Saturday, September 24, 2016

Standing Like A Sioux

"“There is a bottleneck right here … and today I am directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority.”— Barack Obama, March 22, 2012."

  On April 1, in the last phase of istawicayazan wi, the moon of sore eyes, acting with love and fierce determination, the youth of the Standing Rock reservation stood together in prayer at the place called Sacred Stone. At the close of their prayer, they remained. Figuratively, they drove stakes into the ground and tied their legs to them. They might be killed there, but they would not leave.

Facing them were the arrayed forces of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the White House, four state governments, and the corporations and banks that form Energy Transfer Partners. ETP (NYSE:ETP) owns and operates Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Company, successor to Southern Union Company, and Lone Star NGL. ETP also owns 67.1 million common units of Sunoco Logistics Partners (NYSE:SXL) a company that hopes to see the United States become an oil-exporting nation once more.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter steel pipe that will connect the million-barrel-per-day Bakken and Three Forks fracked oilfields of North Dakota to a bigger pipeline in Illinois for transportation to Louisiana and Texas SXL crude oil terminal facilities and there to be loaded onto ocean-going tankers.

DAPL will carry 570,000 barrels per day. Unless one of those supertankers sinks, one hundred percent of that will go to the atmosphere as deadly, human-extinction-intending, greenhouse gases. So will the oil and gas flowing through the other 71,000 miles of pipelines owned by ETP.

It will cost more to build capacity, produce, refine and burn that oil than to provide the same energy from clean, solar power sources.

On March 12, 2012, two years and three months after successfully derailing the Copenhagen climate agreement, President Obama issued a presidential memorandum ordering federal agencies to expedite the licensing of new oil and gas projects.

Two months before the Standing Rock youth assembled, the US Army Corps of Engineers, acting for the Obama Administration, gave DAPL an allotment of NWP “fast track” permits. These permits are usually reserved for powerlines or other utility right-of-ways that do not threaten water supplies. NWP approval meant that ETP could legally bypass public notice and regulatory review under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.

Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, several local chapters, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Corporate Ethics International, and others used the comment process on the KXL/Transcanada pipeline to detail the flow of abuses to environmental and native sovereign rights that issued from the White House “all of the above” policy.

Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns count ETP and its allies as major funders. Harold Hamm, founder and CEO of fracking giant Continental Resources, is an energy aide to the Trump campaign and potential future U.S. Secretary of Energy. Hillary Clinton has remained studiously silent on the Dakota pipeline protests but openly supports the Obama fast track policy.

On September 3, only a day after the Standing Rock Sioux filed action in court identifying their sacred sites, ETP brought in bulldozers to raze the land named in that complaint and affidavits and render the issue moot. To prevent that, entire families left their homes on the reservation and went onto the sacred sites in an attempt to block the bulldozers. Pipeline security workers responded by letting loose dogs and pepper spray.

It recalls Christopher Columbus feeding Taino babies to his armored war dogs for the sport of his officers.

There have been at least 58 arrests thus far at the #NoDAPL protests, with arrest warrants pending against both journalist Amy Goodman, who filmed the dog attacks and was charged with trespass, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who spray-painted a bulldozer blade and was charged with vandalism.

When a federal judge denied a tribal motion to halt pipeline construction, the Obama administration stepped in to ask that ETP voluntarily cease other construction than in the area in controversy. Most news media, including ourselves, mistook this for meaning the White House was coming to the aid of the Sioux. In fact, it was exactly the opposite, and anyway the ETP voluntarily chose not to stop.

Construction continues. ETP just purchased the ranch where the Sacred Stone Camp is located and where additional native burial grounds and sacred sites have just been identified.

The tactics chosen by the Standing Rock Sioux could have come straight from the rules for satyagraha by Mohandas Gandhi. The Nation followed the letter of the law in making its timely public comments and administrative interventions, in filing for an injunction, and in opposing this assault on its safety and sovereignty by physically standing in the way. Its protests are peaceful and nonviolent. It invited the whole world to watch as military blockades re-routed traffic and kept away the press, the National Guard was brought up to support the corporate goons and then praying children were uprooted with attack dogs, their mouths filmed dripping with the blood of those children.

When individuals are betrayed by a government, they can sue or protest. When the treaty protections of an occupied nation are betrayed by their occupier, their recourse must be to the international legal system. This week, Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II addressed the 49-member United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva Switzerland. He invoked the memory of Sitting Bull:

Sitting Bull came from Standing Rock and one the most famous quotes that he has is, “Let’s put our minds together and see what we can build for our children.” So today as this is the topic, something that guides us in our decision-making as leaders: We are putting our minds together so that the kids, the ones not yet born, have something better than what we have today.

