Saturday, July 21, 2012

Toward a Unified Field Theory of the Elusive Kyoto Particle, or What the Green Party might learn from the Alaska Permanent Fund

"The Alaska Permanent Fund can be seen as a successful example of a universal basic income — a natural resource dividend. It de-externalizes the price of nature — our primary economy in the final analysis. It makes it possible, by valuating pollution and depletion of limited resources, to save whales and glaciers. And it builds a buffer against hard times ahead when drill-baby-drill turns dry-baby-dry."

“Sarah Palen’s Alaska — they use the oil revenues as a matter of legal right — everyone gets a piece. Where did that come from? It's ‘Maverick Country’ but there it is. They don’t do that in Texas, but, we’re going to do that a lot, elsewhere, when we get to where we’re going to get.”

— Gar Alperovitz, placing Dr. Jill Stein’s name into nomination for President of the United States at the Green Party National Convention, Baltimore, July 14, 2012.

As much as we would like for our personal lifestyle choices — planting trees for miles travelled, growing food on living roofs, constructing passive A/C, wearing clothes made from bamboo — to be enough to stop catastrophic climate change, we know that it’s not. Global effects require global efforts.

At the UN Earth Summit in Rio this past June there seemed to be two kinds of delegates. There are the hard-nose practical negotiating ones, who are trying to lay out a path to a sustainable world with technofixes, keeping consumerism intact and talking about the “green economy.” They are nearly oblivious to the connection between environmental and economic collapse, or the speed both are coming down the track and the distance between now and a brick wall. Call these the Reformers — they believe problems can be solved without system change.

Then we have those who demand paradigm shift and were staging unauthorized demonstrations, or blocking carbon trading or REDD+, patiently waiting for Godot or the second coming while chanting and burning incense. Or perhaps they are living in a tent in a city plaza somewhere, eating in the soup kitchen and browsing a dog-eared copy of Trotsky’s writings from the free library table. In Rio the UN went to great lengths to put distance and razor wire between them and the Heads of State.

You might call these the Radicals, or to be more charitable, the “Cultural Creatives.” They believe in sweeping system change because as long as our current arrangement survives, it will torpedo anything else. Capitalism is the problem.

If these two world views have anything in common, it is unrealistic hope.

Recently we made a short trip to Alaska, where glaciers are vanishing and Pacific tuna is radioactive. Walking the streets of Juneau, we happened to come across something that might actually shift the economy to something more sustainable then an intravenous liquidity drip from the Fed. We glimpsed a middle ground between Reformers and Radicals, between Liberals and Conservatives, between Doomers and Techno-optimists; or at least something that might buy negotiating time.

It's the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Shortly after the oil from Alaska’s North Slope began flowing through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1976, the Fund was created by amendment of the Alaska Constitution. Twenty-five percent of proceeds from royalties were set aside in a non-governmental corporation to benefit “current and all future generations of Alaskans.” AFP is not a development bank for in-state projects but an investment vehicle. Whenever and whereever revenue from a natural resource is large enough, it can be invested in a fund like this, and dividends paid from interest on the fund. That’s the Alaska Model. Given a much smaller revenue stream per capita than that from Alaskan oil, it makes more sense to convert the principal directly into dividends and keep the current account small.

There is some irony here, because the State hired well-known cornucopian Daniel Yergin in 1984 to estimate the potential future value of the Fund and he predicted that oil prices would probably never go above $9 per barrel “for the foreseeable future.” About two weeks after that prediction, oil went to $60 and has never looked back. It occasionally shoots to more than double that. The first time it shot much higher it killed Lehman Brothers and nearly killed the United States. We could argue that it precipitated the Arab Spring, which precipitated Occupy, but regardless, it is all of a kin. We have been living on a one-time savings account accrued over 500 million years, and we spent the first half of it in 150 years.

courtesy of The Aden Forecast
More recently oil prices went a little higher, took down Greece and Spain, and seriously threatened the European Union. Every time it does that it throws a spanner into the global economic engine, and it sinks the Baltic Shipping Index, slowing deliveries from China to million-square-foot WalMart warehouses in Houston. Cash poor, China piles up coal freighters beside the docks in Guangdong and in central China the lights go out. That slowdown eases the demand for fossil fuels just enough to stabilize prices until the next political attempt at economic growth resets the marble at the top of the race.

Alaska designed a way out of that cycle. By banking on a diminishing resource, Alaskans virtually guaranteed that their Fund will always appreciate. It is currently worth about 40 billion and return on investment was 20.6% in 2011.

Each year the Fund pays a dividend to any Alaska resident, regardless of age or years of residency, if they lived within the state for a minimum of one year and weren’t convicted of a felony or served jail time during that year. The dividend is usually between $600 and $1500. Call that a basic income, albeit a small one.

Bucky Fuller (with David Blume)
R. Buckminster Fuller once said,

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living…. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing the nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist…. The true business of people is to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before someone came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

Whenever we read this we think of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who died a young pauper, unable to pay his rent, and we wonder, how many other Mozarts have we sacrificed to the Malthusian-Darwinian gods? How many potential Einsteins or DaVincis die of malnutrition because of the intransigence of our default economic arrangement?

Imagine now, as Climatologist James Hansen suggests, that we were to apply the Permanent Fund model to carbon in the atmosphere and the “green economy” initiatives that Jill Stein and the Green Party want. Maybe we wouldn’t have to wait for the death of capitalism to get a Kyoto treaty.

