Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Climate Change: end of year round up

The studies regarding climate change just keep coming. I've been amazed at the number of studies released this year. Seems to have become a weekly occurrence. Everyday is, for me, a fluctuation between extreme anger and sadness at our lack of reaction regarding climate change. The studies pile up. Real life observations seem to back it up... today I saw a frog in our little garden pond. I see green plants everywhere that have yet to die off because, like the two previous winters, we've had only brief cold spells. Everyday I wonder, how much evidence do people need before they will show real concern? My own family seem to be fairly representative of the mainstream and to put it simply they don't seem to care. Not even a little.

I don't want to live in this world. I don't want to participate in a culture... in a society of people like this. It sickens me. We have become monsters concerned only with our entertainment and our next purchase at the mall or Walmart.

CNN reports on a study by the journal Geophysical Research Letters released 12/17:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Climate change could thaw the top 11 feet of permafrost in most areas of the Northern Hemisphere by 2100, altering ecosystems across Alaska, Canada and Russia, according to a federal study.

Using supercomputers in the United States and Japan, the study calculated how frozen soil would interact with air temperatures, snow, sea ice changes and other processes.

The most extreme scenario involved the melting of the top 11 feet (3.35 meters) of permafrost, or earth that remains frozen year-round.

"If that much near-surface permafrost thaws, it could release considerable amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and that could amplify global warming," said lead author David Lawrence, with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "We could be underestimating the rate of global temperature increase."

Greenland
SAN FRANCISCO Dec 7, 2005 — Two of Greenland's largest glaciers are retreating at an alarming pace, most likely because of climate warming, scientists said Wednesday.

One of the glaciers, Kangerdlugssuaq, is currently moving about 9 miles a year compared to 3 miles a year in 2001, said Gordon Hamilton of the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute.

The other glacier, Helheim, is retreating at about 7 miles a year up from 4 miles a year during the same period.

"It's quite a staggering rate of increase," Hamilton said at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting.


Alaska
Alaska's rapidly disintegrating Columbia Glacier, which has shrunk in length by 9 miles since 1980, has reached the mid-point of its projected retreat, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.

Tad Pfeffer, associate director of CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, said the glacier is now discharging nearly 2 cubic miles of ice annually into the Prince William Sound, the equivalent of 100,000 ships packed with ice, each 500 feet long. The tidewater glacier -- which has its terminus, or end, in the waters of the Prince William Sound -- is expected to retreat an additional 9 miles in the next 15 years to 20 years before reaching an equilibrium point in shallow water near sea level, he said.

Kazakhstan

The political stability of a key central Asian state could be imperilled by climate change, researchers say.

They say glaciers are melting so fast in parts of Kazakhstan that the livelihoods of millions of people will be affected.

They found the area's glaciers were losing almost two cubic kilometres of ice annually during the later 20th Century.

South America:
The Patagonia Icefields of Chile and Argentina, the largest non-Antarctic ice masses in the Southern Hemisphere, are thinning at an accelerating pace and now account for nearly 10 percent of global sea-level change from mountain glaciers, according to a new study by NASA and Chile's Centro de Estudios Cientificos.


CO2 'highest for 650,000 years'
By Richard Black
Environment Correspondent, BBC News website
Current levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the past 650,000 years.

That is the conclusion of new European studies looking at ice taken from 3km below the surface of Antarctica.

The scientists say their research shows present day warming to be exceptional.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Senator Robert Byrd challenges King George

Senator Robert C. Byrd from the Senate Floor:
“No President is Above the Law”

December 19, 2005

Americans have been stunned at the recent news of the abuses of power by an overzealous President. It has become apparent that this Administration has engaged in a consistent and unrelenting pattern of abuse against our Country’s law-abiding citizens, and against our Constitution.

We have been stunned to hear reports about the Pentagon gathering information and creating databases to spy on ordinary Americans whose only sin is choose to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Those Americans who choose to question the Administration’s flawed policy in Iraq are labeled by this Administration as domestic terrorists.”

We now know that the F.B.I.’s use of National Security Letters on American citizens has increased one hundred fold, requiring tens of thousands of individuals to turn over personal information and records. These letters are issued without prior judicial review, and provide no real means for an individual to challenge a permanent gag order.

