Peak Empire - Take Two

SUBHEAD: The US is busy spending billions on defending its fringes while allowing the home front to fall apart from malign neglect.

By Gary on 28 October 2014 for Club Orlov-

Image above: US soldier at unidentified military base reaches for another Bud. From originl Peak Empire article.

[Dmitry Orlov's note: Many thanks to Gary for putting this update together.]
[IB Publisher's note: This is an update of 'Peak Empire" ( from 12/20/10]

Based on the lessons of history, all empires collapse eventually; thus, the probability that the US empire will collapse can be set at 100% with a great deal of confidence. The question is, When? (Everyone keeps asking that annoying question.)

Of course, all you have to do is leave the US, go some place that isn't plugged into the US economy in non-optional ways, and you won’t have to worry about this question too much. Some people have made guesses but, as far as I can tell, no one has come up with viable methodology for calculating the date.

In order to provide a remedy for this serious shortcoming in collapse theory, I once tried to outline a method for figuring it out in an article titled “Peak Empire,” which was based on Joseph Tainter’s theory of diminishing returns on complexity—or diminishing returns on empire.

It’s a perfect problem for differential calculus, and all those microeconomics students who are busy calculating marginal cost vs. marginal revenue, so that they can look for work in the soon-to-be-defunct shale gas industry, might take it up, to put their math talents to better use. In the meantime, here is an update, and a revised estimate.

US Empire of Bases

Just to review, as the brilliant analyst Chalmers Johnson explained, the US is an “empire of bases,” not an empire of colonies. It is not considered politically correct to annex other countries anymore. Witness the reaction to Russia taking back Crimea, even though its population has a right to self-determination, and voted 98% in favor of the idea. But, had things turned out differently, putting a NATO base in Crimea would have been just fine. 

Still, there are quite a few US “territories” (read “colonies”) listed in the Pentagon Base Structure report, including American Samoa, Guam, Johnston Atoll, Marshall Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and Wake Islands. We should probably include Hawaii, since in 1993 the US Congress “apologized” to Hawaii for kidnapping the Queen and illegally annexing the territory

They are not giving it back, mind you, but they don't mind saying we’re sorry, because they stole it fair and square. The same could be said for Texas, California—the whole bloody continent for that matter. But they don’t do that sort of thing any more—not too much. Sure, the US stole Kosovo from Serbia just to set up a huge NATO base there, but in general there has been a shift to controlling other countries through economic institutions—like the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank. 

There has also been plenty of political subterfuge, assassinations and coups d’états, as explained by John Perkins in Confessions of an Economics Hit Man, or in Michael Hudson’s work. William Blum writes: “Since the end of the Second World War, the United States of America has…
  1. Attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of which were democratically elected.
  2. Attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries.
  3. Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.
  4. Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.
  5. Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.”
Only a few of these actions—such as Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Nicaragua in the 1980’s, Ukraine 2014, etc.—are well known in the US. Now here is the key point: all of this “democracy-building” requires the US to have plenty of foreign military bases. Much of the military is outsourced, so there is no need for consent of the governed any more—just their tax money. Marching in the streets in protest is a complete waste of time. Millions of people marched against the Iraq War in 2003. Did it make any difference? 

Secretary of State Alexander Haig remarked during a peace march in the 1980’s: “Let them protest all they want as long as they pay their taxes”; Kissinger explained that “Soldiers are dumb, stupid animals for the conduct of foreign policy”; and CIA director William Casey made sure the US public remains completely in the dark with his famous dictum, “We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

(This is from his first staff meeting in 1981; it’s not a secret.) The US is completely open about its desire to subjugate the entire world—if this weren't already obvious from its behavior.

Pentagon Base Structure Report

And so, maintaining US hegemony requires an empire of bases. How many bases? Every year the Pentagon publishes a “Base Structure Report,” which lists all the property of the military including land, buildings and other infrastructure. The latest Pentagon Base Structure report lists 4169 domestic military bases, 110 in US territories, and 576 in foreign countries, for a total of 4855. But it turns out to leave out a lot: Nick Turse of TomDispatch calculated that in 2011 the number of foreign military bases was closer to 1075.

But even though a lot is left out of the Pentagon report, it is still a good data source for us to use because, for the purpose of calculating our estimate, all we are interested in is trends, not absolute numbers. Trends require that data from year to year be reported consistently, and the Pentagon appears to be very consistent in what it reports and what it keeps secret from one year to the next. So this is a very good source by which to measure trends.

Since the US public is completely in the dark, zombified and terrified by the mass media and traumatized by psy-ops like 9/11, the empire will have to collapse on its own, without their help. I’m sorry to say this, but the American sheeple are not going to rise up and help it collapse. But when will it collapse on its own? Do we all want to know when? Ok, here goes...

Peak Empire
Total US Military acreage peaked in 2007 at 32,408,262 acres, and has been declining ever since, including a precipitous drop in 2014.  This curve of military acreage follows peak oil and peak empire theory generally quite well. I haven’t done the curve-fitting exercise, but it looks a bit like a Hubbert curve from peak oil theory.

The important point is, according to total acreage the US empire has already peaked and is in decline. Note that global conventional crude oil production peaked at around the same time; you may consider that a pure coincidence if you wish.

Looking at the data from 2003-2014, we see shows a bit more detail, including a sharp downturn in 2014. The drop in total bases in 2006 and 2007 seems like a bit of an anomaly, but the trend in acreage follows the peak theory.

What is even more noteworthy is the decline in foreign military bases and acreage. The US may still have control of its domestic and territorial bases, but it has suffered huge losses of foreign military bases and acreage. Since reaching “peak foreign military bases” in 2004, the US now has just 64% of them—a loss of over a third in a decade!

In the case of acreage the US retains 69% of its peak acreage in 2006, so it has lost 31% of its foreign military acreage—also close to a third. If you want to guess at what's behind these numbers, you might want to look at them as the fallout from disastrous US foreign policy, as described by Dmitry in his article,

“How to start a war and lose an empire.” Perhaps the people to whom we are bringing “freedom and democracy” are getting sick of being occupied and murdered? But, whatever the explanation, the trend is unmistakable.

But we still haven’t addressed Tainter's central thesis of diminishing returns on empire.  Ok, let's do that next next.

I previously showed military acreage divided by military spending declining since 1991 in constant 2008 dollars.

Bringing this up to date in constant 2014 dollars, we see that return on spending leveled off in 2010, but in 2014 the trend of decreasing returns on spending has resumed.

At the same time, US Government debt, which fuels much of this military spending, continues to climb at a steady rate, and the military acreage/debt ratio shows negative returns on debt. That is, the empire is getting negative returns in military acreage from increasing its debt burden. In their prime, empires are massively profitable ventures.

But when the returns on government spending, debt and military spending all turn negative—that is when we enter the realm of diminishing returns on empire—that, according to Tainter's theory, sets them on a trajectory that leads directly to collapse.

The collapse does not have to be precipitous. It could be gradual, theoretically. But the US economy is fragile: it depends on international finance to continue rolling over existing debt while taking on ever more debt. This amounts to depending on the kindness of strangers—who aren't in a particularly kind mood.

To wit: numerous countries, with Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa leading the way, are entering into bilateral currency agreements to avoid using the US dollar and, in so doing, to avoid having to pay tribute to the US. Just like Rome, the US empire is being attacked all over the world by “barbarians,” except the modern barbarians are armed with internet servers, laptops and smartphones.

And just like Rome, the empire is busy spending billions on defending its fringes while allowing everything on the home front to fall apart from malign neglect.

Meanwhile, the US has been struggling to avoid a financial panic through lies and distortions. The US Federal Reserve has been printing $1 trillion a year just to keep US banks solvent, while selling naked shorts on gold in order to suppress the price of gold and to protect the value of the US dollar by (see Paul Craig Roberts for evidence).

In truth, US employment has not recovered since the financial panic and crash of 2008, and wages have actually gone down since then, but the US government publishes bogus economic data to cover this up (See John Williams' Shadow Stats for details). Meanwhile, there are signs that the militarized police state is getting ready to face open rebellion.

Two paths down

As we have shown, return on investment in empire has turned negative: the empire has to go further and further into debt just to continue shrinking its foreign presence by a third from its peak every decade. There are two ways out of this situation: quick and painful, or slow and even more painful.

