Albert Bates

The Way

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 4, 2017

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"Patterns of regenerative thinking augur regenerative patterns of living and the reverse is also true."

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

  Ten years ago, Brian Eno suggested a word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes” can occasionally generate. The word he came up with is “scenius.” Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes.

 

 

In a Wired interview  in 2011, Kevin Kelly described the idea this way:

Really, we should think of ideas as connections,in our brains and among people. Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters.

Historical examples are the Yosemite rock climbers Camp 4 in the 1930s, Building 20 at MIT, the Algonquin Round Table, Silicon Valley, Soho, Burning Man, the North Beach of the Big Island in the 1950s, Greenwich Village, the Panhandle flats in the Haight in the 1960s, Glastonbury, Akwesasne, the affinity groups at Seabrook, the bioregional congresses, the World Social Fora, the UN climate summits, and the Amazonian Shamanism conferences.

We have been lucky to stumble into a number of those scenes; so many we sometimes wonder if we are Forrest Gump.

Lucky stars have led us to be present at the birth of the Noho loft art and music scene, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the Winter Soldier hearings, a blithering Nixon at sunrise on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the first Earth Day in Central Park, the Longest Walk, the conspiratorial Leningrad public baths on Saturday nights, the bioregional Consejos de Visiones at Meztitla and Condor, sundry Earth Summits, the ecovillager gatherings at Findhorn in 1995 and Istanbul in 1996, Viridian design, the post-millennium peak oil conferences, and the Kinsale College birthing of Transition.

The scenius we are most familiar with, although it encompasses and interpenetrates many of these others, is of course The Farm. As one of the longest floating crap games of the past century, it remains a dynamically evolving scene: a creative hub for the world midwives’ conspiracy, the cabal of alternative education advocacy, an incubator for progenitors of cool tech, and lately, a climate-reversal counterdevelopment seeding group, including, but not limited to, we ecovillage, regrarian, permaculture and alt.fuels evangelists.

The geography of scenius is nurtured by several factors that Kelly described:
 

  • Mutual appreciation — risky moves are applauded by the group, subtlety is appreciated, and friendly competition goads the shy. Scenius can be thought of as the best of peer pressure.
  • Rapid exchange of tools and techniques — as soon as something is invented, it is flaunted and then shared. Ideas flow quickly because they are flowing inside a common language and sensibility.
  • Network effects of success — when a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empowers the scene to further success.
  • Local tolerance for the novelties — the local “outside” does not push back too hard against the transgressions of the scene. The renegades and mavericks are protected by this buffer zone.

Scenius can erupt almost anywhere, and at different scales: in a corner of a company, in a neighborhood, or in an entire region.

What Brian Eno called scenius, Stephen Gaskin used to call “the juice.” In a paper we delivered to a history conference in Illinois in 1987, we attempted to describe a series of intellectual and technological steps that guided the first 16 years of The Farm, but cautioned that we could not try to fathom how it came into being. “How juice moves from place to place and time to time would be an interesting exploration,” we said.

Lao Tsu (literally the “Old Boy” because he was born with a small white beard), put these ideas into poetry. We think it silly when we have to take off shoes and give up our toothpaste at the airport, but when Lao Tsu tried to leave China they told him he couldn’t leave until he had written down all he knew. In the Tao Te Ching, the 72 gems of wisdom left with a border guard, Lao Tsu summarized his findings in order that he be allowed to leave.

The first verse is the Old Boy’s disclaimer: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”
Alan Watts observed that this famous opening line also showed Lao Tsu to be a punster, but you have to understand a bit of Chinese to get it.

“Tao” means the way, or course, of nature, but it also means to speak. So in Chinese, the first character is this:
 

The first character is “the way.” The next is “can” or “can be.”

The third is again “the way,” but it could also be “spoken”
 

What Lao Tsu says in one entendre is that he can’t really describe the way, because it is ineffable; if he could describe it then it would not be true. The way that can be spoken is not the way.
In the other entendre Lao Tsu says it cannot be taken as a way. The way that can be “way-ed,” or traveled, is not the way.

Do you think you can make the world a better place? I do not think you can. It is already perfect.

— Lao Tsu

This is also the point Kelly labored to underscore, which is that scenes, and hence scenius, cannot be created. The best we can hope for is to recognize them when, for whatever extraordinary confluence of good fortune, they seem to arise. And when that happens, the best we can do is to not step on them.

That may be so, but maybe not. Scenius with the grand historicity of a Yosemite Camp 4 cannot be stamped into existence. But the conditions to potentialize scenius can be laid by design. Daniel Wahl, in Designing Regenerative Cultures, provides these basic ingredients:

  • Transformative Innovation
  • Biologically Inspired
  • Living Systems Thinking
  • Health and Resilience

In his forward to Wahl’s book, David Orr offers a nuanced challenge. It is Patricia Scotland’s “And, so?” question.  We have developed an ecosystem of solutions. How do you get this to scale? Holistic design is akin to the core nature of religion, Orr says, “a discipline binding us all together in our stewardship of the Earth as a shared habitat and the underlying assumption to be shared is that we are more worthy together than apart.”

Orr then takes it a step farther. He says the five billion poor, soon to be 7 or 9 billion, must be empowered with free energy, free clean water, free pressed-brick shelters, and free Internet access. In return they will innovate and create infinite wealth with a regenerative aspect. We hear this, and we shudder a bit.

This is also what Buck Fuller used to say, and many others before and after him. It’s become kind of holy grail   in Silicon Valley or at Burning Man — liberating ideas will liberate masses. It philosophically underpins the UN Sustainable Development Goals — the essence of neoliberalism. But….

If I am worthy then show me the way.

First, the whole modern amusement park ride is scaffolded on cheap, available, abundant energy, soon to be a bygone. Sooner than you imagine, those Microsoft server farms that are allowing you to read this will brown out, flicker, and die. Kevin Kelly again:

A web page relies on perhaps a hundred thousand other inventions, all needed for its birth and continued existence. There is no web page anywhere without the inventions of HTML code, without computer programming, without LEDs or cathode ray tubes, without solid state computer chips, without telephone lines, without long-distance signal repeaters, without electrical generators, without high-speed turbines, without stainless steel, iron smelters, and control of fire. None of these concrete inventions would exist without the elemental inventions of writing, of an alphabet, of hypertext links, of indexes, catalogs, archives, libraries and the scientific method itself. To recapitulate a web page you have to recreate all these other functions. You might as well remake modern society.

Second, imagining 7 billion hominids empowered with free everything opens the gates of Hell unless they are restrained from reliving the patterns of their collective past, only worse. Historically, when provided abundant food and energy the hairless two-leggeds have been as locusts. Without some countervailing ethic of restraint, should Orr’s wish comes true, this fragile blue orb becomes Easter Island.

Wahl says that which must change is more mental than physical, and in this we are agreed. Lately with the climate march for science, Paul Hawken’s Drawdown tour, and the debate over fake news and science suppression we have been hearing, over and over, people we respect make pledges of allegiance to the gods of science as if they were saying a rosary. But we know that scientists — and even more-so academics —  are inherently conservative defenders of the rote and two or more steps behind the vanguard. Who are the vanguard? Artists like Brian Eno, or the cabal that gathers in a scenius to thrash out the hard truth. Moreover, they then endeavor to actually make the change they've lived go viral.

Patterns of regenerative thinking augur regenerative patterns of living and the reverse is also true: living together or coming together can change your mind or open new frontiers. We have witnessed this phenomenon in ecovillage communities all over the world. Designing the future — any future beyond mid-century  — requires redesigning a collective consciousness, our psychodemographic. We are already doing this with the hardware gateways to cyberamphibian transits, and with permaculture, ecosystem restoration camps and ecovillages in the non-virtual world.

Ecovillages do it with eco-covenants; social contracts that build all eight forms of capital,  externalizing nothing.

Our travels to Marrakech and Zhejiang last year made clear to us that the role of ecovillages is key. They are a viral carrier — patient zero. Don’t be put off by the hippy or elitist veneers of many of the prototypes; those were leading edge experiments by the fringe-dwelling creatives.  Any change for humanity arrives only after extreme vetting. At that point they become nearly inevitable.

To quote Wahl,

“Sustainability is not a fixed state to reach and then maintain, it is a community-based learning process aimed at increasing the health and resilience of our communities, our bioregional economies, ecosystems, and of the planetary life-support system as a whole.”

We say “nearly inevitable” because there are still countercurrents and eddies that can drown us. There are no guarantees. The odds against success are high.

Feeling the wind at our back, we edge the kite closer to the power zone.

If you want to be reborn, let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, give everything up.

— Lao Tsu
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rollerblading the Halls of Power

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 28, 2017

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"This is what solutions look like. Some are very large. Some are very small. They are all important."

 

 

 

“It is important to understand that humans have never lived here on Earth at above 300 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere.” On May 18 this is how Paul Hawken began his talk at Marlborough House.
 
 
On one side of the 12–meter cherry mahogany bubinga table sat the Secretary General, Her Excellency The Right Honourable The Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, QC PC, the 6th Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations. To her left were Mary Robinson, the seventh, and first female, President of Ireland (1990-97) and the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997- 2002); Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, a country of some hundred thousand citizens, which is disappearing under the sea; His Excellency High Commissioner Jitoko Tikolevu of Fiji, 2017 next chair of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP-23); Johns Kharika of UNCDD, and their Excellencies, the representatives of the 52 member nations of the Commonwealth.
 
 
To her right sat our team of advisors from Cloudburst Foundation, Drawdown Project, Regenesis, eCO2, Buckminster Fuller Institute, Project NOAH, and Global Ecovillage Network, along with invited guests Marcello Palazzi of B Corp, Permaculture Magazine editor Maddy Harland, coral reef scientist Tom Goreau, Gregory Stone of Conservation International, scientists from Greenwich and Southhampton universities, and actor Colin Salmon, among others.
 
 
Between the departure of Mary Robinson and the arrival of HRH the Prince of Wales, the Baroness asked us to take the chair to her left, giving us a strange feeling, not unlike being asked to sit between Kirk and Sulu on the Command Deck of USS Enterprise as a Romulan Warbird uncloaks on the viewer.
 
 
Hawken methodically wove his spell. He showed an IPCC chart of atmospheric carbon going back 400,000 years and the associated warming and cooling. “It is important to understand that humans have never lived here on Earth at above 300 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere,” he urged.
His voice is soft and high pitched, but he speaks from experience, and he reaches his audience at a deeper level than words express.
 
 
He runs through an introduction to his research team and the scope of their work over the past few years. The task of Project Drawdown was not to create new data but to look at the hundred most promising solutions to climate change and rank them, based on cost, readiness, impact and scalability. The results were just published April 18 by Penguin as Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. It is already the number one bestseller and at this writing is sold out on Amazon.
 
 
He explains that there was no “one size fits all” solution. Small island states would have different needs and opportunities than large countries like Australia, India and Canada. The ability to reforest, grow marine kelp farms, or to produce rice and other crops more ecologically would be different from place to place.
 
 
One problem is how the subject has been framed, he says. We speak of this as a gargantuan challenge, an existential threat, something that must be combatted as an unprecedented evil. It may be all those things, but looking at it that way evokes a response that may not be what is needed. People hide.
 
 
“Instead, let us think of this as an opportunity.” He went into what has been called “marine permaculture,” the seeding of kelp forests.  “We are talking about trophic cascades, with phytoplanckton, zooplankton, algae, kelp products, up into the higher orders of fish that regenerate in weeks to months, providing protein, reversing eutrophication. The oceans are a tremendous source of regeneration.”
 
 
He moves along to slides of renewable energy, building materials and cattle management practices that cut methane. “This is what solutions look like. Some are very large. Some are very small. They are all important.”
 
 
“Some things surprised us,” he said. Food waste has a tremendous impact. The food sector, from how it is produced to how it is consumed matters more than energy, or buildings, or any other sector. He describes how he, as a much younger man, spent time in a Japanese Buddhist monastery. He was given one small bowl of rice per day. He soon learned to not waste a single grain.
 
 
Most, if not all, of global warming can be traced directly to family planning. "When a girl is allowed to become a woman on her terms she has an average of 2 children, which is very different than what has been happening. Educating girls, combined with family planning, may be the number one solution to global warming.”
 
 
“I don’t know about you, but all I hear is solar this, solar that and literally, no one had done the math.”
 
 
Is it possible to reverse global warming? Yes. Hawken continued, “The returns from the solutions are far greater than the costs of the problems. Our focus on the problem has not allowed us to see this. People have focused on the problem, and the solutions seem to make no economic sense when you monetize them, they only add to the problem. When we look at the data, the opposite is true. The net savings from the solutions are in the trillions. There is money to be made there.”
 
 
Dawn Danby and David McConville
“What are the costs? We are seeing social unrest, we are seeing poverty, income inequality and the effect that has on social cohesion.”
 
 
What changes do these proposed solutions bring? “Increasing food supply, increasing knowledge, increasing education, increasing equality, increasing health outcomes, increasing productivity.”
 
“The goal is very doable. But I want to emphasize that the Commonwealth has a key role. The UN is very limited in what it can do because of how it is structured.”
 
 
The Commonwealth’s 2012 charter was the model for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “Right down to the choice of colours,” the Secretary General reminds us. Before that the UN had a lame set of Millennium Goals based upon a premise of endless, unsustainable growth on a finite world. Not much different than Donald Trump’s budget numbers. The pivot the Commonwealth will be bringing to COP-23 in November is Regenerative Design. That is why the right side of the room is seated here.
 
 
John Elkington, Paul Polman, Ben Haggard
In David McConville’s presentation is an exponential curve. Call it what you will — human population; greenhouse gases; ocean plastic; wealth inequality. It is unsustainable. Then he shows the reverse — a logarithmic curve. The Fibonacci sequence  — a snail shell, a nautilus, seeds in a sunflower, fruitlets of a pineapple, flowering of artichoke, an uncurling fern, a pine cone, and the family tree of honeybees. It is recursive, fractal, the K-sere stage in ecosystems.
 
 
After short presentations from Anote Tong, Jitoko Tikolevu, Mary Robinson, Mohamed Amersi, Janine Benyus, Ben Haggard, John Elkington and Paul Polman (CEO of Unilever) and a brief intervention from the Prince of Wales, there is time to go around the table. It is clear that many of those whose jobs involve attending official functions and trolling for development grants and who have little interest in, or even cynicism towards, climate change are deeply moved. His Excellency the High Commissioner from Tonga, Sione Sonanta Tupou, provides such an example. The Secretary General later confided that in all his years at this table Mr. Tupou had never spoken. Today he rose to say these words, with tears in his eyes: “I came here with an empty cup. I leave with it overflowing.”
 
Clockwise from L: Paul Hawken, Rola Khoury, David McConville, Janine Benyus, Dawn Danby, Santiago Obarrio,          Ben Haggard, Harsen Nyambe, Mauro Paolini
 
Others came up to the Secretary General. The small island nations were always skeptical because they felt betrayed by the UN process. Now they felt hope. One of the High Commissioners told her, “Forgive me for being such an idiot. We are behind you 100 percent.” She said many present had experienced a “Road to Damascus” moment.
 
 
Tom Goreau, Sybilla, Bernd Neugebauer
Behind us, across St. James Park, the closest building at our back is 10 Downing Street. We can hear the clip clop of the Royal Horse Guards and the whistle as they wheel into their stables. This room is part of the town house constructed by Sarah Churchill, first Duchess of Marlborough in 1711. The architect was Sir Christopher Wren.
 
 
Descendants of the Marlboroughs occupied the house until 1817 when it returned to the Crown, where has been the London residence of five Dukes and Duchesses, three dowager Queens, three Princes of Wales, the future Kings Edward VII, George V, and Edward VIII, and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who was crowned King of the Belgians in the adjoining foyer in 1831. The same foyer, the Blenheim Saloon, served the wedding banquet for the marriage of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.
 
 
All of this means very little if the Atlantic reclaims London or Earth’s atmosphere becomes unbreathable. The guardians of the old order seem to have gotten that. If knowledge is power, then the reverse is also true. Those at the center of concentrated power are cursed with knowledge they would rather not have.
 
 
In 1959 Queen Elizabeth placed Marlborough House at the disposal of the Commonwealth. With the advent of Brexit and Trump, its strategic importance has emerged. Today’s Commonwealth is a third of the world’s population, 20 percent of Earth’s landmass, 40 percent of its forests and 17 percent of global purchasing power parity, about $10 trillion. These nations share a common language, similar legal and administrative structures (including somewhat astonishing and far-reaching improvements to the civil and criminal codes crafted by the Secretary General that are still below the radar), and fundamental values such as commitment to democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, equal rights, and faith in economic and social development.
 
 
Given this background, one has to ask, in what way, exactly, is the Commonwealth any better positioned than the UN to do something about climate change?
 
 
Staring around at the trappings of empire — Louis Laguerre’s murals of the Battle of Blenheim (1704), Queen-Empress Alexandra’s gilded oak overmantles, the plaster busts of George V and Queen Mary, the tables that served Edward’s Derby Day dinners for members of the Jockey Club — the incongruity overwhelms our senses. And yet, there she is, at our right elbow, the dark-skinned 12th child of a Dominican mother and Antiguan father, the indefatigable Patricia Scotland, rollerblading through the halls of power.
 
 
We can do this, she says. We must. Over a late supper in the basement of a restaurant past closing hours she says, “My mum told me every person is given a gift from God. Each gift is different. You need to find it and hone it and that is how you will have a good life.”
 
If the climate crisis can be seen as a gift from God, maybe there is something, and some people now, that we can start to work with, to tease out the best thing to do for this fragile, rapidly changing world.

Atlantic Crossing

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 21, 2017

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"There are some black swans in aviation’s future that could tip its economic balance. The three biggies are peak oil, climate weirding and cyberwarfare."

 

 

We are in London this week and on our trip across the pond we could not help but think how much more we would much prefer to have gotten here by sail.

 

 

 
 
Sadly, there is a distinct competitive advantage that favors passenger jets. If following tradewinds for an ocean crossing means devoting days and weeks for such travel, clipper ships are not coming back any time soon. Still, given the past century’s advances in materials and computing power, there are great opportunities for innovation in Atlantic crossings.
 
 
There are also some black swans that could tip the balance against flying. The three biggies are peak oil, climate weirding and cyberwarfare.
 
 
 
A foretaste of what the future sails may look like, we can go to companies like Kite Ships and SkySails, each of which develops various forms of large, free-flying sails without masts, which are anchored at the bow of the ship with long, adjustable ropes.
 
 
They are hoisted and reefed automatically and are controlled and positioned by wind situation by means of an electronic control system. The automation does not require additional crew and the lack of a fixed rig does not disturb the ship in port. The sail is deployed several hundred meters high, and draws advantage of winds that are smoother and stronger than at sea level.
 
***
 
Norska Vindskip has another vision, appealing in its simplicity. The designers intend to remove the sails and rigging altogether, but believe they can achieve 80 percent emission reductions by an aerodynamic vessel design where the hull itself acts as a sail. The vessel is designed as a hybrid, which first accelerates on gas and then balances between wind and supportive gas to maintain a constant speed. When the ship comes up to speed it encounters a backwind. Although this apparent wind gives effect on the hull’s symmetrical aerodynamic profile, and generates traction even when there is no wind – there is a contributing factor to large emissions reductions. The concept includes a computerized navigation system using GPS and weather data to adjust the route continuously, to constantly give the ship the most optimal angle to the wind as possible. It is thought then to hold 18 knots in average and large portions of the time is powered exclusively by wind.
 
 
18 knots is still not the same as 570 miles per hour. A 6-hour crossing by a 757 would take 170+ hours at Vindskip speed — a week-long voyage. Surely we can do better. We need a killer app for ocean crossings.
 
 
Will Nodvik, who studied Computer Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, writes on Quora:
 
 
The foiling AC-72s sailed [in 2013] during the America’s Cup top out at around 40 knots in super heavy conditions. Average container ships move at around 20 knots. The mast on an AC-72 is 40m high. Keep in mind that this mast is a rigid wing. The AC-72 is the lightest, fastest, most highly advanced boat. These masts are the strongest material possible since no expense was spared in their construction.
 
 
Forty knots (46 mph) is still only 8 percent of the cruising speed of a Boeing 747. Figure three and one half days, if top speed could be held the whole way.

 

The America’s Cup Challenge resumes this June in Bermuda’s Great Sound. The AC-72 (72-foot) yacht that Oracle Team USA sailed to a historic come-from-behind 9-8 victory over Emirates Team New Zealand on San Francisco Bay in September 2013 is gone. Obsolete.

 

Replacing it is a smaller, lighter AC-50 (50-foot) catamaran with 79-foot carbon fiber wing sail and new alloy hydrofoils to give it near zero drag. All the competitors in this year’s trials are expected to fly above water for 100% of the race time.

 

The sail’s drag is one-third to one-half that of four years ago, while producing about twice as much power. The control system comes from the Airbus A350 XWB airliner, compiling a terabyte per race collected from as many as 1,000 sensors fed into the Oracle Exadata supercomputer for instant analysis. Oracle will predict wind patterns (within half a knot accuracy) all the way down to 100-meter or even 50-meter grids on the racecourse. The sailors — a six man crew (down from 11 in 2013), need only glance at smart watches connected to a small onboard Linux server, to know what they need to do.

 

Speeds approaching 60 mph are possible in the Bermuda races—about 20% faster than in 2013. That would get us down to a two day Atlantic crossing.
 
 
More importantly, the days spent on crossing by sail put nothing into the atmosphere except the breath of the sailors. Today’s commercial passenger fleet is responsible for 3 to 5 percent of climate forcing, on its way to 15 percent according to some IPCC projections. Clearly it is going in the wrong direction.
 
 
From Wikipedia:
 
 
In October 2016 the UN agency International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) finalized an agreement among its 191 member nations to address the more than 458 Mt (2010) of carbon dioxide emitted annually by international passenger and cargo flights. The agreement will use an offsetting scheme called CORSIA (the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) under which forestry and other carbon-reducing activities are directly funded, amounting to about 2% of annual revenues for the sector. Rules against 'double counting' should ensure that existing forest protection efforts are not recycled. The scheme does not take effect until 2021 and will be voluntary until 2027, but many countries, including the US and China, have promised to begin at its 2020 inception date. Under the agreement, the global aviation emissions target is an 80% reduction by 2035 relative to 2020. NGO reaction to the deal was mixed.
 
 
The agreement has critics. It is not aligned with the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which set the objective of restricting global warming to 1.5 to 2°C. A late draft of the agreement would have required the air transport industry to assess its share of global carbon budgeting to meet that objective, but the text was removed in the agreed version. CORSIA will regulate only about 25 percent of aviation's international emissions, since it grandfathers all emissions below the 2020 level, allowing unregulated growth until then. Only 65 nations will participate in the initial voluntary period, not including significant emitters Russia, India and perhaps Brazil. The agreement does not cover domestic emissions, which are 40% of the global industry's overall emissions. One observer of the ICAO convention made this summary:
 
 
Airline claims that flying will now be green are a myth. Taking a plane is the fastest and cheapest way to fry the planet and this deal won't reduce demand for jet fuel one drop. Instead offsetting aims to cut emissions in other industries, although another critic called it "a timid step in the right direction."
 
 
But now imagine what happens when the ring wraiths start to arrive. On one side we have peak oil — for conventional liquid fuel production that happened in the US in 1969 and globally in 2005.

 

Dmitry Orlov explains:

[S]ustained and even slightly increased levels of per capita energy use have been enabled by constantly increasing debt that has temporarily compensated for the rising costs of energy production. The overall effect of this has been to depress both energy consumption and economic growth. Energy prices are low because that is all the consumers can afford and energy producers are forced to borrow to make up the difference between their production costs and their earnings. When economic growth stops and goes into reverse (what the French call décroissance) the debt burden becomes unsupportable, energy companies go out of business and per capita energy use drops precipitously. Thus, the phenomenon that has allowed per capita energy use to set some modest new records has produced an Olduvai plateau, which will be followed by an even steeper Olduvai cliff once this scheme, essentially one of attempting to borrow against the collateral of a nonexistent future, eventually fails. This moment is not far away: as I write this, the energy business has largely stopped being profitable, and there is a growing wave of energy companies entering bankruptcy.

***

Engineers like to work with physical quantities, and are loathe to admit that something that is essentially a game played with numbers on pieces of paper—which is what debt is—nevertheless can act as a physical motive force by forcing people to act. Its most dramatic physical manifestation is in depleting nonrenewable natural resources more rapidly and more fully. 

There are still pockets of oil fields that have not yet peaked, mostly in the Middle East, but on average, we are now into the decline phase. Ponzi land schemes support the popular fiction of a gold rush in “unconventional” liquids (fracked gas, shale oil, and the like). Prices at the pump are kept artificially low at this stage of the grift, as bigger fools are drawn into ever-more-risky real estate plays in the fracking patch, offshore, in the Arctic, and to the ends of the Earth, but sooner or later the real costs of these expensive, low-octane plays will bubble to the surface.
 
 
Petroleum explorer Colin Campbell many years ago compared our current moment in geological history to arriving at the tavern after final call and being so thirsty you take out your pocket knife and cut up the carpet to squeeze out any last drops of spilled beer (and whatever else might be there).
 
There are occasional headlines that some new discovery is a game changer, but those pieces of news never look at the data. Discoveries worldwide peaked decades ago and have not kept pace with extraction for many years. The situation is especially acute in post-peak producer nations like Venezuela and Mexico, the new normal for petrodollar addicts — destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. Any flare-up in tension in the Persian Gulf or other oil region can suddenly squeeze supplies with serious, world-shaking effects.
 
 
As Jan Lundberg of Sail Transport Network is fond of saying, “sailboats will have no fuel supply problem.” Airplanes are another story.

 

Virgin Atlantic Airways flew a Boeing 747 from London Heathrow Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on 24 February 2008, with one engine burning a combination of coconut oil and babassu oil. Greenpeace's chief scientist Doug Parr said that the flight was "high-altitude greenwash" and that producing organic oils to make biofuel could lead to deforestation and a large increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Also, the majority of the world's aircraft are not large jetliners but smaller piston aircraft, and with major modifications many are capable of using ethanol as a fuel. Another consideration is the vast amount of land that would be necessary to provide the biomass feedstock needed to support the needs of aviation, both civil and military.

 

Climate change may have more surprises. The second ring wraith can be glimpsed when they spill your drink between you and the serving cart, thanks to unexpected turbulence. A report published in Nature Climate Change by Paul Williams, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Science stated: 
 
 
"air turbulence does more than just interrupt the service of in-flight drinks. It injures hundreds of passengers and aircrew every year – sometimes fatally. It also causes delays and damage to planes."
 
 
Increasing atmospheric instability is one of the hallmarks of global climate change. 
 
 
The third ring wraith brings with it the threat to aviation posed by errant cyber-viruses loosed by incautious government and corporate handlers. We were warned by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on March 9 after he was informed by the hacker community that sloppy spycraft in the cyberwar arena has set in motion open source viruses capable of taking down major infrastructure, anywhere. As of the date of that press conference, 22,000 ISPs in the US had been infected with a backdoor opened by NSA/CIA. 
 
On May 12, that backdoor was exploited by a malware attack beginning with the British National Health System and the German Rail System, and eventually reaching more than 150 countries. “What happened with the Shadow Brokers in this case is equivalent to a nuclear bomb in cyberspace,” said Zohar Pinhasi, a former cybersecurity intelligence officer for the Israeli military, now the chief executive of MonsterCloud, which helps mitigate ransomware attacks. “This is what happens when you give a tiny little criminal a weapon of mass destruction. This will only go bigger. It’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
 
 
“The Central Intelligence Agency lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal,” Assange said.  “This is an historic act of devastating incompetence to have created such an arsenal and stored it all in one place and not secured it.” 

 

 

Brad Smith, Microsoft president, asked what would happen if the United States military lost control of “some of its Tomahawk missiles” and discovered that a criminal group was using them to threaten some country unless ransom was paid. But why use missiles when you can take control of commercial airplanes, just like in Die Hard 2?

 

 

 
 
Given the possibility that the air control tower managing your landing might suffer a “blue screen” attack as you make your descent, wouldn’t you rather be sailing?
 
 
“Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse.” (To sail is necessary, to live is not).  — Pompey

 

This week we have been resuming our talks with the Commonwealth of Nations to devise a strategy and timeline for reversing climate change using the permaculture tool kit. A key factor in the race to scale will be climate finance, and with that in mind we have bought to London a discussion of our concept for a ReGen Fund to issue “Cool Bonds” — lending instruments backed by carbon removal. Some of the projects we’ve discussed in previous posts — the Maya Mountain Research Farm in Belize, Ecosystem Restoration Camps, the Sunshine Ecovillage Network in China, Cool Labs in México and the Dominican Republic, and others — are prime candidates for putting that money to work. But there is another new piece on our chessboard.

 

Over the past few weeks we have been working with a ship’s architect on the concept for a mobile educational platform we are calling “Noah’s Ark.” The idea is for a research vessel not unlike Jacques Cousteau’s famous Calypso, that could move between moorings in places like New York, Miami and London and bring aboard researchers, activists, students, investors and others to meet with our change agents whom we are now calling Ambassadors. It would be a mobile networking hub, replete with television studio and conference hall.

 

To introduce our Cool Bond/ReGen Fund and Noah’s Ark, we joined with  Cloudburst Foundation and Project Noah to produce a short video.

