Sunday, December 30, 2007

Seriously folks, you all need to think about growing some food and getting REALLY good at it! If you haven't yet seen The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil you NEED to see it ASAP!
MuseLetter #188 / December 2007 by Richard Heinberg

What Will We Eat as the Oil Runs Out?
The Lady Eve Balfour Lecture, November 22, 2007

Our global food system faces a crisis of unprecedented scope. This crisis, which threatens to imperil the lives of hundreds of millions and possibly billions of human beings, consists of four simultaneously colliding dilemmas, all arising from our relatively recent pattern of dependence on depleting fossil fuels.

The first dilemma consists of the direct impacts on agriculture of higher oil prices: increased costs for tractor fuel, agricultural chemicals, and the transport of farm inputs and outputs.

The second is an indirect consequence of high oil prices - the increased demand for biofuels, which is resulting in farmland being turned from food production to fuel production, thus making food more costly.

The third dilemma consists of the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events caused by fuel-based greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is the greatest environmental crisis of our time; however, fossil fuel depletion complicates the situation enormously, and if we fail to address either problem properly the consequences will be dire.

Finally comes thedegradation or loss of basic natural resources (principally, topsoil and fresh water supplies) as a result of high rates, and unsustainable methods, of production stimulated by decades of cheap energy.

Each of these problems is developing at a somewhat different pace regionally, and each is exacerbated by the continually expanding size of the human population. As these dilemmas collide, the resulting overall food crisis is likely to be profound and unprecedented in scope.

I propose to discuss each of these dilemmas briefly and to show how all are intertwined with our societal reliance on oil and other fossil fuels. I will then argue that the primary solution to the overall crisis of the world food system must be a planned rapid reduction in the use of fossil fuels in the growing and delivery of food. As we will see, this strategy, though ultimately unavoidable, will bring enormous problems of its own unless it is applied with forethought and intelligence. But the organic movement is uniquely positioned to guide this inevitable transition of the world's food systems away from reliance on fossil fuels, if leaders and practitioners of the various strands of organic agriculture are willing to work together and with policy makers.

Read the rest of the article...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What the World Eats, again

What's on family dinner tables in fifteen different homes around the globe?

Photographs by Peter Menzel from the book "Hungry Planet".

Click to view next

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Favorite foods: soup with fresh sheep meat

Click to view next
Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Favorite foods: pizza, crab, pasta, chicken
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United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week: $341.98
Favorite foods: spaghetti, potatoes, sesame chicken

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

They Rule

Ever wondered who's running all those huge corporations and multinationals and what their incestuous political and economic interconnections look like? gives you, graphically, a picture of who's who and who's in who's pockets. This shows the ruling class nakedly displayed in their true colors and alliances.

They Rule aims to provide a glimpse of some of the relationships of the US ruling class. It takes as its focus the boards of some of the most powerful U.S. companies, which share many of the same directors. Some individuals sit on 5, 6 or 7 of the top 500 companies. It allows users to browse through these interlocking directories and run searches on the boards and companies. A user can save a map of connections complete with their annotations and email links to these maps to others. They Rule is a starting point for research about these powerful individuals and corporations.

A few companies control much of the economy and oligopolies exert control in nearly every sector of the economy. The people who head up these companies swap on and off the boards from one company to another, and in and out of government committees and positions. These people run the most powerful institutions on the planet, and we have almost no say in who they are. This is not a conspiracy. They are proud to rule. And yet these connections of power are not always visible to the public eye.

Karl Marx once called this ruling class a 'band of hostile brothers.' They stand against each other in the competitve struggle for the continued accumulation of their capital, but they stand together as a family supporting their interests in perpetuating the profit system as whole. Protecting this system can require the cover of a 'legitimate' force - and this is the role that is played by the state. An understanding of this system can not be gleaned from looking at the inter-personal relations of this class alone, but rather how they stand in relation to other classes in society. Hopefully They Rule will raise larger questions about the structure of our society and in whose benefit it is run.

They Rule

Click here to enter They Rule.

Please note that you will need Flash Player 7.

A Brief Explanation
They Rule allows you to create maps of the interlocking directories of the top companies in the US in 2004.
The data was collected from their websites and SEC filings in early 2004, so it may not be completely accurate - companies merge and disappear and directors shift boards.

Read more about They Rule here.

You can also read the new They Rule weblog which has links to related sites.

You can still view the 2001 version of They Rule.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Good and Evil at the Center of the Earth:
A Quechua Christmas Carol

by Greg Palast

December 24th, 2007

[Quito] I don't know what the hell seized me. In the middle of an hour-long interview with the President of Ecuador, I asked him about his father.

I'm not Barbara Walters. It's not the kind of question I ask.

He hesitated. Then said, "My father was unemployed.”

He paused. Then added, "He took a little drugs to the States... This is called in Spanish a mula [mule]. He passed four years in the states- in a jail.”

He continued. "I'd never talked about my father before."

Apparently he hadn't. His staff stood stone silent, eyes widened.

Correa's dad took that frightening chance in the 1960s, a time when his family, like almost all families in Ecuador, was destitute. Ecuador was the original "banana republic" - and the price of bananas had hit the floor. A million desperate Ecuadorans, probably a tenth of the entire adult population, fled to the USA anyway they could.

"My mother told us he was working in the States."

His father, released from prison, was deported back to Ecuador. Humiliated, poor, broken, his father, I learned later, committed suicide.

At the end of our formal interview, through a doorway surrounded by paintings of the pale plutocrats who once ruled this difficult land, he took me into his own Oval Office. I asked him about an odd-looking framed note he had on the wall. It was, he said, from his daughter and her grade school class at Christmas time. He translated for me.

"We are writing to remind you that in Ecuador there are a lot of very poor children in the streets and we ask you please to help these children who are cold almost every night.”

It was kind of corny. And kind of sweet. A smart display for a politician.

Or maybe there was something else to it.

Correa is one of the first dark-skinned men to win election to this Quechua and mixed-race nation. Certainly, one of the first from the streets. He'd won a surprise victory over the richest man in Ecuador, the owner of the biggest banana plantation.

