the unremitting hard work of raising food without benefit of fossil fuels; thus it’s a safe guess that in most of these cases, heading out to the country is simply a comforting daydream that serves to distract attention from the increasingly bleak prospects so many people are facing in the age of unraveling upon us.

There’s a long history behind such daydreams. Since colonial times, the lure of the frontier has played a huge role in the American imagination, providing any number of colorful inkblots onto which fantasies of a better life could be projected.

Those of my readers who are old enough to remember the aftermath of the Sixties counterculture, when a great many young people followed that dream to an assortment of hastily created rural communes, will also recall the head-on collision between middle-class fantasies of entitlement and the hard realities of rural subsistence farming that generally resulted.

Some of the communes survived, though many more did not; that I know of, none of the surviving ones made it without a long and difficult period of readjustment in which romantic notions of easy living in the lap of nature got chucked in favor of a more realistic awareness of just how little in the way of goods and services a bunch of untrained ex-suburbanites can actually produce by their own labor.

In theory, that process of reassessment is still open. In practice, just at the moment, I’m far from sure it’s an option for anyone who’s not already traveled far along that road.

The decline and fall of modern industrial civilization, it bears repeating, is not poised somewhere off in the indefinite future, waiting patiently for us to get ready for it before it puts in an appearance; it’s already happening at the usual pace, and the points I’ve raised in posts here over the last few weeks suggest that the downward slope is probably going to get a lot steeper in the near future.

As the collapse of the fracking bubble ripples out through the financial sphere, most of us are going to be scrambling to adapt, and the chances of getting everything lined up in time to move to rural property, get the necessary equipment and supplies to start farming, and get past the worst of the learning curve before crunch time arrives are not good.

If you’re already on a rural farm, in other words, by all means pursue the strategy that put you there. If your plans to get the necessary property, equipment, and skills are well advanced at this point, you may still be able to make it, but you’d probably better get a move on.

On the other hand, dear reader, if your rural retreat is still off there in the realm of daydreams and good intentions, it’s almost certainly too late to do much about it, and where you are right now is probably where you’ll be when the onrushing waves of crisis come surging up and break over your head.

That being the case, are there any options left other than hiding under the bed and hoping that the end will be relatively painless? As it happens, there are.

The point that has to be understood to make sense of those options is that in the real world, as distinct from Hollywood-style disaster fantasies, the end of a civilization follows the famous rule attributed to William Gibson: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

Put another way, the impacts of decline and fall aren’t uniform; they vary in intensity over space and time, and they impact particular systems of a falling civilization at different times and in different ways.

If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and depend on the wrong systems to support you, your chances aren’t good, but the places, times, and systems that take the brunt of the collapse aren’t random. To some extent, those can be anticipated, and some of them can also be avoided.

Here’s an obvious example. Right now, if your livelihood depends on the fracking industry, the tar sands industry, or any of the subsidiary industries that feed into those, your chances of getting through 2015 with your income intact are pretty minimal.

People in those industries who got to witness earlier booms and busts know this, and a good many of them are paying off their debts, settling any unfinished business they might have, and making sure they can cover a tank of gas or a plane ticket to get back home when the bottom falls out.

People in those industries who don’t have that experience to guide them, and are convinced that nothing bad can actually happen to them, are not doing these things, and are likely to end up in a world of hurt when their turn comes.

They’re not the only ones who would benefit right now from taking such steps. A very large part of the US banking and finance industry has been flying high on bloated profits from an assortment of fracking-related scams, ranging from junk bonds through derivatives to exotic financial fauna such as volumetric production payments.

Now that the goose that laid the golden eggs is bobbing feet upwards in a pond of used fracking fluid, the good times are coming to a sudden stop, and that means sharply reduced income for those junior bankers, brokers, and salespeople who can keep their jobs, and even more sharply reduced prospects for those who don’t.

They’ve got plenty of company on the chopping block. The entire retail sector in the US is already in trouble, with big-box stores struggling for survival and shopping malls being abandoned, and the sharp economic downturn we can expect as the fracking bust unfolds will likely turn that decline into freefall, varying in intensity by region and a galaxy of other factors.

Those who brace themselves for a hard landing now are a good deal more likely to make it than those who don’t, and those who have the chance to jump to something more stable now would be well advised to make the leap.

That’s one example; here’s another. I’ve written here in some detail about how anthropogenic climate change will wallop North America in the centuries ahead of us. One thing that’s been learned from the last few years of climate vagaries is that North America, at least, is shifting in exactly the way paleoclimatic data would suggest—more or less the same way it did during warm periods over the last ten or twenty million years.

he short form is that the Southwest and mountain West are getting baked to a crackly crunch under savage droughts; the eastern Great Plains, Midwest, and most of the South are being hit by a wildly unstable climate, with bone-dry dry years alternating with exceptionally soggy wet ones; while the Appalachians and points eastward have been getting unsteady temperatures but reliable rainfall.

Line up your choice of subsistence strategies next to those climate shifts, and if you still have the time and resources to relocate, you have some idea where to go.

All this presumes, of course, that what we’re facing has much more in common with the crises faced by other civilizations on their way to history’s compost heap than it does with the apocalyptic fantasies so often retailed these days as visions of the immediate future.

I expect to field a flurry of claims that it just ain’t so, that everything I’ve just said is wasted breath because some vast and terrible whatsit will shortly descend on the whole world and squash us like bugs. I can utter that prediction with perfect confidence, because I’ve been fielding such claims over and over again since long before this blog got started.

