Pollution

Let the (Wile E. Coyote) Games Begin

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Published on the Daily Impact on July 18, 2016

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What will be the trigger that detonates the final implosion of the industrial age? The betting is always changing, and a new and unexpected candidate has just presented itself as a possibility. The traditional destructors — scarce and/or expensive fuel, shortages of food and/or water, rising sea levels, spreading drought, violent weather and the like — are lined up like dominoes and will eventually fall onto each other in a final wave goodbye. But who will go first? With such musings do we beguile the time as we wait. This is how to get Dallas, and New Orleans, and Nice off our minds, we’ll think about Rio de Janeiro and the Olympics. 

This is the power of Business As Usual: The engines of our industrial universe are all running at full speed in exactly the way you and I drive a car whose gas gauge is on empty. “Driving on fumes,” we say as we hold the accelerator down, refuse to think about what could happen any second,  and scan the road ahead for a gas station. We know one will appear in time. It’s the same faith that keeps Wile E. Coyote aloft after he has run  off the edge of the cliff. But even in the cartoons, it only works until the coyote looks down.

In our real, increasingly cartoonish world,  it is possible for example to levitate the stock markets to ever new highs as long as no one looks down at the hideous price-earnings ratios, the bloated inventories, the cancerous debt, the rising flood of defaults and bankruptcies. Admit those realities, and coyote falls. Same with the oil bidness, with quantitative easing, negative interest rates, rotting infrastructure. They are all coyotes, windmilling desperately in mid-air, trying not to look down.  

So wouldn’t it be a hoot if the whole global edifice were cracked accidentally by a sporting event? Specifically, the 2016 Olympics, about to open in Rio de Janeiro? I’m not predicting it, I’m just saying…

They are about to open despite the fact that everybody in the world with a lick of sense is saying don’t do it, it’s not worth it. If it were a normal Olympics in a normal place and time, it still probably wouldn’t be worth it. The notion that hosting the Olympics is good for the host city and country has been thoroughly discredited.  [See “Does Hosting the Olympics Really Pay Off?The New York Times, and “Nobody Wants to Host the 2022 Olympics,” Business Insider.]

Yet despite the lack of an obvious payoff, the Masters of the Olympics Universe — which is to say the select few who will make billions from the games — are determined that the games begin, despite a rising sea of troubles. Let’s review:

  1. Often touted as a way to showcase triumphant emerging economies and societies, these games will showcase a country whose economy is tanking, whose president has been impeached, whose crushing deficit will be almost doubled by the cost of these olympics. So they are hosting the games to showcase what, again?
  2. Brazil is a hotbed for the newly dangerous zika virus, spread via mosquito bites and associated with ghastly birth defects. The half million visitors expected at the games will risk zika infection themselves, and risk spreading the virus around the world. The fact that it’s winter in Rio reduces the mosquito threat somewhat, but on the other hand it turns out the virus is spread by sexual contact. Point counterpoint.
  3. Rio de Janeiro dumps raw sewage into it waterways, which flow into the ocean and onto the beaches. The waters on which olympic athlete will sail and row, in which they will swim, are very badly polluted, with everything from human fecal matter to human body parts..
  4. Make that very, very badly polluted. Scientists have discovered super-bacteria — resistant to antibiotics — teeming in the waters off Rio’s spectacular, and soon to be teeming, beaches.
  5. And what may we infer about the infrastructure? A new railroad line to move tourists to the famous beaches and back opened June 1 and was closed down a few days later when the power failed. They’re working on it. And an $3-billion-dollar subway extension considered critical to moving people among venues, residences and attractions will probably be open in time but it will not have been tested. So what could go wrong?  A section of a spectacular new bicycle-racing track broke off and fell into the ocean.
  6. As for public safety, travelers arriving in Rio by air have recently been greeted with large signs saying “Welcome to Hell” and warning them that the police and firefighters cannot protect them, for lack of money. The signs were put there by the police and firefighters. The province that pays them has declared a “state of catastrophe”

But the Games are an enormous industry, and as long as they continue to pay huge dividends to the select few, they will continue. Until they precipitate a disaster so murderous, destructive and pointless that the coyote falls. That could be the moment that, shocked into reality, all the coyotes fall.

 

Tribute to the City

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 24, 2016

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The vernal equinox has come and passed and with it the official start of spring is here in the northern hemisphere. Across the countryside Jane Magnolia trees have awoken. Their hundreds of fingers each cupping rose colored blooms like candles, as if they were so many tiny lavender hands offering up communion to the sun. Daffodils peer out of the hillside clearings like periscopes or perhaps yellow gramophones all playing a song of rebirth to call back the songbirds and honeybees. The energy sequestered in the root-balls and mycelium mats as the land went to sleep the last few months has begun surging upward, and it is hard to not feel it flowing through me as I walk my land taking stock of which fruit trees and berry bushes are producing buds. A good friend of mine, and mentor, once told me that I am doing well if I can establish two fruit trees per year. Looking at my spread of apple trees, it looks like I am on track to have done well in that regard. My partner does all of the work to care for our bee hive, and after donning her protective veil for a spring inspection, she reported to me that the hive is in great condition. I have heard it said that bees surviving the winter is what converts one from a bee-haver into a bee-keeper.

Our garden calls for much attention, and each week I spread a truck load of wood chips on the walking paths, which were first covered with flattened cardboard. Hopefully this effort will buy me a few years of relatively weed free walkways. Mint is returning with a vigor, and the strawberry leaves are vibrantly green. Kale, spinach, beets, and parsnips have been seeded, and I am keeping a keen eye for the first asparagus shoots. This year I have to grow significantly more food than I have in the past, as my partner is returning to work full time and I will be staying home during the week days with our daughter. In the short term we will have less money, but I will have more time to attend to tasks around the homestead. Walking through the garden brings me such a deep sense of calm as I talk to the plants and lose myself in my many tasks. Starting seeds is a great way to practice slowing oneself down, especially small seeds that tend to stick together like those of tomatoes and carrots.

I find myself happy as the sun tans my shoulders and a red tailed hawk cries from its nest somewhere high up in the trees behind me.

February was the warmest month in recorded history. The record it broke for such crowning glory had been set in December. February temperatures saw the Earth cross the two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial average barrier that has been established as a hard danger zone by climate scientists. It was an anomaly, for now, but one that is likely to rear itself again and again. The most dramatic warming has been in the Arctic, which bodes ill for jet stream patterns as well as summer sea ice coverage. Time will tell if we see our first ice free Arctic this summer. Somehow the magnitude of the crisis of climate change still seems to evade most general discourse despite the pomp and show of the electoral season now in bloom in the US. There are lots of grand promises being hurled at the public about bringing manufacturing jobs back stateside. If that is not the dictionary definition of cognitive dissonance then I do not know what is. Industrialism long ago set us on a crash course with calamity, and now that the calamity has begun to rain down upon the world in the form of mega droughts, fires, famines, and super-storms, those angling for positions of power are promising more industrialism.

Of course, it is not even a job in a factory per se that most Americans dwelling in the rust belt actually want, it is a secure living situation. They want their basic needs met in a way that does not leave them uncertain and wrecked by stress month after month. It is a culture of production organized and operated through the machinations of capitalism that requires that people work a job in order to have these needs met in such a satisfactory way. When politicians say “Jobs!” it has become a Pavlovian response for the middle, and formerly middle, classes to come salivating like starving dogs to desperately pull a lever in their favor. They forget that first the food, and the land, and the ability to provide for oneself had to be taken away before they could be forced to work jobs for these things. A great deprivation preceded the creation of job economies whereby everyone was made to punch a clock and become the automaton of some civilized production scheme in order to have enough to eat and a place to sleep at night. This deprivation now long forgotten, people have no memory of themselves as anything but workers, and so they beg for work.

Neo-liberal capitalism may be the dominant platform by which this scheme is globally enacted, but it is merely the software that operates on the hardware of the civilized model of human organization. It is key to recall that ecological decimation was the order of the day long before the advent of capitalism. Forests had been clear cut from the Levant, through Greece and across Europe and the UK as civilization marched across the ancient world, slashing and burning its path to conquest and dominion over greater and greater expanses of the Earth. This pattern was repeated globally where ever civilizations formed. The Maya deforested the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula long before Europeans brought their particular version of civilization to the continent and eventually ran head first into the consequences of such short sighted actions. The Aztecs, who may have created one of the more arguably “sustainable” cities in Tenochtitlan, did so on the backbone of war, expansion, tribute, slavery, and human sacrifice. Sure, they recycled their human excrement for crop fertilizer in their Chinampas, but they also relied on the growth of the territory that they dominated through blood shed. Food, firewood, and other material goods flowed into the city from outlying tribute towns where common people had to work to not only provide for themselves, but to pay a quarterly tribute to the city center of the empire.

Such is the way with cities. Goods and raw materials flow in and waste flows out. Cities harvest the natural wealth of outlying areas, and this model is now global, with powerful nations harvesting the material wealth of poor nations. No matter how desperately people may want to believe in the idea of the “sustainable city,” it is a contradiction of terms. Austin, Texas proclaims itself “America’s most sustainable city,” yet every day truckloads of food make deliveries while truck loads of garbage and waste are removed. The city depends on dammed lakes off the lower Colorado river for water which will one day fail to support the city’s growing population, and which in the present deprive down stream communities. According to 2010 data, households in Austin spent the most money on gasoline relative to other American cities. And Austin continues to grow, to cover more of the land in concrete preventing the recharging of the Edward’s Aquifer and demanding more energy for cooling as the city can have over one-hundred days in a year that breach one-hundred degrees fahrenheit.

A recent study calculated how much food the city of Seattle could produce based on how much solar radiation falls on its potentially farmable locations, including parks, rooftops, and yards. Even selecting crops that grow well in Seattle’s climate conditions the study’s authors determined that the city could provide only one percent of its food needs. If the streets and sidewalks were ripped up, the number could rise to two or three percent, but the city would lose functionality. After all, even if day to day travel was carried out on foot or on bicycle, deliveries with diesel powered semi-trucks would still be necessary for everything the city’s inhabitants required, from clothes, to air conditioners, to building materials, and of course, the other ninety-eight percent of the food they could not produce for themselves.

Sustainable living and cities are not compatible. This is not a matter of ideology. This is a matter of hard material reality, and suggestions that somehow 3D printing or vertical farms or a population fed a steady diet of algae shakes will be just the miracle we need to upend hard material constraints are at best, petulant whimpers of those who have become accustomed the vast wealth of selection that living in a first-world city provides, or at worst, Kubler-Ross stage three bargaining, hoping that somehow, by some stretch of compromise we can sustain the unsustainable.

But we can’t. Not without expansion. Not without tribute. Not without an exploitative power dynamic and flows of violence that may or may not be visible from the comfortable confines.

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Hot coffee is a miracle, or damn near one. Every morning millions of Americans have a cup or two of hot coffee, the beans of which were grown in Columbia, or Ethiopia, or Hawaii. Maybe those Americans have tea grown in India or a banana grown in Peru. They pull on shoes made in Vietnam and perhaps ride their bicycle made with bauxite mined in Australia on a road paved with bitumen from Alberta. Perhaps these Americans stop off at a local food co-op or farmer’s market where they purchase some locally grown kale. They take pictures of the fresh eggs at the market with their iPhone which has a slew of globally sourced components buried within it, and they post this photo online with the help of a network of satellites and tag it with some cute caption about sustainability.

When the average American city dweller thinks about urban living, they likely think of the comedy clubs, the used book stores, the fusion restaurants, or the bars. They fail to think about the global hegemony of the United States military and how a worldwide network of bases has laid the foundation for dollar dominance. Most of the American or European or Australian or Canadian city dwellers who stammer on about generating green, sustainable cities are not picturing the mega-cities of the world like Dakha or Rio de Janeiro. Millions of children living in the squalor of slums and favelas, tin roofed shacks and human waste littering the streets and waterways are not what the white first worlders are picturing in their minds when they declare the supremacy of urban existence. Even the relatively lucky people in Hong Kong or Manila live in crammed, small apartments set inside concrete towers that resemble prisons more than anything else.

The wealth extracted from around the planet by western powers over the course of centuries, a process which went into overdrive in the twentieth century, has absolutely skewed the perceptions of those average citizens who reside within these conquistador nations. Like Tenochtitlan, the US and its neo-liberal capitalist crony nations exact tribute from the global poor. We may not adorn ourselves in exotic feathers and obsidian jewelry, but our sneakers and our jeans and our lattes and our cellphones will never be sustainably sourced and manufactured within the footprint of our home city limits. It is just not possible. We can have civilization, or we can have a livable planet, but we cannot have both.

Phosphorous leaches from agricultural and manufacturing sources into water ways. Eventually it alters the chemistry of these waterways creating the conditions that support toxic algae blooms. Power plants are often built along waterways. Coal fired plants have been using rivers such as the Ohio as a waste dump for decades. Radioactive tritium has been leaching into the groundwater from the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York, and the leak is getting worse. The Turkey Point nuclear power facility is leaking waste into Biscayne Bay just outside of Miami.

Often when I discuss the destruction wrought by civilized existence, the first critique hurled in my direction is that, “We cannot go back.” On this point, I agree. We cannot go back because civilization has greatly destroyed the ability of so many natural systems to harbor life. Industrial civilization will decay and fracture in the coming decades and centuries. I do not know how this process will play out or how long it will take to complete, but I feel that I could safely suggest that several generations from now the people who are making new ways of living will curse the stupidity and greed of those who poisoned the water. They will wonder what demons possessed our hearts with such a dark poison that we could so callously wipe out the other living beings who we rely on for survival.

In the dry wastes a young girl will dig for tubers amongst a backdrop of drought ravaged trees and the charcoal remains of those that burned in the previous season. Seeking a nourishing root she finds the bric a brac of our brain dead culture; a plastic fork, a beer can, rubber testicles that once swung from a pick-up truck’s trailer hitch. Yee haw.

Her family boils caught rainwater unaware that it contains heavy metals which will be responsible for some of their eventual deaths. They will laugh, as people do, and they will tell cautionary tales about a long ago world in which people set the sky on fire.

Whatever gods there may be forgive us. We were drunk on oil and pictures of ourselves. We really wanted good jobs.