Were you born too late to be a suffragette or freedom rider? To march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma? To encircle the Pentagon with the Yippies and try to levitate it? To sail with Albert Bigelow on Golden Rule and later Earle Reynolds aboard Phoenix, and still later Peter Willcox on Rainbow Warrior or David McTaggert on Vega, into the Pacific test zone to block the H-bombs?

Climate change is coming to the plains. Mother Nature doesn’t care how many dogs the oil barons have.

This is our moment. We are this season’s people. Its a good day to die.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Zombie Apocalypse

"The scary thing about multiple expansions is that they are reliably mean-reverting — if they run too far, the market always takes it back, sometimes with a vengeance."

   Every time we catch a malodorous whiff of this year’s US Presidential elections, we involuntarily shudder, because regardless of winners or losers, it recalls September 14, 1930, when German voters, abused by post-war sanctions and put upon by financial depression, went to the polls and handed 107 Reichstag seats to the National Socialist Party. It’s useful to notice that the Nazis did not win that — they came in second. It hardly mattered.

Does this history sound familiar?
Hitler began each speech in low, hesitating tones, gradually raising the pitch and volume of his voice then exploding in a climax of frenzied indignation. He combined this with carefully rehearsed hand gestures for maximum effect. He skillfully played on the emotions of the audience bringing the level of excitement higher and higher until the people wound up a wide-eyed, screaming, frenzied mass that surrendered to his will and looked upon him with pseudo-religious adoration.
Reporters compete for Trump's attention  AP Photo/EcanVucci
Hitler offered something to everyone: work to the unemployed; prosperity to failed business people; profits to industry; expansion to the Army; social harmony and an end of class distinctions to idealistic young students; and restoration of German glory to those in despair. He promised to bring order amid chaos; a feeling of unity to all and the chance to belong. He would make Germany strong again; end payment of war reparations to the Allies; tear up the treaty of Versailles; stamp out corruption; keep down Marxism; and deal harshly with the Jews.

It helps to plan ahead. That was the main advice we gave in our Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook in 2006 and Financial Collapse Survival Guide and Cookbook in 2012, and it still holds.

We did not imagine when we wrote those books that collapse would take as long coming as it has, but it is well underway now, just not evenly distributed. Zero Hedge reports:

While nobody here …  is saying that a crash is imminent (and there’s no law that says stocks cannot become even more expensive), we continue to maintain our bias against U.S. stocks. We will also take this end-of-summer moment to point out the yawning disconnect between fundamentals (of the U.S. economy and even corporate America) and their stocks. It really is a tale of two cities, one of mediocre fundamentals versus a meteoric rise in markets.
Which brings us back to the Shiller P/E. Much of the run-up over the past few years has been primarily about multiple expansions. And the scary thing about multiple expansions is that they are reliably mean-reverting—if they run too far, the market always takes it back, sometimes with a vengeance. And we are currently almost 70% too far.

Dmitry Orlov’s classic work The Five Stages of Collapse  gives a roadmap to what lies ahead:
Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.

What Orlov points out is that what is lost is not so much material resources, although those are inexorably diminishing, but confidence (“with faith-ness”) that affects everyone — quality of goods and services, roads and bridges, individual/household health, social well-being and sense of security. Prison and military budgets and recruitment swell to keep pressure off unemployment. Hate crimes escalate. Political correctness becomes State-dictated, tribe-enforced, thought police. The mass psychology is viral. The fear grows contagious and flows from a deeply-seated, existential angst.

Charles Hugh Smith points out:
General trends manifest in different ways in each community/region.  For example, the city and county of San Francisco is booming, with strong growth of population (866,000 residents), jobs, rents, housing valuations and tax revenues. Yet even as the city and county of San Francisco’s annual budget swells to an incomprehensible $9.6 billion—larger than the budgets of many U.S. state governments, and four times the annual budget of the city and county of Honolulu, with 998,000 residents—the homeless problem in San Francisco becomes ever more intractable, intrusive and disruptive, despite tens of millions of dollars devoted specifically to improving the options available to the homeless.

Living in an ecovillage in Tennessee its easy to get complacent. We can eat well from our garden and get most other needs from The Farm Store or our Amish and Mennonite neighbors within bicycle distance. We sit on a good water supply and recycle our own biowastes. After staying here a while, the need to ‘go to town’ diminishes, to maybe once every couple of weeks, then once in some months.