Through news reports, we have been shocked to learn of the CIA’s practice of rendition, and the so-called “black sites,” secret locations in foreign countries, where abuse and interrogation have been exported, to escape the reach of U.S. laws protecting against human rights abuses.

We know that Vice President Dick Cheney has asked for exemptions for the CIA from the language contained in the McCain torture amendment banning cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. Thank God his pleas have been rejected by this Congress.

Now comes the stomach-churning revelation through an executive order, that President Bush has circumvented both the Congress and the courts. He has usurped the Third Branch of government – the branch charged with protecting the civil liberties of our people – by directing the National Security Agency to intercept and eavesdrop on the phone conversations and e-mails of American citizens without a warrant, which is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. He has stiff-armed the People’s Branch of government. He has rationalized the use of domestic, civilian surveillance with a flimsy claim that he has such authority because we are at war. The executive order, which has been acknowledged by the President, is an end-run around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which makes it unlawful for any official to monitor the communications of an individual on American soil without the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

What is the President thinking? Congress has provided for the very situations which the President is blatantly exploiting. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, housed in the Department of Justice, reviews requests for warrants for domestic surveillance. The Court can review these requests expeditiously and in times of great emergency. In extreme cases, where time is of the essence and national security is at stake, surveillance can be conducted before the warrant is even applied for.

This secret court was established so that sensitive surveillance could be conducted, and information could be gathered without compromising the security of the investigation. The purpose of the FISA Court is to balance the government’s role in fighting the war on terror with the Fourth Amendment rights afforded to each and every American.

The American public is given vague and empty assurances by the President that amount to little more than “trust me.” But, we are a nation of laws and not of men. Where is the source of that authority he claims? I defy the Administration to show me where in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or the U.S. Constitution, they are allowed to steal into the lives of innocent America citizens and spy.

When asked yesterday what the source of this authority was, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had no answer. Secretary Rice seemed to insinuate that eavesdropping on Americans was acceptable because FISA was an outdated law, and could not address the needs of the government in combating the new war on terror. This is a patent falsehood. The USA Patriot Act expanded FISA significantly, equipping the government with the tools it needed to fight terrorism. Further amendments to FISA were granted under the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In fact, in its final report, the 9/11 Commission noted that the removal of the pre-9/11 “wall” between intelligence officials and law enforcement was significant in that it “opened up new opportunities for cooperative action.”

The President claims that these powers are within his role as Commander in Chief. Make no mistake, the powers granted to the Commander in Chief are specifically those as head of the Armed Forces. These warrantless searches are conducted not against a foreign power, but against unsuspecting and unknowing American citizens. They are conducted against individuals living on American soil, not in Iraq or Afghanistan. There is nothing within the powers granted in the Commander in Chief clause that grants the President the ability to conduct clandestine surveillance of American civilians. We must not allow such groundless, foolish claims to stand.

The President claims a boundless authority through the resolution that authorized the war on those who perpetrated the September 11th attacks. But that resolution does not give the President unchecked power to spy on our own people. That resolution does not give the Administration the power to create covert prisons for secret prisoners. That resolution does not authorize the torture of prisoners to extract information from them. That resolution does not authorize running black-hole secret prisons in foreign countries to get around U.S. law. That resolution does not give the President the powers reserved only for kings and potentates.

I continue to be shocked and astounded by the breadth with which the Administration undermines the constitutional protections afforded to the people, and the arrogance with which it rebukes the powers held by the Legislative and Judicial Branches. The President has cast off federal law, enacted by Congress, often bearing his own signature, as mere formality. He has rebuffed the rule of law, and he has trivialized and trampled upon the prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizures guaranteed to Americans by the United States Constitution.

We are supposed to accept these dirty little secrets. We are told that it is irresponsible to draw attention to President Bush’s gross abuse of power and Constitutional violations. But what is truly irresponsible is to neglect to uphold the rule of law. We listened to the President speak last night on the potential for democracy in Iraq. He claims to want to instill in the Iraqi people a tangible freedom and a working democracy, at the same time he violates our own U.S. laws and checks and balances? President Bush called the recent Iraqi election “a landmark day in the history of liberty.” I dare say in this country we may have reached our own sort of landmark. Never have the promises and protections of Liberty seemed so illusory. Never have the freedoms we cherish seemed so imperiled.

