Community Forum

Joel Valdez Main Library, Downtown

According to the organizers: “This community forum will kick off a huge campaign to show Washington that we’re done letting our Democracy be ruled by the profits of giant
corporations. We’re going to gather together in towns and cities around the
country and come up with great ideas about how we organize millions of
Americans to use legislation, elections, and community events to send a
clear message–that enough is enough, and ordinary citizens are coming
back to demand that government work for us.

…The recent Supreme Court decision that lets corporations have the same rights as
people in elections is the final straw. This is a 5 alarm fire–democracy is in
peril. And it’s going to require a citizen army to fight corporate influence,
demand real accountability from our elected leadership, and reboot
American democracy so it works for the hard-working people who make this
country great.”

Everyone is invited, RSVP encouraged:

Outlier Views on Climate Change

Max Boykoff, an expert in the cultural politics and media coverage of climate change, will speak at the University of Arizona about how climate change and outlier views of it are portrayed by the news and entertainment industries. Boykoff, assistant professor at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado-Boulder, will deliver his talk, “Who speaks for the climate? Understanding media representations of outlier views on climate change,” on Tuesday, May 4, at 3:30 PM in Room 531 of the Louis Foucar Marshall Building, 845 N. Park Ave. The UA’s Institute of the Environment, School of Geography and Development, and School of Journalism are hosting the event. If you would like to meet Max during his UA visit please contact Lou Regalado at For more information, visit

Energy Efficiency Seminar

Kiva Room of the Student Union Memorial Center
University of Arizona

Seminar Synopsis
The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Imperative for a Robust Economy

Speakers: John Laitner and Jeff Schlegel

Observers of U.S. energy policy might think of energy efficiency as a useful tool to manage the growth of our nation’s energy consumption. They might also see it as a means to ease our transition into a post-carbon world. There is an emerging body of evidence which compels a significantly greater attention to the critical role of energy efficiency and renewable energy investments in maintaining a more productive and more prosperous economy.

This seminar will focus on the importance of energy productivity and the surprising opportunities that might greatly accelerate the nation’s historical growth in economic productivity.

or call: 520-322-2970

Genetically Engineered Crops

You may want to read at least the free summary of the recent National Academy of Science report on The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States.

According to the summary:

“Corn, cotton, and soybean that have been engineered to resist insect pests and herbicides are now planted on almost half of all U.S. cropland. An analysis of the U.S. experience with genetically engineered crops shows that they offer substantial net environmental and economic benefits compared to conventional crops; however, these benefits have not been universal, some may decline over time, and potential benefits and risks may become more numerous as the technology is applied to more crops. Understanding the impacts of genetically engineered crops is vital to ensuring that crop-management practices and future research and development efforts realize the full potential of genetic engineering for commercial as well as public goods purposes, while maintaining the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of U.S. farms.”

The full report can be read online:

US Social Forum 2010

The US SOCIAL FORUM will take place in Detroit, Michigan.

The US Social Forum (USSF) is a movement building process. It is not a conference but it is a space to come up with the peoples’ solutions to the economic and ecological crisis. The USSF is the next most important step in our struggle to build a powerful multiracial, multisectoral, inter-generational, diverse, inclusive, internationalist movement that transforms this country and changes history.

The US Social Forum will provide a space to build relationships, learn from each other’s experiences, and share analysis of the problems our communities face. It will help develop leadership, vision, and strategy needed to realize another world.

Another World is Possible. Another US is Necessary!

For more information visit:


You‚re Invited to a FREE Public Showing





Saturday, APRIL 24, 2010—-TIME: 9:30 a.m.

The World According to Monsanto, a film by Marie-Monique Robin, documents the devastating cost of Monsanto‚s race over the last decade to genetically engineer and patent the world‚s crops. Ms. Robin has traveled the globe in an effort to capture the human toll of Monsanto‚s drive for GMO market domination. Her interviews with scientists, legislators, agricultural officials, farmers, shepherds and families affected by GMOs, has made this picture critically-acclaimed in every country where it has opened.


Presented by Thought Provoking DVD Films

and the GMO Free Project of Tucson

CONTACTS:  Alma Sychuk: 520.648.6416

Mascha Miedaner ˆ GMO Free Project of Tucson

520.481.1128 <>

National Volunteer Week Open House

The Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona cordially invites you to join us as we celebrate the contribution that volunteers make in Southern Arizona and the role that the Volunteer Center plays in building capacity for volunteer service throughout our communities.

There will be light refreshments, a scavenger hunt, a Wish Tree, and a raffle. The scavenger hunt will be a fun, interactive experience. Every guest who completes the scavenger hunt will win a free raffle ticket.

The Wish Tree will give our guests the opportunity to write the change they wish to see in our community on colorful paper and hang it on the festive Wish Tree.

This event is free. Raffle tickets are $5 for one or five tickets for $20. You need not be present to win.

Please join us on Wednesday, April 21st, and feel free to bring a guest! Please RSVP by April 14, 2010, to

We look forward to seeing you at our Open House!

Climate Wise Women

University of Arizona
César E. Chávez Building, Room 301


These community activists can’t wait for politicians and governmental negotiators to get it right on climate change. They want straight talk on what climate change is doing to women, children, families and communities around the world. The tour continues to Asia and the Pacific in Fall 2010 and to Europe in Spring 2011.

This dynamic foursome will be presented in public conversation with a panel to share their experiences and put forward an agenda that can be acted on to guarantee a safe, just and sustainable future for everyone on the planet.

Building a Green Economy

Building a Green Economy
If you listen to climate scientists — and despite the relentless campaign to discredit their
work, you should — it is long past time to do something about emissions of carbon dioxide
and other greenhouse gases. If we continue with business as usual, they say, we are facing a
rise in global temperatures that will be little short of apocalyptic. And to avoid that
apocalypse, we have to wean our economy from the use of fossil fuels, coal above all.
But is it possible to make drastic cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions without destroying our

Read more here:

Changing the City Charter

Join members of the community as proposed changes to the city charter are discussed. According to the hosts, Tucson Young Professionals, these proposals could have a major impact on how our city is run. The meeting will be held in the Tucson Association of Realtor Conference Room, 2445 North Tucson Boulevard. All Members and Guests are encouraged to attend.

Earth Day 2010

The Students for Sustainability at the University of Arizona, are excited to invite you to Earth Day 2010:
Carbon Down Arizona!

Our society is on the path to transitioning into one that embraces sustainability, pursues renewable
forms of energy, and values environmental stewardship. As such, Earth Day is no longer viewed as
a fringe celebration, rather it is a day where all generations can gather to learn about and discuss
relevant issues, brainstorm innovative solutions and create partnerships.

Echoing these themes, this year, Earth Day 2010, will emphasize:

Carbon Down Arizona aims to include student groups, the UA campus community and the
Tucson community. Through a broad audience base and a variety of activities, we will emphasize
the need of not only environmental education and activism but the development of future leaders
in all generations. Through student and professional partnerships, we aim to bridge the expertise of
the community and the unbridled enthusiasm and energy of young professionals in pursuit of innovative solutions.

This year the event is planned to take place on the UA mall, stretching from Old Main to Campbell Blvd.
This move will encourage larger participation by UA students and community, while remaining
accessible to the Tucson community and schools.

Last year, we successfully hosted Earth Day 2009 on University Blvd. with an attendance of over 2,000
community members and students. Similar to last year, Earth Day 2010 will be entirely planned and
hosted by Students for Sustainability. As the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, help us make this year
memorable for the wildcat community as we work together to CARBON DOWN ARIZONA!