Doctor Correa, I should say, with a Ph.D in economics earned in Europe.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The following interview with KSR is from

Comparative Planetology: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson

[Image: The face of Nicholson Crater, Mars, courtesy of the ESA].

According to The New York Times Book Review, the novels of Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson "constitute one of the most impressive bodies of work in modern science fiction." I might argue, however, that Robinson is fundamentally a landscape writer.
That is, Robinson's books are not only filled with descriptions of landscapes – whole planets, in fact, noted, sensed, and textured down to the chemistry of their soils and the currents in their seas – but they are often about nothing other than vast landscape processes, in the midst of which a few humans stumble along. "Politics," in these novels, is as much a question of social justice as it is shorthand for learning to live in specific environments.

In his most recent trilogy – Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting – we see the earth becoming radically unlike itself through climate change. Floods drown the U.S. capital; fierce winter ice storms leave suburban families powerless, in every sense of the word; and the glaciers of concrete and glass that we have mistaken for civilization begin to reveal their inner weaknesses.
The stand-alone novel Antarctica documents the cuts, bruises, and theoretical breakthroughs of environmental researchers as they hike, snowshoe, sledge, belay, and fly via helicopter over the fractured canyons and crevasses of the southern continent. They wander across "shear zones" and find rooms buried in the ice, natural caves linked together like a "shattered cathedral, made of titanic columns of driftglass."
Meanwhile, in Robinson's legendary Mars Trilogy – Red Mars, Blue Mars, and Green Mars – the bulk of the narrative is, again, complete planetary transformation, this time on Mars. The Red Planet, colonized by scientists, is deliberately remade – or terraformed – to be climatically, hydrologically, and agriculturally suited for human life. Yet this is a different kind of human life – it, too, has been transformed: politically and psychologically.
In his recent book Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, Fredric Jameson devotes an entire chapter to Robinson's Mars Trilogy. Jameson writes that "utopia as a form is not the representation of radical alternatives; it is rather simply the imperative to imagine them."
Across all his books, Robinson is never afraid to imagine these radical alternatives. Indeed, in the interview posted below he explains that "I’ve been working all my career to try to redefine utopia in more positive terms – in more dynamic terms."

In the following interview, then, Kim Stanley Robinson talks to BLDGBLOG about climate change, from Hurricane Katrina to J.G. Ballard; about the influence of Greek island villages on his descriptions of Martian base camps; about life as a 21st century primate in the 24/7 "techno-surround"; how we must rethink utopia as we approach an age without oil; whether "sustainability" is really the proper thing to be striving for; and what a future archaeology of the space age might find.
This interview also includes previously unpublished photos by Robinson himself, taken in Greece and Antarctica.
• • •

BLDGBLOG: I’m interested in the possibility that literary genres might have to be redefined in light of climate change. In other words, a novel where two feet of snow falls on Los Angeles, or sand dunes creep through the suburbs of Rome, would be considered a work of science fiction, even surrealism, today; but that same book, in fifty years’ time, could very well be a work of climate realism, so to speak. So if climate change is making the world surreal, then what it means to write a “realistic” novel will have to change. As a science fiction novelist, does that affect how you approach your work?

Kim Stanley Robinson: Well, I’ve been saying this for a number of years: that now we’re all living in a science fiction novel together, a book that we co-write. A lot of what we’re experiencing now is unsurprising because we’ve been prepped for it by science fiction. But I don’t think surrealism is the right way to put it. Surrealism is so often a matter of dreamscapes, of things becoming more than real – and, as a result, more sublime. You think, maybe, of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, and the way that he sees these giant catastrophes as a release from our current social set-up: catastrophe and disaster are aestheticized and looked at as a miraculous salvation from our present reality. But it wouldn’t really be like that.

I started writing about Earth’s climate change in the Mars books. I needed something to happen on Earth that was shocking enough to allow a kind of historical gap in which my Martians could realistically establish independence. I had already been working with Antarctic scientists who were talking about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and how unstable it might be – so I used that, and in Blue Mars I showed a flooded London. But after you get past the initial dislocations and disasters, what you’ve got is another landscape to be inhabited – another situation that would have its own architecture, its own problems, and its own solutions.

To a certain extent, later, in my climate change books, I was following in that mold with the flood of Washington DC. I wrote that scene before Katrina. After Katrina hit, my flood didn’t look the same. I think it has to be acknowledged that the use of catastrophe as a literary device is not actually adequate to talk about something which, in the real world, is often so much worse – and which comes down to a great deal of human suffering.

So there may have been surreal images coming out of the New Orleans flood, but that’s not really what we take away from it.

[Image: Refugees gather outside the Superdome, New Orleans, post-Katrina].

BLDGBLOG: Aestheticizing these sorts of disasters can also have the effect of making climate change sound like an adventure. In Fifty Degrees Below, for instance, you wrote: “People are already fond of the flood… It was an adventure. It got people out of their ruts.” The implication is that people might actually be excited about climate change. Is there a risk that all these reports about flooded cities and lost archipelagoes and new coastlines might actually make climate change sound like some sort of survivalist adventure?

Robinson: It’s a failure of imagination to think that climate change is going to be an escape from jail – and it’s a failure in a couple of ways.

For one thing, modern civilization, with six billion people on the planet, lives on the tip of a gigantic complex of prosthetic devices – and all those devices have to work. The crash scenario that people think of, in this case, as an escape to freedom would actually be so damaging that it wouldn’t be fun. It wouldn’t be an adventure. It would merely be a struggle for food and security, and a permanent high risk of being robbed, beaten, or killed; your ability to feel confident about your own – and your family’s and your children’s – safety would be gone. People who fail to realize that… I’d say their imaginations haven’t fully gotten into this scenario.

It’s easy to imagine people who are bored in the modern techno-surround, as I call it, and they’re bored because they have not fully comprehended that they’re still primates, that their brains grew over a million-year period doing a certain suite of activities, and those activities are still available. Anyone can do them; they’re simple. They have to do with basic life support and basic social activities unboosted by technological means.

