Making Friends with Microbes

SUBHEAD: Interview with Eva Bakkaeslitt on the importance of fermenting food in a low-tech future.

By Mark Watson on 12 January 2018 for Dark Mountain-

Image above: From original article.

This week Dark Mountain continues its Dark Kitchen exploration of food and eating in times of collapse. For our second course in the series Mark Watson interviews Norwegian artist Eva Bakkeslett about the ancient and modern language of fermentation.

‘It’s the next big thing,’ said Alexis, and handed me a jar of home-made kimchi.

‘Is it safe to eat?’ I asked, nervously peering into the pungent and compelling Korean ferment.

It was a very modern reaction: industrially processed, refrigerated, microbe-free and squeaky clean (dead) is good. Everything else is dangerous.

For thousands of years the arts of fermentation have transformed and preserved raw food in cultures across the world. Yet even though some of our strongest and most loved flavours – coffee, chocolate, cheese, salami, olives, as well as soy, miso and tempeh, wine and beer – are still alchemized via the life-death-life process of bacteria and yeasts, live, fizzing vegetables can be a challenge.

It was reading Sandor Katz’s encyclopaedic The Art of Fermentation that turned things around and got me hooked, with its hands-on approach to reviving the practice of fermenting just about everything.

The house started filling up with bubbling Kilner jars of fruit and flowers and vegetables –mead elixirs in the summer, kimchi in the winter – as my distrust gave way to bold, and delicious, experimentation.

Eva Bakkeslett is an artist, teacher and microbial cultural revivalist from Northern Norway. I came across her work with sourdough cultures and kefir in Lucy Neal’s Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered. Later we met and she gave me some Ivan Chai (an intense black tea of fermented rosebay willowherb leaves) made by wildcrafting colleagues in Russia.

I wanted to ask Eva about how she got into fermentation and microbes, and how they relate to current planetary, ecological and social conditions. 

MW: What’s going down in your ‘dark kitchen’ right now, Eva?

EB: Well, I’m tending to about six different ferments, so loads of little creatures are living on my kitchen bench: very old Scandinavian rømmekolle ferments, various kombuchas, Bulgarian yoghurts, kefir from the Caucasus, and an amazing sourdough from Russia. I’ve also started fermenting earth, using a Japanese composting method called bokashi, where you add microbes to your food waste. It speeds up the process and you get great compost for growing vegetables.

I started with bread. I always say the bread was talking to me. Fermenting bread has a very quiet language of its own. Put your ear against the rising dough and you hear these clicks and bubbles. I really wanted to learn about this extraordinary language. I wanted to befriend these guys. So it all started through language.

When I was growing up we fermented milk and bread, so when I started discovering the bacterial processes behind it I didn’t really have to overcome any distrust. I just remember being delighted at discovering this community of microbes I could make friends with.

I started making kombuchas and vegetable ferments, then explored the rather funky outer edges, like fermented shark in Iceland or kimchi with fish. That really tests the friendship – can I really be friends with somebody, you know, that funky?

MW: In Playing For Time you discuss rootlessness, and the relationship between place, belonging and fermentation. How can remembering the stories behind fermentation reconnect us?

EB: For some years now I’ve been exploring this yoghurt-like Norwegian milk ferment called rømmekolle. In my childhood everybody fermented it – in certain areas people wouldn’t have survived without it.

And the culture that develops between the place where the bacteria come from, and the material you ferment, in this case milk, and the humans that then share the culture, makes you very rooted to a particular place.

We now know from neuroscience research that there’s a huge connection between the bacterial flora in our guts and the way we think… so if everybody in a particular village is eating the same rømmekolle, you’re sharing that microbial community within your bodies; people would somehow be bonded through bacterial flora within a community, and to the place. And this was happening all over the world.

Also, people would closely guard their ferments and bring them wherever they went. A family from Finland emigrating to America, say, would dry their milk cultures on handkerchiefs, put them in their pockets and set off. When they settled, they’d put their handkerchiefs in milk and revive the bacterial culture.

Nowadays, with everyone constantly moving around and not connecting to places, we often feel fragmented. One way of rooting yourself is to befriend the local bacteria by growing vegetables and connecting with the soil. Ferment those vegetables and you’ll definitely communicate with the microorganisms in that particular place!

And the further you go into it the more you get excited about the taste, texture, colour – all the aesthetic elements of food and place. It’s a very rooting experience, as well as an antidote to industrialised food with its processed salts, fats and sugars: you start reconnecting and engaging with your food, the seasons – and time.

Fermentation has its own world and time-frame, and it can really help move you out of the hyped-up, driven pace of the modern world. You don’t even have to think about it. The relationship with the microbes just has that effect on you.

When people say they don’t have time for sourdough bread-making, I tell them it’s about working with time, replacing one way of thinking about time with another.

I see three elements to fermentation – time, conditions and ingredients – and the balance between those three. A vegetable ferment going for six months can be super-strong, a six-day one will be very mild. Time sits in the taste. It’s implied and embodied in the ferment and your experience of it.

Like growing vegetables, where you can’t rush your carrots, you can’t work against the fermentation process, you have to work with it. You heighten your awareness of what’s happening and your relationship with time changes. It roots you in the fabric of life.

MW: How can we learn from microorganisms?

EB: Bacteria communicate with each other with an incredible alertness, and they’re like magicians of adaptation. The hundreds of thousands of members in a culture communicate through this language called quorum sensing. And if something’s not working they’ll suddenly take a different course.

At an earlier time on the planet, bacteria eliminated all their food resources. They had to invent a way of processing the sun and transforming it into a new life substance through photosynthesis. I feel we can learn a lot from them, because we’re very set in our ways. It takes humans a long time to change.

MW: Right now we seem to need more time to get back on track with the planet, but don’t seem to have that much time. Can humans both bring time into the way we go about things and change swiftly enough? Also, so many of our collective stories seem outdated and resistant to change. Does fermentation have a story to counterbalance that?

EB: Well, we’re generally so removed from natural processes and going so fast, it seems almost impossible to slow down to a pace where we can have a natural relationship with time.

But I think through a close relationship to bacteria and to our earth, without us thinking that we have to change, it will happen naturally, through gentle action and collective absorption. If you create those relationships.

I’m fascinated by the sharing aspect of fermentation, when people give cultures to each other – especially through milk ferments and sourdough. There’s the sharing of the physical substance with the bacteria, which keeps it going, along with the sharing of cherished knowledge.

With that goes the sharing of stories, which accumulate within the bacterial cultures as people form their own relationship to them.

Somebody gives you some, and it already has a story; it enriches your life, and another layer of story is added to it. These stories create a different bond between people, the bacteria, and the Earth itself.

Fermentation is a beautiful way of transforming the way we live and communicate with each other. It’s an incredible thing that happens when your kefir is thriving, producing more and more grains, and you’re thriving from it, and so you go and meet your neighbor and tell them about kefir. Or like me you incorporate it into art events and share it publicly with people.

My favorite Christmas card this year was from a lady who came to an event I held in England in 2012. I gave her some of an old Romanian yoghurt culture that had travelled to a little Jewish café in New York. She’s been cultivating it ever since, and there it was in the photo, sitting amongst her Christmas decorations!

MW: What kind of art do you do with fermentation?

EB: A recent exhibition I gave in Bodø in Norway was with rømmekolle. It had disappeared, but I managed to find some eventually and I’m cultivating and sharing it now in all my events. I gathered archive photographs of people’s relationship to their milk animals.

Milk can have a bad reputation nowadays, but many people have traditionally had a close relationship not only with their cows, but also reindeer, buffalo, goats and sheep. The modern milk industry is another chapter entirely.

Image above: A photo of the historic social culture of consuming rømmekolle. From original article.