All the dates by which the world was surely going to end have rolled past without incident, and the inevitable cataclysms have pulled one no-show after another, but the shrill insistence that something of the sort really will happen this time around has shown no sign of letting up. Nor will it, since the unacceptable alternative consists of taking responsibility for doing something about the future.

Now of course I’ve already pointed out that there’s not much that can be done about the future on the largest scale. As the fracking bubble implodes, the global economy shudders, the climate destabilizes, and a dozen other measures of imminent crisis head toward the red zone on the gauge, it’s far too late in the day for much more than crisis management on a local and individual level.

Even so, crisis management is a considerably more useful response than sitting on the sofa daydreaming about the grandiose project that’s certain to save us or the grandiose cataclysm that’s certain to annihilate us—though these latter options are admittedly much more comfortable in the short term.

What’s more, there’s no shortage of examples in relatively recent history to guide the sort of crisis management I have in mind.

The tsunami of discontinuities that’s rolling toward us out of the deep waters of the future may be larger than the waves that hit the Western world with the coming of the First World War in 1914, the Great Depression in 1929, or the Second World War in 1939, but from the perspective of the individual, the difference isn’t as vast as it might seem. In fact, I’d encourage my readers to visit their local public libraries and pick up books about the lived experience of those earlier traumas.

I’d also encourage those with elderly relatives who still remember the Second World War to sit down with them over a couple of cups of whatever beverage seems appropriate, and ask about what it was like on a day-by-day basis to watch their ordinary peacetime world unravel into chaos.

I’ve had the advantage of taking part in such conversations, and I’ve also done a great deal of reading about historical crises that have passed below the horizon of living memory. There are plenty of lessons to be gained from such sources, and one of the most important also used to be standard aboard sailing ships in the days before steam power.

Sailors in those days had to go scrambling up the rigging at all hours and in all weathers to set, reef, or furl sails; it was not an easy job—imagine yourself up in the rigging of a tall ship in the middle of a howling storm at night, clinging to tarred ropes and slick wood and trying to get a mass of wet, heavy, wind-whipped canvas to behave, while below you the ship rolls from side to side and swings you out over a raging ocean and back again.

If you slip and you’re lucky, you land on deck with a pretty good chance of breaking bones or worse; if you slip and you’re not lucky, you plunge straight down into churning black water and are never seen again.

The rule that sailors learned and followed in those days was simple: “One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship.” Every chore that had to be done up there in the rigging could be done by a gang of sailors who each lent one hand to the effort, so the other could cling for dear life to the nearest rope or ratline.

Those tasks that couldn’t be done that way, such as hauling on ropes, took place down on the deck—the rigging was designed with that in mind. There were emergencies where that rule didn’t apply, and even with the rule in place there were sailors who fell from the rigging to their deaths, but as a general principle it worked tolerably well.

I’d like to propose that the same rule might be worth pursuing in the crisis of our age. In the years to come, a great many of us will face the same kind of scramble for survival that so many others faced in the catastrophes of the early 20th century.

Some of us won’t make it, and some will have to face the ghastly choice between sheer survival and everything else they value in life. Not everyone, though, will land in one or the other of those categories, and many those who manage to stay out of them will have the chance to direct time and energy toward the broader picture.

Exactly what projects might fall into that latter category will differ from one person to another, for reasons that are irreducibly personal. I’m sure there are plenty of things that would motivate you to action in desperate times, dear reader, that would leave me cold, and of course the reverse is also true—and in times of crisis, of the kind we’re discussing, it’s personal factors of that sort that make the difference, not abstract considerations of the sort we might debate here.

I’ll be discussing a few of the options in upcoming posts, but I’d also encourage readers of this blog to reflect on the question themselves: in the wreck of industrial civilization, what are you willing to make an effort to accomplish, to defend, or to preserve?

In thinking about that, I’d encourage my readers to consider the traumatic years of the early 20th century as a model for what’s approaching us.

Those who were alive when the first great wave of dissolution hit in 1914 weren’t facing forty years of continuous cataclysm; as noted here repeatedly, collapse is a fractal process, and unfolds in real time as a sequence of crises of various kinds separated by intervals of relative calm in which some level of recovery is possible.

It’s pretty clear that the first round of trouble here in the United States, at least, will be a major economic crisis; at some point not too far down the road, the yawning gap between our senile political class and the impoverished and disaffected masses promises the collapse of politics as usual and a descent into domestic insurgency or one of the other standard patterns by which former democracies destroy themselves; as already noted, there are plenty of other things bearing down on us—but after an interval, things will stabilize again.

Then it’ll be time to sort through the wreckage, see what’s been saved and what can be recovered, and go on from there. First, though, we have a troubled time to get through.


Our Renewable Energy Future

SUBHEAD: What’s needed now is neither fatalism nor utopianism, but pathways to a sustainable renewable future.

By Richard Heinberg on 21 January 2015 for PostCarbon.org -

Image above: Stand alone off grid farmstead cabin on Hamauka Coast, Hawaii Island. From (http://solarrayes.com/).

[IB Publisher's note: This is a long (7,000 word) and thoughtful article by a man who has spent 12 years on the subject. It's worth the 25 minutes to refocus on a achievable alternative to a lights-out future.]

Folks who pay attention to energy and climate issues are regularly treated to two competing depictions of society’s energy options. For the sake of simplicity, I have omitted discussion of nuclear power from this essay.

There are those who say that nuclear power will, or should, play a prominent role in our energy future. I disagree with this view. Globally, nuclear power—unlike solar and wind—is contracting, not growing (China provides one of only a few exceptions to this observation).

