Monday, November 28, 2011

Come to Belize

Travel far south; to the back of beyond; to a remote
valley accessible only by dugout canoe.  Study
permaculture surrounded by a lush, productive
forest of edibles, medicinals and tropical
hardwoods.  Eat organic food, sleep in dorms
powered by renewable energy, bathe in a sparkling
pure river....

in 2012, in the heart of the Mayan world, where the Crystal Skull was found...

Permaculture Design Certificate Course
Instructors: Albert Bates, Andrew Leslie Phillips, Cliff Davis, Chris Nesbitt and special guests
Dates Feb 20 to Mar 2, 2012
Place: Maya Mountain Research Farm
San Pedro Columbia, Belize

For Details, or to register, please contact Christopher.

Ven a Belice...

20 Febrero de 2 Marzo 2012
Curso de Diseño en Permacultura
Montaña Maya Research Farm

Our certificate course (USD $1250), with an all-star cast, tracks the standard 72 hour curriculum, and is followed by an Advanced Design Course in eco-agriculture with Jono Neiger and Eric Toensmeier March 4-10 for an additional USD $700. The venue is one of Central America's oldest permaculture farms, a lush tropical food forest. Our solar-powered dormitories and campsites limit admission to the first 40 applicants. Please register early to assure a place.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Prayer

“In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors. Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias and represents an error of inductive inference toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study. Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.”
— Science Daily

At Thanksgiving in the USA everyone gets a few days vacation from work to celebrate the colonial beachhead from Europe on the North American continent, landing at Plymouth, and the near-starvation and loss of the entire first colony, but for their rescue by generous albeit naive natives.
The tale is seldom continued in its telling that the colonists afterwards conspired to slaughter the natives and steal their lands, or that what had been revealed to them as a land of plenty, seemingly empty and naturally bounteous, was in actuality a meticulously cultivated ecosystem with human inhabitants, nutrient cycles and carrying capacity in delicate balance.
In addition to exterminating the natives, the Pilgrims and their successors hunted to extinction the Heath Hen, Eastern Elk, Sea Mink, Passenger Pigeon, and Carolina Parakeet. The American bison, now only a DNA remnant in a popular cattle breed, suffered a range reduction that makes it effectively extinct. 

We don’t tell ourselves these stories, choosing instead a more heroic myth of rugged individualists breaking free of tyranny, overcoming adversity, and taming a savage land. It plays well with children, especially young boys.

Original Buffalo Range

Harvested Buffalo Skulls

Current Remnant Herds

Albert Bates and KMO on the road.
Not shown: the lovely Olga K.
Back from a long road trip up the BosWash Corridor, to the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO-USA); the Keystone XL Pipeline ring-around-the-White-House; Occupy DC; Occupy Wall Street; and then west by northwest to the Local Future International Conference on Sustainability, Transition and Culture Change in Michigan, we are imbued with a sense of the public sentiment at this historic Thanksgiving. Ours was not a scientific expedition. We gathered very little new information. All told, we merely confirmed our extant hypotheses.

Or did we?
KMO and Albert Bates, ASPO book table
The ASPO meeting was a star-studded affair: William Catton, author of Overshoot; Richard Heinberg, author of The Party's Over, Peak Everything, and End of Growth; Wes Jackson of The Land Institute; Chris Martenson, creator of The Crash Course; financial analysts Charles Maxwell, Andy Buckingham and Jeff Rubin; energy predictors David Murphy, Robert Hirsch and Roger Bedzek; oil-patch experts Chris Skrebowski, Kjell Aleklett, Arthur Berman, and Jean Laherrère; and popular collapsenik writers and bloggers Nicole (Stoneleigh) Foss, Sharon Astyk, Dmitry Orlov, John Michael Greer, Kurt Cobb, Gail Tverberg, Tom Whipple, Aaron Newton and Guy Dauncey. 

Oil Addiction slide by Wes Jackson
ASPO’s Beltway audience was even more interesting — former TVA Chairman S. David Freeman, Limits to Growth author Dennis Meadows, EROIE creator Charles A.S. Hall, Songs of Petroleum author Jan Lundberg, and congressional committee investigator John Darnell. The gab in the corridors and over meals was almost as interesting as what went on in the main hall.