Please direct all RSVPs and questions to your Earth Day representative:

Tierra Fender
Students for Sustainability, Earth Day Intern

What Works: Community

By Guy R. McPherson

Published at Energy Bulletin and Guy’s blog: Nature Bats Last

(Guy, a former UA professor, has inspired Sustainable Tucson with his writings and appearances at ST General Meetings during the past four years)

As we continue into the decades-old, but only recently acknowledged era of destruction and extinction, it’s apparent the current model is not working. Truth has fallen and taken liberty with it. A vast majority of Americans are aware the industrial economy clings by the barest of threads but, too fearful of individual retribution to disrupt the industrial culture that is making us crazy and killing us, we hang tightly to the only system we’ve every known. Pathetically reluctant to consider what lies beyond the omnicidal industrial machine, we cling to a system that has failed to nurture the living planet, human individuals, or human communities.

At some point, we simply lost track of the importance of communities, human and otherwise. Along the way to becoming a nation of multitasking, Twittering, Facebook “friends” we abandoned the ability to connect meaningfully, viscerally, individually. If we are to thrive during the post-carbon era, we’ll need to create groups of straight-talking, look-’em-in-the-eye, mean-what-you-say, say-what-you-mean, self-reliant, individuals who are not afraid to ask for help from the neighbors and who, when asked, readily offer assistance.

I know you hate those stories that start with, “When I was a kid, ….” But here goes, regardless. I grew up in a tiny, backwoods, red-neck logging town. By the time I was 18 years old, I’d seen more bar fights than first-run movies. I knew that when a man was driving home after getting whipped in a bar fight, and the man who beat him up drove drunkenly into a ditch on the way home, the guy who got pummeled had no choice but to stop and give a hand to the guy who whipped him. If the whippee didn’t stop to help, and anybody in town found out, he’d be better off driving to the next state than hanging around. Helping neighbors in need was not optional. The benighted community of my youth was a worthless pile of crap. But to me and my neighbors, it was our worthless pile of crap, and an outsider who threatened people in our town would have been better off bobbing for apples in a bucket of piranhas. The people who lived in that town, like the ones who still live there, are shoulder-to-the-wheel, down-to-earth folks who care about their community.

For a diametrically opposed perspective, see contemporary suburbia. Our self-proclaimed independence is a bad joke made possible only by cheap energy. As we leave cheap energy in our wake, it becomes increasingly clear the joke’s on us.

As Dmitry Orlov points out with his usual brilliant wit, communities arise organically. Despite the multi-million dollar efforts of countless scientists at Biosphere II, for example, the resulting collection of communities is a pale and pathetic imitation of the naturally occurring ecosystems they are designed to replicate. As with ecological communities, we know little about human communities and what makes them “work.” Nonetheless, we fill tomes about both kinds of communities. Along the way, a few people, including the always-thoughtful Dan Allen, think before they write. How refreshing is that?

Were I still a self-respecting, objective scientist reluctant to express an opinion or make a forecast, I’d stop with those two endorsements wrapped around a nod to ignorance. Actually, I would proceed to write a grant proposal explaining how I would overcome our collective ignorance for a few hundred grand and 50% overhead. Instead of taking either rational route, it’s onward, through the fog.

Although communities are self-organizing, we are able to nurture them and therefore influence species composition. We can plant trees and pull weeds. We can add water and compost. In fact, we do all these things, and we call the result a garden. As I’ve pointed out in prior posts, scale matters: I’m a huge fan of gardens, for reasons that run from healthy food to healthy psyches, but I detest farms. The former characterize Eden, the latter civilization.

As with ecological communities, I think we can and should nurture our human communities, recognizing and encouraging positive elements and weeding out negative ones. We may not be capable of building communities, but we can work with the ones we’ve got to the betterment of individuals who contribute to the common good. And, as with ecological communities, our ability to nurture human communities will vary. Every community is unique, and will require a unique set of approaches.

Too corny? Maybe. But I’m in the fine company of Plato, Aristotle, and Dan Allen, so I’ll run with it.

As I’ve indicated previously, as recently as my latest post, location is everything. Try nurturing community in the suburban wasteland filling most American cities, and you’ll run smack into the horrifically omnivorous maw of culture. If the most visible portion of every house is the garage, good luck organizing the neighbors into building community gardens fed by harvested rainwater and humanure. If it works in the short run, be sure to keep tabs on all the unprepared, self-indulgent free riders you’ll need to feed and water in the longer run.

I was, and am, quite concerned about my late arrival to the region surrounding the mud hut. As I’ve indicated before, I am quite fortunate to have found a like-minded couple of people who were willing to share their property. Financially, my wife and I could not have pulled this off ourselves. In addition, it would have been unwise from an interpersonal perspective. But our partners have lived in this area for nearly a decade, and they’ve worked hard during that time to develop strong relations with the neighbors. At some level, we’re the free riders I warned about in the previous paragraph. At another level, though, we came to the community with a strong endorsement and a built-in set of human ties.

Thus, my first recommendation: Community starts at home. If you can find somebody who is willing to take you in, I propose pooling resources. Given the increasing poverty in a nation addicted to the stock markets, this counter-cultural notion — which goes against the American cultural ideal of “independence” — is starting to make a lot of sense. I suspect we’ll see a lot more collaboration and a lot less ego-laden, look-at-me-and-my-mansion competition in the years ahead.

After establishing a home-based beachhead, the remainder involves common sense and little else. This ain’t rocket surgery, after all. Make yourself valuable by finding a niche. Provide a service, or set of services, integral to the daily lives of your neighbors. What do they do?

They drink water. So find a way to extract, purify, and deliver water when municipal power is no longer available.

They eat. So find a way to produce healthy food at a smaller scale than the big-box grocery store. Grow chickens, ducks, and goats. Make yogurt, butter, and cheese. And then develop a means of preparing the food without fossil fuels. Think drying racks, sun ovens, and firewood.

They wear clothes. So stock up on needles and strong thread, and sell your skills as a tailor, or even a mender.

They sleep. Make ’em blankets. Or, if you have the requisite skills, beds and other furniture.

Can you care for animals, including human animals? They have tender psyches and bodies that were not designed for the rigors to which they’re about to be subjected. They need therapy, just like the rest of us, and they’ll soon need a lot more. Can you provide it, at a finer scale than the current model, and for barter? Are you a medical herbalist? Can you become one?

They need respite from the drudgery of labor. Already, everything is amazing and nobody is happy. Imagine what our lives will be like when we can’t take our annual summer driving vacation, much less the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe or the Caribbean. Can you spin a yarn or play a tune? I recommend traveling minstrel as an occupation about to make a serious comeback.

They want educated people, and some of them want educated children. If you can write a coherent paragraph and perform long division, you’ll be in constant demand in a world without hand calculators. If you can teach children to perform these miracles, get set to launch your career as a post-carbon teacher.

They have sex. Never mind the world’s oldest profession: The potential for midwives and childcare should be obvious.

I could go on, but the point should be clear by now. As we leave the Age of Entitlement and transition into the Age of Consequences, everybody will need to make a contribution to their community. Those who are unwilling or unable to make a contribution will not be welcome. If you value living in a particular place, think about tight-knit Stone Age communities or contemporary Amish communities. The worst possible fate for an individual is to be shunned, because that means you’ll need to find your own way in a large, unknown world.

So, what about me, and my adopted community? What specific steps have I taken, along with my partners at this property?