Nations are turning away from nuclear power due to the high levels of required investment—which, in virtually every case, must be underwritten by government.

They are doing so also because of the high perceived risk of accidents—especially since the commencement of the ongoing catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan. Nuclear boosters advocate new fuels (thorium) or technologies (fast breeder reactors) to address these concerns.

But many years of trials will be needed before these alternatives are ready to be deployed at scale; and it is unclear, even then, whether they will live up to claims and expectations.

On one hand, the fossil fuel industry claims that its products deliver unique economic benefits, and that giving up coal, oil, and natural gas in favor of renewable energy sources like solar and wind will entail sacrifice and suffering (this gives a flavor of their argument).

Saving the climate may not be worth the trouble, they say, unless we can find affordable ways to capture and sequester carbon as we continue burning fossil fuels.

On the other hand, at least some renewable energy proponents tell us there is plenty of wind and sun, the fuel is free, and the only thing standing between us and a climate-protected world of plentiful, sustainable, “green” energy, jobs, and economic growth is the political clout of the coal, oil, and gas industries (here is a taste of that line of thought).

Which message is right? Will our energy future be fueled by fossils (with or without carbon capture technology), or powered by abundant, renewable wind and sunlight? Does the truth lie somewhere between these extremes—that is, does an “all of the above” energy future await us?

Or is our energy destiny located in a Terra Incognita that neither fossil fuel promoters nor renewable energy advocates talk much about? As maddening as it may be, the latter conclusion may be the one best supported by the facts.

If that uncharted land had a motto, it might be, “How we use energy is as important as how we get it.”

1. Unburnable Fossils and Intermittent Electricity
Let’s start with the claim that giving up coal, oil, and gas will hurl us back to the Stone Age. It’s true that fossil fuels have offered extraordinary economic benefits. The cheap, concentrated, and portable energy stored in these remarkable substances opened the way, during the past couple of centuries, for industrial expansion on a scale previously inconceivable. Why not just continue burning fossil fuels, then? Over the long term that is simply not an option, for two decisive reasons.

First, burning fossil fuels is changing the climate to such a degree, and at such a pace, that economic as well as ecological ruin may ensue within the lifetimes of today’s schoolchildren. The science is in: either we go cold turkey on our coal, oil, and gas addictions, or we risk raising the planet’s temperature to a level incompatible with the continued existence of civilization.

Second, these are depleting, non-renewable sources of energy. We have harvested them using the low-hanging fruit principle, which means that further increments of extraction will entail rising costs (for example, the oil industry’s costs for exploration and production have recently been soaring at nearly 11 percent per year) as well as worsening environmental risks.

This problem has been sneaking up on us over the last ten years, as sputtering conventional oil and natural gas production set the stage for the Great Recession and the expensive (and environmentally destructive) practices of “fracking” and tar sands mining. Despite the recent plunge in oil prices the fossil fuel party is indeed over.

 Sooner or later the stark reality of declining fossil energy availability will rivet everyone’s attention: we are overwhelmingly dependent on these fuels for nearly everything we eat, consume, use, and trade, and—as Americans started to learn in the 1970s as a result of a couple nasty oil shocks—the withdrawal symptoms are killer.

So while fossil fuel promoters are right in saying that coal, oil, and gas are essential to our current economy, what they omit mentioning is actually more crucial if we care how our world will look more than a few years into the future.

Well then, are the most enthusiastic of the solar and wind boosters correct in claiming that renewable energy sources are ready to substitute for coal, oil, and gas quickly enough and in sufficient quantity to keep the global economy growing?

There’s a hitch here, which critics are only too quick to point out.

We’ve designed our energy consumption patterns to take advantage of controllable inputs. Need more power? If you’re relying on coal for energy, just shovel more fuel into the boiler. But solar and wind are different: they are available on Nature’s terms, not ours. Sometimes the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, sometimes not.

Energy geeks have a vocabulary to describe this—they say solar and wind power are intermittent, variable, stochastic, or chaotic.

There are ways of buffering this variability: we can store energy from renewable sources with batteries or flywheels, or pump water uphill so as to recapture its potential energy later when it flows back downstream; or we can build a massive super-grid with robustly redundant generating capacity so that, when sun and wind aren’t available in one region, another region can cover demand throughout the entire interconnected system.

But these strategies cost money and energy, and add layers of complexity and vulnerability to what is already the largest machine ever built (i.e., the power grid).

Crucially, a recent study by Weissbach et al. compared the full-lifecycle energy economics of various types of power plants and found that once the intermittency of solar and wind energy is buffered by storage technologies, these sources become far less efficient than coal, natural gas, or nuclear plants; indeed, once storage is added, solar and wind fall “below the economical threshold” of long-term viability, regardless of the falling dollar price of panels and turbines themselves.

The problem lies in the fact that the amount of energy embodied in the full generation-storage system cannot be repaid, with a substantial energy profit, by that system over its lifetime. Recent operational studies of solar PV systems in Spain and Australia have come to similar conclusions.

Another way to deal with variability is demand management, which can take a variety of forms (I’ll be discussing some of those later in a fair amount of detail). These all, by definition, mean changing the ways we use energy. But for the moment let’s stay with the subject of energy supply.

Early increments of solar and wind power are easy and cheap to integrate into the existing electricity distribution system because power from gas-fired peaking plants can quickly (literally, by the minute) be ramped up or down to accommodate these new, small, variable inputs while also matching changing overall demand levels. In this case, the price of wind and solar energy gets counted as just the immediate cost of building, installing, and maintaining turbines and panels.