 

This post is part of an ongoing serial we’re calling The Power Zone Manifesto. It is a series of building blocks that describe our existential climate dilemma and the only possible way to escape it. We post to The Great Change and Medium on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. We offer ecovillage apprenticeships, including Cool Lab trainings, this year at The Farm in Tennessee April through July and will be teaching a full permaculture course in Ireland in August. We will be on speaking tours in Brazil, Germany, India and China in late 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Places to B when Scool is IN

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 7 & May 14, 2017

PeakSurfer

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

 

Places to B

 

 

 

 

 

"Landing men on the moon once seemed impossible, too. We did it with the help of computers less intelligent than the Calculator App in your smart phone."
 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

In our story thus far we find our little party of bipedal vertebrates adrift on a planet whose climate is experiencing hyperthermia — quickly approaching heat stroke. This world is already running on the inner edge of the zone for habitability as it orbits its nearby star. An orbital shift just slightly closer to Venus or sightly farther from Mars would render it as inhospitable to life as either of those two neighbor worlds.
 
That unfortunate ending could also be achieved by a subtle shift of its atmospheric chemistry — a mere one tenth of one percent change in a single component (carbon dioxide, for instance) could be enough to irreversibly doom all higher life forms, beginning with high-maintenance mammals such as our little party. A comparable shift in the opposite direction would return the comfortable conditions of the late Holocene in which we evolved.
 
There are no lifeboats, and no nearby world to colonize. We have to either repair the thermostat on this vessel or perish.
 
 

 

 

 

 

If we listen to the best minds among us, we know that it is no longer adequate to curtail air pollution, even if we ended fossil fuels by 2020. We have to net sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and draw out at least a third of what is already up there — the legacy emissions of our predecessors. We need to do it fast — within decades. Given the tipping points already crossed, we may need to take down even more, even faster. We’ll find that out soon enough. The important thing is to just get started.
 
Dr. Glen Peters, Senior researcher, CICERO:
 

 

 

 

 

We often point to the faster-than-expected deployment of renewables, but rarely point to the slower-than-expected deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS). CCS is a key technology in scenarios, both with bioenergy and fossil fuels. CCS is a tougher nut to crack than thought due to technical, political and social constraints. According to most emission scenarios, if we don’t have large-scale CCS, then we can’t keep below 1.5/2C.

 

 
Hannah Mowat, forests and climate campaigner for Fern:
 
 
The level of ambition shown by countries in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) puts us on a pathway upwards of 3.6C. So, at the moment, much greater levels of ambition are needed from countries to put us on a path of emissions reductions that are steep enough to minimize any reliance on negative emissions (possibly to zero for 2C), to give us the greatest possible chance of staying below the 2 and 1.5C limits. Nothing should distract us from the need to shift to a fossil free world in the next decades.
 
 
Of the drawdown options, some work better than others. Some are easier to scale, some more difficult, or expensive. Some are downright dangerous. Some are snake oil. In the snake oil category is the current darling of technocornucopians: BECCS — Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage. In little more than a decade, BECCS had gone from being a highly theoretical, money-changers’ proposal for Sweden’s paper mills to earn double carbon credits to becoming a “key negative emissions technology” promoted by the IPCC to avoid dangerous climate change.
 
 
Dr Joeri Rogelj, Energy research scholar, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis:

 

Any technology deployed at large scale comes with pros and cons, and negative emissions technologies are no exception. Currently, no negative emissions technology [NET] entirely avoids potential detrimental societal side effects in a worst case scenario, but neither is there a single (low-carbon) energy technology that exclusively provides benefits. Nevertheless, our society will continue to produce energy in the future, and emissions have to be reduced to meet the Paris Agreement’s objectives. Technology preferences, thus, have to be considered against this backdrop: policies ensuring that detrimental side effects are limited are essential.

 

Considering these limitations, the most promising negative emissions technology appears to be the combination of centralized bioenergy power plants with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). In contrast to other negative emissions technologies, this technology provides the additional benefit of producing energy instead of merely consuming it. There surely are issues for its up-scaling. In general, negative emissions technologies’ only benefit is the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. Without CO2 emissions being penalized or strongly discouraged in some way, a large-scale deployment does never seem realistic. Then, there are further issues related to land and water competition for biomass production – this is a more general problem, not just for negative emissions – and related to safe ways to transport and store CO2. There is no silver bullet solution to climate change mitigation.

 

At first blush this sounds realistic. We can deal with  criticism that “in general, negative emissions technologies’ only benefit is the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere” by adding other benefits. In fact we could add enough benefits that NET pays for itself and even increases wealth, growing all 8 forms of capital in the process. We could make terra preta soils this way — making electricity from biomass crops or ag wastes, making biochar in the process and converting that to biofertilizer and probiotic feeds.

 

Sadly, that is not what the BECCS people have in mind. They are more into “sky mining;”  replacing fossil coal with plantation monocropped charcoal briquettes, shipped on railcars and burned in gigawatt steam plants to keep the lights on in distant skyscrapers and running subterranean, 135-mph Tesla autobahns, perhaps in the process sending a portion of the flue gas from the briquette burn down a pipe to the bottom of the ocean. That last stage would come at many times greater cost than the entirety of the other parts of the process, including the Tesla autobahns.

 

BECCS was studied last month by CarbonBrief. It appeared at first, in the early 2000s, as a backstop technology in case we got bad news from the climate system. Today it has become the savior-in-chief for technological civilization.

 

The acronym BECCS first appeared in 2001 in a paper in Science that suggested that switching from fossil to biomass energy and then storing the carbon emissions underground could sequester 500 gigatons of carbon over the course of the 21st century, which represents some 35% of projected emissions. The paper’s authors said:
 
 
“The long-run potential of such a permanent sink technology is large enough to neutralize historical fossil fuel emissions and satisfy a significant part of global energy and raw material demand.”
 
 
This is a big claim. It begs scrutiny. As CarbonBrief discovered, BECCS fails on several grounds. 

 

Rob Bailey, Director of energy, environment and resources, Chatham House:
 
 
Before 2050, speculative technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), direct air capture and ocean geoengineering offer little promise, due to a variety of economic and technological hurdles. For now, less exotic land-use practices, such as soil carbon management, biochar, forestation and wetlands restoration, offer more promise. These are proven, and negative emissions can be achieved with immediate effect.
***
Speculative negative emissions technologies may be worse than chimeras if they result in the false comfort that continued fossil fuel emissions can simply be offset, thereby diverting financial and policy resources from conventional mitigation. This would be reckless. It is clearly less risky not to emit a ton of CO2 in the first place, than to emit one in expectation of being able to sequester it for an unknown period of time, at unknown cost, with unknown consequences, at an unknown date and place in the future.
 
 
Prof Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-chair of AR5 Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Chief economist, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:
 
 
It is clear that the infrastructure needed for BECCS, in particular, is massive in many of the current low-stabilization pathways and that we are late in ramping this up. On average, these pathways require investments into BECCS of $138bn and $123bn per year for electricity and biofuel respectively in 2050.
 
 
The industry is not without its cheerleaders, however. Prof David Keith, Gordon McKay professor of applied physics at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School; Executive chairman of Carbon Engineering:
 
 
All else equal, a ton of carbon removed by injecting it into a deep geological reservoir, or by adding alkalinity to the ocean, buys us more environmental protection than a ton of carbon captured in a forest or in biochar mixed into soils. Both both deserve more attention and research, but it’s dumb policy to treat them equally.

 

John Lanchbery, Head of climate change policy, RSPB:

 

We have reservations about the practical feasibility and costs of deploying NETs [Negative Emissions Technologies] on a large scale and, so far, none have been. As the IPCC AR5 points out for BECCS: “The potential, costs and risks of BECCS are subject to considerable scientific uncertainty.”  Even large scale monoculture plantations (afforestation), which are probably the most practical NET, would require vast amounts of water, hundreds of cubic kilometres per year, and would undermine efforts to increase food security, alleviate poverty and conserve biodiversity.

 

Yet reaching 1.5C will undoubtedly limit climatic impacts on biodiversity and food security, but will probably require negative emissions in the range of 450-1000 GtCO2 until 2100, even with aggressive emission reductions.  A large proportion, if not all of this, could probably be achieved by the conservation and enhancement of natural forests, peatlands and other natural sinks and reservoirs – without recourse to NETs.
 
 
Prof Pete Smith, Professor of soils and global change, University of Aberdeen:
 
 
One advantage of BECCS relative to other NETs is that it produces rather than requires energy. Similar land and water constraints face afforestation/reforestation. For enhanced weathering of rocks that naturally absorb CO2, whilst the land areas required are vast, crushed rock could be spread on land without changing the land use, perhaps also providing benefits in terms of soil fertility (by raising the pH of acidic soils). The process is, however, currently costly and the mining and grinding of the rock is energy intensive. Direct air capture using chemicals is currently extremely costly and requires extremely high energy inputs, but it has a low land and water footprint.

 

Soil carbon sequestration can be applied on land without changing land use, and provides a range of co-benefits. It is inexpensive, but the sinks created are finite in duration and reversible. Biochar can produce some energy, but the more biochar that is produced, the less energy is generated. The land and water footprint for spreading biochar are negligible, but the land and water footprint of the biomass used as a feedstock for biochar can be large, as for BECCS.
 
 
Implications of transporting feedstocks for BECCS or biochar over large distances also need to be better understood. For any technology involving CCS, more large-scale demonstration projects are required to demonstrate efficacy of carbon storage and to learn by doing – to allow costs to be reduced and efficiencies improved ahead of larger scale roll-out.
 
 
Is BECCS even possible? Many have their doubts. Prof Sir David MacKay, Former chief scientific advisor, Department of Energy and Climate Change:
 
 
A concern about the IPCC-WG3 modelling of BECCS, incidentally, is that I expect it assumes perfectly rational and well-informed behavior. So, in the model, no-one would deforest an area to make a quick buck, because they would be aware of the loss of carbon stocks. Whereas, in reality, it is very difficult to measure carbon stocks in the landscape and, if there are subsidies for biomass without correct carbon stock measurement, it is quite possible that the subsidies would lead to biomass activities that have bad carbon effects in the landscape.

 

Well, I would say that [the scale of negative emissions technologies to meet the aims of the Paris Agreement] is technically deliverable, just about, but the way I always put it is this… The required scale of burial of CO2 by 2100 (measured as a mass buried per year) is, according to both back-of-envelope calculations and the IPCC WG3, about five times as great as today’s oil industry (measured in the same units as a mass extracted per year).

 

Is this technically deliverable? Yes, in principle, but only if many governments make clear that this is their intention, and agree a mechanism, for example, an agreement on a global carbon price, to get it delivered. Do I think it is a realistic view of what the world will do? No, not at the moment, because I think the Paris discussions completely ducked this issue, which is one of the most important issues out there.
 
 
Dr Oliver Geden, Head of EU division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs:

 

When accounting for all dimensions of feasibility, including social and political, it’s hard to imagine that carbon removal on the order of 600-800 GtCO2 – equaling 15-20 years of current annual emissions – can be realized during the 21st century. Based on terrestrial CDR only (like in today’s integrated assessment models) one would need approximately 500+ million hectares of additional land, that’s 1.5 times the size of India. That’s obviously a political no-go, and the main reason why negative emissions haven’t been part of high-level climate negotiations so far, despite the fact that carbon removal has been seriously discussed in the IPCC since 2007 and is an integral part of RCP2.6, the IPCC scenario consistent with 2C. Until now, the introduction of CDR has mainly had the effect of covering political inaction. A strategic debate about how to use CDR within a broader portfolio of climate policy measures is clearly lacking. Most policymakers don’t even know the difference between net and gross negative emissions. For 2C, the world should cross the line into net zero around 2070, but the phase-in of carbon removal technologies will have to happen way before 2050.
 
 
Glen Peters adds:

 

Most carbon dioxide removal technologies require land. Reduced deforestation and increased afforestation will reduce the available land. Without rapid, perhaps infeasible, yield improvements, food production may take more land.

 

But Peters is missing an important point. He is thinking that any NET scenario requires land that will come out of the reforestation or food requirements, when in fact it gives land to those. When the agroforestry potential is considered, and the concept of carbon cascades introduced — forest then food then energy then biochar then more forest — these elements do not exist in opposition to one another. They are a team. Putting rotational food forests on an area 1.5 times the size of India is not a loss, it’s a gain.

 

Hannah Mowat sums it up:

 

The only promising approach to achieving negative emissions is the restoration of terrestrial ecosystems, including accelerating the recovery of degraded forests. Such restoration has the potential to achieve a maximum estimated amount of 330 GtCO2 of removals by the end of the century.

 

Restoration of degraded natural ecosystems is not only possible today, but is an urgent intervention to meet multiple other environmental objectives, such as maintaining and enhancing biodiversity and halting desertification. These actions are also likely to be socially acceptable and effective if done with full consent and by rural communities and forest peoples. Evidence suggests that local people are the best guardians of forests and other ecosystems.

 

There are currently no technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere that can be employed at scale. It is very doubtful any will be available at scale within the timescale required. Furthermore, many of the proposed technologies are likely to have a dire social and environmental impact on food security, community land rights and biodiversity.
 
 
Dr. Stephan Singer, Director of global energy policy, WWF International:

 

This is not economical in the “classical” sense and truly inconvenient for some incumbents, but beneficial for the planet as a whole. Socially, developmentally and environmentally, this is superior for the billions of the poor and fragile ecosystems rather than relying on large scale BECCS, for instance, with unknown effects on food security. An effective phasing out of fossil fuels, besides other benefits, would also avoid the premature death of four million people annually from air pollution.

 

Yet, a certain part of negative emissions plays a key role now. Fostering natural carbon sinks in forests, grasslands and soils, if done properly, contribute tremendously to sustainable agriculture and forestry, as well as enhanced biodiversity.

 

Once this is all done, we might not need any of the other contentious technologies of negative emissions, such as BECCS and relying on unproven and leaky geological layers for CO2 storage for thousands of years. But actions have to be taken now!
 
 
The reality is that staying under the 1.5C threshold is now nigh-on impossible. Dr. Andrew King, a researcher in climate extremes at the University of Melbourne concedes that meeting the 1.5C target now means overshooting and coming back down. He told CarbonBrief, “This isn’t possible with current technologies.”

 

The thing is, we are going about this all wrong. The way forward is not trying to sustain the unsustainable — growing bigger megacities powered by gigawatt power monsters and hyperlooping them together while we send Space X missions to Mars to pave the way for waves of Virgin Galaxy tourists.

 

We need to face the facts. If we suddenly came up with a low cost fusion reactor that runs on seawater it would only hasten our demise.

 

The only way for our small party to survive is to step away from the captain’s chair and let Mother Nature retake the helm of this little blue spaceship in this great big galaxy. We can help, but we need to follow her orders.
 
 
In its new study of all available options, Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown mixes emission reducing technologies and methodologies with actual drawdown counterparts. Eliminating all Project Drawdown’s portfolio of renewable energy and conservation options, less than a quarter of the chosen 100 strategies selected for comparison can actually remove and sequester atmospheric carbon year-on-year:
 
 
  • Afforestation
  • Alternative cement
  • Bamboo
  • Biochar
  • Biomass (if holistically managed to optimize drawdown)
  • Bioplastic
  • Coastal wetlands
  • Farmland restoration
  • Green roofs
  • Managed grazing
  • Multistrata agroforestry
  • Nutrient Management
  • Peatlands (expanding)
  • Perennial Biomass
  • Regen Ag
  • Silvopasture
  • Temperate Forests
  • Tree intercropping
  • Tropical Forests
  • Tropical staple trees
  • Waste-to-energy (with CCS)
     
 
Both Project Drawdown and the BECCS crowd have one thing right. The problem is not technological. We know how to do this, even if is almost impossible. Landing men on the moon once seemed impossible, too. We did it with the help of computers less intelligent than your phone.

 

The problem is entirely one of social consensus. Right now we are in discord because those with the most to lose have muddied the waters to obscure their obscene profits from the destruction of Earth. The way forward is not to jail them (although it’s not a bad idea). The way forward through these recurrent economic obstacles is by bending the profit motive the way an aikido master receives an onrushing opponent. We need to bend the adversary’s momentum to switch the advantage. We need to tame capitalism from unconscionable excess to noble purpose. It is the only way to power our transition to warp speed..

 

Human ingenuity is already bending the curve with Mondragon-style cooperatives, Smart Money investment klatches, and Public Benefit (“B”) corporations or limited liability companies. Profit is not synonymous with greed. Any plant or animal that produces excess seed in order to assure a surplus to “lend” to start the next generation is engaged in capitalism.
 
 
A new class of Cool Bonds and these other strategies provide the seeds of a viral wave to carry the shift from annihilation highway to garden planet. While governments waffle and bicker, the alternative money people are who will step in to invest in afforestation, cool labs, bamboo, and biochar. They will do it at the trillion-dollar level, with or without Deutchebank, Goldman Sachs or a government dole.

 

As we write this it may seem as if the tide is drawing out, but what comes next will hit the business world like a tsunami. That tide will sweep along the politicians with it.
 
 

If you have money to invest, this is where you should invest it: carbon cascades; Cool Lab biorefineries;  fishermens’ cooperatives; girls’ education; permaculture for hedge fund managers, not necessarily in that order. Find places to B. Not places to BECCS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scool is In

 

 

 

 

 

"Youth, with unpruned neurotransmitters performing at lightning speeds, overcome obstacles and learn faster than adults. "
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Human minds, like no other earthen species we know, move backwards and forwards in time.
 
 
That may be too bold a statement. We have to admit we do not really know how other species think, and a little humility is probably in order. There may be lifeforms we share this planet with that are, by human standards, clairvoyant. Our world is a quantum entanglement of life that constantly co-evolves its relationships with companion lifeforms on an otherwise lifeless rock hurling through cold space.
 
 
Our companions sometimes interact in ways we might call telepathic or teleportating for lack of other words to explain mysterious — nigh impossible — communications of information or materials.
 
 
As we try to imagine how we can possibly scale climate-reversing, ecoforestry-based economic paradigm shifts quickly enough to matter, we return to our oft-repeated premise: the problem is more social than technological.
 
 
We don’t need to discover anything to do this. We know how to do integrated agroforestry that more than pays for the effort after re-establishment; indeed, it provides hefty return ratios of food, fiber, water and social resilience in volatile times. This is a ten-thousand year-old technology. Despite unprecedented climate, energy, political and financial shocks, we know how to draw carbon down from the greenhouse blanket. We know how to make cool labs that offer myriad rewarding microenterprise opportunities from cascades of beneficial products and services that, when all is done, leave beneficial biochar deposits in soils for millennia. 
 
We know how to cascade ecovillage designs into eco-districts, eco-regions, and eco-nations — all sequestering more carbon than they emit and transforming human civilization from a destructive, consumerist, extractive meme to probiotic, symbiotic, circular human ecosystem that heals the damage we have caused since first disturbing the earth with fire, irrigation and the plow — guns, germs and steel.
 
 
What we lack are the experienced guides to show us the way. Many of those we could have had fell as victims to genocide centuries ago.
 
 
When we were at the International Permaculture Conference in London in 2015, we urged those we met to raise a Permaculture Army. We were not in jest.
 
 

In 2015, we met with the multigenerational peoples of a remote valley in the Dominican Republic that, with the entrance of a new road and a bridge across a seasonally impassable river, had been slated for unrestrained tourism sprawl. We took the time to listen to their dreams.
 

 
Because of quick action by a far-sighted alternative development partnership to coalesce government and landowners and thwart the cultural invasion (at least for the moment), that valley has been rescued from the fate of so many scenic places overrun by hotels, resorts, restaurants and spas in search of the quick buck.
 
 
So, what do those people dream? Given the choice between the tourist trade and their heirloom paradise that traces their own and the plants’ and animals’ genetic lines back to the time before Columbus, they naturally chose… neither.
 
 
In formal design charrettes and informal gatherings, they made it clear they had no wish to perpetuate their current situation. They lacked basic health care. The ocean fish stocks they depended upon to feed and provide for their families were disappearing. No-one wanted to buy their coconuts. Their children left for school in distant cities, lost their valley ways and as soon as they were old enough, moved away to find low paying jobs in order to acquire motorbikes and iPhones. What the elders asked for were local health clinics, local markets for coconut and fish, and a school that would teach skills most useful to improve their lives, like regenerative agriculture and sustainable fishing.
 
 
John and Cynthia Hardy
Providing the health clinic is not difficult. We quickly found local markets for coconut and fish. Examples of schools that meet the specifications of the village are also not hard to find. One of the best is John and Cynthia Hardy’s Green School, opened in September 2008 with 90 students and a tailor-made campus that emerged from the jungle and rice fields of Bali. It has since grown to approximately 400 students. 
 
 
The Bali campus is designed around the principles of an organic permaculture system, and the students cultivate an organic garden as part of their learning activities.

 

Buildings are constructed primarily from renewable resources including bamboo, local grass and traditional mud walls. The campus has been reported as an example of the large-scale building potential of bamboo architecture, especially “The Heart of the School” — a 60-meter long, stilt-structure constructed with 2500 bamboo poles.
 
 
In January 2015, the Green School high school students launched the Bio Bus, a student-led social enterprise to provide sustainable transport services to Green School students, teachers and community. This initiative looked at solving the transportation system to the rural setting of Green School, which mainly consisted of private cars, carpooling and motorbikes. The Bio Bus now has three 18-seater buses that run purely on biodiesel (B100) made from used cooking oil.
 
***
 
The school consists of four learning neighborhoods – Early Years, Primary School, Middle School & High School. Special programs include Green Studies, environmental science, entrepreneurial learning, and the creative arts. The structure is the Three Frame Day which includes the Integral Frame, the Instructional Frame, and the Experiential Frame.
 
 
The school "prepares students to be stewards of the environment, teaching them to be critical and creative thinkers, who champion the sustainability of the world and the environment."
 
 
Now imagine a Green School like that going into that valley in the Dominican Republic. One can be in every ecovillage. They, or something very similar, already operate in many of them. We have such a school at The Farm.
 

 

 

 

 

If solutions to climate change are to be found, they will come from those with the most to lose.

 
Prof. Guy McPherson, by way of explaining why he left the conventional state-run university where he was a tenured professor, said recently:
 
 
I was using classroom anarchism as my approach. Anarchism means taking responsibility for yourself, and for your neighbors; learning from each other. In my classrooms I would just show up with a list of questions and then, Socrates like, I would just throw questions at them.
 
 
I gave them all the notes I would be using to teach on the first day of class. So they had everything I had. They could just read ahead 20 minutes before the class started and they knew everything I knew, except what I had in my head. So we just had a conversation.
 
 
I was pointing out that there is another way to live. There is another way to learn. There is another way to teach, beyond what almost everybody is exposed to.
 
 
This is how we will train our change agents. We will build ecodistricts like in the Dominican Republic and we put Green Schools there. They needn’t be just the Green School for children. They can offer vocational retraining and enrichment courses for adults. In these places we can also build Cool Labs, as microenterprise incubators, and as part of the lifelong learning immersion pedagogy. The labs can also offer business opportunities for graduates.
 
 
Last year while we were at the COP22 Climate Summit in Marrakech we had the opportunity to travel 15 miles out of town to the edge of the Agafay Desert with ecosystem regeneration visionary and filmmaker John D. Liu. There we visited the glampsite of Terre des Etoiles and worked alongside Hopi Rainkeepers building stone check dams in desert wadis. Behind the check dams, where the Hopi knew the soil would accrete when it rained, we planted tree saplings that Terre des Etoiles founders knew from their studies would withstand the harsh conditions and eventually reestablish a Mediterranean forest, holding carbon and pushing back the desert.
 
Styled like a Bedouin oasis, Terre des Etoiles offers adventure visitors a night in the desert. It has a kitchen garden and organic farm with horses, camels, goats, rabbits and hens, Berber-rugged bivouac of ten tents, with showers done in traditional Moroccan tadelakt (lime plaster), traditional food and a scenic bar with local beers, honey wine and shisha pipes. After dark a jaw-dropping expanse of stars fades in over the snow capped peaks of the Atlas mountains. 
 
 
John Liu was there because, like ourselves, he was interested in how humans can learn to live on this world without destroying it. After documenting China’s progress of restoring the native ecology of the Loess Plateau, he came to the conclusion that ecosystem regeneration is our only possible future. Solving the climate dilemma is not about flying halfway around the world to attend a conference, listening to presentations, drawing up mind maps on a white board, photographing that and writing a report. It is about growing biomass, building soil, and restoring healthy, healing ecosystems.
 
 
More importantly, Liu grasped the potential of youth as the principal agents of the great change that has to happen. After all, those born before 1980 lucked out. They’ll be dead of natural causes, if nothing else, before the real climate catastrophe takes hold (if we are lucky). Anyone younger than that is going to get a stern taste of the Anthropocene to come. And those kids are already starting to realize they have the most to lose.
 
 
Once they fully appreciate the direction we’re headed, why would someone who will most likely live long enough to suffer the second half of the 21st Century not be motivated to change their future?
 
 
Research into the teenage brain has exponentially exploded over the past decade, from 2,734 citations in 2003 to 5,885 citations in 2013 to a cumulative 118,909 citations in print as of last week.
 
We now know that overall brain size plateaus around age five, followed by significant and rapid reorganization beginning around age eight and lasting into the early twenties. If bigger brains were smarter brains, then African elephants and some whales would be 50 to 75 percent smarter than humans. Smart comes not with size, but with separating wheat from chaff. Our brains are still organizing that part and we age into our 20’s.
 
 
The most notable rewiring during teen years occurs in the frontal lobe, which is responsible for organization, planning, decision-making, working memory, and impulse control, among other executive functions. Teens and 20’ers are risk takers, which is why since the dawn of history they have been thrown into uniform, given a weapon, and sent into combat. Youth, with unpruned neurotransmitters performing at lightning speeds, overcome obstacles and learn faster than adults.
 
Liu has devised a new means to harness the energy of youth to transform their future, and just maybe save their lives. With support from Regeneration International, the Permaculture Research Institute, the World Permaculture Association, Global Ecovillage Network, the Club of Rome and the Commonland Foundation, he has selected severely degraded locations to set up Ecosystem Restoration Camps. A grassroots movement to back his ideas has been growing since July 2016. The first camp is on the ground now in the Altaplano region of Spain. 
 
 
With over a 1000 pledged members coming together, in 2017 Liu’s objective is to finance and manage the first Ecosystem Restoration Camp and from there to help set up more camps worldwide. Already a broad community of researchers, landscape designers, farmers, gardeners, engineers and many other professionals are converging on Spain.
 
 
Re-enfranchised youth from over 75 countries are working shoulder to shoulder, just like our small group that left the COP22 conference and went to join the Hopi Rainkeepers last year, moving rocks and planting trees. This first camp, and the camps that will follow, will restore the surrounding landscape and restore ecosystem functions. They will cascade environmental, social and economic value.
 
These are the Cool Schools of the future, or SCOOLs. There are opportunities for everyone to help but it is mainly the youth of the world who will make this happen. And at night, around the campfire, they will sing, dance, and look up at the stars and say, “this is what it is to be human.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater Fools & Change Agents

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 23 & 30, 2017

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The Greater Fool

 
"The overdeveloped countries are raising generations of gamblers."
 

 

 

  All ecosystems, including the human variety, move through stages of succession from very simple to very complex until there is a disturbance that causes a shakeout or a reset.

 

 
 
A system that has grown in complexity to the point where it is “supermediated” by tiny organisms (or organizations) trying to squeak in the spaces between older groupings and exploit exchanges to draw off their own existence becomes brittle at some point. Fluctuating diversity is more robust for the whole ecosystem but more fragile for the individual members. Just as an evolutionary innovation may dislodge long-residing stalwarts, a small disturbance may disintermediate recent interlopers.  

 

Global technoculture — we almost said “western culture” but a quick glance at India, China, or Japan would show that concept to be outdated — has been fostering lots of intermediation. The tech boom — rapid evolutionary innovation — is partly responsible. ‘Higher’ education vacillates between the stalwart model of molding students into consumerist cubicle rats, learning to push the correct buttons to get fed, and the disruptive counterpart — the next-gen, wired, tech-savvy entrepreneur class attempting to pay back outsized student loans by developing a killer app or discovering a hitherto unexplored niche for intermediation. By and large, the overdeveloped countries are raising generations of gamblers while the underdeveloping countries are herding masses of enslaved vassals deeper into debt.
 
 
This makes a lot of sense if you have to grapple with an explosion of 15- to 25-year-olds entering the workforce. In 2016 there were 963,981,944 males and 898,974,458 females in that category, the greatest portion entering from China, India, USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia and Japan (in that order).
 
 
Boom and bust is an emergent property of social organization at civilization scale. Some would blame capitalism, but in our view that is mere scapegoating. True, by lending with interest one places the onus on the borrower to produce enough surplus to pay the interest, and in many ways that can resemble a game of musical chairs, but the principle of being able to borrow to establish and then repay from the new production of that establishment is not unsound. That is how many life forms regenerate themselves — “lending” seed that they produce in overabundance in order to endow next season’s replacement for themselves.

 

We have been in an expansion phase of human society since the end of the last glacial maximum. Since the discovery of first coal and then oil and natural gas, and the means to industrialize their extraction and use, we have been expanding at some multiple of our natural fecundity rate because fossil fuels have allowed a post-natural expansion of food supply and global trade.