University of Maine Professor Michael W. Howard, in a new book, Exporting the Alaska Model, outlines it this way:

“The government … sets a cap on the amounts of coal, natural gas, oil, and imported carbon intensive products, at levels determined by scientific requirements for reducing GHG concentrations. Any agency or company wanting to introduce carbon in any of these forms into the economy would need to buy a permit at auction. The price of the permit will be passed along in the prices for fuels, and other products further downstream, and the higher prices for carbon will reduce demand and will make alternative energy more competitive. The auction will generate substantial revenue — hundreds of billions of dollars per year. While some portion of the revenue could be set aside for government spending, say for transitional assistance to workers displaced as a result of the higher fuel prices, in a robust cap-and-dividend scheme most of the revenue is returned to residents on an equal per capita basis.”

We want an atmosphere that is a healthy 290 ppm of carbon (350 is a weaker and less justifiable target, and a pre-industrial 290 would be better for coral reefs and Antarctic ice sheets). We could set limits on nitrogen, hydrogen, chlorine or fluorine while we are at it, but lets just run the C numbers now. The C concentration in the atmosphere needs to come down and it will do that on its own (in a century or two) if we just stop injecting more all the time. We can stop injecting more by one of two ways: making it an international crime and enforcing sanctions; or putting a price on licenses to pollute and steadily shrinking the supply of permits, thereby gradually raising the price until only the most cost-effective projects can compete.

In Rio, as in Durban, Cancun and Copenhagen before, many environmental groups and spokespeople — Indigenous Peoples Network, Climate Justice, Vandana Shiva, Martin Khor — were adamantly opposed to the notion of monetizing carbon, calling it a Pandora’s Box and a Ponzi bubble. We sympathize, but we think the chances of getting carbon criminalized are pretty remote, and we can’t see the world adopting eco-socialism any time soon, so option 2 seems like all we have to work with.

As Professor Robin Hahnel at Portland State University reminded us,

“To do this we need an international treaty that places mandatory caps on national emissions. Moreover, if caps are to be fair, then richer countries, which bear greater “responsibility” for cumulative carbon emissions and have greater “capability” to solve the climate problem, must be assigned tighter, or lower caps. However – and this is what many climate justice activists fail to understand — if national emissions are capped fairly then (1) carbon trading significantly reduces the global cost of emission reductions and thereby lowers political resistance to necessary reductions, and (2) carbon trading generates a large flow of payments from more developed to less developed countries. Which means the climate treaty negotiated in Japan in 1997 known as the Kyoto Protocol put the world on the right track, and it was a huge setback when the Kyoto framework was abandoned at the climate meetings in Copenhagen in December 2009 and replaced by a vague agreement to discuss voluntary emission targets.

* * *

“Instead of denouncing cap and trade and carbon markets, climate justice activists should have been fighting alongside reformers in Copenhagen to protect the Kyoto framework from its enemies and fix its flaws by replacing the outdated annex-1 non-annex-1 categories with a more accurate index measuring national responsibility and capability on a continuum known as the Greenhouse Development Rights Framework “responsibility and capacity indicator.” Based on readily available data this indicator requires high income countries to reduce emissions significantly right away, middle income countries to reduce emissions only after achieving a higher level of per capita income, and allows low income countries to raise emissions for decades while they struggle to achieve a minimal level of economic development. Moreover, by solving the problem of how to cap emissions in all countries fairly the GDRF indicator makes it possible to leave the difficult job of awarding emission reduction credits to national governments — freeing the international treaty organization to concentrate on the far easier job of measuring actual national annual emissions — and it protects the global emission cap from being punctured by any bogus carbon trading that does occur.”

There is a lot to unpack in that statement, and we have been doing that for the past few years in this space, but for now, lets just say, “its complicated.” Hahnel assumes a number of things that should not be assumed. Like, should all Indians aspire to drive BMWs? Who guards the emissions trading henhouse and who watches them? If we agree that even poor populations should have food, basic sanitation and health services, what prevents a corresponding population surge? And, how exactly do you induce high-income countries to reduce emissions significantly, right away?

Neither is the Permanent Fund without controversy. For one thing, it attracts vultures the same way the Juneau city dump does. The legislature smells money and circles around, rubbing its hands, as did Todd and Sarah Palin. Since the Permanent Fund almost always shows a surplus and the State budget almost always shows a deficit, the temptation of the vultures to dip in is great.

Most Alaskans (84% in 1999) disapprove allowing the government to tamper with the fund, especially if that means government might spend Fund income, but currently the Legislature has authority to appropriate all of the fund's realized earnings if it wants to. Annual proposals to limit legislative draws to 5% of the Fund have consistently died in committee. Still, voter wrath has so far deterred the vultures, and the Fund abides.

James Hansen, in the February 2012 AAAS meeting in Vancouver, trotted out his Permanent Fund for Carbon Dioxide. Polluters pay. Hansen suggested the levy be $5 per ton the first year, then $10/T/yr and $100 after 10 years. At $100, the consumer fallout would be an added $1 per gallon of gas purchased at a filling station or oil delivered for home heating (although the first year it would only be 10 cents).

At ten years, according to Hansen, just the United States would add $600 billion annually to their fund (others suggest lower numbers). Six hundred billion works out to $3000-6000 per legal resident, with half shares for children (up to 2 per family). Most USAnians, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they pay in increased prices. The average family would receive ~$9000/yr, which could be distributed electronically to a debit card. Call it a basic income.

Hansen also pointed out what others advocating cap and share, like the late David Fleming or Richard Douthwaite recited for more than two decades: it would spur incentive for innovation/reduction. At the end of 10 years, Hansen estimated it would drop fossil use in US by 10% — 13 times the oil supply from the tar sands pipeline.

Republicans and Tea Partiers rejoice! As in Alaska, such a scheme places no burdens on taxpayers or adds new bureaucracies to government. The spending choices are in the hands of consumers.