And there’s an addictive side to this. People try to do stupid technological replacements for natural primate actions, but it doesn’t quite give them the buzz that they hoped it would. Even though it looks quite magical, the sense of accomplishment is not there. So they do it again, hoping that the activity, like a drug, will somehow satisfy the urge that it’s supposedly meant to satisfy. But it doesn’t. So they do it more and more – and they fall down a rabbit hole, pursuing a destructive and high carbon-burn activity, when they could just go out for a walk, or plant a garden, or sit down at a table with a friend and drink some coffee and talk for an hour. All of these unboosted, straight-forward primate activities are actually intensely satisfying to the totality of the mind-body that we are.

So a little bit of analysis of what we are as primates – how we got here evolutionarily, and what can satisfy us in this world – would help us to imagine activities that are much lower impact on the planet and much more satisfying to the individual at the same time. In general, I’ve been thinking: let’s rate our technologies for how much they help us as primates, rather than how they can put us further into this dream of being powerful gods who stalk around on a planet that doesn’t really matter to us.

Because a lot of these supposed pleasures are really expensive. You pay with your life. You pay with your health. And they don’t satisfy you anyway! You end up taking various kinds of prescription or non-prescription drugs to compensate for your unhappiness and your unhealthiness – and the whole thing comes out of a kind of spiral: if only you could consume more, you’d be happier. But it isn’t true.

I’m advocating a kind of alteration of our imagined relationship to the planet. I think it’d be more fun – and also more sustainable. We’re always thinking that we’re much more powerful than we are, because we’re boosted by technological powers that exert a really, really high cost on the environment – a cost that isn’t calculated and that isn’t put into the price of things. It’s exteriorized from our fake economy. And it’s very profitable for certain elements in our society for us to continue to wander around in this dream-state and be upset about everything.

The hope that, “Oh, if only civilization were to collapse, then I could be happy” – it’s ridiculous. You can simply walk out your front door and get what you want out of that particular fantasy.

[Image: New Orleans under water, post-Katrina; photographer unknown].

BLDGBLOG: Mars has a long history as a kind of utopian destination – and, in that, your Mars trilogy is no exception. What is it about Mars that brings out this particular kind of speculation?

Robinson: Well, it brings up an unusual modern event that can happen in our mental landscapes, which is comparative planetology. That wasn’t really available to us before the modern era – really, until Viking.

One thing about Mars is that it’s a radically impoverished landscape. You start with nothing – the bare rock, the volatile chemicals that are needed for life, some water, and an empty landscape. That makes it a kind of gigantic metaphor, or modeling exercise, and it gives you a way to imagine the fundamentals of what we’re doing here on Earth. I find it is a very good thing to begin thinking that we are terraforming Earth – because we are, and we’ve been doing it for quite some time. We’ve been doing it by accident, and mostly by damaging things. In some ways, there have been improvements, in terms of human support systems, but there’s still so much damage, damage that’s gone unacknowledged or ignored, even when all along we knew it was happening. People kind of shrug and think: a) there’s nothing we can do about it, or b) maybe the next generation will be clever enough to figure it out. So on we go.

[Images: Mars, courtesy of NASA].

Mars is an interesting platform where we can model these things. But I don’t know that we’ll get there for another fifty years or so – and once we do get there, I think that for many, many years, maybe many decades, it will function like Antarctica does now: it will be an interesting scientific base that teaches us things and is beautiful and charismatic, but not important in the larger scheme of human history on Earth. It’s just an interesting place to study, that we can learn things from. Actually, for many years, Mars will be even less important to us than Antarctica, because the Antarctic is at least part of our ecosphere.

But if you think of yourself as terraforming Earth, and if you think about sustainability, then you can start thinking about permaculture and what permaculture really means. It’s not just sustainable agriculture, but a name for a certain type of history. Because the word sustainability is now code for: let’s make capitalism work over the long haul, without ever getting rid of the hierarchy between rich and poor and without establishing social justice.

Sustainable development, as well: that’s a term that’s been contaminated. It doesn’t even mean sustainable anymore. It means: let us continue to do what we’re doing, but somehow get away with it. By some magic waving of the hands, or some techno silver bullet, suddenly we can make it all right to continue in all our current habits. And yet it’s not just that our habits are destructive, they’re not even satisfying to the people who get to play in them. So there’s a stupidity involved, at the cultural level.

BLDGBLOG: In other words, your lifestyle may now be carbon neutral – but was it really any good in the first place?

Robinson: Right. Especially if it’s been encoding, or essentially legitimizing, a grotesque hierarchy of social injustice of the most damaging kind. And the tendency for capitalism to want to overlook that – to wave its hands and say: well, it’s a system in which eventually everyone gets to prosper, you know, the rising tide floats all boats, blah blah – well, this is just not true.

We should take the political and aesthetic baggage out of the term utopia. I’ve been working all my career to try to redefine utopia in more positive terms – in more dynamic terms. People tend to think of utopia as a perfect end-stage, which is, by definition, impossible and maybe even bad for us. And so maybe it’s better to use a word like permaculture, which not only includes permanent but also permutation. Permaculture suggests a certain kind of obvious human goal, which is that future generations will have at least as good a place to live as what we have now.

It’s almost as if a science fiction writer’s job is to represent the unborn humanity that will inherit this place – you’re speaking from the future and for the future. And you try to speak for them by envisioning scenarios that show them either doing things better or doing things worse – but you’re also alerting the generations alive right now that these people have a voice in history.

The future needs to be taken into account by the current system, which regularly steals from it in order to pad our ridiculous current lifestyle.

[Images: (top) Michael Reynolds, architect. Turbine House, Taos, New Mexico. Photograph © Michael Reynolds, 2007. (bottom) Steve Baer, designer. House of Steve Baer, Corrales, New Mexico, 1971. Photography © Jon Naar, 1975/2007. Courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, from their excellent, and uncannily well-timed, exhibition 1973: Sorry, Out of Gas].

BLDGBLOG: When it actually comes to designing the future, what will permaculture look like? Where will its structures and ideas come from?

