After the Great Quake

SUBHEAD: Living precariously on the surface of a volatile planet is the norm. By Verlyn Klinkenborg on 28 March 2011 in Yale Environment 360 - (http://e360.yale.edu/feature/after_the_great_quake_living_with_earths_uncertainty/2387) Image above: A survivor is given a helping hand getting of a boat on arrivel to Banda Aceh after Indonesian earthquake and tsunami in 2004. From (http://bop.nppa.org/2006/still_photography/winners/DSR/66024/129875.html). In my layman’s cosmology, the anthropic principle says this: our existence implies that the universe must take the shape it does or we wouldn’t be here to perceive it. A universe with even minutely different physical laws wouldn’t include us (which isn’t to say that such universes don’t exist). An anthropic principle of sorts is also at work in geologic time — the 4.5 billion or so years this planet has existed. For the vast majority of Earth’s history, conditions were unsuitable for the evolution of mammals. (Nor were humans even remotely certain to evolve from those earliest mammals.) We’ve come to exist in the window of time in which we could have come to exist. Or rather, we’ve survived in the window of time in which we can survive. We call a portion of that window “historic time” — not the entire history of our species, but the history that’s part of our cultural record in one form or another, reaching back only several thousand years. Historic time overlaps with geologic time the way a whale louse overlaps with the blue whale it infests, though the scale of that comparison is too small by several orders of magnitude. And yet it’s all too easy to believe, with the self-importance of a whale louse, that we exist apart from or outside of geologic time. That’s what our experience tells us. The last 10,000 years or so have been relatively uneventful, geologically speaking. Given the overall length of geologic time, it’s likely that any span of 10,000 years or so would be relatively uneventful. But the Tohoku earthquake (3/11/11) and tsunami remind us there’s no guarantee that historic time must be geologically uneventful. They remind us — forcibly, tragically — that, despite vast differences in extent, historic time and geologic time always converge in the present. We’ve been reminded before. But one of the interesting things about humans, psychologically, is how rapidly history loses its tangibility. The eruption of Krakatoa in August 1883 occurred two months before my maternal grandfather was born, putting it within a degree or two of personal connection. And yet, as an event, it’s no more palpable to me or anyone living than the major Sumatra earthquake that preceded Krakatoa by 50 years — or the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano 640,000 years ago. Seismologists were surprised by the magnitude of the Tohoku earthquake, which exceeded their predictions for earthquakes along that fault line. But then seismologists have only had 130 years of earthquakes — at the outside — in which to calibrate their instruments. Realistically, they’ve had much less time than that. Which is to say that an understanding of what’s seismically likely, based on our experience, may come to differ sharply from an understanding of what’s seismically possible. Perhaps you’ve seen a computer animation showing the breaking apart of Pangaea, the super-continent that existed some 250 million years ago. In animation, the continents “drift” — that is the word, after all — into their present position as though they were running on greased ball bearings. The animation captures the average motion of the continents, a few centimeters a year. An average is an abstraction. Video above: History and future of Earth's land masses. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGcDed4xVD4) But the tectonic plates that continents rest on neither glide nor drift, nor is their movement abstract. They lurch, heave, resist, yield, bend, fracture, ripping great seams in the planet’s crust, forcing each other down into the mantle below the crust — a process that sounds much more benign when it’s called subduction. None of this happens averagely. It happens momentarily, event by event over eons, generating volcanism and seismic activity on a scale we know almost nothing about, living, as we do, in conditions that allow our existence. The trouble is that we look back at the breaking up of Pangaea and the movement of the continents and think, well, that’s how we got here, as if we’d arrived somewhere special and the process had somehow paused for us. Two hundred and fifty million years from now, another animation might lead its viewers (whoever they may be) to look back at where the continents are now and think the same thing, as though in 2011 we were — as we are — merely a moment in the ongoing migration of the tectonic plates. Geologically speaking, we manage to be nowhere special (that’s also our location in the universe) and, at the same time, in a period special enough to allow our existence (ditto). Historically speaking we’re someplace unique — here and now — a uniqueness we share with every other moment that has been or will be the present. Some of those moments were placid. Some were and will be violent beyond our imagining, off the scale even by the standards of Tohoku. The uneasiness I think we all feel since the Tohoku earthquake is a compound of many things, including the forcible realization that we’re living in geologic time, where catastrophic events capable of dwarfing our outposts of civilization do occur. The next massive eruption of Yellowstone isn’t likely, but it certainly isn’t impossible. It’s one of those things you worry about knowing you shouldn’t worry about it. But I recognize the uneasiness from somewhere else. As we watch the specter of climate change unfold — trying to grasp the shifting, accelerating likelihoods — we’re looking at potential change of a kind normally associated with geologic time. It’s as though we’re running our own high-speed animation of atmospheric and climatic models over epochs — so much so that scientists seeking meaningful comparisons in temperature and atmospheric carbon concentrations look tens of millions of years before the Holocene, which includes all of historic time. Except that the atmospheric and climatic changes we’re looking at aren’t models. They’re real. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami were genuinely humbling, a reminder that we ride skimming on the surface of a volatile planet. But what’s the word for the emotion caused by knowing we’re contributing to the planet’s volatility? We run the risk of raising global average temperature at a rate faster than any time in the past 50 million years (5 degrees C by 2100). As ice masses melt and sea levels rise, the load on the Earth’s crust will change, with the likelihood of what is gingerly called “geospheric response” — i.e., more earthquakes and volcanoes. This is a subject only beginning to be understood by geologists. A terrible uncertainty follows a major earthquake, an uncertainty we’ve always lived with. It dies down after a time, like the memory in Japan of the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake or the memory in this country of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. But there’s a more terrible uncertainty in how we live and where we’re headed — the uneasy feeling that we’re entering geologic time in a way we’ve never known before. .

