By Adam D. Sacks on 23 August 2009 in Grist -
Image above: Ranchers, soybean farmers and loggers burned down and clear cut a near-record area of the Amazon rainforest last year. From: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/dec/07/meat-soya-environment-paraguay
In the 20 years since we climate activists began our work in earnest, the state of the climate has become dramatically worse, and the change is accelerating — this despite all of our best efforts. Clearly something is deeply wrong with this picture. What is it that we do not yet know? What do we have to think and do differently to arrive at urgently different outcomes?
The answers lie not with science, but with culture.
Climate activists are obsessed with greenhouse-gas emissions and concentrations. Since global climate disruption is an effect of greenhouse gases, and a disastrous one, this is understandable. But it is also a mistake. Such is the fallacy of climate activism: We insist that global warming is merely a consequence of greenhouse-gas emissions. Since it is not, we fail to tell the truth to the public.
I think that there are two serious errors in our perspectives on greenhouse gases.
Global Warming as Symptom
The first error is our failure to understand that greenhouse gases are not a cause but a symptom, and addressing the symptom will do little but leave us with a devil’s sack full of many other symptoms, possibly somewhat less rapidly lethal but lethal nonetheless.
The root cause, the source of the symptoms, is 300 years of our relentlessly exploitative, extractive, and exponentially growing technoculture, against the background of ten millennia of hierarchical and colonial civilizations.
This should be no news flash, but the seductive promise of endless growth has grasped all of us civilized folk by the collective throat, led us to expand our population in numbers beyond all reason and to commit genocide of indigenous cultures and destruction of other life on Earth.
To be sure, global climate disruption is the No. 1 symptom. But if planetary warming were to vanish tomorrow, we would still be left with ample catastrophic potential to extinguish many life forms in fairly short order: deforestation; desertification; poisoning of soil, water, air; habitat destruction; overfishing and general decimation of oceans; nuclear waste, depleted uranium, and nuclear weaponry—to name just a few. (While these symptoms exist independently, many are intensified by global warming.)
We will not change course by addressing each of these as separate issues; we have to address root cultural cause.
Beyond Greenhouse Gas EmissionsThe second error is our stubborn unwillingness to understand that the battle against greenhouse-gas emissions, as we have currently framed it, is over.
It is absolutely over and we have lost.
We have to say so.
There are three primary components of escalating greenhouse-gas concentrations that are out of our control.
The first is that generally speaking the effects we are seeing today, as dire as they are, are the result of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide in the range of only 330 parts per million (ppm), not the result of today’s concentrations of almost 390 ppm. This is primarily a consequence of the vast inertial mass of the oceans, which absorb temperature and carbon dioxide and create a roughly 30-year lag between greenhouse-gas emissions and their effects. We are currently seeing the effects of greenhouse gases emitted before 1980.
Just as the scientific community hadn’t realized how rapidly and extensively geophysical and biological systems would respond to increases in atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations, we currently have only a rough idea of what that 60 ppm already emitted will mean, even if we stopped our emissions today. But we do know, with virtual certainty, that it will be full of unpleasant surprises.
Beyond the Box
Positive Feedback Loops
The second out-of-control component is positive (amplifying) feedback loops. The odd thing about positive feedbacks is that they are often ignored in assessing the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions. Our understanding of them is limited and our ability to insert them into an equation is rudimentary. Our inability to grasp them, however, in no way mitigates their effects, which are as real as worldwide violent weather.
It is now clear that several phenomena are self-sustaining, amplifying cycles; for example, melting ice and glaciers, melting tundra and other methane sources, and increasing ocean saturation with carbon dioxide, which leads to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. These feedbacks will continue even if we reduce our human emissions to zero—and all of our squiggly lightbulbs, Priuses, wind turbines, Waxman-Markeys, and Copenhagens won’t make one bit of difference. Not that we shouldn’t stop all greenhouse-gas emissions immediately—of course we should—but that’s only a necessity, not nearly a sufficient response.
We need to find the courage to say so.
The third component is non-linearity, which means that the effects of rising temperature and atmospheric carbon concentrations may change suddenly and unpredictably. While we may assume linearity for natural phenomena because linearity is much easier to assess and to predict, many changes in nature are non-linear, often abruptly so. A common example is the behavior of water. The changes of state of water—solid, liquid, gas—happen abruptly. It freezes suddenly at 0°C, not at 1°, and it turns to steam at 100°, not at 99°. If we were to limit our experience of water to the range of 1° to 99°, we would never know of the existence of ice or steam.
This is where we stand in relationship to many aspects of the global climate. We don’t know where the tipping points—effectively the changes of state—are for such events as the irreversible melting of glaciers, release of trapped methane from tundras and seabeds, carbon saturation of the oceans. Difficult to pin down, tipping points may be long past, or just around the corner. As leading climatologist Jim Hansen has written, “Present knowledge does not permit accurate specification of the dangerous level of human-made GHGs. However, it is much lower than has commonly been assumed. If we have not already passed the dangerous level, the energy infrastructure in place ensures that we will pass it within several decades.”
Evidence of non-linearity is strong, not only from the stunning acceleration of climate change in just the past couple of years, but from the wild behavior of the climate over millions of years, which sometimes changed dramatically within periods as short as a decade.
The most expert scientific investigators have been blindsided by the velocity and extent of recent developments, and the climate models have likewise proved far more conservative than nature itself. Given that scientists have underestimated impacts of even small changes in global temperature, it is understandably difficult to elicit an appropriate public and governmental response.
We climate activists have to tread on uncertain ground and rapidly move beyond our current unpleasant but comfortable parts-per-million box. Here are some things we need to say, over and over again, everywhere, in a thousand different ways: Bitter climate truths are fundamentally bitter cultural truths. Endless growth is an impossibility in the physical world, always—but always—ending in overshot and collapse. Collapse: with a bang or a whimper, most likely both. We are already witnessing it, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
Because of this civilization’s obsession with growth, its demise is 100 percent predictable. We simply cannot go on living this way. Our version of life on earth has come to an end.
Moreover, there are no “free market” or “economic” solutions. And since corporations must have physically impossible endless growth in order to survive, corporate social responsibility is a myth. The only socially responsible act that corporations can take is to dissolve.
