Albert Bates

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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Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

"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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" 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

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 1, 2017

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"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

 

The Haft of His Axe

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Published on Peak Surfer on December 25, 2016

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In Nanjing they have banned gas and diesel powered motorbikes, scooters, and trike-cabs or trike-trucks and replaced them with electrics. While most vehicles are retrofits, new electric bikes and trikes are sold in showrooms and all around the city repair shops, battery stores, and parts dealers are easy to find. As a result, the air is fresher, the streets are clean, and the city is much quieter. It is a pleasure to sit in an outdoor café without having to breathe two-stroke engine fumes or listen to their din. They have not yet banned petrol-fueled cars and buses, but that can’t be far away, once they have the replacements lined up.

We confess Nanjing has been on our bucket list since we read Gavin Menzies’ flawed but enticing 1421: The Year China Discovered The World. We wanted to see the Nanjing Shipyards where Admiral Zheng He had constructed the great treasure fleet that traveled the seven seas by discovering an ingenious method of calculating lines of latitude, marking and recording the timing of eclipses and the transit of Jupiter’s moons at different observation points.

 

 

Zheng He Shipyard Park, Nanjing

Whether Zheng reached the Americas is still disputed, and the official Chinese version has him going no farther than the Cape of Good Hope, but it is undisputed that he built a floating city of wooden ships like nothing the world had ever seen, before or since. Six hundred years ago the Ming armada weighed anchor on the first of seven voyages almost a century before Christopher Columbus or Vasco da Gama. If a 1763 replica of a 1418 chart is any evidence, Zheng’s geographers accurately charted the entire world’s coastlines. Each continent of the world has correct shape, mass, latitude and longitude, and position. All oceans of the world are displayed, along with many major rivers (the Potomac to present-day Washington DC) and innumerable islands.

 

 

 

Replica of Troop Ship

Decades later, the ships of Columbus and da Gama combined would have fit on the main deck of a single vessel of Zheng’s fleet. One such design, likely a troop transport at 71.1-meters (233.3 ft), was reconstructed in 2010 and is in the old drydock of Longjiang shipyards. Its stability was created by a V-shaped hull, a long keel, and heavy ballast. The keel is made from wooden beams bound together with iron hoops. In stormy weather, holes in the prow would partially fill with water when the ship pitched forward, lessening the turbulence.

National Geographic in June 2005 wrote:

 

 

 

Treasure Ship drydocks

The greatest seafarer in China's history was raised in the mountainous heart of Asia, several weeks' travel from the closest port. More improbable yet, Zheng was not even Chinese — he was by origin a Central Asian Muslim. Born Ma He, the son of a rural official in the Mongol province of Yunnan, he had been taken captive as an invading Chinese army overthrew the Mongols in 1382. Ritually castrated, he was trained as an imperial eunuch and assigned to the court of Zhu Di, the bellicose Prince of Yan. Within 20 years the boy who had writhed under Ming knives had become one of the prince's chief aides, a key strategist in the rebellion that made Zhu Di the Yongle (Eternal Happiness) emperor in 1402. Renamed Zheng after his exploits at the battle of Zhenglunba, near Beijing, he was chosen to lead one of the most powerful naval forces ever assembled.

We used Trip Advisor to find Zheng He’s museum at the shipyard. We took an iPhone screen shot of the Chinese characters for its address and showed that to the taxi driver, who agreed to take us there for about $7. It was an hour ride across the city, made nearly twice that long by an official motorcade with helicopter escorts that forced us off the six-lane expressway and onto the crowded back-streets, but we got there eventually and the driver agreed to wait for us while we toured the museum.

That museum, really a large and quite tranquil nature park in the middle of the city, was one of our best experiences in Nanjing. You enter through an ornate gate and pass through a large plaza with roller skaters and hot dog carts until you reach the edge of the canals, originally constructed by Zheng in the early 15th Century to get his ships from their cradle and crane assembly lines to the Yangtze River and thence down to the ocean.

Along the stone and wooden pathways are small canal-side plazas where people come to do taiji, unleash their children to run after pigeons, or sit beneath cherry trees and watch ducks.

Zheng was a great-great-great-grandson of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a Persian who served in the administration of the Mongol Empire and was the governor of Yunnan during the early Yuan dynasty. His grandfather and father had the title hajji suggesting that they had made the pilgrimage to Mecca and also that young Zheng knew Arabic. His later names of Ma Sanbao (三保 ("Three Protections") and Sanbao Taijian (“Three Treasures”) suggest he may have also had Buddhist training.

 

 

 

Hardwood drydocks >600 years old

Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored seven naval expeditions. Vast forests were cut in Southeast Asia to supply the cranes, masts, mahoganies and teaks required not just for the ship but for the dry docks. Zheng He's first voyage departed 11 July 1405, from Suzhou and consisted of a fleet of 317 ships holding almost 28,000 crewmen. To the lands he visited, the Admiral presented gifts of gold, silver, porcelain, and silk; he returned with ostriches, zebras, camels, giraffes and ivory. On his 4th voyage he brought envoys from thirty states to pay their respects at the Ming court. One stone stelle says he visited more than 3,000 nations.

During the reign of the Yung-Lo Emperor Zhu Di, the Ming fleet consisted of:

 

 

 

  • More than 250 Nine-masted "treasure ships" (宝船, Bǎo Chuán or Pao chuan), ranging from 400 to 600 feet long (from one to two football fields) by 170 feet (55 m) beam (more than the width of a football field) and manned by 400 to 1000 crew. Contrast this with a Ford or Nimitz class aircraft carrier, with only 1/3 more length and a more narrow beam.
  • Eight-masted “Equine ships” (馬船, Mǎ Chuán), about 103 m (338 ft) by 42 m (138 ft) (roughly the size of a football field), carrying horses and tribute goods and repair material for the fleet.
  • More than 400 seven-masted supply ships (粮船, Liáng Chuán), 78 m (256 ft) by 35 m (115 ft), containing staples.
  • Some 400 six-masted troop transports (兵船, Bīng Chuán), 67 m (220 ft) by 25 m (82 ft).
  • 1350 five-masted 50-meter Fuchuan warships (福船, Fú Chuán), Zheng He’s destroyer escorts.
  • 1350 eight-oared 37-meter patrol boats (坐船, Zuò Chuán).
  • Water tankers (水船, Shuǐ Chuán) with at least 1 month's supply of fresh water, especially for the horses.

Zheng He set sail with anywhere from 300 to 800 of these ships in each voyage. Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta both described the fleet’s largest ships carrying 500 to 1,000 passengers in their translated accounts. Niccolò Da Conti, who witnessed the fleet in Southeast Asia, estimated the Treasure Ships at 2000 tons.

Zheng He's tomb in Nanjing has been repaired and a small museum built next to it. We did not see the tomb, and anyway he is reported to have been buried at sea, but we traced the routes of the slips where the ships had launched, amazed to see teak timbers still in the ground and dating to that period. We went to the statue of Zheng He and visited the windlasses, steering wheels, and rudders from his ships, and two 2.5 m (8 foot) iron anchors weighing over a thousand pounds each, Walking among bronze statues of the shipyard workers, we watched a child play the giant ship’s bell from the Admiral’s flagship.

 

 

 

Ships Rudder

Zheng He reshaped Asia. The maritime history in the 15th century was essentially the Zheng He story — a story placing peaceful trade and cultural exchange above conquest and cultural destruction.

Leaving the museum we rushed back to the hotel for a rendezvous with our student guides who were taking us to meet Professor Pan Genzing, top biochar researcher at Nanjing Agricultural University. Professor Pan had arranged a welcoming supper for the distinguished members of the board of the International Biochar Initiative and because we were in China at the time, and on the board of the US Biochar Initiative, we were fortunate to have been invited.

Over the next two days we were also invited to observe the IBI board meeting, attend the unveiling of the Asian Biochar Center, take a field trip to a biochar research station, and speak at an international biochar seminar, where we gave a short slide talk on cool microenterprises and the drawdown economics of cool villages. All of these events were accompanied by elegant feasts of pretty much anything with wings, tails, fins or carapaces, served nearly whole and whirling around on huge lazy-susans. We were reminded of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

 

 

 

 


While this cuisine is quite different than what we enjoyed at Wu Ling (and had almost no rice), it demonstrated the scope and breadth of Chinese culture, enriched in so many ways 600 years earlier by the voyages of Admiral Zheng He.

Less than a day in paradise,
And a thousand years have passed among men.
While the pieces are still being laid on the board,
All things have changed to emptiness.
The woodman takes the road home,
The haft of his axe has rotted in the wind:
Nothing is what it was but the stone bridge
Still spanning a rainbow, cinnabar red.

— Meng Chiao (9th Century)

Nanjing, October 19, 2016

As this is the fourth and final memoir in this series, we thought it best that we step back and paint the broader context.

 

 

Annette Cowie at Nanjing International Biochar Symposium

As we described in our book, The Financial Collapse Survival Guide and Cookbook (2d Ed. 2014), the Bretton Woods economic system of the West is poised at the precipice of collapse. Historically, this is normal. All civilizations cycle between growth and retraction, and when growth has been exponential, contraction will track the reverse curve. We are passing over the peak at the top of the roller coaster.

When the first cracks in the delusion of infinite fossil energy consumerist cornicopia appeared in the form of the 2008 market crash they were papered over with new and bigger debt. Money was fiated out of thin air by an exponential expansion of government lending. China sees that.

 

 

L-R: Pan, Lehmann, Renaud, Miles, Sohi

Russia sees that. Europe is in a condition of Keynesian extend and pretend. The United States simply doesn’t discuss the subject. It imagines that in a pinch it can just lend again. And again. 2008 is viewed as a liquidity crisis, solved by creating more liquidity, ie: debt.

The new guys on the block, knowing nothing of petrocollapse or ponzinomics, figure that the one thing the US has going for it still, empire wise, is its military power. So like Roman Senators, the architects of the Third Reich, or the Mayan Overlords, the Pentagon crazies continue along a course of conquest, intent on sucking more resources to the center from the periphery to fuel even greater military expansion. Since the early 90s the US has been busy ringing China and Russia with more than 400 military bases and modernizing its now dangerously archaic nuclear arsenal.

 

 

Electric conversion

China, for its part, has had a quite adequate supply of atomic rocketeers on low alert for the last 40 years. Their missiles and warheads were in separate buildings. After the recent US election, that changed. China has moved to high alert, mounted its warheads and prepared to fuel its missiles on short notice. Both Russia and China have said they do not seek war but, echoing Bismarck, "If you want war, you shall have it.”

 

 

 

Vegetables growing in sand at China Biochar Research Center

In 1966 Robert F. Kennedy said, “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May you live in interesting times.’” He was not far wrong, although the proverb was not Chinese. In Cantonese, "interesting" can mean dangerous or turbulent, therefore the phrase could, in Chinese, be something of a curse.

Make no mistake: the empire in decline is the United States. The empire in ascent is China. But both suffer the fatal disease of addiction to exponential fossil-fuel based consumer culture and the cancer of biological degradation of the ecosystems required, not just to sustain empire, but for human life on the planet. Any ascent by China that adheres to the Western growth model will be short-lived.

 

 

 

Yellow Bikes, Nanjing  

China is the world's top holder of U.S Treasuries — $1.16 trillion as of September — and any decision to dump those would have impact. President-Elect Trump, who has financed his personal fortune by borrowing heavily and plans to do the same for military and infrastructure spending, will surely understand that. He may want to trot out the big guns in order to make offers that cannot be refused.

A clash of declining empires is not something to look forward to, especially when both are armed to the teeth with suicidal weapons and at least one side thinks they should be free to use those to get their way.

“I will have a military that’s so strong and powerful, and so respected, we’re not gonna have to nuke anybody,” Donald Trump told GQ. “It is highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely that I would ever be using them.”

 

 

 

Stephen Joseph and Annette Cowie

The Chinese, along with the rest of humanity, can only hope he is sincere. Given the choice between slow extinction later this century when warming passes 5-degrees C (while holding out for the possibility of rescue by a cadre of energized young emergency planetary technicians) or immediate, but nonetheless painful, death-by-atomic-holocaust, which would you choose? The pistol or the poison?

It is all so silly, and so unnecessary. Is there something in the water, or some worm eating away at our brains? Why are we behaving as if we actually deserve to go extinct? 


Chinese milennials are hip, intelligent, highly educated and well-traveled. They suffer a naïvete similar to their Western counterparts when discussion turns to the advanced state of climate change and the future availability of energy and other resources. To set them up as patsies for the ideological insecurities of USAnians is nuts. To engage China militarily is suicidal. Why can't we all just get along?

 

Ku

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Published on Peak Surfer on December 18, 2016

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"Most everyone in the class is starting to really “get” quantum entanglement and the ties between holistic management, the three permaculture directives, and How Wolves Change Rivers."

Even here in Xu Ling, where the air is relatively fresh, one needs to shower daily or the scalp itches. Yesterday we were asked in a class making Oregon cob whether you could use bean vines instead of straw. “Yes, but then it would not be Oregon cob. It would be Zhejiang cob,” we replied.

A woman from the Southwestern mountain region tells us she has only rock, not soil. “How do you store carbon in a place like that?” she asks. We ask where her rice comes from. “Far away,” she says. So we tell her that her yard would be a good place to build soil and store carbon. It is not a very satisfactory answer so later we find her and resume the conversation. We ask if her home has wooden doors and window shutters. It does. “That is stored carbon,” we say. We tell her that if she makes biochar and builds garden beds she can grow food almost anywhere and also store carbon. If she has a wood stove to heat her house and modifies it into a wood gasifier, she can be taking carbon out of the atmosphere while making fertilizer all winter. She could even get a little power for her house.

We didn’t bring along the Biolite so we have to settle for showing the Beaner and using the whiteboard to diagram how thermocouples make electricity. We find an old community kitchen wok and make biochar from dried bamboo splits, baking some potatoes while we do. We are informed that the Chinese word for “cool” is “ku.”

It is more than a little odd that some of these crafts have been so recently forgotten. In a recent study of composting practices for the State of Washington Department of Ecology, the authors recall the contributions of USDA scientist Frederick King:

 

 

 
Inoculating mushroom logs

The traditional farming practices of China, Japan and Korea recycled massive amounts of human waste, ash, crop residue and other biomass into agricultural fields. In 1909, the American agriculturalist F. H. King embarked on an eight-month tour of China, Japan and Korea in order to view and document agricultural practices. The resulting book, Farmers of Forty Centuries has become an agricultural classic. Part of King's purpose in the book was to contrast the enduring agriculture of Asia with what he viewed as destructive and wasteful practices then advocated by the US Department of Agriculture (Paull, J. 2011. The making of an agricultural classic: farmers of forty centuries or permanent agriculture in China, Korea and Japan, 1911-2011. Agricultural Sciences, 02(03), 175–180). King declared, "One of the most remarkable agricultural practices adopted by any civilized people is the centuries-long and well-nigh universal conservation and utilization of all human waste in China, Korea and Japan, turning it to marvelous account in the maintenance of soil fertility and in the production of food" (King, F. H. 1911.

Indoor Pyrolysis

Farmers of Forty Centuries. Dover, p. 193). As an indicator of the commercial value of this human waste he found that the city of Shanghai sold concessions to waste haulers, charging one contractor $31,000 in gold for the right to collect 78,000 tons of human waste for sale to farmers outside the city (p. 194). He found compost making to be a high art in Japan where prizes were offered in each county for the best compost. Winners at the county level went on to compete for a prize for best compost in the prefecture (p. 397). Although he did not specifically describe the use of charcoal in these composts, he observed that ash materials were added in large amounts. Moved by the thrift and care for conservation of nutrients that he observed on his travels, King expressed his frustration with the wasteful practices of his own country, "When we reflect upon the depleted fertility of our own older farm lands, comparatively few of which have seen a century's service, and upon the enormous quantity of mineral fertilizers which are being applied annually to them in order to secure paying yields, it becomes evident that the time is here when profound consideration should be given to the practices the Mongolian race has maintained through many centuries" (p. 193). Contrasting these Asian practices with those in America he said, "The rivers of North America are estimated to carry to the sea more than 500 tons of phosphorus with each cubic mile of water. To such loss modern civilization is adding that of hydraulic sewage disposal…" (p. 197).