Too Much Energy

SUBHEAD: It may simply be that evolution didn’t prepare our species for the impact of our brief and self-limiting encounter with the Earth’s carbon reserves. By John Michael Greer on 31 March 2011 for Archdruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/03/too-much-energy.html) Image above: Slamm town Emerson NJ Amtrak station is still in operation. From (http://activerain.com/blogsview/747618/small-town-america-spotlight-emerson-new-jersey). One of the bits of mental flotsam that very often drifts to the surface in discussions of peak oil is the assumption, as common among diehard peakniks as it is among the most delusionally cornucopian of their opponents, that the “lottle” principle applies to energy: that is, if a little is good, a lot’ll always be better. Widespread though this belief may be, I’ve come to doubt it, and those doubts crystallized as I rode the train from my home in western Maryland to Minneapolis and back during the interval between this Archdruid Report and the last. Yes, I took the train. To most North Americans – people on other continents tend to be more realistic on the subject – that’s a shocking thought, though these days the surprise often gives way to nostalgic wistfulness. The United States once had the world’s biggest and best rail system, and Canada’s wasn’t far behind. Quite a few people alive today still remember the days when fast, efficient rail service connected all but the smallest towns here in America. These days, you have to choose your location carefully to benefit from the scraps that still remain; one of the reasons my spouse and I selected the old red brick mill town where we now live was that, unlike dozens of equally pleasant towns nearby, it has daily train service on a major route connecting the east coast and the Midwest. The reach of rail service even across North American distances in the first half of the twentieth century was made possible by the simple fact that on land, at least, rail transit is more energy-efficient than any other mode of transportation. Diesel-electric locomotives, the standard type in service nowadays, use essentially the same technology as a modern hybrid car, and since they don’t have to make sudden starts and stops, whip around sharp turns, or climb steep grades, the energy content of their diesel fuel goes a very long ways; as a rule of thumb, a locomotive can pull a ton of goods or passengers for not much less than a thousand miles on one gallon of diesel. That means, among other things, that it took less petroleum to get me from Cumberland, Maryland to Minneapolis than it takes a yuppie driving alone in a big SUV to go shopping at the local mall. Still, the energy efficiency of train travel is only part of the picture. Another is the simple fact that train travel, even in these days of reduced budgets and limited routes, is among the few really civilized modes of travel left. Take a car and you can count on doing battle with traffic hour after hour on one freeway after another; take a plane and, after you trudge through the lines and get ogled or groped by government functionaries who apparently believe that the Fourth Amendment can be suspended by executive order, you get to experience the joys of being stuffed into a winged sardine tin, breathing your fellow passengers’ stale exhalations, and staring at blank cloudscape, for however many hours it takes to get where you’re going. On a train, by contrast, there’s plenty of room and fresh air; you can sit back, put your feet up, watch the scenery roll by, and enjoy the experience. If the child two rows ahead gets fussy, you’re not stuck listening; there’s always the lounge car, where you can duck downstairs, pick up a beer at the cafe, and sit at one of the tables and read while four old guys at another table play pinochle. The food in the diner car’s on a par with most roadside restaurants and better than most of what you’ll find at an airport, and if you spring for a cabin in one of the sleeper cars – on long runs, I highly recommend this – the meals are included. If all this suggests that I’m an unabashed partisan of train travel, well, that’s a fair assessment. There are good reasons for that just now, starting with the very high energy efficiency of rail travel, and the advantages of a mature technology that could be redeployed in a hurry without the bottlenecks and dead ends that are an inevitable part of bringing any new technology on line. Most of the world’s other industrial societies, and quite a few of the nonindustrialized nations, won’t even have to go through the redeployment process; they had the common sense to keep their rail networks intact when the United States was busy selling most of its own for scrap, and thus may end up with a critical economic advantage in the difficult years immediately ahead of us. Here in America, by contrast, whenever passenger rail travel is discussed, two objections come up as reliably as a greasy airport breakfast on a rough flight. The first, mostly heard from the current crop of pseudoconservatives, is the insistence that passenger trains are creatures of government subsidies and should be abolished as a money-saving measure. This argument would have a bit more force if the modes of transport such people prefer didn’t get far more in the way of government largesse than the railroads do. Air travel is economically viable in the United States, for example, only because every level of government from the federal government right down to individual counties and cities carries much of the financial burden of the airports, air traffic control, and other services that make it possible, and subsidize aircraft manufacturers into the bargain. As for automobiles, drivers pay only a tiny fraction of the cost of building and maintaining the network of streets, roads, and highways; they aren’t billed for the government money that goes to keep auto manufacturers afloat, and they don’t get charged for the immense direct and indirect government subsidies that prop up the oil industry. These subsidies include, of course, the costs of repeated military interventions in the Middle East; it will not have escaped the attention of my readers, I trust, that nations selected for liberation from tyranny by the United States and its allies are inevitably those who happen to sit atop large amounts of fossil fuels. If car owners had to pay all these costs themselves, you’d see very few cars on the roads, just as air travel would still be a prerogative of the “jet set” if corporate lobbying hadn’t pushed so many of the costs onto the government. Myself, I’d be happy to see all government subsidies for transportation abolished, and just as happy if they were set at a fixed sum per passenger mile and shared out on that basis among all transport modes; either way, trains would win hands down. The second objection is not limited to any one end of the political scene; it’s found straight across the spectrum, and though it seems really rather frivolous at first glance, it leads into territory not often explored in the last century or so. This is the claim that train travel is too slow. It’s true, to be sure, that it took longer for me to get to Minneapolis from Cumberland by train than it would have taken by air. Counting a layover in Chicago long enough to meet a local friend for lunch, I was traveling some twenty-seven hours each way. It’s hard to judge exact times by air, since the Cumberland airport hasn’t had commercial service for nearly a decade, but before then, a puddle-jumper to Pittsburgh or Cleveland and a direct flight from there to Minneapolis, counting the likely layover, might have taken eight hours each way; add in two hours to get through security and the rest of it, and it’s still a good deal faster than climbing aboard the westbound train at 7 o’clock one evening and rolling into Minneapolis around ten o’clock the next night. Granted, then, it takes more time. The upside, as mentioned earlier, is that the time you spend is less of a waste, since twenty-seven hours of train travel is on average less exhausting, more productive, and a good deal more enjoyable than ten hours of air travel. It’s an interesting situation. In theory, it would be possible to make air travel as pleasant as train travel, and once upon a time the attempt was even made – I recall airline ads from my youth that boasted about the amount of legroom passengers were allotted and the quality of the meals they were served, rather than talking solely about destinations, as they generally do today, and trying to make potential passengers forget about the unpleasant process of getting there and back. In practice, a flying experience more or less as comfortable as an ordinary coach ticket on a train will cost you close to an order of magnitude more. It’s entirely possible that this is in large part an effect of industrial civilization’s overshoot of its energy resource base. In the realm of energy economics, after all, the primary differences between rail travel and air travel are first, that the latter uses a great deal more concentrated energy than the former – the equivalent in jet fuel of the fraction of a gallon of diesel that brought me to Minneapolis, after all, might not even have gotten me off the ground if I’d taken a plane – and second, that the latter technology is a great deal more complex than the former and thus demands much more in the way of energy and resource inputs. As resource limits clamp down, the more energy- and resource-intensive a technology is, the more likely it is to show the economic strain first; in the case of air travel, that strain shows up in the form of crowded seats, dwindling amenities, and repeated fiscal crises for air carriers. If the same logic works on a broader scale, and it’s hard to think of a good reason why it wouldn’t, it may be possible to anticipate which industries will be hardest hit by the opening rounds of energy supply contraction by paying attention right now to which industries are slashing the quality of their products and services fastest. In an age when media spin and doctored statistics make it hard to see through the fog, this may be an early warning system worth cultivating. Still, there’s another issue at work here, one that I’m still only beginning to explore. Most things in life have an optimum which is found considerably below the maximum. At some point in adolescence, for example, most of us find out that there’s such a thing as drinking too much beer. Most of us have eaten too much food at one time or another, and information overload – the point at which taking in more information becomes an obstacle to understanding instead of a help – is a familiar state to many of us. Sort through the other activities of life, and pretty consistently there’s a point at which adding more takes away from the experience rather than adding to it. Today’s economic orthodoxy, to be sure, denies this common human experience, and treats every increment as a benefit. That’s one of the reasons that Americans have created the first civilization in human history where storage units to stash all the things people buy and never get around to enjoying is a significant industry. Heretical as though it may be, though, I’d like to suggest the possibility that there is such a thing as too much energy per capita, and that America may well have been in that territory for a good many decades now. I’ve mentioned before, and it’s worth repeating, that the average European uses around a third as much energy per capita as the average American, and has a better standard living by most of the usual measures. Until recently – more specifically, until I mulled over the subject while looking out the window of the lounge car while the woods and plains of Wisconsin rolled by – I’d assumed that this was simply a function of waste and mismanagement on our part, and a more efficient use of limited resources on theirs. Still, I find myself wondering if there’s a more direct connection between these two factors. Is it possible that Europeans have, by and large, a better standard of living because they use less energy, not in spite of that fact? Ask the question and it’s not hard to find obvious examples. Consider the way that so many Americans buy gasoline-powered riding lawnmowers, and suffer the health impacts of a flaccid middle age – with attendant costs to the economic system – that could have been avoided by the moderate exercise gotten by using a push mower. Consider how much of the industrial world’s intractable unemployment has been driven by the replacement of skilled human labor with machines made possible by the availability of cheap abundant energy. For that matter, consider the way that the availability of energy correlates with the civilian death toll in wars. Before the age of fossil fuels, the annihilation of the entire population of a city happened relatively rarely, and took an extraordinary amount of hard labor on the part of the attackers. By the twentieth century it was relatively easy, and therefore routine. Yet my sense – and it’s no more than an inchoate sense as yet, needing further exploration and definition – is that these examples don’t touch the core of the issues involved. Those of my readers who have put into practice some of the ideas discussed here in the green wizardry posts of the last eight months or so, or who didn’t need those reminders to try out some of the practices in question, have already come closer to that core. I have yet to meet anyone outside of an advertisement who was exhilarated by the act of cranking up the thermostat when it gets cold, say, or getting groceries from a store. I have known quite a few people who were exhilarated, and more, when a passive solar panel or a garden bed that was the work of their own hands warmed a house or contributed to a meal. It may simply be that evolution didn’t prepare our species for the impact of our brief and self-limiting encounter with the Earth’s carbon reserves. Doubtless, as industrial civilization gradually comes apart and the flow of energy to individuals and communities falters, most of us will find ourselves at least as far below the optimum level of energy per capita as today’s SUV drivers are above it, and a good many will find themselves facing, abruptly or slowly, that zero-energy-per-capita state we normally call death. Still, for those who are willing to consider the possibility, there’s a chance that learning to use a lot less energy on a daily basis may have compensations at least as great as those involved in taking a few more hours to ride the train. .