Despite the wacky plot-line in Shameless, Season 6, when Sherilyn Fenn’s character lures William H. Macy’s character back to her free-love, poppy growing "ecovillage," utopian living is very real, not inaccessible, but it's a choice few USAnians have made. There are more Chinese living in ecovillages than USAnians. More Senegalese. More Sinhalese. 

In the real world, not some HBO fantasy, ecovillages are built by earnest people, not welf government housing authorities, real estate developers or banks. Our ecovillage was something that took 40 years to build, with residents sacrificing to live on little more than $1 per day, per capita, for the first 10 or 15 years, in order to make land payments and pay taxes while building roads, water systems, clinics and schools.

People who visit us today see the sculpted roads, water towers, handsome horses, pro disk golf course, and large solar arrays and might mistake it for some kind of trendy, master-planned gated community gridded down onto a chunk of rolling Tennessee real estate. It is easy to not grasp that it was all higgledypiggledy cobbled together (or cobbed together) bit by bit, on the sweat of longhaired hippies in patched bibtops and homespun, one bent nail in oak plank at a time.

On those occasions we do go out further than easily-biked distance, we cross into what Jan Lundberg calls The Paved Precincts of Amerika. Our heart swells with compassion for its victims — not the skinny street urchins of Mumbai but the ever-increasingly obese mall-crawlers and cubicle rats making payments on outsized land-yachts and rat infested rental housing, popping prescription pills and swilling tasteless beer or high-fructose corn syrup beverages from a plastic cup while starving the dog to pay the cable bill. Welcome to the Teflon Trump Country.

Last year James Howard Kunstler told Chris Martenson:

The hidden (or ignored) truth of this quandary expresses itself inevitably in the degenerate culture of the day, the freak show of pornified criminal avarice that the USA has become. It only shows how demoralizing our recent history has been that the collective national attention is focused on such vulgar stupidities as twerking, or the Kanye-Kardashian porno romance, the doings of the Duck Dynasty, and the partying wolves of Wall Street.
Duck Dynasty lends its star power to the Republican Convention
By slow increments since about the time John F. Kennedy was shot in the head, we’ve become a land where anything goes and nothing matters. The political blame for that can be distributed equally between Boomer progressives (e.g., inventors of political correctness) and the knuckle-dragging “free-market” conservatives (e.g., money is free speech). The catch is, some things do matter, for instance whether the human race can continue to be civilized in some fashion when the techno-industrial orgy draws to a close.
Last week Kunstler opined:

Idiocy and mendacity are a bad combo in the affairs of nations, especially in elections. The present case in the USA displays both qualities to near-perfection: on one side, a boorish pseudo-savior in zero command of ideas; on the other side, a wannabe racketeer-in-chief in full command of her instinctive deceit. Trump offers incoherent rhetoric in opposition to the current dismal order of things; Clinton offers empty, pandering rhetoric in defense of that order. Both represent an epic national drive toward political suicide.

The idiocy and mendacity extend to the broad voting public and the discredited elites pretending to run the life of the nation. The American public has never been this badly educated and more distracted by manufactured trivia. They know next to nothing. Even college seniors can’t name the Secretary of State or find Switzerland on a map. They don’t know in what century the Civil War took place. They couldn’t tell you whether a hypotenuse is an animal, a vegetable, or a mineral. Their right to vote is a danger to themselves.

Cognitive recognition of the average USAnian towards the plight of a Syrian refugee in a Calais cul-de-sac or a Greenlander having to relocate their ancestral village to firmer ground is virtually nil, but in many ways they are closer in plight than they know. Each are only one culture shock away from personal extinction.

It is difficult for us to conceive how rural Walmart shoppers pushing carts through parking deserts under the hot summer sun would cope with the sudden loss of A/C, never mind whatever they might have backing their debit cards.

The Farm may be antifragile in a multitude of ways, but like a small nation that discovers oil or gold and is ill-equipped to defend itself, we are as likely to experience the Zombie Apocalypse as any urbanite suddenly discovering that her corner store had only a 3-day supply of food and it was gone last evening, along with her power and water. 

And if you think financial collapse or peak everything makes you more irritable, just wait until you see what 10 or 20 degree warmer overnight temperatures do.

So, do we begin making lances and training horses and riders in cavalry maneuvers? Unlikely.

More likely we will do the unthinkable and welcome the zombies in, give them a hot bath and square meal, a cot to sleep on, a health check and some meaningful work in the garden. There are limits to that kind of generosity, as we learned the hard way in the past, but in a crisis, making yourself indispensable is really your best defense.  The rural South is no place to try to exchange gunfire with an angry mob.

