The Gift of the Maya

SUBHEAD: The Maya forest garden holds a hidden-in-plain-sight way through our present crises.

By Alan Bates on 26 July 2015 for The Great Change -

Image above: A perilous tightrope walk to sustainability. Fore ground is a painting by Michael Whelan titled "Edgwalker". A mashup background of Mayan civilization has been inserted. From original article.

It takes a bit of time for the elegance of a food forest to emerge, something on the order of decades. Strolling the garden through the morning mist in a hot Tennessee summer, we tried to remember what this landscape looked like 21 years ago, when we moved to this site, set up our yurt and started in on our little corner of paradise.

What we see today does not remotely resemble what was here then. Then there was a wire-fenced, stony horse paddock in a re-emerging poplar forest. The deep soil tilth now is blanketed in thick vines, their giant leaves hiding pumpkins, squashes and melons. Bamboo cathedrals twined with akebia and passionfruit arch 70 feet (20 meters) over a duck pond next to our cob henhouse. As we let out our poultry for their daily bug chase, bullfrogs croak and leap away. A snapping turtle submerges beneath the mat of duckweed and hyacinths at the water's edge.

All around us figs, peaches, apples, pears, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, plums and persimmons bend down boughs under the weight of their fruit, rabbits stealing out to grab a windfall and then hop back to cover, while high up in the oaks, beech, butternuts and hickories, squirrel forest wardens check the progress of their winter larder.

All this complexity, shrouded in mist and glistening in dew, would not be called orderly by farmers trained in Ag schools or raised in a tradition of straight rows and powerful machines with air-conditioned cabs. They can pump food from the earth the way you would pump barrels of oil, but not without depleting reserves accumulated over eons. As they pour on chemicals, the genetically monocultured crops gradually but inexorably lose nutrient density and attract predators.

Our general health as a society reflects that loss and malaise. Family treasures are squandered on biotech voodoo and Roundup potions in the pursuit of a false paradigm of technological progress, but the escalating fixes are unable to stem the tide of biological entropy. And all the while, just beyond the fences, magical weeds of awesome power dance in anticipation of the invaders' surrender and patiently await the return of their lost domain.

We have been reading The Maya Forest Garden by Anabel Ford and Ronald Nigh. It tells the tale of a civilization that weathered many climate changes, foreign conquests and failed attempts at cultural genocide. That civilization is still there today, after 8,000 years. There are more children born and raised in families today whose first language is a Mayan dialect than during the Classic period 1400 years ago.

When the first two-leggeds arrived in Mesoamerica over 10,000 years ago, the region was cool and arid – akin to the Great Plains of central Canada. Over the next 2,000 years, as the Hemisphere continued to emerge from the great Ice Age, Mesoamerica became a warm and wet tropical region, reaching an early heating peak during the Holocene Thermal Maximum before settling back to the wet tropics we find there today.

Ford and Nigh disagree with popular myths told by historians of rapacious city-states that denuded their landscape to bake lime for painting temples and then starved. They write:
The Maya and their ancestors have been living in this region for more than 10,000 years. Why would they cut down the forest that was their garden? Even after concerted efforts by governments and private interests to convert forest to pasture over the past half of the twentieth century, and after development schemes to introduce commercial annual monocrops into the perennial polycultivated croplands, and in spite of global trade agreements that have jeopardized the smallholder, the Maya forest has lived to tell the tale.

It is important to understand that the developed European culture views agriculture and forests as incompatible. That idea is embedded in our understanding of "arable" [Latin: to plow] and in the Malthusian view that agricultural lands are finite, based on the medieval concept of "assart," the act of converting forest into arable land.

To evaluate ancient land use, we must conjure a world without the plow, without cattle or horses, where work in the fields was accomplished by hand, and where transport was on foot.
According to Ford and Nigh, the Maya forest garden was not just an indelible feature that withstood the rise and fall of successive empires, but holds, in its ramblings and roots, a hidden-in-plain-sight way through our present crises.
We argue that conservation of the Maya forest must engage the traditional farmer, whose skills and knowledge created – and continue to maintain – the forest and its culture.
Land use changed over time based on social constraints. In ancient times, smallholders who produced a variety of goods and services from the forest were at times compelled to increase production to pay taxes and to feed the elites and their armies. This process continues today. Greater demands for exports from the forest require denser populations, because working hilly terrain without machines or animals requires hands and feet.

Today it may imply imported labor, a form of economic slavery not much different than in the Classic Maya era. To the extent that human labor for cultivation and transportation has been replaced with fossil energy, the requirements for human slaves have diminished.

One barrel of oil has 5.7 million BTUs of energy, or 1700 kWh. An average adult can, in hard labor, generate 0.6 kWh/day. That's 11 years of human labor packed into each barrel of oil. Put another way, fifty dollars currently buys you eleven petroleum slaves working year-round at hard labor. What would those slaves cost if they were human? Ten thousand dollars? Half a million dollars? It depends on where you get them and what tasks they perform for you.

Thanks to petroslavery, we have higher wages, higher profits, really cheap products and more people doing little to nothing. The average USAnian uses 60 barrels per year (or equivalent coal, gasoline and fracked gas) or roughly 660 fossil slaves standing at the beck and call of each and every citizen.

Those numbers are quite a bit less in the Mayan world today, but nonetheless significant, and growing. Farmers don't have to carry corn and mangos to the city on their backs, although no one has yet found a way to machine-harvest cacao or spray-pollinate vanilla vines.

Nonetheless, extraction costs for fossil fuels are rising -- 17% per year for the past 10 years. That drives up energy costs and as that price goes up, its like having to pay your slaves. Profits decline, and some slaves get laid off.

As we lose our energy slaves, will we go back to sending our army to snatch human slaves from weaker or less militaristic neighbors? The Classic Maya were something like that. With cheap slave energy gained by conquest they paved roads and built pyramids.

Many historians assume they overran their resources or had a slave revolt, but Ford and Nigh have eliminated ecocide, because food resources never diminished. Slavery has its limits and the Maya's slaves may have reached theirs.

Misleading assumptions about Mayan ecological demise, and climate over 10,000 years, came from paleoclimatic reconstructions based on lake sediments and pollen counts. Ford and Nigh point out that the pollen data emphasize windborne pollen, and yet, in the tropics, all but about 2 percent of plants are pollenated by bees, birds, bats and butterflies.

Ford and Nigh picked up clues from ramon trees and grassland forbs, which were better indicators of the milpa cycle. While climate perturbations, sometimes severe, occurred repeatedly, the heaviest climate changes came in the Early Holocene, before the appearance of the Maya. The milpa system evolved in that era, as proof of concept for climate-resilient agriculture.
The Maya resource system, based on the milpa forest garden cycle of the past and present, adapts to extreme conditions by moderating the impacts of deluges and managing land cover against drought. The system was resilient under conditions of change, and the climatic stability of the Classic promoted the rise of the Maya civilization.
Ford and Nigh conclude that the Classic Era, while it was not without impact -- evidenced by high phosphorus lake sediment loading and diminishing soil quality -- did not end from an environmental collapse. And yet, 1100 years ago, the Empire broke down and retreated back into the jungle. Civic centers gradually depopulated and rural farms resumed their ubiquity. Soil quality began to improve and runoff to decrease.

The Maya did not disappear, they dispersed. Having little to interest outside invaders, the last of their strongholds, at Nojpeten, was not conquered by the Spanish until 1697
, on the Ides of March. (In ancient Greece, that date also marked Pharmakos, which involved beating an old man dressed in animal skins and driving him from the city. History may not repeat, but it rhymes.)

When the human slavery system ended, it was not replaced by machine or animal slaves (they had neither). It was replaced with tree crops – vegetable slaves --  toiling without complaint, providing myriad household and ecological services, and asking only the occasional tender loving care. Skills that could glean the most from any terrain were passed generation to generation down to the present.

