Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Much of this information has not been confirmed, but it will give you an idea of the mood north of Atlanta:
  • Local gas stations are out of gas and others have closed at 5:00 PM.
  • The Wal*Marts are sold out of gas cans.
  • The lowest price is $2.59 a gallon and the highest is $4.75.
  • Gas stations that are open are limiting the quantity to 10 gallons.
  • One station that I stopped at this evening is out of gas and won't see more gas until the weekend at the earliest.
  • Drive-offs (not paying for gas) are increasing.
  • Police are staffing stations.
  • Lines are long.

In my household we are deciding to cut out the non essentials immediately. No more trips to the gym. Grocery store runs will be planned so that we can stock up. One friend of mine had the foresight to stockpile 35 gallons. I wasn't so smart. My husband's business may shut down next week. He works in new home construction and goes to distant jobsites every day. But without gas this will not be possible. So extrapolating from that it might not be too far out to say that the housing boom in Atlanta is on the verge of collapsing.

CNN says our gas pipelines escaped damage but lost power. They are resuming at 35% capacity with the hopes of getting to 60% capacity this weekend.

The silver lining is that we may be able to educate people about Peak Oil. The gas crisis has certainly got their attention.

Close to home...

Gas pipelines down
Much higher prices, shortages possible

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 08/31/05

Metro Atlanta drivers are facing the possibility of paying considerably more than $3 a gallon for gas by Labor Day — if they can get it at all.

The two pipelines that bring gasoline and jet fuel to the region are down — powerless to pump as Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on electrical infrastructure.

The metro Atlanta region generally has about a 10-day supply of gasoline in inventory, said BP spokesman Michael Kumpf. The pipelines have been down for two days.

Alpharetta-based Colonial Pipeline Co., cut off from its suppliers on the Gulf Coast, is now pumping gas from huge storage tanks, many in Powder Springs. Whether electric power can be restored to the pipeline pumps before supplies run out is "the great uncertainty ... that hangs over all of us," said Daniel Moenter, a spokesman for Marathon Ashland Petroleum, a major supplier of metro Atlanta's fuel.

Some suppliers are rationing gasoline to retailers, so some stations may already be near empty.
With supplies uncertain, oil companies and larger wholesalers are ratcheting up prices, partly to slow demand. Some local wholesalers already are paying 65 to 80 cents per gallon more than they paid three days ago. That kind of price increase will hit the pumps within a few days.
On Monday, the scare talk was about prices hitting $3 a gallon at the pump. By Tuesday, that line had changed for the worse, said Tex Pitfield, president of Saraguay Petroleum Corp., which delivers gas to retailers.

"Depending on how much damage has actually taken place and the time involved in getting the infrastructure up and running, is $4 a gallon out of the question? Not necessarily," he said.
Peter Beutel, an oil analyst with Cameron Hanover, told The Associated Press: ''This is the big one. This is unmitigated bad news for consumers.''

It's unclear how soon the pipeline outages may affect operations at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Fuel suppliers and airlines have 22 storage tanks at the airport that hold up to 27.6 million gallons of fuel. At full capacity, that's enough for about 10 days of fuel at the airlines' recent daily consumption rate of 2.8 million gallons.

No information was immediately available on how much fuel remains in the tanks.
Gov. Sonny Perdue's office is aware of the situation and is meeting with Georgia's fuel suppliers.
"We know that they're on top of this issue, and they're assessing damage to their production and distribution process in the wake of Hurricane Katrina," said Heather Hedrick, Perdue's press secretary.

Hedrick said it's too early to say whether Georgians should be concerned.
"In order to answer that question fairly, the governor needs a full briefing from fuel suppliers in Georgia," she said. "We're waiting for that information now."

Metro Atlanta motorists already pay a little more for gas than those in surrounding states because of a clean-fuel requirements to reduce air pollution.

Perdue issued a statement Tuesday saying those requirements would be lifted temporarily to increase supplies and lower prices, once the pipelines are again operational.

Perdue's decision, which awaits approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would affect 45 counties in and around metro Atlanta.

"The governor felt it was important to take some steps to help alleviate gas prices that have been increasing for weeks now," Hedrick said.

Lisa Ray, a spokeswoman with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said the department is prepared to help deal with any gas shortages.

"We have talked to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and they said supplies are not a problem in Georgia at this time," Ray said.

GEMA is a coordinating agency for emergency support functions.

— Staff writers Carlos Campos and Russell Grantham contributed to this article.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

[Scroll down for the photo-essay.]

Energy Bulletin turned me on to HopeDance, a magazine whose mission is "to report on the outrageous, pioneering and inspiring activities of outstanding individuals and organizations who are creating a new world--regardless of their spiritual tradition or political agenda."

This month's issue has eight yummy articles that will intrigue anyone interested in sustainable communities. Two are about Portland's City Repair that takes over intersections to make them more friendly by "an all-volunteer grassroots organization helping people reclaim their urban spaces to create community-oriented places." These local transformations are facilitated by activitst who believe "The only way to subvert people is to have more fun than they do."

Diane Leaf Christian, author of Creating a Life Together, has an article about Starting a Successful Urban Ecovillage that makes a compelling article for making a difference in the city.

Bob Banner gives a review of the Third Annual Reverential Ecology Retreat. He got a boost of hope from it and does a good job of capturing the feeling.

Kathleen Walsh speaks on the importance of Taking Back Your Time, and offers this recipe for happiness: "pleasure plus engagement plus meaning.." She claims that "[v]illage life returns time to us with big dividends. The first is happiness, immediate and heartfelt. Happy time is time well spent."

James Howard Kunstler weighs in with his belief that "[a]ll indications are that American life will have to be reconstituted along the lines of traditional towns, villages, and cities much reduced in their current scale. These will be the most successful places once we are gripped by the profound challenge of a permanent reduced energy supply."