And, as the New York Times recently noted, the price of electricity from renewables (counted this way) is now often competitive with electricity from fossil fuels. On this basis, solar and wind are disruptive technologies: they’re getting cheaper while fossil fuels can only grow costlier.

This one clear economic advantage of renewable energy—free “fuel” in the forms of sunlight and wind—is decisive, as Germany is now seeing with falling wholesale electricity prices (though retail prices are rising due to feed-in tariffs that require the utility industry to pay above-market prices for renewable electricity).

But as electricity from variable renewables makes up a larger and larger proportion of all power generated, the requirements for energy storage technologies, capacity redundancy, and grid upgrades will inevitably climb; indeed, beyond a certain point, the scale of needed investment is likely to explode.

Grid managers tend to say that the inflection point arrives when solar and wind power provide about 30 percent of total electricity demand, though one computer model suggests it could be put off until 80 percent market penetration is achieved.

For two contrasting views on the question of how expensive and difficult intermittency makes the renewables transition—from renewable energy optimists Jacobson and Delucchi on one hand, and from “The Simpler Way” advocate Ted Trainer on the other—see a highly informative peer-reviewed exchange here, here, and here.

The looming need for investment in storage and grid upgrades is part of the reason some electric utility companies are starting to wage war against renewables (another part is that net metering puts utilities at a disadvantage relative to solar homeowners; still another is simply that fossil fuel interests hate competition from solar and wind on general principle).

As solar panels get cheaper, more homes and businesses install them; this imposes intermittency-smoothing costs on utility companies, which then raise retail prices to ratepayers. The latter then have even more of an incentive to install self-contained, battery-backed solar and abandon the grid altogether, leading to a utility “death spiral.”

Yet renewable energy technologies currently require fossil fuels for their construction and deployment, so in effect they are functioning as a parasite on the back of the older energy infrastructure. The question is, can they survive the death of their host?

2. The Liquid Fuels Substitution Quandary
So far, we’ve talked only about electricity. The power generation sector arguably represents the easiest phase of the overall energy transition (since alternative technologies do exist, even if they’re problematic)—but only about 22 percent of global energy is consumed in the form of electrical power; in the US the figure is 33 percent.

Our biggest single energy source is oil, which fuels nearly all transportation. Transport is central to trade, which in turn is the beating heart of the global market economy. Oil also fuels the agricultural sector, and eating is fairly important to most of us.

Of the three main fossil fuels, oil is showing the most immediate signs of depletion, and renewable options for replacing it are fairly dismal.

It is possible to electrify much of our transportation, and electric cars are now decorating showrooms. But they have a minuscule market share and, at the current growth rate, will take many decades to oust conventional gasoline-fueled automobiles (some analysts believe that growth rate will soon increase dramatically).

In any case, batteries do not do well in large, heavy vehicles. The reason has to do with energy density: an electric battery typically is able to store and deliver only about 0.1 to 0.5 megajoules of energy per kilogram; thus, compared to gasoline or diesel (at 44 to 48 MJ/kg), it is very heavy in relation to its energy output.

Some breakthroughs in battery storage density and price appear to be on the horizon, but even with these improvements the problem remains: the theoretical maximum energy storage for batteries (about 5 MJ/kg) is still far below the energy density of oil.

Neither long-haul trucking nor container shipping is ever likely to be electrified on any significant scale, and electric airliners are simply a non-starter.

The promise of biofuels as a direct substitute for petroleum was widely touted a decade ago, but we hear much less on that score these days. It turns out that enormous subsidies are needed because the processes for producing these fuels are highly energy intensive. This goes for second-generation cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel from algae as well. Research into synthetic biology pathways to biofuel production remains in its infancy.

Hydrogen offers a medium for storing energy in a way that can be used to power vehicles (among other things), and Toyota is about to release its first commercial hydrogen-powered car.

But if we produce hydrogen with renewable energy, that means making H2 from water using solar or wind-based electricity; unfortunately, this is an expensive way to go about it (most commercially produced hydrogen is currently made from natural gas, because the gas-reforming process is inherently more efficient and therefore almost always cheaper than electrolysis, regardless of the electricity source).

These problems lead some energy analysts to propose a cheaper alternative to oil: why not transition the transport fleet to burn compressed natural gas, which government and industry tell us is abundant and climate-friendly? Unfortunately this is no solution at all over the long term.

Globally, natural gas may be available in quantity for several more decades, but optimistic forecasts of “100 years” of abundant US domestic gas supplies are proving to be unfounded, and methane leakage from production and transmission infrastructure may end up making gas even worse for the climate than oil.

3. How much energy will we have?
The question is inescapable: will our renewable future offer less mobility? If so, this in itself would have enormous implications for the economy and for daily life. Another question arising from all of the above: will the quantity of energy available in our renewable-energy future match energy demand forecasts based on consumption trends in recent decades?

There are too many variables to permit a remotely accurate estimate of how much less energy we might have to work with (we simply don’t know how quickly renewable energy technology will evolve, or how much capital investment will materialize).

However, it’s good to keep in mind the fact that the energy transition of the 19th and 20th centuries was additive: we just kept piling new energy sources on top of existing ones (we started with firewood, then added coal, oil, hydropower, natural gas, and nuclear); further, it was driven by economic opportunity.

In contrast, the energy transition of the 21st century will entail the replacement of our existing primary energy sources, and it may largely be driven either by government policy or by crisis (fuel scarcity, climate-induced weather disasters, or economic decline).

