Thursday, September 25, 2014

Climate Change Takes Broadway

" It’s doubtful that there will be a treaty,” said one senior Obama administration official" .

In November 1987, when Senators Al Gore and Tim Wirth held their first hearings on climate change, almost no-one but the scientific witnesses came. The senators adjourned the meeting until the following summer and reconvened in the midst of a sweltering heatwave that was frying the Great Plains and stopping barge traffic on the Mississippi. The second time, the witnesses testified to popping flashbulbs and headlines screamed, "The Heat is On!" and "Global Warming Has Begun!"

Flash forward a quarter century to 2014. The United Nations has been struggling to ink some kind of treaty to limit carbon emissions since launching the Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon knows he has a hard deadline coming up in Paris in 2015 but the recent preparatory meetings in Copenhagen, Durban, Doha, and Warsaw have not been going well and COP20 next December in Lima promises more of the same deadlock.

The general public and climate science seem to be solidly together in finding the situation extremely urgent. Ban sees he has a possible opening to shift political will now, in the summer of 2014, after watching an unbroken string of hottest months on record.

An unprecedented number of world leaders attended the Tuesday Summit, including 100 heads of government. They are outnumbered 8-to-1 by well-heeled, UN-credentialed delegates from business and finance, making the atmosphere much like that of, say, the halls of Congress. Instead of Big Pharma and Big Agribusiness there are King Coal, Frackers and the men from Halliburton. What happens next is a mix of the tired public relations theater from the past 19 conferences — grand pledges to do something at some increasingly distant date while doubling down on the toxicity of Earth's atmosphere in the immediate future — without the slightest hint of any awareness of a present hazard.

Let us be clear. This is really, really the eleventh hour. It may even be the thirteenth, which is to say our train already left the station and we were not aboard. The train might have left the station before 1980.

In April, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that their best science shows that to limit global warming to 2°C would require reductions of greenhouse gas emissions of 40 to 70 percent by 2050.  Ban pledged the UN’s own operations would be ‘climate neutral’ by 2020.
The Obama Administration pointed with pride to its commitment to source 20% of federal government energy consumption (not including military) from renewables by 2020. It made unchallenged claims to having reduced methane emissions 11% despite accelerating US dependence on natural gas wells and pipelines that are known to emit enormous amounts of methane, almost entirely unmonitored.

Meanwhile, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a high in 2013 that has not been seen on this planet since 18 million years before hominids appeared. And it continues to increase, day in, day out. It is even increasing the rate of increase.

Scientists are now observing the beginnings of a shift to where oceans and vegetation no longer absorb excess carbon from the atmosphere and instead become pumps.

Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research calculates that industrialized nations need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 10 percent per year starting now.  Of course, this is “incompatible with economic growth,” as Anderson acknowledges. The only hope of maintaining economic growth while cutting emissions at such a pace is to rapidly decouple GDP from CO2, something few at the UN are talking about, except for a few island nations who pledge to be 100% renewable energy-based by the end of this decade.

But as Richard Heinberg says, "Ultimately, climate change is not the only reason perpetual economic growth is incompatible with a finite planet. The world faces a suite of ecological problems related to water, soil, and biodiversity, all stemming from past growth, and all seemingly requiring reduction in human consumption levels for their solution."

Yet, despite all these signs and portents, and even though the European Union, much of Africa, and island countries are pushing for a binding treaty with deep emissions cuts, the Big Polluters (BP) have formed a solid block. The US, China, India, Canada and Australia speak with one voice. They are not just saying "No," but "Hell no!"

“It’s doubtful that there will be a treaty,” said one senior Obama administration official not authorized to speak for the record.

Ban, knowing where his bread was buttered, reiterated, "We must work together to mobilize money and move markets. Let us invest in climate solutions available to us today. Economists have shown this comes at minimal extra cost while the benefits to our people and our planet are monumental. We need all public finance institutions to step up to the challenge. And we need to bring private finance from the sidelines."

Just to put a friendly face on this, the BP group adopted the strategy proposed by Hillary Clinton at Copenhagen in 2009: privatize the problem to corporations and put up voluntary pledges to pay them to do something about this problem. That is the Clinton way. If you wondered why 800 business and financial lobbyists would attend UN meetings, this is why. In Cancun she offered $100 million annually by 2020 "from public and private sources" for a "Green Climate Fund." In New York the pledges were:


Some of the backroom debates were whether this fund could be used for developing coal and fracked gas. Canada and the US were in favor. Europeans were aghast. UK's David Cameron said, “We are investing in all forms of lower carbon energy including shale gas and nuclear, with the first new nuclear plant coming on stream for a generation.” Sweden pledged to divest $100 million from its public pension fund by the end of 2015 and invest in carbon polluters (including shale gas and nuclear) no more.

 “It’s a tug-of-war right now,” said Ronny Jumeau from the island nation of Seychelles and spokesman for a group of 43 small island nations. “We refuse to accept that someone says it cannot be legally binding and everybody has to live with it because they’re so powerful.” Island nations struggle with impacts to their freshwater supplies, fisheries, and agriculture as super storms and sea-level rise threatens to put many of them underwater.

“The voluntary stuff will never be enough,” Jumeau says. “We are still headed to destruction.”

There were a few positive outcomes from the meeting in New York.

The New York Declaration on Forests received 130 signatories, including the governments of the US, UK, Germany, Indonesia and the Congo, as well as companies, civil society and indigenous peoples. It will cut the rate of deforestation in half by 2020 and end it by 2030. It will reforest more than 350 million hectares, an area greater than the size of India. The declaration was backed by commitments from food companies, including palm oil giants, to deforestation-free sourcing policies. Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts joined 19 other major food companies to make zero-deforestation pledges.

In Britain, Greenpeace activists staged their own great train robbery, flagging down and taking over a coal train en route to one of England's dirtiest power stations, run by French energy giant EDF. The activists used industry-standard emergency signals to siderail the 400-metre-long, 1500-tonne coal train. Dozens of fully-trained Greenpeace activists climbed onto the open coal wagons and started packing coal into sacks labeled “return to sender," addressed to Vladimir Putin. The UK paid £1 billion to Russian coal oligarchs last year.

On Sunday 350,000 people showed up to march in Manhattan, the largest protest yet on climate change. While there were no actual demands, it was a momentum builder in that it drew together many very diverse constituencies and some that had never come out before. Obviously no amount of protest is likely to change the direction climate negotiations are taking or suddenly shift the political landscape, but it is having an effect at the margin. New York was the first climate summit in which divestment of stranded assets in the fossil industries was pledged by a UN member country (Sweden).

