In December, the 21st “Council of Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Paris. Almost everybody seemed to understand that we are in “no more fooling around” territory, with some notable exceptions, like, f’rinstance, India and Saudi Arabia. Ironically, these are two of the countries with the most to lose from further climate change–like, their inhabitability. Even so, it has become common knowledge that climate change denialism has largely been, um, fuelled by oil companies who did the research in the 70’s and 80’s and, like the tobacco companies before them, realized that their product was lethal, and who nonetheless chose to elevate their short-term bottom line over the long-term survival of not just their customers, as with the tobacco companies, but of the human race, along with most other species on the planet. I could be snide and sneer about the oxymoronic quality of the phrase “corporate ethics,” but it’s not just corporations that prioritize reaping short-term benefits over preventing long-term threats. It’s a fairly common human trait, it turns out, and one that is plaguing our efforts to stop doing things that release more carbon and accelerate climate change, and to start doing things that will capture carbon and reverse our ever more tightly spiralling spin into planetary oblivion. In order to reverse climate change, we must reverse our own conditioned responses. The outer depends on the inner, as always.
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Tags: China, Clarksville Highway, coal, Columbia Pipeline Group, COP 21, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, fracking, Godot, India, Joelton, John Kerry, Karl Dean, Megan Barry, methane, Metro Council, Metro Planning Commission, Middle East, NAFTA, Nashville Next, natural gas, No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure, Paris, President Obama, Saudi Arabia, Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, Transcanada Corporation, United Nations, White's Creek, World Bank, World Trade Organization, Yemen
Categories : climate change, environmental issues, financial, international relations, local politics, local self-sufficiency, peak oil, the war for oil, transition
There’s a story making the rounds of the mainstream media these days, frequently trumpeted as “International Energy Agency says U.S. to overtake Saudis as top oil producer.” This may, technically, turn out to be true. But, as they say, “The devil is in the details,” and in this case, there’s definitely a Hell’s worth of details behind that headline that are all too frequently overlooked in this, our oil-based culture’s cargo cult moment.
“Cargo cults,” to refresh your memory, were a religious movement that flourished briefly in the South Pacific after World War II. The natives, who had been living a largely neolithic existence, saw that our troops came in, built an airstrip, and then airplanes landed, bringing all kinds of wondrous things, never before imagined, to the island, and the islanders. Then,when the war was over, the mysterious strangers packed up and left, the airplanes no longer arrived bearing their magical cargoes,and the airstrips grew up in brush. Some of the natives thought that, if they just rebuilt the airstrips, the planes would come again. So they tried it, but it didn’t work, at least not directly, although the brief peak of our now-declining civilization has, in fact, brought the airplanes–bearing tourists, not soldiers, this time–back to many of those once-isolated tropical isles.
But no such temporary relief awaits us. In fact, the granting of our wish for the oil age to continue bears such a horrific price tag that it’s a sad wonder that most people seem all too willing to buy it. I’m going to examine the thorns of this “petroleum rose,” and, I hope, push the chorus of voices crying “DON’T TAKE THAT DEAL!!” to a volume level that just might save us from the fraudulent, Faustian fracking bargain. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tags: arctic, Canada, China, conservation, EROEI, Frack-Free Tennessee, fracking, Houston, IEA, India, International Energy Agency, Jeremy Grantham, Jim Yong Kim, Keystone XL pipeline, methane, Nashville Peace and Justice Center, National Public Radio, natural gas, Nigeria, North Dakota, radioactivity, Russia, Saudi Arabia, solar energy, Tennessee, third pole, Tibet, University of Texas, wind energy, World Bank
Categories : buddhism, climate change, environmental issues, financial, peak oil, US infrastructure
A few months back, President Obama announced a three billion dollar U.S. initiative “to help Africa feed itself, “which is a noble goal, but the devil was all over his details. The first detail to note is that three billion dollars is a third of one percent of our country’s military budget. About one day of our military spending to help the starving Africans. Whoopee!