The quick one is for the US to recognize the situation, cut its losses and abandon the project of empire, like the USSR did in 1989/90. But it must be understood that the threat of military action is what keeps countries around the world in line, forcing them to soak up US debt.

Without this discipline, further money-printing will trigger hyperinflation, the financial house of cards on which the spending ability of the US government now rests will promptly pancake, and the US economy will shut down, just like in the USSR in the early 1990s.

The other option is the more likely one, since it doesn't require making any large course adjustments, which are unlikely in any case. (You see, even in its dying days the USSR had slightly better leadership than the USSA currently does, which was actually capable of making major decisions.)

This option is to simply keep smiling and waving and borrowing and spending until the empire is all gone. This will take no more than two decades at the current rate. Note that this forecast is based on a straight-line projection that doesn't take into account any of the positive feedbacks that may hurry the process along.

One positive feedback is that a smaller empire means more countries around the world thumbing their noses at the US, escaping from dollar hegemony, and making it harder for the US to continue sinking into debt at an ever faster rate. These positive feedbacks are likely to be highly nonlinear, and this makes their effect difficult to estimate.

But a moment may arrive well before empire is all gone when the suspension of disbelief that is required to keep US government finances from cratering ceases to be achievable—regardless of the level of propaganda, market distortion, or US officials smiling, waving and lying in front of television cameras. Thus, we have two estimates.

The first estimate is objective and based on US government's own data: two decades or less. But we also have room for an estimate that is subjective yet bracketed: anywhere between later today and two decades (or less) from now.

Based on these estimates, you can be as objective or subjective as you like, but if you are “long empire,” holding dollar-denominated assets and such, and if your horizon extends beyond 2034 (or less), then there is a reasonably high likelihood that you are just being silly.

Likewise, if you think that NATO will come to your defense more than a decade from now, you should start reconsidering your security arrangements now, because NATO will cease to be functional on the same time scale as the US empire.

Some time ago President Obama issued what for him sounded like a pretty good order: “Don't do stupid stuff.” You should probably try to follow this order too, and I am here to try to help you do so.


DOD says Ebola is Aerostable

SUBHEAD: The Army has found is that sewer systems also offer an ideal environment for longer term Ebola persistence.

By Ms. X on 27 October 2014 for Pissin' On The Roses -

Image above: Indications the Feds fear airborne Ebola. From (

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency [DTRA], in a just released a broad agency announcement last Friday seeking rapid assistance against Ebola's weapon of mass destruction [WMD] capability, stated that:

  "Ebola is aerostable in an enclosed controlled system in the dark and can survive for long periods in different liquid media"
The short of it is that DTRA's WMD arm sees a massive potential for Ebola to persist in sewage systems in Airborne, Waterborne, and BioFilm form.

The obvious dangers are multifold.

  1. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) spread in the Amoy Gardens high-rise apartment complex via a similar plumbing related infectious route.
  2. CDC's current guidance encourages untreated EBOLA waste discharge into sewer systems.
  3. Dr. Craig Spencer has already potentially infected NYC sewer system despite his 21 day "home quarantine".
  4. Sewers may be a reoccurring source on #Ebola infection.
  5. CDC's assurances that Ebola can not be spread via Air, Water, or Sewer places people at great risk.
Specifically, DTRA wants answers in 3 to 6 months regarding environmental conditions that allow to Ebola to persist in an airborne state, and persist on surfaces after precipitating out of the air.
DTRA is also looking for genetic weaponization markers that elucidate that persistence.

Interestingly enough, DTRA's solicitation also seeks Africa specific data that will allow them to use a a NATO Biowarfare Ebola simulation to predict the flow Ebola infection in Africa; we'll have more on that in a separate video analysis.

Video above: This article is available as video on YouTube. From (

As we have reported in previous posts, the US Army says that Ebola has an airborne stability similar to Influenza and that winter weather conditions may allow to spread via the airborne route.See (

Apparently what the Army has found is that sewer systems also offer an ideal environment for longer term Ebola persistence.

Chemical/Biological Technologies Department Ebola Broad Agency Announcement

Defense Threat Reduction Agency Announcemnet

Aerosolizing ONE DROP of Ebola Infected Blood Can Kill 500,000 People

US ARMY Says EBOLA = FLU in Airborne Stability, Needs Winter Weather To Go Airborne

Inadequate plumbing systems likely contributed to SARS transmission

Hong Kong seals apartment building to contain SARS

 Fever removed from Ebola case definition

SUBHEAD: CDC removes FEVER from Ebola Case Definition & adds FATIGUE as a symptom

By Ms. X on 28 October 2014 for Pissin' On The Roses -

The CDC has removed fever from the Ebola Case Definition, and replaced it with the a more nebulous definition of:
 "Elevated body temperature or subjective fever or symptoms". 
 The CDC has also added "Fatigue" to the case definition. 

Here is the relevant part of the PRIOR case definition:

Person Under Investigation (PUI)
A person who has both consistent symptoms and risk factors as follows:
  1. Clinical criteria, which includes fever of greater than 38.6 degrees Celsius or 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and additional symptoms such as severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or unexplained hemorrhage; AND
  1. epidemiologic risk factors within the past 21 days before the onset of symptoms, such as contact with blood or other body fluids or human remains of a patient known to have or suspected to have EVD; residence in—or travel to—an area where EVD transmission is active*; or direct handling of bats or non-human primates from disease-endemic areas.
Here is the relevant part of the CURRENT case definition:
Person Under Investigation (PUI)
A person who has both consistent symptoms and risk factors as follows:
  1. Elevated body temperature or subjective fever or symptoms, including severe headache, fatigue, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or unexplained hemorrhage; AND
  1. An epidemiologic risk factor within the 21 days before the onset of symptoms.

Other important changes have also been made to loosen up CDC's Ebola case definition; we will update this post as time permits:

UPDATE: 10/28
The CDC's new Ebola case definition greatly increase the category of persons who may be forcefully quarantined to anyone who was in proximity of an Ebola case even if the Ebola victim was not actively showing symptoms at the time of proximity. (more to follow).
UPDATE 1: 10/29
The CDC's new Ebola case definition greatly increase the category of persons who may be forcefully quarantined to anyone who was in proximity of an Ebola case even if the Ebola victim was not actively showing symptoms at the time of proximity. (more to follow)

UPDATE 2: 10/29
After a more detail reading, the CDC has greatly increased the at risk Ebola category to include the following:
  1. Direct contact (hand shake) with Ebola victim 21 days PRIOR to symptom onset
  2. Airborne contact, that is even "brief proximity" (such as being in the same room for a brief period of time) with an Ebola victim AFTER their symptom onset
Any person who meets those two above definitions and in the subject eyes of an examiner has any "signs" of concern such as elevated body temperature (98.7 deg F) is now defined as a "Person Under Investigation" for Ebola. And as such, that person is subject to forceful quarantine

Tapering, Exiting or just Punting

SUBHEAD: Western economies have lost the ability to generate real wealth that their debt-based monetary systems require.

By James Kunstler on 27 October 2014 for -

Image above: Monopoly money. From (

Oh, that sound you hear this morning is the distant roar of European equity markets puking after the latest round of phony bank “stress tests” — another exercise in pretend by financial authorities who understand, at least, the bottomless credulity of the news media and the complete mystification of the general public in monetary matters.

I rather expect that roar to grow Niagara-like as US markets catch the urge to upchuck violently. Problem is, unlike Ebola victims, they can’t be quarantined.

The end of the “taper” is upon us like the night of the hunter, conveniently just a week before the US election. If the Federal Reserve is politicized, the indoctrination must have been conducted by the Three Stooges. America’s central bank never did explain the difference between tapering and exiting their purchases of US treasury paper.

I guess that’s because it has other interventionary tricks up its sleeves. Three-card Monte with reverse repos… ventures into direct stock purchases… the setting up of new Maiden Lane type companies for scarfing up securities with that piquant dead carp aroma.

Who knows what’s next? It’s amazing what you can do with money in a desperate polity with a few dozen lawyers.

Of course, there is the solemn matter as to what happens now to the regularly issued treasury bonds and bills. Do they just sit in an accordian file on Jack Lew’s desk next to his Barack Obama bobblehead.

The Russians don’t want them.

The Chinese are already stuck with trillions they would like to unload for more gold.

