Thursday, June 30, 2005

good news/bad news

Which do you like to get first, the good news or the bad news? Okay, we'll start with the bad:

Panel Rejects Nuclear Industry Claim, Affirms Radiation Link to Cancer said an AP headline Thursday.

The preponderance of scientific evidence shows that even very low doses of radiation pose a risk of cancer or other health problems and there is no threshold below which exposure can be viewed as harmless, a panel of prominent scientists concluded Wednesday.
Apparently there were proponents in the nuclear industry who "argued that there is a threshold of very low level radiation where exposure is not harmful, or possibly even beneficial."

I was shocked to discover this one! Why should I be surprised? Anyway, while the news is bad, at least the National Academy of Sciences panel is "likely to significantly influence what radiation levels government agencies will allow..."

And now for the good news: Congressman Bartlett's website announced that he

...met with President George W. Bush at the White House on June 29 for an extensive discussion about peak oil--the end of cheap oil. Congressman Bartlett
declined to discuss or characterize any of his private conversation with the
President, but said that he was very happy about the meeting.
I must confess I am very cynical about our leadership, but at least Bartlett is getting a hearing. And he is very clear about what he thinks we need to do:
"American needs a national energy policy and a program on a scale of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II to prevent or mitigate the consequences of global peak oil. To avoid a really bumpy ride, what we need to do is dramatically reduce our consumption. The cheapest oil is oil we don't use. Second, we need to invest in greater energy efficiency. Third, we have to invest our limited resources of time and current energy sources to make rapid advances in the development of alternative, renewable sources of energy."
My question is how much does Bush already know? Its hard for me believeive he is not aware, which leads me to question where his loyalties lie. But perhaps he is ignorant.

In my own life I have found that 90% of the people I bring it up to have never heard of it. We need to continue to concentrate on getting the word out. Every small mention will do good, even if the listener doesn't seem responsive to it. Persuasion takes place with repeated messages. All those advertising dollars are spent with a reason. Follow their lead. Give peak oil a 15 second spot in your day.

how did your Senator vote?

My Dad sent me a copy of this letter. I think it would be withing the spirit of the organization to post it here:

Dear NRDC [National Resource Defence Council] Member,

I wanted to share some terrific news from Capitol Hill.

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution that finally recognizes the enormous problem of global warming and declares that our nation must enact mandatory limits on the pollution that causes it. This breakthrough resolution, which was supported by key Republicans and Democrats, sends a clear signal to the White House, which has strongly opposed mandatory cuts.

Without a doubt, this is the biggest leap forward in our global warming campaign in a decade. Last week's vote erases the Senate's 1997 vote against mandatory pollution limits, which the Bush Administration has relied on to justify inaction for the past five years. The Senate has come a long way since then, thanks in part to a relentless advocacy campaign by the NRDC Action Fund that has helped sway many key legislators.

In fact, we played a key role in last week's historic victory. As you know, in past years we've strongly supported the McCain-Lieberman bill, which would force American industry to cut back on global warming pollution. Senators McCain and Lieberman deserve our everlasting gratitude for their passionate pursuit of real action to curb global warming.

Unfortunately, we could not in good conscience support their bill this year because it included a new provision that would have doled out billions of tax dollars for constructing new nuclear power plants. Global warming can be reversed more quickly without new nuclear plants, which take more than a decade to build, pose serious environmental, health and security dangers, and divert resources from more promising technologies.

In the end, the nuclear power provision reduced, rather than increased, Senate support for the McCain-Lieberman bill. As a result, the White House was poised to trumpet the Senate's inaction as an endorsement of the President's "do- nothing" position on global warming.

But at the eleventh hour, the NRDC Action Fund went to work with Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and drafted a "Sense of the Senate" resolution that calls on Congress to enact mandatory limits on global warming pollution by the end of next year. Our resolution quickly won the co-sponsorship of key members of both parties and passed the Senate on a 53-44 vote, putting a majority on record in favor of mandatory pollution limits.

This momentous victory has changed the politics of global warming forever. The world has now heard the Republican-controlled Senate speak loudly and clearly:

The time for action on global warming is now!

Of course, our next great challenge is to translate the Senate resolution into a comprehensive global warming law that we can pass through Congress.

Please make your own voice heard right now. Go to to see how your Senators voted on last week's resolution. Then take a minute to email or phone them with your thanks or your disappointment -- according to their vote. And urge them to fulfill the promise of this historic resolution by supporting and passing a tough global warming law.


John H. Adams
NRDC Action Fund

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

my favorite subject--shopping!

We've all heard that we can "vote with your dollar," so what would it take to make greener choices? Knowing some venue would be the first step. Here are some resources for you to get you started:

  • The National Green pages, the nations only directory of screened and approved green businesses. They have products from accessories to wine. "Shop without the sweatshops."
  • The Fair Trade Federation certifies that its members practice fair trade. They have an extensive list of members, many with online storefronts.
  • The International Fair Trade Association also accredits its members. Here's the link for stores in North America.
  • The Green Guide considers "the underlying cost: the social, environmental and health implications of its manufacture, distribution, use and disposal." They cover air conditioners to wood furniture.
  • Metaefficient explains: "We provide a guide to effective heating, cooling, electricity, drinking water production, and other essential topics. We look across cultures and see what people have done throughout history to fulfill their basic needs."
  • Green Seal "is an independent, non-profit organization that strives to achieve a healthier and cleaner environment by identifying and promoting products and services that cause less toxic pollution and waste, conserve resources and habitats, and minimize global warming and ozone depletion." Their product reports are here.
  • For stuff made with plants (soaps, aromatherapy, candles) Green Products Alliance has an extensive page of links.
  • GreenPeople offers organic food, pet supplies, baby products, beauty products, home improvement, hemp, organic cotton, health products, recycled products.
And the list goes on. Do a google with the word "green" in it and you'll get a plethora of hits.

For a bit of rhetorical criticism, check out Joel Makower's post on the "buyosphere". He links to several articles from the Journal of Industrial Ecology. One is a review of I Want That! How We All Became Shoppers, by Thomas Hine. He includes an excerpt:

For better or worse, we live in a commercial world and consumer society. You can see it at work in the cacophony of advertisements and commercial messages that intrude in our daily lives, in the companies and webs of commerce whose existence depends on our endless appetite for more, and in the political leaders who work to promote unsustainable levels of economic growth, often at the expense of ecological and human needs. You can see it at work in our culture of debt and our need for keeping up with the Joneses. Yet the environmental impacts of our consumption are virtually hidden. Most of us do not see firsthand the natural resources extracted from farms, forests, rangelands, oceans, rivers, and mines that go into what the average American consumes each day. . . .

And finally, for a bit of anti-propaganda, check out Adbusters spoof ads.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

the impact of transportation

In case you didn't see it, the UNplanner put up a thoughtful reply to my "cities, suburbs, country?" post. S/he has also developed these ideas on his/her blog yesterday, titled "The Importance of Transportation." S/he draws on William Catton, who I also posted about recently, who lays out the idea that trade allows people to enlarge their scope of resources. And as the UNplanner points out, trade is dependent on transportation.