With all this brainpower one might expect new flashes of insight to beam like a mirrored ball in the grasp of colored spotlights. Actually, the 7th Annual Meeting was little improved from the 6th, or 5th, or any of the others of its ilk — ASPO International, Petrocollapse, or, for that matter, Local Future in Michigan. Rapid collapse, and soon, seems to have more adherents now than gradual collapse, some unspecified distance out. What we found ourselves rotating around was our own confirmatory bias.

Granted, there were bits and pieces we had not known before. Who knew before the after-dinner presentations by Anthony Ingraffea, Rob Jackson, Robert Howarth, and Amy Mall that natural gas, the new darling of America’s Energy Independence and lately subject of much hyped-up advertising by oil companies, is currently responsible for 44 percent of US greenhouse impact? Factoring in the 20:1 advantage of methane over carbon dioxide as a heat-stroking molecule, fracking shale gas already contributes about 11 percent — 677 Tg CO2-equivalent, according to EPA — of the climate chaos we are endowing to future generations, and is growing far faster than coal.

Who knew?

Who knew that while petroleum may have spared the sperm whale for a century, the climate change it brought may have doomed not just marine mammals but all ocean life? 

Keystone Protests Ring the White House
Or that increasing technological efficiency brings more energy use, not less? Energy efficiency now allows every man, woman and child in the United States to use 100 times more energy than is required to live happily. Indeed, as Herman Daly is fond of reminding us, once we pass a threshold of sufficiency, each ounce of added wealth diminishes our happiness and well-being.

Or that 4.5 billion of Earth’s present human inhabitants owe their food supply, antibiotics and prescriptions — their longevity and fecundity — nearly entirely to petrochemical processes that are about to become unavailable at an affordable price? 

Secret Service Eye-View of Protesters
Or that governments and international agencies have treasonously conspired for half a century to obscure and conceal vital facts that would allow populations and markets to prepare for a very different future, one based on daily solar income, rather than an overdrawn savings account of ancient sunlight? 

Well, actually we have, here and in our books, articles, lectures and interviews. For 40 years, more or less. Sorry to nag.

So why don’t more people seek shelter from the coming storm? Why don’t election year debates get real? Two reasons: confirmation bias and normalcy bias. 

Jan Lundberg at Zucotti Park library,
shortly before it was destroyed by NYPD
In the case of the former, we sentient bipeds with tripartite brains actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms our views of the world — views we mostly formed as children as we “aped” our parents and teachers or our inspiring leaders and celebrities. Our fondness towards normalcy lets us box out things that make us feel uncomfortable and allows us to focus on ways to blend into the crowd. If the crowd thinks peak oil, climate change, JFK’s assassination or the inside job at the World Trade Center are just weird conspiracy theories by crazies at the fringe of our society, we ape the crowd. That’s just Sapiens’ Social Software.

“Paranoia? Of course not. It’s alternative scholarship. What’s wrong with teaching alternative theories in our schools? What are liberals so afraid of? … Why this dictatorial approach to learning anyway? What gives teachers the right to say what things are? Who’s to say that flat-earthers are wrong? Or that the Church was wrong to silence Galileo, with his absurd theory (actually written by his proctologist) that the earth moves around the sun. Citing ‘evidence’ is so snobbish and élitist. I think we all know what lawyers can do with evidence.”
— Eric Idle, Who Wrote Shakespeare


In Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma, (New York: Springer, 2012) Joseph Tainter and Tad Patzek describe the lifestyle of a wealthy family in ancient Rome. Work, such as it was, ended by mid-day and afternoons were spent at the baths, evenings in social banquets. The diet was well-balanced, children well-educated, and all of it was accomplished with about 6 slaves per family. The Tawantinsuyu (Inca) were even more efficient, their whole pre-Columbian society spending about 65 days per year to meet basic needs. Slavery, while not unknown in the Andes, played a much smaller — principally military — role. 

Occupy DC
Our “norm” now is to use 400 energy slaves per USAnian family, or 200 in Europe and 40 in China. Moreover, those slaves are actually much more reliable than human slaves ever were. They work 24/7, never get sick, don’t get married and have children or entanglements, and require almost no space for housing. Right now they cost much less to acquire and maintain than human slaves ever did. 