The Alaska Permanent Fund can be seen as a successful example of a universal basic income — a natural resource dividend. It de-externalizes the price of nature — our primary economy in the final analysis. It makes it possible, by valuating pollution and depletion of limited resources, to save whales and glaciers.

Suppose for a moment that instead of oil, Alaska had, back in the second half of the 19th century, imposed a levy on gold. For every ounce of gold removed from the ground, 25 percent had to be placed into a State Permanent Gold Fund.

From 1869 when the first mine opened, to 1985 when the veins were played out and mines closed, the fund would have accumulated 1.75 billion of the 7 billion ounces from the northern side of the southwest part of the state — the Juneau Goldbelt. At today’s price that would be worth over $2.7 trillion. Just the annual interest at a modest 5% would be $135 billion, or enough to give everyone in Alaska all those things that George W. Bush promised Iraqis (and enshrined in their US-written constitution): the right to full education, cradle to grave health care, FDR’s four freedoms, etc. Alaskans could have that basic security right now, based on the gold taken out of just the Juneau Goldbelt a century ago.

Alaska, relying on oil revenue to fund most of its state budget, abolished its state income tax. Alaskans cheered. However, that created a difficult choice for Alaskans down the road, when the oil revenue runs out. Alaska will either have to enact some kind of tax, which is not likely to be popular, or divert more funds from the dividend into government expenditures, also likely to be unpopular. Looking down that road, Alaska should start diverting more oil surtax or other natural resource revenues into the Permanent Fund now, building a stronger capital buffer against hard times ahead when drill-baby-drill turns dry-baby-dry. How about salmon?

The US Congress toyed with this idea at the start of Obama’s presidency, but it died at the hands of Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander’s scorched earth real politik. Contrary to claims by the Heritage Foundation and others that the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act (H.R. 2454), also known as the Waxman-Markey bill, which passed the House, and a similar bill introduced by Kerry and Boxer, which died in the Senate, would cost thousands of dollars per household, both the EPA and the Congressional Budget Office concluded that average net household costs in energy price hikes would be more than offset by dividends gained. Typically, with a 100% auction and 75% rebate, at least 70% of households in every state are net gainers and the remainder have the highest incentive to innovate.

Where to set the rebate — 75%, 50%, 25%? — depends a great deal on whether you lean to neoliberal or neoconservative. Neoliberals would favor a lower dividend to put more program money into government-directed efforts to stimulate innovation in carbon-abatement, energy efficiency and renewables. Neoconservatives would prefer a higher rebate because then the choices — and research agendas — are market-driven. Not surprisingly higher rebates tend to favor the rich. Poorer households spend a higher proportion of household income on energy, even though they spend less per capita on average than upper income households.

A more progressive formula, also introduced in Congress but stalled by Republicans, would involve using 14% of the revenue to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by 50%. Since the EITC is received only by wage earners, there would be no relief for unemployed youth, retired people, the disabled, and volunteers working for subsistence at charities, so this scheme has problems, although that is not why Republicans opposed it. Professor Howard suggests that those negatives could be remedied if the EITC were made refundable, i.e., converted to a negative income tax.

There is room for expansion in each case. The APF [Alaska Permanent Fund] could be redesigned to cover additional resources, and a higher proportion of the APF revenue could be distributed as dividends. Both the PFD [Permanent Fund Dividend] and a carbon dividend could be complemented by other basic income policies, such as a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). What is important about each, from the point of view of basic income policy, is that each is an unconditional income, funded from commonly owned resources. At the state level, and the national level, each can perhaps begin to legitimize the idea of citizens receiving income decoupled from work.”

Howard notes that a carbon dividend may be the easiest point of entry into American political consciousness of universal income decoupled from work or conditional entitlement. This is the Fuller paradigm shift, stealthily disguised. Howard says that once created, the carbon dividend would be resilient in the face of efforts to eliminate it, as is the dividend in Alaska.

What is not to like about a monthly check in the mail for every household? It could be a winning proposal for a Green Party candidate. Granted, this is not going to solve most of the challenges confronting our species. Would we ever consider auctioning off procreation rights and banking that money to provide life-extending universal health care? Would we ever try to degrow energy and gadget consumption, including solar server farms, on a Green Party platform plank? Unlikely. We are still crows, after all, and we have a fascination with shiny things. And, we are the only animal that soils its own nest or continuously invents new ways to mass-murder its rivals.

The Permanent Fund, or cap and dividend, is a middle way. It doesn’t get us out of the woods, but with a little luck, the innovation needed to find that path might just be liberated by some budding DaVinci not having to go out and earn a living.


_, Exporting the Alaska Model: How the Permanent Fund Dividend Can be Adapted as a Reform Model for the World , Ed. Karl Widerquist and Michael W. Howard (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012)


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Leaving Rio de Janeiro, site of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, we mulled the meaning of what we had witnessed, but could hardly put it any better than Charles Eisenstein in his excellent summary, Why Rio+20 Failed:
You know folks, I’m a bit worried about my 16-year-old son, Jimi. When he was 13, he grew three inches. When he was 14, he grew five inches. When he was 15 his growth slowed to three inches, and no matter how much I feed him, now he isn’t growing at all past his current six-one. Could someone please tell me how to achieve sustainable growth for my son, so that he can keep getting bigger forever?

Eisenstein concluded,
Our consciousness has shifted from the early-20th century ideal of conquering nature. However, our institutions, whether money or politics, are not yet in accordance with our changed consciousness. They trap us into behavior that no one really chooses and render us helpless to avert our collision course with catastrophe. That is why it is so important to question the blind ideological assumptions — particularly that of sustainable growth — that underlie those institutions.

