Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fracking Culture

"We are right at that spaghetti junction where all the lines converge with population and resources, food supply, energy, water and the rest. We’re at that point right now, in exactly the decade The Club of Rome predicted we would arrive here. We have to somehow get through this collapsing passageway and into the next paradigm."

This past week, before leaving to attend the gathering of the Ecovillage Network of Canada at La Cité Écologique in Quebec, we were asked to speak at a forum hosted by Nashville Peace and Justice Center concerning hydrofracking, mountaintop removal, and nuclear power in Tennessee. This is a rough transcript of those remarks.
First I want to start with setting a context, because usually you begin with a problem statement. A lot of what we address at the Ecovillage Training Center and in our curricula for trainings and workshops are methodologies for a switch — a massive transition — from the past paradigm that is failing us now to something entirely new that has the potential for success — to make us successful as a species in partnership with all the other species on the planet. 
To do that, you have to understand the need for a realistic framework to get us from where we are to where we are going, and to, in some sense, reverse engineer it, seeing where we want to be and then backcasting to see what steps are necessary to get us where we want to be within a reasonable time frame.
Phasing out of emissions from coal, oil and natural gas — particularly methane — is an enormous challenge. To change over the entire fossil fuel paradigm to a post-petroleum paradigm is an enormous challenge. You have to think about how such a transition is even possible. The current administration’s plan — the Obama/Boehner/Bachmann drill baby drill menu — is all about Canadian tar sands, a pipeline from Canada, the Marcella Shale, the Bakkan and various other plays, offshore deep wells and ways to accelerate the fossil end game. If that succeeds, it is essentially game over. There is no way we are going to take all that carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere in the timeframe that we need to. We’re going to get runaway warming, the methane clathrates bubbling up from the bottom of the oceans, and various other nightmare scenarios.
Nuclear power has been held out as a carbon-free alternative source of energy, but that is the same PR bull we have been handed since Our Friend The Atom was foisted upon innocent schoolchildren, and was also given to the Japanese schoolchildren, by the way. If you look at the entire nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear is black carbon dirtier than natural gas and not quite as dirty as coal. Coal is more radioactive than natural gas but not as radioactive as nuclear. All of them kill people in order to do what? Boil water. They kill unborn children in future generations, and expose them to horrible birth defects and cancers in order to brew coffee and dry hair.
We are all the victims of TVA’s efforts to feather its own nest at our expense. This goes back a century to the battle between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison for control of the electricity market in New York City. Westinghouse won, and what we got was energy that was ever more expensive every year, non-renewable, and unsafe at every turn. Those are the people who built the Fukushima nuclear plants, as well as the reactor that is getting flooded in Nebraska now. They are the mountaintop removal cabal.
The grid was created to suit itself, not the people it was supposed to serve. Edison wanted to charge people by the number of lights they had. Instead, George Westinghouse charged people by the kilowatt-hour and sold them the most inefficient lightbulbs he could make. And so it went for 100 years – they encouraged people to add more and more gadgets to their homes, and to buy appliances with planned obsolescence, and to then make you need a bigger house to store all that stuff. It was a sales campaign dressed up as labor saving, or civilized living. What we got was an unhappy, disastrously wasteful and soon-to-be-extinct culture. Coal, gas, and nuclear — they are part of that same paradigm. It is a huge conspiracy being foisted on us by the best government corporations could buy. It is all suicidally insane. TVA is clinically insane. What do you call someone who keeps doing the same thing over and over, never proving what they claim they are doing, getting the exact opposite result, but telling you this time the result will be different? I mean, other than a Republican? Clinically insane. That’s clinically insane.
And so, if you look at where are we now, we are right where Dennis and Dana Meadows said back in 1972 we would be in the Limits to Growth study. We are right at that spaghetti junction where all the lines converge with population and resources, food supply, energy, water and the rest. We’re at that point right now, in exactly the decade they predicted we would arrive here. 
We have to somehow get through this collapsing passageway and into the next paradigm. And so what we do at the Ecovillage Training Center — what ecovillages around the world are all trying to do — is to provide models, transition pathways, to get us to that next step, to get us to where we are going. And some of that is food supply, some of that is energy, some is building materials and how we get our buildings, some of that is microeconomics, like complimentary currencies. Some of that is new methods of social networking and alternative education and midwifery and alternative health care and doing things in ways that we have known for hundreds of thousands of years and we need to get back to.
Show of hands: how many people here either saw the sunrise this morning or were up at that time? (some laughter, about 20% raise their hands). That’s pretty good. Your average audience – none. But in point of fact, that’s when the light came on. And you could get up and do chores and it was still cool for several hours. And we’re going to be here until after that light goes out tonight. We’ll be here after dark, and we will spend coal energy getting home, feeding our family, putting ourselves to bed, whatever, which we could do without all that dirty power if we just got up earlier.
So ecovillages are about that. They are trying to find ways that are relatively painless, in comparison to the kind of pain that civilization is about to experience — to lead the way, so that people can jump into these new models and start doing it for themselves and avoid the shock that comes of collapse. Because that is where this previous paradigm is heading us, and taking along a lot of other species, too.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tea Baggers Tickle the Dragon’s Tail

Outside the Fukushima plant and for some distance at night, can be seen the intermittently sparkling blue glow of re-criticality, as the melted fuel from four reactors, moderated by fresh water pumped from fire trucks, puts on a light show of ionized air over the coast of Japan. This is a requiem display, a salute of fireworks, because Japan, mortally wounded, is dying the same way the Soviet Union did, killed by the nuclear dragon it thought it had tamed.