 

If we want a way forward that can seriously address the real challenges, it would have to begin with deescalation. Beyond getting population under control, we need to find an economic model involving satisfaction of needs, including productive and internally-rewarding employment, without continuing to feast on the seed corn as if that did not matter. To gain adherents, any proposed change has to offer a lifestyle that is no less attractive than the old ways, although we also have within us hero genes that can be stimulated to get us to make sacrifices and feel good about it.

 

Since the 1980s, that expansion has been on steroids. Each year we add another 30 million humans worldwide. We double our population every 30 to 40 years. If we were to continue with business as usual until, say, 2050, we should expect to have 14 billion people sharing Earth. Of course we can’t do that, for several good reasons, not the least being the food supply. Right now food security for most depends on securing 2000 calories of oil to produce 1 calorie of grain. Each year fewer and fewer of us will be able to do that and will have to find other means, or perish.

 

In the early stages of our expansion we borrowed from our savings to start productive enterprises that produced more than enough to repay the loans and expand further. That is self-liquidating debt as we climb a ladder of constant growth. In the later stages, marked by contraction, with declining resources and unfulfilled demand, we have been substituting sophisticated debt instruments — fiat currencies, fractional reserve banking, adjustable rate mortgages, credit default swaps, the list goes on….

 

Those imaginary assets are not backed by anything but the expectation of speculative profits, but as long as everyone agrees to overlook the emperor having no clothes, the parade goes on. There is no actual income being produced to repay the debts, just proxy poker chips.

 

In any speculative bubble, we lose the connection between price and value. It is short sighted — based on assuming that speculative value will always trump real value. This sets the stage for the inevitable bust, as we saw in the debasement of metals in coins in Ancient Rome, Tulip Mania in Holland in the 1630s, and the Stock Market Crash of 1929. As Nicole Foss explains (at 32:17):

 

They think that the supply of greater fools will be limitless. Unfortunately it isn’t. Eventually you’ve found the greatest possible fool and no one will pay more than this person did. At that point everything just dries up and the price just absolutely collapses.

 

 

 

The simple living movement in its various names and forms has been trying to grapple with that idea for a long time. The computer design aesthetic of Steve Jobs was a form of simplification — merging music players and hand calculators with mobile phones in ways that kept the device user friendly and ergonomic. You didn’t have to carry both a boom box and a brick phone. 
 
Another strain of voluntary simplicity is individuals, in the style of Tolstoy and Gandhi, who are satisfied with what they have rather than want.  These experiments — extending back to Epicurus and up through Thoreau, to Daniel Suelo and Freeskilling Mark Boyle who renounce money entirely — shows that happiness comes from carefully considered choices, not by acquisition of stuff or brute force.

 

We are not condemned to Consumerist Armageddon. There are alternatives. Consider the 100 Thing Challenge — to whittle down personal possessions to one hundred items. Consider co-housing, tiny houses or the natural building movement. Living more simply in communities of like minded people produces a much higher quality of life than most people have now in both the underdeveloping and the overdeveloped world.

 

 

“How would you like to live very, very comfortably working only one day a week for money? Most people are trapped into a worried, 30-year period of trying to pay off the mortgage, fearful that if they lose their job they’ll lose their house, and having to work too long hours, causing stress, depression and anxiety — our biggest health problems now — in a fiendish rat race….

 

“I know people who live in alternative communities who live very nicely in ways I envy with one or two days work a week. Firstly they cut their expenses by not having a big house, not having a lavish wardrobe, and having alternative sources of leisure… and secondly and probably more importantly, living in a community that is highly supportive, with lots of musicians and weekend concerts and stuff, and sources of local food and shelter — build your own little mud brick house with the help of the community. And so you are living in an economy that doesn’t require much money … a non-monetary economy.”

 

Given these kinds of choices, we have to ask, why still seek the greater fool?
 
 

Change Agents

 

 


"As overwhelming as this may all seem, our situation will compel us to make the leap. If we fall short of our mark this will be our final attempt."

 

 
 
 
tree-of-life_2000.jpg
 
  For at least the past 45 years, (from publication of the Club of Rome’s Limits To Growth), we have been watching a debate rage over the concept of sustainability. That word gets overused and misused so we need to be clear what we mean — the ability to maintain for an indefinite period of time without degrading resources required for support.

 

limits-plus-climate-forecast.pngClearly any culture that depends upon nonrenewable energy and one-time use of finite resources is unsustainable. Merely switching to renewable energy doesn’t make you sustainable. Nor, for that matter, does simultaneously switching to renewable consumer goods. To be sustainable, it needs something going much deeper than that. One needs a pervasive credo of regenerative circulation.
 
 
Ever since we can remember there has been a political divide between those who believe such a credo is antithetical to avaricious human nature and those who believe it not only possible, but the only way forward for a species in mortal danger of outrunning its supplies.
 
darwinsketch.jpg
Charles Darwin, Notebook, 1837
 

 

What we have been doing with this Power Zone Manifesto that we began here in this space some months ago, is to lay the groundwork for a design science of intentional social change. We are putting it out there. Clarifying. Accepting feedback. Revising. Advancing the design by naming its parts.
 
 
With any hyperwicked, cross-cutting problem, a viable response needs to cut the sides off the box. We have to get holistic. This is going to involve a deeper understanding of planetary system dynamics, relationships of government and finance, the underlying fabric of market economies and herd behavior, the ways we get our information and pass it to others. Ultimately, we are proposing a wholesale redesign of civilization. Call it Civilization 2.0.
I just watched this excellent talk by Paul Hawken about the combination of 100 interventions necessary to reverse the worst consequences of global warming. It is truly inspiring. Yet, the how of cultural change is completely absent. There is nothing said about the narratives and social norms that need to change, how to go about guiding the cultural evolution for implementing every one of these solutions, what is needed from the cognitive, behavioral, and social sciences to make this plan "actionable" in the real world.

 

Elsewhere Brewer added:
humadescenttree.jpgThis problem that has not been named is The Great Transition Beyond Empires. We now have to choose between two metaphors for our planetary civilization — we can be a cancer that kills its host or a butterfly that arises transformed from the mindlessly consuming caterpillar. But it is incumbent upon us now to collectively choose before the choice is made for us by the cumulation of decisions made in the past. There are consequences for inaction in times like these.

 


More than a century ago V.I. Lenin instructed his readers that there are some preconditions for any revolution to take place:
 
1. An elite incapable of governing in the old way and beginning to split into different wings, each seeking a different solution to the crisis. 
 
2. A middle class in ferment. 
 
3. A poverty class desperate for a way out, not on the basis of the old society, but of a new order. 
 
4. Clear leadership, with the necessary strategy, tactics, and organization to assure victory.
 
MOD phylogenetic tree.png
We have the first two of those conditions in much of the world today. Witness Venezuela, or the uprisings in recent years across Spain, Greece, Turkey, Mexico, and many other places. The tinder for revolution has been laid across Lenin’s first three steps. What about the fourth?

 

Foundation Stones’ Robert Gilman suggests that to be aligned and competent, change agents need to develop these capabilities:

 

  • be adept with complexity
  • treat diversity as an asset
  • be skilled at collaboration
  • be at home with high levels of interconnection
  • foster sustainability in their personal habits

 

lastonepercentgenome.jpg
The last 1% of the human genome
Besides a more profound systems thinking, change agents — the next generation of revolutionaries — need to learn to inhabit an Optimal Zone so they are less likely to get triggered into fight, flight or freeze and are skillful at getting themselves and others back from such triggering.  They will need to go beyond the polarizing limitations of linear and categorical thinking and becoming adept at such things as proportional thinking, continuum thinking, layered thinking, visual thinking and kinesthetic thinking….

 

Borrowing from Brewer inspired groups, the Evolution Institute, TheRules.org, and Smart Ecologies, our next generation of change agents also have to understand tipping points, feedback loops, rules of local interaction, emergent behaviors, dynamic attraction, neural processing of language, how emotions shape reasoning, the making of meaning, idea propagation, applied memetics, viral media, and social analytics.
 
What is needed is to get the relationships right among:

 

  • lifestyle, built environment, community, and the planet’s life support dynamics;
  • economic activities between different communities, i.e. the rules of trade and social equity, and not just limited to human communities;
  • fair and just governance at various scales to sustain the new paradigm.

 

Rxr1MNs.pngAs overwhelming as this may all seem, our situation will compel us to make the leap. If we fall short of our mark this will be our final attempt.

 

And on this moment of choice, whether it is named and made conscious or remains merely a societal drift based on bankrupt information pools, mistaken identities and erroneous assumptions, hangs the fate of this tip on this hair of our evolutionary sequence.

 

Aho Mitakuye Oyasin.

 

 

Confounding Collapse

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 16, 2017

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"As brilliant as your conceptual breakthrough may be, there is no escaping your cultural milieu."

 

 

 

The Paris Agreement calls for deep decarbonization by 2050 (net neutrality) and drawdown of all the legacy carbon thereafter, returning humans to the comfortable Holocene from which we evolved.

A recent study by Energy Innovation Reform Project (a pro-nuclear, pro-coal think tank), reviewing the now extensive literature on the renewable energy transition, concluded that a 100% renewables goal, while technically feasible, still faces many challenges:

To achieve Paris policy goals — by no means an assurance that climate catastrophe will be averted — power sector CO2 emissions must fall to zero by 2050. The pressure of this timeline is itself disruptive. Decarbonization is significantly — exponentially —  more difficult than mere emissions reductions, even if it loses the baggage of that Dogberry neologism ("decarbonization").

 

 

  • Renewables are primarily delivered by electricity, and to a lesser extent by liquid or pelletized biofuels. To abate carbon, there needs to be a shift to electricity for transportation, heating, and industrial energy. 
  • Power generation systems involving renewables such as wind and solar are physically larger, requiring more land area.
  • Wind and solar require much greater total installed capacity — 3 to 6 times peak demand — to offset their intermittency.
  • Stable electric grids require a mix of “dispatchable” energy (variable generation on demand) and long-duration (seasonal) energy.
  • Battery storage is infeasible for long duration storage. In the USA, for instance, you would need 37.8 billion Tesla Power Wall 2.0 home energy storage systems—or 320 Power Walls per household to sustain present power consumption.
  • Biofuel backup, the most practical form of seasonal storage, would entail converting some fraction of Earth’s photosynthetic capacity to supplying electricity while somehow maintaining the other essential functions that natural ecosystems supply. You can’t rob Peter (Rabbit) to PayPal.

When one considers that the so-called industrial revolution was fueled by a switch from energy-light whale oil and firewood to energy-dense petroleum and coal — enabling expansion of human population from 1 billion to 7 billion — reversion to some sort of status quo ante is a daunting prospect. To start with, where will you find the whales?

Even if new generations of solar cells can take the place of whales in lighting homes, it is questionable whether those can provide the kinds of surplus energy that enabled construction of the world’s megacities, airborne armies, or space programs capable of landing men on the Moon or operating satellite-based Cloud technologies.

Humans now propose to switch from dependency on Earth’s 650-million-year-old savings account of fossil sunlight to a much more modest daily ration of photons arriving from the Sun. To do so, they must first gather and store those photons or their effects (e.g.: wind, tides, radiant heat, growing things) and then dispense them in some fashion similar to their previously accustomed habits for using oil or coal. They must finance all that while under the pressure of economic decline and mounting climate catastrophes. And they must overcome the problems of intermittentcy, diffusion and storage.

 

 

Consumer optimism is at a 17 year high — no worries, invest!

These are not small challenges. To suggest that we can supply a consumerist economy elevated to the scale of 7 billion — soon-to-be 12 billion as the pent-up demographic time bomb explodes — from silicon wafers, neodymium turbines, or terrestrial and marine vegetation, seems deluded.

Nonetheless, most governments, and all the major international development banks, now have the scare in them. Typical is the InterAmerican Development Bank, whose 2017 portfolio is 80% mitigation ($2.127 billion) and 20% adaptation (562 million). Mitigation refers to efforts to reduce or limit fossil emissions, or to a lesser extent, to drawdown and sequester greenhouse gases. Adaptation refers to efforts to reduce or limit vulnerability by restructuring shelter, food and water security around the new normal. 

IDB’s 2016 report warned its client countries that 60 to 80 percent of publicly listed fossil fuel reserves “are unburnable if the world is to avoid disastrous climate change.” Worse, they broke it to them that their agriculture systems, tourist industries, and most of the jobs they have created to productively employ their workforce over the past century of industrialization are all stranded too. IDB would now seem to agree with James Howard Kunstler that Robert Moses' utopian vision of America as happy-motoring affluent suburbia was the worst misallocation of resources in human history.

As brilliant as your conceptual breakthrough may be, there is no escaping your cultural milieu.

What we might call civilization, historian Joseph Tainter recast as something more nuanced: complexity. In his 1988 classic, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Tainter did not attribute the rise of the Greek, Mayan or the Roman Empires to military conquest, slavery or some new form of energy. He said that complexity creates resources just as resources create complexity. The binding energy is social organization.

A corollary of that is that depletion of resources does not necessary doom a civilization, even one that has been sawing off the tree limb it is perched upon. Rather, Tainter said, what is experienced in the periodic arrival of collapse is the normal and routine feedback of complexity.

Endlessly iterating intermediation as a society complexifies places greater demands on resources while yielding diminishing returns, both energetically and in terms of social benefit. Think of the store in the mall that only sells baseball caps. It is highly specialized. The store’s owner, who probably pays a franchise fee, requires a trained sales force, working probably at minimum wage but with health and unemployment insurance; rent to the mall owner; store liability, fire and theft insurance; advertising; payroll accountant; tax accountant; inventory depreciation; and more. The store management has a long list of complex regulations it has to abide by.

At the same time, its business model is very fragile. Success depends on people having discretionary income to buy new baseball caps. It is predicated on a demand adequate to meet the overhead of the store and avoid insolvency. It assumes people will continue to drive from some distance away to shop at the mall. It assumes that the costs to light, heat, cool and secure the mall will not become so prohibitive that the mall closes.

Today it is not just that business model that is too fragile. Its the entire global consumer economy. The signs are all around us. The collapse phase of the civilizational cycle is here. Two distinguishing features of this one are that it is global in scope for the first time and that it is capable of being watched in real time by nearly everyone.

In a recent interview with Steve Keen, Michael Hudson described the plight of the average US city dweller in 2017:

 

 

Hudson: Let’s say that debt is equal to 100% of GDP, which it is, at least in almost every country. Now, if countries are only growing at 1%, then if you pay interest at usually 5%, a country would have to grow 5% per year — the GDP — just to pay the interest. And if countries are growing at 1%, and the interest rate for average that everybody pays, about 5% or 6%, then you’re going to have the actual economy shrinking every year as there’s this siphoning off of interest. That’s what debt deflation is.

And that’s the situation that England is in. That is turning Eurozone into a dead zone. And it’s the situation of the US economy. That all of the surplus is paid for interest — not to mention financial returns, capital gains, and economic rent to the landlord class and to the monopolies.

So no wonder the economy is shrinking. Nobody has enough money to buy what they produce anymore. So that’s why there are so many vacancies in storefronts in New York. Why stores are going out of business. Restaurants are going out of business. There’s a squeeze on.

Keen: Yeah. Can you – is that palpable in the States? Because in England it’s not quite so palpable.

Hudson: Well, just imagine the average paycheck. I don’t know if it’s similar. In the United States, the big chunk off the top of every paycheck is for housing. Now in America almost all mortgages — 85% of mortgages are guaranteed by the government and banks will write a mortgage up to the limit of 43% of your total income.

So imagine, here’s a family that in order to have a home is either paying 43% of its income on a mortgage, or it’s paying that in rent. The average rent in New York City is $4,500 a month. Well, you can imagine if the average salary is about $80,000, do the math for yourself. [$54000 or 67.5%]

Now in addition to that, people have to pay maybe 10% more of their income to the banks for credit card debt, student loans, auto debt. And then also taken off the front of every paycheck is 15% of a forced saving of social security and medical care. So that’s taken off. And there’s about another 15% recombination of state and local and federal income taxes. And then you have the value-added taxes. So you add all that up. To the 43%, to 10% to the banks, maybe the 25% for taxes, you have only about 25% of the average paycheck that’s available to be spent on goods and services.

Now think of the circular flow. The whole of economics was founded by a doctor, Francois Quesnay in France, that looked at a national income like the circulation of blood in the body. But you have this blood being drained — 75% of the circular flow now is drained for what we call the FIRE sector – finance, insurance, and real estate.

It is when progressively increasing complexity goes past the point of net energetic loss and starts to drain blood that hooded figures bearing scythes appear.
 

Buoyed by low energy prices and buyer confidence the markets keep climbing

Exceeding biophysical limits may not be the proximate cause of collapse, assuming Tainter is correct, but the societal response to the encounter is critical. The Collapse of Complex Civilizations does not ask why a society would be utterly unable to change course, even in the face of imminent disaster, but it begs that question. Is our social inertia so hard wired? Are homo that un-sapien?

In her inside look at the Federal Reserve, Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America, Danielle DiMartino Booth depicts the bank presidents who make up that board as nervous engineers, clinging to unproductive Keynesian stimuli in a desperate effort to re-track the train after it has derailed.

Since the 2008 crisis the Fed, along with the European, Chinese, Japanese and every other central bank, have racked up mountainous debt, with inflationary effects hidden only by the much-derided income gap whereby the super-rich take money out of circulation nearly as quickly as it is created. To the cabal of economists who haunt the halls of the central banks, the modern tools of money manipulation have gotten so good that economic growth is forever assured. DiMartino Booth, David Stockman, Nicole Foss, Max Keiser and many others believe a reckoning is long overdue.

The shape of the descent will not resemble the shape of the ascent — a smooth bell curve — because of the Seneca trap. The more you employ artifice to extend the peak, the steeper the downslide that comes when you can no longer pretend to extend. 

With the crash of fossil fuel production, already well along and scraping the barrel for the dirty, tarry scraps, greenhouse gas emissions may decline much faster than they grew up, which is good news. Of course, so will world GDP, and with it, food supply, consumer goods and, inexorably, population. This is not going to be pretty.

The economic earthquake that pundits warn is coming might keep us within a hospitable climate a while longer, but it will only slow the exit from that normalcy, not return it.

Eventually, and with absolute certainty now, we will arrive at both the collapse of the global economy and runaway climate change, the two of them feeding off each other the way crumbling empires eat their seed corn.

In a number of those historic collapse events, rapid-onset climate change was the triggering event. The gun — mass psychosis — was cocked and loaded.

Since the problem is overcomplexity, what we really need is reversion to simpler ways to live. We need degrowth and depopulation; relocalization and transition; antifragility and mutually assured security.

When we described our cool lab concept we gave the example of a rural village in Haiti. While cities pose more of a challenge, we showed in the example of Los Angeles Eco-Village that it is possible to accomplish the required change anywhere and everywhere.

What we most need next are the vehicles — the change agencies, accellerants, and transformation catalysts. For those we will need to open the tool chest of social inventions.

The Flies of Summer

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 9, 2017

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"Any faith that China will be standing at the base of the burning building with a fireman’s net is misplaced. "

 

 

A portion of the Silk Road passing through Northern Fujian Province, October 2016 image by Albert Bates

  As national Republican political strategist Rick Wilson said on The Last Word, what we witnessed this past Thursday at the clown show in the White House was impulse, not policy. "Whoosh, whoosh, bang, bang, he got to turn the key and watch the pretty rockets go … this is a guy with the attention span of a gnat on meth."

The cost of the whoosh whoosh bang bang, just in spent ordnance, not delivery, was somewhere north of $80 million. Damage on the ground has been estimated at $700,000. Raytheon, who makes Tomahawks for the Navy, saw its stock value jump $500 million.

 

 

 

The more important meeting took place in Rick Wilson's home state of Florida, where POTUS continued to rack up Secret Service bills (some $30 million so far this year) at his Mar-A-Lago Resort where membership fees — that go to him — went up $100,000 since he took office.

That meeting was between Romulus Augustulus, the final Caesar (if you don't count the Russian Czars), and the future Justinian. The president of a dying empire met with the president of its successor.

The world being handed off was concisely described 200 years ago by Edmund Burke: 

 

 

“… [T]he temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity …  act as if they were the entire masters; that they … think it amongst their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society; hazarding to leave to those who come after them, a ruin instead of an habitation – and teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances, as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers.

"By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than the flies of summer.”

 

 

In the dying empire, both the left and the right share the same myopia. In the inner chambers of most of the world’s governments economic growth and environmental stewardship are viewed as an adversarial relationship. In fact, that need not be the case. It is not seen that way in Bhutan, Denmark or Iceland.

In the new empire there are no dichotomies; One Belt One Road (OBOR); Two Mountains. As yet, these remain completely obscure concepts in the West.

We described the Two Mountain policy here last fall. Xi Jinping himself described it in his January address to the UN plenary in Geneva:

 

 

“Man coexists with nature, which means that any harm to nature will eventually come back to haunt man. We hardly notice natural resources such as air, water, soil and blue sky when we have them. But we won’t be able to survive without them. 

“Industrialization has created material wealth never seen before, but it has also inflicted irreparable damage to the environment. We must not exhaust all the resources passed on to us by previous generations and leave nothing to our children or pursue development in a destructive way.

“Clear waters and green mountains are as good as mountains of gold and silver. We must maintain harmony between man and nature and pursue sustainable development.”

China has staked its future now on preservation of nature. While POTUS erects his 2000-mile long, 100-foot-tall concrete barrier on the Mexican border, Xi is planting the 2800-mile long Three-North Shelterbelt or “Green Great Wall,” to halt and re-vegetate the Gobi Desert.

Erebus Wong, Lau Kin Chi, Sit Tsui and Wen Tiejun, writing for the independent socialist Monthly Review, observe:

 

 

The Chinese government has publicly stressed the lessons of the 1930s overcapacity crisis in the West that precipitated the Second World War, and promoted these new initiatives in the name of “peaceful development.” Nevertheless, the turn to OBOR suggests a regional scenario broadly similar to that in Europe between the end of the nineteenth century and the years before the First World War, when strong nations jostled one another for industrial and military dominance.

China is aware that it is the most likely candidate for leading world power to succeed the United States, whose role as the world’s leading empire began with the Spanish American War, peaked in the global economic boom following the Second World War and is now in steep decline. Wong et al write:

 

 

 

China is arguably only the third country in history, after Britain and the United States, with the capacity to shape and lead a global system of finance and trade. Of course, in the foreseeable future, China will not replace the U.S. dollar system; it could at most stand on equal footing. After the United States overtook the United Kingdom to lead the world in industrial production capacity in the late nineteenth century, it took another fifty years and two world wars before it could dominate global finance. China recognizes this reality, and has consistently promoted the AIIB [Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank] and other organizations as complements, not competitors, of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB).

***

Awkwardly for the United States—which launched the TPP with the original intent of blocking China—the AIIB marks the first time since before Bretton Woods that the United States has been excluded from an important international financial structure. When trusted European allies like the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, and others announced their participation, Obama called an emergency national security meeting. The reason is clear: the AIIB challenges, albeit still within an institutional framework, the U.S. financial hegemony that has prevailed since the Second World War.

Of course, these allies are not jumping ship from the U.S. dollar-dominated system just yet, but only hedging their bets, as that hegemony has shown clear signs of exhaustion. In setting up the AIIB, China has stressed shared interests and cooperation among member nations, the better to attract interested allies.

What the US and its allies see in China is a possible way to climb off the ledge they have found themselves on after the liquidity crisis of 2008 was resolved by issuing massive new debt and resuming the exponential derivatives trade. This time they have no margin left, so perhaps China will be there with a net to catch them, they hope. Switzerland, Luxemburg and Britain — strongholds of financial capital that have previously declined to join most international organizations — became the first to join AIIB.

 

 

 

The liquidity swap alliance formed in October 2013 among six central banks—the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, the U.S. Federal Reserve, and the Swiss National Bank—is designed to prevent another large-scale liquidity crisis in Europe and North America like the one that precipitated the financial crisis of 2008–09. Yet it is only preventive. The new global paradigm now needs new institutions and proactive propositions. The IMF and the World Bank (and its subsidiary, the ADB), constrained by U.S. interests, are not up to the task. Can China take this opportunity to oversee the development of a new global financial alliance? For a large industrial country just entering the phase of financial capitalism, increasingly roiled by domestic disturbances, the challenge is unprecedented and enormous.

Any faith that China would survive the coming financial crash and be standing at the base of the burning building with a fireman’s net is misplaced. Rob Mielcarski observes:

 

 

 

The Chinese are repeating all of our mistakes, but on a larger scale. It makes no difference how leaders are educated, they will eventually succumb to the inherited behaviors common to all humans.

The main difference between us and them now is that they are “borrowing to employ” and we are “borrowing to consume”.

Tim Morgan adds:

 

 

 

The picture that emerges is quite extraordinary. Over the ten years between 2005 and 2015, GDP grew at rates of between 9% and 14% annually, not even stumbling materially during the 2009 global downturn. But debt has grown by between 17% and 35% of GDP each year, with the exception of 2009, when debt increased by 47% of GDP.
 

Tianjin (Ghost City) built to employ underemployed construction workers

What this means is that, over a period in which reported GDP increased by RMB 40tn, debt expanded by RMB 129tn. This is a borrowing-to-growth ratio of 3.2:1, still reasonably modest by Western standards, but a far cry from past Chinese practice – back in 2005, the trailing ten-year (T10Y) ratio was only 1.67:1.

 

Unlike the Western economies, whose vice-of-choice is to use debt to fund consumption and inflate property markets, the Chinese bias is towards using debt for investment in capacity. In theory, capacity investment should be “self-liquidating”, because capacity increases should increase income, and thus fund the paying off of the initial debt. (This is contradistinction to consumer borrowing, which is “non-self-liquidating”).

But the self-liquidating characteristic of business investment depends on capacity expanding without depressing margins, something which happens when expansion creates major capacity surpluses. It is abundantly clear that Chinese PNFC borrowing has followed the course of excess, depressing returns in the process.

As a result, much of the Chinese business sector earns returns which appear to be well below the cost of debt capital. In this situation, an obvious remedy is to convert debt into equity. This, however, seems to have been tried, and failed, because it showed clear tendencies to crash the equity market.

The final sting in the tail of this analysis is that, if underlying GDP is a lot lower when stripped of the borrowing effect, debt ratios are correspondingly higher. On the SEEDS basis of computation, aggregate debt already stands at 385% of GDP (rather than the reported 246%), and is growing a lot more quickly than publicly available numbers indicate, adding around 43% of GDP (rather than 20%) annually.

The void that China attempts to fill with OBOR and AIIB is deeper than merely technical insolvency. Since at least the Second World War, the United States based its economic empire on its military power. The only reason that the dollar has not already been replaced by the Yuan as the standard international currency is that the former is backed by overwhelming force. The US spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined and the current administration is willing to beggar its domestic programs to double down.

That cloak is showing tears in its fabric, however. “Bringing democracy to the Middle East” has been revealed for what it really is — chaos and mayhem; internecine regional conflicts; and death and displacement on a massive, economic-community-destroying scale.

China plans to replace military bluster with “peaceful development” — to sponsor infrastructure investments, promote cooperation and minimize conflict. It will find that difficult.

 

 

 

For instance, how can the AIIB avoid the damage done by the World Bank and others to the environment and indigenous livelihoods? How can China promote infrastructure investments that drive local development through diversity and sustainability, and not simply serve its own need for export outlets? The challenge, in other words, is to ensure that the AIIB and Silk Road Fund do not simply become East Asian counterparts of the IMF and World Bank.

***

It should be clear that this discursive power will depend on deeds as much as words. If China continues to absorb excess capacity through rapid urbanization without regard for rural culture or ecological sustainability, and if the government fails to address the severe social contradictions caused by rising wealth inequality, labor disputes, environmental deterioration, and official corruption, then the slogans of “infrastructure-based developmentalism” will have little persuasive power overseas.

Jack Goldsmith, writing for Lawfare, sums up our predicament:

 

 

 

Two months into the Trump administration, we are witnessing the beginnings of the greatest presidential onslaught on international law and international institutions in American history. 

 

***

An in-your-face attitude toward international law and institutions will invite blowback — from international and domestic actors — not unlike what Trump has been experiencing in response to his controversial attacks on domestic courts and the press. There is a quiet way to pull back from international law and institutions, and a loud way. The loud way has heightened symbolic impact, and for that reason invites heightened resistance and retaliation.


This is what we are witnessing. We are over the peak on the Limits to Growth and into the slide. There is a jockeying for position for the quickly vanishing scraps on the false premise that there is still some way to regain the peak we only just experienced.  The prosperous way down is to downsize population, expectations, and mechanistic productivity.

None of that is yet being done and so a hard reckoning is inevitable. Whether that hard reckoning comes to blows remains to be seen, but our side is not taking its gloves off. It likes to poke sticks at hornets' nests.

It is doing that now, with Tomahawks hurled at Russian MIGs.

Burke also said in his Reflections:

 

“Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government.”

 

Village Tofumaker, October 2016 by Albert Bates

Perhaps Xi Jinping's best contribution is one that is most overlooked. As part of his Two Mountains policy Xi is sponsoring creation of 100 ecovillages in 5 years. The key to social adoption of climate ecoforestry is ecovillage. The social glue of ecovillage depends upon cognitive semantics training and permaculture. The economic engine will be, in most cases, small (village-scale, even in urban contexts) microenterprises, particularly the Cool Lab, which we described in last week's post.