The rømmekolle culture was very sociable. On Sundays people would share a huge pot up in the mountains dressed in their finery. I interviewed old people about their relationship to this ferment for a radio program and video. So I’m bringing rømmekolle into the public sphere through these stories.

This exhibition included a bucket of worms with scrap food and a video camera and microphone attached. You could hear the worms talking – they have an amazing language, and when they’re happy they talk a lot. So I’m sharing the wonderful world of fermentation in a bucket, in the production of earth through worms.

I often do talks about bacterial connections, starting with when the Earth was formed, and about bacterial language – these always include some physical fermentation of milk or vegetables. I’ve also held a festival of different bread traditions. It takes different forms.

MW: It’s a lot about what’s worth keeping, isn’t it, particularly now when so many things are disappearing? A kind of cultural preservation.

EB: When you pay attention to these bacterial processes, you see we have to get to the roots in order to go forward. It’s like etymology. Often a word will go astray and start taking on a totally different meaning. But once you start looking at the roots of the word you realise there’s something fundamental in here that’s been lost. The bacterial world teaches me a lot about the way forward, because it has so much to do with the essence of life. So that’s the preservation part for me, more to do with not losing contact with the processes of life than preservation.

People often go ‘Eeeugh!’ when they see a bucket of compost, or smell one of my stronger ferments. Many people live in a very clean bubble where life processes can’t come in. I think it’s really important to stick our fingers in the earth, and for our kids to as well.

I bought a piss bucket recently and shocked my family: ‘You’re not going to make us piss in that are you?’ they cried. ‘Well, yeah,’ I said, ‘because piss is an amazing fertiliser, and nowadays we just think it’s something horrible and smelly. But it’s a life-giving property, right here in our system, and we just waste it.’ I want to bring back into the life-cycle all those vital things we just keep getting rid of.

I like this idea of the uncivilised. Many young people who come to my events are fed up with modern lifestyles. They’re get really excited about hands-on life processes like fermenting. When I get overwhelmed by the horrors of our fragmented world, I remember so many people have a real need for uncivilising, for seeing a different way. Things have been sterile for too long – we need to get grimy again.

MW: What about the future? Given our bodies are host to so many microbes, might we be our own microbial revolutions?

EB: Well, the current misuse of Earth and its resources is leading us to disaster. But many small groups of people are experimenting in living and doing things differently. They don’t believe in the predominant systems and want to uncivilise themselves. So from that disaster a lot of social fermentation is happening, bubbling in the corners, creating another type of atmosphere, temperature and timeframe for other things to blossom and thrive.

And I think learning about fermentation and bacterial communication, and exploring the way bacteria have adapted and survived, is a huge beginning.

The word culture comes from the Latin cultivare: to prepare the ground for something to grow. The word is used for everything now, including TV shows. But its original meaning implies a sense of mutual nurturing: we prepare the ground and the ground gives to us. And of course bacteria is alive, and makes up the earth, and us.

Image above: Squash and Red Cabbage kimchis in jars. From original article.
A Red Cabbage Kimchi ‘Slaw’ 

INGREDIENTS (Organic, local and home-grown vegetables if available) 
1 small red cabbage or ½ large one
1 large carrot
Japanese or daikon radish (mooli), equivalent size to carrot (optional)
Handful chives or small bunch spring onions
½ cup sea salt (not table salt)
5 cups filtered water (ratio = 1 part salt to 10 parts water) 
1 small or ½ large pear, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled,  roughly chopped
1 thumb ginger, peeled, cut into small chunks
1 or 2 fresh red chillies, deseeded if too hot
1 tablespoon raw organic cane sugar OR 1 tablespoon RAW honey
½ – 1 small cup stock: liquid from 5-6 shitake mushrooms soaked in warm water plus 1 level teaspoon kelp powder (optional)
1 dessert spoon Korean red pepper flakes/chilli flakes OR level teaspoon smoked paprika powder

Note: for some ferments I omit the red pepper/chilli flakes/paprika, and use one or two homegrown ‘Ring of Fire’ chillies in the sauce This gives just the right heat, definitely hot without going into overburn! 

Chop/shred red cabbage. Remove hard center and keep intact for use as plug in the jar.

Place shredded cabbage in a bowl with water and sea salt. Stir and put plate on top of the bowl so all cabbage is submerged. Weight plate down with something heavy. Soak for 2 hours (at least), stirring and turning the cabbage thoroughly a few times.

Meanwhile soak five or six shitake mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes.

Julienne carrot and daikon/mooli. (I often soak the carrots with the cabbage in the salt water.)

Rinse cabbage a few times and let drain in a colander.

In a liquidiser/food processor place pear, roughly chopped garlic, sugar/raw honey, chives/onion, ginger and mushroom and kelp stock (without the mushrooms). Blend to smooth sauce.

Place prepared vegetables in a bowl, pour the sauce on top and add red pepper flakes/smoked paprika. Gently and thoroughly mix in all the ingredients.

Place ‘kimchi slaw’ in a clean jar (mason jars are great) and push down firmly. Fold a few outer leaves of the cabbage and cover the slaw. At this point you can put the cabbage heart on top to hold the vegetables down further. The vegetables should be submerged under the liquid. Close the jar, or cover with a cloth.

IMPORTANT: Keep in a cool visible place. If you’ve put the top on, you must burp the jar frequently to prevent it exploding — seriously! You can start to eat this delicious ‘slaw’ after three days. Mine rarely last longer than a week before they are eaten up!
Images: Eva giving a workshop on the art and culture of viili, Finish live yoghurt, at Halikonlahti Green Arts in Salo, Finland  (photo: Tuula Nikulainen); pumpkins, kefir and kombucha in Eva’s kitchen (photo: Eva Bakkeslett); sharing rømmekolle in the snow, northern Norway, 1940s (archive photograph); fermenting pumpkin and red cabbage kimchi (photo: Mark Watson); Mark shaking it up at a raw food demo, Bungay Suffolk (photo: Josiah Meldrum)

Eva Bakkeslett is an artist, filmmaker, curator and cultural activist exploring the potential for social change through gut feelings and gentle actions. She creates spaces and participatory experiences that challenge our thinking and unravels new narratives that connect us to the earth as a living organism. Eva lives in North Norway and shows, lectures and performs her work worldwide.
Mark Watson connects people, plants and places through walks, talks, teas, meads.

and other ferments. He has led medicine plant walks at Dark Mountain gatherings, and demonstrated how to make mead in five minutes at the launch of
Dark Mountain: Issue 8. As well as proofreading and downshifting, he is also part of the Dark Mountain production team and writes an occasional blog, Mark in Flowers. 

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Nutrition  (continuing)
Ea O Ka Aina: Advantages of decay in food system 2/23/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Jalapeño, Cilantro, Carrot Kraut 7/10/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Making sauerkraut at home 2/18/14
Ea O Ka Aina: "Sauerkimchi" Recip 3/14/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Fermaculture! 4/29/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Right Livlihood 10/19/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Fermenting Sauerkraut 6/23/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Green Papaya Sauerkraut 10/14/09


Another Year of Magical Thinking

SUBHEAD: If you think Honolulu is expensive, imagine the cost of a bag Doritos in Tesla's Mars colony.

By James Kunstler on 12 February 2018 for -

Image above: A photoshopped image by Elon Musk's Tesla Corporation advertizing it's automobile and promoting its rocket division. Total self-promotional ego trip. From (

A peculiar feature of the human condition is that a society in distress will call forth intellectual witch-doctors to put on a colorful show that distracts the supposedly thinking class from the insoluble quandaries that portend serious trouble ahead.

This feature is on display these days in the person of freelance space pioneer Elon Musk. He intends to establish a human colony on Mars of one million people by 2040.