Frightened European one-percenters may want to park some cash in American paper to avoid bail-ins and other confiscations already rehearsed over there — but could that amount to more than a paltry few billion a month at the most?

What do the stock markets do without up to $85 billion a month (peak QE) sloshing around looking for dark pools to settle in? Can US companies keep the markets levitated by buying back their own shares like snakes eating their tails? Isn’t that basically over and done?

And exactly how do interest rates stay suppressed when only a few French tax refugees want to buy American debt? I don’t think anybody knows the answer to these questions and the scenarios are too abstruse for the people who get paid for supposedly writing learned commentary in the sclerotic remnants of the press.

A few things are for sure, though they are sedulously kept out of the public discussion by interested gate-keepers. One is that the western economies have lost the ability to generate real new wealth of the type that their debt-based monetary systems require for ongoing operations (such as paying interest on old debt). Instead, we’ve entered a liminal era when fake wealth passes for wealth. Jive capital poses as capital.

The main reason for this, of course, is the inability of world energy producers to meaningfully increase energy production in a way that does not suck more capital out of the system than the system can regenerate. But that conversation also has been outlawed from the public arena in “Saudi America.”

I suspect the subject will force itself on the national consciousness in the year ahead as one company after another in the shale oil regions craps out on a shortage of available investment capital. That’s the inflection point where fake wealth is unmasked for what it really is: crippled capital formation. The disappointment from that looming event will thunder through our society.

In the meantime, the distractions are many and powerful. Ebola may appear controlled for the moment in the USA, but the host countries in West Africa are virtually falling apart and the demographic movement out of failed economies like Liberia’s would suggest an awful dynamic for the spread of that disease into new regions.

ISIS (or whatever we call them) is putting on a diversionary show on the Turkish border, but the real action awaits in Baghdad, perhaps poignantly at Christmas time, when mortar rounds start falling on the US embassy in the Green Zone and the evacuations commence.


The Archaic Arts & Skills

SUBHEAD: Our job is to help archaic arts endure through the cacophony and clutter of the modern world.

By Brian Miller on 26 October 2014 for Winged Elm Farm -

Image above: Comtemporary oil painting of hunting with bow and arrow from a birch bark canoe. "Solitary Hunter" by Z. S. Liang. From (

Beyond the brilliant red on the maple outside my study, the shots of hunters at both daybreak and sundown indicate fall has well and truly arrived.

Saturday morning was spent in the usual pursuit of running both errands and clearing the slate of farm chores and tasks. Success was not fully achieved in either category. Afternoon found me bushhogging a large pasture of 12 acres. A soothing act as the cut grass reveals the sensual curve of the landscape, it is also a meditative activity, one that allows time for the mind to float along unexpected paths.

As I finished in the early evening, the crack of firearms in the distance pulled me back from any reverie. The cattle looked up, muttered something to the equivalent of “humans,” and went back to

I entered the house for our evening coffee to find that Cindy had baked a platter of freshly made shortbread cookies. For some reason this had me thinking about the pursuit of what in our global consumer culture have been dismissed as the archaic arts. These are arts not clearly connected with the culture of global commerce—which is not to say that they are not connected with commerce, of course.

I have spent my adult life in the mines of the book industry, an art-form-turned-business-model locked in classic overshoot, where the issuance of new works has not yet registered the collapse of readership, where the vein we have followed of new readers has petered and faltered and is near to playing out, where a kid of a nearby farm, 18 years of age, told me recently, without embarrassment, that he had never read a book by choice.

During a short visit with a sister in Arkansas this week, I found her pursuing a similar arc, teaching classical European ballet. She has run a vibrant and popular dance academy for many years, yet she faces the difficulty of capturing an audience for an art form that doesn’t come with tweets and likes.

She has the dedicated dancers of the discipline. But in our 24/7 world of digital and visual distractions, where is the audience that can discern an aplomb from an arabesque?

Global culture is a consumer culture. Its goal is growth on a finite planet: a car for everyone in China and India, farmed shrimp from Indonesia on every Iowa farmer’s plate. It is fundamentally a disposable culture: disposable products, people and planet. It has little use for the arts of an enduring culture.

The dance that requires long study, the book written a hundred years ago, the technique of preserving soil fertility organically—all are archaic: they don’t require a container ship to deliver them to our door.

There are still niches for the archaic arts. And it is our job to help preserve them, to help them endure through the cacophony and clutter of the modern world.

While the era of mass literacy and the literature it spawned may be coming to an end, it doesn’t mean that literacy and the written word are also going to be lost. Audiences for disciplined and focused dance may be in retreat, but the participants are still queuing up to learn.

We on a small farm are learning the archaic arts—harvesting manure to build soil fertility, constructing secure fences that do indeed make good neighbors, planting vegetables that, when they mature, will feed us for a month, creating a plate of shortbread cookies that nourishes the soul—and all connect us with long past practitioners of these arts in ways that Facebook and Walmart never can and never will.

These are the arts that make us more fully a community, a culture, a people.


No Moo Poo in Mahaulepu

SUBHEAD: A video of the public meeting on the proposed Hawaii Dairy Farm impacts to Mahaulepu, Kauai.

By Staff on 25 October 2014 for Friends of Mahaulepu -

Image above: Man fishing along the shoreline of Mahaulepu. Photo by Juan Wilson 6/12/13.

Friends of Mahaulepu brought together experts in several fields to talk about the facts about Hawaii Dairy Farm on 10/23/14. See the video of the meeting below.

Friends of Mahaulepu is comprised of a group of concerned citizens (local and beyond) who are contributing their time and talents to protect the natural beauty of this pristine coastal valley.

Our latest challenge has been responding to the proposed large industrial scale dairy, operated by Hawaii Dairy Farms (HDF), that wants to bring 2,000 dairy cows to a 582 acre parcel less than a mile from the coastline. The white sand beaches and coral reefs of Maha’ulepu are currently free of any development.

The proposal to operate a large industrial dairy, where 2,000 cows will be grazed on just 24 acres per day (83 cows per acre), will result in at least 200,000 lbs. of manure and 16,000 gallons of urine being left daily on the clay soils found on the farm site.

The grave concern for the Friends of Mahaulepu, is the risk to the ecosystem and all of the protected and endangered species- many of them endemic- who make their home there.

The waterways too, are at risk, both streams and ocean, from pollutant runoff when either irrigation or heavy rains fall on the farm’s clay soils.

Also at risk, is the health of the visitors and residents who enjoy fishing, swimming, and surfing in the area adjacent to the farm, and may be exposed to harmful bacteria from the cattle’s waste. We have been working diligently to persuade authorities and HDF, that starting with a smaller scale operation would best protect Mahaulepu, since HDF is unable to identify any dairy operation in the United States that even comes close to the stocking and grazing density that they are proposing.

HDF’s proposal is based on a New Zealand model, which is not nearly as dense as the operation they plan for the Garden Island of Kauai.

Unfortunately, the very dairy model they claim to emulate, has been found responsible for a nationwide pollution problem in New Zealand. We need all the help we can get to scale this operation down and assure that HDF doesn’t cause irreparable damage to Kauai.

Video above: Created by Robert Zelkovsky. A record of the public meeting on the proposed Hawaii Dairy Farm in Mahaulepu. From (

Mayan Collapse Simulation

SUBHEAD: Population control, reduced deforesting and soil conservation is the only way collapse is mitigated.

By S. Heckbert, R. Costanza, L. Parrot on 23 October 2014 for Solutions Journal -

[IB Publisher's note: This long article is not reproduced in full here. See original full article for charts on Baseline Scenario 1 other diagrams, illustrations and details.]

Image above: A Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan in Caracól, Belize. From original article.

The ancient Maya provide an example of a complex social-ecological system which developed impressively before facing catastrophic reorganization. In order for our contemporary globally-connected society to avoid a similar fate, we aim to learn how the ancient Maya system functioned, and whether it might have been possible to maintain resilience and avoid collapse.

The MayaSim computer model was constructed to test hypotheses on whether system-level interventions might have resulted in a different outcome for the simulated society. We find that neither collapse nor sustainability are inevitable, and the fate of social-ecological systems relates to feedbacks between the human and biophysical world, which interact as fast and slow variables and across spatial and temporal scales.