 

Marshmallow Challenge

Makato Ogawa, who studied charcoal traditions in Japan, described how biochar has been in used in Asia since ancient times, and that rice husk charcoal has likely been used since the beginning of rice cultivation. Wood charcoal was not generally used in agriculture as it was too valuable as fuel. (Ogawa, M., and Okimori, Y. 2010. Pioneering works in biochar research, Japan. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 48(7), 489–500.)

Nor was mixing biochar into smelly wastes to remove the smell confined to Asia. "Poudrette" comes from a French term meaning "crumbs" or "powder," the main ingredient, after humanure, being powdered charcoal. As European city sanitary standards gradually improved, the contents of "dry closets" (as opposed to "water closets" that flowed into cesspools and sewers and thence to the river) were emptied and their contents hauled to the outskirts of cities and mixed with ashes, peat, gypsum, clay, lime and more charcoal. It seems likely this was also the origin of the dark earths of the Amazon.
 

“A dead rat, nicely buried in a cigar box so as to be surrounded at all points by an inch of charcoal powder, decays to bone and fur without manifesting any odor of putrefaction, so that it might stand on a parlor table and not reveal its contents to the most sensitive nostrils” (Unknown Author, The Garden, 1873).

 “Charcoal also possesses the property of absorbing and retaining the odoriferous and coloring principles of most organic substances… From this deodorizing property, charcoal is frequently mixed with night soil, and other decaying manures; which it keeps free from smell, and at the same time aids in preserving, by absorbing the gases which would otherwise escape.“ — A Cyclopedia of Agriculture (Morton, 1855)

Translation Team

Here in Xu Ling we are nearing the end of the weeklong ecological module. From the morning check-ins we know that most everyone in the class is starting to really “get” quantum entanglement and the ties between holistic management, the three permaculture directives, and the How Wolves Change Rivers film we showed. What is less clear is how they are going to be able to use this new understanding. The Chinese government is used to taking a long time to decide things and then ordering that they be done immediately, with near absolute powers of enforcement and draconian penalties. When we hear this we think of the IRS.

This exercise of raw power causes all manner of dislocations, as when the time-tested methods of organically farming these terraces for millennia were suddenly reversed by edicts from local authorities, requiring collection and “disposal” of all biowastes. That policy has reduced soil fertility and increased chemical dependencies, as well as burdening the already weak sewage treatment infrastructure.

Another example is when the Xu Ling labor force was suddenly uprooted and sent off to work in Apple and Microsoft gulags in Shenzhen. Now that these earnest young farmers know they must begin to rework the neglected hillsides to manage bamboo and mixed forests in order to restore biodiversity and save the valley’s fragile climate and water, will they be allowed?

We don’t know the answer to that, but we suspect they will. We are told Xi Jinping’s government plans to convert 5 billion square meters of Beijing reinforced concrete real estate into natural buildings. One of the students who has tracked China’s role in the Paris Agreement says that is probably the reason why. Another student has taken a Ianto Evans-style cob course from a US instructor named Leo. Leo apparently was pretty good because the kid knows his stuff. He could teach the builders that will be needed to transform that district in Beijing.

At first we enjoyed the simple diet here, which is predominantly vegan after the tastes of the ecovillage founders. But it began to wear thin after the first week of sameness.

There are more than 40 different kinds of tofu here, but we have to say the real Godsend for us was the kind that is fermented to taste like miso. Chinese are particular about their rice, and since they eat it three times a day we have found it passing strange that while tofu comes in all styles, textures, flavors and colors, rice comes in only two: fluffy and soupy. Never is any salt or other flavoring added. You are supposed to discern the subtle flavors in how rice is bred or grown in much the way a sommelier knows wines.

For us that little red cube was the perfect addition to bland, soupy rice. Our chopstick skills that we thought were pretty good (sushi being a favorite food for us) suddenly seemed pretty lame, as the mute testimony of our shirt-front confirmed. While we were dropping greasy asparagus tips and picking our lima beans from the lotus roots and slimy okra stir fries in our lap, our host Haichao was sipping soup with his chopsticks after the fashion of a kitten lapping milk from a bowl. Personal highpoint: the baked lotus tunas that look like sunchokes except that you are supposed to peel them before eating.

The second week we concluded the first permaculture teacher training workshop in rural Zhejiang and left behind a few dozen certified permaculture teachers. We travelled North to Nanjing to attend a seminar hosted by the International Biochar Initiative and the Asian Biochar Research Center at Nanjing Agricultural University. While living in a rustic mountain village has not been easy, spending time in a busy Chinese city is not something we are looking forward to.

On our final day we decide to visit the grandmother who is the village tofu maker and watch her perform her weekly ritual. She starts very early boiling the beans and skimming off the skins, then grinding the milk and bringing it back to a boil. For a small, frail woman with skin like leather, she refuses to let anyone help her as she moves heavy buckets and stirs her cauldrons. The boiling milk is ladled into a wooden basin and she doses it sparingly with a liquified potassium salt to get it to curdle. It takes several small adjustments of the curding agent before it begins to separate the way she wants, and then she ladles off the curds into her pail — an old 5-gallon metal paint can — and carries the full bucket of hot curd out to an alley, where she sets up the wooden press and lines it with a well-worn cheesecloth. After several more trips, the press is full and she squeezes the cloth and sets a wood lid on the press and a full bucket of whey to weight it down. The tofu will sit this way for perhaps a few hours to form a solid block, which she then comes back to invert onto a tabletop, unveil, and slice into half-kilo bricks. As we wait for the pressing, we look around her shop at the tools, the old Mao posters and calendars, an award of some kind from her younger days, and the barred windows that keep thieves from stealing her soybeans.

Seasons come seasons go
Good years bad years all flow
This tofu is excellent

— Xu Ling Village, Zhejiang, October 14, 2016

This is third in a continuing series.

 

Trophic Cascades

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Published on Peak Surfer on December 11, 2016

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"Chinese youth are starting to wish they had not been lured into where they find themselves. It is best for all our sakes to encourage that impulse."

  We were expecting 25 students but got 40, and on some days it even goes up to 50. Initially our hosts wanted to have a Permaculture Design Course but after we told them such an undertaking would require 2 weeks, including 72 hours of classroom time, and multiple co-instructors, they asked instead for a week-long introduction to the Ecological Key, part of the Ecovillage Design one-month curriculum offered by the Global Ecovillage Network and Gaia Education Associates. We helped author that module so we agreed, but then they needed to cut it to 6 days to factor in the national independence holiday and also asked if we could do an introduction to natural building as part of the course.

Reluctantly, we agreed, since it was only introductory workshop in any event, but then we had our expensive Japanese finishing trowel confiscated by airline security and lost our shiitake mushroom plug spawn to agricultural inspection in Beijing. Undeterred, we pushed on, arriving a day early to sleep off jet lag and get oriented to the venue.

An able team of young Xu Ling villagers and volunteers rushed about cleaning up an old hall in the center of town, laying in bulk food for the cooks, re-wiring everything and setting up wifi, a PA system with bluetooth microphones, and a big projection screen.

As we walked the steep stone steps of the village we saw essentially a ghost town. Eighty large family houses stood empty, abandoned to the elements. Skinny dogs picked through the central garbage bins, scattering plastics and bits of foil into the bubbling mountain brooks that wove through and under the ancient stone stairways. Chickens and ducks, apparently the only domestic animals raised for food here, wandered the streets and picked through scraps the dogs missed, or raided the kernels of corn laid out on cement terraces to dry.

The old townspeople looked favorably towards the arrival of young ecovillagers but knew all too well that they were gardening greenhorns, unused to the seasonal ebbs and flows, city kids with city addictions, so they tried not to get too involved with them, not expecting they would last long. How many winter mass starvations had they witnessed in their long and difficult lives?

The students begin to arrive, coming in from all four corners of the Middle Kingdom. We have a Mongolian student who shaves his head and wears the traditional topknot. We have several from the mountainous Southwest, along the Tibetan plateau, and some from North of Beijing where there are ecovillages being born on splendid and historic royal estates and former monastery grounds. The government is committed to assuring their success by giving them some of the best land in that part of China. Among the students are architects, ecovillage designers, professors, gardeners, post-grad ag students, city recycling activists and engineers. They come because either they support this back-to-the-land movement or they are getting serious about joining it.

Here in Xu Ling the land is not bad, just in need of TLC. The elderly farmers descend to their terraces every day and work them over with hoes and sickles. They bare the ground, again and again, a practice that destroys whatever microbiome is close to the surface and that somehow survived the heavy use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, federally subsidized and liberally applied. The health clinic, still bearing slogans from the Cultural Revolution, is shuttered and padlocked and people go to distant hospitals to die so it would be difficult to look at the chemical fallout of this style of agriculture in an epidemiological way.

After a day of introductions and a village tour, we tackle the harder subjects. We don’t have a subtitled version of the late Albert Bartlett’s famous lecture, so we recapitulate with the assist of our able translators. We put up the equations for doubling times on the board and tell the story of the mathematician who introduced the game of chess to the emperor. This tale resonates well with the daytime TV soaps in most parts of China — a mix of KungFu and Mandarin intrigue. The emperor was very pleased with the mathematician and asked what he would like in reward. “Oh nothing much, sire, only a few grains of rice will do. Just place one on the first square of the board, and then two on the next, four on the next, and so on, until you have covered the board.” The emperor thought him a very foolish man, thinking he had been prepared to offer great treasures but instead the man wanted only a few grains of rice.

“Well, just how much rice is that?” Bartlett had asked his college mathematics class. The answer was, once you got to the 64th square, it was more than 400 times the global rice harvest this year, and perhaps more rice than had ever been grown in all of human history.

Our Chinese students ponder this, as we begin to describe the exponential function in terms of various percent growth rates and doubling times. We point to a few commonly understood rates like coal mining or fish catch. Then we introduce the bacteria-in-a-bottle analogy and the point is hammered home. If you have a bacterium in a bottle and it doubles every minute and at the stroke of midnight the bottle is full, then at what point is the bottle half full? Answer: one-minute to midnight. And we ask, as did Bartlett, when the bottle was 7/8 blue sky, “just yearning for development,” how much time was left? Answer: 3 minutes. Did the bacteria realize they had a problem? Probably not. But suppose by the time the bottle was 1/4 full (2 minutes to midnight) they did, and sent out astronauts in search of more bottles, and were extraordinarily lucky and in the final minute those bacteria astronauts came back with three new bottles. How much time would they have now? Answer: 2 minutes. To go another minute they would need 4 more bottles, and so on.

One hardly needs to hammer home this analogy with the pollution problems being experienced throughout China, or the global Ponzinomic pyramid of financial debt from deadbeat creditors that is knocking at their door.

Stoneleigh and Ilargi tell us:

China property prices rose at the fastest pace on record in September, fueling fears of a market bubble in the world’s second-largest economy. Property prices climbed 11.2% on-year in September in 70 major cities while prices were up 2.1% from August, according to Reuters calculations using data from the National Bureau of Statistics. In August, prices rose 9.2% from a year ago. Home prices in the second-tier city of Hefei recorded the largest on-year gain at 46.8%, compared with on-year gains of 40.3% in August. Top August performer Xiamen posted an on-year rise of 46.5% against an increase of 43.8% in August. Prices in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing rose 34.1%, 32.7% and 27.8% on an annual basis respectively, according to Reuters.


Since 7% annual growth gives a 10-year doubling time, property values in Xiamen are currently doubling every 20 months. Want to invest?

We discuss with the class the concept of anti-fragility, as opposed to robust or resilient investments. Anti-fragile investments do well when things go south. Ecovillages are a good example. If you lose your net worth, you still have food security. If you produce a surplus in hard times, the world is your oyster. That leads to a discussion of organic gardening and soils.

After lunch we construct a compost pile near the kitchen. Our host community had been mixing organic wastes with the plastics and other non-renewables and just trucking it all down the mountain to the city landfill. We give our usual talk on epigenetic coevolution and quantum entanglement — we are our microbial selves — much to the consternation of a whole team of translators trying to keep up. We talk about the spiderwebs of biomes, fermentation, sick buildings, and end the day screening a subtitled version of The Man Who Planted Trees.

It was a lot to digest, but these kids are no dummies. They asked tough questions. They sat on the edge of their chairs. They got it.

When we think of the stereotypes of Red China that pass for most USAnians as good reasons to vote Republican, we had best remember that this giant over there is largely our doing now. They are starting to wish they had not been lured into where they find themselves. It is best for all our sakes to encourage that.

The fourth day began with a mixed blessing. Walking back uphill from breakfast — indistinguishable, really, from the other two meals of the day — and pining for a Starbucks double espresso, we heard the shouts of a farmer down in the terraces below. He was pointing up to the village, shouting, and running. We watched in amazement as this man in at least his sixties sprinted up the steep stone steps, his conical bamboo hat bobbing behind his head as he shouted and pointed. Turning our gaze to where he was pointing, we saw the column of black smoke rising from the center of the village while around us other elderly villagers were rushing uphill, some passing by us at a dead run up the steps, carrying empty pails and plastic dish basins.

When we reached the fire, huffing and puffing and feeling pain in our knees, the students were already there, organizing themselves into a long chain to pass buckets from one of the many streams or taps to positions surrounding the building. It was clear that the first building, which had been storing winter firewood, was a lost proposition, as flames extending up through the roof now reached twice the height of the building. The attention of our makeshift fire brigade, led by our young cadre of engineers and architects, shifted focus to the adjacent home, and started dousing the outer walls and roof of that with all the water that could be brought to bear. When the Hangzhou fire department arrived, after about 45 minutes, the students and villagers already had it under control.

This was a blessing in unexpected ways, because it allowed the old resident villagers to feel the strength of our youthful ecovillage spirit. Where they had been running in ones and twos back and forth to the spring, we had set up a bucket brigade and delivered a lot of water where it was needed in a hurry. We responded rapidly and self-organized efficiently. It also let us feel our strength as a group in a pretty profound way, even though most had only met three days earlier. Lastly, it gave a good reality check to city kids accustomed to having things like fire departments they could speed dial on their smart phones.

Rather than jump back into the planned lesson, we chose to take an hour or two and let the adrenaline subside. We went around the circle and let everyone release what they wanted to say. It was a good chance to talk about planning for catastrophe, a standard element in any permaculture curriculum. We looked at how we had responded, what could have been better, and what was missing in the village’s own response.

We closed with a short think and listen in groups of three: what do you fear about the world your grandchildren will inherit? The results were unexpected.

Normally, when we do this virtually anywhere else in the world, the greatest concern is always climate change. Not one of the fourteen or more groups even mentioned that.

We had our work cut out.

Ripe persimmons and chestnuts
leaves starting to fall
summer heat lingers too long

— Xu Ling Village, Zhejiang, October 2, 2016

A Mountain of Gold

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Published on Peak Surfer on December 4, 2016

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"The Chinese ecovillage movement is mostly retrofuturist, showing deference, if not nostalgia, for lost culture."

  It is Wednesday September 28 and we are sitting on the plane in Nashville waiting to take off for Hangzhou via Detroit and Beijing. This China trip is merely a warm-up for our Fall itinerary that has us traversing four continents in four weeks, including six ocean crossings. It is almost like a presidential campaign whistlestop tour, except they never utter a word about the thermometer in the room and everywhere we land we are making our pitch for reversing climate change by the redesign of the built environment. It is understandable that politicians won’t touch this subject. We are shredding the mystique of the land use patterns, collectively called civilization, that have served humans so poorly for the past eight millennia.

We spent August in Tennessee developing the lesson plans for the introductory workshops that will train a couple dozen soil activists in the People’s Republic and we are feeling pretty good about this stage of the trip now.

Then, in the run-up to blast off, we were tagged teamed by John Dennis Liu and Daniel Wahl, who wrangled us into cancelling scheduled events for late October and going straight from China to London for a meeting to assist British Commonwealth countries to prepare a new plan for COP-22 in Marrakech, one that will raise international ambition and stake out “plausibly impossible” but attainable goals to push the envelope of the Paris Agreement and the UN multilateral process. On October 28-29, a design charette, dubbed Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change, will give us the opportunity to make our elevator pitch to a very receptive audience of big wigs.