If there was hope from the conference, it was perhaps best expressed by Uruguay’s President José Pepe Mujia at the Plenary session. Mujia grasped the global problem and put his finger on what really holds us back.
All afternoon we have been talking about sustainable development and we’ve been talking about bringing huge amounts of people out of poverty. So what are we thinking about in all of this? The patterns of production and consumption that we aspire to at the moment are those of the rich societies. Now, what would happen to this planet, I ask myself, if the Hindus were to have the same numbers of cars per family as the Germans do? How much oxygen would be left to breathe? The world has today the material elements that it needs for people to live in adequate comfort. Does it have the resources to be able to spend as much as the rich societies spend and use or not? We need to have a discussion about this.

Our civilization has to do with competition and the market. Natural resources are an expressive process, but the market has produced mercantile societies that demand that growth be explosive. And it’s led to our globalized view of the world, and a globalized market. But are we governing globalization or is it governing us? Can we speak of solidarity and say that we are all pulling in the same direction when we have economies that are based on unfair and unsustainable competition?

… The process we have before us is so huge that it encloses colossal. This great process is not political. Man does not govern this. Man does not govern the forces that man has released. It is the other way around. Those forces are governing man and life because we didn’t come to this planet to develop ourselves in a material way. We came to find happiness, because life is transitory, it is very short. And life is what is fundamental. But if life is going to run away from me, if all I’m doing is working to buy things to consume more, if the society of consumption is the energy driving everything, where does this go? If consumption is stopped or reduced then the economy slows down, and if the economy slows down then there’s stagnation. But consumption is the very thing that is consuming the planet. And people want to sell more and more. So we enter the vicious circle of the throwaway society….

We need to fight for another kind of culture. … Seneca said that a poor person is not someone who doesn’t have very much but the person who continues to need more and more and to desire more and more. So it's a cultural issue.

So I salute the efforts that have been made here and the agreements that have been concluded. … [but,] the water crisis and the degradation of the environment — these aren’t causes. The cause is our model of civilization that we ourselves have set up. What we have to revise is our own way of living. My country has 3 million inhabitants, a little more, 3.2 million. But we have some of the best cattle herds in the world and the best sheep herds in the world. My country exports meat and milk products. Almost 80% of the land of Uruguay is suitable for farming. My brother workers were formerly working 8 hours but now they work only 6 hours. But they have to have two jobs so they end up working more because they have to pay for the all of the things that they’ve bought, the cars and other things. It’s like rheumatism that is eating away at the body and taking away life. Is this the destiny of human life?

Development cannot fly in the face of happiness. It should promote human happiness, love, human relations, relationships between parents and children and friends. Life is the most important. When we fight for the environment, the first element of our environment is human. Our human environment is human happiness.

This sounds remarkably similar to our central thesis in the book that launched this blog, The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide. Economists like Herman Daly and Robert Costanza have been harping on this notion for decades. Nate Hagens recently waxed eloquent on the theme while in Vienna for the ASPO meeting:
Our society — Europe and US and increasingly China and elsewhere — is habituated to high stimulation and high consumption. The key point I've learned from studying neuroscience and evolutionary biology is that it's the 'wanting' that drives our behavior, not the 'having'. And in our fast paced, gadget saturated world, our neural high water marks keep getting reset higher and higher. Every day we wake up expecting/needing a certain amount of dopamine/neural stimulation — and our culture has set us up to get these brain chemicals by consuming and competing for status using resource intensive ways. On a world with finite resources this is a problem as everyday people who already have everything they need, strive to get 'more'. This 'more' ends up being taken from other people, other species, and other generations. We have to find ways to get our evolutionary derived brain 'cocktails' in more benign ways.

Leaving Rio in pursuit of novel brain cocktails, we were borne aloft by the great steel condor who took a northwesterly course that allowed us to gaze down upon Lake Titicaca and the Nazca Lines before descending into the upper Amazon and alighting at Iquitos, a sprawling shantytown of Honda moto-rickshaws and crumbling buildings. The contrast could hardly be starker — between the shiny high-rise hotels, haute cuisine restaurants, and high-end hookers parading their wares off the Copacabana to the mud, stink, and sweat of an overgrown logging town struggling to cope with constant in-migration of rural indigenous peoples losing their ways as the jungle gets divided up and sold off in commodities of land, oil, timber, ore, fish and produce.

Riverside at Santa Clara

From Iquitos we moto’d the muddy track of Calle las Flores to Santa Clara and passed up the snaking bends of the Rio Nanay by wooden dory to a nondescript river bank that marked the start of a trail to the village of Tres Unidos. If you omit the lost luggage in Lima or having to drink airplane water from plastic bottles, this was our first real ordeal of the journey, a sweltering hour mud-slog along a river trail that had itself been river a few weeks before (with the Andes glaciers melting, the Nanay reaches higher in the rainy season than it has in the memory of village elders), to finally emerge, as if entering Rivendell, in a cluster of trails between grass-roofed buildings known as the Temple of the Way of Light (3.44.309 S, 73.21.458 W).

There we joined the company of a skilled permaculture team from Terra Phoenix Design, Dave Boehnlien, Doug Bullock and Paul Kearsley, who had been on the ground for many months and had produced a preliminary master plan for a model in Amazonian permacultural sustainability. The plan encompassed the various elements of the owners’ vision — the Temple, a healing center employing traditional Shipibo medicines and rituals, including ayahuasca; the Chaikuni Permaculture Institute; and a budding residential community, nee ecovillage. The entire site is nested within a local community of mestizo people, Tres Unidos, who are neighbors, employees and partners in business with the Temple community.