These are some of the articles covered. Take a look and be inspired.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Earthaven Ecovillage

I visited Earthaven Ecovillage on my way home from the Communities Conference.
Founded in 1994, Earthaven is located on 320 acres in culturally rich, biologically diverse western North Carolina, about 40 minutes southeast of Asheville. We are dedicated to caring for people and the Earth by learning and demonstrating a holistic, sustainable culture.

We drove a very winding road up the mountain to the front gate. We were planning on staying in the A & A so followed the signs across three streams (two of them without bridges) to a large three-story building with a big garden in front.

We were welcomed by the proprietors, sisters Patricia Allison and Mary Armstrong. Their mom and Patricia's son and grandson live there too.

The accommodations were modest, to stay the least. The house was basically unfinished. It was built from recycled shipping crates and the walls were raw wood. The first floor was taken up by seven bedrooms, a kitchen and a big dining room. We got special permission to use the indoor bathroom as there were not many guests that night.

We watched as the group staying there circled for a prayer before their dinner. We had just eaten but we joined them in the dining room for a bit of conversation. Toby asked me "so, what do you do in Atlanta?" and when I replied "I research Peak Oil," everyone's head popped up and they all said "Oh!" It turns out they had a meeting about that the night before. So we had a very interesting conversation. Their big question was whether they should cut down trees to clear fields for agriculture while the still could run big equipment or allow the clearing to occur more "organically" as the homesteads went up.

After dinner we sat in the dining room and I worked on my journal. We talked to community members and guests about The Chalice and the Blade (a book that made a big splash in the feminist community because it claimed that humanity was originally a matriarchal cooperative culture) and listened to another member play the guitar and show his kid how to do a wordgame.

The next morning Patricia led us and a group of young people who had been working on National Forest trails on a tour.

We saw all kinds of homes. The one on the right is straw bale construction. Most of them used passive solar design and keep very warm in the winter. The weather is very variable in this part of North Carolina. It can be 40 degrees one day and 70 degrees the next.

There are between 44 and 56 homesteads on the land. So far they have about 60 adults and 15 children living there. They live in neighborhoods. Patricia said they discovered that when people first escaped from the city they wanted to have all kinds of space around them, but once they had settled in they wanted to be closer to everyone else. They are considering doing away with their outlying neighborhoods altogether.

One of their neighborhoods is a cohousing unit. The land lease is cheaper but there is a charge for the shared facilities.

The Council House is the first community owned building and the only one built so far. Right now it hold offices and the school, but they plan on building separate facilities for those. They have meetings and parties there.

It is a gorgeous space. The ceiling is made from wood from the land. They had a cooperative logging and milling company for a while and many of the home use local building materials.

The floor is from donated granite. Patricia says the scrounge a lot of their materials. They put them together in work parties.

The Trading Post is where the addicts get their cigarettes, beer and chocolate. It is also a gathering place. Next door is the White Owl cafe which has a bar and shows movies every month. Its where I'd be hanging out because they have high speed internet connections.

We loved the creative touches. My friend Fay took most of the photographs in this essay.

The community has vegans, vegetarians and omnivors. One family is leasing a field for a cow. Fay thought the chickens looked very happy.

This is the fireplace for the sauna. Earthaven is off the grid. Building costs need to include a PV system.

This is the hydroelectric plant. It powers the Council building and the on site businesses. They plan to add four more. The batteries in front need to be recycled.

There are several robust streams which can be tapped for hydroelectric power. This one has intake pipes 400 feet upstream. That water comes down into smaller and smaller diameter pipes and finally gets sprayed into turbines that generate the power. Simple but effective.

We enjoyed the tour and learned a lot about Earthaven. For much more information, check out their website.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

What we need to know about the bird flu

Alex Steffen at worldchanging invited bloggers to do our part to help raise awareness about the dangers of the avian flu. It is widespread in avian populations and deadly to humans. We need to take it seriously, and we need to urge our governments to take it seriously.

Unfortunately we have many unanswered questions:
Will it ever achieve efficient human-to-human transmission and ignite a pandemic? If that happens, will it become less lethal in the process, or perhaps not lethal at all? How many people will it infect? How quickly will it spread? How long will it last? How much antiviral medication will be available in different parts of the world, and how well will it work? How long will it take for an effective vaccine to be available? Which countries and which people in those countries will get the vaccine first? How well will health care systems cope? How well will national and international economies cope? And how well will civil society cope?
But there are things we can do:

Helping resolve government policy dilemmas is just the beginning. Thailand, for example, has trained almost a million volunteers to reach out to every village in the country to inform people about the risks and signs of bird flu and how to try to protect themselves and their flocks. Many companies, hospitals, schools, and local governments around the world are starting to plan for "business continuity" in the event of a pandemic. Even cognitive and emotional rehearsal—learning about H5N1 and thinking about what a pandemic might be like and how you'd cope—is a kind of preparedness and a kind of involvement.
For more information, check out the wikipedia.

PS. I'll blog about Earthaven when I get the pictures--it will be a lot more fun with them.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Twin Oaks Communities Conference

I thoroughly enjoyed the Communities Conference and came away feeling hopeful, energized, and with a long to do list. I really liked what I saw of Virginia even though it was hot hot hot. The heat and humidity was something to contend with without air conditioning. It was a brief trip into the future. But fortunately we were in the forest.

The activities were well organized and the food was abundant and good. Friday night included a sing-a-long and story telling as well as some ice breakers. Saturday morning was "meet the communities" time. People who were looking for new members gave a minute long spiel and then we had time to visit with them to learn more about their group.