These renegade assaults on the Constitution and our system of laws strike at the very core of our values, and foster a sense of mistrust and apprehension about the reach of government.

I am reminded of Thomas Payne’s famous words, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

These astounding revelations about the bending and contorting of the Constitution to justify a grasping, irresponsible Administration under the banner of “national security” are an outrage. Congress can no longer sit on the sidelines. It is time to ask hard questions of the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of the CIA. The White House should not be allowed to exempt itself from answering the same questions simply because it might assert some kind of “executive privilege” in order to avoid further embarrassment.

The practice of domestic spying on citizens should halt immediately. Oversight hearings need to be conducted. Judicial action may be in order. We need to finally be given answers to our questions: where is the constitutional and statutory authority for spying on American citizens, what is the content of these classified legal opinions asserting there is a legality in this criminal usurpation of rights, who is responsible for this dangerous and unconstitutional policy, and how many American citizens lives’ have been unknowingly affected?

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

King George Spying on America

And why shouldn't he?! Anything goes in the war on tarrar!

It's been all over the news since the end of last week and really, it comes as no surprise. Juan Cole has an excellent post on Bush Spying on Americans:

Wire tapping the telephones of American citizens without a court order is illegal.

They impeached Clinton for a minor dalliance in which he didn't even get to third base. But just taking the Constitution and pushing it through the shredder, why that is just fine and dandy.

He really does believe that it is just a piece of paper, and he is the Prince of the Realm who may do as he pleases, isn't he?

The answer to Ben Franklin's comment about what sort of government the constitution enshrined--"A republic, if you can keep it"-- has been answered. We've lost it, folks. We've got George III in the White House. And, it is now often forgotten, that George was looney as the day is long, too.
' Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. '
That Bush was doing this wasn't even known. How much more is not known?

It was a good run, this United States of America with its Constitution and its Bill of Rights. How sad that a gang of unscrupulous criminals has been allowed to subvert its basic values altogether.

Is there even a single one of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights that Bush and his henchmen have not by now abrogated by royal fiat?

And why? Because of a single attack by a few hijackers from a small terrorist organization? The thousands lost in the Revolutionary War did not deter the Founding Fathers from enshrining these rights in the Constitution! The fledgling American Republic was far more unstable and facing far more dangers when this document was passed into law than the unchallengeable hyperpower that now bestrides the globe as a behemoth.

Have we lost our minds?

I think the fact that this man is still the president of the U.S. certainly answers the question.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Of work and carbon footprints

This is a post I've thought about many times but never written. It's about work and employment. I suppose it's about what we do with our lives and why we do it. About the impact of our lives upon the planet. Also, I want to note that Dave over at Capital Region People recently invited me to guest blog over there so this post is there as well. A big thanks to Dave for the invite!

Jobs, Feet, and Bikes
A little background context for those that don't know me. From 1992 - 2004 I lived in Memphis, TN. During my time there I worked at a health food store, bike shop, university library, and a non-profit adult literacy agency. In addition I volunteered in a variety of community projects. The point is that I chose my employment based, in part, on my perception of it's social and ecological worthiness.

With two exceptions all of my jobs in Memphis were within walking or biking distance. My favorite transport was my bike or walking. Both modes are generally much less stressful than driving and far more enjoyable to the senses! Riding the bus is generally stress free and allows for a short walk to the bus stop and reading during the ride. My last job in Memphis was 3 miles away and I ended up driving this because I re-injured my knee five years ago and am no longer able to ride a bike. I walked that 3 miles a few times but that is two hours a day and I rarely did it. I tried an electric scooter for a year but it was one of the first available and often did not make the full 3 miles. Overall, in the course of the 12 years I walked or cycled an average of 60% of my travel. Not too bad but could have been better. When I did drive it was usually 6-7 miles per day.

A thought about walking: We should do much more of it than we do and I don't just mean taking walks to be taking walks though that is certainly enjoyable. We should walk as transport. Should I leave the countryside to live in a city again I will do the same as before. It's not really that difficult to find housing in a neighborhood that has an integration of food sources, social gather spaces, public library, etc. Living in the countryside this is not so easy and in truth it's not possible for me. The closest town is 11 miles away.