Fukushima reactors reach criticality

SUBHEAD: Fukushima workers threatened by heat bursts from chain reactions as sea radiation rises.  
By Jonathan Tirone, Sachiko Sakamaki & Yuriy Humber on 31 March 2011 -
(http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-30/record-high-levels-of-radiation-found-in-sea-near-crippled-nuclear-reactor.html)
 


Image above: Possible photo of blue flash during "criticality" event at Fukushima Dia Ichi Nuclear Plant. From (http://enenews.com/ethereal-blue-flash-may-occur-during-localized-criticality-bloomberg).

 Japan’s damaged nuclear plant may be in danger of emitting sudden bursts of heat and radiation, undermining efforts to cool the reactors and contain fallout. The potential for limited, uncontrolled chain reactions, voiced yesterday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is among the phenomena that might occur, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters in Tokyo today.

The IAEA "emphasized that the nuclear reactors won’t explode," he said. Three workers at a separate Japanese plant received high doses of radiation in 1999 from a similar nuclear reaction, known as ‘criticality.’ Two of them died within seven months.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant’s operator, and Japan’s nuclear watchdog, dismissed the threat of renewed nuclear reactions, three weeks after an earthquake and tsunami triggered an automatic shutdown. Tokyo Electric has been spraying water on the reactors since the March 11 disaster in an effort to cool nuclear fuel rods.

 "The reactors are stopped, so it’s hard to imagine re-criticality," occurring, Tsuyoshi Makigami, a spokesman for the utility, told a news conference today. A partial meltdown of fuel in the No. 1 reactor building may be causing isolated reactions, Denis Flory, nuclear safety director for the IAEA, said at a press conference in Vienna. This might increase the danger to workers at the site.  

‘Ethereal Blue Flash’
 Nuclear experts call such reactions "localized criticality." They consist of a burst of heat, radiation and sometimes an "ethereal blue flash," according to the U.S. Energy Department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory website.

Twenty-one workers worldwide have been killed by “criticality accidents” since 1945, the site said. The IAEA acknowledged "they don’t have clear signs that show such a phenomenon is happening," Edano said. Radioactive chlorine found March 25 in the No. 1 turbine building suggests chain reactions continued after the reactor shut down, physicist Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, wrote in a March 28 paper.

Radioactive chlorine has a half-life of 37 minutes, according to the report. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said there’s no possibility of uncontrolled chain reactions. Boron, an element that absorbs neutrons and hinders nuclear fission, has been mixed with cooling water to prevent this, Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the agency, told reporters today.  

Ocean Contamination
Contamination of seawater found near the plant has increased. Radioactive iodine rose to 4,385 times the regulated safety limit yesterday from 2,572 times on Tuesday, Nishiyama said. No fishing is occurring nearby and the sea is dispersing the iodine so there is no threat, he said. There was 180 becquerel per cubic centimeter of radioactive iodine-131 found in the ocean 330 meters (1,082 feet) south of the plant.

Drinking one liter of fresh water with that level would be equivalent to getting double the annual dose of radiation a person typically receives. Workers have averted the threat of a total meltdown by injecting water into the damaged reactors. The complex’s six units have been reconnected with the power grid and two are using temporary motor-driven pumps.

Work to repair the plant’s monitoring and cooling systems has been hampered by discoveries of hazardous radioactive water. Dismantling the plant and decontaminating the site may take 30 years and cost Tokyo Electric more than 1 trillion yen ($12 billion), engineers and analysts said. The government hasn’t ruled out pouring concrete over the whole facility as one way to shut it down, Edano said.  

Dumping Concrete
Dumping concrete on the plant would serve a second purpose: it would trap contaminated water, said Tony Roulstone, an atomic engineer who directs the University of Cambridge’s masters program in nuclear energy. “They need to immobilize this water and they need something to soak it up,” he said. “You don’t want to create another hazard, but you need to get it away from the reactors.”

The process will take longer than the 12 years needed to decommission the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania following a partial meltdown in 1979, said Hironobu Unesaki, a nuclear engineering professor at Kyoto University. Tokyo Electric’s shareholders may be wiped out by clean-up costs and liabilities stemming from the nuclear accident, the worst since Chernobyl.

The company faces claims of as much as 11 trillion yen if the crisis lasts two years and potential takeover by the government, according to a March 29 Bank of America Merrill Lynch report. Radiation “far below” levels that pose a risk to humans was found in milk from California and Washington, the first signs Japan’s nuclear accident is affecting U.S. food, state and Obama administration officials said.

The U.S. is stepping up monitoring of radiation in milk, rain and drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration said yesterday in a statement. The number of dead and missing from the earthquake and tsunami had reached 27,690 as of 10 a.m. today, Japan’s National Police Agency said.

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Peak Oil Rock & Roll

SUBHEAD: "We’re on the back-side of the peak (Hubbert’s Peak) And it’s fallin’, fallin’, fallin’ down (fossil fuel production)".  

By Dan Allen on 21 January 2010 in Energy Bulletin - 
  (http://www.energybulletin.net/51262)

 
Image above: Igor, a former reactor shift supervisor at Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in better days. He still misses operating the reactor. From (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12339804).

 
A NOTE FROM THE MUSICIANS
We are the ‘Lonely Ions’ – a rakish punk/acoustic-type musical outfit based in NJ. We are dedicated to the illumination of basic scientific principles via sonic blasts of 1 to 2 minute duration.

There are two human musicians in the band – ‘Dr. Atom’ (aka Dan Allen, high school teacher) and his brother, ‘Mikey Ion’ (aka Mike Allen, ornithologist).

The all-original songs were written for Dr. Atom’s high school Chemistry class & are sometimes performed live therein. Dr. Atom sings in a fake British accent because pretending to be someone else makes his barely-competent live performances less embarrassing for him. (The accent in these songs is basically a double imitation: Dr. Atom imitating Joey Ramone who was imitating late 70’s British punks.)

Three peak-oil/energy relevant songs are included here with lyrics: Americium, Peak Oil Blues, and Energy Matters. I also give a brief commentary on each song to improve your listening experience. Rock on.

Find more The Lonely Ions songs at Myspace Music
AMERICIUM
What do you do with a poison that lives for a thousand years in the heaping piles of rusting barrels in a decommissioned reactor core? What can you do?
Americium, americium, americium
Deadly actinide with a patriotic name Legacy of the nuclear age Will long outlive our civilization What can you do?
Americium, americium, americium
Its gamma rays will fall upon the decaying fragments of the concrete walls and the vines that try to grow upon what remains of what we were. What can you do?
COMMENTARY ON 'AMERICIUM':
Americium is one of the long-lived, ultra-toxic radioactive actinide elements populating the spent fuel of our current nuclear reactors. It’s deadly for thousands and thousands and thousands of years – during which time it needs to be baby-sat to keep it in one place. Note: Civilizations don’t last that long, people. At some not-too-distant time people are gonna stop being able to take care of it, and it’s on its own – free at last. Horrible, horrible freedom.
 
Image above: The Chernobyl control room 25 years later. From (http://nationaljournal.com/pictures-the-chernobyl-disaster-25-years-later-20110324)
 
So at what point were we planning on dealing with the massive amounts of ultra-toxic spent-fuel of the current nuclear reactors?

Will it go away if we ignore it? (Well yea, if you live in geologic time -- which we don’t.)
Will the not-yet-developed 4th generation nuclear reactor technology (that could potentially ‘defuse’ the waste) be beamed down to us from a more advanced civilization? (…Fingers crossed.)
So then what were we thinking?

The first rule of growing up: don’t shit in your own bed. Nuclear waste is one of our still-not-potty-trained Industrial Civilization’s shameful defecations. There are scores of others – CO2 being the Big One. …We’re up to our necks, people. And it’s rising fast.
PEAK OIL BLUES
We had us some fun, burnin’ it up like a billion little suns Turning it day from night, yea we did it up right It was a hydrocarbon party that was ragin’ for generations But the Sun’s coming up now and, man, it ain’t pretty
We’re on the back-side of the peak (Hubbert’s Peak) And it’s fallin’, fallin’, fallin’ down (fossil fuel production) And we better start facing up to it (economic contraction) Living on the backside of the peak
We had the power of the gods and the mind of a child Energy-dense and pound-foolish – it’s a dangerous combination Building towers to the heavens, digging pits halfway to hell Moving mountains, oh we had so much energy to burn
[Chorus]
We sucked the rivers dry, ravaged the forests, emptied the oceans of fish We wrecked the climate, wasted the soil, and perpetrated mass extinctions Wow, what a gas! What a gas! …but we’re out of gas now (mournful sigh)
COMMENTARY ON 'PEAK OIL BLUES':
Now and then it’s instructive to sit back and say, ‘What exactly have we accomplished with all this ancient sunlight we found – these miraculous, energy-dense fossil fuels?’

