ROI: Love of Money

written by Community Solutions Fellow, wimbi

In the Jan 18 issue of the New York Times, an opinion piece, “The Love of Money” written by a recovering Wall St. money addict, says:

“Yes, I was sharp, good with numbers. I had marketable talents. But in the end I didn’t really do anything. I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist.”

But, in the process of doing nothing for you or me, he had made a megaton of money.

So what? Well, money started off as a method of transferring real value between me and you. Many millennia ago when we lived in Mesopotamia, I give you a little clay marker saying I owed you one camel for something you had given me.  That chit was a claim on my camel, so you had a counter for something real, a camel.

That bit of clay stamped with a symbol standing for my camel had real value, as long as everybody agreed that it did. Back then we thought it was a pretty clever invention. But then look what happened. Jesus had to drive the money-lenders from the temple, but they came right back. Today, they are offering you a derivative. What is it? Sort of like a bet that somebody else’s bet might pay off somehow, somewhere. What!

But then look what happens when that miserable little chit for a real camel gets all mixed up with all those chits for nothing but derivatives. You can’t tell the difference between them, so the Wall St. trader gets a hundred million symbols for derivatives, and you have one measly one for a camel, he gets to claim your   whole camel for a tiny fraction of his derivatives, which as the guy said, actually stands for nothing of real value to you or me.

That boils down to his having the power to rob me and you of our camel, and do ditto to two hundred million other poverty stricken camel drivers, for his doing nothing more than what a few lines of computer code could have done for the pay of a tiny fraction of a kilowatt-hour of electricity per year.

How’s that for a return on investment!  The trader invested the finger flicks to move a stack of chips from one pile to another, and in return, gets a bigger stack of chips.  His investment was moving the stack, his return was real claims on my camel. I worked hard to grow that camel, and he did nothing for me, but he had set up the game so that he ended up with my camel. Not good. At all.

So, if business measures return on investment in money only, and not in real things, like food, shelter, education, healthcare and all the things we really need, we end up not having the things we need.

“Ah”, you say, “but that keeps the economy going”. Right, but going where?  Ruining the planet, faster and faster, that’s where while doing mighty little good for us, and a great deal of bad to our grandkids.

So what am I getting at here? Well, think it over. Shouldn’t you take your real value chit off the pile in front of that derivative trader and put it back into something real? Like what?

How about investing right here? Make this “the place I would rather be”. If you did, we could have a bunch of school science teachers who really do teach science; a river which, like in all proper college towns, has beautiful recreation possibilities where students can go do whatever it is that they do; and a public transport system full of electric vehicles run from all those solar panels covering the world-famous Athens farmer’s market.

Now that would be a real return on investment! Way better than the alternative, where you put your chips on Wall St., but afterwards have to struggle through the freezing winds, kicking aside a mob of starving beggars, to get up to a curtained window through which you peek to see that Wall St. money addict cavorting with all those nude cuties, while in the background, over a huge roaring fire, they are roasting your camel.

'Occupied' Norway a window into our fossil fuel adiction

Originally Posted on

Written by Community Solutions Fellow Kurt Cobb

Okay, I admit that the premise of Norwegian television's new political thriller series "Occupied" is far-fetched. But that premise is a window on just how addicted to fossil fuels we are.

In "Occupied" Norway's Green Party wins parliamentary elections and makes good on its (not-altogether-fictional) promise to shut down oil and natural gas production in the country as a way of addressing climate change. This fictional Green Party simultaneously builds a thorium-fueled reactor to provide electric power. The Greens promise many more reactors as they embrace the electrification of transportation to reduce Norway's need for liquid fuels.

Norway's oil and gas customers--the countries of the European Union and Sweden--object to the loss of critical fossil fuel supplies. They conspire with Russia to force Norway to restart oil and gas production. At first this involves a smallish invasion by Russian soldiers and a takeover of offshore oil and gas platforms which are restored to production by Russian work crews.


When the series was conceived, Norwegian television thought the idea was too implausible. But with the Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine, "Occupied" has touched a nerve in a newly anxious Scandanavian population who now see Russia as more of threat. (And, of course, there is the memory of Germany's occupation of Norway during World War II that still arouses fear and loathing in the hearts of many Norwegians.)

Coincidences aside, it does not seem surprising that the world would react strongly to a major oil and gas exporting nation deciding it will end all oil and gas production. If we were to substitute Saudi Arabia for Norway--where a partial shutdown is plausible if radical Saudi elements were to come to power in a messy coup--I can confidently predict that the United States and other Western powers would use whatever force is necessary to turn the oil spigots back on full blast.

Attempts to control the flow of oil have led to war after war. But little Norway--peaceful, democratic, white, European--could never be the target for such violence under these unusual circumstances, could it?

Of course, if Norway were to do the improbable and shut its oil and gas taps, it's more likely the Russians would be celebrating rather than assisting in opening those taps. It would mean Europe would have to import more Russian natural gas and possibly more Russian oil. Hey, maybe Great Britain would like to join Norway and shut down its production, too? The Russians could only dream of such an outcome.

Naturally, it is inconceivable that any country would voluntarily shut down production of one of the most valuable commodities in the world and the lifeblood of the world economy. No country would choose to go without the economic benefits that significant domestic oil and gas production bestow.

And, that is perhaps the point of "Occupied" after all. It shows us what we must do to prevent catastrophic climate change, and in doing so, simultaneously demonstrates that we simply won't be able to bring ourselves to do what we know we must. At least, not yet.

Despite all the rhetoric coming out of the Paris climate summit--and it was very encouraging rhetoric--any country with significant oil and gas production which decides to curtail or end such production would quickly be prevailed upon to resume that production--perhaps not today with the current glut, but surely just 18 months ago and surely in the future when the glut comes to an end. Governments around the world believe that oil is just too critical to let any country make such a decision all on its own.

Regarding "Occupied" as a piece of entertainment, once you forget about the implausible premise, you can focus on the changing allegiances and calculations of the Norwegian and Russian characters. It is a delicate and tense dance that these characters perform--the Norwegians not wanting to provoke an all-out war, a war that would surely demolish them; the Russians not wanting to resort to undue force for fear that they will get bogged down in a guerrilla conflict that could drag on for years.

Will each side get its calculations right? For the answer you'll have to watch. And, I think you will like what you see even if the most implausible part of the series is that we will someday go cold turkey to end our addiction to fossil fuels.

American Apartheid: I Can't Breathe-Black Lives Matter

Originally posted on

An Excerpt from Dark Gold Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Carolyn Baker

Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community. We call these individual racism and institutional racism. The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury or the violent destruction of property. This type can be recorded by television cameras; it can frequently be observed in the process of commission. The second type is less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts. But it is no less destructive of human life. The second type originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than the first type. When white terrorists bomb a black church and kill five black children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city – Birmingham, Alabama – five hundred black babies die each year because of the lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the black community, that is a function of institutional racism. When a black family moves into a home in a white neighborhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which many people will condemn – at least in words. But it is institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation, or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.~Stokely Carmichael, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation~

Civil rights activist, Stokely Carmichael, coined the term institutional racism in the 1960s when many white moderates wanted to focus on the transformation of attitudes among individual whites. Carmichael asserted that much more toxic than personal bias was institutional bias which constitutes a pattern of institutions such as banks, governmental organizations, courts, schools, and neighborhoods treating a particular group of people negatively based on race. Since the inception of the Civil Rights movement of the twentieth century, activists have emphasized the need for changing both our individual and institutional attitudes toward people of color. Millions of white Americans have experienced very dramatic transformations in their attitudes toward and relationships with minorities, but institutional patterns persist and in the second decade of the twenty-first century continue to influence the wellbeing of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and other minorities in the United States.

In the throes of protests throughout the United States in December, 2014 following grand jury rulings on the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri four months prior and the suffocation death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City police in July, 2014, Eric Draitser stated in his Russia TV online article, “Racial Discrimination Is Deeply Embedded In Fabric of The US Society”:

It’s hard to say if you are making an argument that an institution is, by its very nature and form, an oppressive force, that’s one thing. But just on the level of reform, the fact of the matter is here in New York City we had a “progressive” mayor elected, and as his first action he appointed one of the most reactionary and villainous figures in recent NYPD history, Will Bratton, to head the police force here, someone with quite a long reputation of racially discriminatory policies, such as the so-called “broken windows policing” here in New York City. So if you want to start to address the problem even just as a first step, you can begin to ask yourself what are we – that is to say the City of New York, City of Saint Louis or Los Angeles, whatever – what are we as a city doing to address what is undeniably a problem that is faced by a vast swath of the population of the city? We are talking about major American cities with major demographic issues, demographics that show massive portions of the city are African American, massive portions of the city that see the police as an occupying force, not as one that is there to protect them. So you have to address a sociological phenomenon before you can start any high-minded talk about reform.

In a 2015 interview by Luke Brinker for Salon Magazine, linguist and left-wing activist, Noam Chomsky astutely analyzed America’s institutionalized racism in its historical context: “The first black slaves were brought to the colonies 400 years ago. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that during this long period there have been only a few decades when African-Americans, apart from a few, had some limited possibilities for entering the mainstream of American society,” Chomsky says. “We also cannot allow ourselves to forget that the hideous slave labor camps of the new “empire of liberty” were a primary source for the wealth and privilege of American society, as well as England and the continent,” he adds. “The industrial revolution was based on cotton, produced primarily in the slave labor camps of the United States.”

Throughout the country’s history, Chomsky notes, enforcers of racial subjugation have been gripped by fears that the oppressed will rebel against the racial hierarchy.

“Some of the slave-owners, like Jefferson, appreciated the moral turpitude on which the economy relied. But he feared the liberation of slaves, who have ‘ten thousand recollections’ of the crimes to which they were subjected,” Chomsky says. “Fears that the victims might rise up and take revenge are deeply rooted in American culture, with reverberations to the present.”

The harsh realities of American racism and how it functions are seldom acknowledged, Chomsky argues — the willful result of national myth-making and truth-shrouding.

“There is also a common variant of what has sometimes been called ‘intentional ignorance’ of what it is inconvenient to know: ‘Yes, bad things happened in the past, but let us put all of that behind us and march on to a glorious future, all sharing equally in the rights and opportunities of citizenry,’” he explains

In the preceding paragraph, Chomsky is describing our compulsion to bury the collective shadow of racism in our past and focus only on the strides we have made since the end of the Civil War. However, Jung warned that, “Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”

The eruption of racial tension in the United States in the second decade of the twenty-first century appears to eerily echo Jung’s incisive caveat.

During the protests across the United States in response to the Brown and Garner deaths, a frequent slogan shouted and written on placards was “I can’t breathe,” which were the last words of Eric Garner as he was being subdued by New York police officers, and “black lives matter,” in response to the deaths of both men. The Black Lives Matter website states specifically: “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

How is it that 149 years after the conclusion of the American Civil War, we are witnessing an epidemic of young black men being shot by white police officers and an ensuing upheaval of protest in American society in response to these atrocities? In 1992 the City of Los Angeles erupted in massive riots following the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers who had stopped Rodney King for speeding, then subsequently tased and brutally beat him while he was lying on the ground. The beating was caught on camera and became an iconic example of American police brutality. Other than the Rodney King incident, rioting and protests with regard to race relations in the United States have been sparse since the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement—until now.

The recent rash of police brutality incidents in the black community have occurred alongside the dramatic militarization of police in America. In recent years since the conclusion of the Iraq War and the winding down of the Afghanistan War, the Pentagon has issued unprecedented amounts of military equipment to local police departments, presumably because it does not want excess equipment sitting idly in mothballs while local police could be utilizing it. Concurrently, the training of local police officers has taken on more of the flavor of permanent combat as if police officers are not just protecting the community but are actually engaged in war. In her August 30, 2014 article in Salon Magazine entitled “Militarized Police Are Everywhere,” Ann Hagedorn states that “When police officers are armed and trained like soldiers, it’s not surprising that they act like soldiers”

The juxtaposition of increased police aggression against the African American community in the United States and the militarization of police throughout the nation depicts the reality of two enormous American shadows playing out in tandem. In terms of racism, Americans have never fully come to terms with the institution of slavery. Inasmuch as excellent historical accounts have been written and portrayed in film and other media, few white Americans have absorbed the horror of slavery and experienced the agonizing remorse necessary to commit to the journey of confronting personal and institutional racism. While white Americans revere Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and enthusiastically celebrate his birthday every January, we have been seduced, in my opinion, into the illusion that the Civil Rights Movement he spearheaded resolved the race issue, and that we can now put it behind us. At this writing, however, the nation is once again being torn apart by racial strife. The names of young black men murdered by white police officers, the cacophony of protest, and the horrific assassination of two New York City Police officers by an African American man in December, 2014 in retaliation for the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others, are searing reminders that nothing has been put behind us.

Institutional racism is the elephant in the room that has never been sufficiently addressed by white America. While talking heads on cable news channels debate the use of body cameras by local police officers as the magic bullet (no pun intended) that will alleviate police brutality, and as white Americans attempt to convince themselves that yet again, technology is our savior, no one is seriously discussing institutional racism—the shadow of all make-nice appearances of racial harmony and healing since the glory days of the Civil Rights Movement.

In his December, 2014 Common Dreams article, “What Ferguson, Eric Garner, and CIA Torture Have in Common,” Shahid Buttar, notes that “Parallels between CIA torture and police murders in New York, Ferguson, Cleveland, and elsewhere may be easy to overlook. Unfortunately, both sets of abuses reflect similar patterns: severe crimes committed by powerful people, officially endorsed cover-ups, and formal legal impunity that compounds the original crimes.”

If directly questioned about their attitudes toward people of color or their misuse of power, the CIA contractor/torturer is likely to insist that he is not racist and that he was only doing his job. Likewise, the white Cleveland police officer who shot and killed twelve-year-old Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014 as Tamir was playfully brandishing an air gun, would deny fear of young black males and swear that he was merely attempting to protect and serve the community. Meanwhile, an epidemic of deaths of young black males at the hands of white police officers continues with the ghastly murder of Eric Harris in April, 2015 by a poorly-trained white reserve police officer and the death days later of Freddie Gray in Baltimore—a twenty-five year-old black man who was arrested by police and during detention sustained a severe neck injury that severed his spinal cord resulting in his death.

On the other end of the shadow’s spectrum, we have voices such as Nicole Wallace, former White House Communication Chief during the George W. Bush Administration, who with respect to America’s torture program shamelessly states, “I don’t care what we did.” And of course, former Vice-President, Dick Cheney, says he’d torture again in a heartbeat.

While it is useful to view the historical events that have led up to the present moment and connect the dots, it is equally useful, and I believe, necessary, to view current manifestations of the shadow in terms of the collapse of empire. Exceptionalism, entitlement, and excesses of power tend to exacerbate as civilizations crumble. “I was just doing my job” and “I’m a cop; my job is to protect and serve” are simply shadow defenses that seek to justify brutal behavior with no intention whatever of altering it.