We can’t bargain with the forces of nature, trading slightly less harmful trinkets for a fantasied reprieve. Geophysical processes care not one whit for our politics, our economics, our evening meals, our theologies, our love for our children, our plaintive cries of innocence and error.
We can either try to plan the transition, even at this late hour, or the physical forces of the world will do it for us—indeed, they already are. As Alfred Crosby stated in his remarkable book, Ecological Imperialism, mother nature’s ministrations are never gentle.
Telling the Truth
If we climate activists don’t tell the truth as well as we know it—which we have been loathe to do because we ourselves are frightened to speak the words—the public will not respond, notwithstanding all our protestations of urgency.
And contrary to current mainstream climate-activist opinion, contrary to all the pointless “focus groups,” contrary to the endless speculation on “correct framing,” the only way to tell the truth is to tell it. All of it, no matter how terrifying it may be.
It is offensive and condescending for activists to assume that people can’t handle the truth without environmentalists finding a way to make it more palatable. The public is concerned, we vaguely know that something is desperately wrong, and we want to know more so we can try to figure out what to do. The response to An Inconvenient Truth, as tame as that film was in retrospect, should have made it clear that we want to know the truth.
And finally, denial requires a great deal of energy, is emotionally exhausting, fraught with conflict and confusion. Pretending we can save our current way of life derails us and sends us in directions that lead us astray. The sooner we embrace the truth, the sooner we can begin the real work.
Let’s just tell it.
Stating the Problem
After we tell the truth, then what can we do? Is it hopeless? Perhaps. But before we can have the slightest chance of meaningful action, having told the truth, we have to face the climate reality, fully and unflinchingly. If we base our planning on false premises—such as the oft-stated stutter that reducing our greenhouse-gas emissions will forestall “the worst effects of global warming”—we can only come up with false solutions. “Solutions” that will make us feel better as we tumble toward the end, but will make no ultimate difference whatsoever.
Furthermore, we can and must pose the problem without necessarily providing the “solutions.” I can’t tell you how many climate activists have scolded me, “You can’t state a problem like that without providing some solutions.” If we accept that premise, all of scientific inquiry as well as many other kinds of problem-solving would come to a screeching halt. The whole point of stating a problem is to clarify questions, confusions, and unknowns, so that the problem statement can be mulled, chewed, and clarified to lead to some meaningful answers, even though the answers may seem to be out of reach. Some of our most important thinking happens while developing the problem statement, and the better the problem statement the richer our responses. That’s why framing the global warming problem as greenhouse-gas concentrations has proved to be such a dead end.
Here is the problem statement as it is beginning to unfold for me. We are all a part of struggling to develop this thinking together:
We must leave behind 10,000 years of civilization; this may be the hardest collective task we’ve ever faced. It has given us the intoxicating power to create planetary changes in 200 years that under natural cycles require hundreds of thousands or millions of years—but none of the wisdom necessary to keep this Pandora’s Box tightly shut. We have to discover and re-discover other ways of living on earth.
We love our cars, our electricity, our iPods, our theme parks, our bananas, our Nikes, and our nukes, but we behave as if we understand nothing of the land and water and air that gives us life. It is past time to think and act differently.
If we live at all, we will have to figure out how to live locally and sustainably. Living locally means we are able get everything we need within walking (or animal riding) distance. We may eventually figure out sustainable ways of moving beyond those small circles to bring things home, but our track record isn’t good and we’d better think it through very carefully.
Likewise, any technology has to be locally based, using local resources and accessible tools, renewable and non-toxic. We have much re-thinking to do, and re-learning from our hunter-gatherer forebears who managed to survive for a couple of hundred thousand years in ways that we with our civilized blinders we can barely imagine or understand.
Living sustainably means, in Derrick Jensen’s elegantly simple definition, that whatever we do, we can do it indefinitely. We cannot use up anything more or faster than nature provides, we don’t poison the air, water, or soil, and we respect the web of life of which we are an intricate part. We are not separate from nature, or above it, or in any way qualified to supervise it. The evidence is ample and overwhelming; all we have to do is be brave enough to look.
How do we survive in a world that will probably turn—is already turning, for many humans and non-humans alike—into a living hell? How do we even grow or gather food or find clean water or stay warm or cool while assaulted by biblical floods, storms, rising seas, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, snow, and hail?
It is crystal clear that we cannot leave it to the technophiliacs. It is human technology coupled with our inability to comprehend, predict, and prevent unintended consequences that have brought us global catastrophe, culminating in climate disruption, in the first place. Desperate hopes notwithstanding, there are no high-tech solutions here, only wishful thinking—the tools that got us into this mess are incapable of getting us out.
All that being said, we needn’t discard all that we’ve learned, far from it. But we must use our knowledge with great discretion, and lock much of it away as so much nuclear weaponry and waste.
Time is running very short, but the forgiveness of this little blue orb in a vast lonely universe will continue to astonish and nourish us—if we only give it the chance.
Our obligation as activists, the first step, the essence, is to part the cultural veil at long last, and to tell the truth.
 Many thanks to Richard Grossman, who posed that question fifteen years ago with respect to corporate domination of governance and culture when he founded the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD). He understood that we must take the time to stop and penetrate beyond the obvious if we are to think outside of the cultural prescriptions that constrain our ability to act differently. Many thanks as well to Ross Gelbspan, a courageous and ground-breaking journalist, who early on investigated the forces driving the fossil fuel machine and has been sounding the alarm for almost two decades. See his excellent article, “Beyond the Point of No Return,” December 2007, which inspired many of the ideas in this piece.
 I would like to express deep gratitude to John A. Livingston, pioneer environmentalist, preservationist, teacher and writer. In 1981 he wrote “The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation,” which inspired the title of this piece. The fallacy that Livingston was referring to is well-described in the foreword by Graeme Gibson: “The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation, as a statement of belief, is one of the fiercest and most uncompromising of John Livingston’s convictions. Had he entitled it ‘The Failure of Wildlife Conservation,’ we might have tried again—without having to think too much about it. But he didn’t. ... As a result of the word fallacy, we are confronted with an insistence that we rethink everything.” From The John A. Livingston Reader, McClelland & Stewart, 2007, pp. xiv-xv. So it is, with the fallacy of climate activism, that we must rethink everything.