Working less, using less
Which brings me to the present moment. I left Memphis in early 2004 and since that time I have not been employed. I've had a handful of contract jobs doing a variety of tech-related projects. I've gone from a life of activism and daily travel to one of quiet non-participation. My car sits for weeks at a time without being started. My only purchases are food. In the past five years I've purchased (new) 1 swimming suit, 6-8 pairs of socks, 1 pair of boots, 15-20 (?) pairs of boxer shorts, 2 t-shirts. I've purchased (used) 2-3 pairs of pants, 2 sweaters, 4-5 shirts. When I left Memphis all of my possessions fit into my 1992 Toyota Tercel. Actually, that's not totally true. I left many books to be used and enjoyed by my previous housemates. I also left a bed that I'd gotten off a curb and a few records. My little desk, purchased used over 15 years ago, was just a tad too big to fit in the Tercel so it was transported separately. Still, not too bad.

Over the years I've purchased several computers and several hard drives. One of those traveled around as a donation to several users. Last I'd heard it finally stopped working 2 years ago. Not too bad given I purchased it in 1997. My other computers are, as far as I'm aware still in use with the folks that purchased them from me. My current laptop is 2 years old and I expect to keep it at least one more year, possibly two more depending on future employment and the laptop's durability. I'll probably use this till it breaks rather than sell it off.

Community, Family, and Energy Resources
I don't have any children, no spouse or partner... at least not at the moment and probably not in the near future. I do have a dog... actually she has me... yes, it's true, I have a co-dependent relationship with a dog.

So now I come closer to the point. Why do we work? What's the point? Really, when you get down to it, why do we work? Of course add the responsibility of raising children and things get a bit complicated. But for those of us who have chosen not to have children why do we work? Why do we buy the things we buy? Do we consider the social and ecological costs of our purchases? Do we purchase and use only what is absolutely necessary? Is our employment contributing to the betterment of society or the ecological health of our planet? Is our employment contributing to negatives in society or ecology?

At this moment I'm living with family again. I was away for 12 years living in, and trying to create, a community of activism. As much as I enjoyed that life I'm enjoying this one too. It's very different. I think I'm still looking for that sense of community, sense of interconnection with my fellow humans but for the first time since being an adult I'm looking to my family for these things. I've come to think that the western mode of social organization took a turn for the worse many years ago. In the U.S. this seemed to happen in the 1950s and can be summed up in one word: Suburbia. What it comes down to is we've created a life-way, a culture, based upon the automobile and the nuclear family. It's not working. Not for us and not for our planet.

We have now come to it. Peak energy and climate change are upon us. What will we do collectively? What will you do personally?

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

US alone at world climate talks

Here we go again. As the governments of countries all over the planet move to deal with the problem of climate change the US, under the leadership of Bush and Co. refuse to cooperate. The Telegraph reports:

The United States was isolated last night after refusing to sign a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions agreed by the rest of the world.

Delegates representing 180 countries at a UN conference committed themselves to speed up climate change measures agreed in the 1997 Kyoto treaty.

But the Americans - who have refused to ratify Kyoto over fears that it will damage its economy - staged a walk-out and refused to agree to a new era of talks to find a successor to the treaty, which runs out in 2012.

President George W Bush's administration was criticised by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who addressed delegates in Montreal yesterday.

Mr Clinton said to loud applause that there should be a 'serious commitment to a clean-energy future'.

If existing clean energy and conservation technologies were applied in full, he said, America could 'meet and surpass Kyoto targets easily in a way that would strengthen, not weaken, [its] economy'.

Mr Clinton referred to plans by 192 American mayors, representing 40 million people, to cut emissions by the amount America signed up to under Kyoto when he was president.



As if that is not bad enough we also learn that energy companies such as ExxonMobil went one step further and have been working behind the scenes to developed a plan to derail progress on the Kyoto treaty:

A detailed and disturbing strategy document has revealed an extraordinary American plan to destroy Europe's support for the Kyoto treaty on climate change.

The ambitious, behind-the-scenes plan was passed to The Independent this week, just as 189 countries are painfully trying to agree the second stage of Kyoto at the UN climate conference in Montreal. It was pitched to companies such as Ford Europe, Lufthansa and the German utility giant RWE.

