Sunday, October 30, 2016

Inside the House Where the Sun Does Not Set

"The important goal that needs to be set in Marrakech is drawdown. We need to get back below 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere, and we need to do it quickly."

  Perhaps it is just an active imagination fueled by the ghouls and zombies roaming London’s streets this time of year, but the olde city seems unseasonably warm, almost as if we had been transported to Quintana Roo and were celebrating Dia de los Muertos.

What has risen from the dead here is not the spirits of the long departed, but hope.

Coming from first the USA and then China, two parts of the world that are nearly tone-deaf on matters relating to climate change, there is a maritime breeze blowing through the British Isles that is entirely refreshing. We are out after dark in light shirts and jeans with John Dennis Liu, Tom Goreau and Daniel Halsey, descending into a pub incongruously called The Coal Hole, to toast to the success of extraordinary events.

This time next week some of us will be gathered in Marrakech for COP-22, the twenty second conference of the 196 parties to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) inked in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This time last year we were readying ourselves for the uncertain outcome of COP-21 in Paris. The difference this time, both in our task and in the momentum being carried, is stunning.

Going into Paris there was only great uncertainty. No-one knew whether it would be another gargantuan bust like COP-15 in Copenhagen or an incremental improvement like COP-16 in Cancun.

Paris turned out to be an historic game-changer, setting the stage for a revolution in the affairs of men, already begun, promising an eventual return to a sacred circular economy seldom seen since the retreat of the Ice Sheets 12000 years ago.

We are gathering here in London to assist preparations of the British Commonwealth countries who seek to speak as a unified voice in this context for a second time. The first occasion came at a critical juncture during the second week in Paris, when it was looking like the best that might be salvaged was another unambitious resolution. Having prepared for that moment, the then 53 countries of the Commonwealth, representing the interests of 2.4 billion people on roughly half the land surface of the Earth, spoke with one voice in demanding a firm legal mandate of two degrees and an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees. Those goals were, and are, both unobtainable — given what known science and carbon cycle momentum dictate — and political dynamite, but to hear the Secretary General of the Commonwealth tell it, sticking to that and refusing to compromise was what pulled the Paris Agreement out of oblivion last year. Of course, we happen to the think the French had a bit a to do with the success too, as we described in our book, The Paris Agreement, but let the S.G. gloat if she wants, no harm.

Eric Toensmeier with HRH
She intends to repeat the performance in Marrakesh in November.

In another part of this balmy London town, HRH Prince of Wales has been hosting a Climate Friendly Landscapes meeting in Lancaster House off Green Park. Our friends Eric Toensmeier  and Rattan Lal are there to share research into carbon removal strategies including tropical tree staple crops, intensive silvopasture and ecosystemic multistrata agroforestry rotations.

Charles could not attend our meeting but sent his representative, Justin Mundy of the Royal International Sustainability Unit. Her majesty’s government also sent a UK Economic advisor and others to participate in our two-day design workshop. Our task was to roll up our sleeves, shed the ties and heels, and give the Commonwealth an agenda best suited to taking the Paris Agreement where it needs to go next.

That destination is beyond zero. It will not do to merely reduce emissions at some set rate per annum, as has been the UNFCCC litany since Kyoto. That must happen too, but the important goal that needs to be set in Marrakech is drawdown. We need to get back below 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere, and we need to do it quickly. 260 or 280 would be preferable.

When we received the brief for the meeting, a few days in advance, we expected to see academic gearheads hawking harebrained CCS (carbon capture and storage, or “clean coal”) schemes. There was none of that. The Economic Minister confided in us that it was the opinion of government, and the UK science community, that none of those were viable. How refreshing.

In fact, the consensus going in was precisely a breath of fresh air. It was our shared understanding that “clean coal” scrubbing technofixes were rubbish and that photosynthesis, and that alone, will get us out of this predicament, assuming escape is even possible at this point — even if “possibly implausible.”

So it was we found ourselves amongst extraordinarily like minds, such as Christopher Cooke from Savory Institute, David McConville from Buckminster Fuller Institute, Katherine Wilkinson from Project Drawdown, Marcello Palazzi of B-Lab Europe, Bill Reed and Ben Haggard of Regenesis, Louise Baker of UNCCD, Janine Benyus of Biomimicry for Social Innovation, Herbert Girardet of World Futures Council, Isabelle Dellanoy of Symbiotic Economy, Sam Muirhead of Open Source Circular Economy, Daniel Wahl, May East, Maddy Harland, and many others who know of active experience that only soil will save us, but that gaining the social capital to make such a switch is the real challenge we face.

We all seemed to agree in advance that our green buildings and ecovillages must become ecodistricts, eco-countries and eco-hemispheres. The S.G. wants her home country, Dominica, to be a net sequestering model. To save coral reefs we will need to reverse land degradation and put carbon where it belongs. John Dennis Liu kept chanting three simple metrics: biomass, biodiversity, soil organic matter.

For our part we can report from our own recent work in the Caribbean that natural climate ecoforestry outperforms Monsanto agrochem 10 to 1 in food provision (and certainly nutrient density) and the return on biochar/biofertilizer investments is 20 to 40 percent per year (in real money).

We tell them we can stop immigration in its tracks with green jobs and food security and we can do it faster and with less CAPEX than constructing refugee camps at every border.