The United States leads the world in the number of people incarcerated. With financing from Wall Street, for-profit prison companies seek to keep their jails full and expand them. Likewise, we lead the world in police brutality. We are second-to-none in terms of police killing civilians.

Surely, we’re not South Africa under Apartheid, we say as we attempt to rationalize current events. Ethnic cleansing only happens in places like Bosnia, right? Meanwhile, the institutional racism we refuse to address, within ourselves and within our communities, the terror of young black males and the terror of a society out of control that must be subdued with increasingly sophisticated military hardware—all of this is the American shadow writ large across a disintegrating empire.

Jungian analyst Sylvia Brinton Perera has written extensively on the Scapegoat archetype. “Scapegoating,” according to Perera, “as it is currently practiced, means finding the one or ones who can be identified with evil or wrong-doing, blamed for it, and cast out from the community in order to leave the remaining members with a feeling of guiltlessness, atoned (at-one) with the collective standards of behavior.” [“The Scapegoat Archetype,” from The Shadow In America: Reclaiming The Soul Of A Nation, Edited by Jeramiah Abrams, Nataraj Publishing, 1994, p. 219] Scapegoating is a form of denying the shadow. What is seen as unfit to conform to the ego ideal is split off and called “evil” or “undesirable” or as Barry Spector names it “the Other.” Whether the one scapegoated rejects the attribution or not, Perera notes that they will inevitably feel its sting and “may unconsciously feel responsible for more than their personal share of shadow.”

So how do we cease scapegoating, and what are the rewards of doing so? Jung suggested that struggling with one’s own shadow and becoming brutally honest regarding one’s own scapegoating of the other, including opening to ways we do this of which we may not be fully aware, is the beginning of the healing journey. Jungian analyst, Erich Neumann more specifically suggested:

In contrast to scapegoat psychology, in which the individual eliminates his own evil by projecting it on to the weaker brethren, we now find that the exact opposite is happening: we encounter the phenomenon of “vicarious suffering.” The individual assumes personal responsibility for part of the burden on the collective, and he decontaminates this evil by integrating it into his own inner process of transformation. If the operation is successful, it leads to an inner liberation of the collective, which in part at least is redeemed from this evil. [Erich Neumann, Depth Psychology and A New Ethic, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1969, p. 130]

Within this astringent shadow work lies the possibility of personal transformation enabled by a willingness to deeply ponder the qualities within oneself that one is projecting outward. Equally important are deep grief regarding one’s scapegoating behavior and a willingness to form authentic relationships with those one has “Othered.” As a result, not only personal healing but healing of the larger community is possible.

In his article “An Archetypal Dilemma: The LA Riots,” Jerome Bernstein notes that in Western culture, skin color plays a powerful role in the projection of our nation’s shadow. “The darker the skin color, the greater the shadow projections and the worse the discrimination.” He suggests that, “In a psycho-spiritual sense, a culture that subscribes to a religious gospel that holds that its principle god is one who ‘is light and in him is no darkness at all’ very much loads the relative value of light and dark in that society.” [Jerome Bernstein, “An Archetypal Dilemma: The LA Riots,” from The Shadow In America: Reclaiming The Soul Of A Nation, Edited by Jeramiah Abrams, Nataraj Publishing, 1994, p.241]

From Bernstein’s perspective, “Blacks as a group carry the collective shadow of the culture as a whole. This archetypal fact, in my view, accounts for the extraordinary rage and hopelessness at the core of the collective unconscious of the Black community in this country…Nothing will heal the alienation with the Black community of this country that does not recognize and take responsibility for the fact that Blacks have been and remain the permanent scapegoat of our culture in ways that are manifested in no other minority group…As the archetypal scapegoat of the dominant culture they remain caught in a dilemma from which there is seemingly no escape, where virtually all the cards are in the hands of the perceived persecutor. As long as they are the scapegoats, the Black community will remain the outcast of the nation, forever used to carry the country’s sins. Having been cut off from their roots, with literally no place to go, the disenfranchised are strongly predisposed to rebel against their assigned role with violent rage.” [Ibid, p. 241-244]

Following the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, significant gains were made by African Americans economically, socially, politically, and educationally. Yet the core shadow issue of white-black relations was never addressed. An African American President of the ruling elite who abhors conflict and seeks to maintain the image of “rational” former Professor of Constitutional Law shows little interest in entering the raging waters of America’s scapegoating of the Black community. Rather, he appears to assume that by virtue of his election to the Presidency and an election to a second term, race relations in the United States have made such enormous strides that the nation need not enter the messiness of untangling what four centuries of scapegoating have wrought.

The shadow is relentless in seducing us into easy answers that are not answers at all. Surely, the election of an African American President will produce overnight a post-racial society. At the shadow’s behest, we preen and pontificate and pride ourselves in our advancement. How far we have come since Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech! Yet that great Black Lion of the Civil War era, Frederick Douglass would unapologetically confront our blithe dismissal of what is required to heal the racial divide:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. [Frederick Douglass Selected Speeches and Writings]


SUGGESTED PRACTICES/EXERCISES: I believe that every individual on earth who is not a person of color carries some aspect of racism is his/her psyche. In addition, many people of color harbor attitudes of “Othering” toward other people of color as well as those who are not persons of color. These specific attitudes of “Othering” have been passed down through countless generations for centuries and inflicted on human beings of different ethnicities whom we fear or scapegoat. Healing our tendencies to “Other” our fellow humans is, I believe, a lifelong process, but the rewards of engaging in the process are incalculable. A host of resources for understanding the dynamics of oppression and deepening our compassion, as well as our sense of one-ness with all human beings are readily available.

1. I suggest extensive journaling after watching this documentary, paying particular attention to the feelings it evokes and especially moments when you feel defensive, angry, impatient, or sad. Also notice the moments that warmed your heart. After viewing the documentary the first time, a more challenging exercise might be viewing it with a multicultural group of friends and reflecting together on your experiences.
2.Contemplate Chapter 3 entitled “Interbeing” from Charles Eisenstein’s book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. The focus of the chapter in the author’s words is: “The fundamental precept of the new story is that we are in-separate from the universe, and our being partakes in the being of everyone and everything else.” To what extent have you experienced inter-being in relation to other humans and the earth community? How has that influenced your life? What challenges have you encountered in practicing inter-being?
3. I highly recommend viewing the 1994 documentary “The Color of Fear” from film maker Lee Mun Wah, produced by Stir Fry Seminars in the San Francisco Bay Area. This powerful dialog among a small, multicultural group of men is a deeply moving exploration of conscious and unconscious “Othering” which also includes breakthrough moments of healing and union.
4. Highly recommended are books and trainings by Tim Wise author of Dear White America: A Letter to A New Minority.Additionally recommended are specific racial justice trainings such as those offered by the Social Justice Institute, the Aspen Institute, various local branches of the YWCA, and the Racial Justice Training Institute of the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.


The Future Speaks

By wimbi

After my usual normal American day of doing my bit to ruin the planet for the future, I was suddenly smitten by a twinge of guilt, probably a remnant of grammar school lectures on sin come back to haunt me.  So I decided that it might be just simple good manners to at least ask the future for permission to ruin it.

By sheer luck, I have a buddy at the NSA who knows about such stuff, and he came right over, fussed around with a fancy phone a while, and got me connected to the future.

I tried to talk into that future-phone, but got just lot of crazy gobble, like a 20 party line from days of old. I complained of the bad connection to the expert, who, with a condescending sigh, said he had assumed that anybody with rudimentary knowledge of physics would know that the future is nothing but a big fuzz of probabilities, so if I wanted a reasonable connection, I should concentrate on which future I wanted to talk with, and that might suppress all those others enough for me to have at least a chance to communicate.

Sure enough, when I worked hard at visualizing a nice peaceful future I got a pretty clear elderly voice, which announced itself to be a grandchild. Great! So, I asked the grandchild's permission to ruin his/her world.  And as soon as I said that, the voice started to fade away, and I had to work hard and fast to get it back up again.

The voice said it only existed in a future I hadn’t ruined yet, and there were no grandchildren in all those futures that I had already ruined.  

Drat! So much for the permission. So then I asked what I could do to make the right kind of futures more likely.  The voice immediately got clearer and stronger, and started off on a long list of things I should be doing to help it exist.  That list had an awful lot of politics, legal stuff,  social structures, persuasive op-eds and so on, but not much of what I actually do, which is hardware. Sounded like the real job was to change heads, hardware was near good enough already.

Naturally,  I started to gripe a little about how tough it would be for me, who had spent a happy lifetime ruining the future with wrong kinds of hardware, to change my ways and get into person to person stuff which I have never liked to do, and which would surely grate on people, almost all of whom don’t want to hear it, and that would make me highly unpopular. But as soon as I said that, the voice faded right out,  and I couldn’t get it back up, despite a lot of heavy duty happy thinking.

So I handed the phone back to the NSA guy, who then asked me if I had learned anything useful from my little chat with the future. I told him maybe I had learned something, but wasn’t sure it was anything I didn’t already know.

He burst out in that irritating superior sort of laugh of his, “that’s what they all say about the future”.

My Journey Toward Degrowth

Originally Posted on

by Sam Bliss

Growth means a process of increasing in physical size. When we think of economic growth, it is difficult to fathom what exactly grows, since ‘the economy’ is an invented concept that describes billions of human interactions as if they were one giant entity.

But gross domestic product is a rate — the total money value of economic activity per year — and thus growth really means acceleration. Degrowth, according to this understanding, is slowing down.

In 2015, I slowed down a lot. I moved from Seattle to London to Barcelona predominantly by bicycle and entirely upon the surface of the earth. This physical journey was the culmination of an intellectual journey from my undergraduate education in market-focused environmental economics to a newfound passion for what my supervisor Giorgos Kallis calls political ecological economics.

Setting aside some of my big ambitions — studying, writing, trying to amass twitter followers — to simply move slowly evolved my understanding of how to degrow. Maybe degrowth doesn’t mean constantly, insistently pressing to spread and advance our small movement. And maybe that’s okay.

The bicycle is a tool for degrowth

Critical philosopher Ivan Illich writes that bicycles enable people to “become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows.” Of all modes of transport, the bicycle consumes the least energy carrying humans a given distance.

Choosing to travel by bicycle disobeys the growth economy’s unwritten mandate to continually speed up the pace of life. Political scientist-anthropologist James C. Scott might call it an act of everyday resistance — especially if we ride bikes every day.

Cycling to our jobs, schools, errands, and gatherings demands that we reorganize our lives to accommodate longer travel times and the occasional soaking rain, while cycling to destinations on the other side of the world requires letting go of other aspirations for months at a time. Yet traveling slowly, with human power, allows one to palpably experience every centimeter of the journey. Bicycling brings us into the present, each unexpected bump in the road thwarting our trained urge to multitask.

The coevolution of thinking and doing

On the academic end, my faith in standard textbook economics began to erode shortly after receiving my Bachelor’s degree. I read a few books on behavioral economics, then ecological economics, then Marxist economics, taking suggestions from new friends and mentors. The foundations upon which the edifice of my education — and my invisible-to-me liberal ideology — stood were challenged, weakened, and outright disproven when exposed to some intellectual diversity.

A fellowship position working for Alameda County brought me to California. My job was to estimate the ‘upstream’ carbon emissions associated with all the goods and services that this local government purchases — the greenhouse gases produced by extracting raw resources, refining materials, manufacturing, processing, wholesaling, storage, and transportation between these supply chain steps.

While this was straightforward project, using a simple input-output model that linearly relates economic activity to carbon emissions, it made a big impact on me. I came to realize that addressing climate change isn’t just about cleaner sources of energy, sustainable transportation, and efficient agriculture. It’s about consuming and producing less, and much differently, too.

The transformation of my thoughts and actions began to coevolve. While learning about the social and environmental impacts of supply chains, I virtually stopped buying new things upon discovering the enormous effects of producing everyday goods and services. I felt not deprived but free from the paralyzingly vast array of consumption options presented by modern capitalism.

Similarly, after replacing my car with a bicycle, I noticed that having a narrower range of weekend activities to choose from made me much happier. These experiences directly contradicted the ‘more is better’ consumer choice theory that I had been taught.

As the bicycle morphed from mere exercise equipment into a gratifying tool for transportation, other relationships in my life were changing as well. Living in a backyard shed among a lively ‘family’ of newfound friends introduced me to consensus-based decision making and the joys of cooperative cohabitation, such as our weeknight, mostly vegan, delicious shared dinners. The stimulating table conversations that accompanied these community meals introduced me to radical ideas and the excitement of discussing them. Slowly but surely, my thinking shifted along with my habits.

How to study degrowth economics

I came to realize that today’s standard ways of thinking about economics aren’t fit to adequately address the issues that interest me most: climate change, inequality, and how to create an economy that doesn’t need to grow forever. Humanity must solve these problems through cooperation; neoclassical economics relies almost entirely on tools that harness competitive self-interest.

I was sure I wanted to return to school, but faced the same difficult decision as any young, dissenting economics student. Should I take part in reforming the discipline from within or study economics outside of the mainstream? PhD economists have a degree of authority in our society, but the process of attaining that profitable title struck me as more indoctrination than education.

My 10-month fellowship term in California ended and I moved back home to Seattle to begin another fellowship, this time writing for the independent environmental publication Grist. In the two weeks in between those gigs, I jet-setted to the Oxford Summer School on Ecological Economics and then attended the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth in Leipzig, Germany. I made new friends interested in the same topics as me, listened to lectures from the leading thinkers in those fields, and participated in lively discussions on subjects ranging from finance in a degrowth economy to something I’d never heard of called “decolonizing the social imaginary.”

I loved that fellow conference-goers (rightly) questioned my decision to fly halfway around the world to attend, a conversation that’s the elephant in the room at most environmental gatherings. The next time I wanted to travel somewhere far away, I was determined to dedicate more time to a human-paced journey. Anyway, I had been meaning to go on a long-distance bike ride ever since purchasing my bicycle, a touring bike whose previous owner had outfitted it with front and rear racks, a Brooks leather saddle, fenders, and fancy caliper brakes before selling it to me.

Degrowth, clearly, was what I wanted to study. Upon returning to Seattle, I started working on applications for graduate studies in ecological economics, unconcerned that this meant I would be working toward a degree called environmental studies or natural resources rather than economics. My plan was to cycle to school, wherever I ended up.

Preparing to cycle

I constantly tried to sneak mentions of degrowth — something Grist’s mostly American readership had surely never heard of — into my writing, which amused and probably exasperated the rest of the editorial team. We were trying to produce relevant, entertaining content to capture the fleeting attention of internet surfers, not educational material or propaganda for a minor social movement in Europe. Nonetheless, I managed to write about the Leipzig conference and had a lot of fun making a video explaining degrowth with orange juice.

