Hawaii hemp legislation pending

SUBHEAD: Senate Bill 2787 to further encourage the state Department of Agriculture to license farmers to grow industrial hemp.

By Staff on 1 February 2016 for NORML -

Image above: Immature hemp plant and field it's to be planted in. From article on tips to grow hemp. (http://toneag.com/wp/2009/08/24/hemp-production/).

Legislation is pending, Senate Bill 2787, to further encourage the state Department of Agriculture to license farmers to grow industrial hemp for “research and development purposes.”
Additional legislation, Senate Bill 2757, is pending to authorize the department of agriculture to establish a three-year industrial hemp research program to investigate the viability of industrial hemp as a building material for housing in the State.

In 2014, lawmakers previously approved legislation, Senate Bill 2175, establishing a two-year pilot program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to study the potential use of industrial hemp as a phytomediator (a plant capable of removing toxins from the soil) and as a biofuel.

Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa L. that contains minimal amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Various parts of the plant can be utilized in the making of textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastics, cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation, animal feed and other products. The crop is commercially cultivated throughout the world. 
Members of Congress recently approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal Farm Bill explicitly authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Presently, 24 states have enacted legislation permitting licensed hemp cultivation in a manner that is compliant with this statute.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health and the Senate Committee on Water, Land, and Agriculture have scheduled a public hearing for Senate Bill 2787 on February 5th at 2:45PM in conference room 224.  
Please go tp original article and fill out form to contact your lawmakers and urge them to support this pending legislation.


Retail Apocalypse

SUBHEAD: So far 2016 is offering empty shelves and retail store closings all across America.

By Michael Snyder on 31 January 2016 for End of American Dream -

Image above: Low level of inventory in supermarket cooler section. From (http://retailexcellence.com/uhhhh-are-they-going-out-of-business/).

Major retailers in the United States are shutting down hundreds of stores, and shoppers are reporting alarmingly bare shelves in many retail locations that are still open all over the country.  It appears that the retail apocalypse that made so many headlines in 2015 has gone to an entirely new level as we enter 2016.

As economic activity slows down and Internet retailers capture more of the market, brick and mortar retailers are cutting their losses.  This is especially true in areas that are on the lower portion of the income scale.

In impoverished urban centers all over the nation, it is not uncommon to find entire malls that have now been completely abandoned.  It has been estimated that there is about a billion square feet of retail space sitting empty in this country, and this crisis is only going to get worse as the retail apocalypse accelerates.

We always get a wave of store closings after the holiday shopping season, but this year has been particularly active.  The following are just a few of the big retailers that have already made major announcements…
But these store closings are only part of the story.

All over the country, shoppers are noticing bare shelves and alarmingly low inventory levels.  This is happening even at the largest and most prominent retailers.

I want to share with you an excerpt from a recent article by Jeremiah Johnson.  The anecdotes that he shares definitely set off alarm bells with me.  Read them for yourself and see what you think…

I came across two excellent comments upon Steve Quayle’s website that bear reading, as these are two people with experience in retail marketing, inventory, ordering, and purchases.  Take a look at these:

#1 (From DJ, January 24, 2016)

[Regarding the] alerts about the current state of the RR industry. This is in line with what I’ve been noticing as I visited our local/regional grocery store, Walmart, and Target this week in WI. I worked in big box retail for 20 years specializing in Inventory Management. These stores are all using computerized inventory management systems that monitor and automatically replenish inventory when levels/shelf stock get low. This prevents “out of stocks” and lost sales. These companies rely on the ability to replenish inventory quickly from regional warehouses.
As I shopped this week and looked at inventory levels I was shocked. There were numerous (above and beyond acceptable levels) out of stocks across category lines at all three retailers. And even where inventory was on the shelf, the overall levels were noticeably reduced.
Based on my experience, working for two of these three organizations in store management, they have drastically/intentionally reduced their inventory levels. This is either due to financial stresses/poor sales effecting their ability to acquire new inventory, or it could be the result of what was mentioned earlier regarding the transporting of goods to these regional warehouses. Either way this doesn’t bode well for the what’s to come.  Stock up now while you can!”
#2 (From a Commenter following up #1 who didn’t provide a name, January 26, 2016)
“I’d like to tailgate on the SQ Alert “based on my experience…” regarding stock levels in big box stores. This weekend we were in two such stores, each in fairly isolated communities which are easily the communities’ best source for acquiring grocery items in quantity.
I myself worked in retail (meat) for thirty years so I know exactly what a well-stocked store looks like, understand the key categories and category drivers, and how shelves are stocked and displays are built to drive sales and profits. I also understand supply chain and distribution methodologies quite well.
Each of the stores we were in were woefully under-stocked. This time of year-the few weeks following the holidays-is usually big business in groceries and low stock levels suggest either poor ordering at the store level, poor purchasing at the distribution level or a purposeful desire to be under-stocked.
Anyone familiar with the retail grocery industry is also familiar with how highly touted “the big box store’s” infrastructure is. They know exactly when demand is high and for what items and in what quantities. It is very unlikely that both stores somehow got “surprised” by unusually high demand. It is reasonable then to imagine that low stock levels in rural areas with few options is a purposed endeavor to assure that both the budget conscious and the folks in more remote areas are not fully able to load up their pantries.
Simply put I believe the major retailer in question is doing their part to limit the ability of rural America to be sufficiently prepared. Nevertheless, we are wise to do our best to keep ahead of the curve. God bless your efforts, Steve.”
Yes, this is just anecdotal evidence, but it lines up perfectly with hard numbers that I have been discussing on The Economic Collapse Blog.

Exports are plummeting all over the globe, and the Baltic Dry Index just plunged to another new all-time record low.  The amount of stuff being shipped around by air, truck and rail inside this country has been dropping significantly, and this tells us that real economic activity is really slowing down.

If you currently work in the retail industry, your job is not secure, and you may want to start evaluating your options.

We have entered the initial phases of a major economic downturn, and it is going to be especially cruel to those on the low end of the income spectrum.  Do what you can to get prepared now, because the economy is not going to be getting better any time soon.


Chinese to take over Syngenta?

SUBHEAD: The China Chemical Company is seeking a takeover of the Swiss Syngenta Corporation for $43 billion.

By Tyler Durden on 2 February 2016 for Zero Hedge -

Image above: Image above: Open gate to Syngenta GMO field just past the State Park access road. In the distance is "Mordor" - The secret Navy mountain retreat labeled as an "ordinance storage facility" on most maps. Photo by Juan Wilson in 2009. From (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2009/02/poli-hale-access-denied.html).

[IB Publisher's note: With the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) a stone's throw from the Syngenta's GMO fields on the Mana Plain of Kauai, And given the desire of secrecy of US Navy and its myriad weapons contractors (Lockheed, Raytheon etc), And the nature of their R&D it is unlikely that a Chinese owned Syngenta will have access to the "Public" land in Mana controlled by the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) that controls the leases on those lands. Unfortunately, it may bring on more Dow-DuPont activity there, or even, God forfend, Monsanto may come back to Kauai again.]

The ink was not yet dry on the seemingly endless Monsanto-Syngenta on again/off again takeover drama, when moments ago in a shocking development the newswires were lit up with news that a new, and very much unexpected, bidder has emerged for the Swiss pesticides giant Syngenta: China National Chemical Corp, or ChemChina as it is known, which according to WSJ and BBG is set to pay $43.7 billion to acquire a piece of Swiss corporate history.