In the case of the ancient Maya, what is considered the ‘peak’ of their social development might have also been the ‘nadir’ of overall social-ecological resilience. Nevertheless, modelling results suggest that resilience can be achieved and long-term sustainability possible, but changes in sub-systems need to be maintained within safe operating boundaries.

  • The MayaSim model represents the development and reorganization of an integrated social-ecological system. Perturbing the system, we can test what parameter combinations result in either sustainability or collapse.
  • The complex nature of social-ecological systems means there is no single-cause explanation of sustainability or collapse. Interacting human and biophysical sub-systems regulate the magnitude of reorganizations.
  • The capacity of the system to avoid undesirable outcomes is related to rates of change in these interacting sub-systems, the interaction of fast and slow-changing variables, and the effect of cross-scale dynamics.

Mayan History
The archaeological record reveals diverse societies that flourished in their time and place and succeeded in achieving impressive works of architecture, novel technological advancement, complex economies, and other measures of human achievement.

The archaeological record also shows complex societies having declined, some gradually, others precipitously, with common explanations including changing environmental conditions, greedy rulers, wars and conquest, resource depletion, pathogens, and overpopulation. However, single-cause explanations, or even a string of single-cause explanations do not do justice to past peoples, who like us, must have known their vulnerabilities and must have sought to adapt.

In this article, we explore whether the concept of resilience, as represented within a simulation model, can help explain the collapse of a civilization. We use the ancient Maya as an example to explore how that society might have avoided collapse, and provide insight into the resilience of our current global civilization.

he political and economic history of the ancient Maya (specifically the lowland Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula) suggests a pattern of regional and sub-regional growth, decline, and reorganization during the Preclassic (1000 BCE –250 CE), Classic (250–900 CE), and Postclassic periods (900–1500 CE). Classic Maya culture reached its height around 700 CE before a rapid and fundamental transformation altered its political, social, economic, and demographic organization, commonly referred to as the "Classic Maya Collapse".1,2,3

This significant reorganization defines the transition from the Classic to Postclassic period at a time when Maya society was growing at its fastest rate, building many of its most impressive monuments, and increasing in its socioeconomic connectivity. For example, Temple IV at Tikal in present-day Guatemala is the tallest building in the pre-Columbian Americas, and was constructed in 747 CE.4

The majority of Tikal’s population was lost soon after, during the period from 830 to 950 CE.5 The largest building in present-day Belize is still the main Maya architectural complex at Caracol, abandoned around 900 CE. At the end of the Classic period the population of the Maya lowlands had reached an ople.6

Following their Late Classic peak, there was a political, social, and economic crisis, and many cities, some supporting up to 100,000 people, were abandoned.7,8,9

This narrative should be balanced with a perspective of the entire Maya historical timeline given the Maya are today a populous, diverse and resilient people, speaking 29 Mayan languages.

Simulating the ancient Maya
The Integrated History and future of People on Earth (IHOPE) initiative (,11,12,13 developed a simulation model of the ancient Maya civilization.14 This model can be used to test hypotheses of societal development, resilience and social-ecological vulnerabilities. The MayaSim model is presented as one possible set of assumptions about how the ancient Maya social-ecological system might have functioned. The model is a simplified representation of the Maya system.

MayaSim represents individual settlements as 'agents' located in a landscape represented as a grid of cells. Settlement agents manage agriculture and forest harvestingover a set of local cells, and establish trade with neighbours, allowing trade networks to emerge.

Agents, cells, and networks are programmed to represent elements of the historical Maya civilization, including demographics, trade, agriculture, soil degradation, provision of ecosystem services, climate variability, hydrology, primary productivity, and forest succession. Simulating these in combination allows patterns to emerge at the p landscape level, effectively growing the social-ecological system from the bottom up.

The MayaSim model is able to reproduce spatial patterns and timelines that mimic relatively well some elements of what we know about ancient Maya history, such as the general location of important capital cities, and the maximum overall population.

The baseline case best represents the historical 'life cycle' as we understand it for the ancient Maya, with model parameters generating results that mimic the transition between the Maya Preclassic, Classic and Postclassic periods. This baseline scenario shows spatial outcomes for four indicators of:
a) population density;
b) forest condition,
c) settlement 'trade strength'; and
d) soil degradation. 
Each indicator contains a narrative describing the development and reorganization of the simulated social-ecological system. 

By simulated year 250 BCE, settlements have expanded into all regions, first occupying areas with greater ecosystem services, and progressively growing with agricultural development. Population densities are higher in areas where settlements have clustered and formed local trade connections.

By simulated year 500 CE, the value of trade increases, extending local trade connections to 'global' connectivity. The centre of the trade network is approximately located in the region where the ancient Maya capitals of Tikal and Caracol existed. The condition of the forest is markedly changed, with only small patches of climax forest remaining in agriculturally unsuitable areas, forming ecological refugia within the near-completely settled landscape.

By simulated 1500 CE, the trade network has disintegrated, the centre of the most densely populated areas is nearly entirely abandoned, leaving only a small number of locally connected settlements in what was once the fringe. Abandoned cropland and decreased fuelwood harvesting allows broad-scale secondary regrowth, and climax forest eventually expands out from refugia to an extent similar to pre-population expansion levels.

Can loss of resilience predict collapse?
Resilience has been defined in different ways15,16 and here we use a working definition as the capacity of the system to handle whatever the future brings without being altered in undesirable ways.17

Resilience is thus a necessary condition for system sustainability. A resilient system must have 'room to manoeuvre', i.e., it must be able to adapt in response to changing conditions. A social-ecological system’s room to manoeuvre is positively correlated with social and natural capital, and when either is scarce (social networks are broken down or ecosystem services are degraded), a system loses resilience and becomes more vulnerable to perturbations.

As an analogy to vulnerability and collapse, consider the idea of societal resilience as 'slack in the system'. If society is near the 'edge of the cliff' so to speak, a small push will force it over the edge, whereas if that cliff is further off, the system can adjust and recover. The distance to the cliff is a moving target that moves forward and back depending on the current state of system vulnerabilities. With a computer model, we can determine the location of the resilience 'cliff edge'.

Different candidate statistics can be proposed to estimate how vulnerable the system is, and we can evaluate which of the statistics perform best as estimators of sustainability or collapse. The 'cliff edge' is multidimensional, so resilience metrics will, by definition, be complex functions.

Modelling a social-ecological system, as shown here using the Classic Maya as an example, represents a computational laboratory that can be used to test hypotheses around how the system will perform under different sets of assumptions. We can test different candidate resilience indicators with the aim of defining conditions under which a society is able to develop, achieve sustainability, and avoid collapse.

Just as an indicator of patient health would entail several metrics such as heart rate, BMI, blood pressure, and caloric intake, an indicator for resilience will combine several different metrics, such as those presented in Figure 2. We can attempt to observe patterns in (and importantly between) the metrics in order to generate an indicator of resilience.

The resilience indicator might ideally tell us how vulnerable a social-ecological system might be to disturbance. The indicator would be most useful if it could consider the direction and magnitude of changes in sub-systems, correlations with other indicators, the points where thresholds exist and under which of these conditions the integrated system shuts down.

Once we know the predictor and thresholds of collapse, we can then identify ways to increase the chances of avoiding that outcome. The MayaSim model identifies that resilience indicators must consider cross-scale interactions, such as how the global trade system is related to local food security, and how rates of change in fast and slow variables contribute to vulnerabilities, such as rapid change in forest cover and gradual change in soil productivity.

Could the Maya have avoided collapse?
Was the collapse of the Maya social-ecological system inevitable, or did it become inevitable after a certain point in their history? Given sufficient foresight, could the Maya have avoided collapse and achieved a sustainable outcome?

To answer these questions we can perform sensitivity analyses on the model and search for combinations of interventions that may have helped the Maya avoid collapse. Input parameters can be altered to show which combinations lead to different development pathways, achieve sustainability, or result in collapse. Some configurations do not lead to development of what we might recognise as a 'peak' in human civilization.

Some configurations maintain large populations without collapse. This suggests that neither growth nor collapse is inevitable, and that win-win solutions at least exist, even if we do not yet fully know what the ranges might be for critical variables in this simulated social-ecological system.

Video above: Demonstration of a fantasy simulation game, "The Mims - Beginning", depicts an alien civilization of another planet.  From (

The MayaSim model was tested to see what variables affect overall sustainability.Nine experiments were performed along with the baseline collapse scenario.