We barter, and we’re ratcheting up the barter at every opportunity. These efforts are welcome in a valley filled with self-reliant, life-loving economic doomers. We provide plenty of eggs (chicken and duck) and milk, and in return we have received various kinds of food (fruits, vegetables, and the most wondrous imaginable bread), heirloom seeds and bulbs, a large iron triangle for announcing dinner is ready at the outdoor kitchen, a full clean-and-trim job on our goats’ hooves, and other goods and services too numerous to list (and, in my case, too varied and numerous to remember).

On the personal front, I am working hard to befriend members of my community. I’ve joined an effort to reintroduce river otters into the nearby river, and worked shoulder-to-shoulder on constructing government-mandated otter pods for their release (the pods are large boxes built from plywood and construction lumber). I join a gang of locals at the nearest café for coffee every Tuesday morning (and I don’t drink coffee). I substitute teach at the local K-12 school (“today we’re learning about entropy”). I partake of potlucks and dance parties, as well as more formal annual events such as craft fairs. I’m extremely introverted, so each of these social gatherings is painful. As Nietzsche pointed out, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. Perhaps it’ll make my community stronger, too.

In the not-so-distant future, we intend to provide a much broader array of services to our community. We can extract water from the ground via solar pump and hand pump. In addition to the daily overload of eggs and milk, we’re making and aging plenty of hard cheeses. We’ve stored some luxurious food and drink that will age well (and I don’t even drink alcohol). We can grind grains. We have the capacity to cook food via sun oven, Earth oven (orno), and wood-fired cook stove. We have solar-powered electricity and an assortment of power tools to aid with minor construction projects. This entire infrastructure is designed not merely for our survival, but also for the survival of others in our community. We thrive when our community thrives. We suffer when our community suffers.

I’m certain I’m missing many things. But any number can play, so please help me out. What can we stock for barter? What’s small, inexpensive, and easy to store, yet useful? What other skills should we learn in anticipation of a contracting economy and therefore an enlarging world? What other services can we provide, within the constraints of a small piece of land and little remaining money?

And what about you? How are you preparing for a life of service in the Age of Consequences?


This essay is permalinked at Energy Bulletin (with photos and minor editing).

I’ll be speaking in Sedona, Arizona next week, with an emphasis on water and community. Details are here.

From a March 30 article The Verde Independent:

Most recently, Dr. McPherson served as professor at the UA School of Natural Resources and Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. In 2009, he was recognized as Faculty of the Year…. Dr. McPherson recently left academia for other pursuits. As he put it in his popular blog, Nature Bats Last: “I departed university life for many reasons, among them to dedicate more time informing the world’s citizens about the consequences of the way we live. My message centers on the twin sides of the fossil-fuel coin: global climate change and energy decline (commonly known as “peak oil”). …These unprecedented phenomena impact every aspect of life on Earth, notably including our ability to protect the living planet on which we depend for our own survival.”

As Albert Einstein once said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.” While Dr. McPherson might take exception to that thought, he decided to put it into practice. Today, he and his wife live in an off-grid, straw-bale house where they practice sustainable living by organic gardening, raising small animals for eggs and milk, and actively engaging with members of their rural community

A Return to Scale, Community, and Morality

By Dan Allen

Published by the Energy Bulletin, (  March 30, 2010

SUMMARY: Bound by the tangled cord of its own sins, Industrial Civilization sits immobilized — with the gun of reality pressed to its temple. Monumental changes are imminent – probably (hopefully) a swirling mix of both bad and good. In order to maintain our present sanity and maximize chances for the best possible futures, we need to both envision and embody the positive change we wish to see in the coming post-carbon era. As such, I suggest the following as a worthy set of goals for the coming post-carbon future: a return to life at a proper ‘human’ scale, the reclamation of functional human communities, and the widespread internalization and application of a true morality. Heck, it’s worth a shot. Hey-ho, let’s go!


Click…click…click…click…The hammer keeps falling on an empty chamber, but the inevitable bullet slowly advances.

Bound by the tangled cord of its own sins, Industrial Civilization sits immobilized — with the gun of reality pressed to its temple. Any of the following might suffice for the kill shot: a surge in oil prices; a national debt default; a rapid devaluation of the dollar; an outburst of violence in the simmering Middle East ; a terrorist strike on some key national infrastructure; a monstrous storm or other natural disaster. There are other possibilities of course. Take your pick.

And this next shot just might be the one that undermines its foundations and topples it into catastrophic collapse. …Or it may just mark the next leg down – another mortal wound; the next morbid installment of our socio-enviro-economic Long Emergency. But in the tenuous final months (years?) of our industrial civilization, I brace myself every single day as I open the paper: Is today the day? Is today the day the gun goes off? Is today the day we’re forcibly wrenched off of our industrial teat? Is today the day we’re on our own?

But, of course, it’s not only that.

This grim economic drama is played out against a backdrop of an even more ominous environmental degradation – the metaphorical ‘falling piano’ of climatic destabilization. Profound disturbances to our planet’s energy balance threaten to, at best, slowly erode the stability of the climate system over the next century – and at worst, devolve catastrophically in the span of perhaps a few decades or so to a new (and quite probably human-unfriendly) stable state.

Meanwhile, the CO2 rises, the planet warms, the ice-caps and mountain-glaciers melt, the oceans acidify, the permafrost destabilizes and begins to de-gas, the species blink out at an increasing rate, the droughts and storms intensify, and the seas rise steadily towards our coastal cities, aquifers, and farmland.

For as we dither and deceive, the entropic arrow of time marches steadily onward.

Tick, tick, tick, tick…


It was, of course, all foreseen long ago. We were warned. (See, for example, the interview with David Orr at

But we chose the easy path – the childish, impulsive, arrogant, blithely-limitless, material-worshiping path. We followed our worst instincts as a species and have ended up facing the worst of all predicaments.

It will not be surprising when it comes to a head – economically or environmentally — yet we will certainly feign surprise. We will gnash our teeth and curse our perceived enemies. We will fire our missiles and expand the detention camps. We will be uprooted and tossed about like rag dolls. We will continue to choose the easy path; the path of comforting lies; the wrong path. And we will reap the bitter fruits we have sown for two centuries.

Or maybe not.

Maybe it’ll all just fizzle out. Maybe the industrial economy will just recede away from us like water draining from a tub – leaving us dripping cold and naked; on our own. Maybe then we’ll lock the missile silos and reactors; open the prisons; empty the shopping malls, supermarkets, and office buildings; abandon our cars in the driveways; take a walk around the neighborhood; knock on our neighbor’s door; and get down to work.

And maybe we – or some of us, at least – will find it possible to follow the righteous path; the path of reorienting our species with biophysical reality; the path of hard, honest work and reverent spirituality. And we can then perhaps – even a little bit (maybe?) – taste the sweet fruits of peace and community.

Who knows? Maybe it’ll be a schizophrenic mix of both good and bad in a swirling mix in time and place. Or maybe there’s something I’m missing. If somebody (me included, of course) tells you they know for sure – good or bad — you can be sure they’re wrong.


So where does that leave us? It leaves us in limbo — in excitement and dread; in serenity and restlessness; elated and despondent; reaching out and withdrawn; good-humored and angry; purposeful and tentative.

A student came to me the other day and asked me, in light of all that was wrong, how she could maintain her cheerfulness and positive outlook. She didn’t want to lose it and was confused. And she had trouble reconciling the things I was saying and writing with my generally-cheery and positive personality.