According to Bloomberg, China National Chemical Corp. is nearing an agreement to buy Syngenta for CHF 43.7 billion as the state-backed company extends its buying spree with what would be the biggest-ever acquisition by a Chinese firm, said people familiar with the matter.
ChemChina, as the closely-held company is known, offered about 470 francs a share in cash to acquire Syngenta and a deal could be announced as early as Wednesday when the Swiss company reports earnings, the people said, asking not to be named as the details aren’t public. That’s 24 percent higher than Syngenta’s last close of 378.40 francs on Feb. 1. Its shares rose 7.1 percent to 405.1 francs as of 1:26 p.m. in Zurich.

The deal would help Chairman Ren Jianxin transform ChemChina into the world’s biggest supplier of pesticides and agrochemicals, while snatching an asset coveted by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. 
It also underscores the importance China attaches to owning seed and cropcare technology that can boost agricultural output and help feed the world’s biggest population.

Bloomberg notes that if successful, the $43 billion purchase would be the largest acquisition by a Chinese firm, surpassing China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd.’s $29 billion purchase of China Netcom Group Corp. in 2008.

It remains to be seen whether Europe's anti-trust authorities, let alone the Swiss, will greenlight such a massive incursion into the heart of corporate Europe.

As a reminder, in recent year major Chinese purchases of both U.S. and Canada-based companies have been frowned upon.

Perhaps Europe will decide that it is in its best interest to open its markets to the one country that suddenly is finding it needs to park "hot money" abroad and M&A is just the way to do it.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: DowPont Genetically Modified Offices 12/11/1
Ea O Ka Aina: DuPont guilty in Waimea, Kauai 5/9/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Standing up to Syngenta  5/2/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Into the Belly of the Beast 4/20/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Ecoterrorist Coprorations 4/25/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Farming vs poisoning the land 2/14/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Dow - DuPont - Syngenta sue Kauai 1/11/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Corporate Colonialism on Kauai 9/26/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Regulation of GMOs & Pesticides 6/27/13

Stupor Bowl 2016

SUBHEAD: The economic game of watching the Bear's Recession Offense crush the Unicorn believing Bulls.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 31 January 2016 for Of Two Minds -

Image above: Illustration of Chicago Bears mascot in uniform. From (http://www.windycitygridiron.com/2009/7/13/945246/the-bears-den-7-13-09).

When I use the phrase Stupor Bowl, I refer not to the upcoming Super Bowl or the crazy mid-winter bicycle free-for-all in Minneapolis, but to the economic game of watching the Bear's Recession Offense crush the Unicorn-believing Bulls.

Let's follow the score here in the opening minutes of the Recession 2016 contest:
1. Sales have only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears.

2. Profits have only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears.

3. Stock buybacks have only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears.

4. Global "growth" has only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears.

5. Risk premiums have only one way to go: up. Touchdown Bears.

6. The efficacy of central bank "easing" only one way to go: down. Touchdown Bears. 
This is getting stupefyingly repetitive, and the game has barely started: the Bears have racked up 42 points while the Unicorn-believing Bulls are scoreless.

The Unicorn-believing Bulls are going to need not just one Immaculate Reception, but a half-dozen miracle scores just to stay in the game. But the Bears have barely dented their playbook. Another eight touchdowns are within reach.
7. Government deficits have only one way to go: up.

8. The growth rate of private-sector debt has only one way to go: down.

9. The number of nations with crashing currencies has only one way to go: up.

10. The number of nations defaulting on sovereign debt has only one way to go: up.

11. The number of IPOs that quickly fall below their initial price has only one way to go: up--way up.

12. The number of margin calls to be issued to overleveraged "investors" has only one way to go: up--way up.

13. The number of junk bonds that will default has only one way to go: up--way up.

14. The number of Greater Fools willing to pay outlandishly absurd prices for homes in hot markets is plummeting; as a result, the market value of real estate globally has only one way to go: down--way down. 
The Bears can fumble a few plays and still score another 42 points with ease.

The Unicorn-believing Bulls will need the financial equivalent of The Catch just to avoid being skunked.

But even that won't change the outcome--a recession that will leave all the Unicorn believers, Keynesian Cargo Cultists and the rest of the delusional mob of Bulls stupefied by their crushing defeat.


Ground Control to Captain Zhou

SUBHEAD: The dynamic duo, Nature and Reality, the actual owners of the planet, have showed up to read us the riot act.

By James Kunstler on 1 February 2016 for Kunstler.com -

Image above: A Chinese political poster from 1958 "Brave the wind and the waves, everything has remarkable abilities". From (http://meowzedong.weebly.com/propaganda-under-mao-zedong.html).

Why would anybody suppose that the Peoples Bank of China might want to tell the truth about anything that was within their power to lie about? Especially the soundness of any loan portfolio vested unto the grasp of its tentacles?

Of course, most of what China has done in speeding toward the wall of financial crack-up, it learned from watching US bankers slime their way into Too Big To Fail nirvana — most particularly the array of swindles, dodges, and frauds constructed in the half-light of shadow banking to hedge the sudden, catastrophic appearance of reality-based price discovery.

When so many loans end up networked as collateral in some kind of bet against previous bets against other previous bets, you can be sure that cascading contagion will follow. And so that is exactly what’s happening as China’s rocket ride into Modernity falls back to earth.

Like most historical fiascos, it seemed like a good idea at the time: take a nation of about a billion people living in the equivalent of the Twelfth Century, introduce the magic of money printing, spend a gazillion of it on CAT and Kubota earth-moving machines, build the biggest cement industry the world has ever seen, purchase whole factory set-ups, and flood the rest of the world with stuff.

Then the trouble starts when you try to defeat the business cycles associated with over-production and saturated markets.

Poor China and poor us. Escape velocity has failed. Which raises the question: escape from what, exactly? Answer: the implacable limits of life on earth. The metaphor for all this, of course, is the old journey-into-space idea, which still persists in the salesmanship of Elon Musk, the ragged remnants of NASA, and even the nightmares of Stephen Hawking.

Get off this messed-up home planet and light out of the territories, say Mars. Of course, this is a vain and stupid idea, since we already have a planet engineered to perfection for all the life systems associated with the human project. We just can’t respect its limits.

So now, that dynamic duo, Nature and Reality, the actual owners of the planet, have showed up to read the riot act to the renters throwing a wild party.

The fourth and perhaps ultimate financial crisis of the last twenty years begins to express itself in terms that only the raptors and vultures can see from on high. George Soros, Kyle Bass, and the other flocking shadow banking scavengers prepare to short the living shit out of the old Middle Kingdom.

The immortal words of G.W. Bush ring in their ears: “This sucker is going down,” and they are sure to win big by betting on the obvious.

Trouble is, this sucker could go down so much further than they imagined, that whatever fortunes they gain from its descent will be foiled by the destruction of the very economic system needed for them to enjoy their gains.

For instance, when banking systems go down, governments usually follow, and when governments go down, societies often unravel. It doesn’t take a great effort of imagination to see China’s one party politburo leadership machine lose the respect of its governed masses, and then its control of events, followed by a Great Struggle among the regions and factions to restore some kind of order.

And when the smoke clears there will a whole lot of nearly worthless concrete and steel, and a vast loss of notional wealth, and China will be lucky to land back in some approximation of the Twelfth Century.

It must be interesting for China to watch the horrifying disintegration of America’s political party structure currently on view, with the mad bull called Trump rampaging across the land and the designated inevitable Mz It’s-My-Turn hijacking her collective for the greater glory of Goldman Sachs.

The last time China got the vapors politically — the so-called Cultural Revolution of the 1960s — the country went batshit crazy. Surely some of the ruling party remembers that with requisite terror.

Or maybe this is China and the USA’s Thelma and Louise moment. Pedal to the metal, they drive into the abyss of history holding hands. Remember, audiences loved that!