More importantly, though, at Grist I discovered that even office work doesn’t have to be humorless drudgery. I got to learn and laugh with friends every day while developing as a storyteller.

The first months of 2015 passed in a whirlwind. I continued to ride my bicycle around Seattle through the (atypically mild) winter, further falling in love with human-powered transport while building excitement for my upcoming journey. And before long, that adventure gained a definite destination: I was awarded another fellowship, this one a Fulbright research grant, to study economic inequality through Spain’s crisis as an example of the outcomes of “unintentional degrowth” in today’s growth-addicted world. I would be at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, which seemed like the epicenter of degrowth scholarship.

After completing my term at Grist, I spent my time preparing for the bike ride, navigating a bureaucratic system of visas that hinders rather than enables slow travel, and discovering the thrill of direct action against the fossil fuel industry. My plans changed to include spending the fall term as a visiting research student at SOAS, University of London, where my supervisor for the Fulbright, Giorgos Kallis, had received a year-long visiting professorship at SOAS just as I received my fellowship. The opportunity to live and study in London for a few months before beginning in Barcelona was too good to pass up.

Just three weeks before I was to take off pedaling eastward from Seattle, my friend Neil Baunsgard’s contract to work on social and environmental sustainability for Alaska Airlines ended and wasn’t extended. Newly unemployed, his spontaneous spirit could not say no to a bike ride across North America. He quickly collected the necessary gear, including a second-hand bicycle. On the 18th of May, we were finally ready to depart.

Time to cycle, time to think

Over the course of cycling and living together across more than 5000 kilometers of mostly rural landscapes, eventually Neil and I had shared our complete life stories and discussed climate change, trail running, renewable energy, corporate personhood, wilderness, capitalism, unburnable carbon, camp-stove cooking, organic agriculture, the ethics of dumpster diving (which was feeding us well), pro-environmental behavior, and every other topic of common passion. Maybe a month into the expedition, we were no longer chatting our way down the road every day, but when we did engage in discussions, they were quite deep. We imagined future paths toward desirable and undesirable societies, what true democracy might look like, how total human throughput of materials and energy might decrease to sustainable levels, or whether our civilization might be doomed for collapse after all.

I don’t want to pretend we came up with any ideas that nobody had thought up before. I only want to point out that we were exercising utopian thinking, first imagining the world we want, comparing our visions, and then working backward toward how such futures might be achieved.

Once we reached New York state, Neil had to return to the U.S. west coast, while I continued on. Without his wilderness skills and talkative company, I doubt I would have completed the transcontinental ride. But by the time we split, I felt confident to bike tour solo.

I spent a month exploring the northeast, took a ship to the U.K. from New York City, cycled into London, studied at SOAS through the fall term, cycled with 150 others from London to Paris for the climate demonstrations surrounding the COP, traveled by train to the south of France, and then rode my bike one last leg from Narbonne to Barcelona along the Mediterranean coast, with a lovely stop at Can Decreix just before the French-Spanish border.

Sharing the journey

I am surely still processing the pilgrimage, which ended just a few weeks ago when I arrived to Barcelona, and I do not yet have any super-profound insights to share. A few reflections merit mention, though.

Predictably, interacting with nature, co-created by humans, other species, and geology, has been awe-inspiring. Yet the wonderful people I encountered along the way were by far the best part of this odyssey (I don’t mean to imply that these humans are not nature, too). Recognizing the power and joy of sharing and collaboration has played an important role in my intellectual evolution. And while attempting to travel epic distances by bicycle, the generosity I experienced along the way reinforces my confidence in the possibility of an economics centered on care. People I’d never met before have opened up their homes; prepared delicious, high-calorie meals; offered me their couches and spare beds to sleep on; helped me fix my bicycle; insisted we finish every beer in their refrigerator; given me maps and local route recommendations; joined me on bicycle to ride out of town; filled up my bags with fruit from their farmstand; discussed the state of the world and how we might change it; listened to my story and shared their own tales of adventure and learning.

Across the United States, I encountered people of various political stripes who didn’t want to talk about abortion or guns (though they certainly had plenty of the latter), but instead about how money dominates politics and thus obstructs any efforts at systemic change. A surprising number of people along the way have been receptive to the idea of degrowth, though few had ever heard the word. The sort of folks who take the time to speak to a bicycle traveler — obviously a biased sample — seem to agree that “more” is no longer the path to the good life in the wealthy world, and are encouraged to meet a young person who thinks the question of how to transition to a post-growth society is worth studying. Many people like that I am focusing on economic inequality, since it’s an even more visible symptom of a sick economic system than the environmental crises.

I found that I could learn a lot more by listening than by talking, though. The new friends I made, young and old, certainly had a lot to teach, though they may not admit as much if asked.

Growing degrowth

I have had some trouble transitioning from cycle-traveling to studying. On the road, my daily tasks consist of making maybe 100 kilometers of progress, navigating with maps and asking for directions, finding some food to eat and a place to sleep for the night. As a cycling nomad, I feel like the animal that I am. Both in London and now in Barcelona, returning to spending hours in front of a computer screen and dealing with administrative tasks has been difficult.

Yet I enjoy reading and writing, learning and teaching, discussing and reflecting. These are the ways I want to contribute to the degrowth movement and its body of knowledge — at least until the post-fossil fuel degrowth future, when my fondness for long-distance cycling may become economically useful. Economics rethinker Kate Raworth asserts that how to create an economy that enables us to thrive whether or not it grows is one of the most important economic questions of our time. And yet only a few (fortunately brilliant) academics are working on this issue

At SOAS, I was surprised that even lefty economics students concerned about the environment are not thinking about how to tackle the myriad obstacles to beginning the transition to sustainable degrowth — how to prevent mass unemployment, what to do about government debt, and so on — simply because they are not familiar with the idea. Questioning the desirability of growth is not even considered a relevant discussion in university economics departments. Students from around the world, increasingly fed up with only receiving the neoclassical version of a much more diverse intellectual story, have created an International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics, but the ecological shortcomings of mainstream economics tend to take a back seat to failed orthodox theories of finance, money, corporations, and behavior in their calls for changed curriculum.

There is probably no secret to recruiting more aspiring academics to study degrowth. As was the case for me, many students need only to be introduced to the idea in a gradual, inviting way. We should continue persistently writing and speaking about degrowth, in accessible language on a variety of platforms. We can create curriculum that makes it easy for instructors to insert degrowth modules into their courses.

And we must practice radical patience. Growth makes itself look silly as crises increase in frequency. Sometimes it’s nice to slow down and simply ride my bike around the world pointing out the obvious.

Nuclear Power - The Solution to Future Energy and Climate Challenges?

Originally Posed on

by Bob Brecha

Nuclear power is often touted as being an important tool in the array of measures needed to help prevent climate change. Some environmentalists and climate scientists have recently been gaining attention because of their support for nuclear power as a tool for helping reduce our CO2 emissions. However, even though the goal of dramatically reducing CO2 emissions is critically important, there are still many reasons to be skeptical of nuclear power as the solution for creating a long-term sustainable energy system.

We can look at nuclear power from several different points of view. It is true that careful life-cycle analyses show that total CO2 emissions from nuclear power are comparable to those of renewables, and at least 10 to 20 times less than even natural gas electricity for a given amount of electricity. Some argue that uranium mining entails emissions, but a life-cycle analysis is designed precisely to take these upstream factors into account.

Greenhouse gas emissions are only one aspect to consider, although key to the renewed discussion among environmentalists. All currently operating nuclear power plants use uranium, a relatively plentiful element, but still a finite resource. Therefore, issues of scarcity will appear at some point, likely later in this century. Nuclear fuel costs are a relatively small fraction of operating costs and therefore have only a weak impact on the cost of electricity, so scarcity may or may not be a major factor. There are also nuclear power technologies that essentially allow far more efficient use of uranium, or even to breed additional nuclear fuel; thus far, these technologies have not proven successful.

There are far more important economic issues with respect to nuclear power. Nearly all technologies decrease in cost as we gain experience and as the scale of installation increases. We have seen this most dramatically in the case of solar photovoltaics over the past decade, a technology for which costs have dropped by 80-90% from where they were a few years ago. Nuclear power may be the only counterexample to this pattern (see here and here). There has been a steady increase in the cost of building nuclear power plants over time, partly due to the need for redundant and complex safety measures.

Adding nuclear power is now significantly more expensive than most alternatives, including wind power. New plants to be built in England are receiving a 35-year government price guarantee to the power companies that is twice the current cost of electricity there. The European project to build relatively inexpensive reactors with substantially reduced construction times in France and Finland has not worked out that way at all. Likewise, plants being built in Georgia can take advantage of several billion dollars in federal government loan guarantees and work with guaranteed rate-hikes to recover whatever costs are incurred in construction. Finally, in the U.S. there is a federal program that limits costs to the nuclear power industry in case of accidents, a kind of insurance for which we the taxpayers will cover costs for which no private insurer would ever take the risk.

Germany made a decision to exit nuclear power within a decade, by which time the country will be providing 35-40% of its electricity from renewables. In the US we are in an even stronger position to both increase energy efficiency, since we use more energy for the same economic output than other industrialized countries, and at the same time take advantage of our vast renewable energy resources. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has provided scenarios for reaching 80% renewable energy electricity by the middle of the century, the same goal that Germany has for its power system. However, in a power system with a high penetration of renewables, nuclear power is poorly suited for providing the flexible complementary generation capacity that will be necessary. Furthermore, as renewables gain greater penetration, there will be less and less need for what is conventionally known as baseload power, those sources running 24/7. One secondary consequence of this dynamic is that the economics of nuclear power become even worse if the plants are restricted in the number of hours they are required to operate.

The issue of nuclear waste disposal, which has not yet been satisfactorily resolved, has not even been mentioned yet. In addition, there is no other energy source about which we must continually fear the slightest human error. It is clear that coal power currently kills vastly more people than nuclear power ever has. But the catastrophic events around Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima have left long-term scars over large areas and dislocated hundreds of thousands of people.

There is one more issue with nuclear power that is rarely mentioned. If we look at debates right now about Iran's nuclear program, the subtext is that we (Industrialized countries? Western countries? The U.S. alone?) should be allowed to determine who else is admitted to the nuclear club, or at the very least, that we should have the option of tightly controlling access to nuclear technology and fuel. This attitude represents a new kind of energy colonialism and should be unacceptable in the 21st century.

Fundamentally, a sustainable energy system cannot be one that raises fears of societal dislocation, catastrophic accidents or the spread of weapons as a by-product. It is also hard to reconcile sustainability in a global sense with a technology that results in a few countries, the nuclear powers, determining which other countries may or may not have access to the technology. Most importantly, a sustainable energy system cannot be one that leaves its waste to be cleaned up by future generations - especially when other options do exist.

Five energy surprises for 2016: The possible and the improbable

Originally posted on

By Kurt Cobb

Many energy analysts like to make predictions at the end of the year for the coming year. Instead, I'll point to five possible surprises in energy--surprises because few people expect them to happen. I am not predicting that any of the following will happen, only that there is an outside chance that one or more will occur. Naturally, these surprises would move markets and policy debates in unexpected directions.

1. Crude oil ends 2016 below $30 per barrel. With oil hovering in the mid-$30 range it doesn't seem implausible that at some point in the not-to-distant future, crude oil will dip below $30 per barrel, if only briefly. What would surprise most people is if the crude oil price finished next year below $30 per barrel. The conventional wisdom is that cheap oil is giving a boost to the economy that will lift worldwide economic growth and thus demand for oil. There is also a belief that high-cost producers will simply have to stop drilling new money-losing wells after more than a year of financial Armageddon in the oil markets. This will bring down supply just as economic growth is rising, sending prices much higher as the year progresses.

The alternate view is that oil in the mid-$30 range is a reflection of an economy that has been weakening since the middle of 2014 and foreshadows a worldwide recession which should hit in full force by the end of 2016. In addition, with Iran almost certain to add to the current oversupply as sanctions are lifted and with the continued determination of OPEC to destroy the viability of tight oil deposits in the United States, the oil price could surprise on the downside, even testing $20 per barrel.

2. U.S. natural gas production declines. Despite persistent low U.S. natural gas prices, U.S. production has continued to grow. Most of the growth has been coming from two places: the Marcellus Shale where ample deposits continued to be economical in the range of $3 to $4 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) and Texas where furious fracking for oil locked in deep shale deposits also produced associated natural gas without concern for the price of that gas.

With oil drilling across the United States in precipitous decline because of low oil prices, we won't see nearly as much new natural gas associated with oil drilling as we saw in 2014 and 2015. With natural gas now hovering around $2, even the very sweetest of the sweet spots in the Marcellus are unlikely to be profitable to exploit.

Having said all this, U.S. natural gas production growth has continually defied predictions that it would dip in the face of low prices. Part of this had to do with desperate drillers carrying heavy debt loads who had to produce gas at any price in order to pay interest on that debt.

3. Several approved U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects are postponed or abandoned. One of the memes of the so-called shale gas revolution was that the United States would produce far more natural gas than it consumes and that that would open the way for liquefied natural gas exports to other energy-hungry countries. Two things went wrong. First, U.S. production, while growing, has not exceeded U.S. consumption. Despite the highest natural gas production in history, the United States had net imports of natural gas of about 3 percent of its consumption so far this year.

Second, with the price of landed LNG around the world between $6 and $7, LNG exports from the United States are currently uncompetitive. Even with U.S. natural gas at $2, when the cost of liquefying and transporting gas--about $6 per mcf--is added to the American price, landed LNG prices would have to rise to about $8 just for American suppliers to break even. And, of course, just breaking even is not a proposition investors are very much interested in.

Now, some of the export projects have already undoubtedly received commitments from buyers to take U.S. LNG under long-term contracts, usually priced at Henry Hub plus a certain amount for liquefying and transporting the gas (plus something to reward investors, of course). If those contracts are in place, then the builders of the LNG export projects don't care what U.S. prices are. They make money no matter what. And, it doesn't matter whether they export so much LNG that the United States is forced to IMPORT more from Canada via pipelines or possibly in the form on LNG itself.

Whether buyers make out under such an arrangement will all depend on how world spot LNG prices unfold over the next couple of decades. Undoubtedly, many of those with long-term contracts today would be better off buying in the spot market. But, of course, when prices are high, they have no protection.

What we'll find out this year is which projects have contracts from buyers and which do not. The ones that do not yet have such contracts will almost certainly be postponed or abandoned. For those that proceed, investors who are not careful to understand how much of the capacity of the project has been taken up by long-term contracts and how much will be sold on the spot market may be in for rude surprises if they are too exposed to the spot market and that market remains soft.