There were two major prongs to this plan. Two-thirds of the money, (That’s about sixteen hours worth of military spending.)will be given to a European chemical company to build a fertilizer factory in Africa, which would use natural gas to create massive quantities of ammonium nitrate, which is a powerful explosive as well as a fertilizer. (Remember the Oklahoma City Federal Building? The first attempt on the World Trade Center?). The second prong will introduce Monsatan’s GMO seeds to African farmers, “to increase their yields.” This from the guy whose wife scored big publicity points by putting an organic vegetable garden at the White House.
Both these prongs are going to do a lot more harm than good. The manufacture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is an energy-intensive, CO2-producing process whose result is a bag of white crystals that, not unlike cocaine, provide a short-term boost, but, in the long-term, have a deleterious effect–in the case of ammonium nitrate, the impoverishment of the soil to which it is applied. The high levels of ammonia in ammonium nitrate burn out soil micro-organisms, leading to depletion of organic matter and a decrease in the soil’s fertility and ability to hold water. The short-term solution, as with cocaine, is to apply a bigger dose of white crystals. Sooner or later, the excess nitrogen starts leaching into the water supply, which exacerbates the problem by polluting the water and making people sick.
. Then, too, the fertilizer must be purchased, a financial demand that can have disastrous consequences for small farmers in the third world. We’ll look more deeply at that soon. For now, let’s just point out that placing increased financial pressure on cash-strapped, subsistence farmers in the name of “improving their lives” is either cynical or naive. Time and time again, there have been demonstration projects and studies showing that the best way to improve the lives of subsistence farmers and the communities they feed is to help them find ways to increase the “circularity” of their farming, by increasing their use of local, organic inputs such as plant, animal, and human waste, and by returning to non-mechanized farming methods that require more labor and less machinery and fossil fuels. Neither the fact that we are running out of inexpensive ways to create those white crystals, nor the fact that producing the white crystals is destroying the soil and the atmosphere, seems to enter into the calculations of those who proclaim the superiority of white-crystal style farming–f’rinstance, President Obama, or Presidential wanna-be Romney.
The second prong of the fork with which our corporatocracy wishes to stick the people of Africa is the introduction of GMO seeds. There’s two really bad things about GMO seeds. The first is their toll on the humans who use them, and the second is the way their use destroys the land in which they are planted. We have only to look to India to see what the President and his cronies are promising to deliver to Africa. What we see in India is over 200,000 small farmers driven to suicide, often by the debts they incurred to buy GMO seeds and the chemical inputs necessary to grow them–not just the aforementioned fertilizer, but herbicides and pesticides that they lack the technology to apply “safely,” even in the manufacturer’s loose terms. Third-world farmers have traditionally saved their own seed, but it is illegal to save the patented GMO seeds, and frequently impractical as well, for, if the seed is a hybrid, it will either fail to produce fertile seed, or fail to produce a uniform variety–but you’re not supposed to even try planting them, because they’re patented. Intellectual property rights must be respected, y’know! So, when Obama talks about “helping” African farmers with chemical inputs, he’s talking about inducing a rash of debt-driven suicides. Hey, that’ll clear the playing field and help solve the overpopulation problem, right?! More on that perverse idea later. Back to GMO crops.
Herbicide use itself is highly problematic. Roundup, the go-to herbicide for GMO crops, is very nonspecific in its effects. It kills soil microflora just as readily as it kills broadleaf weeds and grasses, and thus is highly detrimental to soil. And, just as with ammonium nitrate, its production is energy-intensive and carbon-expensive.
So, to sum up, when we strip the facade from the President’s feel-good call to help foster agriculture in Africa, we find a plan that is likely to further impoverish the continent’s vast majority of smallholders, drive them from their land, and wreak havoc with the land’s ability to support plant life. So, who does benefit from this kind of “help”?
One group that is helped by alienating traditional people from their land base is foreign investors, both private and national, who are increasingly looking to Africa as a place to grow food to export, rather than to feed the hungry close at hand. China and other countries are making deals with debt-pressed, cash-starved governments, deals that involve the displacement of thousands of people from millions of acres in order to grow crops that will not feed Africans.