Descent into Darkness: Collapse 2015 in Words & Pictures

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 1, 2016

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http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/graphics/fathertime-babynewyear.jpgCollapse in 2015 is now in the grave, a thing of the past, an artifact of history.  Not to be forgotten though, because of course those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Of course, those who do learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it too.  lol.  Regardless of that, I wanted to chronicle the watershed year of 2015 in Collapse Dynamics, which I have been an active student of for the last 8 years, the last 4 of which have been spent mainly here on the Doomstead Diner.

To do this chronicle, I began it as an audio rant, but along with the other new things and changes that 2016 Collapse will bring, the Diner is expanding our YouTube Channel where you found the Video Collapse Cafes and I Spy Dooms and SNAP Card gourmets in the past.  They are all still there, in a much more organized and user friendly interface now.  The Audio Rants and Audio Collapse Cafe Interviews have been housed on Diner Soundcloud, and will remain there at least for a while, however as we move into 2016 all our media presentations will be published on the Diner YouTube Channel, which can be accessed directly either from the collapsecafe.com URL or the youtube.com/c/doomsteaddiner URL.

In order to spruce up the Rants with Visual input for the viewer, I have begun creating slide shows that will accompany the rants.  My work here at the beginning is rudimentary, video editing is a new skil for me and I am teaching myself as I go.  It will improve, I promise.  This first one I did for the New Year's rant doesn't match the pictures to what I am ranting about, it's just a mostly random selection of photos we used for Thumbnails on the Diner Blog at one time or another, not necessarily in 2015.  However, it will evoke memories of collapse as it has played itself out so far as you listen to the rant.

Since I know there are some non-native speakers of English who read the Diner and who have trouble following my rants because I speak quickly, the full transcript of the Rant is available Inside the Diner.  A short Snippet from the Rant here on the Blog as well:

…It's been a Banner Year for Doomers, 2015 has seen a marked increase in just about all areas of Doom, from the Economy to Geopolitics & escalating Warfare to the ever deteriorating Climate Problems. In fact, there are so many fucking Doom Stories from 2015 that I doubt I can cover them all here, no matter how long I run on this rant. However, I will endeavor to run very long and you can listen while you recover from your Hangover on New Year's Day-Morning. LOL.

2015 Doom began with a BANG, with the crash in Oil Prices starting around November-December of 2014, just as my good friend Steve from Virginia of Economic Undertow predicted with the Triangle of Doom. However, that early crash was nothing compared to what has taken place through the rest of 2015, we are now down to a $34 Handle and our good friends at the Squid are predicting $20 handles too! “Lower for Longer” is the Battle Cry in the Energy industry these days, and the big question is who can withstand the low prices the longest here before they finally go BK, unable to access more credit to roll over the mountain of debt already accumulated here?

Rumour is of course that it's all the fault of the Saudis, they are going to keep pumping no matter how low the demand in order to drive everyone else in the Oil extraction biz…OUTTA BIZ! If that was the goal, they have already been quite successful with it, as the Frackers over here shut down one drilling rig after another and Venezuela itself has basically shut down.

While 2015 certainly saw accelerating Collapse in many areas, 2016 promises to be even more eventfull, "Doom on Steroids" if you will.  Difficult as it was to keep up with the Tsunami of Collapse stories in 2015, I suspect 2016 will be even more difficult.  Here on the Doomstead Diner Blog & Forum, Diner You Tube and on our associated other Collapse Information Dispersal websites, we will endeavor to keep the readers, viewers and listeners abreast of the latest developments.  Visit our collapse.global Portal for quick access to many collapse information sources with a quick poke to your Smart Phone screen. 🙂

DOOMSTEAD DINER.  #1 FOR DOOM ON THE NET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Drought Locations

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Publishes on the Doomstead Diner on November 17, 2015

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Top 10 Drought Locations

Syria

Drought is a major reason for the  Refugee Crisis in Syria, besides the ongoing Bombing and war over the Oil Resource.

South Africa

Drought is destabilizing the South African Goobermint, and heightening already strained race relations between Blacks & Whites

Brazil

Sao Paolo is the epicenter with a population of 20M, but Rio de Janeiro also has drought problems.  Slash & Burn deforestation of the Amazon Rain Forest exacerbates the problems.

California

Lake Mead is under stress, CA groundwater subsides a few more feet each year and nobody has a clue what to do if 40M Califonicators are forced to migrate.

Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe has water issues and also is on the main migration routes from MENA countries.  Their already overstressed Water resource come under more stress as a result.  A double-whammy.

Australia

Oz sheep ranching is collapsing, and they also are under Refugee stress from South East Asia.  In the best of times, Oz is mainly desert in the interior, mostly only coastal areas are inhabitable.

New Guinea

Despite periodic flooding events, New Guinea has some of the worst drought problems around.  Destination of choice for those migrants? Oz of course.

India

India depends on Monsoons and the runoff from the Humalayas for its water supply, and they have to share the water with Pakistanis as well. All are stress points, and 100s of 1000s of Indian Farmers have committed suicide over the last decade.

Western Russia/Ukraine

Another cause of the onoing and escalating war in Ukraine, traditionally the "Breadbasket" for Mother Russia.

Puerto Rico/Jamaica

Relatively small populations, but the migration issues and economic issues for the FSoA make them sigmificant problems.

Globally, the number of places wit Drought Stress increases daily.  This forces migrations, and then areas not under drought stress become overtaxed in consumption and in waste.  Remember that in most Big Shities, water is used for disposing of Human Waster, and most migrants at least at first end up in Big Shities.

From the Global Drought Information Website:

Current Conditions

By the end of September 2015, drought conditions intensified in many locations.  El Nino is present and is currently being characterized as a strong event, similar in strength to the 1997-1998 event.  It is expected to impact the weather at least through the coming winter. In Europe, drought conditions continued to impact the majority of the continent.  Some improvement was seen in the center of the continent while drought intensified in Eastern Europe. In the Czech Republic, the hop harvest is expected to drop 34% this year due to the drought.  In Asia, drought is present from western Asia, through central and eastern Russia and in Southeast Asia and the Indian sub-continent. Some areas in southern India are too dry to plow. In Africa, drought remains entrenched across the equatorial region and through much of the South. South Africa has declared a drought disaster for Free State and North West Provinces.  In North America, the El Nino has brought some relief to the southwestern US while conditions in the Southeast and through Mexico and across the Caribbean remained dry.  The Dominican Republic and Jamaica have already experienced significant crop losses. In South America, drought remains entrenched in Brazil and has intensified through the central Amazon Basin.  In Oceana, drought has intensified throughout much of the region north of Australia while drought conditions in Australia have continued unabated. Papua New Guinea has released relief supplies for those most affected by the current drough

Sense a problem here?  MANY places are both in serious drought conditions AND they were already food importers even in the good times.  The FSoA continues to be a major food exporter, but that is entirely dependent both on the water supply flowing to CA and to the Ogallala Acquifer in the grain belt of the midwest.  Globally, we are only one bad season away from an overall food deficit.  Once the buffer is gone, the starvation begins.  It may not happen next year, but each year we inch closer to this critical point.

Where will drought problems hit first and hardest?  When will the real crunch time come?  Take the Collapse Drought Survey TM and give us your opinion.

The Fires This Time

Off the keyboard of Thomas Lewis

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Published on the Daily Impact on July 22, 2015

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An appalling amount of the Northern Hemisphere is on fire. At the beginning of this month, 314 wildfires were raging in Alaska alone. They have seared 5 million acres so far this year and have torched up to half a million acres in a single day. Meanwhile, to the east in Canada’s Northwest Territory, hundreds of fires were raging in the permafrost zone, having covered over two million acres by the end of June. The forested northern provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan were similarly afflicted — 522 fires in northern Saskatchewan alone by June 30, nearly four times as many as last year in the same period.

Southward from Alaska, at the beginning of this month, wildfires dotted the landscapes of all the western states as far south as southern California and as far east as Colorado. One California fire overran a traffic jam on a freeway, leaving behind a dystopian landscape of burned-out cars (but, remarkably, no serious casualties).

Wildfires were raging across southern Siberia and Inner Mongolia by mid-April. At the moment, more than 50 wildfires are burning in troubled Greece, their smoke casting a dark pall over Athens.

A new study published last week confirms that wildfires worldwide are larger, more numerous, and their season is longer every year; and that it is all a direct consequence of climate change. Hotter and drier conditions, beginning earlier each spring, have over 30 years doubled the area of the planet’s surface that is vulnerable to wildfire; and have lengthened by 18% the average length of fire seasons worldwide.

In addition, climate change has extended northward the range of the mountain pine beetle, which has killed swaths of western pine trees so vast that there is fear of a single wildfire sweeping through dead trees from New Mexico to Alberta.

The effects of these fires go far beyond the immediate danger to homes and persons. Wildfires do not “destroy” the land across which they travel, as is often heard in the lamestream media, fire is an integral and necessary part of natural ecosystems. However, massive fires temporarily denude the land they scorch of the leaves that deflect and slow rainfall, and the root systems that hold topsoil in place. Thus muddy floods and landslides follow the fire until undergrowth is replaced.

The smoke from these titanic fires is becoming a major threat. It contains tiny particles that bypass the body’s defenses against pollution and enter the lungs and bloodstream, aggravating lung and heart diseases. Fire 50-100 miles upwind from a city have been shown to degrade air quality by a factor of 5 – 15 times. Carried into more southerly  latitudes by the undulating planetary wave between the polar and temperate air masses, the smoke has been darkening the summer skies and tinting sunsets as far south as Tennessee and West Virginia.

But the most ominous thing about these fires is that they are not merely an effect of climate change, they are a cause. The burning of the forests and tundra is releasing astounding quantities of carbon, stored for centuries in the wood and the permanently frozen subsoil. Melting permafrost releases methane, a greenhouse gas many times more destructive of the world’s climate than carbon dioxide. The fires are in fact a feedback mechanism, accelerating climate change as climate change accelerates them.

In one of Ray Bradbury’s searing, never-to-be-unread short stories, an astronaut in a space suit is floating languidly in space, musing on his existence and the wonderful perspective he has on the blue planet Earth below him. Shortly we learn that these are the musings of a doomed man, as he is in fact hurtling toward that earth and will die a fiery death when he hits the atmosphere. Just before that happens, we leave him, and join a mother and small child taking an evening walk as the child looks up in wonder and says, “Look, Mom! A shooting star!”

Somewhere in the northern hemisphere tonight, a small child will look up in wonder and say, “Look, Mom! What a pretty sunset!”


Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact> website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

Shortest Book Ever: Oil Company Ethics

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Published on the Daily Impact on July 19, 2015

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Stress reveals character among humans, and the ongoing, slow-motion implosion of the great American shale oil revolution is throwing stark light on the nature of the humans involved in the oil industry. (I refuse, contrary to the shorthand title of this piece, to attribute human characteristics to corporations. They have none. The people who run them sometimes do.) One should not expect much of people who take as their life’s work the wresting of the planet’s last morsels of carbon from the earth so that we can burn it and destroy the ecosystem that nourishes us, but still: they live among us, they raise children, they pretend to share with us at least some fundamental values.

Even knowing, as many of us do, that they lie, that they hire elegant blonde women to stroll across our Sunday TV landscape and lie in their cosmetically enhanced teeth about what oil companies are doing and what the consequences are, it is nevertheless something of a shock to watch their present descent from dishonesty and greed to sheer, don’t-give-a-damn evil.

Cases in point:

  • Oil companies that find themselves in trouble in Alberta are simply walking away from their rigs, leaving miles of pipe in the ground and acres of polluted ground and water on the surface to be cleaned up by a little-known and under-funded industry organization, the Orphan Wells Association. Last year, the OWA had 164 wells to clean up in Alberta; now that number is up to 704. It’s possible to handle a clean site for $50,000 and two years of work, but oil people are not clean operators, and many sites  are costing more than a million dollars and are taking 10 years to fix. The OWA has been completing remediation on 43 sites a year; at that rate its present backlog is 16 years long.
  • One tar sands operator in Alberta reacted to falling profits by laying off 15 people and refusing to transport them out of the wilderness in which they were working. Air transportation into the tar sands for 20 days of work and back out for eight days off was provided by the company, but the 15 were told that getting back to civilization was their problem. The classy company (Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.) relented only after worldwide outrage at the plight of the dismissed workers.
  • Oil companies whose wells play out in the Gulf of Mexico are “required” to seal them permanently to prevent leaks of the residual oil, which is still under pressure in pipes subject to severe corrosion. There are 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf, of which nearly 4,000 have a figurative cork stuck in them — a temporary seal that the company intends maybe to someday somehow replace with the “required” permanent seal. (Wait, make that “permanent” seal.)
  • In the eight years since Exxon Mobil promised the world to stop funding climate-change-deniers, it has given them more than $2.3 million to pollute public discourse and hamstring efforts to deal with the oncoming planetary crisis. It took a British newspaper — the Guardian — to figure this out, and oddly enough, CNN did not go wall-to-wall on this story.
  • Nor did anyone pay much attention to the story — okay, this is old news, but still capable of rendering hair flammable — that the fracking industry in California continues to get rid of its waste fluids — millions and millions of gallons of water so polluted it can never be used for anything related to human consumption — by injecting them into previously untainted underground aquifers that are the state’s last best hope for irrigation and drinking water as their worst drought in history continues.

There’s more, much more. But before this abbreviated review of oil company crimes against humanity becomes the longest book in the world, let’s go turn on the TV and watch the Exxon Lady sing her Siren song.


Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

China, the Paper Tiger

Off the keyboard of Tom Lewis

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Published on The Daily Impact on June 8, 2015

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toast2China is TOAST!

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Is China a paper tiger or a pussycat? It depends on which numbers you look at.  (Photo by Jinzl’s Public Domain Photos/Flickr)

 

Is China a paper tiger or a pussycat? It depends on which numbers you look at.
(Photo by Jinzl’s Public Domain Photos/Flickr)

The punditocracy assembled yesterday, as they do every Sunday, to yelp their yin-yang talking points that pass, these days, for wisdom. Mostly they want to talk about who, a year and a half from now, might be chosen as the new captain of the Titanic — Hillary or anti-Hillary? Then, like the proverbial elephant terrorized by a mouse, they vent about the latest pimply-faced adolescent who, dreaming of celebrity and inspired by an ISIS website, takes the first giant step toward jihad: gets in touch with an FBI informant for his very own ACME bomb-making kit. Then before the pundits rest, they make their fervent nominations for our next war.