What would an actual arrest of our extinction trajectory look like? In that fictitious world, the one in which imaginary homo sapiens survive the earliest horrors of the Anthropocene, develop a steady state economy, degrow their numbers and reverse catastrophic warming, everyone gardens. Forests overtake deserts. That is the key to unlocking the solution to the human-caused climate dilemma; a key we discovered in our research following Climate in Crisis in 1990 and leading up to the publication of The Biochar Solution in 2010. With a shift to carbon-sequestering, regrarian agriculture, the balance between soil, atmosphere and ocean is restored. The ocean ecosystem revives, with Blue Whales breeching majestically in what had previously been gyres of microplastic residues. The carbon content of soils goes from less than one percent back to 5, 10, and then 15 percent. Varieties of win-win gift economies based on perennial harvests once again outnumber extractive, flow-through, winners-and-losers militarist/capitalist economies.

Of course none of this is possible if no agreement can be reached to leave fossil fuels in the ground, or adhere to the strictures of world conferences on population (1954, 1965, 1974, 1984, 1994), or for that matter, to adopt Odums' "prosperous way down" as a roadmap.

You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I am not the only one.
— John Lennon

When all other roads lead to, at the least, near term human extinction, and at the worst, extinction of all life on Earth, our flight of wild eyed utopian fantasy is not unrealistic. It is the only sane choice.

Fortunately India just launched a rocket to Mars that did not go through the sterilization protocols used by NASA. If the wild-eyed scenario fails, perhaps a tiny bit of our genetic progress will be saved there.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Flash! Tiny Fern Saves Planet from Catastrophic Warming

"The magic of this tiny little water plant, like that of present day permaculture plans for food forests and re-treeing the Sahara, lies in its capability to suck enough a carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere to cool the planet while supplying us both food and breathing space."

As world leaders prepare to gather at the United Nations in New York to mount a defense to Climate Change — as though in a science fiction story where we, the Earth, are preparing to fight off an alien invasion — we are going to hop into our Wavelength Acceleration Bidirectional Asynchronous Controller and set the dial back 49 million years, to the middle of the Eocene Epoch, in search of a secret weapon we heard might just stop the climate juggernaut in its tracks.

Stepping out of the WABAC Machine and looking around we survey a very different planet.

In the early Eocene our familiar continents were scrambled from their present positions. The Arctic sea was inland, almost entirely cut off from the one great ocean, communicating by a long river through present-day Turkey. This meant that ocean mixing — and deep water currents such as the Gulf Stream — did not occur then as it does now.

As the WABAC has deposited us at the present-day North Pole, we rub on our sunblock and venture out through palm trees to the edge of a deep lake covered with a dense green mat of waterfern with lovely, shimmering, purplish-rose tints in the full sun. Below the roots of this fern, trailing downward from its lower surfaces, we detect a stratified water column, going very deep.

With atmospheric carbon above 3500 ppm, the Eocene is about as hot as one could expect Earth to go before it just gives up and becomes a second Venus. High temperatures and winds bring high evaporation, and high carbon deposition increases the density and acidity of the ocean such that a freshwater layer forms on the surface above the much denser saltwater.

River water entering this freshwater layer is rich in minerals, such as phosphorus, which spawn the growth of azolla — today we call it mosquito fern, Azolla filiculoides, Azolla japonica or Azolla mexicana.

In optimum conditions, the foliage becomes so dense it can prevent mosquito larva from developing and hatching, hence the common name. You can find it garden centers because it has become a popular addition to water gardens and ponds. Besides its lovely hue, it forms such a solid mat that it discourages algae growth, feeds fish, scavenges nitrates and helps keep waters clear.

The Eocene was a very warm period — crocodiles at the poles, wherever those were at the time — because concentrations of greenhouse gases were very high. In these favorable conditions, with ample warmth and abundant fertilizer, the azolla bloom doubled its biomass every two to three days. Had that exponential growth curve persisted long enough, the azolla would have theoretically outweighed the weight of Earth (an impossibility) in a matter of decades.

But, following the fate of all exponential growth curves, the azolla was arrested by resource limits — mainly phosphorus — and its own negative feedback.

As they sank to the stagnant sea floor, the dead azolla leaves and roots were incorporated into the sediment; the resulting drawdown of carbon dioxide helped transform our world from the "greenhouse Earth" Eocene to the "icehouse Earth" it has been ever since.

Like it or not, with all the baggage industrial civilization carries, we could get there again. Our emergent Anthropocene unpleasantness is entirely avoidable. We just have to step up photosynthesis. Compared to expensive, unreliable, harebrained schemes to put mirrors into space to block the sun or salt the atmosphere with sulfur, re-greening Garden Earth is safe, clean and too cheap to meter. It also gives us food and oxygen.

The magic of this tiny little water plant, like that of present day permaculture plans for food forests and re-treeing the Sahara, lies in its capability to suck enough carbon and nitrogen out of the atmosphere to cool the planet while supplying us both food and breathing space. It can allow us to return our home to the more hospitable Holocene conditions in which mammals developed a larger cerebral cortex and then monumental civilizations.

Do-overs on this scale are rare good fortune. Let us hope, in the unlikely event world leaders at the UN next week opt to go this route, that they and we will learn from our past mistakes and not repeat them the next time around. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Azolla has been deemed a "super-plant" because it can draw down as much as a metric ton of Nitrogen per acre per year (0.25 kg/m²/yr) and 6 tons of Carbon (1.5 kg/m²/yr). Its main limit to growth is the availability of Phosphorus. Each individual plant is 1-2 cm across, green tinged pink, orange or red at the edges, branching freely, and breaking into smaller sections as it grows. It is not tolerant of cold temperatures, and in temperate regions it dies back in winter, surviving by means of submerged buds.

Blooms alone are not enough to have any significant atmospheric chemistry impact; to reverse CO2 and NOx imbalances, the excesses must be sequestered. In the case of the present, this means turning biomass that would, left to its own devices, become atmospheric pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides into water vapor, recalcitrant carbon and fixed nitrogen. We can accomplish that through the magic of biochar.

In the Eocene Azolla Event, the strategy was different. Dead azolla plants had to be buried and the remains made inaccessible to decomposing organisms. The anoxic bottom of the Arctic basin, a result of the stratified water column, permitted just this: the azolla sat in the mud, unrotted, until it was buried by sediment and incorporated into the fossil record. Today that layer is about 8 meters thick, or about one meter for every hundred-thousand years.

As we write this, oil drilling rigs from Russia, Canada and Exxon are plying the Arctic Ocean dragging tethered Geiger meters. Because radioactive isotopes of potassium were absorbed when the azolla plants were alive and are now a component in their clay content, and because their high cation exchange capacity causes them to absorb uranium and thorium, the fossil azolla layer can be detected in the form of a gamma radiation spike.

Calibration with the high-resolution geomagnetic reversal record with Azolla's gamma radiation signature allows the duration of the event to be estimated at 800,000 years. That time frame coincides precisely with a steep decline in carbon dioxide levels, which fell from 3500 ppm in the early Eocene to 650 ppm after this event.