The experiments involved various combinations of the following interventions: a) limiting loss of soil productivity due to agricultural production; b) limiting forest harvesting above rates of natural disturbance regardless of local population density; c) limiting the trade network or value of trade; and d) high and low reduction of birth rates.

Scenario 1 Baseline
Representing the historical record through MaySim.

Scenario 2, 3, 4 - Extreme Variables
There are three 'extreme' scenarios—2, 3, and 4 which test boundary conditions. Scenario 2, with no trade value, does not result in any significant development. This scenario might be analogous to a broad scale form of swidden agriculture. Scenarios 3 and 4 are somewhat unrealistic in that they assume human impacts on forests and soils are reduced to zero. Nevertheless, the zero soil productivity loss scenario produces the most - overall real income and stabilises without collapse. It also generates, by far, the most people, and overall results in a large number of poor - settlements ubiquitously covering the landscape. Scenario 3, with no forest harvesting, actually causes the collapse to be magnified because there is no prior limiting signal from degraded forests, and the system significantly overshoots.

Scenario 5, 6, 7 - Moderate Variables 
Scenarios 5, 6, and 7 control the human population in some way. Scenario 5 limits the value of trade to not exceed the value of agriculture for any given city. This causes a lower level of development because major trade nodes are not able to develop and the critical links in the skeleton of the trade network do not fully form. Scenarios 6 and 7 institute population control in larger cities. Low population control slightly mitigates the collapse and high levels of population control shows an only slightly declining trend in population, but again, development does not reach 'peak' levels due to critical nodes in the network not achieving their largest size and wealth.

Scenario 8, 9, 10 - Conservative Variables
Scenarios 8, 9, and 10 combine these different interventions in some way and depict the most sustainable outcomes. Combining population control and soil conservation at different rates can allow for the 'peak' to occur, and also to somewhat mitigate the severity of the collapse. With high population control and soil conservation, a 'near sustainable' outcome is possible, and still allows for a peak.

However, of all scenarios examined, once the system begins decline it is irreversible.

The exception is Scenario 10, in which all 3 forms of intervention examined are implemented, including high population control, and both soil degradation and forest harvesting are reduced by half from their baseline rates. In this case, the socio-ecological system develops, peaks, and declines, but the reorganization is not severe and the system begins to again fluoresce as it recovers into another (albeit muted) Classical age.

The archaeological record is encoded with societies' interactions with their environments. Our computer model of the ancient Maya is a simplification of a real-world social-ecological system, which allows us to propose alternative assumptions, and to test hypotheses about system resilience. We present the model as a tool to broaden our understanding of how social-ecological systems function across temporal and spatial scales.

We find that developing and maintaining a sustainable and desirable society requires that interactions between different system components be maintained within some bounds. The bounds are not hard and fast absolute numbers, but are described in relationships between variables. Managing for sustainability, therefore, requires a holistic system-level perspective with an understanding of how change in one sub-system can be manifested in other sub-systems, and across scales.

Some historical pathways lead to growth and reorganization, with the possibility of either sustainability or collapse. Through the exploration of scenarios, we can identify key interventions that might lead to a resilient and sustainable society. The baseline scenario shows a pattern of development and collapse, and although natural capital can recover to some extent as forests regrow, the loss of soil productivity limits future re-settlement opportunities, and the trade network structure is gone, no longer providing high trade value. As a result, trade connectivity and population numbers do not recover.

Scenarios 2 through 7 test one-shot interventions, such as trade reduction or population control. Overall, these scenarios provide the worst outcomes in terms of either population numbers or real income, teaching us that no one intervention can do it all. In addition, the modelled society in these one-shot intervention scenarios rarely develops an advanced trading network with large population centres, and arguably never flourishes.

Using population control in combination with soil conservation (Scenario 8) mitigates the steepness and severity of the collapse, however, most indicators continue to decline in the following centuries. Implementing three interventions in parallel can level off the slope of the early development curve, and avoid overshoot to some degree.

The scenario in which three interventions are implemented (Scenario10: population control, reduced forest harvesting and reduced soil productivity loss) is the only outcome where the collapse is mitigated, and the trade network, real income levels, and population all begin to recover. Notably, a significantly higher real income is achieved in this scenario, suggesting that multiple interventions can yield win-win solutions, and the more points of intervention available, the more degrees of freedom exist for managing towards a sustainable and desirable society.

What does this mean for our modern society? We might interpret our achievements in global development as analogous to the Classic Maya, building their most impressive cities and monuments immediately before a precipitous reorganization. Although considered to be the 'height' of that impressive civilization, our model suggests that despite the grandeur, the social-ecological system as a whole may have been fundamentally undermined.

Like the ancient Maya, the world today is highly interconnected, and is pushing production into ever more marginal areas, potentially moving us closer to the edge of reorganization. In order to know how close we are to this system-level edge, we need to consider the relationships between components of our system, such as how global trade, agricultural production, and demographics interact. Have we lost resilience and are we standing at the precipice of reorganization like the Classic Maya?

 Can we implement strategies like population control, ecosystem protection and restoration, and trade regulation that could have altered the course of history for the Maya? Modelling complex social-ecological systems can help to answer these questions, provide guidance for resilient policies, and assist in avoiding unintended consequences.

Viewing civilization as a complex system highlights that feedbacks and interactions across scales are the nuts and bolts of a resilient system. A reductionist view of resilience and vulnerability cannot be used to identify a single cause (or a linear progression of single causes) of the unravelling of the social-ecological system.

A novel finding of the MayaSim model is that collapse does not require an 'instigating shock.' In the baseline scenario the dynamics of collapse are embedded in the system, and it does not require an invader, meteorite, volcano, or any other human-wrought or natural calamity to push it off the edge. Reorganization is simply a property of complex systems, and the magnitude of the reorganization depends on system resilience.

The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Christian Isendahl, Joel Gunn, Simon Brewer, Vernon Scarborough, Arlen Chase, Diane Chase, Nicholas Dunning, Carsten Lemmen, Timothy Beach, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, David Lentz, Paul Sinclair, Carole Crumley, and Sander van der Leeuw.

  1. Culbert, TP. The Classic Maya Collapse (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque 1973).
  2. Webster, DL. The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse (Thames & Hudson, New York, 2002).
  3. Diamond, J. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking Press, New York, 2005).
  4. Harrison, PD. The Lords of Tikal: Rulers of an Ancient Maya City (Thames and Hudson, London, 1999).
  5. Webster, DL. The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse (Thames & Hudson, New York, 2002).
  6. Rice, DS. & Culbert, TP. Historical Contexts for Population Reconstruction in the Maya Lowlands. In Precolumbian Population History in the Maya Lowlands (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1990), 1-36.
  7. Prufer, K, et al. IHOPE Maya: Resilience and Rigidity in the Development and Disintegration of Complex Societies in the Tropical Lowlands of Mesoamerica. Presented at Resilience 2011, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ (March 2011).
  8. Guderjan, T, Beach, T, Luzzadder-Beach, S & Bozarth, S. Understanding the Causes of Abandonment in the Maya Lowlands. Archaeological Review from Cambridge Vol. 24(2): 99-121 (2009).
  9. Turner, BL. II, & Sabloff, JA. The Classic Maya Collapse in the Central Lowlands: Insights about Human-environment Complexity for Sustainability Science. PNAS 109(35), 13908-13914 (2012).
  10. Costanza, RL, et al. Sustainability or Collapse: What Can We Learn from Integrating the History of Humans and the Rest of Nature? AMBIO 36:522-527 (2007a).
  11. Costanza, RL, Graumlich, J, & Steffen, W (eds.). Sustainability or Collapse? An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth. Dahlem Workshop Report 96 (MIT Press. Cambridge, MA, 2007b).
  12. Van der Leeuw, S, et al. Toward an Integrated History to Guide the Future. Ecology and Society. (16)4 (2011).
  13. Costanza, R, et al. Developing an Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (IHOPE). Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 4:106–114 (2012).
  14. Heckbert, S, et al. Growing the Ancient Maya Social-ecological System from the Bottom Up. Isendahl, C, & Stump, D (eds.). Applied Archaeology, Historical Ecology and the Useable Past. Oxford University Press (in press).
  15. Folke, C. Resilience: The Emergence of a Perspective for Social-ecological Systems Analyses. Global Environmental Change 16(3), 253–267 (2006).
  16. Walker, B, Holling, CS, Carpenter, SR, & Kinzig, A. Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social–ecological Systems. Ecology and Society 9(2) (2004).
  17. Glaser, M, Ratter, BMW. Krause, G & Welp, M. New Approaches to the Analysis of Human-nature Relations. Human-Nature Interactions in the Anthropocene (Glaser, M, Ratter, BMW, Krause, G & Welp, M (Eds.) (Routledge, New York, NY. 2012), 3-12.