There are lots of candidates: resume Afghanistan, Iraq II, bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran, Russia Redux. But an emerging favorite is China. It seems a deliciously terrifying prospect — the world’s number one economy, most populous country, reinventing the Silk Road, dethroning the dollar as the world’s currency of choice, extending its hegemony over the South China Sea by building a sand castle. What a worthy opponent, bent on taking over the world. Truly, this could be our next good war.

One exhilarated panelist this weekend burst out: “We are already in a virtual state of war with China.” It was, he insisted, the Most Important Thing in the World.

The thing is, if you are determined to pick a fight with someone who is on life support, you must be quick. To believe that China is going to survive another decade, let alone rise to world domination, you must ignore the following stories, all published in the past few weeks:

  • China is running out of water. Its own environment ministry classifies 60% of its underground water and one third of its surface water as so polluted it is “unfit for human contact.” That does not mean “Don’t drink it.” It means “Don’t touch it.”
  • Air pollution in China kills half a million people a year. 90% of China’s 161 major cities failed to meet the national standard for clean air in 2014. Just breathing, in most major cities, is equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. Lung cancer fatalities have quintupled in 30 years.
  • China’s population is increasingly old and sick. Half the population is estimated to be pre-diabetic. 115 million people have diabetes, 225 million suffer from mental illness, 160 million have high blood pressure. By 2040, China is expected to have more people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease than the rest of the world combined. The costs of these afflictions to the Chinese economy is already astronomical, and growing fast.
  • China is running short of productive land. Pollution of soil from factory smokestacks, and from excessive fertilizer and pesticide application, is endangering China’s ability to feed itself.
  • China’s faltering economy is constraining government budgets and fostering instability. Now, talking about war is a time-honored way of getting your restive people to settle down and salute the flag. But actually going to war, when you’re short of money, your people are brandishing pitchforks at you, and you’re dependent on the rest of the world for coal and food? Not recommended.

What is it that Chairman Mao said of the West, all those years ago?  “In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain.”

Thinking Like A Watershed

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 31, 2015

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Nigara-rainbow

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" This is why I turn white with foam and why they named me 'Blanco.' "


“The main challenge to rational planning for flood risk in the country is that private property rights trump even modest limitations on floodplain development,” said Nicholas Pinter, an expert on floods, people and politics at Southern Illinois University, in an email today. “And that sentiment runs deep in Texas. The result is unchecked construction on flood-prone land, up to the present day and in some places even accelerating.”

It’s worth noting that a similar pattern, although with a different mix of drivers, can be seen far from the strip malls and condos around Austin. In some of the world’s poorest places, rapid population growth and flimsy housing in zones of profound “natural” hazard have created huge vulnerability (the latest case in point is, of course, Nepal).

— Andrew Revkin, Opinion in The New York Times, May 25, 2015



In many parts of the world, watersheds like me are underappreciated and overlooked. Not me.

Maybe it is because I am in a high, dry country, long the home to roving horse nomads and then to hardscrabble ranchers. Every cottonwood grove along my banks is sacred to those people, because they are rooted in the Earth, and when the rains come they know to be thankful, and to keep a respectful distance from my banks.

In good years, I bubble out in winter from a series of springs in northern Kendall County and flow generally eastward for 87 miles between rolling hills and canyons. My bed is quite shallow, and it briefly dips below ground in some areas of the Hill Country, like a Ninja practicing the secret of invisibility.

At other turns I pass through the steep cliff walls that I have carved out of hard rock over eons, to remind you of my hidden power. When my temper is aroused, I have 1000 times more strength (3000 m3/s versus 3 m3/s). This is when I turn white with foam and why they named me, those wise Tejano Texians, "Blanco."

When I stood up last week, I raised myself 30 feet in less than 3 hours, blowing away the puny depth gauges marking my passage through the Balcones Escarpment. 

About halfway between Austin and San Antonio, near San Marcos, I take a southerly turn. About two miles west of Gonzales I join my sister Guadalupe and the two of us gather in our brother Antonio before reaching our delta and estuary at Guadalupe Bay.

If you have seen the pictures coming out of San Marcos, Austin, Houston and the other central Texas towns this past week, you might wonder why we are all this angry; why we are all Blancos.
 
Some think it has to do with climate change, and there is an element of truth in that, but you need to look a little more closely. Texas ranchers and those mad fools in the oil patch have wrecked the climate for a good long while, but what has got me mad now is sprawl. 

In one county I run through, Hays, the population grew 61% between 2000 and 2010 and shows no signs of slowing. Those humans are doubling in numbers every couple decades. All those people assume there will be water enough for their yards and gardens even in dry years, but they are paving over the recharge zones of my springs. I know one shopping center that paved over 40 acres that once absorbed runoff for me and what did they do with that land? They parked cars on it!

 
So, people, if you really want to enjoy my gentle nature, and raft or kayak on me, or water your crops and herd your cattle, you had better stop what you are doing to my watershed. For heaven's sake, control yourselves. There are limits, you know.

Gail Tverberg in China: Diner Exclusive Interview

Off the microphones of Gail Tverberg, RE & Monsta

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner  & Our Finite World on April 29, 2015

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Diner-Map-Eurasia-4-28-2015-China

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As regular readers of the Doomstead Diner and Our Finite World know, Gail recently took a month long trip to China, where she was invited by Professor Feng to give a compact University course to Graduate and Undergraduate students at the China University of Petroleum in Beijing.

China University of Petroleum – Beijing (CUPB) is a national key university in China, located in the world famous scenic Changping District, the area close to the Great Wall and Ming Tombs. It is one of the 100 institutions implementing the national "211 Project".

The university is equipped with the first-class facilities, including a library with a collection of 300,000 books, modernized classrooms, new computer facilities and a comprehensive sports center.

Above all, CUPB has an excellent academic staff body of 545, including 121 full professors and 128 associate professors.

Unfortunately, internet access from China is limited for a couple of reasons.  First off, any number of websites (like Google for example) get the Thumbs Down from the Chinese Goobermint.  WordPress is another site not well liked by the Chinese Central Committee.  While you can access some WordPress sites from China, actually getting onto your Admin board to do publication work is close to impossible.  Besides that, access is spotty in terms of bandwidth and speed, so even if a site is theoretically accessible, the infrastructure won't allow you to access it in any usable form in many locations.  So Gail was a bit concerned before leaving that she wouldn't be able to fill in the OFW readers on her trip while she was over there.

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/images/Minicamps/PD5-1.jpgI personally am notorious for finding end-around means of getting things up on the net that are otherwise difficult to do (you have to be creative when you get booted off as many websites as I have been. 😀 ), so when Gail mentioned this problem on OFW, I emailed her and suggested she send me her Updates from China * in email, which I would then publish for her on OFW under my byline.  While website work is pretty tough from China, you can pretty much get your emails out.  How well this plan would actually work was a question mark since neither of us had tried such a thing before, but it turned out to work marvelously well.

Upon her return here to the FSoA, basically RIGHT OFF THE PLANE, I snagged Gail for an Interview while her recollections of the China Trip were still fresh in her mind, despite the Jet Lag of course. 😉  We cover numerous topics in this discussion, including Chinese economic issues, Water & Air Pollution issues, Demographic issues and venture off as well into discussion of the various monetary issues we see ongoing in Europe as well.

As these things go, this one is one of the best we have ever done, right up there with my personal favorite with David Korowicz, the Irishman with the Gift of the Blarney Stone who wrote Financial System Cross-Contagion: A Study in Global Systemic Collapse and a few other well documented and researched papers.  Also right up there with the most popular discussion generally speaking with Nicole Foss (aka Stoneleigh) of The Automatic Earth blog.

Hope you enjoy the discussion.  While you listen, here below are a few more pics from Gail from the China Trip.  You can find more of them in the China Trip articles in the archives on OFW.

In Taich Electric Board Room

Inside the Taichi Electric boardroom where we met with officials. The people shown came with our group, however. Lots of smoking; windows were open and no heat despite  temperature in the low 50s. No elevators in buildings we visited.

Inside graduate student officeInside the graduate students’ office where I spent my time in Beijing when not teaching. Note blue jacket, backpack, and purse. 

Where we met at third factoryWhere we met at the 3rd factory we visited in the electrical industry in Wenzhou. The individual shown is a retired professor who accompanied us on the trip.

Popular cheap noodle dishPopular cheap Chinese noodle dish in the school cafeteria. It consisted of tomato sauce with vegetables, noodles and a fried egg on top. It came with unlimited refills on the noodles and sauce, for the equivalent of $1.30.

Some sea food at restaurantPart of seafood selection at a Chinese restaurant. Most fish was cooked and served whole. Eating it with chop sticks was challenging.

Equivalent of UPS delivery for studentsThe equivalent of UPS delivery for students at the university. If a student knows the date a package is expected to come, the student can go and check the sidewalk for it. I didn’t find out what happens when it rains or snows.

Shrine at third factoryMapShrine at the 3rd factory in Wenzhou. Religious expression seems to be permitted in some areas outside of Beijing.

 

*Gail's China Trip Travelogue Posts

Degrowth

Off the keyboard of Brian Davey

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Published on December 18, 2014 on FEASTA

Degrowth_Panel

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Degrowth – A Vocabulary for a New Era: Review

Degrowth. A Vocabulary for a New Era, just published by Routledge, is quite a slim volume of 220 pages and 51 short chapters.

Before anything else it seems important to say that there are lots of chapters in this book that I think are quite excellent as short pithy descriptions of the key concepts of degrowth. If in this review I have not mentioned many of these chapters it is usually because I have no quarrel with the choice of the word or phrase, the way that is elucidated, the way that it is related to the other words and combined with a short reading list. An attempt has been made by the editors and by the individual authors to relate the words in the vocabulary together so that they are not isolated chapters about stand alone ideas. This puts the idea of “Degrowth” on the intellectual map as a wide ranging discourse, a movement of thinkers about the future of society that needs to be taken seriously…and yet….

…because it is supposed to be a “vocabulary” of degrowth my inclination has been to try to get an idea of which words and concepts relating to degrowth the authors consider to be important enough to be given explanatory chapters, and then to compare this choice of concepts with the vocabularies used by other analysts. Do the words that have been chosen for inclusion cover the constellation of concepts which match the range and types of degrowth ideas that there are and the degrowth idea as I have understood it?

In fact there is only a partial overlap with my own ideas. In this review I will try to explain some of the differences.

No chapter on climate change

http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/01/140122_FT_Degrowth.png.CROP.original-original.pngOn this first point the most striking absence is that there is no specific chapter for climate change. Although climate change is mentioned throughout there is no chapter for the topic as such.

In their introduction to the book the editors write that one of the “foundational degrowth claims” is “the inevitability of disastrous climate change if growth is to continue”. One would think that, if this is such a central issue, it requires proper elucidation. Perhaps the editors thought people would already know about climate change and there was no need to cover it. However this is not really what I am getting at. I am not stating a case for a thumbnail sketch of elementary climate science; I am arguing for an exploration of how the climate crisis contextualises the way one perceives degrowth. For example, given the policy failure of the growth enthusiasts to mitigate climate change at the rate and scale required is “degrowth” now, in any case, too late? If degrowth ideas are not too late, then how much time is left to implement them? Exactly how desperate is the situation that the degrowth agenda is supposed to address? A related question is “how quickly must degrowth proceed, how deep must it be and how could it possibly be delivered?”

It is now widely recognised by people involved in climate politics that only with a level of CO2 in the atmosphere of under 350 parts per million, perhaps much less, will the planet be safe from runaway climate change. Since the actual level of CO2 in the atmosphere is nearly 396 parts per million we are already well on the way to a catastrophe in the absence of emergency action. I have always assumed that a core rationale for degrowth was to be found here.

Degrowth could be driven by climate policy

http://blogs.worldwatch.org/sustainableprosperity/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/degrowthVsGrowth-Desazkundea.jpgNot only that – in my own vision for degrowth, and I guess for others associated with Feasta, degrowth would actually be ‘driven’ by an adequate climate policy. Many chapters in this book draw attention to the role of energy as central to the metabolism of the economy. Most of that energy is currently derived from fossil fuels so if there is a mechanism to screw down the available fossil energy entering the economy it should be possible to force an amount of degrowth on the economy appropriate to averting catastrophe.

To use an metaphor – we need a climate policy regime that is akin to the process of turning down the tap through which carbon fuels enter the economy until no more carbon energy is available to be burned. Were the political will there, and the general political support for degrowth, this would be easy to administer. One would simply require all companies that extract fossil fuel to have permits for the tonnage of carbon in the fuel that they extract before they are allowed to sell this tonnage. Some agency would limit the tonnage of carbon permitted out of the ground each year and would only make available for sale a rapidly reducing number of permits. The money that the fossil fuel companies paid to buy the permits would be distributed on an equitable basis to the general population. That’s called “cap and share” and if I had edited a book on degrowth then ‘cap and share’ and/or similar climate policies would have a chapter as the driver of any voluntary degrowth process.

Voluntary and involuntary degrowth

I write “voluntary degrowth process” because there is an argument that I think ought to have been explored in this book that degrowth will mainly be an involuntary process. Let me try and explain what I see as being the difference.

http://clubfordegrowth.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/450px-Degrowth_strategies.jpgBy “voluntary degrowth” I mean a vision for the future that is promoted because it is regarded as preferable to a growth economy. It is preferable, for example, because it encompasses a number of proposals for change that get no attention in the growth economy where more output is seen as the solution for all problems. An example would be Ivan Illiich’s tools for conviviality – creating the kind of tools that would make possible “space for relationships, recognition, pleasure and generally living well, and thereby, reducing the dependence on an industrial and consumerist system” as Marco Deriu explains in his chapter. Thus what I might term “voluntary degrowth” is a mainly French idea that is sometimes termed “décroissance conviviale”, a cultural and social critique of society – an alternative “imaginary” of how society might be.

By “involuntary degrowth” I mean a view of the future that the production economy will contract anyway, whether we like it or not, perhaps in a chaotic fashion, perhaps through collapse, so that the task of the degrowth movement is to prepare for, and ameliorate, that contraction as best as we can. It is not so much communities and societies making a choice against growth – but communities finding means to cope with difficulties that they will inevitably face when the economy contracts anyway. For example the Transition Movement (that is barely mentioned in this book) has had an idea that “energy descent” is going to happen in the near future and that it is an urgent task to prepare communities so that they will be able to cope.