In the Cartesian view of the world everything is separated into chemicals, physical properties, or energy systems. The quantum entanglement of the real world is much less simple. It took a few thousand years for humans to find harmony with their environment and to co-evolve the comfortable Holocene climate, as much a product of human respect for the limits of the natural world as of galactic and planetary cycles.

No doubt some shaman warned a Neolithic hunting party not to slay the last mastodon, but they didn't listen, and we got an Ice Age, or worse, agriculture.

Once the original instructions were forgotten, thanks in no small measure to electric lights, television and the internet, the Holocene weave began unraveling. Biodiversity and soil fertility plummeted, population skyrocketed, and the popular culture of idle elite tilted to the kinky, bloodthirsty and perverse. If this sounds like the Maya, that would not be far wrong, but we are speaking of the times we live in. We have lost our way.

The Maya forest shows us a way home, should we choose to take it.

This past Thursday, NASA senior scientist James Hansen and 17 co-authors published a paper, “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2°C global warming is highly dangerous,” in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics discussion group. The paper noted that despite repeated warnings for more than 25 years, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase and fossil fuels remain the primary energy source.
"The argument is made that it is economically and morally responsible to continue fossil fuel use for the sake of raising living standards, with expectation that humanity can adapt to climate change and find ways to minimize effects via advanced technologies," the paper says. " We suggest that a strategic approach relying on adaptation to such consequences is unacceptable to most of humanity…."
Specifically, the authors, making an end run around lengthy peer review in order to address delegates who will gather at the UN climate summit in Paris in December, point out that even if the UN denouement is extraordinarily successful and achieves its 2-degree target, civilization will not avert catastrophe.

As Natalia Shakhova, a professor at the University Alaska Fairbanks, told Dahr Jamail of Truthout  last January, the transition from the methane being frozen in the permafrost, either on land or in the shallow continental shelves, "is not gradual. When it comes to phase transition, it appears to be a relatively short, jump-like transformation from one state of the process to another state. The difference between the two states is like the difference between a closed valve and an open valve. This kind of a release is like the unsealing of an over-pressurized pipeline."

Shakhova has been warning for years that a 50-gigaton "burp" of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is "highly possible at anytime." That would be the equivalent of 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide (GtCO2), three thousand times what is released from the Siberian shelf in an average year. Humans have released approximately 1,475 GtCO2 since 1850 from fossil fuel burning and land use changes. Ninety percent of that was absorbed by the ocean; some frozen in ocean sediments as clathrates.

The Permian mass extinction of approximately 95 percent of all species on the planet 250 million years ago was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius. The lava caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas. Released into the atmosphere, the Permian methane "burp" caused temperatures to skyrocket.

Hansen's group warns that is not too late to avert a similar fate this time, but it will take more than reducing carbon emissions.
Rapid transition to abundant affordable carbon-free electricity is the core requirement, as that would also permit production of net-zero-carbon liquid fuels from electricity. The rate at which CO2 emissions must be reduced is about 6%/yr to reach 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 by about 2100, under the assumption that improved agricultural and forestry practices could sequester 100 GtC.
Actually, we know that improved agricultural and forestry practices can sequester on the order of 10 GtC annually, and could return the atmosphere and oceans to pre-industrial greenhouse chemistries (250 ppmv CO2e) by 2100 if scaled rapidly. We know that from studying, among other clues, the Maya forest.

Ford and Nigh conclude:
If we take these real human and ecological costs into account and systematically compare them to the intensive Maya milpa, we find that milpa is neither primitive nor unproductive and is positive for human health and the environment. Food produced by the milpa is of high quality, as it is based on the natural fertility maintained in the forest garden cycle, where regenerated woodlands continually restore minerals and organic matter.
High biodiversity assures that pesticides are unnecessary and all wastes are recycled in the field. Water is managed by the conservation of vegetation and by the infiltration of rainwater stored in the soil. A healthy and natural relationship is fostered for animals that are attracted to the secondary vegetation of the milpa forest garden, resulting in a kind of semi-domestication based on the landscape.

Dependence on fossil fuels is nonexistent, and far from contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, the Maya milpa creates a long-term store of carbon in the soil.

Significantly, the milpa and its diversity provide a livelihood for farm families and a food surplus for local markets.

Yet milpa agroforestry seems to violate the master narrative of our times: the incessant march of progress from hunter-gatherer to complex sedentary agriculture. The Eurocentric vision assumes that Western civilization is the pinnacle of human progress and that disappearing cultures can only aspire to emulate it.

Not only in the popular mind but also in the view of scientists, politicians, and technicians, it is capitalist industrial agriculture that is the unquestioned standard of production; all previously existing forms are, in this view, ready to be replaced.

We must vindicate the milpa forest garden and similarly sophisticated systems of human ecology that are native to their place. Their intricacy, subtlety, and contribution to our environmental balances are critical to our future.
The gift of the Maya, at least some of them, is to never have forgotten. The gift of Anabel Ford and Ronald Nigh, and James Hansen, after rigorous lifetimes in this arcane scientific pursuit, is the retelling of that story to a world audience.


Maui rally against TPP

SUBHEAD:  A coalition of progressives to speak out against negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

By Staff on 28 July 2015 for Maui Now -

Image above: The beach in front of the Westin Maui Resort.  From (

Rally against Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) meetings on Maui.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015 schedule of events:
12:00 pm - Participants gather
2:00 pm - Press conference
5 :00 pm - World-record attempt for most conch shells blown at one time

Kāanapali Beach near the
Westin Maui Resort
2365 Kaanapali Pkwy
Lahaina, HI 96761
Kāko'o Haleakalā; AiKea; Hawaii SEED; Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A); Babes Against Biotech; UNITE HERE! Local 5; Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery ; Ohana o Kauai; KAHEA: Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance; Occupy Wall Street Maui; Sierra Club; Public Citizen; Flush the TPP; Friends of the Earth; Popular Resistance; MoveOn; CREDO; and SumOfUs.

A coalition of advocates for the environment, labor, health and native Hawaiians will gather on Kā'anapali Beach near the Westin on Wednesday, July 29, to speak out against negotiations involving the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As part of the demonstration, the group will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for beach conch sell blowing, as they attempt to bring attention to the TPP negotiations that are taking place in Kā'anapli on Maui.

The United States is hosting a meeting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP Trade Ministers on Maui from July 28-31, preceded by a meeting of TPP Chief Negotiators from July 24-27.

Demonstration organizers say the July 29 rally is timed near the anniversary of the Restoration Day for Hawaiian sovereignty, and seeks to call attention to the alleged harms to indigenous rights, worker abuses, and environmental health “in order to enrich a few major corporations.”

“The TPP is a threat to our sovereignty as Native Hawaiians, and as human beings,” said Kaleikoa Ka'eo, professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i Maui College. “This secret trade agreement would allow corporations to control decisions about how we live without any accountability to us, the people of this land.

We call on everyone who cares about the environment, public health, jobs, and basic human rights for Hawaiians and all people to join us on Wednesday for a gathering on Kā'anapali Beach.”

Event participants are gathering noon for speeches, performances, and preparation for the world-record attempt later in the day at 5 p.m., when participants will attempt to break the world record for the largest number of conch shell (pū) blown at one time.

“We chose the pū for this demonstration because in ancient times the sound of the pū was a call to attention; a kahea (call) to recognize something important is about to occur. Today is a call to attention, to join together against this attempt to put profits over people,” said Trinette Furtado, one of the event organizers.

“This event calls attention to all struggles against entitled behavior across the globe. We send this kāhea of the pū out past this hotel and the secret TPP negotiations, and out into the ocean, through the mountains, around the world. People are awakening, discovering their power. They are hungry to effect a positive change in the world,” said Furtado.