Living in the so-called First World, many of us would find the spare accommodations of these jungle lodges difficult, but we are used to this sort of thing, and our hearts went out to the stout porteros who daily trek in and out with heavy loads of rice, beans, water, toiletries, and all of the construction material — wooden planks, bricks, mortar, cement — from which the temple continues to grow.

The Temple ceremonies themselves follow a pattern established by the Shipibo healers, wherein at an appointed hour up to 21 “patients” arrive to one of the large malokas — thatch-roofed round auditoriums enclosed with mosquito netting — in which are arrayed an equal number of freshly sheeted mattresses, arranged in a circle. Beside each bed is an ashtray and a vomit bucket, and just outside one door is a bathroom in case the purge comes at the bottom end of the intestinal tract. Medicine is carefully administered in participant-specific doses, lights are doused, and the evening begins. After about 45 minutes, when everyone is experiencing the rush of DMT into the bloodstream, the healers begin to chant their ikaros. Each, and there may be as many as 7 “unis” (those with knowledge), will move around the circle from bed to bed, singing to each patient while they diagnose their needs and call forth spirits to aid in fashioning remedies.

Subjectively, the process for the patient invariably begins with an ordeal. The drink itself is somewhat unpleasant tasting. Within the first hour it produces physical reactions such as agitation, alternating hot and cold sweats, nausea, dizziness and vomiting. There may be quite wild and vivid hallucinations. It can be acutely uncomfortable and unsettling, even for experienced voyagers, but one passes through these stages and gains insights, heals from within, and usually emerges with a deep appreciation for what has happened.

We have a friend who is a veteran of the Sun Dance ceremony in the Lakota tradition of the plains Sioux. Although he is Mohawk, he married into a Lakota teospaye and adopted his wife’s traditions. The Sun Dance is a very grueling ritual and he is not a young man any more. His hair is gray like ours. He has much scar tissue on his chest where, after days of dancing, the eagle claws suspending him on leather thongs from a pole — the tree of life — tore loose and ripped through his skin. We can only imagine what it must have been like with the foreknowledge of that ripping open of his chest in a prior year to sit and have his chest pierced again, deeply, and the thongs lovingly attached once more.

There are rituals in both the Catholic and Islamic traditions involving atonement by self-flagellation. On the Day of Ashura some Shi’a whip themselves with metal chains and spikes in the Zanjeer Zani ritual of mourning for Hussein. In the Hindu pilgrimage of Sabari Malai, a journey of 40 miles over blazing hot ground must be made barefoot and the majority of those walking get blisters and cuts on their feet and knee and ankle sprains. The same for many of the Guadalupeños who walk, run or crawl long distances across Mexico each December to show their devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

In an interesting essay on the SubBondage Net, author Chris M. links these sado-erotic rituals to our human psycho-physiology. “Over the eons,” he writes, “our nervous systems evolved, at least in part, to rescue us from bad situations. Upon injury, the nervous system jabs the brain with a message guaranteed to grab attention. Pain. It jolts the human beast into immediate action — a roaring scream, sudden spasmodic motion, fight or flight — all good things if, lets say, a saber tooth tiger takes an experimental bite of your posterior. Here's why it matters to us: To keep pain from crushing your ability to react, the brain floods the body with pain fighting natural opiates, hormones, enzymes, and adrenaline. And as any well-seasoned bottom knows, this response produces all sorts of fun. Feelings of excitement, arousal, clarity, even out of body or dream states. In short, the body's natural response to injury can be harnessed to create intense and mysterious sensations. When framed and emphasized by rites and rituals these natural responses would naturally be ascribed to supernatural powers.”

Brown rice diets, giving up pleasures for Lent, asceticism, hermitage, celibacy, hair shirts, fasting, and vows of silence and/or poverty have much in common with marathons, extreme sports, martial arts, the Whirling Dervishes, the Aboriginal walkabout, hard labor, boot camp, fraternal pledge hazing and body building. The common theme is ordeal. You can sometimes reach a mountain summit by auto-road, chair-lift, gondola or cog railway, but even with the great views of distant peaks and valleys, it is not the same experience and exhilaration, or the sense of self-reward that follows a long, exhausting hike or rope-work over difficult terrain.

So each time we resolve to “never again” punish ourselves with such sacrifice, pain, fatigue and sweat, we wipe all that resolution away in the instant that we reach our goal, when we have our moment of light and love and ecstatic remembrance that this is what life is all about. This is what we are here for. As José Pepe Mujia reminded us, whatever we do should promote human happiness, love, human relations, relationships between parents and children and friends.

Perhaps the pain and disappointment of Rio+20 and all the other conferences that promised so much and delivered so little are mere ordeal, the prelude to the ultimate awakening. We can only hope so, because from within the moment of the ordeal, all we ever have to go on is faith and perseverance.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

#Earthinbrackets: The Rio Twitstorm

"If we are going to avert utter disaster, which grows steadily less likely, something needs to change, and quickly. We certainly saw nothing resembling change from world leaders assembled in Rio. The miasma is intact. "

The following is an annotated selection from tweets posted during the past week during the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (“Rio+20”), the largest UN event ever held. Our own tweets were under the nom du twit, @peaksurfer. The conference marked the passage of 20 years since the Rio Earth Summit, which brought the world conventions on biodiversity, desertification and climate change. At the outset, high hopes surrounded this meeting also.

Gro Harlan Bruntland, 40 years after Stockholm
"We aspire to nothing less than a global movement for generational change.” Ban ki Moon on Rio+20

Gaia Home in the People's Summit. We got the goal in the crowdfunding! Thank you all! We'll meet at Rio de Janeiro - June 16th

#GaiaRio "The Case for Young People and Nature: A Path to a Healthy, Natural, Prosperous Future".