The Paris Gravity Well

SUBHEAD: Civilization is a heat engine. The global economy must crash for humanity to stand a chance.

By Alan Bates on 24 January 2016 for The Great Change -

Image above: Lot for unsold new Dodge SUVs in Baltinore, Maryland. From (http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/consider-the-source-lots-of-unsold-cars-are-normal/).

"We will not suddenly convert steel mills, cement kilns and road surfacing machines to operate on sunbeams."
Charlie said, "That's the trouble. You see it the way the banking industry sees it and they make money by manipulating money irrespective of effects in the real world. You've spent a trillion dollars of American taxpayers' money over the lifetime of the bank and there's nothing to show for it. You go into poor countries and force them to sell their assets to foreign investors and to switch from subsistence agriculture to cash crops. Then, when the prices of those crops collapse, you call this "nicely competitive" on the world market. The local populations starve and you then insist on austerity measures even though your actions have shattered their economy….

"You were intended to be the Marshall Plan, and instead you've been carpetbaggers."
— Kim Stanley Robinson, Sixty Days and Counting: Science in the Capitol (2007).

 “With fundamentals changing slowly and risk appetite falling rapidly, the stage is set for a longer period of risk asset underperformance,” Jabaz Mathai, a strategist at Citigroup Inc., said.  “There is no quick fix to the headwinds facing global growth.”
"Similar periods of weakness have occurred in only five other instances since 1985: (1) the majority of 1988, (2) the first half of 1991, (3) several weeks in early 1996, (4) late 2000 and early 2001, and (5) late 2008 and the majority of 2009 … all either overlapped with a recession, or preceded a recession by a few quarters."
There has been a storm brewing since the last trifle with full-on collapse in 2008-2009. The extend-and-pretend debt balloon was reinflated and stretched to new enormities as Keynesian cash infusions fueled a Minsky Moment, if not a Korowicz Crunch.

The instability in finance is compounded by the instability in demographics. In Mexico City, Bogata and Rio they call them NINIs — the millions of youth between 15 and 24 who neither study nor work. They are now about a fifth of the population in the underdeveloping world, responsible for higher rates of homicide, gangs, and unwed pregnancy. Of those born to NINI mothers, there is a 22.3% greater likelihood of becoming a NINI, according to the World Bank. All this tinder simply builds, bides its time, wanders the streets, waits for a revolutionary spark.

As we said here last week, the trigger for the markets' sudden move may have been what happened in Paris but could not stay in Paris. When it filtered out from the December summit that 195 countries had actually done the unimaginable and set a goal of carbon neutrality, meaning phasing out net fossil fuel emissions by 2050, the financial sector was at first caught dumbfounded. The World Bank guys flinched.

Now it has sunk in. The Guardian reports:
Investors face a “cataclysmic year” where stock markets could fall by up to 20% and oil could slump to $16 (£11) a barrel, economists at the Royal Bank of Scotland have warned. In a note to its clients the bank said: “Sell everything except high quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small.” It said the current situation was reminiscent of 2008, when the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank led to the global financial crisis. This time China could be the crisis point.
Government subsidies are about to undergo a titanic shift. Many governments spend more on fossil-fuel subsidies than they do on health and education, more than a trillion dollars. Consumer benefits such as subsidized fuels and cheap finance add $548 billion per year. Government support for companies to expand production add another $542 billion just in G20 overdeveloped countries, and a mere top 8 of those will spend $80 billion of this kind every year, four times the investments going to renewables globally.

Tomorrow those same Big-8, and 188 others, will begin spending several times those trillions subsidizing renewables. Jeremy Leggett, founder of Solar Aid and Solarcentury, calls it "trillionization." It won't begin to fill the energy gap that the switch will create, but the psychology of sunk investment will be in charge from thereon out.

Oil producing states and countries are aghast. The "clear signal" that Paris sent was not what they were expecting. In Alaska, the Permanent Fund has been running in the red and the legislature is talking about an income tax. Had the Paris Agreement not come together, they might hope for a rebound of fossil prices and investments in drilling the North Slope and Arctic Refuge.

Petroblas, the national oil company of Brazil and wellspring of the Brazilian Economic Miracle, is now cash negative. It will be forced to turn to the government for a bail-out, but to where will its government turn?

In Mexico, the deficit is running 100 billion and the peso has dropped from 12 in 2014 to soon-to-be 20 against the dollar. If you have dollars you can get a meal in a good restaurant or a room for the night for 5 or 10 of them. So far in January the price rise of food for the average Mexican is alarming. Onions are up 19%, poblanos 15%, bananas 10%, tomatoes 9%.
The national oil company, PEMEX, came out on Monday saying it is not true that its operating with losses, but below the $26 per barrel it would be. On Tuesday the price dropped to $24.74. It closed the week at $22.77 but as we write this you can buy a barrel in Mexico City for as little as $20.32. Mexico's federal budget is entirely dependent on oil money and don't look now but Mexico, when it was petrodollar flush, became a net importer of most staple foods and many other essential commodities, which helps explain the grocery dilemma. Mexico now buys onions, poblanos, bananas and tomatoes from California. Also beans, corn and rice.

Gotta love those World Bank guys.

Venezuela, which surprised everyone by signing the Paris Agreement at the final hour, declared an economic emergency on January 15. France, which foolishly drank too much atomic kool aid thinking it might spare itself from petrocollapse, has a budget shortfall of 2.2 billion dollars and declared national economic emergency on January 17. The jobless rate in France, the eurozone's 2d largest economy, is above 10%, compared with a 9.8% EU average.

Andrew Roberts, RBS’s credit chief, said:
European and US markets could fall by 10% to 20%, with the FTSE 100 particularly at risk due to the predominance of commodity companies in the UK index. London is vulnerable to a negative shock. All these people who are long [buyers of] oil and mining companies thinking that the dividends are safe are going to discover that they’re not at all safe.

We suspect 2016 will be characterized by more focus on how the exiting occurs of positions in the three main asset classes that benefited from quantitative easing: 1) emerging markets, 2) credit, 3) equities … Risks are high.

Zero Hedge reports:
"For dry bulk, China has gone completely belly up,” said Erik Nikolai Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities ASA in Oslo, talking about ships that haul everything from coal to iron ore to grain. “Present Chinese demand is insufficient to service dry-bulk production, which is driving down rates and subsequently asset values as they follow each other.”

“China’s slowdown has come as a major shock to the system,” said Hartland Shipping’s Prentis. “We are now caught in the twilight zone between shifts in China’s economy, and it is uncomfortable as it’s causing unexpected slowing of demand.”
The continued collapse of The Baltic Dry Index remains ignored by most.

According to  Zero Hedge:
The North Atlantic has few to nil cargo traveling in its waters. Instead, the giant container ships are anchored. Unmoving. Empty.

Commerce between Europe and North America has literally come to a halt. For the first time in known history, not one cargo ship is in-transit in the North Atlantic between Europe and North America. All of them (hundreds) are either anchored offshore or in-port. NOTHING is moving.

This has never happened before. It is a horrific economic sign; proof that commerce is literally stopped.
The slow response to the Paris outcome has been a complete portfolio review by every actuary and bean-counter in the biggest banks and investment houses, pension funds and mutuals. Hedge fund managers are scratching and sniffing for places to park billions being lifted from soon-to-be-stranded fossil assets. The clean-tech market, signaled first by China, is reacting by recycling cash out of fossil holdings.

Peter Sinclair of ClimateCrocks.com reports:
The Energy Information Administration calculates in its 2015 analysis that the average U.S. levelized cost for new natural-gas advanced combined cycle plants is 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour — the same as solar.

However, to compare accurately, we have to add about 10 percent to the cost of solar to firm up this variable resource. So we’re close to cost parity, but not quite there.