The other big beneficiary of Obama’s policy is the Monsanto Corporation. It is relevant to note, at this point, the “revolving door” nature of Monsanto’s relationship with the government. At least 35 individuals, representing both of the US’s major political parties, have been both on Monsanto’s payroll and the government’s, albeit not at the same time, as far as we know. We’re talking about some big fish here–Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Hillary Clinton both worked for Monsanto when they were private practice lawyers. Searle Chemical Company-CEO Donald Rumsfeld (remember him?) was paid a twelve million dollar bonus by Monsanto when it acquired Searle, giving Monsanto the right to produce the carcinogenic artificial sweetener aspartame (“Nutrasweet”). after Rummy pulled strings to get it approved for human use, but that’s another story.
The Africa deal is not the only example of Obama’s–and our whole government’s– apparent willingness to go to bat for Monsanto. Attempts to pass laws allowing labeling of GMO foods, dairy products containing bovine growth hormones, and limiting the spread of GMO seeds have been shot down, and research suggesting that their widespread use might have serious negative effects has been suppressed., both in the current administration and the last several governments, no matter who was supposedly in charge.
Monsanto’s willingness to play with both major US political parties leads to another question. Should we really blame Barack Obama for all this? Or is he a genuinely well-intentioned guy, who thought he could make change happen by being elected President, but found, when he arrived, that his real role was to play spokesman for an unelected shadow government? As Robert Anton Wilson put it, “was the new President shown a video of the Kennedy assassination from an angle he’d never seen it from before, and told ‘you’ve got a nice family. Play along with us and nobody gets hurt.'”? Perhaps. A friend of mine who is an old smoking buddy of Al Gore’s tells me that Al told him in 1992 that Al and Bill knew the office they were running for was more ceremonial than executive, but they hoped to be able to make a slight difference in the direction of things. We all know how that turned out. (And remember, Gore had already written and become somewhat famous for Earth in the Balance, which, along with Albert Bates’ Climate in Crisis was one of the first books to call popular attention to the mess we are tangled in now.) Perhaps frustration with his figurehead status accounts for Gore’s lackluster run for President in 2000 and his subsequent flowering, at a convenient distance from politics.
So, maybe Barack Obama regrets his decision to become a kinder, gentler face for the corporatocracy than Dick Cheney and that guy he was with, but we may never know, because, like Clinton and Gore before him, he fears for his safety and his family’s safety far too much to ever spill those beans.
But, whatever the unspeakable truth may be about Barack Obama’s motivations and intentions, the inconvenient truth is that the African policy for which he is at the very least serving as a charming mouthpiece is not a policy that will benefit Africa. It is just another corporate iron hand in another velvet glove, grabbing for what’s left of the wealth of the continent that gave birth to us all, a corporate iron hand that doesn’t care who or what it crushes as long as it ends up with a fistful of dollars. And that’s the inconvenient truth about the Obama administration’s “African initiative.”
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Tags: Africa, agriculture, Al Gore, Albert, Albert Bates, ammonium nitrate, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Clarence Thomas, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, GMO, GMO seeds, Hillary Clinton, India, intellectual property rights, Monsanto, Monsatan, Robert Anton Wilson, small farmers, subsistence farmers, suicide
Categories : environmental issues, international relations, local self-sufficiency, peak oil, politics, the Bush junta
It looks like the climate conference in Copenhagen produced good news and bad news.
The bad news was that, as the final weeks, months, or years (nobody knows!) tick down before we have passed over enough “tipping points” to fall into climate chaos, the governments of the world were unable to agree about how to stop, slow, end, or reverse the process. It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that there is no way to make those who are doing most of the damage–the government/industrial complexes of the US, China, India, Canada, and Russia–there is no way to make them–or is it us?– stop. Everybody agreed to keep talking, but the climate time bomb is still ticking, and we have no idea when it’s going to go off or how much damage it will do.