Well…you can think of a whole bunch of good things we got from fossil fuels: lots of scientific knowledge, some comfortable low-labor living for a lot of people, some neat techno-gadgets, The Ramones, etc. (But then again, you can think of lots of good things we had before fossil fuels: strong communities, intimate personal knowledge of the natural world, Mozart, etc.)

Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to come up with a list of very bad things we got from fossil fuels: fragmented communities, degraded ecosystems, an over-crowded global civilization on the verge of catastrophic collapse, possible destruction of the entire biosphere (if/when the climate flips-out). Looks like a pretty huge net loss, huh?

It can make you sad. Did it really need to happen like this? Are we really that dumb?
ENERGY MATTERS
So this kid puts up her hand and says with a smirk on her face, “What’s with all this energy nonsense Why should I care about ∆H?”
I can understand molecules and atoms Liquids and solids, solutions and gases I’m perfectly fine with stoichiometry But why in the world should I care about energy?
And I say… Energy (oh!), energy (oh!), it matters! Energy (oh!), energy (oh!), it matters a lot!
Without energy, how would matter change? How would atoms and molecules Form & then rearrange?
It’s the difference in potential energy Between fossil fuel and their combustion products That has created and powers Your industrial society
Energy – it matters!
COMMENTARY ON 'ENERGY MATTERS':
Indeed it does. If you want to understand a civilization, you’d do well to look at their energy use – where it came from, how much they used, what they used it for, and what was sacrificed in order to get it. That tells you a lot of their story right there.

We were ‘lucky’ enough (cough) to find gobs of cheap fossilized sunlight right under our feet. We went hog wild with it and sacrificed the biosphere in the process.

That’s a great story. Woo hoo.


Video above: "Russia Today" interviews Prof. Christorpher Busby. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MognnB0g56Y)

 
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Sea Water Farming

SUBHEAD: Stark contrast to industrial aquaculture, where they throw cheap energy on unsustainable systems to maximize profit.  

By Oyvind Holmstad on 30 March 2011 in Permaculture RI -
(http://permaculture.org.au/2011/03/30/sea-water-farming/#more-5369)

Image above: Closed loop shrimp farm where effluent goes to farmland. Still frame from "Eritria - Part 1" vedio below.

The two videos below are much about scaling up mangrove systems for sustainable sea water farming, done in a true permaculture spirit from which both people and nature benefit. Sadly this is in stark contrast to industrial aquaculture, where they throw cheap energy on unsustainable systems to maximize profit.

Today mangroves are disappearing fast. Thirty-five percent of mangrove ecosystems disappeared between 1980 and 2000, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Shrimp farms have been a primary cause of mangrove loss, as well as urbanization and agriculture. This is why the message from The Seawater Foundation is of such an importance, as they show how to change and provide hope for the future.
Video above: "Greating Eritria" Part 1. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P1rPnVUME4).


Video above: "Greating Eritria" Part 2. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnzIg3XdcjY).


A similar form of sustainable shrimp farming is the Chinese Gei Wai, a shallow fish pond surrounded by bunds. Make sure you get real mangrove prawns on your pizza next time you order a sea food topping!

Mangroves and other coastal ecosystems provide a lot services for humanity, among them is their capacity to capture and store CO2. Carbon sinks along the world’s coast lines, including mangroves, sea grasses, and tidal salt marshes, store massive quantities of carbon for centuries at a time, and could provide an immediate and cost-effective tool to counter the impacts of climate change.

Video above: "WWF Living Planet Report 2010 - Mangroven". From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7Pw7TGQRMU)


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Breaking Free From Factory Farms

SUBHEAD: Why foodie farmer, Joe Salatin, believes sustainable farming includes eating meat.  

By Joel Salatin on 30 March 2011 in The Nation -  
(http://www.thenation.com/video/159458/joel-salatin-breaking-free-factory-farms)


Image above: Aerial photo of feed lot by Pete McBride. From (http://www.petemcbride.com).


In this twelfth video in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, American farmer, lecturer and author Joel Salatin outlines the key issues America faces as its citizens increasingly rely on factory farms, concentrated animal feeding operations that require cheap energy in order to operate profitably. He condemns regulations that appear to be on the books to benefit animal factories and prevent individuals from farming sustainably.

Salatin calls this the "food inquisition." The regulatory climate created by government, he says, makes it possible to "capriciously and arbitrarily exclude small local food producers, processors, canneries, cheesemakers, etc. from accessing the market." Salatin advocates for the decentralization of food production and notes the US has thirty-five million acres of lawn, which should be much better utilized in order to prevent Americans from going hungry when peak oil begins to have a real impact.

He urges Americans to quit buying processed food and "get in touch with their kitchens." He believes communities should fund their own food treasures and rediscover the domestic culinary arts.

Video above: "Breaking Free from Factory Farm" with Joe Saletin. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBViL8gOaLU).

How to eat animals & respect them too




Joel Salatin is no simple farmer. When he speaks, he at times takes on the air of a Southern preacher, philosopher, heretic, businessman, activist, or ecological engineer. Since Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the film Food, Inc. brought him to fame as the man who raises meat the right way, Salatin has become a sought-after speaker. 
But he still spends most of his time on his rural Virginia farm—with the chickens, baling hay, moving cows from one paddock to another. He is a self-described “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic” and has a penchant for perplexingly long catchphrases. It is perhaps Salatin’s unwillingness to compartmentalize that has made him such a compelling moral voice for the food movement. For Salatin, farming is inseparable from ethics, politics, faith, or ecology.

There’s a missionary quality to Salatin’s farming. He speaks of his work as a ministry and as healing. He calls his animals “co-laborers” and “dance partners” and says he respects each animal’s distinctiveness. Who better to articulate an ethic of how, when, and whether we should raise and eat our fellow animals ?


Madeline Ostrander:  
What do you think a sustainable diet should look like?

Joel Salatin: 
What would a sustainable diet look like? Oh, my!

Ostrander: 
Because it’s often talked about as a vegetarian diet.

Salatin: 
No, not at all. I think we need to go back to localized diets, and in North America, yes, we can really grow perennials, so there would be a lot of herbivore—lamb, beef—in a diet. And our fruits and vegetables, which have a high water content, would be grown close to home, preferably in our backyards. In 1945, 40 percent of all vegetables consumed in the United States were grown in backyards.

I think a local diet would have an indigenous flair. If you’re along the coast, you’d eat more seafood. If you’re inland, you would eat more herbivore and vegetables. If you’re in Florida, you would eat more citrus. Historically, it’s not about the relationship of meat to vegetables or whatever. It’s more about, what does this area grow well with a minimum of inputs?

Ostrander: 
Cows have gotten a bad rap lately for their contributions to environmental problems. What’s your response?

Salatin
Don’t blame the cow for the negatives of the industrial food system. All of the data that the anti-meat people use assumes an irrigated, concentrated animal feeding operation. Over 50 percent of the annuals that we grow in American agriculture are to feed cows. Cows aren’t supposed to eat corn. They’re supposed to mow forage. It’s completely inverted from nature’s paradigm. To use that inverted paradigm to demonize grazing, the most efficacious mechanism for planet restoration, is either consciously antagonistic to the truth or is ignorant of the kind of synergistic models that are out here.

Here’s the thing. There’s no system in nature that does not have an animal component as a recycling agent. Doesn’t exist. Fruits and vegetables do best if there is some animal component with them—chickens or a side shed with rabbits. Manure is magic.

Now, we could argue about how many animals we should be eating. I really don’t think Americans should be eating so much chicken. Because chicken requires grain; it’s an omnivore. Historically, herbivores—beef, lamb, goat—were every man’s meat because they could be raised on perennials. The kings ate poultry because they’re the only ones who had enough luxury of extra foodstuffs for birds.

Poultry used to fill a recycling niche. Today, if every single kitchen had enough chickens attached to it, there would not be egg commerce in America. All the eggs could be produced from kitchen scraps. What a wonderful thing that would be. There’s no excuse for an egg factory.

Beef cattle—there’s no excuse for a feedlot. We don’t need all those irrigated acres in Nebraska. See? And suddenly all of the data that the animal demonizers are using just crumbles like a house of cards.

