9 01 2010

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 .  This event is also free.

Hope to see you there!

music:  The Grateful Dead, “Throwing Stones


13 07 2008

Two thousand watts of electricity.  It’s the equivalent of twenty one-hundred watt lightbulbs.  Imagine those lightbulbs on, all day and all night, for a year.  Sound extravagant?  Actually, it’s not extravagant at all.  According to scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, that’s about the average energy input level that is sustainable for the number of people we have on the planet at this time.

We’re not just talking light bulbs, though.  We’re talking about every energy input involved in daily living–work, food, shelter, and travel.

Plenty of people are living on less.  The Swiss say that the average Bangladeshi is using about three hundred watts, the average Indian a thousand, while China’s average is computed at about fifteen hundred–which includes peasants in mud huts who are living at the Bangladeshi level and rich businessmen who are doing their best to imitate the American way of life–which tops out the charts at an estimated 12,000 watts.  Switzerland, by contrast, uses an average of five thousand watts per person, having crossed the two-thousand watt threshold some time in the early 1960’s.  Life was not so deprived in the early 1960’s, now, was it?

Automobiles and airplane travel are real wattage suckers.  Even if your car is a Prius, driving it 10,000 miles a year will take up about a thousand watts, and one intercontinental airplane flight (round trip, of course!) will run you between five hundred and a thousand, depending on the distance involved.

But cutting wattage is not necessarily about adopting a Spartan lifestyle.  It is also about tweaking technology in ways that save energy.  First of all, about two-thirds of the energy we produce is wasted.  One major waste channel is uncaptured heat; another is power-drop in electric lines. Finding creative uses for heat and going from a centralized to a decentralized power generation and distribution network can cut our energy footprint.  Finding alternatives to automobile transportation–from light rail to electric buses to scooters and bicycles, as well as recreating walking-distance urban neighborhoods, can drop our energy demands further.  Throw in super-insulated homes, solar-powered geothermal heat pumps, and neighborhood gardens, and we get a further reduction.  We can rethink the inside of our homes and find more ways to reduce our energy demands gracefully–from solar cookers and water heaters, to LED lighting (the next wave after compact florescent), to throwing out our television sets and entertaining ourselves and each other.

Then, too, there’s rethinking what we expect from life.  The people of Bangladesh are too close to the edge at three hundred watts, but anthropology shows us over and over again that it is possible to live a very enjoyable life with none of the accoutrements of Western Civilization that we have come to hold so dear.  Making space in the world for people to live simply, gracefully, and close to nature–for a season or a lifetime–will be easier if our energy demands are not so overwhelming.  Not needing to exploit every inch of the natural world for our own benefit will actually make it easier for us to live graciously in a technological culture.

And what will be the cost of this conversion?  At first glance, it may seem overwhelming, but it’s not. Bringing sane technology to the third world and redesigning America and Europe, where so many bad ideas are so entrenched in the infrastructure, will, according to the Swiss, cost about half of what the world is currently spending on weaponry.  (And, just for the record, almost half that expense is America’s.)  Such a conversion effort would reduce world tension and free up most of the rest of the energy expended for so-called defense to be put to more creative purposes.  The alternative–trying to hang on to what we have and the way we live–will, even in the short run, turn out to be much more expensive.  Environmental costs, security costs, food and raw materials costs, are only going to ratchet up under the current paradigm, and when those costs exceed what can be met, the result will be chaos of the nastiest sort.  Let’s opt for a gracious power-down.  There’s still time.

music: Will Kimbrough, Wind Blowing Change


6 04 2008

from the UK Independent:

USA 2008: The Great Depression

Food stamps are the symbol of poverty in the US. In the era of the credit crunch, a record 28 million Americans are now relying on them to survive – a sure sign the world’s richest country faces economic crisis

By David Usborne in New York

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

We knew things were bad on Wall Street, but on Main Street it may be worse. Startling official statistics show that as a new economic recession stalks the United States, a record number of Americans will shortly be depending on food stamps just to feed themselves and their families.

Dismal projections by the Congressional Budget Office in Washington suggest that in the fiscal year starting in October, 28 million people in the US will be using government food stamps to buy essential groceries, the highest level since the food assistance programme was introduced in the 1960s.


23 03 2008
Published: March 19, 2008

These days, people really are taking coals to Newcastle.

 That flow is part of a vast reorganization of the global coal trade that is making the United States a major exporter for the first time in years — and helping to drive up domestic prices of the one fossil fuel the nation has in abundance.

Coal has long been a cheap and plentiful fuel source for utilities and their customers, helping to keep American electric bills relatively low.

But rising worldwide demand is turning American coal into another hot global commodity, with domestic buyers having to compete with buyers from countries like Germany and Japan.

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