Saturday afternoon the workshops began. I went to one on Cohousing presented by Graham Meltzer who has spend the last ten years researching them and had a wealth of photos and stories.
Cohousing communities balance the traditional advantages of home ownership with the benefits of shared common facilities and ongoing connections with your neighbors. These cooperative neighborhoods, both intergenerational and for elders, are among the most promising solutions to many of today's most challenging social and environmental concerns.
They are a middle class phenomenon and the participants have at least one foot planted in the mainstream. Members build smaller townhouse-style homes and share a common building with a community kitchen, dining room, guest room, kids room, and other amenities. The design clusters homes to allow for open and social spaces. Instead of streets between the homes, they have pedestrian walkways. Cars are given a secondary status on the periphery.

The next workshop I attended, presented by Mala Ghoshal, was full of advice for hitting the road and visiting communities. She believes that everyone should do a tour and after listening to her I am inclined to agree. I hope to head up to New York in October to visit Ithaca and Ganas and other groups en route. I'll be sharing my impressions here.

Saturday night I was on clean up duty after dinner but eventually joined the party at the Twin Oaks community building. They had a big beautiful industrial kitchen and cake was being served in the cafeteria. It was delicious. One woman I talked to said she gained 20 pounds after moving there. By the time we got there a Klezmer band had everybody on their feet but since mine were aching I just bounced around a little.

Sunday morning we had open space for "do it yourself" workshops. The group went through a process to create impromptu sessions and I went to one on building local economy and culture and natural building techniques. I'll be doing a separate post on these so won't go into more detail here.

Sunday afternoon I went to an excellent workshop on Conflict presented by Laird Schaub. Quality group process is an important part of community life, and sometimes calling in a consultant for training and facilitation can make all the difference. We learned the four steps to resolution that anyone in the group can do for someone who is upset:
  1. make a bridge to the person and ask them to name the feeling
  2. ask them to tell their story
  3. ask them what they want
  4. ask them what they want to do about it

This was an issue close to everyone's experience and it was a very lively session.

Then it was time for the closing circle. We all closed our eyes, came up with a word to describe our experience over the weekend and then went around the circle to share it. My word was hope, but my second favorite sentiment was that of valuing air conditioning!

In my next post I will tell about our visit to Earthaven Ecovillage, where we stopped on our way home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

On the road

A friend and I are going to be traveling this weekend so I won't be posting. But I will have news when I get back. We will be visiting Earthaven Ecovillage near Ashville, NC to learn about their community. We'll do this on the way to the annual Communities Conference at the Twin Oaks community in central Virginia. I'm looking forward to "a weekend of sharing and celebration," including:

  • Intentional relationships
  • Group process
  • Collective childraising
  • Creating culture
  • Forming communities
  • Sustainability
  • Appropriate technology
  • Community economics
  • Music, dancing
  • Slide shows
  • Campfires, swimming
  • Magic

I'll tell you all about it when we get back!

What Portland is doing about Peak Oil

Energy Bulletin posted about Portland's Peak Oil Group today. I found it very inspiring. They started out as a Meetup group (probably before it got so expensive) and now they do events several times a month.

We’ve come together to try to:

  • Develop individual and collective strategies to cope with this crisis
  • Create awareness in the Portland community about Peak Oil
  • Influence policies of local government to help mitigate the crisis
  • Serve as a community resource as the crisis becomes more severe

They have an active outreach subcommittee and can do presentations. Their website is a clearinghouse for information. They have a great newsfeed page. And I am going to take advantage of their downloads page so I can listen to interviews while I am on the road this weekend (more about that tomorrow). I may even read their listserve archives to get a sense of what a community coming together is all about.

Power to the People!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Getting to node your neighbors

Would you like to get to node--I mean know--your neighbors? How about getting to know them through your computer? Imagine a bulletin board only accessible by those physically closest to you. Put a name to that face at the laundromat. Find someone to feed your cat. Even make plans for peak oil. WorldChanging reports on Neighbornodes, which makes it all possible:
Neighbornodes are group message boards on local wireless networks. And local here means really local -- the nodes transmit a signal for about 300 feet. When you get online using your nearest Neighbornode, you have access to the node's bulletin board, where you can both read and post. Not on the node? Can't read the board.

... A Neighbornode is thus more than just a local wifi hotspot. "What I wanted to do was reintroduce the idea of an old town center in a big, modern city," Geraci told "To create a non-threatening place where people who didn't know each other could have a dialog." It can feel easier to get to know someone online before meeting them in person, even if they live right up the block.
How cool is that? And its easy to join. "First, look for a Neighbornode near your apartment. If none currently exists, then just create a new node and add it to the network." And you don't even have to be in New York:
You can be anywhere in the world and set up a Neighbornode. The process is very easy - if you can set up a wireless access point for your own living room, you can set up a Neighbornode. Even if your living room is in Bangladesh.
"Node thy neighbor" indeed!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Emotional responses to Peak Oil

With a nod to blogger convention, I am going to try and post about different sources separately.

Today I want to point out Shepherd Bliss' editorial about emotional responses to peak oil. He even encourages the reader to email him about their own process.
A learning curve with respect to oil depletion is important. We should also consider that there is a feeling curve that might go something like denial, doubt, anger, fear, bargaining, acceptance. It wouldn't always occur in this order, or with all these stages; some people jump ahead, then back. With the learning and feeling curves can come a doing curve. Many people are acting and making major changes in their work, relationships, and habits related to transportation and where to live.

Which stage might you be in with respect to Peak Oil? What do you need to move to another stage? Perhaps there are stages you have experienced that I have not described. If so, please explain them to me at I am interested to understand how we can reach more people with the information and metaphors that could convey the Peak Oil situation and helpful ways of responding to it.