Event organizers claim the Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause of the trade agreement “would allow corporations to sue signatory countries for the loss of anticipated profits as a result of local laws established to protect the environment, food safety, public health, or human rights, among other things.”

In addition, the group claims the TPP “would extend patent claims held by large pharmaceutical companies, making access to affordable generic medicines very difficult.”

“Workers around the world recognize that the TPP will drive down wages, undermine living standards, and make it impossible to protect high quality, good paying jobs for local workers,” said Cade Watanabe of UniteHere! LOCAL 5, a union representing hotel and hospital workers in Hawaii. “It is out of respect for Hawai’s land, its labor and its people, that we are standing up in opposition to the TPP.”

The TPP is a trade pact negotiated between 12 nations around the Pacific Rim and 600 corporations. The 12 countries include: the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Canada, and Mexico. The list of corporations include: Walmart, Monsanto, Pfizer, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Dow Chemical.

“Hawaii is one of the most uniquely beautiful places on the planet. To protect this amazing natural beauty, Hawaii has some of the strongest environmental laws on the planet.

But if the TPP is adopted, these protections would be gutted,” said Marti Townsend, Sierra Club of Hawaii Director in an event announcement. “The TPP is a fundamental threat to our clean water, fresh air, and fruitful lands. It would set-back our progress on clean energy and do nothing to prevent environmental degradation across the Pacific region,” she said.

According to the Office of the US Trade Representative, “Hawaii’s goods exports in 2013 totaled $598 million. Hawaii exported $438 million annually in goods to all TPP markets (2011-2013 average).

During this period, 59% of Hawaii’s total goods exports went to the entire TPP region. The top three product categories exported to TPP-member economies in 2013 were transportation equipment, processed foods, and petroleum and coal products.”

The office claims that the TTP would benefit Hawaii’s labor force, sustain hundreds of Hawaii businesses, benefit small and medium-sized firms and expand market access to the islands.

The Office of the US Trade Representative says the Trans-Pacific Partnership “offers tremendous opportunities for US exporters with members comprising a population of roughly 800 million, and generate nearly 40% of global GDP. “The United States already has strong trade and investment ties to this region; we exported $697.8 billion in goods to all TPP markets in 2013, or about 44% of total US exports, and are seeking through TPP to further deepen our economic relations,” according to information published on the agency website.

Human rights and environmental watchdogs protest the trade deal’s provisions saying they allow corporations to sue governments over loss of expected profit. Protestors say they stand for the protection of public health laws, safeguards against pollution, labor rights, patent policies that insure affordable medicine, and other public interest policies.

The organizations participating in the demonstration in opposition to the TPP include: Kāko'o Haleakalā; AiKea; Hawaii SEED; Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A); Babes Against Biotech; UNITE HERE! Local 5; Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery ; Ohana o Kauai; KAHEA: Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance; Occupy Wall Street Maui; Sierra Club; Public Citizen; Flush the TPP; Friends of the Earth; Popular Resistance; MoveOn; CREDO; and SumOfUs.


Gleaning Returns

SUBHEAD: The practice of scavenging harvested fields is an ancient tradition that optimizes agricultural yield.

By Ugo Bardi on 23 July 2015 for Resource Crisis -

Image above: Detail of painting titled "Calling in the Gleaners" oil on canvas, by Jules Breton, 1859. From (

Gleaning is an ancient tradition, deeply embedded in the agricultural world. In the past, it was common practice that the poor were given access to the grain fields after the harvest, so that they could collect the spikelets left on the ground by the harvesters. It wasn't done just with grain, but with all kinds of agricultural products: fruit, olives, chestnuts, and more. Whatever was left after the first pass was for the poor and for the destitute to collect.

Gleaning was so important in the past rural societies that it was even sacred. We read in the Bible that God explicitly ordered to owners to give to the poor a chance to glean in their fields. And the origin of David's lineage in the biblical tradition is related to gleaning, as described in the story of Ruth, a poor Moabite girl who married the owner of the fields where she gleaned.

Other religions do not have such explicit references to gleaning, but most of them convey the idea that the rich should partake with the poor what they don't need. For instance, a similar sharing command from God can be found in the Islamic tradition, but directed to water.

Gleaning remained a fundamental feature of rural societies until recent times; it is still done, occasionally (as you can see in this movie), but it has lost importance with the onrushing growth of the industrial society.

It is not considered sacred anymore; on the contrary, the suspension of the property rights associated with gleaning is often seen as subversive in a world that emphasizes fenced private property and strictly regulated activities.

In some cases, gleaning was specifically prohibited by law, as in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. That was a terrible mistake that aggravated the famine known as the "holodomor" in Ukraine.

But why gleaning was so common? Why even sacred? And can we learn something useful for us from this ancient tradition? It turns out that, yes, we can. Far from being a primitive tradition, gleaning is a sophisticated and efficient technology designed for managing low yield resources.

It is a technology that we could still use and that, probably, we'll have to re-learn as the gradual depletion of high-yield mineral resources forces us to abandon the wasteful and expensive industrial technologies we have been using so far. But it is a story that needs to be told from the beginning.

Gleaning to optimize the agricultural yield
Few of us have direct experience with the sickle (or the scythe, its long handled version, used specifically for reaping). We can only imagine how hard it must have been to use it to harvest crops during the Summer, under the sun; going on day after day, swinging it over and over, for as long as there was enough light.

It took not just physical strength, it took endurance and skill. But it was the task of the peasant to do that and it has been done for thousands of years.

Now, imagine a line of reapers advancing in a grain field. Obviously, they had to stay at a certain distance from each other while swinging their sickles. So, it was unavoidable that some grain stalks would be left standing and that some spikelets would fall on the ground. Could you avoid this loss?

Maybe you could try to get the reapers closer to each other; but that could even be dangerous.

Or maybe you could force the reapers to be more careful, or to stop and collect what falls on the ground; but that would slow down the whole process. In short, we have here a classic problem, well known in economics: efficiency shows decreasing marginal benefits. The optimal yield of harvesting is surely obtained collecting less than 100% of the grains.

Now, there comes gleaning; and it is an extremely smart idea simply because it is so inexpensive. First of all, gleaners didn't need tools, nor needed special skills. They would simply walk in the fields, equipped with nothing more than their hands and a bag, collecting what they found on the ground.

Gleaners didn't need to be trained in harvesting, nor to be in perfect physical shape. Women could do it, just as older people and youngsters could. Then, it was a totally informal operation, without the costs of bosses, of hierarchies, of organizations. (Image on the left "La Glaneuse", by Jules Breton, 1827-1906. Note how this woman has no tools, no equipment, not even shoes!)

But gleaning was not just a question of efficiency, it was way deeper than that. It provided a "social buffer" that allowed flexibility (or, if you prefer, "resilience") to the agricultural society. The vagaries of the weather, of insects, pestilences and other calamities always made the yield of the harvest uncertain.

So, a peasant family that faced hard times could always fall back on gleaning to survive. Then, when the good times came back, the same family could provide the human resources for the regular harvesting. So, gleaning played the role that today we call "Social Security" or "welfare", reducing conflicts and frictions within society.

But the idea of gleaning went beyond this utilitarian factor. It had to do with the very fact of being human and of helping each other. As such, it takes the name of solidarity (or, sometimes, of compassion). The reapers knew that the spikelets left on the ground would be collected by the gleaners following them.

Would they leave some falling on purpose? We can't know for sure, but we can read in the story of Ruth in the Bible how the owner of the field himself ordered the harvesters to leave something on the ground for her to collect.