Robinson: Well, at the end of the 1960s and through the 70s, what we thought – and this is particularly true in architecture and design terms – was: OK, given these new possibilities for new and different ways of being, how do we design it? What happens in architecture? What happens in urban design?

As a result of these questions there came into being a big body of utopian design literature that’s now mostly obsolete and out of print, which had no notion that the Reagan-Thatcher counter-revolution was going to hit. Books like Progress As If Survival Mattered, Small Is Beautiful, Muddling Toward Frugality, The Integral Urban House, Design for the Real World, A Pattern Language, and so on. I had a whole shelf of those books. Their tech is now mostly obsolete, superceded by more sophisticated tech, but the ideas behind them, and the idea of appropriate technology and alternative design: that needs to come back big time. And I think it is.

[Image: American President Jimmy Carter dedicates the White House solar panels, 20 June 1979. Photograph © Jimmy Carter Library. Courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture].

This is one of the reasons I’ve been talking about climate change, and the possibility of abrupt climate change, as potentially a good thing – in that it forces us to confront problems that we were going to sweep under the carpet for hundreds of years. Now, suddenly, these problems are in our face and we have to deal. And part of dealing is going to be design.

I don’t think people fully comprehend what a gigantic difference their infrastructure makes, or what it feels like to live in a city with public transport, like Paris, compared to one of the big autopias like southern California. The feel of existence is completely different. And of course the carbon burn is also different – and the sense that everybody’s in the same boat together. This partly accounts for the difference between urban voters and rural voters: rural voters – or out-in-the-country voters – can imagine that they’re somehow independent, and that they don’t rely on other people. Meanwhile, their entire tech is built elsewhere. It’s a fantasy, and a bad one as it leads to a false assessment of the real situation.

The Mars books were where I focused on these design questions the most. I had to describe fifteen or twenty invented towns or social structures based around their architecture. Everything from little settlements to crater towns to gigantic cities, to all sorts of individual homes in the outback – how do you occupy the outback? how do you live? – and it was a great pleasure. I think, actually, that one of the main reasons people enjoyed those Mars books was in seeing these alternative design possibilities envisioned and being able to walk around in them, imaginatively.

BLDGBLOG: Were there specific architectural examples, or specific landscapes, that you based your descriptions on?

Robinson: Sure. They had to do with things that I’d seen or read about. And, you know, reading Science News week in and week out, I was always attentive to what the latest in building materials or house design was.

Also, I seized on anything that seemed human-scale and aesthetically pleasing and good for a community. I thought of Greek villages in Crete, and also the spectacular stuff on Santorini. One of the things I learned, wandering around Greek archaeological sites – I’m very interested in archaeology – is that they clearly chose some of their town sites not just for practical concerns but also for aesthetic pleasure. They would put their towns in places where it would look good to live – where you would get a permanent sense that the town was a work of art, as well as a practical solution to economic and geographical problems. That was something I wanted to do on Mars over and over again.

[Image: Photos of Greece, inspiration for life on Mars, taken by Kim Stanley Robinson].

Mondragon, Spain, was also a constant reference point, and Kerala, in southern India. I was looking at cooperative, or leftist, places. Bologna, Italy. The Italian city-states of the Renaissance, in a different kind of way. Also, cities where public transport on a human scale could be kept in mind. That’s mostly northern Europe.

So those were some of the reference points that I remember – but I was also trying to think about how humans might inhabit the unusual Martian features: the cliffsides, the hidden cities that I postulated might be necessary. I was attracted to anything that had to do with circularity, because of the stupendous number of craters on Mars. The Paul Sattelmeier indoor/outdoor house, which is round and easy to build, was something I noticed in Science News as a result of this fixation.

There was a real wide net I could cast there – and it was fun. If you give yourself a whole world to play with, you don’t have to choose just one solution – you can describe any number of solutions – and I think that was politically true as well as architecturally true with my Mars books. They weren’t proposing one master solution, as in the old utopias, but showing that there are a variety of possible solutions, with different advantages and disadvantages.

[Image: A photograph of Santorini taken by Kim Stanley Robinson].

BLDGBLOG: Speaking of archaeology, one of the most interesting things I’ve read recently was that some archaeologists are now speculating that sites like the Apollo moon landing, or the final resting spot of the Mars rovers, will someday be like Egypt’s Valley of the Kings: they’ll be excavated and studied and preserved and mapped.

Robinson: Yes, and places like Baikonur, in Kazakhstan, will be quite beautiful. They’ll work as great statuary – like megaliths. They’ll have that charismatic quality and, in their ruin, they should be quite beautiful. As you know, that was one great attraction of the Romantic era – to ruins, to the suggestion of age – and there will be something nicely contradictory about something as futuristic as space artifacts suggesting ruins and the ancient past. That’s sure to come.

The interesting problem on Mars, and Chris McKay has talked about this, is that if we conclude that there’s the possibility of bacterial life on Mars, then it becomes really, really important for us not to contaminate the planet with earthly bacteria. But it’s almost impossible to sterilize a spaceship completely. There were probably 100,000 bacteria even on the sterilized spacecraft that we sent to Mars, living on their inner surfaces. It isn’t even certain that a gigantic crash-landing and explosion would kill all that bacteria.

So Chris McKay has been suggesting that a site like the Beagle or polar lander crash site actually needs to be excavated and fully sterilized – the stuff may even have to be taken off-planet – if we really want to keep Mars uncontaminated. In other words, we’ve contaminated it already; if we find native, alien bacterial life on Mars, and we don’t want it mixed up with Terran life, then we might have to do something a lot more radical than an archaeological saving of the site. We might have to do something like a Superfund clean-up.

Of course, that’s all really hard to do without getting down there with yet more bacteria-infested things.

[Image: Two painted views of a human future on Mars, courtesy of NASA].

BLDGBLOG: That’s the same situation as with these lakes in Antarctica buried beneath the ice: to study them, we have to drill down into them, but by drilling down into them, we might immediately introduce microbes and bacteria and even chemicals into the water – which will mean that there’s not much left for us to study.