Hollywood endings aside, how this meeting came about is almost in the realm of fairy tales. Quoth the oracle, Wikipedia:
Patricia Janet Scotland, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, PC, QC (born 19 August 1955) is a British barrister who served in junior ministerial positions within the UK Government, most notably as the Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland. At the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting she was elected the 6th Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations and took office on 1 April 2016. She is the first woman to hold the post.

The Baroness, who prefers to be called just S.G. (Secretary General) is a force of nature. The 10th child of 12 born to a Dominican mother and Antiguan father, she came with her parents to England in 1957. She excelled in school work and took a law degree from Mid Essex Technical College, joining both the British and Dominican bars. In 1991, Scotland became the first black woman to be appointed a Queen's Counsel. Her work on the Commission for Racial Equality earned her recognition by the Queen and a life peerage in 1997. She then became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where she was responsible for the UK Government's diplomatic relations with North America, the Caribbean, and Overseas Territories. In 2001 she was made a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. She was the minister formally responsible for civil justice and the reform of civil law including the comprehensive reform of land registration. In 2007 she was made Minister of State for the Criminal Justice System and Law Reform at the Home Office, where she created the Office of Criminal Justice Reform. She also created an advisory group on victims and the Criminal Justice Centre, Victims and Witness units.

She was then appointed UK Attorney General by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the first woman to hold the office since its foundation in 1315. She served the Labour government in that role until 2014.

At the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Scotland was elected as the 6th Commonwealth Secretary-General and the first woman to hold the post. She began her first of a maximum of two possible four-year terms on 1 April 2016. She told us that at her first meeting with the 53 High Commissioners she polled them to see what were the priority issues. Climate change came out on top. The threat to the small island states in the Commonwealth was existential.

“We are 2.4 billion people on half the land area in the world,” she told us. “It is 21 percent of the world’s forested area. We are joined by common language and common culture. And now we are joined in common purpose.”

She said Paris was a pivotal change. Prince Charles had called it a 100-trillion-pound moment. Money will not be an obstacle. Political will will not be an obstacle. We are here assembled to then answer the next question: “And, so?”

What we were in that palace for was to provide the solutions, as thin as their chances of succeeding at this late hour might be. We were not placed here to go into separate silos. We were brought here to bring it all together: permaculture, biomimicry, holistic management, agroforestry, climate finance, the circular economy, ecovillages and atmospheric regenesis. This was not the Shark Tank or the Dragon’s Den. We are none of us here to self-promote or compete for a prize. This is Extreme Makeover: Ecosystem Version. Disruption is the new norm. The tables in the temple have been upended. The moneychangers have been driven out.

What is your vision of what can happen next? Ours, cobbled together in two long days, is now what the Commonwealth countries will carry with them to COP-22.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

October Rains

"Regardless of whether this prospect pleases you or distresses you, the technosphere is going to fail you."

We penned this piece in mid-October, when the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced. We are inside China at this time and China is not on speaking terms with Google, so we have not been able post to blogger, or even moderate comments coming in from postings we set for timed release when we departed the USA in September. That is until now, which must mean we are back in US air space.

Bob Dylan is now the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. When we were 17 and he was 22, he wrote:
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

In recent years the senators and congressmen have been doing more than their share of hall blocking, and now they are trying to hide the embarrassment of the current presidential campaign behind a smokescreen of Cold War newspeak.

It was not enough to blame Russia for everything from doping in sports to Wikileaks. The NY Times and the K-street crowd keeps pushing NATO to the point where it is beginning to rub the Bear the wrong way. Illegally imposed sanctions for opposing the rape of Ukraine, specious accusations about a passenger jet downing or the US-sponsored ambush of a UN aid convoy, and wingnut accusations of Russian aggression in the Middle East go unchallenged in the Western press. According to the Clinton campaign, we are supposed to believe Russia is taking a hand in the US election, tilting the polls in favor of Putin’s best buddy, The Donald. Meanwhile, in the skies over Damascus, the Blue Angels are about to test their metal against the aeronautically and metallurgically superior Red Air Force. The Cold War is about to get hot, and all the Joint Chiefs need is a nod from the new POTUS. Either of the candidates will do.

In Shrinking the Technosphere (New Society Publishers, October 18, 2016), Dmitry Orlov observed:
The Russians, with Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi help, are swiftly rubbing out America’s pet terrorists with equanimity and poise, while their erstwhile supporters in Washington are visibly demoralized and spouting preposterous nonsense. But there are still some important lessons to be extracted from all this—and we should extract them before it all gets covered by a thick layer of dust.
Regardless of whether this prospect pleases you or distresses you, the technosphere is going to fail you. There is simply not enough easy-to-exploit, concentrated, conveniently located nonrenewable natural resources left to sustain a global industrial order. … The technosphere, as a single, integrated, emergent intelligence, is in extremis. As it enters its death agony, its previous depredations may come to seem mild compared to what happens next.
In reviewing Orlov’s book for a cover blurb, we picked up our worn copy of Ivan Illich's essays.  "Specific diseconomy" is a term he used, as a measure of the degree of institutional counterproductivity that is occurring — referring to the exact degree to which, for example, the medical industry induces illness, educational institutions induce ignorance, the judicial system perpetuates injustice, or national defense may make a nation less secure. When specific diseconomy is on the increase, this means an institution or industry is increasingly counterproductive to its original intentions.

Illich wrote:

I choose the term "conviviality" to designate the opposite of industrial productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment. I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value. I believe that, in any society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain level, no amount of industrial productivity can effectively satisfy the needs it creates among society's members.