She didn’t ask this next question, but I asked it of myself, “Why am I not depressed about all this?”

Because she certainly has a point. It’s some pretty horrible stuff. Monumental change of any sort is scary as hell, and this is about as monumental as it gets — the collapse of the largest, most complex civilization in the history of the planet; and perhaps even ultimately the collapse of the biosphere itself. This could quite possibly be a bona fide horror show. And perhaps we have every reason to dread the future and crawl into our dark holes of self-pity and grim survivalism.

So why the heck am I NOT depressed? Why am I cautiously optimistic about the future?

Am I unable or unwilling to grasp the true magnitude of the change that’s coming? Am I naively discounting or unfeeling of the suffering that will certainly accompany it? What’s WRONG with me? Do I WANT the suffering to occur? Because if industrial civilization tanked, all my hand-wringing would finally be proven right. “Ha hA ha HA – See everybody, I’m not a kook! I was right! I was right!” Am I a monster or something?

Well I certainly hope not. And I don’t think so.

I think perhaps the explanation for my curious lack of dread comes down to this: a sort of mental weighing-out of the things that may and will be lost in the coming times versus things that may and will be gained. And I think I have already, to some degree at least, reconciled some of the losses and envisioned the possible gains. In my mind, I have already gone through some degree of mourning for our past, present, and future losses and emerged into some partial form of acceptance.

And I have also consciously begun working towards laying the groundwork for the envisioned gains. Futile efforts? Perhaps. But maybe not. Maybe crucial.


So what have I mourned for – in part, at least? I can think of a few things.

Firstly (of course) I have mourned for myself. I have let go of the notion that my Industrial Civilization® membership card entitles me to live essentially forever outside of biological reality – to replace my malfunctioning organs with synthetic or borrowed ones as needed; to vanquish, at a moment’s notice and with potent synthetic chemicals, the countless microorganisms who desire to eat my flesh. I accept that I really have no right to live past the functioning life of my body – whatever that turns out to be. I have no right to immortality. That wish was a ridiculous industrial fantasy – part of the fundamental disconnect between the industrial version of our species and the Earth. I am ready to go when called. I don’t want to, of course – I love this Earth — but I’m reconciled to it. I have already mourned for my lost industrial pseudo-immortality.

And I have already mourned, in part, for the countless species that have been exterminated forever from this planet – and for those whose termination is already guaranteed by the coming climate catastrophe; changes that have already been set in motion and cannot be stopped. I cannot, of course, name even a small fraction of the already-departed and the walking-dead — but as Derrick Jensen movingly writes, they are all our kin. We have been killing ourselves. It does not matter if they are familiar or nameless, great or tiny, in our yards or out of sight – they are our kin and we have killed them. We ARE killing them. They are blinking out now… and now… and now… and now… and now…

And I have mourned, to some small degree at least, for those of my own species – perhaps those of my own family – who will not make it through the changes ahead. I have only seen pictures of war but it feels like war is coming. Isolated or nation-wide, skirmishes or conflagrations, remote or in my very house — I don’t know. But war, when it comes, may take many of us. It may even take most of us. It is, of course, by no means a stranger to our nation. And it is part of our very nature as a species. But we have not addressed it honestly and critically when we could have; when we had the resources to do so. We have not nurtured the safeguards against it. So it will be here again.

There are other things, of course, that have been and will be lost, but that is enough.


So I have already mourned – in some fashion, at least — for these things. But again, I don’t ONLY see what has been, is being, and will be lost. That would surely be the end of me.

My seemingly-incongruous optimism, I think, comes from also seeing what MIGHT be – what COULD be. And it comes from perhaps seeing some ways we might get there. I think I can see some of these things – through the guidance of many brilliant, beautiful people, of course — and I think that’s what keeps my heart afloat. THAT’S why I’m not depressed – why I am even hopeful.

(As an aside, I suspect that it is the lack of the appropriate mental tools needed to envision some livable post-carbon future that traps many people in the other less-productive ‘camps’ of futurism: the techno-utopians, the ammo-and-canned-soup survivalist doomers, and the head-in-the-sand neo-optimists. For others, I suppose, the reason is just flat-out greed for short-term profits – i.e. the inability to imagine ANY future beyond the next ‘take’. But I digress.)

So in this ‘hope for the future’ I possess, what might we make of a new post-carbon world? What COULD it be? And how might we get there?

I’ll elaborate a little bit on this now – on some things that might be gained as we move beyond industrial civilization.

There are many possibilities, of course, but in the interest of space, I’ll discuss just three here: (1) a return of the human sphere to its proper scale, (2) the profoundly uplifting promises of genuine community, and (3) the possible reclamation of morality from its industrial sewer.

These are my seeds of hope in an industrial climate reeling with loss and despair. These are the ideas that put a glimmer in my eye and a smile on my face even when confronted daily with the toxic depredations of my civilization.


But before I outline more fully these ‘seeds of hope’, I want to give a very brief overview of their current perversions at the hands of industrial civilization. I do this to underscore both the imposing magnitude of our reclamation tasks – i.e. what we’re up against as a starting point – and the profound importance that such a reclamation succeeds. For it MUST succeed if we wish to create (in James Kunstler’s phrasing) ‘lives worth living and places worth caring about.’

Let’s begin with our civilization’s gross perversion of scale, since that has perhaps influenced all else.

It was, of course, our easy access to rivers of concentrated ancient sunlight (i.e. fossil fuels) that enabled industrial civilization to expand its scale far beyond anything imaginable to other human civilizations. These great rivers of energy made it possible to (temporarily) beat back the universal tide of entropy and construct physical and bureaucratic entities of dizzying organizational and technological complexity. And these entities were then assembled to access and unleash even more of this fossil energy; doing work of astonishing magnitudes on the lithosphere, oceans, atmosphere, and biosphere of our planet – and altering it to a huge, sometimes-almost-unrecognizable degree in the process.

But this exponential expansion of the scale at which we have operated has had profound negative impacts on the Earth’s biosphere, our human communities, and our very thought patterns.

For one thing, we have turned out to be famously poor ecosystem managers on a planetary scale. We absurdly misidentified both resource pools and waste sinks as effectively infinite. We ignored — and even worked actively to obscure(!) — the flashing red warning signals offered by the planetary biogeochemical system. Ecologically speaking, we tragically projected the wasteful, early-successional program of our industrial civilization onto the larger planetary scale. We were never able to approach, or even TRY to approach, something resembling a mature, steady-state approach to ecosystem management.

A quick scan of the scientific literature, of course, will show that the ecological chickens from this delusional industrial program are starting to come home to roost — in spades, unfortunately.

Our human communities were another grim casualty of the industrial program. The industrial program of ‘biggering’ everything (see Seuss’ The Lorax) – approaching its fruition now in the form of industrial globalization – has been utterly toxic to the functioning of traditional human communities. While the pressures of increasing economic scale undermined the economic foundations of these human communities, the ideology of predatory consumerism eroded their social fabric. The once-numerous, economically-vibrant, semi-self-sufficient, culturally-rich communities across the US have now been largely replaced with their polar opposite: economically-morbid, global-supply-chain-dependent residences of dispirited and atomized consumers.