Key to the kind of capital formation that is needed, and redirection from the kinds of capital that are not, is the training of trainers, particularly in Cool Schools, and the development of even better varieties of social benefit (B-type) enterprises to share profits in order to spread wealth more evenly and achieve the more difficult measures required to stabilize climate and return us to the Holocene in which we all have a safer space to argue.

This post is part of an ongoing series we're calling The Power Zone Manifesto. We post to The Great Change on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. Albert Bates offers ecovillage apprenticeships, including Cool Lab trainings, this year at The Farm in Tennessee April through July.

The Cool Lab

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 2, 2017

PeakSurfer

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"Is it possible that technology no more complicated than an Easy Bake Oven — one that pays for itself — can reverse climate change?"

 

 

Permaculturally, the first stage of any design is protracted observation. What does a biological system have in over-abundance? What is scarce? How will it restore balance? What are the obstacles?

Let us say that an impoverished village in Haiti risks being carried away by mudslides that follow brush fires where the forest has been cut down to supply wood for shelter and cooking. What things are scarce? In no particular order:

 

 

food
water
cooking fuel
secure shelter
energy
productive employment
biodiversity
soil
birth control
health care

What things are over-abundant?

 

mud
deforestation
rain
hurricanes
earthquakes
unemployed people
superstition
resentment
mosquitoes
climate change

Lets see which of these things we can match up and cancel out. What we are about to describe is a carbon cascade.

The hillside needs to be planted with vegetation. It is especially important that the hilltops be forested. A keyline analysis will show us where water wants to go when it rains, and how best it can be held high in the landscape and directed both to subsurface flows and to dam storage for uses in the dry season. Alley cropping along the contours follows hand-cut swales (or machine cut where financial capital  substitutes for social capital).

The berms are planted with successional understory (in this tropical example, pineapple, cassava, ginger, allspice, coffee and medicinal herbs), mid-level canopy (banana, papaya, moringa, cacao, mulberry, tree legumes of mimosa, cassia, and pea subfamilies, chaya, climbing vines such as vanilla, dioscorea, cucumber, chocho and pasaflora, and eventual overstory (coconut, jackfruit, breadfruit, breadnut, ramon, samwood, mahogany, cedar, bamboo, peach palm, etc). Between the alleys are seeded perennials such as callalu, okra, sorghum, and supergrasses like kernza (Thinopyrum intermedium), sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), pennisitum and pearl millet hybrids (Tembo), brassica napus, amaranth, etc., as well as familiar food crops such as maize, rice, yam and beans, where soils and water supply are well suited.

As much as possible, the planting process can be accompanied by biofertilizers having a high percentage of finely pulverized biochar, activated indigenous microorganisms, some immediate food for those microbes (such as composted food wastes and manures), and minerals keyed to redress local soil deficiencies. If these biofertilizers are not immediately available for the first plantings, they can always be added later, as a byproduct of the early harvests.

Water in storage on the hillsides is edge-planted with Acoris, a plant that inoculates the water with a mosquito-larvae destroying resin. As the Acoris matures, pools and dams progress from being mosquito generating to mosquito decimating.

In the lowlands, water that overflows from catchments above is directed into chinampas, constructed wetlands composed of alternating islands and channels and rotating between aerobic (horizontal and vertical flow reedbeds) and anaerobic (settling lagoons) seeded with aquatic and semi-aquatic plants (taro, Chinese water spinach, lotus, azola, wild rice) and freshwater fish (aquaculture). Acoris for mosquito control can also be planted here, but the fish do most of that work already, so the plant is only needed in mudflats and places fish cannot go. The appearance of this microbiome also augurs the reappearance of frogs, peepers, lizards, dragonflies, water birds, bats, turtles, and forest mammals who venture to the water's edge to drink.

Within the first season, the hillside mud problem is erased, deforestation is reversed, and food scarcity begins to be alleviated from the fast-yielding varieties of annuals, perennials and fish. Productive employment can expand this system as much as available land permits, even on relatively steep hillsides. Resentment diminishes, and with it, superstition.

Within the village a regenerative, biological energy system arrives to replace the fossil fuel (diesel electric) grid-based source that previously had supplied electricity only intermittently, occasionally dimming lights and frying phone chargers and boom boxes.

This system consists of a biomass furnace, running on the woody wastes from coppice (the moringa, jackfruit and cassava plantation), coconut, rice or other shell crops, pelletized supergrasses and other biomass after food harvest or extraction of leaf protein, vitamins and useful fiber.

The loading dock at the biorefinery receives raw materials second-harvested from the farms. Leaves of tropical legumes (Leucaena Zeucocephala, Vigna unguiculata, Clitoria ternatea, Desmodium distortum, Psophocarpus tetragonolobus, Macroptilium lathyroides, Phaseolus calcaratus, Brassica napus, and Manihot esculenta, for instance) are taken by conveyor and chopped into 2-cm pieces, soaked in 2-percent sodium metabisulfite, disintegrated in a hammer mill and pressed in a single-screw press. The expressed juice is heated with steam (produced by the furnace) and protein coagulum collected, centrifuged, and pressed, then spread in a thin layer on glass plates and dried in an air-filtered, dehumidified room. It is then collected as a powder and containerized to be used or sold as a feed supplement.

At its most basic level, high-protein, high-quality leaf protein fractionation is simple. Production is geared to consumption by farm animals to remove some of the food safety, preservation and storage concerns. Later improvements can produce dried leaf extracts for human consumption but higher capital costs are incurred and clean-room protocols by workers become essential.

Following leaf-protein extraction, the dried mash from the press is used as a feedstock for the furnace, where it joins other dried agricultural wastes: coppice wood, prunings, bamboo thinnings, pallets, cardboard boxes, coconut coir, nut and rice husks, etc. All of this is pyrolyzed, the heat captured to run both the leaf protein process and produce electricity, and co-products (fractionated volatile gases, wood vinegar) drawn off before the final product — high quality biochar — remains.

The biochar is quenched (preferably with urine because that adds a 30% fertility gain), pulverized, and charged (blended with microbe-rich aerobic compost) to make a potent “cool” biofertilizer. Alternatively, it is kept at food-grade and sold as a dry product for use as a food supplement, animal feed probiotic, water filtration medium or deodorizer. At less-than-food-grade it can be used as a litter amendment to reduce smells in animal enclosures, improve the fermentation of silage, or go into a variety of natural building materials — paints, dyes, plasters, wallboard and bricks. And it can always become biofertilizer, even after undergoing one or more of these other uses.

Styrofoam “clamshell” food containers, which are ubiquitous from take-out restaurants and shops in the cities and often wind up just floating away on ocean currents, never to be destroyed, are collected and brought to the biorefinery. There they go into an acetone bath and the dissolved liquid blended with low-grade biochar and poured into molds to dry. The resulting hard resin is mold-proof, waterproof, non-degradable, lightweight and durable. Depending on the dies and molds, it can become a whole range of products — roofing tile, caulk, surfboards, fishing boats, life-vests, doors, bicycles, and ice chests.

 

 

If there is a surge in demand for a particular product — refrigerator deodorizers or animal feed supplements, for instance — or there is a surplus of some particular feedstock — bamboo knocked down by a storm — the biorefinery can shift its production pattern to take advantage immediately.

This  system sequesters more carbon than it emits, so we call it “cool.” By adding biochar, mineral rich compost, and microorganisms to the poor soils, we can jump-start soil productivity and boost farm productivity. The gains in those alley-cropped contours will be anywhere from 40-percent to 400-percent vegetative growth, depending on the type of plants and the quality of the soils (poor soils will produce higher performance gains than good soils). The same can be said for fish and livestock fed the leaf-protein and biochar nutriceuticals.
Let us pause here just a moment. Step back and take a look at the big picture. What is really being increased here is not so much village-scale well-being as photosynthesis. How are the greenhouse gases that are causing climate catastrophe — principally CO2, CH4 and N2O — to be removed from the atmosphere? Mainly, although not exclusively, they will be removed by photosynthesis. The more of Earth's surface that can be brought to bear on that task, the sooner the vital balance that harbors life on this tiny blue rock in space can be restored and the crisis ended.

Poultry can free-range the alleys to benefit of both plants and animals. Grazers can be moved through rotational cells that take advantage of water impoundments and high quality supergrasses. Fed nutrient-dense supplements with biochar, fish, poultry and grazing animals all grow faster and healthier without antibiotics or hormones, and deposit long-lived biochar back into the earth for long term carbon storage and soil fertility.

Growing nutrient-dense, no-till, organic food and perennial fibers on these marginal lands, using bioenergy and biofertilizers, creates a new, circular bioeconomy.  There is no such thing as waste. Nothing need leave the system, but what does is not raw material or pollution — representing the depleting wealth of the land — but high value byproducts — providing return on social capital invested. Waste becomes an orphaned verb.

Transportation presents an energetic challenge in the post-petroleum world. Nearly all modern forms of transportation evolved in an era of cheap net energy and diminish in economic viability when costed on renewable sources and life cycles.

Gone will be diesel-powered semi-tractor-trailers and locomotives. There could be new generations of electrified tow-paths for barges and gondolas, mag-lev rail and other innovations, but these costly innovations will be fragile in an era marked by overpopulation, resource constraints, climate chaos and economic contraction and likely will not provide a stable foundation for commerce in most places. Returning will be sail and animal powered transport.

If taken to maximum scale (rotationally planting an area the size of India each year and installing Cool Labs in every village), at a capital cost of $10000 to $15000 per hectare, the price would tally up to approximately 2% of the price of the fairy dust BECCS (Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage) conversion favored by geoengineers stuck in the fossil industrial paradigm.

 

 

 

Moreover, while BECCS represents continuing cost and is fraught with risk from plantation biomass crops — possibly genetically engineered and carrying along the can of worms that opens up — hazardously supplanting forested, multi-diverse, self-regenerating ecosystems. The Cool Lab alternative represents antifragile synergies of local conservation communities, continuous and adaptive profits, and continuous gains in ecological health, stability and wealth.

Can the conversion be done in time? In contrast to the 45-year gradual expansion of soybean cropping from the early 1960s to reach 200 Mha today, this system offers 5 times the protein per area farmed while providing a far greater, and more immediate, returns on investment. When one considers the rapid growth of renewable energy in the past decade, consider this: an energy producing Cool Lab costs one-seventh the capital as hydro, wind or solar and runs entirely on "wastes" that would otherwise be destined to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere but are now intercepted and neutralized.

Cool Labs use the existing financial and technological landscape of the world today and simply change the way products are produced in order to heal the earth, balance carbon, and make more real wealth for more people more quickly. Does this hold a hazard in the form of perpetuating wealth inequality, militarism and hegemony by the "taker" class? Yes it does. However, in the post-petroleum era, relocalization of economies is inevitable, and with relocalization comes local control over shared destinies. Cool Labs represent circular economies that are inherently leveling.

Each lab adapts to needs and available resources and can flex to provide more or less of a particular kind of benefit and tailor fuels to available feedstocks and labor options. The number of cascades possible is limited only by the imagination and each year we conceive of more. We are at the dawn of a new kind of lean, clean, nature-centered economy.

This system can turn almost any human settlement into an ecovillage, although the criteria for what defines ecovillage must necessary include a few more elements than merely having a Cool Lab or permacultural support systems.

Ecovillages are based on a cohesive worldview, an abiding respect for the ecological integrity of your home biome, a circular local economy and a culture of peace and mutual respect. Depending on your starting point for each of these elements, bringing all of them into harmony can take time and effort.

The energy and food production system using mixed-aged, mixed-species forest, wetland and marine ecosystems we’ve outlined, taken to scale on the world's available marginal land (not productive farmland or developed areas) could restore the fertility of those soils and waters while sequestering carbon from the atmosphere at the average rate of 17 PgC/yr after getting established. To get back to the Holocene we need to return atmospheric carbon to pre-industrial range, around 260 ppm. The system just described, at full scale, could do that within about 50 years, taking into account the oceans' CO2 outgassing feedback.

Village scale Cool Labs could achieve the cumulative storage of 667 gigatons of legacy carbon required to bring atmospheric carbon back to pre-industrial levels in the lifetimes of the majority of people now living. Were nations to collectively phase out fossil fuels as quickly as called for in the Paris Agreement, restabilization of the climate would be achieved sooner.

Recovering one percentage point of soil organic matter means that around 27 long tons of organic matter per hectare would enter the soil and remain there. Because around two thirds of organic matter added to agricultural soils will be decomposed by soil organisms and plants and given back to the atmosphere, in order to add permanently 27 tons, a total of 81 tons of organic matter per hectare would be needed. This cannot be done quickly or it just washes or evaporates away. A slow process is required.

 

 

 

 

 

An example of how this could play out in Haiti or anywhere else can be seen in the Loess Plateau of Northern China where fertile soils were overworked until they had to be abandoned. At the time of abandonment organic carbon concentrations had dropped to under 3 percent. Thirty years later Loess soils had regained concentrations of 6 percent by natural processes. If natural restoration were accelerated by amending soil carbon in both metabolizable forms (such as crop litter and manures) and recalcitrant forms (such as biochar), the potential to increase soil carbon in a few decades could be raised to 10 percent or greater. This could happen virtually anywhere.

A farm that switches to organic, animal powered no-tillage methods can sequester 1 to 4 tons of organic matter per acre per year. By employing perennial polycultures, rotated pastures of grazing animals, trees and wild plant strips, that amount can be doubled or tripled.

Harvard professor Thomas Goreau writes:

Current rates of carbon farming at typical current levels would take thousands of years to draw down the dangerous excess CO2, but state of the art methods of soil carbon sequestration could draw it down in as little as decades if the percentage of long lived carbon is raised to as little as about 10%.


If the recuperation of soil carbon became a central goal of agricultural policies worldwide, it would be possible and reasonable to set as an initial goal the sequestration of one half ton per acre-year (1.5 t/ha-y or 500 grams per m2/y), comparable to the 4 pour 1000 program (4 grams per kg of soil) proposed by the French delegation at COP-21.

Carbon stored in the world's soils and living biomass provides additional benefits beyond sequestration. As soil conditions improve, erosion and pests decline and the land comes back into balance. Farming this way globally could sequester about 8 percent of the current total annual human-made emissions of 10 petagrams of carbon (PgC). However, the fertility gains (equivalent to more than all of current global fertilizer production) would mean that chemical fertilizers could be (and should be) eliminated where carbon farming is practiced. By reducing emissions of nitrous oxide from fertilizer (equivalent to approximately 8 percent annual human-made greenhouse gases) and the transportation and energy impacts of fertilizer production, we shave another 1 percent off global emissions.

But let's keep going. If organic waste is returned to agricultural soils in the form of compost, then methane and CO2 emissions from its current destinations to landfills and wastewater (equivalent to 3.6 percent of man-made emissions) could be significantly reduced. Even a modest start, such as by elevating the soil carbon content of existing farmed soils by 0.4 percent, would have the potential to offset global greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 20 percent per year.

If biochar is added to the compost, we can quickly get to 100 percent, and then 120 percent. That is when it starts to matter.

After 10 years, we can increase progressively the reincorporation of organic matter into soils. By mid-21st century, we could increase the total world reservoir of carbon in the soil by two percentage points, and possibly more. In this way it is conceivable to restore our soil carbon reservoir to 10 percent, as Goreau argues. Because the system works best in poor soils, and because it eventually creates its own hydrological cycles, it can even re-green and reforest sandy deserts.

Are we doomed to Near Term Human Extinction?

Not yet. While there are still wild cards waiting to be played, what we have outlined shows a complete escape from our present trajectory. Is it possible that technology no more complicated than an Easy Bake Oven — and that pays for itself — can reverse climate change?

The rotary oven pictured at the top of this essay gasifies waste rice husks at the rate of 2.5 tons per hour. Thirty-five percent of that weight is transformed into biochar. Half of the rest, as pyrogas, is extracted for useful synthetic compounds that replace petrochemicals. The other half of that gas is used to co-generate 1.6 megawatts of electricity from this half-million-dollar biorefinery. It could also be refined into a liquid substitute for gasoline.

The Chinese government has invested heavily to develop this technology, and the wares they are producing are now the most efficient and lowest cost in the world. They will pour another $40 million into advanced biochar research this year.

Chinese Cool Lab reactors have been sold to 20 countries, including Haiti. In Senegal there is a prototype that has been continuously operating for 8 years. In Egypt, the biochar made by their Chinese reactor is producing organic cabbages from the sandy shore of the Suez Canal. We witnessed a similar effect in the infertile clay soil beside the Asian Biochar Centre in Nanjing.

This we know: we can achieve faster and more well-rounded human development within the carrying capacity of the Earth. Will we? Who decides?

This post is part of an ongoing series we're calling The Power Zone Manifesto. We post to The Great Change on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. Albert Bates is offering ecovillage apprenticeships in 2017 at The Farm from now until July, including instruction on biochar and cool labs.

Wetiko & Rescuing Los Angeles

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Published on Peak Surfer on March 19 & 26, 2017

PeakSurfer

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

Wetiko

 

  Coming to Los Angeles we had the sensation of slipping into a cultural fogbank. We could not say whether we were actually being bombarded by messages from microwave ovens or watched by cameras concealed in television screens, but the sense was that we had departed from reality.

Frankly we consider ourselves a citizen of the world and find it discomforting to experience provincialism whether upon re-entry to the United States or having conversations in some distant back country hostel. We are not speaking of localization or bioregionalism — all well and good. Rather, what we encountered in Los Angeles was the absence of a fact-grounded worldview across a broad spectrum of the population. Had we been gone that long?

 


The media has cannibalized the minds of millions — drawing their mental attention toward the issues that are bounced around in these information echo chambers and syphoning it away from the deep, systemic threats humanity is now confronted with. The Algonquin Tribe of North America has a name for this phenomenon; they call it Wetiko. It is a mind virus that endlessly consumes the life energies of people (in this case, the emotional energy given to feed this media monster) while neglecting the life-supports that would heal and protect the living things of this world.


We are blessed to be able to be with a diverse cross-section of people who truly get the big picture, to and to have exchanges and strategy sessions in beautiful centers like London, Paris, Marrakech and Tulum. We offset that travel and our other activity with our personal forest, bamboo groves, and keylined biochar tea applications.  We recognize not everyone can have that luxury so we enter into these conversations with humility, gratitude and purpose. Whatever we take away we apply immediately, directly and with good effect.

 

 

Fog moves in over the Pacific, Malibu, March 2017

In Los Angeles we experienced that many people are uninformed about climate change, the Deep State, or even elemental biophysical economics. Moreover, most people we encountered did not want to know. This is not something that more education, a trending app or a blockbuster film will fix. Even if they were engaged in admirable pursuits like provisioning food kitchens in the massive and growing tent cities of the homeless, or seeding green rooftops, verges and balconies that might contribute some of that much-needed food, they were, in other profound ways, making the more overarching problems far worse in ways they were blissfully ignorant of. Here we use ignorant at its root — willfully ignoring. The wetiko mind virus had infected them.

And for us, this perception cut to the quick of who we are and what we do. Do we really want to spend our life saving places like Los Angeles? It isn’t merely that they may be undeserving of salvation, although they may. It is that most of their inhabitants, even the well-intentioned, are actively pursuing an agenda that is antithetical to survival. They are the drowning swimmer who tries to drown the rescuing lifeguard.

 

 

 

The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

 

— Chris Hedges, The Dance of Death

 

Low Income Housing, Los Angeles

When we began this series we posted a chapter called “Three Pillars” that used some new terms coined by Naffiz Ahmed to describe civilization’s plight. In his lecture at the Global Sustainability Institute of Anglia Ruskin University that subsequently became a full throated exposé of the Deep State, published on February 10, 2017, Ahmed made the salient point that what is playing out in the Trump presidency is a battle of world views, with no possible winner.

 

Neither side truly understands that they both remain locked into the old, dying industrial neoliberal paradigm. That both the conventional Republican and Democrat strategies have failed. And that if they continue to ignore and overlook the reality of the global systemic crisis and its escalating symptoms, they will both become increasingly disrupted and irrelevant to large sectors of the American population.

In that scenario, politics will become increasingly polarized, not less so. Republicans will seek to shore up their white nationalist support base while Democrats will continue to lose credibility as a genuine critical voice due to their establishment myopia.

Ahmed says that ultimately this will lead to even more violence:

 

 

Both pro- and anti-Trump factions of the Deep State are in denial of the fact that this escalating crisis is due, fundamentally, to the global net energy decline of the world’s fossil fuel resource base.

 

In a time of fundamental systemic crisis, the existing bedrock of norms and values a group normally holds onto maybe shaken to the core. This can lead a group to attempt to reconstruct a new set of norms and values — but if the group doesn’t understand the systemic crisis, the new construct, if it diagnoses the crisis incorrectly, can end up blaming the wrong issues, leading to Otherization.

***

For every degree to which Trump upscales aggression, America’s real national security will be downgraded. And like any good despot, Trump’s failures will become food for his own propaganda, to be conveniently blamed on the myriad of Others who, in the small minds of the Trump faction, are preventing America from becoming ‘great again.’

Erebus Wong, Lau Kin Chi, Sit Tsui and Wen Tiejun, writing for the independent socialist Monthly Review,  observe that China’s industrial strength comes not from the sprinkling of some magic fairy dust or the discovery of oil superfields but from the inherent power of rural farmers grounded in nature. The Chinese countryside, they note, “has become the source of a vast ‘labor reserve,’ allowing the state to rely on sannong—the so-called ‘three rurals’ of peasants, villages, and agriculture — as the foundation of China’s turbulent but continuous modernization over the last sixty years.”
 

Brickwork on million-dollar Malibu home

Chinese rural society has been able to absorb the risks of this modernization because of the strength of its relation to nature, an advantage that has never been adequately acknowledged. Chinese agricultural society has been formed on the basis of common needs, such as irrigation and disaster prevention. This interdependence creates a collective rationality, with community, rather than the individual peasant or family, as the basic unit in the distribution and sharing of social resources. This focus on collective needs runs directly counter to the Western emphasis on individual interests. Over thousands of years, Chinese agricultural society has become organically integrated with the diversity of nature, giving rise to an endogenous religion of polytheism. As it plans and promotes its vision of sustainable development and peaceful trade, China should look inward, to these age-old social structures, as a guide to the future.


What the authors describe as “collective rationality” is actually a description of the rationality of natural systems. Rural peoples live within, and allied with, those rational patterns. When we visited Los Angeles, what we were seeing was not so much a collective neurosis as a collective separation from underlying rationality.

Sure, there are elements of earth-restoration, ecocity design and city repair within Los Angeles, but even those seemed to us largely divorced from the realization that the city’s food comes from fossil energy, not deepening soil, the city’s water comes from disappearing aquifers and vanishing snow melt, and that the fracked gas that heats their buildings and lights their streets is upsetting the balance of nature upon which those other things depend.

Rescuing Angelinos, or any megalopolis inhabitants (the Chinese included) from their almost certain fate will be a serious challenge, and one we will explore in our continuing installments in this series.

 

Rescuing Los Angeles

 
"How can we use our hard wiring to communicate to the herd that it is time to veer off from a race towards the cliff’s edge which most don’t yet see?"

 

 

 

 

  In the concrete desert that is downtown Los Angeles we were blessed to find a green oasis at the corner of Vermont and 1st Avenues known as Los Angeles Eco-Village.

LAEV has taken a two-block area of random residents and small storefront businesses, alleys and churches and transformed it into a traffic-calmed and car-restricted promenade with fruit trees, mosaic tables and cob benches built around larger canopy trees, verge gardens, interior courtyards and attractive outdoor classrooms. It has created attractive residences affordable to lower income people, stores and kiosks selling products and services made or provided by neighbors. It has converted large apartment complexes to low income, ethnically diverse cooperative housing, and is transforming four-plex garages to 3 or 4 story mixed use development with retail, offices, and super affordable “tiny” housing, with small ecological footprint and no parking. It created California's first bicycle kitchen (starting literally from the kitchen in an apartment house) — a way of cooperatively building, sharing and maintaining bicycles and the skill-set that goes with that.

A recent purchase of an abandoned building and vacant lot on the corner of Vermont Avenue will allow them to create People Street Plaza with two parklets and an enclosed bike corral, a solar arbor for small electric neighborhood plug-in vehicles and pedal hybrids, plus metered parking and expanded city repair functions at two intersections.

Next year the ecovillage plans to eliminate sidewalks and parking lanes on north side of White House Place and install an urban organic working farm/food forest.  In the future they would like to acquire 5 four-plexed apartment houses on White House Place to ensure permanent affordability for 80 to 120% of poverty-level income if existing/future qualifying residents will commit to going car-free within a specified time, and providing convenient car share options.  They would power these new homes by installing neighborhood solar PV over the school parking lot. Beyond 2030, when the parking lot is no longer needed, they would create an urban farm.

More ambitious, and requiring more city approvals, are plans to acquire and retire the auto repair shops, raze them and reopen the concreted-over hot springs, Bimini Baths, that were overtaken by sprawl and pavement almost a century earlier. They'd like to open a center for therapeutic and recreation and to offer affordable housing for healers (so they can charge lower rates for lower income residents). They'd like to bring back the trolley service to the tracks that used to carry bath patrons to and from other parts of the city. For the immediate future, a vegan café and outdoor garden is planned to replace the auto repair shops. 

Much of this will be accomplished by local residents, using a Cooperative Resources & Services Project (CRSP) Ecological Revolving Loan Fund (ELF) which has the potential to generate about $2.5 million every three to six month period.
 

Imagine, for a moment, all cities transformed from the bottom up in this fashion. LAEV does not plan to produce all its own food, water, power and other needs from within its two-block area, but it could. Instead, it encourages doing some of that while also participating in cooperatives that join together the products and services of other parts of the city. Once upon a time the founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison, was asked how cities could become sustainable. He responded that it was only by providing for all their needs within their boundaries. Los Angeles, even now, at 5000 persons per square mile, could do this. But then, like LAEV, it would need to take another step and begin the process of producing food, fiber and energy while progressively withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere.

Ecovillages similar to LAEV — The Farm, Earthaven, Findhorn, ZEGG and Seiben Linden — have already demonstrated their ability to net sequester more than their own carbon in order to reverse climate change, even while implementing the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, using a combination of for-profit and non-profit social enterprises and a holistic, deliberative approach. Over the past few years they have risen still another step and are embarked, with Global Ecovillage Network, Gaia University and Gaia Education, upon a process of building curricula and the cadre of trained instructors that will carry the work to a global scale. This core idea, brought by ecovillages at the cutting edge of an historic shift, is part of the British Commonwealth's new Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change strategy announced at COP-22. It is also allied with the Chinese Two Mountain policy we described here in December.

Ecovillages are like a shadow world government. They are not top-down electoral, C3I or Deep State puppeteers; they are grass roots, spontaneous, semi-autonomous networked infiltrators. Their weapons are not Death Stars or enslaving financial schemes but viral memes spread by new media, art and gardening. They run on the energy and creativity of youth. They are a bullet train on a return track back out of the Anthropocene.

What is needed now, today, is exactly that sort of low cost, rapidly deployed, hugely scalable approach to reversing human misery, ecological destruction and climate change that will find apolitical social acceptance, quickly, without the requirement of carbon taxes or offset markets that only serve to line the pockets of the obscenely obtuse. Indeed, to scale quickly, it should use tested, off-the-shelf technology, be antifragile, employ lots of young entrepreneurs, and provide a sensible return benefit for those in the older generations who hazard their limited time and resources to assist.

The adoption process for carbon-sequestering economies could benefit from the ideas Malcolm Gladwell expressed in The Tipping Point: How Small Things Make a Difference (2000). Gladwell argued that the ability of viruses (whether diseases or ideas) to spread quickly, and universally, depends on their ability to be attractive and sympathetic. They need to be able to cross cultures, genders, age groups, and races.

Gladwell pointed to three elements that cause epidemics to spread, and said these same elements are fundamental to any large-scale social change. They are:

  1. The Law of the Few — some people spread disease (and ideas) better than others.
  2. The Stickiness Factor — the potency of viruses (or ideas and actions) to become universal. Ideas and actions to reverse climate change need to continue evolving and draw in people from around the world. The greater context of our climate dilemma suggests that if a favorable human tipping point is to occur, it needs to be able to cross cultures and to be sticky across all those differences.
  3. The Power of Context — the conditions under which the change is considered tend to either reinforce the change or thwart its spread. Commitment is not enough. The committed have to act, and share their commitment with others.

If a cultural tipping point is required, the tools most associated with cultural evolution should be employed. These include artistic movements (visual arts, performance, music, etc.), fashion (attraction to styles), and celebrity endorsements, among others. Humans evolved as herd animals and we constantly signal to each other our affiliations, tastes and choices. Tapping into this natural process allows memes to propagate when stickiness and context cohere.

This leads us to an examination of the concept of style. What is it in the human genome that makes us such dedicated followers of fashion? Likely it is hard wired by an evolutionary choice our species made several million years back. We hairless apes are more like army ants, gray wolves, dolphins, lions, mongooses and spotted hyenas than jaguars, frogs and horse flies. We are pack hunters.

Herd behavior has a defensive purpose, too. Witness zebras crossing a river full of crocodiles or a young buffalo calf being stalked by wolves. Some will be picked off, but most will survive.