Robinson: They’re already having that problem with Lake Vostok. The Russians have got an ice drill that’s already maybe too close to the lake, and in the sphere of influence of the trapped bacteria. And now people are calculating that the water in Lake Vostok might be very heavily pressurized, and like seltzer water, so that breaking through might cause a gusher on the surface that could last six months. The water might just fly out onto the surface – where it would freeze and create a little mountain up there, of fresh water. Who knows? I mean, at that point, whatever was going on, in bacterial terms, with that lake in particular – that’s ruined. There are many other lakes beneath the Antarctic surface, so it isn’t as if we don’t have more places we could save or study, but that one is already a problem.

[Image: Architecture in Antarctica, photographed by Kim Stanley Robinson].

Also, I do like the archaeological sites in Antarctica from the classic era. Those are worth comparing to the space program. Going to Antarctica in 1900 was like us going into space today: as Oliver Morton has put it, it was the hardest thing that technology allowed humans to do at the time. So you could imagine those guys as being in space suits and doing space station-type stuff – but, of course, from our angle, it looks like Boy Scout equipment. It’s amazing that they got away with it at all. Those are the most beautiful spaces – the Shackleton/Scott sites – even the little cairns that Amundsen left behind, or the crashed airplanes from the 1920s: they all become vividly important reminders of our past and of our technological progress. They deserve to be protected fully and kind of revered, almost as religious sites, if you’re a humanist.

[Image: Shackleton's hut, Antarctica, photographed by Kim Stanley Robinson].

So archaeology in space? Who knows? It’s hard enough to think about what’s going to go on up there. But on earth it’s very neat to think of Cape Canaveral or Baikonur becoming like Shackleton’s hut.

Thinking along this line causes me to wonder about the Stalinist industrial cities in the Urals – you know, like Chelyabinsk-65. These horribly utilitarian extraction economy-type places, incredibly brutal and destructive – once they’re abandoned, and they begin to rust away, they take on a strange kind of aesthetic. As long as you wouldn’t get actively poisoned when you visit them –

BLDGBLOG: [laughs]

Robinson: – I would be really interested to see some of these places. Just don’t step in the sludge, or scratch your arm – the toxicity levels are supposed to be alarming. But, in archaeological terms, I bet they’d be beautiful.

owes a huge and genuine thanks to Kim Stanley Robinson, not only for his ongoing output as a writer but for his patience while this interview was edited and assembled. Thanks, as well, to William L. Fox for putting Robinson and I in touch in the first place.
Meanwhile, the recently published catalog for the exhibition 1973: Sorry, Out of Gas offers a great look at the "big body of utopian design literature that’s now mostly obsolete and out of print" that Robinson mentions in the above interview. If you see a copy, I'd definitely recommend settling in for a long read.
by Geoff Manaugh