Now in trying to cope with this process that people like me think will happen anyway the Transition Movement have had a strong idea of making the most of the situation. They have wanted to “make a virtue out of necessity” and to look for the silver linings around the storm clouds. There is the suggestion that people might be surprised to find that the quality of life might actually be better. The Transition Movement thus works towards the revival of community, relationships and different kinds of creativity too. The kinds of projects advocated for – like urban gardening – are the same as for décroissance conviviale. However, the starting point is not a choice for a different kind of society compared with the growth economy – so much as making the best of what will happen in the difficult conditions associated with future contraction.

To my mind it is a weakness of this book that it does not draw out and emphasise these distinctions enough. In fact different kinds of future are possible. Thus we can consider the possibility that involuntary degrowth happens (in the sense of a contraction of material production) but not quickly enough to reduce carbon emissions at an adequate pace. In this situation cap and share to drive a faster pace of emissions reduction – and a process of voluntary degrowth of material production would still be needed to speed up the involuntary contraction.

Reducing the allowable extraction of fossil fuels in order to leave most fuels in the ground would degrow the economy. However, on its own this is unlikely to be enough to avert runaway climate change. That’s because CO2 is already over the limit and any more will add to the danger. So a lot of CO2 will have to be taken out of the atmosphere. This is another urgent future task. However, any draw-down of CO2 will probably only be possible, if at all, by extensive land reclamation and re-vegetation, locking up the CO2 in biomass – using ecological design methods (like permaculture). In my view draw-down or sequestration ought to be another idea with a chapter. It isn’t. There is no consideration of enhancing carbon sinks.

http://www.barcelona.degrowth.org/uploads/media/maclurcan.jpg

Overshoot and collapse – some more missing words

https://panosz.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/degrowth.jpgOf course academics at the University of Barcelona, who have played a leading role bringing this book together cannot be expected to know everything but the failure to address these urgent practical issues is serious. Or that is my point of view anyway. We need to remind ourselves that the original authors of the 1972 Club of Rome sponsored study “Limits to Growth” worked with a model in which growth could continue for some time beyond the carrying capacity of the planet in a phase that they termed “overshoot”. Overshoot was analogous to living beyond ones personal means by running down the family savings or running up debts. It can be thought of as a delay in adaptation to ecological realities which would mean that eventual adjustment, when it comes, will be that much more of a shock. An overshoot that goes on too long eventually leads to collapse – a chaotic reduction in complexity likely to involve a great deal of insecurity. You can think of collapse as involuntary degrowth and it is much more serious than stagnation, recession or even depression. That’s because it is a much longer and irreversible process of transformation in humanity’s relationship with the planet likely to be associated with rising death rates and falling populations. Unfortunately words like “overshoot”, “collapse” or “involuntary degrowth” are not part of the vocabulary either. To my perception this “vocabulary” lacks a continuity with the “Limits to Growth” thinkers of 1972. It is a southern European and French choice of words even though the book is written in English.

Many of the actions and policies that are proposed under the heading of “degrowth” might conceivably help in a collapse – but one feels that most of the authors in this book do not conceive their proposals for action as emergency measures. They are not being proposed as survival arrangements; they are still being proposed in an alternative paradigm in a future which is rather like the present. They are being framed on the assumption that “developed economies” are entering “a period of systemic stagnation” in which “an abandonment of growth will revive politics and nourish democracy, rather than animate catastrophic passions” as it says in the introduction. I find this framing to be rather too complacent.

Not all of the contributors share the same ideas. Christian Kerschner has written the chapter on peak oil (and other resource peaks). He thinks “Economic degrowth is no longer an option but a reality”. For him it is starting to happen involuntarily.

Another author not on the editors’ wavelength is Alevguel Sorman who has written the chapter on ‘Societal Metabolism’. Sorman concludes “ The biophysical view of social metabolism warns about the limitations of degrowth strategies based on voluntarily consuming fewer resources, less energy or less capital. These will not suffice on their own”. In particular Sorman warns against the assumptions of many thinkers that worksharing will enable a trade of income in exchange for more free time because “In a future scarce in energy we will have to work more, not less”.

There is also an indirect and partial consideration of collapse in a chapter by Serge Latouche titled the “Pedagogy of Disaster”. This is a discussion about whether future disasters will allow a sociopathic elite to exploit the vulnerability of shocked, disorientated and frightened people ( ‘disaster capitalism’) or whether the coming shocks will shake people free of their complacency so that they wake up in time to forestall an even worse future. Latouche concludes that both are possible, depending on context.

An version of degrowth flawed by optimism bias?

http://theoverthinker.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/lemmings.jpgOne way of summarising these points is to say that the editors have drawn together a mainly optimistic version of degrowth. It is not a view that I share. I find it is interesting to contrast the approach of the editors with the attitude of Dennis Meadows, a surviving member of the ‘Limits to Growth’ study of 1972. Meadows stopped believing that humanity would be able to adequately respond to the limits to growth crisis in the 1990s and feels that a collapse is now inevitable.

“In 1972 there were two possible options provided for going forward — overshoot or sustainable development. Despite myriad conferences and commissions on sustainable development since then, the world opted for overshoot. The two-leggeds hairless apes did what they always have done. They dominated and subdued Earth. Faced with unequivocable evidence of an approaching existential threat, they equivocated and then attempted to muddle through.

Global civilization will only be the first of many casualties of the climate the Mother Nature now has coming our way at a rate of change exceeding any comparable shift in the past 3 million years, save perhaps the meteors or super volcanoes that scattered our ancestors into barely enough breeding pairs to be able to revive. This change will be longer lived and more profound than many of those phenomena. We have fundamentally altered the nitrogen, carbon and potassium cycles of the planet. It may never go back to an ecosystem in which bipedal mammals with bicameral brains were possible. Or, not for millions of years”.

Graham Turner, an Australian academic has now done 30 and a 40 year follow-ups to see how the business as usual predictions of the 1972 ‘Limits to Growth’ computer model compare with what actually happened. He concludes that they are pretty much on target – and that the turning point will occur in 2015.

“With significant capital subsequently going into resource extraction, there is insufficient available to fully replace degrading capital within the industrial sector itself. Consequently, despite heightened industrial activity attempting to satisfy multiple demands from all sectors and the population, actual industrial output per capita begins to fall precipitously, from about 2015, while pollution from the industrial activity continues to grow. The reduction of inputs to agriculture from industry, combined with pollution impacts on agricultural land, leads to a fall in agricultural yields and food produced per capita. Similarly, services (e.g., health and education) are not maintained due to insufficient capital and inputs.

“Diminishing per capita supply of services and food cause a rise in the death rate from about 2020 (and somewhat lower rise in the birth rate, due to reduced birth control options). The global population therefore falls, at about half a billion per decade, starting at about 2030. Following the collapse, the output of the World3 model for the standard run shows that average living standards for the aggregate population (material wealth, food and services per capita) resemble those of the early 20th century.[1]

The distinction between voluntary and involuntary transitions matters. Without a transition that is at least partly involuntary it is highly unlikely that sufficient people will voluntarily adjust their lifestyles in the directions that degrowthers see as vital. At the same time what we are describing an unpleasant historical epoch in which death rates will be rising.

Risk aversion, prospect theory and the collapse of lifestyle packages

http://thetyee.cachefly.net/Life/2010/05/04/Degrowth.jpgIn order to understand the inertia in current systems and peoples reluctance to change their lives towards degrowth the work of Daniel Kahnemann is helpful.

Kahnemann’s “prospect theory” is another idea absent from this book. It shows that people organise their lives around ‘reference points’ and are very “risk averse” when it comes to retreating away from those reference points. A reference point might be something like the income level to which one has grown accustomed and therefore the amount that one spends in day to day life, the expenditure associated with a lifestyle that is more or less adjusted to the income. My interpretation of this is that a fall in income is not welcome not only because one has less but because the organisation, the management of life’s details, must be adjusted so as to create an adjusted expenditure pattern and this requires thought and attention. One spends less money but spends more time thinking about what one spends money on. This is unwelcome extra mental effort. For a significant change one must adjust a whole pattern of hourly, daily and weekly purchases with possible consequences for habitat, relationships, routine transport arrangements etc.

It is all very well to write, as the editors do in their epilogue, that scarcity is social, and that society can produce more than enough for our basic needs – but that does not address the main issue that people worry about when they manage their day to day lives. This is how to maintain their “lifestyle package” in sufficient balance so that their lives are not at risk of descending into chaos. Most individuals whose lives are in balance will be living in a set of circumstances where their income is more or less appropriate to match their habitat needs, which must match their relationships (accommodation suitable to living with their partner and dependents). These must match their job with its income – and with its time and travel commitments. These must match their job skills and domestic commitments. There is mental and emotional work involved in balancing one’s life and it is scary if it seems like unravelling.

The biggest fear is of a generalised life crisis in which all of these things unravel together. For example because they lose their job a person might find that they cannot service their debts (mortgage) or pay the rent and thus lose their accommodation. During the stress and practical chaos of this their relationships might break apart. During the last crash many ended up homeless living in tents or cars on their own. Many people also lost their minds – i.e. became totally disorientated, extremely emotional and unable to function.[2]

The practical projects as “lifeboat arrangements”

https://jaqastan.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/adeptes-de-la-decroissance1.jpgThe point about a generalised crisis is that large numbers of people could find themselves in situations like these – and thus need the urban farms, the food co-ops, the repair and maintenance workshops, the back to the land projects, the alternative currencies as “lifeboat” arrangements to keep them afloat. They will need these kind of projecsts to give them new social relationships and enable them to begin again, to regain confidence, to “recycle their lives”. It seems implausible to me that most people will join these projects and organise their lives around them as a choice of rejection of the growth economy – although some will. It is however not implausible that if and when the growth economy is breaking down that people will join these projects. (I have seen how valuable a community garden can be for people who have mental health problems.)

Until a generalised breakdown occurs most people will remain too tightly tied into the economic mainstream. When a breakdown does occur however the times will be very dangerous and the projects must be there ready to include and support people. This is because it is when all their options seem bad that people lose their risk aversion and are prepared to take gambles – like for example betting what little they have left or, in a more fundamental sense, gambling with their life by joining a criminal gang or an extremist movement.

Resilience – another missing word

The word to describe this set of issues is “resilience”. Unfortunately resilience is another missing concept in this book. Resilience is about how much stress an individual’s ‘lifestyle package’ or a community or a society can take and still function before it breaks down catastrophically. It is about the tipping points or thresholds within systems that reflect their levels of complexity and interdependence.

This ought to have been clear from the chapter by Sergio Ulgiati on “Entropy” which is about what role low entropy energy has in the maintenance of systems. The availability of low entropy energy in economic and social systems is not just in order to be able to produce enough “stuff”. The conversion of energy in “hub interdependencies” – in transport systems, transactions and financial systems, computer controlled production systems and global supply networks is used to maintain the continued functionality of an immensely complex set of organisational structures. If the energy is not there then the complexity degrades – systems cease to function – the organisation falls to bits.

The crucial issue here is how resilient are these interrelated structures to disruptions in hub interdependencies brought about by energy and resource supply shocks? Systems can cope with reductions in inputs of energy and other resources up to a point but beyond that point they may break down completely. When organisational arrangements break down altogether nothing at all may get produced because workers are unemployed, production systems stand idle, banks are bust, nothing moves. There would not be stone age levels of production but no production at all. Gar nicht. Rien du tout. Res en absolute.

Here’s a quote from a colleague in Feasta, David Korowicz, which reveals the issue at stake:

“In September 2000 truckers in the United Kingdom, angry at rising diesel duties, blockaded refineries and fuel distribution outlets. The petrol stations reliance on Just-In-Time re-supply meant the impact was rapid. Within 2 days of the blockade starting approximately half of the UK’s petrol stations had run out of fuel and supplies to industry and utilities had begun to be severely affected. The initial impact was on transport – people couldn’t get to work and businesses could not be re-supplied. This then began to have a systemic impact.

The protest finished after 5 days at which point: supermarkets had begun to empty of stock, large parts of the manufacturing sector were about to shut down, hospitals had begun to offer emergency only’ care; automatic cash machines could not be re-supplied and the postal service was severely affected. There was panic buying at supermarkets and petrol stations. It was estimated that after the first day an average 10% of national output was lost. Surprisingly, at the height of the disruption, commercial truck traffic on the UK road network was only 10-12% below average values.”[3]

It will be noted here that 10 to 12 % less commercial truck traffic and British society was about to fall to bits. It is easy to imagine particular kinds of emergency where the “life style package” of a lot of people would disintegrate.
Climate change, climate policy, overshoot, involuntary degrowth, collapse, risk aversion, inertia, resilience…here are a whole series of concepts and words that in my view ought to have appeared in the vocabulary but did not. As I said at the beginning of this review the constellation of concepts or the words in this vocabulary do not cover the issues to my point of view.

http://www.sustainabilitysc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/EconomicGrowthCartoon.jpg

A French book written in English?

The Degrowth book is a collection of 51 very short essays, almost all of which are by academic authors – 16 of whom are at the University of Barcelona. Although it is claimed to be the first comprehensive collection about degrowth in English it is very much a southern European academic view of what degrowth means. This is reflected in the choice of topics by the editors who have clearly been very influenced by thinkers on the French left. Thus, to my mind, many chapters sit uneasily alongside the chapters by some of the English and American authors some of whom have started from a different pre-analytical framework. I have no problem with a book whose authors start from different points but it places a particular responsibility on the editors to give the reader some orientation to the differences. It makes me wonder what the English and American authors have made of the parts of the book that they had no hand in writing.

In a footnote early in the book the editors explain why some words have not been translated into English:

“In this entry we leave the original titles in French, not only for reasons of language pluralism or practicality but also because many of the words involved sound more inspiring in French!”.[4]

My response to this is that it is not always practical not to translate. It is not practical for readers when it makes it more difficult for them to understand the meaning. Indeed if one does not understand what a word is supposed to mean then I for one don’t find that word inspiring. This is particularly the case with words that do not translate easily because they come out of a different intellectual tradition, background and patterns of thought.

An adjective used as a noun – “the imaginary”

http://foreignpolicyblogs.com/wp-content/uploads/polyp-org-uk-No-Economic-Growth-cartoon-e1298661998815.jpgThroughout the book many authors write out of a left wing French intellectual tradition about the “social imaginary”. The use of the adjective “imaginary” as a noun, as “the imaginary”, I have now learned has a long intellectual tradition in France. Novelists like Gide, philosophers like Sartre and Castoriadis and psychoanalysts like Lacan all used “L’Imaginaire” in different contexts. The idea seems to be that the words and symbols used in human communication, as well as in our thinking, do not necessarily match or correspond to actually existing realities.