A new colonization of the Pacific

 SOURCE: Wendy Raebeck (
 SUBHEAD: How U.S. Marine National Monuments protect environmentally harmful military bases throughout the Pacific.

By Craig Santos Perez on 26 June 2104 for Hawaii Independent -
Image above: Detail of map of Marine Monuments and US Military Range Complexes and major bases in the Pacific by Juan Wilson produced for Koohan Paik. Click to see entire map. From (

President Obama recently announced plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles. Despite the media framing this move as a victory for ocean conservation, the truth is that these monuments will further colonize, militarize and privatize the Pacific.

Many mistakenly refer to marine “monuments” as “sanctuaries” because they are both “marine protected areas.” However, an official sanctuary is designated by the Secretary of Commerce under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, which requires “extensive public process, local community engagement, stakeholder involvement, and citizen participation, both prior to and following designation.”

On the other hand, the President unilaterally designates marine monuments through the Antiquities Act of 1906. No public process is required.

The first and largest Marine National Monument was established in 2006: The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (140,000 square miles).

Three more marine monuments were established in 2009: The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (95,000 square miles); The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (87,000 square miles); and The Rose Atoll Marine National Monument (13,000 square miles).

The total “protected” area, with Obama’s expansion, would be more than a million square miles of “small islands, atolls, coral reefs, submerged lands, and deep blue waters.”

Why has this antiquited, unilateral process suddenly become so popular? Why are U.S. presidents from both sides of the political divide side-stepping Congressional approval and—more importantly—public participation and scrutiny?

It’s important to understand that establishing a marine national monument, reserve, or refuge places our coastal and open ocean waters under federal control. The marine monuments are administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (under the Department of Commerce) or by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (under the Department of the Interior). This ocean and submerged land grab by the federal government severely limits public access and trust.

Additionally, these monuments violate the rights of indigenous peoples by separating us from our sacred spaces. Traditional fishing grounds or ritual spaces may no longer be accessible. If there are exceptions for indigenous rites, we will need to apply for a permit and receive federal approval.

How Do Marine Reserves Militarize the Ocean?

As I wrote about in a previous editorial, the U.S. military removed the original landowners of Litekyan (Ritidian), an area in northern Guam, under eminent domain in 1963, and the Navy used the area as a communications station during the Cold War. Thirty years later, 1,000 acres of the land was deemed “excess.” Instead of that land being returned to the families, it was transferred to the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service and designated a “National Wildlife Refuge.” Today, four thousand acres of Litekyan is now being considered for a live firing range complex.

You see, designating land and water as a monument, refuge, reserve, or even sanctuary keeps the land under federal control as opposed to public (and indigenous) trust. So if the military ever wants to use the land in the future, it can simply be converted (or re-converted in the case of Litekyan) from the Department of the Interior or Commerce to the Department of Defense. This is the “logic of military conservation.”

Many marine monuments house strategic military bases. For example, the marine monuments of the Pacific are home to U.S. bases on Guam, Tinian, Saipan, Rota, Farallon de Medinilla, Wake Island and Johnston Island, to name a few. The reason why military bases can be within marine monuments is because “nothing in the proclamations impairs or otherwise affects the activities of the Department of Defense.

Among other things, the DoD is ensured full freedom of navigation in accordance with the law of the sea, and the U.S. Navy can continue effective training to maintain its antisubmarine warfare and other capabilities.” In other words, the military is exempt from most environmental regulations and prohibitions.

Ironically, the public may no longer be allowed to fish in these “protected” areas because it might affect the fragile ocean ecosystem, yet the military can conduct weapons training and testing. Remember, marine monuments are not designed to protect the ocean from the U.S. military, one of the worst polluters in the world.

In fact the opposite is true: they are designed to allow easier military access. As activists in Hawai’i know, these national monuments could become “watery graves” for endangered species when military training occurs.

Besides providing more federally controlled space for the U.S. military to train, marine monuments give military bases another layer of secrecy from the public. This buffer strategy is spreading to other nations. During the meeting of the U.S. State Department sponsored Our Ocean conference last week in Washington DC, other countries announced similar plans to federalize massive ocean areas, including Palau, Kiribati, the Cook Islands and the Bahamas.

These new marine reserves will become military sanctuaries, buffer zones and watery bases for the U.S. military as it forcefully positions itself in the Asia-Pacific region (and uses “illegal fishing” as justification to militarize these marine reserves).

We need to be critical of these efforts. Read about what happened to the Cayos Cochinos, an island group in the Carribean off Honduras, during the twenty years after they were declared a “protected area.” The Afro-Indigenous Garifuna peoples have been displaced from their lands and fishing grounds. Tourism developers and other private industries have invested in and exploited the islands.

And, you guessed it, the U.S. military is using the area for basing and training, providing millions of dollars of aid to the Honduras government. This is what will happen to countries that ally with the U.S. in this colonial conservation scheme.

In 2009, Britian designated a marine protected area around the Chagos islands. However, the waters around the island of Diego Garcia, which is the site of one of the most secretive overseas U.S. military bases, was exempted. How bizarre: a secretive U.S. military base in the Indian Ocean surrounded by a 200-mile marine preserve controlled by the British government.

Peter Sand, in “The Chagos Archipelago: Footprint of Empire, or World Heritage?”, pointedly asks whether these new marine reserves are “an anachronistic example of ‘environmental imperialism’, or evidence of an equally outdated variant of ‘fortress conservation’ that disregards human rights under the noble guise of nature protection.” Either way, the Chagossians who were removed from their islands may never be able to return.

How do Private Corporations Benefit from Marine Monuments?

As I mentioned before, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is under the Department of Commerce (DOC). Does that seem strange to you? It certainly seems strange to Obama, when he joked during his 2011 State of the Union address: “The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.” Obama wants to move NOAA to the Department of the Interior.

Joking aside, it actually makes perfect (or perverse) sense that NOAA remains in DOC, which promotes trade and economic development. A few years ago, then Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton dubbed the 21st century: “America’s Pacific Century.” This strategic turn aims to expand trade, investment, and militarization throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The cornerstone of America’s Pacific Century is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement that has been described as “NAFTA on steroids.” As Clinton stated, the continued economic growth of the region depends on the “security and stability that has long been guaranteed by the U.S. military.”

It is not surprising that TPP negotiations, as well as militarization proposals in the Pacific, intensified around the same time that President Bush designated the first marine monument in 2006.

So what are these economic opportunities, and what does the TPP have to do with the surge of marine national monuments and reserves designated by the U.S. federal government and its allies?

First, the more military sanctuaries the U.S. has around the world, the more federal tax money will be spent to secure these areas for investment, which means more profit for the military industrial complex and private defense firms.

Second, does something smell fishy? The justification for many of these marine reserves is to prevent illegal fishing and fish fraud, especially from China. With a massive fleet of 2,000 distant-water, state-subsidized fishing vessels, China catches nearly five tons of fish a year, worth more than $10 billion—some legally and some illegally. In contrast, nearly 90 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported.

By establishing marine monuments, and encouraging its allies in the Pacific to do the same, the U.S. could effectively shut out China from Pacific tuna waters. In turn, private U.S. tuna corporations could negotiate contracts with Pacific allied nations to develop Pacific fisheries or to obtain exclusive fishing rights within the marine reserves (as well as access to cheap labor and canneries).

This comes at a time when foreign-owned and American-owned canned-tuna companies are battling for control over our kids’ school lunches. Billions of dollars of tuna are on the plate.

Third, wherever you find a national monument, you will find a tourism industry. The Cayos Cochinos is a prime example. The government that controls the marine monument can permit private companies to operate tourism centers, hotels, eco-adventures—all in the name of development and jobs.