Saturday, December 22, 2007

101 things you can do about peak oil & climate change

1. Recycle (everything)
2. Refuse (plastic bags, excessive packaging, poor quality food)
3. Re-use (everything many times until its worn out, get creative)
4. Rethink (what you know, learn new skills for the future)
5. Repair (as much as you can, don’t just throw things away)
6. Reconnect (with nature and where your food comes from)
7. Reduce (your consumption)
8. Reclaim & rehabilitate (damaged areas)
9. Regulate (yourself, your consumption)
10. Request (use your consumer power to make changes)
11. Review (your energy use, your attitude and your progress)
12. Re-skill (learn ‘lost’ survival skills)
13. Make a conscious effort to use less natural resources - THEY ARE FINITE and will run out
14. Understand that fossil fuels are used to produce almost everything we use – and how it will change with energy descent. *Read David Holmgren's Permaculture; Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability
15. Buy local – food, products, services – everything you use has transportation costs attached to it
16. Only eat locally grown organic food
17. Eat in-season food (it tastes so much better)
18. Eat less meat (refuse Contained Animal Feedlot Operation-raised, hormone-fattened, antibiotic-laced meat)
19. Turn electrical appliances and lights off when not needed - be aware of "phantom" electrical use from devices that are always on, like TV's
20. Water your garden late in the afternoon or early morning when the sun is off your plants and water only when needed - water less often but deeper
21. Establish composting and worm farming systems to sequester carbon and reduce the amounts of valuable materials going to landfill and producing methane gas
22. Organic matter holds 90 percent of its own weight in water – add organic matter to your soil to turn it into a water-holding ‘tank’ that needs less watering
23. Buy fair trade products
24. When making a decision, apply permaculture principles of - care for the earth, care for all species and fair share
25. ’Check in at the check out’ - ask yourself what is a real need and what is a 'want'.
26. Question where things come from and what goes into making them before you make your purchase – use your consumer power
27. Use grey water in the garden on fruit trees
28. Mulch your garden – never, ever leave soil exposed to the sun, wind, rain and evaporation
29. Use compost, worm castings and green manure crops as fertilizers for your soil – don’t buy commercially manufactured, petro-chemical based fertilizers
30. Become informed, aware and educated
31. Collect the renewable resources we currently have more effectively (water, sun, wind)
32. Plan for a future where weather events are more intense (eg heavier rain events but fewer of them), turn down the heat in your garden with food trees and more useful trees.
33. Relearn the skills of the past for the future (food preservation, manual skills - repairing things)
34. Plan for when oil and all the things in the world that are produced using oil are more expensive and harder to get
35. Switch to the green power option on your electricity bill
36. Switch to solar, hydro or wind energy
37. Install a composting toilet (don't use between 3 gallons of quality drinking water to flush away 1/2 cup of urine - use urine in the garden)
38. Install a system that uses grey water in the toilet tank
39. Re-use every resource you have multiple times
40. Use public transport, pedal power, walk or car pool
41. Buy a smaller, more fuel efficient car
42. Turn the thermostat on your heater (or air conditioner if you have one) up (or down) one degree (this will give you a 10 per cent improvement in energy consumption)
43. Take fewer air flights
44. Offset your carbon emissions
45. Install energy efficient light bulbs, taps and shower heads
46. Take shorter showers, get a showerhead with a shut-off so you can turn off the water while soaping and shampooing, put a bucket in the shower to catch water for flushing toilet.
47. Don't wash your car - just keep the windows clean so you don't crash!
48. Use water frugally and respect each and every drop
49. Buy energy efficient appliances – check their star rating
50. Buy clothes that don’t need ironing
51. Grow your own food using organic methods – build season extenders: greenhouses, cold frames, hot boxes
52. Resist any attempt to restrict the use of household water to grow food, Let the lawn die but keep the garden growing.
53. Understand that agriculture uses 70 per cent of all water
54. Growing food at home uses one fifth of the water used in commercial growing and the amount of fuel used to get food from the farm to your table is greatly reduced
55. If you can't grow your own, buy into Community Supported Agriculture programs
56. Support local industries
57. Develop local networks and buy organic food in bulk
58. Create shade in your garden to reduce watering and around your home to reduce summer cooling costs
59. Establish major earthworks (swales, ponds, terraces, etc) now while we have the fossil fuels to run the machinery
60. Sign petitions that call for real solutions and local action to work toward a better future
61. Attend rallies and show your support for immediate and urgent action
62. Meet with local politicians and ask what they are doing - put pressure on them to act – one hand written letter equals 100 votes to them
63. Join local groups - relocalization, permaculture, community gardens, organic growing, etc network, network, network – learn, learn, learn
64. Support community groups who are working toward a sustainable future - the answer to global problems will not come from the people who caused them in the first place.
65. Support your local community gardens – volunteer or become a financial member, attend meetings, contribute your knowledge, time and skills
66. Attend film nights and learn what is happening around the world
67. Take a Permaculture Design Course!
68. Support businesses that are behaving ethically
69. Invest your money ethically
70. Visit the David Suzuki Foundation websites and see what is being done
71. Get involved in tree planting - native species in the right location
72. Read Tim Flannery's book The Weather Makers
73. Read Affluenza by Clive Hamilton or watch the video
74. Audit resources coming into your home and resources (a.k.a. waste) going out
75. Donate money to worthy causes that support community based solutions to these problems
76. If you have time - volunteer your energy and skills to causes that support community based solutions to these problems
77. Use fewer disposable products and more reusable ones
78. Buy the best quality hand tools you can afford
79. Join your local environmental group and attend talks, seminars, workshops
80. Use whatever skills you have from your working life or hobbies to spread the word (writing, photography, computer skills)
81. Knock on your neighbor's door and take them some produce from your garden
82. Teach - if you have skills others need, teach them.
83. Spend less - every dollar has greenhouse gases attached to it
84. Stop using chemical cleaners - make your own at home from sodium bicarbonate, vinegar, washing soda, etc
85. Install a water tank or two to catch rainwater.
86. Save as much gasoline as you can by walking, biking or planning your trips more efficiently
87. Teach your children to appreciate the natural world - get out into it
88. Teach your children life skills for a more sustainable future
89. Support permaculture gardens and permaculture curriculum in local schools
90. Offset your fuel emissions
91. Add lots and lots of organic matter to your soil – it draws carbon from the atmosphere and returns it to the soil
92. Garden and kitchen waste sent to landfill produces methane – a potent greenhouse gas – don’t put plant waste in your rubbish bin – compost or mulch it
93. Learn more about the ‘food miles’ your food has attached to it – demand supermarkets show food miles on their fresh produce
94. Design you home so you don’t need air conditioning and use solar passively to reduce or eliminate heating
95. Buy furniture made from sustainably-grown timber or recycle old furniture
96. Buy from butchers or farmers who supply organic, grass-fed or bio-dynamic meat
97. Buy clothes made from sustainable fibers – such as hemp or bamboo
98. Take advantage of community banks that offer discounted loans for ‘green building’
99. Use garden safe laundry detergent and re-use your laundry grey water on the garden
100. Read and subscribe to magazines such as Permaculture Activist, Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening (don't buy them at the store - it takes gas to get there and they cost more)
101. Celebrate, support and propagate diversity.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See

The Complete YouTube Series beginning with the trailer (made last), a
preview of the tour-de-force video project that details how we can choose what to do about global climate change WITHOUT HAVING TO BELIEVE what either side in the debate is shouting.
The whole project is located on wonderingmind42's account in the playlist "How It All Ends," and is anchored by the video of that same name (start there). Contains the central, stand-along video "How It All Ends" (that's the place to start), plus hours of Expansion Pack videos which have anticipated and ALREADY ANSWERED every possible question or objection. Really. Give it a shot by watching "How It All Ends", and then "How It All Ends: Index," and How It All Ends: Menu." Bet you can't find a hole that's already been anticipated and patched. I double-dog dare you.
Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See

How It All Ends: Index
How It All Ends: Menu
How It All Ends

Patching Holes #1
Patching Holes #2
Patching Holes #3: The Manpollo Project (Without Explosions
Patching Holes #3: The Manpollo Project (With Explosions)

How It All Ends: Nature of Science (pt 1 of 3)
How It All Ends: Nature of Science (pt 2 of 3)
How It All Ends: Nature of Science (pt 3 of 3)

How It All Ends: Risk Management (pt 1 of 7)
How It All Ends: Risk Management (pt 2 of 7)
How It All Ends: Risk Management (pt 3 of 7)
How It All Ends: Risk Management (pt 4 of 7)
How It All Ends: Risk Management (pt 5 of 7)
How It All Ends: Risk Management (pt 6 of 7)
How It All Ends: Risk Management (pt 7 of 7)

How It All Ends: Mechanics of GCC (pt 1 of 3)
How It All Ends: Mechanics of GCC (pt 2 of 3)
How It All Ends: Mechanics of GCC (pt 3 of 3)

How It All Ends: The Manpollo Project (Pt 1 of 2)
How It All Ends: The Manpollo Project (Pt 2 of 2)

How It All Ends: Get What You Want (Pt 1 of 3)
How It All Ends: Get What You Want (Pt 2 of 3)
How It All Ends: Get What You Want (Pt 3 of 3)