The good news is that the governments and big businesses of the world were unable to come to the agreement that some had hoped to ratify–an agreement that was more of a mutual suicide pact than something that would actually have curbed, or even helped the world adjust to, global climate change.
It kind of reminds me of the old anti-gun law bumper sticker that read “Ill give up my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.”
But this isn’t about just about guns, it’s about the whole growth-oriented worldwide consumer economy. The upper classes and their hypnotized minions in the bourgeoisie and what’s left of the working class (Wow, I sound like an old-time commie, don’t I!?), all those under the spell of eternal growth, either don’t care how many people have to die for them to keep enjoying their high standard of living, or at best think there is some technological breakthrough just over the horizon that will make it work. I have a feeling they are very, very mistaken.
As I understand it, here’s how the breakdown happened:
The Chinese see themselves, probably correctly, as the next great superpower, and are unwilling to let anything stand in their way. China’s leaders also know that they need to keep their economy moving, or they will have hundreds of millions of very unhappy people chewing on their asses. Are they aware of the fact that their growth plan will melt the Himalayan ice cap and leave them (and India) without an adequate water supply? Probably. Are they planning to negotiate for, or maybe just seize, far eastern Russia’s copious water resources? Probably. Do they figure that India and the rest of south Asia, who are dependent on the glacier-fed Mekong, Irawaddy, Bhramaputra, Ganges, and Indus Rivers, but do not have easy access to Siberia, will thus be made more dependent on China and thus increase China’s world hegemony? Probably.
Will things work out according to their plans? Don’t bet on it. According to one witness, it was the Chinese who insisted that the commitment to an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050, as well as any other concrete targets, be dropped. China will not be immune to the disastrous consequences of this power play.
The US government and its major industrial corporations (who are not nearly as separate as they want us to believe) are still trying to be number one. The US came to the conference with a “commitment” to goals that would protect its own financial interests but not the little people of the world, which seems to be the typical strategy of the Obama administration. Hillary Clinton’s offer to create a fund to help countries deal with climate change was so hedged with conditions that it amounted to blackmail. Fortunately, the US position in the world is slipping so fast that few countries are likely to take the bait. Meanwhile, however, the back room, lowest-common denominator “accord” that Obama negotiated with the Chinese did more to trash the UN, the possibility of controlling carbon emissions, and America’s standing in the world than all the fussing the Bush Junta and their bulldog John Bolton ever dreamed of.
So where does that leave us? On our own. The big boys are too involved with preserving their own asses and assets to think about or care for us. . It’s time to learn to power down, to transition into the post-affluence, post-petroleum, climate-altered twenty-first century, We need to learn to live locally, to be both self reliant and interdependent. We need to learn how to keep working with old friends and how to make new ones. There’s already a group gathering here in Nashville to do this–in fact, there probably need to be several–it’s a big city.
I can tell you about two upcoming events that will address this need for local organization. The first is this coming Tuesday, January 12th, at the Celebrity Scientology Center, 1130 8th Avenue South, at 7:30 PM. Albert Bates, who attended the Copenhagen meeting, will be talking about where we go from here. Albert combines brilliant, innovative insight with a great sense of humor, and I think this meeting will be very inspirational and should not be missed. This event is free.
But, if that’s a little short-notice for you, save Saturday, January 30th, when local activist Susan Shann, who is working to birth the “Transition Nashville” movement, will talk at the Cumberland-Green River Basin Bioregional Council’s winter meeting. She’s not as funny as Albert, but she sings better. Susan will presenting between 1:30 and 3PM at Brookemeade Congregational Church, at 700 Bresslyn Road, and there will be other events and workshops as well. Check out the whole schedule at http://www.meetup.com/Cumberland-Green-River-Bioregional-Council/ . This event is also free.