This parallels how Orlov breaks down Vladimir Putin’s September 28, 2015 address to the UN General Assembly, in which he proposed “implementing naturelike technologies, which will make it possible to restore the balance between the biosphere and the technosphere.

We take the liberty of providing a long Orlov excerpt here, both because Putin is in the news these days and because we think we may have reason to revisit this subject in future essays.

Since Putin seems to have an uncanny ability to make his words stick by altering reality to conform with them, it makes sense to carefully parse the phrase “implementing naturelike technologies” with the goal of gaining a better of understanding of what Putin meant by it, and what he might be up to. This particular phrase is harder to parse than the previous two [earlier discussed in Technosphere], because the Russian original, внедрение природоподобных технологий, is laden with meanings that its English translation does not directly convey. 
“Внедрéние” (vnedrénie) can be translated in any number of ways: implementation; introduction; inoculation, implantation (of views, ideas); entrenchment (especially of culture); enacting; advent; launch; incorporation; adoption; inculcation, instillation; indoctrination. Translating it as “implementation” does not do it justice. It is derived from the word “нéдра” (nédra) which means “the nether regions” and is etymologically connected to the Old English word neðera through a common Indo-European root. In Russian, it can refer to all sorts of unfathomable depths, from the nether regions of the Earth (where coal, oil, gas and various ores and minerals are found) to the nether regions of human psyche, as in the phrase “недра подсознательного” (nédra podsoznátel’nogo, the nether-regions of the subconscious). It can very well mean “implantation” or “indoctrination.” 
The word “природоподóбный” (priródo-podóbnyi) translates directly as “naturelike,” although in Russian it has less of an overtone of accidental resemblance and more of a sense of active conformance or assimilation: “beseeming of nature.” This word could previously only be found in a few techno-grandiose articles by Russian academics in which they promote vaporous initiatives for driving the development of nanotechnology or quantum microelectronics by simulating evolutionary processes, or some such. The basic thrust of their proposals seems to be that even if our devices become too complex for human brains to design, we can let them design themselves, by letting them evolve like bacteria in a Petri dish. But it is hard to see how this interpretation of the word is at all relevant. Also, based on what Putin said next, we can be sure that this is not what he had in mind: 
“We need qualitatively different approaches. The discussion should involve principally new, naturelike technologies, which do not injure the environment but exist in harmony with it and will allow us to restore the balance between the biosphere and the technosphere which mankind has disturbed.” 
These were the two sentences that made an alarm bell go off in my head. I had thought that same thought before, but I had never heard it expressed quite so cleanly and crisply, and certainly not before the United Nations General Assembly. And so I thought, “OK, why don’t I start working on that?”

But what did he mean by “technologies”? Did he merely mean that what we need is a new generation of eco-friendly gewgaws and gizmos that are slightly more energy-efficient than the current crop? Again, let’s see what may have been lost in translation. In Russian, the word технолóгии (tekhnológii) does not directly imply industrial technology, and can relate to any art or craft. Since it is obvious that industrial technology is not particularly naturelike, it stands to reason that he meant some other type of technology, and one type immediately leapt to my mind: political technologies. In Russian, this term is written as one word, политтехнолóгии (polit-tekhnológii), and it is a word that sees a lot of use in Russian public life. At its best, it is the art of rapidly shifting the common political and cultural mindset in some generally beneficial or productive direction. At its worst, it is an underhanded attempt to manipulate public opinion for private benefit.

Putin is a consummate political technologist. His current domestic approval rating stands at 89%—the remaining 11% disapprove of him because they wish him to take a more hard-line stance against Western aggression. It makes sense, therefore, to examine his proposal from the point of view of political technology, discarding the notion that what he meant by “technology” is some sort of new, slightly more eco-friendly industrial plant and equipment. If his initiative succeeds in making 89% of the world’s population speak out in favor of rapidly adopting naturelike, ecosystem-compatible lifestyles, while the remaining 11% rise up in opposition because they believe that the rate of their adoption isn’t fast enough, then perhaps climate catastrophe will be averted or, at least, its worst- case scenario—the one that includes near-term human extinction. I hope you will agree that, given the scarcity of other such proposals from supposed world leaders, and given the success of his previous initiatives, this new one might be worth a try. 

In Easy Rider, there is a surreal experience at a commune where the Kid and Captain America stop before going on to Mardi Gras. The scenes of domes, naked children playing in dirt, gardening and tai chi seem out of a Fellini film. Dennis Hopper directs Laszlo Kovac's camera to make a 360-degree pan across the faces of the hippies, some serious, some grinning, others just zoned out. Wyatt likes the vibes and wants to stay, but the Kid is creeped out and wants to hit the road.

Later, after the bad trip in New Orleans that winds up in a cemetery where Wyatt confronts his demons, there is catharsis. “We blew it,” he tells the Kid. They hop on their low-riders and motor back towards the commune.

Shortly after that is the famous scene of them getting blown away with a shotgun stuck out a window by some rednecks in a pickup truck on a southern backcountry road. It was open season on hippies. Who knew?