At $1 per watt, the levelized cost falls to just 5.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, well below cost parity with new natural-gas plants. With two-axis trackers and the best solar resources, which increase the capacity factor to 32 percent, that cost falls to just 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. We’re headed to $1 per watt as an all-in cost in the next five to 10 years.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported last summer that wind power was the cheapest source of power in the U.K. and Germany in 2015, even without subsidies. The article’s tagline reads: “It has never made less sense to build fossil fuel power plants.” The same article highlights the feedback loop that solar and wind power have in terms of reducing the cost-effectiveness of fossil fuel power plants due to the dispatch order of renewables versus fossil fuel plants.

The solar singularity is indeed near (here?) in the U.S. and increasingly around the world. I described previously that 1 percent of the market is halfway to solar ubiquity because 1 percent is halfway between nothing and 100 percent in terms of doublings (seven doublings from .01 percent to 1 percent and seven more from 1 percent to reach 100 percent). The U.S. will reach the 1 percent solar milestone in 2016. We’re halfway there. Buckle your seatbelts.
There are plenty of unemployed oil workers ready for retraining. James Howard Kunstler: 
So, in 2015, the shale oil companies laid off thousands of workers, idled the drilling rigs, and kicked back to pray that the price would go back up. Which it didn’t.... The landscape of North Dakota is littered with unfinished garden apartment complexes that may never be completed, and the discharged construction carpenters and roofers drove back to Minnesota ahead of the re-po men coming for their Ford F-110s.
To see what does well in the new, post-Paris domain, watch stocks like First Solar (FSLR), Renewable Energy Group (REGI), SolarCity (SCTY) and Siemens (SIE) over the next quarter, and mutuals like Firsthand Alternative Energy (ALTEX), New Alternatives (NALFX) and Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy (GAAEX). Some of these know their audience and have vowed to screen for social justice. Gabelli SRI AAA says, for instance:
The fund will not invest in the top 50 defense/weapons contractors or in companies that derive more than 5% of their revenues from the following areas: tobacco, alcohol, gaming, defense/weapons production....
There is a psychology that sets in once the corner is turned on fossil investments that may make a big difference in the political debate about climate change. For more than half a century the GOP, the Fossil Lobby and Wall Street have blocked, cut or delayed investments in renewables and papered it over with greenwash.

Forced by pledges made in Paris — and a legally-binding agreement with the word "shall" used 143 times — and the emergence of a huge new global competition to begin not only unchaining the clean-tech sector, but to actively promote it with subsidies, research grants and moonshot-scale deployments, the psychology of chasing after sunk investments will drive an apolitical energy conversion.

Moreover, 350.org and Greenpeace are ramping up campaigns to make sure the promises made in Paris are kept.

No pipelines, no mines. You said 1-point-5!
No pipelines, no mines. You said 1-point-5!
No pipelines, no mines. You said 1-point-5!

Clean energy will not deliver a 1:1 replacement for fossil fuels. Get over it. We will not suddenly convert steel mills, cement kilns and road surfacing machines to operate on sunbeams. But the investments we do make, and the worsening weather, will drive us to make even more and ever larger investments, in a forlorn search for a full replacement. While wasteful, it is not nearly as wasteful as the industrial and military investments of the past century or more.

Persian Gulf wars, going back to antiquity, have never been fought over sunlight. As David Stockman recently recalled:
[A] 45-year old error ... holds the Persian Gulf is an American Lake and that the answer to high oil prices and energy security is the Fifth Fleet.
That doctrine has been wrong from the day it was officially enunciated by one of America’s great economic ignoramuses, Henry Kissinger, at the time of the original oil crisis in 1973. The 42 years since then have proven in spades that its doesn’t matter who controls the oilfields, and that the only effective cure for high oil prices is the free market.
The switch to sunlight will make the lives we are living better for many, especially those on the front lines of the oil wars, even as we continue towards an Anthropocene Armageddon with little sign of being able to change that trajectory.

Guy McPherson is fond of reminding us, after University of Utah professor Tim Garrett's deft analysis, that industrial civilization is a heat engine.

In a well-read article in Climate Change in November 2010, Garrett ran the simple arithmetic:
Specifically, the human system grows through a self-perpetuating feedback loop in which the consumption rate of primary energy resources stays tied to the historical accumulation of global economic production — or p×g — through a time-independent factor of 9.7±0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 US dollar.

If civilization is considered at a global level, it turns out there is no explicit need to consider people or their lifestyles in order to forecast future energy consumption. At civilization’s core there is a single constant factor, λ = 9.7 ± 0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar, that ties the global economy to simple physical principles. Viewed from this perspective, civilization evolves in a spontaneous feedback loop maintained only by energy consumption and incorporation of environmental matter.

Because the current state of the system, by nature, is tied to its unchangeable past, it looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in CO2 emission rates. For predictions over the longer term, however, what is required is thermodynamically based models for how rates of carbonization and energy efficiency evolve. To this end, these rates are almost certainly constrained by the size and availability of environmental resource reservoirs. Previously, such factors have been shown to be primary constraints in the evolution of species
What this means is the same thing that Gail Tverberg, Richard Heinberg and many others have been saying for a very long time — modern economies are a product of cheap energy. Take that away and they crash and burn. That’s the good news. Garrett says there is no other climate remediation model that works.

Civilization is a heat engine whether it is powered by nuclear fusion or photovoltaics. The global economy must crash for humanity to stand a chance. McPherson would take it a step farther and say it is already too late, enjoy what time you have.

The famous Fermi paradox raises the question: why haven’t we detected signs of alien life, despite high estimates of probability, such as observations of planets in the “habitable zone” around a Sun-like star by the Kepler telescope and calculations of hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy that might support life. 

To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable. Early extinction, before interstellar communication, solves the Fermi Paradox. So does merely the extinction of civilization capable of interstellar communication without the same degree of trauma. No civilization, no heat.

But wait! Can that excess heat civilization is producing be turned into air conditioning for the planet? Is there a permacultural decroissance that could rescue our genome? Stay tuned, but first, next week, we play the Trump card.


Be Your Own Medicine

SUBHEAD: Alas, being your own medicine strips the $3.5 trillion healthcare system of profit, power and control.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 29 January 2016 for Of Two Minds  -

Image above: "LSD Bicycle Day" by Alex Grey. From (http://thirdmonk.net/creative/art/psychedelic-spirit-paintings-alex-grey-art-gallery.html).

Alas, being your own medicine strips the $3.5 trillion healthcare system of profit, power and control, so the last thing the healthcare cartels want is for us to be our own medicine, as that would reduce our reliance on highly profitable pharmaceuticals, tests, procedures and high-cost facilities.

Note the slogan isn't "take your own medicine" or "make your own medicine"--it's be your own medicine, which suggests that health is a way of being, not just a way of consuming, though what we consume is integral to being your own medicine.

Our materialist-consumerist culture focuses almost exclusively on data, so "health" is quickly reduced to FitBit readings, test results and an obsessive monitoring of calories and diets, to the general exclusion of the mind-body as an integral system.

The importance of what we put in our mouths is expressed by the old Chinese saying: disease comes in through the mouth, i.e. what we consume.

But what we consume is not limited to food (or what is sold as "food"): it also includes what our minds consume in the way of "news", entertainment, knowledge, etc., and what inputs we experience as stress.

There is also what we might call a spiritual component that includes beliefs but also purpose, meaning and positive social roles.

People who have lost (or been stripped of) positive social roles, goals and purpose are prone to a Devil's brew of psychological and physical ailments that cannot be understood or treated as separate from being.