So, if the Tawantinsuyu could get by with almost no domestic slaves, the Romans with only a handful per wealthy family, how is it that we need 36 billion of them in the United States to take our kids to soccer practice and pop popcorn? Tainter and Patzek say it in a single word: complexity.

We have become inured to complexity. Today we can barely fathom getting around in a strange city without a smart phone. We think nothing of flying a thousand miles for a business meeting or a week at the beach. This energy-enslaved world is our insular cocoon, the norm that we have been socialized into, and with confirmatory bias and normalcy bias we defend it from any “abnormal” opinion that it is immoral, wrongheaded, or doomed. Like an advertisement for cigarettes or one-ton automobiles, we do not imagine our slaves could make us unhappy or unhealthy. Quite the opposite. We confer on our outsized, outmoded, profligate lifestyle an absolute, inviolate authoritativeness. “The American way of life,” George H.W. Bush whorishly opined, “is not up for negotiation.” The War on Terror, Donald Rumsfeld told us, is to persuade the world that Americans must be allowed to continue their way of life.

This is the reflex that keeps the majority of us frozen in the headlights as collapse rushes at us from all sides — militarily, environmentally, financially, and socially. We are Romans with the barbarians at the gates — we just keep sending our slaves out to pick more fruit and bring us wine.

Protesters Return to Zuccotti Park
Those of us who read the tea leaves and deduce the inevitable are better prepared, but even collapseniks are trapped in confirmatory bias — subscribing to RSS feeds or podcasts from favored web news sources; reading the latest books from Lundberg, Heinberg, Kunstler, Astyk and Orlov; or attending conferences like ASPO and Local Future. If the crash and plunge that was predicted for 2006 did not appear, maybe it will have arrived by 2010. If not then, then perhaps 2012, or 2015. We are waiting for Godot, are we not? Ah, but the conversation is good.

Let us stop looking for confirmation of our views or trying to conform to “normal,” whatever that is. This Thanksgiving let us give thanks that what we have been bequeathed by generations before us — less the avaricious colonists than the generous natives, less the hybrid buffalo than the ecology of the forest, less our myths than the hard realities — have brought us benefit beyond measure. Let us resolve to squander it no more. Gaia grant us clear eyes and ears to see through the fog of our own self-deceptions.

On this day let us resolve not just to thank the natives but to free our slaves. Addiction to slavery is the same as any other addiction. First it feels good, then it destroys you. Just ask a wealthy Roman.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and FDR’s Four Freedoms

At the beginning of November, when it was getting colder, we had the opportunity to visit Zucotti Park and sit in with the Occupy Wall Street crowds. We had been concerned that colder weather might dampen spirits but those fears proved unfounded, and our patriots’ spirits now are much higher than at Valley Forge.

Our citizens have learned a great deal about democracy in 235 years, and it shows. One of the chants taken up as they march on Bank of America, City Hall, a reception for Henry Kissinger, or wherever they might be going that day, is “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!”

The loose agglomeration that meets in daily General Assembly (GA) is really good at framing and hardly needed advice from George Lakoff, although he was thoughtful enough to provide some. Don’t make specific demands, he said, be a moral focus. Be patriotic. Be the public, standing up. Be citizens. Make it about rights, not privilege. He didn’t need to give that advice, but it was good to put it out there. These people at the GA already have it in their DNA.

The difference between this group and the framers meeting in Continental Congress is more than the two centuries of experience gained and prophesies fulfilled (Washington, Jefferson, Madison and others expressly warned of political parties and bankers). It is also a difference in method. The colonists, intoxicated with the idea of popular democracy but sobered by a fear of power usurpers, were stuck with Robert’s Rules of Order.

The GA, and the break-out groups that meet in the Atrium at 60 Wall Street are blessed with the Quaker tools now refined by waves of protest movements: the Suffragettes, Satyagraha, Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, No-nukes Affinity Groups, and Battle in Seattle. What doesn’t work? Violence. Power Trips. Hierarchies. What works? Good facilitation, timekeeping, note-taking, hand-signs, open agenda, global café, conflict transformation, consensus. What came out of the conventions at the turn of the 18th to 19th Century was protection of slavery, disenfranchisement of women, ethnic cleansing of Native Americans and the preservation of an elite ruling class, especially the banksters. What will emerge from this process may also be flawed when seen in hindsight centuries hence, but it will be progressively less so.