Orlov’s book, providing a healthy dollop of real-world narrative, in the end offers serious advice. You can skip the cemetery trip. Get a tiny house up a long dirt road or a house boat. Tune in, turn off, drop out. If enough people do that, who will they send to the Russian front?
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it's a hard, and it's a hard
And it's a hard, ha-ha-ha-hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Plausibly Impossible

"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

  Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, tells how E.O. Wilson, who became through his studies of ants one of the greatest biologists of our time, picked a fight with Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene. Gottschall wrote:

In the late 1960s and early 1970s evolutionary biologists celebrated a fundamental breakthrough. William Hamilton’s inclusive fitness theory (aka selfish gene theory) indicated that organisms are narrowly “designed” to spread copies of their own genes, whether those genes are located in their own bodies or in the bodies of their relatives. Hamilton’s work seemed to show exactly how evolution worked, and also how it didn’t work. Group selection — the idea that competition between groups of organisms shapes genomes — was declared dead. In effect, this defined altruism — real and authentic selflessness — out of existence. On a planet ruled by selfish genes, “altruism” was just masked selfishness. The biologist Michael Ghiselin expressed this beautifully, “Scratch an altruist and watch a hypocrite bleed.”

Dawkins said the big 1960s breakthrough was simply this: selfish genes beat selfless genes; they beat them bloody; they beat them every single time. But Wilson knew better. Incredible levels of cooperation and altruism within ant colonies testify to millions of years of vicious conflict between colonies being resolved in favor of the selfless gene.

Other factors held equal, who wins: the tribe of self-sacrificing altruists or the tribe where every warrior is looking out for number one? Won’t it be the Selfless People? Won’t the Selfless People tend to dominate selfish tribes in most competitive situations? And, as a result, won’t selfless genes proliferate?
Charles Darwin thought so. In The Descent of Man, Darwin ran his own thought experiment, pitting selfless against selfish tribes:
It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an advancement in the standard of morality and an increase in the number of well-endowed men will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over other tribes; and this would be natural selection.

Most children pass through a phase in life during which their selfish gene is particularly strong. If they are fortunate, this occurs in their pre-teen or teenage years, when they are setting a course for the arc of a life’s profession. They want to become policemen, firemen, doctors, nurses, investigative journalists or explorers.

We recall that when we were 11 or 12 our parents took us to the FBI firing range in the basement of the old Justice Department on Pennsylvania Avenue. We got to see a “tommy gun” shooting up a profile target and we were given that target to take home and proudly display on the wall opposite our bed. We wanted to be a G-Man like Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Fortunately, by the time we were old enough to apply, Hoover’s FBI had already become complicit in, if not actively orchestrating, the JFK Assassination and was forever thereafter embedded within the dark money cabal that dominates the Western political chessboard.

Nonetheless, by age 17 we had fixed upon law school, led in part by reading the writings of Mohandas Gandhi, and then, in 1964, Gideon’s Trumpet  by Anthony Lewis, and in other part by hero-worship of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Eventually — though by then the possibility of shaping society with liberal court decrees had been retired with Camelot — we led a 20-year career in Quixotic environmental and human rights appellate litigation. Such is the karma of 17-year-old fixations.

It should therefore come as no surprise when, to this old firehorse, the case of Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh M. et al. versus The United States of America and Barack Obama, et al, sounded like the knell of a firebell. We reveled in that long-discredited strategy — litigating for social change — poking its nose back into a US District Court in Oregon (Eugene Division Case no.: 6:15-cv-01517-TC).

Kelsey Juliana and twenty other Oregon youths aged 8 to 19 had the temerity to ask the Court to require the President to produce a plan to rapidly reduce carbon emissions. They demanded that the plan reduce emissions at the 6-percent-per-year rate that climate science requires in order to get atmospheric CO2  back to a level of 350 ppm. The complaint also requests that the administration prepare a consumption-based inventory of national CO2 emissions. Pope Francis filed an amicus brief in support of the kids' case.

The constitutional law theories of the case are these: 
Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause: The federal government has violated the defendants’ substantive due process by allowing atmospheric CO2 levels to reach levels that endanger the lives, liberty, and property of the youth defendants and future generations.

Fifth Amendment Equal Protection: The federal government has denied plaintiffs and future generations the same protection of fundamental rights afforded to prior and present generations of adult citizens. In particular, Section 201 of the 1992 Energy Policy Act is unconstitutional due to its mandatory authorization for export and import of natural gas (which “discriminates against Plaintiffs by exacerbating already-dangerous levels of atmospheric CO2… the consequences of which will be irreversible and catastrophic in Plaintiffs’ lifetimes”). Moreover, because climate change poses a “grave and continuing harm to children,” the plaintiffs should be treated as a protected class and the court should apply strict scrutiny when reviewing the Equal Protection claim.

Unenumerated Rights Preserved by the Ninth Amendment: The “right to be sustained by our country’s vital natural systems, including our climate system” is one of the “implicit liberties protected from government intrusion by the Ninth Amendment.” Federal defendants have violated this right by contributing to dangerous levels of atmospheric and oceanic CO2 and a destabilized climate system.

The Public Trust Doctrine: Plaintiffs are “beneficiaries of rights under the public trust doctrine, rights that are secured by the Ninth Amendment and embodied in the reserved powers doctrines of the Tenth Amendment and the Vesting, Nobility, and Posterity Clauses of the Constitution.” Federal defendants have violated their public trustee obligations by contributing to the destruction of the climate system—a vital natural resource for present and future generations.

At a hearing in Eugene Oregon on 9 March 2016, Mr. Obama and his three closest friends, the Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Fuels and Petrochemical Association, asked the Court to dismiss the case, in part based on the argument that the requested rate of fossil fuel emissions reduction was implausible.

A clearer battle between good and evil has not been witnessed since Charlie Daniels met Ba‘al Zebûb, at the Crossroads.