Thanks the azolla bloom, the Arctic cooled from an average sea-surface temperature of 13 °C to today's −9 °C. For perhaps the first time in its history, the planet had ice caps at both poles. This was not good for the Azolla bloom and so it could not continue its weight contest with the planet.

Gathering some of this magic fern from the Eocene Arctic, transporting to present and diseembarking from the WABAC once more at the Ecovillage Training Center, we are seeding azolla into our constructed wetlands, where it will devour the phosphorus made available from the showers and sinks in the Prancing Poet Ecohostel and commence sucking CO2 and N from the atmosphere, making us even more greenhouse-gas negative than we already are. Since it won't tolerate Tennessee winters we will need to bring some into our other kind of greenhouse before the first hard freeze and then reseed our outdoor ponds again next Spring. Is it edible? Can we feed it to animals? What kind of biochar does it make? How does it function in compost? Stay tuned for further developments. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Stranded Ethics

Robert Jay Lifton, author of Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, wrote an op-ed for The Sunday New York Times called The Climate Swerve, pointing out the sudden shift in awareness towards the existential threat we face from our careless destruction of the atmospheric commons.

In his earlier work on Hiroshima, Lifton observed that such a shift occurred some years after the bombing, when the full extent of its horrors became more widely known. Before then, it was, while unfortunate, morally okay under the rules of war to blow up or incinerate civilian populations, as the allies had been doing beginning with the firebombing of Dresden and then all over Japan. The Bomb's victims' shadows, etched in pavement, and the torments of the hibakusha  did what Picasso's Guernica and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five had failed to do. It transformed mass civilian incinerations into something that was morally reprehensible, auguring the Cold War.

Of course, just because it is now universally considered morally reprehensible does not stop rogue states from mass-slaughtering civilians with radioactive weapons in places like Falujah, Fukushima, Gaza or Doniesk but nonetheless the public is now outraged when it learns of these crimes, and it wasn't as much before. Governments are forced to go to lengths to keep these atrocities secret and to obscure the truth when it is hinted at. Lifton wrote:
"With both nuclear and climate threats, the swerve in awareness has had a crucial ethical component. People came to feel it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, and we are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren."

There is something more important in Lifton's essay than the "swerve" that the author is trying so hard to sell as a meme. Almost as a throwaway he uses a phrase that has a much deeper resonance. He calls the ways people regard moral crimes before the swerve "stranded ethics."

Stranded ethics: ethics that governed our collective decisions but have now lost their relevance.

Yes. We need to leave behind the stranded ethics of the 20th century the same way we need to leave in the ground the stranded capital assets of the fossil fuel companies and countries.

Our stranded ethics were based on growth at all costs — the prime directive of capitalism — and damn the environment, damn social justice and fair share, damn the future consequences. What counts, according to obsolete dicta from an industrial age, are share values, net worth, market share, competitiveness, national pride, ethnic pride, war footing and profits über alles.

In the stranded ethics of the past, it is more important to have routine unemployment to support all-volunteer armies than to pay a minimum wage adequate to support a family; it is more important to return value to shareholders than to protect the air and waters surrounding a manufacturing facility; and it is more important to give corporations civil rights than to regulate influence on the regulatory process, such as by making huge donations to sway an election.

Lifton says, "We may well speak of those shareholder-dominated principles as … better left buried but at present … all too active above ground." 
"It is a bit like the old Jack Benny joke, in which an armed robber offers a choice, 'Your money or your life!' And Benny responds, 'I'm thinking it over.'"

To truly inhabit the 21st century we will all share a common epiphany: that we have reached the Age of Limits and the Era of Consequences. We are at or soon approaching that inflection point. Here, now. From that shift it will follow as inexorably as night follows day that the ethics of the past are not just passé, but counterproductive. Anyone clinging to them will be regarded as a fool, a fossil and a social pariah.

So for instance, if you encounter someone who still thinks nuclear power is a good idea, they are still clinging to stranded ethics. If you encounter someone at a wedding telling the bride and groom it would be good to have more than two children, they have stranded ethics. You can be a little more compassionate towards them, especially if they are elderly, because you can appreciate what they are going through, having to change their whole approach to the world and still live with the horrible decisions they made earlier in their lives.

Someone who thinks it is okay to have that third kid, to donate money to a biotech wing at a university, to not compost their kitchen scraps, or to throw away lots of plastic like they didn't know where it is going — has stranded ethics. Eventually peer pressure will catch up with them.

Fishermen who use purse seine nets have stranded ethics. Japanese "whale researchers" have stranded ethics. Rhino horn cocktail consumers have stranded ethics. Very soon regulations and public opprobrium will catch up to them.

Homeowners who lease their back yards to frackers have stranded ethics. Poisoned wells and defaulted rent checks will catch up to them. People who work at car dealerships that only sell urban land cruisers have stranded ethics. The public will simply have stopped buying those behemoths.

Keeping 73 prisoners who have been exonerated of any crime imprisoned for years without trial or right of counsel after being found innocent by judicial review, for years, and then subjecting them to daily torture by shoving oversized and unsanitary plastic tubes down their noses when they protest, even on the day you admit, "We tortured some folks," thinking you were referring to a dozen years earlier and some other administration, not to the hundreds of people you tortured repeatedly that very same day for speaking up in protest, is stranded ethics.

Crimes such as these have well-established mechanisms of justice, that, while painfully slow, have no statute of limitations and apply as equally to Heads of State as to their minions. Toadies who coddle such war criminals as "the least worst alternative" have stranded ethics.

The late Zenmaster, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, in Zen Mind Beginners Mind said it is important to understand that Zen is nothing special. Any roshi will say the same. There is no attainment. Just sit. Nothing special.

As the ethics of the 20th century become stranded, the ethics of permaculture will become invisible. Permaculture will become the new normal. It will simply be taken for granted.

Permaculture is nothing special. Acting ethically towards future generations is nothing special. Living today as if there really is going to be a tomorrow is not a fringe activity. Just do it. Already, everyone else is starting to, too.

A version of these remarks was extemporaneously delivered at the opening plenary of the 2014 North American Permaculture Convergence on August 31, 2014. The full plenary can be viewed at


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dare to Disagree

"Understand, testifying to Congress is a bit like speaking to a senile aunt. They may hear you, but they just mutter something like "Whatever you say, dear," and go back to their soap opera"

Two years ago a TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan garnered 1,819,512 views, and well it should. Heffernan began her story by telling about a person whose acquaintance we shared, Dr. Alice Stewart (1906-2002)

Our first experience with Alice goes back to 1977, when she testified before a House Committee that was looking into the health effects of radiation from nuclear power plants. The Rogers Committee and had called Alice, her co-worker George Kneale and Dr. Thomas Mancuso to testify about their epidemiology study of the Hanford plutonium workers.