Now it is September 29 and we have left Hangzhou airport and driven 3 hours up winding roads into the mountains at night, eventually arriving at the Xu Ling village where our workshops will be held. Quail are singing to each other in the terraces, frogs croak from the creeks, and from the forested mountains there is the sound of a distant owl. Three hundred years before Lao Tsu, this small village was home to a sage named Wu Xixu, later to become the first Premier of the country. The mountain pass above the village is a relatively low one, so for thousands of years the main stone road between Shanghai on the coast and inland Nanjing, capital city for many empires, ran through here. When the pass was blocked in winter, porters would use a cave passage that crossed from Zhejiang to the adjacent province under the mountains.

As we rose the morning of October 1st we jotted a quick Suessian limerick:

There was a young man named Wu
Who came from the village of Xu
They thought him so fair
They made him Premier
This fellow they called Wu from Xu

XuLing village is at 29 North so having 29C days in October is not unusual, kind of like Mississippi or Alabama. They get snow in winter but they also have thatch palm and heliconia trees. The valley is a South-facing parabolic with mountains backing it to the North. The upper slopes of the valley are very steep but varied with different woods and bamboos. There is plenty of water; it flows through stone channels everywhere. Some of the trees we see are more than 1000 years old.

The stonework is of varying age; the oldest being most mostly massive freestack and then smaller, cut freestack, then fine mortared walls, then mud brick and cinderblock. Mud brick is illegal now — an overworked resource that has left ugly scars in many places. Cement brick and block is mandatory. Not even fired brick is permitted unless it is imported.

As we meet some of the villagers and students who have arrived for our workshops we observe that Chinese clothing is very westernized. Shoes are almost always state-of-the-art Nikes, Converses, Adidas and T-shirt slogans are usually in English even if the wearer doesn’t speak a word and may have no idea what it means. But surprisingly, many have done at least a year at a US university. Sometimes the ensemble of hair, glasses, clothes and iPhone 7 is so western you think the kid is USAnian except that when you ask them something they can’t comprehend a word. In contrast, there are kids who’ve learned almost perfect English just by watching internet movies and TV and prefer to affect old-style Chinese dress and hair styles, even the round glasses from a century earlier.

This contrast between the old and the new will be a recurrent theme of our month here. While many Chinese youth are enamored of consumer culture and willing to make great sacrifices to attain it, the Chinese ecovillage movement is mostly retrofuturist, showing deference, if not nostalgia, for lost culture. They seek as much a return to villageness as a breath of cleaner air and sip of cleaner water.

They are bucking a big trend, but lately they have been finding support in unusual quarters. Eleven years ago, the current President of China, then Governor and Party Committee Secretary of Zhejiang, went on a State visit to the rural villages to assess the needs of the people. What he discovered was a brewing catastrophe.

Globalization has been drawing people from the country to the cities for many decades, and until recently government policies encouraged it in order to fill the need for a gargantuan factory labor force. It recognized that this policy meant sacrificing agricultural capacity, but like most developing countries, was willing to make that trade-off because it figured that it could import food with its newly favorable trade balance, and a whole lot more.

What Xi Jinping saw nearly broke his heart. Long a champion of “Chinese values” and the “Chinese Dream,” Xi had hoped to revive Taoist practices of harmony in culture and nature. "He who rules by virtue is like the North Star," he said at a meeting of officials last year, quoting Confucius. "It maintains its place, and the multitude of stars pay homage.”

What he saw in the rural countryside was that all the teenagers, young people and middle-aged had left. There were only the very elderly — the grandparents — and the very young — the grandchildren — being supported by a combination of welfare services and remittances from distant families working in the cities. The terraces, on land too steep to use machinery, were in disrepair, overgrown with weeds and emergent forest. Buildings were crumbling and stray dogs roamed the streets. Food production had plummeted. The old hand tools were rusted and broken. The forests on the hillsides had been raided by timber companies and now mudslides wrecked the streams and threatened the villages.

The villagers said to Xi, “Look what we have lost!” They wanted back the forests and wildlife that made this a good place to live. Thus was born the two mountain theory.

Back in Shanghai, Xi gave a speech calling for two mountains. The first was development, including basic services to make peoples’ lives better. The second he called his “mountain of gold” — return of nature. Pure forests and pure water was what he called the real gold of China.

This was 11 years ago. In 2013 he became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People's Republic of China, and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, the most powerful consolidation of power since before the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

We are told that one reason the Sunshine Ecovillage Network has been successful in winning official support for its plan for rural revitalization in China, with a goal of 100 ecovillages by 2021, is that it chose to launch here in Zhejiang province, where the two mountains were first revealed to Xi Jinping.

This is first in a continuing series. 

Giving Thanks is a Revolutionary Act

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Published on Peak Surfer on November 27, 2016

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"We think there’s an outside chance that humans may possess the collective will and presence of mind to do what must be done, and to do it quickly, even if it means radically altering, even abolishing, industrial civilization."

 

 

 

  At The Farm we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day with only slightly more gratitude than other days. We shared a large covered-dish potluck in the Great Hall, part of our still-under-construction EcoHostel. We welcomed back our younger brothers and sisters who were up at Standing Rock helping in whatever way The Farm can. We sent blessings to those who had gone up to take their place.

 

 

 
It is not a little ironic that USAnians take a national holiday to celebrate the lifesaving generosity of indigenous peoples towards the Pilgrims while simultaneously unleashing water cannons, pepper spray and dogs on those same peoples as they try to protect our shared patrimony, in this case a river that affects the lives of 40 million people. We bless the sacred water that makes our life possible, here, as well as there.
 

Two years have passed since we produced a video mashup for a winter Indiegogo campaign, our last big crowdfunding effort. It was a trifle dour, we admit, but as the Earth tilts its Northern Hemisphere away from the sun and daylight gets scarcer, the plant-world moves underground, and we bundle from the cold, it is easy to fall into thoughts of contraction and decline.

 
Being overstretched from recent efforts, we could use some serious donations again right now, but we find that there would be no point in trying to revise or update that short video, because it is just as true today as it was then, the US election notwithstanding.
 
 
 
Since we made that mashup, we went to the Paris climate conference and watched as the world finally agreed to take some baby steps in the right direction, which we, after Paul Hawkins, now call “drawdown” — as in taking carbon out the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil.

The 4 per 1000 initiative (the French government’s campaign — 4 grams increase of soil carbon per year in every kilogram of farmed earth) remains the best game in town, whether your town is Paris, Marrakech, or in 2017, Bonn. It would, in the French government's theory (supported by IPCC's notion of a "carbon budget" but called into question by the latest report cards from the Tyndall Centre and others) be enough to hold climate change at 1.5 degrees, if universally adopted.

 

 

That 2014 COP-20 proposal, “Soil for food security and climate” became part of the “Lima-Paris Action Agenda” and then, two weeks ago at COP-22, the “Global Climate Action Agenda,” but the word 'soil' only made it once into the Marrakech Action Proclamation at the end of COP-22, and that was in reference to the venue being "on African soil." The word 'agriculture' was completely absent.

However, if you read the outcome document liberally to assume the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), or the UN's pledge system, constitutes the action agenda at present, then there may still be some hope.

While the 4 per 1000 initiative gained no new additions to the 37 nations who endorsed in Paris, many NDPs are starting to reflect the realization that putting carbon back in the ground might be a cheap way to meet their goals. This includes the United States, which last May issued a “Climate Smart” agriculture and forestry plan. The word 'biochar' does not appear in that 60-page plan. Pyrolysis is only mentioned in the context of a way to reduce methane from concentrated animal farming wastes. This is the US-DUH, remember?

The influence of heroic biochar researcher Hans Peter Schmidt was evident at the margins of the event, where Swiss biotech company Zaluvida Corporate AG  pitched for venture capital from business leaders to support its natural solution to reduce methane emissions in cows, Mootral(TM). Mootral is a feed supplement made from biochar infused with garlic and citric extract. Just 10 grams a day reduces bovine flatulence 30 percent while increasing weight gain and lactose production. According to the literature handed out by Zaluvida, feeding every cow a daily dose of Mootral would be the same as taking 200 million cars off the road. An antibiotic version is scheduled for release next year after it receives patent approval.

 
Last Christmas we produced The Paris Agreement: The Best Chance We Have To Save The Only Planet We’ve Got, a short book telling our eyewitness account of the treaty’s creation, including most of the new evidence as of that date, and making for the first time a copy of the actual treaty available on Amazon.com or in any bookstore.
 
This year we redoubled our efforts in those places where we think we might do the most good. We went to the Dominican Republic to advise a three-village ecodistrict of El Valle that will draw down massive amounts of carbon while raising the standards of living of its rural peoples. The El Valle model shows that environmental enhancement and economic development are not adversaries for limited funds, but co-engines of the new, carbon-smart economy.
 
In March we taught the tenth annual permaculture course at Maya Mountain Research Farm in Belize. Maya Mountain is significant to us because it has it all: starting with poor soils and hilly terrain that had been in corn and cattle too long, Christopher Nesbitt transformed it into one of the best examples of integrated agroforestry and carbon drawdown on the planet, with aquaponics, biochar and some of the best permaculture design that we can point to. The more students from all over the world we can run through that place every February, the better.
 
Back at The Farm we provided another season of permaculture courses, apprenticeships and natural building through the Ecovillage Training Center, now in its 22nd year. We hosted the annual Kids to the Country summer camp for city kids. From there we bounced to Mexico to advise a massive 3-ecovillage development called Puertas del Cielo that, like the project in the Dominican Republic transforms the way humans construct their built environment. The master plan is being developed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the Danish architects who designed the new World Trade Center in lower Manhattan and the Google complex in Silicon Valley. This is good news for ecovillage design.
 
In the fall we put together a team to go after the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 and Change prize. Our proposal is, after the fashion of  El Valle or Puertas, to transform the lives of 100 million farmers with biochar, B-corp cooperatives, and climate ecoforestry.
 
 
From there we flew to Corvallis, Oregon and the NorthAmerican Biochar Symposium and a meeting of the U.S. Biochar Initiative. Biochar holds the key to unlocking our climate predicament. Like the first Thanksgiving, it was a gift to us from the landlords, who learned how to make biochar-rich soils 8000 years before the Columbian Encounter, in the process building rich, deep, living soils where none had ever existed.
 
Then we flew to China and for a month to teach introductory courses in permaculture and natural building in the rural interior. We certified thirty new permaculture teachers. We spoke at first the inauguration of the Asian Biochar Institute in Nanjing and then the Second International Sunshine Ecovillage Forum in Hangzhou. China plans to start 100 ecovillages in the next 5 years. They now have no shortage of permaculture teachers.
 
After a quick stop at The Farm to change wardrobe, we crossed the ocean again, this time at the invitation of the Secretariat of the British Commonwealth, to join with many esteemed colleagues pulled together to talk about regenerative design strategies for reversing climate change. Some of the speakers who appear in our climate mash video were there with us. The suite of tools we offered should by now be familiar: biochar, agroforestry, permaculture, community stakeholder empowerment; ecovillage; cooperative microenterprise; and a closed-loop, circular economy based on building real security for an uncertain future.
 
After England we went to Africa, to the Marrakech UN climate summit — COP22 — on which we reported last week. We were present with a delegation of 20 GEN folk: Kosha Joubert and Tom Feeney (Global EcovillageNetwork HQ in Scotland), Sarah Queblatin (Philippines), Joshua Konkankoh and Sonita Mbah (Cameroon), Trinto Mugango (DRC), Ousmane Pame (Senegal), Linda Kabaira (Zimbabwe), Sa’ad Dagher (Palestine), Vita de Waal (Geneva), Macaco Tamerice (Damanhurian Federation), Tim Clarke (UK), Michael Farelly  (Tanzania), Margarita Zethelius (Colombia), Rob Wheeler, Ethan Hirsch Tauber and Marian Zeitlin (USA) and Alfonso Flaquer and Fanny van Hal from GEN Europe.
 
GEN had a booth in the Blue Zone (where the governments meet) and hosted 4 side events and one Press Conference there along with 6 side events and one workshop, in the Green Zone (area of Civil Society) and a daily webinar. We had a beautiful array of well designed materials to share thanks to Camila, our designer from Colombia, and to Tom, Sarah, Mena, Yael and the HQ team.
 
We managed to sign an MOU with Morocco for the implementation of government sponsored ecovillages, starting in the most Northern region. We also negotiated MOU’s with Mauritania and Senegal, and ICLEI Africa. We made meaningful links with interested governments in 22 countries and with the Green Belt Movement, African Development Bank and British Commonwealth. We found out about existing ecovillage networks in Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh that were not yet linked to GEN and now can’t wait to connect. Many individual projects present are also now keen to become part of  our network.
 
We have some friends, Guy McPherson and Pauline Schneider, who are  currently touring New Zealand, speaking about the existential threat posed by climate change and what people should be doing. We always enjoy listening to Guy, and don’t have much to disagree with him about. He is correct that most climate scientists are too silo’ed to see the bigger picture and that there is no getting away from the simple fact that industrial civilization is a heat engine. While any one of the threats — sea level rise, methane outgassing, ice melt, droughts and superstorms — is enough to scare anyone, it is only when you sum them — or multiply them against each other — that they become truly horrific.
 
Guy has concluded it is too late to do anything now, so lets all just buckle in and enjoy the ride. He puts human extinction at 18 months to ten years. We have that small disagreement.
 
In our humble opinion something like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle has to be included in the equation. Heisenberg theorized that in all wave-like systems the more you can say about position or some other single attribute the less you can know about momentum or some other attribute simply due to the matter-wave nature of all quantum objects. Applying that to the complex of factors that determine our future, the more we can say about a particular element — the certainty of financial collapse or ecological crisis, for instance — the less we can know about the timing of such things.
 
Like Kevin Anderson, Thomas Goreau, James Hansen and other scientists who do look at the whole picture, we have concluded that it may not be too late. We think there’s an outside chance that humans may possess the collective will and presence of mind to do what must be done, and to do it quickly, even if it means radically altering, even abolishing, industrial civilization in favor of Civilization 2.0. We had a taste of that when we went to China, and we tasted it again in London. Memory being linked to the olfactory senses, taste is not something one easily forgets.
 
While the meeting in Marrakech did not produce real progress the way Paris did a year before, Marrakech did what it had been planning to do — the Action Agenda — and did not lose ground. From what we could sense there, there has been a sea change in the international business community, and the political world may follow along for reasons of money or a sufficient supply of food, if for nothing else.
 
Are we too late? Maybe.
 
Should we stop trying to make a difference when we see a way to solve this that can actually work? We don’t think so.
 
That said, we could use some serious financial help about now. It is not like rural Mayan, African or Chinese permaculturists have money to pay for instruction. We have spent everything we have, everything we had saved. Nothing was held back. And now, when we have nothing left with which to keep going, we are depending entirely on the good will of our friends. Perhaps you would like to make us prove what we say, and to actually reverse climate change. Will you dare us to try?
 
Those viewing this on our web page can use the donation link in the right column. For everyone else, our PayPal account takes tax-deductible donations at ecovillage@thefarm.org, or you can write to us there for further instructions.
 
This holiday season, our heart is filled with gratitude and as we look around, we are overwhelmed with the opportunity for profound change. We'd get by with a little help from our friends. Thanks!

Trumproofing

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Published on Peak Surfer on November 20, 2016

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“Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us. And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”


Last week, we recalled the words of Hitler’s social architect Albert Speer, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.” And yet, despite all the entreaties to slay the beast and make sure its dead — from Ralph Nader, Naomi Klein, Joe Brewer, whomever — we have to confess, after Paris and now after Marrakech, the only highway back to the Holocene that can support mammalian life such as ours is being constructed by and for monster corporations like Citibank and Monsanto.