How It All Ends: Why There Is Still Debate (Pt 1 of 2)
How It All Ends: Why There Is Still Debate (Pt 2 of 2)

How It All Ends: Scare Tactics (Pt 1 of 6)
How It All Ends: Scare Tactics (Pt 2 of 6)
How It All Ends: Scare Tactics (Pt 3 of 6)
How It All Ends: Scare Tactics (Pt 4 of 6)
How It All Ends: Scare Tactics (Pt 5 of 6)
How It All Ends: Scare Tactics (Pt 6 of 6)

How It All Ends: God's Will

How It All Ends: I Hope I'm Wrong (Pt 1 of 2)
How It All Ends: I Hope I'm Wrong (Pt 2 of 2)

How It All Ends: No Holds Barred (Pt 1 of 6)
How It All Ends: No Holds Barred (Pt 2 of 6)
How It All Ends: No Holds Barred (Pt 3 of 6)
How It All Ends: No Holds Barred (Pt 4 of 6)
How It All Ends: No Holds Barred (Pt 5 of 6)
How It All Ends: No Holds Barred (Pt 6 of 6)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Potenco’s Pull-Cord Generator (PCG) keeps portable electronic devices working all the time while providing freedom and independence from traditional power sources.

Simply hold the PCG in the palm of one hand, pull the cord with the other hand, and generate instant energy. The PCG safely powers rechargeable batteries and provides energy for a variety of critical electronics such as lighting, cell phones, radios, GPS, PDAs, and water purifiers.

The first application of the PCG will power the XO Laptop available from the One Laptop per Child Project (OLPC)


Bioneers: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World with Paul Stamets
Paul Stamets, author of Mycelium Running, reveals astonishing evidence of how nature's solutions surpass our conception of what's possible to radically restore ecosystems and human health.

Viewing options
Play RealMedia format (28m 46s; for broadband users)

Producer: Collective Heritage Institute/Bioneers (

Another article about Stamets' work can be found at these sites:
Paul was also featured on Leonardo DiCaprio's film 11th Hour

Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson and Permaculture

Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy of climate change (Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007) is one of the more hopeful sets of books currently being read by (thankfully) millions of people. It is described as "Perhaps the most realistic portrayal ever created of the environmental changes that are already occurring on our planet."

The following text is drawn from the blog of fictional President (of the US) Phil Chase, near the end of the final book of the trilogy:

"...Capital is created by everyone and should be owned by everyone. People are owed the worth of what they do, and whatever they do adds to humanity somehow, and helps make our own lives possible, and it worth a living wage and more. And the Earth is owed our permanent care. And we have the capability to care for the Earth and create for every one of us a sufficiency of food, water, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, and human rights. To the extent our economic system withholds or flatly opposes these values and goals, it is diseased. It has to be changed so that we can do these things that are well within our technological capabilities. We have imagined them, and they are possible. We can make them real. Of course they can happen. You thought they couldn't happen, but why? Because we aren't good enough to do it? That was part of the delusion. Underneath the delusion, we were always doing it. That's what we're doing in history; call it the invention of permaculture. By permaculture I mean a culture that can be sustained permanently. Not unchanging, that's impossible, we have to stay dynamic, because conditions will change, and we will have to adapt to those new conditions, and continue to try to make things even better - so that I like to think the word permaculture implies also permutation. We will make adaptations, so change is inevitable. Eventually I think what will happen is that we will build a culture in which no one is without a job, or shelter, or health care, or education, or the rights to their own life. Taking care of the Earth and its miraculous biological splendor will then become the long-term work of our species. We'll share the world with all the other creatures. It will be an ongoing project that will never end. People worry about living life without purpose or meaning, and rightfully so, but really there is no need for concern: inventing a sustainable culture is the meaning, right there always before us. We haven't even come close to doing it yet, so it will take a long time, indeed it will never come to and end while people still exist. All this is inherent in what we have started...We have to become the stewards of the Earth. And we have to start doing this in ignorance of the details of how to do it. We have to learn how to do it in the attempt itself. It is something we are going to have to imagine. "This generation has a rendezvous with destiny." Our time has to be understood as a narrow gate, a widow of opportunity, a crux point in history. It's the moment when we took responsibility for life on Earth. That's what I say."
Downloadable Audio and Video recordings from the
International Permaculture Convergence #8 in Brazil

For IPC9 Audio click here .

NOTE: PC/Windows users need to have QuickTime installed. If you don't have the current version of QuickTime for Windows, you can get it here .

IPC8 Conference Audio




The Biorock® Process Accelerates Coral Growth

In pilot installations in Mexico, Panama, Indonesia, Maldives, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea, we have built artificial reefs where corals grow rapidly even in stressed environments.

Applying a low voltage electrical current (completely safe for swimmers and marine life) to a submerged conductive structure causes dissolved mineral crystals in seawater to precipitate and adhere to that structure. The result is a composite of limestone and brucite with mechanical strength similar to concrete. Derived from seawater, this material is similar to the composition of natural coral reefs and tropical sand beaches.

Biorock structures can be built in any size or shape depending only on the physical makeup of the sea bottom, wave and current energies and construction materials. They are well suited for remote, third world sites where exotic building materials, construction equipment and highly skilled labor are non-existent.

GCRA methods provide a cost-effective way to increase coral survival from bleaching and disease, while restoring damaged reefs. In time, these structures cement themselves to the ocean bottom, providing a physical barrier that can protect coastlines from waves and currents that cause erosion.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Farming the Future

By Kenny Ausubel

Kenny Ausubel is the founder and co-executive director of Bioneers.

The snow was so deep that our big dogs were in over their eyeballs. They couldn’t even move through it, and these beasts will brave anything for their beloved walk. They had to follow in the trench-like tracks my wife and I forged, using every ounce of strength just to push a few breathless feet at a time. More weird weather. Climate change kicking in. Expect the unexpected. Expect extremes.