Also testifying that day were Drs. Rosalie Bertell and Irwin Bross, who conducted the Tri-state Leukemia Survey that linked in utero x-rays to childhood mortality and Dr. John W. Gofman, one of the co-discoverers of U-233, whose funding at Livermore National Laboratory was suspended when he revealed the world about the likely cancer and genetic consequences of the nation's rush to nuclear power.

All of these people would become friends of ours, some closer than others, but we took the opportunity while in Washington to bike down Constitution Avenue and attend the testimony Alice gave later that same day to the National Academy of Sciences.

Understand, testifying to Congress is a bit like speaking to a senile aunt. They may hear you, but they just mutter something like "Whatever you say, dear," and go back to their soap opera. Stewart, Kneale and Mancuso were received politely by the Congressmen, but apart from making a public record for the sake of history, nothing would come of it.

Down the road at the NAS it was a different story. The knives were out as soon as Alice had finished her opening statement. She was making waves not just in the world of electric power generation, but in the world of medicine and science. She was prepared to demonstrate, and to defend, strong findings that at even the most infinitesimally small doses, exposure to ionizing radiation carries an inexorable risk of mortality. There is no safe dose. She knew it. She could prove it.

The reason Alice Stewart was not afraid was because she had George Kneale.

George was completely ill-suited for the role he found himself thrust into that day; sitting beside Alice before both Congress and the NAS. A tall and heavy-set Brit resembling an unkempt Stephen Fry in a second hand suit, he gave us the impression, when we first spoke, of being marginally autistic, a savant perhaps, but a man who would not hold your eye and would much prefer he were somewhere far away.

Tom Mancuso, a full professor at the University of Pittsburgh at the time, was more like a pugnacious, union shop floor boss, someone who was not afraid to tussle for the rights of his workers if it came to it. Stewart, the medical doctor of the three, seemed weary, as if this experience had happened too many times before, and she knew it was all a colossal play for time — purchased at the cost of real children's lives, in very large numbers.

According to Stewart's telling at the Right Livelihood Awards ceremony in 1986, Kneale had two major contributions to biostatistics while he was still a young man advancing his degrees at Oxford. The first was to discover a way to isolate the confounding variable of death from pneumonia or other secondary infections by way of an impaired immune system (which is more than 300 times more likely to be fatal in children exposed to radiation) from death by leukemia within 5 years following radiation exposure.

Kneale's second achievement, some years later as he began studying radiation workers, was his proof that resistance to cancer from radiation is exceptionally high in men at 20 years of age, but by 50 years it may be no greater as it was shortly before birth.

Stewart first came to prominence as the first woman admitted to the UK Association of Physicians and the youngest ever admitted to the Royal Academy. During World War II she investigated the effects on workers of exposure to TNT in munitions factories, the effects of carbon tetrachloride, and the mysterious prevalence of tuberculosis among workers in the boot and shoe industry.

Heffernan tells Alice's story this way:
[Alice] was unusual because she was really interested in a new science, the emerging field of epidemiology, the study of patterns in disease. But like every scientist, she appreciated that to make her mark, what she needed to do was find a hard problem and solve it. The hard problem that Alice chose was the rising incidence of childhood cancers. Most disease is correlated with poverty, but in the case of childhood cancers, the children who were dying seemed mostly to come from affluent families. So, what, she wanted to know, could explain this anomaly?
Now, Alice had trouble getting funding for her research. In the end, she got just 1,000 pounds from the Lady Tata Memorial prize. And that meant she knew she only had one shot at collecting her data. Now, she had no idea what to look for. This really was a needle in a haystack sort of search, so she asked everything she could think of. Had the children eaten boiled sweets? Had they consumed colored drinks? Did they eat fish and chips? Did they have indoor or outdoor plumbing? What time of life had they started school?
And when her carbon copied questionnaire started to come back, one thing and one thing only jumped out with the statistical clarity of a kind that most scientists can only dream of. By a rate of two to one, the children who had died had had mothers who had been X-rayed when pregnant. Now that finding flew in the face of conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom held that everything was safe up to a point, a threshold. It flew in the face of conventional wisdom, which was huge enthusiasm for the cool new technology of that age, which was the X-ray machine. And it flew in the face of doctors' idea of themselves, which was as people who helped patients, they didn't harm them.
Nevertheless, Alice Stewart rushed to publish her preliminary findings in The Lancet in 1956. People got very excited, there was talk of the Nobel Prize, and Alice really was in a big hurry to try to study all the cases of childhood cancer she could find before they disappeared. In fact, she need not have hurried. It was fully 25 years before the British and medical — British and American medical establishments abandoned the practice of X-raying pregnant women. The data was out there, it was open, it was freely available, but nobody wanted to know. A child a week was dying, but nothing changed. Openness alone can't drive change.
So for 25 years Alice Stewart had a very big fight on her hands. So, how did she know that she was right? Well, she had a fantastic model for thinking. She worked with a statistician named George Kneale, and George was pretty much everything that Alice wasn't. So, Alice was very outgoing and sociable, and George was a recluse. Alice was very warm, very empathetic with her patients. George frankly preferred numbers to people. But he said this fantastic thing about their working relationship. He said, "My job is to prove Dr. Stewart wrong." He actively sought disconfirmation. Different ways of looking at her models, at her statistics, different ways of crunching the data in order to disprove her. He saw his job as creating conflict around her theories. Because it was only by not being able to prove that she was wrong, that George could give Alice the confidence she needed to know that she was right.
It's a fantastic model of collaboration -- thinking partners who aren't echo chambers. I wonder how many of us have, or dare to have, such collaborators. Alice and George were very good at conflict. They saw it as thinking.
So what does that kind of constructive conflict require? Well, first of all, it requires that we find people who are very different from ourselves. That means we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves, and it means we have to seek out people with different backgrounds, different disciplines, different ways of thinking and different experience, and find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy.
And the more I've thought about this, the more I think, really, that that's a kind of love.
Because you simply won't commit that kind of energy and time if you don't really care. And it also means that we have to be prepared to change our minds. Alice's daughter told me that every time Alice went head-to-head with a fellow scientist, they made her think and think and think again. "My mother," she said, "My mother didn't enjoy a fight, but she was really good at them."
So it's one thing to do that in a one-to-one relationship. But it strikes me that the biggest problems we face, many of the biggest disasters that we've experienced, mostly haven't come from individuals, they've come from organizations, some of them bigger than countries, many of them capable of affecting hundreds, thousands, even millions of lives. So how do organizations think? Well, for the most part, they don't. And that isn't because they don't want to, it's really because they can't. And they can't because the people inside of them are too afraid of conflict.
Because we are the kind of species we are living in the world we inhabit, ethical choices are absolutely incumbent upon us, every day. Our larger task, as sentient life-forms, is to steward that which is placed in our care, nourish it if it is well, restore it to health if it is ill, and then safely pass it along to responsible successors in the next generation.