Put together by a lobbyist who is a senior official at a group partly funded by ExxonMobil, the world's biggest oil company and a fierce opponent of anti-global warming measures, the plan seeks to draw together major international companies, academics, think-tanks, commentators, journalists and lobbyists from across Europe into a powerful grouping to destroy further EU support for the treaty.


That's American "democracy": policy by and for corporate interests. "Our" government is the problem... we are the problem. Let's be very clear on that last point, we are the problem. All of us. We have allowed this take over of the U.S. government and it's policies. Of course I and others have argued that the system was never really meant to be by the people for the people.

Of course it's not just a problem of government is it? It is a problem of people and the culture we create in conjunction with government and the corporate control of economy. It is a problem of social planning and the design of physical space. It is a problem of agricultural systems, manufacturing, and transportation.



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Nobel lecture by Pinter a devastating assault on US foreign policy

Michael Billington of the Guardian has an excellent write-up of Harold Pinter's recent Nobel lecture:

"At one point, for instance, Pinter argued that 'the United States supported and in many cases engendered every rightwing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the second world war'. He then proceeded to reel off examples. But the clincher came when Pinter, with deadpan irony, said: 'It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest.' In a few sharp sentences, Pinter pinned down the willed indifference of the media to publicly recorded events. He also showed how language is devalued by the constant appeal of US presidents to 'the American people'. This was argument by devastating example. As Pinter repeated the lulling mantra, he proved his point that 'The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance.' Thus Pinter brilliantly used a rhetorical device to demolish political rhetoric."
Rock on with your bad self Mr. Pinter. Full text of Pinter's Nobel lecture.

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Just the beginning of the peak: Energy and Economy

The reality of energy is starting to kick this country in it's collective nuts. The closing of factories due to energy costs is scattered for the moment but it will intensify. Imagine our economy and our way of life as we begin to experience shortages.

Vicki Lee Parker writing for the North Carolina news paper discusses what happens when The News & Observer energy costs hit N.C. manufacturing plants:
"This winter, hundreds of manufacturing employees across the state will head to the unemployment office. Among them will be at least 150 workers from the Pine Hall Brick company.

For the month of January, the Winston-Salem company will shut down half its production, chief executive Fletcher Steele said.

The culprit: high energy bills.

Since hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted the gas supply, Pine Hall Brick's monthly gas bill has doubled.

In August, the company paid $700,000 for the natural gas it uses to power the kilns that heat the raw materials used to make the bricks, Steele said. In October, the bill was $1.4 million. 'It shocks a lot of people,' he said. In 2001, Steele said, the company was paying just $200,000 a month.

Although gasoline prices at the pump have gone down in recent weeks, natural gas is a different story. Utilities across the state raised their rates to record levels after hurricanes destroyed processing plants and pipeline facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. The spike in prices has led companies to lay off workers, increase their prices or both. Consumers will eventually feel the effects as companies push the costs down the supply chain.

Nationally, nearly 45 percent of manufacturers say high energy costs will cause them to lay off workers or impose wage freezes or cuts, according to a new survey by the National Association of Manufacturers. About 200 companies responded to the survey.

Writing for the U.S. News and World Report, Marianne Lavelle also discusses the coming winter fuel crisis.

Yes, we have a problem. We really do. Not only will prices continue to rise they will rise to such a degree that many people in the northeast U.S. will have to make choices between food, medication, and heating. We're likely to see shortages in one or several fuels. This will not go away... it will get worse. We only have one way to go with this. Are you ready?

I laugh when I think of Bush and Co. suggesting that our way of life is not negotiable. Really? Seems to me that reality is negotiating a new way of life this winter. Funny thing, reality... sometimes it kicks us in the face.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Snow and Winter Birding



What a great day! Took a long walk in the four inches of snow that fell today then made a big mug of hot chocolate.

The birds were out and very active today so I took lots of photos: Cardinal, White Breasted Nuthatch, Black Capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, and Tufted Titmouse were all there for the party. You can see more photos over at my Flickr page.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Learning to create sustainable communities

Decleyre 02

During my 12 years in Memphis, TN I had one general goal: Create a community project, we'll call it a counter-institution, that would function as a working example of urban sustainability. Of course within this all sorts of mini-projects with their own objectives sprouted up. We grew front yard gardens, study groups, newsletters, and even a micro-radio station. We grew co-ops for bicycle repair and community media creation. There were some successes and some failures. Today I look at what we did and wish we had done better. I wish cities and the people that live in them were more open to change. If we survive the future we have set up we will have to adapt. Strange to think that we have created a future that is likely to produce the opposite of what most people would say they want: health, happiness, freedom. In short, if we are to survive we will have to turn a societal u-turn.