Musk, who is also developer of the Tesla line of electric cars and businesses that make solar-electric gear and batteries, has tested a series of space vehicles, most recently last week’s celebrated launch of his Falcon Heavy Rocket, said to be the most powerful in the world.

It is just the precursor of the soon-to-come colossus Musk calls the BFR (“Big Fucking Rocket”) that will convey as many as 200 people at a time to their new home on the Red Planet.

NPR reporter Ari Shapiro was rhapsodizing about this “Space-X” project last week on the airwaves, lending it the media stamp-of-approval.

And since NPR is a major news source for the US thinking class especially, you can be sure this meme of colonizing Mars is now embedded in the brains of the Pareto distribution (“the law of the vital few”) who affect to be thought leaders in this land.

There’s an old gag about the space race of yore that goes something like this (trigger warning to the ethnically hyper-sensitive):
The UN convenes a General Assembly session on space travel. The ambassadors of various nations are asked to talk about their space projects. The Russians and the Americans tick off their prior accomplishments and announce plans to explore the planets. Finally, the ambassador from Poland takes his turn at the rostrum. “We intend to land a man on the sun,” he declares. There is a great hubbub in the assembly, cries of “say, what…?” and “wait a minute now….”

The Secretary-General turns to the Polish ambassador and says, “Your scientists must be out of their minds. It’s six thousand degrees up there! How can you possibly land a spacecraft on it?” A hush falls over the assembly. The Polish ambassador looks completely relaxed and serene. “We are going to do it at night!” he announces triumphantly.
NPR’s Shapiro interviewed blogger Tim Urban of the Wait But Why blog for the segment on Musk’s space program. Here’s a sample of their conversation:
URBAN: If humanity is, you know, like a precious photo album you’ve got, the Earth is like a hard drive you have it on. And any sane person would obviously back it up to a second hard drive. That’s kind of the idea here – is all of our eggs are currently on one planet. And if we can build a self-sustaining civilization on Mars, it’s much harder for humanity to go extinct.
SHAPIRO: And a million people is about how many people he thinks it would take for a population to be self-sustaining.
URBAN: Right, self-sustaining meaning if something catastrophic happened on Earth during some world war or something that has to do with, you know, a really bad-case scenario with climate change, maybe some – I don’t know – the species went extinct on Earth but ships stopped coming with supplies and anything else, a million people is enough that Mars’ population would be fine.
Not to put too fine a point on it, I never heard so much fucking nonsense in my life. There’s absolutely nothing that might make Mars a “sustainable” habitat for human beings, or probably any other form of Earthly life. The journey alone would destroy human bodies.

If you think that living in Honolulu is expensive, with most daily needs of the population shipped or flown in, imagine what it would be like sending a cargo of provisions (Doritos? Pepperoni sticks? Mountain Dew? Fabreeze?) to a million “consumers” up on Mars. Or do you suppose the colonists will “print” their food, water, and other necessities?

Elon Musk’s ventures have reportedly vacuumed in around $5 billion in federal subsidies. Mr. Musk is doing a fine job of keeping his benefactors entertained. Americans are still avid for adventures in space, where just about every other movie takes place.

I suppose it’s because they take us away from the awful conundrums of making a go of it here on Earth, a planet that humans were exquisitely evolved for (or designed for, if you will), and which we are in the process of rendering uninhabitable for ourselves and lots of other creatures.

This is our home. Can we talk about the necessary adjustments and arrangements we have to make in order to continue the human project here? Just based on our performance on this blue planet, we are not qualified to infect other parts of the solar system.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Tesla and the Laws of Physics 11/26/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Tesla's test in Puerto Rica 10/29/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Electric cars don't reduce CO2 8/19/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai and Tesla are newlyweds 8/11/17
Ea O Ka Aina: KIUC aims at 100% renewables 6/11/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Musktopia here we come! 4/3/17
Ea O Ka Aina: Solar power one island at a time 11/24/16
Ea O Ka Aina: KIUC on PV - Tesla on PowerWall 5/1/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Annals of pure bullshit - Coco Palms 6/22/14 
Ea O Ka Aina: Coco Palms Travesty 8/10/13   
Ea O Ka Aina: HEI afraid of Solar Power 10/12/12
Island Breath: Annals of False Advertizing - Kauai Lagoons 3/18/08

How much energy do we need?

SUBHEAD: A reduction of 75% in energy use could stay within the carrying capacity of the planet.

By Kris De Decker on 8 January 2018 in Low Tech Magazine -

Image above: John Marshall is 50 years old and live on the beach in San Jose, California. He was once a cell phone engineer. From original article.

Because energy fuels both human development and environmental damage, policies that encourage energy demand reduction can run counter to policies for alleviating poverty, and the other way around. Achieving both objectives can only happen if energy use is spread more equally across societies.

However, while it’s widely acknowledged that part of the global population is living in ‘energy poverty’, there’s little attention given to the opposite condition, namely ‘energy excess’ or ‘energy decadence’. Researchers have calculated minimum levels of energy use needed to live a decent life, but what about maximum levels?

 Energy Use Per Capita

Humanity needs to reduce its energy use radically if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, the exhaustion of non-renewable resources, and the destruction of the natural environment upon which our survival depends. [1]

Targets for reductions in carbon emissions and energy use are usually framed in terms of national and international percentage reductions, but the energy use per head of the human population varies enormously between and within countries, no matter how it is calculated. [2]

If we divide total primary energy use per country by population, we see that the average North American uses more than twice the energy of the average European (6,881 kgoe versus 3,207 kgoe, meaning kilograms of oil equivalent).

Within Europe, the average Norwegian (5,818 kgoe) uses almost three times more energy than the average Greek (2,182 kgoe).

The latter uses three to five times more energy than the average Angolan (545 kgoe), Cambodian (417 kgoe) or Nicaraguan (609 kgoe), who uses two to three times the energy of the average Bangladeshi (222 kgoe). [3]
These figures include not only the energy used directly in households, but also energy used in transportation, manufacturing, power production and other sectors. Such a calculation makes more sense than looking at household energy consumption alone, because people consume much more energy outside their homes, for example through the products that they buy. [4]

Average energy use per capita 2014 LTM
Image above: Chart of per capita energy consumption in the equivalent of kilograms of oil. For North America the average consumption per person is over 2,000 gallons of petroleum oil. From original article.

Such a 'production-based' calculation is not perfect, because countries with high energy use per capita often import a lot of manufactured goods from countries with lower energy use per capita. The energy used in the production of these goods is attributed to the exporting countries – meaning that the energy use per capita in the most ‘developed’ countries is an underestimation.

Finding out about the distribution of energy use within countries requires data with higher spatial resolution. For example, an analysis of variations in household energy consumption (electricity + gas) and energy use in private transportation in the UK shows that the average energy use per capita can differ fivefold depending on the area. [2]

Taking into account both differences between and within countries, as well as the outsourcing of manufacturing (a ‘consumption-based’ calculation), the highest energy users worldwide can contribute 1,000 times as much carbon emissions as the lowest energy users. [5]

Inequality not only concerns the quantity of energy, but also its quality. People in industrialized countries have access to a reliable, clean and (seemingly) endless supply of electricity and gas.

On the other hand, two in every five people worldwide (3 billion people) rely on wood, charcoal or animal waste to cook their food, and 1.5 billion of them don’t have electric lighting. [6]

These fuels cause indoor air pollution, and can be time- and labour-intensive to obtain. If modern fuels are available in these countries, they’re often expensive and/or less reliable.

Beyond Energy Poverty: Energy Decadence

It’s now widely acknowledged that these 3 billion people in the developing world are living in ‘energy poverty’. [7][8]

In 2011, the United Nations and the World Bank launched the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, which aims to “ensure universal access to modern energy services” by 2030. Energy poverty has also gained attention in developed countries, where it is mainly focused on inadequate space heating.