Here is how s/he weighs in on the three options:

...Basically, if you live in the suburbs you will eventually find yourself cut off from food, supplies, employment and just about everything else needed to survive...

...As shortages mount, the transportation and distribution network will no longer be able to ship all of the required goods to all of the urban inhabitants. ... Equally important, wastes would not be able to be properly removed and would likely buildup and foster disease. In an urban area with few other acquisition options, increasing hunger, poverty and social discontent could likely fuel the conditions suitable for riots, crime waves and other ill effects...

...While it is true that transportation interruptions would affect the countryside pretty hard, the low overall population and greater distances from the urban and suburban settlements will serve to protect rural outposts from raiding or looting that could occur as order breaks down.

Food for thought.

Andy Brett at the Gristmill posted about transporting people, specifically the alternatives to driving and air travel coast-to-coast. I live 2,700 miles from my family. If I were driving:
  • at $2.50 a gallon, gas would be $307
  • at $3.50 a gallon, gas would be $430
  • at $4.50 a gallon, gas would be $552
  • at $5.50 a gallon, gas would be $675

Ad the cost of hotels on the road, and at some point I would start to consider taking the train. The fare range looks to be $400-$600, and its faster.

If I were flying, the latest figures are $420. I can't guess how the prices will go up to reflect the increase in oil, but they might be substantial. At some point the train will be a viable option, even with the increase in travel time. Brett suggests:

Two ways to increase the appeal of rail ... might be be to:

  • make it faster; or
  • reduce the opportunity cost involved. A [laptop] plug at every seat would be a start; internet access would be a huge pull. Cheaper sleeper cars would also help, since part of the cost of a coach ticket is the possibility of bad sleep for three nights -- right now that NYC to SF ticket jumps to $739 for a sleeper car, but that does include meals for three days.

We need to stop taking transportation for granted and recognize its significance, especially in the light of increasing fuel costs. This is another reason for getting what you need locally.

Monday, June 27, 2005

strange bedfellows

Kurt Cobb posted some good news about unlikely alliances among politicians who find a common cause in peak oil.

I was recently contacted by a local elected official who asked me to set up a customized version of my "Oil Famine" short-course for a group of government officials from my county. I knew going in that the two of us were on opposite ends of the political spectrum. As I spoke to him, I realized that all he wanted to ascertain was whether I could effectively bring the message of peak oil and its possible consequences to the officeholders he had in mind. My political leanings didn't matter.
A Washington Post editorial says that the new energy bill being passed through the Senate "is essentially a status quo bill," protecting the automobile, utility, oil and gas industries. However, there is one bright green spot:

...despite heavy White House lobbying, a handful of Senate Republicans did break with party orthodoxy last week on at least the environmental issue. They voted in favor of a "sense of the Senate" resolution that recognizes for the first time that climate change is a scientific fact, that carbon emissions contribute to climate change and that mandatory controls eventually will have to be deployed.
We need to support our representatives to do the right thing. Here's how to contact them:

To look up legislative information, the Library of Congress provides this service:

Here's my letter. I hope it inspires you to write your own.

I am very concerned about our nation's dependency on fossil fuels. By this I not only our dependence of foreign oil, but on oil in general. I believe we need to drastically curtail our consumption. Obviously this will not be a popular stance. But I think it is a very important message. I urge you to educate yourself about "Peak Oil." Congressman Roscoe Bartlett has some introductory information on his site:

Along with asking individuals to do their part to help us become independent, we also need legislation that supports the development of renewable energy and forces manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their products and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from their processes. We need to develop a long range energy policy that will carry us through difficult times. We can't afford to succumb to the "business as usual" agenda of the automotive, oil, and energy industries.

I believe that these issues transcend party lines and they will be my criteria for voting in the future.

Thank you for your consideration,
Liz Logan

Saturday, June 25, 2005

an optimistic view

Two of today's headlines over at Energy Bulletin struck an optimistic note. The writer talked about the power of increasing our energy efficiency by one or two percent. Over time, these incremental improvements have a huge impact.

The first is an interview interview with Jamais Cascio, one of the founding members of the worldchanging project. The second is a piece by Cascio on his site. The interview covers a wide range of topics, but I would like to highlight his discussion of energy issues.

Since 1845, the amount of energy required to produce the same amount of (cost-adjusted) GNP has steadily decreased by about 1% per year. That's through relative neglect, with efficiency a side-benefit of other technological improvements. But guess what? During the 1970s, the last time we had an "energy crisis," efficiency improved by 4% per year. A 2% rate would be totally achievable. And a 2% rate would make a huge difference:

With 1% annual improvement, population stabilizing as around 10 billion, and overall increase in standards of living to EU levels, the globe would still be using four times as much energy in 2100 as today. By bumping up overall efficiency improvement to 2% averaged over the next century, we'd cut that down to just 40% more than the present. And if we could push to 3% averaged over the century--still very possible, and less than we've anaged in the recent past--we'd actually end up using half our current levels of energy.

Think about that. Everyone on the planet--10 billion people, a bit more than the UN estimate for the end of the century--with Western lifestyles ... and using half the amount of energy we use today. All by paying slightly more attention to efficiency in our designs.
This is like the power of compounding interest--small changes over time net big results. This is true on the small scale as well--you can put it to work in your own home and reap the benefits for your own energy bills. At either level, it points to the importance and power of individual action--we can make a difference. We can vote for more efficiency by talking to our representatives and by making educated purchases. Design matters.

The second essay focuses on the sister-issue to peak oil: global warming. It looks at efficiency in terms of staying under the problem threshold of 440ppm of carbon.

It's pretty straightforward: our carbon output depends on how much power we use, how efficiently we use it, and how "dirty" the production is. Recall that current atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are just under 380 parts per million, and that the general consensus among climatologists is that (looking just at CO2), the climate is up for some serious problems once we hit the 440ppm level. With the Kaya Identity, we can calculate just what combination of factors would keep us below that level.

The math isn't hard -- it's just multiplication -- but charting it out over course of the next century can get a bit tedious. Fortunately, for a class in the Geosciences Department at the University of Chicago, Professor David Archer put together a Kaya Calculator allowing you to plug in preferred figures for each element and see what results.
Cascio goes on to explain that the getting necessary amount of energy from carbon-free sources to stay under 440ppm is not as impossible as it might seem if we plug in a higher rate of annual improvement in efficiency, just like he spoke about in the interview. Our default rate is 1%, but if we increase it to 2% we need to get less energy from carbon-free sources because the overall consumption drops. If we make a 3% change, then its is possible to stabilize at 350ppm, a much safer level.

While Cascio does believe we need to create carbon-free energy sources, his point is that working on the efficiency side of the equation will make a huge difference.