At a side event in the business tent we sat down in a corner to have some local Arabica while we awaited the next session. We struck up a conversation with the elderly gent in the adjoining seat. He was John Scowcroft, Chief Credit Officer and Executive Managing Director at S&P. We showed him The Biochar Solution and the usual conversation followed. Turns out he is leaving S&P to start a CCS group to seize the profit potential in carbon management futures.

Later, at a side event called Beyond Paris: Investor actions to manage climate risk and seize low-carbon opportunities, we were listening attentively to James Close, World Bank; Erick Decker, AXA Group; Michael Eckhart, Citigroup; Pete Grannis, NY State Comptroller’s Office; Anthony Hobley, Carbon Tracker and others, when Rachel Kyte spotted our book, The Paris Agreement, and leaned over to ask, “Is that any good?”

“Fantastic!” we gushed.

A former Vice President of World Bank, she is Ban Ki Moon’s Special Representative to the business community.

Over the course of the two weeks in Morocco we had brief encounters like this too many times to catalogue. We tell you this not to suggest we are anyone special but to say that in this critical time we — you and I — have been given access.

Historically this is the rarest of moments. Crisis makes for strange bedfellows (ask James Comey and Julian Assange). Citibank, with branches in 160 countries, went from financing $12 billion in green project finance in 2013 to $24 billion in 2014 to $48 billion in 2015 and likely $100 billion this year. Deutsche Bank will tally $350 billion in investments aimed at decarbonization in 2016. More importantly, the big banks have dumped $500 billion in fossil asset portfolios since Paris and would have liked to dump much more if they only had a safe place to park it, even interest-free.

The board rooms have Trump-proofed the Paris Agreement and the whole paradigm shift that came with it. There is absolutely no way any clown show is going to hijack these negotiations now. Wall Street, the Illuminati, the Buddhist monasteries, NeoLib Academe, The Vatican, the Royals and the Chinese Triads are all 110 percent committed. They are shoulder to shoulder in the doorway.

For some it is just prudent risk management and upside profit opportunity. For others it is the stark, cold-sweat, can’t-sleep reality: that absolute annihilation leaves no gloaters behind.

Rachel Kyte told the crowd, “Carbon is an investment risk that is not yet priced in.” This situation is not likely to last much longer. We hovered longest in the venues that were looking at drawdown, and we could see that so much of the finance and political world is focused on technological fixes like geoengineering and CCS (carbon capture and storage) that putting a price on carbon and taxing the polluters is coming, Trump or no. It is the only way you can economically justify those uneconomical, harebrained, bait-and-switch schemes.

In a brief, airport encounter, an IPCC working group leader told us $45 per ton would be needed to make the 2-degree limit achievable with sequestered scrubber gas.

Of course, we know better. Putting carbon underground costs nothing and pays handsome returns if you do it by planting mixed species, mixed age, ecosystemically functioning, climate resilient and rainmaking forests and coppice, pollard and patch renew them periodically to derive food, fiber, building material and most importantly, biochar, to create cascades of products and services in a circular economy with no such thing as waste. That does not require a $45/ton price or even 4 cents. It will earn you vastly more. Real wealth.

The best way to raise land value is to increase its beauty with biodiversity, increase the organic matter in its soils, build humus, make biochar and be a contributing member of the local community. Just doing that reverses climate change and generates multiple revenue streams for any poor sod who stumbles into it.

The Secretary General of the British Commonwealth, Hon. Baroness Patricia Scotland, at the closing plenary of the Joint High-level Segment [COP agenda item 18 and CMP agenda item 14 and Item 4 of the provisional CMA agenda] uttered the word “permaculture” for the first time at a United Nations podium:

 

"Mr. President, I speak for the Commonwealth collectively, a family of 52 member states, among them countries in all continents and oceans that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Our priority is to move from agreement to action. Small islands threatened by rising sea levels and larger states vulnerable to flooding or desertification share the common advantages of a common language, common law, and closely related systems of governance. These similarities enable us to work together without distraction and get straight to the nub of issues.

"High on our agenda for 30 years has been the impact of climate change. This long-standing focus bore fruit a year ago when our Biannual Heads of Government Meeting assembled in Malta. Days before COP21, our member states, in their rich diversity, agreed to set ambition high and paved the way for the Paris Agreement. Our practical and distinctive Commonwealth contribution is technical support, offered by our Climate Finance Access Hub.

"A month ago, we convened a ground breaking and dynamic gathering on Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change. It brought together biologists, ecologists, oceanographers and regenerative development specialists to consider ways of reversing the human impacts of climate change. Our focus was on developing positive action for the living world to restore climate balance, including biomimicry, permaculture, ecological engineering, and circular economies. It is through such pioneering approaches, I believe, that as on so many occasions in the past, the potential for our Commonwealth networks’ meetings will be mobilized to lay the foundations on which progressive global consensus can be built to create a safer and more sustainable future for all."

Contrast this to the buffoonery of the apparently tipsy US Secretary of State, obviously winging it:

 

 

 


While the national commitments, or NDCs, that were pledged at Paris in 2015 bend emissions downward, they are still not on a course correcting trajectory. Our planet is moving out of the Neutral Zone, the one location we know of in this galaxy where you may find life. The UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, even while understating the risk, says we are headed towards 3.4°C warming by 2100 (we think will likely get there much sooner). To get back to a 2-degree "safe" zone (with 66% certainty) we would need 25% lower emissions in 2030 than there are today. And yet, incredible as it may seem, emissions are still rising.

When you are racing against extinction you cannot afford to fritter away time or forget the first rule of holes. 2016 will be the 15th record-breaking year this century in terms of heat, since measurements began. That is 15 new records in 16 years, a pattern any sports fan should recognize as extraordinary.  Globally we are already up 1.2 degrees, although closer to 5 degrees near the poles. Humans have never lived on a planet with 400 parts per million CO2 in its atmosphere before.

 

 

2ºC is a vanished target now. But this isn’t a 2ºC or bust fight. It’s a fight to limit consequences. It’s a fight for every 1/10th of a degree. If we fail to hold to 2ºC, we have to fight for 2.1º; failing that, we battle on for 2.2º. With millennia of impacts at stake, we never get to give up, even if we end up in 4ºC. For future generations, 4º is still better than 4.1º.

 


It is useful to remember that in 2007 the Met Office produced a four-degree scenario on behalf of HM Government. Climate scientists from other institutions also contributed their most up-to-date research on climate impacts at the time.

As we mull (or bemoan) the average intelligence of Republican presidents, we recall that it was Group Captain James Stagg, also of the  MetOffice, who changed the nail-hard mind of Dwight D. Eisenhower and got him to postpone D-day by 24 hours, despite Operation Neptune being already well underway. The MetOffice is not an outfit whose predictions should be trifled with.

You can view the changes plotted by MetOffice as a four degree interactive map or see it through Google Earth. The MetOffice reports:

 

  • Heat changes will not be the same everywhere. Mid-continent North America and Europe and parts of Africa will be 6-7 degrees warmer. Most of Russia and Africa will be 8 degrees or above.
  • In densely populated eastern China hottest days of the year are 11°F warmer. In Toronto, Chicago, Ottawa, New York and Washington DC, make that 22°F hotter. Europe is somewhere in between.
  • The permafrost is gone across vast regions of Canada and Russia. Atmospheric methane, 100 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, spikes, inexorably pushing temperatures towards 5 and beyond.
  • Half of the world’s population has inadequate access to water.
  • Half of all Himalayan glaciers are significantly reduced, 70% of the water supply to India and China.
  • In South America, many glaciers disappear completely, taking 75% of Peru’s water with them.
  • Fish populations crash from acidification and coral loss.
  • Forested areas burn, including a large area of the United States, Mexico, South America east of the Andes, Southern and East Africa, the Sahel, eastern and southern Europe and Australia.
  • Maize and wheat yields reduced up to 40% at low latitudes. Soybean yield decreases in all regions. Rice yield declines up to 30% in Asia.
  • Water supplies to rivers drops up to 70% in many regions.
  • The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet contributes 3.3 meters to sea level rise. Greenland ice losses add 7 meters globally.
  • The Netherlands and Southeastern England are inundated. Seychelles, Miami Beach and the Hamptons have disappeared. The San Francisco Bay extends almost to Sacramento. Most of those displaced, however are in India, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia.

So, at four degrees, who would be left to fight for 4.1? What possible good would it do?

 

 

Real world tracks scenario RCP 8.5

As we left Marrakech we felt ambivalent about the outcome. Paris had sent the high benchmark and these follow-on COPs are supposed to fit the nuts to the bolts. There was still a very uncomfortable level of pushback amongst the underdeveloping, with India and Indonesia, both big coal users, saying that economic growth had precedence over near-term emissions cuts. Turkey is planning to build 70 new coal plants. These errors assure the already underdeveloping will continue digging a deeper hole for themselves. New Zealand, which talks a good disinvestment game, plans to increase petroleum exports from $3 billion to $30 billion per year by 2025.

All countries’ leaders need to take stock, a point that was made poignantly clear by this slide from the MetOffice:

 

 

It shows that the world cannot begin atmospheric carbon drawdown later than 2020 — three years from now — or the two degrees red line will be broken.

Clear next steps emerged from discussions: end fossil fuel subsidies (including fracking); phase out coal and then ban it; cancel all new fossil fuel infrastructure orders (including supertankers, arctic exploration and DAPL); set higher efficiency standards; subsidize agroforestry and renewables (down to zero cost); enforce LDN (Land Degradation Neutrality — no net land loss to sprawl, desertification or deforestation — 102 countries have signed on); and reform agriculture to an organic, no-till standard.

These next steps got no farther than discussions, however, and what emerged from Marrakech was more palliative statements and promises that next year will be better. Tick tock. Clown show. Tick tock. "Time is not on our side." (John Kerry) Tick tock. (Donald Trump) Tick tock.

Tick …

Post-Trumpocalypse

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Published on Peak Surfer on November 13, 2016

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"Social media, reality TV, yellow internet journalism and flash mobs are now in control."
 

 

  We have always wanted to get to this town, ever since we were a young hippy hitching through Europe in 1966 and our rides took us along the southern coasts of France, Spain and Italy. Fate did not carry us here then, but perhaps we are making up for lost time now. Honestly, later in life is probably better.

We find ourselves in the company of brilliant people engaged in transforming the world. While nearly the whole of our 7 billion monkey minds seem transfixed by the US election result, a few of us are quietly sneaking around all that to sew the seeds of what comes next, after the Trumpocalypse.

We could say that the Trump victory was not a global disaster but we would be lying. Dmitry Orlov observed that we at least seem to have avoided World War III with Russia. Naomi Klein, Christopher Nesbitt and Richard Heinberg have eloquently pointed out that the Democratic Party neoliberal hegemony has been shattered, and Ugo Bardi reminds us that Italy survived 20 years of Berlusconi, after all. These are all pluses, but they will not prevent disaster if The Donald has an itchy trigger finger after a few scotches late one night and decides to nuke, say, Cuba.

For Cuba, and for any other country that lacks the means to acquire a missile defense shield, we recommend they immediately put a Trump Tower in their capital. Trump Casino Habana could be world class, totally revamping the weatherbeaten but still popular Malecone boardwalk.

We are watching this drama from within the halls of COP22 as it plays out on the plasma screens in the halls and media centers of Bab Ighli. Some may think what we are doing here is now totally irrelevant, but take it from us on faith, if not on our own warped logic, it’s not.

We have written in the past about the rise and fall of many civilizations and most, if not all, of those had their peak moment just before collapse when their capitals became a clown show. Recall, if you can, the Roman Colosseum, the Mayan pyramid sacrifices, or the Nazi extravaganzas choreographed by Albert Speer.

Albert Speer famously said, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.”

While the clown show has been playing out in North America, the 22d UN climate conference has kicked off in Marrakech. It has brought together tens of thousands of NGOs, governments and people from all around the world to respond to the existential crisis of climate change.

Existential crises don’t just disappear because the US holds an election. This one is still gathering momentum. It is coming at us like a bullet train.

Marrakech is the first post-Paris meeting of world leaders. It is an important one because having taken the enormous step of setting hard red lines last year — 2 degrees firm, 1.5 aspirational — countries now have to figure out exactly how those goals can be attained. On the negotiating table are mechanisms for finance, monitoring, increasing ambitions, and drawdown.

We are mainly focused on that last item. Emissions reductions are now a done deal. Fossil fuels, including the Dakota Access Pipeline, are on their way to being legally banned whether largely clueless USAnians understand that or not. (Which is not to say the Standing Rock water protectors are not absolutely right to try to preserve their patrimony in the meantime.) What logically follows is a need to start pulling carbon from the atmosphere and as quickly as possible to return both oceans and air to pre-industrial carbon concentrations. There is a scientifically validated and economical way to do that, using carbon farming, regenerative agroforestry, and waste-biomass-to-biochar energy systems, but the hitch is not science or technology. It’s people.

We need to have a carrier medium for this viral paradigm switch; one that can overcome cultural inertia and provide an inviting path forward — a bandwagon rolling through the clown circus. Hop aboard!


Ecovillages weave together the ecological, economic, social and cultural dimensions of the new circular economy (no such thing as waste) by pioneering innovative solutions that enable towns, districts, regions and nation states to achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) is bringing to the table the ‘Pan-African Ecovillage Development Programme’  designed to radically reform current development practices and put communities, ecological generation, and nonmonetary, post-growth wealth creation at the heart of the development process. The full and inclusive participation of communities on the ground from conception to implementation, together with the sharing and transferring of expertise and personally grounded experience, is the key to success.

The results speak for themselves. Africa is home to some of the most innovative ecovillage programs in the world. In Senegal the success of grassroots ecovillage communities has led to the development of a National Ecovillage Agency working to transform 14,000 rural villages into ecovillages. In Egypt the Sekem farm and ecovillage is working with over 800 organic and biodynamic farmers, providing educational programs at the pre-school to university level, and delivering healthcare to more than 40.000 people from 11 surrounding villages. The President of Burkina Faso has declared his intention to implement 2000 ecovillages by 2020. GEN is in process of signing MOU’s with several national governments at COP22.

This success is an example of GEN’s ‘Transition Strategy’ in action – transitioning existing settlements to sustainable settlements and scaling up partnerships with governments, NGOs, and donors to implement policies and solutions at local, regional, and international levels. Building on 20 years of global networking, sustainable development, groundbreaking grassroots work and education, GEN’s intent is to continue to create these types of transformational alliances that grease the skids.

GEN is also using COP22 to announce the launch of the ‘GEN Consultancy,' a highly skilled and diverse network of expert consultants that seek to share some of the world’s best practices in the field of community sustainability and resilience. GEN’s solution is not top-down after the usual UNEP/UNDP model, but empowering the millions of small solutions from people and projects within their own communities.

If the Trump election, Brexit, and the recent anti-peace-deal vote in Colombia show anything, it is that we are across a threshold now where backroom deals, newspaper and politico endorsements, money and even common sense no longer dictate an outcome. Consider the fact that Hillary Clinton could rig the ballots in Honduras and Ukraine or bemoan (in emails) the failure of the State Department to rig the elections in Palestine, but could not rig her own election (though try as she did).

Social media, reality TV, yellow internet journalism and flash mobs are now in control. In this new world, the herd is driven by raw impulses of fear and pleasure-seeking. The ecovillage lure, whether dangled as a prepper redoubt or as a happy eutopia (Lat.: a good place), offers a clear choice. With cool villages that draw down carbon and give us energy, food and water security in exchange, ecovillages offer the right impulse at the perfect historical moment.

Which is why we are in Marrakech.

Cool Livin’, Mon

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Published on Peak Surfer on November 6, 2016

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

–> We are selling timeshares to help build residences for our trainees. "
–>

We are on our way across the Atlantic as we post this. It is our third crossing in ten days. When our Bates family ancestors made the passage in 1630 it took nine and a half weeks.
 
To draw enough carbon from the atmosphere to return us to pre-industrial concentrations on decadal timescales may require foregoing air travel in the not-to-distant future, an era that may arrive fairly soon if jet fuel loses its externalized subsidies in forthcoming UN climate talks.
 