#eCOOLnomics at #GaiaRio this Sunday:
1T of eco-biomass =
1/3T Biochar equal to -
1 T CO2e, plus
1MWh electricity, so
1/3 carbon negative.

heading off to FUTURE EARTH - research for global sustainability launch event now. check for #thefuturewewant

Negotiations on food security & agriculture ending for today at #rioplus20. Cant say I see #thefuturewewant. But it can still be done.

US citizens are the most in favor of their government NOT agreeing to any international commitments at #RioPlus20:

Today! Brazil's Marine Protected Areas #RioPlus20 #thefuturewewant Tomorrow is #Oceans Day at Rio!

New Channel Launches to Broadcast About Ocean from #Rioplus20 #oceansatrio @oceansinc #oceans #thefuturewewant

@TheEconomist takes on Planetary Boundaries:
1556897 With big focus on the @TheBTI critique.

Rio+20: scientists call for action on population & consumption. Make no mistake: over-consumption is the lead villain.

@progressioIRL Handed supporter signatures to Minister #PHILHOGAN yesterday to tell him about #THEFUTUREWEWANT & our asks for #Rio+20

Negotiations have a lot in common with how we @_CEJA_ in CAP working group fine tune our positions word-by-word. #Rioplus20 #thefuturewewant

EU to G77: we reaffirm, take note, etc. It's now time to start committing, otherwise too weak text. #Rioplus20 #thefuturewewant

Request to strengthen text by EU not yet picked up.I feel we should start committing. How else will we move forwards?#thefuturewewant

One of the first signs that things might not go as well when the Heads of State arrived to approve the final document were the tightening of restrictions on cross-communication between civil sector groups like farmers, trade unions, scientists and environmentalists and the main plenary meeting. As before at many UN events, civil society was walled off into a exhibition space 25 miles from the conference venue but was still permitted access through its accredited representatives, bused in with biodiesel shuttle buses. Unlike earlier conferences, however, more than 1500 CEOs of transnational corporations were given access credentials and their offices and exhibits were placed right beside or even inside the main venue.

In Rio for start of #Rioplus20 and discussions of #futurewewant. Official start today. Follow @UN_Rioplus20

#GaiaRio HIGH LEVEL MTG 20-22 JUN Each Major Group gets just 15 passes to access plenary. Brazilian Civil Society will also receive 15. #RIO

Crowd gathering for big #endfossilfuelsubsidies action on Copacabana beach. This is going to rock. #RioPlus20

 Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies should be a minimum outcome of #rioplus20.

@ JeremyLeggett
Yep. Something we can join fantasist forces on.

Just got inside the high-level negotiations on energy here at #Rioplus20. Suddenly, #endfossilfuelsubsidies is on the agenda

Gro Harlan Brundtland at #Rioplus20: population, consumption, resource depletion, and discrimination unsustainable. Nice pairing.

#Rioplus20 M.Robinson: what works in family planning -- girls decide. T.Wirth: govt backsliding rampant. Deride critics! Girls take charge!

#Rioplus20 Tony Simons: we have to grow as much food in next 40 years as we grew in last 8000. Yes, thats exponential function! #beyondrio

The event was wreathed in WI-Max
 #Sustainability index looks beyond #GDP Can we find a better way to measure development? #RioPlus20

At the end of the first week, spirits were still high, but clouds were appearing at the horizon. Many good things had been inserted into the draft outcome document, including reproductive literacy rights, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, a nuclear phase-out, and elevation of the United Nations Environmental  Programme (UNEP) and Development Programme (UNDP) to full agency status, with better funding and more autonomy.

Ban Ki-moon has announced more than 100 commitments on sustainable energy at Rio+20: #FutureWeWant

Right now, in Rio and in every nation, we need to #EndFossilFuelSubsidies. You voted, that's what you said. @tcktcktck #thefuturewewant

At the Rio+20 Conference, @FordFoundation talks sustainable cities and urban development: #RioPlus20 #TheFutureWeWant

Participants at the SD Dialogue on Energy for All: eliminate subsidies to C-dirty nuclear energy; same as #EndFossilFuelSubsidies #Rioplus20

Pic of the huge #endfossilfuelsubsidies trillion $ bill at #RioPlus20 @Avaaz

#Rioplus20 we ran into Nicolas Metro at Satoyama talk. Yesterday he was out planting trees with Brazil youth group. He got a C-minus.

#Rioplussocial is trending! Hope you're lending your voice for #socialgood at #Rioplus20. We can all contribute to #thefuturewewant

Lord J.S.Gummer #Rioplus20: we need to solve problems going the way of nature instead of technofixes. Not all questions have answers we like

In the early morning hours of June 19, the other shoe fell. It was Tuesday, and the next day the “High Level” meeting of Heads of State would kick off. They needed a document that all could endorse, so out came most of the best (and most controversial) parts of the agreement. Surprisingly, the US team held fast for including much that was ultimately deleted by Brazil.

Bunch of lead negotiators huddling around entrance to meeting room before plenary at midnight. New text at 2am local time #RioPlus20

#UNCSD #Rioplus20 closing negotiation meeting at midnight tonight. Brazilians to present final non-negotiable text. #EU, #US not v. Pleased.

#endfossilfuelsubsidies tweetstorm on the NYTimes radar; 2 stay on the #RioPlus20 Decl needs to get thru the nite #getthecoffeein

11pm plenary at #RioPlus20 now postponed. Looks like they might be going through the night. #getthecoffeein

Mr President, Please stop creating fresh terrorists with your murder spree, go to Rio, and rediscover what you promised us

Monbiot: Hope is the rope by which we hang ourselves. #rioplussocial #Rioplus20 #beyondrio #GaiaRio

Bhutan's Secretary of Happiness
RT @lmdo: "Using GDP as a measurement of development is overrated, it measures growth. What's next?" Gross Happiness Index #bhutan #rioplus20

No mention in new text of ending fossil fuel subsidies.