Even supply forecasts from renewable energy optimists who tell us that intermittency is affordably solvable typically assume we will have less available electrical energy, once the shift away from fossil fuels is complete, than the International Energy Agency estimates that we would otherwise want (for example, analysis by Lund and Mathieson projects energy consumption levels in 2030 in Denmark to be only 11 percent higher than 2004 demand, with no further increase between 2030 and 2050, whereas IEA forecasts assume continued demand growth through mid-century).

However, if (as the Weissbach study suggests) intermittency is in fact a serious economic burden for solar and wind power over the long term, then we need to entertain the likelihood that energy supplies available at the end of the century may be smaller—maybe considerably smaller—than they are now.

At the same time, the qualities of our energy supply will differ from what we are used to.

As explained earlier, solar and wind are intermittent, unlike fossil energy supplies. Further, while planet Earth is blessed with lots of wind and sunlight, these are diffuse energy sources that need collecting and concentrating if they’re to operate heavy machinery.

During the coming energy transition, we will be shifting from energy sources with a small geographic footprint (e.g., a natural gas well) toward ones with larger footprints (wind and solar farms collecting ambient sources of energy).

True, we can cut the effective footprint of solar by using existing rooftops, and wind turbines can share space with food crops. Nevertheless, there will be unavoidable costs, inefficiencies, and environmental impacts resulting from the increasing geographical extent of energy collection activities.

The potency of fossil fuels derives from the fact that Nature did all the prior work of taking energy from sunlight, storing it in chemical bonds within plants, then gathering those ancient plants and transforming and concentrating their chemical energy, using enormous heat and pressure, over millions of years.

Renewable energy technologies represent attempts to gather and concentrate ambient energy in present time, substituting built capital for Nature’s free gifts.

Moreover, while electrical power is easily transported via the grid, this doesn’t change the fact that sunlight, hydropower, biomass, and wind are more available in some places than others.

Long-distance electricity transmission entails infrastructure costs and energy losses, while transporting biomass more than a hundred miles or so typically erases the crucial energy profitability of its use.

4. A Possible Outcome of Current Energy Trends

The price of renewable energy is falling while the cost of producing fossil fuels is rising. The crossover point, where fossil fuels cease to be cost competitive, could come soon—perhaps in the next decade.

What happens then? As batteries get cheaper, electric cars could become the industry standard; reduced gasoline demand would likely force the price of oil below its marginal production cost. If falling demand periodically outpaced declining supply (and vice versa), the result would be increasingly volatile petroleum prices, which would be bad for everyone. Meanwhile as more businesses and homes installed cost-competitive solar-and-battery systems, conventional utilities could go bankrupt.

The result: we would have green energy technology, but not the energy means to maintain and reproduce it over the long run (since every aspect of the renewable energy deployment process currently relies on fossil fuels —particularly oil— because of their unique energy density characteristics).

During the transition, what proportion of the world’s people would be able to afford the up-front investment required for entry into the renewable energy club?

It’s likely that many (including poor people in rich countries) would not, especially given current trends toward increasing economic inequality; for these folks, conventional fossil-based grid power would likewise become unaffordable, or simply unavailable.

What if renewable energy optimists are right in saying that solar and wind are disruptive technologies against which fossil fuels cannot ultimately compete, but renewables critics are correct in arguing that solar and wind are inherently incapable of powering industrial societies as currently configured, absent a support infrastructure (mines, smelters, forges, ships, trucks, and so on) running on fossil fuels?

5. Googling Questions
The combined quantity and quality issues of our renewable energy future are sufficiently daunting that Google engineers who, in 2007, embarked on an ambitious, well-funded project to solve the world’s climate and energy problems, effectively gave up. It seems that money, brainpower, and a willingness to think outside the box weren’t enough.

“We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change,” write Ross Koningstein and David Fork, key members of the RE The Google team defined “success” as identifying a renewable energy system that could compete economically with coal and could also be deployed fast enough to stave off the worst climate change impacts. The team concluded that renewable energy isn’t up to that job. 

In their article, Koningstein and Fork put on a brave face, hoping that some currently unknown energy source will appear at the last minute to save the day. But putting one’s faith in a currently non-existent energy source seems less realistic than working for dramatic improvements to solar and wind technologies. 

A completely new source would require decades for development, testing, and deployment. Realistically, our choice of replacements for fossil fuels is limited to energy sources that can be harnessed with current technology, even if they can’t keep the industrial growth engine humming.

In inquiring whether renewable energy can solve the climate crisis at essentially no net economic cost, Koningstein and Fork may have been posing the wrong question. They were, in effect, asking whether renewables can support our current growth-based industrial economy while saving the environment. They might more profitably have inquired what kind of economy renewable energy can support. 

We humans got by on renewable sources of energy for millennia, achieving high levels of civilization and culture using wind, sun, water, wood, and animal power alone (though earlier civilizations often faced depletion dilemmas with regard to resources other than fossil fuels). 

The depletion/climate drawbacks of fossil fuels ensure that, as the century progresses, we will indeed return to a renewables-based economy of some sort, running on hydropower, solar, wind, and a suite of other, more marginal renewable sources including biomass, geothermal, wave, microhydro, and tidal power.

We always adapt our energy sources, as much as we can, to suit the ways we want to use energy. It is therefore understandable that most people would like somehow to make solar and wind act just like fossil fuels, which have shaped our current consumption patterns. But that leads us back to the problems of energy storage, capacity redundancy, grid redesign, transport electrification, and so on. 

Weissbach’s study suggests that the costs of enabling solar and wind to act like fossil fuels are so great as to virtually cancel out these renewables’ very real benefits. Reluctantly but increasingly, we may have to adapt the ways we use energy to suit the quantities and inherent qualities of the energy available to us.