Willits-1

Some folks are already doing it. Writing for Metroactive R.V. Scheide details the work of folks in Northern California to create a sustainable town:
Past the Peak: How the small town of Willits plans to beat the coming energy crisis

A few miles north of Ukiah, Highway 101 shoots upward into Northern California's coastal mountain range, climbing and weaving up the Ridgewood Grade, leaving the vineyards of Mendocino County behind on the valley floor. The four-lane section of superslab peaks at Ridgewood Summit, the highest point on a road that stretches from Mexico to Canada. It then gently slides down into Little Lake Valley, where, at the first stop light on the highway north of the Golden Gate Bridge, it reaches the city center of Willits.

--

A boyish 37-year-old with a Ph.D. in biology, Dr. Jason Bradford only relocated to Willits from Davis with his wife, Kristin, a medical doctor, and their two children last August. Initially interested in energy issues while studying climate change in the Andes several years ago, Bradford didn't really know what he was getting into when he decided to sponsor several screenings of The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream just two months after arriving in town. Hosting a film that proclaims human civilization is going to run out of oil and is therefore doomed doesn't usually guarantee a visit from the welcome wagon. But then again, Willits isn't most towns. Bradford's initial invitation to view the film has blossomed into a popular movement that aims to, in the words of one member, "reinvent the town."

"Thirty people showed up the first time," he says. A number of people stayed to chat after the movie, and sensing local interest in the topic, he hosted another showing. Sixty people turned up that time. Ninety came to a third presentation. Bradford, who'd never really led anything larger than a small research team, could feel the momentum building. "Oh, shit!" he thought. "What do I do now?"

As it turned out, Bradford didn't have to do too much to keep the ball rolling, other than volunteering all of his spare time. That's because there's a current running through Willits that harmonizes exactly with what needs to be done to prepare for what petroleum experts call "peak oil." That current is supplied in part by the very same ecotopians who flocked to the region in the '70s. Under Bradford's leadership, they've teamed up with concerned professionals, local government officials and ordinary citizens to form the Willits Economics Localization (WELL) project. It appears to be one of the first civic groups in the United States dedicated to preparing for the coming energy crisis. But if other communities are to have any hope of retaining some semblance to the lifestyles they've grown accustomed to during the age of cheap oil, it definitely won't be the last.
Willits-2
--
Bradford and the core members, working as a steering committee they jokingly refer to as an "ad-hocracy," originally identified 14 key areas of interest pertaining to peak oil and the community's survival that seemed to match up well with the interests of the overall membership. Eventually, these 14 areas were consolidated into six working groups: food, energy, shelter, water, health and wellness, and social organization.

--
To address topics as complex as localizing food supplies, WELL invites guest speakers to talk to the group. Some, such as world-renowned bio-intensive gardening innovator John Jeavons, author of the perennial bestseller How to Grow More Vegetables, didn't have to travel far: Jeavons lives in Willits. Others, such as Stephen and Gloria Decater, had to come over the hill from Yolo County, where they operate the Live Power Community Farm near Covelo.

The Decaters practice community-supported agriculture. Their 40-acre farm provides food for 160 member families, totaling some 300 people, over a 30-week growing season. The families pay a subscription that provides operating fees for the farm and a modest income for those who work it. And when the Decaters christened their farm "Live Power," they meant it. Five full-time farmhands and an array of draft horses do all the work on the farm with the exception of hay baling, which is done by tractor because the farm has been unable to acquire a horse-driven baler. Apparently, they don't make them anymore.