A 2015 study found that up to 54 million Europeans are not able to adequately heat their homes in winter. [9]

The European Commission launched the Energy Poverty Observatory in 2017, which will conduct research and provide guidelines to national governments for setting up measures to address fuel poverty. [8]

Bringing the rest of the world up to the living standards and energy use of rich countries is not compatible with the environmental problems we face.

However, while it’s recognized that part of the global population is using not enough energy, there is not the same discussion of people who are using too much energy. [2] [10] [11]

Nevertheless, solving the tension between demand reduction and energy poverty can only happen if those who use ‘too much’ reduce their energy use. Bringing the rest of the world up to the living standards and energy use of rich countries – the implicit aim of ‘human development’ – would solve the problem of inequality, but it’s not compatible with the environmental problems we face.

Image above: Most families living in rural off-grid areas of Africa use dim kerosene lamps to light their homes at night. Even a modest solar PV panel can provide enough light for socialization and doing school homework. From original article.

Based on the figures given above, if every human on Earth would use as much energy as the average Western European or North American, total world energy use and carbon emissions would be at least two to four times higher than they are today. This is an underestimation, because to achieve the same living standards developing countries first need to build an infrastructure – roads, electricity grids, et cetera – to make this possible, which also requires a lot of energy. [12]

Consequently, whilst much work has been done around fuel poverty, there is a parallel debate to be had about ‘energy decadence’ or ‘energy excess’. [2]

The quest for ‘energy sufficiency’ – a level of energy use that is both fair and sustainable – should involve not only ‘floors’ (enough for a necessary purpose) but also ‘ceilings’ (too much for safety and welfare, in the short or long term). [13]

Otherwise, we would be mortgaging the health of future generations to realize development gains in the present. [14]

Calculating Energy Floors and Ceilings

How do we define energy decadence? How much is ‘too much’ energy use? To a large extent, we can build upon decades of research into energy poverty, which has measured the components of a minimum acceptable standard of living. [14]

For example, the Millenium Project of the UN Development Program establishes a minimum level of 500 kgoe per person per year – an amount of energy that is almost four times below the world average. [15]

Some researchers have addressed energy decadence in a similar way, calculating a maximum acceptable standard of living. For example, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology proposed the 2,000 watt society, which implies a worldwide energy use per capita of per 1,500 kgoe per year, while the Global Commons Institute’s Contraction and Convergence proposal limits energy use to 1,255 kgoe per person per year. [10][13][16]

These levels of energy use per capita correspond to a reduction of 20-35% below the world average today.

Because energy poverty research only investigates ‘floors’ and not ‘ceilings’ of energy use, minimum energy levels are calculated from the bottom-up. Researchers investigate how much energy is required to live a decent life, based on a set of goods and services that are considered essential.

On the other hand, maximum energy levels – above which energy use is considered to be excessive and unsustainable – are calculated from the top down. Researchers determine a ‘safe’ level of global energy use based on some indicator of the carrying capacity of the planet – such as a level of carbon emissions that is thought to keep global warming within certain limits – and divide it by the world population.

Between the upper boundary set by the carrying capacity of the planet, and a lower boundary set by decent levels of wellbeing for all lies a band of sustainable energy use, situated somewhere between energy poverty and energy decadence. [14]

These boundaries not only imply that the rich lower their energy use, but also that the poor don’t increase their energy use too much. However, there is no guarantee that the maximum levels are in fact higher than the minimum levels.

Between the upper boundary set by the carrying capacity of the planet, and a lower boundary set by decent levels of wellbeing for all lies a band of sustainable energy use.

When a minimum level of energy use is calculated from the bottom-up, it remains to be seen if this level can be maintained without destroying the environment. On the other hand, if a maximum level of energy use per capita is calculated from the top down, it remains to be seen if this ‘safe’ level of energy use is sufficient to live a decent life. If the ‘floor’ is higher than the ‘ceiling’, the conclusion would be that sustainable wellbeing for all is simply impossible.

To make matters worse, defining minimum and maximum levels is fraught with difficulty. On the one hand, when calculating from the top down, there’s no agreement about the carrying capacity of the planet, whether it concerns a safe concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, the remaining fossil fuel reserves, the measurements of ecological damage, or the impact of renewable energy, advances in energy efficiency, and population growth.

On the other hand, for those taking a bottom-up approach, defining what constitutes a ‘decent’ life is just as debatable.

Needs and Wants

The minimum and maximum levels of energy use mentioned above are meant to be universal: every world citizen is entitled to the same amount of energy. However, although distributing energy use equally across the global population may sound fair, in fact the opposite is true.

The amount of energy that people ‘need’ is not only up to them. It also depends on the climate (people living in cold climates will require more energy for heating than those living in warm climates), the culture (the use of air conditioning in the US versus the siesta in Southern Europe), and the infrastructure (cities that lack public transport and cycling facilities force people into cars).

Differences in energy efficiency can also have a significant impact on the “need” for energy. For example, a traditional three-stone cooking fire is less energy efficient than a modern gas cooking stove, meaning that the use of the latter requires less energy to cook a similar meal.

It’s not only the appliances that determine how much energy is needed, but also the infrastructure: if electricity production and transmission have relatively poor efficiency, people need more primary energy, even if they use the same amount of electricity at home.

Image above: It does not take a great deal of money or technical skill to transform the most isolated places with independent of grid electricity. From original article.

To account for all these differences, most researchers approach the diagnosis of energy poverty by focusing on ‘energy services’, not on a particular level of energy use. [17]

People do not demand energy or fuel perse – what they need are the services that energy provides.

For example, when it comes to lighting, people do not need a particular amount of energy but an adequate level of light depending on what they are doing.

An example of this service-based approach is NGO Practical Action’s Total Energy Access (TEA) indicator, which was launched in 2010. [17][18]

The TEA measures households in developing countries against prescribed minimum services standards for lighting, cooking and water heating, space heating, space and food cooling, and information and communication services.

For example, the minimum level for lighting in households is 300 lumens, and Practical Action provides similar standards for other energy services, not only in households but also in work environments and community buildings.

Needs are universal, objective, non-substitutable, cross-generational, and satiable. Wants are subjective, evolving over time, individual, substitutable and insatiable.

Some energy poverty indicators go one step further still. They don’t specify energy services, but basic human needs or capabilities (depending on the theory). In these modes, basic needs or capabilities are considered to be universal, but the means to achieve them are considered geographically and culturally specific. [10] [17]

The focus of these needs-based indicators is on measuring the conditions of human well-being, rather than on specifying the requirements for achieving these outcomes. [19]

 Examples of human basic needs are clean water and nutrition, shelter, thermal comfort, a non-threatening environment, significant relationships, education and healthcare.

Basic needs are considered to be universal, objective, non-substitutable (for example, insufficient food intake cannot be solved by increasing dwelling space, or the other way around), cross-generational (the basic needs of future generations of humans will be the same as those of present generations), and satiable (the contribution of water, calories, or dwelling space to basic needs can be satiated).

This means that thresholds can be conceived where serious harm is avoided. ‘Needs’ can be distinguished from ‘wants’, which are subjective, evolving over time, individual, substitutable and insatiable.

Focusing on basic needs in this way makes it possible to distinguish between ‘necessities’ and ‘luxuries’, and to argue that human needs, present and future, trump present and future ‘wants’. [14][17]

Change over Time: Increasing Dependency on Energy

Focusing on energy services or basic needs can help to specify maximum levels of energy use. Instead of defining minimum energy service levels (such as 300 lumens of light per household), we could define maximum energy services levels (say 2,000 lumens of light per household).

These energy service levels could then be combined to calculate maximum energy use levels per capita or household. However, these would be valid only in specific geographical and cultural contexts, such as countries, cities, or neighborhoods – and not universally applicable. Likewise, we could define basic needs and then calculate the energy that is required to meet them in a specific context.