Of course he is assuming a stable economic, social and industrial base for the rest of the century--assuming that we have time to make these changes before the consequences of our inefficiencies becomes criticbut newsnews that small changes can make a difference is always good.

As Engineer-Poet posted in the comments section (worth reading):

Zeroing carbon
Is not so hard as some think
It can be easy

Thursday, June 23, 2005

city, suburb or country? the pros and cons

I've been reading through the threads of various bulletin boards (see a list to the right) on the topic of where is the best place to live if there are disruptions of the social network as a result of peak oil: city, suburb, or country? Each location has its proponents and detractors. I wrote down the salient points of their arguments as I read. Here is a compilation of the pros and cons of each:

City: PRO
more likely to have a progressive population than the burbs or the country
things are in walking distance so you won't have to depend on gasoline
you can get to work without gas
you can get food and supplies without gas
there may still be public transit
the homes makes a small footprint on the land
when people have similar views you are more likely to get cooperation
the economic power of cities will divert food and goods to the city
the transportation hubs of the cities will divert food and goods to the city
small cities without suburbs and with a greenbelt nearby could grow their own food
cities with harbors will be able to participate in interstate and international trade
cities on the coasts will be able to fish the seas
bottom line: cities will be a good place to be if there is a "soft landing"

City: CON
cities can't grow their own food (although in Cuba rooftop gardens supplemented food sources)
many cities have a ring of suburbs that use up farmland
many cities have a ring of suburbs that make farmland more distant from the city center
sanitation could become an issue if garbage collection stops
higher density increases the spread of disease if health care fails
rationing, unemployment or hunger could spark riots
people will have to leave the city for the country to get food becoming refugees
bottom line: cities will be a bad place to be if there is a "hard landing"

Suburb: PRO
more land than in the city for planting food and raising chickens
room to develop home-based businesses
room for boarders or multi-family occupancy
easier to retrofit with solar panels, etc.
individuals can make organic, incremental and adoptive changes without waiting for approval from a group
when people stop commuting to work because gas is too expensive the neighborhoods will be revitalized
bottom line: suburbs will be a good place to be if there is a soft landing and you can resolve the employment issue and can walk or bike to the market

Suburb: CON
there may not be enough land to be self-sufficient
the soil is not good enough to grow on
too much of the land is paved over
it is too far to commute to work without gas
homes were built with cheap energy in mind
telecommuters will be outsourced
mortgages cannot be met with cottage industry
food and supplies are too far away
neighborhoods aren't walkable (not on a grid pattern)
there is no public transit
hungry city dwellers will come to the suburbs
bottom line: suburbs are a bad place to be if there is a hard landing and may be too far from work or market if there is a soft landing

Country: PRO
there is enough land for growing food
there is enough land to support livestock and work horses
it may be more possible to harness renewable energy sources
it is easier to be self-sufficient
it is far from rioting, etc. in the city
you will already be established there if there is a need to move to the country
bottom line: the country is a good place to be if there is a hard landing

Country: CON
it takes several years to learn how to farm
it takes several years to develop the soil for organic farming
newcomers could starve with one crop failure
neighbors may be conservative, fugitives, extremists, drug dealers or just city folk with really big yards
isolation can be a problem especially if you can't drive to see friends
there may not be a local market for non-farm labor
non-food goods and supplies may be hard to get or transport
markets may be too far away to buy from or sell to
refugees from the city and suburbs may inundate
lawbreakers may steal your crops or animals
bottom line: the country may be a bad place unless you are already established there

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

when trade breaks down, farm living looks good

In a post about the ideology of science, Kurt Cobb discusses a seminal book on

... human population and resource use, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, [in which] human ecologist William Catton asks whether we humans are the same as all other animals. Are we destined for the terrible collapse that has always been the fate of other species that overshoot the underlying carrying capacity of their environment, or are we different enough to plan ahead and manage a population decline? His book and the question it asks are as relevant now as they were in 1980 when the book first appeared. Will we at long last accept the verdict of science?

I have spent the last two days reading and digesting excerpts from the book, found online in "the following chapters: The Tragic Story of Human Success, Dependence on Phantom Carrying Capacity, and Industrialization: Prelude to Collapse." I learned a bit of history that I did not know about the great depression.

Consider the farm population in America. Like almost everyone else, farm families were compelled, by the repercussions of bank failures and the ramifications of general panic, to cut their consumer expenditures. Farmers also often had to allow their land, their buildings, and their equipment to deteriorate for lack of money to pay for maintenance and repairs. Many farms were encumbered by mortgages - mortgages which were foreclosed by banks that now desperately needed the payments farmers could not afford to make. (Bank failures were even more common in rural regions than in major cities.) In spite of all these difficulties, however, the farm population in America ceased declining (as it had been doing) and increased between 1929 and 1933 by more than a million. The long-term trend of movement out of farm niches and into urban niches was reversed during the Great Depression.

Catton uses the lens of ecology to look at human endeavors. Occupational niches are parallel to ecological niches that the process of evolution fills. They are created by a surplus in resources.

Niches everywhere were being constricted by the Depression. However, the urbanizing trend that had been occurring as a result of industrial growth in the cities and from elimination of farm niches by mechanization of agriculture was disrupted by this economic breakdown. At the heart of the reversal was a simple fact: the nature of farming in the 1930s was still such that, whatever else they had to give up, there was still truth in the cliche that "the farm family can always eat". Other (non-food-producing) occupational groups that now had to fall back (like the farmers) on carrying capacities of reduced scope could find themselves in much more dire straits.

The "carrying capacity" is the level of population that the ecosystem can support .

If we read it rightly, then, we can see the differential impact of the Depression upon farm versus non-farm populations as a cogent indicator of the dependence of the total population on previously achieved enlargements of the scope of application of Liebig's law.

Liebig's law states that "whatever necessity is least abundantly available ... sets an environment's carrying capacity." It can be enlarged upon by trade, meaning that the increased carrying capacity is dependent on external sources and and the mechanisms of exchange through which trade happens.

With breakdown of the mechanisms of exchange, various segments of a modern nation had to revert as best they could to living on carrying capacities again limited by locally least abundant resources, rather than extended by access to less scarce resources from elsewhere. Although scope reduction hurt everyone, rural folk had local resources to fall back upon; urban people, in contrast, had so detached themselves as to have almost ceased to recognize the indispensability of those resources. For reasons we shall examine in a moment, economic hard times hit the farms sooner than they hit the cities, but in the final scope-reducing crunch the farmers turned out to have an advantage sufficient to interrupt a clear trend of urbanization.

This is another way of understanding that when oil prices are high enough that transportation of goods are curtailed, we will be dependent upon our local resources. This then begs the question, what can our local resources provide? And the key areas to consider are food, water, employment, medical care and emergency services. If these can't be obtained locally (meaning without relying on a private vehicle to access), then relocating might begin to make sense. The question of where to live will be the topic of my next post.