Fossil fuels shaped our current infrastructure of mines, smelters, forges, factories, pipelines, grids, farms, highways, airports, pumps, shopping malls, suburbs, warehouses, furnaces, office buildings, houses, and more. 

We built the modern world with the assumption that we would always have more energy with similar characteristics to maintain, operate, and replace this staggering and still-growing array of machines, structures, and support systems. 

Where it is absolutely essential to maintain these systems in their current form, we will certainly make every effort to adapt our new energy sources to the job (using batteries, for example); where systems can themselves be adapted to using less energy or energy that is intermittently available, we will adapt those systems. 

But in many instances it may be unaffordable to adapt either the energy source or the usage system; in those cases, we will simply do without services we had become accustomed to.

This may be the renewable future that awaits us. To prepare for that likelihood, we need to build large numbers of solar panels and wind turbines while also beginning a process of industrial-economic triage.

Reconfiguring civilization to operate on less energy and on energy with different characteristics is a big job—one that, paradoxically, may itself require a substantial amount of energy. 

If the necessity of expending energy on a civilization rebuild coincides with a reduction in available energy, that would again mean that our renewable future will not be an extension of the expansive economic thrust of the 20th century. We may be headed into lean times.

Granted, there is a lot of uncertainty here. Some countries are better placed to harvest ambient natural energy sources than others. Some academic studies paint an over-optimistic picture of renewables, because they focus only on electricity and ignore or understate the costs of variability mitigation; other studies arrive at unfairly pessimistic assessments of renewables because they use obsolete price data. It’s hard to portray our renewable future in a way that one analyst or another will not dispute, at least in terms of detail. 

Nevertheless, most energy experts would probably agree with the general outline of renewable energy’s potential that I’ve traced here.

I consider myself a renewable energy advocate: after all, I work for an organization called Post Carbon Institute. I have no interest in discouraging the energy transition—quite the contrary. But I’ve concluded that many of us, like Koningstein and Fork, have been asking the wrong questions of renewables. 

We’ve been demanding that they continue to power a growth-based consumer economy that is inherently unsustainable for a variety of reasons (the most obvious one being that we live on a small planet with finite resources). The fact that renewables can’t do that shouldn’t actually be surprising.

What are the right questions? The first, already noted, is: What kind of society can up-to-date renewable energy sources power? The second, which is just as important: How do we go about becoming that sort of society?

As we’ll see, once we begin to frame the picture this way, it turns out to be anything but bleak.

6. A Couple of Key Concepts
Our degree of success in this all-encompassing transition will partly depend on our ability to master a couple of simple energy concepts. The first is energy returned on energy invested (EROI or EROEI). It takes energy to get energy: for example, energy is needed to drill an oil well or build a solar panel.

The historic economic bonanza resulting from society’s use of fossil fuels partly ensued from the fact that, in the 20th century, only trivial amounts of energy were required for drilling or mining as compared to the gush of energy yielded. High EROEI ratios (in the range of 20:1 to 50:1 or more) for society’s energy-obtaining efforts meant that relatively little capital and labor were needed in order to supply all the energy that society could use.

As a result, many people could be freed up from basic energy-producing activities (like farming), their labor being substituted by fuel-fed machines.

Channeled into manufacturing and managerial jobs, these people found ways to use abundant, cheap energy to produce more goods and services.

The middle class mushroomed, as did cities and suburbs. In the process, we discovered an unintended consequence of having an abundance of cheap “energy slaves” in the forms of tons of coal, barrels of oil, and cubic feet of natural gas: as manufacturing and other sectors of the economy became mechanized, many pre-industrial professions disappeared.

The EROEI ratios for fossil fuels are declining because the best-quality resources are being used up; meanwhile, the energy return figures of most renewable energy sources are relatively low compared to fossil fuels in their heyday (and this is especially true when buffering technologies—such as storage equipment, redundant capacity, and grid expansions—are accounted for).

The practical result of declining overall societal EROEI will be the need to devote proportionally more capital and labor to energy production processes. This is likely to translate, for example, to the requirement for more farm labor, and to fewer opportunities in professions not centered on directly productive activities: we’ll need more people making or growing things, and fewer people marketing, advertising, financing, regulating, and litigating them.

For folks who think we have way too much marketing, advertising, financialization, regulation, and litigation in our current society, this may not seem like such a bad thing; prospects are likewise favorable for those who desire more control over their time, labor, and sources of sustenance (food and energy).

A second essential energy concept has to do with the difference between embodied and operational energy. When we contemplate the energy required by an automobile, for example, we are likely to think only of the gasoline in its tank.

However, a substantial amount of energy was expended in the car’s construction, in the mining of ores from which its metal components were made, in the making of the mining equipment, and so on.

Further, enormous amounts of energy were spent in building the infrastructure that enables us to use the car—the systems of roads and highways, the networks of service stations, refineries, pipelines, and oil wells. The car’s gasoline supplies operational energy, but much more energy is embodied in the car itself and its support systems. This latter energy expenditure is easily overlooked.

The energy glut of the 20th century enabled us to embody energy in a mind-numbing array of buildings, infrastructure, machines, gadgets, and packaging. Middle-class families got used to buying and discarding enormous quantities of manufactured goods representing generous portions of previously expended energy.

If we have less energy available to us in our renewable future, this will impact more than the operation of our machines and the lighting and heating of our buildings. It will also translate to a shrinking flow of manufactured goods that embody past energy expenditure, and a reduced ability to construct high energy-input structures.