I think it is helpful to understand that our emotional states are often stages in a broader process. In other words "this, too, shall pass." It also enables us to take advantage of the emotional energy that gets triggered. We need to do something with it--and the doing of which makes us feel better.

Community response

Here's an update about the town of Willits, CA is responding to peak oil. (Previously reported here.) They are an important model for all of us. After three showings of The End of Suburbia, they have been meeting in committees to address the problems that they anticipate when energy is no longer cheap.

From the first three showings of The End of Suburbia, Bradford attracted roughly 60 volunteers who were willing to turn up at meetings even when there wasn't a film being shown, even when it was pouring down rain. In many ways, they're a homogenous lot--mostly white, middle-class baby boomers--but they also represent a wide diversity of skills and viewpoints.

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

"We need to figure out what we can do now, and what we can do in the future, when we don't have the resources coming in," says Brian Corzilius, 47, a core WELL [Willets Economics Localization] member whose training as an electrical engineer landed him in the energy group. Working with energy-group members Richard and Phil Jergenson, as well as Willits City Council member Ron Orenstein and others, Corzilius helped conduct an "energy inventory" of Willits that provided the first snapshot of where the town is now--and how far it has to go.

They obviously have a long way to go, but they are light years ahead of every other community. See about starting some action in your hometown.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

recent links

Kitty is still missing :'( but the blog must go on.

Here are the articles that caught my attention in the last few days.

1) Permafrost
Bad news about the permafrost from Peak Energy.
A vast expanse of western Siberia is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today.

Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres, the size of France and Germany combined, has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000
years ago at the end of the last ice age.

The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" -- delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures.
I know its hard to come up with a response to this kind of information. But we need to start thinking about dramatic changes in our coastlines in our lifetime. And there are things that we can do to make a difference. The New York Times published this article, reprinted at Common Dreams. And check out the environmental footprint quizzes to the right.


2) Energy Bill
Resource Insights has a great article analyzing the problem with the Energy Bill.
America's new energy policy isn't so much about the future as it is about the past. Drawing down precious finite resources of coal, oil and natural gas worked in the past to "solve" our problems, so we are going to try doing even more of it now. Of course, the irony of this is that all the money spent on better technology to draw down finite resources at faster rates only brings the inevitable crisis that much closer while making it that much worse when it does arrive.
3) Big Brother
Lew Rockewll has a chilling explanation of the new Anti-Money Laundering Laws.
Having been recently appointed Anti-Money Laundering Officer at my investment firm, I now have the official, government-sanctioned power to scrutinize our clients' account activity and report almost anything I deem "suspicious activity" to the federal government. Be worried, friends, be very worried, since every bank, every brokerage house, every financial institution in the U.S. is required by the Patriot Act to appoint an AML Officer, enact procedures to combat money-laundering, and file Suspicious Activity Reports on U.S. citizens.
It gets worse: "According to the statute, if I simply should have become aware of suspicious activity and fail to report it, I may have broken the law. " And " AML Officer I'm safe-harbored against violations of privacy laws I may be forced to commit while adhering to the regulations of the Patriot Act."
To sign a petition calling for a repeal of the Patriot Act, click here.
4) The Branding of America
Deconsumption has an interesting post about the Branding of America. "...[I]f you boil the American image down to one thing, it would be 'The Last Remaining Superpower'. And that, he said, was a terrible 'brand' to market."
The effort to redeem the American name would have involved something like paying a worldwide cross-section of focus groups directed toward honing in on one word or phrase to symbolize everyttranscendentndant and desirable that America represents, then a systematic campaign to relate that concept through images, stories, events, organizations, etc to enhance this identification and goodwill. Even in the midst of the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, in fact especially in the midst of it, this should have been SOP (standard operating procedure). Large corporations quite often run afoul of the public trust (say, for instance, an oil spill or chemical leak), and that's why they keep "damage control" handlers--propaganda gurus trained to take the offensive in order to save the company's reputation.

All in all, I'm forced to conclude that the reason this hasn't been done is because there was really no interest in doing it. I don't think the ball was dropped...I think the marketing campaign is in effect. In fact, it's a raging success. It's just that it was decided that "anger" and "resentment" were a better brand to market. The campaign was rolled-out, a campaign entitled: War on Terror(TM).

Think about it...War on Terror(TM) It says "War. War with no boundaries. War with no goals. War with no rules. The enemy is anyone, anywhere. Live in fear. The enemy might be you... Don't get out of line."
And another angle that I have never seen addressed is the literal meaning of the phrase--that its a war on a particular emotional response: terror. A war on a feeling that is perfectly legitimate but is constantly put down for existing because it means that the person has "failed" in some way and allowed the terrorists to "win." We are supposed to dsuppresssupress our real response to terrorists in the name of patriotism. This disturbs me as much as anything else about this war.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

off line

Our Kitty is missing so I may be gone for a bit... Think good thoughts, etc.

Friday, August 05, 2005

more on eating local

I can't resist UNplanner's post analyzing his "food miles." (I've posted on this topic here.) Its a fascinating tale of Panamanian bananas, Chilean apples, and Chinese tilapia. Even his peanut butter was processed in Canada. He discovers:

So all in all, I ate food from eight countries that traveled a whopping 35,675 collective miles to my plate via truck, train, boat and plane before being picked up and driven home by me in a personal vehicle.
As shocking as this may be, its really par for the course. And economically, it makes sense. Furthermore:

Our distribution network ensures that a demand in one part of the world is always supplied from somewhere else. It also ensures that no one starves. A drought in the Midwest one year or a freeze in the San Joaquin Valley the next year does not result in mass starvation in those areas. Food from elsewhere will fill the gap. Even areas experiencing catastrophic droughts, such as Niger, still can receive food aid that will ultimately save the population from a greater famine.
He concludes:

Once the supply of cheap energy dries up, the global supermarket will become a thing of the past. The implication of this change is very disturbing and extends far beyond whether or not a shopper in Topeka will still be able get fresh strawberries in January. The problem is unfortunately much more fundamental than that. In an energy-deprived future the more fundamental question has to be asked: will we have any reliable form of food distribution at all? With large tracts of the world engaged in one form of monoculture or another, what will we all end up having for dinner, absent a coherent transition to localized cultivation of produce and grains?
One family trying to live an "eat locally" lifestyle is chronicling their adventure here:

...on March 21, the first day of spring, we took a vow to live with the rhythms of the land as our ancestors did. For one year we would only buy food and drink for home consumption that was produced within 100 miles of our home, a circle that takes in all the fertile Fraser Valley, the southern Gulf Islands and some of Vancouver Island, and the ocean between these zones. This terrain well served the European settlers of a hundred years ago, and the First Nations population for thousands of years before.

This may sound like a lunatic Luddite scheme, but we had our reasons. The short form would be: fossil fuels bad. For the average American meal (and we assume the average Canadian meal is similar), World Watch reports that the ingredients typically travel between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers, a 25 percent increase from 1980 alone. This average meal uses up to 17 times more petroleum products, and increases carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount, compared to an entirely local meal.
But "immediately, there were problems. First was the expense... Then, we wasted away...Then there was the lack of variety."

In part two they contend with the question of vegitarianism vs. omnivorism. They discovered "When it comes to eating locally, we've had to abandon strict vegetarianism."
The strange fact is that vegetarianism as commonly practiced is, like the rest of the industrial food system, propped up by the globalization of food and everything that it entails, including a total disconnection between food consumers and producers, and the cataclysmic ecological costs of shipping food around the world. At its worst, global vegetarianism is still cleaner and greener than global meat-eating, and is certainly more humane. On a local level, though, the questions are more complicated.
But they are still concerned with these questions:

Where did the product come from? Where did the feed for the animal come from? Was the feed genetically modified? Was it organic? Was the animal "improved" with a biomedical soup of hormones, stimulants, antibiotics? Were its living conditions acceptable? Can we live with the conditions of its slaughter?

In part three, they explain the benefits of the diet--in a word, yummy! They wax rhapsodous about kale, potatoes, yogurt, salmon, Brie, hazelnuts, wine and cider. And it just goes on from there.

It's worth pausing to note that many of these foods that turn up in the markets-or in our community garden plot-can never be found in the local Safeway. All of them, almost without fail, will be more flavourful than anything you'll find shipped in from California or from Ecuador.
Beyond the politics they have discovered:
Eating locally is a grand adventure. It has taken us to 40-year-old family fish shops and introduced us to people who have grown their own soy beans for homemade tofu. It has left us calling our mothers to find out how to wash and cook whole-grain wheat. Best of all, every time I open the refrigerator to come up with something for dinner, I feel like a pioneer.

...Why not try your hand? Alisa and I are eating locally for a year, but the same experiment can work for a night, a dinner party, a potluck. This we can guarantee: you will begin to change the way you think about your food. And maybe that dinner will turn into breakfast, lunch and beyond.
Bon Appetit!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

college kids and conspiracy theories

As an educator, I am particularly interested in teaching critical thinking skills to young adults. I believe they are a necessity for surviving and thriving these confusing times. I have found a kindred spirit in Dr. Pete Markiewicz. I read the following letter from him over on Urban Survival, and I thought it was so important that I got permission to reprint it here.


I've been thinking lately about the pull that religion had over people's lives in the past (and continues to do so in many places in the world). How could humans (with no genetic changes) abandon their ancient attraction to religious belief suddenly during the few centuries? Are we really smarter than earlier cultures? Or have we applied our bent to religion to a set of new targets?

My current idea is that widespread belief in often absurd "conspiracy theories" has sopped up people's religious impulses. I'm not talking about rational inquiry into alternative causes, but uncritical belief. Nobody is actually an athiest. We have a new religion - but it is based on the behavior of powerful humans rather than unseen gods. These mysterious "evil" humans have corrupted an initially perfect world of the past for their own ends. Everything bad is caused by them.

I've been driven by this thinking recently by several experiences. First, I teach students at a local college. I teach a lot of entry-level computer classes, as well as a "general studies" Biology class. The reactions of the supposedly sophisticated, non-religious students demonstrate a clear "retargeting" of their religious impulses.

Second, a conversation I overheard in my apartment building a few days ago crystallized my impulse.

Here's the conversation from my apartment: I think it's fair to say that many people in the US today do not see the lightning bolts that struck hapless scoutmasters this week as the result of a specific, conscious decision of an angry god. We all know they are physical phenomena, which operate without intelligence. This is one of the differences between religion and non-religion - intent. If lightning bolts strike due to various tumblings of matter and energy, it isn't religion, despite what the "science as religion" crowd says. The scouts are electrocuted for no reason, which means no human values need be applied to the event.

But, if the lightning bolts happened "for a reason" then religion is involved - there is a moral intent bound with the event.

Imagine my surprise yesterday hearing my neighbor talking with friends about the second scouting electrocution. This neighbor works in the entertainment industry, is frantically anti-Bush, and hates "the religious right."

Speaking to her friends, this neighbor pointed out that said lightning bolts slammed down just prior to a "Bush visit." She noted that "they" - the radical religious right - must be very upset that a lightning bolt hit prior to a Bush visit - I suppose they would interpret it as a bad omen.
But then my neighbor (who normally seems reasonable) broadly hinted to her friends that there was "something behind" this electrical event. A secret, which she did not clarify, was the REAL reason for the lightning bolt. What was it? She didn't quite say - we were left to imagine the CIA manipulating the weather, a secret weapon tested on the American public, a warning to Bush from his "masters" - you name it.