During their presentation to WELL in April, the Decaters used simple math to solve Willits' potential future food shortage, at least on paper. Divide the town's 13,300 immediate residents by the 300 people Live Power Community Farm can feed, and it's easy to see that all that's required to feed the town is 44 similarly-sized farms. These plots would only take up a modest 1,733 acres in total--roughly the same area as the 2.8 square miles within Willits' city limits. Because the Decaters' numbers are based on a partial diet--an unintentional vegan slate that doesn't factor in dairy or meat--the actual acreage might have to be doubled or even tripled. Still, it's doable, and in fact, it's the way things were done not too long ago, before the automobile came along. Since then, Gloria Decater told the audience, "We have not thought of farms as permanent places. As the next generation left farming and development encroached, the farms have been cashed out. . . . With peak oil, we now have a new perspective. This may not only be sad, but it's also a matter of future survival."

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Saddam Hussein, Donald Rumsfeld, and Torture in Iraq

That was then: Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.
Handshake300-1

Strange how we forget or choose to ignore history. Today we find ourselves in the middle of a war based on various layers of deception by the Bush administration. We have reports of torture by the U.S. military and CIA in Iraq and elsewhere. We have reports of torture by the newly installed government in Iraq. We have reports of use of White Phosphorus as a chemical weapon by U.S. troops in Iraq.

Finally, today we see CNN reporting on Saddam's trial: Witness at Hussein trial describes alleged torture:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The trial of Saddam Hussein adjourned Monday afternoon, concluding a day of delays and testimony by a witness describing the alleged torture of a man from a Shiite village in 1982: "They broke all his body parts."

Hmmmm. Saddam was torturing in 1982? Using chemical weapons as well? So how do we deal with our relationship with him during that time? We ignore it, pretend it did not exist. You really should read this. Really. Via the National Security Archive, a glimpse of U.S. relations with Iraq and Saddam during the 1980's. Many details worth exploring. Here's one little nugget:

By the summer of 1983 Iran had been reporting Iraqi use of using chemical weapons for some time. The Geneva protocol requires that the international community respond to chemical warfare, but a diplomatically isolated Iran received only a muted response to its complaints [Note 1]. It intensified its accusations in October 1983, however, and in November asked for a United Nations Security Council investigation.

The U.S., which followed developments in the Iran-Iraq war with extraordinary intensity, had intelligence confirming Iran's accusations, and describing Iraq's "almost daily" use of chemical weapons, concurrent with its policy review and decision to support Iraq in the war [Document 24]. The intelligence indicated that Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian forces, and, according to a November 1983 memo, against "Kurdish insurgents" as well [Document 25].

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Peak energy and the lessons of 2005

Jim Kunstler offers his Season's Greetings over at Clusterfuck Nation. He posts a new entry each week and it is inevitably followed by very lively comments. One of my favorite weekly reads. Always informative and his gloomy outlook parallels my own.

Observers are already writing off 2005 as if it had shown us everything it has to show. I think the holiday frenzy will be as instructive as the hurricanes of late summer.

A mild late-autumn combined with extra imports of European oil and refined fuels, and withdrawals from our own strategic reserve, have held the gasoline prices down here in the US. But the northeast got a four-day cold blast over Thanksgiving, along with a substantial snowfall, and the furnaces are now cranking away, even as the WalMart shoppers commenced their first mad tramplings of the season.

Natural gas, methane, which powers half the home furnaces in America, is a separate story from oil, of course. We can't import it like oil because it requires special pressurized tanker ships and dedicated port facilities -- of which there are currently only two in America -- and getting it here by those means even if the facilities were in place would be very un-cheap. We are way past all-time peak natural gas production in the US, meanwhile, and desperately making up for it by importing all we can from Canada, which is compelled to sell us as much as we demand under the NAFTA rules, despite the fact that they are way past their own all-time gas production peak and desperately need the stuff to process the tar sands of Alberta into oil (which China has contracted to buy a great deal of). You may have noticed, too, that Canada is a northerly nation with significant home heating needs of its own.

2005 was a wake up call not only regarding energy resources but also climate change... a wake up call we've missed. As obvious as the signs are the mass of people still seem to not get it.