The slowly-creeping, seemingly-optional spread of this cultural cancer has rendered it — largely in the span of just six decades — the ‘new normal.’ It is a deep credit to the dark skill of our corporate spin-masters that we don’t even collectively realize the extent of our profound degradation as a culture over this relatively short time period.
And under all of this, it is not surprising that these massive ecological, economic, and social degradations have corrupted our very thought patterns as a civilization. The traditional moralities of honesty, forgiveness, respect for tradition, cooperation, charity, thrift, and reverence for That Which is Beyond Our Comprehension have been neglected (and even mocked!) to the point of irrelevance and scorn. These ‘old-fashioned’ moralities, being incompatible with the industrial economic program, really stood no chance of survival. The ‘new morality’, which can be obtained readily from any of the various mass-media spigots, glorifies in day-glo colors the dubious standards of artifice, vengeance, novelty, hyper-individualism, greed, conspicuous consumption, and a crude cartoonish combination of bravado and hubris.

Oh, how far we have fallen!

It literally breaks my heart every day to watch, largely helpless, as my children and students sink powerlessly into this seductive immoral cesspool our culture has become.


So — that little review was maybe a bit unpleasant, huh? Well it should be. It’s the anatomy of a planetary-scale train-wreck; a tragedy of monumental proportions.

But I think that we can do better. I know we can.

I have a deep hope that we can not only recover what has been lost and reclaim what has been perverted, but that we can maybe make something better than before. That’s what sustains me — what keeps me going. That’s what allows me to stare straight-on at a very unsettled and unsettling future and not curl up into a little whimpering ball on the rug.

Now of course, I realize that there is a distinctly non-zero chance that we may be headed down a far darker road than we hope: disastrous climatic tipping points may have already been passed; the snap-back from ecological overshoot may be more severe than we wish to imagine; our shredded social fabric may be tattered beyond repair for the foreseeable future. In other words, highly unfavorable alternate stable states may already be in the cards environmentally, economically, politically, and socially.

But to be debilitated by such grim possibilities only makes them more likely. And should they occur, there would be no preparing for them anyway. The only truly constructive path – the only path that perhaps offers us at least SOME chance of success on the treacherous road ahead – is to keep our ‘eyes on the prize’ and keep working for something good; something great, even.

And in order to do so, we must be able to visualize and articulate ‘the prize’ we are reaching for.

As such, I suggest the following as a worthy set of ‘prizes’ and goals for the coming post-carbon future: a return to life at a proper ‘human’ scale, the reclamation of functional coherent communities, and the widespread internalization and application of a true morality.

Now, some of these ‘prizes’ are almost guaranteed in some form. Others will only be obtained with effort. But all are crucial to fashioning livable civilizations from the ashes of the current one. These are things that we must strive for.


In a thermodynamic sense, we obviously have no choice but contraction of scale in the coming post-carbon era. As fossil fuels begin their imminent nose-dive, the net-energy needed to maintain the absurdly-huge current industrial scale simply won’t BE there. And despite the likely-violent convulsions that will almost certainly accompany such a monumental contraction, the smaller ‘human’ scale towards which we are returning may be beneficial in many ways.

Firstly, we simply won’t have the massive power to damage the biosphere as extensively and rapidly as we have. While our ecological depredations will almost certainly continue at some level, smaller scales of human activity will limit these depredations to a similarly-smaller scale. Our depredations will likely also be more separated in time and space — giving ecosystems less extensive damage to mend and more time to mend it. Gaia, so to speak, may again have the time and resources to heal her inevitable wounds.

Secondly, there is more of a chance that even local occurrences of ecological degradation can be vastly minimized at smaller scales of societal organization. For example, the latest Nobel award in economics was (refreshingly) presented for studies on how communication within a community – something facilitated by smallness of scale – has the potential to prevent the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ syndrome associated with many human ecological-management failures.

And another more personal example: I know from my own farming/gardening experience, that I simply am able to treat the soil much better when I operate on a smaller scale; I can pay much closer attention to closing the cycles of the matter and energy changes I’m orchestrating. While maintaining adequate productivity on such a reduced scale often requires more holistic knowledge and thought-patterns – really, a richer multi-way communication between humans and their ecosystem — the potential benefits to all involved parties are great indeed.

The noble discipline of Permaculture speaks eloquently to the practical skills and thought patterns required here.

A smaller scale will also perhaps encourage a return towards greater personal responsibility for our actions – and thus a higher quality of work. The impetus for this greater responsibility would be a more intimate connection with the results of our work at a smaller scale. No longer will we be able to destroy distant landscapes or communities from afar by remote control. Any destructive activities will be felt close to home. Thus, the blame will be more transparent – and the necessary safeguards and justice maybe more readily enacted.

And finally, perhaps one of the more edifying personal benefits of the coming reduced scale may be the opportunity to ‘more fully inhabit’ our own lives – to feel truly human again. The increasingly huge scale and accompanying dizzying pace of industrial civilization has left a frighteningly large percentage of us almost numb to our true biological and community-based origins as a species. Our lives have increasingly been patterned on the cold logic of the machine: efficiency, speed, multi-tasking, compartmentalization, impersonal-electronic interactions, and a profound disconnect form the glorious complexity of Nature.

These trends will necessarily reverse as our scale diminishes. No longer will we be the increasingly frantic, detached avatars bouncing around in the cold realm of cyberspace. We will again reclaim our identities as living organisms enmeshed within a living biosphere. Our species will again become, necessarily and non-optionally, part of the Great Whole – with all the benefits and dangers that such membership confers.

We were meant to live slowly and intimately among other organisms, and so again we shall. I don’t think it is wrong to look forward to this.

Now, as I alluded to earlier, this return to scale will require a wide range of mental and physical skills no longer collectively possessed in this country. So much has been lost in the past 60 years. Thus, it is required that as many of us as possible work hard to reclaim these skills – and NOW, in this pre-collapse period where the fossil-fuel safety net is still largely intact. Skills like gardening, woodworking, metal-working, conflict resolution, natural building, animal husbandry, garment-making, and so many more will be essential to making life work on a smaller scale. The more of these skills we can bring into the coming turbulence, the better the ride we may hope to have.


Just as we face the compulsory return of our lives to a smaller scale in the post-carbon era, I think we are destined also to return to tight local communities. And I think that’s an overwhelmingly good thing – something to really look forward to; something to make us atomized industrial consumers smile as we gaze into the otherwise uncertain future.

And by ‘communities’ here, I mean REAL communities – collections of inter-dependent, cooperating neighbors working together to fashion meaningful lives. These won’t be the superficially-connected, nebular entities we call ‘communities’ today. We won’t be able to afford those shallow luxeries anymore — video-gaming ‘communities’; internet ‘friends’ lists; corporate ‘families’; ‘communities’ of fellow teachers and administrators in a school district; geographic neighborhood ‘communities’ composed of rank strangers, etc. And good riddance to that fake nonsense – Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘granfalloons’.

The post-carbon communities will be REAL communities working together on real, fundamental problems — like building functioning local economies with resilient local food, water, transportation, and manufacturing systems; like building rich networks of deep face-to-face social interactions; like ensuring that our lives are consistent with the demands and limitations of finite local material and energetic resources.

I think there are several reasons why the return to ‘real’ communities is non-optional. The first reason comes from the fact that our minds – like the rest of our physical selves – have been shaped by the marathon genetic-kneading of evolution. The success of our species over the past 200,000 years has been, from my understanding of cultural anthropology, due in a large part to the survival benefit of community organization; through the whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts benefits of neighbors helping neighbors.