 Endless (exponential) growth is an impossibility in a finite physical system (planet earth), and we have a wealth of examples of overshoot and collapse, non-human and human, all of which are fully predictable. Our cultural inability to grasp such an obvious reality is a primary obstacle to progress in addressing climate change and its root cause. Indigenous cultures tend to have much better understandings of these things. See Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend, “Sustainable Growth: An Impossibility Theorem,” from Valuing The Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics, MIT Press, 1993, p. 267 ff. For a wide-ranging discussion of the demise of civilizations, see Jared Diamond, Collapse, Viking, 2005.
 James Hansen et al.(2007), “Climate change and trace gases,” Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A 365: 1925–1954 (2007).
 Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900 - 1900, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 92. The actual quote, referring to population, is, “Mother nature always comes to the rescue of a society stricken with the problems of overpopulation, and her ministrations are never gentle.”
 A word here about the skeptics, with whom we are also obsessed: Forget about them. They may appear to have control of the public discussion, but they are babbling into the abyss. Our enemy is us. By our own unwillingness to face the profound implications of climate change—that we have to reject civilization as currently conceived and come up with something completely different—we are doing far more damage to the cause of preserving life on earth than the deniers could ever do.
 “One of the more peculiar traits of our society is its assumption—its insistence—on solutions. Just as there are reasons for all things, so there are solutions for all things. Always there are ultimate answers; there is no problem that is not amenable to logical reduction. This, as we have seen earlier, in spite of such bewildering enterprises as ecology. I have no ‘solution’ to the wildlife preservation problem [read ‘global warming problem’]. There may not be one. But given the somewhat shaky assumption that one exists, I sense that I can at least feel the direction.” John A. Livingston, The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation, p. 151.
 Our culturally skewed and defensive view of pre-hierarchical societies, seeing only lives that were “nasty, brutish and short” struggling to survive in “nature, red in tooth and claw,” has distorted earlier human experience beyond recognition. See, for example, Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, Harper & Rowe, 1987; and Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, Tavistock Publications, Ltd. (London), 1974.
 Jensen is one of our most passionate and incisive cultural critics and environmental writers. His words are, “For an action to be sustainable, you must be able to perform it indefinitely. This means that the action must either help or at the very least not materially harm the landbase. If an action materially harms the landbase, it cannot be performed indefinitely ...” From Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, What We Leave Behind, p. 56.
 Although, as I indicate in footnote 12 in a brief discussion of holistic management of grasslands, we can and must repair enough of the damage so that the infinitely complex self-organizing systems of nature—the systems that gave life to all living creatures—can begin anew.
 For example, consider hare-brained schemes from very smart scientists, some of whom know that the schemes are hare-brained but in their desperation see no other way. A recent article in Rolling Stone, “Can Dr. Evil Save The World?,” has an interesting overview of the geo-engineering debate. The bottom line seems to be that we currently are able to do and think anything except changing the way we live, and risking the existence of life on earth is simply a chance we have to take (although 100 percent odds of failure is hardly a bet one should want to take, assuming there are any rational moments left). See also Ross Gelbspan’s article, “Beyond the Point of No Return,” footnote 1.
 Glimmers of hope lie in the remarkable restorative powers of the earth. One such phenomenon is ancient pre-history but new to us. That is the relationship between grazers and grasslands. Whereas conventional grasslands management destroys soils and diversity, nature’s way sequesters vast amounts of carbon in soils, with photosynthesizing plants as intermediators along with fungi, micro-organisms, insects, animals and birds—and creates productive and healthy land that, unlike forests, can bind carbon for thousands of years. We have the potential to remove gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere, reducing greenhouse gas concentrations by many parts per million with proper land management. Beyond grasslands, the planet’s power of regeneration, despite our assaults, remains extraordinary. See the Holistic Management International website.
Another example is the dramatic restoration of denuded rainforest in Borneo after only six years: “Planting finishes this year , but already [Willie] Smits [the Indonesian forestry expert who led the replanting] and his team from the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation charity claim the forest is ‘mature’, with trees up to 35 metres high. Cloud cover has increased by 12 per cent, rainfall by a quarter, and temperatures have dropped 3-5°C, helping people and wildlife to thrive, says Smits. Nine species of primate have also returned, including the threatened orangutans. ‘If you walk there now, 116 bird species have found a place to live, there are more than 30 types of mammal, insects are there. The whole system is coming to life. I knew what I was trying to do, but the force of nature has totally surprised me. ... The place became the scene of an ecological miracle, a fairytale come true,’ says Smits, who has written a book about the project.”
By Euan Mearns on 2 February 2009 in The Oil Drum -
Image above: Over the falls in a high tech cocoon. From http://blog.wwaraft.com/blog/dc-weekend-trips
"We will discuss the intersection between Energy and the Economy, and I will make the point that it was no accident that our exponential, debt-based money system grew up at precisely the same moment that a new source of high quality energy was discovered that proved capable of increasing exponentially right alongside it. Now we embark on the precise line of thinking that completely dominates my investing and purchasing habits. I call it energy economics. With sufficient surplus energy, humans can construct remarkably complex creations in short order. Social complexity relies on surplus energy. Societies that unwillingly lose complexity are notoriously unpleasant places to live. Given this, shouldn’t we pay close attention to how much surplus energy we’ve got and where it comes from?"
- By Chris Martenson from Crash Course Chapter 17b: Energy BudgetingEnergy Efficiency of Energy Procurement Systems
We are set on a disastrous course. Governments must accept that the way we use energy must change and that a painful period of adjustment lies ahead. The energy efficiency of energy use and procurement should lie at the heart of decision-making and a good starting point is to ensure that reliable efficiency data is available to guide this process.