Monday, June 20, 2005

doom and gloom

Today's post by Prof. Goose on The Oil Drum (link through via here) has got me thinking about the issues of doom and gloom and peak oil. The debaters can be divided into three categories: the "doomers," the "Cassandras," and the "Pollyannas." For a brief history of the debate, look here. Apparently (based on the discussion in the feedback following Goose's post) there has been some discussion in the blogosphere about why some people resonate with the doomsday scenarios and some people don't. (If you can point me to some of this discussion, please do!)

One line of argument has it that the doomers had a predisposition to the idea of an end-of-civilization outcome and that is why they embraced it, rather than being convinced by the weight of evidence or the turn of arguments. This implies that the evidence and arguments don't have enough merit on their own. It is essentially an ad hominem argument that attacks the speaker rather than the message: the nature of the doomers themselves invalidates their argument.

The appeal of this argument is easy to see. I know of several people who embraced the more bleak scenarios immediately, who already had a pretty bleak view of the world. Thus, it was easy for me to dismiss what they were saying as "just more of the gloom and doom stuff."

On the other hand, if we step back for a minute and look at the nature of persuasive messages and the predisposition of their recipients, we can make some generalizations. Imagine a line that represents a continuum of opinion of an audience member before they hear the message. On one end is "pro" and at the other end is "con." The audience member is somewhere along that continuum.

So what happens when this person hears a pitch? Research on persuasion tells us that we can expect someone to be moved a little bit down that continuum towards the "pro" side every time they hear a successful message. As I tell my public speaking students, it is not realistic to expect that someone move from one end of the scale to the other. For folks at the extremely "con" end, your goal is to avoid polarizing them against you, and maybe even get them to listen to you. For folks in the "middle" you want them to go from neutral towards acceptance.

The folks on the "pro" side should be moved as well. If they are already for something, get them to take action. In th case of peak oil, if they are already concerned about the way that we relate to our environment, they might be willing to embrace the idea of peak oil and maybe even become advocates for spreading information about it--like me.

My point is that just because someone is predisposed to a message and therefore embraces it does not mean that the message itself should be suspect. The message should stand alone on its own merits and be critically evaluated no matter where you stand on the continuum to start with.

That being said, there is another phenomenon we have to attend to, and that is the "turn off factor" when gloom and doom is invoked. Besides the repugnance of the message, there is the reality that so far, despite a millennium's worth of predictions, the world has not ended. Many people cite Y2K as a prime example.* This is a whole lot of evidence that peakers have to outweigh.

All of this boils down to the importance of being able to get good data and being educated enough to be able to evaluate it. If evaluating statistics is to complex, then we have to rely on others to do this for us. And then their credentials must be good. Here are some criteria with which to evaluate credibility: (thanks to Prof. Brimblecone).

  • What is his or her background experience and knowledge ?
  • Is s/he a subject matter expert, eg. knowledgeable on current issues, trends, challenges…?
  • Does s/he have formal qualifications, observed by profession?
  • Is there a lack of conflict of interest?
  • Is there agreement between experts? Are disagreements acknowledged?
  • What is his or her reputation?

Furthermore, you should consider the venu in which you read their opinions. So what should you look for in a website?

  • Who wrote it? What are his or her qualifications?
  • How current is it?
  • Is it accurate? Does it cite the sources accurately?
  • Does it make sense?
  • What is the bias? Is it objective? Promotional?
  • Who sponsors the site? Is there full disclosure?
  • How does it compare with other credible sources?
Investigating peak oil for yourself is not easy or pleasant or straightforward. This is why I am grateful for the work of others who do the analysis and bring forward the relevant news stories.

*But they may not realize that the world did not crash because it became the Manhattan project of its time. Programmers spent months fixing the problem--and yay, it got fixed!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

eating close to home

Eating locally produced foods is a way to reduce your footprint on the Earth by reducing the oil consumption and emissions that transportation produces. You may have heard the oft-quoted statistic that the average food travels 1,500 miles before getting to you plate. That comes from a study by Rich Pirog, Marketing and Food Systems Program Leader at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

This article at Science News Online explains the ins and outs of determining the real cost of the foods we eat:

What most consumers probably don't realize, Pirog says, is that the majority of their food makes a long haul. In a new report from his center called "Checking the Food Odometer," he calculates the average distance that 16 popular types of produce take to Iowa restaurants and conference centers. For locally grown and distributed goods, the average was about 56 miles. For those that take a more typical route from the lowest-cost provider and through a distributor, the average was 1,500 miles.
But it is not just about the distance traveled, it is also about the energy inputs required. For example:

...Spanish tomatoes can be delivered to Swedish consumers at a lower nvironmental cost than that of locally grown ones. How? The Spanish tomatoes are raised in warm, open fields, while the Dutch and Scandinavian ones have to be grown in greenhouses warmed with fossil fuels.

So how can we determine the "food miles" of our foods? We can ask. We did a local survey and were dismayed to discover that the produce at our "local" farm standish stores was not necessarily local. Pirog wants to put labels on foods that indicates the distance traveled and the environmental impact. Whole Foods indicates the source of the produce right next to the price.

If you are lucky enough to have a farmer's market near you, then you are set. You may even be able to sign up to have food delivered to a drop point near you year round from a farm through Community Supported Agriculture. The USDA website quotes Susanne DeMuth who defines it this way:

In basic terms, CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.

They have a data base of CSA farms; maybe there is one near you.

Another resource for locating local produce is the Local Harvest directory which links consumers with providers.

The freshest, healthiest, most flavorful organic food is what's grown closest to you. Use our website to find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Just click on the map below to zoom in, or use our search form for quick results. If you are a farmer, market manager, or run a business
related to locally-grown food, you can add your listing to our directory - free.
We did a search using our area code and found an organic farm just five miles from us that runs a stand every Thursday--you can bet we'll be there!

Friday, June 17, 2005

soul food

I've got two sites for your to bookmark for the next time you are in the mood for a bit of on-line adventure.

Re-earthing the Cities is the fruition of a life-long love affair with the natural world by Margaret RainbowWeb. She is an Earth-mother who has transformed her tiny urban space into a Garden of Eden, drawing on the lessons she learned growing up during WWII in England. Her pages are both spiritual and practical, and definitely inspiring.

I was trained as a Permaculture Educator, specializing in urban design & sustainable living in the City, and have been developing an urban Permaculture design here since 1989. ... My commitment & strength of purpose is constantly renewed by various re-earthing practices, developed through a deep & life-long connection with the earth, & inspired by what has now become widely known as Deep Ecology. Since
retiring, I have become an eco-hermit, & developed this website dedicated to Re-Earthing the World's Cities.

The pages about WWII really brought home what is missing now from our leadership: a concerted campaign to educate and encourage people to embrace sustainable practices. Even though it may be too late to avoid a crash, everything we can do now will only help. And there are many policies that could make a difference. One of my favorites is to reduce the speed limit back to 55 mph. Besides saving gas and lives, it would also reduce the stress I experience driving on one of the busiest freeways in the U.S., where 18-wheelers regularly whiz by at 70+ mph.