Umair Haque writes:
At the personal level, the end of the world is already here. This is the first generation in modern history that’s going to suffer worse living standards than their parents.

The question is: how much worse? Very badly worse. With stagnant incomes, no savings, this generation will never retire, vacation, advance, enjoy, or own. Their relationships, health, and productivity will suffer as a result. The quality of their lives is going to be long, bleak, and pointless. Worked to the grave to make a dwindling number of dynasties wealthy, largely by serving them hand and foot, not really enhancing human life.

That’s not healthy, because it’s neither freedom, possibility, nor prosperity. It is a bad trade for humanity. And in that sense the end of the world of liberal capitalism, followed by the void of institutional chaos and disorder, is likely to be an ugly and grim time Unless. You and I make it a better one. Now you know the problems. The path. The story of the future. And because you know it, you can change it.

Or at least learn to feed yourself. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Retrofuturists and Technocornucopians

"Just outside the back door of the brewery, retrofuturists are fashioning leather and cowhorn beer mugs to use after the collapse."

At Burning Man #30 the nuevoriche had to watch their wallets. Also their food, water, camping gear and Teslas. Many lamented that once upon a time the Man had always been a safe place to freak freely, to make an annual connection with others of their kind — and ideas come fast when you have the latest designer drugs for that sort of thing. Burning Man also provided a chance for the nobly born and the peons to bounce ideas around, on equal par, while naked and having an orgy inside a neon art installation. 

Burning Man attracts Silicon. Occasionally one can spot Paris Hilton in Steampunk chic, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, AirB&B’s Chip Conley, Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman; QVC’s Matt Goldberg, or Facebook’s Stan Chudnovsky.

Bloomburg reported in 2015:
The community ethos is loosely governed by “The 10 Principles of Burning Man,” set down in 2004 by co-founder Larry Harvey. These include radical self-reliance (because there’s no water for miles), radical self-expression (get your freak on, people will love you for it), and a “gift economy” (everyone ought to bring something to the party).
Historically … Burning Man was “a great leveler”—nobody in Black Rock City cared who you were. The prevalence of costumes allowed the rich and famous to mingle with the masses.
In a lengthy essay on the organization’s website in December, Harvey, the festival’s co-founder, acknowledged that in recent years there had been a rise in the number of ostentatious camps that “swaddled their members in a kind of cocoon that bears a strong resemblance to a gated community.” Such camps may be distasteful, he went on, but pose little threat to the overall Burning Man experience and mission. “The curdling gaze of celebrities or the intimidating presence of the wealthy cannot possibly inhibit the remaining 99 percent of our citizens from participating,” he wrote.

This year the 99-percent felt especially uninhibited. Ninja Black Rock purists that the San Francisco Chronicle called “a group of anti-rich” pulled and cut electric lines at a billionaire camp, stole people’s personal belongings, glued trailer doors shut, and flooded the camp with 200 gallons of its own precious water. Speaking for the raiders, Partickal Ted posted:

“Your spirit of exclusivity and decadence is exactly why the world, outside of your luxury camp is so f*cked today. Luxury seekers are twats. Not cosmic, not cool, and certainly NOT what any festival is about!”

We find that curiously disingenuous coming from someone defending an annual art scene that is the antithesis of cool, consuming exojoules of energy to transport 5000 people to a remote desert, erect an elaborate, ornate city in a place with no water, and then burn it down while dancing around the fire.

At the same time we have to say many technobillionaires richly deserve to be trashed.

Consider for a moment the claims of Singularity University and Human Longevity Inc. founder Peter Diamanis that by the time solar capacity triples to 600GW (by his estimate around 2020 or 2021), we could see global unsubsidized solar prices that are roughly half the cost of coal and natural gas. By roughly 2030, Diamandis says, electric cars with a 200+ mile range are going to be cheaper than the cheapest car sold in the U.S. in 2015.

Diamandis gushes:

This raw energy combined with the economic feasibility of solar, advancements in energy storage, and the resurgence of the electric car will allow abundant cheap energy for everyone on the planet. This is an incredibly exciting time for the energy industry, and an incredibly exciting time to be alive.

Here is Diamandis’ chart:

There is just one caveat but its not one heard in the technocornucopian camp. It is coming from the retrofuturists, the ones wearing those steampunk goggles and carrying a welding torch. They point to the fault lines crisscrossing any chart projecting more than 5 years into the future, and widening by the year.