Biophysical economics of gleaning
Economics theories never considered gleaning. This is in part because gleaning does not involve money and prices and, therefore, it is invisible to economists. At most, economists might define the spikelets that fall on the ground as "diseconomies", goods of negative value. But why does the economic process generate goods of negative value? And how to get rid of them? (maybe it is this kind of reasoning that led the Soviet Government to enact a law that called for shooting gleaners)

So, if we want to understand the mechanisms of gleaning, we need to go to a different concept: "biophysical economics". It is the view that sees the human economy as an activity that mimics biology. So, each economic activity is like a biological species; it uses resources to live and reproduce, while producing waste.

Once we take this view, we immediately see what gleaning is. It is a "trophic cycle;" a manifestation of the fundamental idea in biology that one creature's waste is some other creature's food. Spikelets fallen on the ground are a low-yield resource not worth processing by traditional harvesting and therefore should be considered as waste from the point of view of the primary production process.

But, from the viewpoint of gleaners, spikelets produce a sufficient yield to make them a resource worth processing. Gleaning is, therefore, a processing method specialized in low-yield resources. We can express this idea also using the concept of "energy return for energy invested" (EROI or EROEI).

The energy yield of the spikelets fallen on the ground is not sufficient to generate a good EROEI if they were to be harvested by mechanized methods or by specialized personnel. But, if we reduce the energy investment by means of gleaning; then the process must have generated an acceptable (or even very good) EROEI if it was so commonly used in agriculture.

The low cost of gleaning derived from several factors, one was that it wasn't associated with the costs of private property; intended as claiming it, fencing it, defending it, and more. Indeed, gleaning can only function if the resource being gleaned is managed as a "commons;" that is, free for everyone to collect. Traditionally, it meant that private land ceased to be such for the period of gleaning (as in the case of grain fields).

Other kinds of resources shared this characteristics, being so low yield that they can be gathered only informally and in a situation of commons; e.g. mushrooms, wood, grass, and others. That's true also for hunting as it was practiced in very ancient times. Overall, we can see gleaning as a "hunting and gathering plug-in" applied to the agricultural society.

On the subject of the commons, the analysis by Garrett Hardin is very well known under the name of the "Tragedy of the Commons". Hardin made the example of a pasture managed as a commons, noting that every shepherd can bring as many sheep as he wants to the pasture, and that the more sheep he brings the more the economic yield for him.

However, if the total number of sheep exceeds the "carrying capacity" of the pasture, then the pasture is damaged. The cost of the damage, however, is spread over all shepherds, whereas each single shepherd still has an individual advantage in bringing one more sheep to pasture. The result is we call today "overexploitation" and it eventually generates the destruction of the resource being exploited.

However, if the commons have survived for millennia in agricultural societies, it means that the tragedy described by Hardin was not at all a common phenomenon. Hardin was not wrong, but he applied an industrial logic to an activity that was not industrial in the modern sense. For the "tragedy" to occur, there must be some kind of capital accumulation that you can re-invest in order to increase the rate of exploitation of the resource.

Gleaning, instead, hardy generates capital accumulation. Think of gleaners collecting grain: how would they accumulate capital? Can't be; the most they can do is to is to collect enough to feed their families. The very concept of monetary capital is a burden that gleaning cannot afford.

Hence, we see how beautifully optimized gleaning is; a far cry from the brutal and inefficient method of "privatize and fence," often proposed as the solution to all problems of resource overexploitation. And we can also understand why gleaning has nearly disappeared from our world. With the energy supply that society obtains from fossil fuels, there was no need any more for such a radical optimization of the agricultural process as gleaning could provide.

The industrial world was (and still is - so far) rich enough that it can think that it doesn't need to be efficient; it doesn't need gleaning. Indeed, the wealth generated by the industrial society can provide better services than those that gleaning produced, long ago: pensions, social security, food security and more.

All that was the result of the high energy yield of fossil fuels. For how long that will be possible, however, is a completely different story; considering the fact that fossil fuel are not infinite.

Gleaning in the modern world
One of the problems of the modern industrial economy is waste. We are possibly at the height of a historical cycle of energy production and, as a consequence, we probably never generated so much waste as we do today (there are indications that a decline in waste production may already have started in the rich regions of the world, see this article of mine). But, as mentioned before, we don't know very well what to do with this stuff that we call "negative value goods."

Normally, we tend to try to get rid of waste by using expensive industrial processes, for instance incineration plants which - miracle! - are said to produce energy (and, hence, they are renamed "waste-to-energy plants"). And our concept of recycling involves expensive methods that almost never repay their cost. But, as Einstein is reported to have said, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

However, if we look at the hidden side of waste processing, we can see that gleaning, although nearly completely disappeared from agriculture, is still there; alive and well. An early example of modern waste gleaning can be found in the novel by Franck McCourt "Angela's ashes," where the author tells us of how his family could survive in the winters of the 1930s in Ireland, literally gleaning coal; that is collecting coal lumps fallen from coal carrying carts.

Today, you could call "gleaning" the activity of "binners," "cartoneros," and "cataderos" who recover what they can from the trash bins of the rich Western society. (more data at this link).

These activities go under the general name of "informal participatory waste management" - a fancy term for what is simply gleaning applied to industrial waste. These modern gleaners use no expensive equipment, mainly bags and old carts. They move on foot or, occasionally, use supermarket carts as skateboards. T

hey separate the mixed waste into (modestly) valuable objects by hand. In the picture, you see Professor Jutta Gutberlet of the University of Victoria, Canada, discussing with a Brazilian "catador."

We don't have precise data on the world trends of this kind of activities, but it seems clear that the increasing number of people who live in poverty in rich countries has generated a return to ways of living that seemed to have disappeared with the booming economy of the second half of the 20th century.

Then, in poor countries, the poor have always been "gleaning" landfills, even though the poorer the country, the poorer also must be the landfills. It is a job that doesn't pay well (obviously) and that carries considerable danger: you never know what you can find in a waste bin. It can be something sharp, poisonous, contaminated, or dangerous for all sorts of reasons.

The gleaning of household waste is seen in different ways in different parts of the world. Some European and North-American countries have implemented "container deposit legislation." That is, the consumer who buys a bottle or some other kind of container, pays an extra as deposit, which can then be recovered by bringing back the container to the seller. This kind of legislation, obviously, generates a considerable gleaning-like activity on the part of poor people who actively search and collect thrown away containers.

The gleaning of industrial waste would seem to be a good idea under many respects; and it even seems to work where it has been implemented. However, there are big problems with making it a widespread and commonplace technology for waste management.

On the basis of my personal experience, I can tell you that trying to fight the vested interests of the companies that make money out of traditional waste management is hard; think of taking away a fish from the crocodile's mouth. In some cases, disturbing the crocodile can even be dangerous, considering the widespread network of illegal activities related to waste management.

Then, in proposing participatory waste management, you risk being considered as an "enemy of the people" and accused of planning to prevent the poor from their legitimate right of becoming 9 to 5 office employees.

You may also be seen as an enemy of science and technology, as you are intentioned to block the development of new and wonderful technologies that will bypass thermodynamics and transform waste into a high yield resource.

Finally, often you face a stumbling block in the form of the "zero waste" idea, often intended as meaning that no waste should be produced at all. The fact that perfect efficiency implies zero resilience seems to be completely alien to the way of thinking of those who propose this idea.

So far, no one seems intentioned to propose shooting the informal waste collectors, as it was supposed to be done during Stalin's times, but it is easy to get discouraged facing the complete lack of understanding of the situation at all the levels of the decision making process.

Most people simply don't want to hear about this subject, and the idea of having the poor scavenging their household waste horrifies them. They want it burned or removed from their view, and that's it. Hence, we are stuck with the traditional, industrial techniques of waste processing for as long as we will be able to afford them (not forever, for sure)

The future of gleaning
How can we see gleaning in our society? Can we see its return in one of its many possible forms? And, if so, will it be useful for something, for instance to solve the waste problem?

Personally, I would avoid seeing gleaning as a solution for any problem. Gleaning is simply something that happens, it is part of the way our world works and the way human beings adapt to change. Gleaning really never disappeared from human society and it will never disappear as long as human beings exist.