Plenary will reconvene today at 10:30 AM in P3-2, where #Brazil will introduce the 2AM #Futurewewant text for #Rioplus20 #GaiaRio

My friend and fellow Ocean Elder @richardbranson on "The New Wild West"

#Rioplus20 police moved in and tried to shut down Radio Cupula at Peoples Summit, but crowds surrounded & protected. All cool, still on air.

"It seems governments will accept weak outcomes at #Rioplus20 in order to safeguard multilateralism." @sajosve in #Rio

Trying to find non-cliche words to describe what is happening at #RioPlus20, but it's a cliche outcome.

Brazil's proposed text: "We commit to take action by 2025 (to reduce marine debris)" (para. 163). 2025?!

@CFigueres proposes negotiators bring their kids to these mtgs, so they have to take decisions in front of them. Big applause! #Rioplus20

Smokeless stoves were big
Rio+20 summit must move world beyond 'grow now, clean up later'

#rioplus20 telling that nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. That's how weak it is. And they all knew. Disappointing #Rio20

#Rioplus20 stands out from recent UN summits in that official business was concluded today with 4 days left. Going nowhere saves time.

Soundtrack for #Rioplus20 - let the sun shine #thefuturewewant

 Steiner of UNEP put on a brave face
This is Rio Minus 20 which Fails on equity, fails on ecology, Fails on economy #rio+20 #earthsummit text longest suicide note in history

Vandana Shiva: Rio+20 is the "end of democracy." Pretty clear here as educators, scientists, NGOs, and public kept out

Prince Charles at #Rioplus20: we are sailing headlong into the sorts of storms that are the stuff of nightmares #futurewewant

Prince Charles #Rioplus20 #futurewewant "need to join the three cogs together" to run machine smoothly. 3 cogs = "global, national and corp"

On June 20, mass protest marches passed without violence through the streets of Rio. While they did not generate a lot of news, or even come close to the conference venue, they did signal a general change of tone in both supporters and critics of the meeting’s progress.

cardboard table, pallet wall
#Rio+20 draft: "grave concern" on climate, all vague, nothing new - final draft doc on (h/t @marcelcrok)

#RioPlus20 draft text is now online, check it here: I cant believe delegates spent 2 yrs to deliver this weak text

"Unless we take action now, the legacy of Rio 1992 is under serious threat' says @nick_clegg #RioPlus20

Applause for UK delegate re integrated reporting - UK announced all listed companies on stock exchange must report GHG footprint.

Video presentation on the state of the environment "Welcome to the anthropocene". I hate horror movies #rioplus20

Richard Branson awards Equator Prize to 10 grass roots NGOs
Happening now: @Brttnytrlfrd addressing the opening plenary at #Rioplus20 about her vision for the #Futurewewant

@kellyrigg RT @greendig Brittany Trlfd: 72 hours to decide the fate of your children, my children. The clock is @tcktcktcking!” #Rioplus20

3 more days will call it #riominus20. “

@duycks: NGOs asking not to be noted in #RioPlus20 document" because nowhere close to #futurewewant.

Via Campesina rep speaks for farmers' 5 min at #Rioplus20 plenary "no farms, no food, no future." urges organic, ecoagriculture practices.

recycled cardboard meeting room
"the current document is a failure of leadership" said Mary Robinson commenting on #RioPlus20 #RioFail

UNDP's Helen Clark: it is not that we are asking countries to grow less, but to grow differently, as they will learn very soon. #Rioplus20

RT @alexjamesfarrow: True democracy & consensus at #RioPlus20 at the People Plenary. An un-named @UN source says 'Its amazing.' #riofail?

The current #Rioplus20 outcome is a failure but can we turn up the heat enough to stop the #RioFail #climate

Cardboard and bamboo
RT "#RioPlus20 is a wrap as far as @WWF is concerned. Leaders here have collectively failed to deliver the #FutureWeWant... Taxi!!!!”

Walkout beginning. Proud to be part of 350, a youth-led movement #riofail

MT @benmoran Front and centre on @AJELive - Protesters gather outside Rio summit (from Thursday): #RioFail

New post - Why I walked out of #Rioplus20
12/06/22/why-i-walked-out-of-rio20/ #Riofail

After allocating 5 minutes to Brittany Trilford, the teenage New Zealand keynoter who had won the Date With History contest put on by TckTckTck, and then giving 5 minutes each to representatives from the Major Groups (farmers, unions, scientists, charities, youth, indigenous peoples), the Plenary closed its doors and began a round of opening statements from each of the Heads of State. Each was allowed 5 minutes but after homicidal rapist thug Joseph Mugabe set the bar at 25 minutes, few others took less than 20, and since there were 180 or more nations to be heard, the opening statements used up all the time between Wednesday morning and Friday evening, when the conference was scheduled to close. Nonetheless, many of these statements were notable, even dramatic, and they succinctly describe the state of the political world in 2012, a house divided and at war with itself as well as nature.

Flowers at graveside
#RioPlus20 starts with Brittany Trifford: "your promises remain not broken but empty".