US Magistrate Coffin said that he was “troubled” by the severity of the requested emissions reduction rate, but had to admit that some of the alleged climate change consequences, if accurate, could be considered “beyond the pale.”

A threshold issue raised by Barry and the Gang of Three was whether the 21 plaintiffs, all minors, have standing to bring the suit. To demonstrate federal standing, plaintiffs must show that they have suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent, that the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action, and that it is likely — as opposed to merely speculative — that a favorable court decision can redress the injury.

Nikita Perumal and Jessica Wentz, writing for Climate Law Blog explain:

The “particularized injury” requirement is one potential barrier to lawsuits alleging injuries from climate change and other widespread environmental harms. The Supreme Court has held that, to satisfy this requirement, plaintiffs must show that they are injured in a “personal and individual way and that they seek relief that will “directly and tangibly” benefit them in a manner distinct from its impact on “the public at large.”

A second threshold issue is whether plaintiffs have raised a non-justiciable political question. Unfortunately for them, the neo-cons wrecked that loophole in 2011 when they challenged EPA attempts to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in American Electric Power v. Connecticut. The Second Circuit addressed the political question argument in depth and concluded it would not bar review of the challenge brought by utilities. The Supreme Court backed the utilities and upheld the right to go after the EPA for regulating carbon. That effectively poisoned the political-question defense when applied to climate change, at least for now. Justice Scalia just rolled over in his grave.

Less than a month after the hearing, Magistrate Coffin ruled that the lawsuit could move forward. He wrote:
"The intractability of the [climate change] debates before Congress and state legislatures and the alleged valuing of short-term economic interest despite the cost to human life necessitates a need for the courts to evaluate the constitutional parameters of the action or inaction taken by the government. This is especially true when such harms have an alleged disparate impact on a discrete class of society [children]."

In a separate case last November, a judge in Washington ruled that the state's Department of Ecology has a "mandatory duty" to protect the air quality for future generations. On appeal, Zoe & Stella Frazier v. Washington Department of Ecology won at the State Supreme Court and Washington’s Department of Ecology was ordered to reconsider its denial of a petition for GHG rulemaking in light of the best available scientific evidence on climate change. And in May, after hearing a case brought by four teenagers, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the state to follow through on its greenhouse gas reduction pledges.

Internationally, in June 2015 the Hague District Court ordered the Dutch government to further curb its GHG emissions beyond previously pledged targets, citing the European Convention on Human Rights, the Dutch Constitution, and principles of fairness, “no harm,” and hazardous negligence. A similar suit has been filed in Belgium and another is expected in Norway. Unlike in the U.S., the constitutions in the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium include either a governmental mandate to protect the environment or an individual right to a clean environment.

 “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:1–6.)

The federal case will go to trial in early 2017. When it does, the 21 plaintiffs will present evidence that, as early as 1965, Lyndon Johnson was warned that greenhouse gas emissions would lead to "apocalyptic" and "catastrophic" change. They'll also argue that the White House and government agencies colluded with the fossil fuel industry to suppress such warnings from the public and Congress.

The sole remaining argument that the defendants are huddling around is impossibility. They say that the possibility of achieving the scale of emission reductions needed to stabilize climate is  “implausible.”

We find ourselves oddly in agreement.

In his supporting documents for the plaintiffs, climate scientist emeritus James Hansen calls the requirement to return Earth to the Holocene climate at this point in time “possibly implausible.” In his most recent climate science review paper  he mentions “plausibility” seven times.

We find Hansen’s description of our escape route a little harsh. We would rephrase it as “plausibly impossible.”

The climate research community is well aware of the urgent need to reduce emissions, Hansen writes, and...

 ... also realizes that the goal to keep global warming less than 1.5°C probably requires negative net CO2 emissions later this century if high global emissions continue in the near-term (Fuss et al 2014; Anderson 2015; Rogelj et al 2016; Sanderson et al 2016). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports (IPCC 2013, 2014) do not address environmental and ecological feasibility and impacts of large-scale CO2 removal, but recent studies (Smith et al 2016; Williamson 2016) are taking up this crucial issue and raising the question of whether large-scale negative emissions are even feasible.
* * * 

Our aim is to contribute to understanding of the threshold-required rate of CO2 emissions reduction via an approach that is transparent to non-scientists. We consider the potential for reductions of non-CO2 GHGs to minimize the human-made climate forcing, the potential for improved agricultural practices to store more soil carbon, and the potential drawdown of atmospheric CO2 from reforestation and afforestation. Quantitative examination reveals the merits of these actions to ameliorate demands on fossil fuel CO2 emission phasedown, but also the limitations, thus clarifying the urgency of government actions to rapidly advance the transition to carbon-free energies to meet the climate stabilization targets they have set. 

After 23 pages of detailed analysis, Hansen et al conclude:
If rapid emission reductions are initiated soon, it is still possible that at least a large fraction of required CO2 extraction can be achieved via relatively natural agricultural and forestry practices with other benefits. On the other hand, if large fossil fuel emissions are allowed to continue, the scale and cost of industrial CO2 extraction, occurring in conjunction with a deteriorating climate with growing economic effects, may become unmanageable. Simply put, the burden placed on young people and future generations may become too heavy to bear.
And that, thanks to the selfless gene of one Federal Magistrate, is a justiciable claim.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

White Nights and Chicken Skin

“Chicken skin” said Nele.