The concessions throughout the U.S. National Park Service are owned and operated by private companies, which gross over $1 billion annually. There are more than 500 companies, from food to lodging to adventure sports to retail, that have contracts with the National Parks. Of course, the entire National Park system was one way of displacing Native American presence on these lands.

Fourth, the Pacific has long been a “laboratory” for Western science and technology. Since another justification for marine reserves is scientific research, then we will see many more unprecedented grants for oceanography research.

This research can be transformed into profit by private industries, such as deep-sea mining, geo-thermal energy, open-ocean (genetically modified) aquaculture, and pharmaceutical drugs derived from ocean microbial bacteria.

New Zealand established a Marine Mammal Sanctuary in 2008 to protect engangered dolphins, yet it is now considering opening the area up for oil drilling. This is not a contradiction; this is exactly what these conservation schemes are designed for.

Lastly, do you want to see Avatar 2 with me when it comes out? In 2012, James Cameron dived in a submarine to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on earth, which is protected by the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

He lit up the trench with an eight-foot tower of LED lighting to film 3D footage. In another celebrity sighting, Leonardo DiCaprio made a cameo at the State Department’s Our Ocean conference, donating $7 milllion towards marine reserves. Apparently, he’s a diving enthusiast.

What is Blue-Washing?

In the 21st century, national marine momunents, marine parks, marine preserves, marine refuges, marine sanctuaries and their other iterations are instruments that empower the federal government to take land and water away from indigenous and public access, scrutiny, and trust. The “marine monuments” are especially dangerous because they do not require—nor are they accountable to—legislative or public comment, engagement, or approval.

As David Vine, in “Environmental Protection of Bases,” notes: “For all the benefits that marine protection areas might bring, governments are using environmentalism as a cover to protect the long-term life of environmentally harmful bases.

The designation also helps governments hold onto strategic territories.” Furthermore, these designations give the governments of the U.S. and its neoliberal allies the power to create contracts with private corporations to exploit the resources of our ocean for profit and not for the public good. Let’s call this a form of “Blue-washing.”

The word “monument” comes from the Latin, monumentum, meaning “grave” or “memorial.” If our oceans continue to become national marine monuments, our blue ocean will indeed become a watery grave, a memorial to the beauty, richness, and biodiversity that once was.


RIMPAC Impact Postmortem

SUBHEAD: Our congresswoman Tulsi Gabbarb seeking information from Navy on their methods of protecting Hawaii's environment.

By Chris D'Angelo on 22 October 2014 for the Garden Island -

Image above: Marines test military robot in Hawaii during RIMPAC 2014. From (

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is requesting information from the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor about the Navy’s efforts to monitor the effects of the Rim of the Pacific military exercise and Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on the ocean and marine ecosystems.

“Several constituents have raised concerns about RIMPAC, as well as the exercises conducted at PMRF, causing serious damage to marine life, including injuring sea turtles, cetaceans and corals,” Gabbard wrote in an Oct. 2 letter to USPF Commander Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr.

Held every two years and hosted by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, is the world’s largest international maritime war exercise. In total, 22 nations, 49 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in this year’s event, which lasted from June 26 to August 1 and included live fire target practice and the sinking of the decommissioned USS Tuscaloosa 57 nautical miles northwest of Kauai.

The drills take place in the Hawaii Operating Area and several off-shore ranges, including Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility. About 500 PMRF employees were actively engaged in supporting this summer’s event.

In her letter, Gabbard inquires about specific actions the Navy took during RIMPAC 2014 to prevent adverse impact to the marine environment, including sea life.

“Additionally, has the Navy, or any other entity, conducted other research to show that RIMPAC and other training exercises are not adversely impacting the environment?” she asked Adm. Harris.

If not, Gabbard requested the Navy examine such a course of action.

“As the Navy conducts training and testing in the ocean, we all must keep in mind that the ocean is an integral part of Hawaii, our economy, and our culture, and we all must continue the work to ensure that our ecosystems are not irreversibly damaged,” she wrote.

As of Tuesday, Harris had not yet responded to Gabbard’s request for information, according to PMRF spokesman Stefan Alford,who said he would provide a copy once one has been sent.

“Until that happens, I do not know of a timeline,” he wrote in an email. “It is being worked, however, so shouldn’t be too long.”

Every two years, the month-long RIMPAC exercise brings with it concerns from individuals and environmental groups who say it negatively impacts marine life, including endangered species.

One of those citizens on Kauai is Hanalei resident Terry Lilley, who has copied Gabbard on dozens of emails and photos over the last year documenting what he says shows the serious damage being caused to Kauai’s nearshore marine environment, including turtles and corals, by the Navy’s activities.

Lilley applauded Gabbard and said he doubts she would put her neck out on the line the way she did without serious concerns of her own.

“I do think something tipped the hat on this,” he said. “The bottom line, one way or another, she’s standing up after listing to the complaints of her constituency.”

Attempts to reach Gabbard’s press secretary Tuesday were not successful.

In late July, a 16-foot sub adult pilot whale washed ashore and died in Hanalei Bay. While some suspected the death may have been a result of naval activities, a Navy spokesman said at the time there was nothing to indicate that and it would be premature to speculate.

A team of scientists conducted a necropsy on the whale on July 26, but the examination did not produce results indicative of a cause of death. Tissue analysis intended to help determine the cause of death have been started and will take several weeks to months to produce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a release.

PMRF Commander Capt. Bruce Hay previously said he was pleased with the cooperative efforts during RIMPAC in the successful use of protective protocols for marine life.

“Our Navy has committed approximately $160 million over the past five years to marine mammal and sound in water research,” he said. “We are proud to be at the forefront to improve understanding of the behavior and abundance of marine mammals within and in near proximity to our water ranges.”

See also:

Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC 2014 in Full March 7/17/14
Even if RIMPAC didn't harm wildlife or the environment these war games are pointless.

Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC 2014 - another whale death 7/26/14
It's not like this has not happened here before. The Navy washes off the blood and wears white.

Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC War on the Ocean 7/3/14
The unseen wars on the Pacific Ocean lead by the United States Navy is cranking up this summer.

Ea O Ka Aina: The Pacific Pivot  6/26/14

RIMPAC is only a small piece of a huge, systemized federal project of destruction in the Pacific.

Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC IMPACT 6/8/14
If you think that RIMPAC 2014 will be anything but harmful to Hawaii you are delusional.

Ea O Ka Aina: Operation Dominic & Hawaii  6/3/14
US nuclear tests on Johnson Island tell us that this year's RIMPAC will be more of the same destruction to the Pacific Ocean.

Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC Now and Then 5/16/14
The history of RIMPAC exercises tells us that this year will be more of the same. Destruction to life in the Pacific Ocean.

Ea O Ka Aina: Earthday TPP Fukushima RIMPAC 4/22/14

Excuse us while we turn the Pacific Ocean into a radioactive ashtray.

Ea  O Ka Aina: An Ugly Dance  - The Asian Pivot 12/5/13
It's a feeble attempt by USA to outplay Asia in the game of who can destroy the planet the fastest.

Ea O Ka Aina: End RIMPAC destruction of Pacific 11/1/13
Pacific Rim countries led by the US Navy take part in exercises in death and destruction in our ocean.

Ea O Ka Aina: Sleepwalking through destruction 7/16/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Military schmoozes Guam & Hawaii 3/17/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Pacific Resistance to U.S. Military 5/24/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Shift in Pacific Power Balance 8/5/10
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC to Return in 2010 5/2/10 
Ea O Ka Aina: Living at the Tip of the Spear 4/5/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Guam Land Grab 11/30/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Guam as a modern Bikini Atoll 12/25/09
Ea O Ka Aina: GUAM - Another Strategic Island 11/8/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Diego Garcia - Another stolen island 11/6/09
Ea O Ka Aina: DARPA & Super-Cavitation on Kauai 3/24/09
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2008 - Navy fired up in Hawaii 7/2/08
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2008 uses destructive sonar 4/22/08
Island Breath: Navy Plans for the Pacific 9/3/07
Island Breath: Judge restricts sonar off California 08/07/07
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2006 sonar use feared 5/23/06
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2006 sonar compromise 7/9/06
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2004 Strands whales in Hanlei 09/02/04 
Island Breath: PMRF Land Grab 6/5/04 


"Discovery" of US Indigenous People

SUBHEAD: The "Doctrine of Discovery" makes our whole country is a crime scene that should be marked with yellow tape.