We continuously signal to others in our herd that we are with them. We are part. We are in this tribe. We seek tribe approval, acceptance, respect. We may do this the way birds do, with colorful plumage, or the way horses do, with speed and agility. A necktie or a pants suit are forms of that signaling. A sports car is another.

How can we use our hard wiring to communicate to the herd that it is time to veer off from a race towards the cliff’s edge that most of our group most don’t yet see?

We need to make the change in direction fashionable.

For many if not most, the need to survive is ever present. To Westerners captured by the meme of money, their fragility can be measured by the number of digits left of the decimal point in their bank accounts, real estate valuations or securities portfolios, or by the (thin) thread of an enduring job with health benefits. Standing at the edge of the Seneca Cliff, all of those indica are profoundly perilous routes forward.

Is it possible to break the fantasy of citizens of industrialized countries — that our jobs can continue to provide a magic elixir to meet our needs and debts? Difficult. Not impossible, just difficult.

Greed and familiarity cushion against sensibility. In other cultures, survival is bound by the timing and amount of rains needed for good crops, or the attractiveness of a female to acquire a supportive mate, or the fighting skills and tools for a warrior to dominate. But these also have a dark side.

Given how essential to survival rain, a mate, or fighting skills may be, they are also powerful drivers of aberrant behavior, like the magical belief that if we dance and pray that rain will come, or that anyone who can act the part of ruthless, selfish seducer can attract wealth, power or handsome mates.

That is all going to change, and quickly. Either that or we will all be extinct, and soon. If you want to get in on the change sooner, and avoid the hardship of late adoption, look into joining an ecovillage.

There is one trend afoot that few have seemed to notice. In the two-thirds world trade and commerce have always been dominated by nimble opportunists who see niches, swoop in and exploit them, and move on when the niche is no longer productive. This independent spirit runs against the grain of wage slavery and so harsh sanctions like the withholding of health care and the destruction of public education have been used like cudgels to beat “employees” back into their roles as cogs in the machine. So it was that Columbus destroyed the unsuited-as-slaves Taino and Arawak, or Francisco de Toledo instituted the mita system to compel Quechua and Yanacona encomienda to work the silver mines of Potosí.

Today, the tuned-in, spirited youth force of the world has undergone an evolutionary shift from encomiendista to free-agent. They want to be social impact entrepreneurs, not cubicle rats — blackmail-style benefits be damned. That instinctual shift provides the fuel to ignite the ecovillage revolution.

The Sheer Wall

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Published on Peak Surfer on March 12, 2017

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"A system that places monetary value on products and services but places little value on their source is not sustainable."
  Although the practical tools to reverse climate change are already available, to date the scale to which they have been implemented is not even remotely close to what needs to be accomplished within a very short time. Two vital elements are still missing: shared vision and concerted collaborative action.

How do we get areas the size of India planted in mixed-aged, mixed-species, soil-regenerative, storm- and drought resilient agroforest, grassland and wetland with well-trained and motivated, self-financed productive cooperative management? And do it all again next year? And the year after, and the year after that for the next half century?

The Secretary General of the British Commonwealth looked at this question and, with the help of a few of her friends, proposed a portfolio of answers.

In October, 2016, Patricia Scotland convened the Commonwealth’s Workshop on Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change. Over the course of the workshop, particular emphasis was placed on the issue 
of language and terminology.

 

 

To date, the discourse surrounding responses to climate change has been largely negative. Focusing primarily on the scale of the problem and the severity of its consequences, the language employed in the debate has often been alienating, effectively producing a general sense of apathy and disempowerment. In a reversal of this trend, the workshop emphasized a reframing of the debate from problems to potential, and the solutions that flow from potential. In doing so, the aim was to inspire a real call to action.

Of course, changing outlook from pessimistic to optimistic does not make it so. As we have said here before, we humans are nasty pieces of work. Why are there no more mastodons, Atlantic gray whales or Great Auks? How is it that although there were many hominid species roving Earth at one time, ours became the only one, and by what means? What are we doing to the whole of our co-evolved biodiversity as you read these words? What part of that sorry picture is genetically hard-wired, and what part is merely cultural?

The Commonwealth’s report observes:

 

 

 

The primary result of the workshop was the consensus that there are proven techniques readily available to effectively address climate change and regenerate the capacity and capabilities of communities and ecosystems. Drawing on substantial bodies of evidence, recalling numerous success stories and outlining countless potential interventions, the participants agreed that the means to effect real change through regenerative development already exist. The real challenge of the workshop, therefore, was to identify ways to put these means into practice and mobilize action.

The meeting recognized that a statement of the problem and a list of potential solutions is not enough. There has to be the means and the desire to get solutions underway.

The group decided that from a social perspective, it is necessary to develop capabilities to use effective frameworks and processes to align desire 
and action. As practical matter that meant that the world economic paradigm has to shift from resource extraction and exploitation to exhaustion (both material and human) to increasing biological capacity as the driver for economic and social satisfaction of needs.

Only increased photosynthesis is going to rebalance the carbon cycle at this point. But it can’t be a cookie-cutter approach. As the report put it, “Techniques that work well in one context may not be immediately transferable to another; Island nations, for example, have different regenerative needs and potential to landlocked nations.”

 

 

 

Commonwealth Workshop, London, Oct 29-30, 2016

A key finding from the workshop was that a shift in the definitions of wealth and capital is necessary to reverse climate change. That is quite a pill to swallow. But the truth is inescapable:

 

 

 

As things stand, behaviors that increase energy consumption, extraction, production, consumption, pollution, and degradation are generally rewarded. Such activities are promoted as the basis of wealth creation, yet this is demonstrably false. Earth’s natural resources and processes are the source from which all financial capital is derived. It’s impossible for derivatives to be more valuable than their source. A system that places monetary value on products and services but places little value on their source is not sustainable, and it is necessary for humanity to redefine its relationship with the natural world accordingly. Education, information dissemination, and appropriate policy and economic incentive structures are critical in shifting individual behaviors and social ideals, to properly value natural wealth. 

The workshop caught on to a key principle that we have been hammering away at here: this does not have to be financially painful. It can even be reasonably profitable.

 

 

 

Attracting finance means developing approaches that are not only effective at reducing atmospheric carbon, but also generate a realistic return on investment measured by the full range of current Capitals (natural, human, manufactured, social, and/or financial.)
 

***

The Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 has been described as an historic turning point. Now that we have agreed to turn, however, we must start going in a new direction. Regenerative development is this new direction. This involves not only limiting carbon emissions at their source but also sequestering them into standing forests, regenerated grasslands, improved soil and innovative production processes that lock carbon into materials. Through the adoption of regenerative approaches, climate change can be reversed through the recovery and regeneration of the biosphere. Redesigning humanity’s presence on Earth to shift from extractive to regenerative is essential for realizing our species’ potential for shared health and prosperity.

What the workshop participants recommended were some very concrete, easy-to-implement approaches that are unlikely to draw fire from entrenched positions. Community-led initiatives — ecovillages, transition towns, civic drives — are key. They will build local capacity 
for people to work together to help themselves and to realize the unseen regenerative potential within the unique conditions of their local cultures and ecosystems.

 

 

 

But communities do not exist outside of their national context. In this the Secretariat was very helpful. Overseeing 52 countries of common language and culture and almost a third of the world’s population (over 60% of which are under 30 years old), the Commonwealth is ready and willing to lead the way by offering to assist the transitional policies of member governments. 
The way forward that it envisions is by exponentially growing a network of trainers, or “knowledge multipliers,” that can train other trainers around the world but more importantly, inspire.

Finally, the realpolitik of Brexit, Trump and the crash of Ponzinomic petrodollars means that financing has to be more creative than merely looking to government grants, which ultimately rely on tax revenues. Again echoing what we have said here, the workshop concluded:

 

 

 

From the project side, all initiatives must be designed to attract investment and achieve productive returns. At the same time, funding mechanisms and a clear case for investment need to be developed to enable investors to direct their funds to this necessary work.

 

Singer cartoon in Beijing magazine

By analyzing the role of the different forms of capital (material, human, social, manufactured and financial), it is easy see how a capitalist system would develop an unsustainable bias towards placing manufactured capital on a pedestal. By conceptualizing manufactured goods as an endpoint, solely from a consumerist perspective, the creation of “wealth” can be simplistically reduced to profit from efficient exploitation without regard to externalities, such as planetary or social health. This has the undesirable effect of limiting the regenerative potential of human activity. By reconceptualizing to circular economics and biomimetic thinking, manufactured capital comes to depend on regenerative practices.

Social and ecological capital are captured by linking financial gain to the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). Only by striving to meet the 17 development goals can a regional development agenda, or a national economy, be considered to be balanced in all forms of capital appreciation.

At the close of the workshop plans were sketched for the establishment of a “Commonwealth Online Incubator for Regeneration & Restoration.”

 

 

This online platform would focus on the practical and immediate implementation of regenerative projects, while simultaneously acting as an awareness-raising medium and repository of information. The incubator will invite applications for projects, selecting and supporting the most promising on a yearly basis. Each year, new projects will be brought to fruition while the previous are monitored and evaluated, creating a continuous cycle of action and learning. Furnished with relevant information, the platform will map and detail the results of incubated projects, disseminating demonstrably effective approaches among communities and decision-makers.

In January, 2017, the Commonwealth drafted a Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change Collaborative Manifesto. Among the things it called for were
 “ecosystems of solutions:”

 

 

 

Our people-centred approach aims to help local communities across the Commonwealth to help themselves, enabling them to create elegant ecosystems of solutions carefully adapted to the bio-cultural uniqueness of place. In doing so, we will:
 

  • reverse climate change 

  • increase biomass and bio-productivity 

  • increase and protect bio-cultural diversity 

  • accumulate organic matter as a real store of wealth and health 

  • increase community resilience 

  • build food, energy, and water sovereignty at the community level 

  • leverage the power of collaborative abundance 

  • and address environmental degradation and the causes for hunger, 
poverty, ill health, migration, and war. 


Our hope is to become a welcome species, functionally indistinguishable from the organisms and ecosystems we admire. We look forward to fitting in, at last and for good, on this home that is ours, but not ours alone. 


How do we ecoforest areas the size of India or Australia, year in – year out?

The Commonwealth’s 52 nations include ecosystems that speak for the diversity of all the planet’s climates, covering 40 percent of the world’s land mass, over 20 percent of her forests, and the largest area of coastlines, fronting all the world’s oceans. It also includes 31 of the 39 most vulnerable nations to climate change. Is that big enough?

 

Climate Ecoforestry

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Published on Peak Surfer on March 5, 2017

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Want to leap the social barrier to cool living? Behold: a stargate."

 

 

  In 2008 we asked Frank Michael a tough question. Frank is a physicist, formerly with the Ames Research Center group that created the first Flying Solar Laboratory to study the sun and its “weather” and prevent astronauts from being fried by solar storms. We asked him what would happen to atmospheric carbon if everyone on earth planted a tree each day.

It was an interesting question, and one that was not easy to answer. Frank explained some of the variables to us. You would want to know what kind of trees are planted; what their lifespan will be; what happens to their carbon store when they die; the net photosynthetic productivity of the forest, by hectare, based on soils, rainfall, latitude and expected climate change; the effect of all the stored carbon in the ocean that would “leak back” into the atmosphere in response — trying to re-balance the distribution of carbon dioxide — and much more.

Nonetheless, he agreed to give it a go. Thus began a system model that Frank Michael will be presenting at the 7th World Congress on Ecological Restoration later this year in Foz do Iguassu, Brazil.

The question changed to “what amount of trees, land and biochar would be needed to return the atmosphere to ‘normal’ and how long would it take?” We know much less about paleoclimate drawdowns and feedbacks than we know about epochs of carbonization. As his calculations and his global model became more elaborate, he began to be drawn to the complexity of the social dimension. What are the potentials for unplanned reversals like deforestation, population pressure, energy demand and urban sprawl? How many of those trees would survive one year? 5 years? 100 years? Who would care for them and how would those people be compensated? How would you pay for the biochar conversion?

 

 

 

Frank Michael and LuLu Stove

Frank asked, instead of every man, woman and child planting a tree a day, would it not make more sense for teams of tree planters to be gainfully employed, with nursery managers, advance planners, follow-on caregivers and the rest? How could those perennial reforesting economies be created?

Wangari Maathai, as inspiring as she was, would not have been able to create the Green Belt movement in Kenya had she not been supplied continuous international grants with which to pay her forestry teams.

Frank also looked at the ecological dimension. Shouldn’t the forests be optimized for ecosystem functionality, with virtuous cycle gains in biodiversity, soil fertility, complexity and regenerative resilience? Therefore, should we not avoid monoculture plantation plantings and instead favor mixed-aged, mixed-species polycultures of root crops, ground cover, intermediate canopies, standing deadwood, climbing vines and forest giants?

Frank came up with a model that we can only describe as pure genius, worthy some day of a Nobel Prize should he ever be recognized. His “step harvest” system, which we first described in The Biochar Solution, sets out a practical methodology for employing hundreds of millions of forest stewards to regenerate and revitalize neglected and abandoned “wastelands,” working with principles of ecological regeneration and patch management to stack yields while optimizing ecological functions. Rather than rely on charity, it relies on capitalism – a healthy return of investment in semi-autonomous but coordinated microenterprises.

Today we call this system “Climate Ecoforestry.”

During interglacial periods, the Earth normally enjoys relatively stable weather patterns and large increases in the biodiversity and expansion of vegetated ecosystems. That is changing.  Extreme weather swings, melting of glaciers and polar ice, large plumes of methane rising from ocean clathrate sediments, and the massive decomposition and outgassing of CO2 and CH4 from the world's tundras are signs of great difficulties for humanity just ahead. We can expect increasingly severe and frequent heat waves, storms, floods, droughts, rising seas, flooded cities, Arctic vortices, forest fires, and crop failures.

If the burning of all fossil fuels were stopped today, the effect on global climate would be minimal. This is the result of the relative chemical inertness of the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), and the thermal and chemical inertia of the world's massive mineral, oceanic and forest carbon sinks. While switching from fossil to renewable energy sources is necessary and desirable for ecological, economic, and health reasons, it is no longer sufficient to stabilize the climate. What is required is a direct, rapid, massive, and sustained removal of petagrams of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using effective, timely, verifiable and economically sustainable methods.

There are compelling reasons for the extremely rapid implementation of such an undertaking. Within a few decades of business-as-usual, extreme climate volatility will make forestry and agriculture difficult and no longer cost-effective over large regions of the world. Furthermore, at the current atmospheric CO2 concentration of  >400 ppm, the planet has passed the threshold into a region in which a methane-emissions-driven runaway climate is more likely, and where even more severe amplifying climate feedbacks are likely. Each year it becomes more urgent to 1) sequester all the past, current and future global fossil fuel CO2 net emissions and 2) rapidly bring atmospheric CO2 to well below 350 ppm, preferably to preindustrial levels of 240-260 ppm.

Climate Ecoforestry is a viable methodology for retracing our way back to the Holocene relatively quickly. Permaculture and ecovillage design provide the means to implement and to take that to scale rapidly enough to matter. What is often called “social permaculture” is a key element, because it is not enough to temporarily halt emissions or start using techniques of agroforestry and carbon farming (or BECCS, which we'll describe separately). Those efforts have to be sustained for several human generations. The trees and perennial crops that are planted now have to stay there, and if storms, droughts or fires remove them, they need to be replanted. There needs to begin a transgenerational culture of stewardship.

The social glue is cognitive semantics training, and the economic engine will be, in most cases, small (village) scale microenterprise hubs that we are calling the Cool Lab. Key to that is capital redirection and training of trainers.

Climate Ecoforestry at its most basic is a process of optimizing land use for its photosynthentic capacity. In plants, algae and cyanobacteria, solar energy capture in the form of sugars is produced by light-independent reactions called the Calvin cycle. Some bacteria use different mechanisms, such as the reverse Krebs cycle, to achieve the same end. In the Calvin cycle, atmospheric carbon dioxide is incorporated into already existing organic carbon compounds, such as ribulose bisphosphate (RuBP). Using the ATP and NADPH produced by the light-dependent reactions, the resulting compounds are then reduced and removed to form further carbohydrates, including long carbon chains like fructose and glucose. Carbon is taken from the atmosphere and stored in the cells of a growing plant.

This process is the foundation of life on Earth. The energy of the sun is captured, first in light-gathering proteins of bacteria, then chloroplasts of plants, then in the cell membranes of plants and animals, and finally as labile carbon to feed the needs of living organisms and provide ecosystem services. As a biproduct we get oxygen and the biological types of life we've come to know and love.

Carbon is very special. To say it is the building block of life is almost an understatement. It is difficult to conceive of how life could exist without its unique abilities.

Carbon’s compact atom can form more different compounds than any other element. It can even form covalent (shared-electron) bonds with other carbon atoms, which in turn can share electrons with others and so on, forming long strings, complex branchings and "head-to-tail" rings of carbon atoms. There is practically no limit to the complexity of carbon branches or rings. Allotropes include diamond, graphite, graphene, buckyballs and carbon nanotubes.

 

 

 

Eight allotropes of carbon: a) Diamond, b) Graphite, c) Lonsdaleite, d) C60 (Buckminsterfullerene or buckyball), e) C540, f) C70, g) Amorphous carbon, and h) single-walled carbon nanotube or buckytube. Design created by Michael Ströck 

Biochar is made by heating carbonaceous biomass while excluding oxygen. Molecular carbon transformation creates a skeletal, sponge-like structure. In soil, biochar:

1. holds moisture, air and nutrients, promoting biological activity.
2. moderates nitrogen distribution
3. improves compost maturity and humic content
4. accelerates plant growth

This is the foundation of Frank’s climate ecoforestry model. A mixed-age, mixed-species, ecosystemically-oriented, climate-resilient forest, perennial grassland and wetland, plant and animal system is gradually established, augmented, with biochar at its root zone. While not reducing its productivity as a whole system, vegetation is pruned, coppiced and selectively harvested and both soils and vegetation renewed at intervals determined by energy and nutrient flows, rainfall, growth cycles and planting capacities. The daily harvest is taken to the Cool Lab for processing.

With human ingenuity, biochar becomes a microenterprise incubation engine, using the unique structural qualities of carbon to fashion products and services as varied as the creative instincts of those making and using them. It closes the pass-through resource-to-waste chain and builds circular economies.

There establishes a gradient of inwardly directed intensity. The outer spiral edge is agroforestry; serving as green buffer, photosynthesis depository and biodiversity accumulator. Inwardly concentrating are semi-autonomous self-organizing microenterprises: polycultures of aquatics, perennial grasses and animals in pasture, legumes, and coppice crops. At center the Cool Lab produces bioenergy, leaf nutrient concentrates, biochemicals and biomaterials. Many products and services are sequentially cascaded outward to periphery from the same labor and energy input.

The flexible lab design allows highly variable production of different streams, maximizing value creation by real time adjustment to local and global demands and available enterprise talent. Typical biomass energy systems have net energy returns of 2 to 4 percent rendering them unlikely replacements for fossil energy with a much higher EROI (energy return on investment). The Cool Lab produces and consumes its own energy by biomass conversion. By cascading value (products and services) from the same source, it can raise EROI to triple digits. Potential yield is limited only by human imagination. "Waste" is a stranded verb.

The model creates long-term jobs and educational opportunities and allows self-financing of a viral economic model.

The recalcitrant carbon cycle — biomass to biochar — locks carbon away for thousands to millions of years. While useful to stimulate the soil biology, it has the added benefit of holding more oxygen and water, which better mitigates the damage of extreme weather. It also helps the nitrogen cycle, something seriously out of balance but seldom mentioned.

By growing perennial supergrass pastures and feedstocks, combining compost and manures with biochar, and feeding biochar as a nutriceutical to herds of migrating herbivores, the story becomes one of negative emissions — net sequestration — almost immediately, continuing indefinitely. And the best part: it produces profits from the start, no carbon markets, taxes or subsidies required (although those could serve as accelerants if used with care).

Now comes the arithmetic. Frank’s model predicts that if ramped up to a planting rate of 200 million hectares per year (Mha/yr), equivalent to four Spains, in 24 years it would cover 4.8 Gha and be sequestering 14.6 gigatons of carbon per year (GtC/yr) or 2.7 times the current net global emissions.  Can we find 4.8 Gha to plant? Yes, and without disturbing existing farms, cities, or having to green the deserts (although that may also be desirable as we restore larger hydrological cycles). The land is there at the margins, and it has been inventoried and cataloged. Climate change is actually expanding the no-longer-commercially-viable land available for these uses.

Because Earth’s oceans balance carbon concentrations with the atmosphere, as carbon is withdrawn from one, the other responds by refilling it. To remove six gigatonnes from the atmosphere and have it stay that way, we have to actually remove twelve.

The model shows that continuing rotational cycles at 200 Mha/yr on the same land would sequester a cumulative 667 GtC, the amount of carbon required to bring atmospheric CO2 back to 300 ppm by year 56. With reductions in fossil fuel emissions, 300 ppm could be achieved on years 45 to 48, depending on the scale of reductions. If the rate of implementation were raised to 300 Mha/yr, the goal of 300 ppm would be reached in years 35 to 37 from startup.

These numbers may change. While many less ambitious studies exist, as far as we know Frank Michael is the first to integrate so many variables into a single model, and to attempt to incorporate the labile and recalcitrant carbon cycles (biochar), the known unknowns of reverse forcings, and human labor. As more researchers work over these models, improve upon them, and test them against real world results, there can be little doubt that these early beginnings will seem primitive and be superceded by much more elaborate calculations.

What the model says answers the question of whether we can reverse climate change in a time frame short enough to matter. The answer is yes, we can. What it cannot answer is whether we will.

 

Cicero and the Summer of 45

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Published on Peak Surfer on February 26, 2017

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Discuss this article at the Psychology Table inside the Diner

"Happiness, Cicero said, is not dependent on things that pleasure the body, but on pleasures of the mind."

 

The philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero introduced the Romans to the chief schools of Greek philosophy and was likely the most influential philosopher in ancient times but met his demise by getting too intimate with the politics of the period. He lived during the last days of the Roman Republic, in the latter half of the century before Christ. It was a time of power struggles, civil wars and the ascent and fall of Julius Caesar. 

 

 
Following Caesar’s death, Cicero became an enemy of Mark Antony and made the mistake of attacking the new Emperor in a series of speeches. His 54-year-old severed head was hung in the Roman Forum. 
 
Of Cicero’s books, six on rhetoric have survived, as well as parts of eight on philosophy. Of his speeches, 88 were recorded and 58 survive.
 
Among the surviving is Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum (“On the ends of good and evil”).
That was really a quintology — 5 books — written over the course of about 6 weeks in the Summer of 45 (BC). Published 7 months before the assassination of Caesar, Cicero dedicated it to Brutus.
Cicero wanted to know, what is pleasure, what is good — what motivates us? Why are we here? What constitutes a good life? Using Socratic dialog, he attacked the hedonistic definition of pleasure and moved on to Stoicism and the proposition that by moral conduct humans can choose to live good lives. Cicero doubts the notion of moral human as the natural state, and rejects Stoical exclusion of other creature pleasures. In this Cicero prefigures what we are only now being told by neurobiologists about our meta-programmed predilections.
 
In the last book, Cicero describes what for him would seem a perfectly happy life, which includes both pursuit of virtue and external goods. At the end of the book, Cicero critiques the logical inconsistencies of his own conclusions, but not the broader principles, and says that while he has reservations, he designs his own life around these prescriptions.
 
Coming from challenging times filled with political intrigues, outright civil wars, assassinations, coups d’état and the cruelest of military empires, Cicero knew that humans are nasty pieces of work and that social order always hangs by a tenuous thread. What creates happiness is neither “busy pleasures which dally with our senses” nor “the fulsome satisfactions of eating, drinking and venery,” “like baboons and swines.” Even the absence of pain is not enough to create happiness, although it helps. Happiness, he said, is not dependent on things that pleasure the body, but on pleasures of the mind.
 
Among the aphorisms found in De finibus are:
  • All things start from small beginnings.
  • Nature abhors a vacuum.
  • No one wishes pain, but occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure some greater good.
  • ’Tis an excess of pleasure not to feel a trifle uneasy.

If increasing average national happiness is the goal of advanced capitalist societies and economies, then something seems to have gone awry. Whilst high income economies may have largely failed to date to decouple their economic growth from the most important measures of ecological footprint and impact, they have had more unwitting success in decoupling it from increasing the happiness of their populations. Various studies using both cross-national and within-country longitudinal data indicate that the correlation between happiness and per capita income or GDP seems to become weak or even disappear, at a level past about US $10,000 per year.

For the past two centuries as a fossil-fueled technological revolution rocketed industrial productivity, neither leisure time nor security of food, health and shelter increased for the broad masses of humanity. Instead of translating productivity gains into affluence for the many, including ecological health, growing and globalized population kept downward pressure on wages and job availability —bringing about the socially accepted meme of casino economies and affluence for the few. For the few, this created previously unimagined wealth. For the many, it augured diminished expectations for succeeding generations.

.

We are in a bind that can no longer be moderated by changing to or from a gold standard, or cryptocurrency, or using complicated debt stimulus. Production and consumption are equal evils. As we peer over the edge of the cliff we are about to dive from, we keep hearing ideas about steady state economies, circular economies, gift economies and the like. Some of these pay more attention to biophysical constraints than previous economic models did. But do they pencil out in the social sphere? Can they stick as memes? Is there enough time left to matter?


Cicero agreed with Aristotle that humans are a kind of moral diety, and fulfillment in life comes from meeting the ends “whereunto he is born, (through) observation and action, as a horse to racing, or an ox to ploughing….” (translation by Jeremy Collier)

Eleven years ago, in The Post-Petroleum Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times, we began our now-seemingly relentless theme:

 

 

The principal challenge of the Great Change is not physical but mental (as it is in any survival situation). Collectively, societies that are heavily addicted to consumer goods and the pattern of waste that a consumer culture creates will have to struggle to adjust to a new normal. It will not be optional and neither money nor social position will allow you to escape.

The easy path is to downsize expectations and simplify your lifestyle. This path requires giving up certain ways of looking at the world in order to embrace other, more survival-oriented ways. The hard path is to try not to make this change, to somehow cling to the old ways as long as possible, which will entail huge — I would say cruel — efforts for diminishing yields.

 

 

The prosperous way down, to borrow Howard and Elisabeth Odum’s term, is not necessarily about working shorter hours and earning less, although that may become part of it. It is about making your daily activities something you control, rather than something that controls you. 

 

 
Carl Honoré, a spokesperson for the Slow movement, suggested some painless ways to slow down that will fit any budget:
  • Walking instead of driving
  • Giving children more free time
  • Reading instead of watching television
  • Eating home-cooked meals with family and friends
  • Taking up relaxing hobbies such as painting, gardening, or knitting
  • Practicing yoga, tai chi, or meditation
  • Unplugging from technology
  • Indulging in leisurely love-making
  • Simply resisting the urge to hurry unnecessarily

The presence of the clock gave birth to the notion that time lies outside our bodies — that it can be tracked by a machine, and that we can sit and watch it “fly” by, tick-tock, as though it is something linear, containable, and separate from the organic, flowing process of life.

— Jose Arguelles, 2005

 

You can go rent a good surfer movie like Waveriders, Blue Crush or Step into Liquid and it lays out a sensibility of timelessness. When the waves aren’t running high enough, hard core surfers work, building boards or flipping burritos. Otherwise, “productivity” is measured by how close one can come to a perfect ride.

 

 
The opposite of growth is not contraction (except for population and resource extractions, which have to fall back to within natural limits). The opposite is a more graceful steady-state. That requires a shift from the material world to the real sources of happiness and fulfillment as humans. These are things surfers have already discovered.
 
Could it really be as simple as this? That to escape the bust that follows the boom, we only have to stop fighting it and enjoy living with less? Many who have gone that route say they would not go back. Substantial working time reduction in a way that successfully reconciles environmental and well-being goals — already brought about by simple policy changes in Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium — can and does work.
 
We know from observations over millennia that population expansions are paused but not arrested by the four horsemen. The only proven way to change fertility rates and have that stick is by improving the quality of life for women, small children, and the elderly, through social mores, and not by any other means. Running in a squirrel’s cage after infinite growth is folly.
 
In Metamorphosis, the Roman poet Ovid, born nine months before Cicero’s murder, retold the Greek’s story of Icarus who took flight on wax wings made by his father, Daedalus. When Icarus ignores his father’s warning not to fly too high, the sun melts the wax, and Icarus falls into the water and drowns. Like Icarus, our parents fashioned wings from fossil fuels and a few among them even warned us not to fly too high, lest we upset the thin atmosphere that shields us from the sun.
 
We don’t like limits. Ice Age after ice age, hominid populations have risen and fallen. Our cycles of expansion and contraction always wound up advancing civilization in the end. The latest expansion, propelled to untenable excess by draining deep reservoirs of soil carbon and deeper hydrocarbons, came with an expiration date. And yet we pile clever debt instruments upon even more clever debt instruments and build our globalized economy in the same way one builds a snowman — by rolling around balls of wet snow.
 
What happened to Icarus is the same as is happening to us, or to the snowman: the sun. It doesn’t need to be this way. We simply have to learn to relax.

Mount Pleasant

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Published on Peak Surfer on February 19, 2017

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"The problem is not our understanding of the science or the efficacy of our potential solutions. The problem is human willingness to do the right thing before its too late."