Yet this is precisely what the U.S. healthcare system does: separate conditions into specialties that can each be treated by medications or procedures.

What cannot be "fixed" by medications or procedures--for example, a loss of purpose and positive social roles--are ignored: these realities simply do not exist in the U.S. healthcare system.

Any physician or nurse who attempts to understand and co-treat (with the patient themselves) a patient's entire state of being will encounter multiple layers of institutional resistance or even active hostility.

There's no time or money to address the state of patients' being; treatment is defined by tests, data and diagnoses that then trigger "standards of care" that rely heavily on medications, for a number of systemic reasons: drugs satisfy the patients' demands for the system to "do something" that "fixes" their condition instantly; it enables overworked physicians and providers a ready treatment that can be defended in the courts as current standard-of-care, and it enables every cartel in a system of cartels to reap huge revenues and profits.

What would a healthcare system based on prevention and be your own medicine look like? Such a system would still be called upon to treat diseases such as brain tumors, genetic conditions, traumatic injuries, etc., but the front line of the system would be designed to help individuals be their own medicine, not just in the context of provider-patient but within the day-to-day contexts of households, communities and enterprises.

The idea that actions have consequences is not alien to us, yet our healthcare system is based on giving lip-service to the causal consequences of what we put in our mouths, what we do with our bodies and minds, and what we consume in the material, spiritual and psychological worlds.

Treatment of atomized individuals in a setting of atomized symptoms and treatments is by any measure the opposite of a system that encourages and enables everyone to be their own medicine.


Genetically Modified Mosquitos

SUBHEAD: Zika-linked brain damage in Brazilian infants may be only the 'Tip Of The Iceberg'.

By Lourdes Garcia-Navarro on  29 January 2016 for NPR -

Image above: Gleyse Kelly da Silva holds her daughter, Maria Giovanna, who was born with microcephaly. Photo by Felipe Dana. From original article.

Dr. João Ricardo de Almeida is part of a team in Brazil that's investigating the cases of microcephaly — brain damage in infants born to mothers who contracted Zika virus during their pregnancy. He's examined dozens of brain scans, and he says that the scans are "very scary to look at."

"You see very profound abnormalities," says the neuro-radiologist. "Usually it's striking."
And they're notably different than scans of other babies born with the birth defect.

That's one of the disturbing findings in a large-scale study of the babies born with microcephaly. A team of doctors — from a neuro-pediatrician to an ophthalmologist — have taken a good look at dozens of affected infants. They're conducting the study at Roberto Santos General Hospital in the city of Salvador in Bahia.

One goal is to establish whether the Zika virus is in fact the cause of the thousands of cases of microcephaly in babies born since the fall.
"Of course the evidence is mounting but we need to prove," says Dr. Antonio Raimundo de Almeida, director of the hospital, which is in the city of Salvador in the state of Bahia. (He is a cousin of the other Dr. de Almeida.)

This week, 16 mothers and their microcephalic babies came to the hospital for a battery of tests.
"We do a full history, we do a blood test, everything," hospital director de Almeida says.
In the waiting room, the mothers cradle their infants, who all have the small cranium that is typical of microcephaly.

Microcephaly itself is not a disease. It's a condition caused by the failure of a fetus's brain to develop in the mother's womb.

There can be a number of causes, including toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, syphilis, rubella and genetic abnormalities. So first, the researchers need to rule out these causes out.

In their research, the doctors have made some startling discoveries: There are some unique markers in the infants who have suspected cases of Zika-related microcephaly.

In one of the rooms, Dr. Adriana Mattos examines 3-month-old Barbara Antonia. Her mother, Ana Claudia Teixera, caught Zika when she was four months pregnant.

Dr. Mattos flips the child so she's lying on her chest. The doctor points out that in these Zika-related cases, the muscles in the upper body and neck are unusually stiff. And that's very different from cases of microcephaly caused by other infections.

Dr. João Ricardo de Almeida says the infants born to mothers who were infected in the first trimester seem to suffer the most brain damage. And that kind of damage also appears to be different than what you would see with microcephaly caused by other types of infections.

"Regarding Zika there seems to be some particular abnormalities that we do not see in [microcephaly cases caused by] toxoplasmosis or cytomegalovirus or rubella."

A normal brain has ridges like coral. The brains of these babies look "like a smooth rock," he says.
He says the degree of brain damage he is seeing will probably mean that rehabilitation will be very difficult.

"They are not going to be functional," he says of the babies he has examined. "They'll need care for the rest of their lives."

Dr. Albert Ko from Yale University has been collaborating with the study in Bahia. He says that while the cases of microcephaly are getting all the attention, the Zika virus could be having a wider range of effects on the development of a fetus.

"We are seeing cases in the hospital of children who have normal size heads but are having neurological lesions and eye lesions," he says. "And we are extremely concerned ... this might suggest that [the microcephaly cases] are just the tip of the iceberg."

In other words, even children who appear normal may suffer from a range of developmental delays. So the deeper the investigation goes into this outbreak, the more worrying it becomes.

GM Mosquitoes > Zika Virus > Microcephaly

SUBHEAD: Zika virus epicenter, related to microcephaly breakout, in same area where these GM mosquitos were released in 2015.

By Claire Bernish on  28 January 2016 for The AntiMedia - (http://theantimedia.org/zika-outbreak-epicenter-in-same-area-where-gm-mosquitoes-were-released-in-2015/)

Image above: Epicenter in Juazeiro, Brazil, where zika virus broke out after introduction of GM mosquitoes and where microcephaly cases have mushroomed.

The World Health Organization announced it will convene an Emergency Committee under International Health Regulations on Monday, February 1, concerning the Zika virus ‘explosive’ spread throughout the Americas. The virus reportedly has the potential to reach pandemic proportions — possibly around the globe. But understandingwhy this outbreak happened is vital to curbing it. As the WHO statement said:
“A causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth malformations and neurological syndromes … is strongly suspected. [These links] have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika, from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.

“WHO is deeply concerned about this rapidly evolving situation for 4 main reasons: the possible association of infection with birth malformations and neurological syndromes; the potential for further international spread given the wide geographical distribution of the mosquito vector; the lack of population immunity in newly affected areas; and the absence of vaccines, specific treatments, and rapid diagnostic tests […]

“The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty.”
Zika seemingly exploded out of nowhere. Though it was first discovered in 1947, cases only sporadically occurred throughout Africa and southern Asia. In 2007, the first case was reported in the Pacific. In 2013, a smattering of small outbreaks and individual cases were officially documented in Africa and the western Pacific. They also began showing up in the Americas. In May 2015, Brazil reported its first case of Zika virus — and the situation changed dramatically.

Brazil is now considered the epicenter of the Zika outbreak, which coincides with at least 4,000 reports of babies born with microcephaly just since October.

When examining a rapidly expanding potential pandemic, it’s necessary to leave no stone unturned so possible solutions, as well as future prevention, will be as effective as possible. In that vein, there was another significant development in 2015.

Oxitec first unveiled its large-scale, genetically-modified mosquito farm in Brazil in July 2012, with the goal of reducing “the incidence of dengue fever,” as The Disease Daily reported. Dengue fever is spread by the same Aedes mosquitoes which spread the Zika virus — and though they “cannot fly more than 400 meters,” WHO stated, “it may inadvertently be transported by humans from one place to another.”

By July 2015, shortly after the GM mosquitoes were first released into the wild in Juazeiro, Brazil, Oxitec proudly announced they had“successfully controlled the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads dengue fever, chikungunya and zika virus, by reducing the target population by more than 90%.”

Though that might sound like an astounding success — and, arguably, it was — there is an alarming possibility to consider.