At the Atrium sessions, weeks and months of meeting on Vision and Goals, sometimes with the same people, or sometimes with nearly all new people, had so far only gotten as far as a draft preliminary vision statement. Two versions were offered at the meeting we attended with about a dozen people, including an elderly bearded rabbi and a First Nations pipe-bearer from Canada. The first was a single page that had already been read aloud in the GA, the other a much longer document that gathered in many more threads that had been woven together in the breakout group. In this meeting, 10 minutes was allocated to the former and 30 to the latter. Those who had taken on responsibility for a redraft would listen to the voices of this group on this night and take that back to revise the next draft for the next night. Only when the document fully expressed the wishes of the whole ad hoc committee, by consensus, would it be returned to the GA for re-reading and offered for consensus there.

These committee meetings allow themselves only about 2 hours per day, so the agenda had to be condensed and consensed quickly at the start of each session. New offers to present, in writing or verbally, were received and voted upon. Six final choices were narrowed to 3 agenda items with pre-assigned duration times. In this way the meetings went smoothly, and people remained fresh and eager to meet again the next day. Democracy is not quick. There is a learning curve for many activists who have conceived such polities but never had to practice them. It may take a while to come to appreciate the skills of “unelected” facilitators and the liberty of time.

Where did the Atrium space come from, one might ask. The Atrium is public space that was guaranteed by the real estate developer to be open for public use, in exchange for New York City raising their height restriction and rental occupancy limits. There are more than 500 such places in New York City, including Zucotti Park, although the 1% Press has been carefully obscuring this point and making the occupation seem like trespass, and the developers have been pressuring the 1% Mayor to evict. Confronted by a court ordering him to allow the protesters to remain in the public spaces they were given by law, the Mayor has relented and provided port-a-potties, food vendor access, and other accommodations to basic needs. Rumor has it he will even be providing some heated tents soon.

From what we saw, the Occupiers in New York are in no hurry, have really good process and facilitation, and their Open Space format allows all ideas to come in and be heard. They have plenty of donations for needed supplies. Of course there are the usual crazies and street people who also occupy the space and the juice, but the Zucotti camp itself is not threatened by cold weather, rain, snow, or disinterest. Their biggest challenge is coping with their own numbers, which are growing every day. They may soon have to add another park, so watch for that.

The longer vision draft document contained a passage worth repeating here.
“The question of freedom must be posed afresh — in its most profound sense — so that it might be retrieved. For in the answer to that question alone resides the secret of the revolution. The cry of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité! still rings through the ages, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Humanity must be awakened from its comatose state, its long ahistorical torpor, so that freedom can at last be realized.

“By ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ is understood at least the following:

Freedom from oppression
Freedom from want
Freedom from fear
Freedom from war (Kant’s ‘perpetual peace;’ faedus pacificum)
Freedom from disease
Freedom from ignorance
Freedom from apathy (the anomie described by Darkheim)
Freedom from boredom (the colorless tedium of daily life, Baudelarian ennui)
Freedom from imposed necessity
Freedom without borders (liberté sans frontiers)"

These ten points draw into focus both the intellectual strength of the Occupy movement and its naiveté. Perhaps the rigor of the process will shave off some of the rough edges before it is complete, but as it stands, the document takes a giant step beyond Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms:
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.” (Address to Congress, January 6, 1941)

Roosevelt’s freedoms, which did not reach for impossible social goals like freedom from boredom (although, in truth, that should be afforded prisoners as a fundamental right), were really bedrock needs. Its amazing to us today how broadly they were accepted in 1941. They were used as set pieces for Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers. After the war, they were incorporated into the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But can you imagine Obama calling for a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor? Or hearing it from any of the Republican candidates for President?

The gap between the Roosevelt four freedoms and the Occupy ten freedoms is one of realities versus perceptions. While it is realistic to ask for societies to so organize themselves that the least of us is protected from hunger and fear, it may not be reasonable to expect that a population of 7 billion can be liberated from ignorance and apathy, or that a free liberal arts college education or high-tech extensions of life for the terminally ill should be guaranteed. We are at peak extraction, peak energy and peak population, and beyond this point lies a Great Change.

In our view, if the Occupy Wall Street GA just got the United States back to championing Roosevelt’s four freedoms, that would be significant.





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