 

 

  We first latched onto the notion of catastrophic climate change back around 1980 when we were a young attorney taking quixotic cases involving impossible-to-rectify injustices like cancers among atomic veterans, trespass of sacred sites or nuclear waste disposal, and shoving those insults under the noses of attorneys-general, judges and justices to try to get a reaction.

Occasionally we would finesse a surprising win and that helped attract donations to keep the enterprise running and the entertainment value high, attracting more donors, and so it went.

One such case was against the deepwell injection of toxic effluent from the manufacture of pesticides and herbicides by agrochemical companies in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. The effluent in question had been extracted from an aquifer and tested by State laboratories where was quickly ranked as the most concentrated poison they had ever pulled from the wild. A single green fluorescent drop killed all the fish in the tank. There were 6 billion gallons injected under Middle Tennessee from 1967 to 1980. It made Love Canal look like the kiddie pool.

As we mustered our arguments to go before state regulators and appellate judges, we were compelled to counter some rather absurd arguments being advanced by the mop-up squads of high-priced attorneys for the companies. They said, “Heckfire, Tennessee has plenty of water,” meaning there was no good reason to protect the nonpotable (mineral-rich) waters of the Knox Aquifer a mile down.

Apart from the fact that the Knox is an artesian source of water for area industries and thereby already protected from “contaminants” whether toxic or not by the federal Safe Drinking Water act, we advanced two principal lines of argument, bringing in expert witnesses and entering scientific studies into the record.

Our first line was population growth. Tennessee was growing and what may seem like a lot of water in 1980 may not be nearly enough in 2080. The second line was climate change.

We argued that global warming was advancing, just as scientists had been consistently predicting for the past hundred or more years, and that it would put pressure on water supplies not just in Tennessee, but across the continent.

At that time science suggested warming in the 20th century of about half a degree Celsius. Those were the good old days. Nonetheless, persuading a country judge that global warming was real and something to be concerned about was no mean feat.

 

 

 

 

We had to pull out the big guns. We went to our local congressman and got his assistance to troll the federal agencies for useful studies. We holed up in Vanderbilt science library poring over journals and books on climatology. We spoke to some key figures in the field at that time — Stephen Schneider, Susan Solomon, Kerry Emanuel, Edward A. Martell, Mario Molina — and we assembled that advice into legal briefs and memoranda.

All in all, we scared the bejesus out of ourselves.

The case lingered on for a number of years but by 1985 had been largely resolved by gutsy State regulators, who wrote new rules that essentially prohibited hydrofracking. The companies shut down the injection wells, closed their factories soon after (the phosphate ores that had attracted them in the first place having long since played out and the costs of hauling in by train making the location uneconomical) and moved on. The litigation cost meter ceased running and the death threats stopped. But we were still beset by unshakable malaise.

We had seen the future, and it was different than we had previously imagined. It was not our father’s future.

The materials gathered over the course of ten years were published in our book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. The book came out on the heels of two other fine 1989 books that said essentially the same thing: Stephen Schneider’s Global Warming and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, all to resounding popular disinterest.

Fast forward a quarter century and we were still very much in a funk about what the future holds. When our granddaughter was born in 2005 we felt very sad for her.

We were still tracking the literature, still going to conferences, still speaking with experts, but until the International Permaculture Conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil in June, 2007 we had not found much to call hope.

Biochar

It was at the Ecocentro do Cerrado that year that we caught a first fleeting glimpse. Andre Soares and his partners were conducting experiments in recreating terra preta do indio – the Amazonian Dark Earths. They were, not coincidentally, massively sequestering carbon while growing wholesome food.

Just over a year later, in September 2008, the Permaculture International Journal sent us to Newcastle, England to report on "Biochar, Sustainability and Security in a Changing Climate,” the 2d International Conference of the International Biochar Initiative, with over 225 attendees from 31 different countries and over 70 presentations. That, and some intervening trips back to Brazil to visit the archaeological sites near Manaus, provided the source material for our 2010 book, The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.

For those readers who might be new to biochar, the Virgin Energy Challenge offers this quick synopsis:

 

 

 

Biochar is a relatively low-tech approach inspired by the terra preta soils found in the Amazon basin. These black, fertile soils were created in pre-Columbian times by indigenous farming cultures. They mixed wood char, crushed bone, and manure into the otherwise relatively infertile Amazonian soil to build crop beds. The wood char, though not a fertilizer per se, served to buffer nutrients from the bone meal and manure. It apparently served as a soil analog of a coral reef. Its porous structure and nutrient buffering surface area created a favorable microenvironment for communities of soil fungi and other organisms that aided soil fertility.

Terra preta soils, once well established, appear to be self-sustaining. So long as crop cover protects them from wind and water erosion, they maintain their high level of soil carbon and productivity long after additions of the materials that built them have stopped. In fact they gradually increase in depth as new material composts. In the Amazon basin, thick terra preta soil beds built as far back as 450 BCE remain productive and highly valued by local farmers to this day.

Terra preta soils were initially thought to be peculiar to the warm, wet environment of the Amazon basin. Research has shown, however, that similar results can be obtained in temperate regions by amending soils with formulations of biochar and other ingredients tailored to local soil and crop conditions. The amount of carbon that can potentially be stored in this manner is huge; the amount currently stored as soil carbon has been estimated as 2,300 GT, nearly three times the 800 GT of carbon now present in the atmosphere. If soil carbon could be increased globally by an average of just 10%, it would sequester enough carbon to return atmospheric CO₂ to pre-industrial levels.

The issue with biochar then is not the amount of carbon it could ultimately sequester in the soil; it’s (surprise!) economics. There’s little doubt that a well designed program of soil building, incorporating use of biochar as an element, would be an effective way to sequester carbon while providing long term economic value to farmers. It would boost crop yields while reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. It would also reduce water runoff and nutrient leaching while improving drought resistance. On the other hand, biochar is costly to produce and distribute in the amounts needed, and it may take decades for the considerable investment in soil quality to pay off financially.

The key to success for biochar will come down to technology for producing it from local resources, and dissemination of knowledge for how to employ in in a broader program of soil building. A sense of the complexities can be found in a document from the International Biochar Initiative: Guidelines on Practical Aspects of Biochar Application to Field Soil in Various Soil Management Systems. The three VEC finalists developing biochar display the diversity of product and business strategies possible for addressing these complexities.

There are a few errors in that account, but they are trifling. Biochar is not a “relatively low-tech” approach, it is about as low-tech as you can get. Some Amazonian deposits, similar to those “as far back as 450 BCE,” are ten times older than that. Most estimates put soil carbon at 2500-2700 PgC, not 2300 PgC. You don’t need to increase carbon content to 10 percent globally, 5 percent would probably do it, but remember: we were at 20-plus % soil carbon before the age of agriculture and most soils are hungry to get that back. Building it back with biochar makes a more permanent repair, not just moving the furniture around, as other Virgin Challenge competitors — BECCS (Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage), direct air capture and holistic grazing — do.

Biochar gave us hope, but it did not, in and of itself, solve the climate crisis.  We asked that question at the close of our book — “Can it scale quickly enough?” The answer, from what we have seen at the recent UN climate conferences and the lack of early adoption as the dominant farming paradigm, is — “Probably not.”

The rapid rise of global temperature that began about 1975 continues at a mean rate of about 0.18°C/decade, with the current annual temperature exceeding +1.25°C relative to 1880-1920 and +1.9°C relative to 1780-1880. Dampening effects by the deep oceans and polar ice slow the effects of this change but global temperature has now crossed the mean range of the prior interglacial (Eemian) period, when sea level was several meters above present. The longer temperature remains elevated the more amplifying feedbacks will lead to significantly greater consequences.

While global anthropogenic emissions actually declined in the past decade, there is a lag time for consequences. The rate of climate forcing due to previous human-caused greenhouse gases increased over 20% in the past decade, mainly due to a surge in methane, making it increasingly difficult to achieve targets such as limiting global warming to 1.5°C or reducing atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppm. While a rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions must still be accomplished, the Paris Agreement targets now require “negative emissions”, i.e.: extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The first rule of holes is, when you find yourself in one, stop digging. We, the two legged hairless apes, are still digging.

In a recent Soil Day paper presented to the American Geophysical Society and the Society for Ecological Restoration, Harvard professor Thomas Goreau wrote:

 

 

 

“Already we have overshot the safe level of CO2 for current temperature and sea level by about 40%, and CO2 needs to be reduced rapidly from today’s dangerous levels of 400 parts per million (ppm) to pre-industrial levels of around 260 ppm.”

Goreau, citing the work of John D. Liu and ourselves, provided his prescriptions:

 

 

 

"Current rates of carbon farming at typical current levels would take thousands of years to draw down the dangerous excess CO2, but state of the art methods of soil carbon sequestration could draw it down in as little as decades if the percentage of long lived carbon is raised to as little as about 10%."

Here we note that Dr. Goreau’s arithmetic is much better than the 4 pour 1000 or Holistic Management calculations we criticized last week. Goreau has distinguished labile carbon from “long lived carbon” and not limited land area just to existing farms. He advocates 10 percent rather than 4 tenths of a percent. He continues:

 

 

 

While all soils can, and must, be managed to greatly increase soil carbon there are two critical soil leverage points that will be the most effective to reverse global climate change, namely increasing the two most carbon-rich soils of all, Terra Preta, and wetlands. These are the most effective carbon sinks for very different reasons, Terra Preta because it is 10-50% carbon by weight, composed of biochar, which can last millions of years in the soil. Wetland soils can be up to pure organic matter, because lack of oxygen prevents organic matter decomposition. Wetlands contain half of all soil carbon, and half of that is in marine wetlands, which occupy only about 1% of the Earth’s surface but deposit about half of all the organic matter in the entire ocean. Yet they are often ignored in both terrestrial and marine carbon accounting. Marine wetland soils have more carbon than the atmosphere, but are being rapidly destroyed in the misguided name of “economic development.”

Biochar is what soil scientists call “recalcitrant carbon,” meaning that it does not readily combine with other elements unless high temperature heat or some other catalyst is present. Consequently, as much carbon as can be gleaned from the normal “labile” carbon cycle and turned into recalcitrant carbon can be kept from the atmosphere. We know from the experience of the terra preta soils that it doesn’t just stay out of the atmosphere for a few seasons, it traps carbon in the soils for thousands of years.

Switching to renewable energy will not arrest climate change. None of the schemes that involve planting trees can succeed unless they also include biochar. None of the claims of Allan Savory, Joel Salatin or the Holistic Management movement for mob grazing, or any of the claims related to organic, no-till, animal-drawn carbon farming by Eric Toensmeier, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva and others pencil out to reverse climate change unless you include biochar. Even then, the area required for biochar-augmented conversion of land-use, farming and forestry is massive — something like 7-10 Spains per year, and maybe more. Anything less than that and the ship goes down.

 

 

 

When we first grasped this in Brazil in August 2006, it provided our first “ah ha!” moment. But then we concluded it likely can’t scale fast enough, by gradual adoption through word of mouth or a few good books, to prevent Near Term Human Extinction. In October 2007 we called that our "Houston Moment," not in the sense that "Houston we have a problem" but because we were in Houston at an ASPO meeting when it dawned on us — it may already be blown. The death sentence for our species — in the next century if not this one — could have been handed down even before we were born.

The problem is not the science or the efficacy of the solution. The problem is human willingness to change. There also seems to be something called profit that always complicates matters. We will tackle that, and offer some possible ways forward, in our coming posts.

 

The Orphaned Solution

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Published on Peak Surfer on February 12, 2017

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

By combining compost with biochar, or feeding biochar to those herds of migrating herbivores, the story could become one of negative emissions — net sequestration — almost immediately, continuing indefinitely. "

 

 

   Let's summarize: so here we stand. The ocean is going out, the fish are flopping in the sand. Do we stay and scoop them up or do we run for the hills?

If the problem we have is too much carbon in the sky (and conversely too little in the ground), then the solution is to deprive the sky while feeding the ground.

And yet, for much of the climate change policy community, biochar is still not on their radar. It’s too new. 

In 2011 a Duke University study by the Technical Working Group on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases reviewed the research literature to assess the state of knowledge on the mitigation potential of a wide range of agricultural land management activities. They reported:

 

 

 

Out of 42 practices reviewed, 26 seem to have positive mitigation potential. Eleven of those were supported by significant research (more than 20 field or lab comparisons), 13 by a moderate level of research, and two, while promising, have little research.

Despite an 8000-year track record of adding and holding carbon in soils, biochar was among those last two. The other was mob grazing through Holistic Management.

Eric Toensmeier’s book, The Carbon Farming Solution, which is otherwise excellent, falls into this trap, falsely labeling biochar untested and potentially dangerous.

He may draw this conclusion from two seriously flawed (not to say insidiously undermined) studies by the US National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society. Both of those studies lumped biochar under the heading of geoengineering and then assigned it to the same dumpster as all the other already debunked carbon capture schemes without bothering to speak with any actual biochar scholars.

For the geoengineering techno-utopians, methods of atmospheric carbon extraction such as BECCS, air capture of CO2 or limestone salting imply estimated costs of 100 to >570 trillion dollars to deploy, and entail large risks with uncertain feasibility and duration. Among the uncertainties is our ability to muster sufficient political consent to impose expensive taxes and tariffs on carbon emissions in order to justify the economic burden of these efforts. When faced with dire economic environments, the public may simply choose to disregard moral duties towards future generations.

Biochar, in contrast, requires no tax subsidies (although that would accelerate the needed conversion) because it provides enough financial rewards as a renewable energy source and biofertilizer to justify the cost of making it from various woody wastes, most of which are burned away. It is easy to verify — just do annual or decadal soil tests — and easy to perform life-cycle costing because it has been commercially available for many years.

Reframing Biochar

When we use terms like “carbon-minus” or “carbon-negative” we set off associations that immediately cause the majority of us to back away, or to regard the information as detrimental to us in some way. Last week we spoke of the important work on cognition provided by Alfred Korzybski’s theory of general semantics.

Just as an aside, one of Korzybski workshops, in the Autumn of 1939, was attended by a 25-year-old William S. Burroughs and the 36-year-old Samuel I. Hayakawa.  Hayakawa, the nephew-in-law of Joseph Stalin, went on to become president of San Francisco State College (where, among the students he trained, was Stephen Gaskin) and a US Senator for California (1977-83) where he had untold influence on the seductive rhetorical practices of silver-screen-idol-turned politician Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party he led, later catalogued by George Lakoff in Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.

We know that words that seem threatening, such as those that imply, hard conditions, forced austerity, higher taxes and so on, trigger a denial reflex in the human brain, one which was not possessed by our mammalian ancestors but which is important to our genetic survival. Once we realized that not only is it our karma to kill to live (right down to the billion of helpless microbes in every teaspoon of tofu), but each of our fates to suffer and die, we would go raving nuts were it not for the saving grace of the denial reflex.

So what should we use instead of carbon-minus? We like “cool.”

 

 

 

Cool soothes the brain and chills the endorphins that might cause denial impulses to form. Cool is chill. We are more relaxed, more receptive.

An example of "cool" branding was provided by the pilot Carbon Minus Project in Kameoka City, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. The Hozu rural farmers' cooperative, concerned about the overgrowth of bamboo that was destroying satoyama (managed forest commons) began producing bamboo biochar to amend their soils. Using a "Cool Vege" brand to denote the benefit of carbon sequestration, the university assisted cooperative demonstrated impressive success in marketing their produce to climate-conscious consumers.

Nothing stands in the way of the "cool" brand being extended to any product or service that reverses climate change. It is a sticky meme.

4 pour 1000

There are other reasons that good solutions may not get traction that have less to do with our fight or flight reflex. At COP-21 in Paris in 2015 the French government backed an initiative called 4 pour 1000. France had obtained pledges from over 25 countries – and would bring that number to 50 during COP-21 – as well as hundreds of food, agriculture and research organizations.

The "4/1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate" was a voluntary effort launched through the Lima-Paris Action Agenda.

"The conclusion is simple," said French Foreign Minister Le Foll. "If we can store the equivalent of 4 per 1000 (tons of carbon) in farmland soils, we are capable of storing all man-made emissions on the planet today."

 

 

 

"This is the most exciting news to come out of COP-21," said Andre Leu, president of IFOAM – Organics International. "By launching this initiative, the French government has validated the work of scientists, farmers and ranchers who have demonstrated the power of organic regenerative agriculture to restore the soil's natural ability to draw down and sequester carbon." It positions farmers as the pioneering climate heroes of the next generation.

But then what happened? At COP-22, France still featured 4 pour 1000 in its literature and displays, but it had attracted few new adherents or pledges in the year since Paris. There were no real success stories to point to, no carbon fields waving in the sunlight. Just hot air.

Food writer Michael Pollan, in a Washington Post Op-Ed during the Paris summit, wrote:

 

 

Marin County ranchers have found that applying a single layer of compost, less than an inch thick, to rangelands stimulates a burst of microbial and plant growth that sequesters dramatic amounts of carbon in the soil – more than 1.5 tons per acre. And research has shown that this happens not just once, but year after year.

If the practice were replicated on half the rangeland area of California, it would sequester enough carbon to offset 42 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, roughly equal to all the CO2 emitted by the State's electric utilities each year. Adding an inch of compost to all the rangelands each year would sequester as much as electric utilities, residential and commercial emissions combined.

What is left out of that calculation are the big gorillas in California's emissions picture: the industrial sector (77 million metric tons) and transportation, most notably the freeway system (200 million metric tons). California would need to convert its deserts to rangelands to get that much carbon locked away every year.

That is really the problem with 4 pour 1000: the math doesn’t pencil out. Le Foll’s goal of adding 0.4 percent carbon to just existing farmlands will not revert the atmosphere and oceans to pre-industrial harmony. Spreading an inch of compost, as Michael Pollan suggests, won’t do it either.

While compost stimulates soil organisms and that moves carbon down from the surface into the root zone for longer sequestrations, most compost decomposes closer to the surface and emits greenhouse gases in the process. That is just the labile carbon cycle, get used to it.

Holistic Management

There is also this problem in Allan Savory’s chemistry. When those advocating Holistic Management, after the fashion of the Savory Institute and others, claim that they can build deep carbon in soils by mob grazing on rotational pastureland, they are speaking of labile carbon. Labile carbon never stops going around. More ominously, climate warming accelerates soil outgassing. One of the standard nightmare scenarios that could even be playing out as we write this involves long-stored labile carbon in swamps, peat bogs, grassy plains and permafrost that may be liberated in one enormous carbon pulse that sends Earth's atmosphere to something akin to that of Venus in a very short time.

 

 

 

Personally we love compost, dung beetles and mob grazing. Compost is the nearest farming gets to a cure-all: it holds the key to recovering dead and damaged soils. It’s cheap and easy, works anywhere, and once it has time to do its magic, any of the common problems of farming and gardening go away. Plants get healthier, animals get stronger, and societies become more secure. Our foods become more abundant, disease-resistant and nutritionally dense.

Compost can be seen as the basic food supply of any garden. It provides a circular economy. It closes the loop between human uses and what gets left afterwards. It supplies the microbial decomposers, re-arrangers and transporters who turn wastes back into resources and deliver them in forms and on schedules that plants need.

But if you are a microbe or a dung beetle, you need more than food. You also need shelter. You need a habitat that helps you survive and encourages you to thrive. And if you are a climate scientist, or just someone concerned with rapid warming of the planet, you are looking for a real solution — something capable of rebalancing the various carbon stores between land, ocean and atmosphere.

And that’s where biochar comes in.

The Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (C-AGG) is a multi-stakeholder coalition whose participants include 150 organizations including agricultural producers and producer groups, scientists, environmental NGO’s, carbon market developers, methodology experts, and investors, and other proponents of voluntary agricultural GHG mitigation opportunities and benefits. According to their website:

 

Despite the critical and pivotal role the agricultural sector can play in climate change mitigation and adaptation, climate change policies and programs are largely directed at point-source emissions reductions activities and approaches. Agricultural and land use GHG mitigation opportunities pose a different set of challenges that require different approaches more appropriate to the sector. Diversity and change are inherent characteristics of agricultural systems.

C-AGG attempts to tap the enormous potential for carbon sequestration in soils by

 

  • Developing appropriate incentives, tools, and decision support systems to scale sustainable agriculture and climate change solutions
  • Achieving agreement on monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) frameworks and metrics to quantify greenhouse gas emissions and ecosystem services
  • Supporting asset value generation for sustainably managed landscapes and development of thriving carbon and ecosystem service markets and results-based payments

Once you begin to measure whether and when what happens in the soil stays in the soil, some conclusions become unavoidable.

The recalcitrant carbon cycle — biomass to biochar — locks carbon up for thousands to millions of years. While useful to stimulate the soil biology, it has the added benefit of holding more oxygen and water, which better mitigates the damage of extreme weather. It also helps the nitrogen cycle, another thing that is seriously out of balance but seldom mentioned.

By combining compost with biochar, or feeding biochar to those herds of migrating herbivores, the story could become one of negative emissions — net sequestration — almost immediately, continuing indefinitely.

And that’s where fake news comes in.

We encountered critics of biochar even before we wrote The Biochar Solution. The loudest of them is Biofuelwatch, an organization we previously respected but no longer do because they are tone deaf to serious and friendly correctives. Because they are close with many social justice, ecology and indigenous rights organizations, their completely irrational proclamations against biochar have been picked up by many in the environmental community and repeated as if they had not already been shown to be not merely without merit, but ridiculous.

In our book we discussed the critics' arguments that we thought had some merit – such as the temptation for large landowners to monocrop genetically modified plantations of fast-growing trees to make biochar for carbon credits — and what could be done to require biochar to be produced more responsibly. Indeed, the word "biochar" should itself connote ecologically responsible sourcing and production, in much the same way that "biodynamic" cannot be used by food growers who don't follow the rules.

But the outlandish claims by Biofuelwatch, repeated loudly and frequently — statements like “No matter how it is done, or what is burned, combustion creates pollution,” “soil carbon is not so much determined by the molecular structure of the carbon itself, but rather by surrounding soil ecosystem properties,” or “pyrolysis is difficult to control and remains largely unproven for commercial application” continue to find traction both in the alternative media and in policy reviews.

These spurious arguments continue to engage a series of very public but false debates. They happen at high profile events and in respected journals but they are false in the sense that those arguing for biochar are using science — laboratory testing, review and re-testing in the real world — while those arguing against are using only polemic, and will not waiver from patently absurd, well-disproven claims even when backed into a corner.

Biofuelwatch’s Rachel Smolker occasionally gets it right, as when she argued:

 

Forests, soils, ecosystems all are far more than agglomerations of carbon. They are intricate, multidimensional, interconnected, and complex beyond our imaginings and hence beyond our ability to measure, manipulate, and control.

But she is arguing as much against science as against biochar. She is arguing against extending the human ability to measure, manipulate, and control.

In that, she may not be far wrong.

These previous essays have laid out the different dimensions of our problem: a runaway climate threatening near term human extinction; a mode of social organization in conflict with fixed biophysical limits; trusted authorities failing to get it right; confirmation and normalcy bias obscuring our vision; and orphaned solutions sitting it out while the clock ticks. In our next post we will begin to explore a way out of this swamp.

This post is part of an ongoing series we're calling The Power Zone Manifesto. The next installment, the introduction to Book Two: The Solution, appears next week. We post to The Great Change on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page.

Viral Conspiracies

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Published on Peak Surfer on February 6, 2017

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"Now that President Trump has brought fake news out into the open, is it safe to call bullshit on the 9/11 story?"

 

 

 

When we watch the near-hysteria going on in the United States as the country tries to come to grips with the consequences of its recent choice of government we notice how completely out of touch the usual pundits in print and broadcast journalism have become. Their world has been turned upside down. The tired nostrums that provided a handsome living for them before no longer apply.

Analysis is cheap and abundant. However, done well it takes time, and those now in charge are using that delay to advantage.

Most who try to make sense of the rapid changes we are witnessing fail to appreciate the important work on cognition provided by Gregory Bateson (ecology of mind), Alfred Korzybski (general semantics) and Noam Chomsky (transformational grammar), among others.

The polish-born Korzybski (1879-1950) was a Russian intelligence officer in the First World War. His first book, Manhood of Humanity (1921) set out a new theory of humankind as a "time-binding" class of life (humans perform time binding by the transmission of knowledge and abstractions through time, which are accreted not in pack knowledge, but in cultures). Korzybski suggested that humans are limited in what they know by (1) the structure of their nervous systems and (2) the structure of their languages. Humans cannot experience the world directly, but only through their "abstractions" (nonverbal impressions or "gleanings" derived from the nervous system, and verbal indicators expressed and derived from language). This provided the foundation of general semantics. His best known dictum is "the map is not the territory," meaning that no one can have direct access to reality, given that the most we can know is that which is filtered through the brain's responses to reality.

In November, 2011, we posted here:

So why don’t more people seek shelter from the coming storm? Why don’t election year debates get real? Two reasons: confirmation bias and normalcy or optimism bias. In the case of the former, we sentient bipeds with tripartite brains actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms our views of the world — views we mostly formed as children as we “aped” our parents and teachers or our inspiring leaders and celebrities.

Our fondness towards normalcy and predilection for optimism, both acquired through Darwinian selection, let us box out things that make us feel uncomfortable and allow us to focus on ways to blend into the crowd. If the crowd thinks peak oil, climate change, JFK’s assassination, or the inside job at the World Trade Center are just weird conspiracy theories by crazies at the fringe of our society, we ape the crowd. That’s just Sapiens’ Social Software, even if it means, in the case of 9/11, that we must repeal the laws of physics.

You will have noticed a fairly common response when the 9/11 massacre enters a discussion. Smart people will say that they “will not go there”, which brings to mind the “here be dragons” warning on uncharted bits of medieval maps. That response is not stupid. It hints at an understanding that there is no way back once you enter that realm. There is simply no denying that if you accept the essential conclusions of the official 9/11 report you must also concede that laws of nature stopped working on that particular day. And, true enough, if you do go there and bear witness publicly to what you see, you may well be devoured; your career in many government positions, the media and even academia is likely to come to an end.

— Karel van Wolferen, The Unz Review

A recent book on human evolution, Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind by Ajit Varki and Danny Brower, makes clear our metaprogramed biases are what allow us to carry the knowledge of our own mortality and still take risks like flying in an airplane or crossing the street. We are hard wired to ignore danger if it stands between us and a more immediate goal. As Tali Sharot’s book, The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, points out, we are likely to think everything will work out with big challenges like a right wing coup d'état, nuclear deterrence or climate change because we are genetically predisposed to assume it will.

Varki and Brower explain that the mechanism within the brain that denies reality works in much the same way the fear suppression module does. When mammals need to fight, they not only deny their own mortality, but also tend to deny anything they find unpleasant and often deny rational logic that conflicts with what their limbic (primitive) brain wants to do. And thus, while we can perform impressive intellectual feats such as visiting the moon, we do so by rapidly depleting non-renewable resources and destroying the habitat we need for survival on Earth.
 

Every religion has some form of life after death story. Religions can and do tell every conceivable oddity of story but religions do not need a life after death story to unite a group. It might be reasonable for a few random religions to include life after death in their stories, but it is not reasonable that every religion has a life after death story.

 

— Rob Mielcarski, On Religion and Denial

The genetic justification for religion is that having a false story about life everlasting allowed intelligence to evolve to permit self-awareness, including awareness of one’s own mortality. Our ability to delude ourselves — something we tend to ritually practice on a regular schedule — kept us from going crazy from the kinds of knowledge that our rapidly expanding neocortex opened up to us.
 

Groups frequently devote all of their surplus wealth to constructing structures to please and communicate with gods in the after life. Pyramids and cathedrals being two of many examples. The … behavior remains strong in modern times because new religions, like Scientology, continue to have life after death stories.

— Mielcarski

This is our truncated version of Rob Mielcarski's outline for our predicament:

  • The short-term solution to our problems is the long-term cause of our problems: economic growth;
  • The long-term solution to our problems is the short-term cause of our problems: reduced consumption;
  • All political parties in all countries and almost all citizens, including the few citizens that understand our predicament, reject our best course of action: austerity;
  • The only problems society does not acknowledge, or discuss, or act on, are the only problems that matter: species extinction, limits to growth, debt, overshoot, resource depletion, climate change, sea level rise, fisheries collapse & ocean acidification, nitrogen imbalance & tree decline;
  • The only possible permanent solution is rejected by the belief systems of 90+% of citizens: population reduction;
  • Citizens have wildly different beliefs about our predicament: there is no problem; there is a problem but it’s not caused by humans; I don’t want to think about it; technology will save us; it’s in the hands of God; I’ve already done enough; someone else needs to do something first; my actions won’t make a difference; someone else will consume whatever I give up; it’s too late to do anything;
  • The leader of the free world denies science and issues daily, jaw-dropping, cringe-inducing tweets: Trump
  • The one world leader that did understand the problem and spoke out was rejected by the citizens and no longer speaks out: Jimmy Carter
  • We do not acknowledge that the world’s economic problems began with the peaking of a key non-renewable resource: conventional oil
  • Every country has similar economic problems and not one leader anywhere in the world connects the dots and publicly acknowledges the root cause, even after they leave office: energy extraction cost + debt
  • The professionals with the most influence on public policy use models that violate the most trusted laws of physics: economists
  • The scientific theory that explains the relationship between the economy, energy, and climate is ignored by everyone that should understand it: Tim Garrett
  • The people who deserve the most respect and admiration get the least: scientists
  • The people who deserve the least respect and admiration get the most: celebrities
  • All types of non-fossil energy do not provide a substitute for the only energy we can’t live without: diesel for trucks, trains, ships, tractors, and combines; natural gas for fertilizer
  • All climate science models that do not predict disaster now depend on an unproven technology that we probably can’t afford and other species definitely can’t afford: BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage)
  • Earth with its diverse complex life and a highly intelligent species is extraordinarily rare, precious, and worth fighting to protect, yet we dream of other barren homes: colonizing Mars
  • The tool that could be used to unite citizens in common purpose and useful action is instead being used to create tribes that reinforce preexisting beliefs: internet
  • The few sources of information that understand and communicate the truth are under threat: fake news

Recently the activist collective, TheRules.org, used data analysis visualization to look more closely at “Fake News.” The team included data scientist Federico Cruz, complexity researcher Mehul Sangham, visual artist Lucila Sandoval, and cognitive linguistic Joe Brewer.
 