In other words, it is very probable that gathering together into coherent communities is an inherently human trait. Insightfully, Dmitry Orlov wrote (in an excellent essay at that industrial civilization (i.e. the corporate nexus) has needed to expend vast amounts of energy to not only break apart pre-existing communities, but to KEEP them apart. And I think the historical record clearly backs this up. (For example, see Chomsky’s extensive chronicling of shameful corporate-backed anti-community ‘mischief’ in Central America. Or, closer to home, just trace the 60-year history of ANY small town in the US.)

Another reason for the non-optional return of community is the fact that there will just be (in the poetic phrasing of Will Oldham) ‘no one what will take care of us’ once our industrial corporate masters and fossil-energy security blankets are gone – and they WILL be gone shortly. We will simply NEED each other more than ever — for we have barely retained any of the necessary low-energy-requiring, pre-industrial skills we’ll desperately require to thrive in a post-carbon economy.

And again, I think this return to community is one of the main reasons to – dare I say – look forward to the coming post-carbon era. Because I think that we are not only pre-disposed towards community organization, but our mental health crucially DEPENDS on it. In other words, humans apparently NEED rich community structures to lead fulfilling lives. In the most basic sense, community gives true meaning to our evolution-shaped minds, and this sense of meaning is a pre-condition for true happiness.

So, I know this will sound overly-generalizing, but I think it’s worth a gamble. I’m going to present here something like a universal equation for our species:

‘Community = happiness’

OK, OK, I know that’s too simplistic, but in the larger sense, I think it’s perhaps a fundamental, evolutionarily-engrained truth of our species; a truth both sadly neglected and often purposely perverted by our corporate masters.

For after economically crushing our communities, our corporate masters substituted the lost happiness-potential of these disbanded communities with a crude form of shallow, base amusement. And, of course, there is a profound difference between a real, deep human happiness and this crude amusement dispensed to atomized consumers by the corporate entertainment/diversion complex.

If you’ll allow me an analogy here: this industrial version of ‘amusement’ is the high-fructose corn syrup to the nutritious greens of real community ‘happiness’ – more appealing at first, but fundamentally of a much lower quality and destructive to overall health.

Our minds are literally sick with an excess of industrial amusement and literally starving for real happiness. As Roger Waters intones, we are literally ‘amusing ourselves to death.’

Now, obviously not every member of a community is happy at a given time, nor is every community necessarily in a ‘happy place’ given certain unfavorable external circumstances. But, I think it is true that the existence of real communities certainly provides the best environment for the POTENTIAL attainment of real human happiness. And I think that’s perhaps reason enough to welcome the return of real community, in spite of all its potential imperfection and the other nasty stuff that’s headed our way.

One big problem with all this return-to-community stuff, perhaps, is the dearth actual functioning communities to hold up as examples – to help us better envision what we should expect and/or hope for. At this late stage if the anti-community industrial program, real communities are indeed few and far between. So as an alternative of necessarily-lesser quality, I highly recommend Wendell Berry’s fiction as essential reading towards better understanding the potential benefits, challenges, imperfections, and contradictions inherent in real functioning communities. It’s good stuff indeed.


The issue of morality is perhaps more problematic than the issues of scale and community – and thus more crucial to our present situation — because I think we can be even less sure of a positive outcome here.

The return of our lives to a proper, human-sized scale and real community is, I think, inevitable in light of the low-energy reality of the coming era. And, as discussed above, both of these changes have large potential ‘up-sides’ to them. But I can certainly imagine things going horribly wrong in spite of this positive potential.

Historically, there have been very good communities and very nasty communities. In our long, pre-fossil-fuel history, we have been angels and we have been monsters. Real communities have shown great feats of goodness and perpetrated unimaginable atrocities.

This is due, of course, simply to the maddening duality of the human mind – we have both good and bad inside us. Either one can grow to overshadow the other given the proper nourishment. The good is nourished by good, and the bad is nourished by bad.

So the key question, perhaps, of our post-carbon transition is this: How might we best nourish the good in us so that an admirable morality can largely govern our thoughts and actions? In other words, how can we establish a noble traditional morality as part of our daily thought patterns?

In short, how do we get our post-carbon communities to be good?

I can think of three ways.

The first is simply by not glorifying badness — as has, in fact, been the fervid mission of the modern corporate nexus. As a review of successful late-20th century business models shows, selling badness is far more profitable than selling goodness. As such, the corporate mind-benders have worked overtime to make “bad the new good” – to blatantly turn true morality on its head for the sake of maximizing short-term profit. As soon as we open our eyes in the morning, soul-killing, immoral sludge can be found gushing like a fire-hose from every radio, TV, magazine, billboard, t-shirt, computer, movie screen, and ipod within sensory reach.

We are told to seek consumption and treat thrift as shameful; to seek vengeance and treat forgiveness as traitorous; to seek domination and treat compassion as weakness; worship the novel and disdain the traditional; to idolize the fortunate and blame the unfortunate; to worship appearance and dismiss substance; to eschew honesty and just get away with anything we damn well can. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

It’s beyond messed up — and it’s all that a lot of kids (and even adults) have ever known.

Now, I certainly don’t mean to come off like some über-moralist firebrand preacher here (or some hypocritical neo-conservative hack, for that matter), but I think it’s past-time time to honestly assess just how morally debased our civilization has become and how purposely we have been shepherded here by our corporate masters.

But we have a break here: the morality-perverting influence of the corporations will shortly be gone – as the global corporations wither and die for lack of essential fossil energy inputs. This, of course, does not mean that they will be replaced by agents of impeccable moral standards – what follows may indeed be more morally debased than what we have now. But the salient point here is that a true morality simply has no chance of establishment as long as our current, profoundly-immoral civilization persists. So the demise of industrial civilization at least gives us a CHANCE at morality.

The second way we can perhaps coax our post-carbon communities into being ‘good’ is by consciously incorporating this morality directly into our economic structures. If you create an economic system that rewards waste, greed, and violence to communities, then that’s obviously what you’ll get. That’s, of course, what we have now. However, if our necessarily-local post-carbon economies reward thrift, generosity, and community-building — then THAT’s what we’ll get.

Exactly how these goals can be accomplished will depend on how each local economy is structured – but the key point here is that a foundation of economic morality needs to be a conscious goal of each economy, not just a happy accident should it happen to occur. It needs to be talked about explicitly and actively monitored by community leaders. The well-developed (but, tragically, as-yet unimplemented) discipline of Steady-State Economics speaks eloquently to this need.

The third way of maximizing the chances for post-carbon ‘goodness’ is simply by being good ourselves. Goodness can breed goodness, and by demonstrating impeccable moral standards ourselves – especially in the face of adversity – we can perhaps have a crystallizing influence on those around us; on the ‘goodness’ of our larger community.

And we should TALK about it. We should be discussing what sort of morals are good and WHY they are good; what sorts of behavior patterns are good and WHY they are good. Moral goodness and badness should be talked about – not in the hypocritical, self-aggrandizing, pseudo-political manner of the modern neo-conservatives and their big-box churches – but openly and honestly among regular people in our everyday lives.

Obviously our organized religions can have an important role here, but we need not (and should not) rely solely on a formal religious setting for our discussions of morality. These discussions should happen in schools, at the dinner table, in the garden, at work, and in the bedroom. We can no longer afford to leave morality as just one of the myriad happy, comforting, superficial lies we collectively tell ourselves once a week to justify and ameliorate the guilt for our real-life depredations. We need to make morality a real part of our lives and treat each other and the Earth accordingly.


So…all that went on longer than I had planned. (Is anyone still here?)