The words and symbols that we use may have an invented component that corresponds to nothing ‘out there’ in the world. In fact the imagination is necessary to thought. Our ability to shape patterns of words, images and symbols in creative writing or painting is not merely an ability we have to create fictitious realities. The mind has to have this capacity to imagine if it is to be able to think at all. How else can a scientist theorise except by imagining what might be the explanatory causes for some phenomena? The imagination can later be tested and found to be true or false but the initial act of making a hypothesis is an ability to construct what might be, to imagine.

Furthermore it is through our ability to imagine the way in things might be otherwise arranged that our freedom to act in the world lies. Our imagination can create visions of how future social, economic and political realities might be constructed differently. We can use our imagination to invent things. This is why, according to Cornelius Castoriadis, history cannot be analysed in a determinist way. A significant role in the historical process originates from the creative imagination of people in societies. Thus, once we surrender to the idea that “there is no alternative” (e.g. to neo-liberal economics) we have not only got a failure of the imagination but have allowed our freedom to disappear. We are, to use the concept of one of the other chapters, relinquishing our autonomy – our ability to set rules and laws for ourselves in co-operative and hopefully convivial arrangements with other people. Hence the case made by Serge Latouche in this book for the need to “decolonise” our “imaginaries” from the ideas of market economics.

Unfortunately one meaning of “imaginary” in the English language is “existing only in the imagination”. (Oxford English Dictionary) That’s why I don’t personally like the adoption of “the imaginary” as a noun. It is too ambiguous. In the context it also reads like a word that has suddenly become fashionable among intellectuals.

I can imagine that I can raise a bag of ten apples one metre into the air with one joule of energy but that is “an imaginary” that only exists in my imagination. (An apple of an average weight takes one joule to raise one metre). While some imaginaries have some connection to reality, some imaginaries, on closer inspection, appear to be too-off-the wall and rather more in the nature of fantasies. Some imaginaries are nice to look at in a surrealist painting but non functional and some imaginaries are not only crazy but criminally insane and plain dangerous. As a matter of fact “economic growth” is a mainstream “social imaginary” that is collectively suicidal. Imaginaries have to have some connection to practical possibilities and actual developments in material reality and it’s important to note that current mainstream ‘economic imaginaries’ are delusionary.

Ecological economists have given a lot of thought to this issue by seeking to ground economics in energetics and physics. Cultural critique has to check its groundings otherwise it is waffle.

La depense sociale – what is it actually?

This brings me to one of the words that do appear in this book and one in particular that the editors seem particularly keen on – that word is “dépense”. This concept is discussed more than any other by the editors particularly in their epilogue where the authors break into French slogans in their last two sentences:

“Vive la décroissance conviviale. Pour la sobriete individuelle et la dépense sociale.”

With social dépense so clearly highlighted it is obviously important to understand it. If the idea is to be ‘operationalised’ we need to know how to recognise “dépense” when we see it. In fact I’ve been left feeling that I am unclear what it means.

Part of the problem for me with understanding ‘dépense’ is that it is another word coming out of the French tradition with which I have not been familiar. When the word “dépense” is left in French and not simply translated as “expenditure” then the reader is left assuming that it has a more complex meaning which I need to make some more effort into getting a grip on. My assumption is that I have no choice but to do extra work digging back into the history of that concept to try to capture all its connotations in the intellectual background in which it was created. In this book ideas are introduced in very small chapters that are no longer than 4 pages and that is not long enough to pick up all the nuances and assumptions of the tradition. For that reason I felt compelled to do additional google searches in order to try to understand “dépense”. I also searched around to find some more about George Bataille who originated the idea. It was on my bookshelf that I found the most useful succinct description of Bataille’s ideas in an old edition of the Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy:

“For Bataille, much modern thought and many social and economic structures are modes of denial of the fundamental nature of being as a Dionysian process without stable identity or meaningful direction, an expenditure and squandering of force that is no more than its own end – compare the second law of thermodynamics….”

So this is a crucial idea for degrowth? Digging in other texts to try to understand what kind of idea this is, and what its author was about, I discovered not just an economic theory but a writer of surrealist texts, a particular angle on psychoanalysis and Marxism and a deeply disturbed and traumatised man. I write this at this point not to disqualify the dépense idea but only to point out that I am reluctant to embrace any concept with this amount of baggage before I have carefully examined it because there isn’t enough in the Degrowth book to get a grasp of the idea.

Unfortunately after a lot of work I am still not completely sure that I have understood what the word means. Nor am I sure that I have understood how the dépense chapter author, Onofrio Romano, and the editors want the word to be understood in the context of degrowth – because this is not necessarily identical to the way Bataille understood it. What follows is my attempt to convert the idea into a terminology that would make some sort of sense to me but I am not completely sure that I have got it right.

Underlying the motivational foundations for the ideology of growth is the mainstream economics idea of scarcity. If there can never be enough goods and services to meet human needs it seems to follow that the more we produce the better. Here is the simple case for growth. It would therefore be understandable if advocates of degrowth were drawn to Bataille who turned the scarcity idea on its head – the problem for the economy in his way of thinking is not how to deal with scarcity but how to deal with “excess”.

According Bataille that there is a “superabundance of energy” and more than enough to meet the basic material needs for organisms/humans. That part of work using energy to meet these basic needs which enable us to survive can be regarded as ‘servile’ serving and merely re-creating our animal existence. It is when we are deciding what to do with the surplus which is more than we need for very basic needs that we enter a realm of freedom where we are truly exercising our freedom in “forms of energy beyond the servile”.

For Romano, and for the editors here is a key concept that they want to put at the heart of “degrowth”. Scarcity, the editors assure us, “is social. Since the stone age we have had more than we need for a basic standard of living.”

The problem is that, instead of staying with our basic individual standards of living and democratically organising how we are going to “waste” the surplus together, for non servile purposes that develop our humanity, we have accumulated and invested the surplus in new technologies that expand production even more. We have thereby grown the capacity of “the economy” to produce ever more until it is threatening the eco-system. At the same time we have privatised and individualised the process of waste making of the surplus. “Given the individualisation of society, single individuals take on the burden of waste through small trade offs: from perverse sexuality to alcoholism, gambling and flashy consumption”. [5]

The alternative then is guaranteeing a modest living for all individuals and socialising “dépense”, the non productive use of society’s surplus.

This is a superficially attractive idea could perhaps alternatively be expressed like this. If we want to stop growing we must stop accumulating productive capital. (Creating more technical devices and infrastructures that convert energy while turning more throughputs into what eventually become larger waste streams). With a modest income most individuals would not have enough to save and any surplus would go to democratic institutions to dispense – though not on anything productive that would grow the economy. According to the editors:

“Our message to the frugal ecologists is that it is better to waste resources in gold decorations in a public building or drink them in a big feast, than put them to good use, accelerating even more the extraction of new resources and the degradation of the environment. It is the only way to escape Jevon’s Paradox. Accumulation drives growth, not waste. Even in a society of frugal subjects with a downscaled metabolism, there will still be a surplus that would have to be dispensed, if growth is not to be reactivated.”

I think that I get the main drift of the argument here but I am not absolutely sure I have understood it fully. This is partly because I am not sure that is meant by the word “energy” – is it the same energy that is actually becoming scarce because of peak oil or is there a looser use of the word? I am also not sure that I have understood partly because there is an implicit psychology under the analysis that I don’t get either. For example, Romano argues that “individualised dépense” does not happen on an adequate scale.

“A large amount of energy remains unused, it continues to circulate and to stress human beings. Lacking tools of deliberate and symbolic catastrophe (i.e. the ritual collective dépense) the inhabitants of growth societies begin to dream them and to desire a ‘real’ catastrophe.”

What is this supposed to mean? Is it supposed to be the same idea as “catharsis”? I don’t understand what this ‘energy’ is that is stressing people and how it is stressing them. However I have tried to guess at what the author means in a conceptual framework that makes sense to me so, once again, here goes with my attempted ‘translation’:

Is this trying to describe a situation where, while people have time on their hands and a wish to do things, they are stressed and frustrated because they don’t actually know what to do with their time and ‘energy’? Is this because they don’t have purposes to give structure and meaning to their lives and to use their personal ‘energy’ on (like the sacred)? Is this what frustrates them? Does it mean that they are frustrated because they have spare time on their hands and they are bored because they don’t have a meaningful “game” to play with their lives? Is this what it is supposed to mean? Does it mean that people need to be able to collectively express the negative feelings that arise out of their bored purposeless – feelings like anger and destructiveness? Does it mean that without collective rituals of destructiveness to which resources must be devoted that they will end up wishing for real catastrophes? Is this, for example, about angry young men (and women) needing rituals like football matches with punch-ups thrown in – because otherwise they will sign up to go and fight for causes and go to war?

What seems to be being said here is not only that dépense is a means to dissipate resources so that they are not accumulated economically but also that dépense has a function in the management of mass emotion. If I have got that right then what is being described here is what therapists call “catharsis” – the release, and therefore relief from, strong emotions which would otherwise be channelled into real destruction.

How do you administer the dépense idea? How do you operationalise it?

If I have understood these ideas correctly then what opens up for me is a huge number of questions. For example how is the social depense to be organised/administered? How is it to be decided, and by whom, what is an acceptable level of basic provision and what is to be destroyed as “excess”? How is “excess” to be identified and then “socialised” prior to its “waste” in a useless fashion? I suppose that by guaranteeing a basic income and a maximum income and then taxing all the rest away that one could say that that rest was “excess” but would the authors really want to spend this excess without any investment whatsoever? For example all buildings as well as other forms of public infrastructure would be depreciating as they always do – should provision be set aside to maintain their upkeep and replacement? “Growth” can happen because when equipment needs replacing and the replacements are “upgrades”. Where does that fit into dépense?

Further to that, what exactly is “dépense sociale”? On the last page the editors give a list of examples – collective feasts, Olympic Games, idle ecosystems, military expenditures and voyages to space and they refer to pressure on democratic and deliberative institutions choosing between these.

I will put aside at this point the question of what an “idle ecosystem” is and raise some other points instead. The implicit faith in the ability of “democratic and deliberative institutions” to be able to stand up to the military industrial complex and prevent it claiming the surplus surprises me. Given the pre-existing power structures it would be very surprising if the idea of individual sobriety and social depense did not to turn into the latest version of bread and circuses. The masses would have, at best, a very basic standard of living while the political elite would organise banquets in honour of the latest head of state, rope everyone into large scale theatrical events with everyone wearing a uniform and carrying torches while they listen to rants from their betters. Alternatively resources could be “wasted” in jolly festivals in which ‘civil people’ (who are obedient) are entertained while those who are disobedient and uncivil, and thus ‘obviously’ the cause of all the problems in society, are put in the centre of ampitheatres and torn apart by lions. This would be wonderfully effective in channelling and managing mass emotions and getting rid of the surplus too. Wouldn’t these qualify as social dépense? They appear to have done in the thinking of George Bataille for whom socialised dépense also included human sacrifices organised by the state in the Aztec empire.

http://image.slidesharecdn.com/happydegrowth1-140122071546-phpapp02/95/happy-degrowth-1-14-638.jpg?cb=1390396617

In conclusion

In conclusion, it seems important to me to know whether Degrowth is a voluntary or an involuntary process and to build that distinction into the vocabulary about it. If it is a voluntary process then certain things follow – like the need to know how it is going to be driven/motivated and administered, at what pace and in what manner, in order to respond to the climate crisis. It is also possible here that even if degrowth is involuntary, because of energy descent, that if it is not fast enough then, once again certain things follow from that about climate policy. As I have argued degrowth could be driven by climate policy by reducing the amount of fossil fuels allowed out of the ground.

To the extent that degrowth is an involuntary process then another set of issues arise – will the society and economy withstand the process without catastrophic breakdowns and what can the many kinds of projects and policies described in this book do to make energy descent a survivable process for the population? A great many people will be finding that their lifestyle packages are severely stressed and breaking apart and this will generate a great deal of fear and ‘negative’ emotions.

Notions like “dépense” are useful for drawing attention to fact that “surplus resources” can be ‘invested’ in things that have consequences for mass emotions and therefore for social stability or conflict. However, one must ask how much “surplus” or excess there will be on the way down given that energy descent is likely to take society through a variety of thresholds and tipping points and be an exceedingly bumpy ride. It is true that to “invest” resources in “capital accumulation” might in theory start the economy growing again – but only if new energy sources were found.

Growth is unlikely in a society where energy inputs are rapidly shrinking. Instead what is needed for the resources that are there is investment in the community level projects and activities which help people cope – an investment directly in the lifeboat projects as I have called them. There is a danger that the rather vague call for “socialised dépense” can be interpreted as a support for state centralisation of the remaining surplus – for the maintenance of remaining resources in the hands of the military, the state bureaucracy and privileged insiders whose claim to maintain “order” in difficult times is also buttressed by the use of resources to display their power and add theatrical embellishment to their authority. I don’t think this would be a very good idea…..

Read the response to this review by Giorgos Kallis, one of the book’s editors

Endnotes

[1] Turner, G. M. (2012). On the Cusp of Collapse. Updated Comparison of the Limits of Growth with historical data. GAIA 21/2 , 116-124.
[2] See my paper produced for Economic De-Growth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Paris, 18/19th April 2008 at http://events.it-sudparis.eu/degrowthconference/en/themes/ I did not attend this conference because, not being an academic, I could not afford to.
[3] http://www.feasta.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Catastrophic-shock-pandemic2.pdf
[4] footnote on page 5
[5] Onofrio Romano p 88

Featured image: community garden in Denver, Colorado. Author: emerson12. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2007_community_garden_DenverCO_787214962.jpg

China and India: Accelerating to the Finish Line

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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The air in Delhi, shown here in 2011, like the air in Beijing, is barely breathable by humans. Yet these two countries, with their 2.6 billion people, have just begun to burn fossil fuels. (Photo by je poirrier/Flickr)

The air in Delhi, shown here in 2011, like the air in Beijing, is barely breathable by humans. Yet these two countries, with their 2.6 billion people, have just begun to burn fossil fuels. (Photo by je poirrier/Flickr)

First published at The Daily Impact  December 5, 2014

Hopium addicts and a few novelists nurture the convenient belief that while the 1.4 billion people of China and the 1.2 billion people of India struggle lustfully to live as luxuriously as do the 300 million people of the United States, they will manage to do so in a manner somehow less wasteful of energy and natural resources, less destructive of the living web of life, than we have done. The belief is convenient because, while there is not a whisker of evidence to suggest it is true, holding it permits the believer to carry on with business as usual.