“Beg pardon?” we replied, standing in the open air grassy amphitheater where in 1988, some 60 percent of the population of Estonia had assembled to sing for their independence in the first stages of a non-violent overthrow of 45 years of Soviet rule. We had just remarked to Nele that it gave us a chill, just looking at this wide expanse of grassy park and imagining the strength of those voices, raised as one.

“Chicken skin,” she repeated.

“Oh, goose bumps. We call it goose bumps. Yes, that’s what I am feeling.”

Some days earlier we were debriefing from a speaking engagement at Tartu University, sitting in an open air café, when one of the students took up the argument about human nature and cultural inertia and said it would never be possible to get people to change their habits quickly enough to avert catastrophic climate change and die-off. We remarked that as long as there was a scintilla of hope, we could do no less than to keep trying to shift the paradigm.

“What evidence do you have that you are not wasting your time?” the student asked.

“I have to ask you to just remember how you felt, and how your heart beat, during the Singing Revolution,” we said. “I recall those same deep feelings — and the heart swell — we experienced in the US as we sang and marched in the civil rights movement. For many of us it was life-changing. So think about what your heart says, and ask yourself if history can be changed.”

Nele, who was listening to this exchange, leaned in and whispered, “You will always win the argument here with that.” Our reference to the Singing Revolution had given her chicken skin. It may have affected the student the same way, because he became very silent, lost in thought.

There was a moment in the Singing Revolution in 1991 when the new Estonian freedom government was trapped in the Parliament building by an angry mob of communist coup-supporters. It was in the same crucial days that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev had been arrested in Moscow by the KGB Alpha Group and the military hard-liners, and the coup leaders there had dispatched Red Army tanks which were at that moment barreling toward the Estonian border.

As the communists battered down the doors and entered the inner courtyard, the trapped Estonian freedom government leaders put out a radio broadcast calling for support from the population. All over Tallinn people dropped whatever they were doing and converged on the Parliament building, where their huge numbers dwarfed those of the communist protesters, now themselves trapped inside. What followed could have been a bloody confrontation, as happened later at the White House in Moscow, but instead, the Estonians outside linked arms and began to sing. They parted to form an open corridor, and gave safe passage away to the hard-liners.

Chicken skin. We got it again just writing that passage.

In school we learned that “the Baltics” are three tiny countries, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia; European chew-toys since history began. Apart from those who trace their ancestry there, or took a 6-hour cruise ship stop, few USAnians have ever traveled to the Baltics. Even the opportunity to watch part of the Olympics there was squashed by Jimmy Carter when the US boycotted the games over — wait for it — the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Cement block houses and barns of the collective farms of that era still decay in the countryside and we are told that it is even drearier to the south where the brief dot-com bubble of the Baltic Tiger did not extend. In Tallinn, free broadband is ubiquitous from the moment you taxi down the runway.
Estonia now has two skins shedding at the same time, and for most people it is a bit painful. One is the crumbling brutal edifices of the Soviet era (“brutal” being an architectural term for the same 1950s concrete cube architecture seen in the USA and elsewhere), during which over 100,000 Estonians were sent away to Siberian gulags, many never to return. The other is the stainless steel and glass Tokyoization that reflects neon corporate logos onto rainy streets during the White Nights of late May and June.

Built on the brilliance of Skype and a thousand other points of entrepreneurial light, and suddenly unveiled after a half-century of hooding, the fast-riches façade fell hard in 2008, plunging Estonia into the same icey waters where bobbed the other tigers — Iceland, Greece, Ireland and Spain.
Estonia now teeters between a great green hope of progressive change and something more resembling its Baltic neighbors – decollectivized and depopulated farms and forest-scapes drifting back into a Medieval steady state economics grounded in nature. 

This is fertile soil for permaculture, so it was no surprise that our weekend introductory course  was sold out months in advance and we were invited back next year to give the full 2-week certification edition, with perhaps a mushroom growing workshop thrown in.

Estonians are refreshingly immodest about nudity for a cold country, and as we were chauffeured into Tallinn by one of the genuine heroes of the Revolution — Jüri Joost, the policeman who defied an entire Red Army armor brigade to hold the TV tower for 2 days, armed only with a Freon fire extinguishing system — we could not help but notice the nude backyard sunbathers beside our busy highway. We also noted the willingness of our permaculture students, complete strangers a day before, to doff clothes while queueing for the small sauna in the community building at Lilleoru. Flying in from the uptight West, this attitude was entirely refreshing.

Lilleoru is our host — a small ecovillage south of Tallinn, begun the same year as the new nation. We browsed scrap albums filled with photos of an incredibly young bunch of kids moving to this forest, making a sawmill, and starting to build a community, from scratch. We leafed through black and white stills of nude ice swims in a frozen lake, turning the soil to make gardens, and erecting a Great Plains tipi.

The young leader who emerged was Ingvar Villido (Ishwarananda), a student of Kriya Yoga, who journeyed to India and brought back the lessons learned. He is now a Kriya Yoga master and appropriately Lilleoru is not only a spiritually-based ecovillage, but also (in a separate location on site) a yoga ashram — with guesthouses, common house, and residences for devotees — and a Self-Realization Training Center — with an educational park, yoga studio, extensive gardens and orchards, classes and workshops. The community kitchen is vegetarian and supplied with fresh milk, yogurt, honey and produce from a nearby biodynamic farm. Freshly baked bread always includes a soft white, a harder rye, and a black bread, Leib, that is a cross between Boston Brown and Pumpernickle – sweet but soft. The Estonian version of bon appetit  is jätku leiba — “may your bread last.”