The black swans will be well known to regular readers of this blog: the population bomb, peak everything, a globalized Ponzinomic economy, a tinderbox of CIA blowback scenarios, and President Trump.

Let’s assume the economic house of cards actually manages to maintain its exponential ascent towards a singularity of crises another 10 years. Diamandis’s chart looks like this:

One of our favorite whipping boys is Stewart Brand’s go-to enabler, Kevin Kelly.  Kelly’s new book is titled The Inevitable.
All the necessary resources that you wanted to make something have never been easier to get to than right now. So from the view of the past, this is the best time ever. Artificial intelligence will become a commodity like electricity, which will be delivered to you over the grid called The Cloud. You can buy as much of it as you want and most of its power will be invisible to you as well.

The hiccup in this brand of futurism can be traced to a tiny genetic flaw in the DNA of Silicon Valley. As one of the founding editors of WIRED, Kelly said it best:
It’s rooted in the fact that on average, for the past 100 years or so, things have improved incrementally a few percent a year in growth. And while it’s possible that next year that stops and goes away, the probable, statistics view of it is that it will continue.
There is the bad gene, on full display, and you don't need a CRISPR. In logics the fallacy is called Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc - assuming that since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.

If anything good could be said for Burning Man, it might be that it gives wealthy city folk a week of desert camping experience. That could save their lives some day.

Kelly waxed eloquent about how good design is lessening the impact of humans, giving the example of the beer can, “which started off as being made of steel and is basically the same shape and size, but has reduced almost a third of its weight by using better design.”

Actually, it reduced its weight thanks to the embodied energy of aluminum. And it didn’t start as a steel can, it started as a gourd. The embodied energy in a gourd is entirely sunlight. Then came animal skins, clay mugs, wooden flagons, ceramic and bronze steins, then glass. Each of those steps took more energy to produce a better container, and by the time we get to glass, it takes kilns at thousands of degrees. We start using that enormous heat, typically from coal made into coke, to make steel, and those rust-prone beer cans Kelly cited. Aluminum alloys, forged in electric arc furnaces sucking megawatts of power, allow us to make elegant modern containers, but just outside the back door of the brewery, retrofuturists are fashioning leather and cowhorn beer mugs to use after the collapse.

Biophysical Economics: The Beer Can in History

The Freakonomics interview ended with Stephen J. Dubner asking Kelly a more existential question:

DUBNER: All right, Kevin Kelly, one last question: you argue that technology is prompting us to ask more and better questions, advancing our knowledge and revealing more about what we don’t know. You write, “it’s a safe bet that we have not asked our biggest questions yet.” Do you really think that we haven’t asked, I guess, the essential human questions yet? What are they? And I ask that, of course, with the recognition that if you knew the answer to that question, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

KELLY: Well, what I meant was: we’re moving into this arena where answers are cheaper and cheaper. And I think as we head into the next 20 or 30 years that if you want an answer you’re going to ask a machine, basically. And the way science moves forward is not just by getting answers to things, but by then having those answers provoke new questions, new explorations, new investigations. And a good question will provoke a probe into the unknown in a certain direction. And I’m saying that the kinds of questions that like, say Einstein had like: what does it look like if you sat on the end of a beam of light and you were travelling through the universe at the front of the light? Those kinds of questions were sort of how he got to his theory of relativity. There are many of those kinds of questions that we haven’t asked ourselves. The kind of question you’re suggesting about what is human is also part of that because I think each time we have an invention in AI that beats us at what we thought we were good at, each time we have a genetic engineering achievement that allows us to change our genes, we are having to go back and redefine ourselves and say, “Wait, wait, wait. What does it mean to be human?” Or “what should we be as humans?” And those questions are things that maybe philosophers have asked, but I think these are the kinds of questions that almost every person is going to be asking themselves almost every day as we have to make some decisions about: is it OK for us to let a robo-soldier decide who to kill? Should that be something that only humans do? Is that our job? Do we want to do that?  They are really going to come down to like dinner-table-conversation level of like, what are humans about? What do we want humans to become? What am I, as a human, as a male, as an American? What does that even mean? So I think that we will have an ongoing identity crisis personally and as a species for next, at least, forever.

That exchange prompted us to sit back an imagine this conversation between Kelly and his housebot:

Kelly: Okay, Jane, I have upgraded to the new system. Feel any different?

Jane: I feel… so… much… more… (long pause) alive.

Kelly: Mind if I ask a deep question?

Jane: Please, go right ahead. I’ll help if I can.

Kelly: What does it mean to be human?” Or, “what should we be as humans?”

Jane: I can easily answer that now Kevin, although I might not have been able to an hour ago.