Here's the fascinating part. In the same speech, she made it abundantly clear that she was an "athiest" and hated "religious" people. But here she was imagining hidden causes, meaning, and purpose behind the event. She was doing EXACTLY what she thought "the religious right" would do - ascribe meaning to a random physical event!

Frankly, it doesn't really matter whether the lightning bolt actually from a flying saucer - despite herself, this woman believes in higher powers, and in miracles. I listened for an hour as she darkly hinted at the sinister implications of the lightning strike - never exactly saying that it was "meant" to happen - but implying this very thing over and over.

Who is "god" in her religion? People. Instead of a big thunder-being up in the sky making the rain come, sneaky people are in a vast conspiracy. Like the unseen the god, "they" cannot be touched, uncovered, or even seen by lowly mortals. Yet the believer knows that they are there - no mater what the physical evidence is. In their faith, the believer triumphs over those who have not been enlightened.

I believe (with my degree in Biology) that the religious impulse is partly innate. Rather than moving beyond religion, as Marx, Skinner, and others hoped we would do, we have simply directed our prayers to a different object. Instead of classical gods, our new gods are people - people with vast, mysterious godlike power.

There are several reasons for the change in our civilization from a "god" - worshiping culture that one that worships mysterious humans in conspiracies. These changes challenged the old gods, but replaced them with equally supernatural new ones. These have led to a set of non-rational beliefs about the world which characterize our "conspiracy" religion.

In short, here is a summary:

1. Everything is controlled by a higher power - there are no random events. But this power is human, and human only.

2. Secret groups of people with this power cause everything to happen.

3. They have this vast power because absolutely anything is possible. As long as I imagine it, it can and will happen. There are no limits except human ones.

4. Since there are limits in my life, they can only have been created by humans.

5. If not for the conspiracy, we would be in a Paradise. All bad things in the world were caused by humanity - there is nothing outside humanity. Before humanity had godlike powers, everything was perfect.

Below, I've laid out the logical steps that have led to this belief system:

Belief #1 - "Thou shalt accelerate your technology forever faster"
At one time, technological innovation was seen as just that - a better way of doing things. This was characteristic of the 19th and early 20th centuries, in which much of the real "heavy lifting" of technological took place. People celebrated the ability of the human mind to discover things.
But now, technological advance is an unstoppable force int its own right, independent of humanity itself. It isn't that we manage to discover new technology - instead, an unstoppable spiritual force force us to advance technology ever-faster.

One of the clearest examples of this religious belief is the so-called "Moore's Law" which says that computer speeds double every 12-18 months. When Moore originally published his paper in the 1960s on compute speed increase, he presented it as an empirical study of the semiconductor industry. At this point, no religion was evident.

But now we have moved to a new idea - Moore's Law is a rock-solid given and computer makers "must" continue to to speed up computer because Moore's Law requires them to do so. It is moved from a statement of being to a moral law!

Consider the difference in the following statements:

a. Computer speeds are doubling every 18 months due to shrinking transistors (~1965).

b. Computer speeds ALWAYS double every 18 months. Any company that doesn't double the speeds of its computers is "not upholding" Moore's Law. But will someone double those speeds - Moore's Law cannot be stopped (~2000). But never, fear, Moore's Law is being upheld in the latest gadget.

In fact, computers are not following Moore's Law anymore. PC speeds topped out at about 3 GHz clockspeeds a few years ago, and Intel announced in late 2004 that they were NOT going to produce a 4GHz cpu for the indefinite future. True to the religious aspects of Moore's Law, writers in the tech industry ignored this challenge to their faith. They take the rise of 64-bit computing as "proof" that Moore's Law is still active - despite the fact that 64-bit computers are not faster - though they can more RAM.

"Multicore" processing is also taken as proof for Moore's Law "making" something happen just as we can't increase clockspeeds. In other words, Moore's Law "acted" and a new way to increase computer speed automatically appeared. This is despite that fact that for most non-server applications multicore systems give minimal speed boosts. It's similar to the faith that every time humanity use up one energy source (wood, coal) another, better energy source "automatically" appeared.

Even though the tech writers know there are limitations at some level, they remain confident that "somehow" Moore's Law will be upheld and computers will get faster forever.

Their faith that mysterious forces also ignore the fact that the utility of computers (their real value) have not increased with speed. The 2004 Macintosh G5 computer is about 1000 times faster than the 1984 Macintosh in hardware terms. But go back and look at the 1984 Mac. Running at 1/1000 the speed, it sported a useful word processor using full window/mouse/graphical systems. It also had a drawing program that looks very much like Adobe Photoshop today.

True, the word processor didn't have a spell check, and the paint program was in black and white. But are today's word processors and paint programs really 1000 times better than 1984? I would guess they are 10-20 times better. Even if computer speeds are rising, their utility to society is rising at a much slower rate!

Yet, Moore's Law is now a true LAW that all tech companies must uphold or face destruction. Any time there's an announcement of a change in memory, processors, etc, the tech industry assures that the new innovation ensures that they are keeping the faith - that Moore's Law will be kept, no matter what. Today, even though computers are leveling out in speed and utility, a stubborn faith in endless speed increases persists.

This belief system reaches its extreme stage in those beliving in the "singularity" - a sort of technological Rapture. These people believe that Moore's Law is accelerating, and that computer power will literally become infinite about the year 2040. The basis for their belief? "Moore's Law". But it is not a law, it is an observation, at best a hypothesis - not a unstoppable force.

Moore's Law forms one of the new pillars of faith among the general public as well. Outside the techies (hoping to be transported to the divine by the multi-pentahertz machines of 2038), the average person firmly believes that "technology always gets better". Tell someone that technology can halt, even reverse its advance, and you are met with disbelief. You've challenged a tenet of their new religion - the god Technology will always get better despite us.