"I stand here with fire in my heart. I am confused and angry at the state of the world..." @BrttnyTrlfrd speaking truth to power. #RioPlus20

Applause to @BrttnyTrlfrd had goosebumps watching her remarkable #Rioplus20 speech via @TreeHugger #thefuturewewant

Video: @BrttnyTrlfrd's incredible #DateWithHistory speech to #Rioplus20 world leaders w thanks to @ClimateHotNews

#DateWithHistory winner Brittany leaves world leaders speechless with brave call for action at #rioplus20

Germany to close all nuclear plants by 2022 and cut 95% emission by 2050

Venezuela: Capital has dressed in green & come back as new eco-colonialism”

#RioPlus20 in 3steps: (1) discuss solutions a length (2) delete most constructive proposals at late hour (3) provide substanceless speeches

UK dep PM Clegg: "We will include natural capital in our national balance of accounts by 2020." But already discounting it by 60%

#RioFail has been hijacked by big polluters, profits, and the governments who negotiate on their behalf.

No panelists showed up to the side event titled US Priorities for Rio+20. Symbolic perhaps.

WORLD LEADERS STICK THEIR HEADS IN THE SAND Friends of the Earth uk press release #rioplus20

Hillary quoting Steve Jobs.'think different.' i like my iphone, but c'mon. whole speech is about 'unlocking private investment.' #riofail

Very strong speech by the @MGCY_UNCSD this morning: "You have sold our fate and subsidised our common destruction." #RioPlus20 #RioFail

Politicians may be able to live with #RioFail, but the people won’t

#RioPlus20=#riofail! Despite the Twitterstorm, clear deadlines to #endfossilfuelsubidies were taken out of final text. SHAME!

#RioFail isn’t a failure of the UN, but a success for the corporate polluter lobby via @CanadianYCC

@ec_minister claims ideology of ecologists blocking progress @ #Rioplus20. #riofail #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmm #cdnpoli

THE FUTURE WE WANT IS NOT FOUND HERE. #RioFail #TheFutureWeWant #RioPlus20

BREAKING:The people have spoken! We reject the #RioPlus20 text & r convening a people's plenary w 100s sitting outside the negotation hall!

Young people walked out of the #rioplus20 Earth Summit #WhileTwitterwasDown in protest of a weak document that is not #thefuturewewant

#Rioplus20 commits to more sustainable water use, safe drinking water, stewardship of water supplies to grow food #futurewewant

World Leaders: We didn't elect & pay you to come to #RioPlus20 for the beaches. You must secure our future. Signed, #YourTaxpayers

In Rio, cafe TVs tuned to the Plenary
Why do we not have universal Rights of the Earth equal to the rights of corporations?

We are sacrificing our planet to corporations. We cannot survive without this planet.

Governments Happy with Future We Want - AlertNet: #RioPlus20 #futurewewant

In telling our children of #RioPlus20 we will struggle to explain why we had the ability & means to act, but were helpless 'A.Steiner'

A luta continua! RT @pablosolon: #Rioplus20: Impressions from the Peoples’ Summit: forging a global social movement Can End Poverty

Overview from @UN_News_Centre: $513 billion pledged for sustainable development at #RioPlus20 #FutureWeWant

@BarackObama: "This is all about the economy." No, Mr President, #rioplus20 is all about the economy. No viable environment, no economy.

Hillary Clinton and other top leaders

avoided traffic, coming and going by helo
#Rioplus20 was a failure of political leadership – but all of us, especially civil society & youth, have to take it forward. Mary Robinson

Delegates applaud at #Rioplus20 as #FutureWeWant outcome document officially adopted! See it here:

Leaders to world: "We agree to what we agreed 20 yr ago, except those parts about action and urgency. And thanks for the fish."


We were so actively involved, buzzing around between meetings from dawn until midnight, doing radio and TV interviews, and giving talks and open sessions at the Peoples’ Summit, that we didn’t have the time we would have liked to write a timely, more thoughtful report. That may yet come, but for now, our sense of the meeting was that, as usual, there was small incremental progress made and some very large setbacks. An end to fossil fuel and nuclear power subsidies was almost within grasp, and we could not have said that 20 years ago. But, fiddling while the planet burns is dead meme.

Sadly, when it comes to binding global treaties, the UN is the only game in town, apart from business vehicles like the G77 and the Pentagon, and if the UN, too, becomes a corporate capture, we truly are doomed. From what we witnessed in Rio, that is well underway. Hillary Clinton seems to be the lead cheerleader.

There will be another Climate Summit in December, with more negotiations on the Green Climate Fund (now also called the Green Power Fund) and interim meetings on the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). While realism is creeping in with the steady collapse of ever more institutions, the negotiating process for climate, income equity, and food security seems glacial when compared to the daily loss of species, jobs, and freshwater resource, among other indicators.

If we are going to avert utter disaster, which grows steadily less likely, something needs to change, and quickly. We certainly saw nothing resembling change from world leaders assembled in Rio. The miasma is intact. Moreover, the impetus for making change has clearly shifted to the opinion leaders not in the press or blogosphere but in the streets.

The clearest and wisest voices heard in Rio were heard every hour in the Peoples’ Summit, from the Occupy and related protest movements, from indigenous peoples, and from youth. Our own venue, the crowd-sourced Gaia Home in Cupula dos Povos, developed a steady and regular attendance of hundreds, with barely standing room at the edges of our large circus tent on the days we talked about ecovillages, transition towns, eCoolnomics (carbon-minus food, fuel and housing), education, networks and social equity. We flew in experts, authors and activists from six continents although some biked 1000 km to get there, or came by sail, and we’d all like to see more of that. By the final day of the conference, we were told we had become the main stage for the entire event, much to our surprise.

While approval is not unwelcome, and we have been preparing for this for many decades, it did cost us more than expected to keep a high level of activity in an expensive urban environment. Donations are tax-deductible and should be directed to our Global Village Institute, which is easily found on (charity 62-1220750) or on PayPal. We will be planting trees to offset our entire carbon footprint as our superstars wend their ways home. Thanks to all who supported us so far!




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