These pages also made me mourn how little I learned about gardening and canning from my parents and grandparents. I missed an opportunity to learn to be more self-sufficient. Sewing is another thing that fits into that category. But it is not to late to learn these skills, and there are many intentional communities that teach them.

The economads Erika, OfeK and baby Momo travel the world from community to community, learning and sharing sustainable skills with their tribe and write a very entertaining EvoluLog about their adventures.

It's been 1619 days since we left Palestine on a mission - to evolve by acquiring first-hand knowledge and experience from people intending to create a new tribal culture. We visit mostly egalitarian green intentional communities and aim to make the most ecological, ethical, and affordable choices as we travel, grow, eat, buy, sell, wear, and live. This is the travelogue of our evolution - this is our EvoluLog!
Besides lots of great pictures and a dry wit, they provide an inside peek at a variety of communities. Its definitely worth a look!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

How does your city rate?

Curious about how "green" your city is? I have three tools for you.

SustainLane's US City Rankings rates 25 cities using 12 areas of comparison. They look at the US Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Environmental & Energy Design) building certification; the availability of farmer's markets; using alternatives to fossil fuels; air and water quality; waste diversion; composting systems; planning, zoning and land use; and city innovation and knowledge base ("how well cities are developing everything from new financial and behavioral incentives, to communications and information management processes and technologies.")

Don't see your city in the rankings?

Tell us what's happening in your city that we should know about, whether or not your city was included in our study. We will be expanding the SustainLane US City Rankings significantly next year to the top 50 cities in America, and will be adding a best practices section to highlight a path for implementation.
This feedback is important for city planners and citizens alike. They can help answer the questions what is possible? What is needed? What is the next step? As well as where are good places to live?

Another tool is the Green Map. This is a map that includes information about green living resources. Its a regular map with collaboratively designed icons on them. They have PDF file that you can download to get a peek at all of the icons and their meanings. They have everything from the location of farmer's markets to protest sites (marked with a big exclamation point).

"Green Maps cultivate citizen participation and community sustainability," by helping "residents discover and get involved in their community's environment, and help[ing] guide tourists (even virtual ones) to special places and successful green initiatives they can replicate back home."
To check and see if there is a green map of your area, look here. Some of them are even on line.

Finally, you might want to evaluate how walkable your community is. This article by Dan Burden will give you the 12 most important things to rate. I'll list them here, but it is worth a few minutes to peruse his very readable prose:
  1. intact town centers
  2. residential densities, mixed income, mixed use
  3. public space
  4. universal design
  5. speed control
  6. streets, trails are well linked
  7. design is properly scaled
  8. town is designed for people
  9. town is thinking small
  10. there are many people walking
  11. town and neighborhoods have a vision
  12. decision makers are visionary, communicative and forward thinking

He also lists some of his favorite walkable communities, which should get you started if you are looking. Dan works with communities of all sizes to make them more pedestrian friendly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

books on conscious living

The Global Living Project was in the news today because Jim Merkel has a new book out that looks good; Radical Simplicity: small footprints on a finite Earth.

In the face of looming ecological disaster, many people feel the need to change their own lifestyles as a necessary step in transforming our unsustainable culture. Radical Simplicity is the first book that guides the reader to a personal sustainability goal, then offers a process to monitor progress to a lifestyle that is equitable amongst all people, species, and generations.

The website has a great page that explains the concept of one's "environmental footprint" with meaningful statistics.

It estimates how much of Earth's productive land and sea is used to produce the food, materials and energy that we consume and to assimilate our wastes. The EF
looks behind the scenes to really see what it takes to make an alarm clock, a cup of coffee, our clothes, our home and to operate our automobile.

The site also has some great links to other sites with the theme of voluntary simplicity. Several of them include the financial self-help book Your Money or Your Life as a source material. Its been many years since I read it, so I'll snip some PR:

Our old financial map, instead of making us more independent, fulfilled individuals, has led us to a web of financial dependencies. From birth to death we have become financially dependent -- on our parents for our first financial sustenance, on 'the economy' in order to get a good job, on 'the job' for our survival, on 'unemployment' handouts to tide us over between jobs, on our pension to pay our way in old age and on Medicare if we get sick before we die. The material progress that as supposed to free us has left us more enslaved.

At some point in the last forty years, though, conditions began to change. For many people, material possessions went from fulfilling needs to enhancing comfort to facilitating luxury -- and even beyond to excess. Unlike the past, problems began to emerge that could not be solved by providing more material goods. The planet itself began showing signs of nearing its capacity to handle the results of our economic growth and consumerism -- water shortages, topsoil loss, global warming, ozone holes, species extinction, natural resource degradation and depletion, air pollution and trash buildup are all signs that our survival is in question. Even though we 'won' the industrial revolution, the spoils of war are looking more and more spoiled. New tools for navigation are needed. What we need is a new financial road map that is based on current global conditions and offers us a way out.

They offer a nine step program to create that road map. The step that made the most impact for me was tracking everything I spent. This was an eye opener. It also had a great method for paying down consumer debt. If you would like help with that, I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Getting the word out

Ooo, ooo! Energy Bulletin just announced a new movie about global energy politics--a thriller called The Deal. It stars Christian Slater and was made on a low budget to preserve its independent point of view. The website even includes discussion questions for after the show. Its something that people who are more conservative would like to go see, for the drama. The trailer looked good, too. It opens June 17th in selected theatres. I hope someone who goes will post their comments. Check it out!

As I've become aware of peak oil I've been walking around the house saying "goodbye" to things... the rooms, the view, the A/C, the fridge. Things in my purse. Nail polish. Gum. Deodorant, for God's sake. Maybe I am coming into the "acceptance" stage of my grieving process. Next comes action.

I read an interview with U.S. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett in which he discusses his special order speeches about peak oil. He said something that caught my attention:

We need to change the culture, that is absolutely right. We have had a culture which says "the more energy you use, the more successful you are." We need to have a culture that says "the less energy you can use to be comfortable, the better off you are and the better you should feel about yourself."
That is a tall order. I am struck by this when I make the transition from doing research on the web for several hours, then going to watch TV. Why isn't this the top news story? Why aren't there educational shows about how to reduce our dependency on oil in our daily lives? Why didn't we take action 25 years ago? We're late!

As pressured as the situation is, we need to think critically on a personal and a political level. We don't have the luxury of time to correct our mistakes. Getting the word out, educating ourselves and others is the first step. Helping people through the emotional implications is very important in my view. Connecting with others who are going through it or who have gone through it helps. That's where things like the bulletin boards about peak oil come in.