Much has been made of the “historic” agreement reached between China and the United States at the recent APEC meeting in Beijing, stipulating that in the next 10 years or so, both countries are going to do something or other about carbon emissions (i.e. pollution), so help them. Yet the Chinese did not begin to attack the air pollution in Beijing, which may be the worst in the world, until the eve of the meeting; then and only then did it become a national priority, not because it was bad but because it looked bad.

They ordered factories upwind of the capital shut down, closed businesses and schools in the city and banned half the region’s cars from driving, all to look good, knowing that as soon as the meeting was over, so were the restrictions. It did not work very well, of course, the world is not a machine that responds immediately to the pulling of a few levers. And one of the reasons it did not work was that, as an investigating committee discovered on venturing into the region where the factories had been ordered to close, they did not. Screw Beijing, there were targets to meet, bonuses to be made, orders to fill. So much for how much better they are going to be at regulating pollution.

China still pretends that it is cracking down on pollution, even while building dirty, coal-burning electric plants as fast as it can — it opens a new one every seven to 10 days and as of two years ago had 363 projects under way. It already burns six times as much coal as does the United States, is the world’s largest importer of coal, and coal is the source of the majority of its air pollution.

India, on the other hand, is in the process of dropping all pretenses that it is combatting pollution. Within days of the election last summer of the new pro-business, pro-growth prime minister Narendra Modi (who was almost immediately received and extolled in a state visit to Washington), India’s industrialists got the word: environmental rules were about to be relaxed and in the meantime, feel free to ignore them.

Since then a government commission has recommended that government inspections of the performance of factories in controlling pollution be replaced with a system of voluntary compliance in which everyone promises to obey the rules and report themselves if they don’t. Approval of new projects, no matter how destructive, has become not only virtually automatic, but has been accelerated to warp speed: a recent meeting of the National Board for Wildlife smiled upon 150 wildlife-threatening  applications in two days, spending up to 30 minutes on each.

Neither China nor India has any intention of improving upon the path to prosperity that we have shown them. As we seem to believe that God has favored us, so they seem to believe that Krishna and Mao have bestowed upon them the right to burn and degrade and destroy anything that can contribute to their temporary well being.

The problem is that there is not that much left to burn. Hoping that the world’s two largest and poorest populations are going to be more restrained in their instant gratification. more successful in reining in greed, than we have been, well, that is hopium indeed.

 

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

War Criminal Charged in War on Coal

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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A battlefield in the real War on Coal (the 1968 Farmington Mine disaster in West Virginia). The aggressor is not who you think it is, nor are the victims.

A battlefield in the real War on Coal (the 1968 Farmington Mine disaster in West Virginia). The aggressor is not who you think it is, nor are the victims.

First published at The Daily Impact  November 17, 2014

A long, long list of lies have been perpetrated by industrialists to confuse ordinary people about how, and by whom, the world is being destroyed. Proceedings in a Federal courthouse in West Virginia are about to bring some clarity to the issue. The quality of the lies has been uniformly low — none of them stands up to a moment’s rational examination. Their success rate, on the other hand, has been high; a dismaying proportion of Americans believes that the people who are exploiting them the most are their best friends, and the people who are trying to save them are their enemies. There is no worse example than the bogus “War on Coal,” imagineered by coal-mine operators as a unifying theory of everything bad that happens: Obama did it, as part of his “War on Coal.”

As propaganda, the War on Coal was a brilliant stroke. How else could an industry whose air pollution is destabilizing the entire planet, whose operations are obliterating mountain ranges, poisoning groundwater, and routinely killing and sickening its employees, instantly make itself seem a blameless victim of outside aggression? Its audacity was exceeded only by the gullibility of a grateful nation, which never paused to remark on the oddity of Coal declaring a war on itself, on behalf of an enemy that did not seem to be aware of it.

The only aggression committed against Big Coal recently was the assault of Fracking Gas, which glutted the market with cheap fuel for power generators, causing them to abandon coal like it was a poor relative. Compared to that, the effect of some new pollution regulations on aging (40+ years old) power plants — regulations that have not even been drafted yet, let alone put into effect — are hardly a cause of war, as the industry claims.

If by War on Coal they mean an effort to restrict its pollution, and if they really want that effort completely abandoned, then they should be clear that the result will be that we all live in the conditions now prevalent in Beijing, where on a clear day you can’t see for nothing. People recently returned from visits there report it takes six weeks to stop coughing.

The War that is under way here is not on coal, but on coal miners, their families and neighbors. It is not being prosecuted by the government, or by Obama, but by the coal industry itself. This war is not a metaphor. It has real casualties, such as the 29 miners killed in action in the Big Branch Mine in 2010, dead because their bosses would rather wring the last dollar out of a mine than see to the welfare and safety of their employees. Incidence of Black Lung Disease — an entirely preventable, deadly side effect of breathing coal dust — has increased tenfold in ten years. Would you believe 75,000 fatalities since 1968? Now, that’s a war; fewer people were killed in Vietnam. It is said that victims of mine disasters get headlines, victims of Black Lung just get headstones.

Through all of this misery and death, Big Coal has skated, not only escaping justice but deflecting onto others the revulsion it so richly deserves. But now comes the one part of the American Federal Government that appears to be still in working order, still adhering to the lofty and admirable goals of an earlier time: the United States Department of Justice.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted the fattest cat of the Big Coal fat cats — Don Blankenship — of enough war crimes to send him away for 30 years if he is convicted. No, they didn’t call them war crimes — he is charged with conspiracy to deliberately violate mine safety regulations, obstruction of government inspectors and investigators, all in connection with the 2010 Big Branch Mine explosion.

In a country where the Supreme Court pats industrialists on the head and tells them they have every right to corrupt the political process with their money; where federal and state regulators pat them on the head and tell them to go right ahead and pollute, and maim, and kill, and we’ll look the other way; where politicians fall over themselves in slavish adulation of the “job creators,” and promise never to tax them or regulate them in any way; it is refreshing indeed to learn that federal prosecutors still have the will and the means to hand the Don Blankenships of this world a summons to a higher accounting.

They are the War Criminals, and we badly need to see them standing in the dock of justice.

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

International Energy Agency Says: Brace for Impact

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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What America will look like of the frackers have their way — and what Huntington Beach, California looked like in 1926. But according to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, we shouldn’t be too concerned about what the frackers are going to be able to do. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)

What America will look like of the frackers have their way — what Huntington Beach, CA looked like in 1926. But according to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, we shouldn’t be too concerned about what the frackers are going to be able to do. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)

First published at The Daily Impact  November 12, 2014

The customarily cheery International Energy Agency (IEA), created to advise the member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has taken a more somber tone in its latest annual World Energy Outlook released today. The agency dismisses the wildly hyped shale-oil and -gas “boom” in the United States as a band-aid on a malignant tumor, a temporary mask distracting the world from the pervasive illness afflicting its oil supply.

Just to keep up with expected growth in demand from developing countries (China, India, Brazil, to name the biggest ones), and to replace exhausted wells and fields, the IEA says will soon require the investment of nearly a trillion dollars a year. With the world price of oil unusually low and the cost of finding and delivering new sources of oil higher than it has ever been, there is simply no conceivable source for that kind of money.

In the good old days — a month ago — when oil was holding at $100 a barrel, the major oil companies were already cutting back drastically on their capital expenditures, or capex, which is their name for funding the search for new sources of oil. They were in effect giving up, because they had tripled their capex spending over the previous decade without significant results. An oil company that is not constantly finding new sources of oil is a company in liquidation. And that’s where they were before oil dropped below $80.

In the US oil patch they are still throwing confetti in the air and blowing tin horns about America’s fracking renaissance, insisting they can drive on through this little price deviation toward American energy independence, but in the background you can hear the thuds of oil derricks hitting the ground — being laid down by companies that cannot afford to keep them going.  [See Shale Drillers Idle Rigs From Texas to Utah Amid Oil Rout, Bloomberg News Nov. 7. and Oil Below $80: The First Shoes Drop, Forbes Nov. 4.)

Extravagant predictions that other parts of the world will soon enjoy a boom in fracked oil, says the IEA report, are not realistic. With few identified shale-oil deposits, with environmental opposition at a fever pitch almost everywhere, and with most countries lacking infrastructure — pipelines, rail capacity, and the like — the fracking movement is failing to thrive anywhere else.

When one discounts the significance of the fracking boom and looks over the rest of the world’s oil supply, the prognosis gets grimmer, faster. Virtually every conventional oil field in the world is in decline, and many of them in the Middle East, North Africa and South America are in danger of disruption by social unrest. This is how the IEA sums it up:

“The global energy system is in danger of falling short of the hopes and expectations placed upon it. The short-term picture of a well-supplied oil market should not disguise the challenges that lie ahead as reliance grows on a relatively small number of producers.”

In other words: Brace for Impact.

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

Swimming in a Sea of Sewage

Off the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on September 1, 2014

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Discuss this Photo Essay & Rant at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

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The Fresh Kills (sic) Staten Island Landfill

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Park Ave, NYC Trash.  No, this was NOT during the strikes of 1975 or 1981.  This was shot in 2010

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Cockroaches on the streets of Naples, Italy in 2012

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Rats at the Buffet Table in NYC

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Fishing in Beijing

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More Chinese Fishing

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Blue Water is soooo Yesterday…

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Refreshing the Water Bottle in Shanghai

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Biking is Great Aerobic Exercise!

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TEPCO sez, “No worries, we will store all the water as Ice Cubes after we Freeze it”

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BP sez, “Gulf Shrimp thrive on Corexit”

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BC Scientists are BAFFLED by Starfish Melting disease!

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Even Crabs get the Blues sometimes…

Snippet:

…Mostly, the trash is put “Out of Site-Out of Mind” in Landfills that are fairly distant from your Suburban bedroom community, so you don’t see them or smell them unless you take your own drive over to the dump to dispose of some of your junk. Mostly we employ public and private Garbagemen for this task, so you don’t see it unless you have one of these jobs. At least we used to call them Garbagemen when I was a kid, now they are called Sanitation Engineers. This sounds sufficiently technical we imagine ourselves to be cleaner I suppose.

Besides the individual waste is the Industrial waste which gets produced along with the products you buy and eventually send to the dump. This includes megatons of slag produced in mining operations and more tons of toxic chemicals. This stuff eventually works its way into the groundwater, which then needs to be “processed” to keep it potable, which takes enormous scale water processing plants in Big Shities which themselves take enormous quantities of energy to run, and after filtering the poisons out of your drinking water, they again need to be disposed of.

So you constantly fight an ever increasing pile of waste, which as the density of the population increases begins to overwhelm any natural processes which might recycle the waste into something which doesn’t pose a health hazard, not just for Hom Sapiens, but most of the other creatures sharing the environment with you…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

China: Falling Faster

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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Sunset in Shanghai. Except that’s not the horizon the sun is sinking behind, it’s the pollution layer. (Photo By Suicup via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunset in Shanghai. Except that’s not the horizon the sun is sinking behind, it’s the pollution layer. (Photo By Suicup via Wikimedia Commons)

First published at The Daily Impact  August 28, 2014

 

It is increasingly likely that our ailing Western industrialized economy will be preceded in collapse by that of China, whose degradation of the natural web of life has been far faster and more profound than ours. Every six months or so I check on China’s disintegration, plowing through metric tons of punditry on its Miracle-Grow GDP, its rising military power, its imperial ambitions — to come upon a patient in ICU, nearly comatose. If America is Dead Man Walking with respect to food, water, air and soil quality, China is The Walking Dead. [Really? I have to explain that? One is about a man about to die, the other about a zombie, already dead.]

China’s warp-speed industrialization, which blasted off in the 1990s, has destroyed its natural infrastructure “on a scale and speed the world has never known,” says director Jennifer Turner of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The intention was to follow our American model of progress to prosperity; the unintended consequence has been to become a model for us of how quickly the industrial age can crash.  

Life is still tenable in China, but only if the following rules are strenuously obeyed;

1. Don’t Breathe the Air. Air pollution in China has become legendary. Half the coal burned in the world is consumed by China’s generating plants and factories, and the resulting pollution regularly brings major cities to a standstill, making it impossible to drive or go outside, thus to open schools or businesses. A recent study by its own Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences ranked Beijing’s air as the second worst among the world’s major cities and labelled the city as barely habitable. Since then the government has begun a war on coal, vowing to shutter hundreds of coal-burning power plants. Turns out, though, it’s building bigger ones to replace them, and coal burning is expected to increase for the foreseeable future.

2. Don’t Touch the Water. Over half of China’s lakes and reservoirs are too polluted for human use; over half of China’s groundwater is too polluted for human use; and over half of China’s rural residents do not have safe drinking water. According to an editor of The Economist,which did a report on China’s water, “There are large parts of the urban water supply which are not only too dangerous to drink—they are too dangerous to touch.” 400 major cities are short of water, 110 of them seriously. More than half of the 50,000 rivers that existed 20 years ago are simply gone — used up.

3. Don’t Eat the Food. What may be the worst environmental threat of all — soil contamination — has just recently emerged from the fog of official denial and secrecy (or maybe it was just the air pollution). It has only recently come to light that the toxic emissions of thousands of hastily-built, unregulated chemical, ceramic and similar factories have so saturated their surrounding soils with carcinogens that China has an estimated 450 “cancer villages,” whose entire populations have been sickened by food grown in the toxic soil and laced with heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium.

But the problem of soil contamination is hardly limited to nearby villages. A recent government survey, dribbled into public view by a frightened and reticent government, indicates that nearly 20 per cent of China’s farmland is contaminated with heavy metals. As a result, the food supply is riddled with contaminated rice and other grains. According to one Greenpeace researcher in-country,”Every consumer in China is exposed to this kind of pollution.”

To review, then: a country whose capital city is barely habitable, half of whose water is unusable, 20 per cent of whose farmland is unusable, whose demand for ever more coal and oil to burn is insatiable, is being discussed as a rising global power and a threat to the American Empire.