4. Bipartisan support for climate change measures emerges in the U.S. Congress. You will certainly think I'm reaching here, and it would be a surprise if this does happen. But expectations for the recent climate conference in Paris were extremely low. And yet, world leaders hammered out an agreement that committed the parties to emissions limits with regular reviews. True, there is no enforcement mechanism. But even so, this result was better than most anticipated.

The same could go for a U.S. Congress stalemated on the climate issue. Even though the Republican majority has taken the view that regardless of the science, Republicans are better off opposing any measure to address climate change, not all Republicans have taken this extreme position. If enough of them peel off and join Democrats on even a small measure, it will mark progress--though it will certainly be a surprise coming in an election year.

5. World oil production declines. In the past world oil production has declined only during recessions or once in the early 1980s following a long period of rising prices and the most severe recession since World War II (that is, until 2008). We've had a long period of price rises from 2000 onward, followed by a severe recession. But production continues to eke out some growth.

According to figures from the U.S Energy Information Administration, worldwide production of crude oil including lease condensate (which is the definition of oil) grew by 15.7 percent in the nine-year period leading up to 2005. In the nine-year period from 2005 to 2014, production grew only 5.3 percent despite record prices and investment.

If worldwide production declines, it will almost surely be because drillers simply lay down even more rigs and companies delay development of tar sands mining projects in Canada to wait for higher prices. This restraint would have to counterbalance additions to world production expected from Iran which will have sanctions lifted in 2016 allowing it to increase its oil production and exports substantially. If peace breaks out in Libya, then the rise in Libyan oil production will probably prevent an overall decline in world production.

Recap of 2015's list of possible surprises

1. U.S. crude oil and natural gas production decline for the first time since 2008 and 2005, respectively. While U.S. crude oil production in 2015 looks like it will exceed total production in 2014, production began to slide in June this year and continues downward. So, there was a surprise for those who thought the so-called shale revolution could go on without high prices. Natural gas production continued to rise so there was no surprise there.

2. World crude oil closes below $30 per barrel. This hasn't happened yet and probably won't with only a few days left in 2015. But a price in the mid-$30 range has certainly surprised a lot of people, especially those who were touting the midyear recovery of prices to around $60 as the beginning a new oil bull market. So, this did come as a surprise, but not quite (yet) the $30-per-barrel variety.

3. Developments in solar thermal energy show that it can solve the storage problem for electricity from renewable energy. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to broader use of electricity generated by renewable energy is the high cost of storing that energy for use when people need it. A Maryland inventor is still trying to put together funding for a prototype of a possibly revolutionary solar thermal capture device that he claims has 90 percent efficiency. There's no prototype yet. Perhaps in the coming year we'll find out whether the claim can be confirmed. So, no surprise here yet.

4. A climate agreement in Paris calls for binding greenhouse gas emissions limits. Okay, the greenhouse gas limits weren't binding. And, of course, that's not a surprise. What surprised me is how unanimous the world's leaders were about the problem of climate change and how specific they were about limits in the agreement.

5. Oil prices reach $100 per barrel before December 31, 2015. This possible surprise was premised on a robust world economy and an OPEC relenting on its war on frackers in America and tar sands in Canada. The OPEC war continues, and the world economy seems weaker at year-end than when it began.


December 2015 Update

December 2015 update

We are having a moving experience.

After 75 years in offices at 114 East Whiteman Street, Yellow Springs, Ohio, Community Solutions is moving to the campus of Antioch College where we will have more space and be even more conveniently located for our team of Antioch student staffers.

Community Solutions contact information will remain the same, but we anticipate some interruption of office phone and internet services in the last weeks of December.

PO Box 243, Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387

Phone: 937-767-2161


Save the date, March 3. SW Ohio friends will be invited to an open house, 4-6 pm. If you are familiar with Yellow Springs you may recognize the location, in the west addition to the Fels Sontag Building, on the second floor above the Children’s Montessori Cooperative, across South College Street from WYSO public radio offices and studios.

Did you note the dates for our 2016 Community Solutions conference, October 21-23, 2016? Lance Hetzler is leading the conference planning.

New film, The 100 Year Plan, under way. Community Solutions Fellow Jim Merkel is traveling to Cuba and Susan Jennings will travel to Vietnam and China for the next few weeks, documenting how communities in those countries maintain a low carbon foot print with high literacy, low birth rate and long life expectancy.

Have you viewed our latest climate action videos? Eric Johnson coordinates our media work and is lead producer of our Climate Solutions Video Channel.

Our latest podcast is in production, featuring Peter Bane, founder of the journal Permaculture Design. Peter describes how restoring carbon and water cycles will counter climate change.

Partnership with the Yellow Springs Resilience Network Continues. A series of six monthly local resilience themes has been planned. November was local foods month. January will feature action toward zero waste; February, building energy conservation; March, local economy; April, renewable energy; May, transportation. This effort is funded by a grant from the YS Community Foundation.

Waste Land movie showing January 17, 1:00-2:30 at The Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs. This free viewing is sponsored by Zero Waste Yellow Springs and Community Solutions with many thanks to The Little Art. For more details go to


Plenty of Oil

Written by Energy Tinkerer, wimbi

A man feels himself in need of some energy, so he goes to the lady who deals in that sort of thing, and orders some oil. To his surprise and delight, she gives him a hundred barrels, and only asks for one barrel back as payment.
“Wow” he says, “what a bargain”, and goes off and spends his oil on lots of fun things. 

But pretty soon he has burned up his 99 barrels of oil, and since he has got into some wasteful habits with it, is hankering for more, so he goes back to the lady, and again, she hands over 100 barrels of oil right off the shelf, but this time she asks for two barrels of it back as payment. The man is slightly surprised but still thinks he as got a great bargain for his 98 barrels of oil, and rushes off to the same games as before. 

But the next time he goes for oil, he is again surprised to find that this time the lady asks for 4 barrels in return, still a bargain, and he goes back to his oil-lubricated partying. 

The next trip to the lady, and this time its 8 barrels, then 16, still a great buy, but getting a bit painful, since by now he has got into wasting it real fast. And the next time, she wants 32 back, leaving him with only 68 to feed his addict habits- starting to really hurt. And the next, when she asks for 64 barrels back out of the 100 she gives him, he starts to get seriously worried, but what can he do, he’s just gotta have that oil. 

Then things get really bad, for his next fix, the lady offers him his 100 barrels same as always, but then, of all things, demands 128 barrels back as payment! Nonsense! The man is outraged- he can’t pay that price of course, since he hasn’t saved a drop of all the oil he has bought, he had blown it straight up into the stratosphere as quickly as he got it. 

“Hey, what kinda fool do you think I am, nobody would pay more oil than what they get when they get it!” 

The lady smiles pleasantly “You ask what kind of fool are you? A really big one, looks to me.”

The man is doubly outraged. She has added insult to injury. Unbearable! 

“Look here, you told me you had plenty of oil, and now you tell me it’s gonna cost me more than it’s worth. This is crazy, you have let me fall into a trap! But I gotta have that energy. I can’t live without it. What am I gonna do?” 

“Sure, I have plenty of oil,” Replies Mother Nature in a cheerful tone, “but of course you have to pay the price for it, which has got to go up as you use up the easy stuff and have to start digging deeper. Ever try heavy plumbing jobs on a heaving boat in a 40 below blizzard while being bulldozed by an iceberg? You are in a trap, alright, but you built it, and then jumped into it, I didn’t push you” “And” she adds as an afterthought, “you might have thought a little about how to use that oil when you had it, like, for example, finding some other source of energy before it got too expensive”, she says, squinting into the sunlight as a sort of a hint. 

The man, seeing no way out, falls down in a tooth gnashing, dirt-tearing, hopeless addict fit. 

Mother Nature, ignoring the silliness, goes off about her business, carefree as ever. 

Fossil-Fuel Divestment: Folly or Inevitability

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Bob Brecha

The worldwide movement to divest endowments and pension funds from fossil fuel holdings is growing rapidly, having now reached well over two trillion dollars in commitments. Although only a small fraction of total global investment capital, pledges to divest by major institutions represent, at the very least, a public relations headache for the fossil fuel industry. Therefore, it is not surprising that a series of analyses have started to appear making the claim that divestment is a poor financial strategy and perhaps even a dereliction of fiduciary responsibility. Also not surprising is that these anti-divestment reports have been given prominent forums, such as in the Wall Street Journal (with a response here). 

My institution, the University of Dayton, announced in June 2014 that we would fully divest fossil-fuel (and not only coal) holdings over time. That process is well underway, and together with the Wallace Global Fund and other co-organizers, we recently hosted the first Divest/Invest Conference. As I see it, there are four main questions to be addressed by those who insist that institutions of higher learning should continue to support investment in a sector that undermines the future of the students we educate. Many of the ideas expressed below come from conversations with participants at the conference.

First, in a world increasingly threatened by climate change, how can we justify actively working, through our investment strategies, to maximize yields today by supporting the corporations that are the leading cause of future climate instability? This is not a question of making our current generation feel guilty for living in a world dominated by fossil fuels. Although we have dithered too long about taking strong action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, our parents and grandparents who built the modern energy infrastructure did so in the good-faith assumption that they were simply providing a better future for their heirs. We who have profited immensely by the enabling power of fossil fuel energy must now take the initiative to use our accumulated wealth and knowledge in a new effort to avoid climate change, wean ourselves from fossil fuels, and work intentionally to leave a healthy planet for future generations.

A second question for institutional investors and those using past performance to argue against divestmetn relates to modeling the future returns portfolios based on past performance. Do we really believe that fifty years from now, fossil fuel companies will be making the same rates of return on investment as they have over the past half century? The whole premise of a changing climate is that the future world will look very different from the past. Whereas physical scientists can use laws of nature to help guide projections of the future based on immutable principles of physics, chemistry and biology, this is not true of the financial world even in the best of times. That's why we are all familiar with the disclaimer, "past performance does not guarantee future returns." 

With regard to the fossil-fuel industry, there are likely to be only two choices for the future. On one trajectory, we collectively make a decision not to act on climate change and to double down on fossil fuel extraction. In that case, we are condemning future generations to bear the immense costs that will result, described here and here, thus throwing into doubt any sense of certainty as to what the financial landscape will look like. The second trajectory is one in which we make serious efforts to mitigate climate change, and therefore necessarily leave fossil fuels in the ground and decrease the value of that extractive industry. In either case, a simple extrapolation of past sectorally-balanced stock market portfolios into the future is meaningless, and certainly not at the level of small fractions of a percent per year.

A third fundamental question to ask of endowment managers, and more importantly, of the institutions for whom they work, is to what end they are aiming. If the only purpose is to grow at all costs, are there really no limits as to what can be considered for investments? None whatsoever? Universities with large and growing endowments such as Harvard and Yale state proudly that their endowments grow at rates of 8-10% per year, after factoring in costs and disbursements. It is those disbursements that are used for research, scholarships, attracting top faculty, etc. Thus, even after subtracting off the actual money needed to run the university, the endowment will double in value every eight to ten years. These institutions, refusing to divest from fossil fuels, are being disingenuous when they claim that doing so would harm the academic mission. Potentially earning 0.2% or 0.3% less per year (but see the previous point above) means the endowment might double in eight years instead of in seven and a half years. Is striving for financial gain at any cost the lesson we want to impart to students?

Many institutions use the rationale that divestment would take away their leverage to effect change from within through the use of proxy voting power. This raises a fourth question to pose to endowment managers and universities - if you are interested in creating real progress in the mitigation of climate change and transformation of the energy system to one that is more sustainable, what is your "ask" of the fossil-fuel industry? (Thanks to Cutler Cleveland and Ellen Dorsey for succinct versions of this question.) Is it that they should come up with plans to wind down their core business over the next few decades? Is it that they should leave their main asset in the ground? Or might it be a demand that they change their business model to become renewable and sustainable energy companies? The latter would be a reasonable choice, but it flies in the face of all evidence thus far that the coal, oil and gas industries are moving in this direction in a significant way.

There are many more questions that could be asked of portfolio managers when it comes to the subject of fossil fuel divestment. In the end, one of the key take-away messages of the University of Dayton Divest/Invest Conference was that divestment is possible, as witnessed by the increasing number of institutions making the decision to do so and evidence given by the financial analysts who attended. As more universities, religious organizations and individuals divest from fossil fuels, the financial industry will increasingly be willing to provide investment products that will perform as well as a portfolio containing fossil fuels. And that, in the end, is exactly what the fossil fuel industry is worried about.

Message from Paris: We can reverse global warming

Originally posted on

Written by Ronnie Cummins

“Humanity stands at the edge of an abyss. We have destroyed the planet, its biodiversity, our water and the climate, and through this destruction, we have destroyed the ecological context for our survival as a species. Ecological destruction and resource grab are generating conflicts, which are being accelerated into full-blown wars and violence. A context of fear and hate is overtaking the human imagination. We need to sow the seeds of peace—peace with the earth and each other, and in so doing, create hope for our future—as one humanity and as part of one Earth community.” —Vandana Shiva, Terra Viva–Pact for the Earth (November 26, 2015)

Twenty-three years after the first United Nations Earth/Climate Summit in 1992, in the wake of a savage terrorist attack on November 13 that traumatized Europe, a multinational contingent of activists and stakeholders are gathered here for the COP 21 Climate Summit.

A growing number of us here in Paris are determined to change the prevailing gloom and doom conversation on climate, and instead focus on practical solutions. Frustrated by the slow pace of global efforts to address climate change, angered by the “business-as-usual” arrogance of Big Oil, King Coal, industrial agribusiness and indentured politicians, a critical mass of the global grassroots appears ready to step up the pace and embrace a new solutions-based message and strategy that we in the organic movement call Regeneration.

Ten thousand of us took to the streets of Paris on November 28, peacefully defying the government ban on street demonstrations. I, along with a delegation of North American and Latin American Regeneration activists, joined the protest, holding hands with our French and European comrades in a human chain stretching for miles. Our section of the animated chain, punctuated with colorful homemade signs, T-shirts and banners, was designated “Solutions.” Lined up at the corner of Boulevard Voltaire and Allée du Philosophe, our boisterous group’s most popular chant, repeated over and over again in Spanish, English and French, drawing smiles and thumbs-up reactions from Parisians on the streets, was “El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido” (“The people united will never be defeated).”

"We need to move beyond mere mitigation or sustainability concepts that simply depress or demobilize people  to a bold new global strategy of Regeneration."

Standing at the crossroads of a climate Apocalypse, a growing consensus appears to be emerging: We must not only phase out Big Oil, King Coal and industrial food and farming, and stop polluting the already supersaturated atmosphere and the oceans with additional greenhouse gases, but we must also strip out or draw down approximately 200 billion tons of excess CO2 already blanketing the atmosphere. And we must do this utilizing proven, “shovel-ready” regenerative organic farming and land use practices. 