Nature, as one Redditor keenly pointed out, finds a way — and the effort to control dengue, zika, and other viruses, appears to have backfired dramatically.

The particular strain of Oxitec GM mosquitoes, OX513A, are genetically altered so the vast majority of their offspring will die before they mature — though Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher published concerns in a report in September 2010 that a known survival rate of 3-4 percent warranted further study before the release of the GM insects. Her concerns, which were echoed by several other scientists both at the time and since, appear to have been ignored — though they should not have been.

Those genetically-modified mosquitoes work to control wild, potentially disease-carrying populations in a very specific manner. Only the male modified Aedes mosquitoes are supposed to be released into the wild — as they will mate with their unaltered female counterparts.

Once offspring are produced, the modified, scientific facet is supposed to ‘kick in’ and kill that larvae before it reaches breeding age — if tetracycline is not present during its development. But there is a problem.

According to an unclassified document from the Trade and Agriculture Directorate Committee for Agriculture dated February 2015, Brazil is the third largest in “global antimicrobial consumption in food animal production” — meaning, Brazil is third in the world for its use of tetracycline in its food animals.
As a study by the American Society of Agronomy, et. al., explained, “It is estimated that approximately 75% of antibiotics are not absorbed by animals and are excreted in waste.” One of the antibiotics (or antimicrobials) specifically named in that report for its environmental persistence is tetracycline.

In fact, as a confidential internal Oxitec document divulged in 2012, that survival rate could be as high as 15% — even with low levels of tetracycline present. “Even small amounts of tetracycline can repress” the engineered lethality. Indeed, that 15% survival rate was described by Oxitec:
“After a lot of testing and comparing experimental design, it was found that [researchers] had used a cat food to feed the [OX513A] larvae and this cat food contained chicken. It is known that tetracycline is routinely used to prevent infections in chickens, especially in the cheap, mass produced, chicken used for animal food. The chicken is heat-treated before being used, but this does not remove all the tetracycline. This meant that a small amount of tetracycline was being added from the food to the larvae and repressing the [designed] lethal system.”

Even absent this tetracycline, as Steinbrecher explained, a “sub-population” of genetically-modified Aedes mosquitoes could theoretically develop and thrive, in theory, “capable of surviving and flourishing despite any further” releases of ‘pure’ GM mosquitoes which still have that gene intact. She added, “the effectiveness of the system also depends on the [genetically-designed] late onset of the lethality. If the time of onset is altered due to environmental conditions … then a 3-4% [survival rate] represents a much bigger problem…”

As the WHO stated in its press release, “conditions associated with this year’s El Nino weather pattern are expected to increase mosquito populations greatly in many areas.”
Incidentally, President Obama called for a massive research effort to develop a vaccine for the Zika virus, as one does not currently exist. Brazil has now called in 200,000 soldiers to somehow help combat the virus’ spread. Aedes mosquitoes have reportedly been spotted in the U.K. But perhaps the most ironic — or not — proposition was proffered on January 19, by the MIT Technology Review:
“An outbreak in the Western Hemisphere could give countries including the United States new reasons to try wiping out mosquitoes with genetic engineering.

“Yesterday, the Brazilian city of Piracicaba said it would expand the use of genetically modified mosquitoes …

“The GM mosquitoes were created by Oxitec, a British company recently purchased by Intrexon, a synthetic biology company based in Maryland. The company said it has released bugs in parts of Brazil and the Cayman Islands to battle dengue fever.”


Kingdom of Corn

SUBHEAD: Will endless stretches of corn stubble and abandoned farmhouses be as common as they are now.

By Gene Logsdon on 27 January 2016 for The Contrary Farmer  -

Image above: A cornfield between Kalona and Iowa City, Iowa featured in New York Times. Photo by Tony Cenicola. From (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/travel/iowa-caucus-donald-trump-hillary-clinton.html).

You can find a stunning photo of the kingdom of corn in, of all places, the Sunday New York Times travel section Jan. 7. I stared at that photo on and off for three days, transfixed by what it silently said for all of us who know corn.

In the photo, taken in rural Iowa, there’s one lonely farmhouse, surrounded by winter corn stubble as far as the camera can see. Miles in every direction of nothing—nothing — but corn stubble on low rolling hills, as forlorn a sight of human habitation as an artist could depict to me.

To a corn farmer the scene probably brings more good feeling than bad because the thickness of the stubble indicates a very good crop there last year. All that stubble also indicates that little erosion will occur there over winter and as it decays and is worked into the soil, the fodder will add to the organic matter content.

But there is an ominous message in that photo too. The photographer could easily have taken a similar picture just about anywhere in Iowa where the farmhouse would be abandoned. Corn has been replacing farmsteads for fifty years at least because it looks like an easy and comparatively uncomplicated way to make money but requires constant expansion to do so, like all industrial businesses.

Over the years pasture and oats and even wheat dropped out of the kingdom of corn. Grazing livestock and fences disappeared. Woodlots vanished. Crossroad and village stores closed. The number of farmers dropped precipitously. Over 60% of the land today is owned by non-farming investors.

In fact, 21% of Iowa farmland is owned by people who do not even live in Iowa. What is particularly rankling about these figures is that some 40% of that corn is grown to feed piston engines. This is a travesty especially now that gasoline is so cheap. Everyone I talk to except corn farmers themselves admits it. Ethanol from corn is not a sustainable process. It is not profitable without subsidies.

But our leaders, neither Republican nor Democratic, have the moral fiber to oppose the corn kingdom because they believe that without all that corn, the farm economy of the midwest would collapse at least for awhile.

That is the history of corn kingdoms. The Mayan civilization was a corn kingdom and it collapsed. The Mississippi mound building culture was a corn culture and then it collapsed. Corn is such a wondrously productive crop that we can’t resist growing more and more of it, even on land not fit for row crop cultivation, until it destroys the diverse ecology that keeps nature thriving.

I know parts of Iowa quite well because as a younger journalist I travelled there doing stories for Farm Journal magazine. I have friends there still and write for Draft Horse Journal which is based there.

I don’t get homesick in Iowa because it is so much like my part of Ohio, only the houses in rural areas are closer together here. I would have difficulty in taking a picture of that much acreage of corn stubble here that did not include more than one house.

But the story is the same in both places. We have a painting on our living room wall by local artist Pat Gamby which depicts a lonely farmhouse in our county surrounded right up to the porch with corn stubble. The barns are gone, the pasture is gone, the garden is gone, the people are gone and the house is abandoned.

Our hills do not generally stretch out as long as the ones in Iowa and so in the spring, runoff water on those Iowa hills can gain much more speed as it goes downhill. I have seen gullies in Iowa, even in this so-called no-till era, that are plainly horrifying. This is the fallacy behind all the good talk and practice of winter cover crops and true no-till.

In reality many of these fields, no matter how well protected in winter, are so often worked up fine and level and beautiful for good germination in the spring and then, if heavy rains fall, gullies open up than can swallow a tractor.

We have discussed this subject regularly on this blog. Responders to my posts have mixed feelings, as I do. I certainly couldn’t disagree with “daddio7” a few weeks ago when he pointed out that I was “probably wrong” in predicting the end of factory farms.

As he reminded me, “we need factory food farms for the same reason we need factories for everything else.” As he remarked, we could no more survive on organic food from small farms that we can provide a handmade car for everyone.

But I also agree with Stanton in his rebuttal, that cheap factory food is more costly in the long run and that although small farms are not very profitable they can make some money and do it without government subsidy. And not-for-profit garden farming could provide a lot more sustenance if we really got serious about it.

There is surely something to be said for both opinions. All I know for sure is that something significant is happening in the way society looks at food production and it does not favor large scale industrial farming.