We are, by virtue of our genetic heritage as herd animals, required to look out for our kin. As we allow our consciousness to expand, as it must, we extend the definition of kin out to all our relations; those with two legs, four legs, eight legs, wings, fins, shells, roots in the ground and taxa beyond number. All our relations. We need them, they need us. It is because they have worth that we have worth.

This is something Alice and George understood very well. They knew they would not be welcome in the lions' den. They knew their seminal works would be challenged on the size of their statistical sample, on the unorthadoxy of a superlinear dose response curve (lower doses are more deadly than higher because they mutate rather than kill cells) and, far worse, go unheeded while thousands perished from lax regulations of these insidious new poisons.

Alice knew John Gofman was right that nuclear power would kill millions of people from legally permitted emissions, even with no accidents (although accidents happen every day). She knew Rosalie Bertell was right about the cause of a childhood epidemic in x-ray-caused leukemias in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She knew all of that could have been prevented if people like those who sat across the table from her at the National Academy — those whose decisions set the standards — would have the courage to choose to act.

It is not as thought they just sat, though. Those who listened to her two public talks that day in 1977 and had authority to take action did. They cut her research funding. When she received the Right Livelihood Award in 1986 she used the small amount of money that came with that to restore funding to yet another of her studies that was being defunded, an investigation into the potential health damage caused to fetuses by ultrasound.

Before she died in 2002, Stewart told The Guardian:
"'Good people are seldom fully recognized during their lifetimes, and here, there are serious problems of corruption. One day it will be realized that my findings should have been acknowledged.'"

"'Plants get all their energy from the sun and so should we,' she would say. Then she would smile wistfully, for she knew how very long that learning curve might be."

Given this pattern of lopping the heads off anyone who tries to warn of danger, it is a wonder why anyone bothers to speak up the way Alice and George did. We know the territory all too well from working on chronically underfunded but incredibly significant projects, and having done so for most of our lives. Occasionally some allies take notice and help us down the path a bit further. Other times we just have to tough it out or hole up until we find the support to make it to next stages of our research.

This week we published a collection of our essays that appeared on this site from 2008 to 2014 and were selected by our readers as most popular. These are our biggest hits. They are now a free download for members of Kindle Unlimited, and $1.99 to everyone else. It is our hope that the collection will generate enough sales to get us to our next stop, which is the North American Permaculture Convergence in Minnesota over Labor Day weekend. We have been invited there to speak on the subject of the state of permaculture in 2014, but they don't provide expenses or honoraria.

Our feelings about permaculture is that it is a useful framework, a multiplier for energy efficiency, but all by itself does not pay the rent. It may be ethical but it is not always economic, and therein lies its greatest challenge — macroeconomic reform to account for neglected externalities like coral reefs, social justice and children with leukemia.

It's worth having that conversation. We are hoping enough others agree to make it possible. So far, enough people have bought our new book, Pour Evian on Your Radishes,
in the first 24 hours to push it to the ninth best seller of Kindle's collected essays category.  

The last image in the book is a photograph of a handmade protest sign. In a dusty rural village in Mexico we happened upon this, stapled to a picket fence. The wind was blowing, so we had to reach out and hold it to the fence while we took the photo. 

The sign says, "If you want justice, don't have fear. If you want peace, don't be of faint heart."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mr. Toad in Union Grove

"Kunstler is teaching us patience, an attribute that our digital world is trying hard to render obsolete. It is an essential skill for the turn that our collective sense of passing time is poised to make."

A History of The Future  

by James Howard Kunstler

Pulling a copy of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in The Willows off a bookshelf, Andrew Pendergast, without question James Howard Kunstler’s most autobiographical character in this series so far, sits at the bedside of his friend Jack Harron, who is recuperating from a deadly fight with an assailant bent on murdering them both.

“What’s it about?” Jack said when Andrew held up the cover.
“A rat and a mole and a badger and a toad who mess around in boats down by a little stream in the English countryside.”
“They all get along, all these different animals?” Jack said.
“They’re all friends,” Andrew said. “It’s a book about friendship.”

A History of The Future is a book about friendship. It describes another hard won Christmas season in the lives of the citizens of Union Grove, a Hudson Valley town that we have come to know and appreciate in previous installments of the World Made By Hand series. Back are many of the earlier characters, including some we have not seen for quite some time, and new and even more interesting refugees enter our circle of friends.

The novel is an exploration of the process of rebuilding a broken civilization, even as the old continues to decay and collapse in both expected and unexpected ways. Civil society cannot be rebuilt by solitary individuals, religious charismatics, wealthy aristocrats, or fascist dictators although all those find a place in this future world. It takes the whole lot — the rats, the moles, the badgers and the toads — struggling to cooperate as friends, to find common ground and stand a chance.

Kunstler is a moralist. His good guys win. The bad guys get what they deserve, or are just left to inhabit whatever Hell they’ve made for themselves. The tale, though, revolves around what a good guy has to do, just to survive.

The Yiddish word beshert refers to that which God has given. And, in Judaism — as in Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and probably every other religion — there has always been a heated debate about how much of fate is determined by higher authority — a monster in the sky, as Paul Erhlich says — and how much is the result of human choices — good and bad. To quote Maimonides,  “Every human being can be righteous or wicked, merciful or cruel, avaricious or charitable. There is no compulsion exerted upon one. A person chooses one’s way with one’s own determination.”

Maimonides, who lived in Spain at the end of the 12th century, also did not think of progress in terms of technological or cultural advancement, as cumulative. Maimonides said it was cyclical. This is the aboriginal view, and for someone in his time and place, or even now, it’s quite a radical notion. For Kunstler, we can foretell our future by simply surveying the contemporary milieu — global Ponzi economics, gas gauge on ‘E’, weather getting weird — but history is circular. After the cataclysm comes another Christmas.

We have often disagreed with Kunstler’s provincial view of the American South as it occasionally pops up in his nonfiction essays and books. Kunstler is such a devout Yankee that he has often portrayed New England wisdom and ingenuity as the sole province of the old Union; that below the Mason-Dixon Line there be nothing but Skol-chewing bubbas, hearing-damaged NASCAR fanatics, racial bigots and fried food junkies imprisoned by air conditioning.

The War of Northern Aggression, in our humble opinion, was, like most wars, all about energy. The North was rich in coal and the factories run by that magnificent jewel of fossil sunlight. Then, mid-18th century, Col. Drake discovered bubbling “coal oil” in Pennsylvania, a real game changer.