Then comes the brainstorming, the decision making, the action plan and implementation. A whole lotta work, in other words. And not a fun prospect. But what I gather from these bulletin boards is that taking action helps one feel more empowered and in control. So I think that baby steps along the way are important psychologically, even if they don't make a big difference (but those small things add up!) Mr. Logan and I carpooled today. And yes, that felt good.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

What's your impact on the environment?

I've found two more self-tests that help you understand your impact on the environment. They were very thought provoking. One is published by Redefining Progress, (the link is on the right side of the page) an organization committed to working with "a broad array of partners to shift the economy and public policy towards sustainability." One of their partners is Earth Day International, and together they have developed the Ecological Footprint Quiz.


It did all three for me. My footprint was higher than average. And it would take 6.6 Earths to sustain my consumption if everybody used as much as I did. I am definitely trapped in suburbia! The best part was they had a way to calculate the difference you could make if you changed your behavior. It was a great motivator. I am going to do a little research so I can input my consumption more accurately. I would love to track the change in my numbers.

The second self-test is the Personal CO2 Calculator published by ICLEI.

ICLEI's mission is to build and serve a worldwide movement of local governments to achieve tangible improvements in global sustainability with special focus on environmental conditions through cumulative local actions.

This quiz will require you to dig up your bills to calculate your emissions. It will provide you with numbers to compare your emissions with others around the world and a few suggestions for reducing them and saving money.

Mine were really high because of the lack of public transportation, the need for air conditioning and my bi-coastal travel. I had never added up my annual electricity costs, either. That was an eye opener. We have a relatively new house that is well insulated (storm windows, etc.) so I guess our best bet is to turn off those lights and computer, replace the bulbs, use the minimum air and heating.

The first step in any change is getting accurate feedback about your starting point. And as they say in business, "if you don't measure it, it doesn't exist." So I encourage you to invest the time and effort in raising your own consciousness by taking these tests (plus the one I mentioned on June 10th).

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Two: one to do it and one to take a picture for posterity! Posted by Hello

Thanks to baloghblog for issuing the challenge!

How many bloggers does it take to change a lightbulb? Posted by Hello

Friday, June 10, 2005

steps towards synergy

Would you like to raise your consciousness about how lightly you live on the Earth? Then I invite you to invest less than 30 minutes on an interesting self-test by The Institute for Earth Education.

The Living More Lightly Profile
Completing this profile on-line will take 30 minutes or less. Remember, this is not a test. You are not being judged. The score you receive is your own. This is simply a tool for you to use in determining what lifestyle changes are most important to you.

My score was about 276. It helped me pinpoint where I have room for improvement. And I got to say "usually" when asked if I turned of lights and electronics when nobody was in the room. That's a new leaf I have turned over since starting this blog. I hate the darkness and with all the rain we are getting I like to turn on every light in the house. But I wasn't thinking about the environmental cost of using all that electricity. So now I turn them on and off as I go.

A couple of years ago our dryer broke and we hung our clothes up over the summer. Other than a mishap with a fire ant hill, I actually enjoyed doing the laundry and bringing in the sunny-smelling clothing. I'm thinking about reinstating this practice. If you do use a dryer, here are some tips to maximize its efficiency.

I've been reading up on voluntary simplicity. Clay and Judy Woods have a page about their choices and they explained an interesting concept called the "simple triangle:"

Several years ago an article in In Context magazine pointed out that in most cases, something that saves you money (specific choices or philosophies) will also be environmentally positive and good for your health. Something that is good for your health will probably be good for the environment and will save you money. Something that you do for the good of the environment will also (you guessed it) save you money and promote good health. They had a neat little triangle, not unlike the recycling triangle with health, money, and environment as the sides.

Think about it. You stop using pesticides in your home and garden to keep from poisoning yourself (health). You save the money you would have spent on the chemicals. Your immediate environment is allowed to function without noxious chemicals in your indoor and outdoor landscape. Or you decide to eat less meat. Good for your health, eating lower on the food chain uses less resources including land, water, grain, energy for processing, etc. (environment) and it costs you less to
eat veggies and fruit and grains than to eat meat (money). Try some other stuff - usually it works.
This is similar to the new idea that environmental concerns are not diametrically opposed to economic concerns. In fact there are new models and case studies that show how increasing environmental sustainability facilitates economic sustainability. The book Natural Capitalism has popped up in a lot of my recent searches. One review explains:
Many real-life examples illustrate how huge resource savings can be made at low cost, while often improving overall productivity. You start to wonder why it is not already being done, and what we can do to speed things up. Somehow we need to break down the negative image of the environment as a burden, and encourage a more collaborative and innovative culture. Hawken et al. point out the potential for harnessing the very market forces which have led to so much environmental destruction, to help us in this task.
I'm hoping that this kind of positive synergy will help us overcome the obstacles facing us today.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Books on peak oil

Mike has posted a list of peak oil references at I have excerpted his book list below:

Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy » By Matthew R. Simmons. 2005.
The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century » By James Howard Kunstler. 2005.
Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World » By Richard Heinberg. 2004.
The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World » Paul Roberts. 2005.
Blood and Oil : The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency » By Michael T. Klare. 2004.
Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak » By Kenneth S. Deffeyes. 2004.
Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil » By Michael C. Ruppert. 2004.
Oil, Jihad, and Destiny » By Ronald R. Cook. 2004.
The Coming Oil Crisis » Colin Campbell, 2004. A respected oil industry geologist.
Crude : The Story of Oil » By Sonia Shah. 2004.
A Century Of War : Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order » By F. William Engdahl. 2004.
Oil: Anatomy of an Industry » By Matthew Yeomans. 2004.
Out of Gas: The end of the age of oil » David Goodstein, 2004. Scientific slant, from a thermodynamicist.
The Oil Factor: Protect yourself and profit from the coming energy crisis » Stephen Leeb, Donna Leeb, 2004. Financial and economic perspective, from a pair of investors.
High Noon for Natural Gas » Julian Darley, 2004.
Jimmy Carter and the Energy Crisis of the 1970s: The "Crisis of Confidence" Speech of July 15, 1979 » Daniel Horowitz, 2004.
The Party's Over: Oil, war, and the fate of industrial societies » By Richard Heinberg. 2003. Humanistic perspective, from the view of an ecologist.
Hubbert's Peak: The impending world oil shortage » Kenneth S. Deffeyes, 2003. From an oil industry geologist.
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late » By Thom Hartmann. 2004/2000.
The one that gets the most coverage is Kunstler's The Long Emergency. He recently published an article at the Macon Daily that gives an outline of his point of view (thanks Johnny!).
Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychology, famously remarked that "people cannot stand too much reality." What you're about to read may challenge your assumptions about the kind of world we live in, and especially the kind of world into which events are propelling us. We are in for a rough ride through uncharted territory.

If you have read any of them I invite you to share your opinion of it. As I read them I will share my impressions.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

sharing information about peak oil

I've spent the evening looking for a good "beginner" site to recommend, and I've settled on Wolf at the Door: a beginner's guide to oil depletion. Despite it's rather sensational name, it provides a very easy to read, well documented introduction to peak oil. Thompson invites the reader to download the same statistics he did and do their own analysis, and this transparency builds his credibility.