Ostrander: 
Your website says that your farm respects and honors the animals you raise. What does it mean to respect an animal and then eat it?

Salatin:
It is a profound spiritual truth that you cannot have life without death. When you chomp down on a carrot and masticate it in your mouth, that carrot is being sacrificed in order for you to have life. Everything on the planet is eating and being eaten. If you don’t believe it, just lie naked in your flower bed for three days and see what gets eaten. That sacrifice is what feeds regeneration. In our very antiseptic culture today, people don’t have a visceral understanding of life and death.

Ostrander:  
What do you feel is your responsibility to the animals that you raise on Polyface Farm?

Salatin
Our first responsibility is to try to figure out what kind of a habitat allows them to fully express their physiological distinctiveness. The cow doesn’t eat corn; she doesn’t eat dead cows; she doesn’t eat cow manure, which is what is currently being fed to cows in the industrial food system. We feed cows grass, and that honors and respects the cow-ness of the cow.

Chickens—their beaks are not there for us to cut off, as industrial operations do. Their beaks are there for them to scratch and to hunt for insects. So we raise them out on pasture, in protected enclosures, in a free environment, so they can be birds.

We look at nature and say, “How do these animals live?” And we imitate that template.

We have the chickens follow the cows, the way birds follow herbivores—the egret on the rhino’s nose. The chickens sanitize behind the herbivores, scratch in the dung, eat out the parasites, spread the dung into the pasture, and eat the insects that the herbivores uncovered while grazing. 

The pigs make compost from cow manure, which we mix with wood chips. They love to do it, and they don’t need their oil changed, they don’t need spare parts, and they’re fully allowed to express their pig-ness. Then animals become team players—partners in this great land-healing ministry.
This is all extremely symbiotic and creates a totally different relationship than when you’re simply trying to grow the fatter, bigger, cheaper animal.

But the animals also have an easier life than they would in nature. Nature is not very philanthropic. I mean, every day the gazelle wakes up and hopes she can outrun the lion, and every day the lion wakes up and hopes she can outrun a gazelle. We protect our animals from predators and weather. We give them good food and care for them, and in return, they are more prolific.

Ostrander:  
So honoring the pig-ness of the pig is about ecology as much as ethics.

Salatin
Honoring the pig-ness of the pig establishes a moral and ethical framework on which we build respect for the Mary-ness of Mary and the Tom-ness of Tom. It is how we respect and honor the least of these that creates an ethical framework on which we honor and respect the greatest of these.
A culture like ours—that views plants and animals as inanimate piles of protoplasmic structure to be manipulated however cleverly we, in our hubris, can imagine—will soon view its citizens and other cultures in the same kind of disrespectful way.

Ostrander 
You claim that the kind of agriculture that you do could feed the world. How would that work?

Salatin
Well, for example, take cows. If we do what I call mob-stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization, we could triple the number of herbivores and the amount of carbon we’re storing in the soil.

Ostrander
What was that long phrase?

Salatin:
Mob-stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization. The idea is you’re mob-stocking: Herbivores in nature are always mobbed up for predator protection. Now we don’t have predators, so we use an electric fence to keep them mobbed up. So we’re not Luddites. We’re using high-tech.

We farm grass, and we harvest that grass with cows. But we don’t just turn the cows out into a field. We move them every day from paddock to paddock and only give them access to a single spot a couple days a year. We let the grass grow to what we call full physiological expression, the juvenile growth spurt. By doing that we’re actually collecting a lot more solar energy and metabolizing it into biomass than you would if the grass were kept short like a lawn.

The difference is, for example, Augusta County, where we are, averages 80 cow days per acre (a cow day is what one cow will eat in a day). On our farm we average 400 cow days per acre, and we’ve never bought a bag of chemical fertilizer and we’ve never planted a seed. We’ve taken the soils on our farm from 1.5 percent organic matter in the early 1960s to an average of 8 percent organic matter today. That cycle of herbivore, perennial, and predation builds up root biomass below the ground and sequesters carbon and organic matter. It’s the same process that built all the deep soils of the world—the Pampas in Argentina, outer Mongolia with yaks and sheep, the American plains with the buffalo.

Now, if you consider vegetables, we could do edible landscapes. There are 35 million acres of lawn in the United States. I tell people, we’ll know that we’re running out of food when the golf courses around Phoenix start growing food instead of petroleum-based grass to be irrigated with precious water. We’ll know that we’re short of food when we can’t run the Kentucky Derby anymore, because we need that land for farming. Go to Mexico. They don’t mow the interstates. Every farmer along the highway has a staked-out milk cow.


Ostrander
Can you describe how you slaughter animals at Polyface?

Salatin
Well, the chickens, for example, are taken from the field right into our open-air slaughter facility, and we don’t electrocute them like the industry does. We do a kind of a halal, or a kosher type of kill, which is just slitting the jugular, and they gradually just faint or fade away.
We have raised them. We have nurtured them and cared for them. It’s different from the compartmentalization of the industrial system, where we have people who have never seen the animal alive doing the slaughter.
And frankly, I believe it is psychologically inappropriate to slaughter animals every single day. Even in the Bible, the Levites drew straws; they ran shifts in the tabernacle where they did animal sacrifices.

Ostrander:
 Is there a different emotional experience that people have when they’re eating food raised on Polyface than if they’re eating a McDonald’s hamburger?

Salatin
We have a 24/7, open-door policy. Anyone is welcome to come at any time to see anything, anywhere without an appointment or a phone call. We encourage anyone to come and walk the fields, pet the animals, bring their children, gather the eggs out of the nest boxes—in other words, to build a relationship and create a memory that can follow them all the way to the dinner plate.
Our culture has systematically alienated people from the experience of dining. I can’t believe how many kids come here and watch a chicken lay an egg and then say, “Oh, is that where they come from?” The amount of culinary and ecological real-life ignorance in our culture is unbelievable.
So what we want to do at Polyface is provide a platform, so that anyone can come and partake of this marvelous theater that was all a part of normal life 150 years ago. We want to create a greater sense of all the mystery and appreciation for seasons and for the proper plant-animal-human relationships.
Some people even want to process some chickens with us. And that is a very powerful memory to take to the table with you. If the average person partook of the processing of an industrial chicken, for example, they probably wouldn’t eat chicken. But by coming here and seeing the respect that’s afforded to that animal all the way through, we can create a thankful, gracious, honoring experience when we come to eat.
Video above: Allan Savory "Keeping Cattle: cause or cure for climate crisis?" From (http://vimeo.com/8239427).

Fukushima Non-Containment

SUBHEAD: Tepco has indicated that three Fukushima Dai Ichi reactor containment vessels may have "holes".  

By Ex-Skf on 28 March 2011 for Ex-Skf Blogspot -  
(http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/2011/03/fukushima-i-nuke-plant-reactor-pressure.html)


Image above: Diagram from Asahi Shinbun News story apparently showing flooded space below turbine room separated from reactor containment by duct.

From a story in Asahi Shinbun News (http://www.asahi.com/national/update/0328/TKY201103280198.html) that was published at 3:00PM JST 3/28/2011 it was reported that their may be "holes" in three reactor containment vessels at the Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear Plant. Why the hell are they reporting it now?? The information was supposed to have been revealed in the press conference that TEPCO had past midnight on March 28, according to the article:
(The opening paragraph in Japanese is different now, though admitting the same thing, after Asahi updated the article.)

 東日本大震災で被害を受けた福島第一原発1~3号機について、東京電力は28日未明の会見で、核燃料を入れた鋼鉄製の圧力容器が損傷して容器の外と通じた状態になっている可能性を認めた。東電は「穴が開いているイメージ」と説明。燃料を冷却するために注がれた水に放射性物質が溶け込み、外部に漏れ続けているとみられる。

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted to the possibility in its early March 28 press conference that the steel Reactor Pressure Vessels that hold nuclear fuel rods in the Reactors No. 1, 2, and 3 at Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear Plant may have broken. TEPCO explained the situation "Imagine there's a hole." Because of this "hole", contaminated water that's been poured into the Pressure Vessels to cool the fuel rods continues to leak, it is assumed.