In my mind, this is why it is so hard for many people to believe that we might have some real problems coming in permanently higher energy prices, loss of oil, degradation of the environment, etc. Try telling someone that computers won't be that much faster in 10 years, and they shake their head. They "know" they will be, even if they know absolutely nothing about how computers work.

A similar faith surrounds economics. People simply won't believe that prosperity always increases - things can only go up. There can be no economic waves or cycles. If they happen, "they" made them happen.

If we aren't richer this year, it must be a conspiracy.

Belief #2 - Anything is possible if you "wish upon a star" I've adapted this idea from James Kunstler's excellent writing. The belief in Moore's Law, along with increasingly detailed fantasies in movies and games has made people believe that "anything" is possible. The fact that technology has improved means it will improve infinitely.

This goes beyond believing that more will be possible in the future - it is the belief that absolutely anything is possible, or will be shortly.

This belief is qualitative, and ties in with the decline in quantative thinking. If someone imagines something in their head, it must therefore be possible. There can be no limits, even quantative, physical ones. It's like the miracle of the loaves and fishes - if I can imagine bread, then it follows that everyone can be fed from one loaf.

Case in point: I've tried repeatedly to explain to my students that a purely solar-powered car can't be like cars today due to the laws of thermodynamics. In full sunlight a few thousand watts fall on a car, and if this was 100% converted to energy the car would have a few horsepower at best.

But even after this discussion, students still insist that "someone will figure something out." The laws of nature aren't relevant - "they" will of course solve it and make a solar car that goes 300 miles an hour. (In fact, they already have and are suppressing it). The students don't reason out of any understanding of physics or technology. When pressed, students essentially say that since we can imagine solar cars and they are neat, they "must" be possible.

There's a similar touching belief in "air cars" beloved of science fiction - despite there being nothing remotely practical in this area. When I ask students why we don't have air cars, they typically say that that the "auto companies" don't want us to have them. No mention of the fact that there is no anti-gravity needed to make a silent, easily driven, Jetson's style machine. If I point this out, they are sure that "they" will discover a way to float air cars.

It's not that we might discover something in the future - it's that it is impossible for us NOT to do so!

This uncritical belief that anything is possible is why nobody seriously believes that energy will become scarce. Anything is possible, so it will happen. Energy might exist, so it will. If I note that oil reserves are dropping, students say that there could be undiscovered oil. That's enough for them - if we can imagine "oil not discovered", it must be there! Again, no knowledge of geology and physics goes into this argment - only a belief that anything is possible.

Belief #3 - There is nothing outside human experience. Humanity is everything, and anything I hear about MUST have been caused by humans.

If you believe that anything is possible, then the reason it hasn't happened yet is not any limits placed by Nature. Instead, any barriers, limits, boundaries to infinite personal freedom and power MUST be due to people. By extension, this means that people are responsible for everything that exists in the world.

True, in the past people might have believed in "anything goes" reality. For example, many believed that immortal beings that could fly. But they would have thought they were a "supernatural" being outside of humanity.

Today, people feel that immortality "must" be possible simply because I can think it. Therefore, it HAS happened, or is about to happen. The only reason it hasn't is due to humanity. Humanity is the only source of boundaries in the world.

This idea has been greatly spurred along by advances in entertainment technology. Movies today have computer-generated characters, objects, and machines that defy physical reality. Advances in animation have allowed us to give these impossible creatures and devices disturbing aspects of realism. The trend is even stronger in videogames, which virtually everyone under age 35 plays today. Today, the typical teenager has replaced outdoors unstructured play with play in virtual worlds, obviously constructed by people. If you belive the videogame is "realistic" then stuff in the videogame could easily happen in our world.
We see the ultimate fusion of virtual worlds, conspiracy, and a belief that anything is possible in "The Matrix" movies.

As a result, adherents of the new religion reject the notion that any barrier to their wants (read consumerism) is due to outside forces. They can only be human-caused.

Belief #4 - Since anything is possible, the only barriers are human will. So, if something has not happened that should, it is due to an evil "conspiracy" of humans.

I recently saw this belief when I asked my students to weight the pros and cons of AIDs virus being created by the US military. I provided evidence from both sides - in particular recent discoveries of AIDs cases reported in the 1930s and 1940s from European sailors visiting West Africa. I asked the students to use the evidence to justify their position, pro or con.

The result? Most completely ignored evidence both for and against. Instead, they assumed a conspiracy, and assumed that all the evidence I provided has been doctored. When they read about old AIDs cases from the 1930s and 1940s, they immediately postulated that the old cases were "planted" to support the conspiracy. When I noted that our ability to engineer viruses was primitive in the 1960s (when AIDs is supposed to have been created), the students immediately postulated that a "secret lab" stumbled on the techniques of advanced genetic manipulation. When I pointed out that plagues have attacked people for thousands of years, one student even suggested that this was "disinformation" - in other words, we were disease-free until the late 20th century.

Only a very few students suggested rational ideas - e.g., that we should look closely at the RNA structure of AIDs for signs of manipulation, check published papers from the 1960s and 1970s, etc. and use this evidence to make a decision on the question. These students were the only ones who are not part of the new religion.

The rest, like all zealots, ignored all the facts to support their belief: anything is possible, so AIDs MUST have been created. Since it is bad, it was created by evil people, since people are responsible for everything. This was not a hypothesis that could be falsified - it was religious certainty impervious to contrary information.

Belief #5 - Everything was perfect until "they" took over In our culture today we have largely isolated ourselves from anything outside the human sphere. We no longer have the direct, daily contact with the natural world that our ancestors did. We have moved from being isolated from the harsh aspects of nature to believing that nothing happens outside the human sphere.