Emissions cuts will be needed but are not sufficient. We need enough new forest to cover four Spains each year. Moreover, we will need to keep those forests in harvest rotations that optimize soil carbon. We will require 100 million people to perform this new kind of work.  We will need to hold their interest by improving farm profits, food security and living standards. Those things have to be good enough that, when push comes to shove, the farmers don’t just cut their new forest down and burn it.
 
The good news: we know how to do this. We are doing it. We are already succeeding. We need to ramp it up. If we can train 1000 trainers, and they can each train 1000 trainers, each of whom can advise 100 farms, we can rescue the climate, and quickly. We can get back the Holocene.
 
But we need more green learning centers to do this sort of training. Our first is in the Dominican Republic, where we are modeling the whole enchilada of climate repair methods within a 30000-hectare valley, with 95% offset for biodiversity and carbon drawdown. Within the 5% developed area, there is a “beyond zero” emissions sink. Even the developed part is drawing down.
 
This is not the first training center we have built. We have done a few now with the Global Ecovillage Network, in different countries. The prototype, although it benefitted from the experience of trials before it, is our Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm. ETC was designed in the early 90s to meet the needs of what we correctly foresaw as a revolution in how humans inhabit the Earth. ETC was designed to grease the skids.
 
In 1991 we attended a meeting of interesting people assembled at the country farm of Ross and Hildur Jackson in Denmark. It was one of those kinds of meetings that only run a few days but which produce lifelong friendships — as you meet with kindred spirits whose paths and yours seem to have traipsed many lifetimes.
 
We came back to Tennessee and started a quarterly newsletter, The Design Exchange, and from that we gradually evolved the notion for a training center. We were exploring a new paradigm in learning — an immersion pedagogy that blended residential courses inside a 25-year-old ecovillage and outreach programs on six continents. Because of our history with Plenty, the Farm’s relief and development charity, our curriculum was strongly influenced by indigenous wisdom. The core of it was learning to get along with nature, and be respectful, instead of trying to bully her all the time.
 
The new branch on our tree is called El Valle. It takes the ecovillage training concept to where it needs to go for the next half century. It builds on what we have learned over the past decades and anticipates at least some of the changes now coming our way.
 
The Farm was a good model because it already net sequesters five times its own carbon footprint, accomplishing that trick with a nifty blend of keylined fields, injected brews of microbes and enzymes, biochar from bamboo, living roofs, and mixed-age, mixed species hardwood forest. The last of those is the real workhorse, drawing millions of tons of CO2 from the air and sending the carbon deep underground, or shaping it into standing oaks that will later be converted to various types of long-term storage.
 
This is a model that needs to scale, but one has to always be cautious when using that word. Not everything gets better by getting bigger. There is a point of diminishing returns in all things, from cabbage patches to governments. One need only point to what is happening in the European Union or the former Soviet Union to drive that home. In the case of ecovillages, what is needed is not ecocities but many more small polities, such as we see with Transition Towns.
 
The bottleneck in making that transition is not land or money. Climate change is coming at us with such force and fury that assets are being made available, quickly. In China some of the best land in the countryside — abandoned Buddhist monasteries and old emperial palace sites, for instance — are being granted to ecovillagers to get something going. The bottleneck is people. There are not enough people with the right skills to get a modern-day ecovillage up and keep it going. There are plenty of earnest youth and older people with work skills, but few have any sense of how to keyline a hillside, make biochar, brew compost tea, extract leaf proteins, or build a cob and strawbale four-season greenhouse.
 
Our Tennessee Center can only train so many, assuming they can even run the State Department gauntlet to enter the United States for 2 or 3 months. We need more immersion learning sites all over the globe, beginning in the parts where the interest is strongest and the governments are most supportive.
 
So it came to be that we have broken ground in the Dominican Republic. The green learning "Terra Lodges" at El Valle will be our platform from which to train trainers. It will be a model for a new generation of similar platforms. For the past two years we have been building the El Valle ecodistrict into a state-of-the-art carbon drawdown technology showcase. Working through a transition pathway with local residents that will improve the quality of their lives on their own terms, we have brought in some of the world’s best master planners and conservation experts. We have designed integrated eco-agroforestry, aquaponics and chinampas, a biorefinery to produce a host of valuable nutriceuticals, foods, feeds and fibers from the pyrolysis of biomass wastes (such as coconut coir) into biochar, and workers cooperatives, all within and about a three-ecovillage ecodistrict.
 
Most of that is not new. We just put it all together in one place. To get to the next step, we are doing crowdfunding. That’s the part that’s got a new wrinkle.
 
Would you like to live in such a place, perhaps just part of the year? Maybe where you live now suits you, but there are certain times when it is dark and cold most days, or certain other times when it is swelteringly hot and the days never seem to end. If that’s the case, or you just like a little adventure, El Valle may have something to offer.
 
We are selling timeshares to help build residences for our trainees.
 
Our Terra Lodge concept was born out of the need to teach how to profitably cool the climate. Cool living is the solution. We have designed integrated human/natural systems that are antifragile and abundant, where no villager need feel any concern for lack of food, water, or shelter from the storms of our grandchildren.
 
There are many people who want to do something that benefits the world and generates income. The Terra Lodges and El Valle immersion learning complex will give climate activists new skills with which anyone can create a meaningful life anywhere in the world and become part of the growing “regenerative work” landscape.
 
How we will build our physical infrastructure is by selling cabins. There is only one level of donation for this campaign: usd$30,000.
 
There is only one perk: a cabin that you will own outright, subject to the eco-covenants that apply to all residents. Your perk cabin:
 
<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•<>•You can help us fund this, and if you like, you can join our new ecovillage there and make some really interesting new friends. Or not. Perhaps for you this is just a socially responsible investment. One that invests in your grandchildren’s future.
 
Our cool "SCOOL' will rent your cabin for 10 months each year. In exchange, you will receive a return on your investment of 8 percent annually. If your cabin’s occupancy is above 60 percent, your return on investment will be doubled. You have the right to use your cabin 2 months per year, with all these needs provided:
 
  • Local organic food
  • Drinking water
  • Sanitation
  • Energy
  • Waste treatment
  • Internet
  • Weekly cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Trash collection
  • 10yr maintenance and repair
  • Booking, rental & admin.
  • Security
 
Since 2015, ECO2 COOL DESIGN SAS, a registered company in the Dominican Republic, has been developing an ecovillage masterplan in El Valle. The Terra Lodge cabins are the first step in launching this carbon drawdown project.
 

In a few hours we shall be landing in Marrakech. We plan to hawk these timeshares to some of our activist friends during COP-22. Our agenda is drawdown. We are betting that some of those attending will see the value of that too. But just to be sure, before we left home we planted more than enough trees to cancel out the climate costs of all this crazy travel.

Inside the House Where the Sun Does Not Set

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Published on Peak Surfer on October 30, 2016

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"The important goal that needs to be set in Marrakech is drawdown. We need to get back below 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere, and we need to do it quickly."

  Perhaps it is just an active imagination fueled by the ghouls and zombies roaming London’s streets this time of year, but the olde city seems unseasonably warm, almost as if we had been transported to Quintana Roo and were celebrating Dia de los Muertos.

What has risen from the dead here is not the spirits of the long departed, but hope.

Coming from first the USA and then China, two parts of the world that are nearly tone-deaf on matters relating to climate change, there is a maritime breeze blowing through the British Isles that is entirely refreshing. We are out after dark in light shirts and jeans with John Dennis Liu, Tom Goreau and Daniel Halsey, descending into a pub incongruously called The Coal Hole, to toast to the success of extraordinary events.

This time next week some of us will be gathered in Marrakech for COP-22, the twenty second conference of the 196 parties to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) inked in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This time last year we were readying ourselves for the uncertain outcome of COP-21 in Paris. The difference this time, both in our task and in the momentum being carried, is stunning.

Going into Paris there was only great uncertainty. No-one knew whether it would be another gargantuan bust like COP-15 in Copenhagen or an incremental improvement like COP-16 in Cancun.

Paris turned out to be an historic game-changer, setting the stage for a revolution in the affairs of men, already begun, promising an eventual return to a sacred circular economy seldom seen since the retreat of the Ice Sheets 12000 years ago.

We are gathering here in London to assist preparations of the British Commonwealth countries who seek to speak as a unified voice in this context for a second time. The first occasion came at a critical juncture during the second week in Paris, when it was looking like the best that might be salvaged was another unambitious resolution. Having prepared for that moment, the then 53 countries of the Commonwealth, representing the interests of 2.4 billion people on roughly half the land surface of the Earth, spoke with one voice in demanding a firm legal mandate of two degrees and an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees. Those goals were, and are, both unobtainable — given what known science and carbon cycle momentum dictate — and political dynamite, but to hear the Secretary General of the Commonwealth tell it, sticking to that and refusing to compromise was what pulled the Paris Agreement out of oblivion last year. Of course, we happen to the think the French had a bit a to do with the success too, as we described in our book, The Paris Agreement, but let the S.G. gloat if she wants, no harm.
 

Eric Toensmeier with HRH

She intends to repeat the performance in Marrakesh in November.

In another part of this balmy London town, HRH Prince of Wales has been hosting a Climate Friendly Landscapes meeting in Lancaster House off Green Park. Our friends Eric Toensmeier  and Rattan Lal are there to share research into carbon removal strategies including tropical tree staple crops, intensive silvopasture and ecosystemic multistrata agroforestry rotations.

Charles could not attend our meeting but sent his representative, Justin Mundy of the Royal International Sustainability Unit. Her majesty’s government also sent a UK Economic advisor and others to participate in our two-day design workshop. Our task was to roll up our sleeves, shed the ties and heels, and give the Commonwealth an agenda best suited to taking the Paris Agreement where it needs to go next.

That destination is beyond zero. It will not do to merely reduce emissions at some set rate per annum, as has been the UNFCCC litany since Kyoto. That must happen too, but the important goal that needs to be set in Marrakech is drawdown. We need to get back below 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere, and we need to do it quickly. 260 or 280 would be preferable.

When we received the brief for the meeting, a few days in advance, we expected to see academic gearheads hawking harebrained CCS (carbon capture and storage, or “clean coal”) schemes. There was none of that. The Economic Minister confided in us that it was the opinion of government, and the UK science community, that none of those were viable. How refreshing.

In fact, the consensus going in was precisely a breath of fresh air. It was our shared understanding that “clean coal” scrubbing technofixes were rubbish and that photosynthesis, and that alone, will get us out of this predicament, assuming escape is even possible at this point — even if “possibly implausible.”

So it was we found ourselves amongst extraordinarily like minds, such as Christopher Cooke from Savory Institute, David McConville from Buckminster Fuller Institute, Katherine Wilkinson from Project Drawdown, Marcello Palazzi of B-Lab Europe, Bill Reed and Ben Haggard of Regenesis, Louise Baker of UNCCD, Janine Benyus of Biomimicry for Social Innovation, Herbert Girardet of World Futures Council, Isabelle Dellanoy of Symbiotic Economy, Sam Muirhead of Open Source Circular Economy, Daniel Wahl, May East, Maddy Harland, and many others who know of active experience that only soil will save us, but that gaining the social capital to make such a switch is the real challenge we face.

We all seemed to agree in advance that our green buildings and ecovillages must become ecodistricts, eco-countries and eco-hemispheres. The S.G. wants her home country, Dominica, to be a net sequestering model. To save coral reefs we will need to reverse land degradation and put carbon where it belongs. John Dennis Liu kept chanting three simple metrics: biomass, biodiversity, soil organic matter.

For our part we can report from our own recent work in the Caribbean that natural climate ecoforestry outperforms Monsanto agrochem 10 to 1 in food provision (and certainly nutrient density) and the return on biochar/biofertilizer investments is 20 to 40 percent per year (in real money).

We tell them we can stop immigration in its tracks with green jobs and food security and we can do it faster and with less CAPEX than constructing refugee camps at every border.

Hollywood endings aside, how this meeting came about is almost in the realm of fairy tales. Quoth the oracle, Wikipedia:

Patricia Janet Scotland, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, PC, QC (born 19 August 1955) is a British barrister who served in junior ministerial positions within the UK Government, most notably as the Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland. At the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting she was elected the 6th Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations and took office on 1 April 2016. She is the first woman to hold the post.


The Baroness, who prefers to be called just S.G. (Secretary General) is a force of nature. The 10th child of 12 born to a Dominican mother and Antiguan father, she came with her parents to England in 1957. She excelled in school work and took a law degree from Mid Essex Technical College, joining both the British and Dominican bars. In 1991, Scotland became the first black woman to be appointed a Queen's Counsel. Her work on the Commission for Racial Equality earned her recognition by the Queen and a life peerage in 1997. She then became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where she was responsible for the UK Government's diplomatic relations with North America, the Caribbean, and Overseas Territories. In 2001 she was made a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. She was the minister formally responsible for civil justice and the reform of civil law including the comprehensive reform of land registration. In 2007 she was made Minister of State for the Criminal Justice System and Law Reform at the Home Office, where she created the Office of Criminal Justice Reform. She also created an advisory group on victims and the Criminal Justice Centre, Victims and Witness units.

She was then appointed UK Attorney General by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the first woman to hold the office since its foundation in 1315. She served the Labour government in that role until 2014.

At the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Scotland was elected as the 6th Commonwealth Secretary-General and the first woman to hold the post. She began her first of a maximum of two possible four-year terms on 1 April 2016. She told us that at her first meeting with the 53 High Commissioners she polled them to see what were the priority issues. Climate change came out on top. The threat to the small island states in the Commonwealth was existential.

“We are 2.4 billion people on half the land area in the world,” she told us. “It is 21 percent of the world’s forested area. We are joined by common language and common culture. And now we are joined in common purpose.”

She said Paris was a pivotal change. Prince Charles had called it a 100-trillion-pound moment. Money will not be an obstacle. Political will will not be an obstacle. We are here assembled to then answer the next question: “And, so?”

What we were in that palace for was to provide the solutions, as thin as their chances of succeeding at this late hour might be. We were not placed here to go into separate silos. We were brought here to bring it all together: permaculture, biomimicry, holistic management, agroforestry, climate finance, the circular economy, ecovillages and atmospheric regenesis. This was not the Shark Tank or the Dragon’s Den. We are none of us here to self-promote or compete for a prize. This is Extreme Makeover: Ecosystem Version. Disruption is the new norm. The tables in the temple have been upended. The moneychangers have been driven out.

What is your vision of what can happen next? Ours, cobbled together in two long days, is now what the Commonwealth countries will carry with them to COP-22.  

 

October Rains

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Published on Peak Surfer on October 24, 2016

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Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

"Regardless of whether this prospect pleases you or distresses you, the technosphere is going to fail you."

We penned this piece in mid-October, when the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced. We are inside China at this time and China is not on speaking terms with Google, so we have not been able post to blogger, or even moderate comments coming in from postings we set for timed release when we departed the USA in September. That is until now, which must mean we are back in US air space.

Bob Dylan is now the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. When we were 17 and he was 22, he wrote:

 

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

In recent years the senators and congressmen have been doing more than their share of hall blocking, and now they are trying to hide the embarrassment of the current presidential campaign behind a smokescreen of Cold War newspeak.

It was not enough to blame Russia for everything from doping in sports to Wikileaks. The NY Times and the K-street crowd keeps pushing NATO to the point where it is beginning to rub the Bear the wrong way. Illegally imposed sanctions for opposing the rape of Ukraine, specious accusations about a passenger jet downing or the US-sponsored ambush of a UN aid convoy, and wingnut accusations of Russian aggression in the Middle East go unchallenged in the Western press. According to the Clinton campaign, we are supposed to believe Russia is taking a hand in the US election, tilting the polls in favor of Putin’s best buddy, The Donald. Meanwhile, in the skies over Damascus, the Blue Angels are about to test their metal against the aeronautically and metallurgically superior Red Air Force. The Cold War is about to get hot, and all the Joint Chiefs need is a nod from the new POTUS. Either of the candidates will do.