We might find we need to purchase fewer items of clothing and furniture, and fewer electronic devices, and inhabit smaller spaces. We might also use old goods longer, and re-use and re-purpose whatever can be repaired. We might need to get used to buying more basic foods again, rather than highly processed and excessively packaged food products.

Exactly how far these trends might proceed is impossible to say: we are almost surely headed toward a simpler society, but no one knows ultimately how simple. Nevertheless, it’s fair to assume that this overall shift would constitute the end of consumerism (i.e., our current economic model that depends on ever-increasing consumption of consumer goods and services).  

Here again, there are more than a few people who believe that advanced industrial nations consume excessively, and that some simplification of rich- and middle-class lifestyles would be a good thing.

7. Transitioning Nine Sectors
When we start applying these energy principles to the systems that surround us and support our daily existence, the implications really start to get interesting. Let’s take a quick tour:

Food: Fossil fuels are currently used at every stage of growing, transporting, processing, packaging, preparing, and storing food. As those inputs are removed from food systems, it will be necessary to bring growers and consumers closer together, and to replace petrochemical-based fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides with agro-ecological farming methods that rely on crop rotation, intercropping, companion planting, mulching, composting, beneficial insects, and promotion of microbial activity in soils. As mentioned earlier, we will need many more farmers, especially ones with extensive practical, local ecological knowledge.

Water: Enormous amounts of energy are used in extracting, moving, and treating water; conversely, water is used in most energy production processes. We face converging water crises arising from aging infrastructure and climate change-related droughts and floods. All this suggests we must become far more water thrifty, find ways to reduce the energy used in water management, use intermittent energy sources for pumping water, and use water reservoirs for storing energy.

Resource extraction (mining, forestry, fishing): Currently, extractive industries rely almost entirely on petroleum-based fuels. Since, as we have seen, there are no good and comprehensive substitutes for these fuels, we will have to reduce resource extraction rates, reuse and recycle materials wherever possible, and employ more muscle power where possible in those extractive processes that must continue (such as forestry).

Building construction: Cement, iron, and road-building materials embody substantial amounts of energy, while large construction equipment (cranes, booms, bulldozers) requires concentrated energy for its operation. We must shift to using natural, locally available building materials, and more labor-intensive construction methods, while dramatically reducing the rate of new construction. The amount of enclosed space per person (home, work, shopping) will shrink.

Building operations: We’ve gotten used to actively heating, cooling, ventilating, and lighting our buildings with cheap, on-demand energy. We will need to maximize our passive capture of ambient, variable, solar energy using south-facing glazing, superinsulation, and thermal mass. Whatever active energy use is still required will employ efficient heat pumps and low-energy LED lighting, powered mostly by solar cells and wind turbines with minimal storage and redundancy (so as to maximize EROEI).

Manufacturing: Our current system is globalized (relying on oil-based transport systems); consumes natural gas, electricity, and oil in manufacturing processes; and uses materials that embody large amounts of energy and that are often made from fossil fuels (i.e., plastics). Lots of energy is used also in dealing with substantial flows of waste in the forms of packaging and discarded products. The economy has been fine-tuned to maximize consumption. We must shift to shortened supply chains, more localized manufacture of goods (shipping information, not products), materials with low embodied energy, and minimal packaging, while increasing our products’ reuse and repair potential. This will be, in effect, an economy fine-tuned to minimize consumption.

Health care: The high dollar cost of modern health care is a rough indication of its energy intensity. As the energy transition gains momentum, it will be necessary to identify low-energy sanitation and care options, and prioritize prevention and local disaster response preparedness. Eventually, high-energy diagnostics and extreme end-of-life interventions may simply become unaffordable. Treatment of chronic conditions may rely increasingly on herbs and other traditional therapies (in instances where their efficacy can be verified) as the pharmaceutical industry gradually loses its capability to mobilize billions of dollars to develop new, targeted drugs.

Transportation: The energy transition will require us to prioritize transport modes according to operational and embodied energy efficiency: whereas automobile and truck traffic have been richly subsidized through road building in the last seven decades, governments should instead devote funds toward electrified rail networks for both freight and passenger travel. We must also design economic and urban systems so as to reduce the need for motorized transportation—for example, by planning communities so that most essential services are within walking distance.

Finance: It would appear that comparatively little energy is needed to run financial systems, as a few taps on a computer keyboard can create millions of dollars instantly and move them around the globe. Nevertheless, the energy transition has enormous implications for finance: heightened debt levels imply an increased ability to consume now with the requirement to pay later.

In effect, a high-finance society stimulates consumption, whereas we need to reduce consumption. Transition strategies should therefore include goals such as the cancelation of much existing debt and reduction of the size and role of the financial system.

Increasingly, we must direct investment capital toward projects that will tangibly benefit communities, rather than leaving capital investment primarily in the hands of profit-seeking individuals and corporations.

You may have noticed that suggestions in each of these categories are far from new. Organized efforts to reduce both operational and embodied energy consumption throughout society started in the 1970s, at the time of the first oil price shocks.

Today there are many NGOs and university programs devoted to research on energy efficiency, and to life cycle analysis (which seeks to identify and quantify energy consumption and environmental impacts of products and industrial processes, from “cradle to grave”).

Industrial ecology, biomimicry, “cradle-to-cradle” manufacturing, local food, voluntary simplicity, permaculture, and green building are just a few of the strategies have emerged in the last few decades to guide us toward a more energy-thrifty future. Most major cities now have bicycle advocacy groups, farmers markets, and energy efficiency programs. These all represent steps in the right direction.