Energy efficiency now supposedly lies at the heart of EU and US energy policies. Whilst we are most aware of the merit of energy efficiency of energy consumption, e.g. fuel-efficient cars and well-insulated buildings, the concept of energy efficiency of energy procurement is one that has been largely overlooked. One reason for this has been the vast energy surplus provided by historic supergiant oil and gas fields of the Middle East, Russia and the Americas and vast surface coal deposits of Africa, Asia and Australia. As production from these historic fossil fuel deposits starts to decline, the OECD economies are being forced to procure energy from other sources such as wind, tidal, solar, bio-fuel and nuclear. Without most of us being aware of the fact, it has suddenly become important to understand the energy efficiency of new energy procurement systems, if industrial society as we know it is to survive the next great energy transition away from fossil fuels. The Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) provides one measure of the efficiency of energy procurement and is quite simply defined as:
Energy procured / Energy used to procure energy
The chart shows how the proportion of net energy available for society to use varies with ERoEI. There is in fact much uncertainty in the data displayed and many large gaps in knowledge. The shape of the curve shows that for ERoEI > 10, the bulk of energy procured is available to society – to power industry, transportation, schools and hospitals. With falling ERoEI <>The chart is not zero scaled and shows that for ERoEI = 1, no net energy is produced. The yellow arrow, pointing to ERoEI = 9 is intended to provoke some debate since we do not know with any certainty what the minimum ERoEI for modern industrial civilisation is.
One thing that we do know for sure is that we have used a significant proportion of the easy to access fossil fuels and that new resources scheduled for exploitation will require much larger amounts of energy to procure. The average energy pool available to the global economy is therefore relentlessly marching towards lower aggregate ERoEI.
As society uses more energy to procure energy, an inevitable consequence is that less energy is available for everything else, in a stable energy production environment. Certain areas of current energy use must fail and the way the free market is trying to resolve this problem is to select energy intensive industries for extinction, for example air travel and motor vehicle manufacture, however, current Government policies are trying to prevent this natural selection process, propping up the motor industry on both sides of the Atlantic, expanding airports, whilst subsidizing inefficient means of procuring energy such as temperate latitude bio-fuels.
We are set on a disastrous course. Governments must accept that the way we use energy must change and that a painful period of adjustment lies ahead. The energy efficiency of energy use and procurement should lie at the heart of decision-making and a good starting point is to ensure that reliable efficiency data is available to guide this process.
• Some ERoEI data sources wind, tar sands, ethanol, solar pv (pdf file) and references therein. Nuclear: M. Lenzen, Energy Conversion and Management 49 (2008) 2178–2199. Hat tips to Will and Nate for solar and nuclear sources.
Ea O Ka Aina: How Civilization will Collapse 4/16/09
Island Breath: The Bad, The Worse and The Seriuouslt Ugly 4/14/08
By Alexis Madrigal on 25 August 2009 in Wired -
image above: The Minneapolis bridge disaster in 2007. From http://politicalblogs.startribune.com/bigquestionblog/?m=200708&paged=2
Last week, a Siberian hydroelectric dam failed when an explosion rocked the site’s turbine room, killing dozens and taking 6,000 megawatts of electricity offline. While the tragedy’s ultimate causes are unclear, Russian media has been questioning the state of the aging Soviet-made infrastructure. Dams are getting older in the United States, too. The average age of America’s 80,000 dams is 51 years. More than 2,000 dams near population centers are in need of repair, according to statistics released this month by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
Last year, 140 dams were fixed, but inspectors discovered 368 more that need help. That’s why the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our dams a grade of “D” in its 2009 report on the nation’s infrastructure. There are just too many aging dams and too few safety inspectors.
“With the huge number of dams getting older every day, it’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem,” said Larry Roth, deputy executive director of the ASCE. “The policing of maintenance and filing of inspection records is relatively haphazard, not because of lack of focus or knowledge of significance, but they just don’t have the monetary resources to do it.”
The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimate that $16 billion would be needed to fix all high-hazard dams. The total for all state dam-safety budgets is less than $60 million. The current maintenance budget doesn’t match the scale of America’s long-term modifications of its watersheds. While dams have been built in this country for a couple hundred years, the first half of the 20th century saw a building boom.
Large dams were built for hydroelectric power, smaller dams to provide water for industrial concerns or irrigation. There was little state or Federal regulation, particularly of the little dams in small watersheds, until the 1970s, when five major dam failures took hundreds of lives and caused almost $1.5 billion in damage.
he Carter administration began to put safeguards in place, but the inspections continue to be carried out at the state level. In some places, like California, that works pretty well, Roth said. But other states haven’t put much money toward dam safety, and Alabama hasn’t allocated any cash at all. State dam inspectors have to look after an average of 160 structures. Worse still, more people are moving into risky areas. As the American population grows, dams that once could have failed without major repercussions are now upstream of cities and development.
That’s why the number of high-hazard dams has increased from less than 9,000 in 2001 to more than 10,000 now. The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages a portfolio of more than 350 dams, has a team of close to 50. That’s the big reason the government-managed facilities are less of an issue.
“Most of the dams that are hydroelectric are generally well-inspected and well-maintained,” Roth said. “It would be safe to say that most of our hydroelectric dams are safe in the U.S.” The rigorous process that Reclamation requires catches problems. Brian Becker, chief of the Dam Safety Office at the Bureau said they’ve modified 70 dams to reduce their risk failure. “If dams are properly operated and maintained, the useful life of a dam can be very long,” Becker said.
“There are dams that are centuries old.” But not all dams will make that it that long. Many privately owned dams are not receiving the proper attention to keep them from failing. “They are not being maintained and they are getting older and the conditions around the dams are often changing,” Roth said. In some cases, the owner of the dam isn’t known. The businesses that built most 75- or 90-year-old dams are long gone. Without an owner of record, it’s hard to find someone to pay for necessary repairs.
Even if an owner can be found, they sometimes don’t have — or claim they don’t have — the money to fix the old earthenwork or concrete dams. State officials are forced into a tough spot. They can’t afford to rebuild dams themselves, but they also can’t afford to get rid of them either. Removing a dam that’s been around for 50 years isn’t easy, and it could actually negatively impact the flora and fauna that have adapted to the reservoir.