In Shrinking the Technosphere (New Society Publishers, October 18, 2016), Dmitry Orlov observed:

 

The Russians, with Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi help, are swiftly rubbing out America’s pet terrorists with equanimity and poise, while their erstwhile supporters in Washington are visibly demoralized and spouting preposterous nonsense. But there are still some important lessons to be extracted from all this—and we should extract them before it all gets covered by a thick layer of dust.

***

Regardless of whether this prospect pleases you or distresses you, the technosphere is going to fail you. There is simply not enough easy-to-exploit, concentrated, conveniently located nonrenewable natural resources left to sustain a global industrial order. … The technosphere, as a single, integrated, emergent intelligence, is in extremis. As it enters its death agony, its previous depredations may come to seem mild compared to what happens next.

In reviewing Orlov’s book for a cover blurb, we picked up our worn copy of Ivan Illich's essays.  "Specific diseconomy" is a term he used, as a measure of the degree of institutional counterproductivity that is occurring — referring to the exact degree to which, for example, the medical industry induces illness, educational institutions induce ignorance, the judicial system perpetuates injustice, or national defense may make a nation less secure. When specific diseconomy is on the increase, this means an institution or industry is increasingly counterproductive to its original intentions.

Illich wrote:

 

 

I choose the term "conviviality" to designate the opposite of industrial productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment. I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. I believe that, in any society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society's members.

This parallels how Orlov breaks down Vladimir Putin’s September 28, 2015 address to the UN General Assembly, in which he proposed “implementing naturelike technologies, which will make it possible to restore the balance between the biosphere and the technosphere.

We take the liberty of providing a long Orlov excerpt here, both because Putin is in the news these days and because we think we may have reason to revisit this subject in future essays.

 

 

 

Since Putin seems to have an uncanny ability to make his words stick by altering reality to conform with them, it makes sense to carefully parse the phrase “implementing naturelike technologies” with the goal of gaining a better of understanding of what Putin meant by it, and what he might be up to. This particular phrase is harder to parse than the previous two [earlier discussed in Technosphere], because the Russian original, внедрение природоподобных технологий, is laden with meanings that its English translation does not directly convey. 

 

“Внедрéние” (vnedrénie) can be translated in any number of ways: implementation; introduction; inoculation, implantation (of views, ideas); entrenchment (especially of culture); enacting; advent; launch; incorporation; adoption; inculcation, instillation; indoctrination. Translating it as “implementation” does not do it justice. It is derived from the word “нéдра” (nédra) which means “the nether regions” and is etymologically connected to the Old English word neðera through a common Indo-European root. In Russian, it can refer to all sorts of unfathomable depths, from the nether regions of the Earth (where coal, oil, gas and various ores and minerals are found) to the nether regions of human psyche, as in the phrase “недра подсознательного” (nédra podsoznátel’nogo, the nether-regions of the subconscious). It can very well mean “implantation” or “indoctrination.” 

The word “природоподóбный” (priródo-podóbnyi) translates directly as “naturelike,” although in Russian it has less of an overtone of accidental resemblance and more of a sense of active conformance or assimilation: “beseeming of nature.” This word could previously only be found in a few techno-grandiose articles by Russian academics in which they promote vaporous initiatives for driving the development of nanotechnology or quantum microelectronics by simulating evolutionary processes, or some such. The basic thrust of their proposals seems to be that even if our devices become too complex for human brains to design, we can let them design themselves, by letting them evolve like bacteria in a Petri dish. But it is hard to see how this interpretation of the word is at all relevant. Also, based on what Putin said next, we can be sure that this is not what he had in mind: 

“We need qualitatively different approaches. The discussion should involve principally new, naturelike technologies, which do not injure the environment but exist in harmony with it and will allow us to restore the balance between the biosphere and the technosphere which mankind has disturbed.” 

These were the two sentences that made an alarm bell go off in my head. I had thought that same thought before, but I had never heard it expressed quite so cleanly and crisply, and certainly not before the United Nations General Assembly. And so I thought, “OK, why don’t I start working on that?”

But what did he mean by “technologies”? Did he merely mean that what we need is a new generation of eco-friendly gewgaws and gizmos that are slightly more energy-efficient than the current crop? Again, let’s see what may have been lost in translation. In Russian, the word технолóгии (tekhnológii) does not directly imply industrial technology, and can relate to any art or craft. Since it is obvious that industrial technology is not particularly naturelike, it stands to reason that he meant some other type of technology, and one type immediately leapt to my mind: political technologies. In Russian, this term is written as one word, политтехнолóгии (polit-tekhnológii), and it is a word that sees a lot of use in Russian public life. At its best, it is the art of rapidly shifting the common political and cultural mindset in some generally beneficial or productive direction. At its worst, it is an underhanded attempt to manipulate public opinion for private benefit.

Putin is a consummate political technologist. His current domestic approval rating stands at 89%—the remaining 11% disapprove of him because they wish him to take a more hard-line stance against Western aggression. It makes sense, therefore, to examine his proposal from the point of view of political technology, discarding the notion that what he meant by “technology” is some sort of new, slightly more eco-friendly industrial plant and equipment. If his initiative succeeds in making 89% of the world’s population speak out in favor of rapidly adopting naturelike, ecosystem-compatible lifestyles, while the remaining 11% rise up in opposition because they believe that the rate of their adoption isn’t fast enough, then perhaps climate catastrophe will be averted or, at least, its worst- case scenario—the one that includes near-term human extinction. I hope you will agree that, given the scarcity of other such proposals from supposed world leaders, and given the success of his previous initiatives, this new one might be worth a try. 


In Easy Rider, there is a surreal experience at a commune where the Kid and Captain America stop before going on to Mardi Gras. The scenes of domes, naked children playing in dirt, gardening and tai chi seem out of a Fellini film. Dennis Hopper directs Laszlo Kovac's camera to make a 360-degree pan across the faces of the hippies, some serious, some grinning, others just zoned out. Wyatt likes the vibes and wants to stay, but the Kid is creeped out and wants to hit the road.

Later, after the bad trip in New Orleans that winds up in a cemetery where Wyatt confronts his demons, there is catharsis. “We blew it,” he tells the Kid. They hop on their low-riders and motor back towards the commune.

Shortly after that is the famous scene of them getting blown away with a shotgun stuck out a window by some rednecks in a pickup truck on a southern backcountry road. It was open season on hippies. Who knew?

Orlov’s book, providing a healthy dollop of real-world narrative, in the end offers serious advice. You can skip the cemetery trip. Get a tiny house up a long dirt road or a house boat. Tune in, turn off, drop out. If enough people do that, who will they send to the Russian front?

 

I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it's a hard, and it's a hard
And it's a hard, ha-ha-ha-hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

Plausibly Impossible

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Published on Peak Surfer on October 16, 2016

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"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

 

 

  Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, tells how E.O. Wilson, who became through his studies of ants one of the greatest biologists of our time, picked a fight with Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene. Gottschall wrote:

 

 

 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s evolutionary biologists celebrated a fundamental breakthrough. William Hamilton’s inclusive fitness theory (aka selfish gene theory) indicated that organisms are narrowly “designed” to spread copies of their own genes, whether those genes are located in their own bodies or in the bodies of their relatives. Hamilton’s work seemed to show exactly how evolution worked, and also how it didn’t work. Group selection — the idea that competition between groups of organisms shapes genomes — was declared dead. In effect, this defined altruism — real and authentic selflessness — out of existence. On a planet ruled by selfish genes, “altruism” was just masked selfishness. The biologist Michael Ghiselin expressed this beautifully, “Scratch an altruist and watch a hypocrite bleed.”

Dawkins said the big 1960s breakthrough was simply this: selfish genes beat selfless genes; they beat them bloody; they beat them every single time. But Wilson knew better. Incredible levels of cooperation and altruism within ant colonies testify to millions of years of vicious conflict between colonies being resolved in favor of the selfless gene.

Gottschall:

 

 

Other factors held equal, who wins: the tribe of self-sacrificing altruists or the tribe where every warrior is looking out for number one? Won’t it be the Selfless People? Won’t the Selfless People tend to dominate selfish tribes in most competitive situations? And, as a result, won’t selfless genes proliferate?

Charles Darwin thought so. In The Descent of Man, Darwin ran his own thought experiment, pitting selfless against selfish tribes:

It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an advancement in the standard of morality and an increase in the number of well-endowed men will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over other tribes; and this would be natural selection.


Most children pass through a phase in life during which their selfish gene is particularly strong. If they are fortunate, this occurs in their pre-teen or teenage years, when they are setting a course for the arc of a life’s profession. They want to become policemen, firemen, doctors, nurses, investigative journalists or explorers.

We recall that when we were 11 or 12 our parents took us to the FBI firing range in the basement of the old Justice Department on Pennsylvania Avenue. We got to see a “tommy gun” shooting up a profile target and we were given that target to take home and proudly display on the wall opposite our bed. We wanted to be a G-Man like Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

 

 

 

 

 


Fortunately, by the time we were old enough to apply, Hoover’s FBI had already become complicit in, if not actively orchestrating, the JFK Assassination and was forever thereafter embedded within the dark money cabal that dominates the Western political chessboard.

Nonetheless, by age 17 we had fixed upon law school, led in part by reading the writings of Mohandas Gandhi, and then, in 1964, Gideon’s Trumpet  by Anthony Lewis, and in other part by hero-worship of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Eventually — though by then the possibility of shaping society with liberal court decrees had been retired with Camelot — we led a 20-year career in Quixotic environmental and human rights appellate litigation. Such is the karma of 17-year-old fixations.

It should therefore come as no surprise when, to this old firehorse, the case of Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh M. et al. versus The United States of America and Barack Obama, et al, sounded like the knell of a firebell. We reveled in that long-discredited strategy — litigating for social change — poking its nose back into a US District Court in Oregon (Eugene Division Case no.: 6:15-cv-01517-TC).

 

 

 

 

Kelsey Juliana and twenty other Oregon youths aged 8 to 19 had the temerity to ask the Court to require the President to produce a plan to rapidly reduce carbon emissions. They demanded that the plan reduce emissions at the 6-percent-per-year rate that climate science requires in order to get atmospheric CO2  back to a level of 350 ppm. The complaint also requests that the administration prepare a consumption-based inventory of national CO2 emissions. Pope Francis filed an amicus brief in support of the kids' case.

The constitutional law theories of the case are these: 

 

 

Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause: The federal government has violated the defendants’ substantive due process by allowing atmospheric CO2 levels to reach levels that endanger the lives, liberty, and property of the youth defendants and future generations.

Fifth Amendment Equal Protection: The federal government has denied plaintiffs and future generations the same protection of fundamental rights afforded to prior and present generations of adult citizens. In particular, Section 201 of the 1992 Energy Policy Act is unconstitutional due to its mandatory authorization for export and import of natural gas (which “discriminates against Plaintiffs by exacerbating already-dangerous levels of atmospheric CO2… the consequences of which will be irreversible and catastrophic in Plaintiffs’ lifetimes”). Moreover, because climate change poses a “grave and continuing harm to children,” the plaintiffs should be treated as a protected class and the court should apply strict scrutiny when reviewing the Equal Protection claim.

Unenumerated Rights Preserved by the Ninth Amendment: The “right to be sustained by our country’s vital natural systems, including our climate system” is one of the “implicit liberties protected from government intrusion by the Ninth Amendment.” Federal defendants have violated this right by contributing to dangerous levels of atmospheric and oceanic CO2 and a destabilized climate system.

The Public Trust Doctrine: Plaintiffs are “beneficiaries of rights under the public trust doctrine, rights that are secured by the Ninth Amendment and embodied in the reserved powers doctrines of the Tenth Amendment and the Vesting, Nobility, and Posterity Clauses of the Constitution.” Federal defendants have violated their public trustee obligations by contributing to the destruction of the climate system—a vital natural resource for present and future generations.

At a hearing in Eugene Oregon on 9 March 2016, Mr. Obama and his three closest friends, the Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Fuels and Petrochemical Association, asked the Court to dismiss the case, in part based on the argument that the requested rate of fossil fuel emissions reduction was implausible.

A clearer battle between good and evil has not been witnessed since Charlie Daniels met Ba‘al Zebûb, at the Crossroads.

US Magistrate Coffin said that he was “troubled” by the severity of the requested emissions reduction rate, but had to admit that some of the alleged climate change consequences, if accurate, could be considered “beyond the pale.”

A threshold issue raised by Barry and the Gang of Three was whether the 21 plaintiffs, all minors, have standing to bring the suit. To demonstrate federal standing, plaintiffs must show that they have suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent, that the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action, and that it is likely — as opposed to merely speculative — that a favorable court decision can redress the injury.

Nikita Perumal and Jessica Wentz, writing for Climate Law Blog explain:

 

 

The “particularized injury” requirement is one potential barrier to lawsuits alleging injuries from climate change and other widespread environmental harms. The Supreme Court has held that, to satisfy this requirement, plaintiffs must show that they are injured in a “personal and individual way and that they seek relief that will “directly and tangibly” benefit them in a manner distinct from its impact on “the public at large.”

A second threshold issue is whether plaintiffs have raised a non-justiciable political question. Unfortunately for them, the neo-cons wrecked that loophole in 2011 when they challenged EPA attempts to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in American Electric Power v. Connecticut. The Second Circuit addressed the political question argument in depth and concluded it would not bar review of the challenge brought by utilities. The Supreme Court backed the utilities and upheld the right to go after the EPA for regulating carbon. That effectively poisoned the political-question defense when applied to climate change, at least for now. Justice Scalia just rolled over in his grave.

Less than a month after the hearing, Magistrate Coffin ruled that the lawsuit could move forward. He wrote:

 

 

"The intractability of the [climate change] debates before Congress and state legislatures and the alleged valuing of short-term economic interest despite the cost to human life necessitates a need for the courts to evaluate the constitutional parameters of the action or inaction taken by the government. This is especially true when such harms have an alleged disparate impact on a discrete class of society [children]."

In a separate case last November, a judge in Washington ruled that the state's Department of Ecology has a "mandatory duty" to protect the air quality for future generations. On appeal, Zoe & Stella Frazier v. Washington Department of Ecology won at the State Supreme Court and Washington’s Department of Ecology was ordered to reconsider its denial of a petition for GHG rulemaking in light of the best available scientific evidence on climate change. And in May, after hearing a case brought by four teenagers, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the state to follow through on its greenhouse gas reduction pledges.

Internationally, in June 2015 the Hague District Court ordered the Dutch government to further curb its GHG emissions beyond previously pledged targets, citing the European Convention on Human Rights, the Dutch Constitution, and principles of fairness, “no harm,” and hazardous negligence. A similar suit has been filed in Belgium and another is expected in Norway. Unlike in the U.S., the constitutions in the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium include either a governmental mandate to protect the environment or an individual right to a clean environment.

 

 

 “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:1–6.)

The federal case will go to trial in early 2017. When it does, the 21 plaintiffs will present evidence that, as early as 1965, Lyndon Johnson was warned that greenhouse gas emissions would lead to "apocalyptic" and "catastrophic" change. They'll also argue that the White House and government agencies colluded with the fossil fuel industry to suppress such warnings from the public and Congress.

The sole remaining argument that the defendants are huddling around is impossibility. They say that the possibility of achieving the scale of emission reductions needed to stabilize climate is  “implausible.”

We find ourselves oddly in agreement.

In his supporting documents for the plaintiffs, climate scientist emeritus James Hansen calls the requirement to return Earth to the Holocene climate at this point in time “possibly implausible.” In his most recent climate science review paper  he mentions “plausibility” seven times.

We find Hansen’s description of our escape route a little harsh. We would rephrase it as “plausibly impossible.”

The climate research community is well aware of the urgent need to reduce emissions, Hansen writes, and…

 

 

 

 … also realizes that the goal to keep global warming less than 1.5°C probably requires negative net CO2 emissions later this century if high global emissions continue in the near-term (Fuss et al 2014; Anderson 2015; Rogelj et al 2016; Sanderson et al 2016). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports (IPCC 2013, 2014) do not address environmental and ecological feasibility and impacts of large-scale CO2 removal, but recent studies (Smith et al 2016; Williamson 2016) are taking up this crucial issue and raising the question of whether large-scale negative emissions are even feasible.