As of today, December 3, more than 50 national governments, activist organizations and stakeholder organizations (including the Organic Consumers Association and our Mexico affiliate, Via Organica) have signed on to the French government’s “4 Per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate” declaration. The declaration emphasizes that agriculture, and agricultural soils in particular, can play a crucial role in reversing global warming and increasing global food security.

Based on a growing body of farming practices and scientific evidence, the French government’s Initiative invites all partners to declare or to implement practical programs for carbon sequestration in soil and for the types of farming methods used to promote it (e.g. agroecology, agroforestry, conservation agriculture and landscape management). According to Andre Leu, president of IFOAM Organics International, the French Initiative on sequestering atmospheric carbon in soils via regenerative ag practices is “historic, marking the first time that international climate negotiators and stakeholders have recognized the strategic imperative of transforming and regenerating our global food and farming system in order to reverse global warming.”

Zero Emissions Are Necessary, But Not Enough

Rejecting the standard discourse of and other climate groups that promote a tunnel-vision focus on “zero emissions by 2050” as the sole solution to stave off runaway global warming and climate catastrophe, a growing corps of Regenerators here in Paris, under the banner of  “Refroidir la Planète” (“Cool the Planet”) and “Alimenter le Monde” (“Feed the World’) have begun to build a Regeneration International movement.

This movement is inspired by the practices of thousands of organic farmers, holistic ranchers, pastoralists and indigenous communities across the globe who are demonstrating that truly regenerative farming, grazing, forestry and land use practices, scaled up globally, sequestering in some cases up to 5-10 tons of carbon per acre per year,  literally have the potential to reverse global warming. The co-benefits of this massive recarbonization and regeneration of the soil, grasslands and forests include: reducing rural poverty, improving plant and animal health and food quality, increasing natural water storage in soils, building crop resilience restoring public health, and last, but not least, reducing global strife.

"The time is late. Circumstances are dire. But we still have time to regenerate the Earth and the body politic."

For those who have never heard of regenerative organic food, farming and land use, here’s a short fact sheet (pdf) and a longer annotated bibliography.  This new Regeneration paradigm is based on the biological fact that healthy soils, grasslands and forests can literally draw down, through enhanced plant photosynthesis, enough excess carbon from the atmosphere to bring us back to pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million of CO2.

As IFOAM states in a handout this week at the Paris Climate Summit: “We need to Reverse Climate Change—not just slow it down.” IFOAM goes on to explain:

We need to do more than just stop the increase in greenhouse gas emissions… We also have to drawdown the excess CO2 in the atmosphere to return the climate to the level where it should be—the pre-industrial level.

Soils are the greatest carbon sink after the oceans, and hold significantly more carbon than the atmosphere and biomass combined. There is a growing body of published science indicating that regenerative farming systems, including organic agriculture, can strip significant amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester it into the soil as soil organic matter.

The co-benefits of this regeneration include greater resilience to adverse weather events… better adaptation to climate change… and food security… Regenerative organic farming is based upon current good practices and is a low-cost, shovel-ready solution that does not require untested, potentially catastrophic, hugely expensive geoengineering or carbon capture and storage technologies.

IFOAM’s leaflet goes on to point out that regenerative farming and land use practices are not being put forward as a substitute for stopping fossil fuel emissions, but rather as an essential complementary strategy that is absolutely necessary: “Soil carbon sequestration… and eliminating food and farming emissions… cannot be used to justify continued greenhouse gas pollution… or business as usual… We need to reverse climate change, not just sustain current greenhouse gas levels.”

Regenerating the Body Politic: Connecting the Dots for a New “Movement of Movements”

Global Regeneration requires a revolution, not only in our thinking, but in our heretofore tunnel vision, “my issue is more important than your issue,” “my constituency is more important than your constituency,” model of grassroots organizing. Disempowed, exploited people, overwhelmed by the challenges of everyday survival, don’t have the luxury of connecting the dots between all the issues and focusing on the Big Picture. It’s the job of Regenerators to globalize the struggle, to globalize hope and connect the dots between issues, communities and constituencies. We need to move beyond mere mitigation or sustainability concepts that simply depress or demobilize people  to a bold new global strategy of Regeneration.

Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy climate . . . our physical and economic health, our very survival as a species, is directly connected to the soil, biodiversity and the health and fertility of our food and farming systems.

So who will carry out this global Regeneration Revolution?

Of course we must continue, and in fact vastly increase, our pressure on governments and corporations to change public policies and marketplace practices. As indicated above, the most encouraging development at the Climate Summit here in Paris is that a growing number of countries and activist networks are endorsing the French government’s .4% Initiative to pay farmers to move away from the climate destructive practices of industrial agriculture and to sequester carbon in their soils.

But in order to truly overturn “business-as-usual” we must inspire and mobilize a vastly larger climate change coalition than the one we have now.  Food, climate and economic justice advocates must unite forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators: three billion small farmers and rural villagers, ranchers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, urban agriculturalists and indigenous communities—aided and abetted by several billion conscious consumers and urban activists.

"Food, climate and economic justice advocates must unite forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators."

The time is late. Circumstances are dire. But we still have time to regenerate the Earth and the body politic.

Here are four things you can do to join the Regeneration Movement:

(1) Change the climate conversation in your local community or in your local organization from doom and gloom to one of positive solutions, based upon the Regeneration perspective. Visit the Regeneration International website on a regular basis. Join our Regeneration International Facebook page.  Publicize and share strategic articles, videos and best practices. If you need to study up on how soil sequestration works, read and re-read this pamphlet and go through the major articles in our annotated bibliography.

(2) Join or help organize a local or regional Regeneration working group. If you’re ready to become a Regeneration organizer send us an email here.

(3) Boycott “degenerate” foods. Regenerate your health and your diet. Get ready to join OCA and Regeneration International’s soon-to-be-announced global campaign and boycott against Monsanto, factory farms, GMO animal feeds, biofuels and so-called “Climate-Smart Agriculture." One of the most important things you can do today and every day is to buy and consume organic, grass-fed, locally produced, climate friendly foods.

(4) Help organize and plan regeneration conferences and meetings. Make your plans now to attend our Regeneration International global climate and biodiversity Summit in Mexico City December. 1-3, 2016.

TPP: Americans and Vietnamese lose. Big corporations win.

Written by Chuck Searcy and Lady Borton

Now that the United States, Vietnam, and ten other nations have signed the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) – and the text, finally, has been released to the public – the U.S. Congress and the other countries’ legislative bodies must decide whether to ratify the agreement. Negotiations were secret, until the document was signed. Before the release of the text a few days ago, even members of Congress were not allowed to see the agreement, except for certain members who were shown only a few pages of certain sections, alone, in a locked room.

Now that the text has been released, the early reviews are in. It seems quite certain that ordinary Americans will not benefit from the TPP. Most will lose.

That also appears to be the case for the people of Vietnam.

Why should citizens of both countries be concerned?

This year is the 20th anniversary of the diplomatic normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnamese governments. The anniversary is being touted by both sides as a sort of milestone, and for good reason. Forty years since the end of the war that devastated Vietnam, a legacy of unexploded ordnance and Agent Orange remains, along with poverty and other reminders of the costs and consequences of the war. People of good will on both sides of course are looking for opportunities to cooperate and ways to work together that will benefit the people of both our countries.

But the TPP will not bring cooperation or benefits to American or Vietnamese citizens. It is a carefully contrived and very complicated expansion of corporate power over both governments. In the case of Vietnam, this corporate influence may actually threaten the country’s sovereign rights as an independent nation with its own laws and regulations.

During this ratification period – which may take up to two years in the case of Vietnam, according to Mr. Tran Quoc Khanh, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade – representatives of the National Assembly will certainly seek to understand the costs and benefits to Vietnam. Members of the U.S. Congress will do the same, although Congress will only be allowed a yes or no vote. The U.S. Congress will not be allowed to alter or improve any of the text of the agreement.

Nonetheless, this will be a critical time. Now that the full text of the agreement has becomes public, Americans and Vietnamese should engage in dialogue and carefully scrutinize the entire TTP Agreement. Key, substantive questions have already been identified in recent months by the experts who assembled the pieces of the TPP puzzle that were leaked. That process is now going forward apace, as new details have emerged with release of the text. Some concerns include:

Vietnam will begin to lose important elements of national sovereignty, most within a five-year deadline, if the TPP goes into effect.

Recently published texts suggest the TPP agreement will expand (1) the legal rights of corporations and investors and allow the corporations to sue countries in international tribunals for damages caused by public-interest policies and any laws (such as financial regulations and protections for workers and the environment) that threaten a U.S. corporation’s profits. U.S. corporations will be above the government of Vietnam and above Vietnamese law.

Disagreements would not be settled in Vietnamese courts or international courts, but by a panel of lawyers picked by corporations.

The agreement includes ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) provisions, by which a panel of lawyers picked by the corporations – not judges in Vietnamese or international courts – will rule on the lawsuits. Section 28.9(2)(a) of the Agreement says that one panel member each is chosen by each party, and under (2)(d), the chair (and third panel member) is chosen together by the parties, or, if necessary, chosen randomly from a list of qualified people on a roster. It seems likely that the drafters of the agreement sought a legal procedure that would fit all signatory nations, but now there are unintended consequences. Only a small number of lawyers are deemed qualified to serve on these panels. That group is potentially incestuous, since the corporations will have a strong say in suggesting names for the roster.

These secretive (2) tribunals – three lawyers – would likely have a vested interest in the corporations that suggested or picked them. They are apt to impose huge, punitive fines against Vietnam. ISDS will constrain the scope of legitimate regulation, making it harder for Vietnam and other nations to achieve improved labor and environmental standards. In short, ISDS will constrain Vietnam’s policy space to manage its own economic development. The government of Vietnam will no longer be beholden to its citizens but, instead, will be beholden to foreign corporations.

Even the possibility of paying a tribunal’s huge fines plus legal costs can push governments to surrender their rights of sovereignty; dilute labor, environmental, or other regulations; and avoid passing such regulations altogether. The U.S. non-profit, Public Citizen, cited examples (3) in Canada, where just the threat of ISDS action may have led policymakers “to think twice about enacting protections that could expose the government to a costly investor-state dispute.”

This is not speculation. Similar cases have already been filed.

Philip Morris, a U.S. cigarette company, has filed suits against Australia (4) and Uruguay, (5) arguing those nations’ laws mandating health warnings on tobacco products are an expropriation of the company’s property and have cut into profits for Philip Morris. A Swedish energy firm has sued the government of Germany for restrictions on coal-fired (6) and nuclear (7) power plants. Veolia, a French waste-management company, is suing Egypt to overturn that nation’s minimum-wage law. Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company is fighting (8) Canada’s efforts to reduce the price of medicine through limited drug patents in order to protect its citizens. Eli Lilly is accusing Canada of not letting the company make the profit the corporation wants.

The number of companies that could sue Vietnam is growing.

As of the end of May 2015, U.S. companies in Vietnam had 742 projects worth over $11 billion. Major American firms – including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, IBM, Cargill, Microsoft, Citigroup, Chevron, Ford, General Electric, AES (formerly, Applied Energy Services), and UPS – have moved into the Vietnamese market. Some Americans who established these companies in Vietnam did so out of empathy and the wish to address post-war poverty; they may not realize that, under the TPP, the company they introduced could impinge on Vietnam’s sovereignty.

Sectors important to Vietnam’s economic security would fall under the TPP.

Some in the government of Vietnam may already be worried about such legal suits, which could dismantle its laws and regulations protecting the environment, citizens’ health, children’s education, and national sovereignty. Vietnam’s 2005 Investment Law lists four sectors:

  1. prohibited sectors
  2. encouraged sectors
  3. conditional sectors applicable to both foreign and domestic investors
  4. conditional sectors applicable only to foreign investors.

If a U.S. company claims Vietnam is prohibiting the company from investing in Sector 1 (activities seen as “detrimental to national defense, security and public interest, health, or historical and cultural values”), under the TPP, can that foreign company sue Vietnam? The leaked texts of the TPP make it very doubtful that Vietnam’s negotiators secured any written guarantees that Vietnam’s sovereignty will be respected. If sued under the TPP, Vietnam’s national sovereignty would not be protected.

The same question applies to Sector 3, (activities “having an impact on national defense, security, social order and safety; culture, information, press and publishing; finance and banking; public health; entertainment services; real estate; survey, prospecting, exploration and exploitation of natural resources; ecology and the environment; and education and training.”) Under the TPP, can foreign companies sue Vietnam for restricting their involvement in that sector? Can foreign-owned banks licensed to operate in Vietnam demand the same high-profit incentives they enjoy in the United States or in other countries? Must Vietnam stop its anti- smoking campaign?

In June 2015, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council said the TPP will make Vietnam increasingly attractive to U.S. investors. Why? Because the TPP will allow companies to operate with impunity, overriding Vietnam’s national sovereignty.

The U.S. Business Coalition for TPP spent $118 million in the fourth quarter of 2014, $126 million in the first quarter of 2015, and $135 million in the second quarter of 2015, for a total of $379 million in three quarters.The TPP could skew regulations worldwide in favor of the banks, manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies that aggressively lobbied (9) for the TPP. Further, with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing U.S. corporations to engage in unlimited campaign expenditures to support or oppose candidates, we can be sure U.S. corporations will engage in heavy, financial lobbying to pressure for TPP passage during the upcoming election.

Questions ordinary citizens should be asking:

The TPP includes patents on new pharmaceutical products. These patents prevent development of the cheaper generic drugs that have made medicines affordable for Vietnamese. The people of Vietnam should be asking, “Will our families be forced to replace cheaper generic medicines with multi-national brand names protected by the TPP?” Americans should be asking, “Do we want to force the people of Vietnam to pay the same high prices that we pay for drugs?”

Vietnam is the world’s second largest rice exporter, yet the TPP will lead to a decrease in agricultural sales in domestic and export markets. Unfortunately, Vietnam is one of the top five nations most threatened by rising seas due to climate change. The nation’s two large deltas – the “Red River and Mekong Rice Baskets” – are already in danger, yet the TPP will allow U.S. corporations to sue Vietnam because of the environmental policies and regulations designed to protect those fragile deltas, the citizens, and Vietnam’s food sovereignty. In particular, U.S. pesticide companies are apt to sue Vietnam for implementing so successfully the FAO-initiated IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program, which protects the environment and improves yields by teaching pest-control techniques other than pesticides and uses chemical pesticides only when absolutely needed.

Decisions about controversial introduction of GMO seeds and crops will be made outside of Vietnam. The Vietnamese government will no longer have sovereignty in such matters.

Vietnamese farmers and agricultural producers should be asking, “How will TPP affect our ability to compete in world markets, against huge corporations?”