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Climate Change: Atlantic Circulation slowing, increased hurricane season, less snow in Arctic Tundra

Stuart Staniford over at The Oil Drum has posted an excellent discussion regarding the recently released studies about the Atlantic Circulation Changes:
Nature today reports a new study by Bryden et al. suggesting a significant slowdown in the North Atlantic circulation (tip of hat to Westexas). The emphasis in coverage has been on the implications of cooling for Europe. For example, The New Scientist says
The ocean current that gives western Europe its relatively balmy climate is stuttering, raising fears that it might fail entirely and plunge the continent into a mini ice age. The dramatic finding comes from a study of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which found a 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream. The slow-down, which has long been predicted as a possible consequence of global warming, will give renewed urgency to intergovernmental talks in Montreal, Canada, this week on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
The New Scientist is a UK publication, and this is scary stuff for a country that's running out of natural gas, oil, and coal. But let's just have a quick think about the implications for hurricanes and oil supply.
Hurricane Seasons

It's worth your time as are the comments following the post. Of course I'd also suggest the articles referenced though the Nature article requires a purchase or subscription.

Climate Change: could it be more obvious? You know, perhaps it will stop snowing in the Arctic tundra? Would that be obvious enough? Bush and the U.S. congress will likely continue in the wrong direction and the people of the world will continue to protest in support of Kyoto.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Oil and Energy Peak in the media

Greg Gordon, writing for the News Observer notes the attention being paid to our energy situation:
Move past era of oil, experts say
Former CIA Director James Woolsey paints a dire scenario: A terrorist attack causes a months-long, 6 million-barrel reduction in Saudi Arabia's daily petroleum output, sending the price of oil skyrocketing past $100 a barrel.

Industry banker and author Matthew Simmons says the kingdom's oil fields are deteriorating anyway. And a recent New York Times story cited an intelligence report suggesting the Saudis lack the capacity to pump as much oil as they boast they can.

Even if nothing disrupts the projected flow of Middle East petroleum, Energy Department consultants warned earlier this year that "the world is fast approaching the inevitable peaking" of global oil production -- a problem "unlike any faced by modern industrial society."

They wrote that the United States and other nations are in a race with the clock to find alternative sources for oil, "the lifeblood of modern civilization," and avoid potential economic disaster.


The folks over at Participate.net have put up a good page to go along with their movie Syriana: Oil Change. Read through the blog and you'll see various mentions of peak oil:

A campaign to reduce our dependence on oil Inspired by the film Syriana Oil addiction. It saps America's economic strength, pollutes our environment, and jeopardizes national security. Breaking that addiction begins with the choices we make as individuals. Instead of oil dependence, let’s choose Oil Change!

Writing for the Arizona Daily Star Matthew Simmons and Stewart Udall Time to discard fifty years of energy myths

This summer's hurricanes have triggered the most serious energy emergency in the nation's history. With gasoline, natural gas and heating oil at near-record highs, many families face the chilly prospect of much higher energy bills in the future. The entire economy is at risk, but airlines, tourism, farmers, small business, seniors and the poor are particularly threatened.

Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf of Mexico's petroleum infrastructure, but a larger, more daunting crisis was already on the horizon.

To craft an intelligent response, we must begin by discarding 50 years of energy myths. Because our continent had huge reserves of oil, coal and natural gas, Americans have nurtured a set of energy illusions that have now come home, in biblical fashion, to haunt us.

The most dangerous myth is that cheap energy is our birthright, that the well would never run dry.
This illusion was born in the early 1950s, when U.S. oil fields provided two-thirds of the planet's petroleum. Oil was so abundant that domestic producers were required to curtail production to prevent a price collapse. For lack of a market, large plumes of natural gas, now our most precious heating fuel, were flared into the sky.

And atomic energy, the new kid on the block, promised an infinite supply of almost-free electricity. In this euphoric moment, our nation began to fashion a new way of living unlike anything ever seen on the planet.

For a half century, we designed skyscrapers, autos, cities and houses on the assumption that energy would remain inexpensive. In the '50s, we invented the suburb, the shopping center and the Interstate Highway System. In the '60s we bought Mustangs. In the '70s we visited the moon, and in the '80s we built the world's most powerful military. Between 1950 and 2005, the country's population doubled and the economy grew sixfold.

Then there's this by Patrice Hill over at the Washington Times: Speculation surrounds oil peak. It's short and overly optimistic but it is coverage of the issue.

Thanksgiving marked the day that some analysts thought global oil production would have reached its peak, ushering in a new era of fuel shortages.

These petro-pessimists were using the same formula as the one that accurately predicted the apex of U.S. oil production in 1970.

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