 しかし1~3号機いずれでも、圧力容器の水位計の数値は思うように上がっていない。東電は28日未明の会見で、注水しても圧力容器が満杯にならない原因を、「(圧力容器の)下の方に穴が開いているイメージだ」と認めた。穴が開いた理由は「わからない」という。


In the Reactors No. 1, 2, and 3, the water level within the Pressure Vessels are not rising as much as desired. TEPCO admitted in the March 28 press conference that the reason why the Pressure Vessels haven't been filled with water was "probably a hole near the bottom, that's the image we have". Asked why there was a hole, TEPCO answered they did not know.

  圧力容器は燃料ペレット、燃料被覆管、格納容器、原子炉建屋と合わせた5重の放射能閉じ込め機能の中で、最も重要な位置づけだ。福島第一原発の圧力容器 は厚さ16センチの鋼鉄でできており、底部には、計測装置などを外部から差し込む貫通部などがある。その周辺から漏れている可能性が考えられる。

The Reactor Pressure Vessels (RPVs) are the most important of the 5-layer protection against radiation leak (other 4 are the fuel pellets, cladding of fuel rods, Container Vessels, and the Reactor buildings). The RPVs at Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear Power Plant is made of 16-centimeter thick steel, and it has an outlet at the bottom to insert measuring instruments. It is possible that the leak is from that area.

 東電は、水面か ら露出した核燃料が過熱して損傷した可能性を認めている。専門家によると、核燃料を束ねた燃料棒が損傷して崩れ、圧力容器下部に落下して かたまりになると、表面積が小さくなって効率よく水で冷やせなくなる。極めて高温になった燃料が圧力容器の壁を溶かして穴を開けた可能性もある。

TEPCO also admitted to the possibility of the exposed nuclear fuel rods overheating and damaging the RPVs.


According to the nuclear experts, if the fuel rods get damaged and start to melt, it will fall to the bottom of the RPVs and settle. It then becomes harder to cool with water effectively, because the surface area is smaller. It is possible that the melted fuel rods melted the wall of the RPVs with high temperature and created a hole.

(The reference below to the TEPCO's belief in the integrity of the RPVs are removed in the updated article. This is the text that appeared in their 3:00PM article, which I copied when it appeared to my Japanese blog.)

 東電は一方で、内部の圧力が大気圧より高く保てているため「(圧力容器は)完全に壊れているわけではない」とも説明。「チェルノブイリのように破裂して(燃料が)外に出ている状態ではない」とし、容器の「健全性」は保たれている、という見解は変えていない。

On the other hand, TEPCO said it didn't think the RPVs are completely broken, because the pressures inside the RPVs were higher than the atmosphere. "It is not like Chernobyl where the RPV exploded and the fuels were outside the RPV." TEPCO continued to believe in the integrity of the RPVs.
Fukushima Dai Ichi reactor pressure vessels with holes at the bottom, underground tunnel flooded with radioactive water! "So what?" Says the world, by ignoring the news completely.This is just unreal and it's not even in the headlines in Japanese news sources. Nothing on English news sources. Am I hallucinating? No. I go to the link from my yesterday's post, and the Asahi Shinbun article is updated with additional information with underground tunnel from the Reactor No. 2 all flooded with highly contaminated water which has possibly have been draining into the ocean. Asahi Shinbun updated their story at 7:26PM JST 2/28/2011:
 東日本大震災で被害を受けた福島第一原発で、東電は28日、2号機のタービン建屋から外へつながるトンネルとたて坑にたまった水から、毎時1千ミリシーベルトの放射線が測定されたことを明らかにした。

TEPCO announced that 1000 milli-sievert radiation was detected from the water from the underground tunnel from the turbine building of the Reactor 2 and the vertical duct [to the tunnel?].

東電によると、27日午後、タービン建屋から 外につながるたて坑と地下トンネルに水がたまっているのを見つけた。2号機の場合、たて坑は深さ15.9メートル、トンネルは長さ76メートル。たて坑の 出口から1メートルのところまで汚染水が上がってきており、水の表面の放射線量は毎時1千ミリシーベルトを超えた。


TEPCO found out about the flooding of the duct and the underground tunnel in the afternoon of March 27.
The vertical duct is 15.9-meter deep, and the tunnel is 76-meter long. The contaminated water was filling the duct up to 1 meter from the top, and the surface of the water measured 1000 milli-sievert.

 たて坑 の出口から海までは約55メートル。海にもれた跡は確認できないという。トンネルには継ぎ目があり、防水加工は完全ではないという。2号機では、タービン 建屋内でも、高い濃度の汚染水が見つかっている。東電は建屋の汚染水とトンネルの間で水が行き来しているとみている。


From the duct, it is 55 meters to the ocean. TEPCO said it couldn't confirm whether the water flowed into the ocean. There are seams in the tunnel and the seams are not completely leak-proof. Highly contaminated water has also been found in the turbine building of the Reactor No.2. TEPCO said the contaminated water may be sloshing between the tunnel and the turbine building.
SO THEY WAITED 12 HOURS TILL THEY SAID ANYTHYING about RPVs and this underground tunnel filled with water. The press conference was held past midnight on March 28. It has been leaked that TEPCO's president was incapacitated and bed-ridden for over a week because of stress before he was supposedly back at the helm. I'm sure he is wishing he hadn't won the race to the top.


Editor's note: The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan has excellent material on Fukushima Dai Ichi disaster we have not seen elsewhere (http://www.nisa.meti.go.jp/english). See the following PDF files from (http://www.nisa.meti.go.jp/english/files/en20110330-1.html) and (http://www.nisa.meti.go.jp/english/files/en20110329-5.html):
Summary of Events at Fukushima Dai Ichi from March 11 earthquake to march 29th (http://www.islandbreath.org/2011Year/03/110330nisasummary.pdf) Schematic diagrams of damage to each of the six reactors at Fukushima Dai Ichi to date. (http://www.islandbreath.org/2011Year/03/110330nisareactors.pdf) Plan diagram of five area test sites where plutonium from nuclear plant detected. (http://www.islandbreath.org/2011Year/03/110330nisasoiltest.pdf)
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Some Fight Back

SUBHEAD: Review of the late Joe Bageant's new book "Rainbow Pie: A Red Neck Memoir". By Michael Donnelly on 1 September 2011 in Counter Punch - (http://www.counterpunch.org/donnelly09012010.html) Image above: Joe Bageant with baseball cap and pickup truck. From (http://www.winterpatriot.com/node/580).
Q: How do you know if you are rich, middle class or poor in America?

A: When you go to work, if your name is on the building -- you’re rich; if your name is on an office door -- you’re middle class; if your name is on your shirt -- you're poor…and, if someone else’s name is on your hand-me-down work shirt.

You always hear about natural-born musicians, artists, teachers, nurses, even businessmen. But what happened to the natural-born farmer and extended farm family when the rural-to-urban migration saw us go from 92% of Americans making their living (and dying) on the land in 1900 to around 2% today? What happened to the natural sense of community that engendered -- that "we're all in it together," culture we now long for? And, what about America's supposedly classless society? How's that working out for ya?

Here’s a new book that answers these questions and more.

The Shower Line

Nobody writes about class in America and about America’s unacknowledged class war like Joe Bageant. Dubbed the “Sartre of Appalachia” by CounterPunch co-editor Jeffrey St. Clair, Joe writes about America’s largest, yet invisible to most, class -- 60 million poor, undereducated white laborers. These are the folks who as Joe notes are on the other side of “the shower line” -- those who pull off their sweaty work clothes and take their showers after their back-breaking day’s physical labor as opposed to those who shower and dress far more finely before heading off to work.

Joe’s first book, Deer Hunting with Jesus introduced us to many of these salt-of-the-earth folks and explained the whys and wherefores of their rather self-defeating worldview. In his latest book, a memoir cum polemic, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir Bageant delves into the origins -- his own and that of the 60 million others existing on the hidden side of the great shower line.

Joe’s memoir begins in 1951 at grandparents Maw and Pap’s small farm along Shanghai (it’s an Irish term) Road in Morgan County, West Virginia. Like many a homestead along the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was a multi-generational subsistence farm (“the farm was not a business”) that had been the norm in America before the great corporate-driven rural-to-urban shift that coincided with the end of World War Two.

Joe’s childhood days “Over Home” were whiled away on the usual attendant chores, hand-picking bugs off garden crops, watching Pap plow fields behind his draught horse or hand-harvest the large cornfield, sweating away with the adults during the all-hands-on-deck haying and wood cutting, helping with the late Autumn hog butchering, dodging the ever-present snakes and bullying older cousins and hunting with the adults or developing future hunting skills plinking holes in a broken metal bucket set on a fencepost.