Two conversations about the same topic — 
yet they are largely disconnected from each other.

Our team took a unique dataset of 60 million tweets referencing the US election on Twitter during the week following its completion (November 8th to the 13th). This was a global media conversation that spanned at least 74 countries. We used visualization software to create images of the relationships throughout this massive web of information. The graphic above was generated from this dataset. The colors represent webs-within-webs for each meshwork of tweets that connect with each other in some way.
 

***

When we drilled into the data, we saw that many conversations are disjointed and don’t overlap with each other. Individual people can have as much influence on the information that spreads as the “official” media outlets. One lesson we can learn from this is that stories can come from anywhere that resonate with the feelings people have in the moment.

Another lesson is that the facts-on-the-ground don’t really matter. People share what feels true to them and now they have communication tools to organize around. Those of us working to tackle the global threats to humanity must cut through the many layers of meaning to make sense of things ourselves. Then we’ll have even more challenges to communicate what we discern about reality once we’ve done this.
 

***

What we all need to do now — collectively as a species — is build the institutional capacities to make sense of big data on a regular basis. Having a biased meshwork of corporate media outlets won’t be sufficient. Neither will the “democratized” independent people in the grassroots who have shown us how biased they can be in their own worldviews as they interpret the world to serve themselves.

In 2004, David Suskind interviewed White House spokesman Karl Rove about the layers of unreality in the Bush-Cheney policies, foreign and domestic. Rove's reply was prophetic. First, he took the journalist to task for working in “the reality-based community.” Then he said:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” 

Of course he was absolutely right. As Dutch journalist Karel van Wolferen wrote last week for the Unz Review,
 

With President Obama as a mere spectator, the neocon/liberals could – without being ridiculed – pass off as a popular revolution the coup d’état they fomented in the Ukraine.

***

Putin was held personally responsible in much of the media for the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner flying over the Ukraine, which killed 298 people. No serious investigation was undertaken.

***

As the fighting in Syria reached a phase when contradictions in the official Washington/NATO story demanded a stepping back for a fresh look, editors were forced into contortions to make sure that the baddies stayed bad, and that no matter how cruel and murderously they went about their occupation in Aleppo and elsewhere, the jihadi groups fighting to overthrow the secular Assad government in Damascus remained strictly labeled as moderate dissidents worthy of Western support, and the Russians as violators of Western values.

 
How could Rove’s predictions so totally materialize? There’s a simple answer: ‘they’ got away with momentous lies at an early stage. The more authorities lie successfully the more they are likely to lie again in a big way to serve the purposes of earlier lies.   VanWolferen continues:
 

We have experienced massive systemic intimidation since 9/11. For the wider public we have the absurdities of airport security – initially evidenced by mountains of nail-clippers – reminding everyone of the arbitrary coercive potential that rests with the authorities. Every time people are made to take off their belts and shoes – to stick only to the least inane instances – they are reminded: yes, we can do this to you! Half of Boston or all of France can be placed under undeclared martial law to tell people: yes, we have you under full control!

How can anyone quarrel with Rove’s prophecy? Mainstream media and social media are in a tizzy to try to keep up with newly created realities. Rove's words made it very clear: you have no choice! This is what the White House strategy is all about. Shock and awe, nonstop. You go ahead and study the last move we made while we are busy making our next.

Now that President Trump has brought fake news out into the open, is it safe to call bullshit on the 9/11 story?

The science of climate change, as we have been showing in this series of essays, is not seriously in doubt, at least not when rationally scrutinized by any objective standard. What is in serious doubt is the ability of superstitious, authoritarian-cleaving, greedy, fecund and destructive humans to muster the social cohesion to follow the science and do the right thing, and soon.

Joe Brewer says,

The deep truth about fake news is that a great deal of moral integrity and analytic skill is needed to make sense of the world in our complex media environments today. These cultural capacities are desperately lacking today. This is about connecting the dots, revealing system-level patterns, and searching for root causes.

It is also about having the luxury of enough time to do that.
 

We cannot be sure we will get to where we need to be before it is too late for our species. Maybe the next round of evolutionary biology will get some form of life there — perhaps Earth will be re-seeded from the microbes we left on Mars. It may take a few hundred million years to find that out, and by then Earth would be perilously close to drifting out of its orbit of habitability as the Sun radiance gradually enlarges. Any recapitulation of life as we know it would be relatively short-lived compared to the potential we have if we act to save the current enterprise.

Next week, in the meantime, we will examine some corollaries that proceed from this analysis.

 

Fake News: The Russian Hacker Story

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 29, 2017

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Discuss this article at the Newz & Multimedia Table inside the Diner

"If you can't maintain the dominant paradigm, at least you can subvert the emergent ones."

 

 

 

Jazz musician and iconoclast Harry Shearer observes that Donald Trump’s ability to openly lie and then deny he did and then move on to telling the same lie again is “profoundly transactional.

This trait is not new in US presidents, merely less concealed in our era by the RealPolitik that kept it more discrete before. We could go back and find examples from the very first presidency, but let’s just retrace to Franklin Roosevelt who, besides concealing his infidelities, of necessity had to dissemble about wartime secrets, as did Truman and Eisenhower when the wars grew cold. Nixon was profoundly secretive, arrogating to his office a false claim of constitutional authority, that, while it cost him his job, was kept around for his successors to use, more liberally with each administration.

To dissemble lubricates a slippery slope. Nixon was impeached for lying about the Watergate cover-up. Clinton was impeached for dallying with an intern. Mountains of lies invite being tunneled into and mined, and mining tools are getting better all the time. Is it any wonder then, that ‘secret’ lying by Reagan, Clinton, Obama, The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC and others begat the baldface lying of Drudge, Fox, Trump and the new generation of fake news on steroids?

In the days before Christmas it easily escaped attention — certainly that of the mainstream echo chamber — that the US Lame Duck in Chief signed into law the LDNDAA (Lame Duck's National Defense Authorization Act) which legalized government propaganda — fake news — when deployed for national security against the citizenry of the US. The law gave the government sweeping powers to feed its minions — CNN, ABC, MSNBC — and covertly take down any competing news outlets that might dare to put out an alternative narrative or question the veracity of the fakes. RT Commentator Max Keiser called it a bailout for the bankrupt mainstream press.

If you can't maintain the dominant paradigm, at least you can subvert the emergent ones.

 

 

 

When our souls are mollified, a bee can sting.

 

— Cicero (Disp Tusc. II, 22)

 

 

[T]he Democrat / Prog coastal elite, hardcore Hillary, PC-and-unicorn crowd are moving through their post-election Kubler-Ross Transect-of-Grief from denial to anger….

 

 

Lately the Democratic Party in the US has adopted its own form of birtherism, which is using the “Russians hacked my homework” excuse for losing the last election. The evidence is flimsy, but that does not stop the handwaving, pompous haranguing, or other forms of smoke and mirrors. Lets look at the evidence.

 

 

According to the Obama spook estate, Russian hackers sent out volleys of phishing emails hoping someone would click. If you have email, you’ve seen this. They tell you that you won something, you qualify for a free trip, there is a bank error in your favor, or you have to upgrade some common piece of software like Java or Flash. Maybe, as in the case of a Russian hacker group that successfully phished Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party for 6 months in 2016, they’ll use un.org as their trojan domain. If you follow the link, they get your credit card info or your password. Maybe the password you are prompted for is the same one you use for gmail. That’s what happened to John Podesta.

He got a suspicious mail, sent it to an aide to look at, the aide thought it was legit and some lucky hackers in Moscow downloaded 60,000 messages from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager’s gmail account. So what do you do with 60000 messages if there is no money in it? Give it to Wikileaks.

 

 

At least one targeted individual activated links to malware hosted on operational infrastructure of opened attachments containing malware. APT29 delivered malware to the political party's systems, established persistence, escalated privileges, enumerated active directory accounts, and exfiltrated email from several accounts through encrypted connections back through operational infrastructure.

 

 

 

That was the normal part. Now comes the nasty part. Unnamed “security experts” in the employ of the Democratic National Committee but now cited by the White House and cyberwar apparatchiks within the beltway “believe two Kremlin-connected groups were behind the hack.” Take that apart: Two hyphen connected groups. For Kremlin, substitute Vladimir Putin, because surely nothing in the Kremlin happens unless he directs it (?). So boom: frontpage stories that Putin stole the US election and gave it to Donald Trump, and media cheerleaders go with that because, boy does that boost ad revenues. Soon to be a major motion picture. Saturday Night Live is having a field day.

The two groups were Moscow hackers known to Microsoft as APT (“advanced persistent threat”) 28, a.k.a. Fancy Bear, and APT 29 or Cozy Bear.

“We were shocked to find our names there,” Aleksey Gubarev [who alongside his IT company, has been listed in an FBI report as the cyberlink connecting Trump and Russian hackers, told RT-TV,  saying he had “never met” anyone listed in the report. “Nobody from the intelligence agency contacted me about this story… to verify this information,” he said. Neither did any journalists reach out to him.

The published report is “fake news,” Gubarev said. "I still do not understand why our names [are] there and we do not understand a reason of this report in general." It may not matter.

We are reminded of the Italian Memo. In a story for Vanity Fair in 2006,  Craig Unger recalled:

 

Though it may be unprepossessing, the Niger Embassy is the site of one of the great mysteries of our times. On January 2, 2001, an embassy official returned there after New Year’s Day and discovered that the offices had been robbed. Little of value was missing—a wristwatch, perfume, worthless documents, embassy stationery, and some official stamps bearing the seal of the Republic of Niger. Nevertheless, the consequences of the robbery were so great that the Watergate break-in pales by comparison.

In his January 2003 State of the Union address, George W. Bush let this shoe fall: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” What came next is too horrible to recount, and it continues today, with each U238-mangled baby born in Fallujah. [Footnote: The new US Secretary of Defense is General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, who ordered his marine tank corps to put a depleted uranium shell in every house in the city. More than 300,000 DU rounds are estimated to have been fired. The uranium dust in the air turned sunsets green. Birth defects are now much higher than those recorded among survivors of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.]

The British government, of course, had learned nothing of the sort, although Tony Blair jumped on the Cheney bandwagon, calling it the “Dossier of Doom.” Within months, polls showed 90 percent of USAnians believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. National-Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told CNN, “There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly [Saddam] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Unger reported:

 

 

On the same day the “mushroom cloud” slogan made its debut, The New York Times printed a front-page story by Michael Gordon and Judith Miller citing administration officials who said that Saddam had “embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.” Specifically, the article [planted by White House Aide Scooter Libby] contended that Iraq “has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.”

It was a clever hoax. Well, actually, not all that clever. Just repeated often, and loudly, from the bully pulpit. “That was their favorite bureaucratic technique —ruthless relentlessness,” Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell told Vanity Fair. The CIA had a mole inside Saddam’s war cabinet who told them there was no WMD program. The White House told the CIA that it no longer mattered and by the way they were the designated fall guy for the ensuing “intelligence failure.”

Disinformation of this kind was not new and the Italian bit players in the Niger ruse had entered the American political arena twice before. The first was during Reagan’s election campaign when embarrassing “facts” about Billy Carter, the President’s bubba brother, taking slush money from Libyan president Mohamar Khadafi to meet with Yassir Arafat. Never mind that Billy denied it, the news came out the last week in October, just before the election, and by then it was too late to track down the source: an Italian covert agency run by militant anti-Communists that had infiltrated the highest levels of Italy’s judiciary, parliament, military, and press, and was tied to assassinations, kidnappings, and arms deals around the world.

In 1981, the same covert network orchestrated a disinformation campaign saying Mehmet Ali Agca, the right-wing nut who shot Pope John Paul II, had been taking orders from the Soviet KGB and Bulgaria’s secret service. As Unger put it:

 

 

 

In light of the ascendancy of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, the Pope’s homeland, the Bulgarian Connection played a role in the demise of Communism in 1989.

When Nixon stepped down in 1974, two individuals ascended to positions of almost unlimited power in the Ford White House. Donald Rumsfeld was the sixth White House chief of staff. Dick Cheney was the seventh. Cheney was House Minority Whip during the Reagan years, Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and later  the Ranking Member of the Select Committee to investigate the Iran-Contra Affair. He became Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush and Vice President under Number 43.

Did Cheney and Rumsfeld pull the Italian strings in Billygate and the Bulgarian Connection? No one is telling. What we know is that stationary stolen from the Niger embassy was used for a forgery and ultimately combined with other papers that were already in Italian secret service archives. A codebook and a dossier with a mixture of fake and genuine documents were delivered to Blair. Among the fakes, embassy stationery was used to forge a two-page memo purportedly sent to the president of Niger concerning the sale of 500 tons of pure uranium per year to Iraq.

 

 

 

The forged documents were full of errors. A letter dated October 10, 2000, was signed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Allele Elhadj Habibou — even though he had been out of office for more than a decade. Its September 28 postmark indicated that somehow the letter had been received nearly two weeks before it was sent. In another letter, President Tandja Mamadou’s signature appeared to be phony. The accord signed by him referred to the Niger constitution of May 12, 1965, when a new constitution had been enacted in 1999. One of the letters was dated July 30, 1999, but referred to agreements that were not made until a year later. Finally, the agreement called for the 500 tons of uranium to be transferred from one ship to another in international waters—a spectacularly difficult feat.
 

* * *

 

Over the next two years, the Niger documents and reports based on them made at least three journeys to the C.I.A. They also found their way to the U.S. Embassy in Rome, to the White House, to British intelligence, to French intelligence, and to Elisabetta Burba, a journalist at Panorama, the Milan-based newsmagazine. Each of these recipients in turn shared the documents or their contents with others, in effect creating an echo chamber that gave the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.


A story by Seymour Hersh for The New Yorker suggested that retired and embittered C.I.A. operatives had intentionally put together a lousy forgery in hopes of embarrassing Cheney’s hawkish followers. If that was true it backfired. Never underestimate the gullibility of the press.

First Case in point: the fake National Guard documents that cost Dan Rather and Mary Mapes their jobs at CBS News.

Second Case in point: Russian hackers stole my election.

Another point we observe as we follow this thread was how language is used to frame subject. The “mushroom-cloud” and “smoking gun” visuals were so visceral they were repeated by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld and became standard NeoCon talking points in the run-up to the Second Gulf War.

 

 

When RT says that President Obama leaves behind a “vast, unaccountable permanent warfare state,” or that levels of economic inequality in the West are “obscene,” or that Trump “terrifies European leaders,” it’s worth asking if it might be Russian disinformation. But it’s also worth asking if it might be true. Distrust but verify.

 

***

With the power to persecute and prosecute journalists, the American government is a dangerous media critic. Judging by the report on RT, it’s also a lousy one.

— Stephen Bates, Lawfare


The Russian hacking story gets reframed to appeal to different echo chambers. For the left wing it assuages the cognitive dissonance that comes when you try to wrap your mind around President… Donald… Trump. Never mind that what is said to have bent the election at the 11th hour was the content of the Podesta emails, not their source. For the right, it’s a chance to blame Obama for the “Cyber Gap” and the anticipation of another wondrous pot of gold at the end of a forthcoming defense authorization rainbow. Of course, neither side questions the veracity of electronic voting machines.

Next week we will look at how the same genetic program that allows us to swallow a yarn like the Russian hacker tale keeps us from doing the right thing about climate change. Later, we will learn how to turn that gene off. In the meantime, the best antidote to fake news is to take yours from as broad a spectrum of opinions as you can find and make your own judgment.

Three PIllars

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 22, 2017

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"By pushing the system beyond the brink, the status quo protectors have now put it into free fall."

 

  Naysayers about the potential for a radical shift in the foundational structure of civilization argue by looking backward, not forward. “It has never happened before and so it cannot happen now.” But there are three fundamental differences.

First, the change of our climate away from the Holocene and into the Anthropocene is without any historical analog, even looking back hundreds of millions of years. Nafeez Mosadeq Ahmed terms this "Earth System Disruption."


Industrial civilization is undergoing a second geophysically driven change that will shake it to its roots. It has never happened before and it cannot happen again. You can call this “peak oil,” but as Richard Heinberg pointed out, it's really "peak everything."

The thin driving wedge that will crack open our assumptions about what is normal will be financial collapse, but that is just a reflection of what the peak oil community has been saying since M. King Hubbert presented a paper to the 1956 meeting of the American Petroleum Institute:

 

[W]e are living on a finite world and infinite growth of material consumption is simply not possible.

Nor, as Paul and Anne Ehrlich warned nearly half a century ago, is exponential population growth.  Ahmed terms this "Human System Destabilization."


The unprecedented part — something few advocates for a renewables revolution yet grasp — is that each time humans moved from one dominant energy supply to the next it was towards greater caloric density at lower cost. We went from firewood to charcoal, to whale oil, to coal and coal gas, to petroleum and natural gas, and each time we got more bang for our buck, production and automation revolutionized, and our population and its footprint leaped another notch. After conventional oil peaked in the first years of the new millennium (just as Hubbert forecast in 1974), unconventional sources like fracked gas and oil shales filled the gap, but with a significant hitch — they cost more.

The same is true of renewables.

We set aside discussion of nuclear energy here — even though it has the greatest power density of any — because that industry is a colossal con-game when it is not busy concealing its silent death toll. Even Hubbert was misled on that point. One might also boil water to make steam to make electricity by burning human embryos, children and old people, but it would cost more and have the same stranded ethics as atomic energy. Just imagine for a moment a gigawatt-sized Auschwitz- or Buchenwald-like furnace powering every major city. Fukushima is morally indistinguishable from that.



Solar and wind energy is now cheaper across much of the world than coal, oil or nuclear energy, but the real cost is not the market price, but rather the non-renewable components made from rare earths like ion-absorbing lanthanum, super-magnetic neodymium and luminescent, paramagnetic europium.  At present China mines 90 percent of the world supply of those rare earths (at untold human and ecological cost) but a 2012 government assessment put the reserves to extraction ratio at 15, meaning a 15-year supply at then rates of removal.


Last week Barack Obama wrote for the peer-reviewed journal Science (with ghostwriting by John Holdren and Brian Deese):

 

 

 

[T]he business case for clean energy is growing, and the trend toward a cleaner power sector can be sustained regardless of near-term federal policies."

 

 

— Obama B., The irreversible momentum of clean energy, Science 09 Jan 2017, DOI: 10.1126/science.aam6284

Unless a new Saudi Arabia of rare earths magically emerges in the next 10 years (or a date far sooner, given the exponential expansion of the solar industry), renewable energy will meet a hard biophysical limit.


After climate and energy, the third onrushing constraint to our present civilizational structure is “Whole System Disruption.” The global consumerist culture seems nearly oblivious to its dependence on a web of life — the inability of humans to go it alone. We seem unaware that our solar orbit is at the inner edge of the zone where biological life is possible this close to the Sun.

Our political capital — the wiring diagram for modern societies — is built on denying these three pillars — climate, peak everything and respect for limits.

 Dysfunctional systems have a way of disassembling themselves, with no assistance required. In his new book, Failing States, Collapsing Systems, Naffiz Ahmed gives the recent example of Syria (forgive the extended excerpt but this may soon be behind a paywall and it's worth it):

 

 

The conventional narrative of the causes and consequences of the 2011 'Arab Spring' tends to focus on the idea of a democratic deficit in the region as the primary trigger, but fails to integrate this with a wider vision of the range of factors involved.


It is increasingly recognized that climate change played a major role in establishing conditions of societal vulnerability for the conflicts that followed the Arab Spring (Johnstone and Mazo 2011). Others argue correctly that the uprisings of the Arab Spring itself were triggered by unprecedented global food price spikes, (Lagi et al. 2011) while still others show that peak oil occurred in Egypt and Syria prior to the uprisings (Hallock et al. 2014). However, these studies neglect the systemic interconnections across these different factors. They thus fail to offer a truly systemic understanding of these phenomena.



In reality, the string of state failures across the region, and the inexorable swing toward multiple conflicts spurred on by the rise of various Islamist militant groups, can be traced directly to ESD (Earth System Disruption) phenomena unravelling the local sub-systems underpinning state integrity. In short, HSD (Human System Destabilization) in the form of the escalation of political violence has been fueled by ESD driven by interconnected biophysical processes of climate change, energy depletion and food crises.

Political Repression

 

 

 

The collapse of Syria into internecine warfare is, as with the Arab Spring, largely viewed as a direct consequence of the extreme political repression of President Bashar al-Assad, and the competing role of outside powers. To that extent, international policy has focused on viewing the conflict through the lens of geopolitical interests and regional security.

There has been some important recognition that climate change played at least an indirect role in catalyzing the Syrian conflict by creating a drought that led to social pressures conducive to civil unrest. Yet there has been no recognition at all that a primary factor in the Syrian state's extreme vulnerability to such pressures was peak oil.

Peak Oil

 

 

 

Prior to the onset of war, the Syrian state was experiencing declining oil revenues, driven by the peak of its conventional oil production in 1996 (Ahmed 2013). Even before the war, the country's rate of oil production had plummeted by nearly half, from a peak of just under 610,000 barrels per day (bpd) to approximately 385,000 bpd in 2010 (Department of State 2014).

 


Since the war, production dropped further still, once again by about half, as rebels took control of key oil producing areas. Faced with dwindling profits from oil exports and a fiscal deficit, the government was forced to slash fuel subsidies in May 2008—which at the time consumed 15 % of GDP. The price of petrol tripled overnight, fueling pressure on food prices (IRIN 2008).


Climate Change

 

 

The crunch came in the context of an intensifying and increasingly regular drought cycle linked to climate change. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has provided the most compelling research to date on how climate change amplified Syria's drought conditions, which in turn had a "catalytic effect" on civil unrest. The authors found that the 2007-2010 drought was the worst "in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers", and was made three times more likely than by natural variability alone: "We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict" (Kelley et al. 2015). Compounding the impact of climate change, between 2002 and 2008, the country's total water resources dropped by half through both overuse and waste (Worth 2010).
 

Syrian refugees in Bulgaria – Milwaukee Jewish Federation

Once self-sufficient in wheat, Syria has become increasingly dependent on increasingly costly grain imports, which rose by one million tonnes in 2011-2012, then rose again by nearly 30% to about 4 million in 2012-2013. The drought ravaged Syria's farmlands, led to several crop failures, and drove hundreds of thousands of people from predominantly Sunni rural areas into coastal cities traditionally dominated by the Alawite minority. The exodus inflamed sectarian tensions rooted in Assad's longstanding favouritism of his Alawite sect—many members of which are relatives and tribal allies — over the Sunni majority (Agrimoney 2012).



Since 2001 in particular, Syrian politics was increasingly repressive even by regional standards, while Assad's focus on IMF-backed market reform escalated unemployment and inequality. The new economic policies undermined the rural Sunni poor while expanding the regime-linked private sector through a web of corrupt, government-backed joint ventures that empowered the Alawite military elite and a parasitic business aristocracy. Then from 2010 to 2011, the global price of wheat doubled — fueled by a combination of extreme weather events linked to climate change, oil price spikes and intensified speculation on food commodities — impacting on Syrian wheat imports. Assad's inability to maintain subsidies due to rapidly declining oil revenues worsened the situation (Friedman 2013).

Population Bomb

 

 

 

As of 2010, Syria's then 20 million-strong population had one of the highest growth rates in the world, at around 2.4 %. In the first two months of 2011 alone, Syria's population grew by a monumental 80,000 people, most of whom were concentrated in the poorest eastern regions most badly affected by drought conditions (Sands 2011).

The food price hikes triggered the protests that evolved into armed rebellion, in response to Assad's indiscriminate violence against demonstrators. The rural town of Dara'a, hit by five prior years of drought and water scarcity with little relief from the government, was a focal point for the 2011 protests. The emerging Syrian conflict then paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) and other jihadist groups. Regional and international geopolitics fanned the flames of various rebel movements who moved into the widening vacuum of Syrian systemic state-failure to build new proto-state criminal enterprises.



Yet parallel processes have also been at play across the border, where ISIS is also active. US meteorologist Eric Holthaus specifically points out that the rapid rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 coincided with a period of unprecedented heat in Iraq, recognized as being the warmest on record to date, from March to May 2014. Recurrent droughts and heavy rainstorms have also played havoc with Iraq's agriculture. With water supplies dwindling, and agriculture waning, Iraq's US-backed Shi'ite-dominated government has largely failed to address these burgeoning challenges, even as ISIS has moved quickly to exploit these failures, for instance by using dams as a weapon of war. Holthaus points out that climate-induced droughts have accompanied rapid population growth and agricultural stagnation, both of which are straining the capacity of the central government to feed its own population and deliver basic goods and services. As that state-level failure has been exacerbated, ISIS has rapidly filled the vacuum (Holthaus 2014).

 

 

Outgoing UN leader Ban Ki Moon and Bashar al-Assad

Lamenting lack of progress on climate change, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, said:

 

 

 “Too many leaders seem content to keep climate change at arm’s length, and in its policy silo. Too few grasp the need to bring the threat to the center of global security, economic and financial management.”


It is easy to understand why policymakers ignore the elephant in the room. In a 2015 study by the George C. Marshall Institute, Fossil Fuel Energy and Economic Wellbeing, the NeoCon think tank turned the need for change on its head, arguing that everything we’ve just argued above is a reason not to change.

 

 

 

    Despite the obvious reliance of the entire world on fossil fuels and the prospect that such reliance is likely to continue for decades, particularly in the developing world, it has become fashionable to argue that such fuels must be phased down and perhaps discarded entirely. The targets tend to be longer range, but they involve drastic proportions. For example, the European Council calls for an 80-95% reduction in CO2 emissions in advanced countries by 2050 which, because fossil fuels account for the great majority of these emissions, almost certainly would require an enormous reduction in their use.  In 2009 the Obama Administration pledged the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, but made clear this is just a first step towards much more stringent goals in future years.
 

    ***

    It is simply a mistake, conceptually and practically, to propose a drastic phasing out of fossil fuels. Even a relatively high cost assigned to anthropomorphic climate change does not imply such a phase-out, and given the tremendous value of these fuels to country economies everywhere, no such phase-out is likely.
 

    ***

    Worldwide gasoline consumption is at least 2 1⁄2 times U.S. consumption, so we are speaking of at least 25 billion miles traveled every day worldwide. This mobility enables people to take jobs they otherwise would find hard to access and to move about more within those jobs as needed. It also enables them to access more goods and services, visit family and friends more, etc. The result is that people are more productive than they otherwise would be, and are able to experience a higher quality of life. It is hard to overstate how important mobility is to people around the globe.

Yes, mobility becomes extremely important when you are leaving an area struck by famine, having lost its energy and agricultural underpinnings, and climate change is beating at your back as you confront hard physical barriers like the Mediterranean or Caribbean Seas.

The disconnect between the risk assigned to something that might potentially damage the global economy by reducing mobility and that assigned to the alternative — auguring near term human extinction within the space of a lifetime — is stark. It is only made possible by the denial of the three pillars of this analysis — ESD, HSD and WSD — which of course can only be expected by the author of the paper, an oil industry flack working in a right wing echo chamber. His variety of “fake news” is what provides a lavish standard of living for the legions of ear whisperers in the Power Zone.



The curious thing about what just happened in 2016 is that mostly the ear whisperers were exposed as clueless or misinformed. Most, like the pundits of K-Street, MSNBC and FOX, the President’s National Security Advisor, or the seers of Silicon Valley, assumed that BREXIT would be defeated, Hillary Clinton would become President of the United States, ISIS was a spontaneous anti-American insurgence, Assad and Erdogan would be deposed, and the Cubs would lose the World Series. If they had placed a $5 bet on Trump, Brexit and Leicester City they would have earned $15 million.  Instead, rather than admit they were wrong, they create a kind of new “birtherism,” demanding that Vladimir Putin be held accountable.


Imagine for a moment a country that unexpectedly has their national presidential elections tampered with, not through the balloting process but by media buys, leaked documents, last minute revelations of corruption and millions of foreign dollars flowing in to boost the lagging candidate who gets a last minute, 10 percent surge over polling predictions. Imagine further that the new president is immediately surrounded by advisors from the same foreign power who trash universal medical coverage, abandon free education, and slash away the social welfare net while feathering the nests of a new class of billionaire oligarchs made fat off privatization of the former treasures of the state. Millions of the unemployed, sick and elderly simply die. The national economy of the country is in tatters.