“Not only do you have to be very careful taking it down, but you could cause some serious environmental reversal,” Roth said. “It’s a man-created environment but it becomes an environmental issue to alter it.” So, we’re stuck with thousands of dams needing repairs and no money to make those repairs or get rid of them. It’s probably only a matter of time before another disaster like the Kaloko dam failure in Hawaii in 2006. “That was just the worst-case scenario:
An owner who didn’t understand his responsibility and didn’t listen to the state regulators, and a state regulation system that was lacking in funds to enforce the code,” said Lori Spragens, executive director of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. “Then that dam failed and killed seven people.” Not even the federal stimulus package directed any money to this particular set of shovel-ready projects. By her organization’s count, Spragens said very little cash from the Recovery Act was going to repair the nation’s dams. Combined with the deplorable state of the nation’s bridges, it goes to show that the Russians don’t have a monopoly on dysfunctional political systems that let a nation’s infrastructure crumble.
Island Breath: Dam Mad Press Release 4/6/06
Island Breath: Hanapepe & Waimea Levees Faulty 4/21/07
Ea O Ka Aina: Moloaa Water Diversion 5/7/08
By Kelly Ball on 12 August 2009 in Island Breath -
Image above: Detail of photograph of Walt Whitman taken in 1884, eight years before his death at 73. From http://www.yale.edu/terc/democracy/may1text/may1text.html
To Be A Poet
To be a poet that's the best
To ride time's wave the moment's guest
To deal with fate and destiny
And all the other important things
Truth and Lies and Soul set free
Love and Hate and Empathy
Ecstasy or Agony
Intimations of Immortality
A poet has the second sight
And is familiar with the night
Understands the flight of birds
And puts its meaning into words
Understands that time's a rhyme
The meaning of the paradigm
Understands we pass a test
Before our soul can come to rest
Effusive praises of creation
Weaving images of inspiration
Poetry dances in our ear
And makes it easier for us to hear
Like the dewdrop and the sun it mirrors
The crystal vision of the seer
Rhythm that has no defense
And no resistance to its sense Is the language of the soul In a world that's to and fro
Image above: Detail of black cat photo modified by Juan Wilson. From http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_Black_Cat.jpg
To Be A Cat
To be a cat is the best
To spend the day at ease and rest
To loll about and be adored
Above it all and slightly bored
To bat at butterflies and strings
And feast on sweetmeats that humans bring
I think you can tell what I'm getting at
Just how great to be a cat
We pounce on mice and other things
The exhilaration that this brings
Sometimes fierce our nature wild
The moment next purring mild
Pussyfooting across a fence
The very essence of innocence
Aristocratic mysterious vibe
What other creature has nine lives
If curiosity kills the cat
Satisfaction brings us back
In ancient Egypt in times before
Guarded all the temple doors
Was the model for the Sphinx
Enigmatic primal link
Memory of your instincts
And considering things diurnal
We the cats are nocturnal
Spend the night with the galaxy
Floating in the cosmic sea
Eyes reflect eternity
That nowhere look that is our ken
We the cats are really
Zen Arching, leaping, graceful bound
Shattered teacups all around
That "Who me?" look of which we're masters
Gets us through the small disasters
Always landing on our feet
From any calamity that we meet
Who else with such aplomb
We the cats are the bomb
Image above: Photo of organic cucumber vine. Converted to gray-scale by Juan Wilson. From http://www.snowyhillgardens.com
To Be A Cucumber
To be a cucumber is the best
To twist and vine in the solar fest
To spread our leaves and get our fill
Thanks to all the chlorophyll
Neither do we spin or toil
With our roots deep in the soil
Natural grace and elegance
Each one of us a resonance
Unlikely floating like a dream
We are more than what we seem
As together we become
The silent symphony of the one
With our color shape and form
And our pace that marks the norm
Patterns of infinity
To be found within our leaves
Through the season's sculpted dance
With our flowers cast a trance
Primal pattern of sex and gender
Bearing fruits of jewel tone splendor
When you feed upon our mana
And your life force full of prana
As recorded in your lore
Of mythic times gone before
We the plants are Eden's link
Where what you get is what you think
Creation's art and creation's wealth
We're the essence of your health
The daily bread of your communion
Celebration of nature's union
Joie de vie is yours to savor
Infinity of bursting flavor
Tap dancing across your tongue
Every morning the day begun
The miracle of the rising sun
Of which your poets often sung
Who denies we're heaven sent
That we the plants are sacrament
And this is how it's really meant
• Kelly Ball is supervising the gardening program at Kauai Community College and has an organic garden in Kekaha. He can be reached at email@example.com
Island Breath: Poem by Bruce Robertson 9/1/04
Island Breath: Poems by Faith Harding 6/19/05
Island Breath: Poets on Kauai 3/22/06
Island Breath: Poem by Millicent Cummings 4/22/07
Island Breath: Poem by Jonathan Jay 10/4/08
One hundred and fifty years ago on Aug. 27, Colonel Edwin L. Drake sunk the very first commercial well that produced flowing petroleum.
The discovery that large amounts of oil could be found underground marked the beginning of a time during which this convenient fossil fuel became America’s dominant energy source.
But what began 150 years ago won’t last another 150 years — or even another 50. The era of cheap oil is ending, and with another energy transition upon us, we’ve got to scavenge all the lessons we can from its remarkable history.
“I would see this as less of an anniversary to note for celebration and more of an anniversary to note how far we’ve come and the serious moment that we’re at right now,” said Brian Black, an energy historian at Pennsylvania State University and and author of the book Petrolia. “Energy transitions happen and I argue that we’re in one right now and that we need to aggressively look to the future to what’s going to happen after petroleum.”
When Drake and others sunk their wells, there were no cars, no plastics, no chemical industry. Water power was the dominant industrial energy source. Steam engines burning coal were on the rise, but the nation’s energy system — unlike Great Britain’s — still used fossil fuels sparingly. The original role for oil was as an illuminant, not a motor fuel, which would come decades later.
Before the 1860s, petroleum was a well-known curiosity. People collected it with blankets or skimmed it off naturally occurring oil seeps. Occasionally they drank some of it as a medicine or rubbed it on aching joints.
Some people had the bright idea of distilling it to make fuel for lamps, but it was easier to get lamp fuel from pig fat or whale oil or converted coal. Without a steady supply, there was no point in developing a whole system and infrastructure dedicated to petroleum.