But seriously, would that perhaps be a reasonable answer to a kid (or adult) who wanted something to look forward to in the coming times? Would it foster at least some hope for the post-carbon future? Would it flesh out some of the key things we may be able to look forward to: a proper scale, community, and morality? Would that give us something to work towards in these uncertain times?

I, of course, hope so — because it definitely helps me. I’m certainly not immune to waves of despair in these uncertain and troubled times, and it’s nice to have a couple of key ideas to anchor my mind in the constructive realm.

So perhaps these ideas can be part of some core message we can tell the exceptional kids (and exceptional adults) who are not afraid to look a profoundly troubling reality directly in the face and work to make a positive difference in their communities.

Perhaps the core message would include something like this:

First, we need to SEE the change we want; to identify and define the important things we want to preserve or create in the coming post-carbon era. I suggested above that these might include (1) ecological health resulting from lives lived on a proper scale, within biophysical limits of the planet, (2) richly inter-linked human communities, and (3) an inspiring moral standard of thought and conduct.

Next, we need to BE the change we want.

For example, if we want ecological health, we need to pattern our daily physical routines so that they align within the material and energetic limits of our community – so that they operate on the appropriate scale. We need to work towards trying not to overstep our ecological bounds AT ALL. This is obviously a tall task – especially as we are still mired in the era of relatively cheap, scale-distorting fossil energy — but it’s a goal to which we should continually strive.

If we want community, we need to seek out our neighbors and work to pattern our local economies in a way that encourages and nourishes inter-personal ties and dependencies within our community. Rob Hopkins’ Transition program exemplifies this goal (–see Strive to be, in his phrasing, the ‘seed crystal’ of community in your town – something for the necessary larger community structures to build around. And really any community-related activity is a step in the right direction. Start small if you wish, but keep trying for more.

And finally, if we want our community to exemplify a strong, honest morality, we need to hold ourselves to these firm (but appropriately-forgiving) moral standards. And we should do this in neither a threatening, do-as-I-do-or-else manner or in a holier-than-though manner, but simply as an example to others who might wish to emulate these admirable qualities. The learned guidance of our religions and exemplary moral teachers will, of course, be indispensable here – but it should also be an every-day thing – something we all talk about during our normal lives.

So in spite of the proverbial gun of reality to the head of our current civilization and the proverbial environmental piano falling above us, we STILL might have a chance to make something really good from all of this.

I certainly think there will be both good and bad coming our way — but, by our thoughtful actions, we can perhaps try to steer things more towards the good and better support each other better through the inevitable bad.

The key for our current transition efforts is to figure out what ‘thoughtful actions’ are most appropriate and how best to get them out there — and that’s pretty much a key focus of my life right now.

And, you know, it’s actually kind of fun.

Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.Energy Bulletin is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.


Road transportation emerges as key driver of warming: NASA analysis

Road transportation emerges as key driver of warming: NASA analysis

Published Thu, 02/18/2010 – 08:00

For decades, climatologists have studied the gases and particles that have potential to alter Earth’s climate. They have discovered and described certain airborne chemicals that can trap incoming sunlight and warm the climate, while others cool the planet by blocking the Sun’s rays.

Now a new study led by Nadine Unger of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City offers a more intuitive way to understand what’s changing the Earth’s climate. Rather than analyzing impacts by chemical species, scientists have analyzed the climate impacts by different economic sectors.

Each part of the economy, such as ground transportation or agriculture, emits a unique portfolio of gases and aerosols that affect the climate in different ways and on different timescales.

Motor vehicles give off only minimal amounts of sulfates and nitrates, both pollutants that cool climate, though they produce significant amounts of pollutants that warm climate such as carbon dioxide, black carbon, and ozone.
Credit: NASA’s Langley Research Center
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“We wanted to provide the information in a way that would be more helpful for policy makers,” Unger said. “This approach will make it easier to identify sectors for which emission reductions will be most beneficial for climate and those which may produce unintended consequences.”

In a paper published online on Feb. 3 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Unger and colleagues described how they used a climate model to estimate the impact of 13 sectors of the economy from 2000 to 2100. They based their calculations on real-world inventories of emissions collected by scientists around the world, and they assumed that those emissions would stay relatively constant in the future.

Snapshots of the Future

In their analysis, motor vehicles emerged as the greatest contributor to atmospheric warming now and in the near term. Cars, buses, and trucks release pollutants and greenhouse gases that promote warming, while emitting few aerosols that counteract it.

The on-road transportation sector releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide, black carbon, and ozone—all substances that cause warming. In contrast, the industrial sector releases many of the same gases, but it also tends to emit sulfates and other aerosols that cause cooling by reflecting light and altering clouds.
Credit: NASA GISS/Unger
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The researchers found that the burning of household biofuels — primarily wood and animal dung for home heating and cooking — contribute the second most warming. And raising livestock, particularly methane-producing cattle, contribute the third most.

On the other end of the spectrum, the industrial sector releases such a high proportion of sulfates and other cooling aerosols that it actually contributes a significant amount of cooling to the system. And biomass burning — which occurs mainly as a result of tropical forest fires, deforestation, savannah and shrub fires — emits large amounts of organic carbon particles that block solar radiation.

The new analysis offers policy makers and the public a far more detailed and comprehensive understanding of how to mitigate climate change most effectively, Unger and colleagues assert.
“Targeting on-road transportation is a win-win-win,” she said. “It’s good for the climate in the short term and long term, and it’s good for our health.”

Due to the health problems caused by aerosols, many developed countries have been reducing aerosol emissions by industry. But such efforts are also eliminating some of the cooling effect of such pollution, eliminating a form of inadvertent geoengineering that has likely counteracted global warming in recent decades.

“Warming should accelerate as we continue to remove the aerosols,” said Unger. “We have no choice but to remove the aerosol particulate pollution to protect human and ecosystem health. That means we’ll need to work even harder to reduce greenhouse gases and warming pollutants.”

Unger’s model finds that in 2020 (left), transportation, household biofuels and animal husbandry will have the greatest warming impact on the climate, while the shipping, biomass burning, and industrial sectors will have a cooling impact. By 2100 (right), the model finds that the power and industrial sector will become strongly warming as carbon dioxide accumulates.
Credit: NASA GISS/Unger
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By the year 2100, Unger’s projections suggest that the impact of the various sectors will change significantly. By 2050, electric power generation overtakes road transportation as the biggest promoter of warming. The industrial sector likewise jumps from the smallest contribution in 2020 to the third largest by 2100.

“The differences are because the impacts of greenhouse gases accumulate and intensify over time, and because they persist in the atmosphere for such long periods,” said Unger. “In contrast, aerosols rain out after a few days and can only have a short-term impact.”

Factoring in Clouds

For each sector of the economy, Unger’s team analyzed the effects of a wide range of chemical species, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, organic carbon, black carbon, nitrate, sulfate, and ozone.

The team also considered how emissions from each part of the economy can impact clouds, which have an indirect effect on climate, explained Surabi Menon, a coauthor of the paper and scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

Some aerosols, particularly sulfates and organic carbon, can make clouds brighter and cause them to last longer, producing a cooling effect. At the same time, one type of aerosol called black carbon, or soot, actually absorbs incoming solar radiation, heats the atmosphere, and drives the evaporation of low-level clouds. This process, called the semi-direct aerosol effect, has a warming impact.

The new analysis shows that emissions from the power, biomass burning, and industrial sectors of the economy promote aerosol-cloud interactions that exert a powerful cooling effect, while on-road transportation and household biofuels exacerbate cloud-related warming.