Meals vary, but bread, jam, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickled squash, melon slices and yogurt are always on the table. Kohupiim, which is cottage cheese-like, is used in cakes and pastries, such as Kringel, a sweetbread knotted and sprinkled with nuts and raisins. There is also a popular sweet gruel called Kama that is sort of a cross between muesli and lassi. It is made of sour milk or kefir and mixed with grains.

 Jüri Joost, who is no longer a policeman but does private security, reminded us of Frank Martin, Jason Statham’s character in The Transporter, and as he put the Audi through its paces in the narrow streets of Tallinn. Rudra Shivananda, Ave Oit and I were alternatively pressed back into our bucket seats and held fast by our seat belts, but the man radiated confidence and wore his well-tuned car like a clean suit of clothes. He dropped us in the Old Town, probably the only part of Europe where you can have a 13th century lunch at restaurants such as Olde Hansa or Stenhus. There they serve a green beer made of honey and cream called Kahji, although we preferred the hemp brew called Cannabia, with its scratch-and-sniff label, offered in the sidewalk café outside the Von Krahl Theater. After the beers, Jüri whisked Rudra, who had finishing teaching a Kundalini energy class at Lilleoru, to the airport and entrusted us to give an evening talk on “Tipping Points” in the theatre.

Agnieszka Komoch, a Polish friend, commented on our Facebook photo album that the whole country seemed surreally clean. This was no accident. In 2008 more than 50,000 Estonians participated in the country’s first national clean-up or “Lets Do It” campaign. Organizers used Google maps and cellphones with GPS to locate junk, and then volunteers turned out to collect every kind of garbage from tractor batteries to plastic bottles and paint tins and ferry the filthy junk, often in their own vehicles, to central collection points. 

School classes cleaned up a site near the central town of Turi, removing old metal, plastic, glass, bottles, and remains of farm medicals and household garbage tossed deep into a forest during Soviet times. “Lets Do It” has now spread to Slovenia, Latvia, Portugal, Romania and Ukraine. In Slovenia this year more than 350,000 people (12% of the population) helped to bring in more than 10,000 tons. Next January it is scheduled to debut in New Delhi.

Toomas Trapido, one of our permaculture workshop participants and a Green Party member of Parliament (there are 6 Green M.P.s now), says that the next challenge is to set up a “waste input” system, so that Estonia can establish cradle-to-cradle reuse. He proposes a Lets Do It World annual conference. As we drove around Estonia, we began to extrapolate to nuclear wastes, plastics, and other global problems. He said he could imagine the Estonian Navy working in the ocean with vacuum cleaners scooping up plastics, although, he had to gently advise us that the Pacific, where the plastic gyre is the size of France, was not really their lake.
We began tossing around ideas for making Estonia the first carbon negative country, using the wastes from its forestry industry and farms to burn in district CHP plants producing biochar. He said I should remember that the people were not all greenies (6 Green M.P.s is only 6% of the government), and that if I looked around many Estonians expressed a clear preference for Volvos, BMWs, Mini-Coopers, Lexi and Hummers, and would go into debt to buy those even before they improved their housing, much of which was still taken from an architectural blueprint that could be seen at regular intervals from Warsaw to Vladivostok. Estonia’s current economic development model, funded by the European Union, involved attracting cruise ships to the casinos in Tallinn.
We asked him if they were also building golf courses. They were, he said, but they had problems with crows, which liked to collect the golf balls as soon as they landed.

If the 2008 stutter in the step of the Baltic Tiger can be understood as a warning, there could yet be hope for an escape from the Eurotrash fashion meme as Estonians exit the Second World and skip ahead to the Great Change. My translator, Ave Oit, a founder and guiding light of the Lilleoru ecovillage, has a family business buying organic and fair trade wares and selling them in her BioMarket. If sustainability, organics and local fair trade can become catch phrases here, then Estonia could already be well ahead of the EU. 

Births now balance deaths and in-migration balances out-migration. The old growth forests were stolen long ago, but new forests now reclaim abandoned farms and roadsides and the Estonian population, which sits lightly on a rich landscape, could be easily supported by the fruits of its own countryside, with only horse-drawn distances to modestly-scaled cities.

Climate change will matter, and Estonia is sandwiched between scenarios. Mid-summer frosts and severe winters (over 120 meters of snow last year) become more likely with the slowing of the Atlantic conveyor. Hot, muggy and buggy summers drift up from the scorched continent to their south. Still, if the Singing Revolution is any indication, this is a people who know how to surf on waves of change, and do it with style.

 We are away in China teaching an ecovillage design course this month and have re-posted this oldie but goodie from May 27, 2010 to fill the void while we are off the cybergrid. Don't worry, we'll be back soon.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Stein Singularity

"On the GOP side, Jeb Bush never saw Trump coming. Nobody there did."

Since he created the minds and hearts of men, the Creator preserved truths in our hearts so that we would naturally know right from wrong. He knew the details of important events would be tampered with, so he stored his most important concerns in our hearts — to be good to yourself and others, to know the difference between right and wrong, to seek truth always, and to never neglect your conscience until you die." 

— Suzy Kassem (Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem)

While penning last week’s post we were reminded just how powerful the heart is in human affairs. It was difficult to us to view either of Lawrence O’Donnell’s two clips, both already watched several times in preceding weeks, and not feel our heart beating stronger, out throat go dry, our tear ducts start to well.

This is how history swings.

These are the feelings that people feel when they stand up for human dignity. When, as Martin Luther King said, “men and women straighten their backs up… because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent.”