However, the focus on energy services or basic needs also reveals a fundamental problem. If the goods and services necessary for a decent life free from poverty are seen not as universally applicable, but as relative to the prevailing standards and customs of a particular society, it becomes clear that such standards evolve over time as technology and customary ways of life change. [11]

Change over time, especially since the twentieth century, reveals an escalation in conventions and standards that result in increasing energy consumption. The ‘need satisfiers’ have become more and more energy-intensive, which has made meeting basic needs as problematic as fulfilling ‘wants’.

Energy poverty research in industrial countries shows that the minimum energy level required to meet basic needs is constantly on the rise. [11][20][21]

What is sufficient today is not necessarily sufficient tomorrow. For example, several consumer goods which did not exist in the 1980s, such as mobile phones, personal computers, and internet access, were seen as absolute necessities by 40-41% of the UK public in 2012. [20]
These days in the industrial world, even the energy poor are living above the carrying capacity of the planet.
Other technologies that are now considered to be minimal requirements have gone through a similar evolution. For example, central heating and daily hot showers are only a few decades old, but these technologies are now considered to be an essential need by a majority of people in industrialised countries. [22]

In fact, these days in the industrial world, even the energy poor are living above the carrying capacity of the planet.

For example, if the entire UK population were to live according to the minimum energy budget that has been determined in workshops with members of the public, then (consumption-based) emissions per capita would only decrease from 11.8 to 7.3 tonnes per person, while the UN Development Program’s target to limit the increase in average world temperature is less than two tonnes of carbon per person per year. [14]

In short, the ‘floor’ is three times higher than the ‘ceiling’.

Challenging Needs and Wants

“By equating what is ‘required’ with what is ‘normal’”, write UK energy poverty researchers, “we actively support escalating expectations of need, which runs counter to objectives like those of reducing energy demand… To achieve demand reduction entails challenging embedded norms rather than following them.” [11]

In other words, we can only solve energy poverty and energy decadence if we manage to decouple human need satisfaction from energy intensive ‘need satisfiers’. [21]

One way to do that is by increasing energy efficiency.

In a 1985 paper called Basic needs and much more with one kilowatt per capita, researchers argue that the amount of energy needed to avoid energy poverty will decline thanks to continuing improvements in energy efficiency – from 750 kgoe per capita per year in 1985 to only 570 kgoe in 2030. [23]

In reality, this is not what is happening, because efficiency gains are continually matched by more energy-intensive ways of life. However, if this trend could be halted or even reversed, advances in energy efficiency would allow us to live increasingly low energy lives.

For example, to produce the 300 lumens that Practical Action considers the minimum level for lighting, a LED-light requires six times less electricity than an incandescent light bulb.

More importantly, basic needs can be met with different means, and the relative necessity of some energy services could and should be questioned. This approach can be labeled ‘sufficiency’.

Energy services could be reduced (smaller TVs or lighter and slower cars, or less TV watching and car driving) or replaced by less energy-intensive ones (using a bicycle instead of a car, buying more fresh instead of frozen food, playing boardgames instead of watching television).

Substitution can also involve community services. In principle, public service delivery could bring economies of scale and thus reduce the energy involved in providing many household services: public transport, public bathing houses, community kitchens, laundrettes, libraries, internet cafés, public telephone boxes, and home delivery services are just some examples. [24] [25]
Combining sufficiency with efficiency measures, German researchers calculated that the typical electricity use of a two-person household could be lowered by 75%, without reverting to drastic lifestyle changes such as washing clothes by hand or generating power with excercise machines. [25]

Although this only concerns a part of total energy demand, reducing electricity use in the household also leads to reductions in energy use for manufacturing and transportation.

If we assume that similar reductions are possible in other domains, then the German households considered here could do with roughly 800 kgoe per capita per year, four times below the average energy use per head in Europe.

This suggests that a modern life is compatible with much lower energy demand, at least when we assume that a reduction of 75% in energy use would be enough to stay within the carrying capacity of the planet.

This article was originally written for The DEMAND Centre.


[1] Encouraging renewable energy sources alone cannot reduce carbon emissions, for two reasons. First, energy demand rises faster than the share of renewable energy, meaning that solar and wind power plants are not replacing fossil fuels, but accommodating part of a growing demand for energy. Secondly, renewable energy systems are highly dependent on fossil fuels for their manufacture, especially when we count on an infrastructure that aims to match supply to demand at all times. Energy efficiency is not getting us anywhere either, because advances in more efficient technology often result in new or more energy-intensive products and services, and because energy efficiency makes unsustainable practices non-negotiable.

[2] Chatterton, Tim, et al. "Energy justice? A spatial analysis of variations in household direct energy consumption in the UK." eceee, 2015.

[3] Energy use (kilogram of oil equivalent per capita), 1960-2014. World Bank.

[4] Consumption of energy, Eurostat, 2017.

[5] Piketty, Thomas. "Carbon and inequality: from Kyoto to Paris." Trends in the Global Inequality of Carbon Emissions (1998-2013) and Prospects for An Equitable Adaptation Fund. Paris: Paris School of Economics (2015).

[6] Poor people’s energy outlook 2010, Practical Action. For later versions, see:

[7] Sustainable Energy For All, United Nations & World Bank.

[8] Thomson, Harriet, Stefan Bouzarovski, and Carolyn Snell. "Rethinking the measurement of energy poverty in Europe: A critical analysis of indicators and data." Indoor and Built Environment (2017): 1420326X17699260.

[9] Team, Authoring, and Claire Baffert. "Energy poverty and vulnerable consumers in the energy sector across the EU: analysis of policies and measures." Policy 2 (2015).

[10] Steinberger, Julia K., and J. Timmons Roberts. "From constraint to sufficiency: The decoupling of energy and carbon from human needs, 1975–2005." Ecological Economics 70.2 (2010): 425-433.

[11] Walker, Gordon, Neil Simcock, and Rosie Day. "Necessary energy uses and a minimum standard of living in the United Kingdom: energy justice or escalating expectations?." Energy Research & Social Science 18 (2016): 129-138.

[12] Lamb, William F., and Narasimha D. Rao. "Human development in a climate-constrained world: what the past says about the future." Global Environmental Change 33 (2015): 14-22.

[13] Darby, Sarah. "Enough is as good as a feast–sufficiency as policy." Proceedings, European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. La Colle sur Loup, 2007.

[14] Gough, Ian. "Heat, Greed and Human Need." Books (2017).

[15] Energy for a sustainable future, Report and Recommendations, The Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC), 28 April 2010, New York.[1].pdf

[16] Bretschger, Lucas, Roger Ramer, and Florentine Schwark. 2000 Watt Society?."

[17] Day, Rosie, Gordon Walker, and Neil Simcock. "Conceptualising energy use and energy poverty using a capabilities framework." Energy Policy 93 (2016): 255-264.

[18] Total Energy Access, Practical Action.

[19] Rao, Narasimha D., and Jihoon Min. "Decent living standards: material prerequisites for human wellbeing." Social Indicators Research (2017): 1-20.

[20] Mack, Joanna, et al. "Attitudes to necessities in the PSE 2012 survey: are minimum standards becoming less generous?." PSE-UK Working Paper Analysis Series 4 (2013).,%20Lansley,%20Nandy,%20Patazis)%20Oct_2013.pdf

[21] Mattioli, Giulio. "Transport needs in a climate-constrained world. A novel framework to reconcile social and environmental sustainability in transport." Energy Research & Social Science 18 (2016): 118-128.

[22] Hand, Martin, Elizabeth Shove, and Dale Southerton. "Explaining showering: A discussion of the material, conventional, and temporal dimensions of practice." Sociological Research Online 10.2 (2005).