The future will bring us the gradual winding down of the industrial society as cheap fossil fuels are burned and disappear. As a consequence, it will become more and more common to return to gleaning-like technologies that can optimize the return of low-yield resources, such as those left by the industrial binge of the past few centuries.

In this vision, a good case could be made that the gleaning of waste should be encouraged already today by laws and subsidies. Even if you don't agree with this idea, at least, we should avoid the mistake of forbidding gleaning, or to make it impossible under the burden of taxes and bureaucracy (to say nothing about the idea of shooting gleaners).

It is not just a question of opportunity, but a wider one of solidarity. God Himself (or Herself) commanded us to let gleaning be and, as God is said to be compassionate and merciful, I think we should take that into account.

Conservation and Global Warming

SUBHEAD: Conservation is a moving target and growing more that way, in ways both predictable and not.

By Jim Robbins on 13 July 2015 for E360 Yale -

Image above: This tidal marsh in San Francisco Bay is one of the key areas on which local environmentalists are focusing. From (

As climate change puts ecosystems and species at risk, conservationists are turning to a new approach: preserving those landscapes that are most likely to endure as the world warms.

The San Francisco Bay was once one of the richest estuaries in North America. Almost completely enclosed and protected from the open ocean, and with more than 200 freshwater creeks feeding into it, it was a fertile refuge for young salmon, halibut, sturgeon, anchovy, and smelt. It was lined with some 200,000 acres of tidal marsh, and the connected Sacramento Delta doubled that, creating a region so rich and productive it was known as the Everglades of the West.

By the middle of the 20th century, infill for development and diking had shrunk the bay's tidal marshes to just 40,000 acres. In 1999, the San Francisco Estuary Institute set a goal of bringing the acreage of tidal lands in the bay back to 100,000. Several thousand acres have been rebuilt since then, and the replacement of nearly 30,000 more is in the planning stage.

Then came the specter of climate change.

Environmentalists realized that hard won gains could be undone as the sea level rises and claims the marshes — new and old — which are home to the clapper rail, a shorebird, and the salt marsh harvest mouse, endangered species both. "So the question isn't just how do you restore tidal marshes," says Robin Grossinger, senior scientist with the San Francisco Estuary Institute. "But how do you increase resilience as you restore them at the

 Resilience calculations are going on all over the conservation landscape these days. Around the globe, species are on the move, rising up in elevation at a rate of 11 meters and poleward at 17 kilometers per decade — about 36 feet and 10 miles respectively — to escape the heat and stay within their niches. That's more than two or three times as fast as previous accounts. Conservation, then, is a moving target and growing more that way, in ways both predictable and not.

Resilience, in a nutshell, means preserving options — no one can predict the climate future with any certainty and how the biodiversity deck will be reshuffled. So that means protecting landscapes that maintain as wide a variety of characteristics to preserve as many species as possible, in order to maintain both ecological function as the world changes and the ability to recover from disturbance.

The initiative in the San Francisco estuary is one of the leading efforts to protect and restore a natural shoreline in a largely urban area. A lot is riding on the efforts there, including the fate the clapper rail, renamed

Ridgway's rail last year. Some 1,100 of these chicken-sized wading birds — one of the largest populations left — scour the tidal marshes and mud flats for snails and worms near the tall grass that they use for camouflage and nesting.

The estuary institute's strategy is to capitalize on the natural resilience of the marshes by allowing them to move inland as the ocean rises, as the marshes have always done, into gently sloped areas, which the institute is protecting through land purchases. But there are a number of places where highways and other things have been built right up to the edge of the marsh.

To solve that problem, researchers are looking at ways to fortify the tidelands by nourishing them with sediment that has built up behind dams in local watersheds, and allow the ecosystem to reclaim itself. "These systems are extremely brittle, inflexible, and vulnerable," says Grossinger. "But we have the ability to increase their resilience and give them the ability to adapt."

In 2010 Mark Anderson and Charles E. Ferree of The Nature Conservancy published a paper called “Conserving the Stage: Climate Change and the Geophysical Underpinnings of Species Diversity” that looked at the northeast United States and ways to predict where the greatest biodiversity occurs.

At the time, forecasting of species migration looked primarily at what climatic conditions a species lives in now and where those same climatic conditions might exist in the future, which is presumably where those plants and animals would move to.

But biological models are frustratingly untrustworthy because there are so many variables. So Anderson, using earlier research, compared the impact of climate on plants and animals with abiotic, or non-living factors, such things as geology, elevation, and landforms — and got a surprise.

"Abiotic variables were fantastic predictors of how much diversity was in a state," said Anderson.

"And climate variables were not good predictors." (Coincidentally another biologist, Paul Beier, published a very similar paper called “Conserving the Arena” at the same time.)

One of the best predictors for richness of biodiversity, for example, is limestone because many species thrive in its low acid, calcium- rich soil. A good deal of biodiversity, in fact, occurs only in limestone regions.

The idea of “conserving the stage” has become a big part of conservation thinking since 2010. "It's a key aspect," said Grossinger. "The physical drivers, such as the sediment, are what shapes habitat and gives it the dynamic ability to adapt over time. And those are often really what's missing. You can focus all you want on the clapper rail, and the ecology. But if you don't have the sediment, the resilience is not going to be there."

The abiotic approach has proven to be a powerful new addition to the toolbox for forecasting where biodiversity might end up. For a long time, efforts to protect biodiversity have focused on predictions of where species might move as temperatures warm. As huckleberries migrate north or upslope to stay in their climate comfort zone, for example, the berry-eating grizzly bear will follow.

Problem is no one knows what the future will bring for the berries. How warm will it get? What else will change? More rain? Less? Disease? How will natural communities reorganize? Which new species will move in and which will move out?

The grizzly bears, huckleberries, and other members of the ecological community are the actors on the stage, while the soils, micro-climates and topography where the berries will grow well are the stage on which the drama is set.

Rather than focusing on these actors and where they might move, many land conservation organizations are scouring the continent for the best, most diverse stages to give the drama of life its best chance. Anderson's research over the last decade has greatly changed how many scientists and organizations look at conservation and has led to an overhaul in the way climate change mitigation is forecast.

A team of 60 scientists working for The Nature Conservancy just finished an eight-year assessment of the East Coast using abiotic criteria and identified 61 different representative "stages," or settings, where a broad range of biodiversity has its best chance to survive. Those areas with the highest scores are "resilient," while those with the lowest scores — generally flat and one-dimensional landscapes — are considered vulnerable.

The Nature Conservancy is seeking to buy and protect the most resilient places, and the program received a boost from the Doris Duke Charitable Trust, which contributed $37 million to land purchase efforts. They’ve made the scores of these landscapes available to other groups as well.

"It's a reworking of Noah's Ark," said Peter Howell, executive vice president of the Open Space Institute. "Instead of two of every animal, we take one of each different setting. When everything goes down, these are the places that will go last. They'll save life the longest and in the most thorough way."

Image above: Smoke Hole Canyon, a 1,126-acre area in West Virginia, is home to 120 rare plants, animals, and ecological communities. From (

Looking through the abiotic prism, for example, The Nature Conservancy protected a 1,126-acre ranch in the Smoke Hole Canyon, a remote 20-mile long valley along the Potomac River in West Virginia. The resilient features are numerous: It's an anomalous microclimate for the East Coast, as it sits in a rain shadow and gets just 30 or so inches of rain a year and so is a dry prairie. It has a diversity of land forms, ridges, steep slopes, micro-climates, and cliffs.

And while much of the limestone soil in West Virginia was cleared by farmers to plant crops, the Smoke Hole remained wooded and is still blanketed with limestone and the plants that thrive in the nutrient-rich soil. That's why there are 120 rare plants, animals, and ecological communities.