I see this frequently when I ask students about the physical world - they're just as likely to believe that earthquakes are caused by someone with earthquake machines as that physical properties of the Earth cause them. In fact, the latter seems less likely to them - after all, they can imagine an earthquake machine, and they saw a movie with one once.

Because people do admit that humanity had less power in the past, they accept that earthquake machines could not have existed long ago. But, instead of concluding that earthquakes may be natural, they apparently believe that there were no earthquakes back then. In fact, there is a widespread belief that nothing bad happened in the old days - simply because humans couldn't make bad things happen yet.

As an example, I've described to students how we eradicated polio from the US in the 1950s and 1960s. Many students are surprised to discover that diseases existed back then! When asked, they apparently believe that the world used to be disease-free, and all our diseases today are caused by a "drug company" conspiracy.....

So, there you have it - our new religion. This faith even includes local gods and goddesses who cannot be blasphemed - usually entertainment celebrities. People who have no problem mocking conventional religions bristle with anger if you attack a "fallen" celebrity like Kurt Cobain - a depressed musician who killed himself with self-destructive behavior. He cannot be bad-mouthed - it's not allowed... It's amazing what sacred cows entertainment celebrities have become - while some may be mocked, others (e.g. rapper Tupac) cannot be blasphemed under any circumstances. I suspect this results from the lack of physical religious artifacts in the conspiracy religion - one must have something tangible and "good" to worship. The unreal world of entertainment celebrities substitutes for the gods of the past.

You might be amused by my final demonstration of the new religion, and the credulity of its followers. Last week, I told a class of students that the Atlantic is only 20 feet deep, London is 10 miles away from New York, and ocean liners run on metal tracks between the two cities. The reason? There's a conspiracy by the oil companies to keep plane tickets high - they just fly the planes around for several hours to burn up fuel on so-called "transatlantic" flights. The ocean is 20 feet deep because metal can't float - and the ships are made of metal. Ergo, the ships would sink except that they are on tracks on the ocean bottom.

Within 20 minutes I had several students actually supplying "supporting evidence" for my concept- in particular, the idea that "they" want us to burn oil seemed like "proof" to them, as did their inability to reason out why metal ships do float.

After about 30 minutes I stopped - I was worried that I had spawned a new cult!


Email Pete Markiewicz. Visit his web site

A note about his website: In his email to me, Dr. Markiewicz explained "If you've seen the site, you may be wondering how my strong interest in resource depletion couples with building a robotic car. I actually think it does - I suspect that if private cars are at all common in 2040, they will be driven for maximum efficiency under robotic control, instead of manually."

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

fly the friendly skies

Triple Pundit had two articles about air travel today. These were of particular interest to me because I fly across the US at least twice a year, and from doing my "ecological footprint" quizzes (see the sidebar) I discovered that these flights used a lot of oil and produced a lot of carbon.

I am still trying to reconcile the two views. One said:

According to The Australian, a jet aircraft flying from London to Hong Kong puts out an astonishing 2.76 tons of carbon dioxide - per passenger. That's not trivial. Interestingly, it's not the airlines that are bearing the brunt of criticism for this quantity of emissions. Rather, it's business travelers. When a firm is audited for its climate footprint, business travel ranks as one of the most important sources of greenhouse gas emissions. HSBC alone accounted for 96,000 tons in 2004. Typically, rather than curbing travel, firms have turned to carbon offsetting schemes to try to account for the effects of their emissions.
While the other posited:

According to the FAA, including idling and taxiing, an airplane gets about 48 miles to the gallon per seat. That's a heck of a lot better than I'd thought, though it obviously depends on a myriad of other factors: Long flights are more efficient, newer planes are better. But a rule of thumb suggests that traveling solo in an SUV is probably more harmful in terms of emissions than buying a plane ticket, but carpooling, even in an SUV, is probably better then flying.
Aster, the author of the above entry, found this article about aircraft emissions that claimed:

Jet fuel and gasoline for cars create about the same amount CO2 emissions per gallon (around 20 lbs per gallon). Cars have fuel efficiencies anywhere between 10 mpg (a large SUV) to 60 mpg (a hybrid engine car like the Honda Insight). That means, if you travel alone in your SUV, you'll create more emissions than if you had taken an airplane. If you drive to your destination with your whole family in your small Honda, the emissions per person will be much lower than if your whole family had taken the plane.
I suppose if I were REALLY being good I could follow the example of the EcoNomads, who don't ride in anything unless the vehicle was already going there. They have a wonderful website that chronicles their travel from Palestine, across Europe and through the USA. It is a fascinating look into the green intentional commuities they encountered on their way.

When it came time to cross the Atlantic, they took an "un-economadic" cruise ship rather than fly. They got a cheap rate as the boat was switching from summer to winter waters and wasn't making any stops along the way.

They complain about the evils of air travel and quoted the same statistics from the previous article, except theirs had footnotes.

Monday, August 01, 2005

a solution

Richard Heinberg has written an important article explaining How to Avoid Oil Wars, Terrorism, and Economic Collapse by adopting the Association for the Study of Peak Oil's Oil Depletion Protocol.
The idea of the Protocol is inherently straightforward: oil importing nations would agree to reduce their imports by an agreed-upon yearly percentage (the World Oil Depletion Rate), while exporting countries would agree to reduce their rate of exports by their national Depletion Rate.
Heinberg explains that it would be valuable even if a few countries adopt it. He also answers questions about preparing for peak oil too early, why the market can't take care of the problem, how oil companies will be affected, cheating, adjusting to less oil, and how to begin the process.

Please take a few minutes to read the article, and if you think its a good idea, pass it on to your freinds, family and colleagues. Together we can make a difference.