[23] Goldemberg, Jose, et al. "Basic needs and much more with one kilowatt per capita." Ambio (1985): 190-200.

 [24] Thomas, Stefan, et al. Energy sufficiency policy: an evolution of energy efficiency policy or radically new approaches?. Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie, 2015.

[25] Brischke, Lars-Arvid, et al. Energy sufficiency in private households enabled by adequate appliances. Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie, 2015.


Wailua Nui Update

SUBHEAD: No sign of County or State authorities yet as Hawaiian "occupation" of Kauai Coco Palms site continues.

By Brittany Lyte on 2 February 2018 for Civil Beat -

Image above: Photo of the entry gate to the Wailua Nui Hawaiian encampment. Photo by Brittany Lyte. From original article.

[IslandBreath Publisher's note: The young Hawaiians doing indigenous farming near the mouth of the Wailua River are doing what we all should be doing - living on the land and growing food. The Coco Palms Resort site was always an abomination to Hawaiian sovereignty, culture and history. The site is part of a large, intricate and most sacred Hawaiian cultural system on Kauai that extends from the mouth of the Wailua River (largest in Hawaii) past the giant heiau near Opaekaa Falls. The site is totally inappropriate for commercial resort development in that it is located at a choke point for traffic and is threatened by rising seas, beach erosion and storm surge caused by global warming. The developers of the Coco Palms Resort are scam artists who will be in and out of the deal as fast as they can, and off to paramilitary protected estates in New Zealand if their Ponzi scheme is successful. We stand with the Hawaiian "occupiers".]

Authorities have not intervened in the ongoing occupation of Kauai’s famed Coco Palms resort, but the number of people who remain there in defiance of a court order had dwindled Thursday night.

Four days after a judge-ordered property eviction went into effect for two encampment leaders, about a dozen Native Hawaiians claiming ancestral ties to the land continued to live on the property while farming taro, keeping watch over ancient burials and hosting Hawaiian language classes.

The State Sheriff Division is the entity that is responsible for responding to a violation of a court order, and Hawaii Department of Public Safety spokesperson Toni Schwartz said Wednesday that the division has received an official request for assistance from the property owner’s representative.

“The Sheriffs will work with the property owner, (Kauai Police Department) and the occupants towards a resolution to this matter,” Schwartz said in an email. “For safety and security reasons, we are not at this time, free to discuss any strategies that may be utilized in any related enforcement action.”

On Thursday evening, an ashen sky periodically squeezed out rain showers as a protester harvested a coconut tree. Seated in a row of folding beach chairs lining the encampment entry gate, five occupiers kept watch for anything coming their way — be it food donations from supporters or a widely anticipated visit from police. More than humidity, the night air held a palpable anxiety.

“I’m not trying to be a hero,” said Ke’ala Lopez, 22, an anthropology student at Columbia University who has been sleeping at the camp since New Year’s Day. “If law enforcement does come, I would like to have a civil conversation with them. I would like to show them documentation of why we are allowed to be here and why we are not under their direction or authority.

On social media occupiers made requests for supporters to join them in keeping a physical presence on the property. Beyond donations of tents, extension cords and ice, they asked supporters to bring cellphones and cameras to help document any police “action.”

“Sheriffs waiting for there to be little presence to move in, we need as many people as possible to hold space at gates 24/7,” Lopez posted on her Facebook page.

Image above: Photo of e’ala Lopez, 22, stands beside thriving taro plants cultivated by Coco Palms site Hawaiian gardeners. Photo by Brittany Lyte. From original article.

“We’re still here because we’re trying to continue our mission of stewarding the land regardless of what has been happening legally,” Lopez said Thursday. “If the sheriffs come and try to forcibly remove me from being able to do that then that’s a reflection on them. I am a peaceful person.”

At issue is an impassioned battle over land rights at the site of the long-shuttered resort. A judge’s ruling last week confirmed the validity of the special warranty deed to the property which Coco Palms Hui had purchased from an insurance company.

Defendants Noa Mau-Espirito and Kamu “Charles” Hepa employed Hawaiian kingdom law when they fought for their standing as the lineal descendants of the property’s last owners prior to the overthrow of the kingdom.

Judge Michael K. Soong ordered the ejection of the co-defendants from the property effective 6 p.m. last Sunday. Occupiers said Mau-Espirito and Hepa were still at the encampment Thursday night.

The dispute has lasted almost a year, stalling a planned redevelopment of the hotel where Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” was filmed in 1961. Long before the resort popularized torch-lighting ceremonies as a mainstay of Hawaii hospitality, the property was the 19th century home of Kauai’s last queen, Deborah Kapule Kaumuali’i.

Chad Waters and Tyler Greene of the Honolulu-based redevelopment firm Coco Palms Hui say they are committed to reopening the site as the Coco Palms Resort by Hyatt with an estimated $135 million project that will pay tribute to the property’s storied heritage.

The resort has been closed since it was heavily damaged in 1992 by Hurricane Iniki.

“Our commitment to rebuild the Coco Palms resort has never wavered,” Waters told Civil Beat. “All development projects have their own set of unique challenges. We work very hard to resolve all issues in a fair manner. “We know that when the court is asked to step in that it is going to take much longer than hoped or desired,” he said. “At this point, the Court has heard both sides and they have ruled that exclusive possession belongs to Coco Palms Hui, LLC. The writ was issued and now in the hands of law enforcement.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Okay given to destroy Paradise 6/10/17 
Ea O Ka Aina: Coco Palms Good to Go 3/11/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Annals of pure bullshit - Coco Palms 6/22/14  
Ea O Ka Aina: Coco Palms Travesty 8/10/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Wailua Beach "Elephant Path" 12/22/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Wailua Bike Path Consideration  12/12/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Prehistory Wailua Ahupuaa 1/20/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Future 2020 - Part 1 1/18/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaiian Ceremony for Wailua 11/11/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Preserve Wailua Beach 9/13/09
Island Breath: Annals of False Advertizing - Kauai Lagoons 3/18/08
Island Breath: Coco Palms Developers Break Promises 1/14/07
Island Breath: Coco Palms & Traffic Problem 3/1/06
Island Breath: Coco Palms Review 1/8/06
Island Breath: Kauai Coconut Coast Overdeveloped 11/12/05
Island Breath: Coco Palms Development 12/28/04


US military makes Hawaii a target

SUBHEAD: Things Hawaii must do in response to recent false ballistic missile alert that terrified many.

By Gary Hooser on 29 January 2018 in Gary Hooser's Blog -

Image above: An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, flies past the north shore of Kauai on July 14, 2014 during RIMPAC 2014. Photo by Joseph Pfaff. From (

Providing leadership and support for a strong and conscientious movement toward global peace and the dismantling of all nuclear weaponry, must be Hawaii’s response to the events of this past Saturday morning.

To be clear, I believe in having a strong national defense. I know there are bad people in the world who want to hurt us, and we need to protect ourselves from those threats.

But hosting a vast nuclear arsenal is not the answer. And neither is it necessary for the United States to be the largest exporter of guns, tanks, bombs and military weapons in the world, supplying our enemies as well as our friends.

My father was a career Navy man and I grew up on military bases. Members of my family currently serve in the military, and I am proud and thankful for their service. But our national conversation needs to shift from investing in guns, bullets and missiles toward investing in diplomacy, human rights and the alleviation of poverty.

The ballistic missile attack that did not happen, should be our call to action. Knowing we are personally vulnerable to the narcissistic and delusional games played by our obviously unstable so-called world leaders, is more than sufficient justification to at least try to take away their ballistic nuclear missiles.

Hawaii can lead the world conversation by starting here at home with an honest and open discussion about the large military presence in our islands and its impact on the environment, on our economy, and on our core value systems.