But the Smoke Hole is not immune to climate change. A devastating outbreak of woolly adelgids, which was driven by warmer temperatures and killed hemlocks, found its way to the forest there.

The Nature Conservancy also rated its existing refuges for resiliency and found that nearly all of them scored well or average. "Only four percent scored terrible," said Anderson.

While it's been widely adopted, some say the “conserving the stage” approach takes the focus off of species that need help now. And it's a coarse filter that needs to be ground-truthed — land that should be resilient because of its geology, for example, said the Open Space Institute’s Howell, may not be because of invasive species.

That's why the abiotic filter isn't the only tool. The Nature Conservancy is still doing work the old-fashioned biotic way. Brad McRae, a landscape ecologist for the conservancy in Fort Collins, Colorado has created a software called Circuitscape that predicts, especially in highly fragmented places, where corridors for climate change refugees will be needed and where they can be found so species can migrate to more habitable ground.

The software looks at vegetation, climate gradient, how much development there is, and topographic factors such as ridgelines and valley; it even factors in which are the lowest-cost corridors. "We need a well-connected portfolio to help these species find a new home," McRae said. "Many species won't be able to disperse fast enough, so we'll have to physically move them."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in charge of the 1,400 or so endangered species, primarily manages the biotic way, though it has moved toward a big-picture look at landscapes. In 2012, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar created Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.

There are 22 of these self-directed co-ops now around the U.S., and they are charged with coordinating agencies, tribal governments, and private landowners in creating a landscape-level look at wildlife, invasive species, and wildfire issues beyond their own jurisdictions to plan for a changing climate.

No matter how good the forecasting, though, the mercurial nature of how life will adapt to climate change is always going to be part crapshoot. "It doesn't solve the problem of predictability," says Anderson, co-author of the “Conserving the Stage” paper. "It identifies places on the ground that should continue to support diversity and function. But it doesn't tell you exactly what the diversity and function will look like."


See the Aina movie

SUBHEAD: See the video that had its World Premiere on July 25th at the KCC Performance Center on Kauai.

By Juan Wilson on 27 July for Island Breath -

Image above: On the right are the GMO experimental fields of Dow-Pioneer on Kauai's southside. Note the town of Waimea are at left is downwind the of the heavily pesticide sprayed experimental crops across the river.  Still frame from the movie below. 

See the Aina: That Which Feed s Us move below and visit its website ( to find out more about it and how to own your own copy and possibly make a contribution to the effort of these filmmakers.

ʻĀINA (pronounced "eye-nah") means “That Which Feeds Us” in the Hawaiian language. The film highlights a way to address some of the most pressing environmental and health crises facing the island of Kauai - and of island Earth. That may sound like an outstanding claim, but as ʻĀINA vividly illustrates, such is the power of agriculture and food choices for people and the planet.

Video above: The movie "Aina: That Which Feeds Us". From (


Anti GMO labeling congress

SUBHEAD: Surprise! Congress members who voted  against GMO labeling got big bucks from agribusiness lobbyists.

By Nadia Prupis on 27 July 2015 for Common Dreams -

Image above: Republican US Congressman Mike Pompeo, from Kansas, was one of the two sponsors of the bill to ban states, counties and municipalities from requiring labeling of GMO laden ingredients in food. From (

File this under unsurprising, but nefarious nonetheless.

US Reps who voted against mandatory GMO labeling received three times as much money from food and agriculture lobbies

Members of U.S. Congress who vote against mandatory labeling for genetically modified (GMO) products receive three times as much funding from the food and agriculture lobbies as their colleagues, according to new reporting from Open Secrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics.

The political finance watchdog group found that the supporters of the anti-labeling bill which passed the House of Representatives last Thursday collectively received $29.9 million from the agribusiness lobby and food and beverage industry during the 2014 election cycle.

At 230 Republicans and 45 Democrats, that averages roughly $108,900 per member to support HR 1599—officially titled the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 but known by its opponents as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act. HR 1599 passed with 275 to 150 votes.

Meanwhile, co-sponsors of the anti-labeling bill "received six-figure dollar amounts from providers of agricultural services and products...during the 2014 election cycle. That put them high among the top 20 recipients of funds from the industry," Open Secrets reports.

Among those lawmakers are Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), most of whom also sit on the House Agriculture Committee.

As Common Dreams reported last Thursday, HR1599 "was backed by the food industry, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto Company, which have poured money into defeating GMO labeling initiatives."
Open Secrets continues:
Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), two original sponsors of the legislation, were the top two current House members receiving the most money from the Grocery Manufacturers Association in 2014. The grocery manufacturers — who have spent $4.1 million lobbying on all issues so far this year, almost as much as they spent in all of 2014 — have lobbied on the bill more than any other organization, mentioning the measure on 14 lobbying reports this year.

After the Grocery Manufacturers Association, PepsiCo Inc ($2.5 million in overall lobbying this year) and Monsanto Co ($2.6 million) have mentioned the bill most frequently.

Image above: Democratic US Congressman George Butterfield, from North Carolina, was cosponsor of anti GMO labeling legislation. From (

Food and environmental activists called for the Senate to vote down HR 1599 when it reaches the chamber.

"Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety, said last week.

Added Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, "It’s time to hold every member of Congress accountable. Either they stand with Monsanto and Big Food in support of the DARK Act, or they stand with the overwhelming majority of their constituents for truthful labeling and consumer choice."

DARK not supported by Hawaii

SUBHEAD: Tulsi Gabbard and  Mark Takai voted against a bill that seeks to stop states from requiring companies to label genetically engineered food.

By Anita Hofschneider on 23 July 2015 for Civil Beat -

Image above: Democratic US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, from Hawaii, voted against DARK bill  not allowing labeling of GMO laden ingredients in food. From (

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Congressman Mark Takai voted against a bill that seeks to stop states from requiring companies to label genetically engineered food.

The measure introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday with a vote of 275-150. It goes next to the Senate.

The bill, HR 1599, is backed by the grocery and biotech industries and is known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Because it would overturn state laws that require labels on food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), opponents call it the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.

Gabbard, who has been outspoken in her opposition to HR 1599 and co-sponsored HR 913 which would require federal mandatory GMO labeling, said in her floor speech that the measure “makes a mockery of transparency and leaves U.S. consumers in the dark.”

“What are they so afraid of?” she asked. “Why deprive Americans of the ability to make educated choices about whether they want food with genetically modified ingredients? Why make the labeling of such food just voluntary? Why not require it, as we require basic nutrition information on processed foods now?”

She discussed the local opposition to GMOs in Hawaii:
My state of Hawaii is the number one state for experimental Genetically Engineered plant field trials, according to the USDA. Many of my constituents are very concerned about these GE crop field testings because of the lack of information about these trials and the pesticides that are being applied to the fields.On the island of Kaua‘i in my district, residents organized and passed an ordinance requiring large agrichemical companies to disclose the pesticides they are spraying and observe buffer zones around schools, homes, and hospitals to prevent chemical spray drifts. The DARK Act could overrule the rights of local communities to make such decisions to protect their health and safety, and guide the growth of their agricultural industries.
A Civil Beat poll in April found that 65 percent of Hawaii voters support mandatory GMO labeling.
Takai also criticized the bill in a press release Thursday:

The bill I voted against today limits the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to require labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) products, and effectively nullifies state laws in place today that regulate GMO foods. For nearly fifteen years, we have had voluntary labeling; however, standards differ and often lead to variances in the definition of natural and GMO products between states.

Clearly, this process must be improved. The consumers of our nation deserve to have clarity and be able to make their own decisions on the type of food they buy.Along with many of my colleagues, I support H.R. 913, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act.

This legislation would create a national standard to label food products that derive from GMOs. In addition, this bill would harmonize U.S. policy with the 64 other countries that require the labeling of GMO foods.