I wonder, if 30 years from now, endless stretches of corn stubble and abandoned farmhouses will be as common as they are now.

See also:
Island Breath: King Corn 2/28/08

The Commons is the Future

SUBHEAD: The falsity of the state/private dilemma can also be seen from the symbiotic-like relationship between the two.

By Yavor Tarinski on 20 January 2016 for Geo Coop -

Image above: A kind of Commons. The Flemingdon Health Centre community garden. Photo by Laura Berman. From (http://greenfusestock.photoshelter.com/image/I0000ChNcdGVaK74).
People called commons those parts of the environment for which customary law exacted specific forms of community respect. People called commons that part of the environment which lay beyond their own thresholds and outside of their own possessions, to which, however, they had recognized claims of usage, not to produce commodities but to provide for the subsistence of their households.”~Ivan Illich 1


In their book The Economic Order & Religion (1945), Frank H. Knight and Thomas H. Merriam argue that social life in a large group with thoroughgoing ownership in common is impossible 2. William F. Lloyd

and later Garret Hardin, in the same spirit, promoted the neo-Malthusian 3 term “Tragedy of the Commons” 4 arguing that individuals acting independently and rationally according to their self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common-pool resources.

Since then, the thesis that people are incapable of managing resources collectively, without control and supervision by institutions and authorities separated from the society, have successfully infiltrated the social imagination.

Even for large sections of the Left, managing resources in common is viewed as utopian, and therefore they prefer to relegate the possibility to the distant future. Instead of embracing the commons today, they linger between variations of private and state-based forms of property 5. This maintains the supposed dilemma of private/state management of common-pool resources, which leads to the marginalization of alternative approaches.

A great many voices trying to break with this private/state dichotomy have always been always present, and are currently growing in numbers. For autonomists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, this is a false dilemma. According to them:
The seemingly exclusive alternative between the private and the public corresponds to an equally pernicious political alternative between capitalism and socialism. It is often assumed that the only cure for the ills of a capitalist society is public regulation and Keynesian and/or socialist economic management; and, conversely, socialist maladies are presumed to be treatable only by private property and capitalist control. Socialism and capitalism, however, even though they have at times been mingled together and at others occasioned bitter conflicts, are both regimes of property that excluded the common. The political project of instituting the common...cuts diagonally across these false alternatives 6
The falsity of the state/private dilemma can also be seen from the symbiotic-like relationship between the two supposed “alternatives”. Author and activist David Bollier points at the historic partnership between the two 7. According to him, the markets have benefited from the state’s provisioning of infrastructure and oversight of investment and market activity, as well as the state’s providing of free and discounted access to public forests, minerals, airwaves, research dollars and other public resources.

On the other hand, the state depends upon markets as a vital source of tax revenue and jobs for people – and as a way to avoid dealing with inequalities of wealth and social opportunity, which are two politically explosive challenges.

At first sight, it seems like we are left without a real option, since the two “alternatives” we are being told that are possible “from above” are pretty much leading to the same degree of enclosure as we saw earlier in history, the beneficiaries of which were a few elites.

But during the last several years, the paradigm of “the commons” has emerged from the grassroots as a powerful and practical solution to the contemporary crisis, and a step beyond the dominant dilemma. This alternative is emerging as a third way, since it goes beyond the state and the “free” market and has been tested in practice by communities in the past and the present.

The logic of the commons

The logic of the commons goes beyond the ontology of the nation-state and the “free” market. In a sense it presupposes that we live in a common world that can be shared by all of society without some bureaucratic or market mechanisms to enclose it. Thus, with no enclosure exercised by external managers (competing with society and between each other), the resources stop being scarce since there is no more interest in their quick depletion.

Ivan Illich notes that when people spoke about commons, they designated an aspect of the environment that was limited, that was necessary for the community's survival, that was necessary for different groups in different ways, but which, in a strictly economic sense, was not perceived as scarce 8.
 The logic of the commons is ever-evolving and rejects the bureaucratization of rights and essences, though it includes forms of communal self-control and individual self-limitation. Because of this, it manages to synthesize the social with the individual.

The commons can be found all around the world in different forms: from indigenous communities resisting the cutting of rainforests and Indian farmers fighting GMO crops to open source software and movements for digital rights over the internet. The main characteristics that are found in each one of these examples are the direct-democratic procedures of their management, open design and manufacturing, accessibility, and constant evolution.

The commons have their roots deep in antiquity, but through constant renewal they are exploding nowadays, adding to indigenous communal agricultural practices new 'solidarity economic' forms as well as high-tech FabLabs, alternative currencies and much more. The absence of a strict ideological frame enhances this constant evolution.

The logic of the commons is deeply rooted in the experience of Ancient Athens. The Greek-French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis describes this time as a period during which a free public space appeared 9. Castoriadis depicts it as a political domain which 'belongs to all' (τα κοινα – the commons in Greek). The ‘public’ ceased to be a ‘private’ affair – i.e. an affair of the king, the priests, the bureaucracy, the politicians, or/and the experts. Instead decisions on common affairs had to be made by the community.

The logic of the commons, according to the anthropologist Harry Walker 10, could also be found in the communities of Peruvian-Amazonia, for whom the most desirable goods were not viewed as rival goods - in contrast with modern economics, which assumes that if goods are enjoyed by one person, they can't be enjoyed by another. The Peruvian-Amazonian culture was focused on sharing and on the enjoyment of what can be shared rather than privately consumed.

Swiss villages are a classic example of sustainable commoning. Elinor Ostrom shed light on this with her field research in a particular area of Switzerland 11. In the Swiss village in question, local farmers tend private plots for crops but share a communal meadow for herd grazing.

Ostrom discovered that, in this case, an eventual tragedy of the commons (hypothetical overgrazing) is being prevented by villagers maintaining a common agreement that one is only allowed to graze as many cattle as they can take care of during the winter months. This practice dates back to 1517.

There are other practical and sustainable examples of effective communal management of commons that Ostrom discovered in the US, Guatemala, Kenya, Turkey, Nepal and elsewhere.Elinor Ostrom visited Nepal in 1988 to research the many farmer-governed irrigation systems 12.

The management of these systems was done through assemblies of local farmers held annually and also informally on a regular basis. Thus agreements for using the system, its monitoring and sanctions for transgression were all created on a grassroots level.

Ostrom noticed that farmer-governed irrigation systems were more likely to produce not in favor of markets, but for the needs of local communities: they grow more rice and distribute water more equitably. She concluded that although the systems in question vary in performance, few of them perform as poorly as the ones provided and managed by the state.

One of the brightest contemporary examples for reclaiming the commons is the Zapatista movement. In 1994, the Zapatistas revolted against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that was seeking the complete enclosure of common-pool resources and goods that were vital for the livelihood of indigenous communities. Through the Zapatista uprising, the locals reclaimed their land and resources, and have successfully managed them through a participatory system based on direct democracy for more than 20 years.

The digital commons, on the other hand, includes wikis, such as Wikipedia, and open licensing organizations such as the Creative Commons and many others. Social movement researcher Mayo Fuster Morell defines them as "information and knowledge resources that are collectively created and owned or shared between or among a community that tend to be non-exclusive, that is, be (generally freely) available to third parties. Thus, they are oriented to favor use and reuse, rather than to exchange as a commodity. Additionally, the community of people building them can intervene in the governing of their interaction processes and of their shared resources." 13

In other words, the logic of the commons is to strive towards inclusiveness and collective access to resources, knowledge and other sources of collective wealth, which necessarily requires the creation of socially active and devoted stewards of these commons.

This means a radical break with the currently dominant imagery of economism, which views all human beings simply as rational materialists, always striving at maximizing their utilitarian self-interest. Instead it implies the radical self-instituting of society to allow its citizens to directly manage their own commons.