A major effort has gone into lobbying in Vietnam for the TTP, with highly paid American consultants, an orchestrated international and domestic press, and the U.S. Embassy’s year-long, 20-year-anniversary celebration pushing the TTP while the contents of the agreement were cloaked in secrecy. As noted above, corporations have undertaken an even bigger lobbying effort in the United States.

Some of the very rich in Vietnam will probably benefit. A small percent of wealthy Americans and major corporate shareholders will make more money. Ordinary people and the poor will lose. That is always the case when agreements are written in secret.

The ratification period is critical. The “people’s representatives” – legislative bodies in the United States, Vietnam and other signatory nations – will be debating the full text of the TPP recently disclosed. During this time of legislative approval or disapproval of such a sweeping agreement, ordinary citizens in Vietnam, the United States, and other nations must raise their voices.

Chuck Searcy is a Vietnam veteran; Lady Borton worked with all sides during the war. Both have worked in Vietnam since before normalization of US-Vietnam diplomatic relations 20 years ago.

(1) Accessed November 7, 2015.

(2) November 7, 2015.

(3) Accessed November 7, 2015. 

(4) Accessed November 7, 2015.

(5) Accessed November 7, 2015.

(6) Accessed November 7, 2015

(7) Accessed, November 7, 2015.

(8) Accessed November 7, 2015. 

(9) Accessed November 7, 2015.

Adapting to the Loss of Winter

Written by Community Solutions Board Member, Kirk L. Rowe, Ph.D, ABPP, Clinical Neuropsychologist

I had the pleasure of being stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in 2010 with
its beautiful, white sandy beaches.  Sadly, this was also when the oil spill
in the Gulf of Mexico occurred.   I recall traveling to the beach to try and
swim one more time before the oil made it to shore.  Unfortunately, we
arrived too late.  In talking to people who arrived before us, the oil began
hitting the shore 30 minutes prior to our arrival.  I also recall standing
there in astonishment with all the other people on the beach that day.  We
were all looking at each other and were speechless.  How is it possible to
be on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and not be able to go
in the water and swim?  How is it possible to live and visit in the Florida
panhandle and not eat the catch of the day?  Swimming, laying on the beach,
eating seafood, and so much more is all integral to the culture of the Gulf
Coast.  Not participating in these activities was a significant loss for
those who grew up in the area and for those who depended on the ocean for
their livelihood.  We were at a loss of what to do.  So, instead of the
beach, we went bowling.

A similar loss of culture is currently happening with winter.  In the Miami
Valley, we all woke up on December 1st with no snow, gray skies, sprinkles
of rain, and temperatures 10-15 degrees above normal.   This is eerily
similar to last December when during that month we experienced temperatures
in the 50s during the day.  Temperatures at night, on a few occasions, were
only in the high 30s, which is very unusual.  The day I originally wrote
this article was January 3rd 2015 and it was 53 degrees.  People, in
general, seemed very content with the warmer weather and no snow but isn't
it a strange feeling walking by the snow shovel, ice skates, and sleds that
have yet to be touched during the 2 week break from school?   On New Year's
Day, I went bowling with my son.  We bowled 9 games, something I've never
done in my life.  The question for someone who grew up with winter is, what
was I doing bowling on New Year's Day in Dayton, Ohio?  I wasn't bowling to
get away from the cold weather, but actually the opposite.  I was bowling to
get away from the warm weather.  I was bowling because there was no place to
ski, in January.  I was bowling because the ice on the pond down the street
wasn't frozen, in January.  I was bowling because there was no snow for
sledding, in January.   I was bowling because I was at an absolute loss of
what to do in winter with warm weather and no snow.

People often don't give much thought to the weather unless it's going to
disrupt an activity, and often live with the belief that even though it's
not cold where they are, it's cold somewhere.  People think that the
northerners are probably skating, skiing and sledding in Michigan,
Wisconsin, and the other upper tier states but that's no longer always the
case like it was in the earlier part of the 20th century.  People from the
south and many of those in the military who have moved so many times in
their lives are at a distinct disadvantage in noticing what is being lost.
Just recently, I was talking to a retired military member who grew up in
California about hopefully skating this winter but was concerned because the
pond had evaporated over the summer.  This person's response was that I
could do it next year if it wasn't possible this year.  I suppose he meant
well but his answer was almost comical, because it's not really how seasons
work.  Winter traditions and the culture of winter are developed by doing
activities annually, just like the culture of summer that involves lying on
the beach, building sand castles, and surfing.   Can anyone imagine summer
only arriving every other year?  Or just in short spurts?

The lack of winter is becoming more obvious each year to those who are
looking but not many people are talking about it.   Of course as winter
gradually becomes shorter, the summers are becoming longer.  The Air Force
no longer talks about the 101 Critical Days of Summer because summer now
goes beyond 101 days.  There are leaders who are thinking about our changing
climate, such as the PACOM commander, Admiral Locklear who describes climate
change as the biggest threat to the Pacific region.  The Quadrennial Defense
Review 2010 notes that "climate change and energy are two key issues that
will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment."
These concerns are echoed in the QDR 2014 and our Commander-in-Chief has
talked about the impact of climate change for the last 7 years.  In
addition, the United States and China signed a climate change agreement in
Peru last year in an effort to curb our carbon emissions that are bringing
about the instability of our climate and the world leaders are meeting this
week in Paris.   It seems like it's time to look up for energy instead of
down and most importantly start using less energy everywhere, and in every
way possible.  Turn appliances off and unplug.  Before you use energy,
consider, do I need this on?  Taking care of winter and putting winter's
needs above our own seems counterintuitive because who really wants to be
cold?  However, given that we've created our daily lives within a stable
climate system that includes winter, we need to do our best to retain it in
the form that has created all the winter traditions and culture that many
enjoy.  Taking care of winter is really taking care of ourselves, instead of
turning our heads and going bowling.

Less Meat, Less Heat: The Overlooked Climate Strategy

Originally posted on

Written by Nicholas Bowles, Mark Pershin, and Community Solutions Fellow, Samuel Alexander

Sometimes the best way to respond to a problem is overlooked because it is right under our noses – literally, one might say, on our dinner plates. Even when we see what is under our noses and know how best to respond, we might nevertheless choose to look away because it seems too hard or confronting. 

We want to argue that both these blind spots apply to what is possibly the most important climate response strategy – eating less meat. It is both so obvious that we easily miss it and so challenging that it seems most people would prefer not to think about it. 

As the COP 21 climate conference in Paris draws nearer, we would like to bring more attention to the significant role meat production and consumption plays in driving climate change – it’s more significant than the entire transport sector – and suggest that eating less meat is, without exaggeration, one of the most important things we can do. 

What’s meat got to do with it?

Aussies love meat. From an Australia Day BBQ to the Christmas Day ham, meat has developed a prominent place in modern Australian society and is reinforced with marketing messages promoting cultural norms that equate meat consumption with health, mateship, and even masculinity. All up Australians consume an average of 120 kilograms of meat annually, higher than any other country in the world and three times the global average. 

Nearly as impressive as our meat consumption are our greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those from the agriculture sector, where we rank 5th in the world in aggregate emissions behind only China, India, Brazil and the USA. 

While few people contemplate the link between meat consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, a recent study has found that agriculture accounts for no less than 54% of our total emissions in Australia. Over 90% of those emissions relate directly to livestock, and 90% of those emissions relate to ruminant animals. 

These findings put meat – especially red meat like beef and lamb – squarely in view as a key driver of climate change. Any agreement that comes out of the Paris climate conference will fail to safeguard our climate if it does not consider current and future consumption of meat. 

Due to their unique physiology ruminant animals emit methane as a result of their digestive process, accounting for 38% of our livestock emissions. Ruminant animals in Australia are mostly raised on pasture, which increases methane emissions by between 38-70% compared to those raised in feedlots. (Note that there are some competing studies on the question of whether pasture or feedlot production is more carbon intensive, but this doesn’t change the argument presented here because in terms of conventional agriculture both pasture and feedlot production are very carbon intensive). 

Emissions from land use constitute livestock’s other main source of emissions due largely to the inherently high land requirements of pasture-raised animals. The burning of savannahs for pasture maintenance accounts for 45% of livestock emissions, while deforestation from the expansion of pastures and the ensuing foregone CO2 sequestration accounts for 16% of emissions.

It’s not just CO₂

While curbing CO2 emissions remains fundamental to avoiding ‘dangerous’ climate change, maintaining temperatures within the often quoted 2°C threshold cannot be achieved by CO2 emission reductions alone. Attention therefore turns to methane, the next most prominent greenhouse gas, and that means being honest about the huge climate impacts of meat. 

Methane is distinct from CO2 in terms of its relatively short atmospheric life of 12 years, compared to 20 to 200 years for CO2. It is however a particularly potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential up to 105 times that of CO2. The nature of methane means that estimates of its contribution to climate change are highly influenced by the chosen timeframe with which to measure its global warming potential. The more traditional 100-year timeframe serves to dilute methane’s emissions by a factor of 8, whereas a 20-year timeframe (as adopted in the above mentioned Australian study) more accurately recognises methane’s near term climactic effects. 

The short atmospheric life and relative potency of methane provides a significant opportunity to reduce atmospheric concentrations if we can stem the flow of emissions. This could have significant climactic effects in the near term. So what’s the most efficient way of reducing methane emissions? 

While much research is being conducted to reduce the intensity of livestock’s methane emissions, this approach has limited utility and sustainable emissions from the sector are unlikely to be achieved by following this approach alone. This is particularly relevant given projected population increases. Another proposed strategy is to increase the use of feedlots to raise livestock as in the United States, however this practice presents a number of its own environmental challenges (as well as animal rights concerns) and thus is not recommended for Australia.

Reduce demand, reduce emissions

Reducing the ruminant animal population stands as the simplest and most cost-effective way of reducing out methane emissions and other environmental impacts. In Australia, while our human population may be manageable by global standards, can we sustainably accommodate 206 million livestock including 105 million methane-belching ruminants?

Reducing the population of ruminant animals can be best achieved through a reduction in demand for red meat. In Australia, 36% of our meat consumption is red meat, therefore this is where we can make the biggest difference. 

And while different types of meat have fewer environmental and climatory impacts than red meat, the greatest gains can be achieved by from switching to plant-based proteins. This can land someone anywhere on the spectrum from flexitarianism to the adoption of a full plant-based diet. (For a carbon comparison of five diets, see here).

So how much do we collectively need to reduce red meat consumption in order to have an impact? 

A reduction in methane emissions of 40% for instance would slow temperature rises by 0.5°C, and thus delay the increase in global temperatures beyond 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 15 years. This can therefore provide more time for the development of international treaties and the renewable energy sector that will inevitably be required for long-term climate stability.

Australia stands well positioned to take a lead on this issue given our disproportionately high meat consumption and agricultural emissions. Given the dietary transition that is taking place in developing countries, where rising income levels are leading to increased meat consumption, we also have the opportunity to reframe what it means to eat well – that is, to not only satiate our culinary preferences but to eat sustainably and mindfully with planetary resources in mind. 

Reduced aggregate demand for meat would stand to benefit the environment more generally as well, with livestock acknowledged as a leading cause not only of climate change but also biodiversity loss, land degradation and the depletion of freshwater reserves 

Health benefits may also materialise, with the consumption of red (and processed) meat being linked to several chronic diseases including colorectal cancer. In Australia we eat on average 82% more red meat that is recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Any reduction in meat consumption would also be a positive step for the 60 billion sentient land animals that are slaughtered each year to satiate our taste for meat. While meat consumption may be necessary in some situations for those living in extreme poverty, we in the developed world have choices no matter how deeply ingrained our dietary habits and cultural norms may seem. 

Be a cultural pioneer and eat less or no meat

Climate change is one of the most prominent environmental issues we face, however it can seem that our dependence on fossil fuels reduces our ability to make meaningful contributions through individual actions. While personal action alone will never be enough to combat climate change, reducing our meat consumption may be the most meaningful lifestyle change we can make when seeking to reduce our environmental impacts.

Our argument today is simple: less meat, less heat.

So What's the Story Here?

Written by Energy Tinkerer, Wimbi

When I succumb to my ever-present temptation to give diatribes re climate change to friends, the usual reaction, aside from their universal intense desire to change the subject-RIGHT NOW! is - spoken in a weary voice --: 

“Sure, so now what do I DO, don’t see a thing I can do that would even be a spit in the ocean, so why do you bother me with this stuff anyhow?” 

Yep, that’s it. Most people have absolutely no clue, not only of the threat itself, but also what can be done, and on top of that, what they hear of what needs doing, if anything at all, is woe, sacrifice, hardship, end of civilization as we know it, and all that, endless! 

Result- paralysis. Not good. What to do? 

As usual, we engineers have a solution. What is it? Change the story. Simple as that. 

What’s the new story? Glad you asked. Here it is, but only in part, the real story goes on and on. 

What to do? Lots! And it’s easy, profitable, fun, and effective, and YOU can do it, and you can do it right now. Some examples, from a very long list. 

  1. Look around for some people who are already doing it, and join up. Make sure these people are smart, fun to talk with and serve good food.
  2. Find out from them what stuff is available right now to cut your energy use. LED’s, all that. Saves money, too.
  3. Do or have done an energy audit, even if it is real simple. Example, go to the web and find out which standard domestic appliances use the most energy. You might be surprised. Example, a microwave uses a lot of electricity, but only for very brief times - most of the time, anyhow. One minute to heat my cold cuppa tea. On the other hand, a standard hot water tank uses far more, most of it piddled away in heat leaks before you get around to using any hot water at all. 
  4. If you are so inclined, look around for what is possible, and start pushing suppliers to do it. Example, any sane person should recognize instantly that a fridge should not need to run at all if the outside temp is lower than the fridge temp. All that is needed is a heat conductor. There are such things. Tell your supplier that you want one. They won’t have it, of course, but would start thinking about getting it.
  5. Same with electric car. Dealers don’t like them. Why? Simple. They don’t need service or repair anywhere near as often as a gas car, so the dealer is cut out of a major source of his profit. Push the dealer, or, better, get your group to push the dealer en masse.
  6. When you get that EV, get some solar panels to feed it. Far, far better than feeding it with coal electricity.
  7. You live in a deep dark valley and have no site for a solar panel? No problem, join with others to get a solar farm sited best to do the job, and share the rewards with your group.

And so on and on. So many opportunities. I am guessing that this country could get along just fine on less than 15% of the energy we now are using. And, needless to say, that much, and much more, we can right now get from wind and solar. 

But one theme runs thru it all- collaboration, communication, community. The keystone to the arch. 

I remember as a kid being impressed by Julius Caesar’s exhortation to his troops as they entered the hostile northern forests: 

“Romans, we shall triumph! Those Teuton barbarians are indeed, huge and strong, but they act only as a mob, having no coordination amongst themselves. We Romans act together as one, and together we are invincible!”

Climate change is our grand narrative now

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Kurt Cobb

There is the story of our personal lives: our family, our friends, our jobs, our hobbies. There is the story of our communities: our civic, religious, business, artistic and recreational lives. There is the story of our nations: their internal political struggles and their struggles with each other.

But now, there is one grand narrative which ties us all together, whether we want to be connected or not, whether we are preoccupied with our personal, community or national narratives or not. That is the narrative of our changing climate and the resulting threat to the continuity of our world civilization. The upcoming climate talks in Paris this week are but one expression of this new reality.

Even people who oppose doing anything about climate change are forced to talk about it. Even people who somehow have convinced themselves that climate change is not happening and oddly, in the same breath, claim that humans have nothing to do with this thing that is not happening--even those people confirm by their very framing of the issue that they are firmly situated inside this narrative.

Climate change is now the grand narrative because what happens to climate and what we do about it will be a worldwide story which no one can ignore. As such there will be few people without an opinion on the issue of climate change. Increasingly, it will reach down into our national, community and personal lives in ways we had hoped would wait until we are gone. The droughts, the heat, the floods, the damage to crops, the lengthening summer, the late fall, and the early spring--none of them can escape our notice.

We are forced to incorporate the changing climate into our everyday conversations. It is already a big topic among anyone who gardens and certainly anyone who farms. Among those in touch with plants the evidence of a changing climate is incontrovertible.

The grand tension will be how to address climate change without giving up the abundant energy, food and technology that have given us such comfort, ease, mobility and opportunity. Neither side in the debate over what to do wants to relinquish the hope that we will have to give up almost nothing.

One side says we should continue to burn fossil fuels, to raze the forests, and to farm the fields in ways that release carbon from the soil into the air...and that we will continue to be able to live the modern industrial life we've become used to. Any consequences of climate change will be manageable (an argument that becomes less plausible with each passing day).

The other side implores us to embrace carbon-free energy sources, move toward better care of the forests and the soil, sip what energy we use instead of gulping it, adjust our habits and lifestyles...and we will continue to be able to live a green version of the modern industrial life we've become used to.

But underneath it all, we fear and suspect that either path will involve some loss, some sacrifice. And, it is that fear and suspicion which prevents us from committing to do what we must do to save the best parts of our culture and society while letting go of the worst. It is the fear of change and the fear of loss which is holding us back from truly addressing the existential threat of climate change.

If someone were holding a gun to our heads, it would be clear that we were in danger. But, climate change creeps into our lives gradually. Few people can see that climate now has a seat at every negotiating table, that climate has become a political actor with an unyielding, non-negotiable position. We can choose to think of climate change as a brutal, remorseless malefactor with no sympathy for humankind. But we can also choose to think of climate change as a messenger, a symptom like a recurrent fever, telling us that our society has overstepped its bounds and needs to rethink its way of life to regain its health--or face worse consequences.

It is in the evolutionary makeup of humans to seek to maximize their power intake. In fact, it is in the evolutionary makeup of every organism to do so. By maximizing the power available to us we increase our chances of survival as individuals and as a species. But, this impulse is at the heart of our climate difficulties.

Like a pioneer species in a clearcut forest, humans expanded rapidly after the broad deployment of fossil fuels. But, pioneer species ultimately give way to mature forests which reach optimum rates of energy, mineral and water cycling--rates that can maintain the balance of the forest over very long periods. The forest enters a less dynamic, but stable equilibrium that makes longevity possible.

To borrow from economist Herman Daly, we now live in a "full world" and we must come to grips with that new reality. Human society cannot grow its consumption of energy and resources forever. But we can grow in our social, artistic, intellectual and spiritual lives indefinitely.

Climate change is giving us the first universally understood signal that it is time to reconsider our collective future. Will we risk the destruction of all that we hold dear in exchange for a few more decades of a fossil fuel party that is undermining our health and the health of the planet? Or will we choose to embrace not only changes in the physical infrastructure upon which we base our material lives, but also a new vision that can endlessly engage our hearts, minds and spirits in the kind of growth that has no limit?

Our answers represent the climax in the new grand narrative of climate change--essentially a choice that will be reflected in our individual daily acts and in the collective acts of our communities and our nations.

Moving Beyond “Too Little, Too Late” Solutions: A renewed look at soil and water cycles is necessary to aid in planetary healing and justice

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Peter Bane

Soil and water cycles have been systematically overlooked by climate scientists seeking the causal mechanism for global heating. Though climbing carbon and methane in the atmosphere undoubtedly contribute to heating the planet, their rising levels appear to be more a symptom than a cause—resulting from enormous human-made changes to soils and vegetation that have disrupted the small water cycle or evapotranspiration of water from land to sky.  Vegetation in the form of forests, grasslands, and wetlands has regulated the climate through many swings of CO2 levels.  However, the cumulative impact of 10,000 years of forest removal, agricultural degradation of soils, draining of wetlands, and urbanization—accelerating exponentially over the past three centuries—has so damaged the biosphere’s capacity to exhaust heat that we are rapidly approaching a threshold beyond which it may not be possible to reverse the process.

The science underpinning this thesis is not radical, being familiar to all school students—plants transpire large volumes of moisture, the latent heat of vaporization is immense, and these effects reach into the upper atmosphere—but its implications have been hidden in plain sight for some decades, in part because climate scientists have assumed that measuring the effects of these diffuse actions would be too difficult. Moreover, increasing activity in the large water cycle—which moves moisture from the oceans onto land and has become so very destructive with larger and larger storms—is probably masking declines in evapotranspiration over land. What is being realized today is that the level of moisture in the atmosphere is not constant, and may be as much as ten times the volume of water to be found in all Earth’s rivers. Nor is the outflow from continents to the sea a constant, but has steadily increased as forests are cleared, soil humus is oxidized, and pavement expands. The net outflow of water from the continents, exclusive of glacial outwash, may account for as much as 40% of sea level rise in the past half-century, an increase that has reached about 2-3 mm/year today. This is compounding problems not only of coastal flooding but of aridification across the globe.

The required response to this information, which radically shifts the paradigm around climate, is similar to what some have suggested heretofore, that carbon sinks must be increased even as carbon sources are reduced. The Rodale Institute has recently published research indicating that global changes to agriculture could sequester more carbon than is now entering the atmosphere from all human sources—and their solutions are neither the only nor the most powerful available.

However, reducing atmospheric carbon will be insufficient by itself to alter global heating in the near term (5-15 years), which is where our actions must be focused. Climate change is rapidly approaching a non-linear state due to positive feedback mechanisms.


Carbon sequestration in the form of soil repair and revegetation will be required to restore the small water cycle over land, but if sequestration becomes the goal without regard for hydrology, those efforts may be insufficient to alter the trajectory of global warming. We need our actions to have multiple effects. What this means is that carbon must be captured by plants and soils rather than from smokestacks as now proposed by technological ideologues. If we can repair the damage we have wreaked on biotic communities, the beneficial effects on the water cycle may achieve what we must try at all costs to do: prevent further heating and reverse the trend of recent decades.

The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions will be examining and publicizing research and case studies of carbon sequestration and water cycle restoration through blogs, a 2017 conference in collaboration with Bio4Climate, and an upcoming book upon which I am presently at work.

What are the Essential Elements for Successfully Building Community Resilience?

Originally posted on

Written by Asher Miller

Introducing Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience, PCI’s new report which describes how communities can approach the full scope of the 21st century’s challenges equitably and sustainably.

It’s all too easy to look at the news these days and find an instant reminder of how vulnerable, and in some cases broken, our communities are—whether the risks they face are due to terrorism, natural disasters, economic struggles, dilapidated infrastructure, or a dozen other disruptive forces. I could quickly provide some examples, torn from this week’s headlines, but if you’re reading this a month, a year, or decade from now it’s likely the task will be just as easy.

This is partly true, of course, because vulnerability has always been part of human communities. But in this age of global interconnectedness, those vulnerabilities are not only more complex and systemic, they’re chronic.

Since Post Carbon Institute’s formation a little over a decade ago, we’ve seen interest in building community resilience skyrocket—from the early days of the grassroots relocalization and Transition movements, in response to concerns about climate change and peak oil, to the more recent initiatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the United Nations to prepare cities for acute disasters.

In particular, interest in building climate resilience has grown exponentially since Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. Northeast in 2012, and as the need for climate adaptation, not just mitigation, has become more and more evident.

Having ourselves promoted community resilience for years, we’ve been pleased to see the concept of resilience being embraced by a diverse collection of grassroots groups, government agencies, politicians, and philanthropists. But we’re also eager to ensure that community resilience building isn't simply adopted an aspirational goal divorced of concrete strategies, or as a strategy to “bounce back” from one specific set of disruptions to a normal state that no longer exists.

Thankfully, resilience science—in particular the field of socio-ecological resilience—offers a treasure trove of invaluable insights and resources. And in just the last few years a number of useful frameworks and tools have been developed which aim to support local efforts. But, we’ve learned, some of the best thinking about community resilience can be hard to find or understand outside academia, and no single approach is likely to work in all communities considering their varied social, environmental, and economic realities.

So we set out to read everything we could get our hands on, to speak with experts in the field of socio-ecological resilience and innovative resilience builders from communities across the United States and abroad, and to draw upon our own learnings… all in order to see if we could glean any key insights that would be useful for local leaders and activists in the United States, and contribute to the larger conversation about resilience in human communities. The result of this effort is Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably hoping I’ll share those six foundations with you right here, right now. But instead I’m going to ask you to set aside thirty minutes and read the full paper, lest these six foundations become buzzwords all to easy to dismiss or forget.

We are also eager to hear from you, dear reader—who clearly cares as much as we do about strengthening our communities in response to the interconnected crises of the 21st century. Please read Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience and then share your thoughts on these and other questions:

Do you find the approach in Six Foundations helpful? 
What aspects of the report are useful? 
What would you change? 
What real-life examples of community resilience building are you inspired by? 
What related research and scholarly work do you know about? 
What kinds of related resources would be helpful for students? For grassroots activists?

Your feedback will help PCI as we roll out new projects over the next few years, one of which will be a tool to help grassroots activists use the Six Foundations in their work.

I hope you're as excited as I am about this report, the start of a major new PCI effort to help scale and strengthen community resilience building efforts across the United States.

Review: 21 Stories of Transition and the Great Imagining: Why Transition Matters

Originally posted on

Written by Eric Lindberg

Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Paris

In December, representatives from governments from across the Earth will descend upon Paris in hopes, once again, of hammering out a global agreement to limit carbon dioxide emissions to the point where human civilization might expect a reasonable chance of survival.  Although there is greater urgency that ever and growing consensus that “something must be done”, no one really expects a meaningful, enforceable, and ultimately effective agreement to emerge from Paris.   Even if an agreement is reached, judging from the pre-summit carbon pledges of 147 nations, proposed reductions are not nearly enough to prevent a 2 degrees centigrade rise in global temperature.[i]  Just as carbon emissions continued to rise after Rio, Kyoto, and Copenhagen, it is hard to imagine how the Paris summit might represent a true turning point, even as we move closer and closer to a point of no return.

Meanwhile, in villages, neighborhoods, and communities, large and small, from across the globe, action is being taken and hope, nevertheless, lives on.   Countless groups and organizations are heeding history’s call and taking matters into their own hands.  With open hearts, open hands, and open minds, people on every continent and from every walk-of-life are coming together to create real solutions.  They are sharing, cooperating, helping, and taking responsibility for the future.  The global ecological and resource crisis, as our official leaders regularly demonstrate, could easily incite retrenchment, competition, and the fearful protection of privileges that will ultimately mean nothing.  But it could, as ordinary people are proving, be the inspiration for a great imagining unlike any the world has ever seen. 

It is this Great Imagining, in the face of a global crisis and official paralysis, that I want to talk about here.  I hope, even plea, that my friends, acquaintances, and readers will take another look, while asking themselves, “what can I do?”  “How can I be a part of this?”

The grassroots response to climate change, resource depletion, growing inequality, and widespread global injustice comes from every quarter.  But one of the greatest sources of inspiration has originated from the International Transition Movement, a loosely-united assembly of communities following the lead of a humble and mild-mannered English community organizer, teacher, and leader of considerable genius named Rob Hopkins.  About a decade ago, Hopkins set out to imagine how we might build just and sustainable communities that would serve the real needs of everyone.   The result was first a Transition Town, and then another.  Following these heartening initiatives, Hopkins put together The Transition Handbook, whose message of community, local resilience, and the good life that renewed communities might afford remains intact throughout the revision of approach and tactics seen during the intervening years.

In advance of this year’s international climate conference (COP21), Hopkins has assembled into a single collection 21 Stories of Transition, highlighting some of the accomplishments that Transition Groups from around the globe have made.   Hopkins changed my life with his Transition Handbook and I’m getting that feeling, once again, that the 21 Stories might provide another watershed moment for me.  It’s time to make another big push here in Milwaukee. 

Beyond Carbon

Read in the context of the Paris Negotiations on climate change, the 21 Stories are hardly what one might expect.  But that is the hidden genius of the Transition Movement.  Sustainability, as Pope Francis has recently argued, is not just about atmospheric chemistry rather it calls for a new paradigm that integrates the ecology of all life with social justice and an inner transformation of human beings away from competition and consumption towards full and authentic development.  In this vein, Hopkins and his collaborators share accounts of a caring group in Devonshire, the rise of alternative currencies in communities such like Brixton and cities like Bristol.  There are accounts of community-driven and financed energy collectives, and lots of tales of local food production and distribution; Transition Streets, like many of the featured projects, are geared towards neighborhoods uniting to find a way to reduce their carbon footprints.  But equally important are stories of rainwater harvesting in the Brazilian megatropolis of Sao Paulo, a repair café in Pasadena, a Free Store in Pennsylvania, or the growing emphasis on crowd-funded local entrepreneurs.  

One especially inspiring story tells of Greyton Transitioning Town in South Africa.  Here, local volunteers have built two businesses, which are used in large part to finance an “EcoCrew environmental awareness programme,” focusing on educating children and giving them a leading role in the creation of local food, parks, and recycling activities.  One of its most significant roles, however, is the social integration in this part of the world in which the open wounds of apartheid are widely visible.  Although the commitment to the environment is central, as with many Transition projects, the most impressive results come in the form of small-scale civic development, of a child finding purpose, or a circle of care gathering up the lonely. 

As Hopkins explains, this sort of caring community and concern with social justice are central to Transition’s ideals, as are principles of supporting each other, with a focus on “qualities like enjoyment, self-development, a sense of belonging and the dignity in work” (Twenty One Stories, 13).  The installation of solar panels or wind turbines makes immediate sense if our most pressing challenge is to decrease the burning of fossil fuels, and it takes only a primer on the role of fossil fuels in industrial agriculture to see why small-scale local farms and community gardens loom so large in the imagination of the Transition Movement and in the 21 Stories. 

But the emphasis on community, the celebration of place, or the enhancement of human dignity, helps explain why Transition ranges far beyond issues of carbon emissions.  It is in this spirit that we hear about a Free Store, in which people donate what they don’t need and take what they do.  The same goes for an account of people in Pasadena showing up periodically to darn each other’s socks and straighten someone’s bike tire, or Transition Totnes’ grass-roots attempt to augment dwindling county services for the sick and needy.  Yes, the reusing and repair of existing products is “good for the environment,” but the value of community action is worth far more.

About the Carbon

It is easy—perhaps too easy—to fault our official leaders with cowardice and inaction.  But when we send national representatives to an international global warming summit, they are sent with an impossible mandate:  protect our national privilege (or increase it), preserve our way of life and our every expectations for increased material acquisition, maintain the economic growth required to keep national banking systems intact—oh yeah, and cut domestic carbon emissions (but not more than others nations are willing to cut theirs).   

We blame our leaders for their shortsighted calculations.  But part of the reason these climate agreements fail to make meaningful change is simpler than is generally acknowledged, and lives, hidden and unseen, in both the hearts and homes of nearly every citizen of advanced economies and industrialized democracies.  It is about what we want, expect, and demand.  It is not possible to maintain our way of life, maintain economic growth, and cut carbon emissions.  Nor is it possible to engage in competitive statecraft and reduce the burning of fossil fuels.   

There is, then, a crucial nugget of truth, largely ignored in the mainstream press, in what we have gotten from Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, and probably Paris: a sustainable future requires a contracting economy, a slowing down of production, and a broad curtailment of individual consumption.  If our leaders presented us with this, they’d be hung by their heals in the village square.  We want our leaders to cut global carbon emissions; but we also want a way of life that only fossil fuels can deliver.  Until we understand the contradiction and begin to untangle the complexities of a transition to a low energy way of life, we should not expect too much from our elected governments.

Consider, as a sort of mental exercise, what would happen if we were to switch off the fossil fuels and run on available renewables as of today: as it turns out, we’d have to reduce our consumption by about 90%.  That means getting rid of 90% of what you have and 90% of what you do and where you go.   Develop these renewables at a plausible rate, on the one hand, and reduce our atmospheric carbon emissions at a meaningful rate (the one at which we and other large mammals may survive at a robust level), on the other, and we’re looking at a 75% reduction in economic activity over the long and permanent run.   We might quibble about the exact figures; but there is no question of running our current, competitive, growth-dependent, and leisure-based way of life without the use of fossil fuels—those same fossil fuels that will kill us off if we cannot kick these habits of competition, growth, and, leisure in the form, mainly, of consumption.[ii]

Sure, we hear the promises of “sustainable development” and “green growth.”  The abiding faith—or is it the lack of any plausible alternatives?—is that we can take our current systems of production and distribution and plug them into a new (sustainable and consequence-free) fuel source with only minimum disruptions.  But, at the same time, international carbon-cutting agreements are rejected for one, and only one, reason: that they will hurt our economies, slow down the rate at which we make, buy, and sell goods.  These agreements will force compliant nations to lose their competitive advantage to nations that don’t comply.   

We may like the idea of an international climate agreement, but we probably wouldn’t like consequences of a meaningful one.  And so our leaders give us a watered-down and face-saving compromise.  Our way of life and our national power and prestige, it turns out, is fossil fuel based.   We can’t have it both ways.  “Your money or your life,” Barbara Kingsolver once quipped, “is not supposed to be a rhetorical question.”  But that, in effect, is the decision we have to make, but have been unwilling to accept. 

Viable Alternative Systems

Our current systems, as Hopkins puts it, “are meant to support and provide for us, and to enable us to flourish and thrive” (9).  But they cannot survive in a low carbon or sustainable world.  This is the basic knot that must be untied for us to get a real climate solution.   As Hopkins rightly points out, these systems are already “failing us spectacularly,” but if we remove the fuels--coal, gas, and oil--which provide them with what remaining benefits they have, they would fail us entirely.  This is true even if we attempt to make a slow transition to new fuels, while attempting to keep the old systems in place.   As a practical matter, we don’t have the capacity to feed, cloth, and house ourselves without massive use of fossil fuels.  Our current systems, let me say again, cannot survive in a low carbon world.  We need new systems.

We are of course talking, here, about things like a food system run on an industrial model, which requires massive fossil fuel inputs, while poisoning us with sugars, toxins, and fats.  We are talking about an economic system based on perpetual growth, a social system based largely on competition, an education system that trains children to make money rather than things, a system of technological development that accepts no limits, and a list could go on and on.  Yes, these systems have created some verifiable marvels, but our appreciation of them also requires that we bracket-off their collateral damage and disconnect their spectacles from their lethal nature.  For all these other systems are high-energy systems.  They can work quite well, if unevenly, but only if fed with limitless amounts of consequence-free fossil fuels.   All our modern industrial systems, this is to say, are dependent on the mother of unsustainable systems—the energy system that, quite literally, is threatening to do us all in.

While the best and the brightest attempt to hold these failing and clearly lethal systems together with a high-sounding and self-impressive version of duct tape and bailing wire, Rob Hopkins and the Transition Movement set out over a decade ago to engineer replacement systems that might actually work under lower energy conditions.  As Hopkins as recently written, “It is to building that viable alternative that I put my shoulder.  It is celebrating that viable alternative that will be the focus of my time in Paris in December.”[iii] 

Instead of finding support and nurture from systems requiring chemical inputs, intricate parts manufactured across the world, and panels of technological specialists flown in from the nearest city, these “viable alternative” systems are overwhelmingly local.  They are powered by muscle and basic tools, and require no more specialization than one might find in one’s neighborhood.  They replace wizardry with local wisdom, and at root are based on the lost arts of community and cooperation, with which almost anything of immediate use and simple beauty might be nailed, stitched, and mortared together.

The easiest of these replacement systems to grasp is the food system, perhaps because food’s fundamental status remains embedded in our sense of self, despite the best efforts of the packaging, the branding, and the barrage of advertising harassment telling us to eat the corn-fructose combination with the tiger mascot instead of the one represented by the cute bears.  Instead of depending for one’s daily bread on the whims of international finance and commodity markets, Monsanto intellectual property, and a whole heap of chemicals we can scarcely pronounce, let alone digest, most people will often gravitate towards a local food system when given the chance.  Growing food, after all, is something humans have done for millennia, and a local and sustainable food system only requires simple things that we can see, smell, touch, and, of course, taste.   But producing enough to live on also requires practice, hard work and commitment, as well as some fundamental changes in the overall economy.

Simplicity, common sense, and community self-reliance, nevertheless, are the hallmark of the 21 Stories,as well as the thousands of projects not featured in the book.   Instead of waiting for someone to build a 250 miles per gallon super-car, why not get out the old bike?  Instead of waiting for some new ultra-green nano-technology to do all our daily slicing, dicing, pressing, closing, communicating, heating, and cooling, why not find someone who can sharpen your knives, solder that loose wire, lend you a fan, or fix your windows?  Instead of shipping some faddish culinary delicacy from the South Pacific, why not prepare salvaged food that someone else is throwing away?  Instead of stretching your tight household budget to include gym membership and special energy shakes, why not get together with your neighbors, dig in, plant a garden and keep a few chickens?  Instead of waiting for the next financial crisis and the sudden loss of a lifetime of savings and investment, why not create a local currency with which you can buy and sell some of life’s basic necessities no matter what else happens?

From this perspective, the rise of local currencies, the Pasadena Repair Café or Fishguard’sSurplus Food Café begin to look less like counter-cultural pottering and more like a serious attempt to find something that can, and will, work.  The rise of local farms, food markets, community gardens are only the tip of the iceberg of this imaginative reengineering of our life systems.  The creation not only of local currencies, but a whole network of local and community based responses to the increasingly undependable whims of the global economy, of government budget cuts, and unpredictable employment lies at the heart of Transition.  One of its keywords has always been “local resilience.”  While the terms of Transition’s resilience-based self-description tend to be based in the language of care, or small-scale entrepreneurial innovation, or community action, or the envisioning of a better future for one’s family and neighbors, underlying it all is a serious questions: how could you get by on an energy diet one fourth the size of your current one?  What would you do if the trucks stop running or the banks shut down?  Who can you turn to for help? 


The Great Imagining

If, however, we suppose that the power of the Transition Movement lies primarily in its practical ability to engineer and implement new, replacement systems, then we sell it far too short.  The genius of the Transition Movement, it seems to me, is more subtle yet also more fundamental.   It presents a fresh and alternative way of seeing—and of valuing.  It has not only imagined a new set of possibilities, it has taken the next crucial step and created working models for the rest of the world to see.  The 21 Stories represent only a selection of these working prototypes and provide a taste of this other way of seeing, valuing, and relating to others and the Earth.

This way of seeing is the most important component that has been missing from international climate agreements.

Social psychologists have wondered at the resistance of many conservatives in the Anglo Saxon world to the science of global climate change.  What force of denial could lead to the dismissal of undisputed science?  The conclusions of this psychological research tell us something very important about belief and social and political change in general.  The greatest source of conservative denial is not, as some would have it, based on their inability to accept the scientific evidence.  Rather, it has to do with a more general picture about how the world works and should work that conservatives hold dear.   As Naomi Klein has suggested, if conservatives “admit that climate change is real, they will lose the central ideological battle of our time—whether we need to plan and manage our societies to reflect our goals and values, or whether that task can be left to the magic of the market.”[iv]

Liberals, in contrast, have (as conservatives like to point out) been arguing for decades that we need to manage our economy more vigorously.  The idea of an international agreement whereby governments cap carbon emissions and invest public money in renewable energy is not only acceptable to many liberals, it actually represents a form of progress that liberals have been hoping for all along, with liberal economists like Paul Krugman naively arguing that a renewable energy revolution is just what we need to spark our economy and ignite another century of economic growth.  To put this another way, using another term from social psychology, while liberals tend to like the solutions (as they conceive them) to climate change, conservatives have a distinct case of solution aversion, which is strong enough to taint any associated scientific evidence.   So repugnant is a solution that threatens the sanctity of the market that they can’t bring themselves to accept that there is a problem in the first place.

This same dynamic can, surprisingly, be seen in the same liberals who are celebrating the idea of international climate agreements.  Although they are jubilant at the prospect of investing public money in clean energy or fashioning a “New Deal” based on energy transformation, their disposition turns sour—and even downright nasty—when these same anti-denialists are confronted with the possibility that wind turbines and solar panels will not be able to replace the power (and the economic growth) we have enjoyed from fossil fuels.  Regardless of the data and mathematical evidence, these same critics of conservative climate deniers often reject anynotion of the limits of renewable energy on the veryface of it, supposing (I can attest first hand) that anyone who even suggests such a possibility must be an enemy of humanity itself.

Part of this incredulity has to do with the liberal faith in continued progress, the power of human inventiveness, and the overriding hope that all people might one day be freed from kinds of difficulties and indignities that the middle class European and American lifestyle seems to afford.  Part of it has to do with most middle-class people’s dislike of a solution in which middle class comforts and privileges and white-collar skillsets play a decreasingly central role.  That we might become more agrarian and less automated or more interdependent and less autonomous, that traditional inhibitions on the freedom of consumption might have some sense to them after all, that Silicon Valley might be turned someday into pasture—all this  strikes many a progressive as the height of defeat or regression into a dark past.   Progress has always (or for a few hundred years, at least) meant the transition from agriculture to industry, and from industry to some largely imaginary global technological post-industrialism.  Few are prepared to embrace an international climate agreement that threatens this trajectory—which, it turns out, a meaningful limit on carbon emissions would, in fact, do. 

 I am tempted to say that liberals, like conservatives, are suffering from solution aversion; but I think we are dealing with something even more fundamental than that.  It is not so much that they (like just about everyone else in industrial society, liberal and conservatives alike) would not accept a solution that involves the powering down of industrial society; rather, for most, this is simply unimaginable.  If we can’t live with current levels of comfort, convenience, choice, mobility, and leisure, we may just as well give up.  Only a plan that promises increased industrial development and lower carbon emissions is, according to this view, conceivably acceptable.  No such plan exists, nor can it.  Industrial development and sustainability are incompatible, the liberal faith in green growth notwithstanding.  

This is where Transition and its Great Imagining can step in.  Transition, with other similar movements, has recast the very notion of progress, value, and good.  They have shown how the thriving of humans is not dependent upon industrial development, and therefore, has demonstrated how human well-being is, in every sense, compatible with radically decreasing use of fossil fuels It presents a solution to climate change which might overcome the initial aversion that liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between all have for anything other than industrial development.  As Hopkins explains, “The systems that are meant to support and provide for us, and to enable us to flourish and thrive, are failing spectacularly.  This is increasingly self-evident to people, wherever they are within those systems.  Yet all over the world, in creative, passionate, and brave ways, and motivate by a tangible sense of what is possible, people are coming together to create something else.  Something so much better” (9).    Whether or not Hopkins was thinking in precisely these terms when he wrote this, these people are providing an alternative that imagines the unimaginable while easing solution aversion.

This, I think, is why when I first read the Transition Handbook in 2008, it took my breath away; it was a revelation--for it at once presented a clear and unvarnished understanding of our current predicament in relation to fossil fuels and their lethal side effects, alongside a positive and hopeful vision for a future free from our current and unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels.  Previously, I too would have had blank mental spaces for a world in which we had not replaced our energy from fossil fuels with some alternative.  Nothing existed outside of this possibility beyond some hazy and disconnected images of stranded vehicles and abandoned buildings.  The Transition Handbook filled these blank spaces with life. 

As Hopkins wrote in The Transition Handbook, “the key message here has been that the future with less oil could be better than the present, but only if we engage in designing it with sufficient creativity and imagination” (77).  This better future, then, is not better only because it isn’t lethal to the very viability of our species, but because it can create just, humane, cooperative, and community systems in which we might truly thrive.  Or as Richard Heinberg put it, even as energy and the economy come to an industrial peak, there are many things of even greater value that are not at their historic peaks, things such as community, satisfaction from work well done, intergenerational solidarity, cooperation, happiness, ingenuity, artistry, or beauty of the built environment.[v]  The Transition Movement reminded me of the power of community, the value and pleasure of manual labor, the basic fact that things don’t make people happy—nor do comforts.  Rather, other people do, as does a sense of purpose, something to believe in and to celebrate.  None of these more basic human goods required fossil fuels, nor substitute wind turbines or biodiesel. 

This, in short, is the message that the Transition Movement has for COP21 and for the rest of the world—that we can re-envision a bountiful world that is compatible with the environmental and atmospheric requirements of life on Earth.  21 Stories of Transition shows us what this world might possibly look like.  It shows that it is not only possible, but that it is already underway and that those who are taking action are thriving and are full of life, purpose, and joy.