 

 

* * * 

Our aim is to contribute to understanding of the threshold-required rate of CO2 emissions reduction via an approach that is transparent to non-scientists. We consider the potential for reductions of non-CO2 GHGs to minimize the human-made climate forcing, the potential for improved agricultural practices to store more soil carbon, and the potential drawdown of atmospheric CO2 from reforestation and afforestation. Quantitative examination reveals the merits of these actions to ameliorate demands on fossil fuel CO2 emission phasedown, but also the limitations, thus clarifying the urgency of government actions to rapidly advance the transition to carbon-free energies to meet the climate stabilization targets they have set. 

After 23 pages of detailed analysis, Hansen et al conclude:

 

If rapid emission reductions are initiated soon, it is still possible that at least a large fraction of required CO2 extraction can be achieved via relatively natural agricultural and forestry practices with other benefits. On the other hand, if large fossil fuel emissions are allowed to continue, the scale and cost of industrial CO2 extraction, occurring in conjunction with a deteriorating climate with growing economic effects, may become unmanageable. Simply put, the burden placed on young people and future generations may become too heavy to bear.

And that, thanks to the selfless gene of one Federal Magistrate, is a justiciable claim.

White Nights and Chicken Skin

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Published on Peak Surfer on October 9, 2016

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“Chicken skin” said Nele.

 

 

 

“Beg pardon?” we replied, standing in the open air grassy amphitheater where in 1988, some 60 percent of the population of Estonia had assembled to sing for their independence in the first stages of a non-violent overthrow of 45 years of Soviet rule. We had just remarked to Nele that it gave us a chill, just looking at this wide expanse of grassy park and imagining the strength of those voices, raised as one.

“Chicken skin,” she repeated.

“Oh, goose bumps. We call it goose bumps. Yes, that’s what I am feeling.”

 

 

 
Some days earlier we were debriefing from a speaking engagement at Tartu University, sitting in an open air café, when one of the students took up the argument about human nature and cultural inertia and said it would never be possible to get people to change their habits quickly enough to avert catastrophic climate change and die-off. We remarked that as long as there was a scintilla of hope, we could do no less than to keep trying to shift the paradigm.

 

 

 

“What evidence do you have that you are not wasting your time?” the student asked.

“I have to ask you to just remember how you felt, and how your heart beat, during the Singing Revolution,” we said. “I recall those same deep feelings — and the heart swell — we experienced in the US as we sang and marched in the civil rights movement. For many of us it was life-changing. So think about what your heart says, and ask yourself if history can be changed.”

 

 

 
 
Nele, who was listening to this exchange, leaned in and whispered, “You will always win the argument here with that.” Our reference to the Singing Revolution had given her chicken skin. It may have affected the student the same way, because he became very silent, lost in thought.
 
There was a moment in the Singing Revolution in 1991 when the new Estonian freedom government was trapped in the Parliament building by an angry mob of communist coup-supporters. It was in the same crucial days that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev had been arrested in Moscow by the KGB Alpha Group and the military hard-liners, and the coup leaders there had dispatched Red Army tanks which were at that moment barreling toward the Estonian border.
 
As the communists battered down the doors and entered the inner courtyard, the trapped Estonian freedom government leaders put out a radio broadcast calling for support from the population. All over Tallinn people dropped whatever they were doing and converged on the Parliament building, where their huge numbers dwarfed those of the communist protesters, now themselves trapped inside. What followed could have been a bloody confrontation, as happened later at the White House in Moscow, but instead, the Estonians outside linked arms and began to sing. They parted to form an open corridor, and gave safe passage away to the hard-liners.

 

 

 

Chicken skin. We got it again just writing that passage.

 

 

 
In school we learned that “the Baltics” are three tiny countries, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia; European chew-toys since history began. Apart from those who trace their ancestry there, or took a 6-hour cruise ship stop, few USAnians have ever traveled to the Baltics. Even the opportunity to watch part of the Olympics there was squashed by Jimmy Carter when the US boycotted the games over — wait for it — the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

 

 

 

Cement block houses and barns of the collective farms of that era still decay in the countryside and we are told that it is even drearier to the south where the brief dot-com bubble of the Baltic Tiger did not extend. In Tallinn, free broadband is ubiquitous from the moment you taxi down the runway.

 

 

Estonia now has two skins shedding at the same time, and for most people it is a bit painful. One is the crumbling brutal edifices of the Soviet era (“brutal” being an architectural term for the same 1950s concrete cube architecture seen in the USA and elsewhere), during which over 100,000 Estonians were sent away to Siberian gulags, many never to return. The other is the stainless steel and glass Tokyoization that reflects neon corporate logos onto rainy streets during the White Nights of late May and June.
 

 

 

 

Built on the brilliance of Skype and a thousand other points of entrepreneurial light, and suddenly unveiled after a half-century of hooding, the fast-riches façade fell hard in 2008, plunging Estonia into the same icey waters where bobbed the other tigers — Iceland, Greece, Ireland and Spain.

 

 

Estonia now teeters between a great green hope of progressive change and something more resembling its Baltic neighbors – decollectivized and depopulated farms and forest-scapes drifting back into a Medieval steady state economics grounded in nature. 
 
This is fertile soil for permaculture, so it was no surprise that our weekend introductory course  was sold out months in advance and we were invited back next year to give the full 2-week certification edition, with perhaps a mushroom growing workshop thrown in.
 
Estonians are refreshingly immodest about nudity for a cold country, and as we were chauffeured into Tallinn by one of the genuine heroes of the Revolution — Jüri Joost, the policeman who defied an entire Red Army armor brigade to hold the TV tower for 2 days, armed only with a Freon fire extinguishing system — we could not help but notice the nude backyard sunbathers beside our busy highway. We also noted the willingness of our permaculture students, complete strangers a day before, to doff clothes while queueing for the small sauna in the community building at Lilleoru. Flying in from the uptight West, this attitude was entirely refreshing.
 
Lilleoru is our host — a small ecovillage south of Tallinn, begun the same year as the new nation. We browsed scrap albums filled with photos of an incredibly young bunch of kids moving to this forest, making a sawmill, and starting to build a community, from scratch. We leafed through black and white stills of nude ice swims in a frozen lake, turning the soil to make gardens, and erecting a Great Plains tipi.

 

 

 

The young leader who emerged was Ingvar Villido (Ishwarananda), a student of Kriya Yoga, who journeyed to India and brought back the lessons learned. He is now a Kriya Yoga master and appropriately Lilleoru is not only a spiritually-based ecovillage, but also (in a separate location on site) a yoga ashram — with guesthouses, common house, and residences for devotees — and a Self-Realization Training Center — with an educational park, yoga studio, extensive gardens and orchards, classes and workshops. The community kitchen is vegetarian and supplied with fresh milk, yogurt, honey and produce from a nearby biodynamic farm. Freshly baked bread always includes a soft white, a harder rye, and a black bread, Leib, that is a cross between Boston Brown and Pumpernickle – sweet but soft. The Estonian version of bon appetit  is jätku leiba — “may your bread last.”

Meals vary, but bread, jam, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickled squash, melon slices and yogurt are always on the table. Kohupiim, which is cottage cheese-like, is used in cakes and pastries, such as Kringel, a sweetbread knotted and sprinkled with nuts and raisins. There is also a popular sweet gruel called Kama that is sort of a cross between muesli and lassi. It is made of sour milk or kefir and mixed with grains.

 

 

 
 Jüri Joost, who is no longer a policeman but does private security, reminded us of Frank Martin, Jason Statham’s character in The Transporter, and as he put the Audi through its paces in the narrow streets of Tallinn. Rudra Shivananda, Ave Oit and I were alternatively pressed back into our bucket seats and held fast by our seat belts, but the man radiated confidence and wore his well-tuned car like a clean suit of clothes. He dropped us in the Old Town, probably the only part of Europe where you can have a 13th century lunch at restaurants such as Olde Hansa or Stenhus. There they serve a green beer made of honey and cream called Kahji, although we preferred the hemp brew called Cannabia, with its scratch-and-sniff label, offered in the sidewalk café outside the Von Krahl Theater. After the beers, Jüri whisked Rudra, who had finishing teaching a Kundalini energy class at Lilleoru, to the airport and entrusted us to give an evening talk on “Tipping Points” in the theatre.

Agnieszka Komoch, a Polish friend, commented on our Facebook photo album that the whole country seemed surreally clean. This was no accident. In 2008 more than 50,000 Estonians participated in the country’s first national clean-up or “Lets Do It” campaign. Organizers used Google maps and cellphones with GPS to locate junk, and then volunteers turned out to collect every kind of garbage from tractor batteries to plastic bottles and paint tins and ferry the filthy junk, often in their own vehicles, to central collection points. 
 
School classes cleaned up a site near the central town of Turi, removing old metal, plastic, glass, bottles, and remains of farm medicals and household garbage tossed deep into a forest during Soviet times. “Lets Do It” has now spread to Slovenia, Latvia, Portugal, Romania and Ukraine. In Slovenia this year more than 350,000 people (12% of the population) helped to bring in more than 10,000 tons. Next January it is scheduled to debut in New Delhi.
 
Toomas Trapido, one of our permaculture workshop participants and a Green Party member of Parliament (there are 6 Green M.P.s now), says that the next challenge is to set up a “waste input” system, so that Estonia can establish cradle-to-cradle reuse. He proposes a Lets Do It World annual conference. As we drove around Estonia, we began to extrapolate to nuclear wastes, plastics, and other global problems. He said he could imagine the Estonian Navy working in the ocean with vacuum cleaners scooping up plastics, although, he had to gently advise us that the Pacific, where the plastic gyre is the size of France, was not really their lake.
 
We began tossing around ideas for making Estonia the first carbon negative country, using the wastes from its forestry industry and farms to burn in district CHP plants producing biochar. He said I should remember that the people were not all greenies (6 Green M.P.s is only 6% of the government), and that if I looked around many Estonians expressed a clear preference for Volvos, BMWs, Mini-Coopers, Lexi and Hummers, and would go into debt to buy those even before they improved their housing, much of which was still taken from an architectural blueprint that could be seen at regular intervals from Warsaw to Vladivostok. Estonia’s current economic development model, funded by the European Union, involved attracting cruise ships to the casinos in Tallinn.
We asked him if they were also building golf courses. They were, he said, but they had problems with crows, which liked to collect the golf balls as soon as they landed.

 

 

 

If the 2008 stutter in the step of the Baltic Tiger can be understood as a warning, there could yet be hope for an escape from the Eurotrash fashion meme as Estonians exit the Second World and skip ahead to the Great Change. My translator, Ave Oit, a founder and guiding light of the Lilleoru ecovillage, has a family business buying organic and fair trade wares and selling them in her BioMarket. If sustainability, organics and local fair trade can become catch phrases here, then Estonia could already be well ahead of the EU. 

 

 

 

Births now balance deaths and in-migration balances out-migration. The old growth forests were stolen long ago, but new forests now reclaim abandoned farms and roadsides and the Estonian population, which sits lightly on a rich landscape, could be easily supported by the fruits of its own countryside, with only horse-drawn distances to modestly-scaled cities.

 
 
 
 
 

 

Climate change will matter, and Estonia is sandwiched between scenarios. Mid-summer frosts and severe winters (over 120 meters of snow last year) become more likely with the slowing of the Atlantic conveyor. Hot, muggy and buggy summers drift up from the scorched continent to their south. Still, if the Singing Revolution is any indication, this is a people who know how to surf on waves of change, and do it with style.

 

 

 

 We are away in China teaching an ecovillage design course this month and have re-posted this oldie but goodie from May 27, 2010 to fill the void while we are off the cybergrid. Don't worry, we'll be back soon.

 

 

The Stein Singularity

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Published on Peak Surfer on October 2, 2016

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"On the GOP side, Jeb Bush never saw Trump coming. Nobody there did."

 

 

Since he created the minds and hearts of men, the Creator preserved truths in our hearts so that we would naturally know right from wrong. He knew the details of important events would be tampered with, so he stored his most important concerns in our hearts — to be good to yourself and others, to know the difference between right and wrong, to seek truth always, and to never neglect your conscience until you die." 


 

— Suzy Kassem (Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem)


While penning last week’s post we were reminded just how powerful the heart is in human affairs. It was difficult to us to view either of Lawrence O’Donnell’s two clips, both already watched several times in preceding weeks, and not feel our heart beating stronger, out throat go dry, our tear ducts start to well.

This is how history swings.

These are the feelings that people feel when they stand up for human dignity. When, as Martin Luther King said, “men and women straighten their backs up… because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent.”

Listening to King say that makes your back straighten a little.

This is part of our biological makeup. When we are inspired (inhale deeply) our chest swells and our heart pumps. We are filled with resolve. We will risk our safety. We will abandon our security. We will act with courage, bravery, and noble purpose, even abandoning thoughts of our own personal good for the betterment of an inspired cause.

It is an animal reflex.

Naturally there are demagogues who exploit this. Most sports work that noble reflex like a muscle, building it up in both athlete and spectator. Even advertising tries to tap into it to sell junk. In popular music it is known as “anthem.” But for all its misuse and abuse, the selfless gene also sends out a shard of hope for us humans in a desperate time.

 

 

“Words can shatter faith; start a war; change the course of history. A story can make your heart beat faster; topple walls; scale mountains.”

 

—Joanne Harris (The Gospel of Loki)


Most of the time we tell people we intend to vote for Jill Stein this November we catch a lot of scorn. In some company, we find ourselves having to brace before we utter the words. Getting herself arrested for painting "Frack this" on a bulldozer blade was a good start, but is not enough to start a revolution. And yet, voting for Stein is neither unwise nor hopeless.

It is not hopeless because we have seen the effect new media is having on not just politics but virtually every aspect of modern life. Bernie Sanders did not have a strong campaign organization or a fraction of the money that Hillary Clinton did, but he tapped into crowdfunding and social media like no one before.

The same can be said of Donald Trump, although he is still riding the reality television wave more than pumping out insults to Twitter. Both Jeb Bush and Hillary were the anointed candidates before the primaries, both lost badly, and only by dint of Hillary’s clout within the Party Oblast did she manage to sandbag Bernie and carry through to the convention.

On the GOP side, Jeb never saw Donald coming. Nobody there did.

That’s precisely why Jill Stein cannot to be counted out.

The US election takes place on a single day, give or take motor voting. Most ballots are cast within about a 16-hour window from 7 am on the East Coast to 7 pm on the West Coast. During that window, what happened in the primaries doesn’t matter. What happened in the debates doesn’t matter. Who has the best team, the biggest advertising budget, the most yard signs, or the momentum going into that 16-hour window suddenly stops mattering. What matters is what happens in the voting booth.

We are now in a new world: UberAmazon. Most USAnians want, and many millennials are used to, just-in-time instantaneous gratification.

This is a new phenomenon, on a historical time scale, but it is how the Singing Revolution toppled the Soviet Empire in Estonia. It is how Ukrainians found the chutzpah to toss out Yanukovych.

Ukraine is an interesting example because although it was quickly exploited by US neocons and their media lackies, it began from this new wave of spontaneity. When peaceful protesters in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) were brutalized by state security forces and that made it to Twitter, a social-media frenzy quickly morphed into a mass action against the President and Parliament.

This is not to say Ukraine wasn’t already dry tinder looking for a match. Hanyang University researchers Yuriy Shveda and Joung Ho Park found:

 


In Ukraine, according to official reports, on September 1, 2013, the number of registered unemployed was 435.4 thousand people, of which young people (from the ages of 14–35 years) were 183.3 thousand persons or 42.1%. In 2012, those registered at the State Employment Service were 887.9 thousand unemployed people under the age 35, or 48.6% of the total number of persons who were registered; 52.9 thousand of them were college graduates, 33.5 thousand completed vocational schools, and 6.3 thousand secondary school graduates. Among young people in the age group of 24–29 years, the unemployment rate increased, as compared with the year 2011, to 9.5% from 9.2%. Almost one-third of the total number of unemployed young Ukrainians were in labor exchange for more than a year since their release.