The commons as model for the future

A main characteristic shared between different cases of commoning is grassroots interactivity. The broad accessibility of such resources, and their ownership being held in common by society, presupposes that their management is done by society itself.

Thus state involvement is incompatible with such a broad popular self-management, since statist forms imply the establishment of bureaucratic, managerial layers separated from society. That is, the commons go beyond (and are often even detrimental to) various projects for nationalization.

The same goes for the constant neoliberal efforts to enclose what is still not privatized. Against these, social movements across the globe rose up during the last couple of years with alternative proposals including - in one form or another - a wide project of direct democracy. Such a project inevitably includes every sphere of social life, and that goes for the commons as well.

A holistic alternative to the contemporary system, that incorporates the project of direct democracy and the commons, can be drawn from the writings of great libertarian-socialist theorists like Cornelius Castoriadis and Murray Bookchin. The proposals developed by the two thinkers offer an indispensable glimpse at how society can directly manage itself without and against external managerial mechanisms.

As we saw in the cases presented above, the commons require coordination between the commoners so eventual "tragedies" can be avoided. But for many, like Knight and Merriam, this could only possibly work in small-scale cases. This pessimism has led many leftists to instead support different forms of state bureaucracy in managing the commons in the name of society, as the lesser evil.

In his writings, Castoriadis repeatedly repudiated this hypothesis, claiming instead that large-scale collective decision-making is possible with a suitable set of tools and procedures. Rejecting the idea of one "correct" model, his ideas were heavily influenced by the experience of Ancient Athens. Drawing upon the Athenian polis, he claimed that direct citizen participation was possible in communities of up to 40,000 people 14.

On this level, communities can decide on matters that directly affect them in face-to-face meetings (general assemblies). For other matters that also affect other communities, revocable, short-term delegates could be elected by the local assemblies to join regional councils. Through such horizontal flow of collective power, common agreements and legal frameworks could be drawn to regulate and control the usage of commons.

Similar is the proposal made by Murray Bookchin. Also influenced by the ancient Athenian experience, he proposed the establishment of municipal face-to-face assemblies, connected together in democratic confederations, making the state apparatus obsolete.

According to Bookchin, in such a case the control of the economy is not in the hands of the state, but under the custody of "confederal councils", and thus, neither collectivized nor privatized, it is common 15.

Such a "nestedness" does not necessarily translate into hierarchy, as suggested by Elinor Ostrom and David Harvey 16, at least if certain requirements are being met. As is the case in many of the practical examples of direct democracy around the world, the role of the delegates is of vital importance, but is often neglected.

Thus their subordination to the assemblies (as the main source of power) has to be asserted through various mechanisms, such as short term mandates, rotation, choosing by lot, etc. All of these mechanisms have been tested in different times and contexts and have proven to be an effective antidote to oligarchization of the political system.

Through such networking and self-instituting, much can be done by the establishment and direct control of commons by many communities that depend on them. Another element that could supplement the propositions, described above, is the so-called "solidarity economy".

Spreading as mushrooms, different collective entities in different forms are rapidly spreading across Europe and other crisis-stricken areas (like South America) allowing communities to directly manage their own economic activities in their favour.

Such merging will allow society to collectively draw the set of rules on which to regulate the usage of commons, while solidarity economic entities, such as co-operatives and collectives, will deal with commons' direct management. These entities are being managed directly and democratically by the people working in them, who will be rewarded in a dignified manner for their services by the attended communities.

On the other hand, the public deliberative institutions should have mechanisms for supervision and control over the solidarity economic entities, responsible for the management of commons, in order to prevent them from enclosing them.
One example for such merging has occurred in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, where the water management is organized in the form of a consumer co-operative 17.

It has been functioning for more than 20 years, and continues to enjoy a reputation as one of the best-managed utilities in Latin America. It is being governed by a General Delegate Assembly, elected by the users. The assembly appoints senior management, over whom the users have veto rights, thus perpetuating stability. This model has drastically reduced corruption, making the water system work for the consumers.

Such a merger between the commons and the co-operative production of value, as Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis suggest 18, integrates externalities, promotes the practice of economic democracy, produces commons for the common good, and socializes knowledge.

The circulation of the commons would be combined with the process of co-operative accumulation on behalf of the commons and its contributors. In such a model, the logic of free contribution and universal use for everyone would co-exist with a direct-democratic networking and co-operative mode of physical production, based on reciprocity.


The need for recreating the commons is an urgent one. With global instability still on the horizon and deepening, the question of how we will share our common world is the thin line separating the dichotomous world of market barbarity and bureaucratic heteronomy, and a possible world based on collective and individual autonomy. As Hannah Arendt suggests 19:
The public realm, as the common world, gathers us together and yet prevents our falling over each other, so to speak. What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people involved, or at least not primarily, but the fact that the world between them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them. The weirdness of this situation resembles a spiritualistic séance where a number of people gathered around a table might suddenly, through some magic trick, see the table vanish from their midst, so that two persons sitting opposite each other were no longer separated but also would be entirely un­related to each other by anything tangible.
The paradigm of the commons, as part of the wider project of direct democracy, could play the role of the trick of the vanishing table, separating us, but simultaneously creating strong human relationships, based on solidarity and participation.

And for this to happen, social movements and communities have to reclaim, through the establishment of new networks and the strengthening of already existing ones, the public space and the commons, thus constituting coherent countervailing power and creating real possibilities of instituting, in practice, new forms of social organization beyond states and markets.

Notes and References
  1. Ivan Illich. Silence is a Commons, first published in CoEvolution Quarterly, 1983
  2. Deirdre N. McCloskey. The Bourgeois Virtues, The University of Chicago Press, 2006. p. 465
  3. Malthusianism originates from Thomas Malthus, a nineteenth-century clergyman, for whom the poor would always tend to use up their resources and remain in misery because of their fertility. (Derek Wall. Economics After Capitalism, Pluto Press, 2015. p.125)
  4. The concept was based upon an essay written in 1833 by Lloyd, the Victorian economist, on the effects of unregulated grazing on common land and made widely-known by an article written by Hardin in 1968.
  5. As Theodoros Karyotis demonstrates in his article Chronicles of a Defeat Foretold, published in ROAR magazine, Issue #0 (2015), pp 32-63
  6. Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri. Commonwealth, The Bleknap Press of Harvard University press, 2011. p. ix
  7. David Bollier & Silke Helfrich. The Wealth of the Commons, The Commons Strategy Group, 2012. In Introduction: The Commons as a Transformative Vision
  8. Ivan Illich. Silence is a Commons, first published in CoEvolution Quarterly, 1983
  9. Cornelius Castoriadis in “The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy” (1983), The Castoriadis Reader (1997), Ed. David A. Curtis. p. 280
  10. http://bollier.org/blog/anthropologist-harry-walker-lessons-amazonian-commons
  11. http://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/elinor-ostroms-8-principles-managing-commmons
  12. Elinor Ostrom in Nobel Prize lecture Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems (2009)
  13. http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/digital-commons
  14. Cornelius Castoriadis in “Democracy and Relativism”, 2013. p.41
  15. Cengiz Gunes and Welat Zeydanlioglu in “The Kurdish Question in Turkey”, Routledge, 2014. p.191
  16. For example Ostrom in Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems (2009) and Harvey in Rebel Cities (2012. p.69)
  17. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWSS/Resources/WN5cooperatives.pdf
  18. http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-7-policies-for-the-commons/peer-reviewed-papers/towards-a-new-reconfiguration-among-the-state-civil-society-and-the-market/
  19. Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition, The University of Chicago, second edition, 1998, p.53.