Right up there with Bangladesh.

 

***

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

Chinese Toast: The Rant

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 22, 2014

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Discuss on the Podcast pages of the Doomstead Diner

Snippet:

…Besides that they are making Oil deals with the Ruskies, building Nuke plants, high speed rail lines and entirely New Cities from the Ground Up. Never mind that nobody lives in those cities and at the prices they sell the apartments for nobody but Hedge funds can afford them on a typical median income for a Chinaman of $10K a year. That is compared with median income in the FSoA of around $84K. HTF are Chinese supposed to buy apartments selling at $300K on an income of $10K a year? Forgetting interest and buying food and electricity to keep the lights on, the average Chinaman would have to cough up his entire paycheck for 30 years to campout in one of these White Elephants. Reality is of course that the prices will crash, and plenty of folks who invested in the building of them will lose their shirts, not to mention their underwear and socks…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!

RE

 

Homemade Bread and a Dying Infrastructure

Off the keyboard of Gypsy Mama

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Published on The Butterchurn on February 16, 2014

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The more aware I become of our food system and how preservatively poisonous it is, the more I desire to cook at home where I can control the ingredients. Bread was chosen among the first of the foods I learned to produce homemade.  When I began making bread, I chose a recipe for a homemade bread that consisted of four simple ingredients: Water. Flour. Salt. Yeast.  You’d think that mixing together four ingredients into a bowl would provide the same results, consistently.  Nope.  I had the worst luck. I’d mixed those ingredients into a bowl over and over and OVER again.  I’d followed the recipe to the mark.  Many times.

After awhile, I went rogue. I tried kneading the dough against a “no-knead” recipe.  I tried different oven temperatures.  I tried different amounts of cooking time.  I tried different depths and shapes of scoring.  I mixed flours.  I changed flours. I added more yeast.  On and on it went, a slew of rock hard, gooey centered, bland tasting, fall apart failures.  Every now and then, I’d get a decent loaf…but I wouldn’t know what I’d done differently to achieve it.  The process became a science experiment.  WHY was I failing?  How could I cuss up such a simple recipe?

About four months ago, my husband researched water purification systems for our home.  Up until that point, we’d used PUR and BRITA brand filters on our kitchen faucet.  He wanted to make sure that we were getting the most for our money.  A final decision was made that we should invest in a Berkey water filter system.

Water was not something I had considered as an inconsistent ingredient to my basic recipe. Each and every time I would make bread I’d pour water directly from our kitchen sink faucet.  The recipe called for tepid to warm water, so I’d adapted to turning on the hot water knob until the water was at the desired temperature.

I guess that was a bad choice considering that I now live in a house that is connected to city water.  Through one of many conversations with my husband, I learned that the water systems that are set in place for most cities are OLD.  The water itself, as you should know, is treated with… well…

I heard a story once about a guy who used to work at a water treatment plant.  He told a troublesome tale about how he’d just “spray whatever seemed enough” of the “treatment chemicals” into the water that was being distributed to all of the residents of the city he worked for.

Nice.  Regardless of the fact that I can’t cite that source, that’s quite the slap in a trusting American’s face, now isn’t it?  It sure straightened my eye sight a bit.

As I was pondering over how to write this blog and tell this story, I began thinking about my history of bread making.  When we owned a house in Rock Hill, SC, we had a well.  I loved that we were not connected to city water because I knew that Fluoride, among other “just enough” treatment chemicals couldn’t “get us.”  The bread that I made in Rock Hill was more or less consistent, so long as I stuck to the recipe and didn’t mix in too much whole wheat flour, etc.

As I look back, I kick myself for not putting it together that the water itself could have been the culprit when it came to my inability to produce a successful loaf of bread.  Thankfully, I finally came to my senses.  During the in between, however, I was working well to convince myself that operator error must have been the cause… and I took that anger and frustration with myself out on a many innocent failed loaves of wasted time and energy= death by chicken.

Earlier this week, I was mixing together the four ingredients my bread recipe called for. (yields two loaves)

  1. 3 cups of tepid water
  2. 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt (we use sea salt)
  3. 1 1/2 tablespoons of quick rise bread machine yeast
  4. 6 1/2 cups of flour

To make room for the mixing bowl, I had to move the gallon sized glass jug of filtered, husband provided, Berkey water from my less than desirable kitchen counter work space.  As I sat the mixing bowl down, something fired inside my brain that caused my simple mind to connect that, umm…maybe I should use THAT water in my recipe?

Needless to say, I baked two perfect, beautiful loaves of bread that day.  They were both eaten in about two days.  Could I succeed again, or was this just a fluke?  A few days later, I had produced two more loaves of beautiful, edible bread.

I am pretty convinced that the city tap water was causing inconsistent results when it came to my bread making.  Yeast, after all, is alive.  It is frightening to believe that the very water provided to us in a system that we’ve been raised to trust could KILL my bread!  But how can I question this belief after seeing the proof “pan out” in my oven?  The variables (ingredients) in my experiment were consistent– or so I thought.  Who knows what dose of what chemical (or worse) I’d been mixing into my dough?  No wonder I was beginning to feel a bit insane.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

All of those times I’d repeated the steps.

All of those ingredients I’d measured delicately.

All my efforts wasted because of the inconsistent variable in my experiment:  CITY WATER.  A variable that I had the audacity to believe was CONTROLLED.

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If you want to try this recipe yourself, just mix together all of the four ingredients(using filtered water, of course) in a large mixing bowl.  Stir them together until the flour has been absorbed into the mixture.  Cover the bowl and leave it somewhere it won’t be disturbed too much overnight.  In the morning, mix all of the dough into a ball in your bowl.  Grease two bread pans (coconut oil is THE BEST) and separate the large dough ball into two parts.  Turn each of your two smaller bread balls into each other (like you’re folding socks together), put ‘em in the pan and bake them for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
If you’re into it, I’d be happy to spend some time writing a more detailed instruction to this recipe (with photos of preparation in between) so that you can try your hand at homemade bread of your own.  My focus of this blog, of course, was to imbed into you, oh wise baker, that filtered water WILL create better bread.  Always.

Also, if you’re wondering, we chose to purchase the “Big Berkey” with fluoride filters and have been very happy with that choice.

This amazing system reduces bacteria, viruses, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and trihalomethanes to purification standards and lasts thousands of gallons. – See more at: http://www.berkeyfilters.com/berkey-water-filters/big-berkey.html#sthash.oYr2Lqju.dpuf

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As a side note, I want to make sure that I mention that I had the worst outbreak from eczema  that I have ever had in my life after moving to a house that was hooked up to city water.  Heavy metals (Copper, Zinc, mercury, lead, Arsenic, Cadmium) are commonly found in decaying water line infrastructures.  Nickel is listed among the suspected causes of my particular form of eczema:  Dyshidrotic Eczema.  Suspicious.  I’m obviously still on the hunt for some answers to this ailment.  The cause may be different for each person, but I still don’t know exactly WHY I was a victim.  I feel as if that question of “WHY” should have an answer by now.  The medical community has not done enough research on this matter, I fear.   As I continue my search for an answer, I’ll occasionally share my thoughts on the matter in this blog through posts and comments.

Exposure to some metals, such as mercury and lead, may also cause development of autoimmunity, in which a person’s immune system attacks its own cells. This can lead to joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and diseases of the kidneys, circulatory system, and nervous system.–http://www.freedrinkingwater.com/water-education/quality-water-heavymeatal.htm

Nickel toxicity, specifically, was evaluated by researcheres at Michigan State University who found it presented a multi-tiered toxic attack. First, nickel causes essential metal imbalances. It severely disrupts enzyme action and regulation. Finally, it causes and contributes to a high amount of oxidative stress.–http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/metal-toxicity-health-dangers-nickel/

The primary source of nickel in drinking-water is leaching from metals in contact with drinking-water, such as pipes and fittings. However, nickel may also be present in some groundwaters as a consequence of dissolution from nickel ore-bearing rock

Ides of December

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

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Published on Economic Undertow on December 31, 2013

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Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

The future is always obscure to us. We see it after it emerges in the past … any troubles the future bears become apparent only long after it is possible to do something about them.

This is the time of year when there is a blizzard of predictions. Most of these turn out to be wrong:

(Posted last year) “One thing to keep in mind, the world’s central banks are fully committed already. If/when there is a deleveraging event, there is little more that the central banks can do other than lend from their discount windows. Administrative interest rates are nearly zero in the US, Japan, the EU and in UK. They cannot be lowered further. Also, Japan, US, EU and UK central banks are now credit providers for both governments and large sectors of their respective economies. The (small) incentives the private sector had to lend have disappeared. It also means that promissory notes/IOUs for loans made in the past — which are the collateral for the central banks’ loans — are in diminishing supply. The central banks can lend additional amounts to governments and the private sector, but the positive shock of such lending is diminished and the danger of central banks making unsecured loans increases.

Unsecured lending by the central bank is a danger because leverage is the reason why the commercial lenders have failed in the first place. When the central banks take on all the private sector unsecured loans or they offer their own loans in excess of collateral they become super-sized, insolvent commercial lenders. The consequence is no effective lenders of last resort. Depositors look to remove funds from banking system which in turn accelerates system insolvency. Nobody wants to be caught where the only effective collateral is deposits (currency) and where claims against currency exceed it.”

This isn’t a prediction but an observation. It is always true …

Will central banks be tested in 2013? Maybe not but that certainly does not mean clear sailing.

Not quite a prediction but central banks were indeed tested in 2013. They had little choice but to retreat as their open-market operations reached the limits of usefulness or offered diminished returns.

– In 2013, look for the ongoing bank/deposit runs underway in Europe to accelerate and for Spain and Greece to default (Greece is already in Selective Default according to the Standard and Poors rating agency). The depositor runs indicate that central bank has been making unsecured loans and that system is insolvent rather than individual banks.

Only partially correct. There was a great ‘silent run’ out of the euro system toward US stock market. Ditto runs out of Japan and China.

– In a shocker, look for the French government to seek an IMF-EU bailout.

Incorrect … France was able to continue to borrow from the private sector and avoid bankruptcy proceedings.

– France’s automobile- and banking sectors will collapse in 2013.

Incorrect. These French industries are under tremendous strain.

– EU fuel consumption will decline sharply in 2013. Regardless of the price for fuel in Europe, it will be too high.
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This is certainly correct and will be reflected in the next year’s BP Statistical Review (Mazama Science).

– German auto production and sales will also decline … perhaps not as sharply as makers in other western European countries … as Chinese and US car buyers vanish.

Not quite correct. Americans stepped up and bought more cars and trucks, so did the Chinese. This offset tepid sales in the EU.

– Look for auto sales, registrations and production to decline in western Europe while Eastern European manufacturers will continue to hold steady or decline more slowly than their western counterparts. The eastern European manufacturers have a wage advantage over the counterparts and a local market that has not been completely saturated. Furthermore, these manufacturers are not dependent upon sales to China (Germany) or the US (Japan) or to southern European countries such as Spain and Greece … as are the car makers in France and Italy.

Not quite correct. Europeans did not buy as many cars as the ‘recovery’ in Europe has been confined to the well-off and finance markets. However, access to China and US markets was a life saver for automakers during 2013.

– As long as the European Central Bank lends there will be no pressure for any country to leave the euro-zone and (re)introduce their own currency. However, if any one country abandons the euro, all of them will be effectively gone as Germany will be the second country out the door. Europe’s liabilities are currently the shared burden of the ‘EU’ but will be effectively lodged against Germany if the EU cracks … Germany is one of the few countries in Europe with any money. The Germans will not invest it in European ‘solidarity’ that no longer exists.

Correct. The ECB continued to lend although credit multipliers have collapsed across Europe creating both a liquidity trap and dire, delfationary conditions in the countries across the South.

– Look for the politics in Europe to become more conflicted as the governments endeavor to restart chimeric ‘sustainable’ growth and fail miserably. The economic problems on the Continent can only be solved by stringent conservation, not attempts to waste more resources, faster. Europe cannot afford the resources.

Correct. Notable is the increase of neo-Nazi parties across Europe, generally blaming immigrants and non-nationals for economic problems.

– Angela Merkel will easily win her re-election bid as the main opposition party is unable to find a candidate who can pass the sniff test. Merkel will remain in charge even if the Eurozone falters and Germany exits.

Correct.

– Segments of the populations of Spain, France, Greece, UK and in many eastern European countries will descend further into poverty, with food- and fuel shortages and homelessness.

Correct. The segment of EU society that has not suffered is the ‘investor class’.

– Look for more weather ‘events’ in 2013 including more severe drought and flooding. The pressure on governments to ‘do something’ about climate change will increase … Europe, China and India will respond by burning more coal …

Correct. This has been the year of ‘super-smogs’ in China and India as well as destructive cyclones in India and Philippines. The establishment response has been denial … and burning more coal.

– Look for higher prices for grains due to bad weather. Humans have to buy and drive cars to keep economies alive. Humans have to buy and eat food to keep themselves alive: the marginal human will choose paying for food at any price … versus paying for expensive/useless cars.

It is hard to say whether this prediction is true or false. Bad weather affected consumers more than it did producers world-wide = less pressure on food prices.

– The US government will propose a minuscule carbon tax of $10 per ton along with a ‘cap and trade’ system that rewards energy speculators and big polluters.

Incorrect. The US government lied about energy and climate and did nothing else but subsidize the fossil fuel industry and give credence to climate change deniers.

– Look for at least two wide-area gasoline/fuel shortages occurring in the US as preludes to permanent shortages occurring in 2014. The prices needed to bring fuels to market are becoming unaffordable by rapidly impoverished Americans.

Also incorrect. Creeping poverty eliminating fuel consumers has kept US prices in check. So has the ‘Incredible fuel supply glut caused by fracking’ … What kept upward pressure on fuel prices was US purchases of goods from China and India with Wall Street credit; this in turn subsidized fuel waste in these countries.

– Look for fuel prices on spot and futures markets to generally decline (as customers continue to go broke).

Generally correct.

– Look for Japan’s Shinzo Abe government to fail over its pro-nuclear power policies. The nuclear industry is completely discredited in Japan, ‘Shinzo Abe 2.0′ will be a failure like the first version.

Incorrect. Abe hasn’t failed yet but the cracks are visible.