By Mickey Zezima on 11 October 2014 for World News Trust -

Image above: “The Landing of Columbus” by American neoclassicist painter John Vanderlyn (1775–1852). Note the crosses and swords in the hands of Europeans and the naked cowering "natives". This travesty was commissioned by Congress and hangs in the Capitol Rotunda. From (

“The whole country is a crime scene and should be marked with yellow tape.”
- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

As I type these words, we are two days away from “honoring” Columbus and exactly a month has passed since the cries of “never forget” echoed on the 9/11 anniversary.

When it comes to honoring and remembering, however, it’s clearly slipped our minds how -- upon encountering the Arawak people in 1492 -- the venerated Mr. Columbus noted that they “would make fine servants,” adding, “with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

Fortunately, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is making certain we “never forget” the realities of Manifest Destiny. Born in rural Oklahoma to a tenant farmer and part-Indian mother, Dunbar-Ortiz has committed her life’s work to education and activism. Her path will inspire you and her latest book,  An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (Beacon Press) will enlighten you. And anger you. And, best of all, educate and motivate you.

I recently had a conversation with Roxanne and it went a little something like this:

Mickey Z.: Is it safe to assume that many readers are approaching your book with heads filled with preconceptions and misconceptions on this general topic?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Yes, U.S. people either think they know a lot about Native Americans, or have little interest or curiosity. The latter especially applies to leftists and progressives, who think Native Americans are irrelevant to politics and strategies for change; they will nod their head in paternalistic sympathy, and that’s it.

Those who “know Indians,” as Richard Slotkin emphasizes in his work, often men who have been Cub and Boy Scouts and/or in the military, particularly the Marine Corps, or non-Native people (not only Euroamericans) who live near reservations. In each case, the knowledge and analytical base is wrong, and even the assumptions.

Most U.S. Americans will go a whole lifetime without meeting a Native American (even many of those who will tell you they themselves had a Native ancestor). And in the presentations of U.S. history, in schools as well as popular culture, Native Americans are largely absent.

Then, when they are present, it’s often worse than absence; it’s misinformation or distortions. That’s why I present Native American history as United States history. Nothing about the founding and development of the United States can be understood except in relation to the Indigenous Peoples of the continent (and of Hawaii and Alaska).

MZ: As you articulate in your book, a big part of that awakening may start with the acceptance of the official U.S. war on indigenous peoples as a war against foreign nations.

RDO: This is a key factor of U.S. history, the fact that some 500 Native nations existed when Europeans began their colonizing projects. Throughout the British colonial period in constructing the 13 North American Atlantic colonies, the colonizing authorities approached the Indigenous nations as nations, not that they respected them as equals as they did not, but they also didn’t respect Turkey, Russia, and other nations they regarded as nations.

The independent Anglo-American state continued the same nation-to-nation colonial practices as the British. But, in all European colonial projects, including the United States, they invoked the Doctrine of Discovery.

From the mid-15th century to the mid-20th century, most of the non-European world was colonized under the Doctrine of Discovery, one of the first principles of international law Christian European monarchies promulgated to legitimize investigating, mapping, and claiming lands belonging to peoples outside Europe. It originated in a papal bull issued in 1455 that permitted the Portuguese monarchy to seize West Africa.

Following Columbus’s infamous exploratory voyage in 1492, sponsored by the king and queen of the infant Spanish state, another papal bull extended similar permission to Spain.

Disputes between the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies led to the papal-initiated Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which, besides dividing the globe equally between the two Iberian empires, clarified that only non-Christian lands fell under the discovery doctrine.

This doctrine on which all European states relied thus originated with the arbitrary and unilateral establishment of the Iberian monarchies’ exclusive rights under Christian canon law to colonize foreign peoples, and this right was later seized by other European monarchical colonizing projects. The French Republic used this legalistic instrument for its nineteenth- and twentieth- century settler colonialist projects, as did the newly independent United States when it continued the colonization of North America begun by the British.

MZ: How was this doctrine exploited and expanded by the United States?

RDO: In 1792, not long after the U.S. founding, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson claimed that the Doctrine of Discovery developed by European states was international law applicable to the new U.S. government as well. In 1823 the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Johnson v. McIntosh, brought by the Cherokee Nation.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Marshall held that the Doctrine of Discovery had been an established principle of European law and of English law in effect in Britain’s North American colonies and was also the law of the United States.

The Court defined the exclusive property rights that a European country acquired by dint of discovery: “Discovery gave title to the government, by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.”

Therefore, European and Euro-American “discoverers” had gained real-property rights in the lands of Indigenous peoples by merely planting a flag. Indigenous rights were, in the Court’s words, “in no instance, entirely disregarded; but were necessarily, to a considerable extent, impaired.”

The Court further held that Indigenous “rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished.” Indigenous people could continue to live on the land, but title resided with the discovering power, the United States. The decision concluded that Native nations were “domestic, dependent nations.” This remains the fundamental law that rules the U.S. government’s relationship with Native Nations, a living colonial institution.

MZ: Please talk about how your book connects to larger issues of white supremacy/privilege.

RDO: In Chapter 2, “The Culture of Conquest,” I trace the rise of white supremacy to the Christian Crusades, and particularly the centuries long Castillian crusade against the Moorish Caliphate in the Iberian peninsula. In this process, Christian canon law introduced the concept of limpieza de sangre, cleanliness of blood, and established the Inquisition to investigate the purity of Christians, that they had no trace of Muslim or Jewish religious practices.

Then in 1492, began mass deportations of Muslims and Jews. The Doctrine of Discovery itself was inherently white supremacist in that it mandated that Christian monarchies (all European/white) had the right to occupy and dominate any non-Christian/non-white society.

The expropriation of Native land, turning it into private property/a commodity, as well as the savagizing of Native people, and the enslavement of human bodies, African bodies, as private property/commodities as well as a labor supply form the core of white supremacy in the founding, development, and present of the United States. I’ve always thought that the term “privilege” is such a weak word to describe the mindset that possessed European settlers.

MZ: I very much concur. It’s a word designed to be polite and non-confrontational. Yet another reason why it’d be so powerful to see your book become integrated into U.S. history education classes.

RDO: I think this book will be useful to teachers in developing a framework for presenting U.S. history to students at every level. The actual text books will be the last to change, due to the composition of most school boards in the country and the educational industrial complex. I want to see educators turn from thinking they have to “understand” Indians and instead start trying to understand the United States. When they do that, they will understand Native Americans.

MZ: With that in mind, as we descend into the era of ecocide, I feel it’d be useful to have you explain and expand on this passage that appears near the end of your book: “Indigenous peoples offer possibilities for life after empire, possibilities that neither erase the crimes of colonialism nor require the disappearance of the original peoples colonized under the guise of including them as individuals.”
RDO: As the first chapter in the book, “Follow the Corn,” lays out, the multiple forms of democratic governance and social relations developed by Indigenous peoples in North America are breathtaking. For one thing, they are all rooted in matriarchy. Matriarchy is not the opposite of patriarchy, nor simply substituting female people for male people. Rather it is a profound comprehension of the biological factors that can lead to domination and authoritarianism.

Training the male to be part of a community requires extensive ritual and discipline; it is not “natural,” rather socially constructed. It doesn’t happen automatically. And the concept of the earth as the source of sustenance, “mother,” that must be respected and managed.

Some of the experiments and results of social developments in North America (and the hemisphere) are adaptable to modern society, perhaps especially in cities. Native peoples built cities, towns, federations of towns, based on the common good. Indigenous socialism, as Evo Morales calls the phenomena, can provide both a goal and a practice, for survival and for defeating empire and structures of domination.

MZ: I’d love to see that concept shared widely as a template for environmental survival. Okay, as we wrap up, I know you’ve been doing plenty of talks and interviews lately but: Is there a question you've been hoping someone would ask you about this book but so far no one has? If so, please share that question and your answer with us.

RDO: The question: Why is Oklahoma unique, and what does its historical experience and present social movements have to offer for the rest of the society?

The answer: The whole country is a crime scene and should be marked with yellow tape, but Oklahoma was the place of distillation of the crimes against humanity created by the Andrew Jackson administration.

Click here to order An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States.

• Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz can be found on the Web here.

• Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.