I am not an oil expert. All my knowledge of oil depletion comes from books, websites and by studying the statistics. Up to a few years ago, I was as ignorant of the crisis as the average person still is. Consequently, there is nothing on this site that the ordinary uninformed person cannot unde rstand since I am also an ordinary person who was uninformed. The facts of oil depletion are littered with oil jargon (see Jargon) and endless tables of figures. Every statistic seems to be defined differently by different authors and even a term such as "oil" has a multitude of meanings. It is no wonder that the ordinary man or woman in the street is not aware of the problem.

The bulk of the statistics I am using in this site are from two sites: the BP Statistical Review and the ASPO News (The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas). I use these because the sets of statistics are easily available to download from the respective websites whilst much data is difficult to find and/or expensive. Neither set of oil figures can be relied on for total accuracy but, since the inaccuracy tends towards the optimistic (certainly in the BP figures), it will bring home to you the trouble we are in. If things seem bad with these figures, think how bad it really is.

I also found a letter with advice on how to introduce the topic to people, and judging from my own difficulties with accepting the information when it was first presented to me, I'd say it is right on--and even then, don't take it personally if it doesn't go over too well. (I hope this link works, you might have to log into yahoo to see the post).

The energy decline message is unavoidably a 'disappointment' to the listener. The nature of the message puts the explainer in a position of power-of-knowledge over the hearer. To them, that can be shocking, intimidating, distressing and repulsive. Here are some ways that avoid those things. Ask for permission before talking about the energy decline. The natural tendency is simply to excitedly, overpoweringly, blurt ouwhat youou know, without protecting the listener. This typically causes resentment, defiance and denial...
And if you are ready to take some action, I invite you to join me for baloghblog's "challenge of the week".

Buy a single fluorescent light bulb and put in the light that you use the most or leave on the longest in your house.

That's doable!

The Path to Freedom

I found a lovely blog and website by a family in Pasadena who have been doing urban homesteading for the last five years. They have been an inspiration to many as they find their own ways to answer the question "what can I do to become more sustainable?"

This is a big question, and it can't even really be addressed until after the emotional fallout of learning about things like peak oil and global warming, not to mention the bird flu, is worked through. The main problem is uncertainty. When will the planet peak? Estimates range between now and 2037, with the ASPO revising their estimate from 2010 to 2008. What will happen? There are too many variable to know for sure. What is the prudent path to take? At the very least we can learn about the various scenarios. It is never a bad move to reduce our energy footprint. Or to plan for various eventualities.

One thing I love about the Path to Freedom family I mentioned above is that they have become a both a virtual and live community hub. It bring home the idea that one household can make a difference, and also, that we do not have to deal with our concerns alone. There is a lot of support out there, no matter where we are on our own path.

Speaking of support, I wanted to mention another bulletin board before I add it to the links section. The peak oil board is part of the Democratic Underground, which hosts political topics.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Oil Storm, systems theory and peak oil links

After reading some of the commentary on Oil Storm, I found myself nodding my head to a post on one of the's forums that talked about what the film got right:

1. Troops in the Middle East for oil, not freedom

2. Recession, depression, ... and panic

3. The dangers of relying on foreign oil

4. Oil artificially supporting suburbia

5. China as a legitimate competitor for oil

6. The importance of farming and sustainable living

I would add that it highlighted the vulnerability of the entire system and how interdependent everything is. All of these are important concepts that are relevant regardless of what we believe will happen after peak oil.

We need to start thinking in terms of system. Systems theory points out that things that happen in one part of the system can effect things in other parts of the system, and I think the film made that abundantly clear. We also need to think about the inputs and outputs of the system. Oil is an input to more than just gasoline. One important product the film mentioned was fertilizer and pesticides. Another system to consider is the delivery system that relies on cheap oil. Remember the truckers? How will the food distribution network be effected by high prices or shortages? These considerations lead people in the sustainable community to claim that "food=oil."

The system model also allows us to zoom in or out to look at subsystems and suprasystems. "Think globally and act locally" follows this principle. It is easy to get completely overwhelmed when considering what is happening at the global level. I think it is very important to stay in touch with our "sphere of influence." To feel more empowered, we need to focus on what we can do. This could be something simple like implementing one of the suggestions you have seen many times on lists about how to conserve energy; things like changing the setting on your thermostat or putting in fluorescent bulbs.

A slightly more complex idea from systems theory is feedback. The classic example of this is in animal populations that increase in times of plenty. Then when the animals start to outstrip their food supply the population decreases. We need to look at oil in the big picture and understand that we have been in a unprecedented time of plenty, but when the supply dwindles we will have to adapt, one way or another.

So what did the film get wrong? The problem lies in what it didn't say. It presented Russia's oil as a solution but did not point out that oil itself is a finite resource. It missed an opportunity to bring forward the idea of peak oil.

I have mentioned this concept several times and I would like to give you some background information. Kevin Drum, in his column in the Washington Monthly, has written a series about peak oil that will introduce you to the basics.

Part 1: Oil production in the non-OPEC world is likely to peak within a few years and then begin an irreversible decline.

Part 2: Oil peaking is caused by unavoidable geologic factors. It happens to all oil fields and can't be stopped just by spending more money.

Part 3: There isn't much oil left elsewhere in the world to make up for the upcoming decline in non-OPEC supplies. A global peak, followed by a steady decline in production, is likely within the next ten years.

Part 4: As bad as this is, there's something even worse that's happened already: the world has run out of spare pumping capacity. The result is likely to be steadily rising prices and frequent oil shocks, leading to increasing global instability and a turbulent economy held permanent hostage to terrorists, unstable dictatorships, resource wars, and natural disasters.

Part 5: There are things we can do to manage the approaching oil peak, but we need start now and we need to address both supply and consumption.

Coda: A final word on why peak oil is serious, but not the end of civilization.

Elisabeth Alpers has put together a list of links for further reading at her storefront Peak Oil Aware that sells items with peak oil graphics on them (I've deleted links previously referred to).

Oil Crisis A very comprehensive collection of articles, summaries by experts, discussions on renewable energy alternatives, and more - essential reading. The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas and the Uppsala Protocol - essential reading.

Peak Oil Audio Documentary and Oil, Immigration and Population Growth by Kellia Ramares.

Dry Dipstick - a great directory of peak oil links.

Oil Awareness Meetup Groups Worldwide links to groups of people around the world who meet together to discuss peak oil and its implications.

The Oil Drum - an excellent blog, from a progressive and academic perspective by two bloggers: a senior faculty member in energy production disciplines, and a social scientist.