Hope to see you there!
music: The Grateful Dead, “Throwing Stones”
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Tags: Barack Obama, Canada, China, Copenhagen, Cumberland Green Bioregional Council, Hillary Clinton, India, Russia, Transition Nashville, USA
Categories : climate change, environmental issues, peak oil, politics, the Bush junta
I am amazed and dismayed at how difficult it can be to get some people to cut loose of a bad idea. Sometimes it’s local–like the May family’s recent hiring of a notorious zoning attorney to work on getting their “Maytown Center” fantasyland approved. Sometimes it’s national–like all the people who project their liberal expectations on Barack Obama and keep urging him to stand up and roar, when the reality is that he’s just a pussycat in Wall Street’s lap, and no more likely to pounce on Wall Street, the insurance/pharmaceutical establishment, the military establishment, or America’s carbon- and credit happy way of life than your cat is likely to pounce on you and eat you for breakfast.
And that brings us to the climate talks in Copenhagen. Prospects do not look good for a serious, binding treaty, and why? Two main reasons: the first is that big corporations are addicted to short-term profits and have the political clout to make sure that nothing interferes with their money fix. The second is that we, the people of the United States, or “estamos jodidos“, as they say in Mexico, are addicted to our petroleum-inflated, corporate-backed standard of living, and will happily vote out of office or ignore any politician who attempts to interfere with our comfort fix. Ask Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, or Cynthia McKinney.
Thus, we have the irony that many of those who excoriated the Bush junta for dissing “the reality-based community” are now themselves out of touch with hard, physical reality. The hard, physical reality is that the climate is changing much faster than the IPCC predicted it would. The hard, physical reality is that the planet’s carbon dioxide level passed the threshold of safety at 350 parts per million, and agreements that “hold” us to 450 ppm will not prevent massive, catastrophic changes to the only planet we have to live on. Nature bats last, she doesn’t negotiate, and she doesn’t care how much some pundits fume about East Anglian emails.
But the wealthy elite who dominate our political system don’t seem to get this. They think that the “political reality” that serious climate change legislation won’t fly trumps the “physical reality” of impending disaster, so if we can’t shut down every coal plant in the US and China in the next three years, if we don’t stop deforesting the tropics for grazing land and Canada for tar sand, if we don’t stop acidifying the oceans before we kill off the phytoplankton that provide 70% of our oxygen, it’s OK.
It’s not OK. Maybe the plutocrats who run the big businesses of the world think their wealth will permanently insulate them from the consequences of their inaction. In the long run, they are very, very wrong.
But in the short run, which unfortunately is all that counts for most people, it has been true. Those who are suffering the most from climate change, or who are about to suffer the most from climate change, live in the third world, while it is we in the first world, with our material addictions, who have triggered the catastrophe. Geography insulates us from them. Hurricane Katrina was an early warning, a reminder that calamity can strike America, too, and we should not let the fact that the Atlantic has been relatively quiet since then lull us into a false sense of security.
If, as seems likely, there is neither an agreement nor even an agreement to come to agreement as a result of Copenhagen, there is one deus ex machina that might derail catastrophic climate change, and that is economic collapse, which has already idled thousands of oceangoing cargo vessels worldwide, and at least slowed down that once fast-growing source of carbon emissions, which along with international airlines, was exempted from control under the so-called Kyoto accords.
Economic collapse has all but shut down urban sprawl in the US. Home construction was the last big domestic industry possible in this country, since you can’t readily build homes in China and ship them here, and even building materials imported from China turn out to be suspect, as the recent flap over weird sheetrock demonstrates.
And, if the Chinese and Indians try to keep their economies (and carbon emissions) strong by developing their domestic economies, they will first find themselves up against the hard reality of spiraling oil prices and diminishing oil supplies, and then they will have to deal with their countries becoming uninhabitable as the Himalayan glaciers melt off over the next thirty years, drying up the sources of all of both countries’ major rivers. Ooops….where’s a sixth of the world’s population gonna go when they get thirsty? And, considering how much the US owes China, are we gonna be able to tell them no, they can’t come here? Yes, the stage is set for chaos, boys and girls….
And the US government is gridlocked. The “solutions” they pass in Congress are pitiful. It’s not about what the Repugs won’t let the Dims do. That’s a puppet show, and the puppet master has a Repug puppet on his right hand and a Dim puppet on his left, and we’re supposed to believe they’re really different. The gridlock is that the wealthy, who are creating and benefitting from the mess the planet is in, won’t let the government do anything that is against their interest. Forget “We, the people.” It’s “We, the rich people, ” and they are determined to keep their priviliges no matter what.