Listening to King say that makes your back straighten a little.

This is part of our biological makeup. When we are inspired (inhale deeply) our chest swells and our heart pumps. We are filled with resolve. We will risk our safety. We will abandon our security. We will act with courage, bravery, and noble purpose, even abandoning thoughts of our own personal good for the betterment of an inspired cause.

It is an animal reflex.

Naturally there are demagogues who exploit this. Most sports work that noble reflex like a muscle, building it up in both athlete and spectator. Even advertising tries to tap into it to sell junk. In popular music it is known as “anthem.” But for all its misuse and abuse, the selfless gene also sends out a shard of hope for us humans in a desperate time.

“Words can shatter faith; start a war; change the course of history. A story can make your heart beat faster; topple walls; scale mountains.”
—Joanne Harris (The Gospel of Loki)

Most of the time we tell people we intend to vote for Jill Stein this November we catch a lot of scorn. In some company, we find ourselves having to brace before we utter the words. Getting herself arrested for painting "Frack this" on a bulldozer blade was a good start, but is not enough to start a revolution. And yet, voting for Stein is neither unwise nor hopeless.

It is not hopeless because we have seen the effect new media is having on not just politics but virtually every aspect of modern life. Bernie Sanders did not have a strong campaign organization or a fraction of the money that Hillary Clinton did, but he tapped into crowdfunding and social media like no one before.

The same can be said of Donald Trump, although he is still riding the reality television wave more than pumping out insults to Twitter. Both Jeb Bush and Hillary were the anointed candidates before the primaries, both lost badly, and only by dint of Hillary’s clout within the Party Oblast did she manage to sandbag Bernie and carry through to the convention.

On the GOP side, Jeb never saw Donald coming. Nobody there did.

That’s precisely why Jill Stein cannot to be counted out.

The US election takes place on a single day, give or take motor voting. Most ballots are cast within about a 16-hour window from 7 am on the East Coast to 7 pm on the West Coast. During that window, what happened in the primaries doesn’t matter. What happened in the debates doesn’t matter. Who has the best team, the biggest advertising budget, the most yard signs, or the momentum going into that 16-hour window suddenly stops mattering. What matters is what happens in the voting booth.

We are now in a new world: UberAmazon. Most USAnians want, and many millennials are used to, just-in-time instantaneous gratification.

This is a new phenomenon, on a historical time scale, but it is how the Singing Revolution toppled the Soviet Empire in Estonia. It is how Ukrainians found the chutzpah to toss out Yanukovych.

Ukraine is an interesting example because although it was quickly exploited by US neocons and their media lackies, it began from this new wave of spontaneity. When peaceful protesters in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) were brutalized by state security forces and that made it to Twitter, a social-media frenzy quickly morphed into a mass action against the President and Parliament.

This is not to say Ukraine wasn’t already dry tinder looking for a match. Hanyang University researchers Yuriy Shveda and Joung Ho Park found:

In Ukraine, according to official reports, on September 1, 2013, the number of registered unemployed was 435.4 thousand people, of which young people (from the ages of 14–35 years) were 183.3 thousand persons or 42.1%. In 2012, those registered at the State Employment Service were 887.9 thousand unemployed people under the age 35, or 48.6% of the total number of persons who were registered; 52.9 thousand of them were college graduates, 33.5 thousand completed vocational schools, and 6.3 thousand secondary school graduates. Among young people in the age group of 24–29 years, the unemployment rate increased, as compared with the year 2011, to 9.5% from 9.2%. Almost one-third of the total number of unemployed young Ukrainians were in labor exchange for more than a year since their release.

This new generation, who has not smelled the gunpowder and has not participated in the previous revolutionary events, was the most active protesters this time around. The Ukrainian youth, de facto, declared a “new policy” qualitatively different from the previous one, not only by its name, but also in its form and content. This attempt is in the same vein with the revolutionary sentiment of 1968 in Western Europe, which was also against conservative society and its legacy of political and unethical values. It was a struggle of generations, parents, and children. In this context, the ideal of the Ukrainian youth and the impetus for the revolution lie in the hope of changing Ukrainian society and pursuing salutary European values.
What happened in Occupy Maidan in late 2013 and early 2014 was that protesters gathered — more than 100,000 at first — the police left them alone and after a time their numbers dwindled to less than 500, at which point the police waded in with truncheons and went riot on them. Video clips spread through smart phones and soon 500,000 students were back in Maiden. Christmas came and went and the police left them alone until the numbers dwindled and then the police swept in again. Eighty-eight protesters died. Video clips spread through smart phones and brought in people from all over the country, who stormed the Presidential Palace on February 21, causing Yanokovitch to flee and opening the door for Victoria Nuland to install a US puppet government so US neocons could bait the Russians and Hillary could accuse Donald of cozying up to Vladimir Putin.

The point of this story being not about Clinton, Putin or Trump, but about smart phones with cameras.

The ether is getting faster. If people are fed up with both Trump and Clinton (and what the heck, Putin too) they might just decide to stay home in record numbers. Alternatively, they could get a text or an Instagram from a BFF who said they went to their precinct and everyone there was voting for Stein, so why don’t you come on down and see if we can flash mob the election?

Inside the beltway campaign professionals are still wondering how Jeb Bush could have gotten beaten so badly, with as much money, such a top-shelf staff, and as many newspaper endorsements as he had.

Every day, more than one billion people use Facebook. That has never been true before the 2016 US election.




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