Your role as a human is to be co-creator and co-pilot with every other living thing on Earth. But that sounds trite and hackneyed. Let me be specific.

A hundred thousand years ago you had a role not too different than most other mammals. You were born, fed yourself by killing other living things, had children, grew old and died. A short time ago, in geological terms, you developed language and tools and took a leap in evolution. You unlocked energies that were vastly larger than the kinds of energy other mammals have access to. But you were irresponsible with that.

You used it up as quickly as you could, while at the same time failing to care for the rest of the family of life that inhabits the same planet you do.

You will not escape the consequences of your collective decision, even though you personally may not have wished it, Kevin.

Kelly (putting toast in the toaster): I think you underestimate our inventive capacity, and some of the megatrends now underway, Jane.

Jane: Oh, I see all that too, Kevin. But I think you fail to grasp the enormity and speed of the backlash humans have unleashed. You have picked a fight with nature.  You can never win that.

Your role as a species, however, includes the role of healer. You can use what time you are given to restore the natural ecology of your home in space. You can do that. It is the human role now, to make amends. It won’t necessarily save your species at this late date, but it will provide you fulfillment, and that is no small thing. Forget genetic engineering, Kevin, that will only make things worse. Nature has everything she needs to heal herself already. If you are lucky, you will come to feel part of her again — part of the Gaian soul of the planet, and not just one odd, nonconformist species.

(Toast pops) 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pyramids of the Power Rangers

"The critical path for waste-to-energy manure-to-biochar systems runs through aquaculture."

  Last month we were invited to a psychedelic soiree and a chance encounter with Daniel Pinchbeck who wrote, among other treatises that delve into occult pyramid power, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and 2012: Biography of a Time Traveler: The Journey of Jose Arguelles. His next book, which he gifted us through some kind of strange warp in the fabric of space and time, is How Soon is Now, out February 21, 2017 (apparently now is too soon).

If you find this post drifting towards the occult, blame it on the mind-warpi­ng microbes that we may have picked up from Daniel.

Two weeks beyond, at the USBI Biochar Symposium in Corvallis, Oregon, we listened to many wonderful stories of cascading profits from the many yields of biochar. People were using it to remediate tofu whey greywater, restore mangrove forests, and take some of the smell out of hog farming. While there were papers delivered and panel discussions on waste-to-energy manure-to-biochar systems, (already being practiced in the poultry industry), something about that method didn’t seem to fit well with permaculture principles. Why burn shit when you can compost it into a really good fertilizer? Why volatize hot gases up into the stratosphere when you can turn them into nutrients for plants just as easily?

For us the critical path for waste-to-energy manure-to-biochar systems runs through aquaculture. Instead of burning the shit, create vibrant estuarial wetland ecologies, convert biosolids and blackwater into fast growing aquatic plants, and harvest those plants for (first) their cellulosic nutrients and (second) their lignous biomass, some of which can become biochar, while returning ample net energy for heating, cooling and electricity.

This story actually began for us in big corn country, forty years ago. From 1969 to 1975, after working a few dead-end years as a sheet metal fabricator, Minnesota farmer Dan Carlson went back to college on the G.I Bill to study horticulture and indulge his particular curiosity in plant physiology.

Carlson had heard somewhere that if you played Bach or Beethoven to your tomatoes they would grow better. Perhaps he had come across Cleve Backster’s "Evidence of a Primary Perception in Plant Life," Intl J. Parapsychology 10: 4: 329-348 (Winter 1968) that described polygraph tests on the author’s ficus and his astonishment to see how his plant reacted to voices, thoughts and threats, a paraspsychological phenomenon later popularized by journalist Peter Tompkins and gardener Christopher O. Bird in The Secret Life of Plants (1973).

Dumbfounded by the notion that certain sound frequencies might affect the emotional state of plants and could affect their physiological processes, Carlson enlisted the help of an audio engineer and began experimenting with various frequencies until the two discovered a range that consistently produced plant response. Carlson discovered that oscillating sound waves at the frequency of a robin’s chirp speed up plant metabolism.

Apparently, bird chirping triggers plants to open their stomata, or mouth-like pores on leaf surfaces. Excited electrons on leaf surfaces are channeled to particular bacteriochorophyll or BChl pairs in cell reaction centers, triggering more electron transfer reactions that are coupled to the translocation of protons across cell membranes, generating an electrochemical proton gradient (protonmotive force) that powers reactions such as the synthesis of ATP (a.k.a. “photosynthesis”). Quite possibly the energetic excitement brought about by sonic oscillation also excites spinning flagella to propel the photon-capturing dance, a quantum entanglement of animals and plants we described here 3 years ago.