As the military presence in Hawaii grows, so does our attraction as a target. When the testing and tracking of missiles transitions into the establishment of a launching site for missiles, our risk factor jumps exponentially.

This is our 6,000 lb gorilla in the room, and this is a conversation that must occur.

As Ikaika Hussey tweeted on the day the missiles were not launched,
“The world should remember that we’re not a target because of our unique history or cultures, but because of the way that the US has turned our islands into the command center for the Pacific fleet. Militarism is reducing, not enhancing, our security.”
Hawaii must seize this moment.

The launching of the ballistic missile that never happened, can, bizarrely enough, be the catalyst needed to propel our state forward as a leader in the effort to bring sanity and peace to the world.

Both local and global conversations must occur, and Hawaii can play a unique and important role in hosting and convening those discussions. If we are serious about pulling our planet back from the edge we only recently had a taste of, we must embrace an active and leadership role toward peace.

Image above: A good reason Hawaii is in the crosshairs is Pearl Harbor, the center of American domination of the Pacific Ocean with nuclear weapons systems. Note two nuclear attack subs in foreground. From (

Hawaii’s leaders at all levels must immediately and loudly proclaim their resolute support for a diplomatic resolution to the situation in North Korea.
  • Our voices in Hawaii must unite with a message to all who hold the levers of global power to “stand down,” cease their military bluster and posturing, and come to the table of diplomacy and reason.
Hawaii as a “Geneva of the Pacific” is not a new idea and it is time now to breathe fresh life into it.

The University of Hawaii, Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution was established in 1986.

This body has the potential to convene and host both local and global conversations to promote peace and the ultimate dismantling of nuclear weapons through-out the world.

This really is the only answer to the madness that engulfed us this past Saturday morning.
  • We can demand the firing, transfer, or forced retirement of all responsible for the debacle that occurred that day, and we should, for the mismanagement is inexcusable. 
  • We can redesign the early warning systems and policies, and we should, as they were clearly inadequate.
  • We can blast President Trump for his irresponsible actions and comments that have exacerbated and unnecessarily inflamed the tension between North Korea and the United States, and yes we absolutely should as his conduct is also inexcusable.
But at the end of the day, we must work toward ending the constant escalation of conflict in the world, and certainly we must strive to rid the planet of nuclear weapons.

While it might sound pollyanna-ish to some, think about it for a moment. What else are we going to do? There are not enough storm drains in Hawaii to hold all of us.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: strafing run at Salt Pond Beach 12/9/17


The Good Life First

SUBHEAD: The good life or the ballot? Both you say? I say the good life first, the ballot second.

By Patrick Noble on 23 January 2018 for FEASTA -

Image above: Integrate your flock into a healthy growing system that is self-supporting. From (

We have reached a pivotal moment. I think we can be certain that governments and other powers, such as corporations and their promotional arms, such as the BBC, are set on destruction. The powers have made no appropriate attempts to act on climate change, or on the current ecological catastrophe.

It is plain that those in power think climate change is not real – rather it is a bee in the bonnet of just enough of the electorate to make it politically worth the posture of a response.

Since the first world climate summit in 1990 carbon dioxide emissions have risen steadily, so that by 2017 they were 60% higher than when nations first pledged to act.

Argument within governing systems is without hope of being heard, or even vaguely understood.

But there is hope. It is (as it has always been) in living the good life. Though such a course may fail, until it does so, it remains a source of happiness. It is now the only productive course we have to mitigate the worst of climate change.

By all means speak to the powers – you never know – and this writer is frequently wrong – but without rapid and then hopefully fashionable personal change, there’s not a realistic hope in hell…

If political engagement means that we become distracted from the problems of our own lives, then that engagement will be more destructive than productive. To consider that social change comes more from hierarchical instruction than personal consideration denies laws of physics.

Crowds, electorates, gangs, or societies are made up of the physics of people – one by one.

A crowd is five people, thirty people, a thousand people with those specific weights, energies and substances.

But the crowd; the electorate; the corporation; the government are also imagined – they are ideas in our singular heads.

The politically-engaged proposition (political influence is more powerful than the good life) suggests that to live well, we lobby an abstract authority to permit us to live how we choose and then, because consensus denies our request, we can continue to live how we do not choose.

Oh democracy, we say with a sigh – it’s bad, but not as bad as the alternatives. We propose that we are not moral beings – that we are a part of the moral consent of the crowd.

We misname that permission as liberality – we’d do better to accept it as permissiveness.

And so, climate change “authorities” jet to so many climate conferences, that they may be among the most climate-destructive groups on Earth.

Likewise, I may vote green, while taking holiday flights. I say that I lobby for the greater good, and propose that my small footprint is insignificant relative to the power of a green cross in the ballot.

Meanwhile political consensus (the amoral permission) is an idea. It does not exist. People exist.

One by one, we have physics, ecological connections, unique dreams and also, of course – common dependencies. We are responsible for all of those things. Our own causes generate unique effects, which only we can understand.

No greater good will remedy them. The greater good cannot see them. We walk in personally-imprinted landscapes.

People cause climate change. Governments cannot do so. Governments are communally accepted ideas (accepted by coercion, violence, inheritance, fearful prudence, or the ballot). Ideas have not the physics to cause anything.

Living the good life in that landscape is the greatest contribution to the greater good, since the greater good is the physical, moral and spiritual addition of our unique experience and contributory action to all the other unique experiences, which together make the whole.

Culture is what I do. Of course, I converse with others about my effects. It is cellular. I am both complete and incomplete. I am myself and my society and in the end my species.

My species has evolved within groups – as a social species. Ours is a eusocial evolution. Even so, every experience which enters the commons of folk memory, or tradition has first entered the senses of an individual.

No-one can experience birth, death, wind, sunshine and rain, but on their own. Yet my and all our yearnings are also to properly belong in family, friendship, neighbourhood, religion, tradition, memory…

Before it is too late, we must pay attention to our unique and lonely senses – to what we love and to what feeds us in taste, scent, sight, sound… We must be attentive. Those things will be modified by our inattention; by our distracted attention to more powerful notions of economic governance.

Climate is warming by my actions. The casino does not register it. If we listen we’ll hear the change. Already, at the dawn chorus, some small birds have ceased to sing.

We inherited a living culture. Our lives are the culture. We, not governments, bequeath that culture to our children and beyond.

The household remains as the model for the economy as a whole. The economy is a collective of households. It is true that the casino of rent, currency manipulation, usury, trade in shares and bonds and so on is not related to the household. But the casino is not an economy. It is a casino. Modern economists – even most green economists live strategically inside that casino to manipulate it for the better. They are misguided. The following are also disconnected from the casino – pillaged soils, pillaged ecologies, pillaged resources – that is: capital is not connected to the casino. But pillaged soil, ecology and resource and also diminishing infrastructure capital are very directly and sensually connected to the household – and to me. They are my responsibility. Their cause is my diminished responsibility.

Listen! – The household is ingenious and fierce and is rooted in family and folk tradition. It is limited to the restraints of wage, local resources and neighbourly opinion and is a dynamo for the pursuit of what we may call the most appropriate distribution of happiness. Isn’t that what we want for an economy?
Yet, modern European and American households have abandoned those restraints for what they see as the larger and progressive world of the governing casino. Even so, modern households are responsible for cascading ecologies and climate change.

They provide the physics to the casino’s abstraction. The abstraction can fix nothing and it causes nothing – doughnut economics, or true cost accounting fix nothing.

Only by fixing the household – the physical acts of the sensual, sensitive household, can we can fix ecology and economy. Only through the household do we have a landscape which is worth the governing.

But here’s the thing – who does not want to come home? We are prodigal sons and daughters unravelling threads to our various and anxious ways home.