In contrast to these überpowerful energy slaves, the Southern states operated on the old economy, you know, the human and animal-powered one. The one that built the pyramids of Egypt and Mesoamerica, and Machu Picchu and the Great Wall. The Southern plantation economy was based on imports of African slaves. The North had the luxury of enough fossil energy slaves to afford emancipation of its human ones. The moral rectitude to actually do so gradually arrived, in fits and starts. Then they had to lord it over everyone else.

Until Texas and Louisiana discovered oil half a century later, the South had no such leeway. In the epic 19th Century contest between machine power and humans, the machine won. A region of the United States that was militarily superior in the acumen of its Generals, the skill of its cavalry and the esprit of brotherly men in arms was occupied and enslaved, then punished for more than a century, reduced to the lowest echelons on every index of human welfare, and finally addicted to talk radio, NASCAR and air conditioning. But don’t count them out.

Surprisingly, Kunstler doesn’t. He takes a more generous tack in A History of the Future. The South, while enthralled by Christian bigots, has established itself as a rival government to what is left of the federal sovereignty, rumored to be somewhere up in the Great Lakes. The center of this rival government is at Franklin, Tennessee, a town with which we are personally very familiar — Old Highway 31S is a route we’ve bicycled.

Franklin today embodies much of what Kunstler-the-non-fiction-expert-on-urban-design lauds. It revitalized its pedestrian downtown by moving traffic out to encircling corridors; enshrined its landmark buildings; in-filled the broken teeth on Main Street with antebellum vernacular; and revived the local arts, theater and music scene. While it has become for now a tony bedroom community for wealthy Nashville commuters, it is a perfect setting for a national capitol in a more austere and decentralized future. In many ways, Franklin Tennessee is Union Grove, only hotter.

The World Made By Hand series gives only short glimpses of the changes in weather that lie in store for any future history. There may be a shortage of wheat or a ruined season for other crops, but Union Grove still gets snow in winter. Sacramento is still above water and apparently no one has died of insect swarms or clathrate flares. Changes in climate, which are almost certain to radically alter our lives in the next 50 years, are not really part of this story.

In any science fiction yarn that becomes a series a writer has to be alert to the danger of revealing too much backstory lest new narrative choices are straightjacketed in with the old, or worse, the details he describes are so ludicrous in light of actual events that his work later falls into ridicule.

In his first two novels, much of Kunstler’s imagined history remained cloaked in mystery and conjecture. As the dust jacket tells the casual browser, “The electricity has flickered out. The automobile age is over. The computers are all down for good. Two great cities have been destroyed. Epidemics have ravaged the population. The people of a little town named Union Grove, in upstate New York, know little about what is going on outside Washington County.”

The third novel gives a much larger sweep of the shocks that presaged the predicament in which the people of Union Grove find themselves. Our “messenger,” Robert Earle’s long lost son Daniel, arrives back on Christmas Eve, near dead from exhaustion and hunger, to tell the story of what he saw “out there.”

So gripping is his story that in the print edition, Grove Atlantic has set it apart with a change of font and format. It is a novel within a novel, and we would defy anyone to set it down for longer than it takes to refill a teacup. With Daniel’s story Kunstler has us in his grip, but he teases us with the intermittent resumption of the “real time” plots and subplots, leaving us hanging onto our curiosity as we wade through the needs of Union Groves’ badgers and moles for their part in the tale. Kunstler is teaching us patience, an attribute that our digital world is trying hard to render obsolete. It is an essential skill for the turn that our collective sense of passing time is poised to make.

When you walk from home to work, or to shop; when you sit out to watch the sunset instead of the television; when you spend a day teaching yourself bicycle mechanics, watercolor, or cheese making — you are once again present in the world. To the uninitiated, peering in at this scenario for the future, it all seems so very quaint. Hardly.

“I got forty-six highly motivated skilled men with good tools,” Brother Jobe tells Magistrate Stephen Bullock. “That’s my insurance. And, by the way, if you thought that was funny, it ain’t.”

This review originally appeared on Resilience.

Albert Bates is author of his own positive vision of the future, The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook (New Society Publishers 2006), and provided a practicable remedy for global carbon imbalance with The Biochar Solution (New Society Publishers 2010). When not giving workshops at Mother Earth News Fairs he teaches permaculture and natural building in an ecovillage in Tennessee, future capital of the New South.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

One Hundred Thirty Nine Square Miles of Sand, Part III: Denouement

"There is no peace through war. Peace only comes by being peaceful. There is no justice through violence. Justice can only be achieved by non-violence. Ultimately, there can be no peace without first finding a path to justice. It is that simple, and that difficult."

Francisco de Goya, No llegan a tiempo
Deir Yassin was like Black Kettle’s village on the Washita River. Gaza is Wounded Knee.

Before the current invasion, Yuval Diskin former director of Israel's internal security service Shin Bet, told Der Spiegel:

"They [Palestinians] will never accept the status quo of the Israeli occupation. When people lose hope for an improvement of their situation, they radicalize. That is the nature of human beings. The Gaza Strip is the best example of that. All the conditions are there for an explosion. So many times in my life I was at these junctions that I can feel it almost in my fingertips."

Francisco de Goya, It will be the same
The Israeli Cabinet, unable to decide mission or rules of engagement, turned the decision over to the IDF. Which is to say, in 2014, turned it over to the military industrial corporate world by which the IDF, like its US counterparts, has long been captured. The Masters of War decided IDF could spend a year’s defense budget, or five, if it wanted, on the Gaza campaign. It would all be replaced with newer, more advanced, and more expensive munitions over the next few contract cycles. What might 10 or 20 billion in ordnance do to one hundred thirty nine square miles of sand? Only time will tell. There are no restraints.

We keep hearing in the Western press that the current military offensive in Gaza is a reprisal for kidnapping and murder of three Israeli yeshiva students; and the later firing of rockets by Hamas militants in Gaza when an Israeli settler mob killed a Palestinian child and Israeli police severely beat another. But we have to ask, in all honesty, really?

The military decision had nothing whatsoever to do with these prior events. It came at the end of one of the most tranquil periods in many years. Those events were pretext for what had already been planned — “mowing the grass” as the commanders called it. 

Missile strike on Gazan farm, Unosat image by NY Times
At first glance it seems an impossible task. Israel's strategy in the twenty-first century against hostile non-state groups, such as Hamas, and even moderate two-state initiatives, is disengagement, subversion and brutal reprisal for any offense. Israel and Palestine thus find themselves in a protracted intractable conflict. The use of force in such a conflict is not intended to attain political goals, but rather to debilitate or ridicule the opponent.

The Gaza operation’s army code-name is “Protective Edge” in English, but the original Hebrew is more revealing: Tzuk Eitan, or “solid cliff.” That, the army seemed to feel, is where Israel is headed.