“Green corporations” are a crock. Walmarts with “green roofs” and massive energy conservaton systems and recycling, even if they’re full of “green products” are still part of the problem, not part of the solution, because they are still designed to pump money out of communities and into the hands of shareholders. It’s not just about changing content, it’s about changing form. Once upon a time, the dinosaurs were so big and ferocious that us mammals could barely hang on. Then the planet went through some sudden changes, and the dinosaurs’ size and inflexibility worked against their ability to adapt. We’re approaching a similar point, but the dinosaurs of this age are the legal fictions of giant corporations and national governments.
What this means for you and me is that it’s time to take things into our own hands. No, I don’t mean let’s go burn down Brentwood, Temporarily thrilling as that might be, it would create a lot more problems than it would solve. I mean let’s get together with our friends and neighbors and figure out what we can do together to get ready for the excrement that’s already hit the fan. Let’s turn our lawns into gardens and build henhouses and keep milk cows, let’s learn to make, make do, and do without.
This is going to seem terribly futile from a certain perspective. BIg changes are afoot, and I’m telling you to grow beans? And to that, I can only reply with trite maxims like “Start where you are,” or “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Trite, but true.
I know it’s short notice, but I’ll be getting together with some old and new friends Monday night here in Nashville, 7:30 to 9, to continue the discussion of what we can actually do…..go to earthrevolution.org and send a “contact” email to rsvp, and you’ll get directions. Thinking globally, acting locally, y’know?
Ah, this just in–according to our Copenhagen correspondent Albert Bates, US EPA administrator Carol Jackson has announced that, no matter what Congress does or doesn’t do, the EPA will regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and that US emissions will be going down. A bold move, or at least a bold gesture. Call me cynical, but I have to wonder how long it will take the Congressional coal&oil caucus to muzzle her efforts, and maybe even give her the Van Jones treatment. Stay tuned….
music: Jefferson Airplane, “Crown of Creation”
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Tags: 350 ppm, Barack Obama, China, CO2, Copenhagen, democrats, India, Maytown Center, Walmart
Categories : climate change, environmental issues, financial, local self-sufficiency, peak oil, US infrastructure
Money for India’s ‘Ultra Mega’ Coal Plants Approved
The troubling tension between propelling prosperity and limiting climate risks in a world still wedded to fossil fuels is on full display this week. India’s Tata Power group just gained important financial backing from the International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, for its planned $4 billion, 4-billion watt “Ultra Mega” coal-burning power plant complex in Gujarat state.
silk purses from sows’ ears?
New plastics dervied from CO2 emissions could fight global warming
April 10, 2008
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Efforts to slow global warming by “scrubbing” carbon dioxide smokestack emissions could generate a material for the production of DVDs, beverage bottles and other products made from polycarbonate plastics, say chemists speaking at the 235th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Dr. Thomas E. MÃ¼ller and Dr. Toshiyasu Sakakura said that polycarbonate plastics made from CO2 could be cheaper, greener, and safer that conventional plastics.
“Carbon dioxide is so readily available, especially from the smokestack of industries that burn coal and other fossil fuels,” said MÃ¼ller. “And it’s a very cheap starting material. If we can replace more expensive starting materials with CO2, then you’ll have an economic driving force.”
Sakakura, of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan, said that CO2 could be used as a feedstock to change carbonates and urethanes into plastics and battery components.
MÃ¼ller said that polycarbonate products — which could include eyeglass lenses, DVDs and CDs, and beverage bottles, among others — have great potential for removing million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“Using CO2 to create polycarbonates might not solve the total carbon dioxide problem, but it could be a significant contribution,” he said, adding that polycarbonates derived from CO2 emissions could reach the market within a “few years.”
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Tags: carbon capture, coal, India, plastics, World Bank
Categories : climate change, environmental issues