Don’t forget that restraints give shape and meaning – borders can be drawn to be beautiful and true. We are placed within them. They trace the possible forms of home.

Rationally (abstractly) climate change is already beyond technological recall and settled cultures are set on almost certain unsettlement. The most populated cities and communities (and most ancient) are coastal communities, which must soon migrate to higher land.

Nearly all central government offices will be beneath the tide. Yet those government offices are (almost universally) making no attempt to guide their dependent populations to act on climate change.

The miracle could be the household.

Most of us agree that we are part of a collective madness and so we attempt to manipulate and reason within the madness – by petition, at the ballot and by consumer-choices. I disagree. Why don’t we school ourselves to be sane?

The governing psychosis oversees a changing physical landscape of people and resources.

The physics is where we should be. Physics reacts to our tools and teaches us how to belong. People change the physics. Corporations? – they are a part of the governing psychosis and they are also abstract.

Has anyone seen a corporation? – they don’t exist beyond an idea and our consent to it. Let’s remove consent. It’s late – but there may still be time to bail out and descend to solid ground.

The casino (which we pretend is an economy) will collapse – unless beforehand, ecology, or climate change wreck the culture as a whole. Money flow and the power of what we do – that is energy flow, are directly related. Perhaps 95% of that energy is from fossil fuels. Even so, current debt-created and quantitively-eased money-flow has exceeded even that vast fossilised under-pinning.

In a sense fossil fuels had suspended time and negated laws of nature – we dreamed that history had ended. It had not. Instead, history accumulated invisibly in cultural effects, which were sequestered beyond our collective imagination.

 Most in positions of power and their academic and journalistic sycophants, or critics remain inside that collective. That collective imagination will not be changed. We can reason within its borders, but reason from the real world of sunshine and rain will be treated as nonsense. Inside the casino, it does not rain.

Meanwhile, nothing can replace the power of fossil fuels. They came and money-flow vastly expanded. Now they must go – and money-flow must dramatically shrink. It will be confined to limits of natural physics again.

Collapse is inevitable.

When the casino collapses, companies fold, unemployment soars, tax revenues crash and infrastructures of social security, health-care, building and road maintenance and so on, crumble. The casino will bring down the real economy.

Once again, households can be lifeboats in the wreckage.

After the crash, what will change? Looking around at fields, crops, houses, roads, bridges, harbours… – nothing – nothing at all. The ideas will have changed – corporate structures, currency values, the complacency or anger of the crowd, the excitement or despair of the stock market…

All that is physical will remain, while all that was polemical, coercive, psychotic, or despotic will be in chaos.

The same food will be on the shelves, but we may have no wage to buy it. The same crop will grow in my field, but my tractor may be short of fuel to harvest it. The ecological means to the needs of an economy will remain unchanged. The sun will shine and the rain will fall. Trade’s people will have retained their skills.

Though money-flow will have lost its fossil power, still, all that is essential will remain – food, shelter, good conversation, people gathering to sing at the piano… Yet, they are a tiny percentage of what we used to buy, just yesterday, as we pillaged the Earth. We can be happy – rich in good things – without asking for more.

If I’ve lost my wage – still, all that is best of what a wage could buy will remain. My friends, family, neighbours, colleagues… will remain. All will be unchanged, but for the money, the governance and the high-pitched shrieking of share-holders and currency manipulators.

That is why, rather than pushing for a more benign casino, which registers natural capital, eco-system services and so on, we should divest from the casino and step by step build a real economy of people and resources, which can emerge alive from beneath the coming rubble. I don’t mean baked bean tins and bunkers.

I mean that we shop with businesses which are not financed by the amoral stock market, but simply by me, the purchaser.

A community of trade’s people, proper shops, village/corner shops and stores, street markets and farmers’ markets, pubs, libraries, theatres and concert halls, meeting houses, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, council buildings… can be revived in the transition town manner- perhaps with a protective local currency and perhaps via locally issued (non-tradeable) shares, or bonds.

If I don’t find what I need by my local pound, then that lack is revealed and it may be to someone’s advantage to learn the missing trade (perhaps myself). Step by step we can divest from the garments of the casino (are we sure it had any clothes?) and put on what we can find in our terrain.

Am I fixated on aviation? – Yes – because it is both the least necessary and the most destructive of all our activities. Everyone, everywhere and forever could stop flying with very little effect on their lives.

We’ve no need to wait, while we lobby for carbon taxes, air traffic duty, or against runway expansion. Family connections? – jet-propelled connections will impoverish the lives of those we’d connect with. Love? Filial bonds? It’s an easy equation to understand. Trans-oceanic family duties contain a very near betrayal of still deeper bonds. Air freight? – It’s frivolous and unnecessary.

Those conferences (business, political, scientific)? – Nothing results without all parties carefully writing and reading the documents – why not begin and end with documents? Air-born climate authorities are not speakers, or performers, but writers, readers, data gatherers and statisticians.

Politicians, scientists and business people would do better to turn away from the posturing mirror – they’d achieve more and have more time to do so. Travellers? – Why travel without travel? Why not discover the cultures and terrains in between?

Many, or perhaps most of our destructive activities can only be changed in concert with others, but aviation is marvellously different – we can remove it on an instant.

Electric aviation is a fantasy. We’ll have trouble generating enough for more pressing needs, such as domestic heating.

With regards to government – had we proper governance, then all aviation (apart from the pleasurable hang glider) would long ago have been made illegal. For all their earnest lobbying, those who’d propose this, or that reduction in aviation, will still be ridiculed as lunatic fringe.

Aviation came with oil and must go with oil. The super market, the family car, suburbia and so on are the same, but more problematic in ascending degrees.

Many can abandon the super market on an instant, but others may have no alternatives nearby (until they are created). A family car, tied-in to work and pleasure is as destructive as occasional aviation.

However, ditching the family car is a more difficult proposition – it is tied to existing infrastructures – such as suburbia, lack of public transport and inconvenient work places. We can only change those things in concert with others and so conversation of some sort (not necessarily party political) becomes essential.

Earth has not the capacity to power the electric family car. Wind, hydro and solar generated electricity is the answer to many needs, but within absolute limits.

The car is redundant and must be made so by personal change, assisted by communal change.

Suburbia? – Well clearly, that’s an epic adventure – re-centring into new (or revived) towns and villages, accompanied by mass migration to coast and countryside and then re-cultivation of new hinterlands into farms and market gardens.

With regards to climate change, another powerful, easy and instant effect is to switch our general electricity supplier to a green supplier – making sure the source is wind, hydro, or solar – some use biomass, which is utterly destructive. We can also decide on an instant to farm and garden organically.

If we are fortunate to have land, we can plant trees on an instant – and we can let our existing hedges grow up – to flower, berry, nut and photosynthesise! For these important things, we need no advice from authority and need lobby no-one politically.

Other good personal activities such as re-using, re-cycling, refusing plastic packaging and so on have a tiny beneficial climatic impact relative to the large impact of refusing to fly, ditching the family car and switching to a green electricity supplier (or contributing to a community energy project).

Nevertheless, they do have very important ecological consequences and they are an essential part of the good life.

How do we find a way of life which is not powered by fossil fuels and which sits happily inside its ecology? For me, it is firstly, a society organised so that both work and pleasure are walking, or cycling distance from anyone’s door.

That is a society, which has removed the need for personal transport. It is also a more egalitarian society. The wealthy, by the sheer weight of their energy-bloated behaviours and purchases, cause the bulk of climate change, resource depletion, ecological destruction and social depravation.

A common ethics, followed by common law may control what is anti-social wealth.

So political engagement is a part – but I maintain the secondary part of firstly discovering what is the good life and then living it. That will be a process of trial and error – new truths are discovered by new errors.

How do we know where to begin? Why not start with the question – what is happiness? Only my reader can know the answer.