The western press likes to frame the story “as if Palestinians and Israelis were fighting each other on an equal level playing field,” says Mnar Muhawesh, a journalist who lived in Jerusalem (and, in 2009, the first US reporter to wear the hijab to anchor/report the news).

“It was framed as Muslim versus Jew, and the Palestinians were referred to as terrorists or militants in most media coverage. However, the majority of our neighbors in Jerusalem were Palestinian Christians suffering from the same military occupation as their fellow Muslim Palestinians. This was no Muslim versus Jew fight.”

Francisco de Goya, May 3rd
As in Deir Yassin, the Christian churches of Gaza, which seem to be untargeted at the moment, have given shelter to displaced families. At least one pastor has said that Islamic prayers in his church are welcome.

Israel has been surprised by the resistance but, actually, it only helps Israel, not Palestine, when rockets are fired from Gaza. As Israeli peace activist Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote recently, Hamas rocket attacks are “the best friend of the Israeli settlers, right-wing Israeli extremists, and the Netanyahu government.”

“Netanyahu's recent statement essentially confirming that he will never accept an independent Palestinian state show how foolish the US’s calls for ‘more negotiations’ are, because the US just adds fuel to the fire by simultaneously asserting that it supports Israel's right to defend itself when in danger. Israel’s legitimate fear of ISIS, Iran, and fundamentalist forces in the Middle East, does not excuse the state from confronting those of us who argue that the strategy of ‘power over’ is not one that will strengthen Israel in the long run—it will weaken it.


Hamas’s demands all seem quite reasonable to most Palestinians, and really make sense: free the newly arrested Palestinians who were doing nothing but sitting in their homes when Israeli troops invaded looking for the three kidnapped Israeli teens (a complete sham since the Israeli top leadership knew [for 18 days] that those teens had already been murdered the very night they were kidnapped), stop the blockade of Gaza and allow Gazans access to the Mediterranean sea for fishing purposes, and end the targeted assassinations of Palestinians and the drone strikes that have caused an average of 2-3 children to die every week for the past eight years (something that most Israelis and most Americans don't know or can't grasp).”

Clashing Perspectives

In much the way that Hamas short-term goals strengthen the hand of Israeli NeoCons, so continued unfettered financial aid plays into the hands of Arab militant groups and those who would rather Israel simply ceased to exist. As Joel Bainerman, publisher of Tel Aviv Business, wrote for Middle East Quarterly:

“In the debate over U.S. aid to Israel, politics has always taken precedence over economics: supporters of Israel in the United States see money as a means to express commitment to Israel. But this is a mistake. … Unless Israel's supporters see the wealth-generating capability of the Israeli people and their thriving industries, the Jewish state will remain relegated to economic and political dependency, no matter how high its per capita GDP or how large its economy.”

Gaza Main Power Station July 30, photo by @Farah_Gazan
Israel is the only country to receive nearly all of its economic aid in the form of a cash payment. By spending a mere tenth of one percent of the defense spending budget it receives from the United States on elections of Congressmen and Senators in the United States (with no restrictions because of the U.S. Supreme Court), Israel can choose whom it wishes to win any US (or UK, or EU, or Ukrainian) election and whom it wishes to lose. This political truth is clear to anyone running for national office, as can be readily seen from any of their public statements. This is the Balfour legacy: a pox on the governments that divided Transjordan. They are now captives of the devil they knew.

Perhaps we should be grateful. In the Tea Bag era, foreign aid is perhaps the least popular budget item but Israel is easily the most popular recipient of funds. Its presence is often the only thing that makes it possible to pass a bill assisting victims of tsunamis, drought, war and AIDS.

And over that dark cabal — the militaries, the elected officials, the economies that control the citizenry by enclosing the commons — is one ring to rule them all — the ring of corptopcracy; the plutocrats, gold parachutists, vulture capital lenders and banksters. Gaza is being reduced to rubble because there are profits to be made.

Israel had a chance to de-fang Hamas by endorsing the coalition government and all of the concessions Hamas made to get that to happen. It did the opposite, condemning the coalition. Israel had the chance to follow the roadmap to a Two State Solution and instead continued to colonize the West Bank with illegal settlements. We could go on ad nauseum, and can readily acknowledge the Palestinians cannot claim clean hands or clear conscience either. 

Always attracted by its natural beauty and heroic inhabitants, we have returned to Israel and Palestine often since 1991. We have visited scores of kibbutzim and lived in two of them for a time. We have stayed in the Palestinian West Bank, where today we sponsor a Peace thru Permaculture project at a farm near Nabluus. We went with our Muslim friends to morning and evening prayer, learned to make hummus and pita, and picked fresh olives.

We have also shared a Shavuot banquet out in the moonlight on kibbutz under a canopy of lights, and listened to the kuddish recited over a glass of wine, eaten apple slices dipped in honey, and broken challah on Rosh Hashanah in Tel Aviv. These cultures should not be at war. They are very similar; brothers and sisters under the skin. They worship one God, revere desert traditions, and share a common love of the same birds, butterflies and flowers.

Until the political duels of great powers spilled into their region in search of oil, they lived together in peace and prosperity.

For Israel today, it is whack-a-mole. Even if Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or other groups could be terminated, the alternatives are draconian: Israeli occupation rule; risky elections with the possibility of even more radical groups; or continuing civilian bombings like Gaza. To the policymakers, there are no good choices.

But actually, there are.

Peace never comes from the barrel of a gun. It comes from willingness to be peaceful in seeking fair and just solutions, even when outrages surround you.

16 March 2003, Rafah, Occupied Gaza. Rachel
Corrie holds a megaphone and pleads with the
IDF soldier who is about to kill her.
It takes courage. We remember with tears in our eyes 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, of Olympia Washington, who, in 2003, placed herself in front of an IDF bulldozer to protect a Palestinian family, and was mowed down in plain view of the driver, who then reversed and backed his blade back over her limp body. 

We think about that young Israeli soldier in 1991, about Rachel Corrie’s age, standing guard in his iron tower at Gaza Beach and thinking how idyllic the scene was. Turning around, he looked down the barrel of his Uzi at 1000 Palestinians, most of them boys of 14 or 16, arrested and imprisoned for life for throwing stones, or because another boy, under hideous torture, named a friend or rival as an accomplice whether it was true or not. That boy wrote: 
“We too, in our way, are the victims…. I realize that the problem is the division of labor—the labor of evil. This division makes it possible for evil to take place apparently without evil people.
Francisco de Goya, Prisoner III
After all, the people who voted ‘Likud’ aren’t evil. And the ministers who sit in the Likud government aren’t evil. They don’t hit children in the stomach with their fists. And the chief of staff is not evil. He carries out what the elected government obliges him to carry out. And the commander of the internment facility is not evil—really not. And the interrogators—well, after all, they are doing their job. And it is, they say, impossible to govern the territories unless they do it. And as for the jailers, most of them are not evil either. 