This in turn, would make it easier for producers, processors, and packagers to comply with labeling requirements and would help in exporting our products around the world.”

Gabbard calls for GMO labeling

SUBHEAD: Each of us has a basic right to know what’s in our food. Now is the time to call for action.”

By Anita Hofschneider on15 May 2015 for Civil Beat -

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is calling for people to oppose a bill that would prohibit states or local governments from requiring mandatory labeling on genetically engineered food.

House Bill 4432 was introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, and Gabbard said in a campaign email Tuesday that Congress could vote on it any day now.

“One of the best is our ability to grow our own food, and to do it in a way that’s sustainable,” said the Democrat representing Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district. “But our farmers and our communities are dealing with huge multi-national agribusiness corporations that keep their use of GMOs secret from consumers.

That’s just plain wrong. Each of us has a basic right to know what’s in our food. Now is the time to call for action.”

She linked to an online petition calling for mandatory GMO labeling that’s already garnered over 28,000 signatures, and threw in a link requesting campaign contributions at the bottom of the email.
In Gabbard’s district, which includes Kauai County, Maui County, the Big Island, and the rural parts of Oahu, GMOs are fairly unpopular.

Both Kauai and the Big Island passed regulations on GMO farming that were struck down in court. Last fall, Maui County voters approved a ballot initiative to temporarily ban GMO farming, but lawsuits from Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences have so far prevented the law from going into effect.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Congress sucks up to GMOs 7/24/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Europen Union approves RoundUp 7/15/25


The Potemkin Party

SUBHEAD: That Democrats tolerate entities like WalMart is an argument for the bankruptcy of the party.

By James Kunstler on 27 July 2015 for -

Image above: A bomb scare at the Walmart in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii in May of 2014. From (

How many of you brooding on the dreadful prospect of Hillary have chanced to survey what remains of Democratic Party (cough cough) leadership in the background of Her Royal Inevitableness? Nothing is the answer. Zip. Nobody. A vacuum. 

There is no Democratic Party anymore. There are no figures of gravitas anywhere to be found, no ideas really suited to the American prospect, nothing with the will to oppose the lumbering parasitic corporatocracy that is doing little more than cluttering up this moment in history while it sucks the last dregs of value from our society.
I say this as a lifelong registered Democrat but a completely disaffected one — who regards the Republican opposition as the mere errand boy of the above-named lumbering parasitic corporatocracy. Readers are surely chafing to insert that the Democrats have been no less errand boys (and girls) for the same disgusting zeitgeist, and they are surely correct in the case of Hillary, and indeed of the current President.

Readers are surely also chafing to insert that there is Bernie Sanders, climbing in the opinion polls, disdaining Wall Street money, denouncing the current disposition of things with the old union hall surliness we’ve grown to know and love. 

 I’m grateful that Bernie is in the race, that he’s framing an argument against Ms. It’s My Turn. I just don’t happen to think that Bernie gets what the country — indeed what all of techno-industrial society — is really up against, namely a long emergency of economic contraction and collapse.

These circumstances require a very different agenda than just an I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill redistributionist scheme. Lively as Bernie is, I don’t think he offers much beyond that, as if cadging a little more tax money out of WalMart, General Mills, and Exxon-Mobil will fix what is ailing this sad-ass polity. The heart of the matter is that our way of life has shot its wad and now we have to live very differently. Almost nobody wants to even try to think about this.

I hugely resent the fact that the Democratic Party puts its time and energy into the stupid sexual politics of the day when it should be working on issues such as re-localizing commercial economies (rebuilding Main Streets), reforming agriculture to avoid the total collapse of corporate-industrial farming, and fixing the passenger rail system so people will have some way to get around the country when happy Motoring dies (along with commercial aviation).

The “to do” list for rearranging the basic systems of daily life in America is long and loaded with opportunity. Every system that is retooled contains jobs and social roles for people who have been shut out of the economy for two generations. If we do everything we can to promote smaller-scaled local farming, there will be plenty of work for lesser-skilled people to do and get paid for. 

Saying goodbye to the tyranny of Big Box commerce would open up vast vocational opportunities in reconstructed local and regional networks of commerce, especially for young people interested in running their own business. 

We need to prepare for localized clinic-style medicine (in opposition to the continuing amalgamation and gigantization of hospitals, with its handmaidens of Big Pharma and the insurance rackets). The train system has got to be reborn as a true public utility.

 Just about every other civilized country is already demonstrating how that is done — it’s not that difficult and it would employ a lot of people at every level. That is what the agenda of a truly progressive political party should be at this moment in history.

That Democrats even tolerate the existence of evil entities like WalMart is an argument for the ideological bankruptcy of the party. Democratic Presidents from Carter to Clinton to Obama could have used the Department of Justice and the existing anti-trust statutes to at least discourage the pernicious monopolization of commerce that Big Boxes represented. 

By the same token, President Obama could have used existing federal law to break up the banking oligarchy starting in 2009, not to mention backing legislation to more crisply define alleged corporate “personhood” in the wake of the ruinous “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision of 2010. They don’t even talk about it because Wall Street owns them.

So, you fellow disaffected Democrats — those of you who can’t go over to the other side, but feel you have no place in your country’s politics — look around and tell me who you see casting a shadow on the Democratic landscape. Nobody. Just tired, corrupt, devious old Hillary and her nemesis Bernie the Union Hall Champion out of a Pete Seeger marching song.

I’ve been saying for a while that this period of history resembles the 1850s in America in two big ways: 1) our society faces a crisis, and 2) the existing political parties are not up to the task of comprehending what society faces. In the 1850s it was the Whigs that dried up and blew away (virtually overnight), while the old Democratic party just entered a 75-year wilderness of irrelevancy. God help us if Trump-o-mania turns out to be the only alternative.

Oh, by the way, notice that the lead editorial in Monday’s New York Times is a plea for transgender bathrooms in schools. What could be more important? For Transgender Americans, Legal Battles Over Restrooms

IB Publisher's Note:
Grigory Potemkin was a Russian military leader, statesman, nobleman and favourite of Catherine the Great. The phrase "Potemkin village" was originally used to describe a fake portable village, built only to impress. According to the story, Grigory Potemkin erected the fake portable settlement along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to fool Empress Catherine II during her journey to Crimea in 1787. The phrase is now used, typically in politics and economics, to describe any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that some situation is better than it really is. Some modern historians claim the original story is exaggerated.


Global warming and woolly mammoth

SUBHEAD: Rapid global warming major contributor to extinction of mega fauna of North America.

By Brian Palmer on 24 Jult 2015 for On Earth -

Image above: Diorama of woolly mammoth n the Royal BC Museum in Victoria (Canada). The display is from 1979, and the fur is musk ox hair. From original article and (

Humans are truly self-important creatures. No matter what happens, we think it must have been our doing. Lightning cracks and earthquakes? We obviously angered God. Your team wins a football game? It’s because you wore your lucky jersey. Woolly mammoths go extinct thousands of years ago? Well, we must have killed them.

That last example is called the “overkill hypothesis.” At the end of the Pleistocene, around 11,000 years ago, many large mammals, like the woolly mammoth and the giant ground sloth, died out.

 Paleontologists have argued for centuries about what killed these so-called “megafauna.” The overkill hypothesis, proposed 40 years ago by geoscientist Paul Martin, holds that humans swept into their habitats and hunted the giants to extinction. (This idea is also called the “blitzkrieg model,” but let’s stick with “overkill hypothesis”—I prefer not to liken our hunter-gatherer ancestors to the Nazis.)

 The theory had a good run. Humans got to spend several decades imagining themselves as the descendants of super-hunters who swept aside the strongest beasts nature had to offer.