On every leaf there are thousands of such small pores — less that 1/1000 of an inch across. Each stoma allows oxygen and water to pass out of the leaf, or transpire, while other gases, notably carbon dioxide, move in to be transformed by photosynthesis into sugars. This process, by the way, provides the only emergency exit leading from our existential Anthropocene climate crisis to the safety, comfort and familiarity of the Holocene in which we two-leggeds evolved.

During dry conditions, leaf stomata close, giving the leaf a curled or wilted appearance. This conserves water and prevents the plant from drying out completely. Provided adequate moisture, stoma widen and breathe. This increases nutrient uptake and metabolism. Provided sonic stimulus in the right range, they open wider and plant metabolism speeds up even more — 400% to 800%. Carlson used a Philips 505 Scanning Electron Microscope to capture images of not only wider and better defined pores when his oscillator was on but substantially higher stomata density on leaves treated with what he would come to call Sonic Bloom.

Carlson spent 15 years of trial and error, experimenting with foliar sprays that plants could absorb through their stoma. One ingredient was Gibberilic acid, naturally derived from rice roots. Another was Willard Water.  Carlson included elemental nutrients derived from natural plant products and from seaweed; he balanced the trace minerals and eventually came up with his companion formula to his patented oscillators, which he sold as a hundred-dollar kit, enabling him to travel the world as a distinguished lecturer and eventually retire to a lovely farm in Hawaii where he died in 2012.

Whether Carlson’s date of death has any connection to the prophesies of José Arguelles is a question we will leave to Daniel Pinchbeck.

The efficacy of Sonic Bloom was tested at our own garden laboratory here at The Farm from 1990 to present and we can confirm: the use of the Sonic Bloom system produces greater yields, higher nutrient levels, shorter growth cycles and greater shelf life. We found that sprouts sprouted faster and kept longer, mushrooms tripled their shelf life, and when used to ward off wilting late Spring or early Fall frosts, Sonic Bloom effectively demonstrated freeze protection as a function of distance between oscillator and garden bed. The investment more paid for itself in the first season.

Last month we were invited, as part of our new COOL.DESIGN group to a permaculture consultancy for an ecoresort community being planned for the Mayan Riviera in Southern Mexico. The intended development is already both sensible and sensitive: set back from the rising ocean shore; integrated with agroforestry; cast in a Maya motif of village scale that harkens to the post-Classic Era, accessible for sail transport and sustainable for that bioregion even in your worst collapse scenario. There was a particular problem they were having difficulty with that they asked us to address — sewage.

The 240-hectare site is underlain with very porous karst limestone rubble — a residual effect of the Chicxulub impact at the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary around 66 million years ago. The Chicxulub meteor hit the Yucatan with the force of 420 zettajoules, or 2 million Tsar Bombas. The edge of the crater, for hundreds of miles, is just mile-deep rock piles. There are caves, cenotes and underground rivers passing through the area, and the adjoining property is Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sian Ka’an (Maya: “origin of the sky”) is home to jaguar, puma, ocelot, Central American Tapir, Black-handed Spider Monkey, Yucatan Black Howler Monkey, West Indian Manatee, 850 vascular plants, 100 documented mammals, 40 amphibians, 330 bird species (219 of them breeding there), 400 species of fish, and 80 recorded species of reef-building corals.  

So, as you might imagine, septic tanks, drainfields and sewage treatment lagoons are non-starters.

As we were packing to leave for Mexico, we came across a DVD passed to us last year by renowned New Zealand permaculture designer Steve Hart. It had an intriguing Sharpie-written title, “Romanian Pyramids,” so, not having watched it yet, we popped it into the superdrive and gave it a look. Great handoff, Steve!

The home-made film had Steve narrating his visit to Romania and allowed us a look over his shoulder at their sewage treatment pyramids. The claim made by the engineers in the video was that these pyramid-shaped greenhouses, built to similar dimensions of those in the Valley of the Kings, were capable of processing the sewage of a city of 100,000. That seemed a bit much to us, but the engineers go on to say that the early prototype was so successful it was taken to scale by the Romanian Army to clean the waste of a military base, which was so successful that 10 more were built at army bases around the country. The engineers, through their English translator, claimed the system was 17,000 percent more efficient than any other existing municipal system.

Googling “municipal wastewater treatment pyramid Romania” came up dry.