Yet in some magical way, all these not-evil people manage together to produce a result that is very evil indeed. Worse: a result that is evil itself. And evil is always greater than the sum of its parts. Or the sum of those who contribute to it. 

That is to say: despite our Schweikian exterior, our clumsiness, our pathetic petty-bourgeois ways, we are the evil in Gaza. Only this evil of ours is an evil in disguise. A cunning evil. For it is an evil that happens, as it were, apart. The responsibility is no one’s.”

We would not venture so far as to say the responsibility is no one’s. We play our part every time we pay our taxes or vote for another fawning lapdog politician. Every young Israeli who chooses to serve instead of becoming a conscientious objector takes responsibility. Every Palestinian who hurls a rock or votes for Hamas must take responsibility.

Sarah Vardi spent 3 years in prison for her beliefs, photo by Judy Rand
And then there is Sahar Vardi. Her Israeli father went to prison as a sarvanim—a conscientious objector. When Sahar was a young girl she would join her father with Ta’ayush, a coexistence group of Israelis and Palestinians. She went to work with Palestinian villagers planting trees and tending crops. She witnessed first-hand what few Israeli children ever see: abuse from teenage soldiers whose powers are unchecked; 1000-year-old olive trees bulldozed; taunts and insults from militant immigrant settlers; the slow, random, meaningless bleeding deaths in ambulances stopped for hours at checkpoints.

She recalls that “[t]he shock was not from the brutality of the occupation or of a specific soldier, but from witnessing the ordinary day-to-day situation of going through checkpoints, fearing the demolition of their homes and knowing that every 18-year old soldier has the power to control their life.”

Sahar is now 21 years old.  In addition to her on-going work as a conscientious objector to military service, Sahar now also actively protests the eviction of Arab Israeli families from their homes in order to make way for Jewish settlements. She is working with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement.

There is no peace through war. Peace only comes by being peaceful. There is no justice through violence. Justice can only be achieved by non-violence. Ultimately, there can be no peace without first finding a path to justice. It is that simple, and that difficult.

Boycotting Apartheid

On July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice declared Israel’s Wall in the Occupied Territories (OT) illegal, Palestinians called upon people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel until Palestinian human rights are restored. 

The campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad demographics of the Palestinians: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:

  • Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
  • Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

Peace Protest in Tel Aviv
The BDS  strategy is unifying many who used to argue. It is now endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements. And, it is going global.

We had intended to close this 3-part series with a link to a new crowdfunding campaign, but that did not turn out as we expected. Our Palestinian partners felt it would be unethical and unseemly to turn the groundswell of world sympathy for Gaza to their benefit. 

Moreover, as one of our partners, a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem, pointed out:

My main concern with this is the abuse of the peace concept especially on an environmental level. The BDS movement is growing and becoming strong and after many discussions we had with many permaculturists in Palestine, there seems to be an agreement to follow the BDS guidelines when it comes to permaculture work or environmental work in general. Therefore, any campaign that calls for peace is highly criticized unless it is with partners that are officially acknowledging occupation and are working to a just peace and an end to the control of land and resources. Unfortunately, no Israeli permaculture farm is willing to do that and especially not [green kibbutzim].

Still, to walk the long walk to peace we have to exchange each other's shoes.

So, for example, Noam Chomsky makes the point  that “the United States should also be condemned and punished for providing the decisive military, economic, diplomatic and even ideological support for these crimes.”  We wholly concur. Indeed, true justice dictates that the US should get out of North America and pay reparations to the continent’s original inhabitants, as well as restoring their lands, forests, soils and animals.

Irish Protest, Aug 1
That said, even we would have great difficulty adopting a boycott of all US-made products and services to accomplish that end. There is no way we could still remain living here in Tennessee and adhere to such a boycott. Perhaps that is the point with respect to the Boycott National Committee's position towards Israeli peace activists — they should first acknowledge the occupation and then adopt BDS. Easy enough for outside permaculturists to endorse BDS. Not so easy for Israeli permies, or even Palestinian permaculturists living inside Israel.

Permaculture brings peace by achieving food sovereignty, decolonizing our food systems and supporting local producers. It restores the natural world that makes human life possible, even in the desert. People care/Earth care. This is as true in a war zone as anywhere.

Our Palestinian friend concluded:

“I also firmly believe that through permaculture, we will achieve and regain our dignity, sovereignty and power to make the occupation and the government that designed it obsolete — and not merely a peace opportunity.”

We do what we can. Using our website and tax-exempt number, we channel donations directly to  permaculture projects inside both Israel and the OT.  We support the peace flotillas. We recommend especially worthy crowdsource campaigns.  We urge anyone who can, to go there and get a personal experience. Apprentice or take a permaculture course. Volunteer to work alongside Sahir Vardi, wherever she goes. Get on the right side of history.

Lord Balfour may have had the best of intentions, but what he created is something no one should have to endure. If the British had wanted it to be over quickly, they should have gone with Uganda.


The situation may take a sharp turn very soon in any event. Sweltering temperatures and a rising sea will place more demands on an already precarious water supply. Keeping all those high-rise buildings air-conditioned will take a lot more energy. Electricity? There’s a gap of 100 to 150 billion cubic meters between what Israel’s Natural Gas Authority says will be needed by 2020 and what can be produced. Moreover, Israel’s geologists are warning that its natural gas, now one of its major exports, is unlikely to last much longer.

Canadian analyst Michel Chossudovsky has estimated that the amount of natural gas BP has in proven reserves just off Gaza could make Palestine as gas-rich as Kuwait, to the tune of $4 billion at current world prices. That assumes a lot, such as the willingness of Palestine’s government to sacrifice life on Earth by bringing that gas up and selling it (for the value of a one year in public and private US aid to Israel). 

If Gaza ceases to exist as part of Palestine, however, that decision would fall to Israel. It would have to choose between the political truth of air conditioning demanded now and the physical consequence of human extinction a century or more from now. And, when that gas is gone — and the sun is beating down hotter than before — what then?

Take away natural gas, electricity or international aid and what do you have left? If the Cuban Special Period was a preview for what is coming globally, Israel should be preparing for the possibility all its major donors might suddenly be forced to pull the plug on their aid. Philanthropy is already running through a gauntlet of calls for boycott. Nations will too.

If the national electric grid runs out of gas and oil, the supply of food in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will be gone in just a few days. What then?

Israelis will suddenly realize that those thousands of agricultural kibbutzim that used to support the economy, and did so amazingly even before modern petrochemical farming, are no longer there, and you can’t eat bullets, helicopter parts and drone software.

In the collapse scenario, who’s the biggest loser? People living in high rises in urban areas, the ones that have moonlight jazz bands on their patios. Who wins? Rural farmers with solid family connections to tribal village support systems. Who are they? Palestinians, by and large.




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