Unfortunately, the likely truth is less impressive. The overkill hypothesis is wrong—or at least incomplete. A series of more recent studies shows that forces much larger than humans were primarily responsible for the disappearance of the great mammals of the Pleistocene. First, archaeologists have pointed out that only two of the 36 animals that went extinct during this period show evidence of having been hunted by humans.

Last year, researchers showed that many of the megafauna in the American Northeast were already or almost gone when humans rolled through.
Photo: ДиБгд/Wikimedia CommonsMegatherium, an extinct genus of elephant-sized ground sloths.
If humans didn’t single-handedly kill those great beasts, then who or what did?

Rapid climate change has long been a prime suspect, but some of the pieces didn’t quite fit. Paleontologists could find little evidence of mass extinctions during the coldest part of the last ice age—the period during which you’d expect climate change to be taking its toll.

It now seems that we were looking at the wrong end of the process. For some reason, people are inclined to think of cold as the more dangerous temperature extreme. Perhaps it’s hard-wired into the human brain.

But heat is just as deadly, if not more so. And it now looks as though rapid warming at the end of the ice age—not the frigid cold of the ice age itself—was largely responsible for the megafauna extinction.

Today, a team of geneticists reported in Science that DNA evidence from the late Pleistocene shows the major turnover of species lines up perfectly with a period of sudden climate oscillations identified in ice cores. These samples of ancient ice carry a record of the composition of the earth’s atmosphere going back hundreds of thousands of years.

The study doesn’t end the extinction mystery entirely, since warming at the end of the Pleistocene probably couldn’t have killed the megafauna without help. It’s not as though a few degrees of temperature increase gave the mammoths heat stroke, and they crumpled into a lifeless woolly pile.

One possibility is that temperature shifts changed the food supply. Woolly mammoths, giant ground sloths, and other megafauna appear to have been herbivores. (At least, that’s what their dung suggests.) Last year, a team based in Europe argued that the ice age reduced the population of protein-rich plants called “forbs,” a family that includes the modern sunflower.

When the temperature eventually rebounded, new plants more suited to the warmer climate replaced the forbs and greatly limited the availability of plant-based protein.

Humans probably also played a supporting role.

“The abrupt warming of the climate caused massive changes to the environment that set the extinction events in motion,” says Chris Turney, a paleoclimatologist at Australia’s University of New South Wales and a coauthor of today’s study. “But the rise of humans applied the coup de grace to a population that was already under stress."

Think of humans as the matador, the guy who comes in at the end of a bullfight and takes all the credit for killing a bull that has been weakened to the edge of death by a bunch of other guys. Suddenly, we don’t sound so tough.


Obama OKs Shell wrecking Arctic

SUBHEAD: Obama okaying Shell's oil drilling in Arctic is a bitter betrayal and climate suicide.

By Miyoko Sakashita on 23 July 2015 for ommon Dreams  -

Image above: Activists gathered in San Francisco Bay and across the country July 18 urging President Obama to reject Arctic oil drilling. From original article.

came swift and sudden, though not unexpected: The Obama administration had approved Shell’s permits to drill for oil in the Arctic this summer.

It came like a punch in the gut. How could he?

Not only will this put Arctic wildlife directly in harm’s way of oil spill but it will push us deeper in the very climate crisis that President Obama has vowed time and again to finally address.

More than 1 million people had urged the president to keep oil drilling out of the Arctic. Just last weekend, thousands of people around the world took to the streets and their local waterways to say “Shell No” to drilling in the far north. (I even called on him prove his climate change rhetoric by denying Shell’s Arctic oil drilling permits this week in an open letter on Huffington Post.)

Obama didn’t just defy environmentalists around the world who have been calling for the Arctic to be kept off-limits to offshore drilling, he betrayed his own stated values and cast a dark shadow across the United States’ role as a world leader in transitioning the planet to the clean energy future it desperately needs.

By allowing Big Oil to drill into the largest untapped oil reserve on the planet, located in a harsh environment where a major oil spill is both likely and impossible to clean up, Obama has set a depressing and destructive example going into this fall’s climate change talks in Paris.

Yes, he claims to recognize and be working to address the “urgent and growing threat of a changing climate,” but his actions keep saying, “Drill baby drill!” At least the Republicans are somewhat honest about their intentions to suck up and burn every drop of oil they can, but Obama claims other values and goals.

That’s why this is such a bitter betrayal.

And it isn’t just about climate change. The Department of the Interior has already acknowledged there’s a 75 percent change of a major oil spill with this project, and that it will injure wildlife even without a spill. We only have to look at the delayed and deficient federal response to the recent oil spill near Santa Barbara to doubt the emergency response standards of the federal government, which regularly allows oil companies to self-regulate.

Former Vice President Al Gore, in an interview with the Guardian last week, offered a rare criticism of Obama for even considering the Shell project and allowing it to get this far, calling the idea “insane.” Beyond the undeniable climate change impacts, Gore emphasized the likelihood of a devastating oil spill, like BP’s 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I think the Deepwater Horizon spill was warning enough. The conditions are so hostile for human activity there. I think it’s a mistake to drill for oil in the Arctic. I think that ought to be banned,” Gore said.

So do I, and so do leading environmentalists and climate scientists around the world. Obama’s decision to allow this project to move forward is a painful blow, but it’s one that will only increase my resolve to fight Big Oil with every means at our disposal.

This week, Obama made it clear that he’s not the ally we’d hoped he was in this fight, but there’s an army of us who will continue this struggle long after he’s gone.


Congress sucks up to GMOs

SUBHEAD: Monsanto and friends poured money into defeating state-level GMO-labeling efforts.

By Andrea Germanos on 23 July 2015 for Common Dreams -

Image above: Sign in grocery store window supporting Oregon "Right to Know" GMO labeling bill. From original article.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation that would block states from requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods, or GMOs—a move that consumer rights groups decried as corporate power defeating Americans' right to know what's in their food.
The bill, H.R. 1599—dubbed the “DARK Act” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) by its critics—passed 275-150. (Click here to see the roll call...)

It was backed by the food industry, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto Company, which have poured money into defeating GMO labeling initiatives.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, a group that opposed the bill, explains: "The bill that passed includes provisions that would preempt states from labeling GMOs or enforce already passed GMO labeling provisions (like Vermont’s Act 120), and would prohibit states from having any oversight of GMO crops, for example, a county-wide ban on growing GMOs or GMO-free zones in certain organic seed-producing areas. Instead, this bill would create a voluntary federal GMO labeling standard for companies, weakening already deficient regulations."

It was co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who said following the vote that bill "provides needed clarity in food labeling."

Among those disappointed in the passage of the legislation is the Center for Food Safety.
"Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored," stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) was also opposed to the bill, and cited widespread public support for labeling GMOs.

"It’s outrageous that some House lawmakers voted to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans," said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for EWG.

The outcome of the vote was a "foregone conclusion," he continued, because "this House was bought and paid for by corporate interests."

But Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, stressed that the fight is far from over—so expect resistance.

"We are committed to stopping this outrageous, anti-consumer, anti-democracy legislation from succeeding," Cummins said. "We will do so by mobilizing a massive opposition movement that transcends political party affiliations, and that unites consumers of all ages with organic farmers and retailers whose livelihoods are threatened by this legislation, and with the medical and scientific experts who are outspoken about the potential health and environmental risks associated with GMO crops and foods.

"It’s time to hold every member of Congress accountable. Either they stand with Monsanto and Big Food in support of the DARK Act, or they stand with the overwhelming majority of their constituents for truthful labeling and consumer choice," Cummins stated.

Instead of H.R. 1599, hundreds of farm, public interest and environmental organizations have urged (pdf) passage of bipartisan legislation that would require labeling of GMOs.

For now, the battle moves to the Senate, where, as the Des Moines Register reports, no similar legislation exists.  EWG's Faber says his group is "confident the Senate will defeat the DARK Act."
Kimbrell expressed optimism as well, stating, "We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy."