Sunday, February 28, 2010

An uneven collapse (Hint: It's already happening)

When we think of collapse, we often think of a building or bridge or other structure suddenly giving way. We have a tendency to take this physical model of collapse and translate it into the social and political world.

Thus, when Joseph Tainter or Jared Diamond write of societal collapse, we are inclined to think of a relatively rapid process that acts equally across an entire area and even perhaps across the entire globe. But I believe that the collapse of the globalized society we now inhabit will be exceedingly uneven geographically and one that is spread over many years. And, I believe that that collapse has already started to appear in places which might be considered the periphery of our global system.

My index of collapse in this case will be reasonably objective: When population in a country or region declines persistently and the main cause is not a voluntary decline in birth rates, but a persistent rise in death rates, then collapse has been confirmed. Notice I didn't say "collapse has begun" for the engines of collapse are set in motion long before such demographic proof shows up.

Exhibit number one is Russia which has had a persistently declining population since 1991 when population was close to 149 million versus just under 142 million today.A broad range of factors are said to explain this decline. But despite the slight uptick in population this year, few experts expect the trend to be reversed. Russia may be a foretaste of how such a decline might be experienced elsewhere in the world once it arrives.

The reason the Russians have a head start is that their fall from Joseph Tainter's perilous tightrope of complexity began in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an event that continues to rain its cataclysmic consequences down on the Russian Federation and all the former Soviet republics that are now independent countries.

One key element has been the collapse of the public health system in Russia. AIDS is racing through the population and tuberculosis has resurrected as a major killer. Certainly, the famously low Russian birth rate has something to do with the decline in population. But that rate was already low before the Soviet Union collapsed. It has declined since then as the life chances that Russians perceive for themselves and their children continue to darken. Death rates meanwhile have shot through the roof, up 40 percent since 1992.

Surely, a country as rich in natural resources as Russia should be able to turn things around, especially since a strong central government (some say too strong) has been re-established under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. But such has not been the case. And, the Russian example shows that once collapse begins it tends to be self-reinforcing. More deaths and fewer births now lead to more deaths and fewer births in the future as the cohort of women able to reproduce shrinks and as the capability of the country to respond to the crisis shrinks with the declining population. And, remember, this is all happening in a country in which health care is provided to all people by the state and which has had one of the best educational systems in the world, at least until now. And, it's happening inside the world's leading exporter of oil, revenues from which have been swelling state coffers in recent years.

Perhaps you will say that Russia's situation is unique. But other parts of the former Soviet empire are also experiencing significant population declines. Ukraine suffers from similarly high death rates due to AIDS, alcoholism and smoking. Many parts of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc are facing both declining births and rising death rates, the latter a sign that public health systems are inadequate to handle the problems they face. (See several of them in this table.)

But these countries have had histories of low birth rates. What about countries with historically high birth rates? There too we find a cluster of countries in southern Africa that are suffering heavily from an out-of-control AIDS epidemic. South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia appear to be on a trajectory toward population decline despite their high birth rates as their death rates spiral upward.

This cannot simply be put down to AIDS. There are AIDS sufferers in many countries. But wealthy countries such as the United States have spent considerable resources to keep a lid on AIDS infections. In some of those countries AIDS has even become a managed chronic condition rather than an automatic death sentence.

Resources, financial and otherwise, then must be the key. In a world of shrinking resources, especially shrinking energy resources, we will have less wealth to spend on the multiple threats to our complex global society such as climate change, epidemics and depletion of fisheries, forests, water, soil and minerals.

The first stage of collapse, Dmitri Orlov tells us, is financial collapse. We have just witnessed the most colossal financial collapse since the Great Depression. And, despite protestations to the contrary, we are following very closely the script of the last depression. (Both then and now markets rose about 60 percent from the bottom of the crash and experts everywhere were claiming that the worst was over.) The financial collapse is followed by a commercial collapse, i.e. an economic collapse in which businesses continue to fail and unemployment continues to rise.

These collapses cut revenues to local, state and central governments and force cuts in services that are critical to the health and nutrition of the population. It will likely be a long time before the average American or average Western European enjoys the same health as the average Russian or South African does today. But the wheels are in motion to undermine the very supports critical to public health even in wealthy societies. And, if economic stagnation or decline persists, the decline in income and employment among the middle and lower classes will inevitably lead to inferior diets and health care. Already many people in the United States are about to lose their unemployment benefits and many others who have reached time limits for public assistance must now sell their food stamps to pay their bills.

Today, the world's wealthy countries still enjoy several advantages in the collapse game. Many have large tracts of excellent and highly productive farmland. Some like the United States, Canada and Australia have extensive energy and mineral resources left. Circumstances that force wealthy countries back on their own resources would be traumatic, but not as traumatic as what's in store for many of the world's poor countries, the resources of which have been transferred over many years at bargain prices to the wealthy countries. Those countries poor in resources and lacking well-developed public health and other administrative systems will certainly collapse first.

Now, collapse doesn't mean annihilation. In Tainter's view it means returning to a less complex society. Complex, large-scale systems would be abandoned because they are no longer effective in the face of new realities. It would be wise to begin building the replacements for those systems before they collapse. To a certain extent the local food movement is doing just that. But to build a truly resilient society there are so many other areas that require our attention--health care, education, manufacturing, transportation, communication, and the arts to name a few. And, even though those of us in wealthy countries will have some extra time to prepare, we will be doing so against a backdrop of increasing chaos and decline which will be made all the worse by the failure of governing elites to correctly diagnose our situation.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Road transportation emerges as key driver of warming: NASA analysis

For decades, climatologists have studied the gases and particles that have potential to alter Earth's climate. They have discovered and described certain airborne chemicals that can trap incoming sunlight and warm the climate, while others cool the planet by blocking the Sun's rays.

Now a new study led by Nadine Unger of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City offers a more intuitive way to understand what's changing the Earth's climate. Rather than analyzing impacts by chemical species, scientists have analyzed the climate impacts by different economic sectors.

Each part of the economy, such as ground transportation or agriculture, emits a unique portfolio of gases and aerosols that affect the climate in different ways and on different timescales.

NASA analysis

Motor vehicles give off only minimal amounts of sulfates and nitrates, both pollutants that cool climate, though they produce significant amounts of pollutants that warm climate such as carbon dioxide, black carbon, and ozone. Credit: NASA's Langley Research Center
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"We wanted to provide the information in a way that would be more helpful for policy makers," Unger said. "This approach will make it easier to identify sectors for which emission reductions will be most beneficial for climate and those which may produce unintended consequences."

In a paper published online on Feb. 3 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , Unger and colleagues described how they used a climate model to estimate the impact of 13 sectors of the economy from 2000 to 2100. They based their calculations on real-world inventories of emissions collected by scientists around the world, and they assumed that those emissions would stay relatively constant in the future.

Snapshots of the Future

In their analysis, motor vehicles emerged as the greatest contributor to atmospheric warming now and in the near term. Cars, buses, and trucks release pollutants and greenhouse gases that promote warming, while emitting few aerosols that counteract it.

NASA analysis

The on-road transportation sector releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide, black carbon, and ozone—all substances that cause warming. In contrast, the industrial sector releases many of the same gases, but it also tends to emit sulfates and other aerosols that cause cooling by reflecting light and altering clouds. Credit: NASA GISS/Unger
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The researchers found that the burning of household biofuels -- primarily wood and animal dung for home heating and cooking -- contribute the second most warming. And raising livestock, particularly methane-producing cattle, contribute the third most.

On the other end of the spectrum, the industrial sector releases such a high proportion of sulfates and other cooling aerosols that it actually contributes a significant amount of cooling to the system. And biomass burning -- which occurs mainly as a result of tropical forest fires, deforestation, savannah and shrub fires -- emits large amounts of organic carbon particles that block solar radiation.

The new analysis offers policy makers and the public a far more detailed and comprehensive understanding of how to mitigate climate change most effectively, Unger and colleagues assert.
"Targeting on-road transportation is a win-win-win," she said. "It's good for the climate in the short term and long term, and it's good for our health."

Due to the health problems caused by aerosols, many developed countries have been reducing aerosol emissions by industry. But such efforts are also eliminating some of the cooling effect of such pollution, eliminating a form of inadvertent geoengineering that has likely counteracted global warming in recent decades.

"Warming should accelerate as we continue to remove the aerosols," said Unger. "We have no choice but to remove the aerosol particulate pollution to protect human and ecosystem health. That means we'll need to work even harder to reduce greenhouse gases and warming pollutants."

NASA analysis

Unger's model finds that in 2020 (left), transportation, household biofuels and animal husbandry will have the greatest warming impact on the climate, while the shipping, biomass burning, and industrial sectors will have a cooling impact. By 2100 (right), the model finds that the power and industrial sector will become strongly warming as carbon dioxide accumulates. Credit: NASA GISS/Unger
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By the year 2100, Unger's projections suggest that the impact of the various sectors will change significantly. By 2050, electric power generation overtakes road transportation as the biggest promoter of warming. The industrial sector likewise jumps from the smallest contribution in 2020 to the third largest by 2100.

"The differences are because the impacts of greenhouse gases accumulate and intensify over time, and because they persist in the atmosphere for such long periods," said Unger. "In contrast, aerosols rain out after a few days and can only have a short-term impact."

Factoring in Clouds

For each sector of the economy, Unger's team analyzed the effects of a wide range of chemical species, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, organic carbon, black carbon, nitrate, sulfate, and ozone.

The team also considered how emissions from each part of the economy can impact clouds, which have an indirect effect on climate, explained Surabi Menon, a coauthor of the paper and scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

Some aerosols, particularly sulfates and organic carbon, can make clouds brighter and cause them to last longer, producing a cooling effect. At the same time, one type of aerosol called black carbon, or soot, actually absorbs incoming solar radiation, heats the atmosphere, and drives the evaporation of low-level clouds. This process, called the semi-direct aerosol effect, has a warming impact.

The new analysis shows that emissions from the power, biomass burning, and industrial sectors of the economy promote aerosol-cloud interactions that exert a powerful cooling effect, while on-road transportation and household biofuels exacerbate cloud-related warming.

More research on the effects of aerosols is still needed, Unger cautions. "Although our estimates of the aerosol forcing are consistent with those listed by the International Panel on Climate Change, a significant amount of uncertainty remains."

NASA analysis

Unger's analysis is one of the first of its kind to incorporate the multiple effects that aerosol particles can have on clouds, which affect the climate indirectly. Credit: NASA's Johnson Space Center
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Related Links
Related Q & A with Nadine Unger
Nadine Unger Bio

Attribution of Climate Forcing to Economic Sectors
Nadine Unger Bio

Other Research by Nadine Unger
Clean the Air, Heat the Planet

NASA Scientist Nadine Unger Discusses Which Sectors of the Economy Impact the Climate

NASA analysis

Nadine Unger
Credit: NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies
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Nadine Unger, a climatologist with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, spoke with NASA's Earth Science News Team about her recent study that analyzed how different human activities impact climate. The study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February.

NASA's Earth Science News Team: Your research suggests that the climate science community ought to shift its focus from looking at the impacts of individual chemicals to economic sectors. Why?

Nadine Unger: There's nothing "wrong" with dividing climate impacts up by chemical species, but it's not particularly useful for policy makers. They need to know which human activities are impacting the climate and what the effect will be if they attempt to curb emissions from a particular sector. Also, there's a great deal of complexity in our emissions that they need to be mindful of if we want to mitigate climate change efficiently.

NASA: What sort of complexity?

Nadine Unger: Some sectors of the economy produce a mixture of pollutants -- particularly aerosols -- that cause cooling rather than warming in the short term. Since warming can accelerate as we remove aerosols, we've been inadvertently geoengineering for decades with aerosol emissions.

Take the heavy industry and shipping sectors, for example. These sectors burn a great deal of coal and bunker fuel, which releases carbon dioxide, which causes greenhouse warming. But they also release sulfates, which cause cooling by blocking incoming radiation from the sun and by changing clouds to make them brighter and longer-lived. In the short term, the cooling from sulfates actually outweighs the warming from carbon dioxide, meaning the net impact of the shipping and heavy industry sectors today is to cool climate.

Compare that to cars and trucks, which emit almost no sulfates but a great deal of carbon dioxide, black carbon, and ozone -- all of which cause warming and happen to be very bad for human health. Cutting transportation emissions would be unambiguously good for the climate in the short term, while cutting heavy industry emissions would have less of an impact right now.

NASA: You keep mentioning "short-term" impacts. Could the climate impacts of some sectors of the economy change over longer time periods?

Nadine Unger: Yes. Greenhouse gases have a much longer lifespan -- or residence time -- in the atmosphere than aerosols, which typically rain out after a few days or weeks. This means that the impact of greenhouse gases can accumulate and intensify over time, while the aerosol effects become comparatively less important on longer time scales due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide.

NASA: You've mentioned industry, shipping and on-road transportation. What other sectors of the economy did you analyze?

Nadine Unger: Aviation, household fossil fuels, railroads, household biofuels (mainly wood and dung used for home cooking and heating), animal husbandry, the electric power sector, waste and landfills, agriculture, biomass burning...

NASA: What is biomass burning?

Nadine Unger: Mainly tropical forest fires, deforestation and savannah and shrub fires. We also looked at agricultural waste burning, which relates to seasonal clearing of the fields common in many countries in Africa and South America.

NASA: So, does this mean that pollution from industry and biomass burning is good for the climate?

Nadine Unger: No, not at all. Both of those sectors contribute to warming over the long term, so we'll have no choice but to reduce our emissions over time. But these sectors do mask warming from greenhouses gases in the short term. Just because an activity causes cooling in the short-term does not mean that it is вЂgood’ for the climate. The emissions might disturb other aspects of the climate system including the amount of rainfall in a region and therefore the water supply to humans.

NASA: Where did you get all the information about emissions?

Nadine Unger: We used emission inventories assembled by colleagues. For instance, a colleague from the University of Illinois -- Tami Bond -- has some of the best information on some types of aerosols, such as black carbon.

NASA: But how can you estimate the impacts of emissions that haven't happened yet?

Nadine Unger: We used a computer model at GISS to look at future at climate impacts if we continued emitting pollutants at today's rate. Using this approach, we looked specifically at two snapshots in time: 2020 and 2100.

NASA: What can we do if we want to minimize climate change in the near term?

Nadine Unger: Well, our analysis suggests that on-the-road transportation and household biofuels are very attractive sectors to target. We can reduce human warming impacts most rapidly by tackling emissions from these sectors. In order to protect climate in the longer term, emissions from power and industry must be reduced.

NASA: Are there any uncertainties in your results?

Nadine Unger: There are. There's a large amount of uncertainty about how aerosols affect climate, especially through the indirect effects on clouds. Hopefully, NASA's Glory mission will help reduce the uncertainties associated with aerosols.

NASA: What direction do you see your research going next?

Nadine Unger: Our focus has been on global climate so far, but in future work we'll assess regional climate impacts, as well as other disturbances to the climate system, such as effects on the water supply and land ecosystems.

In addition, we plan to investigate many of the sectors in greater detail. In the power sector, for example, we might look specifically at power stations that operate with coal or natural gas. And in the on-road transportation sector, we might break out heavy- from light-duty vehicles.

Finally, we're planning to partner with environmental economists to determine the damage costs of emissions from all the sectors due to both climate and air quality impacts, results that we can use to develop alternative mitigation scenarios.

New research: synthetic nitrogen destroys soil carbon, undermines soil healthJobless claims reflect weak recovery

Efficiency and resilience: after Jevons paradox, the Piggy Principle

This is a guest post by Marco Bertoli. Mr. Bertoli has an economics degree from Bocconi University in Milano and a master degree in renewable energy from the Milano Politechnical University.
- TOD editor, Gail Tverberg

after Jevons paradox, the Piggy Principle

Energy efficiency is one of the themes most discussed by those who are interested in issues regarding energy and the environment. The key question is how effective these proposed solutions will be. Will these technological solutions labeled as вЂenergy efficiency’ (i.e. an increase in power plants generation efficiency, cogeneration, home insulation, more efficient electric motors, cars, light bulbs, etc.) really lead to a decrease in the global demand for energy?

First of all, we should distinguish between two different economic spheres: production and consumption .

With respect to production, the proposed solutions (increases in power plants efficiency, changes to EFF1 electric motors, inverters applied to pumps and motors, improvements in the efficiency of compressed air systems, etc.) will inevitably get caught in the trap of Jevons paradox. We should also remember that industrial development comes from a long history of efficiency increases in the use of productive resources, those being either energy or labor or credit or raw materials. (†More with less !’ is the claim.)

Resource consumption has continued to increase in the long term, in spite of acknowledged gains in efficiency and productivity. Considering that, the myth of entrepreneurs reluctant to adopt available methods to increase efficiency should be abandoned: in fact, investment in energy efficiency should be considered business as usual.

On the other side, we should also remember that Jevons paradox applies exclusively to the production sphere: the world of the so-called вЂconsumer’ behaves very differently. In this regard, the economic literature is still pegged to the Consumer theory developed by economists such as Walras, Pareto and other Marginalists between the late 19th and the early 20th century. This is exactly the same theory studied in Basic Economics courses.

According to Consumer theory, individuals choose the level of commodity consumption which, considering their own income and the price requested, maximizes their own Utility. The key point regarding this theory is that one of the theory's unproven principles - the axioms - predicts that, for each individual, utility always increases as the consumption of any commodity increases. Ironically, economists call it the Piggy Principle .

In an energy context, let's consider what happens when an individual buys a more efficient car—the same can be said for light bulbs, home insulation, and so forth. What happens is that, in order to achieve the same level of utility, the individual can consume less energy. However, if the individual is a cute piggy, he/she will not be satisfied with the same utility he/she reached earlier if he/she is able to reach a higher utility for the same expense!

In the figure below, this reasoning is made clear.

after Jevons paradox, the Piggy Principle

For example, this effect is perfectly exemplified when we consider that with a more efficient car, with the same expense, you can take a job further away from home or, with more efficient bulbs, you can get a better illumination by installing multiple lighting spots (the so called вЂIkea effectвЂ), or by insulating your house or installing a more efficient boiler, you can increase your indoor winter temperature, going for example from 18 В° C to 22 В° C. This kind of change has really occurred, if we consider that the winter set-point temperature in Italian schools was around 10 C В° in the early 20th century!

To sum up, it is clear that, due to the Piggy Principle, energy consumption is not affected by efficiency improvements in products for families. Furthermore, as a consequence, if energy consumption does not change, neither does pollution from energy-related emissions.

However, this lack of change does not mean that efficiency improvements in consumer products should not be pursued or encouraged. The opposite is to be said!

Efficiency improvements in consumer products in fact have the great advantage of increasing the Resilience level of society. We are referring to Resilience in its engineering sense, i.e. in terms of resistance to rupture forces. Once again, the figure below clarifies this concept: in case of a substantial rise in energy prices, those who invested in efficiency measures are better off in comparison with those who did not. This can be helpful when facing the dilemma of taking part in riots or supporting the next war for resources.

after Jevons paradox, the Piggy Principle

Now let’s focus on another question: are we really piggies? Is it really possible that, in a given period of time, the more we consume the better off we are? The answer is obviously NO! How can you accept as an axiom that individuals, if they could, would drive cars 24/7 the whole year round? Also, how could anyone assume that people, if they could, would be better off with 120 kg of meat per day than if they ate only 1 pound per day? It is pretty clear that the Piggy Principle is a long way from reality.

What we need to admit is that beyond some level of consumption, Utility peaks and then begins to decrease.

after Jevons paradox, the Piggy Principle

This concept is only sketched in some economic texts (Hoffman, Binger). The point beyond which utility decreases is called the вЂbliss point’.

If a bliss point for each individual exists, why do figures show that this is never reached?

As a matter of fact, the consumption rate per individual has kept increasing in Western countries since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Moreover, some studies show that the need for money by individuals is never fulfilled.

after Jevons paradox, the Piggy Principle

Finally, if the bliss point exists, but figures show that individuals never achieve it, the correct question would be: how does it happen that the bliss point for individuals keeps moving further, becoming more and more unattainable? Why did we condemn ourselves to this constant Sisyphean challenge?

after Jevons paradox, the Piggy Principle

Several studies have provided answers to this question—beginning with V. Packard and other critics of E. Bernays (this is a nice video to start with). Bernays was Freud's nephew and is considered the inventor of propaganda and advertising modern techniques. Other studies reveal that some products themselves are designed to be вЂaddictive’. One example is this research on fast-food conducted by Yale University. Yet another area of study relates to the proliferation of the so-called positional goods; in simple terms, these good are intended to stimulate consumption by leveraging social envy. Nate Hagens has made other studies of interest on the subject.

Going back to the problem of energy demand, we can now consider some of the policies that are proposed by different groups.

Some environmental organizations and movements support вЂhalting economic growth.’ These organizations act in a beneficial way by informing the public about the benefits of a more sober life-style and the devastating effects of excessive energy consumption. We could argue that these campaigns help to avoid the constant displacement of individuals' bliss points.

We know, however, that it is extremely difficult to persuade a critical mass of a population with messages related to sobriety. We also know that the most effective persuader in determining the consumption level of a commodity is the price. Just by relying on price, it is possible to prevent the Piggy Principle from undermining the benefits of efficiency investments.

In regard to that, in recent days, the Dutch government has approved a very interesting proposal: it would replace the current ownership and sales taxes with a road tax by the kilometre (about 3€ cents/km, which, for a 15.000 km/year usage sums up to a total of 450 €!).

This policy focuses on the bulk of the matter: the road tax offsets the kilometric price decline preceived by those buying a more efficient car. So the Piggy Principle can't take effect and the final outcome is:

Same mileage covered, so same 'Utility' reached by driversSame total expenses for driversLess liters of fuel sold, so less polluting emissions

But the more perverse side effects of this proposal need to be balanced in some way. Since mileage is a good on which the poor spend a higher percentage of their income than the rich, this is a regressive tax that might contribute to increase inequality. In addition, as with every carbon tax, it would be exposed to carbon leakage phenomena becasue of neighboring countries which do not apply it.

Thus, the findings regarding the Piggy Principle and the Jevons paradox lead us to the conclusion that energy efficiency issues are extremely sensitive. The simplistic solutions based on technology changes ALONE can prove to be a real boomerang.

after Jevons paradox, the Piggy Principle

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Why Bill Gates is wrongNashville Business People

Looks like the new Agrarian Age has arrived

I define “new agrarian age” as a society in which rural and urban lifestyles become indistinguishable. Roof top vegetable gardens in downtown Manhattan for instance. A more typical example is a landscape where urban agriculture and rural manufacturing exist side by side in harmony. I saw a photo recently of horses plowing a large garden plot with the Cleveland, Ohio, city skyline in the background.

Some years ago I visited Paws Inc., where Jim Davis, the creator of the comic strip “Garfield” has his business headquartered. The location in rural Indiana (where Davis grew up), is so far out in the country that there was no suitable sewage system to handle the waste from his three big office buildings and fairly large number of workers. He had engineers design and build a greenhouse where plants, fish, and other aquatic animals flourished by feeding on the nutrients in the wastewater while purifying it before its return to natural waterways. Aquaculture and urban culture surely joined hands in that greenhouse. Silviculture too because Davis was also raising tree seedlings in the greenhouse to reforest wornout farm land in the area.

Looks like the new Agrarian Age has arrived

Last week I attended the annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), spending the day signing and selling books and gabbing with people. Those of us who remember the early days of OEFFA were stunned and jubilant at the overflow crowd. So many people wanted to come to the conference in fact, that about 200 had to be turned away because of space limitations, Carol Goland, OEFFA’s executive director told me regretfully. I looked around the main exhibit hall (a highschool gymnasium) crammed with booths where all sorts of organic and natural farm supplies were being sold. I was remembering the early days, when, said Mike McLaughlin, a farmer and OEFFA official since the early days, “we thought that four exhibitors was a major achievement.”

It is difficult to make generalities about any group of humans, but I’d say that today’s OEFFA member is more sophisticated about the possibilities of the new ecological trends in agriculture. Back in the early days, I’d say that we were mostly angry and rebellious at being called radical just because we didn’t like what industrial agriculture was doing. Today’s OEFFA members are more assured about the way forward. They would rather figure than fight. If someone called them radical, they would merely be amused. They are convinced that the agribusiness methods of the past are so obviously unworkable that there is no need to fight anymore. Move on.

And they are moving on. There was something electric in the air. I could feel it. At meetings of industrial farmers these days, the talk is fairly bleak, but here, among new farmers and gardeners with a hundred new ways to produce food and sell it locally, the people just seemed to glow with optimism. I’ve been sitting at tables selling books it seems like forever. This time, buyers would approach me with victorious little smiles on their faces. Something about the way they would pick up a book and plop it down in front of me for signing while they got out their billfolds bespoke an exuberance that was full of quiet confidence. Sometimes a buyer would briskly pile three or four books up and say “How much?” An author’s dream. OEFFA itself had a long table of books for sale. I was told that on Saturday, the big day (I was there on Sunday), people stood three and four deep in front of that long table, buying books. A couple of attendees who stopped to buy a book from me were carrying— you’d never guess what. Brand new pitchforks they had also just purchased. When a farmer buys a new fork and a new book in the same breath, that’s new age agrarianism.

I could be wishful dreaming again. This could be just another spurt in the ancient back to the land idealism I’ve seen come and go twice in my lifetime. But maybe something more permanent is in the offing. Money farming is pricing itself out of the food market, and maybe government, which continues to prop up this kind of farming with artificial money, is being forced to realize that. As farmer and author Joel Salatin, the keynote speaker, symbolized to the world: ecological and organic farmers are here to stay and they are ready to take the helm.

More people say no to creditDo you need to grow food?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gypsies at the peak

Gypsies at the peak

The Roma (or Rroma) of Italy are probably the poorest fraction of the residents in the country. They normally live in segregated camps, in trailers or in self built sheds. Only about half of the 150,000 Roma in Italy are Italian citizens; in most cases, they have no stable job and live a very precarious existence as the target of hatred and of open racism. The image above, from Excite Magazine, shows the Roma camp in the suburb of Ponticelli, in Naples, as it was before being burned to the ground by an angry mob in 2008.

Here I am, in front of the whole class. Romani men and women; about 20 people; all coming from the same camp, nearby. They are in their late 20s and early 30s, and they have dressed up for the occasion. Not that they can afford expensive clothes, of course, but the men look smart in their informal attire. The women like to dress in bright colors. They wear the almost obligatory long skirt, as well as earrings and necklaces. They seem to be very happy to have found a way to leave the routine of the camp where they spend their time cooking and looking after young children.

Over the past months, a group of teachers have been lecturing to this group as part of an initiative of the county government. The idea is to help them gain skills that could be useful for them to find a job and integrate better in society. So, we told them how to manage a cooperative, how to manage their personal finances, safety in the workplace, garbage collection and recycling, permaculture, how to surf the web and much more. They have absorbed most what we told them with ease. After having seen them listen attentively to two hours of lessons on the biological carbon cycle and ask intelligent questions afterwards, I was impressed. So, I told myself; why not peak oil? And here I am.

Telling people about peak oil takes different approaches depending to whom you are talking. I understood long ago that most people can't read even a simple Cartesian graph. Graphs are a language and they never learned it. If you show them the bell shaped curve, they'll see it as a hill or a mountain of some kind. They'll feel that it is hard to climb up and easy to descend. Not the way peak oil should be understood.

The Roma I'll be talking to are at one of the extremes of the spectrum in terms of culture. None of the men went beyond 3rd or 4th grade of schooling; most of the women never went to school at all. The men can usually read, but rarely can write; the women can neither read nor write. They don't read newspapers and don't watch the news in TV. They love movies and spend lots of time chatting. It is from these sources that they gather most of what they know. What would be a good way to explain peak oil to them?

Communication is never one way. If I want them to understand me, I must understand them as well. So, for this talk, I have developed an extreme version of the presentation that I give when I know that the people listening are not at the top level in terms of scientific literacy. It is all based on vivid images shown on screen; pictures of oil wells, for instance. No graphs, no text, and no numbers. I have to rely on my voice, on my ability to catch their attention.

So, I tell them of peak oil based on the example of a person. When we are born, I say, we are very small, but with time we grow and we can do more things. But we also become old. In time, we can do less and less and, eventually, we must die. In a way, I continue, it is the same with oil. When oil is young, there is a lot of it. As it gets older, we use it up and there is less and less of it. We must work harder to get as much of it as we used to. It is the same with many things you are doing - haven't you noticed that you must work harder? They look at me and nod. They understand the concept.

From here on, I show them pictures of oil fields, of oil refineries, of tankers and of everything related to oil. I tell them that gasoline for their cars comes from crude oil (they knew that, but vaguely). I tell them that the tires of their cars are made from crude oil (they didn't know that, and it makes them worry). I tell them that it takes oil to power the trucks that bring food to the supermarkets. This makes the women worried; they are in charge of the task of preparing food for the family.

When I speak to the gadje (the non Roma) there is always at least someone in the audience who sleeps through the talk or who is clearly not listening. But the Roma are all awake and listening. The message is getting through, I can see that. I tell them about the future, about what to expect when there will be less and less oil available. There will be fewer jobs, fewer opportunities, less money and less food. Even welfare payments, on which many of them rely for survival, may disappear. It will be a hard time for everyone. They clearly understand the problem. They remember where they come from-- former Yugoslavia. They are used to hard times.

When the talk is over, they ask me questions. How much is gasoline going to cost? I tell them that it will be more expensive, sure, but that may not be the problem. The real problem will be to find it. Long lines at the gas stations, very probably. They understand the point: apparently it was the way things were in former Yugoslavia. They ask me what kind of car is best to buy and to use. I know that there doesn't exist a Mercedes that a Rom won't like, and when I tell them that they should buy a cheap car with a good mileage, they are not happy. They ask me what they should do. I say that they should try to adapt and be flexible. They nod; that is a strategy that they know very well. In the end, they ask me if the end of the world will be in 2012. I laugh, they laugh, too. But they seem to be relieved: they were a little worried.

In the days that follow, I inquire with the social workers and with the Roma themselves. What was the impact of my talk? Everyone tells me that they have been discussing what I said; that they have been impressed. But I didn't expect anything to happen and, indeed, that is final result. Nothing changes in the life of the camp.

When you present the concept of peak oil to someone who is middle class, the reaction may be denial or mobilization, rarely it is indifference. There are good reasons for that. If you are middle class, you can see right away how peak oil can hurt you. You depend on a salary and, if your job vanishes because of peak oil, you'll be in deep trouble. You have to pay your mortgage, your health insurance plan, instruction for your children, and all the rest. Peak oil can destroy you. But, as a middle class person, you may think that you can prepare for peak oil, that you have spare resources to do something about it. Probably it is a wrong perception but it may lead you to do such things as installing solar panels, insulating your home, buying a smaller car, that kind of thing. If, instead, you think that you don't have that kind of resources, or you don't want to use them in this way, your reaction may very well be one of aggressive denial.

But think of your situation as a Romani person. You have no stable job; so you can't lose it. You don't own a house, so you can't be evicted. Nobody will give you credit, so you'll never be in debt. You have no retirement plan, so you rely on your children for support when you'll be old. You depend on welfare, sure, but you also know that you can live with very little. Finally, you live in a close-knit community formed of family clans. You quarrel with your neighbors and relatives all the time but you know that in a difficult situation, they'll help you if they can.

Peak oil will be hard on the Roma, just as it will be on us, but they have a fighting chance of surviving it. In several ways, they are already post peak.

A few days after my talk on peak oil, one of the Roma of the camp tells me something like this:

You see, professor, I think you were right with your lesson. Yeah, you told us that things are not going to be so easy as they used to be. Right, we saw that, too. It is what's happening. You know, I remember when we came here from Yugoslavia. I was a child; I was 10 years old but I remember that very well. It was so different, here. We saw so much wealth: lights and cars and houses and stuff in the supermarkets. Yeah, we had never seen anything like that.

In Yugoslavia there was nothing. And so, we were all very happy, but I think we made a big mistake. You know; I remember my grandfather. He was a good man; he could work metals; he could fix pots and pans and sharpen knives. So, he told me that I should learn his job; but I didn't want to. I was very young; I wasn't that smart but, see, professor, I think we all made the same mistake. Many of the old folks could do things. Like singing or playing instruments, buying and selling horses.

But we can't do that any more. We didn't want to learn. We saw all this wealth, here, and we thought that there was no need of working so hard. If there was so much wealth; why couldn't we share a little of it? We didn't want to be rich; we just wanted a little - enough to live in peace. And we thought it would last forever. But, you are right, professor, it is not going to last forever. And now we are in trouble.

I find that impeccable. Isn't that the same mistake we made with crude oil?

Tim Kasser on Consumerism, Psychology, Transition and Resilience. Part OneHealth insurers’ outlook uncertain


Subtitle: Turning Nothing into Something

Every year, I try to transform more of my property from unproductive Bermuda grass to productive fruits and veggies. This year, I want to transform the desolate, wind-swept, 7 x 40 grass strip between our driveways (mine and my neighbors) into a luscious food forest. I am working with Randy Marks, a renowned local Permaculture and LEED certified landscaping expert, to complete the design. How I wish he had lived here four years ago so that I could have consulted with him then!

Currently, the design includes an existing one-year old persimmon tree, adding two pear trees (probably European but possibly Asian), cooking and medicinal herbs like thyme and lavender, edible daylilies, and three of what I'm calling "crop circles." As there is no faucet near the area, we plan to direct an existing downspout from my gutters into a swale-like streambed in order to water the plants (in addition to hand-watering). The pear trees will cast shade onto my driveway in the afternoon, reducing the glare and heat island effect of the concrete.

My "crop circles" are simply small circular raised beds - around 2-3 feet in diameter - that are designed to hold melons, zuchinni, pumpkins, or winter squash. Because these plants tend to ramble, I will only have to maintain a small, intensely managed planting area (the crop circle) and just let the vines wander on top of the wood mulch in between the pear trees. Since pear trees don't bear until late, I think I will have harvested most of the melons by the time the pears are ready to pick.

By planting these crops in this area, I won't have to take up valuable bed space in my back garden or build vertical structures to train them on. If you want to integrate some sort of raised bed for annual vegetables in with the perennials, evergreens, shrubs, and trees in your front yard, these crop circles might do the trick. I'll let you know how they work out.

An edible landscape may also serve as a demonstration for my neighbors - showing them that growing food and herbs can be attractive as well as functional. Lavender and day lilies are pretty plants, and personally, I like big melon flowers. Since the crop circles are small, there won't be a lot of bare dirt in the winter when the annuals are gone. And because thyme is evergreen, there will always be a nice green accent to the area, even in the winter (preferable to yellowish brown Bermuda!).

I hope to implement this plan via a Permablitz. A Permablitz is a kind of garden barn-raising. In our case, I want to offer a day-long, hands-on workshop that allows participants to simultaneously learn the concepts of permaculture, such as water use (ex: swales, storage), forest gardening, attracting beneficial insects, and so on; while also actually creating the design (seeing how the concepts are executed in practice). I'm intensely curious to see a swale created. Luckily Randy has volunteered to guide the permablitz - I am excited to learn from his expertise!

Ideally, this project would expand virally into some sort of network where people work on several blitzes, and then are able to submit their own permaculture plan to the group and have the group work on their project. Many hands make light work - and a lot more fun. Plus, participants would then be able to draw on the knowledge, creativity, and resources of the whole group. Or, perhaps someone will take up the idea of permablitz workshops and offer them regularly.

I've asked Sustainable OKC and Transition Town OKC to sponsor the project. I'll be purchasing the plants and materials; Randy will be providing the education, and I hope that Sustainable OKC / TTOKC will help with promotion, taking registrations, and providing a videographer. Since the Permablitz will be pretty limited in space, we'll probably limit the class size to 8 or 10 people. So far, interest seems high - the blitz may fill up fast. I also hope that we can make a short documentary out of the project and post it online.

I'm terribly excited! I've wanted to transform that area for years, and this seems an opportune time. I purchased way more watermelon/squash varieties than my back garden can hold - Desert King and Orangeglo watermelons, a Chanterais melon, and Butternut and Black Futsu squashes. I need somewhere to put them all. Can't wait till April!

TN 911 districts to get $25 millionNew research: synthetic nitrogen destroys soil carbon, undermines soil health

The attack on climate-change science

Why It’s the O.J. Moment of the Twenty-First Century

Twenty-one years ago, in 1989, I wrote what many have called the first book for a general audience on global warming. One of the more interesting reviews came from the Wall Street Journal.  It was a mixed and judicious appraisal.  “The subject,” the reviewer said, “is important, the notion is arresting, and Mr. McKibben argues convincingly.”  And that was not an outlier: around the same time, the first president Bush announced that he planned to “fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.”

I doubt that’s what the Journal will say about my next book when it comes out in a few weeks, and I know that no GOP presidential contender would now dream of acknowledging that human beings are warming the planet.  Sarah Palin is currently calling climate science “snake oil” and last week, the Utah legislature, in a move straight out of the King Canute playbook, passed a resolution condemning "a well organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome" on a nearly party-line vote.

And here’s what’s odd. In 1989, I could fit just about every scientific study on climate change on top of my desk. The science was still thin.  If my reporting made me think it was nonetheless convincing, many scientists were not yet prepared to agree.

Now, you could fill the Superdome with climate-change research data. (You might not want to, though, since Hurricane Katrina demonstrated just how easy it was to rip holes in its roof.) Every major scientific body in the world has produced reports confirming the peril. All 15 of the warmest years on record have come in the two decades that have passed since 1989. In the meantime, the Earth’s major natural systems have all shown undeniable signs of rapid flux: melting Arctic and glacial ice, rapidly acidifying seawater, and so on.

Somehow, though, the onslaught against the science of climate change has never been stronger, and its effects, at least in the U.S., never more obvious: fewer Americans believe humans are warming the planet.  At least partly as a result, Congress feels little need to consider global-warming legislation, no less pass it; and as a result of that failure, progress towards any kind of international agreement on climate change has essentially ground to a halt.

Climate-Change Denial as an O.J. Moment

The campaign against climate science has been enormously clever, and enormously effective. It’s worth trying to understand how they’ve done it.  The best analogy, I think, is to the O.J. Simpson trial, an event that’s begun to recede into our collective memory. For those who were conscious in 1995, however, I imagine that just a few names will make it come back to life. Kato Kaelin, anyone? Lance Ito?

The Dream Team of lawyers assembled for Simpson’s defense had a problem: it was pretty clear their guy was guilty. Nicole Brown’s blood was all over his socks, and that was just the beginning.  So Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian et al. decided to attack the process, arguing that it put Simpson’s guilt in doubt, and doubt, of course, was all they needed. Hence, those days of cross-examination about exactly how Dennis Fung had transported blood samples, or the fact that Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman had used racial slurs when talking to a screenwriter in 1986.

If anything, they were actually helped by the mountain of evidence. If a haystack gets big enough, the odds only increase that there will be a few needles hidden inside. Whatever they managed to find, they made the most of: in closing arguments, for instance, Cochran compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler and called him “a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America’s worst nightmare, and the personification of evil.” His only real audience was the jury, many of whom had good reason to dislike the Los Angeles Police Department, but the team managed to instill considerable doubt in lots of Americans tuning in on TV as well. That’s what happens when you spend week after week dwelling on the cracks in a case, no matter how small they may be.

Similarly, the immense pile of evidence now proving the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great boon for those who would like, for a variety of reasons, to deny that the biggest problem we’ve ever faced is actually a problem at all. If you have a three-page report, it won’t be overwhelming and it’s unlikely to have many mistakes. Three thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)?  That pretty much guarantees you’ll get something wrong.

Indeed, the IPCC managed to include, among other glitches, a spurious date for the day when Himalayan glaciers would disappear. It won’t happen by 2035, as the report indicated -- a fact that has now been spread so widely across the Internet that it’s more or less obliterated another, undeniable piece of evidence: virtually every glacier on the planet is, in fact, busily melting. 

Similarly, if you managed to hack 3,000 emails from some scientist’s account, you might well find a few that showed them behaving badly, or at least talking about doing so. This is the so-called “Climate-gate” scandal from an English research center last fall. The English scientist Phil Jones has been placed on leave while his university decides if he should be punished for, among other things, not complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.  

The attack on climate-change science

Call him the Mark Fuhrman of climate science; attack him often enough and maybe people will ignore the inconvenient mountain of evidence about climate change that the world’s scientific researchers have, in fact, compiled. Indeed, you can make almost exactly the same kind of fuss Johnnie Cochran made -- that’s what Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) did, insisting the emails proved “scientific fascism,” and the climate skeptic Christopher Monckton called his opponents “Hitler youth.” Such language filters down.  I’m now used to a daily diet of angry email, often with subject lines like the one that arrived yesterday: “Nazi Moron Scumbag.” 

If you’re smart, you can also take advantage of lucky breaks that cross your path. Say a record set of snowstorms hit Washington D.C.  It won’t even matter that such a record is just the kind of thing scientists have been predicting, given the extra water vapor global warming is adding to the atmosphere. It’s enough that it’s super-snowy in what everyone swore was a warming world. 

For a gifted political operative like, say, Marc Morano, who runs the Climate Depot website, the massive snowfalls this winter became the grist for a hundred posts poking fun at the very idea that anyone could still possibly believe in, you know, physics. Morano, who really is good, posted a link to a live webcam so readers could watch snow coming down; his former boss, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), had his grandchildren build an igloo on the Capitol grounds, with a sign that read: "Al Gore’s New Home." These are the things that stick in people’s heads. If the winter glove won’t fit, you must acquit.

Why We Don’t Want to Believe in Climate Change

The climate deniers come with a few built-in advantages. Thanks to Exxon Mobil and others with a vested interest in debunking climate-change research, their “think tanks” have plenty of money, none of which gets wasted doing actual research to disprove climate change. It’s also useful for a movement to have its own TV network, Fox, though even more crucial to the denial movement are a few rightwing British tabloids which validate each new “scandal” and put it into media play.

That these guys are geniuses at working the media was proved this February when even the New York Times ran a front page story, “Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel,” which recycled most of the accusations of the past few months. What made it such a glorious testament to their success was the chief source cited by the Times: one Christopher Monckton, or Lord Monckton as he prefers to be called since he is some kind of British viscount.  He is also identified as a “former advisor to Margaret Thatcher,” and he did write a piece for the American Spectator during her term as prime minister offering his prescriptions for “the only way to stop AIDS”:

"...screen the entire population regularly and… quarantine all carriers of the disease for life. Every member of the population should be blood-tested every month... all those found to be infected with the virus, even if only as carriers, should be isolated compulsorily, immediately, and permanently.”

He speaks with equal gusto and good sense on matters climatic -- and now from above the fold in the paper of record.

Access to money and the media is not the only, or even the main reason, for the success of the climate deniers, though.  They’re not actually spending all that much cash and they’ve got legions of eager volunteers doing much of the internet lobbying entirely for free. Their success can be credited significantly to the way they tap into the main currents of our politics of the moment with far more savvy and power than most environmentalists can muster. They’ve understood the popular rage at elites.  They’ve grasped the widespread feelings of powerlessness in the U.S., and the widespread suspicion that we’re being ripped off by mysterious forces beyond our control.

Some of that is, of course, purely partisan. The columnist David Brooks, for instance, recently said: “On the one hand, I totally accept the scientific authorities who say that global warming is real and it is manmade.  On the other hand, I feel a frisson of pleasure when I come across evidence that contradicts the models… [in part] because I relish any fact that might make Al Gore look silly.” But the passion with which people attack Gore more often seems focused on the charge that he’s making large sums of money from green investments, and that the whole idea is little more than a scam designed to enrich everyone involved. This may be wrong -- Gore has testified under oath that he donates his green profits to the cause -- and scientists are not getting rich researching climate change (constant blog comments to the contrary), but it resonates with lots of people. I get many emails a day on the same theme: “The game is up. We’re on to you.”

When I say it resonates with lots of people, I mean lots of people. O.J.’s lawyers had to convince a jury made up mostly of black women from central city L.A., five of whom reported that they or their families had had “negative experiences” with the police. For them, it was a reasonably easy sell. When it comes to global warming, we’re pretty much all easy sells because we live the life that produces the carbon dioxide that’s at the heart of the crisis, and because we like that life.

Very few people really want to change in any meaningful way, and given half a chance to think they don’t need to, they’ll take it. Especially when it sounds expensive, and especially when the economy stinks. Here’s David Harsanyi, a columnist for the Denver Post: “If they’re going to ask a nation -- a world -- to fundamentally alter its economy and ask citizens to alter their lifestyles, the believers’ credibility and evidence had better be unassailable.”

“Unassailable” sets the bar impossibly high when there is a dedicated corps of assailants out there hard at work. It is true that those of us who want to see some national and international effort to fight global warming need to keep making the case that the science is strong. That’s starting to happen.  There are new websites and iPhone apps to provide clear and powerful answers to the skeptic trash-talking, and strangely enough, the denier effort may, in some ways, be making the case itself: if you go over the multi-volume IPCC report with a fine tooth comb and come up with three or four lousy citations, that’s pretty strong testimony to its essential accuracy.

Clearly, however, the antiseptic attempt to hide behind the magisterium of Science in an effort to avoid the rough-and-tumble of Politics is a mistake. It’s a mistake because science can be -- and, in fact, should be -- infinitely argued about. Science is, in fact, nothing but an ongoing argument, which is one reason why it sounds so disingenuous to most people when someone insists that the science is “settled.” That’s especially true of people who have been told at various times in their lives that some food is good for you, only to be told later that it might increase your likelihood of dying.

Why Data Isn’t Enough

I work at Middlebury College, a topflight liberal arts school, so I’m surrounded by people who argue constantly. It’s fun.  One of the better skeptical takes on global warming that I know about is a weekly radio broadcast on our campus radio station run by a pair of undergraduates. They’re skeptics, but not cynics. Anyone who works seriously on the science soon realizes that we know more than enough to start taking action, but less than we someday will. There will always be controversy over exactly what we can now say with any certainty.  That’s life on the cutting edge. I certainly don’t turn my back on the research—we’ve spent the last two years at building what Foreign Policy called “the largest ever coordinated global rally” around a previously obscure data point, the amount of atmospheric carbon that scientists say is safe, measured in parts per million.

But it’s a mistake to concentrate solely on the science for another reason. Science may be what we know about the world, but politics is how we feel about the world. And feelings count at least as much as knowledge. Especially when those feelings are valid. People are getting ripped off. They are powerless against large forces that are, at the moment, beyond their control. Anger is justified.

So let’s figure out how to talk about it. Let’s look at Exxon Mobil, which each of the last three years has made more money than any company in the history of money. Its business model involves using the atmosphere as an open sewer for the carbon dioxide that is the inevitable byproduct of the fossil fuel it sells. And yet we let it do this for free. It doesn't pay a red cent for potentially wrecking our world. 

Right now, there’s a bill in the Congress -- cap-and-dividend, it’s called -- that would charge Exxon for that right, and send a check to everyone in the country every month. Yes, the company would pass on the charge at the pump, but 80% of Americans (all except the top-income energy hogs) would still make money off the deal. That represents good science, because it starts to send a signal that we should park that SUV, but it’s also good politics.

By the way, if you think there’s a scam underway, you’re right -- and to figure it out just track the money going in campaign contributions to the politicians doing the bidding of the energy companies. Inhofe, the igloo guy? Over a million dollars from energy and utility companies and executives in the last two election cycles. You think Al Gore is going to make money from green energy? Check out what you get for running an oil company.

Worried that someone is going to wreck your future? You’re right about that, too. Right now, China is gearing up to dominate the green energy market. They’re making the investments that mean future windmills and solar panels, even ones installed in this country, will be likely to arrive from factories in Chenzhou, not Chicago.

Coal companies have already eliminated most good mining jobs, simply by automating them in the search for ever higher profits. Now, they’re using their political power to make sure that miner’s kids won’t get to build wind turbines instead. Everyone should be mighty pissed -- just not at climate-change scientists.

But keep in mind as well that fear and rage aren’t the only feelings around. They’re powerful feelings, to be sure, but they’re not all we feel. And they are not us at our best.

There’s also love, a force that has often helped motivate large-scale change, and one that cynics in particular have little power to rouse. Love for poor people around the world, for instance. If you think it’s not real, you haven’t been to church recently, especially evangelical churches across the country.  People who take the Gospel seriously also take seriously indeed the injunction to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. 

It’s becoming patently obvious that nothing challenges that goal quite like the rising seas and spreading deserts of climate change. That’s why religious environmentalism is one of the most effective emerging parts of the global warming movement; that’s why we were able to get thousands of churches ringing their bells 350 times last October to signify what scientists say is the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere; that’s why Bartholomew, patriarch of the Orthodox church and leader of 400 million eastern Christians, said, “Global warming is a sin and 350 is an act of redemption.”

There’s also the deep love for creation, for the natural world. We were born to be in contact with the world around us and, though much of modernity is designed to insulate us from nature, it doesn’t really work. Any time the natural world breaks through -- a sunset, an hour in the garden -- we’re suddenly vulnerable to the realization that we care about things beyond ourselves. That’s why, for instance, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts are so important: get someone out in the woods at an impressionable age and you’ve accomplished something powerful. That’s why art and music need to be part of the story, right alongside bar graphs and pie charts. When we campaign about climate change at, we make sure to do it in the most beautiful places we know, the iconic spots that conjure up people’s connection to their history, their identity, their hope.

The great irony is that the climate skeptics have prospered by insisting that their opponents are radicals. In fact, those who work to prevent global warming are deeply conservative, insistent that we should leave the world in something like the shape we found it. We want our kids to know the world we knew. Here’s the definition of radical: doubling the carbon content of the atmosphere because you’re not completely convinced it will be a disaster. We want to remove every possible doubt before we convict in the courtroom, because an innocent man in a jail cell is a scandal, but outside of it we should act more conservatively.

In the long run, the climate deniers will lose; they’ll be a footnote to history. (Hey, even O.J. is finally in jail.) But they’ll lose because we’ll all lose, because by delaying action, they will have helped prevent us from taking the steps we need to take while there’s still time. If we’re going to make real change while it matters, it’s important to remember that their skepticism isn’t the root of the problem. It simply plays on our deep-seated resistance to change. That’s what gives the climate cynics ground to operate. That’s what we need to overcome, and at bottom that’s a battle as much about courage and hope as about data.

Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including the forthcoming Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet(Times Books, April 2010). He’s a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.  Catchthe latest TomCast,’s audio interview with Bill McKibben on what to make of the climate-science scandals.

Copyright 2010 Bill McKibben

The world-saving habit you’ll hate (and the great puzzle of the well-intentioned do-nothings)Housing trust fund is an idea whose time has come

ODAC Newsletter - Feb 26

Welcome to the ODAC Newsletter, a weekly roundup from the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, the UK registered charity dedicated to raising awareness of peak oil.

The world is heading for a renewed oil crunch as soon as 2013 due to shrinking production capacity and growing demand in the emerging markets, according to reports from two investment banks. Both BofA Merril Lynch and Barclays Capital conclude non OPEC production is close to peak, meaning a shift back to reliance on OPEC for new capacity. They predict volatile oil prices with peaks in the same range as the highs of 2008 – and we all know what that did to the economy.

The annual survey from UK Oil and Gas, the industry association, illustrated the law of diminishing returns of post peak oil production. While вЂprobable’ and вЂpossible’ reserves are up by 60% on 2008, the volume of reserves in production or being developed is falling, as companies find new ventures uneconomic – despite an oil price of $75-$80 per barrel. UKOAG claims – in our view optimistically - that the region could still produce 1.5 million barrels of oil and gas equivalent or 50% of UK demand by 2020, and calls for further government support and tax relief in order to maximise recovery of the remaining reserves. However, since ВЈ25bn is required simply to upgrade North Sea infrastructure in the next five years, and since output has fallen 7.5% per year for most of this century, it’s hard to see their target being achieved. For excellent background commentary on the UK North Sea peak oil story from ODAC trustee Chris Skrebowski see p14 of the The Oil Crunch – Securing the UKs energy future .

The government’s plans to green the UK economy had mixed fortunes this week. On the upside, Mitsubishi and the Spanish company Gamesa are to set up wind turbine research and manufacturing facilities in Britain. On the downside, the Renewable Energy Association criticised the government’s incentives for energy derived from organic waste, claiming that they would make many projects commercially unviable. Worse, Drax announced it is cancelling plans to switch one of its plants from coal to biomass, claiming it would be cheaper to buy permits and keep burning coal. This demonstrates once again the urgent need for a carbon tax or least a floor under the carbon price.

Finally, spare a thought for the latest casualty of the peak oil age - the Hummer, the 4x4-on-steroids whose sales have been hammered by the oil price in recent years. Production is set to wind down after a deal to flog the brand to the Chinese – who says the Americans don’t do irony? – fell through. In the words of Klaus Paur, North Asia director for market research company TNS "The brand proposition of Hummer itself goes against the strategic outline of the Chinese government, which is mainly that they want to produce energy-efficient vehicles". SUV RIP.

View our Reports and Resources page

OilBarclays and Bank of America see looming oil crunchNon-Opec output decline restricts spare capacityCompanies 'can't afford' to drill for North Sea oil and gasBP, Shell Cost Cuts May Falter on Drilling InflationOil Set for Biggest Monthly Rise Since October on OPEC, Dollar Escalating Falklands oil dispute goes to UNRefinery protests are just delaying the inevitableGasPressure grows on energy suppliers to pass on price cutsBritish Gas profits surge on low gas pricesElectricityPutin threatens energy-sector oligarchsBloom Energy unveils 'power plant in a box'RenewablesMitsubishi to invest £100 million in UK wind turbine centreTurbine company in talks to open UK factoryTurbine design breathes new life into hopes for UK's renewable targetsU.S. wind capacity has more than tripled: reportBiofuelsDrax suspends plan to replace coal with greener fuelBiofuel power plant plan refused Waste not... Britain is lagging behind other countries in renewable sourcesUKElectric car prices will be reduced by grants worth thousandsSellafield considers cull as seagulls swim in radioactive wasteMPs say £37bn 'smart' power grid unlikely without state aidTransportHummer's demise a sign of the timesCase for third runway at Heathrow is deeply flawed, say opponentsWorld’s fastest container ships mothballed


Barclays and Bank of America see looming oil crunchAmbrose Evans-Pritchard, The Daily Telegraph, 18 Feb 2010View original article

Bank of America and Barclays Capital, two leading oil traders, have told clients to brace for crude above $100 (ВЈ64) a barrel by next year, before it pushes relentlessly higher over the decade. This is a stark contrast from recessions in the 1980s and 1990s, when it took years to work off excess drilling capacity built in the boom.

"Oil has the potential to flirt with $100 this year. We forecast an average price of $137 by 2015," said Amrita Sen, an oil expert at BarCap. The price has doubled to $78 in the last year...

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Non-Opec output decline restricts spare capacityShashank Shekhar, Emirates Business 24/7, 22 Feb 2010View original article

Spare capacity, the market term for difference in supply and demand of crude, has remained constrained despite recession and a massive reduction in oil demand in 2009, Francisco Blanch, Global Head of commodities research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in his latest report.

Blanch cited the decline in supply from non-Opec suppliers for the reduction in spare capacity without giving a figure. He warned geopolitics and protectionism may play spoilsport for the oil markets...

"Last year, we estimated that global non-Opec production decline rates averaged 4.8 per cent for fields producing between 2003 and 2008. When adding 2009, we find non-Opec decline rates have increased from 4.8 per cent to 4.9 per cent. This step up shaves one million barrels a day by 2015 from our non-Opec supply projections," Blanch wrote in his report...

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Companies 'can't afford' to drill for North Sea oil and gasRowena Mason, The Daily Telegraph, 24 Feb 2010View original article

A survey of 70 active companies by industry body Oil & Gas UK shows that there are more projects under consideration than at this time last year.

However, difficulties raising finance and the fact that the easiest – and therefore cheapest – reserves to extract have already been exploited means fewer projects are actually being developed. This will lead to a fall in the UK's domestic oil production and increase the need for imports...

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BP, Shell Cost Cuts May Falter on Drilling InflationEduard Gismatullin and Marianne Stigset,, 22 Feb 2010View original article

BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc may falter in their campaigns to save billions in oil and gas project costs as a resurgence in drilling and demand for engineers threaten to revive inflation in the industry.

Crude prices doubled to near $80 a barrel in the past year, prompting producers to resume projects put on hold during the recession. Oil and gas industry spending will rise 11 percent this year to $439 billion, according to Barclays Capital...

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Oil Set for Biggest Monthly Rise Since October on OPEC, Dollar Yee Kai Pin, Bloomberg, 26 Feb 2010View original article

Crude oil was poised for the biggest monthly advance since October, amid speculation the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries won’t increase output quota and as the dollar extended losses.

Oil was little changed in New York as traders bought back previously sold contracts after yesterday’s decline, betting prices may be sustainable around $80 a barrel. OPEC, which meets to discuss policy in March, is set to raise supplies to a 14- month high this month, according to a Bloomberg News survey. The dollar fell against 14 of its 16 major counterparts, bolstering the investment appeal of commodities...

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Escalating Falklands oil dispute goes to UNFrancis Elliott and Hannah Strange, The Times, 24 Feb 2010View original article

The diplomatic row over the Falkland Islands deepened dramatically after Argentina announced that it would take its protests over British oil exploration to the United Nations today.

At the Rio Group summit in Mexico yesterday, Buenos Aires won unprecedented support from other Latin American states for its demand that the UK stop drilling in waters near the islands...

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Refinery protests are just delaying the inevitableCarl Mortished: World business briefing, The Times, 24 Feb 2010View original article

Strikes, angry motorists, big financial losses and a dyspeptic President of the Republic have put Total, the French oil giant, under intense pressure to suspend, if not cancel, plans to shut down its Dunkirk refinery.

A strike by members of the communist-affiliated CGT union protesting against the proposed closure is causing the gradual shutdown of all six Total fuel plants in France. With only seven days of fuel supplies remaining, regional elections looming and French families preparing for half-term holiday driving, President Sarkozy has given marching orders to Christophe de Margerie, Total’s mustachioed chief executive — after Dunkirk, there will be no more refinery closures...

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Pressure grows on energy suppliers to pass on price cutsRobin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor, The Times, 23 Feb 2010View original article

Five of Britain’s biggest energy companies were facing mounting pressure to cut prices last night after figures from Ofgem, the industry regulator, showed the average profits they earned per household leapt 40 per cent this winter to the highest level in five years.

Ofgem said that net profit margins earned by the so-called Big Six companies — British Gas, ScottishPower, EDF Energy, N-Power, Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) and E.ON — widened from £75 per average dual fuel customer last November to £105 at the start of this month...

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British Gas profits surge on low gas pricesMartin Waller and Robin Pagnamenta, The Times, 25 Feb 2010View original article

Low wholesale gas prices helped to boost 2009 profits at British Gas, the UK's biggest energy supplier, by 58 per cent to ВЈ595 million, Centrica, the company's owner, said today.

The figures, coming only days after Ofgem, the industry regulator, said that Britain's biggest energy companies were earning their highest profits for five years, will spark fresh concern that householders are not seeing the full benefit of low gas prices in the market...

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Putin threatens energy-sector oligarchsCatherine Belton in Moscow, Financial Times, 25 Feb 2010View original article

Vladimir Putin hit out at some of Russia’s biggest tycoons on Wednesday for failing to make investments in the electricity sector, as record demand during the severe winter puts worn-out generation capacity under renewed strain...

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Bloom Energy unveils 'power plant in a box'David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer, San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Feb 2010View original article

Bloom Energy Corp., one of Silicon Valley's most secretive startups, unveiled on Wednesday its long-awaited "power plant in a box," a collection of fuel cells that the company says can provide clean electricity to homes, office buildings - even whole villages in the developing world.

The Bloom Energy Server, a smooth metal box the size of a pickup truck, can generate electricity from multiple fuels while producing relatively few greenhouse gas emissions. With government subsidies factored in, power from the server costs less than power from the grid...

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Mitsubishi to invest ВЈ100 million in UK wind turbine centrePress Association, The Independent, 25 Feb 2010View original article

Hundreds of new jobs are to be created under a ВЈ100 million investment in a new wind turbine research centre, it was announced today.

Mitsubishi said it was looking at a number of sites in north east England to carry out research into building the world's biggest turbine blades...

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Turbine company in talks to open UK factoryEd Crooks, Energy Editor, Financial Times, 25 Feb 2010View original article

One of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers is in talks with the government about setting up a factory in Britain.

Gamesa, the Spanish turbine company, is being urged by Iberdrola, the owner of Scottish Power, to build a manufacturing facility to serve the British market, according to Ignacio Galan, Iberdrola’s chief executive...

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Turbine design breathes new life into hopes for UK's renewable targetsAlok Jha, The Guardian, 22 Feb 2010View original article

Aerogenerator turns conventional windmills on their side, with a 100m tall V-shaped blade rotating on a vertical axis

A radical windmill design could hold the key to making offshore wind power more economical and helping the UK meet its ambitious renewable energy targets...

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U.S. wind capacity has more than tripled: reportUSA Today, 21 Feb 2010View original article

Wind capacity in the United States has tripled and is enough to meet U.S. electricity consumption, according to a new report co-authored by the Department of Energy.

President Obama has promoted renewable energy sources such as wind as well as nuclear power plants as ways to generate carbon-free energy...

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Drax suspends plan to replace coal with greener fuelBen Webster, Environment Editor, The Times, 18 Feb 2010View original article

Britain’s biggest power station has suspended its plan to replace coal with greener fuel, leaving the Government little chance of meeting its target for renewable energy.

Drax, in North Yorkshire, which produces enough electricity for six million homes, is withdrawing a pledge to cut CO2 emissions by 3.5 million tonnes a year, or 17.5 per cent...

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Biofuel power plant plan refused BBC Online, 24 Feb 2010View original article

An application to build a biofuel power station at Avonmouth, capable of powering 25,000 homes, has been refused by city councillors.

The plant, which would have been fuelled initially by palm oil, was attacked by critics who blamed the demand for palm oil for rainforest destruction...

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Waste not... Britain is lagging behind other countries in renewable sourcesSusie Mesure and Jonathan Owen, The Independent, 22 Feb 2010View original article

One of the most promising solutions to the UK's mounting waste problems is under threat after the Government set the price it will pay for electricity generated from organic waste too low, green campaigners claimed yesterday.

Farmers are aborting plans to build anaerobic digestion plants to convert animal slurries, manure and rotting vegetables into energy after the Government's climate change department made the proposed plants commercially unviable, according to the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which represents the industry...

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Electric car prices will be reduced by grants worth thousandsBen Webster, Environment Editor, The Times, 25 Feb 2010View original article

Drivers who switch to an electric car will receive a government grant of up to ВЈ5,000 but may struggle to find somewhere to charge the battery.

The Department for Transport will announce today that from January it will provide grants worth a maximum of 25 per cent of the price of fully electric cars and plug-in hybrids, which run on electricity for the first few miles before switching to petrol...

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MPs say ВЈ37bn 'smart' power grid unlikely without state aidRowena Mason, The Daily Telegraph, 23 Feb 2010View original article

The market alone cannot be trusted to provide the financing for such an enormous undertaking, according to a report from the select committee on energy and climate change.

Experts claim a smart grid is necessary if the UK is to hit its targets on reducing carbon dioxide emissions through energy efficiency...

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Hummer's demise a sign of the timesJorn Madslien, BBC Online, 25 Feb 2010View original article

Hummer's suffering is about to be ended.

The lumbering giant is being put down by patriarchal General Motors, the American motoring giant 61%-owned by the US government.

It is a sign of the times...

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Case for third runway at Heathrow is deeply flawed, say opponentsPhilip Pank, The Times, 23 Feb 2010View original article

Opponents of Heathrow expansion take their challenge to the High Court on Tuesday, arguing that the Government’s case to build a third runway by 2020 is deeply flawed.

A coalition of seven London councils, three leading environmental groups, two local protest groups and the Mayor of London will argue that the plans submitted to Parliament one year ago do not match the proposals that had been consulted on in public...

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World’s fastest container ships mothballedRobert Wright, Financial Times, 22 Feb 2010View original article

Near the waterline inside the Maersk Beaumont lies the main reason why this new container ship is set to spend at least the rest of this year unused on a Scottish sea loch...

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What is Community Wind?Price drop means low interest rates

Tim Kasser on Consumerism, Psychology, Transition and Resilience. Part One

Tim Kasser on Consumerism, Psychology, Transition and Resilience. Part One

Here is the first part (Part Two to follow tomorrow) of an interview I did with Tim Kasser a couple of weeks ago while he was at Schumacher College. He is a psychologist, author of the seminal High Price of Materialism, as well as other useful writings such as a great chapter in the State of the World Report 2009 about consumerism and climate change. The interview raises some fascinating areas for research and thoughts about Transition and psychology, and I think you’re going to enjoy this one….

What brings you to Totnes?

I was invited to teach a part of the course at Schumacher on Economics and Happiness, and I’ve given a talk sponsored by TTT and Schumacher College.

Can you give a potted overview of what you’ve found and what you teach?

My work started about twenty years ago when I was interested in people’s values and goals. And I was interested in that as a psychologist because values and goals are a part of how we intentionally construct our experience of life and that’s how we construct our lives. Lots of other things make our lives happen, but our values and goals are one of the things that we do to make our lives go in one direction and not in another. And I was interested in that because values and goals influence the experiences we have and I was really interested in what kind of values and goals lead to what kind of experiences.

In doing that kind of work when I was a young graduate I stumbled across the finding that individuals who focus their lives more around things like money and image and status, which are of course the core values that consumer capitalism needs people to believe in in order for the system to keep working, people who care about those materialistic values were reporting lower personal well being. They were more depressed, more anxious, they were less satisfied with their lives. They were reporting more headaches and stomach aches and drinking more alcohol, smoking more cigarettes, etc.

I got more interested into materialism and people’s personal quality of lives and why it would be that despite the fact that we’re told that materialism is the pathway to a happy, successful, meaningful life, why does it seem to be associated with being less happy? So I explored a lot in that thread and as time went on, I became interested in other outcomes besides personal well being, because our values don’t only affect our lives, but they affect the lives of those others around us, and further too, in our globalised world as we have now.

We started to take a look at social outcomes and ecological outcomes too and we started to find that materialistic people were behaving in ways which were undermining the quality of social relationships in that tend to be less pro social, more anti social, more competitive less cooperative, less likely to contribute to the public good because they’re more focused on themselves and their own good.

Then relatedly that the more people cared about materialism, the more they were likely to engage in ecologically degrading behaviours, to live unsustainable lifestyles etc. It became clear that not only is materialism associated with less happiness, but it’s also associated with less social cohesion and more ecological degredation, all of which are problems in today’s world.

As I’ve seen those data start to come in from me and my colleagues and other sources, especially in the last five to six years I’ve asked well why is this? Why does materialism lead to these kinds of problematic outcomes and what’s leading people to take on these materialistic values? Why do we act in more materialistic ways and what can we do about it? What kind of interventions on a personal, community or national level could be used to decrease people’s materialistic values and materialistic behaviour and then hopefully improve those outcomes: make people happier and more pro social and more pro ecological.

That’s led me in all kinds of different directions, from mindfulness meditation, to alternative indicators of national progress to time affluence to advertising to children to really starting to think a lot about capitalism and consumer capitalism and how that promotes materialism, including relocalisation too. That’s the historical and conceptual overview of how I’ve come to this spot and where my understanding is.

What’s consumerism done to us? How have we been changed by fifty or sixty years of that?

I think what consumerism has done to us is turned us into consumers. Which sounds like a silly answer but we all have roles in our lives, and we have multiple roles: I’m a father, and I’m a professor, a teacher, I’m an activist and I’m a consumer too, and our roles like our values end up influencing what we think is important in life, they influence our behaviour and how we treat other people. I think what’s happened over the last fifty/sixty years is that in order for our economic system to maintain itself, it requires people to enhance the consumer role – to think of themselves more as consumers and I don’t know how it is here in the UK, but when you’re reading the newspaper in the US you’re much more likely to see people referred to as consumers instead of citizens.

To be a consumer has a very different set of implications than to be a citizen. To be a consumer is to think about “what is it I want to buy?” So first off there’s a selfishness already involved in the role and there’s a set of behaviours implied by the role. There’s this sense that as that role comes to dominate more and more of how we think about ourselves and how our policy makers think of us, it leads potential solutions to problems or potential decisions to be “well what’s good for consumption, or what’s good to make a citizen?”, as opposed to what’s good for people. If you think about what a citizen’s role is, it’s to think about the whole of the community and “what’s my role in the community?”

You’re obviously still thinking about yourself, but you’re not thinking about yourself and what you’re going to buy, you’re thinking about yourself and who you’re going to be in relationship to others. There’s sort of a transcendent characteristic or aspect to that role. That I think leads us to behave in very different ways. I behave very differently when I’m being a consumer to when I’m being a citizen. The way that our economic and thus our political system is oriented now, is very much attuned to people as consumers and less to people as citizens and therefore it develops all kinds of policies that end up maximising the consumer role and not too much for the citizen role.

I think that’s part of why it makes it easy for people to think about “Do I want this?” instead of “well, how is it made, and how does my buying this impact people?”, and to think, “well it’s Friday and I’m going to stay home and watch TV”, rather than “I’m going to go out enjoying my fellow citizens cleaning up the river bank”, or having a meeting to help determine town policy about zoning and whether Tesco’s is coming in.

Consumer society tells us what the optimal ways are to live our lives. That’s what any social system does, there’s nothing special about consumerism with regard to that. Christianity tells us how to live our lives, fascism told us how to live our lives… the particular way consumer capitalism tells us to live our lives is this way and through consumption and the maximisation of economic growth. Through working hard so you can have a lot of money and then you can spend it on stuff that you want to buy. Whenever you believe something’s important something else has to become less important and the value of consumerism and materialism crowd out other important things.

Has consumerism left us more or less able to respond rapidly to change? Are we less resilient? How can we know that?

I think to the particular kinds of changes which we’re likely to face here in the near future if climate science is right and if everything we read about what’s happening socially is right, I really think it’s left us less able to respond to those challenges and I think there’s a couple of different things that goes back to: one of them is that consumerism leads us (this is true of any social system) when we have a difficulty to think about certain ways to solve that difficulty and to not think about other ways.

If you take a look at people who accept that there is climate change or climate disruption and then they try to figure out how to solve that problem, consumerism says: “well, consume in a green way”, because that’s a very reasonable solution to the problem from a consumers’ perspective – we just need to consume different things and we need to decarbonise and we need to keep economic growth, but just have carbon clean economic growth. So we get locked into that set of solutions when we think about the problem of climate disruption from a consumerstic view point.

All the climate scientists I talk to and everything I read suggests that that’s important, but it won’t get us anywhere near the way to solve those kinds of problems. Plus, it’s not going to help habitat loss or the other environmental problems we have to do those things. That’s one issue – it tells us solutions which are far too partial.

Another issue is that because we know that materialism and consumerism and materialism in research is associated with behaving in less cooperative and more competitive ways and less empathic and more manipulative ways and less pro social and anti social ways. What all that suggests is that when push comes to shove, and there are significant problems that we face, we will have lost some of the interpersonal, social skills and community skills that are really needed in order to come together as a group and solve the problems and instead I think we’ll be more likely to continue our competitive mindset in ways that end up damaging us at the very time we need to work together to solve the problems. Because we don’t think about consensus and we don’t think about building a group and listening to everybody and treating other people like people instead of other objects to be manipulated when we take on that materialist mindset.

So that scares me. If things get really bad here we may have lost some of the important skills that we need to manage that and the aftermath. We have milk goats and my wife wanted someone to teach her how and there wasn’t anyone. A hundred years ago there’d have been all kinds of people to teach her. But we’ve lost a lot of the self sufficiency skills that we need. Instead we go to work to earn money so we can hire somebody else to do it because that’s good for the economy.

We’ve lost a lot of the skills that ultimately we’re going to need if we live in a more localised way and we live not in a self sufficient way, but in a group sufficient way.

What does a resilient community look like to you? What are the qualities that people have in that context that they don’t have today?

For me as a psychologist how I approach things is that there are four basic needs that people have to have satisfied in order to function well. The first is that they need to feel safe and secure. People don’t do well if they’re worried about where their food’s going to come from or they’re worried about being cold tonight or that somebody’s going to kill them when they cross the street.

The second need is people need to feel competent – they need to feel good at what they do. A third need that we all have is a need for relatedness, connectedness because we’re social animals and we always have been. We need to feel that we’re part of a group, that we’re loved and that we have a network. The final need is for autonomy. To feel that we’re choosing what we’re doing as opposed to being coerced into what we’re doing. If you think about a time when you were unhappy and things weren’t going well for you, you’ll find that at least one of those needs was not being satisfied.

Whereas what most of the research shows is that when those needs are being well satisfied people tend to be fairly happy and they tend to like the situation that they’re in. Just as an aside, in the research what we find is that the more people focus on the materialistic, consumeristic goals, the less well satisfied those four psychological needs are. Whereas when people focus on intrinsic values – for contributing to the community and affiliation and having good relationships and having good self-acceptance – growing into who you are – those people tend to have those needs better satisfied and thus are happier.

From my perspective, psychologically speaking, the only way a resilient community is going to be resilient is if it can maintain itself for a long time and if people want to live in it and they want to live in it more than they want to live in the regular communities that are currently out there as the dominant alternative. So for me the issue is the characteristics of a resilient community would be a community which provides the vast majority of the people to satisfy those four psychological needs and to enact their intrinsic values. To enact growing as a person. To enact family. To enact contributing to the community in their day to day life and their life in the community.

I think that suburbia and inner city life obviously don’t do a very good job of satisfying those needs a lot of the time. There’s a lot of inner city life that doesn’t satisfy our need for safety. A lot of suburban life doesn’t satisfy our need for relatedness, a lot of the way that cities are set up force us to do things that we don’t really want to do like drive sometimes when we don’t really want to drive because of the way that they’re planned – you’re only allowed to build a house here and stores there and no side walk in between and no bus so you only have one option. A lot of those places don’t let you really be a part of the community and figure out how you can contribute to that community which is important for competence needs.

To me and what I understand of the Transition Town movement and the resilient community movement is that what was required is to build a community that satisfies those needs and I’m sure that’s not explicitly what you all talk about, but ultimately that’s my interpretation of why it works. When I look at these communities it seems to me that they make people feel pretty safe because there’s a social network there and people know they can rely on each other and usually those kinds of communities have opportunities to help those who fall on misfortune and there’s a lot of opportunities to build competence usually because there’s meetings all the time where you can come and contribute to this action or that action or lots of chances to learn stuff.

Usually there’s lots of chances for relatedness because you know your local shop keeper and you’re working with people you know, or you bump into people in the street and get together and chat with them. It seems that there’s a lot of freedom and autonomy in those kinds of places. To voice your opinion and to get the chance to be heard and from what I hear about the TT meetings there’s a lot of chance for autonomy there. Don’t get me wrong, we need practical things too, like solar panels etc, but if you don’t meet people’s psychological needs it’s never going to be a resilient community.

Part Two follows tomorrow….

The Power of LocalHousing trust fund is an idea whose time has come