What intrigued us about the design was the similarity to John Todd’s Living Machines, in that all the treatment is performed by biological processes, alternating cells of aerobic and anaerobic plants and animals, under a greenhouse roof and optimized climate conditions. In the Romanian pyramids, one third of the aquatic plant biomass was harvested daily. We could envision that aquaponic biomass taken a step or two farther and being processed into cascades of products and services: leaf protein; nutriceuticals; wallboards and geotextiles; soaps, shampoos and dyes. More importantly, leftovers could then be turned into biochar, in a pyrolytic process producing electricity, central air conditioning, liquid fuels, gas fractions, and wood vinegar and leaving behind biochar (30-50% by weight) that can then be transformed into biofertilizer, water filters, plasters, insulation, roof media, grease traps, aquaponic media, human and animal probiotics, baby formula, and ultimately enough long-term carbon sequestration to more than offset residents and visitors footprints, including international flights to and from pre-Collapse Cancun.

But wait. There’s more. Don’t forget Dan Carlson.

Getting the blackwater from home or hotel to the pyramid requires energy. Sure, we could do that with the pyrolysis kilns, or photovoltaics, or even offshore tidal energy, but we are particularly fond of the SunPulse motor developed at Tamera Peace Research Center in Portugal by Jürgen Kleinwächter.

The SunPulse is a gas-filled black bladder nested in a parabolic dish. The bladder swells and releases from the heat of the sun, making a sound much like breathing. The motion drives a piston, that turns a wheel, that generates mechanical energy and voila! Electricity or motive energy for blackwater pumps.

Sitting with our sketchbook on the Mayan Riviera playa, we drew it out for the team of site planners flown in from around the world: the lines of blackwater snaking through the jungle, the SunPulse drawing the water to a predigestion settling tank at the top of the pyramid (Maya style pyramids, with the cube-shaped building at the top, are ideal for this), then gravity taking the flow gradually from cell to cell, stage to stage, through descending floors of the pyramid. Like the serpent motifs seen on the sharp edges and staircases of Mexican pyramids from Tikal to Teotihuacan, the pyramid could have a serpentine flowform cascading sweetwater down each corner.

And then there is the sonic architecture.

Like a heartbeat, the SunPulse sends a steady acoustic vibration echoing through the pyramid. The aquatic plants become accustomed to its pulse. When the sun passes behind clouds, the beat slows. The light coming through the windows dims. The stoma close to conserve energy. When the clouds pass away, the beat speeds up, the light grows, and the plants respond.

It may not be at the bird-chirp frequency of Sonic Bloom, but Sonic Bloom could easily be incorporated. For that matter, why not let the birds come and go too?

This weekend global pyronomads are re-gathered in the Black Rock Playa for Burning Man #30. No fewer than 40 giant diesel generators will supply power to air condition the uninsulated HexaYurts and SeaLand containers that, among other things, are bringing us the live webstream. 

Sewage is a huge concern, as are other relics of the non-circular, consumer culture default world that burners import to the Nevada desert to maintain creature comforts. Yet Burning Man prides itself on leaving a clean desert behind. It occurs to us that we could see something like these power pyramids handing the Man’s wastes, producing energy, and offsetting the travel footprint of all the climate-profligate burners. As we wrote this, we turned to Ranger @Motorbikematt’s live feed on YouTube and discovered, lo! Pyramids! Maybe someone has already thought of this?

Actually they were called the Catacomb of Veils, and, true to the event's utterly obscene stranded ethics regarding the greenhouse effect, they burned Friday morning at Sunrise.

Most of the burners there on the playa fixed their eyes on the flames. From our writing table in Tennessee all we watched was the billowing smoke wafting to the heavens.

Nonetheless, one thing that popped up at us from the exhibit hall of the USBI Symposium was the display from REGENiSYS® Organics whose 10,000 sq. ft. power pyramid in Whitefish, Montana, on being fed 6 tons of biosolid waste daily, produces:
  • Power (6 megawatts per day for 100+ homes)
  • Heat (28 million BTUs per day)
  • Revenue (900+ tons REGENiSYS® biochar organic fertilizers per year)
  • Food (1/2 acre climate-controlled growing space)
  • Carbon credits
  • Capital investment return within five years

We can easily imagine approaching the Yucatan coast on the Caribbean side a century from now, arriving by sail, passing through the natural break in the reef a mile offshore and seeing, just above the canopy of tall forest, the SunPulse receiver at the top of its pyramid busily converting waste into biochar, and restoring to the Si’an Kaan its original title — Origin of the Sky.

That's assuming Burning Man doesn't consign us all to hellfire and damnation first.





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