 

 

 

 

If you think we are describing Trumpageddon you would be mistaken. We are describing the 1996 election in Russia, when the party stalwart  Gennady Zyuganov  was defeated by the enormously unpopular drunken buffoon Boris Yeltsin by a margin of 13.7 points, riding on a wave of support openly engineered by George Soros and the Clinton White House.

He vowed to transform Russia's socialist economy into a capitalist market economy and implemented economic shock therapy, price liberalization and nationwide privatization. Due to the sudden total economic shift, a majority of the national property and wealth fell into the hands of a small number of oligarchs. The well-off millionaire and billionaire oligarchs likened themselves to 19th century robber barons. Rather than creating new enterprises, Yeltsin's democratization led to international monopolies hijacking the former Soviet markets, arbitraging the huge difference between old domestic prices for Russian commodities and the prices prevailing on the world market.

Much of the Yeltsin era was marked by widespread corruption, and as a result of persistent low oil and commodity prices during the 1990s, Russia suffered inflation, economic collapse and enormous political and social problems that affected Russia and the other former states of the USSR.

 

Clinton, Yeltsin, Trump and Zyuganov —Russian Universe

To imagine that something similar to this could have occurred 20 years later and that it was engineered by none other than the aspiring young apparatchik who replaced the disgraced Yeltsin when he resigned in 1999, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, beggars belief. Nobody is that cunning. Or possessing such a deliciously ironical sense of humor.
  
We have described the challenge. We need to move on to provide the solution, but first let us reiterate a phrase used by Bill Mollison: “the problem is the solution.” By pushing the system beyond the brink, the status quo protectors have now put it into free fall. It will crash, and there is really no way to avoid that. Nafeez Ahmed puts the date at 2018. James Howard Kunstler says don't count out 2017. But make no mistake: the coming collapse is a blessing in disguise.

Had Syria not experienced the twin curses of peak oil and climate change in rapid succession, it would have continued to grow its population at exponential rates until it invited the Whole System Disturbance. The outcome, even as bad as it has been, would have been exponentially worse. Now, with the benefit of experience with severe and radically transformational change, the Syrian people are more favorably disposed to something completely different.

What that might be, precisely, will be described in future installments.

The  current recession is just a prelude. We have passed biophysical limits. This explains the current era of political weirding but it doesn’t help us to avoid or soften it. We shall get to that, but we have to concede, our situation will very likely get much worse before it gets better.

Without a bucket to RCP in

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 15, 2017

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"The only thing holding this global tsunami back is the cold depth of the deep blue sea."

  We are in a crisis of civilization but most people, by and large, have not realized it yet. It is as if we are a prizefighter in the ring with a stronger opponent and we have just been dealt a knockout punch but we are still on our feet, uncomprehending of what has just happened. It is not as though the fight can continue. We will shortly be on the floor. It is not as though we will suddenly bounce back, alert and still fighting. We are done. We just don’t know it yet. If we are lucky, our opponent will relent for the moment it takes us to go down, sparing us another, potentially lethal blow from which we would be completely defenseless.

Lets bore in on the illusion that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), having been awarded the Nobel Prize, has prescribed a rescue remedy to “avoid dangerous interference with climate” if nations are willing to take it.

Perhaps you concur with that conventional wisdom even while lamenting that national governments lack spine.

“The scientists have been the finger-pointy adults in the room on this issue,” said Andrew Revkin, former NY Times reporter and author of the dot earth blog. But the IPCC quickly learned that not only did it not have any authority to set policy, it was an object of ridicule. It came to expect that any advice it gave would be resisted and so it took measures to soften its approach. It fed governments baby food — sugar coated, easy to digest, and somewhat shy of full nutrition.

Case in point: the IPCC future scenarios (RCPs for “Representative Concentration Pathways”, and ECP’s for “Extended Concentration Pathways”).

Over the course of many years the IPCC science community produced RCP and ECP models representing a broad range of climate outcomes, based on the peer-reviewed literature. The RCPs and ECPs are defined by their total radiative forcing (cumulative measure of human emissions of atmospheric pollution from all sources expressed in Watts per square meter) starting in 2005 and accumulated change by 2100 in the case of the RCPs and 2300 in the case of the ECPs.

They are not forecasts, just a survey of known possibilities. Assessing likelihoods requires comparisons of the projections with observations in real time.

In 2011 the figure to the right appeared in the journal, Climatic Change:

 

 

 

van Vuuren et al (2011) The Representative Concentration Pathways: An Overview. Climatic Change, 109 (1-2), 5-31.

The dark grey area contained the range of estimates previously deemed to be 90% certain. The blue line — RCP 8.5 — is tracking closest to actual data at the moment, and so the light great area was added to extend the range to a 98% certainty for 2050-2100.

If you were assigning likelihoods, you would probably give RCP 8.5 a pretty high probability now, but bear in mind you are just looking at where the line begins to arc upwards in 2016 and there is no real evidence that the arc will then settle into a straight line and even bend back down a little in the 2090s. It could as easily turn straight up and shoot off the top of this chart in the 2040-2075 interval.

The other three lines were chosen in 2011 to represent a few selected RCPs that expressed the confidence range. Each RCP could result from different combinations of economic, technological, demographic, policy, and institutional futures. For example, the second-to-lowest RCP assumes technological improvements and a shift from manufacturing economies to service industries but does not make any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions as a goal in itself. The highest line represents industrial expansion as usual, or, alternatively, industrial contraction supplanted by runaway methane releases, radical deforestation, change of arctic albedo or some other phenomenon, or combination, that keeps the rate of forcing growing even though industrial GHG emissions decline.

The scenario process then moves to translating what effect each Watts per meter change would have on the biosphere.

These scenarios have been developed by the same means humans have planned for their future since we first started keeping history: by observing past events and projecting that process of development into the future. It is entirely linear. Pattern recognition.

Granted, when you are projecting an observed exponential rate of growth into the future (such as a doubling rate for CO2 concentration, which can be taken from Keeling’s Mauna Loa data) at some point the curve turns a corner and rockets upward until the distinction between linearity and non-linearity becomes moot. Like a broken clock, even linear models will be right occasionally in a non-linear world. What the IPCC models do not do, and cannot do, is predict the geobiological results of non-linear change. That’s unknowable.

 

 

 

    [T]he present anthropogenic carbon release rate is unprecedented during the past 66 million years. We suggest that such a ‘no-analogue’ state represents a fundamental challenge in constraining future climate projections.

— Zeebe, R., A. Ridgwell, and J. Zachos. 2016. Anthropogenic Carbon Release Rate Unprecedented during the Past 66 Million Years. Nature Geoscience 9:325–29.

 

 

 

Observed decline in global sea ice to Jan 2017

A second problem is that the RCPs only look from 2005 to 2100, a little less than a century. Consequently, they do not consider what changes may occur before Earth’s systems may recover equilibrium with the new forcings, a process that can require millennia. For example, estimates of global average sea level rise were recently revised to 2 meters this century, based on observations of ice loss in Antarctica. Those studies did not include observed loss of ice in Greenland and so the revision is still too low. And yet, we know from the geologic record and the equations of thermodynamics that equilibrium for present concentrations of GHGs take global sea level to about 23 m (75 feet) higher than today and average global temperature to about 17 degrees C (30 F) warmer. (Goreau, T.J.F., 2016. Regenerative Development for Rapid Stabilization of CO2 and Climate at Safe Levels, Soil Carbon Alliance White Paper). Even applying the ECPs, the equilibrium state will not likely be achieved by 2300. It could take a few thousand years.

The only thing holding this global tsunami back is the cold depth of the deep blue sea. Deep sea holds around 95% of the heat in the climate system. It is the biosphere’s thermal battery. The deep sea is now just above freezing, but it is warming. If we stopped adding GHGs today, it would take about 1600 years for the ocean to stop warming. Additions are not slowing down however — they are speeding up.

Implicit in the failure of the IPCC to model non-linear dynamics and long-term equilibrium is the gap in information being communicated to decisionmakers regarding the potential for the unexpected. One “known unknown” is the capacity of critical failures to cascade complimentary forcings. Any sound policy response should be building resilience and antifragility to buffer against these unknowns. Employ nature as a hedge. Instead, nature is being rapidly removed and in its place we are being sold risky geoengineering schemes.


IPCC prides itself on taking the conservative approach and being non-alarmist, but it does not offer hedges. To the contrary, it makes grand speculations based on science fiction. The most recent annual reports assume that as we pass some as yet unknown threshold of political pain, presumedly around mid-Century, human civilization will implement large scale CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) and begin pulling legacy carbon back from the atmosphere.

Anyone who has seriously studied this assumption (the US National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society, for instance) has concluded it is one part wishful thinking and 9 parts fairy dust.

CCS does not exist.

Experiments at putting liquefied carbon dioxide into geological storage have been both horrendously expensive and remarkably ineffective — leaking back to the atmosphere relatively quickly. The technology only holds promise for those unwilling to crunch the numbers. In that camp are most of the national delegations to the UN climate talks and much of the business world.

Technological fixes, after all, would be so much easier than systemic social change.

 

 

 

    Of the 400 scenarios that have a 50% or better chance of no more than 2°C warming . . . 344 assume the successful and large-scale uptake of negative-emission technologies. Even more worryingly, in all 56 scenarios without negative emissions, global emissions peak around 2010 . . . In plain language, the complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of meeting the 2°C target work on the basis of either an ability to change the past, or the successful and large-scale uptake of negative-emission technologies.

— Anderson, K. 2015. “Duality in Climate Science.” Nature Geoscience 8:898–900.

Over the next few months, this weekly blog will sketch our manifesto. We will try to set forward a multitrack approach that has a realistic chance of reversing climate change within the short window of time required. It is no secret — it does it by building resilience and letting nature do the heavy lifting.

Motivating this change is another matter. It is our view, born of our experience, that nothing short of extreme social change is capable of relieving the existential crisis of climate change and nothing short of extreme crisis will be capable of motivating that kind of extreme social change. If we learned anything from 2016, it is that people are clamoring for change.

So, buckle your seatbelts. We are going to crash. What it looks like on the other side of that crash, however, is utterly charming. It is not like being hit by Conor McGregor and going down hard in the first round. It is more like a snowboarder’s crash in powder or a kiteboarder on water. You can get back up.

We need not fear the power zone, but we should be cautious as we approach.

 

A Power Zone Manifesto

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 8, 2017

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Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

" The physical requirements are not negotiable. They cannot be bargained down, discounted, or put on a layaway plan."

 

Fire in the New Valley, Egypt – PlanetLab

2016 was a year for revolutions. Really it was only a continuation of the Tunisian Spring that began in 2010 or, even before that, the Arab labor strikes that ran from 2006 to 2008, followed by insurgencies and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, civil uprisings in Bahrain and Egypt, large street demonstrations in Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman and Sudan and minor protests in Djibouti, Mauritania, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the Western Sahara, then the 2008 financial crash, Occupy, the collapse of Greece, the Ukrainian civil war, Brazil, Venezuela, Turkey, many more and eventually Brexit and Trump. A major slogan of the demonstrators in the Arab world was Ash-sha`b yurid isqat an-nizam ("the people want to bring down the regime"). It applied equally well to Brexit and Trump.
 
 It is no coincidence that all this revolutionizing started with the crash of the world’s energy pyramid in 2005 and the climate chickens coming home to roost about the same time. It has been papered over by financial fictions in the West (Ponzinomics), but 2005 marked the start of the long emergency and the decidedly different times in which we now live. Historic, concurrent and rapid state failures in the Middle East, Northwest Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Europe and North America are either coming, or have already arrived. This week we are witnessing the implosion of México, next week it could be Japan.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

 

— Yeats (1919)


In Failing States, Collapsing Systems (Springer 2017), Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes:

Yet while policymakers and media observers have raced to keep up with events, they have largely missed the biophysical triggers of this new age of unrest – the end of the age of cheap fossil fuels, and its multiplying consequences for the Earth’s climate, industrial food production, and economic growth.

What we are about to undertake is to write a prescription. Essentially, over the next 10 or 12 weeks, we are going to write a book comprised of a string of these blog posts, chapter by chapter. We intend to lay out the whole philosophy of the change required, and then describe, in mechanical detail, not only what must be done, but how it can be accomplished without bloodshed but with plenty of gaity, song and dance. We are calling this our Power Zone Manifesto.
 
 

Power Zone: A kite wind window is the area where the kite can fly. This is a three-dimensional semi-dome. In the wind window there are three components: the power zone, the intermediate zone and the edge of the wind window. When you can feel the wind in your back, you will find the power zone lying in front of you. In the picture you see the red and orange colored areas where this is indicated. This is the part where the kite catches wind the most and thus where the kite generates the most power. A Power zone is a risk zone where you should go with caution, but this does not mean it’s dangerous. It’s a learning process on how to use it.


 

Manifesto: (1620, Italian, from manifestare — denunciation, and Latin, manifestus) a written statement that describes the policies, goals, and opinions of a person or group

— Mirriam-Webster  


We are embarking, with this first installment of the New Year, on a journey together. We are sending a kite into the power zone. Our subject is climate change, but more importantly, civilizational change. The two are a coupled pair, like matter and anti-matter. Not everyone understands that yet, or appreciates the gravity of the situation, and that is unfortunate but okay. The full horror will reveal itself gradually, in fits and starts, and in times and places not of our choosing. Here, in 2017, we take it on faith that we still have options. That faith could be entirely misplaced  but from the available evidence we cannot say either way — the climate juggernaut is in motion but perhaps still reversible. Faith gives us agency. Apostasy does not. We are creatures that exercise agency as an inherited condition. Take that away and we psychologically shatter, wither and die. We need to feel we have choices. We need to be able to exercise will.
 
So, feeling the wind at our back, we edge the kite closer to the power zone. 
 

Escondida Mine, Chile, PlanetLab

It has been said that what distinguishes homo from other animals is our ability to make tools. We disagree. Other apes make tools. A crow uses a stick dabbed with honey to catch ants. A humpback whale, having neither hands nor feet, may fashion a bubble net to snare its lunch, humming a song of its own composition as it reels in the harvest. 
 
Perhaps one thing that distinguishes homo from other animals is our ability to accumulate knowledge culturally, and to do so more rapidly than, say, the lessons passed by each generation of she-wolves to their young, or the nuanced dances of honey bees.

Climate change is occurring so rapidly now, and with such apparent acceleration, that it forces us to go beyond even our high rates of cultural cataloging. We do not have the luxury of slow, generational change. Already born are children who will experience an Earth four or five degrees warmer than it is right now, maybe even much hotter. 

Graeme Taylor, in A Realistic (Holistic) Approach to Climate Mitigation, World Future Review 2016, Vol. 8(3) 141–161, writes:

In general, a realistic climate mitigation strategy must (1) clarify the requirements for a safe global climate, (2) develop a viable strategy for managing critical risks and ensuring safe outcomes (e.g., a multitrack approach capable of both accelerating change within existing institutions and catalyzing systemic transformation), (3) progressively build scientific and political support for this strategy, and (4) develop national and international alliances to educate, encourage, and pressure decisionmakers at all levels to take effective action.


Diplomats and politicians have been slow to come to agreement about the requirements for averting catastrophic climate change. Rather than clarify, they have generally done everything possible to obscure. Scientists, by contrast, have been gradually moving into consensus for the last century or more and now are at nearly complete unanimity, with piercing clarity. 
 

In broad stroke, to reestablish the relatively stable climate of the last 10,000 years, the Holocene epoch, we must restore the relationship between energy arriving and leaving Earth’s land, oceans and atmosphere.
 
By any reasonable measure, we are outside the zone of safety already.
The physical requirements to return to a safe climate zone are these:
 

  1. Humans must stop adding carbon to the atmosphere (and thereby to the oceans);
  2. We must stop throwing off the balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and other critical cycles that maintain photosynthetic equilibrium and the energy balance of the Earth in relation to the Sun;
  3. We must reverse desertification;
  4. We must arrest the degradation of biodiversity;
  5. We must restore the naturally regenerative systems and allow them to heal the damage that has been done.


These five physical requirements are not negotiable. They cannot be bargained down, discounted, or put on a layaway plan. This creates a dilemma for human societies, because, as far back as our emergence from the past ice age and the adoption of agriculture, we have been marking progress by measures that result in the precise opposite of these requirements. 

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, at least a third attributable to agriculture, is on track to peak after 2050 at 600 ppm, more than double the Holocene mean. But agriculture was only made possible by the advent of the gentle Holocene.

Agriculture made us sedentary, created a system of division of the commons and private property, installed capitalism (to borrow and lend lands and seed and to apportion risks and profits) and militarism (to protect property, stored harvests and contract rights), codified laws beyond the moral variety handed down on tablets from God, and gave rise to cities and monumental state architectures.

Could it be that to meet the five requirements we next need to undo all that? Is that even possible?

This is what regime change looks like

Taylor’s second point is more difficult to address than his third and fourth. We have been building political support the same way we built the scientific support, only much more slowly. National and international alliances have been forged, across all parts of civil society, and those continue to exert pressure on decisionmakers. To find “a multitrack approach capable of both accelerating change within existing institutions and catalyzing systemic transformation,” however, is a much bigger ask.

Taylor correctly summarizes the state of international negotiations:

Critics argue that the Paris Agreement failed to deal with many crucial issues. These include assessing and managing the real risks and costs of climate change; defining greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration safety limits; determining a time frame for emissions to peak; stopping fossil fuel subsidies; imposing carbon pollution taxes; limiting both fossil fuel supply and demand; developing clean substitutes for nonelectrical uses of fossil fuel energy; ensuring that climate change costs are borne equitably by rich and poor nations; reducing resistance to climate mitigation through developing alternative, nonpolluting uses for fossil fuels; and planning the transformation of the global political economy into a sustainable system.

***  

Because it does not take a holistic, precautionary risk management approach to climate modeling, it does not recognize that biophysical limits and timelines are nonnegotiable, and that passing critical thresholds creates the potential for systemic failure or state change. For instance, the Paris Agreement does not place safety limits on atmospheric CO2 and other GHG concentrations, an absolute cap on ocean and atmospheric temperature increases, an absolute cap on ocean acidification, or a specified timeline for reducing GHG emissions.
None of these deficiencies was corrected in Marrakech, nor are they expected to be corrected in COP-23 in Bonn next year. This does not make the UNFCCC multi-stakeholder process useless, it just means it is very slow. Like climate itself, it moves in fits and spurts. We can agree: it is probably not up to the challenge posed by exponential chaos.


 

Plutonium Valley, Nevada Test Site, PlanetLab

If you are toying with some of these ideas, before you throw in the towel and say its hopeless, lets start by naming the deluding passions.

The world is not easily divided between those who deny climate change is a problem and those content to criticize the political stalemate as the karma of capitalism. Nor is it easily divided between those who assume that governments have the matter under control and those that believe the AI singularity will deal with it by dint of human ingenuity.

There is a spectrum of opinion out there. One may overlap with another, or the roles reverse without warning. What is “conservative” actually? What is “liberal?”

 

Reframing Reality


One might think from the plain definition of the word that conservatives are those who seek to protect and “conserve” the resources that confer wealth upon societies. Those would be things like soil, water, clean air, biodiversity and a system of social contracts that prevents despoliation of the commons. And yet, whether you are speaking of conservatives in the US, UK, Europe or somewhere else, they all have in common a disdain for these very things, and are doing everything possible to use up, trash, and deregulate the expropriation of resources while at the same time relaxing restrictions on pollution and habitat destruction.

On the flip side of that coin we have the liberals — like deer in the headlights when it comes to net energy and peak everything. “Liberal” should mean broad-minded, generous, and progressive. Instead, in an era that screams for rapid build-down of over-extended economies, liberals champion expansion, whether it be programs to resettle, educate and empower refugees, conferring rights to “sustainable development” on non-industrialized, rapidly overpopulating countries or sending out a high-tech military empire in search of the final drops of fossil sunlight in order to sustain the nonnegotiable.

Caught between these polar conflicts are masses of sheeple, running this way and that, trying to escape the pull of the power zone. Knowing that Ash-sha`byurid isqat an-nizam  is the dominant sentiment, regimes are running scared, whether they are regimes of government, economics, academia, or science. Regime change is in vogue. The world has become a free-fire zone.

Cooler heads will eventually prevail. Some pain may have to be experienced first. A change is coming, and next week we will continue to tease out some of its outlines.

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

A Journey to Standing Rock

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Eric Lewis

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 1, 2017

PeakSurfer

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"This story was sent to us on the day before Christmas by Eric Lewis. It seemed like the best way to end one year and start another, or to end one era and begin a new one."

 

 

For a couple of months prior to my trip I had been working on my Facebook Page, Frackfree Tennessee, trying to assemble every news story out there about Standing Rock in one place in order to spread the word. I also got involved in organizing shipments to Standing Rock and raising money to fund them. I began to get to know the people working on the issue and to talk to those who had made the Journey.  Some Middle Tennessee Standing Rock supporters had a meeting at my house. “When are you going?” people would ask me. Then it came together in a matter of four days.

Michael, Lynn, and I set out on December 1st for Standing Rock. We rented a four-wheel drive, high-clearance pickup truck because we were told that we would encounter mud and ice. We were glad we did. We managed to raise $5,000 in four days. On board we carried a wood stove, a new chain saw, a cooler full of donated meat, $500 worth of herbal remedies, and lots of food. We made the thousand-mile trek in 24 hours.

According to plan we went straight to the home of a Lakota family that Michael had gotten to know on a previous trip. Frank and Rochelle Bullhead were our gracious hosts for the next four days and even though we did not sleep at the camp, we found ourselves right in the middle things. Frank and Rochelle were central in the various “actions” over the past few months. Frank showed us where he had been shot with rubber bullets and bean bags and described how the police had jabbed him in the kidney, the only one he had left, and arrested him; they put a number on his arm and put him in a dog cage. The Morton County army sprayed them with water in 25-degree weather. Rochelle wore her traditional dress and faced down the national guard on numerous occasions. Both had been sprayed a number of times with mace, pepper spray and tear gas while praying.

We went to the camp shortly after our arrival. My first impression of the camp was one of awe and excitement; it was huge and full of life. Tents and tipis and yurts,  Indian youth on horseback, drums and whoops, people of every description setting up camp, a line of cars and buses that poured in all day long.  Three thousand veterans and a host of new water protectors swelled the population from four thousand to over twelve thousand. The energy in the camp was electric.

The line of flags along the road represented the 350 indigenous tribes who had made the journey from all over the world, from South America to Alaska, from Hawaii to Siberia. This was unprecedented, and many of these tribes had been enemies in the past. What they had in common was the threat of exploitation by energy extraction companies and polluters who have made their billions at the expense of indigenous people. As each tribe arrived they did their dances and were welcomed in prayer ceremonies. The site of so many different colorful flags was awe inspiring.

There were challenges ahead, of course. The infrastructure was not set up for these numbers, and the strain on the organizers was beginning to show. Many newcomers had arrived in small two-wheel drive cars and Michael and I found ourselves pushing cars and trucks that were getting stuck on Facebook Hill. We met one large group of young people from Chicago who were just getting off their bus and were pretty sure they had just landed on the moon. They intended to spend the night in their bus and did not seem very warmly dressed. Being from Chicago myself I thought I had seen winter, but later I saw what a North Dakota winter was like.

Facebook Hill, so-named because it was one of the few places you could get a signal, had a great view of the camp.  One of four camps, Oceti Sakowin was growing by leaps and bounds.  From there you could see that tents were set up amid several frozen ponds in the flood plain of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers. Come Spring most of the camp would be under water. We met a man there who was charging his cell phone on a stationary bike. And we were told to beware of the helicopter that was omnipresent overhead. No one was really sure if it was the helicopter or the semi-trailer peaking over the hill that was intercepting data and draining cell phone batteries: 21st century cyber warfare.

Frank and Rochelle’s son-in-law, Isaacs, was head of the Oceti Sakowin camp.  The tall, very spiritual 28-year old warrior explained to us the arrangement of tipis at the center of the camp. This was the sacred Lakota Council Fire Circle that had not been seen in a hundred and fifty years. The seven tipis were in the shape of buffalo horns and represented the different branches of the Lakota tribe. Each tipi was occupied by a representative of the different branches. Isaacs, who had been staying in the camp since its inception, represented the Lakotas of the Great Plains. In the center was the fire circle and a campfire that had been burning for eight months and had fire keepers that never left who were very serious about their jobs. The field around the Fire Circle was kept free of tents and we were told not to stand on the east side of the fire where the buffalo horns came together because that is the direction the spirits came from.

That first night we made supper over our camp stove and sat around the Council Fire talking to people and listening to organizers discussing strategy. We heard that earlier that week a gift had been delivered to the Morton County Sheriff’s office, a peace offering of food and supplies. The Sheriff had sent out a plea for local residents to help them because all their money had been spent “protecting” the pipeline. The water protectors wanted to share the bounty of the camp.

Many of the veterans who had arrived seemed ready to tangle with the Morton County Sheriff and the national guard. The elders and camp organizers met and voted to refrain from marching in the morning in order to keep peace. It was rumored that the Sheriff had moved one mile back from the barricaded bridge, evidently wanting to avoid a confrontation. Things were happening fast.

Michael, Lynn, and I decided to go to the Prairie Knights Casino for a cup of tea and to check out that scene. Eight miles south, the casino was filled with people from the camp, easily recognized by their heavy winter gear. Being on the reservation and controlled by the Lakota, the casino proved to be an invaluable resource: a place to get warm, grab a hot meal, and get cell phone reception. All the rooms were full, mostly with gamblers on weekends, but the camps had reserved a few. When the snow storm hit two days later over a thousand campers took refuge in the hallways.

After spending a cozy night on the Bullheads’ floor we returned to camp. The place was buzzing with activity. Cars and buses continued to pour in. The veterans were organizing for some sort of action and the horse-mounted young security force was herding people assembling on the road back to camp. There was to be a prayer meeting of all twelve thousand people at the main fire. As we were heading in that direction we came upon the Bullheads. Frank, with tears in his eyes, said two words: “We won.” The Army Corps had revoked the permit for the pipe line!

What ensued was joyous celebration on a grand scale. Hugs and whoops and big smiles everywhere. The drums were beating, everyone was dancing and singing and praying. Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II gave the announcement and then invited the elders to pray at the Council Fire. One Indian told me that the tribes had not won such a victory since Custer. And it just happened to be Custer’s birthday!

The Council Fire circle was a powerful gathering of chiefs and elders. It was both celebratory and solemn at the same time. Stories were told, reminders given of the importance of the victory over the pipeline company. And of course no one was under the illusion that the fight was over. This was only a chapter in the ongoing struggle to preserve the earth and all its inhabitants.

That evening we once again met with friends in the cafeteria of the casino. A snowstorm was on the horizon and getting around would soon be difficult. That night, sleeping on the Bullhead’s floor, we got our first hint of what was coming as the wind howled and whistled outside. I had never experienced unrelenting 30-50 mile an hour winds and total white-out conditions. I got pinned against the truck trying to fold our large tarp! As Michael said, “Feels like the wind could just cut you in half.”

We tried to make it back to camp or to the casino in our four-wheel drive but gave up after a couple of miles. The Lakota people said that this is what you do in a blizzard: hole up and wait. And so we spent the next 28 hours snowed in, eight Indians and three whites in a small house. It proved to be pretty enjoyable as we shared cooking and cleaning duties and got to know each other. We watched movies, including a family favorite, Avatar. Albert Red Bear, a Lakota religious leader who had dropped by the day before, was full of stories. Reba was delightful and a great cook. Lynn gave “readings” with her Earth Cards. Dawson, the seven-month-old, was so good. There were endless discussions about the day’s events and the future of the camp.

Unfortunately, we were under a deadline to high-tail it home. When the sun peaked out the next afternoon we decided to make a run for it. Albert was headed back to Pine Ridge and would lead us south. The snow was blowing sideways so thick it was like driving through a cloud, but all I had to do was follow our Lakota guide. By the time we got to South Dakota, the snowstorm was behind us.

That night we spent in another native-owned casino in Iowa. There we met a couple of Indians who had just come back from the camp. When we asked how it had been going, instead of a horror story about the snow, they said, “We had fun.” Another lesson…

And so, after another marathon drive, we made it back to Tennessee where it was a balmy 33 degrees. All three of us are still processing what we experienced on the Great Plains. Part of my process is to write this. And to organize meetings where we can share our story of Standing Rock, as we were asked to do by our Lakota friends. We are thinking of returning in the Spring with tools and money and solar panels to help fix up the Bullhead house. If the camps are still there we will be joining the Water Protectors along the banks of the mighty Missouri River. 




 

 

 

Stand With Standing Rock

Two Lakota families from the Standing Rock reservation are coming to Tennessee! They want to share with us their stories from the #NoDAPL struggle and to sing and dance and pray with us! Frank and Rochelle Bullhead were in the front lines at Standing Rock many times. Isaacs Weston was Head of Camp at Oceti Sakowin. He is accompanied by his wife Mimi and baby Dawson. They will be at five locations in ten days, including Chattanooga, Sewanee, Franklin, The Farm and Nashville.

Nashville: January 8th, Friends Meeting House, 530 26th Ave. N., 7:15pm.
Suggested donation: $10+

Please join us and help support the ongoing fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and meet these brave and powerful brothers and sisters who are leading the way in saving our planet!

For more information contact:
 Eric Lewis

 

 

FrackFreeTennessee

 

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