Nonetheless, some Yankee capitalists from Connecticut were convinced that oil could be found in the ground and exploited. They recruited “Colonel” Edwin Drake, who was not a Colonel at all, mostly because he was charming and unemployed. He, in turn, found someone skilled in the art of drilling, or what passed for it in those days.
Drake and his sidekick “Uncle Billy” Smith started looking underground for oil in the spring of ‘59. They used a heavy metal tip attached to a rope, sending it plummeting down the borehole like a ram to break up the rock. It was slow going.
On Aug. 27, 1859, at 69 feet of depth, Drake and Smith hit oil. It was a big deal, but the Civil War stalled the immediate development of the rock oil industry.
“When the discovery happened, the few people who were there and not involved in the war, went around and bought all the property they could and had outside investors come in,” Black said. “But the real heyday of the development happened from 1864-1870. It’s that 11-year period when the little river valley was the world’s leading supplier of oil.”
The “little river valley” in western Pennsylvania earned the nickname Petrolia. Centered in the Oil Creek valley about one hundred miles north of Pittsburgh, the wells of Pithole, Titusville and Oil City pumped 56 million barrels of oil out of the ground from 1859 to 1873.
Suddenly, rock oil was everywhere. And cheap. Whale oil had always been a bit precious. A three to five year voyage would only yield a few thousand gallons of the stuff. In 1866, after the end of the Civil War, 3.6 million barrels poured out of the region. Daniel Yergin notes in his history of oil, The Prize, that as more people poured into the oil regions “supply outran demand” and soon the whiskey barrels that held the oil “cost almost twice as much as the oil inside them.”
Still, fortunes were being made and lost. Not just money, but energy, was flowing from underground. Some have estimated that for every unit of energy you invested sinking a well, you got back “more than 100 times as much usable energy.
Oil, people soon found, was uniquely convenient. To equal get the amount of energy in a tank of gasoline, you need 200 pounds of wood. Pair that energy density with stability under most conditions (meaning it didn’t randomly explode), and that, as a liquid, it was easy to transport, and you have the killer app for the infrastructure age.
In a world that only had a tiny fraction of the amount of heat, light, and power available that we do now, people came up with all kinds of ideas for what to do with oil’s energy: cars, tractors, airplanes, chemicals, fertilizer, and plastic.
Perhaps it’s not a surprising consequence of this innovation that at current consumption levels, Americans would blow through all the oil ever produced in Petrolia in less than three days.
The scale of the oil industry is astounding, but it’s becoming clear the world’s oil supply will peak soon, or perhaps has peaked already. People quibble about the details, but no one argues that oil will play a much different role in our energy system in 50 years than it did in 1959.
The search for alternatives is on. If that search goes poorly — as some Peak Oil analysts predict — human civilization will fall off an energy cliff. The amount of energy we get back from drilling oil wells in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico continues to drop, and alternative sources don’t provide usable energy for humans on the generous terms that oil long has.
But humans with an economic incentive to be optimistic become optimists, and the harder we look, the more possible alternatives we find. The big question now is whether the cure for our oil addiction will come with a heavy carbon side effect.
“Peak oil and peak gas and coal could really go either way for the climate,” Pushker Kharecha, a scientist with NASA’s Global Institute for Space Studies, said at least year’s American Geophysical Union meeting. “It all depends on choices for subsequent energy sources.”
Over the next 20 years, synthetic fuels made from coal or shale oil could conceivably become the fuels of the future. On the other hand, so could advanced biofuels from cellulosic ethanol or algae. Or the era of fuel could end and electric vehicles could be deployed in mass, at least in rich countries.
With the massive injection of stimulus and venture capital money into alternative energy that’s occurred over the past few years, the solutions for replacing oil could already be circulating among the labs and office parks of the country. To paraphrase technology pundit Clay Shirky talking about the media, nothing will work to replace oil, but everything might.
If history tells us anything, it’s that energy sources can change, never tomorrow, but always some day.
“What is required is to operate without fear and to take energy transitions on as a developmental opportunity,” Black said.
By Samiha Shafy on 26 August 2009 in Spieggel Online
Image above: From http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/water/2009/02/23/water-footprinting
Arjen Hoekstra didn't really stand out in the crowd of 2,000 scientists, activists, politicians and representatives of industry roaming the halls of the Stockholm trade fair. Far more attention-getting figures than the 42-year-old Dutch hydro engineer attended World Water Week in Sweden last week. Asian delegates wore glowing saris. And Indian businessman Bindeshwar Pathak drew flocks of media everywhere he went at the event after being named the recipient of this year's Stockholm Water Prize for inventing a toilet for slum dwellers.
10,000 Liters of Water for a Pair of Jeans
His equation is actually just a couple of numbers used to describe the amount of water that is used -- or polluted -- during the manufacture of various products. Anyone can calculate their water footprint by looking at the amount of water they use directly and then by looking at the amount of "virtual water" they use -- that is, how much water is used in the production of any goods they consume. The global average for an individual's water footprint is 1,243 cubic meters of water per year. In the US, this goes up to 2,483 cubic meters per year; in Germany it's 1,545 and in China, 702.
Hoekstra's water footprint formula has already made headlines around the world with its estimates of the amount of water that is used or abused in the simple products that are a part of our everyday lives:
- 140 liters of water for one cup of coffee!
- 2,400 liters for a hamburger!
- 10,000 liters for one pair of jeans!
Virtual Water Heading In The Wrong Direction
And they all seem to agree that Hoekstra's numbers could be potentially explosive -- mainly because they make it clear how thoughtlessly water, the most precious of resources, is handled in so many areas. "Because of the international trade in water-intensive products, there are floods of virtual water flowing around the world," Hoekstra said. "And many of them are flowing in the wrong direction, going from water-poor regions to the water-rich."
Mostly these flows involve food, biofuels and cotton. Between 70 and 80 percent of all the water consumption in the world is used for agricultural purposes. The European Union, for example, contributes indirectly to the drying out of the ever-shrinking Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan through its cotton imports from the region. And when the Germans buy ham from Spain or oranges from Israel, they are also contributing to water scarcity in those areas. In fact, Germany, a country that has plenty of water, is one of the biggest importers of virtual water in the world.