And if you are willing to be confronted by some "in your face" arguments about peak oil, check out

Life After the Oil Crash - very thought provoking stuff here! It certainly helps to kick-start you into 'prepare mode'.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Go pop a bag of popcorn

hi Posted by Hello

Here are three movies that you won't want to miss. The first two you can get to by clicking on the links. We'll start with The Meatrix, with more references to The Matrix. (And if you missed the link to the blue pill yesterday, go back and check it out!)

The second is Store Wars starring Cuke Skywalker.

And finally, FX network's Oil Storm will air Sunday at 8:00PM and 10:00PM, and then Monday at 8:00PM and 11:00PM.

Oil Storm will look at a series of natural and man-made disasters which interrupt the flow of oil to the United States, creating a huge set of crises and dramatically changing our way of life. Oil Storm changes the form of the traditional disaster movie, as it will be designed to be an accurate, thought-provoking and serious portrayal of what would potentially happen in the event of if oil production to America was halted.

I hope that this film will spur the public dialogue about peak oil. I know the sustainable community will have lots to say about it. I will be commenting on it and I invite and welcome your comments as well.

Friday, June 03, 2005

down the rabbit hole

Last night I came upon another institute that is working to educate communities about sustainable living.

[The] Post Carbon institute is an educational institution and think tank that explores in theory and practice what cultures, civilization, governance & economies might look like without the use of (non-renewable) hydrocarbons as energy and chemical feedstocks.
Their conclusion is that we need to "powerdown," and one of their strategies is to "Develop a network of community groups and organizations working on relocalization." In a nutshell,

Relocalization is the process by which communities localize their economies and essential systems, such as food and energy production, water, money, culture, governance, media, and ownership. This process will require that we rebuild our cities to severely reduce transport needs and support localization of essential systems - ecological city design provides as framework for this transformation.

The most exciting thing I came across on their site was a call for volunteers to help them work with community "Outposts" groups. You can bet I'll be following this up. I'll let you know what I find out in a week or two.

Speaking of support, I have been checking out bulletin boards and forums that relate to peak oil. When I read an introduction to one that said "[t]his is the group where feelings are as important as the desire for knowledge," I knew I had come to the right place.

I have learned that my own experiences after I first heard about "peak oil" are pretty common. When my friends and husband wanted to talk about it, I would stick my fingers in my ears and sing "la la la la la." They finally got me to watch The End of Suburbia, but I still felt the information in it was too fantastic to be believed. I hated the feeling that I was being presented with yet another vision of doomsday, and I was angry that they were pressuring me (as it felt to me then) to listen to information that I could give no credence to.

I didn't want to think about it, learn about it or know about it. But it was too late. I had already swallowed the red pill.* I'm not sure how it happened but slowly, bit by bit, I was able to let a little more in. Then I passed my own tipping point and suddenly I immersed myself in it. The results you see here.

It has been a relief to know that I am not alone. That the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) are a perfectly normal reaction to information that is potentially life-altering. I think I am in the bargaining phase, trying to find information that will help me survive this mess we have gotten ourselves into. There are no easy answers, and everyone will have to make their own way. But we are not alone.

If you, or someone you know has doubts and are willing to see a very rational explanation of the mathematics behind our predicament, I highly recommend this video of a lecture by Al Bartlett. He's a great educator, end even though it is a small format and it is hard to see all of his overheads, he does an excellent job of explaining the power of growth rates and the implications for our oil reserves. He dissects some of the claims we have heard over the years from experts and our government and gives the viewer the power to do their own analysis.

* for Mom: this is a reference to the movie The Matrix.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Think globally, act locally

My fantasy about bringing sustainability to the mayors is happening this week in San Francisco, which is hosting the UN World Environment Day this year. Mayors are coming from all over the world to meet and discuss pesticides, waste, water, urban design, transportation, energy and parks.

Quoted in a SF Chronicle article;

Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco's Environment Department and a chief onference organizer... [said] many in the international community "believe the United States has forgotten its global role when it comes to the evironment... Whenever I go anywhere, recently to Shanghai, people come up and say, 'It's so sad the U.S. isn't doing anything on the environment. It used to be such a leader.' My response is that U.S. cities and states are doing a huge amount when it comes to environmental protection, but that's not what anyone is hearing."

This reinforces my impression that we need to look to the local level for leadership and solutions. Lord knows it isn't coming from the top.

Another way to act locally is to eat food that is grown locally. "Locavor" Jessica Prentice is promoting the idea of eating exclusively from our "foodshed" and are encoraging SF Bay Area residents to pledge to do so this August.

Recognition of one's residence within a foodshed can confer a sense of connection and responsibility to a particular locality. The foodshed can provide a place for us to ground ourselves in the biological and social realities of living on the land and from the land in a place that we can call home, a place to which we are or can become native.

Another idea based on local place is the Bioregion, and the Ninth Continental Bioregional Congress is a gathering of people who are committed to being active citizens of their "life-places."

Bioregionalism means working to satisfy basic needs locally, relying on renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, developing local enterprises based on local skills and strengths. Bioregionalism challenges and is an alternative to nationalism, corporate rule, and top-down globalization of our lives.

Finally, at the personal action level, Aric McBay's provides a radical response to the collapse of civilization and practical advice for how to survive it.

This handbook is for learning the skills that we need to encourage the dismantlement of industrial civilization as soon as possible, and to create healthy, democratic, ecological communities in the wake of its collapse.

This is exactly the kind of information that needs to be on a bookshelf somewhere in your house "just in case." It is the kind of information that I would like to disseminate to communities should the worst happen.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

helping communities

Last night I talked with a friend and began to articulate a role that I could play in helping communities cope with some of the problems we are facing. I am beginning to see myself as a facilitator, helping people, businesses and governments to implement logistical solutions if/as the need for decentralized local self-sufficiency becomes urgent. It would be a very satisfying way to use my teaching, facilitating and organizing skills.

In my exploration of the sustainable blogosphere, I have run across a couple of references to Kevin Drum's article in The Washington Monthly about peak oil (part one) so I checked it out. It has 156 comments that brought forward many of this issues that people are talking about on this topic. Roger Keeling recommended some papers published by the Rocky Mountain Institute that had "done an enormous amount of highly-authoritative work" so I followed the links.

Bingo! I found an robust organization that I had been imagining only the night before. I was fantasizing about giving sustainable living seminars to a conference of mayors, which is not far off RMI's mark. I was particularly interested in the work they do with communities that are seeking restoration and renewal. They encourage the stakeholders to learn how they can benefit from sustainable interventions and even encourage participative decision making.

I am looking forward to reading some of their reports. They sound like they are uniquely experienced to know how to set up and direct interventions for communities that might need help rather suddenly if some of the more dire predictions about peak oil come to pass.

On a more depressing note, Kurt Cobb at Resource Insights turned me on to what I suspect will become a favorite blog of mine called The Unplanner, written by an unnamed planner in an unnamed city in central California. He described his long awaited meeting with his boss in "Conversations with Denial," in which he tries to bring up issues of sustainability and their impact on the planning process. Ha.