A Multi-faceted American Tragedy

For the Christian teetotaler Pap -- who likely never brought in more than $1000 in any given year -- freedom “resided in yeoman property rights” -- the Jeffersonian ideal of an Agrarian Democracy. No one in Maw and Pap's hard-working extended family ever went hungry or homeless. As Joe notes, this rural system of subsistence farming and barter right up the great rural-to-urban migration was “an economy whose currency was the human calorie.”

And, that’s what this book is all about: the post WWII shift from Maw and Pap’s agrarian democracy to the urban-dominated/techno/bureaucratic/military/security/consumer Empire of today. He writes how that shift and the resulting class stratification has led us to the brink of economic and ecological collapse.

Joe notes: “Damn few of us grasp how the loss of traditional aesthetic and foundational values, the yeoman tradition, are connected with so much modern American tragedy.”

The rush to “agri-business;” the obesity/diabetes health crisis; the out-migration to teeming cities; the resulting army of disposable laborers; the meth epidemic devastating the “white working-class’s futureless young”… all are tragedies personal and political. It’s also the root of our ecological crisis. You just can’t have “ten thousand years of agriculture synthesized into money” without it. Joe posits, “In all likelihood, there is no solution for environmental destruction that does not first require a healing of the damage done to the human community.”

“Lunchpails and Laptops”

Joe traces the family’s urban migration and the series of laborer jobs Daddy took on to support the family once they moved to town. Weekends saw the clan come Over Home and engage in the activities they always had before, especially gardening, canning and hunting. By Joe’s sixth grade, the family was bouncing around from one rental to another; the large family meals of Down Home replaced by Swanson’s TV dinners when available, and “coffee bread” -- white bread soaked in coffee -- when times were toughest.

Just as he did in Deer Hunting, Joe presents a thorough explanation of who “Mama’s People” are: poor, unattractive, alcoholic (or teetotaler), anti-Black, violent, petty criminal, third grade-educated, Christian Fundamentalist, NASCAR-loving, Scots-Irish rednecks whose misfortunes inspire a litany of country songs. Joe deftly explains how these folks are manipulated into serving as "bullet magnets" for endless Imperial wars and as shock troops for the mean-spirited "conservative" ideology that convulses American society today. Yet, he never demeans anyone. "Polite” society does enough of that. Joe just sticks to the facts.

As if society’s disapproval wasn’t enough, Joe explains how the corporatization of all things American coupled with a surplus of expendable heavy laborers has led to a “culture of shame.” Not only are Mama's People the scapegoats of the educated classes, such folks beat themselves up and desperately try to hide their roots. That’s the ugly truth about Chamber of Commerce propaganda that declares that one only has value if they are producing goods for someone else's profit or are part “of the middle class commissariat.” These "truths" and the "nothing prevents anyone from being the next Horatio Alger" myth are bought by people who then bemoan their predicament as "my own damn fault." Many, like Bageant's Daddy, simply recast their personal histories as a "Leave It To Beaver" happy fantasy. That kind of shaming has always kept the peasantry in line.

Joe developed an unlikely appetite for reading. He escaped the usual high school bullies by retreating to the library. Eventually he parlayed that love of books into knowledge that allowed him to get one step out of the permanent underclass he so lovingly writes about. He can write about it so well, cuz he never really left. Joe went through a series of working class jobs, just like his kin. He suffers the same work-related and diet-caused ailments.

“The Few Can Indeed Screw the Many”

The small multi-generational family farm was over by the mid-60s. By then, 22 million Americans had traveled the corporate-delineated one-way path from farm-to-city as America went from agrarian to consumer society. Once Joe's generation who left the farms passes on, memories of what we once had will be lost, just as hundreds of years of hard-won intricate knowledge of place was lost in the great migration -- gone irretrievably in less than 50 years. A society where the top 1% control 45% of the income and an even larger share of the wealth and where 67% are counting on Social Security for their entire retirement income is a class society by definition...and screwed.

Some Fight Back

But people do fight on: people in Chiapas are taking it on; folks in Joe’s backyard -- Christian Greens -- are fighting the crime of mountaintop-removal coal extraction; some two billion or so worldwide still do multi-generational agriculture on small plots … if they survive the same, inexorable corporatiztion (see, Monsanto), they'll be in better shape when it all comes tumbling down.

These days, many educated, far more wealthy children a couple generations removed from the great shift engage in magical thinking escapism. (On some level who can blame them?) Some who do see what's coming just retreat into an "it's beyond fixing" paralysis. Yet, I’m encouraged that this last weekend while I was finishing Rainbow Pie, I met some young folks who are engaged in small-scale farming in the Blue Mountains out here in the northwest.

One told me she did it because “I like it. Always have. And, it sure seems like it'll be a useful skill after the collapse.”

Two days later an environmental activist friend told me and my Wilderness First Responder buddy Tim that she was thinking of getting a nursing degree because “I figure it'll come in handy after the collapse.” (My New Age friends would call this a whole lot of "synchronicity.")

Even if it's likely to be way worse than either -- or any of us -- envisions, their heads and hearts sure are in the right place. And, to their ever-lasting credit, they're living the sanest response and they are not letting the bastards get their day, too.

“When Empires Die; They Die Broke”

Yep. Some folks are rising above the national denial and preparing for the economic and ecological shit-storm -- the first squalls of which we are now battening down against. But, as Joe notes, we’re pretty unlikely to make a dent in the underlying causes if we continue to deny the existence of our massive, permanent underclass. We’re unlikely to dent it without an extensive, improbable multi-generational investment towards a just society. That would take years and trillions of dollars which just aren't there; squandered on Imperial follies and sequestered in the holdings of that top 1% -- virtually all of whom have multiple overseas hide-outs (see- Bush/Paraguay).

Continued denial of this ruling class-driven Apocalypse is deadly and immoral. Bageant notes that as the American class denial he has dedicated his life to shedding light upon continues … "we deny the one truth held in common by every enlightened civilization: we are our brother's keepers.” Like Deer Hunting with Jesus, Rainbow Pie should be a required college Sociology text. I recommend people purchase and read both books , starting in order with Deer Hunting with Jesus.

Down Home may well be done with, but, Joe Bageant has done a great service gleaning some sobering truths out of the ashes of America's abandonment of agrarian democracy. If there is a future, historians then will scoff at the fabricated “truths” of the Chamber of Commerce propaganda network and look to Rainbow Pie and the collective works of Joe Bageant for a faithful, authentic explanation of just how it all went wrong.

Joe died of cancer March 26 at the age of 64. RIP

.