Louis Slotin's Los Alamos ID
This same light show was once observed in 1946, with fatal consequences, by physics students working in Los Alamos on advancements to the atomic bomb. Louis Slotin, their 35-year-old Canadian instructor, had been the criticality math whiz of the Manhattan Project and had personally assembled the core of the Trinity device. His method of establishing critical mass values was very bold, not to say reckless. Slotin would push fissile masses together slowly until they displayed early onset signs of criticality to clickity-clacking Geiger meters. On May 21, 1946, Sloton demonstrated his technique, which Richard Feynmann had by then coined “tickling the dragon’s tail,” to the six star-struck students in his lab.

Using his bare hands, Sloton slowly moved a screwdriver out from between two beryllium half-spheres lined with uranium reflecting neutrons back to a 3.5-inch-diameter (89 mm) plutonium core. At exactly 3:20 p.m., the screwdriver slipped and the upper beryllium hemisphere fell. The room flashed iridescent blue and Slotin, reacting heroically, used his other hand to knock the spheres apart. He died horribly, nine days later, from the exposure, but he saved the rest of the people in the room, not to mention everyone within a 5 mile radius of Los Alamos.

The Idiotcracy that staged a palace coup in the US Congress last fall is now tickling the dragon’s tail of the full faith and credit of the United States. Refusing to give up tax breaks for the rich and powerful, the Exxons, BPs and Haliburtons, the tea baggers and their millionaire Republican allies are demanding elimination of medicare, privatization of Social Security, and a blather of deep social welfare cuts that any impartial accountant (the Congressional Research Service, the General Accounting Office, or the Office of Management and Budget,for instance) recognize as not only ineffective (pushing the USA into far greater, and more expensive, problems down the road), but purely political gamesmanship. The goal of that game, for millionaire Republicans, is to get as close to the brink as possible, elicit as many concessions for the wealthy as possible by beggaring the poor, and then to pass a new debt ceiling and repeat the process.

The goal of the Tea Baggers, for whom nuance and strategy are not strong suits, is to play to the cheers of the Colosseum as they give thumbs down to federalism and separation of powers and toss the Moorish President to the lions.

The US is now officially without a fiscal budget, living on holdover spending, mere wax and string that runs out on August 2nd. The millionaire Republicans want to strike a deal on August 1st and ham it up for the cameras until then. The Tea Baggers want to strike a deal on August 3rd, if then, to give both the Democrats and Republicans a taste of the lash. Neither have any idea of what kind of dragon the tail they are tickling belongs to.

The US Treasury is limited by Congress to borrowing up to a debt limit, originally established in 1939. Since Congress originates all federal activities requiring funding, such as insanely expensive foreign war adventures or sending rockets up into space, Congress has to annually increase the debt limit to keep up. The last increase was in February, 2010, to $14.294 trillion. George W. Bush increased it 8 times, moving it from 57% of GDP to 84% of GDP. Under Obama, it has risen to 97% of GDP.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1935 that Congress does not have the power to void a government bond, so if any loans come due, it is obligated to pay them or default. Here is what happens if the Tea Baggers’ screwdriver slips:

There would be widespread banking collapse, not just in the US, but everywhere dollars are traded as the currency of choice for oil and other commodities. If economic transactions are halted, then trade and supply-chains break. The longer goods are stalled in the pipeline the more consumables and perishables decay in transit and storage or are consumed by present holders or returned to sender. Pipelines and machines rust, factories close, unemployment and starvation turns to riot.

The longer the down time and the wider the scale, the harder the re-boot once the idiots see what they have done. The dollar ceases once and forever to be the world’s reserve currency. Suddenly, instead of getting everything in the global economy at a discount, the US pays top dollar to buy, say, Swiss Francs, so it can pay for its addictions.

FEASTA’s David Korowicz, writing last month on large-scale risk management, said, “The wonder of our globalized economy is that in all this globalized integration and complexity there is no one in control…. So, while national economies may have an individual character, they have no autonomous existence in anything like their present form outside the globalized economy, just as an arm, lung or heart cannot declare independence from the human body.” Korowicz was underscoring the point that we are all coming to realize: the global economic body is delicately interconnected, and hungry, but there is no brain.

In the US, a Zombie Congress is dragging itself through the angry streets in search of fresh blood. It may, in the end, have to settle for consuming its own. This dragon does not like to be tickled.





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