Today, around 1.4 billion people live in areas where water is scarce. Climate change, population growth and the flows of virtual water only serve to exascerbate the problem. "By 2050, we will be confronted with the paradoxical situation of having to feed another 2.5 billion people, but with significantly less water," said Colin Chartres, director general of the International Water Management Institute, an internationally funded, non-profit organization looking into ways to improve land and water management.
'In Dry Areas There Should Be No More Agriculture'
Against that backdrop, delegates in Stockholm argued about how realistic Hoekstra's more radical ideas are. "In dry areas there should be no more agriculture," the Dutchman has suggested. His idea involves using the trade in virtual water to rebalance the earth's water budget. Instead of watering desert fields, Egypt would be better off importing beans or millet from Ethiopia, for example. And Australia, where the Outback is one of the world's most arid regions, should also cease to export virtual water in the form of meat, fruit and wine production.
The same arguments could be applied to all of Earth's dry zones -- from the Middle East to northern China and northwestern India to Southern California. Hoekstra says all of these regions could mitigate their water paucity by letting their fields dry up and importing more virtual water. "These water-poor regions need to come up with a new vision for the future," Hoekstra argued. "Just as the oil producing countries, where oil is starting to run out, have had to do."
But what would make any country abandon agriculture, altogether or partially? British environmental researcher Tony Allan, 72, first coined the phrase "virtual water" in the 1990s and he agrees with Hoekstra. "Singapore is an interesting example," he said. "They don't have water sources or agriculture. Ninety percent of their water needs are covered by the import of virtual water. The rest comes from recycling and desalination."
Rich Countries Buying Up Land To Insure Water Supplies
Of course, Allan knows that Singaporean model isn't necessarily appropriate for the rest of the world. Even he admitted that no country would voluntarily give up its agricultural practices in the foreseeable future. "But it is no longer taboo to talk about these things," he noted.
During the Stockholm workshops, experts quickly agreed that new pricing structures could steer the water trade in the right directions. Today, water prices are often distorted through government subsidies to farmers -- mainly because if the subsidies were not there, then agriculture and animal husbandry would very quickly become prohibitively expensive in those dry regions and no longer worthwhile.
Meanwhile, countries like China and Saudia Arabia are buying up large, fertile pieces of land in places like Africa, Asia and Latin America. By buying land instead of food, they are ensuring access to water in the future. The land-grabbing countries aren't alone, either -- they're competing directly with food production giants like Nestle and Coca-Cola, which have been buying up rights to water reservoirs around the world for years.
Many companies are welcoming the increasing debate about water footprints in Stockholm. It's a great opportunity for them to do something to improve their image. Indeed, several large corporations sent whole delegations to Stockholm. At the workshops, the delegates continually repeated the same message: Their employers are trying their very best to leave a smaller water footprint.
The United States is in the third and fatal stage of a great country’s life-cycle – the political stage. In this stage, money and power migrate from the financial community to the political community. The politicians get away with taking trillions out of the productive economy and spending them on their pet projects and private corruptions.
image above: The Chateau de Versailles, home of the French monarchs. From http://burell9history.wikispaces.com/My+Diary+no.2“Politics is about what works,” someone once said. Someone said it…someone who is an imbecile. Politics is not about what works, it’s about what you can get away with. And what you can get away with is often exactly what doesn’t work at all.
What the United States is getting away with, from a financial point of view, in addition to counterfeiting, is grand larceny on a Super-Madoff scale. It is borrowing trillions of dollars even though it has no way to honestly pay back the money.
Still, so eager are the lenders to part with their money that the 10-year T-note yields a miserly 3.46%. The more the feds borrow, apparently, the more lenders are willing to lend. But this is a story that will end badly.
Warren Buffett described the America of the bubble years as “Squanderville.” Private citizens were living beyond their means, he pointed out. But he hadn’t seen nothin’. Now, government does the squandering. The politicians are spending trillions they don’t have on projects nobody was willing to pay for even when they had some money in their pockets.
What the government can get away with now – under cover of a financial crisis – is a big grab for money and power. It ‘works’ in the sense the feds are able to get away with it. But it will prove fatal to the dollar…and to the US economy.
The Fed is intervening in markets as no Fed ever has. Its balance sheet – a measure of how much intervention it has done – has shot up in a way that is not only unprecedented, but also almost unbelievable. In an effort to provide liquidity, the Fed has bought up the contents of every neglected refrigerator on Wall Street. This smelly, furry stuff enters the Fed’s books as an asset, along with various not-so-pungent assets like US Treasury bonds. Altogether, the Fed’s balance sheet shows more than $2.7 trillion worth of this unappetizing hodgepodge.
“It’s not sound economics – nor is it ethical – to trash the US dollar and bail out incompetent investors who poured billions into CMBS [ commercial mortgage-backed securities ] at the peak of the bubble,” says Strategic Short Report’s Dan Amoss. “There is no longer a ‘systemic risk’ argument for The Fed to be propping up the price of such securities.
What happens next?
We don’t know. But it is far too early to expect the Fed to withdraw its easy-money policy. The Fed will have to stay on this road for much, much longer. Why? Because the “green shoots” are shriveling up. There is no real economic revival. And there can’t be one until the underlying problems are corrected.
One of the big problems is too much capacity. During the Bubble Epoque the squanderers would buy anything. So, you could make an almost unlimited amount of money by providing them with things to buy. This meant building factories…buying trucks…and renting retail space. Now, however, the squanderers have come to their senses…or maybe they’ve just come to the limit of their credit lines. The squanderers now want to save their money. So, no need for so much retail space in the malls, so many trucks on the highways or so much retail space.
There are a number of sit-down restaurant chains that cater to the middle class – Applebee’s…Chili’s…Ruby Tuesday and a few others. They expanded greatly during the ’90s and ’00s in order to meet the desires of the big-spending masses. But now that the masses aren’t so free and easy with their money, the New York Times reports that these chains are in desperate competition for remaining diners. This competition is manifesting itself as price deflation.
Applebee’s offers dinner for two for only $20. Chili’s advertises entrees for just $7. Ruby Tuesday’s is going for a 2-for-1 deal. Buy one meal, get one free. All of them are making heavy use of discount coupons.
Oversupply is producing deflation. Prices are falling as suppliers fight for demand by offering more for less. And over at the Red Roof…the roof has already caved in, as the chain has defaulted on its mortgage debt.