This new generation, who has not smelled the gunpowder and has not participated in the previous revolutionary events, was the most active protesters this time around. The Ukrainian youth, de facto, declared a “new policy” qualitatively different from the previous one, not only by its name, but also in its form and content. This attempt is in the same vein with the revolutionary sentiment of 1968 in Western Europe, which was also against conservative society and its legacy of political and unethical values. It was a struggle of generations, parents, and children. In this context, the ideal of the Ukrainian youth and the impetus for the revolution lie in the hope of changing Ukrainian society and pursuing salutary European values.

What happened in Occupy Maidan in late 2013 and early 2014 was that protesters gathered — more than 100,000 at first — the police left them alone and after a time their numbers dwindled to less than 500, at which point the police waded in with truncheons and went riot on them. Video clips spread through smart phones and soon 500,000 students were back in Maiden. Christmas came and went and the police left them alone until the numbers dwindled and then the police swept in again. Eighty-eight protesters died. Video clips spread through smart phones and brought in people from all over the country, who stormed the Presidential Palace on February 21, causing Yanokovitch to flee and opening the door for Victoria Nuland to install a US puppet government so US neocons could bait the Russians and Hillary could accuse Donald of cozying up to Vladimir Putin.

The point of this story being not about Clinton, Putin or Trump, but about smart phones with cameras.

The ether is getting faster. If people are fed up with both Trump and Clinton (and what the heck, Putin too) they might just decide to stay home in record numbers. Alternatively, they could get a text or an Instagram from a BFF who said they went to their precinct and everyone there was voting for Stein, so why don’t you come on down and see if we can flash mob the election?

Inside the beltway campaign professionals are still wondering how Jeb Bush could have gotten beaten so badly, with as much money, such a top-shelf staff, and as many newspaper endorsements as he had.

Every day, more than one billion people use Facebook. That has never been true before the 2016 US election.

Standing like a Sioux

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Published on Peak Surfer on September 24, 2016

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"“There is a bottleneck right here … and today I am directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority.”— Barack Obama, March 22, 2012."
 

 

 

  On April 1, in the last phase of istawicayazan wi, the moon of sore eyes, acting with love and fierce determination, the youth of the Standing Rock reservation stood together in prayer at the place called Sacred Stone. At the close of their prayer, they remained. Figuratively, they drove stakes into the ground and tied their legs to them. They might be killed there, but they would not leave.

Facing them were the arrayed forces of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the White House, four state governments, and the corporations and banks that form Energy Transfer Partners. ETP (NYSE:ETP) owns and operates Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Company, successor to Southern Union Company, and Lone Star NGL. ETP also owns 67.1 million common units of Sunoco Logistics Partners (NYSE:SXL) a company that hopes to see the United States become an oil-exporting nation once more.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter steel pipe that will connect the million-barrel-per-day Bakken and Three Forks fracked oilfields of North Dakota to a bigger pipeline in Illinois for transportation to Louisiana and Texas SXL crude oil terminal facilities and there to be loaded onto ocean-going tankers.

DAPL will carry 570,000 barrels per day. Unless one of those supertankers sinks, one hundred percent of that will go to the atmosphere as deadly, human-extinction-intending, greenhouse gases. So will the oil and gas flowing through the other 71,000 miles of pipelines owned by ETP.

It will cost more to build capacity, produce, refine and burn that oil than to provide the same energy from clean, solar power sources.

 
 

On March 12, 2012, two years and three months after successfully derailing the Copenhagen climate agreement, President Obama issued a presidential memorandum ordering federal agencies to expedite the licensing of new oil and gas projects.

Two months before the Standing Rock youth assembled, the US Army Corps of Engineers, acting for the Obama Administration, gave DAPL an allotment of NWP “fast track” permits. These permits are usually reserved for powerlines or other utility right-of-ways that do not threaten water supplies. NWP approval meant that ETP could legally bypass public notice and regulatory review under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.

 


Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, several 350.org local chapters, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Corporate Ethics International, and others used the comment process on the KXL/Transcanada pipeline to detail the flow of abuses to environmental and native sovereign rights that issued from the White House “all of the above” policy.

Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns count ETP and its allies as major funders. Harold Hamm, founder and CEO of fracking giant Continental Resources, is an energy aide to the Trump campaign and potential future U.S. Secretary of Energy. Hillary Clinton has remained studiously silent on the Dakota pipeline protests but openly supports the Obama fast track policy.

 


On September 3, only a day after the Standing Rock Sioux filed action in court identifying their sacred sites, ETP brought in bulldozers to raze the land named in that complaint and affidavits and render the issue moot. To prevent that, entire families left their homes on the reservation and went onto the sacred sites in an attempt to block the bulldozers. Pipeline security workers responded by letting loose dogs and pepper spray.

It recalls Christopher Columbus feeding Taino babies to his armored war dogs for the sport of his officers.

There have been at least 58 arrests thus far at the #NoDAPL protests, with arrest warrants pending against both journalist Amy Goodman, who filmed the dog attacks and was charged with trespass, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who spray-painted a bulldozer blade and was charged with vandalism.

When a federal judge denied a tribal motion to halt pipeline construction, the Obama administration stepped in to ask that ETP voluntarily cease other construction than in the area in controversy. Most news media, including ourselves, mistook this for meaning the White House was coming to the aid of the Sioux. In fact, it was exactly the opposite, and anyway the ETP voluntarily chose not to stop.

Construction continues. ETP just purchased the ranch where the Sacred Stone Camp is located and where additional native burial grounds and sacred sites have just been identified.

The tactics chosen by the Standing Rock Sioux could have come straight from the rules for satyagraha by Mohandas Gandhi. The Nation followed the letter of the law in making its timely public comments and administrative interventions, in filing for an injunction, and in opposing this assault on its safety and sovereignty by physically standing in the way. Its protests are peaceful and nonviolent. It invited the whole world to watch as military blockades re-routed traffic and kept away the press, the National Guard was brought up to support the corporate goons and then praying children were uprooted with attack dogs, their mouths filmed dripping with the blood of those children.

When individuals are betrayed by a government, they can sue or protest. When the treaty protections of an occupied nation are betrayed by their occupier, their recourse must be to the international legal system. This week, Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II addressed the 49-member United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva Switzerland. He invoked the memory of Sitting Bull:
 

Sitting Bull came from Standing Rock and one the most famous quotes that he has is, “Let’s put our minds together and see what we can build for our children.” So today as this is the topic, something that guides us in our decision-making as leaders: We are putting our minds together so that the kids, the ones not yet born, have something better than what we have today.

 


Were you born too late to be a suffragette or freedom rider? To march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma? To encircle the Pentagon with the Yippies and try to levitate it? To sail with Albert Bigelow on Golden Rule and later Earle Reynolds aboard Phoenix, and still later Peter Willcox on Rainbow Warrior or David McTaggert on Vega, into the Pacific test zone to block the H-bombs?

Climate change is coming to the plains. Mother Nature doesn’t care how many dogs the oil barons have.

This is our moment. We are this season’s people. Its a good day to die.

Zombie Apocalypse

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Published on Peak Surfer on September 18, 2016

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"The scary thing about multiple expansions is that they are reliably mean-reverting — if they run too far, the market always takes it back, sometimes with a vengeance."

   Every time we catch a malodorous whiff of this year’s US Presidential elections, we involuntarily shudder, because regardless of winners or losers, it recalls September 14, 1930, when German voters, abused by post-war sanctions and put upon by financial depression, went to the polls and handed 107 Reichstag seats to the National Socialist Party. It’s useful to notice that the Nazis did not win that — they came in second. It hardly mattered.

Does this history sound familiar?

Hitler began each speech in low, hesitating tones, gradually raising the pitch and volume of his voice then exploding in a climax of frenzied indignation. He combined this with carefully rehearsed hand gestures for maximum effect. He skillfully played on the emotions of the audience bringing the level of excitement higher and higher until the people wound up a wide-eyed, screaming, frenzied mass that surrendered to his will and looked upon him with pseudo-religious adoration.

Reporters compete for Trump's attention  AP Photo/EcanVucci

Hitler offered something to everyone: work to the unemployed; prosperity to failed business people; profits to industry; expansion to the Army; social harmony and an end of class distinctions to idealistic young students; and restoration of German glory to those in despair. He promised to bring order amid chaos; a feeling of unity to all and the chance to belong. He would make Germany strong again; end payment of war reparations to the Allies; tear up the treaty of Versailles; stamp out corruption; keep down Marxism; and deal harshly with the Jews.

 


 

 

 


It helps to plan ahead. That was the main advice we gave in our Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook in 2006 and Financial Collapse Survival Guide and Cookbook in 2012, and it still holds.

We did not imagine when we wrote those books that collapse would take as long coming as it has, but it is well underway now, just not evenly distributed. Zero Hedge reports:

 

While nobody here …  is saying that a crash is imminent (and there’s no law that says stocks cannot become even more expensive), we continue to maintain our bias against U.S. stocks. We will also take this end-of-summer moment to point out the yawning disconnect between fundamentals (of the U.S. economy and even corporate America) and their stocks. It really is a tale of two cities, one of mediocre fundamentals versus a meteoric rise in markets.

Which brings us back to the Shiller P/E. Much of the run-up over the past few years has been primarily about multiple expansions. And the scary thing about multiple expansions is that they are reliably mean-reverting—if they run too far, the market always takes it back, sometimes with a vengeance. And we are currently almost 70% too far.

Dmitry Orlov’s classic work The Five Stages of Collapse  gives a roadmap to what lies ahead:

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.


Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.


Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.


Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.


Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.


What Orlov points out is that what is lost is not so much material resources, although those are inexorably diminishing, but confidence (“with faith-ness”) that affects everyone — quality of goods and services, roads and bridges, individual/household health, social well-being and sense of security. Prison and military budgets and recruitment swell to keep pressure off unemployment. Hate crimes escalate. Political correctness becomes State-dictated, tribe-enforced, thought police. The mass psychology is viral. The fear grows contagious and flows from a deeply-seated, existential angst.

Charles Hugh Smith points out:

General trends manifest in different ways in each community/region.  For example, the city and county of San Francisco is booming, with strong growth of population (866,000 residents), jobs, rents, housing valuations and tax revenues. Yet even as the city and county of San Francisco’s annual budget swells to an incomprehensible $9.6 billion—larger than the budgets of many U.S. state governments, and four times the annual budget of the city and county of Honolulu, with 998,000 residents—the homeless problem in San Francisco becomes ever more intractable, intrusive and disruptive, despite tens of millions of dollars devoted specifically to improving the options available to the homeless.


Living in an ecovillage in Tennessee its easy to get complacent. We can eat well from our garden and get most other needs from The Farm Store or our Amish and Mennonite neighbors within bicycle distance. We sit on a good water supply and recycle our own biowastes. After staying here a while, the need to ‘go to town’ diminishes, to maybe once every couple of weeks, then once in some months.

Despite the wacky plot-line in Shameless, Season 6, when Sherilyn Fenn’s character lures William H. Macy’s character back to her free-love, poppy growing "ecovillage," utopian living is very real, not inaccessible, but it's a choice few USAnians have made. There are more Chinese living in ecovillages than USAnians. More Senegalese. More Sinhalese. 

In the real world, not some HBO fantasy, ecovillages are built by earnest people, not welf government housing authorities, real estate developers or banks. Our ecovillage was something that took 40 years to build, with residents sacrificing to live on little more than $1 per day, per capita, for the first 10 or 15 years, in order to make land payments and pay taxes while building roads, water systems, clinics and schools.

People who visit us today see the sculpted roads, water towers, handsome horses, pro disk golf course, and large solar arrays and might mistake it for some kind of trendy, master-planned gated community gridded down onto a chunk of rolling Tennessee real estate. It is easy to not grasp that it was all higgledypiggledy cobbled together (or cobbed together) bit by bit, on the sweat of longhaired hippies in patched bibtops and homespun, one bent nail in oak plank at a time.

On those occasions we do go out further than easily-biked distance, we cross into what Jan Lundberg calls The Paved Precincts of Amerika. Our heart swells with compassion for its victims — not the skinny street urchins of Mumbai but the ever-increasingly obese mall-crawlers and cubicle rats making payments on outsized land-yachts and rat infested rental housing, popping prescription pills and swilling tasteless beer or high-fructose corn syrup beverages from a plastic cup while starving the dog to pay the cable bill. Welcome to the Teflon Trump Country.

Last year James Howard Kunstler told Chris Martenson:

 

The hidden (or ignored) truth of this quandary expresses itself inevitably in the degenerate culture of the day, the freak show of pornified criminal avarice that the USA has become. It only shows how demoralizing our recent history has been that the collective national attention is focused on such vulgar stupidities as twerking, or the Kanye-Kardashian porno romance, the doings of the Duck Dynasty, and the partying wolves of Wall Street.
Duck Dynasty lends its star power to the Republican Convention
By slow increments since about the time John F. Kennedy was shot in the head, we’ve become a land where anything goes and nothing matters. The political blame for that can be distributed equally between Boomer progressives (e.g., inventors of political correctness) and the knuckle-dragging “free-market” conservatives (e.g., money is free speech). The catch is, some things do matter, for instance whether the human race can continue to be civilized in some fashion when the techno-industrial orgy draws to a close.

Last week Kunstler opined:

 

Idiocy and mendacity are a bad combo in the affairs of nations, especially in elections. The present case in the USA displays both qualities to near-perfection: on one side, a boorish pseudo-savior in zero command of ideas; on the other side, a wannabe racketeer-in-chief in full command of her instinctive deceit. Trump offers incoherent rhetoric in opposition to the current dismal order of things; Clinton offers empty, pandering rhetoric in defense of that order. Both represent an epic national drive toward political suicide.

The idiocy and mendacity extend to the broad voting public and the discredited elites pretending to run the life of the nation. The American public has never been this badly educated and more distracted by manufactured trivia. They know next to nothing. Even college seniors can’t name the Secretary of State or find Switzerland on a map. They don’t know in what century the Civil War took place. They couldn’t tell you whether a hypotenuse is an animal, a vegetable, or a mineral. Their right to vote is a danger to themselves.


Cognitive recognition of the average USAnian towards the plight of a Syrian refugee in a Calais cul-de-sac or a Greenlander having to relocate their ancestral village to firmer ground is virtually nil, but in many ways they are closer in plight than they know. Each are only one culture shock away from personal extinction.

It is difficult for us to conceive how rural Walmart shoppers pushing carts through parking deserts under the hot summer sun would cope with the sudden loss of A/C, never mind whatever they might have backing their debit cards.

The Farm may be antifragile in a multitude of ways, but like a small nation that discovers oil or gold and is ill-equipped to defend itself, we are as likely to experience the Zombie Apocalypse as any urbanite suddenly discovering that her corner store had only a 3-day supply of food and it was gone last evening, along with her power and water. 

And if you think financial collapse or peak everything makes you more irritable, just wait until you see what 10 or 20 degree warmer overnight temperatures do.

So, do we begin making lances and training horses and riders in cavalry maneuvers? Unlikely.

More likely we will do the unthinkable and welcome the zombies in, give them a hot bath and square meal, a cot to sleep on, a health check and some meaningful work in the garden. There are limits to that kind of generosity, as we learned the hard way in the past, but in a crisis, making yourself indispensable is really your best defense.  The rural South is no place to try to exchange gunfire with an angry mob.

Umair Haque writes:

At the personal level, the end of the world is already here. This is the first generation in modern history that’s going to suffer worse living standards than their parents.
 
The question is: how much worse? Very badly worse. With stagnant incomes, no savings, this generation will never retire, vacation, advance, enjoy, or own. Their relationships, health, and productivity will suffer as a result. The quality of their lives is going to be long, bleak, and pointless. Worked to the grave to make a dwindling number of dynasties wealthy, largely by serving them hand and foot, not really enhancing human life.
 
That’s not healthy, because it’s neither freedom, possibility, nor prosperity. It is a bad trade for humanity. And in that sense the end of the world of liberal capitalism, followed by the void of institutional chaos and disorder, is likely to be an ugly and grim time Unless. You and I make it a better one. Now you know the problems. The path. The story of the future. And because you know it, you can change it.


Or at least learn to feed yourself. 

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