Yet what is being done so far barely scratches the surface of what’s needed. There could be only one meaningful indication of success in all these efforts, and that would be a decline in society’s overall energy use. So far, we have seen energy declines primarily in times of severe economic recession—hardly ever purely as a result efficiency programs.

What we need is not just to trim energy use here and there so as to save money, but to reconfigure entire systems to dramatically slash consumption while making much of the remaining energy consumption amenable to intermittent inputs.

Another insight that comes from scanning energy reduction strategies in various societal sectors is that efforts already underway along these lines often have side benefits.

There are tangible psychological, social, and cultural payoffs associated with local food and voluntary simplicity programs, and health improvements can follow from natural, energy-efficient dwellings, walking, bicycling, and gardening. A successful energy transition will require that we find ways to maximize and celebrate these benefits, while honestly acknowledging the full human and environmental costs of our decades-long, fossil-fueled joyride.

In the march toward our energy future, the PR war between the fossil fuel industry and renewables advocates gets much of the attention. But it will be our effectiveness in the hard work of dramatically reducing and reconfiguring energy consumption—sector by sector, farm by farm, building by building, household by household, community by community—that will largely determine our overall success in what is likely to be history’s most difficult and crucially important economic shift.

8. Neither Utopia Nor Extinction
This is all politically charged. Some renewable energy advocates (particularly in the US) soft-pedal the “use less” message because we still inhabit an economy in which jobs and profits depend on stoking consumption, not cutting it. “Less” also implies “fewer”: if the amount of energy available contracts but human population continues growing, that will translate to an even sharper per capita hit.

This suggests we need to start reducing population, and doing so quickly—but economists hate population decline because it compromises GDP and results in smaller generational cohorts of young workers supporting larger cohorts of retirees. Here is yet another message that just doesn’t sell. A contraction of energy, population, and the economy has only two things going for it: necessity and inevitability.

From a political standpoint, some solar and wind advocates apparently believe it makes good strategic sense to claim that a renewable future will deliver comfort, convenience, jobs, and growth—an extension of the oil-fueled 20th century, but now energized by wind and solar electrons.

Regardless of whether it’s true, it is a message that appeals to a broad swath of the public. Yet most serious renewable energy scientists and analysts acknowledge that the energy transition will require changes throughout society. This latter attitude is especially prevalent in Europe, which now has practical experience integrating larger percentages of solar and wind power into electricity markets.

Here in the US, though, it is common to find passionate but poorly informed climate activists who loudly proclaim that the transition can be easily and fully accomplished at no net cost. Again, this may be an effective message for rallying troops, but it ends up denying oxygen to energy conservation efforts, which are just as important.

I have good friends in the renewable energy industry who say that emphasizing the intermittency challenges of solar and wind amounts to giving more ammunition to the fossil fuel lobby. Barry Goldwater famously proclaimed that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”; in a similar spirit, some solar and wind boosters might say that a little exaggeration of renewable energy’s potential, uttered in defense of the Earth, is no sin.

After all, fossil fuel interests are not bound by the need for strict veracity: they continually make absurd claims that the world has centuries’ worth of coal and gas, and decades of oil. It’s not a fair or equal fight: the size and resources of the fossil fuel industry vastly outweigh those of the renewables camp.

And there could hardly be more at stake: this is war for the survival of our current civilization-supporting climate regime. Nevertheless, we will ultimately have to deal with the reality of what solar and wind can actually provide, and we will do so far more successfully if we plan and prepare ahead of time.

There are a lot of smart, dedicated people working hard to solve the problems with renewables—that is, to make it cheaper and easier for these energy sources to mimic the 24/7 reliability of fossil fuels through improvements in energy storage and related technologies. None of what I have said in this essay is meant to discourage them from that important work. The more progress they make, the better for all of us.

But they’ll have more chance of success in the long run if society starts investing significant effort into adapting its energy usage to lower consumption levels, more variable sources, and more localized, distributed inputs.

The problem is, the gap between our current way of life and one that can be sustained with future energy supplies is likely to be significant. If energy declines, so will economic activity, and that will create severe political and geopolitical strains; arguably some of those are already becoming apparent. We may be headed into a crucial bottleneck; if so, our decisions now will have enormous repercussions. We therefore need an honest view of the constraints and opportunities ahead.

At this point I must address a few words to “collapsitarians” or “doomers,” who say that only utter ruin, perhaps extinction, awaits us, and that renewables won’t work at all. They may be correct in thinking that the trajectory of society this century will be comparable to the collapse of historic civilizations.

However, even if that is the case, there is still a wide range of possible futures. The prospects for humanity, and the fates of many other species, hang on our actions.

What’s needed now is neither fatalism nor utopianism, but a suite of practical pathways for families and communities that lead to a real and sustainable renewable future—parachutes that will get us from a 17,000-watt society to a 2,000-watt society.

We need public messages that emphasize the personal and community benefits of energy conservation, and visions of an attractive future where human needs are met with a fraction of the operational and embodied energy that industrial nations currently use. We need detailed transition plans for each major sector of the economy.

We need inspiring examples, engaging stories, and opportunities for learning in depth. The transition to our real renewable future deserves a prominent, persistent place at the center of public conversation.

The Transition Network, The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, The Simplicity Institute, and many other organizations have already begun pioneering this work, and deserve support and attention.

However, more framing and analysis of the issues, along the lines of this essay but in much greater depth, could also help. My organization, Post Carbon Institute, is embarking on a collaborative project to provide this. If you don’t hear much from me for a while, it’s because I’m working on it. Stay tuned.