Fortunately, the weather service had predicted the three-plus feet of white stuff blanketing Santa Fe and northern New Mexico. We live in the mountains outside Santa Fe, and had stocked the fridge and pantry for days ahead. Fortunately we didn’t lose electricity, unlike many others around town. Give thanks.

Along with our fellow snowbound New Mexicans, we soon learned that northern New Mexico has all of three days’ worth of food on store shelves. The only ones able to move food around successfully were Wal-Mart and, to a lesser extent, Whole Foods. I had felt uncomfortably vulnerable visiting Hawai’i, knowing that the islands had only three days of food and water on hand. But New Mexico? It’s likely a similar situation where you live.

Bioneers launched a new project in 2007 called Dreaming New Mexico. The idea is for New Mexicans to collectively dream the place in which we want to live. As Black Elk said, “Without a vision, the people will perish.” We’re so often caught up in the daily struggles of stopping all the bad stuff from happening that we don’t step back to ask ourselves what we really want. What are we working for? What is our dream?

In the course of our research, we learned that New Mexico is number one in the country — nice to be number one in something, right? Except in this case it’s food insecurity. We then discovered that the federal definition of food insecurity essentially boils down to poverty, or proximity to a grocery store. As Bugs Bunny used to say, “Ain’t it amazin’?!”

No mention of climate change and its effects on an inconceivably brittle centralized agro-industrial infrastructure. No mention of rampant topsoil loss, or water shortages, already severe in the Southwest and elsewhere. No mention of lands and waters poisoned by agricultural chemicals. No mention of the vulnerability posed by impoverished crop biodiversity, or threats from disease vectors. No mention of high oil prices and their escalating effect on food costs in a state where 300,000 people in a population of only two million already go hungry every year.

I’d call it policy insecurity, or more accurately a policy of deep insecurity. We have a long row to hoe to begin to build true food security. “Going local” is no longer going to be patted on the head as a nostalgic aesthetic flourish or a quaint experiment. Just contemplate the fact that global warming’s impact on California’s national breadbasket of the Central Valley could easily produce salt-water infiltration of the water table. Far greater food self-reliance is likely to become a matter of survival and resiliency in the face of a collapsing environment and infrastructure.

The only constant in nature is change, and we’re in for big turbulence. Our ability to adapt will be the make-it-or-break-it factor. Evolution’s path is littered with extinctions of all those who didn’t adapt. In nature the greatest source of resiliency in the face of change is diversity. In other words, hedge your bets. Employ multiple strategies. Rely on diverse sources of subsistence. Create redundancies. Have a backup. Plan B is just the beginning.

After the blizzard in New Mexico, our little community’s rural roads were cleared quickly, whereas much of Santa Fe remained buried and immobilized for as long as a week. Why? Since the county doesn’t service our little mountain community, we created a neighborhood-based snowplow operation.

In other words, we got by collectively because we didn’t rely exclusively on the system. Everyone checked around with neighbors to make sure folks were covered. Our true social security is woven in community, which is also what we hunger for as the highly social animals we are. Restoring community is where the dream also lives.

If we’re to successfully navigate the radical changes ahead, we’re really looking at nothing less than the redesign of our civilization, from the technological to the cultural. On the functional plane, that’s going to require a lot of new infrastructure, which we badly need anyway. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our current infrastructure a grade of “D”; we can expect it to be coming apart on a regular basis. This new design we’ll require equally invites us to cultivate the social capital in our communities. Successful models of human resilience consistently arise in communities with a strong social fabric, including working relationships over time.

One thing we know we’ll need is a lot more farmers and food producers. Our farmer population has not only shrunk precipitously, it has also grayed. The seeds of future farmers are our young people. They need education rooted in a strong connection to land, place, and food. They need a support system to succeed for the long haul. Call it farming the future.

School programs, starting at an early age, that focus on gardening, cooking, and the ecology of food are essential ingredients for farming the future. Some of the greatest signs of hope are embodied in the kinds of exemplary work and leadership shown by the Center for Ecoliteracy and the Chez Panisse Foundation, modeling practices that have spread exponentially across the nation over the past ten years. These programs also cultivate the connection to community and place that we’re going to need in order to slip through this evolutionary keyhole of history.

Yet with world population at six billion and counting, we’re not going to feed the world exclusively from family farms. Leading-edge, high-production models are also crucial, such as John Todd’s elegant biomimetic solar greenhouses that ecologically grow large volumes of fresh fish, vegetables, and mushrooms. Such facilities are well fitted to localization and regionalization, scaling from neighborhood-based production to export markets. They can further serve as eye-opening experiential educational tools that demonstrate how to adapt natural principles to serve human ends. How many young inventors are going to light up at the invitation for innovation to realize the dream of a truly sufficient, ecological, and just food system? How can we support them to succeed?

We’re going to need big new crops of farmers and a wild diversity of approaches. We’re going to learn again how to be intimately specific to our place. It’s survival of the fittest in the way Darwin meant it: elegantly fitted to time, place, and food supply — able to adapt to changing local conditions and culture.

It’s going to feel at times like pushing through three feet of snow, and it’s going to be a long and winding trek across generations. We’re already making some of the paths others can walk toward their dreams. Other dreams will blaze brilliant new trails. The dreams are already within us. One day we might just awaken to find ourselves living in our wildest dreams.

May it be so.

Kenny Ausubel is the founder and co-executive director of Bioneers, a nonprofit educational organization that promotes practical environmental solutions and innovative social strategies for restoring the Earth and communities. He is an award-winning journalist, filmmaker and social entrepreneur whose books include The Bioneers: A Declaration of Interdependence (2001; Chelsea Green) and When Healing Becomes a Crime: The Amazing Story of the Hoxsey Cancer Clinics and the Return of Alternative Therapies (2000; Healing Arts Press). He co-founded Seeds of Change, a national biodiversity organic seed company, and founded Inner Tan Productions, a feature film development company. Kenny is also executive producer and co-writer of the award-winning radio series: Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature. He acted as a central advisor to Leonardo DiCaprio’s feature documentary The 11th Hour, and appears in the film.

©2007 Kenny Ausubel