– Look for Japan to have a funding crisis next year: such a crisis has been predicted for the past twenty years but 2013 will be the year when the prediction becomes reality. The Bank of Japan will be unable to fund the government plus the country’s massive debts by itself. That the establishment cannot imagine a change from the current state of affairs indicates a change is imminent. The difference between next year and the past is Japan’s declining electronics industry and tepid car sales. The outcome is an decreasing foreign trade surplus, which has been the means by which Japan has financed itself.

Correct to some degree. Japan is being funded by its central bank-as-conduit for the private sector in the place of overseas customers. Japan is going broke, it just isn’t there yet.
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Figure 1: from the OECD, noting the secular decline in both the Japan auto industry and manufacturing in general. A business can borrow against its own account(s) such as credit lines or consumer credit (if an individual). A business can borrow against the accounts of its customers (when they borrow to buy the business’ products), against the accounts of the state (by direct credit subsidy, a tax benefit or by way of currency issue) and against the accounts of overseas customers (by way of foreign exchange). Japan has been able to borrow from foreign customers and undercut competitors: now the customers are broke or going.

Still correct.

– In light of the foregoing, Japan will do everything within its power to depreciate the yen to support its flagging car- and electronics industries’ exports: the Bank of Japan will lend without restraint.

Correct.

– The other major economic powers will attempt to depreciate their own currencies by offering more central bank loans. The biggest issue for 2013 is how long can the economies function when sole provision of credit is by central banks … and when there are no real lender(s) of last resort?

Correct. Attempts have been made but all have failed as the cost of money is outside the reach of central bankers, being set at the world’s gas pumps by millions of motorists buying fuel with money every single day.

– For this reason, gold prices will hold up relative to other commodities which will will tend to follow the price of crude oil.

Incorrect. Gold has been the sole collectible asset that behaves as an agricultural commodity.

– US Congress will not agree to tax increases by January 1, the sequestration process will take effect the following day. Thousands of Federal government employees are set to be furloughed as the Congress struggles to resolve related debt ceiling/revenue issues in a politically palatable way.

Correct, although sequestration has turned out to have only marginal effect on government spending.

– The US debt ceiling will be reached at the end of January (approximately) and the tedious discussion will take place regarding increasing US debt and by how much. The Congress will ultimately cobble together a can-kicking ‘solution’ that lifts the government’s debt ceiling while leaving the US debt burden largely unaltered. The debt is an unproductive claim against economic output … the debt can only be serviced by more borrowing. The US public sector deficit finances the private sector’s surplus. The US cannot increase output to effect the debt as increases are borrowed, the alternative to borrowing is default … the US economy is trapped.

Correct.

– Look for the Chinese economy to continue to unravel as its overseas customers find it difficult to borrow.

Correct. China faces a credit crunch in 2014.

– Look for more repressive measures in China as its downturn effects workers in cities rather than farmers losing property rights. There will be more riots and work stoppages followed by crackdowns.

Incorrect. The biggest problem in China in 2013 turned out to be air- and water pollution.

– There will be more business bankruptcies in China and capital flight as Chinese tycoons take whatever dollars they can find and run.

Correct about bankruptcies and correct about capital flight out of China.

– The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad will fail with US-supported militant jihadis gaining ascendency. This in turn will give a reason for the US to intervene and destabilize the country further.

Incorrect. The war in Syria appears to be winding down as combatants run out of human- and other resources needed to continue.

– Look for Salafist consolidation in Egypt. That Salafi- and Shiite extremism are the only coherent, ongoing anti-modern enterprises reflects a world-wide failure of imagination.

Incorrect. Egypt has returned to military dictatorship and the Salafists have been crushed.

– As US military involvement decreases in Afghanistan, look for compensating increased involvement in Somalia, Yemen, Uganda, Kenya, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, southern Africa, Venezuela, Honduras, Bolivia and elsewhere.

Correct.

– Look for more diplomatic- and military crises in South China Sea between China, Vietnam, the Philippines and India; between China and Japan over the Sea of Japan; between Iran and the West in the Persian Gulf; between Russia, Norway and Canada over the Arctic Ocean. All of these disputes — plus US military operations in Africa — concern petroleum and mineral resource claims.

Correct. Look for more aggression in 2014 in these areas as well as in Central Asian republics and in Africa.

– Argentina will default in 2013.

Incorrect. Argentina did not default … but it will in 2014!

– Canada will have a banking crisis as the worth of real estate in areas of the country outside of Vancouver, BC, will plummet. The government will be forced to bail out its major banks.

Incorrect. Economic Undertow continually underestimates the ability of the establishment to prop up the status quo.

– Australia will likewise have a banking crisis due to declining real estate prices and an over-leveraged banking system.

Incorrect, see above.

– US real estate prices are now in a short-term quasi-bubble peak and will decline over the course of 2013.

Incorrect. The real estate ‘bubble’ is still inflating across the US. Higher interest rates and the absence of a shadow banking network are making short work of it.

– US natural gas prices will increase due to declining output in shale plays. The cause will be less drilling activity and declining prices for gas liquids and stock prices of gas drillers (New York Times):

“… while the gas rush has benefited most Americans, it’s been a money loser so far for many of the gas exploration companies and their tens of thousands of investors.”

 

Correct. There is a shake-out underway in the ‘gas patch’ as drillers switch to oil- and other liquids plays. Gas is uneconomical at current prices.

– The recent increase of US oil output will level off. This will be ‘a big shock’ to the public which has been promised increased production and lower prices. There will be declines in conventional oil fields to offset gains from tight-oil deposits. Any gains in high-priced export market will be more than offset by losses in domestic markets as customers cannot meet the higher world price.

This is hard to tell as good data is not available. The establishment will do whatever it can to avoid the truth about our energy situation.

– Russian petroleum production will continue to decline: keep in mind, the arc of Vladimir Putin’s political career has paralleled the output of Russian oil fields.

It is hard to say whether this is correct or not. Any changes in Russian Federation output are very small.

– Kurdistan will make a deal with arch-enemy Turkey to ship its oil and turn away from dealings with the Shiite Iraqi government. The Iraqi government lacks the military horsepower to have its way with the Kurds, the decline of petroleum revenue will weaken the Iraqi government further.

Correct.

– Israel will not attack Iran in 2013. The country cannot afford a major war because the Israeli’s sponsor America cannot afford one. At the same time, any significant petroleum shortage will be blamed on Middle Eastern suppliers, if a war is necessary to provide cover for politicians in Washington, one will be started.

Correct. The US has begun rapprochement with Iran antagonizing the Saudis and Israelis.

– The steady unraveling of the … economy will continue. Both bonds and stocks in the US will be largely unchanged over the course of the year, largely due to ‘capital’ flight from Europe and the Far East. Given large-scale central bank lending, the credit spreads for European sovereigns and the UK will narrow somewhat. Japan credit costs will climb as the need for credit will be greater than what the Bank of Japan can provide by itself.

Largely correct: citizens around the world became poorer as they exhausted their meager supplies of credit. Meanwhile, the US- and other bourses reached new, all-time highs. This was a consequence of ‘closed-loop’ lending by finance institutions to themselves to support stock Ponzi schemes. Credit spreads did indeed narrow in the EU but did not change in Japan.

– A wildcard would be gunmen shooting up a police station in the US instead of a school. Government would be exposed as vulnerable, the militarization of the police would be demonstrated to be a failure. Putting police into fortresses as a reaction would make them even less effective, would further isolate government police power. There is a reason for militant attacks on police stations overseas: they work.

Incorrect. Gunmen attacked the vulnerable, there was no political action to speak of other than the rise of extremist hard-liners and neo-Nazis in Europe and elsewhere.

– 2013 will be the year of the Marginal Human: among other things, Mr. and Ms. Marginal will have less purchasing power.

Correct. The decline of purchasing power on the part of ordinary citizens has been notable, with the exception of credit-driven purchases of new cars by Baby Boomers.

Only a little more than half-right with some ambiguity due to incomplete data or activities not yet fully ripened. The undercurrent of unraveling is plain to see behind the scrim of media-sphere happy-talk and propagandistic ‘Good News’. Everywhere, the can is being kicked … there is the taint of desperation in the air.

Coming up next: predictions for 2014!

The Great Suffocation…

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Cassandra’s Legacy on December 13, 2013

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…will we have enough oxygen to breathe?

 

The oxygen concentration in the atmosphere as recorded at the Mauna Loa observatory (link). It is going down and the obvious explanation is that it is the result of our burning of fossil fuels. But do we risk to suffocate ourselves in this way? Fortunately, that’s very unlikely, at least in the short run. However, looking at the “other side” of the carbon dioxide emission story gives us a good perspective of what’s going on with the ecosystem as the result of human activities.

Everyone is worried about global warming, and correctly so. However, there is another side to the warming question: for every additional molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by burning fossil fuels, one molecule of oxygen (O2) must be consumed. That means less and less oxygen in the atmosphere. So, won’t suffocation be an additional problem to global warming? (some people seem to be actually worried that it could be)

Fortunately, the answer is “no.” We don’t risk to run out of oxygen; at least in the short run. But the story is not simple and we can learn a lot about what’s happening to our atmosphere, our climate, and our ecosystem if we look at the question in some detail.

First of all, what do we mean as “suffocation”? The present concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere is 21% in volume. We have evolved to live with this level of oxygen and the minimum level for humans to function normally is around 19% (See here). We are already in trouble below 17% and simply can’t survive below 10%. So, we have to be careful with what we do with our atmosphere; we can’t afford to lose more than 1%-2% of the oxygen we have.

Now, how much oxygen have we consumed with burning fossil fuels, so far? Not much, really. Keeling found a 0.0317% reduction in the atmospheric oxygen concentration from 1990 to 2008. Clearly, we are not going to suffocate, at least not right away.

But we need to go more in depth in the matter. Consider that we have been burning fossil fuels for a long time before 1990. We can roughly calculate the total loss considering that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased of about 250 parts per million in volume over the past century. A similar amount has been absorbed in the oceans, so we can say that we have produced the equivalent of 500 ppm of CO2 and hence some 500 parts per million of oxygen (0.05%) must have gone. But we are still well within the safety limits.

How about the future? The Keeling results tell us that, at the present rates, we consume about 0.02% of oxygen every ten years. To arrive near the 1% safety threshold we would need centuries but, of course, we will not be able to keep burning fossil fuels at the present rates for such a long time. As we roll on the other side of the Hubbert curve, we won’t probably be able to do more than double the amount already emitted (and perhaps much less, according to the Seneca scenario that sees decline much faster than growth).  Even in the most extreme assumptions, at most, we could emit no more than some four times the amount produced so far. That would correspond to a loss of about 0.2% of the total oxygen available. Not negligible but, as far as we know, not harmful.

So, burning fossil fuels would definitely not suffocate us; not directly, at least. But there are indirect effects. One is the loss of biomass caused by human activities. When plants and animals die, the carbon they contain is normally oxidized to carbon dioxide, consuming oxygen in the process. The total amount of carbon stocked in living creatures and soil is estimated as about 2100 billion tons (Gtons). If all this carbon were to react with oxygen, it would consume some 5600 Gtons of oxygen (taking into account that an atom of oxygen weighs more than an atom of carbon and that one atom of carbon consumes two atoms of oxygen). The total mass of oxygen in the atmosphere is calculated as of the order of 1.2×10^9 Gtons (see also this reference). So, even the total burning of the planetary ecosphere would make only a small dent in the total oxygen concentration; about 0.4%. And that, of course, is an extreme hypothesis that would see the whole biosphere destroyed – in this case, suffocation would be the least problem.

We could consider also the release of the methane hydrates stored in permafrost; something that could happen as a result of global warming. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, and so the process reinforces itself, that’s the origin of the so called “methane catastrophe” that would result in a disastrous greenhouse runaway effect. The total mass of methane stored in permafrost is estimated as of the order of 500-2500 gtons of carbon. In the worst case, methane could consume another ca. 0.4% of the atmospheric oxygen.

Summing up everything we have considered so far, methane, organic matter, fossil fuels, we see that we don’t go over the 1% threshold, even making rather extreme hypotheses. So, we would seem to be on the safe side. However, we should also take into account that by far the largest stock of organic (and hence burnable) carbon in the Earth’s crust is in the form of  “kerogen”, the result of the partial decomposition of organic matter. (Figure below from Manicore.com).

10^10 gtons of kerogen is such a large value that if all of it were to combine with oxygen (about 10^9 tons), then there won’t be any oxygen left in the atmosphere. That would be, indeed, the “great suffocation”. 

Fortunately, that is unlikely to happen. Kerogen can react with oxygen and it is, actually, the original source of the petroleum we extract and burn today. But the natural process is very slow and the human-made one very expensive. Human beings won’t be able, ever, to burn more than a microscopic fraction of the kerogen of the earth’s crust.

So, we see that oxygen loss, the great suffocation, is not something we should be worried about because we have much more oxygen in the atmosphere than what we could consume even in the worst possible hypothesis. We have this safety margin because free oxygen is the result of billions of years of photosynthetic activity which pumped lots of oxygen in the atmosphere. Of this oxygen, most was absorbed in inorganic oxides; principally iron oxides. Only a small fraction has gradually accumulated in the atmosphere, as we see in the following figure. (from Wikipedia – take into account that there is a big uncertainty in these estimates)

Note that a peak in the oxygen concentration was reached in the remote past, perhaps in correspondence with the peak in planetary biological productivity. At the peak, oxygen concentration may have reached a value of over 30% in volume – humans could not have survived in those conditions! Then, it may have gone down to about 15% and, again, we wouldn’t have been able to survive with that concentration.

So, oxygen is not simply accumulating in the atmosphere to remain there forever. It is a reactive gas and its concentration is linked to the evolution of the ecosystem. There are factors that can strongly change its concentration, probably involving reaction with the kerogen stock. We can’t know for sure what factors cause this reaction but a new dip in oxygen concentration as the result of the ongoing planetary changes cannot be excluded – even though that would probably be extremely slow by human standards. What we can be sure about is that we should be careful in the way we treat the Earth’s ecosystem – we are part of it!

 

Podcast: The Death of Trees

Off the microphones of Gail Zawacki and Monsta

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on December 11, 2013

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Discuss at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

 

In this edition of the Collapse Cafe me (Ibrahim Nour) talks with Gail Zawacki; an activist from New Jersey about the death of trees that is occurring across the globe.Why are the trees dying and how can this disturbing piece of information go largely unreported by not only the mainstream media but scientists in general? Listen to the podcast to find out the reasons to these questions.

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