More research on the effects of aerosols is still needed, Unger cautions. “Although our estimates of the aerosol forcing are consistent with those listed by the International Panel on Climate Change, a significant amount of uncertainty remains.”

Unger’s analysis is one of the first of its kind to incorporate the multiple effects that aerosol particles can have on clouds, which affect the climate indirectly.
Credit: NASA’s Johnson Space Center
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Related Links
Related Q & A with Nadine Unger

Nadine Unger Bio

Attribution of Climate Forcing to Economic Sectors

Nadine Unger Bio

Other Research by Nadine Unger

Clean the Air, Heat the Planet

NASA Scientist Nadine Unger Discusses Which Sectors of the Economy Impact the Climate

Nadine UngerCredit: NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies &rsaquo; Larger imageNadine Unger
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies
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Nadine Unger, a climatologist with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, spoke with NASA’s Earth Science News Team about her recent study that analyzed how different human activities impact climate. The study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February.

NASA’s Earth Science News Team: Your research suggests that the climate science community ought to shift its focus from looking at the impacts of individual chemicals to economic sectors. Why?

Nadine Unger: There’s nothing “wrong” with dividing climate impacts up by chemical species, but it’s not particularly useful for policy makers. They need to know which human activities are impacting the climate and what the effect will be if they attempt to curb emissions from a particular sector. Also, there’s a great deal of complexity in our emissions that they need to be mindful of if we want to mitigate climate change efficiently.

NASA: What sort of complexity?

Nadine Unger: Some sectors of the economy produce a mixture of pollutants — particularly aerosols — that cause cooling rather than warming in the short term. Since warming can accelerate as we remove aerosols, we’ve been inadvertently geoengineering for decades with aerosol emissions.

Take the heavy industry and shipping sectors, for example. These sectors burn a great deal of coal and bunker fuel, which releases carbon dioxide, which causes greenhouse warming. But they also release sulfates, which cause cooling by blocking incoming radiation from the sun and by changing clouds to make them brighter and longer-lived. In the short term, the cooling from sulfates actually outweighs the warming from carbon dioxide, meaning the net impact of the shipping and heavy industry sectors today is to cool climate.

Compare that to cars and trucks, which emit almost no sulfates but a great deal of carbon dioxide, black carbon, and ozone — all of which cause warming and happen to be very bad for human health. Cutting transportation emissions would be unambiguously good for the climate in the short term, while cutting heavy industry emissions would have less of an impact right now.

NASA: You keep mentioning “short-term” impacts. Could the climate impacts of some sectors of the economy change over longer time periods?

Nadine Unger: Yes. Greenhouse gases have a much longer lifespan — or residence time — in the atmosphere than aerosols, which typically rain out after a few days or weeks. This means that the impact of greenhouse gases can accumulate and intensify over time, while the aerosol effects become comparatively less important on longer time scales due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide.

NASA: You’ve mentioned industry, shipping and on-road transportation. What other sectors of the economy did you analyze?

Nadine Unger: Aviation, household fossil fuels, railroads, household biofuels (mainly wood and dung used for home cooking and heating), animal husbandry, the electric power sector, waste and landfills, agriculture, biomass burning…

NASA: What is biomass burning?

Nadine Unger: Mainly tropical forest fires, deforestation and savannah and shrub fires. We also looked at agricultural waste burning, which relates to seasonal clearing of the fields common in many countries in Africa and South America.

NASA: So, does this mean that pollution from industry and biomass burning is good for the climate?

Nadine Unger: No, not at all. Both of those sectors contribute to warming over the long term, so we’ll have no choice but to reduce our emissions over time. But these sectors do mask warming from greenhouses gases in the short term. Just because an activity causes cooling in the short-term does not mean that it is ‘good’ for the climate. The emissions might disturb other aspects of the climate system including the amount of rainfall in a region and therefore the water supply to humans.

NASA: Where did you get all the information about emissions?

Nadine Unger: We used emission inventories assembled by colleagues. For instance, a colleague from the University of Illinois — Tami Bond — has some of the best information on some types of aerosols, such as black carbon.

NASA: But how can you estimate the impacts of emissions that haven’t happened yet?

Nadine Unger: We used a computer model at GISS to look at future at climate impacts if we continued emitting pollutants at today’s rate. Using this approach, we looked specifically at two snapshots in time: 2020 and 2100.

NASA: What can we do if we want to minimize climate change in the near term?

Nadine Unger: Well, our analysis suggests that on-the-road transportation and household biofuels are very attractive sectors to target. We can reduce human warming impacts most rapidly by tackling emissions from these sectors. In order to protect climate in the longer term, emissions from power and industry must be reduced.

NASA: Are there any uncertainties in your results?

Nadine Unger: There are. There’s a large amount of uncertainty about how aerosols affect climate, especially through the indirect effects on clouds. Hopefully, NASA’s Glory mission will help reduce the uncertainties associated with aerosols.

NASA: What direction do you see your research going next?

Nadine Unger: Our focus has been on global climate so far, but in future work we’ll assess regional climate impacts, as well as other disturbances to the climate system, such as effects on the water supply and land ecosystems.

In addition, we plan to investigate many of the sectors in greater detail. In the power sector, for example, we might look specifically at power stations that operate with coal or natural gas. And in the on-road transportation sector, we might break out heavy- from light-duty vehicles.

Finally, we’re planning to partner with environmental economists to determine the damage costs of emissions from all the sectors due to both climate and air quality impacts, results that we can use to develop alternative mitigation scenarios.

Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.Energy Bulletin is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.

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David Cobb Visits Tucson

David Cobb, Green Party candidate for President in 2004, will come to Tucson as part of the national Campaign to Legalize Democracy. Cobb’s efforts are part of public response to the recent decision by the Supreme Court that has “opened the floodgates for corporate dollars to flow into political campaigns.” Cobb will present a free public lecture from 7-9PM in room 168 of the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. Cobb will discuss a series of Court decisions that have led to a broad based movement to amend the constitution to firmly establish “that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.” Cobb’s visit to Tucson is being sponsored by the local chapters of the Alliance for Democracy, WILPF, Democracy for America, and the American Constitution Society.

For information about this event and other activities contact CJ Jones at 622-3580, or

Solar Potluck and Exhibition

Catalina State Park, 11570 N. Oracle Road.

Citizens for Solar invites everyone to come and join in the fun of the 28th Annual Tucson Solar Potluck and Exhibition. This is the longest continuously running solar potluck in the world. See practical, innovative solar energy in useful action. People will be cooking food in dozens of types of solar ovens. Enjoy solar powered music during the afternoon and into the evening. Taste solar cooked food, see photovoltaic solar electricity generated, feel solar cooling, and see solar powered technology.

Although solar cooked snacks will be provided all day, the solar potluck feast begins around 5:00 p.m. Either bring your solar oven and cook with us or bring a dish to share and join in the fun.

Defining Our Region’s Future

Planning Meeting of the Urban Land Institute in Tucson at the Convention Center

Confirmed speakers:

Michael McKeever, Executive Director, Sacramento Area Council of Governments

Janice A. Cervelli, Dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of Arizona

Luther Propst, Executive Director, Sonoran Institute, Tucson

Joseph Kalt, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy, Harvard University

Lisa Lovallo, Vice President and System Manager, Cox Communications

Pre-Registration Fees:
Private/Public $45.00
Late/on-site registration: $55.00
(Pre-registration will close on Friday,
May 21, 2010)

To register, go to