This is what you’d expect at the end of a long period of credit expansion. EZ credit brought forth too much demand and too much supply. Now, the demand is disappearing…and the suppliers struggle to hold on.
Even now, we’re facing an economy in which 70% of our economic output depends on consumer buying. And consumers are in no condition to consume. Ergo, no buyers, no recovery.
Economic contraction is natural, normal and perhaps necessary to a market economy. And the current contraction will take years to sort out. Roofs have to fall in on thousands of enterprises, speculators and households. Then, the rebuilding can begin.
But the Bernanke Fed is not about to let nature take her course. Don’t expect any tightening from the Fed anytime soon, dear reader…it is far too soon for that.
Governments are essentially parasites on productive activity. So the best governments are the smallest – meaning, the least parasitic. As has been said before, “That government is best which governs least.”
But now we are in the third and fatal stage of a great country – the political stage. In this stage, the parasites take over. Government governs a lot. And governing a lot costs a lot of money. In England, the government budget is bumping up against half the total GDP of the nation. In America, health care is still largely a private matter, so the government spends a smaller percentage of GDP…but it is a percentage that is rising quickly.
Where will the money come from? Taxes? Gordon Brown has already put the income tax rate up to 50%. Michael Caine, an English actor who moved from the U.S. to England to escape the high taxes of the ’70s, says he will tolerate 50%…but not a penny more.
“If it goes to 51% I will be back in America,” he says.
Ahem…he might have to try somewhere else. Everybody’s gunning for the rich – in America as well as in England. Obama has pledged to raise taxes on the rich. The states, notably California, are desperate for more revenue too. Add federal, state and local levies…and private health care costs…and you could easily be over the 50% bracket in America too.
The history of European monarchies is largely a history of debt. Kings and queens squeezed what they could out of the turnips. Then they turned to the moneylenders. These lenders had to be careful. They were happy to extend monarchs credit, because in this way they gained a measure of control over them. But there were many dangers. Kings lost their heads…or went broke.
Or, often, the monarchs could turn the tables on the moneylenders…and have their heads cut off. Reading the history of the loans to the French crown is eye-opening. It is amazing anyone wanted to lend at all. The risks were great; the rewards were few. Rarely were the loans settled honorably.
Government raises money. Sometimes it repays the loan with revenues from other taxes. Sometimes, it is the lender who pays the tax himself – either because the government defaults…or because inflation reduces the value of his money. What you come to see is that lending to the government – which always has the power to betray the loan and behead the lender – is merely another form of taxation. But the lender can blame no one but himself for his losses. The wounds he suffers are self-inflicted.
This is a story that often ends badly, if not disastrously.
By Brad Parsons on 25 August 2009 in Aloha Analyitics -
image above: Still from KIUC rate hike PUC Hearing on Kauai 2/25/09 To view video click here
[Editor's Note: While Wednesday’s public hearing was KIUC members’ best opportunity to voice their opinions in person, the PUC will accept testimony on Docket No. 2009-0050 for 10 days after the meeting, a PUC representative confirmed Wednesday. Testimony can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to PUC, 465 South King St., Room 103, Honolulu, HI 96813. Reference Docket No. 2009-0050.]
EXAMPLE TESTIMONY: Aloha Commissioners, First, thank you for coming to the island of Kaua'i to received testimony in person from the ratepayers on this matter. This matter is central to the future way of life on Kaua'i. Recently a study group of concerned citizens and KIUC ratepayers (Kauaians for a Bright Energy Future) formed to thoroughly evaluate the docket on this case.
In our group are doctors, lawyers, economists, and acknowledged energy utility experts. At least three of our members reviewed the entire 1300 plus pages of the PUC docket on this case, all KIUC referenced planning documents, and all public KIUC Board Meeting minutes over the period in which KIUC was planning this filing. Of particular note, I would like to recommend your close attention to the written testimonies you may receive on this matter from Henry Curtis, Walter Lewis, and Ken Stokes. They have each done excellent review, analysis, and evaluation of the entire record on this case. To summarize some of the key points from them:
1. Of the 7 demands that KIUC makes in this rate case, they fail to show proper due diligence in evaluating the various alternatives that are available to deal with rates, revenue, earnings, and debt service requirements presented in this case. Furthermore, KIUC does not appear to have followed the law on the requirement to shape the ERAC/COPA fuel adjustment into a mechanism to prod the utility into increasing the use of renewable energy.
2. The exact circumstances and magnitude of how KIUC has lost money in 5 of the last 8 months suggests that there is a problem with the way rates are set each month. Only one of those months had a significant loss. The rest of those months suggest KIUC has a management discretionary rate-setting problem, not a regulatory rate case problem. If management had done a better job of setting monthly rates, there would be no perceived 'financial crisis.' The loss of $3.3 million during a single month (December) seems to have triggered a concern for maintaining the "debt coverage" (which is what TIER atempts to measure), yet this situation has already been turned around. In July, the TIER was back above 1.25, which is the minimum required by KIUC's lenders. As it stands now, in June, July, and August there have been no revenue, earnings, nor TIE performance problems for KIUC. KIUC fails to show proper necessity in this rate case.
3. There is no longer a need to rush through a rate increase, and KIUC can go ahead and finish its study on rate design which was noticeably absent from KIUC's filings in this docket. Of particular note for a new rate design would the prospect of inverted block rates where heavier users are charged higher rates and lesser users are charged lower rates thus fostering energy conservation.
Many ratepayers are concerned because KIUC sees falling or stagnant electricity demand as a problem, yet most experts and KIUC's own Strategic Planning documents acknowledge this is our best short-term solution for dealing with the necessary energy transformation throughout Hawaii in the years ahead. The energy business is changing, and KIUC must change with it. This is a huge opportunity, not a threat.
Yet, it must be faced head-on. Asking us to believe that "tweaking" the rates higher will "fix" the problem is simply not credible. In conclusion, we consider this rate case application to be incomplete and to contain materially false assumptions. We respectfully request that the Commission seriously consider the issues that have been raised by the above referenced testimonies. Mahalo, Brad Parsons
Ea O Ka Aina: PUC Testimony 8/25/09
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