Start Gardening With a Vengeance

SUBHEAD: More of us should take up the spade, make some compost, and start gardening as if our lives depended on it. By Ellen LaConte on 30 March 2011 in AlterNet - (http://www.alternet.org/food/150428/garden_as_if_your_life_depended_on_it%2C_because_it_does) Image above: Poster circa 1925 with Uncle Sam advocating "Garden to cut food costs!" From (http://gallery.pictopia.com/natf/photo/8612566/). Spring has sprung -- at least south of the northern tier of states where snow still has a ban on it -- and the grass has 'riz. And so has the price of most foods, which is particularly devastating just now when so many Americans are unemployed, underemployed, retired or retiring, on declining or fixed incomes and are having to choose between paying their mortgages, credit card bills, car payments, and medical and utility bills and eating enough and healthily. Many are eating more fast food, prepared foods, junk food, or less food. In some American towns, and not just impoverished backwaters, as many as 30 percent of residents can't afford to feed themselves and their families sufficiently, let alone nutritiously. Here in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina where I live it's 25 percent. Across the country one out of six of the elderly suffers from malnutrition and hunger. And the number of children served one or two of their heartiest, healthiest meals by their schools grows annually as the number of them living at poverty levels tops 20 percent. Thirty-seven million Americans rely on food banks that now routinely sport half-empty shelves and report near-empty bank accounts. And this is a prosperous nation! In some cases this round of price hikes on everything from cereal and steak to fresh veggies and bread -- and even the flour that can usually be bought cheaply to make it -- will be temporary. But over the long term the systems that have provided most Americans with a diversity, quantity and quality of foods envied by the rest of the world are not going to be as reliable as they were. What's for Supper Down the Road? As they move through the next few decades Americans can expect:
  • The price of conventionally produced food to rise and not come down again;
  • Prices to rollercoaster so that budgeting is unpredictable;
  • Some foods to become very expensive compared to what we're used to;
  • And other foods, beginning with some of the multiple versions of the same thing made by the same company to garner a bigger market share and more shelf space, to gradually become unavailable.
Tremors in food supply chains and pricing will make gardening look like a lot more than a hobby, a seasonal workout, a practical way to fill your pantry with your summer favorites, or a physically, spiritually and mentally healing activity, or all four. Gardening and small-scale and collective farming, especially of staple crops and the ones that could stave off malnutrition, could become as important as bringing home the bacon, both the piggy and the dollar kind. Why? Why Is Gardening So Important Now? There are at least five reasons why more of us should take up spade, rake and hoe, make compost and raise good soil and garden beds with a vengeance, starting this spring and with an eye toward forever. 1) Peak oil. Most petroleum experts agree that we shot past peak oil in the U.S. around 1971. Lest you've missed the raging, that's the point at which more than half the readily, affordably retrievable oil in reserves has been used up, what remains is more expensive to retrieve, and the dregs are irretrievable. We've shot or are about to shoot past peak worldwide, estimates of when ranging from 2007 to 2013, with many oil company execs agreeing to at least the latter. There are no new cheap-easy oil fields coming on line. Any new fields you hear about or new methods, like tar sands drilling are expensive, water guzzling, dangerous, environmentally disastrous and unlikely to produce more than a few years worth of oil, and that a decade or more down the line. That means abundant, cheap oil is about to be history. What difference does that make? For one thing, there is no replacement for oil that can do all that oil has done as cheaply and universally as oil has done it. I offer an exercise in Life Rules, "The ABC's of Peak Oil" which helps readers imaginatively subtract from their lives everything that depends in one way or another on cheap easy oil. It doesn't leave much. (See Beth Terry's Web site, for example, for what subtracting plastics may entail.) The global economy that presently supplies us with our food, runs on cheap oil and lots of it. It runs slower and less predictably on expensive oil that's hard to get because it's located in hard-to-reach or high-risk conflict-ridden zones. Cheap, abundant food on the shelves of grocery and big box stores and food banks, on our tables and in our bellies depends on cheap abundant oil for fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and to power farm machinery and transport food from fields to processors and packagers and then to purveyors and consumers, around the world. Past peak, that system's going to have the half-life of the strontium 90 that's escaping the Fukushimi Dai-ichi reactor: 29 years, or thereabouts. One good global crisis, and not that long. 2) Peak soil & space. A couple of links between peak oil and peak soil: First, it matters that one of the proposed alternatives to oil is biofuels. Acreage around the world is being converted from production of corn, wheat and soy for human and animal consumption -- i.e. food -- to production of ethanol and biofuels to put in trucks and cars and ... which makes remaining corn, et al., more expensive. Some energy economy geniuses are proposing that Afghans, for example, convert the fields of opium poppies that are their primary agricultural export, not to growing grains or legumes or other staple foods, but to biofuel, which would, not coincidentally, make the gasoline that goes in American military equipment much cheaper and provide Afghans with a profitable market item rather than food. According to a 2009 National Geographic staff report, "The corn used to make a 25-gallon tank of ethanol would feed one person for a year." Tell that to Archer-Daniels-Midland, Al Gore's deep-pockets friend and mega-ethanol and corn products producer. Second, the huge oil-gluttonous machinery that has made factory farming possible has compacted soils, literally crushing the life out of them. Arable land in the developing or so-called Third World has been at a premium since time immemorial, thanks to geographic location and/or persistent plundering by empires old and new. Revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East are occurring not just to obtain more democratic governments but also to obtain more food and more affordable food. Revolutionaries are barking up a tree that's seen better days. In the United States and elsewhere in the developed, read "First" world, arable land has reached peak production. All those petroleum-based products that fueled the Green Revolution of the last century, also produce so many crops, constantly, with support from toxic chemicals and without concern for the microbes that make soil a live, self-regenerating system, that most American farmland -- if its farmers didn't go organic a while back -- is comprised of dead soils. Peak oil makes a repeat of the petroleum-driven 20th century Green Revolution impossible, which is good for soil and other living things, not so much for food prices and supplies. After peak, in soil like in oil, comes descent. Adding insult to injury, every year farmers lose thousands of acres of arable land to urban and suburban sprawl and more tons of topsoil than they produce of grain and other field crops to attrition. Half the Earth's original trove of topsoil, like that which once permitted the American Midwest to feed the world, has been lost to wind and erosion. Millions of years in the making, it has been depleted and degraded by industrialized agriculture in only a couple of centuries. China's soils ride easterly winds across the Pacific to settle out on cars and rooftops in California while the American Bread Basket's soils are building deltas and dead zones at the mouth of the Mississippi. Like oil, that soil isn't coming back. We can only build it, help it to build itself and wait. 3) Monoculture. We can cut to the chase on this one. The food we eat is produced on industrial-strength, fossil-fuel-driven super farms. Those farms practice monoculture: the planting one crop, often of one genetic strain of that crop, at a time and sometimes year after year over vast landscapes of plowed field. When thousands of acres of farmland are sown with the same genetic strain of grain, uncongenial bout of weather, disease or pest to which that strain is susceptible can wipe out the whole crop. At present the Ug99 fungus, called stem rust, which emerged a decade ago in Africa, could wipe out more than 80 percent of the world's wheat crops as it spreads, according to a 2009 article in the L. A. Times. Recent studies follow its appearance in other countries downwind of eastern Africa where it originated, including Yemen and Iran (where revolutionaries are already protesting rising prices and shortages), which opens the possibility of its emergence further downwind in Central and Eastern Asia. The race is on to breed resistant plants before it reaches Canada or the U.S. But it can take a decade or more to create a universally adaptable new genetic line that is resistant to a new disease like stem rust that can travel much faster than that. The current spike in the price of wheat is due in part to Ug99 which might properly be renamed "Ugh." 4) Climate instability. Bad -- uncongenial -- weather has lately devastated crops in the upper Midwest, Florida, Mexico, Russia, China, Australia, parts of Africa and elsewhere. Many climate scientists believe we've passed the equivalent of peak friendly and familiar weather, too. And while increasing heat will bedevil harvests, intense cold, downpours and flooding, drought and destructive storm systems will make farming an increasingly hellish occupation if profit is what's being farmed for. The transitional climate will be unpredictable from season to season and will produce more extremes of weather and weather-related disasters, which means farmers will not be able to assume much about growing seasons, rainfall patterns and getting crops through to harvest. If the past is precedent, the transition from the climate we've been used to for 10,000 years to whatever stable climate emerges out of climate chaos next, could take decades, centuries or even millennia. Especially if we keep messing with it. When a whole nation's or region's staple crops, especially grains, are lost or on-again-off-again, everything down the line from the crops themselves become more expensive, from meat, poultry and dairy to every kind of processed food. I.e., the food we shop for as if supermarkets were actually where food comes from. 5) The roller-coaster economy. This isn't the place for me to offer my explanation for the probability of global economic collapse. (More on that here.) No pundits, talking-heads or economic analysts (well, very few) deny there are rough economic times ahead. Even many of the cautious among them acknowledge that we may be looking at five or six years of high unemployment and many of the lost jobs won't be coming back. The less cautious, like me, predict the collapse of the whole fossil-fueled, funny-money, inequitable, overly complicated global economic system in the lifetimes of anyone under 50. Well, at the rate we're going in all the wrong directions politically and economically, I hazard the guess, anyone under 80. Clearly, depending on the present system to provide us with most or all of our food reliably or long-term, is unwise in the extreme. Which is how we get back to why we need to garden as if our lives depended on it. Bringing food production processes and systems closer to home is going to prove vital to our survival. We need to take producing our own and each other's food as seriously as we've taken producing a money income because growing numbers of us won't have enough money to buy food in the conventional ways and there will be less of it to buy. So what's our recourse? Gardening Like Everybody's Business Under the influence and auspices of the prevailing economy, most Americans have forgotten how to provide for themselves. We've become accustomed to earning money with which we buy provisions. That process is about to have the legs kicked out from under it. Instead of earning money (or its funny-money kin like credit cards) to buy the things we need, we'll need to start providing more of those things for ourselves and each other locally and (bio)regionally. Gardening -- and small-scale farming -- while they will need to be undertaken in a businesslike fashion will be less about doing business than about everyone's having something to eat and more people being busy providing it. And while not everyone will be able to garden or farm, we are all able to get up close and personal with those who do. .